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Exclusive Sneak Peek

CHAPTER ONE

“Well, that just happened.” Naomi Klein sipped her champagne as she watched her date practically vault across the dance floor in pursuit of another woman. She smiled fondly.

Noah Bradstone was one of her best friends, and she had reason to know he was damned good in bed, but he was going to have to be a hell of a lot more than a nice dick in a tailored suit if he wanted to land Angelica Travis, a woman who had her shit together if Naomi had ever seen one. The former actress was building a hotel next door to Noah's vineyard, and he'd fallen head over heels for her the second she yelled at him. A man with mommy issues, Naomi reflected with a grin.

“I'm not sure I believe what I just heard,” came a female voice from next to her.

Speak of the devil.

Naomi turned to find Noah's mother, Bernice Winchester Bradstone. Bernice was also Naomi's mother's best friend; sleeping with Noah had always felt the tiniest bit incestuous—not that he noticed or cared. The man’s ability to ignore the things other people stressed about was something Naomi found equally exasperating and endearing, and it was probably one reason why she hadn’t put an end to their extracurriculars years before.

She'd been perfectly happy with their now-and-then friends-with-benefits situation, but she'd long suspected Noah needed more. Just not from her. Much as he pretended to be a footloose and fancy-free commitment-phobe, Noah wanted long-term … whether he knew it or not. He was chasing picket fences, and Naomi sincerely hoped Angelica would be the one to give them to him.

She, however, wanted nothing to do with any of that. Just thinking about being with one person for the rest of her life—or even the rest of the year—gave her hives.

“Not what you expected?” she asked Bernice.

The older woman pursed her lips, colored to perfection with Chanel's quintessential red. “Not at all.”

“Disappointed?”

“Not exactly. It's always a surprise when your children find happiness in a way you don't expect. When you're the one who raised them, you think you know them.” Her expression turned thoughtful. “But you want them to be happy, however they get there.” She smiled, and patted Naomi's shoulder fondly. “You'll know what I mean someday.”

Not likely.

Naomi kept a smile pasted on her face and nodded vaguely. She had no interest in children whatsoever, and it wasn't because she Hadn't Met The One, as her mother frequently asserted.

“I see my parents,” she told Bernice, effectively cutting that line of conversation off at the pass. “Talk to you soon.” She exchanged the customary cheek kiss and made her way across the room to find her parents, her brother, and his wife, standing in a cluster near the finger food.

The Doctors Klein made an imposing pair. Her father was the head of cardiology at San Francisco General, and her brother looked like a younger, slightly more muscular clone. Both had thick, dark hair that lay in gentle waves tamed by expensive cuts, and each had a beautiful woman on his arm.

“Hey, Nay,” her brother said. “Single again?”

She resisted the urge to flip him the bird. The only deviation Jacob had ever made from The Klein Plan was to marry Tanya Deuterhorn instead of the Nice Jewish Girl his parents had picked, and since Tanya immediately converted and was currently making raising their three children look easy and keeping the books part-time for Jacob's celebrity-studded plastic surgery practice, he'd been swiftly forgiven.

Naomi, on the other hand, had been deviating from The Plan since she was five, when she'd firmly requested to go to art camp instead of ballet class.

“I was already single,” she answered.

“Please, don’t remind me.” Her mother raised the back of her wrist to her forehead in a sign of mock distress. “What happened over there?”

Judith Klein was the perfect doctor’s wife and the ultimate socialite. She and Bernice ran the San Francisco elite with gilded fists, and the Founders’ Ball was their cornerstone event. Naomi knew the prodigal daughter’s date fleeing her side was not a good look in Judith’s estimation. While Naomi didn’t particularly care about the impression she gave, Noah didn’t deserve her mother’s censure.

“I think Noah’s in love,” she said with a grin.

“He ought to be in love with you,” her mother answered stiffly. Their two mothers had been planning their wedding since Naomi and Noah had gotten stuck in an elevator together at her bat mitzvah.

“Please,” Jacob said with a mock shudder. “Noah’s a great guy, but there’s literally nobody I want less as a brother-in-law.”

“That’s just because you don’t like wine,” his wife said. “That Prodigy Pinot he made a few years ago was incredible.” Tanya was a fan of Stonewell Vineyards, Noah’s winery, and was a loyal customer, something that made Naomi love her almost as much as the fact that she never tried to set her up on blind dates.

“Give me hard liquor anytime,” Jacob said, raising the small, tulip-shaped glass in his hand to catch the light. “Have you tried this one, Dad?”

Their father nodded. “It’s brand new, straight from Ireland. Your mother sourced it.” He gave his wife a fond smile. “The only thing I ask in return for my presence at these things is good whiskey.”

Naomi resisted the urge to snort. As though he wouldn’t have been here anyway. He was gunning hard for the Chief of Staff position at the hospital, and every single member of the Board of Directors attended the Founders’ Ball. There was a very good reason her mother co-chaired the gala committee. The Klein Plan, in full effect.

“I wouldn’t mind buying some of it,” Jacob said idly, swirling his glass again and lifting it to his nose.

“I’ll get you the distributor’s card, but I don’t think it’s available here yet,” his mother replied impatiently. “Can we get back to the real issue here?”

“What issue?”

“Your sister.”

“I’m an issue? Gee, thanks, Mom,” Naomi said.

“Darling girl, you’ve been an issue all your life and you’re proud of it,” her mother said, fondness mixing with exasperation in her voice. “Noah Bradstone aside, are you ever going to settle down?”

“I’m totally settled!” Naomi protested. “I have a mortgage!” She’d bought a cute bungalow in River Hill a few years ago, having decided she needed a home base instead of constantly travelling back and forth between studio and gallery residencies. She still spent a lot of time away from home, but at least she had one. Every time she pulled into the driveway, she felt like an honest-to-goodness grown-up. And the studio space she’d converted the attic into was gorgeous. Her art had definitely improved since then, she thought, and the galleries she routinely worked with seemed to agree—she’d already had to fend off one owner tonight. He was set on buying a sculpture she’d intended to auction off, but his offer hadn’t been good enough to keep her from moving on to the hors d’oeuvres table.

Her mother sniffed. “A tiny house in that ridiculous tourist town.”

“River Hill isn’t a tourist town. It’s just not San Francisco.”

“Mom can’t imagine anybody not wanting to live here,” Jacob said, gesturing wide to indicate all the glitz and glamour of their inner circle, as well as San Francisco itself. “If you leave the city, you might see the outdoors and breathe air that doesn't smell like cars and piss. Can't have that.”

His wife elbowed him. “Hush.”

“If you’d ever actually visit River Hill, you’d like it, Mom,” Naomi said. “Jacob and Tanya have been.”

“There’s a really good restaurant there,” Tanya said supportively. “Right in the town square.’

Her mother shuddered theatrically. “Any town small enough to have a square is too small for me.”

It would certainly be too small for the both of them, Naomi thought archly. San Francisco had been too small for both of them, which was one of the many reasons she’d made her home a couple of hours away. It was the exact right distance to keep her family at bay.

“And if you’re not going to marry Noah, how are you going to meet somebody all the way out there?” Her mother was still talking, unfortunately.

“Can we not argue about me meeting somebody in the middle of the Founders’ Ball, please?”

“Why not? I thought it was an annual tradition.” Her brother grinned.

“Shut up, Jacob!” Naomi and her mother snapped in unison.

“Ah, there’s the other annual tradition,” her father said, and Tanya giggled.

“I hear you like our whiskey,” a new voice piped in. Deep and smooth, it sounded rather like Jacob always said whiskey tasted.

Naomi turned, and found her mouth suddenly dry. The most delicious man she’d ever seen was standing next to her, holding three glasses of whiskey in one huge hand. He was nearly the same height she was in her black, strappy, four-inch heels, which made him shorter than her father and brother. Solidly built, he filled out his tux to perfection. Some attempt had been made to tame the brown beard that rose above the snowy white points of his shirt, but nothing could disguise the laugh lines carved deep around his eyes. A few freckles were visible beneath his light tan, and his hair had been artfully mussed. The muscles in his broad shoulders shifted, and she glanced down at the drinks he was offering to them. Somehow, his palm managed to cradle the bases of all three glasses while his fingers balanced between their edges, holding them safely. She stared blankly at his hand, feeling a tiny zinging sensation down her spine that led straight to curiosity: what would those hands feel like on her?

Naomi managed to drag her eyes back up to his face, which didn’t help much, because his warm blue eyes were on her, too, and she wondered if he was wondering the same thing.

“I don’t like whiskey,” she blurted, and his eyes crinkled in an easy smile.

Passing two glasses to her father and brother, the man held onto the third. “Is that so?”

She shrugged, attempting to recapture her usual cool. “Sorry, never have.”

“It would be an acquired taste for many,” he said, raising the glass to his nose with an easy swirl before inhaling. “But I came out of the womb reaching for a dram.” His Irish accent was obvious now, and she found herself wanting to hear him talk more.

Jacob snorted. “An acquired taste. Sounds like you, sis.”

“Are you done?” she snapped, feeling heat rising in her cheeks, and elsewhere. Her silk dress—which put the ‘little’ in little black dress—didn’t leave much room for the imagination, and if she didn’t quickly bring her body’s reactions under control, the sexy stranger trying to ply her with booze was going to know exactly how she responded to him. She could feel her nipples turning into hard little points beneath the thin fabric, and knew if he glanced down, he’d see the evidence of her arousal.

Although maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing, she thought, letting her gaze roam over him again as he exchanged pleasantries with her family. It had been a while since she’d come across someone who made her heart beat like a herd of wild horses running at full gallop, and this man—with his rugged good looks and Irish accent that was out of place in this posh San Francisco ballroom—certainly qualified in that regard.

Naomi didn't spend a lot of time in society anymore, but when she did, she felt nearly as much of a stranger as this man. She'd escaped her parents' inner circle a long time ago, and these days she was accustomed to a much more private way of life. One that didn't mean she had to pretend to be meek and demure and wait for men to get around to thinking about her wants and desires. She had an active sex drive, and she used it often and well, something her mother would be horrified to know. As far as Naomi was concerned, as long as everybody involved was a consenting adult and nobody was married, she was more than happy with the way things were.

She might be even happier if she could convince the sexy Irishman to join her for a nightcap. Provided, of course, it wasn't whiskey.