With pert opinions and a less-than-perfect figure, Ruth Ann Sutton doesn’t measure up to Society’s vision of a perfect lady. When she accepts a position teaching in a Freedman’s School, it threatens the only marriage offer Ruth Ann is likely to receive. She's forced to choose between life as a lonely spinster or reinventing herself to secure a respectable proposal.
Determined to rise above his meager beginnings, Benjamin Coulter’s reputation as a fast learner and hard worker earns him the opportunity to apprentice with a surveyor for the railroad—a position that will garner the respect he craves. After a chance encounter with Ruth Ann Sutton, Benjamin is smitten with her pretty face, quick wit, and feisty personality. When others ridicule his choice, will Benjamin listen to his heart or put ambition first?
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Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference - 2019 Director's Choice for Fiction/YA - 1st Place
And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten. ~ Joel 2:25a
Loudoun County, Virginia
Land sakes it was hot.
Ruth Ann Sutton peeled the black stockings from her legs and stuffed them inside her boots. If only she could do the same with her insufferable corset. She wiped her brow. Perspiration moistened her hairline, tightening the loose strands on her neck into corkscrews. Buddy’s tongue hung from the corner of his mouth as he meandered to the stream for a drink. She stooped beside him, running her fingers through his plush, red fur.
“You must be hot today, too, boy.” He raised his head. Ears alert, mischief danced in his eyes, reminding her of the pup he’d once been. “You stay right there. You’ll splash around and get me all wet.”
Rarely did a week go by from March to November when she didn’t visit this spot. She’d loved it from the first time Papa brought her fishing in the little nook sheltered among the dogwoods. If she remained absolutely still, she could hear Papa laughing as he cast his fishing line into the creek.
The peaceful melody of the stream as it coursed around the bend beckoned her. What would Mama say? She glanced over her shoulder. Why not? No one was around. Gathering her skirts, she eased into the creek, mindful to avoid the mossy rocks that rested in the shade of the poplars. Cool water assailed her shins as she waded to the middle. Despite the gooseflesh forming on her skin, the knee-deep water offered respite from the sultry temperature and her sour mood.
Her thoughts drifted to the conversation she’d had with her mother. She’d promised to write James about her new teaching position at the Freedmen’s School more than a month ago. How would she convince her beau to let her continue? No one else wanted to teach these children. They needed her, and in a way, she needed them. Wouldn’t she be a better wife and mother if allowed to pursue her passion before surrendering it at the altar?
Tilting sideways, she skimmed her fingers against the current, spooking the dragonflies hovering above the water’s surface. She didn’t want to marry James. Truth-be-told, she didn’t want to marry anyone—yet. No one hired a married woman to teach. At twenty years of age, she had plenty of time for marriage and children.
Or did she?
Suitors weren’t exactly lining up at her door. While she had no trouble getting along with the opposite sex, as her bevy of male acquaintances attested, none pursued an attraction to her. If she delayed, she might lose her bloom, as mama suggested, and have more than her buxom figure prohibiting her from matrimony. Even if she could coax James into postponing an engagement, he would never allow her to teach Negroes.
What could she say to persuade him?
Did she even want to?
Tipping her head back, she released her cares to the only one who had her best interest at heart. “Oh Heavenly Father, guide my footsteps. May your perfect will be done in my life.”
Sighing, she waded toward the creek bank. Mud squished between her toes. She dreaded the return home so soon. She scanned the meadow before glancing to her canine friend.
“Maybe just a bit longer. Huh, boy?”
She withdrew a bulging handkerchief from her skirt pocket and deposited it atop a large rock overhanging the creek. With a hearty thrust, she hoisted herself up beside her prize. Anticipating the treasure within, she untwisted the purple stained cloth. Hard to believe she’d found a whole cluster of black raspberries the birds had overlooked. She popped one in her mouth, savoring its mildly tart flavor. Leaning back on her palms, she dangled her legs over the edge, relishing her extended reprieve as her feet sashayed in the cool water beneath her. Singing might lift her spirits.
Besides, she really didn’t need to fret about James. God would direct her path. He’d never disappointed her yet.
Benjamin Coulter cringed as the shrill tune hung in the air. That woman sure knew how to ruin a Sunday afternoon. Sounded like something was dying and needed to be put out of its misery.
He shook his head. All he wanted to do was rest a while longer. His decision to go around his headstrong superior and talk to Mr. Farrell directly about his boss’s inaccurate measurements had made for a nerve wracking week. That decision could have cost him his job. Thankfully, his discovery had been received well, saving the struggling railroad both time and money.
Benjamin leaned against the sycamore tree and tossed his line into the creek. A slight hint of remorse nicked his conscience. He now sat poised to guide the construction of the Washington & Ohio Railroad through the town of Catoctin Creek and over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Winchester, but he hadn’t intended to get his boss fired. If only the man hadn’t refused to admit he’d made a mistake.
Yep, it was all coming together. Just the way he’d hoped it would when he agreed to leave Texas and take this apprenticeship in Virginia. All he had to do was pass that examination next spring and…
He shuddered. The woman’s screeching escalated to a bone-grating pitch. She’d frighten the fish away for sure. Like most folks, Sunday was his day off, and he didn’t intend to spend it listening to her sing off-key.
Wedging his pole in the mud of the creek bank, he set off to investigate. Her ear-piercing slaughter of The Merry, Merry Month of May led the way. He spied his first glimpse of the lyrical assassin through the thin limbs of a dogwood tree. Perched on a large, flat rock at the edge of the creek, she swirled her bare feet in the water. Behind the rock sat a pair of woman’s boots—fancy ones. Too bad she hadn’t spent some of her shoe allowance on singing lessons.
Her voice cracked. “The skies were bright, our hearts were light, in the merry, merry month of May…”
Benjamin winced. That was the fourth time in a row she’d sung that part. For the love of Pete, didn’t Miss Fancy Boots even know the words?