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Faith Glen, Massachusetts, August 1850
Nora Murphy looked at her two younger sisters across the room and tamped down the pinprick of jealousy that tried to intrude on her joy at their good fortune.
After all, this was her sister Bridget's wedding day to Will Black, a good and honorable man who loved her dearly. Everyone in town was gathered to celebrate here at Will's homeBridget's home now, too. It was a joyous occasion and it would be selfish to put her own feelings above her sister's.
So what if just a scant month ago Maeve, the youngest, had also married a wonderful man? No matter how it felt, Nora assured herself, it wasn't truly pitiable to be the oldest and the only one still single and with no marriage prospects. After all, at twenty-five she had a few years left to her before she'd have to don her spinster cap.
Strange how in just a little over two monthsa seeming eyeblink of timeher whole world had changed. Back then they'd lived in Ireland amidst the terrible burdens of the potato famine and the sickness that had taken so many of their friends and neighbors, and finally their beloved da. Suddenly orphaned and facing eviction, they'd been left all but destitute and desperate. The startling discovery of a possible inheritance across the ocean in America from an old suitor of their mother's had been an answered prayer. She, Bridget and Maeve had left their homeland, headed for the land of promise with only their faith and the hope of finding a new home in the small town of Faith Glen, Massachusetts, to keep their spirits up.
They'd all taken jobs aboard the ship the Annie McGee to replenish their drained savings after purchasing their passage. Maeve, the youngest, had fallen in love with and married the ship's well-to-do doctor, Flynn Gallagher, before they'd even set foot in America.
And now Bridget, the middle sister, had married Will Black, a mill owner and Faith Glen's wealthiest citizen.
How wonderful that her sisters had found good, honorable men who loved them deeply and who could care for them extravagantly. It was surely a blessing from the Good Lord Himself. And she was certain the Good Lord had plans for her, as well. Whether or not those plans included marriage was another question altogether.
Father Almighty, I really do want to be obedient to You and to patiently await Your will for my life. But please be patient with me when I try to get ahead of You. I am prideful and too often try to control my circumstances.
"I brought you a glass of punch."
Pulled out of her musings, Nora found Sheriff Cameron Long, the man who employed her as housekeeper and cook, standing in front of her. He had a cup in each hand and was holding one out to her. His always-ready, lopsided smile was in evidence, giving him a boyish look despite his imposing size. Really, the sheriff could be so considerate.
When he wasn't being so maddeningly stubborn.
She looked up, meeting his gaze. Unlike her sisters, she had more of her father than her mother in her and had been the tallest of the three siblings. But Sheriff Long still towered over her, which was an uncommon but not entirely unpleasant experience.
"Thank you." She accepted the cup and took a quick sip. "'Twas kind of you to bring it to me."
He took a drink from his own cup. "If you don't mind my asking, what are you doing over here by yourself? As a sister of the bride I would think you'd want to be in the thick of things."
Nora waved toward the cradle that held her infant ward. "I'll rejoin them shortly. I just put Grace down for her nap."
She still found it hard to believe that no one had come forward to claim the newborn foundling who'd been abandoned during their voyage. Perhaps, for some reason, the child's family members couldn't reveal themselves. But whatever the case, Nora was guiltily glad they hadn't. The idea of giving Grace up now was too painful to consider.
As usual, the sheriff avoided more than a quick look Grace's way and merely nodded, then changed the subject. "I understand you made most of the cakes for this little gathering."
"It was my gift to Bridget and Will."
His smile broadened and his heather-blue eyes regarded her in that teasing way he had. Didn't he realize there should be a certain formality between an employer and his hired help?
"And a mighty tasty gift it was," he said, saluting her with his cup. "That was as fine a use of the Hunt-ley-Black chocolate as I can remember. Most everyone is saying how good the desserts are and I saw several guests sneak back around for seconds."
Bridget's new husband owned and operated the Huntley-Black Chocolate Mill, a business that employed a large number of the town's citizens. It had given Nora a great deal of satisfaction to devise a recipe using Will's product for this reception. "I enjoy cooking and baking. I'm just pleased others take pleasure in the results of my efforts."
"And I'm pleased I get to enjoy them on a regular basis."
Her cheeks warmed at the more personal compliment. "Thank you. As I said, I enjoy cooking."
He finished his punch and she expected him to drift away, but instead he nodded toward the other side of the room. "They make a fine picture, don't they?"
Bridget had stooped down to say something to Will's three-year-old twinsher new stepchildrenand the youngsters were giggling. Will stood next to his bride, looking on with a besotted smile.
Nora nodded. "They do indeed. They are all blessed to have found each other."
"Do your Maeve and Flynn plan to stay here for a while?"
She followed his glance toward her other sister and brother-in-law. "No, I'm sorry to say. They'll be returning to Boston as soon as they see Bridget and Will off. Flynn has some patients to look in on tomorrow."
"Well, they can't get their new home built soon enough. The folks in these parts are really looking forward to having their own doctor right here in Faith Glen." Cam turned back to her. "And I'm sure you'll be glad to have your other sister close by."
"It will be good to have the three of us close together again." Maeve and Flynn were having a home built here in Faith Glen but it wasn't finished yet so they were currently living in Flynn's family home in Boston.
Nora cast a quick glance back over her shoulder to make certain Grace was all right. She smiled at the sweet picture the babe made as she slept.
"Speaking of your sisters," Sheriff Long said, "it looks as if they're headed this way."
Nora turned back around and sure enough, Bridget and Maeve were crossing the room toward her, arms linked and skirts swishing as they walked.
"Ladies." The sheriff gave a short bow as Nora's sisters halted in front of them. He smiled at Bridget. "I've already told Will more than once what a mighty lucky fellow he is."
Bridget smiled in return. "Thank you, but I feel like I'm the one who's been blessed."
Cam widened his gaze to include all three of them. "I must say, all of the Murphy sisters are looking especially fetching today."
Did his gaze linger on her just a heartbeat longer than her sisters? Nora pushed that ridiculous thought away. While she was honest enough to know she wasn't plain, she also knew she couldn't hold a candle to her sisters. Maeve was petite with beautiful curly red hair and the exquisite features of a porcelain doll. And Bridget was delicate, soft and dreamy-eyed with untamable hair that always gave her an ethereal look. Nora knew herself to be tall and rather thin, with hair that was plain brown and features that were pleasant enough but nothing out of the ordinary.
The sheriff held his hand out toward her and it took her a moment to realize he was offering to take her now-empty cup. Feeling her cheeks warm, she thrust the cup at him with a bit more force than necessary.
He raised a brow, but accepted the cup graciously enough. "I'll take care of putting this away for you and let you ladies talk."
"Must be nice having him pick up after you for a change."
Nora frowned at Maeve's words. "The sheriff is a good man and a fair employer."
Maeve raised her hand, palm out. "I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I just meant that after cleaning up after him all week I would imagine it would be a pleasant change to have him return the favor."
Nora merely nodded, then turned to her other sister. "Will you and your new husband be off soon then?"
Bridget's cheeks pinkened becomingly as she reached for her sisters' hands. "Yes. But before we leave for Boston, I wanted to thank both of you again for all you did to help make my wedding day so special."
Maeve, who'd supplied the beautiful gown Bridget wore, gave their sister a hug. "It was my pleasure. But, to be sure, your smile is the most beautiful thing you're wearing today."
Nora nodded her agreement before hugging her, as well. "And your joy is sweeter than my baking." She stepped back, taking both of Bridget's hands in hers. "I only wish Mother and Da could've been here to see you today."
Romantically minded Bridget gave her a watery smile. "I do, too. Though I felt very close to them all through the ceremony."
Maeve patted her arm. "They would have been very proud of you."
Nora was certain of that, as well. She hoped their parents would also be proud of her. She'd done her best to hold their household together after their dear mother passed on ten years ago. But with Maeve and Bridget married now, the caretaker part of her life was over, at least as far as her sisters were concerned. She'd always thought she'd feel freer when this day came, not consumed by this sense of loneliness.
Of course she wasn't completely alone. While her sisters had new husbands and lives apart from hers now, the Good Lord had provided her with companionship of a different sort. Nora glanced back toward the cradle and smiled. Her sisters had husbands but she had this sweet, sweet babe.
"I see Grace is taking a nap."
At Maeve's comment, Nora refocused on her sisters. They had linked arms again and were facing her with identical determined looks on their faces. What were they up to? "Yes. Poor wee babe is worn out from being around so many people today. I should be getting her home soon."
Home. Such a small word for such a wonderful, wonderful thing. For the first time in her life, she finally had a place to call her own that no landlord could remove her from.
Bridget cleared her throat. "We have something to say to you before Will and I leave for Boston. And we want you to hear us out before you say anything."
Nora's curiosityas well as her concernclimbed.
Something told her she wasn't going to be pleased with what they had to say.
"You've done a lot for us over the years," Bridget continued. "So now it's our turn to take care of you."
Take care of her? Did they think her incapable of handling things on her own? Nora felt a protest form, but before she could say anything, Maeve chimed in.
"That's right. I know you are working on making the cottage into a cozy home, but the new house Flynn and I are building here will have plenty of room. You and Grace could settle in with us easily enough. And Flynn would be as pleased as I to have you there."
"Or you can move in right here with me and Will," Bridget added quickly. "It would be nice to have you and Grace so close."
Something inside Nora tightened. She was grateful, of course, but at the same time she had to swallow a feeling of annoyance. "Thank you," she said, choosing her words carefully, "those are generous offers. But you're both newlyweds with new households. Bridget, in addition to your new husband, you have two precious children and a mother-in-law to care for now. And Maeve, you and Flynn are building a new home and starting up a new medical practice here. Neither of you need to be burdened with additional responsibilities right now." Besides, even if none of that were true, Nora would be uncomfortable living on what amounted to their charity.
Bridget drew herself up. "Nora Kayleigh Murphy, I'll have none of that talk. You're no burden, you're our sister."
As if the ground had shifted beneath her, Nora felt a sudden change in her relationship with her sisters. Ever since their dear mother had passed on ten years ago, she'd done her best to look out for her sisters. And when their da had passed on just a few months ago, she'd felt the mantle of responsibility for their little family wrap even more tightly around her. But now the roles seem to have reversed. In their new elevated positions as married women, her sisters were now trying to take on responsibility for her.