Elijah pulled the cork from the bottle of a vintage wine and poured himself a glass. He rubbed his eyes and stared out over the rolling hills of the vineyard, swirling the red in the glass and smiling. He had worked hard to get Valiant Vines up and running. When he had bought the small farm from an older gentleman who was ready to move into a more manageable place, the farm itself was rundown and in need of a lot of work. He had been able to start off small, brewing and selling at local stores until he had gained enough capital to invest in the farm and go commercial. Hard work and determination had borne fruit for him. After ten years, he had reaped the benefits of persevering through his struggles and learning from his mistakes.
Except, Elijah still wasn’t completely satisfied. He felt like even with the evidence of the kingdom that he had built spread out across the rolling hills before him, there was something that was missing from the recipe of his own life. He had focused so much of his time and attention on the subtle craft of winemaking that he had left out key ingredients in his own life.
Elijah turned from the window and felt the sunshine hit his back, warming him as the icy grip of loneliness clutched at his heart. He gazed around his broad, contemporary living room, sparsely decorated with accentuating accessories. The room was so clean it was almost clinical. He was hardly ever in it, though. He spent most of his time down the hall in his office, or out in the processing plant, or walking the many rows of viness and taking note of which grapes were ripe and which could wait to be harvested for another couple of weeks.
The peak season for harvesting was almost over, and crushing and pressing had already begun. Grapes put through the process would then move on to fermentation over the next six months, with clarification taking place at the start of the next growing season. Once the clarification was done and the wine had been strained of the insoluble matter, aging and bottling would occur in time for the next harvest season, thus completing the winery’s yearly cycle.
Elijah would, of course, age the finest grapes for longer than a few months, but the majority of the stock would be set for retail to turn a profit, and he would sequester the best bottles away in the cellar for the next few years. The longer they aged, the more valuable they would become. As it was, he was looking to uncork the first bottle of wine he had ever bottled under the brand Valiant Vines. That was ten years ago, when he had started with his first vine, as he had done restorations on the farm and slowly grew his vineyard. He had locked it away in a special room in the cellar and permitted himself to forget about it, until he had signed the contract with the major distribution company that would see his brand expand globally, not just nationally.
In honor of the event, he was hosting a singles retreat for the coming weekend, because he had the bittersweet emotion that he had accomplished so much, but he had no one to share it with. Elijah was not in touch with his family. He hardly missed his brothers and sisters, whom he had left behind on the East Coast in a podunk town where the only excitement that ever occurred was when the neighbor’s cows got loose. They had scorned him, not for the fact that he was gay, although that had been a point of contention for his uncles, but because he aspired to be something more than a narrow-minded cynic like most of the populace that the town produced. Small towns certainly had their charm, but it was lost on Elijah. The dreams in his heart were too big for that.
He was excited for the event to come. He felt like it was the next step in the right direction for his plans in life. He was confident, now that he had more employees and had a few hours a day for downtime, that he could turn his attention to dating and perhaps someday find someone to share all of this with. His manager, Elise, had been harassing him to date for the past year, since he hired her, but he had to be absolutely certain that all the cards were in the right place in his deck to dare to do such a thing.
Napa Valley was known for the vineyards and wineries, and in some regard, California itself was a welcoming place to the LGBT community. The idea of a gay singles retreat had spread quickly, and the positive response it had received had only padded his popularity within the community. Elijah was beside himself with the feeling of accomplishment and success, although he couldn’t quite shake the lingering feeling that it could all come crashing down around him, despite his hard work and determination to succeed.
Elijah finished the small bit of liquid that swirled in the bottom of his glass and returned the glass to the kitchen, placing it on the marble-topped island. He looked around, thinking he should fix something for dinner with his stainless-steel appliances, but opted instead to go out for dinner, not wanting to eat alone. He grabbed the keys to the Chevrolet Malibu and locked the side door that led into the garage behind him. His remote starter began to raise the garage door, and he began to carefully back the sensible sedan out but stopped abruptly when he looked in the rearview mirror and saw the most gorgeous man getting out of a taxi and looking around at the large estate.
The man’s head was tilted back as he looked up at the broad exterior expanse of the two-story farmhouse, and then around to the sides of the farm out toward the field. He was dressed semi-casually in khaki pants and a button-down shirt with loafers and a pair of Oakleys on his face. What made Elijah pause was when he looked at the sedan and seemed to catch Elijah staring at his powerful build under all of the carefully arranged clothing, and the smile that lit his face dazzled Elijah.
It took him a moment to put the car into park and kill the engine before getting out. He felt grossly underdressed, as he was only sporting a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt with the purple and silver logo of Valiant Vines on the front.
The man strode over to him, and Elijah stood frozen where he had stepped out of the car. His gait seemed to suggest predator, ready to pounce at any moment, in contrast to his attire’s suggestion that he was a civilized human being on the inside.
“Can I help you?” Elijah remembered to speak after a moment. He desperately wanted this man to pounce. It was an instant attraction he couldn’t explain, and he suddenly felt the collar of his shirt become too tight. He tugged at it and took a few deep breaths as the man gave him that brilliant smile again.
“Noah St. James, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Montgomery.” He held out his hand once he had reached him, and Elijah grasped it.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mr. St. James. How do you know my name?” He replied. His hand was firm and calloused. Elijah wondered what he did for a living.
“I’ve seen your picture on fliers advertising local vintners, and please, call me Noah.” He leaned in slightly, and Elijah wasn’t entirely sure, but he thought he saw his nostrils flare a little, like he was basking in the aroma of his cologne. “Am I the first here? Where is everyone else?”
“Ah…” He got lost staring into Noah’s hazel eyes. They were such a swirl of color, it reminded him of caramel and chocolate. “I’m sorry, who?” He finally said. He shook his head. He hadn’t been able to help but catch a whiff of Noah’s aftershave, and the scent was intoxicating. It was subtle with notes of mandarin and galbanum in it. Givenchy, he guessed. It was quality, and Elijah could appreciate it.
“The other retreat guests.” His lips twitched, and Elijah cleared his throat. That he was so ready with a smile was a huge attraction for him, and he had a hard time focusing.
“Oh, I’m sorry. They aren’t here yet. The retreat starts tomorrow.” He dropped Noah’s hand, realizing he was still shaking it. Noah’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he lost the look of amusement on his face.
“My apologies. I thought the retreat started tonight. If you don’t mind, I will step away and call the taxi back and find a hotel nearby for the night.”
“What? Oh, you don’t have to do that!” Elijah realized there must have been a note of desperation in his voice. He was quite taken with the polite mannerism of the stranger, and he found he wanted him to stay to see if this attraction he was feeling went beyond physical. “What I mean to say is, the retreat is about welcoming guests and encouraging people to get to know one another. If you need to find a hotel, my guess is you have traveled some distance to be here. By all means, you are most welcome to just stay here for the night.”
Noah’s answering smile was all he needed to see to confirm that his words were well received. It made his stomach flutter as he gazed up into those hypnotic eyes. He was quite pleased with himself that his first opportunity to promote a liaison was so far successful. He had always been charming enough in the boardroom when it was necessary to woo investors for the company. He felt giddy with excitement that he seemed to be doing alright in this social interaction.
“That is most kind of you, Mr. Montgomery.” Noah’s voice was soft and deep, and Elijah felt like it tickled his ears as he responded to him. There was something huskier when he said these words than when he initially introduced himself, and Elijah ducked his head before remembering to keep his chin up and his head held high despite his nerves.
“Please, call me Elijah. Let’s take your suitcase inside, and then I was just on my way out to get dinner at Le Petit Cépage. It’s a little French bistro that hosts a number of local brands and has some excellent food. Or we could stay in, and I could give you a tour of the winery if you like.”
“The bistro would be lovely. I don’t want to impose too much, so it will be my treat for your generosity for letting me stay a night early. And I must insist.”
Elijah was about to protest but blushed when Noah caught him.
“Well, thank you. That will be lovely.” He led Noah into the house and showed him to the nicest room that was adjacent to his. It was the only other bedroom along the back wall that overlooked the vineyard, and Noah would be able to see the sun set from the shared balcony with the master suite which Elijah occupied next to it. All of the other rooms were on the front side of the house, and although those rooms were spacious and inviting, and the windows offered a partial view of the valley and the sunrise, none were as good as the one he gave to Noah.
After half an hour, they met in the hall, and Elijah noted that Noah had changed into a fine linen shirt and some slacks, much like he himself had done in the last half hour. He smiled at him tentatively. This certainly felt like a date, despite the words never having been spoken. He was ecstatic that they both viewed the event in such a way that merited some of their finest dress clothes to show respect for one another. His vision of the future was somehow morphing to include Noah. He didn’t want to jump the gun too quickly, but he couldn’t quite strike the thought from his mind.