|Cover Art by Meredith Russell|
Liam Wade is rich, successful, and Leigh is the perfect, approved, wife for him. Before he settles down to give his daughter the best family he can, he wants one week away, to think. Just to make sure that he can leave half of himself hidden and marry without love, because Liam has one big problem in all of this — he’s gay.
Micah Adamson is the owner of a vineyard in Rochester NY, and has yet to find the partner he knows is out there for him. he believes in love and wants forever, and one day he knows he will find his ‘forever’ man. He attends a wine festival in Santa Monica, seven nights in a beautiful hotel on the beach.
Micah wants to show that love between two men includes affection, understanding, and can be forever. Will he make Liam see sense?
“….One Night is a beautiful retelling of the oldest romance story in the world, the meeting by chance of two people, from totally different walks of life, and how that meeting turns their lives upside down. Highly recommended if you love tortured souls coming out and believe love can triumph over everything else….”
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Mrs Condit Reads Books and a recommended read – 5/5 – “….One Night is a beautiful retelling of the oldest romance story in the world, the meeting by chance of two people, from totally different walks of life, and how that meeting turns their lives upside down. Highly recommended if you love tortured souls coming out and believe love can triumph over everything else….”
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Black Ravens Reviews – 4/5 – “….RJ Scott takes her readers on Liam’s life-altering journey as he becomes comfortable with his sexuality. It is a powerful lesson in living life on one’s own terms no matter what the family’s expectations might be. And yes in the end, this novel is a love story as Micah and Liam explore the possibilities of the future their One Night has opened for them….”
MM Good Book Reviews – 4.5/5 – “….I thought this story was incredibly touching as a father tries to do what is best for his daughter. You can feel his need to do right by his daughter; to give her the best upbringing that he can, even if it means that he sacrifices his own happiness. You feel incredibly sad for both these men as all they want is to be loved for themselves, not what they have or their name….”
Excerpt – Chapters 1 – 3
“Oh yeah, I meant to tell you, I sorted out your flights to LA.”
Jeez, that had been one hell of a change of subject. One minute Micah was discussing buying more land for the vineyard, and the next, his sister hit him with flights from Rochester.
“Why would you do that? I didn’t say I was definitely going,” Micah responded quickly. Damn it, every year Abbey brought this up in front of witnesses. He never had a real chance to argue back. Alex, his brother-in-law, looked up at him from the piles of papers on the desk with an expression of sympathy, but didn’t join in to defend or to encourage. He clearly knew to stay out of things when his wife was set on something.
“You say that,” Abbey pressed, “but when push comes to shove, you always end up getting on the flight, and then you have fun.”
“But I thought with Rosie having the baby and all… Doesn’t that put a different spin on it?” The words tumbled out of him in a rush of defensiveness. He really thought this year, with his other sister just having gifted the family with a new baby girl and thus unable to work, he could get away with not going anywhere. There was so much to do here, grapes to grade, the new pages on the website to change…
“Seven nights is all. You need to get away, take the vacation time, meet up with your friends, and network with the winey-type people.”
“You won’t be able—” he started to protest, but Abbey held up her hand to stop him.
“We’ll be fine. It’s all taken care of. We’ve discussed this already. Alex is taking a break and will be here every day working with Zach.” She indicated her husband. Alex was still very quiet but lifted his hand and waved it in agreement.
“We’ll talk about this later,” Micah huffed. Surely, even though she said she had sorted out the flights, she couldn’t have booked everything yet, could she? She seemed to read his mind. Damn sibling connection.
“Flights are booked—ROC to LAX with only one stopover. I booked you into the hotel where they are holding the conference. It’s right on the beach, and I got your room upgraded. It’s got a hot tub and shower with all kinds of fancy settings. Just what you need.”
“All you need to find is a hot man when you’re there and you’ll be all set.”
“I’m not discussing this with you.”
“I’m a grown man. Alex, tell her.” Micah pleaded for support, but if anything Alex slumped lower in his chair.
“Yes you are. A grown man who needs a damn vacation,” his sister said firmly.
Later as the evening was rolling in and smudging the sky with a purple-gray, Micah stood at the fence, looking out over his grapes, feeling blindsided and completely out-maneuvered. He sensed Alex walk up and stand next to him. Alex would have known what Abbey and Rosie were planning and even though Alex and Micah had been friends since grade school and so he should have had Micah’s back, he couldn’t be angry with the guy. Micah’s sisters were very persuasive.
The two men stood in companionable silence for a while until Alex cleared his throat. Micah could sense the other man grinning from where he stood. Micah’s week away was a standing joke and almost word for word he could guess exactly what his best friend was going to start in on. He wasn’t wrong.
“So your gay ass is going to the beach for your annual tail-chasing trip.” Same old, same old, every year.
Micah huffed. “If you weren’t married to my sister, I would take you down right now.” There wasn’t really a lot of heat in Micah’s tone; he was waiting for the rest of the same old joke Alex made every damn year.
“Did you put lube and condoms on the house grocery list?”
“Fuck off, Alex.”
“It’s okay, buddy. Leave it to me and I’ll get Abbey to add them.”
“Your purchases, Mr. Wade.”
Liam opened the door wider to allow the bellhop into his room, casting a critical eye over the collection of bags that were being given to him. He hadn’t bothered to pack much for his stay at the ocean. In fact, it was very rare he ever really packed to go anywhere. His credit card purchased most of the things he needed in one-stop shopping at hotel boutiques. This was killing two birds with one stone at its best—no outbound packing necessary and a near-empty suitcase to fill with a new season of clothes. He opened his wallet and pulled out a fifty-dollar tip, handing it to the young man who stood patiently at the door. Fifty was what he imagined was expected given he was in one of the few luxury suites in the hotel, the ones with five rooms and patio areas leading onto the beach.
There wasn’t really any way he was going to be recognized. He wasn’t known because of publicity or from appearing in tabloids and magazines. He was from old money, which followed him everywhere he went. Still, a week away from his family, with the plans he had in his head and the things he needed to do, meant he had to rely on the discretion of people around him, and that started here.
Liam tilted his head and read from the badge. “Thank you, Oscar.” He was rewarded with a genuine smile before the man slipped past him and left. He began to unpack his purchases, shaking out limited creases and hanging everything on hangers in the bathroom. He could get service to iron everything, but a quick run of the shower to get the steam in the room and everything should be good to go. His phone signaled an incoming call, and he smiled at the picture on the screen before answering it on the third ring.
“Daddy, I gotta new doll.” The voice of his three-year-old daughter held so much excitement, and he couldn’t lose the grin.
“Did you, baby? Is it a pretty doll?”
“Uh huh. I called her Susie an’ she has a friend named Anna.”
“Two new dolls?”
“Are you being a good girl for your Nanna?”
“Love you, pumpkin.”
“Lub you, Daddy.” There was a pause then the sound of a phone being passed to another.
“Hi, Mom, is she being good for you?”
“She is an angel, darling. Are you having fun?”
“Not yet, Mom, only been in the room a while.”
“Your dad wants a word.” Her voice sounded calm, but the word dad was enough to make Liam sigh semi-dramatically with his hand over the receiver.
“Did you get to look at the Ascot Hemling paperwork?” Yep, straight in there with all the office shit. Great.
“Briefly, Dad.” On the plane for about ten minutes.
“You do remember I’d like your thoughts on the proposals for the meeting on Monday.”
“I do, Dad.”
“Your mother says goodbye, son. Enjoy your break.” The phone disconnected, and Liam felt like banging his head against a wall. Why was it with those three words, enjoy your break, Patrick Wade had managed to sour Liam’s mood? He was the patriarch of both the family and of Wade-Bellings, the second biggest firm of corporate attorneys in Seattle. Liam couldn’t avoid him, being the middle of three sons and a lawyer with the firm. One week. That is all he wanted, a week away from Seattle where everyone knew his family. Decompression, relaxation, taking photos, and forgetting who he was supposed to be.
He missed Emma as he would a limb, but he would be a better father for carving out some space to get his head straight. He had decisions to make, huge judgments on what he should be doing next, and those decisions would greatly impact his life and hers.
He needed time to be Liam, twenty-six and currently way back in the closet. Not engaged-daddy or responsible-son or model-employee. This week was all about him; it had to be. He was not going to turn twenty-seven and become married-Liam without deciding things about himself one way or the other.
His family and his fiancée didn’t understand. Leigh, usually the perfect, attentive fiancée, had not been that focused lately, appearing reluctant to spend any alone time with him. What did he expect, their engagement had been planned like military maneuvers by their respective parents. She didn’t love him and he didn’t love her, but it suited family and each other to tie the knot. Or at least it had sounded like a good idea when her father first approached his. Their joining was to be a marriage of convenience and he liked Leigh well enough. He just couldn’t ever learn to love her or bring himself to sleep with her. Lately she had been as happy as he to have time apart. He even suspected she had a lover, and good for her. If only it was as easy for a blue-blooded middle child of an old monied family to find a lover.
The avoidance was his fault. He was like ice when he was with her, always making excuses to avoid being alone with her, wanting alone time for moments when he could breathe. Like this week, this whole seven days on his own.
He didn’t expect his family to understand this week away, although Leigh had understood immediately. He had used the bachelor break with a college friend excuse, and thankfully, at least to his face, his mom and dad had bought the reason for the vacation. Especially with the wedding so close now, only six weeks in the future.
He sighed noisily and then cursed. It was getting too late to really pull off changing his mind. Marrying Leigh was all kinds of good, especially given that Emma needed a female influence in her life now that her mother was gone.
Powering up his laptop, he opened his mail and gave it a cursory glance. There was nothing there that wasn’t automatically copied to his secretary and several other colleagues. He closed the email down before his nagging conscience decided he needed to open each and every mail and ensure it didn’t hold something important. Then he did what he really wanted to do.
Opening his pictures folder, he scrolled to the latest dates, connecting his Canon and downloading the newest batch of photos. They were simple shots from his departure at Seattle, his flight, and then his arrival at LAX. People, places, half-eaten dinners, flight plans, the sky, the well-worn carpet…anything that caught his eye. As he waited for them to download, he glanced out the window to the wide beach in front of him, which was his next subject. At midday the beach was full, each person out there basking in the heat of the sun, all golden, toned, and fit. His gaze moved from the view outside to his reflection in the mirror, and he idly noted his indoor-office pallor—pasty skin and tired eyes.
Photography on the beach, out in the sun, would be a start to getting some color before he headed home. Layer by layer he removed his traveling clothes, slathered on copious amounts of sunscreen, and then donned the uniform for the beach—board shorts, a cerise T-shirt, a cap, sunglasses, and flimsy beach shoes—and he was ready to go. He didn’t even have to go out through the hotel. His wealth got him the best room in the hotel. The bill for the level of luxury he had this week would probably be equal to the amount he would need to send Emma to college. For what he needed to do though, it was worth it. He had one of the few rooms that opened directly onto the beach, meaning he had to see no one, had to interact with no one, and in seconds, he was locking his beach door and beginning to people-watch from his small veranda.
Life through his lens was so much more controlled than the life he was living. The quick splash or yell of excitement added to the chaos of the people on the sand, and the joy in faces was caught in a frozen moment. Children played in the sand, and for a second, he wished Emma was here with him. She loved the beach and its endless possibilities, the castles and the moats, and the shells decorating crumbling battlements. He should take her to the beach. When he got home, he would book them a vacation; get them an island or something.
He spent too much time working and depending on the nanny. He had no balance between work and life to speak of. Soon his little girl would be of school age without him even realizing, and that wasn’t right. Her mother would have hated what he had become in the name of providing stability for Emma.
What kind of father made money and a high-flying career his priority when he had no need of either? Whatever he decided this week, at the top of his list was more vacation time and cutting his hours, even if it was down to sixty hours a week instead of the usual eighty. He was losing focus on his daughter, which was no life for her or for him. He wondered if Leigh liked the beach. He’d never actually asked. He considered the evidence he had collected so far about his socialite fiancée. She liked swimming—she made good use of the mansion’s pool when she stayed over. Beaches, however, with their associated mess and people, had never appeared to be on her to-do list.
A couple was laughing and joking not more than twenty feet from him. He was too far from them to hear the shared story, but close enough to capture laugh lines and intent on film. She was leaning in, and he was strong and steady, supporting her slight weight in a firm hold. They exchanged laughter and kisses, but it wasn’t that part of the couple he was focusing on. He was focused on the play of sun on their entwined hands and the wisps of hair caught by the wind as it caressed her face. She was beautiful, sun-bronzed, and slim, and her partner/lover/husband was gorgeous and muscled. They were visually the perfect couple.
He wanted with every fiber of his being to be part of something like that. He had been told on more than one occasion he wasn’t ugly, and Leigh was slim and beautiful and the very partner an up-and-coming attorney needed at his side. They had fun; Leigh wasn’t the uptight socialite other people saw. When they had occasion to be alone, she had proven to be witty, with a dry, irreverent sense of humor.
He jumped the two steps, his feet sinking slightly in the warm sand, prickle-rough against his toes. There was no point in making decisions on his forever based on how ideal or not he looked as part of a society-blessed couple. Still, it had taken him a long time to come to that conclusion. Winding his way through the steady stream of people arriving and leaving, he finally found himself at the shoreline, his toes mere inches from the ocean. He inhaled deeply. The cool breeze was redolent with the brine and white foam that tumbled and slid to a stop at his feet. The expanse of sea brought with it shells and stones from near and distant places. The water left behind fascinating and intriguing patterns as it retreated along the path of least resistance around those shells and stones.
He spent a good while focusing in with precision on the bold striations Mother Nature created. With each second that passed, he could feel the tension slipping from his shoulders, relaxing as the ocean lifted his melancholy. He was easily able to cancel out the noise of the people around him by humming under his breath and concentrating on his pictures. Before long he found himself away from the hotel and at a quieter spot, choosing that moment to sit on the sand Indian-style to contemplate his situation.
He carefully placed his camera inside its case and laid it next to him, the strap wrapped around his hand—to be safe.
Maybe he could draw up a list of the pros and cons? That was how he would do it in his pragmatic, sensible fashion. The biggest thing in the plus column was Emma needed a mother. In the negative column, it wasn’t like Leigh showed any real signs of interest in being a mom. Added to that, Emma and Leigh were not exactly the best of friends. Still, Emma would have stability, someone to talk to, to do girly things with. Then there was the whole having more kids thing.
“I’m not sure I want to have babies,” Leigh had said thoughtfully the day they had talked about it. “We have Emma; I want to be a good mom to her, but that doesn’t mean I could deal with a new baby.”
“We would have the nanny, and I would be there to help. I want to be there to help.”
She looked down at her hands on her flat stomach and shivered delicately. “Maybe in a few years. Maybe.”
He loved being Emma’s dad; that role in her life was the very thing that made him who he was. From the very second he’d held her in his arms, he’d been lost. It didn’t matter he wasn’t able to imagine having sex with Leigh, he was focusing on the principle of the thing.
“You don’t want to have our own child one day?” He wanted to share the miracle of a child with the woman he would marry. Not for one minute had he thought she wouldn’t want to ever have kids.
“I don’t need to.” She had turned more stubborn at that point. He had backed off almost immediately. No point in rocking the boat for a stupid senseless discussion. He had always been honest with her, had told her everything about how he felt, and trusted her with his attraction to other men. They both knew theirs was a marriage of convenience.
She personified tasteful and restrained. She accepted Emma as her daughter, accepted his hidden sexual orientation, and promised to never tell anyone. He provided her with the money and prestige of the Wade name and ignored any relationship she may take outside of the unused marital bed. As she did with him. He sighed inwardly. What level of society did he belong to where this was even considered normal?
Surely she wanted more for herself? Hell, he certainly wanted more for himself and much more for Emma. She might not be his biological child, but she was a child of his heart. She couldn’t be more his daughter, blood or no blood. Was he really ready to bow down to family pressure just to give Emma the requisite parental unit? He rested his elbows on his knees and cupped his face in his hands, closing his eyes and focusing only on the rhythm of the sea. How long he sat there he wasn’t sure. His only indicator was the cooling of the temperature as the midday heat diminished around him. Why was he even here thinking he needed to make decisions, when the only really important thing in his life was Emma?
* * * * *
Micah was sitting back comfortably against the storm wall, idly running sand through his fingers, and he’d been watching the blond guy for some time. The guy hadn’t moved for a good hour. He’d started by staring out at the sea before bowing his head and covering his face with his hands. He was clearly meditating or some New Age LA hippy crap, communing with nature and all that.
From this distance, maybe twenty feet or less, Micah couldn’t make out much in the way of features, but blond was one asset that was obvious. Fit was another, even if tending towards pale skinned. Micah’s whole life meant spending time outside, which left him perpetually sun-kissed. He shouldn’t really judge the poor New Age guy—he was probably some desk jockey or herbalist who never saw the light of day.
The tide was turning, the water stretching for the sands. Every so often the lacy foam would sneak a bit too close to the blond guy’s feet, but he seemed oblivious. Micah stood, stretching tall, and then spent a few moments observing the situation from his newly vertical position. The guy had been taking photos by the hotel, and the camera he’d been using didn’t look cheap. If he still had it with him and he got caught by the water… Someone should go warn him. He looked up and down the beach. His walk had taken him to a quieter place where there were not as many people, and certainly no one else seemed to be staring at the quiet figure hunched on the shoreline. That left him and his frustrating internal need to fix things pushing him down the sand and towards the shoreline. Stupid.
Whether the toned, introspective, fair-haired, pale-skinned hippy guy got wet was not his business. LA wasn’t like the Finger Lakes, and he was sure people didn’t just up and help others out for no good reason. Digging his hands in his jean pockets and coming to a stop, he considered instead whether he should ignore the situation. It should be easy enough to stop with the damn worrying he was doing and return to his room. The official opening of the wine convention was in a couple of hours, and he needed a shower and to make at least one call to his sister for an update.
Something untraceable in his thoughts, however, made him seemingly unable to move away from the train wreck he could see happening. Sea plus meditating guy plus expensive camera equaled something maybe he should be filming for Candid Camera. The encroaching sea was fascinating, and his inability to back away from saving others from potential embarrassment was guiding his actions. Also even not having seen his face, Micah knew this guy had one seriously hot body, and he wanted to stare. Whatever his reasons for getting involved he wasn’t actually moving, and in fact, his brain was telling him to shout out a warning instead.
“Hey,” he finally said as firmly as he could, then realized when the guy didn’t move he wasn’t sure what else to say. Hey, the tide is coming in, watch the camera, you seem hot, any chance you are… Nope, not going there. He sauntered closer, one eye on the tide, the other on the camera, until only a few feet separated them. He got a better look at the man and the camera case, which was actually lying on the sand next to him.
“Hey,” he said a bit louder, stumbling back as the man jumped and lurched to his feet, both disoriented and surprised.
“What?” the other man forced out, clearly startled.
“Your—” Micah saw two things before a sentence came out of his mouth—the camera and the next wave as it smashed towards them. In a sudden flurry of motion, he bent and grabbed at the camera, just as the water flooded the place where it had been. Hot guy stood there, his mouth open, the water lapping around his feet before retreating.
“My…shit…my camera. Thank you.” Micah handed it back, and the stranger grasped it, pulling it to his chest like it was the most precious of things.
“I saw…” Rather overwhelmed, Micah was kind of lost for words. The slim figure, the broad back, and the blond hair were nothing compared to the guy’s face. He was handsome, beautiful, pretty, and all the other flowery adjectives that probably didn’t do real justice to sex on legs. His blond hair was short and slightly spiky, and his eyes as blue as the sea behind him. His current expression was one of openmouthed shock, but then suddenly, his lips quirked in a crooked smile.
“Thank you,” he said, and Micah mumbled “s’okay” as the man backed up, sketched a wave of thanks, and then jogged up the beach and away from him.
Micah didn’t move. He watched the other man go, eyebrows raised as he sifted through what had just occurred. New Age meditating guy certainly didn’t look like a hippy. In fact, he looked not long out of college. He couldn’t have been more than twenty-five or so, and he sure did love that camera.
Smart black pants and crisp blue shirt does not a businessman make, but Micah tried. He wanted to be seen as the responsible, successful co-owner and manager of one of the most established vineyards and wineries in New York State. He was showcasing his wines alongside other growers and makers in the US, and it was always good to show a positive impression of the business behind the taste. “I hate this,” he stated simply as soon as Rosie answered the phone. She chose to ignore him.
“Is your room nice?”
“It has a bed.” He was grumpy and out of sorts, and as it was Abbey and Rosie’s fault he was here, he was damn well going to make sure she knew.
“Is it a nice bed?” He sighed, glancing over at what was actually a very nice bed. Draped in white linens and cream and gray throw cushions, it was a solid bed, oak if he wasn’t mistaken, with intricate carving on the headboard and almost big enough for three. He looked forward to sleeping in it tonight, although he didn’t want to let his sister know that.
“Yes, Rosie. A nice bed, with throwy-type cushiony things.”
“Throwy?” she said with that fond patronizing tone that only sisters could fully develop after many years of practice.
“Yeah.” He waved expansively, even though she couldn’t see. “And there’s this huge sofa at the end with a table and fruit.”
“Is the bathroom as beautiful as it looked on the website?”
He glanced in through the open door, still steamy from his shower. The bathroom was neat, polished, and white with a large circular bath sunk into the raised floor.
“I had a shower,” he supplied helpfully and pulled the door closed from the habit of sharing a bathroom at home.
“Did you not try the Jacuzzi bath?” She sounded disappointed. “Abbey said she upgraded you to a room with one.”
“I’ve only been here five hours. Later, I promise.”
“Do you have a view?”
“The beach, the ocean, and people. Lots of people. I don’t like people.” He heard her mutter something under her breath that sounded like “ungrateful brothers”, and it made him smile.
“Did you shave?” she asked. Micah ran a hand over the stubble on his face, feeling the roughness of three days’ growth against his hand. He could shave in the morning and have five o’clock shadow in the space of a few hours. What was the point in shaving all the time?
“I’m on vacation,” he protested.
“Jeez, Micah, just shave already.”
“Okay, okay.” Damn his sister for wanting to add twenty minutes to getting ready. “How’re things at home?”
“Since you left this morning? Everything is fine.”
“What about the order from the Johnsons? Did you manage to track down—”
“Micah, stop. Everything is good. So, is it the welcome thing now?”
When she changed the subject, Micah knew he would not be allowed to ask about the business again. Idly he turned over the leaflet that included a list of events for the week.
“Champagne and strawberries,” he finally said. “Tonight that is, and then…” He traced the list. “Wednesday is some beach thing, and Thursday is the company promotion.”
“What are you wearing tonight?”
“Did you choose the blue shirt? Because it looks good with your eyes.”
“And will you shave?” Ouch, she wasn’t leaving it alone. He normally left shaving to every other day or three, so sue him. His job didn’t exactly demand he be all dressed up at all times. Hell, jeans and a T were his staple wardrobe.
“Okay then, big brother, do that and then get your sparkly ass out there and find a man.”
“I hate you.”
She laughed and finished the call with a kiss and a “good luck”, and Micah placed his cell back on the bedside table. Every year he attended the wine convention, and every year it was the same old thing. His sisters—and by extension, his damn brothers-in-law—always expected him to get tail. He smiled, imagining the elderly Mr. Potter from the Elvendale Winery, or even Mrs. MacElhinney. She wasn’t a day under sixty and persisted in pinching his ass every year, despite her husband of forty years standing next to her. Yes, there were younger people that were new to the different wineries, especially the SoCal ones, but Micah was here to represent his business first and then to relax second.
Part of that relaxation was finding a club, usually the same one—Liberation, with pretty boys to stare at and music that made you dance. He pulled himself back to the here and now, moving back to the bathroom and wiping the mirror. The water was hot, the soap thick and creamy, the blade sharp, and before long he skimmed a hand over his jaw, smooth and stubble free. He then tipped a small amount of aftershave on his hand. Zach had thrown it to him as he left, promising it always worked for him. That thought alone, of Rosie and Zach at it, was enough to make a grown man cry, but given his sister and her husband now had a baby, they clearly did do it.
Still, he decided what the hell and packed it anyway. He sniffed the air appreciatively. Whatever it was, it had fresh swells of peppermint and lavender. It had combined with heart notes of what he thought was a spicy coriander, a hint of geranium and sandalwood, finally moving with the warm, sensual flow of amber and musk. When he realized what he was doing—analyzing the chemical composition of aftershave—he wondered who the hell did that. Aftershave is not wine. What an idiot. He was procrastinating; he clearly missed his wines and needed to go the hell home.
The stairs swept down, the marble hard and gilt-edged, to the foyer, which bustled with wine producers. Some he recognized, most he didn’t, and as usual he imagined most had bussed in from cheaper hotels and hadn’t made use of this one. He guessed that at seven hundred a night it might well be out of the reach of a sensible budget. He was smug. Clearly, melding his annual vacation with the festival had its good points.
“Micah! Micah Adamson!” Brilliant. Mr. Potter and his Elvendale contingent. “You must meet my great-nephew James. Spitting image of his mother, wouldn’t you say?” Micah extended his hand in greeting while assessing the new person in their small group. James was clearly happy to be there, and it appeared from his inability to stand straight, he had imbibed more than one glass of something before arriving.
“James,” the young man slurred ever so slightly, and shook Micah’s hand with strength.
“James is my protégé,” Mr. Potter said by way of introduction. “It takes a grape grower to see the potential in another, don’t you think?” Micah nodded his agreement, wondering privately if the self-medication James had undertaken was due to inexperience or the fondest wish not to have anything to do with wine or grapes. He resolved to corner the young man at a later time to dig further and turned as he felt a sharp pull on his pants and the pain of an accompanying pinch.
“Why, Micah, how nice to see you.” Mrs. MacElhinney was smiling up at him, and despite the handful of his ass she had grabbed, he smiled back at her fondly. He bent to place a kiss on her cheek and stepped back, looking around her for Mr. MacElhinney, who popped out from behind a tall decorative banana plant with the look of the long suffering on his face. They exchanged pleasantries, this small and very odd group, and finally Micah was left to his own devices. Wandering the crowd casually, he found himself at the display table with a variety of champagne and wines as well as plates of chocolate-dipped strawberries. He had a weakness for chocolate and a deep love for the luscious scarlet berries that it covered. Taking a glass of red and a small plate of the fruit, he wandered onto the verandah of the event room, the dark of the evening pulling in and smudging the sky with gray and mauve. The wine was a really nice example of the best of SoCal, and he savored each sip before focusing on the chocolate and strawberries one by one.
“I wanted to thank you properly.” Micah turned to see who had spoken to him, blinking at sex personified standing in front of him. The blond guy from the beach stood there in a suit that molded to every inch of him. Dark gray, almost black, it elevated him from meditating beach bum to CEO in seconds. His shirt was pristine white, and he had a cornflower blue tie knotted perfectly. God yes, his eyes really were that same incredible shade that Micah remembered from the beach. Micah had words to say, he really did. Important and clever, yet completely casual, words that said it was fine and there were no worries. All that came out was one word.
The guy looked flustered for a few seconds. “Earlier…you…my camera… It was you, wasn’t it? On the beach?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry, I was miles away. You’re welcome, no worries.” Blond guy thrust out his hand, the glint of a silver-colored watch on his wrist.
“Can I get you a drink, Mr. Adamson, to say thank you?” Micah frowned. Mr. Adamson sounded so formal. He decided his guess about this guy—this Liam—working in business wasn’t far off if he went round calling people mister.
“Call me Micah.”
“Okay, Micah. I would offer to actually buy you a drink, but they seem to be giving it away tonight.” He gestured to the layout of all the wines and frowned. “There is a bar here somewhere that probably has beer. I don’t know about you”—he lowered his voice—“but this wine is all a bit too formal for me, not really into it. I really need a beer.” Micah nearly choked on his last strawberry, coughing and trying to get control of his breathing.
“It’s a welcome party for a small wine convention,” he finally managed to push out.
“Oh, so that explains all the wine snobs sniffing their glasses.” Liam nodded wisely, as if he had suddenly discovered the whole reason for being. Micah couldn’t think of a single thing to say. He was torn between being affronted at Liam’s humor and agreeing with the absurdity of what some of these winery reps did in the name of knowing wine. Micah didn’t need all the dramatic sniffing and tasting and use of incredibly meaningless long words. He knew wine; he knew grapes; he wanted to share that with others. That was enough.
“I’m a snob,” he blurted out, cursing inwardly at the what the hell did I just say? moment. To his credit, Liam said nothing, which left Micah enough time to correct his statement. “I mean I own a winery. My family owns a winery, near Rochester, a vineyard and a winery, Seneca Blue.” Liam looked at him, then down at the glass in his hand, pulling his lower lip between his teeth as if in deep thought.
“They have vineyards in New York State?” Liam asked, completely open and honest in his curiosity. Micah smiled. Now that was a question he could handle.
“The Finger Lakes region. We have snow, rain, and storms rolling in from Lake Ontario like you wouldn’t believe, but you can also find some of the sweetest, most perfect harvests you could imagine.”
“Wow,” Liam murmured in response, and Micah narrowed his eyes. Was that a genuine wow or an oh shit stop talking wow? Micah had received both in his twenty-nine years. “Seriously, I imagine New York as this gloomy grayness. Just another Seattle, I guess.” Clearly that had been an interested wow.
“Are you staying in the hotel?” Micah asked, placing his empty glass on one of the small tables scattered around. The question was an innocent one, but Liam appeared immediately defensive with a somewhat guarded expression on his face.
“Are you?” he countered fairly quickly.
“I am.” At those words, Liam seemed to relax slightly.
“So am I.”
Well, that was the oddest exchange Micah had ever had, and the warm fuzzy feelings of friendliness the wine created gave way to a nagging suspicion that the guy with the camera was slightly odd. Typical that the guy was hot—freaking hot, supernova hot—and clearly a tad…out of the ordinary.
“Anyway”—Micah extended his hand, which Liam took again—“I must go back to the welcome part of this whole week. It was nice to meet you.”
“Thank you again for rescuing my camera,” Liam called after him. Micah turned to wave goodbye, startled at the feeling of complete isolation that seemed to cloak Liam Wade. He looked lost standing there in his suit and his spit-shined shoes, his blond hair carefully pushed back from his face. Damn, but he looked lonely.