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Cognac & Cornflowers - The Hamiltons book 6 (ebook)

Cognac & Cornflowers - The Hamiltons book 6 (ebook)

Sweet n Steamy Romance

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Jacob and Becca
Jacob Jacobs stepped up to run the family winery after his parents were killed. It’s not just any old winery, Jacob’s Estate is one of biggest brands in the industry.

These days he’s a respected winemaker, successful CEO, and Napa’s most eligible bachelor. He’s lived up to all three of those titles, too - especially that last one. He’s used to being pursued by beautiful women – and he enjoys their company. At least, he used to.

Maybe it’s because he has a landmark birthday coming up, but lately he’s grown tired of the life he’s been living. He can have all the company he wants. But what he really wants is the company of family.

He’s thrilled that his sister has come home to live on the estate. With the help of his new niece, Ava, he’s discovering how much fun family life can be.

Becca Taylor followed her boyfriend to Napa. She was lucky to land a job as a third-grade teacher and was eager to start a new life. Just a few months later, she’s alone in a new town, with no boyfriend, no friends – and not much of a life. She stayed because she made a commitment to the children she works with, but when the school year is over, she’ll have to head home to Kansas and admit that her parents were right.

She’s making the most of her life in Napa while she’s there, though. She’s been forcing herself to go out and do things. She made a deal with herself that she’d accept any invitation that was offered to her. It might not be much fun by herself, but it beats sitting at home alone.

When one of her favorite pupils, Ava, invites her to a Christmas tree lighting event at the Jacob’s estate, Becca has no idea that her life is about to get turned on its head. She doesn’t know much about wine, and even less about winemakers – but Ava’s Uncle Jacob has her eager to learn more.

Available to Read on Kindle, Nook, iThings, Kobo, Phone, Computer, Tablet, Etc! Your eBook will be delivered to your provided email address by BookFunnel. 

Cognac & Cornflowers is the sixth book in USA Today Bestselling Author SJ McCoy's international hit The Hamiltons series, loved by over 1,000,000 fans of sweet and steamy romances. 

    Chapter One Look Inside

    Chapter One

    Becca shivered as she closed the front door behind her. It was cold out there. She’d expected winters here in Napa to be much milder than at home. Everyone kept telling her that this cold snap was unusual, and she could do without it. She checked the thermostat on the wall and decided to leave her coat on for a little while. She was trying to acclimatize to keeping the temperature a bit lower in the townhouse – just like she was trying to do every other little money-saving trick she could think of. It wasn’t going to be enough, she already knew that, but she was hoping that she’d be able to hang in until the lease was up.

    She knew that she and Aiden should never have taken this place. It was nice, and having a back yard was a bonus – when the weather was nice enough to be able to enjoy it. But the rent was just too much. She’d wanted to take the one-bedroom apartment that they looked at. It would have been cramped, but it would also have been much more affordable. But no. Aiden had insisted that this place would be worth the extra money and that they could afford it between them.

    She blew out a sigh and shrugged out of her coat. They had been able to afford it between them, for the two months that he’d stayed here. But he was long gone, and she was quickly approaching the day when she’d have to admit that she couldn’t afford it by herself. She knew she should try and find out how much it would cost to break the lease, but she kept putting it off because she dreaded finding out that she wouldn’t be able to afford that either.

    She set her bag down on the counter that separated the kitchen from the living area and started pulling her books out. She wanted to get some lesson planning done before she had to go out. Once she was settled with a cup of tea beside her and her books and laptop in front of her, she quickly lost track of the time. Life might not be all that rosy at the moment, but she loved her work, and she loved the kids she worked with. The older teachers kept telling her that her enthusiasm would soon wear off, but she didn’t think it would. Most of the teachers at the school had at least fifteen years’ experience under their belts. They looked at her as a newbie. But she wasn’t. She’d taught at home in Kansas for a few years before Aiden had convinced her to come to California with him.

    She jumped when her cell phone rang and smiled when she saw Dad flash up on the display.

    “Hey, Dad! How’s it going?”

    “It’s going good, Becca. How about you?”

    “I’m fine. I’m just doing some lesson prep for the rest of the week.”

    “They still got you working hard, then? I thought you might be winding down for the holidays.”

    She laughed. “The kids are winding down on work and getting wound up for Christmas. But I still have some ground to cover with them before we break for the holidays.”

    “And you’re going to come home the day after school gets out?”

    She forced a smile. “You know I am.”

    “I just wanted to make sure. Your brothers and sister will all be here at the house on Christmas day. They’re expecting to see you. And you know it’d break your mom’s heart if you don’t come.”

    “I’ll be there, Dad.” They’d had this conversation so many times already.

    “Do you have your flight details? I want to make sure that I’m there waiting when that plane lands.”

    Becca bit the inside of her cheek. She didn’t want to tell him that she hadn’t actually bought the ticket yet. She had a bunch of alerts set up to notify her when – if – prices dropped. But the closer it got to Christmas, the less likely it was that would happen. In fact, at this rate, she’d probably discover that she’d screwed herself over by waiting and hoping, and she’d have to shell out a fortune.

    She sighed. “Not yet.”

    “I didn’t think so. I know it can’t be easy, Becs. Not after that … Aiden, left you having to pay for everything by yourself. Listen, that’s why I’m calling. Your mom can’t wait to see you, it’d break her heart if you don’t come. And the way you’ve been so edgy about it, I reckoned it might be about the money. So, why don’t you use that credit card I gave you? I can cover it.”

    “Aww, Dad. I can’t do that. You’re not exactly flush yourself.” She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth.

    “I can do it, Becs.”

    “Sorry. I didn’t mean that …”

    “It’s okay. I know. Things have been tough on the farm the last couple years. But if I can’t even get my girl home for the holidays, I might as well give up.”

    “I know you can do it, Dad. I just mean that I don’t want to be a burden. I’ll get online and find myself a ticket tomorrow and call you when I have the flight details.” She smiled. “And then I’ll be able to look forward to seeing you and Mom waiting for me when I land.”

    “You can use the credit card, love. I can cover it.”

    “How about if I can’t find a cheap ticket, I’ll use the card and give you as much as I can towards it?”

    “Okay. Do that then.” Her dad chuckled. “But don’t you want to get online and do it tonight so that I can tell your mom that you’re definitely coming?”

    “I would, but like I said, I’m doing some lesson prep now, and then I’m going out later.”

    “You are? Where are you going?”

    “There’s a Christmas tree lighting at one of the big wineries.”

    “Is it a date?”

    She laughed. “No! I told you. After Aiden, I have no interest in dating anyone for a while. I’m going because one of my students is helping to turn the lights on. Little Ava, I’ve told you about her before.”

    “You have. She’s the one who’s new at school because she came to live with her uncle?”

    “That’s right.”

    “And are you going to see her or to see the uncle?”

    “Dad! I’ve told you before. Ava’s a little sweetheart, and her uncle – Grady – is a really nice guy, but there’s nothing going on with him and me. Ava and I hit it off because we were both new when school started in the fall. And Grady’s new to being a parent. He’s doing the best he can – he’s doing a great job, but he’s a single guy who just had his eight-year-old niece come to live with him. So, he’s got a lot to learn about the whole parenting thing. Some of the moms at school can be bitchy and judgy, so I’ve tried to help him out as much as I can – just because he’s a good guy trying to do a good thing for his niece, not because I like him.”

    “I wouldn’t mind if you did like him. He sounds like a better bet than Aiden ever was. Aiden never thought about anyone but himself. At least this guy’s looking after his niece.”

    Becca rolled her eyes. Her dad would rather she come home, and she knew it. But since she’d made it clear that she planned to stay here in Napa and try to make a go of it by herself, he wanted her to find a man to take care of her.

    “I don’t like him, Dad. Not in that way. And besides, he met someone recently. She’s lovely. Her name’s Hannah. In fact, it’s her family who owns the winery where Ava’s turning on the Christmas lights.” She checked the time on her laptop. “And I’m going to have to go and get ready soon.”

    “Okay, love. You be careful out there, won’t you? Are you going with your friends?”

    “Yep.” She hated to lie to him, but it was better than having him worry about her the whole time. She tried to justify the lie to herself as she always did. She took her phone and her Triple-A card with her everywhere. She considered them her trusty friends. And of course, there was her car, Fred. Fred was her oldest and – sad as it was to admit – closest friend. So, she wasn’t really lying.

    “Okay. I’ll let you go, then. But if you don’t call me with your flight details tomorrow, I’ll have to book you a ticket myself.”

    “I’ll do it, Dad. Talk to you tomorrow. Love you. Tell Mom I love her, too, and give her a kiss from me.”

    “Okay. Love you, too. Talk to you tomorrow.”

    Becca ended the call and pressed both fists into her forehead. She was going to have to figure out a way to book a ticket tomorrow. Her dad told a good story, but he was probably just as strapped for cash as she was.

    She’d face it tomorrow. For now, she ran upstairs to get changed. She needed to wear something warm to go stand around at the Jacobs Estate and watch the tree lighting ceremony. It was so tempting not to go back out in the cold. She wasn’t comfortable going places like that by herself, but she wasn’t going to allow herself to back out.

    After Aiden left, she’d spent a couple of months staying in, not going anywhere other than to work and the grocery store. But that was no way to live. She was all alone in a new place, she didn’t have any friends here, and her coworkers were all older and married. She knew that if she wasn’t careful, she’d spend the rest of the school year doing nothing but working and hiding at the townhouse – she didn’t think of the place as home. Then she’d probably go back to Kansas, having wasted a year of her life. She was better than that. So, she’d promised herself that she would accept any and every invitation she received to go anywhere and do anything – as long as it didn’t cost much.

    So far, she’d been to a couple of dinners and get-togethers at the other teachers’ houses. Tonight was the first time that she was going to a public event all by herself. It felt intimidating, but when Ava had told her that she was going to stand up on the stage and flick the switch to light up the Christmas tree, Becca had been thrilled for her. When Ava had asked her to come and watch, there was no way she would have turned her down. She smiled as she shrugged her coat back on, ready to head out. Little Ava was integrating into life here in Napa, and for tonight, she was giving Becca the opportunity to try to do the same.

    ~ ~ ~

    Jacob looked around at the crowd as he led Ava toward the stage where they were going to give their little speech and turn the Christmas tree lights on. He didn’t understand why people liked to gather at events like this. Surely, they all had their own Christmas trees at home?

    He forced himself to smile and nod at the people who caught his eye. And then forced himself to take a deep breath and relax. These people were enjoying themselves. That was what mattered. Of course, it would be good publicity for the estate. But that was secondary. It was the holidays. He needed to try and rediscover the magic of the season. He used to love the holidays when he was a kid.

    He looked down at Ava when she held his hand tighter as they approached the stage. That poor little girl had never had a real Christmas before – not one that she would remember, anyway. That was why he was doing this. He wanted her to enjoy every minute of it; he needed to forget all his cynicism and be right here in the moment with her. He gave her hand a squeeze and smiled down at her.

    “Are you okay?”

    She nodded, but her eyes were huge with fear.

    “You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but I’d like to do this with you. Remember what we said about this being our first Christmas for a lot of things?”

    She smiled. “Yes. But you can’t tell anyone my Christmas wish.”

    “I won’t. Are you ready?”

    “Yes.” Her smile was more confident now.

    “I am because I know that you’re going to be right there with me. If I forget my words, I can scratch my ear and you’ll take over.”

    “That’s right.”

    He let her go up the steps to the stage ahead of him. She was going to do great. He knew it. He was surprised at himself over how much he already cared about that little girl. She and her Uncle Grady had only been in his sister, Hannah’s, life for a short time, but Ava had already found a place in Jacob’s heart.

    The crowd went quiet when they saw Jacob and Ava on the stage. Jacob smiled out at them and nodded. Addressing a crowd was nothing new. He was more used to the crowd members being dressed in business suits than coats, hats, and scarves, but other than that, this was nothing out of the ordinary for him. He squeezed Ava’s hand again. It was a big deal for her.

    “Welcome, everyone, and thank you all for coming tonight.”

    He scanned the crowd as he said his bit. He wanted to find Hannah and Grady and make sure that Ava could see them. He knew she’d feel better once she did. He stumbled over his words when his gaze landed on a woman standing alone near the trailer that was serving hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. She wasn’t the kind of woman who would normally catch his eye. She looked more like the girl next door than his usual type. Her white hat sat on top of long, blonde hair. She was all bundled up in a long, gray coat, so it wasn’t her figure that caught his eye – which was usually the case for him. But still, there was something about her that caught his attention and set his pulse racing. She froze when her gaze locked with his, but then she dropped her head, and he got his act together and carried on.

    When it came to Ava’s big moment, she did great. Jacob dug his fingernails into his palm when she told all the people standing looking up at them that this was the first year that they’d had Christmas lights at the Jacobs Estate since his parents died. His other hand held hers a little tighter when she added that this was the first time that she’d had Christmas lights since her mommy died.

    She was a good kid, despite the rough start that she’d had in life. And Jacob finally understood that he’d gotten so attached to her because he felt a kinship with her. He’d been devasted to lose his parents when he was thirty. It’d changed his life and changed him. Poor little Ava had been five when her mom died, and she’d never known her father.

    He pulled himself together when she got to the end of her part of their speech. When she looked up at him and nodded, his heart clenched in his chest. They hadn’t planned it, but he had to pick her up and sit her on his hip and hug her. The way she smiled at him made him smile right back, even as he swallowed the emotions that burned in his throat. Then they both turned back to face the crowd and shouted, “Merry Christmas,” as Ava put her hand over his and they flipped the big switch that lit up the Christmas tree.

    He was glad that the crowd’s attention left them and focused instead on the tree. He needed a second to get himself back under control. He hugged Ava a little tighter and had to swallow again when she kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Uncle Jacob. That was awesome! This really is going to be the best Christmas ever.”

    He had to laugh when she wriggled to get down and then grabbed his hand. “Come on. We have to go and find Uncle Grady and Hannah. They were watching, you know.”

    “I know.” He let her lead him down the steps and into the crowd while she chattered away about how Madison from school hadn’t believed her that she was going to turn on the Christmas lights.

    He smiled at Hannah as they made their way toward her and Grady but then gave her a puzzled look when Ava turned and led him away from them. Then he realized that she was taking him toward the hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.

    She looked back at him and grinned. “You have to come and see Miss Taylor. She’s my teacher. She’s here all by herself just because she wanted to see me turn the lights on. Isn’t that kind of her? She’s really kind. I like her a lot. She’s the best teacher ever. I don’t think she has any friends here, and that’s sad, don’t you think?”

    Jacob nodded at her and smiled to himself as she rattled on. He’d be happy to put on the charm for Ava’s teacher since she’d gone out of her way to be here for her. He was picturing a plump, older lady who’d left her cat home alone for the evening so that she could come and support Ava. So, it took him a minute to figure out what was going on when the kid stopped and grinned up at him.

    “There she is.”

    Jacob looked around, but there was no matronly, teacher-looking lady around. He sucked in a sharp breath when he saw the blonde woman who’d caught his attention earlier. Wow! He didn’t understand his reaction to her. Usually, his wows were reserved for women in revealing, designer, evening dresses – or out of them. The woman – or was she a girl? – who Ava was waving at was nothing like them.

    “Miss Taylor!”

    Jacob felt a shiver run down his spine when the woman’s face lit up as she smiled. “Ava! You were amazing! You did such a great job. I’m so proud of you!”

    He could see Ava blossoming under the warmth of her praise.

    “Thank you, Miss Taylor. I did what you said, and I remembered to breathe. And Uncle Jacob helped, too. He’s awesome.”

    Ava tugged on his hand to draw him closer. He loved the way Miss Taylor had been so focused on Ava that she hadn’t even noticed him until now. The kind of women he usually went out with would have ignored the kid and instead, focused all their attention on him.

    That she’d been oblivious to him was evident when she met his gaze and froze. “Oh! I …”

    Jacob felt it, too. He didn’t know what it was but there was something there. He felt as though the air around them thickened when her gaze met his.

    Ava grinned up at them. “I know how to do introductions properly. Aunt Molly taught me. Miss Taylor, this is my Uncle Jacob. Uncle Jacob, this is my teacher, Miss Taylor.”

    Jacob could hear that Ava was still speaking but he didn’t know what she was saying. The only thing he was aware of was the pull toward the woman – the girl – in front of him.

    He managed to pull himself together and extended his hand. When she placed hers in it to shake hands with him, he felt a ridiculous urge to lead her away, to take her somewhere where they could sit and talk and get to know each other.

    When he realized that he’d been holding her hand for way too long, he tried to smile, but his face didn’t feel like it was obeying orders. “Jacob Jacobs.”

    ~ ~ ~

    The moment his fingers closed around hers, Becca’s whole arm tingled – and those tingles didn’t stop when they reached her shoulder. She hoped that the shivers he sent racing down her spine weren’t somehow visible.

    He’d had the same effect on her from the stage. Now, he was here, holding her hand – still. His gray eyes held hers captive. It felt as though he wasn’t going to let her look away this time. She tried to swallow, but her throat was too dry. And then he spoke.

    “Jacob Jacobs.”

    It took her brain a second to puzzle it out – the poor man was stuttering! Well, hell! She’d thought he was this big suave businessman, and here he was stuttering like one of her kids.

    She gave him a warm smile and squeezed his hand, wanting him to know that he could relax. She wasn’t anyone scary.

    “Becca Taylor. It’s nice to meet you. You’ve done a fantastic job here tonight. This is wonderful. I’m sure you’ve made the holidays brighter for a lot of folks by doing this.”

    He looked almost puzzled as if he didn’t understand. She was starting to wonder if she made him uncomfortable. He’d stuttered out his name, now he was looking at her like she’d grown two heads when she tried to set him at ease so that he might relax enough not to stutter.

    “Are you okay?” She always felt for people who were socially awkward, probably because she saw it so much with the children she taught.

    He was still giving her the same puzzled look. “I’m great. Thanks for asking.”

    Perhaps he was one of those guys who was brilliant at business but clueless with people. She smiled again. “I’m glad.”

    When he smiled back, he looked anything but clueless. He looked amused and … kind of dangerous at the same time. Well, maybe not dangerous in the traditional sense, but definitely dangerous for a girl whose boyfriend had left her months ago and who hadn’t … what was she even thinking?

    “Are you trying to put me at ease?” he asked.

    She bit the inside of her cheek before she answered, hit by the feeling that she’d misjudged the situation – misjudged him. She shrugged. “Sorry. Force of habit, I guess.” She leaned her head toward Ava. “It comes from working with the kids.”

    His fingers tightened around hers, and those tingles sought out parts of her body that hadn’t tingled in way too long. “Please, don’t apologize. I like it.”

    The way he smiled proved that he wasn’t nervous. Not one bit. He confirmed it when he laughed. “I don’t remember the last time anyone tried to do that for me. Thank you.”

    She laughed with him, though it was more out of embarrassment than amusement. Boy, did she feel stupid?! He hadn’t been stuttering! This was the Jacobs Estate. And he was Ava’s Uncle Jacob. Even if she could be forgiven for not putting two and two together immediately – who named their child Jacob Jacobs? – she’d still screwed up big time! This guy wasn’t Ava’s stuttering Uncle. He was one of Napa’s bigshots. And she’d been trying to make him feel better by talking to him like he was a little kid who needed Miss Taylor to reassure him!

    “Thank you for coming, Miss Taylor.”

    Becca had never felt so grateful to have a conversation interrupted by one of her kids. She smiled at Ava. “I told you I’d be here for you. I’m proud of you. You did great.”

    “Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow. We have to go to Uncle Grady and Hannah now!” She said the last few words with a nod at Jacob.

    It was only when Ava grabbed for his hand that Becca realized that she was still holding his other one – and hadn’t let go of it this whole time. Before she could stop herself, she threw his hand back at him as if it had suddenly scalded her. Crap! Could she make this any worse?

    Ava was already trying to drag him away, but Jacob’s gray eyes sought her gaze and held it. “It was good to meet you, Becca Taylor.”

    “You too.” She gave him a quick smile and turned to hurry away. No chance in hell she was going to call him Jacob freaking Jacobs! She was out of here! Time to go home and hide under her duvet while she waited to see if a case of acute embarrassment at the hands of a hot, Napa bigshot would prove fatal!

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