When Parker introduced Mark Gentry, the journalist who would be writing the Sommelier article, Juliet breathed a sigh of relief. A man wouldn’t read her thoughts as easily as a woman might.
But Barb Ellis, the photographer? She would be a different story. The moment Juliet first met the petite blonde’s direct gaze, she knew it would be harder work to hide her feelings from Barb. Still, there was no choice but to keep them in check.
To the stylist’s dismay, Barb approved of the simple outfit Juliet wore and said that the only clothing change they’d need would be for the session in the wine cellar later that afternoon. Athena showed her the long silk evening gown Parker had chosen, and Barb gave a nod.
Juliet enjoyed watching as Mark and Barb unraveled Parker’s carefully laid plans. The first shot they had set up in the kitchen had gone well, even if Parker hadn’t wanted to focus on “domestic life,” as he’d put it. But capturing the feel of their domestic life seemed to be what the Sommelier team was after.
She had to suppress a smile when Barb ignored the shot Parker suggested setting up out front next to his Bugatti. Instead, they set the second shot up in the kitchen garden with Parker on one side of a raised wooden garden bed and Juliet on the other. When Juliet tossed a spade of dirt at him, Barb caught the playful exchange. Barb showed them the photo on the preview screen, and even Parker agreed the shot was perfect.
Juliet’s heart warmed as she watched Parker’s struggle to give up control. What if that trait, that practice, was what helped him keep his life on track? Didn’t she have traits just as he did? She was almost as much of a stickler as he was for details. Timing wasn’t her forte, but she made lists, strategized plans and parsed days into segments with achievable goals. And like him, she didn’t appreciate altering her plans without a very good reason.
“I’d like to get a few shots in the vineyard and maybe a couple more in the redwoods that I saw as we came up the drive,” Barb said as she packed up her camera. “It’d be great if you rode the horses. People love country riding scenes.”
As Parker and Juliet rode out from the stables with Barb and Mark following in an all-terrain vehicle, Juliet saw Parker actually begin to relax.
Barb called out to them to rein up and took a few close-ups of them on the horses. Then she directed them to dismount and pose among the newly leafing vines on one of the eastern slopes.
Mark directed questions about the vineyard to Parker while Barb got the shots she wanted.
Juliet relaxed. Posing was far easier than answering detailed questions. And listening to Parker speak about his vineyard was a pleasure she hadn’t expected. She hadn’t known that the pinot grapes preferred east-facing slopes because eastern slopes provided long sun exposure in the mornings but prevented the grapes from baking in the hot afternoon sun. Parker was especially pleased that he’d been able to resurrect some of the twenty-year-old vines that the previous owner’s grandfather had planted, even though they’d been neglected during a protracted five-year fight over the old man’s estate.
Mark’s stomach let out a loud growl. “We missed breakfast,” he said with an embarrassed grin.
Parker glanced at his watch. “Lunch in twenty minutes. You won’t leave here hungry, I assure you.”
“I’d like to get those shots in the redwoods,” Barb said.
“We could do that after lunch,” Parker said.
Mark nodded his agreement.
Barb tossed her head. “The light is perfect now. It won’t take long.” She was clearly the one in charge.
Juliet knew Parker well enough by now to know that he wouldn’t be happy if his carefully orchestrated lunch didn’t go as planned. But he shrugged and helped Juliet mount Helki.
He rode up close to her. “If Mark asks me questions about the redwood trees, feel free to jump in and answer. I’ve studied up on grapes, but I’m not much of a woodsman.”
“No Boy Scout badges for camping?”
“No Boy Scout badges at all. And I never understood camping. When I travel, it’s usually for polo. At the end of a match, I like a very hot shower, room service and a good bed.”
The image of him in the shower shot into her, and she blushed. And thinking of him in bed sent the blood higher into her face. Gripping the reins, she forced her thoughts away from her surprising fantasies.
“How about you?” His lips tipped up on one side in a smile she wished didn’t look so darn sexy. “Any badges for outdoor prowess?”
She pointed to the sky. “I can tell you that the bird soaring above us is a red-shouldered hawk.”
Anything to distract him from noticing the blush still spreading over her cheeks.
“I’ve always been better with animals than with people,” she added. “More at home in nature. Especially the oceans.”
“But you’re good with people. I see it.”
“Is that a compliment?”
She hoped his keen powers of observation didn’t include noting the flush in her face.
“I’ve had to learn how to deal with people, almost like learning a new language. Especially the diplomatic bits that go along with my work. Kowtowing to authorities is pure torture.”
“I appreciate your help with…” He glanced back to Mark and Barb behind them in the ATV. “With all this. With them.”
“Everybody needs help sometime.”
He shifted in his saddle. “I prefer helping to asking.”
She’d had to learn to ask for help and it hadn’t been easy. Being in anyone’s debt struck terror into her. But Parker? From what she’d observed, his aversion to asking for help was about maintaining control. And something deeper. Something he feared.
Before she could wonder what had driven him to require such control, he lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug. His smile caught her off guard.
“Like I said—if they ask about the trees, jump right in.”
In that instant, her vow transformed. She no longer wanted him begging her for forgiveness for his bossy ways. She wanted to understand him. He was her bestie’s brother; likely they’d know each other forever. Might as well find common ground.
But as they posed among the redwoods for Barb’s camera, it wasn’t common ground she was discovering.
Following Barb’s instructions, Parker had slid one arm behind Juliet and leaned her back against the rough bark, nearly cocooning her with his body. His hip touched hers and set her heart thumping against her ribs. She hauled in a breath, and his scent—spicy, male—filled her senses.
“That’s it,” Barb called out from behind her lens. “Put one arm above her and turn a bit more toward her and the tree.”
Parker raised his other arm. He was so close, Juliet could feel his breath on her cheek. She kept her gaze on Barb and hoped that her racing pulse didn’t show.
“Juliet? Look him in the eye.”
She lifted her gaze. What she saw in the depths of his gold-flecked green eyes had her fighting for control.
“That’ll do,” Barb said. “I got my shot.”
Juliet wriggled out from under Parker’s arm. He backed away but didn’t take his eyes off her.
“You two are great subjects,” Barb said. “But you probably know that.” She peered at the screen on her camera. “I wouldn’t mind getting a few insurance shots, though.”
Mark tapped his belly. “Nope. Lunch.” He motioned to the ATV. “We’ll race you back.”
The chatter surrounding Juliet felt distant and far away. She swayed. Parker caught her before she toppled.
“You need lunch more than Mark does,” Parker said as he curved an arm around her waist.
“I should’ve had more breakfast.”
If they hadn’t been so busy memorizing answers to questions that weren’t even being asked, she would’ve had a second helping of fruit salad. But it wasn’t low blood sugar that had made her dizzy.
She didn’t want to think about the fact that Parker made her legs go wobbly. That was the stuff of tall tales and of TV shows she heard about but never watched.
Parker pressed his hands to her shoulders and stared into her eyes. The concern she saw there was easier to register than the smoldering look that had sent her senses spinning just moments before.
Pamela Aares is a USA Today Bestselling, award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance novels. Her contemporary series, The Tavonesi Series, explores the lives, loves, friendships and sizzling romances of the Tavonesi family.Her popularity as a romance writer continues to grow with each new book release, so much so, that the Bay area author has drawn comparisons by reviewers to Nora Roberts.
Pamela Aares writes romance books that she loves reading, particularly those that entertain, transport and inspire dreams while captivating and tugging at the heart. She takes her readers on a journey with complex characters in both contemporary and historical settings who are thrown in situations that tempt love, adventure and self-discovery.
Before becoming a romance author, Aares wrote and produced award-winning films including Your Water, Your Life, featuring actress Susan Sarandon and NPR series New Voices, The Powers of the Universe and The Earth’s Imagination.
If not behind her computer, you can probably find her reading a romance novel, hiking the beach or savoring life with friends. You can visit Pamela on the web at http://www.PamelaAares.com.