Love, Artifacts, and You by Sarah Ready



“Hold still,”Emma says.

She brushes the blood from a small cut on my forehead with a soapy washcloth. She doesn’t have to tell me to hold still. I wouldn’t be able to move even if her cabin were on fire. She’s touching me for the first time in ten years and I realize that in all my scenarios playing out her destruction, I missed the most important variable.

The fact that I can’t resist her. Even knowing she’s deceitful and manipulative, I still want her. The feeling burns inside me. My hands shake with the urge to grab her and drop her to the floor so that I can taste her everywhere and make endless love to her. I clench my fists to keep from reaching out to touch her.

I concentrate on the sting of the soap in the cut and let it clear my head. I’m sitting in the only chair in Emma’s cabin, an old recliner facing a decades-old television. Nearby, there’s a lumpy bed on the floor. I swallow and tear my gaze from the rumpled sheets.

“Thank you for the first-aid,” I say. I lift the right side of my mouth in a smile. After coming out of the mine, I had to practice smiles that didn’t terrify people or have them run in terror from business deals. This one worked best, although Dom claims I still look like the devil when I give it. Apparently it doesn’t reach my eyes.

“Of course,” she says. Her fingers shake as she cautiously smooths antibacterial ointment into my skin. I had a first-aid kit in the glove compartment of my Land Rover. I’d parked on the fire road in a meadow, only a quarter of a mile from the trail. After Emma and I climbed up the hill I drove us back to her cabin.

Emma fumbles with a bandage. Her hands shake as she tries to open the packaging. She keeps sending me nervous, assessing glances. I’m not a fool, I caught the fear in her voice when she realized who I was. She’s terrified that I know what she’s done.

The crazy thing is, being near her makes me not care anymore. She makes me forget my uncle, the years of torture, the dark. She makes me forget my promise of revenge. Right now, the only thing I care about is making her mine.

I need to change my strategy. It’s what’s helped me be so successful all these years. I adapt when new information comes in. The fact is, I’m not going to be able to function until I sink inside her. I can’t think with wanting her so badly.

Emma reaches up and smooths the band-aid over the cut on my forehead.

“There. You’re all fixed,” she says.

Right. If only it were that easy.

She looks up at me through her eyelashes and I see the gold flecks in her hazel eyes that always reminded me of the stars.

“Thank you,” I say. I stand, and when I do I accidentally bump the tray table next to the recliner. The table wobbles and a small velvet box slides off it and bounces to the floor.

“Oh,” she cries.

I bend down and grab the box. It’s clearly a ring box. I rub the velvet of the container. When I look at Emma her eyes are wide, worried, and she’s biting her lip.

Ah. It’s an engagement ring. From Van Cleeve.

I have an almost irresistible urge to throw the ring into some dark, undiscovered hole where no one will ever find it.

I relax my shoulders and keep what I’m feeling off my face.

“Sorry,” I say. I hold out the box to her.

A red blush rises on her cheeks as she reaches for it. Our fingers brush as she takes it. I don’t miss the irony of me handing Emma another man’s engagement ring. She puts the box in her pocket and then turns her face to the side, away from me.

Looking at the ring in her pocket I make a decision. There’s no way in hell I’m going to let her marry another man. She’s mine. Mine to make love to. Mine to destroy.

But if I want to make love to her then I need to woo her.

“Have dinner with me,” I say.

She looks back at me. The line between her brows crinkles in thought. I swallow the lump in my throat, I want her to say yes so badly.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Andrew,” she says.

I nod.

“Where have you been?”

I can’t tell if it’s a trick of the light or if there are actually tears in her eyes.

If I didn’t know better I’d almost believe that she has no idea what happened to me.

“That’s a long story,” I say.

“It’s been ten years. Why didn’t you find me? You could have written. Called. Anything. Why didn’t…” She swipes at her cheeks and turns away. “What happened to you?”

My heart beats hard against my ribs like my fists against the walls of the mine. I shrug and give my nonchalant half-smile. “After the men attacked the camp my uncle and I met up with a man named Crudell. We went into business together.” In a manner of speaking.

I watch Emma carefully. When I say Crudell’s name she stiffens and her eyes fly up to mine.

“But—” She cuts off. Her eyebrows draw down and she shakes her head.

My muscles go tight and an icy rage washes through me. I saw the checks with her signature, confirmed with private investigators that Emma and her father had communicated with Crudell for years, but still, apparently some part of me had hoped she wouldn’t know who Crudell was.

“What?” I ask, keeping my voice light and relaxed.

“We hired a man named Crudell to find you.” She tilts her head to the side. “I paid him an annual fee to search for you. To notify me if he ever…”

I shake my head, then shrug, as if it’s of no importance. As if the fact that she betrayed me to a psychopath is completely irrelevant.

“He’s been dead five years now.”

“Oh,” she says. “That’s when we received news that you were truly gone.”

I’ll bet.

“I wanted to contact you,” I say.

She looks up at me as if she wants to believe me more than anything in the world.

“But I couldn’t. If I could’ve come sooner, I would have. I would’ve moved heaven and earth to reach you.” Once upon a time that was true. “Do you trust me?” I ask. I reach out and brush a finger over the freckles on her face.

She shivers and then leans into my hand. She looks at my face, the long scar over my eyebrow. The one received on my sixth escape attempt. Finally, she nods. “Yes,” she says. “I trust you.”

Cool satisfaction spreads through me.

“Let me take you to dinner,” I say.

She shakes her head no and I hide a flinch.

“Why not?” I ask. “There was a time when you wanted to eat every meal with me.”

“I have too many questions.” Then she shrugs. “And I’ll probably cry a lot. And want to touch you.”

At her confession my body aches to be touched. Suddenly, all I can think of is her hands on me.

“We can go to my place. I’ll make you dinner. Like I used to,” I offer.

At that, she smiles. “You still cook?”

I nod. “For you, I still cook.”

One of theadvantages of wealth that I never realized as an eighteen-year-old nomad was that money makes things happen. Within two hours of notifying my assistant that I’d be heading to Romeo for a few weeks, he had my Land Rover ready, my bags packed, and a house rented in Romeo and stocked with all my favorite foods and drinks.

The house is a regal stone mansion near downtown that was built by one of the founders of Romeo. It has all the modern conveniences, but still has the original woodwork, the plaster walls, and brass and crystal chandeliers in many of the rooms. There are built-ins, window seats throughout, and wood burning fireplaces in many of the rooms. The walls are creamy white, the woodwork is dark cherry, and the furniture is antique. The original glass windowpanes from the eighteen hundreds are in many of the rooms and it gives the house a soft wavy dreamlike glow. I explored the house before heading out to the forest and so I know exactly where to lead Emma.

“Here’s the kitchen.” I flip on the lights and watch Emma as she takes in the room. The kitchen is bright and cheery with plenty of windows, a breakfast nook and a long marble island with upholstered stools facing the prep area.

“You can sit while I make us dinner.” I brush a hand over the air near her back, not quite touching her. She changed her outfit and washed off at the water pump while I waited in the Land Rover. She’s wearing a pair of shorts that look like they were once jeans and a loose light blue tank top that dips and shows me a hint of the space between her breasts every time she leans forward. She braided her hair and put on lip gloss, but that’s it. She looks nothing like the sophisticated socialite I saw in the magazines, and everything like the Emma I once spent my summers with. I wonder if she did it on purpose. If she’s playing to our shared history.

Or perhaps she really is completely bankrupt and this outfit is the best she has left.

I look down at myself and shake my head. Our situations have completely reversed.

I pull out a stool for her to sit in. She shakes her head.

“I’d rather help.”

“Ah.” I push the stool back in. “You didn’t know how to cook before.”

“I’ve changed too,” she says.

Don’t I know it.

“Can I get something out of the way?” she asks. She clasps her hands together in front of her and her knuckles go white. I look away from them and back up to her face.

A trickle of trepidation flows through me. “Of course.”

“I…you make me nervous. You’re like the Andrew I knew, but…”

“Different?” I give her my half-smile.

She swallows and nods. Her eyes flick to the scar on my forehead. “I’ve dreamed of you coming back to me for so long. But I realize I never thought about what happened after I threw myself in your arms. For instance, what did we talk about, what did we do, where did we go? My dreams always ended with you reappearing. I never thought about the fact that time would have passed and that we’d both be different people.”

She glances at my clothing, my watch, at the kitchen around us.

“I don’t know if you’re even the same person I remember. That scares me.”

“I’m not,” I say.

She looks up at me and her eyes widen.

The person I was is dead.

“Oh.” She lets out a breath and looks down.

I step forward and reach out, gently touch her clasped hands. She breathes in quickly and looks up at me.

“But maybe you can come to love the new me,” I say. There’s a battle waging inside me, between tenderness and revenge. I lift my hand from hers and reach out to push back the hair falling across her forehead. It’s the exact color I remember—autumn wheat burnished by the golden sun.

Her lips tremble into a smile. She steps forward and I’m taken by surprise when she wraps her arms around me and drops her head to my chest.

I carefully put my arms around her. Her lips brush over my shirt in a ghost of a kiss and I go hard in a millisecond.

“Remember what you asked me, that last night?” I ask.

She grips my shirt and bunches it into her fists. “About becoming partner?”

“Not that.”

“About Oxford?”

“Not that either.”

Her hands grip my shirt tighter and she moves closer to me.

“If you’d ever thought about making love,” she whispers.

I nod. “Every day. For the past ten years.”

She stiffens and I hold still, waiting to see what she’ll do. She doesn’t move, doesn’t leave my arms. Finally, she relaxes into me. I run my fingers over the base of her spine.

“Did you know this is the Official Town of Love, USA?” she says. Her voice is muffled by my shirt.


She nods. “There’s a lady here who predicts soul mates. A few days ago she told me you were coming. She said you’re mine. My soul mate.”

For a second, I stop breathing. “Is that so?”

“Apparently, she’s never wrong. She’s predicted hundreds of matches.”


I’m speaking in single-word sentences, but my mind is a blur. Either Emma believes we’re soul mates or she’s playing another game. Either way, it leads right into what I want. Emma, in my bed.

“Do you believe her?” I ask.

Emma pulls back and steps out of my arms. “I didn’t at first, because I thought you were dead. But now I do. Does that scare you?”

“Nothing scares me.”

She gives me a look. “Everyone’s afraid of something.”

“I’m not,” I say. You’re only afraid if you have something to lose. “Except…missing dinner.”

She gives a short laugh and I move into the kitchen. I open the refrigerator. It’s stocked with fresh produce, cheese, sauces, milk, and meat.

“How about prosciutto-wrapped chicken and a salad?”

“Even your taste in food has changed. I’d be happy with beans and rice. That’s what we would’ve had if we stayed at the cabin.” She smiles at me and I look again at the outfit she’s wearing. It’s not a scheme. The reports I received were dead-on. She’s beyond broke.

I did that to her.

Except, she doesn’t seem unhappy.

I pull the ingredients from the refrigerator and place them on the island countertop. “Well, tonight we’re celebrating. We can go big.”

She rolls her eyes and grabs the vegetables. “I’ll make the salad.”

I start prepping chicken.

We stand side by side at the counter and work on dinner, as if we’ve been doing this together for the last decade. It’s completely domestic and so normal. I imagine that this could’ve been our life if we’d taken a different course.

“Tell me about you,” I say.


“Yes. You. You keep telling me I’m different, but I imagine you’re different too. Did you go to Oxford, take over the family business?”

I already know the answers, no and yes. But I’d like to hear her take on the past. I pull out a cutting board and start slicing the meat.

Emma stands at the sink and runs water over a strainer, washing the lettuce. She swirls the lettuce around, stalling. “No,” she finally says. “Gosh, it’s hard to remember you missed everything.”

I push the cut meat aside and start on the next chicken breast. “What happened?”

“I wasn’t well,” she says.

I glance up at her and she gives a small smile and shrugs.

“I thought my…” She pauses, then, “I thought the man I loved was dead. It took me almost a year to come out of…to be able to…interact with people again.”

I look at her, my brows drawn. That doesn’t fit with what I know. “Then what?” I ask.

She shrugs and sets the lettuce aside and starts washing the tomatoes. “Then I nearly didn’t graduate from high school. Dad had to bully my acceptance to a college in New York. I failed that too. I couldn’t…”

She stops and sets the tomatoes aside. “Nothing mattered anymore. So, I dropped out of college after my first year.”

I stare at her, try to see her expression, but her head is bowed.

“What about your plans? What about The Heart? You could’ve dominated the field with that discovery.” Which she and her father did. I’ve seen the articles.

She lets out a low laugh. “My dad demanded I attend the gala where we donated it. That was the night I considered…I seriously considered ending my life.”

I step toward her involuntarily.

She looks up and her eyes are filled with gold stars. “It seems stupid, doesn’t it, knowing you’re alive.”

Is she telling the truth? Looking at her, I find that I…believe her. “I’ll be grateful forever that you didn’t.” I can’t imagine what I would’ve done to come out of the mine and find her dead. Even though I hated her, I still wanted her alive.

“You can thank Justin,” she says.

“Who?” I ask. Even though I know. My jaw clenches at the thought of him.

She smiles, “Justin Van Cleeve. He’s my best friend.”

I wait for her to say what else he is to her, but she doesn’t. “And then what happened?”

“My dad had been handing off business tasks to me, he wanted me to take a more active role. I didn’t want to. But then he had a stroke and I had to take over the business whether I wanted to or not.”

“You were in charge of everything for the past, what, seven, eight years?”


She sets the vegetables on a cutting board and starts to cut them. The only sound for a moment is the knife hitting the cutting board methodically.

I turn back to my cutting board and start wrapping the prosciutto around the chicken.

“How is your father?” I ask, keeping my voice light.

“As good as you’d expect. He’s had multiple strokes now. He has to have a full-time nurse with him, he’s pretty weak, he doesn’t communicate as well, he gets upset easily. I don’t think life turned out quite the way he expected, and neither did I, so I guess that frustrates him sometimes.”

I give her a rueful smile, “I bet.”

I put the chicken into an oiled pan on the stove while Emma tosses the salad into a bowl.

I’m starting to get an uncomfortable feeling that I missed something about Emma, that I missed a piece of the puzzle that once inserted, completely changes the entire picture. I turn back to her.

“So, is running Castleton, Inc like you’d imagined it to be?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I don’t run it anymore. I lost it.” She looks at the expression on my face and shrugs. “Don’t look so upset. It’s not your fault.”

I wipe my face of any emotion. There’s a guilty gnawing feeling in my gut. It is my fault. I orchestrated everything.

“Apparently, I’m not a very good CEO. I made bad investments, tarnished our reputation, somehow I rubbed officials the wrong way,” she continues. “I loved hunting for artifacts, you know me. But the other stuff…I could take it or leave it. You were right. When you said you didn’t want more, or to chase prestige, you were right. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. I have nothing now, I lost it all, but when I did, I felt lighter than I have in years.”

I wonder if that had anything to do with a proposal from Van Cleeve. Except, she’s admitted she thinks we’re soul mates. Which, I would guess, means that she’s going to turn Van Cleeve down.

A warm satisfaction grows in me.

“So, you’re happy?” I ask.

“Happier than I’ve been in years.”

She looks at me from across the kitchen and I’m pulled into her gaze. We stand for five seconds, ten, just looking at each other. The air is thick with want.

Finally, she clears her throat and looks away.

I pull the chicken off the stove and place it in the oven. It’ll be done in a few minutes. I move to the cupboards and pull out plates and salad bowls.

Emma moves to grab silverware and napkins.

“Tell me about you,” says Emma. “I gave you the Cliff notes version of my life. What about you?”

I set the plates and bowls on the counter and pull out wine glasses. I saw a Pinot Grigio in the wine cooler that’ll pair with the chicken and prosciutto.

I’m stalling. I’m hesitant to answer Emma’s questions.

Nothing makes sense. It’s hard to think, being so close to her and not touching her. But also, what she’s saying doesn’t match with what I thought I knew. The private investigators I hired to look into Emma and her father confirmed that the money they paid Crudell came from their private bank account. Emma signed checks to Crudell for five years straight. The investigators also found evidence that Castleton and Crudell had met years earlier at a charity gala at the natural history museum in Chicago. The more I dug into their past, the more I learned that Castleton had either bribed or bullied his way through every country and every find of his career. Emma had seemed complicit, it was her signature on the checks after all.


“You’ve got the dark and mysterious down,” Emma says. She scoops salad into the bowls. “I’m not very mysterious. What you see is what you get.” She smiles and gestures at herself.

Is that true?

“Who hired Crudell?” I ask.


“Crudell. Tell me about him.”

The oven beeps and I pull out the chicken. I bring it back to the counter then grab the bottle of wine and a corkscrew. Emma watches as I serve the chicken then pour the wine.

Her eyebrows pinch together. Then, “It looks delicious. Thank you.”

“Of course.” I lift my wine glass and hold it up to her. She lifts hers. “To reunions.” I touch my glass to hers and the wine splashes back and forth, letting out a subtle fruity fragrance.

“To finding each other,” she says.

I drink a sip of wine and watch the line of her neck as the wine slides down her throat. I take another drink to hold back a groan.

“So. Tell me,” I say.

She sighs and sets down her glass. “My father hired him. I first spoke to him on the phone a week after we returned to New York. My dad said he was an old family friend that lived in Colombia and that he had many contacts and specialized in…” She looks up at me, and her brows lower. “In kidnappings.”

My mouth is dry and I feel a cold sweat breaking out over me.

“That wasn’t true,” I say.

“Obviously,” she says bitterly. “Since you went into business together. I have years of correspondence with him. Begging him for a scrap of information about you. Every email, he claimed to be close, or to have found a new lead, but then later he’d say it was a false lead. He strung me along for years.”

“You paid him?”

“One hundred thousand dollars a year.”

She looks at me and her eyes flash. “Did you use that money to fund your business. Whatever it is you do?”

My entire body has gone cold.

“Do you have the emails?”


“The emails from Crudell, do you still have them?” My voice comes out harsh, harsher then I intended. Emma scoots back.


I swallow and rein in the swirling maelstrom inside. “Can I see them?”

She nods. “Okay.” She takes out her cellphone and opens her email. I watch as she opens a folder labeled A.S. My heart lurches with recognition. They’re my former initials, Andrew Santiago. She doesn’t know that’s not my name anymore.

Inside the folder is five years’ worth of emails. “May I?”

She nods and hands me her phone. I take it and start to read. My stomach rolls. I feel sick. Laid out in front of me are Emma’s desperate pleas for answers, waning hope, and Crudell’s carefully constructed lies. After ten minutes of reading I set the phone down on the counter. Our food has gone cold. But I wouldn’t be able to eat anything anyway.

She searched for me. She was desperate to find me. She…

“My word.”

She presses her lips together and twists her napkin in her lap. “It’s kind of funny, isn’t it? Since you were never really lost.”

“Emma,” I say and my voice breaks on her name. I reach forward and place my hands to her cheek, run my fingers over her skin. “You tried to find me.”

The world that I’ve been living in for nearly a decade turns upside down and the final piece that I’ve been missing falls into place. She didn’t know. She wasn’t a part of this. She tried to find me.

“Of course I did,” she cries. “Do you know what kind of hell it was thinking I’d hidden like a coward while you were taken away and killed? I was a coward and you and your uncle suffered for it. Wait. Rigo. Is he okay too?”

I shake my head no.

Emma drops her head into my hand and presses her lips to my palm. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve tried harder. I should’ve come out, come after you.”

“No. I told you to stay there. I wanted you to.”

A small smile crosses her face. “Yes, but when did I ever do what you told me to? I shouldn’t have started then.”

I brush my hand through her hair and drag my thumb over the smoothness of her jaw. She makes a low sound in her throat. The sound lights me on fire. I pull in a harsh breath.

My word.

She didn’t know.

She didn’t know.

There’s only one answer then. It was her father, and her father alone. I make a quick decision. Emma can’t know. She loves him, she always has. Learning what he’s done would hurt her too much. The past can stay in the past. According to Emma, Castleton has had multiple strokes and he’s not functioning well. He isn’t a danger to anyone anymore. My chest tightens. I can leave it. I can let everything rest, leave the past in the past. I look at Emma. Her bright eyes and her freckles. If I leave the past alone, we can have a life together. All I have to do is bury the past and never dig it up. She doesn’t have to know what her father did, and she doesn’t have to know what I did to take revenge on him.

From this moment on, we start over.

I brush my thumb over her lower lip. “I didn’t go into business with Crudell.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was with the men who attacked the camp. He murdered my uncle and forced me and others to work for him in his mining operation. I was his…prisoner…for five years. Until he died, and I escaped. You and your father were fooled. Taken in by a sadistic scam artist. He must have targeted you.” The lie slips out easily. Let the past rest.

“What? No.” She jumps off her stool and reaches for me. She pulls me to her and rubs her hands over my arms and my back. She pulls me to her and I let her. “I didn’t know. How dare he! I wish I knew where he was buried, so I could dig him up and kill him again.”

She has a bloodthirsty look on her face, one of angry retribution, and I imagine her as an avenging Boudica, leading an army against the Romans after her husband’s death.

“After I escaped,” I begin, then I pause.

She looks up at me. “Yes?”

“I wasn’t right. I wasn’t in a good place. It took me another five years to come back to you. I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.” I say it for not coming back to her, and for everything else too.

She puts her hand to my chest. “I would’ve waited another five years. However long you needed.”

A warm happiness seeps through me and filters into all the dark places that haven’t seen light in a decade. I stand and pull her against me. She fits. She fits me perfectly.



“I’m going to carry you upstairs, tie you to a bed so you can’t get away, and make love to you all night long until your voice is hoarse from screaming my name. If you don’t want that, then you need to walk out the front door right now. Understand?”

She backs away from me, out of my arms. I watch her chest rise and fall as she takes in a shuddering breath.

I hold still, waiting for her assent, even though every instinct in me is telling me to take her upstairs and claim her as mine.

She reaches over to her dinner plate and shoves a piece of prosciutto covered chicken in her mouth, then another. She makes an appreciative sound. Then she takes a long gulp of wine.

What the hell?

She pops a tomato in her mouth.

“What are you doing?” I ask, although it comes out more as a groan.

She looks at me and a slow grin spreads across her face. “I figure, if I’m going to be kept up all night, then I’ll need my strength.”

She eats another piece of chicken and then licks the juices from her finger.

Holy hell.

“Is that a yes?” I ask. Please say that’s a yes.

She takes a drink of wine and then sets the glass onto the marble counter.

“Emma?” I say, my patience nearly gone.

She runs to me and I catch her in my arms. “Yes,” she says. “Yes. Yes. A thousand yesses, yes.”

A small laugh comes out of me, and I’m surprised by it, because I haven’t truly laughed since the last time I was with Emma.

I hold her up and pull her against my chest. She’s still a lightweight at five foot two, and I’m two inches taller and twenty pounds bulkier than the last time she saw me. But we still fit.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” she asks. “I’ve been wanting you to do this since you fell on top of me at the bottom of the hill.”