There is just something warm and comforting about a book by Susan Mallery. I get a little bit happier just holding one in my hands.
by Susan Mallery
Step into the vineyard with Susan Mallery’s most irresistible novel yet, as one woman searches for the perfect blend of love, family and wine.
Mackenzie Dienes seems to have it all—a beautiful home, close friends and a successful career as an elite winemaker with the family winery. There’s just one problem—it’s not her family, it’s her husband’s. In fact, everything in her life is tied to him—his mother is the closest thing to a mom that she’s ever had, their home is on the family compound, his sister is her best friend. So when she and her husband admit their marriage is over, her pain goes beyond heartbreak. She’s on the brink of losing everything. Her job, her home, her friends and, worst of all, her family.
Staying is an option. She can continue to work at the winery, be friends with her mother-in-law, hug her nieces and nephews—but as an employee, nothing more. Or she can surrender every piece of her heart in order to build a legacy of her own. If she can dare to let go of the life she thought she wanted, she might discover something even more beautiful waiting for her beneath a painted moon.
According to Stephanie’s research, the Marington family had been making cheese in eastern Washington for about a hundred years. The milk used to make the cheese came from local cows and nearly half of it was certified organic. They had a good reputation for quality and taste, and from what she could tell, they were looking to expand their brand beyond the local markets and specialty stores. The fourth-generation Maringtons, fraternal twins Jack and Jill—Stephanie had confirmed the unfortunate names—were using social media to make that happen, and they were looking for someone to help with that.
To that end Stephanie had spent the past week studying the company and researching the market. She had three solid campaign ideas and a lot of numbers on cheese consumption, market entry and partnerships. Her plan was to dazzle and get the job offer of her dreams. The fact that the thought of telling her mother she was leaving Bel Après made her slightly sick to her stomach was something she was going to have to ignore. She needed more than she had, and the only way to make that happen was to be proactive. She was hopeful and nervous, but mostly hopeful.
After parking in front of the low, one-story building, she gave herself a twenty-second pep talk, grabbed her handbag and briefcase, and walked inside.
There was no receptionist. Just an open space with a couple of chairs and a hallway leading to several offices. She couldn’t see or hear anyone, which made her wonder if she’d gotten the date or time wrong. She called out, “Hello?”
“Hey, Stephanie?” A tall, slim man walked out of one of the offices. He smiled when he saw her. “Right on time. I’m Jack.”
They shook hands.
Jack had blond hair and blue eyes. His features weren’t unattractive, but there was something very bland about his appearance.
“Good to meet you,” he said. “Come on back and let’s talk.”
She followed him into a cluttered office. Papers were stacked everywhere, including on the only visitor’s chair. She waited while he cleared that, trying not to flinch as she inhaled the smell of what could only be called bad cheese.
“There you go.” He took the seat on the other side of the desk, glanced at his computer screen, frowned, then turned his attention to her.
“You work at Bel Après,” he said. “That’s wine. I’m not much of a wine drinker myself, but I know enough to put together a pairing. We send out suggestions of what wines to drink with our cheeses. Our customers like that sort of thing.” He stared at her intently, his pale blue eyes watering slightly. “Wine is easy, just so you know. Cheese is hard. I hope you understand that.”
She had no idea what to say to that comment, so she settled on a faint smile and nod.
“We’re looking to grow the company,” he said. “Find different markets, have a bigger online presence. Our cousin Bing has been doing our website. He’s a great kid. Computers are his thing, but he doesn’t always take care of everything, you know.”
“Kid?” Stephanie asked faintly. “As in, he’s young?”
“Fourteen. He took over the website when he was eleven. He prefers robotics, but family is family, right?”
Stephanie was saved from having to respond to that by the sound of footsteps in the hall. Seconds later a woman walked into the office. A woman who looked exactly like Jack. Same features, same coloring, same size, same blue shirt and khaki pants. They were identical—except for the whole man-woman thing.
“I’m Jill,” the woman said, moving papers off the credenza and sitting there. “You’re here about the marketing job, aren’t you?”
Jill looked at her brother, her expression peevish. “I’ve told you, I can handle it.”
Jack shook his head. “We’ve been over this. We need someone with training.”
“Oh, please. So she has a college degree. Big whoop. I can do the job in my sleep.”
“And yet you don’t.”
“I’m going to tell Dad what you’re up to.”
Jack offered Stephanie a tight smile. “You’ve worked in a family company, so you understand the push-pull dynamics, I’m sure.”
Jill turned to Stephanie. “Are you married?”
“Married. A lot of women try to work here because they want to marry Jack. That’s not going to happen. He’s not going to be interested in you. He doesn’t need you in his life. He has me.”
Okay, so now the creep factor was a bigger deterrent than the cheese smell. Whatever hope she’d had crashed to the ground and crawled away. If the interview was going this badly, there was no chance the job was going to work out.
“Jill, come on. She’s not here to marry me. She wants a job.” He looked at Stephanie. “Why do you want to leave Bel Après?”
“I wanted to challenge myself with something new. Your expansion plans are exciting, and I was thinking I could help with that.”
At least she had been thinking that. Now she was much less sure.
Jill stood up. “You’re not right for the job. I don’t care what Jack says. You can’t have it.”
Jack glared at her. “This is my interview, not yours. You don’t get to say.”
“I get as much say as you get. We’re equal partners. Besides, you know what Mom and Dad are going to think. They don’t like outsiders. I don’t know why you even brought her in for the job.” Jill looked at Stephanie. “You’re not going to get it.”
“Okay, then.” Stephanie rose and smiled at both of them. “Thank you so much for your time. Good luck with the expansion.”
With that, she walked out the way she’d come. Once in her car, she breathed in non-cheese-smelling air and told herself at least there was a bright side. She’d wasted—she glanced at her watch—only eight minutes of her life, not counting the research she’d done and, hey, the drive over. But better to know now rather than quit and take the job only to discover she couldn’t make it work.
Which all sounded great but didn’t shake her sense of disappointment. She hadn’t even had a practice interview. Walla Walla wasn’t a big town, so there weren’t a lot of marketing jobs available, especially with her excluding the wine industry. So she was back to where she’d started—working for her mother and wishing for something more.
No.1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives – family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages. Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur.
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