His Redeeming Bride

After the hasty wedding…
Neil pulled the buggy to a stop in front of the house
and helped Sarah out. It‘s been a long day. He held her
hands, not wishing to break contact but knowing it was
inevitable. Her skin was warm and soft. The moonlight made
her blond hair shine as it tumbled over her shoulders. Her eyes
met his and he saw something in them he hadn‘t seen in any
other woman‘s. It was a promise. A promise of hope, of
happiness, and most importantly, of love.
Taking a deep breath, he said, I am glad we‘re
married.
She smiled and whispered, I am too.
He leaned forward, ready to kiss her, recalling how
sweet their kiss had been when they said their vows, and
suddenly, the front door opened. Startled, he jerked back and
released her hands. He tipped his hat over his eyes so that his
mother wouldn‘t detect his embarrassment.
Are you married? the woman asked as she bounded
down the steps with Luke in her arms.
Yes, we are, he replied. I should put the horse and
buggy away. Turning to Sarah, he said, No one will try to take
Luke from you anymore.
***

His Redeeming
Bride
Ruth Ann Nordin
Ruth Ann Nordin‘s Books
Springfield, Nebraska

His Redeeming Bride
Chapter One
Omaha, Nebraska
June 1882
N
eil Craftsman handed his wife the divorce papers, glad to be
rid of the mockery they called a marriage.
Cassie grabbed the crisp white papers and turned to her
lover and smugly smiled. I told you he would sign them.
The fifty-year-old man with graying blond hair and a
neatly trimmed mustache nodded, placing his arm through hers.
Good.
Though Neil was thirty-seven, the man who succeeded
in taking his wife from him made him feel as if he were still a
child whenever he peered down at him. Refusing to let John
McCarthy note his apprehension, he shrugged. Turning his
attention Cassie, he asked, Will you say good-bye to Emily
before you go to St. Louis?
She twirled her wavy raven locks around her fingers,
glancing demurely at John. When are we due to leave?
Neil gritted his teeth. True, he silently thanked the
miserable woman for leaving her daughter with him, but Emily
would be devastated if she left without explaining that she had
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Ruth Ann Nordin
to leave. Not that he wished to tell Emily the real reason for
Cassie‘s departure. The poor girl suffered enough with the lack
of motherly affection she received for the past seven years of
her life. He gulped the lump in his throat, his heart aching for
the innocent child.
Say yes, Cassie. For once, think of someone other
than yourself.
It would mean the world to Emily if you saw her one
more time, Neil insisted when John bent down to whisper
something in her ear that made her giggle.
John frowned at him and straightened his back. I‘m
afraid we must board the next train as soon as we finalize this
divorce. I wish to get home as soon as possible with my bride.
He turned to grin at her.
She blushed and glanced down at her pink dress
trimmed in white lace. It was more expensive than anything
Neil could afford.
Cassie, Neil said, his tone firm. Emily is a person.
She deserves to be told you‘re leaving.
Oh, Neil. She sighed and shook her head, her shiny
waves bouncing under her fancy hat. I simply don‘t have time.
Besides, it would be awkward and I don‘t wish to put her
through that. You can do it for me. Tell her I had to visit a
sick relative. She‘ll believe you.
His face grew red, his fists clenched at his sides. You
can‘t expect me to lie to her!
Well…no. I suppose you‘re right. Then I will send her
a letter and explain things.
John cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes at Neil,
his 6’3″ frame seeming to tower over Neil‘s 5’7″ lean build.
This has gone on long enough. Good day, Mr. Craftsman.
He tipped his hat and led Cassie to the judge to make the
divorce final.
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His Redeeming Bride
She offered him a helpless shrug as she obediently
followed John.
More likely, she followed his money. Neil shook his
head in disgust and stormed out of the courthouse, glad to be
rid of her once and for all. Since the day he found out that he
wasn‘t Emily‘s father, he learned that Cassie bent the truth to
suit her interests. Emily. Just the thought of his daughter
caused his stomach to tie up in knots. What was he going to tell
her?
He untied his gelding‘s reins from the post and jumped
on the saddle. As he trotted out of town, a group of people
clapped. Turning his attention to the source of the happy noise,
he witnessed a newly married couple departing from a church.
The groom gave his bride a kiss on the cheek, and she laughed.
Then they turned their attention to the people in attendance and
shook their hands and exchanged hugs.
He scoffed, recalling how hopeful he had been the day
he married Cassie. It had been almost eight years ago. He
thought he was the luckiest man in the world. Beauty was
highly overrated. It blinded a man to the things that mattered.
Honesty, generosity, kindness, and love. Those were the traits
that made a woman truly beautiful.
What a fool I was. Never
again. I’ll never fall in love with another pretty face.
***
Sarah Donner clasped her hands together, anxious to
greet her husband as he came through the front door of their
house. She set his hat on the hatrack. She was so happy that
she thought she might burst.
Good afternoon, Jim. How was your day?
He grunted and shut the door.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Taking a deep breath, she said, I have good news. I‘m
expecting a child!
He stood there for a moment, staring at her. Then he
nodded. Oh. That is good. He patted her on the cheek.
Well done, dear.
Forcing down the sting of disappointment, she followed
him to the parlor. The doctor said we can expect the baby‘s
arrival in February.
He removed the newspaper tucked under his arm.
Propping his feet up on the ottoman, he leaned back in his
chair. The pages of the newspaper rustled as he opened it to
the second page. Good, good. He glanced at her. When
will supper be ready?
She stood in the middle of the room, not sure if he
really
heard her or not. He was interested in his child, wasn‘t he?
Supper? he asked.
She blinked and shook her head. Um…It should
almost be done.
I‘m starving. He turned his eyes to the newspaper.
It was a long day at the factory.
Shifting from one foot to the other, she asked, You did
hear me?
He didn‘t even look up from the paper when he said,
Yes. You‘re with child. Due in February. His gaze traveled
to her. I said it was good. Was I supposed to say something
else?
Her countenance fell and her shoulders drooped. That
was it. He wasn‘t excited. He wasn‘t even happy. He just
accepted it. Since he had already turned his attention back to
the paper, she exited the parlor without bothering to answer his
question. She lumbered to the kitchen, her steps mechanical
and heart hollow. She had hoped…no, she had prayed that this
would be the thing to bring them close. She thought for sure
4

His Redeeming Bride
he‘d be delighted in her if she finally conceived. After all, they
had been married for ten years without any success.
She closed her eyes so her tears wouldn‘t fall on the pot
roast on the table in front of her. She took a deep cleansing
breath, focusing on the sound of the birds chirping outside the
open window. A breeze drifted through the room and caressed
her hot cheeks that stung with the pain of another rejection.
She should be used to it by now.
A round of applause caught her attention. Pushing
aside the yellow curtain, she peered across the street at the
church as a bride and groom hopped on a wagon and waved to
the group of well-wishers. It was a beautiful scene. One filled
with hope and joy. An expectation of the future. Such a
wonderful moment.
She blinked back more tears and turned her attention to
a lone horse rider. By his attire, she guessed he was a farmer.
He wore dusty boots, a blue cotton shirt with a brown vest,
denim pants and a Stetson hat. He had also paused for a
moment to stare at the bride and groom, so she got a good look
at him. Dark brown hair, tanned skin, strong jaw, proud chin,
and broad shoulders. Yes, he had the look of a man who
worked long hours with his hands in a field or with animals.
Upon closer inspection, she realized it was Neil Craftsman. She
shuddered, as if looking at him would cause her soul to burn in
hell. Everyone knew about his scandalous past.
She returned her gaze to the happy couple, briefly
recalling her own wedding. She was nineteen and Jim was
twenty-six. He had been engaged to her older sister who ran
off with another man. Jim didn‘t want to marry Sarah but her
parents felt obligated to offer her to him. They increased the
dowry amount, and so he agreed. Sarah loved him and hoped
that, given time, he‘d retu rn her love. She had been the blissful
bride and he had been the dutiful groom.
5

Ruth Ann Nordin
Gulping the bitter lump in her throat, she set the curtain
back in place and returned to her pot roast which had finished
cooling off. The aroma of fresh bread and cooked meat did
little to ease her burden. Her life didn‘t turn out the way she‘d
hoped.
But she did have a child on the way. The thought
brightened her mood. She would concentrate on the baby.
While she cut up the roast and put a hearty portion on Jim‘s
china plate, she considered different names that would suit a girl
or a boy.
During the meal, Jim sat across from her at their small
round table and read his paper as he chewed on a potato.
She cleared her throat.
He looked up at her. What is it?
Absentmindedly cutting into the little that was left of
her roast, she said, I was wondering what you might like to
name the baby.
Shrugging, he poked a cut up carrot with his fork and
put it into his mouth. You decide. It‘s your child.
It‘s your child too. You‘re the father. Perhaps you
would like to name him after you, if it‘s a boy.
It doesn‘t matter. I don‘t need a namesake.
She hid her disappointment. All right.
He nodded and returned to the paper.
Sighing, she picked up their plates to put in the empty
sink before she gathered their dessert. Placing his slice of pie in
front of him, she watched him. He wasn‘t a bad looking man,
but he wasn‘t handsome either. What exactly was it that made
her fall in love with him all those years ago? It must have been
his sense of responsibility, for she had never encountered a
more honorable man.
He folded his paper. Rhubarb pie? Excellent choice,
Sarah.
6

His Redeeming Bride
She returned his formal smile before sitting at her place
to eat her slice. Though it was tasty, she didn‘t notice its flavor.
Afterwards, she cleaned the dishes and put them away.
She did light dusting and made sure his clothes were laid out for
the next day. He spent his time working on the household
budget and reading a book. She knitted a blanket. Though they
sat in the parlor together, they didn‘t speak.
When it came time to go to sleep, she settled into bed
next to him. To her surprise, he turned to face her. Her heart
leapt. Maybe he would be affectionate tonight.
Sarah, I was thinking. His voice was low. When the
baby is born, I should take the other bedroom so you can be
here when he needs you.
She hadn‘t expected this. What?
The baby will need you to nurse him and change him.
It will be easier on you if you are in the same room with him.
Then you won‘t have to get up in the middle of the night and
walk down the hall to care for him.
She gripped the linen sheet in her hands. Jim, are you
happy about this baby?
She sensed him smiling in the dark. Of course, I am.
What kind of man would I be if I wasn‘t?
When he leaned over to kiss her, she thought he might
initiate lovemaking. She wanted to be close to him, so she
snuggled up to him and got ready for him to deepen the kiss.
But he didn‘t proceed. Instead, he patted her hand and
rolled back onto his side, facing away from her. Now get
some sleep. You need to rest.
Thinking of the baby so she wouldn‘t cry, she turned
onto her side. The mattress squeaked in protest, echoing the
cry of her heart. She faced away from him and closed her eyes.
No tears. Not tonight. She refused to spend the rest of her life
hoping for a love that wouldn‘t happen. She needed to focus
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Ruth Ann Nordin
on something else. Something with meaning. Her child. Yes.
The baby would give her something to think about, something
to anticipate. Of course. She would focus on the child. She
took a deep breath and released it. The ache in her heart
subsided. After what seemed like hours, she finally fell asleep.
***
November
Neil woke up with a start. The sheets fell off his body
as he jumped out of bed. He shrugged into his robe and ran to
Emily‘s bedroom. What is it? Are you hurt?
Emily sobbed, clutching her blanket up to her neck.
Pa?
He stumbled over a toy in the room as he searched her
small dresser for the kerosene lamp. Finding it, he lit the wick.
He adjusted the knob so the light cast a pleasant yellow hue
across the small room. He hurried across the room and sat next
to her. Did you have another nightmare?
She nodded and wrapped her arms around his neck.
You won‘t leave me, will you?
Sighing, he hugged her. No, I won‘t.
I had a dream you left, like Ma did.
It was just a dream.
When will she come back?
This question never got easier to answer. He closed his
eyes. Honey, she‘s not coming back. Do you remember what
I told you? When she left, she had to go so far that she can‘t
return.
Because her aunt got sick?
This lie didn‘t get easier either. Yes.
Can we visit her?
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His Redeeming Bride
No, honey. We can‘t.
She looked up at him with her big green eyes. Why?
He couldn‘t tell her the truth. He didn‘t know if he‘d
ever have the courage to tell her. Emily, we have a busy day
tomorrow, so you have to go back to sleep. Do you have your
doll?
She let go of his neck and lifted the blanket to search
for the toy his mother had given her three years ago. Pulling it
out, she held it up to him. It‘s here, Pa. I didn‘t lose Cass.
If he could change one thing, it would be the name of
the doll, but Emily wanted to name it after her mother. She
thought her mother would be pleased, but Cassie didn‘t care.
Pushing aside the bitter memory, he smiled and brushed the
dark curls back from her face so he could kiss her cheek. She
looked so much like her mother. Cass will help you sleep. Just
hold her tight.
Will you keep the light on?
Yes.
Will you tell me a story?
If it would take her mind off of her mother, he would
gladly do whatever she wished. Nodding, he tucked her into
bed. What story would you like to hear?
The one about the little girl who found a magical world
in the forest.
He chuckled. She often picked that one, and he guessed
it was because she saw herself as the inquisitive child. He got
halfway through the story when she fell asleep. He sat beside
her for a few minutes, thinking of how much she brightened his
life. His marriage to Cassie might have ended in disaster, but
Emily was the greatest gift anyone ever gave him. It was the
one thing he could thank Cassie for.
Careful not to wake his daughter, he stood up and
tiptoed out of the room. The cool floorboards creaked under
9

Ruth Ann Nordin
the pressure of his weight, but he hardly noticed the echoing
noise. He slipped into his cold bed, shivering as he willed the
layers of sheets and blankets to warm him up. The heavy
curtains hid the moonlight, creating a calm around him that he
usually enjoyed. Closing his eyes, he waited for sleep to come.
But it didn‘t. He hated nights when he couldn‘t sleep.
When the activity of the day died down, nothing distracted him
from the onslaught of loneliness that assaulted him. How he
longed to have a woman in his bed, someone he loved who
loved him back. There were just some things work, money, and
a child couldn‘t provide. He rolled over and pulled the blankets
over his head, willing the morning to come so he could find
ways to occupy his mind.
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His Redeeming Bride
Chapter Two
January 1883
Sarah struggled to get comfortable in the wagon as it
bounced over the bumpy terrain of the farmland on the
outskirts of Omaha. The biting chill stung her fingers as she
held onto the quilt around her shoulders. The cloudy day
threatened snow, which would be a godsend since it would
force Jim to turn back and take her home. The baby in her
womb kicked at her, increasing the discomfort in her ribs. She
straightened up but another bump made her gasp and lean over
to hold onto her wooden seat.
Next to her, Jim held the reins to the two geldings, his
gaze turned forward as they made their way north.
She took a deep breath, steadying her body and her
nerves. Are you sure I should stay with your mother for six
months?
He didn‘t bother to look in her direction. My mother
will be a big help to you as you adjust to motherhood.
Must you leave me alone with her?
Do we have to go through this again?
But I don‘t want to go.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
His mouth formed a tight line. Sarah, I‘m tired of
hearing this. My mother has her heart set on spending time
with her grandchild. You‘ll do what ever it takes to make her
happy. I‘m your husband, and I‘ve made my decision.
She clenched the quilt, her hand trembling. You don‘t
even want to be there for the birth?
I have a lot to do at the factory.
She wanted to jump out and run back home, but she
knew he would pick her up and drag her back onto the wagon.
Her mother-in-law didn‘t care for her, though she managed to
be civil toward her. She dreaded the thought of being with the
woman for six long months. She couldn‘t seem to do anything
to please the woman. It was always, cook this again, you missed
a spot on that dish, this is how you make a bed…The list was
endless. No matter what she did, Beatrice Donner found a
reason to criticize her.
The right front wheel ran over a large rock. She jostled
to the side and accidently nudged him. He jerked from her, as
if the physical contact bothered him. Apologizing, she quickly
straightened. He chose this route along the edge of the
farmland to avoid traffic, but she preferred a smooth, well-used
road. However, it hadn‘t been her decision. She turned her
gaze to the back of the wagon. Her large wooden trunk carried
her clothes and the baby‘s clothes, cloth diapers, and blankets.
Daring a glance in her husband‘s direction, she wondered if
he‘d be glad to have her gone, even if it was for a short time.
The cold air around her was nothing compared to the
bitter frost cased around her heart. The indifference that had
developed over her eight months of pregnancy served to
protect her from the pain of rejection, and now it settled into
the core of her being. She rubbed her belly. Her love for her
child flowed freely through her, and for a moment, she
mourned that fact that it felt as if the child only had one parent.
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His Redeeming Bride
No. That wasn‘t true. Jim would be an honorable father.
After all, he did what was necessary to make the home run
smoothly. But would he love his son or daughter?
A gunshot startled her. The horses bucked back,
upsetting the wagon and causing her to lose her balance. She
tumbled onto the hard ground, her arms instinctively protecting
her large belly, and she rolled to her side, barely noting the
sharp pain of a rock that probed her hip. The quilt had fallen
halfway off her body, tangling around her limbs. She struggled
to free her legs so she could stand, but her belly made the task
next to impossible. She was floundering around on the ground
when two dirty men rode over to them on their stallions.
The dark, lanky one pointed a .45 at Jim. Give us your
money. His voice came out low and gruff.
Jim didn‘t even glance in her direction. She has it.
The men turned their attention to her but didn‘t make a
move toward her.
Jim‘s voice shook. She‘s pretending to be with child.
She‘s carrying our valuables under her dress.
The beating of her heart seemed to stop in that instant.
How could Jim do this to her? When the men urged their
horses in her direction, she scrambled back, the quilt preventing
her from being able to run. She noted that Jim quietly slid out
of the wagon and began unhitching one of the geldings. Before
she could reason what was happening to her, one of the men
jumped off his hor se and hastened over to her.
He tilted his hat and knelt by her, his eyes traveling the
length of her body. Is that true? Or are you really in the
family way?
Her lower lip quivered. She wrapped her arms
protectively over her stomach. Please don‘t hurt my baby.
He shook his head at his partner. I thought as much.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
His partner pointed the gun in her direction. M aybe
you should check, just to be sure.
As he reached his grimy hand to her, she tightened the
quilt around her, her body shaking with fear. He wouldn‘t. He
couldn‘t!
A male voice shouted out at them. Who are you and
what are you doing here?
The three of them lifted their heads at the rider who
rode his horse in their direction.
She choked back a cry of relief.
The thief on the horse hissed through his teeth.
Damn! He‘s getting away. He nodded at Jim who was riding
a gelding toward Omaha.
Without another word, the man next to her bolted up
and jumped on his horse, joining his partner in pursuit of her
husband.
The man who scared the robbers off yelled over his
shoulder at two other men who followed him on their horses.
Get them!
Her nerves were set on edge and her hands shook so
badly she couldn‘t even wipe her eyes.
He eased down from the horse and approached her in
slow, easy steps, as if he was afraid he‘d startle her. It‘s all
right, ma‘am. I won‘t hurt you.
Three shots echoed through the still air, and she had to
see what happened. The sight of her husband falling from his
horse brought a strangled cry from her throat. The robbers
rode past him. The two men who trailed them were gaining
fast.
Those men who attacked you and your husband won‘t
get away, the man next to her assured her.
Still twisted in the quilt, she struggled to stand up.
Here. Let me help.
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His Redeeming Bride
She allowed him to take her by the elbow and pull her
up. The weight in her belly made her stumble against him, but
he steadied her.
We‘ll get you to the house. The boss will see to your
needs, and I‘ll come back for your things. Cal and Ben will
make sure your husband is all right. Don‘t wor ry about any of
that over there.
She finally got the quilt off of her, glad to be relieved of
it. Straightening her long wool coat, she cleared her throat so
her voice wouldn‘t tremble. Thank you.
Ma‘am, are you all right? Is the baby all right?
I‘m a little sore in the hip but I feel fine. She rubbed
her belly, noting the flurry of activity. The baby‘s kicking up a
storm, so he must be good too.
He nodded. Let‘s get you to the house. You get on
the horse and I‘ll walk. I don‘t want to risk the health of that
child, so if you need to stop and rest, let me know.
I will.
After he helped her into the saddle and settled the quilt
over her legs to preserve her modesty, she chanced another
look in her husband‘s direction. Cal and Ben managed to
apprehend the two thieves. They had their guns pointed at the
thieves but seemed to be focused on her husband who hadn‘t
moved from where he had fallen to the ground. Her heart
constricted. What if he was dead? Surely, it wasn‘t a good sign
that he remained motionless.
The man who rescued her clucked his tongue and led
the horse by the reins. Come along. His kind brown eyes met
hers. My name is Jacob McGuire, by the way.
I‘m Sarah Donner.
Nice to meet you, ma‘am. Sorry about that over there
though. He peered at her husband. His brows furrowed but
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Ruth Ann Nordin
he didn‘t comment. Instead, he asked, Do you have a name
picked out for the child?
Realizing he wished to take her mind off the probable
bad news of Jim‘s death, she decided to answer. Luke if he‘s a
boy and Margaret if she‘s a girl.
Fine names. Both of them.
Though he continued to make small talk on their
journey to the house, her mind kept drifting back to her
husband and what his death might mean for her and her baby.
Neil rubbed his hands together, his fingers practically
numb from the cold despite the gloves he wore. Stepping away
from the hor se he finished shoeing, he led her into the stall. He
made his way to the barn door where two of his farmhands
were talking in excited tones.
What is it? he asked.
Jacob said there‘s trouble on the northeast corner of
your property. He took Cal and Ben to investigate and we
heard gunshots.
He tensed. Did he say what he saw?
A wagon and two men on horseback.
Derek, get me Freedom.
No need, boss. There‘s Jacob.
Neil tipped his hat up and saw Jacob bringing someone
on his horse. It looked like a woman, but from the distance it
was hard to tell for sure. Buttoning his coat, he shoved his
hands into his pockets and strode past the cattle pen to his head
farmhand. As he got closer to them, he realized that the person
on the horse was, in fact, a woman.
We had a couple of thieves on your land, Jacob said
once Neil reached them. Cal and Ben caught them. Now,
they‘re tending to her husband. One of the thieves shot at him
and he fell off his horse. They‘ll bring all of them here.
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His Redeeming Bride
By the hesitant tone in Jacob‘s voice, it occurred to Neil
that the woman‘s husband didn‘t fare as well as she did. Neil
glanced her way, noting her pale face and trembling hands. It
was natural that the ordeal scared her, and now she might be a
widow. Clearing his throat, he told Jacob, Get the doctor.
Jacob helped her down, and Neil blinked when he saw
that she was expecting. Jacob tipped his hat to her before he
hopped up on the painted stallion and departed.
Neil‘s heart went out to her. Praying that her husband
survived the attack, he said, You must be cold. Come. I‘ll take
you to the house. You can warm up and get something to eat
and drink. He took a couple of steps when he realized that she
didn‘t follow him. Is something wrong?
She tightened her coat around her body. You‘re Neil
Craftsman.
He nodded. That‘s right. You and your husband were
traveling on my land. It‘s all right. I‘ll take care of both of you
until you‘re ready to go home. He began to walk but she didn‘t
move. He frowned. What is it?
Staring at the ground, she seemed fascinated with
kicking a small rock around.
Well?
I appreciate the offer, Mr. Craftsman, but I‘d rather
stay out here, if you don‘t mind.
Of course, I mind. You‘re my responsibility as long as
you‘re on my land. I can‘t have you getting ill and risking your
baby‘s life. I‘ll see to it that you can warm yourself up by the
fireplace, and I‘ll get you something to eat and drink. You don‘t
have to worry about anything. I‘ll take good care of you and
your husband. He attempted to walk to the house but noticed
that she didn‘t budged. He frowned at her. Why won‘t you
come into my house?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She glanced over her shoulder at two of his farmhands
who brought a cow to the large barn. Finally, she replied, I
know of your reputation. I cannot be alone with you.
Careful to hide his sudden flare of anger, he sauntered
over to her, only to get more annoyed when she backed up,
looking as if she was a mouse caught by a cat. He forced his
voice to remain calm and even as he said, You heard of my
reputation. Then you know I am a hardworking man whose
wife left him and his daughter. So it is my divorce that has you
upset?
Her pale face and the way she refused to make eye
contact with him said more than her silence did.
His mouth formed a tight line. Lowering his voice so
his farmhands wouldn‘t overhear, he continued, However,
there is more to my histor y, isn‘t there?
She met his gaze then, her brown eyes wide.
Crossing his arms, he purposely swept his blue eyes up
and down her frame. Dark blond hair neatly tucked under her
white bonnet. Fair skin, high cheekbones, and delicate pink
lips. The coat and her pregnancy did little to hide her curvy
figure. She was just as beautiful as his ex-wife. And just as
uppity too.
She took another step back.
Don‘t be shy, he whispered, leaning toward her and
giving her a knowing smile. You‘d be surprised at how well I
can handle a woman when she‘s in my bed. The soiled doves in
the saloon can teach men all kinds of interesting tricks.
Gasping, she tightened her hold on her coat.
He straightened up and snapped, I haven‘t visited a
whorehouse in eight years. Give me more credit than that.
She shot him a piercing look. That‘s not true. There
was that night five years ago.
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His Redeeming Bride
He stiffened. He had forgotten that particular night.
Oh good. You keep up with the rumor mill. Then you‘ll recall
that I also visited the pastor and have been faithfully attending
church ever since. But it‘s funny how no one seems to mention
that.
You did engage in that foul behavior for many years. I
find it hard to believe you changed.
Enough! Whether you like it or not, I‘ll be taking you
to the house, even if I have to carry you.
Then I‘ll scream for help.
He shrugged. Go ahead. M y men know what kind of
man I really am. They won‘t stop me.
She stomped her foot on the ground. You‘re worse
than people said.
He moved toward her. He grabbed her arm when she
turned to flee. Picking her up, he ignored her while she slapped
his face and shouted for someone to save her from the beast. A
beast indeed! She was the one attacking him when all he
wanted to do was help her and her husband. Despite her
protests and wiggling, he managed to bring her into his house.
He grunted as he pulled the leg of the chair from under the
kitchen table.
Unhand me you horrible, horrible man!
Then she let out an ear piercing scream in his ear. That
was the final straw. He dropped her in the chair. She bolted
from the chair but he pushed her back in and pressed his nose
up to hers.
Now listen to me, he growled. If you get out of this
chair before your husband comes to take you home, I‘ll find
some rope and tie you in place. Do I make myself clear?
She gasped, her hand fluttering to her neck. You
wouldn‘t dare.
19

Ruth Ann Nordin
Wouldn‘t I? He stared at her then, long and hard. His
gaze intensely held hers until she looked away. Satisfied, he
nodded and stood up. All right. I‘ll go find out what
happened to your husband and bring him here. In the
meantime, help yourself to some water I got from the well
earlier today.
She sniffed.
Look, it‘s just a suggestion. You do have your child to
think about after all.
No, it‘s not that. My husband might be coming here
but your men will be carrying him.
He shrugged. He might be injured but Jacob went to
fetch the doctor who‘ll tend to him.
No. A doctor won‘t help him. She put her face in her
hands, her shoulders shaking. He‘s dead.
Uncertain, he stared at her. He was used to handling
Emily‘s feelings but not a woman‘s. Cassie hadn‘t displayed any
form of sincerity. Her tears were faked. But he sensed that this
woman wasn‘t faking in order to get his sympathy. This caused
a tightening to form in his gut as he debated what to do to
assure her that her husband was still alive. As he opened his
mouth to speak that assurance, he stopped. Could he honestly
tell her that? What if she was right? What if her husband didn‘t
survive?
We don‘t know that for sure, he finally ventured.
She shook her head and continued to sob.
Shuffling his feet, he glanced around at the large work
table and cupboards until he found a hand towel. He snatched
it from the shelf and held it out to her, as if getting close to her
would burn him. Here. Use this.
Glancing up, she accepted the yellow cloth and wiped
her face.
20

His Redeeming Bride
He nearly shouted with relief when Cal knocked on the
door which was slightly ajar. Turning to his farmhand he
motioned him in. What is it? Did you bring her husband?
Cal removed his hat when he entered the kitchen, his
expression solemn. Shifting his gaze from Neil to the woman
and back to Neil, he said, I‘m afraid I got bad news.
She cried even louder.
Sensing how much Cal didn‘t want to be the one to say
it, Neil spoke up. We‘ll make arrangements to take him to the
funeral parlor in town.
Boss, Ben and I tried to catch up to the robber before
he shot him. We got both men apprehended and will take them
to the sheriff. Justice will be served. He looked at her. We
saw the whole thing and we‘ll testify to it.
She didn‘t acknowledge his statement.
The poor thing must be overwhelmed with grief. Neil
sighed. Though he didn‘t care much for her, he did feel sorry
for her. After he gave Cal instructions on which funeral
director to find, he asked her, Who should we notify on your
behalf? When she didn‘t respond, he tapped her shoulder,
Ma‘am?
She shied away from him. Please, stop touching me!
He held his hands up, baffled that she should care when
she just received news regarding her husband‘s death. There‘s
no need to get hostile. I asked you who we need to send for
you.
Her brown eyes widened and she shot him a frantic
glance.
Don‘t you have a relative to go to?
Her lower lip trembled and she shook her head. No.
My parents and sister are dead and I had no brothers or aunts
or uncles.
21

Ruth Ann Nordin
Placing his hands at his sides, he softly asked, What
about his family?
She cringed for a moment. No. They live too far
away. I cannot go to them. My home is in Omaha.
Then you have enough to sustain you and your child.
That‘s a relief. He turned to Cal. Go ahead and take her
husband to the funeral home. He dared to ask her another
question. What was your husband‘s name?
Taking a deep breath, she replied, Jim Donner.
All right. Cal will arrange the funeral for you. Since
you don‘t trust me, will you let Ben take you home?
I don‘t know if I can. Her voice sounded so low he
could barely hear it.
Look. No one here is going to harm you, all ri ght?
We‘re just trying to help.
I don‘t know if I have a home to go to. That‘s my
problem. She wrung the towel in her hands. Jim didn‘t own it
outright. He rented it.
He had some assets though, right?
I don‘t know what you mean.
Neil hated to pry into her personal life but saw little
choice. He must have left you some money in his will. Surely,
that will be enough to see you through this until… He
shrugged. Until the money runs out.
Can I go now, boss? Cal interrupted.
Nodding, he gave his final instructions to Cal who
looked relieved to leave. Neil closed the door and pulled out
the chair across from her, hoping she wouldn‘t panic. Did
your husband have any money?
I don‘t know. He never discussed it with me.
He sighed. Do you have friends in town?
Yes.
22

His Redeeming Bride
They will be the ones to go to for help. I want you to
go home and go to them. Are you part of a church?
Of course. I am an honorable woman.
The way she said those words made his skin crawl, for
he understood her tone to insinuate that she was too good to
hang around the likes of him. Forcing aside his irritation, he
eased out of the chair, suddenly needing to get away from her.
Wishing to remain polite since she was his guest, albeit a rude
one, he said, Then you will have support to see you through
this tragedy. If you‘ll excuse me, I‘ll see what‘s keeping Cal and
Ben.
I’m sure you want to get away from me as much as I want to get
away from you, you judgmental brat.
Offering a stiff smile, he added,
Don‘t forget to drink some water. The trip to town will take
an hour and I‘m sure you‘re thirsty.
He didn‘t wait for her reply. He stomped out of the
house and slammed the door behind him.
Calm down. Take deep
breaths. Don’t listen to people like her. I’m not the same man I was back
then.
23

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Three
S
arah blinked in surprise as the banging of the door echoed
through the quiet house. What got him in such a fit? Truth be
told, she was relieved to be alone. Who knew what Neil
Craftsman was capable of doing to a newly widowed woman?
If he had his way with her, which would be by force for she
would never allow him to touch her, then he would be off free
and clear. After all, she was already with child. There‘d be no
proof that he raped her. She shivered and pulled her coat
protectively around her shoulder s. Never before had she felt so
vulnerable. First, the thieves nearly attacked her. Then her
husband abandoned her. And to top it all off, Neil dragged her
into his lair.
She gasped and stood up. Rushing to the door, she
turned the knob, relieved when the door opened. He hadn‘t
locked her in. Thank goodness. She took a deep breath and
closed her eyes. Of all people to end up needing assistance
from, it would have to be Neil Craftsman. She spied Neil
talking to Ben and Cal as they laid the body of her dead
husband into the back of her wagon.
Tears sprang to her eyes. Who would take care of her?
It wasn‘t just her who needed help. Rubbing her belly, she
24

His Redeeming Bride
stared at the cloudy sky, wondering how she was supposed to
support herself and a baby when she had no skills. Who would
hire her?
She wiped her eyes with the towel and debated what to
do. One thing was for sure: she wouldn‘t go to Jim‘s mother.
Without him around to drag her there, she didn‘t have to
associate with that dreadful woman ever again. Breathing a sigh
of relief, she placed the towel on the wood table and glanced
around the small beige kitchen. She rubbed her lower back. It
had been bothering her since she and Jim left home.
Jim. The reminder of her husband made her wonder
why the news of his death failed to evoke any emotion in her.
It should have. She should care. She should be sad. The tears
she shed weren‘t caused by losing him but by losing his financial
support. She had lied to Neil. She didn‘t know who was going
to take care of her and the baby. The friends she had couldn‘t
afford another mouth to feed, and though she regularly
attended church with Jim, she didn‘t feel comfortable asking for
help. He had wanted people to think he was well off but the
truth was, they were one paycheck away from poverty, and now
that he was no longer able to work, she didn‘t have a penny to
her name.
She couldn‘t go back to that church and tell everyone
the truth. Not with the way Jim bragged about his wealth. It
would be too humiliating. She had been the one to scrimp for
every cent to help one of their friends who needed food. They
couldn‘t help her, even if she confessed everything to them.
She knew they would sympathize with her, but sympathy
couldn‘t put food on the table. For the first time since she met
him, she cursed him for spending everything he had on things
they didn‘t need in order to gain others‘ approval. What good
did all the material possessions do her now?
25

Ruth Ann Nordin
Perhaps they would do her some good. She didn‘t need
to keep them. She didn‘t need them now that Jim wasn‘t
around. If she sold them, then she could get by for awhile. If
she managed to get a job and enlist the help of one of her
friends to watch the baby while she worked, then she might
make it. Feeling like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders,
she gathered her composure and left the house.
By the time she reached Neil, Ben, and Cal, she spotted
the two thieves who had their hands tied behind their backs in
the wagon. They sat as far from Jim‘s body as they could.
Neil looked at her with those dark brows furrowed,
which gave her the creeps. The man was a monster. It was no
wonder his wife insisted on divorcing him. He probably treated
her with great cruelty. Why, just look at the way he forced
unsuspecting, innocent women into his home! Thankfully, his
farmhand had interrupted him before he did whatever it was he
planned to do to her, and if he thought that she was going to
idly sit in that kitchen and wait for him to make his move, he
had another thing coming. She was getting back home where
she could figure out exactly what to sell and what to keep.
I assume you‘re ready to go home, Neil said.
Though that’s
Yes. The sooner I get back, the better.
too bad for you, I suppose.
Do you need anything? I could give you something.
He dug into his pocket and pulled out a bill. Considering you
just lost your husband, it seems that this would be appropriate.
Here you go. It‘s a gift for the baby.
She backed away from the dollar bill, feeling tainted just
by looking at it. He used to offer money to prostitutes for
goodness‘ sakes! Struggling to keep the shock out of her voice,
she replied, No, thank you, Mr. Craftsman. The trip to town
will be more than enough.
26

His Redeeming Bride
He frowned for a moment before he stuffed the bill
back into his pocket. I meant no disrespect. An expectant
widow isn‘t exactly self-sufficient.
Well, I don‘t need your help, she snapped without
meaning to.
Fine. Then you won‘t be getting it. Ben, Cal, get away
from the wagon. Let her take it back.
To her surprise, Ben and Cal obeyed, despite the fact
that they looked like they wanted to protest. She couldn‘t
believe that a scoundrel like Neil could attract such loyal
employees.
Neil spread his arm to the wagon and motioned to the
front seat. There you go, your majesty. Your carriage awaits.
He crossed his arms and watched her.
Oh, the audacity of the man, to act as if she thought
more highly of herself than she ought! The simple fact of the
matter was that she was too good for him. After all, his type of
woman spent most of her time on her back collecting money
from customers in exchange for meeting their needs. No
wonder his wife left him. He must have demanded that she try
all sorts of perversions in the bedroom with him. The soiled
doves at the saloon in town knew some clever tricks, or so she
heard, and judging by his comment about knowing how to
please a woman, she didn‘t doubt that assumption any longer.
I can do it, she finally said, sounding more confident
than she felt.
Neil raised his brows, as if challenging her.
She straightened her coat and thrust her chin forward.
She marched up to the wagon.
Here. Let me help you in, Ben called to her.
She waited for him, grateful for his assistance, and as
she reached for his hand, she gasped.
27

Ruth Ann Nordin
You‘ve got to be kidding me, Neil said. You can‘t
find him repulsive too!
Glancing uneasily at the three men, she couldn‘t move.
She felt strange. Before she could figure out what bothered her,
water gushed down between her legs.
Oh…shoot, Ben replied, scrambling to get away from
her.
Boss, Cal began, I think she‘s going to foal.
That‘s for mares, not women, Neil gruffly said. He
shot her a dirty look. You couldn‘t wait until you got back?
She blinked and shook her head. It‘s not like I can
control this sort of thing.
Well, I don‘t want you here, nor do I want you giving
birth in my house. He glanced to his left. Oh good. The
doctor‘s here. You can go with him.
The sticky water continued to trickle down her legs.
She cringed, feeling more disgusting than she had in her entire
life.
Doctor Adams hopped off his horse and approached
her. I take it you‘re ready to give birth.
Not on my property, she‘s not. Neil glared at her.
I‘ve had enough of her.
Her water just broke. Birth is imminent, the older
man replied.
She‘s too good for the likes of me and my house. She
can give birth in her wagon.
Next to her dead husband and two thieves? Cal asked.
Is that wise, Boss? Ben added.
The doctor shook his head. That baby needs a warm
place. We‘ll go into the house. Come along, Mrs. Donner. He
gently took her by the elbow.
She stood her ground. The biting wind ruffled her
bonnet. Can‘t I make it home?
28

His Redeeming Bride
He gave her a kind smile. I don‘t feel like delivering a
baby out in the elements.
Neil groaned. All right. Bring her in. She can give
birth in the spare bedroom.
I‘m not even in pain, she insisted, rubbing her belly as
the baby kicked. My home isn‘t far.
Doctor Adams wrapped his arm around her shoulders
and looked at her. These babies can come quicker than you‘d
expect. Why, your water broke two weeks early.
But…I mean… Neil Craftsman‘s residence was the last
place she wanted to deliver her child in. She wasn‘t
superstitious by nature but being born in the house of an
immoral man couldn‘t be a good beginning for her child.
Ignoring Neil‘s accusing stare, she whispered in the doctor‘s ear.
People might talk. What if they assume I acted inappropriately
in his house?
The doctor chuckled. He kept his voice low. Mrs.
Donner, you must give people and Mr. Craftsman more credit
than that. Neither will ruin your reputation. You are here to
give birth and that‘s that. In a louder voice, he continued,
Now, come along.
She glanced at Cal and Ben to see if they would offer to
help but they kept their attention on the wagon‘s wheels. Jacob,
who had remained silent, took the doctor‘s horse to the barn.
Good, the doctor said. It‘s settled. Ben and Cal,
why don‘t you take care of Mr. Donner and those two. He
pointed to the thieves.
Ben and Cal scuffled to get into the wagon as if they
couldn‘t get away fast enough. As Ben clicked the reins to get
the geldings moving, she sighed, envying their ability to leave.
A sudden wave of pain shot from her back and up her
abdomen. She yelped and grabbed her belly.
29

Ruth Ann Nordin
Neil threw his hands up in the air. Well, don‘t just
stand there. Get her into the house! He muttered something
under his breath as he stomped to the front door and waved
them to him.
After the pain ceased, she exhaled. Realizing she didn‘t
have a choice, she allowed the doctor to lead her into the
kitchen, up the wooden steps and into a sparse bedroom. The
mattress and finely carved headboard looked expensive. The
bare oak dresser which stood next to the large oak wardrobe
would have made Jim drool from their fine craftsmanship. Neil
either had a lot of money or a lot of debt.
Another contraction caught her off guard and she
closed her eyes, silently counting as she always did when in pain.
Once she could concentrate on her surroundings, she saw Neil
hand the doctor a stack of old newspapers. The doctor spread
them across the mattress and motioned for her to lie down.
I want to see how far along you are, he said, taking
off his coat and rolling up the sleeves of his crisp, blue shirt.
She darted a glance in Neil‘s direction as he brought in a
pile of clean towels and set them on the dresser. Her cheeks
flushed. Turning to the doctor, she asked, He‘s not going see
me, is he? Sensing Neil‘s aggravation, she ignored him while
she waited for the doctor‘s answer.
Neil, will you please get me some fresh water?
Neil stiffly nodded. I‘ll bring up wood a nd matches
for the box stove too. Then you can get a fire started.
Funny. In all the excitement, she hadn‘t noticed the
cold room.
When Neil left, the doctor smiled at her. I assure you
that despite Mr. Craftsman‘s past, he is a good man.
She raised a brow, unwilling to be comforted.
The sound of rushing footsteps followed by shouts
from a girl and a woman took her attention off their
30

His Redeeming Bride
conversation. She watched as a pretty girl with a long black
braid bouncing against her back ran into the room, her cheeks
and nose red from being outside. It‘s true then. You‘re going
to have a baby? Can I watch?
Sarah‘s jaw dropped. The girl couldn‘t be serious!
Matters of birthing weren‘t appropriate for children.
A woman, probably in her fifties, entered the room, out
of breath. Forgive her. Emily gets excited when it comes to
babies.
Yes, I always wanted a baby brother or sister. Emily
frowned, her full pink lips turned into a pout. They would be
more fun to play with than a doll.
That‘s what she thinks. The woman smiled. Come
along, Emily. The doctor has to tend to Mrs…I‘m sorry. What
is your name?
Sarah Donner. She felt a now familiar tightening
around her abdomen and braced for the next round of pain.
Why does she look like she tasted something icky?
Emily asked.
Neil placed a bowl with a pitcher of water in it on the
dresser. Sarah tried to move out of his way but couldn‘t with
her legs feeling like a formidable wall of steel. It was all she
could do to remain standing. Without glancing in Sarah‘s
direction, Neil placed wood into the gray cast iron box stove
and started a fire. Then he lifted Emily into his arms. We
need to leave Mrs. Donner and the doctor alone.
Actually, Doctor Adams began, another pair of
helping hands would be appreciated. Mrs. Craftsman, do you
mind?
The woman stepped forward. Oh, no. I‘d be glad to
help.
Grandma, I want to stay and help too, Emily
protested, reaching for the older woman.
31

Ruth Ann Nordin
This isn‘t for children, sweetheart, Neil said.
Despite Emily‘s complaints, he took her out of the
room. Sarah nearly cried with relief since Neil wouldn‘t be
nearby. It was bad enough being in his house. She took off her
coat and got ready to give birth.
***
At 10:30 that evening, Neil woke up to the sound of a
baby crying. He jerked up from the couch in the parlor,
surprised he had been able to fall asleep with Mrs. Donner‘s
groaning and screaming. He glanced at the chair where Emily
slept with a blanket wrapped around her tiny body.
He went to the kitchen where his mother was pouring a
cup of coffee.
She turned to him. Oh Neil, I feel so blessed to have
witnessed a baby‘s birth. I regret not seeing Emily born. I
would have liked to have been there to help Cassie. She took a
sip from the blue cup. I hope it‘s all right if I stay through the
night to assist Sarah so you can sleep. I know you have a hard
day ahead of you and the doctor‘s getting ready to leave.
Considering Sarah Donner‘s aversion to him, she would
probably be relieved if his mother stayed to help her. That
might be best.
She motioned to the coffee pot. Would you like
something to drink before you go to bed?
No. I‘m fine. Just focus on my…our… What exactly
was Sarah anyway? He couldn‘t say she was his annoyance.
Sighing, he finished, Focus on the guest.
And that is what Mrs. Donner had become, at least for a
couple of days while she recovered. It was going to be a long
two or three days. He considered taking Emily to her bed but
decided against it. Once Emily woke up, she didn‘t go back to
32

His Redeeming Bride
sleep and he didn‘t feel up to telling her bedtime stories. He
simply thanked his mother and climbed the steps.
The doctor emerged from Cassie‘s old bedroom and
shut the door quietly behind him. Though he looked ragged, he
grinned from ear to ear. She did just fine, he told Neil as Neil
reached the top step. I think the baby may be the thing she
needs to get through her husband‘s death.
Despite his better judgment, for he did not wish to get
involved in her life, he asked, Did she have a boy or a girl?
A boy.
He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of footsteps
on the creaking stairs. His mother came up with another cup.
There was no denying the wistful expression on her face. She
had wished for more grandchildren and all he had been able to
give her was Emily. And Emily wasn‘t her real grandchild. His
heart tightened at the reminder that Cassie had been with child
when they married. Of course, he hadn‘t known until later. He
had the sudden inclination to run off and hide in a small town
further out west where he could start a new life and forget
everything. Except for Emily. He would take her with him.
Thank you for all your help, Doctor Adams, his
mother whispered.
The house seemed oddly quiet after all the commotion
from the past five hours. Neil figured that Sarah and the baby
must be all right if the doctor wasn‘t concerned. Doctor, I‘ll
pay the bill for this birth.
His mother rested a hand on his arm. Oh Neil, are you
sure?
Mrs. Donner lost her husband today. It‘s the least I
can do to ease her burden. The last thing a widow needed was
more bills to pay. He looked at the doctor. I‘ll pay for your
services.
The doctor nodded. All right.
33

Ruth Ann Nordin
And if she asks, don‘t tell her I was the one who paid
it. Something told Neil that she wouldn‘t appreciate the gift.
You hear that, Mother?
I‘ll be good, son. I promise. I know I tend to brag on
you.
Are you sure you won‘t stay here until daylight? Neil
asked the older man.
No. I need to get back home. He tipped his hat to
them. Good night.
Night.
As the doctor made his way down the steps, Neil
watched his mother knock on the bedroom door. Sarah? I
brought some water.
Thank you, Mrs. Craftsman, came the tired voice
from inside the room.
So she could be nice when she wanted to be. Neil bit
his tongue and made his way across the hall to his room. While
his mother opened the door, he snuck a peek into Cassie‘s old
room. In the darkness of the hall, Sarah Donner wouldn‘t
notice him. A kerosene lamp lit the bedroom, casting a warm
glow over her and the sleeping child she held to her bosom.
She sat up in the bed, a thick pink blanket covering her legs and
waist. She wore a nightgown that his mother had retrieved
from the trunk in her wagon. Her face glowed with pleasure as
she smiled at her son. She looked like an angel.
The poor thing is worn out, his mother softly told
her.
He‘s had a busy day, that‘s for sure, Sarah replied. I
didn‘t think I could be this happy.
Do you have a name for him?
Luke.
His mother patted her arm. That‘s a lovely name.
34

His Redeeming Bride
The scene playing in front of him almost seemed as if it
came from a dream. His heart ached at the loveliness of
witnessing a mother‘s joy over her child. How many times did
he beg Cassie to show an interest in Emily?
Swallowing the bitter lump in his throat, he stepped into
his bedroom and shut the door, feeling more alone and empty
than he had since the day he found Cassie sleeping with another
man. Shoving the memory aside, he slid into bed, not even
bothering to take off his clothes. Weary, he shut his eyes and
prayed for Sarah to take her son and leave as soon as possible.
35

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Four
T
wo days later, Sarah breathed a sigh of relief when Ben
offered to take her and Neil‘s mother, Gwendolyn, to their
homes. She did like Gwendolyn, who insisted on being called
Gwen. Gwen made it possible for Sarah to be in Neil‘s house
without compromising her good name. Now she could return
to her life and put this horrible ordeal behind her.
The cloudy sky threatened snow, and she pulled Luke
closer to her bosom, wrapping her coat around him to protect
him from the cold. She sat between Ben and Gwen as he drove
her wagon into town. Her geldings moved at a steady pace, and
since Ben took the dirt road, the journey was smoother than the
one she endured with Jim, which was good because she was still
sore from giving birth.
Even though Sarah stared at the gentle yellow hills in
the distance, Gwen chatted nonstop. The chatting didn‘ t
bother her. In fact, it was a relief because it meant she didn‘t
have to come up with things to talk about.
Of course, you‘ll wish to send your mother -in-law a
letter, Gwen rambled on. She will be delighted to have a
grandchild. Why, I‘m still gra teful to Cassie that she gave me
Emily.
36

His Redeeming Bride
Sarah looked down at her sleeping son. He had her
blond hair, though not as much of it, and her forehead, nose
and cheeks, but he also had Jim‘s chin and thin lips. She
dreaded the thought of sending Jim‘s mother a letter but knew
it had to be done. At least she wouldn‘t have to live with the
woman.
She smiled at Gwen. I appreciate your help with Luke.
It was nice having another woman around.
Just wait until your mother -in-law hears that she has a
grandson. She‘ll be eager to visit and help. Where did you say
she lives?
Sarah hadn‘t said, nor did she care to, but to be nice to
Gwen, she lied. Oh, she‘s far away. I‘m not sure she‘ll be able
to make the trip.
What a shame.
Ben, who had been silent the entire time, halted the
geldings as they approached town. Looking at Sarah, he asked,
Do you mind if I take Mrs. Craftsman to her house first?
No, Sarah replied. She looked at Gwen. I‘m sure
you‘re tired.
No more than you are, but I‘ll be glad to get home,
Ben.
He nodded and took her home. Afterwards, Ben took
Sarah to her home. He helped her down from the wagon, and
she was careful not to disturb her son.
Sarah turned her head to the sound of her front door
opening and cried in alarm when her landlord motioned for two
men to carry her couch out of the house. Running up to the
balding man, she asked, Mr. Murphy, what‘s going on?
Her landlord slipped his pocket watch into his black suit
and rubbed his protruding belly. What‘s going on? I‘ll tell you
what‘s going on. Your husband neglected to pay February‘s
rent before he died. It‘s February first.
37

Ruth Ann Nordin
But… She paused as one of the tall men bumped into
her. Muttering an apology, she moved aside. Mr. Murphy, Jim
got shot and died on the day I went into labor. I wasn‘t able to
get back until today. See? She showed him Luke. So, I
wasn‘t here to pay you.
He cocked his head to the side. You say you got
money?
She faltered. Oh. I don‘t have any on me.
Keep it coming, men! He motioned to two more men
who were taking her belongings out of the house. I‘m running
a business here, Mrs. Donner, and it doesn‘t do me any good
when a tenant can‘t pay the rent.
Wait! She frantically tried to stop the men who were
taking her chairs out of the house but they brushed past her.
She hurried back to Mr. Murphy. I‘m going to sell my things.
When I do, I can get the money to pay you. Please! I‘ll make
up for this month‘s rent and next month‘s too. I‘m sure the
china we own will be worth that much.
Aren‘t you aware of your husband‘s debts?
Luke squirmed against her bosom, moving his head in
an attempt that told her he was hungry. She pushed aside his
grunting so she could focus on the landlord. Jim had debts?
The man shook his head and ran a pudgy hand over his
face. I am truly sorry. This isn‘t the way a woman should find
out. He did some betting and lost money.
Three men returned to the house while another one
finished loading a chair into a large wagon. The sinking
sensation in the pit of her stomach grew larger. Everything was
happening too fast. If only the men would stop taking her
things out of her house, she might be able to concentrate!
Mrs. Donner?
I‘m afraid you‘re wrong, Mr. Murphy. Jim never
gambled a day in his life.
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His Redeeming Bride
I wish that was true.
Another man came up to them with a crate containing
her things from her bedroom, including her jewelry box. Who
does this go to, Murphy?
Her landlord examined the contents of the box. I
believe Ethan Thompson will want those.
She gasped. Ethan Thompson! He was a regular at the
gaming tables at the saloon. No! Jim never went to the
saloon. I know because he slept in bed with me every night.
The man holding the crate looked sympathetic. He
didn‘t play cards, ma‘am. He bet on horses. They have horse
races outside of town and Ethan placed bets for him. He didn‘t
have to be there to win or lose.
No! Please God no! It has to be a mistake. Jim would never
gamble. It’s wrong!
The man motioned to the box. Is there anything in
here you‘d like to keep?
Blinking back her tears, she peered into the crate and
saw the locket her parents had given her when she was a girl. It
was the only thing that contained any real value to her. The rest
of the jewelry was given to her by Jim in order to impress other
people. Can I have the gold oval-shaped locket?
He shifted his weight. He pulled it out of the jewelry
box and handed it to her.
She took it and backed away, watching as he carried the
crate to the wagon.
Luke‘s impatient wiggles caught her attention. She
bounced him in her arms, hoping to distract him so she could
think of what to do next.
Ben, who had stayed by her wagon the whole time,
came over to her. Ma‘am, do you have somewhere to go?
39

Ruth Ann Nordin
Realizing she didn‘t have a choice, she left Mr. Murphy
and turned back to the street. I have a couple of friends I
might be able to stay with.
He nodded and went with her to every friend she had.
Her friend Caroline Jones agreed to take her and Luke into her
home, but as soon as Sarah realized her children and husband
were sick, she refrained since she didn‘t want to expose Luke to
an illness. Her friend Rachel Ludwig couldn‘t take her and
Luke in because her house was too full with her six kids, her
parents, and her husband‘s father. The rest of the people she
went to said no. They were nice about it, but she thought they
could help if they wanted to. Even the boarding house was full,
and despite her offer to sleep in the parlor, the owner said no.
After two hours of going through town, she stood in
front of the preacher‘s door as he softly shut the door on her
face. She broke down and cried. Luke, probably sensing her
anguish, wailed too.
Ben slipped her quilt over her shoulders and turned her
to the wagon. Come back to Mr. Craftsman‘s place. He has
plenty of room, and he could use a woman to help with Emily
and the house.
She shook her head. I can‘t. Her voice broke.
Then where will you go?
The question stung, for who would take her in? She
exhausted all options but one. Jim‘s mother. But Beatrice
would take Luke and toss her out. And she wasn‘t about to part
from her son. She‘d rather risk being in Neil‘s home. At least
he had the other farmhands and his daughter there to keep him
honest. Yes, for the sake of her son, she‘d stay with him. If
he‘d even let her after the way she treated him.
Will Mr. Craftsman be willing to let me stay? she
ventured, suddenly afraid of his refusal. I wasn‘t ver y nice to
him.
40

His Redeeming Bride
He‘s a compassionate man. He wouldn‘t want to see a
mother and child without a home. Come. I‘ll help you back
into the wagon.
Her sobs subsiding, she could only pray he was right
about Neil as she got onto the wagon seat. Shivering and
cradling the sleeping child in her arms, she wondered if she was
making a big mistake. Perhaps Luke would be better off with
Beatrice. No. Beatrice would never let her stay too. Sarah
would rather be with Neil. At least he might take them both in.
She looked at Luke, her love flowing out to him. No one was
going to separate them. She‘d make sure of that.
***
Neil stared at Ben for a good minute before he said,
No. She‘s not staying here. Taking his eyes off the wagon
where Sarah and her son sat out of hearing distance, he spun on
his heel. He made it three full strides to the barn when Jacob
jumped in front of him. Get out of my way, he snapped.
Jacob sighed. Look, under any other circumstance, I
wouldn‘t bother you.
Great. Then pretend this is =any other circumstance‘.
Ben stepped to the side to block Neil as he moved
around Jacob. We can‘t just leave a new mother out in the
cold. She has nowhere to go.
Then put her up in the bunkhouse.
Oh, we can‘t have her in there with all the hands, Ben
argued.
What about your house?
Jacob shook his head. My wife and I have a one room
cabin. We aren‘t setup for company.
41

Ruth Ann Nordin
Neil shook his head. This is ridiculous! I am not
getting involved with a judgmental woman who thinks her halo
outshines the sun. I have a right to respect in my own home.
Granted, she was harsh with you, Jacob began, but
we know you‘re not the man she thinks you are. Given time,
I‘m sure she‘ll see that too.
I don‘t care what she thinks of me as long as I don‘t
have to deal with her.
The baby‘s cries resonated through the calm air. Neil
grimaced. How fitting it was that the child cried at that
moment.
If for no other reason, couldn‘t you let her stay so the
baby can be safe?
Damn! If she hadn‘t been with a child, he could have
refused without a trace of guilt. He eyed his hired hand who
defended the prissy widow. Fine. I‘ll let her stay in Cassie‘s
old bedroom.
Jacob and Ben grinned like idiots. Neil grunted. They
were much too happy to have her stay. Whatever his
farmhands saw in her to like, he didn‘t get it. Bracing himself
for another unpleasant encounter, he straightened his coat and
marched over to her. She glanced his way but wouldn‘t make
eye contact with him. He gritted his teeth. She was no better
than Cassie. Fooling everyone else into believing she was nice.
And only he knew the truth.
Stopping in front of the wagon, ignoring the baby‘s cries
and her rocking him, he stiffly said, I hear you have no place to
stay.
She winced and looked his way. You heard right.
He could barely hear her over her son‘s insistent
demands. The poor kid had been stuck outside for at least four
hours. He had to be cold and hungry. Sarah‘s worried look
told Neil that she loved her son. And that love just might be
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His Redeeming Bride
her sole redeeming quality. Neil‘s anger faded. What
happened to your home?
She focused on swaddling her son as she answered.
My husband didn‘t pay the rent.
What about his money?
Her cheeks seemed to grow redder than they already
were from the cold. Apparently, he gambled.
Great. The more he learned, the more he felt sorry for
her. And your friends?
They don‘t have room for me.
And your preacher? The minute he saw her tears, he
regretted pressing her for information. He sighed. Come on
down and get into the house. Both of you need to sit by the
fireplace.
He fully expected her to find some reason to argue, or
at least insist that Jacob help her down from the wagon, but she
held her hand out to him, careful to hold the baby close to her
with her free arm. Once her feet reached the ground, she lifted
her eyes to meet his. Believe me, Mr. Craftsman, if I had
anywhere else to go, I wouldn‘t be here.
He narrowed his eyes at her. I don‘t think you‘re in a
position to be flaunting your high morals on me.
I‘m not. Her voice wavered. I just meant that I
know you don‘t like me. I have been rude to you. I was scared
of you. She wiped her wet cheeks. To be honest, I still am.
But I have nothing and I can‘t afford to lose my son. I‘ll do
whatever you ask. Ben said you could use someone to clean the
house and cook meals for you and Emily.
I have a farmhand who cooks, and my mother cleans
and does laundry for me and Emily.
I can sew. I can teach Emily how to read and write
and do math.
43

Ruth Ann Nordin
I have money to buy clothes and Emily goes to school.
In fact, I‘m due to pick her up soon.
The breeze ruffled her bonnet. Mr. Craftsman, there
must be something I can do to earn my keep.
He had gotten used to not having a woman around,
besides his mother. He wasn‘t sure what chore to offer her so
she could feel useful. He decided that she might as well assume
the responsibilities of running a house. Surely, she would cook
better meals than his hired hand. If she sewed, it would save
him money, and cleaning was hard on his mother‘s back. All
right, he finally said. I can think of stuff for you to do. Let‘s
get to the house.
She bit her lower lip and watched him.
He closed his eyes, willing himself to remain calm.
Didn‘t you just ask if you could stay here? When she didn‘t
respond, he opened his eyes. Well?
She shifted from one foot to the other. You don‘t
expect me to…I mean, I‘ll do anything at all, but I can‘t do one
certain thing.
Her meaning dawned on him. He blinked, feeling as if
she slapped him. Is that really what you think of me? I have a
daughter, for goodness‘ sakes. If I wouldn‘t want someone
treating Emily like that, why would I treat you that way?
She opened her mouth to speak.
He held his hand up to her. Don‘t even bring up my
past. My past is just that.
The past.
You can‘t condemn a man
for what he‘s done. You have to look at what he‘s doing.
Everyone deserves a second chance, Mrs. Donner. And I
assure you, if I were to look for a woman to bed, she wouldn‘t
be a stuck up prude such as yourself. He pointed to his home.
I expect you to do what you said you are qualified to do. You
will cook, clean, do laundry, and sew. You will also be a mother
to Emily, and I better see you treating her like she‘s important
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His Redeeming Bride
because she is. She will continue to go to school so she can
play with other children. Now, are you going to get into that
house and warm your screaming child or are you going to stay
out here and let him freeze to death?
She paled. Forgive me, Mr. Craftsman. I‘ll do what
you ask.
He received a small amount of satisfaction in having
taken her down a notch, but it bothered him to no end that she
would even assume that he‘d demand she warm his bed in
exchange for offering her and her son a place to sleep and eat.
Five years. He spent the last five years living a squeaky clean
life and what was there to show for it? People still assumed the
worst about him.
45

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Five
S
arah followed Neil to the house, her nerves already set on
edge from having dealt with a crying baby for the past hour.
Luke wasn‘t hungry. He wasn‘t wet. He wasn‘t even tired. He
was cold. Neil was right. She wasn‘t doing her child any good
by staying outside arguing with him. Something deep in her
heart told her that she could trust him, that he wouldn‘t take
advantage of the situation. She saw the care in his eyes when he
glanced at her son. She noted the pride in his voice when he
said Emily‘s name. A man who valued children as much as he
did couldn‘t be a monster.
The sudden insight caused her cheeks to warm in
embarrassment. That she jumped to conclusions may have
been understandable, considering all the horror stories she
heard of his decadent lifestyle, but he had acted honorably
toward her. Sure he got upset and snapped at her , but she had
to admit she deserved it.
To her surprise, he opened the back door for her. Go
ahead and sit in front of the fireplace in the parlor. I‘m going to
take your things up to Cassie‘s old bedroom.
Cassie‘s bedroom? Didn‘t you sleep in the same
room?
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His Redeeming Bride
He closed his eyes and groaned. Forget I mentioned it,
all right? It‘s the room you gave birth in. That‘s all you need to
know.
Not wishing to further annoy him, she nodded and went
to the chair and sat in front of the fire. She breathed a sigh of
relief when Luke calmed down. Silence was a wonderful thing.
When Neil, Ben, and Jacob brought in her trunk and
carpet bag, she watched as Neil led them up the stairs. She
could hear them talking in her new room but couldn‘t make out
what they were saying.
Jacob bounced down the steps and smiled at her.
You‘ll be fine, ma‘am. I‘m going to head into town to pick up
some things for your little boy there. Neil kept the crib that
Emily used when she was a baby. He‘ll be setting that up for
you.
I didn‘t even think of baby furniture, she replied,
feeling ashamed that they were going through all this trouble for
her.
Well, you didn‘t count on losing your husband either.
It seems like life‘s handed you a hard blow. The least we can do
is ease the burden for you.
Thank you, Jacob.
He tipped his hat to her and left the house.
She heard Ben whistle from upstairs. Gee, Boss. Did
you save everything from when Emily was a baby?
I didn‘t know if Cassie would have another child,
came Neil‘s muffled reply. She spotted Neil climbing down a
ladder from the attic, carrying a bassinet under his arm. When
he noticed her, he motioned for her to come up. You might as
well tell me what you want or don‘t want.
She eased out of the chair and climbed the stairs. Her
backside ached in protest. With the hours she spent sitting on
the hard wagon seat, it took a great effort to trudge up the
47

Ruth Ann Nordin
narrow staircase. Glancing at the still bundle in her arms, she
realized that Luke had finally fallen asleep. She approached the
first bedroom on the right and peeked into it, surprised to see
folded pink sheets on the bed.
Neil set the bassinet on the hardwood floor beside the
headboard and laid a clean blanket in it. I figure the crib can
go at the foot of the bed, if that‘s all right with you.
Stunned by the fact that he took care in arranging the
room for her, she felt another stab of guilt pierce her heart.
I‘d like to apologize, Mr. Craftsman. I shouldn‘t have spoken
to you the way I did. It‘s clear that I misjudged you.
Ben came into the room with an armful of pink quilts.
Here they are, boss. They sure are fancy.
Cassie insisted on having the best of everything, Neil
dryly replied.
That explained the expensive furniture. Sarah watched
as Ben and Neil moved the bed so there was adequate distance
between the foot of the bed and the crib.
After you empty the trunk, I‘ll put it in the attic, Ben
told her.
She nodded and placed Luke in the bassinet. The
blanket was folded in such a way that it would be comfortable
for him. She hadn‘t expected Neil to be skilled at this task.
Quickly, she took Luke‘s things and placed them in a drawer.
Then she hung her dresses, shirts, and skirts in the wardrobe.
As she placed her undergarments in a drawer, she tried to
conceal her embarrassment over showing them her personal
attire. Thankfully, they were too busy hammering nails into
sections of the crib that had loosened over the years to notice.
Once she set aside her bonnets, good shoes, and hats in the
remaining drawers, she stepped away from the empty trunk.
Ben closed the lid and picked it up. You didn‘t have a
lot.
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His Redeeming Bride
The clothes I have are good quality. I don‘t need
much. I won‘t be demanding. The promise was directed at
Neil though she kept her eyes on Ben.
I‘m sure you won‘t, he kindly replied before leaving
the room.
Neil shook the crib. It‘s sturdy now. He turned to
her. Would you like me to take the bassinet to the kitchen so
you can watch Luke while you cook? Emily will be home in an
hour and she‘ll be hungry.
Should I make enough for you too? she asked, still
unable to make eye contact with him.
We might as well all eat together. I like to talk to
Emily at supper. I don‘t get much of a chance any other time
of the day, though she usually tags along for most of the chores.
But then, it‘s talk about the animals. You should eat with us.
Emily could use a woman to talk to. My mother doesn‘t get to
see her more than once a week.
Hiding her anxiety at the thought of eating with him,
she nodded. I‘ll get to it.
She reached to take Luke out of the bassinet but he
waved his hand at her. It wouldn‘t be good to wake him. I
can carry the bassinet while he sleeps.
The last thing she wanted to do was argue with him, so
she went down the stairs and to the kitchen, noting the
gentleness with which he handled the bassinet. She breathed a
sigh of relief. At least he wouldn‘t be harsh on Luke because of
her conduct.
All right, Neil began, I‘m going to pick Emily up
from school. Do you need anything before I go?
She shook her head. You‘ve already done more than I
deserve. Thank you.
49

Ruth Ann Nordin
Without waiting for a response, she turned to the
cupboards and saw pots and pans that looked brand new. She
blinked in surprise. Did Cassie buy them before the divorce?
You‘re welcome.
Startled, she glanced back in time to see Neil exit
through the door. He softly shut it behind him. She studied
the rest of the kitchen, noting that the plates and utensils looked
worn. There wasn‘t much food to cook with, and what little
there was, she suspected was there because of his mother.
Gwen had mentioned that she liked to come out on Sunday
after church to make them a good meal.
That farmhand doesn‘t make good dishes, Gwen had
confided. Ever since Cassie left, poor Emily‘s been living off
of beans and jerky.
Sarah took a pan out of the cupboard and inspected it.
She noted the date on the bottom. It did show signs of use but
not much. She suspected that Cassie wasn‘t much of a cook,
which made her further deduct that Emily had been eating the
farmhand‘s meals for a lot longer than the year that Cassie had
been gone.
Frowning, she tried to remember how long it had been
since Neil got the divorce. Everyone knew he got divorced. It
was one of the many things her preacher spoke against.
Marriage was a sacred institution that wasn‘t to be dissolved
under any circumstance. That was probably why Jim stayed
with her, though she often wondered if he would have left her if
given the chance. He certainly hadn‘t been in any hurry to
protect her from the thieves. He hadn‘t even thought enough
of her to leave her money in the event he died before she did.
Not wishing to wake her son, she resisted the urge to
throw the pan across the room. Her knuckles grew white as she
grabbed the handle and willed her sudden anger to subside. She
was glad he died. It was a mistake to even marry him. Closing
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His Redeeming Bride
her eyes, she scolded herself for thinking such evil thoughts.
He had been her husband, and she wasn‘t honoring his
memory. It was her duty to think well of him, even if she
detested him.
She took a deep breath and concentrated on things that
made her happy. Her son, of course, gave her the greatest joy
in her life. She didn‘t think it was possible that another human
being could mean as much to her as he did. Opening her eyes,
she looked at him as he slept, swaddled in a warm blanket. He
was tiny and fragile, but he experienced a peace that eluded her.
She wasn‘t sure how long Neil would let her and Luke stay in
his home.
Her thoughts were spinning in circles and she needed to
concentrate on making supper. She didn‘t want to fail her first
attempt to earn her keep. If Neil didn‘t approve of the way she
followed his instructions, he might decide to put her clothes
back into her trunk and order her to go. He was, in a sense, her
employer, and she needed to do her job to the best of her
ability. It did ease her mind to know she was offering
something useful in order to stay here.
For the next hour, she gathered the few ingredients she
could find to make biscuits, boiled potatoes, and stew. She
made brown sugar candy for dessert, figuring a little girl might
like a treat. She finished the stew just as the energetic pretty girl
ran through the door. Sarah had to admit that the girl was as
good looking as people claimed Cassie was.
Sarah hadn‘t seen Cassie but rumors of her beauty made
it to her preacher who spoke on the dangers of lust and how
men needed to guard their minds so they didn‘t fall into
temptation and succumb to the whorehouse. It was after that
sermon that Jim insisted Sarah wear somber colors like gray and
brown and how she needed to hide her jewelry and wear her
hair under her hat or bonnet. She had wondered why he
51

Ruth Ann Nordin
insisted on those rules but had gone along with him to please
him. Suddenly, it dawned on her that there were many things
she never understood about her husband.
Sarah steadied her emotions and turned her attention to
the task at hand. She gathered the plates and bowls and set
them on the kitchen table, wondering why there was no
tablecloth. Then she reminded herself that a man taking care of
a child wouldn‘t think of decorating his kitchen. In fact, it
lacked any real feminine touches.
Emily took one look at Sarah and blurted out, What
are you doing here? I thought you were going home today.
Sarah hadn‘t expected the girl to be bold in her speech,
so she couldn‘t think of a good response.
Neil, however, closed the door behind him, set his hat
on the hat rack by the door, and shrugged off his coat. Take
off your coat and hat. We‘ll discuss this over supper.
Giving Sarah another questioning look, Emily rushed to
do what her father ordered, leaving Sarah to arrange the table
for them to eat. She decided that she would sit across from
them.
I will take Luke to the parlor so Emily won‘t disturb
him, Neil told her.
She still couldn‘t bring herself to look directly at him so
she glanced in his direction and nodded as he picked the
bassinet off the floor.
Daddy, I want to see him! Emily shouted.
Shhh. He pressed his finger to his lips. He needs to
sleep, Em. He‘s just a baby.
She immediately quieted down but trailed him as he left
the room.
Sarah put the servings for their meal on all the plates
and in all the bowls. She filled the glasses with milk and water.
By the time she sat down, they came back into the kitchen.
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His Redeeming Bride
He‘s like a doll, Emily told her father. Except, he‘s
more interesting because he moves.
A slight grin crossed his face. He pulled out her chair
and motioned for her to sit, which she did, neatly arranging her
dress. He sat next to Emily and examined the table. This
looks like a fine meal, Mrs. Donner.
Sarah cleared her throat and stared at the spoon in her
hand. Thank you.
Daddy, can I ask why Mrs. Donner is still here? Emily
asked.
Though she couldn‘t look directly at Neil, Sarah had no
trouble looking into Emily‘s green eyes. Something about the
color of the child‘s eyes bothered Sarah. Neil had clear blue
eyes, and from what she heard, Cassie had gray eyes.
Neil put honey on his biscuit as he answered, giving
Sarah the freedom to eat while he explained the situation to the
girl. Emily, you remember how Mrs. Donner‘s husband died?
Emily mumbled an um hum as she bit into her
biscuit, careful to not spill any crumbs anywhere but on her
plate.
Well, since Mrs. Donner‘s husband is no longer alive,
he can‘t work. And this has put Mrs. Donner in a bad situation.
You see, she needs a job in order to make sure she and her baby
have a place to live.
What‘s a job?
A job is what an adult does to make money.
So you‘re giving her money?
No. I‘m giving her a place to sleep.
Where?
He hesitated for a moment. She and Luke will be
staying in your mother‘s bedroom.
But Ma‘s going to come back. You can‘t give her Ma‘s
bedroom. She needs to sleep on the couch in the parlor.
53

Ruth Ann Nordin
Emily, she‘ll be in your mother‘s bedroom. When
Emily opened her mouth, he gave her a warning look. I made
up my mind.
Emily turned her piercing eyes to Sarah. Ma‘s coming
back. You can‘t stay here once she returns.
That‘s up to me to decide. Now, apologize to Mrs.
Donner.
But she and Ma can‘t sleep in the same bed.
Emily, apologize to her.
Her lip set in a firm line, Emily muttered, I‘m sorry,
before she carefully bit off another piece of the biscuit.
Sarah looked at Neil. His dark brown hair was lighter
than Emily‘s black curls. Cassie had black hair, she recalled.
Neil‘s skin wasn‘t as fair as Emily‘s. She searched for a
similarity between them but found none. They didn‘t have any
facial features in common, though both were very attractive.
Emily was, no doubt, going to have men falling all over
themselves to court her. Neil was startlingly handsome. When
he entered a room, a woman couldn‘t help but take a second
look in his direction.
Neil looked at Sarah, and she quickly looked down,
feeling burned from making eye contact with him. Surely, he
didn‘t know what she had been thinking. He couldn‘t read
minds. Could he?
Neil sighed. Apparently, it‘ll take time for us to get
used to each other. He finished the rest of his biscuit. What
we need to do is focus on what we‘re doing now, and that is
eating this meal. Mrs. Donner, you did an excellent job. Old
Corbin doesn‘t do as well as you. I think we‘ll finally get some
meat on my daughter‘s bones.
Sarah‘s face flushed with pleasure at the compliment.
Thank you, Mr. Craftsman.
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His Redeeming Bride
He motioned to her plate of food that she‘d hardly
touched. Aren‘t you going to keep eating? You must be
starving.
Oh. Yes. She cleared her throat and picked up her
spoon.
The rest of the meal continued on in an uncomfortable
silence. Though Sarah ate the meal, she didn‘t taste it. Her
thoughts kept drifting to Emily who kept darting worried
glances in her direction. The girl must‘ve feared that Sarah was
there to take her mother‘s place. Sarah wanted to assure Emily
that such a thing was not going to happen but knew it wasn‘t
the time or place for that conversation. So she ate, forcing
herself to swallow the food, and saying a silent prayer of thanks
when the meal was over.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Six
N
eil tucked Emily in bed, surprised that Sarah had cleaned up
his daughter‘s bedroom. Sarah had collected the toys and put
them in the small toy box at the foot of the bed. The rug had
been beaten so that dirt no longer clung to it. The dresser had
been dusted. The hardwood floor had been swept. He didn‘t
even want to think of how she managed to clean the room after
such an exhausting day. She had to be tired. The events of the
day had worn him out, and he didn‘t do nearly as much as Sarah
had.
Yawning, he sat on the edge of Emily‘s bed and handed
her the doll.
She looked up at him with imploring eyes. Pa?
What, Em?
She lowered her voice. Mrs. Donner‘s not really going
to take Ma‘s place, is she?
This was a conversation that was long overdue, and as
much as he wanted to put it off another day, he knew he
couldn‘t. Honey, your mother‘s not coming back.
She gasped and sat up, the blanket falling off her
shoulders. No. You said she was coming back on the day she
left.
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His Redeeming Bride
I said that I hoped she was coming back. And he had
hoped for Cassie to return, not for his sake but for Emily‘s.
However, it had been nine months and she hadn‘t contacted
Emily. He doubted Cassie even gave thought to her only child,
and it was time for Emily to mourn the loss of her mother,
though it grieved him to make her sad. He chose his words
with great care before he spoke. I know that your mother and
I are the only two people you know who‘s had a divorce, and
that being the case, you don‘t fully understand what it means.
You think it means that your mother has to be gone for
awhile.
She nodded, clutching her doll to her chest. She didn‘t
say anything but he recognized the uncertainty in her eyes.
Well, a divorce means that your mother and I are no
longer married. We have agreed to live our lives apart from
each other forever.
Her lower lip trembled, and he wanted to take those
words back, to reassure her that her fantasy of having Cassie
back would come true. But if he did that, he would be cruel,
for sooner or later, she‘d have to discover the truth and how
much more pain would she endure knowing he lied to her on
top of everything else that had happened to her? He rubbed his
eyes. He had already lied to her in not telling her that her
mother married another man.
She has to come back, Pa, Emily whispered. She‘s
just waiting for me to grow up. Then I won‘t be in her way.
His head snapped up and he stared at her. What are
you talking about?
She looked down at her doll and twirled its hair with her
fingers. It‘s my fault she left. She often said that I was too
young to be of any use to her. She said that when I got older
and acted like an adult, then I wouldn‘t give her headaches
anymore.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Clenching his hands together, he reined his anger i n so
he wouldn‘t yell. She said that to you?
And I‘ve been good, haven‘t I, Pa ? I try not to spill
any crumbs on the table when I eat, and I remember to put the
napkin on my lap. I use utensils to eat too. I try not to run
through the house or be too loud. Ma liked it quiet and clean.
Her eyes grew wide. Oh, I did almost wake the baby earlier,
didn‘t I? Maybe I‘m not old enough yet.
Adrenaline shot through him, making him want to
pound his fist through the wall. Instead, he took Emily into his
arms and held her tightly. Now I want you to listen to me.
There was nothing you did to make your mother leave. You
didn‘t do anything wrong.
But she warned me to be good and I wasn‘t.
He closed his eyes. Why was he learning about this
now? If he had any idea Cassie was making Emily feel this way,
he would have made sure she didn‘t do it again. Your mother
didn‘t mean that. She was upset because of her aunt.
She said it before we found out about her aunt.
When did she say it?
Many times.
Pulling back from her, he took her face in his hands and
looked into her eyes. I want you to listen to me, Emily. You
didn‘t make your mother leave. Your mother had problems
that you had no control over. It was those problems that made
her say those things, not you. You‘re a good girl. Do you
understand?
She swallowed and nodded.
Good. He urged her to lie back down and tucked the
blanket around her shoulders. I love you very much. There‘s
nothing that‘s going to change that, all right?
I love you too, Pa.
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Smiling, he kissed her forehead and stood up. I want
you to get a good night‘s sleep.
After he shut the door, he stormed to the kitchen and
yanked open the drawer that he kept the stationary and pencils
in. He pulled out a sheet of paper and pencil and slammed the
drawer shut. Plopping into a chair, he gripped the pencil and
wrote a letter to Cassie. He knew where her new husband lived
since John McCarthy‘s wealth made his name and address easily
accessible to anyone who cared to check. He hadn‘t
corresponded with Cassie since that day at the courthouse when
he granted her the divorce she wanted, but finding out what she
had told Emily was too much.
As he wrote to Cassie, he didn‘t hold anything back. He
didn‘t speak on his behalf, but he wrote concerning Emily,
defending her the best way he knew how, realizing that his
words might not make any difference. But he had to get them
off his chest, and Cassie had to know the damage she caused.
Someone had to stand up for that little girl plagued with guilt
and longing. He sealed the letter in an envelope and put it on
the table. He would make a trip to town and mail it out
tomorrow.
He returned the pencil to the drawer and slammed it.
The sound of footsteps turned his attention to Sarah who
carried Luke down the stairs. His anger cooled. I didn‘t mean
to wake you.
You didn‘t wake me. I was thirsty so I came down to
get some water.
He watched her as she slowly made her way to the
cupboard. She looked as if she was about to collapse.
I‘ll pour the water for you.
He rushed to the cupboard and retrieved a cup. He
poured the water into it. Handing it to her, he frowned when
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she kept her eyes on the cup. She thanked him and took the
cup, her hand shaking.
Why won‘t you look me in the eye? he asked.
Her cheeks flushed as she set the cup on the table.
Luke squirmed in her arms and grunted. When she cleared her
throat and looked at him, finally making purposeful eye contact
with him, it dawned on him just how tired she was. No amount
of exhaustion could hide her beauty. But he noted the circles
under her eyes, her sagging shoulders, and the stray strands of
blond hair that fell out of her bun.
She seemed small and helpless. Gone was the defiant,
rude woman who made him feel like a criminal. His heart went
out to her. Of course, she was tired. She lost her husband,
gave birth, lost her home, and worked hard to cook supper and
cleaned Emily‘s bedroom. On top of that, she had a newborn
to care for. A lot had happened to her over the past three days.
Can I hold him? he softly asked.
She glanced at her baby who wiggled in her arms, and
for a moment, Neil thought she would refuse, but she nodded
and gently placed the boy in his arms. She rubbed her muscles.
I know he doesn‘t seem heavy but I‘m sore.
Why don‘t you sit down and rest?
She took the cup and eased into one of the kitchen
chairs. She sipped the water but didn‘t look his way.
A smile spread across his face as Luke fussed, his nose
scrunching and his hands haphazardly hitting his face. He knew
right away what Luke‘s problem was. The blanket wasn‘t
wrapped tightly around him. Neil brought him to the table and
gently laid him on it so he could adjust the blanket. Once the
soft yellow blanket fit him like a cocoon, Luke sighed and
settled down. Neil picked him up and held him, enjoying the
feel of a baby in his arms. He had forgotten how nice a baby
could be.
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Will you teach me how to swaddle him in that
blanket? Sarah asked, her voice so quiet Neil had to strain to
hear her.
Yes. Sitting across from her, he noticed she still
averted her gaze from his. Why don‘t you look at me?
Turning the cup in her hands, she said, I don‘t deserve
the kindness you‘re showing me.
He hadn‘t expected that answer. He figured she was
ashamed to be in the same house with him. Though she had
apologized to him earlier that day, he hadn‘t been sure if she
meant it or said it to manipulate him as Cassie had done many
times until he caught onto her schemes. However, there was
nothing sly in the way Sarah spoke. He sensed her sincerity and
appreciated it. It was one of the nicest things anyone had said
to him in a long time.
Let‘s forget about the last three days, he offered.
She looked at him then, and the relief on her face
warmed his heart, making him aware that he had said the right
thing. Thank you, Mr. Craftsman. I‘m sorry I misjudged you.
He smiled. You can call me Neil. We might as well be
on a first name basis since we‘ll be sharing a house.
Then you should call me Sarah.
I will. Feeling like a weight had been lifted off his
shoulders, he grinned at the baby who stared at him with wide
dark blue eyes. He‘s a good looking boy. Why did you name
him Luke?
She shrugged. I liked the name. Then she took
another sip from the cup.
I forgot how small Emily was when she was born. I
remember staying up at night and staring at her. I wasn‘t sure
what to make of her at first. A low chuckle resonated from his
throat. I don‘t think she knew what to make of me either, to
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be honest. But we bonded and I can‘t imagine my life without
her.
She furrowed her brows. It‘s odd for a man to stay up
with a baby. That‘s what a woman does.
Sighing, he decided to ignore the comment. He didn‘t
feel like explaining Cassie‘s lack of interest in Emily.
As if Sarah understood the reason for his silence, she
returned to the cup and drank the rest of the water before
talking. Can I ask why you named her Emily?
For the same reason you named him Luke. I liked the
name.
It‘s a good name. She brushed back a few strands of
her hair behind her ear. Do you think I should tell her that I
won‘t try to take her mother‘s place? I don‘t wish to upset her.
I‘ll explain it to her. It must be a shock to her. She‘s
not used to having anyone but me and her grandmother around.
She thinks that her mother‘s going to come back but she‘s not.
That‘s why we got a divorce.
I‘m sorry.
He brought the baby up to his shoulder and patted his
back. Looking ahead at the beige wall in front of him, he
shrugged. There‘s nothing to be done about it now. She
wanted to leave and I let her. The baby burped, the action
serving to lighten the mood a bit. He settled the baby back into
his arms.
Her gaze drifted to her son. You handle a baby well.
A slight smile graced her lips, making her especially
pretty in the light of the kerosene lamp. It‘d been too long
since he‘d been around a woman. Naturally, he‘d be sensitive to
her presence. Uncomfortable, he turned his focus to Luke who
continued to stare at him in open wonder. He grinned, recalling
the hope that Emily had given him after she was born. That
same hope shone in this boy‘s eyes. How amazing that
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someone so small could affect him like this. Perhaps that was
the nature of babies. To give hope…a new life…a second
chance. Their lives loomed before them, as an unwritten slate.
Hope. It was long overdue for him and for Emily.
Sarah yawned. He looked up. She had propped her
elbow on the table and rested her head in the palm of her hand.
Her eyes grew heavy.
Why don‘t you get some sleep? I‘ll watch Luke for
you.
She jerked up, her eyes wide. Oh, I can‘t
inconvenience you. You have to get up early.
Sarah was a proud woman, one who worked hard.
Maybe too hard. He recalled the work she had done in the
short time she‘d been there. He refused to let her go on
without rest. Let me help you. You barely got any sleep since
you gave birth. If Luke gets hungry, I‘ll bring him to you.
It wouldn‘t be right. It‘s my job.
You can‘t do your job if you‘re exhausted. I took care
of Emily. I know what to do with a baby.
She opened her mouth, as if to ask a question but shut
it, probably deciding whatever she was going to ask was none of
her business. Easing out of the chair, she smoothed the skirt of
her brown dress. It would be nice to get more than three
hours of sleep. All right. If you need anything, please wake
me.
I will. And I‘ll make sure to take him to his bassinet in
your room when he falls asleep. Tomorrow, I‘ll take the tub to
your room and fill it with hot water. I‘m sure you could use a
warm bath.
She swallowed and brushed her eyes. Whether the
actions sprang from her feeling tired or the struggle to hold
back tears, he couldn‘t decipher. When she spoke, her voice
was soft. I don‘t know how to thank you.
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His heart warmed at her sincere words. What a
refreshing change from the way she‘d been earlier. He cleared
the lump in his throat. You just did.
She shot him a confused look but wished him a good
night and climbed the steps, her movements slow, giving
further evidence of her exhaustion. Something about her
touched him, and for the first time, in a long time, he felt a
glimmer of faith in a beautiful woman.
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Chapter Seven
T
wo days later, Sarah put on her dark gray church dress and
her matching hat. Gathering Luke in a blanket, she swaddled
him the way Neil taught her to and carried him to the barn.
Emily voiced a polite greeting in front of the wood building but
didn‘t smile.
It‘s a lovely day, Sarah said, noting the way the
sunlight made Emily‘s raven curls shine. She took in Emily‘s
pink dress and brown wool coat. Her pink hat f luttered in the
breeze. Despite the cheer in her attire, she looked as if her
entire world had collapsed around her. Hoping to lighten the
mood, Sarah spoke. That‘s a pretty necklace.
Emily fingered the gold chain with a single pearl
hanging from it. My mother left it for me. She looked up at
Sarah with her chin sticking out, as if she was challenging her.
It means that she‘s coming back.
Sorrow settled into the pit of her heart. How wrong
this girl was. She placed her hand on the girl‘s shoulder but
Emily jerked away from her. I‘m sorry, Emily. I didn‘t mean
to upset you.
She is coming back. I don‘t care what anyone says.
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Not sure of how to respond, Sarah finally nodded. All
right. Arguing with the girl wouldn‘t make any difference, and
it certainly wouldn‘t make it easier for either one of them to live
in the house together. Though Sarah and Neil managed to
come to a cordial relationship, she could tell that Emily would
take longer to get along with. And who could blame a seven
year old who wished for her mother to come home? Sarah
rocked her alert baby. Will you let me stay when she returns?
Emily stared at Ben who was getting the buggy ready for
their trip into town. Though Ben and the horses remained at a
good distance, Sarah heard him talking to one of the two
geldings as if he were talking to a person. Sarah grinned. She
liked Ben. He had a good heart.
Emily‘s loud sigh brought Sarah‘s attention back to her.
Ma doesn‘t like to cook or clean. Grandma did most of that,
but if you did it, then I could spend more time with Grandma.
I think Ma will be happy if you stayed. She squinted at the sun
before looking at Sarah. All right. You can stay. But you have
to sleep on the couch downstairs. My ma will need her room
back. She needs her beauty rest and Pa‘s snores keep her
awake.
Sarah had heard Neil snoring when she went to the
kitchen the night before, so she understood why Emily accepted
that. She turned her attention to Neil as he exited the barn. He
stopped by the geldings and said something to Ben. He wore a
black suit and hat for church. The sight of him caused her heart
to flutter. Quickly, she looked away, praying for forgiveness.
Her husband‘s burial would take place on Tuesday, for
goodness‘ sakes!
Are you ready? Neil called out to them.
Emily ran to the buggy. Yes, Pa!
She leapt into his arms. He tossed her in the air and
twirled her around. The scene was so wonderful that Sarah
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giggled. Emily squealed with delight and protested when he
settled her on the seat. When he glanced Sarah‘s way and
waved her over, she caught the amusement in his eyes. There
was something endearing about a man who adored his child.
She had never seen a man who cared more for a child than Neil
cared for Emily. Frowning, she recalled how Jim reacted to the
news of her pregnancy. She could only imagine how he might
have been as a father, and she found him sorely lacking.
If you wait any longer, we‘ll be late, Neil yelled.
Blinking, she forced aside her unbidden thoughts and
joined him and Emily, noticing that his farmhands climbed into
a wagon. Do they go to your church? she asked Neil.
He shook his head. They go to the country church. I
go to the one in town. It‘s the same one my mother goes to.
Which one do you go to?
She told him.
That‘s on our way. Well, hop in. He held his hand to
help her onto the seat. Neil‘s buggy was more comfortable than
the wagon Jim owned. Are you sure you feel well enough to
ride all the way to town?
Pleased by his concern, she was quick to assure him that
she felt fine. It was true she was still sore, but he and his
mother had given her plenty of time to rest so she felt much
better than she had two days ago.
If the road gets bumpy, let me know and I‘ll go slower
or try to find a smoother path.
Her face flushed when she realized he was still holding
her hand. Even with their gloves on, she noted how well her
hand fit in his. Determined to ignore the pleasant sensation,
she said, I‘ll tell you.
He released her hand. She breathed a sigh of relief. She
wasn‘t comfortable with touching a man who wasn‘t Jim. Not
that Jim had touched her much. But still, he was her husband.
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She had no business liking another man‘s touch, even if it was
innocent. She softly cleared her throat and waited for Neil to
sit next to Emily in the buggy. He snapped the reins. The
horses began their lazy pace. The soft cushion in the buggy felt
like heaven after enduring Jim‘s hard wagon for ten years.
Emily, who seemed much happier, chatted about her
hope for snow, how she wished for Spring so flowers would
appear, and how she wanted to go on the rope swing again.
Neil kept a steady but careful pace and led the two horses to the
smoother parts of the road, which Sarah was grateful for. The
ride did tire her more than she anticipated, but she wanted to go
to church so she didn‘t complain.
When Neil stopped on a vacant street that was four
blocks from her church, he explained, It‘s best if you walk the
rest of the way. He pulled the brake, got out and helped her
down. What time does your church service end?
She told him. Before he walked away, she whispered,
Why are you letting me out here?
He glanced at Emily who seemed to be more interested
in the lace on her dress than in their conversation. I think it‘s
best if they didn‘t see you with me.
He was right, she knew. If she was brave enough to
disregard what people thought of her, she would tell him to
drop her off in front of the church anyway. But she did care
what they thought, and she didn‘t want to have to explain why
she was living in Neil Craftsman‘s house. As he walked back to
the buggy and got in beside Emily, she stepped back, unsure of
how to respond.
Neil peered at her, seeming undaunted by the fact that
he was shunned. We don‘t get out until twenty minutes after
you do, so I suggest you stick around and talk to your friends,
and then we‘ll be waiting here for you. All right?
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She nodded, ashamed that she was, in fact, relieved that
he was willing to hide their situation from the rest of the world.
She knew his mother wouldn‘t say anything. That woman
didn‘t make it a habit of telling anything to anyone unless it was
common knowledge. Perhaps her discretion stemmed from
having a son who had engaged in ungodly activities. Her cheeks
grew hot at the reminder. She knew he wasn‘t the same man he
was back then, but part of her had a difficult time looking
beyond his past.
As Neil clicked the reins on the geldings, she closed her
eyes, trying not to cry. Of all people who treated her with
kindness, it had to be the one person she didn‘t want to be seen
in public with.
What kind of woman am I to deny him?
Biting back a wave of self-loathing, she opened her eyes
and turned to walk down the street, past the quiet park and
closed businesses. She found her way to her white church
where the people in her familiar world gathered inside to catch
up on what was happening to everyone else. The only time Jim
would touch her was when they arrived at the chur ch. He held
her arm. Of course, he patted her hand on occasion, but he
only hugged her to initiate lovemaking.
Those sessions didn‘t come often. She didn‘t care much
for the grunting and huffing and puffing of the whole thing,
and it seemed to her that it never lasted beyond a couple
minutes. It was the only time he kissed her, which was why she
looked forward to it. She didn‘t know what was so great about
it other than the holding and kissing. But since finding out
about her pregnancy, he said there was no need to try for a baby
and that was it. And she discovered that she didn‘t miss it at all.
Her face flushed with heat. She hated Jim. Stopping on
the block that led to her church, she turned around. Maybe she
should go to Neil‘s church this morning. She didn‘t care to be
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reminded of her husband. It didn‘t occur to her how cold he
had been until he left her to the mercy of two thieves.
Someone came up behind her and gave her a big hug.
Sarah! I‘m so glad to see you, and look at your baby!
Forgetting her anger, she smiled and turned around.
Caroline! I missed you.
My husband and I are sorry about what happened with
Jim. What a terrible tragedy.
Yes. What else could she say? That she was glad he
was gone?
Caroline put her hand on her arm. I wish Hubert and
the kids were better. My mother is with them right now so I
can be here. I‘d hoped to see you. I do want you to stay with
us. We certainly have plenty of baby things, but I don‘t want to
risk your little angel getting sick.
Sarah‘s eyes grew wide. Oh, I already found a place.
Really? Where?
She shifted from one foot to the other, the biting chill
stinging her nose. The words had slipped and now she had to
proceed. She released her breath in the cold air. Not far.
When Luke let out a small whimper, she silently thanked him.
Luke has been a real blessing.
Caroline nodded. He must be a comfort at a time like
this.
Caroline and Sarah walked into the church. The white
walls and wooden pews with the wooden pulpit didn‘t seem the
same, and Sarah couldn‘t understand why she felt as if she had
entered someone else‘s church. She grew up here and married
Jim here. It was all she knew. But it didn‘t seem right.
You will sit with me? Caroline asked.
Sarah fought off the wave of claustrophobia that
washed over her. The fifty gabbing people gathering into the
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small space overwhelmed her. She forced her mind on her
dearest friend. I‘m sorry, Caroline. What did you say?
The younger woman‘s face was one of sympathy.
What a terrible ordeal you‘ve been through. It‘s a wonder you
can think with all the grief you‘ve endured. Can I hold your
son?
Sarah handed her Luke and sat next to her. Rachel, her
other friend, came over to express her sympathy, and soon
everyone else followed suit. Everyone asked how she was
doing, and she was as vague as possible about where she found
a place to stay. Fortunately, Luke would cry and she had to
tend to him, giving her a perfect opportunity to avoid their
questions. Though no one mentioned it to her face, she was
well aware that they knew Jim had a gambling secret.
When the preacher stood up, he gave his usual sermon
about the dangers of associating with immoral people. Their
wicked ways will taint you. They will lead you into awful sins.
And don‘t think that just because they say they‘ve changed that
they really have. Their behavior is ingrained into them. They
were born that way and they will always be that way. A man
cannot spend his time cavorting in a whorehouse and be a good
husband. He doesn‘t know the first thing about treating a
woman with respect and love. He will only use women and
defile them with ungodly practices in the bedroom. Such things
are shameful. You will become just as wicked and vile as him.
Sarah knew her face was a bright shade of red. Did he
know? Did they all know where she found shelter? Was that
why he brought up Neil in his sermon? He didn‘t always
discuss this topic. Oh, he must know. Her stomach tensed in
knots. Luke‘s cries didn‘t help matters either. Everyone
seemed to be watching her and shaking their heads. The
preacher even pointed at her. Or at least, she thought he did.
By the end of the sermon, she was sweating.
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Bolting out of her seat, she clutched Luke to her and
rushed to the front door, only to be stopped by a group of men
who blocked her exit, their large backs turned to her. They
seemed oblivious to her. Clearing her throat, she said, Excuse
me, gentlemen. I need to get some fresh air.
They immediately let her pass, and she breathed a sigh
of relief, glad to be out of that restrictive environment. The
cold weather never felt so good on her hot skin.
Sarah? Is something wrong? Rachel called out as she
ran up to her.
Sarah turned to the older woman, noting the concern on
her face. I…I had to take care of Luke. He needed to get
outside.
Rachel pulled her aside so they were out of earshot of
the group of people who mingled on the church steps. We
know, Sarah.
Sarah‘s arms tightened around her son. Her ears
hummed. It couldn‘t be true. She‘d been careful. You…you
do?
It‘s not your fault. We know you are innocent.
It suddenly dawned on her that Rachel wasn‘ t talking
about Neil. What?
Her friend rubbed her back. None of us knew about
Jim‘s gambling problem until his death. We don‘t blame you
for what he did.
Sarah nearly collapsed with relief. I had no idea he did
that.
Of course you didn‘t. It was a horrible shock.
As Sarah allowed herself to be surrounded by people
who offered their comfort to her, she felt a nagging sense of
guilt when she considered how grateful she was that none of
them knew her secret. By the time she met Neil and Emily who
waited for her in the buggy at the vacant spot, she couldn‘t look
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at them. How shameful she was. The preacher called men like
Neil unredeemable sinners, but was she any better when she
refused to acknowledge that a man like Neil had shown her
more kindness in the past few days than the preacher had in the
years she had known him?
Neil wrapped his warm hand around hers, ready to help
her into the buggy. She wanted to thank him, but the tears
came and her voice choked. She couldn‘t have felt worse a bout
herself if she tried.
Are you in pain? he asked, the concern in his voice
making her cry even harder. He gently picked her up and put
her in the buggy next to Emily. He searched his pockets until
he found a handkerchief and offered it to her. I have to get
my mother but then we‘ll be on our way and I‘ll take it slow.
Then I want you to lie down and rest. All right?
Managing a weak nod, she accepted the cloth from him
and pressed it to her eyes. Her guilt weighed down on her like a
pile of bricks. Why did Neil and Emily have to be so nice to
her, showing her more care than most of the people in her life
ever had? Why couldn‘t Neil have been the monster that she
thought he was? And, most of all, why did she have to care
what others thought?
***
Neil didn‘t know what to do about Sarah. Upon
returning home, she took her son to her room and spent the
rest of the afternoon crying. She came to the kitchen and began
cooking supper when his mother insisted on helping which,
according to his mother, only made her break into another wave
of hysterics.
Now, as he talked to his mother while Ben and Cal
cheered Emily on as she rode her horse in the gated section by
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the barn, he was at a loss in knowing what to do. I don‘t
understand crying women, he finally said.
Men usually don‘t. His mother smiled. But I think
she‘s beginning to acknowledge her husband‘s death. Being
around the people who knew him may have reminded her of
him. She lost her husband and her home. She‘s dealing with a
newborn. All of those must have taken a toll on her.
That made sense. Neil agreed with his mother‘s
analysis. The only thing that will get her through it is time.
When his mother announced supper, he helped Emily
unsaddle her horse and washed her up before sitting her at the
table. He noticed that Sarah wasn‘t in the kitchen. Is she still
in her room? he asked his mother.
She nodded. She said she doesn‘t have an appetite. I‘ll
save her some of this meal, and she can eat when she feels up to
it. Meanwhile, would you take this hot cocoa up to her? She
should at least have something to drink.
He took the ceramic mug and went up the stairs. He
cringed. He could hear her crying from behind the closed door.
Grief, he understood. Surely, he endured plenty of it from
Cassie, but the continual sobbing was another thing. Bracing
himself for dealing with a sad woman, he tapped on the door.
Footsteps echoed on the floorboards until Sarah opened
the door. Luke was sleeping in his bassinet. His first instinct
when he saw her puffy eyes and red nose was to take off
running down the steps.
Planting his feet on the floor, he cleared his throat. My
mother said you aren‘t hungry but wanted me to bring you
something to drink.
Her lower lip trembled. I don‘t deserve it.
Please, take it. He thrust it in her direction, the hot
liquid threatening to spill out of the mug. It‘s hot cocoa.
She accepted it. Thank you.
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If you get hungry, we saved a plate for you. All right?
She nodded, staring at the cup in her hands.
He sighed. I know it can‘t be easy for you, what with
losing your husband and all. But you have Luke. He‘s healthy
and a good sleeper. At least you have something to remember
your husband by. Trite words. He knew that‘s all they were,
but he couldn‘t think of anything else to say. Time will ease
your pain.
More tears welled up in her eyes.
Forgive me, Mrs. Donner. I‘m no good at this kind of
thing. I‘ll leave you alone.
He didn‘t wait for her response. Instead, he hastened
down the steps, relieved to be in the kitchen with his mother
and daughter. When Cassie cried, it was a few tears and a
glance in his direction to see if he noticed. When Sarah cried, it
was for real, and he realized that a sincere woman scared him.
He asked his mother to stay and help him with Sarah.
What a crying woman needed was another woman since only
another woman would understand her. But his mother
informed him that Sarah wouldn‘t talk to her. There are some
things too painful to discuss, his mother concluded. Sarah
will heal. In the meantime, I‘ll do the cooking and cleaning.
Neil thought this sounded like a good plan so he asked
Jacob to go into town and pick up his mother‘s things, but
Sarah happened to be walking back to the house after making a
trip to the privy and hurried over to him.
I have to work, she told Neil. Your mother doesn‘t
have to stay here. I know that I‘ve been acting inappropriately
today, but I will make up for it. I promise. Please don‘t send
me and Luke away.
Jacob, will you excuse us? Neil asked his farmhand.
Once Jacob went back to the barn, Neil turned to her,
wondering what she was talking about. What‘s this about me
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sending you and your son away? I don‘t recall saying I was
going to do that.
She clasped her hands together. I haven‘t been doing
my part. You and your mother have been doing everything for
me.
He crossed his arms so he wouldn‘t hold her. She
looked like she needed someone to hug her, but he knew he
wasn‘t the right person to do it. We want to give you time to
absorb everything that‘s happened to you. You‘ve been
through a traumatic experience.
I still need to do what I‘m here for. I appreciate
everything you and your mother have done for me, but I have
to earn my keep. I don‘t usually spend so much time resting.
I‘m going to stop doing that.
Her anxious expression, the way her eyes pleaded with
him, and the way she wrung her hands tore at his heart. I can‘t
believe what I‘m hearing. Sarah, you‘re only human. It‘s all
right to have some help. And don‘t worry that I‘ll send you
away. You can stay for as long as you want.
Obviously, this is a temporary arrangement. I
understand that. I do have a friend who offered me a place to
stay once her family recovers from an illness. She made the
offer today at church. I will try not to be a burden in the time
I‘m here.
Oh.
He didn‘t realize she had another place to go to, and he
questioned why the news upset him. He should be glad for
both of them. He could go back to his normal life and she and
her son would have a permanent place with someone from her
church. Then things could be the way they were meant to be.
And in that moment, it occurred to him that they were worlds
apart. Her church would never accept him, and that meant she
couldn‘t either. She had to accept his help but he knew how the
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world worked. Though she might see him for who he was, her
friends didn‘t. He had been right to let her out of the buggy
where he did so no one would see her with him.
He managed a smile. Well, you don‘t have to worry
about a thing. You‘re welcome here for as long as you need to
be.
She relaxed. Thank you, Mr. Craftsman. I would like
to help your mother wash dishes.
Did you get anything to eat?
Blinking, she shook her head. No. I‘m not hungry.
Far be it from me to tell you what to do but I‘d feel
better if you ate. You need your strength.
You‘re right. I‘ll eat.
He watched her as she walked back to the house. In the
short time she had been there, the place seemed less empty.
But she would be moving out soon and it would be pointless to
try to talk her into staying when she could be with her friend
instead of with him. Though he loved Emily, he couldn‘t talk
to his daughter the way he could talk to an adult, and he felt a
connection with Sarah he hadn‘t felt with anyone in a long time.
It was as if Sarah understood the pain of loneliness, of wishing
for something that would never happen.
That observation, of course, couldn‘t be accurate. He
had longed for Cassie to come around to loving him, but she
didn‘t and after awhile, he gave up. He remained faithful to her,
knowing it was the right thing to do despite her infidelity. He
was actually glad when she asked for the divorce. But
Sarah…She had a good marriage, and though her husband was
dead, she had the memories from their time together. It was
wrong to envy Sarah those memories, and yet, he envied her all
the same. And even though he envied her, he sensed a
common thread between them, which was ridiculous because
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they had nothing in common. Two people couldn‘t have been
more different.
Should I get your mother‘s things? Jacob asked,
interrupting Neil‘s thoughts.
Neil looked at the older man. No. I‘ll send her
home.
Turning to the house, Neil went to do that.
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Chapter Eight
S
arah dried the dishes and put them away, grateful that Neil
was giving her another chance. She had to be strong. She spent
too much time wallowing in her guilt. Guilt that didn‘t solve
anything. Sighing, she closed the last cabinet. If she had the
courage, she would have told Neil to take her directly to the
church. But he understood. He chose to drop her off so no
one would see them together. Closing her eyes, she groaned.
Knowing he understood didn‘t make it any easier .
Sarah, are you all right? Neil‘s mother asked.
Her eyes flew open and she quickly stood straight.
Yes. I‘ll be fine. She smoothed the hand towel and set it on
the back of a chair so it would dry.
Neil entered the house and turned his sky blue eyes to
his mother. Are you ready to head back home?
Gwen shook her head and walked over to him. But
I‘m supposed to stay and help.
I think it‘s best if Sarah has time to figure out how she
wants to run the house.
Sarah glanced at him, noting that he looked her way.
Startled, she averted her gaze and pushed in a kitchen chair.
She knew he was sending his mother home because of her, and
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she was pleased that he took her wishes into consideration. It
was such a new thing for someone to actually listen to her.
Gwen turned to her, her expression soft. Sarah, do
you need my help?
Mother, Neil interrupted. I spoke to Sarah and this
is what we agreed on. Don‘t bring her into this.
Gwen seemed as if she wanted to protest but decided
against it. All right. Let me get my coat. She left the kitchen,
the sound of her shoes clacking along the floorboards of the
hallway.
Sarah fiddled with the hand towel. Thank you. The
yellow cloth fell off the chair, so she bent to retrieve it. She
realized her hands shook as she returned it to the back of the
chair. She hated confrontations.
He shrugged. It wasn‘t a big deal.
She could argue that point. Jim, after all, hadn‘t ever
cared enough to do what she wanted. His mother always came
first.
Emily is due to go to bed in an hour, Neil said.
Since tomorrow is a school day, I‘d like her to get a good
night‘s sleep. Will you tuck her in bed and tell her a bedtime
story? I know that it‘s awkward for you since she‘s having a
tough time with her mother‘s absence.
I‘ll manage. Earlier today, she agreed to let me stay. I
don‘t expect there to be a problem.
He raised a brow on his handsome face. How did you
manage that?
I agreed that if her mother returns, I‘ll sleep on the
couch in the parlor.
He rubbed his eyes, looking weary. I tried to make it
clear that Cassie‘s not coming back.
Walking over to him so that no one would overhear
them, for who knew if Emily would leave her bedroom, she
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said, She obviously loves her mother. I suppose it will take
time before she realizes the truth. She looked at him, realizing
that the strain of watching Emily hope for something that
wasn‘t going to happen was difficult for him. You‘re doing the
best you can.
His hand fell to his side and he took a good look at her,
as if trying to determine whether or not she spoke sincere
words. Finally, he smiled. Thank you.
She wondered how often he heard a kind word. Her
heart twisted in her chest. How many other people responded
to him like she had days ago, like the people in her church did?
His mother entered the kitchen with her coat. All
right. I‘m ready to go.
Neil went over to her and slipped her coat on. Emily!
he called out. Do you want to say good-bye to Grandma? He
winced before looking in Sarah‘s direction. I‘m sorry. Your
son is sleeping, isn‘t he?
A cry from upstairs brought a smile to her lips. I was
going to wake him anyway. He‘s due for another feeding. As
she made her way to the bottom of the stairs, she clear ed her
throat. I do appreciate your help, Mrs. Craftsman.
Anytime. That‘s what I‘m here for.
The woman smiled at her, setting Sarah‘s mind at ease.
She hadn‘t wished to upset her.
Emily rushed down the steps. Grandma, you‘re
leaving? Why? You were supposed to tuck me into bed and tell
me a story about how my ma couldn‘t wait for me to be born.
Sarah paused, her foot on the first step, unsure of
whether or not she should leave. She wanted to be sure Emily
was fine with her tucking her in.
I‘ll have to do that some other time, sweetie, Gwen
told the girl. I apologize for breaking my promise. I‘ll tell you
that story next Sunday.
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Emily frowned but nodded. All right.
Good girl. She hugged her, her eyes twinkling with
the love she had for the girl. Now, you mind Mrs. Donner.
She‘ll tuck you into bed tonight so your pa can take me home.
I‘m sure that Mrs. Donner knows a bedtime story you haven‘t
heard yet. That will be exciting, won‘t it?
Emily‘s dubious expression gave Sarah i nsight into the
girl‘s skeptical nature. Do you know a new bedtime story?
Sarah grinned. I know a couple of good stories. You‘ll
have to tell me if you‘ve heard them or not.
The girl seemed interested in the challenge. I‘ll tell you
if I heard them.
Please do. I‘m sure you can even tell me a really good
one.
A wide smile spread across her face. I do! I know lots
of good ones. She peered up the steps. Will you bring the
baby?
Sarah‘s attention returned to her crying son. I will.
Oh good!
Neil clapped his hands together. Well, since
everything‘s settled, Grandma and I will head out. I won‘t be
back until about two and a half hours. He kissed Emily‘s
forehead. Go easy on Mrs. Donner. No scary stories. We
don‘t want her to stay up all night because she‘s too afraid to
sleep.
Sarah hid her chuckle at his joke. She didn‘t realize he
had a sense of humor. It was nice to see that being shunned by
most of the people in town didn‘t take his joy away. After she
said good-bye to them, she led Emily up the steps and let the
girl help her change Luke‘s diaper.
Emily scrunched her nose and waved a hand in front of
her face. That stinks!
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She nodded. Would you believe that a lady at church
told me that newborns don‘t have stinky diapers?
She was lying.
Either she lied or she forgot. She‘s eighty so she hasn‘t
changed a diaper in a very long time.
She must have been lying. There‘s no way a person
can forget how awful that smells.
Sarah laughed as she set the dirty cloth diaper in a pail
filled with water and ammonia. I‘ll have to wash it with the
other used diapers.
Emily walked over to the wardrobe and peered in the
partially opened door. Mrs. Donner, can I ask you a
question?
Sarah fastened the pins on the new diaper while her son
kicked his feet and arms into the air. Yes. What do you want
to know?
Why don‘t you have any pretty clothes?
She put her son on the thick baby blanket on her bed
and worked on swaddling him. What do you mean by pretty
clothes, Emily?
The little girl shook her head, her long curls bouncing
around her shoulders. Your dresses are dull colors. You only
wear browns, blacks and grays. She inspected the dresses
hanging in the wardrobe again. They don‘t have any nice
designs on them either. They‘re plain.
Oh. Well, I was taught that it‘s important for a woman
to dress modestly.
What does =modestly‘ mean?
She shrugged. I suppose it means that I‘m not to draw
attention to myself.
Why not?
Aware that Emily was staring at her, she messed up on
swaddling her son and unwrapped the blanket so she could do
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it right. Because men are weak and beauty tempts them into
doing something wrong. It‘s up to women to dress in such a
way that will not lead them to have impure thoughts.
What are impure thoughts?
Her face flushed. Certainly, she wasn‘t the person to be
answering these questions. Emily, after all, wasn‘t her daughter.
Luke grunted and kicked his blanket off of him. Perhaps you
should talk to your father about this.
He says that I should wear whatever I want, as long as
I‘m fully covered. And he lets me wear pinks and purples.
They are my favorite colors. One time, he even said that men
like looking at pretty ladies and that I will have my pick of men
when I get older.
Sarah gasped, forgetting her squirming son. She
couldn‘t believe Neil would fill his daughter‘s head with such
immoral thinking. Maybe the people at her church were right to
avoid him.
Emily didn‘t seem to notice Sarah‘s shock, for she
continued. Of course, I‘ll have to be very careful in who I let
court me. Pa says that I need to pick the right kind of man. It
doesn‘t matter what he looks like. He has to be a good person.
He needs to be honest, decent, hardworking, and loyal. He has
to only be with me and no one else. He has to appreciate me
and love me. Love means that he will put my wishes first and
always be kind and considerate to me. Pa says that if a man
treats me like I‘m the most important person in the world, then
he‘s the right one.
Sarah relaxed. That didn‘t sound bad. In fact, it
sounded rather nice. How often she had wished Jim would
have considered her thoughts and feelings. Sighing, she
returned to her task of bundling her son.
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You are pretty. Why do you hide it? Emily asked as
she twirled around the room with her arms stretched out. She
seemed to enjoy the way her dress twirled around her ankles.
And she had no idea that she possessed an uncanny
ability to catch Sarah off guard. I don‘t try to hide it.
Sure you do. I remember how my mother looked, and
she used to let her hair down. She looked best that way. She
did pull her hair back when she had to, but she said that buns
were for old, miserable women who couldn‘t find a man. Then
she would wear pinks, purples and yellows. I heard many
people compliment her beauty. People could say that about you
too if you dressed better and let your hair down.
That might be true, but I believe the inward person is
more important than how one looks on the outside.
Emily seemed to think over her words. It is important
to be nice. No one likes a rude person. But I don‘t see what is
wrong with looking as nice as you can. If men get the wrong
idea, you need to put a rock in your purse and whack him on
the head with it. That‘s what my pa says I should do in a case
like that.
Her jaw dropped. He told you to do what?
Pa wants to be sure I can protect myself. He even
taught me how to throw a good punch.
Sarah blinked, stunned. She shook her head and forced
herself to focus on finishing her task. Neil had to be one of the
most unconventional thinkers she had ever met. Imagine,
telling a little girl to look pretty and teaching her to punch boys
out! Such things weren‘t proper for girls. But Emily wasn‘t her
child, so she had no right to interfere.
When Luke was properly swaddled and moved his head
and mouth in search of sustenance, Sarah decided it was time to
feed him. Are you ready for that bedtime story?
Yes! Emily ran out of t he room.
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Despite the odd conversation, Sarah found that she
enjoyed talking to Emily. She grinned and joined Emily in her
bedroom so she could tuck her into bed.
***
Three days passed and Sarah got ready for Jim‘s funeral.
She had to let out a few seams in her black dress since it didn‘t
fit right around her waistline and hips anymore. Sighing, she
tried not to think about how her figure had suffered from the
process of carrying a baby for nine months. It was vanity to
compare herself to how she fit a dress before getting pregnant,
and despite what Emily thought, being attractive wasn‘t proper.
So why did it pain her to look at the extra weight that
surrounded her belly where she had once been flat? She wasn‘t
overweight, and the dress hid her imperfections. Still, it wasn‘t
pleasant to think about, so she focused on the blessing of
having her long-awaited child.
She straightened out the skirt of her dress, making sure
she looked presentable for her husband‘s funeral. She put on
her gray wool coat and scarf. Picking up her son, who was
bundled in two layers of clothes and a thick blanket, she went
down the stairs where Neil waited for her so he could take her
to the cemetery.
Would you prefer to go with one of the farmhands?
he asked as he stood up from the table and put his cup into the
empty sink. I planned to find a remote spot to drop you off so
it will appear as if you walked to the gravesite.
I‘ll go with you.
He nodded and opened the door for her. While she
passed through, she noted the pleasant smell of soap he bathed
with the last evening. Strolling with her across the dry lawn, he
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said, I plan to go to the mercantile. Is there anything you
would like me to pick up for you?
Would you buy cloth? I need a new dress. That was
true. The ones she had were either from before or while she
was expecting, and those no longer fit right.
Once he helped her into the buggy and they were on
their way, she took a deep breath, noting the sting of the frosty
wind as it filled her lungs.
He motioned to the gloomy sky. I think it‘s going to
snow tonight. The clouds are just the right shade of gray for
it.
She directed her gaze to him, taking in his profile.
Everything about Neil Craftsman seemed strong and masculine,
but when he smiled, he softened, giving away the tenderness
that existed beneath his hard exterior. Watching him with
Emily showed her a side of him she never would have guessed
was there. It was obvious that he adored his daughter but took
care not to spoil her. He seemed determined that she would
grow up to be a gracious and kind woman.
Why did the people at her church insist that he was a
monster? Her conscience pricked at her. She was just as bad as
them, for she refused to be seen with him. Unease set into her
bones as she looked at the gentle rolling hills. She stuck to her
side of the buggy so she wouldn‘t accidently brush her arm with
his.
They spent most of the ride to town in silence. Neil
would make a comment once in awhile regarding the weather or
something Emily did. Sarah managed to offer a polite reply,
knowing her mounting tension made it difficult to be a good
conversationalist.
Finally, he said, I know it can‘t be easy to go to your
husband‘s funeral. I also know saying that I‘m sorry doesn‘t
ease the pain of losing him.
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She glanced at him, as he looked straight ahead while he
led the horses to an old dirt road that rounded the back of the
cemetery. Losing Jim wasn‘t anything like she imagined it
would be while he lived. She thought she would be devastated
to lose him, but she actually felt relieved. He wasn‘t around to
dictate how she did things, such as what to cook, how to
arrange things in the house, or where to go or not go in town.
Neil left the decision of what to cook up to her and even let her
move some items around in the kitchen and the parlor so they
were easier for her to get to. He offered to have one of the
farmhands take her into town whenever she needed. He even
gave her some money for anything she might need for her
duties around the house or for Luke. She hadn‘t imagined that
a woman could experience the freedom of making her own
decisions, and she found that she enjoyed it.
However, going to a funeral was another story. She
dreaded it. I‘ll be glad when it‘s over, she replied, her voice
low.
I can imagine.
No, I don’t think you can.
All the people, all the questions,
and, God help her, Jim‘s mother would be there.
He pulled the horses to a stop and set the brake. He
approached her side and offered his hand to her. I‘ll pick you
up here. We‘re behind enough trees so no one will see me.
Hesitant, she rubbed her son‘s back. Bracing herself,
she dared to speak, fearful of his reply. You must think I‘m
rude.
To her surprise, he shook his head. No. Not rude.
Just smart. The people you know won‘t approve if you‘re seen
with me. You lost your husband and your home. You can‘t
afford to have people avoid you. You need all the support you
can get. I even told Emily that she can‘t tell the other kids.
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His kind words, that were meant to soothe her
conscience, only served to make her feel worse. Biting her
tongue so she wouldn‘t cry, she accepted his hand and let him
help her to the ground. She stood next to him for a moment
and marveled that he seemed like a tower of strength. She
desperately needed that strength for the unpleasant encounter
she was bound to have with Jim‘s mother, but she knew she
couldn‘t ask Neil to go with her.
Neil smiled at her, his expression sympathetic. Just
worry about yourself and your son, all right?
Nodding, she turned to the cluster of evergreens in
front of her. This was it. One more encounter with Jim‘s
mother and she would be free of the woman, once and for all.
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Chapter Nine
S
arah‘s nerves were on edge as Jim‘s mother ran over to her.
The overweight fifty-two-year-old woman dabbed her tears with
the black handkerchief that matched her dress and hat.
I was beginning to wonder if you were coming, she
told Sarah, her voice choking up. Poor Jim. Someone as kind
as my son shouldn‘t have died so young. Oh, how lovely to see
his child. Is it a boy or a girl?
Sarah looked at her sleeping child and noticed that Jim‘s
mother extend her arms to Luke. Sarah had the sudden urge to
take her child and escape. Jim hadn‘t cared about Luke. It
didn‘t feel like Luke even had a father. She forced her arms to
cooperate with her mind‘s command to let Beatrice Donner
hold her grandson.
Beatrice‘s tears flowed freely down her pudgy cheeks.
How lovely. Yes, you are a sweet little thing, are you not? she
cooed to the baby. Glancing at Sarah, she asked, Is this a girl
or a boy?
She blinked at the woman‘s impatient tone. A boy,
she squeaked. She shoved her hands into her pockets so the
intimidating woman wouldn‘t see her trembling hands.
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A boy! How wonderful! Yes, a precious boy. Little
Jim.
Clearing her throat, she spoke up. Actually, his name
is Luke.
The woman frowned. Why?
Because I like that name and Jim didn‘t care if I named
him that or not.
Oh, he did care. The woman pressed Luke close to
her bosom, sending a sudden wave of panic through Sarah.
Beatrice would give Luke back to her, wouldn‘t she? Beatrice
clucked her tongue at her. Even if Jim didn‘t voice his wish to
name this precious gift after him, he most certainly wanted a
namesake. All men do. Why, I named Jim after his father.
And this boy will be Jim too.
You can‘t rename him, Sarah snapped, her irritation
overcoming her fear of the woman.
I can and I will.
But you have no right. I‘m his mother.
And I am the mother of his father. If it weren‘t for
me, Jim never would have been born. Then he wouldn‘t have
married you and had this child.
No, Mrs. Donner. His name is Luke.
It was Luke. It is now Jim.
Sarah clenched her hands in her pockets, wishing she
had a purse with a big rock in it so she could club the bossy
woman over the head with it. Neil‘s advice to Emily shouldn‘t
be confined to hitting men.
The preacher approached them. Sarah, how it grieves
me to bury your husband today. He patted her shoulder. I‘m
sure Jim is up there watching us and hoping we‘ll manage on
without him.
Beatrice sniffled. He most certainly is, Preacher Amos.
My boy had a good heart. He wanted the best for everyone.
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He nodded, his face solemn. The lines on his face
deepened as he frowned. That is true.
I‘m his mother.
Oh, I should have noticed the resemblance.
Sarah studied Beatrice and didn‘t see much similarity
between her and Jim. Jim had been thin, short, and balding.
Beatrice had a head full of graying brown wavy hair tightly
pulled back into a bun that scraped the collar of her coat. She
stood taller than most women and had a rounded appearance.
She truly was a most intimidating woman. But Sarah conceded
that they did have the same round face and narrow, long nose.
Jim had worn glasses and had a pointed chin.
So unlike Neil who was extremely handsome with his
muscular build, strong jaw, high cheekbones and head full of
dark brown wavy hair. She recalled how strong and warm his
hand felt when he helped her out of the buggy. Never had a
touch felt so electric.
Luke‘s cries broke her out of her appalling thoughts,
and she blushed as if the preacher and Jim‘s mother could read
her mind. I‘ll comfort him, she said, eager to hold her son.
Beatrice stepped back. Now, Sarah, don‘t be selfish. I
haven‘t seen my grandson until today and you had all this time
to be with him.
You can‘t deny a grandmother the joy of holding her
grandchild, the preacher agreed. I remember when I first
held my granddaughter. I was proud of my daughter for having
her. Isn‘t it wonderful that God has blessed Jim‘s mother with
a grandson? It takes the edge off the grief. He leaned close to
Sarah and whispered, Remember the commandment to honor
your mother and father, Sarah.
Sarah bit back a sarcastic reply and immediately felt
guilty for thinking an unpleasant thought regarding the
preacher. She watched Beatrice take her son to Jim‘s closed
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brown casket. Tears welled up in her eyes and she quickly
wiped them away with her scarf. She prayed that the funeral
service would end soon so that she could take her son and go
back home.
The preacher turned to her. Come along. We should
start the service.
Reluctant, she followed him to the closed casket and
watched while Beatrice showed Luke to two of her close friends
who had come with her.
Sarah saw Caroline and Rachel heading her way and
turned to them. They embraced her. Warmth flooded her
heart as she held onto them, enjoying their support. I‘m glad
to see you, she told them.
Rachel looked at Sarah with compassionate eyes and
squeezed her hands. We can‘t even begin to imagine what it‘s
like to lose a husband.
I‘ll be fine. Don‘t worry for me, Sarah replied,
releasing her friend‘s hands.
Sarah, Caroline began, with a nudge at her arm, I
have good news. My family is well again, so you are welcome to
come to our home. We cleared out the attic so you and Luke
can stay with us.
Sarah smiled at her friend‘s thoughtfulness. I
appreciate the offer. Really, I do. But I have a permanent place
to stay now.
Oh. Where are you staying?
She glanced from Caroline to Rachel, knowing her
childhood friends could be trusted, but they wouldn‘t
understand why she willingly chose to stay with Neil and Emily.
She didn‘t understand it herself, but she wanted to remain with
them. If she kept it a secret, then no one would have to know.
Neil said she could stay with them as long as she wanted to, and
Emily needed a mother. There was something in the child that
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reminded Sarah of herself. Maybe it was Emily‘s longing for
her mother‘s love and Sarah‘s longing for Jim‘s love that made
her feel close to the girl. They had wished for the unobtainable
in others. Sarah felt it bonded them together. And she did like
Emily‘s inquisitive and fun nature. Despite the fact that her
mother abandoned her, Emily kept her optimism. Her heart
ached to be a mother to the girl.
Sarah? Rachel asked.
Sarah blinked and focused on her friend. What?
Who are you staying with? It can‘t be anyone from our
church. We would have heard if that was the case.
I found a place outside of town, she slowly
responded. I‘m watching a child so I can stay there.
So you found another widow?
Sarah‘s hands clenched around her scarf as she offered a
half-truth. The person‘s spouse is no longer with them.
How lovely, Caroline said. Well, not lovely that you
and this woman lost your husbands but lovely that you two are
there to help each other. You know what I mean?
I do. And Sarah was content to let them assume this
lie. She knew it was wrong to lie, of course, but it would be far
worse to tell them the truth. It looks like the preacher wants
to start.
The three friends grew quiet and huddled together as
Preacher Amos began his sermon. She listened as he droned on
and on about what a great man Jim was, but she suspected the
preacher, along with other church members, were gossiping
about Jim‘s gambling when she wasn‘t around. They would
never approach her about it since she had been married to him.
Oddly, this didn‘t bother her. Perhaps if she cared for Jim, it
would have, but she was glad to see the men lower the casket
into the ground. The only thing that caused her panic was
watching Jim‘s mother cuddling Luke. As soon as the preacher
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dismissed everyone, she left Caroline and Rachel so she could
get to the woman who was walking away from the grave with
her two friends and her son.
Mrs. Donner, she called to Beatrice, not hiding her
irritation as she ran after the woman. I would like to have my
son back. She stopped in front of the woman and made eye
contact, not wavering as she had in the past.
Beatrice shook her head. I‘m just going to take him to
Milly‘s so I can get acquainted with him.
You didn‘t ask me if you could do this. Luke is my son
and I demand you give him back to me.
Beatrice gushed into a fresh round of big, fat crocodile
tears. I just watched my son get buried and now I am
forbidden from seeing my only grandchild. The only grandchild
I‘ll ever have, I might add. What kind of daughter -in-law are
you to grieve me beyond that which I can bear?
Rachel and Caroline caught up to them.
It is you who grieves me, Mrs. Donner, Sarah
snapped. Ever since I married Jim, you have been a thorn in
my side, and if you think I‘m going to let you continue to prick
me now that he‘s not here to stop me, you have another thing
coming. She held out her arms. Now, give me my son before
I pull your hair out!
A couple of men and women ceased their conversing to
watch the showdown. Sarah ignored them, knowing very well
that she gave them more ammunition for the rumor mill. But
she would go to hell and back if it meant getting her son from
that horrid woman.
Mrs. Donner, Caroline started, running her tongue
across her lips. Sarah will be at church this Sunday. Maybe
you can see him there, and I‘m sure Sarah will be willing to have
lunch at my place after the service. You‘re certainly welcome to
join us too. You‘ll get to see Luke again.
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You mean, Jim. His name is Jim, Beatrice insisted.
No. His name is Luke! Sarah was screaming but she
didn‘t care. She had as much of this woman as she could take.
Truth be told, it was amazing she even lasted this long with
being civil to the miserable old coot.
Sarah, it‘s not wise to make a scene, Rachel
whispered. Turning to Jim‘s mother, she said, My friend has
offered to have you over for lunch on Sunday. Will you accept
or not?
Beatrice‘s mouth formed a thin line. I accept.
Sarah? It is only fair to let the grandmother see her
grandchild, Rachel softly added.
Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat. It didn‘t occur
to her that having a baby meant she would have to deal with
Jim‘s mother. She assumed that once Jim was dead, she was
free from her. Now she felt trapped. Trying to remain cordial,
she said, I won‘t leave Omaha to live with you, Mrs. Donner.
I like it here.
Of course, you won‘t, Caroline soothed. No one
expects you to leave everyone you know.
Beatrice frowned. I don‘t recall offering you a place to
stay. I merely wanted to visit with my grandson, little Jim.
Sarah‘s hands tightened into fists. His name-
Very well! Caroline clapped her hands. So it‘s
agreed. Mrs. Donner, I look forward to having you as my guest
on Sunday.
Rachel eased the baby out of Beatrice‘s arms and
handed him to Sarah who clutched him to her bosom, feeling
like a mother bear protecting her cub. Luke squirmed in her
arms, so she relaxed her grip.
Sunday, Mrs. Donner remarked, her expression cool.
Sunday, Rachel and Caroline replied in unison.
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Sarah stared straight ahead at the trees, wondering if
Neil had returned yet. She needed to get out of there.
It can‘t be helped, Rachel said, her voice soft. It‘s
not right to keep her away from Luke.
Gritting her teeth, Sarah closed her eyes. I hate her. I
do. I really hate that woman.
Sarah, you don‘t mean that, Caroline admonished.
Yes, I do. Sarah shook her head. Forgive me for
snapping at you. It‘s just that I could never please her, and she
spent all of her time with Jim while ignoring me. She can‘t even
accept the name I gave my son. I know all she wants is to see
Luke, and she couldn‘t care less if I‘m there or not.
Oh, Sarah. That‘s not true.
Don‘t tell me what is true and what is not true. I was
there all those times Jim and I went to visit her , and she sent me
to do all the chores so she could sit and talk to him. Jim never
once defended me, no matter how many times she criticized
me. He said it was my duty as his wife to make his mother
happy and comfortable.
Why didn‘t you tell us this before? Rachel asked.
Jim was always around, Sarah replied. Or if he
wasn‘t around, he‘d find out about it. We had many terrible
fights because of her. I didn‘t wish to make the situation
worse.
Caroline sighed. Well, that doesn‘t change the fact that
she is Luke‘s grandmother. If you didn‘t get along with Luke‘s
wife and Luke died, would you want his wife to forbid you to
see your grandchild?
Sarah‘s cheeks grew hot. I wouldn‘t be rude to my
daughter-in-law. If I don‘t like something she does, I‘ll keep my
mouth shut.
How can you be sure you‘ll do that?
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Frustrated, she struggled to keep her words clear so she
wouldn‘t stammer. Because I refuse to be miserable. I know
what it‘s like to be miserable. Married to a miserable man who
had a miserable mother. There was absolutely no joy in my
marriage, and I‘m sick and tired of living with people who have
nothing good to say or do for other people.
Her friends gasped, and Caroline brought her hand to
her mouth. Oh Sarah, you don‘t mean that!
She can‘t, Rachel insisted. It‘s the devil himself
talking through her.
Sarah‘s body shook with anger as she noted all the
familiar people who were staring at her. Don‘t you all have
something better to do than to be in my business?
It‘s the grief talking, Rachel said. Sarah, maybe it‘s
time you went home. Take some time to work through your
feelings.
Angry but not knowing what to do about it, she nodded
and stormed off, aware of the murmurs going on around her.
More gossip, more humiliation, more judgments. If they knew
what Jim was really like, would they insist on adding to her
misery? By the time she reached Neil‘s buggy, she had cooled
down enough so she could manage a smile in his direction.
He returned her smile and held his hand up. Just a
moment. I want to show you what I got for you.
Startled, she stopped and watched as he took out a bag.
He pulled out a light green cotton cloth with white
polka dots on it. This is for your dress. Then he showed her
a barrette and a matching ribbon. The ribbon is for your hair
or for the dress. It‘s your decision on what you want to do with
it.
Dumbfounded, she said the first thing that came to her
mind. I don‘t wear green.
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I know but you should. Green will go well with your
blond hair and fair complexion. But if you don‘t like green, I
also bought yellow and purple.
She saw that the lavender fabric was a solid color while
the yellow fabric had small white flowers on it.
Yellow and purple will look good on you too. I did get
purple and yellow ribbons to match.
As he put the items back into the bag, she didn‘t have
the heart to tell him that she wouldn‘t be making a dress from
any of those fabrics. He seemed proud of himself for buying
them for her, and she couldn‘t fault him for being generous.
Thank you, she finally said as he helped her into the
buggy.
You‘re welcome.
Once he sat next to her and picked up the reins, she
asked, Did you mean what you said about my being able to
stay at your place for as long as I wished?
He glanced at her before he urged the geldings forward.
I wouldn‘t have said it if I didn‘t mean it. Life‘s too short to
mince words.
Well, that‘s good because, as it turns out, I won‘t be
going to live with my friend after all.
Never mind that she made a conscious decision to stay
with him and Emily. She chose to let him think that her friend
changed her mind rather than tell him the truth, that she found
joy in being near him and Emily after spending years of misery
in being married to Jim. She did like Caroline. But something
about Neil and Emily drew her to them.
Neil nodded. Then I‘ll tell Emily when I bring her
home from school.
Emily‘s a wonderful girl. You‘ve done a good job of
raising her.
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I hope so. I tend to second guess myself. But a girl
definitely needs a woman around.
Feeling better about her and Luke‘s future, she breathed
a sigh of relief and enjoyed the ride back to her new permanent
home.
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Chapter Ten
A
month later, Neil shook hands with Dan Adair. So I‘ll
meet you at the bank in a month.
Looking forward to it, Dan replied. He turned to the
pasture where Neil‘s prime cattle chewed the grass. Yep.
Those will make good steaks.
Neil waited until Dan headed out on his horse before he
rode his horse back to the house. Once he arrived at the barn
where Jacob, Cal, and Ben waited for him, he broke into a wide
grin. Dan Adair said yes. That means I can give you all a
raise.
Wahoo! Ben threw hi s hat into the air.
Jacob shook his head at Ben before he turned to Neil
and grinned. You won‘t hear any complaints here.
Neil chuckled at their enthusiasm. It felt good to raise
their wages. They certainly deserved it. Go out and celebrate.
I can handle the rest of the day by myself.
The men didn‘t argue. Instead they said, Yes, boss,
and scampered to get their horses.
Neil hastened to the house. Doing business with Dan,
one of the wealthiest people in Omaha, was no small
accomplishment. Dan was very selective when it came to
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choosing cattle to purchase since he prided himself on buying
the best of the best. Neil‘s careful breeding and pasture
selection enabled his cattle to thrive, but it was the help of his
farmhands that got the tasks done.
As soon as he opened the kitchen door, Sarah turned
from the dough she was rolling out on the work table. How
did it go?
He took his hat off and put it on the hat rack. Good.
Dan said he‘ll buy the cattle.
She smiled widely at him, her eyes twinkling. That is
good news! Your hard work has paid off.
It made him feel even better that she shared in his joy.
I learn as I go.
Well, congratulations.
He glanced at the clock. He had another half hour
before he had to pick Emily up from school. Looking at Sarah
who had returned to the dough, he noticed that she was wearing
a plain gray dress and had her hair pulled back in a bun. Have
you had time to start a new dress?
She stopped rolling the dough for a moment before
continuing. No. I‘ve been too busy with everything else.
She did work from the moment she woke up to the
moment she retired for the night. He couldn‘t expect her to do
everything. He decided to make it easier for her. I‘ll get a
seamstress in town to make the dress for you.
No!
He blinked at her quick response.
Setting the rolling pin beside the dough, she took a knife
and began cutting into it. He couldn‘t be sure, but he thought
her movements were stiff and anxious. She shook her head and
a few stray strands of her fine golden hair tumbled from the
bun. He thought it made her look softer. Not that she wasn‘t
soft to begin with, but he rather fancied her hair best when it
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was down. Startled at his thoughts, he directed his attention to
what she was rambling about.
I mean, I can do it myself, she continued in hurried
sentences. I like to make my own dresses. I‘ll start it tonight.
Surprised that this should cause her alarm, he held his
hand up to silence her. I‘m not trying to rush you. You ca n
start whenever it‘s convenient.
Her shoulders relaxed and she turned back to the
dough. This time when she cut into it, she took her time,
carefully tracing the edges of her squares with the knife. I
know you‘re helping me. I appreciate it.
A movement from the bassinet caught his attention. He
smiled. He looked forward to coming home to a baby. I see
Luke is awake. He sauntered to the corner of the kitchen and
knelt in front of the boy, swaddled in a blue blanket, who
seemed to be content to look around the room. He laughed,
enjoying the baby‘s open curiosity about the world he was born
into. Hi there, Luke. How are you doing?
The boy peered up at him and gurgled a response.
I see his eyes are getting lighter, Neil noted.
Yes, Sarah replied. I don‘t expect them to stay blue.
Neither Jim nor I had blue eyes.
What color eyes did your husband have? Not that he
cared but he thought it would be rude if he didn‘t ask.
Brown.
And so do you. I‘d say that this little man here is going
to have brown eyes then.
Luke snorted.
Neil chuckled. Well, I didn‘t say that life was fair.
You‘re stuck with the cards you‘re dealt, mister.
Sarah turned from the dough and placed a hand on her
hip. And what is wrong with brown eyes? Though she
sounded offended, her slight grin betrayed her humor.
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Neil shrugged. Nothing if you like boring.
Boring? This time a hint of laughter laced her voice.
Yes. Brown is a boring color.
Well, you have brown hair.
Brown hair is fine.
She shook her head. This is a fine example of
hypocrisy.
Raising an eyebrow, he said, People would look strange
if they had green or blue hair. Brown is a necessary hair color.
Though I do admit, blonds have a certain appeal to them. Why
don‘t you let your hair down more often so I can enjoy looking
at it?
She gasped and reached up to touch her bun, as if
making sure it was still in place. Neil Craftsman, you are
bold.
He picked Luke up and focused on him so that she
wouldn‘t detect the heat r unning up his neck and coloring his
face. It‘d been a long time since he talked to a woman that way.
Granted, I am bold. I confess that I enjoy looking at a pretty
woman who also happens to be nice.
He hadn‘t thought an attractive woman could be a
friend, but she was proving him wrong on that. His initial
impression of her had tur ned out wrong. She was sincere and
kind. He envied Jim. Jim lucked out when he married her.
A foul odor took his mind off the intrusive thoughts of
Sarah and her late husband. He looked in her direction. I
think Luke‘s given you an unpleasant surprise.
She took a moment to respond. When she did, she
wiped her hands on her apron and came over to him. I‘ll
change him.
I‘ll do it. I used to change Emily. I think I still have a
clothes pin upstairs I can use to plug my nose. Why don‘t you
finish up whatever you‘re cooking? Then, with any luck, you
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can get started on that dress. I‘d like to see you in a better color
than brown, gray or black.
Without waiting for her answer, he climbed the steps to
change Luke.
***
Sarah managed to finish making supper, but she had a
hard time concentrating. Neil had a way of unnerving her, and
to her surprise, she liked it. She picked her son up and sat in
the rocker with him so she could nurse him while the meal
cooled. Neil would be returning with Emily soon, so the stew,
potatoes and freshly baked biscuits would be ready when they
got home. For the moment, she had the house to herself.
Gazing down at her son, she caressed his cheek while he
suckled from her breast, relieving the fullness in it. She learned
that if she didn‘t nurse him on a regular basis, her breasts
became uncomfortable. It wasn‘t something anyone told her.
She got lectures on how to raise him and how to maintain the
balance between her husband and child. But no one told her
the basics in caring for a newborn. She realized that Jim‘s
mother would have been the one to do this, but she was glad to
have Neil‘s mother teach her instead. It wasn‘t diff icult to
change diapers or bathe Luke, but she worried if she performed
her tasks correctly. Feeding him was easy since nature took care
of that.
Jim‘s mother. She didn‘t know what to do about
Beatrice Donner. She faked an illness last Sunday in order to
avoid another lunch at Caroline‘s because it meant she‘d have to
endure Beatrice again. Every Sunday that woman snatched
Luke right out of her arms as soon as she arrived at church and
wouldn‘t give him back until it was time to leave Caroline‘s
house. As if that wasn‘t bad enough, ever since her outburst at
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the funeral, the people she grew up with whispered and shot
curious glances in her direction. She actually approached one of
the women about it, but the busybody denied having pointed at
her and snickering with her friend. Of course, she denied it.
There was no reason to admit it.
No one knew where she was staying, and this offered
her a safe haven. At least here, she had peace. And Neil was
turning out to be a good friend. Someone she couldn‘t
remember had told her that he changed for the better after
Emily was born, despite his lapse in judgment one night five
years ago. She didn‘t know the details. She only heard that he
went to the saloon, drank some alcohol, gambled, and visited a
soiled dove‘s room. That knowledge alone used to frighten and
disgust her. But then she got to know him and saw how he
loved Emily.
She didn‘t know a man more devoted to his child. And
he helped her with Luke. There was something tender in the
way he cared for both children. She‘d have to be made of stone
not to find it touching. Surely, a man who lived a scandal-free
life for five years and opened his home to a widow and her baby
couldn‘t be as wicked as Preacher Amos claimed. Maybe he
had been wicked at one time, but didn‘t everyone deserve
another chance? What good was redemption if only a select
few got to experience it?
She switched Luke to her other breast. Darting a glance
at her wardrobe, she spied the colorful fabrics Neil bought her.
Green, yellow, and purple. They were pretty, but if she wore
attractive colors, wouldn‘t she be inviting the wrong kind of
attention from men? If the preacher was correct, nothing good
came from such attention.
Neil called me pretty.
She didn‘t do anything different than
when she lived with Jim. She wore the same bland colors and
pulled her hair back when Jim was alive, and he never once
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called her pretty. But Neil called her pretty, even when she tried
to hide it. Why the memory made her heart beat faster and her
face flush, she didn‘t understand. Well, she did understand it in
part. It pleased her. Vanity. It was all vanity, and vanity was
wrong.
What if it’s not wrong to be beautiful?
Her first impulse was
to reject the question. But then she asked herself, why would
she reject it? Because her parents, Jim, and the preacher simply
told her that being
beautiful was wrong? What if
they
were
wrong? What if being beautiful was actually permissible? They
had been wrong about Neil. What if they were wrong about
beauty?
She took a deep breath, unsettled by the way her
thoughts were going. She hadn‘t taken the time to question her
beliefs before, and she wasn‘t sure she wanted to now.
The kitchen door opening from downstairs caught her
attention. Neil and Emily were home. Noting that her son had
fallen asleep, she carefully pulled him away from her breast and
wrapped him in his blanket. Once she set him in the bassinet,
she buttoned her clothing and left the room.
The scene that greeted her as she eased down the steps
caused a smile to form on her lips. Emily tugged on Neil‘s coat
as he tried to get it off. Sarah noticed the amusement in his
expression.
Do you mean it, Pa? Are we going tomorrow?
Right after breakfast, he replied, finally succeeding in
hanging his coat up. He crossed his arms and gave Emily a
pointed look. Someone needs to pick her coat off the floor.
Sarah‘s not your maid, you know.
Oh! As if she just discovered her folly, Emily
hastened to hang her coat on the lower hook. There. She‘ll
never know.
That‘s what you think, Sarah spoke, her tone playful.
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Neil and Emily looked in her direction.
Fortunately for you, I have a soft spot for little girls.
Sarah went to the working table and placed food on everyone‘s
plates. How was school today?
It was fine. But what I‘m really looking forward to is
hunting with Pa tomorrow.
Sarah blinked. Watching the girl sit next to her father at
the table, she realized that Emily was telling her the truth. She
set the plates down and sat across from them. Hunting?
Yes. Pa says that I‘ll even get a chance to shoot a deer
if we see one.
Sarah turned her attention to Neil who was eating his
meal as if this was the most natural conversation in the world.
You‘re going to let her shoot a gun?
He nodded. I can‘t exactly let her shoot with her
finger.
Emily giggled. You‘re silly, Pa.
He grinned and winked at her. I do what I can to
make my favorite daughter laugh.
Though Sarah enjoyed the exchange taking place in
front of her, she was anxious to settle the matter at hand. I
don‘t think it‘s right for a girl to shoot a gun.
You‘ve never shot a gun? Emily dropped her fork so
it clattered on her plate. Pa, can you imagine that?
Sarah bristled and shifted in the chair. I don‘t want to
shoot a gun. That activity is for men, not women.
Says who? Neil lifted his eyes to Sarah.
Flushing, she shrugged. It‘s not proper. The man is
supposed to be the protector of the home.
What happens if the man isn‘t there to do the
protecting? What do you think the settlers did when they
journeyed west for land? The men taught women how to shoot
guns. I should teach you how to do it.
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Her jaw dropped. She watched, dumbfounded, as he
took a big bite of stew. He couldn‘t be serious!
Emily squealed with delight. Can I teach her too?
He nodded and swallowed the food in his mouth. You
sure can, honey.
Well…I mean… Sarah put hands on the napkin resting
on her lap and looked at Neil. The next thing I know, you‘ll
be saying that women should wear pants!
I have a pair of pants, Emily spoke up, seeming to be
unaware of Sarah‘s shock.
You put pants on your daughter? Sarah asked him.
He frowned. Of course, I do. I can‘t have her riding a
horse and helping with the farm work in a dress. And hunting
isn‘t comfortable in a dress. Honestly, Sarah. I don‘t see what
the problem is. Women in this part of the country shoot guns
and wear pants. It‘s not like it is back east. Life is harder here.
Not in a town the size of Omaha. The more it
expands, the more women can act like women.
He sighed and tore his biscuit in half. But some of us
are farmers. And that means there are farmers‘ wives who‘d
rather do the hard work in a pair of pants. Some women even
hunt for food. That‘s what Em and I are doing tomorrow. We
plan to get a deer for you to cook. Would you really have her
out there in a dress?
But what about those pants that look like skirts? At
least those are feminine.
He brought the biscuit halfway to his mouth and
stopped. That‘s not a bad idea.
Encouraged, she offered, I can make one for her.
Then she‘ll look…pretty when she acts like a boy.
She‘s not acting like a boy. She‘s acting like a girl
who‘s been raised on a farm.
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She had a hard time accepting it, though it was logical.
Still, Preacher Amos would never approve. But he wasn‘t here,
so what did his opinion matter? She stabbed her potato with
her fork and stuck it in her mouth, noting the buttery flavor.
For some reason, the food tasted better than it used to when
Jim was alive. She sipped on the milk. Even the drinks had
more flavor in them. Of course, she knew it was the people she
ate with that marked the difference.
So what if Neil had a tendency to treat Emily like a son?
Did a man know any better? This was why she stayed here, to
remind both of them that Emily was a girl. Content, she
finished her potato and listened as they discussed where to hunt
the next day.
***
Neil stepped into the house, assured that the animals
were taken care of for the night. After he put his hat and coat
aside, he made his way up the stairs and paused at the last step
when he saw Sarah pulling the pink blanket up to Emily‘s chin.
Sarah sat on Emily‘s bed, smiling and talking to her. Emily said
something and Sarah laughed. The soft laughter reminded him
of tinkling bells. The scene brought back the many times when
he pleaded with Cassie to pay attention to Emily. He closed his
eyes, still wishing that Cassie had cared about her daughter.
Footsteps caught his attention. Opening his eyes, he
watched as Sarah closed the bedroom door. When her gaze fell
upon him, she stopped. He took that as his cue to speak. It‘s
nice to watch you with Emily.
The kerosene lamp on the small table in the hallway was
lit enough so he could make out her smile. I have to get Luke
but I could make hot cocoa when I get downstairs. Would you
like some?
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Yes, I would.
I‘ll get Luke and be down shortly.
He nodded as she went to her bedroom. In the light of
the kerosene lamp, he saw her pick Luke up from the bassinet.
She hummed while she set him on the bed to change his diaper.
He recalled the night she gave birth to him and how he watched
them, feeling more alone than he had in his entire life. But
now, he didn‘t feel that aching loneliness. Instead, he felt
connected to the scene playing out in front of him.
He crept across the floor, opened Emily‘s door and saw
that she was fast asleep. His heart warmed when he saw how
well Sarah had tucked his little girl into bed. Sarah was a good
mother. He shut the door and went to the kitchen, deciding
that he would be the one to make hot cocoa that night. It was
the least he could do. Emily had stopped talking as if Cassie
would return. When he ventured to ask her about it, she
remained silent. Most of the time, she hid her pain under
laughter, but there were times when he caught her crying, when
she thought she was alone. He prayed that Sarah‘s presence
would be the balm to soothe Emily‘s wounds.
He made the hot cocoa and had it ready by the time
Sarah came down the steps.
Oh, you didn‘t have to do that, she said, though he
thought he detected a hint of pleasure in her voice.
Shrugging, he motioned for her to sit. He rested a cup
in front of her and sat on the other side of the table. Once in
awhile, I don‘t mind doing a woman‘s task. He kept his voice
light so she understood he jokingly referred to their supper
conversation of treating Emily like a boy.
She eased into her seat, setting Luke on her lap so he sat
up. His back and head rested against her bosom. Luke bobbed
his head for a moment but settled into a comfortable position.
Neil noticed the boy seemed unusually interested in staring at
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him, and he wondered what it was that the boy found so
fascinating about him. Sarah brought the cup to her lips and
took a drink. Even then, Luke didn‘t break eye contact with
Neil.
Finally, Neil reached across the table and tapped the
baby on the nose. He was rewarded with a grunt.
Sarah quickly set the cup down, giggling. You can‘t be
funny when I‘m drinking something. It‘s not fair. Someday I‘m
going to spit my drink out.
He chuckled. That won‘t do.
She wrapped the yellow blanket tighter around Luke. I
notice you let Emily do things that I thought only boys should
do. You also do things that I grew up believing only a woman
should do.
I don‘t believe there is a distinction.
So, you really do consider me to be your equal?
Locking his eyes with hers, he nodded. I do. I know I
haven‘t done a good job of respecting women in the past, but I
do now.
And you treat Emily the way you do because of that?
I want to make sure she understands that just because
she‘s a girl, it doesn‘t mean her opinion is less important than a
boy‘s.
She paused for a moment, as if choosing her words
carefully. And when you take her hunting, let her wear pants,
and have her ride a horse, she‘s learning that she can do
anything a boy can do.
He grinned. I might be biased because I‘m her father,
but I think she‘s better than most of the boys in this area.
There‘s nothing wrong with a father favoring his
child. She sighed and pushed loose strands back into her bun.
Jim didn‘t car e much for Luke. Maybe he would have if he
would have known he had a son on the way. I like to think that
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anyway, especially since the people we associated with thought
boys were more important. They carry on the family name.
Clearing her throat, she shrugged. It doesn‘t matter now
anyway. He‘s not coming back.
Her bland tone surprised him. He expected a heartfelt
declaration in such a statement. You don‘t sound upset by
that.
That makes me a bad wife, doesn‘t it?
He studied her in the dim light of the kerosene lamp.
Her face, filled with a mixture of guilt and sorrow, told him
more than words ever could, and his immediate sense of relief
told him more than he wanted to admit. Then your marriage
wasn‘t what others thought it was.
She shook her head. I used to convince myself it was.
But it was a show to make him look good. Everything he did
was to make himself look good.
I assumed you were happy with him. He drank half
the cocoa in his cup before he continued. It‘s easy to give
others the impression that everything is fine when it isn‘t. For
years, I acted as if Cassie and I had a good marriage. He saw
her nod and realized it was a nod indicating understanding, for
she had done the same thing. The burden he‘d been carrying
for almost nine years suddenly seemed overwhelming. He
needed to tell someone, someone who had gone through their
own travesty of a marriage. I don‘t want Emily to find out.
She adores her mother, and it would devastate her if she knew
why we got the divorce.
Her eyes widened. Surely, she hadn‘t expected this.
You don‘t have to tell me anything.
I wouldn‘t mind someone who‘d listen and keep it to
herself. He studied her, wondering if she would agree to his
terms. When she nodded, he continued. When Cassie and I
divorced, I told everyone it was so she could return to
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Pennsylvania to care for her sick aunt. But that was a lie to
protect Emily. The truth is that Cassie wanted to marry another
man, and I let her.
Her jaw dropped.
Shifting his gaze to the brown liquid in his cup, he
hastened to explain, Cassie and I didn‘t have a good marriage.
I thought we did at first. She was nice and beautiful. I fell in
love with her right away. I thought she loved me too. About
five months into our marriage, the doctor told me that she was
too far along to be carrying my child. I asked her about it and
she confessed that she married me because the father of the
child left her. Well, I wasn‘t one to judge. I had my share of
running around. I was disappointed because I really wanted to
be the father, but I was determined to work through it. I
figured there was no reason why anyone should know the truth.
A month later she received a letter from the father of
the child. She told me that she wanted to go back to him
because she still loved him. I refused. I said that she made her
vows to me. We were bound to be married for the rest of our
lives. She spent the next week acting as if she agreed with me.
Then she made an attempt to leave me. She snuck out in the
middle of the night. When I woke up and she wasn‘t in bed
next to me, I went looking for her. I found her talking to
another man outside the barn. It didn‘t take long to figure out
that he was the one who sent the letter. She wanted to go with
him, but he said he changed his mind. She said that it was his
child, but he said he didn‘t want to be tied down to a child and
left. I was tempted to go back to the house and act as if I didn‘t
hear what happened, but I demanded an explanation. Needless
to say, things went downhill from there. Finally, years later , she
found someone else she wanted to marry, so I let her go. The
only reason I stayed with her was because of Emily.
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Her eyes glistened with unshed tears which she quickly
blinked away. After a long moment, she spoke in a quiet voice.
Emily doesn‘t know you‘re not her father?
He shook his head. No. And I‘d like to keep it that
way.
Of course. She looked down at her son and held him
close. Did Cassie want to take Emily with her?
No, and I was glad. Emily‘s the one good thing Cassie
gave me.
She nodded and took another drink from her cup.
Sighing, she placed the cup on the table. It must be hard then,
knowing she wants her mother to return but knowing she
won‘t.
I hate to see Emily disappointed. Maybe I should have
told her the truth. And that was the part of the burden that
hurt the most. In his desire to idolize Cassie for Emily, he‘d
ultimately prolonged the girl‘s pain.
You‘re doing the best you can. Someday, when I have
to tell Luke about his father, I don‘t think I can tell him that Jim
didn‘t even care that I was expecting. I want him to feel that he
was loved. You want the same for Emily. We all want to be
loved.
And that was something neither Sarah nor Neil
experienced in their marriages. She didn‘t have to say it. He
understood, and that understanding seemed to solidify a bond
between them, giving him hope. Hope in a beautiful woman.
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Chapter Eleven
T
hat Sunday, Neil knocked on Sarah‘s bedroom door. Are
you ready for church? he asked, noting that she sat in her
rocking chair, holding Luke and staring out the window at the
falling snowflakes.
It‘s snowing, she replied, glancing at him.
He entered the room and checked the bucket of
chopped wood by the box stove. She would need more wood
before the day was up. For the time being, her room was
comfortable and warm. Turning his attention to the window,
he said, I don‘t think we‘ll get much snow. The weather is
warm enough so the snow won‘t stick around for long. The
road will be clear enough to get to town and back.
I don‘t think it‘s wise to risk it. It would be best to stay
here.
Frowning, he studied her profile. She was such a
beautiful woman, even with her hair pulled back into a bun and
a gray dress on. He wondered what it was going to take for her
to wear a better color? Shaking his head, he brought his focus
back to the conversation. Sarah, is there a reason you don‘t
want to go to church? You didn‘t go la st week.
I was ill. She continued to stare out the window.
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A headache. I remember.
She nodded but didn‘t say anything else.
Sensing something was amiss, he sat on the edge of her
bed so they were only two feet apart. Leaning forward, he
softly asked, What are you hiding from?
Blinking, she turned her large brown eyes in his
direction, her vulnerable expression filling him with a sudden
urge to protect her from the world and all of its problems.
Jim‘s mother will be at church. Returning her attention to the
window, she spoke in a voice so soft he had to strain to hear
her. I know she has the right to see Luke, but I don‘t want her
to.
Why?
Because it means I have to see her. We never got
along. I tried, at least in the beginning, but nothing I did
pleased her.
She‘s a hard person to deal with?
Yes.
He could relate. Nothing pleased Cassie either, and
after awhile, he gave up trying. It surprised him that he and
Sarah shared so many things in common. He had sensed her
loneliness when she moved in, but it seemed frustration,
heartbreak, and sorrow also bonded them together. He wanted
to hold her, to reassure her that she wasn‘t the only one who
suffered hard emotions but figured it wasn‘t his place to do so.
The click clack of dress shoes echoed off the
floorboards as someone ran up the stairs. Emily rushed into
the room, her cheeks red. Straightening her coat, she
exclaimed, That snow is sticking together! I can make a
snowman if it snows enough. Do you want to help me, Pa?
Peering out the window, he took in the snow still falling.
We might get enough to cover the ground so we can roll up a
large snowball or two. He shifted his gaze to Emily and then
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to Sarah and sighed. He couldn‘t solve Sarah‘s problem, but he
could do his part in giving Sarah more time to figure out how to
handle her mother-in-law. You know, Em, it might be too
slippery to go into town today. I‘m afraid we‘ll have to skip
church.
Yay!
He frowned. You‘re not supposed to be happy about
that.
She put her hand over her mouth, her eyes wide. When
her hand lowered, she said, I‘m sorry. I just didn‘t want to
wait to play outside.
We‘re going to do an extra devotion tonight to make
up for missing church.
That‘s fine, Pa. By then it‘ll be too dark to play
outside.
He wasn‘t sure what to make of his daughter‘s
comment. All right. I‘ll change out of my suit and then we‘ll
see what we can do out there.
Can I go out now?
Yes.
Without hesitation, she sprinted out of the room and
down the steps. The slam of the kitchen door notified him that
she made her way outside.
Sarah chuckled under her breath.
He raised his eyebrow. You just wait until Luke is her
age. He‘ll be doing the same thing.
When she looked at him, mirth replaced the angst in her
eyes. I know. She really is a sweet girl…and honest. If she
doesn‘t like something, she lets you know. She shrugged.
Then again. I suppose all children are natural truth tellers.
I can‘t speak for other children, but Emily definitely
doesn‘t hold anything in. I want you to know that I appreciate
the attention you give her. He set his hands on his knees and
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straightened his spine. As much as I teach her boy things, like
hunting and riding a horse, I realize there‘s a need for her to
learn how to be a girl and, one day, a woman.
Since I‘ve spent my entire life being female, such
lessons come naturally to me.
He laughed. I don‘t doubt it.
A smile lit up her face. But too soon, before he had
time to thoroughly enjoy watching her filled with joy, she
returned to her glum state. I understand that I can‘t keep
avoiding my mother-in-law. I also realize she has a right to see
her grandson. At least I don‘t have to live with her. Jim was
taking me to her so I cou ld stay with her for six months when
we passed through your property.
That‘s why you two were all the way out here.
She nodded. Staring out the window, she whispered, I
am glad I met you. You‘re the first person I met who actually
listens to me. You know, without trying to mold me into
someone I‘m not.
A heat rose to his face that had nothing to do with
physical desire. It was something altogether different, and it
was the most wonderful feeling he ever experienced.
Luke squirmed and scrunched his nose.
She looked at Neil and grinned. I think he‘ll be
complaining if I don‘t feed him.
He stood up. I should go see what kind of mess
Emily‘s managed to make out there. She has a tendency to
throw snowballs at the horses.
Gasping, she turned to him. Oh, she does not.
She‘s a good aim too.
Why, she acts too much like a boy. It‘s a good thing
I‘m here to teach her better manners than that.
Chuckling, he made his way to the door. She‘s also a
good shot, you know.
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You‘re not helping at all. She may be a smart girl but
what man wants a woman who can beat him at shooting?
He didn‘t hide his wicked smile. You‘d be surprised.
Some men find strong women appealing.
She huffed. A man still likes to be the one to protect
and provide. And that‘s not submissiveness talking. It‘s just
human nature. It‘s how we‘re made.
True. You win this argument.
She blinked. I wasn‘t aware we were fighting.
Shrugging, he replied, Then we‘ll call it a debate. And
you still win.
Before she could respond, he closed the door to give
her privacy. His heart light, he skipped down the steps to find
Emily.
***
The following Sunday, Sarah took a deep breath to
settle her nerves as she lumbered to the church. The bitter
wind blew against her face but her hat held her hair in place.
Luke grunted and snuggled closer to her bosom. She wrapped
her coat tighter around him and pressed forward.
Caroline and Rachel were the first to see her. Breaking
from the crowd gathering outside the church before the service,
they rushed over to her.
Oh Sarah, we worried that something horrible
happened to you, Caroline said.
Rachel nodded. And since we don‘t know where
you‘re staying, we couldn‘t come by to check up on you.
Blushing, she tapped her foot on the ground. I didn‘t
feel well, but I‘m fine now. That wasn‘t exactly true, but she
didn‘t feel like listening to them defend Beatrice again.
Were you sick like my family was? Caroline asked.
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Not as badly as your family but it was enough to make
me queasy. That much was true. Jim‘s mother had that affect
on her.
We looked everywhere for you, Caroline continued.
It‘s as if you dropped off the earth. No one knows where
you‘re staying.
Oh, that‘s because it‘s a ways out…there, Sarah
vaguely replied. It sure is cold. We should get into the
church.
Without waiting for them to speak, she brushed past
them and stomped up the steps, aware of the constricting in her
chest. Just as she entered the building, Jim‘s mother blocked
her entrance.
Well, the woman snapped, hands on her hips. I was
beginning to think I‘d never see my grandson again.
I-I‘ve been ill, M-Mrs. Donner, Sarah stammered.
Then it‘s most fortunate I plan to stay for awhile.
You are?
You needn‘t act like that‘s a bad thing.
I‘m sorry. Sarah gulped the nervous lump in her
throat. I‘m still not feeling well. That couldn‘t be considered
a full lie since she felt as if she was going to throw up. I have
to sit down.
Caroline and Rachel caught up to them.
Sarah, you should have waited for us, Caroline said.
Oh, hello, Mrs. Donner.
Jim‘s mother narrowed her eyes at Caroline. I trust
your lunch offer is still good. Who knows when Sarah will bless
us with her presence again? It seems the poor thing has taken
ill after my son‘s untimely demise.
Losing a husband can be hard for a woman, Caroline
replied, her hand on Sarah‘s arm. Surely, you can understand
that.
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And not seeing one‘s grandson, Jim the fourth, is also
hard.
Caroline looked to be at a loss for words for a couple of
seconds but quickly nodded her consent. I didn‘t mean to
imply it wasn‘t, Mrs. Donner.
Beatrice straightened her coat and pursed her thin lips
together. Then I will join you and my grandson after the
service for lunch, as we‘ve been doing when Sarah chooses to
attend her Sunday obligation.
Caroline glanced at Sarah. Do you feel up to it?
Perhaps the commandment,
Honor thy mother and father,
ought to ring a bell? his mother inserted, her voice sharp.
I can‘t! Sarah shook her head. I have to leave right
after the service. Neil would be expecting her. She couldn‘t
let him and Emily sit out in the cold, waiting for her to show
up. And who knew how long Jim‘s mother would keep her at
Caroline‘s house? The last time she endured the lunch, Neil
and Emily sat in the buggy for a full half hour because she was
late. She couldn‘t do that to them again.
Can you make it into town for supper? Caroline asked
Sarah, looking uncertain.
Beatrice waved her hand and gave a curt nod of her
head. There‘s no need to go through all this hassle. If you just
tell me where you‘re living, I‘ll go there.
Seeing little option, Sarah‘s shoulders slumped. I‘ll be
at your house at five, Caroline.
Caroline looked relieved. Then it‘s settled.
In the meantime, I‘ll hold little Jim during the service.
Beatrice held her hands out.
Realizing she had no choice, Sarah gave Luke to her,
ready to remind the woman that his name was Luke. But it
wouldn‘t do any good.
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Beatrice took the child and went to the other side of the
small church, causing Sarah to experience a wave of panic.
She
wouldn’t run off with him, would she?
I guess we‘ll sit over there today, Rachel said. Let
me gather the children and I‘ll join you.
I‘ll do the same, Caroline added.
Sarah watched her friends hurry to perform their tasks,
grateful for their support. But the doubt lingered in her mind
that they wouldn‘t rush to help her if they knew she was staying
at Neil‘s place.
***
It was a little after six and Sarah finished washing the
dishes with Caroline after the supper. She glanced at the clock,
wondering how she was going to slip out of there at seven. All
through the meal, she tried to come up with an excuse to leave
that wouldn‘t arouse suspicion as to where she was living. She
managed to avoid the questions so far, but she worried she
couldn‘t keep it up much longer.
Wiping her hands on the towel, she laid it on the back
of a chair and followed Caroline into the parlor where
Caroline‘s son played the piano. Sarah glanced at Beatrice who
cooed at little Jim . Sarah clenched her hands under the skirt
of her dress, hoping no one detected her growing anger.
Caroline‘s husband, Hubert, read his newspaper while
Caroline went over to fluff the pillow under his feet. She patted
him on the shoulder and went to sit next to Sarah on the couch.
Caroline, Hubert began, not glancing up from his
paper, I‘m thirsty.
Caroline, still out of breath from cleaning the kitchen,
exhaled as she stood up. Would anyone else like some
coffee?
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Beatrice kept on cooing at Luke, so Sarah eased herself
off the couch, wishing to get away from all the comments that
Beatrice kept making about how adorable little Jim was.
I‘ll come with you, Caroline, Sarah said.
No, Sarah. You‘re my guest. Please sit and relax.
And I don’t want to be near Jim’s
But I want to help.
mother.
Beatrice cleared her throat. Actually, I could use a cup
of tea. Caroline, why don‘t you work on the coffee, and Sarah,
why don‘t you work on the tea?
The next half hour was filled with similar demands.
Beatrice wanted Sarah to get her a blanket for little Jim, refill
her cup of tea, put sugar in the tea, and heat the tea up again
since it was too cool for her liking.
By the time Sarah returned with the heated tea, Beatrice
groaned. I must say, it‘s amazing my dear son didn‘t perish
under your care, Sarah. You take forever to do anything.
Sarah resisted the urge to pour the steaming tea on the
woman‘s head, and the only reason she managed that feat was
because she didn‘t want to harm Luke. Biting her tongue, she
placed the cup on the table and sat next to Caroline who
squeezed her hand, sending a comforting message to her. Sarah
offered a thankful smile at her friend.
Can I play? Caroline‘s daughter, Jane, asked.
No, Hubert replied.
Why not? I‘ve been watching Stephen, and the last
song he played was simple.
I said no, and that‘s final.
Jane huffed. I can do it. I know I can!
Hubert frowned at her. A girl needs to know her
place, and you are to be the audience.
Why?
Because boys are better at these things than girls.
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Sarah gasped.
Hubert looked in her direction. Do you have
something to add, Mrs. Donner?
Girls can play a piano as well as boys can, Mr. Jones,
she replied, her heart pounding fast in her chest since she‘d
never argued with him before.
That‘s preposterous! Girls aren‘t as blessed as boys
are.
You are in error. I know a little girl who can hunt and
ride a horse just as well as a boy can.
He grimaced. What parents are permitting their
children to do! How will that girl ever know her place in the
home if she acts like a boy?
She‘s not acting like a boy!
Sarah, Caroline whispered, calm down.
No. I will not calm down. Sarah straightened her
back. God made men and women equal, so it stands to reason
that boys and girls are equal too.
Blasphemy! Is this what Jim‘s death has done to you?
Hubert threw his paper on the floor and glared at her. May I
remind you that the Good Book tells women to submit to their
husbands?
Submission doesn‘t mean she is to be a slave, nor does
it mean she has to forgo the things that are interesting to her. I
believe the Good Book also tells men to love their wives, and
love doesn‘t forbid what is good for the other per son. No harm
will come if you let Jane play the piano. She might even be
better than Stephen.
He laughed. A girl being better than a boy. That‘s
rich! You would do good to remember your place, Sarah. The
preacher won‘t like hearing such rebellion from your lips. The
man is to lead. The woman is to follow.
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Shaking Caroline‘s hand off her arm, Sarah bolted up.
The woman is not to blindly follow the man. She is to use her
judgment.
Snorting, he shook his head. Judgment? Don‘t be
foolish. If it weren‘t for men, women wouldn‘t know how to
function in society. Why, even balancing the budget is too
much for them.
Sarah couldn‘t take it anymore. She turned to Beatrice.
I‘m leaving. Give me my child.
But my time isn‘t up, her mother -in-law protested.
Caroline stood up, wringing her hands. We should
relax. I know. I‘ll bring out cake.
Yay! Cake! Stephen and Jane ran to the kitchen.
Come on, Sarah. Will you help me? Caroline asked,
her voice taking on a pleading tone.
No, Caroline. I‘m not staying. Sarah held her arms
out to receive Luke.
Beatrice held onto the baby. Leave if you like, but I‘m
going to visit with my grandson.
You have no right to withhold my child from me!
And you have no right to dishonor Jim‘s mother,
Hubert snapped.
I‘m keeping him, Beatrice added.
Sarah‘s body shook with rage. You like tea? Well, here
it is! She grabbed the cup and dumped the cooled tea in the
demanding woman‘s hair.
As soon as Beatrice loosened her hold on Luke and
screamed, Sarah snatched her child and ran to the door.
Don‘t you dare follow her, Caroline! Hubert yelled.
Caroline remained at Sarah‘s heels. Sarah, I‘m so sorry.
Apparently, this whole idea was a mistake.
Sarah grabbed her coat and opened the front door.
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Caroline! Get in here right this minute! Hubert
ordered.
Good night, Sarah, Caroline told Sarah before turning
to the parlor entrance where Hubert stood, arms crossed and a
scowl on his face. Caroline shook her head at him. I will not
go in there, you…you…man! Caroline fled up the staircase.
Taking that as her cue to leave, Sarah shut the door and
raced down the street.
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Chapter Twelve
T
wo weeks later, Neil went to town. The April air felt warm
on his skin. He did enjoy Spring. Soon, he‘d be planting beans.
But today, he was about to make a good profit for selling his
best cattle.
Before he had to go to the bank to meet Dan Adair, he
wanted to pick up a bow that Emily mentioned liking last time
she stayed with her grandmother, and he thought Sarah might
like something pretty to go with the green dress she was
making. He wasn‘t sure what happened that night she went to
visit her friend Caroline, but she started the dress that night. It
also marked the last time she went to her church. Any attempts
to find out why were expertly avoided by comments regarding
Luke or Emily. Deciding it wasn‘t his business, he gave up and
acted as if nothing happened.
Now as he scanned the shelves at the mercantile, he
realized he had no idea what a woman like Sarah would want.
Cassie liked flashy, sparkly, lacy things. But Sarah wasn‘t Cassie,
a fact that often relieved him. However, even if the contrast
between Cassie and Sarah was like night and day, he figured
women liked beautiful things.
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A girl with blond curls and a blue dress bumped into his
leg. Startled, he glanced down at the four year old.
I‘m sorry, she said.
He smiled. I‘m the one who should apologize, Rachel.
I‘m blocking your way to the candy. Looking up, he saw the
girl‘s mother who held a one-year-old boy. Good morning,
Mrs. Larson.
Mary Larson returned his smile. Good morning, Neil.
How are you and Emily?
We‘re fine. I think she‘s starting to realize Cassie‘s not
coming back.
Her aunt‘s been sick an awfully long time.
He suspected that Mary knew there was more to the
story, though she kept it to herself. He silently thanked her for
her compassion in the matter. Yes, and there‘s no cure for
her.
Nodding, she shifted her son to her other hip. I keep
praying for you, Neil.
Thank you, Mary. You‘re one of the few people who
seem to think there‘s hope for me. He chuckled as her son
pulled her bonnet off her head and tossed it to the floor. Let
me get that, he said, retrieving the blue object off the floor and
handing it to her. I see that Rachel and Adam are doing well.
She laughed and took the bonnet from him. When
Adam‘s not grabbing things, he manages fairly well.
Good morning, Mr. Craftsman, Mrs. Larson, the
owner, Ralph Lindon, greeted them as he walked over to them.
Can I help you with something?
Ladies first, Neil offered when she looked at him.
Nodding, she turned to Ralph. I was wondering if
your new hats came in today? My old one is ready to wear
through.
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A hat. Sarah would need a hat to go with her new dress.
He couldn‘t have her wearing a black hat with light colors. He
watched as Ralph showed Sarah five new hats that recently
came in. Making his way to the sewing supplies, he picked up a
green ribbon and a pin in the shape of a yellow flower. Both
would make suitable accessories on a hat.
I don‘t know what‘s gotten into her.
Neil looked over his shoulder to see if the man was
talking to him, but Hubert Jones stood in front of Preacher
Amos. Caroline is completely rebellious and I blame it all on
Sarah Donner.
A woman who‘s not married is a dangerous creature,
the preacher agreed. We must find Sarah a husband as soon as
possible.
But what good will it do to find her a husband when
we don‘t even know how to find her? It‘s like she fell off the
face of the earth.
We‘ll find her, Hubert. Omaha isn‘t so big that we
can‘t find a sheep that‘s gone astray.
I hope it‘s soon. I don‘t like the way Caroline‘s been
acting ever since that night Sarah came by for supper. She‘s
gotten it into her head that she won‘t cook or clean for me until
I let Jane play the piano. I tell you, the devil is behind this.
Rebellion in the house is a bad thing. The preacher
took a deep breath and rubbed his bald head. We‘ll get things
settled.
At least Neil now had an idea of what bothered Sarah.
After he selected a hat and a bow for Emily, he purchased his
items and headed for the entrance. As he opened the door, he
nearly bumped into Mary‘s husband.
Sorry, Dave.
Dave gave a slight nod but refused to make eye contact
with him.
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Neil cleared his throat and hurried around the
formidable man.
He wound his way through pedestrians on the
boardwalk until he got to his hor se. Placing the hat, ribbon,
pin, and bow in his leather pouch, he hastened to his business
meeting.
Dan Adair waited for him outside the bank. Good to
see you, Mr. Craftsman.
Neil shook the older man‘s hand. The pleasure is
mine. He held the door and waited for Dan to enter the small
building.
Dan shook his head. I‘d like to have a drink at the
saloon before we discuss payment.
He followed Dan‘s gaze to the tall building across the
street, though he didn‘t have to since he knew exactly where the
saloon was. He had visited it often enough before he married
Cassie. Uncertain, he cleared his throat. To be honest, Mr.
Adair, I‘d rather not.
Why?
Shifting from one foot to the other, he replied,
Because I don‘t go there anymore.
Dan threw back his head and laughed.
Noting the curious looks from the patrons inside the
bank, he closed the door and moved to the side so he wouldn‘t
prevent the flow of traffic on the boardwalk. It‘s true. I
haven‘t been there in eight years.
Now I know you‘re pulling my leg. People saw you in
there five years ago.
His heart thumping and heat rising to his face, he
struggled to remain calm. That was a mistake.
Hey, I‘m fine with it, pal. Dan slapped him on the
shoulder. Believe me. I‘ve had my share of alcohol and
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women. It certainly is a good way to celebrate a major business
transaction, don‘t you think?
No. It‘s not. I used to think it was fun, but I learned
that it leaves a man feeling empty and a woman feeling
degraded.
Dan‘s laughter grew louder, attracting attention from
several men and women as they passed by.
Please, Mr. Adair. People are starting to stare, Neil
whispered.
You can‘t be serious about not having a drink with me
in the saloon.
He gritted his teeth when he realized that Dan wasn‘t
going to lower his voice.
Dan stopped laughing. Aren‘t you being too strict?
No. I don‘t engage in that behavior anymore.
But five years ago-
Was five years ago, he firmly interrupted. I‘m not
the same man I was then. I beg your pardon, sir, but I‘d rather
deal with business and go home.
Dan scowled. I don‘t think this deal is suitable after
all. Imagine you, of all people, being a hypocrite. I expected
better of you.
Neil watched as Dan pushed past the crowd and strode
down the boardwalk. With Dan went a large profit. Irritated,
Neil stared at the onlookers. Don‘t you all have anything
better to do than to watch men conduct business?
They quickly dispersed.
To his surprise, Hubert Jones and Preacher Amos
shook their heads at him. What? Neil demanded, glowering
at them.
A leopard never changes his spots, the preacher said.
Your little display of holiness doesn‘t fool anyone.
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You allow a young widow and her son to starve to
death on the street and you dare lecture me about holiness?
The minute he spoke, he regretted his words, for it
wouldn‘t take long before the uppity men realized whom he
spoke about.
I‘m out of here! Neil huffed past them and hustled to
his horse.
Hubert Jones yelled after him, People don‘t forget
what kind of man you really are, no matter how good you
pretend to be!
Yanking the reins on his stallion, Neil hopped onto his
horse, noticing that Dave and Mary Larson happened to hear
Hubert‘s comment. He couldn‘t handle Dave‘s wary expression
anymore than he could handle Mary‘s sympathetic one. He
needed to get out of town, and he couldn‘t get out fast enough.
Digging his heels into the horse‘s sides, he rode the stallion hard
out of there, caring little if anyone stared or not.
There’s only so much a man can take.
Why can’t they just let the
past go? It’s been seven years and I haven’t done anything since then. And
no one knows what happened that night five years ago.
Five years ago was when his life, his heart, had changed.
He recalled it as if it was yesterday…
Neil gulped another shot of whiskey and slammed the
glass on the table at the saloon. Counting the money in his
pocket, he set some on the bar and made his way up the steps.
His feet were a little unsteady but he was sober enough to enjoy
himself. He found the head soil dove who waited for
customers in her bedroom. She sat, lounging on her chair, her
bodice barely covering her body. She was working on her
ledger books.
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He leaned against the doorframe, ignoring the loud
cheers from downstairs as another poker game ended. Would
you like to add some more to your profits tonight?
A smile crossed her face as she turned her gaze in his
direction. Mr. Craftsman, I was beginning to think we‘d never
see you again.
She moved so that he caught a generous view of her
cleavage. His body tightened in response. She turned from the
ledger book and stood up. Swinging her hips in a manner that
aroused him all the more, she twirled her blond hair around her
fingers. Though she wa s forty, she could still bring a man‘s
blood to a boil. He handed her the required fees.
She counted the money and peered up at him. Did
you have a particular woman in mind? Eliza and Joyce are free
at the moment.
Eliza. He remembered her. No matter what mood he
was in, she managed to make him feel good. He needed that
tonight. Eliza.
The woman winked at him. She‘ll be thrilled. Slipping
her arm through his, she led him to Eliza‘s room and knocked.
Eliza, you‘ll never guess who‘s here.
The door opened and the redhead with a luscious body
which was hidden in a robe gasped. Oh my goodness. Neil, is
that really you?
He smiled. It had been almost a year since he and
Cassie had shared a bed together, and he recalled their last time.
For all the interest she had shown him, she might as well have
been dead. After that, he lost any motivation to have relations
with her. He settled into a loveless marriage, and he had been
faithful the entire time. But seeing Cassie in bed with another
man earlier that day, obviously enjoying herself, was the final
straw. If she could go off and sleep around, so could he. Only,
he knew better than to get personally involved with another
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woman, which made the soiled doves at the saloon a perfect
option. There were no expectations so no hearts would be
broken. Just a simple transaction to take care of his needs and
their pocket books.
The redhead slid her arm through his and led him into
her room. I sure missed you, she cooed, bringing his
thoughts back to the present.
He raised an eyebrow. You did, did you?
Of course. You tip better than other men.
He laughed. I got to give you credit for honesty. You
never were one to hold back, Eliza.
She closed the door and winked. It doesn‘t hurt that
you‘re good in bed.
Now that is something I need to hear. He pulled her
to him and kissed her, letting his hands caress the soft curve of
her back, relishing the way her breasts pressed against his chest.
You feel good, he whispered. He brushed her neck with his
lips. He loved how soft and feminine women were. I may
have to pay your boss so I can spend more time with you.
Once may not be enough.
Especially when it’s been so long.
I‘m sure we can arrange something. I certainly don‘t
mind. Eliza removed his jacket and hat and set them on the
chair next to the bed. She glanced over her shoulder and gave a
knowing smile in his direction. I can see that you‘re eager to
get started.
He cleared his throat as her eyes drifted to the evidence
of his arousal. He should have been embarrassed, but she did
this for a living and knew what to do to turn men on, so he
didn‘t bother hiding it. Instead, he unbuttoned the first three
buttons on his blue shirt while she slipped out of her robe. His
heart raced with excitement as she settled on her pink sheets,
her bed squeaking under her slim weight.
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She arched her back and rested her hands over her head,
her legs slightly parted. How long has it been since your wife
took care of you, Neil? she softly asked.
Shrugging, he took off his shoes and lumbered to her.
About a year, I think.
Marriage isn‘t what you expected then?
The sympathy in her voice caught him by surprise.
No.
I hear that all the time, you know. It seems to me that
marriage isn‘t as great as people make it out to be. If it was, a
man wouldn‘t feel the need to seek comfort outside the home.
Removing his shirt, he let it drop to the floor and sat on
the bed, running his hand over her hip. I don‘t want to talk
about it.
Not many men do. Very well. I‘m here to please you.
Just tell me what you want and I‘ll oblige.
He moved his hand up and over her breasts. Respond
to me. Act like you want to do this. Even as he said it, he
chided himself.
Fool
.
Don’t be weak.
But he was, and it scared
him. Cassie‘s indifference to him in bed had more of an impact
on him than he thought.
I’m not here to think of her.
He leaned
over to kiss Eliza, the scent of perfume and sex with her other
customers drifted into his awareness.
She moaned and pressed her hands on his shoulders,
pulling him closer to her.
Now this is what he wanted. He maneuvered his body
so that he was lying on top of her, holding her tight and
deepening his kisses. When she wrapped her legs around his
waist, he found himself fighting back tears. Why couldn‘t
Cassie do the same? Would it kill her to show some affection?
No. I’m not here to think of her! I’m here to forget her.
Realizing there was one surefire way to forget her, he
straightened up and knelt in front of Eliza who was the very
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image of sensuality with her legs and arms open to him. There.
All he had to do was focus on that image and enjoying himself
wouldn‘t be a problem. He managed to unbuckle his belt when
something fell out of his pocket. The clank of a shiny object
bouncing off the hardwood floor brought everything around
him to a screeching halt.
Pulse racing, he jumped up and got on his hands and
knees to retrieve the item from under the bed.
What is it, honey? Eliza asked, moving so she could
look at what caught his attention.
Honey.
That‘s what he called Emily.
Two-year-old Emily.
Grabbing the silver button, he recalled his daughter giving him
the item that had fallen off her doll‘s dress. He wanted to put it
back on but she protested. Love you, Pa. Yours.
Emily.
He closed his eyes for a moment, his thoughts
pushing past the alcohol he consumed. Her face formed in his
mind. Her wide green eyes, sweet smile, and pretty black curls
tumbling around her heart-shaped face. I love you too, he
had told her. And he did. She was his daughter.
Then his eyes opened and he looked at Eliza. She was
someone‘s daughter. Her father had probably looked at her
when she was little and loved her too. The realization hit him
like a ton of bricks.
My God. This could be Emily someday.
Bolting
to his feet, he stumbled for his shoes and slipped them on, his
fingers trembling as they worked the laces.
Neil. What‘s wrong? Eliza asked, sitting up.
I can‘t do this. You deserve better than this. His
voice choked on the tears that threatened to emerge. Yanking
his shirt and belt off the floor, he rushed out of the room,
ignoring Eliza‘s questions and the snickers from men and
women as he passed through the saloon. He pushed through
the front door and ran until he found an alley where he tripped.
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He emptied the contents of his stomach until he had
nothing left. His fingers dug into the cool fabric of his shirt and
the leather of his belt as he willed his nausea to go away. A
wind passed over him and calmed his stomach. Relieved for the
reprieve, he sat back, leaning against the brick wall of the
building next to him. He inhaled the fresh air, noting the
soothing contrast between that and the stale smell of perfume
and sex in Eliza‘s room.
What am I doing? he asked.
His heart constricted, sending the tears, and he no
longer held them back. His life was a mess. One big, complete
mess. He had a wife who didn‘t love him, a daughter who
wasn‘t his, and barely enough money to get through the
upcoming winter. Cassie drained his bank account, but some
gambling had afforded him one night with a prostitute,
someone he had to pay to enjoy being with him. But what if
Emily had been in Eliza‘s position tonight? The thought made
his stomach roll and he heaved.
For the next half hour, he remained still, eyes closed and
shivering as he mentally worked through his life, and for the
first time, he saw it for what it was. He made the decisions that
led him to this point. He thought visiting the soiled doves and
sowing his wild oats was fun. Some of the men he did business
with did it, so it couldn‘t be wrong…or so he reasoned. But it
was wrong, and coming here tonight had been a horrible
mistake. Those women weren‘t treated with respect. They
were merely a means to an end. He would kill a man who dared
to treat Emily the way he had been treating them. Self-loathing
filled him like thick bile.
I’m
How could he do that to someone else‘s daughter?
doomed.
There is no redemption for a man like me.
Sir, do you need help?
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Neil opened his eyes and saw an older man wearing a
suit. He stood in front of him, concern in his eyes.
You look like you could use a cup of coffee, the man
said. If you‘d like, I‘ll take you home and Martha will brew us
a pot. Then we can talk.
Neil was ready to protest but the man‘s kind smile was
like balm for his shattered soul. Nodding, Neil stood up and
shrugged into his shirt. I don‘t make it a habit of vomiting in
an alley, he said, his voice low.
Do you get drunk often?
No. I usually don‘t drink at all. Neil slipped his belt
through the loops in his pants. I try to keep a clear head.
Something bad must have happened to drive you to
drink.
Neil buckled his belt and arched an eyebrow. You‘re
perceptive.
Either that or able to use common sense. Do you
want to talk about it?
He sighed, weighing the pros and cons of opening up to
a complete stranger. Finally, he decided he had nothing to lose.
It wasn‘t like most of the town didn‘t already know his past
indiscretions. He recalled how ashamed Cassie had been when
she found out. Not that she turned out to be any different. She
just happened to hide her activities better than he did.
All right, Neil replied. Where do you live?
The man pointed down the street. Five blocks in that
direction.
I should get my horse. Though Neil dreaded the task
of going back to the saloon to untie his stallion, he didn‘t see
that he had much of a choice. Once he returned to where the
chubby 5’6″ man stood, they sauntered down the dark street,
passing lit lanterns that were hooked on poles. Several people
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passed by, some on horse, some walking. They nodded polite
greetings which Neil and the man next to him reciprocated.
My name is Bill Peters. People call me Preacher
Peters.
Neil stopped. His horse also paused but nudged him in
the shoulder.
Did I say something wrong? Bill asked.
You don‘t know who I am, but I‘m sure you heard of
me. My name is Neil Craftsman.
Bill smiled. Yes, I‘ve heard of you. Will you still be
coming to my house?
He frowned. You‘re willing to associate with me?
Sure. Why shouldn‘t I?
I haven‘t exactly led a holy life.
The last time I checked, no one was per fect. You
seem like a man who‘s down on his luck and could use a
friend.
Neil realized Bill was being sincere by the kindness on
his face. For a reason Neil couldn‘t comprehend, this particular
minister decided to reach out to him. I do need someone I
can talk to.
They moved forward, making light talk until they
reached the preacher‘s house where his wife welcomed Neil and
went to make coffee while they rested in the parlor. While he
and the preacher drank the hot, soothing liquid, Neil told him
everything, feeling like a weight had been lifted from his
shoulders. He worried that the man would kick him out, but he
took it all in, nodding and listening.
So today when I came home early from selling some
cattle, I found Cassie in her bedroom with one of the men who
I purchased feed from. It wasn‘t a pretty scene. I‘m just glad
Emily was with my mother so she didn‘t see it. I lost my
temper and pounded my fist through the wall. Then I went
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after him, and I would have beat him into the ground had it not
been for the fact that he was too fast for me. But she reminded
me that I hadn‘t been the ideal husband. And she was right.
You see, I tried to run off with another man‘s wife when I
realized Cassie loved Emily‘s father . Neil took a deep, shaky
breath. I wasn‘t a good husband. And I‘m not a good man,
Preacher. I deserve what I got.
You gave up and went to the saloon to ease your
pain, the man said.
I guess. At the time, I thought I was just going there
to have relations. I suppose you‘re right. Neil let out a bitter
laugh. It‘s ironic if you think about it. I know everything
there is to know about the physical act of intimacy, but when it
comes to love… He exhaled. When it comes to love, I don‘t
know a single damn thing.
That‘s not true. It is your love for your daughter that
got you out of the saloon.
Only because of a button.
Bill set his empty cup on the table that sat between
them. Sometimes a button is a miracle. Neil, I believe that
good things can come out of any situation. All it takes is what
you‘re going to do now. You have the choice to go back home
and be a good husband and father. Maybe after time when
Cassie sees that you are sincere, she‘ll come around to loving
you, and you can have the marriage you hoped for. But even if
that doesn‘t happen, you might want to continue being the best
husband and father you can be for Emily‘s sake.
I do want to do that. I‘m not happy with who I‘ve
been. I would like Emily to be proud of me.
I hope you‘ll let me help you as you turn your life
around.
You mean like me stopping in once a week to visit
with you?
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He nodded. You are certainly welcome to do that.
However, I meant coming to church.
Neil shifted in the chair, holding his cup. Your
congregation won‘t like it.
I‘d be surprised if they didn‘t. I preach forgiveness,
mercy, and love. It‘s true that judgment happens, but it seems
that you‘ve dealt with that. Now it‘s time for redemption.
Everyone deserves a second chance. And it helps when you can
be surrounded with people who‘ve been in your shoes. Ther e
are many people in my church who‘ve done things they regret.
Really?
He chuckled. You act like you‘re the only one who‘s
ever done something wrong. I guarantee you‘ll be glad you
came to my church. And if anyone gives you a hard time, let
me know and I‘ll deal with him.
All right.
His anger faded as the memory receded. Neil turned his
stallion onto his property. He recalled how he went to that
church the next day and was surprised to learn that Preacher
Peters had been right. He wasn‘t a lone, and the congregation
welcomed him. Though Cassie refused to go, he took Emily
with him to church and from there, his life turned for the
better. But then, when he ran into the people who didn‘t
believe he changed, it was easy to get discouraged.
I’m not the
same man I was back then. What will it take for people to realize that?
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Chapter Thirteen
L
ater that day, as Sarah was cleaning the supper dishes, Neil
rushed into the house and slammed the door. Startled, she
almost dropped the plate. What is it? she asked. Did Emily
fall off the horse?
No. He darted to the bassinet and picked it up, his
anxious movements causing her tension to rise. You have to
go to your room. Now!
Without thinking, she put the plate in the cupboard and
ran after him. Why? What happened?
He moved so fast that she could hardly keep up with
him.
Neil. She gasped for air once she reached her
bedroom where he wrapped another blanket around Luke since
the room was chilly. Clasping her hands over her heart, she
asked, Won‘t you tell me what‘s going on?
The knocking at the kitchen door made him bolt
straight up. It‘s a long story but the people from your church
found out where you are.
Her eyes grew wide.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
That‘s why you need to stay here. He strode over to
where she stood in the doorway. I won‘t let them come in this
house, but they can‘t see you or Luke. Understand?
Another round of loud knocking came from the closed
kitchen door.
No, she said, her voice firm.
I don‘t have time to explain but I ran into your
preacher and let it slip that I know he didn‘t take in a widow
with a son. I didn‘t say your name or that you were staying
here, but he put two and two together and there he is at the
door.
No, I meant that I‘m not hiding. She steeled her
resolve and marched down the steps.
He followed close behind. Sarah, what are you
doing?
I‘m tired of pretending that I don‘t know you.
Grabbing her arm, he stopped her as she reached the
bottom step. You don‘t know what you‘re doing. Some
people haven‘t forgotten what I used to do, and they don‘t
mind ostracizing me. I don‘t want that to happen to you
because you associate with me.
I‘m not ashamed of you, Neil. She took a deep breath,
her eyes meeting his. I admit I was, but I‘m not anymore.
You have no idea how tough it is to be an outcast.
And you have no idea how tough it is to be a mindless
puppet. The knocking brought her attention back to the
preacher. She stormed to the door and flung it open, ignoring
the near faint Jim‘s mother did against the preacher‘s side.
May I help you? she asked, forcing her voice to remain
steady.
Preacher Amos put his arm around Beatrice‘s shoulders
to steady her. Focusing his bewildered stare at Sarah, he said,
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His Redeeming Bride
Mrs. Donner, are you aware that you are committing a grave
sin?
Frowning, she crossed her arms, tucking her trembling
hands under her elbows. I don‘t know what you‘re talking
about.
You are living here, in this house, with a man you‘re
not married to.
We‘re not intimate. I am staying in the spare bedroom
with my son.
Oh, she‘s lying! Beatrice sobbed into her
handkerchief. My dear little Jim is being subjected to…to that
man.
My son‘s name is Luke, she snapped. When will you
ever get it right?
Mrs. Donner, you do have to consider who you are
staying with. The preacher leaned forward, keeping his voice
low. Mr. Craftsman is known for having his way with
vulnerable women.
I had a reputation for going to the saloon to women
who knew what they were doing, Neil clarified.
Since she didn‘t hear his approach, Sarah jerked.
The preacher turned to her. You cannot stay here with
a man who delights in the company of prostitutes. It is not
right. You need to do what‘s best for you and your child.
Neil took a step toward the preacher and Jim‘s mother.
Beatrice immediately backed up, but Amos stood firm. I‘m
tired of having to remind people that I don‘t do that anymore.
He doesn‘t, Sarah agreed. In fact, he leads the kind
of life you tell people to live.
The preacher shook his head. Maybe he hasn‘t made
his move yet, but you just wait. When you least expect it, he‘ll
attack.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
If he was that eager to take advantage of me, he would
have done it already. I don‘t mean any disrespect, Preacher, but
I can‘t believe how closed-minded you‘re being.
Beatrice gasped, her eyes wide.
The preacher‘s face grew red.
Well, it‘s the truth, Sarah insisted. Doesn‘t everyone
deserve a second chance? Isn‘t redemption the message you
preach every Sunday?
He‘s blinded you with deceitful words, Beatrice
replied through choked sobs. You were always foolish and
gullible. Jim protected you but ever since he died, you‘ve had
no one to hold your hand and give you the comfort you so
desperately need. I will do the noble thing and let you stay with
me so Jim‘s child can have a secure home.
Sarah‘s hands clenched. I‘d rather eat pig slop than be
subjected to a life of misery with you.
The woman gasped again, holding her handkerchief to
her mouth.
The preacher shook his head. Do you see what staying
here has done to you? You are turning into a willful and
disobedient woman.
If that‘s true, then it‘s your fault.
Oh, is there no limit to her rebellion? Beatrice asked
the preacher.
Rebellion? Sarah asked. I call it freedom. Finally, I
don‘t have to pretend to be someone I‘m not, acting like
everything‘s fine when it‘s not, and being the perfect little
person because I‘m not. As far as I‘m concerned, my life is
much better off without you or Jim!
The preacher tried to pat Sarah on the arm but she
pulled back. Sarah, you‘re not thinking straight. You need to
calm down.
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His Redeeming Bride
Calm down? I need to calm down because you didn‘t
feel like putting me up in your spare bedroom? You know, the
one you use as your personal library? You had the room and
you had the means to care for me and Luke, but you didn‘t
want to be inconvenienced. So Neil had the kindness and
decency to take me in when no one else would. That‘s what it
means to do what‘s right. Getting up and speaking pious
platitudes doesn‘t help a widow who needs to take care of her
son. I wash my hands of this church.
You see what happens when a sheep strays from the
flock? the preacher grimly told a hysterical Beatrice. She gets
eaten by a wolf. He turned to Sarah. We‘re taking you and
your baby home where you can regain your senses.
Neil blocked him before he could reach for Sarah‘s arm.
She said no.
She‘s just a woman. She doesn‘t know what‘s good for
her, Amos replied.
Are you going to leave my property or do I have to get
my gun?
You have no right to threaten me.
I have a right to defend anyone on my property. I also
have the right to get unwanted trespassers off my land. If I
have to force you, I will.
The preacher clenched his jaw. This isn‘t over. You
can‘t keep Sarah a prisoner forever. We‘ll rescue her. His
movements were stiff as he led a crying Mrs. Donner to the
buggy.
Sarah breathed a sigh of relief, though she understood
the reprieve was temporary. The preacher would be back, and
he would most likely bring prominent men from the
congregation with him. She rubbed her eyes, suddenly feeling
weary.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
I don‘t suppose that‘s the last we‘ll see of him, Neil
calmly replied.
Looking at him, she sighed. I‘m sorry.
For what?
If I wasn‘t here, they would leave you alone. You
don‘t need this, especially after what happened with Dan
Adair.
He stood silent for a moment, staring thoughtfully at
her until she blushed. When he gazed at her intently like that,
she felt a tingle travel from her head to her toes.
He smiled. It seems that you paid me the highest of all
compliments.
Her eyebrows furrowed. How so?
You believe in me. Clearing his throat, he quickly
added, I better check on Emily. Will you be all right?
Luke‘s cries caught her attention. Yes. Thank you for
not making me go with that woman. She hurried up the stair s
to care for her son.
***
Sarah asked to join Neil when he went to church that
Sunday, and when he asked her if she was sure, she said yes.
She was tired of hiding, as if acting like she did something
wrong. The truth was, she wasn‘t. So why hide from the town?
Later that week, she asked to go to the mercantile to purchase
some food items that she needed.
After Neil helped her out of the buggy, he said, I have
to go to the bank and post office. When I‘m done, I‘ll fill up
the basket with anything you need. I know how difficult it can
be to carry a baby and a bunch of food.
Nodding, she entered the mercantile, holding Luke in
her arms. She smiled at the owner who looked up from the
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flour sacks he was arranging on the shelf. Good morning, Mr.
Lindon.
Well, I‘ll be if it isn‘t the disappearing Mrs. Donner.
He grinned, his wrinkles deepening as he laughed. I heard
rumors that you appeared here and there, but I hadn‘t seen you
with my own two eyes to make sure people told me the truth.
I had a baby. I wasn‘t in shape to do a lot of
traveling.
The man ran his hand through his white, shaggy hair.
So that‘s true too? You‘re staying with Mr. Craftsman because
no one would take you in when you lost your home after Jim‘s
death?
She shook her head, thankful no one else could hear
them. I don‘t like gossip.
It‘s not gossip if you tell me what you‘re doing.
I see you still have a funny way of rationalizing things.
He shrugged. I like to know what‘s going on with my
customers. I don‘t see that as being intrusive. It just means I
care. And I do care about you, Mrs. Donner. You are one of
the few customers who always had a kind word for people at a
time when they needed it.
You mean, you‘ve been listening to me talk to people
when I shop here?
A man can‘t help but overhear some conversations as
he stocks the shelves.
She didn‘t know if she liked him or not. Sometimes, he
displayed great kindness, but then there were times when he
was a downright snoop. You‘re rationalizing again.
Sighing, he gave her pleading look. So I care too
much. What‘s the harm? If it makes you feel any better, I
assured Preacher Amos and several others from your church
that you wouldn‘t dare share a bed with Neil Craftsman unless
you married him.
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Her face flushing, she struggled to find a proper
response. Fortunately, the bell rang above the door and
Caroline and Rachel stepped into the store. As soon as they
saw her, they ran in her direction.
I‘ll leave you to your friends. Ralph patted Luke on
the head and went to the counter to take care of a customer.
Oh Sarah, I am so sorry that Hubert was rude to you,
Caroline said as she gave Sarah a big hug. I had no idea he
could be that way. I mean, he‘s been demanding at times, but
never did I see him exhibit such bad manners.
And Jack and I decided to leave the church, Rachel
added. When we heard the sermon the preacher gave on the
fall of the righteous, we knew he was talking about you and
couldn‘t believe it. I mean, you grew up in that church. He
should know you better than that.
Caroline nodded. With everyone, including us, turning
you away when you needed a place to stay… She pressed her
hand to her chest. I am sorry that I didn‘t take you in, Sarah.
Rachel anxiously nodded. I am too. We could have
found a spot for you in our home.
Pleased, and relieved, Sarah smiled. Caroline, your
family was sick. And Rachel, your house is already packed as it
is. There‘s no harm. It‘s all worked out. And I‘m glad we‘re
still friends.
Always, Rachel replied, giving her a hug. Then she
looked at Luke. He looks like you. I don‘t see much of Jim in
him at all.
He‘s a darling, Caroline agreed, touching his chin.
His eyes are brown, just like yours.
And he has your blond hair, your nose, and your
forehead. Rachel lowered her voice. Thankfully, one of Jim‘s
better features was his chin. I never did understand what you
found appealing about him.
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Sarah shrugged. He was attentive and kind to my
sister. When she eloped with Raphael, I thought he might turn
his affections on me once he got to know me.
But he didn‘t. Caroline‘s voice was solemn.
Giving her friend a sharp look, Sarah asked, How can
you know that? I never said anything.
You didn‘t have too. It was written all over your face.
Sarah glanced at Rachel who nodded. It‘ s true, Sarah.
You looked happier after he died.
Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I didn‘t
realize my feelings were transparent. It made her feel exposed,
and she didn‘t like that.
Caroline bit her lower lip, an action Sarah recognized as
her nervous habit of trying to bring up unpleasant topics. At
Sarah‘s urging, Caroline spoke. You might as well know that
Preacher Amos and Hubert have begun a search to find a
husband for you.
What? Noticing Ralph‘s curious glance in her
direction, she lowered her voice. They can‘t do that.
They are convinced that you need a husband to bring
you back to your senses. They believe that Mr. Craftsman has
bewitched you.
Oh, that‘s silly. Neil‘s been nothing but generous and
kind. Why, he even lets me make decisions and stands up for
me.
Rachel touched her arm. Then he really has changed?
Yes. He‘s not the same person he used to be.
Then he must be like the prodigal son. I heard Neil
started out along the right path and lost his way. So he‘s found
his way back. That‘s wonderful. I remember when he got
married to Cassie and his mother was telling everyone that she
hoped he would stop his life of…Well, you know.
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The bell rang again and Sarah detected a knowing gleam
in Ralph‘s eye when Neil walked through the door.
Leave it to
Ralph to enjoy a person happening to show up when others are talking
about him.
She could sense the rumors ready to fly as soon as
she left the place.
We won‘t keep you, Caroline whispered. We believe
there‘s nothing going on between you and Neil, regardless of
what the preacher and my idiot husband says.
Neil stood at a distance, directing his gaze to the candles
on the shelf in front of him. Sarah decided that it was time to
let people know she wasn‘t ashamed to be associated with him.
Neil? Would you like to meet my friends?
His head snapped in her direction, his eyes wide. Even
Ralph‘s jaw dropped, and two elderly ladies stopped to stare at
her. To his credit, Neil simply nodded and approached them.
Seeking to appear calm while her cheeks grew hot from
embarrassment to have such an attentive audience, she made
the introductions, marveling that her voice sounded steady.
Neil tipped his hat and said, It‘s a pleasure to meet
you, to Caroline and Rachel.
Any friend of Sarah is a friend of ours, Rachel replied.
Perhaps you and Sarah should bring your children to my house
after church this Sunday and we can have a late lunch together.
Neil glanced at Sarah, and she realized he was asking
whether or not she would accept the invitation, so she gave a
slight nod. We would be delighted.
Well, good. Rachel exhaled, looking relieved, and said,
I suppose Caroline and I should go.
Yes, Caroline agreed. It was nice meeting you, Mr.
Craftsman.
As they hastened to the door, Neil turned to Sarah.
You didn‘t have to do that.
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She inwardly grimaced when she saw Ralph raise an
eyebrow. The elderly women shook their heads and whispered
whatever it was that nosy old ladies said to each other when
they didn‘t like something.
I know, Sarah finally replied, but I wanted to.
I‘ll get a basket and you can put whatever you want
into it, all right.
All right.
While she shifted a cooing Luke to her other arm, she
caught sight of Caroline and Rachel giggling. Frowning, she
wondered what they found amusing. When Caroline‘s eyes met
hers, Caroline mouthed, You look happy with him.
Sarah, understanding the insinuation, gasped. Were her
feelings that obvious? A quick glance in Ralph‘s direction
notified her that they were. Ralph still had that annoying gleam
in his eye. Her friends giggled again and slipped out the door.
Neil returned with the basket. Are you ready?
Yes. Face redder than a tomato, she hurried to select
the foods she wanted so they could get out of there as soon as
possible.
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Chapter Fourteen
J
une brought warm breezes and longer days, and to Sarah‘s
dismay, it also brought an onslaught of single men who either
came under the guise of checking out Neil‘s cattle for purchase
or came outright and asked to court her. One such man rode
up to the property on his horse while she was hanging the clean
laundry on the clothing line to dry in the warm wind. Emily
stayed with her to help her.
Mrs. Donner, don‘t the sheets look like they‘re
dancing? Emily asked, pointing to the white sheet that would
have blown across the field had it not been for the pins holding
it firmly in place on the line.
She gave her a mischievous look. It does. Can you
dance like that?
Emily scrunched her nose as if thinking about it.
Finally, she nodded. I think so. You tell me if this is right. In
her eight-year-old enthusiasm, she flung her arms around and
twirled in fast circles before she fell on the soft green grass.
Chuckling, she took the girl‘s hand and helped her up.
That was perfect!
Emily bowed, so she clapped her hands.
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Then Sarah bent to retrieve a towel from the basket.
Will you hand me more pins?
All right. She rushed to obey. Here.
Thank you. You are a wonderful helper.
Do you think I‘ll make a good wife someday?
Oh, there‘s no doubt about it. You‘ll be an excellent
wife. You can cook, clean, do laundry, make people laugh, and
you look pretty.
But I don‘t know how to sew a dress. She frowned as
Sarah lifted one of her dresses and put it on the line. She
hastened to give Sarah more pins.
Well, I‘ll teach you how to sew.
Really?
Sure. It takes a lot of practice and patience. It won‘t
be as easy as cooking or cleaning.
Oh, but I can learn, can‘t I?
You‘re a very smart person. I have no doubt you can
do anything you set your mind to. I understand why your
father takes you hunting and horse riding.
Emily bounced around Sarah. Look, the towel looks
like it‘s dancing with the dress.
Sarah watched as the two items got tangled up. I put
them too close together.
Can we dance?
She grinned. I think someone is trying to get out of
helping with the laundry.
I‘m not, Mrs. Donner. I promise. I just want to dance
one time with you.
Sarah quickly lengthened the space between the towel
and dress before joining Emily. What do you want me to do?
Hold my hands and I‘ll lead.
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Sarah obeyed and laughed as Emily led her in circles
until she tripped and fell. Emily tumbled next to her, also
laughing.
That was fun, Emily replied.
Yes, it was. I can‘t remember the last time I laughed so
hard.
Emily wrapped her arms around her neck and hugged
her. I‘m glad you‘re here, Mrs. Donner.
Warmth flooded her heart as she embraced the girl.
I‘m glad I‘m here too, Emily. She stroked the girl‘s soft hair.
You‘re a good girl.
Mrs. Donner? someone asked.
Startled, Sarah looked up, just noticing the tall man who
loomed before her. Squinting, she helped Emily up and
smoothed her dress. Yes, I‘m Mrs. Donner. Do you need
something? Perhaps you are here to see Mr. Craftsman about
his cattle?
No, ma‘am. I came by to pay you a visit. The man
ran his hands along his suspenders, and he wore a grin that
made her think of a jester in a royal court. Taking off his
brown hat, revealing his wild brown mane, he nodded. It‘s a
pleasure to meet you. Turning to Emily, he said, And you.
Emily gave a polite greeting and returned to the basket.
You‘ll have to forgive us, Mr….? Sarah began.
The name is Barney Weiss.
Mr. Weiss, I hope you don‘t think us rude if we finish
hanging up the laundry.
Oh, a man never minds a woman doing woman‘s
work.
She stiffened for a moment but proceeded to the
clothes line where she set to the task of hanging up one of
Neil‘s shirts. The wind carried the scent of him that the soap
and water didn‘t eliminate. She momentarily stopped, enjoying
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the reminder of Neil‘s masculine scent that reminded her of the
outdoors and hard work. It was probably silly to enjoy the
smell, but she found that she liked to think of anything that had
to do with him.
Barney cleared his throat, bringing her attention back to
the chore. She accepted the pins from Emily and hastened to
hang the shirt next to her dress.
I hope you don‘t mind a personal question, Barney
told her.
I have nothing to hide, she replied. Ask anything
you like.
Y ou and Mr. Craftsman aren‘t…Look, I don‘t mean to
pry but it wouldn‘t be appropriate if the situation lent itself to
that of an intimate nature.
Emily gave him a hard look. My pa is a good man. He
sleeps in one bedroom and Mrs. Donner sleeps in another one.
I sleep in the third bedroom.
Sarah wasn‘t surprised by the girl‘s outspoken tone, but
Barney apparently was, for she noted his jaw dropping. Emily
is right, Mr. Weiss. Neil has offered me a place to stay and that
is all. There is nothing improper going on.
He seemed relieved. I heard you were an honest
woman. I worked with your husband.
So you and Jim were friends?
We talked on occasion. He said you were an orderly
woman and a fine cook. He had no complaints.
He must have loved her, Emily spoke up, handing
Sarah more pins.
Sarah watched Barney, wondering if Jim ever said that
to someone he knew, for he never said it to her.
I assume so, Barney replied. Men don‘t go around
discussing their feelings to other men.
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Just as I thought.
Why should she hope that Jim found
something in her to love? The sting she experienced was a
slight one and would be gone soon enough.
That‘s not true, Emily argued. My daddy‘s farmhand
tells everyone how much he loves his wife. He says she‘s the
best thing that ever happened to him.
It was true. Sarah had heard him brag about her one
time when she was in the barn. She also recalled the envious
feeling that lodged itself in her gut for the rest of the week.
Sighing, she hung up a pair of Neil‘s pants.
Barney laughed. Maybe I should say that some men
don‘t go around talking about their feelings.
That would be better, Emily agreed.
I have to admit, you have a good sense of humor,
Sarah told him. Most of the men who‘ve been coming by
don‘t like an outspoken girl.
He shrugged. The way I see it, a girl has a right to
speak her mind.
She arched an eyebrow but didn‘t say anything. She had
a hard time believing him, and she didn‘t know why. Once she
hung up the last item of clothing, he offered to carry the basket
for her. Reluctant, she accepted, for she knew it meant he
would want to come into the house and stay awhile. Once they
reached the porch, Emily said she was going to find her father.
Neil Craftsman certainly is teaching his daughter to be
bold, Barney remarked as she opened the kitchen door.
Jim‘s mother looked up from the table where she was
feeding five-month-old Luke.
Sarah ran over to her, struggling to be polite. Mrs.
Donner, I asked you not to give him cow‘s milk. You know he
gets constipated when he drinks it.
Beatrice waved her hand. Little Jim wouldn‘t stop
fussing, so I gave him a bottle. What‘s the harm?
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I asked you to come and get me if he was hungry. She
stopped herself before reminding the woman that she still
breastfed
Luke
. She didn‘t want to disgust Barney.
The woman chuckled. My dear, Sarah, I saw that you
had company and didn‘t wish to intrude.
My dear Sarah?
The only time the irritating woman used
those words was when they were in front of other people.
Flushed, Sarah grabbed the bottle from Luke and hoped the
three ounces he drank wouldn‘t cause too much trouble to his
body.
What are you doing? Beatrice asked, her eyes wide.
I‘m back now, so I‘ll feed him. Sarah picked him out
of her arms and stormed to the stairs so she could go to her
bedroom for privacy.
Sarah, I was only trying to help.
Sarah whirled back, astonished at the tears the woman
was unsuccessfully trying to dab with a handkerchief Barney
handed her. Biting back a comment on how sick and tired she
was of seeing Beatrice play the same scene for almost every man
that had been coming out to see her, she stumped up the stairs,
not caring if she seemed rude or not. Life was getting
unbearable with all the men showing up several times a week.
It‘s all because Preacher Amos wants to see me
married to someone who‘ll take me back to his church, she
muttered as she shut the door to her room. Well, I‘m not
going back. I have a mind of my own and I‘ll use it!
Luke cooed at her and grabbed her necklace.
Setting him on the floor so he could sit, she took off the
family heirloom and placed it in her jewelry box which sat on
her dresser. Picking her son back up, she realized that Jim‘s
mother hadn‘t changed his diaper and q uickly proceeded to do
the chore before she fed him.
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***
Pa!
Neil turned to Emily after he finished unsaddling a
horse. Straightening up, he let Ben take the gelding. Hi, Em.
Are you and Mrs. Donner finished with the laundry?
We are. She skipped over to Ben and watched as he
put the horse back into its stall. I want to ride him after
supper. Can I, Pa?
He grinned. Yes, you may. Do you have a clean pair
of pants?
I do. Mrs. Donner put a patch on my old ones so I
can wear those again. I like her. She teaches me how to do
female things and she tells me good stories and dances with me.
We were having a lot of fun before another one of those men
showed up.
The smile faltered. Another man came out to see
her?
Uh huh. She hopped up on a bucket that was turned
upside down. She held out her arms and balanced on one foot.
He was thin and tall. You know, he‘s not as ugly as that Mr.
Bonnet that came by last week. But I think he was pretending
to like me. I don‘t believe he really likes the way I think.
He frowned, wondering if Sarah found this one
interesting. Why couldn‘t Amos and Beatrice stop sending men
out to visit her? Neil thought that he and Sarah worked out a
reasonable solution with Beatrice by allowing her to visit twice a
week for two hours so she could see Luke, but the woman
continued to send men in hopes that Sarah would marry one of
them. It bothered Neil to no end, especially when the men
wanted to ask him about Sarah, to see if she was worth their
time. He hated answering those questions, so he often found
something else to do. Yes, Sarah was worth any man‘s time and
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attention, but he would rather die than tell them that. And he
prayed that they wouldn‘t find out. With each new potential
suitor, his stomach tensed into all kinds of terrible knots.
Is the man still here? he asked Emily, ignoring the
knowing grin Ben threw his way.
His farmhands made it no secret that they wanted to see
Sarah become the next Mrs. Craftsman, and he had to admit
that the thought pleased him as well, though he didn‘t think
their friendship progressed to that stage yet. She still needed
time to establish who she was as Sarah instead of taking on her
husband‘s identity.
Yes. They‘re in the house. I didn‘t want to be around
them so I came here. She stopped walking on the bucket and
looked at him. Are you going to stop these men from coming
out? I don‘t want her to leave. Her eyes lit up. I know! You
could marry her. Then they‘d have to stop.
I should see if Mrs. Donner is giving Sarah a hard
time, Neil said.
Ben chuckled.
Don‘t you have work to do? Neil snapped.
Not at the moment, boss.
Well, find something. I don‘t pay you to watch my
love life.
Interesting you should use the word =love‘ in
conjunction with Sarah.
Groaning, Neil hurried out of the barn, Emily at his
heels.
Once he opened the kitchen door, he was relieved to
see that Sarah had abandoned the stranger who sat at the
kitchen table talking to Mrs. Donner.
They immediately stopped talking and glanced in his
direction.
Where‘s Sarah? he asked.
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She‘s in her bedroom with her baby. She mustn‘t be
disturbed, Beatrice said. She is doing what nature designed
her to do.
You mean breastfeed?
She gasped.
Mr. Craftsman, I do not wish to intrude but I don‘t
think such talk is appropriate to delicate ears, the nasally
sounding stranger admonished him.
Last time I checked, this was my house, which means I
can say whatever I want. There‘s nothing inappropriate in
mentioning a woman breastfeeding her child.
Beatrice gasped again, bringing her hands up to her ears.
He rolled his eyes and bounded up the steps, almost
breaking into laughter when he heard Emily say, I plan to
breastfeed when I have a baby someday. Sarah said that it‘s the
best kind of milk a baby can get.
Oh, Barney, do you see why Sarah needs you to rescue
her from this horrible place? Beatrice whined.
Gritting his teeth, Neil knocked on Sarah‘s door.
Who is it? Sarah called out.
Neil.
She opened the door, holding a sleeping Luke in her
arms. Did Emily send for you?
No but I thought I‘d make sure no one was causing
you problems. I know it upsets you when Beatrice is here.
I thought if I let her come spend time with Luke, then
she wouldn‘t keep sending men out here to meet me. But she‘s
getting worse. I don‘t know how else to handle it than to hide
in my room.
Relieved because she didn‘t want this man anymore
than she had wanted the others, he asked, Do you want me to
get rid of them?
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Sighing, she nodded. I should be able to do it myself,
shouldn‘t I?
I don‘t mind helping you out. Sit tight. I‘ll get rid of
them. And he was more than happy to do that for her if it
meant she wouldn‘t get attached to the man. He returned to
the kitchen.
Mrs. Donner, why do you keep calling Luke =little
Jim?‘ Emily asked, jumping up and down on the floor.
Why, it‘s his name of course, Beatrice answered.
But his mother calls him Luke.
Yes, but my son would have named him Jim, after his
own name. It‘s a family tradition.
I don‘t think it‘s right to call Luke by another name.
His father died and his mother is the one who named him. Pa
says that we need to call people by the name our parents gave
us. I was here when your son died, and he died before Luke
was born, so he never named him. So it‘s up to Mrs. Donner to
name him and she named him Luke. That means Luke is his
name.
Sometimes we must honor the wishes of the dead.
But Mrs. Donner said that your son didn‘t care about
Luke.
Neil paused, taking a sudden interest in this new
information. Sarah hadn‘t told him this.
Of course, he cared about Luke. Beatrice shook her
head. I mean, little Jim.
No, he didn‘t. Emily stopped jumping and leaned on
the kitchen table so she could look the woman in the eye. She
told me that when the robbers came, Jim ran off and left them
with her. He got shot while he was trying to get away. I don‘t
think your son was a nice man for leaving her to the robbers.
My pa wouldn‘t have done that to her.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
How dare you compare your father to my son?
Beatrice stood up, her face red. I don‘t need to put up with
your insolence, little girl.
I‘m not trying to be insolent, Mrs. Donner. I‘m just
trying to tell you that your daughter-in-law is a good person and
you should call your grandson Luke because that‘s the name she
gave him.
She‘s right, Mrs. Donner, Neil finally spoke. The
least you can do is call her son Luke.
Why, I can‘t believe you would dare intervene in a
family affair, Beatrice huffed.
This is my house, and as far as I‘m concerned, this is
Sarah‘s house too. When you‘re here, you‘ll do as Sarah says.
Neither one of you knows how to honor a parent.
We are honoring you by putting up with your
demanding presence twice a week, Mrs. Donner. This is her
house and while you‘re here, you will have to respect her
wishes. If I hear that you aren‘t, I‘m going to personally take
you back to town. Do I make myself clear? He crossed his
arms and waited for her to argue with him.
Beatrice shook her head and looked at the man sitting
next to her. Mr. Weiss, are you going to let him talk to me like
that?
Mr. Weiss stood up, put his hat on his head, and tipped
it in Neil‘s direction. I agree with what he said, ma‘am. If
you‘ll excuse me, Mr. Craftsman, I‘ll find my way out.
Neil nodded.
Beatrice angrily straightened her dress and followed Mr.
Weiss out of the house.
Emily turned to him. That was much better than what
I was doing to get rid of them!
Neil smiled. It‘s getting harder to fend them off, isn‘t
it?
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It is. I hope you‘ll do something about that.
He studied her. You‘re not still hoping for your
mother to return?
She sighed. You told me she‘s not coming back. I
guess it‘s time I listened.
He knelt down and hugged her. I‘m sorry, Em. I
really am.
I know, Pa. And I‘m sorry too.
You have nothing to be sorry about, honey.
I‘m going to do everything I can to make sure Mrs.
Donner stays. I do everything she asks. If I make myself useful
enough, she won‘t want to leave.
Honey, there‘s nothing you can do that will make Mrs.
Donner leave, all right?
The sound of footsteps on the staircase interrupted
them. Neil stood up to see Sarah entering the kitchen.
Em here did a great job of fending them off for you,
Neil said.
Sarah smiled. Thank you, Emily. And thank you,
Neil.
Where‘s Luke? Emily asked.
He‘s taking a nap. Would you like to learn to sew?
We‘ll start with a simple pattern.
I sure would! Looking at him, she wondered, Do
you need me to help with anything outside?
He laughed. No. You can help Mrs. Donner.
Sarah grinned. We‘ll call you when supper‘s ready.
He nodded and left the house.
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Chapter Fifteen
S
arah had a nagging sensation that things were building up to a
confrontation, and she discovered she was right on the second
Sunday in July. Her hands shook as she slipped into the dress
she made from the green fabric Neil bought for her. She
couldn‘t remember a time when she wore such a daring color.
She felt as if she were committing a sin, though she knew she
wasn‘t. Pressing through the task, she finished and went to the
mirror.
Exhaling, she picked up the brush and ran it through
her wavy blond tresses that fell softly down her back. One
woman at the church wore her hair down, and Sarah thought
the style was attractive so she decided to imitate it. Picking up a
ribbon, she forced her hands to steady as she pulled the sides of
her hair back and wrapped the ribbon to keep her hair out of
her face. She placed her hands on her stomach and studied her
reflection. Wide brown eyes, fair skin, dark blond hair that fell
over her shoulders, and a dress that hid her flaws. She liked
what she saw.
No wonder the preacher told women not to dress themselves up. I
didn’t realize I was this pretty.
She shook her head and placed her
new white hat, with flowers tucked into it, on her head. Then
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she slipped on her white gloves. No. There‘s nothing wrong
with looking good. I was made this way.
Determined, she picked up six-month-old Luke whose
eyes grew wide. She laughed. Don‘t you recognize your
mother?
A smile lit up his face and she kissed his forehead. His
blond hair smelled of the lilac soap she bathed him with the
night before.
I love you, you know, she whispered.
He cooed in response.
She held him close to her, taking comfort in his
presence, and strode out of the room and down the steps.
When she entered the kitchen, Neil looked up from the paper
he was reading. Emily, who sat next to him as she played with
her dolls, jumped out of her chair.
You look as pretty as my ma, she said.
Sarah blushed. Thank you, Emily. You look pretty
too.
Neil put his newspaper on the table and stood up.
Em‘s right, Sarah. You‘re the loveliest woman I‘ve ever seen.
Sarah‘s eyes met his and her breath caught in her throat.
No man had looked at her the way he looked at her, and she
wasn‘t sure what to make of it, except that she enjoyed it.
Clearing his throat, he continued, We‘re running late.
I‘ll bring the buggy around.
She watched as he left.
Emily went to the table and picked up a doll that Sarah
didn‘t recognize.
Emily? Where is Cass?
The girl fiddled with the blond hair on her new doll.
Oh, I got tired of her. I asked Grandma for this doll instead.
She came with a sister. She held up the other blond doll.
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Their names are Amy and Amanda. They‘re twins. I‘ve never
seen twins before. Have you?
Sarah thought about it. No. I haven‘t.
Luke giggled and reached for her hair. Sarah gasped
and gently pulled his hand away, amazed at his strength.
You shouldn‘t hurt your mother, Luke, Emily
admonished. You could pull her hair out and then she‘d be
bald.
A smile crossed Sarah‘s face. I don‘t think that‘s a
concern, but it did hurt. Are you taking those dolls to church?
Yes.
Horses neighed from outside. A quick peek out the
open window showed Neil pulling the buggy up to the house.
We should go. Sarah took a step forward.
Pa loves you. He‘s going to ask you to marry him.
Sarah halted in mid-step. She couldn‘t be sure what
Emily was thinking because the girl had her head bowed over
her dolls. Stopping Luke from grabbing for her hair again, she
said, Surely, he hasn‘t told you this.
She shrugged. He doesn‘t need to. I see the way he
looks when he talks to you. He didn‘t look at Ma that way. He
and Ma rarely said anything to each other, but he spends all his
free time with you.
Feeling heat rise to her cheeks, she pushed aside the flip
flops in her stomach. He and I have formed a friendship.
Michelle says that when a boy and a girl spend a lot of
time together, it means that they are courting, and courting
means they love each other.
Sarah had heard the name but couldn‘t remember
where. Who‘s Michelle?
She‘s one of the older students in class. She graduated
this year.
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Oh, the know-it-all Michelle from Emily‘s school. That
explained the comment. Well Emily, life isn‘t simple and
neither are people. You can‘t tell for sure what will happen.
Emily looked up at her then, her green eyes intense.
Do you love him?
The question, so bold, threw her off guard. Before she
could answer, Neil opened the kitchen door. Breathing a sigh
of relief, she held her son with one arm and held her free hand
out to Emily.
Emily, holding onto her dolls with one hand, accepted
Sarah‘s extended hand and didn‘t ask her anything else.
Apparently, eight year olds were smarter than Sarah gave them
credit for. She wasn‘t comfortable with the girl asking if she
loved her father. Could Emily tell? Was Sarah that obvious,
even to children? And if her feelings were that transparent, did
Neil know?
After Neil helped Emily into the buggy, he turned to
Sarah and held his hand out to her. Aware of the fact that
Emily studied them, Sarah murmured a thanks and accepted his
hand, noticing how warm and firm it was. Her face flushed as
his touch sent tingles through her body. He placed his other
hand on the small of her back as she stepped into the buggy.
This sense of nervous excitement had been steadily increasing
whenever he was near. She didn‘t know how she could stop it,
or even if she wanted to. It was a wonderful sensation but one
that made it hard to think.
During the ride to town, Emily did most of the talking.
When they got to the church, they sat next to Rachel and
Caroline‘s families. Preacher Amos blamed her for the fact that
Rachel and Caroline‘s families left his church to go to the one
Neil did. She did enjoy Neil‘s church, and it amazed her that
women dressed to look their best and that Preacher Peters told
the men to treat women as their equals. The concepts were so
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new that it took her a good month before she felt comfortable
sitting through a sermon. Caroline said her husband began to
teach their daughter to play the piano, and Caroline and Rachel
agreed that their families were happier at the new church so it
all seemed to work out.
On that particular day, people complimented her on her
dress, saying she looked beautiful. She wasn‘t prepared for the
kind words, so she didn‘t know how else to respond than with a
shy thank you.
It wasn‘t until after they returned home with Neil‘s
mother that the confrontation occurred. They had just finished
their supper when a loud knocking brought Sarah to the kitchen
door. She gasped when she realized Preacher Amos and his
congregation stood outside the house.
Mrs. Donner, it is with a heav y heart that we approach
you, the preacher told her.
She glanced at her son who sat on the hardwood floor
playing with two pans and a wooden spoon. The clanking made
it hard for her to understand the preacher. Turning back to the
group of fifty people, including Jim‘s mother, she stepped
outside and shut the door, determined that she wouldn‘t show
her apprehension. What is it?
Would you look at the dress she‘s wearing? a woman
hissed to the woman standing next to her. Absolutely
dreadful.
I don‘t recall the Good Book speaking against a
woman wearing the color green, Sarah said, shoving her shaky
hands behind her back.
The woman snapped her head in Sarah‘s direction.
Sarah waited for a reply but it never came. Satisfied that
she finally managed to shut old lady Mildred‘s mouth, she
looked at the preacher.
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It appears that living in this house, under the influence
of Mr. Craftsman, has done incredible damage to you, Sarah,
Amos spoke, his expression sad. Now, I don‘t blame you.
None of us do. We realize now that not taking you in when
you had nowhere to go was wrong. We are here to correct that
problem. You have a welcome invitation to stay with anyone in
this group that you choose.
Taking a deep breath, she replied, I wish to remai n
here.
A round of disapproving murmurs greeted her ears.
We cannot allow this rebellion to continue, the
preacher insisted. As the man who‘s responsible for your
spiritual well-being, I have to take you away from here. Unless
you designate someone to stay with, you will go with Beatrice
Donner.
Sarah gave a sharp look at Jim‘s mother who smiled
smugly at her. No. I will not live with her. It is enough that I
let her come by twice a week to see Luke.
Then you refuse to do what‘s right.
I‘m not doing anything wrong.
That proves it. Beatrice nodded emphatically at him.
There‘s no hope for her. She‘s fallen too far away from what‘s
right. We can‘t let her lead her son into the same immoral fate
that she‘s chosen.
Sarah‘s spine stiffened. You‘re not taking my son
anywhere!
Your son is also Jim‘s son, and since Jim is dead, that
means half the rights of guardianship go to me.
It does not! She stomped her foot and yelled, Get
out of here! All of you!
Sarah, Amos began, we have to consider what‘s best
for the child.
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The door opened behind her, stopping her from
screaming at them again. She jerked to the side so Neil‘s
mother could step onto the porch.
What‘s going on here? Gwen demanded, her hands
on her hips and her gaze sweeping the crowd.
The preacher shook his head. This does not concern
you, ma‘am. We merely have business with Mrs. Donner.
Well, if you‘re on my son‘s property, then anything you
have to say is my business. She crossed her arms. So, Sarah,
what are they doing to trouble you?
Mrs. Craftsman, I don‘t want to involve you in this
mess, Sarah whispered.
She waved her hand at her. I have a son who‘s gotten
himself into quite a few messes in his time. She glanced at the
crowd. Though I can tell you all, he doesn‘t do so anymore.
Turning her tender eyes to Sarah, she asked, What is it, Sarah?
The warmth in the woman‘s expression brought tears to
Sarah‘s eyes. Quickly dabbing them away, she cleared her
throat and replied, Jim‘s mother came to take Luke.
Little Jim, Beatrice snapped. And of course, I came
to take him from this den of immorality.
Gwen‘s lips tightened. I assure you that there‘s
nothing of the sort going on. They have behaved themselves.
A mother has to stick up for her son, no matter how
much of a brute he is, Jim‘s mother hissed.
Interesting you should say that, Sarah noted.
Beatrice gasped. Jim was the gentlest man the world
has ever known.
Sarah was ready to disqualify that remark but the
condemning words fell silent. What else did the woman have
but her illusion of how things were between Sarah and Jim?
Gwen put her hands up to stop the murmuring from
the group. None of t hat matters now. What does matter is
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that we are moving forward. And since that is the case, I might
as well make the announcement. My son and Sarah are getting
married, so all of this talk is useless.
Sarah felt as if the air had been knocked out of her
lungs. Marriage? She and Neil had discussed nothing of the
sort! Not that the idea didn‘t appeal to her. In fact, the notion
rather pleased her. But still…no agreement had been made!
That is out of the question! Beatrice grabbed Amos‘
hand. You must stop this. If they marry, I‘ll never get Little
Jim to live with me.
A horse‘s neigh interrupted the people. Looking at the
source of the sound, Sarah saw Neil riding his stallion up to the
porch, the evening sun beating down on him. When he reached
the porch, several people backed away. What‘s going on
here? he demanded.
Oh good, you‘re here! Gwen skipped down the steps.
I was just telling this nice group of well -wishers the good
news.
Sarah‘s stomach tensed into an even bigger knot than
before Gwen showed up. Darting a glance through the window
she saw that Emily was playing with Luke. Luke laughed at the
silly faces Emily made at him. That scene helped ease her
tension…but only a little bit.
Good news? Neil, predictably, a sked.
Yes. His mother beamed at him. I was just telling
Preacher Amos and the nice people that attend his church that
you and Sarah are going to get married.
To Neil‘s credit, Sarah didn‘t see him flinch the way Jim
had when her parents presented him with the proposal.
Instead, Neil‘s eyes met hers, but she had no idea what he was
thinking.
Beatrice clutched her hands to her chest. I can‘t allow
this to happen. Sarah, you are free to marry whoever you wish,
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but I will be taking my precious Little Jim home. Beatrice
barged toward the door.
In the next instant, Sarah blocked the woman‘s way to
the door. Neil jumped off the horse so he stood between her
and Beatrice. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest while Neil
spoke in low, even tones.
Mrs. Donner, he told Beatrice, hasn‘t it worked out
that you get to see Luke twice a week? Sarah hasn‘t been unfair
to you. In fact, considering the degree of hostility you‘ve
shown her, I surmise that she‘s been a saint when it comes to
dealing with you. He peered over his shoulder at Sarah.
When do you want the wedding?
The question caught her off guard as much as the
onlookers staring at them did. Oh. She cleared her throat,
her heart racing at the thought of being his wife. I…When do
you think Preacher Peters will be able to perform the
ceremony?
You see? Beatrice turned to the group. They didn‘t
plan on getting married. They are only saying this so I can‘t
have my Little Jim.
His name is Luke, Neil sharply stated. And by
tonight, he‘ll be Luke Craftsman because we‘re going to town to
get married right now.
Sarah‘s jaw dropped.
Now?
Gwen squealed and ran over to Sarah. Wrapping an
arm around Sarah‘s shoulders, she told Beatrice, I assure you
that my son will be a good father to Luke.
Beatrice turned to the preacher. You have to stop
them. They can‘t get married! I want my grandson.
You are welcome to see him, but it will be on Sarah‘s
terms, Neil said. Now, I advise everyone to get off my
property before I have my farmhands chase you off.
But…But… Beatrice stared at the preacher.
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Amos sighed. If they are willing to do what‘s right, I
won‘t stop them. You‘ll have to concede to what Mr.
Craftsman says. Once he marries Sarah, he has the authority.
Good. Neil nodded. Then it‘s settled. No one has
to come out here anymore trying to convince Sarah to leave.
Sarah turned her eyes to the strong man in front of her.
Did he sound relieved about that? She wondered if it could be
true, that he did want to marry her. But after Jim, she hardly
dared to hope for such a thing. It was Gwen who announced
the marriage, and Neil was doing his part by rescuing Sarah,
once again, from a bad situation.
The preacher put his arm around a sobbing Beatrice and
instructed the group to get into their buggies and wagons so
they could depart.
Neil turned to Sarah and his mother. Well, if I‘m
going to get married, I should at least take a quick bath. I don‘t
want to smell like I‘ve been spending all afternoon in the
pasture.
Oh good! Gwen clapped. I‘ll watch Emily and Luke
and tuck them into bed.
Neil turned his face to the early evening sun, giving
Sarah a good view of his profile. She was struck by his
handsome features. He was so unlike Jim, and those differences
weren‘t just on the surface. Her breath caught in her throat.
I
do love him.
She mentally slapped herself.
No.
Don’t fall in love,
Sarah. Don’t you remember what happened last time? Don’t let yourself
be hurt like that again.
Remember, he’s only doing you a favor. He
knows that you’ll keep Luke
if he offers you a permanent place in his home
and life.
Gwen opened the door and told Emily the news. Sarah
took her focus off of Neil to study the girl‘s reaction, wondering
how she would take it. After all, Sarah wasn‘t her mother. As if
sensing her uncertainty, Neil pressed a hand on her arm and
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walked through the doorway so he could sit next to Emily.
Sarah held back, not feeling it was her place to explain the
situation to the girl.
To her surprise, Emily nodded. I know that Ma‘s not
coming back. I didn‘t want to believe it, but it‘s true. It‘s like
you always say, Pa. We have to move on and make the best of
it. I‘ll try not to do anything to make Mrs. Donner leave.
The last sentence tore at Sarah‘s heart. She moved to
the porch swing to regain her composure. Too much was
happening too fast, and she didn‘t know what was going to
happen next. She watched as the last person hopped on his
horse and left the property. Closing her eyes, she wondered
what she could do to make Emily feel secure.
***
Neil sat next to his new bride in the buggy, aware of the
darkness surrounding them and the unspoken question hanging
in the air. What did this new development mean to their
relationship? Did they continue as before…or did they proceed
forward? He knew that Sarah was in shock. Even he couldn‘t
believe they were married. The preacher took the task to wed
them in stride, as if he expected it. The ceremony was short
and private. They only had the pastor‘s wife and son for
witnesses. It was so unlike his wedding when he married
Cassie. But then, that didn‘t come as a complete surprise.
Cassie had been eager to be the center of attention. Not Sarah.
Sarah would rather stay out of sight and watch others.
Crickets chirped through the still air.
Beside him, Sarah gave a slight jump.
Are you all right? he asked, thankful that he had
something to say, even if it was a standard question.
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She chuckled, her smile relaxing his nerves. You‘ll
think I‘m silly.
He grinned. What?
She shook her head. Well, I ought to tell you that I
hate corn. I mean, I don‘t mind when it‘s on the plate, but
when it‘s high on a stalk like these all around us…It‘s easy to
imagine that someone is hiding in the shadows, especially when
it‘s dark out.
Then it‘s a good thing I grow beans. He inched over
to her and slipped his arm around her shoulders. I don‘t mind
protecting a pretty lady.
She settled against him and he became aware of her
body. She was softness and curves, the very thing that enticed
his senses. He had been able to keep such thoughts suppressed
for the past few months, but now that they were married, it
seemed the defenses he had carefully built to protect himself
from loving a woman were tumbling around him. Not only was
she a woman, but she was a beautiful one. She both terrified
and excited him, and he didn‘t know what to do about either
emotion.
He rested his head against her hair, noting the scent of
lye soap she used to wash in the river. Washing in the
river…This thought led to images of her bathing in the river.
Wet, long hair falling down her back, soft plump breasts with
drops of water lingering at her pink nipples, and further
down…Heat swelled in his loins and his slacks suddenly seemed
restrictive. Struggling to think of something else, anything that
would make the bulge in his pants less noticeable, he focused
on the gelding pulling their buggy along the smooth path.
It‘s silly, isn‘t it? she whispered, squirming closer to
him. The curve of her breast pressed into his side.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
His heart pounding, he forced his mind on her words.
What‘s silly? He winced, realizing his voice came low and
husky.
Thankfully, she didn‘t seem to notice. It‘s silly to be
afraid of stalks of corn.
He found a smile stretching across his face. I don‘t
know. When I was a kid, my father would grow them and one
time I ventured in the cornfield. If I recall right, it took a good
day for my father and his farmhands to find me.
She turned her face to him, her concerned expression
piercing his shield. How awful! How old were you?
About eight. Emily‘s age. I learned not to venture in
again unless I left a trail to find my way back.
Her eyes widened. You went in again?
He shrugged. I did on a challenge.
That is awful.
He laughed at her incredulous expression. I couldn‘t
let Tommy Larson win one up on me.
I hope Emily has more sense than to go into
cornfields!
Oh, she does. She‘s a smart little girl. It‘s the boys you
have to watch out for. They‘re the ones who are constantly
looking to get into trouble.
Are you saying that Luke might try something that
foolhardy?
I‘d guarantee it. Fortunately, he‘ll have his big sister to
keep him in line.
Well, I must warn him about cornfields when he‘s
older.
It was a natural mothering instinct, he knew, that caused
her to start fretting over her son before he could even crawl.
And he loved her for it. He pressed his lips against her temple,
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keeping them there a moment longer than necessary. You‘re a
good mother, Sarah.
She smiled but looked down at her hands which
remained folded in her lap. He couldn‘t be sure but he thought
he saw her blushing in the moonlight.
The gelding moved the buggy past the stalks of corn
that marked the edge of Dave Larson‘s property and the
beginning of his pastured land. Is this better? He motioned
to the flat landscape.
Much. I like being able to look out at the prairie.
And I like knowing that I’ll be looking at you for the rest of my
life.
He kept the thought to himself. She was completely
unaware of her affect on men, even when she had worn her
drab colors. Try as she might, she couldn‘t hide her beauty. It
didn‘t surprise him that men came out to talk with her. He
nearly jumped at the chance his mother offered when Amos
and his congregation came out.
Even if they married to make sure Beatrice Donner
didn‘t take Luke from her, he wanted to be with her. It was a
bonus that marrying her gave Emily a loving mother.
Thankfully, Emily‘s questions about Cassie had stopped.
Though she still missed her mother, she had told him that she
liked Sarah and hoped Sarah would stay for a long time.
The
poor girl’s been through so much.
He prayed that this would be
healing for her.
He pulled the buggy to a stop in front of the house and
helped her out. It‘s been a long day. He held her hands, not
wishing to break contact but knowing it was inevitable. Her
skin was warm and soft. The moonlight made her blond hair
shine as it tumbled over her shoulders. Her eyes met his and he
saw something in them he hadn‘t seen in any other woman‘s. It
was a promise. A promise of hope, of happiness, and most
importantly, of love.
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Taking a deep breath, he said, I am glad we‘re
married.
She smiled and whispered, I am too.
He leaned forward, ready to kiss her, recalling how
sweet their kiss had been when they said their vows, and
suddenly, the front door opened. Startled, he jerked back and
released her hands. He tipped his hat over his eyes so that his
mother wouldn‘t detect his embarrassment.
Are you married? the woman asked as she bounded
down the steps with Luke in her arms.
Yes, we are, he replied. I should put the horse and
buggy away. Turning to Sarah, he said, No one will try to take
Luke from you anymore.
Thank you, Neil. She took Luke and kissed the boy
on the forehead. He squirmed and pulled on her hair.
Laughing, she said, I think I know why women keep their hair
up all the time. Has he eaten? she asked his mother.
No. I thought you might want to do that since you
mentioned liking that part of the day the best, his mother
replied.
Sarah nodded. I‘ll take him upstairs. And thank you,
Gwen.
Once the kitchen screen door shut behind Sarah and
Luke, Neil turned his attention to his mother.
She motioned to the buggy. I‘m ready to go home.
She couldn‘t be serious. No. It‘s late. You should
stay here for the night.
I insist on going home. I need to meet with my friends
tomorrow morning.
Mother, it‘s almost eleven. Just how early were you
planning on seeing your friends?
Raising her eyebrows, as if challenging him, she said,
Early. Very early.
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He shook his head. She was lying. Get back into the
house. You‘re tired. We‘ll get you settled on the couch in the
parlor.
She let out a long sigh. Is it wrong for a mother to
want her son to have time with his new bride?
It‘s not that kind of marriage. We agreed to it so that
Mrs. Donner won‘t take Luke away.
Sarah‘s a good woman, the kind I prayed for you to
receive.
He glanced at the screen door. The kerosene lamp lit
the kitchen and part of the stairway. Sarah was upstairs. In her
bedroom. Was she waiting for him? I don‘t deserve a good
woman.
I think after all you went through with Cassie, you do.
He took a long look at his mother, noting the caring
expression on her face. It never occurred to him that she
picked up on the truth when it came to Cassie. He assumed she
was blind to it, but as he studied her face, he realized she knew
the truth all along but chose to appear ignorant in order to
make life easier for him and for Cassie.
It‘s been a long day, he finally said. Go on in and
get some sleep, all right? You won‘t be in the way.
Her expression reluctant, she obeyed and went into the
house.
No. Sarah wasn‘t waiting for him. She‘d feed Luke and
then go to sleep. Repeating that to himself, he hopped into the
buggy and took it to the barn.
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Chapter Sixteen
A
week passed and Sarah wasn‘t sure how to relate to Neil.
He was her husband, and yet, he wasn‘t. He kept his distance,
stayed in his bedroom at night, and treated her as kindly as
before. She didn‘t feel it was right to expect more. After all,
getting married was his mother‘s idea, and he understood that
Luke‘s future was at stake. He did the right and noble thing.
Had it not been for Luke, he wouldn‘t have married her at all.
Sarah tried to go back to the way things were before the
wedding, but she found the task daunting. It was merely a
ceremony they went through. A pastor, some vows, a kiss, and
a piece of paper. That was all there was to it. They should be
able to continue on, enjoying the friendship they had developed
over the course of five months. It should have been that easy.
So why wasn‘t it?
One Saturday morning as she cooked eggs in a skillet,
Emily sat in a chair at the kitchen table and entertained Luke
who sat in his high chair. Luke giggled and Emily continued to
make the dolls dance in front of him as she sang an off-beat
tune. Sarah smiled. How nice it was to see the two getting
along as if they were related by blood. Then again, Sarah
decided she shouldn‘t be surprised. Children didn‘t make
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distinctions regarding lineage like adults did. And Luke didn‘t
know any father but Neil.
Frowning, she turned her attention back to the skillet.
Luke had a right to know about Jim, and that meant he had a
right to know Jim‘s mother. For the longest time, she prayed
for a child, but if it had been her choice, Neil would have been
Luke‘s father. Not that Neil hadn‘t taken Luke in as if he were
his own, but there would have been something special in
knowing that she and Neil created a new life together,
something that was a blend of the two of them. She bit her
lower lip and flipped the eggs over, careful not to disturb their
yolks. Was there even the possibility that there might be more
children?
The kitchen door opened and Emily threw her dolls
down and ran to welcome her father. Sarah chuckled as he
picked Emily up and gave her a big hug.
I missed you, Pa, she said, hanging onto his neck.
With the way you act, you‘d think I‘d been gone for a
year. Though he rolled his eyes, his smile indicated his
pleasure. He set her on her feet and hung up his hat. And
who do we have here?
He knelt in front of Luke. Luke watched as Neil put his
hands up to his eyes, quickly put his hands down, and said
Peek a boo . This game earned Neil a round of giggles from
Luke. Neil did it again, which only made Luke laugh harder.
Emily joined in and helped her father play the game.
All right, all right, Sarah intervened through laughter
of her own. It‘s time to eat breakfast.
As they scrambled into their seats, she gathered the
plates and set them down, filling them with eggs, bacon, biscuits
and jelly. After she sat next to Luke so she could feed him, she
listened as Neil and Emily explained their plans for riding in the
pasture for the day.
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Why don‘t you come along? Neil offered. You
might want to learn to ride a horse.
Sarah shook her head. No thanks. You may like them
and I understand their usefulness, but I have no desire to ride
one.
It‘s not scary, Emily told her. Why, I was riding one
by myself when I was five.
Sarah‘s eyes grew wide. Five?
Neil nodded. She was born for it. I‘ve never seen
anyone ride one as naturally as she does.
I could teach you, the girl insisted.
No. I‘d rather not, though I do appreciate the offer. I
want to work on the purple dress I‘m making.
Neil‘s eyes met hers. You‘re making another dress?
Nodding, she fed Luke a small piece of her biscuit. I
can‘t wear the green one all the time. Looking down at her
brown dress, she admitted, I‘m tired of the colors I usua lly
wear anyway.
Good for you, Sarah. You look good no matter what
color you wear, but you can make a man stop and stare when
you put on a pretty color.
She blushed, her heart skipping a beat at his kind words.
Daring a glance in his direction, she noted the red color in his
face as he focused on his meal.
It‘s true, Emily added. Why, I remember hearing a
man at church ask Pa if you two were going to be married
because the man said you would make a fine looking wife. Pa
got upset because he was jealous. Oh, he didn‘t say anything
but I could tell because when Pa‘s upset, the vein in his
forehead pops out like-
Emily, Neil interrupted, shooting his daughter a stern
look, finish your meal so we can get out to the barn.
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Though Emily‘s slip most likely embarrassed him to no
end, Sarah was secretly pleased that Neil considered her worthy
of getting jealous over.
You know what? Neil looked up from his plate of
half-eaten food as if Emily hadn‘t said anything. I should take
Luke out there.
She paused, her fork with a little bit of egg on it halted
right in front of Luke‘s mouth. When Luke protested, she
quickly fed him. Then she glanced at Neil. How are you going
to hold a baby while you‘re on a horse?
Oh, that‘s easy, he said. All I need to do is put him
in the harness I made when Emily was a baby. I used to take
her with me when I went out into the fields. Actually, I pretty
much took her everywhere with me. I used that harness a lot
back then. It‘s good quality. I made it out of leather. Luke will
just slip right in and he‘ll be strapped to my chest. Now that
he‘s old enough to take in his surroundings, I think he‘ll have a
lot of fun checking out the cattle and crops.
Is he that old already? Sarah sighed, recalling how tiny
he was when he was born. He seemed to have grown into a
chubby big baby overnight.
I used to fit in that small harness? Emily asked.
You sure did. You loved being in that thing too.
You‘d even take naps in it.
Can I see it?
After we finish breakfast.
That seemed to be the only motivation she needed since
she practically inhaled the rest of her meal.
What do you say? Neil asked Sarah. Can I take Luke
out there?
Sarah tore her eyes from Emily as she gulped down the
milk in her cup. I‘ll get him ready.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
While she changed Luke‘s diaper, she heard Emily and
Neil up in the attic as they searched for the harness.
Pa, did I wear that little dress? Emily asked.
Yes. You used to wear all these dresses.
Why did you save them?
In case you had a younger sister.
Well, you might still need them, right?
Sarah listened for his response, for she wondered the
same thing.
Em, you think too much for a girl your age, came his
response.
Sarah unpinned the cloth diaper, trying not to dwell on
her disappointment. She removed the soiled diaper and
dropped it in the bucket at her feet.
Emily gave a loud groan. But Pa , you tell me that I
should think all the time because it will make me smart.
He laughed. Touché.
Too-what?
Touché. It means you win the argument. You are
right. You do need to think because it will make you smart.
Sarah slipped the dry cloth under Luke‘s bare bottom as
she noted the girl‘s eager jumping up and down on the attic
floor.
Neil grunted and some objects clanked together before
he stated, Here it is. Still in fine condition too.
I can‘t wait to see Luke in it! Emily squealed.
You will soon enough.
A lid to a trunk slammed shut.
Pa?
What?
What do I call Mrs. Donner now that she‘s no longer
Mrs. Donner? I mean, do I call her Mrs. Craftsman?
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A long pause followed while Sarah pinned the diaper
securely on Luke who grinned at her. She bent down and
kissed his nose. He laughed and reached for her hair, but she
had it pulled back into a bun so he couldn‘t grab it.
Ha ha, she retorted playfully.
He grunted but quickly smiled again and waved his
arms.
What do you want to call her? Neil finally asked.
Sarah lifted Luke so he‘d stop gurgling. Hastening to
the door of her room, she turned her ear so she could hear
them better. She wanted to know what Emily wished to call
her.
Well, Ma‘s not coming back, right?
Right. His voice was so low Sarah barely heard him.
Then it makes sense that Mrs. Donner is now my
mother since she married you.
In a way, yes.
Will Luke be calling you Pa?
I don‘t know. I hadn‘t thought about it, but I guess
so.
I think I‘ll call her Ma.
She‘ll like that. She detected a smile in his voice.
Sarah forced back the tears in her eyes and kissed the
top of Luke‘s head. Stepping into the hallway, she waited for
Neil and Emily to descend the ladder. Once Neil shut the attic
door, she watched in fascination as he put the harness over his
head and strapped it around his chest.
I‘m ready for him, he told her.
She handed Luke to him and he put the baby into the
harness. Luke fit into it, his back to Neil‘s chest so he had a
good view of everything in front of him. She didn‘t know why
the sight of a man in faded denim pants and a blue cotton shirt
carrying a baby in a harness should appeal to her as much as it
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did. Neil looked downright handsome. Again, her stomach did
those crazy flip flops.
Luke wiggled his arms and legs and babbled.
If memory serves, you did the same thing, Neil told
Emily.
Emily waved at Luke. I‘m going to have more fun
than you because I‘ll be riding a horse! Come on, Pa! Let‘s go.
She ran down the steps, calling out, We‘ll be back for supper,
Ma! Then she flung open the kitchen door and rushed outside.
Sarah turned to Neil. You won‘t be back for lunch?
We usually eat out in the pasture like the other
farmhands do. Don‘t worry, I can find something edible for
Luke. I‘ll even change and wash the diapers if you hand me a
couple of clean ones.
She retrieved the new cloth diapers from her dresser
and handed them to him.
He shoved them into the pouch he had sewn to the
back of the harness. He took a moment to study her. Are you
sure you‘re all right with this?
Yes. I am. I trust you with him. She went over to
Luke and kissed him on the top of his head. His blond wavy
hair was soft to her lips. Smiling at Neil, she softly continued,
Neil, as far as I‘m concerned, Luke is your son. Not only are
you the only father he‘s ever known but you pay more attention
to him than Jim would have. I hope you‘ll let him call you his
father.
Neil brought his hands up to her arms and pulled her
closer to him, his touch gentle but firm. I do think of him as
my son.
She nodded, aware of her flesh tingling where he
touched her. I know, and I‘m grateful for that.
He leaned closer to her, his eyelids closing, and she
followed suit, pulse racing, realizing that they were about to
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kiss. His lips brushed against hers just as the kitchen door
swung open and an impatient Emily called out, Pa? Are you
ready yet?
They bolted from each other at the same moment, and
for the brevity of the kiss, it consumed her with a searing heat
that sparked her body in a way that Jim‘s kisses never did.
Clearing her throat and feeling flustered, she said, You better
go.
He hesitated for a moment before he nodded. You‘re
right. If I wait any longer, Emily will be charging up here like a
knight going into battle.
She chuckled at the image of the little girl wearing
armor.
Pa?
We‘ll be back at supper time, he replied.
Sarah stared after him as he traveled down the steps,
thinking of the kiss and wondering what possibilities might lay
ahead for them.
***
Late that night, Neil stood in the hallway, contemplating
his options as he had every night since he married Sarah. The
hallway was covered in darkness, but he knew where the three
bedrooms were like he knew the back of his hand. The
moonlight streaming through his bedroom window gave
enough light through his open door to show him that Sarah left
her door partially open. She used to shut it. That meant she
was inviting him in, didn‘t it?
They had kissed earlier that day. She hadn‘t pulled away
from him. Well, not until Emily interrupted. He thought that
Sarah might be open to pursuing the physical side of their
marriage. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward, his bare
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feet gliding slowly across the cool hardwood floor, barely
making a sound. He would ask. Just one question and he
would know either way.
His heart raced as he reached her door. She did touch
his shoulder while she poured his coffee for him at supper. She
hadn‘t done that before. He took that as a hopeful sign.
Maybe
I’m reading too much into things. I want so badly for her to love me.
It
hadn‘t occurred to him until that moment that he needed
her…or that he loved her.
He didn‘t like this feeling of vulnerability that love
required. It was easier to step back, to pretend that they weren‘t
married and simply live as they had been. Friendship was nice
and safe. But neither his heart nor his body was eager to play it
safe. A man was hard pressed to find a woman better than
Sarah. Neil would be a fool to turn his back on the chance of
making their marriage all it could be.
That’s where I’ll start. I’ll tell her that I love her and that I want
to be a real husband to her.
Taking a deep breath, he softly knocked on her door.
The door swung open and his gaze fell to her sleeping form
tucked under her covers. The cool night air drifted through the
room. Luke rolled over in his crib. Neil debated waking her up
but didn‘t have the heart to do it. She worked hard on the
purple dress that day. Inspecting the flattering dress that rested
on her rocking chair, he realized she had completed it. He
hoped she would wear it tomorrow. It would look nice on her.
He noticed Luke shiver, so he closed the window until it
was open a crack and pulled the blanket up to his shoulders.
The baby sighed and Neil smiled. It had been a fun day, taking
the boy and Emily out to the fields. The only thing missing was
being able to come home and kiss Sarah the way he wanted to.
Tomorrow. I’ll tell her how I feel tomorrow.
Sure, it was
something he promised himself every night, but he was
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determined this time. That, and he knew his body wouldn‘t
leave him alone until he made a move to figure out if she
wanted to join him in bed. Deciding that the next day would
answer his questions, he quietly left the room and spent the rest
of the night trying to sleep.
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Chapter Seventeen
S
arah tied the purple ribbon around her hair. She inspected
her reflection, noting the braiding of her hair and the way her
dress showed off her curves. Blushing, she fought the urge to
throw on one of her drab dresses. But she wanted Neil to be
attracted to her. Maybe it would give him ideas pertaining to
the bedroom. Twirling the brush in her hand, she wondered if
it was wrong to tempt him, but how could it be wrong to tempt
one‘s own husband to bed? It was strange tha t she was even
interested in lovemaking since she didn‘t enjoy it with Jim.
However, she had a feeling she would enjoy it with Neil. He
actually listened to her and treated her with respect. His touch
and kiss made her feel things that Jim‘s hadn‘t, at least not since
she realized Jim would never love her.
She set the brush on the dresser, straightened her back,
and opened the door. She wasn‘t an untried woman. She knew
what a man and woman did together in bed, and she wanted
that closeness with Neil. Should the chance come to act on her
desire, she would give into it. Nodding, she marched out of her
bedroom and down the staircase, determined to give Neil a kiss.
If a kiss wasn‘t bold enough to get his interest, then he was a
lost cause.
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However, as soon as her foot landed on the bottom
step, she saw that Neil and Emily were talking and looking out
the kitchen window.
What‘s wrong? she asked. She bypassed Luke, who
was holding onto a chair so he could stand, and joined them at
the window. Her eyes took in the dark gray sky and light rain.
The strong wind whistled against the house and bent the smaller
trees on the property. I knew it was windy but I didn‘t realize
a storm was brewing.
We won‘t be going to church today, Neil replied.
Emily, change into your play clothes. Then gather your dolls
and come back down here.
Something in his tone worried Sarah. She waited until
Emily was upstairs before asking, Do you think it‘s going to be
bad?
He turned to her, paused for a moment, and smiled. I
was hoping you‘d wear that dress today. You look beautiful.
Her cheeks grew warm. Smoothing her dress, she
thanked him. I have to admit that wearing light colors is nice.
A heavy tree branch fell off one of the trees and hit the
porch swing.
She jumped.
He picked Luke up and put him in her arms. Take
Luke to the storm cellar. Is there anything you want to keep?
Startled, she shook her head. No. I don‘t think so.
All right. I‘ll get Emily.
As soon as he raced up the stairs, she hurried out the
door, dodging a smaller tree branch that flew at her. The wind,
picking up in intensity, twisted the skirt of her dress around her
legs, making it difficult for her to run across the lawn to the
storm cellar at the back of the house. She pressed forward into
the strong wind, clutching Luke to her chest.
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Ben was the first to see her as the farmhands rushed
into the underground dwelling. I‘ll get him in for you.
She handed him the crying child and followed him in,
thanking Jacob who held the door for them. One last look at
the dark sky caused chills to run up and down her spine. It was
a spooky sight, and she prayed Neil and Emily would hurry. As
soon as her feet landed on the dirt floor, Ben handed Luke back
to her.
Cal held a lantern in the center of the group of five
farmhands who huddled together in the small space. There‘s
no need to worry, Mrs. Craftsman, Cal assured her. This
shelter is secure.
Do you think we‘re really going to have a tornado?
she asked. She had heard of tornadoes but never experienced
one.
We can‘t say for sure. We just know when it looks
bad, it‘s best not to take our chances.
She nodded and turned her attention to the cellar door.
How long would it take Emily to get dressed and grab her dolls?
The sound of hail pounded on the door. She backed
away from it and the men gathered around her so she was in the
center of the group. Closing her eyes, she said a quick prayer
for Neil and Emily. The wind grew stronger, and the group
stood in silence. She took in the worried looks on the men‘s
faces.
I‘m going to get Neil and Emily, Ben said, reaching
for the door.
A loud knocking stopped him. He eagerly unlocked the
door and held onto it as Jacob held his arms up. Sarah watched
with relief as Jacob took Emily from Neil who stepped into the
cellar. They fought the wind and hail so he could lock the door.
Overwhelmed to see that he and Emily were safe, she pushed
passed the farmhands so she could hug Emily. Then she turned
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to Neil and kissed him. It wasn‘t something she planned to do,
but she was so grateful to see him that she didn‘t stop to
question the wisdom of her actions. When she pulled away, she
recalled their audience and turned her focus on Emily and
kissed her forehead.
Ben slapped Neil on the back. We were starting to get
worried.
Neil waved his hand. You know how hard it is to get
rid of me.
It sounds bad out there, boss, Cal added.
It is. There‘s a tornado somewhere out there. I could
hear it.
The mention of a twister was enough for Sarah to stay
close to Neil and Emily. It suddenly occurred to her that losing
either of them would have caused the grief that Jim‘s passing
had not. Ten years of her life she spent with Jim and did not
mourn his passing. But half a year with Neil and his daughter
changed her entire life. With Neil, she had a man worth loving,
and with Emily, she had a daughter.
Once the winds died down, they ventured out, noting
the fallen tree branches that were strewn across their wet
property. Hail, the size of a silver dollar, littered the grass as
well. Part of the roof on the barn needed repairing and a few
other places needed fixing, but it could have been worse. The
bunkhouse, barn and house were still standing. Most of the
animals were safe. She counted her blessings and said a prayer
of thanks for each one.
It looks like we got some work to do, Neil told the
farmhands.
Cal laughed. Heck, if that‘s the worst of it, let me at
it!
The rest of the men nodded.
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Neil turned to Jacob. Go check on your wife and son.
The tornado sounded like it was southeast, so your place should
be fine, but it never hurts to be sure.
Thanks, boss, Jacob said as he hurried to his horse.
The rest of the farmhands departed to start the repairs.
Oh, I grabbed this on my way out with Emily. Neil
turned to her and handed her the locket that her parents had
given her. I know how much this necklace means to you and
if the house got blown down, I wanted you to have it.
She took it from him, her hand trembling. Neil, I…I
don‘t know what to say, she whispered, touched that he
thought to retrieve it.
There are some things money can‘t replace. He
stroked her cheek with his fingers, brushing away a tear, and
kissed her.
This is the nicest thing anyone‘s ever done for me,
she finally replied when she trusted her voice to remain steady.
I told you she was going to cry, Emily spoke up,
holding her two dolls and looking satisfied that she made an
accurate prediction.
He glanced at his church suit. I‘m going to help the
men after I change. Neil smiled at Sarah and ruffled Emily‘s
hair.
Hey! I like to look nice, Emily argued, combing her
fingers through her tangles.
The wind already messed it up. There‘s not any more
damage I can do, he replied.
Come, Sarah told the girl. We‘ll fix your hair so it‘ll
look good again.
Seeming to be happy, Emily joined them as they walked
back to the house.
***
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Neil spent the rest of the day thinking of Sarah and how
happy she looked when she saw him and Emily enter the storm
cellar. Cassie hadn‘t looked at him that way, but he knew what
the look meant. It meant that he mattered to her, and that
made him feel as if he were ten feet tall.
He worked through supper, hardly noting the time since
he was determined to get the barn roof finish. Jacob suffered
no damage to his home, so everyone fared well despite the
horrible storm.
By the time he entered the house, it was a little after ten.
To his surprise, Sarah was waiting at the kitchen table for him.
She looked up when he opened the door and asked if he wanted
something to eat.
His growling stomach reminded him that it had been a
long time since he ate. Would you believe I forgot I was
hungry?
Then it‘s a good thing that I‘m here to remind you,
she joked. Come and sit down.
He hung his hat up and r emoved his boots by the front
door and obeyed her, enjoying the fact that she was taking care
of him. Are the children asleep already?
It is after ten, she replied as she pulled out a plate of
food for him.
Are you going to eat anything?
I thought I‘d share some cookies with you.
Cookies? I‘m surprised Emily left us any.
She grinned. I hid some from her. She placed a small
plate of cookies in front of him and squeezed his hand. But
don‘t tell her.
He glanced at her hand, liking the soft feel of it. I
wouldn‘t dare.
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During the next half hour, he ate and talked with her.
He offered to help her wash the dishes, but she insisted he sit
and enjoy a cup of milk while she took care of it. It‘s only two
plates and a fork, she said.
He nodded and remained sitting. Thank you for
waiting up for me.
It was my pleasure.
Pleasure. The word echoed in his mind. His hunger
sated, his mind turned in another direction. He eased out of the
chair, standing still long enough to calm his racing heart. Her
back was turned to him, and his eyes traced the curves beneath
her dress. His all too familiar arousal beckoned him to act on
his desire for her. He was tired of pushing his longing aside.
Tonight, for better or worse, he would approach her as her
husband, and if she refused, then he would honor her wish for
him to leave her alone. Either way, he had to know if that kiss
she gave him in the storm cellar meant that she loved him.
He moved softly across the hardwood floor, his feet
hardly making a sound. She draped the damp hand towel on
the edge of the sink. Taking a deep breath, he reached for her
arms and gently pressed his body against her back. He couldn‘t
afford to be subtle, but he didn‘t want to scare her either. She
paused, her hands resting on the edge of the sink, looking
straight ahead.
He didn‘t know if that was a good sign or not, but he
proceeded. His hands trembled as he kissed the side of her
neck. Though he had his share of women, this one made him
feel like the past had never happened. The slate had been
wiped clean, and with the wiping of the slate came an onslaught
of uncertainty and hope. The silence surrounding them bore
down on him so much that he felt as if she must hear the
beating of his heart.
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I love you, Sarah, he finally whispered in her ear.
Eternity seemed to hang in the balance as he waited for her to
respond.
Sarah turned to him. He stood so close to her that her
breasts pressed into his chest. His eyes held a question, and she
understood what it was that he was asking. Her heart thrilled at
the thought of going to his bed. She already knew how she felt
about him, and now it was time to tell him. Running her hands
up his arms and wrapping them around the back of his neck,
she softly made her confession. I love you too.
No other words were needed. He leaned in to kiss her,
pulling her into his arms and letting her know how much her
reply meant to him. She felt his need. It was more than a
physical urgency to consummate their marriage. He wanted all
of her—her mind, her heart, and her body. It was such a
wonderful feeling after being in a cold marriage for ten years.
When their kiss ended, he continued to hold her. She
buried her face in the side of his neck. He was strong and solid,
dependable and faithful, generous and kind. How could she not
love him?
She joined him as he walked up the stair s, careful not to
wake Emily or Luke. She understood that she would be going
to his bedroom. Once he closed the door so they could have
their privacy, she blushed. My body isn‘t what it used to
be…before I had Luke, she admitted, keeping her voice low.
You might want to draw the curtains.
He wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her.
His lips were soft. I know having a baby changes a woman‘s
body, but I want to see you.
Forcing aside her unease, she nodded and allowed him
to remove her dress, followed by her chemise and pantaloons.
She stood in front of him, staring at the floor, feeling ashamed
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that her stomach wasn‘t as flat as it used to be and wishing she
had insisted on the darkness.
I don‘t know why you worry yourself over things that
don‘t matter, he replied. You are beautiful.
When she dared a look in his direction, she was
surprised by the expression on his face, for his eyes and smile
told her that he liked what he saw, that he hadn‘t been saying
those words just to soothe her fears. She relaxed and gave
herself permission to watch as he undressed. She never saw Jim
naked. He kept his robe on until he was under the covers. So it
was with fascination and curiosity that she took in Neil‘s naked
form. He let her take in her fill of him, the heat rising in her
cheeks when she realized her gaze lingered at his erection. She
knew what it meant, but knowing Neil could look at her and be
aroused did wonders for how she viewed herself.
Once he settled next to her in bed, he kissed her. His
hand cradled her head, allowing him to deepen the kiss. He
traced her bottom lip with his tongue. Nervous but longing for
more, she encouraged him, parting her lips. The invasion of his
tongue into her mouth should have startled her. Jim never
kissed her this way. But she found that she liked it and returned
his passion with her own. She reached up and caressed his jaw,
noting the stubble. She liked that too. It reminded her of
strength and hard work, both of which she viewed as the very
essence of masculinity.
His free hand lingered at her shoulder before moving
down to her breast. His thumb brushed her nipple, sending a
tingling sensation down her spine. He was gentle, giving her
time to adapt to this. Jim hadn‘t touched her this way. She
now knew the difference between a mechanical touch and a
loving caress. What Jim had done out of obligation, Neil did
out of desire. Desire for her. It only made her appreciate him
all the more.
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He groaned, the sound rumbling from deep in his
throat. His mouth left hers and traveled along her jaw and to
her ear. His lips lingered at her neck, causing an involuntarily
shudder to course down her body. Who knew a mouth could
be so amazing? Or that a hand could bring forth a swell of
pleasure as it cupped her breast?
He shifted closer to her so their bodies touched, and she
felt his arousal against her hip. She wondered if he would let
her touch him there. Jim had always said no. But Neil wasn‘t
Jim. He might say yes.
Neil? she whispered, opening her eyes.
He was kissing her shoulder. Hmm?
Would you mind if I… Her cheeks flushing, she
cleared her throat. May I touch it? I would like to know what
it‘s like.
Neil lifted his head so he could look at her. His eyes,
which seemed darker in the moonlight, met hers, and there was
no doubting the compassion in them. He didn‘t let you
explore his body?
She shook her head.
The mattress shifted as he rolled onto his back. He
took her hand and brought it to his erection. Explore me,
Sarah. My body belongs to you.
Her curiosity overrode her embarrassment, though she
knew she had no reason to be embarrassed. He was right.
They were one. Just as she belonged to him, he belonged to
her. Just as he had the freedom to touch and enjoy her, she had
the freedom to touch and enjoy him. Still, she felt relief when
he closed his eyes. She lightly stroked him, feeling his hardness.
His groan of pleasure emboldened her, so she gathered the
courage to wrap her hand around him. He rewarded her with
another groan, and despite her awkward blushing, she pressed
on. His body was so different from hers. Where she was soft
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and yielding, he was firm and hard. They complimented each
other, and she suddenly realized that lovemaking was supposed
to be a joyous and pleasurable act, not something to be rushed
and tolerated for the sake of producing children.
When she was satisfied with her learning of him, she
settled next to him and kissed him. The intensity of her kiss
surprised her, but she also liked her newfound confidence. This
time she slid her tongue into his mouth so she could taste him.
He eagerly responded to her, his hands which had been gentle
were now insistent. But she liked this too. It meant he needed
her, and she loved being needed. She pulled him to her and let
him roll on top of her. He settled between her legs. She knew
she was ready for him. She‘d be slick and warm. The ache
between her legs begged for him to enter her. But he didn‘t do
as she expected.
Instead, his lips left her mouth and traveled down to her
breasts. His tongue teased her nipples. The tension between
her legs increased. She squirmed against him, longing for him
to do something to satisfy her. She‘d never felt this strange
urgent sensation with Jim. This was much better, she realized.
So much better.
And it didn‘t end there. She gasped when Neil‘s mouth
left her breasts to kiss the length of her stomach. He wasn‘t
going to kiss her…down there, was he? It seemed such a wicked
thing to. Jim had never ventured there, and he‘d only touch her
to spread her legs so he could enter her. But then, that was Jim.
This was Neil. She never imagined two men could make love
so differently. She lifted her head off the pillow, wondering if
he was really going to do it, and the sight of his head between
her legs shot a thrill through her. Maybe it was wicked, but as
he kissed her sensitive region, she decided that wicked was
wonderful. Closing her eyes, she rested her head on the pillow
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and gave into the urge to feel. No more thinking. No more
wondering. Just feel and get caught up in the moment.
A soft cry escaped her lips when his tongue traced her
swollen folds and plunged into her. She reached for the blanket
beneath her and grasped it in her hands, unable to stand the
sweet torment, yet wishing for it to continue. And it did. She
didn‘t know this feeling was possible. She never once imagined
that a man might kiss a woman down there and make her hips
move in rhythm with the thrusting of his tongue. She was
building toward something. It was a startling discovery, and the
moment she realized it, she pleaded with him to take her there.
He moaned in response. Then she felt him slightly
shift. She was ready to squeak in protest when he slid two
fingers into her, heightening the bliss he‘d brought her to.
Then his tongue caressed her sensitive nub, and she knew she
was there. Right at the brink. The moment she gave into her
much needed release, she cried out, her body jerking in what
had to be wanton behavior. But if this is what wanton meant,
then she didn‘t want to be a proper lady anymore.
As her mind began to clear from her heavenly ascent, he
moved on top of her, his body covering hers. She felt
wonderfully weak, still gasping for air, her body still humming
from pleasure. She eagerly accepted him as he entered her. She
groaned and clenched around him, welcoming him to her.
He steadied his weight on his elbows and moved inside
her. She dared to open her eyes to see what he looked like
when he made love to her. His eyes were closed, but his
expression seemed focused and somewhat pained. But his
raged breathing and low groans told her he enjoyed this. She
wanted to bring him pleasure, like he had brought her. She
gripped his arms and wrapped her legs around his waist as he
increased the momentum of his thrusting. His movements
drew out the lingering effects of her release, making her groan
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in rhythm with him. Then he abruptly stopped and arched his
back. She felt a throbbing within her as his seed poured into
her. He moaned and she smiled, satisfied that he found his
release.
He didn‘t roll off of her, as Jim used to do as soon as he
was done. No. Neil remained inside her. He held her to him
as if his very existence depended on her. His kisses were no
longer urgent but soft. His lips lingered on her neck, her cheeks
and finally on her lips. Tears fell from her eyes. Lovemaking
was so different with Neil. Even after she met his needs, he
wanted to be close to her.
Neil stopped kissing her and asked in a whisper,
What‘s wrong?
She opened her eyes and noted his concern. She smiled.
Nothing‘s wrong. I just didn‘t know making love could be this
wonderful. She laughed despite the fresh tears forming in her
eyes.
He returned her smile. I didn‘t know it could be this
good either.
She wondered what he meant but he kissed her with
such tenderness she forgot her question.
When he got off of her and settled next to her, he
pulled the blanket over them and brought his arms around her.
She snuggled against him, feeling content, relaxed, and well –
loved. He kissed the top of her head. Her eyelids felt heavy
and before she knew it, she fell asleep.
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Chapter Eighteen
O
ctober brought days warm enough to open the window and
enjoy the fresh air, which is exactly what Sarah did. She
hummed a pleasant tune while she made breakfast. Because it
was Saturday, Emily and Luke slept in. She loved Saturday
mornings since she didn‘t have to rush to get Emily ready for
school.
She wondered when she would have to deal with Jim‘s
mother. She hadn‘t seen the woman after the previous month
when she came over and called Luke little Jim . Neil
happened to open the screen door at that moment so he
overheard her. He then ordered Beatrice to leave, saying she
was welcome back when she called Luke by his correct name.
Sarah was grateful to Neil, for he was quick to stand up for her.
He was so different from Jim, and Sarah made sure to pray her
thanks every day for that.
The front door opened and Neil stepped into the
kitchen, taking off his hat. Sarah‘s heart skipped a beat at the
sight of him. His short dark hair fell slightly over his forehead
and a smile graced his lips. Soft lips, she thought. Lips that
brought her much pleasure in bed. Her cheeks grew warm at
the turn her mind took. With Jim, no such thoughts had
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invaded her daily routine, but with Neil, she often found herself
wishing for nightfall when they could be as one in their
bedroom.
What are you making? he asked, approaching her.
She motioned to the cookstove. Pancakes and eggs.
It smells good. He took her in his arms. And so do
you.
Wrapping her arms around him, she pressed herself
against him, loving the way their bodies fit together. I miss
you when you‘re not here.
Bringing his lips within an inch of hers, he chuckled.
I‘m usually at the barn or in the fields.
She closed her eyes, waiting for the kiss. That‘s too far
away.
If I was in the house all day, you‘d get tired of me.
That‘s hard to imagine.
His lips touched hers and she melted in his arms. He
deepened the kiss, and she gave a slight moan as his tongue
found hers. She didn‘t know how he did it, but he managed to
make her tingle from head to toe. He slid his hands down the
curve of her back and caressed her bottom. She felt the male
part of him pressing against her stomach and lowered her hand,
ready to stroke it.
All you two ever do is kiss.
Startled, they pulled slightly apart. Neil brought his
hands higher up on Sarah‘s back and she brought her hand back
up to his neck. She cleared her throat, surprised the girl was
already awake.
He grinned at Emily. You‘ll just have to get used to it.
I wanted to thank your ma for making a good meal. He kissed
Sarah on the cheek before he let her go so he could run over to
Emily and swing her around.
Sarah laughed as Emily squirmed and giggled.
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What are you doing up so early? Neil asked her as he
set her down.
I heard Ben and Cal fixing the side of the house.
He groaned. I told them to wait until another hour.
I‘m sorry they woke you up.
Sarah took the skillet off the range. I‘ll get Luke.
He shook his head. You‘ve got enough to do. I‘ll
change his diaper and bring him down.
She smiled her thanks as he ran up the steps to Luke‘s
bedroom. Turning to Emily, she asked, Would you like to
help make breakfast?
After I go pee.
Sarah laughed as the girl hurried out the door so she
could go to the privy. Emily was adorable. Any woman would
be blessed to be her mother. Blinking, she realized that she was
her mother. Sure, she hadn‘t given birth to her , but in her
heart, she felt as if the girl was her own daughter. And Emily
did call her =Ma,‘ so she felt the same way. She sighed with
contentment. Her life was complete, and she hoped that she
might ease the pain that Emily suffered in losing her real
mother.
***
Later that day, Neil took Sarah, Emily and Luke to town
so Sarah could visit with Rachel and Caroline. He talked with
Rachel‘s and Caroline‘s husbands for a brief time before he
went to collect the food items that Sarah wanted at the
mercantile. After he returned, he joined them for supper.
His wish for a complete family had finally come to pass.
Preacher Peters had been right. He not only reaped the bad
things he did, but the good as well. A man couldn‘t a sk for a
better gift than a wife and children who loved him.
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The next day after church, he brought his mother home
with them as usual and noted that Sarah and his mother fussed
over the children and talked as if they had known each other
their entire lives. His mother had gotten along with Cassie, but
it was different with Sarah.
And as his mother joined him in checking on the
horses, she pulled him aside. Neil, I want you to know that I
am happy you have Sarah in your life. Now when my time
comes to join your father, I can rest assured knowing you‘re
with a good woman.
Concerned, he frowned. Is something wrong with
your health?
She patted his arm and smiled. Oh, I didn‘t mean to
worry you. I am doing fine. I‘m just glad my years of prayer
came to good.
He hugged her. Thank you for praying, Mother.
The horse in the stall next to them neighed. I think
I‘m supposed to get to work. Come, I‘ll walk you to the house
and get into my work clothes.
Upon their return to the house, he opened the door,
surprised at the scene that greeted him. Sarah was wiping flour
off the floor, and Luke was screaming from his high chair,
covered in the white powder, while Emily stood by the table,
also crying.
Please, Emily, I can‘t think, Sarah yelled. I need you
to go outside so I can clean this up.
Emily‘s tear -filled eyes turned to Neil and his mother.
She sobbed even louder and ran past them and to the field,
probably to the tree that she liked to climb when she was upset.
I‘ll comfort her, his mother said and quietly departed.
Neil‘s eyes scanned the kitchen, noting the canister of
flour that rested on its side on the work table. Children‘s
handprints and footprints marked the area. A rag had been
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tossed to the side of the kitchen table and Sarah had a bucket of
soapy water sitting next to her.
Sarah remained on her knees, her hair and dress partially
covered in flour. She wiped the sweat from her flushed face
and glanced at Neil and sighed. I didn‘t handle that well at
all, she scolded herself.
Ignoring a wailing Luke, he reached for a clean
dishtowel and rinsed it in a clean bucket and knelt next to her.
What happened? He carefully wiped the floor, trying not to
make the situation worse by spreading the wet pasty substance
all over the place.
She shook her head. Emily wanted to help me make
supper so I went to change into this dress. While I was gone,
she got the flour off the shelf, and Luke dragged the chair
across the room. Then he got up on the table and spilled the
flour everywhere. I came down in time to see Emily trying to
pull him down to the floor, but I thought she was hurting him
so I yelled at her and… She brushed the tears from her eyes. I
put Luke in the chair and Emily was trying to help me clean this
mess, but she was making it worse so I told her to stop.
He rinsed the rag in the bucket next to her and waited
for her to continue.
I feel awful, Neil. She kept apologizing, but a ll I did
was yell at her.
Taking her in his arms, he let her cry on his shoulder,
glad that Luke had calmed down. It was hard to concentrate
with him bellowing. Rubbing her back with one hand, he softly
replied, I understand, Sarah. It‘s all right.
No. It‘s not.
You‘re not perfect, and being a parent isn‘t easy. We
all have moments of weakness.
Sometimes I feel like the worse parent who ever lived.
He chuckled. I‘ve felt that way too. It‘s normal.
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She took a deep, shaky breath, settling in his arms. Do
you think she‘ll forgive me?
Yes.
Pulling away from him, she studied the kitchen. I can‘t
clean this until I apologize to her.
I‘ll clean this up, and I‘ll clean Luke. I believe Emily
went to that tree by the river.
She kissed him. Thank you, Neil.
He watched her as she stood up and carefully stepped
over the mess on the floor so she could leave the house.
Despite the misfortune that occurred, it warmed his heart that
she cared enough about Emily to talk to her.
Sarah approached Emily and Gwen who talked in
hushed tones beneath the tree. The breeze swirled the red and
yellow leaves around them, though they seemed not to notice
the colorful dance. Instead, Gwen had her head bowed as she
held the girl close to her, and despite the low tone the woman
used, Sarah noted the tenderness in it.
Sarah waited until they noticed her before she spoke.
May I talk to Emily?
Emily shook her head, her eyes filling with tears again,
but Gwen patted her shoulder. You have not hing to worry
about, sweetheart. The woman stood up and brushed the
blades of grass off her skirt. As she passed Sarah, she stopped
for a moment, rested a hand on her arm, and whispered,
Cassie was always rough with her. She doesn‘t know anything
but fear when it comes to a mother being upset.
The words pierced Sarah‘s heart. Closing her eyes for a
brief moment, she nodded her understanding and waited for the
woman to depart before stepping toward the girl.
Emily jumped up. Please don‘t go away! I promise I
won‘t make another mess. I‘ll be a good girl!
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Sarah embraced the child. Emily, I‘m not leaving, and
I‘m sorry. Will you forgive me?
Emily pulled back and stared at her with a bewildered
expression on her face. You‘re telling me you‘re sorry?
Yes. I was wrong to yell at you.
But I made a mess.
Sighing, Sarah clasped the girl‘s hands in hers. That‘s
all it was, a mess. And it was an accident. I know Luke tipped
the canister over and I know you would never hurt him. You
didn‘t deserve the way I treated you.
Really?
She smiled as she brushed the hair out of the girl‘s eyes.
Yes. Oh, Emily, I love you.
Emily blinked away the remaining tears in her eyes and
gave her a wide grin. I love you too, Ma, and I forgive you.
Sarah hugged her tightly to her bosom. There‘s
nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. I hope you
will learn that.
I‘m glad you‘re here. You‘ve made Pa happy.
He‘s made me happy too, and you have also made me
happy. Luke has a wonderful sister to take care of him.
Feeling better, Sarah held her hand to Emily. I think we‘re
both a mess. Your father is cleaning the kitchen and Luke.
Why don‘t we get cleaned up before we make supper?
Emily tilted her head up, her eyes squinting because of
the sun. You‘ll still let me help you?
Of course. A mother couldn‘t ask for a better helper.
Nodding, Emily took her hand. Will we make steak
and soup again? It‘s Pa‘s favorite meal.
What about some brown sugar candy for dessert?
Yes, he‘d like that too.
She raised an eyebrow. And you?
Yes, the girl confessed. I‘d also like it.
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Then we should definitely make it.
As they walked to the river to wash up, Emily chatted
about the fall weather and how she loved the changing colors of
the leaves. Sarah listened, grateful that children were more
forgiving than some adults she knew.
***
A week before Christmas, Sarah took Emily and Luke
to visit Gwen. Then she left to go to the doctor. Her
suspicions proved true. She was expecting. She hadn‘t
expected to get in the family way, at least not so soon. After all,
it had taken her ten years to conceive Luke. She hadn‘t wished
to bring Neil along, though he offered to drive the buggy.
Instead, she opted to have Jacob do it. Jacob had business to
tend to in town for his wife anyway, so it worked out.
Her apprehension grew as Jacob brought her and the
children closer to home. Try as she might, she couldn‘t sit still,
and Luke‘s fidgeting didn‘t help. What would Neil think? Jim‘s
reaction flashed through her mind. She recalled how
disappointed she was when he didn‘t show any interest in the
child she carried. She couldn‘t remember a time when she felt
more alone.
Neil will be happy. He loves children. Surely, this will be a
blessing.
As much as she tried to convince herself, she couldn‘t
quite believe it, so it was with a heavy heart that she accepted
Neil‘s hand as he helped her down from the buggy.
Didn‘t you go to the mercantile? he asked, searching
the buggy.
Oh. She forgot all about picking up more cloth to
sew.
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Jacob glanced her way but didn‘t say anything. She
didn‘t think he saw her slip into the doctor‘s office, but he must
be wondering where she went.
Help me down, Pa, Emily insisted.
He held his arms out to her and she jumped into them.
Sarah took Luke who was trying to crawl out of the
buggy. Neil, can I talk to you, in private? she asked, her voice
uncertain.
His eyebrows furrowed, but he nodded and joined her
and the children in the walk to their house. Once he shut the
kitchen door, she rushed to put Luke down for a nap while
Emily went to her room to play.
Neil stood in Luke‘s room, watching as she tucked the
blanket around her son. Luke smiled at her and kicked at his
blanket, so she sighed and handed him a toy to play with until
he fell asleep. Realizing she couldn‘t delay the moment any
longer, she led Neil to the kitchen.
What is it? Neil asked, his expression serious as he
stood in front of her by the table.
He’s not Jim. He’s
Her stomach twisted into a tight knot.
not Jim.
Sarah, is something wrong?
She gripped the back of a chair and braced for an
unpleasant reaction. I‘m fine. I went to the doctor and found
out that I‘m expecting.
The first thing she noticed was that he looked relieved.
Then a smile lit up his face. Sarah, that‘s great.
Startled, she failed to respond when he kissed her.
He cupped her face in his hands and pressed his lips to
her forehead. You had me worried. I feared you were sick.
You haven‘t had much of an appetite lately. I had no idea you
were in the family way. I can‘t think of a better Christmas
present than knowing we created a child together.
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You‘re pleased? she whispered, hardly believing her
ears.
Very much so.
She exhaled and released her death grip on the chair.
I‘m glad.
After he gave her another kiss, he shouted for Emily to
come downstairs. We have to tell her the good news!
Once Emily bounded down the steps and settled her
feet on the kitchen floor, he put his arm around her shoulders
and said, You know that thing you wanted for Christmas?
She nodded.
Well, you got your wish. Now, I can‘t guarantee you
that you‘ll have a sister, but we‘re going to try our best to give
you one.
You two have been talking about another baby? Sarah
asked, curious as to what else they talked about when she wasn‘t
around.
Luke is a boy, Emily told her in a matter -of-fact tone.
I would like a baby girl so I can put her in dresses and decorate
her hair.
Neil patted her on the shoulder. Em, if we don‘t have
a girl this time, we‘ll try next time.
Sarah‘s heart leapt at the thought of having more than
one child with Neil. She had dreamt of a house full of children
when she was a child, but Jim hadn‘t wanted more than one.
Once she expected Luke, he made it clear that they wouldn‘t
engage in lovemaking again since the purpose of doing it had
been accomplished.
How long will it take until I find out if I‘l l have a sister
or a brother? Emily wondered.
Neil looked Sarah‘s way, the same question in his eyes.
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Sarah cleared her throat, forcing her thoughts back to
the conversation at hand. The baby should be here in late
July.
Good. I will be out of school so I can help when the
baby is born, Emily cheered.
Neil laughed. You sure can.
You‘ll be an excellent helper too, Sarah added, finally
allowing their enthusiasm to infect her.
Suddenly, expecting a baby was something she could
enjoy. Her heart swelled with hope and anticipation for the
year ahead.
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Chapter Nineteen
I
n the second week of May, Neil kept the bedroom window
open to alleviate Sarah‘s discomfort as she approached the
seventh month into her pregnancy. He woke before dawn that
morning, aware of the breeze floating into the room, and
though he had his covers up to his neck, he shivered. Glancing
at a sleeping Sarah, he saw that she had kicked her covers off in
the middle of the night. He closed the gap between them,
pressed his chest against her back, and let her body heat warm
him up.
He lifted his head off the pillow and gazed at her in the
waning moonlight. She looked peaceful. Her eyes were closed,
and her mouth was slightly open, as if inviting him to kiss her.
He settled his head back onto the pillow, closing his eyes and
enjoying the feel of her firm round behind as it cushioned his
erection. How nice it was to lay with a woman in bed, knowing
she wanted to be there, knowing they frequently came together
to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh.
He let his hand drift to her growing belly. She turned to
him in her sleep so he slipped his arms around her, enjoying the
light lavender scent from the shampoo she used to wash her
long hair. She didn‘t often wear her hair down, saying her
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tangles were horrible to comb through, but when she did, he
took the time to admire the golden tresses that fell softly against
her fair complexion.
He felt a jab from her abdomen and grinned at the life
moving in her womb. The life he helped to create. His heart
swelled with love and pride for his unborn child. Love for
Emily and Luke came naturally to him and didn‘t detract from
Elizabeth if she’s a girl or Joseph if he’s a
his feelings for this one.
boy.
Neil thought to the many nights Sarah kept him up,
wanting to pick the right name for the baby, and they finally
agreed on those two. He had to admit he didn‘t mind it when
she kept him up, for they usually ended up making love and he
hadn‘t thought intimacy could come with the joy he found in
bed with her.
Recalling those nights only served to whet his appetite
for her. He wondered if she would be in the mood for some
fun before the day officially started. Running his hands along
her back and caressing her bottom, he pressed his lips to the
top of her head. She sighed and snuggled against him, her
curves further arousing him.
He took a good look at her, realizing she still slept, and
lost heart. Being with child couldn‘t be easy on a woman, and
she worked hard. She needed her rest more than he needed to
make love at that moment. Ignoring the insistent throbbing of
his erection, he focused on the peace of being with her. Soon
daylight would come and with it the day‘s work. Work. Yes, he
would focus on that until it was time to get out of bed.
Why did you stop? came a whisper.
Opening his eyes, he pulled away from her and gave her
a good look. You‘re awake?
She kept her eyes closed but smiled. I felt hot.
He chuckled. That was my fault. I‘m afraid I used you
to get warm.
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Her eyelids fluttered open and he noted the tenderness
in them. I‘m sorry, Neil. I know it‘s still chilly at night. I will
have to bring another blanket in for you.
He graced her cheek with a quick kiss. Don‘t be sorry.
I don‘t mind a little chill. The important thing is that you‘re
comfortable.
Eyes twinkling, she rolled away from him and began to
unbutton her nightgown. I am terribly hot. I think I‘ll have to
take this off.
Interest peaked, he sat up in bed. Well, then I should
help you with that. Taking her hands, he helped her sit up
before he pulled the light material over her head and threw it
aside, not caring where it landed. He shrugged out of his night
clothes, glad to be rid of the confining cotton material. He took
a moment to appreciate her naked form, once again feeling a
sense of pride that she carried his child.
You are a lovely sight, Mrs. Craftsman, he whispered,
his voice husky.
A mischievous grin crossed her face as she reached
forward to caress his arousal. A tingling sensation coursed
through him. He groaned his appreciation and leaned forward
so he could kiss her. Her lips were soft, and they parted for
him, a sign he recognized as her invitation. He gladly accepted
it, taking his time to taste her lips before he sampled the taste of
her tongue. His hands cupped her sensitive breasts, careful not
to cause discomfort. He caressed them, marveling at their
softness and the pink nipples that hardened from his attention.
She let out a sigh and slid her hand down the full length
of the male part of him that enjoyed her attention. She
wrapped her hand around him and squeezed. Breathing heavily,
his mouth left hers to travel down the length of her neck. She
titled her head to grant him better access, moving her hand in
an up and down motion that she had mastered.
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Oh Sarah, you make me ache for you.
A seductive chuckle left her throat. You must be
telling me the truth. You‘re as hard as a rock.
You‘re a wicked woman, he teased. But I love it, so
don‘t change.
Are you going to keep talking or are you going to lay
back?
He raised an eyebrow as he obeyed her. Want to be on
top this time?
In a moment.
Her eyes met his and he caught the naughty gleam in
them. His pulse quickened, knowing where her thoughts were
going. She left a trail of kisses down his chest, and still, she
went lower. She waited, teasing him with the feathery touch of
her fingers. He watched as she flicked her tongue along him.
He groaned, half in agony and half in pleasure.
She glanced up at him and gave him a knowing smile.
Eager for me, are you?
He moaned. You are a cruel woman to tease a man
like this.
It serves you right for teasing me last night.
A smile formed on his lips. He loved it when she paid
him back, and he loved it even more that she finally felt
comfortable enough with his body to fully enjoy it. She took
him into her mouth and he leaned back and closed his eyes,
giving himself to the rush of pleasant sensations that spread
through him. She took her time, tasting him and br inging him
closer to the peak.
Sarah, he whispered, knowing he was right on the
edge of his release. Straddle me, sweetheart.
She rose from him and settled over him. She lowered
her body onto his but didn‘t take him into her. Instead, she
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pressed her woman‘s flesh against his erection. He grabbed her
hips and moaned. She was wet and warm. Ready for him.
Work. Cattle. Ropes. Horses. The images reined in
his throbbing desire, granting him time to pleasure her. He
wouldn‘t allow his release until she had hers.
She bent forward so that he could kiss her, and he slid
his hands up to her breasts so he could enjoy their fullness.
Moaning, she deepened their kiss, opening her lips to accept his
tongue as it interlaced with hers. Then she straightened her
back.
Careful to not hold her too close, he slid his hand down
her belly and lower still until he found the sensitive nub to
caress. She let out a low groan. Oh Neil , don‘t stop.
He shifted so he could bring himself into her. As she
moved her hips, he watched her in the first lights of the
morning, her back arched and her breasts displayed before
him—a sight he never tired of. Her response to him only
thickened his arousal but he held off, focusing on her and how
wonderful it was that she not only participated in bed with him
but was eager for him.
Her breathing came heavy and her tightening around
him notified him that she was on the edge of the peak.
Knowing she most enjoyed it when he pressed deeper into her
while she had an orgasm, he did just that and was rewarded with
a gasp as she let go. He stilled his movements, allowing her to
take her fill of pleasure. Her eyes closed, her lips swollen from
their kisses, her cheeks flushed, her breasts shuddering. Oh, she
was a beautiful sight. The kind of sight that made a man
grateful to be a lover.
When she rocked her hips, he closed his eyes and gave
into his need. His body shuddered beneath her as his release
came. If there was a better experience in this life, he couldn‘t
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think of what it might be. His breathing still heavy, he opened
his eyes and smiled at her.
She smiled back and leaned down to kiss him, her
tongue playfully tracing his lips. He sighed and tasted her once
more before she got off of him and settled beside him,
snuggling against him in his arms. When he gained enough
coherence, he brought his hand to her belly, hoping he hadn‘t
disturbed his child, but apparently he had for a good kick met
his hand.
They laughed.
I love you, he told her. And I love our child.
She kissed him. I love you too. I can‘t wait to find out
if we‘re having a girl or a boy.
I don‘t care as long as you and the baby are healthy.
I hope it‘s a girl. E mily wants a sister in the worst
way.
You‘re right. That‘s all she talks about anymore. He
kissed her cheek. If we have a boy, we‘ll just have to try
again.
At least we know that trying is fun.
Smiling, he kissed her again, this time letting his lips
linger on hers.
***
It was midday when Neil saw her. He just finished
checking the cattle in the pasture when he decided to go to the
house and grab lunch.
The surrey making its way to his home got his attention
as soon as his gaze settled on it. He took the hat off his head
and wiped the sweat off his brow. Squinting in the sunlight, he
placed the hat back on and lumbered to the house as it got
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closer. Nearing the porch, he slowed to a stop, feeling a chill
run up his spine.
Not her. Let it be anyone but her, he whispered.
But as soon as he saw the raven-haired beauty wearing a
lacy pink dress and holding a matching parasol, his hopes
plummeted. Cassie. She sat next to John McCarthy, laughing
and resting her hand on his arm as she spoke to him. The sight
was enough to make him vomit. He had hoped to never see her
again. So much for that wish.
His gut tightened like a fist as he waited for John to stop
the four passenger sur rey ten feet away from where he stood.
He forced himself to remain still while he waited for John to
help Cassie down from the rig. A third man—one he didn‘t
recognize—hopped out from the backseat.
She held the parasol above her head. Taking a look at
the house, she wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something
bitter. It never was quite adequate, she told John.
Frowning, Neil paced over to them, his movements stiff
with apprehension. What are you doing here?
Looking at Neil, Cassie eyed him in a way that denoted
the fact that she felt superior to him. How lovely it is to see
you.
Be cordial. Don’t make a scene.
The last thing he needed
was to attract Sarah or Emily‘s attention. I didn‘t ask you to
come here.
Then it‘s good for you that we‘re not here to see you.
I came to get Emily.
He felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.
Forcing his voice to remain calm, he said, No.
She twirled the parasol in her hands. You can‘t keep
her, Neil. She belongs to me.
Says who?
Me. I‘m her mother.
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A real mother wouldn‘t abandon her daughter and not
correspond with her for two years.
She stopped the twirling and set a hand on her hip. I
had to get some things settled. Now that they are, she can
come with me.
Over my dead body.
You won‘t stand in my way of what‘s rightfully mine.
She‘s not yours. You gave her up when you married
John.
But I need her. John won‘t get his inheritance unless
he has a child, and I can‘t have any more children, she pouted.
She‘s all I‘ve got.
He fought the urge to pick her up and toss her onto the
scurry. But he‘d never been rough with a woman and he
wouldn‘t start now. He clenched his hands. That‘s why you‘re
here? I ought to slap you, Cassie. How dare you use a little girl
to get money?
She shrugged. She‘ll have some of it too. You can‘t
give her the things that John can. Why, we‘ll send her to the
best school for girls. She‘ll have whatever she wants.
He gritted his teeth. John returned with the overweight
man who appeared to be in his forties. Get off my land, he
snapped. You‘re not getting Emily.
John motioned to the man standing next to him. Mr.
Craftsman, I present my attorney, Harry Martin. He‘s the best
lawyer in the area. I assure you that I paid handsomely for his
services, so it would be wise if you didn‘t interfere.
Straightening his back, Neil said, I don‘t care how
much money you spent. You‘re not getting my daughter.
Harry cleared his throat. Now, that‘s just it, isn‘t it, sir?
You aren‘t the girl‘s father.
Yes, I am.
No. I‘m afraid you‘re not.
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Pa, what does he mean? Emily stepped from the
kitchen door and onto the porch.
His muscles tensed. How much did she hear? Get
back into the house, Neil told her, his tone firm. This doesn‘t
concern you.
How can you be like that? Cassie admonished.
Turning to Emily, she held her arms out and said, I came for
you, sweetie!
Emily stood still, and Neil couldn‘t tell what the poor
girl was thinking. She stared at her mother, her hands behind
her back, and bit her lower lip.
Leave her alone! Neil barked at Cassie. She doesn‘t
need this.
Sarah emerged from the house, carrying a fussy Luke in
her arms. Her gaze fell on the visitors, particularly Cassie.
Turning to the girl, she said, Emily, come into the house. Let
the adults do their business.
Cassie glared at Neil. How could you be so selfish?
You have another child and one on the way. You can make do
without Emily.
She‘s a person, not a possession, Neil snapped. She
can‘t be replaced.
She stamped her foot on the ground. And she‘s not
your child!
Enough, Harry interrupted before Neil could yell at
Cassie.
What do they mean, Pa? Emily asked him.
Harry handed Neil a document. Neil‘s hands trembled
as he debated whether or not to read it. Meanwhile, Harry
walked over to Emily who scooted back until she stood with
Sarah. Sarah placed a hand on her shoulder.
She‘s not your child! Cassie yelled at Sarah. You
have no right to touch her.
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Sarah, take Emily into the house, Neil pleaded.
Sarah nodded when Harry intervened. Ma‘am, you
don‘t have a legal right to withhold a child from her real
mother.
Sarah paused in mid-step and Emily remained with her,
even as Cassie waved her forward.
Cassie pointed at Sarah, her face flushed. You turned
my own child against me.
You didn‘t want me, Emily spoke, her voice low.
Cassie immediately cooled down and smiled at her
daughter. Is that what they told you? Sweetie, nothing could
be further from the truth. I went to make a better life for us,
and I found it.
Emily narrowed her eyes at her. Then why didn‘t you
tell me you were leaving?
I couldn‘t. The time had to be right or Mr. Craftsman
wouldn‘t have let me go.
Will you stop lying to her? Neil demanded, his hands
clenching the document into a crumpled mess.
Who‘s lying to who? Harry replied. Looking at Emily,
he said in a gentle tone, Emily, the man you think is your
father really isn‘t. Your real father is Fred Miller, and he signed
that document Mr. Craftsman is holding, testifying to that.
He stormed over to Harry. I‘ve raised her since she
was born. She belongs here! He shoved the document at the
lawyer. I don‘t need a piece of paper to tell me whether I‘m a
father or not.
Apparently, you do.
Emily wrapped her arms around Sarah‘s waist. I don‘t
want to go!
Everyone turned their attention to her, noting her pale
face. Sarah hugged her close and stepped closer to the front
door.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
There, Neil replied to the lawyer, thankful Emily
spoke up. She said what she wants.
She‘s only eight, Cassie said. How can she know
what she wants?
She‘s nine, Cassie, and she‘s smart er than you give her
credit for.
Nine, eight. What‘s the difference? She shrugged.
What matters is that she‘s with me.
It wasn‘t important before, Emily said. You said I
got in the way. You said you wished I wasn‘t born. Then you
left without saying good-bye.
Cassie shook her head. Because I was getting a home
for you. You will be very happy with me and John. Why, he
can afford to buy you whatever you want.
I have everything I want.
Harry held his hands up. This conversation isn‘ t
necessary. The fact of the matter is that Emily
is not
Mr.
Craftsman‘s child. She
is
Mrs. McCarthy‘s child. The facts are
the facts.
That‘s why Ma left, isn‘t it? Emily looked at Neil.
She married someone else.
Neil couldn‘t take it anymore. Get off my property.
John, who had been silent, spoke up. Come along,
Emily. I assure you that your mother and I are very happy
together and we‘ll make you a good home.
Emily screamed and ran into the house, her feet
pounding the hardwood floors as she raced up the stairs. Sarah
quickly took Luke inside and followed her.
Cassie made a move to enter the house, but Neil
blocked her before she could reach the porch steps. She
doesn‘t want to go.
John placed a hand on her shoulder. We‘ll get Emi ly.
Don‘t worry.
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His Redeeming Bride
Cassie huffed, spun on her heels, and went to the buggy
where John helped her into it. Neil breathed a sigh of relief.
The lawyer approached him. I suggest you get yourself
a good lawyer. You‘ll be going before the judge, and I don‘t
fancy that he‘ll think a man of your reputation is fit to raise Mrs.
McCarthy‘s child. Good day, Mr. Craftsman.
Neil resisted the urge to punch the man while he
hopped into the surrey.
***
Sarah hastened to put Luke in his crib so she could talk
to Emily. She went to the girl‘s bedroom where Emily laid on
her bed, crying into her pillow.
Emily? she softly asked.
Emily looked up at her, her tear-filled eyes red and
puffy.
Don‘t let her take me, she pleaded. Promise me.
Sarah sat next to her and drew her into her arms. Oh,
Emily. Your father and I will do everything we can to keep you
here.
But you can‘t let me go with them. I know why they‘re
here. I heard her talking to Pa. My mother doesn‘t love me.
She never did. She just wants to get money. I heard her.
That‘s all I‘m worth to her, and I hate her!
Sarah smoothed the girl‘s black tresses that shook as she
broke into a fresh wave of tears. Sarah swallowed the lump in
her throat and held her tighter to her bosom. Oh honey, are
you sure that‘s what she said?
Yes. You were changing Luke‘s diaper and I was in
the kitchen. They didn‘t know I was listening through the
window. She said she is going to send me away to a school.
She doesn‘t want me. She just wants the money.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Sarah kissed the girl on the top of her head and pressed
her cheek to the soft hair. She wished for the words that would
ease the girl‘s pain but knew nothing she said would work.
I don‘t care what they say. He‘s my father. I had time
to remember how things really were when my mother was here.
Pa protected me from her but he couldn‘t stop everything she
did. There were things I saw and heard. I didn‘t understand
them at the time but I‘m older now. She thinks I don‘t
remember or that I don‘t understand but I do. She shifted
from her so that they made eye contact. You‘re my mother
now, aren‘t you?
Giving the girl a soft smile, she nodded. Yes, I am.
But I am sorry about how things were for you and your real
mother.
I used to be too. Maybe I still am. I don‘t know what
to think.
Don‘t be afraid to think and feel what you need to.
Getting angry and sad aren‘t wrong.
I know. She hugged Sarah. I don‘t want to leave.
You have to promise me that you‘ll do whatever it takes to keep
me here.
Determined, she agreed. I promise.
They remained together, holding onto each other, for a
long time.
***
Sarah spent the rest of the afternoon with Emily,
wondering what Neil was doing. He had come up to tell them
he needed to find a lawyer in town so she knew he‘d be gone
for awhile. She prayed he‘d find good news.
When the supper hour came and he hadn‘t returned, the
nagging unease in the pit of her stomach made her sick.
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Though she struggled to eat and remain upbeat for Emily‘s
sake, the girl wasn‘t fooled.
You think Pa‘s finding bad news, Emily said, her
hands in her lap and the food in front of her untouched.
Letting her fork clatter on the plate, Sarah gave up
trying to eat the meal. I don‘t know what to think. In my
experience, if things take a long time, they tend to go badly.
She glanced at Luke who sat in the wooden high chair. He
babbled, oblivious to the events going on around him as he
played with his food before eating it. Turning her eyes to
Emily, she smiled. You need to eat, honey.
You‘re not eating.
The girl‘s boldness no longer surprised her. No. But
I‘m an adult and I can handle going without food better than
you can.
I don‘t feel like eating either.
Sarah heard Jacob welcome Neil back. She stood up
and began collecting their plates. Let‘s clean up. I want to
speak to your father.
Emily rose from her chair. Can I go with you?
Sarah paused, their plates feeling heavy in her hands.
I‘d rather talk to him alone first.
She frowned but nodded her consent.
After Sarah cleared the table and cleaned Luke the best
she could, she left Emily to play with him in the parlor so she
could talk to Neil. As soon as she found him by the cattle
fence, she ran to him. He stood a good distance from the
farmhands, and his back was turned to her so she didn‘t realize
he was crying until she caught up to him. Closing her eyes and
gripping her apron, she braced herself for what he would tell
her.
Before she could ask what happened, he looked at her
and shook his head. We‘re going to lose her.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
His sorrow pained her as much as the thought of losing
Emily. Blinking back tears, she asked, Do you know this for
sure?
I went all over town, and that lawyer Cassie got is one
of the best. He can win the case. No other lawyer wants to go
near him. Well, there is one but I can‘t afford him.
Watching her husband defeated unnerved her. Neil had
been a formidable wall of strength ever since she met him. She
didn‘t know how to handle this, but one thing was for sure, she
promised Emily that she wouldn‘t send her to a woman who
didn‘t love her.
How much money do you need? she asked, struggling
to remain calm.
He told her, still staring straight ahead into the fields.
She anxiously thought through anything they had that
had any value. What about my necklace? It should be worth
something.
No, Sarah. It‘s all you have of your parents. He
wiped his face with his shirt sleeve.
What good does a necklace do me at a time like this if I
can‘t sell it? When he shook his head, she took his face in her
hands and turned his head so he had to look at her. We‘re
going to keep her. We‘ll do whatever we have to but we‘ll keep
her.
He pulled her into his arms. Closing her eyes, she
leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder, aware of
the movement the baby in her womb created. They remained
silent for some time. Her determination swelled until she found
a confidence that things would work out. One way or another,
Emily wouldn‘t go with Cassie and her husband.
An idea came to her. Neil, what about Dan Adair? If
you sold your cattle to him, would that bring in enough money
for a lawyer?
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His Redeeming Bride
He won‘t do business with me.
But you have the best cattle in the area. Dan can get a
better price with your stock than anyone else‘s. He‘s a
businessman, right? He‘ll want to make the most money he
can.
I‘d have to do things his way. He‘d expect me to have
a drink with him at the saloon.
Then have a drink with him. I know it goes against
what you want to do, but this isn‘t the time to be worried about
what others are going to think about you.
It‘s not others I worry about, Sarah. I don‘t like going
to the saloon. It brings back too many memories. I don‘t like
remembering who I was.
Then don‘t think of that. Think of saving our little
girl.
You‘re right. Of course, you‘re right. He kissed her.
I won‘t be able to rest until I get this settled. I‘ll go visit him
tonight.
You should eat first, she replied. You haven‘t had
anything since breakfast.
He nodded. I‘ll get something quick. I want to head
out to Dan Adair‘s place before it gets dark.
She wrapped her arm around his waist as they walked
back to the house. He put his arm around her shoulders and
held her close to his side. Sarah made up her mind. They
I’ll do
would get through this, and Emily would stay with them.
my part to make that possible.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Twenty
T
he next day, Neil arrived at Jack Silverman‘s office. John
and Cassie‘s lawyer, Harry Martin, set a court date for the
following Monday, so Neil didn‘t feel like he had time to waste.
If he had any hopes of keeping Emily, he had to act fast. The
only lawyer willing to confront Harry Martin in court was Jack
Silverman.
Neil sat in the waiting room, tense as he waited for Jack
to see him. Finally, after what seemed like hours, Jack opened
his office door and waved him in. Once Neil explained the
situation, he waited for Jack to say whether or not he‘d take the
case.
Your past works against you, Mr. Craftsman, Jack told
him. Mr. Martin will claim you‘re not suitable to raise Emily,
but you have a good chance right now so be careful.
Ne il shifted in his chair. I told you that Cassie doesn‘t
care for Emily. She left Emily behind to marry John
McCarthy.
Can you prove it?
Well, she married him.
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His Redeeming Bride
The lawyer shook his head and leaned forward. Mr.
Craftsman, Harry Martin claims that you requested the
divorce.
I granted the divorce so she could marry John.
Jack placed his arms on the desk and folded his hands.
Cassie married John because you were unfaithful to her.
Adultery is one of the reasons a judge will grant a divorce,
though most spouses end up leaving and living separate lives.
I didn‘t commit adultery.
There are witnesses who saw you enter a prostitute‘s
quarters at the saloon during your marriage.
Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, he said, I was
going to but decided not to. Nothing happened. Cassie was the
one who had lovers.
That isn‘t known.
He slowly exhaled. Because I hid it the best I could.
Suddenly feeling weary, he rubbed his eyes. I didn‘t want
Emily to find out.
So there‘s no proof. That is why you have to be
careful. Judge Richards and Judge Johnson pride themselves on
their moral standing. I‘ve checked on John and Cassie and both
of them have clean backgrounds, except for the fact that she is
divorced. However, as bad as divorce is viewed, it fails in
comparison with a man who was known for visiting prostitutes.
As hard as it is to tell you this, the fact remains that most people
judge you based on what you‘ve done, regardless of how you
live your life now.
Neil left the office, wondering if the meeting with Jack
was worth half the cost of Sarah‘s necklace. He hated having to
sell it to Ralph Lindon, but Sarah was right. Emily was more
important. With the other half he‘d received for the necklace,
he made a down payment on the lawyer‘s total fee. He had to
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Ruth Ann Nordin
secure the purchase from Dan Adair to secure Jack Silverman‘s
services. As long as Dan agreed to the deal, he was set.
***
Neil pushed aside the uneasy feeling in the pit of his
stomach as he entered the saloon that Wednesday. He
hesitated. It was midday but a number of regulars gathered at
the bar or around the tables, gambling and drinking. The
atmosphere was quieter than it was at night. He spotted Dan
Adair, sitting with a group of men, laughing and chugging beer
at one of the round tables in the middle of the room.
I don’t want to be here.
He got ready to turn around and
go back home but the knowledge that Emily would be gone if
he didn‘t proceed drove him forward. His feet felt like lead as
he dragged them across the hard floor. As soon as he
approached the table, Dan lifted his head.
Dan grinned, and Neil couldn‘t tell if it was a friendly
smile or a smirk. I didn‘t think you were actually going to
show.
Clearing his throat, Neil replied, I gave my word. You
said one drink and we‘ll go to the bank to do the transaction.
Right. I remember. Sit down.
Neil pulled up the chair and sat across from him.
Bartender, give our friend Craftsman here a beer, Dan
yelled out. Turning to him, he motioned to the other men at
the table. I‘d like to introduce my partners, Grant Hallows and
Tim Fields.
Though Neil didn‘t feel like it, he shook the men‘s
One drink. It’s only one drink.
hands, his unease increasing.
Word around town is that you got the best cattle in the
area, Dan commented as he accepted another drink from the
bartender.
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His Redeeming Bride
Neil joined the other men in taking a mug of beer from
the middle-aged man who looked bored. As the man left, Neil
took a gulp, wanting to hurry this up so they could get to the
bank.
What‘s the rush, Neil? Sit back and enjoy yourself.
Realizing that he had to play by Dan‘s rules, he set his
drink on the table and leaned back, his heart hammering in his
chest. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn‘t get rid of the
feeling that something bad was going to happen.
Dan nudged Grant in the arm. Check her out. She‘s a
pretty one, don‘t you think?
Despite his better judgment, Neil glanced in the
direction Dan indicated and saw Eliza coming down the stairs
from the prostitutes‘ quarters. She wore one of her satin red
dresses with a low neckline, and the slit in the lower half of her
dress ran up to the top of her thigh. Heat rushed to his face,
and along with it came an onslaught of shame and humiliation.
He recalled the times he used her for his own pleasure, and the
memories sickened him. Staring at the half-filled mug of beer,
he willed the unbidden thoughts away.
Think of Sarah.
Their
times of joining together were good and satisfying. His face
cooled and his heart calmed.
Neil, Dan called out, bringing Neil‘s attention to him.
Was that woman any good? He motioned to Eliza who talked
to the bartender.
Neil hesitated, not wishing to answer the question, let
alone remember what it was like to have relations with her.
I heard you visited her more than the others, Grant
said, his eyes fixed on her. With the way she moves, I can see
why.
Shifting in the chair, Neil replied, I‘d rather not think
about it.
Why?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
His heart skipped a beat. Well, I‘m married, and the
only woman I want to think about being with is my wife.
Dan smirked. That wasn‘t the case when you were
married to Cassie. Word is you went to visit Eliza one night
after you spent some time gambling and drinking.
He forced himself to stay seated. All he wanted to do
was run out of the saloon and never look back.
This is for Emily.
I did drink and gamble, but I stopped before anything
happened.
Couldn‘t get it up? Grant scoffed.
I thought of my daughter, and I realized I couldn‘t go
around defiling someone else‘s daughter.
The three men burst out laughing. Tim slapped the
table with his hand.
Eliza turned to them and smiled. Swinging her hips in a
seductive manner, she approached them. Hello there, fellas,
she greeted.
Neil recognized the overpowering smell of her perfume
and swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. He couldn‘t look
at her. Images of their times together flashed through his mind.
Neil was just telling us that he remembers you, Dan
told her.
Neil‘s jaw clenched. What was the man doing?
Eliza leaned forward, giving them a full view of her
breasts.
Neil quickly averted his eyes, focusing on Dan who
sneered at him.
Eliza winked. I remember him too, she told Dan.
He was the best.
That‘s because you haven‘t me yet, hon, Grant said,
openly staring at her bosom.
Eliza, I think it‘s best if you get properly dressed, Neil
said.
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His Redeeming Bride
Why? Grant asked. This is why she‘s here. To give
men pleasure, and it certainly is a pleasure to look at her.
The other two men chuckled and nodded.
Dan took a drink of beer before placing his mug back
on the table. Maybe I should get a turn when Grant is done.
Of course, that is if Neil doesn‘t want a turn at her first.
Aren‘t you married? Neil snapped.
Sure. But a wife is for bearing children. A woman like
Eliza is for enjoying.
What you mean is that a woman like Eliza is to be
used. Neil looked at her then. What I did wasn‘t ri ght, Eliza,
and I apologize for it. You have a good heart, and you don‘t
need to sell yourself like this when you could settle down with a
good man who‘d treat you right. Take it from me. It doesn‘t
satisfy beyond a few minutes. Then it leaves you feeling
empty.
Her countenance fell and he noticed the uncertainty in
her eyes.
You can‘t know how wonderful lovemaking is unless
you find the man who‘ll treat you right. Don‘t you want better
for yourself? Neil softly asked her.
Her lower lip trembled.
Dan slammed his fist on the table, causing the mugs to
rattle. Just as I thought, Craftsman. You‘re still as narrow-
minded and judgmental as you were a year ago. I‘m sick of
being around men like you.
Just as he stood up, the front doors swung open, and
Grant shoved Eliza into Neil‘s arms.
Well, what do we have here? a familiar voice asked.
Neil jerked to his feet, letting go of Eliza as soon as she
was standing upright. Harry Martin?
I don‘t think Mr. Silverman will be able to defend you
in court, Harry said, looking pleased. How unfortunate it is
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Ruth Ann Nordin
that witnesses can attest to the fact that you were drinking and
ready to engage in other…immoral…pursuits. A little girl needs
parents who will demonstrate how to live just lives.
Shooting a look from Harry to Dan and his partners, he
realized they had set him up. So, you had no intention of
doing business with me, he told Dan.
Dan crossed his arms. Nothing personal. McCarthy
gave me a nice sum of cash for my assistance.
I‘m sorry, Neil, Eliza said, tears filling her eyes. I
didn‘t have a choice.
Shut up! Dan snapped. You‘ve done your part.
Now go.
You don‘t have a right to talk to a woman like that,
Neil retorted.
She‘s not a woman. She‘s a whore, Dan scoffed.
She‘s a person who‘s been beaten down so much that
she‘s forgotten she has worth.
I don‘t understand you at all, Craftsman. Dan stood
up and sauntered over to him, pushing past her and Grant.
Neil straightened up, refusing to step back even when
Dan was inches away from him. Maintaining eye contact, Neil
waited for the man to continue.
A year ago, you acted like you were too good for me,
but today you defend a whore. You want to know why I won‘t
buy your cattle? Because I don‘t need a holier than thou
hypocrite telling me how to live my life.
I didn‘t tell you how to do anything, Neil calmly
stated. It seems to me that you are telling yourself that, and
my actions have confirmed it.
One moment, Neil was on his feet, and the next, Dan
punched him in the jaw. Neil stumbled back and fell onto the
empty table behind him, aware that the wood ripped under the
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His Redeeming Bride
force of his weight. He landed on the floor, and before he
could get up, Dan leapt on him to punch him again.
Stop him! Eliza screamed.
Neil took a swing and hit Dan in the nose. While Dan
swore under his breath, Neil struggled to stand up. Grant and
Tim pushed him down.
Now, there‘s no need to get violent, Harry Martin
said. You boys did a fine job and will be paid.
Dan wiped the blood from his nose. You broke my
nose, you son of a bitch! Looking at Grant and Tim, he
barked, Stand him up.
They obeyed while Eliza ran to the bartender.
Listen here, Craftsman, Dan hissed. I‘m going to
see to it that you don‘t get to keep that girl of yours if it‘s the
last thing I do. Dan landed his fist into Neil‘s gut, doubling
him over.
The bartender ran over to them with a rifle, Eliza at his
heels. He cocked the gun and pointed it at them. I don‘t want
any more trouble in the bar. Get out.
Neil waited in a period of time that seemed to span
minutes but probably only took a matter of seconds before Dan
told Grant and Tim to r elease him. His knees buckled under
him, but he quickly caught his balance.
Eliza wiped the tears that fell on her cheeks, her body
trembling. The bartender motioned for Dan to back away from
Neil.
Dan obeyed but gave Neil a cold stare. I‘ll be in court
on Monday, and Grant and Tim will back me up when I tell
them you wanted to take the whore upstairs.
And I‘ll tell them he didn‘t! Eliza yelled, though her
voice shook.
Dan smirked. Who‘s going to believe the word of a
whore?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Harry waved his hand at Dan. Don‘t worry about a
thing. The case is closed up. He looked at Neil. Jack
Silverman won‘t defend you once the gossipers in town spread
their rumors. If you‘re willing to let Emily return to her
mother, then we can forget all of this.
I‘ll defend myself, Neil said, displaying a confidence
he didn‘t feel.
Given your past and the witnesses, I don‘t see how you
have a chance. Harry sighed. It‘s almost a shame too. You
obviously care about the girl as if she were your own.
And it‘s a shame that you put money before people,
he replied.
Dan motioned to Neil. You see what I mean? Holier
than thou. I‘ll be in court. He stormed out of the saloon,
Grant and Tim following close behind.
The bartender lowered his gun and returned to the bar
while the lawyer nodded to Neil and left. Neil bent down to
retrieve his hat from the floor and placed it on his head.
Eliza ran up to him. Neil, I‘m sorry. They threatened
to tell my son the truth about his birth. I gave him up for
adoption twelve years ago, and I don‘t want him to know about
me.
You don‘t have to explain anything to me, Neil softly
told her. Why do you continue to stay here?
Taking a shaky breath, she shrugged. I‘m not good for
anything else.
His heart ached for her. How many times had he
believed the same lie? Go see Pastor Peters. He gave me a
new start, and he can give you one too. I‘m sorry I was one of
the men who used you.
No man‘s ever spoken kindly to me before, Neil.
Thank you, and I‘ll see the pastor you mentioned. She wiped
her wet cheeks. I hope you get to keep that precious girl.
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His Redeeming Bride
Neil nodded to her and exited the saloon.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Twenty-One
S
arah sat across from Reverend Amos and Beatrice Donner as
the preacher informed her of what occurred with Neil at the
saloon. She glanced out the window where Emily and Luke
played with Neil‘s mother. Gwen was trying to teach them how
to plant flowers, but Luke kept tossing rocks across the green
lawn.
We regret to inform you of what your husband is
doing, Reverend Amos said, his expression solemn. He was
found drinking beer and getting ready to sleep with a prostitute
at the saloon. Now, this isn‘t something I enjoy telling you, but
I feel it is my duty to make you aware of what is going on.
She shifted her gaze to Jim‘s mother who crossed her
arms and nodded, as if sa tisfied that this happened. I hate to
say =I told you so,‘ but I never approved of your marriage to
that horrible man.
Unsure of what to say or do, Sarah remained still,
absentmindedly rubbing her stomach, aware of the baby
bouncing around in her womb. From the open window, she
heard Luke and Emily laughing.
We don‘t blame you, Sarah, the preacher added.
You were without a husband and living in the same house with
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His Redeeming Bride
Mr. Craftsman. I‘m sure you wished to marry him in order to
have a secure place and to alleviate any guilt regarding certain
activities.
Neil and I didn‘t sleep in the same bed until after we
married, she replied, surprised at the intensity with which her
words came out.
Beatrice shook her head and pursed her lips.
I don‘t care if you believe me or not. What you think
doesn‘t matter anymore, she told the irritating woman who
gasped.
Regardless of whether or not you‘re telling the truth,
the preacher began, we need to decide what to do from this
moment forward. You have your son and this unborn child to
think about. It‘s not wise to have them raised in a home with a
father who‘s running around a saloon, drinking and sleeping
with the soiled doves there. You know how darkness can creep
up and slip into people‘s lives. Children are the most
susceptible. It is your duty as their mother to protect them
from an immoral future.
Releasing her breath, she pondered how to respond.
Beatrice clasped her hands together and leaned forward
on the couch. Sarah, my dear, I am not coming in the spirit of
malevolence. I assure you my intentions are for the good of
you and your children. Jim wouldn‘t want this life for you, and
we must think of his son.
She‘s right, Sarah. Fortunately, we have a place for you
and your little one. You won‘t have to worry about a place to
stay. Of course, this will mean that you are to never marry
again. We cannot condone a divorce. We dare not add one evil
upon another, but a permanent separation will do no one any
harm and will protect your reputation.
We must look forward, Beatrice agreed.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Emily called out a greeting to her father, turning Sarah‘s
attention back to the window. Emily ran up to Neil and he
lifted her up in his arms and hugged her. Even from the
distance she was at, she could tell he had gotten into a fight. A
bruise was already forming on his jaw and his suit and hair were
ruffled. Luke stumbled as he ran to him but quickly got up to
continue walking to him. Neil bent down and hugged him too.
Gwen struggled to her feet and limped over to them.
The preacher continued, Come along, Sarah. Beatrice
is staying with Willow Mills. You and Jim used to visit her.
We‘ll make sure that Mr. Craftsman never taints you or
your children again, Beatrice added.
They stood up, as if they had rehearsed this moment,
and waited for Sarah to respond.
Holding Luke in one arm and Emily in another, Neil
watched his mother approach him, a worried look on her face.
What happened? she asked, removing the gardening
gloves from her hands.
He shook his head. I have to talk to Sarah. It looks
bad.
What do you mean, Pa? Emily wondered, her arms
around his neck.
I can‘t get a lawyer, honey. I‘m going to have to
defend myself in court on Monday.
Why? I thought Mr. Silverman agreed to represent you
as soon as your business with Dan Adair went through, his
mother said.
There was no business. He forced the words out,
bitterness welling up in his chest. I need to speak with Sarah
before I give you the details, all right, Ma?
She nodded. Of course.
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The sound of a man‘s voice stopped him from
It didn’t take him long to get here with
approaching the front door.
them.
For all he knew, Harry Martin had John and Cassie wait
for him outside the saloon and followed Neil to the house. A
feeling of dread threatened to engulf him when he noticed the
deputy with them.
Mr. Craftsman, Harry began, looking pleased with
himself, I have a temporary order from the judge for you to
relinquish custody of Emily.
His hold tightened on Emily as she shook her head in
protest. No.
Harry held the document out to him. Read it for
yourself.
Neil? His mother turned her eyes to him. What‘s
going on?
I‘m not going! Emily screamed. My mother doesn‘t
love me. She‘ll send me away!
Cassie pressed her hand to her chest. My goodness,
Emily. Is that what Mr. Craftsman told you?
No. I heard you. Emily looked at Neil, an anxious
look on her face. Don‘t let them take me, Pa!
Cassie shook her head, her eyes wide. I don‘t know
why she thinks that, she told the lawyer. I would never send
her away. I love her.
Deputy Owen Russell stepped past John, Cassie and
Harry. He glanced at Emily and Luke before directing his
attention to Neil. Taking a deep breath, he sadly stated, I‘m
afraid Mr. Martin does have a court order for you to relinquish
guardianship of Emily until the hearing on Monday.
On what grounds? Neil pressed, his heart hammering
in his chest.
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There was a fight in the bar. Apparently, you attacked
Dan Adair, and Judge Richards isn‘t sure Emily‘s safe with
you.
Anger heated Neil‘s face. He attacked me.
Unfortunately, all the witnesses claim you attacked
him. Well, there was the woman who said you didn‘t, but it‘s
her word against three other men.
Even the bartender?
The deputy nodded. If you don‘t let Mrs. McCarthy
take her daughter, then I‘m ordered to arrest you until Monday
when you‘re due to appear in court for the hearing.
Emily‘s screaming and his mother‘s sobbing distracted
Neil. He willed his mind to clear above the noise so he could
make sense of the man‘s words. What? he finally managed to
squeak. He blinked as he struggled to focus on the deputy. In
the back of his mind, he was aware that Sarah ran out of the
house with the preacher and Mrs. Donner close behind her. I
don‘t understand, he told the deputy.
Sarah caught up to him and took Luke. He couldn‘t
take his eyes off the man in front of him whose expression told
him that he didn‘t want to do this.
The deputy closed his eyes for a moment. I‘m sorry,
Mr. Craftsman. I don‘t agree with what‘s going on, but I have
to carry out the judge‘s orders.
Cassie walked over to him and reached for Emily, and
Neil jerked back.
John pressed through the deputy and Cassie and
grabbed Neil‘s arm. I recommend you let go of the child,
John told him, his tone calm but his words cold.
Neil snarled at him. Back off, McCarthy! You think
you can do whatever you want because you have money? He
wrapped his other arm around Emily. Emily‘s my daughter,
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whether you like it or not. You have no right to come into a
man‘s family and tear it apart.
He smirked at him. The judge disagrees with you.
No! Neil felt the tears but refused to stop them from
falling down his face. If Sarah and Luke weren‘t standing
nearby, he would have run off with Emily and hide her, but he
had his wife and son to think about so he had to stay there. His
arms shook as he clung to his daughter. No!
Neil, what happened? Sarah asked.
Her anxious voice broke him from John‘s intense stare.
He blinked so he could get a clear view of her through his tears.
Harry Martin turned to her. I found your husband
holding a prostitute at the saloon. When Mr. Adair advised him
against his improper conduct, Neil attacked him.
Reverend Amos nodded. It‘s just like I told you,
Sarah. A man who has a tainted past will never change.
Sarah looked at the preacher, back to the lawyer and
finally to Neil. Neil?
Neil gulped the lump in his throat. Mr. Martin and
Dan set me up. Dan never wanted to buy my cattle. He
wanted revenge. They planted Eliza there and told her to play
her part, but nothing happened. She said hello but that was it.
Then one of Dan‘s men pushed her into my arms and the next
thing I know, Martin showed up and Dan came after me.
They‘re lying so John and Cassie can get Emily. Mr. Silverman
won‘t represent me in court if people believe that story. He
shot a look at the preacher and Mrs. Donner. Word travels
fast.
Unfortunately for you, it does, Mrs. Donner snapped.
You have defiled my son‘s wife, but you will not defile his
son.
Deputy Russell interrupted before John could grab
Emily. Mr. McCarthy, let me handle this. When John stepped
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away, the deputy took the paper from Harry and presented it to
Neil. Which one is it? Will you consent to hand Emily over or
will you go to jail?
And take a moment to consider your wife and son,
John said.
You mean Jim‘s son! Beatrice added.
The meaning of the deputy‘s words finally sank into
him, and Neil understood the implications of what both options
meant. His mind quickly worked through the dilemma. If he
had to represent himself in court, then he needed to gather
people who could vouch for him. Mr. Silverman mentioned
gathering anyone who could impress upon the judge the fact
that Cassie didn‘t want to be a mother to Emily, and there was
one person who knew the truth. Someone who was impartial.
Someone who would make the ideal witness. Mary Larson.
The only way he was going to get a chance to talk to Mary was
if he was out of jail.
A temporary sacrifice if I can win the case.
If he went to jail,
he wouldn‘t even have a chance to get Emily back. Em,
honey, he whispered, his voice choking as he worked through
the words he would tell the girl,
his girl
. I have to do what they
say.
No! Take me home! she protested.
Emily‘s words pierced his heart. Despite Emily‘s
screams and struggles, he pried her arms from his neck, unable
to stop his tears as they continued to fall down his face. Don‘t
you see what your selfishness is doing to her? he bitterly asked
Cassie.
Emily kicked and clawed at Cassie. John took the girl
and held her arms and legs in place. Emily let out another high-
pitched wail.
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Gwen covered her face and turned her back on the
scene while Sarah continued to glance from one person to the
other, also crying.
We‘ll see you in court on Monday. Harry tipped his
hat to Neil and the others before he joined J ohn and Cassie as
they carried a shrieking Emily down the sidewalk.
Shameful. Beatrice shook her head. Absolutely
shameful. Jim never would have done anything that would have
resulted in this shameful event.
It is shameful, ma‘am, Deputy Russell replied. A girl
shouldn‘t be dragged from the only home she‘s ever known.
He turned to Neil and handed him the paper. I apologize, Mr.
Craftsman. I hope you find a way to get her back.
Neil watched the man as he left the group. The
deputy‘s words were well-intended but did nothing to ease the
ache in Neil‘s heart. He brought his hand to the back of his
neck which was sore from where Emily had clung to him.
Oh
Emily, forgive me.
He took a deep breath to steady his emotions
so he wasn‘t crying anymore.
Forgive me.
Reverend Amos interrupted the silence. Sarah, you
can see that judgment is a part of this. No man gets by with
wrong living. Don‘t allow yourself and your children to suffer
as that little girl is.
Get out of here, Neil snapped, anger replacing his
sorrow.
We‘ll be glad to, as soon as Sarah consents to go with
us.
No. No! She‘s my wife and no one can undo that.
Now get out of here before I make you!
Beatrice gasped. Oh, he is a monster!
Shut your mouth, Neil ordered. I‘m sick of listening
to you spout off about how I‘m unfit to raise your grandson.
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You‘re an intolerable woman! A person would have to be a
saint to put up with your bellyaching.
If you‘re looking for people to say you‘re fit to raise a
child, you won‘t get us to agree, the preacher said. Come on,
Sarah.
The preacher motioned to the sidewalk.
Neil waited for her to say no, to tell this miserable old
coot that her place was by Neil‘s side as she had done in the
past.
But she didn‘t.
Sarah? Neil asked as an icy grip clenched his heart.
She paused in mid-turn, her profile making it hard for
him to determine what she might be thinking. When she spoke,
her voice was so low that he could barely make out her words.
I can‘t stay.
What? He made a move to take her arm so she would
have to face him but the preacher stopped him.
She made her choice, the man reprimanded him.
Neil watched her leave with Reverend Amos and a
satisfied looking Mrs. Donner. He wanted to run after her and
cling to her, but his feet froze to the ground.
What just happened?
I woke up this morning with Sarah, Emily, and Luke safe at home. And
now they’re gone?
His mother came to him and hugged him, but too much
had happened in the past hour and he failed to know what to
do to get himself from under the mess that had suddenly
become his life. He stood there, his body going numb. Only
one thought kept running through his mind:
What just happened?
***
That night, Neil banged on the front door of Willow
Mills‘ residence. Sarah clamped her hands over her ears and
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begged Beatrice and Willow to make him go away. She rocked
back and forth on the bed, unable to take it anymore. Neil had
been begging to talk to her for the last three hours and it left
her in a turmoil of heartache as she struggled with what to do.
Beatrice opened the front door. Sarah stayed in the
guest bedroom, but she could hear them since the front door
was right by her room.
Mr. Craftsman, you can‘t keep on like this, Beatrice
said. Sarah doesn‘t want to see you.
I need to talk to her. You didn‘t give me a chance to
talk to her, he argued.
Sarah squeezed her eyes shut, feeling as if she couldn‘t
breathe but knowing she had to in order to sustain the life
growing inside of her. She became painfully aware of the baby
she and Neil created each time the baby jabbed her. Just that
morning, she and Neil had been laughing and sharing the joys
of impending parenthood. But all at once, everything had been
ripped apart and the pain in her chest grew stronger with each
plea Neil gave for Beatrice to let him into the house.
I love her, Neil continued after Beatrice denied him
entrance. I would never betray her.
It‘s too bad that you had witnesses.
They‘re lying.
I don‘t care to have this conversation with you…again.
Now get out of here or I‘ll send for the sheriff to take you
away.
Sarah gasped back another sob and hummed a tune to
block out the rest of the conversation.
What should I do? What
should I do?
In the corner of the room, Luke watched her. He
picked up one of his blocks and brought it to her, a smile on his
face, as if he hoped to cheer her up. Seeing him only served to
bring another round of fresh tears to her eyes. She knew Luke
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Ruth Ann Nordin
wasn‘t Neil‘s son, but she couldn‘t help but see Neil whenever
the boy smiled.
Beatrice entered the room. There. I finally got him to
leave. The neighbors complained to the police and they took
him away.
Is he in jail? Sarah couldn‘t stand the thought of him
being in prison.
No. Unfortunately. Beatrice knelt by Luke and smiled
at him. Hi, Luke. You are a handsome little boy, aren‘t you?
You look a lot like your mother. The woman turned to Sarah.
As much as I love my son, it is good that Luke inherited your
looks.
Sarah nearly fell off the bed, for that was the first kind
word she ever spoke to her. I…Uh…Thank you.
Beatrice sighed. I suppose I haven‘t been a very
gracious mother-in-law, have I?
Unable to answer the question, Sarah let her hands fall
into her lap and took a good look at Jim‘s mother, as if seeing
her for the first time.
If there is one thing Mr . Craftsman taught me, it‘s that
I should have treated you better. The woman sat next to Sarah
on the bed and took one of Sarah‘s hands in hers. I am sorry.
I didn‘t realize how I seemed until recently. Sarah, you must
understand that I want what‘s best for you and Luke. I don‘t
want to see Mr. Craftsman hurt you by sleeping with other
women and drinking. You are the only family I have left now
that my husband and Jim are dead. I have no other legacy
except for Luke.
Forcing her heartache aside, she focused on Jim‘s
mother. Mrs. Donner –
Beatrice. She smiled as Luke climbed on her lap and
showed her the block. I would like to be a friend, instead of a
mother-in-law. I know I haven‘t been a good one. Is there any
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chance that we might work through our differences and become
friends?
I must admit that I‘m a little overwhelmed.
I understand. I have no right to ask for what I don‘t
deserve.
I meant that it‘s sudden but I would welcome the
chance to be friends.
The woman‘s body relaxed and her smile grew wider.
Willow walked into the room. Mr. Craftsman left
town. He won‘t be coming back tonight. The sheriff
confirmed it. Now you can get some peace and quiet, Sarah.
Thank you, Mrs. Mills.
The old woman nodded and departed.
Returning Beatrice‘s smile, Sarah said, Thank you for
calling him Luke.
Beatrice laughed. I have to admit, I‘ve grown fond of
the name you gave him. He sure has changed since I last saw
him.
Deciding to let the past go, Sarah updated the woman
on what Luke accomplished in the past few months.
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Chapter Twenty-Two
N
eil‘s heart hung heavy in his chest, and he spent the night
lying awake on the couch in the parlor. He couldn‘t bring
himself to go upstairs where he spent his nights with Sarah and
where Emily and Luke slept in their bedrooms. He couldn‘t
even bring himself to go to the kitchen where they spent their
time eating and talking, often laughing. But there was no
laughter now. In fact, the absence of laughter made the silence
all the more deafening.
The morning came and he dragged his feet up the stairs,
each step echoing of a loneliness he didn‘t want to
acknowledge. Ignoring the children‘s bedrooms, he lumbered
into the room he and Sarah shared, quelling the memories of
how they expressed their love for each other in their bed.
Instead, he opened the wardrobe and sighed at the sight of the
pretty yellow, purple, and green dresses she had made. She
even made a pink one to wear during her pregnancy. Though
she kept her gray and brown dresses, she rarely wore them
anymore.
He touched the soft fabric of the green dress, recalling
the first day he saw her in it. They married later that day. The
unwanted memory brought the emotions he had been carefully
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suppressing. He smelled the fragrance of the lavender soap she
liked to use, and for a moment, he closed his eyes, imagining
that she was standing in front of him, telling him that she didn‘t
believe what everyone else was saying, that she knew he
wouldn‘t betray her. The comfort departed under the weight of
the truth. She didn‘t trust him, and she took Luke and their
unborn child with her. And Cassie took Emily.
Emptiness plagued the house so much he couldn‘t stand
it. He quickly dressed in another suit, shaved and combed his
hair, determined to focus on what he needed to do, and that
was get Emily back. He couldn‘t force Sarah back, and he
wasn‘t sure if she‘d let see him see Luke or their child, but he
knew that Emily didn‘t want to be with Cassie and that Cassie
didn‘t really want her daughter. If nothing else, he had to
protect that precious girl.
Straightening his tie, he took a deep breath and cleared
his mind. Feeling ready, he placed his hat on his head and
headed for town. He took the buggy, more out of desper ate
hope than belief that Sarah would change her mind and come
home. He had to try to talk to her. Maybe a good night‘s sleep
would clear her thinking. Maybe she would listen to him
instead of what others were probably telling her.
When he arrived in town, he rode by Willow Mills‘
house but no one was there when he knocked on the door. He
decided he would come back after he saw the judge. He parked
the buggy in front of the courthouse and worked things out
with the clerk to get an appointment with one of the judges that
afternoon. After that, he went to the bank to withdraw enough
money to buy Sarah‘s necklace back. He had planned to add it
to Dan Adair‘s payment to pay the lawyer, but since Jack
Silverman did, in fact, refuse to see him when he tried to
explain the situation after he departed from Willow Mills‘ place
the previous day, he had no reason to withhold the money.
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The bell rang over his head as he opened the door of
the mercantile. Ralph was nowhere in sight so he waited by the
front counter. Peering through the glass display case, he saw
Sarah‘s necklace. Just the sight of it made him want to weep. It
was a long shot that she might want to listen to him, but he
couldn‘t let her sacrifice her parents‘ only gift to her.
I don‘t want a toy. I want to go home to Pa, a girl
said.
Neil turned his attention to the back of the store. He
thought he was the only customer in the place. Rows of shelves
hid his view of who she was with, but he‘d recognize Emily‘ s
voice anywhere. His heart raced with excitement at the thought
of seeing his daughter. He took a step forward when he heard
Cassie.
Come on, Emily, she pleaded. Pick something to
play with. You can pick all the toys if you want. John has a lot
of money and can afford anything you want.
I want Pa!
Cassie gave a loud sigh. I explained that to you. Mr.
Craftsman isn‘t your pa.
Yes, he is!
No, he‘s not. Now, I‘m your mother. You would do
well to want to be with me.
Why? So you can send me away as soon as John gets
his money?
Emily, you‘ll be going to a very prestigious all -girl
school. You‘ll have opportunities that you‘ll never have here.
But I want Pa.
But you should want me. I‘m your mother.
Neil rushed to the back, recognizing the irritated tone in
Cassie‘s voice. That was never a good sign.
You don‘t love me. You left me. Pa would never have
left me!
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You ungrateful brat.
He heard the slap as he rounded the corner, and he
grabbed Cassie‘s hand before she could slap Emily‘s cheek
again.
Cassie whirled around and slapped him with her free
hand.
He grabbed her other hand. You‘re not allowed to lay
a hand on Emily, he snapped.
Cassie struggled against him. Let go of me, you brute.
Listen to me. Keeping his voice low, he continued, I
won‘t let you hurt her.
Emily ran over to Neil and stood behind him. Take
me home, Pa.
His heart ached to do just that, to pick her up and leave
with her. I wish I could, honey.
Cassie jerked her hands out of his. I don‘t get it, Neil.
She‘s not yours. She‘s mine.
You didn‘t want her.
That‘s why she is hostile to me. You‘ve polluted her
thinking.
No, he didn‘t, Emily cried, holding onto Neil. She‘s
hit me before, Pa. I didn‘t know it was wrong before, but I
know better now.
Neil glared at Cassie, reminding himself that he couldn‘t
strike a woman.
Oh, she‘ll lie to get whatever she wants, Cassie
argued.
You won‘t get her, Cassie.
Cassie straightened her back and adjusted her blue hat
which matched her lacy dress. The decision‘s already been
made. You are unfit to be a father.
I love her. That qualifies me.
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She shook her head. You have another child and one
on the way. It doesn‘t matter if you have Emily or not. You
can obviously have ten more if you want, but I can‘t have any
more children. She‘s all I got.
Don‘t you mean, she‘s all John‘s got? I know he
stands to inherit a pretty sum of money if he can give his father
a grandchild. Jack Silverman did his homework before you and
John had your lawyer set me up at the saloon.
Rolling her eyes, she sighed. I‘m giving her the
opportunity of a lifetime. A school back east will do her more
good than a mediocre education out west.
I don‘t want to go to that stupid school! Emily
shouted. I keep telling you that but you won‘t listen.
Ralph arrived, looking shocked. May I help you
folks?
Neil closed his eyes for a moment, willing himself to
calm down.
When he opened them, he saw Cassie pasting on one of
her terrific smiles. Mr. Lindon, how nice it is to see you again.
I swear you haven‘t aged a day since I left.
Stopping himself from rolling his eyes, Neil said, It‘s
personal business. There‘s no need to get involved in it.
Cassie shot Neil a dirty look.
Ralph glanced between them but shrugged off any other
questions Neil suspected he had. All right. Is there anything I
can help you with?
Yes, Cassie sweetly replied, turning to him. I would
like to buy these two dolls for my daughter.
I don‘t want them! Emily screamed.
Before Neil could stop her, she ran out of the store. He
lunged forward to go after her when Cassie grabbed his arm.
You let me have her, Neil, or I‘ll make sure John takes away
your farm.
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His Redeeming Bride
Neil shook her off of him and hurried to catch up with
Emily.
Cassie groaned but ran after him.
As he opened the door, he saw Emily dodging some
people on the boardwalk, ignoring questions people asked
about where she was going. He called after her and ran,
pushing past a couple of men who refused to get out of his way.
He was aware that Cassie followed, though her heels hindered
her from getting too far.
Emily! he yelled when he saw a horse nearly run her
over as she darted across the street.
The rider shouted at her.
Watch your language! Neil snapped. She‘s just a
girl.
Yeah, well if you‘re her father, you‘re doing a lousy job
of making sure she stays out of the street, the man bickered.
Neil grunted but decided to let the matter go. He
caught up to Emily once she got to the other side of the street.
Emily, he said as he turned her to face him. He knelt in front
of her. Honey.
She hugged him. I hate her, she cried. She‘s mean.
I‘m doing everything I can to get you back.
Just take me home.
It‘s not that easy. If I take you home now, I‘ll get sent
to jail. Then I won‘t have any chance to appear before the
judge. I have to make it to court, honey. If I don‘t, then I‘ll
lose you for good.
I wish you were my real father. Then this wouldn‘t be
happening.
He brushed the dark curls out of her eyes and kissed her
cheek. As far as I‘m concerned, I am your real father.
Cassie caught up to them, panting. This is enough
disobedience, Emily. You have to come with me.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
I‘ll run away, Emily argued. I‘m not going with
you.
And where do you think you‘re going to go? Cassie
scoffed.
Emily jutted her chin forward. I have places I can go.
She crossed her arms and smirked. How cute. I know
where your grandmother lives.
I have other places.
She didn‘t look convinced.
Neil stood up, holding onto Emily‘s hand. Can‘t you
let her stay with me until Monday?
Cassie narrowed her eyes at him. Why? So you can
have time to run off with her the way you did once before?
Only that time, you also ran off with Mary Larson.
Cassie, he warned.
What is she talking about, Pa? Emily looked up at
him.
He didn‘t tell you? Cassie pressed her hand to her
chest and shook her head. The man you insist on calling =Pa‘
isn‘t all he appears.
Stop it, Neil barked.
Why? You filled her head with all sorts of bad things
about me. I might as well return the favor. Turning to Emily,
she smiled. Your pa took you and left me. You were a baby
when it happened. So you see, he never loved me.
That‘s not true. I did when we were first married.
And we all see how well that worked. Within a year,
you were trying to marry another man‘s wife.
I don‘t want to go into this. He tightened his hold on
Emily‘s hand.
Why should I have stuck around with you after that?
Fine. You want to call a spade a spade? You wanted
to run off with another man right before Emily was born.
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There. Are you happy that you just told Emily all our secrets?
She‘s only nine for goodness‘ sakes.
I don‘t care, Emily intervened. I just want to go
home.
And you will, Cassie agreed. With me.
Emily let out a high-pitched shriek, startling Neil.
Cassie pressed her hands to her ears.
A lawman and Dan Adair approached them.
Sir, is there a problem? the lawman asked them.
Neil examined the fat man with a bushy beard. The
man wore a deputy‘s badge, but Neil hadn‘t seen him before.
But that didn‘t cause him unease. The deputy was with Dan
Adair. Dan looked at Neil and scowled. Neil hid his
apprehension. Was Dan Adair talking to the deputy about what
happened at the saloon? Neil couldn‘t handle any more
problems.
Cassie motioned to the lawman. Mr. Craftsman is
under a court order to let this girl come home with me. I‘m her
mother, but he‘s trying to take her.
To Neil‘s horror, a group of onlookers began to form a
circle around them, and one of the faces in the growing crowd
was Judge Johnson, the same judge who was presiding over his
case. He grew tense, realizing that this would hurt his case if he
didn‘t watch his words.
Forcing his voice to remain calm, he turned to the
deputy. I‘m not taking her home. I know Emily has to go with
Mrs. McCarthy. She was with her at the merca ntile when I
stopped by to see Ralph Lindon. I caught Cassie and Emily in
the middle of a disagreement. When Emily ran out, I followed
her.
A likely story, a woman muttered to one of her
friends.
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He gritted his teeth. Couldn‘t people mind their own
business?
It‘s true, Emily told the woman. I want to be with
my pa.
The woman‘s eyes widened. Hmm… Seems to me that
a girl could learn manners when speaking to her elders. She
shot a searing look at Neil.
Ignoring her, he turned to the judge. I assure you,
your honor, that I have no intention of disobeying the law.
Cassie nodded in satisfaction and reached for the girl‘s
hand. Emily let out a high-pitched cry, causing several people
to back up.
What am I supposed to do? Neil asked, frustrated
when Emily refused to let go of his hand while Cassie pulled at
her other hand.
The deputy approached the judge and said something to
him, but Neil couldn‘t make out his words over Emily‘s
continual shrieking.
Preacher Peters and Beatrice walked up to the crowd.
Neil glanced at the preacher, wondering why he‘d be talking to
Beatrice. Did he believe Beatrice? Had Neil lost his support
too?
Emily‘s frantic kicking at Cassie took his mind off of
them. Forcing aside his unease, he knelt by his daughter.
Emily, honey, you can‘t do this.
Instead of listening to him, Emily continued to kick at
Cassie, who stepped back, looking bewildered.
The deputy tapped Neil on the shoulder. Sir, the
bartender said that there was a ruckus at his bar involving you
and Mr. Adair over there. All I need you to do is confirm tha t
this is the man who attacked you at the saloon.
What? Neil asked.
That is Dan Adair, correct? the man replied.
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Yes.
Cassie wiped her tears with a lacy handkerchief. I
don‘t know what to do, Judge Johnson. Can we get this deputy
to bring my daughter home?
Mary Larson, who‘d been watching, stepped forward.
May I say something, Judge?
Judge Johnson looked her way. Of course, you can.
Mary glanced back at her husband and her three
children before she proceeded. I was there when Emily was
born, and over the years, I have seen how things were in the
Craftsman household. Cassie didn‘t want her daughter, sir.
When Emily was born, Cassie didn‘t take care of her. But Neil
did. Her youngest child ran up to her and she picked him up.
I had to make the girl‘s clothes and when I brought them over,
I saw some things I wish I hadn‘t. Cassie was harsh with
Emily. She took a deep breath. Sir, I don‘t want to go into
detail, but one time I had to stop Cassie from beating the girl.
Cassie kept screaming that Emily dumped flour on the kitchen
floor and deserved to be taught a lesson. Emily had bruises all
over her body. Neil was gone when it happened. I told him
about it. I never saw Emily without him after that day.
Neil had a sudden desire to take Emily away from there.
She had been three when it happened, and by the look on her
face, he realized she had forgotten that incident.
Cassie glared at Mary.
Mary shifted her eyes from Cassie and back to the judge.
Maybe I was wrong not to say anything, but when Sarah
Craftsman told me what happened, I couldn‘t sit by and let
Emily return to her mother without telling the truth.
Several women in the crowd whispered to each other.
To Neil‘s surprise, Ralph Lindon pushed through the
crowd until he stood by the judge and deputy. I have
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Ruth Ann Nordin
something I need to report. This girl should not go home with
that woman. He pointed at Cassie.
Huffing, Cassie crossed her arms.
What do you mean? Judge Johnson asked.
I saw Mrs. McCarthy slap her . She was about to slap
her again when Mr. Craftsman stepped in to stop her, Ralph
continued. The girl kept saying she wanted to go home with
Mr. Craftsman. I also overheard Mr. McCarthy telling another
customer about the money he was due to inherit once he gained
full rights to Emily. Now, I try not to intrude in other people‘s
lives, and I know you‘re due to hear this case on Monday —he
sighed and shook his head— but I can‘t wait until then to tell
you that a child needs to be with a parent who loves her.
Cassie‘s eyebrows furrowed as she stared at Ralph.
How can you possibly know all of this?
Mirrors. I have them located throughout the
mercantile, Ralph explained. And I hear things, even when
people are whispering.
Sir. The deputy nudged Neil in the arm. We need
you to sign some papers. Then we can get the court
proceedings underway.
Court proceedings? Dan asked. You mean to sue
Neil, right?
No.
But you said that we were going to make things r ight
with Craftsman.
That I did. And that I will. The bartender at the
saloon is demanding that the wrongful party in yesterday‘s brawl
pay him for the broken tables and chairs. Once I take Mr.
Craftsman‘s witness into account, the case will be underway to
sue you for the damages.
You‘re kidding, Dan said.
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His Redeeming Bride
Nope. He‘ll need all matching tables and chairs, so
you‘ll have to replace all of the old ones in the place. He also
has to replace the mugs. A couple were chipped.
What do you mean he wants matching tables and
chairs? None of his old things matched.
He shrugged. I guess he wants to match them now. I
believe the total comes to $64.
Neil inwardly cringed at the amount.
That‘s a whole month‘s wages, Dan retorted.
The bartender has fine taste, the deputy replied.
John McCarthy walked by with a man Neil didn‘t
recognize. The man with the spectacles and graying hair under
his black hat stopped John and pointed at Neil. Something in
the stranger‘s gait seemed familiar. His eyes widened as he
realized his mother was dressed in a man‘s outfit, wearing a wig
and a hat. He recognized her because of her slight limp.
Dan turned and saw John. Is this what I get for my
trouble, McCarthy?
John scanned Dan and the onlookers. What are you
talking about? Who are all these people? Why is Mr. Craftsman
with Emily?
I‘m not going to pay the bill, McCarthy. Dan stepped
forward so he was in front of John. You didn‘t give me nearly
enough money to cover the damage at the saloon.
What are you talking about? John asked.
The deputy placed his hands on his hips and motioned
to Dan. Your friend over here started a fight in the saloon
that resulted in the loss of valuable inventory. The bartender‘s
demanding restitution.
Neil‘s eyebrows furrowed. He‘d seen that posture
before. And the deputy mentioned matching items. What man
cared if tables and chairs matched? He squinted until he
265

Ruth Ann Nordin
recognized Sarah‘s brown eyes. His heart leapt. She
did
believe
him!
Dan looked at the judge and threw up his hands. I
confess. John McCarthy paid me to lure Mr. Craftsman to the
saloon. I was supposed to get him to drink and hire a prostitute
to get near him. Then, when McCarthy‘s lawyer showed up,
Neil would look bad. It was so M r. McCarthy could get custody
of Emily. He paid me to do it.
John frowned. You need to learn to keep your mouth
shut.
I won‘t pay for the damages.
There is no bill, Sarah, still in the deputy disguise,
said. But now we have proof that yesterday‘s situation was
contrived to make Neil Craftsman look bad.
John shook his head at Dan who winced.
Judge Johnson looked at Cassie. You don‘t want
Emily, do you?
Cassie hesitated and looked at John.
Forget it, John muttered, taking her hand.
Apparently, we just lost the case. And quite frankly, little girl,
he said, turning to Emily, you‘re not worth the trouble.
Neil was so overcome with relief that he didn‘t notice
how the crowd reacted. He picked Emily up and hugged her.
Oh honey, I‘m sorry you had to hear all that.
She never loved me, Emily whispered, her tears
wetting his neck.
Blinking back his own tears on her behalf, he watched
as Sarah pulled off her wig and beard, causing a hush to fall
over the excited crowd.
Thank you, Mary, Sarah said.
Mary nodded and smiled at the judge. It helps when
my brother-in-law is a judge.
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His Redeeming Bride
Judge Johnson returned her smile. You‘re right. It‘s
not everyone I leave my chamber for. He shook Neil‘s hand.
I‘m glad you get to keep your daughter.
Neil thanked him as the crowd dispersed.
Sarah walked over to him. I‘m sorry I had to deceive
you. I was afraid if John‘s lawyer knew my plan, he would find
a way to stop it. I didn‘t know how else to get Emily back.
He wrapped his free arm around her and kissed her,
feeling so grateful that he was ready to cry. Steadying his
emotions, he pulled away from her. So you do believe me.
She laughed. Are you just now getting that? I don‘t
wear pants and a beard for just any man.
He chuckled at the oddity of her statement.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, Beatrice, Preacher
Peters, and his mother joined them.
Beatrice cleared her throat. I hope you‘ll forgive me,
Neil. I understand now that what I‘ve been doing to you and
Sarah is wrong. She and I had a long but good tal k last night,
and it became clear to me that you are a good husband to her
and a good father to Luke. I hope you‘ll let me continue to
come out to see him.
Of course, I will, Mrs. Donner, he told her. And
thank you for the apology. All is forgiven.
She looked relieved.
Where is Luke? he asked Sarah.
She motioned to Willow Mills who lumbered down the
street with the small boy. I believe she began her walk over
here a half hour ago.
Luke stopped, bent down and picked something off the
boardwalk.
Neil‘s mother laughed. Between an old woman and a
small boy out to discover the world, it‘s no wonder it‘s taking
them so long.
267

Ruth Ann Nordin
Preacher Peters patted Neil on the back. I‘m glad it
worked out. Sarah was up all night devising the plan. I‘ll tell
you, a woman that stands steadfast behind her husband is one
worth keeping.
Neil grinned at her. I certainly plan to keep her,
Preacher.
I‘ll see you at church.
And me too, I hope, Beatrice said.
The more, the merrier, he agreed.
Can we go home now? Emily asked.
After I buy back Sarah‘s necklace, Neil replied.
Mrs. Donner, Neil‘s mother began as she patted
Beatrice on the arm, did you ever check out the tablecloths at
the mercantile?
I‘ve never been in there, Mrs. Donner admit ted.
Well, I should give you a tour.
Can I come too? Emily asked.
Neil‘s mother smiled. You sure can.
He set Emily to her feet so she could join them.
As the two women and Emily walked ahead of them
and approached Willow and Luke, Neil shook his head in
wonder. It‘s strange to see them together, getting along so
well.
It‘s good though. Jim‘s mother needs something more
than a grandson to keep her occupied. She was lonely.
I was too, you know. Before you came along, Neil
confided.
You weren‘t the only one, Sarah whispered.
He hugged her and felt the baby in her womb kick at
him. He chuckled. I don‘t think he likes it when I hold you
too close.
He? Emily‘s determined this is going to be a girl.
We‘ll see if she‘s right when July comes.
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His Redeeming Bride
He wrapped his arm around her waist and led her across
the street, feeling as if the weight of the world had been lifted
off his shoulders.
***
It was in the middle of the night on July 20 when Sarah
went into labor. Neil got the doctor and by midday, he, Emily,
and Luke sat in the barn while the doctor and Neil‘s mother
tended to the birth.
When his mother came out, he picked up Luke. Emily
ran ahead to talk to her grandmother. As soon as Neil caught
up to them, he already knew the baby‘s gender by the wide
smile on his daughter‘s face.
Thank you, Pa! You gave me a sister! She ran into the
house.
Neil‘s mother laughed. I thought she might like the
news. Sarah said her name is Elizabeth.
Yes. That‘s the name we agreed on, he proudly
stated. He put his arm around her shoulders and walked with
her to the house where he could hear his second daughter
crying.
The doctor came down the steps. It‘s a girl!
I beat you to it, Neil‘s mother replied.
The doctor grinned. Well, mother and child are doing
just fine. It was a good birth, the kind every doctor wants to
see. I‘ll send you the bill, he told Neil.
Ah, the painful part of having a baby, Neil joked.
I think Sarah might argue that one with you.
Congratulations, Neil. He ruffled Luke‘s blond hair. Don‘t
let the girls bully you.
After he left, his mother said, I‘ll make something to
eat. Why don‘t you go up and see your wife and daughters?
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She didn‘t have to tell him twice. He hastened up the
steps and strode into their bedroom where Sarah and Emily sat
next to each other on the bed.
Emily held the now sleeping infant. She touched the
baby‘s cheek. She‘s so tiny, she whispered.
Is there room for two more? Neil asked.
Sarah beamed up at him. Oh Neil, she looks like you,
except for the blond hair.
He sat on the bed and set an impatient Luke on the
floor. Luke ran to the bassinet and rocked it. Shaking his head,
he said, I think he‘s too young to appreciate the moment.
He wants a brother, Emily replied. Next time, you
need to have a boy. Then he‘ll be interested.
Sarah laughed. We‘ll give it our best try, Emily.
The girl seemed satisfied with Sarah‘s promise. Looking
up, she asked, You want to hold her, Pa?
He held his hands out and gently took the swaddled
newborn in his arms, marveling that he had a part in creating a
new life. Sarah was right. He could see himself in the tiny
round face, and he detected some of Sarah in her as well. His
heart swelled to the point he thought it would burst.
He smiled at Sarah. Isn‘t she amazing?
She nodded, wiping away a tear that fell down her
cheek. It‘s better than I imagined. Last time I gave birth, and
all I had was Luke. Now I have you, Emily, she hugged the
girl, Luke, and Elizabeth. I can‘t think of anything better to
ask for.
Me neither.
Oh, I know what will make it better. Emily jumped
off the bed. I have a doll that Grandma and I made for her.
As she ran out of the room, Sarah giggled. You have
to admire her determination that this baby was going to be a
girl.
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His Redeeming Bride
Do you think she had a talk with the man upstairs
about this?
I wouldn‘t doubt it.
He leaned forward and kissed her, letting his lips linger
for a moment before he pulled away. You‘ve given me more
joy than I thought was possible. I love you, Sarah.
I love you too, Neil.
He moved so he was sitting next to her. Emily and
Luke climbed on the bed, and Emily showed Elizabeth the doll
while Luke sat between him and Sarah. This was what he
longed for. A happy family. And now that he had it, his life
was complete.
271

For anyone who wants to know what happens to Eliza…
Eliza leaves Omaha for a new life. A chance to be something
she never was before: a lady—a woman with a good reputation.
John Evans has never belonged in the southern Dakota territory
small town. So when Eliza shows up and treats him better than
anyone ever has, he‘s ready to marry her before she finds
someone she‘d rather be with.
And even as she knows someone as sweet and innocent as him
should be with someone else, she finds herself falling in love
with him and dreaming of how wonderful it would be to be his
wife.
Until someone shows up in town and she has to tell him the
truth…
Then what will become of them?
Available February 2010
Go to
http://www.ruthannnordin.com
for more information.

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