After she purchases a set of china that closely matches one belonging to her Grandmother, Emma's world is turned up-side down by an inheritance no one knew about. The Chatterton Estate was all she had ever hoped for.
BUT AT WHAT COST?
Even when the living go to bed, she's left to struggle with ghost's and visions. Perhaps she even slips in to the past.
The dark clad figure that rose from the tailgate of the rickety black truck the moment her tires hit the soft shoulder of the road, carried no resemblance of the eighty-year-old man Mr. Becksted had said would meet them. Half praying she hadn't taken the wrong cut off Emma hesitated before rolling down the window. The valley had been so beautiful from the lofty spot at the top of the mountain pass were she had stopped to overlook her Grandmother great secret, that she had lost track of time. If she were lost, the real caretaker may soon give up hope of her coming, and the secret Chatterton Estate will have to wait another day to be found.
"Thought I might have to come up and get you there for a minute." The man's deep voice rattled recklessly her empty stomach, but her anticipated arrival was soothing to her wondering soul.
"You're Mr. Mason I presume." Emma felt her voice fell short of hospitable, but after a nearly six-hour drive, during which she had spoken rarely she felt it understandable. What was not was the way her trembling fingers was unable to snap the seat belt free from across her chest.
"And you must be Mrs. Haager's daughter." His horse voice fell silent the moment she adjusted to look up at him. "NO", his heart cried silently.
The black eyes that filled her delicate face lay no resemblance to the fair faced old woman- Mr. Becksted had asked him to show around the property. It was obvious she was not related to Mrs. Haager. His mind was whirling faster than the innocent smile developing beneath her perfect nose. In the background the first line of an old Steve Lawrence classic spewed from the radio in the cab of his truck- echoing his hearts sentiments- "Go away little girl- I'm not supposed to be alone with you."
"I'm Mrs. Chase." She corrected his misconception, "Mr. Becksted called, didn't he?" His steely blue eyes shadowed darkly beneath the broad brim of his black cowboy hat, toyed tantalizingly with her memory, yet she was sure they had never met. Nothing about this man was forgettable. The heavy sheepherders coat camouflaged him to some extent but even it could not hide his massive shoulders and extreme height. The overwhelming masculinity and power emanating from his dark figure caused the frailty her older brothers had played upon to become real to her again.
"Ch - Chase?" The taut voice he repeated her last name with expelled more disbelief than strength. "I - - I mean" He forced himself to shake off her mystical spell sweeping up his spine. Stepping back he made room for her to open the door she seemed to be fumbling with inside.
Clearing her throat, she twisted her feet to the pavement and stood up. Closing some of the distance between them she felt less vulnerable and an equal collaborate in the conversation. "Mr. Becksted called, didn't he?" The question still sounded more like a plea to her ears than a question.
"Yes. No." Realizing he was sounding like a silly schoolgirl, he swallowed hard and grabbed for the upper hand in the conversation. "Damn it Girl! Of course he called, what in the hell do you think I'm doing here if he hadn't?" As usual, he had over done it. The barked demand had her tilting back on her heels, with signs of fear filling her face. "I ... I was expecting someone older." Much older he thought, awed by her youthful grace.
"So was I. Mr. Becksted said--"
"He was talking about Dad. He's been gone since last January."
She was so busy searching her memory for an incident to pin the familiarity of his features that she was only half listening to his explanation but the mention of his Father's death triggered an instinctive reaction for his loss. "I'm sorry. I know what it's like to lose your Father." Her voice softened, as did the tension on her face.
Since he was unsure how to proceed, he decided to let her take the lead. "It did take me a bit by surprise when Mom called me to the phone and Mr. B. started to ramble on like we were old friends." Surprise wasn't quite the word he meant but it would have to do, he thought, bending down to brush the red dust clinging to the knees of his black jeans. "So I guess you're anxious to see this place?"
While scanning the lush spring beauty the secluded valley held, she brushed the heavy morning dew from her rosy cheek and pondered the meaning of "Anxious". It slightly described the excitement growing in the pit of her stomach, but more adequately the trembling a bit lower, burning like a virgin's passionate wants - Fear mingling sweetly with lust. Yes, oh Yes, she was anxious to see this place - this land held in secret captivity from her sight - from even her Fathers sight, by a woman she felt could hold no secrets. But why she had chosen to keep it a secret was the real reason Emma had come for. And why she couldn't convince her husband of that left her bewildered.
Owning a piece of land - any land - was more than she could wish for. It was one of her illusive wants that lay just beyond her grasp, across yet another of Michael; her husband's invisible lines. Refusing to think of how many hours she had spent counting her excursions across those lines in the past week, she focused on the many more spent sleeplessly trying to figure out what had caused her Grandmother to keep the inheritance silent. Somehow, somewhere she had to have told someone about it, Emma thought allowing her eye to continue the thorough scan of that portion of the valley exposed to her. It's too large to have just forgotten about it.
"Mrs. Chase." His deep voice interrupted her thought, had the words actually crossed her lips. "Are you ready to go?" The intense scrutiny he was giving her face sent waves of weakness washing across her spirit. All men are the same thing she thought shifting her position to divert his burning gaze from her breasts. They size you up, only to better understand how to pin you down. "Tell me first, Mr. Mason," she lifted her chin in defiance to meet his harsh stare. "Have you never met a woman from the city before?"
The direct assault caught him off guard, leaving him speechless, "I - A - Like I said! I was expecting someone much older." Somehow, he managed to stutter out his apology, but it was lost among the snickering giggles flowing loudly from the car's interior. Startled he diverted his attention to where the noise came from, so did she. She had nearly forgotten the girls, tucked away in the car awaiting an indication from her that it was safe.
Casting a look of surprise in her direction, he stepped a bit closer to the car and bowed at the waist for a better view of his unannounced audience.
"Sorry. I should've introduced you before. These are my girls, Shelly and Crystal."
He had been so caught up in a twenty-five-year-old memory; it had not occurred to him that she might have children ... least of all teenage children - girls - who each expelled their Mothers youthful poise.
"Hi." Responded the shimmering blue-eyed blond shyly, from the far side of the front seat.
"Sorry we laughed at you but Mom has never said anything like that before." Shelly; Emma's black-eyed reflection, remarked between chuckles from the back seat.
Feeling the blood rush to her cheeks, Emma had to agree with the girls. It wasn't like her at all to make such an argumentative statement, but three older brothers and a husband, was where she planned to draw the line for allowing men to tell her what to do.
"Who's who?" He questioned looking from one to the other.
Laying a delicate hand across the back seat, the black-eyed beauty, with hair just as dark falling softly about her shoulders, flashed him a warm smile and said. "I'm Michelle."
Tipping the rim of his hat in response, he looked to the other and understood the purity of her name. "So you must be Crystal?"
A mischievous twinkle in her eye and a brisk smile was his only answer, as she asked, "Are you really a cowboy?"