Amy looked up when her mother came through the front door.
She was calling Amy’s father, who was in the garden with her younger brother, Sam. The two were pulling up weeds.
Her mother turned and saw her, a look of surprise covering her slender face. “Oh!” She smiled and giggled. “I didn’t know you were there, Amy. What are you doing?”
Amy moved her eyes past her mother to her father, who was now walking toward them, swinging his hat in front of his face to create a breeze.
“Just enjoying the afternoon sun, mother,” Amy replied. “Here comes Papa.”
Her mother turned back and waved. “Michael, I need sugar for these pastries I’m making for the farewell party. You did remember to get some last time you were at the General Store, didn’t you?”
Amy could tell by the look on her father’s face that he’d forgotten. His shoulders slumped a bit and he shook his head. “Darn forgot it, Lorraine. I’ll go now and get some.”
When he spun around, Amy knew he was going to call to Sam and ask if he wanted to go to the store. She jumped up from her chair. “Papa, I want to go with you. Can I please?”
Michael turned back, his eyebrows lifted. “Of course, Amy.”
He was probably surprised by her interest in going for a ride with him. Amy rarely did anything with her preacher father. He was a good man, she knew. But his flock always seemed to be more important to him than his family. She’d felt second-place to the children of their church since she was a small girl.
Now, at 18, Amy knew she wasn’t second place in her father’s eyes. He was just the kind of man who recognized the pain in others and felt compelled to help them if he could. He was a doer, a man who put his words into actions. When someone was ill and needed a doctor, he would travel to another town to pick one up if he needed to.
Amy was sure if she’d had issues and had needed her father, he would have been there for her. But she was a good child and cared about others as much as he did. So she understood.
There was another reason Amy wanted to go with him.
She wanted to discuss the marriage her father had arranged for her.
She waited until they were in the buggy, riding down the dirt road, before bringing it up. And it actually wasn’t her who had the first word. Her father was curious about her desire to come with him.
“So, tell me what’s on your mind, Amy,” he said, glancing at her, his mustache twitching slightly. He was amused, she could tell.
“I did want to talk to you about this marriage, Papa.”
She felt him stiffen next to her. It was a sensitive topic.
“What is it? You have changed your mind?”
Amy shook her head. “No, Papa. I haven’t. I just… I don’t understand why I can’t meet him first and make my decision. It’s… it just doesn’t seem very fair.”
“The decision was made between myself and his parents. It really is the best thing for both of you. You must trust us, Amy. We’re only doing what’s best for you.”
Amy’s chest tightened with anxiety. She tried to calm her beating heart. She was scheduled to meet and marry a man in the west, born of a prominent family. Alfred Green had been a student of her father’s during the last three years of his teaching at the university. He was so impressed with the young man, and sure that he would make a fine preacher, that Michael Carr, Amy’s father, had requested a meeting with his parents which would take place with the board of the university. Eventually, Alfred would make an excellent preacher over his own congregation.
Alfred’s success meant a lot to her father and she knew that. She would not have agreed to any of it otherwise. Not that she could have argued long. It was her duty to her family faith and she wouldn’t let her parents down.
“Why can’t I meet him when we get there? Why do I have to wait a week?”
“We are going early while Alfred and his father are out of town so that we can get settled and meet some of the other townsfolk.” Her father turned his head to settle his eyes on his daughter. She could see the love he had for her in his eyes and it softened her heart. “Do not think I am going to put my daughter in a brand new situation without checking everything first. I want to make sure it is a safe place for you, where you will be welcome. I know what we have asked is a tremendous change for you. But that does not mean we don’t love you, and we want you to be as happy as you can be with this sacrifice you’re making.”
Amy fell quiet. She felt like her father was avoiding her question. She wasn’t going to get a straight answer from him. Maybe he had his reasons. She’d never known him to do anything that might cause harm to anyone in his family. Or anyone else, for that matter.
Her father set a large hand on her knee and said in a low voice, “You will enjoy Davenport. I know you will. Montana is a lovely place to live. I’m sure we will all enjoy it.”
“When will you take over the parish there?” Amy decided to change the subject. She had been thinking about the change she was about to make pretty much constantly for the last week. Her father was making a change, too.
She couldn’t help wishing, though…
If only she could be in charge of this part of her life…
Davenport was indeed a pretty place. Amy noticed the difference in the atmosphere from New York but she didn’t mind it as much as she thought she might.
She and her family rolled down the main street in a large stagecoach. Her brother, Sam, who was fifteen, and her sister, Judith, a year younger at 14, both had their faces stuck out the windows, remarking on everything they saw.
Amy stayed quiet, observing from her window seat, scanning the faces of the people of Davenport. There were ladies dressed in fine gowns that brushed against the dirt when they walked unless they held their skirts up. She thought they would be better served to wear shorter dresses. When she made her own dresses, she always gave enough space between the hem and the ground so her skirts wouldn’t drag.
She was nervous even though she wouldn’t be meeting Alfred today. Her only plan for today was to meet the schoolteacher and see if she needed an apprentice or an assistant. She didn’t need to make money, so a voluntary position would be fine with her.
Amy saw nothing but smiles as she and her family rode down the street.
“What a lovely little town,” her mother said from across from her. Amy looked at her, nodding.
“It really is, Mother,” she said, keeping her voice quiet. “I… I think I will like it here.”
“Me too!” Sam spoke up. “There’s a lot of fellas my age. I’ll make some new friends.”
Amy was glad her brother was excited about the transition. He was generally a quiet boy who stayed to himself and worked his garden more than anything else. Their father had, at his request, bought him many books on the art of gardening and Sam took to it like it was natural to him. From that point on, when they needed advice for the garden, it was Sam who was in charge.
She didn’t know what Sam had seen that made him enthusiastic about moving to Davenport but whatever it was had put a big smile on his face. She doubted it was just being around other boys his age. He’d probably seen a pretty girl.
Amy jostled from side to side when the stagecoach rolled over a heavily graveled area. She smiled as she looked out the window, thinking about her brother and his aspirations for the future. He would be a fine gardener and would amass a fortune in green foods faster than in paper money.
Her eyes focused on the hotel, where they would be staying until they took ownership of the house they’d acquired before moving. It was in the final stages of renovation and they wouldn’t be able to move in till the next day. Everything they owned was piled onto several wagons that would be transported by train early in the morning.
There were three young women in front of the hotel, in a circle and talking to each other. She could hear their laughter as they got closer. Her heart skipped a beat and began to pound in her chest. They looked about her age. How would they respond to her?
She was a woman who would be married by the end of the year. Why did it matter to her whether these women accepted her or not? She didn’t know them but they were no better than her.
She took a deep breath, gathering her courage. She was a confident girl, with a lot of intelligence. That’s what her mother had always told her, anyway. And she’d gotten good marks in school. She’d had friends. And there were girls she didn’t like, too, who treated their peers with disrespect.
Amy kept her eyes on the girls and as they pulled up in front of the hotel the girls glanced at the stagecoach, moving away from the front doors to stand to the side and watch the family de-board.
Amy bent down to get out of the stagecoach and took her father’s hand when he held it out to her.
Their eyes met and Amy was overcome with a warm sense of security.
“You’ll be fine, my dear.” Her father’s voice was so smooth and calm. It made her heart slow down a bit. “Don’t you worry now.”
Amy pulled in a deep breath and nodded. “Thank you, Papa,” she whispered as she stepped down.
She turned to watch her father and brother help the driver get the bags from the top of the coach. A tug on her arm made her look to her right. It was Judith, gazing up at her with identical hazel eyes. They’d gotten their narrow, long-lashed eyes from their mother and they fit their slender faces perfectly but made them stand out a bit. In New York, they and their mother were repeatedly praised for the beauty of their eyes.
Amy had gotten used to the looks she sometimes got from other women. Her mother had cautioned her not to feel ashamed or guilty and not to be upset by those looks. It was natural, she said, for women to be jealous of the beauty of other women when they didn’t have that same beauty themselves. But it was nothing to get angry about and certainly no reason to look down on these women. In their own way, they had beauty. They just didn’t see it.
Amy remembered her mother’s wise words whenever she got looks from other women that were intended to make her feel uncomfortable. A few times, she’d been able to strike up a conversation with these women and they’d ended up friends.
It didn’t always go that way but it did often enough for Amy to hope for it every time.
And now, being in Davenport, thousands of miles from where she’d called home all her life, she wanted to make friends. She wanted to be accepted. She went up the steps to the hotel, swiveling her eyes to look at the three young women as she went. They were looking at her. She smiled. They smiled back.
A wash of relief passed over Amy and she walked over to them when she reached the top steps.
“Hello,” she said.
“Hello there,” one of them, a shorter, brown-haired, pixie-like girl spoke up first. She held out one brown-gloved hand in a dainty way and the two of them shook. “I’m Elaine. This is Jennifer and that’s Emily. And you are?”
“I’m Amy Carr. This is my family. We’re just moving here. He’s going to take over Eastside Church.”
“Oh that sounds wonderful!” Jennifer said, smiling wide so she revealed a row of white teeth. “I’ve been wondering what would happen there since Pastor Dean died.” Her voice dropped at the end. “God rest his soul.” She made the sign of a cross on her chest. “I will see you there, Amy.”
Amy moved her eyes between the three. “Will you please direct me toward the schoolhouse? I am going to be an assistant there and I hope someday to take the exams and become a schoolteacher myself.”
“That is very inspiring!” Elaine exclaimed. Amy got a good feeling from the three women and was extremely relieved by it. The woman turned to look at her friends, a happy smile on her face. “Let’s take our new friend to the schoolhouse, shall we?” She turned her attention back to Amy. “Or would you like a tour of Davenport before you go?”
Amy twisted her upper body to search for her mother. The older woman was passing by with Judith. “Mother, I’ve been invited to take a tour of Davenport. Would you like to come along?”
Her mother gave her a loving grin. “I’m a bit tired from the traveling, dear. You go ahead and have fun. Inquire at the desk for the rooms we are in.”
Amy nodded. “I will. Thank you, Mother.”
As Amy walked around town with the girls, listening to their banter, their laughter and their silly jokes, she wondered if being a married woman would change that for her. Would she still be able to walk around and laugh and act silly? She would have to be appropriate and structured so that she didn’t bring shame to her husband. Especially once Alfred had his own church.
Would he be a strict husband? Would he rule with an iron fist? Perhaps she had him all wrong. Maybe he was a gentle, kind, and soft-spoken man. Maybe she would love him the moment she laid eyes on him.
She wasn’t going to cling on to that hope. She would have to just wait and see.
She listened to the girls and wondered if she dared ask them about Alfred. The Green family was well-known in Davenport, as far as she knew, and these girls looked like they were probably about the same age as Alfred. They may have gone to the schoolhouse with him, grown up as his friend. They might be able to tell her something about him.
But even as they walked past the shops, the barber, the city hall, and the community building, she knew she wasn’t going to ask about Alfred. She wanted to make her own decisions about him. She didn’t want her first impression tarnished by the opinions of gossipy girls. And she meant the term with the kindest of intentions.
It was about two hours before the three girls led Amy to the schoolhouse, where there were children running all around outside.
“It looks like it’s recess,” Elaine said, delightedly, clapping her small hands together. “I’m going to go play with them.” She took off in a run, holding her skirt up with both hands. A few of the children saw her coming and called out her name happily.
Amy raised her eyebrows, surprised by the reaction of the children. She looked at Jennifer and Emily, curiously. “Does Elaine come here often?” she asked.
“She used to,” Jennifer replied. She and Emily shared a direct look that Amy didn’t comprehend. “She had a sister. A little sister. Ten years younger than Elaine. Elaine walked her to school every day and took care of her because their mother wasn’t able to. But she…Lucy… drowned in the creek last summer. Elaine is still very sad about it. But the children know her because she was here so much.”
“How very sad,” Amy said, softly. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have asked directions to come here.”
Jennifer placed a hand on Amy’s arm, shaking her head and giving her a kind look. “No, don’t be sorry. To be honest with you, Emily and I have been trying to get Elaine to come back. This is a good thing. Come. Let’s go meet Barb. She’s the schoolteacher. I think you’ll get along wonderfully!”
Thomas pulled out his chair at the dining table and sat down, grabbing the sides to pull it close to the table. He gazed hungrily at the plate of scrambled eggs, toasted bread, jelly rolls, ham slices and slices of well-cooked bacon set at his place, waiting for him to consume.
“I am starving!” he announced, picking up his fork. He held it upwards like a five-year-old, his fingers gripping around it. “I wanna eat, Ma!” He raised his voice even higher, grinning at his mother, who was seated at his father’s usual chair at the head of the table. His father and brother were at a horse auction two towns to the east on the main road and wouldn’t be back for another week.
Instead of taking the place of his father, Thomas often pretended to be a little boy again, much to his mother’s delight. If she wasn’t so pleased by it, Thomas wouldn’t have done it. But it brought his heart pleasure to see his mother’s warm, loving smile.
“Say grace, Thomas,” his mother replied, gazing at him. “And then you may eat.”
“Bless us, oh Lord, for this bounteous meal and bless the hands that made it. May we be forever blessed by your good grace and loving mercy. Forever your servants, in Jesus name, we pray, Amen.”
Thomas pushed his fork into the scrambled eggs and shoveled them in his mouth while his sister and mother shook their heads at him, giving him that look they often had.
“My goodness, Thomas,” his sister, Karen, a spry young thing of 15, spoke up while she gathered eggs on her fork. “I’m not sure God caught all your prolific words.”
“Don’t use words you don’t know the meaning of, Karen,” Thomas teased his sister, waving his fork in her direction. “It makes you look silly.”
“Thomas, don’t insult your sister.” Although she was rebuking him, Thomas’s mother, Vivian, meant no harm. Her love for her son was obvious in her voice. Plus, she knew she was speaking to a 25-year-old man who had been making his own decisions for a long time.
“Yeah, Thomas,” Karen grinned from ear to ear. “Why don’t you put more of your time into finding a wife and getting out of the house?”
Thomas raised his eyebrows, giving his sister a look. “Oh? I’ve got news for you, dear sister. My wife and I will be moving here so I can stay close to my family.”
Karen gasped and let out a defeated moan. “No, you can’t do that. You’re saying I’ll never be rid of you?”
“Now, now, you two. Stop bickering. You’re much too old to be acting that way.”
Karen took a quick bite from her biscuit and chewed with a thoughtful look on her face. Once she swallowed, she said, “Actually, I’m not. I’m only fifteen. But old man Thomas here, well, he’s a different story, isn’t he?”
“All right now, Karen.” Their mother just chuckled, shaking her head. “Eat your breakfast.”
Thomas did so willingly. He felt like he hadn’t eaten for a week when it had only been overnight. And he had snacked on a slice of ham in a biscuit late at night when everyone was asleep. He didn’t have to work when he woke up in the morning. It was a bright Sunday with the sun shining in a clear blue sky and he was anxious to get out into it.
“What are you planning to do today, Ma?” he asked, sopping up the last of the egg yolk with his biscuit. “It’s so beautiful out. I hope you won’t be stuck inside all day.”
His mother gave him a grateful smile, tilting her head to the side. “It’s sweet of you to be concerned about my well-being, my son. Yes, I intend to go out today, but I will need you to do me a favor. I need blackberries for the pies I’m making for the party. I need you to go gather some for me this afternoon. Will you do that?”
“You don’t want me to go now?” Thomas asked. “It’s such a bright, crisp, cool morning. Perfect for berry picking.”
“You may pick them whenever you wish,” his mother said. “But I would prefer just after noon because I want them to be as fresh as possible.”
Thomas had never understood why his mother was so precise with the ingredients of her baked goods she made. He was glad he didn’t have to cook, though he’d watched his mother plenty and knew how to do it.
In the last ten years or so, his mother had stopped cooking and a professional was hired. Three times a day, the woman came in and worked for several hours. She had a kitchen maid to help with clean-up, who was also her stand-in when she was unable to cook. But by then, Thomas was fifteen years old and had quite a few recipes under his belt.
He didn’t enjoy cooking, though, and was glad his family was in a position where he didn’t have to resort to a job like that. He liked the way his life was panning out, even if he hadn’t found the woman of his dreams quite yet.
His sister often teased him about finding true love. But Davenport was a small town that rarely saw visitors, much less people who transferred there to live. Unless he hadn’t met one of the seventy-five or so available women, if the number was even that high, he wasn’t going to find his true love in Davenport.
Still, aside from his lack of a love life, Thomas was happy where he was and what he did every day. He wouldn’t call it exactly exciting, but it was enough to make him feel content and loved by his family.
“I’ll go this afternoon then, Ma,” he said, giving in because when he went wasn’t important. He could find something else to fill in the time between now and then, he was sure of that.
Vivian nodded. “Good. I do want them as fresh as can be. I’ll be making the pies tonight so they will be ready for the bazaar tomorrow.”
“Oh, that’s going to be so exciting!” Karen bounced in her seat, making her shoulder-length hair bob up and down. “Lisa and I get to run the table for the arts and crafts at the schoolhouse. I can’t wait!”
“That sounds like a lot of fun, Karen,” her mother replied enthusiastically, smiling at her daughter. She pushed her plate away and folded her arms comfortably on the table in front of her.
“Do you want to go berry picking with me, Karen?” Thomas asked, mimicking his mother’s motion by pushing his plate away, only he rested just one arm in front of him instead of both. His eyes were on his sister as he spoke.
Thomas and Karen rarely did anything together. Thinking about that was what had prompted Thomas to ask her. They got along fine but they had very little in common, since there was a ten year age difference.
Her blue eyes twinkled when she looked at him. “I wish I could, Thomas. But I’ve got other plans.”
Thomas noticed when their mother’s eyes snapped to his sister with a curious expression on her face. “You have plans? What plans? I wasn’t told of any.”
Karen giggled. “I didn’t tell you, Ma, because it’s a surprise and I don’t want anyone to know. I’m not going anywhere; I just have things I need to do. It’s for the bazaar, too.”
“Well, you just make sure you are being safe, whatever you’re doing.”
Thomas gave his mother a questioning look and she answered it without him having to ask it.
“You just don’t know what she’s been doing lately, Thomas.” His mother shook her head, her eyes moving between her son and daughter. “Why, I’ve been worried she’s going to snap her neck with all the crazy things…”
“I don’t understand,” Thomas said, feeling a fog in his brain as he tried to comprehend what his mother was saying. He looked at Karen. “What crazy things have you been doing that I haven’t noticed?”
Karen’s eyes narrowed and she rolled them, pressing her lips out. “She just doesn’t want me talking to James. I think that’s it. Isn’t it, Ma? You have a problem with James?”
“You talkin’ about James Campbell?” Thomas tried not to laugh. If it was in fact James Campbell, their mother had nothing to worry about. James was one of the shyest boys Thomas had ever met. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, either. He couldn’t imagine why their mother would have an objection to the boy making friends with Karen. It was better for a potential couple to be good friends first. That’s what his grandpa had always said. “Ma, you can’t object to James Campbell. He’s a nice fella. He wouldn’t hurt Karen.”
“I keep telling her it’s not like that anyway,” Karen said defensively. “James is a nice fella. We’re friends. That’s all.”
“That’s where things always start,” their mother said, her eyes on Karen. “And I just want you to be safe, my dear. That’s all. I want you to be safe and happy.”
Karen nodded, reaching out to put one hand on her mother’s arm. Vivian patted Karen’s hand.
“I love you, Ma,” Karen said softly. “I know you want me to be happy. I will be. And you don’t have to worry about James. In time, I will marry and have my own family. I’m not the one you should be worried about.” Karen turned her blue eyes back to Thomas, a sneaky look on her face. “He’s the one you should be worried about. The way things are going he’ll be a bachelor, telling everyone to stay away from him or he’ll hit them with his cane.”
Thomas gasped, feigning indignance, and then laughed. “Some sister you are. Not supportive at all.”
Karen laughed in her light, tinkling way and said, “Oh, I’m teasing you, big brother. I just want to see you happy. Just like Ma does. She wants us both happy. Don’t you?”
“Of course.” Vivian nodded. “And you will be. Both of you. One at a time in this family. Let’s get through the first one before we start planning more.”
Thomas filled his morning with a stroll through the pasture and a ride through the woods. He checked the land for trespassers, hobos, drifters or poachers. But he saw no one. In fact, it was quiet enough in the woods for him to notice it. There were few critters scampering about, birds tweeting in the treetops, and frogs croaking by the length of river that wound its way through the back part of the land.
This was his land. This was where he called home. He would never leave Montana.
“A Heavy Duty to Carry Out” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amy Carr is willing to go through anything in order to please her family and make her father proud. The whole family has no choice but to uproot their lives and move to Montana, so that Amy can marry Alfred and her father can eventually take over the local church. In an unexpected twist of fate, just a week before she gets to meet her future husband, she bumps into Thomas, a rich rancher, and her world turns upside down. With her heart being torn between her loyalty to her family and feelings that are too strong to ignore, will she ultimately choose a structured life as a preacher’s wife or will she risk it all for the love she sees in Thomas’ eyes?
Thomas Green’s ordinary life, working in the family’s prosperous ranch with his twin brother, Alfred, is about to change drastically. Without any warning, he meets a beautiful woman in the woods, and his mind gets boggled. Before he even knows it, he finds himself falling hard for her. In a heart-stopping moment, though, Thomas will be devastated to discover that Amy is arranged to marry his own brother. Will he find the courage to claim what his heart desperately wants? Is he ready to face the consequences?
Thomas and Amy feel trapped between their families’ demands and what their hearts command. Will they sacrifice their happiness to protect the people around them? Will they manage to overlook their desire or will they give in to their overwhelming emotions?
“A Heavy Duty to Carry Out” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.