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Heart of Gold
By Jessica Bird
IVY BOOKSCopyright © 2003 Jessica Bird
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I am not a gold digger."
Carter Wessex cradled the phone against her ear while emptying a duffle bag onto the floor of her laundry room. The clothes that came out were covered in dirt, moss, and some other things that looked like they were moving.
"I never said you were." Her oldest friend's voice was soothing, and Carter recognized the tone. It was the same one that had gotten her into trouble when they were teenage girls.
"Yeah, well, I'm also not a masochist," she countered, trying to ward off the attraction she felt toward the opportunity. "The guy who owns Farrell Mountain is a real piece of work. He's thrown more of my colleagues off that pile of dirt than a starting pitcher."
Laughter came over the line. "C.C., I hate sports analogies, and that one barely works."
Carter decided to fight harder, hoping her plan for taking the summer off wouldn't be ruined by a proposition she couldn't turn down. "Well, from what I've heard, Nick Farrell takes misanthropy to a new level, and he's got a particular distaste archaeologists. Do you know who he is? The corporate raider whose name was splashed all over the papers because he double-crossed some guy in a business deal?"
"I know the story and his reputation."
"So why are you doing this to me?" The words came out in a groan.
"Because it's about time someone solved this mystery. The story's been left hanging since 1775."
"It's a fairy tale, Woody."
"Woody" was more commonly known as Grace Woodward-Hall. The two had first met at a picturesque New England prep school where they'd spent four years specializing in winning field hockey games and smuggling packs of wine coolers into their dorm. They'd been popular thank to both.
As adults, they had a personal and a professional relationship. Carter's specialty as a historian and an archaeologist was the colonial period. Grace's family ran the Hall Foundation, one of the nation's largest sources of grants for the discovery and preservation of American history. Carter had received Hall funding for a number of her digs.
"You've read that Brit's journal, right?" Grace's Upper East Side background marked her words with perfect intonation, but Carter knew the truth. For all her prim and ladylike exterior, Grace had a raucous sense of humor and an affection for trouble, both of which had cemented their relationship.
"Farnsworth's diary? Of course I've read it. All colonial historians have a copy. It comes with the bizarre predilection for musket balls and minutemen."
Carter glanced down and saw a spider crawling out from under a pair of khakis. She wasn't prepared to kill the thing but didn't want it as a housemate, either. Reaching over the washing machine, she picked up a coffee can full of nails, dumped it out on top of the dryer, and covered the arachnid.
"So you've got to wonder what happened," Grace prompted.
"I know what happened. An American hero was slaughtered, a fortune in gold disappeared, and the Indian guide was fingered as responsible. End of story."
"I find it hard to believe," Grace said dryly, "that you aren't struck by all the holes in that narration. Someone needs to go up on Farrell Mountain and find out what happened to the Winship party."
"Well, it doesn't have to be me." Carter started loading shirts and socks into the washer, careful not to tip over the can. "What they really need is a paranormal investigator to put to rest all that haunting nonsense. Red Hawk's ghost guarding the gold? Give me a break."
"Look, specters aside, this really is the perfect project for you. In your period, up in the wilderness, a prime piece of history ready for the picking."
"I just got home from a dig," Carter moaned. "I've got twelve pounds of dirt under my fingernails, I'm in desperate need of sleep, and I have it on good authority there are black flies the size of bats in the Adirondacks this time of year."
She knew because they were alive and well in the Green Mountains of Vermont, too. Glancing through a screened window, she saw a cheery June day beckoning on the other side but she wasn't fooled. She'd been chewed on by them in her garden that very morning.
"Aren't you curious about what happened to the gold?"
"Like I am about the Easter Bunny. You show me some proof that an upright rabbit carrying a basket of chicken eggs exists and maybe I'll believe there's a treasure up in those mountains."
"Come on, that gold couldn't have disappeared into thin air. And what happened to the remains of the men who were killed?"
Carter leaned a hip against the washing machine. "The Americans should never have transported that kind of fortune while they had a captured British madman on their hands. They were bound to get ambushed. The only surprise was that Red Hawk was the one who turned on them. If one of the aggressors didn't take the gold, someone else probably found it and had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. As for the bodies, they could be anywhere. You know how big the Adirondack Park is? It would be like winning the lottery to find them."
She peered over her shoulder into the washer. Hitting that mess with water was going to create some kind of mud bath but there was room to stuff in a little more. She bent down to pick up another pair of khakis.
"Did I mention we have bones?" Grace drawled. "From a site that's identical to the one Farnsworth described in the journal."
Carter snapped upright. "Bones? What kind of bones? Where were they found?"
Grace's satisfaction came through loud and clear over the phone. "Conrad Lyst found them up on Farrell Mountain."
At the sound of the man's name, Carter's jaw clenched. "That rat. That nasty ..."
She allowed herself a couple of truly raunchy but descriptive adjectives. And followed them up with a doozy of a noun.
"You finished now?" Her friend asked with amusement.
"Hardly. It's a wonder that man can find his butt in his own pants. And if by some miracle he did, his next move would be to sell it to the highest bidder."
"Professional rivalries aside-"
"That bulldozer is no professional. He's a looter and a thief."
"I can't argue with either of those, but he did find a femur and part of an arm. We examinee them here in Boston and they're from the period."
"That doesn't mean they're from-"
"They were found with a crucifix."
Carter forgot all about the laundry. "Any markings?"
"Winship, 1773. We haven't analyzed it fully yet but it looks legit."
The Reverend Jonathan Winship had been the one in charge of the colonists escorting the general. He was one of the men who had been killed up in the mountains.
Carter's heart started pounding in her chest.
"So, you want to talk about an Easter egg hunt?" Grace inquired smoothly.
A half hour later they'd ironed out a grant and, though the laundry remained dry in the washer, the spider had been carefully released back into the wild. After pacing around the house for most of the time they talked, Carter ended up in her kitchen, sitting at her breakfast table in the sunshine.
"I still don't understand why Lyst presented you with the cross," she said. "That's not his style. The more people who know about a find, the harder it is for him to sell it on the black market."
"He says he wants a grant. We won't give him one, of course. If he did dig, he'd just pocket anything of monetary value and mistreat the rest so it couldn't be studied."
Carter let out a snort of derision. "Someone needs to take that man's shovel away, and I could tell them right where to stick it. The real mystery is how the hell Lyst got permission to dig on that mountain."
"He didn't. He trespassed and, as you know, Farrell's idea of a welcome wagon doesn't exactly include zucchini bread and lemonade. Lyst claims some rabid woodsman chased him off with a shotgun, almost killing him in the process."
"Too bad the guy didn't get the job done."
"Well, it got Lyst's attention, which may be the reason he came to the foundation. He probably figures a Hall grant will give him credibility when he tries again."
"He'd go back?"
"You know Lyst. What he lacks in scruples, he more than makes up for in follow-through. That's why you need to go talk to Farrell right now. I know where his summer house is on Lake Sagamore and you can't live more than an hour away from it. I've heard he's usually there on the weekends this time of year. Just drive over this Saturday and ask for permission to dig."
"What makes you think the response I get will be any better?"
"You're going to ask first. And you have better legs than Lyst does. Anyway, doesn't your father run in the same business circles as Farrell-"
"Stop right there." Carter stiffened as anger rushed like acid up into her throat.
Grace was instantly contrite. "I'm sorry, C.C. I didn't mean to ..."
The use of the old nickname reminded Carter of the long history she had with her friend. She took a deep breath, trying to let go of the rage that came up any time William Wessex was mentioned. It took her a moment before she could respond.
"If I go, I won't be using my father as pull." The word was intoned like a curse.
"Of course not. I shouldn't have brought it up at all."
When they got off the phone, Carter went out onto her back porch. Up ahead, mountains rose steeply, brushing the bright blue sky with their evergreen shoulders. She'd bought the land and the broken-down barn that came with it for the magnificent view. It had taken her two years to convert the decaying building into livable space but, now that it was finished, she wasn't sure whether she liked her home or the scenery better. It was a shame she didn't spend more time enjoying them.
Arching her neck, she let the sun fall on her cheeks and forehead. All around, the leaves of poplar trees were twinkling in the breeze and she could hear the distant chika-brd-brd-brd of a red-winged blackbird. If she listened hard enough, she even caught the sound of the stream that was on the far edge of her property.
She slowed her breathing down, trying to draw the calm surroundings into her body.
How much longer would it take before she could stop flinching at the mention of her father's name? Before she could let go of the past?
It was two years and counting, so far.
She turned away from the natural splendor and went upstairs. What had previously been the barn's hayloft was now her office and her bedroom. The long, rectangular space was her favorite in the house-an unbroken expanse she'd paneled in pine and opened up at either end with picture windows.
Her desks, computers, slide projectors, and research library dominated the room. Against the long walls, she'd installed bookcases that were crammed with scholarly works, some of which she'd written. It was a collection of the resources she used most, and what she didn't have at her fingertips, she could easily get at the University of Vermont in nearby Burlington. She'd been an assistant professor of archaeology there for close to three years and had an office on campus.
As much as she liked her students, she preferred doing her own scholarship at home. She'd spent a lot of late nights deep in thought in her pine-scented sanctuary, time forgotten as she tried to make sense of the clues history left behind.
In the midst of her all-nighters, when she got too tired to keep her eyes open, she would go to sleep on a small bed which was pushed into a corner, an afterthought concession to her body's need for rest. Other personal effects were also footnotes. Hidden in an alcove, she had a closet full of khakis, a dresser full of T-shirts and sweaters, and a little bathroom that had a shower stall and sink, but no tub. There were no curtains on the windows and no rugs on the pine floor.
For Carter, the loft reflected her life's priorities. Work was first. Her personal life, a distant second.
Walking past her desk with a grim expression, she went to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. Inside, she fished around the T-shirts until she found the black leather box she was looking for.
Damn him to hell, she thought, opening it.
Cosseted in a satin bed was a weighty Colombian emerald, dangling from a chain of diamonds. It was a ridiculous gift, one more of her father's attempts to buy back her love. The box had arrived the week before, via Federal Express, on the eve of her twenty-eighth birthday.
And now Carter was stuck trying to unload her father's present. Again.
He always sent her jewelry. For her twenty-seventh birthday, it had been a dauntingly large pair of diamond and pearl earrings. She'd auctioned those off and given the money to the local hospital. For her twenty-sixth, it had been a ring sporting a ruby the size of a marble. She'd sold that one to a jeweler, and the proceeds had helped the local elementary school set up a computer lab.
And now this emerald.
Maybe the town needed a new ambulance. Or two.
The girls were awful on her birthdays, but Christmas was worse. Her father sent her watches. Each year. They were always expensive and gold, sometimes with diamonds on the face, sometimes with other precious gems. She'd taken to donating the money they brought to the local women's shelter.
Fingering the emerald and watching light get trapped in its glorious facets, Carter wondered where her father thought she'd wear such a necklace. When she'd left his house that last time, she'd walked away from the lifestyle she'd grown up with and he knew it. In one day, the day her mother died, she went from being a social register. sweetheart to an outcast of her own choosing. The self-inflicted exile meant that gala parties were part of her past, just like her father was, and she woke up every morning grateful for their absence.
Carter ran a finger over the diamond chain, watching it sparkle.
In her current life, she was more likely to need a pup tent than a palatial suite of rooms, a can of bug spray instead of hairspray, a compass around her neck, not an emerald. She relished her simple life. She was free to explore her passion for history and she had a career where her contributions were respected. She truly liked her life.
Most of the time.
On occasion, when things got quiet and her mind wandered, she did feel alone. She had few friends. As for family, she was an only child and her closest cousin, A.J., lived far away and had her own busy life in the equestrian world. Now, she even had a husband.
Carter wondered whether her own future would ever include a partner.
The immediate answer was no. She worked every waking minute so there was no time to date, although, if she was honest, she didn't think more free time would solve the problem.
Excerpted from Heart of Gold by Jessica Bird Copyright © 2003 by Jessica Bird
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.