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"...a must read with a sigh on the last page (ok, on several pages, but you will have to see for yourself!)"Lori Dykes
"Lisa is a master at weaving an entertaining story that is full of fun, a little science (for us eggheads who love minutia), pathos for the soul, and a bit of hard breathing (for the romantic-at-heart)...."Karen Laird
Shade Tree Book Reviews
Never Mix Business With Pleasure...
Amanda just landed the job of her dreams. Now the muscle-bound billionaire who'd made it all happen is offering to share his cabin. Yeah, the arrangement cuts her hellish commute, but it means battling her own libido and those bedroom eyes. Is baiting her partner worth the risk? Or will she ruin a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...and forever lose her heart?
Release date: February 11, 2021
Publisher: Bay Street Press LLC
Print pages: 146
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TAKEN WITH YOU
Lisa Ann Verge
Is that…is that a man hanging off the cliff?
Amanda Karlson craned her neck in the sunny yard just behind the old cabin of the Cedar Ridge Winery. She squinted up a narrow crag until she was sure her mind wasn’t playing tricks on her. No ropes dangled from the summit. No spikes glinted in the stone. No harness dug into the rock-hard butt she couldn’t help but admire from solid ground. Yet two stories above, on a sizzling cliff, climbed a man wearing nothing but biking shorts.
Hot air hit the back of her throat along with an acid tinge of unease. If he were to fall, only gophers and deer would witness his tumble. Other than herself—here on a reckless whim—not a soul was present at the old, closed winery. She knew, because she’d knocked on every door of every building in search of the owner, who was supposed to be interviewing her right now for a position she was barely qualified for, except in her dreams.
A sharp scrape of sneaker drew her attention to the pebbles skittering down from the crag. With her heart rising, Amanda mentally buoyed the guy up in the same way she mentally buoyed up airplanes on the rare occasions she dared to fly. The strain tightened her own legs as the climber probed with his toe for a shelf. The hot earth burned through the soles of her flats as she willed him to descend safely, inch by inch. When the muscled hunk finally pushed off the last few feet to drop with a bend of knees, she slumped, hands on her hips, gasping for air as if she’d made the climb herself.
The climber headed her way. He shortened the distance between them with strong, long strides, for all appearances a Spartan warrior in his near nakedness with arms built for hurling spears.
Boy, would she have a story for Maggie when she got back to work.
“If I’d known I had an audience,” the climber said as he brought his six feet of rolling muscle to a stop, “I might have climbed higher.”
“I didn’t want to distract you.” He was certainly distracting her. Streaks of chalk decorated his seminudity like war paint. “If you’d fallen, I’d blame myself.”
He laughed, a loose, rumbling thing. She blinked and clutched the strap of her messenger bag.
“The cliff isn’t as treacherous as it seems.” He twisted to squint up. “I’m using it as a training ground for Yosemite.”
Holy cow. “So…you’re a professional free climber?”
“No. I do this for fun. It clears my mind.” He held out his chalk-dusted hand. “I’m Garrick Kane.”
A bomb went off in her head. Mr. Bulging Hamstrings was the Garrick she’d been emailing about an interview? This guy—wavy dark hair, a lazy half smile, a few years older than herself—he was the new owner of the winery?
She seized his outstretched hand with maybe a little too much enthusiasm, as if that could gloss over the ogling. “I’m Amanda Karlson,” she said, startled by his gritty grip. “I’m early for the interview. I guess I caught you by surprise.”
“I lose track of time when I climb.” His shrug was a distracting ripple of shoulder muscles. “It’s a bad habit I’m cultivating.”
“I see.” Not at all. Pull it together, girl. “I have to admit I don’t know any other winery owners who double as Spider-Man.”
That smile lifted a fraction. “Miguel said you had a sense of humor.”
“Miguel?” She fumbled through her mental contacts list. “Do you mean Miguel Reyes? The viticulturist who used to work here back when Mr. Brunichelli ran the place?”
He nodded. “Miguel told me you were one of the few winemakers who ‘respected his harvest.’”
Smart move on Miguel’s part. She’d have to take him up on that drink now. “That was…kind of him. Miguel is very good at what he does.”
“Let’s talk about this inside.”
Yes, let’s. Her nose was starting to sunburn. Her feet seemed to have gone numb. She fell into pace beside him and tried not to stumble as they headed toward the redwood cabin. This was a hell of a way to meet a potential boss, even one she knew would never in a million years hire her.
“First things first, Amanda.” With a slight twist of lateral muscles, he shot a look her way. “I won’t make you sign an NDA today, but I do ask that you keep my name and anything I tell you confidential for a few weeks. You’re only the third person in the area to know who I am. The other two are in my employ.”
“My lips are sealed.” Maggie was going to kill her. Everyone in this small, grape-growing valley was in a fever to know more about who had bought the old place. “Why the secrecy?”
“My PR people want to release the news for maximum exposure.”
My PR people. She got a whiff of Big Plans to go along with the primal, musky top note of warm male skin.
He held open the back door to the old redwood cabin, a building from a rougher, earlier century. She passed into a kitchen that smelled of coffee and bacon. A wooden island with café chairs filled the center of the room. A large stone fireplace, clearly original to the house, dominated one wall. Amanda took it all in, imagining she could hear the murmured conversation and laughter of the four generations of Brunichellis that had once lived here, the people who’d planted the very first vines. A lump rose to her throat. She loved old places like this, throbbing with history, alive with spirits.
“I didn’t realize the previous owner had preserved so much of the original space.” She slid onto a chair, strangely dazed by the room, by the moment, by the man.
“So I’ve been told. Water?”
Garrick held out a bottle he’d pulled from the fridge. Midnight blue, those eyes. She took the icy bottle in hand and cracked it open as he wrestled into a clean T-shirt that he pulled from the back of one of the chairs. She pulled her gaze from the sight of him covering all that bare skin. What the hell was wrong with her? She hadn’t been interested in anything but Brix readings, yeast strains, and wine blends for a very long time. Not even the very hot-looking Miguel could pique her interest outside of work.
“So,” Garrick said, sitting down as he twisted the cap off his water bottle. “How long have you been at Windsor, Amanda?”
“Three years.” Solid ground finally. She’d been working toward a position in a winery like this forever. And would continue even after Garrick Kane dismissed her and her paper-thin qualifications today. “The last two years, I’ve been an assistant winemaker under André Bonchemin.” She was one of twenty assistant winemakers at Windsor, but let him figure that out. “My job requires me to cycle through various responsibilities, from testing grapes and working the crush, to the fermentation, decanting, blending, bottling, etc. I’m a jack of all trades.” And master of none. She thrust a hand into her messenger bag. “I have a copy of my résumé if you’d like to review—”
“I’ve seen it.”
His voice was rough. She glanced up and caught his odd, unsettled expression, the sudden shift of his gaze.
Was her shirt gaping at the neckline?
“What I need to know,” Garrick said, leaning back in the café chair, “can’t be gleaned from a résumé. How do you handle challenges?”
“I handle them as they come.” Was this her imagination, or could she smell the mineral scent of the stony cliff he’d just climbed? “I assume you’re talking about the challenges of running a winery that’s been off-line for three years and out-of-date for much longer?”
One brow rose. “You’ve done your research.”
“I know every winery in the valley.” Other women flipped through bridal magazines while waiting at the hair salon, she checked out listings in the local commercial real estate flyers. “As an undergraduate, I worked at crush for the old owner—Mr. Brunichelli.”
“Yet now you work at Windsor. I understand that’s a huge operation.”
“Windsor is big, that’s true.”
“There’s no corporate ladder to climb here.” He crossed his arms, the biceps bulging against the short cotton sleeves of his T-shirt. “Why Cedar Ridge?”
“All vintners want to be the master.” She shrugged. “Of course.”
As he leaned back further, king of his domain, Amanda suspected this man would never settle for anything but being the master.
“At Windsor,” she continued, “it’s all about maintaining a consistent quality from a large and varied harvest. But when wine is made in smaller batches, like it would be here, the winemaking is more like alchemy.”
He murmured, “Magic?”
“Yes.” His attention intensified. She didn’t know what to do with her hands. “Cedar Ridge has great land, great vines—”
“Miguel told me the same thing.”
“He knows. He worked these slopes for years. It’s too bad he’s at that winery in Sonoma. You should try to hire him away next year.”
“I hired him away yesterday.”
She startled. Only a week or two away from the harvest, he stole Miguel away? That was a bold move.
A shark move.
The corner of his lips twitched as if he read her thoughts. “If I were to hire you away from Windsor, Amanda, how would you run this winery?”
Oh, if only, if only. Those words were music to her ears, but he couldn’t be serious, not if he’d really read her résumé. He was just putting her through the usual interview paces, and she was getting a glimpse into what might be…someday.
“Only a fool would answer that without touring the facilities first.” The thing about interviewing for a job she knew she never could get was the freedom to say whatever she thought. “I’d have to see the cellar, the tanks, the lab, everything.”
“One of the tanks is leaking.” He tapped his thumbs against his biceps. “The electric wiring needs to be upgraded.”
“Impossible, so I’m told.”
“Nothing is impossible.” She shook her head. “I know, I grew up on a farm in Western Massachusetts that was more rock than soil.”
He frowned with a tilt of his ear. “Where’s the accent?”
“Teased out of me in college. I only drop my r’s when I’m on the phone with my mother.”
He leaned in with a ghost of a grin. “Please tell me you’re not a Red Sox fan.”
“Guilty as charged.” In her memory, she smelled summer dust off a baseball diamond, the warmed-cotton scent of her father’s cap.
Oh, the things you can’t give up.
“My family is from Brooklyn,” he said. “We’re Yankee fans. This might be a problem.”
Ha-ha, she thought. The real problem was her limited experience, but the light in his eyes said he was teasing, so she played along. Was this impossible interview going well, or was this guy just making a pass of a different sort? Neither was possible. She was unqualified, a wine nerd, a lab rat, still the little girl entranced by a chemistry set. And he was waaaay out of her league. Any woman who rested a hand on Garrick’s impressively honed arm would be the kind who wore designer clothes and scheduled manicures every week.
She mentally shook herself. What was she going on about?
“You asked me if I like challenges.” Back to solid ground. “I do, but I also understand limitations. I wouldn’t dream of making this place into another Windsor. I’d keep it a boutique winery. Magnificently updated.”
He planted those muscle-ripped forearms on the table. “Could you get that done this season?”
“You mean by next season—”
“No, I mean right now.”
She blinked. He couldn’t be serious. The whole winery was as quiet as a monastery! Every other winery was in chaos, preparing for the upcoming crush. Had he hired harvesters? Was the lab stocked? Were the fermentation tanks cleaned and sterilized? She had so many questions she didn’t know where to begin.
“Are you up for that, Amanda?”
A dare twinkled in his eye. Had he used the same charm on Miguel? “I…don’t know what to say.” She shook her head. “It’s a crazy idea.”
“Yes, it is.” He grinned. “But if you’re game for the challenge, I’ll offer you a partnership.”
She stilled, the word bouncing through her mind “You mean a job.”
“No,” he corrected. “I mean a partnership. I’m offering you one-third ownership in the Cedar Ridge Winery.”
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