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Rescuing the Blacksmith

A wedding and a baby...

Brides of Cedar Falls #4:

Christmas evening


Laura stood by the window in her upstairs bedroom, unable to settle down for the evening. She was too restless to take a seat and read by candlelight, like she normally did. So far, she’d done nothing more than lay out her nightgown on the bed. Sleep felt very far away. She was far too happy, too excited, too brimming with plans for the future. So much had happened today — so many beautiful, wonderful things!


Like getting engaged to Wyatt James.


It felt like she was living a chapter in a fairy tale. The last chapter. The best chapter. The one in which the town spinster fell in love with the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom. And the best part about it was that he’d fallen in love with her in return. He acted downright besotted. It was so enchanting and yet so humbling to have a man like him feel this way about her.




After losing her first fiancé during the war, she’d never expected to experience love a second time. Yet here she was, feeling even more swept away than she had been the first time. Maybe because she was older and wiser now. Or maybe it was because the four aching years of grief and loneliness leading up to today made her appreciate everything all the more.


The fact that she was going to be married soon was still sinking in. Actually married, instead of spending the rest of her life in mourning colors!


She held out her left hand toward the firelight, admiring the horseshoe ring Wyatt had slid on her finger after proposing to her. While they’d danced in the parlor afterward, he’d muttered something in her ear about replacing it with something nicer. However, she didn’t want a different ring.


This one was the right one. He’d made it himself at his forge, pouring everything that was on his heart into it. Every intricate detail he’d painstakingly formed in the flames was proof of it.


A distant pounding sound made her grow still. She glanced toward the bedroom door that she’d left open, wondering what was going on. Unless she was mistaken, someone was knocking on the front door of the mansion, which was strange. It was after dark — way too late for visitors.


Spinning back toward the window, she leaned closer to the glass to squint down through the moonlight. Her eyes traced the outline of a carriage and a team of horses waiting on the front circle driveway. Late on Christmas day or not, she and her grandparents had company.


She glided toward the door of her bedroom, thinking it was probably a good thing she’d been unable to settle down after all. In the event her grandparents were already in bed, at least one member of their household was dressed to greet an unexpected visitor.


As she hurried toward the stairwell, a shadowy figure shot toward her in the dimness. She squeaked in alarm and drew back her skirts.


Button’s loud meow met her ears as he fell into step beside her.


“Oh, my goodness!” She gave a sigh of relief to realize it was one of her newest rescue pets, a very cocky ginger cat. “Look at you, coming to escort your mistress down the stairs like a perfect gentleman,” she praised.


He meowed again and arched his back a little, practically prancing the rest of the way to the stairs.

Though he was only a cat, she liked having him by her side as she glided down to the wide foyer below them. As she reached for the door handle, the knocking sounded again — louder and more insistent this time.


“I’m coming,” she called softly, glancing over her shoulder. Neither of her grandparents were in sight. As a precaution, she pulled aside the curtain and peeked through the window beside the door before opening it.


Button meowed and sat back on his haunches, scrabbling at the bottom of the door with both front paws. It was as if he was trying to open it himself, and no wonder.


Joyce Parker’s familiar frame awaited them on the other side of the window. Her round features were scrunched into a frown of worry as she bent her head over the bundle in her arms. A bundle she was rocking in supreme agitation. A bundle that was making sad, whimpering noises.




Laura hastily threw open the deadbolt and yanked open the door. “Come in! Come in!” She frenziedly waved Ms. Parker forward. It was way too cold outdoors for a baby.


Timothy’s wails grew louder as the headmistress of the Cedar Falls Orphanage stepped into the entry foyer. “I’m so sorry to bother you like this on Christmas, my dear.”


“I’m glad you did.” Laura was already reaching for the baby orphan. Her heart thudded with apprehension. “What’s wrong with him?”


Joyce Parker gave her a frazzled look as she swapped the crying infant for the candle holder Laura had been clutching. “He won’t eat, that’s what! It’s been hours since the last time anyone could get him to take a bottle.”


The moment Laura cuddled Timothy close, his weeping grew muffled against her neck. Then he quieted to gentle gasps as his open mouth rooted against her collarbone, making the fabric of her dress grow damp.


“He must be famished.” Laura mechanically reached for the bottle Ms. Parker was holding out to her. It hurt her heart every time she thought about the tiny infant being left on the doorstep of the orphanage in a box. She couldn’t understand why anyone would abandon such a sweet baby. He’d been so tiny, undernourished, and helpless; and he still wasn’t gaining weight nearly as quickly as they would’ve liked.


“I know,” the headmistress sighed, quickly relinquishing the bottle. “The problem is…” She halted in mid-sentence as the baby greedily latched on to the bottle Laura plopped into his mouth.


Silence settled over the room. It was broken only by the faint slurping sounds Timothy was making as he devoured the drink. Button pranced around the center table in the entry foyer, rubbing against its curved legs while purring contentedly.


“Well, I’ll be!” The headmistress shook her head at Timothy’s continued slurping. “I suspected you alone would succeed where all others had failed. It was the only reason I was willing to venture out on a night as cold as this.” She shivered and pulled her cloak tighter around her. “If Mr. James hadn’t waylaid me in front of the livery and offered us a ride the rest of the way, we might’ve frozen solid on the walk here.”


“You walked? Mercy!” Laura blinked at her, aghast. Only a fool would have attempted to do such a thing with a baby, and Joyce Parker was no fool.


“It was a bit of a leap of faith,” the woman admitted with another shiver. “I was earnestly begging the good Lord to help this little fella eat when the idea of paying you a visit popped into my head.” She smiled wryly. “Sometimes you just know the right thing to do, even when it defies all logic.”


Laura nodded dreamily. Sometimes you just know. “And you said Wyatt is the one who drove you here?” The love of my life. She wasn’t surprised. The man possessed a heart as big as Texas.


“That he did. He moved all the more quickly to hitch his team of horses after he learned where we were headed.” Ms. Parker’s eyes snapped with interest. “I hear congratulations are in order for the two of you?”


“Yes.” Laura blushed as she cuddled Timothy closer.


“Which will put you in position to start a family together,” Ms. Parker added, with a sly glance at the baby nestled in Laura’s arms.


Laura’s heart raced at what the woman was implying. She bent her head to brush a kiss against Timothy’s forehead before answering. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”


“I am, my dear.” Joyce Parker’s voice was surprisingly gentle.


“I’ll have to speak to Wyatt about it.” Laura’s voice grew thready with emotion. Rescuing pets was one thing. Adopting a child was a whole different kind of commitment — a lifelong one.


“I was so hoping you’d say that.” Ms. Parker turned back toward the door. She plopped the candle holder on the nearest surface, a credenza with a lacy white cloth covering it. “I’ll just go fetch your affianced, so we can discuss the —”


“Tonight?” Laura suddenly found it harder to breathe. “You want to discuss the adoption tonight?” It was a little late for such matters, wasn’t it?


“Of course, we’ll do it tonight!” Ms. Parker shot her a harried look over her shoulder. “Seeing as you’re the only person in the world who can get this child to eat, it’s a matter of grave importance, indeed.” Her voice grew muffled as she pulled open the front door and stepped outside.


To avoid the swirl of cold air that followed, Laura stepped into the adjoining parlor and took a seat on the edge of the couch. The room would’ve been pitch dark if not for the candle glowing just around the corner on the credenza in the hallway. It was chilly, too, since the fire in the parlor has long since been banked.


It wasn’t simply the coldness in the room that was chilling Laura through and through, though. It was fear and worry.


Adopting a child was a heady proposition. It was something she imagined most couples would put an enormous amount of thought and prayer into. She and Wyatt, on the other hand, had just today gotten engaged. They hadn’t even begun to discuss things like starting a family together. Goodness! They hadn’t so much as discussed a wedding date yet. Springing a proposition this big on him so soon was hardly fair. It was—


The front door opened and closed again. There was a murmur of voices in the foyer. Then Wyatt’s broad shoulders filled the doorway of the parlor. He was holding up a lantern, bringing a much brighter glow to the room.


“Hello, Laura.” Though his expression was unreadable, his gaze found and caressed hers for a breathless moment. “Would you like me to start a fire?”


She nodded wordlessly as a thousand misgivings flooded her. What she wouldn’t give to know what he was thinking right now!


He seemed in no hurry as he expertly started the fire and blew on the flames to coax them higher. Soon, a welcome roar of heat was billowing across the room toward her and Timothy.


“Thank you.” Laura finally found her voice. “For the fire. For bringing Timothy to me. For all you did to help Ms. Parker this evening.”


“My pleasure.” Wyatt strode across the room to take a knee in front of her. “It wasn’t as if I would be sleeping, anyway.” He removed his gloves and reached up to touch her cheek. “I still can’t believe you said yes.” His callused fingers were cool against her skin.


Her face grew even toastier. “I still can’t believe you asked me.”


He winked at her. “Your grandmother all but ordered me to propose to you.”


She blushed harder. “Wyatt, I—”


“Believe me, I’d already planned on asking you, anyway,” he assured in a tender voice, brushing his thumb across the line of her chin. “Admittedly, I wasn’t sure you’d say yes, especially after you became the owner of…” He glanced speakingly around them. “All of this.”


A whole different kind of shiver worked its way through Laura at the reminder of her grandparents’ Christmas gift. They’d gone and deeded their home over to her — lock, stock, and barrel. The mansion, the grounds, and all the outbuildings that came with it.


“I couldn’t possibly keep up a place like this on my own,” she assured him breathlessly.


“So, you think I’ll make a decent groundskeeper, eh?” There was a teasing note in his voice that resonated straight through her.


“There was a bit more to my decision than that.” A breathless chuckle eased out of her. The humor he was injecting into their conversation was making it a lot less awkward than it otherwise would’ve been.


“I imagine you’re also wondering what kind of father I’ll be?” There was nothing whatsoever teasing about his next question.


She blinked and shot a furtive look toward the doorway, suddenly wondering where Ms. Parker had gone.


As if reading her thoughts, Wyatt assured in a husky voice, “She’s gone to the kitchen to put on a kettle of tea. We’re alone. It’s just you, me, the babe, and the all-important decision we need to make about him.”


Laura gasped. “She already told you?”


“It was more of a demand. But yes.” His thumb caressed her chin again. “Ms. Parker stated in no uncertain terms that this little fellow needs a home, and soon. More specifically, she believes he needs a home with you.” He cleared this throat. “Us,” he corrected.


She leaned into his touch. “You and I haven’t yet discussed the matter of, er, starting a family together. Is this something that you would—”




She caught her breath. “You truly want to be a father, Wyatt?” Hope blossomed in her chest.


“Very much so.”


“As for adopting this precious little bundle—”


“Yes,” her groom-to-be repeated in a more fervent voice.


“Wyatt,” she breathed.


“It doesn’t matter how many ways you ask me, the answer is still going to be yes.” He touched her cheek again. “I am ready to marry you, Laura. Ready to be a husband and a father. I want it all, and I want it with you.”


“It feels like everything is happening so quickly,” she whispered.


“Yet not quickly enough.” He reached for the baby in her arms. “May I?”


Catching her lower lip between her teeth, she obligingly relinquished her precious burden to him.


The gentle way he curled one large arm around the baby touched her deeply. So did the wide-eyed, trusting look Timothy gave him as he greedily continued consuming the contents of his bottle.


“Joyce Parker seems anxious to place Timothy in a home as quickly as possible,” she murmured, watching his expression closely.


Her fiancé arched a single, lazy eyebrow at her. “I reckon my next question is this, then. How soon will you marry me, Laura?”


* * *


One week later

It was New Year’s Day. It was also Laura’s wedding day.


She felt dazed as she sashayed down the hallway leading from her bedroom to the upper story landing. It was the only way to describe how she was walking, one slow step at a time, with the elegant white lacy train trailing behind her on the floor. Freya had just finished buttoning her into the borrowed gown. At first, she’d thought it was way too long, but the middle-aged cook had insisted it was meant to be that way. Even so, with every step, Laura was half-expecting it to snag on something and rip.


She paused halfway down the hallway to glance over her shoulder.


Freya lifted both hands to shoo her on. “Get on with you, dear!” She’d removed her apron for once and was wearing her Sunday best, a pale gray gown with a crocheted white collar.


“Thank you. For everything, Freya.” Though Laura was more than ready to marry Wyatt, she was dreading facing the guests her grandmother had assembled downstairs. Though she’d begged her grandmother to keep the guest list small, she doubted her idea of small would match Clara Bennett’s idea of small.


“You’re welcome. Now go be happy, dear.” Freya’s eyes grew damp as she shooed her on again.


“I’m going to miss you unbearably,” Laura choked, turning blindly toward the stairs.


“I have no idea why!” Freya’s indignant voice followed her. “I shall remain a permanent fixture around here until the end of my days. Those are your grandmother’s orders.”


Laura’s head whirled back in her direction. “You mean you’re not transferring to, er…?” Freya had faithfully served her grandparents in the kitchen for years. Laura had only assumed she would continue to do so after their move closer to town.


“That’s exactly what I meant.” Freya’s voice was firm. “Mrs. Bennett and I have worked out a plan for me to carry leftovers from your kitchen to hers on a daily basis.” She smiled. “It’ll be on my way home, so no trouble at all.”


Laura blinked in amazement. It was a perfect plan that met the needs of everyone involved. “I don’t know how to thank you.” She truly didn’t. It had never occurred to her that she and her grandparents might actually share Freya going forward.


Freya sniffed at her expression. “Never underestimate your grandmother, my dear. Never. Now go!” This time, she took a threatening step forward as she shooed her onward. “I’ll not have you being late to your own wedding.”


The hum of voices downstairs grew louder as Laura reached the landing at last. The sight below made her downright dizzy. She had to reach for the railing for support.


The entry foyer was quite literally crammed with people — so many that Laura had no idea how she was going to get through the wall of humanity to reach the ballroom where Wyatt and her grandparents were waiting for her.


No, not both of her grandparents. Laura’s gaze met her grandfather’s and latched onto it like a lifeline. Evan Bennett was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs with the proudest look she’d ever seen him wear. His smoke-gray suit was pressed to perfection, and his silver hair had been slicked back with pomade. He crooked an arm at her, urging her to descend.


She took her first tentative step to ensure her knees were still working properly. They were. The voices in the foyer grew abruptly quiet as she took her next step. She could hear the rustle of lace and silk as the train of fabric trailed behind her. A muffled titter of mirth erupted below her.


“It’s a cat,” a woman murmured.


Laura glanced down in surprise and discovered Button marching beside her. His ginger tail was held high, and his expression couldn’t be described as anything other than smug. He was up to his usual tricks, escorting his mistress wherever she went.


It was in that moment that Laura realized she would survive what came next — the crowd of guests she hadn’t been expecting and all the hubbub that would accompany them during the ensuing celebration.


Her grandfather gave her a knowing smile as she reached his side. “You are every bit as lovely as my Clara was on the day we wed.” He paused a beat before continuing in a rougher voice. “And your mother on the day she wed our son.”


It was the biggest two compliments he could’ve given her. “Thank you, grandfather.” A surge of emotion made her feel like laughing and weeping at the same time. What she would’ve given to have her parents present today! However, his words made them feel less far away.


He tucked her hand around his forearm and nodded at the mass of faces in front of them. They parted like the Red Sea to allow the two of them to pass through. Laura dizzily noted the presence of Joyce Parker. The headmistress was nodding in satisfaction, as if what she was watching take place today had all been her idea. In some ways, it had. If the orphaned Timothy hadn’t needed a home so badly, she was certain she and Wyatt would’ve set a later wedding date.


To Ms. Parker’s immediate right, Benjamin Star was smiling broadly. By his side, Mayor Reggie North nodded graciously as she and her grandfather passed by them. Laura was too moved to greet them audibly. All she could do was smile tremulously at everyone gathered. In her heart, she knew they’d come on behalf of her grandparents and Wyatt, who were friends with nearly every person in town. Laura recognized only a few of them — Mae and Billy Tanner from the Mercantile, Sheriff Branch Snyder with his shiny badge, and the grizzled former livery owner, Ed Atkinson. The tears glinting in the elderly man’s eyes made little sense to her. Her only comfort was that they appeared to be happy tears.

Ladies ooh-ed and aah-ed at her borrowed wedding gown that old Winifred Monroe’s granddaughter, Anna Kate, had worn to her own wedding a few years earlier. It was just like Laura’s grandmother to have gone to the top of the social ladder in Cedar Falls to command the best for her granddaughter on a day like today.

Freya was right. Laura was constantly underestimating Clara Bennett. Everything unfolding around her was proof of that — from the army of guests to the pile of gifts weighing down the center table in the foyer.


And the ballroom… Oh, my!


Laura caught her breath as her grandfather led her inside the room. It had been utterly transformed. The dark drapes shuttering the windows were gone — not merely pulled back, but missing entirely. The chandeliers overhead and the candelabras lining the front of the room were flickering so brightly that it looked like the sun had risen right there in the ballroom.


A stringed quartet was playing a lovely classical overture that lightened Laura’s heart another few degrees. Her grandmother had truly outdone herself. The room was quite literally brimming with joyful things — every sight and every sound was part of the canvas she’d so carefully painted.


Wooden chairs had been placed in neat rows on both sides of the room, spaced far enough apart to form a wide walkway between them. Fabric rustled and shoes lightly scraped the floor as their guests filed into the room and took their places in front of the rows of chairs.


Only then did the music change.


“Look up,” her grandfather commanded in a low, rumbly voice in her ear.


She did and nearly stopped breathing.


Wyatt was waiting for her at the front of the room beneath a winter rose trellis, one that had been boosted higher by an elegant stone urn on each side. Anything else wouldn’t have accommodated his impressive height.


His green gaze glinted across the room at her. The emotion burning in them was because of her and for her alone. Everyone and everything else around them faded as she sashayed ever closer to him.


She was only dimly aware of a few giggles from children in the audience. They were quickly shushed by their parents. However, it was enough to assure her that Button was still marching at her side — her sweet, furry little knight whose loyalty knew no bounds.


I have it all. Laura’s heart felt like it was overflowing as she took the final steps to reach her groom’s side. This. All of this is because of you, Lord. Thank you again and again and again!


Only He could’ve taken so much brokenness and turned it into something so beautiful, so wonderful, so breath-stealing.


Wyatt took the hand her grandfather transferred from his own arm and tucked it firmly around his much larger one.


“Take care of her for us, son.” Evan Bennett’s voice was drenched with love and pride.


“I will, sir.” There was no hesitation in Wyatt’s voice. No fear. Nothing but calm assurance that he felt up to the task that lay before him. The strength of his voice was very much at odds with the tremor in his fingers as he gently brushed them down her cheek. “I love you, Laura.”


Without thinking, she reached up to hold them against her cheek. “I love you, too, Wyatt,” she whispered, surprised to discover she could speak at all. Some part of him was as nervous as she was.

The music eased to a muted finish, and the minister opened the ceremony with a prayer of thanksgiving that resonated deep in Laura’s heart. She had so very much to be thankful for today — more than the man standing at her side, though he was a big part of it. The biggest part.


She felt like she’d been given a new lease on life. A new lease on happiness itself. Everything taking place around her was more than she imagined was possible.


When she and Wyatt exchanged their vows, her voice sounded dreamy to her own ears. A part of her was afraid it might, in fact, be nothing more than a dream.


However, the press of her husband’s hand on hers was real. So was the brush of his hard mouth against her lips moments later. And the love glowing in his eyes, surrounding her, lifting her, and giving her the courage to turn and face their friends and family together.


Family. Laura squeezed her new husband’s upper arm. My family is your family now. It was the greatest wedding gift she could give him. What is mine is yours, just as I am yours.


Though she was pretty sure she hadn’t spoken the words aloud, Wyatt bent his head closer to hers. “Thank you, Mrs. James, for everything you’ve given me today.” His voice was husky with emotion.


At first, she wasn’t sure what he meant. And then she knew.


Her fingers dug a little harder into his arm as she caught sight of Timothy in her grandmother’s embrace in the front row. Up until this very moment, she’d been unaware the babe was in the room.


“Oh, Wyatt,” she breathed. “Our son!” Benjamin Star was already working on the adoption paperwork. He’d assured them it would be processed shortly after their wedding. Timothy would soon bear the middle name of Bennett and the surname of James.


Wyatt led her straight to her grandmother, who instantly held the gurgling baby out to them.


Laura joyfully lifted him in her arms and cuddled him close, tucking the white blanket more securely around his wiggling legs. “You sweet, sweet child,” she murmured damply against his cheek. Though he couldn’t yet be described as plump, by any means, his once gaunt little features were finally filling out to a healthier roundness.


As a murmur of excitement rose around them, one woman exclaimed, “An instant family. How lovely!”


“I agree.” Wyatt drew them closer to his side, with one large hand splayed against Laura’s lower back. The other he cupped around the back of Timothy’s head as he bent to press a kiss to the crown of it.


Their becoming a family was one of only a thousand miracles taking place in Laura’s life. Every smile of hope in the room was yet another miracle. Smiles that had once been furtive looks of curiosity, pity, and even censure.


Their smiles were proof that Laura Bennett, the biggest oddity in Cedar Falls, was gone. In her place was the newest bride in town, Mrs. Laura James, a woman glowing with happiness from the inside out.


While rescuing her beloved blacksmith from a lifetime of loneliness and grief, as he liked to put it, she’d managed to pull her own heart from the brink of despair in the process.


But I didn’t do it alone. One of her favorite scriptures fluttered across her thoughts.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was a passage from the Book of Jeremiah.


Laura’s heart overflowed with that promised hope as she stepped with her new husband and son into a future that felt specially designed for them. A few childish giggles told her that Button had rejoined them to be a part of their promenade — up the aisle in a ballroom full of people she sensed would soon become dear friends.


Ready to read about the next swoony bachelor who arrives in Cedar Falls? Check out
Wild Rose Summer.
Coming to eBook, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited!

Much love,

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