Title: The Last Bequest, Buried Treasure #1
Author: Lisa J Lickel
Genre: Inspirational Cozy Mystery
School teacher Judy Winters sets out to solve the mystery surrounding her only living relative’s murder. Back on the farm where Aunt Louise grew up, Judy encounters Hart Wingate, a young man renting the adjoining farm who helps with farm chores. When Judy learns that her boyfriend, Graham, had been secretly visiting Louise, Judy takes the opportunity to move away from him for the summer and think over the situation.
Judy loves her teaching job, but is intrigued by her heritage in the farmstead and particularly the old house, but whether to sell or stay, she has yet to decide.
Midnight visitors, a job offer, new friends, along with one special old one—Carranza, the opinionated cat—all figure into Judy’s dilemma.
Meanwhile, Judy learns that a former friend of Louise’s father, Bryce, lost a treasure of gold somewhere on the farm. As Judy and Hart look for clues to the cause of Louise’s death and Bryce’s missing treasure, they develop a close friendship. Judy breaks off her relationship with Graham, who doesn’t take the news very well.
As Judy explores the farmhouse, she finds and follows clues in Louise’s mother’s diary to unearth the buried treasure. But was it the treasure that might have been behind Louise’s murder?
“I don’t want to seem suspicious, but without knowing too many people around here¾”
“No, no, you have good sense, Judy. Louise taught you well. Clyde’s wife Roxanne wanted me to tell you she heard there was going to be an opening for a teacher at the elementary school.”
“Oh. Well, I already have a job I like. That’s awfully kind of her, when she doesn’t even know me.”
“Your reputation precedes you. Anyway, the Jamisons are an old family, well thought of around here. And you’re one of them.”
Judy tingled at the compliment. At least not everyone felt the same way as Red Hobart. “Ardyth told me the strangest tale today.”
The lines around Bryce’s eyes crinkled. “Let me guess. Something to do with missing treasure.”
“That’s right.” Raps on the screen door interrupted her. “Excuse me. I’ll just see who that is.”
Hart stood on the step.
“Hi.” Judy put her hand on the handle.
Hart’s smile showed a suspicious sparkle. Judy felt her lips turn up in automatic response, until the dip of Hart’s eyes toward the back step reminded her of what she’d left there. Judy twitched her nose instead. “Yes?”
“Hi,” Hart said. “I just wanted you to know that I finished in the barn. Did you want me to take care of the chickens?”
Judy glanced down at her hand on the door. “Thanks, Mr. Wingate. I’m—”
Carranza appeared at his feet and put a paw on his knee. Judy watched, open-mouthed, as Hart bent to pick him up. The animal eyed Judy with unfathomed emerald orbs then rubbed his ears against Hart’s chest and uttered an intermittent growling purr.
Judy swallowed and flushed once she realized she’d been staring. “I’m really sorry about sounding as if taking care of a farm is child’s play.”
“That’s all right, ma’am. I know you don’t have much experience at this sorta thing. I was guilty of acting in haste myself. No harm done.”
Again, Judy couldn’t tell if her neighbor were truly sorry or being sarcastic. She decided to take the apology at face value. “Tell you what, call me Judy. I’m not old enough to be ma’am’d.”
The lines around Hart’s eyes crinkled, showing the tan of spending a lot of time outdoors in all weather. “Agreed.”
“Carranza likes you, I see. That’s some high praise.”
Hart grinned. “Sure. This fella is a great mouser, a big help in the barn, aren’t you, buddy?”
Carranza yawned hugely, baring his fangs. Judy turned her head toward the kitchen where she could hear Bryce shifting in his chair.
“Isn’t that Bryce’s car?”
“Yes, he just got back and stopped in to offer his condolences.” With another glance into the kitchen she said to Hart, “I really do want to learn as much as I can about the place. Will you teach me?”
Hart tilted his head to one side while he returned her gaze. “Yes.”
“Thank you. Maybe we can start next week? I’m sure you’re busy with your own place. Please don’t let me keep you.”
“Sure. I’ll just be on my way. I’d like to drop off a copy of the agreement Louise and I had regarding the cattle in the next couple of days, if I may.” Carranza leaped from his arms and disappeared around the side of the house as if knowing the conversation was over.
“Of course. I’ll be gone this weekend, but I’ll look the papers over when I get back. Thank you.”
“Just call if you have any concerns before then. See you around.”
Judy realized she’d forgotten to ask how to reach him after she closed the door. She smacked her forehead as she walked into the kitchen.
“Was that Hart?” Bryce asked.
“Yes. He said he finished with the cattle. I feel so stupid about everything around here.” Judy plunked herself down at the table. Bryce leaned over and patted her hand, much like Ardyth had.
“Now you just wait and sleep on that feeling, Judy,” Bryce said. “Things always seem better when you’ve had a chance to think about them. I have some business with young Hart. I’d best see if I can catch him. Thank you for the coffee. I’ll be in touch.” He grabbed his cap and hurried out the back door.
Judy set the oven on low to heat the casserole. While she explored the cupboards, her thoughts turned to home and Graham. Talking to Graham about his visits to Robertsville and the treasure would have to wait for another day.
The treasure! How on earth did she let Bryce get away without answering her question? Could someone have thought this treasure was worth taking a person’s life? But more importantly, what kind of person would resort to such drastic measures? Judy shivered upon realizing she’d be alone out her in the big old farmhouse much of the time. She dug her cell phone out of her handbag and decided to carry the thing with her at all times.
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Carranza, the opinionated cat. He’s big, he’s the boss, and his bark is worse than his bite…but only for people he’ll protect with his life, including his progeny and Hart. The Last Bequest has a double romance going on behind the scenes, mayhem in rural Wisconsin, and rumors of lost gold. When school teacher Judy must stay on the farm over the summer in order to claim her inheritance, the inheritance ends up claiming her.
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Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin author of inspiring fiction who loves books, collects dragons, and travels. She writes novels, short stories, feature articles, and radio theater, and loves to encourage authors through mentoring, coaching, and leading workshops. Lisa is a member of the Wisconsin Writers Association, the Chicago Writers Association, and instructor for Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp and Writing Retreat, Inc. She is an avid book reviewer and blogger, and a freelance editor. Find more at www.LisaLickel.com.
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