Truffle stuck her head out the window on the drive, her tongue hanging out and her ears bent in the wind. We slowed down then drove past the gate and onto our property. After we parked, we let her out, and she immediately walked around and sniffed out the entire place.
The kids followed behind, watching Truffle explore the grounds and head out into the vineyards.
We took a seat on the patio where we could keep an eye on all three of them.
Lars appeared with a tray of refreshments, like he was ready for us to appear at any moment. “How’d it go?” He put a few iced teas on the table along with a bowl of nuts. Crow didn’t drink scotch anymore, unless it was Christmas morning or he was in a bad mood. But he cut it out of his life because a man shouldn’t drink like that if he was happy. His liver wouldn’t last long.
Crow nodded to the field. “Her name is Truffle.”
“Very cute.” Lars turned back to the house.
It would be hard to replace Lars because he was the best, very attentive and always caring enough about us to anticipate our needs before we even needed them. That was hard to find—someone that cared to the extent he did.
We sat in silence and watched our kids play with the dog, throwing a ball and watching Truffle sprint to retrieve it between the vines in the field. She felt right at home instantly and fell in love with the kids.
Crow continued to watch, and the happiness in his eyes slowly dimmed, like the fading sun over the horizon. It was a subtle shift in expression, hardly noticeable, but he’d been doing it a lot lately, so I noticed.
“What is it?”
He stilled slightly before he slowly turned to look at me.
“I know there’s something bothering you. When you’re at your happiest, you suddenly hit the ceiling and come bouncing down…like your happiness makes you unhappy. Why?”
He stared at me for a long time, his eyes guarded like he was keeping his secrets buried deep inside so I couldn’t dig them up. He turned back to the field where our children were playing with the dog, the sadness deepening further. “We’ll talk about it later.”
My heart started to race when I finally got an admission out of him. He’d been lying every single time I asked, but this time, I hit the nail right on the head, and he couldn’t dismiss me anymore. Instead of feeling triumphant, I felt worse…scared.
We put the kids to bed, and after they argued over who would get the dog for the night, we went upstairs to our bedroom. The evenings were usually for us, where we would make love, drink wine, and watch TV in front of the fire. But now those happy moments were shattered by the weight of the situation.
Crow walked in first and stood at the foot of the bed, his hands on his hips, his chin down to the floor as he considered what he would say and how he would say it.
I couldn’t be patient any longer. “I’m losing my fucking mind, Crow. What the hell is it? Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay…” We were still young, but the unthinkable could strike at any moment, and if I lost my husband…I would die.
His eyes softened as he lifted his gaze. “Button, it’s nothing like that. I’m as healthy as a horse.”
“Oh thank fucking god.” My hands cupped the sides of my head, and I felt my eyes water in gratitude. “Then what is it?” I dropped my hands and sniffed, controlling my emotions so I could listen to his announcement.
He stepped closer to me and rubbed the back of his neck. “A few days ago, the Skull Kings came to the winery.”
I hadn’t heard their name in over a decade, and it immediately made me draw a deep breath.
“They asked me to do something for them…and I don’t really have a choice.”
I closed my eyes and felt devastated because it was so unexpected. Our perfect lives were ruined because the past never stayed in the past. It would jump out and bite you at any moment. “Fuck…”
“Their Skull Diamonds were taken, and they want me to get them back.”
“Why you?” I snapped. “That’s so goddamn random.”
“Because they need to work with a jewel thief, and he refuses to take on the job. They think I’ll be able to change his mind.”
“Why?” My voice became louder, and I was grateful the kids were on a whole other floor so they would never hear us fight…even though we rarely fought. “Why you?”
“We’re old family friends.”
“Old family friends?” I asked. “What does that mean?”
“My father and his father used to be partners. So he might be responsive to me.”
“And if he’s not?”
He just stared at me.
I started to tremble. “And if he’s not?”
“He will be, Button. Don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t worry about it? Even if this works out perfectly, what if they just keep coming to you—”
“They won’t. They gave their word they wouldn’t. I think they came to me because they’re desperate. Without my connection to Bartholomew, they wouldn’t have even thought about me ever again.”
My arms tightened across my chest, and I released a loud sigh of frustration. “I can’t believe this is happening right now…”
He stepped closer to me. “Button, it’ll be alright—”
“So, you just get Bartholomew to agree, and then it’s done?”
When he didn’t speak, I knew it wouldn’t be so simple. “Then I have to get the diamonds back…”
I inhaled a deep breath, fucking furious.
“It’ll be fine,” he repeated, but no matter how many times he said it, it wouldn’t make a difference. “Cane and I have done much worse things, and we’ve walked away without a scratch. This will be a walk in the park.”
“But that’s not our life anymore, Crow. We’re done with that…”
His eyes filled with sadness, like he couldn’t agree more. “I know…that’s the worst part.”
“We’re supposed to live simple lives…not get mixed up in this bullshit.”
“I know. You have no idea how much this kills me. But I can’t get out of it, I have to do this, and I will. I’ll finish it, and it’ll be over. We’ll go back to simplicity. I promise.”
My eyes watered because I was so frustrated that my joy was being robbed of me. I would have to be home alone with the kids while he was away, and I’d have to explain their father’s absence with lies…knowing he might not ever come back.
He came closer until his hands touched my elbows, his eyes full of apology when it wasn’t even his fault. He stared at me for a long time, his jaw clenched tight like this situation made him sick. “We’ll get through this, Button. We always do.”