Wine Astray: Spirit of the Soul Wine Shop Mystery (A Rysen Morris Mystery Book 1)



First published in Australia by South Coast Publishing, April 2015.
Copyright K.J. Emrick (2015)


This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious.  Any similarity to or identification with the locations, names, characters or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.


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Chapter 1


Rysen Morris was down on her luck, to say the least.  She’d just been fired from her job at a big company out in San Francisco.  Not that she'd loved that job overly much but it was a paycheck.  Funny how little things like money could suddenly make you wonder where you were going to live or where your next meal was coming from.

So, that had been a great start to her week.  Coming home to her tiny apartment and hoping to find some comfort in the arms of her long term, super serious boyfriend, she found a note instead.  He was breaking up with her.  At least the bastard hadn't dumped her by text message.  A handwritten note was oh so much more personal.

She had spent the next day packing up all of her things and loading them into a U-Haul trailer that she could tow with her car.  It was all she could afford, and it meant she had to leave a lot behind.  Like her loser boyfriend, and her disaster of a life.

Now, she was headed to the only place she knew where someone would have to let her stay no matter how badly she'd screwed up her life.  Home, to her sister.

Rysen was a successful woman, really, no matter what recent events showed.  Or at least, she had been.  She’d been working for an interior design company for the last five years and until that incident with the Persian rug and the space heater, it had felt like a career to her.  Decorating was her passion.  She’d even had dreams of opening her own business if she ever got enough money together to strike out on her own.  Successful or not, she was still a woman, and it would've been really nice to have someone here to save her for a change.  Sometimes a girl needed a shoulder to cry on, no matter how strong she was.

Her mother had left when she was little, and had offered no explanation for why.  Even when Rysen and her sister had grown into adulthood their mom would never talk about it.  Her father was a local fire chief in her hometown, as well as running a hardware store, which meant he was always busy, busy, busy.  That was how Rysen had grown up.  Sometimes, during lonely nights when she was curled up by herself in bed, she wondered if maybe she didn't even know what love was.

She'd made her escape as soon as she was old enough and until now, she'd never looked back.  Well, she was back now.  It wasn't that she didn't like the town, she thought to herself as she drove by the small homes and the mom-and-pop stores on Main Street.  It was pretty here, and peaceful, and breathing the fresh air through her open driver's side window made her feel better.  Her long dark hair was caressed by the breeze as she took it all in again.  Cambria wasn’t too far from the Paso Robles wine country, and practically any booming business here had at least something to do with wine.  Her older sister had even opened her own wine shop for the tourists. 

It was one of those small towns where everyone knew everyone else’s business, and news travelled faster than wildfire.  It wouldn't take long before everyone she had left behind heard about her returning.  Her little bow mouth turned down in a frown as she thought about that.  "Terrific," she muttered, pushing the oversized sunglasses further up her face.

The phone call to her sister had been uncomfortable enough as it was.  Tears in her eyes, she'd choked her way through an explanation of how her life had fallen apart.  Christina had immediately offered her house for her sister to stay in.  No questions, no judgments.  No matter how screwed up her formative years had been, her sister was always there for her.  Maybe it was exactly because of how screwed up things had been at home.  The sisters had grown close.  Fast friends forever, as they used to say.

Christina was three years older than Rysen, and had assumed the responsibilities of the mother of the house after their own mom had split.  Rysen had been too young to take care of herself, and their father was often not around.  Growing up, Rysen had promised herself that she would never, ever make her mother's mistakes.  She would make a family for herself that lasted.  Not one that crumbled to dust the first time things got tough.  Yet now, here she was.  A failed relationship.  A failed life.  It hurt to think she might be just like her mom. 

It was getting closer and closer to dusk, the sun setting over the mountains in the near distance, the fading light turning the fields full of grapevines to gold.  Rysen checked the directions she had scrawled out during her phone conversation with her sister and made a final turn onto one of the little sidestreets in town.  Christina had been in her final year of college when Rysen left, and so she’d never seen her new place.  New could be good.  After all, what would her and her sister have to talk about besides Rysen's mess of a life?  They could talk about the new house, and the furniture, and the curtains…

Right.  She and Christina had been close, once upon a time, but it had been a few years.  There was a gap between them now, one that Rysen had to take most of the blame for.  She'd cut her family out of her life as much as possible, wanting to start her exciting new life in the big city up in San Francisco, and now she just didn't know if she'd be able to relate to Christina anymore.  Way to go, she chided herself.  One more thing in your life that you've ruined.

She looked at her reflection in the rearview mirror, her clear hazel eyes dark in shadows with the fading light.  It might have been her imagination, but in that moment she looked a lot more like her mother than she ever had before.

The house was up ahead on the left.  When Rysen pulled into the driveway and got a good first look at it, she couldn’t help but be impressed.  There had been a lot of growth to Cambria since she'd been gone, and her sister's place was in one of the newer sections, where every house seemed to be built to grace the cover of a magazine.  Christina's was a modest two-story place with stucco walls and wooden beam detailing, kind of like the homes she always saw in pictures of Holland or Denmark.  Flowerboxes sat below the windows.  The walkway was paved with flat, decorative stones.  The small yard was immaculately trimmed.

Nice.  Looking at it, Rysen felt a twinge in her heart.  Her sister had found a home for herself.  Why couldn't she do the same?

There were more flowers up on the front porch as Rysen hefted her overnight bag up onto her shoulder and stepped up to the front door.  Roses and sunflowers and other kinds she didn't know the names for.  All of them were healthy bloom.  If Christina’s wine shop failed her sister could have a career as a gardener or florist, as she kept all of these blooms so beautiful.

That had always been one way the sisters were differed.  Rysen couldn't keep a cactus alive, let alone all these different flowers.  Christina had always been better at managing her life.  Maybe staying here would be good for Rysen, she thought.  Maybe some of Christina's stick-to-itness would rub off. 

The leather bag on her shoulder felt overly light.  There wasn't much she was bringing with her, after all.  Her personal belongings like the snow globes she had collected and the paperback books she had always promised herself to start reading were in the trunk of her car.  And the rest of her bits and pieces were stacked inside of the U-Haul trailer.

Other than that, she had clothes, and the contents of this bag.  That was all right.  She wasn’t planning on moving in with her sister, after all. As soon as she could manage, she would find a job of her own and then her own place, temporarily, until she could move out of town again.

She bit her lip, listening to herself.  Here she was, already planning her escape again.  Would she ever change?

She rang the doorbell while nervous anticipation twisted in her gut.  The door opened, and she could hardly believe that it was her sister that was standing in front of her.

Christina had grown up.  She was a woman now, shapely and pretty, her once long brown hair cut in a cute pixie style.  There was a pale reflection of Rysen's own face in Christina's features, although her sister's cheekbones were higher and her hazel eyes a darker shade.  She was still her sister, and in that moment all of the apprehension Rysen had been feeling melted away.  For the time being, no matter what might happen tomorrow, she had found a home.

The sisters hugged each other fiercely.  Rysen was surprised to feel laughter bubble up out of her.  "Thank you so much for having me," she blurted out.  "Sis, you don't know how good it is to see you!"

“I know, I know!  You look great!  Out of the blue you call like that?  Rysen!  Wow, you took five years to come visit.  You've missed so much.”

Christina was wearing a green apron that had black smears across it, and her hands were black with dirt.  Obviously, she'd been doing some planting inside the house, too.  She was careful to keep her hands held out from Rysen as she stood back to inspect her sister. 

In her sister's gaze, Rysen could tell that Christina had already figured out all the little things eating at her.  There was no hiding anything from Christina.  There never had been.  During their phonecall she had explained how her jerk boyfriend had dumped her and that she was taking a break from her job.  That didn't cover the pain she felt at losing Kevin's strong hands holding her at night or the feel of his sensuous lips against hers.  It didn't tell the whole truth about getting fired over a mistake.  The pain she'd been holding down came rising up in her now, as her sister watched, and tears began to fall.

"Ry, it's okay," Christina told her.  "I know.  It's okay.  You're here now."

"No, you don't understand."  Rysen tried to explain but the words failed her.  Instead she let Christina pull her back into a hug and hold her as she silently cried.  "I tried," Rysen told her.  "I really tried."

She was expecting pity.  She was expecting empty platitudes of comfort and how the rain to fell on everyone sometimes.  True or not, none of that would have helped her now.

Instead, Christina said something Rysen didn't expect.  "Honey, I understand better than you think."

They went inside then, into the kitchen where Christina removed the dirty apron and rinsed her hands thoroughly in the sink.  The inside of her house was laid out in the same style as the outside, heavy wooden beams exposed in the ceiling and the walls, red bricks artfully inlaid between them from floor to ceiling.  Rysen sat and watched her sister put a kettle on to boil and take out boxes of different teas, along with two ceramic cups.

Rysen smiled through her blurry vision.  The sight of her sister taking care of her again felt right, somehow, and again the feeling of being home settled over her.  They were silent then, and Rysen wondered what her sister had meant by how well she understood what she was going through.  Christina disappeared into the house, to take care of a few things, she said.

When the tea kettle screamed that it was done, Christina came back out to the kitchen.  She had a flower pot in her hand with a tall, thick-stemmed red bloom growing out of dark soil, and she presented it to Rysen.  "Here.  My friend grows these for her shop.  She's been teaching me how to take care of them.  It's kind of relaxing, actually.  I've been thinking about maybe selling a few varieties in my wine shop." 

As Rysen took the flower Christina poured two cups of blueberry tea and dropped an ice cube into both of them to help cool them faster.  They sat at the kitchen table for hours, sipping tea, and talking.  Rysen explained what had happened to her once she’d left Cambria for the big city, and how it had all fallen apart, leaving nothing out this time.  Christina listened intently, every now and then getting up to refill their mugs of tea, and when Rysen felt like she’d said everything she could, Christina wrapped her in a hug.

“Your boyfriend is an idiot," she told Rysen.  "I know just what you need.”

“A hit man that works for cheap?”

Christina laughed at the joke, which made Rysen smile, wiping tears away from her puffy eyes.

“Well, I was going to say a good night’s rest, and a little sightseeing in the morning.  But if you know someone who could break his kneecaps?"

Rysen laughed harder, and suddenly things didn't seem that bad after all.  "No.  I'd feel bad if he couldn't get down on his knees later and beg my forgiveness.  A good night's sleep sounds good." 

Christina put their empty mugs in the sink and motioned for Rysen to follow her so she could show her where she was sleeping.  Upstairs there were four doors facing a short hallway.  Christina led her to the second one on the left, to a small room with a comfy looking bed and a tiny dresser and a small desk in the corner.  It wasn't much, but the bed looked wonderful.

Rysen yawned, and stretched, and realized her sister had been right.  For now, sleep was what she needed.

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