My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3 (4 page)

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
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Lonnie stepped out of the way. “You’ve already done so much.”

The oven door creaked open, and Elsie pulled out a dark loaf of pumpkin bread.

“I want to help in any way I can.” Lonnie motioned toward the pot of warming liquid. “It’s not much. But it’s what I know how to do.” She tugged at her damp shawl, freeing it from her shoulders.

Elsie’s smile was kind. “Well, when Jebediah takes this next batch in, you make sure and add a few extras to the supply list.”

Nodding, Lonnie turned to the table and the gray-and-pink fabric that rested in a folded heap of pins and pattern cuttings. Waiting for the liquid to boil, Lonnie lifted up the makings of the small dress. She fingered the half-formed bodice, then opened the sewing basket. The lid tapped the table with a soft
thud
. She shuffled through its contents, finally holding out two spools of thread against the gray-and-pink plaid. “Which one, do you think?”

Addie twisted her mouth, then pointed to a light-gray thread that would nearly disappear with their tiny stitches. “That one’s just right.”

“I agree. Isn’t it a pretty pattern?” She patted the folds of cloth that would soon be formed into the skirt.

Elsie stepped closer. “Send a man to town with a list of supplies and just pray that he knows what kind of fabric a girl would want for Christmas.”

Addie dropped a handful of buttons with a soft clatter. She slipped from her chair and fell to her hands and knees, then crawled under the table. She bumped her head on the chair. “Ow. I never knew learning to sew would hurt so bad.”

Lonnie chuckled. She pressed the soft flannel between her hands. “It’s perfect.”

“Of course it’s perfect.” Jebediah pushed the back door open and quietly lowered an armload of wood behind the stove. Addie scrambled from beneath the table and pranced toward him, her cheeks flushed.

Jebediah closed the door softly. He brushed his hands on his pants. “I have excellent taste.” After tugging his pipe from his shirt pocket, he tapped it idly against his hand, then set it near the tin of tobacco on the shelf.

Elsie propped her fists on her hips, copper eyes narrowing.

His grin widened. “Oh, all right. The shopkeeper’s wife helped me pick it out. I didn’t know one fabric from another.” He reached for a knife and sliced off a piece of bread. It steamed in his fingers when he broke it in half. “If it were up to me, y’all would be makin’ a dress out of burlap.”

Lonnie laughed as she rummaged for a needle in the sewing basket. “Well, thank goodness for female help.” Needle in hand, she found her scissors and stepped to the parlor window, where the light was best. The rocker creaked as Jebediah sat nearby, brushing crumbs from his coat. Elsie followed close behind, a cup of coffee in her hands, which she handed to her husband.

“I saw Toby left his hat.” Jebediah nodded back toward the kitchen. “Though I suppose he’ll be by any day to fetch it.”

Sewing lesson forgotten, Addie grabbed her picture book from the desk and crawled onto Jebediah’s lap. After setting his steaming cup aside, Jebediah wrapped his arms around the little girl and creaked the binding open. He waited for Addie to find the story she wanted and settle her dark curls against his shoulder.

Lonnie lowered her scissors to the windowsill and looked out into the yard, where Toby appeared nearly every other day. He was one of the best men she’d ever known. She tried to focus on that truth, forcing any thought of a green-eyed man and what might have been into the deepest recesses of her heart, wishing with all her might that the yearning would fade. But it clung to her—an unwelcome visitor in the wee hours of the night when her determination waned under the longing for him to hold her. To hear his voice, tangle her fingers around his.

Her needle pierced the fabric, and she yanked the thread taut. After half a dozen tiny stitches, she took a deep breath, her thoughts far from the garment in hand.

Toby’s a good man
. She nearly said it out loud, so quick was she to remind herself. He would be a good father to her son. But did she love him? Lonnie fiddled with a corner of the little dress. She thought of his smile, of his kindness and goodness, and knew without a shadow of a doubt that she cared for him. Very much. The future would be bright. It had to be.

Leaning against the windowsill, she focused on the tidy row of stitches. The gray thread blended nicely, as she’d hoped. Elsie brushed past her, setting a plate of warm pumpkin bread at her side, followed by a cup and saucer. The dollop of butter melting on the bread made Lonnie set aside her chore long enough to have a taste. Brushing crumbs from her dress, she sipped the hot brew.

By the time Jebediah finished and Addie hopped up to put the book away, the sound of Jacob’s cries came muffled from the bedroom. Lonnie’s feet thrummed up the stairs, and she found him on her bed, his baby quilt tight in his grasp. A wide smile spread across his face, revealing several teeth he had worked hard to produce. He babbled at her and rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes.

She clapped and, reaching out, caught Jacob as he lunged into her grasp. They sank on the edge of the bed, and she buried her nose in his creamy neck.

She breathed in his scent and shut her eyes. “My boy,” she whispered as they swayed side to side. Jacob nestled his face into her shoulder as if to rub away his sleepiness. Lonnie kissed his forehead and smoothed her palm over the silken skin and into curls the color of autumn.

Hair that mirrored his father’s.

She battled against the ache. With a kiss to the top of Jacob’s head, she
closed her eyes, fighting off the memories of events that tore Gideon from her grasp. There was no sense in longing for what she could not have. No need to glance around to know that his drawer was empty. His scent long gone. And the echo of his laughter had long since faded from the walls.

The bed creaked when Lonnie stood. Pressing her son to her chest, she stepped toward the door.

Four

Gideon shook out his jacket and draped it over the shrubs. Shivering, he grabbed his only other shirt from his pack. He shook out the wrinkles, not really caring. Teeth nearly chattering, he yanked it on, followed by his jacket and pack. Without ceremony, he pressed on. As he fumbled the top shirt button into place, the breeze that tapped its chilly fingers against his chest made him wish for a patch of warm summer sun where he could lie down for a few hours and dry out proper.

An apple slipped from his pack and hit the damp and frosty bracken. He grabbed it up as his empty stomach rumbled. Judging by the light, he knew it had to be well past breakfast. He’d dawdled long enough trying to get dry. With only damp wood for a fire, the night had been a cold one. He’d tried to sleep but kept waking up shaking, so he finally forced himself to rise and keep moving, despite the dark. Another apple tumbled from his pack, and with a grunt, Gideon retraced a step and grabbed it, all the while thinking he’d forgotten to secure the flap of his pack. After sticking the small apple between his teeth, he pulled the pack off and tugged on the leather cord, cinching it tight.

“Hiya.”

Pulling the apple from his mouth, Gideon glanced up to see an old
woman standing in the path. “Mornin’.” He wiped the back of his hand over his lips.

With a large walking stick in one bony fist and a basket in the other, the woman gestured toward him with her elbow. “You ain’t from around these parts.”

“No ma’am.”

She studied him a moment. “Where ya headin’, son?” An army of multicolored skirts swayed when she shifted her weight, the tattered hems brushing against her snowy boots.

“Fancy Gap,” he answered.

The woman lifted her chin from the thick folds of scarf draped around her neck. Glancing southwest, she flashed a crown of silver braids. Turning her gaze back to Gideon, her eyes landed on the apple in his hand. “That all ya got to eat?”

“No ma’am.” He took a bite.

“Hmm.” Her gaze roved from his hat to his boots. “I’ve got a stew on.”

By the look of her threadbare clothing and her bird-thin arms, that stew would cost her dearly. He shook his head and tried to swallow his bite so he could better speak.

She rested a knobby hand on the top of her walking stick. “Don’t tell me a travelin’ man in the middle of winter nibblin’ on squirrel food is gonna turn down hot stew. You’re half-frozen.” She inched her basket higher up her arm. Several snowflakes floated down from the gray tempest above. A pair of honest eyes stared back at him.

Gideon scratched his head. “Then I’d say that’s an offer I can’t resist.”

“Good.” Her gaze sharpened and she glanced at his shirt.

He fiddled with a loose button absentmindedly, then suddenly remembered that, like a blockhead, he’d simply thrown it over his shoulders.

Her blue eyes held a hint of amusement. “You weren’t expecting company, I see.” She turned and headed toward the thickest part of the woods.

Gideon quickly thrust the buttons into place and tugged uselessly at the hem as he strode after her.

“Name’s Adelaide,” she said over her shoulder.

“Gideon O’Riley.” His breath was frosty in front of his face. The snowflakes thickened around them.

“O’Riley,” she repeated without slowing. She flicked a branch out of her way, and Gideon caught it before it smacked him in the face.

Even as he wiped his cold, wet fingertips on his sleeve, he spotted a small cabin tucked amongst the thick brambles, safely out of sight of passersby. Adelaide pushed against the door and wiped her small boots on a mat just outside. “Kick yer feet.”

Gideon did as he was told and carefully wiped the snowy mud from his boots until the smell of stew pulled him through the doorway. Heat stung his face. He dropped his pack. Adelaide set her things on the table and quickly went to work stoking the fire. Gideon glanced around the humble space. Dried herbs hung overhead and in every nook and cranny of the small cabin, it seemed. The air was musky and rich with their scents. Straightening, Adelaide rose on her tiptoes and reached for a basket above her head.

Gideon stepped closer, his eyes adjusting to the dim light of the tiny, one-room house. “Can I lend you a hand with that?”

“No.” She grabbed a stick from beside the stove and hit the basket until it tumbled into her arms. She squinted at him, and despite the wrinkles that framed them, her eyes held a childlike glow. “But it looks like
you
could use some help.” She moved back to the fire and lifted the lid on a blackened copper pot. He stepped sideways, careful to keep out of her way.
“Well, ya just gonna stand there all mornin’?” Adelaide reached to a shelf and pulled down a jar of dried herbs. “Hang up that wet jacket by the fire before you catch cold.”

He did as she said, his shirt taut across his shoulders as he knelt and held his frozen hands out to the flames. They tingled back to life. He spotted the woodpile that would hardly last the night. “Mind if I bring in some more firewood?”

With both hands clamped around the jar, her paper-thin skin did little to conceal the sinewy muscles of her small arms. “If it suits you.” She grunted. “But you could start by opening this.”

Taking the jar, he popped the metal lid and handed her both pieces.

“That was tighter than usual.”

“Yes ma’am. It was.”

She stared at him. “And like I told ya, name’s Adelaide. Most folks call me that, so don’t go callin’ me nothin’ fancy.”

“Yes ma’am.”

She thrust a twig of a finger toward him.

“Yes, Adelaide.” He gulped.

With swift movements that did not match her age, Adelaide moved bowls to the table, followed by two cups and a pair of spoons.

Gideon stepped toward the door.

“Supper’s ready. Firewood’ll last.” She glanced at him. “You sleepin’ out there in this? There ain’t an ordinary for miles and miles, and it’d be a shame to freeze that tail end of yours out there in the cold.” She moved the heavy pot to the table, and when her arms shook, Gideon fought the urge to help her.

“I need to keep moving.”

“Well, take a few hours and warm up, at least. Put yer bedroll right here in front of the fire.”

“I will. Thank you.” Not wanting to make a mess of her well-swept floor, Gideon sank into the chair beside the fire and unlaced his boots. His body settled in, exhaustion all but taking over. Yanking one boot off, he set it close to the flames to dry. As he worked on the second, his elbow bumped a little table, nearly sliding a pair of books to the floor. He straightened them and noticed a wrinkled newspaper. A glance at the date showed it was a month old, but what caught his eye was a Help Wanted advertisement. He touched his thumb to the page, noting the city of Stuart.

Gideon thought of the coins in his pocket. He glanced up at Adelaide as she placed a small loaf of dark-brown bread beside his plate. Though she’d never ask, the coins were hers. He moved to the washstand when she filled it with steaming water and, after scrubbing the grime from his hands and forearms, sat at the table at her bidding. Adelaide creaked into the chair across from him. She folded her hands together.

Her crown of silver braids tilted forward, and she closed her eyes. “For the bounty we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.”

“Amen.” Gideon lifted his head.

She dunked her spoon into the pot and filled Gideon’s bowl. “Well, don’t stand on ceremony for me, young man. Dig in.”

“Thank you.” He poured cider into his cup from a chipped crock and filled her cup when she didn’t object.

Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on the table, broke off a chunk of bread, and dipped it in the stew before sinking his teeth into the moistened crust. The hot bite all but melted in his mouth.

He glanced around. “Did you grow all this?” he asked, nodding toward the herbs hanging in the corner and along the window frame. Things grew in pots along the windowsill.

“Some of it. Others I gather. You can find just about anything.” She took a sip of broth, her eyes finding Gideon’s over her spoon. “If you know where to look.” She slid a jar of pickles toward him.

He ate quickly, hungrier than he’d realized. When he’d finished a second bowl of stew, he leaned back in his chair. The fire was warm against his back. His feet were heavy, his head so light he had to run his hand over his face.

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
4.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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