The bottle of Castello di Giambelli Cabernet Sauvignon, '02, auctioned for one hundred and twenty-five thousand, five hundred dollars, American. A great deal of money, Sophia thought, for wine mixed with sentiment. The wine in that fine old bottle had been produced from grapes harvested in the year Cezare Giambelli had established the Castello di Giambelli winery on a hilly patch of land north of Venice.
At that time the castello had been either a con or supreme optimism, depending on your point of view. Cezare's modest house and little stone winery had been far from castlelike. But his vines had been regal, and he had built an empire from them.
After nearly a century, even a superior Cabernet Sauvignon was likely more palatable sprinkled on a salad rather than drunk, but it wasn't her job to argue with the man with the money. Her grandmother had been right, as always. They would pay, and richly, for the privilege of owning a piece of Giambelli history.
Sophia made a note of the final bid and the buyer's name, though she was unlikely to forget either, for the memo she would send to her grandmother when the auction was over.
She was attending the event not only as the public relations executive who had designed and implemented the promotion and catalogue for the auction, but as the Giambelli family representative at this exclusive, pre-centennial event.
As such, she sat quietly in the rear of the room to observe the bidding, and the presentation.
Her legs were crossed in a long, elegant line. Her back convent-school straight. She wore a black pin-striped suit, tailored and Italian, that managed to look both businesslike and utterly feminine.
It was exactly the way Sophia thought of herself.
Her face was sharp, a triangle of pale gold dominated by large, deep-set brown eyes and a wide, mobile mouth. Her cheekbones were ice-pick keen, her chin a diamond point, sculpting a look that was part pixie, part warrior. She had, deliberately, ruthlessly, used her face as a weapon when it seemed most expedient.
Tools, she believed, were meant to be used, and used well.
A year before, she'd had her waist-length hair cut into a short black cap with a spiky fringe over her forehead.
It suited her. Sophia knew exactly what suited her.
She wore the single strand of antique pearls her grandmother had given her for her twenty-first birthday, and an expression of polite interest. She thought of it as her father's boardroom look.
Her eyes brightened, and the corners of her wide mouth curved slightly as the next item was showcased.
It was a bottle of Barolo, '34, from the cask Cezare had named Di Tereza in honor of her grandmother's birth. This private reserve carried a picture of Tereza at ten on the label, the year the wine had been deemed sufficiently aged in oak, and bottled.
Now, at sixty-seven, Tereza Giambelli was a legend, whose renown as a vintner had overshadowed even her grandfather's.
This was the first bottle of this label ever offered for sale, or passed outside the family. As Sophia expected, bidding was brisk and spirited.
The man sitting beside Sophia tapped his catalogue where the photograph of the bottle was displayed. "You have the look of her."
Sophia shifted slightly, smiled first at him - a distinguished man hovering comfortably somewhere near sixty - then at the picture of the young girl staring seriously out from a bottle of red in his catalogue. "Thank you."
Marshall Evans, she recalled. Real estate, second generation Fortune 500. She made it her business to know the names and vital statistics of wine buffs and collectors with deep pockets and sterling taste.
"I'd hoped La Signora would attend today's auction. She's well?"
"Very. But otherwise occupied."
Reprinted from The Villa by Nora Roberts by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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