Tasting Temptation

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After last summer’s failed attempt at romance, Gina is absolutely done with men. And especially with millionaires. She has a good job as a fashion editor and amazing friends, and she’s decided she needs nothing else. All she really misses is the sex. But that rush just isn’t worth the risk of being ensnared in another relationship. When the hot bartender at her best friend’s Sonoma wedding suggests some harmless stress relief, she takes him up on the offer. When it’s sufficiently satisfactory, she indulges in a repeat—for the road. When she learns he’s actually the wealthy owner of the vineyard, the mix of fury and fear is damped only by the knowledge that she never has to see him again.

Hunter Cavaliere is determined to honor his grandfather’s legacy, and so far, he’s right on track. The vineyard is thriving, he has plans for expansion, and his wines speak for themselves. The only thing missing is the right woman to share it all. But through his grandparents’ marriage, Hunter learned what true love is, and he’s unwilling to settle for anything else. A woman who judges him because of his money definitely isn’t high up on his list. Still, when circumstance unbelievably keeps bumping him into the intriguing brunette from Portland, he can’t shake the feeling that she is someone he should pursue.

Gina’s poised to run the other way, but one more taste of Hunter may just prove too tempting to resist.

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Enjoy an Excerpt from Tasting Temptation:



One


“Zip me up?” Gina asked, coming out of the dressing room in her maid-of-honor dress.

Roger dropped his cell phone beside her purse and stepped up behind her. “Can you believe Sabella’s getting married, and we don’t even have dates to the wedding?”

She shot him a chiding look over her shoulder. “Sabella deserves her happily ever after.” And being date-free suited Gina just fine.

Roger tugged the zipper up then resettled her hair. “I know! She does. But, seriously. Us? Stag at her wedding?” He plopped back onto the plush cream bench across from the angled trio of mirrors. “Unacceptable!”

“Ever the drama queen.” Gina stepped onto the raised ivory platform to assess the alterations, trying not to look too hard at her reflection.

Roger actually stuck his tongue out at her.

“Weddings are supposed to be great for meeting people,” she reminded, turning toward him.

“Easy for you to say, Miss ‘I can pick up any man I want without even crooking a finger.’”

Gina shrugged the sudden tension from her shoulders. The last thing she wanted was to be tied to another man. “There are worse fates than a trip to Sonoma for a wedding, Rodge. Even without a date.”

His lips found the impeccable pout that always made Sabella jealous. “You’re grouchy today.”

“That’s ’cause you’re extra whiny today,” she shot back lightly, trying to sound normal.

He sighed, twisting open the cap to his diet iced tea. The salads they’d picked up for lunch on their way to the boutique waited patiently beside him. Gina swept her hands out, silently asking about the dress. Roger’s nod of approval ended with a head tilt.

“Look,” she said, checking the hemline in the mirror one more time before stepping down, “you’re the one who broke up with his hottie boyfriend because he got bored.”

His shoulders and eyebrows lifted with choreographed innocence. “What can I say? I’m hard to keep satisfied.”

“Well, then. Good thing you work for me and not the other way around.” She softened the comment with a smile. Roger’s mouth still dropped into a nearly perfect “o.” Rolling her eyes at his dramatics, Gina turned away and swept her hair to the side so he could undo the zipper. He obliged silently, and she walked back to the dressing room to change.

“Speaking of work,” he called from the other side of the heavy brocade curtains. “You leave Saturday, right?”

“You just can’t wait to get me out of the office.” She paused, smoothing her palm over the dark-purple chiffon. Sabella and Kane’s wedding was something good. And Gina couldn’t wait to see her best friend outside of a computer screen again.

“I like being in charge,” Roger admitted, drawing her back to the present.

“Good thing we’re wrapping up the layout today,” she said, slipping the dress off to change back into her knotted skirt and Rebecca Taylor top. “So you’ll only be in charge of brainstorming ideas for the next issue.” She was mostly kidding. Roger was a fantastic assistant, and he was really developing a good eye.

“And what have I ever done to you?” She would have bet he was pouting again. “Anyway, I was going to say that you could use the break.”

“Well that’s true.” Gina tucked back a flyaway strand of hair before taking the dress and rejoining him in the main room. “But since I don’t particularly want to lose this job, we better get back to work.”

“Yeah, yeah. It would be nice though, snagging a hunky millionaire at the wedding. Just think of all the clothes we could buy… Oh, and fashion week!” He fixed her with a solemn stare. “Promise me, if you ever marry rich and go to fashion week in Paris or New York, you’ll take me with you.”

A chuckle bubbled from between her lips. Roger might be fickle with men, but he was undeniably devoted to fashion. “I’ll think about it,” she said. Not that she would ever date a wealthy man again.

“You’re cruel,” he accused, holding out her purse.

“Have to keep you motivated. The department gets strong enough, we won’t need some benefactor to pay our way to fashion week.”

“And meanwhile”—he sighed—“we settle for Sonoma.”

“Wait ’til you see this place, Rodge. It definitely beats New York.”


Two


“Okay, I am officially stealing you away,” Gina declared, steering Sabella away from the bevy of cars that had somehow managed to arrive all together. Gina had driven up with the bride-to-be’s sister, Trisha. They’d beaten the rest of the bridal party by a half hour, but then Gina had learned to drive in Boston.

Sabella craned her neck toward all the activity behind her. “What about my dress?”

Sighing, Gina stopped, pulled her sunglasses from her nose and into her hair, and scanned the milling crowd until her eyes landed on a curvy blonde in paint-splattered jeans. “Hey, Trisha?”

She spun toward them while everyone else continued unloading.

“Would you please make sure that no disaster befalls Sab’s dress between here and our suite?”

Trisha nodded vigorously, rolling her eyes for good measure, and shooed them away.

Sabella laughed and looped her arm through Gina’s. “Okay, what about your dresses?”

“We already hung them up. And anyway, you shouldn’t be worrying about that.” Gina led them to the terrace where various employees were setting up round tables and chairs. They skirted the bustling activity, keeping close to the wrought-iron fence that blocked off the overhang. Gently rolling vineyards splayed out beneath them in a blend of greens.

Sabella’s shoulders dropped as she exhaled, leaning over the railing. “It’s almost quiet here.”

Gina chuckled. They’d spent five days surrounded by Sabella’s and Kane’s families, and Kane’s bandmates, all in a lovely four-bedroom home in Mountain View. “Cramped” didn’t quite cover it. The craziness of last-minute planning hadn’t helped, adding to the chaos. The drive up had been the most relaxing time Gina’d had all week, until now.

She inhaled the crisp air, letting the peace envelop her. “It’s so beautiful.”

Ignoring the bustle behind them, they gazed out at the neatly organized rows below, glinting under the sun. Sabella’d fallen in love the second they saw a virtual tour of Cavaliere Vineyards. “Chivalry vineyards” she had not-quite-translated when they’d found it online. With the large yet secluded terrace opening onto this breathtaking view, it was an undeniably gorgeous setting for a wedding.

“You know?” Sabella turned toward her, smiling. “I’m kind of excited.”

“Kind of? You’re kind of excited for your wedding? Maybe we should call it off.”

Sabella’s head tilted slightly to the side, her lips pursing. “You know what I mean. Everything has been so hectic lately, but now that we’re actually here… This is really going to happen.”

“I can’t believe we pulled this thing off in less than a year.”

Sabella hummed her agreement.

A breeze wound its way around their shoulders, and Gina straightened, exhaling. “All right, I’d say it’s time for a welcome to Sonoma drink. Unless there’s something you need to tell me?” she half-teased.

“A glass of wine sounds lovely,” Sabella answered, trying to keep a straight face at the suggestion.

Elbows linked, they strode up to the secluded balcony bar with its own magnificent view. A few of the winery’s patrons surrounded them, seated at wrought-iron tables with partially filled glasses and tiny cubes of cheese.

“Riesling okay?” Sabella asked. “Or a white Zin? They have this really interesting one with a bit of a raspberry flavor.”

“Shouldn’t I be the one buying?” Gina offered, picking up the tasting menu.

“I think the least I owe you is a glass of wine, Gi, with all your help, and putting up with everyone.”

If anything, Gina owed Sabella—everything. “Your family’s a piece of cake compared to mine, as you well know,” she brushed off. “Or have you blocked any memory of the trauma?”

“Oh, shush you. Your family’s wonderful.”

“Loud. Overbearing. Completely nuts.”

Sabella crooked an eyebrow.

“And, yes, wonderful,” Gina agreed. “But you didn’t have to invite them, you know.”

“Of course I did. And anyway, it’ll save you at least one of your mother’s guilt trips about visiting home.”

She had a point. Maybe.

As the bartender set out a couple of glasses, efficiently filling them with Riesling, Sabella added, “You know she’s cooking brunch tomorrow?”

“You’re kidding.” Not that Gina was all that surprised. Her mother was physically incapable of not feeding everyone around her. “How did she bully you into it?”

“Bully me into accepting her free labor and delicious food?” They moved toward a lonely table in the shade, resettling a pair of chairs to face the view before lowering into them. “Maybe we’ll get lucky, and she’ll even make truffles,” Sabella said after tasting the wine.

Gina took a long sip rather than answer, letting the pleasantly crisp white flow over her taste buds before swallowing.

“I tried to talk her out of it, since she’s our guest, and Kane offered to help out, of course, but she wouldn’t have it.” Sabella smirked. “She said it’d be good practice.”

“Oh? Is Donny getting married?” Gina asked, deadpan.

Sabella chuckled. “It’s too bad your brothers couldn’t make it.”

Gina hummed noncommittally. Annoying as he was at fifteen, Donny always made them laugh. Her older brother, Gerardo, wasn’t half bad either. She did love and miss her family. She just usually loved them most in small doses or when they were on the other side of the country. But her best friend wanted them here, and the least Gina could do was ensure this weekend was all about Sabella.

~*~

“Gina, you’ve barely eaten. Are you sick?”

She’d had two servings of everything. “Ma, I ate plenty, I promise. And it was delicious. I’ve really missed your cooking.” She squeezed her mom’s familiar hand. “Sabella’s lucky you made brunch.”

“We all are,” Bobby, Kane’s bass guitarist, chimed in from across the table, picking up an empty bowl. “Thanks, Mrs. Sabatino.”

Her mother’s cheeks rounded as a blush spread over them. This wasn’t that big a group by her mom’s standards, but brunch really had been amazing. Gina would have bet everyone ate too much, unable to resist the tantalizing assortment. Their tables were still covered in nearly emptied dishes, which the groomsmen were slowly clearing.

Trisha broke away from the bride’s and groom’s families and swished over. “So everything’s set for tonight, right?” She popped a lingering truffle into her mouth.

“I think so. Could you just confirm the limo one more time?” Gina asked.

“Oh, yeah. No problem.”

“Beatrice, are you coming?” Sabella’s mother called. She never seemed to shout, though her voice always carried as far as it needed to. It was as impressive as it was intimidating. Nothing at all like Gina’s mom, who preferred to rely on guilt trips.

Trisha forced a smile. “Family bonding time.” The families were heading up to Calistoga for the afternoon, though Trisha had promised to ensure they’d be back before Sabella’s surprise bachelorette party. “You sure you’re all set with treats and the cards and everything?” she asked.

“Treats? What treats?” Gina’s mom interrupted, stacking empty plates for Kane’s bandmates to take away.

“For the bachelorette party, Ma. I need to run out and pick some stuff up, but it’ll be taken care of,” she assured Trisha.

“Okay. Thanks again, Mrs. Sabatino. Brunch was unbelievable,” Trisha said before hurrying off.

“I will come help you, with the treats, Gina,” her mom declared.

“You didn’t come here to work, Ma. You should take Dad, and go explore. It’s beautiful out here.”

“I can spend some time with you, and help you, and your papi and I can explore tonight, when you girls are out. Or do you not want to spend any time with your mother, even though you never come out and visit.”

Gina didn’t even pretend that was a question. “You know I’d love your help. I just don’t want you to miss out on seeing Sonoma. But I bet everyone would love it if you have some more of those truffles stashed away somewhere.”

“I have extra chocolate, I’ll make more for you girls, but I need sugar. We finish here, and we go to the store, okay?”

“You’re leaving me?” Gina’s dad chimed in with a smile, coming back to their table, drink in hand.

Gina threw her arm around his sturdy shoulders. “I’m stealing her away, just for a bit.”

He chuckled, returning her embrace. “Mi passerotta. Why haven’t you been home? Ci manchi.”

“I know, papi, I miss you guys, too.” She’d spent the December holidays with Sabella’s family, to help plan the wedding. And because after last summer, she’d needed more time before facing her family’s overly perceptive gazes. “I’ll come visit soon, I promise.”

Ai.” Her mom’s hand landed on her shoulder, squeezing gently. “She was busy, planning all this. And now, I’m here to help. So, let’s go.”

The groomsmen had already insisted on taking care of the dishes, and there wasn’t a point in arguing anyway. Gina kissed her dad’s cheek then looped her arm through her mom’s. Sometimes, it was more than nice having them around. 


Three


Two hours later, Gina had changed her mind. Logically, she knew her mom meant well, but the poking and prodding questions about her life, and settling down, or moving home were enough to drive her up a wall. And then she’d been kicked out of the borrowed kitchen! Not that she didn’t have plenty to do before tonight, and it was undeniably sweet of her mom to make all those chocolate-dipped snacks for them, but still.

Gina stalled in the vaulted entryway and debated—hallway one would take her back to the guest rooms, all filled this weekend with the bridal party, plus Gina’s parents and Kane’s manager; hallway two opened onto the main tasting room. It wasn’t like having a glass of wine in the afternoon in the middle of wine country would be particularly notable. And she could use some time to wind down, so she didn’t destroy tonight’s goodies when putting them together. Tasting room it is.

The room was empty, but with the gorgeous weather, most visitors probably preferred the outdoor terrace. Gina chose a stool by the bar, absently tapping her fingers on the wood as she waited. Various wine-themed knickknacks covered display tables and shelves around the room. The faintest smell of wood somehow still lingered, though the construction was lacquered and far from new. Maybe they pumped it in for atmosphere.

She flattened her palm on the bar and sighed. Maybe the emptiness was a sign that a drink was a bad idea.

Before she could make her mind up to leave, a barman came out of the back room, carrying a fresh case, which he set down with a clunk. His eyes raked over her torso before his lips pulled into a crooked smile. “You look like you could use a drink.”

“How extraordinarily perceptive.”

His smile grew, crinkling around his eyes. “Maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll pour you one.”

Gina exhaled, focusing on the man before her. This was a game she’d mastered long ago, even if she was a bit out of practice. “Maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll let you.”

He strode closer. “What’ll it be?”

“What are you offering?”

He picked up a towel and wiped off his hands before running his fingers over the bottlenecks arrayed between them. His faded tee shirt stretched slightly across his chest and shoulders as he moved. Deftly, he spun a glass from its spot out of sight and placed it silently on the bar. He uncorked a fresh bottle with a pop. A deep red gurgled into the glass.

Gina lifted it and took a long sip.

The barman’s eyebrow crooked. “Glad I didn’t pour you the good stuff.”

She set the glass back down, half-drained, and shrugged. “I’ll be paying you for it, regardless.”

“Wine isn’t about the money. It’s about the experience.” He fitted the bottle with one of those tops that control how much is poured at a time.

“Or the goal.”

Friendly eyes caught her in their gaze. “There are better ways to de-stress, you know.”

“Are you saying I seem stressed?”

“You’re part of the bridal party, aren’t you?” Another smile tugged at his lips. “Stress comes with the territory.”

She leaned slightly over the bar. “And you’re offering to make it all better?”

He sobered as his eyes trailed over all the skin exposed by her summery top. “How could I deny you?”

Gina traced the stem of her wineglass with her fingers, knowing exactly where his mind would go. “Is this a service you frequently provide, then?”

“Maybe I should start.” He leaned onto his elbows on the bar, so their faces were almost even.

Gina’s lips parted as she considered the man before her. Dark hair lay tousled, with stray locks drifting over his forehead. Symmetrical eyes demanded attention, easily holding their own with the strong line of his pronounced nose that drew her gaze to gently curving lips, set in a wash of stubble that flowed over a crisply defined jaw. De-stressing definitely didn’t sound like a bad idea, if they played on her terms.

His eyebrows lifted in challenge.

She stood, picking up her wine, and scooped her purse off the stool beside her without breaking eye contact. He straightened and gestured to the far end of the bar. Her heels clicked on the stone floor as they moved toward it. The door he’d entered through was still open.

“After you,” his voice sounded next to her.

“Aren’t you going to get in trouble for this?”

Amusement or something like it flashed in his eyes. “I’ll risk it.”

Anticipation tingled through her. A short staircase led into a cellar of sorts, brightly lit by sunlight streaming through the high windows. Ignoring the footsteps that followed hers, Gina laid her purse on a stack of boxes. Glass in hand, she strode to the nearest wine rack, examining the wooden vees that separated the various vintages without really seeing them. She could handle the bartender, she reminded herself.

He came up behind her, and she casually took another sip. He brushed her hair away from her upper back, exposing the ties of her halter top and skin. His lips came to the curve of her shoulder, and the wine glass drifted down to her side. Warm fingers worked it from hers, and he stepped away to set it aside.

Gina turned to watch him as he moved back to her with an effortlessly comfortable gait. When he reached her, Gina tilted her chin up, and he obediently joined their lips. Heat from his body combined with the velvety touch, but slow surrender wasn’t what she wanted. Palms splayed on his upper chest, she deepened the kiss, angling against his mouth. He followed swiftly, one hand cupping her head as the other landed over her ribs.

His tongue tangled with hers, easily finding the right balance between timid and overbearing, underscored by the light scrape of stubble. Good kisser.



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