Two steps remaining, someone appeared at the bottom of the stairs and startled Dixie. Her foot slid and she missed the step, landing awkwardly in front of the human who stood waiting to walk up.
The human who was a male in a brown wool coat dripping with water. The human who had rich brown eyes that smoldered as brightly as the tasting room fire, a graceful long nose, and a mouth that was now wreathed in an ear-to-ear smile. The human who had a thick head of chestnut hair, with one lock that fell over his forehead in a boyish way. The human who now reached out a hand to steady her and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I startled you. Are you okay?”
He was tall, really tall. She batted away the comparison to Tate, who had been short, shorter than Dixie herself, and for whom Dixie was always slumping so as not to be taller. Beneath this man’s overcoat a starched light blue shirt draped his broad shoulders and chest in a perfect fit, and his tan slacks fell from his waist in a sleek line.
He was ridiculously handsome. Stupidly handsome.
Except then she realized. He was Jamie and Ernest’s next appointment. Most likely a rival candidate for the marketing director job. Her job. She shook off his hand. “I’m fine.”
“You sure are,” he said.
Oh, for God’s sake. Really? Had he really just said that? She rolled her eyes.
But he still gazed down at her. “Really, really fine.”
“What are you, a relic from the dark ages?” she snapped. This man was totally riling her, despite his good looks. Maybe even because of his good looks.
His smile didn’t waver. “Just a man who appreciates the finer things in life.”
“Me too, which doesn’t include jerky men.” Dixie moved to step around him. She had to get away from him. She was being rude, and that was unprofessional. If her bosses heard her, it would be another black mark against her.
“Oh, don’t go without an introduction.” Unfortunately, his voice was as rich and deep as his eyes. He held out a hand. “Max. Max Pettigrew.”
She sighed and shook his hand, then withdrew it as quickly as possible. “Dixie. Dixie Dunham. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
Luckily, Ernest’s voice called from the top of the staircase. “Oh, there you are, Max, you’re just in time.”
“For what, the vampire ball?” Dixie asked.
Damnit, she’d done it again.
“Oh now, do we have to be so harsh?”
The words came out of her mouth before she could stop herself. “Oh now, yes. Yes, we do.” She couldn’t help it. She’d had enough of men, especially those of the handsome, entitled, arrogant variety, to last her a lifetime. “We really do.”
Footsteps sounded on the steps and Ernest called down. “You ready?”
“I thought I was but now I’m not so sure,” Max said, then zeroed in on Dixie again. “I’ll have you know I’m attending the Christmas play that the Mapson twins are appearing in.”
“Try not to spoil the holiday cheer. I’m outta here.” Dixie made her escape.
“Was it something I said?” Max called after her.
“Damn right,” Dixie muttered as she stomped away. Air, she needed air. “Taking a quick break,” she called to Kate, and grabbed her coat and Bo’s leash. Outside, the rain had stopped but judging by the black clouds along the western horizon, it looked to be a brief respite. She led Bo up the path that snaked alongside the vineyard plantings to the top of a small rise. For the moment she could catch a glimpse of the spectacular view from the winery—green rolling hills, many covered with now-brown vineyards, others featuring farmhouses snuggled into them. It was a view she never tired of, even if she did wish the green would turn to white once in a while.
She inhaled the fresh Oregon air. Damnit, she’d done it again—gone apeshit irritable over nothing important, just a stupid man. Stupidly handsome man. She swatted the thought away. Dixie took another deep breath, trying to shake off the stress that her therapist said activated her PTSD. If one believed she had PTSD, which for sure Dixie didn’t. Nope, she wasn’t going there. Not a chance. No way. She’d tried, she really had, but Dixie couldn’t help thinking that all that psychological self-help crap was just mumbo jumbo. What she needed was some good old-fashioned revenge.