A charming billionaire winemaker with a broken heart.
An assistant DA who's sick of the men interfering in her cases.
And the WICKED WINEMAKER’S auction that changes everything...
My family started Ridge Winery, so I’m no stranger to getting what I want. But, I was shot down, turned down by a woman I thought was mine. That’s old news now, though. Water under the bridge. I’m not one to wallow or get discouraged, not my style, not my thing. This auction is everything I tried to avoid, and everything I needed. But, I’m determined to make the sassy DA see me in a new light. Let’s just see how WICKED it’s really going to get…
I don’t care how irresistible they are. The so-called good guys shouldn’t be butting into our cases. This isn’t a game of cops and robbers. This is real danger and real lives are on the line. But when it’s my life that hangs in the balance, there’s only one man I trust, one man who can save me. And believe me, he’d climb to the top of the RIDGE to protect me.
Los Caballeros. There was no proof the secret society even existed, yet my boss had ordered that I, an assistant district attorney, head up the task force to take them down. How many people were on the task force? One. Me. It would be laughable if my job—my reputation as a prosecutor—didn’t depend on it.
So here I was, poised to go after the most powerful entities in the wine industry, starting with the Ridge family.
They were renowned for winemaking both on the Central Coast of California as well as in the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Russian River regions. While their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay were acclaimed, it was their Zinfandel that outsold the other two varietals at least five to one. Not the syrupy pink kind, but the rich, full-bodied red the grape made when used to its full potential.
The pink stuff was a billion-dollar accident according to wine-industry lore. Someone at a lesser-known winery forgot about the vat of juice, so the owners decided to put it in a bottle and give it away. At the height of its popularity, the stuff the winery had named “White Zinfandel,” sold twenty million cases per year.
Regardless of the money they could’ve made jumping on the White Zin bandwagon, Ridge never had.
They’d stayed their course, continuing to produce some of the best red wine in the world. By doing so, they’d won endless awards, made billions of dollars without succumbing to the hype, thus maintaining the integrity of the varietal. It was a position I envied. Maintaining integrity, that was.
When I’d interviewed for the position of assistant district attorney with San Luis Obispo County, I knew part of the reason I was invited to do so was my connection to the wine industry.
At one point in my life, I’d wanted to pursue a degree in enology—the science of wine and winemaking. From there I had two options. Either vinification, aka making the stuff. Or viticulture, aka growing the grapes used to make the stuff.
Instead, I’d charted a different course after my father lost the winery that had been in his family for generations. Who had he lost it to? None other than the Ridges.
While it could be considered ironic, it hadn’t been their fault he’d lost it to them. In fact, Noah’s father, Hewitt Ridge, had been generous when he bailed mine out of bankruptcy after his experimentation into “non-traditional” varietals failed catastrophically.
Had the saga ended there, I might’ve been able to follow my dream of working in the industry myself, but in the years following his bankruptcy, my father began drinking heavily. On a fateful night when I was eighteen years old, he left a bar after being there several hours and got behind the wheel of his car.
He’d made it within five miles of home when his vehicle veered into the opposite lane, causing a head-on collision. The family of four in the other vehicle all died on impact, according to the police report filed on the accident. My father, though, lingered in a coma for four painfully long years before dying.
During that time, the legal fight between the family of the deceased victims and mine resulted in our losing what little we’d had left, including the home where I’d grown up.
The decision to become an attorney had been made out of necessity. Once I started, though, I knew it was what I was meant to do. I loved the law and had taken my oath to uphold it seriously.
Now, though, my boss was pressuring me to not just dismantle Los Caballeros, but to prosecute the man rumored to be at the secret society’s helm—Brix Avila. He knew as well as I did we didn’t have evidence to prove they existed, let alone convict them of illegal activity.
In fact, his continued insistence that I make this task force my top priority, started to feel as though I was carrying out a personal vendetta he had against Brix himself, and the perhaps-mythical Los Caballeros.
“Hey, Mom,” I said, answering her call as I was leaving the house.
“Hi, baby. By any chance you’ve talked to your sister lately?”
“Not since last week. Why?”
“She, um, hasn’t come home.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been a few days.”
My baby sister had been missing a few days and I was just hearing about it now?
“When was the last time you saw her?” I asked, trying not to let on that I was about to jump straight into panic mode.
“Two days ago.”
I sat down, put my head in my hand, and breathed a sigh of relief. Two wasn’t a few. In fact, depending on what time she last saw her, it might not even be the forty-eight hours required to report someone missing.
Not to mention, at twenty-three, my sister, who was six years younger than me, was an adult. Perhaps it would’ve been nice of her to inform my mother of her whereabouts. However, that wasn’t the relationship the two had.
“What happened, Mom?”
“What was the last thing the two of you talked about?”
When she hesitated I knew they’d had an argument.
“Let me put it this way. What did you fight about?”
“It wasn’t a fight. I told Luisa I didn’t want her to bring Jorge to the house anymore. I don’t trust him.”
Neither did I, but my mom had to know by now, telling Luisa something like that, would backfire.
“She’s probably staying with him. I’ll give her a call.”
“Staying with him but without taking any of her belongings with her? That makes no sense, Seraphina. Not after two days.”
“What do you mean by ‘belongings’?”
“Her computer, a tooth brush, anything more than the clothes on her back.”
I could see Luisa not caring enough to return home for anything my mother mentioned, except her computer.
In a little over a month, my sister would be graduating with a master’s degree in business administration. I had no doubt she had final projects due along with exams to study for. She wouldn’t risk failing her classes now after six years of hard work. Especially over a fight with our mom.
“I’ll give her a call.”
“I’ve been calling. It goes straight to voicemail.”
I didn’t bother to explain that would be exactly what happened if my sister blocked our mother’s calls.
When my call went straight to voicemail too, I got an uneasy feeling. There would be no way Luisa would block my calls. And, like me, she was a morning person. She wouldn’t have her phone turned off at this time of the day.