Come September
Come September
Trade Paperback
September 15, 200
6
Harlequin Blaze
ISBN: 0373837232


 

featuring Cathy’s novella
Sweeter than Wine

Chad McFee has just inherited his great-uncle's vineyard, on the condition that he not sell it until they've brought in one last harvest. Since he's looking for the money to support his "hard partying with the rich and famous" lifestyle, he is impatient to unload the cash cow. That is, until he meets head winemaker Leila Fairmont, a woman whose enthusiasm for wine and the vineyard he's now owner of make him re-examine the emptiness of his own life. Together, they find a passion for not just wine and wine-making, but each other.

 

 


Sweeter than WineI've never been a huge wine drinker, but I've always been fascinated with vineyards, ever since the first time I drove through Napa in Northern California. They're stunningly beautiful, especially in all their autumn glory - royal purple of the grapes, and the leaves turning gold and crimson and rust as the days get shorter and the sunsets bleed from orange to indigo to midnight blue. Besides that, winemakers aren't like any other type of farmer: you don't get into it because you need to feed people or because it's a big cash crop. You get into wine because you have an unbelievable passion for it. I always wanted to write about winemakers and the vineyards they loved, and with the Come September anthology, I finally got my chance.

 

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News and reviews will get posted as they come in. stay tuned!

 

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Sweeter than Wine

Leila Fairmont had done a lot for Honey Ridge Vineyard. She'd stayed up countless nights, working heaters to make sure the grapes didn't freeze during frosts. She'd contacted the best agriculturalists in the business during the blight that struck some of their prize Merlot grapes, year before last. She'd supervised the business, farming and wine-making aspects of the entire enterprise since she was twenty-five years old, now nearly four years. She couldn't feel closer to the vineyard if it were her own child.

Still, she'd never gone up to a total stranger's house and introduced herself before.

She had gotten news from Charles McFee's lawyer that the vineyard had been given to his nephew, Chad McFee. She'd never met Chad. For that matter, she'd barely met Charles. He was responsible for the continued survival of Honey Ridge, though, and for that, she was very fond of the old man, who had seemed very old and very, very serious on the occasions that he'd visited the vineyard.   Charles McFee had been an old school, tweed-and-pinstripe business type, who apparently had developed a passion for being a vineyard owner late in life. He'd given them tons of money and never balked at costs or disasters. He had been a true patron, and he'd let Leila, and her parents before her, run the place as their own.

She drove through the unfamiliar streets of San Francisco, feeling frustration at herself for getting lost - and even more frustration at being nervous. If Charles were anything like his uncle, he was probably a quiet, stuffy, pleasant sort of investor. He probably had the same wire-rim glasses, though not as thick, and his idea of a good time was probably checking out stock prices while sitting in the bathtub. The image made her giggle.

She found the condo, finally, in a nice neighborhood in Nob Hill. He probably had a gorgeous view. He was also obviously very rich. The trick here was going to be convincing him that Honey Ridge was, indeed, a good investment.

She parked her beat-up van on the hill and got out, straightening her very best business suit and praying for strength. Honey Ridge had been in financial straits for the past two years straight, and only love had kept Charles McFee giving money to the cause. She couldn't thank the man enough for his patience. Her parents had been head vintners of Honey Ridge since she was a child, and when they left to try and start a new vineyard in Australia, she had begged them to intercede on her behalf. Even though twenty-five was an unbelievably young age for a head winemaker, she had grown up on wine, she'd studied wine making in college. She'd done everything to one day run the vineyard she'd fallen in love with. Charles McFee had taken a chance on her, based on her parents' recommendation.

Now, the vineyard was recovering slowly, first from blight, then from last years' drought which had hit all the independent vineyards hard. She just needed another year or two to bring it around together.

If only Charles hadn't died!

Still, she thought, as she walked up the concrete stairs that lead to the front door of the condo, the man had been ninety if he were a day. It was selfish of her to expect him to hang on just to bail her out.

She rang the bell, and after a moment, a puzzled voice came over the intercom. "Yes?"

"Mr. McFee?"

Another pause. "Yes. Who is this?"

"My name is Leila Fairmont. I'm from Honey Ridge Vineyards..."

"I'm not interested in buying anything today," he said quickly.

"Well, you're already the owner," she said, with a little chuckle. He thought she were some kind of door-to-door solicitor! "I'm so sorry to be barging in unannounced like this, but I left you several messages, and I was hoping for just a few minutes of your time."

Sweeter than WineA slightly longer pause. Then, "Yes, of course. Leila Fairmont. Give me a second, I'll get you."

She smiled. He was probably in the middle of some business plan or something, she thought with a grin, and didn't want to be disturbed. She took a deep breath, standing up straight, and held her slim briefcase in front of her. She knew she looked the picture of professionalism. Now, to just...

He opened the door, and she couldn't help it. Her mouth fell open.

He looked like a frat guy. He was wearing a pair of sweats and a tank-top that left little of his body to the imagination. His arms were chiseled and nicely muscular, without being obnoxious or overly bulky. His waist was slim, and she'd bet anything his stomach was ironing-board flat, probably ripped with muscle. His hair was a rich reddish-brown, and it was tousled and mussed in a way that had nothing to do with artistic sculpting gel. It just looked...

Sexy . Natural, just-got-out-of-bed sexy.

Her mouth went dry. "Mr. McFee?" she croaked in disbelief. " Chad McFee?"

"You must be Leila Fairmont," he said, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for him to greet her this way. He opened the door, gesturing her in. "I've been meaning to call you. I'm sorry I didn't sooner - things have been a little crazy. I just got back from a birthday party, actually."

"Oh?" She couldn't help it. She sneaked a quick look at his butt as he walked into his living room. Was nothing on this man less than perfect? When he turned, she made a show of glancing at her watch, to make sure that he didn't catch her scoping him out. It was four o'clock in the evening.

Had he been out all night, then?

"Have a seat," he said, gesturing to two huge gray leather couches. "I'll just be a second. I need o get a cup of coffee. And an aspirin," he laughed. "Can I get you anything?"

She shook her head, sitting on the couch, feeling dismayed. She was expecting a tweedy business nerd, not some party-hearty poster boy!

And certainly not a sexy one .

He came back out with his coffee. "Sorry. Jet lag always hits me this way," he said, by way of explanation.

"Jet lag?" She couldn't track what he was saying. That wasn't a good sign. "I thought you'd just been to a party."

"Yup. It was in Ibiza. Spain," he clarified, taking a long sip of the coffee. "Ah, that's the stuff. So you're from the vineyard I inherited. How's it going?"

She blinked, thrown by... well, everything. "It's going okay," she said, guardedly.

"Well, that's good."

She sat there a minute, staring at him as he smiled at her sleepily. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he'd just be like Charles - keep writing the checks and stay out of her way. Anybody who just jetted off to Spain for a birthday party had to be doing financially okay.

"How's the harvest coming?" he asked.

"Uh... well, it's only July," she said. "We're planning on harvesting in September this year. That's a little early, but I want to have the time to age the merlots, which we're famous for, and experiment with some blends..."

She stopped as she saw his eyes glaze over. Now, he was the one who wasn't tracking.

Sweeter than WineApparently, he didn't know anything about wine at all.

"Anyway," she said, feeling stupid for deciding she had to meet the new owner, "I just wanted to see who our new investor was, and answer any questions you might have about, er, the vineyard. But I see this is probably an inconvenient time for you. Any time you'd like to come by Honey Ridge, though, I'd be more than happy to give you a tour."

She was staring full into his face when she said it, which she realized was probably a mistake. He was looking sleepy, so his amber-brown eyes were low-lidded, looking like he'd just come out of bed... or he was still in it, and wouldn't mind company. His slow smile was sinfully handsome.

"That could be nice," he said, and his voice was low, rubbing over her skin like raw silk.

"Um. Yes," she said, fidgeting with her briefcase. "Right. So, no questions?"

He frowned for a moment, thoughtful. "Actually, yes, as long as you're here. How's the vineyard doing financially?"

She blinked. Then she opened her briefcase and got out the little presentation she'd meant to go through, back when she assumed Chad was Mr. Tweedy Nerd. "Here is a snapshot of our financial picture," she said, "as well as our plans for future expansion and growth."

He reached over, his fingertips inadvertently brushing against hers as he collected the slim report. She felt a shiver, and felt like an even bigger idiot. She watched as he breezed through the pages.

"Hmmm," he said. "Well. This will take me a little time to go over, but I appreciate you having it pulled together so neatly."

She wondered if he'd really read it, or if he'd chuck it into a desk somewhere. A house this big, a guy this rich, had to have some huge mahogany desk, even if he just used it to play video games or seduce women with, by saying "let me show you my study."

Her mind flashed a picture of how he might seduce her - and how big that mahogany desk might be, with two people on it - for just a moment before she stopped herself. Knock that off. He's the new owner, you idiot!

"Well, I guess I'll be going," she said, standing up quickly and putting out her hand. "I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me, Mr. McFee."

"Call me Chad," he said easily, with that quicksilver smile. "And Ms. Fairmont?"

"Call me Leila," she said, to be fair.

"Leila," he said. She'd never heard anyone say her name the way he did. Man, did she have to get out of here! "I think it's only fair to warn you: I take my investments very seriously. I'm going to take you up on that offer of yours."

"Which offer would that be?" she squeaked, then cleared her throat with a frown.

That smile turned lethally sexy. "I'll be out for a tour, at the very least," he said. "But I think I'd like to really investigate what makes your vineyard tick. I mean, I'm the owner, right? I shouldn't be in the dark about it. I have a ton to learn, I'm sure."

"Uh..." This wasn't going the way she'd planned. At all.

"And I'm sure you'll show me," he said confidently. "Can I count on you?"

"Er... all right," she said uncertainly. "I mean, of course. Of course, you're welcome to come any time you like."

He smiled and shook her hand, his palm warm and solid over hers. "I'm looking forward to it," he all but purred.

She took her hand back, still feeling his warmth on it, and then fled with a nod and a hasty "goodbye!"

Sweeter than WineGoing back to her car, she was surprised to find herself trembling a little. Instead of a kindly old man, she had a young man to deal with now. A rich, jet-setting, socialite guy, sexy as all get out, who might or might not have intentions of being hands-on when it came to her vineyard. Which caused her two main sources of concern.

One: how was she going to convince a guy who knew nothing about wine not to just barge in because he was bored... and how was she going to convince him not to drop them when he got bored of this new toy?

And two: more disturbingly, as she thought of his smile and his handshake... just how "hands on" was her new owner planning on being?

 


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