Treasures of the Heart
Following her Uncle Sim's directions to take care of what he's left her in his will, Janis Ingram finds not only a hidden fortune but a man who might love her for herself alone, for the unexpected windfall, or Colin Bradley could be setting her up to take the fall as a co-thief of stolen art. Their days of stunning inventory in unfamiliar tunnels turn into heated desire for each other, and questions of trust bring wariness along with unexpected feelings. When it becomes clear Jan is in danger from unknowns, Colin turns to his grandfather for answers.
Length: Mid Novel
Word Count: 72,331
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by AJenny Dixon, May 2011
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
Half a hundred acres of hard-rock soil and shale climbing two thousand feet over a ridge-backed mountain dipping into a narrow green valley with a clear-water creek running through deep-cut banks. Overgrown wagon ruts angled at a forty-degree tilt to a split log cabin. That cabin was one room, one room that had served Uncle Sim for seventy-some years.
Jan Ingram looked once more at the single sheet of paper in her hand.
"I can't believe he's gone."
She stared pensively out her twelfth story office window. A late afternoon fog drifted across the bay, and she imagined ships nudging each other to find a berth in the dimness. Soundproofed walls of the building muted warning blasts from alerted vessels.
"You did say he was old, Jan," Peggy Stover said. "The way you talked, he'd been around since sometime B. C."
Peg's voice was sympathetic even with a smile detected in it.
"I know. I guess I thought he'd live forever." Jan squeezed her shoulders together. "I wanted him to."
The note in her hand said Uncle Sim, her mother's brother, had died. She'd seen him about four months ago at Christmas. She visited her family in the sere, rocky hills and vales of Maine every Christmas, and it was her biggest delight to drive into the village of Espy, rent a horse from Elmer's Stables, and ride three miles across some of the roughest territory seen since pioneer days to visit Uncle Sim.
She always went alone.
"Uncle Sim was the family black sheep, and no one wanted to be bothered with his tales of a half century ago, his escapades with prohibition officers, stalking of mountain lions just to watch the beautiful cats, sailing rough and unknown seas with his beloved merchant marines."
Jan laughed, and Peg sat up straight watching her business partner turn, smiling through tears in slanted green eyes, an odd shade of green, a cross between the first blade of grass in the spring and the bright emerald stone Jan always wore on a thin silver chain. A present from Uncle Sim on her sixteenth birthday.
"Remember I told you about the big horse Elmer let me ride last Christmas?"
Jan moved across the room and dropped into a straight chair by Peg's desk. Her legs stretched in front of her, crossed at the ankles, she stared at her black suede pumps.
"Mama said Uncle Sim rode Argonaut over to the house from Espy. That's about twenty miles. Well, the way Uncle Sim rode him it was more like ten. He knew all the short cuts and Indian trails left over from the eighteenth century."
"He was old, but he wasn't that old."
Jan's expression was soft and whimsical.
"I can't remember thinking that he hadn't always been there or that he would ever leave me."
"Leave you? What about the rest of the family? Surely, your mother and aunt will miss him."
"Oh, yes, but Uncle Sim was a liability to everyone but me. He was what's known as a real black sheep."
"He hated towns, anything bigger than Espy, which probably has twenty-eight people, and that might be counting the dogs and cats."
"Not necessarily grounds to label him 'black sheep.' If I remember correctly, one Jan Ingram isn't a howling fan of the big cities." Peg's voice was dry, her wide mouth turning up at the corners. San Francisco was a necessary evil if you wanted to be in the job market, but her friend from Maine would leave in the switch of a coon's tail (quoting Jan) if she had a choice.
Transplanted from the east coast, a New Englander and a southerner, Jan and Peg loved San Francisco, especially since their business had given them a lot of enjoyment along with a steady income. Their only regret was distance from families. They managed yearly vacations, and members of Peg's family had visited several times.
Uncle Sim had stopped once on his way to Japan and once on his way home from Australia. Peg had missed him both times and had bemoaned the fact. Now, even more so because she'd hoped to someday meet the man Jan spoke of with so much affection.
"Uncle Sim loved bottles."
"That why you save all those perfume bottles he sends you every occasion? And sometimes when there isn't one?"
"Not that kind. Uncle Sim liked empty whiskey bottles, the ones he'd emptied himself. Maine had its fair share of homemade whiskey buffs. He used to make his own in true moon shiner style. When I rode Argonaut out there --."
"That was the stallion's name." Jan grinned. "Makes you wonder if Elmer was in the Forty-Nine gold rush. He and Uncle Sim would have made a good pair back then."
"Anyway, when I got to Uncle Sim's last Christmas, it started to snow. Here he comes down that rocky path to meet me, white beard blowing in a hard, icy mountain wind, grinning like crazy. 'Buttercup,' he said, 'I was beginning to think you'd forgotten your old pal. Thought maybe all that high-falutin' living made you scared of a little snow.' Little snow. Before dark, we had nine inches, and there was no way I could get off the mountain. We brought Argonaut through the cabin and put him in a walk-through tunnel at the back."
Jan trailed long fingers over her red silk skirt.
"Uncle Sim got out some good Maine whiskey, mixed it with his own ingredients, heated it, and we proceeded to get roaring drunk."
Peg's grin flashed white teeth against her cinnamon brown skin. She rubbed at her rounded chin, trying to imagine Jan with too much to drink. If she ever drank more than one glass of white wine at one time, Peg had never seen it.
"Did you have anything to eat?"
"Oh, yes. Uncle Sim had boiled a country cured ham outside in an old black iron pot, and believe me, Peg, that's the best tasting meat you'll ever get anywhere. I baked biscuits in his wood stove. He had fresh eggs." Jan licked her lips. "Nothing better. Anywhere."