Cardiff, England 1820
Lady Amanda Pratt
strode quickly along Cromwell On Sea’s main road toward Gibson’s Antiques and
Curiosities. Botheration, it was already twenty minutes past two, and the
sign posted on the shop’s door when she and Aunt Lydia had passed by earlier
indicated the store was temporarily closed and would re-open at two o’clock.
Amanda had wanted to return promptly at two, but what with all the fascinating
wares Cromwell On Sea’s shops had to offer, she’d completely lost track of
time. When she’d noted the hour and realized Aunt Lydia was no where near ready
to depart Hobson’s Millinery, Amanda told her aunt to take her time. She’d
simply nip back to Gibson’s to purchase that extraordinary box displayed in the
Just thinking about the treasure quickened her step. She’d never seen anything
remotely like it, not even in London’s grand shops on Regent, Bond, and Oxford
Streets where she regularly hunted for pieces to add to her collection of
unusual boxes. The shop owners in London were well acquainted with her finely
honed bargaining skills, and her lips curved at the prospect of this unexpected
opportunity to put her expertise to use here. She certainly hadn’t anticipated
seeing something so outstanding while visiting her aunt in this small village
just outside Cardiff. The instant she’d seen the rectangular box which was
about the size of a loaf of bread and made of intricately inlaid, glossy wood,
she’d wanted it. She’d nearly pressed her nose to shop window, admiring the
But it was more than the unique gleaming surface that had fascinated Amanda. It
was the image on the curved lid that had so thoroughly captured her attention.
A silhouette of a woman with long hair that appeared to be blowing in the
breeze. She wore a flowing, Grecian-style gown which clung to the front of her
form and billowed behind her from that imaginary wind while she seemingly walked
into the distance, her arms stretched upward, as if reaching for something
above, beyond her. Her upturned face was turned in partial profile, her pose
simultaneously mysterious, beseeching, and seductively teasing. Yet the woman
also struck Amanda as being somehow...lonely. And searching for...something.
I know precisely how you feel...
Amanda shook off the thought and hurried on, passing rows of well-kept shops
lining both sides of the wide, busy street crowded with early afternoon
pedestrians purchasing items ranging from freshly caught fish to fragrant bread
to embroidered linens. Children scampered about, the sounds of their laughter
rising above the squeak of carriage wheels and entrepreneurs hawking their wares
from a group of stalls set-up at the far end of the street next to the smithy.
Normally she would have leisurely strolled, allowing her senses to absorb the
scenery, to savor the newness of sights and scents so different from London or
her family’s country home in Kent, then engaged in one of her favorite
activities--watching people and wondering about their lives--who they were,
where they lived, what sort of personalities they possessed, whether or not they
were happy, what secrets they hid. But all that would have to wait. Right now
she was a woman with a mission.
refreshing, brisk salt-scented breeze courtesy of Bristol Channel ruffled
Amanda’s forest green spencer, and she breathed deeply, enjoying the contrast of
the warm sun and cool, fresh early summer air. London’s air definitely did not
smell like this. No, this sea air was scented not only with the tang of salt,
but with more intangible fragrances. Peace. Tranquility. Freedom. When Aunt
Lydia had issued her invitation to join her in Cardiff, Amanda had instantly
pounced upon the opportunity.
Would the answers she so desperately sought be found in this modest seaside
village, far removed from the pressures of her mother’s incessant demands that
she quit dawdling and choose a husband? She prayed that would be the case. In
all fairness she supposed she was dawdling, but only so she could search her
heart, which for reasons she did not understand, required searching. Heavens,
with the success of her Season, she should be the happiest girl in all of
England. Declared an Incomparable, and blessed with four serious suitors. And
all gentlemen from fine families.
why wasn’t she happy? Dancing on air? She’d always dreamed of falling love,
marrying a man who made her heart race, having a family. In her mind’s eye
she’d clearly envisioned herself surrounded by several laughing children, a half
dozen rambunctious dogs, a litter of kittens, a fragrant abundant garden, and...him.
That nameless, faceless gentleman whose identity remained a mystery other than
to know that he was kind. Loving. Generous. Made her laugh. And loved her to
distraction, as she loved him. Why was determining which of her four suitors
was that man proving such a daunting, depressing task? Surely it should not be
so. Well, once she’d decided which of her suitors to marry, this feeling of
malaise and frustrated confusion that had plagued her all during the Season
Antiques and Curiosities lay just ahead, and Amanda nearly ran the last few
steps, then halted in front of the window. And stared. The velvet perch upon
which the box...her box...had rested was now empty.
Dismay flooded her. Surely someone couldn’t have purchased the box in the past
twenty minutes since the shop re-opened. Smothering the unladylike word that
rose to her lips, Amanda quickly entered the shop. She vaguely noted the two
gentlemen in the shop. Instead her attention was riveted upon the glossy wooden
box which sat on the glass-topped counter separating the men.
The middle-aged man behind the counter said to her in a tremulous, reed-thin
voice, “Welcome. I’m Wallace Gibson, the owner. I’ll be happy to assist you in
just a moment.”
Hoping she wasn’t too late, Amanda swiftly approached the counter then pointed
at the box. “Actually, that is the piece I was interested in.”
Mr. Gibson swallowed,
bobbing the prominent Adam’s Apple in his pencil-thin neck. He appeared nervous
and flustered, and his gaze flicked to the other man. “I’m afraid I’ve just
sold the piece,” Mr. Gibson said. “To this gentleman.”