The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery



            “It’s been the usual challenge with a few extras thrown in,” her sister-in-law said lightly. “I won’t even hint at what they are, but brace yourself for a surprise or two.”

            Mackenzie immediately scanned the crowd. “Is Kyle here?”

            Stephanie, a petite, curvy brunette with beautiful brown eyes and an easy smile, groaned. “What? No. Not that. I told you. I’m over him. Totally, completely, forever.”

            “But he’s here.”

            “Yes. Mom invites him every year because he’s Avery and Carson’s father. The fact that he’s my ex-husband doesn’t seem to faze her. You know how she gets.”

            Mackenzie did. Once her mother-in-law made up her mind about something, she could not, would not be moved. There was no evolving of an opinion over time. Barbara was a human version of the immovable object.

            “Kyle is her oldest granddaughter’s father, and therefore a member of the family.” Stephanie wrinkled her nose. “I deal with the awkwardness of it. On the bright side, she refers to him as ‘the sperm donor,’ which I like.”

            “If only he’d fought the prenup, Barbara would have turned on him like a snake.” Mackenzie paused. “You’re sure you don’t want to start back up with him?”

            “Yes. Totally. I’m done with that. He strung me along for years after the divorce. No more sex with the ex. It’s been eighteen months since our last bump and grind, and I’m standing strong. I’m horny as hell, but standing strong.” She glanced around at the guests. “Maybe I’ll hook up with someone here.”

            “Have you ever hooked up with anyone?”

            “No, but there’s always a first time.” Stephanie wrinkled her nose. “I just don’t know how it works. Do we slip away to the barrel room and do it on a desk or something? I can’t take him home—the kids are there. And a car is just so tacky.”

            “Because the barrel room isn’t?” Mackenzie asked with a laugh.

            “I don’t know. It could be romantic.”

            “Or, at the very least, intoxicating.”

            Stephanie waved away that observation. “Fine. Not the barrel room, but then I’m still left with a lack of location, not to mention any prospects.” She sighed as they walked toward one of the wine stations. “This is why hooking up has never worked for me. It’s too complicated. They make it look easy in the movies and on TV, but it’s not.”

            “I have zero experience. I’m sorry. I’ll read up on it so I have better advice next time.”

            “Which is why I love you.” Stephanie shook her head. “Obviously I should let the whole man-slash-sex thing go and focus on other aspects of my life.”

            They each asked for a glass of cabernet. While Stephanie simply sipped her wine, Mackenzie took a moment to study the color, before sniffing the aroma. She swirled the wine twice, then inhaled the scent again, liking the balance of fruit against the—

            “For heaven’s sake, just drink the wine, I beg you,” Stephanie said with a laugh. “It’s fine. It was fine when you watched the grapes being crushed, it was fine in the barrels, it was fine when it was bottled and it was fine when it won what I’m sure is a thousand awards. Okay? It’s good wine. Relax and stop being a winemaker for one night.”

            “You’re crabby.” Mackenzie took a drink and smiled. “For the record, it’s much better than fine.”