Authors: Lisa Harris
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance
Lidia straightened the papers and shoved them back inside the cabinet. She’d seen the pain in Adam’s eyes when he spoke about his brother. Even after almost a year and a half, the pain ran deep. She could sense the closeness the two men had shared. It hurt her to know how much he’d lost. She could imagine that feeling all too well. Because on the day Jarek took Samuel’s life, she lost her own brother, as well.
The smell of something burning filled her nostrils. She hurried across the room, barely scooping the pan off the stove in time to save the potatoes from scorching. She shoved the buckwheat pancakes and salvaged fried potatoes onto a pan and into the oven to warm, letting the door bang shut.
The crude drawing of her brother’s face was etched in the back of her mind. That wasn’t how she wanted to remember him. She wanted to destroy the newspaper article and the heated accusations and put it all behind her as if it had never happened. Nothing, though, could change the reality of what had taken place between Jarek and Adam’s brother.
There had been a time when things had been different with Jarek. Before he’d started running around with the wrong crowd. Before Lidia began to notice his anger simmering under the surface. Maybe if her parents had been stricter with him, he would have realized what he was doing, or if she had found the right words to say to him … But she knew that wasn’t true. Jarek had been eighteen. The choices her brother made were his choices, not hers or her parents’.
She began washing the table in vigorous circles, remembering how her father decided not to tell the sheriff that he knew the once-innocent lad portrayed on the wanted poster. “What does it really matter?” he’d asked her mother as he wiped away her tears. They didn’t have any information as to where he was. Even if they did, how could a father turn his eldest son over to a hangman’s noose?
As much as it hurt, she’d known deep inside that she’d never see Jarek again. He was on the run from the law. Coming home wasn’t an option. She didn’t even know if he was alive. Had he somehow heard about the sudden death of their parents, or even begun to understand the tragedy he’d caused the Johnson family in losing their son?
Why did it have to be Adam’s brother, Lord?
The truth was impossible for her to deal with. Glancing across the small living quarters, she felt as if the room were mocking her. There was no chance for her and Adam. She’d lost him before ever really getting to know him. She’d seen the way he looked into her eyes in the moonlight. The wide grin that crossed his face as he dared to steal a kiss. In her amazement over it all, she knew without a doubt that she felt the same way. She’d dared to wonder if there was a chance for him to fall in love with her.
But now it didn’t matter what Adam felt toward her. All that was about to change. He would never look at her that way again once he found out the truth about her brother.
Running the back of her hand across her lips, she could still feel the sweetness of his kiss. It had been wrong to think there could ever be anything between them.
Wondering where Lidia and her brother were, Adam stepped out of his room and into the kitchen. The appetizing smells of buckwheat pancakes and fried potatoes filled his senses as he peeked into the oven at the breakfast Lidia had prepared. How she’d managed to transform his meager supplies into such a mouthwatering meal, he had no idea. He’d never had the opportunity to eat with her during his recovery and didn’t intend to lose this chance to be with her one last time before she left.
Sighing, he shut the oven door. All he could think about was the unsettling truth that he had to take them back to the mill this morning. He cringed at the thought of Lidia working day after day for some calloused overseer who didn’t care when she got tired or hungry or if she simply wanted to spend an afternoon reading poetry. She didn’t deserve to live such a harsh life. She needed a home and a family where she could feel safe and secure. But it was more than just the conditions of the factory that bothered him. After their kiss, he realized how much he didn’t want to see her go. And how much he was going to miss her.
He’d never intended to kiss her, but even in that brief moment he’d delighted in her touch and her closeness. Yet he’d realized something else, as well. Lidia was an honorable woman with high moral standards. A stolen kiss in the moonlight wasn’t the way to win a lady’s heart. He wanted to proclaim his feelings to her, then ask permission to court her properly.
Adam stepped out onto the porch where he finally caught a glimpse of Lidia carrying buckets across the edge of the maple grove. He’d never expected her to work this morning. For the first time since the day she found him in the snow, he felt strong and ready to finish the job at hand.
He wanted to take care of her. Not have to depend on her hard work for the survival of the farm.
He took the porch steps two at a time, realizing that Rebecca had been right. His anger toward one man shouldn’t have anything to do with his feelings for Lidia. He sensed that she was uncomfortable with her position in life, but the fact that she worked in a mill didn’t matter to him. There were so many things about her that amazed him. He’d watched her take a chance at losing her own means of livelihood for a stranger, seen her care for her brother, and witnessed her faith in God. This was the kind of woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with.
He had no way of knowing if Lidia would be the woman he brought home as his wife one day, but he at least wanted the opportunity to find out. Before he took her in to town, he would make an opportunity to talk to her and see if there was a chance she felt the same way toward him.
Feeling a resurgence of energy with each stride, Adam crossed the open yard that separated the cabin from the maple grove. “Lidia, there’s no reason for you to work this morning. Have you eaten?”
She nodded her head, her gaze trained on her work. “I left plenty for you in the oven.”
“I saw what you made. Thank you. It looked wonderful. I thought we could eat breakfast together. The three of us, of course.”
Lidia nodded, but again she didn’t look at him. “I’m sorry, but I’m not hungry. Koby’s already down at the sugarhouse. We wanted to do what we could before you took us back to the mill. There’s so much to—”
“Wait a minute.” They’d laughed under the stars last night. He’d felt the warmth in her voice as they’d talked to each other, but now her greeting seemed colder than the frozen ground beneath them. “What’s wrong, Lidia?”
Her eyes widened. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know. I just thought …” Adam paused. Perhaps he’d read her wrong last night and her response to his kiss had been nothing more than a figment of his imagination. Or worse, he’d offended her by presuming she was interested in him.
He lowered his voice. “It’s about the kiss, isn’t it? I’m sorry. I never should have assumed that you—”
“That I’m interested in you?”
“Are you?” He closed his mouth.
“That doesn’t matter anymore.”
“You’re not making any sense, Lidia. I know now that I was presumptuous in kissing you without stating clearly my intentions toward you, and I do apologize.”
She shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut. “You’re only going to make things harder—”
“I was wrong.” He took a step forward, longing to take her into his arms and make things right again. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I don’t want today to be the last time I see you. I want to call on you and get to know you better.”
“That will never happen, Adam.”
“Why not? I don’t understand.”
“It’s your brother Samuel.” Lidia leaned against one of the trees. “I know who killed him.”
“What?” The sugar brush began to spin around him.
How could she know who Samuel’s murderer was?
This time she looked him straight in the eye. “I never told you that I have another brother. His name is Jarek.”
“What does he have to do with Samuel?”
She took a deep breath then blew it out slowly as if trying to steady her nerves. “Shortly after we moved here, he disappeared. All we could do was pray that God would protect him and bring him back to us. Then one afternoon my father saw a sketch of my brother on a wanted poster, and we found out that he was wanted for murder. I never heard the name of the boy he was accused of killing until I saw one of your newspaper clippings this morning while I was cleaning.” Lidia clenched the material of her dress with her fists. “He’s wanted for the murder of Samuel Johnson.”
Adam felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. Surely he’d misunderstood what she said. It didn’t make sense. Maybe he was sicker than he thought. Fever often signaled delirium. He ran his hand across his brow and felt the heavy beads of sweat. That’s what it was. He was simply having a bad dream. Maybe if he closed his eyes and relaxed, he would dream about their kiss instead. That had been real. She’d been so close, so real. It had happened. He knew it, but this …
“Adam, did you hear what I said?”
“There must be some mistake.” Adam shook his head and took a step back, not wanting to believe her.
“There’s no mistake. My brother killed your brother.”
He looked up at her. Her eyes were rimmed with tears and her cheeks were blotchy as if she’d been crying. He’d never meant to make her cry.
“His name is Jarek.”
“Jarek.” The earth spun faster. That had been his name, but … “No, Lidia, you’re mistaken. It couldn’t have been your brother.”
“I’ve seen the sketches. There’s no doubt. They look just like him.” She picked up her bucket and headed for the wagon. Her tears had been replaced by a vacant expression. “We never saw him again after that day. At first, my mother believed he’d simply gone back to Boston where we’d lived. She’d hoped he’d return for Christmas, but when my father saw the drawing and the reward of a thousand dollars on his head, we knew we were wrong. He wasn’t ever coming home again. At least not alive.”
Adam stopped beside her at the wagon. “Lidia, I’m so sorry …”
He choked on the words. Anger seeped through his pores. For a moment he was there again. In the past. He squeezed his eyes shut, praying that the haunting memories would leave him, but they wouldn’t. Instead they replayed over and over.
Samuel throwing the first punch. The other boy returning the blow. Adam had tried to stop them, but Samuel wouldn’t listen as he ran out the back to the side street and across the deserted field. There hadn’t been time to pull them apart. There was nothing he could do but watch as the boy drew a pistol from his holster, aimed it at his brother, and killed him.
Adam tried to steady his breathing as he looked at her, but his heart raced out of control. It shouldn’t matter. The fact that Lidia’s brother had been the one to kill Samuel had nothing to do with her or who she was. She hadn’t pulled the trigger. She was only guilty of being his sister, a fact she certainly couldn’t control.
He looked into her eyes and saw tears brimming in the corners. Her gaze begged him to understand. Begged him to forgive her for what had happened in the past between their brothers. He could forgive her, because in truth there was nothing to forgive. But the fact that her brother had been the one to take Samuel’s life would always stand between them. How could it not?
Lidia stood and watched Adam stride toward the cabin, all the while willing her tears to disappear. The door slammed shut behind him and caused a thin layer of snow to slide off the roof and cascade onto the porch.
She’d known the moment she read Samuel Johnson’s name in the paper that no matter what Adam’s feelings toward her might be, nothing would ever be the same between them. And how could she blame him? Every time he looked at her, he would be reminded of what he’d lost.
She’d seen the pain reflected in Adam’s eyes as he’d fought to take in the truth of what she told him. The flash of anger that crossed his face might not have been directed toward her, but she’d felt it all the same.
Why, Lord? Why do You allow things like this to happen?
She grabbed one of the buckets by its handle, not caring that the sugary liquid sloshed over the sides. Her breath rose in frothy waves in front of her, the coldness of the morning penetrating her lungs. All around her lay the fading beauty of winter. Trees reached toward the heavens, their limbs proclaiming praises to their Creator. Birds chirped in chorus around her, singing their sweet songs that would soon usher in the coming spring. It was a scene she never tired of. God’s white blanket had covered His earth, keeping it dormant, but soon He would bring it to life again in a blaze of color with the vast arrangement of spring’s flowers, green grass, and azure skies.
But today, in spite of the beauty around her, she couldn’t sense God’s presence.
Turning, she saw her brother coming toward her, his feet crunching though the last of winter’s snow. “Is Mr. Johnson all right? I thought he’d be up by now.”
She didn’t want to feel anything, but her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his name. “He’s in the house. I’m sure he’ll be out to work soon. Remember he’s still recovering from his illness.”