Sunday Sampler: Treasure Me by Christine Nolfi

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Sunday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Treasure Me, a sweet and spicy read with mystery and romantic elements from Christine Nolfi.

As one reviewer said: Christine Nolfi writes a fantastic story about a thief named Birdie. Birdie is running not only from the people that she has taken from but running to find her place in this world. She finds herself in a small quiet town named Liberty searching for treasure and clues to her past.

The Story

Petty thief Birdie Kaminsky has arrived in Liberty, Ohio to steal a treasure hidden since the Civil War. She’s in possession of a charming clue passed down in her family for generations: Liberty safeguards the cherished heart.The beautiful thief wants to go straight.

She secretly admires the clue’s author, freedwoman Justice Postell, who rose above the horrors of slavery to build a new life in Ohio. According to family lore, Justice left South Carolina at the dawn of the Civil War. Heavy with child, she carried untold riches on her journey north. As Birdie searches for the treasure, she begins to believe a questionable part of the story: a tale of love between Justice and Lucas Postell, the French plantation owner who was Birdie’s ancestor.

If the stories are true, Justice bore a child with Lucas. Some of those black relatives might still live in town. Birdie can’t help but wonder if she’s found one—Liberty’s feisty matriarch, Theodora Hendricks, who packs a pistol and heartwarming stories about Justice.

Birdie doesn’t know that an investigative reporter who has arrived in town will trip her up—as will her conscience when she begins to wonder if it’s possible to start a new life with stolen riches. Yet with each new clue she unearths, Birdie begins to discover a family history more precious than gems, a tradition of love richer than she could imagine.

The Sampler

Christine Nolfi
Christine Nolfi

Birdie lowered her nose to the bowl and sniffed. “What is this? It smells funny.”

“Squirrel stew.”

“Made with real squirrels? The kind that hide acorns?”

Theodora feathered a hand across her brow. “What other kind of squirrel is there?”

“Can I order a pizza?”

“When Justice came north, you can’t imagine what she ate to survive. Foraging through the woods, with ne’er a pot to cook a decent meal or a weapon to bring in game. Now, eat your stew.” Theodora waited with her dark gaze snapping until Birdie brought a spoonful to her lips. After she’d gulped it down, the old woman said, “Now, where was I? Justice came to Liberty with nothing but the clothes on her back. A kind woman on the Underground Railroad outside Columbus wrapped the slave’s bleeding feet with strips of cotton. Those were her shoes.”

Birdie spooned around the chunks of squirrel meat and captured a wedge of potato. “I couldn’t survive without my shoes.” A good thief didn’t trust much but her instincts and a fast pair of Nikes. With her feet bleeding, Justice would’ve been in a lot of pain. “She walked all the way from Columbus?”

“A man picked her up in Marion and hid her in the back of his wagon. Like the woman on the Railroad, he was the right type of white folk. He took her all the way to Liberty.” Pausing, Theodora looked off into the past. “Imagine, child. You’re a young woman and you arrive in a town without a soul to welcome you. Lonesome, tired—imagine how you’d feel.”

Birdie’s heart shifted. Had it been any different on her first day in town? There’d been the overwhelming déjà vu, the feeling she’d stood in Liberty Square at some time in the past. The sensation had made her irrepressibly sad. She’d been lonely and tired, a stranger in a small town. Like Justice.

“The man Justice loved was still down south,” Theodora said. “She was heartbroken, wondering if she’d ever see him again.”

What if I never see Hugh again? Birdie lowered her spoon. “How did she go on?”

“The way our kind always does. She found other women to cling to, women who befriended her. They put food in her belly and hope in her heart. They made her laugh when she was down and they found her work—honest work that didn’t pay much, but it was enough to help Justice take root in a new life. A better life than the one she’d known.”

Birdie lifted her spoon. I’m eating rat. The kind of rat that lives in a tree.

It wasn’t bad. The meat was spicy and wild, with a tart aftertaste. She swallowed it down.

“And if you think Justice was some kind of saint, think again,” Theodora said. “Before she met the preacher’s son and settled into a respectable life—even before she learned to trust the women who became her friends she was . . . Lordy.”

The old woman hung her head, revealing thinning wisps of hair on her scalp. She lowered her palms to the linen tablecloth and heaved a sigh replete with shame. Birdie grabbed Theodora’s wrist as her fingers curled with agony. The tablecloth bunched in rippling waves.

“What? What did she do? Was she a prostitute? No. Not Justice.”

“Worse,” Theodora croaked, the top of her head bobbing with the word.

What would be . . ? “No way.” Birdie yanked her hand back. “If you think I’ll believe she murdered someone, I won’t!”

The sound was terrible, from the bowels of hell. “Worse.”

“Oh, man.” Birdie wracked her brain for possibilities. Floundering, she glanced at Theodora. If the old woman bent her neck any lower, she’d put her nose right into her stew. Was she crying? “I give. What did Justice do?”

The gnarled hands flew off the table, scuttling Birdie’s pulse.

Theodora lifted her head with a snap. “She betrayed the people who loved her the most. She was a thief.”

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