The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery



            “You would say that. It’s your wine.” Stephanie looked over Mackenzie’s shoulder and smiled. “Here comes your handsome husband. I’m guessing he wants your first dance.”

            Mackenzie turned and watched as Rhys approached. He enjoyed the dancing at the Solstice Party and took all the female guests for a turn around the dance floor, but he always saved the first one for her.

            “Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand.

            She passed her wineglass to Stephanie, then followed her husband to the small dance floor. No one else joined them, but she knew that would change as soon as they got things started.

            “We need to check the Seven Hills drip system,” she said as they moved in time with the music. “The forecast says we’re going to get hotter and drier in the next few weeks, and I want to control the exact amount of moisture.”

            One of the advantages of “new world” vineyards was the ability to control quality by providing exactly the right amount of irrigation. Once the fruit was established, she could stress the vines, causing them to focus more intensely on the fruit.

            “I know better than to point out we walked the vineyard last month,” Rhys said lightly.

            “That was a general check. Now I have a specific concern.”

            “As you wish.” He spun them in a tight circle. “Maybe the rest of the work conversation could wait until tomorrow.”

            “What?” Why wouldn’t they talk about—“Oh. The party. Sorry.”

            “Don’t apologize. You’re never truly off duty, but if we could put it on hold for the night, I would appreciate it.”

            Because he enjoyed events like these. He liked talking to his friends and meeting new people and generally being social. Rhys was much more extroverted than she was. If someone new joined the tight circle of vineyard owners in the area, he was the first one to go introduce himself.

            She nodded her agreement and tried to think of something to talk about that wasn’t vineyard or wine related.

            “I hope Kyle leaves Stephanie alone,” she said, thinking that was a more neutral topic. “She’s trying hard to move on.”

            “She has to figure out what she wants. He’s always going to ask—it’s up to her to tell him no and mean it.”

            She knew he was right, but for some reason his blunt assessment irritated her.

            “That’s not very understanding,” she said before she could stop herself. “Kyle’s a big-time Seattle sportscaster with the ability to find a different woman every night. Stephanie’s a small-town single mom working at the family business. Where, exactly, is she supposed to meet someone?”

            Her husband stared at her. “What does her dating someone else have to do with whether or not she’s still sleeping with Kyle?”

            “There aren’t any other options for her. She’s lonely.”

            “She’s going to stay lonely until she gets herself out there.”

            “What there are you talking about? The giant singles scene here in Walla Walla?”

            They stopped dancing and stared at each other. Mackenzie realized this was the closest she and Rhys had come to having an actual argument in years. She had no idea why she had so much energy about the topic or what was causing her growing annoyance. But whatever it was, the Summer Solstice Party was not the place to give in to unexplained emotions.