Autumn in the Vineyard
By Marina Adair
October 29, 2013
Frankie Baudouin learned some painful lessons early in her life. Her grandfather just confirmed them when she chose to do something against his wishes and he kicked her out of the family business--and out of his life. But Sorrento Ranch, the most desirable acreage in Napa Valley, is Frankie’s chance to show her grandfather his mistake in letting her go and to fulfill her dream of producing her own boutique wine. The fact that she bought land that the DeLucas, rival vintners and Baudouin enemies for more than half a century, are eager to own makes her purchase all the sweeter. Frankie is prepared to work hard, but she’s not prepared for Nate DeLuca to complicate her life again. Nate has a history of creating problems for Frankie, but this time she’s determined to win the battle. She has too much at stake to lose her land.
Nate DeLuca is looking forward to putting to use the land the DeLucas just bought fulfill his father’s dream. Nate has fond memories of teen years spent working with his dad trying to find the perfect blend for a dream wine the elder DeLuca called his “opus.” Now he and his brothers have plans to turn the twenty prime acres the family just paid an inflated $7.5 million for into the site of DeLuca’s premiere winery, Opus. Nate is surprised to find Francesca Baudouin on his land and claiming it as hers, but he’s confident that the DeLucas will prevail—at least until he discovers he has been unwittingly paid a platinum price for half the land he thought he was buying, acreage that was divided fifteen years ago. Still, knowing the Baudouin are cash-strapped, he feels certain he can persuade the volatile Frankie to sell.
When the two face off in court, they do so before a judge who is weary of the DeLuca- Baudouin feud, uses the fact that the property division splits the house in half to give Nate and Frankie thirty days to work thing out peacefully together before he takes action. Thirty days with two stubborn antagonists who know they are all wrong for one another but can’t escape the passion that simmers between them makes for an interesting, conflicted, and dangerous time.
Autumn in the Vineyard is the third book in Adair’s St. Helena Vineyard series. Readers familiar with the earlier books will recognize Frankie and Nate and remember the kiss that sent the sizzle-meter soaring in Kissing Under the Mistletoe. Frankie, with her ball-busting boots and motorcycle, is a tough cookie, but one with a soft center. The child of a divorce that left her feeling rejected and cut off from her father’s world, she longs to be loved and accepted for who she is. Nate is a fascinating contradiction—an easy-going charmer who prefers loving to fighting and an obsessive list-maker who has felt the need to exert control even in this limited way since his parents’ deaths.
I usually prefer friends-to-lovers stories to enemies-to-lovers, but I found both Frankie and Nate likeable, engaging characters. I believed in their conflict because it was based less on the feuding families than on their very different experiences and personalities. I especially appreciated that Adair didn’t smooth out all the rough spots created by their differences with true love. One of the reasons I believe these two will endure is that they have accepted that love doesn’t mean never being irritated by or disappointed in the beloved. My favorite lines belong to Frankie’s wise spinster aunt: “It’s the liking part that’s difficult. Love, once it happens, is always there no matter how angry you get. But like, that takes compromise and honesty and understanding and a lot of hard work.”
Family dynamics are an important part of this story. I enjoyed watching the teasing and easy affection that bind the DeLuca brothers to one another and to the rest of their extended family, and I found Frankie’s more complicated relationship with her brothers and other family members interesting and credible. Part of the appeal is setting, both St, Helena as a particular place and the wine culture generally. Adair is generous with the details, giving the reader a strong sense of place.
There are four DeLuca brothers, and with Frankie and Nate settled, three of them now have their HEA. That leaves Trey, and his story will be available January 21—Be Mine Forever, a Valentine story just in time for Valentine’s Day. I look forward to another trip to St. Helena.
Some of my favorite series have involved families with wineries. In addition to Adair’s books, I love Susan Mallery’s Marcelli family, Christie Ridgway’s Baci sisters, and Kristan Higgins’s Hollands. And, although not a part of a series, I have The Vineyard by Barbara Delinsky and The Villa by Nora Roberts on a keeper shelf. Do you like wineries as settings? What’s your favorite?