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Authors: Laura Abbot

The Gift of a Child

BOOK: The Gift of a Child
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A Family All Her Own

At twenty-seven, Rose Kellogg knows it’s unlikely that she’ll ever marry. Her dreams of motherhood seem hopeless. Until she rescues Alf, a young boy abandoned in her father’s barn in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. In Alf, Rose finally has hope again, and she’s not alone….

Cattle rancher Seth Montgomery always felt awkward around people, but that’s not the case with Rose and Alf. Seth instantly bonds with the shy boy and is eager to help Rose make her dream of a family come true. But when their future with Alf is threatened, will Seth and Rose find the courage to embrace the love they’ve found in each other?

Alf glowed with pleasure. “Now you dance.” He took Seth’s large hand and placed it in Rose’s.

When she slipped her hand into his, Seth straightened and hesitantly began guiding her in wide circles.

“See? I told you. You’re dancing.” Alf was jittery with excitement.

“We’ve made at least one person happy,” Rose commented, nodding toward the boy.

Seth didn’t immediately answer. Then, squeezing her hand gently and drawing her a bit closer, he said, “Maybe two, or dare I hope, three?”

Her heart fluttered out of all proportion to the words he’d spoken, words she wasn’t sure how to interpret. Caught up in the spell of the moment, she couldn’t think how to answer him.

Just as the music ceased, she heard him mumble, “Well, two anyway.”

As she moved toward a vacant seat, the next dance began.

“Quite a lad,” Seth said, sitting down beside her.

“He adores you, Seth.”
As do I.

Books by Laura Abbot

Love Inspired Historical

Into the Wilderness
The Gift of a Child


Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Laura Abbot was deeply influenced by her favorite literary character, Jo from
Little Women. If only,
Laura thought,
I could write stories, too.
Many years later, after a twenty-five-year career as a high school English teacher and independent school administrator, Laura’s ambition was unexpectedly realized. When she and her husband took early retirement and built their dream home on Beaver Lake outside Eureka Springs, Arkansas, he bought her a new computer and uttered these life-changing words: “You always said you wanted to write. Now sit down and
it!” Happily, she sold her first attempt to Harlequin Superromance, a success followed by fourteen more sales to the same line.

Other professional credentials include serving as an educational consultant and speaker. Active in her church, Laura is a licensed lay preacher. Her greatest pride, however, is her children—all productive, caring adults and parents—who have given her eleven remarkable, resilient (but who’s prejudiced?) grandchildren, including at least three who show talent in writing and may pursue it as a career. Jo March, look what you started! Laura enjoys corresponding with readers. Please write her at
[email protected]
, referencing the book title in the subject line.


Laura Abbot

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.


My beloved brother Chuck took the time to read an early manuscript of this story aloud to his dear mother-in-law, Olene Roberts, now legally blind. This book is dedicated with love to them both for their encouragement and welcome suggestions.

Chapter One

May 1873

unbeams danced across the altar. The pump organ filled the church with a soothing prelude. But in a place where she should have been at peace, Rose Kellogg bowed her head in shame. An unwelcome emotion rioted through her. There was no avoiding the issue or assigning a different name to her feelings. She was guilty of envy. Worse yet, it was her beloved sister she envied.

She and her younger sister Lily had always been best friends. Never had she coveted Lily’s dolls or wished she had her honey-blond hair and flawless complexion. When they had lived at Fort Larned, Kansas, where their father was post surgeon, Rose, the plainer of the two, had understood that Lily, not she, would receive the attentions of the young officers. Nor had she resented her sister’s opportunity to spend months with their wealthy aunt in St. Louis. Even when Lily had married handsome Caleb Montgomery, Rose had rejoiced in their happiness, content in her role as her widowed father’s housekeeper.

At the ripe old age of twenty-seven, she had made peace with the fact it was unlikely she would ever marry.

Caleb and Lily sat in a front pew, Lily cradling their toddler daughter, Mattie. Behind them sat Caleb’s father Andrew, his sister Sophie and his older brother Seth, a gentle giant of a man who doted on Mattie just as Rose did. She watched Lily brush a hand across Mattie’s light-brown curls. To escape from her thoughts, Rose nestled closer to her father. What kind of person begrudges her sister her happiness?

Twisting her hands in her lap, she uttered a silent prayer.
Lord, forgive me the sin of envy. Help me to accept with grace the path You have given me.
Rose knew the prayer should end there, but she couldn’t help adding to it.
And, Lord, somehow, if it be Your will, send me a child of my own.

Pastor Dooley’s voice interrupted her reverie. “Let all the little ones come forward.” The minister then seated himself on the altar steps. Some youngsters bounced to the front, eager for attention, while others clung to a parent before leaving the safety of the pew. An older girl took Mattie by the hand, led her to the front and settled the child in her lap. Mattie clapped her tiny hands in delight.

After the minister welcomed them all by name, he opened his Bible to Jesus’s words. “‘Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.’”

Pastor Dooley closed his Bible, his gaze roaming from adult to adult. “My friends, what riches we see here.” He gestured at the children. “Innocence, vitality, possibility. These boys and girls are not nuisances or burdens as the disciples at first suggested, rather each is a cherished gift from God.”

Rose gripped her hymnal against the stabbing ache in her chest.
A cherished gift from God.
A gift she was to be denied.

Dimly she heard the minister urge the congregation to accept the kingdom of God with the innocence and enthusiasm of a child. Then he dismissed the children to their families. When Mattie faced the congregation, her blue eyes widened as she spotted Rose. She hurtled past her parents and into Rose’s arms. “Woze, my Woze. I seed you!”

Rose curled the girl into her lap, fighting sudden tears. Mattie leaned back with a contented sigh and began sucking her thumb. Looking over the child’s head, Rose saw Lily beaming at her. Then Seth Montgomery caught her eye, and the comfort of his broad smile and approving wink settled her nerves. She had Mattie. Granted, she was not a daughter, only a niece, but she was a gift from God. For Rose, it would have to be enough.

* * *

The following Saturday, Seth Montgomery, mending a harness in the barn, was startled to see his sister, Sophie, marching toward him with fire sparking from her eyes. The eleven-year difference in their ages had never daunted her when she wanted to charm him into doing her will. She stopped in front of him, tapping her toe. “Seth Mayfield Montgomery, what is this?” From behind her back, she pulled a white shirt, smeared with grass and mud stains.

“Seems to be my Sunday-go-to-meeting shirt.”

She tossed it into his lap. “Today is Saturday, and wash day, as you well know, is Thursday. Furthermore, I found this poked under your bed.” She shook her head. “I am not your maid. I pity the poor person you marry.”

His mind turned to the women Sophie had tried to foist on him—the overbearing schoolmarm with the stubby legs and the Widow Spencer, agreeable enough to look at despite being five years older than him, and who needed a stepfather for her five unruly children. Then there was Rose Kellogg, a fine woman and excellent cook, but she was more friend than prospect.

Besides, he had reconciled himself to bachelorhood. Life was simpler that way. Less prone to complications and the kind of hurt he had witnessed in his father as a result of his mother’s untimely death.

Seth reluctantly picked up the shirt. “It’s a mess,” he admitted.

“It looks like you wore it to wrestle a calf.”

He didn’t figure it would help his cause to admit that that was precisely how he had soiled the shirt. “I’ll stay home tomorrow.”

“Oh, no, you don’t. Surely you don’t want to miss the ice cream social fund-raiser for the Library Society after services.”

Despite his aversion to large community gatherings, his mouth watered in anticipation. “No, I guess not.”

“Let’s make a deal. You need a clean shirt and I need a ride home from town late tomorrow afternoon.” She paused as if gathering courage. “After the social, I’ve been invited for a buggy ride.”

He restrained the growl rumbling in his chest. “Buggy ride? With anybody I know?” The fight seemed to go out of her, replaced by an imploring look. Seth sighed. “I should’ve known. It’s Charlie Devane.”

“I like him, Seth. Please?”

He could never deny her anything, even as an irrational protective instinct warred with the reality that she was twenty-one years old. “Do I have a choice?”

“Not if you want a clean shirt by tomorrow morning.” She took the garment from him and started toward the house. “It’s a lovely day,” she called over her shoulder, “so when my chores are done, let’s ride out to check on the cattle.”

Hardly had he finished the harness repair, when Sophie came flying out of the house wearing her riding skirt with britches showing underneath, a plaid flannel shirt, boots and one of his father’s old felt hats. “I’ve attended to the shirt, the stew is simmering and Pa’s working on the ledgers, so let’s go.”

“Saddle up, then.” He glanced at the sun, reckoning they’d have three hours or so of riding. He was eager to check on the calves. His brother, Caleb, had commented the other evening about seeing more coyotes than usual. There was much beyond their control in ranching life—predators, storms, prairie fires, rustlers—but he wouldn’t trade the challenge for anything.

He had just saddled his pinto, Patches, when Sophie trotted up, mounted on her black mare, Mandy.

“Race you to the creek,” Sophie hollered, and before Seth could collect himself, she was ahead of him. Her hat blew off, held only by the string tie, and her carroty-red curls glinted in the sun. After catching up to her, Seth spurred his horse, reaching the creek first.

“You didn’t give me a fair start, but I won anyway.”

She loosened the reins for Mandy to get a drink. “Men like coming in first.” She grinned impishly. “Maybe I let you.”

“When did you start paying attention to what men like?”

“I’ve lived with them my whole life. I would never have gotten my way without exploiting the habits of you males.”

Seth mustered a wry grin. “Charlie Devane has his work cut out for him.”

They rode side by side to the far pasture. Some cows rested by the small pond, while others grazed, their calves following closely. The rain of the previous night had washed the landscape in vivid color. Seth pulled a small notebook from his pocket and made a notation of the number of calves. Three new ones since his last visit.

“It’s beautiful,” Sophie said, taking in the panorama. “I liked Missouri,” she said, referring to where the Montgomerys had lived until after the War Between the States, “but this is special.”

By way of answer, Seth merely grunted. Not all of his memories of Missouri were positive. School, for instance. He’d never been the student Caleb was. Things didn’t come as easily to him. Nobody had ever called him “stupid,” but the message had been communicated just as effectively through his schoolmates’ stifled giggles and eye-rolling. His face still burned when he recalled standing at the blackboard agonizing over his spelling while the rest of the class stared at him. Maybe he could’ve endured that, but being a head taller than his peers, and gangly at that, had been another source of embarrassment. He still remembered the school-yard chant directed at him:

Goliath, Goliath, you standeth so higheth.

You almost can toucheth the sky-eth!

Giant, giant, GIANT!

Before she died giving birth to Sophie, his mother, and later his father, had assured him his size was an enviable characteristic and that rather than academics, his strength and his talent for making things would be the envy of others. He never quite believed them.

Preoccupied with the past, he hadn’t noticed his sister ride off toward the spring hidden beneath the limestone ledge at the boundary of their property. By the time he joined her, she had dismounted and was hunkering near the spring studying something on the ground. “Look, Seth. This is strange.”

He hopped off Patches, squatted beside her and immediately saw the source of her curiosity. In the damp ground around the spring pool was a recent set of footprints. Before the rain a few hours ago, the soil had been dry. “Boots. Somebody’s been here.”

“That’s not all. Look here.” Sophie pointed to a couple of prints half obscured by the mud near the flowing water. “They’re tiny.”

Seth squinted. “Sure are.” The thought of a child wandering around the place conjured the unwelcome image of a ravenous coyote.

Sophie looked up. “Who do you suppose?”

“Drifters, maybe. Indians passing through. Hard to tell.” He got a drink, then mounted his horse. “Let’s ride home along the creek to check for campsites.”

The sun beat down as they made their way back to the house, alert for hoofprints or other evidence of unwelcome visitors. Nothing. Seth couldn’t help thinking of Sheriff Jensen’s recent warning concerning unsavory elements in the territory. Even though the footprints suggested a single adult and a child, not a gang, the idea of strangers on their property was unsettling.

* * *

The next day after church services, folks gathered on the banks of the Cottonwood River at the base of the main street where the Library Society had erected tables in preparation for the ice cream social. A warm breeze whispered through the leaves of the trees bordering the water, and lilacs perfumed the air. Families were still arriving, spreading quilts on the ground. Some children scampered across the grass chasing rubber balls, while others rode on the merry-go-round or played on the seesaw.

Smiling with satisfaction, Rose watched her friend Bess Stanton approach. A widow and former Civil War nurse, Bess had recently relocated from Maine to be near her sister and had volunteered to help Rose organize today’s event.

“Looks like a success,” Bess said. “Thank you for asking me to help.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you.” Rose hoped to soon introduce Bess to her father. Their war experiences should give them a great deal in common and she could perhaps be of some use in easing Papa’s case load.

When two o’clock approached, the crowd moved toward the bandstand where the Library Society president would make a short speech. At least Rose hoped it would be short. Too long and they risked melted ice cream.

As Rose and Bess made their way closer to the bandstand, Rose saw Lily and Caleb before she spotted Mattie. Rose held out her arms, but to her surprise the child scampered right on past her. “Unca, Unca!”

Seth stood just behind Rose. He knelt down as Mattie approached, a broad grin on his face. “Come to Uncle Seth, sweetheart,” he called. And that’s exactly what she did—catapulting herself into his arms. The sight of the trusting little girl in the big man’s arms made Rose smile. Seth’s tenderness, which seemed incongruous with his brawny build, was one of the reasons Rose liked him so much.

Lily and Caleb joined Rose in admiring the tableau. “I’ve never seen my brother so besotted,” Caleb said.

Lily laced her arm through her husband’s. “You’re pretty besotted yourself, Captain.”

Just then the mayor called for order. Blessedly, he was brief in his introduction of the Library Society president, Willa Stone, who thanked everyone for coming out to support the efforts to begin a library with their donations. She concluded by saying, “If you ladies serving the ice cream will move to your places, the feasting can begin.”

The applause was robust, and on every side, children broke away from their parents to line up with their spoons and bowls. Rose moved among the servers, helping wherever there was a delay. Her hair had come loose around her face in the effort of scooping. Finally there was a lull, and she wiped her forehead on her sleeve.

“Is there any more?” She looked up to see Seth standing before her, holding out his bowl. “I liked the sample.”

“Second and third helpings are our specialty,” Rose answered, “Provided, of course, that you make it worth the Library Society’s while.”

“I wouldn’t short you ladies for anything.”

Rose dug deep into the freezer can she had brought and piled his bowl with rich chocolate ice cream. “You fancy chocolate?”

“Yes, ma’am, but then I always fancy your cooking.”

Rose hoped he thought her blush resulted from the heat. “Thank you.” He seemed reluctant to leave, but neither managed to find the words to prolong the conversation, so when the pastor’s boy arrived for seconds, Seth turned away, and for some reason, Rose felt disappointed.

BOOK: The Gift of a Child
5.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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