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This is a chapter from the upcoming book, Bottled Up from the Five Families Vineyards Series. 

This is Poppy Gelbert & Salvatore Pietro's book. Poppy is the daughter of one of the winery families that the series is about and Sal is the head of the main crime family in Los Angeles.

 Releasing in 2024. 

Poppy

I dream every night, not of things that might be or fluffy unicorns and trees made of Ruffles Sour Cream and Onion potato chips, but of my past. Of the only history that matters to me, the moments with Sal. It’s only when I’m dreaming of those memories does the pain stop. I drift off to sleep wondering where my mind will take me tonight.

****

Seven Years ago

Poppy’s Café the night Josh and Elle got together at the Member’s Party

     I’m doing a sloppy job closing the café because I want to get to my friends over at the LaChappelle/Whittier wine club member’s party. All the wineries throw that type of party but for some reason LC/W’s are the best. And I got a text from my cousin, Becca, that everyone is there but me. The entire “5” crew of kids I grew up with scattered across the five families. That’s ten of us, including me. The youngest of us is off at college, so she’s not here. But the rest of the knuckleheads who make up every childhood memory I have are currently getting wasted and dancing. I shove the linens into the wrong basket and I’m wrapping up the rest of the food. I let everyone go tonight. It was kind of slow so I could handle the last couple of tables myself. I have dessert to deliver and as I push through the kitchen out door a gorgeous hulking man pushes into my kitchen. I’m on the other side of the doors, looking back in through the round porthole windows. My head is reeling and he winks at me.

     It’s that man. The one from LaChappelle/Whittier a couple of weeks ago. The one I’ve chosen to pretend doesn’t exist on this plane of existence because he’s just too much, well, too much of everything. Tall, big, gorgeous man. He’s a man, not a boy. He’s not one of the pretty assholes I grew up with, who I love. He’s otherworldly with his dark hair and cola dark eyes and that Mediterranean skin, so contrasting with my pale Irish complexion. I’m a walking stereotype for the opposite of him. I’m short, pasty, with a mass of red curls and light green eyes. Everything about him physically says this man was drawn to be my exact opposite. I can’t look away as well as think of anything but him since the moment his hand shook mine weeks ago. Since the moment he moaned, eating my food. I’ve imagined that moan in a variety of scenarios but not one of them involved him waltzing into my kitchen unannounced. I peer in and he winks at me. I duck down like I got caught doing something wrong. Wait. 

     It’s my kitchen. I stand back up and turn away from the kitchen to drop a couple of cheesecakes at table seven. Then I prepare the bill for table eleven and refill Robert’s wine. Our local sheriff seems to be off duty tonight with nowhere to go. He keeps touching my hand. Perhaps he’s interested but no thank you. He’s nice enough, he’s just never done it for me. 

     “Pop, that vegetable thing was so good, and I hate veggies.” He grins and I nod. “Primavera. It’s really the local veggies that make it so good. I just made the pasta.” I turn to go because there’s still a deliciously menacing man in my kitchen. The customer pulls me back by my wrist and before I can say a word, there’s a wall of machismo at my back. His deep voice rumbles my insides.

     “Sir, I believe the lady has other customers to contend with.” 

     He shrugs. “Poppy and I are old friends. It’s nothing.” 

     “Then you shouldn’t be touching her.” 

     My eyes go wide as he peels Robert’s fingers from around my wrist, one at a time. He smirks at the man and Robert looks at him sideways. My body flames, as does my face, with flickers of desire at this man’s instant possessiveness over me. No one has ever wanted to protect me like that. I’m scrappy, I’ve gotten used to handling things myself. 

     I sink into that deep voice, and it carries me away like I’m a cartoon animal floating away on the waft of a freshly baked pie. I come back to my body when I realize they’re both staring at me. And I have to act like a normal human. 

     I toss my hands up and turn to both of them. “Robert. I’ll be right back. The veggies are on me tonight. Just finish up soon, though. And you…” I shoo him away and he backs into the restaurant and away from Robert at the bar. I poke him in the chest and almost break my finger. He looks down at me with a slow, sexy smirk spreading across his face. 

     “Yes, Gingersnap?”

     “What did you call me?”

     He takes my finger and wraps his giant hand around it. “Gingersnap. You’ve got some bite, and some heat, but I think you’re all sweet underneath.”

I try to pull my finger back from him and he envelops my entire hand. Then he raises it to his lips and dusts a very light kiss on the back of my hand. And I’m toast. I’m barely keeping my knees from giving out and falling into a puddle of romantic goo. His voice rolls through every part of me and I snatch my hand back before I mount this man and never look back. 

     “Follow me.” I scurry back toward the one place I feel in charge, my kitchen. 

     “With pleasure, so far this is one of my favorite views, if you don’t mind me saying.” He says plainly. 

     I turn on him, and this is all moving in an odd direction. I’m not a girl who gets swept away, I observe, choose someone I like and then curl up to them. Eventually, they tire of me talking too much, or being too intense or too independent and they break up with me. Danny McMahon broke up with me in first grade, right before we had a wedding during outside time because he said I was a jabber jaw. My mind is running as fast as my mouth usually does. 

     “Mr. Pietro.”

     He covers his heart and says, “Ah, you remember me.” 

     “It was only a couple of weeks ago.” 

     “Five.”

     “Five what?”

     “It was five weeks ago. And if you want me to be specific, it was five weeks and two days.”  He pulls me to his body. Compared to his large and looming size, I'm like an accessory. A cute handbag or a belt. His thick hands slide around my back, and I place mine on his hard biceps and I can’t explain why, but he feels more right than anything in my life.

     He digs his hands into my hips, and in that moment, I melt into thoughts of tonight and beyond with him.

   “You’ll forgive me, but I can’t stop thinking about doing this.” My eyes get wide as he leans down, and I float away on the feel of his lips as they brush over mine, and I moan into him. It’s a soft kiss as his full lips slightly part and then back off.

     “There. Now we got that out of the way.”

     “What?”

     “The answer to your question.”

     “What question?”

     “The one about what I’d like for dinner or dessert or why I’m here.” My knees buckle. As he passes me and enters my kitchen. I stand there, struck down by his words, as I touch my lips where his just were.

     “Poppy, can we get our check?” A voice from behind me asks.

     “Huh?” I say, still staring at the door to my kitchen, where that man just went.

     “Poppy! Earth to Poppy?”

 

     Earth? No. I’m not on Earth anymore. I’m in that man’s atmosphere.

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