This week’s sample is from my latest book, Wildfire, the first wine country mystery.
Chapter 3: Wine and a woman
At last, it’s over. A full day of Chef Donald’s abuse. Not to mention harassment. Oh, yes, and working my ass off in a kitchen. Now I remember why I decided against being a chef as a career. Tomorrow, I am definitely going to look for a job in a law office.
She stepped off the restaurant’s back steps to see a man walking across the lot near the winery. “Roberto! Do you always work this late?”
The winery manager turned fast, and his teeth gleamed in the light over the winery door as he smiled. “Tara. You startled me.” He came close. “All too often, I’m afraid. We had another breakdown of some bottling equipment. I’ve been working since afternoon to fix it.”
“Alan was here, too. He just went home.” He pointed with his chin toward the DaSilva’s house, beyond the restaurant mansion.
“Did you fix it?”
“Yeah. I hope so, anyway. We won’t know for sure ’til we run it at production speed, though. How was your day?”
“Okay,” she lied. “Chef Donald is … demanding.”
“He’s a total jerk.” Roberto opened the door to the winery. “Would you like to sample some wine before the night’s over?”
Way to a girl’s heart. “Sure.”
Roberto led the way inside the winery, flipping on a single light in the office where Tara had met Alan the day before. “Have a seat,” he said and disappeared into the winery’s shadows. He returned with an unlabelled bottle. “We just tested the line with some chardonnay, so we’re not gonna sell this, anyway,” he explained as he filled two stem glasses.
“That’s okay.” They clinked glasses. “Wow, this is really good.”
Roberto beamed his movie star smile at her. “Thanks.” He sipped from his own glass. “It’s a bit young—not our best vintage, either. But good for testing bottling equipment.”
“I think it’s excellent.” Tara settled as comfortably as she could in the office chair. “So, wine’s really your thing, huh?”
“My family’s thing, really. My papa was a vintner, and my abuelo, too.”
“Grand-dad.” He refilled Tara’s glass.
“So, why are you working for Alan?”
Roberto’s smile disappeared. “My family doesn’t have its own winery anymore. We just had a small vineyard, smaller than this, and it didn’t get through the crash in ‘08.”
Roberto leaned back in the desk chair. “S’alright. My folks’re okay now. Pop’s retired and my brothers all have jobs.”
“And you’re the manager of a famous winery.”
Roberto barked a laugh. “Not that famous. We got a couple of good reviews.”
“You make great wine.”
Roberto nodded. “We do. But tell me about yourself. Alan tells me you have a law degree from a fancy eastern college.”
“Not that it’s done me much good. I work in a kitchen, remember?”
“A famous kitchen. Cyrano’s has gotten more good reviews than the winery. But why are you working in a kitchen at all, if you have a law degree?”
Tara drained her glass. “I got a law degree. Along with thousands of other graduates this year, when you add up all the colleges in the country. I’ve wanted to live in California, ever since I was a little girl. I actually wanted to study at Berkeley, but my father said ‘no way, I’m not paying for you to go to another university when there’s a perfectly good one right here.’”
“Yeah, college is expensive. I hear.” Roberto filled her glass again, then emptied the last of the wine into his own.
“Not for him. He’s a college professor, so I got my undergrad degree for free.”
“Wow. That’s great. Just a sec.” Roberto jogged into the depths of the winery again, returning with another bottle of wine. “This is something special.” He glanced over his shoulder, as if afraid someone else would see him. “It’s something I’ve been working on, on my own. A special blend of grapes I put together last year. I just made a couple of barrels to try. Not even Alan knows about it.” He poured a half-full, deep purple-red glass for each of them. They toasted each other.
“Wow, this is really good. I’ve never tasted anything like this. You made it yourself?”
Roberto’s smile lit up the office. “Not quite. It’s based on my abuelo’s recipe, but with some of my own touches, too.”
Tara sipped more. “It’s … complex. But in a good way. A great way, actually.” She drank more. “It’s almost as if it has a personality.”
Roberto laughed. “So, go on.”
“Go on with what?” Tara’s words were a little slurred. It’s late. I’m getting sleepy. And if I have much more wine, I’m going to find myself sitting in his lap.
“With your life’s story. You always wanted to come to California. So you did law school, and then you came here to fulfill your dream, or something?”
“Something like that. I did some other stuff in between.”
“Stuff?” He would not let her glass get lower than half-full.
“I had a baby.”
Roberto froze. “A baby?”
Tara gulped more wine. “Uh-huh. A little girl. She’s 18 months old now. Roxanne.”
Roberto looked at her intently. “So, where is she now?”
“With my parents. They’re looking after her until I get settled here in California. Fine a—I mean, find a good place for her to grow up in. Near schools, although I guess I have a couple of years before I have to worry ’bout that.”
“I guess. And where’s Daddy?”
“My father’s in—”
“No, I mean, um, I don’t want to pry or anything.”
“Oh! Roxanne’s daddy. Right.” Tara sipped more wine. Slow down there, girl. “‘Daddy’s’ not in the picture anymore. Never was, after I told him I was pregnant. Ran for the hills.” Oh-oh. TMI.
“Too bad. The jerk doesn’t know what he’s missing,” Roberto said, smiling. He sipped his wine.
He doesn’t have to get me drunk, Tara thought.
Another part of her brain said “Slow down.”
“No, he doesn’t know,” she agreed. She leaned forward. “I think we’re out of wine.”
“I can always get more. For some reason, there always seems to be wine here.”
God, that smile could do it by itself.
She put her hand on his knee. “I think I’m a little tipsy. Help me get home?”
Wildfires swept across California wine country in 2017, destroying thousands of homes and businesses, and killing dozens of people. Law school grad and single mother Tara Rezeck finds herself in the middle of the catastrophe. When she returns to her job at the most award-winning vineyard in Sonoma County, she finds her employer’s body in the ashes.
The question that challenges her brains and her legal training is: was it an accident? Or was his body burned to hide evidence of murder?
Get to know Tara Rezeck better at this post.
You can read the first two chapters for free on Wattpad.