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Drink Me Up
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My life is like Romeo and Juliet.
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I’m standing at the entrance to the social and professional event of the season, holding a bag packed with all the luxury clothing I specifically tailored for this weekend. Outside, it’s a gorgeous spring day at the mountaintop hotel and spa where we’re meeting. The bright sunlight highlights the rolling green lawns outside, up to the slopes of the still-snowcapped mountains and the glittering bright blue lake beyond, which is so still it’s the mirror image of the mountain above it. I’m holding a ticket for this exclusive, sold-out event, filled with everyone I’ve waited years to meet, to impress…
And I couldn’t be angrier.
Because across the sweeping stonework hotel lobby from me, standing at the VIP check-in counter like he owns the damn place, is Darius Bantham.
Of all the people I could have found here…
I don’t realize my fists are balled until someone steps up beside me and clears their throat. “I take it you’re as little a fan of the Banthams as I am?”
I startle out of my reverie and force a neutral smile onto my face. Dammit. The only thing less professional than allowing Darius Bantham’s presence to get under my skin right now is to let him get so far under my skin that other people notice. “I’m not sure what you mean,” I reply, my smile as wide as I can force it under the circumstances.
Beside me, a shorter man in a buttoned-up suit, his hair sprayed into a crisp wave, winks conspiratorially at me. “Of course not. There would be no reason whatsoever for Holly Spring to be glaring daggers at the son and heir apparent to the family who just took out a four-page magazine advertising campaign to smear her parents’ vineyard.”
My cheeks flush bright red, but I laugh, too. For all his forwardness, the guy is funny. “I’m afraid you have the advantage on me,” I reply. “You seem to know all my dirty laundry, and I don’t even know your name.”
He offers a hand and a dip of his head at the same time. “My apologies for the ambush. It’s Tony Chambers, Ms. Spring.”
I take his hand and shake, my smile widening. “Ah, now that I recognize. The local chef who’s been getting all those great write-ups lately. The camera-shy one.”
“That’s me.” He winks again as he releases my hand. I can’t help but notice the way he subtly removes a handkerchief from his pocket immediately afterward to wipe his palm, though. It feels like a dig, but I tell myself he’s probably just a germaphobe. “And I’m not camera-shy,” he continues. “I just didn’t think any of the candid angles the reporters from our local beat used suited me. Call me conceited, if you will.”
I shake my head. “Nothing wrong with wanting to look your best, especially when it’s running in print.”
“Glad you understand.” His gaze drifts back toward Darius Bantham. “Not all of us can be tall, dark and handsome over here.”
I snort under my breath, mostly to conceal the fact that my blush is spreading.
Because he’s not wrong. Whatever else Darius may be, Darius is smoldering hot. Like, half a head taller than me—and I’m a really tall lady—with cheekbones that could cut glass, a perfect dusting of stubble to accentuate the hollows beneath them, and the kind of lips that would be sexy as hell if they weren’t always twisted into a sneer of some kind.
But I’m not attracted to him—I can’t be. Not with the shark-like family he comes from, who would stop at nothing to advance themselves, even—or perhaps especially—if it means trampling on every other vintner in the region to get to the top. My family seems to have earned a special place in the Banthams’ hearts when it comes to such sabotage, though. Ever since my father was invited to present our wine at a special competition in Napa Valley nine years ago, where we placed second, a surprise upset since we overcame many, much more famous and older, more established vineyards to do so, the Banthams have had it out for us. They weren’t even invited to that competition, let alone able to claim second prize.
Our farms are only a few miles apart down in Paso Robles, California, the region everyone is hailing as the latest and greatest in winemaking. Until we came along, the Banthams held the undisputed title of best new winery in the region.
We threaten to upset all that, and that, apparently, is an unforgiveable sin. Ever since our Napa near-win, Darius’s father Martin Bantham has gone out of his way to bad-mouth us in the press, poach our workers out from under our noses by offering to pay them triple the salaries we do (and then usually reneging on his promises the moment they hand in their notice and quit our farm), even once going so far as to “accidentally” knock over an entire shelf of our wine at the local grocery store. He claims he tripped into it, but a couple of my father’s friends run that store, and they both swear they saw him checking the aisles for witnesses just a few minutes before the shelf came crashing down.