Start Reading Chapter One Now

Provided by Thomas Nelson

Excerpt from The
Curiosity Keeper
by Sarah Ladd

Chapter One

Iverness Curiosity Shop, London, England, 1812

Camille Iverness met the big man’s gaze.

Bravely.

Boldly.

She would not be bullied or manipulated. Not in her own shop.

Camille recognized the expression in the man’s eye. He did not
want to speak with her, a mere woman. Not when the owner of the shop was James
Iverness.

But James Iverness—her father—was not present.

She was.

She jutted her chin out in a show of confidence, refusing to
even blink as he pinned her with a steely stare.

“As I already told you, Mr. Turner, I have no money to give
you,” she repeated, louder this time. “Any dealings you made with my father you
will need to take up with him. I’ve no knowledge of the transaction you
described. You had best return at another time.”

“I’ve seen you here, day in, day out.” his voice rose in both
volume and gruffness. “How do you expect me to believe you know nothing about
it?” The wooden planks beneath his feet groaned as he shifted his considerable
weight, making little attempt to mask his effort to look around her into the
store’s back room. “Is he in there? So help me, if he is and—”

“Sir, no one besides myself is present, with the exception of
my father’s dog.”

It was in moments like this that she wished she were taller,
for even as she stood on the platform behind the counter, the top of her head
barely reached his shoulder. “If you would like, I will wake the animal, but if
you have seen me here often, as you claim, then no doubt you have also seen
Tevy and know he does not take kindly to strangers. You decide. Shall I go
fetch him?”

Mr. Turner’s gaze snapped back to her. No doubt he knew of the
dog. Everyone on Blinkett Street knew about James Iverness’s dog.

His whiskered lip twitched.

A warm sense of satisfaction spread through her, for finally
she had said something to sway the determined man.

Mr. Turner’s face deepened to crimson, and he pointed a thick
finger in Camille’s direction, his voice matching the intensity of his eyes.
“Tell your father I’ve a mind to speak with him. And tell him I want my money
and won’t take kindly to his antics. Next time I am here I will not be so
willing to leave.”

He muttered beneath his breath and stomped from the store,
slamming the door behind him with such force that the glass canisters on the
near shelf trembled.

A shudder rushed through her as she watched him lumber away,
and she did not let her posture relax until the back flap of his gray coat
passed the window and was out of sight. How she despised such interactions. As
of late, Papa seemed to be angering more patrons than he obliged, and he always
managed to be conveniently absent when they came to confront him.

She needed to speak with Papa, and soon. Awkward conversations
like the one with Mr. Turner needed to stop.

Camille tucked a long, wayward lock of hair behind her ear and
drew a deep breath. Once again her father’s dog had come to her rescue, and he
was not even in the room.

“Come, Tevy,” she called. In a matter of moments the massive
brown animal was through the door and at her side, tail wagging
enthusiastically.

“Pay heed!” she laughed as he nudged her hand, forcing her to
pet him. “That tail of yours is likely to knock every vase off that shelf if
you’re not careful, and then Papa will blame—”

The door to the shop pushed open, jingling the bell hung just
above it. She drew a sharp breath, preparing to deal with yet another customer,
but it was her father who appeared in the doorway.

He was a short man, not much taller than she herself, but that
was where their physical similarities ended. His green eyes made up in intensity
what he lacked in stature. His hair, which in her youth had been the color of
sand, was now the color of stone, and years spent on a ship’s deck had left his
complexion ruddy. His threadbare frock coat, dingy neckcloth, and whiskered
cheeks made him appear more like a vagabond than a shopkeeper, and despite his
privileged upbringing, he often acted and spoke like an inhabitant of the docks
where he did much of his trading.

“Good day, Papa.”

He ignored her welcome and bent to scratch Tevy’s ears. After
pulling out a bit of dried meat and handing it to the dog, he reached back into
his coat. “This came for you.”

He stretched out his hand, rough and worn. Between his thick
fingers he pinched a letter.

Camille stared at it for several moments, shocked. Clearly she
could make out her name—in her mother’s handwriting. The edge of the paper was
torn. She could not recall the last letter she had received from Mama.

He thrust the letter toward her. “Don’t just stand there
gawking, girl. Take it.”

Camille fumbled with the missive to keep it from falling to the
planked floor below, but for once, she found herself unable to find words.
Unprepared—and unwilling—to deal with the onset of emotions incited by the
letter, she blinked back moisture and shoved it into the front pocket of her
work apron.

“Are you not going to read it?” her father nodded toward her
apron.

Of course he expected her to read it, for he himself devoured
every one of his wife’s scarce communications the moment they arrived. Though
they both felt her absence keenly, they reacted to it very differently—and they
never, ever discussed it. Over time, Camille had made the topic off-limits in
her own mind, and a letter crafted by the very person who was the source of the
pain was unwelcome.

“I’ll read it later. There is far too much to do at the
moment.” She sniffed and gestured toward the curtain that separated the shop
from the back room. “There was a crate delivered to you by cart in the alley,
but it was too heavy for me to lift.”

She was a little surprised at the quickness with which her
father let the topic of the letter drop. “Why did you not have the men
delivering it bring it in?”

“I tried, but they refused—said it was not their duty. They
left it in the courtyard out back.”

“When are you going to learn that such things are your responsibility?
You should have persuaded them to bring it in.” her father shifted through the papers
on the counter, not pausing to look up. “Had you been a boy, this would not be
an issue.”

Camille folded her arms across her chest. “Well, I was not born
a boy, and there is precious little I can do about that. So if you will fetch
the delivery in for me, I shall tend to it. Or it can spend the night hours
where it sits. But the sky looks like it holds rain, so whatever is inside that
box will just sit there and soak.”

After much grumbling, Papa disappeared through the back and
returned dragging a large, awkward crate. Camille helped him bring it close to
the counter, then pried the lid off and reached for one of the linen-wrapped
items inside. Laying it on the counter, she carefully pulled back the fabric
and revealed a canvas. Strokes of emerald and moss depicted a countryside set
below a brilliant sapphire sky. She flipped through the next canvas, then the
next. All boasted lush pastoral landscapes.

She clicked her tongue as she assessed the cargo. “They are all
paintings. Why did you buy these?”

“I didn’t buy them,” he muttered. “I traded for them.”

“That is the same thing, Father. Paintings do not sell well.
You know that. They will sit on the shelves for months, I fear. And we haven’t
the space as it is.”

“When will you learn not to question my ways? Sometimes such
deals must be made to clinch future arrangements. You mind the counter and
leave the dealings to me.”

She ignored him and lifted another canvas out of the crate.
“Speaking of dealings, Mr. Turner was just in looking for you.”

At this he raised his head. “Did he make a purchase?”

“No, quite the opposite. He said you owe him money.”

“You didn’t give him any, did you?”

“Of course not.”

Her father returned to his stack of papers. “Turner is a fool.”

“Do you owe him money?” She leaned her hip against the counter.
When her father did not respond, she continued. “If you insist upon doing these
business dealings on the side, that is fine, but you must understand that you
have put me in some very awkward situations. Mr. Turner was quite angry.”

Her father disappeared through the doorway, signaling he was
finished with the conversation. She sighed and lifted another canvas, assessing
the delicate brushstrokes with a practiced eye. A lovely piece, expertly done.
In another shop it might fetch a pretty penny. But not here. Their patrons
wanted the unusual, the wildly exotic—unique treasures from far beyond
England’s shore, not calm renditions of their own British countryside.

But Camille’s practical side could not quiet the beating of her
heart as she took in the tranquil meadow and vivid flora depicted by the
artist’s strokes. Memories of her time in such a setting rushed her. She remembered
running through the waving grasses, wading in the trickling streams, breathing
air so fresh and clean it practically sparkled.

So long ago . . .

When she was small, Camille and her mother had lived on her
paternal grandfather’s country estate. At that time her father had been
endlessly absent, either away on business or incessantly traveling the world to
quench his thirst for the rare and mysterious. But after her grandfather’s
death, the lavish estate had been sold. Her father, the sole heir, had invested
the proceeds into this shop. And life as Camille knew it had changed forever.

She longed to flee from the dirty confines of Blinkett Street
and return to the countryside, to once more breathe fresh air and to bask in
the golden sunshine that bathed the meadows. But Grandfather was dead, and Mama
was far away, and Papa begrudged even her necessary outings to the greengrocer
and the butcher.

She sighed as the door’s bell signaled another customer.

Camille had not left London since she first came to the city
eleven years earlier.

She was beginning to wonder if she would ever leave London
again.

 

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About The Author

In addition to a lifetime of writing and exploring fiction, she has more than ten years strategic marketing and brand management experience, including five years of marketing non-fiction books and three years of marketing the musical arts. She lives in Indiana with her family.