Home » , , , , , , » Tricked into Marriage Series:Birthstone Brides By Mildred Colvin

Tricked into Marriage Series:Birthstone Brides By Mildred Colvin

Why do little boys attract dirt more than a magnet attracts iron?

Brant Grayson shook his head and grabbed a white shirt off the ironing board then headed upstairs. Good thing he’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 Savannah’s room.
Tricked into Marriage Series:Birthstone Brides
Tricked into Marriage Series:Birthstone Brides By Mildred Colvin

“You brush my hair as good as my new mama.” Brant’s best friend’s five-year-old daughter seemed quite taken with the woman who would be marrying her father in about an hour. “She don’t hurt me.”

“That’s probably because she loves you and doesn’t want to hurt you. You’re lucky to be getting a good mama.” Twelve-year-old Savannah’s voice sounded far too grown up to suit Brant.

“I know.” Emmie sounded almost sad now as Brant reached the open doorway. “Why don’t you get your daddy a new mama? You and Davy need someone nice too.”

Feeling the need to tease his daughter, Brant leaned into the room with his hands braced against the door facing. “Yeah, Savannah, think you can find me a new mama around here?”

Savannah jumped and pulled the brush away from Emmie’s head as both girls looked at him with wide eyes. Then a bright smile spread across Savannah’s face as her eyes sparkled. “I probably could. I’ve seen some of the looks you get when you aren’t watching.”

He laughed at her nonsense. As if there were women interested in him. He pulled back with a grin and a parting shot. “Just make sure you let me know if you find anyone.”

She clapped her hands and bounced in place as if she were no older than Emmie. “I will, Daddy, you’ll see.” She grabbed Emmie and twirled a dance around the room. The two girls laughed as Savannah sang out, “I’m getting a new Mama for Daddy. Oh, boy, oh, boy. Just you wait and see.”

“A good mama who doesn’t pull your hair.” Emmie chimed in.

“Right! And she smells good like violets, and is smart, and pretty.”

Brant strolled on down the hall, letting their childish voices fade from his mind. He walked into his son’s room to find the ten-year-old carving a stick with his knife. “I should’ve known better than to buy you that knife.”

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. “Tryin’ to learn a new skill like you said.”

Brant snorted. “Whittling shavings on your clean floor isn’t exactly something new, Davy. If you want to learn to carve, why don’t you do it outdoors since you’ll have to clean this up now?”

“I already meant to clean it up.” Davy took the shirt from Brant’s hand. “Is this what I’m wearing?”

“Yeah, hurry and get dressed. We’re running out of time.”

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 he’d been forced to be both mother and father, he’d learned to appreciate all he’d lost. Not that he hadn’t already ached for the loss of his wife, but he’d never understood how much she’d done and made look so easy. Sometimes he still missed her so much he physically hurt, but he didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself now or regret his misguided actions that caused the death of the only love he’d ever known. He had to be at the church within the hour.

“Soon as you’re all set come downstairs. I should have the wagon ready by then.” 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. “Davy, I’d appreciate if you’d stay with Savannah through the wedding. Emmie, you need to come with me since we’ve got jobs to do. You two go and make me proud.” He waited for their nods then took Emmie’s hand as they walked off. A quick look revealed just the woman he was looking for—the pastor’s wife.

Nina Winford walked toward them with a smile of welcome. “I see our flower girl has arrived. Are you ready to do your job, Miss Morgan?”

Emmie released Brant’s hand and ran toward her new mother’s friend. “I’m going to help my papa and mama get married.”

Nina laughed. “Yes, you are. Come with me, and I’ll get you all ready for your job.”

“All right.” Emmie stuck her little hand in Nina’s and never looked back as they walked away.

Nina gave Brant a quick wave. “Mr. Morgan is wearing a path in back of the church. He’d probably welcome your encouragement right about now.”

Brant flashed a grin. “That so? I’ll go right away then.”

Adam stopped pacing when Brant rounded the corner of the church. “I thought you’d forgotten.”

“Of course not. It isn’t time yet. People are still coming.” Brant tried to keep a serious face. He didn’t remember being so obviously nervous when he got married fourteen years ago. Of course, he’d been barely out of his teens back then and didn’t know the responsibility he was taking on. Even knowing all that had happened, if he could go back in time, he’d do it all over again. “You aren’t having second thoughts about this, are you?”

Adam reared back as if he’d struck him. “No! Why would you say such a thing?”

“As the best man, it’s my job to make sure you know what you’re doing.” Brant grinned.

His friend stared at him a moment before a wide grin broke out over his face. “She’s a good woman, Brant. Emmie loves her, and she loves Emmie. I couldn’t have found any one I’d rather spend the rest of my life with. By the way, did you ever notice that there’s only one letter different in life and wife? I’ve been thinking about that, and I don’t think it’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 she’s awfully important to me already. There’s something pretty special about knowing you have someone you can share everything with. The good and the bad. It won’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. There’s someone special out there for you too.”

Brant opened his mouth to protest when Nina stepped into sight.

“The bride has arrived and is waiting in front with your flower girl to enter the church. We’ll all walk in together as we talked about.” She sent an encouraging smile to Adam. “Are you gentlemen ready?”

Adam straightened and flashed a smile toward the pastor’s wife then nodded. “I’m ready.”

Brant and Nina entered the church first. Pastor Ethan Winford waited in front as they walked down the aisle and parted with the bride’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, didn’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.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to unite this woman and this man …”

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 he’d been the cause of her death. He didn’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 he’d missed a few, but it didn’t matter. All but Mrs. Kingsley seemed so young, and he was pretty sure the waitress at the café 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 wasn’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.

“Brother Adam Morgan, you may kiss your bride.”

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 couldn’t be happier for them. But a second chance at love wasn’t going to come Brant Grayson’s way. Nope. It wouldn’t happen. He’d had his one chance and messed up. He was destined to live out his life alone once his children were grown. For now, he’d enjoy the two children he had. They were all he needed.

~*~





First of June, 1873, St. Louis, Missouri





“Thank you, Mrs. Jenson.” Naomi Patterson stepped carefully down from the pastor’s buggy. “I appreciate the ride home, and I especially enjoyed today’s missionary meeting with actual missionaries speaking. That was so inspiring.”

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” The pastor’s wife leaned forward to peer out the door of the buggy. “I’ll see you Sunday, Miss Patterson.”

“Yes, well thanks again.” 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 Naomi’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. Didn’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 it’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 Mama’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 mother’s voice. But no, Mama wouldn’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 didn’t have to fix anything if she didn’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. “I must stop this. Feeling at loose ends just because I’m alone in the world.” She didn’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.

Brant Grayson.

She splayed her fingers across her chest before going into the parlor. There she made herself comfortable in her father’s big easy chair and set her tea on the small table beside her. Oh, my! She couldn’t wait another minute to see what “her” 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 wasn’t Brant’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 would’ve told you anyway, but she thinks I’m dumb. I’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. She’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 she’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. They’d been four and six then. Small children with so much enthusiasm for every lesson. They’d had a wonderful mother. Although she hadn’t become good friends with Eva Grayson, she’d admired the woman and grieved when she’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 Naomi’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 isn’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 you’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 don’t you think about it? We’d be so happy to see you again. Then maybe you’d stay and make this your home. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?





Laughter bubbled from Naomi’s soul as she read through the children’s letters a second time. They were both such adorable children. They’d been her favorite students for the four years they’d been in her classroom. She’d never forget them, but she couldn’t just appear on their doorstep. What would their father think? Her face warmed at the thought.

Finally, she took up Brant’s letter. Her heart fluttered because he took time to write to her. Not that this was the first time. Far from it. They’d been corresponding most of the last two years, ever since she’d started writing to his children. When the children responded, he’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 didn’t want them to be a bother and would stop them if need be.

She’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. He’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 children’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 we’ve written, I’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.





Yours always,

Brant





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 didn’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 weren’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.

“Lord, what can I do?” She lifted her eyes upward and remembered the man who’d come to the house last week. He’d been pestering her ever since Mama died to sell her house to him. She’d contact her father’s lawyer and ask his advice. Maybe have an auction. “Thank You, Lord!”

With a plan in mind, she walked through the house mentally inventorying the belongings she’d taken for granted before but now seemed a burden. There’d be no reason to give everything away if she could get enough to help Brant’s farm grow. Was Mr. Grayson well off? For herself, she didn’t care, but if he needed money, she’d be glad to help. Father had left her with plenty, and she’d love to help her family if, indeed, she soon had a family. That possibility almost staggered her. But there’d be time enough to dream about that later. Tonight, she could keep busy until bedtime by packing the things she’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.





Chapter 2





Brant drove his team across the bridge and past the mill into town. “I’ve got two places to go today. Should we head for the feed store or the mercantile first?”

A scramble from the back of the wagon brought Davy to the front with his head sticking between his dad and sister. “I can take the order to the mercantile so they have time to get it ready while we’re at the feed store.”

“I guess that would work.” Brant looked into the eager eyes of his son and nodded. “I’ll want you to catch up with us as soon as you do though.”

“All right, I promise.”

Brant pulled the list he’d written from his shirt pocket and handed it to Davy. “I’ll stop at the corner and let you off. Be careful and don’t get into any mischief.”

“I won’t.” Davy pulled back then forward again. “I mean I will and I won’t.”

Brant laughed as he stopped the team. “All right. We’ll see you in a little while.”

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 didn’t use more of that energy when he worked or at least loan some to his old dad.

Savannah looked up at his chuckle. “What’s funny?”

Brant met her gaze with a smile. “Your brother. Thinking how quick he is to show his independence. Think he’ll be able to handle such an important job?”

Her eyes sparkled. “No, he’ll probably lose the list before he ever gets to the store.”

“He’d better not!” Brant tried to sound firm but figured she saw through him when she laughed.

He pulled in beside Vincent’s Feed and Seed near the back then wrapped the reins around the brake handle. The warm sun felt good now, but later on they’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. She’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 didn’t like thinking about his little girl growing up so quickly.

“Hey, Brant, what can I do for you?” Dan stepped through the door from his back room where most of the larger bags of seed and such were stored.

“I’ve got some calves that like to eat. Thought I’d pick up a few bags of feed while I’m in town.”

“You’ve come to the right place.” Dan returned to the back room. “Come on and we’ll load you up.”

After they carried the bags through the side door and placed them in the wagon, Brant propped himself against the side. “Looks like Adam Morgan’s wedding left us without a schoolteacher.”

“Yeah, I know.” Dan leaned against his building and crossed his arms. “We 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.”

The folks decided to not build, which leaves her without a job.”

“What’re they doing with the children?” Brant frowned at the thought of leaving a bunch of kids without a chance for an education.

“They’re sending them to other nearby schools. The district there decided they didn’t need so many small schools I guess.” Dan sighed. “It may make it harder for some of them to get to school, but I guess they know what they’re doing.”

“Do you think your cousin would be interested?”

Dan shrugged. “Well, that’s the thing. I’m not sure. She was about to be married last I heard. Mom keeps up with her sister, who is Gloriana’s mother, and tells me she and the man who has been courting her parted company. If that’s true, she might be eager to get away.”

“We still have a few months.” Brant stroked his chin in thought. “Maybe you could contact her and see what she thinks. I don’t know of anyone else who might be interested.”

“No, I don’t either.” Dan straightened. “I guess I’ll do that if you’re in favor. Think we need to have a meeting of the schoolboard before we make a decision?”

“Probably.” Brant followed Dan inside. “But not before you write to her or send a telegram if you think we need to hurry it along.”

“Alright, but there probably isn’t any big hurry.” Dan gave Brant a sheepish look. “I don’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.”

Brant chuckled. “I see what you mean. When you get nerve enough to find out, let me know.”

“I’ll do that.” Dan laughed with him.

“Daddy, Davy isn’t here yet.” Savannah hurried toward him, her eyes filled with worry. “Should we go look for him?”

“Yeah, let me pay Mr. Vincent then we’ll go.” Brant patted her shoulder. “Don’t worry. He’s probably found something in the store to look at.”

“Well, he shouldn’t do that.” Savannah’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 wouldn’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 wasn’t in sight.

“He isn’t here, Daddy.” Savannah voiced his thoughts. “He’s had more than enough time too.”

“Yes, he has. Come on.” Brant lifted her into the wagon. “We’ll go look for him although I’m sure we won’t find a thing wrong.”

“I know.” 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.

“He’s fine, Savannah. Don’t worry so much. You’ll have wrinkles across your forehead if you keep that up.”

She rubbed her forehead than turned her frown on him. “I won’t either.”

His laughter broke out bringing a smile to her face.

“Oh, Daddy! You’re just teasing.” A mischievous look replaced her frown. “See, this is why you need to get us a mother. I wouldn’t worry so much about Davy then, and he’d probably be a better boy too.”

“Is that right?” Brant wondered how having a mother could make Davy better behaved. He seldom did anything wrong as it was. “I think I’ve got some pretty good kids, and that includes Davy.”

“Hmm, maybe.” Savannah turned to watch the road as they pulled onto Main Street. “There he is!”

Brant saw the small figure of his son running at top speed toward them and stopped the wagon to let him climb aboard. “Sorry it took me so long. Mr. Smith was busy with another customer then I stopped and talked to some of the guys.”

“It’s all right, Davy.” Brant understood, and he really hadn’t taken too long. “We knew where you were, and we weren’t gone that long.”

“Long enough.” Savannah spoke under her breath but her words were clear.

Brant stopped the wagon in front of Smith’s Mercantile and climbed down. “Let’s see if Mr. Smith has the order ready yet.”

“Mr. Grayson!” The voice called from down the street.

Brant turned to find Duffy Brown hurrying from the telegram office.

“I saw your son earlier but couldn’t catch up with him.” He held a paper out. “Got a telegram for you.”

“Is that right?” Brant took the envelope as the man went back to his office. He wasn’t used to getting telegrams, and didn’t want this one. Far as he knew, they usually brought bad news. He thought of Eva’s parents in St. Louis as he opened it and hoped for the kids’ sake it wasn’t about one of them. Then he read aloud: “Will come first train. Look forward to seeing children. Prepared to stay if things work out. Naomi Patterson.”

He looked up. “What?” The kids were huddled together whispering.

Davy’s eyes grew big as he backed up. “I forgot to tell Sonny something. I’ll be right back.”

“Davy!” 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. “What’s wrong, Daddy?”

“Where’s Davy going?” Brant watched his son run across the street where another boy stood on the corner. “Didn’t I just tell him I need to know where he is?”

Her eyebrows lifted. “He’s in sight with Sonny. He’ll be back. Did you have a problem with your telegram?”

The reminder of the telegram took his mind off Davy. “Didn’t you listen when I read it? It’s from Miss Patterson who says she’s coming here. What’s she mean about being prepared to stay?”

“I’m not sure.” 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. “I don’t know, Daddy. Did you invite her to come for a visit?”

He opened his mouth to deny doing any such a thing.

“Well, I’m glad you did, and I hope she does decide to move here and stay. She’d be a really good influence on Davy, don’t you think? He needs a woman who can mother him. I’d like to have a mother, too. At my age, I need a woman I can look up to.”

“Savannah …”

His warning tone did nothing to stop her.

“It’ll be so nice, and we won’t ever forget Mama. But Daddy, Mama’s gone, and don’t you think Miss Patterson is nice? She’s pretty, too, isn’t she?”

When he opened his mouth again, she hurried on. “Things will work out between the two of you, I just know they will. Thank you, Daddy.” She lunged forward to squeeze him around the waist. “I’m so glad you asked her to come. She’s the absolutely best mother you could’ve found for us. Davy will be thrilled. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”

“What things?” Brant shook his head. “Miss Patterson? Mother?” His brain whirled as fast as Savannah’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.

Why’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 she’d get off, but she’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 she’d gone over it. Still, it wouldn’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 … Would she! Oh yes, of course she would. He sounded so insecure as if he doubted her answer. Any woman who’d ever met Mr. Grayson would be honored to consider marriage to him. Especially with such fine children as his.

“Cottonwood Station!” The conductor called out as he walked the aisle. “Get ready to disembark for Cottonwood Station.”

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, she’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 didn’t mean they were betrothed. Only that—

“Watch your step, Miss.” 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. “Thank you, sir.”

“You are welcome.” 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.

“Miss Patterson!” A childish voice called out.

She swung toward it as Davy and Savannah ran toward her, their arms outstretched. “You’re here.” Savannah called out as if she also couldn’t believe it.

Naomi laughed. “Yes, I’m here now, and so are you.” 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 didn’t.

“You’ve both grown so much!” Finally, she released them as they pulled back. “I can’t believe how much.”

“Two years can be a long time.” 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 hadn’t changed as much as his children had, but then she’d never before considered him husband material.

Fine creases fanned out from his eyes as he gazed into hers. “I hope your trip was uneventful.”

She couldn’t find her voice. Never had she felt so tongue-tied, but he didn’t seem to notice.

With the tip of his hat, he broke the connection. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll retrieve your trunk and get it in my wagon. Children, stay with Miss Patterson.”

As soon as he strolled away, the children grabbed her arms. “Come on, we’ll go to the wagon.” 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 hadn’t thought of sitting so close to him, but she couldn’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. “We’ll stop off at our farm before going on to the hotel in town if that’s all right with you?”

She glanced up to find him looking her way, a quizzical expression on his face. “Yes, that would be fine.” Truthfully, she was delighted as she’d be able to see the farm she’d heard so much about through their letters.

“Savannah has prepared a special meal for you.” Brant flashed a quick smile toward her before glancing back to the road. “She claims she’s fixed your favorites, although I have no idea how she’d know.”

Naomi laughed then. “Oh, the sweet girl. A couple of letters ago she asked for my favorite foods and listed hers. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if Savannah expected me to come for a visit even back then.”

When Naomi turned to look in the back, she met Savannah’s gaze. A blush spread across the girl’s face before she ducked her head and mumbled. “I was hoping you’d come.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.” Davy looked from his sister to Naomi. “I like you.”

Warmth filled Naomi’s heart with love for both children. “You couldn’t like me any more than I like you, Davy. I’m glad to be here. I can’t wait to see if everything is exactly like you’ve described. And I’m looking forward to a scrumptious lunch.”

Again color rose in Savannah’s face as a pleased smile curved her lips. “Thank you, Naomi.”

“Miss Patterson.” Brant’s deep voice brought Naomi’s attention to the front.

“Yes?” She focused on his eyes. They were such a beautiful shade of gray, clear as if looking through a glass although she couldn’t tell what he was thinking. How she wished she could.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I was only correcting Savannah. She shouldn’t be using your given name.” His smile was so appealing.

She looked away before he read her mind. “No, it’s fine. I asked the children some time ago to call me Naomi. I can’t begin to tell you how much they mean to me. How much I’ve enjoyed their correspondence.” Almost against her will, her gaze came back to rest on his eyes. “But if it’s too forward and you prefer we don’t—”

“No, that’s fine.” His smile brightened his face making him more handsome than any man she’d ever seen before. “I didn’t realize you had given permission.”

She lowered her gaze and gave a quick laugh to cover her confusion. “Not only my permission. I suggested it. In the classroom it was different, but now things have changed.”

He stared at her a moment then turned away, a puzzled look on his face as if he hadn’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 children’s Sunday school teacher and this was only a short visit? Maybe later, when the children weren’t listening to every word, he’d speak more freely.

“There’s our house.” Savannah scooted close to the front and pointed.

“Oh, it looks just as you described it.” 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. “It’s wonderful.”

Brant stopped the wagon near the back door and helped Savannah and Naomi down. “I suppose you’ll be wanting your trunk with you at the hotel, so I’ll leave it until later when we go into town.”





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