New Growth & Native Roots is the second book of the Spook Hills Trilogy. While the book stands alone, the roots of its characters and plot are in the Old Growth & Ivy, the first novel of the trilogy. Over the course of the three books, the stories of FBI agent extraordinaire, Steve Nielsen and his three top agents are told as each one struggles to define a new life for himself away from the FBI. Although 60 years old, Steve meets the love of his life and continues to transform himself into a broader man. Steve’s story is in the first book of the trilogy.
Mathew Heylen, Steve’s friend, best agent and now business partner, also seeks to find his life-long love while founding a vineyard in the Oregon wine country, which they jokingly dubbed Spook Hills. This book, New Growth & Native Roots, is about Mathew and his desire to find someone to share his life. Even with his seductive laughing eyes, handsome Mathew finds his childhood fear of rejection stands in his way. Moreover old and new business with the FBI disrupts his life. Even so, he finds himself drawn to his neighbor’s niece who visits occasionally but is married and living in California.
Brian Tovey and Moll O’Leary are Steve’s other two lead agents. Like Mathew, they left the FBI after Steve retired. However they founded a startup company to protect banks from illicit money laundering schemes. In 2017, the third book of the trilogy, Noble Firs, will explore Brian’s and Moll’s struggles to define new lives for themselves, meet their individual expectations and keep up with the meteoric growth of demand for their company’s services. Even as they rise to these challenges, younger leaders in the underworld organize to strike back after Brian and Moll uncover several money laundering schemes leading to arrests of several senior mobsters.
For now curl up with your favorite tea, coffee, hot chocolate or a glass of wine and enjoy a good read with New Growth & Native Roots!
Mathew Heylen strode up the hill on his neighbor’s land seeking a vantage point to view his property where he started a vineyard in Dundee, Oregon. A breeze lifted his heavy sandy hair, pushed it around and plunked it back down. The grass and dirt path next to the vines released puffs of rosy dust on his low hiking boots with each step he took. He paused and inhaled deeply, enjoying the morning full of August’s sunny summer promise. Hiking uphill, he leaned on a long piece of English hickory, topped with a segment of antler and called a thumbstick because shepherds rested their thumb in the antler’s ‘v’ when they surveyed their flocks. The stick helped reduce the stress on his left leg shot twice over a year before while he served with the FBI.
After reaching the top, he stopped and shrugged out of his rucksack, taking out a small picnic blanket, a thermos of coffee, a sketch pad, a ruler and several sharpened pencils. Ever since he first came to this location January of last year, its small ramshackle farmstead and old scenic barn beckoned to design his home around them. Ideas came and went, but he wanted to capture on paper the image that stuck with him.
His partner and friend’s house was built into the bank on an adjacent knoll overlooking the rows of grapevines contoured to the undulations of the acreage. When they started this business venture after completing challenging careers with the Bureau, they jokingly called the enterprise ‘Spook Hills’ and the name stuck. The house resembled his friend Steve – even now at 62 he was solid, imposing and austere. The surrounding yard and landscaping reflected his new wife, Ivy, who filled their new home and gardens with warmth and the glow of subtle colors in the same way she enhanced her husband’s life.
Their work on the farmland began sporadically the prior year as they dodged bullets during their wrap-up of unfinished business for the Bureau. This year Mathew relished the hard work of planting the remaining fields with dormant roots that now grew green and healthy.
He stared at his house site wanting to make progress on its design even though he expected to delay breaking ground until he found a genuine, warm and gifted woman. The layout in his mind echoed a New England farmhouse erected higgledy-piggledy over time, connecting to the stables with a long enclosed breezeway. He envisioned an upright two story main structure with one wing, the existing house, located on the left side as he faced it. On the right, an expansive sunroom would connect the house to the garage.
Since the summer day quickly warmed up, he pulled off his light sweater, then he unscrewed the top from the thermos, poured a cup of coffee, and scanned the ground for a flat spot to set it down. On the verdant hillside right next to him lay a discarded cigarette butt. His trained eye and years of habit made him rummage in his rucksack for a plastic bag to pick it up. He zipped the baggie shut and regarded it with annoyance. Someone carelessly threw it down in the neat field. At the beginning of his career as an agent, he made a study of tobacco products and memorized the brands around the world. Reopening the bag, he sniffed in a heady aroma of cloves and burnt tobacco. Unfiltered and likely Turkish, it might be Djarum Blacks which was an odd brand to find in this area. Perhaps attracted by the aroma, some kid pinched one of his parents and snuck up here to see if the cloves gave the smoke an extra kick. He put the bag in his pocket to be thrown away later and started drawing an outline of the house, liking the way it fit against the contour of the land.
In his mind the ground sloping up behind the house should be planted with grass, inviting kids to roll down to the bottom with their giggles ringing out like church bells or in the rare snowstorm, careen down on a saucer sled. He sketched in a playhouse further up the slope – a place all their own where adults needed an invitation to visit.
He sipped the Kona coffee and surveyed the farmland around him. My home! Ever since he acquired the property, he yearned to wander around this acreage and design his prospective house. Last year the case against certain drug lords called the Fuentes brothers curtailed his headway. Now he centered his attention on this next phase of his life even though his search for a mate stumbled and stalled.
Despite her sixty-odd years of age, Ivy represented his standard for a life partner. She possessed a strong character and a willingness to take tough stances when required. Luckily she also had an indulgent, fun side that moderated Steve’s direct and at times harsh demeanor. Mathew wanted those qualities in a woman, softened down somewhat.
He continued sketching, adding details. The house will have a traditional facade. A cupola capped with a verdigris copper weathervane, perhaps crowned by a playful sculpture of a scene of hillocks and a flying ghost, should be fitted at the peak of the garage. The back of the house will feature walls of glass, opening to a wide patio running the length of the house and curving out into the green turf.
With the front of the house roughed in, he finished the coffee, stowed all except the pencils and the sketch book and got himself up. His damaged muscles stiffened while he sat and he did several stretches before walking to another knoll to view the plot from a different angle. He halted midway up, turned and considered the aspect.
As he stood, his scalp prickled around his right ear and his right side tightened reflexively in response to a menacing presence. He whirled around in time to see the crown of a head disappear behind a nearby hummock. Dropping his backpack, he grabbed his stick and gave chase.
“Stop!” he yelled running up the hill.
When he reached the crest, a man dressed in black sprinted in advance of him down to the road.
“Hey you, stop, come back here!” he yelled again.
The man pelted on without even looking back.
Mathew skittered downhill. Up ahead the man reached the road, turned left and ran up an incline. Relying on his thumbstick for balance, Mathew scrambled to the road just in time to see the man disappear down the other side of the hill. As he huffed up the road, a car started, ground its tires in the gravel and let out a roar as it sped away.
After seeing a car disappear in the distance, Mathew slowed to a walk and went down to examine where the car had parked. With his agent’s eyes, he noted the tire tracks in the dirt and where the vehicle skidded away. After taking photos with his phone of one clear imprint of tread, he went over the area. No other clues surfaced.
He walked back to scan the compressed vegetation where the man lurked, found another smoked butt and plunked it in the bag. He took out his iPhone and snapped photos. All their business for the FBI should have ended last year when two drug kingpins, the Fuentes brothers, were killed during an arrest operation at their hideaway home near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yet here someone spied on him. Who, why, and what threat did the man pose? The man’s physique was lean, not too tall. He had short brown hair under a black baseball cap. Judging by his agile sprint downhill, he maintained a good level of fitness seemingly at odds with his smoking.
With Ivy and Steve away touring Steve’s familial homeland of Norway, being on his here concerned Mathew. Even more worrisome, the young man working on the vineyard, Fred, returned from a short holiday the next morning. No way did he want him or his family in peril again as they had been the year before.
A half hour later, Mathew sat in his room downstairs at Steve’s house debating with himself what the next steps should be. The two cigarette butts lay sealed in a zipped bag in front of him. He needed to talk to someone and yet he would not call Steve on vacation over so small a difficulty. They agreed that Spook Hills was his to run. He stilled leaned on Steve, and probably always would, yet he needed to take command.
With his friends and former agents, Brian and Moll, centering their attention on their startup company, he searched for a number and dialed a retired agent named Lenny Bruckner, who operated with them before.
“Lenny,” the man answered in his gruff voice, more brusque than tough, like an old handsaw bouncing across an oak log.
“Heylen here,” Mathew said. “Enjoying retirement?”
“Doing nothing all day will see me into an early grave. I’m surfing the web for something to do with my time.”
“Want to work with us at Spook Hills again? You’ll be in charge of security. If you want, you can work on the vineyard too.”
After Mathew explained the situation, Lenny asked, “You still keep fire power?”
“Roscoes locked in the safe room along with submachine guns. Steve stuffed an old Uzi and rocket launcher in there with ammo and explosives.”
“Good man, Steve. Get your roscoe out. Lock up the house and stay put. Turn on the alarm system. I’ll fly up this afternoon and rent a car at the airport. Call you when I’m on my way. Let’s try it and see what develops. You might convert this city slicker into a farmer.”
Even for Mathew as an accomplished agent, protecting Spook Hills was a challenge by himself making him relieved Lenny would soon be on-site. While he tended to be a little trigger-happy in a sting, he was skilled and focused, proficient from his years on FBI SWAT teams.
# # #
Up above the small village of Botaya, Spain, the man who knew himself to be Cruze Fuentes, took a last pull on his unfiltered Camel before stubbing it out and heading to the long shed where he established a glass working shop. At first glance, Cruze looked like an average Spaniard, dark waved hair, parted neatly on one side, green-brown eyes, and slightly tanned skin. He appeared faded in his worn chambray shirt and well-washed jeans, but his eyes were sharp and intensely aware of every movement around him as he walked across the dry yard. A faded scar in the shape of a check mark sat above his left eye.
Once at the workshop, he rolled up two of the four double-wide rolling doors and peered with satisfaction inside. His work bench for cutting and arranging designs, new sheets of glass and other materials sat in an orderly arrangement in the first bay. The middle section housed the kiln and a long counter for finishing tasks. So far he only installed one small kiln to fire his first experiments, which restricted the size of his pieces to 7 inches square. He ordered a much larger unit to handle designs twice as big and space remained for two even higher capacity units. One day he hoped to install a glass blowing center with big ovens for molten glass in the third section while he earmarked the fourth compartment for storing and displaying completed projects.
Working with glass soothed him. He slid open windows around the long studio allowing a breeze to flow through, making his experimental wind chimes jingle overhead. He devised them with small geometric bits adhering to each of the long, skinny rectangles. The carillons glistened in the pastels he favored, the blues, greens and grays of the sea, and sometimes a bright aqua or deep azure.
Passing under the wind chimes, he reached up to caress the smoothed textures with his fingers. The glossy surface of the finished product brought to mind brocaded silk. He suspended the glass rectangles with a sturdy nickel wire from a triple fused rod of rosy pink and gold like a sunset. One, which turned out to be his favorite, he fashioned from a cut-down version of a silver LED light string run by batteries. He hung it on his porch to watch it twinkle at dusk when he sat outside having his dinner in the twilight. Even though making chimes was a simple project from a fusing perspective, he learned a good deal as he went along, using the Internet and his glass-working books as instructional guides. Glasswork meant learning a different vocabulary with words like slumping when hot glass sunk into a mold or annealing for the process of cooling hot items slowly. Such expressions might not be useful in conversations, but he spoke so little to other people these days, the utility of the terms need only be for his glass initiatives.
He liked the glossy glide of glass under his fingers and the way light passed through it, moving at various angles and lighting up his studio in a variety of subtle shades. At times the cut edges twinkled around him, shooting sparks of light against his hands, the bench and the white stucco of the building. His goal of defining a style for a line of home merchandise might take him several years. Once he developed a better understanding of working with glass, he anticipated touring studios and taking classes here in Spain and in other countries. First he needed the skills to produce fused glass wares without ruining so many of them.
This life suited him, alone here in the mountains and away from the village where he bought groceries. The humble house nestled on a steep slope with its back to the north, permitting it to capture full days of sunshine. Working shutters helped keep the house cooler when the sun shone too brightly. Miles away his boat rested in a slip, waiting for the next time he became restless or for when he might need to move swiftly, make his way over a low saddle in the Pyrenees and activate his next survival strategy. From here he could head down to the Mediterranean, hide out in the mountains or make his way into France, over to Eastern Europe or down into Turkey.
The ancient monastery bell started ringing for the evening prayers higher up in the Pyrenees. The way sound traveled, the peals were clear and mellow yet not competing with the birdsong or with the tintineo of the small bells on the goats roaming the hillsides. The goats came down at night to drink water from the trough he refreshed daily. While unsure who owned the goats, he delighted in their company and found supplying water and sometimes hay a fair trade.
Perhaps one day he will hike up to attend vespers with the monks. Sometimes he walked down to Botaya on a Sunday to partake of mass at the church. Although he was a lapsed Catholic, over time he longed to find clemency. After the life he led, he doubted any amount of atonement would cleanse his dirtied soul. Even so he might find shards of redemption. He lived his life for his brothers until their continuing commitment to their illegal enterprises compelled him to seek a different path. For over a year and a half, he peaceably existed in exile from them. Even though loneliness sometimes tempted him to sign into an old email address or dial them on his cell phone, he refrained. He hoped by staying away, they would sell their businesses sooner. He also feared they would try to ensnare him back into their illegal cartel if he contacted them.
He contemplated the row of glass panels resting in the tall, narrow compartments of shelving he constructed. Today he wanted to make a small, shallow bowl where glass draped over a frame in the heat. The last one cracked when he precipitously opened the door before cool down completed. His drawing for the bottom showed a narrow leaf depiction in matching glass. He took out a sheet of a watery aquamarine, positioned it with care on the worktable and opened a book to verify his technique and the measurements. He began scoring the glass which would then break into the shapes he wanted. He looked ruefully down at his hands, now nicked and scarred where glass shards or sharp edges had sliced his skin. He learned early on to keep a fully-stocked first aid kit nearby and to be meticulous about keeping his hands and nails clean.
Thoughts intruded from his old life while he worked, but he forced them away by concentrating on measuring and scoring glass. He could not touch the past. He was afraid to consider the future. Living in this day and this moment must constitute his outlook, taking pleasure from his solitary life as an aspiring glass artist. In less than a week, he should receive a rare call from his twin brother, Cristo, and the thought brought him comfort.
Callie and her daughter Susannah traveled up to her uncle’s Oregon winery for their annual summer sojourn. Her husband, John Henry, planned to join them this weekend, however for these two days before he arrived, they planned to enjoy their time together while basking in the kind attentions of her aunt and uncle. She savored the way her uncle’s memories of his brother, who had been her father, gave her a sliver of her late parents to keep with her. She and Susannah flew in last night. Callie felt so eager to be where they felt loved and free that her escape became tinged with guilt. John Henry long ceased to be the man she slavishly admired as a student ten years before. The last few years with him stretched out with each year seeming to span three calendar years.
Her first allegiance was to her daughter. She stayed in her oppressive, disturbing and at times verbally brutal relationship because she thought Susannah needed her father. Sometimes now John Henry directed his belittling and outright nasty comments not only at herself but at Susannah as well. Even though she owed her husband her fidelity, her debt of gratitude must be paid by now. A change had to be made, no matter how hard.
She desperately needed to believe she possessed the courage and fortitude to carry out her plan. She brushed her hair to fall across her shoulders, straight and dark like a bay horse’s tail banged in a crisp line. Then she tapped on a little make-up to mask the smudges under her eyes. She lost weight in the last year, and her face was often haggard from too many nights of poor sleep as she worried about her marriage. Her best failed to measure up to her husband’s expectations. Nothing ever seemed good enough for him.
She stopped to remember him in her student days when he taught one of her art history classes in her senior year of college. As her professor he struck her as handsome, entertaining, knowledgeable and scholarly. He was thinner back then without his drinker’s paunch and bloated faux bonhomie. In the classroom and on campus, he projected the image of a knowledgeable, intellectual professor. She had worshiped him.
Their affair began in her last semester when he seduced her during a countryside picnic on a perfect spring day. A dedicated student, she only sometimes dated and kept her virginity because she placed priority on her studies. Even early in their lives together, John Henry wanted pleasures a man should not demand of one so innocent. She desired so much to please him and in her unworldly way she thought what he asked for must be the way lovemaking proceeded between a man and a woman. Over the years, his penchant for lascivious sex continued until she became so debased she refused to participate. Even now after not having sex with him for over a year, their life together struck her as all wrong. He besmirched her womanliness with his demands. His last attempts resulted in his failures to perform, which he blamed on her as he did everything wrong in his life, including his lack of advancement in his professional life and his seeking solace in drinking.
Before melancholy took hold, she rejected the repulsive recollections of their intimacy while she trotted downstairs, stopping in the spacious sun-strewn kitchen for a mug of the coffee her uncle left on the warmer. The rich brew of fresh ground beans laced with a little cinnamon signaled morning and home to her. She splashed in cream and a half spoonful of sugar, stirred quickly and scuffed along in her slippers through the big living room and down the hall. When she tapped at the open door of his office, her Uncle Rick peered over his glasses at her.
“Thought I might see you this morning,” he said in his firm voice. A thin, muscular man, he aged into what might be called wiry.
“Guess I’m fairly transparent,” she said.
“At least to me.” Whenever he spoke to her, his voice carried a tender tone with affection in the vowels and kindliness in the consonants.
Callie took a deep breath to make herself sound more like a decisive woman and less like a scared teenager. “When John Henry is here, I expect to give him an ultimatum. He must stop his excessive alcohol consumption and go for counseling.”
“Or?” Rick asked, raising both eyebrows.
“I will leave him and take Susannah with me.” Even though her voice quavered with uncertainty, she said the words out loud in hopes the small statement could transform into reality. Over the last years, her spouse’s denigrating condescension eroded her sense of worth.
“Thank goodness! He’s edging deep into alcoholism. What if he won’t take action?”
“I will pack and leave,” Callie said, her voice coming out thin and reedy.
“Move out while he is teaching or better yet, call me to come down. I worry he will turn aggressive. Callie, your heart is sweet. You are loyal and steadfast. For this, you are going to need a core of iron, whether he changes or not. You endured the loss of your parents. You will survive this transition. Remember to look forward, not backward. If he does not become the man he should be, you are right to leave. You and Susannah deserve happiness."
“I know,” she whispered.
“You will always have a home here when you want and for as long as you want." He stopped speaking to let what he said sink in.
A little hope stole into her heart. He treated her more like his child than either of his two grown children from his first marriage.
"Now give me a hug and let’s enjoy these next two days. Sassy is taking you and Susannah off to a fancy spa up in Portland, followed by lunch and shopping. I’m going to meet you all for dinner. Tomorrow I want to tour the winery with you and talk about a few changes here.”
She went to hug him. Even though unhappiness and tension might dominate her life, she was grateful for her Uncle Rick and Aunt Sassy. She prayed she could have them for a long time. Even through his grief at the loss of his brother, he comforted her during those black days after the death of her parents. They had been mowed down in an automobile accident by a tractor trailer on I5 south as they drove home from a weekend in Seattle. She still remembered his face when he took the call and how he walked over to tell her that her parents were no more. Tears welled in her eyes, and she gave him an extra squeeze.
Mathew expected to enjoy the upcoming the Sunday lunch get-together at their neighbors, Rick and Sassy Lindquist. The party would have the bonus of seeing their niece, Callie. While his knowledge of her was limited, he approved of her eye-catching allure, her honest gaze and what he understood of her character. Whenever he thought about a woman to share his life, Callie floated into his mind. Callie, short for the Greek ‘Calista”, meant beautiful and in her distinctive way she was. Just too darn bad she was married and married to a drunken cad at that.
Pulling a cabled navy cotton sweater over his white oxford shirt, he smoothed down his jeans and slid on polished cordovan tassel loafers, hoping not to appear too informal. He walked upstairs to find Ivy ready to go and wearing denim slacks with a whisper of pink silk blouse. Even when working on the vines or in her gardens, Ivy retained her femininity. Steve came out in a pair of twill pants with a sharp crease and a crisp white and red striped shirt worn open at the throat. When he saw Ivy, his changeable fjord-blue eyes glowed with warmth. He smiled down at her and stopped to pull her close. Ivy tossed her keys to Mathew. The three of them departed through the conservatory, setting the alarm system as they went.
Once at the party they sipped Rick’s good pinot noir, sampled the hors d’oevres Callie and her daughter handed around and talked with the vintners and neighbors at the gathering. Mathew found himself turning and moving to see Callie and wandering over a few times to chat with her. She tended to speak in such a soft tone he inclined his head or took a step forward to be near enough to her to distinguish her words over the surrounding chatter. Closeness to Callie delighted him.
With Sassy serving platters of spicy fajitas and tacos on the clay-tiled portico at the front of the house, the lunch celebration became light and fun. Standing with Steve and Ivy after chowing down a big plateful, Mathew found himself watching Callie as she circulated through the group with a tray of champagne flutes for a toast to summer.
Her husband stood nearby and following Mathew’s gaze, John Henry said, “She’s not the temptress you might envision.”
“Pardon me?” Mathew asked not believing he heard the man correctly.
“I said, my wife is not the temptress you might envision. Not very sensual and not at all venturesome,” he said with a sneer.
“Your comments are unwelcome and inappropriate.” Without thinking, Mathew squared himself for a confrontation.
Rick spun around. “John Henry, put down your glass and take a long walk in the fresh air.”
Without even a glance at Rick, Callie’s husband said in the loud voice of a man whose alcohol levels exceeded his sense, “You might think those long legs of hers would make her a sex goddess, however she fails to inspire, but someone like you might prefer her languid disinterest. Why don’t you give her a try?”
While not a man to suffer from fits of temper, John Henry’s remarks caused a response so intense Mathew’s reactions took control. Unaccustomed wrath surged through him at the insults to Callie.
Time slowed. He stepped forward and transferred his glass from his right hand to his left. His knuckles clenched. His right arm rose to arc through the air until it hit John Henry’s jaw. When his fist landed, John Henry’s face registered surprise. His head moved backward, followed by his shoulders, his torso, his hips and his legs, and then he fell kerplunk on a sturdy wooden chair, bouncing off the arm and into the seat where he sat stunned.
Mathew’s arm dropped to his side, as he regarded John Henry with a mixture of satisfaction and horror. He belted the prick of a man with a robust right hook. A little blood trickled from the corner of John Henry’s mouth.
Time sped up again. Steve jumped in front of Mathew, locking his arms to his sides. Rick grabbed John Henry, pulled him to his feet and hustled him into the house. Steve remained with Mathew, regarding him sternly yet with respect when he said. “I think you should let Ivy drive us home. Give an apology to Sassy on our way out.”
As they left, Mathew glanced back over his shoulder at Callie as she hastened after Rick and John Henry. When she peeked over at him with a worried expression, a little smile curved the corners of her refined lips. No matter what the man said, Mathew was disappointed in himself that his rage over the insults to Callie overtook his judgment. Why did she stay with the man? A sweet, feminine woman like Callie should be loved and protected, not disparaged.
Three hours later back at Spook Hills, the kitchen overflowed with the tang of the homemade meatballs and spaghetti sauce Ivy simmered in the kitchen. Scenting the air with an earthy essence, the fragrance of basil, thyme and oregano floated through to the living room where Steve and Mathew hovered over a game of Scrabble. The rat-tat-tat of the heavy brass doorknocker interrupted their concentration. Since they expected Lenny to join them that evening, opening the door to discover Sassy and Rick startled Mathew.
“I am sorry,” he said shamefacedly.
“Don’t be. I wanted to belt the guy myself today and many times before,” Rick said giving Mathew a little mock tap on the jaw. “Pompous, drunken professor. I crammed his stuff in his suitcase and put him on a plane back to San Francisco. He is not welcome at our home unless he sobers up, apologizes to us and treats Callie right. Little hope of his becoming a decent man.”
“Is Callie upset?” Mathew asked.
“About you? Don’t think so. She may drop by with Susannah. She gave John Henry an ultimatum to check into rehab and to seek counseling. She’s to go back in a week to check on him.”
“I’m not a man prone to irascibility. The punch came out of I don’t know where,” Mathew said shaking his head at himself, still puzzled by his uncharacteristic behavior.
Sassy reached up, kissed him on the cheek and whispered. “It came from your heart, making it lovely to see.”
They turned into the living room when Steve called out, “Hey look who’s here! Entertaining get-together today. We enjoyed the food, wine and company even with our bit of drama.”
“The drama made the festivities extraordinary to us!” Rick said with a satisfied grin as he turned and clapped Mathew on the shoulder.
Ivy came in from the kitchen, inviting them all to stay for dinner as she wiped her hands on her bright red apron. Mathew reveled in the easy way they bantered with each other. His spirits lifted further when Callie arrived with Susannah about a half hour later. Callie’s face showed strain, nevertheless like her aunt, she kissed Mathew on the cheek and whispered soft words of appreciation. Right afterward Lenny walked up from where he lived in a trailer near the barn.
Overhearing that Lenny liked to play backgammon, Susannah led him to a small drop-leaf cherry table by the window set up with a leather games board. The late afternoon sun streamed in over them, but the fresh breezes flowing through the house kept the air comfortable. Susannah seemed to trust Lenny innately as the two of them became engrossed in their game. Her little nine-year-old brow furrowed in a cute way as she assessed a move. Crusty and grizzled as an old bear, Lenny sat across from her more pleased than Mathew had ever seen him.
Shortly before seven Ivy came out of the kitchen, “Mathew, will you take the dogs out for a walk? They finished their suppers.”
“I’ll help,” Callie said jumping up to go with him. “What are their names?
“Cleo and Harry.”
They walked out to head up to the little walnut grove where Steve scheduled the contractor to begin work on the treehouse he designed for Ivy. On either side of the grassy path, the neatly planted rows of grape vines bowed almost sensually along the contours of the hilly landscape. Down below, the vines established the previous year grew much larger than the new ones. Each row and each plant made Mathew proud.