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Jun 30, 2014


A sexy stranger. An award-winning wine. A business rivalry. Anonymous threats. Kate’s new job has her stomach doing somersaults.

Kate Whitman has a problem with anxiety. But when a man with movie-star looks and a body to match sits down next to her on the plane, she gets goose bumps—and not from nerves. Six hours and 3,000 miles later, they are kissing passionately in the airport. But when she turns around, he is gone.

To forget the rejection by this sexy stranger, Kate throws herself into her new marketing job at her family’s vineyard. She launches a high profile attack on a competing winery with a ruthless social media campaign, only to learn that behind her rival’s success is that very stranger. And he wants to redeem himself.

Can she maintain a professional relationship with Josh McCabe, amidst his sexy advances? A series of anonymous threatening messages makes Kate question whether McCabe is the generous lover he appears to be, or may instead be a ruthless opportunist.

When everyday life brings unbearable anxiety, can you trust in love?

Jun 30, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

NAN ALEXANDER is the author of new adult romances Unnerved, Unlocked, and Undisclosed in The Winemaker's Daughters series. She lives in Northern California and has been known to sneak up to wine country while her kids are in school for a romantic lunch with her own Tall, Dark and Handsome.

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Unnerved - Nan Alexander


Book One in The Winemaker’s Daughters Series

By Nan Alexander

Table of Contents



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Thank You!



This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.


Published by Nan Alexander

Smashwords Edition

© 2014 Nan Alexander

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author.


To my husband—my own winemaker, vineyard manager, and Tall-Dark-and-Handsome. Without you, I would understand nothing of love and romance.

Chapter One

An endless line of boarding passengers slogged by, most pretending that those of us sitting in first class—already comfortably ensconced in our big seats—were invisible. A few made eye contact with me and communicated disdain for what they assumed to be my entitlement. Finally, to avoid the silent aspersions, I buried my head in my tote bag and organized the mess of what I’d brought for the flight.

When a black leather briefcase was slung onto the seat next to me, I looked up. At first I couldn’t see him, just his suit. He stretched long and tall to remove the pinstriped jacket and handed it to the flight attendant waiting with a flirty smile, a hanger in her hand. I noticed her eyes light up when he passed the jacket.

In the time it took me to wonder if he was actually sitting across the aisle instead, and for me to recognize a tinge of disappointment at that prospect, he picked up the briefcase and slid into the seat next to me with a slight smile to acknowledge my presence. I did not allow myself to smile back.

He was over six feet and muscular, his shirt and pants close-fitting. Sharp, well put-together. I guessed he was a few years older. While his hair was long, it was shiny-smooth, reflecting the lights above us, and his face reminded me of a celebrity I couldn’t quite name. Despite the movie-star good looks, I thought he had the aura of a tech entrepreneur.

I need to ignore the man, I told myself. My plan did not include the man. Focus.

And so I began what was on the plan: ten minutes of meditation. This would need to be repeated throughout the flight when I felt my heart speed. I set my phone’s timer app, clicked start, and closed my eyes. Breathing slowed. In, one, two, three, four. Out, one, two, three, four. Then, my ten perfect shells exercise. I saw myself on a beach and I would pick up and carefully inspect ten perfect sea shells—all in my mind. The first was a shiny abalone shell. Slowly turning it. Drawing it closer. Observing its shape. Noting the texture of one side, then the next. Putting it down and picking up the second shell.

Before I knew it, my phone vibrated that the time was up, and I opened my eyes to see the flight attendant leaning toward me. Good afternoon. May I get you something to drink before we take off?

Water with ice, please. Everything was going according to plan.

Minutes later, she served my seatmate his Diet Coke and me my water with ice. I reached into my tote bag to remove an airplane-sized whisky bottle, turned towards the window wall, unscrewed the cap and chugged it. The water was the perfect chaser. I noticed my seatmate raise his eyebrows, as if to say, Really?

To most eyes, I was a lucky 23-year-old girl with the world at her feet, getting settled into a first class airplane seat on her way to Sonoma, California, to begin a dream job. But in my head, I was a fearful child, so small in that giant seat, with a worldview even darker than my almost-Goth appearance would suggest. I had an anxiety problem.

I wore black most days, my simple way of deflecting attention. I wanted to sink back into the shadows and was pretty sure my plain black T-shirt pulled down over jeans accomplished this. Today, as a nod to first class I suppose, I’d ditched my usual converse sneakers for black boots to my knees over my tight denim. Three-inch heels, but understated and plain. The only place I let myself dress with some joy was lingerie, and my lacy turquoise boy shorts and matching push-up bra today were my secret alone. I liked it that way.

My eyes were lined in black, with dark gray shadow, and my lip color reminded me of eggplants. This look was a little heavier than usual for me, but I hoped to discourage anyone not accustomed to the anonymity required in flying from striking up a conversation.

I would need focus to get through this flight. And I would need alcohol. My therapist in Boston devised a plan for me to survive the six hours to San Francisco. With the plan in place, to get through the flight without a full-on panic attack seemed possible, maybe even doable.

My father had treated me to a first class ticket home as part of my college graduation gift. Sugar, you’re going to start a long career when you come back to the vineyard, he said. I want you to do it in style. Your flight is the proverbial first day of the rest of your life, Kate.

I’ll admit I was grateful for the upgrade. Not for the snob appeal or prissy service or food, but for the space. I could hug the window and still have a few feet of air to the side before I’d be bumping elbows. Claustrophobia, another of my demons, would be avoided.

What I’d need to get through the flight was stashed in my tote bag: iPad and Beats headphones, along with three—now two—miniature bottles of Amrut, my favorite single-malt whisky, and a couple of almond-coconut Kind bars for emergency sustenance. Tucked in the bag’s side pocket was my talisman, a Gumby-like rubber Pink Panther so small it fit in the palm of my hand.

The iPad and headphones were for watching movies carefully selected to distract me on the flight, plus my favorite writer’s new novel. The whisky would be administered at intervals, building on the Xanax I’d already consumed. The Kind bars would keep my blood sugar balanced, and the Pink Panther, which evoked juicy memories of the man who gave it to me, was for fingering discreetly when necessary. I stowed the tools of my plan in the seat pocket, went through the checklist in my head again, and knew I’d done what I could. I pulled out my phone and dialed my sister.

Sophia, I’m on the plane. Still at the gate. You’re picking me up, right?

Of course. I’ll park the car if I have time and meet you inside, right outside security. I’ll even hold up a sign: It’ll be like you’re a celebrity.

Ha, ha. OK. Just wanted to be sure.

Kate, nothing to worry about. If I’m not there—which I will be—call me. It’s a long flight.

"My iPad is fully loaded: The Notebook, About Time, Love Actually, and Before Midnight."

Hold on. Some wires must have gotten crossed. Just a minute ago I was talking to my sister. And now I’ve got Nora Roberts on the line.

I had to laugh a little. Yeah. Not my usual fare, but I wanted to keep it light. My therapist had been very specific about the movies. I tended to prefer foreign films or indies of darker themes, so I was counting on his judgment and not mine. Sophia did not know about my therapist nor my anxieties.

We chatted a little about my father’s plans that evening—he was a home cook so proficient he could easily be hired as a chef, and cooking was his way of escaping from the cares of the world. He was making homemade linguine with a seafood sauce. Coffee gelato was already in the freezer, his work yesterday.

It’s just us, right? I asked. I didn’t want to spend my first night at home entertaining the community, a scene not uncommon for the Whitman family. My father was an institution in Sonoma Valley, the winemaker at Whitman Vineyards since he bought the property before I was born. He was affable, honest and generous. Like the Warren Buffet of Sonoma (though considerably younger). You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say a negative word about the man. But it also meant he had a large and loyal social circle.

Dad wanted us to himself, Sophia said. Our youngest sister, Billie, had just begun a year of study and travel in Italy, and I knew my homecoming was bittersweet, as Dad sent his baby away just a week ago. My mother died when I was eight, and since then my two younger sisters and my dad have been a self-contained unit, tight and protective of each other.

I hope he won’t be disappointed, I said. It’s not like the queen of England is coming home. It’s just me.

Oh, Kate. He’s thrilled. See you in a few hours.

Six hours and ten minutes, from wheels up, I corrected, acutely aware of what was ahead. Ciao. I clicked off my phone and reached for the Pink Panther to distract myself, bending his skinny legs every which way. It was time to close my eyes and ride out our takeoff.

After we cleared the clouds, I got out my iPad to begin my movie marathon. I had been careful to be sure my battery life would cooperate, but my therapist had specified that I was not to obsess about this.

Beside me, Tall, Dark and Handsome was buried in his Wall Street Journal. His hands, raised and in my airspace as he gripped the newspaper, were large, like the hands of a farmer. When had I noticed someone’s hands before? Without turning my head, I strained to see his face on my periphery. I could make out very straight dark hair, shiny even, to his collar. Its length was an edgy contrast to the expensive suit. His turn of the page moved my thoughts back to my iPad, and I plugged in the headphones and immersed myself in The Notebook. I would not cry. I detested crying in public, and to be reduced to that on this flight, especially with him sitting next to me, would be intense mortification.

About an hour later the flight attendant returned to ask what she could bring me to drink. Again, Water with ice, please. My seatmate changed to Stella Artois, I noted. When the glass of water was set before me, I reached for a second bottle of whisky, turned and tipped it back. Again, my peripheral vision noted the raised eyebrows. I took a chance and turned my head to him.

He folded the paper, placed it on the tray table, then raised the bottle of beer to say Cheers and took a sip right from the bottle, ignoring the glass in front of him. He put the bottle down and said quietly, I couldn’t help but notice your BYOB approach to travel. You know alcohol is free in first class, right?

This took me off guard. I hadn’t planned on explaining myself.

Well. I gathered my thoughts, not sure how forthcoming I should be. Well, I said again, buying a little more time. I have particular tastes. Not to be a snob, but the wine onboard sucks. And I don’t believe they offer single-malt.

He took a moment to think about this, apparently reacting favorably to the argument, judging from the tiny smile twitching at the corner of his lips. Without the little spark of a smile, his hadn’t-shaved-in-days stubble could have looked sinister.

I believe you’re onto something there, he said. That’s why I go with the Stella. Just be sure to pace yourself. The booze can catch you faster up here in the clouds.

Right. You see, this isn’t recreational drinking. It’s medicinal. I am pretty sure this flight will be blowing up or falling into a death spiral any minute now—I’m dosing myself so I can face one of those eventualities when necessary.


I had gone too far. Told him too much. And I wanted to shrink back into my private cocoon of a world by the window.

But he continued. I am, in fact, not far behind you in those fears. Of course, I’d successfully put those thoughts out of my head, until you just brought them up. And you probably don’t have enough doses to share.

I smiled, as he did. No.

Maybe we can make a deal, he said. When the plane drops from the sky, let’s hold each other tight. We’ll plunge together, satisfied in the knowledge that at least we saw it coming.

Now it was my turn to raise eyebrows. But after a second I realized it was a joke. I raised my glass of water, the ice now half-melted. Cheers. To final flights.

Then, with the smallest, subtlest movements, I inched the Pink Panther back into my bag. I couldn’t let him see that.

Before long, our bottle-blond flight attendant came through to lay a crisp cloth napkin on the tray table. On it she placed lunch, a white china plate graced with a cut of flaky fish in a tomato caper sauce, asparagus bearing grill marks, and a dollop of mashed potatoes. I accepted her offer of wine, despite its quality, because I figured that would stretch my last bottle of Amrut. Maybe it was the wine, or even just having a full stomach, but I must have nodded off.

What I do know for sure is that I awoke to find I had slumped to my right, with my head now against the shoulder of Tall, Dark and Handsome. Oh my god!

I startled and pulled myself up straight. I’m so sorry. I fell asleep!

The broad smile on his face washed over me like warm water in the shower and put me fully at ease. My pleasure, he said.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to the word pleasure, so I didn’t. He jumped in, apparently able to sense my discomfort: What I mean is that I’m glad you relaxed. Or maybe you were just passing out from the whisky and wine combo.

Once again, my insides froze. Was that a criticism of my drinking?

Again, joke, he said. So, to change the subject, are you beginning a trip or returning home? It was the classic conversation starter on airplanes.

Both, I said. And it was true. I’m headed to my first job…just graduated from college. But my job is in the family business, so I’m going home.

He chuckled. Sounds perfect.

Not so much. I’m scared to death.

I guess you’ll need to keep a fifth of whisky in your desk, then.

Very funny. That won’t go over well with my father. He’s about as straight-as-an-arrow as you get, but all in a good way. The original Superman. My mother died when I was a kid, and he’s been both mom and dad to me. And he’s legendary in his work. I don’t know how I can possibly meet his expectations. I paused. And I have no idea why I just told you this.

He ran his fingers through that silky hair and licked his lips before he responded, which only sent me shrinking into the window and picking at my hangnail.

Well, that’s a lot to live up to. I’m sure everyone tells you: He wouldn’t hire you if he didn’t think you could handle it. He grinned. For example, I’m sure he sees your natural talent for risk management.

I decided to ignore his sarcasm. How about you? I asked. Are you headed home or away?

Home. Well, to work. I grew up in Boston and had to tend to some family stuff.

We talked about Boston politics, the college scene there, Dr. Who, math and other random subjects. Sometimes a conversation takes on a life of its own, and when that happens, it’s pure joy for me. I get relief from the big ball of frayed nerves that knots me inside, especially in a social situation. As this conversation wound around, I loosened, laughed and unspooled. But after an hour or so we hit an awkward skid, with a few too many pauses. So I did what I normally do, which is to take charge and close it down.

"OK, well, I need to finish watching The Notebook or my therapist will kill me when I report back." Horrors! Did I just say the word therapist?

Yeah, I know my therapist is brutal when I disobey. Sometimes solitary confinement. Or if I don’t share my feelings: Water boarding.

Very funny. I adjusted my iPad and turned my attention to it. And time for the final dose, I said, trying to sound lighthearted as I took out the last tiny bottle and chugged it. Turbulence was now the least of my worries: I needed the buzz of the Amrut to quell the jitters induced by flirtation with a handsome stranger.

Meanwhile, he had taken out an iPad, too, and for a few minutes I peeked discreetly at what he was reading, without turning my head. The new Jeremy Hanson book. He had good taste. Literary. Smart. I went back to The Notebook, desperate to be pulled into the plot and forget. But I couldn’t. I was distracted by the most innocent thing: the arm resting between the seats, just inches from me, and the hand conspicuously missing a wedding ring.

As we came in low over San Francisco Bay, I craned my neck to see Oakland across the water, and the small figures of kitesurfers on the water below. Then there was the familiar thwump of hitting the runway, and we were rolling along, making a sharp turn and heading to a terminal.

Did you know the runway is actually the most dangerous part of the flight? I couldn’t help myself but wondered why I had offered this, unsolicited.

Let me guess: When you leave the airport and get into a taxi, you’ll tell the driver that the cab ride is statistically more dangerous than the flight. He obviously found this very amusing, and I grew impatient with his amusement.

That’s true, you know.

I know. But I choose not to think about it. He leaned forward and pulled a pen out of his briefcase, scribbling a number on the cocktail napkin that had fallen to his lap. Here. In case you’re in that taxi accident on the way home. Or any time thereafter. You can call to say ‘I told you so.’ He smiled. What may have sounded like a pickup line from anyone else, sounded honest and sweet.

Spirits buoyed by the fact that this handsome man had just given me his phone number, I tore off a corner of the napkin and wrote my own mobile on it. Hastily, I added underneath without thinking, Kate. Likes whisky on planes, and put it on the armrest.

Josh McCabe, he said as he held out his hand. Happy to meet you, Kate.

Chapter Two

When the fasten-seatbelt-sign turned off, we both stood up and moved to the aisle. I unlatched the overhead bin and reached up.

Let me help you with that, Josh McCabe said.

Without waiting for an answer, his arm reached across me and he grabbed the handle of my black carry-on. It did not occur to me to ask how he knew which bag was mine. Perhaps it was the yellow luggage tag with the big orange K.

You are chivalrous indeed. It was my sarcastic thank-you.

You are quite capable without my help. But it is a pleasure to assist, he said as he swung the bag down to the aisle in a motion as effortless as if it were filled with Styrofoam peanuts instead of books and shoes. He flicked up the handle and presented it to me. Behind us, the line of more than 200 passengers from row 3 to the

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