Authors: Lisa Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance
“So your sisters said. Didn’t expect to find you hiding out behind the shed, though.”
“I’m not hiding.”
“Then what is it?”
The blade cracked through the wood, splitting it down the middle. “I’ve been to the sheriff’s office. I gave them the information I have on Samuel’s killer.”
“You mean Lidia’s brother.”
Adam wiped the moisture off his forehead with the back of his hand. “Why did you hire them?”
“They needed work, and I needed extra help around the farm.”
“Don’t make me feel guilty. I’ve tried to put the past behind me, but that doesn’t mean I have to accept them into our family. For you to go and hire them …“Adam swung the blade to finish splitting the piece he was working on. “How could you even consider such a thing?”
His father tossed the fallen section onto the woodpile. “I don’t understand your reaction, Adam. Lidia and her brother lost their livelihood because they helped you save your maple harvest.”
“So now we owe them?”
“Yes! But I wasn’t doing them a favor. Michaela and I had already decided we needed extra help around the farm.
I want to expand this year, and with Daria taking up a lot of your stepmother’s time, it seemed to be an answer from God that helped all of us.”
?” The wood groaned as the blade forced it apart. “There are dozens of other people in town who could use the work.”
“If you could forgive, you might be able to see that Lidia is a wonderful, godly woman.”
“I know she’s a wonderful person.” The confession left an ache that radiated deep within him. That was the very reason why he had to stay away from her.
“I convinced the sheriff to raise the bounty on Jarek,” Adam confessed.
Adam pounded the ax into the side of a stump. “Because I want him to pay for his crime.”
His father took a step toward him. “And what about Lidia?”
“Her brother deserves justice.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right, but how do you think she feels knowing that her brother will likely be sentenced to death?”
Adam shrugged, unable to answer.
“You’re willing to lose Lidia?”
Adam cringed at the question. It was the very thing he was afraid of. That one day, he was going to regret just how much he’d lost in his search for justice.
Lidia let out a deep sigh of contentment as she watched the festive scene unfold before her from the Johnsons’ front porch. The social gathering of friends and neighbors during the annual sugaring off had always been one of her favorite times of year. Laughter from the children mingled with the spirited sounds of a fiddle playing the chorus of yet another lively tune. Tonight’s activities reminded her of good memories from the past with her family. And that God had blessed her with hope for a future again.
She watched Koby dip a paddle into the vat of maple syrup, then lick it clean. The grin on his face told her she had made the right decision in accepting the Johnsons’ generous offer of employment. While she still considered herself merely one of the hired help, the Johnsons treated her as if she were a part of the family. It was a feeling she’d missed since the deaths of her parents.
“Are you enjoying yourself tonight?”
Lidia drew her gaze from the mesmerizing dance of the bonfire that crackled in the crisp night air and smiled at her new employer. “Very much, thank you, Mrs. Johnson.”
It was hard to believe that Michaela Johnson would soon be a grandmother. Her eldest daughter, Rebecca Hutton, who now lived in Boston with her husband, had recently announced that she was expecting the Johnsons’ first grandchild. Even with one-year-old Daria in tow, Mrs. Johnson always looked lovely with her pinned-up hair full of reddish highlights and her glowing fair skin. But it was more than her outward beauty that had impressed Lidia. It was what radiated from the inside—her contentment with life and generosity toward others as she managed a household of five children still living at home. Mrs. Johnson leaned against the rail beside her. “I was afraid it might be too cold, but it turned out to be perfect weather.”
“Yes, ma’am, you’re right.” Lidia gazed at the cloudless sky. Above them, the stars glimmered in all their brilliance, covering the festivities in a canopy of lights. “I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t even begin to express to you how much it means to me and my brother that you and Mr. Johnson took us on. I know it couldn’t have been easy, with what happened with Samuel—”
“That’s not true.” Mrs. Johnson laid a reassuring hand on Lidia’s shoulder. “You’ve been an incredible help already. I must have told Eric a dozen times that I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Still, I do appreciate it.”
Mrs. Johnson smoothed down the front of her lavender dress, its design simple, yet elegant—perfect for the festivities. “There’s plenty of food and no excuses not to indulge tonight.”
Lidia glanced at the wooden table that was laden with meats, salads, sandwiches, and doughnuts, as well as the customary pickles to counteract the sweetness of the syrup. “I promise to make myself a plate in a little bit. For now, I’m just enjoying watching all that’s going on.”
A short distance across the lawn, Adam walked up to the table and began filling his plate. Lidia felt her jaw muscles tense. So far she’d managed to avoid him, something she knew she wouldn’t be able to do forever. Of course, more than likely he had no desire to see her either, but she refused to have her evening spoiled by him.
He looked up and his gaze swept past her, before returning to linger on her face. Her breath caught in her throat, and she wondered if she would ever forget him. But there was nothing in his eyes tonight that hinted that he still cared. Sadness filled his expression. Was he sorry that he’d changed his mind about calling on her? When he turned away without saying a word to her, the answer was clear.
Lidia turned back to Mrs. Johnson. “Why do you think Adam still hangs on to so much guilt regarding his brother’s death? It wasn’t his fault.”
“And it wasn’t your fault either, Lidia.”
Her fingers gripped the wooden rail. “I know, but it’s hard not to feel responsible. Jarek is my brother.”
“I learned a long time ago that bitterness will only bring you pain and heartache. Adam has his own lessons to learn, but don’t torture yourself over things you can’t control.”
“Still, I can’t imagine how he must feel, and …” Lidia paused, not sure she should reveal her feelings toward Adam.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. I shouldn’t even bring it up, but before Adam found out who I was he looked at me differently. Maybe nothing would have ever come from it, but there was something in his eyes. Sometimes I wish …”
“That he still cared for you.”
Lidia nodded. “He was a complete gentleman while Koby and I were at his place, but one night … there was something romantic about the frosty air and the brilliance above. When I looked into his eyes, I knew he cared about me. He kissed me and told me he wanted to call on me once I was back at the mill. But all that changed when he found out the truth about my brother. Then nothing mattered anymore except that I was Jarek Kowalski’s sister.”
“I’m so sorry, Lidia.” Mrs. Johnson turned toward Lidia, her eyes filled with concern. “Unfortunately, I don’t think Adam even talks to his father much anymore. He’s done a good job of closing himself off from people.”
Lidia fingered the soft fabric of her skirt. “I’m praying he can someday put the past behind him and give me a chance, but I know that can never be.”
“I wouldn’t say that. Give him some time. Adam’s a fine man who needs to deal with what happened, but we’re praying there will come a day when he finally lets go of his guilt. Then he’ll be ready for love.”
“I’m not naive, Mrs. Johnson.” Lidia shook her head. “Loving me would never be enough motivation for him to forgive Jarek.”
“Don’t be so sure about that. God has ways of bringing healing that we could never imagine. I’m always here for you if you need to talk. I know I can’t take the place of your mother, but I can certainly be a friend.”
Sensing the genuineness behind Mrs. Johnson’s words, tears welled in Lidia’s eyes. Things might never work out between her and Adam, but that didn’t diminish the gratefulness she felt for God putting them together with this family.
Baby Daria cried from inside the house, and Mrs. Johnson moved toward the front door. “She was supposed to be asleep. If you’ll excuse me—”
“You have guests.” Lidia followed behind. “I don’t mind checking on her.”
“Are you sure?” Mrs. Johnson turned to her.
“It’s no problem at all.”
“Very well, then.” A grin crossed the older woman’s face. “I do need to check on Mr. Wentworth. Widow Sharp has her mark set for him, and last time I saw him, his face was as flushed as a ripe tomato.”
Lidia laughed. In her short time on the farm, she’d heard of the Johnsons’ nearby neighbor, Widow Sharp, who even at the age of eighty-two was determined to marry again despite the fact that she’d already buried four husbands.
“One more thing before you go inside.” Mrs. Johnson grasped Lidia’s hand and squeezed it gently. “You’re a lovely young woman. I have no doubt that not only did God bring you into our family for a purpose but also that He has something, maybe even someone, very special in mind for you and your future.”
Lidia wanted to believe her, but she had no illusions that life always ended happily ever after. Still, the Bible did promise that God could work all things together for good. All she could do was to pray that was exactly what He was doing.
Adam set his empty plate down on the table and scanned the lively crowd for Lidia. Social events like this made him want to get out his fishing pole and find a quiet spot away from it all. Having Lidia here made him even more uncomfortable. The sight of her talking to his stepmother earlier had caught him off guard. No matter how his emotions spun inside, he couldn’t deny how beautiful she looked tonight. The pale green dress she wore, while modest, accentuated her figure and left him with an impulsive longing to gather her into his arms and kiss her once again beneath the silvery moonlight.
He didn’t understand the intense draw he felt toward her. He knew plenty of pretty women, even beautiful ones, but they’d never caused his heart to race at such a rapid pace or his dreams to be constantly flooded with their presence.
Standing in the shadows beyond the reach of the light from the bonfire, he watched his sister Sarah’s face light up with laughter as she ate another pickle. Sometimes it seemed that his own carefree days had vanished forever. Life had become all too serious. He missed the times when he had been able to laugh for no reason at all. When he didn’t feel as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Mr. Wentworth, with Widow Sharp on his arm, ambled in Adam’s direction. Judging by the firm grip Widow Sharp had on Mr. Wentworth, there was no doubt that she had set her sights on yet another potential husband. Adam quickly slipped around the edge of the festivities and into the house. Perhaps he should have tried to rescue the timid farmer, but such attempts would no doubt do little to discourage Widow Sharp. And listening to her rambling talk of the weather and her seventeen grandchildren wasn’t something Adam felt up to at the moment.
Inside, the house was quiet compared to the events going on outside. Everyone, it seemed, was content to enjoy the crisp night air and the festivities and food that went along with the annual sugaring off.
Away from the laughter and the serenade of the fiddle, a quiet lullaby reached his ears. Across the open living area, his littlest sister cooed contentedly, and he could see the silhouette of someone sitting in the rocking chair, gently lulling her back to sleep.
The figure turned toward him. “Adam?”
A yellow glow from the crackling flames that radiated within the stone fireplace caught Lidia’s profile and like a magnet drew him a step closer. “I … I didn’t know you were in here.”
The rhythmic sway of the rocking chair squeaked softly beneath her. “Daria was crying, and I told your stepmother I’d come check on her. I think she’s about to drift off again, though with all the noise filtering in from outside, it’s hard to believe she’s able to sleep at all.”
He shuffled his feet, the awkwardness growing between them, then cleared his throat. “Are you having a good time tonight?”
She ran her thumb across the back of the baby’s head. “It brings back many good memories of when my parents were alive. The annual sugaring off was one of our favorite times of the year.”
“Tell me about them.” He perched on the edge of an upholstered stool across from her, thankful that the shadows of the room masked her expression. He was afraid of what he might find within the depths of her eyes.
“You’ve told me about how they died, but there must be much to tell about how they lived.”
The woodsy scent of the burning logs filled his lungs, as he stared into the yellow and orange flames. “Where we come from in Poland is very poor and overpopulated.” Her voice sounded surprised at his question, but not as surprised as he was at himself for drawing out their conversation. “My parents were blessed to be literate, but the majority of my people are not. They saw this country as a place where they could give their children a better life. And not simply material things, but freedom.” She paused a moment, as if she wasn’t sure he really wanted to hear what she was saying.