My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3 (8 page)

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
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Gideon then spoke of the yearning to care for those he’d hurt. That and how grace unfolded in the unlikeliest of places. The rest of his story.

His life.

“I didn’t deserve what Cassie gave me.” Gideon pulled Jacob’s knit cap from his coat pocket and turned it around in his hand. “She gave me my life back. She didn’t need to … yet still she did.” His shoulders felt burdened under the weight of that kind of goodness.

A goodness he would never come close to possessing. To repaying. Yet he was overwhelmed with the urge to try. Somehow. Someway. Chilled, Gideon leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, his son’s cap still tight in his grip. They rode in silence for several minutes.

Finally, Tal squeezed his shoulder, holding tight as if understanding lived in his grip. “That’s quite a story.” He pulled away. “Quite a life you’ve lived already. It sounds like you’ve learned some mighty important lessons through it all.”

“I sure hope so.” Overcome with the urge to run his hand over Jacob’s downy head, Gideon rubbed his palms together. “I keep thinking it ain’t over, though.”

“It never is,” Tal said, his face kind. Sober. “It never is.”

Gideon tugged his jacket into his lap and held it there, fiddling with a frayed cuff. “What if I can’t get back to them?” Chin to chest, his voice sounded small. “What if something goes wrong?”

“It may.” Tal nodded, as if aware of the possibility. “But … have you given any thought to the notion that maybe God has a plan? That maybe God already knows exactly how it’s going to work out? That what you or I may see as wrong may just be another part of that plan? As perhaps these last few months have been for you.”

Leaning back, Gideon slid his son’s cap back into his pocket. “I sure wish He’d tell me what His plan is then.”

Tal grinned. “Doesn’t really work that way.”

“I know.”

“Though it’d be easier if it would. Sometimes life just takes faith.”

“Faith.”

“And hard work to keep your mind off the rest.”

Chuckling, Gideon nodded. He was desperate for that kind of work. Anything to keep him from losing his mind at being so close to Lonnie and Jacob—yet still so far.

“So thirty days. Then it’s back to town?” Tal asked.

“That’s the plan.”

Tal dipped his head in a soft nod.

Bouncing his heel, Gideon looked off into the distance. A month before he could know if he would ever be free to love Lonnie.

“Well, I’ll see to it that you have plenty to keep you busy. Keep your mind off things.” Tal gently flicked the reins.

“I’d say that sounds good. So where are you at in it all? Trees are dormant right now. What’ll I be doing?”

“Well …” Tal cast him a sideways glance. “I’ve been working on a new variety that requires grafting. I had some success with it about five years ago. Produced a lovely apple. Back then I grafted just three trees. But now I’m working on increasing that, and I have what I need on hand to do a great deal more.”

“I don’t know anything about grafting trees. Do you think maybe it’d be better for me to work with something I couldn’t ruin?”

“Maybe you’ll be better at it than you think.”

Gideon doubted it. But he appreciated Tal’s faith in him.

“I’ll show you. Owen too. You’ll catch on quick, and the idea is to do it carefully and at just the right time. The young trees will need a bit of care. So you can help me tend to them during the cold weather until you leave.”

Sticking up his bottom lip, Gideon nodded. “Sounds like a nice way to earn a living. I confess”—he rubbed his palms together—“I’m looking forward to getting back out in the orchard. I enjoyed that work.”

“It suited you. It suited you real nice. And it’s not that way with everybody.” Tal smiled. “I think apple farming may flow in your veins.”

Gideon chuckled. “Just maybe.”

Eight

Lonnie folded her hands and tucked them beneath the heavy plaid blanket Toby had brought for her. With her hair pinned up in a crown of braids, she was glad she’d brought her ivory scarf to wrap around her bare neck this cold Sunday morning. Elsie had offered her a pair of earrings with the sweetest painted glass beads Lonnie had ever seen, but without pierced ears, she had settled instead for a comb with a delicate engraving to tuck into the plaits of her brown hair.

“This outing is such a treat, Toby. Thank you for going to all this trouble.”

Leaning against the wagon seat, Toby flicked the reins with a dramatic air. “If you only knew how much this inconveniences me, you’d feel verra sorry indeed.”

She elbowed him, and his eyes sparkled. Sliding her hand through the crook of his arm, she savored his warmth and his company. With Jacob content in her lap, she settled in for the five-mile ride to the church.

“Addie would have liked this. I’m just sorry that they all couldn’t come.”

“A bit of a cold, you said?”

“Yes. Addie wasn’t feeling well, and Jebediah’s snug in bed, though he fought it something fierce. And Elsie’s so sweet to stay home and tend to
them. Someday I hope to have s—” She fell silent and her cheeks warmed. Toby gave her arm the tiniest of squeezes.

Lonnie chattered away most of the ride, delighted by the new sights and sounds of the community as Toby pointed out houses and talked about the families they belonged to.

“I’m curious now … Of all the places you could have chosen to live. Why here?”

He lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

Half smiling, Lonnie elbowed him gently. “There’s gotta be an answer.”

“Not a very good one.” His eyes were suddenly distant. “My folks had dreamed of this wilderness. We left Scotland when I was thirteen.”

“And how … how long ago was that?”

He circled two fingers around a thick wrist, the reins resting easy in his grip. “Are you wonderin’ how old I am, lass?”

She nodded sheepishly.

“Twenty-eight.” He turned his eyes to the road as if not wanting to see what she thought of that. “We made it as far as New York, then lost my mother shortly after. To my father, the dream died with her. ’Twas just the two of us for a long time, then he passed a few years ago. With them both gone, I couldna just sit around.” He glanced at her. “This seemed as good a place as any to settle. One can only search for so long before you realize there are just some things you canna outrun.”

Gently, she squeezed his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

Lifting her hand, he kissed it. “Dinna be sorry. I should have told you sooner.”

They passed a handful of people walking the busy country road, a flurry of colorful coats and smiles.

“And there’s the church.” Toby squinted and pointed in the distance.

Lonnie craned her neck. She’d been there once or twice before, and each time the sight of the quaint building lifted her spirits. “It’s just charming. To think someday soon it will be yours.”

“Well, I’ll preach there, if that’s what you mean.” He winked and she laughed.

He parked the wagon beside dozens of others. After hopping down, he spoke softly to Gael as he fastened her feed sack to her long nose. The horse flicked her tail and crunched oats. Lonnie straightened Jacob’s sweater and tugged her shawl tighter over her pink eyelet blouse as Toby strode around to help them down.

Feeling dozens of eyes on them, Lonnie was glad when he simply took her hand instead of gripping her waist as he’d done when helping her up. It wouldn’t have been seemly for the young reverend to hoist her down as she’d seen other men do for their wives. For she certainly wasn’t his wife. Though a sparkle in his eye made her wonder if he didn’t have something up his sleeve. He grinned, flashing those dimples.

Mercy, her nerves were unsteady when she was around him.

His mouth was near her ear. “There’s a few folks I need to speak with before the service begins,” he whispered. “But I’ll only be a minute. Sit wherever you like, and I’ll come find you.”

“So you’re not preaching this morning?”

“No, thankfully.” He half grinned. “Not with a bonnie lass here to make me nervous.”

She nearly swatted at him, then seeing a pair of young women watching their exchange, retained a careful composure. She was suddenly aware of how fetching Toby was to the young ladies of Fancy Gap. “Take your time,” Lonnie said as they parted ways on the church steps. With Jacob in her arms, she stepped inside and walked along the narrow aisle, unfamiliar with the surroundings.

Quickly spotting Gus, the Bennetts’ neighbor, who left every Sunday morning on horseback, Lonnie bade him good morning. He updated her on his young goats and told how the little nanny that would soon be hers was growing. Lonnie promised to bring him a batch of the soap she had curing in the cellar, and Gus said hers was the finest he’d ever used.

With church beginning in a few minutes, Lonnie turned to find a seat and spotted another familiar face. She nearly bumped into the dark coat.

“Good morning, Reverend Gardner.”

The stout reverend glanced up from something he’d been reading, a slight surprise in his pale eyes. “Good morning, Lonnie. A pleasure to see you again.”

“And you as well. It seems it’s been ages.” Yet not long enough, she realized, when the heart-wrenching memories struck her afresh. The man who had married her and Gideon was the same man who’d overseen their parting. And here she stood beside him.

He patted Jacob’s head. “My, look how this little one’s grown since last I saw him.”

“I wish the Bennetts and I were able to attend church more. Today is a treat courtesy of Reverend McKee.”

“Ah.” Reverend Gardner nodded amiably.

When a thin silence fell, Lonnie spoke. “And how long will you be in Fancy Gap?”

“I’ll be here another few weeks. And then it’s back to Rocky Knob for me. Your mother will be very pleased to know that I saw you. I’ll be sure to tell her hello for you.”

“Thank you.” Lonnie’s heart filled with warmth. “I would appreciate that so much.”

“I’ll spend a month there, during which time Reverend McKee will take over the Sunday services here for a spell.”

“Oh, wonderful.” Lonnie whittled the toe of her boot into the floor. She cleared her throat. “And how is … I mean, do you often see …”

Reverend Gardner’s face was kind. Knowing. “Gideon? No, not often.”

With her free hand, Lonnie fiddled with her son’s tiny fingers, fighting a swell of emotion at the sheer mention of Gideon.

“Rarely is he in church. Though there was one Sunday rather recently that he and Miss Allan—I mean that he and his …”

Lonnie’s face flushed with heat. She prayed it didn’t show.

Reverend Gardner cleared his throat. “That
they
were in church. It was a pleasure to see him there. After his lengthy absence …” His voice trailed off awkwardly.

“And were they … were they well?” Lonnie pursed her lips when her voice betrayed her.

“Both well. Though the young lady had recently been ill, it seemed. However, it looked as if she was recovering nicely.”

“Ill?”

“I’m not sure what it is that had her under the weather, but when they were in church, she was thinner than I had remembered. And a bit pale. Poor thing seemed quite out of sorts.”

Something struck Lonnie. An understanding she couldn’t quite place. Or that she didn’t want to. Before she could put her thoughts together, a woman spoke behind them.

“There’ll be a baby by year’s end for that one.”

Shattering the shield before Lonnie could put it up.

Heart plummeting to her stomach, Lonnie turned to see the woman speak to another at her side. “I felt the exact same way each time I was expectin’. Mark my words. Those are the signs of a mother.”

Turning, Lonnie suddenly felt lightheaded. “Oh,” she blurted, her voice small, so tight was her throat. “W-well, thank you for your time, Reverend Gardner. I won’t keep you any longer.” She forced the words out dizzily and nodded an awkward farewell. Turning quickly, she found a seat and sank onto the hard pew before her knees gave way.

She was shaking.

Gideon. Her sweet, sweet Gideon. And Cassie. She wanted to scream.

The two women continued to whisper. “I got wind that that man was nothing shy of a heathen.” Disapproval was thick in the glance they exchanged.

Lonnie was going to be sick. She stood and strode down the aisle. Spotting Gus, she hurried toward him. “May Jacob sit with you a moment? I’ll be right back.”

“Certainly!”

She settled Jacob in his arms, and Gus bounced the little boy on his knee. Lonnie darted from the church. Her shawl forgotten in a black puddle on the pew, the icy air engulfed her. She brushed at the moisture along her forehead and down her temple. Her heart clamored in her chest, and she pressed a hand to her throat, where her pulse thundered. Her head lighter than the snow falling around her, she sank onto a fallen log behind the church building, certain no one could see her.

Covering her face in her hands, Lonnie forced herself to take long, slow breaths. But still the nausea rose. She fought back tears. Fought them back with all her might, but despite her resolve, her shoulders shook, and she let out a sob. Clamping a hand over her mouth, Lonnie squeezed her eyes shut, sending a hot tear to her cheek.

A baby for Gideon. And Cassie was its mama.

Her darling Gideon. When her shoulders shook with sobs, she was
thankful that the first hymn began within the chapel—drowning out the sound of her sorrow. The tiny inkling of hope that he had remained faithful to her severed. And why should she cling to such things? Why should Gideon have hung on to their love when there was no hope?

He had moved on. He had forgotten her.

“Lonnie.”

She opened her eyes with a start.

Toby crouched in front of her. His face was filled with worry. He wrapped a hand around hers. It was then she realized how much she was actually trembling.

“What’s happened?” he asked.

She clenched her jaw, refusing to let one more tear fall. Not in front of Toby. Quickly, she wiped her cheeks.

“I … It’s just …” Oh, how could she tell him? A glance into his kind eyes, and she knew he deserved to know. He deserved to know all that ran through her and in her. He was her dearest of friends. And someday he would be more.

BOOK: My Hope Is Found: The Cadence of Grace, Book 3
12.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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