Loving Eliza

John’s First Kiss
Wrapping his arms around Eliza, John knocked her over
so that they both landed on the grass.
After a startled shriek, she wiggled so that she could face
him.
He held onto her and threw his leg over hers before she
could get up.
Too bad those people in town can‘t see you now. Just
look at the way you take advantage of a poor, unsuspecting
woman!
Shrugging, he gave her a wicked smile and kissed her
cheek.
Oh John, you can‘t be serious. Despite her attempt to
look stern, she also laughed. You‘re not playing fair. You know
I‘m not strong enough to get away.
He raised an eyebrow. She wasn‘t even trying to get away
from him. That meant there was hope, right? Even if she
protested, she seemed to be enjoying it. Noticing that a strand of
her hair was close to her eyes, he reached up and brushed it away.
Her skin was soft, and he let his fingers linger at her cheek.
I never met anyone more determined than you. You‘re
much too stubborn for your own good.
It was true so he didn‘t deny it. Instead, he let his fingers
drift to her pink lips. He‘d never kissed a woman before, but he‘d
seen other men do it. It looked simple enough. And if it was so
simple, why did he suddenly worry he couldn‘t do it right?
She wasn‘t fighting him. In fact, her hands stayed on his
arms. It was a very pleasant feeling—one he wanted to enjoy
forever if she‘d let him. He closed his eyes and kissed her. His
movement was stiff. He knew it was, and he didn‘t know how to
relax when his heart was beating frantically against his chest. But
he liked the kiss so he leaned forward again for another one.

Her lips were warm against his, and she returned his kiss,
almost seeming hesitant but still willing. He let his lips linger on
hers, never wanting to leave the sweet bit of heaven he‘d suddenly
discovered. He thought he‘d like to kiss a woman some day, but
he had no idea just how much he‘d like it. This, he decided, was
the most wonderful experience he‘d ever had.
***
Loving Eliza

Loving
Eliza
Ruth Ann Nordin
Ruth Ann Nordin‘s Books
Springfield, Nebraska

Ruth Ann Nordin
I‘ve never been so glad to be anywhere in my entire life,
the blond exclaimed as she wiped her sweaty forehead with a
handkerchief.
Eliza watched Charity Grooms as her aunt, Bethany
Grooms, disposed of the bag of vomit in a trash can by the small
general store. Several people lounged about along the main street
of the dusty town and watched the new arrivals with interest. She
wondered if one of them was Melissa Peters.
Ignoring them for a moment, Eliza pulled out a mint from
her purse and handed it to the nineteen year old. This will make
your breath fresher, she whispered.
Thank you, Eliza, Charity replied, taking the mint and
plopping it into her mouth. I‘m sorry I was such a burdensome
companion.
It was better than going through the wilderness alone.
Well, you are a dear friend in this unfamiliar place.
Charity reached out and placed a hand on her arm. You must
come to my new home sometime. My intended promised he‘d let
me entertain guests. It‘s the only part of being back east that I‘d
miss, and it‘s the only reason I agreed to be a mail-order bride.
Eliza nodded, though she honestly didn‘t think they had
anything in common. Charity was born and raised a lady. She‘d
never put one foot in a godforsaken place.
A man who was probably close to thirty approached the
blond.
Eliza stepped back. This must be Ralph Custer who sent
for Charity. Her eyes drifted to his badge. So he was the marshal
in town.
He took his hat off. Excuse me, ma‘am. Are you Miss
Grooms?
While Charity‘s face glowed, Eliza turned her attention
back to the paper in her hand. It was good that Charity had a
handsome, respectable man to wed. Eliza was happy for her, and
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Loving Eliza
by the way Charity‘s aunt gushed, she was obviously happy with
the match too.
Eliza needed to find Melissa Peters. Preacher Bill Peters
promised that Melissa would be expecting her. All Eliza had to do
was go to the address written on the paper. Aware of the way the
onlookers watched her, she straightened her hat and picked up her
travel bag. It wasn‘t anything fancy. Nothing like the large trunk
Charity and her aunt brought with them.
Eliza shook her head. She wouldn‘t compare herself to
them. It did her no good to do so. Just as Preacher Peters said,
she needed to find out who she was and to be content with that.
God had forgiven her. That was enough. So why did she feel a
pit of despair well up in her chest? And why did she feel more
alone than she ever had in her entire life? She wasn‘t fourteen
when her parents died. She was twenty-seven. Well past her
prime.
Charity‘s laughter drifted along the breeze. Eliza shouldn‘t
begrudge the young woman. Charity was nineteen. She was at a
good age, and she was such a nice person. Eliza turned and
headed down the street. She was used to people staring at her. It
came with being a prostitute for twelve years. But she wasn‘t one
anymore. She‘d been redeemed. She came here for a new start.
The past remained in Omaha. No one would ever find
out about her background. Ever.
Repeating the words in her mind, she passed by the bank
when someone stepped in front of her. She gasped and stumbled
back.
A strong hand caught her by the arm and steadied her so
she didn‘t end up on the ground.
She quickly regained her composure and looked into the
greenest eyes she‘d ever seen. She blinked in surprise, for they
were beautiful. The man in front of her stood a foot taller than
her and had dark brown hair with bangs that fell neatly over his
3

Ruth Ann Nordin
forehead. The man had dressed in a clean blue shirt and black
slacks. He even wore a tie and a nice black vest.
Considering that he was better dressed than the other men
she‘d seen in town, she found him to be a strange curiosity. You
look pretty fancy. Are you getting hitched? As soon as she said
the words, she wished she hadn‘t. She needed to learn to bite her
tongue. Sorry, Mister. I meant no disrespect.
She tried to move around him but he blocked her. She
frowned and gave him a good look. She‘d had her share of
difficult men in her time. She placed a hand on her hip. She
didn‘t care if he was built like a tower. He wouldn‘t intimidate
her.
What do you want with me? she demanded.
He motioned to the letter in his hand.
She rolled her eyes. Great. The strong silent type. Look,
I don‘t have time for this, Mister. I came to find Melissa Peters.
When she took another step to the side, he moved with
her.
She took a deep breath. You are annoying me.
He winced.
Her face softened. I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean to be harsh.
What is it you want me to do? Read that letter?
He nodded and handed it to her.
You could just tell me what‘s in it.
He shook his head and pointed to his throat.
Oh. You‘re sick. I see. Not that she believed him. He
didn‘t look ill. It‘s a good thing I know how to read.
He smiled.
She hesitantly returned his smile before she read the letter.
As she did, it became clear to her that he thought
she
was the
woman who had agreed to come out west to marry him. No
wonder he wouldn‘t let her go around him. He assumed that she
was his mail-order bride. Well, now that was easy enough. She‘d
set him straight. I hate to break this to you, Mister, but I‘m not
4

Loving Eliza
Daphne O‘Conner. My name is Eliza. She paused. She couldn‘t
recall her last name. It‘d been so long ago since she used it. I‘m
not your bride.
He frowned as she handed the paper back to him.
I‘m sor ry. I realize she was due to come in on the same
stagecoach that I did, but my only traveling companions are over
there. She motioned to a very happy looking Charity and her
aunt. The marshal looked just as pleased. As well they should,
she reckoned. They all seemed nice enough. Turning back to
him, she shrugged. I‘m sorry. Maybe she‘ll come in on the next
ride.
He folded the paper in slow, methodical motions.
There didn‘t seem to be anything else to say, so she took a
step around him and headed for the houses lining the next road.
Wilkins Pike was the name of it, and that was the name of the
road she needed.
To her surprise, he tapped her on the shoulder.
She stopped and stared at him, wondering what in the
world he could possibly want now.
He motioned to her and then himself and pointed to the
small white building.
She nearly dropped her luggage when she realized the
building was a church. She shook her head. I am not Daphne.
I‘m Eliza. You do understand that, don‘t you?
He nodded.
Now she was more confused than ever. Then what do
you want with me?
He pointed to the church again.
It was official. The poor man was delusional if he thought
she could be anyone‘s wife. Mister, you‘d do much better
waiting for that fine young lady who wrote that letter to come off
the stagecoach.
He shook his head and tore the letter.
5

Ruth Ann Nordin
Gasping, she set down her bag and grabbed his hands to
stop him. Now look here. There‘s no sense in assuming the
worst. Something probably delayed her. You just need to be
patient.
He touched his throat and shook his head.
She had no idea what he was trying to tell her. Can‘t you
write down what you want to say? She picked up her purse and
searched through it. I thought I brought a pencil.
His hand rested on top of hers. When she looked up at
him, he shook his head again.
You can‘t write?
He nodded.
She should have been prepared for that. After all, not
everyone had formal schooling. She didn‘t either, but she‘d been
lucky enough to have a male customer who taught her to read and
write in exchange for her services. She sighed, pushing back the
instant shame that heated her face. Did it matter how she learned
to read and write? The point was she learned it. And she couldn‘t
change the past. Certainly, no one ever had to know about it.
The man‘s gentle touch on her arm broke her out of her
thoughts. He motioned again to the church.
If he knew…If he only knew her past, then he wouldn‘t
even suggest this. Mister, I can‘t. You seem like a really nice
man, a good man. At least you let a woman get a word in
edgewise. But I‘m not meant to be a wife. She smoothed out the
piece of paper Preacher Peters had given her. I am here to find
Melissa Peters. She‘s supposed to live down that way.
He nodded and motioned to a little white house that
looked comfortably settled between a green house and a brown
one.
Well, this was good information. Yes. I‘m here to do
housework in exchange for room and board. It‘s all been
arranged. So you see, I already have something I need to do
here.
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Loving Eliza
He shook his head at her.
She set her hands on her hips. I don‘t care if you like it
or not. She‘s expecting me. Ignoring the fact that he waved his
arms and shook his head again, she picked up her bag. I don‘t
care what you think. You‘re not telling me what to do.
She pushed past him and stormed down the road. He had
a lot of nerve! She‘d been nice to him, but she could only handle
so much. If he didn‘t want to wait for Daphne, then that was his
problem—not hers. She never agreed to come out here to mar ry
anyone. And the unexpected wave of guilt that rose from her gut
shocked her. She had no reason to feel guilty. It must have been
because she spent all of her life trying to please others and doing
what they wanted. Still, his sad eyes…No. She wouldn‘t give it
another thought. He‘d be very happy when Daphne finally came.
Daphne, she was sure, was a lady, the kind of woman a man could
take home to meet his mother, the kind of woman who could give
him a house full of children to carry on his name. She couldn‘t be
either woman for him. Yes, he was much better off without the
likes of her.
To her dismay, he followed her. She gave him credit for
persistence. Oh well. Let him follow. When she arrived at
Melissa‘s house, Melissa could explain the situation to him.
Maybe then he‘d pay attention.
As soon as she made it to Melissa‘s house, she banged on
the door. She didn‘t mean to be so hard on the poor door, but
the man was getting on her nerves with his insistent gesturing.
When the door opened, Eliza cleared her throat and
quickly adjusted her hat. But as soon as her gaze passed the forty-
year-old woman with swollen red eyes to the stack of boxes
scattered throughout the parlor, her heart sank. This wasn‘t going
to be good news.
Hello, John, the woman said before she wiped her nose
with a dishtowel. Is this a friend of yours?
7

Ruth Ann Nordin
Eliza glanced at the man—John—and decided to speak
for him. No, ma‘am. I don‘t know him. Not really. I mean, I
just met him. She set her travel bag down by her feet and
rummaged through her purse. My name is Eliza. I know a ma n
in Omaha. His name is Preacher Bill Peters, and he told me that
he wrote to his cousin, Melissa Peters. She finally retrieved the
preacher‘s letter. She paused and looked at the woman. You
don‘t match Melissa Peters‘ description. Do I have the right
house?
Yes, she mentioned you. We sent a letter to Bill two days
ago. Melissa had a terrible fall down the steps, and— She
pressed the towel to her mouth and sobbed.
For a moment, Eliza stood in silence, mostly in shock but
partly in sympathy. Turning to John, she saw him nod. He even
waved toward a section of land further out of town. She had to
squint, but it quickly became clear that he had been pointing to
the cemetery during their walk to this house. She released a shaky
breath. This definitely wasn‘t good…for either her or for Melissa.
But she gathered that between the two of them, she fared much
better.
I‘m sorry, ma‘am, Eliza softly spoke. Is there anything
I can do for you?
The woman shook her head. No thank you. She wiped
her eyes again. My name is Addy Garrison. I was Melissa‘s
friend. We were practically sisters.
Eliza simply nodded. Grief from men she was used to,
but she had no idea how to comfort a woman. She shifted from
one foot to the other. I‘ll leave you alone.
Take care. John will be good to you.
Her eyes widened as the woman gently shut the door.
Then she looked at John. He didn‘t have to speak for her to
understand his remorse. Sighing, she picked up her travel bag and
dragged her feet back to the business district of the town, as small
as it was. She figured it consisted of a store for grocery items, a
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Loving Eliza
barber shop, a workshop to repair wagons and buggies or to care
for horseshoes, a church, an auditorium, the one room jail, and a
hotel. At least that was the main street. Perhaps there were more
businesses spread throughout. A glance down a side street
showed her the small post office and bank that were in the same
building. Another good look showed her a house with a doctor‘ s
name on it.
So there was more in this town than she originally
thought. But still, it was very different from Omaha. She didn‘t
know if she liked that or not. Her options would be limited here.
She didn‘t want to return to Omaha. She could never make a
fresh start there. No one would take her seriously as an employee.
Her shoulders slumped. This was why most women married as
soon as they could. Finding work seemed like a frightening
prospect.
John reached out and took her elbow in his hand.
Why was he still following her? Couldn‘t he tell that she
needed time to be alone and think? But then, he knew the town
and the people in it. Maybe he could help her. Do you know
where I can find a job?
He shook his head and pointed behind her.
She glanced over her shoulder and groaned. No. I‘m not
your mail-order bride. I will not go into that church except to
worship the Good Lord on Sundays.
His countenance fell.
She couldn‘t allow the jab of guilt to overtake her good
judgment. It was insane to want to marry a man just because he
looked hurt. You‘ll thank me when your Daphne comes. She
could only pray that this woman would indeed come. She didn‘t
know John, but he struck her as a good man, just as Addy had
said. Do you know of anyone who‘s hiring?
To her surprise, his eyes lit up and he tapped his chest.
How many times do I have to say no? I‘m not marrying
you.
9

Ruth Ann Nordin
He quickly shook his head.
Right. Now you‘re catching on.
She proceeded down the dirt road, wondering why a
group of men had congregated outside the building across the
road to stare at them. Was it so unusual for an unmarried woman
to be seen with an unmarried man? Or maybe it was because she
was a stranger? Yes. That was probably it. They didn‘t recognize
her, so naturally, they were curious.
Next to her, John pointed to the church and shook his
head.
Is that all you can do? Nod, shake your head and point?
she asked.
She was starting to tire of this game, if that‘s what he was
doing. He seemed sincere, but she sensed something odd about
him. Of course, it didn‘t have be a bad kind of odd. She‘d met
men who were odd but good-hearted souls. They had been much
easier to understand than this stranger who had insisted on
attaching himself to her like a shadow.
The men across the street laughed. Out of the corner of
her eye, she realized they were laughing at John. She wondered
why.
John, however, didn‘t seem to notice. Instead, he pointed
to her, formed the word =work‘ on his lips and then tapped his
chest again.
You‘re talking about a job? Not marriage? You need
someone to work for you? she asked.
He smiled and nodded with the enthusiasm of a little boy
in a candy shop.
She stopped and turned to him. What kind of job?
He furrowed his eyebrows and frowned, as if debating
what to say. Then he snapped his fingers and led her to the
general store.
Now she was speechless. What was he doing? Surely, a
man as…odd…as him didn‘t own the general store, especially since
10

Loving Eliza
store owners needed to actually talk to their customers. John
didn‘t strike her as the social type at all.
A man who appeared to be the owner was talking to a
plump woman who examined several bags of sugar. He glanced
up. Howdy, John.
John smiled and waved.
The woman turned and gave a nod. Good afternoon.
The owner turned his attention to Eliza. I‘m Frank
Garrison. This is Molly Richie, and that is John Evans.
Eliza wondered why the owner felt the need to tell her
John‘s name. Maybe he was odd too. She glanced out the
window and saw that the group of men had made their way across
the street and were listening to everything they were saying outside
the store. Had the door not been left open, they wouldn‘t have
received the pleasure of hearing anything. Those men weren‘t
right either. Maybe this entire town was odd.
Keenly aware of their audience, she said, I‘m Eliza.
Eliza what? the woman asked.
Just Eliza.
But she couldn‘t say that. Her gaze drifted to
the sugar. Uh…Eliza Sweet. She winced. Oh, that was awful!
Nice to meet you, Miss Sweet, Frank said.
So now she was stuck with
that
for a last name. Oh well.
Worse things had happened to her.
John motioned around the store.
Go ahead and search around, the owner replied.
As Frank and Molly resumed their conversation about
recipes to use sugar with, John led her to a broom in the corner of
the store. He picked up the broom and started sweeping the
floor. Then he pointed to her and the broom.
She blinked. Oh. He was telling her what her job would
be if she worked for him. Cleaning. You mean, I‘d clean your
house?
He nodded and put the broom back. Then he led her to a
table full of fruits and vegetables and pretended to eat them.
11

Ruth Ann Nordin
And cook.
He looked so excited that she understood him that she
actually chuckled. Then he showed her soap and patted his shirt
and pants.
And do your wash.
He nodded again before he turned his hands up. His
expression asked her if she would agree to it.
She took a deep breath. I don‘t know. Where would I
stay?
You‘re not his mail-order bride? Frank spoke up.
Not that it was any of his business, but she answered,
No. I came to help Melissa Peters but found out that isn‘t going
to work out after all.
Yes. Poor Miss Peters. That was a horrible tragedy.
Well, you‘ll be in good hands with John. But John, where‘s your
bride? Are you sure she‘d be happy to know you hired a woman
to take care of your place?
John held up his torn letter and shook his head.
She didn‘t come? the man kindly deducted.
John nodded and shoved the letter into his pocket.
I‘m sorry to hear that. But it‘s probably for the best.
Things work out for a reason. He looked at Eliza. You plan to
let Eliza stay in that small cabin off to the side of your house
then?
He nodded.
I suppose that will work. Eliza, John is a good and
decent man. He won‘t take advantage of you.
The snicker from outside the door made her wonder, once
again, what was going on.
Frank‘s mouth formed a tight line as he strode across the
room and stood in the doorway. Get away from my store.
Oh come on, Garrison, one of the three men replied.
What woman is going to want to work for a mute? She won‘t
even marry him.
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Loving Eliza
Eliza blinked. That was why John didn‘t speak. That also
explained his odd behavior. Now she really felt bad for getting
irritated with him. How else was he supposed to communicate
with her?
Mind your own business and go somewhere else unless
you have something to buy, Frank ordered.
We‘re going. We‘re going.
The men grumbled but left.
Frank returned, his face showing his displeasure. I‘m
sorry about that, John. Before Eliza had a chance to look at John,
Frank approached her. Eliza, I assure you that John is an honest,
God fearing man. He won‘t steer you wrong, and he could use a
woman‘s help out there. He spends so much time making
furniture that he tends to neglect his place.
You make furniture? she asked John.
And fixes and repairs people‘s homes. He does a lot of
good here.
She believed Frank, and she‘d had enough dealings with
men to know that John wouldn‘t take advantage of the situation.
In fact, his type often got taken advantage of. She sighed. Well,
she wanted a fresh start, and though this wasn‘t how she planned
it, she supposed that this was just as well.
Alright, she told John. But I‘m not marrying you. You
still have to wait for that bride of yours.
John seemed content with that so she figured they
wouldn‘t have any problems. But on the way out of the store, one
look at the group of men made her aware that problems were
going to be inevitable. The question was, just what kind of
problems.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Two
J
ohn tried not to stare at the new woman who‘d come to town.
Eliza. That was her name. He wished he could say it, to feel the
way the word would roll off his tongue. But that would never be.
Still, he could see, and she was certainly a beautiful woman. It was
unfortunate she wasn‘t Daphne O‘Conner. He didn‘t know what
delayed Daphne. Perhaps she decided not to come when she
found out he was mute. He made sure his brother, Aaron, added
that when Aaron wrote the letter on his behalf. But her response
came after the fact. Perhaps she thought it over and changed her
mind…
He shifted Eliza‘s travel bag to his other hand as they
walked down the street past the barber shop. She argued with
him about carrying it, but he saw no reason for a woman to do
that if she didn‘t have to. He was briefly aware of the others who
watched them.
What is she doing with him?
That was the question in
their eyes, and for some reason, Eliza didn‘t seem to notice it. She
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Loving Eliza
merely chatted on about her trip from Omaha: how she‘d boarded
a train and found a stagecoach. She went into surprising detail on
the subject. But he didn‘t mind that she rambled. He liked the
sound of her soprano voice.
And she certainly had the prettiest hair color he‘d ever
seen. He‘d never seen anyone with red hair. It was vibrant. Gold
highlights wove in and out of her strands that were pulled back
into a braid that hung halfway down her back. Her skin was fair,
evidence that she hadn‘t spent much time in the sun. She had
dark brown eyes that had a light brown tint around the pupils.
Her lips were a lovely shade of pink.
Then there was the rest of her. She was slender, but not
so much that she had to forfeit her figure as some women had to.
He noted the way her hips swayed from side to side as she walked.
She was graceful in her movements. Then when he lifted his gaze
higher, his face grew warm when he looked at her breasts. He‘d
only seen bare breasts once in his life, and that time had been an
accident. One in which Mrs. Cramer got out of her tub and
entered her parlor without realizing he was there to deliver a chair
he‘d made for her husband. Her husband was as horrified as he‘d
been, and he made sure to quickly avert his eyes, though the
memory was seared into his mind forever. He still couldn‘t look
that woman in the eye.
Now as he ventured a look at Eliza, he wondered what she
looked like without clothes on. As quickly as the thought came,
he forced it aside. She didn‘t agree to marry him. She agreed to
work for him. That was unfortunate…for him. Maybe not for her.
It was probably best for her. As soon as she met his brother
Troy, she might decide he was more to her liking. He already
knew that Troy would like her. And Troy could talk and read and
write.
John considered making another plea with her to marry
him but decided that wouldn‘t be fair to her. Maybe she‘d want to
marry Troy. Then he shouldn‘t trick her into marrying him just to
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Ruth Ann Nordin
keep her around. Sighing, he returned his attention to what Eliza
was saying.
I guess this town is quaint, she said, inspecting the row
of flowers on the patch of grass lining the bank. I don‘t recall
seeing such pretty flowers all over the place. Omaha wasn‘t like
this. It had more noise and dust rising up in the air because of all
the people trafficking through with their horses. Have you ever
been to a bigger town?
He shook his head.
She frowned. Then you have no idea what I‘m talking
about, do you? She shrugged. It‘s just as well. You‘re not
missing much. This town doesn‘t have a bar, does it?
He shook his head again. The mayor had done away with
that establishment a year ago, though he couldn‘t tell her that.
That‘s just as well too. Really, it‘s a good thing. Too
many bad things happen in bars.
She was right. He recalled the loud shoot-out between
Abe and Cal. Their tombstones would forever be a monument to
that terrible night. Again, this was knowledge he couldn‘t give
her. Someone who spoke would have to do that instead. He
sighed. He was being selfish in trying to keep her all to himself.
He could return her to the general store. He didn‘t really
need someone to help him. He managed fine on his own. But
she was too appealing. Way too pretty. Way too friendly and
accepting of his handicap. She hadn‘t flinched when she learned
he was mute. She even talked to him as if he were a normal
person. And he liked that.
No. He wouldn‘t let this opportunity pass him by. His
gaze drifted back to the church. If only…
This is such a neat little flower, she said, breaking him
out of his thoughts. She bent forward and touched the yellow
petal in front of the white house. I won‘t t ake it, mind you. I
just want to feel it. It‘s soft. And the color is my favorite. I love
yellow. Do you know why?
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Loving Eliza
Of course, he didn‘t, but to his amusement, she continued
as if he had spoken to her.
Yellow is the color of hope.
He wondered if he had any yellow flowers on his land. If
not, he could probably plant some. Maybe it would convince her
to marry him. Then she‘d have to stay with him.
She stood up. Which way to your home?
He pointed to the two geldings attached to the wagon.
He‘d purposely parked it away from the heart of town. She
wouldn‘t know why, and for once, he was glad of it. Addy and
Frank were nice to him. Some others were too. But not everyone
was. He didn‘t care to stay around when he wasn‘t welcome.
After they reached the wagon, he placed her travel bag in
the back. Then he turned and waited for her to get in.
Laughing, she shook her head. You obviously don‘t have
any experience with women. I can‘t get on this thing without your
help…unless you want me to be unladylike about it.
He blushed, wishing he had paid more attention to the
way other men interacted with women. His world had consisted
mostly of objects and his brothers. He picked her up and
hesitated. She was a light thing. Didn‘t she ever eat? But then he
realized how nice she looked in his arms. He‘d never held a
woman before, so this was a pleasing experience. He wondered if
there would be more chances like this.
I meant that you could hold my hand to help me up, she
whispered. Though this is the most chivalrous thing that‘s ever
happened to me, so I thank you.
His eyebrows furrowed. Whatever did =chivalrous‘ mean?
It couldn‘t be bad if she was thanking him, right? Pushing the
question aside since there was no way he could ask it, he gently
placed her up in the seat. She seemed like such a fragile thing,
what with her slender frame and all. Yes, she definitely needed to
eat more. He‘d have to make sure that happened.
17

Ruth Ann Nordin
When he hopped on his side of the wagon, she picked up
where she left off on her talking. She named the flowers they
passed, commented on the flat landscape and told him about
some of the farmers she had met over the years and what crops
they grew. Then she made guesses on the crops that lined their
grassy path. She was right most of the time, though he shook his
head on one she got wrong. She didn‘t look offended when he
corrected her. Everyone else did. Not her. She actually seemed
pleased that her wrong thinking had been corrected.
Eliza is not like anyone I’ve ever met.
Yes,
he thought.
He
liked that. He liked it a lot.
She suddenly stopped talking and gave him a good look.
You can‘t read. Do you recognize any letters?
Not sure of her meaning, he shifted on the seat so he
could pull the torn letter from his pocket and held it out to her.
Oh. No. I didn‘t mean that kind of letter. I meant the
letters of the alphabet. You know, =ABC‘?
He shook his head. All the words on the letter in his hand
looked like a bunch of scribbling. When he was a child, he used
to scribble the same markings down. Since he wasn‘t allowed to
attend school, he never figured out what the scribbles meant.
Do you know what this letter says? she asked, taking the
ripped paper from him.
He nodded.
Someone read it to you?
He nodded again.
And that‘s how you find out what things say?
He nodded.
This time she was the one who nodded. Then I‘m
guessing you have someone write the letters to her too. Well, I
think it‘s about time you learned to read and write. I can teach
you.
He took his eyes off the path so he could study her to see
whether she meant it or not. Maybe she was humoring him. But
18

Loving Eliza
she didn‘t laugh. She neatly folded the paper and put it in her
purse. So she might be serious. If that was the case, he wanted to
learn.
We‘ll start tomorrow. Today‘s been a long day. I hope
you don‘t mind if I sleep.
He hid his disappointment. He wanted her to stay up and
keep talking to him, but he reasoned that for the time being, she
would stay with him so he could allow her the good night‘s rest
that she desired. But not before she got something to eat. He
tapped her on the arm to get her attention.
She glanced his way. What is it?
He motioned to his mouth.
Sighing, she shook her head. No. I‘m not kissing you.
You need to save that for your mail-order bride.
Surprised, he stared at her for a moment and almost
directed the horses off the path. He quickly steadied the wagon
and tried another way to get his meaning across. He touched his
mouth again and then patted his stomach.
Her eyes grew wide. Oh! I thought…Well, never mind. I
understand. You want me to get something to eat before I go to
sleep.
Relieved, he nodded. Though it would have been nice to
kiss her. If nothing else, it would satisfy his curiosity of what a
kiss was like. He‘d seen people kiss. They seemed to enjoy i t. He
had no doubt that he‘d like to share a kiss with her.
She smiled. Do you often use motions with your hands
to let people know what you want to say?
Forcing his mind off of her rosy lips, he shrugged.
Sometimes it was natural to use hand motions. To demonstrate,
he pointed to the tree to their right and then pointed to the sky.
The tree is tall. That‘s what you mean?
Grinning, he nodded. This was fun. Usually, people
dismissed his gestures.
19

Ruth Ann Nordin
I used to play games like that, she said. We couldn‘t
use any words. This will be the same thing.
He decided he‘d take her word for it. He didn‘t exactly
see it as a game, but maybe it would be that way. At least she was
willing to take the time to pay attention to him and teach him how
to read and write. Then, maybe when she realized that his mail-
order bride had decided not to come after all, she might know him
better and want to marry him. He heard people use the term =love
at first sight‘, but he hadn‘t grasped its meaning until he saw her
get off the stagecoach.
And with any luck, his brother Troy would stay away from
his place while he set about the task of convincing her to marry
him.
20

Loving Eliza
Chapter Three
E
liza couldn‘t remember the last time she slept straight through
the night. Then again, her job had required her to stay up late.
For once, she felt like a lady. A single lady had her own bed. A
single lady also had respect, and she wanted to be respected. It
was a good thing people in town knew John was the kind of man
who wouldn‘t try to take advantage of her because his home was
much further out of the way than she thought it‘d be when she
agreed to work for him.
He did provide her with a nice little building to the side of
his three room house. Her small home was one room, but it was
all she needed. He took an old twin-size bed that she guessed
used to be his and carried it to the little cabin. Apparently, he
used the place to polish the furniture he made, for rows and rows
of paints, brushes, and carving knives decorated the shelves. Four
table legs rested on the large work table. He had been shaving
into the wooden legs, and she stopped for a moment to admire
21

Ruth Ann Nordin
the intricate ovals and ribbons he had already carved into them.
He was a man who took great care into the smallest detail of his
work. She admired that about him.
He had dragged out a large trunk for her to put her things
in, and her light blue dress, her undergarments and extra pair of
shoes made her realize how little she actually owned. Besides a
brush, a mirror, a few books and a picture of her son whom she‘d
given up for adoption, she had nothing else. Well, there was the
rest of her cash, but that was only enough to last two weeks. She
had tucked the cash and picture under her clothes, but she placed
her books on the small table by the bed.
John had also brought out a rocking chair to put by one of
the two windows. Then he added another small table, a pitcher of
water, a cup, and a wash basin. She brushed her hair and braided
it again. One of these days she was going to have to bathe. She
had spent most of her life around perfume, and without it now,
she became aware of how bad the human body could smell when
one went without bathing for a month. She poured some water in
the basin and washed her face, realizing too late that she had no
towel. She waved the water off her hands while she glanced out
the window.
The sun had already risen, and John was leaving his house.
She couldn‘t help but smile. He was sweet . If she had to guess
his age, she‘d say he was in his mid-twenties. Of course, some
people looked older or younger than they actually were.
She opened the door before he had a chance to knock. I
saw you coming so I decided to save you the trouble.
He smiled at her.
I slept well, she told him, assuming that he‘d be
wondering. The bed is more comfortable than any I‘ve ever
been in. Partly because it was all hers and no one else‘s, but she
wouldn‘t tell him that. There was no reason for her to ever tell
him about her past.
He nodded and motioned to his house.
22

Loving Eliza
Breakfast? she guessed.
He nodded.
I can make eggs and fry up anything you got. I can eat
just about anything too. I‘m not picky.
When he pointed back to her new home, she tried to
decipher what he wanted, but his meaning eluded her. I don‘t
understand.
He stepped forward, causing her to take a step back.
The first thought that flashed through her mind as he
entered the place was that she might have been wrong about him.
Perhaps he did expect payment in the same form other men had.
Stunned, she watched him. No. She wouldn‘t do it again. She‘d
rather hightail it right back to town. She didn‘t come all this way
to return to a life of prostitution.
But instead of walking to her bed, he collected his saws
and hammers and left the dwelling.
She immediately released her breath, grateful that she‘d
been wrong. He was clearing out the rest of his things. She
waited to see what he did with them before she gathered a couple
containers of paint and took them to the shed.
Since I‘m kicking you out of your workshop, I might as
well help, she explained when she saw his puzzled expression as
he set the saws and hammers on some nails lining the walls.
He shook his head and motioned to his home.
Oh. You want me to cook while you transfer your things
over here?
Smiling, he nodded.
Why didn‘t you just say so? she joked. Handing him the
paint, she added, I‘ll get right on it, boss.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
Yes. I called you =boss.‘
He shook his head.
Well, that is what you are.
To her surprise, he motioned to his ring finger.
23

Ruth Ann Nordin
Setting her hands on her hips, she sighed. You‘re not
one to give up are you? I already said I‘m not marrying you, and
there‘s nothing that‘s going to change my mind on that. Now,
you get yourself prepared for that bride of yours. She is happy to
be coming out to meet you. I read her letter, so I know this to be
true.
Before he could make another motion to protest, she
slipped out of the shed. The length to the house from her new
little home and the shed was pretty much the same. It took her a
total of a minute to get to the house. She opened the screen door
and stepped into the kitchen. Curious, she decided to check out
the entire place. There was a parlor and a bedroom. It wasn‘t
anything fancy. For a bachelor, she didn‘t expect fancy, but she
had to admit his large bed, dresser with a large mirror above it, the
three rocking chairs in the parlor, and chairs around the small
kitchen table were made with the same love and care he‘d shown
those table legs.
She thought lacy curtains and a nice tablecloth would
pretty things up a bit. Flowers in a vase would brighten all the
rooms. She peaked out the parlor window and noted the
wildflowers that grew along the property. Good. She promptly
returned to the kitchen and found some well-used containers that
would serve nicely as vases. At least they would do until she could
go to town and buy some. If she got paid. Maybe she wouldn‘t
get paid. Food and lodging might be her wages. She shrugged.
No matter. She could spare a coin from her money.
She set to the task of making the meal, grateful that
Preacher Peters‘ wife had taken the time to instruct her in
cooking. Otherwise, she would have been at a complete loss in
the kitchen.
When John entered the kitchen, she showed him the
plates full of pancakes and eggs. Ta da! I did it all by myself.
He seemed amused by her comment.
24

Loving Eliza
If you knew how much trouble I went through to learn
this, you‘d be suitably impressed. Now sit down. This stuff gets
cold fast.
Like a little boy about to receive candy, he rushed to obey
her.
She laughed. I think we‘ll get along just fine.
He must have sensed her humor, for he playfully
shrugged.
She placed food on the table and said grace before they
began eating. Do you make a lot of furniture for people in
town?
He glanced up from his fork full of eggs and nodded.
Frank from the general store said that you also repair
things.
Chewing on his food, he motioned his agreement.
She cut into her pancake and asked, Do you repair things
more than you make furniture?
He stopped eating for a moment and glanced at the
ceiling, as if thinking over his answer. Finally, he nodded.
You must be a lot of use to the people in town. You do
excellent work. I saw those table legs and the furniture you have
here. You also have a solid house and buildings. I bet you have
people beating down your door just to talk to you.
He grinned but shook his head.
She didn‘t know if that meant he found her comment
pleasing or if he was telling her that people weren‘t banging down
his door to talk to him.
Someone knocked on the door.
Her eyebrows rose. Well, you must be popular after all.
That only confirmed her suspicions. After all, in the short time
she‘d been in town, two people had sung his praises. Well, there
was that rude group of three men, but she was sure that they were
the exception rather than the rule.
25

Ruth Ann Nordin
He scooted his chair back, but she stopped him with a
wave of her hand.
I‘ll get it. I‘d like to get to know some of the people who
come to visit. She smiled and opened the screen door. Good
morning.
Four men who bore a strong resemblance to John stood
by the door.
Let me guess. Brothers or cousins?
The tallest one laughed. We‘re John‘s brothers.
All four of you? She glanced back at John who slowly
stood. He didn‘t seem as happy as she thought he should be. She
wondered about it but decided she‘d ask about it later. You got
any sisters among you?
No, ma‘am. We‘re all there is.
Five boys. I bet you gave your poor mother a hard time.
Do you want to come in? She moved aside and waved them in.
As they came in, she mentally noted each one. Two
seemed to be older than John and the other two seemed to be
younger. But they all had brown hair and similar builds. The way
they dressed and their facial hair helped to distinguish them from
each other. John was the only one who was fully clean shaven,
and she thought his eyes were more appealing than the others.
That helped too.
They stood in the kitchen, and she suddenly realized how
small the space really was. Maybe we should go to the parlor.
There‘s more room in there.
Oh, we didn‘t realize you two were eating, one of them
said.
She noted that John had finished his meal. He also stood
by the table, lightly drumming his fingers on the table. She
couldn‘t tell what the expr ession on his face meant but figured
he‘d like to talk to his brothers. They were family after all.
She cleared her throat. You five go on to the parlor, and
I‘ll be right along after I get done with this mess.
26

Loving Eliza
You will be joining us, won‘t you? another brother
asked.
Sure. I‘d like to meet John‘s kin. But you five should
catch up on whatever it is brothers talk about when they get
together first. She shooed them to the parlor. Don‘t mind me.
I won‘t get in the way of men‘s talk.
Don‘t take too long, one of John‘s brothers said.
She wondered why they should care if she joined them or
not, but she shrugged off the curiosity and turned her attention to
finishing up her breakfast and cleaning up. Most of the talk
seemed to revolve around the townsfolk. Since she didn‘t know
many names, most of it didn‘t make much sense to her. But she
did find it amusing that they found a way to gossip. In fact, they
were just as bad as some women she‘d met. That proved that
both men and women liked to engage in the activity.
When she completed her task, she entered the parlor.
They all stopped to look at her. Three men sat in the
rocking chairs while John and another man stood. John hurried
over to her so he could stand right next to her.
I‘m sure he wants to introduce me, she said. My name
is Eliza. I arrived on the stagecoach yesterday, looking for work at
Melissa Peters‘.
Melissa Peters is pushing up daisies at the cemetery, the
one sitting in a chair with his arms crossed stated.
I know that now. I didn‘t know it then. Anyway, I had
nowhere to go, so John offered me a job. I assure you that we are
not behaving indecently. I‘m staying out at that building over
there. She pointed in the direction of her new home.
Oh, we have no doubt that this arrangement is platonic,
another replied.
She smiled, relieved. That‘s good. I don‘ t want anyone
to misunderstand the situation. I know that John‘s mail -order
bride will be coming in any day now.
What will you do when she does?
27

Ruth Ann Nordin
She glanced at John. His jaw was clenched and his body
was stiff. Did she say something wrong? Maybe she shouldn‘t
have been so bold in jumping in and introducing herself like that.
Directing her attention back to his brothers, she shrugged. I
guess we‘ll see when she gets here. She may not like another
woman hanging around on her property. If she and John wish me
to leave at that time, I will.
We‘re sure we can find employment for you if that
happens, the one who was standing across the room said.
The others indicated their agreement.
That‘s awfully nice of you, she said, touched that they
even cared about her fate. She looked at John. You have some
great brothers here. I bet you all are great friends.
John didn‘t look in her direction.
We all look out for each other, one of his brothers said,
directing her attention back to him.
Especially after Ma and Pa died, another added.
I‘m sorry to hear that, she replied. I lost my parents
when I was fourteen. Not wishing to explain what she did after
that, she continued, I didn‘t have any siblings, so it‘s good that
you have each other. You look close in age too. Who is who and
how old is everyone?
The one sitting back in his chair spoke up. I‘m Aaron.
Thirty-one and the oldest.
She nodded.
The one with the mustache with the long handles is
Aaron.
He‘s Guy. Aaron pointed to the brother with a bushy
beard. He‘s Twenty-nine. Then he motioned to the one who
was standing who had a neatly trimmed beard. That there is
Troy. He‘s twenty-eight.
Your poor mother. She didn‘t even get a break between
you two, she joked.
They chuckled. Well, everyone did but John who tensed
even more—something she didn‘t think possible.
28

Loving Eliza
Then there‘s John. He‘s twenty-five. Actually, he just
turned twenty-five a week ago.
She jabbed him in the arm, hoping to ease his tension. I
should make you a cake.
His eyes met hers and there was no denying that he wasn‘t
at all pleased with what was happening.
Aaron leaned forward and motioned to the youngest
brother who had a trim mustache. He‘s Shawn. He‘ll be
eighteen in two months.
So you‘re the one that decided to give your mother a
break. Good for you, she said.
Yeah. Good for him. Guy shot John an amused look.
Something wasn‘t quite right. John was much too stiff,
and his brothers were much too relaxed. One thing she learned
long ago was that family dealings weren‘t any of her business. As
it was, she already put her nose in where it didn‘t belong. Now it
was time to leave the brothers to themselves.
I thank you all for making me feel welcome, she said,
ready to bolt for the door. I‘ll see you again when you stop by.
Next time, she wouldn‘t make a nuisance of herself.
You don‘t have to leave, the one named Troy spoke up.
She shifted from one foot to the other. I‘d better. I have
some personal business to attend to. There. No man wanted to
insist a woman stick around when she had
personal business
to do.
It was nice meeting you, Eliza, Aaron called out.
The others voiced their agreement.
She didn‘t even bother looking in John‘s direction as she
thanked them and left. She breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the
door swung shut behind her as she made her way across the grass
to her new home. She‘d wait until they left before she asked John
what else he wanted her to do to earn her keep. For the moment,
she wasn‘t needed. And whatever was going on, she was glad to
be out of it.
29

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Four
J
ohn wished they hadn‘t come out. This was exactly what he
feared when he and Eliza stalled in town yesterday, and since she
refused to marry him, his brother s were much too interested in
her, especially Troy. At least Aaron and Guy were married.
Shawn was too young. That meant he had to worry about Troy.
He turned his attention from the door Eliza just walked
through so he could face his brothers.
She sure is a fine looker, Shawn commented. How old
do you think she is?
Too old for you, Aaron remarked. Most likely, she‘s
about twenty-five. His gaze shifted from John to Troy. Looks
like you two have some competition.
Troy snorted. As if there‘s a real choice to be had.
John‘s face flushed in anger. Naturally, Troy assumed she
was going to end up with him. This was exactly what John feared.
30

Loving Eliza
Just because he couldn‘t talk, did it really make him undesirable to
women?
Of course, there‘s no real choice, Guy spoke up.
John‘s expecting a mail-order bride. He‘s as good as married.
Shawn smirked at Troy. Only she didn‘t show, did she?
He glanced at John. She didn‘t come at all, or did she meet you
and decide it wasn‘t going to work?
John shook his head. He didn‘t want to discuss it with
them.
If she‘d shown up, we would have heard about it,
Shawn said nonchalantly as he placed his hands behind his head.
The marshal‘s mail -order bride came in with her aunt, and Eliza
came too. There wasn‘t a fourth woman.
That‘s a tough break, Aaron told John. Maybe you
should post another ad. The next one might come out. There
must be one woman who wouldn‘t mind marrying a man who
can‘t talk. Sometimes my wife wishes I‘d shut up. A mu te might
be ideal.
I doubt it, Troy stated. The sooner John gets used to
being single, the better.
That‘s not true, Aaron replied. Daphne did say she‘d
come out, even after I wrote about his handicap.
But she decided against it, Troy added.
Maybe the next one won‘t. Maybe we‘re going about this
all wrong. Maybe we should include he‘s mute in the ad. Then
whoever replies, we know she‘s prepared.
You‘re wasting John‘s time and money. Leave it alone.
Besides, he‘s happy as things are.
He is not.
He is too. Why, it‘s peaceful out here, and he makes a
good living. In fact, I bet he makes more than us with his odd
jobs.
He‘s standing in the room, Shawn intervened.
We know, Troy said.
31

Ruth Ann Nordin
Then why are you talking about him as if he‘s not here?
Because he can‘t talk. We can‘t have a real conversation
with him.
He‘s mute, not dumb, Guy added.
And how is he going to talk to us? Troy looked at John.
How is your day so far, John?
Leave. All of you need to go home.
If John could talk, that‘ s
exactly what he‘d tell them. Instead, he glared at Troy.
See, Troy said. He just stands there and watches
people. He‘s spooky.
He‘s not spooky, Guy argued.
Are you kidding? None of the kids will talk to him.
They even have a rhyme they made up about him. It goes—
Enough! Aaron snapped. Our parents would be
rolling over in their graves if they knew about this conversation.
He stood up. We wanted to see Eliza for ourselves. We heard
she was the prettiest little thing in town, and darned if that isn‘t
the most accurate statement I‘ve ever heard. But Troy, if you
expect her to consider you, you‘d better shape up.
I‘d do better if I didn‘t have the lot of you chaperoning
me, Troy dryly replied. I wanted t o come alone, but you all had
to stick your noses into my business.
You should thank us for coming out, Guy said.
Otherwise, you would have made a fool of yourself.
Troy narrowed his eyes at him.
John hastened to the kitchen and grabbed a broom. When
he returned, he banged it on the floor, immediately stopping Guy
and Troy from getting into another fight. When they grew silent,
he pointed to the door.
Let‘s get out of here, Aaron said, standing up.
Shawn followed suit and also stood. Yeah, the last thing
he needs to lose is another chair because you two couldn‘t keep
your tempers down, he told Guy and Troy.
32

Loving Eliza
Relieved, John watched as they left. Now that they met
Eliza, they could stay in town. He set the broom back in the
kitchen and rubbed his eyes. He hated it when they came out.
Getting them gathered into one room was like waiting for
dynamite to explode. Thankfully, Troy never came out alone. He
knew that Troy thought he had limited mental abilities. Just
because he couldn‘t talk, it didn‘t mean he didn‘t understand what
was going on around him.
Taking a deep breath to steady his nerves, he decided to
see where Eliza went. He frowned when he reached the screen
door. Eliza stood a few feet from the house. She had collected a
handful of flowers but stopped when Troy approached her.
Before he had a chance to think about it, he strode out of
the house, not bothering to look at his other brothers who
stopped on their way to their horses to watch what he‘d do. He
didn‘t care what they thought. A woman like Eliza didn‘t come
his way every day. In fact, she‘d never come his way until the day
before, and he wasn‘t stupid enough to lie down and give her up
to his brother.
If you need anything at all, be sure to let me know, Troy
told her.
Well, that‘s very kind of you, Eliza replied.
John clenched his jaw. Did her smile mean she looked
forward to seeing Troy again? He stepped up to her.
She jerked. Oh, John. You gave me a good scare. I
didn‘t even hear you coming.
Troy‘s eyebrows furrowed. He‘s sneaky that way.
Then you‘d better watch your back. You don‘t know
when he‘s coming, she replied, chuckling. She turned to John
and showed him the purple and white flowers. I hope you don‘t
mind but I thought I‘d collect some flowers to put into your
home. Flowers brighten up the place, don‘t you think?
He smiled at her and nodded.
Take that, Troy. She’s bringing
flowers into my house, not yours.
Still, he realized he had no yellow
33

Ruth Ann Nordin
flowers for her to choose from. He‘d have to rectify that. He
thought he‘d seen some along the small creek winding through his
property. He‘d go back there before the day was over to check on
that.
Come on, Troy, Guy called out, sounding annoyed.
We have to get back.
I‘ll see you around. Without a glance in John‘s direction,
Troy tipped his hat in her direction and approached his horse.
Shawn whispered something to him.
Shut up, he growled before he got on his steed.
John relaxed. Good. They‘d be gone…at least for awhile.
Maybe long enough for him to convince Eliza to marry him.
Then Troy would have to stay away for good.
Eliza waited until his brothers were out of earshot before
she spoke. Do they come around often?
He shook his head.
Then it must be good when they do. She picked up a
couple more purple flowers before she turned back to him. I‘m
sorry I interfered. I should have let the five of you be by
yourselves.
He wondered why she said that so he lifted his hands,
palms up and gave her a questioning look.
Naturally, I was in the way. They came by to see you, not
me.
Before he could protest, she turned back to the flowers.
What did it matter what she assumed? He couldn‘t explain it, nor
did he really care to. If she knew that Troy wanted to get to know
her better, then she might consider the possibility of being with
him, and if she did that… John frowned. He didn‘t like that idea
at all. Maybe it was best to let her think what she did. Then she‘d
leave whenever Troy came around in the future. It‘d give J ohn a
better chance with her, though it was probably wrong for him to
manipulate things like he was.
34

Loving Eliza
She straightened up and warmly smiled at him. She was so
beautiful. He‘d love to wake up every morning and see her smile
at him like that. Fine. So maybe he‘d have to pull some strings
until she agreed to marry him. But he‘d be good to her. He
wasn‘t exactly sure what husbands did to care for their wives, but
he could learn.
I think these will be enough for your home. They‘ll smell
nice too. Closing her eyes, she l ifted the bouquet to her nose and
inhaled. When she opened them, her brown eyes were sparkling.
There‘s nothing as wonderful as fresh flowers.
No. There’s nothing as wonderful as you.
I‘ll get out of your way so you can go about your day as
you usually do. I‘ll yell out for you when lunch is ready. Is noon
alright for that?
He nodded.
I‘ll holler for you at noon.
He wanted to follow her in the house and join her in
whatever she planned but figured she must not want him nearby
since she specifically said she‘d call for him when she was ready to
be with him again. Sighing, he dragged his feet to the shed. Noon
suddenly seemed a long way off.
***
Eliza finished making the bean soup and loaf of bread
before she spread out the nice lacy green tablecloth she‘d found
tucked away at the back of the cupboard while she examined the
kitchen to see what she could make. She found containers for the
flowers and placed a bouquet in each room. Pulling back the
heavy drapes in his bedroom, she realized that the place needed a
good scrubbing. She already knew she had her work cut out for
her in the kitchen and parlor, but the bedroom came as a surprise
for he had made it a habit of putting all his things in their proper
35

Ruth Ann Nordin
place. The darkness of the room hindered anyone‘s ability to see
the faded walls.
Paint. The whole place needed a fresh coat of paint. She
thought a nice cheery yellow would do for the kitchen. A nice
soothing green would work for the parlor and maybe the bedroom
too. She‘d scrub the hardwood floors too so they would look
much better.
She grew tired at the thought of all the work she‘d end up
doing but already knew it would be worth it. The furniture was so
beautiful. John needed a house to go with it. As she left the
house to find him, she calculated the cost for everything,
remembering the curtains she wanted to put up too.
She found John in the shed. He was painting the table he
had just completed. She whistled. This is the prettiest table I‘ve
ever seen. The person you‘re making it for will be pleased.
He looked up from his brush and smiled at her.
She cocked her head to the side and studied him. You
know, you‘re a heartbreaker when you smile.
His eyes grew wide.
She laughed. Hasn‘t anyone ever told you that your
whole face lights up when you smile?
He shook his head.
Well, I‘m sure your mother did at some point. Once I
trim that shaggy hair of yours, you‘ll be one of the best looking
men in town. You just wait. That Daphne‘s going to take one
look at you and thank her lucky stars she came out to marry you.
His smiled faltered.
Oh, don‘t give up hope. She‘s coming.
He shook his head and pointed at her.
She sighed. What in the world was he trying to tell her?
That‘s it. We‘re starting you on your lessons today. The sooner
you learn to read and write, the sooner I can understand
everything you‘re trying to tell me. She waved him to the house.
When you‘re done with that table, come on into the house.
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Loving Eliza
Lunch is ready. It‘s nothing fancy, mind you, but I just started
learning to cook.
He nodded and motioned to the unpainted part of the
table.
You‘re right. It won‘t take long. Just come in when
you‘re done. I have a surprise for you.
His eyebrows rose in interest.
Who could resist a surprise? She grinned. After you
finish the table.
He immediately dipped the brush into the paint and
continued his work.
While she walked back to the house, she made a mental
note to ask him about making the purchases to get his house
looking better. The outside of his house was in shape, so he
obviously cared about its appearance. That should make her job
of talking to him easier.
Ten minutes after she spread out the meal for them to eat,
he entered the house.
Do you only wear a hat when you go into town? she
asked.
He nodded.
It‘s fun to feel the sunlight on your face. Is that why you
do it?
He shook his head.
I guess the reason doesn‘t matter. She clapped her
hands and turned to the table. Do you notice a nything
different?
A smile spread across his face as he pointed to the flowers
at the center of the table.
Anything else? she pressed, enjoying this game.
His eyes grew wide and he touched the tablecloth.
You‘re right. I found it in the cupboard. Was it your
mother‘s?
He nodded.
37

Ruth Ann Nordin
I bet she was a good woman.
He nodded again, looking sad for a moment.
She sighed. Her son would never know about her. As she
requested, Matilda and Harvey Wright raised them to believe he
was their son. He‘d be twelve now. She hoped he was happy.
The baby picture of him was all she had.
John approached her, his face sympathetic as he brushed a
tear from her cheek.
She quickly touched her face. She didn‘t realize she was
crying. Laughing off her tears, she waved her hand at him.
Don‘t mind me. I get sentimental when I think of mothers. She
took his hand and led him to the parlor. Look. I put flowers in
here too. Don‘t they brighten up the room? Then she took him
to his bedroom. Do you ever open those drapes?
He shook his head.
Y ou should. This room faces north. That means you
don‘t have to worry about the sunlight coming directly into this
room, so you can enjoy it throughout the day. I‘d like to paint the
rooms and get lacy curtains. I love lace. It‘s so pretty. Will you
let me do that?
He pointed to himself and made a painting motion.
You‘ll paint too?
He nodded and squeezed her hand.
Her face flushed. She didn‘t realize she was still holding
his hand. Before he got the wrong idea, for she had no intention
of leading him on, she gently removed her hand from his. Then
it‘s alright with you if I do this to your home?
He reached for her hand again.
John, she warned. Despite his pleading look, she shook
her head. Save that for Daphne. Now, come and eat.
38

Loving Eliza
Chapter Five
J
ohn didn‘t want to take Eliza to town the following week. What
if she went there and decided she didn‘t want to come back?
What if she met a man there that appealed to her? Troy wasn‘t
the only single man in the area. There were a couple of others
who‘d like nothing more than take a bride like Eliza home.
Like usual, he parked the wagon on the outskirts of the
main part of town. And again, he stopped her in front of the
church and pointed to it.
She gave him her typical =no‘ look.
Why did she have to keep doing that? Couldn‘t she just
say yes and marry him? Daphne wasn‘t going to show up, and
even if she did, he no longer wanted to marry her. He wanted to
marry Eliza. Eliza was beautiful. Eliza was full of life and joy.
She thought it was the flowers that brightened up his house, but it
was really her that did the trick. He hadn‘t realized how empty his
39

Ruth Ann Nordin
life had been until she came into it. Now he didn‘t want to go
back to the way things were before.
He took her hand and nodded to the church. He even
used the expression on his face that she claimed reminded her of
an adorable puppy. She seemed to like that expression.
She laughed but shook her head. John, you know I‘m
not marrying you. As it is, I missed the Sunda y worship. Why
won‘t you go to that?
He should have driven her to town on Sunday. Maybe
that was why she refused to marry him. But if she knew…If she
understood the way people stepped away from him. Not
everyone was as kind as Addy or Frank. Some people would
rather pretend he didn‘t exist. It wasn‘t a situation he exactly
sought out, and being in a small church would force that. He
recalled how his family all sat in their own row while he grew up.
People found reasons to sit away from them. But if Eliza sat with
him, it wouldn‘t be so bad.
He nodded and pointed to the church.
I don‘t believe you. You really don‘t stop when you set
your mind to something, do you?
He shook his head and motioned to it again.
She put her hands on her hips and gave him a scolding
look.
He looked at the door. Next to it was a sign. He
recognized the letter =S‘ from what she‘d taught him. Walking to
the sign, he pointed to it and then turned his gaze to her.
That‘s the word =Sunday‘.
Good! He nodded and tapped the word.
Oh. You‘ll drive me to church this Sunday?
Excited, he nodded. Then he pointed to himself.
You‘ll come too?
He grinned.
She raised an eyebrow. You wouldn‘t be doing this to
get me to marry you, would you?
40

Loving Eliza
The thought hadn‘t occurred to him. He was thinking of
sitting next to her. He liked being close to her. Shaking his head,
he walked back to her.
I don‘t know. I think you‘d do anything to get me to
agree to marry you.
She was right on that assumption, but even if he could
speak, he wouldn‘t tell her that. He just shrugged.
John, you are the sweetest man I‘ve ever met, but it can‘t
be. There are things about me that you don‘t know. Believe me,
this is for the best.
She turned from him and proceeded down the street
before he could argue with her. He didn‘t care what things were
in her past. All he knew was how she treated him and how
wonderful she was. What more could there be in order for him to
love her?
You know what you‘re problem is? she asked when he
caught up to her. You haven‘t been around a lot of women. I‘ve
seen it before. A man who‘s spent most of his life alone sees the
first woman he meets and thinks he loves her. Most of those men
end up regretting it because they didn‘t wait for the right one. I‘m
not the right one, John.
So she wouldn‘t marry him today. He wished that Aaron
had never talked him into posting an ad for a wife. If he hadn‘t,
then there would be no Daphne and Eliza wouldn‘t cling to the
notion that he needed to wait for her. Daphne wasn‘t going to
show up. But Eliza had and he wanted her.
After she cut his hair, she took him to a mirror and said he
was the best looking men she‘d ever seen. That made him feel as
if he really was attractive. He‘d never felt that way before. Then
she was teaching him how to read and write. That meant she
thought he was smart enough to learn. No one else had taken the
time to teach him because they thought they‘d be wasting their
time.
41

Ruth Ann Nordin
Why would he want someone else? Eliza made him feel as
if he mattered, and he liked that. He might be a fool in some
areas, but this wasn‘t one of them. Eliza had the warmest heart of
anyone he‘d ever met, and he wasn‘t going to let her go without
doing his best to convince her to marry him. She was so
completely wonderful.
Eliza nudged him in the arm.
Blinking, he turned his attention to what she was saying.
Where do you buy paint?
He took her hand to lead the way, but she shook her head.
You can‘t do that here. You don‘t want people to get the
wrong idea.
No. He wanted people to get the
right
idea, and him and
Eliza being together was the
right
idea. How he wished he could
say it. But he couldn‘t because he was mute. Many times he hated
his handicap, and this was one of them.
Just walk and I‘ll walk beside you, she said.
Reluctant, he obeyed. As they neared the center of town,
his gaze fell on several groups of people who loitered around the
buildings. Most of them refused to look in his dir ection, though
they took note of Eliza. He glanced at her, wondering if she
noticed that she held their attention…especially that of the men.
He stopped in front of Old Willy‘s place and knocked on
the door.
William Jafferty opened the door and grinned. Mornin‘,
John. How are you doin‘? And who‘s this pretty lady with you?
I‘m Eliza Sweet, she replied, smiling in her usual
pleasant way.
John really wished she wouldn‘t be charming with
everyone she met, but he figured that‘s the way she‘d always been.
Still, if they were married, he‘d feel much better about that.
The forty-year-old widower ran a hand through his
thinning brown hair and straightened his sloppy clothes. If I‘d
known you were goin‘ to bring over a lady, I‘d have shaved. I
42

Loving Eliza
heard you got a fine woman helping out around your property.
He smiled at her. In a small town, word spreads like wildfire.
Great. Now John had to worry about Old Willy too. And
suddenly, William didn‘t seem so old anymore. John didn‘t like
that either.
I figured that much, Eliza assured him. But even in
bigger places, word gets around.
William smiled at her. My name is William, but people
call me Willy. You can too.
Willy is a fine name. I like it.
John frowned. Did she like the name =John‘?
Of course, Old Willy looked flattered. He turned his
attention to John. Did you come by for some paint?
He nodded.
What colors? Willy directed his gaze to Eliza.
A soft yellow for the kitchen. A light green for the
parlor. And, she glanced at John, did you want green or blue
for the bedroom?
He pointed to the sky.
Blue. Like the color of the sky today. It‘s such a
beautiful color, isn‘t it? And soothing too.
That it is, ma‘am. But I like red too. He motioned to
her hair and winked. You‘re the first redhead I‘ve ever seen,
which is too bad. It‘s a great color on a woman.
She laughed and fingered the braid that hung over her
shoulder. You certainly have a way with words, Willy. Why, I
bet you get a lot of kisses from your wife.
He blushed. Oh, well, Bethann passed on to be with the
Lord a good two years ago.
She stopped laughing and grew serious. I am terribly
sorry to hear that.
She was a fine woman. We had twenty fine years
together, and she gave me three terrific children. But the Lord has
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Ruth Ann Nordin
provided and I‘m doin‘ alright. I should probably be lookin‘ to
get married again.
John tensed. Could Old Willy be more obvious?
Maybe you should put in for a mail -order bride, Eliza
replied. I hear lots of men do that when they are this far out
west.
John relaxed.
Maybe. Who knows what the future will bring? He
turned to John. You need any paint or stain for the furniture?
John reached for the wallet tucked into his back pocket.
Not this time, John. You took care of that wall for me,
and I didn‘t have money to pay you. This will make us even.
Deal?
John nodded and put his wallet back into his pocket.
Well, that‘s really nice, Eliza commented. Two friends
helping each other out.
Old Willy grinned. We do what we can to help each
other out around here. I‘ll load the usual amount and the extra
paint into your wagon while you two continue on in town.
John nodded again. He was glad Old Willy did that for
him. Old Willy had the cart to lug those heavy cans around, and
he understood that John didn‘t like to park his wagon inside the
town limits. So even if the older man was interested in Eliza, he
was still a good man. Still, John had no intention of letting the
man have her.
He was grateful to depart from the man‘s house. At least
ordering the lumber from Greg would be safe. Greg was already
married. When they reached the lumber store, he motioned for
her to go first through the open door. He waved to Greg who
was setting a stack of freshly cut rectangular boards by the
counter.
It‘s nice to see you, John, Greg called out as he stood
up. He sauntered over to them. You must be Miss Sweet.
I am, Eliza said.
44

Loving Eliza
I‘m Greg Stevens. It‘s a pleasure to meet you. He
turned to John. Do you want the regular order?
John held up two fingers.
You‘re going to double the order this time? Greg asked.
John nodded.
Business must be treating you well. Smiling, he made his
way to the counter and took out his ledger. I can have it
delivered tomorrow morning around ten. Does that work?
John nodded and pulled out his wallet.
Let me mark down the transaction. He glanced at Eliza.
In business, it‘s important to keep track of all your expenses and
profits. Expenses are what you spend money on and profits are
what you make.
John noticed a flicker of irritation cross her face.
Really?
Greg didn‘t seem to catch the sharp tone in her voice, for
he had returned to his paperwork.
John sensed the tension in the air. Eliza wasn‘t pleased
but she kept quiet. He wondered what was wrong. He wondered
if she would tell him on their way home. He wished he could talk
so he could ask her about it.
Greg finished writing and handed him the paper and
pencil. All I need is your =X‘ and the total comes to $2.
John took the pencil and paper and got ready to put the
=X‘ where he usually did when Eliza grabbed his arm.
That‘s the funniest looking two I‘ve ever seen, she said,
obviously upset. She looked at John. Do you know your
numbers?
Embarrassed, he shook his head. No one had taught him
that either.
Mr. Stevens, I happen to be literate, and I‘ve learned a
couple of things when it comes to business. That is a three. You
are trying to make a fifty percent profit off a man‘s inabilit y to
read. Now, I understand that you are using a shrewd business
45

Ruth Ann Nordin
sense to rip someone off, but this is illegal and I don‘t mind
finding the marshal so I can discuss this matter with him. I
believe his wife, Charity Grooms, might like to see me again. I did
accompany her on the stagecoach ride to this place.
John glanced from her to Greg, one of the few people he
had believed to be a friend. His face grew red in both anger and
shame. Why would Greg do this to him?
Greg glared at her for a moment before he turned his
attention to John. He smiled. Let me see that. He took the
paper and clucked his tongue. I meant to write a two. Thank
you for catching my error, Miss Sweet.
John watched as he erased the old number to write in the
new one. Now John knew the difference between a two and a
three. This was one lesson he‘d never forget.
Eliza smiled but it didn‘t reach her eyes. I‘m teaching
John how to read and write. I think it‘ll be good for his own
business. Maybe he can even keep his own ledger and write out
contracts too. Then he‘d be a real professional.
Greg gave a curt nod as he set the paper aside. Yes. It‘ll
be good for your business, John.
John decided not to give any gestures. Instead, he joined
Eliza and left the store. How long had Greg been doing that to
him? Like a fool, he‘d just handed Greg his money and let Greg
give him the change. He knew that $2 was a fair price. He knew
that $3 was too much. But without being able to recognize the
symbols and what they meant, he hadn‘t been able to deduct
whether or not Greg was being honest with him. He suspected it
happened a lot. And Greg hadn‘t known Eliza could read. John‘s
gaze traveled the length of the street where store owners had
opened their doors to waiting patrons. Who else had ripped him
off?
Eliza let out a low sigh before asking, Where do I buy
curtains or have someone make curtains? I never learned to do
any sewing.
46

Loving Eliza
Addy did that. He pointed down the street to the house
that stood next to Melissa Peters‘ home.
But Melissa‘s not alive.
He shook his head.
Addy?
He nodded. He liked that she caught on fast to what he
meant, and he liked that she looked out for him.
I need to learn to
read and write. I need to learn my numbers.
He had gone along with
her plan to teach him partly because it meant that he could be
near her, but now, in light of what just happened with Greg, he
realized this was a necessity. He didn‘t like being a fool, and if he
could read, he‘d have caught the error—whether Greg
intentionally did it or not. Sadly, he suspected Greg did it on
purpose.
After they went to Addy who seemed more than happy to
make the curtains, they went to the general store where Eliza
picked up some baking supplies. Watching her choose what she‘d
make took his mind off of Greg. He imagined for a moment that
she was his wife and that they‘d end up going home together to
snuggle…to kiss…and then…
I think this will do, she said, interrupting his thoughts.
He walked over to the counter where Frank tallied their
total. When Frank announced the amount, John looked at Eliza
who gave him a slight nod. Comforted in her answer, he handed
Frank the money and was reassured, once again, when she
indicated that Frank gave him the right amount of change. Good.
At least, he could trust Frank, which was good because he liked
Frank and didn‘t want to think ill of him.
John lifted the sacks of grocery items and followed Eliza
out the door.
On their way back to the wagon, a couple of men lounging
by the post office snickered at John. And that‘s what they call
=beauty and the beast‘.
47

Ruth Ann Nordin
John stopped and glared at Michael Reeves and Larry
Gordon. His brother Aaron had warned him to stay away from
those two, and for the most part, he managed. But once in awhile,
he ran into them and ignored their taunting. Today, after what
happened with Greg, he was especially sensitive to their
comments.
Did I hurt your feelings there, boy? Michael asked,
obviously not caring either way.
Eliza halted her steps and turned to them. Is there a
problem, mister?
Larry examined her from head to toe. Not with you,
ma‘am. You‘re downright perfect.
She didn‘t respond.
Michael looked at her. You do know you‘re with a
retard, don‘t you?
Her jaw dropped. A…a what?
A retard, he slowly said.
A woman as pretty as you can find other places to stay,
Larry said. You don‘t need to settle with someone like him.
This was exactly what John was afraid of. They were
giving her ideas she didn‘t need to be having. He caught her
attention and nodded in the direction of his wagon.
The two men laughed.
Just like a pup, Larry said. He gets so excited when
anyone pays him the slightest bit of attention.
She placed her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at
them. You owe John an apology.
I would apologize if he could understand me, but he
can‘t. It‘s why he never went to school. The boy is dumb.
Like a dog, Michael agreed. You can‘t do much to
train him either.
She slapped both of them before John had time to blink.
Larry put his hand to his cheek, stunned, while Michael
bolted to his feet.
48

Loving Eliza
John quickly stood between her and Michael.
The doctor who worked next to the post office ran out of
the building. Hold it right there. As soon as he reached them,
he said, I don‘t know what‘s going on here, but you‘d better stop
right now. I won‘t have this kind of conduct while I‘m around. I
have enough sick people to tend to without you two beating each
other up. Now, I suggest you leave the matter be and go home.
Once John was sure that Michael wouldn‘t harm Eliza, he
stepped back.
The doctor nodded. Good. Go on home.
Like a good little doggy, Michael hissed.
The doctor shot him a warning look which made him stop
his taunting.
Eliza shook her head but obediently walked down the
street. The dust kicked at her heels since she practically ran. John
went after her and was glad when they reached the wagon.
Now she knew. She knew what most people thought of
him. They assumed that if he couldn‘t talk, he couldn‘t think…or
feel. This only added to his shame.
He put the bags into the wagon and helped her into the
seat.
To his surprise, she pulled his hand closer to her. Leaning
forward, she said, Don‘t you mind them. They‘re not worth your
time.
He stared into her eyes, noting the tears that had formed
in them. He nodded. He knew. He always knew. But he was
grateful to know that she knew it too.
Good. She let go of his hand and faced forward.
He got into the wagon. Unlike the first time he took her
to his property, she was quiet. He wondered what she was
thinking. At one point, he even nudged her arm so she‘d look at
him before he tapped his head with his finger.
Nothing. I just don‘t feel like talking, she replied.
49

Ruth Ann Nordin
He decided not to press the issue. She had a right to keep
her thoughts to herself. But he sure wished he could tell her his.
50

Loving Eliza
Chapter Six
E
liza turned the knob on the kerosene lamp so the light grew
brighter. Then she poured another cup of water for her and John
and set them at the table where John sat with a stack of papers in
front of him. He was currently writing the letter M on the blank
sheet in front of him.
It had been three days since their venture into town, and
she noticed how serious he got about learning to read and write
after that. The thought that someone would go out of their way
to rip off someone who couldn‘t find out what was going on left
her sick to her stomach. John was much too trusting of people.
But then, did he have a reason not to be? At least until she clued
him into what Greg Stevens was doing to him?
It made her want to take him in her arms and protect him
from the harsher realities of the world. He seemed to be in such a
sheltered environment. In some ways, she envied him that. She
hadn‘t been that way since she was fourteen and her parents died.
51

Ruth Ann Nordin
Nothing was the same for her after that, and there was no turning
back the clock and doing things differently. Besides, just how
much could a fourteen year old do?
She slowly exhaled and sat across from him. It‘s late.
We should call it a night when you‘re done with that sheet of
paper.
He didn‘t answer her. Instead, he carefully wrote another
M on the paper. His letters were still sloppy, but she noted the
progress.
You‘re doing great, John. Why, you‘re going to master
this in no time.
Again, he just continued writing, not bothering to
acknowledge her statement.
She sighed and took a drink of the cool water. A slight
breeze blew in from the window. July was a hot month and it
took the nights to cool things off enough so she could be
comfortable. The humidity wasn‘t so bad up here though. That
was nice.
Her eyelids grew heavy. She wondered what time it was.
She should‘ve checked the clock when she was getting the water.
Yawning, she forced her eyes open and stretched the muscles in
her neck. When she was done, she glanced at John who had
stopped writing to look at her.
She straightened up. Do you need something?
He motioned to her and then pretended to be asleep.
Yes, I‘m tired. We‘ve been doing this for a good five
hours. I‘m ready to sleep, aren‘t you?
He shook his head but stood up and helped her up. He
put his arm around her shoulders and led her to the kitchen door.
She was too tired to protest. Instead, she leaned against
him as they left his house. The night was quiet except for a round
of crickets chirping. Saturday night was so peaceful out here,
unlike the rowdy noise in the saloon back in Omaha. One thing
was for sure, she didn‘t miss that place.
52

Loving Eliza
John‘s steps came to a halt.
What is it? She yawned and glanced up at him.
He pointed to the sky.
She smiled. There was a full moon out tonight and the
thousands, if not millions, of stars sparkled in the clear night sky.
It‘s really something, isn‘t it? Every time I look up there, I feel
insignificant. We‘re so small in the whole scheme of things.
His gaze met hers and he grinned back.
It‘s beautiful, isn‘t it?
He nodded and then touched her cheek, softly tracing her
skin with his fingers.
You think I‘m beautiful too?
He nodded again.
It was such a touching thing for him to tell her in his own
way, and for a moment, she thought if Daphne never did show,
then maybe he‘d be free to marry her af ter all. She quickly blinked
and shoved the thought away. She‘d been a prostitute for
goodness‘ sakes. He‘d never even kissed a woman. He deserved
someone as pure as him.
So she decided that she wouldn‘t acknowledge the
compliment. Will you take me to church tomorrow?
A frown crossed his face before he nodded.
She sighed and looked down at the grass which blew softly
in the breeze. She didn‘t like hurting him. Why he figured she
was the one for him, she didn‘t know. There was nothing special
about her. In fact, in many ways, she was far from ideal. And
she‘d read Daphne‘s letter. Now there was a lady. A real lady.
One who‘d never get into a man‘s bed unless she‘d already
exchanged vows with him.
Once again, Eliza wondered how things might have played
out if her parents hadn‘t died when she was fourteen. Then her
mother‘s sister wouldn‘t have taken her in, and then she‘d never
have to deal with her uncle.
53

Ruth Ann Nordin
Taking a deep breath, she reminded herself that she‘d
survived. Her life was better now. Preacher Peters assured her
that God could work all things for good for those who loved
Him. And she did love Him. That‘s why she wouldn‘t rob John
of Daphne…or Daphne of John. They would do well together.
They‘d have a house full of children. Lots of laughter and love.
An ideal family. A situation she could never have.
Will you take me to church tomorrow? she softly asked.
He winced.
I know you don‘t like the way some of those people are
in town. I bet they go to church too, don‘t they?
He nodded.
Do you think God is like them?
He shrugged.
He‘s not, John. You can‘t base God on what people do.
It‘s people who aren‘t per fect. And I‘ve learned that just because
someone claims to be a Christian, it doesn‘t mean they‘ll act like
one.
Which explained the minister and other pristine looking
church men who had arranged for her to accommodate their
needs in an out-of-the-place area. They didn‘t want to look bad
on Sundays…or in front of people who knew them. At the time,
she didn‘t care about God, so it didn‘t matter to her. How things
changed in the span of three months from the moment she met
Preacher Peters.
Do you mind if I take myself to town?
He shook his head in a way that she knew meant he didn‘t
want her to go without him.
I‘d like to go to church, John. I know I have my Bible,
but it‘s not the same as going.
Slowly exhaling, he finally nodded.
You‘ll take me?
He indicated his agreement.
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Loving Eliza
I‘ll be with you. You won‘t have to face them alone.
And there are some good people there. Addy and Frank attend, I
bet. Then there‘s Charity. I met her on the stagecoach I came on.
She married the marshal, you know.
He nodded again.
She‘s nice. So is her aunt. I don‘t think it‘ll be as bad as
you fear, and if people start giving you a hard time, we‘ll just leave.
I promise.
Taking her hand in his he motioned to her ring finger and
looked at her with the all-too-familiar question in his eyes.
She groaned. No. I‘m not going to marry you. She
chuckled. I‘m going to my quaint home before you get even
more bold, mister. I need to go to sleep. I‘ll see you at sunrise.
She quickly ran to her home before he could stop her.
***
Eliza put on her best dress, which happened to be her blue
one. She pulled her hair up and tucked it under her hat. A part of
her was apprehensive about going to church. She‘d gone to
Preacher Peters‘ church for about a month and a half before she
left Omaha. The people there had known about her past and had
accepted her. But the people here didn‘t know anything about
her. This was a clean slate. Even so, she had to quench the
nervous anxiety in her body. She took a deep breath and looked
at herself in the small mirror.
I can do this. I am a lady now.
She picked up her small purse and left her home. She
made it halfway across the yard to John‘s house when she saw him
emerge from the small barn. Smiling, she watched him as he led
the geldings and the wagon in her direction. He really was an
attractive man, and that was so much more evident when he
dressed up in a dark blue suit.
55

Ruth Ann Nordin
She waited until he reached her before she spoke. Thank
you for taking me. I promise that when we get back, I‘ll make you
a little something special for dessert.
To her surprise, he didn‘t smile, but when his eyes met
hers, she understood that he didn‘t want to go but was going for
her sake. She considered saying that they could stay. Then she
thought that if he was going to get over his aversion to town and
some of the people in it, he needed to go and face them. The best
way to conquer a fear was to confront it.
She wasn‘t sure what to talk to him about on their way to
town, so she rambled on about everything from the beautiful
weather to the deer she saw leaping across the fields. He
listened…at least she thought he listened. He could have been
tuning her out. It was hard to tell if a man who didn‘t talk at all
was paying attention or not unless he made eye contact or did a
gesture. When she stared at him, his focus remained on the dirt
path in front of them. And so, she continued to ramble just to
ease the tension.
When they entered the church, she noticed the shocked
looks on the people‘s faces. Well, this she could handle. She‘d
dealt with those types of stares before whenever she ventured out
of the saloon in Omaha.
She searched the group and found Charity and her aunt.
Reaching for John‘s hand, she led him forward. Good morning,
Charity, Bethany. How are you doing?
Bethany was the first to answer. Eliza! How good it is to
see you again. We wondered how you fared.
Eliza‘s body relaxed. It felt good to be talking to people
she knew. Not that she knew them well, but after spending a long
time in a stagecoach with them, she felt that they had become
friends. She motioned to John. This is my friend and employer.
Did you hear what happened to Melissa Peters, the one I was
supposed to work for?
Yes, and what a terrible tragedy that was.
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Loving Eliza
It was terrible. I‘m sure she‘s singing with the angels
now.
Yes.
A moment of silence hung in the air as Eliza tried to think
of what to say next. Finally, she patted John on the arm. You
know, it was really a godsend when John ran into me in town. I
don‘t know what I would have done if he hadn‘t.
Oh. That‘s good, Charity said, appearing to be
uncertain.
Eliza searched her mind for another topic and quickly
found it. How are things with the marshal?
Charity blushed. Ralph is a very kind and good man. I‘m
lucky I was his mail-order bride.
That‘s wonderful! Isn‘t that wonderful, John?
Apparently, John‘s mail-order bride was supposed to come on the
same stagecoach we were on but never made it. Maybe she‘ll
show up on the next one. I read her letter. She sounds like a real
nice lady. Who knows? Maybe you two will like her.
Bethany and Charity exchanged looks that couldn‘t be
good.
Did they think the same way some others in this town did?
That John was stupid just because he couldn‘t talk? She couldn‘t
go through this service without setting them straight. Excuse us
for a moment, she politely said. She found a pew in the middle
of the church and led John to it. Why don‘t you sit here for a bit
and I‘ll see what‘s going on with them, she whispered.
His eyes grew wide and he shook his head.
I‘ll be right back, John. Just sit tight.
He obviously wasn‘t happy about it but he obeyed her.
She returned to Charity and Bethany who stood with the
marshal. He‘s not dumb, she told them. She didn‘t care if they
found her manner offensive or not.
Who? the marshal asked.
John Evans.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
We never said he was dumb, Charity protested.
Eliza eyed them. Then why were you put off by him just
now?
That should be clear, Charity replied. You are living in
sin. It‘s wrong.
I am not! she argued, careful to keep her voice low.
I‘m staying in the workshop on his property. I really didn‘t have
a job, and he gave me one so I could stay here.
I don‘t know, Charity slowly said. It doesn‘t seem
possible for a man to keep his hands off a woman when there‘s no
one around.
Before Eliza could correct her thinking, Ralph threw back
his head and laughed. Charity, my dear, I assure you that John
Evans is as safe as they come. He‘s not like other men.
Now Eliza focused her intense stare on him. What is
that supposed to mean?
He sighed. He doesn‘t have all his lights on. He tapped
his head.
That‘s not true. He can‘t talk but that doesn‘t mean he
doesn‘t think like everyone else.
I‘m two years older than him. We practically grew up
together. His parents sheltered him a lot, but we all knew he‘d
never be like the rest of us.
She gripped her purse. I‘m teaching him how to read and
write.
Young children can learn to read and write. I‘m not
saying that he doesn‘t have some things to learn, but he‘ll never be
like a full-grown adult.
So this is what he typically ran into. It was no wonder
why he protested coming to church today. Her initial impression
had been so wrong. When Frank and Addy had spoken well of
John, they were the exception to the mentality of this town. She
had no idea. But John knew. No wonder he was in a hurry to
leave town and didn‘t think Daphne would be coming for him.
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Loving Eliza
Eliza looked the marshal square in the eye. I assure you
that John is as normal as any grown male.
He folded his arms and stared right back at her. So
you‘re saying that you‘ve been sharing a bed with him?
No. I‘m saying he acts like a grown man. He doesn‘t act
like a child.
Then you are naïve about men.
Eliza almost laughed. That showed how little he knew,
but she could never tell him that. So that was why no one thought
anything of her staying on John‘s property. No one thought he
was capable of sexual desire. They thought he had the mentality
of a child. Except Charity and Bethany didn‘t know him at all, so
they assumed the worst.
She glanced at John who was sitting with Frank and Addy
who were talking to him. Did they think he was like a child too?
Or did they realize that even though he did think and feel like a
man, he had enough self-control to restrain his urges? She knew
that John held back. She knew what the looks he gave her meant,
except there was a tenderness that was new to her. He‘d never
take advantage of her. He was a gentleman.
Eliza returned her attention to Charity and Bethany. I
assure you that I wouldn‘t engage in that type of behavior. I‘m
sorry that our time in the stagecoach gave you such a poor
impression of me. If you‘ll excuse me, I‘ll leave you to
yourselves.
Without waiting for them to respond, she joined John.
Frank looked up at her. Oh, hello there, Miss Sweet. I
heard you already met my wife, Addy.
Forcing aside her irritation with the people she‘d just been
talking to, she smiled. I didn‘t realize that, but it‘s certainly nice
to see you again.
We were asking John if you two would like to come to
our home for lunch after the service, Frank offered.
Addy smiled at her. We‘d love to have you both over.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Eliza glanced at John. She couldn‘t tell what he was
thinking but decided that she‘d had enough of people for the time
being. Maybe next time. I already set out the ingredients I‘m
going to use for lunch.
Addy looked disappointed but nodded. Next time then.
It looks like everyone‘s sitting. I guess I should follow
suit.
Do you mind if we sit with you?
No.
She stepped past John whose expression remained
unreadable and sat next to him, making sure she left enough space
between them so people wouldn‘t get the wrong idea…if that was
possible. If everyone assumed he had no romantic inclinations at
all, then they probably likened her to sitting with a little boy. The
whole thing was absurd.
You would have liked Melissa, Addy said. She always
spoke of her cousin, the preacher. She was excited about meeting
you.
I looked forward to coming here and meeting her too.
And she had looked forward to arriving to this place. A
chance at a new start. And while it was true she got a new start,
she also discovered that things were not going to be as pleasant as
she‘d hoped. Well, things didn‘t always go according to plan.
She‘d have to bend and adjust as she had in the past.
Addy talked a little more about Melissa before everyone
stood up to sing a couple of hymns. Eliza didn‘t know the words
since she wasn‘t familiar with them. Beside her, John kept his
hands folded in front of him while Addy sang loud enough for all
of them. She had a nice voice too.
After the sermon, they sang another hymn and left the
building.
Frank shook John‘s hand. It was good to see you. I
hope you‘ll come on back, and we mean it about having you and
Eliza for lunch next time.
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Loving Eliza
Eliza watched the scene. That meant that Frank
considered John an equal, didn‘t it? He wouldn‘t be directing that
invitation to John if he thought of John as a child. At least, she
wouldn‘t think so.
Addy gave her a hug. Now if you need anything, you let
us know. Anyone who knows a relative of Melissa‘s is a friend of
ours.
Thank you, Eliza replied.
Miss Sweet, someone called out.
The voice sounded familiar. She turned and saw one of
John‘s brothers making his way toward them.
I just wanted to say you look lovely today, he said.
She noted that John stiffened next to her but kept her gaze
on the man. You‘re Guy, right?
Troy, he corrected.
Blushing, she said, Forgive me, Troy. I‘ve met so many
people that it‘s hard to remember names and faces, and to be
honest, all you brothers look so much alike. Well, except for the
facial hair, but I can‘t remember who has a mustache or a beard.
John‘s easy to remember. He doesn‘t have either one.
Troy smiled. There‘s nothing to forgive. I‘m sure we
overwhelmed you by showing up at the same time.
Addy chuckled. The five of them together is an
impressive sight.
Frank nodded. They are the only Evans in town, and
they‘re all men too.
A force to be reckoned with then, Eliza chimed in,
slowly feeling better.
You could say that, Frank joked.
John nudged her in the side.
She turned to him.
He pointed in the direction of his wagon.
I guess we should get back, she said.
But I didn‘t get a chance to talk to you, Troy argued.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Eliza inwardly groaned. Not another Evan‘s brother being
more interested in her than he ought to be. The trouble with this
town was that there were more men than women, and apparently,
being single had made her an easy target. Why didn‘t Preacher
Peters warn her of this? She might have considered another
location…like somewhere out in the middle of nowhere so she
could spend the rest of her life alone.
We‘ll see you soon I hope, Addy stated. I‘ll have the
curtains ready for you this Thursday.
Really? Eliza did want to hang up those curtains. She
looked at John. Can we come back then and get them?
John‘s gaze shifted to Tr oy and despite his obvious
uncertainty, he nodded.
We‘ll be by then, she said.
Addy waved good-bye before she left with Frank.
I could take the curtains out there, Troy offered.
That might be a good idea, Eliza reflected.
John quickly motioned to her and shook his head. Then
he pointed to himself.
She shrugged. John must have some business he needs
to do that day. I‘ll come in with him. She suspected that wasn‘t
really the case, but she didn‘t feel like dwelling on John‘s feelings
for her.
Well, then I‘ll have to keep an eye out for you, Troy
said. It would be rude if I didn‘t make you feel welcome. Good
day.
She caught the warning look Troy gave John before he
passed them to walk down the boardwalk.
Great. Just what she needed. Two men, brothers no
doubt, vying for her attention. This was getting much more
complicated than it needed to be. Daphne would be the solution
to John‘s interest in her, but if Troy was as persistent as John,
then she might have to end up leaving town altogether. She
hoped it wouldn‘t come to that. She had nowhere else to
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Loving Eliza
go…except back to Omaha, and she didn‘t relish t hat, though she
might ask Preacher Peters for another place to go.
63

Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Seven
J
ohn was working on the last chair for the table he‘d made when
Aaron stopped by. He glanced out of the small window and saw
that Aaron carried something. John wondered what his brother
wanted. He set the chair down on the floor and leaned forward so
he could see if anyone came with him. He breathed a sigh of
relief. Aaron was alone, which meant Troy was safely out of sight.
Eliza said she had gone to do some washing at the creek.
He had wanted to join her. Not because he liked to wash clothes
but because it meant he could be near her and hear her talk. But
she‘d protested, saying he needed to finish the chair so he could
deliver the complete dining room set to the Chapmans. He also
realized his money was getting low, and there hadn‘t been any
house repairs to take care of for over a month. So he stayed in his
shed and worked.
Now he left the shed to see what Aaron wanted.
Good afternoon, John, Aaron greeted.
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Loving Eliza
John motioned to his house.
I could use a cup of coffee. Alright.
John led him into the kitchen and pumped water into a
coffee pot. After he set the pot on the cookstove, he listened to
Aaron.
I haven‘t seen anything at the post office for you. It‘s
been three weeks and Daphne hasn‘t showed up. Maybe you
should look into another mail-order bride. I brought a paper to
look at.
As soon as he was done getting the coffee ready, John
glanced over his shoulder and saw Aaron open the paper up.
I think the school teacher might be a good one. She‘s a
little older than average. That might work to our advantage
though. I mean, she won‘t be as picky as someone who‘ s
younger.
John snatched the paper off the table and shook his head.
I‘m sorry, John. I‘m not trying to be mean. I know
you‘re as smart as I am.
John shook his head again. That‘s not what he meant. He
picked up a piece of paper and wrote =Eliza‘ on it and then
pointed to Eliza‘s little cabin.
Aaron frowned. You aren‘t sleeping with Eliza, are you?
You know that goes against our values. You can‘t do that until
you‘re married.
John waved his hand in a way that indicated he wasn‘t
sleeping with her.
Good. His brother looked relieved. I don‘t care what
others say. I know you‘re fully capable of doing it.
For some reason, that made John feel good about himself.
Aaron saw him as an equal.
Then Aaron raised an eyebrow. Do you want to marry
Eliza? Is that what you‘re saying?
John nodded.
Troy‘s not going to like that, you know.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
He scowled. What did he care what Troy thought? He
picked up the paper full of the mail-order bride ads and wrote a
=T‘ on it before he handed it to Aaron.
Aaron chuckled. I don‘t think Troy‘s going to seek a
mail-order bride. He‘s too interested in Eliza. He talks about her
a lot. The only reason he hasn‘t been out here is because his boss
has been working him overtime on the farm.
Well, good. John didn‘t become a farmhand for that very
reason. They could work long and rough hour s. He much
preferred the idea of setting his own hours and working with
things that didn‘t depend on the weather to grow.
There is that town social coming up. I suspect Troy will
ask her to go with him if you don‘t give her the invitation first.
He grimaced. That meant he‘d have to be around people.
He wondered if Eliza would say yes if Troy asked her. The only
reason he‘d even go was to stop Troy from taking her, and
apparently, Aaron knew it or else he wouldn‘t have brought it up.
Aaron shrugged. I don‘t know what to tell you. A pretty
woman like Eliza isn‘t going to be single for long. Even that Old
Willy and Buck Stanley are keeping a lookout for her.
That made John‘s face harden.
You better get a ring on her finger fast, brother.
John gritted his teeth as he grabbed two cups from the
cupboard and slammed them on the counter.
Let me guess. You‘ve been trying to get her to marry
you, but she keeps saying no?
How could his brother know that? John sighed but didn‘t
deny it.
Is it because you‘re mute?
John shrugged. Maybe. Though for some reason, that
didn‘t seem right. She treated him like Aa ron did, as an equal. So
no. It couldn‘t be that. But what was the reason? He sensed that
she was hiding something. But he had no way to ask until he
learned to write his words out.
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Loving Eliza
Being mute is not a crime. Don‘t be with a woman who
judges you on that.
John nodded. Of course, he wouldn‘t. It was bad enough
to deal with it from people in town. He refused to deal with it in
his own home.
Good.
John poured the coffee in the cups and handed one to
Aaron.
Just in case things don‘t work with Eliza, you should at
least consider these ads. Aaron picked up the paper. It looks
like there‘s some nice women in here. Two especially caught my
attention.
He didn‘t have the heart to search for anyone else. He
wanted Eliza. No other woman would come close to her.
I‘m going to read these to you. I‘m not saying we‘re
going to write any letters today, but at least think about it.
Alright?
Reluctant, he nodded. Why not? The best thing that
could happen was he wouldn‘t need to do it. The worst…? Eliza
would marry one of the other men in town and leave him
alone…to send another letter out requesting a bride. That wasn‘t
something he relished.
And to be fair, I‘ll show this to Troy too.
That part made him feel better. John nodded and listened
as his brother read the ads to him.
***
Two weeks later, Eliza decided it was time to do some
painting. It‘s cooler outside than it has been. This way, we won‘t
sweat as much.
John thought she might be willing to consider marrying
him if he agreed so he quickly got to the task of covering the
furnishings so they wouldn‘t get paint on them. He glanced at her
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Ruth Ann Nordin
dress and thought it would be a shame to get paint on it. She
obviously hadn‘t painted before if she thought her clothes
wouldn‘t suffer.
He went into his bedroom and dug out a trunk full of
things from his past, including his mother‘s old dresses. He knew
that he should throw out the clothes his parents wore, but he
couldn‘t bring himself to do it, especially not his mother‘s things.
While he was rummaging around, he found her wedding ring. It
was a simple gold band. He lifted it and tried to judge its size.
Would it fit Eliza‘s finger? He quickly shoved it into his pocket
and retrieved a dress. It‘d be loose on Eliza, but it‘d do the trick.
When he left the bedroom, he found Eliza ready to start
painting with her brush. He hurried over to her and showed her
the dress.
She looked down at her green dress. I should change,
shouldn‘t I? I didn‘t think about making a mess.
He smiled and tapped the side of his head.
She grinned. I know. You‘re always one step ahead of
me, aren‘t you? Alright. I‘ll be back. She set down the
paintbrush, took the dress, and departed from the parlor.
Turning his attention to the light green paint, he dipped
his brush into it. By the time she returned, he had painted around
the bare window.
He sighed at the sight of her. She needed to eat more.
He‘d forgotten his initial impression of her when she arrived in
town. Maybe he could convince her to eat more dessert. That
brown candy she made was sure tasty.
She joined him with her own brush. This will look much
better than the faded old white paint. And since we already
washed the walls, we can just get right to it.
He watched her as she moved the brush up and down on
the wall next to him. She had a slight smile on her lips and her
hair was pulled back into a bun for the task. He wanted to stand
there forever and stare at her. She was the prettiest woman he‘d
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Loving Eliza
ever seen, and despite her insistence that Daphne would suit him,
he refused to believe that. How could anyone come close to her
now that he got the chance to know her? She was even better
than he originally thought.
She glanced in his direction with an amused expression on
her face. Are you going to help me or do you expect me to do all
the work?
Blushing, he turned his attention back to painting his
section of the wall.
They worked in silence for a good hour before she
decided to take a break. He covered the paint and followed her
out of the house, wondering where she was going.
When she realized he was behind her, she laughed. You
don‘t have to come with me. I‘m just going for a walk. Though
she said those words, she stopped and waited for him to catch up,
which he did.
He wanted to hold her hand. She‘d stopped doing that
ever since they went to church, and he wondered why. Of course,
he couldn‘t ask.
I think you‘ll like the way the rooms look when we‘re
done. I never did like white walls. I like color and var iety. White
is boring.
He smiled. For her, white probably was boring. He
likened himself to the white walls—easy to miss but serving a
purpose. She was definitely color—dynamic and intriguing.
Funny how he didn‘t realize how empty his life had been before
she came into it, but he supposed one didn‘t realize how boring a
white wall was until someone put some color on it. He had to
admit that he liked the green paint she chose.
As they strolled along the path he had cleared along the
tall grass in the prairie, she continued to talk. Sometimes I wish I
could fly like one of those birds up there. I try to imagine what it
would be like to feel the air beneath me. They look free up there,
don‘t you think? As usual, she didn‘t wait for his response.
69

Ruth Ann Nordin
When I was a little girl, I used to run around my house and
pretend I was a bird. My parents thought I was ridiculous to want
to be a bird. But my pa would humor me and put me on his
shoulders so I could stretch out my arms and fly.
When he realized she had stopped talking, he turned his
gaze to her. To his surprise, she wasn‘t looking at him like she
often did to see if he was even paying attention to her. Instead,
she had her head bowed and a frown on her face, as if she was
sad. He tapped her on the arm.
Finally making eye contact, she shrugged. I miss my
parents sometimes. My life would have been different if they had
lived.
He made a motion for her to continue but she didn‘t.
They reached the creek that ran along his property. It was
the only section of his land that had a row of trees on it. The rest
of the place was mostly prairie grass, though he did have four
trees spread around his house.
He found a bunch of yellow flowers grouped together
close to the creek, so he gathered a couple of them and brought
them to her.
A smile crossed her face as she took them. Is this your
way of trying to make me feel better?
No, it hadn‘t been. He just wanted to show her that he
had yellow flowers nearby. He planted some close to his house
too. He didn‘t plant them near her home. There was no sense in
making her
too
comfortable there. If he did that, she might never
think of his house as hers.
Thank you, she said. She sat next to the creek and put
the flowers on the ground next to her so she could wash her
hands.
He settled next to her and also washed his hands.
Deciding to press his luck, he inched toward her, trying to be
subtle about it so she wouldn‘t notice. When she finished and sat
back, he joined her on the grass, happily noting that they were just
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Loving Eliza
a couple of inches from touching. He liked this. Just sitting next
to her and enjoying the late morning under the shade of the tree.
He wished they could stay there forever…without anyone or
anything coming between them.
She collected the flowers and placed them on her lap.
How many days do you think it‘ll take to paint the rooms?
Since he could now count to ten, he held up seven fingers.
A full week? She sighed. I guess that‘s right. At least if
we want to do a good job. For some reason, I thought it‘d go
faster than that.
He shook his head and grinned at her.
I know. I need more patience. Things worth doing
shouldn‘t be rushed. Did anyone ever tell you that redheads have
a terrible time waiting?
She had to be kidding. She had no trouble waiting to
marry him. His gaze shifted to her hands. It was hard to judge
the size of her ring finger from looking at it. He reached forward
and touched her hand.
John.
He recognized the warning in her voice, so he quickly
plucked a nearby white flower with his free hand and held it in
front of her.
She didn‘t look convinced that his actions were innocent,
but he pressed forward and opened the palm of her hand so it was
facing up. He placed the white flower in it and collected two of
the yellow flowers and put one on each side of the white flower.
As he smoothed the flowers out, he took one of the petals and
wrapped it around her ring finger.
What are you doing? she asked.
She didn‘t sound annoyed, though there wa s a hint of
hesitation in her voice.
He rubbed his fingernail against the part of the petal that
marked the width of her finger. Then he glanced around for a
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Ruth Ann Nordin
distraction. Finding the squirrel sniffing around the tree across
from them, he nodded toward it.
Success! She looked at the critter. What is it?
He yanked the petal from the flower and let her hand go.
I don‘t understand. What is so important about the
squirrel?
He shrugged as he slipped the petal into his pocket.
Sometimes I don‘t know what to do about you.
Holding his hand up, he pointed to his ring finger.
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. When are you
going to give up?
He noted a hint of amusement in her tone instead of the
usual exasperation, so he decided to press his luck. Wrapping his
arms around her, he knocked her over so that they both landed on
the grass.
After a startled shriek, she wiggled so that she could face
him.
He held onto her and threw his leg over hers before she
could get up.
Too bad those people in town can‘t see you now. Just
look at the way you take advantage of a poor, unsuspecting
woman!
Shrugging, he gave her a wicked smile and kissed her
cheek.
Oh John, you can‘t be serious. Despite her attempt to
look stern, she also laughed. You‘r e not playing fair. You know
I‘m not strong enough to get away.
He raised an eyebrow. She wasn‘t even trying to get away
from him. That meant there was hope, right? Even if she
protested, she seemed to be enjoying it. Noticing that a strand of
her hair was close to her eyes, he reached up and brushed it away.
Noting the softness of her skin, he let his fingers linger at her
cheek.
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I never met anyone more determined than you. You‘re
much too stubborn for your own good.
It was true so he didn‘t deny it. Instead, he let his fingers
drift to her pink lips. He‘d never kissed a woman before, but he‘d
seen other men do it. It looked simple enough. And if it was so
simple, why did he suddenly worry he couldn‘t do it right?
She wasn‘t fighting him. In fact, her hands stayed on his
arms. It was a very pleasant feeling—one he wanted to enjoy
forever if she‘d let him. He closed his eyes and kissed her. His
movement was stiff. He knew it was, but he didn‘t know how to
relax when his heart was beating frantically against his chest. But
he liked the kiss so he leaned forward for another one.
Her lips were warm against his, and she returned his kiss,
almost seeming hesitant but still willing. He let his lips linger on
hers, never wanting to leave the sweet bit of heaven he‘d suddenly
discovered. He thought he‘d like to kiss a woman some day, but
he had no idea just how much he‘d like it. This, he decided, was
the most wonderful experience he‘d ever had.
Reluctant, he pulled away from her. His gaze met hers
and he sensed the uncertainty in her eyes. He pointed to his
temple.
What am I thinking? she softly asked.
He nodded.
She took a moment before she responded. I‘m thinking
we need to get back to painting the house.
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Chapter Eight
E
liza pushed John off of her and quickly stood up. What was
she doing, kissing a man who‘d never kissed a woman before?
She‘d kissed virgins before, and there was always that tentative
moment in the kiss, like they weren‘t sure of what to do next.
The sweetest man she‘d ever met had just kissed her, and
she initiated him further into it by responding to him. She
shouldn‘t let her pleasure get in the way of her senses. Yes, she
enjoyed it. Much more than she should have. After all, she‘d
kissed so many men in her time that she couldn‘t even count them
all. But even the most experienced men hadn‘t affected her the
way John had. He cared for her. And that terrified her.
She strode back to the house and he followed her. She
didn‘t want to face him. Not now. Not when her hands trembled
and her heart hammered loudly in her ears. She needed to get
back to something concrete, something she could concentrate on
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and lose herself in. Painting was as good a method for escaping
her unwanted emotions as anything else she could do.
As she reached the house, a horse‘s neigh caught her
attention. She groaned when she saw Troy riding toward the
house.
Morning, Eliza, he gr eeted as he pulled back the reins.
You are certainly looking fine today.
The man was lying. The dress John had given her hung
on her like a limp rag.
I‘d ask John what he‘s doing giving you Ma‘s old dress to
wear, but he won‘t be able to answer.
She glanced at John who didn‘t look pleased. Who could
blame him? John is right here if you want to ask. He may not
talk but he has other ways of communicating. He can tell you
almost anything you want to know just by using his hands.
Is that so? By the way Troy said that, it was obvious he
didn‘t believe it.
John stepped in front of her before Troy got there first.
She rolled her eyes. All she saw was John‘s broad back.
The man was worse than a protective mother bear.
Alright, John, Troy said in irritation. I get the message.
I‘m not taking her away from here. You can back off. I came out
to talk to you anyway.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Good. In that case, I‘ll get
back to painting!
Before anyone could protest, she scurried back into the
house. The first thing she noticed was the strong smell of paint
fumes. Well, John would just have to keep the windows open for
awhile.
What‘s the meaning of this? Troy demanded, shoving a
piece of paper at John.
She stopped at the kitchen window. She really had no
right to find out what upset Troy. After all, it wasn‘t like he was
speaking that loud. But he was speaking loud enough for her to
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hear him. So technically, she wasn‘t eavesdropping. Besides, she
did need a cup of water. She went to the work table and lifted the
pitcher, deciding it was a good idea to take her time at the task.
She peaked out the window. Troy didn‘t just look
annoyed. He looked fuming mad.
You had no right to do this!
John stood still, his face unreadable.
I ought to make you deal with this. He motioned to the
letter in John‘s hands.
She poured the water into the cup and sipped it.
What‘s the big idea, John? You wrote to a mail -order
bride in my name?
Startled, she spit out her drink. She grabbed a towel and
dried her lips and the table in front of her. John did what?
I don‘t need you to find me a bride, Troy seethed. I‘m
perfectly capable of handling that area of my life on my own. It‘s
you who needs the help, what with you being a freak and all.
Oh, he didn‘t! Not John‘s own brother! Eliza set the cup
and towel down and peered out the corner of the window without
trying to be spotted in case they looked in her direction.
John threw the letter back at Troy and pushed him back.
You think Eliza‘s going to marry you? You couldn‘t even
get that mail-order bride of yours to show up. And she never met
you. What makes you think Eliza‘s going to want a mute for a
husband?
John marched over to Troy‘s horse and untied its reins
from the tree.
Troy strode after him. What are you doing?
Eliza moved so she could see where they were going.
John held up the reins and pointed to the saddle.
You think you‘re going to tell me what to do? Well, let
me set something straight for you. No one orders me around, you
understand? Then he pushed John away from his horse.
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John made a move toward Troy but stopped and then
waved him off the property.
I‘m not marrying Cara. You hear me? Troy jumped on
his horse. I told her that my mute, freak brother wrote the letter
as a joke. She won‘t be coming. He glared at John. Since when
did you learn to write anyway? Aaron teach you?
He shrugged.
It probably was him. He‘s soft. Just keep your nose out
of my business. Then he tapped the horse in the sides with his
boots. As the horse trotted off the land, he called out something.
Eliza couldn‘t make out what it was, but John rolled his
eyes. She expected John to come into the house but he didn‘t.
Instead, he strode over to the shed he worked in, entered it, and
slammed the door behind him. Well, who could blame him for
being upset? Apparently, it wasn‘t just most of the town who
thought John wasn‘t worth the time or effort to treat with respect.
She had no siblings, but if she had, she‘d like to think she‘d be
close to them.
The more she got to know John and the people in town,
the less she wanted to know about them. She didn‘t know why
she assumed that a small town would have a friendly feel to it. In
a bigger place like Omaha, it was easy to be impersonal. She made
a few good friends, other prostitutes like herself who had nowhere
to go. She learned to appreciate what she did have and not think
of things that could‘ve been. That‘s where unhappiness came
from. Not being content with what one had. Always looking at
how things could be better. Always wondering what if .
She recalled her first friend at the saloon. Maggie had
been a prostitute for five years when Eliza was sold into the
business. Maggie was miserable there and ended up committing
suicide. That was when Eliza decided she‘d stop feeling sorry for
herself. Yes, what happened to her was bad. Her uncle had taken
advantage of her and then lied about it. To cover up his sin, he
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sold her to Ross. And she‘d never forget how mad Ross was
when he discovered she was carrying a child.
She forced the memories back into the safe corner of her
mind where she could lock it away and forget about it. It did no
good to dwell on things she had no control over. She also had no
control over what people thought of John or how John reacted to
it. All she could do was control how she reacted to it. Like
everything else in life, she had to deal with it the best she knew
how. So she‘d put on a smile and find reasons to be thankful.
She glanced around the room. She had food and shelter.
She had a generous employer who was also kind. She was no
longer a prostitute. She was a lady now. She could finally walk
through town without pretending that the stares and whispers
didn‘t bother her. People now treated her with respect. It was a
good feeling. Yes, she had lots to be thankful for, and she‘d do
her part to make life better for those around her.
She returned to the paint and got back to work.
***
That Sunday, Eliza put on her modest dress and adjusted
her hat. It was as hot as August could get, but that was the price
she paid for being a lady. Her clothing hadn‘t covered all of her
when she worked at the saloon. But she worked for John now.
Honest work. Work she was grateful to have. And if no one
could appreciate John and the fact that he gave her a good job and
did honest work, then that was their problem. Not John‘s. And
not hers.
Determined, she took one last look at her reflection and
nodded. She left her home and strode over to John‘s house. Just
as she made it up the steps, he opened the door.
You look nice, she greeted. Isn‘t it a beautiful day?
It‘s the perfect day for a Sunday ride into town. Even as she said
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it, she batted away a couple of flying insects that circled her head.
She laughed. I guess the bugs think it‘s a nice day too.
He pointed to his ring finger.
Rolling her eyes, she decided to ignore him today. He
seemed to think that just because they were going to church, it
was the right time to propose. Well, that wasn‘t exactly true
either. He seemed to think that every day was a good day to
propose…and any reason was a good reason.
I can‘t wait for Daphne to show up.
He shook his head.
Pretending she didn‘t notice, she turned around and
headed for the wagon. We don‘t want to be late. I have a feeling
that things will go fine today.
He closed the door behind him and walked after her.
She waited for him to get the horses hooked up before she
hopped into the wagon. When she saw his exasperation, she
giggled. I know. I should have let you help me in, but I didn‘t
want to wait.
That was a lie, and by the expression on his face, she knew
he realized it. Oh well. Let him realize it. As long as she didn‘t
have to say it, it didn‘t matter. The truth was, she didn‘t want him
to help her in again because last time, he actually kissed her on the
cheek and held her in his arms before he let her get in. She really
had no business enjoying that either. For all reasonable purposes,
he was practically married to Daphne.
But what if Daphne doesn’t come? It has been two months since she
was supposed to arrive.
She sighed and forced her attention to the scenery as he
urged the horses forward. No, it was best if her thoughts didn‘t
drift in that direction. It was enough that she agreed to go to the
gathering the town was putting on that evening. She wasn‘t
originally going to go, but when Troy and Willy asked her, she
figured she‘d better go with John. If nothing, it got the two men
to back off. Never mind that it was nice knowing that she‘d go
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with John. She sighed again. She was getting to be as bad as he
was!
He nudged her in the arm.
She looked in his direction.
He tapped his temple.
You are much too curious about what I‘m thinking.
Most men don‘t want to hear women yap on about their thoughts,
you know.
He gave her a sweet smile and waved for her to speak.
You are an odd man.
Shrugging, he motioned for her to continue.
Is tha t what you want to hear? That you‘re odd.
He pointed to his lips.
Oh. You just want to hear me talk. It doesn‘t even
matter what I ramble on about.
He nodded and scooted closer to her.
Alright, Mister. Don‘t think I don‘t notice when you do
that. I wasn‘t born yesterday. You need to keep your distance.
I‘ve come to learn that I can‘t trust you. And don‘t flash that
smile at me. You won‘t charm me that easily. She paused for a
moment. Not that you can charm me. Don‘t get me wrong. I‘m
not the kind of woman you can charm.
He didn‘t look convinced.
Think of it what you will. She gave him a nudge. You
need to get back to your rightful position.
He stuck out his lower lip.
What am I going to do with you? Before he could point
to his ring finger again, she held up her hand to stop him. Don‘t
answer that. Now look here. If you don‘t move over to your side,
I‘m going to be forced to jump out of this wagon. Then I‘d land
on the ground, and I might get hurt. Do you want that to
happen? She steeled herself against his puppy dog eyes. Alright.
Fine. Here I go.
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She started to stand, but he quickly stopped her. Then he
scooted back to his side of the seat.
Satisfied that her bluff had worked, she settled back down.
You should be happy enough with the fact that I‘m going to
town with you tonight. That means I won‘t dance with anyone
but you.
His smile widened.
Don‘t take that to mean I‘m going to marry you.
He didn‘t stop his foolish grinning.
I‘m serious, John.
He just shrugged.
She huffed and shook her head. You know, for a man
who can‘t talk, you sure do say a lot.
Deciding it was time to change tactics, she spent the rest
of the way into town discussing what she planned to make for
lunch and what she‘d wear that evening. She figured such topics
might bore him, but she was at a loss on what else to discuss, and
he had said that she could talk about anything. To her surprise, he
actually seemed to enjoy listening to her. Odd. That word didn‘t
even seem to describe him. He was more than odd. A man who
willingly listened to topics that would only interest a woman just
couldn‘t be right in the head.
When they reached town, she allowed him to help her
down. It wouldn‘t be right to out-smart him in front of other
people. Men, no matter who they were, had their pride to protect.
Upon entering the church, she noticed that his steps had
slowed to a pace that would make a snail seem fast. I‘m with
you, she whispered. It‘s alright.
He didn‘t look convinced but lumbered to the pew they
had been sitting at every Sunday.
I thought we‘d say hello to Charity and her aunt. Then
we can say good morning to a few others. Fortunately, Troy
made it a habit of coming a few minutes after the service started.
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She didn‘t feel like dealing with him. At least not yet. She
motioned for John to follow her. Come on.
Looking as if he were facing a death sentence, he joined
her.
Good morning, Charity! she greeted, pasting on a
friendly smile. Good morning, Bethany.
The two women turned from talking to Willy and Ralph
Custer.
Of course, good morning to you too, gentlemen, Eliza
quickly added. You‘re all looking fine. Why, Charity, I do
believe you‘re glowing.
Bethany gave a satisfied nod in Charity‘s direction. You
see. I told you that it was obvious.
Eliza‘s gaze shifted to Ralph whose chest puffed up with
male pride. Eliza stopped Bethany before she could continue.
Let me guess. Charity, are you expecting?
Charity blushed.
That‘s wonderful! Isn‘t that wonderful, John?
John looked as if he wished he were anywhere but there.
Eliza returned her attention to the group. Well, that is
wonderful. You‘ll make a terrific mother.
We just found out yesterday, Ralph added. The baby
will be here in April.
Good. That gives me plenty of time to make a gift. Is
there anything special you need?
Charity shrugged. I don‘t even know what a baby needs,
except for clothes and diapers.
I‘ll think of something then.
Bethany patted Eliza‘ s hand and leaned forward to
whisper in Eliza‘s ear. You do know that we don‘t think there‘s
anything inappropriate going on with you and John. I know we
haven‘t had a chance to talk to you the last couple of times you‘ve
been here, but I wanted to clear the air. Charity and I
misunderstood the situation. We know better now.
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Right. Because Ralph explained that John was incapable
of having a single sexual thought. Eliza supposed that this worked
in her favor. No one assumed anything was going on, which there
wasn‘t. S he did like the respect people were finally giving her, and
the last thing she wanted to do was to ruin it.
Eliza nodded and smiled. It‘s good to have things
resolved. Then she took a step back. I better say hi to Addy.
Last time she said she had some recipes for me, and I‘m anxious
to check them out. She turned but glanced over her shoulder.
Congratulations, Charity and Ralph.
She led John over to Addy and Frank, so they could sit
next to them. Of all the people in town, she felt most
comfortable with them.
As Addy pulled out a couple of recipe cards from her
purse, Aaron came up to John. And Aaron didn‘t look too happy.
John, I need to talk to you outside for a minute.
John shook his head and motioned to Eliza, Addy and
Frank.
They‘ll keep your seat, Aaron insisted.
John shook his head again and crossed his arms.
Aaron leaned down so that he could speak low. It‘s
about Troy and that thing you did. I didn‘t give you that paper so
you could write a letter on Troy‘s behalf like that.
If John did have a voice, he would‘ve groaned, for Eliza
recognized the exasperation on his face as he stood up and
motioned for Aaron to go outside.
Eliza turned to Addy as John and Aaron left. You said
you have recipes for me?
Addy seemed curious about the exchange between John
and Aaron but turned her attention back to her purse. Yes. I
wrote everything down for my three favorite dishes. The best part
is that they are simple too.
Good. Eliza didn‘t care much for cooking. It was
alright, but she‘d rather be doing other things. She‘d never be a
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gourmet chef, but at least John could eat her food without getting
sick. The simpler, the better. I‘m still learning.
Really? Didn‘t your mother teach you how to cook?
A long time ago. I don‘t remember much of what she
did teach me. Her lessons had been basic up to the time her
parents died. And after that, well…there was no need for cooking.
But some of it‘s coming back to me as I go along.
That was true. She didn‘t like to lie, especially in church
where she could feel the eyes of the Lord bearing down on her.
But He understood that she needed to keep her past a secret. At
least she hoped so.
John returned as the first hymn started, and she frowned.
He didn‘t look happy. In fact, he looked downright grumpy. She
wondered what happened between him and Aaron. She glanced
at Aaron who seemed equally upset as he stood next to his wife
and sang the words to the familiar song.
All of her life, Eliza had wished for a brother or sister.
Now she was glad she never had one. It seemed to be more
trouble than it was worth.
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Chapter Nine
J
ohn adjusted his tie for the tenth time. He hated this. He didn‘t
want to go to the social gathering in town where people would eat
and dance and talk. His parents used to drag him to those things
when he was a child but let him stay home when he turned fifteen.
And now someone else was dragging him. Well, that wasn‘t
necessarily true. He asked Eliza to go with him and she agreed. It
was his choice.
He sat on the edge of his bed and pulled on his nice boots.
No. It hadn‘t been a choice. Not really. Troy and Old Willy
wanted to take her. Then there was Buck who usually farmed so
much he rarely came to town. Funny how he managed to make it
to church to talk with Eliza after the service.
John adjusted his tie again. It felt too tight. Frustrated, he
yanked it off and threw it on the hardwood floor. He‘d be fine in
his green shirt, black vest and denim pants. He rubbed his eyes.
He still remembered when he was at the social gatherings as a
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child and the other kids made fun of him. The adults didn‘t do
anything to stop it, but they had to have known. He ended up
spending all of his time in the corner of the room, watching the
ascent of the moon and judging when the gathering would be
over. Back then all of his brothers had joined in the rounds of
pulling jokes on him and laughing at his expense. As they got
older, things changed. It wasn‘t until after their parents died that
Aaron, Guy, and Shawn shaped up.
But then this morning when Aaron talked down to him as
if he were a child…John didn‘t want to have anything to do with
any of them. So what if he wrote to a mail-order bride on Troy‘s
behalf? He picked one of the best ones that Aaron read to him.
If Troy would just leave Eliza alone whenever they went to
church, he wouldn‘t have bothered writing that letter anyway.
Not that it was much of a letter. He kept it simple because he was
still learning how to read and write. The words he had used, he
showed to Eliza, but she had no idea what he was doing it for.
She thought he was just practicing.
Sighing, he stood up and took the ring from his dresser. It
had been too big for Eliza, but he made the necessary adjustments
to it. Now it would fit right. Only if she‘d put it on! He tucked it
into his pocket. Ever the optimist. What made him think that
tonight she‘d say yes? Still, she was right about him. He didn‘t
give up easily. He sensed that she enjoyed being with him. Just
not enough to commit to him…yet.
He left the bedroom and walked through the kitchen. His
stomach protested, but he mentally reminded it that there was
plenty of food at these social gatherings in town. His stomach
growled again, obviously not believing him. He shut the kitchen
door behind him and looked up to see Eliza fiddling with the blue
bow in her hair that went with her nice blue dress.
He smiled. She looked so pretty. Then he frowned. No
doubt the other men would think so as well. And that was a
problem.
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She turned and saw him. Are you ready?
He shrugged and went to get the horses. They looked
healthy. Too bad. Now he couldn‘t claim they were sick. After
he hooked them to the wagon, he checked the wheels. Too bad
the wagon was in good shape. Now he had no excuse to
stay…and keep her safely away from Troy, Old Willy or Buck.
Once again, she managed to hop in the wagon before he
got around to her side. She spread her skirt around her and
glanced at him. I‘m not dancing with anyone but you. I
promise.
Alright. That helped him feel better. He nodded and
joined her. On the way, she talked about how she looked forward
to talking to Addy.
Frank will be there too, so we can talk to both of them.
You like Frank.
It was true, so he nodded.
It won‘t be so bad, John. Not if you look on the bright
side.
Well, she was going with him. That was good.
That‘s what I try to do. Look on the bright side. No
matter how bad things get, there‘s always a bright side.
Then she rambled about things that he tuned out. The
closer to town they got, the more tense he became. When he
finally pulled the wagon to a stop a block from the town hall
where the festivities occurred, he gave one last look at the road
out of town. Four hours. He just had to go through four hours
of this.
Reluctant, he stepped down from the wagon and
wondered why she bothered to let him help her down from it. As
they strolled up to the group of people entering the building, Old
Willy waved to them.
John inwardly groaned but followed Eliza as she
approached him.
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I didn‘t realize there were so many people in this town,
she told Old Willy.
Whenever there‘s food, people come scurryin‘ out of
their holes to find it.
She laughed. You have a real sense of humor, Willy.
That‘s refreshing. Life can get too serious sometimes.
Willy blushed and waved his hand as if to dismiss the
compliment. Oh shoot, Miss Sweet. That‘s awfully nice of you
to say. Hello there, John. The Kendells like that bed frame you
made for their little girl. They‘ve been braggin‘ on it so much that
the Carsons are thinkin‘ of askin‘ you to make them a cabinet for
their kitchen.
Eliza turned to John. That‘s wonderful. I told you that
was a gorgeous bed frame, and all you did was shrug as if it wasn‘t
anything important. You do beautiful work.
A true statement, Old Willy agreed. You folks comin‘
in to eat?
You bet. This is a good excuse to get out of cooking.
She glanced at John. Not that I mind cooking, but it sure is nice
to have a break from it.
You work her too hard out there, John. Old Willy
chuckled and patted his shoulder. Just kiddin‘. I know you
wouldn‘ overwork anyone.
John was too nervous to smile to show his friend that he
understood he was joking. He really wished Old Willy would find
someone other than Eliza to like. This town needed more
women. He shifted from one foot to the other.
I think John‘s more ready to eat than I am, Eliza said.
John followed her into the building. He was relieved
when he realized that they‘d be sitting with Frank and Addy. At
least he could relax during the supper. Afterwards however was
another matter. Troy came up to them and asked for a dance.
Oh, I told John that I‘d dance with him, she replied as
she took John‘s hand.
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Troy‘s gaze met John‘s, and John narrowed hi s eyes at
him.
Come on, John, she said and pulled on his hand.
He obeyed and lumbered to the area set aside for couples
to dance. He spotted the corner where he used to sit and hide.
He used to watch the people dance, noting the way they laughed
and smiled. Even now, people enjoyed themselves. The only
thing different was that he was out in open for all to see, and as
much as he hated that, he did like holding Eliza without her trying
to find a reason to get out of his arms.
If he hadn‘t noticed the way Troy glared at him or how a
couple of people in the room snickered and shook their heads at
him, it wouldn‘t have been so bad. But he was aware of them.
Acutely aware. He stepped on her foot and nearly tripped her.
He quickly caught her by the arms and steadied her.
She flung her hair over her shoulder. It‘s alright. Maybe
we should get something to drink.
He nodded and walked over to the table where a big bowl
of punch and ladle waited for them.
How quaint! I heard of these but I‘d never seen such a
grand display. She picked up one of the cups by the bowl.
Whoever set out all these lovely flowers and lacy napkins did a
marvelous job.
Charity did that, a woman spoke.
They turned to see Bethany.
She learned to do this where we came from, she
continued.
She did a fine job of it. Eliza scanned the room.
Where is she anyway?
The poor thing is sick to her stomach. It‘s because of the
child, you know.
Oh, yes. Well, it‘s a shame she‘s missing this, especially
when she took the time to set this out.
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It‘ll be worth it. Next year, she‘ll be holding her own
baby. There‘s no better joy than that.
John thought he caught a flicker of sorrow in Eliza‘s eyes.
I suppose you‘re right, Eliza softly replied before she
picked up the ladle. Her hands slightly shook as she poured the
red liquid into the cup.
John took the cup and ladle from her so no more would
splash onto the table. What had caused her unease? The talk of a
baby? If she wanted a child, she could marry him and then have
one of her own. He paused. He hadn‘t tried that angle yet.
Maybe he needed to get her thinking of babies.
Eliza wiped her hands on a napkin.
She‘s already decided on a name, Bethany said. Patrick
for a boy and Patricia for a girl. Aren‘t those wonderful names?
Yes. They are. Eliza took the cup John offered her and
drank a sip. She is blessed.
Well, perhaps you‘ll find someone to marry. I hear that
Willy is a sweetheart. Though he‘s a bit older than you, he‘s a
stable, hardworking man.
John gritted his teeth.
Of course, there is Buck, if you don‘t mind a man who
spends most of his time in the fields. That wouldn‘t do well for a
woman who wants lots of attention. You have to be willing to
spend most of your time alone. Thankfully, Charity didn‘t end up
with him. She loves to be pampered.
I am content with things as they are, Eliza said before
she took another sip.
Maybe for now. But the future is ahead of you, even if
you are nearing an unmarriageable age. You should keep that in
mind. Oh, there is Troy Evans. Why, he works for Buck. The
woman clapped her hands and giggled. What a small world. At
any rate, you can choose any of them.
Or there’s me. I’m right in front of you, you old coot.
If John
could speak, that‘s exactly what he‘d tell Bethany.
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Let me introduce you to Chloe. You‘ll like her. Bethany
grabbed Eliza‘s hand and started walking away.
Eliza glanced back at John. Stay put. I‘ll be right back.
John had a sinking feeling that Bethany would keep Eliza
with her longer than a moment. And he was right. After five
minutes, he found his corner and sat down. Again, he watched
everyone else. Eliza stood to the side with Bethany, Chloe and
Chloe‘s sister. Eliza kept looking back at him, a nd at one point,
she motioned for him to join her. He refrained. Instead, he
averted his gaze so he could pretend he hadn‘t seen her.
He turned his attention to the window, noting it was a
clear night. It would be a good two hours before he could go
home. He sighed and let his gaze fall back on Eliza who laughed
at something Chloe said.
He hated being here. He hated being in town. He hated
being alone.
John?
He looked over at his brother Shawn.
Aaron and Guy said you were here, but I didn‘t believe
them. Why are you hiding? We‘re not kids anymore.
He rolled his eyes.
Shawn sat next to him. You look like you saw a ghost.
Irritated, he crossed his arms and directed his attention to
Eliza who was still talking to the other women. So much for
dancing with her…or coming so he could spend time with her.
You need to relax, Shawn said. I know how to make
that happen, but we can‘t do it here. Come outside with me.
John shook his head. He wanted to make sure Troy or
Old Willy didn‘t go near Eliza. If one of them did, he planned to
go up to her so they‘d back off.
We‘ll only be gone for a minute. It won‘t take long at all.
Besides, this kind of thing relaxes me all the time.
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John thought about it, nodded and strode out of the town
hall so they could be alone. Interest peaked, he watched as his
brother pulled something from his jacket pocket. It was a flask.
Take a good drink of this. In no time at all, you‘ll feel
good.
John accepted the flask but pointed to it.
It‘s moonshine. Jerry makes it.
He‘d heard the term before, but he couldn‘t quite recall
where.
It‘s good for nerves.
Jerry seemed like a good man. At least, he didn‘t make fun
of him, and he had no reason to distrust Shawn. He nodded and
drank from it. It had an odd taste, though it wasn‘t exactly bad.
He took another drink and decided it tasted fine.
Don‘t gulp it all down. You just want to relax, not get
drunk.
I think I saw him come out here, Guy said.
Shawn motioned for John to hide the flask so John
slipped it into his back pocket and turned to the entrance of the
town hall. John noticed a warming sensation spread over his face.
Was that because they were almost caught or was it the
moonshine?
Aaron and Guy came into John‘s viewing range.
What are you two doing out here? Aaron wondered,
sounding suspicious.
Just taking in the fresh air, Shawn replied. Got a
problem with that?
No. We came to ask if you wanted to play some poker.
Alright, but this time I‘m quitting when I get to my last
penny.
No one forced you to lose all your money last time, Guy
said. Well, come on. We‘re about to start the game.
John hated this. Of course, they wouldn‘t invite him.
They never did.
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Shawn patted him on the shoulder. Don‘t worry. In no
time at all, you‘ll feel better. He ran into the building with Guy
and Aaron.
John stood there for a minute, waiting for the moonshine
to do its trick, but he didn‘t feel relaxed at all. Maybe he needed
more of it for it to work. He pulled it ou t of his pocket and drank
more. The flask was practically full. He wondered how much of
this liquid it took to take effect. Deciding that his tension was
pretty severe, he drank the whole thing. He waited until his
muscles began to relax before he sauntered back into the place.
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Chapter Ten
E
liza opened the kitchen door so Aaron and Shawn could help
John into his bedroom. They dumped him on the bed.
Thank you, she told them. There was no way I could
bring him here by myself.
I‘m sorry, Shawn said. I had no idea he‘d drink all the
moonshine.
About that. Give me that flask. Aaron held out his
hand.
No. I never get drunk off it. I just drink it once in
awhile to relax after a hard day of work.
I don‘t care. You don‘t need to be drinking it at all.
Don‘t you see what it‘s doing to Jerry and his marriage? Now,
give it to me.
Shawn loudly groaned but pulled it from his jacket pocket
and handed it to his brother. Fine. You never have any fun.
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I‘m the oldest brother in the family. It‘s my job to make
sure you don‘t have fun.
Shawn glanced at her and rolled his eyes. He means that
too.
We played poker, didn‘t we?
Sure. But you gave Ron his money back.
Because we don‘t rip anyone off in a game. Ron needs
that money.
You didn‘t mind ripping me off last time.
And you didn‘t mind cheating either.
Shawn threw his hands up in the air. I wasn‘t cheating. I
don‘t know how that ace found its way up my sleeve.
Aaron shook his head. We‘ll get out of your way, Miss
Sweet.
Eliza waved to the arguing brothers and went to help
John. She found him asleep on the bed, looking as if he didn‘t
have a care in the world. She‘d let him sleep with his clothes on,
but she had to take off his boots. As she slid the last boot off his
foot, he stirred.
She glanced up and saw that he was staring at her. She
placed his boot next to the other one and stood up, placing her
hands on her hips. You‘re drunk.
He smiled and motioned for her to get closer to him.
Oh no. I‘m not getting near you. You, Mister, are not in
control of anything you do. She‘d been around drunk men
before. The best thing to do was to get away from them.
He sat up and patted the space next to him.
It‘s a good thing you don‘t act this way when you‘re
sober because if you did, I would have left a long time ago. You
need sleep. Lie down and close your eyes. Oh, make sure you
sleep on your side. You don‘t want to choke on your vomit.
She turned to leave. Once morning came and he woke up,
he‘d be one unhappy man. Maybe she could get up early and
make some coffee.
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By the time she made it to the kitchen door, she heard
footsteps behind her. You need to go to bed. She peered over
her shoulder. Rest.
To her surprise, he stumbled forward and fell on the floor.
She should just leave him there, but she didn‘t have the
heart to leave him there all night. She hurried over to him as he
clumsily made his way to his feet.
He straightened his vest and smiled at her.
Come on. You need to go to bed. She reached for his
arm. This time you have to stay there, you hear?
He didn‘t budge.
John. Don‘t make this difficult.
He pointed to his ring finger.
She let her exasperation show. Even when he was drunk,
he couldn‘t stop proposing to her! What was she supposed to do
with him?
He took a step toward her, and before she could walk
back, he wrapped his arms around her.
John—
He didn‘t let her finish her sentence.
She gasped when he kissed her. The alcohol su re did
make him bold! He was still gentle, but he wasn‘t hesitant like
he‘d been that day he kissed her by the creek. She was too taken
off guard to know what to do, and for a moment she stood there,
in the kitchen with him, and just let him kiss her.
But the kiss was just as wonderful and sweet as it had been
that day when he first kissed her. She didn‘t want to enjoy it. She
knew she shouldn‘t. And yet, she did. It was different when a
man who cared for her kissed her than when one who wanted to
use her body kissed her. She couldn‘t exactly pinpoint the
difference, but she felt it.
Despite her better judgment, she leaned against him and
closed her eyes so she could better experience the kiss. Even if it
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was this one time, she wanted to thoroughly enjoy kissing a man
who sincerely cared for her.
He cupped her face in his hands and deepened the kiss.
She didn‘t realize she was clinging to him until her nails dug into
his shirt sleeves. His lips were soft and warm, and she parted her
mouth for him. He didn‘t seem to know what to do, so she traced
his lips with her tongue. He paused for a second before he
opened his mouth and let her taste him. The alcohol was evident,
but she didn‘t care. Who knew that kissing a man could be this
wonderful? This kind of thing could get addicting. He eagerly
responded to her and explored her, as she explored him. Her
heart raced with a mixture of joy and fear. She didn‘t know what
else to do but stay near him and experience the moment. It was as
if no one else existed. She loved it. Loved feeling as if they were
the only two people on earth and no one could come between
them. For the first time since her parents died, she felt safe and
protected. If only the feeling would last forever…
When his lips left hers, he pulled her closer to him and
kissed her forehead, her cheeks and her neck. She groaned. Her
body had been trained to respond to these things, though her
heart hadn‘t been. Up to this point, she kept her feelings closed
off from every man who‘d touched and kissed her. She struggled
for the ability to do that now, but it was hard to do something
when a part of her wanted to feel the uplifting emotion that made
her feel as if she could walk on water.
When he stepped away from her, she opened her eyes,
wondering why he stopped. Then he pulled something out of his
pocket. She had to squint in order to see it in the moonlight. A
ring. How long had he been carrying a ring with him? She was
too stunned to stop him as he reached for her hand and slid the
ring on her finger.
It was the most beautiful gesture a man had ever given
her. She wiped the tears from her eyes and imagined, just for this
moment, that she really could be a wife. Married to this sweet
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man and living in this simple house. The feeling was so real, and
she wanted to hold onto it. She used to dream of marrying a good
man long ago. Before her parents died and her entire world
changed. Back when she was innocent. But she wasn‘t innocent,
and no amount of wishing would make it so.
I can‘t, she cried and yanked the ring off her finger. Her
hands shook as she pressed the warm metal into the palm of his
hand. I just can‘t.
He fell on his knees and hugged her.
Stop. Please. I can‘t take this, she said as tears fell from
her eyes. Don‘t make this harder than it has to be.
But he wouldn‘t release her.
I‘m not who you think I am, John. You need a good
woman, one you can be proud to take home to your mother. You
deserve that.
He looked up at her and she saw the hurt in his eyes. The
greenest eyes she‘d ever seen. They were as beautiful as his heart.
I want to, she confessed, surprised even as the words
came out of her mouth. I do want to.
He took her hand again, but she snatched it back before
he could slip the ring back on her finger.
But I can‘t. I can‘t!
She pushed him away and ran out of the house. She
rushed to the safety of her simple dwelling and closed the door.
She leaned against it, and unable to stop her tears, she spent the
next hour crying.
***
The next morning came too soon, and Eliza remained on
the floor next to the door. She‘d managed to doze off a few times
but she couldn‘t successfully sleep. The kiss John had given her
the night before had unlocked a well of emotions that she had
trouble handling. She‘d gotten good at putting a mask on her face
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and acting as if everything was alright when it wasn‘t. Now the
mask had crumbled around her and she was left feeling far too
vulnerable.
She could still feel the cool metal of the gold band on her
finger. She swore the memory would be seared into her mind
forever. Was there anything lovelier than belonging to a man who
loved her? But he didn‘t know about her past. If he knew, he
wouldn‘t care for her. He just wouldn‘t, and she hated the
thought that he might not love her anymore. She wanted him to
love her.
But she shouldn‘t.
What about Daphne?
Is she here?
But she
It’s been two months. If she got delayed, surely she’d send
could show up.
a letter. Maybe she changed her mind. Maybe she isn’t coming.
It was possible. And if she wasn‘t coming, would it be
acceptable for her to marry John?
But he doesn’t know.
Tell him.
But what if he doesn’t want to be with me anymore?
And so the thoughts circulated in her head. If she knew
how to break the cycle, she‘d gladly do it.
Someone knocked on her door. Startled, she jumped off
the floor even though her body was sore and stiff. She quickly
wiped her face to get rid of the fresh tears and opened the door.
Good morning, she told John who winced. She lowered
her voice. Sorry.
He held a pad of paper and a pencil.
Let‘s go to the house. I‘ll make coffee and we can talk
there.
He nodded and walked with her to the house.
She placed the coffee pot on the stove, careful not to bang
it. What do you want to ask? she softly asked as she got
everything ready to make the coffee.
He thought for a moment and then wrote something
down.
When she finished, she sat next to him at the table and
took the pad. What happened last night? she asked. It was hard
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to tell if that‘s what he meant, but she figured after being drunk,
that he would naturally ask that question first.
He nodded.
Shawn gave you some moonshine to drink and you got
drunk from it. She paused and chose her next words carefully.
Do you remember what happened?
He took the pad and wrote on it.
Litle.
You remember a little bit.
He nodded.
What do you remember?
He scratched his head and then wrote down, Pepl lauf at
me. Aron tak me home. Yu tak bootz off. We kiss. I slepe on
floor.
Oh great. He remembered more than she‘d hoped he did.
She took a deep breath. Right. You were drunk so you started
dancing by yourself.
He cringed.
Aaron and Shawn brought you back here, and I took off
your boots so you could sleep comfortably in bed.
He nodded.
Then you asked me to marry you again and kissed me
again. I said no like I always do.
He nodded again.
She studied his face. He didn‘t look like he knew anymore
than that. That was good. If he knew that she let it slip that she
wanted to marry him, he‘d haul her off to the church right
away…whether he was feeling good or not. She cleared her throat
and continued. You didn‘t make it back to your bed. You ended
up sleeping on the floor. And now it‘s morning and your head
hurts.
He wrote something else and then handed it to her.
She laughed. Was the kiss good?
He nodded, his expression serious.
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If you don‘t remember enjoying it, then I guess it
wasn‘t. She tapped him on the ar m and gave him the pad back.
Good. They could continue on as if it never happened. I bet the
coffee‘s ready. She got out of the chair and checked it. Almost
ready.
He motioned to her.
She glanced over at him while she grabbed the cups.
What?
He held up the paper, pointed to his question and pointed
to her.
Did I think the kiss was good?
He nodded.
She hid her amusement. A lady doesn‘t discuss such
things.
Rolling his eyes, he pointed to her again.
Well, she guessed that she could at least make him feel
good about himself. I didn‘t hate it, she finally said.
He obviously didn‘t care for the answer.
That‘s all I‘m saying. Now, the coffee is ready. You‘ll
feel better once it‘s in your system. She poured the hot liquid into
their cups. I know this is terrible timing, but I need to go to the
general store. Frank said the apples will be in today, and I want to
try making you a pie.
He blanched and shook his head.
She placed the cups on the table and sat back down. You
can‘t avoid going to town for the rest of your life. So you did
something foolish. Everyone‘s done something stupid at one time
or another. You just need to pick yourself right back up and keep
going. You can‘t let these things set you back.
Picking up his cup, he shook his head again before he
drank from it.
Don‘t you want to try one of my pies?
He shook his head.
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What if I told you that this is important to me? I want to
see if I can do it.
His expression softened. Then he put the cup aside and
wrote, Mary me.
You spelled =Marry‘ wrong.
He rolled his eyes.
M-A-R-Y is a woman‘s name. See? She wrote the name
down. M -A-R-R-Y is to wed someone.
He took the paper and pencil from her and quickly
inserted a sloppy =R‘ to the word. Then he gave it to her.
You are impossible, do you know that?
Shaking his head, he pointed at her.
Me? I‘m not being impossible.
He shot her a =you‘ve got to be kidding me‘ look.
I told you from the beginning that I won‘t marry you. I
can‘t help it if you refuse to accept that answer.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring.
She held her breath. Did he remember?
He held it out to her.
She gulped her coffee even though it burned her tongue
and practically threw the cup in the sink.
He winced, making her regret making the loud noise.
I should wash up for the day, she whispered. I‘ll be
back. If you don‘t want to take me to town, then I‘ll go by
myself.
Giving her a =yuck‘ facial expression, he nodded.
=Yes‘ as in you‘ll take me?
He sighed but nodded.
Thank you, John. She paused on her way to the door.
She walked back over to him and kissed his cheek. I‘m sorry I
left you alone at the town hall. I had promised I wouldn‘t. I really
didn‘t think Bethany would keep me away for so long. You
getting drunk like you did was my fault.
He shook his head and pointed to himself.
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No. It‘s mine, she whispered and kissed the top of his
head.
As soon as she realized what she was doing, she excused
herself and left. She made her way to the well and gathered a
fresh pail of water. Once she shut the door of her home, she
poured the water into the basin. She had hoped he‘d kiss her
again. That‘s why she lingered by him like she had. What was
wrong with her? She‘d been granted a reprieve and all she could
do was tempt fate.
What was wrong with her?
You love him.
She washed her face, willing the nagging thought from her
mind. She was a prostitute for goodness‘ sakes! She had no right
to marry anyone.
You
were
a prostitute. You aren’t one now. You’ve been rescued
from that life.
She slowly dried her face with a towel. Did he have to
know? It wasn‘t like the past could be undone. Telling him
wouldn‘t change anything. And since Daphne decided not to
show up…Did it make any sense that they should spend their lives
alone?
She set the towel down on the nightstand and changed her
clothes. She didn‘t have to make a decision right now. It could
wait. What she needed to do was get ready so they could go to
town. She‘d thi nk about it later.
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Chapter Eleven
E
liza turned her gaze to the church. The memory of the ring
made her finger tingle. Maybe she should marry John right now.
Her heart pounded frantically in her chest as she quickly thought
over the implications of such a decision. She spent the entire ride
into town thinking through all the consequences of marrying him.
She recalled his kisses…the one by the creek…and the one last
night. Both had been so wonderful. She wanted to be kissed like
that for the rest of her life.
As she and John strolled down the road and neared the
white building, her steps slowed. John held two bags of food, and
despite the fact that his arms were full, he pointed at the church
and gave her a pleading look.
She didn‘t say no this time. Instead, she stopped and
glanced at him. He loved her. She could tell that in the way he
looked at her. She‘d seen other men give women the same
adoring look and never thought someone might look at her that
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way. But John was looking at her that way now, and it made her
stomach do crazy flip flops. Yes. She‘d marry him. The past was
the past and it could stay there. It was time to truly enjoy her life.
After all, hadn‘t Preacher Peters told her that God could give her a
new life and it‘d be like the past never happened? Maybe this was
her new start, a chance to erase all that had occurred.
Just as she was about to say yes, someone called out that
the stagecoach had just arrived. She turned her attention to the
group of people gathering to see who was coming.
This time it was only one person. A young woman. From
the looks of it, she was younger than Eliza. She was probably
Charity‘s age. Eliza could tell from the way she held herself that
she was a respectable lady, just like Charity. An uneasy feeling
unsettled her nerves. She had a nagging sensation that everything
in her newfound world was about to change. And not for the
better.
The young woman spoke with the mayor who pointed at
John.
Eliza closed her eyes and sighed. This whole time she‘d
hoped that Daphne would show up, and now that she had, Eliza
wished she hadn‘t. Taking a deep breath, she turned to John and
opened her eyes.
He hadn‘t been watching Daphne. He‘d been watching
her.
She‘s here, Eliza whispered. You should meet her.
John blinked, as if not understanding, but when someone
called his name, he finally turned his attention to the woman and
the mayor as they made their way to them.
Eliza stepped aside so the mayor and the young woman
stood before John. The woman wore a pretty yellow dress with a
matching hat. She had silky brown hair that rested softly against
her shoulders. She even offered a polite smile to Eliza who forced
a smile in return.
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You‘ll never guess who finally showed, Chandler Davis
told John. He laughed. Go ahead and guess.
John glanced at the mayor and then to the woman and
then to Eliza.
Eliza quickly looked away. It was hard enough to go
through this without seeing the unspoken question in his eyes.
What were they to do now? Well, the answer was simple. He‘d
marry the bride he sent for.
Chandler laughed again and patted John on the back. He
can‘t speak, so it‘s not fair to make him guess. John, this is
Daphne O‘Conner. You know, the mail-order bride you sent
for.
I know he can‘t talk, Daphne told the mayor. She
turned and gave John a soft smile. It‘s nice to meet you, John.
I‘m sorry I didn‘t get a chance to write and tell you I‘d be coming
in later than we agreed. You see, I ran into some problems with
the first stagecoach I took. Then I had to wait for another one to
come. Between all of that, I had to stay in a small town and wait.
I wanted to write but I lost your PO Box address.
What an unfortunate thing to happen, the mayor said,
shaking his head. It‘s good you made it.
I still haven‘t gotten my luggage though. That is still on
its way. I believe Mr. Bower said it will be here in two weeks.
Oh, how unfortunate. I‘m sure we can arrange for you to
get another dress and anything you may need until then. I‘ll send
you on over to Addy Garrison. She does most of the sewing in
town, and her husband owns the general store. They‘ll get you set
up, so you don‘t have anything to worry about.
Thank you. That‘s very nice of you.
Grinning widely, he shrugged. Think nothing of it.
You‘re a part of this community now, and if there‘s one thing we
believe in here, it‘s the importance of helping each other out.
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Of course that depends on whether or not you’re mute.
Eliza bit
her tongue so she wouldn‘t say the words that screamed in her
head.
This is a wonderful place, Daphne agreed, nodding. I
am looking forward to spending my life here. John, I hope you
don‘t mind waiting until my luggage comes in before we wed. I
put my wedding dress in there, and since I spent two months
making it, I do want to wear it.
Oh, why don’t they just get married now and get it over with?
Eliza
willed her thoughts to calm down. It was hard enough to go
through this without a prolonged engagement. She didn‘t realize
she‘d been gripping her purse until one of her fingernails ripped
the fabric. She immediately loosened her hold. She ventured a
look at John and saw him shaking his head.
The boy is anxious to make you his wife, Chandler
remarked, obviously amused. He turned to John. I realize it‘s
hard to wait, but you don‘t want Miss O‘Conner to miss out on
the chance to wear the dress she made, do you? That wouldn‘t be
fair to her.
I‘m sorry, John, Daphne said in her gentle voice. It is
important to me, but if you really do want to marry today, I‘ll
certainly do so.
John shook his head again.
The mayor looked satisfied. Oh well, there. That‘s good.
He‘s willing to wait. Two weeks isn‘t a long time. Actually,
neither is two months. Why, it was two months ago that Miss
Sweet here came to town.
Eliza almost jumped back at the mention of her made-up
last name. Two months ago?
The mayor chuckled. You came here two months ago,
remember?
She nodded. Yes. I did, she told Daphne.
She came to work for Melissa Peters, but the poor thing
had a terrible fall and had to be buried.
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Daphne brought her hand to her heart. No!
Yes. It was tragic. She was a good woman too. Since
that happened, Miss Sweet had nowhere to work, so John here
decided to employ her. She‘s been painting up his house and
doing things a maid does. Now, she stays in the small cabin on
his property, so there‘s nothing immoral going on between them.
No, there isn‘t, Eliza assured Daphne. I have my own
little house.
Daphne took her hand in hers. I‘m glad that you found
someone to give you a place to sleep and food to eat. I believe in
people helping each other. She turned to John. What a
beautiful thing you did for her. Then she returned her attention
to Eliza. I will make sure that you keep working out there. I
certainly don‘t want anyone to go hungry.
Eliza swallowed the bitter lump in her throat. Stay there?
And watch the two of them together?
Daphne released her hand and asked, Where did you
come from?
Startled by the change in topic, she hesitated before
answering. I came from Omaha.
That‘s a long way from here. I came from Ohio.
You had a longer journey than I did.
Part of it was by train. That‘s where my luggage is.
I hope it comes in soon.
How easy the lie came out, Eliza thought. She chastised
herself for wishing the wedding dress would never get here, for if
it didn‘t, Daphne wouldn‘t marry John. Then maybe she‘d go
back to Ohio and Eliza could have John again. Not that he was
ever hers to begin with. He had belonged to Daphne as soon as
she agreed to marry him.
Daphne directed her attention to the mayor. I must stay
in town until I‘m married.
Yes, Daphne O’Conner is every bit the lady.
She was polite,
kind, and pure. She probably wouldn‘t even hurt a fly. She would
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do the right thing and be blessed because of it. As Eliza watched
the mayor and Daphne discuss where she could stay, she couldn‘t
help but think of how much she hated Daphne. Daphne
represented everything that Eliza wanted to be but couldn‘t. She
also had what Eliza couldn‘t. Eliza glanced at John who was
staring at her. She quickly averted her gaze to Daphne and the
mayor.
I refuse to hate her. She’s done nothing wrong. She doesn’t deserve
to be hated.
Eliza didn‘t know what to do with her whirling
emotions except to force them back into the place where she put
all of her unwanted feelings. She‘d pretend that everything was
fine. The method had worked in the past. If she could think of
something—anything—that she‘d count as a blessing right now,
it‘d help. She ran through the things she was grateful for. A place
to eat, a place to sleep, a woman who was no longer a prostitute,
the chance to be a lady, having received a kiss from a man who
wanted more than a quick rump in the bed… No. She wouldn‘t
go there. She wouldn‘t think of John.
I appreciate the help, Mr. Davis, Daphne said, breaking
Eliza from her thoughts. I‘ll go see Mrs. Custer at once.
Eliza decided that she‘d start being friendly and this was a
good time to do so. Charity just arrived here two months ago
too. In fact, I came on the same stagecoach she did. I think you
two will get along very well. You have so much in common.
Like being proper young women.
Then I must meet her. Thank you, Miss Sweet.
Eliza returned her smile.
The mayor looked at John. You want to come along and
spend a little time with your intended?
John shook his head and nodded toward the groceries.
Alright. Go on home. But don‘t stay away for too long.
You got yourself a keeper, he replied.
I‘ll see you soon, John, Daphne promised.
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That, Eliza thought, is exactly what I‘m afraid of. She
breathed a sigh of relief as the two left. She caught sight of the
group of onlookers before she turned and walked in the direction
of John‘s wagon. He walked beside her and gestured, but she
pretended not to notice that he was trying to get her attention.
Instead, she stared straight ahead, only to glance back one time at
the church. She should have married him when she first got here
or at any of the other times when he asked. But now she missed
her chance, and it was too late. Now she wouldn‘t ever know
what could‘ve been.
***
John didn‘t want to leave town. He didn‘t want to marry
Daphne. It was unfortunate that she had been delayed, but let
Old Willy, Buck, Troy, or even Shawn marry her. Shawn was
close enough to her age since she was eighteen. Daphne had four
men to choose from. Certainly, that was more than enough. She
didn‘t need to be with him.
There was only one person he wanted to marry, and that
was Eliza. He had tried to get her attention as she walked back to
his wagon, but she wouldn‘t look at him. He thought she was
actually going to marry him until that stagecoach pulled in. There
had been a hesitation in her step and she had a thoughtful look on
her face, as if she was finally giving it serious consideration.
But then Chandler had called out his name and that was it.
All along, Eliza had been holding out for Daphne to appear. And
now she got her wish. He sat in front of his work bench where
the block of wood waited for him to cut into, but he didn‘t feel
like working. He felt like finding Eliza and hauling her to town
and to the preacher.
He looked out his window and saw that Eliza hadn‘t
returned from the creek. Maybe he should go there and ask her
what was on her mind. She hadn‘t told him anything. In fact, she
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remained quiet the entire way back. That wasn‘t like her. And it
worried him.
He took the ring out of his pocket and examined it. It
seemed to him that something important happened last night, but
he couldn‘t remember exactly what it was…well, besides the
kissing. She had said something that gave him hope. What was it?
He sighed and shoved it back into his pocket. He didn‘t want to
put the ring on Daphne‘s finger. He was going to have to explain
to her that he loved Eliza. It wasn‘t exactly what he was looking
forward to, but it had to be done. Then he could assure her that
there were other single men who would be more than happy to be
with her.
A horse neighed and he turned his attention to the
window. Old Willy rode up on his property.
John frowned and stood up. He put the hat on his head
and ran out to meet him.
Old Willy stopped the horse. Thank goodness. John, my
fence broke down an‘ that neighbor‘s dog has been findin‘ his way
into my shed. You know that‘s the shed I keep my paints in.
Well, the dog seems to think he can jump all over the place and
knock them down. I can‘t go on like this. If he keeps on
destroyin‘ my paint, how will I ever stay in business? Can you
repair the fence? I‘ll give you more free paint.
John nodded.
The man looked relieved. Thank you, John. I‘ll be at
home. I don‘ dare leave that place for long.
As Old Willy led the horse into a run, John turned in the
direction of the creek. He paused. He should bring something to
write on. He didn‘t know how to explain the situation to her
through gestures. Once he retrieved the paper and pencil from
the kitchen table, he walked to the creek where he found Eliza.
She was resting against a tree and had apparently fallen asleep.
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No wonder she stayed here for so long. He sat next to her
and got ready to wake her when he realized that she‘d been crying.
What made her sad? He gently shook her arm.
She slowly opened her eyes and jerked up when she saw
him. I didn‘t mean to fall asleep. She rubbed her eyes and
blinked several times as if she was having a hard time waking up.
He took the pad and wrote, Rong? Then he showed it
to her.
What‘s wrong?
He nodded.
Nothing. I‘m just tired, that‘s all. It was a long night.
He didn‘t believe her, so he shook his head.
Fine. If you think there‘s something wrong, then tell me
what it is.
He thought of all the possibilities and couldn‘t find
anything that applied. Finally, he shrugged.
So there you have it. Is that why you came out here?
Recalling his reason for being there, he wrote, Wily cam.
Need fix fens.
She read his words. Willy needs you to fix his fence?
He nodded. He did like being able to write his thoughts
out. It made it easier to communicate.
How long will you be gone?
He thought over how much time it might take and held up
two fingers.
Two hours?
Smiling, he nodded.
I‘ll have something ready for you to eat when you get
back.
As she stood, he reached for her hand.
What? Is there more?
He pointed to her ring finger.
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Loving Eliza
She pulled her hand away and snapped, I can‘t believe
you. Daphne‘s in town now. How can you persist in this now
that she‘s here?
He wrote, No want her. Want yu.
She came all this way to marry you, John. She‘s a good
woman. The kind you need to marry. She‘ll make you happy.
She‘ll give you lots of children.
He shook his head and pointed at her.
I can‘t give you what she can. I just can‘t.
Then he remembered the previous night when she looked
down at him and said she wanted to marry him but couldn‘t. He
smiled and quickly wrote, Yu sed yu want marry me. I rember.
She snatched the pad from him. Don‘t you have a fence
to fix?
He jumped up and took the ring from his pocket. He
pointed to her finger and then the ring.
Get out of here! Go! She threw the pad into the creek
and stormed off.
He followed her. He knew she wanted to be alone, but he
couldn‘t leave her be until she told him why she still rejected him,
even when he told her he didn‘t want to marry Daphne.
Stop it! She whirled around, making him jump back.
Just stop.
He pointed to his temple.
You already know what I‘m thinking.
He shook his head and pointed to the ring and then to his
temple. Then he shrugged.
She groaned. You won‘t give up, will you? No matter
what I say or do, you just won‘t stop.
Taking her hand, he pressed it to his heart.
She yanked her hand away. You love me?
He nodded.
Letting out a bitter laugh, she flung her arms in the air.
You love a prostitute, John?
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What was she talking about? He shook his head and
pointed at her.
Her face turned dark. I am a prostitute. That‘s what I
did in Omaha. I got paid to have men come to my bed.
He shook his head. No. She wouldn‘t do that kind of
thing.
What‘s so hard to believe about it? It‘s true. I started at
fourteen and went on until earlier this year. I‘m twenty-seven. I
was entertaining men in my bed for nearly thirteen years. I had all
kinds of men, John.
He didn‘t want to hear anymore. He put his hands over
his ears and closed his eyes. She was lying. She was just saying it
so he‘d back off from proposing to her.
She strode up to him and grabbed his hands.
He opened his eyes and saw the anger in her face before
he heard it in her voice.
It didn‘t matter what color or age they were or even what
they wanted to do. I did anything they wanted. I‘ve done many
things, John. I‘ve seen some perversions that would make your
head spin, and in the end, I couldn‘t tell what was right and what
was wrong. I just did it because I had to. But most of the men
who came to me were lonely. They just wanted someone to be
with, to take the edge off the pain that was in their life for one
night. I did it all. I gave each one what he wanted and it didn‘t
matter if he was married or not. Some of them had a wife and
children waiting for them at home. Do you get that? I committed
adultery too. And you want to marry someone who‘d do that?
He shook his head, denying it. She was just telling him
this to get rid of him. She didn‘t really do any of it.
That was my job. That‘s who I was. Now go to Daphne.
She‘s never been touched by a man. I can tell these things. I‘ve
done it long enough. You haven‘t been with a woman. It‘s
apparent in the way you kiss. You two need to be together. A
man and a woman who haven‘t been tainted by the world need to
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be together. She‘s a nice woman. She‘ll treat you well. She‘ll love
you and give you children. I can‘t give you children. The doctor
my boss hired made sure of that. They don‘t like whores to get
pregnant. It‘s bad for business.
He didn‘t want to hear anymore. He pushed her away and
ran to his house. He didn‘t even slam the door behind him. He
just collapsed on the floor and gave into the need to cry. He
couldn‘t recall the last time he cried. It must have been when he
was a child. As much as he wanted to keep denying Eliza‘s words,
he couldn‘t. Not really. He clutched his chest. His heart hurt. It
hurt to think of Eliza with other men who paid her to do things
that were supposed to be between a man and his wife. All his life
he‘d believe in the sanctity of the marital bed. To think of those
men kissing and touching her in places where they shouldn‘t…It
was too much.
Why? Why would she choose that life? And at such a
young age? She‘d been fourteen. She‘d done that for thirteen
years? Thirteen years of men groping her and doing
things…things he really didn‘t understand…to her. He knew
nothing about lovemaking, but there was no way that could be
loving. How could a man love a woman he bedded at his
convenience? Why did she do it? Did she enjoy that kind of
thing? Is that what she wanted?
He couldn‘t believe she was happy doing that. If she was
happy, then why would she leave? He didn‘t understand any of it.
He didn‘t even know if he wanted to. But he ha d to. He still
loved her. He had to find out. Sitting there on the floor and
wondering wasn‘t going to do him any good.
After he managed to collect his thoughts and clear his
head enough for a reasonable conversation, he left the house. She
wasn‘t anywhere in sight, but the door of her little home was
closed and she‘d drawn the curtains in the windows. Steadying his
legs, he walked forward, trying to think of how to approach this
situation.
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When he reached the door, he heard her crying. It hurt
her to tell him what she did, he realized. That meant that she
hadn‘t been proud of it…or liked it. Didn‘t it? If it made her
happy, she wouldn‘t be crying. He had to find out. He knocked
on the door.
Silence came from the other end. He waited for her to
open the door but she didn‘t. He knocked again. Still, she
refused to let him in.
A horse neighed, and John turned to see Aaron riding in
his direction. Old Willy said you planned to come over to work
on his fence. What are you doing here?
John motioned to the door.
Aaron rolled his eyes. Look, take it from a married man.
If a woman doesn‘t want to talk, there‘s nothing you can do to
make her. Now come on. You can talk to her when you get
back.
Deciding his brother was right, John reluctantly agreed
and got his tools together and headed for Old Willy‘s place.
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Chapter Twelve
J
ohn wanted to get back to Eliza, so he worked as fast as he
could in putting Old Willy‘s fence together. As he repaired the
places that needed attention, he had time to think about
everything Eliza told him. It still hurt. He hated knowing that
other men had been with her. It didn‘t seem fair. It was as if she
had belonged to him her entire life, and those men had robbed
that for both of them.
He had time to access the situation and concluded that
she‘d been ashamed when she told him. He could tell that by the
look in her eyes and the trembling in her hands. Her voice had
remained tough, though the rest of her hadn‘t. She wasn‘t proud
of her past, and he realized that was why she told him she couldn‘t
marry him. She wanted him to be with Daphne because, in her
mind, Daphne was better for him.
She was wrong. But how could he tell her that? He
picked up another stake and pounded it into the ground. He
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shouldn‘t have run from her. He just wanted her to stop talking.
He‘d heard enough—too much—to last him a lifetime. He didn‘t
want to hear anymore. She must have taken that the wrong way.
She must have assumed it meant he rejected her.
He finished the fence, noting that the dog watched him, as
if upset that his fun was now at an end. Ignoring the canine‘s
barking, he gathered his nails and hammer and put them into his
leather bag. He swung it over his shoulder and lumbered into Old
Willy‘s house.
The fence done? the older man asked.
John nodded.
Good. If Harvey‘d watch his dog, I wouldn‘ have called
you out. Oh well. I guess there‘s no use worryin‘ =bout the past.
What‘s done is done. At least things are fixed now.
John thought over the man‘s words and agreed with him.
What could either he or Eliza do about her life in Omaha? There
was no going back and erasing any of it. He‘d have to write that
down so Eliza could see it. Maybe if she understood that he
wasn‘t going to dwell on the past, she‘d marry him. In fact, that
was probably the reason she refused to be his wife all along.
As he left the house, Old Willy slapped him on the back.
I owe you more free paint.
John nodded that he understood and walked back to his
wagon. He supposed he should go see Daphne and tell her that
he didn‘t want to marry her. It‘d be only right, but he wanted to
clear things with Eliza first. He passed the church, wishing for the
hundredth time that Eliza had just married him. Maybe she still
would. He couldn‘t give up hope, not when he was so close to
having her as his wife.
The ride back home seemed to take forever, even though
he ran the horse as fast as he could. As soon as he unsaddled the
horse and set the animal out to pasture, he hurried to Eliza‘s
house. He knocked on the door and waited.
Nothing happened.
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That wasn‘t necessarily a surprise, but he suddenly realized
the curtains were open and everything was strangely quiet.
Sensing that he wasn‘t going to like what he found, he stepped to
the window and peered into the one room dwelling. His heart
beat picked up and his grip tightened on the wood frame of the
window sill.
No one was there. In fact, he didn‘t see any of Eliza‘s
things. He quickly opened the door and examined the room. The
bed was neatly made, and everything was in its proper location. It
was unsettling. He knew she left, but from all outward
appearances, no one would know it. He hurried to his trunk and
threw it open. Her travel bag had been in here, and now it was
gone. That confirmed his fears. He rummaged through the
room, trying to find a note or some indication of where she might
have gone.
Nothing.
It was as if she disappeared. He turned around one time,
his anxious gaze carefully sweeping the room. Releasing his
breath, he ran through a list of possible places she might have
gone. Somewhere in town was the obvious answer. But where?
Charity Custer‘s place? Addy and Frank‘s home? It had to be one
of those two. The town was a small place. She couldn‘t have
gone far, and surely, someone knew where she was.
He raced back to the pasture to get his horse saddled up
again.
***
Eliza hid in the cornstalks lining the path to town when
she heard the sound of a horse charging in her direction. She‘d
seen John on his way back from town, and now it looked like he
was heading back. Why he was heading back, she didn‘t want to
guess. Her heart constricted at the sight of him as he passed by
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her. Whatever was on his mind, he was in a hurry. Maybe he
wanted to see Daphne.
And wasn‘t that what she wanted? That‘s why she told
him the truth. So he‘d find Daphne and cling to her. They
deserved to be together. Eliza did the right thing by telling him
everything. Well, almost everything. She looked down at the
picture in her hand. Her son. The only child she would ever
have. A child born out of her uncle‘s lust. It didn‘t matter how
this child came to be. The fact was that he was her son and she
loved him. She always would. She prayed for him every night
since she came to God and changed her life.
She waited until John was safely out of sight before she
stood up and left the wall of corn. Clutching the picture to her
heart in one hand and holding the travel bag with the other, she
resumed her walk to town. The bag grew heavy but she pressed
on, knowing her arms would be sore the next day, even if she did
switch the bag to the other arm once in awhile.
By the time she made it to town, the evening sky brought
its assortment of yellows and pinks. It was such a pretty sight that
she stood on the edge of the town and stared out at the prairie
sky. It seemed to go on forever. She wished she could keep
walking and never get tired or hungry. Part of her just wanted to
leave and fade into that sky. Of course, such a thing was
impossible.
She sighed and cautiously approached the main street. She
recognized some of the people, and thankfully, none were John.
Mentally calculating how much money she had, she figured she
could afford a room at the boarding house. As soon as she found
a paying job, she could afford rent and food. At least her needs
would be taken care of.
She crossed the street and passed some of the homes.
One of those homes happened to be Charity‘s house. She glanced
over and saw John leave through the front door. Scurrying to the
nearest building, she struggled to calm her nerves. She shouldn‘t
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Loving Eliza
look. Oh, she knew she shouldn‘t! But she had to see it again.
Before she changed her mind, she peered around the building and
saw Daphne and Charity talking to John on the porch.
It shouldn‘t surprise her. She told him to go to Daphne.
And yet, she had to force back the tears that welled in her eyes.
What did she expect? What
could
she expect? He only did what
she ordered him to do. Surely, there was no fault on his part.
Finding little consolation in the admission, she forced her feet
forward and hurried to the boarding house. The sooner she got
into her new room, the better.
She prayed that John and Daphne would stay out of town
as much as he did now. She couldn‘t bear to see them
together..and happy. Someone called her name. She stopped.
Was it John? No. Of course not. John couldn‘t speak. Relieved,
she turned around, surprised to see Troy walking toward her.
He waited until he caught up to her before he spoke. Is
something wrong?
She relaxed. No. I thought since Miss O‘Conner
showed up that it‘d be best if I came to stay in town. It was the
truth…in a roundabout way.
He nodded. That‘s understandable. If it were me, I‘d do
the same thing.
If only you knew…
She cleared her throat and blew a strand of
hair out of her eyes. I should get to the boarding house.
I can help you with your bag.
She hesitated, not sure she wanted him to be near her.
Could she trust him? Pushing aside the notion, she handed him
the bag. She could trust him. He was John‘s brother after all.
Tucking the picture in her shirt sleeve before he could see it, she
said, Thank you.
He joined her in strolling by the closed businesses. People
milled about and conversed, content to relax after a hard day of
work. She didn‘t bother making eye contact with any of them.
She knew John wouldn‘t tell anyone about her past, but she still
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felt exposed, as if they could tell what she‘d done just by looking
at her.
You didn‘t bring much with you, Troy stated. This bag
is light.
I don‘t need much.
I suppose not. So, did John bring you in?
What was the best way to answer that question? She ran
through a list of possible things to say but finally decided on the
truth. No. I left while he was here in town fixing the fence for
Mister Jafferty.
Didn‘t you tell him you were coming in?
She shrugged, glad that they had finally arrived at the
boarding house. I didn‘t see any need to. He‘ll figure it out
when he gets home. She didn‘t want to answer more of his
questions. It was hard enough to say what she already had. It wa s
painful to leave John. Anyway, he‘ll have his mail -order bride
now, and that‘s what matters.
Right. I agree. He motioned to the front door. I
might as well bring this in for you.
Oh. She shifted from one foot to the other. Alright.
She climbed the porch steps, aware that he was behind
her…and probably watching. When she glanced over her
shoulder, he averted his gaze. She hastened her steps and
knocked on the door. The sooner she got into the house, the
better. She rubbed her arms. Though it wasn‘t cold, she felt chilly
and she wasn‘t sure why.
The door opened and Molly Richie smiled at them. How
may I help you?
I came to ask you about a room. Do you have one
available? Eliza already knew the answer was yes since Addy had
told her that Molly was looking for another tenant. Still, she
didn‘t want to come right out and demand a room.
Molly waved her in. I sure do.
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Eliza turned to Troy. Thank you again for carrying my
bag for me. She held out her hand to take it.
He gave it to her and tipped his hat. It was my pleasure.
I‘ll see you around town. Good evening, Mrs. Richie.
Eliza exhaled, surprised that she‘d been holding her
breath. Now that she stepped into Molly‘s parlor, she felt her
tension subside.
I thought you were working for John, the woman said
as she encouraged her to sit.
Eliza settled in the chair and placed the bag by her feet.
Yes. Well, I‘m guessing you heard about Miss O‘Conner‘s arrival
today?
The woman‘s eyes lit up as she sat across from her. Yes,
as a matter of fact I did. Oh, well no wonder. You‘ll be needing a
place to stay. Fortunately, I have a nice room available. It has a
lovely view of the town so you can see everything that‘s going
on.
Great. Just what she needed: a view of John and Daphne.
You do have thick curtains, don‘t you? That way she could dra w
them tight and block them out. Out of sight, out of mind.
I do have curtains but they aren‘t very thick. Does the
moonlight bother you?
Sometimes I like to take a nap during the day, and the
sunlight can be bright. At least that was true. She wa s used to
resting at some point in the daytime. She usually spent part of her
nights staying up to read…now that she had a bed to herself all the
time. She sighed. Recalling the past wasn‘t something she wanted
to do, so she shoved the memories safely back where she wouldn‘t
have to deal with them. Shifting in the chair, she continued, I do
intend to work and pay my rent. Do you know anyone who‘s
hiring?
Molly leaned back and tapped the tip of her index finger
against her lips. As a matter of fa ct, I do. Harriet Lube needs
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someone to clean her house. She‘s too old to do it herself
anymore.
Relieved, she smiled. I can clean houses. She had
cleaned John‘s, so she now had experience doing that. Are there
any other houses that need cleaning?
I don‘t know of any off the top of my head, but I‘ll keep
an ear open in case I hear of any.
That sounds good. Eliza bent forward and opened her
travel bag. How much should I pay you?
I ask for $8 upfront.
Her stomach tightened into a knot. $8?
I know that‘s two weeks‘ worth of rent, but ever since
Malcom ruined one of my rooms, I learned it was necessary to ask
for renter‘s insurance. He never did pay for the damages. I had
to repair the whole room on my dime. That wasn‘t cheap. She
paused and smiled. I don‘t mean to be cruel. I just need to
protect my home.
Eliza glanced at the money in her hand. She only had $10.
That seemed like a large amount when she left Omaha. Now it
didn‘t look like it was that much after all. She looked back up at
the woman. So how much is it a week?
$4.
And the $8 will only get me through one week?
Technically, $4 of that $8 is for the renter‘s insurance.
She took a deep breath. She didn‘t even have enough for
two weeks. Does the $4 include meals? Even as she said it, she
winced. It sounded pathetic. But what could she do?
Well, yes. Food can get expensive.
What if I didn‘t eat here?
Then I suppose we could agree to $3 a week. So you
would only have to pay me $7.
So that made it $4 for the insurance and $3 for the week.
She had $3 left. That at least gave her another week. Alright,
Mrs. Richie. Here‘s the $7.
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The woman took the money and stood up. I will show
you to your room.
Eliza obediently followed her up the narrow staircase.
That woman you mentioned who needs her house
cleaned…What‘s her name?
Harriet Lube.
Do you think I could stop by her house tomorrow to ask
about the job?
I‘m sure she‘d welcome it, dear. The poor thing hasn‘t
had anyone to clean her place in almost a year.
That long? Why?
The woman shrugged as they reached the top of the
staircase. Who knows? The last person who worked for her just
quit and never said why.
Good. That would give her a star t on earning money.
I‘ll stop and see her tomorrow then.
She‘ll like that. It‘ll help ease the loneliness. Molly
pointed to the opposite end of the hallway. Alan Grey stays in
that room. He‘s been a recluse ever since his wife died. Now, in
the next room is Erica Strickland. She‘s nearing sixty and spends
most of her time sleeping and sitting in the parlor. Then there‘s
you. My bedroom is next to yours.
Eliza followed Molly to the small room with a made up
bed, a dresser, and a rocking chair and small table.
This is your room. That big window will give you the
view I told you about.
Eliza entered it and set the travel bag down. In some ways
it reminded her of her place next to John‘s house. She walked to
the window and looked out of it. Just as Molly said, she could see
the main street and most of the houses in the area. She could
even see the road that led out to John‘s land. She quickly closed
the curtains. They weren‘t going to block out all of the light, but
they blocked the view well enough and that‘s all that mattered.
This room is perfect, Eliza said.
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Molly gave her a wide smile. I‘m glad you think so. I
pride myself on being a good hostess. I‘ll bring a pitcher of water
and a bowl for you. If you need the privy, it‘s out back. There‘s
also a chamber pot under the bed. Baths are allowed once a week.
Your turn will be Saturday at six in the evening. We all must be as
clean as possible when we go to church.
Thank you.
I‘ll return with that pitcher and bowl.
As soon as Molly closed the door, Eliza pulled the picture
from her sleeve and stared at it. It had given her comfort ever
since her son‘s adopted parents sent it to her. He‘d been six
months old when it was taken. She wondered what he looked like
now. He‘d be twelve. She imagined he was a happy boy. His
parents seemed like nice people. She crawled into bed and held
the picture to her breast. The exhaustion of the day suddenly
caught up to her. She hadn‘t slept much the night before, and the
day had been grueling.
At least it’s over. I can finally rest.
She slowly
inhaled and then released her breath.
She‘d make it. She always did. No matter what life
handed her, she would survive. She did before and she would
again.
The door creaked open.
Her eyelids fluttered and she saw Molly gently placing the
pitcher and bowl on the dresser. Sleep well, Miss Sweet. Then
she turned the knob on the kerosene lamp until only a dim light lit
the room.
Eliza wanted to respond, to thank her, but she was too
tired, and before she knew it, she fell into the bliss of sleep where
all aches and pains disappeared.
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Loving Eliza
Chapter Thirteen
J
ohn had hoped that Eliza would be back at his place when he
returned. The first thing he did was check the little home he‘d
given her to stay in. But it was empty. He stood in the doorway,
unsure of what to do. He‘d looked all over town, starting with
Frank and Addy‘s place and then to the boarding house before he
finally made his way to Charity‘s home. He couldn‘t think of
anywhere else she might stay. While he was at Charity‘s, he tried
to ask the marshal to search for her, but the man shooed him
away as if he were a child. When John grabbed the marshal by the
shirt collar, Daphne intervened and after a good fifteen minutes of
trying to write down what he wanted, she finally translated it to
the big oaf who—at long last—left the house to notify everyone
in town that he was looking for Eliza.
John had also taken the time to tell Daphne that since she
had been delayed, he had gotten to know Eliza and wanted to
marry her. He apologized and hoped she would soon find one of
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the other single men in town who were more to her liking.
Daphne said she understood, and Charity started making plans on
which available bachelor would be the best pick to go after.
John took his time in returning home. The sun was
setting, which made it hard for him to examine the landscape.
Perhaps Eliza had decided to leave town altogether. But where
would she go? There wasn‘t anything around them for miles.
He heard a noise. Hoping it might be Eliza, he turned
around but only saw a deer leap out of sight. He lowered the
lantern and lumbered to his house. The absence of Eliza‘s chitter
chatter was deafening. He‘d been used to silence before she came,
but once she made her home here, he‘d had the pleasure of her
voice. Whether she talked to him or sang, she had delighted him
with her presence. And now she was gone.
Where did she go?
He swallowed the lump in his throat and blinked back his
tears. He didn‘t want to cry. Crying didn‘t solve anything. He
needed solutions. He needed information. He needed to act. But
what else could he do? He‘d already exhausted all of his ideas.
Entering the house, he set the lantern on the kitchen table and sat
down. He took a moment to look at the yellow walls. She
enjoyed the color yellow.
His gaze drifted to the wilting yellow flowers at the center
of the table. Flowers didn‘t last long once they were plucked from
the ground, but there were so many on the property, she could
pick a dozen each day and still have more to choose from. Now
she wouldn‘t be picking flowers and that made the place seem
emptier as well.
I shouldn’t have run from her. I should have stayed.
It was his
fault she left. She told him a part of her past that he hadn‘t
wanted to hear and he ran away from her. He put his face in his
No. Don’t cry.
hands and took a deep breath, fighting off the tears.
Crying won’t solve anything.
In many ways, crying was admitting
defeat. People cried when things were hopeless.
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But this couldn‘t be hopeless. Once Eliza found out that
he was no longer engaged to Daphne, she‘d understand how
much she meant to him. Then she‘d come back. He couldn‘t
marry Daphne. If he did, he‘d always be wishing he‘d married
Eliza instead. Then he‘d be doing wrong by Daphne, for what
woman wanted to be married to a man who secretly loved
another? He sighed. No. If he couldn‘t marry Eliza, he didn‘t
want to be married at all.
***
Eliza sat up and straightened her back. The late morning
sunlight struck her eyes and made her wince. She lowered her
head and wiped the sweat off her brow. The kitchen floor was
almost clean now. She leaned forward on her knees and dipped
the rag into the soapy water and rang out the dirt. Harriet Lube
had needed someone to clean her house in the worst possible way.
As tired as Eliza was, she was satisfied that she was doing honest
work. Work she could be proud of. That counted for something.
She placed the rag back on the floor and scrubbed the
grime from the wooden surface. Several strands of her hair fell
into her mouth. She tried to spit them out but the strands were
resistant things, so she threw the rag down and forced the
rebellious hair back into the bun. She‘d have to wear a braid
tomorrow.
Girl?
Eliza glanced up as Harriet used her cane to help her limp
across the floor. Yes, Mrs. Lube? She sat up and placed the rag
in the bucket.
After you‘re done in here, I need you to go into the attic
and clear it out. I‘m not getting any younger, and it‘s time I threw
some things out.
Yes, Mrs. Lube.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
I will need you to haul all that junk to the garbage heap
out past Third Road.
Where do I get a wagon to carry everything?
I don‘t know. That‘s not my problem.
Do you know someone who‘d loan me one?
Girl, I hired you to figure that kind of thing out. Now, I
must get something to eat.
Food. Eliza‘s stomach grumbled, reminding her that she
hadn‘t had supper the previous night or breakfast that morning.
May I make it for you? I can cook.
I‘m not paying you to eat. I‘m paying you to work.
She clenched her skirt so she wouldn‘t snap at her
employer. She needed the money. The woman promised $5 a
week. That‘d be enough for the rent and food. If she was careful,
she could buy clothes or other necessary items as the need for
them arose. She waited for a moment to calm down before she
spoke. I haven‘t had anything to eat since yesterday afternoon.
Couldn‘t I grab a quick bite? I‘ll even make the meal.
The woman frowned. I‘m being generous with the
money I‘m going to pay you at the end of this week, aren‘t I?
Well…yes, ma‘am, and I appreciate it, but I can‘t do my
job if I‘m hungry.
Then go and eat. While you‘re taking the things from the
attic to the garbage heap, stop by Rhonda‘s restaurant. Harriet
shuffled over to the table in front of the window and took a loaf
of bread out of her breadbox. Now, when you go out to eat,
don‘t take more than twenty minutes. And that will be once a
day.
Eliza knew when it was pointless to argue, so she turned
back to her work and continued scrubbing the floor while Harriet
made a large sandwich and ate it right in front of her. Eliza‘s
mouth watered and stomach rumbled to the point of pain, but she
pressed on in the task.
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Loving Eliza
Finally, when she was done, she dumped out the bucket of
dirty water and went up to the attic which was full of cobwebs and
junk that hadn‘t seen the light of day in well over ten years. She
sat down for a moment and closed her eyes. She was hungry, and
her employer just told her she had to take away some of this junk
in order to eat. But she had to find a wagon first. Maybe she
could slip into that restaurant as she looked for the wagon.
Harried didn‘t have to know.
Eliza decided on that plan and climbed down the ladder
and then down the steps to the first floor where Harriet had
nodded off to sleep. Good. She could just do her task and not
worry about upsetting the old bat. Eliza realized it wasn‘t a
Christian thing to do—thinking poorly about another human
being—but she couldn‘t deny that she didn‘t like the woman.
From the moment she met her, Harriet Lube struck her as a
crotchety woman who had nothing better to do than sulk in her
own state of misery. Miserable people often made others
miserable. Life had taught her that, and that was why Eliza vowed
that no matter what, she wouldn‘t fall into that trap. Despite her
circumstances, she‘d be pleasant to others.
She slipped into the restaurant and saw Addy talking to
Cynthia Taggert. As soon as Addy saw her, she waved to her.
Glad to see a friendly face, Eliza rushed over to the table and sat
down. She glanced at the clock. She‘d have to be careful to keep
her time to twenty minutes.
You had me worried, Addy said, clasping her hand.
Eliza blinked. Why?
Don‘t you know?
Cynthia stood up. I‘ll leave you two to talk. I‘ll see you
both at church.
Eliza smiled and nodded as the woman left. Turning her
attention back to Addy, she asked, What is it? What don‘t I
know?
That John‘s been looking all over for you.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Yes. Well, I
thought it best if I stop working for him. Miss O‘Conner will be
out there soon enough, and the last thing they need is for me to
interfere.
Oh, then you don‘t know.
Know what?
Rhonda left a table of laughing men and came over to
them. Good day. What can I get you two to eat?
Addy glanced up. I‘d like the ravioli.
I‘ll have the same, Eliza said not really caring what she
ate as long as it was edible. She couldn‘t wait until the food
arrived. Just the smell coming from the kitchen made her weak.
Once Rhonda left, Addy said, John broke off the
engagement.
She gasped. What? But why?
Addy smiled. Isn‘t it obvious?
Her face flushed. She hoped it wasn‘t because of her.
Isn‘t what obvious?
He loves you. I could tell when I saw you in church
together.
Rhonda set two cups of coffee in front of them.
Thank you, Addy said, picking up her cup and taking a
sip. Ooh. It‘s still hot. She quickly put it down.
Eliza felt sick to her stomach. Why would he go and do
something so foolish? Did he think she was lying about being a
prostitute? It‘d hurt to tell him. She knew he had thought of her
as a lady. He certainly treated her like one. But she had no
choice. Still, he couldn‘t give up the chance to be with Daphne.
If he did, Eliza would never forgive herself.
He promised Daphne that he‘d marry her, Eliza finally
said and took her cup in her hands.
Maybe, but she didn‘t show up and you did. It seems to
me that God had other plans in mind.
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Loving Eliza
She gave a bitter laugh. God didn‘t plan that one. I
assure you of that. She took a sip of the coffee despite the fact
that it was still hot. She needed something to occupy her mouth,
and it felt good to drink something. Harriet had allowed her one
glass of water when she arrived at her house that morning but that
had been it.
God works in mysterious ways, Addy said, grinning.
Eliza breathed a sigh of relief as Rhonda placed a plate of
ravioli in front of her. She eagerly grabbed her fork and dug into
the meal. As soon as she realized how unsophisticated she must
look, she forced herself to slow down.
Where are you staying? Addy asked as she bit into her
food.
Eliza brought the fork to her mouth. I‘m at Molly‘s
boarding house. Then she ate the ravioli. Cheese never tasted so
good!
John went there. He must have been there before you
arrived. Eliza, can you afford a boarding house?
Yes. I got a job that pays well. I‘m doing fine.
That‘s good. You do know that if there‘s anything you
need, you can come to me.
Eliza ate another bite of ravioli and smiled. Thank you,
Addy, but I‘m doing fine. I came here to be on my own, and now
I‘m doing it.
Addy nodded.
Oh, I do need something. Do you know anyone who has
a wagon that I might borrow?
Sure, I do. Frank has one. He needs it for the store. Do
you need someone to drive it?
She hadn‘t thought of driving it. I should. I am not
familiar with horses.
Well, if Frank is unavailable, then you can go to Willy.
You‘ve met Willy, haven‘t you?
Yes. He‘s a nice man.
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Very nice. Willy‘s the kind of person who‘ll do anything
for anyone in need.
Thank you, Addy. I‘ll remember that.
After she was finished eating, she went to Frank and asked
for use of the wagon. When she realized that Frank had to stay at
the store, she went to Willy‘s house.
As she was about to knock on his door, Troy called out to
her. She quickly knocked and turned to him. Willy would open
the door soon, and she‘d feel better. She didn‘t know what it was
about Troy that bothered her, but she felt it best to limit their
conversations.
How are you doing? Troy asked her.
Good.
You managing alright?
Yes. I‘m doing fine, thanks. Where was Willy?
I‘m glad to hear that.
The door opened and she said a silent prayer of thanks for
the interruption. Hello, Mister Jafferty.
Hello, Miss Sweet, Mister Evans, the man replied,
straightening his shirt. How may I help you?
I was just over at Mister Garrison‘s store, and he said I
could borrow his wagon but I‘ve never driven one before so I was
wondering if you could help me with that? I need to empty out
Mrs. Lube‘s attic, and she wants her things taken to the garbage.
I‘d be happy to help you, Willy said. Let me get my hat
and vest on, and I‘ll be right out.
Thank you.
Troy smiled. You know, I have a wagon too. Should
you ever need one in the future and if Willy‘s not able to help, I‘d
like to offer my services.
I‘ll keep that in mind, and it‘s nice of you to offer. She
prayed she‘d never need to take him up on that.
To her surprise, the marshal walked over to them. Thank
goodness I finally found you, Miss Sweet.
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Loving Eliza
Her eyes widened. Did Harriet send the marshal to look
for her? Is there a problem, Marshal?
No, but at least Miss O‘Conner can rest assured you‘re
safe. That John came by last night and insisted that I do a search
for you. Never mind that you are an adult woman who is fully
capable of leaving him if you wish. Quite frankly, I don‘t know
why you agreed to work for him in the first place. But that‘s just
me. Anyway, now I can tell Miss O‘Conner I found you.
Miss Sweet is staying at Molly‘s, Troy said on her behalf.
That‘s a good choice. Molly is a nice woman. She‘ll do
you right. That‘ll make Miss O‘Conner feel better, which means
that my wife will feel better.
Eliza wondered if she should have left John a note. Then
he wouldn‘t have worried other people. Oh well. There was
nothing to be done about it now. Hopefully, things would settle
down and he‘d rethink breaking off the engagement to Daphne.
She could only hope he‘d do that, even if a part of her dreaded it.
As the marshal headed off, Willy asked, Why did you
leave John‘s place?
Was it really any of his business? Or anyone‘s business?
But Willy had been kind to John—one of the few people in town
who actually were nice to him—so he deserved respect. I left
because Miss O‘Conner is in town now, and I know that a woman
doesn‘t want to share her space with another woman, even if that
other woman is the help.
I‘m sorry you had to leave. John‘s a good man, and I‘m
sure he‘s better than Mrs. Lube. That woman‘s a hard one to deal
with.
Is she? Here it came. What he‘d say next would only
confirm her fears.
She‘s got to be. No one works for her for long. I think
the longest anyone‘s worked for her was half a year.
Troy shrugged and crossed his arms. Well, that don‘t
matter. I‘m sure Eliza can find a man who‘d be more than happy
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to marry her. Then she won‘t have to deal with Mrs. Lube or any
other job.
This wasn‘t going well. She didn‘t have any desire to
marry Troy.
Willy closed the door. Anyway, I best get you over to
Mrs. Lube‘s before she starts screamin‘.
Oh, you‘re jesting. She wouldn‘t really scream, Eliza
said, grinning.
He raised an eyebrow. I‘ve seen it before. She had that
Marcia cryin‘ that one time. I‘ll never forget how afraid of Mrs.
Lube she was after that.
Then Marcia married Stephen and she‘s fine now, Troy
interjected.
True. Stephen‘s a good man. Treats her real well too.
Eliza sighed. I better get back then. Will you take the
wagon over there? I‘ll start clearing out her attic.
I‘ll help too, Troy offered. I got the rest of the day off
and nothing to do.
Troy…with her all afternoon? Eliza quickly looked at
Willy. Will you help?
Sure, I will. Any friend of John‘s is a friend of mine, and
I believe in helpin‘ my friends whenever I can.
Troy seemed disappointed, but she didn‘t care. She liked
Willy and was relieved he‘d be there too. I‘m fortunate to have
the help of two strong men.
They both beamed at her, so she left it at that. She just
hoped that none of them got the wrong idea about this.
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Loving Eliza
Chapter Fourteen
T
hat Sunday, Eliza almost didn‘t go to church. What if John was
there? What if he came with Daphne? What if he didn‘t? What if
he came to see her? What if he didn‘t come at all? Life had
continued on without him, but she felt a lingering emptiness. Is
this what it felt like to be in love? She‘d never experienced love
with a man before, so she wasn‘t prepared for how much it hurt
to leave John.
She stood outside the church and took a deep breath. For
a moment, she imagined what might have been if she had married
John here. He‘d always make it a point to stop and point to the
church anytime they came to town. His persistence annoyed her
to no end, but now she wanted nothing more than to have him
ask again. But it wouldn‘t be fair to him. Not really. He deserved
better than her.
She peeked into the church and saw that he was there,
sitting in the pew they usually sat in together. Frank and Addy
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Ruth Ann Nordin
were talking to him. She shook her head. No. She couldn‘t do it.
She couldn‘t face him. Not today. Maybe she could next week.
She turned and fled down the street, not caring if anyone saw her
or not.
She glanced over her shoulder and bumped into someone.
She nearly shrieked. Then she looked forward and saw Daphne
who was with Charity, Bethany, and Ralph. Oh, Miss O‘Conner.
I‘m sorry. Really, that applied to bumping into her and being
responsible for John breaking the engagement.
Daphne smiled and shook her head. I know it was an
accident. There‘s no need to apologize. Would you like to join us
for church this morning?
Daphne had to be kidding! What woman wanted to sit
with the woman who took her intended away from her?
You‘re more than welcome to join us, Charity offer ed.
Eliza wouldn‘t step into that church right now if her life
depended on it. Thank you for the offer, but I don‘t feel well.
What‘s wrong? Daphne asked, looking concerned. Is
there anything we can do to help?
Daphne‘s kindness was making Eliza feel worse by the
minute. She couldn‘t bear to be around someone this good.
John‘s there, she blurted out before she had the chance to think
over the wisdom of her words. Maybe you should sit with him.
I mean, I heard that you‘re no longer engaged, but he doesn‘t
know you. You shouldn‘t just give up on him.
I don‘t understand. I thought you two were planning to
get married.
Eliza nearly gasped. What? No! I never said I‘d marry
him.
See? Ralph inserted. I told you.
Daphne shook her head. But John came by looking for
you. It was obvious that he was upset that you left his place. And
there has been talk-
Talk? What kind of talk?
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Loving Eliza
Nothing much really, but a few people said you two
looked happy together and then he came by to tell me he loved
you and needed to break off his engagement to me.
But that‘s because he didn‘t know you. He‘s never spent
time with any woman. I was only there to help him with his place.
I never gave him reason to think I‘d marry him.
A wise move, Ralph muttered under his breath.
Charity and Bethany nodded.
Eliza ignored them. Anyway, I knew you were his mail-
order bride, and I respected that. Believe me, I don‘t want to
come between you two.
I know that, Daphne replied. But you should
understand that I only met him through two letters. Actually, his
brother, Aaron, wrote on his behalf. I had no attachment to
him.
You should get to know him. He‘s a sweet man, and
you‘re a sweet woman. The two of you should be together. He
and I just don‘t belong together. At least take the time to talk to
him. Eliza caught sight of Troy as he walked down the street.
She cringed. Look. I have to go home and lie down. Please
think about what I said.
Before they could respond, she hurried in the opposite
direction. Troy‘s intentions were too obvious, and she found the
best thing to do was to avoid him altogether. By the time she
made it back to the boarding house, she was out of breath. She
was about to run up the steps and hide out in her room when she
realized someone sat in the parlor, reading a book. She had met
all the boarders except for one.
She stepped into the room and wandered over to the
bookcase. Molly had a lot of good books here, and her eyes fell
on one by William Shakespeare called
Romeo and Juliet
. She read
the back cover and decided that it sounded like an interesting
book. Two people falling in love despite their feuding families.
She decided she would read it.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
As she sat in a chair across from the man, she glanced in
his direction. Her eyes fell on the title of the book he was reading.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain.
Mister?
He jerked, as if startled that she spoke to him. He was an
older man, probably in his late forties with graying black hair and a
mustache. He was rather pleasant looking, though she sensed
loneliness in his blue eyes. With all her experiences with men,
most had that same lonely look, as if life had done them a wrong
turn. She wouldn‘t ask him about his past. She rarely asked men
what troubled them. Usually, they just came out and told her
anyway.
She cleared her throat and motioned to his book. I see
that you‘re reading
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
. Is it any good?
After a moment of moving his mouth but not speaking, he
finally said, Yes, it is.
What is it about?
A twelve year old‘s adventures.
Oh. That didn‘t sound very interesting. She‘d much
rather read a love story, like the one in her lap.
I‘ve read this book five times already, and each time it
gets better.
Why?
I get a better understanding of the characters, like Tom‘s
aunt and his good friend Huck. Of course, it doesn‘t hurt that
Tom saw a murder.
A murder? Well, she had to admit that a murder was
interesting.
I shouldn‘t spoil it for you, in case you want to read this.
She nodded. Would she read such a book? Currently, she
had two books in her possession that she had read. One was the
Bible and the other was
The Scarlet Letter
.
The Scarlet Letter
gave her
hope. If Hester Prynne could rise above the stain of adultery,
then maybe she could rise about the stain of prostitution. Only,
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Loving Eliza
she hoped no one would be putting a big letter on her chest like
they did to Hester. It was bad enough that John now knew her
shame. She knew he wouldn‘t tell anyone else. But how she
wished she‘d never had to tell him!
Shakespeare is good too, the man said.
She turned her head in his direction. I‘m sorry?
William Shakespeare. He‘s good too. My wife never
could get into his style though.
You‘re married.
Was.
Oh. That’s right. His wife passed away.
She‘d forgotten Molly
had told her that. That‘s why she sensed that he was lonely.
That‘s a real shame, Mister.
He swallowed and nodded.
She felt bad for him. The world, it seemed, was full of
suffering men. She guessed women suffered as much but she
hadn‘t been in the business of catering to them, so she only
understood men. And this man needed a friend but refused to
take the initiative to make one. Have you met Willy Jafferty?
No, but I‘ve heard of him.
Then you know he also lost his wife not too long ago?
Yes.
And unlike Willy, he hadn‘t moved on. And unlike Willy,
he would attach himself to the first woman who showed a sincere
desire to get to know him. He was much too vulnerable. It was
written all over his face. I suppose that I should take this
upstairs.
What‘s your name?
Slowly standing, she answered, Miss Sweet. There, that
ought to keep it formal. A first name was much too personal, and
that was the last thing he needed. If he were to meet a woman,
she‘d have to be genuinely interested in him.
My name is Alan Grey.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Yes, I know. Molly told me when I first came here.
Before he could ask for her first name, she said, I have a
headache. I must rest.
She hurried out of the room and up the steps, relieved that
she didn‘t make matters worse. The last thing she needed was to
cause another man grief. After she entered her room, she shut the
door and leaned against it, clutching the book to her chest. She
closed her eyes, wishing she could stay there for the rest of her
life.
***
The next day, Eliza lugged the chair up the narrow,
wooden steps.
Don‘t get one scratch on it or it comes out of your
wages! Harriet yelled at her from the bottom of the staircase.
Eliza grunted but pressed forward, holding the chair above
the next step so she wouldn‘t scrape it. She paused for a moment
to make sure her footing was steady before she moved forward.
Can‘t you go any faster? I‘m not getting younger, you
know!
Shut up, you old hag, Eliza muttered under her breath,
tired of the woman‘s constant nagging.
What‘d you say?
As she made it to the top step, she exhaled and wiped her
forehead with her blistered hand. She turned to Harriet who
glared up at her. Nothing.
Hmm… The woman obviously didn‘t believe her by the
cynical look on her face. Well, set it in my bedroom and then
come down for the ottoman.
Gritting her teeth, she picked up the chair and lugged it to
the old bat‘s bedroom which hadn‘t been aired out in over a
hundred years, or at least that‘s how it smelled. Once she set it on
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Loving Eliza
the rug by the window, she leaned over it and struggled to catch
her breath.
Her stomach growled. It was lunch time, and again, she
had to skip breakfast so she wouldn‘t use up the remaining funds
she had. She kept careful track of her expenses. If she didn‘t
have to eat, she wouldn‘t have any problems…minus her broken
heart.
How she missed John. She missed him so much that it
hurt. Did Daphne talk to him? Did the two work things out?
Groaning, she closed her eyes and willed the memory of John‘s
kisses from her mind. She couldn‘t continue on in regrets. She‘d
made that her goal. Always press forward. Never look back.
Don‘t waste time on what if‘s. It never did any good.
She forced back her tears and stood up. Taking a deep
breath to steady her emotions, she returned to the parlor and
brought the ottoman up. Harriet had disappeared but the
question was where to. When she got back downstairs, she called
out for her.
In here, if you really must know, Harriet snapped.
Biting back a retort she‘d once heard a farmer use, she
walked to the kitchen and saw that Harriet was eating a sandwich.
Her mouth watered. Licking her lips, she smoothed her hands on
her dress. I got the furniture upstairs like you wanted. She
watched as the woman took a large bite of the food. May I
please have something to eat?
The woman frowned at her. I told you that you need to
find your own food. I‘m not a grocer.
She gritted her teeth. She understood why Harriet had a
hard time keeping employees, but all of her efforts to find other
employment over the weekend had failed, so whether she liked it
or not, she was stuck with the miserable old coot. That, naturally,
meant she couldn‘t retaliate. Sadly, even her bosses at the saloon
weren‘t as mean to her as Harriet was. John, however, had been
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Ruth Ann Nordin
the best person she‘d ever worked for. If only he could have kept
things professional. If only
she
had kept things professional!
Maybe if he married Daphne, she could go back and work
for him. No. That would never work. She loved him and
couldn‘t go back to how things were, no matter how much she
wanted to…or didn‘t want to. She took a deep breath and settled
her thoughts. Right now she needed money. She had to pay her
rent for the next week, and that left her with only enough to eat at
the restaurant for three more days if she ordered one of the
cheapest items on the menu.
Directing her gaze on Harriet who finished up her
sandwich, she asked, May I get my pay, please?
The woman groaned. You shouldn‘t bother a woman
while she‘s eating. Give me a moment and I‘ll get your wages.
Good. Five dollars would solve the bulk of her problem.
Maybe she could get dessert this time.
Her employer took a final gulp of water and took her
things to the sink. Clean the dishes and I‘ll be back.
Excited to be getting paid, Eliza readily obeyed. When she
finished, Harriet returned. She tried not to seem too eager for her
pay. That wasn‘t a good thing for an employee to do, but her
growling stomach was doing flip flops over the notion of eating
something at the restaurant.
Harriet handed her some coins.
The amount didn‘t feel heavy enough to equal $5. Eliza
counted the change. But this is $3.50.
Right.
She licked her lips. We agreed on $5.
I agreed to pay you $5 for your work.
Yes.
Well, those two men came over to help you take my stuff
out of the attic, and then they came by the next day to help you
clean up the yard.
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Because you had some things that were heavy and I
didn‘t know how to drive a wagon.
Still, they did that work. As far as I‘m concerned, they
should get the remaining $1.50.
Fifty cents for one week‘s worth of food? But I need $4
so Molly will let me have room and board. Otherwise, I pay her
$3 and have to find another source of food. I don‘t see how I can
manage on fifty cents.
Then don‘t have other people help you do your job.
Well… She struggled not to whack the woman on the
head with the rolled up newspaper resting on the table in front of
her. I mean…Can I have an extra fifty cents this week and then
take $4 next week?
No. I don‘t lend money out ahead of time. How do I
know you won‘t take my money and not do the work? You work
first and then get paid.
May I do something else to earn some food for here?
No. I don‘t reward people who can‘t watch their funds.
If you don‘t have enough money, then that‘s your fault. Not
mine. I scrimped and saved my entire life, and I learned how to
make money last. This will do you good.
But-
There‘s no need to thank me. The woman turned to
leave the kitchen. When you get back from the restaurant, we‘ll
discuss what chore needs to be done next.
***
On her way home after six, she decided to skip supper. In
a short while, she could go to sleep and it was easy to forget her
hunger then. She clutched her stomach as she passed the
restaurant. The aroma of steak and chicken never smelled so
good. She hurried across the street so she could get away from it.
When she reached the boarding house, she stopped and groaned.
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Why was John there? Why wasn‘t he over at Charity‘s residence
so he could be with Daphne? Didn‘t he know he was only
prolonging her pain?
Her stomach rumbled. Where was she supposed to go?
She didn‘t have the strength to confront him. She sighed as she
thought over her options. Where could she go and not be found?
Finally, she decided to go to the restaurant. She or dered the
cheapest thing she could find and took her time in picking at her
rolls. At least it settled the nagging hunger in her stomach, but
she was too busy calculating how much money she had left so she
couldn‘t enjoy them. If she didn‘t have to eat, she‘d be doing just
fine right about now.
Good evening, Eliza!
Eliza glanced up and saw Addy. Good evening. Are you
planning to grab a bite to eat?
No. I happened to see you from outside and thought I‘d
come in to see how you‘re doing. I haven‘t had a chance to talk to
you since last week.
She took a sip of water while her friend sat across from
her. I‘m doing fine.
That‘s good. John‘s been by three times since I last saw
you. He‘s worried about you.
Eliza suspected that Addy was worried too. I said I‘m
fine. I have shelter and a job and food.
Well, if you need anything—anything at all, please let me
know.
If she did that, she‘d have to admit she couldn‘t make it on
her own, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. Her entire
life was spent relying on others. This time she had a chance to
make it on her own. In the future, she just wouldn‘t let Troy or
Willy help her at work, and then she could get the full $5. Then
she‘d be fine.
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Eliza, Addy continued, John loves you. Why do you
keep rejecting him? He‘s a good man. He‘d make a fine husband
and father.
She sighed and finished her last roll. Glancing around the
room, she caught sight of Alan Gray as he paid for his meal. She
nearly fell out of her chair when she saw all the money in his
wallet. Why didn‘t he own a house? He looked like he could
afford it.
He‘s not going to marry Daphne, Addy softly stated.
It took Eliza a moment to realize she was talking about
John. Haven‘t the two of them talked so they could get to know
each other?
I don‘t understand why this means so much to you.
Daphne doesn‘t mind if you‘re with him.
Of course, Addy couldn‘t understand. What could Eliza
do? Say, I was a prostitute for thirteen years ? Finally, she
decided on saying, It‘s complicated.
Addy laughed. Why is it that unmarried women assume
that everything is complicated when it comes to love?
Why is it that everyone assumes an unmarried woman never stepped
foot into a whorehouse?
I better go home. I‘m tired.
Addy stood with her. The offer is open anytime you
need it. Don‘t let pride get in the way of asking for help.
Eliza placed the coin on the table and looked at her friend.
Did Addy know…or suspect that Eliza did need help or was she
just saying that because it was one of those things friends said to
each other?
The least I can do is walk back with you. The boarding
house is on the way to the general store.
Eliza nodded. That sounded simple enough.
After they were outside and Addy glanced around, she
whispered, You‘re not sweet on Troy, are you?
Goodness, no!
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I‘m sorry but I had to ask. He‘s been talking as if he‘s
courting someone. He hasn‘t mentioned names but he says it‘s a
matter of time before he makes it official.
Eliza cringed. She didn‘t know why Troy gave her the
creeps but he did. I try to avoid him whenever I can. I assure
you that I don‘t encourage him.
That‘s good. There‘s no sense in sending the wrong
message. Troy is alright I guess. I don‘t really know him. The
only reason I know John as well as I do is because he does
business with Frank. He made the tables and counters and
shelves in the general store, you know.
No, I didn‘t know. But it made sense since John was the
only one in town who did that kind of thing.
John took over his father‘s business. His father taught
him the trade. None of the other boys were interested.
It‘s good someone does this in town.
Yes. Otherwise, we‘d be in trouble. Addy chuckled.
They stopped in front of the boarding house, and Eliza
breathed a sigh of relief. John wasn‘t there anymore. I‘ll see you
around.
Addy smiled. Remember, I‘m here to help…should you
need it.
I know. Thank you. Then she turned and went up the
steps, glad to be done with another day.
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Chapter Fifteen
E
liza‘s stomach growled so she closed her eyes as she walked
If I don’t think about food, I won’t be hungry.
past the restaurant.
A
week had passed, and she was out of money for food. Harriet
refused to pay her more than $3 this time because Harriet
accused her of shoddy work . This will teach you a strong
work ethic, Harriet had concluded, looking as if she had just
performed a good deed.
Eliza knew it was wrong but she purposely gave Harriet
day old coffee the next day. To her surprise, Harriet liked it. So
Eliza didn‘t do that again. It was wrong to look for ways to
irritate her employer, especially since the only other job that
opened up paid $2.50 a week, but a part of her wanted to do
something to get even with the woman for cheating her out of her
fair wages. Eliza was, after all, doing the best she could.
When she made it home that evening, she climbed the
stairs, feeling weak. She had to pay Molly the rent, but she‘d do
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that in the morning. She was out of money, and since she‘d
accepted the invitation to eat at Addy‘s place three times already,
she didn‘t feel right about going over there and hoping for
another invite. She couldn‘t take advantage of her friend who‘d
already done so much for her.
She reached the top of the steps and took a deep breath to
quell her nausea. Averting her eyes from the staircase because a
glance down made her dizzy, she focused on the kerosene lamp
on the small table in the hallway. As soon as she could trust
herself to not heave, she lumbered toward her room. She‘d go to
Addy‘s tomorrow. She had to. It‘d been a full day since she‘d
eaten anything and she had to manage through another ten hours
at Harriet‘s.
A door from behind her opened. She turned and saw
Alan emerge from his room. Recalling the money in his wallet,
she bit her lower lip. He was a man, and since he hadn‘t been
with a woman since his wife died… Even as the thought came to
her, she hated it. She gulped the lump in her throat. Oh, she
couldn‘t. Not when she struggled so hard to make her life right.
Not when God had given her a second chance.
But he has money. Money that can buy food.
Her stomach
growled again and her mouth watered. Molly had made supper.
Pot roast from the smell of it.
Good evening, Miss Sweet, Alan said as he closed the
door. Will you be going to supper tonight?
She hesitated. She knew what the going rate would be if
they struck a deal, and depending on how long she could talk him
into staying in her room, she might be able to make a dollar. That
would give her a full week‘s worth of food here at the boarding
house or maybe even two weeks if she was careful at the
restaurant.
She wiped the tears from her eyes, glad the dim light hid
her tears from him. When she could trust her self to speak, she
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lowered her trembling hand. I…um… She took another deep
breath. I already ate.
Is something wrong? he asked, coming closer.
Stay back. You’re the
She steadied herself against the wall.
mouse and I’m the snake.
She took a step away from him. No. I‘m
fine. You should go to supper. She prayed he didn‘t hear her
stomach rumble. I just need to lie down.
He came closer to her. Are you sure you‘re not ill? I can
help you into your room if you‘d like.
He had no idea what he was doing, she realized. He didn‘t
have the experienced look about him, and that made him an easy
target.
Just one time…to get you through one or two weeks until Harriet
pays the wages she rightfully owes you.
Your room is this one, isn‘t it? he asked, pointing to it.
Well…yes, she slowly replied. Her heart sped up with a
mixture of fear and hope. She hated this. She didn‘t want to even
consider it. Temptation was a terrible monster. A hunger pain
shot through her stomach, causing her to bite her tongue.
He gently took her by the arm and led her to the door.
You look like you‘re going to pass out. Lean on me if you have
to.
Do you miss your wife? she asked, ashamed of the
question, for she knew where the conversation was leading…what
she was leading him into.
I do. She was a good woman.
I‘m sure she was happy with you. You seem like a good
man. She moved closer to him and placed her hand on his. It
must get lonely.
They stopped in front of her door, and he nodded. It
does. A part of me went with her. He opened the door.
I haven‘t been married, she whispered, purposely
moving so that they stood inches apart, allowing parts of her body
to touch his. She knew what such proximity did to men. Leaning
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forward, she let her lips brush against his cheek. But I often
think it‘s a shame when a man has to spend his nights alone.
As soon as she said the words, she regretted them. This
wasn‘t right. She pulled back and crossed the threshold of the
room, cursing herself for leading him into a trap. It was a trap.
God help her withstand temptation! She hurried to the window
and opened it, letting a light breeze cool the hot sting of the tears
that trickled down her cheeks.
Miss Sweet, I was wondering… Well, that is to say that I
think we might get along. Would it be too forward if I asked to
call on you sometime? I could take you for a walk or we could go
to the restaurant.
Placing her hands over her face, she allowed the tear s to
fall with greater freedom. Here she was thinking of a night of
sinful pleasure and he was thinking of doing the right thing. He
really had no idea what she‘d brought him to her room for. I
can‘t. I‘m sorry. You see, I… What could she tell him? I‘m a
prostitute? No. But an idea came to her. Turning to him in the
dark, she asked, Do you know Bethany Grooms?
He blinked. No, but I‘ve seen her in church.
She lost her husband five years ago. She‘s a lovely
woman. I think you two would do well together. Bethany would
never think to lure a man to her bed for the sole purpose of
making money from him. She‘d make him a good wife, and she
was just as lonely as him. The two would get along right away.
Let me introduce you to her tomorrow morning on my way to
Mrs. Lube‘s.
She is agreeable to look at. Alright.
Her stomach growled but she held her hands over her
abdomen and took another deep breath. The room seemed to tilt
to the side, but she knew it was another wave of dizziness kicking
in so she ignored it.
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Thank you, Miss Sweet. That‘s very nice of you. He
turned to leave but saw the book she‘d thrown across the room a
week ago and picked it up. Is this
Romeo and Juliet
?
Yes, she weakly replied. It‘s a horrible story.
He chuckled. My wife didn‘t care much for it either. She
said if a book didn‘t have a happy ending, then it wasn‘t worth
reading. I can return this to the parlor, if you‘d like.
Please do.
Good night, Miss Sweet. I hope you feel better in the
morning.
As soon as he left and closed her door, she released her
breath, unaware that she‘d been holding it. That was close. Much
too close. Slipping out of her dress, she slid into bed and pulled
the covers over her head. It was still hot out, but she shivered
anyway and she couldn‘t tell if it was from hunger or fear that
she‘d almost given into the temptation to sell her body for a piece
of bread. She spent the rest of the night crying fitfully in her
sleep.
***
During her lunch half hour the next day, Eliza decided to
visit with Addy to see if Addy might extend an invitation for
supper. She didn‘t want to ask. It was preferable to let Addy
make the offer. That way, Addy wouldn‘t worry about her.
When Eliza knocked on Addy‘s front door, she noticed
that Troy was walking in her direction. She inwardly groaned and
pretended that she didn‘t see him. She knocked on the door,
using more force than necessary.
But Addy didn‘t answer, and Eliza had no choice but to
offer a polite greeting as Troy caught up to her. Good
afternoon, Mister Evans.
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He smiled and adjusted his hat. You can call me Troy.
I‘d like to think we know each other well enough to be on a first
name basis.
She didn‘t. Not really. Unsure of whether her queasy
stomach stemmed from being near him or being unbearably
hungry, she took deep breaths to steady it. What brings you out
this way?
I‘m running an errand for my boss.
She nodded and started walking down the dusty road. As
much as she loathed the idea of returning to Harriet‘s house,
especially when Harriet was eating, Eliza felt a desperate need to
get away from Troy. She thought that the strange sensation would
leave as she got to know him, but it only grew stronger.
If there was one thing she wasn‘t, it was stupid. She‘d had
the same eerie feeling with her uncle before he slipped into her
bed. She‘d brushed off the notion then. Now, she knew better.
She wrapped her arms around herself to thwart the trembling of
her body. Her uncle had liked her fear. He seemed to thrive off
of it. The last thing she wanted was to give Troy that kind of
power over her.
Thank God it was daylight and people were around them.
It was the only thing that prevented her from running off in a
panic. She willed the past back to where it belonged.
Think of
positive things, Eliza. Positive things. Don’t let your circumstances control
you. Overcome them.
As long as she didn‘t give up, she‘d survive.
She‘d keep pressing on. She wouldn‘t end up like the prostitute
who killed herself. The reminder settled her nerves. She was still
alive, and that counted for something.
Troy kept his pace even with hers. I‘m going to Marshal
Custer‘s house for supper tonight. Would you like to be my
guest?
She halted in mid-step. Food. Her mouth watered at the
very thought of it. If she ate tonight, she‘d be able to get through
tomorrow without eating. Then she might get an invite to Addy‘s
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place. That would settle her complaining stomach until Harriet
paid her for the full wages. Eliza had been good this time. She‘d
been watching to make sure she did everything exactly the way
Harriet wanted it done. For sure, she‘d get the $5.
All she had to do was eat with Troy for one night. And it
was in Charity‘s home where other people would be. It wouldn‘t
be like she‘d have to be alone with him. Wasn‘t it much better
than sleeping with Alan for money? Going to dinner with Troy
wasn‘t a sin. And it would be once. Just once.
What time should I be there? she asked, peering up at
him.
I‘ll pick you up at 6:15. Supper is at 6:30.
She nodded. Alright.
His smile widened.
Shivering, she looked away. She hoped she didn‘t just
make a mistake. I should get back to Mrs. Lube. She won‘t like
it if I‘m late.
Without waiting for him to walk with her, she bolted
down the road, feeling almost like she was running from a part of
her past that was about to rear its ugly head. It wasn‘t until she
opened the door to Mrs. Lube‘s house and saw that he hadn‘t
followed her that she allowed herself to relax.
***
John returned home after he finished repairing the
staircase in the Hallows‘ house. He checked the small house that
Eliza used to inhabit while she stayed on his property, but she
wasn‘t there. Why should he expect her to be? She wasn‘t there
any of the other times he‘d checked. She didn‘t even want to see
him. He sighed. Maybe it was time he gave up and let her go.
As much as the thought pained him, he realized that he
couldn‘t keep going to town and hoping she‘d see him when she
did everything she could to avoid him. He‘d catch glimpses of
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her, but she remained out of his reach. Just when he thought he
could reach her, she seemed to vanish.
He rubbed his chest, thinking that doing so would
somehow ease the ache that was his constant companion. His
brother Aaron had been out to see him and assured him that the
heartache would ease over time. And when John was ready,
Aaron promised to send out another list of women seeking men
to marry. But Aaron didn‘t get it. John decided that he‘d spend
the rest of his life alone. There‘d never be anyone but Eliza for
him.
His shoulder s drooped as he made his way to the shed.
He had to get the jewelry box finished for Charity. Her husband
requested it as a gift, and though it was difficult to make it, he
decided it was time to finish it so he could work on the cabinet
that the preacher wanted. He sat at his work table and picked up
his tool to carve in the images of doves and hearts that the
marshal had specifically requested to go on it. John wished he was
making something this nice for Eliza. A gift from a husband to
his wife. Something to demonstrate his love for her. He
swallowed and brushed back a tear so he could focus on the lines
he was carving into the wood.
A loud tapping on his door interrupted his thoughts. For
a moment, he wondered if it was Eliza but quickly realized she
didn‘t knock like that. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Troy
saunter into the small building. Disappointed, he turned back to
his work.
That‘s a fine welcome for your brother, Troy said.
John didn‘t bother to acknowledge the statement. Maybe
they were blood, but it didn‘t make them friends.
You deaf on top of being stupid and mute?
John traced the outline of the dove. No. He wouldn‘ t let
Troy‘s words bother him. His brother got a sick and twisted
pleasure out of watching him get upset.
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Loving Eliza
Troy picked up the nearly completed jewelry box and
examined it. At least there‘s one thing you‘re good at. Pa would
actually be proud.
John grabbed the box and glared at him.
He shook his head and shrugged. Now don‘t get upset.
I was complimenting you. At least you can make a living. It beats
begging for food on the corner of a street or bumming off
someone else‘s hard work. But that‘s not why I came. I thought
you might like to know that the marshal wants that fancy box by
tonight. There‘s going to be a special supper at his house.
He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He should be glad.
The sooner he dropped this off, the sooner he wouldn‘t have to
deal with the marshal…until the man needed something else from
him.
Be there around six. You do know when to tell it‘s six on
the clock, don‘t you?
Gritting his teeth, he stood up and yanked out his pocket
watch and pointed to the six. Then he pointed to his temple.
Troy chuckled. It has nothing to do with your head, but
I get the message.
John took the pencil that he used to draw his designs and
wrote on a piece of paper,
I am smart.
Then he shoved it at Troy.
For a moment, Troy looked worried but then quickly
threw the paper down and clapped. Good for you. You can
write just like a kid in grade school. The dinner starts at six-thirty.
The marshal wants to surprise his wife, so make it between six-
thirty and seven.
As he left, John resisted the urge to punch him. He slowly
inhaled and exhaled while he flexed his hands. Violence never
solved anything. He knew this. But once…just once…he‘d love to
make Troy admit that he was smart.
He’s not worth it.
He sat down and glanced out his window,
making sure that Troy was leaving. Good. He was. John turned
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to the jewelry box. One look at the pocket watch notified him
that he‘d better hurry. Three hours wasn‘t that far away.
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Chapter Sixteen
E
liza noticed the smell of food before she noticed the large
group of people who had gathered at Charity‘s house that evening.
In some ways, it worked to her benefit. She could easily mingle
with more people, which meant she had more chances to get away
from Troy. She supposed she should feel guilty for using Troy to
get a good meal, but she was too hungry to adequately care. Ever
since she agreed to come here tonight, she‘d been unable to think
of anything but food. What kind of food would Charity serve?
She remembered how Charity and Bethany expressed their desire
to have some of the finer dishes from back east after their
arrival at their new home. She couldn‘t help but be curious as to
what those finer dishes were…and if they succeeded.
Her stomach did its relentless growl, and Eliza was
grateful that the ring of laughter floating from the front porch hid
this embarrassing fact from everyone else. She took a deep breath
and willed her slight nausea aside. She had to sit down or get
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something to eat soon or else she‘d get dizzy. Her first choice, of
course, was to eat.
As Troy followed her up the porch steps, she caught a
glimpse through the window and saw that Charity, Bethany, and
Daphne were passing around hor devours. The only reason she
knew that‘s what the finger foods were called was because she‘d
had some wealthy customers who‘d hired her for their weekend
excursions out of Omaha where no one knew she was a prostitute.
Instead, the customers referred to her as their daughter or wife.
At the reminder of her past, she blinked and looked away
from the activity inside the house. Whether parts of this meal
were going to bring up unpleasant memories or not, she didn‘t
care. The point was she managed to avoid falling into temptation
the previous evening, and glancing at Bethany who laughed at
something Alan Grey said made her grateful that she‘d been able
to do that. He‘d be happier this way. And thank goodness God
had granted her an honest meal in exchange. She didn‘t even
bother to wonder where her next meal would come from. She‘d
just focus on taking it one day at a time like she‘d learned to do
after her parents died.
Well, if it isn‘t Eliza and Troy.
She glanced over her shoulder as Willy bounded up the
steps.
I didn‘t expect to see you two together, Willy continued.
Really? Why? Troy asked.
He shrugged. I don‘t know. I guess it‘s because I got
used to seeing her with John.
She breathed a sigh of relief when Daphne came onto the
porch carrying a tray full of strawberries, cheese, and apple slices.
They wouldn‘t exactly fill up her eager stomach but at least they
were a start.
Care for a quick bite to eat before the main dish?
Daphne asked.
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Like she needed to ask! Eliza nodded and forced herself
to stop after she picked up a couple of cheese cubes. Fruits
weren‘t as filling, and right now she wanted to satisfy her hunger
instead of sample the fruits, even if she didn‘t often get a chance
to eat strawberries.
Willy laughed as he took one of each item. I must say
that this is sure fancy.
Daphne smiled. Yes, it is. I confess that I‘ve never seen
a dinner this extravagant before. Part of me feels out of place, but
it‘s all in good fun.
That it is.
Eliza didn‘t get much of a chance to taste the cheese since
she swallowed her cubes as soon as they were in her mouth. She
wanted to savor them, but her stomach kept pestering her. Since
the men were focused on Daphne, she snagged in a couple more
pieces of cheese.
My name is William but people call me Willy, he told
Daphne.
Oh, you‘re Willy! Daphne squealed in a delighted tone
that surprised Eliza. I heard that you were painting Charity‘s
portrait for Ralph.
Eliza coughed on the cheese she had just swallowed. A
portrait? Out here in the southern Dakota territory? She cleared
her throat and pressed a hand to her chest. Excuse me.
Are you alright? Troy asked, looking worried.
She suspected he feigned concern but gave the matter no
more thought. This dinner was not going to be a common
occurrence with Troy, so she didn‘t need to examine his motives.
I‘m fine. Go on, she told Willy. The marshal asked you to
paint a picture of Charity?
He did. In fact, after dinner, I‘m supposed to go back
home and grab it. Then I can present it to her. I believe he asked
a couple of others to make her things too.
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He sure is excited to be married to her, Eliza
commented.
As she plopped another piece of cheese in her mouth, she
wondered why some husbands fussed over their wives like they
did, but then she reminded herself that not all men ran off to visit
a whore when their wives thought they were out working or
gambling. She shouldn‘t begrudge Charity such a devoted
husband. She should be happy for the young woman. Her
fairytale came true. How nice that must be.
No. I won’t go there.
There’s no changing the past.
As Daphne rattled off the guest list, Eliza snuck in more
appetizers when no one was looking at her.
Now I feel underdressed, Willy said, examining his
attire.
How do you think I feel? Daphne motioned to her
simple dress. Just between you and me, and you and you, she
added, smiling at Troy and Eliza, this isn‘t something I would do.
But Ralph and Charity are happy together, so it‘s only right that
we celebrate with them.
Eliza was still ravenous. Those cheese bits weren‘t doing
anything but teasing her. She could celebrate much easier on a full
stomach. We should go in. Supper is ready, isn‘t it?
Please say
yes!
After the entertainment, Daphne replied.
Entertainment? Troy asked before Eliza could.
I‘m not supposed to spoil the surprise. Charity‘s been
practicing for nearly a month. Daphne glanced at her empty tray
and frowned. Oh, that‘s odd. I thought I brought out a full
tray.
Eliza quickly swallowed the last strawberry she‘d broken
down and snagged.
Fortunately, Bethany called out for everyone to gather into
the parlor, so Daphne forgot the tray and led them in. As Eliza
joined Troy in sitting in the room which had been cleared for a
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small piano and a group of thirty chairs, she inwardly groaned.
When were they going to eat? She clutched her stomach and
closed her eyes to settle her nerves. She could smell freshly baked
breads and pies and meats. It wasn‘t fair that Charity allowed her
guests to suffer like this. But then, out of everyone in the house,
she was the only one who hadn‘t eaten a full meal in the past two
days.
Ralph entered the parlor and clapped his hands together.
I want to thank everyone for coming. As you know, Charity
wanted to wait until she got settled in before we had an official
event to celebrate our wedding. She is now going to play a few
melodies that she learned during her childhood. Her aunt
Bethany will be singing the lyrics.
Eliza reluctantly clapped along with the other people as
she glanced at the kitchen. She bit her tongue and forced her
attention to the two women who bowed. Charity sat at the piano
and Bethany stood beside it. Eliza glanced at the clock on the
fireplace mantle. 6:20. Troy said the meal would start at 6:30.
She prayed that was accurate.
Charity started up the music, so Eliza concentrated on the
uplifting tune. This wasn‘t so bad. She settled into her chair and
tried not to think about food. Instead, she pictured flowers.
Yellow flowers. Lots of flowers. It was an image she had saved
from childhood. As a child, she used to run through the field
while her parents lounged by the lake and watched her. A faint
smile graced her lips at the memory. It was an innocent time in
her life. A time of happiness. A time of hope. A time of love.
Then Bethany sang the first line of the song and Eliza
blinked, immediately pulled out of the past and into a not-so-
pleasant present. Though Charity could play the piano, Bethany
could not hold a tune. Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, Eliza
scanned the room and saw that though people put on their polite
smiles, they also found the singing horrendous. There really was
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no other word for it. She‘d only heard the term used once in her
life, and she never had a need to use that word until this moment.
The song finally…mercifully…came to an end. She
breathed a sigh of relief. Then Charity started in on another song,
this one a sad one, and Bethany inhaled, obviously getting ready
for another round of her bellowing. Eliza felt her stomach flip
over. She couldn‘t handle this. At least, she couldn‘t handle it on
an empty stomach.
She leaned toward Troy and whispered, I have to use the
privy. Sure, it wasn‘t the most graceful thing to say to a man, but
she was desperate to get out without anyone finding a reason to
stop her. And who would stop a woman from answering nature‘s
call?
He nodded.
She slipped out of her seat and tried to be inconspicuous
as she crept out of the room. Now that she was free from the
squeaking sounds that Bethany called singing, she could relax. She
didn‘t know what to do. She hated this. Hated knowing there
was food and not being able to eat it. Hated the insistent hunger
that lingered on and on, day after day. The only time she got any
relief was when she was asleep.
Tears stung her eyes. No. It was much more than hunger
and sleep. It wasn‘t even the bad singing that bothered her so
much that she had to flee from the room. It was flowers. Yellow
flowers. She loved them…except when she was miserable. Like
now. Placing her face in her hands, she willed away the urge to
break down and sob. She missed John. She‘d been happy when
she was with him at his happy place with his insane insistence that
she marry him. Even through the unwanted tears, she laughed.
The man never gave up. He even planted yellow flowers by his
house for her. She knew why he planted them there instead of in
front of her little home. He hoped to lead her in his direction.
And that‘s where the yellow flowers directed her all along. To
him. Until she rejected them…rejected him.
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No. Don’t think of that.
She wiped her hands on her dress
Don’t think of what could’ve
and forced her mind on the present.
been. Just move forward.
She stepped toward the kitchen.
God, I’m so
hungry. I can’t bear this hunger anymore.
Another round of applause
drifted from the parlor before Charity began another song. At
this rate, Eliza would starve to death. She glanced around. No
one was in the hallway. She tiptoed to the kitchen and slowly
opened the door. No one was there. She glanced back again. No
one had followed. She was safe. Just a few bites of food and she
could return to the parlor. Her eyes scanned the wide assortment
of food on the tables in fr ont of her. Tables. Tables of food!
Her body shook in anticipation and all calm left her as she
ran forward and grabbed a drumstick. There were more of them.
One wouldn‘t be missed. She hadn‘t had chicken since she left
Omaha. She bit into it, too hungry to let the wonderful flavor
sink into her tongue. She devoured the whole thing in less thirty
seconds and quickly discarded the bone into the trash. She turned
and snatched a slice of pie, knowing it was disgusting to eat it
without a fork but not wishing to dirty a utensil lest she give away
the fact that she had snuck in some food before it was time to eat.
She closed her eyes and moaned. Peaches never tasted so
good! The crust melted in her mouth. She passed the rolls and
went straight for the small steak. Who cared about rolls? Rolls
were bland and she had enough of those at the restaurant. She
picked up the steak and chewed off a big piece of it. The juice slid
down her chin so she wiped it off with her sleeve. This was good
steak—the kind that those rich men ate. She never imagined that
eating could be such an intoxicating experience. She finished the
steak and reached for the piece of cake. Just as she bit into it, the
kitchen door opened.
Her eyes grew wide and she jerked. The cake fell out of
her hand and onto the floor.
John stood there in the doorway, holding a box. He
stared at her as if he couldn‘t believe what he was seeing.
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Which he probably couldn‘t. She didn‘t know what to do,
and for a moment, she just stood there and stared back at him.
Then something in her snapped and she bolted past him and ran
out the door. She ran as fast as she could through the backyard
and across the next lawn that marked Wilkin‘s property. Tears
descended by the time she made it down the dusty road heading
to the outskirts of town.
The shame! She didn‘t know which was worse, falling into
the sin of gluttony or being caught. Oh, of course she knew.
Being caught was worse. And by John of all people! It had to be
him. Why did it have to be him?
She choked on a sob as she pressed forward, aware that he
was gaining on her. It had to be him. She could hear someone
running after her and who else but John would pursue her? Still
pursuing her. Ever since she stepped foot into this town, he‘d
been after her. Always asking her to marry him like a man who
didn‘t know what was good for him.
And even as she ran into the vacant field that lined a
stream, she prayed he‘d catch up to her and stop her from making
the biggest mistake of her life. She passed a tree and tripped on
the root. She fell face first into the tall grass. Gasping for air, she
struggled to stand up but fell again, this time landing on her hands
and knees.
Then a pair of strong arms wrapped her into an all-too-
familiar hug and she collapsed against John‘s chest, sobbing like
the little girl who‘d once lost her parents.
I didn‘t want to be a prostitute, she wept.
He cupped her face in his hands and lifted her head. His
touch was so gentle and warm that she cried even harder.
My parents died when I turned fourteen, and my
mother‘s sister took me in. Her husband, my uncle, came to my
bed… She had to stop to take a breath and to steady her voice.
No one knew. She‘d kept it to herself a ll these years. And now
she was about to let the one man who‘d shown her real love know
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the details of her tainted past. She grabbed the sleeves of his shirt,
afraid he‘d run off as soon as she told him, but needing to tell
him—to finally clear the air between them. I didn‘t want him
there. I told him no. But I was fourteen and scared and I didn‘t
know how to stop him.
She dared to look into his eyes, fearing the rejection she‘d
find there. Instead she saw sorrow and compassion. Tears welled
in his own eyes. He loved her. He didn‘t have to say the words
for her to know this.
Gathering courage, she continued, I was too afraid to tell
my aunt, and when I got with child, she assumed it was one of the
boys down the road that did it. She told my uncle to get rid of
me. He sold me to the owner of the saloon in town who had a
whorehouse. That‘s how I became a prostitute.
When she realized he wasn‘t going to leave, she released
her hold on him and removed the picture she had tucked under
her shirt and next to her heart. She showed it to him in the
moonlight.
That‘s my son. He‘s twelve now. He‘ll be thirteen next
month. The people who adopted him sent me the picture. I had
to keep it hidden because my boss wouldn‘t have liked it if he
knew I had it. I take it everywhere I go. He‘s the only child I‘ll
ever have. She wiped her eyes so she could see clearly. There
was a doctor who came and made sure I wouldn‘t have another
child. You see, in my line of work, it wasn‘t good to be having
babies. I‘ll never have another child, and I‘ll never know the one I
have. She broke into a fresh wave of tears.
He held her tightly against him and let her continue to cry.
The beating of his heart soothed her and after awhile her
breathing and tears slowed. The sharp pain in her heart eased.
He rested his cheek on top of her head and softly rocked her. She
held onto the picture with one hand and held onto him with the
other. Closing her eyes, she took a moment to simply enjoy being
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with him. It felt right to be with him, to rest in his arms and be
surrounded by his love.
I‘m not like Daphne, she whispered. I can‘t give you
my innocence and I can‘t give you children. That‘s why I left you.
I want you to be happy with a good woman.
He reached down and took her hand, careful to not
damage the picture of her son, and pressed it against his heart.
She laughed. It was so typical of him to do something so
sweet…and she was overcome with relief. She‘d told him
everything, let him see a side of her she‘d carefully hidden from
everyone, and he hadn‘t turned away from her.
I love you too. I think I loved you the first day I met
you. You were such a stubborn man, but you were so wonderful
too.
He pulled back so he could reach into his pocket.
When she saw that the moonlight caught something shiny,
she shook her head. There‘s no stopping you once you set your
mind to something. He‘d come with the ring. She should have
known, and yet, she hadn‘t.
He slipped the gold band on her finger. Then he pointed
in the direction of the church.
She laughed again. A wife. But not just anybody‘s wife.
She‘d be John‘s wife. She couldn‘t think of anything more
wonderful than that. Yes, John. I‘ll marry you.
A smile widened on his face and he pulled her back into
his arms and kissed her.
Wrapping her arms around his neck, she leaned into him
and returned his kiss. When she realized her cheeks were wet, she
thought she was still crying, but when the kiss ended and she
opened her eyes, she was surprised to see that even though he
smiled at her, more tears trickled down his face.
Did you think I was going to say no again? she asked.
He nodded.
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I‘m sorry. I didn‘t realize how much it meant to you that
I marry you. I thought any woman would do.
He shook his head and pointed at her.
She took his hand and placed it over her heart. I don‘t
want to be with anyone else either.
He inspected her hand.
She blushed, suddenly remembering the food she‘d
grabbed with her bare hands. She looked at her other hand and
then his shirt. I had to watch my money. I didn‘t have enough
for food and lodging. I… She sighed. I spent a lot of days
fighting off hunger pains.
He slid his arm around her waist and led her to the stream
where he washed her hands. She hadn‘t realized how large his
hands were until she saw how small hers were compared to them.
His movements were slow and deliberate, gentle and caring. She
had no doubt that, unlike the other men she‘d been with, this man
would cherish her. She wanted to be cherished.
Resting her head against his shoulder, she whispered,
Thank you.
After he washed her hands, he took her to the restaurant
and listened while she told him in quiet tones everything that had
happened to her. He joined her in eating and encouraged her to
eat anything on the menu. It felt good to be able to do that…and
to be full. She‘d forgotten how nice it was to be full.
Then he took her to the preacher‘s house and married her
before they went to Molly‘s boarding house and collected her
things. And after that, he took her home.
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Chapter Seventeen
E
liza didn‘t say much that night, nor did she feel the need to.
Mrs. John Evans. The name was so new to her, and she rolled it
over in her mind as she recalled the vows she and John exchanged
at the preacher‘s house. She was now a wife. And there was
nothing more reputable than a married woman. It was all so
wonderful, and she feared she‘d wake up back in Omaha or at
Molly‘s boarding house and find out this was al l a dream. But it
wasn‘t. John was here with her in bed, holding her close to his
side and smiling at her. She smiled back and stared at the ring on
her finger. She never imagined something so small could be so
profound.
His hand traced her breast and the curve of her hip. He
took his time touching her, as if he wished to memorize every part
of her body. Now that they‘d consummated the ma rriage, his
movements weren‘t anxious. She‘d watched him as he made love
to her, and not because she was interested in how he looked
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during the act but because she wanted to know it was John who
was doing this with her. She wanted to fully enjoy the fact that a
man who loved her was with her in bed.
It was all so new yet. This concept that someone could
actually love and cherish her, even after knowing about the dark
shadows in her past. But here she was with John. She no longer
felt alone in the world. Now she had a place to belong, a place
she could take comfort in. A place that was truly home.
John leaned forward and kissed her shoulder.
She reached up and brushed the hair out of his eyes and
let her fingers run through the silky tresses. She hadn‘t done such
a thing before, and the action was so gentle she marveled that it
could seem sensual in nature.
He lifted his head and kissed her, his lips soft on hers. She
settled against him, taking in the way he felt strong and solid next
to her. Lowering her hand, she lightly played with the thick hair
on his chest. His body was warm, and she snuggled closer against
him when the wind drifting in through the window made her
shiver. He wrapped his arms around her and the shivering died
down, and in its place, she began to feel the stirrings of desire.
Long ago, she‘d learn to pretend to be enthusiastic in bed.
It was all a show. There were some men she did feel sympathy
for, and they needed comfort more than anything else. She was
soft and slow with them. Other men wanted it rough, and she‘d
learned to play along with that too. But with John, it was hard to
know what to do. The problem wasn‘t so much that John didn‘t
take a lead. He was gentle despite his passionate movements, but
what kind of woman did he want her to be when they were in
bed?
She didn‘t dare ask him. It didn‘t seem like the thing a
wife—a lady—would discuss. Whores had no trouble asking men
what their preferences were. It came with the job. But a wife
didn‘t do this for a living. She did it because she wanted to. But
how did wives act in the bedroom? She had one consolation in
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her confusion. John hadn‘t been married before, so he couldn‘t
compare her to another wife and find her lacking. That was good.
And it made her feel safe. If she failed to act correctly, how
would he know? She decided that she would just have to be what
she finally was—a lady. She‘d been given a second chance in life,
and she wasn‘t about to ruin it, especially when John knew her
past and still wanted to be with her.
She wanted to please him, to be the wife he wanted her to
be. And so she let him dictate how things would evolve between
them. When he parted his lips, she parted hers. He seemed to
especially enjoy brushing his tongue against hers for his hold
tightened on her hip. She liked it too but kept in mind to not be
obvious about it. It didn‘t strike her that proper women were
explicit in the bedroom. At least, that was never the impression
she got when listening to men talk while they gambled in the
saloon.
John rolled on top of her, and once again, she opened her
eyes so she could remind herself that she was with him instead of
a nameless face. When he entered her, she involuntarily closed
her eyes and bit her tongue so she wouldn‘t moan. It felt good.
She hadn‘t expected it to. It wasn‘t that she hated this activity, but
having to do it all the time made her numb to it. She didn‘t know
if it was because it‘d been awhile since she‘d done this or because
she was with someone she loved who loved her, but her body
responded easily to him. She couldn‘t avoid the pleasure it
brought, nor did she want to. She just didn‘t want it to be as
insistent as it was, and to her dismay, it was even more arousing
this time than the last time they‘d done it. It was like someone set
a spark and it was gradually being fanned into a flame.
She ran her legs down his, finding the action more
stimulating that she supposed it should be. His movements which
had been hurried before due to the novelty of it all had now
settled enough so he was taking his time as if he were savoring
every moment they were together like this. She inhaled and
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tightened her hold on his arms, aware of the ache that was getting
stronger between her legs. Her breathing grew fast and her body
went from a comfortable warm to a burning heat. Maybe if she
watched him again, she could keep her uncomfortable desires at
bay. Forcing her eyes open, she studied him in the moonlight,
trying to concentrate on the way his hair fell over his forehead.
Then he opened his eyes. The action startled her, and
when he smiled and kissed her, she couldn‘t think of how to
respond. No man had ever looked at her and smiled during the
act before, and she knew why. It seemed much more intimate
than connecting their bodies together. It was as if she and John
had just connected on an emotional and spiritual level. She didn‘t
understand it, and part of it scared her so she quickly shut her
eyes. His mouth left hers and he resumed his thrusting, now
becoming more insistent. A groan escaped her lips and she
immediately hoped he hadn‘t noticed.
A lady. She was a lady now. Ladies were dignified at all
times. They didn‘t get rowdy in public..or anywhere else. They
were controlled at all times. She gritted her teeth, fighting her
body for control over the sensations coursing through her. When
he gasped and stiffened, she breathed a sigh of relief. There. It
was over. She managed through it, and she was still a lady. She
held him as his body relaxed. Again, she ran her fingers through
his hair. He kissed the side of her neck and drew her in for a long
hug.
She smiled. I love you too, she whispered and rested
against him.
***
The next afternoon, John joined Eliza outside. She‘d
wanted to enjoy the nice breezy day, so he found an old blanket
and spread it out on the grass by the house where she set out a
basket filled with sandwiches, apples, and bread and cheese. He
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thought it was funny that she wanted to eat outside when the
kitchen was a few yards away, but she peered up at him with those
sweet eyes so he agreed. He watched her as she fussed over their
lunch and smiled. She‘d let her hair fall down in gentle waves
over her shoulders which he particularly liked. She wore a hat to
protect her fair skin from the sun and had on a purple dress. If
it‘d been up to him, she wouldn‘t wear anything a t all, but she
laughed when he wrote that suggestion down.
John, if someone comes to see you, it wouldn‘t be good
for me to be immodest.
He didn‘t think that would happen, but he realized it was a
small possibility so he dressed as well. And now as she placed the
food out on the blanket, he decided he‘d surprise her. He
collected a handful of yellow flowers and put them in a vase he‘d
made while she was gone. He hid the vase behind his back and
approached her.
She glanced up at him. Isn‘t this pretty? I can‘t think of
anything to add. Can you?
He sat next to her and showed her the vase.
She gasped when she saw it and held her hands out to
receive it. You made this vase?
He smiled and nodded. He pointed to the engraved
lettering that spelled out her name. When he made the vase, he
didn‘t know if she‘d ever see it or not. But here she was, and she
was finally with him for good. He edged closer to her, enjoying
the way their arms touched.
It‘s the nicest thing anyone‘s ever made me, she said,
tracing the floral design with her thumb. There‘s a lot of detail in
it too. She brought the flowers up her nose and inhaled. There
isn‘t anything that smells as fresh and lovely as flowers, especially
these.
He brushed the hair off her shoulder and kissed her neck.
Who cared about the way flowers smelled? He rather preferred
the way she smelled.
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She giggled. John, that tickles.
He loved the way she wiggled against him.
We need to eat before the food spoils. Then we can
return to the house and undress.
That sounded good to him. He kissed her cheek and
settled back beside her.
She set the vase in the middle of the blanket. Shouldn‘t
you sit across from me?
He shook his head and kissed her on the lips, thoroughly
enjoying this activity that he‘d only recently discovered. In fact,
he enjoyed anything as long as he could be close to her. It really
didn‘t matter what they were doing, though he had to admit the
bedroom had a greater appeal to it. He hoped that‘s what she
meant when she spoke of undressing.
Laughing, she handed him his plate of food. Eat up.
You‘ll need your energy. Then she gave him a quick kiss. There
will be more later.
He took that as a yes, so he took the plate and started
eating.
She sighed even as she grinned at him. You don‘t need
to rush. It‘s really a wonderful day, don‘t you agree?
He slowed down and nodded. She was right. It was a
nice day.
You should move your work bench and the things you‘re
working on back into the little house I had been staying in, before
I left. She took a slice of cheese and put it on her bread. I don‘t
need to be there anymore, and there‘s a lot more space there than
in that cramped shed.
In all the excitement of having her back, he‘d forgotten
about that. He‘d need to finish up with the rocking chair he‘d
started for Addy. He decided he‘d take Eliza into town with him
when he dropped it off. Since Eliza and Addy were friends, they
might enjoy getting the chance to talk.
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Eliza swallowed her food and glanced up at the sky.
When I was a little girl, I‘d close my eyes and pretend I could fly.
A lot of the time, I was jealous of the birds. They seemed to be
free and happy. They were always singing, so they had to be
happy. Don‘t you think so?
He smiled and picked up an apple as she continued talking
as if she‘d never asked the question. The horrible silence was
officially gone. What a relief.
A horse neighed and his gaze turned in the direction of the
sound. He finished biting into the apple and resisted the urge to
toss Aaron off his property. Why did his brother have to come
and bother him when he was trying to enjoy the day with his
bride?
Eliza quickly set down the remaining slice of bread and
cheese and drank some water before she jumped up.
John didn‘t see any other option but to follow her lead.
Just as he stood up, Aaron tied his horse to the post and lumbered
forward.
I guess congratulations are in order, Aaron called out,
taking his hat off and wiping the sweat from his brow.
Then you heard? Eliza asked.
Everyone‘s heard. It‘s a small town. He turned to the
leather pouch attached to the saddle. Though I must say that no
one expected it.
John wasn‘t sure what to make of that statement, so he
put his arm around Eliza‘s shoulders and pulled her close to him.
Aaron glanced their way and grinned. You two sure
know how to surprise people.
John relaxed. At least Aaron wasn‘t going to give them a
hard time.
Here it is. His brother pulled out a silver picture frame.
Ma had set these all aside to give to each of her sons when they
married, and as the oldest, it‘s my responsibility to hand them out
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when the time is right. He looked at Eliza. Our ma loved
pictures, even if we only had two in the house.
She took the frame and held it as if it was going to break.
This is lovely, she whispered.
Now you two got to get your picture taken. It was one
of her dying wishes. And just so you don‘t think you‘re off the
hook, there‘s a photographer coming to town in a month. So you
have no excuse to get out of it.
John liked that idea. He wanted a picture of Eliza, and
this would suit just fine.
How exciting! Eliza cheered. Isn‘t this a wonderful
gift, John?
He nodded and squeezed her shoulders.
I don‘t know a woman who doesn‘t like pictures, Aaron
told John, chuckling.
I‘m going to take this into the house. I‘ll put it next to
the vase. She looked at Aaron. John made me a wonderful vase.
He really has an eye for detail. I‘ll be back soon. Then she darted
off to the blanket, picked up the vase, and ran into the house.
John found her enthusiasm infectious. Yes, it was
definitely good to have her back.
Aaron cleared his throat.
He turned his attention back to him.
I‘m not sure how to tell you this. He paused.
John‘s good mood dimmed and he frowned in response.
Troy‘s not happy. I don‘t know if you‘re aware that he
was courting her.
John shook his head and waved his hand. Just because
Eliza went to one dinner engagement with him, it didn‘t mean
they were courting. Besides, she went to get food, not to be with
him. She‘d told him about it, and she included how ashamed
she‘d been to use Troy like that. But it was all water under the
bridge now.
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You know Troy, Aaron continued, his tone serious.
He‘s not one to take this kind of thing sitting down, especially
when it comes to you…and the way he thinks about you.
John knew all too well exactly how Troy thought of him,
and it gave him all the more reason to ignore his least favorite
brother.
Well, don‘t say I didn‘t warn you.
John grabbed Aaron‘s arm as the man turned to get back
on his horse. He pointed at Aaron‘s chest.
Me? You want to know what I think of your marriage?
John nodded. Not that Aaron‘s opinion would change the
situation, but it would be nice to get his oldest brother‘s blessing.
Aaron smiled. I‘m happy for you both. It‘s about time
you got a good woman to keep you out of trouble.
He laughed and John also chuckled, noting the joke for
what it was. The only time John had gotten into trouble while
growing up was when he was seven and decided to cut Shawn‘s
hair.
Aaron hopped on the horse. Enjoy the honeymoon.
Then he waved and left.
John sauntered back to the blanket and sat down just as
Eliza came out of the house.
He‘s gone? Already? I didn‘t even have a chance to
offer him something to eat or drink.
He motioned for her to come over to him. When she did,
he sat her down on his lap and hugged her.
Is this what being married to you is going to be like? I
can‘t even eat without you trying to have your way with me?
He wiggled his eyebrows at her and cupped her breast in
his hand.
Well, that‘s not how it‘s going to be, Mister. I‘m going to
eat first. Then we can do other things. She playfully shoved his
hand away and scrambled off his lap.
He gave her the best wounded look he could muster.
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She laughed and placed the apple in his mouth. Be a
good boy. I promise you‘ll get dessert soon enough.
Well, he was hungry, so he supposed—just this once—
he‘d follow her orders.
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Chapter Eighteen
E
liza had just pulled back the lacy curtains with hunter green
ribbons when John came into the parlor. She glanced at him and
smiled. I found these and thought they would make the room
look prettier. She adjusted the lower half of the curtain and
noticed the way the breeze ruffled the lace. Scanning the entire
room, she added, I think this room is complete now. What do
you think?
He nodded.
She raised an eyebrow. You didn‘t even look.
He shook his head.
Resting a hand on her hip, she grinned. No. You didn‘t
really look. All you did was check out the ribbon on the curtains.
I wanted you to examine the room.
Appearing amused, he made a big show of slowly turning
and squinting at everything in his direct vision.
You‘re humoring me.
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Loving Eliza
He peered at her from the corner of his eye and gave a
slight shrug.
She bit back her laughter. You‘re awful. You do know
that you‘re awful, right?
A smile broke out on his face and he lunged at her.
Shocked, she stepped back and squealed as he pursued her
around the room. It wasn‘t really a contest. He was much too
fast and big for her. He caught up to her and wrapped his arms
around her waist. Then he lifted her in his arms and sat on the
rocking chair, making sure she faced him. He straddled her on his
lap and began to kiss her neck.
The action caught her by surprise and so did the
overwhelming urge to move her hips. She thought that the
sensation would recede if she didn‘t give into it, but it only grew
stronger, and the more they came together as man and wife, the
harder it was to quench the desire burning inside of her.
He cupped her breasts in his hands and she groaned. His
breath was hot on her neck, and she grabbed his arms. Despite
her mind‘s refusal, her body acted on its own accord and she
wiggled until the female part of her centered on the male part of
him. Even through the clothes, the contact felt incredibly sensual.
She moved against him and kissed his forehead, his cheeks and his
lips. His tongue slid into her mouth and she moaned again.
She couldn‘t take the endless restraint anymore. She had
to satisfy the ache that became so intense that nothing else
mattered. He caressed her hips, and she couldn‘t decide if he was
helping her along or if he was unaware of the flow of intense
pleasure prodding her along. She‘d never done this sort of thing
fully dressed, and even as she wanted to strip their clothes so she
could feel his flesh against hers, she couldn‘t stop rocking her
hips.
The chair swayed with her, aiding her along. She cupped
his face in her hands and deepened the kiss, knowing she was the
aggressor this time. His hands tightened on her hips, not
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Ruth Ann Nordin
demanding but encouraging her. And when she came near the
peak, she threw her head back and groaned. Then she gave in
completely to the pleasure that engulfed her and cried out.
Caught up in the sensation, she stilled and was only half aware of
the fact that he was, once again, kissing her neck.
By the time she could focus, she wondered how such a
thing could happen while she wore clothes, even if it was
intriguing to her. But there was that unspoken question lingering
in the back of her mind. Was she still a lady? Here she‘d been,
moving with all the abandon she used to employ as a prostitute,
except this time it wasn‘t an act. Was it something that was
similar to what other wives did or was it a lingering effect from
what she used to be?
She bowed her head so she could look into her husband‘s
eyes.
Her husband.
He was hers, and she was his. He wasn‘t
another customer. He loved her. She saw it in his eyes. She
gently held his face in her hands and caressed his cheeks with her
thumbs. He didn‘t seem to mind that she‘d been aggressive a nd
loud. In fact, judging by the happy look on his face, it actually
seemed that he had enjoyed that side of her.
I love you. You know that, don‘t you? she whispered.
There‘s no one else but you in my heart.
His smile widened and he kissed her. Afterwards, he
stood up and set her on her feet. Then he went over to the small
table by the window, picked up the silver frame, and set it on the
fireplace mantle next to the picture of her son. He then flipped
his hands over in a gesture she‘d come to a ssociate as him saying,
All done.
So you were paying attention when I said to look around
the room.
He nodded. To her surprise, he gave her another kiss and
turned toward the front door.
John?
He paused and looked at her.
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Loving Eliza
She blinked, hardly knowing what to say. Well… She
shrugged and blurted out, Don‘t you want to continue what we
started? She pointed to the chair.
He flipped his hands over.
Now she was baffled. What do you mean, we‘re done? I
don‘t recall you finishing.
He picked up a piece of paper on the kitchen table and
wrote on it.
Curious, she walked over to him and read his message.
I want you to have pleazure.
It was your turn.
She looked at him. You were concerned that I wasn‘t
enjoying myself in bed?
He nodded.
I did. I just didn‘t let myself go all the way. She really
didn‘t know how else to put it, but he understood what she meant.
I didn‘t think a wife should act like that.
He wrote,
A husband wants his wife to be like that.
He pointed
to the chair.
Then he quickly added,
But no clothes on. That is not as
good.
She laughed and nudged him in the arm. You‘re silly. I
promise that I won‘t hold back anymore. And I‘ll be naked next
time.
He smiled and kissed her again before he turned back to
the door.
Are you sure you don‘t want to enjoy yourself before
going back to work out there?
He touched his mouth and then motioned to the clock on
the wall.
After supper?
He nodded.
Alright. And I‘ll make it worth the wait. She winked at
him before she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him on the cheek.
He looked intrigued but grinned and left.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She watched him and thought of how odd it was that he
should be concerned so much about her. But it was wonderfully
odd. In fact, there were many wonderfully odd things about him,
and she loved him for that.
***
A week later, John loaded the rocking chair into the wagon
and sat beside Eliza. She adjusted her hat so that the sunlight
wouldn‘t hit her eyes. It felt strange to be going to town with
John, this time as his wife. She wasn‘t used to being a wife, and so
she had to look at her ring again to remind herself that she wasn‘t
dreaming. It was real. John was real.
She looked over at him and slid closer to him. Slipping
her arm through his, she said, There‘s no need to be shy.
He grinned before he urged the horses forward.
On their way to town, she picked up a fan lying beside her
on the seat and opened it. I can‘t believe this heat, can you? She
waved the fan but it did little good. Next month should be
cooler. Does it get cool quickly this far up north?
He gave a slight nod.
That‘s good. But I guess that means you have longer
winters than what I‘m used to in Nebraska.
He shrugged.
You‘ve never been down there, have you?
He shook his head.
She sighed. That‘s just as well. She‘d hate to have met
him during that part of her life. It was much better with the way
things were now. She resumed fanning herself, but the sweat still
stuck to her. Maybe I should take a bath later today.
Turning his attention to her, he smiled and nodded like an
eager school boy.
She laughed. You men are all the same, you know. Your
mind is always on one thing. She caught him laughing, though no
sound came with it. You need a bath too, Mister .
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Loving Eliza
He leaned over and kissed her.
Keep your eyes on the road. I don‘t want to end up in
the ditch.
Making a big show of rolling his eyes, he faced forward.
You really are a strange man. You do realize that you‘re
strange, don‘t you?
He raised his eyebrows as if he had no idea what she was
talking about.
By the time they reached town, Eliza realized she was
eager to see Addy. When he didn‘t park the wagon on the edge of
town, she asked, You‘re going to go right up to Frank and
Addy‘s house?
He pointed to the chair.
I thought you were going to lug that thing all through
town just to avoid riding through it.
He shook his head as if she was the one who was silly.
You‘re the one who avoids people, not me.
Figuring it was bad manners to be holding onto him in
public, she straightened in her seat and left a suitable distance
between them. She really didn‘t know how close a lady sat next to
her husband but decided it was best to play it safe. It felt good to
be a wife. There was a sense of honor about it. But the fact that
she was married to John was even better.
When they reached their destination, Addy came running
out of the house. It‘s true? You are married? That‘s why you
disappeared from the face of the earth?
Eliza furrowed her eyebrows good-naturedly.
Disappeared from the face of the earth?
John jumped down from the wagon and Eliza moved to
the edge of the seat to wait for him. She could get down on her
own, but she understood that this was how things were done, and
it was refreshing to be held in high enough regard that a man
would go to such lengths to do these things for her because he
valued her as a person.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Yes, Addy replied. I heard you went to the big dinner
at Charity‘s and then vanished. Well, there was that rumor you ate
in the restaurant with John. She smiled at John as he helped Eliza
down. But you didn‘t even tell me you were going to marry him
or anything.
Eliza shook her head at her. If it bothered you that
much, you should have come out and checked for yourself
whether or not I had gone back to his home.
Oh. She glanced at John.
Eliza turned her head and saw that he was taking the
rocking chair down from the wagon.
Addy stepped forward and whispered, I didn‘t wish to
intrude. A newly married woman has better things to do than
have her curious friend sticking her nose in her business.
John came up to them with the chair in his arms.
Addy hurried to the front door and opened it. It looks
just fine, John. You did a terrific job.
Eliza followed him into the house and turned as Addy
entered the parlor.
I think over by the window would be good, Addy said.
Frank asked me to tell you to go to the general store, and he‘ll
pay you there.
John nodded.
I hope you‘ll let Eliza stay with me for a bit.
I would like to stay and talk, Eliza added.
John smiled and gave Eliza a kiss on the cheek. He waved
to Addy before he left.
I hoped you‘d come to your senses about him. Addy
motioned to the door leading to the hallway. Let‘s get something
to drink. I don‘t know about you, but this heat makes me thirsty.
It is hot. Eliza walked into the kitchen. Do you need
any help?
No. I have it. Why don‘t you have a seat and try to cool
off with what little breeze we got coming through the window?
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Loving Eliza
Eliza took off her hat and set it on the table. She liked
this. It felt nice to do something a married woman—a lady—
would do. She was meeting a friend in the middle of the day and
waiting for her husband to return. She glanced at her wedding
ring as the sunlight bounced off the gold band and struck her eyes.
Would she ever get tired of looking at it? Somehow she doubted
it.
Addy chuckled as she set a cool drink in front of Eliza. I
remember when I first married Frank. I couldn‘t get my mind off
of him.
Eliza picked up the glass and drank some of the sweet
liquid. How long have you two been married?
Twenty years.
That long?
It seems like it‘s been half that. You‘ll find that as you
get older, time passes quicker.
I suppose you‘re right.
Addy took her own glass of tea and sat across from her.
You two make a good couple.
Yes. I think so too.
And you don‘t need to worry about Daphne.
No? She looked up from her drink. Is she mad?
Goodness, I should say not! She and Old Willy are
courting.
Eliza blinked, hardly believing her ears. Willy? You
mean, William Jafferty?
That‘s the one.
Well…I remember they met at Charity‘s party, but I didn‘t
think anything would come of it.
Apparently, neither did he. He was concerned because of
their age difference. He‘s nearly twenty years her senior, you
know, but she doesn‘t mind. It‘s good to see him happy again.
He wasn‘t the same since his wife passed away. Now, we got the
old Old Willy back.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
That‘s good. It means that everything‘s worked out
then. And Eliza didn‘t have to feel guilty for stealing John from
the younger woman.
It seems so. Addy took a drink. I did miss you at
church last Sunday. There‘s so much I wanted to tell you.
Oh. Well, John and I were going to go, but we
got…distracted.
A knowing smile formed on her lips. I can imagine.
Eliza traced the bottom of the glass with her fingers.
Can you?
Of course. We‘ve all been there. I missed a couple of
Sundays myself.
Intrigued, Eliza put her glass down and leaned forward so
her elbows rested on the table. Did you?
It wasn‘t intentional, I assure you. It‘s just that Frank
was being sweet and one thing led to another and… She shrugged
and blushed. Well, we didn‘t get our daughter by sitting in the
pew.
That‘s right. Addy had a grown daughter who lived thirty
miles west of them with her husband. Eliza bit her lower lip.
She‘d never had a meaningful conversation with a lady. She‘d
only discussed the deepest questions with other prostitutes. But
Addy was opening up to her, and Eliza had to know for sure if she
was behaving correctly. Addy, can I ask you a personal
question?
Sure. As long as it stays between us.
It will. Taking a deep breath, she asked, When you‘re
alone with Frank, do you ever…get caught up in the moment and
act in a not-so-ladylike way?
I didn‘t realize there was a ladylike way to behave.
Yes, there was. Some of her customers had made
comments on how their wives behaved in the bedroom, but she
didn‘t dare explain that to Addy.
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Loving Eliza
Addy lowered her voice. I never discussed this with
anyone, but I feel comfortable with you. I assure you that my
manners in the bedroom are not something I would ever do in
public.
Eliza immediately felt like a weight had been lifted off her
shoulders.
Are you worried that you are acting inappropriately?
Yes, Eliza confessed. I‘ve never been a wife before, so
I don‘t know how to act like one.
Just be yourself. That‘s all you really can be.
Well, John doesn‘t seem to mind.
Then what‘s there to worry about? It seems to me that
what happens between a married couple is nobody‘s business but
their own.
Thank you, Addy.
Anytime. She tapped her fingers on the table. There is
something I wanted to ask you but didn‘t think it was right to do
before.
What is it?
What was it really like to work for Harriet Lube?
Eliza groaned. It was awful. She did nothing but
complain. Nothing I ever did pleased her.
Did you ever notice a foul smell coming from her attic?
What? No. Why would I notice such a thing?
Addy giggled. There‘s a rumor going around that she has
dead rats in her attic.
I never saw a dead rat anywhere, and I had to clean her
attic.
Yes. I remember that one.
Eliza broke into a wicked grin. Maybe she ate them.
Oh, of course she didn‘t.
I did see some strange looking meat in that house, she
joked.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Addy laughed and picked up her glass. I‘m glad you
don‘t have to work for her anymore. I know she doesn‘t pay any
of her workers a fair amount of money.
Is that why you asked me over for supper as much as you
did?
She grew serious. I worried about you. I looked for a
better job but couldn‘t find one, and I feared you‘d never accept
an offer for me to take you in and house you here.
You‘re right. I wouldn‘t have. I‘m much too stubborn.
I wanted to prove I could make it on my own.
It‘s a good thing John got you when he did.
Eliza glanced at her friend, wondering just how much
Addy really understood about the situation but deciding it was
best to leave some things unasked.
I‘m also relieved nothing happened between you and
Troy.
No. I only went with him to Charity‘s party because I
wanted to eat.
Was it that bad?
Eliza didn‘t like to think about it. Every time she did, she
recalled how close she‘d come to selling her body for money. She
never realized temptation could creep up on her like that. Forcing
the memory aside, she said, I never would have married Troy.
Of course, until Old Willy met Daphne, he was interested
in you as well. I guess you could have had your pick of any of the
available men you wanted.
Maybe, but there was only one I wanted to be with.
She smiled. And I‘m glad for that.
Eliza returned her smile. I am too. I never knew that
love could be this wonderful or that I could be this happy.
John‘s sure not complaining. You two go well together.
You‘re right.
And I‘m glad you came to your senses before it was too
late.
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Loving Eliza
Eliza agreed with her on that one too. Few things were as
fulfilling as finding a man like John, someone who knew all about
her and loved her anyway.
Addy stood up. Now, come on. I want to show you
your wedding gift. We got you and John a rug.
How did you know we needed one?
I remember you mentioned that shortly after you arrived
in town.
You have a good memory.
Well, come and see it. I think you‘ll be pleased.
Eliza got up and followed her to the other room.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Chapter Nineteen
T
hree weeks later when the photographer was due to come to
town, Eliza took the time to put her hair up in a fashionable hair
style. She even had on her best dark blue dress for the occasion.
This would be permanent, something that she would always look
back on and remember with great fondness, so she wanted to look
her best. When she was happy with the way she looked, she left
the bedroom to find John who was sitting in a chair at the kitchen
table with one of her books open.
Are you able to understand all of that? she asked.
He looked up from the book and shook his head.
Give it time. It‘ll come to you. She picked up a hat and
put it on her head. She hoped it wouldn‘t mess up her hair. She
decided she wouldn‘t wear it when it came time for the
photographer to take her and John‘s picture, but for now, it would
have to do. She turned to her husband and smiled. You‘re
wearing the same clothes you had on when we met. It suits you
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Loving Eliza
very well. When I look at the picture, I‘ ll always remember the
first time we met. I thought you were annoying in some ways but
sweet in others.
He raised an eyebrow at her.
Well, in some ways you were annoying. You wouldn‘t
leave me alone. She walked over to him and wrapped her arms
around his shoulders. But that was also sweet. Thank you for
not giving up on me.
He softly kissed her before he stood up and retrieved his
hat from the table.
I can‘t wait to see the picture when it‘s ready. Can you?
He shrugged.
She sighed. I guess pictures are a female thing. Alright.
I‘m finally ready and we‘re not running behind. I did good
today.
Smiling, he followed her out of the house. On the way to
town, she spent the time discussing how they might stand or sit
for the picture. She always liked pictures. It was a picture that
allowed her a tangible connection to her son, and now a picture
would be the thing to tell the world that she and John did live in
this place. She had a hard time sitting still. For once, the trip to
town seemed to take much too long. He seemed amused by her
eagerness, but she didn‘t pay his teasing glances any mind. The
fact remained that this was a perfect day. The day was cool
enough to enjoy it, and the sun shone brightly. Yes. It was
perfect.
When John parked the wagon on the edge of town, she
didn‘t have the patience to wait for him to help her down. By the
time he reached her side, she was already on the ground. She
adjusted her dress and took his elbow. Maybe we should see
what Addy and Frank are up to before we leave. What do you
think?
He nodded.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
It wasn‘t hard to find where the photographer was. In
front of the general store was a line of people waiting for their
pictures to be taken, and the photographer was busy setting up his
equipment. Eliza and John took their spot in line.
It looks like the whole town came out for this, she told
John. Well, at least mostly everyone.
She didn‘t see Harriet Lube anywhere, and that was a
relief. She figured she‘d have to run into the grouchy woman at
some point but was more than happy to delay that event.
However, she did see Troy there. He sat across the street talking
to two men. He glanced their way and she quickly looked away.
She hadn‘t spoken to him since the night of Charity‘s dinner. In
church, she and John sat on the other side of the room, and Troy
had left them alone. Still, she couldn‘t shrug off her unease
whenever she did see him. She felt that she should apologize for
leaving him as abruptly as she had but didn‘t know how. It was
much too awkward.
Good morning, John. Good morning, Eliza, a woman
called out.
They turned and saw Alan Gray and Bethany Grooms
behind them.
Eliza blinked in surprise. Why, Alan, you‘re out in
public.
He chuckled. I‘ve been known to get out once in awhile.
I don‘t hide in my room all the time.
Oh I know, but you did keep to yourself a lot.
That‘s before he met me, Bethany said.
Actually, I should thank you for introducing us, Alan
added. We‘ve decided to marry come spring.
No kidding? Eliza asked.
We would marry today but don‘t want to rush it,
Bethany stated.
Well, that‘s great, Eliza said. Isn‘t that great, John?
He nodded.
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Loving Eliza
Eliza grinned. I‘m happy for you both. Now Alan can
start living life instead of reading about it.
Alan laughed. I do still read.
Just not as often, Bethany added.
Marshal Custer ran over to them, interrupting their
conversation. Oh good. I‘m glad you‘re in town, he told John.
I need you to fix a broken step in my house. I was going to go
out and get you, but since you‘re here, would you mind doing it
now?
John glanced at the photographer and then at Eliza.
I‘ll talk to the photographer so he‘ll take your picture
first, the marshal said.
John nodded and they followed Ralph over to the
photographer who held a dry plate in his hand.
Corbin, Ralph called out, getting the photographer‘s
attention. I‘m the marshal here in town, and I have something
that needs fixing in my house. Now, this man John here is the
only one qualified to fix it. I was wondering if I could move him
and Eliza to the front of the line so that he can tend to my home.
Corbin gave her a good look. Eliza? That‘s your name?
She shifted from one foot to the other, unsure of why the
question unsettled her. Yes.
He smiled. I thought you looked familiar.
Her eyes grew wide. No. It couldn‘t be. No this far out
west…in this small town.
I‘ll be happy to take your picture. I‘m just about ready.
Why don‘t you two go on over there. J ohn, you sit in that chair
and Eliza, you stand beside him and put your hand on his
shoulder.
She numbly followed John to the platform with the light
green curtain behind it. She took a deep breath to settle the panic
rising in her chest. He wouldn‘t come out and tell anyone
how
he
knew her, would he? Despite her slight trembling, she managed
to stand beside John and set a hand on his shoulder.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
John glanced at her, obviously sensing something wasn‘t
right.
She forced a smile. I‘ve never had a picture taken
before. Her voice shook. She hadn‘t meant for it to, but it really
couldn‘t be helped. A part of her past was behind that camera
and could easily announce what she used to be to the entire town.
Let‘s just go home as soon as you‘re done with that step. We can
come back another day to see Addy.
His gaze shifted from her to the photographer and then
back to her.
She knew the question in his eyes. Had Corbin been one
of her customers? She hated answering it but knew she had to.
Yes. He‘s from Omaha.
I need you two to look at the camera, Corbin shouted
out.
She forced her eyes on the camera. All she could do was
act as if nothing was wrong. Maybe everything would be fine.
There was no reason to panic. She focused on her breathing and
counted silently. Her hands steadied and she was able to give a
slight smile when Corbin counted backwards from three to one.
After he took the picture, he called out, I‘ll have it ready
by tomorrow morning.
She breathed a sigh of relief as the next couple with two
children were ushered forward. She gladly stepped down from the
platform. One look over her shoulder told her that Corbin had
turned his attention to the next people in line. Maybe that was it.
Maybe there was nothing to worry about after all.
The marshal walked over to them. Will you come over
and fix that step now? he asked John.
She was aware that John glanced in her direction but she
couldn‘t make eye contact with him. Even if he knew what she‘d
been and what she‘d done, she just couldn‘t look at him at that
moment. For him to see one of the men she‘d been intimate with
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Loving Eliza
wasn‘t something she relished. She‘d hoped that she‘d never see
any of those men again.
She didn‘t know what else to do except sit in one of the
few vacant chairs in front of the general store. She didn‘t feel like
seeing Addy or talking to anyone. She just wanted to wait for
John and then go home. After John left with Ralph, she settled
into the chair and put her face in her hands. She couldn‘t come
back out here tomorrow and face Corbin again. She just couldn‘t.
All she wanted was for the past to stay buried in the past. Why
did he have to come to town and stir up old memories? Why
couldn‘t the past just stay there? Maybe she could have Frank or
Addy pick up the picture tomorrow. Then she could avoid
coming back while Corbin was still in town.
She wrapped her arms around herself, suddenly feeling
vulnerable. She wished she had brought the picture of her son but
she hadn‘t. Glancing up at the crowd, she watched Corbin as he
took another picture, acting as if nothing was wrong. Well, maybe
for him, nothing was wrong. He, after all, had only seen her as a
prostitute, and who knew how many of those he‘d visited in his
time? Maybe it made no difference that she was there. All he said
was hi. He hadn‘t been rude. If he‘d wanted to come out and tell
everyone what she‘d been, he would have already done it,
wouldn‘t he?
Another family moved to the platform and assembled to
get their picture taken. Corbin told them how to stand. She
watched the process for awhile. The line moved slowly. Not
once did Corbin look in her direction. That was a good sign,
wasn‘t it? Maybe he would leave her alone. Maybe she worried
over nothing. She stood for a moment and peer ed into the
general store to check the clock. She‘d been there for a full fifteen
minutes. Sitting back down, she slowly exhaled. John had to fix
one step. Once he was done, he‘d be back and they could go
home. Surely, he was almost done by now.
I never did congratulate you, a familiar voice said.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Jerking, she turned to Troy who was now sitting next to
her. She placed her hand over her heart. I didn‘t see you come
over here.
Apparently not.
Great. It wasn‘t bad enough that Cor bin was within
viewing range, but she had to contend with Troy as well. Shifting
in the chair, she cleared her throat and said, I never did apologize
for leaving the way I did. When I was heading out of the house, I
ran into John, and… She hesitated, knowing that whatever she
said, it wouldn‘t come out right. Men never handled rejection
well. At least, not in her experience. I mean, it was just a dinner
we were going to. We weren‘t courting or anything. And even if
they were, she had every right to marry John anyway. She‘d been
under no obligation to marry Troy. Ever.
Troy leaned back in his chair. You don‘t have to explain
anything to me. You loved him all along. You should be with
him.
Right. She didn‘t believe him. The nagging feeling that
there was something bad about him was screaming at her.
Thank you, she finally said, deciding it was best to act as if he
meant it.
I see you two got your picture taken.
Yes. Now she had to look for an excuse to get out of
there. She scanned the crowd of people who mingled around the
business district. There really wasn‘t anyone she felt comfortable
going up to and starting a conversation with. She glanced through
the doorway and saw that Frank was helping a customer. When
would John get back?
I figured that you two got one of those silver frames,
Troy continued. Our mother gave Aaron one for each of her
sons, even John. None of us thought he‘d ever get married at the
time, but he sure showed us.
She frowned, not particularly caring for the way he
laughed. He almost married Daphne.
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I know. Everyone knows. If Daphne had showed up
first, then John would‘ve married her when you came into town.
She blinked at the bitter edge in his words.
But things work out for the best, he continued, his eyes
sharp even as he smiled. Good Old Willy has a reason to smile
again. Those two are going to do well together.
That was it. Eliza didn‘t care if Frank was with a customer
or not. She had to get away from Troy. She quickly got to her
feet. I just remember something I have to get from the store. It
was real nice seeing you again, Troy.
She didn‘t wait for him to respond. As soon as she was in
the store, she wiped her hands on her dress, hoping to dry them.
She shouldn‘t break out into a sweat just because she talked to
someone. What was it about Troy that bothered her? Was it
always going to be like this? She hated it. Hated having Corbin
out there, taking pictures, and knowing exactly what she used to
be. Hated having Troy lingering around, thinking that she‘d
duped him. She never should have agreed to go to that stupid
party with him. If she hadn‘t been so hungry, she wouldn‘t have.
It was better than sleeping with Alan so he‘d give her money for
the restaurant. Wasn‘t it?
She squeezed her eyes shut tight, willing the tears away.
This was supposed to be a good day. She and John were getting
their picture taken. It was supposed to be perfect. So why was it
quickly turning sour? And how could she get things back to how
they should be?
Eliza, are you alright?
She opened her eyes and looked at Frank‘s concerned
expression. Oh. Hello, Frank. I…Uh… She glanced around the
store. What could she use back home?
Corbin entered the store. Oh good. Do you have a
screwdriver? he asked Frank. I got a loose screw out there.
She took a step back, wishing she could fade into the
background or slip out. She glanced out the window and noticed
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that Troy was still sitting by the door. Gritting her teeth, she
wondered if there was a door in the hallway behind the counter
that would lead outside. Was there an alley behind the store?
Frank turned to his counter and pulled out a drawer
beneath his cash register. I have one in here somewhere.
Corbin smiled at her. It sure is nice to see a familiar face.
I do a lot of traveling, so I rarely get a chance to meet up with
someone twice.
You know Eliza? Frank asked.
We had some business a couple of times.
Eliza was going to throw up. She just knew he was going
to tell Frank what kind of business they had. Another glance out
the window showed her that Troy hadn‘t budged from his spot.
She couldn‘t decide who was worse. Both Troy and Corbin were
dangerous, just for different reasons.
Found it, Frank called out.
Thank you. Corbin took the screwdriver and left.
She breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn‘t told Frank! She
didn‘t know why, but he was being quiet about the whole thing.
Maybe he understood that she wanted out of that business and
needed a second chance to do it. Whatever the reason, she wasn‘t
going to let the opportunity slip by.
I better find John. We should head back home, she told
Frank. Will you tell Addy hi and that I‘ll see her next time I
come into town?
Are you sure that‘s all you want? I do have lots of
goodies on the shelves, he hinted with a wide grin.
You‘re always the salesman, Frank. We‘ll spend our
money here next time we‘re in town. I promise.
I‘ll hold you to that.
She couldn‘t help but smile.
Frank, can you come out here? We need help with the
platform!
One look out the door notified her that it had fallen over.
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I better assist.
Frank, do you have a door that leads to the alley? she
quietly asked.
He stepped closer to her and whispered, Trying to avoid
Troy?
How did you know?
Addy.
Yes. As a matter of fact, I am trying to avoid him.
He nodded. Back down that small hallway is the
backroom. The door is there.
Thank you, Frank.
Anytime.
She slipped out the door he mentioned and breathed in
the fresh air. She was alone in the alley, and she never felt so
good to get away from people in her entire life. She turned in the
direction that would lead to Charity‘s house and made her way
down the dirty alley, careful to lift the hem of her dress.
She reached the end of the row of businesses and stepped
onto the dusty road, squinting in the sunlight. John would be
three blocks away. She strolled along, thinking of how odd it was
that things were so quiet in this section of town but she figured all
the activity was in the center part of it. When she approached
Harriet Lube‘s house, her stomach tensed and she paused. Did
she dare even walk in front of the woman‘s residence? Harriet
rarely looked out her windows. Maybe she could quickly pass by
unnoticed. That was the curse of living in a small town.
Everyone knew everyone else, and when something bad
happened, it made future dealings a very unpleasant experience.
I thought you might be down this way.
She gasped and whirled around.
Corbin sauntered up to her, looking as if he didn‘t have a
care in the world. It sure is good to see you again, honey.
I‘m not your honey.
Not all the time. Just when I pay you to be.
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She took a deep breath to settle her nerves. P lease
Mister… She suddenly realized she didn‘t even know his last
name. But what did that matter? I don‘t want any trouble.
I don‘t want any trouble either. Why do you think I kept
my mouth shut back there? However, I have been looking for a
moment to speak to you…alone.
I‘m married. I don‘t do that anymore.
He chuckled. Married? You? A prostitute?
I‘m not one anymore. I came here to leave that life
behind.
He stopped laughing and sighed. That‘s a shame. I saw
you and hoped that we could… He shrugged. Well, you know.
In a town this size, it‘s not likely there‘s a brothel either.
No, there‘s not.
Very well. I‘ll just have to wait until I get to a town that
does. Sorry to disturb you, Eliza.
Was that really it? Was he going to leave it at that? She
tried to think back to what she‘d learned about Corbin, but there
had been so many men who‘d come her way, it was hard to
remember who was who. All she could remember was his face.
She sighed. She hoped he was one of the nicer ones.
She turned around and nearly ran into Harriet who had a
satisfied smirk on her face. Interesting, Harriet said as she
scanned her from head to toe. A prostitute, hmm?
Mrs. Lube, I‘d appreciate it if you didn‘t say anything.
I bet.
Eliza struggled on how to handle the woman. In her time
of working for her, Mrs. Lube hadn‘t proven to be a rational
woman. I worked hard to get out of that life.
You certainly did. You took your feminine wiles and
married that poor retard who didn‘t know any better.
Something in Eliza snapped. Now you listen here, you
tired out old hag. It‘s one thing for you to point the finger at what
I used to do, but when you talk about my husband that way, it‘s
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the final straw. I have put up with you long enough. You
promised me money for my work, and yet you‘ve cheated me out
of a good $4.
Because you didn‘t earn it.
I did so earn it! I went without food and you sat there
and ate right in front of me, knowing how hungry I was and
refusing to have enough compassion to let me even have a scrap
of food from your table. You even fed the stray dog that makes
his rounds to your place once a day, but you couldn‘t spare
anything for me.
And it looks to me like someone who‘d give her body in
order to make a living is beneath a dog. The only man who‘d
have you is one who can‘t tell the difference.
Eliza slapped her.
The woman pressed her hand to her cheek, looking
horrified.
I warned you not to speak about John that way.
Harriet threw down her cane and screamed.
Startled, Eliza stepped back, not sure of how to react. The
stupid woman was a loon through and through.
She‘s beating me! Make her stop!
Why you— Eliza pulled on the woman‘s hair. I‘ve had
enough of you, you witch! Now, shut up.
She‘s hurting me!
She let go of the woman and retrieved the cane. You
want this? Then stop your hollering.
What is the meaning of this? a man called out.
Great. A group of people came running to see what the
ruckus was about. I ought to club you over the head with this,
Eliza hissed.
Harriet glared at her. I wouldn‘t expect less from a
whore.
Eliza‘s hand tightened around the club, but this time her
actions were out of anxiety instead of anger. Please don‘t tell
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them. Look, I‘m sor ry. I won‘t do anything to upset you ever
again.
Then I guess you‘ll have to keep coming to my house and
working for me. My silence will be payment enough, don‘t you
agree?
Eliza winced. Could she afford to make such a deal?
Sooner or later, she‘d do something or say something to upset the
woman, and the woman would end up revealing her secret
anyway. Eliza knew people like Harriet all too well.
“Be a good
girl,”
her uncle once whispered in her ear.
“As long as you don’t tell
anyone our little secret, I won’t let your aunt get rid of you.”
But when she
got pregnant, he quickly forgot that promise. No. She couldn‘t
afford to make such a pact. There was no honor among liars, and
sooner or later, Harriet would grow tired of her and tell the town
anyway. She was tired of living in fear.
Eliza handed the cane back to Harriet as the people
reached them. No, Mrs. Lube. We are not in agreement. I will
never be your slave again.
The group crowded around them. She recognized a few
of them, but most of the people had turned back to whatever they
had already been doing. The ones that remained were all just a
bunch of busybodies who had absolutely nothing better to do
than to mind other people‘s business. Every town had them, and
every town had a Harriet Lube who patiently waited for the right
moment to strike a deal, only to turn the tables at the most
inopportune time.
In that case, Harriet began, turning to the crowd, I
suppose these nice, moral people might like to know what kind of
woman they have in their midst. Is that what you want?
The people, naturally, were curious. Why wouldn‘t they
be? They could taste the sweetness of gossip when its fruit was
ripe.
Eliza was tired of fighting. All of her life, she‘d hidden.
She either hid from herself or from someone else, but she‘d
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always hidden something. What was it her father once told her?
The truth shall set you free?
I‘ll save you the trouble, she told Harriet. Looking at
the crowd and ignoring her pounding heart, she said, Before I
came here, I was a prostitute. I didn‘t want to be one, but when I
was fourteen, my uncle sold me into the profession. I came here
for a clean start. But I guess there are some things that one can
never run from, no matter how hard they try.
Her gaze shifted from Harriet‘s startled look to John who
had finally shown up. A little too late. She felt numb as she
moved forward. As if on cue, the crowd parted for her. She
didn‘t dare look any of them in the eye. As long as she could keep
her focus on what was in front of her, she would make progress.
Somehow, she‘d rise above this. She was a survivor. She‘d always
survived, and she wasn‘t about to stop now.
She stopped in front of J ohn and finally looked up at him.
Of all the people there, he was the only one who‘d devastate her if
he turned his back on her. Tears came to her eyes as he put his
arm around her and led her down the road, away from the people,
away from the whispers and stares. For once, she was glad he
parked on the edge of town.
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Chapter Twenty
E
liza sat on the bed and stared out the window, not really seeing
anything. A tear trickled down her cheek. This was supposed to
be a good day. Part of her wanted to take the picture frame and
smash it. The only thing that stopped her was knowing that
John‘s mother wanted him to have it. She pulled her knees up to
her chest and rested her cheek on them. She closed her eyes and
took deep breaths.
All was not lost. John still loved her. He took her home.
She cried while she told him what she did and why. He didn‘t
make any gestures to communicate. He simply held her close and
let her cry. Then she asked to be alone so he went to his work
house while she undressed until she was in her chemise and
petticoats and sat on the bed. She didn‘t know how much time
passed as she sat there, contemplating her life and how tired she
was of running from her past. Now that she‘d come out and told
everyone the truth, there was no hiding from it. And now she‘d
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face whatever consequences came from it. She was done running.
But it hurt. There was no denying how much it hurt.
The front door opened and she lifted her head and turned
her attention to the bedroom doorway. It had to be John. If it
wasn‘t, then the person would have knocked. Sure enough, John
peered around the corner of the doorway and looked at her with a
question in his eyes.
If people avoided you before, you just wait. No one will
go near you now. She swallowed the lump in her throat and
turned back to the window. Another tear slid down her cheek.
He sat next to her, his body warm and solid against her,
and his lips brushed her shoulder.
How can you still want to be with me? she asked, her
voice trembling.
He reached for her hand and pressed it against his heart.
He loved her. Of course, the answer was so easy to him. But
then, that‘s how John was. He saw things in black and white;
things were either good or bad, and when he looked at her, he
didn‘t see any of the grays that shadowed her for years.
She tightened her hold on his hand and turned so she was
facing him. Even as she felt more tears forming in her eyes, she
kissed him, taking comfort in his touch. She needed him. It‘d
been so long since she admitted that she needed anyone, and it
scared her to no end to confess it but she whispered, I need
you, before she buried her face in his neck.
His response was to pull her into his arms and kiss the top
of her head. They stayed still for a few minutes, and she focused
on the calm beating of his heart and the steady rhythm of his
breathing. When it was just the two of them together, the rest of
the world seemed to slip away and nothing else mattered. She
loved that most about being with him.
He stroked her back and she felt her muscles relax. She
closed her eyes and enjoyed the moment, for she would learn to
appreciate each moment for what it was instead of worrying about
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what would happen next. Tomorrow would take care of itself.
For now, she was loved and cherished, and she‘d drown herself in
the affection her husband was bestowing upon her.
She pulled away from him so she could undo the strings
on her chemise. He leaned forward and kissed the side of her
neck. A slight smile crossed her face as he offered to help her out
of her undergarments. His hands were familiar to her by now,
and she granted him access to anything he wanted to touch.
Once she was naked before him, she gave him a small
smile and whispered, It‘d be more fun if you took off your
clothes too.
To her surprise, he didn‘t let her undress him. He hopped
off the bed and shrugged his clothes off so fast that if she‘d
blinked, she would have missed it.
Well, you‘re a little eager, aren‘t you?
He smiled and jumped into bed and pulled her into his
arms.
She laughed. The simple action of laughing made her feel
so much better. She‘d forgotten how uplifting something like a
laugh could be, but she suspected he made her laugh for that very
reason. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him,
giving herself permission to fully enjoy him.
He returned her kiss, his lips firm but not impatient. He‘d
take his time to enjoy her. He laid her on her back and took his
time in caressing her skin. His kisses drifted from her mouth to
her cheeks and down her neck and lower. She ran her fingers
over his skin as he kissed her body, not leaving one inch untended
to. Where his lips went, his hands followed, and in his actions,
she felt adored. She‘d heard that making love could be an act of
devotion, an act where a man showed the woman that she was the
most important person in his life, but she didn‘t fully understand
it until then.
When he came back up and kissed her lips, she decided
she would do the same for him, for she wanted him to know how
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much she loved him and though she hadn‘t connected lovemaking
with real love, she could now. She liked the give and take that was
taking place, and it became clear how two people could become
one. One mind, one heart, one flesh. There was something
spiritual in the process, in what was happening between them.
And to think she thought there was nothing new to learn in doing
this.
She wanted him to be on top of her when he entered her
so she urged him to roll on top of her, and he followed her lead.
She closed her eyes and embraced the feelings his movements
aroused in her. He took her hands in his and she held on tight,
wishing they could always be like this. The sensation was slow in
building, their bodies moving at a leisurely pace. She took in the
small details associated with him; his smell, the sound of his
uneven breathing, the taste of his skin, and the feel of the male
part of him. She kept her eyes closed so she could absorb
everything, wanting to remember this moment for the rest of her
life.
When she felt the urge to moan, she did. And when her
release came, she cried out and clung to him, no longer self-
conscious about voicing her pleasure. He came soon after and
collapsed on top of her. She held him even closer, unwilling to let
him go. She wasn‘t ready to let this moment in time pass. Not
yet. And he stayed with her. Even as the minutes ticked from the
clock in the kitchen, they remained still, listening to the birds
singing outside and feeling the gentle caress of the breeze that
drifted in through the window.
And she knew that no matter what the future brought,
he‘d be with her every step of the way. She was no longer alone in
this world.
***
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The next day came and to John‘s surprise, he saw Frank
and Addy as they rode their buggy up to his property. He set
aside the second vase he had started for Eliza, hoping to make
one for every room in the house so she could have flowers
everywhere she went. He stood up and left the work building.
He didn‘t expect anyone to come onto his land. People usually
stayed away when things got unpleasant, and there had been no
mistaking the uncomfortable atmosphere in town yesterday. As
he approached Frank and Addy, he gave a hesitant wave.
How you doing, John? Frank asked in his familiar
friendly tone.
John relaxed. So they hadn‘t come to criticize Eliza. That
was good. She needed to have friends in her corner, people
besides him who would support her through this trial in her life.
He wanted to thank them for coming out but didn‘t know how
unless he wrote it down. So he settled for shaking Frank‘s hand
and smiling at Addy.
After Frank helped Addy down from the buggy, she
turned to John and took a package from the seat. I figured that
neither one of you would go to town today to pick up your
picture.
She was right. They hadn‘t planned on it, so he nodded.
Well, we thought we‘d bring the picture to you. Is Eliza
ready to receive company? I‘d like to give it to her.
He motioned for them to follow him. When he opened
the front door, he heard Eliza moving around in the bedroom.
He gestured to the kitchen table for them to sit and went to find
his wife.
Eliza was gathering a pile of their dirty clothes and putting
them into a basket. She smiled when she saw him. Is there
anything else you want me to wash today?
He shook his head and held his hand out to her.
What is it?
He waved her forward and pointed to the kitchen.
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Loving Eliza
She frowned. Is someone here?
He nodded and smiled encouragingly at her.
Then it‘s good? She sounded hesitant.
He wished he could tell her it was alright, but all he could
do was smile and gently take her hand in his.
She didn‘t fight him, but he noted the way her steps
slowed as they got closer to the kitchen.
Addy and Frank, who were sitting together, looked up as
they entered the room.
Addy jumped up and ran over to hug Eliza.
John let go of Eliza‘s hand so she could hug Addy back.
How are you doing? Addy asked.
I-Well… Eliza glanced at John and then at Frank. You
did hear about me…About what I used to be?
Addy pulled away but held onto her hands. Yes.
Everyone knows by now, and we‘re terribly sorry for what
happened to you when you were fourteen. Why, you were just a
child.
Frank cleared his throat. It‘s a mighty shame. We‘re just
glad you got out of that life and married up with John.
Melissa spoke about how excited she was that you were
coming, Addy said. Seeing as how her cousin is a preacher, it
makes sense. She kept saying how wonderful it was that you were
getting a second chance. Of course, I didn‘t really understand
what she meant until yesterday. I hope you realize that you do
have friends in this town.
Addy‘s been fretting up something awful that you and
John will leave for a new town. We certainly don‘t want to see
you two go.
As soon as John saw the tears form in Eliza‘s eyes, he
grabbed the handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.
She laughed as she accepted it. He always seems to know
what I need. After she dabbed her eyes, she looked at them. I
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can‘t tell you how much this means to me. I‘m fortunate to have
you all in my life.
We also came to bring you your picture. Addy pulled
the lid off the box and took out the photograph.
John leaned forward and thought it turned out well. No
one would know that Eliza had been shaking. He nudged her in
the side and pointed to her.
You think I‘m beautiful? Eliza guessed.
He nodded.
Now how do you two communicate like that? Frank
wondered, looking intrigued.
Oh Frank, Addy began with a grin, they don‘t need to
speak to know what the other one is thinking. Love has its own
language.
I suppose you‘re right. He looked at John. But I still
need you to write things down.
Eliza laughed again, and John suddenly realized how much
he missed that sound. Yesterday had been such a somber day, and
he hated watching her cry. He went to retrieve the silver frame
from the parlor and came back so he could put the photograph in
it. Then he showed it to her.
He doesn‘t look so tall when he‘s sitting, does he? Eliza
noted. Glancing at him, she said, You can seem intimidating at
times, you know.
He blinked. Him? Intimidating?
That‘s true, Frank agreed. It‘s because of your height.
Eliza placed the picture down on the shelf above the
cookstove. Thank you for bringing this out. I do like it.
Every woman should have a picture of her and her
husband, Addy commented.
Will you two stay for lunch? I was just about to make
something.
We‘d be delighted. And let me help.
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Loving Eliza
Frank stood up. I don‘t know about you, John, but I
take that as my cue to leave.
What? You don‘t want to make a casserole dish? Addy
teased.
You know very well what would happen if I were to help
out in the kitchen.
She sighed. He‘s right. She looked at Eliza and John.
He nearly burned down the kitchen in our first year of marriage.
I have banned him from the cookstove ever since.
You won‘t hear me complaining about that either. He
turned to John. You want to show me what you‘re working on?
John nodded and grabbed some paper and a pencil. It‘d
be nice to have a real conversation with Frank for a change
instead of nodding or shaking his head. He kissed Eliza on the
cheek.
Oh now I can‘t have John showing me up here, Frank
grumbled good-naturedly. He walked up to Addy, put his arms
around her, leaned her back and gave her a long kiss. By the time
he set her upright, she was blushing. There. Now when John
here has been married to you for a good twenty some odd years,
he‘ll kiss you like that, he told Eliza before heading out of the
house.
Addy tapped Eliza on the arm. We ought to come out
here more often.
John chuckled to himself as he followed Frank out the
door.
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Chapter Twenty-One
E
liza went out to the creek the next morning to do some light
washing. Fall was quick in coming, but she thought she might
take advantage of the warm weather while it lingered i n the air.
She had taken some soap and a washcloth. She took off her
clothes and knelt by the cool water so she could wash her hair.
The row of trees provided a sense of privacy from anyone who
might ride onto John‘s property to visit, though she doubted
anyone would do that while it was still early in the morning. She
rose with the dawn, something that she hadn‘t done in a long
time.
She wasn‘t accustomed to the sunrise. John didn‘t need to
be up at dawn like a farmer did, so he liked to sleep until around
eight. Even when she worked for that horrible Harriet Lube, she
woke up at eight to be at Harriet‘s door in the half hour. This was
a nice change, she decided as she dipped her hands in the cool
water and rubbed the soap until she had built up a nice lather. She
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filled the cup with water, bent her head forward so her hair fell in
front of her, and tipped the cup so the water poured over her
tresses. Then she worked the lather into her hair before she
rinsed it. Reaching for the comb she‘d brought along, she picked
it up and worked the tangles out, gritting her teeth each time the
comb got stuck. She patiently worked through her hair.
At one point, she thought she heard a twig snap, so she
stopped and glanced over her shoulder, only to see a squ irrel run
up a tree. She did a quick scan of the trees around her. It hadn‘t
occurred to her how far the house was from the creek until that
moment. Everything seemed normal, and yet she couldn‘t shake
the feeling that something was wrong. She threw her comb on the
towel beside her and decided she could bathe later. Next time,
she‘d take John with her. She stood up and threw on her
undergarments and dress. Just as she was finishing her top
button, she turned around and saw Troy standing in front of her.
She gasped and nearly fell back. As soon as she caught
her footing, she grabbed her comb and pointed the sharp edge of
the handle in his direction. The edge really wasn‘t all that sharp,
but it would do. She took a step back, careful not to slip.
It‘s a shame you put those clothes back on, he calmly
stated, his expression cold.
What do you want? she yelled, hoping John would hear
her. Surely, he‘d investigate if he thought someone was on their
property.
He sneered at her. How cute. You think John‘s going to
hear you and come running. It‘s too bad someone shut the
windows in the house.
She didn‘t know whether to believe him or not, but there
was no way she was going to take her chances if she didn‘t have
to. She took a step to the side, careful to keep the comb pointed
at him. Get away from me, Troy!
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I don‘t think so, Eliza, he said in a low tone. Word on
the street is you‘re used to being alone with men. You owe me,
honey.
Her heart caught in her throat and she struggled to take a
deep breath. She needed to think clearly. Now wasn‘t the time to
panic. Stop it! Get out of here! She took two steps closer to
the house. But the house was still too far! She didn‘t dare turn
her back on him. She needed to keep the sharp edge of her comb
on him. It could mean the difference between him succeeding in
what he‘d come to do and her getting away.
He chuckled. Yes, ma‘am. Just because you tell me to
do something, I should do it. He lowered his hands and undid
his belt buckle. You were supposed to stay with me during that
dinner at the Custer house but you bailed on me so you could
marry John. Do you really think I‘m going to let you off the hook
for that? He unzipped his pants and approached her.
Oh crap! Her hands started to shake and flashbacks came
at her full force. She took a deep breath and steeled her resolve.
No. She wasn‘t fourteen and he wasn‘t her uncle. It didn‘t have
to end the same way! She took another deep breath and screamed
at the top of her lungs. Then she scrambled backwards, toward
the house, but not daring to keep her focus off of the beast in
front of her.
He lunged for her and she sidestepped so that he tripped
on the tree root that had been at her foot. Still screaming, she
tightened her grip on the comb and bolted for the house. How
much time did she just buy? A few seconds. That was all, but she
was going to use those few seconds to her advantage. Adrenaline
shot through her as her bare feet ran over rocks and sticks that
jabbed her. Flesh wounds. She could tend to those later. She
heard him get up and glanced back to assess how much distance
she‘d gained. Not enough!
Screaming while she was running was making it hard for
her to breathe, but she figured it was her best offense. If John
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Loving Eliza
heard her and came to her…She said a quick prayer that it would
work. She hadn‘t screamed before and her uncle succeeded. So
she had to scream now. She glanced over her shoulder and saw
that he was gaining on her. She gasped for air and got ready to
scream again when he plowed into her.
Listen, you little whore, he seethed as he slammed his
hand over her mouth so she couldn‘t scream anymore.
Tears stung her eyes but she couldn‘t give up. She had to
keep fighting. She gripped the comb and tried to figure out where
to stab him so he‘d have to release her.
You‘re use to this kind of thing, he whispered as his free
hand curved down her leg and lifted her dress. You made a fool
of me. You owe me.
No! Not this time! Focus. She needed to focus. In one
swift motion she threw the comb at his neck. He released her but
not before he slapped her across the head. She ignored the
ringing in her ears and scrambled away from him.
She hadn‘t crawled three paces when she realized someone
else was there with them. She looked back and saw John lift Troy
by the collar and punch him in the jaw. The relief she felt at
seeing John there was too much for her to handle. She collapsed
on the ground and kept praying her thanks that history wasn‘t
going to repeat itself.
John! Stop!
Suddenly a pair of hands were around her, and she was
looking at Shawn. Are you alright? Did we get here before
Troy…?
She nodded. I‘m fine.
He helped her to her feet and waited until she had enough
strength to stand on her own before he let go of her. She turned
her attention to Guy and Aaron as they struggled to pull John off
of Troy. She saw the blood, but it was hard to tell where it was
coming from. Everything was happening so fast. She could tell
that John had Troy pinned to the ground and he wouldn‘t stop
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Ruth Ann Nordin
punching him, but Aaron and Guy were hovering around and
blocking a clear view of him. They kept yelling at John to stop
and grabbed for him.
It‘s a good thing we came out when we did, Shawn said,
not taking his eyes off of his brothers.
She sobbed into her hands. It‘s my fault.
Why do you say that?
Because I let him take me to Charity Custer‘s party. I
should have said no.
Troy‘s taken other ladies to parties and other social
gatherings, but he never tried to rape any of them. I hate to say
this but I think it was because you married John and were
a…well…a lady of ill repute.
She took small comfort in that. Maybe there was nothing
she could have done to avoid it. Maybe it would have happened
just because she had been a prostitute and he figured that meant
she would be intimate with any man who wanted to be with her
that way.
Aaron and Guy finally succeeded in pulling John off of a
battered Troy who was barely moving in the grass. She had the
sudden urge to go over to him and kick him in the face but
refrained when she realized that her comb had landed right into
his throat.
Once a bloody and winded John settled down, Aaron
knelt beside Troy and pressed his fingers to the side of his neck.
He looked up at the group watching him. He‘s alive but we need
to get him to the doctor. Then we‘ll have to report this to the
marshal. He turned his attention back to Troy. Why did you
have to go and do something stupid like this? He stood up and
Guy helped him lift Troy. Glancing at John and Eliza, he said,
We saw what Troy was trying to do. We‘ll back up your story to
the marshal.
Beside her, Shawn gave a heavy sigh but joined his
brothers as they made their way back toward the house.
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Loving Eliza
Still trembling, she walked over to John and wrapped her
arms around his waist. He held her tightly against him and kissed
the top of her head. She closed her eyes and reminded herself
that this time she had taken the steps necessary to defend herself.
She‘d learned to fight back.
You heard me screaming, didn‘t you? she asked.
She felt him nod.
Thank you for coming.
He took her hand and pressed it against his chest where
his heart beat, steady and strong.
I love you too, she whispered.
He then led her to their wagon to get ready for their trip
to town.
They followed his brothers, and John kept his arm
wrapped around her shoulders the entire time. She sensed the
anger still raging inside him. In all the time she‘d known him, she
couldn‘t recall a time when he‘d been this furious, but given the
circumstances, she really couldn‘t blame him. It was a rough trial,
and the fact that it was his own brother had to be a sharper sting.
Somehow, they would make it through this. Troy hadn‘t
succeeded. And that counted for a lot.
When they reached the doctor‘s office, they waited as
Aaron and Guy took an unconscious Troy in to seek medical
attention. A part of her wished her aim hadn‘t been off. She‘d
wanted to kill him—anything to stop him. And even as she
struggled to forgive him, she realized this was going to take time.
She couldn‘t simply will her anger away. No. It was good he
lived. How else could he get a second chance? If they prayed for
him, maybe he would call on God. Or maybe not. Everyone had
to make that decision on their own time.
As she thought over her life, she realized that she couldn‘t
control what others thought or did. All she could do was control
what she did. The revelation struck her so suddenly that it
shocked her. And in that moment, she felt freer than since the
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Ruth Ann Nordin
day before her parents died. Somehow, some way, she knew that
everything was going to be alright. God hadn‘t abandoned her all
those years ago, and though she had no idea how He could allow
her uncle to mistreat her, she had to put her faith in Him. The
fact of the matter was that evil was in the world, and as long as it
was, bad things were going to happen. It was just like Preacher
Peters told her before she left Omaha. God would find a way to
work good out of any of the bad things that happened.
Sometimes it happened right away, and at other times, it took
longer.
And here she was with John. She hadn‘t hoped for
marriage when she stepped off that stagecoach. She certainly
hadn‘t hoped for someone like John to come into her life. Oddly,
she considered that if she had to go through everything she‘d been
through so she could be with John, she‘d do it all over again. She
took his hand in hers and squeezed it.
Aaron came back out. Guy is going to help the doc, but
it looks like you got his larynx, he told Eliza. He‘ll live but he
won‘t be talking ever again. He looked at John. Are you ready
to see the marshal?
John nodded.
They waited until Aaron got on his horse and followed
him to the jail where Ralph was doing some paperwork. He
looked up as soon as the four of them entered. Howdy, he
called out. Then he blinked. What‘s going on? John, is that
blood on your shirt? Are you hurt?
No, Aaron quickly said. But Troy is. Look, Troy just
assaulted Eliza, and we came to find out what‘s to be done about
it.
Ralph grabbed a chair from the vacant cell and put it in
front of the other two chairs in front of his desk. He then
motioned for Eliza to sit in his chair but she declined. She went
to stand behind John as soon as he sat down. She needed to stay
connected to him, and touch was the best way she could think to
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Loving Eliza
do that. After she gave her story, John wrote his, and Shawn and
Aaron supported what she and John reported.
Ralph leaned back in his chair and shook his head. I
always thought there was something off about that boy. Alright.
There‘s no need for a judge in this case. He‘ll have to go to jail in
Sioux Falls.
She relaxed. At least, he wouldn‘t be in their town
anymore. She noted that John‘s shoulders also relaxed.
As they left the jail, a group of people had gathered
outside. Eliza instinctively stepped closer to John. Aaron and
Shawn stood to her other side.
The preacher stood in front of the group and came
forward. Morning, John, Eliza. We heard you were in town and
wanted to see you. We hope that you will still want to be a part of
this community. There was some talk that you might leave, but
when trouble happens, we‘ve got to stick together.
That‘s right, Willy called out. John, this place wouldn‘
be the same without you and Eliza. You do a lot of good in this
town.
He‘s right, the marshal said from behind them. I think
a lot of us didn‘t realize how much you do around here. I‘m sorry
for that.
Me too, Greg Stevens added from the crowd. I‘m
sorry, John. I owe you some lumber.
We‘ve learned our lesson, John, another man called out.
Charity spoke up. And Eliza, after what you‘ve been
through…I mean, what with your uncle and all…I just can‘t
imagine what you‘ve been through. It would be wrong for us to
turn our backs on you.
The crowd nodded and murmured their agreement.
The preacher turned back to them. I hope you won‘t let
the opinion of a few run you out of town.
Eliza didn‘t know what to say, but John smiled and shook
the preacher‘s hand and that seemed to settle the matter. The
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Ruth Ann Nordin
crowd surrounded them, and for the first time, Eliza felt like she
was a part of the community instead of watching everyone from
the outside. She glanced up as someone called her name and
smiled and hugged Addy.
Are you alright? I saw Troy leave for your place and sent
his brothers after him, Addy whispered. Frank said he heard
Troy talking to you that day you got your picture taken. We‘ve
been watching him.
Thank you, Addy. They got there in time.
Addy looked relieved. Good. I‘m so glad. I‘ve been
praying hard for you.
Eliza didn‘t mind the tears that filled her eyes or stop
herself from hugging her friend. Glancing up at the clear sky, she
caught sight of the sun. It was the most beautiful shade of yellow
she‘d ever seen. Much better than yellow flowers. Maybe the
time for sorrow had passed. Maybe this day was the beginning of
the good that Preacher Peters had talked about. A new start. A
time to wipe the slate clean.
Her eyes met John‘s and he smiled at her. She returned
his smile. Yes, everything was going to be good for now on, and
they‘d have the grace of the sun to light the way.
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Loving Eliza
Chapter Twenty-Two
C
hristmas morning came and with it the wind howled and snow
covered the ground. Eliza found that she loved winters in the
southern Dakota territory. There was something magical about
watching snowflakes fall down, so when she woke up early that
morning, she decided to add more wood to the fireplace in the
parlor.
Dawn had passed a good hour ago, so she could see the
snow whirling in the wind. Wrapping the blanket around her
shoulders, she stood in front of the window and smiled. The
world contained simple joys that she‘d long ago forgotten to
savor. Being married to John reminded her that miracles still
happened.
She heard John come into the room before she saw him.
It‘s a beautiful morning, don‘t you think?
He walked over to her and kissed her. Then he pointed to
the bedroom.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
She laughed. Don‘t you ever think of anything else?
He crossed his arms and pretended he was shivering.
Oh. You got cold without me next to you.
He nodded.
We should get up anyway. It‘s almost mid-morning.
Farmers have been up for hours by now.
Grimacing, he shook his head and motioned to the
bedroom. Then, before she could say anything else, he picked her
up and carried her back to bed.
You are the most persistent man I‘ve ever met. You do
know that you‘re persistent, don‘t you?
He shrugged as he gently placed her on the bed and
tucked her in. Afterwards, he slipped under the covers, snuggled
up to her, and closed his eyes.
She seriously doubted that he wanted to go back to sleep,
and when she felt his hand lightly stroke her breast, a wry grin
crossed her face. So you had an ulterior motive for bringing me
in here. I should be cooking breakfast. Aren‘t you hungry? You
used up a lot of energy last night.
He kissed her.
Eliza wondered if he did that to shut her up, but if that
was his intent, she didn‘t mind. It was a wonderful way to be told
to quit talking. She closed her eyes and melted in his arms. He
proceeded to make love to her, taking his time in bringing them
both pleasure. And when they were satisfied, he drifted off to
sleep.
Excited, she couldn‘t doze off , even if she woke up earlier
than she usually did. It was Christmas. That afternoon, they had
plans to go to Charity‘s party. As she imagined how nice it would
be to spend time with friends, she remained in John‘s arms and
watched the snow as it fluttered outside the bedroom window.
An hour passed by and she decided she couldn‘t lay still
anymore. She quickly got up and put on her warmest dress and
made a quick snack. She knew Charity would have enough food
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Loving Eliza
prepared to feed an army of hungry men, so she didn‘t have to
make a large breakfast—not since John had delayed her.
She glanced out the kitchen window. The snow had
stopped but the sun had finally come out so the white ground
sparkled. Humming, she went over to the freshly cut tree in the
corner of the parlor and gave it some water. John had thought
she was silly to decorate it, but to his credit, he humored her and
helped her string popcorn and cranberries on the tree.
When she returned to the kitchen sink, he emerged from
the bedroom. Good morning again, sleepy head.
To her surprise, he gestured for her to go back into the
bedroom.
She placed a hand on her hip and shook her head. I can‘t
believe you. We have to leave in an hour.
He pretended he was shivering.
Oh no, you don‘t. Not again. I‘ll keep you warm in bed
when we get back. Right now you need to get ready. I set out a
couple of biscuits and honey to tide us over until we get to town.
You do want to save your appetite. That Charity knows how to
make the best food you‘ve ever tasted. And who knows? You
might eat so much that you will actually come back and go to
sleep.
He sighed but obediently went to the bedroom to get
dressed for the day.
As soon as he returned, she grinned. I hoped you would
wear the same clothes you wore the day we met. You look
handsome.
He pointed to her and made a circle around his face.
I‘m pretty.
Nodding, he made his way to the kitchen table and got
ready to eat. Once they finished their snack, he got the horses and
sleigh ready while she put on her coat.
She gathered the baby gift she planned to give Charity.
Eliza glanced at the photograph of her son which remained on the
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Ruth Ann Nordin
fireplace mantle next to the picture of her and John. Merry
Christmas, she whispered, hoping her son would have a good
one with his parents. Taking a deep breath, she turned and left
the house.
She smiled as John pulled the sleigh up to the porch. He
leapt out and picked her up so he could carry her to the sleigh.
She giggled, amused that he still did that. She reckoned it was so
she wouldn‘t get her boots wet, but it reminded her of the first
time he‘d helped her into his wagon.
She sat close to him and set the gift in her lap. Just look
at the way the snow glistens on the trees. Isn‘t it pretty? That‘s
my favorite thing about snow. It looks so pretty on tree
branches. And so she rambled on.
Once in awhile, John glanced her way to let her know he
was paying attention.
He no longer parked on the edge of town. Now he went
through town and stopped the sleigh close to Charity‘s place.
Music and laughter drifted from the house. John helped her down
and she held onto him so she wouldn‘t slip on the patch of ice in
their path.
Addy called out to them before they reached Charity‘s
porch. She hurried over to them as Frank struggled to keep up
with her. Isn‘t it a gorgeous day? You know, we couldn‘t have
asked for a better Christmas.
It certainly is festive. Eliza studied the wreath and
garland spread along Charity‘s porch. She really goes all out for
every social gathering, doesn‘t she?
Addy giggled. Maybe a little too much, but I guess we all
have our quirks.
It‘s good to see you two, Frank said. Turning to John,
he added, I hope Eliza can spare you for a good hour. We
thought we‘d enjoy a couple games of rummy. Glancing at Eliza
and Addy, he smiled. We don‘t want to get in the way of you
women gabbing on.
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Loving Eliza
Addy rolled her eyes. You men can be just as bad, if not
worse, than us.
No truer words were ever said, Eliza agreed.
John shook his head at the women but gestured that he
would join Frank when the men wanted to play cards. Then he
made the sign for playing chess.
I think we can spare a board or two of that game as
well, Frank replied.
Willy walked up to them. What are ya‘ll doin‘ outside?
It‘s colder than the arctic out here. He rubbed his hands
together.
Oh, we‘re just saying hi, Addy replied.
We can do that in the house, cain‘t we? he asked.
She nudged him in the arm. You‘re not anxious to get
out of the cold. You want to see Daphne.
He blushed. Maybe.
Eliza smiled. You two are happy together. She didn‘t
think it was possible but his face grew even redder.
Yes. Well, I plan on askin‘ her somethin‘ important
today.
You‘re going to propose? Addy squealed.
He held his finger to his lips.
She immediately lowered her voice. I‘m sorry. Your
secret is safe with us.
Are you going to stand out there all day or come in?
someone called out from the front door.
They looked over and saw Daphne waiting for them.
We better hurry so the two lovebirds can be together,
Addy told Eliza, her eyes twinkling.
Eliza had to admit she shared her friend‘s enthusiasm.
She knew Daphne would say yes, and she realized that Daphne
and Willy were a better match than Daphne and John would have
been. And that was just as well too, considering she was married
to John and all.
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Ruth Ann Nordin
Frank groaned. Come on, John. Let‘s go see what the
men are up to before we get snared into talks of weddings, flowers
and dresses.
I like weddings, Addy argued. They‘re romantic.
I agree, Eliza said.
What did I say? Frank responded. I‘ll never
understand the appeal of women talk.
Then be glad you‘re not a woman, Addy said.
Believe me— he kissed her cheek— I am very happy to
be a man because it means I get to be married to you.
John squeezed Eliza‘s hand and indicated that he agreed
with Frank.
I‘m happy to be married to you too, Eliza replied.
John motioned that he would see her when it was time to
eat and walked toward the house with Willy and Frank.
The women followed and joined Daphne in the parlor
where Bethany played Christmas carols on the piano. Eliza placed
her gift with the others on the piano and sat with her friends on
the settee by the window. She glanced out the doorway of the
parlor and saw that John was mingling with Frank, Willy, Aaron,
Guy, and Shawn. Even Ralph came over and slapped John on the
back. He said something and John‘s shoulders shook with
laughter.
Eliza smiled to herself before turning her attention back to
Addy and Daphne. This, she thought, was going to be the first of
many wonderful Christmases to come.
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