The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery



            “She’ll be too busy welcoming her guests.”

            The last of the curlers was flung onto the counter. Mackenzie fluffed her hair, then pointed to the bedroom.

            “Retreat,” she said, reaching for the can of hair spray.

            Rhys ducked to safety. She sprayed the curls into submission before running into the bedroom to escape the death cloud. Rhys was on the bench at the foot of the large bed. She sat next to him and quickly put on her shoes.

            “Done,” she said, pausing to reacquaint herself with the seldom-used skill of walking in heels.

            She grabbed her husband’s wrist. “Seven fifteen. Barbara’s going to kill us.”

            “She’s not. I’m her only son and you’re just plain her favorite.”

            “We weren’t ready exactly at seven. I can already hear the death-march music in my head. I want to be buried on Red Mountain.”

            Rhys chuckled as he led the way downstairs. “In the vineyard? I’m not sure your decaying body is going to be considered organic.”

            “Are you saying I’m toxic?” she asked with a laugh as they walked toward the front door.

            “I’m saying you’re wonderful and I’d like us to have a good night.”

            There was something in his tone, she thought, meeting his gaze. She’d known this man her entire adult life. They’d met over Christmas her freshman year of college. Her roommate, his sister Stephanie, had dragged Mackenzie home to meet the family. Grateful not to have to spend the holiday by herself, Mackenzie had gone willingly and had quickly found herself falling not only for her best friend’s hunky older brother but for the entire Barcellona family and the vineyards they owned. Barbara had been like a surrogate mother, and the vineyards, well, they had been just as magical as Rhys’s sexy kisses.

            Now she studied her husband’s expression, seeing the hint of sadness lurking behind his easy smile. She saw it because she hid the same emotion deep inside herself. The days of stealing away for sexy kisses were long gone. There were no lingering looks, no intimacy. They had a routine and a life, but she was less sure about them still having a marriage.

            “I’d like that, too,” she murmured, knowing he wasn’t asking them not to fight. They never did. Harsh words required a level of involvement they simply didn’t have anymore.

            “Then let’s make that happen,” he said lightly, taking her hand in his and opening the front door.

            The sounds of the party engulfed them, drawing them into the rapidly growing throng of guests. Mackenzie felt her mood lighten as she took in the twinkle lights wrapped around the pergola, the tables overflowing with food, the cases of Bel Après wine, stacked and ready to be opened. Servers circulated with trays of bruschetta. There was a pasta bar and a dessert station. Music played through speakers hidden in foliage, and the delicious smell of garlic mingled with the sweet scent of summer flowers.

            Mackenzie spotted Stephanie talking to one of the servers and gave Rhys’s hand one last squeeze before separating from him and walking toward her sister-in-law.

            “You outdid yourself,” she said, hugging her friend.

            “I’m pretty bitchin’,” Stephanie said with a laugh, then waved her hand toward the twinkle lights. “Those will be a lot more effective when the sun goes down in two plus hours.”

            Because the longest day in their part of Washington State meant nearly sixteen hours of daylight.

            “You exhausted?” Mackenzie asked, knowing Stephanie had spent the past three weeks making sure every detail of the party was perfect.