by Jean C. Gordon
Mason ran his hand through his hair and looked upward for guidance as he waited for Rose to join him at his office above the Forever Yours flower and trinket shop. The shop was one of the many unique local business that Lovelace would lose if Rose sold out to one of the developers. The old building with its original 1880s false front had once been housed a bank started by his great, great grandfather, a contemporary and possible friend of Rose's ancestor who'd bought the town—at least that's how it looked from some photographs and letters his mother had found in her genealogy research of his father's family.
She'd also found another odd document. A document that appeared to go with a similar document Mason and Valentin Redmond's housekeeper Eden Damask had found with the old man's original will. The pages seemed to be incomplete directions to something.
Mason pushed back from the heavy oak desk purported to be from the office of the first Mason Grant, the Lovelace banker and walked to the back window of this office. It looked out over Lovelace Park with its heart-shaped rose garden. Family legend was that every male Lovelace Grant had proposed to his future wife in that garden. His father had, and Mason had planned to. But his law school sweetheart had hated the small-town atmosphere of Lovelace and Mason's plans to practice family law here, politely turned down his proposal—a family first—and hightailed it back to her hometown Atlanta. He'd recently heard she was up for a judgeship there.
Where was Rose? She'd said she had to run back to the house for a minute before she came to the office. The sound of footsteps on the stairs pulled him away from the window and the play of colors the setting sun brought out in the park below
"Hi." He opened the door before she did. "Come in and sit down. I have your grandfather's file out and ready to go over."
She sat across the desk from him and he did the official reading of her grandfather's will. "As you heard, except for the modest bequest to Mrs. Damask for her retirement, you inherit all of your grandfather's property, which consists of his real estate and personal property." He lifted two papers from the file folder. "Here's what the real estate is valued at for property tax purposes and what the two developers are offering currently.
Rose's eyes went wide and her rosebud lips opened to a perfect "O" before drawing to a thin line. "Do I understand correctly? Grandfather had no other property. No bank accounts or investments?"
The pain in her eyes shot through him. "I'm afraid not. All his liquid assets had to be used for his bequest to Mrs. Damask."
"She deserves whatever Grandfather has given her for her retirement. She's the widow of his lifelong best friend, and they were dear friends as well."
Mason swallowed the fear that came with what else he had to tell Rose. "In addition, much of the property has a lien against it."
"Grandfather borrowed against the land?"
Mason nodded. "Apparently, your grandfather never raised any of the existing townspeople's or their descendants' rents, only the rents of new people when they moved in. And he forgave back rent for anyone who ran into unpreventable financial difficulties. Job loss, illness."
"That sounds like Grandfather," she said. "May I see the developers' offers."
"Of course. "The look of despondency on Rose's face made him want to leap over the desk, take her in his arms, and assure her that everything would be all right.
"DeFoliate." Rose read the last name of both developers. Are they related?
"Apparently, they're brothers. Rival brothers."
"Why does that name sound familiar?"
Mason wasn't sure if Rose was talking to him or herself. "Their family was among the early settlers of Lovelace," he answered.
"That's where I've seen it." Her eyes lit up. "In the history of Lovelace Grandfather had a copy of. The DeFoliates lost their fortune in the 1880s mining bust." She pushed the papers away as if they weighed one hundred pounds, rather than a few ounces. "I'm going to have to sell the land aren't I?"
Mason knew what he should advise as an attorney. "Not necessarily. You're a historian. Take a look at these and tell me what you think." He handed her the puzzling yellowed documents his mother and he and Mrs. Damask had found.