Authors: Lynn A. Coleman
A PLACE OF HER OWN
Copyright © 2006 by Lynn A. Coleman. All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without the permission of Truly Yours, an imprint of Barbour Publishing, Inc., PO Box 721, Uhrichsville, Ohio 44683.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events is purely coincidental.
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Jamestown, Kentucky, 1845
“Auntie Katherine!” The bedroom door rattled in its hinges. “Daddy says you hafta cook breakfast,” her four-year-old nephew, Tucker, cried out.
Katherine O’Leary pulled the covers up over her head.
Last night, little Elizabeth Katherine, her newborn niece, had kept the whole household awake, crying. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time.
Oh, to have solitude.
If only God would grant such a gift.
Elizabeth’s colic wasn’t the only thing that had interrupted Katherine’s sleep. The tragic events of the past still marred her dreams. Occasionally she’d wake from a nightmare. Prudence, her sister-in-law, and Pamela, Katherine’s adoptive mother of sorts, encouraged her to not accept those thoughts, to allow God’s grace to wipe them clean. And she believed He was able to do that. But the fear remained.
How could the MacKenneth family love her and her brother, Urias, as their own? Oh, it made sense with Urias, she supposed. But why her?
“Auntie Katherine!” The door rattled again.
She took in a deep breath, tossed the pillow aside, and pushed her body up to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. Urias had spared no expense in making her the four-poster bed and bedroom set. “I still wish I had my own place,” she grumbled, slipping her slippers on her feet and sliding into a robe. But how could she earn the money to even buy the materials required to build her own house? Let alone actually build one.
If I were married …
The developing knot in her stomach tightened another notch.
In the kitchen, Katherine found the morning basket of eggs, fresh from the hen house, sitting on the table. She sliced some bacon and tossed it into a large cast-iron frying pan. The tantalizing smell as it browned made her stomach wake up. She chopped a few potatoes and fried them in the bacon drippings, adding a touch of onion and some salt and pepper. After removing the potatoes, she cracked some of the eggs into the pan.
“Smells wonderful,” Urias remarked as he stepped into the kitchen. Her older brother had the same red hair and green eyes she did. He pulled out a chair and sat down.
“How’s Elizabeth and Prudence?” she asked, scooping the potatoes out of the frying pan and onto the breakfast plates. She placed Urias’s in front of him.
“Sleeping finally. I didn’t want to wake either of them. That’s why I sent Tucker in to get you up. Have the boys come in from their chores yet?”
Chores were a part of farm life. Everyone pitched in from the time they could walk. “I’m assuming Vern fetched the eggs. But I haven’t seen Tucker in from milking the cow yet.”
Her brother put his fork down and leaned back in the chair. “You look tired. Did Elizabeth keep you up, too?”
“Yes. But it also took me a long time to get to sleep last night.”
Urias narrowed his gaze. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Katherine placed the hot frying pan on the counter and sat at the table, bringing a basket of biscuits with her. “I’m just tired, that’s all. Been thinking foolish thoughts, like wanting my own place.”
“Ah, all in good time, Katherine. You know you’re welcome here for as long as you want to stay.”
“I know. Thank you.” How could she make him understand the deep desire for her own home? Most women went straight from living with their parents to living with a husband. Since she had no expectation of having a husband, the dream of having her own place burned within her.
“Truthfully, I considered sleeping in the barn last night.” Urias chuckled.
“I hadn’t thought of that.” Sleeping on a bed of hay would have been better than not sleeping at all. She’d have to remember that the next time Elizabeth couldn’t sleep.
Urias winked and picked up a biscuit. “Thanks for all you do.”
Katherine cleaned off the remaining breakfast from the table. Did she truly want to be alone? Would she even bother to make a meal if she were by herself? She took the kettle off the stove and poured the heated water into the sink.
“Aunt Katherine!” Tucker came running, red-faced, into the room. “Vern’s in the pigpen. And he’s stuck.”
“Father, I’ve taken care of all your business deals as best I’m able.” Shelton held a tight rein on his emotions. They’d been arguing for the better part of an hour. “I had to sell every bit of livestock just to keep a small piece of land for you and mother to have a roof over your heads. You’ve not only put yourself in a terrible standing with your friends, but you’ve ruined our family’s reputation in the area. The only way the bankers would extend credit to me was if your name was no longer on the property.”
Hiram Greene slumped in his chair and put his hands over his face. “I know, I know. Moving is our only option. Your mother can’t live with my shame.”
“Urias claims there are many business opportunities in his area. Perhaps I’ll be able to purchase some land over there. I honestly don’t know. We have so little left.”
“What about buying some hogs here and selling them in Virginia, like Urias did?” Hiram asked.
I’m not a farmer, like my brother-in-law
, Shelton thought.
I have no idea how to herd a bunch of pigs several hundred miles.
“I have thought about that,” he said. “And I might have to do it—and anything else I can to help this family.”
Shelton scanned the old den. The faint smell of old leather and dried books lingered in the air. But few of the lavish furnishings remained. Everything of value had been sold to pay off debts.
“Your life won’t be like it was before,” he told his father. “I’ve managed to maintain one servant, but apart from that, you’ll have to do everything around the house yourself while I’m away.”
Tears welled in Hiram’s eyes. “Your mother will never forgive me for what I’ve done.”
Shelton placed his hand on his father’s shoulder. “We’ll get through this somehow.”
Shelton hated to see his father in this position. It just didn’t seem right that a man who was so skilled in business could ruin himself gambling on a few horses. After the bank auditors went over his father’s books with Shelton, it became painfully obvious that Hiram Greene had been juggling the finances for years to cover his debts. Every penny Shelton had brought into the family had gone to pay the people his father had kept at bay for so long.
If it hadn’t been for the dire straights the family was facing, Shelton wouldn’t leave his father alone right now. But he had two reasons for going to Jamestown, Kentucky. One was to find a place where his parents could resettle without the stigma of the loss in their social standing. The other was to find out if the love he still held in his heart for Kate was real. For years he’d been praying for her and begging God to rid him of these foolish boyhood fantasies. Instead, his attraction to her had deepened. It didn’t make sense. He hadn’t seen her in five years. Prudence barely mentioned her when she visited. Of course, Shelton had kept his questions to himself, not wanting to appear overly curious.
Only once had he mentioned his love for Kate, and his father had reacted vehemently. Shelton received a long and loud lecture on their family’s precious standing in society, and how one couldn’t lessen himself by marrying someone of a lower social class.
His father had sent him away for several months to visit with cousins. During that time Kate’s brother, Urias, had found her, purchased her bond to set her free, and married Shelton’s sister, Prudence.
Prudence seemed content in her simple life with Urias and the children. She had found a man who loved her for who she was and how God had knitted her together, not how society felt a woman should behave. Shelton longed for that same acceptance.
“Son,” his father said, breaking into Shelton’s thoughts. Hiram gazed at his son as if he could read his thoughts. “I’ve shamed the family enough. Don’t you shame us further by getting involved with that … servant girl.”
Shelton’s back went ramrod straight. “I don’t believe you have the right to speak on the matter, Father. If God works out a relationship with me and any woman, no matter what her standing in society, I would be honored to take her, if she would have me. After all, you’ve ruined any chance of my ever having a wife who could fit your social standard.”
A deep sigh escaped his father’s lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Shelton worried about the downcast mood his father seemed to be in lately. He acquiesced far too easily during arguments and discussions. That wasn’t like him at all. But ever since Hiram’s world came crashing down three months back, he’d lost all his zest for life. Even the salt wells and the businesses he’d invested in no longer held any interest for him.
“Are you certain you and Mother don’t want to come with me?” Shelton asked. “Prudence must have had her third child by now.”
“I wouldn’t want to crowd Prudence and Urias’s home, especially with a new baby. Just send a message when you’ve found appropriate housing and we’ll come as soon as possible.”
Shelton tried to ignore the “appropriate housing” reference. He wondered how his father would survive the ridicule of not being the man he had so painstakingly built himself up to be. The reality was, his father was not the man he appeared to be. His business savvy had ended years ago when he started gambling. All of his financial dealings from that point on seemed to be based on whether or not he could hedge his bets on the horses.
Shelton fought down a wave of anger. For years he’d been the only one bringing in the family income, and he never knew it. If it hadn’t been for his hard work, his father’s business would have gone under long ago. And his father had been less than generous in his compliments.
Shelton’s only prayer these days regarded his father’s humility and his own need to extend grace. Grace to a man who’d done precious little to do anything constructive for himself. Thankfully, the bank examiners saw Shelton’s financial prowess long before his father acknowledged it.
For the past four years, Shelton’s primary duties had revolved around the earning potential of his stud horses. He’d had to sell most of his stallions to cover his father’s debts. But he still had one stud horse, plus one mare that would bring a foal in a couple of months. Between the two, he hoped he could earn enough income to keep his family fed through the winter. He didn’t know what else he could do.