Finding Angelo (The Wine Lover’s Daughter, Book 2)
A hidden diary and a crumpled envelope, post-marked in Italy, are the only clues Martin Segantino has to what happened to his younger brother Angelo, the black sheep of the family, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances twenty years ago. When the police find the skeleton of Angelo’s close friend buried in one of the fields on the Segantino vineyards, the hunt for Angelo begins. Is he the killer or is he himself a victim? Sofia Segantino, great-niece of Angelo by marriage, embarks on her own search for the missing man. On her trip through the Piedmont region of Italy, she uncovers clues of Angelo’s whereabouts, which puts her in grave danger. The local gangsters are equally interested in the elusive Angelo and are ready to do whatever it takes to find him. Will Sofia be able to outsmart them?
Part family drama, part suspense, Finding Angelo takes the reader on a thrilling journey from California via Chicago and New York to Italy.
Sofia narrowed her eyes as she spotted the two men. “They couldn’t already be done,” she murmured.
Her husband, Nicholas, and Martin, his grandfather, came walking across the meadow. They worked together with Matthew, Nicholas’s younger brother, digging up their new field to prepare it for planting their Zinfandel grapevines. Perhaps they were just taking a break. Sofia went into the kitchen to prepare more coffee.
As she stepped outside to wait for the men, she discovered the first signs of spring—a patch of yellow daffodils in the corner of the patio that seemed to have emerged over night. The shrubs of purple sage next to the now green meadows shimmered in the sun. A breeze came up, whispering through the grass and bringing a whiff of moist leaves. Stretched along the length of the hill above their home were their three vineyards.
After a rainy winter, they welcomed the sunshine of early March in San Luis Obispo County. The water was a godsend after years of drought, but the heavy rains during the last weeks had made it impossible to till the soil in their new field. Now, the conditions were perfect.
Nicholas and Sofia worked the three vineyards Nicholas’s grandfather had owned. The harvest of their Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico grapes last fall had been plentiful and the wine promised to be of excellent quality. Martin Segantino, a long-time successful vintner and winemaker, had more or less handed over his three grape varietals to them in exchange for a percentage of the profits from the wine sales. It had been a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.
Nicholas had always been Martin’s favorite grandson. Both of them had similar ideas about winemaking. They liked to keep things simple, to work the vineyards the natural way with as little human interference and chemicals as possible. And this spring, the kind and generous man surprised them by gifting them the fields outright.
“It’s time for me to sit back and watch you guys sweat while I drink a glass of your wine,” he had said with a snicker and a twinkle in his eyes. However, he continued to help with the work and lent his experience and knowledge to them.
Nicholas’s father, who owned the rest of the family estate, supported them as well. He had paid for the picking crew during the first few harvests.
The support from Nicholas’s family, Nicholas’s savings, and Sofia’s contribution had made it possible for them to quit their other jobs and dedicate themselves fully to growing grapes and making wine.
The adventure had begun three years before when Sofia and Nicholas met on a vineyard in Tuscany. After Sofia’s father died unexpectedly of a heart attack, she discovered a shocking secret. Sofia had known nothing about the double-life her father had led for many years. He owned part of a vineyard in Tuscany and had a daughter there who was ten years younger than Sofia. Uncovering his hidden existence, meeting her sister Julietta and Julietta’s Italian family for the first time had been a turbulent and emotional experience. Added to that, someone on the estate had tried to kill her to prevent her from inheriting her father’s part of the vineyard.
Eventually, love and compassion won out and Sofia, Julietta, and the rest of the Italian family became very close. And best of all, Sofia met Nicholas, a young vintner from California, who worked on the estate in Tuscany. They fell in love and decided to pool their resources and work together on the vineyards of Nicholas’s grandfather in the Central Coast area of California.
And here they were, enjoying the fruits of their labor. It was hard work, but Sofia enjoyed it. She had been an editor and writer for a wine, food, and travel magazine, and she still worked for them as a freelancer, writing occasional articles. But her focus was the vineyards she and her husband cultivated.
Sofia sipped her coffee while she watched the two men approach. They stopped half-way and from what she could make out, they were having an animated discussion. Nicholas waved his hands while his grandfather looked down at the ground, nodding occasionally. When they came closer, she saw immediately that something was wrong. Nicholas ran his hand through his blond hair. His honey-brown eyes looked troubled. His grandfather, a tall, skinny man in his seventies with short salt-and-pepper hair, was rubbing his lined forehead.
“What’s the matter?” Sofia asked.
Their faces were somber. “There’s a problem with the new field,” Nicholas said.
“What is it?” Sofia put her cup of coffee on the garden table.
“We made a gruesome discovery,” Martin said.
“We found a bone … and it looks like a human bone.” Nicholas reached for the coffee his wife had prepared for him and his grandfather.
“What?” Sofia stared at Nicholas and Martin. “How is this possible?”
“No idea. But it’s really weird and it throws a wrench into our work. We called the police. I can’t imagine what this is going to mean.” Nicholas glanced at the hill above their house. The field in question was situated behind a group of oaks, a little further away from their other three vineyards.
“God, I can’t believe it. If the bone is human . . . a crime?” Sofia met Nicholas’s eyes.
“Probably. I don’t think that person buried him or herself voluntarily,” Martin said. “I still hope it’s an animal.”
They looked at each other. “Perhaps someone is trying to scare us,” Sofia said.
Nicholas grimaced, then smiled. “You seem to attract strange happenings. Did you bring danger with you from Tuscany?”
“That’s not funny.” Sofia gave him a playful punch. “What’s going to happen now?”
Martin took off his baseball cap and brushed his hand over his short hair, then put the cap back on. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the police say. Matthew called the cops. They’re probably there by now. We better join them.”
The three of them walked along the small path to the field, past a row of the ever-present oaks, which gave the town its name.
A couple of police cars were already parked next to the field. Officers were cordoning off the area with yellow crime tape.
“They’re going to dig up the soil probably tomorrow to see if they can find more bones,” Matthew, Nicholas’s younger brother, told them.
One of the men was Walt Smith, the sheriff they all knew. He acknowledged their presence with a quick nod. “Whose field is it?” he asked.
“Ours.” Nicholas pointed at himself and Sofia.
“How long have you had it?”
“Only for about three months.” He turned to Martin who nodded. “Yes, the former owner is our neighbor, Frank Leonardi.”
“Why would he bury bones?” Nicholas shook his head, trying to make sense out of this mystery.
“Someone else may have done it,” Martin said. “I can’t imagine Frank having anything to do with this. He certainly isn’t a criminal.”
Walt scratched his forehead. “Well, we don’t know yet what kind of bone this is, although it does look human. The lab will tell more.” He stared at Martin and Nicholas. “What makes you think this is a crime?”
Martin shrugged. “Fairly obvious, isn’t it? I mean you are the police officer. Finding a bone in the ground that looks like a human bone doesn’t exactly sound harmless, does it?” He motioned at the field. “After all, this isn’t a cemetery.”
“Not likely, no.” Walt gave a half-smile. “Well, anyway, don’t touch anything. Don’t walk over the field. George Silver from the homicide division has been informed. He’ll take over once the lab confirms the bone is human.”
“How long is this going to take?” Nicholas asked. “We need to work the field, so it’s ready in time for planting.”
Walt looked him up and down. “Well, that’s not the first priority now, is it?”
“For us it is,” Nicholas snapped. “We already ordered the vines and once they arrive, they have to be planted right away or they’ll be ruined. We do have to make a living, you know.”
“I understand,” Walt said in an appeasing tone. “If it turns out to be human, the whole field will have to be dug up to see if there are more bones or if this is a mass grave.”
They all stared at him. “Sorry, bad joke,” he said. “If the bone is from a human being, they’ll have to find out who it belonged to. But this is out of my jurisdiction. I’m sorry, I can’t be any more specific.”
Nicholas took a deep breath. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude. I know you have to do your job. It’s just … well shocking.”
“I understand,” Walt said.
Nicholas was deep in thought as he, Martin, and Sofia slowly walked back to their house. “What a mess. I don’t mean to sound callous. We don’t even know whose bones they are. Perhaps there really was a crime. But I don’t know what to do about the planting.”
“I think we could still cancel the order of the vines,” Sofia suggested. “Since we don’t know how long this will take.”
“Sofia may be right,” Martin said.
“But we already organized everything, the workers, the back hoe … I don’t mean to whine but …”
Nicholas felt his grandfather’s hand on his shoulder. “I understand you’re disappointed. So am I. But you already have three excellent grapes that will tide you over and keep you busy enough. So you have to wait another year to plant a fourth one. Think long-term, Nicholas.”
Nicholas nodded. “You’re right, Grandpa. I better not turn into my father.” He was alluding to his father’s “go-getter”-attitude. Robert Segantino was a vintner and winemaker in the grand style.
Martin shook his head. “Too much, too big, too complicated. It’s not for me, but he seems to manage it. How? I don’t know.”
They lapsed into silence and walked quietly for a while.
“What worries me more than the field is the bone. I have a really bad feeling about what they’re going to find,” Martin said.
Nicholas glanced at him. “What do you mean, Grandpa?”
Martin hesitated, then cleared his throat. “Your great-uncle Angelo and Frank’s brother, Fred, disappeared at the same time twenty years ago.”
Nicholas stared at him. “You mean …?”
“I hope not.”
“What’s the story behind their disappearance?” Sofia asked. She put her arm around Nicholas.
“It’s a long one. I’ll tell you more later.” Martin waved at them as he walked toward his home. Nicholas could tell his grandfather was worried. Normally he stood straight, but now his shoulders slumped a little.
“What is Grandpa referring to?” Sofia asked. She glanced at Nicholas, her purple-blue eyes concerned.
Nicholas put his arm around her slender waist and pulled her close. The sun caught the highlights in her light-brown hair. He brushed a strand out of her face and kissed her, then sighed.
“I don’t know the whole story either. Grandpa has a younger brother by the name of Angelo. He was … well I guess still is the black sheep of the family. He was involved in some shady deals, and all of a sudden he disappeared. And Fred, Frank Leonardi’s brother, was a close friend of Angelo’s. He disappeared as well at about the same time. From what my father told me, they tried to find Angelo but had no luck. Grandpa doesn’t even know if he’s still alive.”
“Did you know your uncle … I guess he would be your great-uncle?”
Nicholas wrinkled his forehead. “I barely remember him. He worked with Grandpa in the vineyard. I remember my father complaining about him being a no-good bastard and lazy. But he was always friendly to me. Anyway, nobody talks about this anymore … until now. I think Grandpa’s worried that the bone in the field may have some connection to his brother’s disappearance.”
“Could it belong to Angelo?” Sofia asked.
“Oh, God, I hope not. Well, we’ll find out eventually.”