Standing in the newly opened New York offices of Vanderheiden, Inc., a handsome man in his mid-twenties stood staring out over New York Bay toward the Hudson River from the eighth floor window.

 

“Sir, is the suite I booked at The Plaza working out for you?  I plan to let them know you’ll be there indefinitely while you decide where you want to live,” his secretary announced as she entered the office.  “I’ve also notified the limousine company that you’ll retain the driver.”

 

Turning, the man ran a hand along the top of his new office chair.  “You’ve done a wonderful job getting everything set up for me, Ingrid,” he complimented her.  “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have you come to New York with me,” he smiled.  “Not only were you my mother’s and my aunt’s best friend but you have been like a mother to me since we met.  I think a better question is, do you like your suite at The Plaza?  Are you doing all right?”

 

Ingrid crossed the room to hug him gently.  Resting her grey-blonde head on his shoulder, she chided, “Yes, I do and I am.  Do you think I’d ever let you go once I found you?  You mean the world to me.”  Lifting her head, she searched his solemn face.  “You are the best of both your parents.  They would have been so proud of you.”

 

Leaning down to kiss her gently on the cheek, he answered quietly, “I hope so.  I miss them every day.”

 

“I know you do, mijn jongen, but they truly would be proud.  Not only did you finish university by the time you were nineteen but it’s unbelievable that in such a short amount of time, that you, your cousin and Hans have taken the family business and grown it into a world-wide company,” she reminded him kindly.  “I never imagined how quickly the expansion could happen.”

 

Stepping away, he loosened his tie before sitting at his desk and rolling up his sleeves.  “Well, Ingrid, if we’re going to stay in business we need to get back to work,” he said with a wink, as he opened his laptop.  “Let’s get started.”

 

 

Twenty-three-year-old Trixie Belden blew the wayward curl out of her eyes as she carefully balanced the tray of glasses she carried toward the bar of The Black Lion.

 

It’s gonna be one of those nights,” groaned her friend, Honey Wheeler, keying an order into the computer on the bar with one hand while she adjusted her off-shoulder wench’s blouse with the other.

 

“How so?” Trixie asked, setting the tray down and unloading the glasses into the racks on the bar.

 

“Well,” Honey sighed.  “There’s a whole table full of octopus-like frat boys at the big table in the corner plus the four women who are either hookers or dressed like them in the other corner.”

 

“I agree about the tacky attire,” Di Lynch chimed in, as she approached the bar to take her turn at the computer.  “Those women are dressed in do-me shoes, tube tops and what looks like tube bottoms, too.”  Rolling her eyes, she added, “And the bottoms barely cover the necessities.”

 

“Ewwww.  You can keep them in your section,” Honey advised.  “I don’t want to see that.  Especially, that one in the pink.  I can’t believe they actually make clothes in that shade.”

 

Trixie giggled as she placed the last glass on the shelf, and then turned to start filling the drink orders that appeared on her computer screen behind the bar.  Drawing a mug of beer from the tap, she commented, “Maybe they’re not clothes but really wide rubberbands.”  Giggling harder, she continued, “Toss in the three cowboy wannabes at the end of the bar, the biker dudes by the jukebox, the firefighters and cops filling all the other open tables and then have them all vying for the hookers or that table of nurses and you have a volatile mix.  Put it all together and it spells….”

 

“Bar fight!” the trio chorused, giggling again.

 

“Why are we working in a bar again?” Honey asked rhetorically, setting the mugs of beer Trixie had filled on her tray.

 

“I believe the original answer was, so we can have the complete college experience,” Di answered with a smirk.  Changing the pitch of her voice to sound more like Trixie, she continued, “I need to work to help pay for college expenses and I’m tired of retail.  If I work in the pub, I can make more money and, if you two don’t work with me, we’ll never see each other.  Besides, it’s close to the hospital so Honey can see Brian and it’s near the newspaper so Di can see my almost-twin, Mart.”

 

Laughing, Honey picked up the tray to deliver them to the frat boys.  “Oh yeah, that was it.”

 

Trixie stuck her tongue out at Di while she placed the four bar drinks on her friend’s tray.  “You mock me but you know that you enjoyed working here for Charlie Kettner during the summers while you were in college.  We had a blast with him but that micro-brewery, The Brewing Company, where we worked during college, wasn’t near as fun.  And, if I wouldn’t have volunteered to fill in for Ruthie, then she and Spider wouldn’t have had a honeymoon.  Charlie is way too old to be running the bar by himself, especially after that last heart attack.  I really appreciate you both helping out when their regular girls got sick and we got short-handed.”

 

“It can be fun,” Di smiled.  “It’s still not quite as ‘Coyote Ugly’ as I thought it would be.  I’m disappointed that Ruthie and Spider won’t allow us to sing and dance on the bar but I wish he was here.  It wouldn’t get quite as rowdy if he was,” she finished, before hoisting her tray to deliver a new round to the hooker-esque women.

 

“Hey, I’m a cop, too!” Trixie objected good-humoredly, grinning as she filled three mugs of beer for the cowboys.  Just another five days, she mused.  Then it will be back to the normal grind in the SPD lab for me.  Honey can get back to the library and Di can start on setting up the special holiday exhibit at the Sleepyside Museum. 

 

A small frown marred her pretty elfin face for a moment as she thought of the events that had steered her to her chosen degree of forensic science.  The events so long ago that made her want to use clues to protect the innocent and skewer the guilty.

 

It was the summer of her thirteenth birthday.  She had just met Honey Wheeler when she moved in next door to the Belden’s home, Crabapple Farm.  Trixie and Honey had become fast friends.  While out exploring around the home of a hospitalized neighbor, the girls had discovered the runaway great-nephew of the owner of Ten Acres sleeping on a dirty mattress in the old miser’s house and introduced themselves to each other while looking down the barrel of a shotgun. 

 

Jim Frayne explained that he had run away from his evil step-father, Carl Jones.  Jonesy!  He was the epitome of all that is evil.  He’d physically and mentally tortured Jim with beatings and telling him that his parents died to get away from their worthless son. 

 

Old Mr. Frayne died and Jonesy had showed up to claim Jim’s inheritance causing Jim to run away again, leaving behind the only friends he’d had in years.

 

Trixie and Honey had solicited help from their parents and tried to find Jim.  They even went upstate to look for him at the camps and other likely places he could have found work.

 

Time passed with no word from or about Jim.  But even after ten years, Trixie had never forgotten the most wonderful boy she had ever met.

 

Jim.  Oh, Jim, where did you go?

 

 

Finishing his day, the man called Ingrid on the intercom.  “Hallo, moeder van mijn hart.  It’s time for you to be done for the day.”

 

“But,” she began.

 

“No buts,” he interrupted gently.  “You’ve been working twelve to fifteen hour days for the past two weeks.  I want you to go to the hotel, eat dinner and then take a long luxurious bubble bath.”

 

“I’m fine,” she started again.

 

“And I want to keep you that way,” he admonished.  “Now go,” he ordered as he closed down the business summary spreadsheet he had just finished.  “I have about an hour or so of research to do and then I’ll be right behind you.  I’ll call Lester to pick me up in the limo when I’m done.”

 

“Well, if you’re sure,” Ingrid said, relenting.

 

“I’m sure,” he confirmed, opening the laptop’s search browser.  “Goodnight, Ingrid.”

 

“Welterusten, mijn jongen,” she replied.  “Ik hou van je,” she said softly.

 

“Ik hou ook van jou,” he answered, quietly, and then hung up the phone.  Closing his eyes, he sighed and took several deep breaths.  His eyes flashed open, as he pulled the keyboard near and moved to sit closer to the desk.  “It’s time,” he whispered.  “Time for me to find you again.”

 

His fingers flew over the keyboard as he typed into the search engine and hit ‘enter’.  The screen quickly filled with information about Beatrix Belden of Sleepyside, New York.

 

 

The next day, a very tired Trixie walked into The Black Lion after working nine hours in the lab of the Sleepyside Police Department.  Rolling her shoulders, she noticed that the pub was full and the boisterous crowd was cheering and yelling at the TVs circling the room showing the NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament.

 

“You’re late,” Honey groused, walking by with a tray full of dirty glasses and empty dinner plates.

 

Trixie followed her friend to the kitchen and employee area.  “I know,” she murmured.  “It was a long and horrible day,” she sighed.  “We made an arrest in the Laura Ramsey and Paul Trent murders,” she explained, rubbing a hand around her neck.

 

“Really?” Di asked, joining her two friends in time to see Trixie slip into the employee restroom to change into her uniform.

 

Scraping her unruly curly hair into a hap-hazard ponytail, Trixie splashed and washed her face before she answered.  “Yup,” she frowned.  “We found DNA evidence on the body and at the scene.”  Grabbing a towel, she patted her face dry.

 

“Who’d you arrest?” Honey asked curiously, taking Trixie’s wench blouse off the hanger by the door and dangling it on a finger through the open doorway.

 

Trixie removed the long-sleeved t-shirt she’d worn to work that morning and exchanged it with Honey for the blouse.  “You’ll never believe it.”  Sighing loudly, she pulled the blouse on over her head.  When her head appeared out of the neck opening, her eyes locked onto Honey’s.  Trixie’s normally sparkling blue eyes were tinged with a haunted sadness. 

 

“Carl Jones.”

 

“Jonesy!” Honey exclaimed, hazel eyes wide.  “I never knew he was still around,” she said with a shiver.  “That man has the most evil eyes.”

 

“Had,” Trixie corrected quietly, releasing her hair and brushing it out.  “He made a dive at Nick Robert’s younger brother, Mark, who’s a rookie at SPD.  Jonesy knocked him down while taking his gun and then pointed it at the Chief and pulled the trigger.  He wasn’t ready for the kick of the gun, so he just winged Chief Molinson.  One of the other officers on scene, W-two, shot Jones.   Point blank.” 

 

“Oh my,” Honey whispered, placing a hand over her mouth.

 

“Is the Chief OK?  And isn’t Carl Jones the man who was so evil to that boy Jim that you guys told me about?” Di asked.

 

“Yeah, the Chief is fine.  Basically it was just a flesh wound.  Tad is shaky and on administrative leave until the IA review of the shooting is done,” Trixie explained, hanging up her t-shirt.  Glancing back at Di, she saw the confusion on her face.  “IA is internal affairs.  The people who police the police.” 

 

Di’s violet eyes darkened and a raven’s wing black brow rose questioningly. 

 

“OK, OK.  Yes, Jonesy was the bastard who beat and tortured Jim Frayne,” Trixie relented with a blush darkening her cheeks.  She blinked her eyes up to stare at her two best friends who she knew would soon be her sisters-in-law.  Defiantly she said, “And I admit that I’m glad Jonesy is dead.”

 

“Me, too,” Honey said fiercely.  “I just wish someone would have taken care of him before he met Jim’s mother.”

 

“I know you both wonder what happened to Jim,” Di acknowledged.  “It just doesn’t seem possible that you can’t Google him and find anything since that summer.”

 

“I know,” Honey agreed.  “Daddy even hired a private investigator to look for Jim but it was like he disappeared off the face of the earth.  He checked with George Rainsford, old Mr. Frayne’s lawyer, for several months, too.”  Her sad eyes blinked back tears.  “I wish we knew what happened to him.”

 

“So do I,” Trixie whispered, walking past her friends on the way to the bar.

 

 

Placing his briefcase and jacket on the seat beside him, the man settled back into the limo and sighed as he closed his eyes.

 

“Where to, sir?” asked the limo driver, Lester Mundy.

 

Opening his eyes, the man looked at the gray eyes of the driver in the mirror.  “I’d like to go for a bit of a drive and then get a burger and beer before heading back to the hotel,” he answered.  “Do you know how to get to Sleepyside?”

 

Lester grinned as he started the limo.  “Yes, sir, I do.  I grew up in Sleepyside,” he said proudly.  “Is there any place special you want to see?”

 

His passenger ran a hand over his face and then back through his deep auburn hair.  “I’d like to see the estates on Glen Road.  After that, you can take me to a bar or pub where I can get a big burger and beer.”

 

Pulling the limo out into traffic, Lester nodded and replied, “I know just the place.  You just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

 

 

The Black Lion was loud and rowdy as the evening patrons came in to enjoy a beer and watch the basketball games.

 

Trixie tended the busy bar as her two friends and the other two waitresses took care of the pub full of customers.

 

“Hey, Trixie, lemme have a cola.”

 

Turning from refilling the garnish tray at the waitress station, Trixie smiled at her friend.  “Hey, Lester.  You must be working tonight.”

 

“Yeah, I am,” he grinned.  “I have a contract with a new outfit called Vander something or other.  They just opened a new U.S. corporate office down in the city.  I’ll be driving them for at least a month,” he informed her.

 

“That’s great news,” Trixie enthused, placing a cola in front of him on the bar.  “Where’s your passenger?” she asked looking past him across the crowded bar.

 

“He’s in here somewhere,” Lester replied, looking around for his passenger’s red head.  “He’s got red hair so you think I’d be able to see him.”

 

Trixie giggled as she turned to pull two beer mugs out of the cooler.  “You can’t turn around in Sleepyside anymore without tripping over a redhead, Lester,” she reminded him.  “It’s become a popular color here in the past ten years.”

 

“The Manor House has certainly seen to that,” he agreed with a chuckle.  “When is Joan and Regan’s baby due?” he asked, taking a long drink of cola.

 

“Around May 1,” she said, smiling.  “I may end up with someone to share my birthday with yet.”

 

“That would be swell,” he agreed, glancing at his watch before pulling a few dollars out of his pocket.  “Speaking of babies, I’ve got an hour before I need to pick up my client out front, so I think I’ll run home and help Loyola get the kids in bed.”  As Lester handed Trixie the money, he squeezed her hand.  “See ya later, Trixie.”

 

“Take care, Lester,” she said, ringing up the drink and putting the change in the tip jar on the bar.

 

 

The man sat staring at the front page of the evening edition of The Sleepyside Sun.  His face was pale under his tan and his green eyes glittered darkly with hatred as he read the headline, “Carl Jones Arrested and Killed!”, and the accompanying story.

 

Carl Jones was arrested then killed in an escape attempt this afternoon by the Sleepyside Police Department.  Jones, 52, was arrested this morning for the brutal murders of Laura Ramsey, 26, and Paul Trent, 27, on February 14th.  He and Ramsey had been living together in a small house on Oak Street near Hawthorne.  On February 14th, he called 911 emergency dispatch and reported he had come home from work at Olyfant’s Pawn to celebrate Valentine’s with Ramsey only to discover her dead and Trent’s body nearby.  Ramsey was shot in the heart.  Trent was shot in the back and the back of the head.

 

Evidence from the murder scene provided solid proof that Jones was the murderer according to the Sleepyside Police Department’s Forensics Unit.  Police arrived at Jones’ home this morning with an arrest warrant.  As officers moved to handcuff Jones, he knocked down and took the handgun from a rookie officer before aiming and firing at the chief of Police, Wendell Molinson.  Officer Tad Webster returned fire, killing Jones at the scene.  Chief Molinson was treated and released from Sleepyside General Hospital.  Officer Webster has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting by the State Police.

 

Jim Frayne slumped against the back of the booth as the news hit him.  For ten long years, he’d remained hidden from Jonesy.  First, by leaving the only friends he’d had in years, Trixie and Honey, in Sleepyside.  Then, he’d worked his way across the ocean on a freighter to Holland, where he’d found his cousin, Juliana Maadsen, and her fiancé, Hans Vorwald plus Ingrid Vorwald Vanderheiden. 

 

Ingrid was Hans’ aunt, as well as Jim’s and Juliana’s by marriage.  She had been married to Dirk Vanderheiden who was Katie’s brother.  Dirk had drowned with Juliana’s parents, Bettje and Pieter Maadsen, when their car had gone off the road into a canal.  Ingrid had raised Juliana from the time she was ten and kept the family shipping business, Vanderheiden, Inc. operating.  When Jim arrived in The Hague, she took him into her home and heart.  She encouraged him to talk about his life and the events following his father’s and mother’s deaths.  Provided counseling, education, trained him and Juliana in business but, most importantly, she gave him the love, affection and family he had been missing. 

 

When he reached eighteen, George Rainsford had advertised in The Hague’s newspaper searching for him.  Jim had claimed his inheritance and home that Rainsford had taken care of for him.  It was a now a large fortune, since Rainsford had invested the money for him.  He’d also kept up the taxes on Ten Acres.

 

Around the time he reached twenty, Ingrid has stepped aside at the company and turned over operation of it to Jim, Juliana and Hans.  The expansion into the U.S. allowed Jim to return to New York and reclaim his home and life.

 

Now that Jonesy is dead, I am completely free, he thought.  I need to find Trixie.  I need to find her and Honey to let them know what happened with me.  I need a plan to meet them again.

 

Glancing at the bar, he watched the petite curly-haired blonde bartender as she stepped up on a stool to reach a bottle of Jamaican rum from a high shelf.  I wonder what Trixie looks like now.  Is she as sexy as that bartender is?  Turning back to the paper, Jim folded it and pushed it to one side of the table before picking up his beer.  Frowning, he thought, I wonder if she’s married.  I hope not.  Will she remember me?  

 

 

Di approached the handsome redhead sitting alone in the corner booth.  Now him being alone is a waste of man, she thought, quirking a dark brow.  I’d deny it if asked but, damn, he’s hot.  I wonder if Trixie could be interested in him.  She never dates because she’s hung up on a memory.  I bet if she saw this one.  Broad shoulders, muscled arms, flat stomach and handsome face.  Yum! 

 

A smile played across her face as she picked up the empty plate that had held his burger and fries.  “Do you want another beer?” she asked.

 

Startled, the man looked at her with those emerald eyes and a distracted smile.

 

Whoa!  If I weren’t in love with Mart…yum!  I gotta get Trixie to meet this guy.

 

“No, thanks,” he replied in a voice that sounded like every woman’s dream.  “Just the check.”

 

Pulling the tab out of her order book, Di placed it on the table, stating, “You’ll pay me when you’re ready.”  Turning to a nearby table, she began collecting the empty glasses and plates, placing them on her tray.

 

As she worked, the man pulled several bills from his pocket to cover the check and handed it all to Di.

 

“I’ll get your change,” she began.

 

“I’m fine,” he replied.

 

“Thanks.”  Di smiled brightly at the customer as she lifted her tray and headed for the kitchen. 

 

 

Exiting the kitchen a few minutes later, Di hurried to the bar where Honey was waiting for a drink order from Trixie.  “Hey! Did you two see that fine hunk of a redhead in the corner?” she asked with a pointed look at the booth.

 

“A redhead?  In Sleepyside?” Trixie teased, drawing a beer from the tap.  “Where?”

 

“In the corner by the…” Di began.  “Drat!  He’s not there anymore.”  Glancing around the bar, she pointed excitedly toward the exit.  “There!  He’s going out the door.”

 

Trixie’s and Honey’s eyes look in the direction their friend pointed in time to see a tall redheaded man walking out the door of the bar.  His strong broad shoulders and narrow hips were drool-worthy but he never turned so they never got to see his face.

 

“Well, shoot!” Honey exclaimed.  “I agree on the hunk, from the back he looked hot.”

 

“You should have seen him from the front,” Di advised, waggling her brows.  “Deep emerald eyes, that auburn red hair and handsome.”

 

Giggling, Trixie commented, “You both act like there has never been a redhead in Sleepyside when we see Honey’s dad and Regan all the time.  Plus, there will be baby Regan soon and Honey’s grandpa comes to visit.”

 

Laughing, the trio returned to work.  As her friends moved away to deliver the drink orders, Trixie glanced toward the exit.  Jim had red hair.  I wish he was one of the Sleepyside redheads.  A deep sigh escaped as she moved down the bar to the two businessmen who had just sat down.  “Can I get you something?”

 

 

The next two days were extremely busy for Jim and Ingrid as they met and proposed business deals with CEO’s of several companies.  On Saturday, two days after he’d been to Sleepyside, Jim awoke determined to finally see Trixie and get a better look at his property, Ten Acres.

 

Requesting a private car from the car service be ready for him in an hour, Jim showered and dressed in warm clothes.  The dark green thermal shirt, jeans and boots would protect him as he walked around the property.  He also felt more comfortable in them which would help with his nervousness in meeting Trixie again.  As he finished his second cup of coffee, he was joined by Ingrid. 

 

“Where are you going today, mijn jongen?”

 

Standing, Jim picked up his coat and then stopped to kiss her cheek.  “To find my destiny, Aunt Ingrid.”

 

“Good luck, dear,” she replied, tears sparkling in her eyes.  “I hope you find your Trixie,” she whispered, as his long strides took him out the door.

 

 

Walking through the lobby of the Plaza, the tall redhead wearing flannel looked out of place, but it was obvious to anyone who saw him, he was comfortable with the opulence that surrounded him.  The concierge came up to him to inform him that his car had arrived.  Jim was surprised to see his limo driver, Lester, waiting beside a new shiny-black Range Rover.

 

“Here you go, Mr. Frayne,” Lester said holding out the key fob.  “I wanted to drive her over to you.  She’s brand new, and to be honest, I wanted to see how she’d handle.”

 

Smiling, Jim took the key and said, “Just Jim please, Lester.  This key is huge.”

 

“I know and you have to make sure the sensors register it to unlock the car, but man the supercharged 5.0-liter V8…you are gonna love it,” Lester gushed, opened the car door and stepped back.  He leaned inside and gestured.  “Pretty standard, you’ve got satellite radio, voice command, Bluetooth and GPS.”

 

“Thanks, Lester.  ‘She’s’ beautiful.  I’ve got your number if I get in trouble.” Jim sat down and adjusted the seat for his longer legs.  “I don’t think I’ll need the GPS this trip.  I’m just heading to Sleepyside and I think I remember the way.  But, then again, I’ll probably use the GPS just in case.  I don’t want to miss the turn to get to Glen Road.”

 

“Why Glen Road?  Didn’t see much there the other night.” 

 

“There’s some property out there I need to check out.”  Jim secured his seat belt and adjusted the mirrors. 

 

Lester, a puzzled look on his face, thought through the houses and property on Glen Road. “I didn’t know there was property for sale out there.”

 

A crooked smile of triumph, one his business adversaries detested, widened across his face.  “There’s not.  I already own it.  It was my great uncle’s, a place called Ten Acres.”

 

“You’re kidding me?  What a small world.  We always called that place the Miser’s Mansion,” Lester said.

 

“I heard my uncle was a bit eccentric before he died.”

 

Lester nodded.  “Total Howard Hughes.  In fact, if I remember correctly, one of his obscure relatives would run into trouble with the police from time to time, digging around the place.  He swore there was treasure buried.  He was a real shady character.  Got shot recently.  It was in all the papers.”

 

“Think I read about that.  It is a small world.  Well, I better get going.  Thanks for the car,” Jim said, closing the door and rolling the window down. 

 

“Drive carefully; let me know if you need anything,” Lester instructed, patting the side of the SUV.

 

“Will do,” Jim said, starting to pull out onto 5th Avenue.  Stopping, he leaned out the window and called, “Lester, you happen to know a Trixie Belden?”

 

“Yeah, I went to high school the whole Belden gang.  Great family with strong roots in Sleepyside.  Rumor has it, there’s gonna be an engagement any day.”

 

Jim’s heart sank.  She was in a relationship.  Well what did you expect?  It’s been ten years.  Was she supposed to wait for you forever?  “Wow, that’s great.  She was a nice girl when I knew her.”

 

“Stop by the Black Lion.  Diana, Honey and Trix have been taking care of the place while the owner’s away.”

 

Jim waved and called out, “Thanks again, Lester.”

 

 

The drive to Sleepyside was quick as Jim traveled both literally and figuratively down memory lane.  The long winding country roads that seemed to take forever to walk down went by in the blink of an eye behind the wheel. 

 

Turning onto Glen Road, Jim slowed down as he passed Lytell’s Store, remembering that long ago summer day when the shopkeeper had mistaken him for Matt Wheeler’s son.  A flush of embarrassment crept up his neck as he recalled his discomfort at the mistaken identity that he didn’t correct.  Even the smallest amount of dishonesty bothered him. 

 

The driveway to Ten Acres was well tended, but a chain was across the end.  Jim put the SUV in park and detached the chain, gathered it together and coiled it on the side of the driveway.  Surprised at how well tended the grounds were, Jim made a mental note to contact Mr. Rainsford and thank him for making sure the property was taken care of.

 

Pulling to a stop beside the barn, Jim got out the car and looked around.  The house that had burned ten years ago had been so badly destroyed that Mr. Rainsford had the remaining structure torn down and the rubble removed.  The only thing remaining from the old Victorian mansion was a cement slab.  The stairwell to the cellar was covered with a padlocked metal door.

 

Looking around the property, he noted the barn was still standing and looked to be in good shape.  Also, the vines, wisteria and creeper had been cleared from the old summerhouse and it had been restored.  Jim was walking across the lawn to examine the interior when a movement near the tree line caught his attention.

 

There was a horse and rider crossing the lower pasture he knew belonged to the Manor House.  Jim watched as the woman guided the small black horse onto the bridle trail.  Her long blond hair trailed behind her in the wind.  He stood there watching the woods swallow the pair up, wishing that the rider would turn around and gallop up the hill and turn out to be Trixie.  But the rider did not turn around and the chances that it was Trixie were slim at best.

 

Shaking the old dreams away for now, Jim pulled his smartphone out and began to send emails to start the ball rolling on his new dreams.

 

 

He took several dozen pictures of the site, for the architects as well as the ascetic beauty of the property.   Turning around, he drank in the early spring beauty of fruit trees just beginning to leaf, the birds returning to nest, and the new growth sprouting everywhere.  Climbing into the Range Rover, he looked one last time at the bridle path, willing the horse and rider to emerge.  After a few seconds, he pushed the ignition and started the car down the driveway.  

 

Following his instincts, he turned left and traveled a short way down Glen Road and came to the long, winding driveway that led to the Manor House.  Impulsively, he turned in and drove past the well-trimmed hollyhocks, all the way to the white trimmed stables. 

 

The wide front doors were open.  As Jim was climbing out, a tall red head came out of the stables.  He was older, but Jim recognized him immediately.   Crossing to him, Jim stuck his hand out.  “Regan.  It’s good to see you again.”

 

Will Regan wiped his hands on a bandana.  Looking at the man in front of him, he cocked his head to the side and a wide smile broke out.  “Jim Frayne,” Regan said, gripping his hand tightly.  “It’s been a long time.  Good to see you.”

 

“I can’t believe you remember me.” 

 

Clapping him on the shoulder, Regan chuckled.  “You’re a pretty unforgettable figure around here.  Honey and Trixie went on and on about you for months after you left.  Every now and then you’re still a topic of conversation.  So, what have you been up to? The girls are going to be sorry they missed you.  Come on in, how about a cup of coffee?”

 

Speechless, Jim was led into the well-appointed and ruthlessly organized stables.   Stopping in front of the big black gelding, Jim reached out to stroke the velvety nose.  “Hey there, Jupiter.  Remember me?”

 

Jupiter snorted, bobbed his head up and down and pawed his bedding.  Regan held out an apple to Jim, who took it and palmed it for the beautiful horse.  When the apple had been gobbled down, he turned to the groom.  The smile on Jim’s face was priceless.  “If I wasn’t sure who you were before, I’d know for sure now.  You looked just like you did when we first met.  You have a bond with this guy, that’s for sure,” Regan said, patting Jupiter on the neck.  “Come on, coffee’s back here.”

 

The two of them went back into the office.  Jim was impressed to see the organization continued here.  As he glanced around, he noticed bloodline charts and evidence of a breeding program.  “So, what’s been happening around here?”  What he really wanted to ask was, where’s Trixie?  But, he thought it was better to slowly lead up to that.

 

Regan recounted the girl’s trip upstate to look for him and the disappointment that followed their failure.  He told Jim about the breeding program that he and Matt Wheeler had started three years ago.  Regan also told the young man about Honey and Trixie going to NYU with their third musketeer, Diana Lynch.

 

Seizing the opportunity, he asked, “So, what are the girls up to now?”

 

“Well, this could take a while.  Want more coffee?”

 

“Absolutely,” Jim said holding out the stoneware mug.

 

 

Trixie walked Susie into the stables.   Normally she would have shouted out that she’d returned from excising her favorite mare.  But hearing Regan talking in his office, she remained silent.  She knew Regan had been meeting with potential buyers and people interested in the foals due in a few weeks.  Proud of her restraint, she didn’t even turn on the radio.  She just clipped Susie to the grooming post and removed her saddle. 

 

With years of experience, she quickly and efficiently groomed the mare, brushing her to a glossy shine.   When she finished, Trixie put Susie into her stall, scooped her feed and made sure the automatic water was working.  Looking at her watch, she was surprised to see how late it was.  She would have to rush to get to the bar on time.  Going double time, she quickly buffed and cleaned the tack.  Knowing Regan would complain, because it was admittedly a shoddy job, she put the saddle away and hung the tack.  A she stopped for a second to give Susie a kiss on the nose, she heard the chairs in the office scrape as people stood up, their meeting over.  I don’t have the time to get chewed out now.  “See you Susie,” Trixie whispered, before she jogged out of the stabled and ran rapidly down the hill to pick up her car at Crabapple Farm.

 

 

“Great seeing you.  So glad we’re going to be neighbors.  Once I get everything settled at Ten Acres, I’m going to want to have you find me some friends to fill my stables,” Jim said, shaking hands with Regan.

 

“I can help you with both equine and feline.  Gotta have a barn cat,” he said, reaching out to scratch the cat that was asleep in a sunbeam on work table.   Noticing the saddle soap sponge was wet; he looked up and saw the small black mare sleeping in the corner of her stall.  “Looks like you missed Trixie.  I figured she’d give a shout when she came back from her ride.  Wonder why she didn’t, unlike her to be quiet.  She does have a lot on her mind, with all the excitement a few days ago.”

 

Damn, she did get engaged!  “I guess she must be thrilled.  My driver in the city happens to be from Sleepyside.  He was catching me up on events.  Lester told me things were getting exciting.”

 

“Trix has been waiting a long time.  But she deserves it.  Mark Roberts still looks green, but I guess that’s to be expected, too.” Regan walked out into the sunlight and crossed to the Range Rover.  “Don’t stay away ten years again.”

 

Smiling wryly, Jim replied, “I’ll sure try not to.”  Well, hell.  I don’t want to live in a small town and watch Trixie and Mark all lovey-dovey.  “I’ll be in touch.  Thanks for the coffee.  Tell Honey I said hi.”   He turned the car around and was heading down the driveway, seriously considering driving down Glen Road and continuing to the interstate.

 

Having an argument with himself, the fierce businessman won and he sent the shy teenager away.  He made his way to The Black Lion as he pumped himself up.  “You are the Chairman of the Board of a multi-national, multi-million dollar company.  You graduated in the top one-percent of your class from the University of Amsterdam.  Hell, Princess Eugenia groped you last month.  You are a catch James Winthrop Frayne.” 

 

Parking outside of the tavern, he found himself glancing in the mirror.  Shaking his head at his own narcissism, he climbed from the car, took a deep cleansing breath and walked inside.  It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkened interior.   As he was waiting at the hostess stand, he noticed the seats at the bar were full, but most of the restaurant was empty.  The lone waitress was behind the bar, when she looked up, Jim gestured that he was going to take a seat.  She smiled a megawatt smile and nodded at him.

 

Grabbing a menu, he sat down in the corner booth.  Reading the food choices, he made his selections and waited for the harried waitress to arrive.  Pulling his smartphone from his pocket, he reviewed the pictures he’d taken that afternoon.

 

Diana was steaming.  Trixie being late was to be expected.  She was often a few minutes late.  But Honey was never, ever late.  She was busy building a Guinness when the good looking hunky red-head from Wednesday night entered the bar.  After making sure the patrons at the bar were satisfied for a few minutes, she picked up the foamy dark beer and a glass of water and went to greet the handsome hunk.  “Welcome back to the Black Lion.  Thanks for seating yourself.  That’s not normal for us; I seem to be a bit by myself at the moment.   I brought you a pint, on me.  What can I get you tonight?”

 

Jim couldn’t help but smile at the pretty dark haired waitress and he was just about to give his order when the door jingled and a huge crowd walked in.  As the young woman literally groaned, Jim took pity on her.  “I just want the Black Lion Burger, medium rare, fries on the side.”

 

“I am so sorry.  We’re not…” Diana was apologizing again when the door jingled and a voice shouted out from behind the group of basketball players.

 

“Di!  I’m sorry.  Be right out!”

 

“Sounds like the cavalry has arrived,” Jim laughed.  “Take your time.  I’m not in a rush”

 

“I think I love you!  The Sleepyside Basketball League picks today to come here.  Why didn’t they pick Wimpy’s?”  Di moaned.

 

“If I had to guess, you serve beer.  I suspect you’ll fall out of love with me once you’re not so busy.  I’m been told I’m a rotten canasta player,” Jim teased.

 

Putting her hands on her hips, Diana said, “Darn and I was looking for a new canasta partner.  Guess we’ll just have to be friends.”  She winked at him and called over her shoulder, “Be right back with the burger.”  Walking to the pass-thru, she called out his order and asked which of her friends had run to the back.

 

Sipping the thick, dark ale, Jim leaned back and closed his eyes.  He thought to himself how sad it was that he was too late to make it work with Trixie. 

 

The door jingled again and Diana said, “Thank goodness, I was getting worried.” 

 

Jim opened his eyes and saw a willowy woman walk into the back room.

 

 

Several minutes later Diana was back with his burger.  She was smiling brightly and her eyes were overly bright.   “Here’s your burger.”

 

“Thanks.  Is everything OK?  You look like you’ve been crying,” Jim asked solicitously.

 

Dimples winked.  “Everything is great.  One of my dearest friends just announced she is engaged AND she’s having a baby.  I know it’s kind of the cart before the horse, but they are so happy.”

 

Jim smiled, not quite reaching his eyes, and he saluted Diana with his almost empty pint, “Gezondheid.  Oh, I guess in honor of the pub, I should say sláinte.”  Engaged and having a baby.  Guess I’ll rent Ten Acres out.

 

“I’ll bring you another pint.”

 

“That would be great, and the check when you get a chance, I’ve got to get back to the city, soon.  Looks like my business is done here.”  Jim drained his glass and handed the empty to Diana.

 

Heading back to the bar, the crowd had gotten a bit raucous as word of Honey and Brian’s good news spread.   Trixie was kept busy pouring soda, building Guinness after Guinness, and opening bottles of beer.  Diana’s emergency calls to the wait staff had finally paid off and the pub was finally serving food and drinks to everyone.  Things started to calm down. 

 

Diana brought the check along with a slice of Whiskey Pie.  “Here’s your tab.  Thanks again for understanding.  The pie’s on the house.  We’re celebrating.”

 

“Thanks so much.  You’ve been great.”  He looked at the bill, grabbed his credit card and placed it in the pleather check holder.

 

Diana opened it up, dying to know the hunky red-head’s name.  Imprinted on the gold card was Vanderheiden, Inc.  “Be right back”

 

“Thanks,” Jim said digging into the traditional Irish dessert.

 

Handing the check holder to Trixie, Diana said, “Run this please, Trix.  I am dying.  I have to go to the bathroom.  It goes to the hunky red-head in booth 5.”

 

Trixie’s heart skipped a beat.  Hunky red-head…could it be?  She held her breath as she opened the check holder to read the name on the credit card, Vanderheiden, Inc.  Damn.  Oh well, what are the chances?  Gotta move on, Trix.  Fate isn’t on your side this time.  She ran the card, waited for the confirmation.  Once it went through, she ripped the slip off the machine and placed it inside the holder and grabbed a pen.  “I’ll be right back, Honey.  Sit down, please.”

 

Honey stuck her tongue out.  “I’m like six seconds pregnant.  I don’t think I need to rest just yet.”

 

Trixie approached booth 5, the red head had stood up to put his jacket on.  As she came up behind him she said, “Here’s your tab.  Thanks for coming to the Black Lion.”  She placed the check holder on the table and turned to walk away.

 

Jim picked up the check and opened it to sign the credit card slip.  Not finding a pen, he patted his pockets looking for one. 

 

Looking down, Trixie realized she still had the pen in her hand.  She turned around and plowed into a broad, well-muscled chest.  Jim grabbed her by the upper arms to steady her. 

 

Sapphire eyes locked onto emerald.  

 

“It’s you.”

 

“Jim,” Trixie whispered, throwing her arms around him.  Hugging him tightly, she breathed deeply enjoying the scent that was completely male.

 

He was hugging her just as firmly, when he remembered she’s pregnant and engaged.  He grasped her and placed her away from him and smiled forlornly.  “Hi, Trix.  It’s been awhile.”

 

“I’ll say.  What have you been up to?  Where did you go?  Why are you here?  Are you staying?  Have you seen Honey?  Oh my gosh, Honey!”  Trixie talked a hundred miles a minute and she was smiling so widely it was as if the smile split her face.  Turning toward the bar, she shouted, “Honey!  Come here!”

 

“So, I hear congratulations are in order,” Jim said.  “You’ve had a busy past few days.”

 

“You heard about that.  I’m so sorry, Jim.  How weird is it that, it happened just as you came back.  Kinda bizarre, but I guess it was fate,” Trixie said thinking of Jonesy’s shooting.

 

Still holding her hand, he squeezed it.  “I’m a big believer in fate, Trix, even fate as twisted as this.”

 

Honey had finally made her way over to the two of them.  “JIM!”  She grabbed both of them in a huge hug.  “I can’t believe you finally made it back!  We’ve missed you so much.  When did you get back?  We’ve been tending to Ten Acres hoping you’d be back one day.  Well, not all by ourselves, we’ve had help, but we’ve been there.”  Stopping to take a breath, she weaved dizzily.

 

“Honey!  Sit down,” Trixie ordered, pushing her friend into the booth.  “You’ve got to take care of yourself, and my niece or nephew.”

 

Jim was smiling at their antics, having missed them more than he wanted to admit.  He was hardly paying attention to what they were saying to one another.   “Wait a minute, Honey’s pregnant?  I thought YOU were pregnant, Trixie.”

 

“Good God, no.  ME?  I’m not even dating anyone.”

 

“What about Mark Roberts?” Jim asked, sitting down, confused.

 

“Rookie Roberts?” Trixie asked in disbelief.  “Why would I be dating Rookie Roberts?”

 

Jim shook his head.  “Hold on, Regan said that you were dating.”

 

Honey sat back, placing her hands over her completely flat stomach.  She was enjoying the show.

 

“Regan said I was dating Mark Roberts?”

 

Taking a deep breath, he rubbed his hand across his face and tried to recall his conversation.  “OK, Regan said you’d had an exciting few days and that Mark Roberts was still green.”  He realized the engaged part had come from Lester.  “Earlier, my driver, Lester Mundy, was talking about you and he said rumor had it that an engagement was coming.”

 

“Lester is YOUR driver.  It WAS you in here the other night.” Her wench outfit was sliding off her shoulders as she gestured wildly.  “Talk about fate.  OK, let’s straighten a few details out.  First, I’m not engaged, to Mark Roberts or anyone.  And most importantly, I’m sooooo not pregnant.  Now, Honey is engaged, to my brother, Brian.  THEY just got engaged, and are going to get married.”  Taking Jim’s large hand in her small one, she gently, explained, “Mark Roberts is a rookie cop.  He was green because of the officer involved shooting on Monday, where Carl Jones was shot and killed.  I work in the forensics lab with the Sleepyside PD.  You are looking at the newest forensic scientist, well, only forensic scientist on the force.”

 

He just shook his head.  “Let me see if I understand this, you’re not pregnant.  You’re not engaged.  Honey is, and everyone is happy.  And in a twist of fate, Jonesy is shot as I move back.”

 

Trixie looked at Honey and smiled.  Her friend motioned for her to scoot out of the booth.  “Since all the regular staff is here, I’m going to go home,” Honey advised her friend.  “Jim, it was wonderful to see you again.  I want to catch up with where you’ve been.”

 

“I’ll be around Sleepyside, Honey,” Jim answered with a smile.  “I’d like to meet your fiancé, too.”

 

“I’ll arrange dinner at the Manor House for all of us,” Honey agreed.  “I’ll talk to you later, Trixie,” she added with a ‘you’d better tell me everything’ look.

 

Standing up to allow Honey to get up, Trixie still held fast to Jim’s hand.

 

He used this to leverage her into the booth next to him.  She sat down closely.  Jim couldn’t stop himself from tucking a blonde curl behind her ear.  Pulling her close, he whispered, their lips almost touching, “Are you sure you’re not dating anyone?”

 

“Posi…” Her response was cut off as Jim’s lips claimed hers in a kiss that left her breathless.

 

Catcalls, clapping and laughter broke through Jim’s haze of desire, reminding him that they were in a public place.  He pulled back slightly and nibbled on her lips.  “I’m glad I got back in time.”

 

She smiled against his lips and couldn’t resist teasing, “Took you long enough, Frayne.”

 

Jim’s face broke into that lopsided grin that she remembered.  “Well,” he began, touching her face with gentle fingers.  “Fate took me away from you but I’m back now.  I dreamed you’d be unattached and waiting for me.” 

 

“I think I always knew you’d return,” she replied quietly, blue eyes sparkling with happiness.  “I dreamed you’d come back, too.”  Moving closer to him, she stopped with her lips almost touching his.  “I knew you were worth the wait...”  Her voice tailed off as their lips met in a kiss promising a future.

 

The End

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Authors’ Notes:

 

This story was written especially for Joycey.  She makes today special and every other day, too. We love youse, berry berry much!  We are so blessed to have her and the other Chat Chix to toss ideas around with.  An extra special thank you to Donna, who gave a quickie edit (and we do mean quickie) to our surprise story.  Any mistakes are all ours. 

 

For your Dutch lessons:

mijn jongen = my boy

       Hallo, moeder van mijn hart = Hello, Mother of my heart

       Welterusten, mijn jongen = Goodnight, my boy

Ik hou van je = I love you

Ik hou ook van jou = I love you, too

Gezondheid = Salute, to your health

 

People, Places and Things we used and are making no profit from:

The Plaza - a beautiful landmark hotel in New York.  May we suggest you take some time to visit their amazing website, Theplaza.com.  (Jenny wants to be Eloise, and live at the Plaza)

 

The Black Lion and The Brewing Company – to our knowledge, there are no such pubs in New York, but if there are, we apologize and hope people visit.

 

Coyote Ugly – a movie about girls running a bar, and they dance and sing on the bar for the patrons.  But don’t ever ask for water.

 

NCAA March Madness Basketball Tournament - a single-elimination college basketball tournament held each spring in the United States.  That’s the simple answer.  For more detail, ask a rabid college sports fan. 

 

Google - a very handy Internet search engine for finding all kinds of things,

 

Range Rover – very expensive and loaded luxury vehicle.  Other than the huge key fob, the SUV gets awesome reviews and comments, including a computer that speaks to you in a British accent.

 

Howard Hughes - a famous businessman, a movie producer, and an aviator; but, people generally remember him as an eccentric, reclusive billionaire.

 

University of Amsterdam – top rated school of higher learning in Holland

 

Princess Eugenia – youngest daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, the Duchess of York.  She’s seems rather cheeky and like someone who would squeeze a bum or two.

 

Guinness – is a popular Irish dry stout that originated in the brewery of Arthur Guinness (1725–1803) at St. James's Gate, Dublin. Guinness is one of the most successful beer brands worldwide.  Guinness stout is made from water, barley, hops, and brewer's yeast.

 

Whiskey Pie – traditional Irish dessert

 

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