Novels about Wine: Read an Excerpt from Life is a CabernetExcerpt from Life is a Cabernet Novella by Jan Moran
If you like to read novels about wine and romance, look no farther than the new Romancing the Wine anthology. Nine novellas from award-winning authors — all for the ridiculous price of 99-cents! Why so low? It’s an introductory special to give new readers a tasty little sip of our work. I was honored to be asked to participate, and I hope you enjoy this excerpt from my new novella, Life is a Cabernet, which I wrote as a companion to my recent novel from St. Martin’s Press, The Winemakers. Like The Winemakers, this story is also set in 1956 in Napa Valley and San Francisco and is centered on the wine industry and the exuberant Juliana Cardona, who is a wine publicist and the best friend of the protagonist Caterina Rosetta from The Winemakers. This was so much fun to write; I loved having the chance to revisit one of my favorite novels about wine and romance. Read on and enjoy — cheers!
After leaving the restaurant, Henri wanted to walk around San Francisco’s Chinatown. As they passed storefront windows, Juliana admired the slim cheongsam dresses and brilliantly colored textiles.
They strolled into a shop that had simple necklaces and charm bracelets. The scent of sandalwood incense filled the air.
A wizened woman behind the counter greeted them. She said to Juliana, “What is your birth year?”
Henri studied Juliana with interest. “Some women don’t like to share their age. Are you one of those?” His rich cognac-colored eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled.
“I don’t mind,” she said, laughing. “I’m twenty-seven and I was born in 1929. That’s considered old-maidsville in my family.”
“I think it’s just right,” Henri said with approval.
The woman was nodding to herself. “Year of the snake. A very good sign.” She turned to Henri. “She is intelligent, brave, and charming. You are a lucky man.”
Henri’s face deepened in color and Juliana realized he felt put on the spot. “Oh, no, we’re not together,” she said to the women. “We’re only friends. Business associates.”
The woman’s eyes sparkled. “Okay, if you say so.” She brought out a bracelet that had a few Chinese good luck charms on it that Juliana recognized. “I can put a snake charm on this for you. It will bring very good luck.”
“Then we must have it,” Henri said.
“It’s beautiful, but…” Juliana wasn’t comfortable accepting a gift from him, though it was an unusual, beautifully crafted bracelet. She’d often admired charm bracelets, but until her business became more successful, jewelry wasn’t on her shopping list.
“It’s my pleasure. We’re celebrating our first success in the new publicity campaign for the vineyard tonight. I insist we commemorate it. Besides, we need to keep the good luck rolling in.”
She couldn’t deny his argument. “Okay, then. Thank you,’ she said, while the woman measured her wrist and choose a charm for her.
“What a lovely red dress you’re wearing,” the woman said as she reached for her jewelry tools.
“It’s sensational, but not as lovely as the woman wearing it,” Henri said, gazing at Juliana.
“Don’t be silly.” Juliana laughed, smoothing the narrow skirt of the square-necked, fitted dress she’d sewn herself. In a vivid shade of claret red, the dress matched her small felt hat and she’d paired it with cream-colored gloves.
While the woman worked, she told Juliana about her Chinese sign. “As a snake, red is your lucky color. Snakes are very intuitive. And for love, you are best suited to a rooster.” The woman peered at Henri. “Are you a rooster?”
“Some people have told me I like to crow about my wines. Does that count?”
The woman shook her head. “What is your birth year?”
Teasing him, Juliana cupped her hand around her ear. “What’s that, Henri? Speak up.”
He tapped her nose. “If you must know, 1921. I’m eight years older than you. Satisfied?”
She was. He was thirty-five years old. About what she had guessed.
“Then you are doubly blessed,” the woman said, reaching for another charm. “You are a rooster. You are well-matched.” To Juliana, she said, “He is talented, hard-working, and honest. Even if he does like to boast a little,” she added with a chuckle.
Grinning, Henri held up a finger. “Only about my amazing wine, though.”
Juliana crossed her arms, sizing him up. “The talented part is certainly correct. Hardworking, check. Boastful, check. And honesty is definitely important.” She couldn’t abide people who weren’t truthful.
“There. You try it on.” The woman held out the bracelet for Juliana and clasped it around her wrist. “Perfect size on you. This will bring you much luck.”
Henri paid for the bracelet and they left. As they walked, Juliana said, “You didn’t have to do that, you know.”
“No, but it gave me pleasure. It’s been a long time since I bought something for a woman. I’m a man. That makes us feel good, so humor me. I’m your client, remember? So you have to accept my gifts.”
“That’s not the way it works, but I do appreciate it.” The bracelet tinkled as she moved her hand. She liked the subtle reminder of the evening they’d spent together.
When they got back into Henri’s cherry red Cadillac Eldorado, he asked if she’d brought her car to the city.
“I did. It’s parked at The Palace Hotel.”
“It’s late. I’ll drive you home. I have an appointment with a printer here in the city tomorrow so I could drive you back in. And I could really use your help on the wine label.”
“The one Solange was working on?”
He nodded. “You were right. It is a nice tribute to her.”
Juliana was pleased he’d taken her advice. “I’d really enjoy that. And thank you for the ride. It is getting late. It will almost be past my curfew.”
“Your what?” Henri turned to her with an incredulous look on his face.
Laughing, she said, “My landlady at the boarding house is pretty strict. Mrs. Morales likes to say she runs a tight ship.”
“I’ll say. Sounds like you’re in the navy.” He checked his watch. “Better have you back on time, then. I wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of Mrs. M.”
“Don’t worry,” she replied, grinning. “Everything is copacetic, Monsieur Laurent.”
Henri put the convertible top down on his car and Juliana removed her hat, securing her hair with a band. He turned on the radio and an Elvis Presley song was playing. In a rich, deep voice he sang out, “Love me tender…”
“…love me sweet,” Juliana sang with him. They exchanged smiles and belted out the song as they whizzed across the Golden Gate Bridge with a thousand stars shimmering around them.
As Henri wound his way to Napa, he talked about wine and Juliana stole looks at him from the corner of her eye. Henri had a strong, aristocratic profile. She thought of the upcoming gala and wondered idly what he’d look like in a tuxedo. Not that it mattered, she told herself.
Rooster or not, he was only her client.
From Life is a Cabernet (A Winemakers Novella)
Copyright ©Jan Moran 2016
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Jan Moran writes for St. Martin’s Press and is a bestselling, award-winning author. Life is a Cabernet is a companion novella to her new historical novel, The Winemakers. (Because who doesn’t love novels about wine and vineyards?) Her stories are smart and stylish, and written with emotional depth. Jan often draws on her international travel and business experiences, infusing her books with realistic details. The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful. She earned her MBA from Harvard Business School and attended the University of California at Los Angeles Extension Writers’ Program. Originally from Austin, Texas, she lives in Southern California.