Contest Post! Chapter 1 of Murder on the Vine, a Sullivan Sisters Mystery.

Jenna St. James

Welcome to Traveler’s Bay…a small town located in Sonoma County, California. Over the next eleven days, each day at noon, a new chapter by a different author will pop up, and you can enter to win a book AND be entered in the grand prize! To enter the giveaway, please comment and tell me what kind of wine Jaycee ordered to take home with her after the wine tasting?

Chapter 1

“Just relax,” I told my younger sister, Jax, as we hurried up the sidewalk toward Plentiful Grapes Winery. “You’ve got this. No one can bake like you.”

“Thanks, Jaycee. I’m just so nervous. As far as I know, only two other bakeries are in competition for this contract.”

Jax shifted her cupcake carrier so she could open the door for me. I was carrying two-dozen chocolate brownies and three-dozen truffles. I was surprised she trusted me to carry all of it, knowing how klutzy I am.

Jax had been trying to generate enough business to finally open her own bakery ever since she moved back to Traveler’s Bay six months ago. She had worked for a large bakery in Sacramento for four years before she decided to move back home.

Jax set the cupcake carrier down on the travertine tile entryway of the winery and wiped her hands on her red and white sundress. Her short, black hair looked almost blue in the chandelier light.

I looked around the silent entryway. “Do you know where we’re supposed to go?”

Jax shook her head. “Like I said, Landon called out of the blue yesterday and said his bosses were looking for a baker to supply their winery with chocolate.”

Landon was a friend of ours from high school. He’d always been a little sweet on Jax, and I guess this was his way of trying to vie for her attention now that she was back in town.

I looked around the empty foyer again. The stone walls and tile flooring were a pleasant contrast. A large bouquet of fresh flowers sat on an ornate, wooden antique table next to a guestbook. The owners hadn’t spared any expense on ambiance.

Plentiful Grapes Wineryhad only been open for a few weeks. They were still celebrating their grand opening, which was why I was surprised there was no one here to greet us. Even though it was still early morning, the tasting room had officially opened twenty minutes ago.

“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting.” A tall brunette strolled into the foyer. “There was a problem with the staff.”

She was impeccably dressed in black designer pants and a white, button-down blouse. Her name tag identified her as the manager.

“My name is Rebecca.” She looked down her nose at our baked goods. “I assume you’re here for the interview with the owners?”

The sudden onslaught of new customers kept me from answering. Probably a good thing. While Jax usually doesn’t have difficulty holding her tongue…I do. I take after our Gramps—a retired colonel in the Army. He definitely never learned how to sugarcoat things.

Rebecca turned to the new guests. “Hello. Welcome to Plentiful Grapes Winery. Are you here for a tour and tasting?”

The leader of the group stepped forward. He was dressed in brown shorts, yellow shirt, and sandals with socks. “Yep.” He rubbed his hands together. “This is our first stop. Can’t wait to get tasting.”

Definitely tourists.

Traveler’s Bay was a tourist town in Sonoma County, California…nestled amid Redwood trees, myriad wineries, the Pacific Ocean, and the Russian River. The bulk of the town was situated between both Hwy 116 and Hwy 1, winding its way along the curved streets carved out of the tall hills. The town itself was partially secluded by the tall redwoods, pines, evergreens, and waist-high weeds growing along the sides of the narrow roads. Even the houses seemed to blend in with the surrounding trees and hills.

“Very good, sir. Right this way.” Rebecca ushered the group through the right side of the arched doorway. “We will start with a tour and end in the tasting room.”

Left alone again in the foyer, I tried to ease Jax’s nerves.

“Only two other bakers? That’s good news. I’ve no doubt you’ve got this in the bag—or bakery box,” I joked.

Jax smiled tightly and tapped her foot. Obviously, my small talk and attempt at humor wasn’t helping.

“Thank you, Ms. Davenport,” a loud voice boomed, echoing in the foyer. “When we make a decision, we will let you know.”

Bonnie Davenport lumbered into the foyer carrying leftover baked goods. She was a large woman with an even larger mouth. She owned Bonnie’s Bakery on Redwood Drive.

“We’d like to start ordering immediately,” the man said. “So when we make our decision tonight, we will expect delivery tomorrow. Is that something you can do?”

Bonnie smiled. “That’s not a problem at all. My bakery has been here for twenty years. I have a reputation for punctuality.”

More like a reputation for mediocre baking.

Bonnie smirked at Jax. “Oh, Jax, I forgot you moved back to town. You young people, always moving from one place to another, never settling down. Best of luck to you today, dear.”

The heavy door closed with a loud bang. I rolled my eyes and gave Jax a reassuring look. “You got this,” I whispered.

“Ladies, my name is Antonio Bassetti. My wife, Maria, and I are co-owners of the winery. Our other partner, Paul Degrassi, is out of the office right now. He is due back tonight. I’m afraid it will just be me you’ll be interviewing with.”

I immediately liked Antonio Bassetti. He stood nearly six feet tall and outweighed us by about two hundred pounds. The gray at his temples and deep-set lines in his face had me guessing his age to be around sixty.

“But rest assured, I know my wine and my chocolate.” He patted his protruding stomach and laughed.

My sister stuck out her hand out. “My name is Jax Sullivan. This is my sister, Jaycee. She came to help me carry in all the desserts.”

Antonio shook our hands. “Nice to meet you both. Jaycee, would you like to wait here or come with us for the interview?”

I didn’t want to put Jax on edge any more than she already was. “I’ll stay here. Maybe do a little wine tasting.”

Antonio laughed and clasped me on the shoulder. “Excellent choice! We shouldn’t be very long. Make yourself at home. I recommend the Cabernet.”

Antonio and Jax carried the desserts through a door to my left. I decided to do some snooping and headed through the archway on my right.

The tasting room was a large great room with three different areas set up for group tastings. The tastings were already in full swing, with nearly every space along the chest-high bars filled with customers. About six tables were spread throughout the rest of the room for patrons to sit and mingle.

I made my way along the outer walls, looking at the display of vintage corkscrews and antique wine-making tools. There were some beautiful pieces in the cases. My favorite was the double-bladed ax corkscrew. It had two ax blades on each side of the corkscrew, with a silver wire threaded around the enormous eight-inch corkscrew.

Now that’s a corkscrew!

I walked over to the one space still available on the opposite side of the room. A perky blonde sashayed over to where I stood.

“Hi, my name’s Lauren Maples. Did you want to do a full tasting?” She slid a menu toward me with all the names of the wines.


“We will be tasting five wines.”

I listened attentively to Lauren as she recited the history of the wines. After each tasting, I picked up and read over the menu. I loved how they made suggestions of food pairings with each wine. That was a unique touch.

“Looks like you guys are doing great,” I said, looking around the packed room.

“It’s been like this since we opened,” Lauren said. “We’re all so excited.”

I looked around to see if I could spot Landon. I didn’t see him in the tasting room. “Is Landon working today?” I asked.

Lauren didn’t say anything.

“We went to school together,” I hastily explained. “I mean, he was a couple years younger than me, but he graduated with my sister, Jax. In fact, he’s the one that got her the job interview today.”

Lauren smiled. “Oh, okay. We aren’t supposed to give out personal information on staff members, that’s all.”

“No harm, no foul. I just didn’t see him in here.”

“He should be here within the hour. If you stick around maybe you can catch him,” Lauren said. “Now, which of these wines was your favorite?”

“I think I liked the Cabernet best,” I told her.

“Good choice. Can I get you a bottle?”

“Make it two.”

“You got it,” Lauren said. “I’ll be right back.”

I moved to give someone else a spot at the bar. There was a small space to stand between the display case and a partially closed door that looked like it led to the back of the winery. I went over and stood next to the door while Lauren went to ring up my purchases.

“I don’t know who you think you are, but you better learn your place,” an angry male voice hissed from behind the partially closed door. “You are the manager. I am the winemaker.”

Intrigued, I tried to focus on what the guy was saying. Part of my job as a bartender was to listen when people wanted to talk, and this guy obviously wanted to talk. Maybe not to me, but beggars can’t be choosers.

“Keep your voice down,” a female voice shushed. I couldn’t be sure because she was whispering, but I thought it was the snooty manager, Rebecca.

“I will not continue working here under these demands,” the man said. “You better drop this now, Rebecca, because if you don’t, you’ll regret it.”

“Don’t threaten me, Roberto!”

“I know about your little rendezvous with Paul. Unless you want everyone else to know, I suggest you stop this nonsense now! This is my wine…my wine!”

“You don’t want to push me,” Rebecca hissed. “You have too much to lose.”

“So do you,” Roberto countered. “Remember which one of us has known Paul longer. Who do you think he’ll side with?”

I looked around to see if anyone else overheard the altercation. Two of the workers pouring samples next to the counter paused to look surreptitiously at each other, but I couldn’t tell if they’d overheard the whole conversation or not.

“Don’t forget who oversees the making of this wine,” Roberto continued, “and who was instrumental in getting this winery up and going. If push comes to shove, I can promise you they will see my side of things…regardless of who you’re doing.”

I sucked in my breath, again wondering if anyone else had heard that last little juicy bit. The door was yanked open, and I had to jump back in order to avoid being run over.

A short, middle-aged Latino man wearing a chambray blue button-down shirt came striding my way. He stopped short when he saw me. He pushed his black glasses up onto his convex nose and glared at me. We stood like that for a few tense seconds.

I heard Jax’s laugh before I saw her enter the tasting room. I could tell by her flushed face and relaxed shoulders that she was feeling pretty good. For her sake, I hope she’d gotten the contract. I figured since she was carrying an empty cupcake carrier that was a good sign.

I slid my gaze back over to the angry man, Roberto, but he’d already slipped out of the tasting room. Antonio and Jax ambled over to where I stood.

“Well, young lady, you like one?” Antonio asked.

I smiled. “The Cab. I bought two bottles.”

Antonio clapped his hands together. “Eccellente!

“Thank you so much for meeting with me, Mr. Bassetti,” Jax said.

“Call me Antonio. And the pleasure was all mine. I’ll talk it over with my partner when he comes in tonight, and we’ll let you know as soon as possible. Can you have something ready for tomorrow just in case?”

Jax grinned. “You bet.”

Lauren handed me my bottles of Cabernet, and Jax and I said goodbye to Antonio. As we headed back to my place of business, I filled Jax in on the sordid gossip I’d overheard.



Again, to enter the giveaway, please comment and tell me what kind of wine Jaycee ordered to take home with her after the wine tasting? Put your answer in the comments section below. I'll announce the winner here in the blog comments section by noon EST tomorrow, March 26, 2022. Thanks for entering!

Also, if you’d like to read the rest of the book, you can click here:

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