Authors: Kathleen Brooks
Book #2 in the Forever Bluegrass Series
All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, actual events, locale, or organizations is entirely coincidental.
work of Kathleen Brooks.
copyright @ 2016 by Kathleen Brooks
Cover art by Sunni Chapman at The Salty Olive
Table of Contents
Sydney Davies had never been so happy to be headed home. She pulled her long golden-blond hair into a sloppy bun and opened the tailgate to her small SUV. She tossed in her luggage and looked out from the Bluegrass Airport’s long-term parking lot. The sight of the snow-covered horse farms surrounding the airport brought back so many great memories.
At twenty-eight, Sydney was a force in the international fashion industry. However, she was no longer gracing the covers of magazines or walking the shows like she had as a teenager or when in college. Modeling wasn’t her lifelong dream; instead she used modeling to make a name for herself and for her company: Sydney International. Sydney was the founder, CEO, and chief designer of everyday clothing, haute couture, home, family, outdoors, and wedding fashion design.
She’d spent two weeks in Europe meeting with designers, investors, and businesses that wanted Sydney International in their stores, then ended her trip with a fashion show for her wedding dresses. But now she was home, and she couldn’t wait to finally remember how to breathe again. Sydney enjoyed watching the light snow cover the rolling hills of Kentucky as she made her way out of Lexington toward her small hometown of Keeneston. Keeneston’s population was smaller than her employee roster at Sydney International, and gossiping was the town’s favorite pastime. But it was home, and she couldn’t wait to see the people who knew her as just Syd.
Her friends and family couldn’t care less that her company was a Forbes dream. They had known her since she was born and still gave her crap for modeling in wings and barely there underwear. The only trouble with Keeneston was that she was related to many of the available bachelors in town. Finding a single guy was like unearthing new gossip before the town’s oldest gossiping pair, Miss Lily and her husband, John, did—basically impossible. But after two weeks as the face of her company, she was tired of men anyway, especially the way they sucked up to her and pretended to be chivalrous before tearing her down the second she turned her back on them. It was exhausting keeping a smile on her face and not punching theirs.
Sydney rounded the corner of the small country road and smiled as Main Street came into view. The sun was setting and the historic buildings painted dusty blues, neutral tans, pale yellows, and gentle greens warmed under the orange glow. American flags were on the light poles, Valentine’s Day displays were in the large plate-glass windows, and the smell of her favorite café filled the crisp winter air.
First up was a stop at the Blossom Café for some good southern food and then bed. Sydney drove up the street toward the packed café, but the sounds of a siren behind her had her pulling over instead of getting that delicious bread pudding.
The sheriff’s car turned off the siren as it parked behind her with its lights flashing. Sydney watched in the mirror as the door opened and a man in jeans and a heavy brown quilted jacket with an embroidered gold star on the breast pocket stepped out. Sydney rolled down her window and sighed.
“Hi, Dad.” Sydney smiled tiredly at her father, Marshall Davies, the sheriff of Keeneston.
“You weren’t answering your phone,” he accused in a way that made Sydney roll her eyes. Her father liked to think he was still in Special Forces, barking out orders. She and her mother, Katelyn, always found it amusing. Sydney pulled out her cell phone and stared in surprise at the thirteen missed calls from her father, six from her mother, and three from her younger brother, Wyatt.
“It was on airplane mode, sorry. What’s going on?” Sydney asked worriedly. Her family was close but not obsessive-phone-call close.
“It’s your great-grandmother,” her father said seriously.
“Is she . . .?” Sydney gulped. She couldn’t say the word.
Her father shook his head and a couple snowflakes fell to the ground. “Not yet, but soon. Your mother sent me to get you. She and Wyatt are already out there, but your great-grandma is asking for you.”
Sydney gulped down her sobs of grief as she nodded her head. “I’ll meet you there.”
“I’m sorry, Syd. I know how close you are to her. Can you drive?” her father asked. The ironic thing was that her father looked even closer to breaking down.
“I can. It’s only a couple minutes away.”
Her father grimaced and turned to head to his car. “I’ll follow. Take it easy; the roads are slick.”
“Yes, Dad,” Sydney muttered as the first tear fell.
Great-grandma was also known as Mrs. Ruth Wyatt. She and her husband, Beauford, had been married for over sixty-five years before he had passed away nine years earlier. But Great-grandma had declared herself a tough old broad and had managed to run a massive horse farm, continued investing the family's assets, and even found time to meddle in her granddaughter’s and great-granddaughter’s lives. Ruth Wyatt was of an undeterminable age. She had hidden it so well that Sydney didn’t even know in which decade she had been born. But based on her long, flowing dresses, big hats, white face powder, and bright red lipstick, Sydney guessed her prime came during the Roaring Twenties.
Great-grandma was tough in the perfect southern genteel way of times gone by. Wyatt, Sydney’s younger brother, bore those same manners, as did her mother.
Great-grandma had raised Sydney’s mother, Katelyn, after her own mother had abandoned Katelyn at a young age. And when her father, Marshall, came into the picture, they mutually adopted each other. Great-grandma loved them as if they were her own children. Syd’s father and mother adored her for it.
Sydney passed the hibernating crop fields and cows in pastures with steam coming from their noses, finally arriving at the tree-lined drive of Wyatt Farm. She pressed the opener in her car for the large, scrolled wrought iron gate. Inside, on top of a hill stood Wyatt Estate, which had been in the family since 1785 and was her great-grandfather’s heritage. It had started as a small cabin but expanded in the beginning of the 1800s. The white Federal-style house came into view, and Sydney pulled to a stop next to her brother’s truck. Her father pulled in behind her and, without saying anything, took her hand in his as they walked silently inside.
Three years before, Sydney’s father and mother converted a downstairs sitting room into a bedroom for Great-grandma so she wouldn’t have to climb stairs. Her father squeezed Syd’s hand as they approached the room. Sydney heard her mother’s trembling voice as they neared, followed by the elderly woman's frail voice.
“Dear, I’m so proud of you. Proud that you are more than your mother’s sad legacy and proud of you for giving me the great honor of making up for my failure at raising her by raising you. I’m proud of you for making your own way in the world. For coming home and making sure every day of my life was filled with happiness as I watched you develop into a town leader, not to mention the best veterinarian and mom the town has ever seen. You married a fine young man, too, even if he couldn’t keep his clothes on in the house.” Her great-grandmother coughed as she laughed. Syd's father took his hand from hers to swipe at the tears in his eyes as Syd looked questioningly at him.
“I want you to do me a favor. I want to be buried in the dress I wore to your wedding. It was Beauford’s favorite. And have Paige make me a new hat to go with it. Something bright and happy for I’m going to see my love again.”
Sydney put her fist to her mouth to stop the cry that was choking her throat for escape. Her father used the back of his hands to wipe his eyes before he slowly opened the partially ajar door.
Her great-grandmother looked so small on the bed, propped up with a mountain of pillows behind her. Sydney’s mother was in tears as she gripped the dying woman's hand. Wyatt stood quietly behind his mother with his hand on her shoulder in a silent show of support.
“Ah, there’s my boy now. And Sydney, dear.” Mrs. Wyatt smiled weakly before coughing again. Sydney rushed forward and took the seat next to her mother.
“I’m glad you’re all here. There are things I need to say to all of you. I’ve already told Katelyn what is to be hers. Marshall, I want you to have anything you’d like from Beauford’s collections. He thought of you as his own son, as did I. We can never repay you for taking such good care of our most precious treasure.” Mrs. Wyatt looked to Katelyn, and Sydney saw her mother smile back with fresh tears in her eyes.
“It’s been my pleasure, Nana. But it should be me who is thanking you,” Marshall said with a hitch in his voice as he came to stand next to his wife.
“Always such a kind young man. It’s now up to you as head of the family to look out for them. And you, too, Wyatt. Come here, dear.”
Sydney moved out of the way so her brother could sit on the bed and take their great-grandma’s hand. Her brother was tall, strong, and masculine, but right now he looked like a little boy as his shoulders hunched in emotional pain and silent tears rolled down his cheeks.
“There, there, dear. All will be well,” Mrs. Wyatt said softly as she patted Wyatt’s hand. “To you, I leave the house and farm. I leave the legacy of the Wyatt family. I also leave to you three tubes of my favorite lipstick. Make sure to find a woman who will be good to my little dears.”
Sydney smiled at the thought of Wyatt telling some future wife that she must put on this lipstick and kiss all the horses. It was something her great-grandma did every week. The horses expected it, and recently her mother had taken over that role when Great-grandma could no longer do it.
“You’re a good man, Wyatt, and so much like your great-grandfather. When I see him I’ll tell him all about how you became a veterinarian and how well you’ll do as owner of Wyatt Farm. Now, everyone, come give me a kiss.”
Wyatt leaned forward and pressed trembling lips to her frail cheek. “I love you,” he whispered.
“I love you too, dear, so very much.” She smiled up at him.
Sydney’s father stepped forward and placed a gentle kiss on her great-grandmother’s cheek. “I promise to take great care of everyone.”
“I know you will, dear. A better son was never had. Please convey that to your mother. I shall miss her dearly.”
Marshall nodded wordlessly and went to stand next to Wyatt.
“Go ahead, Syd. I’ll stay here,” her mother said gently.
“No. I need to speak with Sydney alone,” her great-grandmother said kindly.
“Yes, Nana.” Katelyn looked stricken as she stood and placed a kiss on her grandmother’s forehead. “I couldn’t have asked for a better grandmother.”
“Oh, dear, you gave my life such meaning. And now it’s up to you to remember all I taught you for someday soon you will be Nana. You are what I am most proud of. I love you, my dear granddaughter.”
Katelyn sniffed as she fought her emotions. “I love you, too, always.” With a gentle squeeze of her hand she got up and walked to her husband and son. “We’ll be right outside.”
“Come here, Sydney. I don’t have much time,” her great-grandmother said weakly.
Sydney hurried to sit on the bed and took her great-grandmother’s hand in hers. “What can I do for you?”
“I need you to put my face on for me while I tell you. I can’t leave this world looking a fright. Not when so many people will be seeing me.” Sydney smiled at the frail woman in bed who, in her many years, had not once left the house without all her makeup on.
Sydney got up, opened the drawer to the nightstand, and pulled out the face powder, eye shadow, blush, and bright red lipstick.
“See this ring?” Mrs. Wyatt barely moved her right hand. “I want you to have it. Please take it off for me, dear.”
Sydney put down the powder and gently removed the ring from her great-grandmother’s arthritic hand.
“This is yours, along with the secrets it holds. You all know Beauford’s family history, but now it’s time you learned mine . . . and yours. This ring and so much more have been passed down from oldest woman to youngest woman for generations. It tells the story of bravery, adventure, independence, and love. And as the oldest woman prepares to leave this world, she tells the youngest of the Woodbury treasure. See, that’s who we are. As women our names change, but our story really begins with Elizabeth Woodbury.”
Sydney looked down at the ring. Two teardrop diamonds were angled together to form a heart among the intricate carvings. Sydney slid the ring onto the ring finger of her right hand and smiled down at it.
“Like my middle name?” Sydney asked.
“Yes, dear. I begged your mother to use my middle name as yours—Elizabeth. It’s shared throughout our history.” Her great-grandma struggled to speak. “Inside the family Bible in my room, you will find the location of the treasure. I want you to swear to me that you will go to Atlanta and find it. It’s time for it all to be together. It’s time for the story of the women of the Woodbury family to be told, and it’s you I want to do it. But I don’t want you to whisper a word of it until you’ve seen it all, because only then will you know the right thing to do. Promise me.”
Sydney shook her head. “I don’t understand. Treasure?”
Her great-grandmother smiled feebly. “A buried treasure, my dear. Find it and bring it home. Your brother gets the farm, but you get something much more important.”
Sydney carefully applied the lipstick to her great-grandmother’s lips and held up the mirror for her. “Is this good?”
“Perfect. But you must promise, Sydney. You’re the one to carry on our family’s legacy.”