He smiled almost imperceptibly then the expression was lost as he volleyed a series of questions – the level of debt to creditors, the balance sheet, the debtors’ list. Ann warmed to his inquiries, returning each with thorough, detailed answers, not needing to reference the papers in her satchel. This was her passion. She was sure she could make it work and was conceited enough to believe she had convinced Jackson of the same when her answers were met with an encouraging grin.
It threw her off balance.
He was a very handsome man.
The revelation hit her like the icy winds that blew down from the Great Lakes. She had not considered anything of the sort before. The pain of Robert’s death had lessened – especially as she busied herself in running the Mercantile – but could she be ready to look at another man and think of such things?
Too soon! her mind screamed. She tamped down the stirrings of attraction. Instead she licked her dry lips and took a deep breath. Ann Sellars, you are here on business!
“I have documentation and a business plan projected to two years,” she told him, ignoring the way his eyes seem encourage her to think in directions which were far from business-like.
A hint of a smile played around his mouth. “You’re very well prepared.”
Ann frowned. “Do you wish to see the numbers?”
Jackson sat back in his chair and spread his arms wide in an invitation to continue.
Ann put her satchel on the table and pulled out a booklet with neatly written notes, a comprehensive plan to make the Mercantile successful.
“The business is valued at $475. Even with your generous settlement, I still need $275. I need a loan for it. I propose a full repayment in two years at three percent interest. I am led to believe it is a fair return.”
She waited for his response. It came after he swiftly glanced at the paper on the desk and returned those eyes to meet hers.
“It goes without saying that I’m very impressed, Mrs Sellars. You are a formidable woman who I believe will achieve anything she desires, but—”
At the word Ann’s heart sank. She was a widow, untried in business with no family to back her. No bank would loan her the sum. Her visit here today was her last best hope. Her expression of anticipated disappointment conveyed itself to Jackson.
“Mrs Sellars…” He paused. “May I call you Ann?”
She nodded, fighting the tears of dashed hopes. “You have me convinced of your ability but $275 is not money James and I have lying around.”
He glanced around his office and Ann followed his direction. The cot, the trunk… her statement made in jest was true. This room was his home.
“I think you’ve guessed our circumstances,” he said quietly. “We’ve used every resource we have to get the mine back up and running. Right now we’d be lucky to scrape $10 together.”
Ann swallowed against a lump in her throat and nodded once. She opened her satchel and reached to sweep her papers into it when Toby’s hand covered hers.
“Please. Wait. Would Mr Ramsay be willing to wait six months for the balance of the money? Would he be willing to accept it in installments?”
Ann worried her bottom lip with her teeth. The thought had not occurred to her. “I don’t know, he might be.”
“Penventen Mine is going to be as profitable as ever but it needs time. What’s your margin on picks and shovels? Is there five percent you can spare?”
Ann blinked back tears as she worked the figures in her head. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
Toby grinned and squeezed her hand.
“I think I have a plan.”