Brant Grayson shook his head and grabbed a white shirt off the ironing board then headed upstairs. Good thing heâ€™d retrieved the clean laundry from Mrs. Morrison when he did or Davy would be going to the wedding in a dirty shirt. He took the stairs two at a time then strode down the hall catching the high-pitched voice of Emmie Morgan coming from Savannahâ€™s room.
|Tricked into Marriage Series:Birthstone Brides By Mildred Colvin|
â€œYou brush my hair as good as my new mama.â€ Brantâ€™s best friendâ€™s five-year-old daughter seemed quite taken with the woman who would be marrying her father in about an hour. â€œShe donâ€™t hurt me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s probably because she loves you and doesnâ€™t want to hurt you. Youâ€™re lucky to be getting a good mama.â€ Twelve-year-old Savannahâ€™s voice sounded far too grown up to suit Brant.
â€œI know.â€ Emmie sounded almost sad now as Brant reached the open doorway. â€œWhy donâ€™t you get your daddy a new mama? You and Davy need someone nice too.â€
Feeling the need to tease his daughter, Brant leaned into the room with his hands braced against the door facing. â€œYeah, Savannah, think you can find me a new mama around here?â€
Savannah jumped and pulled the brush away from Emmieâ€™s head as both girls looked at him with wide eyes. Then a bright smile spread across Savannahâ€™s face as her eyes sparkled. â€œI probably could. Iâ€™ve seen some of the looks you get when you arenâ€™t watching.â€
He laughed at her nonsense. As if there were women interested in him. He pulled back with a grin and a parting shot. â€œJust make sure you let me know if you find anyone.â€
She clapped her hands and bounced in place as if she were no older than Emmie. â€œI will, Daddy, youâ€™ll see.â€ She grabbed Emmie and twirled a dance around the room. The two girls laughed as Savannah sang out, â€œIâ€™m getting a new Mama for Daddy. Oh, boy, oh, boy. Just you wait and see.â€
â€œA good mama who doesnâ€™t pull your hair.â€ Emmie chimed in.
â€œRight! And she smells good like violets, and is smart, and pretty.â€
Brant strolled on down the hall, letting their childish voices fade from his mind. He walked into his sonâ€™s room to find the ten-year-old carving a stick with his knife. â€œI shouldâ€™ve known better than to buy you that knife.â€
At his voice, Davy jumped and tossed the stick on his dresser. He closed the knife and put it in his pocket as if he thought he might be in danger of losing it. â€œTryinâ€™ to learn a new skill like you said.â€
Brant snorted. â€œWhittling shavings on your clean floor isnâ€™t exactly something new, Davy. If you want to learn to carve, why donâ€™t you do it outdoors since youâ€™ll have to clean this up now?â€
â€œI already meant to clean it up.â€ Davy took the shirt from Brantâ€™s hand. â€œIs this what Iâ€™m wearing?â€
â€œYeah, hurry and get dressed. Weâ€™re running out of time.â€
The first few months after losing his wife had taught Brant the meaning of chaos and what it was like to live in a mess. Being a man who craved organization and a clean house, he quickly put the children to work cleaning up after themselves while he kept the house almost as well as his wife had.
In the two years heâ€™d been forced to be both mother and father, heâ€™d learned to appreciate all heâ€™d lost. Not that he hadnâ€™t already ached for the loss of his wife, but heâ€™d never understood how much sheâ€™d done and made look so easy. Sometimes he still missed her so much he physically hurt, but he didnâ€™t have time to feel sorry for himself now or regret his misguided actions that caused the death of the only love heâ€™d ever known. He had to be at the church within the hour.
â€œSoon as youâ€™re all set come downstairs. I should have the wagon ready by then.â€ He turned and, after giving the girls the same instructions, hurried down the stairs and to the barn. By the time he had the horses hitched and had driven to the back of the house, all three kids were waiting for him.
Since they lived less than two miles from town, they were soon rolling through the middle of the business section, around the new courthouse still receiving the finishing touches, and to the church where others had already started gathering. After parking in the lot next door, Brant helped the kids down and looked them over for any last minute adjustments. â€œDavy, Iâ€™d appreciate if youâ€™d stay with Savannah through the wedding. Emmie, you need to come with me since weâ€™ve got jobs to do. You two go and make me proud.â€ He waited for their nods then took Emmieâ€™s hand as they walked off. A quick look revealed just the woman he was looking forâ€”the pastorâ€™s wife.
Nina Winford walked toward them with a smile of welcome. â€œI see our flower girl has arrived. Are you ready to do your job, Miss Morgan?â€
Emmie released Brantâ€™s hand and ran toward her new motherâ€™s friend. â€œIâ€™m going to help my papa and mama get married.â€
Nina laughed. â€œYes, you are. Come with me, and Iâ€™ll get you all ready for your job.â€
â€œAll right.â€ Emmie stuck her little hand in Ninaâ€™s and never looked back as they walked away.
Nina gave Brant a quick wave. â€œMr. Morgan is wearing a path in back of the church. Heâ€™d probably welcome your encouragement right about now.â€
Brant flashed a grin. â€œThat so? Iâ€™ll go right away then.â€
Adam stopped pacing when Brant rounded the corner of the church. â€œI thought youâ€™d forgotten.â€
â€œOf course not. It isnâ€™t time yet. People are still coming.â€ Brant tried to keep a serious face. He didnâ€™t remember being so obviously nervous when he got married fourteen years ago. Of course, heâ€™d been barely out of his teens back then and didnâ€™t know the responsibility he was taking on. Even knowing all that had happened, if he could go back in time, heâ€™d do it all over again. â€œYou arenâ€™t having second thoughts about this, are you?â€
Adam reared back as if heâ€™d struck him. â€œNo! Why would you say such a thing?â€
â€œAs the best man, itâ€™s my job to make sure you know what youâ€™re doing.â€ Brant grinned.
His friend stared at him a moment before a wide grin broke out over his face. â€œSheâ€™s a good woman, Brant. Emmie loves her, and she loves Emmie. I couldnâ€™t have found any one Iâ€™d rather spend the rest of my life with. By the way, did you ever notice that thereâ€™s only one letter different in life and wife? Iâ€™ve been thinking about that, and I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a coincidence. Casey will be my wife, but I could as easily say Casey will be my life. Not to the exclusion of Emmie and the Lord, of course. But sheâ€™s awfully important to me already. Thereâ€™s something pretty special about knowing you have someone you can share everything with. The good and the bad. It wonâ€™t matter. God gave marriage when He created man and woman that we might be one with someone made just for us. You might want to think about it. Thereâ€™s someone special out there for you too.â€
Brant opened his mouth to protest when Nina stepped into sight.
â€œThe bride has arrived and is waiting in front with your flower girl to enter the church. Weâ€™ll all walk in together as we talked about.â€ She sent an encouraging smile to Adam. â€œAre you gentlemen ready?â€
Adam straightened and flashed a smile toward the pastorâ€™s wife then nodded. â€œIâ€™m ready.â€
Brant and Nina entered the church first. Pastor Ethan Winford waited in front as they walked down the aisle and parted with the brideâ€™s attendant going to the left and Brant going to the right. He found his children sitting quietly in the crowded church before turning his attention toward Emmie as she marched down the aisle distributing rose petals ahead of the bride and groom.
Adam, escorting Casey, his future wife, didnâ€™t seem nervous at all now. Midway down the aisle, he looked down at her with love shining through his eyes for all to see. They took their places in front, and after a song, Pastor Winford began the ceremony.
â€œDearly beloved, we are gathered here to unite this woman and this man â€¦â€
Unite. Brant let the word roll through his mind. Could he ever commit to another woman? Would he ever find any woman who caught his fancy enough to make her his life as Adam was saying? They twain shall be one. The thought was almost frightening in its importance. To be one with another for life. A woman who was created just for him. Could that even be? Eva had been his wife, and heâ€™d been the cause of her death. He didnâ€™t deserve another chance.
Without turning his head, he looked into the congregation, allowing his gaze to linger not more than a couple of seconds on each single woman he saw. Missy Listen, Susan Winford, Lena Vincent, Katherine Kingsley, and Amy Johnson. Was that all there were? Maybe heâ€™d missed a few, but it didnâ€™t matter. All but Mrs. Kingsley seemed so young, and he was pretty sure the waitress at the cafÃ© was older than he was. Savannah had a job ahead of her if she thought she could find a new mama for her old daddy in this town. It wasnâ€™t going to happen, and that was probably for the best. He turned his attention back to the ceremony as Pastor Winford pronounced the couple man and wife.
â€œBrother Adam Morgan, you may kiss your bride.â€
As Adam pulled his wife into his arms and gazed into her eyes before touching his lips to hers, Brant experienced a longing for what he no longer had. Obviously Adam and Casey loved each other, and he couldnâ€™t be happier for them. But a second chance at love wasnâ€™t going to come Brant Graysonâ€™s way. Nope. It wouldnâ€™t happen. Heâ€™d had his one chance and messed up. He was destined to live out his life alone once his children were grown. For now, heâ€™d enjoy the two children he had. They were all he needed.
First of June, 1873, St. Louis, Missouri
â€œThank you, Mrs. Jenson.â€ Naomi Patterson stepped carefully down from the pastorâ€™s buggy. â€œI appreciate the ride home, and I especially enjoyed todayâ€™s missionary meeting with actual missionaries speaking. That was so inspiring.â€
â€œYes, it was, wasnâ€™t it?â€ The pastorâ€™s wife leaned forward to peer out the door of the buggy. â€œIâ€™ll see you Sunday, Miss Patterson.â€
â€œYes, well thanks again.â€ Naomi turned toward the house as Mrs. Jenson instructed her driver to proceed.
Halfway up the walk, she paused and looked at her large two-story home, the paint now a dingy white. The wide welcoming porch appeared lonely with no one sitting on the wicker furniture that had seen better days. The entire house had been forlorn and lonely the last few years of neglect while Mama took up all Naomiâ€™s time. She might see about getting it painted and spruced up, but she felt a kinship with the old dilapidated house as she, too, had been neglected for longer than she cared to remember. Didnâ€™t misery love company?
She continued up the walk to the porch steps then stopped at the mailbox and gathered her mail before going inside. If only she knew what to do with herself, she might feel more energized. But itâ€™d been so long. She counted back to 1865 when her father came home sick from the war. Had it really been eight years ago? She and Mama had taken turns nursing him until he passed then Mamaâ€™s accident and sickness had taken over. No wonder she was so tired.
Naomi laid the mail on the table in the entry and walked through the house listening for her motherâ€™s voice. But no, Mama wouldnâ€™t be calling for help now. Stopping in the kitchen, Naomi paused a moment trying to think what she should fix for supper.
She placed a hand over her stomach to still the quiver there as reality returned. Of course, she didnâ€™t have to fix anything if she didnâ€™t want to. Mama was gone now for the past two months. She had no one but herself to feed, and a cup of tea sounded perfect. As she bustled about getting the tea ready, she chastised herself. â€œI must stop this. Feeling at loose ends just because Iâ€™m alone in the world.â€ She didnâ€™t want to be a nurse anymore, but she needed something to keep busy.
She poured a cup of tea from the kettle then carried it back through the house. Stopping at the table in the entry, she picked up her mail and thumbed through it. Laying the bills and a condolence aside, she turned the last letter over. The name in the return address set her heart pounding.
She splayed her fingers across her chest before going into the parlor. There she made herself comfortable in her fatherâ€™s big easy chair and set her tea on the small table beside her. Oh, my! She couldnâ€™t wait another minute to see what â€œherâ€ children had to say. Savanna and Davy. A smile settled on her face as she ripped the envelope open and pulled not two but three folded sheets of paper out. Her heart leapt. Brant had also written as he often did.
Anticipation built as she opened the first letter, glancing to the bottom to make sure it wasnâ€™t Brantâ€™s before she started reading. His, she always saved until last. This was from Davy. Her smile widened as she read his little boy scrawl.
Dear Miss Patterson,
Savanna says to be sure and tell you how awful I feel about your mama dying. I wouldâ€™ve told you anyway, but she thinks Iâ€™m dumb. Iâ€™m not though because I remember how much it hurt when my mama died. I wish I could be there to give you a big hug. I think that would make you feel better.
Naomi wiped the tears from her eyes. Davy was so precious, and he was right. A hug from him was exactly what she needed. Sheâ€™d be sure to tell him that. The rest of his letter told of his summer activities. He had surely grown so much in the two years since sheâ€™d seen him. She refolded the letter and laid it aside.
Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. They were so far away. She remembered when Savannah and Davy had first walked into her Sunday school room. Theyâ€™d been four and six then. Small children with so much enthusiasm for every lesson. Theyâ€™d had a wonderful mother. Although she hadnâ€™t become good friends with Eva Grayson, sheâ€™d admired the woman and grieved when sheâ€™d become ill and passed away over two years ago.
Again, bringing her thoughts to the present, Naomi opened the second letter making sure it was from Savannah before beginning to read. Like Davy, Savannah voiced sympathy for Naomiâ€™s loss. She went on to tell of her garden and how her neighbor lady was helping her learn to can her vegetables.
Miss Walker isnâ€™t really our neighbor yet, but she will be soon. She was our school teacher and is marrying the neighbor to the north. She lives south of us in a rental room. She and Mr. Morgan are getting married in June. About the time youâ€™ll get my letter, I imagine. I wish you could come here and meet all our friends. I know you must miss your mama, and a trip to see us would be just the thing to make you feel better. Why donâ€™t you think about it? Weâ€™d be so happy to see you again. Then maybe youâ€™d stay and make this your home. Wouldnâ€™t that be wonderful?
Laughter bubbled from Naomiâ€™s soul as she read through the childrenâ€™s letters a second time. They were both such adorable children. Theyâ€™d been her favorite students for the four years theyâ€™d been in her classroom. Sheâ€™d never forget them, but she couldnâ€™t just appear on their doorstep. What would their father think? Her face warmed at the thought.
Finally, she took up Brantâ€™s letter. Her heart fluttered because he took time to write to her. Not that this was the first time. Far from it. Theyâ€™d been corresponding most of the last two years, ever since sheâ€™d started writing to his children. When the children responded, heâ€™d included a letter asking if she minded. He said they thought the world of her, and seemed to be less homesick after reading her letter. Still he didnâ€™t want them to be a bother and would stop them if need be.
Sheâ€™d immediately fired a letter back telling him how much their letters meant to her. After that he always included a short note to her, again thanking her for keeping in touch with them. Gradually over the two years, his letters became friendly with scarcely a mention of the children. Heâ€™d write of incidences from town and church happenings. Of the new courthouse that kept the town abuzz for some time as it was being built. Then the minister had found a wife, and how their wedding was postponed while the town banded together to look for her missing sister then of her safe return. His best friend and the childrenâ€™s schoolteacher becoming engaged. Through his letters, she felt as if she knew these people personally. Hearing from Brant became a bright spot in her otherwise dull and sorrow-filled life.
She read through his newsy letter of various happenings until she reached the last page where a post script had been added after his name, almost as if an afterthought.
Naomi, in the time weâ€™ve written, Iâ€™ve come to think of you as a friend. Maybe more than a friend. I know you enjoy writing to my children, but hope my letters mean as much to you as yours do to me. I hesitate to ask, but feel I must, and hope you will say yes. Will you consider coming to Cottonwood Falls with the possibility of marriage if we should find that things work out between us? Please let me know as soon as possible.
Naomi covered her mouth with her hand as she gasped then read the last paragraph again. He was asking her to marry him! Well, almost. But surely things would work out between them. Why not?
She jumped from her chair and darted around the room like a whirlwind picking up one knickknack and then another. Mother had so many trinkets that did nothing but collect dust. She didnâ€™t need them, but what could she do with so much? And the furniture. She scurried from chair to chair then the sofa and tables of all sizes. They just werenâ€™t needed. So many things accumulated over her entire life and even longer. Mama and Papa had been married many years before she was born and had lived in this same house all that time.
â€œLord, what can I do?â€ She lifted her eyes upward and remembered the man whoâ€™d come to the house last week. Heâ€™d been pestering her ever since Mama died to sell her house to him. Sheâ€™d contact her fatherâ€™s lawyer and ask his advice. Maybe have an auction. â€œThank You, Lord!â€
With a plan in mind, she walked through the house mentally inventorying the belongings sheâ€™d taken for granted before but now seemed a burden. Thereâ€™d be no reason to give everything away if she could get enough to help Brantâ€™s farm grow. Was Mr. Grayson well off? For herself, she didnâ€™t care, but if he needed money, sheâ€™d be glad to help. Father had left her with plenty, and sheâ€™d love to help her family if, indeed, she soon had a family. That possibility almost staggered her. But thereâ€™d be time enough to dream about that later. Tonight, she could keep busy until bedtime by packing the things sheâ€™d like to take. As she secured the house for the night then climbed the stairway to the second floor and her bedroom, she saw the paintings of her parents. There were a few things she could put in storage. The next few days would be busy indeed. She could scarcely wait to get started.
Brant drove his team across the bridge and past the mill into town. â€œIâ€™ve got two places to go today. Should we head for the feed store or the mercantile first?â€
A scramble from the back of the wagon brought Davy to the front with his head sticking between his dad and sister. â€œI can take the order to the mercantile so they have time to get it ready while weâ€™re at the feed store.â€
â€œI guess that would work.â€ Brant looked into the eager eyes of his son and nodded. â€œIâ€™ll want you to catch up with us as soon as you do though.â€
â€œAll right, I promise.â€
Brant pulled the list heâ€™d written from his shirt pocket and handed it to Davy. â€œIâ€™ll stop at the corner and let you off. Be careful and donâ€™t get into any mischief.â€
â€œI wonâ€™t.â€ Davy pulled back then forward again. â€œI mean I will and I wonâ€™t.â€
Brant laughed as he stopped the team. â€œAll right. Weâ€™ll see you in a little while.â€
Already the early morning sun beat down as he waited for Davy to jump to the street and take off running as if his life depended on getting to his destination immediately. Too bad he didnâ€™t use more of that energy when he worked or at least loan some to his old dad.
Savannah looked up at his chuckle. â€œWhatâ€™s funny?â€
Brant met her gaze with a smile. â€œYour brother. Thinking how quick he is to show his independence. Think heâ€™ll be able to handle such an important job?â€
Her eyes sparkled. â€œNo, heâ€™ll probably lose the list before he ever gets to the store.â€
â€œHeâ€™d better not!â€ Brant tried to sound firm but figured she saw through him when she laughed.
He pulled in beside Vincentâ€™s Feed and Seed near the back then wrapped the reins around the brake handle. The warm sun felt good now, but later on theyâ€™d all be glad for the westerly wind that seldom seemed to stop blowing across the prairie.
Savannah drifted toward the front of the store where Dan Vincent had merchandise displayed. Sheâ€™d probably browse through the saddles and anything else that caught her eye then do the same thing in the general store. At twelve years she was already starting to act like a woman.
Brant shook his head and headed toward the back. He didnâ€™t like thinking about his little girl growing up so quickly.
â€œHey, Brant, what can I do for you?â€ Dan stepped through the door from his back room where most of the larger bags of seed and such were stored.
â€œIâ€™ve got some calves that like to eat. Thought Iâ€™d pick up a few bags of feed while Iâ€™m in town.â€
â€œYouâ€™ve come to the right place.â€ Dan returned to the back room. â€œCome on and weâ€™ll load you up.â€
After they carried the bags through the side door and placed them in the wagon, Brant propped himself against the side. â€œLooks like Adam Morganâ€™s wedding left us without a schoolteacher.â€
â€œYeah, I know.â€ Dan leaned against his building and crossed his arms. â€œWe need to get someone in here. My mother insists I should send a telegram off to my cousin Gloriana Parker in St. Louis. After her husband died, she taught until her school burned down near the end of this past school term. The folks decided to not build, which leaves her without a job.â€
The folks decided to not build, which leaves her without a job.â€
â€œWhatâ€™re they doing with the children?â€ Brant frowned at the thought of leaving a bunch of kids without a chance for an education.
â€œTheyâ€™re sending them to other nearby schools. The district there decided they didnâ€™t need so many small schools I guess.â€ Dan sighed. â€œIt may make it harder for some of them to get to school, but I guess they know what theyâ€™re doing.â€
â€œDo you think your cousin would be interested?â€
Dan shrugged. â€œWell, thatâ€™s the thing. Iâ€™m not sure. She was about to be married last I heard. Mom keeps up with her sister, who is Glorianaâ€™s mother, and tells me she and the man who has been courting her parted company. If thatâ€™s true, she might be eager to get away.â€
â€œWe still have a few months.â€ Brant stroked his chin in thought. â€œMaybe you could contact her and see what she thinks. I donâ€™t know of anyone else who might be interested.â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t either.â€ Dan straightened. â€œI guess Iâ€™ll do that if youâ€™re in favor. Think we need to have a meeting of the schoolboard before we make a decision?â€
â€œProbably.â€ Brant followed Dan inside. â€œBut not before you write to her or send a telegram if you think we need to hurry it along.â€
â€œAlright, but there probably isnâ€™t any big hurry.â€ Dan gave Brant a sheepish look. â€œI donâ€™t like the idea of getting into any theatrics with my cousin. She can be a bit dramatic about things, and I figure the breakup of her engagement would be a likely time for that.â€
Brant chuckled. â€œI see what you mean. When you get nerve enough to find out, let me know.â€
â€œIâ€™ll do that.â€ Dan laughed with him.
â€œDaddy, Davy isnâ€™t here yet.â€ Savannah hurried toward him, her eyes filled with worry. â€œShould we go look for him?â€
â€œYeah, let me pay Mr. Vincent then weâ€™ll go.â€ Brant patted her shoulder. â€œDonâ€™t worry. Heâ€™s probably found something in the store to look at.â€
â€œWell, he shouldnâ€™t do that.â€ Savannahâ€™s lower lip protruded as she lowered her brows.
Brant would have found her concern amusing, except he knew her sense of responsibility toward her younger brother was genuine. When had she turned from a carefree little girl into an adult before her time? She not only tried to keep track of Davy but Emmie Morgan as well. Maybe she wouldnâ€™t worry over Emmie so much now that Adam and Casey were married. He hoped not.
He finished up his business with Dan and looked across the street as they stepped outside. Davy wasnâ€™t in sight.
â€œHe isnâ€™t here, Daddy.â€ Savannah voiced his thoughts. â€œHeâ€™s had more than enough time too.â€
â€œYes, he has. Come on.â€ Brant lifted her into the wagon. â€œWeâ€™ll go look for him although Iâ€™m sure we wonâ€™t find a thing wrong.â€
â€œI know.â€ Her deep sigh concerned Brant more than her missing brother. If only Eva had lived, but he refused to go into the useless circle of asking why, and turned his mind back to the current problem.
â€œHeâ€™s fine, Savannah. Donâ€™t worry so much. Youâ€™ll have wrinkles across your forehead if you keep that up.â€
She rubbed her forehead than turned her frown on him. â€œI wonâ€™t either.â€
His laughter broke out bringing a smile to her face.
â€œOh, Daddy! Youâ€™re just teasing.â€ A mischievous look replaced her frown. â€œSee, this is why you need to get us a mother. I wouldnâ€™t worry so much about Davy then, and heâ€™d probably be a better boy too.â€
â€œIs that right?â€ Brant wondered how having a mother could make Davy better behaved. He seldom did anything wrong as it was. â€œI think Iâ€™ve got some pretty good kids, and that includes Davy.â€
â€œHmm, maybe.â€ Savannah turned to watch the road as they pulled onto Main Street. â€œThere he is!â€
Brant saw the small figure of his son running at top speed toward them and stopped the wagon to let him climb aboard. â€œSorry it took me so long. Mr. Smith was busy with another customer then I stopped and talked to some of the guys.â€
â€œItâ€™s all right, Davy.â€ Brant understood, and he really hadnâ€™t taken too long. â€œWe knew where you were, and we werenâ€™t gone that long.â€
â€œLong enough.â€ Savannah spoke under her breath but her words were clear.
Brant stopped the wagon in front of Smithâ€™s Mercantile and climbed down. â€œLetâ€™s see if Mr. Smith has the order ready yet.â€
â€œMr. Grayson!â€ The voice called from down the street.
Brant turned to find Duffy Brown hurrying from the telegram office.
â€œI saw your son earlier but couldnâ€™t catch up with him.â€ He held a paper out. â€œGot a telegram for you.â€
â€œIs that right?â€ Brant took the envelope as the man went back to his office. He wasnâ€™t used to getting telegrams, and didnâ€™t want this one. Far as he knew, they usually brought bad news. He thought of Evaâ€™s parents in St. Louis as he opened it and hoped for the kidsâ€™ sake it wasnâ€™t about one of them. Then he read aloud: â€œWill come first train. Look forward to seeing children. Prepared to stay if things work out. Naomi Patterson.â€
He looked up. â€œWhat?â€ The kids were huddled together whispering.
Davyâ€™s eyes grew big as he backed up. â€œI forgot to tell Sonny something. Iâ€™ll be right back.â€
â€œDavy!â€ Savannah grabbed for him and missed. She turned back, her frown quickly changing to a sweet smile as she clasped her hands behind her back. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong, Daddy?â€
â€œWhereâ€™s Davy going?â€ Brant watched his son run across the street where another boy stood on the corner. â€œDidnâ€™t I just tell him I need to know where he is?â€
Her eyebrows lifted. â€œHeâ€™s in sight with Sonny. Heâ€™ll be back. Did you have a problem with your telegram?â€
The reminder of the telegram took his mind off Davy. â€œDidnâ€™t you listen when I read it? Itâ€™s from Miss Patterson who says sheâ€™s coming here. Whatâ€™s she mean about being prepared to stay?â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure.â€ She took the telegram from him and read it silently. When she appeared to be starting back at the first, he snatched it from her. She looked up with wide eyes and shrugged. â€œI donâ€™t know, Daddy. Did you invite her to come for a visit?â€
He opened his mouth to deny doing any such a thing.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m glad you did, and I hope she does decide to move here and stay. Sheâ€™d be a really good influence on Davy, donâ€™t you think? He needs a woman who can mother him. Iâ€™d like to have a mother, too. At my age, I need a woman I can look up to.â€
His warning tone did nothing to stop her.
â€œItâ€™ll be so nice, and we wonâ€™t ever forget Mama. But Daddy, Mamaâ€™s gone, and donâ€™t you think Miss Patterson is nice? Sheâ€™s pretty, too, isnâ€™t she?â€
When he opened his mouth again, she hurried on. â€œThings will work out between the two of you, I just know they will. Thank you, Daddy.â€ She lunged forward to squeeze him around the waist. â€œIâ€™m so glad you asked her to come. Sheâ€™s the absolutely best mother you couldâ€™ve found for us. Davy will be thrilled. Everything will work out. Youâ€™ll see.â€
â€œWhat things?â€ Brant shook his head. â€œMiss Patterson? Mother?â€ His brain whirled as fast as Savannahâ€™s voice. What he wanted to know was what would happen if all those things worked out? And what things were they talking about? Surely not marriage.
Whyâ€™d he feel as if a rope had just slipped around his neck choking him?
Whoo! Whoo! The train whistle jolted Naomi from her thoughts of the children as they neared the station. The conductor had called it Cottonwood Station. This is where sheâ€™d get off, but sheâ€™d still be over two miles from her destination of Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Even the name sounded strange and wonderful to her. But the strangest thing was that Mr. Grayson wanted her to come and see if things between them worked out.
Oh, dear! Had she read his letter right? But of course, she had. All fifty-six times sheâ€™d gone over it. Still, it wouldnâ€™t hurt to take another peek. She rummaged in her carry-on bag and pulled the envelope out. She had to make sure. In only a few minutes the train would stop and her journey would end.
She smoothed the pages out and turned to the last one. There it was, near the bottom. The words she was looking for. Will you consider coming to Cottonwood Falls with the possibility of marriage â€¦ Would she! Oh yes, of course she would. He sounded so insecure as if he doubted her answer. Any woman whoâ€™d ever met Mr. Grayson would be honored to consider marriage to him. Especially with such fine children as his.
â€œCottonwood Station!â€ The conductor called out as he walked the aisle. â€œGet ready to disembark for Cottonwood Station.â€
Oh, my! She had arrived. Her heart raced toward what lay ahead. After the train jolted to a screeching stop and puff of smoke, Naomi stood with her bag clutched tight, her gaze toward the door ahead. The time had come. She made her way to the outside with a nagging fear there would be no one waiting for her. Surely, sheâ€™d dreamed this wonderful opportunity. Maybe read the letter wrong. But no, how many times did she have to read it to believe? Brant Grayson had suggested the possibility of marriage. Of course, she knew that didnâ€™t mean they were betrothed. Only thatâ€”
â€œWatch your step, Miss.â€ The uniformed man held out his hand to help her descend the steps to the platform below.
She took his hand and made it safely down. â€œThank you, sir.â€
â€œYou are welcome.â€ The conductor smiled and reached for the next passenger.
Naomi stepped out of the way almost afraid to look for the Grayson family then forced her gaze to sweep either side as she walked away from the train.
â€œMiss Patterson!â€ A childish voice called out.
She swung toward it as Davy and Savannah ran toward her, their arms outstretched. â€œYouâ€™re here.â€ Savannah called out as if she also couldnâ€™t believe it.
Naomi laughed. â€œYes, Iâ€™m here now, and so are you.â€ Before she could get a good look at them, they surrounded her, their arms wrapping around her waist. She hugged them both as if she never wanted to let go, and she didnâ€™t.
â€œYouâ€™ve both grown so much!â€ Finally, she released them as they pulled back. â€œI canâ€™t believe how much.â€
â€œTwo years can be a long time.â€ The deep masculine voice set her pulse racing again.
She looked up into the clear gray eyes of Brant Grayson. A pleasant smile played on his face. Her breath caught in her throat until all she could do was gawk stupidly at him. Had he always been so handsome? Surely, he hadnâ€™t changed as much as his children had, but then sheâ€™d never before considered him husband material.
Fine creases fanned out from his eyes as he gazed into hers. â€œI hope your trip was uneventful.â€
She couldnâ€™t find her voice. Never had she felt so tongue-tied, but he didnâ€™t seem to notice.
With the tip of his hat, he broke the connection. â€œIf youâ€™ll excuse me, Iâ€™ll retrieve your trunk and get it in my wagon. Children, stay with Miss Patterson.â€
As soon as he strolled away, the children grabbed her arms. â€œCome on, weâ€™ll go to the wagon.â€ Savannah tugged, and Naomi gladly followed.
Within minutes, Brant had her trunk loaded and had climbed aboard to sit on the bench seat beside her. She hadnâ€™t thought of sitting so close to him, but she couldnâ€™t have sat in back with the children. Still, shyness brought on by his proximity settled over her.
As the wagon rolled down the road toward the south, Brant spoke. â€œWeâ€™ll stop off at our farm before going on to the hotel in town if thatâ€™s all right with you?â€
She glanced up to find him looking her way, a quizzical expression on his face. â€œYes, that would be fine.â€ Truthfully, she was delighted as sheâ€™d be able to see the farm sheâ€™d heard so much about through their letters.
â€œSavannah has prepared a special meal for you.â€ Brant flashed a quick smile toward her before glancing back to the road. â€œShe claims sheâ€™s fixed your favorites, although I have no idea how sheâ€™d know.â€
Naomi laughed then. â€œOh, the sweet girl. A couple of letters ago she asked for my favorite foods and listed hers. If I didnâ€™t know better, Iâ€™d wonder if Savannah expected me to come for a visit even back then.â€
When Naomi turned to look in the back, she met Savannahâ€™s gaze. A blush spread across the girlâ€™s face before she ducked her head and mumbled. â€œI was hoping youâ€™d come.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m glad you did.â€ Davy looked from his sister to Naomi. â€œI like you.â€
Warmth filled Naomiâ€™s heart with love for both children. â€œYou couldnâ€™t like me any more than I like you, Davy. Iâ€™m glad to be here. I canâ€™t wait to see if everything is exactly like youâ€™ve described. And Iâ€™m looking forward to a scrumptious lunch.â€
Again color rose in Savannahâ€™s face as a pleased smile curved her lips. â€œThank you, Naomi.â€
â€œMiss Patterson.â€ Brantâ€™s deep voice brought Naomiâ€™s attention to the front.
â€œYes?â€ She focused on his eyes. They were such a beautiful shade of gray, clear as if looking through a glass although she couldnâ€™t tell what he was thinking. How she wished she could.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry. I was only correcting Savannah. She shouldnâ€™t be using your given name.â€ His smile was so appealing.
She looked away before he read her mind. â€œNo, itâ€™s fine. I asked the children some time ago to call me Naomi. I canâ€™t begin to tell you how much they mean to me. How much Iâ€™ve enjoyed their correspondence.â€ Almost against her will, her gaze came back to rest on his eyes. â€œBut if itâ€™s too forward and you prefer we donâ€™tâ€”â€
â€œNo, thatâ€™s fine.â€ His smile brightened his face making him more handsome than any man sheâ€™d ever seen before. â€œI didnâ€™t realize you had given permission.â€
She lowered her gaze and gave a quick laugh to cover her confusion. â€œNot only my permission. I suggested it. In the classroom it was different, but now things have changed.â€
He stared at her a moment then turned away, a puzzled look on his face as if he hadnâ€™t understood.
She stared at her hands clasped in her lap. If only he would say something to explain his feelings, what he expected from her. How could he invite her to come then act as if she was still his childrenâ€™s Sunday school teacher and this was only a short visit? Maybe later, when the children werenâ€™t listening to every word, heâ€™d speak more freely.
â€œThereâ€™s our house.â€ Savannah scooted close to the front and pointed.
â€œOh, it looks just as you described it.â€ Naomi watched the white two-story house with green shutters at each window grow larger with their approach. When they turned in the lane and rolled past the house, she took a better look. A wide, welcoming porch spanned the front with a swing hanging from the ceiling and several wicker chairs sitting about. They drove around to the back of the house where a smaller covered porch provided a place to sit on a bench and a couple of more chairs. It was a far cry from her large house in St. Louis, but it looked so cozy and homelike. Already she could picture herself working in the garden not far from the back door or hanging laundry on the line stretched to the side. Maybe drawing water from the well that sat within a convenient few steps from the house. She released a sigh. â€œItâ€™s wonderful.â€
Brant stopped the wagon near the back door and helped Savannah and Naomi down. â€œI suppose youâ€™ll be wanting your trunk with you at the hotel, so Iâ€™ll leave it until later when we go into town.â€
* * *