A quickie post …
I am a part of a Multi-Author/Multi-Blogger Giveaway going on right now. I’m awarding my first place winner an eBook copy of Love the Wine You’re With and my second place winner a $5 Amazon gift card. All kinds of prizes, including a grand prize of $84 via Paypal, are going down in this SPOOKTACULAR RAFFLE.
It’s seems pretty befitting to give Blanca and Julien’s book away considering their swoony love story begins while at a Halloween Party at Angel of the Vine Winery. Sexy costumes and gory drinks, anyone? In fact, I’ll add Chapter One as a sneak peek at the end of this post …
You know you want in … ENTER HERE.
“And so it is, that both the Devil and the angelic Spirit present us with objects of desire to awaken our power of choice.”
Maxine Novaline tightened her grip on Chase L’Angevin’s hand as if, without holding onto him, she would topple magnetically into Julien L’Angevin’s arms. The closer Julien, her boyfriend’s cousin, came to them, the harder she squeezed. He embodied sexuality the way a seductive flute of champagne knew that with one sweet taste you’d give into its pleasure and consume every last drop.
At least that’s how Maxie had painted that hot mess leering at Blanca Grazia, who stood on the other side of her bestie, second-guessing whether their whole scheme was really such a good idea after all.
It was as if Julien knew Maxie was trying to fling Blanca at him on purpose.
“Bait,” Maxie had called Blanca the night before, when they were concocting their plan of diversion to lure Julien away from trying to mess up her relationship with Chase again.
“He’s way hotter in person even if he is a dick-face.”
Blanca mock-laughed at her own joke, trying to lighten the mood as all three of them watched Julien maneuver through the bustling courtyard.
The only sight of said hottie Blanca had gotten a glimpse of was a picture Maxie had posted on Facebook a couple months ago … Maxie’s cornflower blue eyes glazed over with inexplicable joy … Julien’s luscious lips plastered to her cheek … and a medieval Parisian village sprawling out behind them.
Quite the scandal.
But, it wasn’t entirely Maxie’s fault. When in France, right?
Maxie offered Blanca a nervous giggle, but Chase only cleared his throat—his eyes panning the mass of revelers at his egocentric birthday gig. He always hosted it on the last Saturday of October disguised as his annual Halloween party.
I love her boyfriend to death. But narcissistic much?
It was such a huge event that his cousin had even flown in for all the way from Champagne—the city, not the drink. Although, the L’Angevins quietly bottled the bubbly on that side of the world, unlike Chase’s parents’ estate, Angel of the Vine Winery, which was the adult Disneyland of Napa Valley, California. And, at the moment, where every twenty-something within a thirty-mile radius was rockin’ some kind of peek-a-boob costume, while writhing to the beat the DJ kept spinning from his makeshift platform.
Chase, who was actually born on All Saint’s Day, had Maxie’s burgeoning feels all to himself, but for some lame reason, Maxie thought she needed Blanca to keep the peace between those two stunads (idiots) in the event Julien tried something shady like he’d done when he had met Maxie a couple months ago.
Over summer, Blanca and Maxie had spent some time in Paris together before Blanca had to head back to the states, leaving Maxie to continue her vacation all alone. Maxie and Chase had just called it quits on trying to date, but Maxie had been having second thoughts. Chase wouldn’t answer her texts, so Maxie took a detour to Champagne with hopes of meeting some of Chase’s extended family members at the French L’Angevin estate. She thought she might be able to get one of them to convince Chase he should at least let her apologize to him for some mistakes she’d made. And, the next thing Blanca knew, her bestie had found herself fending off Julien’s manipulative advances.
Julien’s need to seek revenge on Chase by vamping on Maxie, like he had every other girl Chase had taken an interest in, had caused some serious trouble. And, it had nothing to do with Maxie and everything to do with a two-year-old feud between the cousins over an artist that pretty boy, Julien, was going to propose to … until Julien had walked in on Chase, stripped down to his birthday suit, while he let her sketch him in her private studio.
Sketch? Yeah, right. Pft.
The story they had both told Maxie was that, after Julien walked in on them in the middle of their so-called art session, his would-be fiancé went cray-cray and fled to Italy without so much as a proper goodbye, leaving those two numb nuts to fight over nothing in the wake of her departure.
Normally, Blanca was all about minding her own business on that kind of train wreck of a story, but, when Maxie became the object of the cousins’ ongoing game of tug-of-war, Blanca felt the need to step it up for her BFF and keep that sexy beast entertained just in case he was still up to no good.
Julien, who was now giving the threesome a full-blown Cheshire grin the closer he came to them, was more pathetic than an actual threat. Maxie had explained the situation to Blanca last night, and she understood she had a job to do, on account of Chase being a raging lunatic when the slightest whiff of jealousy crept up in him.
Once my CEU workshops are over, remind me to never, ever abandon my BFF in a foreign country again. The girl is a chaos magnet when I’m not around to keep things under control.
Maxie was the kind of girl that guys climbed all over each other to get to with her big boobs, big ass, and a waist you could cinch a napkin ring around—a living Barbie Doll—with no clue how hot she was. Chase was only her third partner-slash-boyfriend. He would probably be her last, too. They’d been inseparable once they’d returned to the states by the way they’d been acting all emoji-heart-eyed for each other after Chase showed up in Champagne and put Julien in his place.
Ironically, he came to drag Maxie back to America to deal with even more trouble she’d inadvertently caused at home with Chase’s family. That dude sure knew how to play the hero, and Maxie ate it up like a bucket of Nutella. Inside jokie joke.
Blanca, on the other hand, had an aversion to true love.
Her one-and-only boyfriend broke her heart five years ago when he popped the question on her, then, snatched his ring back before she even had a chance to get the damn thing sized. Ever since, she’d decided to live her love life to the fullest—sans any actual love. Commitment was not her style. Not even close. Besides, helping out her bestie by distracting that fine piece of lily-white, French ass had its short-term perks.
Maxie had described Julien to her as being salty, rugged, and a danger to the stability of whatever it was the happy couple had blossoming between them. Insert finger, proceed to gag. Whether Blanca hit it off with Julien and created their own kind of happily-ever-after before the night came to an end or not was just a potential bonus to their plan to keep him busy all night.
The first thing, scratch that, the second thing Blanca noticed about Julien was how spot on Maxie had been about the unique color of his eyes—faded tropical sea glass bleached by the sun.
His thick, sandy blond hair that hung in waves at his squared jaw line, which was in dire need of a trim, offered just enough contrast to make them practically glow. Even the mottled hues of tangerine and goldenrod that filtered through the twilight couldn’t dim those angelic peeps that seemed to tug at her for attention. And, thank God, because that horrendous prosthetic schlong bobbing around off the end of his nose was almost too much to handle.
Two pointy, red horns protruded from the top of Blanca’s head in a place where a halo would never be at home. The vibrant, gradient blue hue in her waist-length ombre was all that could be seen tucked up in a giant sock bun—her whiskey brown roots barely even noticeable. She ran her hands up along her slender hips, inconspicuously nudging the ruched fabric of her red dress, revealing another inch or two of her lean legs.
Maxie might have had ginormous boobs to flaunt, but Blanca’s legs were her best asset in gaining a man’s attention—that and her eyes—an exotic gift from her Mediterranean-American mother and straight-up Italian father—jade green. Although, it wasn’t her eyes that she was hoping would detour Julien’s attention away from her bestie and back over to her.
“Bonsoir, mademoiselle, Maxine.” Julien extended his hand out to Maxie as he greeted all of them with an exaggerated head bob—his full lips spreading out in a conspicuous grin, while that sex-shop-reject thingy on his face kept tempo with the music enveloping them.
“Hi, Julien. It’s, uh, it’s nice to see you again.” Maxie placed her hand in his, and he pressed the back of it to his lips, making sure to cut his glance over to Chase for a reaction.
“All right, Cyrano de Bergerac, that’s enough,” Chase said, as Maxie tugged her hand back. “Julien, I’d like you to meet Max’s best friend and roommate, Blanca.”
His eyes shifted from Maxie’s to Chase’s then finally landed on Blanca, as if intentionally avoiding acknowledging her at first for whatever hidden agenda he might be brewing behind that sinister smolder.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” He reached up and tipped his feathered hat. Then, he bowed his head quickly with a wobbly-nosed nod, detonating laughter from all three of them.
“Bonsoir, Julien. C’est un plaisir de me rencontrer, vous verrez bientôt (Good evening. It is a pleasure to meet me, as you’ll soon see).”
“Ah, vous parler un peu de Français (Ah, you speak some French). Bien. Bien. I see I am going to have to disguise my endless chatter to my cousin about you two beauties with another language then, non?”
Julien panned Maxie’s Cinderella costume—from her Swedish blonde French twist to the endless panels of baby blue tulle enveloping her from her neckline to her ankles. Two princess-worthy, clear resin shoes peeked out underneath her gown. Ever since they’d left Blanca’s house twenty minutes earlier, Maxie had been whining about those shoes killing her arches.
That dress was a Halloween get-up Maxie just had to wear to match Chase instead of Blanca. They’d always worn coordinating costumes as the dynamic duo—good versus evil angels—you know, the ones parked on your shoulders when moral decisions needed to be made. But, noooo. Chase won that round of tug-of-war, and Blanca was left looking devilishly delicious without her sidekick sweetie to pull off their long-standing joke. Grr.
“Go right ahead, but Blanca speaks four languages fluently and will have French mastered in a couple more months.” Maxie slapped her on the shoulder in an attempt to push her forward towards Julien, causing the enormous, black, feathered wings anchored by a harness strapped her shoulders to bounce up and down as if she were about to take flight.
Julien reared his head back. “Ah, now that is interesting, and what languages do you speak?”
“All the Romance Languages,” Maxie interjected just as Blanca parted her lips to reply.
Chase made a garbled sound and tugged at the baby blue satin ascot around his neck.
Blanca cocked her head and squeezed her eyes shut in annoyance. “Maxie.”
“Sorry. Go ahead, Blanca. Tell him about—”
“—I’ve got this,” Blanca growled through clinched teeth.
Julien’s smile dimmed as he panned all of them. “I see you ladies are empty-handed. Is Prince Charming here letting you down, as usual? May I grab some drinks for you? I hear the bartender has a blood-red cocktail called The Monster Mash with jellied eyes floating around in it.”
“I’d love to see that.” Blanca quirked up the corner of her mouth and hooked her arm through the crook of Julien’s elbow, dragging him backwards a couple of paces before he turned around. They both shot a quick glance over their shoulders at a disgruntled Chase and beaming Maxie.
Blanca squeezed his arm as she held onto him. “I owe you one, Jules.”
“What’s that?” Julien asked, raking her with his luminous eyes briefly as they distanced themselves from the Disney cake toppers.
That’s right buddy. Feast on all this wicked sexy.
“I love her to death. We’ve been inseparable since high school, but sometimes I need a breather, especially when Chase is around. They’re kind of unnerving when they’re together.”
“Trust me, I understand, but I can see why. Love does peculiar things to some people.”
“Love? Oh, I don’t know about any of that. They only just started spending every waking hour together since Wednesday. Up until then, they were just weekenders. She hasn’t started tossing the L-word around yet.”
Julien furrowed his brow for a moment. “Why Wednesday?”
“I just closed on a house about fifteen minutes from here, and Maxie is my roommate. We haven’t even finished unpacking yet because she’s always with your cousin.”
“Ah, your first home?”
“No, second.” Blanca’s voice rose high above the rumble of the music as the crowd swallowed them up the closer they came to the bar—her wings brushing into the other guests left and right.
“You both lived in Sacramento, non?”
“Our whole lives,” Blanca groaned, nudging her way through a cluster-freak of zombies.
Julien wrapped his warm hand around hers and stepped in front of her, allowing her to trail behind him safely—a coy smile tickling her lips as she took the opportunity to thread her fingers through his.
They slipped between two Grady Twins drenched in glittery, red stains, who instantly recognized Julien and tugged at him to play with them like last year. He shrugged them off and mumbled something polite as Blanca tipped her nose at them in passing.
Sorry, girls, Dick-face de Bergerac is taken tonight.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Julien began, shouting at her over his shoulder, “but I have to ask. Did they set you up?”
“I willingly volunteered to keep you distracted. Maxie hasn’t shut up about you since Chase confirmed that you were still flying in for his party. You’d think she had a crush on you, if she hadn’t told me you were also as shady as shit. You’re an easy sell, though.”
Julien turned completely around and stopped them—the end of his prosthetic nose almost touching hers as he peered down at her petite frame, still much shorter than him despite her four-inch stilettos.
He squeezed her hand. “I was referring to you moving here just a stone’s throw to my cousin’s home.”
“Oh, gotcha.” A faint tinge of embarrassment washed over her for a split second then evaporated.
He turned and began to move forward again in the direction of the bar.
Blanca cleared her throat and continued to ramble as loud as she could above the music at the back of Julien’s plumed-hat-wearing head. “Yep. I had to quit my job. The salon I worked at in Sacramento lost its lease. Maxie suggested I look into working at one of the resort spas here, so I did. I even cashed out the equity in my condo and bought a house here in Napa Valley, so I wouldn’t have to commute. We haven’t even finished unpacking, yet, and I start my new job at the end of next week.”
“And Maxie gets to come along for the ride,” Julien scoffed, looking over his shoulder at her, then smiled as if to himself. “Lucky bastard.”
“As long as she pays me rent, they can think they got one over on me all they want.” Blanca offered a sly smile in return.
He stopped pulling her along and scammed on her once more. “So, you were, ehm, saying something about me being … what was it?”
“Shady. As. Shit.” She pinched her fingers together and flicked the long, rubbery whatchamacallit dangling in her face. “And, from what I can tell, in need of some decent company tonight.”
Or indecent. Take your pick, pretty boy.
He glanced over at the Grady Twins who were hanging all over some pathetic loser in a Where’s Waldo get-up then focused his attention back to her, fighting off a laugh. He tipped his feathered hat in the direction of the bar and pulled her with him again. “All right, Max’s best friend, I’m all yours.”
“Don’t say things you don’t mean,” she purred, as they sidled up to the bar.
Julien grabbed two of the bloodied drinks off a tray on the countertop that did, in fact, have horrid eyeballs ogling up at them.
“Follow me.” Julien nodded towards the other side of the courtyard where the largest of the buildings housed the main offices.
He led the way through the crowd again as Blanca barely kept up with him. They skirted around the huge fountain in the middle of the courtyard that was illuminated in lime green. The light created an eerie glow over the winged angel poised for flight in the center of it. Curling ribbons of water churned all around the creature in a fury, muffling the drone of a wordless song that hung in the cool breeze.
As they neared the perimeter of the crowd, Julien slowed his pace and handed Blanca her drink. They sidestepped two enormous metallic trees, several of which were staggered around the courtyard, all decked out in crystal leaves that pulsed to the music in an LED display of shimmering autumnal colors. They finally arrived in front of the large, double-doors leading into the building.
“I figure we could enjoy our drinks in private. ” His French accent thickened for a second. “Catch me up on this plan Chase hatched for me. Although, I must say, Blanca, you are an intriguing sidekick to our lovely Maxine, and I would’ve taken an interest in getting to know you, nonetheless.” He went to swing the door open, but it only trembled in its place, rattling off a warning not to intrude.
“Well, that stinks.” Blanca sucked her teeth. “I get that you must think there’s some big Chase-induced scheme going on here, but really, there isn’t much of a story to tell. Maxie asked me to distract you from getting on your cousin’s nerves. She said you had a way of using her to get at him.”
“Is that so?” he scoffed, throwing back his drink in a few swift gulps and turning his back to the door. “Ehm, what if we try the wine cave?” He snatched her hand up in his and tugged her along towards the side of the hill, sloshing her drink over the rim of her glass.
“Jeez, what’s the rush? I’m just supposed to wow you with my witty banter. I’m not sure we’re on the same page here, buddy.” She pulled back on him, trying to steady herself as she teetered in her stilettos—the stone pathway not exactly high-fashion friendly.
What the hell have I gotten myself into?
He let go of her hand and spun around. Blanca stumbled backwards a few feet, and Julien lunged forward, trying to wrap his arms around her to keep her from falling down. Her massive wings only complicated his efforts, though, and she toppled forward into his arms. She grabbed onto his ruffled shirt with one hand while most of the contents of her glass in her other hand went flying off to the side.
He slipped his hands around her waist and pulled her upright against his massive body. “I’ve got you, mon chéri. We don’t need any more lawsuits complicating matters for my aunt and uncle.”
“Whoa. Now that was a low blow. You know, it’s not her fault. Maxie had no idea her ex-boyfriend was suing Chase’s family over her accident until he threw it in her face when she was hanging out with you in France.” Blanca found her footing and wrestled out of his arms—her cocktail nothing but a couple of jellied eyeballs looking up at her from the bottom of her glass. Blech. “Besides, she settled it. Settled it for nothing, if you ask me.”
She handed the glass to Julien.
“A half-a-million is not nothing.” He stacked her glass with his and fished out an eyeball, tossing it up and catching it in his mouth.
Blanca perched her hands on her hips and stared him down—or up—the dude was at least six-feet-tall to her tiny five-six frame, four-inch stilettos included, of course. “She didn’t get a half-a-million. She had the insurance company reduce the settlement to $10,000, and she’s given Chase’s parents so much dirt on that douchebag ex of hers, they should be thrilled that the fool who knocked Maxie down the stairs is only getting a chump-change payoff for his lawsuit.”
“I suppose Chase did mention something to me about it last night on the way back from the airport, but I was half-asleep with jetlag. He’s such a bore sometimes. You, on the other hand, have me all kinds of interested.” He reached out and took her hand in his then led her down the walkway in the dark as if the topic at hand no longer mattered to him.
Wow, this guy is slick.
“Care to elaborate?”
“I tell you what. We call a truce, and I won’t kill my cousin for using you to keep me away from his girlfriend. This annual party of his is always crawling with opportunities. I don’t need him to offer me a—what did you call yourself—a distraction? I am shocked he’d—they’d—bother to con you into wasting your time with me.”
“Wow. Okay. So, you really are into her? I thought you were just messing with Chase’s head.” She tried to release his hand, but he only gripped hers tighter.
“She is wonderful—”
“Yes. Yes, she is. She is also off-limits.”
“So, I’ve been told.”
“And your angle here?” She lifted up their knotted hands to his face as they continued down the pathway towards the wine cave that had become lined with golf carts attached to narrow flatbed trailers.
“I have been known to hold hands with the devil on occasion.”
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