Blurb: Studious Lavinia Vega is tired of proving to Zeke Abberley that she has no ulterior motives. When Zeke brings her a damaged painting to restore and authenticate, she is eager to help but not get involved. When she uncovers a hidden map behind the painting that leads to valuable buried coins, the game plan changes. Or so Zeke thinks.
Zeke Abberley stared at the damaged 1859 painting with a scowl on his face. Why me? He had bid on the Illinois estate sale as a whole specifically because of this piece and now it had arrived damaged, with a crunched frame and punctured canvas. He had been assured the painting was in perfect condition. He bit his lip, continuing to stare at the entrancing image of the unrecognizable couple from the Middle Ages embraced in a kiss with shadowy forms lurking in the background. Although one of Francesco Hayez’s best known works, this was not the most famous rendition of the pose or lighting—but still the mastery of Hayez. From Zeke’s research, it seemed this particular rendition had never been seen on the market.
That is, if it is an original Hayez. Zeke tapped his index finger on his lips. It still needed to be authenticated by an expert. The family selling the contents of their attic had no desire or time to search for appraisals and had posted the estate sale as a whole. Imagine finding a Hayez.
Although it appeared there were other prized antiques in the collection, Zeke hadn’t understood why he had wanted to purchase an out-of-state collection, especially with their antique shop overflowing as it is and sales down due to the economy. Something had possessed him, though, and this painting had something to do with it.
Aunt Adele walked into the room and set a box of pastries on the conference room table. “You’re looking down in the mouth. What’s happened?”
“Can you believe it? Can you just believe it?” he said, shaking his fist at the painting.
Life was definitely not going smoothly for Zeke. He and his younger brother, Zach, had that confrontation with Pop which had ended up with Pop walking out on them and the business. Then Zach and Holly had married and left on a very long honeymoon. And he couldn’t forget Aunt Adele suddenly marrying Kipp Waterbury at their annual street BearBQ where they barbequed a bear. Aunt Adele hadn’t been around to help with the business, either. His disastrous relationship with Lavinia Vega, the break-ins on the street, and now the damaged painting did not bode well for Zeke either. He sighed. Yeah, most of them were happy events for those involved, but he had taken the blunt of everyone’s absence and had been working double duty for weeks on end. Sure everyone was back and the long winter blues were over, but all the lovebirds kept wandering off.
Trying to manage Abberley Antiques, Zach’s thrift shop, and Kipp’s clock shop had run him ragged. No wonder he was a basket case and his and Lavinia’s relationship had ended. It would have never worked out anyway, not with the way her father felt about his family and not with how reclusive Lavinia kept herself. After all their secret dates, she still hadn’t opened up to him. She was a closed book, albeit a beautiful, gorgeous closed book.
The memory of her attractive, vanilla blonde bob, soft, full lips, delicate curves, and hint of lilac perfume sent his senses tottering and his libido hopping. However, no one, and he meant no one, would ever penetrate that armored fortress guarding her frozen heart. Futile. Utterly futile.
“Did you hear me?” Aunt Adele asked.
“Oh, sorry. What did you say?” He laid the painting down on the table and pinched his chin.
“Do you think the shipping company damaged it?”
“Most likely. I viewed the painting on Skype and didn’t see the damage. Of course, it could have been masked. Just my luck.”
“It’s The Kiss by Francesco Hayez, isn’t it?” Aunt Adele said, moving to the small fridge for a quart of milk to go with the pastries.
“Yes, well, no. This is one of the five renditions Hayez did with different lighting, but not the most known. I don’t think this one has surfaced before. That is, if it really is a Hayez.”
“So I guess you know what you have to do.”
“What’s that?” He wrapped the painting back in brown paper and bubble wrap.
“Take it to Lavinia.”
He fumbled the painting as he tried to slide it into the box. It landed on the floor, and he accidentally kicked the painting across the carpet as he reached to pick it up. “Are you joking?”
“I can’t even mention her name without you turning into a spaz.” She smiled and shook her head. “Holly’s right. You have that—what did she call it?—pistanthrophobia.”
Lavinia Vega spread out a sheet of bubble wrap and placed the early 1900s painting of the Great Salt Lake, by Alfred Lambourne, carefully within its confines. She expertly wrapped it for shipping, hoping to get it mailed before noon.
No more clumsy moves on her part…or Zeke’s. They had stopped secretly dating two or three months ago—Oh, who was she kidding?—exactly seventy-one days ago, and her life had certainly gotten calmer and less physically painful. At least as calm as her life ever got. She heaved a sigh and taped the bubble wrap.
Father hadn’t figured out she had been dating Zeke for that would have been disastrous. Instead, he thought she had been cursed by some voodoo spell Holly Waterbury had brought with her from Idaho when she had come here to take care of her injured uncle Kipp, who was Hungarian, spoke in fragmented sentences, and hoarded all kinds of things. As ludicrous as that sounded, Lavinia would rather Father thought her cursed than him knowing she had been dating Zeke.
The Abberleys had been a taboo subject for as long as she could remember. It had all started with Father’s friendship with Zeke’s dad, Zymon. Father had gotten to be a close friend of the family and had fallen in love with Zeke’s aunt Adele some fifteen to twenty years ago. She, in turn, had fallen in love with Kipp Waterbury, but everything went south when Zeke’s mother was killed in a plane crash.
Lavinia pulled a packing box from the shelf and began folding it.
Last year, when Adele announced at a block meeting that Father was jealous of Kipp and had had it in for him for years, he had retreated into one of his dark moods. Little could be said to him still. Unfortunately, he had always tried to live in a world of perfection. Everyone must think the Vegas are perfect—no mistakes, no deficiencies, no flaws, no failings.
She tried to relax her clenched jaw. Somewhere out there, there had to be a road marked with happiness for her. She didn’t know what, where, or with whom, but somehow she would find the harmonious lifestyle of which she had always dreamed.
Finished with packaging the painting and addressing it, she looked up to see Daniela Estrada checking out the unique Utah spring flower paintings displayed in the large front window. Even unconventional Daniela had managed to find love and happiness with Duston Cooper and her own canine grooming business on the street.
Why did relationships happen so much easier for everyone else?
“Haven’t you finished that yet?” Father asked as he came in through the back.
“Yes, actually. Is Donny around to take it to the post office?”
“His name is Donatello. I did not name him Donny. And frankly, I can’t stand that people on the block call him Picasso.”
“Fine,” she said with an inward groan.
“I sent your brother on a delivery. He’ll be back soon.”
Vivete sauntered sleepily into the gallery from the back, stretched her back, and curled up next to Lavinia’s feet.
Father grumbled. “What have I told you about your poodle in the gallery?”
“The customers don’t seem to mind Vivete. Almost everyone has a dog in their shop on Merchant Street. That’s one of the things that contribute to our uniqueness compared to the cold, sterile, commercialized shops in the mall.” She reached down and patted Vivete’s fluffy, white head of hair.
Father muttered under his breath again, unwrapped a piece of gum, and popped it into his mouth.
He had hated the day she had brought home the small, but clearly identifiable, white Standard Poodle she had adopted. She still couldn’t believe she had found a purebred at the shelter, but she preferred to rescue a dog than to pay thousands to someone who was clearly only out for the profit. Besides, Vivete didn’t shed, handled the customers good-naturedly, brought smiles to their faces, and provided wonderful company. Lavinia gave Vivete’s ears a scratch. So she could get a little rambunctious at times, mostly at home. She had a habit of playing with her food and tearing up paper and plastic and scattering the pieces. Oh, and mouthing people’s hands like they were chew toys. Lavinia declared again she would work on Vivete’s social skills.
“Keep her in the back.” Father reached down and grabbed Vivete’s collar and tugged.
Despite being pulled to her feet, Vivete dug in her paws and stayed by Lavinia’s side, letting out a low growl. She had never liked Father, but then he wasn’t exactly a dog person, and not the best people person either.
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Bio: Cindy A. Christiansen writes sweet romance with humor, suspense...and dogs! She's the mother of two awesome boys who just happen to be autistic. Dogs have helped her through multiple health issues so she honors them in her books and donates both time and money to help them. She lives with her wonderful family and delightful dogs in West Jordan, UT. Fly into a good book!
Musings from Michigan