Date Published April 25, 2022
“A headstrong Portuguese meets her match in the arrogant Englishman who threatens her beloved vineyards. Dive deep into Portugal’s rich culture in this intoxicating story about wine and love.”
A winemaker desperate to save her vineyards…
Julia Costa is the best winemaker in the Douro. When a greedy tradesman threatens the land her family has held for generations, Julia prepares to defend her legacy and independence by any means necessary.
The Englishman sent to uncover her secrets…
The last thing Griffin Maxwell wants is to waste time mired in a Portuguese backwater. Still, to guarantee a partnership with Oporto’s largest trading firm, he agrees to travel up the Douro river and chase some reluctant debtor.
A meeting of two cultures…
Nothing prepared Griffin for the headstrong winemaker. Alluring, she tempts him into enjoying Portugal’s vibrant tastes and is a threat to his carefully constructed plans. The arrogant Englishman arrived at Julia’s lands, believing himself entitled to everything, including her heart. But how can she resist an attraction headier than a vintage?
An enemy too powerful to fight alone…
When a mysterious plague decimates Europe’s vineyards, Griffin and Julia put differences aside to find a cure, blind-tasting their way into an intoxicating passion. But reality demands an answer: will they choose their ambitions or the love of a lifetime?
Oporto, Portugal – June 1870
A gust of wind blew in from the sea. Members flocked inside the British Factory House, holding their top hats and flapping coats. They lived outside the motherland but could still enjoy a gentlemen’s club as luxurious as White’s in London.
Griffin left his hat and coat in the vestibule and entered the foyer. Light from two horse-sized chandeliers flashed on the arched ceiling. Voices and clinking glasses mingled with the pianist playing a sonata in the corner. All the British port-trading gentlemen were here. Some stood near the tall colonnades while others talked in groups, their black and white finery stark against the blue walls. Friends, passing acquaintances, competitors — all would give their left foot to be in Griffin’s position. After courting Croft for a year, he would extract a yes from the wily fox.
Nothing could go wrong. Their partnership was a fait accompli.
Griffin’s pulse hammered a staccato rhythm on the veins of his neck. He rolled his shoulders to release the tension as he scanned the crowd. Coat straining over his stomach, Croft chatted with Fladgate and Taylor. He looked like a benevolent sea lion with the points of his mustache curving down like ivory tusks. His appearance masked his ruthlessness in business. The man knew the value of things, be it wine, horses, or properties, and could bargain a fellow out of his trousers and sell it back to him for double the price.
They made eye contact, and Croft waved. Waiting to speak with him until after lunch would be as pleasant as shaving himself with a barbed wire. Griffin wrestled a place on the leather couch and hoisted the Times, scanning the London news.
He usually enjoyed the newspaper, as it arrived in Oporto only once a week, but today the headlines blurred. Failure crept into his thoughts, listing everything that could go wrong. Griffin shut his eyes, dispelling the unusual pessimism. Croft neared retirement. With no sons to assume his business, he had reason to value a partnership.
The upholstery dipped. “You know what would be grand? If my dear friend lent me the phaeton and his flashy team tomorrow.”
Griffin lowered the paper a few inches and raised a brow. Charles Whitaker eyed him expectantly, his hair in disarray, sporting a bright yellow vest that clashed with his striped trousers. No doubt he had sailed from a night of debauchery straight into the Factory House.
Griffin lowered the paper. “Another race? After last time—”
“No, no! Not that. Your blacks put to shame any horseflesh in Oporto, and I mean to impress—”
“The baroneza’s husband will kill you if the races won’t.”
Charles’ affair had ended in a very public and embarrassing duel. Griffin abhorred expressions of passionate liaisons, be it drunken serenades or pistols at dawn. His mistresses needed to be desirable, but discreet. Let the Portuguese rant and rave about love. His life would never be ruled by such animal instincts.
Charles extracted a cigar from his pocket. “This isn’t about Carmen. I promised Anita an outing to Sintra. You know her. The ballet dancer. Come with me tonight.” He brightened. “She has this blonde roommate that does a marvelous rond de jamb.” He licked his lips as if he meant a dessert and not a dance step.
Griffin grimaced at the alcohol fumes his friend exhaled, strong enough to burn his nose. “I’m taking Anne to the opera.” His little sister had pestered him all week to see the reopening of Nabucco. The brat had a way of sweet-talking him into doing her bidding. “Why don’t you try a respectable outing for a change? You may even like it.”
“You sound like my father. But I must warn you, I have a hell of a time understanding his speeches when I’m soused.” Charles perked up and spoke in a plummy imitation of Mr. Whitaker, the senior. “What a man does in private, he repents in private, but what he does in public, he regrets in his privates.”
Griffin hid his laughter under a stern façade. “A little decorum, for heaven’s sake. This is the Factory House, not some shady tavern.”
The two gentlemen across from them glowered, whispering behind their hands as they moved to the whist table.
Charles narrowed his eyes. The devil-may-care attitude seeped from his features to reveal an unusually thoughtful expression. “You are just like them, are you not? The best sportsman in Oporto, a really capital fellow, locked in this… this paddock like sheep.” He gave the company of gentlemen a contemptuous look. “There is a whole of Portugal you ignore, waiting beyond these walls.”
Not caring for Charles’ unflinching stare, Griffin crossed his arms, forcing a blank expression. If he had embraced Portuguese temptations, he wouldn’t have transformed his uncle’s small trading firm into the fastest growing port company in the city. “I’m taking the coach to the countryside tomorrow.”
Charles gaped, the unlit cigar slipping from his lips. “You? Leaving town?”
Griffin shrugged. “A few weeks. I’m going to the high Douro. My late uncle’s Quinta is leaking more money than a drainpipe, and I will set it to rights.”
“You know there are no English people up there, don’t you?”
The Douro River was Portuguese territory—home to the Quintas that produced port wine. It was a wild, unruly corner of the world that held no interest for Griffin. Still, the business required his attention. “I’m perfectly aware the Queen won’t be there to greet me.”
“Will you sell the place?”
“I don’t know yet.”
The bell sounded, and Charles staggered to his feet. “It will do you good to spend some time outside this paddock.”
Griffin watched him swagger to the dining room. Had Griffin ever been carefree like Charles? Of course not. His mother and sister had been under his care since he was seventeen years old. If this partnership went well—no, not if, but when—he would restore his family to the former status they’d had in London.
The hours dragged by as Griffin endured lunch and stilted conversation. His watch pulsed inside his pocket as if counting the seconds until he could speak with Croft, a countdown to his future. On a sidebar, servers lined up port decanters.
Croft grabbed a bottle, chest puffed. “I raided the cellar for this gem. I dare you to guess the year and the producer.”
Members applauded while the footmen distributed chalices. Griffin ignored the bets. When his glass arrived, he took it by the stem and twirled the amber liquid. Why this fuss? There was good wine and bad wine. Obsessing about terroir, vintage, and bouquet fell in the same category of Portuguese romantic notions he avoided. When Croft declared the winner, Griffin didn’t raise his eyes.
Finally, members left in pairs and trios, some unsteady on their legs.
Griffin strode inside the treasurer’s office, taking in the battle paintings, the stale tobacco smell, and the tray filled with port and whiskey decanters. The anxiety that had plagued him all day left in waves, leaving in its place the cold-headed focus that guided him in daily life. Croft sank behind his Georgian desk and invited Griffin to sit.
“Great lunch,” Griffin said, wondering how much small talk was needed before he could speak about the partnership.
“Glad you enjoyed it, Maxwell.” Croft lit a cigar and puffed a steady stream of smoke. “Do you know a wine property named Quinta do Vesuvio?”
If he’d never heard about the best wine producer in the Douro, he wouldn’t have a long life in this business. Griffin pulled the flap of his coat to sit. “I believe they neighbor my uncle’s plantation.”
“Two years ago, I lent money to Mr. Bernardo Ferreira so he could increase wine production. But the man died, and I’m worried—”
“You want me to see if they complied?”
“I would consider it a great favor.” Slightly out of breath, Croft flattened a yellowed map over the desk. Vesuvio stood to the Douro River’s right side, closer to Griffin’s property than he had expected. “These are the current plantings. Call it an old man’s intuition, but I think they hide something there, and it’s not codfish.”
Griffin pocketed the map, dismissing Croft’s fears. In his few dealings with the Portuguese, he found them to be many things, but not dishonest. “I will let you know.”
“I’ve sent Mrs. Costa a letter. I told her it would be a personal favor to me if her estate manager gave you guidance in winemaking.”
Griffin needed no help from this widow. How hard could it be to make a Quinta profitable? If the Portuguese could do it, so could the English, with better results. A few weeks in the countryside would be enough to succeed in this now dual-task—check if Vesuvio had increased production and make his property thrive.
Croft stood and faced his battle paintings, cigarette smoke cascading from his mouth. “We won Portugal back to them. I was a lad, but my father helped Wellington’s forces scourge the frogs out of Oporto.”
If Croft started talking about Napoleon’s peninsular battles, Griffin would never hear the end of it. It was time.
Griffin rose and moved behind the chair. “I examined your firm’s client list. If you agree with the partnership, the overlap will be small. Your clients are based in London, while mine are spread over Scotland, New York, and Russia. Together, we’ll have a major market share.”
Heart pounding in his ears, he counted the rise and fall of the older man’s chest. One, two, three.
“I don’t want you as a partner,” Croft said, staring at the redcoats.
Griffin gripped the back of the chair, his stomach lurching as if he was inside that clipper again. Croft knew. A vision flashed of his family’s retreat to Oporto twelve years ago—the cramped third-class cabin, his sister’s gray pallor, his mother’s constant weeping.
Croft turned, his skin flushed, and laid a chilly hand on Griffin’s shoulder. “I want you as a son.”
Griffin sucked in a breath, thoughts scattering like pickpockets after a police raid. Speech deserted him, and he focused on Croft’s red-rimmed eyes.
“Cheer, boy, cheer! You look as if you saw a ghost. I am not getting any younger, you know.” Croft chuckled, exposing yellowed teeth. “I fear for my business, but also for Beth’s security.”
Griffin staggered away. What a wallop in the gut. Had he heard correctly? Could he be proposing marriage? “Your daughter wants this?”
“What is there not to want?” Croft followed him around the room like an insistent salesman. “She is probably in love with you already. Half the girls here are. Anyway, she is a dutiful English lady.” He extinguished the cigar in the crystal ashtray. “Go fix Quinta da Boa Vista. When you come back, we will sign the papers.”
About the Author
Giovanna Siniscalchi chased narrative arcs and climax points in the Nasdaq for twelve long years working as an economist. Still, her romantic imagination was wasted in the financial markets, so she decided to put it to
better use: write fiction. She is married and has two great kids. Her passions are eclectic, including reading, traveling, surfing, wine, and of course, historical romance.).