Long Time Gone(3)

By: Meg Benjamin


The good news was that the truck was ahead of schedule, which meant they could start the crush a few days early, according to Ciro. The bad news was, well, it was freakin’ three in the morning and she had to stay down there until all the grapes were unloaded.

She’d spent the rest of the day helping Ciro and Esteban run the destemmer and the crusher, draining the juice and pulp off into the holding tank. At least it was a cabernet franc so they didn’t have to filter off the skins, as they did with the viognier.

Over the course of the past year, she’d discovered that white wine was a total nightmare.

Next week they’d have to start picking the sauvignon blanc grapes in their own vineyard, even though it was early, because the heat had made the grapes ripen before her father and Ciro had originally figured they would. And Dad was pissed because he wouldn’t be there to oversee the crush. And Ciro was pissed because he hated using volunteer pickers. And Morgan promised herself she’d find something to be pissed about too, as soon as she got a spare millisecond.

Actually, she could always be pissed about the way her existence had been gobbled up by Cedar Creek Winery. It had all seemed so simple when she’d agreed to take over for Dad after his accident. She’d go to the winery, learn what she needed to learn about wine production and put together a marketing plan on the side. And when she was through with all that, she’d start making plans to get the winery the recognition it deserved.

Simple. Right. And Hurricane Rita was a bad rainstorm. She probably shouldn’t be wasting time in the Dew Drop instead of reviewing the barrel room records, but she wanted to at least pretend she had a social life.

If she could just hold everything together until next weekend, maybe Dad… Morgan felt her head droop. Just five minutes. She’d put her head down on the table for five minutes and then she’d be good to go. Power-napping. The mark of a successful businesswoman. And she was a successful…business…woman…

“Morgan.” Someone shook her shoulder, gently. “Morgan, honey.”

“Mom?” Morgan murmured. And then felt like a moron. She was seated in the Dew Drop Inn in downtown Konigsburg. Her mother had better taste.

“Morgan?” Allie Maldonado gave her a slightly concerned look, eyebrows raised. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” Morgan groaned, pushing her hair out of her eyes. Just five minutes of sleep. That’s all she needed, honestly.

A man across the room scowled at her.

She blinked. What had she done now? Was putting your head down on a table to grab five minutes of shut-eye some kind of honky-tonk faux pas? Had she violated the health code, assuming the Dew Drop had a health code to violate?

The man turned away quickly. She had an impression of dark hair and eyes, broad shoulders, a face that looked like he’d lived through a lot, not all of it pleasant.

“Who’s that?” Morgan turned to Allie. Allie always knew everything. Except that Allie was slightly distracted these days. Not that Morgan blamed her. Trying to arrange a wedding to Wonder Dentist would try anybody’s patience.

Allie looked up from Wonder briefly and checked the booth at the far end of the room. “Toleffsons. All four of them. Did you have a particular one in mind?”

“Oh. I couldn’t see that far.” Morgan leaned back against the booth, trying to get another look at the men across the room without being too obvious about it. “Which one is the one on the end?”

“Erik.” Allie took a swallow of wine. “The cop. You might not have seen him as much as the others. He’s always working. They all look alike, though, more or less.”

Morgan narrowed her eyes, surreptitiously studying the back of Erik Toleffson’s head. “Maybe. He doesn’t look much like Cal, though. He needs to smile.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Wonder set down his bottle of beer. “When Erik smiles it means he’s getting ready to tear somebody a new one. Scariest sucker I’ve ever known.”

Allie grinned and put her hand over his on the table. “You’re such a poetic SOB. Tell them to join us. I need to give Cal a message for Docia.”

Wonder grimaced, pushing himself to his feet. “Okay, but if the Toleffsons are joining us, we’re getting a table. I’m not letting those elephants scrunch me up against the wall again.”





Wonder Dentist was one of the least formidable-looking men Erik had ever met. He stood maybe five-eight, with a slightly concave chest, horn-rims and thinning hair. Combined with his habitually smart-assed personality, he was not someone Erik would consider a great catch. Yet he’d somehow managed to snare one of the best cooks in town for his bride-to-be. Just another example of how the universe didn’t always play fair.

Cal and Lars pulled a couple of tables together, while he helped Pete corral chairs, ignoring Ingstrom’s scowl as they rearranged his floor space.

“Have a seat, Erik. There’s room over here beside us.” Allie Maldonado put a hand on the shoulder of the woman next to her, Ms. Bambi-Eyes.

A set-up? Allie Maldonado actually thought he was worthy of a setup? Erik almost felt like shaking his head to clear it. Nobody wanted to hook up with him.

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