Authors: Diane Greenwood Muir
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication / use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Cover Design Photography: Maxim M. Muir
Copyright © 2013 Diane Greenwood Muir
All rights reserved.
Don’t miss the first book
Diane Greenwood Muir’s
All Roads Lead Home – Bellingwood #1
A Big Life in a Small Town – Bellingwood #2
This has been a crazy few months. I finished my Master’s Degree and wrote another book. It would have been impossible without the love, prayers and support of my family and friends.
A special thank you to Ralph and Sue Storm, whose barn graces the cover of this book. I am safe out here in the middle of rural America because they keep an eye on me. Ralph plants trees, plows my driveway
in the winter, mows when the grass in the meadow is too overwhelming and they take moments to chat just to check up on me and ensure I’m doing alright in my solitude.
My editor / proofreaders / readers all encourage me and at the same time press me with questions and recommendations so that I write a better story. Any errors you find in the text are my responsibility, though. They’ve done their best to keep me on track.
Thank you to Rebecca Bauman, Tracy Kesterson Simpson, Linda Watson, Carol Greenwood, Alice Stewart, Fran Neff, Max Muir, and Edna Fleming for all they do to make these books happen.
It terrifies me to put raw, unedited text out there for anyone to read, but this group finds humor in my ridiculous mistakes, reminds me that my errors don’t define my writing and then each of them focuses on something different as they read so that I can clean the manuscript and prepare it for publication.
Polly stood on her stepstool beside Nat's left shoulder, brushing him down. She rested her head against his body as they enjoyed a rare moment of warmth in the sun. Of the four black Percherons she had rescued, Nat had been in the worst shape and trusted her the least in the beginning. Little by little though, as she kept showing up every day, ensuring that he had the food and care he needed, as well as a whole lot of attention, he soon began to respond. When the four were in the pasture, it was Nat who came to her voluntarily for nothing more than affection.
She smiled as she thought about the last couple of months. When the horses arrived at Sycamore House's brand new barn, Mark Ogden, her friend and the local veterinarian, not only had to help bring them back to health, but teach Polly how to care for four immense animals. Her crazy idea to build a barn last January had come with the hope of finding one normal-sized horse who would be patient and kind and let her learn the ins and outs of being a horse owner. What she'd gotten were four badly neglected draft horses in need of a strong-minded owner.
That was the first and most difficult lesson Mark had taught her. No matter how sorry Polly felt for the horses, he reminded her that she had to be in charge from the beginning or she would never be in charge. Seven thousand pounds of horse could get out of control in a hurry, so she listened and learned. At some point in late March when the horses began to show outward signs of recovery and as Polly’s confidence increased, Mark finally stopped showing up every day to check on them.
When Polly opened the Dutch doors to the pasture for each of the horses this morning, it was as if they sensed the sunshine. After breakfast, Nan had taken off for the end of the pasture and skittered around a little as Obiwan chased a butterfly. The dog had grown quite comfortable with the horses and knew enough to stay away from their feet, but he did love running with them whenever they could be convinced to play. Demi and Daisy were on the west side of the pasture sniffing over the fence at something in the trees by the creek. The day felt a little pastoral and Polly decided to enjoy it for as long as it might last. She had finally stopped wondering if spring was ever going to arrive and was grateful for the warmer temperatures.
She picked up her stool and moved to brush Nat's other side and saw Jeff standing at the gate.
"Good morning!" she called. "It's a beautiful day. Do you want to come out and play with us?"
"You know better than that," he laughed.
"Did you need something from me?" Jeff Lyndsay, her assistant and manager and a self-proclaimed city boy, wasn't fond of large animals, so he preferred not to associate with them if possible. They'd finally figured out that since she was spending a lot of her day with the horses, it would be easier for him to call her cell phone, so it was a little surprising to see him standing at the gate to the horse's pen.
"Not really. It's a beautiful day and I thought I'd enjoy the view."
"That doesn't sound like you!" She jumped off her stool and led Nat to the gate.
"Yeah. The truth is, I'm avoiding Harry."
They were having the worst luck finding a good custodian. Harry Bern was the fourth person they'd hired in the last two months and all he did was whine and complain. He whined about the price of gas, the price of milk and the price of bread; he whined about the President and the mayor and the elementary school principal. He whined about the weather and people who drove too fast or too slow; he whined about the color of the sky and the way water tasted. If he caught you sitting or standing in one place for too long, he would get wound up and twenty minutes later, you hoped for the world to end soon, there was nothing left to live for.
So far, only one of their guests had said something to Jeff about Harry's behavior. It had taken everything in Polly to find an easy way to tell poor Harry that he couldn’t bother their guests with his whining and complaining. He'd taken it fairly well, but it was getting old.
"What do you think we should do?" she asked.
"I don't know. Maybe we buy a cork to fit his mouth. I keep hoping that he will stay away if I shut my door, but he very politely knocks and lets himself in."
"And you wonder why I'm outside all the time."
"Not really, though I don't think it's fair."
"I'm never coming back in, you know. The rest of the blacktop from that old playground should be cleared out soon and then I'll rent a tiller so I can start a vegetable garden. Between these guys," she patted Nat, "and the gardens, I'm planning to stay out here away from all of you."
"Plural. Lydia and Andy and their garden club want to put some sort of waterfall or pond and heirloom garden with a walking path and benches. It sounds like there will be a beautiful park in the front corner of the lot."
"And the sycamore trees? When are those coming in?"
"Over the next couple of weeks. The grounds are going to completely transform before your eyes," she said.
"You really aren't coming back inside to work, are you?"
"Not if I can help it. I'll see you next winter."
Nat nudged her and she laughed. "Apparently, I'm allowing you to distract me from what's important. You can stay here and watch, but I think he knows it's Daisy's turn to exercise and he's ready to be let loose."
She and Nat walked to the gate leading to the pasture and she opened it, then took his halter off. After a moment’s hesitation, she saw the glimmer in his eyes as he leapt forward and ran to the other end, nickering to Nan. Daisy was next and when Polly picked her halter up off the fence, the horse came closer.
"That's my good girl, Daisy," Polly said, setting the step stool on the ground. She chuckled. It couldn't have been neglected ponies; it had to be immense Percherons. She had never known such exhaustion in her life before those first couple of months with them, but she could feel her muscles toning and she hurt less now than she had at the beginning. There had been one morning she was sure she might need to be hospitalized. When she had tried to sit up in bed, her muscles had refused to respond to commands from her brain. She had finally rolled over and off the bed and after standing under the hot shower and flexing her limbs, she was able to restore enough movement to get through the day. Polly was grateful for the months she had spent running and walking with Obiwan. Those had been a start to the hard work she was doing now, but it had no comparison.
watched as Polly began moving Daisy around the pen.
"When is Henry getting back?" he asked.
"He called last night and said they were finishing today and he would start driving back home by the weekend. I think he's tired of Arizona."
Henry's mother had called him about a month after the barn raising. The driver of a delivery truck had lost control and run into a corner of their home. As if that hadn't been enough stress, his father experienced a heart attack the next day, so they called for help and Henry packed his truck with everything he thought he might need and took off for southwest America. His father was going to be fine, but insisted that Henry was the only person he trusted to do the work to repair their home.
Lonnie, Henry's younger sister, had spent the week of her spring break helping her mother, but for the last month, he'd been alone with his parents and was ready to be back home.
"You'll be glad to have him back in town. You haven't had anyone around to build things for you!"
Polly nodded and turned her attention back to the horse. Every day she was out, the touch and commands made a little more sense to her. She was thankful these horses had been well trained before they got to her. Their former owner had purchased the Percherons and then named them after characters from one of his wife's favorite book series by Louisa May Alcott. After he died, his wife couldn't bear to sell them, so continued to pay for their food and care. The woman was much too old to spend any time with them and when the drought had put pressure on the caretaker's funds last year, he slowly began neglecting them until the day Polly and her friend Sylvie, discovered the horses and called Mark Ogden for help. The very next day, Mark arrived at Polly's new barn with four horses and Polly's life had changed one more time.
"You're right. I do have things for him to build. I hope he's had enough vacation for a long time," she said, laughing. "It's about time to get started on a new project."
Jeff shook his head and began to turn back toward Sycamore House. "You just miss having all the action around here."
"I suppose I do!" she said and then repeated to herself, "I suppose I really do."
She also missed having Henry around. They talked for a few minutes every evening, but it wasn't the same as having him here. Polly smiled. Maybe the old adage was true and that's why it was an old adage. Maybe absence really did make the heart grow fonder. She'd gotten quite comfortable spending time with Henry and his sudden departure had left a fairly large hole in her life.
Polly slowed Daisy back down and pulled out her phone.
"I was thinking about how glad I am that you're coming home this weekend,"
she texted and slipped the phone back in her pocket.
She finished with the horses and desperately wanted a nap, but Lydia and Andy were stopping by with several plans for the large northwest corner of the property. Lydia Merritt was the lifeblood of Bellingwood. A woman filled with love and grace, she had taken Polly under her wing as the self-appointed welcome committee and they had become fast friends. Andy Saner and Beryl Watson were two more of Lydia's close friends, a group that continued to grow.
Polly checked the gates, stood for a few moments to watch the horses as they grazed in the pasture, then whistled for Obiwan, her German Shepherd / Labrador mix. He came bounding through the barn to meet her and they went inside and up to her apartment. She took a quick shower and settled in on her sofa to check her email. The subject line of an email from her friend, Sal Kahane, read, "I'm coming to Iowa!" and Polly clicked it open.
She and Sal had been college roommates at Boston University and remained close friends while Polly lived in Boston. Since she'd moved to Iowa, they maintained contact but Polly missed their regular lunches and movie nights.
"Hey, sweetface. Is Iowa ready for me? To be more concise, are you ready for me?
Do you remember Ardyce, the idiot? She was supposed to be going to a seminar next week at the University of Iowa. She 'remembered' this morning that she is also supposed to be giving a lecture on how to read James Joyce's 'Ulysses' at your old library here in town! So, when she asked us this morning who wanted to take her place, I jumped out of my chair, flailing my arms. I probably surprised them and looked a little silly all at the same time.
Anyway, I looked at the map and Iowa City is a bit of a drive from you, so I can't stay with you while I'm at the seminar. I'm flying in to Des Moines, though. Can we make this work? I'll take some vacation days if you have time for me.
I miss you girlfriend!"
Polly shouted out loud, disturbing the dog and the cat, "Sal's coming to Iowa!"
"Sal, you glorious gal, you! Of course I have time for you! Do you want to come up here before or after you go to Iowa City? If it's after, you could return the rental car and I'll pick you up there and then deliver you back in time to fly home.
I'm so excited! I can't wait for you to see what I've done here and meet my animals and my friends!
I love you and I can't wait!"
She pressed send and sat back on the sofa, smiling. She leaned back to make noises at Luke, one of her two cats. He nudged her cheek and promptly returned to cleaning his shoulder. His sister, Leia, was perched on the ledge of their cat tree in the bedroom, too busy to join the rest of them.
Her phone buzzed and she checked it
, "Sorry I missed your text earlier. We're done. Mom and Dad say they're tired of me and I should go home. I'm on the road tomorrow,"
Henry's text said.
"Good. How much rest do you need before we get started on another project here?"