trendy, the easy. She had been told more than once she was anything but easy.

If he wanted a conquest, she wasn’t his woman. She wanted hearts, flowers, and happily ever after. He wanted a cheap, sexual encounter.

As she walked out of the elevator, her hormones took great pains to remind her that it had been some time since the last emotionally significant relationship in her life and that a cheap, sexual encounter would go a long way toward smoothing some of her frazzled edges.

“Not my style,” Katie said aloud and unlocked her car door.

Oh, but if it were, Zach Stryker would certainly be her man.

Katie drove out of the underground parking lot and headed west. While mid-February could be cool and rainy in Los Angeles, the past week had been perfect. California blue skies, balmy temperatures-no smog, no haze, and not an earthquake in sight. It was the kind of weather that drew tourists like flies to a pest strip, especially those suffering with snow and blizzards in their regular lives.

After crossing under the 405 freeway, Katie turned left, toward Santa Monica and her dollhouse-size bungalow. Traffic was lighter than it would be in an hour or so, as lawyers, accountants and financial types packed it in for the weekend.

Okay, yes, it was only two in the afternoon, and she really should still be working. But hey. She’d just landed a huge contract, been smiled at by one of the best-looking men in LaLa Land, and somewhere north of the city there was a cannoli with her name on it.

Inspired by the thought of dinner, she threaded her way through the growing congestion and made it home in about twenty minutes. After changing from her suit and high heels into a sleeveless dress and sandals, she grabbed a cardigan, the already-packed overnight bag, and headed for the bathroom. There she plucked pins from her hair until the shoulder-blade-length reddish-brown waves tumbled free. A scrunchy secured them at the nape of her neck. She paused long enough to slather sunscreen on every exposed inch. She might be half Italian, but she’d inherited her mother’s Irish skin. Just thinking about the sun was enough to start her burning.

On her way to the front door Katie glanced at her answering machine. No flashing light announced the delight of a waiting message. Obviously Zach Stryker had manfully resisted the nearly overwhelming urge to call her and beg her to return to his office where they would make love on his designer leather sofa.

Once in the driveway she stowed her luggage in the trunk, then slipped into her Sebring. The convertible top opened, then folded neatly behind the backseat. An adjustment of her radio from NPR to a rock station completed her travel ritual. It was time to go home.

By three o’clock she’d crested the hill that marked the line between L.A. and the valley. The exit to the 101 freeway was on her right. Katie slipped into that lane, all the while singing along with a song about broken hearts and holding on.

Her car phone rang.

Katie hit a button on the console, muting her radio and activating her hands-free microphone.

“Hi,” she said, speaking loudly to be heard over the wind and the sound of the other cars.

“Oh, good. You’re in your car,” her youngest sister, Mia, said, sounding delighted. “I was calling to make sure you’re still coming home this weekend.”

“I’m already on my way. How’s school?”

“Good. I’m settling into my classes and getting ready for midterms.”

Katie frowned as she followed the curving interchange. “Didn’t you just start the quarter?”

Mia sighed dramatically. “Tell me about it. I love UCLA, but the quarter system is so tough. I barely figure out what the class is about and suddenly it’s time for midterms.”

“And despite the pressure, you dazzle us all with your straight A’s.”

“I try.” Mia giggled. “Guess what? There’s gonna be an announcement at dinner.”

“Announcement?” Katie eased into the fast lane and concentrated on the minivan in front of her. “Good or bad?”

The Marcelli family had a tradition of announcing news at large family gatherings. Once everyone was seated and the meal had been served, the pronouncements began. Confirmations of births, blights, and illness were made, along with surprises, some welcome, some not.

Katie quickly considered the possibility of damage to the vines, but it was only February. Everything was dormant.

“Good,” Mia said with another giggle. “Very good.”

“Want to give me a hint?”

“Not really. So how was your Valentine’s Day?”

Katie remembered the quiet evening she’d spent in front of her tiny fireplace. She’d celebrated one of her favorite days with a bottle of champagne, Godiva chocolates, and a romance novel.

“It was perfect,” she said honestly.

“Was there a man involved?”

“Nope. I’m currently blissfully single.”

Mia sighed. “Katie, you know that means trouble. If you’re not seeing anyone, the entire family is going to jump all over you this weekend.”

“I know.”

The Marcelli family might be incredibly close and loving, but they were also rabid about marriage and kids. At twenty-eight and still single, Katie wasn’t just considered an old maid, she was thought to be unnatural and in need of serious therapy.

Which she didn’t want to think about. “So how was your Valentine’s Day?”


Katie pictured her sister’s petite yet curvy figure, her streaked blond hair and doe eyes. She grinned. “Let me guess. Forty-seven guys wrestled for the honor of buying you dinner.”

“No. I just saw David.”

“You’ve been seeing him for a while now, haven’t you?” She vaguely recalled a good-looking kid breezing through at Christmas.

“Uh-huh. Since September. He’s really special, Katie. We’re in love.”

“I’m happy for you,” Katie said, speaking the truth. She was two parts thrilled and one part envious. When was the last time she’d been in love? Not her previous boyfriend, or the one before that. They’d been great guys, but not the one.

“I should let you concentrate on driving,” Mia said. “See you in a couple of hours.”

“I’ll be there. Give my love to everyone.”

“I will. Bye.”

The connection clicked off. Katie pushed the button to restore her radio, but instead of joining in with the song, she shook her head. Mia in love? Was her baby sister really old enough to fall for a guy?

She laughed. Mia was eighteen. In the Marcelli family that was the perfect age for a short engagement, followed by a long marriage. Katie’s other sisters, Francesca and Brenna, had both married at eighteen, although Francesca was now a young, beautiful widow. Katie herself had been engaged at eighteen, although the marriage had never taken place.

Whispers of the past threatened, but she wasn’t interested in spoiling her drive, so she ignored them. Instead she cranked up the volume on the radio and fantasized about a certain lawyer she’d recently met. He might be fifteen kinds of bad for her, but he sure knew how to make her body burst into flames.

A wrought-iron arch announced the entrance to the Marcelli Winery. Hundreds of acres of vineyard stretched out on both sides of the two-lane drive amusingly named Pleasure Road. Come summer, the plants would be thick with leaves and budding fruit. In September, right before harvest, they would hang low with heavy, ripe grapes, but now, in February, they were simply gray and bare.

As Katie drove under the arch, she noticed that the winter pansies flourished. The dozen or so flower-filled half barrels surrounding the base of the arch were filled with colorful blossoms waving in the soft breeze. She could inhale the scent of flowers and earth, and the ocean in the distance.

The road to the main hacienda was nearly three quarters of a mile. Up ahead the three-story, pale yellow hacienda stood at the end of a long driveway. Wrought-iron balconies decorated the front of the structure. Katie

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