Authors: Heatherly Bell
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Published by Heatherly Bell Books
Copyright © 2014 by Maria Buscher
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Edited by Lesley McDaniel
Cover by The Killion Group
Special thanks to Irene Bravo (die-hard Oakland As fan) for sharing her love of the game of baseball – the magic, the mystery and the superstition.
Thanks as always to my critique partners in crime, authors Amy Lamont, Lee Kilraine, and Bailey Edwards. For being my cheerleaders and occasionally talking me off the ledge. Also to Regina Kyle (aka Spicy Caliente) for christening me “Baby Spice”. Although, Amy says this book may have earned me PG-13 status. I will let the reader decide.
Naturally I must thank my first love, James, for supporting me for many years and having the audacity to ask, “Why don’t you just stay at home and write?” For my kids Tyler, Danielle and Brandon who have filled my life with love and purpose.
Thanks for making me laugh every day.
Billy Turlock has all the right moves, but Brooke Miller isn’t playing …
Hometown hero/retired baseball pitcher Billy Turlock buys a vineyard right out from under Brooke. Now he wants her to work for him. Brooke takes the job, but the last thing she needs is to fall for her handsome boss. The two have a short history that didn’t end well.
For Billy, Brooke is the one that got away, and he won’t let her go this time. Even if it means chasing every one of her prospective suitors away. Billy’s ready to knock this one out of the park. All he needs is a second chance.
With any luck, Brooke Miller would not receive a marriage proposal tonight.
On a warm August evening, the wine flowed at the Serrano winery in Starlight Hill. George Serrano, the owner and Brooke’s boss, wouldn’t give her much of a hint as to the occasion. Only said that tonight’s announcement would be momentous, unprecedented, and a surprise to everyone in the community.
It just had better not be a proposal.
Having an affair with her boss had to be hands down, the singularly most stupid thing Brooke had ever done. When after a few months she’d realized that, as so many times in the past with other guys, the fizzle had fizzed and the pop had— well— popped, she’d avoided George. And it hadn’t been easy.
How, exactly, did one break up with one’s boss? Her first guess? Strategically.
One option would be to tender her resignation. Not going to happen. Brooke loved her job as general manager, and she was damned good at it. One stupid mistake shouldn’t ruin her career trajectory.
She could just be honest with him. And she would, eventually, but not while he was considering her for a promotion to Vice President of Sales. In that position, she’d get an expense account and travel several times a year to Europe. More to the point, she happened to be the most qualified person for the position and everyone realized it. George counted on her, relied on her, and trusted her. He’d assured her time and again that the position would be hers.
So for weeks, she’d had a cold that wouldn’t go away. George had kept his distance. He seemed to understand when every time he approached any closer than three feet she held her arm out. “Still not feeling well.” She did have the monthly excuse, but that only worked one week out of the month. Two if she stretched it. George was not the brightest light when it came to women.
Frankly, she had run out of excuses.
Yet despite all the hints she’d dropped: “I think it’s great when a couple can remain friends after the romance is over. Sometimes two people don’t click, and is it really anybody’s fault?” George didn’t seem to catch the hint. At all.
Instead, he’d taken to asking her about engagement rings: size, color, shape. She had no opinion.
Then he’d asked about honeymoon destinations. Which would she prefer? Paris? Italy? Spain?
She swallowed, and had no opinion.
Maybe, Brooke hoped, he would announce her promotion tonight. Even though, among all the marriage talk, there’d been no mention of her promotion. Brooke straightened the silver setting for the umpteenth time. She’d chosen a perfect shade of Burgundy for the tablecloth and napkins. The centerpieces were crystal vases filled with old wine corkscrews.
“Brooke, everything looks so awesome,” Chelsea Ricci, their summer intern, said. “You have perfect taste.”
“Thank you.” Brooke stopped near the chocolate fountain. A nice touch and not the norm for Serrano parties, but she wanted tonight to be special. Just in case it was indeed the announcement of her promotion.
“Someday I hope I can be half as creative,” Chelsea said.
“Of course you will be.” Brooke said, picking up a name tag from a table. Tiny corkscrews with name cards. Everyone thought she was a genius, but part of her secret was Pinterest.
George had invited every vintner in town. Even some from neighboring Napa. She recognized all the established names among Napa Valley vintners: Guglielmo, Dardanelli, Rapazzini. Some she’d worked with in the past, some she’d like to work with in the future. But obviously, going to another company after first being VP of Sales might be a better transition to make.
A couple of hours later, the party was in full swing and still no one had any idea of the occasion. They’d stop by and ask her, expecting her to have an idea.
“Oh, you know George. He likes to surprise us every now and then,” she’d answer, and then go find something to do.
Brooke steered clear of George as he walked around the tables, in his usual composed state, as though a tornado wouldn’t faze him. Never smiling, head held high. He dripped with Alpha male confidence, which at first she’d found alluring and then after a while a tad disgusting. But since that had pretty much been the pattern in her love life, it didn’t exactly surprise her that she’d grown tired of him.
Finally George moved to the front of the room. “I’m sure you wonder why I gathered you all here tonight for this lovely occasion. When a man is in love…let’s just say it’s been difficult to keep this under wraps.”
Brooke’s hand rose to her neck. Oh no. Not here. Not happening. How could she say no and save this night? She tried to mentally telegraph to George that he shouldn’t do this. Not now, so publically.
Seemed this would happen. Happen right now. Her palms were sweaty. She couldn’t marry him. She couldn’t marry anyone. Marriage was for other women. Women that were not Brooke.
“Even the woman of my dreams doesn’t know this moment is about to happen, as I’ve had to keep it quiet. You all know how I love a good surprise.” It was a little strange when George moved in her opposite direction. He dropped to one knee in front of Chelsea. “My darling Chelsea, I know I don’t deserve you but would you make me the happiest man on earth and marry me?”
Suddenly the room grew a bit hazy, and George and Chelsea looked narrow, like they might through a telescope lens. Brooke couldn’t for the life of her take in a deep breath, though she required oxygen at the moment. Stat! What had just happened? Chelsea? Twenty-two year old virgin and thirty-five year old playboy? It was a joke, that’s what it was. A bad movie of the week. Sometimes George liked a good practical joke, although for the life of her she couldn’t remember one.
Chelsea turned beet red as everyone stood up to applaud. “Oh, Georgie. Is this really happening?”
Well, this was a surprise, and an explanation for why he’d asked so many questions about rings and honeymoons. Probably only trying to get a woman’s opinion on the subject. And even if they’d never officially called it quits, maybe this was for the best. Brooke finally exhaled.
George held a diamond ring which looked to be worth two years of Brooke’s salary. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you were the one for me. I wanted to surprise you. Surprised?”
“Say yes, you’ll marry him!” Someone in the crowd shouted.
“Yes! Yes! Of course I’ll marry you,” Chelsea said, and George slipped the ring onto her finger.
The couple kissed and George turned to the crowd. “While we have your undivided attention, I’d like to announce our new VP of Sales.”
Brooke smiled as she caught George’s eyes, and moved towards him. Yes, this was her time. Her moment in the sun. Better than she could have hoped. She’d have the job, and no George to damper the celebration, or the tiny question in her mind that he may have given her the job for reasons other than her abilities.
“My lovely fiancé will take over those duties, as soon as we return from our honeymoon in Italy. After all, this is first and foremost a family business.” He threw a significant look in Brooke’s direction.
The words kicked her in the gut.
“A la familia!” A gentleman from the Rapazzini table raised a glass of their best Pinot Grigio private label. Their latest prize winner, velvety with a hint of oak and fruit. Brooke had personally chosen it for the occasion tonight.
For several long moments, she couldn’t move. She might have celebrated that George had moved on, except for the fact that he’d taken the promotion with him. He’d dangled the promotion in front of her when he considered her his private play thing.
Suddenly she needed a shower in the worst way. George had managed to make her feel cheap and incompetent all at once.
The newly engaged couple made their way around the room accepting congratulations, oblivious to the volcanic eruption building in Brooke’s stomach. She wanted to give her best wishes to George privately, where she might have a chance at destroying the family jewels.
Chelsea approached. “Thank you for throwing my engagement party. No one could have done any better. I’m so surprised. Did you have any idea?”
“I had no idea. Didn’t even know the two of you were dating.”
Chelsea blushed. “Georgie wanted to keep it a secret. I didn’t want to, but he said it wouldn’t look good because of my internship.”
“And he’s right.” Wouldn’t look good, either, that a man-whore was marrying Tinker Bell. Brooke trembled with anger. Either that, or she had a fever.
“Can you believe this ring?” Chelsea held it out for Brooke, nearly blinding her.
“I really can’t. Congratulations. Not just on the wedding, but the job. That’s great,” Brooke spit out.
“Wow, yeah. I had no idea about that but when George mentioned it to me a couple of weeks ago it sounded so cool. I mean, I get to go on trips to Europe and all. I don’t know what I’ll wear! I need to go shopping!” She squealed and bounced.
“I better go see if the kitchen needs anything.”
There should be blood and guts on the mason tile floor, and not little drips of chocolate from the fountain. George had given her promotion, the one he’d promised her, the one she deserved, to the girl he was currently sleeping with. And he hadn’t bothered to tell her, or even give her a warning.
No sooner had she entered through the doors to the large utility kitchen than Eric, her assistant, had followed her inside. “Bastard.”
“That job was mine, Eric. I deserve it.”
“Do you want me to cut his nuts off? Because I will.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Brooke said. “I’ll do that.”
“That’s my girl,” Eric said and left the room with a tray of wine goblets, but not before Brooke snatched two from the tray.
Definitely, a two-fisted night of drinking lay ahead. She would enjoy this damn wine, an amusing bouquet of earthy opulence, if it killed her. What an idiot she’d been. For the first time in her life, she’d made the mistake of sleeping with the boss. And it had cost her a promotion, not to mention her self-respect.
She might have made the Dean’s list at Chicago State, but she still hadn’t cracked the mystery of boys. Or men that behaved like boys.
Well, hell, this was a party. Brooke joined in, and danced with several of the men who asked. Even George’s youngest brother, Tony, who lowered his hand to her ass in a characteristic show of machismo.
Brooke resisted the urge to slap the face so like George’s, and instead held up a finger and shook her head. “No, Tony. If you want to keep that hand you better put it back where it belongs.”
He did, snaking it around her waist. “Man, Brooke. You are smokin’ hot. It almost might be worth it to lose a limb.”
“I don’t think so. You’re too young for me. What are you, twelve?”
He scowled. “I’m twenty-one, dude.”
After a few more glasses of wine, Brooke felt a whole lot better about the situation. The Vice President of Sales would be a token position if he’d given it to Chelsea. He needed someone young and pliable, someone without ideas of her own. Meanwhile, Brooke had an opinion or two, and they didn’t always agree with George’s vision.
Like the name of their latest wine, for instance. George wanted to call it Georgissimo, which made a lot of sense for a narcissist. Brooke had been steadily and aggressively promoting many other, far less ridiculous names. Tonight she had a few new ideas.
She swayed a little to the right, set her empty wine glass down on the tray that Eric had brought back out, and made her way to the stage where the live band played. Time to offer heartfelt congratulations to the happy couple.
Eric reached for her elbow. “What are you doing? I don’t like that look in your eye. You’ve had too much to drink. Let’s think this through all the way.”
“I’m fine,” Brooke said, shaking him off and climbing up the steps to the stage to take the microphone from the lead singer. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Not you, George. I don’t mean you.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
Oh right, they think I’m kidding.
“I’m Brooke Miller, and I work here. Most of you know me. I’m the general manager.”
“Woot! Woot!” Tony shouted from the floor. He’d had one too many, because children didn’t know how to handle their wine.
“I wanted to offer my sincere congratulations to the bride and groom to be.”
Everyone cheered. Chelsea waved from the chocolate fountain. So far, this was easy. “Next month we’ll be unveiling our new wine collection, and naturally George wants to name it after himself.”
Ripples of laughter ensued, and George had on his I’m-the-King-of-this-Castle smile. Time to wipe that smug look right off his face. “I disagreed, and I had a whole list of other names. But that’s not important right now. I agree the wine should be named after George. This is a momentous night.”
The crowd cheered. George walked over by the chocolate fountain to join Chelsea, and put his arm around her.
“So the question is: should we name this wine Lying Sack of Shit, or Two-Timing Bastard? Any thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?”
A gasp arose from the formerly engaged crowd, and every smile slipped off their collective faces. Tough crowd. Eating out of her hands one moment, glaring at her the next.