The horse trotted through the gate, saddled but riderless.
Suzanne looked up from pulling weeds and shouted. “Joshua!”
A suntanned youngster appeared around the corner. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Please tend Mr. Garth’s horse. I’ll be in the house.”
“Yes ma’am.” The shoeless young man grabbed the loose reins and led the horse toward the barn.
“Dear Lord, please let him be alright,” she prayed quietly then grabbed her skirts and sprinted into the house.
“Suzanne, honey, what’s the rush?” Hattie Dubois, the housekeeper and cook, stepped in Suzanne’s path.
“Something’s happened to Garth!”
The rotund woman folded her arms and laughed. “Oh, no, child. He just came in the back with your daddy. ‘Spect you’ll find them in the study.”
Suzanne ran down the hall to the study, paused to gather herself, before raising her hand to knock on the partially opened door.
“It’s settled then,” her father said. “I’m sorry for the circumstances though.”
“The only way to join the lands now sir.” Garth’s grim voice echoed in the room.
Suzanne pushed the door open wider and sailed into the office. “Garth Kenwick, that horse nearly scared me out of my wits.”
Both men jumped to their feet immediately. “Suzanne, come sit, Garth has brought some news.” Her father motioned her to the settee.
Garth took a seat next to Suzanne. “I don’t know how else to say this. We received word yesterday that there’s been an accident. We’ve lost Geoffrey. He died a month ago”
“Oh, no.” She whispered. Her hand reached out for his. “I’m so sorry. I know how close you were.”
“Ahem,” her father cleared his throat. “Garth has also come to let me know that in the matter of your betrothal, he will assume Geoffrey’s place.”
“What?” Suzanne jumped to her feet and turned on her father. “It wasn’t enough to trade me away the day of my birth? Now, Garth inherits me? I think not.” She stormed out.
“Thanks.” Garth glowered at the older man.
“You’ll fix it.” He shrugged sheepishly.
Suzanne struggled to quiet her rage, then slowly walked toward the kitchen. “Hattie, could I have some tea, please.”
“Sit down, I already have the water on. Oh, honey, you look like a squashed lemon..”
“You’re all drawn up and sour look’n.” The older woman poured steaming tea into a cup and set it in front of Suzanne along with milk and sugar.
“Daddy has arranged for me to marry Garth.”
“That can’t be. You’ve been promised to Geoffrey your whole life, honey.”
“Oh, Hattie, poor Geoffrey was killed in some accident last month.”
“Poor, my foot. It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t gone haring off to some heathen land.”
“Hattie, I know you didn’t care for Geoffrey, but this is a tragedy.” She scolded.
The older woman leaned across the table to whisper. “You didn’t like him either.”
“Was I so transparent?” Suzanne asked, stricken. “I didn’t really dislike him, I just didn’t want to marry him.”
“I heard your tearful prayers every night.” Hattie stood and refilled Suzanne’s cup. “And that boy, Garth? You’ve mooned around him since you were knee high.”
Suzanne nodded and sipped her tea reflectively. “But I just got out of one arranged marriage. I’ll not meekly walk into another. I don’t want him marrying me for my land.”
“Suzanne, we really need to talk.” Garth suddenly appeared in the doorway.
“I don’t think we have anything to discuss.” She replied crisply then rose and made her way out to the veranda.
Garth turned a bewildered look on the housekeeper.
“Give her some time to calm down, then tell her what’s really in your heart?”
Later, as the sun began its slow slide into the horizon, Garth found Suzanne on the veranda basking in the warmth of God’s Creation, He could almost feel the tension rising in her the minute she realized his presence.
“What are you still doing here?” Her voice was distant.
“Suzanne, we have to talk.”
“I see nothing to talk about. I was an unwilling participant in the betrothal to your brother. But I’m no longer a baby and I refuse to cowed into another.”
“Hear me out.” Garth pleaded. “I have loved you since the first time I saw your tiny face. You are my miracle. Do you think for a minute I won’t love and cherish God’s gift to me for the rest of my life? Marry me.”
“Yes.” She whispered as she flew into his arms.
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