Charlene Nancy Boyd, Chancy for short, loved antiques so much that she was willing to work 24/7 to find and preserve them. On balmy spring days like this one, however, she was happy to find a good excuse to leave her shop and venture into the beautiful Ozark hills. Dogwood trees had started to lose their white blossoms and the oaks were producing tiny chartreuse leaves that would grow, darken and soon fill the skyline. The auction at the old farm place off Hawkins Mill Road was the kind that always made her sad. A couple's lifetime worth of belongings was being liquidated. Both Jewel and Pete Hawkins had passed away and their heirs were selling their entire estate, one piece at a time. Those items that didn't interest surviving relatives were often the most valuable, Chancy knew, and she wanted to be there to bid. If she bought something that eventually brought a profit, fine. If she let nostalgia or enthusiasm influence her and paid too much, that was simply part of the business. She much preferred auctions to private sales because she was far too softhearted when it came to the old people who were selling their last treasures. The crowd massing around the long tables of household goods set up in the farmyard was filled with familiar faces. Chancy greeted several acquaintances before she noticed Miss Mercy Cosgrove, a former schoolteacher she saw often, particularly in church. Chancy waved and joined the elderly woman. "Morning. Great to see you. How've you been?" The thin octogenarian gave her a welcoming hug, then shrugged. "Passable, considering. If I'd known how many aches and pains I'd have at this age I'd have taken better care of myself years ago." "I know what you mean." The back of her hand rested against her lower back. She made a fist and rubbed a sore spot through her blue sweatshirt. "I get a catch every once in a while, too." "Young thing like you?" "I'm nearly thirty, Miss Mercy." "That's impossible." She held out her hand waisthigh. "I remember when you were only this tall. Cute little thing you were, too, not that you're not still pretty." Eyes misty with fond memories, she studied Chancy's face. "Still got those adorable little dimples, I see. I imagine you have to beat the boys off with a stick." Chancy couldn't help chuckling. In her teens she'd adjusted to the fact she wasn't popular the way many of the other girls were. "I think I may have hit a few of those guys too hard," she said with a smile. "Word must have gotten around because I haven't had to beat any of them off since high school."And not really then, either. "Well, more's the pity," her former teacher said. She tittered behind her hand. "'Course, I shouldn't talk since I never remarried after my husband passed away." "We're probably both smart to stay single," Chancy offered. "Marriage is highly overrated." Mercy laid a hand on Chancy's arm. "Now, dear, you can't judge every couple by you know who." She certainly did. The turbulence of her parents' union was well known to practically everybody, thanks to the longevity of juicy gossip in a small town. The atmosphere in the modest house where Chancy had grown up had been so volatile she'd moved out as soon as she'd been able to amass enough capital to start her business, and although that move had undoubtedly saved her life, she'd often wondered if her presence could have prevented her parents' untimely demise. "I should have been there to talk some sense into them," Chancy said, remembering. "Nonsense. Nobody can predict what a tornado's going to do. If they'd gone to the storm cellar like reasonable folks would have, they'd probably have survived. They were grownups, Chancy, honey. They made their choice and it was the wrong one. That's not your fault." "I know, but..." Mercy held up a hand. "Hush. No more of that silliness.You and I can no more be responsible for life and deathHansen, Valerie is the author of 'Shadow of Turning ', published 2007 under ISBN 9780373442478 and ISBN 0373442475.