The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery



            “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “You’re right, of course. Stephanie has to find a way to change her circumstances so Kyle is less of a temptation.”

            His tight expression softened with concern. “I want my sister to be happy.”

            “I know you do.”

            “I want you to be happy.”

            There was something in the way he said the words. As if he wasn’t sure that was possible.

            “I am,” she said quietly, thinking she was almost telling the truth.

            “I hope so.”

            She faked a smile and waved her hand toward the growing crowd of guests. “You have a lot of women to dance with tonight. You’d better get started.”

            He studied her for a second, as if assessing her mood. She kept the smile in place until he turned away. When he was gone, she looked longingly toward her house. Disappearing into the quiet tempted her but wasn’t an option. Tonight was a command performance and there was no leaving early. But soon, she promised herself. In the quiet of her room, she wouldn’t feel the low-grade unease that had haunted her for the past few months. Alone in the dark, she would be calm and happy and think only of good things, like the coming harvest and the wine she would make. Alone in the dark, she would be herself again.





two


            Barbara Barcellona observed her guests as they laughed and talked. The Summer Solstice Party was a ten-year-old tradition, and one she enjoyed. She liked being the generous hostess and being able to show off her glorious estate and her attractive adult children. She liked how everyone dressed up for the evening and how the invitations were highly sought after, and how those who were not invited schemed to be included the next year. She liked the music and the food and even the twinkle lights her daughter Stephanie always insisted on, even though the sun was still visible at seven thirty in the evening.

            The large crowd was a tribute to her, but more important, it was a tribute to Bel Après. People came to show their respect for the winery and all it represented, and that was what Barbara enjoyed most of all.

            Forty-one years ago, when she’d married her late husband, Bel Après had been struggling to stay solvent. She hadn’t known the first thing about wine or winemaking, but she’d learned as quickly as she could. She and James had grown the business together. Eventually she’d taken over as general manager. She’d been the one to find the winemakers who had created the wines that had slowly, oh so slowly, brought Bel Après back from the brink.

            Her gaze moved across the crowd until she found her daughter-in-law. Barbara watched Mackenzie talking with some of the winery owners and she smiled as she saw how they all listened attentively. Mackenzie had been a find, she thought warmly. A shy but gifted young woman who had immediately understood Barbara’s vision of what Bel Après could be. Even if Rhys hadn’t married her, Barbara would have hired her. But he had and Mackenzie had joined the family.

            Barbara’s warm, happy feelings vanished as Catherine, her youngest, joined Mackenzie. That girl, Barbara thought grimly, taking in the flowing tie-dyed dress most likely created from a couple of pillowcases and a yak bladder. Catherine’s mission in life was to not be ordinary and to annoy her mother as much as possible. Happily for her, the quest for the former naturally led to the latter.

            She felt a hand on her waist, then a kiss on her bare neck. She turned and smiled at Giorgio, who pulled her close.

            “You’re looking fierce about something,” he said, pressing his body to hers. “Tell me what troubles you, my love, and I will find a solution.”

            “How I wish that were true.” She nodded toward Mackenzie and Catherine. “My daughter’s a mess. Can you fix that? And while you’re at it, can you make her stop being an artist and find an actual career?”