Monday, April 10, 2017


Her hands clenched and unclenched at the end of arms held stiffly at her sides.  She flicked her fingers as if she could swish away problems as easily as if they were pesky flies.   After a deep breath, she turned her grimace back into a smile and re-entered the meeting.  Whenever he looked her way, her eyes darted like a frightened doe back into the woods.  If the other's searching glance was upon her, she lowered her long lashes and looked at her hands clasped tightly in her lap.  Sophia dreaded this gathering.  Everyone seemed to belong but her, but certain eyes were always upon her.  It was the Bar None Ranch end of the season meeting.

It had been a few months since she had left her people to follow her mother-in-law back to her home.  It wasn't as if she wished to stay in that culture where religion left people so empty so that they tried to fill up their lives with worldly and heathen things.  As a young woman she had been repelled by these things.  Her heart told her there was more.  But until she had met the family from Mt. Pleasant, Sophia had not known such goodness.   Desiring to be around them, it was first out of curiosity, then she became like a moth drawn to the flame.   Her heart felt strangely warmed by the God they served and listened intently to their prayers and readings as if she was beating her wings against the light trying to get in.  Finally, her own soul was lit from within.

Yet, she was surprised when one of the sons showed her special consideration.  He looked upon her as a whole person, not with lecherous eyes.  Though not sure if it was love, her respect and admiration of him led her to say yes when he asked to marry her.  She had been very young, but they had nearly a year of happiness until the sickness took her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and her own dear husband.  Even her sister-in-law returned as a widow to her parents' home.   She and Greta were alone, nearly destitute with barely enough to pay for their journey back to her homeland when everything was sold.  She had begged Greta not to leave her.

Mt. Pleasant was a close-knit community.  Greta was welcomed back with open arms whereas she was looked at with appraising glances.  Sophia knew her olive skin, dark hair and brown-black eyes and especially her accent set her apart.  Most of the citizens had the blonde hair and blue eyes of their Scandinavian heritage.  It was breathtakingly gorgeous here in the mountains.  She had never been out of her old city before, thus never had known such beauty. 

She was aware that Greta and her family had only left Mt. Pleasant because the economy had dried up when the mine closed, and they had to seek employment over the border.  Now things seemed to be picking back up.  When she and her mother-in-law had returned, they moved back into Greta's old cottage.  After so many years sitting empty, it was run down, barely inhabitable except for the critters that had taken it over.  But, it was a roof over their hands, a roof that would leak at the first heavy rain.

The two women, one lithe and the other bent, cleaned until they could not budge another fluff of dust or wipe down another wall.  Sophia decided to tackle roof repairs another day.  Greta was dreamily planning where to plant flowers in her barren flower beds while resting on the dilapidated couch one of her friends donated to them.  Other friends had brought over dishes, a skillet and a saucepan, a single bed, a small table and a couple of unmatched chairs and an oil lamp.  Sophia slept on the couch, allowing the bed for her mother in law.  With a worn blanket for her and a lovely quilt for Greta, they felt quite at home. 

Once that task of cleaning was done, Sophia knew it was time to find a job.  They could not live off the kindness of friends forever.  Greta was so gnarled with her arthritis, she could do little more that putter around the house.  However, Sophia was strong and loved that woman more than her own


When they had first arrived, Sophia had found roosting chickens and put them in the old chicken pen that surprisingly was in fair shape.  An even bigger surprise was finding these eggs in the setting boxes.  Now they were like fried sunshine on their plates. 

"Where do you suggest I look for work?" she asked her mother-in-law.

"Most of the community works at the Bar None Ranch since the mine shut down.  Tourism is about the only economy in Mt. Pleasant.  You can check at the restaurant, the lodge, the cabins, and even the stables.  I know you are not afraid of hard work though.  They are always looking for someone to clean or cook or even to work the fields or orchards.  There's a fruit stand as well.  Too many think those jobs are beneath them, yet you can't find a better boss than Mr. B.  His sister keeps his books and is his assistant manager while his cousin Eddie is in charge of promotion and hiring.  It has always been a family business.  The problem is that since so many of us are kin, cousins, double cousins, once, twice, and thrice removed, jobs just seem to be handed around.  It's a joke that everyone has their shirttail showing, shirttail relatives, that is."

The Bar None Ranch

Indeed, when Sophia went to the front office that first morning, she met an energetic young man who came out of his chair and around the desk to sit on its corner while he offered her a seat.  His grin was infectious, and she found herself relaxing. 

"Hi, I'm Eddie.  You must be Greta's daughter-in-law."

"Yes, I'm Sophia.  I was wondering about finding some employment," she said nervously.

"I'll have to check with Lark, the assistant manager, but I imagine there is a position somewhere to be found.  So you came back with Greta?  And which one of her boys were you married to?  I barely remember playing with them when we were kids."

"I was married to the youngest son, Eric."

"It's a shame that none of the men  survived.  You have my condolences for your loss.  How do you like Mt. Pleasant?"

"Thank you.  I had never imagined mountains like these.  They are majestic.   It's quite a change from the city where I'm from back in the flatlands."

"Do you miss it?"

"No," she said so fast that it startled him.  "This is home now,  wherever Greta is, that is."

"She's lucky to have you, someone willing to look after her."

"She's a jewel.  She has taught me so much."

"Say, how would you like to go to dinner tonight?  The hotel has very good food."

"I'll ask Greta and see if she's free to come."

Eddie threw back his head and laughed.  "That wasn't exactly what I had in mind, Sophia.  Has it been that long since a guy asked you to dinner?"

"Oh." She felt herself coloring.  "I...I guess that would be alright.  I just wasn't expecting it."

"How about if I meet you there tonight about 6:00."

"Actually, I came here today to ask for work."

"Like I said, I'll talk to Lark.  I'm sure something can be found.  I'll have some news for you at dinner."

His smile was so warm that she found herself smiling back.  "That sounds wonderful, Mr..."

"Oh, so many people are related in this berg that we usually go by first names only."

"I see.  Well, until tonight."  Butterflies flitted in her stomach all the way home."

"How did it go?" Greta wanted to know as soon as she stepped inside.

"I think it went very well.  Eddie just as good as promised me work, but he didn't say what yet.  Hopefully, he will tell me over dinner tonight at the hotel."

The older woman clapped her hands, then her pale blue eyes twinkled.  "Eddie, let's see, he was my Eric's age, I think.  Always has a big smile even if there was mischief behind it.  His father and my husband were first cousins once removed.  Dinner, you say.  Well, that went even better than I had hoped, God be praised!"

"Don't get too excited over the dinner invitation.  I'm really just interested in a job."

Her mother-in-law patted her hand with her crippled fingers.  "We'll see, darlin', we'll wait and see.  I know when my son laid his eyes upon you for the first time, he could think of nothing else.  Maybe it will happen again."

"I don't know if I'm ready for that, truly Greta."

But Eddie was persistent, and many dinners followed.  Sophia was complimented by his attentions: her head was spinning, but her heart was unmoved. There were little things that bothered her, like when he ordered a bottle of beer or wine, and then another, with his dinner or flirted with pretty girls as if she wasn't there.  She also did not feel comfortable with his friends.  They would usually go out again after he would drop her off at home.

"He certainly is paying you a lot of special attention," Greta beamed after another night out.

"He's not ready to settle down."

"Well, he's acting like it to me.  He's not seeing someone else is he?"

"I don't think so, but he's captivated by every pretty face and likes to run with the crowd more than I'm comfortable with.  I think I'll turn him down, next time he asks.  I just don't think he's for me."

Greta looked so hurt by this that it made Sophia pause.  "What's wrong?"

"I just had hopes that you would marry again and have someone take care of you.  You work so hard to support us, that I feel bad.  Eddie has one of the better paying jobs in Mt. Pleasant."

"I don't mind hard work.  God has provided us enough to get by on."

"But it will slow down in the winter, and many are laid off."

Sophia had worried about that, but Eddie seemed to wave away her fear whenever she mentioned it.  It was a real concern if their only source of income was to be taken away over the winter.  She had tried to be careful and lay aside some of each of her paychecks, but she knew it wouldn't be enough.

"I'm just saying, give it some more time Sophia before you let him go.  He's a good catch."

"I'll pray about it, Greta," but there was a sinking feeling in her stomach.

She continued to see Eddie, but felt like it was a sham even though he genuinely seemed pleased to see her each time.  In fact, the man was beginning to press her for more than hand-holding or kisses on the cheek.  Sophia felt her cheeks get hot thinking of his last attempt to hold her in his arms: he would not let her go until he had kissed her hard.

She was frowning thinking about it as she sorted the fruit to place it most advantageously in the fruit stand when a tall man in a cowboy hat walked up.  The sun was in her eyes and his face was shaded by the brim of his hat, so she could not really see his features.  She changed to a smile and asked, "Is there anything you would like in particular?"  She got a knife and offered to slice him up a sample of any of the varieties of plums or peaches.   Instead he took a whole peach, wiped the fuzz off on his shirt, and bit into it much to her consternation.

"Sir, if you wish to purchase some peaches, I'd gladly weigh them for you now and put them in a basket to take with you after you've paid."

Instead the man laughed with a little peach juice dribbling from the corner of his mouth which he wiped away with his sleeve.  "I see.  And how much do I owe you?"

After she told him, he said, "I'll have Lark sent you the check," and he walked away chuckling.

Sophia was frustrated trying to puzzle it out when Eddie came up just then.  She asked him, "What should I do?  He just helped himself to the fruit like he owned the place."

"He does," Eddie replied grinning.

"What?  That was Mr. B, the owner of Bar None Ranch?  He's much younger than I thought."  She felt herself blushing till she was sure she was almost the color of the ripest peach.  "I had no idea.  How preposterous he must have thought me."

"He's probably glad that you are so careful with his sales, but he does like his peaches.  He'll probably be stopping by on a regular basis now for the rest of the peach season.

Sophia had begun working in orchards.  As the fruit trees ripened she would rise early and do the picking, first apricots and cherries and now the peaches and plums.  Fruit in the mountains was a little smaller, but still delicious when picked so fresh.  Then by mid-morning she would don her apron and work the fruit stand the rest of the day. It was long hours, but she was grateful for the work even though she had that niggling of worry wondering what would happen at the end of the season.  

Mr. B. came and helped himself to fruit nearly every day with a tip of his hat and a smile.  He never stayed long or said much, but did compliment the neatness of the fruit stand.   The next week, his sister Lark came and got a basket of peaches among other things and spoke to Sophia with a smile. "We appreciate how well you are running the fruit stand. This is our best year on record so far.  By the way, we don't like to throw away any over-ripe fruit or vegetables, so feel free to take home any and as much as you want.  It's a bonus from this job."

"Thank you.  Greta will be so pleased.  She loves to can and make jams and jellies."  Then Sophia hesitated before asking, "Would you care if she sells some here?  It would make her feel so useful."

"I think that's a wonderful idea to supplement your income."

By the end of the summer, Greta had made a tidy sum.  On top of all that Lark had told her that her brother wanted her to go by the hotel every evening on her way home and take home any day-old bread or things they had made too much of and couldn't serve the next day.  They had almost more than they could eat now and seldom had to cook.

Portrait of Lark

With Lark coming by daily to visit and eat fruit, they were becoming friends.  In fact she invited her over one evening to join them for supper in their beautiful log home.  Sophia was amazed by its beauty, but also by its comfort.  It was grand but unpretentious at the same time.  Everything was of such good taste and style that it was indeed lovely.  She paused to look at the beautiful painting of Lark over the fireplace.

"This is lovely.  Your home is beautiful, yet so comfortable.  Do you live here with your parents," she asked.

"No, they've been gone a few years.  It's just me and Sky left to rattle around in this big house.  But it's home.  I would hate to leave it."

"So, you've never been married?"

"No, not like you, I've never met the one who I would want to spend my life with.   I don't think it's wrong to put the standards too high, but it does narrow down the field of potential suitors quite a bit.
I understand that you and Eddie are quite serious.  He even told Sky that you will probably be married by this time next year."

"My goodness, we haven't discussed that yet.  I'm certain it won't come to that.  I don't think I'm ready to marry again yet.   I've tried to break it off, but Greta has pushed me to give him more time."

"I'm so glad to hear that.  Sky and I don't think he is the right one for you.  In face, to be honest, that's one of the reasons I wanted to have you over was to speak to you about Eddie. He may be family, but you are our friend.  I'm glad you are not head over heels in love with him."

"Oh no, nothing like that.  He's a charming young man, yet I'm still uncomfortable around him and his friends."

"Good.  I don't want to speak badly behind his back, but he doesn't seem to hide the fact that he sees other women too, many of whom are of very bad reputation.  We wanted to make sure you understood that."

"Thank you.  That helps me decide to end it, and quickly.  He's not all at fault.  It's been a sham on my part because of my mother-in-law's insistence.  She's worried how we will make it after the busy season is over and had hoped to make the match."

"Don't worry, Sophia.  Sky and I have talked it over and as hard as you work, we will make sure there is some job around here that you can do all year long.  In fact, our favorite maid is retiring and moving to the valley to be with her children.  Is that something you would be interested in?  You would clean the lobby and offices of the lodge and the hotel restaurant after hours.  It would be evening and even night work, but it's not cleaning all the hotel rooms."

"Most gladly, Lark.  I would be so happy to have a job that is year-round.  So is the restaurant open all year?"

"Yes, even though business is slower through the winter."

"And may I ask, who is this Sky you keep mentioning?"

Lark laughed brightly, "Oh, everyone else knows him as Mr. B.,  Mr. Bar None Ranch himself, but to me he is my brother.  His real name is Sky.  He told me how he embarrassed you that first day he came to the fruit stand."

"I was mortified.  I had no idea who he was.  I thought he was some freeloading cowpoke."

There was a deep laugh behind her as the man himself walked in and took off his hat to hang on a hook.  "I didn't mean to take you by surprise, miss.  Is supper ready, sis?  I'm starving."

"Sophia has agreed to take Helga's job when she retires.  Isn't that wonderful!"

Sky looked up to her brown eyes and said solemnly, "That's great.  It takes a load off our shoulders knowing that someone can step in and do a good job."

"Thank you for the opportunity."  She broke her gaze away from his and followed Lark into the kitchen to bring the food out to the table that was set and ready.

The laughter of brother and sister joking and jabbing at each other made an ache in her heart as she missed those meals when Greta's family was whole and had such pleasant times around the table.

"Are you alright, Miss Sophia?" he asked in a lull in the conversation.  "You have a far off look in your eyes.  Are you homesick?"

"I'm not homesick exactly, but it does make me think of our times around the table with such laughter, before the sickness took the men away so suddenly.  Now our meals are such quiet affairs with the two of us."

"Well, it's just the two of us here usually.  So it must be the good company you are.  Thank you for coming over," Lark said.

Sophia smiled and said, "It must be a brother thing to be such a tease to his sister."

Lark looked over at her brother smiling and said, "I must say he seems to be in a better mood than usual tonight.  He's often so tired overlooking the ranch affairs, our dinners usually end up as business meetings.  Tonight I told him all that was off limits."

"What do you mean?  You're the one who talked our guest into taking over a new job since she's been here.  It's not all pleasure and no work, right Lark."

They all grinned in agreement.  "I must admit that the offer was a pleasure to me.  I was worrying about how I could support Greta through the winter months."

"Good.  I should have spoken up earlier.  I noticed that your roof isn't looking so good.  I thought I could send over our handy man to see to its repairs."

Sophia was speechless for a moment at such kindness.  "I don't know what to say.  That would be so wonderful.  I did not know how I was going to do it."

"Of course.  Just because you've been climbing on all those fruit tree ladders, which I just found out about by the way, doesn't mean that anyone expects you to climb around on your roof to fix it.  We're close enough kin to Greta that you shouldn't have to take care of such things by yourself.  Just let us know what you need."

He ran his hand over his face and then began, "There was one other concern we wanted to discuss with you..."

"I already did, Sky.  She agrees and is going to drop Eddie."

The look on his face went from one of a strained look to one of relief.  "Oh, good.  I've been praying about how to approach you."

"I have been questioning his character in my heart already, but having more information to go on has lifted the weight off my shoulders by making my decision crystal clear.  After all, I was married to a very good man before, and would not want to suffer making a wrong choice."

Lark looked at her brother carefully and watched as Sky and Sophia were talking, but neither of them noticed.

After insisting on helping them with the dishes, Sophia said, "Thank you for the lovely meal, Lark.  I really should be going as I have left Greta home all day.  I would appreciate your prayers for when I speak with Eddie." 

Sky held the door open for her as she walked away.  He still had a tea towel on his shoulder when his sister put her arm through his and said, "I think she's a keeper, Sky.  Don't let her get away."  He looked sharply around with his eyebrows raised, but she only smiled.

"I think I'll go pray for Sophia," she said, then went to her room and left him pondering.

"Lord, help her to be strong enough to stand up to Eddie's charm to make it clear she is not to be entangled by him.   Continue to make it clear in her heart as well as that of Greta's.  Open her mother-in-laws eyes to know that this is not the match for either of them."  He prayed sometimes best on his feet, even walking, turning every thought captive to communing with God; but there was one thought he did not put to prayer yet.

When Sophia walked in the door, Greta grabbed her hand and pulled her to the couch.  "Oh, dear, Sophia, I have heard some awful things today that made me cringe.  It concerns your Eddie.  You were right, dear, to try to break it off.  He hides a lot behind that charm of his which you tried to warn me about.  I'd rather starve than have you in his clutches."

"Don't worry, Greta.  I also have learned some things and have come to the same conclusion, except God will not leave us to starve.  I have been offered a year-round job!" 

As she explained the evening and the job offer, Greta got more excited and squeezed her hand delight.  "Oh, Sophia, dear, Sophia!  This is wonderful indeed that a man such as Mr. B. would take notice of you.  Do you think you have caught his eye?

"Not that I can truly say.  It was a very comfortable dinner.  I feel as if Lark and I will be good friends."

The older woman clapped her hands and said, "This is indeed a miracle from the Lord!"

The next day when Eddie came by the fruit stand, she was busy with customers and couldn't speak with him as she wished.  He waited until they left and then asked her to go down the valley to a concert in a tavern there.

"Eddie, I've decided that I'm not the right person for you.  I won't be going with you any more.  I'm sorry."

The man was dumbfounded.  "Did I do something to offend you, Sophia?"

"I think it has become clear to me that you live a different lifestyle than I wish to.  I think we would make each other miserable after a time."

"Well, I'll be.  I certainly didn't see this coming.  I guess this is good-bye."

He turned and left then with an angry scowl.   But Sophia felt so light hearted suddenly that she felt like laughing and clamped her hand over her mouth so he wouldn't hear her.  She danced in a little circle hugging herself with relief that that was over.

When she stopped she was facing the back of the stand where Mr. B. was leaning against a shed.  He had watched the whole thing.

"Oh my.  What must you think of my actions.  Please excuse my behavior."

"I found it quite revealing.  So you are truly relieved?"

"Very relieved.  I was only seeing him on Greta's insistence."

"Have you told her yet that you, uh, wouldn't be seeing him anymore?"

"By the time I got home last night, apparently word had spread of his indiscretions.  She was happy that I wasn't to have anymore to do with him."

"I'd wish you a good day, but it looks like you are having one all by yourself."  With that, he winked and took a bite of a juicy peach and walked off.

So the summer went, the busy season slowed with the changing seasons.  Lark came by often and visited with her during her last days at the fruit stand, but even Mr. B. spent quite a bit of time there as well watching her as she waited on customers and visiting with her when they left.  He often brought lunch from the hotel.  Sophia felt spoiled and cared for by her friends. 

Though fishermen still came to catch trout, and many tourists stayed to enjoy the color of the fall leaves, it was as if everyone at the Bar None Ranch could finally take a deep breath.  Sophia soon found out that the ranch's help were to all attend an end of the summer meeting.  She heard that many would find out about the seasonal layoffs.  She felt blessed to know that she would soon step into her new year round job. 

It was awkward whenever she was near Eddie.  She could feel his eyes upon her still.  Sophia also knew that she was observed by Mr. B.  Her eyes darted around the room catching Lark's warm gaze before dropping back to her lap.

Suddenly, she heard Lark announcing the retirement of the lady whom she would replace.  There was much clapping. Sophia's name was then mentioned.  All eyes in the room turned her direction, cold stares of surprise.  She had been given a coveted position, a year round employment.  She heard a few huffs, but most knew better than to let Mr. B. see their displeasure.  He was still a very respected boss.  That was when she had to step outside for a few minutes to get her churning emotions in order.

While she was out, she missed the announcement of the all employee barbeque event that was always offered by the Bar None Ranch.   So while everyone's step was a little lighter, she had not noticed as she worked alone in the fruit stand.  She would not begin her new job until next month.  Now that peaches were gone, apples were beginning to come on.  Mr. B. still came whether he ate a bite or not.   She was still too shy around him to say much.  

This day he came and stood beside her with the sun sparkling on the golden aspen.  The day was glorious.  He took the knife that she used to offer customers samples and began cutting slices of apple, eating some and offering her some.  She took them because he offered them, and she didn't want to be rude.  Ever so often he would grin at her and grunt enjoying the sweet tartness of the fruit.

"Do you like it?  It's the first time this variety has produced since we planted it."

"It's nice and crisp, pretty too.  Sometimes I just pick up the apples and smell them."

"Nothing better than ripe off the tree."

She smiled, not knowing what to make of this man hanging out making small talk.  As always, he tipped his hat to her before leaving.  She tried to busy herself, but everything was already in order.
When she looked up, Greta was hurrying towards her with a blanket folded under her arm.  She seldom made the walk to the ranch, and Sophia was surprised to see her.

"What brings you out on this beautiful day, Greta?"

"The barbeque is tonight," she said trying to catch her breath.

"What barbeque?"

"Didn't you hear them announce it at the meeting?"

"No, it must have been when I stepped out for some fresh air."

"Every year the ranch puts on a big party for their employees as a thank you.  There will be a big bon fire as well.  I want you to stay until everyone has left, and sleep there wrapped in your blanket."

"Why on earth?"

"Just trust me, darlin'.  I know that Mr. B. camps out by the campfire every year.  When everyone has gone home and he is asleep, I want you to go uncover his feet and lay down there."

"I've never heard of such a thing.  I don't think I could ever be so brazen.  He would think me a hussy."

"No, he's a gentleman and knows you are a lady.  He just needs a little push to take the next step."

"What on earth are you talking about?"  She looked around to make sure no one else could hear this ridiculous conversation.

"My dear, have you seen the way he looks at you?  You have certainly caught his eye.  Look what he's done for you, giving you a job, offering you a year round position, sending home extra fruit and food, fixing our roof.  From what I've heard, he's never paid the least attention to any of his female employees until you came along."

"He has been most kind, but he's never given me any indication of more interest than that."

"Because he doesn't know his own mind yet.  This is an opportunity to help him to wake up to what a wonderful woman you are."

"I can't believe you are telling me to do this," she practically hissed,  "and I can't believe I can consider doing what you are asking me to do.  I'm sorry, Greta.  I think such a deed would more likely get me fired."

"He'll probably think that you fell asleep next to the bonfire like himself.  I'm not asking you to do anything immoral.  Simply let him wake and find you there.  If nothing comes of it, so be. it.  But I feel it in my bones that this is what should be.  Please humor your old mother-in-law in this, dear."

"You know I don't want to do this.  I will do it only to obey you.  You have brought me here to this beautiful land, and not made me return to my old country."

"Good.  I believe God's hand is in this.  You'll see."

Sophia shook her head in disbelief, taking the blanket as the older woman shuffled away.  "You were wrong about Eddie.  You are probably wrong about Mr. B. as well.  But I'm so beholden to you, I will do anything you ask, even as crazy as this scheme seems," she said under her breath, the words she did not dare to say to her mother-in-law's face.

As the evening approached, Sophia went and tucked her blanket out of sight.  She was too nervous to take more than a bite or two of the delicious barbeque.  She was half sick with fear.  When Sky came to sit by her, she could not put two words together and just stared into his lovely eyes.  In fact, he seemed to be short on conversation himself, content just looking at her in her perplexing state. 

He swallowed hard then made himself get up and move around shaking his faithful employees hands.  It had been a good year, one of the best.  There was much to be thankful for.  He wasn't sure what was making him so discombobulated.  He could hardly think straight, his mind always going back to a pair of dark eyes dusky with heavy lashes. 

Finally around midnight, the crowd had dispersed, and he undid his bed roll as usual by the fire.  He always slept here just like he had done with his father every year growing up.  Someone had to stay by the embers to make sure it did not blaze up and catch anything else on fire.  Now he was by himself.  Alone.  Lonely.  Achingly so.

In the middle of the night his feet were cold.  The fire had burned to mere coals, and the night was  chill.  He sat up to adjust his blankets then was jerked fully awake.  There was someone lying at his feet wrapped in an old blanket.  He shook it and a sleepy Sophia emerged out of the cover.  Her hair was down and curled like a halo around her head in the dying firelight. 

"What on earth are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I don't know.  I guess I was sleeping?"

"But it's the middle of the night!"

"I guess I should go home then."

"No, it wouldn't be safe.  Stay here until daylight, then go home quickly.  Maybe no one will see you."

"It's cold isn't it?"

"I'll build the fire up a little.  Then come over here and sit by me.  Two can stay warm better together than one."

"Thank you," she said sleepily.

After stirring up the fire, he wrapped his blanket over her, and they talked till before dawn.  By then he had promised to go to the proper authorities to settle Greta's estate for her, if the next nearest kin, Eddie, refused to do what was right.  "Then,"  he said softly, "nothing stands in the way of our getting married."

"Married?  You want to marry me?"

"Yes, ever since I bit into that peach you wanted to charge me for."

"Even then?"

"Yes.  I guess, I've been a little too shy to speak up, especially when you were receiving Eddie's attentions.  It was all I could do not to fight him or fire him.  But actually, I will now need to ask him as a closer kin if he is willing to buy Greta's property back for her.  If not, I will.  If we married before that was settled, the owners could come back on the ranch and make things difficult.  As it is, I'm sure we could come to some agreement.  After all, they have not complained about you staying in her old house."

"She never told me that she no longer owned it.  It would break her heart to leave it now."

"I'll settle everything in the morning.  Then we can make our plans, that is if you'll say yes."  He looked into her eyes then his gaze fell to her lips.  His kiss was the sweetest she had ever known. Her hands went around his neck fingering through his hair she had longed to touch.

"Yes, I will marry you, if you are sure you want to marry a foreigner like me."

"I admire how hard you have worked to support your mother-in-law with such a sweet spirit, never complaining.   I've had to tear myself away from the fruit stand every day as I could sit there and watch you for hours on end.  However, one of the first things I'll have to do is find a new maid for the lodge.  You'll be too busy making a home for us.  I can't imagine how wonderful it will be to wake up to you every morning for the rest of my life.  I still can't believe I asked you, and you said yes.  It has been all I could think about for so long."


"Yes.  But I'm sorry this has been so abrupt for you.  Are you sure you will have me, Sophia?"

"I respect you as none other and have fought having feelings for you as I believed it would come to naught.  That you could care for me is more than I can imagine.  I know what it is to be married to a good man, but you have captured my heart in such an unexpected way."

He kissed her again until they knew they must wait.  He settled for holding her small hand in his.

"What about Lark?"

"She already loves you as a friend and will love you as a sister.  She has her own apartment downstairs.  Normally, we don't come together except for some suppers to talk over the business. She likes her independence even from me."

  When he got up to put more wood on the fire, she said under her breath, "Greta was right.  You did get cold feet,"

"What did you say?"

"Nothing.  I am still amazed that you want to marry me.  Are you sure you won't get cold feet?"

"Like I said, everyone knows what a good daughter-in-law you have been to Greta, hardworking, and a godly woman.  But I can't say that's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of you?"

"No?  What is it then?"

"Don't you know how beautiful you are, Sophia?"  But he did not let her answer, and only kissed her till the dawn blushed pink.

"May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel
and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel...and may you achieve wealth...
 and become famous in Bethlehem...through the offspring
which the Lord shall give you by this young woman."
Ruth 4:11-12


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