Be among the first to know when I post new chapters, to new books!

Click Here
Keep up-to-date on all the announcements and website news!

Subscribe today!

My policy is to follow the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); I hate spam too, and will never sell or give away your email address.
Chapter Thirty-one
Touched by Love (Part Two)

"Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair..."
~ Song of Solomon 1:15 ~

The mattress moved, and Matt woke to see Beth going into the bathroom. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, glanced at the clock and knew he had to get up. This Saturday he wasn't working at the nursery, but that didn't mean he could sleep in.

He began to think, and the cozy of last night started to lift from his sleep-fogged mind.

That woman noticed everything. Thank God she'd backed down and stopped asking those questions. This secret he had to keep, there wasn't any way round it.

Well, that wasn't quite true. There was a way, he just didn't want to take it.

His eyes flicked to the dresser, then to the bathroom door. He should have done it yesterday, when everyone was so conveniently out of the house, but he'd been busy with the funeral arrangements. And how was he supposed to know she'd ask those questions last night? He hadn't seen it coming, and knew that whatever he did from here on out, would come under watchful scrutiny.

She was curious-- a dangerous word with a woman. It meant her imagination was at work and her eyes were wide open. If he moved an inch, she would wonder if it had anything to do with "the secret."

Aw, man.

He'd already told her the one life-changing secret he had. He'd already spilled his guts to her, wasn't that enough? Did she have to know EVERYTHING?

He heard water running in the bathroom sink, dragged himself from bed while light from the window proclaimed that the morning had already begun.

With a glance at the closed bathroom door, he headed for the carved wooden box on the dresser.


He jolted back, tried to look casual then realized the bathroom door was still shut.

"I hope you're awake, because we have errands to run this morning."

"Uh-huh," he said, and went back to the dresser and tried to keep an eye on the bathroom door.

Lifting the lid on the box, he looked inside. It didn't matter which one, did it? Any of them would do. Probably.

The bathroom door started to open. He snatched one, then remembered to close the lid.

"Make sure you shave." She came out of the bathroom wearing her robe. "That two-day shadow you're sporting might look handsome, but you really need to shave for this evening."

"Handsome, huh?" He grinned as she moved around him to get something on the dresser. She reached for the carved box. His breath caught, then puffed out in relief when she stopped half way and picked up a brush.

"I'd like this family to look nice for your mom's funeral."

"Visitation," Matt corrected, and looked about for his jeans. "I don't care for that word. It makes it sound freaky, like we're going to summon her ghost, or something. Call it a viewing, it sounds better."

"I want us to look nice, Matt."

"Don't worry, I'll shave." He went to the closet, pulled out a pair of clean jeans, (for Beth had put yesterday's into the hamper), and discreetly slipped the borrowed item into a pocket.

"Actually," Beth said, "I was hoping you'd do more than shave."

He went back into the room, and saw the hope on her china doll face.

"Do more?" He shook his head. "I don't know about that. It's too much to expect I'll shower and shave. It's one or the other, Beth."

"Stop joking, I'm serious."

"Who's joking?" He gave a casual shrug, then laughed when she folded her arms. "Okay, I'll shower, too."

She rolled her eyes-- a teenage gesture that looked cute on a grown woman like Beth. "I meant do more," she sighed. "As in clothes."

"Oh." He stepped away, went back to the walk-in closet to find a clean shirt. "What's with the missing clothes? I can't find anything from yesterday. Just because I wear something once or twice, doesn't mean you have to toss it in the hamper."

She followed him to the closet door. "Did I tell you what we bought for Ethan, yesterday?"

"We?" Matt turned to give her a look.

"It's our money, darling, it's no longer just mine."

He pulled on the shirt and said nothing.

"I wish you'd stop being so sensitive about money. Everything I have is yours-- I don't know why you can't get over that."

"If you keep putting my stuff in the hamper"-- he looked about for his boots-- "you're just going to make a lot of work for yourself when you do the laundry." He found his scuffed boots beside a row of classy high heels, stepped back into the bedroom and shut the closet. "You said something about Ethan?"

"Yes, did I tell you he bought a suit?"

Matt noticed the change from "we" to "he," and sat on the chair to tug on his boots.

"No, I hadn't heard."

Poised for a talk, Beth took a seat on the edge of the mattress. "His suit needed alterations, but it'll be ready for pick-up this morning. I was hoping we--" she cut off when Matt eyed her.

"What exactly are you trying to rope me into?" he asked.

"Nothing." She turned the brush in her hands. "I can't honestly say it's nothing, because it is something, but... Matt Taylor, stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm forcing something you don't want."

"Okay." Matt stood, stamped on his boots. "What is it you think I don't want?"

"A suit."

"You're right, I don't." He went to retrieve his Stetson off the nightstand.

Beating him to it, Beth grabbed the hat, then scrambled to the other side of the bed.

Her breath caught on a laugh.

"You can't leave, Matt. We have to talk this out."

"No-- what you mean is, I have to give in and buy a suit. It's not going to happen, so give me my hat."

"Why? So you can leave?"

He started around the bed. She started back over. He stopped, and so did she.

"Beth, I'm not playing games. I need my hat. I have something to do-- something important."

"A suit. That's all I'm asking. I can take you down to the store, help pick it out--"

Matt interrupted. "And help pay for it."

She breathed a heavy sigh, settled on the unmade bed and looked at him. Her clean face and scooped back hair made him want to tug her into his arms.

"We're in this marriage together, aren't we?"

"Yeah, but what's that got to do with my giving in?"

"You won't be giving in, Matt. You'd be doing it to please me." She gave a pretty smile, batted those long lashes and he could feel his resolve begin to crumble. "If you won't do this for yourself, then do it for me."

Drawing out a groan, Matt took a step back to think it over. If he gave in to her, he'd probably have enough money to get that suit she wanted so badly. But it was just a suit, and this other thing, this important thing, was something he'd been saving and dreaming about for a while. He hadn't saved all this cash to blow it on clothes.


"I'd have to pay you back," he found himself saying. "If you think it's important enough to hold my hat hostage, then I'll go through with it... if that's what you really want. But I'll only do it, if you'll let me pay you back."

"Pay me back?" The words came out in a hurt whisper.

"Please don't do that." He folded his arms, tried to look tough. "Please don't start crying. I'm not going to have my wife paying my way for me. After we take care of this funeral, I'm going to quit my job at the nursery and find work somewhere else."

"Not that again." Pain came to her eyes and he struggled to stay strong. "I thought we came to an understanding. You'll stay on at the nursery with me, and forget about getting another job."

Matt shook his head. "I warned you before that we didn't have this settled, and I meant it."

She studied the hat in her lap. "I love you."

"I love you, too. That's why I'm getting another job."

"Oh, Matt." She turned the hat like it was some precious object to be figured out and studied. "This discussion is close to my heart, for Luke helped out at the nursery when he wasn't on call at the hospital. Looking back, I wish I had closed down the store, or only kept it open when Luke was working-- I don't know, I only know that it robbed me of my time with Luke, so that the only way he could be with me during his off-days, was to come work at the nursery.

"Despite all the pressures on him, Luke tried. He'd put on one of his 'Bethy shirts' and come to the store so we could be together, even though what he really needed was to relax and decompress with as little stress around him as possible. He loved me that much, and made that effort even though he was burned out from his shifts in the ER. I wish I had done things differently, but with you"-- she looked up at Matt-- "with you, I have that chance. You don't have a job that takes you away from me, and I see in that a wonderful opportunity. We can work together, spend our days together in a way I couldn't have with Luke, even if I had shut down the nursery. Our marriage is stronger for our time together, so why change what we already have?"

"Because what we have is unbalanced." Matt sank onto the foot of the bed and hoped he was being gentle with Beth. "I'm not doing anything to earn my keep-- not really. My job was seasonal, but now that we're married, you'll keep me all year round because I'm your husband and I need a job. That won't work, Beth. I didn't marry you so you could pay me."

She toyed with the brim of his hat. "I know, I'm not one of your clients."

"No, you're not. When I came along, you didn't need a broom-pusher. You only hired me out of guilt, and I won't use you as an excuse to push a broom the rest of my life."

"Matt, please don't leave."

"I can't. I forgot about breakfast."

She gave a sad smile. "I meant the nursery."

"I have to, Beth. I'm not doing much besides getting in your way." He caught himself and grinned. "Not that I mind getting in your way every now and then. But you don't need me at the store."

"But I do."

"No, you don't-- not really. I love you for wanting to keep me, Beth, but I have to go."

She tossed him the hat. "I wish you weren't so stubborn."

He frowned. "Facing facts isn't being stubborn."

"Then maybe it's time you were promoted." She turned hopeful. "If I want a partner, then I should make you one. You don't know the business, that's true, but I could teach you."

With a groan, Matt flopped back-first onto the mattress and tried to ignore the wishful thinking going on in that pretty head of hers. He placed the Stetson on his chest, stared up at the ceiling and prayed they would find agreement. Real agreement, not this make believe game Beth wanted to play.

To his dismay, she thought out loud.

"We'd need to set definite responsibilities, ones separate from each other, or else we'll constantly step on each other's toes. It just might work."

"Hey," someone knocked on their door, "when's breakfast?"

Matt looked to Beth. It hadn't even broken her train of thought.

"Of course it will take some effort, but I really wouldn't mind having a partner in the nursery. Things haven't been going very well, so maybe it's time I had some help."

"Anybody in there?"

"Hold up, Ethan. I'm coming." Matt shoved off the bed, tossed aside his hat and went to the door. "Beth, I'll get the kids up and give Dylan his bottle." Matt sighed when she nodded and kept planning. He opened the door and found Ethan in jeans and a T-shirt, looking tired but grudgingly ready for the day.

"Is Beth going to make breakfast, or are we on our own?" Ethan asked as he shadowed Matt into the boys' bedroom.

"If you're starving," Matt went to the window to let in some light, "you know where to find the fridge. Ryan, come on, buddy. Time to get up." Matt moved to the crib, found Dylan wide awake and lifted him out. Baby slobber spilled onto Dylan's chin, and he dropped a smile on Matt when Matt paused to cuddle him before putting him on the changing table.

"Thanks, Dilly." Matt hugged his littlest baby brother, grateful he'd been given the privilege of finally getting Dylan to smile for him.

"Did Beth tell you?" Ethan leaned against the wall in a teenager slump. "She made me get a dumb suit and wants me to wear it to the funeral."

"Poor guy," Matt shook his head. "What'll she think of next?"

"Hey, I didn't want the suit. I told her so, but she did it anyway."

Matt grunted. "Sounds to me you had no choice."

"You said it." Ethan came over to the changing table to watch Dylan. He'd defended himself, and didn't have to say more. Matt understood. Ethan was embarrassed to wear something that Matt didn't have, though it occurred to Matt that even Wade had a suit for this evening.

No big deal, Matt would wear a button-up shirt and tie, go as he was. He'd always made due in the past, and he would again.

"Matty, I'm still sleepy." The plea came from Ryan, who had pulled the covers over his head rather than face the light pouring through the window.

"That's because you're not awake yet." Matt baby-wiped Dylan's small bottom, powdered it, then fastened on a clean diaper.

"Hey." Ethan elbowed Matt. "Smell that?"

"What?" Matt asked. "The baby powder, or the diaper I just threw away?"

"I smell it, too." Ryan came up from his blankets, pushed them aside and climbed out of bed. "Mommy's making waffles!"

"I don't know about that," Ethan said, "but whatever it is, I want seconds."

"It's waffles," Ryan insisted.

"You can't possibly know that. It might be pancakes."

Unconvinced, Ryan stood his pint-sized ground. "Waffles."


"Waffles, waffles, waffles."

"Pancakes, pancakes--"

"Ethan." Matt gave the teenager a look, and Ethan backed off with a slightly embarrassed shrug.

"The squirt thinks he knows everything."

"I am not a squirt!" A troubled look crossed Ryan's face. "Matty, what's a squirt?"

"It's someone who needs to wash his hands before breakfast." Matt lifted Dylan. "Go on, see what your mom's fixing."

As the boy ran off, Ethan gave a dull groan.

"He's been calling her 'mommy.'"

"I know. She is... kind of. Why, you have a problem with that?"

"I guess not." Ethan shrugged. "Just as long as Beth doesn't expect me to call her that."

"Don't worry, she doesn't."

Carrying Dylan, Matt crossed the living room, went to Cassie's room, knocked, heard a groggy, "Come in," before opening the door.

"Time to get up, Cass." He went over to her window, let in the sunlight while Dylan started to fuss for his bottle.

A sleepy groan came from the canopy bed.

"Beth is making breakfast," Matt said, and noticed Cassie started to wake up in earnest. Nothing like the promise of good food to get someone out of bed.

Getting impatient for his breakfast, Dylan made more of a protest as Matt carried him into the kitchen.

The boys had gathered there, Ethan slumped against the counter, and Ryan perched on a stool-- both watching as Beth poured batter onto the waffle iron.

"So Ryan was right," Matt edged around the crowd on his way to the fridge, "it was waffles."

Ryan grinned.

"Did you wake Cassie?" Beth asked.

"I think you're the one waking her. That smells great."

"It should." Beth gave him a smile. "You went without dinner last night."

"Now that you mention it, I am hungry." Matt placed the bottle in the microwave, glanced at Beth in her jeans and top, her feet bare and her hair loose and falling around her shoulders. That woman was his wife.

She caught him staring, gave a blushing smile that turned her cheeks a pretty shade of pink.

Ethan caught the moment, and grinned at Matt like a proud kid brother. Though Matt wasn't one to flaunt the fact he had such a pretty sweetheart, he didn't mind Ethan noticing Beth liked her husband so much.

The microwave beeped, and Matt took out the nuked bottle.

"Ethan, I was wondering if you'd do me a big favor." Beth placed a stack of waffles on a plate, handed it to Ethan. "Would you watch the kids for Matt and I, today?"

The teenager looked at the plate of golden waffles, then eyed Beth with suspicion. "Is this a bribe?"

"No, just my way of saying please," Beth smiled.

Ethan looked back at the waffles, groaned in defeat and reached for the syrup on the center island. "How long am I supposed to babysit?"

Just then Cassie came into the kitchen in her nightshirt, her eyes perking up even more when she saw what was for breakfast.

"I don't know how long Matt and I will be gone, but we'll be home before evening. The visitation is tonight, so everyone remember to be ready, okay?"

"Where are you and Matty going?" Ethan asked with a mouthful of waffle.

"Beth, I won't have much free time today." Matt held the bottle as Dylan fed. "Whatever you're planning, I hope it won't take long."

The curious look from Beth betrayed instant curiosity. Did this have anything to do with the secret, with why Matt was saving money? Great, just great. Matt feared it would be like this, that's why he had to get it done while she was still distracted by the funeral. If she was this sharp with family matters flying around her, he wouldn't stand a chance when things died down.

That woman didn't miss a thing.

"I'll try not to take up all of your time," she smiled, and went back to making waffles.

Why did he feel uneasy?

Leaving Cassie to help Ethan with the little ones, Beth felt confident that between the two of them, they should have things well looked after. Cassie knew how to care for Dylan, and Ethan would be on hand to take care of whatever Cassie couldn't.

It hadn't been hard to ask the girl to help Ethan babysit. After yesterday's shopping excursion, Beth could have asked Cassie for one of her kidneys, and the girl would have said "yes."

Turning the car onto the highway, Beth glanced at the silent passenger beside her. Matt wasn't too thrilled about not taking the truck, mainly because she knew he preferred to drive. But this was her car, and the presumption was that she would drive her own vehicle.

"Where are you taking me?" he finally asked.

"For starters, we need to pick up Ethan's suit. I promised him I wouldn't forget."

"Ah, yes. The suit." Matt shook his head. "He told me how you forced him to get it."

"Ethan said that?" Beth felt a tug of worry. "I had the impression he liked it."

"He does," Matt sighed, "or he wouldn't have tried to make sure I understood it wasn't his idea. So what comes after picking up Ethan's suit?"

Beth smiled. "One thing at a time."

"I hope you're not thinking of forcing me to get a suit. I told you I didn't want one."

She sighed, but made no comment to what was fast becoming a sore spot with Matt.

"It's been a while since we went anywhere without the kids," she said, trying to change the subject.

"Uh-huh." He still looked suspicious.

"I thought it would be good to have some time to ourselves," she pressed on. "Maybe even have a chance to talk about our relationship."

She slid him a look and saw him frown.

"What about our relationship?"

"Matt, I wish you'd loosen up a little. It's too nice a morning to be grumpy." She smiled, glad she'd dressed so casual. She felt like wearing sandals and letting her hair down, embracing the day instead of dreading it. The evening would come soon enough, but for now, she wanted to enjoy the fact that she was married again, and to not just anyone. She belonged to Matt Taylor-- handsome, good man that he was.

Right now, that good man sat staring out the passenger window, his Stetson on his knee, the reflection on the window revealing an uneasy face.

"Matt, I've been thinking."

"I was afraid of that," he groaned.

"I'll be generous and ignore that remark." Beth checked the speedometer, and prayed Matt would listen to reason. "After some thought and prayer, I'd like to make you a business partner at the nursery."

"That's a bad idea."

"I could handle the business end-- buying plant material, dealing with the growers, handling the bookkeeping-- and you could manage the store."

"You're forgetting something, aren't you?" She could feel his penetrating gaze. "I don't know what I'm doing."

"I can teach you. Matt, please think about it before you dismiss it entirely. I think this partnership could work." Sensing momentum, her smile came more easily. "Our marriage is going so strong, why couldn't we extend it into a working partnership?"

"Me? A store manager?"

"A working partner," she nodded. "I'd like to keep the name, 'Beth's Garden Nursery,' though. It doesn't make sense to confuse our customers when we have so few to begin with. But it would be our business."

"Beth, you're nuts."

"If I am," she conceded, "I'm no crazier than you."

"That's debatable." His sigh weighed down some of Beth's hope. "What happens when it doesn't work? If your business tanks while I'm the so-called manager, it'll be my fault. People will drive by and say, 'See that? That used to be Beth's Garden Nursery. Poor woman. Lost her head over a man, gave him control of her business when he couldn't tell a flower from a weed, and now look at her-- living under some overpass in a rickety cardboard box, all her worldly belongings piled into a grocery cart.' Oh, yeah, I'm just the one you need."

"Matt Taylor, what's gotten into you? I know you've been having a rough time, but that's pushing things a bit too far." She straightened her shoulders. "I have not lost my head over you."

"Oh yeah? I dare you to say that again."

She opened her mouth to do just that, when he reached over and teased her hair with his fingers. It was just a simple touch, but a pleased sigh escaped her lips and gave her away.

"Care to take it back?" he asked.

"If I have lost my head, Matt, then I'm not the only one."

"I'll go along with that."

She heard the smile in his voice and took heart.

"Think about it, Matt."

The hand lingered to stroke her neck before pulling away.

He said nothing, looked out the window and let the minutes pass until she pulled into the parking lot of the men's store.

"Is this where you took Ethan?" Matt sat up and gaped at the large brick building with the fancy black awning over the entrance. "I'm guessing this place costs an arm and a leg just to get in the door."

"It's not that bad," she laughed as she parked the car. "Really, Matt, you're starting to sound like Ethan."

"If Ethan sounded like me, then he showed good sense."

Undeterred, Beth grabbed her purse, opened her door and got out while Matt remained right where he was.

"You're coming with me, aren't you?"

"I wasn't planning on it." Matt leaned back in his seat. "You go in, do what you have to, and I'll wait in the car."

"Matt, you're being silly."

"No, I'm not." He said it with a chuckle. "I go in there, and five minutes later, you'll have me trying on a suit. No, thanks."

Beth blew out an exasperated sigh. "All this is because I'm the one paying for it? Matt, I don't understand why you're being so obstinate." She climbed back in the car rather than stand and talk to him through the open door where others could overhear.

"Matt, I'm trying to understand, I really am."

He propped an elbow against the passenger door, leaned his head against his hand.

"I can't take you up on that job offer."

"Why not?"

"Because you're my wife-- and before you get excited and tell me I'm way off base, hear me out." He sighed heavily. "I will not-- I refuse, to live off you like some deadbeat looking for a mealticket. You may not see me that way, but it's how I see myself and I don't like that picture. I'm done with selling myself."

"You're not selling yourself."

"Beth, you say that now, but what am I supposed to do when I blow it, and your business takes a hit?"

"Who's to say you're going to fail? You're not giving yourself enough credit."

"Maybe not, but you're giving me too much."

Swiping back the hair that kept falling into her face, Beth remembered why she kept it in a braid so much of the time. It was a nuisance.

"Well then." She put down her purse. "Where does that leave us?"

"What do you mean?"

"You obviously don't trust me, because if you did, you'd take the job."

"Come again?"

"If you think I'm going to hold it against you for accidentally hurting my-- make that our-- business, then you obviously don't trust me."

"I trust you."

"Then take the job."

"What if I hurt you?"

"Matt, what do you think this is doing to me, now?" She cracked open the door to get some air. "I love you, and I want us to work together. Yes, there would be some risks, but we'd face them. Together."

He exhaled, looked out over the parking lot, then back at her.

"I'm fighting for us"-- she pointed at him-- "and so should you. If we keep butting heads over money, what do you think it's going to do to our marriage? Whatever you make as an employee somewhere else, we're never going to be on equal footing."

"Beth, I don't know how to break it to you, but even if I became your business partner, managed the store, and whatever else you're thinking, it won't make us equal. I barely came into this marriage with two nickels to rub together, and you-- you're what people in my old neighborhood would call rich. You're raising kids that aren't your own, and have married a worthless bum who's greatest achievement was to marry into money."

"I hate it when you beat yourself up, I really do." Beth looked away. "Your greatest achievement wasn't marrying me. It was coming to God when everything in your life was against you." She turned back to him and kept going. "You can't tell me, coming from where you have, that getting over your addictions, taking on your brothers and sister all by yourself, wasn't courageous."

"It wasn't done out of courage." Matt closed his eyes a moment before continuing. "I was scared, that's all. It was either do it God's way, or curl up and die."

"You know," she forced herself to be calmer, "you aren't the only one who's gotten something out of this relationship."

"I know." He gave a half smile. "You're a mom again."

"No, I meant something else." Opening her purse, she pulled out a wallet, unsnapped it and showed Matt the three pictures she kept in the photo insert.

One was of Caleb, another of Luke, and the third was of Bailey, her beloved four-footed friend.

"Do you remember Bailey? Do you remember what I nearly did when he died? I changed my mind before you came and found me, but I wanted to take my life. I had thought of doing it before, and if you hadn't shown up when you did, I don't know that I wouldn't have changed my mind again and went through with it." She shoved the wallet into his hand, let him stare at Bailey. "God used you to save my life. Think about that a moment, and then tell me who owes who?" She sighed. "It comes down to divine intervention and two people who need each other. We owe God to make this work."

Pain came to Matt's eyes as he stared at the photo of Bailey, and she knew he was remembering that morning when he'd found her on the bathroom floor with the pills scattered at her feet.

"I wish you hadn't reminded me of that." He closed the wallet, squeezed his eyes shut and forced his lips together in a line of thoughtful pain. "You're right-- we owe God, big time." Matt handed her back the wallet. "Why aren't I in there?" he asked.

"Why?" A shaky laugh made her aware of just how wrapped up in this discussion she'd become. "I don't have any photos of you yet to put in my wallet, and I daresay, you don't have any of me. Do you keep Ethan, Cassie, Ryan, and Dylan in yours?"

"I don't have one of Dylan yet, but..." Matt tugged out his wallet, opened it to show his family. "You're not in mine, so I guess we're even."

"Be my partner, Matt." She touched his arm. "If the nursery fails, then we'll do something else."

"You really want this?" he asked.

"I do."

"You're taking a big chance."

"I don't think it's as big as you're imagining." She stroked his arm and smiled when he did. "You have me to teach you the business, and I have you to share the burden. We share the children, the business, and our life together. To me, this is the natural next step."

Still thoughtful, Matt folded his wallet. "If we do this, I need you to promise me something."

"Name it."

He eyed her carefully. "When I'm floundering, and trying to learn everything you're struggling to tell me about the business, I'd appreciate it if you could lose the teacher voice. It's been bugging me for a long time."

"Teacher voice?"

"Yeah, that voice you get when we're at work and you're telling me what to do. I don't mind taking orders so much, but that voice..." Matt sucked in a deep breath. "It's like I'm in grade school all over again. I may be younger than you, but I'm not that young."

"I don't do that."

"You do." Matt tucked the wallet into his jeans pocket. "It's annoying, and now that I'm married to that voice, I'd like to do something about it if it happens again."

She folded her arms. "Just what did you have in mind?"

"For starters," a grin formed around his mouth, "the next time you give me that teacher act, I'm going to haul off and kiss you. I don't care if it's in front of customers, or not, I'm going to kiss you."

"You wouldn't dare. Not in front of the customers."

Matt grinned harder. "Try me."

Her mouth fell open.

"Maybe that'll keep the teacher away," he said with a nod. "Okay, let's get this over with." He popped open the passenger door. "As much fun as this is, I have something else to get done today."

She snatched her purse, pushed her door open and climbed out. "You're coming inside with me?"

He put on the Stetson. "Don't look so happy. I'm going to let you buy me a suit."

"If this is going to happen, Matt, I won't pay for it-- we will." She rounded the car, took his arm, and started him toward the store at a leisurely walk. "Our business, our money. This is a partnership, remember?"

"It's not going to be that easy."

"One step at a time, Matt. Please, let's just take this one step at a time." She hugged his shoulder. "I love you."

He kissed her hair. "You're a sweetheart, Beth."

They went into the store, found the salesman from the day before and asked about Ethan's suit.

"It's ready for pickup." The man led them out of the walkway where they were blocking someone else. "Since he didn't come in to try on the alterations, you'll have to take it without a final fitting. If it needs more adjusting, bring it back and we'll take care of it."

"Before we pick it up"-- Beth looked at Matt and saw him squirm-- "we'd like to buy a suit for my husband. You did such a good job with Ethan, I was hoping you could do the same for Matt."

The salesman grinned, no doubt seeing more dollar signs and led them to a rack where neatly tailored garments awaited customers.

To Beth's quiet amusement, the man chose a dark gray suit for Matt to try on. She remembered that particular color was supposed to make young men look older, and refrained from telling Matt. He'd only be embarrassed.

She could hardly wait to see it on her husband, and when he finally stepped from the changing room, the breath she'd been holding came out in a stunned whoosh.

It shouldn't have surprised her, but it did. Matt looked like he'd just stepped out of a cologne ad, all smooth and trendy and drop-dead handsome. A customer nearby saw Matt, tapped the saleslady who was helping him with his own wardrobe, and asked about Matt's suit. No wonder, for the guy probably hoped he'd look like Matt.

Not a chance.

The salesman grinned and went to check the fit. "This is a very polished, well groomed look, and very nearly a perfect fit on you."

"I feel like I'm wearing someone else's clothes." Matt adjusted the tie around his neck, glanced at the full-length mirror nearby. "How much is this?"

"This two-piece suit is from a designer label," the salesman admitted, "but look at the results. It's like it's been tailored just for you."

The flattery wasn't overdone, for Beth agreed, but it failed to impress Matt.

"Did my brother-- the guy who was in here yesterday with Beth-- did he get one like this?"

"No, his wasn't from a designer label." The salesman went on, and Beth guessed the reason he'd chosen this particular suit was because he'd heard Beth say Matt was her husband. Husbands might pay more than a kid looking for something for a graduation.

He was right.

"I like this one." Beth moved around Matt to see the fit for herself. "He'll need some long-sleeved shirts, and dress shoes."

"What?" Matt scowled. "I'm wearing my boots."

"But those are scuffed up, and look like they're several years old."

"That's because they are."

"Then we'll need boots-- something dark and polished to go with this suit."

"That would work," the salesman nodded. "Especially if he doesn't tuck his pants into the boots. That would be tragic."

"I never tuck." Matt looked insulted and just a tad amused. "Tragic. I feel like I'm on another planet." He turned back to the mirror and shook his head. "This can't be planet Earth."

"There's a decent Western outlet not far from here," the salesman went on, not at all discouraged by Matt's lack of enthusiasm. "We don't carry Western boots, but I'm sure you'll find something appropriate there."

"We'll need the suit for this evening," Beth said, ignoring Matt's groan. "Besides some hemming, I don't think it needs any alterations, do you? It fits him so perfectly."

"Doesn't it?" The man grinned. "I wish everyone came in here and found something that fit them so exactly. It'd certainly make my job easier."

From that comment on, Matt remained silent. He must have known he wasn't in the driver's seat, for he let her pick out his shirts, then move on to the denim jeans for some nicely tailored casual pants. Matt tried on the clothes, though she clearly saw his discomfort over spending so much money.

When the suit trousers had been hemmed, and they came to the checkout with Ethan and Matt's garments, Matt looked extremely ready to leave.

The moment they pushed through the entrance, and escaped the store, he breathed a loud sigh of relief.

"When it comes time to pay that credit card, just remember this was all your idea."

He offered her his arm, and she took it with a smile. "Thank you, Matt."

"Please, don't thank me. Ethan is going to have a riot when he sees me in that getup. I'm going to hear lawyer jokes all evening long."

"Trust me, you won't look like a lawyer."

"Ethan's going to laugh," Matt said, and left it at that.

She disagreed, but now wasn't the time for more involved discussion.

They headed over to the Western outlet-- a surprisingly upscale, two-story building that was even grander than the men's store.

Matt said nothing, but this time, she didn't have to coax him out of the car.

"Have you ever been here?" she asked.

"Are you kidding?" He flashed her a look, and she could tell he struggled not to grin. "I've heard of this place, but never went in. I was too afraid I'd buy something."

"Let's hope they sell cowboy boots," Beth smiled, and pulled out her cell phone to call home.

Though Ethan answered on the second ring, he sounded annoyed that she couldn't be gone for hours at a time without making sure nothing was broken or bleeding.

"I think I can handle a few kids," Ethan said, while the TV played in the background. "They're not going to fall apart just because you and Matty aren't here. Hey, Cass-- tell Ryan to climb off the bookcase."

"What?" Beth pressed the phone to her ear, only to hear Ethan laughing.

"Gotcha! I had you going there, didn't I? Relax, would you? I got it covered." The phone hung up, leaving Beth to steady her shaken nerves.

"Everything all right?" Matt asked as she slipped the phone into her purse.

"They're fine, but your brother has a bizarre sense of humor."

The comment went past Matt. As long as the kids were fine, he apparently didn't need to know more. He kept looking back at the store with all the eagerness of a kid going into an amusement park.

As they went inside, the friendly smell of rawhide and something else-- something that bespoke of brand new-- met her senses. Instead of the rope and wagon wheel decor she half expected, tasteful lighting hung from the vaulted ceiling, casting a warm wash on the muted walls, the displays and racks of merchandise.

"Footwear," she said, and tugged Matt to the left where row upon row of cowboy boots were displayed on shelves.

"Wow." Matt started looking them over.

A woman in jeans and a long sleeved shirt approached them. "May I help you?"

"My husband is looking for boots," Beth said, turning back to Matt as he picked up a pair. "Something that would look good with a dark gray suit."

"Would this be a cowboy tuxedo, or a regular suit?"

"Regular," Beth smiled, "and very dressy."

"The only way I can get my man into a suit," the woman said with a laugh, "is to let him wear it with boots, even though he gets odd looks outside of Texas and New Mexico. The trick is to select a very fine boot in a dark shade, something that doesn't have flashy patterns with colors that have too much contrast. You want dress-- not casual, and not a cowboy work boot."

Matt was asked to sit in a nearby chair so he could pull off his boots. The woman knelt, placed a measuring device on the floor and asked Matt to put his foot in it and stand. Then she measured the other foot.

"You're a size ten, D width." She stood, went to the shelves. "I would suggest a dark boot-- really, anything along these two rows. Do you see something you like?"

He padded over in his socks, looked them over, then pulled down a pair of near-black, burgundy boots.

"Let me get these in your size," she said, and walked away while Matt moved back to his chair.

"I have no idea how much those things are going to cost."

"That's okay, Matt. Let's see if you like them."

"What's not to like?" He gave a helpless shrug. "I can't believe I'm in here."

"As long as we are," Beth moved around to see him better, "you should get a dress hat. The one you have is too worn, if you intend to wear it to the funeral."

He slanted her a look. "I'm not throwing my hat away."

"I didn't say throw it away, just get another, more formal cowboy hat."

"I like this one." He took his off, rotated the gray brim in his hands. "This Stetson and I are old friends."

"Here we are." The woman came back with a box, took out the boots and gave them to Matt. "Try these on for size."

He tugged them on his feet, stood while the woman crouched and felt the toes of the boots.

"There's some room-- that's good-- it means they're not too tight. Walk around and see how it feels."

Matt walked to the entrance, came back and looked at Beth. "They feel good."

"Do you like them?"

He nodded. "They're easily the best I've ever had."

"We'll need a dress belt to match the boots," Beth said to the woman. "We'd also like to get a Stetson-- something nice and not intended for work."

Matt shot Beth a pained look, and she couldn't help wondering if the boots were hurting him.

Insisting they fit just fine, he kept them on and came with her to look at hats. This time, he didn't seem ready to make a choice. In fact, he didn't make one at all. Instead, he hung back and watched as she roamed the displays with the saleswoman.

The intricacies of cowboy hats were explained to Beth, though she didn't pretend to understand it all. She looked over the selection, found a black hat with a silver band and turned to Matt.

He didn't smile.

"This one's nice," she coaxed. "Why don't you try it on?"

"I don't want another Stetson."

"You'd like something else?"

"I don't want any of them. I already have one."

"You need another," she said, and brought the hat to him. "Please, at least try it on."

For some reason, he shook his head and backed away. It didn't make sense.

"What is it? Why are you so attached to that old Stetson?"

He glanced at the saleswoman and she politely excused herself.

He bowed his head, his voice sounding with reluctance. "It was a gift."

"I can understand someone gave it to you, but surely, you won't hurt their feelings by getting another hat."

The look in his dark eyes puzzled her.

"Who gave it to you?" she asked.

He looked away, blew out a sigh as though he hated to tell her. "It was a gift from Helen."

There was only one significant woman in Matt's life who went by that name, though Beth hoped he meant someone else.

"Helen? As in your old flame-- the one you proposed to and she turned you down? That Helen?"

He turned, went back to the chair to take off his boots while Beth followed.

"Why are you holding on to her hat?"

The boots were returned to the box, he put on the lid and stood as though ready for the checkout.

"Why, Matt?"

"She gave it to me on our second anniversary, all right?" He sighed, lowered his voice as a customer moved past them. "She said only the bad guys wear black hats."

"Okay, forget this black Stetson. We'll find a white one."

"Beth, you don't understand. I told her I'd never wear anyone else's."

The wistful sadness in Matt's voice made Beth determined to get rid of Helen's hat. Not just give him another, but replace it altogether. Set it on fire, stomp on the ashes and scatter them to the wind, though she didn't say it in those exact words.

"You need a new hat."

"I can't, Beth. I'd feel like I'm somehow being disloyal."

"Welcome to my world," she held up her hands. "I'm living in a house I used to share with Luke, so I have an idea of what you're feeling. But Matt, it's time to let go. You don't still love her, do you?"

He frowned. "Is that a fair question? You still love Luke."

"Yes, but he's not living. There's a difference. What if Helen decides to pay you a visit one of these days?"

"She won't."

"That's beside the point. For a moment, let's say she does, and she sees you're still wearing her hat. What's she going to think?"

Matt groaned. "That I'm still holding a torch for her."

"And what am I supposed to think when I see you clinging to a romantic moment from an old flame who might one day walk back into your life?"

"She won't bother us." Matt moved the boot box to his other arm. "She's chosen her life, and by now probably wishes me dead."

"Then why are you keeping a promise that no longer matters?"

"Habit, I guess." He took off the hat, and stared at it. "For a long time, in the back of my mind, I thought she might come to the Lord and we'd get married. I owed it to her."

"Whatever you might owe her, you don't owe her this." Beth sucked in a deep, deep breath, grateful that he still wasn't in love with Helen. "She gave up the right to expect you to keep your word over something like an anniversary present."

Matt's face held the pained expression of guilt, not love. He'd been the one to pull Helen into her life on the streets, and Beth could see it wasn't easy for him to let go of that guilt.

With a sigh, he held out the Stetson to Beth. "Here, take it. I won't wear it anymore, though I didn't keep it just because of Helen. I love this hat."

"Then we'll find another you can love." She paused before accepting the hat. "Are you sure about this?"

"Beth, you wanted me to give it up, so take it. Let's go find something else before I change my mind."

Taking the old Stetson, Beth led him to the displays. "Pick out two. One for everyday, another for dress."

"This might take a while," he said, and handed her the boot box.

As Beth watched Matt try on hat after hat, she began to realize just how personal a cowboy hat was to some men.

The saleswoman came to Beth, and the two women watched Matt.

"Could you throw this in the trash?" Beth asked, and handed her Helen's gift.

"Some men," the woman sighed. "I couldn't help overhearing, and you did the right thing. It'd drive me crazy to think of my husband's old ex every time I saw his hat. I'll hide it deep in the Dumpster." She edged away, and while Matt examined the stock, took it into the back where Beth prayed she was hiding it in the trash.

Beth wouldn't have minded if it was crushed and shredded first, though that was probably carrying things too far.

Oh no, it wasn't.

Helen didn't want this good man, but Beth did. He was hers.

Like a territorial she-lion, Beth paced the store while her mate made his selection. Matt could consider the suit and boots as coming from their money, but these hats-- these hats would be from Beth. If Matt was going to wear someone on his head, day in and day out, it would be her.

After going through two dozen hats, he settled on a gray Stetson with a matching band. To Beth's untrained eye, it seemed like the image of his old one, though this one was brand-spanking new, and had a silver buckle on the band.

Matt looked ready to leave.

"Aren't you forgetting a dress hat?" she asked, knowing he was probably going to wear that hat in all kinds of weather, every day, for the next so many years of his life. She picked up the hat she'd been admiring before. "How about this one, too?"

He frowned. "It's black."

"So? It doesn't make you on the side of evil. It would go well with your suit."

"But it's black."

"Good guys can wear black."

"I don't know." He took the hat from her, tried it on. "It is comfortable." He took it off, played with the brim and put it back on. He went to the mirror, adjusted the brim, then went to the saleswoman who had conspicuously returned without Helen's hat.

Beth watched as the woman went behind a desk, held the black Stetson over a device that made steam, then bent it into proper shape. She did the same with the new gray Stetson, held it over the steam, then formed it into the desired shape Matt wanted.

The hats were tried on again, and Matt declared they would do.

With a sigh of relief from Beth, they paid for the hats, the boots, the dress belt, and a hat box where Matt could protect his investment when not wearing it. The hats alone cost several hundred dollars, but Beth was more than happy with their purchase.

To her pleasant surprise, so was Matt. He wore the gray Stetson out of the store, his stride more confident and his face happier than before.

He took it off in the parking lot, ran his hand along the crease in the crown before putting it back on.

"How's it look?" he asked again.

"It looks great."

"It feels great." He took it off, played with the leather sweat band. "I never thought I'd have something this nice."

They got into the car, and Beth started for home. They had missed lunch, but she was eager to get back to the kids, and wanted to be sure they would be ready for this evening.

"The others won't be able to recognize me," Matt grinned, admiring the hat on his knee as she negotiated the late afternoon traffic. "I've had that other one for years, and never thought of getting something else. Now I have this. Ethan's going to flip when he sees it. I can hardly believe I got a new Stetson, let alone two of them. I feel rich."

"You're going to look rich," she said, glad the other one was safe in the hat box in the backseat.

All the way home, Matt admired and commented about his hats.

When they parked in front of the house, he got out and carried the hat box like it held the crown jewels of England.

Thank You, God. Her sweet man was happy.

The moment Matt came through the front door, Ryan came running and wanted a hug. Then he noticed the box.

"Is it for me?"

"I'm afraid not, buddy." Matt heard the baby crying, and moved into the living room.

He found Ethan walking back and forth with Dylan, the little guy wailing at the top of his lungs.

"Man, am I ever glad you're back." Ethan came over, tried to give the baby to Matt, but had to wait until Matt set down his hat box. "He's been crying like this for at least half an hour."

"Why didn't you call us?" Matt took the baby, saw Cassie standing behind Ethan, looking very tearful and embarrassed. "What happened?"

"She had a panic attack," Ethan said, speaking up when Cassie didn't. "Dylan started crying, and Cass said she could handle him. When he didn't stop, Cass lost it. Hey, is that a new hat?"

"What's going on?" Beth asked, coming into the living room.

"I didn't hurt him, did I?" Cassie spoke with tears in her voice. "I didn't know what to do. Ryan had the TV up too loud, and I told him to turn it down. Ryan said it wasn't loud, and I told him it was. Then Ethan shouted at us to be quiet, and Dylan started to cry and I couldn't get him to stop."

"Calm down, he'll survive." Matt automatically checked the infant's diaper. "When was the last time you fed him?"

While Ethan explained the bottle they gave Dylan an hour ago, Beth took Cassie aside.

"We fed him, changed his diaper, and things were going fine until he started crying." Ethan gave a frustrated shrug. "Cass was crying, Dylan was crying, and Ryan almost got started. I'm wiped out."

"Thanks, I'll take it from here." Matt shouldered the baby and saw Beth giving Cassie a big hug. Good. He wouldn't have to deal with two at the same time. He could concentrate on Dylan.

"What's this?" Ryan picked up the hat box and Matt had to catch himself from shouting.

"Put that down. Ryan, put it down, please."

"Hey, you are wearing a new hat." Ethan came in for a closer look, got in Matt's way as he moved to the couch. "Cool, Matty. Very, very cool."

"Thanks." Matt sat down, couldn't help smiling as he took off his hat, placed it crown down on the coffee table while Dylan screamed so hard his tiny face turned red.

"Let me help." Beth came to sit beside Matt on the couch. "Would you mind if I try?"

Unsure what she could do that he wasn't already, Matt handed over the screaming bundle.

"Hush, hush," Beth took Dylan, and cradled him in her arms. She smiled at him and took several deep breaths. "Ryan, would you turn that TV down?"

The volume went lower, and Ryan scooted closer to the screen. A much calmer Cassie settled next to Beth.

Matt checked his watch.

"Beth, I hate to run out on you, but it's getting late and I need to leave if I'm going to be back in time for the viewing."

"But you haven't eaten lunch."

The spike of worry in Beth's voice made Dylan cry louder. She cuddled and soothed, smiled and kept breathing deeply.

"Do what you have to," she nodded to Matt. "I can take care of the kids."

"Are you sure?" He put on his hat, grinned at Ethan's thumbs up. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Go, go." Beth gave him a curious look but didn't ask questions. "If you have time, grab something in the kitchen before you head out."

He nodded, picked up his hat box to take to their master bedroom. He didn't want the others playing with it while he was gone.

Going to the kitchen, he snagged a granola bar, went to the living room and gave Beth a "thank you" kiss before heading out the door.

He left a much quieter house than the one they'd found. Whatever Beth had done with Dylan, it seemed to be working.

Moving at a quick stride, he went to the pickup truck, felt in his pocket and grinned. Good, it was still there. If he lost it, he didn't know how he'd ever explain it to Beth.

The churning in his stomach wasn't only due to hunger. This was a big deal. He knew how much money he could spend, had a store in mind and only prayed he wouldn't blow it on something that wouldn't work. On that note, he needed to check if they had a return policy. Just in case.

Sitting behind the wheel, heading into Las Cruces for the second time that day, Matt struggled to relax. The excitement over the hats and boots made it hard, especially when he glanced at the seat next to him and saw the new Stetson. He tried the deep breathing he'd seen Beth do, but it didn't work.

Not for him.

He switched on the radio, kept time with the music by tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

It wasn't everyday a man did something like this. Maybe his wife didn't bat an eyelash when it came to spending money, but he sure did. And since he'd saved up for this, it meant even more.

When he reached Las Cruces, Matt headed downtown to the store he had noticed when driving by one day. It didn't look expensively grand, but maybe the more expensive places were the small ones. Matt had no idea how those things worked, and didn't really care as long as they had something nice within his price limit.

It had to be nice. And special. And cheap. Cheap, but expensive looking. Maybe that was the right balance.

By the time Matt parked the truck, he was ready to make the plunge.

Sucking in a deep breath, he climbed out of the truck, tugged on his Stetson, and grinned at his reflection on the window. What a hat.

Cool air greeted Matt as he stepped into the polished store. It looked more expensive on the inside than it did from the street, and he hoped that wasn't a bad sign.

A woman in a dark red dress and a pearl necklace came over to him, and he remembered to take off his hat.

"May I help you?"

"Yes, ma'am. I'm looking for something in this size." Matt reached into his pocket, pulled out the ring he'd taken from Beth's dresser. "Can you figure out a size from this?"

"We sure can." She smiled, led him to a long showcase that had a dizzying array of jewelry. "Are you looking for an engagement ring?"

Trying to not appear as overwhelmed as he felt, Matt nodded. "And a wedding band."

"There are a few things to consider when choosing a ring," she began, and started in on a spiel about the clarity, cut, carat size, and color of diamonds. Just that word-- diamonds-- made Matt break out in a sweat.

He told her his budget, and she showed him the rings within his range. It narrowed the selection a great deal, but not so much he could relax.

"What kind of jewelry does your girlfriend favor?" the woman asked.

"She's my wife, and I couldn't honestly tell you. She's worn pearls once, and she likes earrings. Beth doesn't wear that much jewelry. She doesn't need to, she's beautiful enough without it."

The woman's smile warmed even more.

"I'd suggest this." She pulled out keys, unlocked the display and brought out two rings nestled together. "This is a fifteen karat, white gold, bridal set. On the engagement ring, the oval diamond in the middle is set in a marquis shaped display, while the band is encrusted with pave settings-- small diamonds inset into the band. The wedding band follows the same design, but without the marquis setting in the center."

The words flew over Matt's head, for he had no idea what it meant. He only knew they were delicately pretty, kind of like Beth.

The woman held them up to the light. "The total weight of these diamonds are one fourth of a carat."

"Is that a lot?"

She smiled. "It means it's good for a budget, but exquisite enough to be dazzling."

"How much?"

"A thousand dollars."

That made him think.

"Is that with tax?"

"Not quite," she smiled again.

"If I go through with it, can I get it in Beth's size? Do I have to wait for you to order it, or something?"

"We can have the rings resized in an hour, and if for some reason your wife doesn't like them, they can be returned with a small restocking fee."

"Okay, I'll go with these." Matt handed her the ring from Beth's jewelry box and watched as the woman measured it before giving it back.

He went to go wait out in the truck, rather than stand around the store. A thousand dollars. Just like that, he was spending a thousand dollars.

Please, God, help her to like it.

It took Beth an hour to fully calm Dylan, but when he reached that happy stage he was almost unflappable. He seemed more than content to be held by Beth as she made sure the children knew what they would wear to the viewing. He even fell asleep when Beth placed him in the carrier, took him into the kitchen and set the carrier on the wide center island where she could keep an eye on him while she fixed dinner.

Matt still wasn't home, and with all the things that needed to be done, she had to fight becoming anxious. Now wasn't the time to run another errand, though she had a suspicion it had something to do with why he was saving money.

She glanced at the clock, told Cassie to help set the table and then checked the casserole in the oven. Almost ready. The viewing was scheduled for seven, and that meant this family needed to eat, get dressed, and drive back to Las Cruces before it began. Besides Wade, and their family, the only other person she thought they might see was Pastor Mark. She'd called him and related the events of the last so many days to explain why they wouldn't be coming into church tomorrow. Tomorrow was Sunday, and they would be at Eve's funeral.

"Matty's back!" Ryan shouted, and Dylan woke to give one or two cries before Beth soothed him back to sleep.

As she took the chicken casserole out of the oven, Matt strode into the kitchen with Ryan and Cassie on his heels.

"Did I miss dinner?" he asked, and flashed a handsome grin when he saw the casserole. "I'm so hungry, if the kids don't hurry and help themselves, I might eat the whole thing."

"The table's set," Cassie told Beth, and Matt went to lift Ryan so the boy could reach the kitchen faucet and wash his hands.

Trying not to seem too curious, Beth couldn't help but ask the question on the tip of her tongue.

"Did you finish whatever it is you left here to do?"

Matt grinned and said nothing.

"Okay, as long as you're happy." Beth tried to push aside her wild curiosity, and concentrate on the evening before them. "As soon as I get this food on the table, dinner will be ready. Cassie, would you put Dylan in his crib?"

Dinner went off smoothly, with conversation kept to a minimum so no one would take forever eating. Then one by one, people got up to start getting ready.

In the bedroom, Beth hurried into a slender black skirt with a gray top, fixed her hair into a neat bun, then put on some makeup while Matt showered. Whatever he had been doing, he'd been sweating hard.

She left to help Ryan into his good clothes, comb his hair and make sure the boy was presentable to see his mommy. He understood they were going to see her, but that she wouldn't be able to talk to him, for that's what it meant to die.

"Do you remember that dragon story Matt told you?" Beth asked. "Just remember Henry, and it might help when you get sad."

With a sigh, Ryan nodded and accepted Beth's hug.

Next came Dylan. Beth fed and changed him, dressed him in cute pants and a shirt, then placed him in the carrier while Ryan watched.

"Knock on Cassie's door and ask if she's almost ready," Beth told him, and Ryan ran off to deliver the message.

Taking Dylan into the living room, Beth placed the carrier on the coffee table as Ethan's bedroom door opened. He came out in his new suit, looking a bit nervous but very handsome.

"This feels strange." Ethan tugged at the tie around his neck. "Matty's forced me to wear one of these things before, but I can't get used to it. Does it look okay? Did I do it right?"

With a laugh, Beth straightened the tie. "You did a good job. Did Matt teach you?"

"Yeah, he ground it into me when he started going to church. I guess he was hoping I'd come with him." Ethan shrugged. "You look nice."

"Thank you," she smiled, then checked the time. They were running late. "Ryan, did you check Cassie? Is she almost ready?"

The second master bedroom door opened, and Matt stepped out in his designer suit, shiny new boots, and black Stetson. They made a striking combination.

Ethan whistled.

"Make any cracks," Matt warned, "and I'll drag you in front of a mirror. I'm not the only one in a new suit."

Ethan grinned. "I didn't say a word."

"You better not." Matt gentled as Beth came to adjust his tie. Their eyes met, and a smile came to his lips. No word passed between them, but in that few moments, she felt more loved than if he'd paid her every compliment in the world.

She sighed with contentment, caressed his cheek, and smiled when he placed a kiss in her palm.

"Beth, do I look all right?" Cassie came out of her room in the new maxi dress, her mouth dropping open when she saw the boys. "Wow, you guys look like fashion models. Beth, is this outfit too casual? I'm not underdressed, am I?"

"I think I have just the thing you need." Beth took her by the hand, led her into the master bedroom and smiled. "There's a small string of pearls that would go perfectly with that dress." She opened her jewelry box, lifted out an insert and located the necklace. For some reason, Matt stuck his head into the room and watched.

"You look lovely, all you need is a nice accent."

"I'm so nervous." Cassie blew out a breath. "Do I have to say anything to Mom?"

"Only if you want to." Beth draped the necklace around Cassie's neck. "This is your chance to say good-bye."

The girl sighed, looked in the mirror and gave a faint smile.

This evening wouldn't be easy.

For the third time that day, Matt found himself heading into Las Cruces. First, to buy clothes, second, to buy the rings, and now they were going to a funeral viewing. It had been a busy day, and it wasn't even over.

Thank God he had returned Beth's ring before she went to get that necklace for Cassie. Beth hadn't noticed anything disturbed in the carved box, so the coast must be clear. Hopefully, she had no clue what he'd done.

So far, Cassie had managed not to cry, though Matt didn't expect that to last for long. Her new dress made her look older than he felt she was, but he had to admit the outfit was classy and modest. His baby sister was growing up, and the realization gave Matt a growing pang. Children sure didn't stay small for long.

When they reached Nyquist Funeral Home, the sky looked ready for a beautiful New Mexico sunset. Death and life, endings and new beginnings. Here they were, saying good-bye to their mom, and yet finding themselves with new hopes and dreams. These nice clothes, the job promotion, even Beth's wedding rings-- they gave an undercurrent of hope to this sad evening.

Matt clung to that thought as he led everyone into the funeral home. Hope gave life.

They were met by Eric, the funeral director, and Beth went with him to pay what Matt couldn't the day before. While the bills were taken care of, Matt left Ethan in charge of the kids while Matt went to go pick up Wade.

The drive didn't take long, and he found Wade in the motel parking lot, dressed in his secondhand suit, and smelling like whisky and cigarettes. It hadn't smelled that way yesterday, so Matt could only conclude Wade had been self-medicating his grief with tobacco and liquor. Wade moved unsteadily, and Matt prayed the man wouldn't make a drunken scene at the funeral home.

By the time Matt and Wade arrived, Eric had moved the family to a waiting area, for Beth had insisted that Matt be with them when the children saw their mom.

"Thanks," Matt whispered to Beth, "I wanted to be here for that."

With his heart in his throat, Matt and his family, along with Wade, were ushered into a semi-large room with an open casket draped with red and white carnations.

Cassie gave a gasp, and Matt put an arm around her as they went up to see their mother. Beth held Dylan, and Ethan carried Ryan. Wade staggered behind.

There, in the coffin, they found Mom in the clothes Eric had bought for the event. The dark blue dress and the makeup made her look nicer than normal, but still very recognizable as their mother.

As Cassie started to cry, Matt kept an arm around her to let her know she wasn't alone. These kids weren't alone. They had him and Beth, and they had the Lord looking after them, for Matt knew he never could have done it on his own.

To Matt's surprise and gratitude, Pastor Mark showed up, as well as several members from their congregation. They had come, not because they had known Mom, or even met her, but because they knew Matt and Beth and wanted to pay their condolences.

No, this family was definitely not alone.

While Matt talked with Pastor Mark, Cassie stood beside the open casket and said good-bye to her mom.

For all the nervous preparation for the viewing, it went smoothly and without incident. Thankfully, the liquor in Wade kept him quiet and subdued, enough so that he dozed off after they arrived. When the viewing was over, Matt took him back to the motel, unlocked the door to Wade's room with the help of the manager, then got Wade to his bed before Wade collapsed altogether.

Locking the door as he left, Matt got back in his truck to pick up his family.

That night, Matt lay staring at the bedroom ceiling while Beth slept beside him. He wanted to give her the rings, but he also wanted it to be special. Keeping it a surprise meant waiting for the right moment, one where she was happy and, more importantly, awake.

Tomorrow, he thought, and drifted to sleep.

The morning didn't bring much change from last night, for the family ate breakfast, climbed back into their good clothes and went to the cemetery to attend the second half of the funeral. Ethan looked like he just wanted to get it over with, and Matt understood, for he felt the same way.

When Matt left his family to pick up Wade, Matt noticed Wade had sobered up a little over the night. From Wade's sour grimace, Matt knew he had to be suffering from a hangover.

Good. Matt wasn't in any mood to cut Wade much slack.

Aside from a chaplain the funeral home had provided to say a few words to the family, there were no signs of religion as they gathered to bury Mom. They stood on the green, green grass next to a gaping hole, and stared at the closed casket.

"When this is over," Wade dried the wet pooling in his eyes, "I'm leaving town."

Matt studied him a moment. "You don't want to stay for the guardianship hearing?"

"Nah." Wade sniffed, wiped his nose on the sleeve of his suit. "Your lawyer said I didn't have to. I've signed all the papers you'll need, so I'm leaving. Think I'll head out to Nashville so I can get my music going."

Matt didn't ask where Wade was getting his money. Wade had friends in Las Cruces, some who probably dealt in drugs, and drugs always meant trouble. You could never have just a little. Sooner or later you'd find you couldn't live without drugs and trouble, for they came together, and after a while, others would be left to stand around a hole in the ground, to say a final good-bye.

Just like they were doing now.

Stone-sober and silent, Ethan stood next to Matt, looking like he wanted to run away from this plot of ground that would soon swallow their mom. In his own way, Ethan was crying, though not in the way anyone who didn't know him could recognize. It was there in those clenched fists, that hard chin that seemed determined not to tremble.

All that hurt bottled up, and no way to let it out.

Cassie didn't have Ethan's problem. She cried while Beth held Dylan, the infant unaware of the funeral and Cassie's quiet tears.

When Matt felt a tug on his jacket, he picked up Ryan.

"This is just like Henry, the dragon," Matt told the boy. "We'll be all right."

In return for the encouragement, Matt got a hug, and a little boy who didn't want to be put down long after Matt's arms grew tired.

Throughout the funeral, Matt couldn't bring himself to weep. He had said his goodbyes the night before, and if he wept, he would frighten the others. After they turned to leave and stood about talking, he saw the casket as it lowered into the ground.

A final punctuation mark to a short, messed up life.

The house felt so quiet after they came home, Beth tried to shake off the sadness of the funeral by turning on the TV. No one really watched it, but it gave a sense of normalcy to the children. And they needed a taste of normal right now. On the couch, Matt blankly stared at the TV; Ethan lounged beside him with a book, but didn't turn pages; Cassie sprawled on the other couch with a magazine and kept brushing away tears; and Ryan played on the floor with his dinosaur while Dylan slept in his crib.

Neighbors and members from their church kept dropping by with food, condolences, hugs, and flowers, and the fridge filled quickly. No one stayed for long, for they didn't want to intrude and there had been no official announcement to gather for a wake. But one by one, people came by to say how sorry they were about Eve.

Aside from the deathly smell of carnations, the funeral hadn't reminded Beth of Luke and Caleb as much as she feared it would. This funeral had little hysterics, while at Luke and Caleb's, Beth had wept so loudly it interrupted the service more than once.

The memory gave her a pang of sorrow, and she went into the kitchen to start a batch of homemade cookies. They didn't need the food, but it would keep her hands busy and her mind off of death.

In that respect, this funeral was like any other. Someone had died, leaving the living to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Keeping an ear turned to the baby monitor on the counter, Beth mixed chocolate chips into the batter. She looked up and found Matt watching.

"How are you holding up?" he asked, coming to lean against the center island.

"I should be the one to ask you that."

He smiled. "I asked first."

"I'm fine." She checked the preheated oven, went back to her bowl to start placing spoonfuls of dough onto the cookie sheets.

Matt kept watching. "Have you noticed the dandelions out front?"

"The ones by the tree?" She nodded, kept working to get the dough into perfect little mounds. "What about them?"

"Nothing, only that there's a lot of them. Since you're in the plant business, I'd assume it's bad for our image."

The "our" in his statement made her smile.

"I've been trying to get rid of them, but they keep coming back."

"I'll put that down on my to-do-list," Matt nodded. "Right along with fixing this roof. When people drive by the house, you don't want them thinking that's how we run the nursery."

Another "we." She felt encouraged, though she happened to disagree.

"I'd rather not get rid of the dandelions."


She looked at him. "How can you ask that?"

"Ask what?" He shrugged. "Pull out a bunch of weeds?"

"But they're dandelions."

"I know that. That's why they have to go."

"But don't they mean anything to you?"

Again, he shrugged. "Are they supposed to?"

"Matt Taylor, there's not a romantic bone in your body." She slid a cookie tray into the oven, closed the door and reached for another sheet. "I can't believe you've forgotten."

"I haven't forgotten anything." He gave a casual, teasing grin. "This is because of those dandelions I gave you, isn't it?"

She tried not to smile but failed. "I don't want to get rid of them."

"But they're taking over the front yard." He dipped a finger in the cookie batter, had his hand swatted away. "I'm all for romance, but that's overdoing it. Weeds are weeds."

Wiping her hands on her apron, she moved around him to get something from the cupboard. "They are not weeds."

"Okay. Let's play that logic through." His smile unnerved her. "If that was a bed of highly refined roses, and they were being uncivil and taking over the garden, what would you do?"

"I'd have them trimmed and thinned."

"Then I'll trim and thin your dandelions."

She glanced at him, saw that handsome grinning face and had to kiss him.

He tugged her apron strings, pulled her close even though she was sprinkled with flour and he still wore the shirt and pants from his new suit.

For a long, tender moment, he caressed her arm.

"I take it back." She leaned into him, and touched foreheads. "You are romantic."

"I love you so much, Beth."

She kissed him and it tasted so good she went back for more. A hand came around her back, she put her arms around his neck and drowned in his embrace. They fell against the counter.

"Beth," he came up for air, held her so gently it nearly drove her crazy, "I love you."

"We've already established that." She nuzzled his neck, didn't notice his hand reach into his pocket. "I love you, too."

"It's not nearly as much as you deserve," he said, half whispering the words into her ear, "but this comes from me, with all my love." He pressed a felt box into her hand, the kind that usually hid a ring.

"What's this?" she asked, entirely forgetting the cookies. "Is this why you've been saving your money? Oh, Matt, you shouldn't have."

"Open it," he coaxed.

Excitement fluttered through her.

"I didn't expect any presents."

"Would you open the box?" Matt nudged her playfully, with just enough urgency she understood he was anxious for her to see whatever was inside. "If you don't open it, I will."

"I'm getting to it." She inhaled a deep breath. "I want to enjoy this moment. I don't often get presents in fancy felt boxes. Let's see... these things usually contain rings, but I'd imagine it could be a brooch, or maybe it isn't even jewelry at all."

Laughing, Matt made a grab for the box, but Beth pushed him away.

"I'm opening it." She smiled and lifted the lid. "Oh, Matt." Her mouth dropped open as two diamond rings sparkled in the light of the kitchen window. "I never expected this."

"They're not much," he said, taking out the engagement ring, "but I bought them with my own money." Gently, he slipped it onto her ring finger, and grinned when it fit perfectly. "This is something special, something from just me, and I wanted it to be with money that I'd earned." He took out the wedding band. "From here on out, if you don't want me to make a difference between your money, and mine, then neither will I. But I wanted this to come from me." Matt slid the wedding band beside the engagement ring, and pressed a kiss to her fingers. "Thank you for marrying me."

"Matt, you take my breath away when I least expect it." Tears came to her eyes, and she tried to blink them away before she started to cry. "I love you, too. Oh, I love you, too."

She held up her hand, admired the intricate setting, the small diamonds that couldn't have been too expensive, but expensive enough to put Matt to a lot of trouble. They looked like two diamond tiaras nestled on her finger. Whoever designed them, had done a lot with so few carats. They were sweetly exquisite.

"Do you like them?"

"I do." She smiled, admired the way they looked on her hand. "I like them a lot."

"If you don't, I can return them for something else."

"No, I'm keeping these." Beth remembered to breathe. "Matt, you surprise me, this was the last thing I expected you to do."

His dark eyes danced with delight. "You didn't get a ring at our wedding, so I wanted to make it up to you. Do you really like them?"

"They're exquisite, Matt, they really are. You picked these out on your own?"

He touched foreheads. "I had a little help from the saleswoman."

"You should have a wedding band, too. I'll buy you one."

"As far as I'm concerned," he grinned, "you already bought me two of them. Those hats are amazing."

"If I get you a ring-- one that matched these-- would you wear it?"

"As long as it doesn't have all that frilly diamond stuff, sure."

Beth smiled, kissed his mouth. "I want all the girls to know you're taken. This man is mine, all mine."

They kissed until she remembered the cookies in the oven, and had to break free to take them out.

"Cassie?" Beth called to the next room. "Come see what your brother gave me!"

This prompted Ethan and Ryan, as well as Cassie, to come satisfy their curiosity. The moment Ethan glimpsed what the commotion was about, he headed back to the living room. Cassie, though, couldn't get enough of the diamond rings.

"Oh, Matty, they're beautiful! They're the most beautiful I've ever seen."

"Let me see," Ryan said, and tugged at Beth's apron until she showed him her hand.

"It's not cookies." Ryan looked severely disappointed.

"They're cooling," Beth assured him. She fell back into Matt's arms and Matt grinned with pure male pleasure. "Thank you, Matt. I took off Luke's ring the day we married, and now I get to wear yours. Thank you, darling."

Matt kissed her, hung on to her while the smell of freshly baked, chocolate chip cookies filled the house. Love had a tendency to do that-- to fill the everyday with the promise of being there for each other. She was loved, and loved thoroughly by a sweet, goodhearted man.

Epilogue: A few weeks later....

The clock on the nightstand read two A.M., though Matt knew it wasn't true. It couldn't possibly. He'd closed his eyes, actually gotten some sleep this time, and knew it had to be later than that. Rolling onto his side, he stared at the back of Beth's head, a mass of curls that sometimes tickled his nose when they cuddled.

How could she sleep? It didn't seem fair. Of course, she wasn't the one who had to do most of the talking, to look the judge in the face and speak without stammering. Ms. Simmons had prepped them on what to expect at the hearing tomorrow-- no, it was today, for it was after midnight-- and had told him how to act, what to say, and assured him that even though she wouldn't be there, he would do just fine. He didn't need a lawyer, and Ms. Simmons didn't want Matt to appear as though he did. Often, only cases where the guardianship was contested, did anyone actually need a lawyer, so Ms. Simmons didn't want to give the judge the wrong impression. Wade had signed the papers, Matt was a responsible adult, and so was Beth.

Now that Ms. Simmons had done all the difficult paperwork, it was up to Matt and Beth.

In the morning, Matt and Beth would go down to the District Court with Dylan, and ask that the judge appoint them as Dylan's legal guardians. And that was when Matt would verbally state their case. Theoretically, it wasn't supposed to be an impossible task. People did it all the time, and Ms. Simmons reminded Matt that the judge didn't expect him to sound like a lawyer. Though she'd helped him prepare what he wanted to say, Ms. Simmons thought it best if he only used it as a general guideline, and not as a memorized spiel.

Thank God he'd bought that suit. He needed to appear as a normal human being, not a disheveled mess that couldn't be counted on to take care of a pet, let alone a child. Beth had no problem convincing a judge that she was reliable and trustworthy, for she was, but Matt wasn't so sure about himself.

Forget being gallant. Matt needed to ask Beth something, so he nudged her back until she stirred.

"What time is it?" she asked in a thick, groggy haze that Matt envied.

"I need to know"-- Matt hugged himself behind her, spooned his legs behind hers and wrapped an arm about her waist-- "do you still want another dog?"

"What?" Beth yawned, patted his hand and started to go back to sleep.

"Beth, I'm serious. You said you wanted to replace Bailey. Is that still true?"

"Matt, it's too early..." her voice drifted off and he shook her gently. "Yes, I want a puppy."

"A puppy?" His heart sank. "I was thinking more along the lines of an older, mature dog, one that was already housebroken."

"A puppy," Beth mumbled. "I want it to live a very, very long time."

He thought it over, saw himself running after a lop-eared puppy dog, trying to catch the rascal as it left muddy footprints all over a clean carpet.

Matt groaned.

A smile sounded in Beth's voice. "Just think how much fun Ryan will have with him."

Matt nudged her, just to be sure she was still awake. "I'm not saying I'm agreeing to a dog, but if I did, couldn't we get one that already knows what he's supposed to do? House training makes a mess, doesn't it?"

"I want to see Ryan and Dylan grow up with our dog, Matt. I don't want him passing away too soon-- for their sakes, as well as ours."

Matt inhaled, spit out some curls but nuzzled anyway. "We've never had a pet before, so you'll have to teach us what to do. If you still want a dog-- I mean a puppy-- then I guess we should get one."

"What made you think of getting a dog?" Beth sounded awake, and Matt decided to take advantage of the fact by sharing his insomnia.

"I kept thinking about Ryan and Dylan, and what it might be like if we had a baby. I like the idea of a dog in the house, one to guard the kids and be their play buddy. I think it'd be a good thing."

"Wow, you really are nervous." Beth rolled onto her back and he had to move his knees. Her teeth smiled in the semidarkness of their bedroom. "Just because the judge will determine if you're a responsible adult, doesn't mean we need to have a baby just to prove we're right."

"It's not that." Matt propped his head on his elbow, enjoyed the view of Beth from this vantage. "I think we'd make good parents, and while I'm not saying we should try for a bunch of kids-- we have enough as it is-- maybe one of our own would be a good thing. I'd like to be a dad."

"You already are, Matt." Beth smiled so hard he could feel it. "But I won't argue when you're making so much sense. Does this mean you wouldn't mind if I started praying for a baby?"

"I won't mind." He kissed her, pulled up the blankets and listened as Beth prayed.

"Please, Lord, bless us with another child."

Matt had to smile when he heard "another," but she was right. Those kids were theirs, and hopefully, sometime later that day, Dylan would be theirs, as well.

Things were looking up, so taking on more responsibility seemed the next logical step.

With the kind help of Sylvia and Amy, Matt was learning the ropes at the nursery, and had already taken on three and a half kids. What was one more? Okay, three and a half kids and a dog. Make that a rollicking puppy who wouldn't be house trained when they got him.

Man, he should have his head examined.

Wasn't love a pleasant kick in the head? If he was crazy, he didn't want anyone to tell him-- not when being deluded was too much fun.

He rolled Beth against him, kissed her and did his part to get that baby.

Morning came, and with it the guardianship hearing. The older kids were in school, Ryan was with Mrs. Lott, and Matt and Beth had Dylan.

Dressed in his designer label suit, Matt led the way into the large building where Ms. Simmons had already shown him around the week before. Matt knew where to go, who to speak to, and made it into the courtroom while their judge heard another case.

Beth rocked Dylan, and thankfully, he only gurgled and grabbed things instead of deciding to cry. He got hold of Beth's necklace, then the collar of her white blouse. When Matt glanced down at him, Dylan gave him a broad smile, one so cute Matt couldn't help but smile, himself.

Then the moment came.

The bailiff read from a clipboard and Matt and Beth got to their feet, approached the table in front of the judge's bench.

Dylan gave a cry, but Beth rocked him and he quieted down.

The court bailiff spoke in a sober, automatic voice as he asked Matt to raise his right hand and solemnly swear "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So help me God." Then the bailiff swore in Beth.

"Your Honor," Matt cleared his throat, prayed desperately for wisdom and a strong tongue, "my name is Matt Taylor, and this is my wife, Beth. We're the petitioners and the proposed guardians of my brother, Amadeus Dylan Taylor, who my wife is holding."

The sober-faced judge cracked a smile.

"Why do you think a guardianship is necessary?" the judge asked. It was an open ended question for Matt to state his case.

"My brother's mom-- we share the same mom but different fathers-- she committed suicide not long ago, and my brother's father signed the Consent of Appointment of Guardian. He's an alcoholic who's probably using drugs, has no job, no permanent address, and no way to support himself and Amadeus. He and our mom brought Amadeus to my house, before Amadeus was two weeks old, and he's been with me ever since.

"I've already been appointed the legal guardian for my two brothers and sister, so my wife and I would like to become Dylan-- I mean, Amadeus' legal guardians."

The judge looked over the paperwork.

"The medical examiner determined the cause of death for your mother was suicide? Is that right?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"You and your wife haven't been married long."

"No, Your Honor, we haven't."

"You married soon after Amadeus was left in your care. Was the timing coincidental? Did you marry for the express intent to give your brother a home?"

"Yes, Your Honor." Matt resisted the urge to volunteer information-- something Ms. Simmons had warned him not to do. If the judge wanted to know something, he would ask.

"Are you both prepared to take care of Amadeus until he turns eighteen, when the guardianship is terminated?"

"Yes, Your Honor, we are."

"Yes, Your Honor," Beth added in a nervous voice.

"And you both have an income sufficient to meet the needs of Amadeus?"

"Yes, Your Honor."

"Very well, very well." The judge looked through more paperwork, then began to read the order before him. "Petition for order appointing kinship guardian. State of New Mexico, County of Doña Ana, Third Judicial Court, Matt Taylor and Beth Taylor, petitioners, versus Wade Martin, in the matter of the kinship guardianship of Amadeus Dylan Taylor...."

The judge read and Matt wondered how things were going. The questions hadn't been too hard, but then, Ms. Simmons had said that as long as no one contested the guardianship, it was more likely to go through.

The judge began signing things and Matt felt more hope.

Before Matt had time to process what was happening, the hearing ended, and he and Beth had to wait on the clerk.

Without the paperwork the clerk would give them, they were not officially Dylan's guardians. At least, that was the way Matt thought Ms. Simmons had explained it to him. Things were happening more quickly than Matt had hoped they would, and in all the subdued excitement, he couldn't remember everything Ms. Simmons had told him.

They waited half an hour on hard chairs, then an hour, and Beth had to go to the car to feed and change Dylan. When she came back with a happily full Dylan, Matt was still waiting for the clerk.

A woman came up to them, asked to see some identification, then gave Matt a thin stack of papers. He sorted through them and realized he now had the official paperwork needed to say that he and Beth were Dylan's guardians.

"It's done." Matt looked at Beth and saw her bright smile. "He's ours."

They joined hands, and in a quiet hush, Matt and Beth thanked God for giving them Dylan. He was theirs, to raise and to love, to live with them and be a part of their family.

"I just had a nice thought. Dylan brought us together," Beth said wistfully, as she and Matt left the courthouse. "Without him, we wouldn't be married right now."

Matt thought it over and agreed. If it hadn't been for one small bundle, Matt would never have married his boss. They would never have moved into her big home, let alone spending that night together in the desert when he and Beth fell in love. For lack of a better point of reference, he considered that night to be when they both fell in love. Whether it had been earlier or not, only God could tell for certain.

"Matt, that reminds me"-- already, Beth's mind was moving forward-- "when Ethan leaves for college and he takes your truck, we'll need to get a minivan."

"A minivan?" They moved through the busy parking lot and searched for their car. "I was hoping we'd get another truck, not some wimpy minivan."

"But if we have a baby, we might not have enough room for all the kids in a truck."

"Ouch. I hadn't counted on that." Matt glanced at Dylan, found the boy smiling and just had to laugh. "If we need one, then so be it."

Happiness ran freely as Matt counted his blessings, then thanked God with a quiet, heartfelt prayer. He had the love of a good woman, one who stood by him even when she knew his past, and he had three brothers and a sister, their lives touched by the loving, watchful care of Heaven.

Matt and Beth were very blessed, and so were every one of their four, homegrown dandelions.

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities [Matt's past]; who healeth all thy diseases [no STDs]; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction [former drug addict, teenage prostitute]; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed..."
~ Psalm 103:2-5 ~

"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil."
~ Proverbs 16:6 ~

end of book

You can download Homegrown Dandelions in a PDF by
right-clicking here. (It's a 2.4 MB file.)

Join my announcement list to be notified when I have news about Homegrown Dandelions' for-pay sequel! (The next one will be Ethan's turn!)

<< Love Stories Last Page
Spread the Love
One of my longtime readers, Myra Valcourt, has created a Facebook group just for you! "The Works of Judith Bronte" offers a forum to discuss the stories and characters, and a way to get to know other readers. I hope to see you there!