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Two brothers find love in this sweet historic romance.
Blessings in Disguise, part One:
Ethan Barringer is a grieving widower with an infant daughter to raise. Faith Taylor is recently widowed. The meddlesome magistrate’s wife decides that she and Ethan should marry, because he needs help with the baby, and she can’t possibly run a large farm by herself. Pressured into marriage, the two have a lot to learn about one another. But can they risk the heartbreak that comes with falling in love?
Yuletide Blessings, part Two:
Three years ago, York Barringer left his home and family far behind, seeking solace in the wilderness as he hunted and trapped for a living. He had fallen in love with the same woman his brother was going to marry. Now it was time to return. He rents a room from a widow and her daughter Hetty, offering the two women his protection while he’s there. When Ethan comes to visit and York sees he is with another woman, he is too angry to think clearly! He would have struck his brother, if Hetty, hadn’t stopped him. But her method of getting his attention has also earned her a trip across his knee.
York discovers that whatever he had thought he felt for his brother’s first wife was nothing compared to what he feels for Hetty. He loves her, and wants to claim her as his own – but will she ever feel the same?
“It is a shame, is what it is,” Ellen Grace Patterson remarked to a group of ladies as they watched the young widow, Faith Taylor, stop the horses pulling her wagon. She parked in front of the small town’s only general store, pointedly ignoring the group of women watching her intently.
“Something needs to be done before Faith is taken by the heathens and subjected to all sorts of horrors.” Abigail Morris added her opinion.
“But, Mother, Faith does not wish to remarry,” Charity spoke softly to her mother. “She has just lost her husband.”
“Yes, and she needs another. Who will work the land left her by James? Farming is hard work for a man, and a woman has not a man’s strength, as you well know, Charity-love.”
“I can only place myself in her shoes, Mother. I could not imagine marriage to another if something were to happen to my Richard. Faith has said she needs time to grieve.”
“She does not have the luxury of time, Charity,” Ellen Grace spoke up. “Each night she spends alone on her farm is one more night she is at risk from the Indians, and from drifters who have no respect for a widow. If there were children it might be different, but Faith shows no sign of being in the family way.”
“Ladies, it is pointless for us to speculate. The magistrate is aware of the situation, and is taking steps,” the eldest woman of the group spoke up, and it was obvious that she knew more than she was sharing. She was married to the magistrate, and her opinion held considerable sway with the man.
“What is going to happen, Martha?” Abigail was not afraid to ask.
“The magistrate does not feel a single woman can manage a farm the size of Faith Taylor’s, and he does not feel the community can afford to ignore the situation any longer, for Faith’s own good. There shall be a hearing soon. Geoffrey shall likely inform Mistress Taylor today.”
“What does the magistrate hope to accomplish? He cannot take her lands away from her.”
“No, of course not. That would be illegal. He shall insist that she marry another, and I do believe he has a candidate in mind. If she refuses, her land shall be put under the supervision of a committee, and she shall be assigned a guardian to look after her interests since she is a female and cannot make business decisions. Geoffrey is most concerned for Faith’s safety whilst she is all alone on her farm.”
“It is fortunate that James was able to plant the crops before he was felled,” Ellen Grace said with genuine sympathy. “Adam and I have wondered how she would manage the harvest, though.”
“A woman of Faith’s slight build would have a difficult time doing a man’s work,” Abigail said.
“I still feel it is wrong for any of us to make decisions for Faith. I feel the magistrate is overstepping his authority to force Faith to give up control of her own property.”
“My child, you are young, and a good friend to dear Faith. Geoffrey is truly concerned for her and is trying to care for her as if she were one of our own daughters. He is not trying to be cruel.”
“Charity,” Abigail laid a warning hand on her daughter’s forearm. “You have made your opinion known, but this is a matter best left to the magistrate and the town’s council to decide. You are too young to fully comprehend the seriousness of Faith’s situation.”
“No, Mother, I am not. And I warn all of you, if this terrible thing were to happen to me, I would not abide by the magistrate’s decision.” Charity turned her back on the women and marched toward the store, presumably to warn her friend.
“I do apologize for Charity, Martha. She is too young to understand what awaits Faith without help from a good man.”
“Oh, I do understand, Abigail. My youngest daughter has said the very same thing to her father, and if she were not expecting, I am sure her father would have taken a stick to her hind. It is only as we grow older that we realize the gravity of certain situations. I wish it were different, but Geoffrey is firm in his resolve to help Faith, to protect her and keep her safe.”
“Mr. Matthews, I have a list of supplies to fill.” Faith took out her list and handed it to him. “Whilst you gather everything, I shall look at your yard goods. I have need of another quilt.” Faith was merely trying to make polite conversation. The good townspeople were avoiding her since James was killed, and she longed for normal conversation that had nothing to do with his death. Oh, how she missed him! It was so untimely, and so unfair. She truly loved James, and she relived the horror of his death over and over in her dreams.
“Mistress Taylor, the magistrate asked me to give you this message from him when you came next to shop.” Matthews handed her a scroll written on official parchment, and Faith knew she was going to be unhappy when she read whatever it said. Just as she was about to unroll it, Charity Hart hurried into the store and approached her at once.
“These people are without heart, Faith,” she warned. “The magistrate has been listening to his wife once again. You are being called before the council.”
“I have not broken any laws!” Faith said, shocked by what Charity was telling her.
“Only one,” Charity said bitterly. “You were born a woman, and of course, that means you are foolish, stupid, uneducated, and not capable of running your farm on your own without a man to make all of the important decisions and supply the strength necessary to do the hard work.”
“I do not need a man’s help!” Faith declared, outraged.
“I know this, but the magistrate does not. Martha has insisted that he do something so that you are not raped in your bed by Indians or unscrupulous men. She cannot abide a woman making her own decisions.”
“This is ridiculous!” Faith declared angrily, and opened the document in her hand. It was, as Charity said, an order for her to appear before the town council to discuss her future. “If I do not show up?” she asked angrily.
“They will go ahead with their meeting and you shall lose all chance of speaking in your defense.”
“I do not know what to do, Charity. What am I doing so wrong that they are finding fault with me? My livestock has good care. They are healthy. The crops are flourishing.”
“They fear you shall be attacked by Indians or ne’er-do-wells.”
“I keep my husband’s flintlock pistol in the house at all times,” she said indignantly. “I am also careful when I step outside, and I bar the doors and windows at night. Oh, I am so insulted by this!” Faith slapped the paper against the counter. “I would love to give Martha a piece of my mind.”
“It would just hurt you, Faith. She is not a woman to anger; she does have the magistrate’s ear; if she tells him you were rude to her, he shall take it that you need a man to school you and teach you to be respectful. As much as I hate it, you shall need to be sweet to her right now. I shall come and speak for you at the hearing.”
“That would be helpful, Charity. Thank you so much.” She read the document again. “This says I must appear tomorrow morn at ten o’clock. What if I did not come into town today?” she mused.
“The magistrate was prepared to have his son bring the missive to your residence, Mistress Taylor. May I speak as a father to you, Faith?” George Matthews asked in a kind tone of voice.
“Yes, sir.” Faith knew that George Matthews was an integral part of the community; very little happened that he did not know about. She would be wise to hear his thoughts on the matter.
“Faith, life often is not fair. I liked and respected young James, and I am sad that he was taken from us much too young. If James were standing here, he would ask me to see that you were cared for and safe, and the magistrate, and all of us on the council, feel the same way. We owe a responsibility to James to make sure nothing happens to you. We shall hear you, and listen to your plans and thoughts. We wish you no harm, although I am sure you think we do. Please, do not take this meeting with the magistrate and the council as an attempt to hurt you.”
“Mr. Matthews, I am still recovering from James’ death. I am doing what needs to be done on my farm, and I know that James would be proud of me. I feel it is particularly upsetting that this meeting has been called when I have done nothing wrong.”
“Of course you have done nothing wrong, Faith. If you had a father or brother who could help you now, this meeting would be unnecessary. We cannot permit a young woman alone in the world to live in such isolation. It would only be a matter of time before someone thought to harm you, or to force you to marry in order to claim your land. We wish to be certain that you are protected. I think you should consider staying overnight with my wife and me—”
“No. My animals are accustomed to being cared for, and I shall not abandon them.”
“I shall come with you, Faith. Together, we will come up with a plan that shall satisfy these interfering old men!” Charity whispered, uncaring if George Matthews heard her or not.
“I shall fill your order, mistress, so you can be on your way.” It was obvious that George was not happy that his well-meant comments only served to upset the young woman, instead of reassuring her.
“Thank you, Mr. Matthews,” Faith replied politely. She wanted to scream, but it would not do to give him something he could use against her at the hearing.
“By the by, have you ladies heard the news? Governor Worthington has declared a day of Thanksgiving for December the tenth. I am positive we will have a celebration of some sort here in town.”
“What is there to be thankful for?” Faith demanded angrily, giving in to her temper. “My husband died before my eyes, and now I am to have my very livelihood taken away, too? Excuse me, sir, but this is not news I welcome. I would appreciate it if you simply fill my order and let me be on my way.”
“I suspect the governor feels we should all be grateful for the treaty with the Indians,” Charity said softly. “And for our statehood.”
“I am sorry, Charity. I am not in the mood to celebrate anything.” She paid Mr. Matthews, picked up her parcels and then walked outside, Charity with her.
“Uh oh,” Charity whispered. “There is Richard, and he does not appear to be in a good mood.” She waited until he was closer and then said, “Hello, husband. What brings you— Richard!” Charity gasped when he took her arm and gave her a shake.
“Your mother came to my workplace to see me and she said I needed to take you in hand for your own good. Charity, what were you thinking to speak to Mistress Chambers in such a manner? I know you are friends with Faith, and I think of her as a sister to you, but you cannot be rude to the magistrate’s wife. She is a powerful woman, and if she turns against you, then we might as well move on. Do you wish to leave and move west into Indiana or Illinois?” He gave her another shake, and Charity’s blonde hair fell from under her cap and hung down her back.
“I shall not agree with Martha or with the magistrate when they are wrong, and neither should you, Richard.” Charity’s blue eyes were snapping with anger as she confronted her husband.
“Please, Charity!” Faith interrupted, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Please do not argue with Richard over this matter. It is my problem, and I shall have to solve it myself. I do not want to be the cause of strife between you and your husband.”
“I did not mean to upset you, Faith,” Charity said with a reassuring smile. “I shall be there tomorrow morning to support you.”
“No, Charity, you shall not. I am sorry, Faith, but I do not wish for Charity to argue with the magistrate and the council. I would find it impossible to get more work if those men put out the word.”
“I understand, Richard,” Faith whispered, trying very hard not to cry.
“I think running a farm the size of yours is too much for you to do alone. Do you have the extra money it would take to hire a man to work the place? That would be the one thing that would solve your problem with the council.”
“I do not have enough money to pay a hired man until the crops are harvested,” she answered.
“Would you allow me to guarantee his salary for a year?” Richard asked. “You are like a sister to Charity and me, and I do wish to help you.”
Faith shook her head no. “I cannot take your money, Richard. You and Charity are family, and I shall not borrow money from you. If I can hire a man to work for room and board until the crops are in, I shall pay him well. Do you know of anyone?”
“I do. His name is Ethan Barringer. He arrived in Elizabethtown a week ago. He has been through a hard time, and I think you should talk with him, Faith. The man needs a home; you need help with the farm.”
“All right, I shall talk with him. Could you see him and give him directions to the farm?”
“I shall do that, Faith.”
“Oh, fine and dandy. It is all right for you to stick your nose in, Richard Hart, but when I do it, it is all wrong!” Charity was furious, and it showed.
“Excuse us, Faith. My wife is in need of a good spanking.” Richard marched Charity down the street and toward their home; she continued scolding him all the way.
Faith felt bad for her friend, but if she had spoken to James in that manner in front of another person, she would have been headed to the woodshed for a good blistering. James loved teasing and joking, but when it came to a punishment, he was quite firm. What she would not give to have James alive once more to take her to task. She would be so happy to have him with her, that she would take one of his spankings without one word of complaint, she assured herself, but the thought made her giggle. Faith hollered a lot when James bent her over his knee. He loved her, and she certainly loved and respected him. “Oh, James, what am I to do? Please guide me in my decision on whether or not to hire this Ethan Barringer. I want to do the right thing, but the leading men in this town think me incompetent!” She climbed on the wagon seat and drove toward the farm she had called home since she married James and moved here to Elizabethtown to be with him some two years earlier.
Suddenly, there was a grating sound, and she saw a wagon wheel flying by the wagon and horses, whilst the wagon jolted and tilted to one side. “Whoa, Beacon! Whoa, Sky!” She called to the horses. Faith managed to stop the animals, and then looked down in dismay. The wheel was completely off, and she thought the axle could be broken, but it was one of those things she had never had to concern herself over before, and now she just did not know what to do. It was still a long way home, and she might not have a choice but to unhook the horses and ride one of them into town to get help from Richard, or someone else. This would only serve to prove to the magistrate and the council that she was not capable of taking care of herself.
“Hello there,” a male voice called out in Faith’s direction. She started, and then reached for her gun, leveling it on the man who had frightened her. “Now, that is not a bit friendly, mistress. Put that weapon down before it accidentally goes off and you hurt my child.”
It was not until that moment that Faith realized he was holding a swaddled infant in the crook of his arm. She immediately put the gun down. “I am sorry. You startled me.” He looked positively threatening in the moment.
“I shall look at your wagon if you wouldst hold Lacey for me?” he asked.
“Of course I shall hold her.” It was just one more reminder that she would not be having children of her own any time soon, but that was not his fault, nor was it little Lacey’s fault. It was a cruel twist of fate that she never conceived while married to James. They both wanted children so much, but it was not meant to be.
The man dismounted and walked over to give her a hand down from the wagon, and then he handed her the tiny baby to hold. “She is beautiful, Mr…”
“Barringer. Ethan Barringer, mistress.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed in surprise. “My friend Richard Hart was planning to speak to you on my behalf. I am Faith Taylor. My husband died a few weeks ago, and I have need of a hired man to help about the place. Richard seemed to believe you would be interested in the job.”