Authors: Cathy Marie Hake
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Historical, #General, #Religious
Cathy Marie Hake
Copyright © 2008
Cathy Marie Hake
Cover design by Jennifer Parker
Cover photography: Linda’s Photography, Linda Motzko
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Published by Bethany House Publishers
11400 Hampshire Avenue South
Bloomington, Minnesota 55438
Bethany House Publishers is a division of
Baker Pubishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hake, Cathy Marie.
Forevermore / Cathy Marie Hake.
ISBN 978-0-7642-0318-3 (pbk.)
1. Women cooks—Fiction. 2. Texas—Fiction. I. Title.
To Cianna, Audrey, and Fiona—
three bright girls who see life’s promises and
possibilities and embrace them with courage and joy.
CATHY MARIE HAKE is a nurse who specializes in teaching Lamaze, breastfeeding, and baby care. She loves reading, scrapbooking, and writing, and is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. Cathy makes her home in Anaheim, California, with her husband, daughter, and son.
he fields lay ripe for harvest; the house looked ready to collapse. A bounty of weeds fought vegetables in the garden for space, and a scraggly rosebush by the porch wouldn’t last another week if someone didn’t water it. Hope Ladley reckoned this was the right place to stop. God had a habit of sending her where folks needed a helping hand, and this farm practically shouted her name.
“Whoa.” She didn’t bother to pull back on the reins, for her mule never stepped lively enough to require more than a simple command. Hope jumped down from her two-wheel cart, gave Hattie an appreciative pat, and called out, “Anybody home?” She grabbed a sizable stack of envelopes and headed toward the house.
An obviously pregnant woman stepped out onto the front porch and shut the screen door with one hand while rubbing her lower back with the other. “You be a good girl,” she said to a child on the other side. “I’m going to talk to someone for a minute.”
Hope tucked the envelopes into the pocket of her apron and murmured, “Lord, I do my best to serve you, but you gotta remember the onliest things I ever helped with a birthing had four legs.”
The woman shuffled out from under the porch awning and lifted a hand to shade her eyes from the blazing sun. “Hello.”
“Hello, yourself. I’m Hope Ladley.” Hope headed toward her and belatedly remembered she’d shucked her shoes a few hours back. Oh well. No fixing that oversight now. “Ma’am, I’ll come to you. Best you stay in the shade up there. Hotter than the hinges of Hades out here.”
“It is terribly warm.” The woman still wrapped her arms about herself as if she’d felt a chill. She looked past Hope. “Are you all by yourself?”
“I reckon you could say that, but God—He’s always with me. And Hattie there—she’s my mule—well, might hurt her feelin’s if’n I didn’t say she made for a fine travelin’ companion.”
Slowly, the woman nodded. She hadn’t given her name and inched back up each of the four steps. Her tongue darted out and moistened her lips; then she cast a look at the tall, black yard pump. “Did you stop to get some water?”
“Hattie and me—well, we both had a long, cool drink a mile or so ago. Nice of you to offer, though.”
“Annie?” A tall, broad-shouldered man in blue jeans came around the corner. He yanked off his straw work hat and cast a questioning look at his wife. Deep grooves bracketing his unsmiling mouth and scrunched brows bore testament to a man whose mind dwelled on more than his fair share of worries.
The lady on the top porch step said, “We have a visitor. Her name is—”
“Hope Ladley,” Hope declared as she stepped up and shook the farmer’s hand. It was big, sunburned, and callused—the kind of hand that bespoke someone who worked long and hard for everything he owned. He’d sweated and toiled to own this farm. Good, honest dirt under his nails—one of the best ways a woman could tell a man was a hard worker.
“Jakob Stauffer.” His voice sounded as icy as his eyes looked.
Lord, I’m steppin’ out in faith here. If this ain’t where you’re wantin’ me to be, I reckon you’ll send me away
. Since the farmer didn’t introduce his missus, Hope bridged the awkward silence. “I’m a plainspoken woman, Mr. Stauffer, so I’m gonna be up-front. Your ox’s wallowin’ beneath all that straw.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my team.” The farmer scowled and dragged his hand from her grip. “Not a soul could say my livestock—”
“Now, hold it there for a minute. I’m just usin’ a Bible sayin’.” She leaned toward him a little and half whispered, “Aren’t you God-fearin’ folk?”
“Jakob, I think she meant the ox is in the ditch.”
Hope perked up. “That’s it! Then what critter gets all the straw?”
“A camel.” The woman waddled down the stairs and stood real close to her man. “I’m Annie Erickson.”
She’s not his wife
. Hope felt more than a bit confused.
Lord, I’m confounded. I must’ve been wrong about this bein’ where you wanted me.
“So you already got yourself a housekeeper.”
The woman twitched a pitiful excuse for a smile. “Jakob is my brother.”
“You were talking to at least one young’un inside. Got a passel of ’em betwixt the both of you?”
“This—” Mrs. Erickson’s voice caught. “This is my first.”
“We’ll be praying for you to have an easy time of it and for the babe to be healthy.” Hope nodded and turned back to the farmer.
It’s his turn to crow about his family
Sleet would look warm compared to his icy glare. “What do you want, Mrs. Ladley?”
“It’s Miss. I’m free to follow wherever God takes me.” She swept an arm toward his fields. “Harvest is nigh upon you. I don’t mean to boast, but I can cook real fine. What, with all the men you’ll have round to labor on your land, seems you could stand to keep me here to feed ’em.”
“We were just talking about hiring two of the Richardson girls.” Mrs. Erickson didn’t sound very sure of herself.
Mr. Stauffer muttered something about the lesser of two evils.
“Tell you folks what. You don’t know me from Eve.”
“It’s supposed to be Adam,” Mr. Stauffer growled.
Hope shook her head. “Can’t be. ’Course, you’d know me from him. Eve was the gal. Anyway, I reckon you oughtn’t hire me right off without having some proof that I can turn out a decent meal. So tell me how many I’m to feed supper, what you have a notion to eat, and what time it’s to be ready.”
The farmer ran his hand through mud brown hair, but that didn’t begin to remove the imprint from his hat. His grim expression didn’t change one iota as he raised his chin toward his sister.
If he’s leaving the decision to her, he’s got to be a widower.
Hope pulled the packet of letters from her apron and handed them to Mrs. Erickson. “Recommendations from other farmers. Some folks like that kind of stuff afore they make up their mind whether to keep me on.”
Looking down at the thick stack in her hand, Mrs. Erickson sounded uncertain. “I suppose we could give her a try, Jakob.”
“Dandy. I’ll move my mule and cart outta the way. Mr. Stauffer, are you hankering after anything special to eat or is there any particular chore that needs doin’?”
He shook his head and took the porch steps two at a time. He paused at the doorstep and looked down at his dirty boots. “Emmy-Lou,” he called before opening the door and hunkering down.
A little girl threw herself into his arms. “Daddy! Are you gonna take me to see the piglets again?”
“No.” He cupped his big hand around his daughter’s towhead and held her close.
Hope’s heart did a little do-si-do. A man who cast aside his own troubles, knelt down, and loved on his child—there was a man to be admired.
He pressed a kiss on Emmy-Lou’s head. “Milky snuck off and had her litter.”
“She did?” Emmy-Lou pulled back. “I wanna see them! How many?”
“You be a good girl, and I’ll show you where they are after supper.”
“How many, Daddy?”
Mr. Stauffer rose. “I’m keeping that a secret right now. Since you’re going to be a good girl, you’ll be able to come out and count for yourself.”
“It’s always nice to have something to look forward to.” Hope smiled at the girl. She had her father’s blue eyes, but instead of being cool, they shone with innocence. Hope winked at her. “So is Milky a cat or a dog?”
“A cat.” Emmy-Lou yanked on the side of her father’s jeans.
“Daddy, does that lady know how to bake cookies?”
“Shore do. You got a favorite kind?”
Curls bobbed as the little girl nodded. “Big ones!”
A smile flitted across Mr. Stauffer’s face, then disappeared. “Miss Ladley, tie your mule to the sycamore. Shade’s hard to come by.”
Hope tromped back toward Hattie. Mr. Stauffer might seem all gruff, but he liked kids and animals. And his sister, too. With that many points in his favor, she knew he was a good man. A red bandana hung loosely around his neck, and a blue one had peeked out of his back pocket when he’d bent down to hug his little girl. That detail hinted that he was given to neatness. Well, then, he’d appreciate her helping things run smoothly.
As she walked Hattie right past the porch and toward the shade, Hope heard Emmy-Lou’s high, little giggle. “Daddy, how come does that lady’s mule wear a hat?”
“Her name’s Hattie, and by wearin’ one, she carries her shade ’long with her where’re she goes,” Hope called back. With her mule unhitched and roped to the tree, Hope stopped by the water pump with her stockings, shoes, and a towel. After washing her hands and face, she dampened half the towel and went to the porch. Mr. Stauffer had gone back to work, so Hope sat on the top step, swiped her ankles and feet clean, then pulled on her stockings and shoes.