Love, Artifacts, and You by Sarah Ready



It’s beena few days since I arrived in Romeo and it already feels like home. The cabin is clean, I have a new blanket and sheets for the bed, and it seems like I’ve met nearly every person that lives in the town. Jessie introduced me to her friends, Chloe, Veronica and Ferran. And then they introduced me to everyone else in Romeo as the legendary Emma Castleton, the woman who will find the Lost Treasure of Romeo and her soul mate in the same week. After that introduction, no one in town forgot my name or my face.

“Hi, Emma, did you find the treasure yet?” Mrs. Charles calls from outside the used bookstore.

I wave to her. “Not yet. Just got the permit to begin looking,” I call across the street. It’s a beautiful summer day and the brightly painted businesses along Main Street look cheery and welcoming in the sunshine.

Mrs. Charles waves an old book at me, then jogs across Main Street. I smile and wait for her.

“I’m glad I caught you,” she says. She pushes her wind-tangled gray hair back behind her ears. “I found this in my local history section. It was written back in 1927. Do you think it’ll help?” She holds out an old hardcover book. The cover is faded with black block lettering. It’s entitled The History of the Lost Treasure of Romeo, New York.

I thumb through the brittle pages. They are yellowed, torn in many places, and the text is faded. But the book looks like a treasure trove of information.

“This is wonderful,” I say.

Mrs. Charles beams, “Then keep it. No charge. Just be sure to invite me to your wedding. I love a good wedding.” She looks at me expectantly.

“Oh, um…ah, of course…if it’s in Romeo, or…uh, ever.”

She pats my arm, “I’m looking forward to your news.”

I frown as I watch her trot back to her bookstore. I’m not sure if by “news” she means finding the Lost Treasure or inviting her to my nonexistent wedding. I look down at the book and walk the rest of the way to the SweetStop.

When I get there, Jessie, Chloe and Veronica are already seated at an outdoor table. Jessie texted last night inviting me for a morning coffee.

“It’s the weirdest thing,” I say as I sit down. “Mrs. Charles just gave me a book in exchange for my assurance that I’ll invite her to my wedding.”

Veronica chokes on her coffee.

Chloe looks at me in surprise and then hits Veronica on the back.

“Thanks,” gasps Veronica.

“You’re getting married already?” asks Jessie. “Dang, you work fast. It’s been what, two days since Erma’s prediction?”

“Three—” I say.

Veronica coughs, then clears her throat. “I’m sorry. I thought you said you’re getting married.”

“No,” I say. I hold up the old book. “Mrs. Charles gave me this book in exchange for a wedding invite in the future.”

“Ooooh,” says Chloe. “That makes sense.”

They all nod to each other.

“Why does it make sense?” I ask.

“Veronica got married in Italy, and when Erma showed the pictures of the wedding to Mrs. Charles she was super envious,” says Jessie.

“And by now, everyone in town has heard that your soul mate owns an island,” says Chloe. She gives me a mischievous smile.

“So Mrs. Charles is probably envisioning the photo album she’ll have from your island wedding,” says Veronica.

I look down at the book, then back up at the girls. I wrinkle my nose. “First off,” I say, “this random Richie Rich guy may be my soul mate, but that doesn’t mean I have to marry him.”

In fact, if he’s not Andrew, somehow miraculously alive, I don’t want anything to do with him.

“Exactly,” Veronica says. She shoves a plate at me. “Have some donut holes.”

“Thank you,” I say. I grab one then pause with it halfway to my mouth. “And secondly, Erma didn’t say what kind of island he owns. It could be a frozen island off the coast of Antarctica, or a barren rock a thousand miles from land. Island doesn’t mean awesome. Just like soul mate doesn’t mean true love.”

Chloe makes a noise of disagreement.

But Veronica nods. “Exactly.”

I pop the donut hole in my mouth. The cinnamon and sugar melts on my tongue and the cakey donut is still warm. It’s so good.

“Come on, Vee. You’re supposed to be a soul mate convert,” Chloe says.

Veronica shrugs. “Maybe Emma isn’t into finding her soul mate. Maybe she just wants to dig old stuff out of the ground for the rest of her life. It’s her choice. Right?”

I nod and clear my throat. “Yeah,” I say. “Exactly.”

“So what did you learn about the treasure?” asks Jessie.

I flip open the book. At the front is a map of Romeo in 1927. “Pretty much what you already know,” I say. I’d been doing research online and at the library. “In the eleventh century, a group of Vikings sailed over from Greenland and travelled inland. They settled here in the valley west of the mountain, near the Romeo River. The leader loved his wife desperately.”

“Romeo’s first soul mates,” says Chloe.

“But she died, right?” asks Jessie.

“That’s where the story gets fuzzy. Some accounts say she died, others say she went back to Greenland, still others say she got lost in the forest and never returned.” I shrug. “Nobody knows.”

“Sad,” says Jessie.

Veronica nods and shoves a donut hole in her mouth.

I look down at the book. “After that, all the accounts agree. In his grief, the Viking husband built a stone treasure room for his wife, full of gold and jewels, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, hoping that the untold wealth would entice her to return to him.”

“Wow,” Jessie says.

Chloe turns to her, “You’ve heard this story before. Like a thousand times.”

“It still gives me goose bumps.”

Veronica nods and pushes the plate at Jessie. “Sugar.”

I grin. Then I point at the old map in the book Mrs. Charles gave me. “From the research I’ve been doing, I think the treasure is near…here.” I drop my finger to the map.

Veronica leans forward and looks at the page. “That’s the meadow near the state forest, by the caves.” A slow smile spreads over her face and she gets a faraway look in her eyes.

“My permit was approved,” I say. “I’m going hunting.” I smile as a happy anticipation fills me. Justin was right, I haven’t felt invigorated since before The Heart. But I do now.

I look up as Ferran rushes up to the table.

“You won’t believe it,” she says. “Or you will, but I don’t.”

“What is it?” Jessie asks.

Ferran turns to me, “You remember I work at the Town Hall?”

I nod. She’s the director of Romeo’s tourism board, and from what Jessie said, she lives, eats and breathes her job.

“Well. I was standing at the copier when I heard the Parks team say another permit request came through for the Lost Treasure. Apparently, they approved it.” She widens her eyes.

I swallow. I can hear my heart thudding in my ears. Everyone looks at me. I swallow again.

“Who is it for?” I ask.

Please say Andrew, I pray. Please say Andrew.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. I just know Miss Erma was right. Your soul mate is coming.”

My phone ringsand I pull it out of my pocket. I’m walking back to the cabin from the bakery and haven’t made it far enough out of town to lose reception.

It’s Justin. “Hey,” I say.

“How are you?” he asks, voice warm. I can hear midtown traffic in the background. He must’ve stepped out of his office.

I smile. “I’m good. I’m headed out in a bit to poke around the woods. See what I find.” There’s a trailhead near the cabin that leads up through the forest to the meadow I want to explore.

“You sound happy,” Justin says. “Guess Romeo’s agreeing with you. Maybe I’ll come up next weekend, take in the sights.”

I pause, a twinge of guilt pokes at me. “Justin?”

“What is it? You’d rather come down to the city?”

I stop walking and sit down on a mossy boulder near the edge of the country road. I take a breath, then, “Remember I told you about the ladies I met in the library?”

“Sure. They told you about the Viking settlement.”

I rub my hand over the spongy moss then curl my fingers into a ball. “Right. Exactly. I’m sorry, but I didn’t tell you everything they said.”

He laughs. “Is this about my uncle? Yes, he was an old degenerate. But you know me, I’m nothing like him.”

I look up at the blue summer sky. “It isn’t that. There’s this lady here, and everyone says she sees soul mates, and that she’s never wrong, and she saw mine. My soul mate.” I say it all in a rush and once it’s out I slump down against the rock.

Justin is quiet. For ten seconds there’s only the noise of midtown traffic and construction. Then he finally says, “I’m assuming from your tone of voice that this lady didn’t say that I’m your soul mate. And also, that whatever she said, you believe her.” He says this in a light voice that masks whatever he’s feeling.

I blink up at that sky. “Yes. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but yes, I could believe her. Maybe.”

“Do you want to tell me about it?” he asks. Which is when I know Justin is the best friend I could have.

“She saw that I’d find the Lost Treasure, and she said when I start looking for it, my soul mate will come.”

He sighs. “Anything else? Because, to be honest, that doesn’t sound very credible. Scam artists read people and play on their emotions. Tell you what you want to hear.”

I close my eyes. “I know.”

“Did she say anything else?”

“That he’s wealthy and powerful.”

“Oh, so she was talking about me,” he says, and I can hear the smile in his voice.

“He owns an island and skyscrapers.”

He laughs, “Em, this sounds like a bad one-nine-hundred phone call with a two-bit psychic. What else, is he also a prince in disguise? A movie star? Come on. I’d blow this apart in court.”

“Okay, yes. You’re right. It is ridiculous. But everybody here believes it.”

“And people also believed the earth was flat and that instead of migrating, birds spent winters sleeping underwater. Just because people believe it—”

“Doesn’t make it true,” I say.

“Exactly. If you like I can go buy my very own island today. My family already owns our building, so, we’re set there. Done deal, I meet your psychic’s soul mate vision.”

I hold back a laugh. “Please, don’t buy an island. Then you’d also have to dye your hair black and wear brown contacts.”

“Really?” he says, and suddenly, his voice has sobered. “You think she’s talking about Andrew.”

I look down and kick my feet through the tall grass at the base of the boulder. “Would you hate me if I told you I desperately hope that she’s talking about him?”

He pauses for a long moment, then, “No. I already knew it. But, Em, like I said. You need to let him go. It’s not him. It’s just a lady scamming an entire town. You know it’s time to move on, this is just you, scared to do it.”

“What if it is him though? What would you say if he showed up today? I know it’s unlikely, but what if?”

He pulls in a long breath. “I’d say…that I’m happy for you. If he’s the person you remember, if he’s become the kind of man you deserve, a good man, Em, one that makes you happy and treats you right. Then I’ll be the first to congratulate you.”

“But?” I ask.

“But Andrew’s dead. This lady is a scam artist playing on your past.”

“Right,” I say. Because there is a part of me that’s been wondering since I heard Miss Erma’s prediction, that if Andrew is alive, where has he been all these years? Why hasn’t he contacted me? Which makes me think, it’s not him after all. Andrew wouldn’t ever let me believe he was dead for ten years while he was out making a fortune. He’d never do that. “So when some guy shows up claiming to own an island, I should tell him to get lost?”

“Unless that guy is me.”

I laugh. “Do not buy an island.”

“I’ll come up in a week or two. If some random guy shows up in a suit, with black hair and brown eyes, you can bet the bank it’s a scam.”

“But the little old ladies were so sweet,” I joke.

“Scam,” he says.

I jump up from the boulder and trot back to the road. “What about finding the Lost Treasure?” I ask, jokingly. “Is that a scam too?”

“If there’s a treasure, you’ll find it,” he says loyally. “If there isn’t, you’ll have had a nice break in the country before coming back to the city to build your new business.”

“Thank you,” I say. “For everything.”

“I do have an ulterior motive.”

“You want to pose with any Viking armor or weapons I find?”

“Exactly. I’ll see you soon. Try not to drink any more of the Romeo soul mate Kool-Aid.”

“You got it.”

I smile and start walking up the dirt and gravel shoulder of the road. The cabin is only two miles away. A robin hops on the ground nearby, poking around for food. It’s mid-summer, the weather is perfect, and I’m in the mood to go for a hike. I’ll poke around the woods and see what I find.

Two hours later,I’m hiking on the trail near the meadow I pointed out on the map. I’m in old faded jeans, my hiking boots and a tank top. A drop of sweat slides down my chest. It’s nearly noon, and even in the shaded forest, the day has moved from temperate to hot. I take a swig of water from my canteen then put it back in my day pack.

Before coming out, I skimmed the old hardback book that Mrs. Charles gave me and something caught my attention. The author claimed that the treasure room was in a large cavern near the settlement. He’d found a stone marker, now at the Romeo Historical Society, that seemed to suggest that the treasure was in a cavern. I’m going to swing by the Historical Society tomorrow to check it out.

I wipe at another drop of sweat and pause to take a moment to appreciate the lushness of the woods. It smells so clean and crisp, like new growth and soft breezes. There are wild raspberry bushes near the trail, and birds jump through the bramble, collecting the fruit. I let out a soft sigh. It’s beautiful here.

The vibrant summer greenery of the forest climbs over boulders and rocky outcroppings. I narrow my eyes. A few yards off the trail I see what looks like the opening to a cave. Veronica told me the other day at lunch that there’s a huge network of cave systems in the area. She warned me, really adamantly, to be careful of them. I won’t go in without proper precautions, but I want to see what it looks like.

I step off the trail. A stick snaps under my boot and the birds in the bush startle and fly away.

“Sorry,” I call.

I step over a mossy log into the brush. Then, I hear a noise. A sort of snuffling growl. My skin prickles in that awareness that humans still have from thousands of years past when we were hunted by big predators. Something’s behind me.

Slowly, I turn.

Oh no.

There are two black bear cubs less than ten feet away. But they aren’t the problem.

My heart starts to pound. The problem is their mother. She lets out a growl and I know instinctively that she sees me as a threat.

I freeze.

“Back away slowly,” a man says.

I nearly jump out of my skin. I swing my head toward his voice. He’s in the woods to my right, farther from the bears, about twenty feet away.

I only catch a quick impression of a tall, wide-shouldered man before the mother bear growls again and I look back at her.

“Clap your hands and shout, make yourself look bigger,” he says.

I try it. I clap my hands as hard as I can and shout, “Hey! Hey!”

The bear snuffs and shuffles toward me.

“Didn’t work,” I say to the man.

“It’s okay. Keep your eyes on her, but move toward me,” he says. His voice is tenor deep and raspy, and projects a calm strength. I’m sure I’ve never heard his voice before, but something about the cadence of his words makes my heart lurch.

The bear takes a step toward me. She’s big, with thick black fur, a brown muzzle, and powerful arms that look like she could crush my head with one swat. She stands up on her hind legs and stares at me. She’s over six feet tall, at least a foot taller than me.

I quickly look over at the man then back at the standing bear. He’s cautiously moving toward me through the woodland growth and is now only about ten feet away.

“Don’t worry, she’s just getting a better look at you. She’s not going to attack.”

“Okay,” I say. I lick my dry lips. Then take a careful step back. Then another. My ankle hits the log and I fall backwards over it. The bear drops to all fours with a loud huff. I scramble back up to my feet.

I take a second to glance over my shoulder at the man. He’s only a few feet behind me. I get a quick impression. Six foot two or three. Expensive, tailored clothing. Thick black stubble, sunglasses, and a baseball hat. Dark tanned skin.

I don’t know him.

The way he stands conveys the powerful, muscled confidence of a jungle cat. No wonder he’s not afraid of the black bear.

I look at the mother bear again. She’s watching us.

I take another step back and hit the warm muscled chest of my would-be rescuer. His hands reach up to my arms to steady me.

“Careful,” he whispers.

His fingers softly press into my bare skin. I inhale sharply at the electric pulse that shoots through me when his fingers drift over my arms. Then I realize that his hands on my arms isn’t the only place we’re connected. My back presses against his warm, hard chest, and my butt presses into his thighs. I can feel the heat of him through my jeans and I have the sudden aching urge to lean into him.

A stranger. A random stranger I’ve never met.

My nipples go hard and brush against the soft fabric of my old tank top. I shiver.

“You okay?” he rasps. His fingers brush over my arms and goose bumps form.

“I’m okay,” I say, but my voice sounds breathless to my ears.

“We’ll back away together. Nice and slow.”

I nod. He takes a small step back and I move with him. The bear tilts its head and studies us.

We take another step back. I can’t see where we’re going, I trust the man behind me to steer us right. When he moves, I move. He takes a step and I follow. I can feel his breath ruffling the hair coming out of my ponytail. I can feel the beating of his heart against my back. His thumb traces a small circle on the inside of my right arm and my heart skips a beat. Instinctively, I want to arch back into him. I don’t. Instead, I take another step back.

“Doing good. Almost there,” he says, approval laces his raspy voice.

Pleasure floods me.

What’s happening? Is this man the soul mate Miss Erma predicted?

“Look,” he says.

The bear stands on her hindquarters again and watches us. Then she drops down and turns away, steering her cubs back into the woods. I breathe a sigh of relief and sag into him.

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ve never seen a bear before…you pretty much saved my life,” I say, only half-joking.

“You’re welcome,” he says, and there’s a wry note in his voice. “You weren’t really in too much danger. That bear was more afraid of you than you were of her.”

“You think?” I try to look up at him. I only catch the twisting of his lips into a self-mocking smile.

Then he takes a step back and starts to pull away from me. I feel his footing slip. He swings around. I move with him. In backing away from the bear, neither of us noticed we were backing ourselves to the edge of a steep muddy slope. Suddenly, the eroding soil gives way beneath his feet. I grab his hand. Then the mud pulls us both down the hill. I let out a sharp, startled scream as I fall on my back, and we flip over each other, rolling down the grassy, muddy slope. Saplings thwack me as I roll past, and the breath is knocked out of me as I crash over a decomposing stump. I try to grab onto long grass and plants to stop my slide. But I’m moving too fast. I roll over the mud and slick grass. My stomach flips with me. It’s like the worst, muddiest, bumpiest roller coaster ever. I manage to catch a fistful of grass and slow my tumble, but then the man slides into me and we’re both rolling together again, a tangle of arms and legs.

Finally, we hit bottom. Not with a gradual slowing, but with a bone-jarring thud. I’m on my back in a pile of muddy leaves. They crackle beneath me. I try to pull in a breath, and my lungs fight it. Finally, I manage to drag a breath in, although it’s hard with a solid, well-muscled man half-sprawled on top of me.

“Ouch,” I say.

He groans, shifts his weight off of me, and lifts himself over me. Sometime during the fall his sunglasses and hat fell off.

He leans in and studies my face. His chest is so close to mine that when I breathe, my breasts brush against his shirt. My head spins. I stare up at him. The sun filters through the trees and backlights him so he looks almost like an angel, glowing with golden light.

His face is less than six inches from mine and I feel the magnetic pull of him.

The forest is still spinning and I’m having a hard time focusing.

“You okay?” he asks.

I squint at him and try to catalogue what I’m seeing.


Black hair.

Brown eyes so dark they almost look black.

Sun-dark skin.

A crooked nose broken too many times.

A raised white scar thin as a knife blade over his right eyebrow extending to his hairline.

He looks dangerous. Like a dangerous man. Like no one I’ve ever met.

I see all these parts, but I can’t put them together, because none of it makes sense.

He’s too tall, too wide, too hard, too intense, too…everything.

He’s Andrew, but not.

I don’t stop to think, I lift my hand and put it to the thick stubble covering his firm jaw. I run my fingers over the soft, prickly beginnings of a beard. He lets out a low growl. I feel it vibrate my fingers.

His eyes shift to my lips and he focuses on them like he’s Odysseus returned to Ithaca. Like he’s seeing his home, his love, for the first time in years.

“The sun,” he whispers. I don’t know what he means. I stroke his cheek at the ache in his voice.

He reaches down, his finger hovers over my lip and then he touches the freckle over my mouth. The one Andrew loved.

And that’s when the pieces snap together and my brain finally lets me understand what my soul knew before I even saw his face.

My heart slams against my ribs, aching to get out and go to him.

“Andrew?” I whisper, fear in my voice. Because what if it isn’t him? “You’re alive?”

His shoulders stiffen and his gaze flicks up to mine. The soft, yearning leaves his eyes and they shift to match the man with the long scar, the hard mouth and the crooked nose. But then, as quickly as they went hard, they soften again.

He lets out a silky laugh. “What do you think, Emma? Don’t I look alive?”

It’s like a bolt of lightning hits me. I launch myself at him. He falls over and I roll on top of him. I hold myself to him and touch him everywhere. His arms, his shoulders, his abdomen, his face. His face goes blurry and I realize it’s because I’m crying.

“Andrew,” I say, and I repeat it over and over again, like a prayer that’s been answered.

Finally, minutes later, my hands slow, and I notice that he’s completely still, that he’s been watching me like the jungle cat I imagined. He hasn’t touched me back, or said my name, or done anything at all but watch me. I stop and pull back from him. A twinge of trepidation rises and I push it down. This is Andrew. My Andrew.

He stands and offers a hand to pull me up. I take it. His hand is warm and calloused in mine. He lifts me to my feet. The dry leaves crumple under my boots. I look down and realize I’m covered in mud, leaves and burrs. My jeans are torn and my tank top is so old it’s almost see-through. In contrast, he looks unruffled and at ease. He’s in an outfit that I know from my last trip to the SoHo boutiques, costs thousands of dollars, and there’s a watch on his wrist that costs as much as a house. He gives me another half-smile, one I never saw from him in the past. He only used to give me full-blown grins. Wild and carefree.

The thought returns again.

He’s Andrew, but not.

What happened to him?

“What is it?” he asks.

“I have a question,” I say.

He gives a quick nod.

I look at him, then, “Do you own an island?”

He gives me an assessing look, but doesn’t answer.

“And skyscrapers?”

He tilts his head like the jungle cat I imagined him to be. Then he nods an affirmative.

Shock washes away the pleasure. He’s wealthy, powerful, owns an island, and he let me think he was dead and gone for ten years.

The question is, why?