“Can we talk after supper?” Lilly shot a look at Hudson, and he pulled out two beers out of the fridge.
“I think I’ll show Sandy the mummy berries,” he said, nodding Sandy toward the door. Sandy slid the cylinder over her shoulder, snatching the buckskin, and followed Hudson’s prompt.
“She is none too happy,” Sandy said when they were out of earshot. “Me thinks you are you-know-whating her.”
Hudson handed her a beer, and she popped the top.
He grinned a crooked smile he kept in reserve for complete ambiguousness. Knowing it would be hard to keep his thoughts, much less his feelings from Sandy, since she had known him better than any woman, then and since they had broke it off. He’d never admit that he had been brokenhearted when Sandy dumped him.
“I’ve seen threatened females before—been one myself.” She stashed the cylinder on the rental’s back seat and placed Yonah’s buckskin behind it so it wouldn’t fall on to the floorboard.
“She’s—well—charming to say the least.” He put a hand under Sandy’s elbow. “Let me show you my farm!”
Sandy snuggled into his elbow, allowing him to push her toward the patch. “It’s been a long time. I didn’t know my heart would do such a cartwheel over you.”
“I love you too!” He kissed her hair and draped an arm over her shoulder. “Always! Right? By the way you look great.”
She hook his hand. “You’re not fooling me—I look horrible! Let myself become a real professor, hairy chin and all.” She blushed, changing the subject, “What do you think they’ll take for the buckskin?” back to science and business.
“Can’t say,” Hudson said as they entered the first rows of blueberries.
In the few days he had been at Sally’s, the fragrant blossoms had formed into the green buds of future berries and bees hovered over the last few blossoms assuring the berries success. The bee’s droning was happiness amplified.
“Wow! This is such a beautiful spot,” Sandy said considering the blueberry bushes surrounded by oaks, hickory, and brambles.
“Thanks! I’ve been hacking away at this jungle since I arrived. Working for my keep, so to speak.”
“You taking up permanent residence?”
“Ah! You know me.”
“That I do.”
“I found a nice nugget in the Yahoola. Gave it to Lilly. She needed it more than me.”
“Always the philanthropist!”
“It was for a good cause!”
“With one hella pair of gams!”
Cielo yelped from somewhere in the distance, not an alarm of danger, but of joy. She crashed through a break in the bushes with Travis tailing her.
“You’re doing a good job, working it—” she said. Hudson’s need to be desired by women, but never conquered was what had attracted her to him.
“Stop it! I’ve been charmed by the old man,” Hudson said. “He’s a character, reminds me of—”
“I bet. You miss your dad, don’t you?”
“It’s better now. I talk to him. We have conversations,” Hudson said, and this time he blushed. Sandy knew him, understood him better than any woman friend he had and she knew he would keep a good distance between himself and the women he tangled with. He kept an extra-sharp box cutter to slash at apron strings when a woman tried to tie him up.
And knowing that she asked. “Why aren’t you married?”
“You know why!”
“Same reason why I’m not. My guess?”
“I heard a rumor, that you and—”
“—it didn’t work out. You know—too much dedication to the wrong things.”
“No woman can put up with me for long,” he said, “Once they understand I want gold more than them, they kick me out.”
Sandy nodded. “I want to find Indian artifacts more than I want to cook pot roast. Most men can smell moldy plunder on me, instead of gravy. It’s not the treasure, while that is a bonus, it’s the hunt that drives us. Me.”
“Right,” Hudson said. “In the end, she,” and he nodded back toward the house, “won’t understand. “Cielo got bit by a snake, and when I went to see about her, I found the nugget. It was sheer fate. We drove to Savannah for the night, and I sold it for her.”
“That was lucky.”
“I need a comparison of the buckskin to your map,” Hudson said, changing the subject off Lilly.
“Yoyo said the gold is up on Blood Mountain and I’d need a horse to find it.”
“Horseback riding. Fun!” she said. “Blood Mountain? There’s something about that name. But—I’ll think of it!”
They sauntered along. Sandy broke free of his grasp, breaking their connection, sensing his unavailability. His connection to Lilly, who was inside making a pot-full of hopes over Hudson, was magnetic. Sandy erected a wall of protection, a safety net for her heart, knowing better than to lose her way inside Hudson’s world.
“I think I saw the similarities between my copy of the original land grants and the buckskin, but—I need to examine it further. Talk to Mr. Corn.”
“Why did you bring that map?”
“My curiosity was piqued when I saw the buckskin. I’d seen something similar to it. But not something that was connected to gold or Blood Mountain. The original is far too fragile to travel. It’s a map of the boundaries set by Andrew Jackson when he stole this land from the Cherokees. We’re the bad guys, you know. Trail of Tears! There are markings of gold mines, original claims, and the sections given to the settlers who wanted the land. I can believe Yonah Corn and Sally, his mother, meaning that Lilly is a honest descendants of those people. Their blood lines had been mixed with the English by that time, so it was difficult to force an Englishmen off their land, even if they considered themselves Indian.”
“Yoyo says there’s a vein as big as my arm traversing Blood Mountain,” Hudson said. His voice deepened when he talked about the possibility of gold.
“I know you believe it, like I believe not all the artifacts of the world have been discovered.” She threaded her fingers into his, knowing the berries hide them from view. If she had been braver, and less mousy looking, she’d had tried for more—a real Hudson kiss! Being close to him after all these years felt great and she didn’t dare press her luck.
Wary frogs croaked of the coming sunset, conveying the location of snakes and cranes in a mood for frog legs. In the dark recesses of the blueberries fireflies flickered their first attempts at a mating dance. Mosquitoes hummed in the shade waiting for the light to fad.
“Sometimes—” he started.
“You wish you were normal,” she finished. “A working stiff with a mortgage and two point three children.”
“Sometimes, but then I get itchy.”
“You still have your house in San Diego?”
“Sure, but I can’t stand staying there. Maria and Dante take care of it, keep it from rotting away.”
“He’s in Atlantic City right now. Working on a huge upgrade for Trump’s casino. Gaming software. Gotta make sure no one wins too big!” He shrugged his disapproval of Rex’s choice of work.
“Tell him I said hello,” she said as Hudson turned her back toward her rental car. “Weren’t you going to show me a mummy berry?”
“Ha! It’s not what you think! Never seen one myself!” As they strolled he told her of trimming the bushes to prevent the spread of a fungus to the new crop from the deadwood.
“Dang! I thought I was going to have to ask for money for a new wing to the museum—The Mummy Berry Symposium.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish