Monday, June 30, 2008

New Horse, New Book

Guess what? We have a new horse! I haven't had my own horse in ten years and well, this one sorta fell into our lap.

Last week I received a call from my best friend who is a phenomenal horse woman. She has a toddler these days and so her time is limited with what she can do outside of being Mommy. Her trainer called her up and told her about this mare. Her name is Krissy. She is a grey TB/Warmblood, 12 years old, 16.2 hands, sound, jumps four feet, gorgeous, sweet and very well trained. You'd think this horse would cost an arm and a leg, right? Well, the lady who owned her has a handful of horses, a lot of $$$$ and needed a write off. Krissy was her practice mare. Now she is my mare. All I had to do was donate a few hunderd dollars to a horse rescue and we got to bring her home. I am so in love with Krissy. I have to keep pinching myself. I wasn't even looking for me, but for my little girl. However, she's a bit too large and powerful for my little one. Funny thing is, I made a dream board about six months ago and guess what was all over the board? A grey horse. Maybe this Secret stuff works. LOL.

I will be posting photos. i'm taking my camera out today to take pics of her and I can show you.

In other news: My daughter was in her first show and won a second in equitation and third in pleasure. It was a very exciting day!

I know we like to keep it about the horses on the blog here, but the other gals gave me the "thunbs up" to share some news about my wine mysteries. Book four in that series (A VINTAGE MURDER) will be out tomorrow. If you haven't read any of the books in the wine lover's mysteries, i hope you'll give them a try. They're a combo of murder mystery, mayhem, comedy, a little romance and recipes with wine pairings. They star my heroine Nikki sands who is the manager of The Malveaux Winery and who always seems to have the misfortune of coming across dead bodies. I like to say that they are a bit of Murder She Wrote meets "Friends," on the vineyard with a dash of Racahel Ray.

I am posting chapter one here of the new book and if you'd like an opportunity to win all four books in the series, please visit my website and go to the contest page to enter.

Thank You. Have a wonderful week!



Nikki Sands could not believe where she was and what she was doing. But what she really couldn’t believe was with whom she was doing it. She looked out the car window. The valley was breathtaking, covered in grape vines, the soil the color of buttered toffee as the sun cast its morning rays across the landscape. Although she’d seen plenty of vines working at the Malveaux Winery in Napa, this was different. She was far away from home.

She couldn’t help but smile. Even inside the car she could smell the rich soil and the aroma of ripe fruit that hung in the air. God, it was intoxicating. She breathed in deeply, closing her eyes. When she opened them again, she shook her head in amazement. Was it possible that she actually sat smack dab in the middle of a Monet painting? Because if that was at all possible, this would be what it would feel like—kind of blurred but completely serene. Peaceful. Yes that’s where she must be—in the middle of a painting. The view spread out in front of her: rolling hills of green set behind a charming village filled with church spires rising high from ancient stone buildings, and amidst it all were rows of manicured vineyards. Napa had charm in and of itself, but this place felt almost as if Nikki had been tossed back in time to a yesteryear of simplicity combined with rustic elegance.

The last forty-eight hours had been a whirlwind, and even though she still had some jet-lag, everything in her world felt right. Well, almost everything. She knew that on another continent, in another part of the world, she’d left someone with a broken heart, and that did not feel good at all. In fact, she knew she’d have to deal with it, with him sooner than later, or the guilt would eat her alive. There was a part of her that couldn’t help feeling like a monster for making the choice she had, but the logical side—the one not connected to her heart—helped her realize that by making that choice, she’d actually wound up sparing him less pain in the long run. The truth was, the relationship she’d decided not to pursue would’ve never worked. No matter how hard she would’ve tried to convince herself that it was right, her heart would’ve belonged to someone else, and it was that someone else she was now with.

And when the man beside her took her hand and gave it a squeeze, a surge of electricity shot up from her toes and warmed her entire body, validating that yes, she’d made the right choice. He glanced over at her. “I can’t believe you’re really here with me.” Nikki’s stomach swirled with a mixture of nerves and something she hadn’t felt in years—passion, not lust, but real passion. “I really can’t believe it. I didn’t know if you would come. I’d hoped.” He pulled the car off to the side of the road.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“This.” He took her face in his hands and kissed her. “Thank you for being here with me,” Derek said and then kissed her again.

“There’s no place else I’d rather be,” she replied.
Derek pulled back onto the road. They were on their way to the Hahndorf Winery in the Barossa Valley of Australia, to meet with the owner, Liam Hahndorf, and his wife. Derek’s goal was to secure a co-op deal with Hahndorf Wines. The popularity of Australian wines was on the rise in the states. Derek felt they made a great product, and when Liam Hahndorf had approached Derek, he saw the potential in the deal.

“Tell me a little bit about Liam Hahndorf,” Nikki said. “You’ve obviously met him before and you think he makes a good wine.”

“Yes, he does. He and his wife Grace started the winery about fifteen years ago and they’ve done well. Liam is a smart businessman. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s real personable. The last time I saw him was about six months ago. He was in L.A. at the same time I was.”

“Oh yeah, when you went there for that big-time celebrity soiree and didn’t invite me,” she joked.

He shook a finger at her. “Let’s get one thing straight: I know I should have told you a lot sooner about my feelings. I didn’t know how you would react. I didn’t know what you felt.”

How couldn’t he have known? She thought her signals had been loud and clear, like a neon sign.

“Anyway, you know what I’ve been through in the past, so as stupid as it might sound, I guess I was apprehensive to hang my heart out there again.”

“It doesn’t sound stupid.” Nikki knew all about Derek’s unlucky-in-love history. He’d married a conniving, horrid woman who’d totally manipulated him without ever truly being in love with him. “I just wish you hadn’t taken so long to get smart, you big dummy.”

“Funny, huh? I like funny women, you know.”

“You do?”

“Oh yeah. What I’d really like is to take you back to the hotel and have my way with you.”

Oh boy, stomach flip flop right on over, like a pancake on a griddle. “Hmmm.”
He held up a finger. “But business first this morning, and like we agreed on the plane, the first time will be an all-day affair.” He winked at her.
Oh yeah, that agreement. That had been her idea. How stupid had that been? But last night had been kind of sweet. They’d talked all night aboard the Malveaux jet and cuddled, ate excellent food and drank champagne. Then, after a bottle of Dom Perignon and some slow kisses, the topic of sex had come up.

“Wow,” Derek had said after one long swap of the tongue that made Nikki’s toes curl.

“Yeah, wow.”

He laughed.

“What so funny?” she asked, feeling confused.

“I’m laughing because this is so crazy. You and me.” He leaned back in the cushy seat.

“Well, yeah, it is a little crazy, but…”

He took her hand. “No I don’t mean crazy in a bad way.” He shook his head. “I know how your mind works. I mean crazy in a great way and I was laughing because if our kiss is any indication of…well, you know…” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Her face grew hot and all she could do was nod.

“You do want to, don’t you? Make love?”
Of course she did, but things did feel sort of weird. After all, Derek was her boss and she’d run away with him on the spur of a moment. Holy cow, this was the craziest thing she’d ever done in her life. “Yes,” she said tentatively.

“I don’t want to push you, Nikki. I can definitely book us separate rooms at the hotel.”

“No, no. I want to. I guess when we do, I want it to be special.”

“Me too.”

So when they’d landed in the middle of the night, exhausted from travel and emotions, they’d turned in with Derek taking the sofa in the hotel room and insisting she sleep in the bed. Although she’d been exhausted, she’d fallen asleep thinking she sure would have liked having Derek’s warm body by her side. Suddenly their idea of making their first time extra special seemed extra stupid, because no matter what, it was going to be special.

Nikki set the fantasies aside as they pulled up to the Hahndorf winery. A security guard waved them to a stop at a kiosk. “I thought this was a mom and pop operation in the middle of nowhere. What gives?” Nikki asked.

“You got me. It does seem like overkill, and I had no idea Hahndorf would have security.”

Malveaux was one of the larger and more well-known wineries in Napa, and they didn’t have a set-up like this. Not even close. Derek gave the security guard his name. The man glanced down at a sheet of paper. “Yep. G’day sir. Says here you’re visiting with the Hahndorfs. Okay then, go straight ahead and over the small hill there and you’ll see the winery and house.”

Derek thanked the man and drove off.

Unlike Napa Valley, which in May would mean summer was near and so was picking season, in the Barossa May was the end of autumn. Winter would arrive in the next month, just as the heat in Napa started to rise into the nineties.

“What’s that?” Nikki pointed toward the middle of the vineyard, where several trucks were parked, including a large semi. There was also a row of motor homes. She squinted to see if she could get a better look. “I think that’s a film crew.”
Derek slowed down. “Yeah, it looks that way. You should know.”

“It’s been a while.” Nikki had once played the starring role in a one-hit-wonder cop show when she’d pursued an acting career in L.A. The acting had never taken off, and she’d discovered she was much better at managing a winery than she could ever be at playing a detective on TV.

They pulled past the winery, its architecture very chateau-like, reminiscent of the wineries in France. “Jeez, if that’s the winery, what must the house look like?”

“Good question. We’re about to find out. I’m curious what they’re filming out there,” he said. “Maybe a commercial.”

“I don’t know, it seems like a lot of vehicles for a commercial.”
At the end of the drive, in an area secluded back behind a row of gum trees, a house appeared. It wasn’t as opulent as the chateau. Though still quite large, it looked comfortable, like an English-style stone cottage.
Derek parked in the circular drive next to a row of expensive automobiles ranging from the sporty to luxury.

“He must like cars,” she said.

“I’d say someone does.” Derek climbed out, went around to her side and opened the door for her, taking her hand.

“Such the gentleman.”

“My dad didn’t send me to private school for nothing. I hated that place, especially the etiquette class.”

“I’d say it paid off nicely.”

“Don’t get used to it. I’m only trying to impress you.”

“You’re funny too.” They walked up a pathway lined with flowers and plants that Nikki assumed were native, because she didn’t recognize them. “Someone keeps a lovely garden.”

Derek pressed the doorbell. Chimes rang out from the other side of the door.
Soon a young woman in her early twenties swung the door open. She had long sandy blonde hair, large hazel eyes, pouty lips and seemed awfully thin. She wore tight jeans and a low-cut orange cotton sweater. Nikki thought her pretty in the grunge, Kate Moss way that had hit heights of popularity back in the late nineties. “Oh, the film crew is down in the vineyard. You passed them,” she said in a heavy Aussie accent.

“We’re actually here to see Liam Hahndorf,” Derek said.

“Oh. Dad!” the girl shrieked. “Some man and woman are here for you.” She breezed past them, keys in hand. They watched her get behind the wheel of a Navy blue Aston Martin. She took off in an apparent hurry.

“Well, well, g’day mate!” A tall gray-haired gentleman with warm brown eyes and soft wrinkles forming around them appeared in the doorway. “Oh damn, Hannah. She’s gone again! Damn girl. She is not a good listener, that one. Oh boy, Grace won’t be happy about this.”

“I won’t be happy about what?” A middle-aged woman joined him. Nikki assumed she was the girl’s mother. They had the same eyes, and the lady was as thin as her daughter. She also had the same long blonde hair, but hers was pulled back tightly into a ponytail.

“Goodness, we have forgotten our manners. Grace, this is my friend Derek Malveaux. I told you he’d be dropping in with us today for some business. Good to see you.” The men shook hands. “This is my wife Grace, and that was Hannah, our terror of a daughter, who blew past you. I’m not sure how we’ll survive her.” Liam kissed his wife on the cheek. “Grace here is far more patient with her than I am.”

“Hardly. You spoil the girl something terrible. Nice to meet you, Derek.”

“And you. This is my girlf… ah, my winery manager and my assistant, Nikki Sands.”
He’d almost said girlfriend. Girlfriend? Wow. That had her in a spiral—a delicious spiral. She understood why he’d used her business title, but she couldn’t wait until things were more cemented between them and the formalities could be pushed aside.

“Where are my manners? Come in, you two,” Grace said.
They followed her through the entrance across light hardwood floors inlaid with another type of wood in a diamond pattern. Maybe walnut, but it was more reddish than walnut and quite dark. Possibly cherry. “Your floors are gorgeous, Grace. What type of wood are they?”

“It’s Jarrah wood. Popular wood here in the bush. Somewhat on the expensive side, but I love it. I redecorated the house a few years back and couldn’t resist.”

“It’s lovely. The entire house is.”

No joke. The house looked larger on the inside than it had from outside, and Grace had done a great job of turning the manor into a cozy home with warm golden colors, family photos, colorful throw rugs and leather sofas. Everything about the place spoke of wealth and sophistication, but also of care. For the family it had to be a nice place to live, because it was definitely a nice place to visit. Grace led them out to the back, where the gardens spread out and a lap pool took up a portion of the yard. Behind the pool, a large patch of grass rolled down to a flowing river. Vast woods stretched out across the river.

“This is gorgeous,” Nikki said. “What river is that?”

“That’s the North Para River,” Liam said. “More of a creek typically, but we had some decent rain this year, so we have a bit more water than usual, which is good because the water can be important to the Barossa Valley for viticulture. You can’t imagine how lucky we feel to have it run right through the property like this. Good stuff for the vines. Have a seat. Enjoy the view.”

“Nikki and I were wondering what’s going on here. When we turned into the vineyard we saw all the activity.”

“Oh yes. Hollywood has come to our village. Our place really,” Liam replied.

“Hollywood?” Nikki said.

“It’s quite a story. We’ll have to tell you all about it, but let me grab these contracts for us to go over first. They’re in my office. I would like to go over some matters that have come up, Derek. Would you like your assistant to join us?”
Derek looked at Nikki, who felt that whatever Liam wanted to discuss with Derek, he wanted to do in private. She’d just met the man, but she read body language and she knew that Derek likely sensed that too. She wondered what it was all about. “Uh, no. Nikki why don’t you visit with Mrs. Hahndorf? We should be back soon.”

“Of course.” It felt really awkward to have been holding his hand less than half an hour ago, and now this stilted kind of weirdness.

“Yes, yes. You two take care of what you need to.” Grace waved them away. “We’ll head into the kitchen and have some tea.”
Nikki found Grace to be hospitable, and the tea was warm and soothing. They made small talk for quite a while. Nikki told her about the Malveaux winery and Grace began to fill her in on the scene they saw when they’d entered the winery.

“You wouldn’t believe it. Shawn Keefer is doing a movie here, with Nathan Cooley directing it.”

“The Shawn Keefer?” Nikki’s jaw dropped. Shawn Keefer was only Hollywood’s most sought after leading man, and Nathan Cooley was the kind of director everyone in the business wanted to work with. He was a genius.

“No kidding. What’s the movie about?”

“I…don’t think I can discuss it. We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the film company.” Grace lowered her voice and looked pensive.

“Who else is in it?”

“One of those young starlets. The one who is supposedly so brilliant. But she’s quite a troublemaker, from what the tabloids say. We’ve even had some paparazzi lurking in our midst. It’s the pretty redheaded girl. That Lucy Swanson.”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard of her.” Who hadn’t? Lucy Swanson was a fine actress who’d starred in some successful films. She was also one of the new breed—if that’s what they could be called—of Hollywood: young women who spent too much time partying, getting busted, and then going back for more. This one hadn’t done any stints in rehab but rumor was that she needed to, if you believed the tabloids. She at least supposedly had a work ethic, and that was her main driving force. It might also be her saving grace. God, Nikki really had read too many rag mags and watched way too much of E! Entertainment.

“Yes, well I can tell you that she is a wild one. Hannah has been spending some time with her, and also one of the crew people. Some good-looking young man, and I’m not crazy about it. I’m afraid they’re going to get Hannah into trouble.”
Nikki doubted that the girl had any problems getting herself into trouble. Instead of saying what she thought, she replied, “Really? Trouble, huh?”

“Out partying at all hours.” Grace shook her head. “Anyway, tonight we are having an old-fashioned barbecue and the entire crew is joining us.”

“Including Shawn Keefer?”

Grace nodded and smiled. “He’s quite a cad, that one. He flirts with all the ladies.”

“I’d read in one of the tabloids that he is a huge flirt.”

“But he is a dear really, once you get to know him. We’ve had the actors up for dinner on occasion since they’ve been on the premises.”
Nikki noticed Grace’s cheeks flush and she wondered if the woman had a crush on Keefer. Many women around the world did. He was on par with Brad Pitt and George Clooney in both the looks and acting categories; definitely a superstar. People loved him, and considering his stature he did a decent job of lying low and keeping out of the limelight, except for a few years back, when he’d gone through a divorce with his actress wife, Fiona. But from what Nikki recalled when that happened, they had remained decent to each other, and she’d made out like a bandit in the settlement. It would be interesting to meet Shawn Keefer.
They talked a bit more about the actors on the vineyard before Derek and Liam returned. “Ladies, would you like to take a trip down to where they’re filming? I filled Derek in, and he said that he’d love to go, especially when he heard that Andy Burrow was on the set.”

“Andy Burrow, too?” Nikki shot a glance at Derek. “How great!” Andy worked with all sorts of wildlife. He was eccentric, quite a character. Nikki knew that Derek loved watching the guy’s show on the Earth Channel.

“I know. Isn’t that awesome?” Derek sounded like a kid, but there was also a catch in his voice that Nikki didn’t recognize.
It was strange, because he sounded excited about meeting Andy, and Nikki was sure that he would be, but there was something else there that she couldn’t put her finger on, as if he were slightly troubled. She wondered if there was a problem with the business deal.

“Liam says that he’s not in the movie, but they’ve got a bunch of wild animals they’re working with on the film, and Andy is on hand with the animals. He brought all of them from his zoo,” Derek added.

There is was again—an edge, almost fake like. “Sure, I’m in. Let’s go,” Nikki replied. “This must be quite a production,” she said as they climbed into Liam’s golf cart, still curious about what was rattling around in Derek’s head.
“It is at that,” Liam replied. “Quite a group too. The producer has put up a lot of money to film it and they’re looking for one of those big blockbuster movies you watch in America.”

“I personally can’t wait until they’re finished. They’ve created a bit of havoc for us,” Grace said, “as much fun as it’s been.” She glanced at Liam. Nikki couldn’t figure her out. “Did Grace tell you that I wrote the script?”
No she hadn’t. Now that was strange. She acted as if she wasn’t even certain what the movie was about. “Uh, well…”
Grace rubbed Liam’s shoulder. “I didn’t mention that. I know you don’t like to brag much.” She smiled at Nikki.

“Since when? I couldn’t be prouder, and having Andy here is wonderful. You’ll love him.”

Derek looked like a kid in a candy shop, he was so excited. For him, meeting Andy Burrow was way up there with one of the coolest things in the world to be able to do. She was excited too, but also baffled by Grace. “That’s great,” Nikki replied. “I know what the business is like. It’s not easy to even get a screenplay read, especially not a first one. Then to have it made into a movie, no less. You should be proud.”

“Oh this isn’t my first go at it. I have a bunch of them in the closet. Been writing forever, but never really thought it would happen, you know. I’m a farm boy at heart. I grow grapes and we make wine. To have this now makes everything complete.”

“How did you get the idea for the story?” Derek asked.

“That’s a long story in itself,” Liam replied.

“Yes it is. We don’t want to bore you with it,” Grace said. She looked at her husband. “Do we, Liam?”

“Right. Maybe another time.”

Nikki thought she heard Grace’s voice tighten as she spoke.
A group of people sat around in chairs as they got closer, all looking pretty bored. The camera crew and extras. Maybe they were taking a lunch break. It seemed a little early for lunch….

Liam parked the cart just as a horrible scream came from the direction of the trailers parked on the set.


Ceri Hebert said...

I'm so excited to "find" this blog! I'm a writer and though I've only written one book where horses figure heavily in the plot, I have many more in my head waiting to come out.

Great excerpt! I've got you bookmarked and can't wait for more posts!

Jami Davenport said...


I love your books. Great first chapter and wonderful cover.


PS: Ceri, welcome, we're glad you found us, too.

Laura Crum said...

Congratulations, Michele, on both your new horse and new book. I hope they both do slpendidly for you.

A.K. Alexander said...

Hi Ceri,

Welcome! Happy you found us and that you're writing.

Thanks for the kudos Jami and Laura.

Krissy is settling in nicely, although she decided she doesn't care much for the large hawk who lives on the property. LOL. We spent a lot of time yesterday getting used to him. He lives in a tent like thing near the manager's house and he even freaks me out.

But after some time, she passeed by him without more than a few flickers of the ears.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Congratulations on your new horse, love the greys and this one sounds just perfect.
Good first chapter, interesting read.