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By Tracie Peterson
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2011 Tracie Peterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEast Texas, March 1887
"You ... you can't marry him," Jake Wythe declared, taking Deborah Vandermark by the arm. He swayed for a moment, then pulled her with him to the far side of the porch. "You can't."
Deborah broke loose from his hold. "Jake, don't be ridiculous. We've been through this. I love Christopher. This is a celebration of my upcoming wedding, and I will thank you not to embarrass me by making a scene." Deborah hoped her words would somehow sober him a bit. "Let's return to the others."
"You only wanna ... wanna marry him because he's a doctor. You want to be a doctor and figure this is ... is the way to get that done."
"Nonsense," Deborah said, putting her hands on her hips. "If I only wanted to train to be a doctor, there are other ways to accomplish the task without committing my life to someone. Now, if this is all you came to tell me, I'm going back inside to be with my guests."
"He's an Irishman!" Jake declared, stumbling forward.
Deborah stopped and looked at him. The fact that Christopher Clayton was truly Christopher Clayton Kelleher was wellknown in her family and circle of friends, but why Jake thought it important to bring it up now was beyond her.
She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Jake. You've saved my life more than once, but I don't love you. We're just good friends."
He pushed her back against the house. "But I love you. Don't you understand? I want to marry you. It should be me." He took hold of her face rather roughly and covered her mouth with his own.
Deborah fought against his hold. His breath reeked of beer as he sought to deepen his kiss. She tried to claw at his face, but Jake quickly pinned her arms.
"I can make you ... happy," he murmured against her lips.
"Stop or I'll scream!"
She didn't need to. In a flash, G.W. had yanked Jake away from her and onto his backside. Standing over the smaller man, Deborah's brother shook a fist at him. "Of all the dumb things. What in the world is wrong with you, Wythe?"
"I love her. She shouldn't ... shouldn't marry the doc. She ... she ... she should marry me."
"You're drunk." G.W. reached down and pulled Jake to his feet. "You're drunk and you attacked my sister. Get out of here and don't come back. You're fired."
Jake looked at him, confused—as if the words didn't make sense. He stumbled back against the porch rail, then lurched toward Deborah.
G.W. grabbed him and threw him off the porch. "I said to get on out of here. We don't tolerate drinkin', and we sure don't allow for drunks to attack our women." Jake landed in a flurry of dust. "I didn't mean to hurt you, Deborah. I love you."
Christopher came to her side. He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quizzical stare. "What's this all about?"
"Jake wants me to marry him instead of you. He's been drinking and he ..." She paused a moment, unsure of what to say. "Well, he forced a kiss on me." She tried to sound casual, but in truth it had really shaken her.
Christopher frowned and looked to where Jake was just picking himself up off the ground. "Are you all right?" he asked, his hand stroking her arm in concern.
"I'm fine. Let's just go back inside." Coming alongside her brother, Deborah put her hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, G.W." She refused to cast even the briefest glance at Jake, which only caused him to call after her.
"Do you hear me? Deborah? I love you, Deborah. I love you."
Mercifully, as she drew nearer to the house, the music drowned out Jake's pathetic cries. A little band of local talent played while others danced and laughed in celebration of her upcoming nuptials. Apparently Jake had decided to forgo making merry, preferring to numb his pain and bolster his courage with liquor. She glanced around the room, wondering if others were also imbibing.
"Why were you outside?" Christopher asked. She shrugged. "Jake asked me to step onto the porch with him so he could tell me something. I had no idea that he'd been drinking."
Christopher led her to where the refreshments were laid out and poured her a glass of punch. "I'm sorry I wasn't with you."
"There was no reason to believe you needed to be." Deborah took the glass from him." It's best we put it behind us now."
He narrowed his gaze and tilted her face to the light. "You may have a bruise."
She touched her free hand to her jaw. "Oh, bother. Well, it's a week until the wedding, so it should fade."
"Just a week," he said with a grin. "Seems like an eternity."
Deborah laughed. She sipped the punch and gazed out at the people who'd come to her family's home to share their revelry. Mother and Arjan were dancing, as were others. G.W. and Lizziestood to one side. As Lizzie drew her husband's hand to her lips, G.W.'s deep scowl softened. No doubt his thoughts were still on Jake Wythe. At Lizzie's kiss, however, his outlook appeared to change. Deborah could see that her friend had a soothing effect on G.W. Lizzie motioned to his leg and he rubbed it, but nodded. G.W. had nearly lost the limb and his very life when he'd fallen from a tree over a year ago. He'd worked hard to recover, although he still was not up to dancing.
"Would you like to waltz with me?"
Deborah looked at the man who would soon be her husband. "I would like that very much." She allowed Christopher to take the glass from her and place it on the table. He extended his arm and she smiled. They might live in the seclusion of the Big Piney Woods, but they were still quite civilized when it suited them.
Christopher placed his hand upon her waist, and Deborah found girlish joy bubble up from within as they swayed to the music. She remembered the first time she'd been at a barn dance—the first time she was actually allowed to stay up for the dance itself. She had been fourteen and quite enthralled to discover what went on at such events. Her steps had been more awkward back then, and she'd mashed and bruised her fair share of toes. The gangly girl she'd been had grown up, however, and she easily kept stride with her husbandtobe. She had never been happier.
"I wish we could bring your family here for the wedding."
Christopher shook his head. "It's far too costly. I promised my mother we would come for a visit in the summer if all went well."
The music ended and the fiddle player declared he needed a break to smoke his pipe. The band disbursed and the dancers headed for the refreshment table.
"I can hardly wait to meet your mother. She sounds like a wonderful woman," Deborah whispered as Christopher led her to the side of the room.
"You two are very much alike," he replied. "You are both very intelligent, although my mother never had the chance for school—at least nothing more than grade school. But she's a determined soul, nevertheless, and taught her children to read and encouraged them to attend school. She would appreciate your stance on education being of the utmost importance." Christopher leaned closer. "It looks as though there are ladies who would like to speak to you. I'll go talk to G.W. and thank him again for rescuing you."
Before she could reply he was gone, and Deborah found herself half circled by several women. Mrs. Perkins and Mrs. Huebner were on her right, while Mother and Dinah Wolcott were on her left. Lizzie and the pastor's daughter, Mara, made their way to join her, as well.
"So is your gown finished?" Mrs. Huebner asked. "I understand you're reworking your mother's wedding dress."
"Yes," Deborah replied, giving her mother a quick smile. "Mother's gown was designed in the late 1850s, and as you know, the fashions have changed considerably. I have to admit, however, my contributions have been minimal. Mother and Sissy have been the ones to transform it."
"Have you changed it to a great degree, Euphanel?" Mrs. Huebner asked.
"Yes. You must remember, I married in Georgia. The skirts then were quite voluminous. We have been able to drape the tiered flouncing up and back over a bustle. Sissy is a genius when it comes to such handwork."
"She is," Deborah agreed.
"We need to hem it, but otherwise, we're very nearly done," Mother added.
Mrs. Perkins glanced around the room. Her husband founded the little sawmill town of Perkinsville, which left Mrs. Perkins as its unofficial matron. "Oh, a wedding is just the thing to cheer up our little town. Look what this party has done for our spirits." She continued, "I'm certain you have more than enough flowers for the wedding, but should you need any additional blooms, please feel free to visit my garden. You are free to take anything you need."
"That's so kind, Rachel," Mother replied before Deborah could answer. "We will keep that in mind. I have to admit, however, that I've been far more concerned about getting everything to the church in one piece. I'm beginning to think we should have just planned to have the wedding here."
"It will all work out, you'll see." Mrs. Perkins patted Mother's arm. "So will you and the doctor take a wedding trip?" she asked Deborah.
"We're planning a brief trip to Galveston," she replied. "Neither of us wants to be gone for too long, however. Just in case someone needs a doctor."
"Galveston is lovely. The water is so refreshing." Mrs. Perkins looked around the room. "It's such a pity that there aren't more folks in town these days." She shook her head and gave a tsking sound. "Since the mill fire, so many have left to find work elsewhere, and who can blame them? Mr. Albright and Mr. Longstreet will not give my husband any definitive terms for rebuilding. I wish he'd never taken on partners. In the old days, we could just assure folks that they'd still have a job and that the mill would be up and running before they knew it.
"Remember the early days of our little town, Euphanel? We weren't much of a community, and certainly the mill was very small, but each of our men ran their own business affairs. Now we are dependent upon others to let us know what the plan will be."
"Have they given no indication?" Mother asked.
"None. When Mr. Perkins confronts them, they merely tell him that he is a lesser partner and that they will be the ones to make the decisions about rebuilding. Mr. Albright did say he was seeking advice on whether the current location was most advantageous or if he should build elsewhere."
"Seems going somewhere else would be foolish," Lizzie threw in. "The rails are here—the town's already in place."
"That's exactly what Zed told them, but they weren't very inclined to concern themselves with such things. Mr. Albright said that the town could be disassembled and rebuilt."
"Seems like a lot of work when a little could suffice," Mrs. Huebner declared.
Deborah agreed. The entire matter seemed to be nothing more than a delaying tactic to torment her family.
"Miz O'Neal will no longer run the boardinghouse," Mrs.
Perkins added. "She said without guests, there's really no need for her to stay on, and Zed can't afford to pay her out of his own pocket."
"When does Mary plan to leave?" Mother asked. "Where will she go?"
"Plans to join her sister in Ohio. I heard her say that she'll stay on until after the wedding. She wanted to see Deborah married."
Mrs. Huebner nodded. "I told Curtis the same thing."
"Surely you'll stick around until the school term is concluded," Deborah said. She was surprised the Huebners were considering a move, but if Stuart and Mr. Longstreet were not inclined to get the mill up and running again, what choice did they have? Perkinsville would simply continue to diminish until no one was left—not even its founding family. Those in need of a school would simply have to send their children to the county school some distance away.
"I heard that your sons moved their families elsewhere, Mrs.
Perkins," Lizzie said as if reading Deborah's thoughts.
"Yes, it seems things will never be the same again. I never thought to leave this place, but now ..."
"Surely Zed isn't going to pull out." Mother looked at her friend, as if to ascertain the truth in her eyes.
"He said it will completely depend on the decisions of Mr. Albright and Mr. Longstreet."
Deborah saw Lizzie clench her jaw and look away. Deborah recognized the emotion on her face, for she, too, had her own moments of guilt. After all, she had encouraged her friend to leave Mr. Albright at the altar, and in turn, Lizzie had left her home in Philadelphia to come to Texas with Deborah. Then Lizzie fell in love with and married Deborah's brother. It was hard not to feel at least a bit responsible for the fact that Stuart Albright wished to make them pay for the embarrassment he'd endured.
But it had never been about embarrassing Stuart. It wasn't even about denying him the inheritance that they later learned he would have received upon wedding Lizzie. Deborah had never wished Stuart harm; she had only wanted to see her dear friend happy.
And Lizzie could never have been happy married to Stuart—of this Deborah was certain. But now the price being imposed was not only intended for the Vandermarks, but for all of Perkinsville. Stuart was hurting them all because his pride was wounded.
"He didn't even love her," Deborah muttered.
"What was that, my dear?" Mrs. Perkins asked.
Deborah realized she'd spoken aloud and shook her head. "It was nothing. I'm sorry. I'm just pondering the past again." She gave a smile. "I hope very much to forget that which is behind me."
Mara Shattuck nodded. "There is great wisdom in that Bible encouragement." The pastor's daughter was often compared in looks to Deborah, but tonight they were nothing alike. Mara had pulled her hair into a tightly coiled knot at the nape of her neck and had dressed in quite a sedate fashion. It was a concession that she'd even come to the party. Deborah understood that when Mara had lived with her grandmother in New Orleans, they had observed the Lenten period with reverence and piety. They weren't of the Catholic faith, but even so, they took the opportunity of those weeks preceding Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter to remember the poor and needy and reflect on God's ministry. Mara had come to the party only after spending the day helping the people of color who remained in Perkinsville.
Deborah admired the young woman who she was quite sure would one day marry into the family. Rob Vandermark, Deborah's other sibling, had set his sights on Miss Mara Shattuck, and once he concluded his studies at the seminary in Houston, she felt certain they would wed.
The musicians began to return to their instruments. "It looks like we'll soon be dancing again," she said with a smile. "My feet already ache, but I have to say, you've all made this one of the happiest nights of my life."
Mother gave her a hug. "I'm sure it's just the first of many."
* * *
Christopher made his way to Deborah as she bid the last of the guests goodbye. It was getting quite late, and he would have to leave, as well. He leaned against the wall and watched his fiancée, amazed at her ease. She was so accomplished, and not only in this. He'd seen her stitch up a wound or help set a bone without a moment's hesitation. He'd always hoped to marry a woman who was as capable as his mother. Deborah Vandermark was certainly that and more.
Her grace and calm soothed him in ways he didn't fully understand. And tonight, she was radiant in her joy. He couldn't help but admire her fine figure and stylish attire. Just seeing her stirred his blood. He longed to pull her into his arms and spend the rest of his life in her presence.
"You look spent," Euphanel Vandermark told him. "Are you sure you wouldn't just as soon spend the night here? You are welcome to sleep in Arjan's old cabin."
Christopher was more than a little tempted. He suppressed a yawn. "No. I need to head back to town. I'm trying to inventory everything for Stuart Albright. He wants a complete list by Monday, and I figured all week to devote Saturday to it. If I stay here tonight, I won't want to leave in the morning."
Euphanel smiled. "Just another week—and then you two will have the rest of your lives together."
He nodded. "I hadn't known a week could last so long."
Arjan moved to Euphanel's side and put his arm around her shoulder. "We'd best let these two say their goodnights, Wife."
She smiled up at him and nodded. "I suppose so. Be careful on your ride home, Christopher. I wouldn't want anything happening to you."
He chuckled. "If I get hurt, I understand there is a fine woman doctor in these parts. Well, I suppose she's not a full-fledged doctor ... yet," he said loud enough to catch Deborah's attention, "but I understand she's quite capable."
"That she is," Euphanel said with a quick glance over her shoulder. "That she is."
Excerpted from Hope Rekindled by Tracie Peterson Copyright © 2011 by Tracie Peterson. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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