Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Saga of Lovelace Lane Chapter Nine by Cate Nolan


Darryl ignored Mason and marched right past him, pulling up short in front of Eden. “Where is she?”

“Who?” The three voices chimed as one.

“Don’t play dumb with me, Eden Damask. I know your grandson has been meeting with Martha. I warned her not to see him again, but did she listen? Of course not. So I’m warning you instead. Tell that good-for-nothing grandson of yours to stay away from my cousin’s girl.”

The unspoken ‘or else’ hung in the air.

Rose glanced at Eden and was alarmed by the older woman’s sudden pallor. “Eden, sit down. Mason, will you get her a glass of water?”
Once Mason left the room, Rose turned on Darryl. “You, Sir, were not invited into my house. You will leave, now.”

Hands fisted on her hips, she stood her ground, staring up at the big bully. He didn’t scare her. Well, really he did, but she needed to convince herself he didn’t if she was going to convince him.

Despite her show of bravado, he didn’t move. He laughed instead. It was not a pleasant sound.

“Look at you, Miss High and Mighty. Won’t you be singing a different song when you have to come begging me to buy this sorry excuse of a town from you to pay your bills.”

His words vanquished her nerves and goaded her into action. She whipped out her phone and put in a search for the Lovelace Sheriff. “We have a trespasser.”

“I’m going. I’m going.”
Apparently Mr. Darryl DeFoliate had no desire to cross paths with the sheriff. Interesting. Rose stored that knowledge away in case she ever had need of it.

“See that you stay gone.”

He paused on the doorstep. “You enjoy this lovely home while you can, Rose.” He sneered. “You may want to take some photos. For the memories.”

He scooted through the doorway as if he thought she might slam it on him. Instead, she closed it behind herself and followed him out onto the porch.

“Wait, I have a question for you.”
He turned and stared at her. “Second thoughts about selling?”

She wanted to wipe that sneer off his face. But she recalled grandfather’s advice.
Always remember your goal. Don’t let anyone make you forget what matters most.

Kindness mattered, to her as it had to her grandfather. And caring for the people of Lovelace. She could swallow her pride and ignore his taunts for the sake of the people who had meant the world to her grandfather.

“Why? Why do you want it so badly?”
“This.” She gestured broadly. “This house, this land. It can’t be for money. You could buy plenty of land for far less than I would sell this for.”

“You really don’t know?”

When he asked the question, Darryl looked almost human.

She shook her head. “I don’t know any reason you would want it.”  Other than greed or sheer meanness. She kept those last thoughts to herself.

“This should have been ours.”
The viciousness in his voice had her taking a step backwards.

“Your great-grandfather bankrupted my family with his mining schemes. Our family paid a high price to earn our fortune back. Now it’s payback time. With interest.”

With that he stormed off the porch and towards his truck. “I’ll be seeing you, Rose.”

Rose was still shaking when she turned back to the door. She rested her hand on the antique doorknob and paused to get her emotions under control. It probably hadn’t been a good idea to antagonize him.

All Rose’s worries about Darryl fled when she stepped back into the parlor and saw her dear friend still huddled in the corner of the chair. Eden suddenly looked so frail and frightened.

Rose hurried over and knelt beside her. “What is it? Eden, what’s wrong? The man is just a bully. He won’t hurt Johnny. I’ll be sure—”

Eden halted her outburst with a gentle hand on Rose’s arm. “It’s not him, Rose. That’s not what shocked me. It’s something I remembered.”

Eden was looking over Rose’s shoulder as she spoke. Rose turned to see Mason standing in the doorway looking equally grim.

He nodded at Eden. “I remembered too.” He walked over and handed her the glass. She accepted it and took a grateful sip.

“What is it?” Rose looked from one to the other. “You two are scaring me!”

Eden took another deliberate sip of water, and hesitated. Rose feared she would faint before she could speak, but the liquid seemed to fortify her. When she spoke, her voice was strong.

“There was another DeFoliate.”

Mason rested a hand on Eden’s shoulder, and added what he knew. “He was the brother of Darryl and Deke’s father. He was a history buff, a military historian.” Mason paused and smiled down at Eden.

She picked up the story thread. “He died so long ago that I’d forgotten there was a good side of the family. But he was a good man. And a good friend to your great-grandfather.” Eden sighed. “I remembered him when Darryl made the comment about Martha. She’s such a sweet girl, I forget she’s a DeFoliate.”

“Okay.” Rose smiled, trying to lighten the air. “I believe you. If one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch, maybe one good apple can—”

“Rose,” Eden interrupted. “This DeFoliate. His name was Mark.”


Friday, February 10, 2017

The Saga of Lovelace Lane Chapter Eight by Terri Reed

Rose stared at Mason, totally distracted from the task at hand by his appealing grin. He really was a handsome guy. Giving herself a mental shake, she focused with surprise on the fact he’d made the same connection that she had about the four men and the significance of their first names. 
Her heart thumped in her chest and she had to admit it was nice to be in sync with someone else. But it had to be a coincidence, right? She and Mason didn’t know each other well enough to have that kind of bond.  A bond like her great-grandmother and great-grandfather had had, according to June’s diary.  As much as Rose wanted to believe such a thing existed, she knew she’d never be that blessed. She and love mixed like oil and water.
Better to figure out the mystery of the map and find some way to save the town than dwell on love and romance, things she’d given up hope on enjoying.
Fitting the pieces of the map together, she traced the aged ink lines with the tip of her finger. Four pieces of a map. Four men meeting together. To do what?
Her grandfather’s stories of French jewels that never made it to Thomas Jefferson came to mind. And Eden’s tales of buried treasure. Was either story true?  She knew many times legends handed down through generations tended to morph and grow as each teller embellished with either their own suppositions or to make the story more interesting for those listening. Was that the case here?  
“Maybe this is a treasure map,” Rose mused aloud.
 “How can they be?” Mason asked with skepticism lacing his words. “Everyone for generations has been searching for the legend of the lost jewels and come up empty.”
“Maybe that was because The Four hid it so well.” Rose couldn’t keep the excitement of the hunt from her voice. A real live quest to find a fortune.  Matthew, Luke and John.  They needed to find the missing Mark.
Would the mysterious Mark’s family have the fourth piece to the map? And what would they find at the end of the map?
“You should go see Sadie Lewis,” Eden said. “She’s the keeper of the town records. Every birth and death from the inception of Lovelace. If anyone will have a clue as to who might be the Mark you seek, it’s Sadie.”
Rose stood, ready to begin the search for answers. She prayed she'd find a way to keep the town out of the hands of the DeFoliate’s or the bank. “Where do I find Sadie?”
“I’ll take you to her,” Mason offered as he unfolded himself from the chair.  “But you’ll need to put on hiking shoes.”
“Excuse me?” Rose glanced down at her leather mules.
“Sadie’s place is off the beaten path,” he said. “You’ll want a jacket, as well. It can get cold here at night.”
“My tennis shoes will have to do.” Rose hurried to her suitcase and unearthed her cross-trainers, thankful she’d thought to bring them at the last moment. She grabbed her thick fleece hoodie and purse. “Let’s go find out what Sadie can tell us about the fourth man.”
            Mason opened the front door and stepped aside for her to pass in front of him,  but a bulking shape blocked the path.
Rose stared into a craggy-faced man with wide shoulders and thinning hair.  Before she could ask who the man was, Mason slipped his arm around her waist and drew her back against him in a protective gesture that sent her pulse racing.
“Darryl DeFoliate, what are you doing here?” Mason practically growled.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Saga of Lovelace Lane: Chapter Seven by Deb Kastner

Rose sighed and went to answer the door. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and she didn’t know how many more surprises she could handle in one day.

She had just lost her grandfather, inherited a town, and, apparently, a mountain of debt to go with it. Not to mention feuding brothers who were foaming at the mouth to take the town over, ostensibly for development.

She loved this town, but she didn’t know what, if anything, she’d be able to do to save it. It made her sad to think this very house might be torn down in the name of progress.

But she couldn’t shake the notion that there was something more to this. Something she was missing.

“Are you going to just stare at the door, my dear, or do you plan to open it any time soon?”
Rose blushed and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, then reluctantly opened the door.

As she’d feared, Mason stood on the other side, his arms laden with what looked like very old books. The historian in Rose brightened, but she wasn’t positive it was the historical documents that were making her heart beat faster.

Mason’s glinting silver eyes were doing that.

Oh, why did he have to affect her so?

He was part of a problem, not the solution.

“May I come in?” His voice was unusually low and husky.

“Yes, s-sorry,” she stammered, standing aside until he passed through. She could tell herself she didn’t care for Mason until the sun went down, but even though she knew she couldn’t fool heart, she would deal with those feelings later. Right now, she wanted to see what he was holding.

“Hey, Eden,” Mason greeted as he placed the pile of books in the middle of the table.

To both of them he said, “These diaries were included in your grandfather’s possessions. He left them to you, Rose. In all the stress of the moment, I’d forgotten them. I am hoping maybe we can find some answers in here.”

“Diaries?” Rose couldn’t keep the excitement from her voice. There was nothing more fascinating to a historian than an old diary. Original source material! And Mason had brought six of them.

“Excellent,” Eden said, reaching for the top diary. “Where do we start?”

“At the beginning, I suppose.” Mason took the second diary and pulled up a seat at the table.

“And we’re looking for what, exactly?” Rose asked. These were her great-grandmother June’s diaries, a direct link with her past, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to share them with anyone, at least not yet.

But time was of the essence and she couldn’t afford to be greedy, so she took the third volume and flipped it open to the first page.

She had a town to save.
Mason was grasping at straws to be near Rose, and he sent God a silent prayer of thanks that he’d remembered the diaries.

Whether or not they proved useful, they’d literally gotten his foot in the door and given him a reason to be near Rose.

Maybe he could even convince her he was not the enemy here.

Eden chuckled, and Mason and Rose looked up from their reading.

“I’ve got thirteen-year-old June. She’s a riot.”

“I’ve got June’s older years, after she’d married Matt Redmond. The day to day joys of motherhood,” Mason added.

“I’ve got—oh.” Rose’s voice dropped off and Mason’s protective instincts kicked in.

“What’s wrong?”

Rose’s amazing blue eyes glittered with tears and he reached out his hand to her. She didn’t pull away.

“It’s the story of the first time great-grandma June met my great-grandfather. She was walking by the lake. . .” 

She paused and her face reddened as she shot Mason a meaningful glance full of emotion. He swallowed hard.

“Listen,” she said softly. “We’ve only been in Lovelace for a week. I was walking along the lake today when I came upon a young man. I took one look into his blue eyes and I am lost forever. I know, just know, that he is the one for me. My Matt.”

“She clearly had good instincts, since she married the man,” Eden said with a chuckle.

“Yes, Rose agreed quietly, and Mason wondered if she was thinking about the same thing he was—their first meeting by the lake when they were teenagers, and the second as adults.
The room became silent as the three continued to scan the diaries. There was a lot of history between those pages.

“Here’s something odd,” Mason said. “June mentions that Matt has gotten into the habit of taking off in the evenings, meeting with what he will only call The Four. He was all secretive about it. June suspected he needed time out with his male friends. He mentioned Luke Grant. That’s my great-grandfather.”

“But what is The Four, and does it have anything to do with our problem now?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling the answer to your question is yes.” He pulled out a torn, aged paper that had been tucked into the diary’s pages next to his great-grandfather’s name.”

“Look. This piece matches the one we found in your grandfather’s documents,” Mason continued. 

“The second of four.”

“Third,” Eden said, revealing the part of the map in her possession.

They placed the three together but it still didn’t make sense. They needed that fourth piece.

“So they tore the map into four pieces. Do you think that was what they were referring to?” Rose asked.

“Perhaps,” Eden agreed.

“Or maybe they were referring to themselves,” Mason suggested. “You know how guys are about forming secret clubs.”

“Wait,” Rose said, a peculiar expression covering her face. “Eden, your husband’s name was John. Is there any chance it’s a family name passed down from generation to generation?”

“As a matter of fact, it is,” Eden confirmed. “My John was the third Damask boy to be so named.”

“So your grandfather, who somehow had a piece of this document, was called John.”
Eden nodded as Rose paused, deep in thought.

“Matt—Matthew Redmond, Luke Grant, and John Damask.”

The lightbulb flared on in Mason’s head and his admiration for Rose swelled in his chest. She was not only beautiful, but brilliant. There was no other woman like her in the world.

Mason grinned. “I guess we’d better start looking for Mark.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Saga of Lovelace Lane: Chapter Six

Mason started to chase after her but thought about his own parents.  When his mother was most upset, it was always best to give her space, let her calm down.  His mind told him to do the same; his feet, however, were already following her.  The sound of the phone stalled his steps.
Catch her, tell her you love her, that you'd never....
He checked the number and scowled: Deke DeFoliate.
“Yes,” Mason answered the call.
“So, the prodigal granddaughter’s returned.”
“She has.”
“I take it you’ve warned her about us?”
“I made a recommendation that any conscientious attorney would give his client.”
“Did you tell her that we can solve all her money problems?”
Another call interrupted, sending a quick Thank You to God, Mason said, “I have to go” and clicked off without waiting.
“Hey, Dad.”
“Did I just see you with Rose Redmond?”
“You did.”
“Is she staying?”
“I’m not sure.”  But, oh, he wanted her to.  The sight of her, a woman he’d spent barely an hour with fifteen year ago, and it all came flooded back.  They fit.  It was in the air that electrified around them - because of her.  It was in the sound of her voice - that surely was the melody of an angel.  It was in his heart.
“Did you tell her?”
“I didn't get a chance. She’s quick.  She was reading some of the paperwork as I was talking and caught on to the broken branch of our family tree carved with the name DeFoliate.”
He hated that he'd put the look of sadness, mistrust, in her eyes.
“Phewhf,” his father said.  “You need to find her and warn her.”
“I will.”
Fifteen years ago, his family had returned to Lovelace, Virginia, because they’d inherited land.  Only, to be cheated out of half of it.
By Deke Defoliate’s brother Darryl.
As Rose drew closer to the Victorian, she noted her car still parked in front - suitcase waiting in the trunk - and someone on the porch.
Hah.  If either of the DeFoliates were waiting for her, she’d send them packing and then unpack herself.  She was staying! 
But, it wasn’t a stranger standing at the stop of the porch steps.   Strangers didn’t wear bright red shirts, white cotton pants, red tennis shoes, and a welcoming smile. 
“Eden!”  Rose’s feet practically flew the rest of the way.  “I’m so glad you’re here.  It’s been quite a day.”
“I saw you with Mason.  Did he catch you up with all that’s going on?”  Eden Damask and her grandfather should have married.  They had the same wry sense of humor and the same deep love for Lovelace, Virginia.
“Somewhat... Did you know he’s related to the Defoliates and-”
“And is connected to them the way a match is to water,” Eden finished.  “Come on, let’s get your luggage, you always did dally when it came to unpacking.  Then, I’ve supper on the table.  There’s a few thing we need to discuss.”
“Like what?”
“Like what you’re going to be doing the next few weeks, months, years.”
It flashed before Rose: her job, the promotion, the condo of her dreams.  Then, the flash slowed into how much history was here  in her town.   There was plenty of work here and she’d be her own boss.  Plus, the condo paled in comparison to the Victorian.  The tiny yard was nothing like the lake.
“I’ll listen,” Rose said.
Thirty minutes later, both women sat by the kitchen window at the old table where Grandpa had taught Rose how to play checkers.  Eden served up tomato soup and grilled cheese.  Without asking, Eden handed Rose a glass of milk.  Always a mom, Eden was.
“I’m thinking,” Eden said after taking a bite of sandwich, “that Mason told you you’re land rich and money poor.”
“He did.”
“I think I know a way to help you solve that problem.”
Careful not to spill her drink, Eden pulled a manilla envelope from the bag laying on the table.  She carefully opened it and slid a yellowed piece of paper toward Rose.
“Looks like directions,” Rose said, “but it’s incomplete.”
Eden leaned forward.  “This is a document my husband’s family has had for years.  Two weeks ago, Mason and I were going through your grandfather’s files and we found its mate.  I almost fainted right then and there.  I didn’t tell him that I had this.”
Oh, how the secrets of the past muck up the present
“Why not?”
“John always grumbled that the bank was owned by the Defoliates.  I, of course, told him that the Grants were the Grants, but when I saw how Mason looked at the map, I couldn’t stop thinking about my husband and how he didn’t trust anything or anyone connected to the Defoliates.”
Rose nodded. She completely understand.
“Something I noticed before Grant stacked it with the other papers,” Eden said, “Is that the complete map has to be four pieces.  I’m giving you one.  Mason has the one your grandfather had.  You need to find the other two pieces.”
“What do you think they lead to?” Rose asked.
The doorbell rang before Eden could answer.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Saga of Lovelace Lane: Chapter Five

By Debby Giusti

Rose’s head pounded. The dull throb that had started on her flight to Virginia had escalated throughout the afternoon and continued to sour what should have been a joyous reunion with Mason. Now, sitting in his office and staring at the handsome and seemingly competent lawyer added confusion to what was turning into a very unsettling day.

In addition to her concerns about the property, she was also having concerns about Mason. What they had experienced fifteen years ago had seemed so right, yet the flutter in her stomach whenever he smiled at her could be the result of a foolish memory she had held onto for far too long. Instead of a mysterious boy who had stolen her heart, she was interacting with her father’s executor, a man who was providing sobering information about financial matters that could impact the rest of her life. The idea of owning a town had been difficult to accept. Realizing the inheritance came at a hefty price she would somehow have to pay compounded the problem. Where would she get the capitol she needed?

She took the papers Mason held out to her. Carefully, she sorted through the brittle, yellowed pages until her gaze fell to what appeared to be an aged document. Leaning closer, she struggled to read the fluid script written with a flourish.

“Be it remembered on the 7th day of April 1878 that Mr. Andrew DeFoliate, aged twenty-five, and Miss Martha Grant, aged twenty-one, were lawfully married …”

Even more confused, she glanced at Mason. “Martha Grant? Was she a relative?”

His smile faded. “A very distant relative.”

“But she married one of the DeFoliates.” Rose tilted her head. “That means the brothers who are trying to buy my grandfather’s property are your relatives.”

“Distant relatives, Rose.” He stood and rounded the desk. “I would never encourage you to sell to either developer.”

“Did my grandfather realize that his lawyer—the man he trusted to provide sound legal advice--was related to the people who wanted to buy his town?”

Mason’s face darkened. “I don’t recall the subject ever came up.”

“Were you withholding the information from my father?”

“Of course not. Surely you remember that I encouraged you to keep the property.”

Had he? As much as she wanted to recall what Mason had said, she could only remember his twinkling eyes and inviting smile. What was wrong with her? In her real life back in San Francisco, she was an accredited historian. Since arriving in Lovelace, she’d stepped back in time and was acting like a teenager in love.

Steeling her spine, she broached a question that kept circling through her mind. “If I don’t have the money to pay the taxes and the liens, who gets the property?”

“Ah…” He hesitated for a long moment and blew out a stiff breath. “In that case, the Lovelace Bank would take possession of the property.”

“Then that’s where I need to go.” She returned the papers to his desk, grabbed her purse and hurried out of his office.

Attracted though she was to Mason, she needed information about her options. She couldn’t let his deep set eyes and angular jaw tempt her to do something that wouldn’t be good for the town her grandfather had loved so dearly.

“Rose, wait!” Mason hurried after her.

She raced past the Forever Yours Florist and the Chocolate Confectionery, refusing to glance back lest her resolve weaken and she do something foolish like ask for his advice. Surely, the president of the bank would provide a clearer assessment of her financial situation.

“There’s something I need to tell you, Rose.” Mason fell into step next to her.

Refusing to let down her guard, she crossed the street and marched straight for the bank. 

Before she could push open the door, he gently grabbed her arm. “Please, Rose, you need to know that—”
She turned to face him, but as she did, her gaze landed on the bronze wall plaque near the door.

Lovelace Bank,
Established 1880
President of the Bank
Mason Grant lV

Her heart stopped. “What’s going on, Mason?” She pointed to the sign.

“I can explain. I’m Mason Grant, the fifth. My father owns the bank.”

In that instant, everything she’d remembered about the handsome guy she’d met by the lake vanished like a bad dream. How had she been so foolish?

Tears burned her eyes. She blinked them back, unwilling to show weakness. “Seems you and your family win no matter what I do.”
He shook his head. “That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?” She pulled her arm from his hold. “Sell to the DeFoliates or default to the bank. Either way the property returns to your family.”

Needing to distance herself from the man she thought had been someone special, Rose ran back to her grandfather’s house and locked the door behind her. She had left Mason fifteen years ago. If need be, she would leave him again.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Saga of Lovelace Lane: Chapter Four

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.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Saga of Lovelace Lane: Chapter 3

                                                    by Roxanne Rustand

Rose stared in disbelief at the man in front of her.  He was taller now-- no longer a lanky teenager—with broad shoulders and a powerful build, but his piercing silver eyes and unruly black hair were unmistakable, sending her thoughts spinning back to the moment they’d literally bumped into each other fifteen years ago, at this very spot. He’d gently grabbed her upper arms to steady her, and even now the memory of his touch sent warm shivers through her that settled around her heart.

They’d stared at each other, frozen in place for what seemed like eternity, until she finally found her voice and apologized—at the same moment he did.  The awkward moment dissolved when he gave her a lopsided grin that deepened a dimple in his cheek, his eyes twinkling.

And at that moment, she’d known she was forever lost.

They’d had just a short time together, walking along the shore of the lake. Skipping rocks across its pristine cobalt surface. Sitting on a picnic table and discovering that they had so many hopes and dreams in common.

With her parents impatiently calling for her to get in the car for the trip back to the city, they hadn’t had time to exchange addresses so they could write. Every time she went back to visit her grandfather, she’d asked around town about the mysterious boy she’d met, but received only blank looks and off-hand shrugs.  In time, she’d given up asking. 

She gone off to college.  Became engaged, then found herself alone after her fiance left her for someone else. But she’d never forgotten the boy she’d met on this path, and seeing him again made her heart falter.

“I can’t believe this,” she managed at last.  “Y-you’re my grandfather’s executor?”

Mason nodded. “I wish I could’ve introduced myself at Valentin’s funeral a few months back, but I was out of state for several weeks, dealing with some family matters of my own. And after I returned, it took a while to find a copy of the will.”

“Had you written it for him?”

“My predecessor did. Walt was the town’s only lawyer for fifty years, before I joined the firm. He passed away last year.”  Mason frowned. “Walt remained stubbornly in the past technology-wise until the day he died—no computer records, just hard copies filed away.  I knew Valentin and had seen his file, but when I came in to pull the will, it was gone. Strange. I had a state-of-art security system installed after Walt died, and we've never had any theft."

“Your partner misplaced it?”

“No. I can’t imagine that. Walt was sharp as could be up to the day he handed me the keys and said he was done. Nothing was ever out of place.  Luckily, your grandfather’s housekeeper and I were eventually able to find his copy of the will in his files at home.”

 Rose bit her lip.  “Honestly, I just don’t understand any of this. There are over five hundred people living here. How could I possibly have inherited a town?”

A corner of Mason’s mouth lifted in a faint smile.  “Your great grandfather bought up hundreds of acres around here, sure it held vast amounts of coal and iron ore.  There was quite a boom town here in the late 1800’s.  But eventually he went broke and everyone left.”

“I remember grandpa saying it became a ghost town back then.” She stared across the sparkling lake. “He loved this area so much. He said he never wanted it to fall into the hands of developers.”

“Which is why he refused to sell it off.  Instead, he leased the land—only to people who wanted to establish homes here.  So yes, you’ve inherited over two hundred undeveloped acres of the most rugged, beautiful land in Virginia, plus the twenty-some acres developed in town.”

Rose suddenly felt faint as the enormity of the situation hit her. “I-I don’t even know what to say. Until now my goal was to become an archivist at a history center.  I know nothing about all of this.  And the inheritance taxes…”

“As much as I love this quaint old town, I have to be honest—there are two developers who have been clamoring for the chance to buy it all—every acre. They’ve been competing with each other, offering your grandfather more money every year, but he refused.” Mason paced a few feet away, then turned back to her. “You could become a wealthy woman if you were to sell.”

She backed up to a park bench and sank down on it, her head spinning. “And these developers…”

Mason’s mouth hardened. “They want to challenge the existing leases. Bulldoze the entire town. This whole area would be built up into resorts, condos, outlet malls and amusement parks. Valentin has also turned down offers from mining companies that seem to be sure there are vast, untapped resources in the hills.”

Rose closed her eyes, remembering the charming, quirky folks who had lived here all their lives.  The drugstore and grocery store, that still looked as if they belonged in the 1800’s.  A place where everyone knew each other’s families for generations past, and kids could play safely outside until evening fell and their mothers called them home.

“Every time I came for a visit, I went on long walks with my grandfather. He knew the names of every type of bird, tree and plant in the area. He said the pristine land was like a testament to God’s infinite glory, and that he would protect it until his dying breath.  Those developers’ plans would be a desecration of all he held dear.” She took a long, slow breath.  “I just wish those old tales about hidden treasures were true.  People used to talk about a trunk buried somewhere in town—filled with smuggled jewels and gold that were hidden during the Civil War. Of course, no one ever found so much as a clue.  I could sure use it right now, just to pay the taxes and save this town.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that, but I do want to go over the will with you, back at my office, and there are other documents we need to discuss.”

“Now is as good a time as any,” she whispered, “I need to know where I stand.”

She stood, feeling a little wobbly, and gladly accepted his arm to steady herself.  Just as she had all those years ago, she felt unexpected shivers of warmth at his touch.

“We also need to talk about the contents of your grandfather’s house, and a number of other things while you’re here.”

Their eyes met, held. And for a moment she felt too disoriented to speak.  “I-I appreciate your help.”

“I’ll do whatever I can.”  The corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her. “I do hope you can stay a while. It’s going to take a long time to go through that big old house, and your grandfather once mentioned that his father told him there might be treasures of a different kind hidden away in it.  Possibly some old diaries and documents, dating back to the mid-1800’s. But Valentin was never able to find them. Maybe you'll be a better sleuth."

Rose felt her historian’s heart leap at the thought of finding such precious things, but something even stronger was drawing her…something perhaps even more important.

She’d never forgotten the boy she’d met along the lakeshore.  Perhaps the magic of those brief moments with him had forever affected her attraction to the guys she’d  met later, because no one else had quite measured up.  Had she simply fantasized about her connection to Mason? Imagined it to be much greater than it was?

This would be her chance to spend time with him.  Discover the truth, and either put that silly schoolgirl crush to rest, or find out if he truly was all she remembered.


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