Chapter 1

 

THE FEW people gathered in front of the arrivals gate could hardly qualify as a crowd. But after seemingly endless hours stuck inside a plane and more connections than Ellis would care to count, the bodies between him and his goal might as well be an angry mob closing in on him. He sighed and looked out to the back of the crowd to make sure the man was still standing there.

Yep. He was. All the way at the back, holding a piece of paper that read “Ellis Campos.”

Not that he had expected an ostentatious greeting, but maybe he could make an effort to help Ellis?

He raised his hand and waved tentatively at the man, who in return just lifted his head—probably to get a better look at him—but stayed rooted to the spot.

Well, okay then.

Pulling his suitcase and muttering what seemed to be an ungodly amount of “excuse me” and “sorry,” he managed to make his way to the wall the stranger was currently helping keep up and extended his hand to greet him.

“Hi, I’m Ellis,” he said, hoping that this was the man who he had exchanged emails with to discuss his flight information and pickup.

The man—who Ellis was sure sported the world’s thickest mustache—looked him up and down and shook his hand, nodding once. Then he reached around for Ellis’s suitcase and unceremoniously pulled it toward the double glass doors leading to the outside world.

“Um….” Ellis stared after the middle-aged man, momentarily struck speechless. As the glass doors parted for his suitcase to exit—without him—Ellis recovered and hurried after the man. “Excuse me. Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”

The man/mustache halted just outside the door, blocking it, muttering something unintelligible before he resumed his walk. Ellis sighed.

The sound barrier created by his mustache kept him from hearing what the man said, making it seem as if he were speaking in a foreign language.

Well, damn.

He pulled out his phone and sent a quick message to his assistant to let him know Ellis had arrived and was still alive.

After walking all of three steps out of the air-conditioned airport, his entire shirt felt like it was drenched in sweat. The air was hot and humid, making the damp fabric cling to his body. He brushed the strands of hair hanging over his forehead impatiently aside. He hadn’t had the time to get a haircut before jumping on the plane.

A decision he was quickly regretting.

Mr. Mustache led him to a small parking lot, zigzagged unnecessarily through cars until he reached a black pickup and unlocked it, then loaded Ellis’s suitcase in the back.

Ellis tapped Mr. Mustache on the shoulder before he could get in the car. The man turned and stared at him impassively. His face was blank and gave nothing away. Ellis cleared his throat nervously and opened his mouth to speak.

The glaring sun reflecting off his phone screen briefly blinded Ellis, and he fumbled with it, nearly dropping it. Unnerved by the unwavering attention Mr. Mustache was giving him, Ellis cursed under his breath and made a clumsy grabbing motion to keep his phone from shattering on the ground.

“Um, sorry. It was a long flight.” He looked up at the man who was still standing there, just looking at him. “So, um, I didn’t catch your name.”

Mr. Mustache just stood there, silently blinking at Ellis.

“It’s because I’m not from around here, isn’t it?” Ellis asked, the long day of traveling catching up to him and making him feel every single one of his thirty-one years of age.

God, he needed a smoke. Maybe a huge fruity cocktail. Actually, considering the past few days, a bottle might be more appropriate. Did they even make cocktail bottles?

Mr. Mustache clapped him on the shoulder twice firmly, squeezing gently before releasing and nodding toward the car, saying something Ellis had no hope of understanding. Mostly because of the very effective sound barrier created by the ’80s-inspired facial hair, which also impeded lip reading. Also because exhaustion made his brain fuzzy.

Not that being proficient in lip reading would’ve made a difference.

“Just… if you’re taking me somewhere remote where no one will hear me scream to eviscerate me, just please, make it painless,” Ellis mumbled, collapsing onto the car seat and letting his head fall back.

Mr. Mustache ignored him and started the car, then pulled out of the parking lot smoothly. He turned on the car’s air conditioner, and a cloud of dust and dead insect wings exploded in Ellis’s face, making him cough and gag. And swallow said insect wings.

He turned, glaring at Mr. Mustache, who just kept on driving without a care in the world. But Ellis swore he saw the left corner of his mustache quirk up in amusement.

As the cloud of dust and insect limbs settled around them, the stuffy air inside the car started to cool, and Ellis settled back in his seat with a sigh.

So maybe the man-shaped mustache wasn’t that bad. He held on to that thought for all of five seconds, until Mr. Mustache turned on the radio.

It spewed a god-awful music that seemed to be a cross between country and pop Ellis used to hear back in university.

The result was less than appealing, and he wasn’t a fan.

Ignoring what apparently passed for music in this place, Ellis turned his face away from the driver.

The parking lot turned into a semibusy street as they exited the airport, and Ellis looked out the window, barely registering the buildings or the people walking about.

He thought back to two days ago, when he’d received the call that threw a wrench in his perfectly ordered life.

Surprises were not an everyday occurrence for him. As such, he’d come to dislike them.

There were the expected surprises, like the meeting he was in when he got the phone call, where Mr. da Silva—with the pen poised to sign his divorce papers—demanded his soon-to-be ex-wife include her vintage salt and pepper shakers in the settlement, claiming they held sentimental value.

Mrs. da Silva—Ellis’s client, twenty years her soon-to-be ex-husband’s senior and the owner of a short fuse—had unsurprisingly screeched that the salt and pepper shakers in question were given to her by her grandmother. Then promptly launched herself on Mr. da Silva, landing on the other side of the conference table in a tangle of limbs and cursing the day she laid eyes on him.

To his credit, Mr. da Silva just covered his head and took the blows, yelling that he was going to sue her for all she was worth.

Including the damn shakers.

Because of their less than amicable seven-month-long divorce—due to Mrs. da Silva having walked in on her husband in a very compromising position with their next-door neighbor’s sister—surprises like that, Ellis could anticipate.

The one he got when his assistant told him he had an out-of-state call on line two—as Mr. da Silva’s attorney tried to pull Ellis’s client off hers—was not of the expected kind.

After making sure no murders were going to be committed in conference room three, Ellis extricated himself from the meeting and made his way to his office, followed closely by his overly curious assistant.

He pressed the blinking light on his phone and listened to the heavily accented voice on the other side tell him his aunt, Meredith Campos, was dead.

Ellis had never met his aunt. She left when he was four years old and never contacted him or any other family members.

He knew she went to live somewhere else in order to escape her responsibilities. At least that’s what he’d been told on the one occasion the topic of Meredith Campos came up, more than a decade ago.

Learning that she passed away didn’t make him exactly sad. She was a distant family member who he couldn’t even recall.

Learning, however, that she left him her coffee farm in her will did stir up feelings.

Unwanted and confused feelings.

He sat there, stunned speechless as her lawyer rattled off detailed descriptions of the farm, where it was located and its size. Then he said Ellis had to come down to oversee the transfer of the estate and get up to date with everything coffee-farm related.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Ellis said, having been stunned out of his silence.

“You will have to come down here, Mr. Campos, so you can sign the deed and so that the Blue Feathers Coffee Farm can be fully transferred to your name,” the man on the other side, Fran-something, said with a thick accent.

“‘Down here’? Where is ‘down here’?” Ellis’s brain tried to catch up with the conversation.

There was a beat of silence where all Ellis could hear was his own blood pumping through his ears. He was sure the man mentioned where said coffee farm was; he just hadn’t really paid attention to anything after he heard the words “left you her farm in her will.”

“Minas Gerais, Mr. Campos. The Blue Feathers Coffee Farm is in the southeast of Brazil,” Mr. Fran-something said in a slow and measured voice.

Minas Gerais wasn’t that far away. But it was still away. So that was where his aunt escaped to. The same state his grandmother’s side of the family was from.

And so it was that two days, five connections, and too many hours on a plane later—because his assistant apparently had a twisted sense of humor and was obviously trying to teach him humility by making him suffer through endless and unnecessary connections—Ellis was on his way, alongside a man-shaped mustache, to the strangely named coffee farm that was now, for some unknown reason, all his.

Buildings and people turned into green fields of something Ellis was too tired to identify, and the monotony of the world passing outside the car’s window lulled him to sleep.