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Erica Spindler

Blood Vines

© 2010

To those who nurture the vines and craft

“the drink of the gods” from their fruit.


Love at first sight exists. I know this because that’s how long it took me to fall for California wine country. Knowing I had to set my next novel there took a few days longer and an innocent comment from winemaker Brian Fleury: “There are a dozen ways you could kill somebody during the winemaking process.” As you can imagine, I was off and running.

So, of all the people I want to thank, I must begin with Brian. Huge thanks for first sparking my imagination, then for your time, explanations and tour-with detailed descriptions of the dangers of winemaking. And finally, thank you for your absolutely fabulous wine (www.fleurywinery.com).

I owe so many thanks to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department, I don’t even know where I should begin. So I’ll begin at the top: Sheriff Bill Cogbill, thank you for opening your department to me and allowing me access to the facility and officers. I appreciate it and hope the book does your fine department proud.

Captain Dave Edmonds, what can I say besides you are, simply, terrific? Thank you for all the time you spent with me, the many questions you answered and for setting up the ride-along, instructing the deputy to help me “find places to dump bodies.” (Thanks, Deputy Mike Mason. Great ride-along!)

Detective Sergeant Mitch Mana, thank you for giving me the Red Rooster secateur, the perfect wine country murder weapon! There’s no doubt the book is better for it. Thanks also for the tour of the morgue and autopsy room and for the many after-the-fact questions answered.

Real estate agent Lisa Albertson, you’re the greatest. Thanks for your time, your expertise, your point of view and setting up our tour at Seghesio. And for the fun, too. (In the book, you’ll recognize our dinner at the girl & the fig.)

Ted Seghesio, big thanks for the tour and the most excellent wine. You’ll find my favorite mentioned in the book!

To all the folks at Larson Family Winery, especially winemaker Carolyn Craig, thanks for making my Vocation Vacation research day so fabulous. It was truly terrific. I’ll never forget climbing the wine barrels and into a fermenting tank-how many authors can claim that?

Vicki and John Faivre, thanks for hooking me up with your Salvestrin Winery friends. Hearing stories from wine country old timers was both fascinating and helpful. Didn’t we have fun-and a lot of really good wine-in the process?

Final thanks to my assistant, Evelyn Marshall, who really did prove herself invaluable with this one; our wine country driver, Dennis Wulbrecht; my agent, Evan Marshall; my editor, Jennifer Weis and the great St. Martin’s team; my husband and kids and lastly, my God for making it all possible.


San Francisco, California

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1:05 A.M.

Ex-husbands were like bad pennies, Alexandra Clarkson thought, arching her back as a wave of pleasure washed over her. They kept coming back. At least hers did. And she, horny, idealistic idiot, kept opening the door-and jumping into the sack with him.

But damn, he knew just the right things to say. And do. She moaned and rubbed herself against his hand. Yes, just the right things.

She wrapped her legs around him, urging him on as he slipped into her. She let her mind wander as sensation rippled over her. Suddenly, a series of images raced into her head, strobe light-like, one after another: A robed figure, face obscured by a hood; flickering candles, smoke curling upward; naked bodies, writhing together.

A faceless baby, screaming.

Alex froze, passion obliterated by fear. On top of her, her ex rocked, moaning, seemingly oblivious to the fact she was no longer participating in the act.

Fear became panic. She couldn’t breathe. He was crushing her. A primal, thundering beat filled her head. With it the certainty she was going to die.

She wedged her hands under his chest and pushed. “Stop. Don’t.” She meant to scream the words; they came out a choked whisper.

He didn’t stop. She struggled then, pummeling his back with her fists. “Get… off… me!” The last came out as a shout.

“What the fu-” He rolled onto his back, breathing heavily. “Shit, Alex. What’s your problem?”

Trembling violently, she sat up, pulling her knees to her chest. “My problem is you, obviously. Go away.”

“Gladly, schizo.” He climbed off the bed, grabbed his clothes and looked back at her. “You’re one freaky chick, you know that?”

She was. Alex dropped her head to her drawn-up knees and closed her eyes. Dear Jesus, what just happened?

The bathroom door slammed shut and she drew a shuddering breath. What was her problem? Yes, he’d showed up at her door. But she’d invited him into her home and bed.

Why did she keep making a monumental mess of… everything?

Light sliced across the bed as Tim emerged from the bathroom. She lifted her head. He stood in the rectangle of light, a dark silhouette. She didn’t blame him for being pissed.

“I don’t know what… I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I feel like an idiot.”

“Are you okay?”

Was she? she wondered, even as she nodded.

“Is there anything I can do to help you?”

Yeah. Change her life. Fill the empty places. Turn her into an ordinary Jane who had a settled, ordinary life.

She wished he could do that for her. The desire had no doubt played a part in her marrying him.

Unfortunately, no one could change her life but her.

“Afraid not. Thanks for the offer anyway.”

“This mistake was mine,” he said, crossing to the bed. “I’ll take the credit.”

“Booty call gone bad,” she murmured, looking up at him. “I warn you, it’s going on your permanent record.”

“We’ll make this divorce work, I promise.” He smiled slightly and threaded his fingers through her dark hair, then tucked strands behind her ear. “See you on campus.”

He let himself out; she heard the lock click into place. Dammit. Who got involved with one of their professors? A psychology professor, no less. What a pathetic cliché. The girl with no father falling for an older, wiser guy. That just screamed “looking for Daddy syndrome.” Worse, she’d married him. Then been surprised when he cheated on her.

Surprised, but not brokenhearted. That had told her everything she’d needed to know about their relationship. And things about herself she’d rather not have known.

She was, indeed, one freaky chick.

Alex climbed out of bed and, shivering, slipped into her robe. She wandered into the apartment’s living room, to the large front window. Moonlight, cool and blue-hued, spilled over the street below.

San Francisco didn’t sleep. Despite the hour, people populated the sidewalk below, some simply strolling, others rushing, bravely confronting the steep hill.

Alex touched the pane of glass. It was cool against her fingers. The image of the robed figure filled her head once more. Where had it come from? A book, maybe? Something from her research on religious ceremonies and sects? She didn’t recall the specific source, but it made sense, especially since she had just recently returned to work on her doctoral dissertation.

But why had she thought of them at that moment? Why had they popped crystal clear into her head? And why had she reacted so violently to them?

Alex turned away from the window. Dammit. Things had been better. The nightmares that had once plagued her were gone. Neither insomnia nor depression had reared its ugly head in months.

She had her act together. As together as her act got, anyway. The bartending gig had afforded her the opportunity to finish the dissertation. She and her mother had settled into an uneasy peace-but peace nonetheless.