Title of Book: The Legacy of Deer Run (Book 3 in the Deer Run Saga)
Publisher: Sword of the Spirit Publishing
Genre: Historical Romance
Book Excerpt: The Legacy of Deer Run by Elaine Marie Cooper
(From Chapter 3)
It seemed like an hour had passed, but it took a mere fifteen minutes for the wooden ferry to reach West Springfield. As the ferry workers unfolded the ramp, it landed with a thud on the shore. The passengers disembarked. Susannah refused to look at the man who had monopolized her attention and followed the others on the pathway leading up the hill toward the building site. A group of men were being served breakfast on long tables set up for the gathering.
A middle-aged woman with cherubic cheeks and an impish smile approached Susannah.
“Good day, my dear. We have not been formally introduced but I have met your kind father and I do so see your resemblance to him. I am Missus John Ashley, consort of Deacon Ashley who is behind this inspiring project. Thank you for agreeing to help serve our workers on this noble construction of First Church.”
The woman’s smile was so engaging, Susannah could not help but feel her heart warmed.
“Good day, Missus Ashley. I am most anxious to be of service in this fine project. This is my maid, Modesty.”
“Welcome to you, as well. And such a lovely day we are blessed with!” The woman fairly oozed enthusiasm. “My dear husband says it is not just a fine project but a most necessary one. Why, the last meetinghouse was worse in the rain than if we’d been standing underneath an open cloud! But come, let me show you where you’ll be helping.”
Missus Ashley gently drew the taller young woman to the huge kettles of simmering stews.
“Here is an apron, my dear. No sense in soiling your fine dimity.”
Susannah left her bonnet on to protect her skin from the sunlight, but removed her pelisse and laid it carefully on an empty chair. Tying the linen apron around her slender waist, she smoothed the crisp material and looked around, wondering where to start.
“Several new workers have just arrived, Miss Dobbins. Why don’t you carry these plates to them?” The older woman handed her two plates and then two more to Modesty.
Walking toward the long cloth-covered tableboard, Susannah slowed her walking pace as her heart quickened. The man with the green eyes.
Modesty saw him at the same instant.
“Oooo, miss, there he is.” She giggled, far too loudly.
“Hush, Modesty.” Susannah whispered harshly, her cheeks flaming.
Taking a deep breath, she approached the hatless man and his friend.
“May I serve you, gentlemen?”
Why I am calling these workers “gentlemen”?
Susannah was all too aware that these men were not of her class.
So why am I so nervous?
“Thank you, miss.” The blond-haired worker who still had his woolen cap intact grinned awkwardly. “Not exactly used to such service from a fine lady.”
Susannah noticed Green Eyes furrowing his eyebrows sternly at his friend. Then those eyes met hers.
“Thank you, miss.” He took the plate carefully and stared up at her before setting it down. Picking up his pewter fork, he gingerly moved the food around, as if afraid it might be poison.
She tried to smother her rising irritation. “Is the food not to your liking, sir?”
He looked up at her again and stared for a moment.
“’Tis fine, miss.”
Where have I seen that face?
She started to move away, but the blond-haired friend gave an embarrassed grin.
“He’s not quite himself today. Had too late a night with the boys. Didn’t ya?” He poked his hatless friend in the side and laughed. The man turned a deep shade of red but did not look up at Susannah.
So that’s where I’ve seen that face. The drunk in the street! Wretched man. And now here to help in the Lord’s work? Outrageous.
She stalked away, followed closely by Modesty. The servant girl turned toward Susannah as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Did you see those fine green eyes? Wouldn’t you like to look at those every morning?” Her enthusiastic giggles threatened to turn the conversation downright bawdy.
“Modesty! If you please! We will not indulge our salacious natures in our thoughts or our speech. Is that clear?”
The servant’s countenance fell. “Yes, miss.” Her voice lowered almost to a whisper.
Susannah turned back toward the kettles to collect more serving plates.
Why did Father ask me to come here. I just want to go home.
At the thought of home, Susannah nearly burst into tears.
I cannot cry here. Certainly not in view of complete strangers.
She turned away from the kettles, widened her eyes and sniffed sharply. Refusing to give in to her grieving heart, she refocused on the task at hand.
The satiated workers began to vacate the tables one-by-one. Susannah watched most of the men stretch their limbs and pat their leather work belts before heading toward the wood frame of the new church building. But Green Eyes remained at his table, eating slowly.
Clearing away the dirty plates, Susannah felt someone’s hands gently grab her arms from behind. Missus Ashley was at her side, her sparkling smile brimming with mischief.
“Miss Dobbins, why don’t you sit for awhile? You’ve been working so hard and you are still recovering from your long journey to Springfield. Come sit here, my dear.”
Much to Susannah’s horror, Missus Ashley navigated Susannah over to the table where Green Eyes sat. He was obviously laboring to finish his first plate when Missus Ashley plopped Susannah down on the bench next to him, much too close.
She quickly inched away.
“Miss Dobbins, I would like you to meet Mr. Daniel Lowe. He is one of our fine workers at the armory as well as a regular congregant of First Church. A fine Christian man.”
Susannah narrowed her gaze.
She wanted to say, “Is that so?” Only her mother’s training in manners rescued her from inflicting insult.
She cleared her throat.
“So pleased to meet you, Mr. Lowe.”
“There. Now you are acquainted, I shall return to my tasks.” Missus Ashley gave a positively mischievous grin to the two before heading back to the kettles.
An awkward silence followed the departure of Missus Ashley, though Susannah could hear the woman giggling in the distance with another cook.
Side-by-side, they both looked down at the table. Susannah fidgeted with her thumbs and Mr. Lowe nervously rubbed his hand through one side of his hair. Just when Susannah thought she could not take the tension any further, the workman spoke up.
“Miss Dobbins, it is quite obvious how…uncomfortable…you are in my presence. Please do not feel obliged to remain here and entertain me.” His voice was surprisingly smooth and well spoken. Not at all what she imagined.
She glanced up at his eyes, which were fixed upon her. She cleared her throat.
“Mr. Lowe, it is not that I am uncomfortable…” She closed her mouth when he began to shake his head and gave a low, dismissive grunt.
“Please, Miss Dobbins. There is no need to explain. ’Tis quite obvious that I am not…shall we say…well-suited to your station in life.” His face grew sober and he rubbed his head as though it were in pain.
“It is not just your station, sir…”
“Ah, see, I was right.”
She flustered and sat up straighter. “That you are a workman notwithstanding, your behavior of last night was appalling. I find it quite shocking that you would carry on with your drunkenness and then make a mockery of helping to build a church. The Lord’s meetinghouse!”
Mr. Lowe glared back. He kept his voice low but his words were pointed.
“Is it your custom, Miss Dobbins, to display yourself at your window for all to see?”
Susannah gasped and threw her hands across her bodice.
“How dare you accuse me of such behavior! I…I…was merely preparing to retire for the night when I was disturbed by you and your drunken friends.”
His gaze penetrating her to the core, Mr. Lowe leaned closer.
I wish his eyes were not so disarming. He was leaning so close she could feel his breath.
“You seem to so easily pass judgment on me, Miss Dobbins.”
She thought she saw pain glaze across his expression. He continued. “You know naught of me. And perhaps it is better that way…for both of us.”
He grabbed his cloth napkin and wiped it fiercely across his mouth. Throwing it on the table, he stood up and lifted his long legs one at a time over the bench. Grabbing his hammer from his work belt, he stormed toward the construction site.
She sat there for a moment, heart pounding and temples throbbing.
Within moments, Missus Ashley appeared.
“I see you two were getting to know one another.” There was that impish smile lighting up her soft face.
“Yes. We certainly were.”
Susannah’s throat felt parched, making it difficult to swallow. She grabbed a tankard of cider and took a long, unladylike swig.
Still shaking from the encounter, she barely concentrated on listening to Missus Ashley.
“…such a shame about his family…”
Susannah was suddenly alert. “Shame? What shame?”
She noted the older woman’s sad expression.
“Why, his brother’s wife—his twin brother, no less. The wife died giving birth, poor lass. Dan has not been himself since he got the news. Rode twenty miles to and from the burial just yesterday, I hear.”
Deep regret swarmed over Susannah’s heart.
Looking down at her lap, she stammered. “No. No…I did not know.”
“Dan is very close to his family. But work was not to be found in his village of Deer Run so he had to leave and find work at the armory. And a right fine worker he is, says Mr. Ames. He’s the superintendent, you know.”
Missus Ashley paused briefly.
“Are you alright, my dear? You seem rather pale. Perhaps you should sit under the chestnut tree and rest.”
“Yes, perhaps I should.”
She rose with difficulty and managed to make her way to the shade of the overhanging limbs, despite her tremulous limbs. She sat on a blanket that Missus Ashley laid on the ground. Leaning back on the trunk, she exhaled slowly.
So he grieves as well. What have I done?
Elaine Marie Cooper is the author of The Road to Deer Run (Finalist in Next Generation Indie Book Awards for Religious Fiction, Honorable Mention in Romance at 2011 Los Angeles Book Festival) and The Promise of Deer Run (Romance Winner for 2012 Los Angeles Book Festival, Finalist in Religious Fiction for ForeWord Review Book of the Year). Cooper is also a contributing writer for Fighting Fear: Winning the War at Home by Edie Melson. She is a wife, mom, Grammie to triplets, and a registered nurse.
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