by Diana Welker
Gemologist and jewelry designer, Megan Foster, purchases an antique portrait of a beautiful woman draped in emeralds and discovers a two-hundred-year-old diary with a treasure map hidden in the frame.
To unlock the secrets of the map and the woman, Megan enlists the help of underwater photographer turned artist, Eric Cortes. He never expects to meet an intriguing jewelry designer or hunt for a lost pirate treasure or become the prime suspect in a murder.
Their quest embroils them in a maze of Russian mob murder, deceit and a tumultuous relationship.
Release Date: January 15, 2019
Genre: Romantic Suspense
~ A White Satin Romance ~
Naples, Florida, 2016
Megan Foster jerked when the door of the antique shop slammed shut and the portrait she had been admiring crashed to the floor. She stared at the portrait and saw pages peeking out from the picture frame backing, now half hidden behind an antique oak dresser. The signature read C Thompson. Might this be an original portrait by the famous American artist, Cephas Thompson? She’d found some baffling pieces at estate sales in Naples, but this sheet of paper was the most intriguing.
Today I have decided to steal from my papa.
Her heart pounded with excitement. Thompson painted during this time period! The dazzling temptress draped in gems could be the answer to her monetary problems. She needed a large deposit for her trip to Paris for an internship under a top jewelry designer—her ultimate goal to further her career. She had two months to accumulate the necessary funds for the flight and her living expenses in the City of Lights.
Meg reached to slide the painting from its hiding place, stirred up a bit of dust, sneezed, backed up and hit a wall of hard muscle. She glanced over her shoulder, gazed into Mr. Hot Devil’s brown eyes and swallowed. Or tried to. Her mouth could spit desert dust. She wouldn’t be surprised if he’d been featured in an ad for the designer shirt he wore.
“Bless you.” He stepped back. “Sorry. I’m in a rush, but I should watch where I’m going.” He appraised her from her head to her toes peeking from her sandals. His eyes and smile said he wasn’t sorry. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. No worries.” He held her gaze a moment longer before he broke eye contact. She watched Mr. Hot Devil rush away. His exciting masculine power made her regret no time to flirt a bit. Too late now. Meg sighed, returned her attention to the oil and with a little tug freed it.
She pulled on the yellowed sheets. They were fragile, and one corner broke off. “Dang it!” She was eager to read the neatly written words on the fragile pages. They intrigued her as much as the painting of the beautiful woman wearing a king’s ransom in emeralds.
The sun streaming through the dusty window bathed the beautiful woman in natural light. The artist had captured the sparkle in the young lady’s shadowy eyes and the mystery in her sly smile. Like the famous Mona Lisa, this woman, too, held secrets. For some reason, Meg felt an affinity with this woman, knew the longing in her gaze.
The owner of the shop, a wizened old man, hobbled toward her. “Are you interested in the painting?”
She fiddled with the frame and the sheaf of papers slid into the backing. “How much?”
He squinted through his reading glasses. “One hundred.”
Her heart plummeted. Meg surmised, from the low price, the portrait must not be an original, but as a jewelry designer, she was drawn to the gems and the lady. The price was too much for an unknown artist. She hefted the portrait and pointed at a major crack running along the bottom of the large dark wood frame. “It’s damaged.” She met his gaze and tapped the splintered wood. “Badly.”
The old man nudged his glasses to the top of his head and squinted again. “So it is. Fifty dollars. Not a penny less or my wife will skewer my liver.”
Meg knew she should save every dollar for Paris, but the portrait called to her soul. She fished the bills out of her purse and paid him. He bound the portrait with an old piece of twine. She lugged it out and settled it against the bumper of her Mini Cooper Countryman, lifted the hatch and spread out her threadbare beach blanket.
She worked the twine free, removed the yellowed sheets with the care given a newborn and secured the blanket around the portrait with the string.
A glance at her Fitbit ensured she had an hour before meeting her best friend, Ashley at Tommy Bahama’s for lunch. She drove to the Naples Fifth Avenue Starbucks, a perfect place to read.
She sipped her heavily iced Chai Latte and picked up the top sheet.
Today I have decided to steal from my papa. It is the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do.
My decision will free Mama and me.
All of my life I have been told I am exactly like my papa. My black hair, my black eyes, my shortness, but best of all, my sailing ability.
I can sail as good I can sail better than Papa. And when I steal his gold off his island, I will be just like him.
Meg inspected the area before laying the first sheet face down on the table. She was a voyeur…that’s how she felt reading someone else’s diary. Had these pages been written by the lady in the portrait? It was obvious the painting was an antique. Could it be two hundred years old? The possibility of the portrait being an original tickled her senses again.
Papa sails for Key West tomorrow. I will leave at low tide under the cover of darkness tomorrow night. Papa’s best treasure is located on his little island. There will be no guard. His most trusted men do not know of his secret cache. I will take only some of the doubloons. Papa tosses them in the cask and never counts them. He will not suspect. I am taking the emerald and diamond ring and the emerald encrusted wedding band. I asked Papa if he would give them to me. He laughed and said they were for a woman of noble birth and not for a pirate’s unworthy daughter. He is very wrong. I will soon be married with them. I only hope Mama will keep her word and leave with me.
She glanced at her Fitbit. If she didn’t leave soon, she’d be late. She read one more page.
The hurricane sank my boat. I did not make it past Papa’s island. I lost a few sacks of gold and silver and a couple of pieces of jewelry, including the large emerald ring I loved. Mama said to be thankful we made it to shore. I am happy I put the wedding ring on my finger before leaving and hid one bag of silver and gold and the brooch under my skirt. The weight almost drowned me. I told Mama about the baby. We must reach Pensacola so I can marry Eduardo. My friend, Raphael, will help us get there. He doesn’t like Papa so he will never tell. I made a map of La Costa Island and marked the spot where my boat sank. Thankfully, the oil cloth will keep it safe. I will come back for the emerald ring after my baby is born.
La Costa Island?
Meg scrambled inside her large purse, pulled out her tablet, typed in a local history search and skimmed through the pages. La Costa Island had been renamed Cayo Costa.
Pirates. Islands. Could it be? Was the writer of these diary pages one of Jose Gaspar’s many children? Google search said there was no proof he ever existed, but myths, legends and festivals abounded up and down the southwest coast of Florida about the pirate Gaspar. Folklore stated he headquartered on Gasparilla Island and Captiva was the island where he held women captive for ransom. Could this portrait and diary prove the legends?