Sylvie Noll goes to the jewelry store with a sad story, a looming debt, and a beloved heirloom. Everett Sperry, III is a hard-core do-gooder with a bank account to back him up. When he impulsively buys Sylvie’s hocked ring, he intends to return it to her. But Sylvie disappears. How will he find her again? And if his friends find his grand gestures…eccentric, how will a complete stranger react?
Everett paused in front of a case of watches and tried to look like he wasn’t shamelessly eavesdropping. It was a terrible compulsion, but the moment she’d mentioned she was in financial trouble, he couldn’t help but tune in.
She was southern. A drawl underscored the earnest tone as she tried to correct whatever impression she thought she’d given. As the jeweler picked up a loupe to examine the stones in the ring, Everett glanced over at the woman. She wore a good quality red parka, worn but good boots, and seemed properly dressed for the weather. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a loose braid. It gave him a clear view of her profile and the spots of color riding high in her cheeks. Embarrassment. And some anxiety, he thought, catching sight of the hands she was wringing as she waited.
What had brought her so low that she was selling a piece that clearly meant a lot to her?
“What do you think of this one over here?”
“Huh?” Everett turned his attention to Brandon, crossing to a case on the other side to see what he was pointing out. “No, not marquis. Isabelle has little hands. You want something more delicate. Princess or round.”
The jeweler finished his inspection. “It’s certainly an exquisite piece and there’s a market for antique rings, but you must understand, I won’t be your best bet for maximizing profit.”
“You have a business to run and access to wholesale markets. I get that.”
“I wouldn’t ordinarily bring this up, but given your unique circumstance, I feel I should. I have a colleague down in Denver who deals in consignment. He has a generous 70/30 split of the sale price. With the current market, you’d do considerably better going that route.”
“I appreciate your honesty, but I’m not in a position to wait, and I don’t have a way to get to Denver at the moment. What’s the best you can do?”
Everett shifted so he could see the woman as she took the slip of paper the jeweler offered. Her eyes closed after she read it and she swallowed once, hard.
“I’m sorry it can’t be more.”
Though she looked pained, the woman nodded. “Let’s do it.”
“I’ll put together the paperwork.”
As the jeweler disappeared to an office in the back, the woman knuckled away tears and picked up the ring. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Travis elbowed him. “Earth to Everett. How about checking back in to this planet and offering up some opinions.”
As they debated the merits of white gold versus platinum, simple versus ornate, half of Everett’s mind was on the woman.
I trusted the wrong person.
Who would take advantage of such a sweet soul? Or maybe that was exactly it. Somebody thought she’d make a good mark. And evidently she had if she was in deep enough to be here. He wished he could do something to help.
As the jeweler re-emerged, paperwork in hand, Brandon called out, “When you get a minute, we’ve got a few engagement rings we’d like to see.”
“Be right with you.”
“Dude, what’s up with you?” whispered Brandon.
“Nothing. I just couldn’t help overhearing.” He nodded toward the woman.
“Yeah. Sucky situation all around,” conceded Brandon. “Nothing you can do about it, though. Even if there was, she’s gone now.”
Everett whipped around in time to see her striding out the door, heading west.
“What can I help you gentlemen with?” inquired the jeweler, coming around to their side of the store.
Travis slapped Brandon on the back. “My buddy here is looking to get himself hitched.”
“Congratulations, sir. What sort of ring are you in the market for?”
“Actually, can we see the one you just bought?” asked Everett.
“Certainly.” The jeweler retrieved it.
Brandon held it up. “I don’t know. It looks pretty small. Isabelle’s tiny, but not that tiny.”
“We can resize anything that isn’t the correct size.”
“May I?” Everett held out a hand. The round cut sapphire was flanked by smaller accent diamonds in an ornate, antique setting.
“The story that came with it was rather sweet. Her grandmother was a Broadway star back in her day. Had a whirlwind romance with the grandfather and with this ring, he stole America’s sweetheart.”
A story like that made this a real part of a family history. An heirloom. Everett had been taught to respect and value such things. He suspected from the seller’s level of upset that she had, as well. Which made the situation that much more tragic. The ring itself was a lovely piece, but it could’ve been hideous and he still would’ve asked, “How much?”
“Wait a minute,” protested Brandon. “I haven’t even looked at these others. And I think she’d prefer a traditional diamond.”
“Not for you,” said Everett. “How much?”
The jeweler named a figure.
Everett didn’t blink. “Ring it up.”
“Man, what the hell are you doing?” asked Brandon.
“My good deed for the year. If you could ring it up fast, that would be great.”
“Everett, buddy, are you about to do what I think you’re about to do?” asked Travis. He kept his voice light and even, the kind of tone you used with a person threatening to jump off a ledge.
“I have no idea what you think I’m about to do.” Everett handed over his credit card.
“I think you’re about to buy an engagement ring for a perfect stranger.”
“Then yes, I’m doing exactly what you think I’m doing.”
“This is insane,” said Brandon.
“Life’s too short not to be a little crazy once in a while. Besides, it’s not like I’m proposing. I just want to give it back to her.” Everett signed the credit card receipt and accepted the ring in a box. Saluting his friends, he said, “I’ll be right back!”
He bolted out of Vandevelde’s and headed the direction the woman had turned, eyes searching for the red parka and blonde hair. The slushy sidewalks kept him from sprinting, so he took the opportunity to glance through storefront windows. Given the apparently dire state of her finances, Everett didn’t figure she’d have been stopping in any of them to shop, but he didn’t want to risk missing her. It should’ve been easy, even with the crowd, but he didn’t see her.
She had a five minute head start. How far could she have gotten?
Everett went all the way to the parking area, but there was no sign of the woman who’d sold the ring.
I’ll just get her name from the jeweler. He’ll have a record from the sale, he thought.
Back at Vandevelde’s, Brandon and Travis had narrowed it down to three choices.
“Find her?” asked Travis.
“No,” Everett admitted. He looked to the man behind the counter. “Can I get her name and number to arrange a meeting to give the ring back to her?”
“I’m afraid I have a policy of strict confidentiality of my client’s information.”
Everett tried a smile. “But surely you could make an exception this one time. In the name of a good cause.”
“Young man, you may be as well intentioned as you seem. Or you could just as easily be a potential thief or worse. That young lady has had enough trouble in her life. I won’t be the cause of more.”
Everett tamped down on his disappointment. “No, it’s all right. I understand.”
“So what are you going to do?” asked Brandon.
“Keep looking. It’s doubtful she’d have had any knowledge of the store’s reputation if she wasn’t a local. Town’s just not that big. I’ll run into her eventually.” Everett moved over to the counter. “Now, let’s see those contenders.”