Long Time Gone

By: Meg Benjamin

A future with the woman of his dreams is within his grasp…if the past will stay that way.

Konigsburg, Book 4

Erik Toleffson wasn’t looking to become Chief of Police. He’s got enough trouble trying to rebuild his relationship with his three brothers who, until just recently, ran the other way when he approached. He’s not the bully they grew up with, but bad memories are tough to overcome.

Morgan Barrett is as worn out as a vat full of crushed grape skins. She never planned to run Cedar Creek Winery, but there’s no one else to shoulder the load as her father recovers from an injury. All she needs is a little sleep. Just a five-minute nap in the booth at the Dew Drop Inn…if that guy across the bar would stop staring at her as if putting her head down on the table is a crime.

After Morgan yawns in Erik’s face, there’s nowhere to go but up. With time, though, their relationship warms like a perfectly blended Bordeaux. Until the shady mayor digs into Erik’s past and dredges up information that could drive a permanent wedge between him and his brothers—and sour any chance of a future with Morgan.


For the usual suspects—Bill, Josh and Ben. And for all the great Texas winemakers who gave me their time and expertise, especially Jim and Karen Johnson of Alamosa, Madeline and Ed Mangold of Spicewood, Gary Gilstrap of Texas Hills, and John Otis of Crossroads. Thanks, guys!

Chapter One

Erik Toleffson hated the Dew Drop Inn in downtown Konigsburg, Texas, with a loathing that was deep and abiding. It wasn’t just because he didn’t drink—he could tolerate most bars without any problem. But the Dew Drop wasn’t most bars.

It was so dark it reminded him of a cave—he half-expected to see bats hanging from the rafters. And bats might have been an improvement over some of the bar’s customers, particularly considering that Erik, one of Konigsburg’s limited supply of cops, had had professional interactions with several of them. There was Otto Friedrich, the high school football coach, whom he’d decked a couple of years ago for attempting to assault Erik’s future sister-in-law. And Billy Jo Slidell, who’d had a couple of DUIs in the last month that ended with Erik tossing him into what passed for a drunk tank in the Konigsburg jail. And Brendan Fowler, who’d had to bail out Mrs. Fowler, Marlene, after she’d thrown a punch at Ethel Overmeyer. Erik wasn’t sure what the origin of the fight had been, but Ethel outweighed Marlene by about fifty pounds and was just getting ready to throw her own punch when he intervened, so he figured Marlene was lucky to have gotten off with a fine.

Given his choice, he’d have hung out at the Coffee Corral or even Brenner’s Restaurant down the street, although he couldn’t afford to eat much more than a couple of dinner rolls there. But his brothers liked the Dew Drop, and Erik wasn’t ready to complain about it now that they’d started including him in their five o’clock get-togethers. It hadn’t been all that long ago they’d have been running in the other direction if they saw him coming, given his standard practice of beating the crap out of them until they’d been old enough to fight him off singly and in a group.

Not that he blamed them for that. In their place, he would have done the same thing. He’d even be willing to let them beat him to a bloody pulp now if they’d like to take him on, assuming it might help to even the score from their childhood.

Erik watched as his brother Pete tried to flag down a barmaid from their booth in the corner. All four brothers were about the same size, with the same brown hair and eyes, but Pete was maybe an inch or two shorter than the others. Which meant he was around six-three. Lars and Cal were scrunched into the other side of the booth, trying to find room for their feet in the limited space. It was best to be the last one to arrive at these get-togethers. Being late meant you got the outside seat, which meant being able to extend your legs out into the floor space instead of trying to reduce yourself to booth-size.

With other people the customers might have objected, but nobody made much of a fuss about the Toleffsons, and not just because they were bigger than most of the men in the bar. With the exception of Erik, all the Toleffsons were popular people in Konigsburg. Nice guys, upstanding citizens, a veterinarian, an accountant and an assistant county attorney. All of them well-liked, with the exception of him. But then he’d often been the exception in cases like that. “Nice” and “upstanding” weren’t words that anybody had ever used to describe him.

Pete scowled toward the bar, where the owner, Ingstrom, was ignoring him. Both barmaids were at the other end of the room, giggling with a couple of cowboy wannabes whose Stetsons looked brand new.

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