Fiona gripped the edges of the antique portrait, heart racing with painful intensity. Owner of Precious Mementos, a sea-side antique shop, she had seen many odd and interesting objects in her line of work. “Who are you?” she asked the young woman looking at her with a face similar to her own.
“Great-grandma Margie,” a masculine voice answered.
She fumbled the portrait and turned. Jeez! This guy is hotter than Brad Pitt! She couldn’t breathe.
He stood on the other side of her counter. “Actually, she’s the reason I’m here. Her portrait wasn’t supposed to be included—” He stopped speaking and stared.
“I was hoping I could get her back? Aunt Nancy put her into the ‘sell’ group because of an old family grudge.”
“You’re Mr. Vaughn?”
“Yes. Alexander Vaughn. Is it too late?” He glanced at the counter where great-grandma rested. “You haven’t sold her yet, have you?”
“No. In fact, she hasn’t been processed though my system. I was just…umm…”
“Is there something wrong?”
“You don’t see it?” Fiona asked and pushed aside the idea she was totally invisible to this sexy hunk.
Brows puckered into a frown, he shook his head.
“Humph!” She raised her hands, pulled long curls up and gave them a twist. Annoyance peaking, Fiona tilted her chin, turned to the light and pointed to her face. “What about now?”
He studied her closely. “Well isn’t that interesting? Are you a long lost cousin?”
“Do you believe in reincarnation?”
“Never did before. I have to admit; now I’m curious.”
Alexander stepped closer. “So does this mean you’ve become attached to my great-grandma and I’ll have to buy her back from you? For a profit, of course.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Fiona answered, gaze dropping to the portrait. She didn’t know why, but her heartstrings tugged when she met deep-set blue eyes. “It is your portrait. I haven’t given the estate a check yet because everything hasn’t been appraised and catalogued.”
“Wonderful.” He looked relieved and reached for the gold hilt frame.
She pulled the portrait toward her. “Tell me why.” The look on his face made her laugh. Slightly embarrassed by her sudden amusement at his surprise, she changed tactics. “Is there a hidden treasure map behind her?” she asked, caressing the broad antique frame. “Or maybe the frame is hollow and holds a fortune in loose diamonds?”
Realization dawned across handsome features. “Diamonds?” he asked, teasing. “Fascinating idea. Perhaps I’ll have her x-rayed when I get her home.”
“X-rayed? You’re avoiding my question, Mister Vaughn.”
“The one about a treasure map?”
The bell jangled over the door. “Fiona—”
Fiona suddenly realized there had been no tinkling warning when he arrived.
“Oh my, who do we have here?” Star, her best friend, eyed him and moved closer with slinky sexiness. “Hey doll, can I buy you?”
“I’m sorry, Mister Vaughn. Star’s recently divorced and thinks all men are toys.”
“Well, aren’t they?”
“That’s quite all right, been there before and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. In fact, if you’re really interested, I’m one of the bachelors in an auction on Friday the thirteenth. Proceeds go to breast cancer research.”
“An angel and delectable,” Star said.
“Star!” Being in the same room with her friend often made her feel horribly invisible. “Please wait in the backroom. We have much to do. Open house is Sunday and we’re swamped with this new estate acquisition.”
Star pouted, but moved toward the door behind the counter. “Later, doll. I’ll try to make the auction.”
Fiona waved her away. “Please forgive her, Mister Vaughn. Ever since her divorce I swear she’s a bit insane.”
“Alex. And you’re wrong, you know.”
“Excuse me?” she asked, looking him in the eye.
“Please call me Alex.”
Heat rushed up her neck and across her cheeks. “All right,” she answered, picking up the portrait. “Alex, are you going to answer my question?”
“Only when you admit you’re wrong.”
He nodded toward the door. “You don’t disappear when your friend Star walks into the room. In fact, she doesn’t hold a candle to you.”
She clutched the portrait to her chest, wishing she could hide behind it. Denial when faced with this new acquaintance mounted. “That’s absurd.”
“So we’re at an impasse. You won’t admit you’re beautiful and sexy and I won’t divulge the portrait’s secret. What’s next? A romantic dinner for two? Saturday night? Seven-thirty?” He placed his hands on the glass countertop and leaned forward, holding her gaze in a tight embrace.
“You think I’m beautiful?”
“Asking me for a date isn’t a joke?”
“No. Are we on?”
The portrait, still clutched to her chest, warmed under her touch. The heat spread into her heart. Fiona was positive she stood above the floor on cloud nine. “What’s the secret?”
“Is it a date?”
“Are you invisible?”
Could she hold the portrait any tighter? Moments of silent anticipation spread between them. “No,” she said, allowing the small word to escape her lips on a soft breath. “Will you tell me the secret?”
He leaned in, nearly close enough for a quick kiss. “Great-grandma Margie was a gifted clairvoyant. She lived to be one hundred. Before she died, she told me that her portrait would show me my heart. I was six—thought she was just telling me a story.”
Fiona lessoned her hold on the portrait and placed it on the counter. “Oh… that explains the strange connection I feel, but—”
“We should at least give it a chance.”
“So Saturday? I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty.”
“I’ll be here,” she said handing him great-grandma Margie.
“See you then.” He turned, strode to the door where he paused, and looked back. “I can hardly wait.”
Fiona stared, speechless.
Great-grandma Margie, held under Alex’s arm, gave her an ear wide smile—one that had not been there before.
Heart racing, she answered, “Me, either.”
About the Author: Aithne Jarretta, born in Akron, Ohio now lives in Florida under sunny skies surrounded by tropical beauty and gentle gulf breezes. She is a mother of two grown sons and a graduate of Walsh University, North Canton, Ohio. You can visit Aithne at her website, http://www.aithnejarretta.com