Whiskey & Willow - The Hamiltons book 8 (ebook)
Whiskey & Willow - The Hamiltons book 8 (ebook)
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Slade and Willow
Willow DuPont has spent most of her adult life running from her family name. She loves the family business – she never wanted to be anything but a winemaker. But she wanted to make her own way and she’s done just that. She’s worked for some of the finest names around the world from Sicily to the Barossa, and Mendoza to Bordeaux.
It wasn’t only the family name that she wanted to get away from; she didn’t feel like she could survive the stifling love of her family – well, her mother. Things have changed in the last few years, though; her mother’s changed. Her mom’s in love, and Willow’s back home in Napa – as the new COO of DuPont Wineries.
She’s every bit the rich, beautiful, wine-country heiress, but she’s also a free spirit and a party lover.
Slade Hawkins is another party-loving free spirit. He’s a former Marine who came home to Napa to take over his dad’s old job – working security for Jacobs Estate winery. He grew up around the wine families, he even considers some of them to be his friends – but he’s never been one of them.
He and Willow might have had some fun whenever she came home to visit over the last few years, but he knows there’s no future in it. He might wish there could be, but he lives in the real world. He knows that she’s wine country royalty – and he’s just the help. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t keep things going until she moves on – as she inevitably will.
If Slade thinks that Willow is going to conform to what’s expected of her, he’s going to have to think again, and Willow is going to have to figure out if he doesn’t believe they can be together for the long term – or if he just doesn’t want to.
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Chapter One Look Inside
Chapter One Look Inside
Sixteen Years Ago. Imperial Beach, California.
Willow pushed her hair back over her shoulders and looked around the bar. This place was more like what she’d expected. When Gigi had begged her to come to San Diego with her, she’d envisioned a crowded bar by the beach like this – complete with loud music, cold drinks, and wall-to-wall hot, muscular guys.
Of course, since their parents were paying, she and Gigi were staying at the Hotel del Coronado. The iconic Victorian hotel on the beach was gorgeous – but it wasn’t what the two girls were looking for. Their parents were happy to send their girls off on a post-graduation trip, where they could get some sun, sand, and relaxation in an upscale, family-friendly environment – but the girls were looking for a different kind of vacation entirely.
Gigi was here for one reason only – because her boyfriend was stationed at the Naval Air Base. Willow was here for two reasons – the first one being to provide a cover story for Gigi. And the second? She smiled and licked the rim of salt from her glass. She hadn’t selected her second reason yet, but he was out there. Whether he was one of the guys at the long table near the bar, getting rowdy, or he was with the crowd sitting out on the terrace, she hadn’t decided yet. There was no rush – she planned to take her time and select wisely.
There was a stage set up where a band would play later. She could take her time picking out her guy. When the band started to play, she’d ask him to dance. She’d let him know – without saying a word – what she was looking for, and … A shiver ran down her spine. Whether she took him back to the Hotel del in a cab with her, or whether he had a place here in Imperial Beach didn’t matter. She’d take him back to one or the other and …
“Willow!” Gigi appeared beside her, her eyes wide, and her cheeks flushed. “He’s coming! He’s going to be here any minute. Can we go straight back to the hotel when he arrives? Is that okay with you? I’ll take him up to my room, of course, but you’ll be okay there, won’t you? You can hang out at any of the bars or…” She stopped when Willow shook her head. “What do you mean, no?”
Willow laughed. “Don’t look so panicked. I don’t mean no, you can’t go. I mean, no, I’m not coming back with you. I like this place. I want to hang out here.”
Gigi gave her a doubtful look. “Are you sure? We should stick together.” She looked around. “This place is full of …”
Willow ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “Exactly.”
“Can’t you find a guy back at the hotel?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope. I told you when I agreed to come with you. This trip is my declaration of independence. I’m tired of always being expected to do what I’m supposed to do. Tired of claustrophobic Napa. Tired of only ever dating nice guys who are too polite to …”
Gigi laughed. “I know you said all that, but are you really just going to pick up a guy here tonight and bring him back to the hotel to sleep with him?”
“Unless he has a place closer – then I’ll go back there with him.”
“And you’re not worried? You think you’ll be safe?”
Willow nodded. “I will. I know it.”
“How?” Gigi looked worried, but that just annoyed Willow.
“I just know. Don’t worry about me.” She smiled when she saw Dillon come in from the terrace and look around. “I’ll be fine. Your man’s here. Go do what you came to do.”
Gigi whirled around and squealed when she saw him. Willow smiled as she watched her friend run to him. When she saw Dillon’s hands close around Gigi’s ass while he kissed her, she knew that he’d thank her for not holding them up.
Gigi didn’t even look back when she and Dillon came up for air. He took hold of her hand, and they made their way outside. Willow wished them luck – she had a feeling that this would be the last time they saw each other. Anton Groves had been sniffing around Gigi back at home since Dillon had left town. And Dillon was known to make a move on any girl who’d give him a chance. Willow suspected that he was only so happy to see Gigi here because she was a sure thing – he wouldn’t have to work to get some new girl into bed this weekend.
She set her empty glass down on the bar and waved a finger at the bartender to bring her another. She wanted to get herself a nice little buzz going before she picked out her second reason for being here. Of course, there were plenty of guys back at home in Napa who would be happy to scratch her itch. But she couldn’t afford to take the risk of anyone finding out.
She nodded at the bartender and picked up the fresh glass he set in front of her. She couldn’t risk her parents finding out that she’d slept with a guy. And she couldn’t risk sleeping with someone who would tell all her friends that he’d been her first. She didn’t know if he’d even be able to tell that he was her first – and she wouldn’t tell him – but she couldn’t risk it.
She had her reputation to think of. She worked hard to portray the image of a worldly, independent young woman. She’d done it so well for the last couple of years that everyone at school had assumed that she was … experienced. She took a sip of her drink. After this weekend, she planned to be.
She looked up when a guy sat down on the stool next to her. Ugh. He was big, muscular, but not attractive. She could feel the heat emanating from him – and it brought his smell with it. Definitely not attractive. She made a face and took another sip of drink. Big sweaty guy was not going to be her chosen one.
He turned and smiled at her. “Can I get you another one, gorgeous?”
“No. Thank you.” She looked down her nose at him as she spoke. It was something that her mother did to great effect whenever she felt that a male of the species was overstepping his bounds. Willow was thrilled to see that it had the same effect when she did it.
The guy shrugged and waved at the bartender as he turned away, muttering, “Suit yourself.”
~ ~ ~
“Hawkins! Are you coming?”
Slade looked around the bar. “Yeah,” he called back to his friend who was heading for the exit. “Wait up.”
They’d driven down to San Diego from Camp Pendleton for a night on the town. But so far, they hadn’t found the vibe they were looking for. Three bars down, and Slade wasn’t convinced that the fourth or fifth would prove any better.
“Where next?” asked Aggie as he slid behind the wheel and the rest of them piled into his Tahoe.
Slade shrugged. He’d only been back stateside for a couple of weeks. He didn’t know the best places to go anymore. Although, judging by the way the night was going so far, it didn’t look like the others did either.
“Let’s hit Imperial Beach,” said Tommo, who was sitting in the passenger seat.
Slade muttered his agreement along with the others. Even if the rest of the night didn’t improve, he’d be happy to catch the sunrise on the beach. People might rave about West Coast sunsets, but he enjoyed sunrise just as much. Maybe one day he’d make it to the East Coast and watch the sun rise out of the water.
He turned when Wells punched his arm. “When you find yourself a woman, can you choose one who has friends with her?”
Slade chuckled. “I’ll see what I can do to help you losers out.”
Danny’s Bar was more the kind of speed he’d been hoping for. The music was loud, the beer was cold – and the women were hot. People and music spilled out onto the terrace, and Slade took a moment to breathe in the ocean air. This was more like it.
For once, his buddies had found women before he did. From his spot on the wall at the edge of the terrace where he’d sat to watch the sunset, Slade could see Tommo with his arm draped around a brunette’s shoulders at the far end of the bar. Aggie had disappeared down onto the beach a little while ago, towing a giggling blonde in his wake. He hadn’t seen Wells in a while. He was probably propping up the bar.
~ ~ ~
When the bar got too crowded, Willow picked up her drink, gave up her stool, and made her way out onto the terrace. The band had just started to play, but no one was up dancing yet. She might as well scope out the crowd outside – make sure that she wasn’t missing the perfect guy by not checking out here.
She stood at the top of the steps and scanned the tables. The terrace was as packed as it was inside. There were a few groups of guys, sitting or standing around talking, laughing, drinking beer. Some of them would fit the bill. One guy looked up and met her gaze. He was hot. He had the short, military haircut that most of them had, and light brown hair and smiling eyes. He could be …
When he turned and dug his friend in the ribs and nodded in her direction, she looked away. She wasn’t a hundred percent convinced that he was the one. She’d thought that this would be simple. She just needed to get it over with, but now that the time was almost here, she wasn’t quite as sure of herself. She was still determined to surrender her V card to someone tonight, but now that it came down to it, it kind of did matter who the guy was. She didn’t need to ever see him again, but she wanted there to be something special about him. She didn’t need to get butterflies whenever she thought about him in the future. She just needed to know that she’d chosen well.
She continued to scan the terrace, hoping that last guy wasn’t on his way over to talk to her. Looking at all the guys sitting out there was like looking out at the proverbial box of chocolates. Which one would she choose?
Then, she spotted him. Her heart started to pound, and she gripped her glass tighter. He was hot! But that wasn’t what caused the butterflies to take to flight in her stomach. Oh no. Her reaction to him was about more than that.
She swallowed, allowing herself to drink in the sight of him – and to imagine taking him back to her room and …
He sat on the wall at the edge of the terrace, looking out at the ocean. His dark hair seemed to glow in the last of the setting sun’s rays. His harsh features were relaxed as he took in the sunset.
He was wearing a denim shirt that stretched across his broad shoulders and muscled chest. She bit down on her bottom lip as she took in his tattooed forearms below his rolled-up sleeves. His elbows rested on his knees and his big, capable looking hands – how she would love to find out what those hands were capable of – were wrapped around his beer. He wore leather bands around his wrists, and a thumb ring. How cool was that?
How she wished that he could be the one. She swallowed. She was going to have to move, but she so didn’t want to.
For a moment, she let herself fantasize. She could walk out there to him, say hi, and have him smile up at her. He’d get to his feet and slide one of those big, strong arms around her as he slid his other hand into her hair and leaned in to claim her mouth in a kiss that would make her toes curl.
She gave herself a little shake. Unfortunately, that was not going to happen. No matter how much she might wish that Slade Hawkins could be the first guy she slept with, it wasn’t going to happen. Whatever the hell he was doing here – she didn’t know, and it didn’t matter – she knew him. He wasn’t exactly part of her social circle at home. He was a friend of her brother’s, but he wasn’t from one of the wine families – his father worked for one of the wine families.
Slade was tougher, rougher around the edges than any other guy she knew. There was an edge to him – an edge that set those butterflies swirling again and made her panties damp. She let herself drink in one long, last look at him.
She could see the top of a tattoo, peeking out above the collar of his shirt. It looked like a wing – maybe an angel wing. But Slade Hawkins was no angel. Half the girls in Napa had a crush on him before he left for the military. From what she’d heard, he’d worked his way through his admiring fans at an alarming rate. But he didn’t leave a trail of broken hearts and drama in his wake. He was a bad boy with a good heart. She’d had a crush on him herself, but he was a few years older than her – and he was friends with Bentley. So, he’d been off-limits. The few times she’d been around him, he’d treated her with nothing but kindness and respect.
She wondered for a moment whether she should risk it. If she went and said hi to him, would he see that she was all grown up now? Would he want to come back to the hotel with her – or go down to the beach? Or heck – take her against a wall, she didn’t care where it happened if it was Slade.
She gathered up all her courage and took one step in his direction. But then he got to his feet, and she panicked. She knew better. He’d turn her down, and she wasn’t sure she could handle that. So, she turned and scurried inside instead. She was looking for some random guy, not someone she knew – not someone she’d ever see again. And if it were Slade, she knew that she’d want to see him again. It’d be too complicated, too messy – most likely, too embarrassing. She headed back toward the dance floor, determined to find a guy who’d want to leave with her before she crumbled and went back to look for Slade.
~ ~ ~
After the last of the sunset faded, Slade got up to go inside to check on Wells. When he entered the bar, the sight of a pair of long, shapely legs moving through the crowd stopped him in his tracks. He grinned and changed direction to follow them. They went all the way up to what might be the tightest little ass he’d ever seen – and he almost could see it, her black leather skirt was that short. Long black hair swayed across her back, and in that moment, Slade set himself a target of having that hair wrapped around his fist before the sun rose again.
She disappeared into the crowd, and he hurried after her. He wasn’t letting that one escape him. He pushed his way through the crowd to the edge of the dance floor. He couldn’t see her at first. Then he spotted the back of her head again – he needed her to turn around. Although, with a body like that, he wasn’t too worried about her face.
He scowled when a group of guys moved out onto the dance floor from the opposite side. They headed straight for her. Was she with them? No, he could tell by the predatory looks on their faces – they weren’t going out to join a friend, they were on the hunt in the same way that he was.
He could turn away, let it go. But something about her, the way her body swayed to the music, made him elbow his way out there. As he got closer, the three guys he’d seen heading in her direction surrounded her.
One of them danced behind her, putting his hands on her waist and laughing with his friends as he let his tongue hang out while he pumped his hips as if he was …
Slade smiled when she batted his hands away and turned around with a scowl.
She had a set on her that … but then he looked up at her face and froze. It wasn’t? It couldn’t be? It damn well was! Shit!
He shoved people out of his way to get to her as the three idiots surrounded her. She didn’t look scared – she looked pissed, but not as pissed as he was.
When he reached them, he shoved the first idiot out of the way. The other two glared at him.
“What the fuck, dude?”
Slade glared at him. “She’s with me. Willow, come on!” He grabbed her arm, and barely registered the shock on her face as he led her off the dance floor. He didn’t stop until they’d made it through the bar and out onto the terrace.
When he stopped, she yanked her arm out of his grip. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He swallowed. He needed to catch up. He couldn’t believe it. But it was – it was Willow DuPont from back home in Napa. She was … she was just a little kid the last time he’d seen her. He felt like a perv – he’d been watching her ass, thinking about wrapping her hair around his fist and her lips around his …
“Well?” She had her hands on her hips and was glaring at him.
He swallowed again, then he got over his guilt at the thoughts he’d been having and straightened his shoulders as he glared back at her. “You’re welcome.”
“For what?” she scoffed.
He glanced back over his shoulder and was relieved to see that the three amigos hadn’t followed them out here.
“Jesus, Willow. For rescuing you from those idiots who were mauling you.”
Her lips pressed together. “Maybe I was enjoying it.”
Slade’s mouth went dry. “Willow! You’re not old enough to be in here. Do you even know what they were after?”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Not for certain, no. You didn’t give me the chance to find out, but I’d guess they were after the same thing I was.” She lifted her chin in defiance and glared at him.
Slade ran his hand over his face. He couldn’t believe this. Little Willow DuPont was out looking to get laid? He shook his head. He so could not let himself go anywhere near that thought.
“What are you even doing here?” He looked around, wondering if her brother might appear and rescue him from this situation.
“I’m on vacation.” The fire in her eyes had died down a little. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m stationed up the road at Camp Pendleton.”
“Oh.” She let her gaze travel over him, making it obvious that she liked what she saw. Against his will, his dick jumped to attention. No, hell no! He couldn’t even …
She reached out and touched his arm. “It’s good to see you, Slade.”
He pulled back as if she’d scalded him, and her gaze snapped up to meet his. “What’s up? You can’t tell me that you’re not pleased to see me, too.” She eyed the front of his pants with a little smile playing on her lips – a smile that he suddenly wanted to kiss right off her face. No!
“Willow.” His voice cracked, and she smiled.
“Since you got in the way of my plans back there, I think you need to make it up to me.”
He tried to swallow but his throat was too dry. “What do you mean?”
She smiled. “You know what I mean. You didn’t come to a place like this for a quiet drink with your friends. You came here looking for sex. So did I.”
He bit the inside of his cheek when she ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “Since you’re apparently worried about other men wanting to have sex with me …” She cocked an eyebrow at him, and his dick twitched so hard in his pants that he felt like she must see it.
He pressed his lips together and breathed in through his nose in an attempt to steady himself. He’d never been so tempted in his life. If he didn’t know who she was, there’d be no question. He’d have that skirt up around her waist already but … She was … not only was she Napa royalty, she was also the kid sister of a guy he’d been friends with since grade school. He couldn’t.
Could he? His resolve started to dissolve when she stepped into his personal space and ran her hands up his forearms. “Tell me you don’t want me, and I’ll go find someone else.”
His hands closed around her waist before he knew what he was doing, and he drew her closer. He looked down into her eyes, it’d be so damn easy to give in and …
He came back to his senses and turned to see Tommo grinning at him. He still had his arm around the brunette’s shoulders. “There’s a party back at Amy’s place. We’re all invited.”
Slade’s hands balled into fists at his sides when Tommo let his gaze travel over Willow’s body. “You can bring your friend.”
“No!” No way was he going to take Willow back to that kind of party. There was only one way that would turn out.
Willow glared at him before taking a step away from him, toward Tommo and his girl. “Thanks. I’d love to come.” She glanced back over her shoulder at him. “I don’t need him.”
Slade hurried after her and caught hold of her arm again as they followed the others down onto the beach. “Like hell you don’t!”
She smiled up at him sweetly. “Changed your mind now, have you? I did try telling you that I wanted you but …”
“Willow. You can’t …”
She looked up into his eyes. “I can, and I will, and if you won’t, then I’ll just find someone else.”