Today's Reading

Chapter 2

As darkness fell on Four Roses Farm, the little farmhouse took on a more noticeable chill. Ivy paused in her unpacking and bundled up, donning a bulky sweater, a knit scarf, and two pairs of socks, as she searched the house for a thermostat for the heater, but came up short.

She dashed out to the side porch and brought in an armload of logs and stacked it in the fireplace in the living room, adding a handful of dried-out pine cones she salvaged from a dusty arrangement on the mantel, and some crumpled up sheets of newspaper with a 1998 dateline she'd found lining the shelves of the pantry.

"Here goes nothing," she told Punkin, who was watching her progress while lolling near the hearth. She did a little happy dance when the tiny flame caught, then flickered, then blazed. "Now for some supper."

The setter's ears pricked up and he followed her into the kitchen, where, for the first time, she noticed the large gift bag on the counter. She lifted out a very good bottle of red wine and a gaily decorated round tin full of cookies. The handwritten gift label taped to the lid said: MAMA W'S OATMEAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. DEFINITELY NOT LOW-CAL. OR GLUTEN-FREE.

"It's the thought that counts, right?" she asked Punkin, pushing the cookie tin aside. There was a small pamphlet—New Homeowner's Checklist—Courtesy of Carolina Countryside Realty and Ezra Wheeler—clipped to the side of the gift bag.

Ivy read down the items, convinced she'd already taken care of all the red tape involved in moving. Her father had been an engineer, and Ivy had been raised to be detail oriented. She'd already filled out all the change-of-address forms, applied for a North Carolina registration and license tag for the Volvo, and even ordered a driver's handbook in preparation for applying for a driver's license in her new state.

Some of the actions on the list—like enrolling children in school—didn't apply to Ivy. But there were a couple items she'd overlooked, at the end of the checklist. "Register to vote." "Apply for homestead exemption." "Register pets and obtain rabies tags."

"Paperwork," she muttered with a sigh. "Endless paperwork."

Punkin just stared up at her, thumping his tail on the floor.

"Never mind that. Let's check on our girls." The chicks were snuggled into a corner of their cardboard carrier in a pile of straw. But the kitchen was cold, even colder than the rest of the house, so she carried their box into the living room and set it on a table near the hearth. Punkin pushed his muzzle up against the box and sniffed, wagging his tail.

"I know you're supposed to be a bird dog," Ivy chided. "But these girls are part of our family now, so you leave them alone."

Dinner was high protein kibble for Punkin and for her, cheese and crackers, washed down with some of the excellent Cabernet she'd been gifted from Ezra Wheeler. She rinsed off her plate and the jelly jar she'd used as a wineglass and vowed to call him in the morning to thank him for the housewarming gift—and to inquire about the status of her new home's heating system.

She spent the rest of the evening scrubbing the kitchen floor, counters, and cabinets before unpacking the boxes of kitchen equipment she'd loaded into her car.

When she looked up, it was after nine. "C'mon, Punkin," she said. "It's past our bedtime."

The bedroom was even colder than the kitchen, and the cause, she quickly discovered, was a small missing pane of glass in the window across from the bed. As she ripped a piece of cardboard from one of her packing boxes and taped it over the window, she observed that all the windowpanes were loose and drafty. Probably every window in the house was in similar condition. She ruefully added new windows to the growing list of home repairs she'd been compiling ever since she'd pulled into the driveway at Four Roses Farm.

Punkin had already arranged himself across the foot of her bed, which was still draped with the red Santa suit. Surely, Ivy thought, Santa Bob's family would want this sentimental family heirloom. After she shooed Punkin off the bed and onto his own fleece-lined dog bed, she placed the hat, boots, and trousers in the box where she'd found them. But as she was smoothing and folding the jacket,she felt something in one of the hidden pockets.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger.

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