River’s Haven, Indiana, governs its inhabitants by rigidly imposed laws, including some highly unusual ones about marriage and family. Defying the town—and its all-powerful Assembly of Elders—Rachel Browning takes in orphaned Katherine Mulligan to raise as her own. But now Rachel’s overprotective brother is pressuring the single mother to marry. Rachel’s ideal husband certainly isn’t the brash, seductive stranger she meets when Katherine runs away.
Wyatt Colton’s life is like the ever-changing river. The restless rover can’t imagine putting down roots in one place, especially not this backwater burg with its tyrannical rules and regulations. He’ll stay in River’s Haven just long enough to repair his run-aground steamboat. But what’s he going to do about the adorable red-haired urchin he finds stowed on his boat? Or her alluring adoptive mother? As taboo desire flames into an affair that sets the people of River’s Haven dangerously against Wyatt and Rachel, a man who swore never to give his heart will risk everything for a love that could be the safest haven of all.
Moonlight on Water is the 2nd book in the Haven Trilogy, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Moonlight on Water
The Haven Trilogy, Book Two
By Jo Ann Ferguson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Jo Ann Ferguson
All rights reserved.
River's Haven Community Indiana 1876
The Assembly of Elders enjoyed drama. Rachel Browning had seen examples of that, time after time, when they had been asked to rule on a request by the residents of the River's Haven Community.
As the trio of men and one woman filed back into the simple room that was filled with enough backless wooden benches to allow seating for all members of the Community, they sat at a table set between two tall windows. On the wall behind them, on either side of a clock, were the American flag and a picture of President Grant. Those were the only items of decoration in the otherwise plain room. The men's black coats and the woman's simple dress were as undecorated.
Only one man wore a beard, the eldest man, who sat in the middle. Mr. Carpenter was one of the founders of the River's Haven Community.
The man on his left, Mr. Johnson, was also a founder. Miss Stokes, the woman on his right, had been the third founder. Recently, Mr. Foley had joined the Assembly of Elders, the first person chosen by the Community to do so in the seven years since River's Haven's establishment near the banks of the Ohio River.
Rachel had been amused in the past by the show of sagacity and ritual. Today she wished they would just announce what they had decided during their hour of deliberations in the small room beyond this one.
"Don't fidget," her older brother muttered, not taking his gaze from the front of the room.
Rachel did not reply. Merrill sat as motionless as the bench beneath him. His hair was black like hers, but his intense eyes were a much lighter shade than her brown ones. In his sedate black frock coat and gray trousers, he resembled the trio of men sitting at the table.
She folded her hands on her skirt that reached no farther than her knees. When she had first arrived in River's Haven Community, she had tugged endlessly at the hem, which was as high as she had worn when she was a child. But in the past few years she had learned to appreciate the shorter skirt and the pantalets beneath it. Her work took her everywhere in the Community, from the sheepfold to the weaving rooms and the metal shop, and it was made easier because of this sensible outfit. As the person in charge of the Community's finances, she was responsible for making the various industries profitable.
Glancing at the clock, Rachel was glad to see that there was still almost an hour before the youngest children would be released from their play. The older children had chores to do, but during the time before supper the ones as young as Kitty Cat were allowed to be with one of their parents.
She watched the Assembly of Elders as they whispered together. Were they still debating the reason that had brought her here today? Rachel's request to the Assembly of Elders had been on behalf of Katherine Mulligan, who preferred the name Kitty Cat. Over three months had passed since Rachel had brought the little girl here from the orphan train that had stopped in the nearby village of Haven. Rachel guessed the little girl was almost seven years old. Kitty Cat knew she had been born on Independence Day, but she did not know which year.
"Miss Browning," said Mr. Carpenter, "we have reached our decision."
She nodded. No one but Mr. Carpenter was allowed to speak during the meeting unless he asked a direct question.
He tugged on his beard, glanced at the others at the table with him, then looked back at her. If some silent message had been passed among the Assembly of Elders, she was not privy to it.
"Miss Browning, we have reviewed your request for Miss Katherine Mulligan to be granted permission to go to Haven to visit the children she traveled with on the orphan train." He paused, and Rachel held her breath.
Kitty Cat had brought more joy to Rachel's life than seemed possible. This chance to see her friends from the orphan train was so important to Kitty Cat, who had been pining for the other children. Kitty Cat spoke of them endlessly, especially two of the older boys named Sean O'Dell and Brendan Rafferty. The little girl had pleaded, over and over, for the chance to visit them and discover if they were happy with their new families. Kitty Cat was content living at River's Haven, but she had spoken over and over of needing to be certain that her friends were happy, too.
"After much discussion," said Mr. Carpenter, "we wish to inform you that your request is denied."
"Denied?" Rachel asked, shocked.
Beside her, Merrill ordered, "Hush, Rachel!" He stood and took her arm, pulling her to her feet.
She yanked her arm out of his grip. Since Merrill had brought them to River's Haven, she had accepted each of the edicts from the Assembly of Elders, even the ones she had believed were ridiculous. This she could not accept, not without an explanation of why the Assembly of Elders was about to break a little girl's already well-patched heart.
"Why are you denying Kit—" She halted herself, knowing that the Elders did not approve of nicknames. All the adults in the Community were supposed to address each other as miss or mister. "Why are you denying Katherine the chance to go into Haven for a single day to visit her friends? Such a visit will do no harm to River's Haven, and it'll do much good for Katherine."
"There's no room for debate, Miss Browning. The Elders are in unanimous agreement about this."
"But why?" She ignored her brother's tug on her arm. She could not leave until she understood why they had made this absurd decision.
"It isn't our way to encourage our children to create friendships with those beyond River's Haven." Mr. Carpenter frowned. "You should know that by now, Miss Browning. You have been living here almost three years."
"But she isn't creating a friendship. These children are already her friends. She traveled with them from New York City on the orphan train." She edged around the bench and took a step toward the table. Hearing the sharp intakes of breath from both in front of her and from behind her, where Merrill was standing, she halted. She clasped her hands in front of her as she begged, "Please reconsider. It is only one visit, and she'll be so relieved to know that her friends are all right in their new homes."
"The decision was unanimous, Miss Browning." Mr. Carpenter continued to stare at her as if he believed he could daunt her with his gaze.
"Rachel," warned her brother in a near whisper. He took her arm again. This time, when she tried to shake off his hand, his grip tightened. She looked at him, but his eyes were focused on the table where the Assembly of Elders sat as he added in a louder voice, "Forgive my sister for her outburst. She cares so deeply for Katherine Mulligan that I fear she has let her emotions overtake her, making her forget the ways of this Community. She appreciates the Assembly of Elders taking this time to consider her request." He jabbed her with his elbow. "Don't you, Rachel?"
Rachel nodded, although she seethed inside. How could the Assembly of Elders—and her brother—be so shortsighted? Kitty Cat would be completely happy here if she had this single chance to see her friends.
Merrill steered her toward the back of the room. She did not protest. It was useless. The Assembly of Elders had made their decision, and they would not be talked into reconsidering, no matter how many facts she offered them.
"Kitty Cat is going to be terribly upset," Rachel said as they walked out of the building that was dwarfed by the common house where all currently single and childless members of the Community lived. For the married couples and those with small children, there were small cottages on either side of the massive building and the stables. When the final wing of the huge brick building was completed, all members of the Community would be able to live within the common house.
"She must learn to live with River's Haven's rules." Merrill paused on the walk and faced her. "As you must, Rachel. Another outburst like that one, and you will cause the Assembly of Elders to ask us to leave."
"I was simply expressing my opinion." She did not lower her gaze from his angry eyes. "You know that everyone in River's Haven is encouraged to offer opinions."
"But not as you did. You questioned the authority of the Assembly of Elders."
She shook her head. "I most certainly did not. I only requested that I be given an explanation for their decision. That was not unreasonable."
Merrill strode toward the common house, then turned and walked back to her. Jabbing a finger at her, he said, "Bringing that child here was a mistake."
"She needed a home, and we have a home here. The Assembly of Elders has said so often that we should reach out to those who need River's Haven and will embrace its principles."
"When are you going to embrace our principles?" he fired back.
"I already do."
"Do you? You haven't agreed to any marriage arrangement offered to you."
Rachel hoped her bonnet concealed her flush from anyone who might walk by. "Merrill, I would prefer to speak of this in private."
"Why?" His eyes narrowed. "The arrangement of compound marriage here still bothers you, doesn't it?"
She looked around and saw others of the Community on the stone walks through the green grass. She must choose her words with care, for she wanted to keep from hurting anyone. This Community, in spite of what Merrill seemed to believe, had become her home. She did not want to be banished from River's Haven because she spoke words that ridiculed the teachings of the Assembly of Elders, especially the tenet of compound marriage, which was a keystone of the Community.
Mr. Carpenter had taught that having a marriage last for only a year before it was dissolved so that the husband and wife might seek other mates, if they wished, had a twofold purpose. It dismissed the idea of the family unit of only a husband and a wife and their children. Instead, the family was the whole of the Community, but it was a very formal family. Only those related by blood and within a marriage used given names.
In addition, this arrangement protected a woman from dying from endless sessions of pregnancy and childbirth. If a woman wished to take some time between husbands and births, then she could without being ostracized. This second part of compound marriage was what had appealed to Rachel after having her mother and two cousins die in childbirth. Too many women contracted childbirth fever and were lost, some along with their children. She wished there was another way to save those women, but River's Haven's compound marriage was the only solution she had discovered yet.
And she loved children, which was why she had hurried to the nearby village of Haven as soon as she heard of the orphan train's arrival. From the first moment she had seen Kitty Cat among the other children, Rachel had welcomed the little girl into her heart. Kitty Cat had been as eager for a family, and she was happy ... except when she was anxious about her friends.
"Rachel, why won't you answer me?" demanded her brother. "Or do you fear answering?"
"Don't be absurd." She smiled, although she had never felt less like doing so. "You know the answer is simple to why I haven't married. I haven't found the right man to marry yet."
He snorted. "You had best do so soon, or the Assembly of Elders will do so for you."
"I know." She began to walk again toward her cottage. It was time to end this conversation before Merrill suggested another person who might be the best first husband for her. Pausing, she looked back to add, "Thank you, Merrill, for coming with me this afternoon."
"Think about what I've said," he called to her before striding in the opposite direction.
That would be an easy request to obey. She had thought of little else in the past month, ever since Merrill had first brought up the subject of having a man share the cottage where she and Kitty Cat lived. His subtle hints had dissolved into blatant orders.
Rachel hurried to the front door of her light blue cottage. The door was a bright red that she had painted herself. Those who lived in the cottages were allowed to paint them any color they wished, although each of the rooms in the common house were identical.
Her smile returned when she entered her home. She and Merrill had brought only a few things with them when they came to River's Haven. He had not wanted to take anything, but Rachel treasured these few connections with the past. Save for a rag doll that she had given Kitty Cat, a small metal pot that held colorful and odd-shaped stones found by the river, and the guitar that her father had taught her to play were the only things that were truly hers. Everything else Merrill had sold or given away.
There had been those who pleaded with her to stay in the small Ohio town where she had been born, but, after so recently suffering her father's passing within a year of her mother's death, she did not want to lose all her family. So she had come with Merrill, hoping, as he did, that they would find a new family at River's Haven.
Merrill had found that family quickly when he married his first wife, Susan Tyler. She had three other sisters living in River's Haven. Her youngest, Carol, had become Merrill's second wife eighteen months later.
Rachel had tried to make a life for herself here, too. She discovered that her skills with numbers could be put to good use in helping manage the financial business of the Community. The position, which she could never have aspired to in the world beyond River's Haven, gave her a great deal of satisfaction. Since their arrival, she had let herself believe that contentment in a job well done was the same as being happy. She had been mistaken, for, although her days had been filled with the hubbub of the Community, each night she slept in silence in her narrow room in the common house.
When Mr. Atlee, who brought paperwork from the metal shop, came back from the village of Haven with news of an orphan train coming from New York City, Rachel had decided to build herself a family with one of the orphans. The approval from the Assembly of Elders for her to bring a child to join the Community had come swiftly, and she had gone to Haven. There, she had met Katherine Mulligan, her very dear Kitty Cat.
Rachel sighed as she untied her simple bonnet and put it on the table. She walked along the short hallway that led to the two bedrooms that were even smaller than the ones in the common house. Kitty Cat's had a narrow bed and several hooks for the little girl's clothes. In the middle of the bed, waiting for Kitty Cat's return, was her precious rag doll.
On the other side of the hallway was Rachel's bedroom. It contained a double bed and a single chest of drawers. A writing table with a bench was set to one side, and there was a washstand beneath the window. Her beloved guitar, which Kitty Cat loved to hear her play, leaned against the headboard. A rag rug on the floor added the only color to the room, but the view through the open window was so glorious that she never noticed how plain the room was.
She loved to stand by the window and watch the wide river slip between the banks. The Ohio River, which was framed by trees on both sides, could be bright blue or a ferocious gray, depending on the weather. Boats followed its currents or fought their way upriver. In the winter, when the leaves had fallen, she could see a small farm on the Kentucky side of the river. The people there followed the same patterns as the residents of River's Haven, but the river separated them completely. The closest bridge was more than a day south.
Today she did not linger to enjoy the view. She dropped to sit on the bed. The iron springs creaked, but she paid no attention.
How was she going to tell Kitty Cat that her request had been denied?
"Rachel!" Kitty Cat's voice rang through the cottage. "Rachel, are you here?"
Knowing that she could not lie to the little girl, Rachel stood and went into the front room. A smile tugged at her lips when she saw how dusty Kitty Cat's bright red curls were. Dirt was painted across the child's freckled cheeks. One stocking was drooping over her high shoes, and the other had been ripped across the knee.
Excerpted from Moonlight on Water by Jo Ann Ferguson. Copyright © 2002 Jo Ann Ferguson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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