New York Times bestselling author Jaci Burton celebrates the gift of love and the holiday season with a snowy Christmas wedding at the Bellini family vineyard.
Stranded at the Red Moss Vineyard a week before her best friend’s wedding, LA native and professional matchmaker Alice Weatherford is not pleased with her first trip to Oklahoma, or the epic snowstorm forcing her to stay. So much for Christmas cheer. What she needs is a project, something to distract her…and, oh, has she found one in neighboring rancher Clay Henry. Gorgeous, charming, and unlike any other man she’s ever met, finding the right woman for Clay should be easy….
Having grown up with the Bellini sisters, it’s no hardship for Clay to ride out the storm at their cozy family vineyard, especially since that means spending time with their savvy and smart houseguest. But despite Alice’s best efforts, he’s not the least bit interested in her matchmaking….
Alice is the only woman Clay wants. Now he just has to convince the matchmaker herself to give love a chance.
Talk about off the beaten path. This was her first trip to Oklahoma. As an LA native, her travels tended to be more coastal in nature, and her desires were definitely more exotic. She’d been to Hawaii, Fiji, the Caribbean, the Azores, Greece, so many places.
She had to admit she’d had preconceived notions when her best friend Lainie had started dating Jeff, an Oklahoma native. Even though Lainie had raved about Oklahoma City, Alice had had a hard time imagining it as a happening place. Then when Lainie and Jeff had gotten engaged and decided to get married at the vineyard about twenty miles outside the city, all Alice could think about were the amazing vineyards in Napa and Sonoma and what a wasted opportunity it would be not to have the wedding in California.
But as she got out of her car and took in the beautiful scenery in the middle of December, she was impressed. Rolling hills and tall trees adorned the landscape, along with rows upon rows of grapevines. In the not-too-far distance she spotted a picturesque pergola overlooking a lake, and could already envision Lainie and Jeff’s wedding next weekend. Besides, it was Lainie’s wedding, not hers, and Lainie could get married anywhere she wanted. Lainie loved Jeff, and if she wanted to get hitched in his home state, more power to her. Alice just wanted her best friend to be happy.
She only hoped the weather would be better next weekend than it was right now. Once she’d picked up her rental car and left the airport, it had started to snow, something they didn’t see much of in Los Angeles. Hardly ever, for that matter. She pulled her cardigan tightly around her, wishing she had bought a better coat than the thin wool one she’d picked up before leaving LA. The coat that was currently residing in her suitcase because she was an idiot. The wind whipped around her, slapping tendrils of her hair against her cheeks and making her quicken her pace.
She headed up the stairs of a large, beautiful wood-framed house that was decorated with bright white Christmas lights. A welcome sign with a friendly snowman waving at her adorned the door, making her smile. Hanging on the wall next to the door was a wreath that had been made from twisted branches and decorated with red berries, green leaves and a beautiful red bow. She rang the bell, already starting to shiver. She half turned to see that the snow was coming down even harder now.
Uh-oh. This could be bad. Very bad. Then again, maybe it was just flurries. How would she even know? She’d never been in a snowstorm before. She always planned her trips to coincide with nice weather.
Leave it to Lainie to decide on a Christmas-themed wedding. And she wasn’t even here yet, and wouldn’t arrive until next Thursday. As a pharmaceutical sales rep, Lainie was constantly on the go. And since Jeff was a doctor, the two of them led extremely busy lives. In fact, Lainie was currently managing a team of her own reps and attending a seminar in Portland this week. Jeff was an orthopedic surgeon and always buried in work. Because they were both taking off time for the wedding and their honeymoon in Greece after, they wanted to work as long as possible up to the wedding. Which meant it was up to Alice to fly on ahead and make sure all the preparations were made before the wedding.
Which Alice didn’t mind at all. Her job was a lot more flexible. She was planning to stay in a hotel in Oklahoma City and do some work. A change of scenery was always a good idea. Plus, she might make some contacts here. Maybe pick up some new business.
The door opened, and a beautiful woman with raven hair pulled up into a ponytail smiled at her. “Hello. You must be Alice. I’m Erin Bellini. Please come in.”
“Thanks.” Alice stepped in and shook the snow off her shoulders and hair.
“This snow is extremely unexpected.”
Alice looked out the window next to the door, and she could swear it was coming down even harder than when she’d arrived. In fact, the windshield of her car was already covered with it. “Do you think it’ll last long?”
Erin closed the door behind her. “The forecast calls for six inches, so it might last a while. You’re probably cold. Come on into the family room, and I’ll make you some tea or coffee.”
“Thank you.” She followed Erin into a beautifully decorated room with arched windows surrounded by dark wood and a fireplace that crackled with a roaring fire. She already felt so much warmer. Next to the fire was the biggest Christmas tree Alice had ever seen, decorated with silver and gold balls, white twinkling lights and red ribbon. That tree had to be ten feet tall.
There was plenty of room for it since the room had a ceiling that seemed to go on forever. This house was huge. Alice hoped she’d have a chance to explore it.
“Take a seat by the fire,” Erin said. “Would you like coffee or tea?”
“Coffee would be great, thank you. Decaf if you have it.”
“I do. I’ll be right back. Please make yourself at home.”
She set her bag next to the chair and sat, pulling out her phone. She had several text messages—one from Lainie, of course. She replied to that one to let her best friend know she’d arrived. She left off the fact that large flakes were coming down like snowmageddon, figuring that worrying Lainie wouldn’t do the already nervous bride-to-be any good. Then she let Lainie know she’d call her tonight with a more detailed update.
She answered the other text messages, mostly from anxious clients, assuaging their fears. She had a few e-mails to answer, but she could handle those later.
“Here you go.” Erin returned with a tray that she placed on the table between the two chairs. She poured coffee into both cups. Erin had also brought cream and sugar, so Alice put a little cream into her cup and lifted it to her lips.
Mmm. Delicious. “Thank you for this, Erin. I’m sorry to be a burden.”
Erin held her own mug between her hands. “Nonsense. We’re happy to have you here. My sister, Honor, actually handles the wedding portion of the business, but she’s out right now. As soon as she comes back, she can tell you all the details of the wedding.”
“Of course. And what do you do?”
“I’m the business manager. Since the family handles both the vineyard and weddings, I manage the business side of both.”
“That’s a big job.”
“It is, but I love it. My other sister, Brenna, works with my dad at the vineyard.”
Alice smiled. “How ideal. So all three of you are involved in the family business in some way.”
“Yes, it just worked out that way. Our mother helps me manage the family business as a whole entity. She’s the accountant in the family. I went to college to get a business degree, planning to run off and do anything but be involved in Bellini business.”
Erin smiled. “After I graduated, I could see how being part of the family business had its benefits. I couldn’t wait to dig in and make the operation flow more smoothly.”
“Plus, you already knew how things worked, right?”
“Exactly. What do you do, Alice?”
“I’m a matchmaker.”
Erin’s eyes widened. “No kidding. That must be so fun, helping people fall in love.”
Alice had noticed the big, beautiful diamond on Erin’s ring finger right off. “It’s an amazing job. But I see you need no help in that department.”
Erin laughed. “No, fortunately. I’m engaged, and I’ll be getting married next spring.”
“Here at the vineyard, I assume?”
“Yes, of course. Plans are in full swing.”
“Congratulations. I’m sure you’re very excited.”
“Thank you. And yes, I am.”
“I’m so sorry I’m late.” A beautiful brunette rushed in, brushing snow off her hair as she did. She held out her hand. “You must be Alice. I’m Honor Bellini. I got waylaid by traffic and then this snow. It’s very unexpected.”
“Nice to meet you, Honor,” Alice said, shaking her hand. “I guess no one was expecting this amount of snow.”
“Initially, they predicted a couple of inches. This morning they changed it to six inches. I heard on my way here it might end up being a foot.”
“A foot, really?” Erin said. “Wow. We normally don’t get much snow at all.”
“Will it affect your vineyards?”
Honor shook her head. “Dad is bringing the warmers out just in case, but the vines are dormant this time of year, so we should be okay.”
Alice was relieved to hear that, not only for the vineyard, but also for the wedding next weekend. The last thing Lainie needed was a pre-wedding catastrophe at the venue.
“You probably want to go over everything for your friend’s wedding,” Honor said.
“I can wait. Take some time to catch your breath first.”
“Oh, I’m good. I’m used to running a hundred miles a minute.”
“This is true, she is,” Erin said, standing.
Honor looked at her phone. “Actually, we should eat before we get down to details. Everyone comes in for lunch, so you’ll get a chance to meet the family.”
“I don’t want to intrude.”
“Nonsense. We always end up with extras at lunch.”
“She’s right,” Erin said. “I hadn’t even realized it was lunchtime. That explains why my stomach is growling.” She smiled ruefully. “I skipped breakfast this morning, so I’m starving.”
Alice felt a little strange about inserting herself into the family. She had only planned to stop by and introduce herself, take a look at the vineyard and the wedding venue, then head over to her hotel. But since Honor was literally dragging her by the arm, she didn’t have much choice.
And, to be honest, she really didn’t mind, because now she could get a better look at the house, which was incredible. They walked down a long hallway, and Alice couldn’t help but admire the staircase leading to the second floor as they passed by. Cream wood spindles stood out under the dark wood rail. There was a grandfather clock in the hall that had to be an antique, yet it gleamed as shiny as if it were new. Black-and-white photos adorned the walls, and Alice wondered who the people in them were. But since both Honor and Erin were moving at a fast pace, she made a mental note to ask later.
They stepped into a dining room that by Alice’s standards was enormous. There was a long wood table that could accommodate at least twenty, and several people were already seated, including a woman who Alice could tell had to be Erin and Honor’s mother. She had dark wavy red hair pulled up by a clip and stunning green eyes.
“Mom, this is Alice Weatherford,” Honor said. “She’s maid of honor for the Tigen/Friday wedding next Saturday. She’s Lainie Tigen’s best friend. Alice, this is our mother, Maureen Bellini.”
Maureen clasped both her hands over Alice’s and smiled the warmest smile Alice had ever been graced with.
“Alice, we’re so happy to welcome you to Red Moss Vineyards.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Bellini.”
“Please. Call me Maureen. I’m glad you’re here for lunch. I’m sorry you arrived when we’re having an uncharacteristically vicious snowstorm.”
“Fortunately, I got here before the snow started coming down too hard.”
“Well, it’s snowing even more now, so at least you’re safe here.”
She smiled at Maureen. “Thank you for that.”
A big, burly guy came in and put his arm around Maureen. He had dark hair, graying at the temples.
“This is my husband, Johnny,” Maureen said. “Johnny, this is Alice Weatherford. Her best friend is getting married here next weekend.”
“Very nice to meet you, Miss Weatherford. We’re happy to have you at the Bellini home.”
She instantly liked Mr. Bellini. He had a kind smile and polite demeanor. He held out the chair for his wife and pressed his hand on her shoulder. When Maureen smiled up at him, Alice could immediately feel the affection between the two of them.
“Sorry I’m late—I was on the phone.” A gorgeous redhead came into the room and slid into one of the chairs. “Did I miss anything?”
“Alice, this is our other sister, Brenna,” Honor said. Honor told Brenna who Alice was.
“Oh, great to meet you, Alice. Glad you made it before the snowstorm got out of hand.”
“Thanks.” From what she was hearing, this snowfall was going to get bad. She tried to keep her spirits up, but she was beginning to think getting back to Oklahoma City was going to be hazardous.
Several other people came in and Honor introduced them as a few of the employees who worked at the vineyard. Then lunch was served, and Alice was shocked to discover there was a working kitchen staff as well.
Wow. Red Moss Vineyards was a big deal.
“Louise and her husband, Marcus, have been here for over twenty-five years,” Honor said. “Mom and Dad hired them on when they bought the vineyard, and they have their own house on the property.”
Louise looked to be in her early fifties, of medium height with short brown hair and peaches-and-cream skin. She was dressed in dark brown pants and a white top and wore a cardigan, and if Alice didn’t see her serving the meal she would have thought she was one of the houseguests. Louise passed out the soup and smiled at Maureen. “We’re like family.”
“Indeed we are. I don’t know what we would do without Louise and Marcus here to help us.”
“What Mom is trying to say is that she’s a terrible cook,” Brenna said. “And without Louise here, we’d have all starved.”
“Brenna.” It wasn’t Maureen admonishing Brenna—it was Louise.
Maureen laughed. “So true. My head was always in the books, and not in the kitchen.”
“That’s why you have me,” Louise said.
“A man can only eat so many plates of burned lasagna,” Johnny said, offering up a rueful smile to his wife.
“You were a champion about that,” Maureen said.
She heard the front door open and close and felt the cold chill of air all the way down the hall. The sound of boots making their way toward them intrigued her. A man’s tall, wide frame filled the doorway, and for a moment, Alice forgot to breathe.
He was magnificent standing there in a heavy long coat, a cowboy hat tipped low on his face showing off just a hint of beard stubble on his magnificent jaw. He looked straight out of an old Western movie, all the way down to his snow-covered boots.
He pulled off the hat, revealing a full head of thick, dark blond hair, and his eyes were a mesmerizing whiskey brown.
Alice wasn’t one to be taken in by a handsome man, but this one? Wow.
“It’s really coming down out there,” he said. “I was going to head to my place, but I can barely see. Plus, I rode over here on Mickey, and I was worried about trying to ride home in this weather. I hope you don’t mind, but I stowed Mickey in your barn and thought I’d say hello.”
“I’m glad you decided to stop here,” Johnny said. “Take your coat off and stay for lunch, Clay. We’ll see how the weather plays out.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.”
He half turned, but then his gaze caught Alice’s and he offered up a smile.
All of her parts suddenly woke up from their cold winter freeze.
Who was this gorgeous guy?