© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Chapter 1

Tumwater, Washington

December 1882


"I’VE DECIDED TO THROW CAUTION to the wind and tell E.V. how I feel,” Larkin Whitworth happily announced before plopping down in the wooden chair despite the fullness of her skirts and petticoats. She handed Anna the punch cup she’d refilled for the fifth time since Emma and Frederick’s wedding celebration began. Considering how quickly her adorably—and abundantly—pregnant friend downed the apricot-flavored beverage, Larkin also offered the second cup she’d brought for herself while Anna’s doting husband, Jeremiah, fetched a second plate of egg salad sandwiches.


“Really?” Anna exchanged the full cup with the empty one. “I can’t figure why I’m so parched all day long.”


“You’re expecting. I think that’s expected.”


“I suppose.” Anna fanned her sweat-glistened forehead. “Are you hot? I’m hot. It’s hot.”


As the fiddling increased in volume, signaling the beginning of another dance, Larkin took the fan from Anna and attended to cooling her tillikum, closest friend. Mama would be proud she was at least thinking Chinook jargon.


“I’m fine, but the Farmer’s Almanac did predict a warm though wet—”


At Anna’s raised hand, Larkin fell silent.


“We are both too young and the wrong gender to be discussing weather.” Instead of drinking her punch, Anna gave Larkin a slant-eyed look. “Are you really going to tell Mr. Heartless Renier that you love him?”


Larkin glanced at E.V. His smooth face and sun-brightened hair made him easy to find among the many bearded and mustached men in the room. “Yes, and he isn’t heartless, and the almanac conveys a wealth of information even women in the bloom of their youth can appreciate.”


“Again, you know my rule against almanac talk. Shh. Now what, pray tell, do you call someone who convinces a girl he loves her”—Anna sipped the punch—“and then allows almost two years to pass without proposing? Or at least asking to court her?”


Larkin smiled. “He’s—he’s—” Her grin faltered somewhat, and she stopped fanning Anna. “Well, he’s judicious.” She hoped her tone conveyed every ounce of confidence she had in E.V.despite the tinge of doubt that seemed to be growing with each passing day.


“Judicious? Someone has been spending too much time reading.” With a disappointed shake of her head that caused her floral-decked straw hat to tilt a fraction, Anna muttered, “I had a different descriptive in mind.”


“Like what?”


Anna shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something that rhymes with trout.” She reclaimed the fan from Larkin and resumed fanning herself.


Larkin looked to the bridal couple doing a Virginia reel in the center of the warm barn with a score of other Tumwater residents,including E.V. and Abigail Leonard. Granted, E.V. didn’t seemto be enjoying the dance as much as the other dancers were. Of course, Emma and Frederick Corrigan were newly married and thereby unable to not enjoy the moment.


Besides, E.V. had never made any overt claims on any woman since arriving in Tumwater two autumns ago, so Larkin had no cause to be jealous or wary or fretful.


Still, this was his third—third!—dance with Abigail.


And he had been spending more time than usual with Abigail’s father, who was also spending more time than usual at E.V.’s sawmill. In fact, every time Larkin had walked by Renier Lumber Company during the last week—which was only because she passed it on her way to take lunch to her father at the brewery—she’d noticed Mr. Leonard’s impressive roan gelding tied to ahitching post. If he was buying lumber, wouldn’t he have brought a wagon?


Gripping the empty punch glass and resting her hands on her knees, Larkin’s shoulders drooped just a fraction. The corset her mother required her to wear wouldn’t allow an unladylike slump under her new yellow-and-ivory-striped gown. The gown her mother had insisted they go to Olympia to buy specifically for the wedding. After all, they needed to have another fitting on her Christmas gown anyway, or so Mama had justified to Papa. Since they were at the modiste’s shop, being the kill-two-birds-with-one-stone person she was, Mama also bought a new gown for Larkin to wear to Anna’s twentieth birthday party ina month. That brocade dress, unlike this year’s burnished-gold Christmas one, was the exact shade of the limes grown in Mama’s conservatory.


Lime next to Anna’s ivory-with-a-touch-of-coral complexion was beautiful.


Lime next to the copper-toned skin Larkin had inherited from her one-quarter Chinook mother was practically morbid.Not that Larkin would suggest that to Mama, whose 1891 obsession apparently was with the color green. One of these days,though, she would convince her mother that every special event did not require a new gown. Certainly not one in a greenish hue.Or yellow, the color for the year of our Lord 1890. Or purple—Mama’s earlier obsession. Or 1887’s dreadful Year of the Orange.


She cringed in memory.


Why did Mama have to favor vibrant, look-at-me shades? As if the fanciness of Larkin’s gowns weren’t attention-demanding enough, Mama had to add rich, bold color. Larkin loved beige,muted browns, and earthy golds that subtly blended in with the surroundings.


Everyone in Tumwater knew Larkin was an heiress. The white Whitworth mansion ostentatiously located on a prominent cornern ear the center of town was enough of a daily reminder. She didn’t need to be dressed like an unapproachable china doll for people to treat her differently.


Still, remembering that others were watching, Larkin sat uplike a proper lady, so as to not bring any dishonor on her parents,and refocused on her agenda. The one that had begun after E.V.escorted Abigail to the dance floor for the third—third!—time. 


She almost felt a tad angry.


All right, she did feel a tad angry. . .in fact, more than a tad angry.


“I think I shall confront E.V. once this dance is over.”


“Confront? You?”


“I can confront.” At Anna’s dubious look, she added, “Why do you think I’m incapable of confronting someone?”


“Just where did Tuck go to find those sandwiches?” Anna rested her empty punch glass atop the empty one Larkin held. She rubbed the shifting bump on her almost-nine-month tummy. “This babe is a prized whopper in the making. Larky, you can do better than E.V. Renier. I think—”


“Please don’t mention—”


“Willum Tate,” Anna continued without skipping a beat, “personifies faithfulness and, according to the grapevine telegraph, those green eyes have stopped many Tumwater ladies in their tracks.”


Larkin said nothing because she was used to Anna’s weekly Willum Tate exaltation. And, truly, letting Anna have her say wasfar easier than trying to explain that she had no romantic feelings toward the impeccable-though-surly carpenter. Life had been pleasant when plucky, fun-loving Anna fished, rummaged through the woods, and swam in the creek with Larkin. Before she ever noticed that members of the opposite gender were, well,quite appealing. Or at least Jeremiah Tucker was.


Anna leaned closer and spoke low even though they were the only two in this corner of the barn. “Kathleen said when she was in the mercantile this morning she heard Mrs. Bollen tell her daughter-in-law Martha that she heard cranky ol’ Mrs. Ellis complimenting Willum Tate at the livery to Mr. and Mrs. Parker, and Mrs. Ellis doesn’t compliment anyone but you. Ever.”


“Why do you think that is?” Larkin asked to distract Anna from praising the splendidly handsome Mr. Tate, who was currently dancing with Anna’s sister even while oddly focused on Natalie Bollen, who was dancing with the handsome-but-not-as-quite Mr. John Seymour, who the grapevine telegraph seemed convinced would be Natalie’s first official suitor once she turned eighteen next June. Larkin quickly added, “About people sayingMrs. Ellis is cranky. She is quite a dear heart once you get to know her. I don’t understand why everyone in town hates her. Poor Mrs.Ellis is truly misunderstood.”


Anna didn’t answer. Instead she stared at Larkin for what seemed to be a minute or two.


“My friend,” she finally said, “you aren’t and will never be crafty. There’s nice, and then there’s you—nicer than nice. You’re sweet, sincere, and selfless.”


“Thank you, but you’re as sweet—”


“Shh. I have never heard either you or Mr. Tate say anything critical about that ornery old woman who almost shot off my left foot when I came within two feet of her back fence because I foolishly—and incorrectly—thought that the skunk chasing mewas worse than Mrs. Ellis. You and Willum are clearly suited.”


“And E.V. and I aren’t?”


“It’s been two years, Larky. If he really cared about you, he’d have asked to court you by now. E.V. doesn’t deserve you. WillumTate, though, needs a good woman.”


After a sigh at hearing the name of the man Anna had championed this year as the ideal husband. . .after mine of course, Larkin thought back to Anna’s descriptive of E.V. rhyming withtrout. “There’s no fitting word for E.V. that rhymes with—”


“Lout,” Anna blurted.


Larkin rolled her eyes. “He isn’t a lout.”




“That’s a disease.”


“Indian scout, unbearably stout, German bean sprout.”


Larkin fought back her smile. “Now you’re being silly.”


A smug grin teetered on Anna’s lips. Her brown-eyed gaze shifted from Larkin to the dancers, then back to Larkin, and her voice softened with what seemed—no, felt—like sympathy. “Doubt.”


Larkin dropped her gaze to the yellow shoes peeking out from the ankle-length ivory-lace hem of her gown. She poked at the straw under her toes. That tingle of doubt she’d been trying to ignore rang like the bells she’d received the last two Christmases from an anonymous admirer. She liked to dream they were from the blond man with an adorable cleft in his chin, the man who gave her such tender attention the first autumn he moved into Tumwater, the man who faithfully attended worship services and always sat in the pew one row back and to the left of her, and who bought her meal baskets at every church auction.

The quiet sawmiller who every Wednesday at a quarter past nine met her at the front steps to the Bollens’ parsonage and delivered half a ham while she brought a basket of pies or fruit,and then walked her home. Even on the days it rained, which was most days, after all, because when did it not rain in the Washington Cascades?

A man that faithful, that consistent, had to care, right?