Legacy of Love

By: Donna Hill

Chapter 1




Zoe struggled to concentrate. But the harder she tried the more difficult it was to focus. She could almost feel his strong hands exploring her body. Her eyelids fluttered open as a soft, longing moan escaped her lips, reluctantly pulling her back to reality. She blinked rapidly and inhaled a shuddering breath, as she took in her surroundings amidst the storage room.

Back to work. Focus, she thought. Yet every day it was becoming more and more tiring. The fantasies were becoming almost lifelike, and the episodes of arousal were no longer confined to her dreams. The images appeared unexpectedly—behind her eyelids, stirring a tingling sensation as the fabric of her clothing brushed against her skin—any time of day or night. She breathed in slowly and deeply.

Zoe knotted her shoulder-length hair atop her head and continued to carefully unwrap the thick packaging that surrounded the five-foot tall wooden fertility statues. She’d been waiting weeks for them to be delivered, by the time they arrived from South Carolina earlier that morning. She peeled away the last layer of wrapping as the air momentarily caught in her throat. Her pulse was racing so fast, it was as if she was meeting a blind date for the first time.

Awestruck, she stepped back to get a better look. The rich ebony wood was polished to a smooth, shiny finish. The intricate hand-carved details captured every feature of the figures of the man and woman, from the sword and mango that he carried in his hands to the infant that she carried in hers. There seemed to be a warm glow radiating around them. But Zoe chalked it up to her overactive imagination or more likely the sun beaming down from the skylight overhead. The pair of sculptures was on loan from the Ripley Museum in South Carolina. And as head curator at the High Museum in Atlanta, it was her responsibility to search the globe for the best works of art for the museum’s exhibits and collections. She was also responsible for ensuring their safe-keeping once the items were on display.

There were so many myths surrounding the beautifully carved totems—the most prominent being that touching the figures was an antidote to infertility. According to some of the stories, when the fertility sculptures were first put on display after having been purchased and brought to America from the Ivory Coast, within months, more than a dozen women who worked at the Ripley Museum became pregnant after touching the statues.

As with all urban legends, the story spread like wildfire and the fertility figures became the art world’s equivalent of the miracle at Lourdes.

Zoe smiled. Although she came from a long line of conjure women and a family history filled with prophecies and curses, if she didn’t believe the stories told by her Nana, her mother and her aunties, she certainly wasn’t buying into the myth of the fertility totems. She didn’t believe in all that mumbo jumbo, even if the dreams she’d been having were becoming more frequent and the hazy vision of a man was getting closer and his voice clearer, night after night.

Some mornings she’d awaken shaken and confused. She had an overwhelming feeling that if she had been able to hold on to sleep for a bit longer, the face that appeared in her dreams would materialize. It was ridiculous, of course. Yet, it was on days like today when she’d find herself scrutinizing everyone she passed on the street, secretly hoping to recognize him. She shook her head, dispelling the idea as mere silliness.

By nature she was a realist and her profession demanded that she deal in facts and what was tangible. Sure, she was going to be thirty years old in three months, and she knew that upon her thirtieth birthday the legacy of women of the Beaumont clan would be upon her. But that didn’t mean that she believed that she was the one who would break the curse that had plagued the Beaumont women for generations. Besides, if any part of the curse were true, she needed a man. And that she didn’t have. She stared at the fertility couple.

A feeling of warmth began to build inside her, starting at her feet and slowly inching its way upward through her body. A thin line of perspiration formed at her hairline and her eyesight began to get cloudy. All of a sudden, the statues seemed to vibrate.

“Zoe, there you are.”

Zoe jumped as if she’d been startled by an intruder. Her fingertips tingled and her heart raced as if she’d run a half marathon. She blinked several times to clear her vision, turned and forced herself to smile.

“Hey, Mike.”

Mike Williams was one of the assistant curators. She’d brought him on once she’d settled into her position, and there wasn’t a moment that she’d regretted her decision.

Mike was an expert in African art and antiquities dating back to the early 1800s. It was Mike who’d helped her negotiate the deal to get the fertility statues to the High Museum. And he wasn’t bad to look at, either. The girls didn’t call him “Big Mike” for no reason. With his smooth, Hershey chocolate-coated skin dripping over six-plus feet of sculpted muscle, Mike could have easily been bronzed and put on display.

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