How many times will an orphan be cast aside before someone offers love?
Shauna Joyce has three weeks to find a husband or face watching a special little girl fall into the hands of loveless parents. An orphan herself, she knows the heartache of growing up without love. Armed with a need greater than her own, she finds a likely candidate in bridge-builder, Kane McKenna.
Kane McKenna has one goal; to finish the bridge he’s erecting so he can earn the capital needed to start a business of his own. A wife and child would drain his finances, so when Shauna Joyce proposes marriage, he balks at the idea. Will her determination be enough to build the bridge of trust needed to make him trade one dream for another?
“You plan to have the babe out of wedlock?” Kane scratched his head.
She looked skyward and gritted her teeth. Was the man dense? “Can you stop walking? It’s hard to talk to you at this pace.”
He slowed but continued to walk. “Daylight’s a wasting and I’ve got a deadline.”
“Will you at least let me explain so you can stop the rumors?”
Her foot caught a gopher hole, and she tripped, falling headlong onto the hard ground. She cried out when her elbow kissed the ground.
“Goodness, you’re a walking calamity. First pickles and now, a sprawl in the grass. You wouldn’t perchance be related to me Aunt Nell?”
She groaned and rolled to her knees. Every joint ached. Twigs and grass stuck to her dress, and she brushed them away with sore hands. She moaned at the pain and glared at her scraped skin.
“Are you hurt?”
Now he asked. She shook her head. “I’m not sure.”
He grabbed her elbow none too gently and helped her stand. She tested her foot and found herself uninjured. Praise be. An injury would have complicated matters more. “Thank you, Mr. McKenna.”
“You’re welcome. Now, if you doon’t mind, I’d like to be gettin’ back to me work.”
“But . . .”
“Miss Joyce, do you see that armature?” He pointed a finger at the structure. “That’s a mighty important bridge to folks around here. Can you tell me in all honesty that your quest for a hoosband be as important as the building of that bridge?”
She swallowed hard and frowned, thinking of Sarabeth. “For one person, it’s even more important.”
He frowned. “To be sure, and I can sympathize with your plight. Unwed and pregnant must weigh heavy on your mind, but alas, I can noot help you, nor can any of me men. Good day, Miss Joyce.”
She stomped her sore foot and grimaced. “For the last time, I am not expecting!”
Her shout brought the attentions of his workers. Seventeen sets of eyes peered down at her, and the heat rose to her cheeks.
“Now see what you’ve done. You’ve distracted them froom their work again. At this rate, it’ll take me five years to have this bridge completed.”
Where would she go? She’d have left this house years ago if not for her fear of the unknown. Need for security had kept her a prisoner. Coward, coward, coward. Only a coward stayed in a home devoid of love. Where was the security in such a house? A person needed more than food and a place to lay their head. A body needed the emotional nurturing from another warm soul. By God, she refused to let Sarabeth live in a loveless prison.
She snatched up what few items she dared take. After stuffing a comb, toothbrush and a change of clothing into a small knapsack, she pulled the bottom drawer completely out of the dresser and reached underneath for a packet that contained fifteen years worth of savings. While renting the wagon and buying ingredients for pies had put a dent in the amount, she still had plenty to live comfortably for about two weeks. She stuffed the money into her pocket, hefted the knapsack over her shoulder and stormed from the room.
The three adults remained near the door. She brushed past them without a word. To think she’d entertained the notion that Kane McKenna would make a fine husband. She’d learned a valuable lesson, though. First impressions could not be trusted. She’d fallen for Darrell’s charm and look how that had turned out. No, first impressions were not always what they seemed.
The moment she left the house, a sense of freedom flooded her body. No matter how frightening the future seemed, she was now free of the Clevingers' influence, free to live her own life. Perhaps she owed Mr. McKenna her gratitude for setting in motion the catalyst for change.
The door clicked shut, and she took a deep breath. Even the air smelled different, cleaner. She smiled, and her feet itched to dance. First things first, though. With only a sliver of moon to light the path, she ventured toward town to find accommodations for the night.
A brisk pace propelled her forward. Eager to be settled for the evening, she almost skipped along the road.
“Noot so fast, lassie.” A huge hand clamped down on her shoulder. “You still owe me a wee bit of coin.”
She stifled a scream and whirled toward Mr. McKenna. “I’ll thank you to remove your hand from my person.”
“And to think, this very afternoon, you wanted me hands all over your person.”
She dropped her jaw and stared, clutching her meager possessions to her breast. “I wanted no such thing.”
“Is that noot what a hoosband would do if he were to marry you? And did you noot proposition me along with four other men?”
She scoffed. “Believe what you want, but I had a good reason for doing what I did.” Amazing the chain of events set forth by one, not-so-brilliant idea. Henceforth, she would think twice before listening to Lora Lee’s advice.
She continued to walk, but he stopped her again. “Give me a wee moment to fetch me horse, and I’ll offer you a ride into town.”
“No, thank you. I won’t be beholden to you.”
He narrowed his eyes and punched a finger in her direction. “I’ll noot let you walk the distance by yourself withoot an escort. The streets are noot safe at night.”
She skirted away from the accusing finger. “Well, I don’t need your chivalry. I’d sooner have Jack-the-Ripper walk me to town.”
“Aye, my point exactly. You are a blood-thirsty witch.” He chuckled.
She shot him a glance. “I’m sorry your men fell ill, but it wasn’t the pie.”
“Perhaps noot, boot you have to agree that the evidence against you is overwhelming.”
“Is it?” She sighed. “Could it have been something they ate at lunch prior to sampling my baking?”
He scratched his chin. “I ate alongside them, and I’m noot sick.”
“Will they be all right?”
“Aye. They took to their pallets aboot a half hour after you left. I went for the doctor, and he and I tended them until the worst passed. They’re resting noo.”
She frowned. Would bad food have caused such a reaction so soon after partaking of the meal? She thought not. More likely, it was something they ate at noon or even breakfast. Either way, he’d accused her unjustly.
“Best fetch your horse before you go too much farther or you’ll just have to double back.” And before she began dreaming again. Already, the nearness of Kane did strange things to her insides, but with his inability to look past circumstantial evidence, he was not the man for her. She wanted him gone, so she could contemplate all that had happened this evening.
“I still doon’t like the idea of a woman walking alone at night.”
“Nyesville is a small, quiet town. Trust me. My only real worry is you.”