By Barb Curtis
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 10, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Jay Wynter wants to be successful on his own merit. That’s why he left Sapphire Springs and his family’s winery to build a career from scratch. But now that he’s successor to Wynter Estate, Jay must return to his small hometown to face everything, and everyone, he left behind-especially his high school sweetheart, who happens to be his stunning new business partner . . .
Leyna Milan knows family legacies come with strings attached, but she’s determined to prove that she can run her family’s restaurant. Of course, Leyna never expected that honoring her grandfather’s wishes meant opening a second location on her ex’s property-or having to ignore Jay’s sexy grin and guard the heart he shattered years before. But as they work closely together, she begins to discover that maybe first loves deserve a second chance . . .
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Three catastrophes before breakfast has got to be a record.” Leyna Milan answered the phone call via Bluetooth without taking her eyes off the narrow winding road.
Her best friend, Emily, offered a cheerful laugh. “Your day is off to a great start, obviously.”
“Another liquor order screw-up nobody seems to be able to straighten out. Twenty-seven draft beers, and they still manage to deliver two kegs I don’t carry on tap.” She’d resisted the urge to kick one of the kegs for being stuck in the middle of the restaurant, where it didn’t belong. There was a strong possibility it would break her foot. Plus, it would ruin the toe of her favorite Louboutins, and she’d stopped wasting money on footwear the price of a car payment after she broke off her engagement to Richard. “What’s up with you?”
Leyna could hear Emily’s heels tapping against pavement, and she pictured the petite blonde crossing town square from her apartment over her cake shop, head tipped back, breathing in the fragrant spring air.
“On my way to the coffee house. I had an epiphany at three a.m. while brainstorming ideas for fresh new local events.” She lowered her voice before continuing. “I think I might run for a seat on town council.” A bell jingled as Emily entered Jolt Café. “I can already see it,” she whispered. “Elect Emily Holland for Sapphire Springs town council. Am I crazy? You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
“No way, it’s the best news I’ve heard this week. I’ll be your campaign manager.” Town council needed new blood, and Emily was full of great ideas. Leyna slowed and turned down a long driveway. “Let’s strategize over lunch.”
“Definitely. But while it may be the best news you’ve heard this week, it’s not the biggest. You’re not going to believe what Nana heard at book club last night.”
Emily’s Nana was the source of all their gossip. Normally Leyna would’ve been eager to hear the news, but she was distracted as a couple of reporters ducked out of the way when she drove around the bend. She lifted her hands from the steering wheel long enough to shake the tension out of her fingers. “Save it for lunch, I gotta go. Duty calls.”
A weather report on the local radio station replaced Emily’s protesting.
Leyna parked her black Jetta in front of the gray stone building that housed Wynter Estate headquarters. A breeze stirred the bed of ornamental grass surrounding the company sign, bending the long blades toward the manicured lawn.
Home of her new restaurant.
When Leyna inherited her grandfather’s Italian bistro, part of the deal was to open a second location of Rosalia’s at his best friend’s winery, her own plans be damned.
She grabbed her laptop bag out of the back seat and, with her hand resting on the car door, paused. Thick smoke trailed from brushfires ablaze on the edges of the vineyard, and a deafening helicopter circled overhead—a desperate ploy to raise the temperature. According to the morning news, all of Niagara wine country scrambled to try to save their grape vines from a late bout of spring frost.
Given the weather debacle and Stefan Wynter’s recent stroke, she’d been banking on today’s meeting being postponed so she’d have more time to prepare for next week’s catering job at the art gallery. No such luck. On the tail of the liquor order screw-up and one of her servers quitting via text message, Stefan had sent a cryptic email that it was crucial (in caps) that everyone attend today’s meeting, as there would be an important announcement.
Previous meetings had been in the winter, before Stefan got sick, when a thick blanket of snow still covered the sleeping vineyard. Now the greening fields bustled with crew members. A reporter and cameraman paced the parking lot, asking anyone who resembled an employee if frost damage would compromise the year’s vintage, and if the helicopter pushing down the warm air from the fires would really give them enough heat to save the vines.
To ward off questions, she allowed her long dark hair to fall over her face and chanced a glance past headquarters to Stefan’s large house, nestled among sycamore trees, and the smaller guesthouse, with its dock on the lake.
Memories of swimming there with friends, of falling in love, flickered in her mind, and as always, she pushed them away. Though a mere fifteen minutes from downtown, she’d avoided wine country for years before this business arrangement.
Tearing her gaze away from the house, she made her way inside. Her arches already throbbed from the height of her heels, so she skipped the stairs and rode the elevator. Those damn heels were a great idea when she’d left the house, envisioning a day in her office.
With a ping, the elevator doors slid open, and Leyna stepped off into the reception area, already alive with ringing telephones and the buzzing of printers.
“Good morning, Ms. Milan,” Stefan’s assistant, Carolyn, said, punching a button on the phone and setting down the receiver. “Can I get you a coffee?”
“I’d love one, thank you.”
Carolyn poured the hot brew into a paper cup and passed it to Leyna. “There’s cream and sugar around the corner and blueberry scones I baked last night. I nuked them when I came in, so grab one while they’re still warm,” she added with a wink before turning back to the caller on hold.
A few staff members mingled in the boardroom, whispering among themselves, so Leyna waved hello and chose a chair next to Les from accounting. He was too preoccupied with punching numbers into a calculator to offer small talk, which was perfect. She’d have a few minutes to look over her notes in case Stefan called on her to speak.
A hush fell over the room when Stefan surfaced in the doorway and hovered there. He spoke on his cell phone, jabbing his finger toward the ground with each quiet order he gave the person on the other end. Normally his deep complexion popped against his thin white cap of hair, but today he was pale. It was only a little over a week since he’d gotten out of the hospital. He stabbed at the screen of his phone before shoving it into the breast pocket of the sport coat that hung loose around his chest. With a sigh, he gripped his cane and hobbled into the room.
Not out of the woods yet. Her heart ached for the man who was the closest thing to a grandparent she had left.
Stefan surprised Leyna by taking the seat next to her, instead of his usual spot at the head of the table.
“Good morning, love.” His deep eyes wrinkled with the warm greeting, and he placed a hand on her shoulder to ease into the chair while the others trickled to seats around the long conference table.
“You’re looking well,” she whispered. “I’m glad you’re on the mend.”
Stefan leaned his cane against the table and retrieved a stack of papers from his briefcase. “I’m tougher than a burnt steak.” He winked before raising his voice to address the room. “We’re waiting for one more to arrive.” Pushing up his sleeve to look at his watch, he let out a long, drawn-out sigh before plucking the phone from his pocket again and hammering out a message.
His daughter, Danielle, no doubt held up in a session with her personal trainer. It’d be too easy to get through a meeting without her constant interrupting.
Leyna tapped her pen against the lined paper in her notebook, smattering a constellation of blue dots across the page. Damn delayed meeting. Mondays were too busy for this. Maybe she could convince Stefan to stall on the restaurant a little longer—at least until she and her brother, Rob, could put their heads together to come up with a financial miracle so she could not only open the second restaurant but also buy the building next to Rosalia’s on town square. She pulled out the realty information on the Blackhorse Theatre and the designs she’d been working on for a logo.
A risky idea—maybe even foolish, considering she had next to zero capital left after taking ownership of Rosalia’s last summer and overhauling the tired restaurant to bring it into the twenty-first century, both structurally and aesthetically. But ever since a FOR SALE sign went up in the window next door, the building haunted her dreams. It shared a pedestrian alley with Rosalia’s, which meant she could expand her back courtyard and double her patio seating, not to mention the perfect concert venue to host bigger acts than she could feasibly bring into a restaurant-lounge setting.
Securing the space wouldn’t be such a pipe dream if it weren’t for needing to solve the first problem at hand—pulling off this new restaurant at Wynter Estate.
“Stefan, since we have a minute, I wondered if we could talk about the timeline for the new restaurant. There’s some stuff on my end I’d like to fig—”
“Hold that thought,” he apologized, pulling the vibrating cell phone out of his jacket, and turning away from her to answer the call. After a short conversation, he turned back to face the group.
“We’ll begin,” he bellowed, silencing the whispers that had morphed to a low murmur in the short time he’d been on the phone. “All hell is breaking loose here today, and we’ve all got other things to get to.”
Stefan passed Leyna a stack of agendas. She took one off the top before passing the pile to Les. She glanced down at the document and noticed the last topic of discussion was “announcement.”
Way to keep it cryptic.
Stefan recapped the previous meeting and worked through the first few points on his agenda, ticking each one off the list.
The end of April was still too chilly to warrant air-conditioning—and for the low neckline of her camisole. She pinched her pale pink cardigan closed at the neck, sipped her coffee, and tuned back in to Stefan, who discussed ideas for upcoming summer events. He was a man to be admired. He’d famously built Wynter Estate from the ground up, planting his first rows of cabernet sauvignon after his land proved to be too grainy and low in nutrients for growing pear trees. Or something to that effect.
“The Sip and Savor Festival is fast approaching,” Stefan was saying. He placed a chilly wrinkled hand over Leyna’s. “We are thrilled to have Rosalia’s new chef, Marcel, catering our summer solstice tasting in the vineyard, and Carolyn informed me on my way in this morning that the event is officially sold out.”
A mumble of approval erupted, and Leyna’s eyebrows shot upward. Sold out already? She’d barely promoted it. The Sip and Savor Festival took over Sapphire Springs for two weeks each June. Local wineries hosted special events to launch their latest vintages. Wynter’s summer solstice tasting was always one of the highlights of the festival.
Stefan turned to her. “It’s all thanks to your savvy business sense and that glowing review in The Post. Leyna, is there any chance Marcel can bend on his numbers, so we can open up more tickets?”
She scrawled a reminder to send a thank-you note to Marcel’s buddy at the newspaper for the favor. “I’ll ask him and get back to you, but I’m sure we can handle an extra fifty people.” They would whether he liked it or not.
“Excellent.” Stefan beamed, and jotted something down on his agenda. “Get back to me when you’ve discussed it with him. There’s a case of samples waiting for you downstairs. I’ve suggested pairings to go with each wine but will leave the final menu selections up to you and your team. The sooner you can get back to me with confirmation, the better, so we can move forward with print material.”
She nodded, flipping her day planner to the end of the week to task herself with following up.
Stefan went on to other matters. “Many have expressed concerns about this cold snap in the weather and the effect it could have on our yields.” He pushed his chair away from the table a little and adjusted his posture. “I’ll tell you all the same thing I’ve been saying for forty years. Any farmer worth the dirt under his nails understands one thing.”
“Mother Nature will always have you by the balls.” The voice, low and husky, came from the doorway.
Midsentence, Leyna stopped writing. She’d know that voice anywhere.
“Nice of you to join us, Jason,” Stefan said, turning toward the door.
She stopped breathing.
A drum solo couldn’t have drowned out the hammering of her heart.
“Sorry I’m late.” He pushed off the door jamb. “It’s a shit show out there.”
He mumbled something else, too low to detect.
Obviously she’d turned the alarm off this morning instead of hitting snooze and somehow the ex of all exes scored a cameo appearance in her dream, because this could not be happening.
“Sit down,” Stefan commanded, kicking an empty chair under the table so it rolled toward Jay.
The chair directly across from her. Okay, call it a nightmare, actually.
His brown eyes fell on Leyna, and he hesitated before raking his fingers through his chestnut hair and crossing the room. Dirt fell from his Blundstone boots, leaving a trail across the gleaming floors.
Leyna jerked her head down to stare at her notebook, the words blurring together. Jay Wynter rising to the surface after eighteen years and strolling into a staff meeting at Wynter Estate? No way in hell. Heat crept up the back of her neck and pulsated in her cheeks. Why was it so damn hot in here all of a sudden?
Without raising her head, she rolled her gaze toward Stefan. His mouth formed a crease, and he looked away.
“Most of you know my grandson, Jason,” Stefan began, glancing around the room at everyone but Leyna. “For those who don’t, I’ll give a brief introduction. Jason’s been working in this industry since he used to toddle around behind me in the vineyard. The last eighteen years he’s divided his time between Wynter Estate and various wineries throughout France—mostly Burgundy, experimenting with organic growing practices and modern irrigation systems—things I considered fluff until a few years back, when his efforts started winning him awards in the wine world. He’s late, didn’t bother to shave, and couldn’t have dressed less professionally if he’d tried…but he’s a hell of a vintner.”
Jay’s back went straight, and he glanced down at his worn Pearl Jam T-shirt and the tanned knee poking out of his faded jeans.
The smoke that had been curling over the vineyard when she arrived wafted off of him, wrapping its bony fingers around Leyna’s throat. She reached for her coffee.
“Given my recent health scare, he’s come back to help out,” Stefan said. “Please excuse his appearance. He arrived just in time to be up all night dealing with this weather fiasco on my behalf.” He clasped his hands together on the table and paused a moment before going on. “Which brings me to my announcement—after the Sip and Savor Festival in June, I’ll be retiring as CEO of Wynter Estate and naming Jason as my successor.”
Leyna’s coffee lodged somewhere in the back of her throat, refusing to go down and leaving her no choice but to give into a fit of coughing. Les scrambled to pound her back.
Jay’s mouth dropped open, and his wide eyes stared at Stefan.
The hum of the air conditioner kicking in nearly catapulted Leyna from her chair. Successor? Jay? No. Nope. Nope. Nope. The only successor worse than Danielle was her fickle son.
“I know my decision to retire comes as a shock to everyone,” Stefan said, “but I’m following the advice of my doctors.”
“The place won’t be the same without you,” one of the vineyard crew said from the far end of the table.
“Don’t worry, I’ll still be around. I’m just handing over the responsibilities. Now,” he slapped the stack of papers in front of him. “I’ve reversed the order of our agenda. The next item to be discussed was the progress on Rosalia’s new restaurant at Wynter Estate.”
Jay inched forward in his chair, and the sleeve of his T-shirt crept up to reveal the edge of a small tattoo. “New restaurant?” He studied Stefan and then Leyna.
“I’ll catch you up later,” Stefan said, before focusing on the group. “Most of you have heard the buzz about the new restaurant, but we’ve yet to discuss it in a full staff meeting.” He turned to Leyna, his smile warm. “Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d have heard about Leyna Milan stepping up to revamp her grandfather’s Italian restaurant. Joe Leone was my best friend for fifty years. Two years ago, we got to talking about our ailing health, the future of our family businesses, and the future of the economy in general. Both businesses were stable, but Joe and I brainstormed ideas and began considering how the two companies could complement one another.”
The room remained silent while Stefan went on. “We’ve decided to use a section of the Renaissance Road vineyard for the new restaurant. There’s more than enough untouched land for the building and parking lot.”
Though she’d been in on the planning since her grandfather’s death a year ago, none of Stefan’s words sunk in. Mouths moved, but the words were drowned out by flooding in her ears, like she struggled underwater.
Jay’s brow was furrowed, and he had yet to close his mouth. Clearly, he thought his grandfather went off the deep end. “Renaissance Road? Last time I checked that land belonged to me.”
“I will catch you up later,” Stefan repeated with a force that silenced Jay. Speaking to the group again, his voice softened. “We’ll be using the same designer who oversaw Rosalia’s rebranding last year, for a look and feel that will complement the existing restaurant.”
Breathe, nod, repeat.
Jay Wynter—her first boyfriend, first love, first everything was stepping up as head of the company she was partnering with. He also occupied the chair opposite her, and his presence hung in the air, robbing her of oxygen, like the smoke from the smoldering fires outside.
Stefan wrapped things up, and Leyna chanced a glance at Jay. Deep-set eyes, dark as chocolate, bore across the table.
“That’s all for today. Meeting adjourned,” Stefan announced, pounding his fist against the oak table like a judge, earning a few chuckles from around the table.
Leyna snapped out of the daze and shoved her chair away from the table. “Stefan, a word?”
“Me first,” Jay said, already standing with his arms crossed.
“We have much to discuss,” Stefan said, buttoning his sport coat with some difficulty. “But it’ll have to wait.” He closed his fingers around his cane as staff trickled out of the room. “I have a conference call.” He hoisted his bag onto his shoulder and headed for the door, the room constricting with each measured step he took toward the elevator.
Jay rubbed his fingers across the scruff on his chin before starting around the table toward her. “Look—”
“Don’t,” she warned. She preferred the distance of the table between them. Hands trembling, she gathered her papers, shoving them into her laptop bag in no particular order. To her dismay, a few scattered across the table onto the floor, and Jay bent down.
From her side, she knelt under the table and froze, inches from his face. “I’ve got it.”
He leaned back, squatting, and picked the pages off the floor. His gaze traveled partway up her legs before he darted his eyes away and glanced down at the realty information and her logo designs.
Her face burned, and she tugged on her gray pencil skirt, willing it to be a few inches longer. “I said I’ve got it.”
Saying nothing, he passed her the pages, his callused fingertips brushing against hers, sending a shiver from her ankles all the way up to her neck.
Fisting the gaping opening of her cardigan again, she fumbled to zip the papers inside her bag with her free hand. Over the years, she’d envisioned all sorts of scenarios where she ran into Jay Wynter—rehearsed what she’d say if she ever saw him again. She’d be calm and collected, confident, indifferent. Why were all those calculated snubs escaping her the moment she laid eyes on those gentle hands that used to comb through her hair until she fell asleep?
She had to break the silence. Say something. Anything. Clearing her throat, she forced her gaze to his. “So you’re back.”
“Seems that way.”
He held the eye contact—a silent challenge, she was certain. Under the layer of smoke, he smelled like the outdoors, and immediately she knew he was one of the crew members she’d paused to watch on her way in to the meeting. The scruff on his face glinted with silver, a rough contrast to his soft lips. He’d grown his hair out a little, too, and wore it sort of messy. It suited him.
Enough with the small talk. The hardwood floor was cold on her bare knees, and the last thing she expected to be doing today was crawling under a table with Jay Wynter. She pushed off the floor, smacking her head against the table, hard.
“Agh,” she groaned, cupping the back of her head with her hand.
“Whoa,” Jay’s lazy smile morphed into a worried frown. Leaning forward, he gripped her shoulders, steadying her. Are you okay?”
It hurt. Almost as much as her pride. “I’m fine,” she said through clenched teeth.
He released his hold, but not before his thumb grazed her collarbone, igniting her nerve endings again. Rising cautiously, she smoothed her skirt. “I’m late for another meeting.”
He surfaced on his side of the table, lips parting into a grin.
With what little confidence she could muster, she held her head high and marched toward the door, heels clacking against the floor.
“Leyna,” Jay called behind her.
She whirled back around. “What?”
He lowered into the chair and spun half a turn so he faced her, propped an elbow on the armrest, and lowered his chin into his hand. His fingers failed to mask the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth. “It’s really good to see you.”
On a long sigh, she whipped back around and marched out the door, eyes set on the elevator.
And that made four catastrophes before breakfast.
Jay pounded his fist against Stefan’s office door.
Turning the knob, he stepped inside the bright corner office and closed the door behind him.
“Jason, we’re going to have to work on your punctuality.” Stefan folded his hands on the desk. “When you’re running the show, you can’t be late for your own meetings.”
The stroke had twisted the left side of his mouth into an almost permanent grin, and the slight slur in Stefan’s speech made Jay’s chest ache. The sport coat he’d been wearing in the meeting hung on the back of his chair, and he’d rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, revealing a plethora of purple bruises from the poking and prodding he’d received in the hospital. A tingling crept into Jay’s legs, cementing them in place, but he pushed forward, despite growing weaker with each uneven step toward the heavy armchair opposite Stefan’s desk.
Stefan Wynter was the strongest man in the world to Jay. But now…gone was the tall, rugged man who’d been a constant in his life since his mother unloaded him at eight years old. In the five months since Jay had seen him, he’d withered away to a gaunt shadow of his former self.
Growing up without a father was something that damaged some kids—leaving them with voids they could spend their whole lives trying to fill, but Jay never took any interest in learning about the biological father who hadn’t wanted him or the seventeen-year-old girl carrying his child. The man meant nothing to him, of that he was certain. Jay was definitely one hundred percent Wynter.
Stefan picked up a remote off his desk and pressed a button, bringing classical music to the speakers—a sure sign he wanted to drown out their conversation to potential eavesdroppers.
“What can I do for you?”
Jay leaned forward in the chair and cleared his throat, opting to approach the issue with a bit less force than he’d earlier imagined. “You can start by explaining this retirement curve ball, and then tell me how you and Joe dreamed up a new restaurant on my land that I already had marked for syrah. That might catch me up, as you said back there in the meeting.”
- "A fantastic debut, Leyna and Jay's second chance proves that embers never truly die-bring on the smolder!"—Abby Jimenez, USA Today bestselling author
- "Curtis's sweet, summery romance will please readers looking for something light."—Publishers Weekly
- "Fans of Susan Wiggs will find this heartwarming romance to their liking."—Library Journal
- On Sale
- Nov 10, 2020
- Page Count
- 336 pages