Excerpt for An Unexpected Family (Orphan Train Romance Series, Book 1) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Orphan Train Romance Series, Book 1

Written by Zoe Matthews

Copyright © 2014

All Rights Reserved

No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior consent from the copyright owner and publisher of this book.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places, and events are the product of the author's imagination or used fictitiously.




Between 1850 and 1930, around 250,000 abandoned and orphaned children traveled on trains from the east coast of United States to different towns in the west in hopes of finding new homes. Most came from New York City.

This plan was started by a man named Charles Loring Brace who was very concerned about the number of young children living on the streets of New York. He worked with an orphanage named “Children’s Aid Society.” He came up with this idea that, if these children were taken west and placed in homes in rural communities, they would have a chance for a better life rather than spending their childhood in an orphanage or on the streets. Forty-five states eventually participated in this program, including the countries of Mexico and Canada.

Posters were placed around towns to advertise “Homes Wanted for Orphans.” There usually was a committee in the town that would screen interested parents and help place the orphans. These children were supposed to be adopted and treated as family members. This wasn’t always the case though, and sometimes children were placed in bad situations.

Despite this loosely structured plan, many children did find loving homes with caring parents and families.

Chapter 1

Amanda Drake walked into the general store and headed to the back of the large room. She was looking for some specific fabric for a new order she had received for a morning dress from the mayor’s wife, Mrs. Margaret Porter. She had asked for green-plaid fabric, buttons, lace and ribbon. Amanda was hoping she would be able to find it all in Maple Grove’s only general store and that she would not have to travel to another town or to have items ordered in. She was looking forward to making this dress, for it would help her seamstress business grow, as word got around about her talents at sewing clothes, since Mrs. Porter had many friends.

Amanda breathed a sigh of relief, as she saw the green-plaid fabric, that she had in mind, was available. She was able to find buttons and lace that would work perfectly with the fabric. Although she couldn’t see ribbon that would match, she thought she might have some in her own, dress-shop supplies. Amanda brushed away some strands of dark brown hair out of her eyes that had escaped her bun due to the Texas wind in the short walk across the street from her dress shop to the general store. As she started to gather what she needed, she felt a presence behind her, and she knew immediately who it was.

She turned around to face the last person she wanted to see that day and the person she was hoping to avoid. Craig Parker was standing in front of her with a new shovel and a bag of nails in his hands.

“Hello, Amanda,” Craig greeted her with his big booming voice and teasing grin. Amanda couldn’t help but notice his sun-bleached-blond hair that desperately needed a trim and his surprisingly bright, sky-blue eyes. He had removed his cowboy hat which was tucked under his arm.

“Hello, Mr. Parker,” Amanda tried to answer quietly, so they wouldn’t attract attention from the shopkeeper, Mrs. Estelle Davis. Mrs. Davis, in Amanda’s opinion, happened to be the biggest gossip in Maple Grove. She said his last name pointedly, reminding him that she had not given him permission to call her by her first name.

Craig just grinned down at her, looking delighted that he had the opportunity to talk to her. “Have you thought more about my proposal of marriage?” He asked her, his voice sounding a little quieter but still loud just the same.

“The answer is still no,” Amanda whispered irritably. “Please don’t ask me again.”

She walked over to a display of sewing scissors and threads, pretending interest in the variety of choices. She tried to hint to Craig to leave her alone and that she wasn’t interested in talking about it, especially in the general store.

“I don’t see why you won’t even consider it,” Craig pretended to pout, as he followed her. “I know for a fact you have no other prospects, your being a widow and all, and childless besides.” Craig pushed himself between the display and Amanda.

“My decision as to why doesn’t concern you,” Amanda loudly whispered again. She tried not to look at him, because, for some reason every time she did, her heart would do a little flip. The last thing she wanted was to feel an attraction to a man other than her late husband, David.

“Well, I guess if you want to go through life as an old maid, it’s your choice,” Craig teased her. “But my offer still stands. I have purchased a great little farm that is located just outside of town, you know, but it’s kind of lonely out there, and I could use some help.”

“You don’t marry someone just to have extra help,” Amanda said firmly. “You should marry only if you love that person.”

“Ah, love,” Craig said, his eyes still twinkling with laughter. “That will come after we get to know each other.” Craig reached down and handed Amanda a pair of scissors that she had been pretending to study. “Besides, if you marry me, you won’t have to work in that shop of yours anymore. You would have someone else to support you.”

Craig’s words frustrated Amanda and made her more determined not to marry him. She knew Craig had no idea that she didn’t have to work. David had left her a sizable amount of money when he died, along with the small house she was living in. After his death, Amanda had decided to turn part of her home into a dress shop and to sew clothes for other women and children. She loved to sew, and it kept her busy. Sewing also made her feel close to David, as he had purchased the Singer-sewing machine for her as a gift for their, fifth-wedding anniversary.

Amanda had loved David very much and didn’t think she could ever love another man. She had resigned herself to the fact that she would live alone for the rest of her life. If only she had been able to have a child with David, then she wouldn’t be so lonely. But it wasn’t meant to be, and she had long ago accepted her childless state.

Amanda felt angry with Craig, because she was afraid he was just looking for another free “ranch hand” to work to death, like what had happened to her mother. Amanda’s father had died when she was a young girl. Her mother had remarried soon after, mainly because she couldn’t support Amanda on her own and care for the farm she and her first husband had purchased before Amanda was born.

Her new stepfather was a very stern man and kept her mother and Amanda working and busy all day long and sometimes even late into the night. Despite all their hard work, there was never enough to eat, and the small farm home they lived in was crumbling around them. Her mother died when Amanda was 16 years old, probably from exhaustion. She went to bed one night after an extremely hard day’s work and never woke up.

Amanda left the farm on her own soon after her mother’s funeral and was able to find work as a kitchen maid in David’s family home. Even though it wasn’t the proper thing to do, David and Amanda fell in love and married when she was 18 years old. She had many fond memories of her marriage to David. He was almost 10-years-older than she was. He was an attorney, and they had moved to Maple Grove, Texas, soon after they had married. He died from falling off of a horse and hitting his head on a rock, when he was on his way home from visiting a client on a ranch near Maple Grove. They had been married for eight years. She had since been alone the last two years and planned on being by herself for the rest of her life.

Chapter 2

Amanda noticed a commotion at the front counter of the general store. She could see a group of ladies crowding around the counter, with Mrs. Estelle Davis behind it talking loudly, waving her arms around as she spoke. Amanda put the scissors that Craig had given her back on the display rack and gathered up her chosen fabric and notions. She walked towards the counter to see what was going on, leaving Craig to follow if he wished.

When she approached the counter, she leaned over to one side and noticed a large poster lying on the scarred counter. It said “Wanted: Homes for Orphan Children.” The words confused her.

“What does the poster mean?” she asked a nearby woman who happened to be one of her neighbors, Mrs. Charlotte Moss. Mrs. Moss and her husband ran a bakery that was located next door to her, dress shop.

“A group of orphans that is coming to Maple Grove on the train in a few days from New York,” Mrs. Moss explained as the women around them continued talking. “Evidently these children are from an orphanage called ‘The Children’s Aid Society.’ They all have lost their own parents for some reason or another, and they need new families.”

“Orphan trains have been taking children to new families for the last ten years or so,” the doctor’s wife, Mrs. Pamela Collins, added to their conversation. “The train drops them off to different farming communities and families are given a chance to adopt them. If some of the children aren’t placed, they get back on the train and go to the next town.”

The reverend’s wife, Mrs. Abby Watson, added further to the conversation. “There will be about 18 children coming here to Maple Grove in a few days. It would be wonderful if all 18 were placed in our own community.”

“May I see the poster?” Amanda asked Mrs. Davis. She handed the poster to Amanda, as she continued to loudly let everyone know that she and her husband planned on doing their duty in taking a child.

Amanda leaned over the poster in her hand and faintly noticed Craig, standing beside her reading along with her.

WANTED: Homes for 18 orphan children!

A group of orphan children from the Children’s Aid Society of New York will arrive in Maple Grove, Texas.

These children are intelligent, well disciplined, and in good health. There will be both boys and girls of various ages. A local committee from Maple Grove will help assist in selecting the families in which to place these children. Applications will be accepted on Wednesday, May 24th, at 10:00 a.m. in the Town Hall. The children will arrive on Friday, May 26th, and will be available to meet in the Town Hall at 11:00 a.m.

Come see and meet these children and hear the address of Mr. Thomas Carver, the children’s placing agent, along with his wife Mrs. Darlene Carver.

Amanda looked up, amazed that this event was even happening. She handed the poster back to Mrs. Davis and silently listened to the chatter of the other women. She learned that most of them were wanting to take a child.

Eventually the women drifted away from the counter, and Amanda was able to purchase the supplies she needed. As she left the store, Craig placed his purchases down on the counter and ran after her.

“Maybe I will take a boy, since you keep refusing my offer,” Craig said to Amanda, as he rushed to open the store door for her.

“It would be irresponsible to adopt a child just to work for you!” Amanda said forcefully to him, as they stepped outside in the Texas sunshine.

For the first time, Craig looked angry at her. ” If you think that is the only reason why I would want a boy, you don’t know me at all.” He turned and walked back into the store to pay for his purchases.

Amanda sighed with relief that Craig was finally leaving her alone and walked the short distance to her shop. Once inside, she put away her purchases and walked over to her sewing machine to continue her work on a light-green dress she was making for a little girl. As she worked on the hem, she thought over the events of the afternoon. She felt so frustrated that Craig kept pursuing her. She had no plans to marry again, and she definitely wouldn’t marry unless there was love between them like there had been between David and her.

She started to think about the orphan train and the 18 children who would soon be visiting the town and quite possibly staying. What if she tried to apply for a child, a little girl? Why not a widow like herself?

I would be a good parent, she thought to herself. I have a lot of love to give. There might be a little girl who would be happy with just having a new mother. I could provide a suitable home and could even teach her how to sew, so she would have a skill to use when she was older. It would be better for a child to have one parent than no parent at all.

As Amanda made plans to submit an application for a child, she felt a peace in her heart that this was the right thing to do.


Craig hurried back into the store to purchase the items he needed for his farm. He couldn’t believe Amanda would think so little of him that he would want a child just to work the farm. Who did she think he was? She really didn’t know him for her to make a judgment like that.

Craig was ready to settle down and start a family. He started having this desire when he first met Amanda at a barn raising a year ago. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, with her, dark-brown hair and almost black eyes. Her hair had some red streaks in it that shown in the sun. Her hair was always in place just right, and she always wore beautiful dresses, most likely wearing the clothing she had made herself.

He climbed on his horse and headed north out of Maple Grove. As he rode along, he started to calm down, and he thought more seriously of adopting a boy. Would it even be a good idea? He didn’t need a boy to work the farm. He had his friend and his wife helping him. John Sitting Horse had worked with him for a number of years on various cattle ranches around Texas and the surrounding states. When Craig purchased his farmland, he asked John to live on his land and help him. John recently married a woman named Lily. John agreed, and he acted as a foreman rather than a hired hand. Craig provided John and Lily with a small house and food. He also paid them a small salary. Lily helped keep Craig’s farmhouse clean and did all the cooking.

He didn’t need Amanda to help keep house. He admitted to himself that he was lonely and that he was ready to marry and start a family, but Amanda had rejected his proposal of marriage many times. He had thought he just needed to be patient, that Amanda just needed convincing, and some more time to get over her husband’s death. Maybe he should just admit defeat and look to see if there were other available ladies around whom he might want to marry.

But no, he only wanted Amanda. I’ll keep trying to get to know her, he decided. I just need to be more patient. I am going to see if there will be a boy from the orphan train who would like to live on a farm. Maybe he won’t care if he only has a father as his new family.

Craig rode his horse onto his farmland and stopped in front of his house. He slid off his horse and tied the reins to a fence. It was almost lunchtime, so he decided to get something to eat, before he headed out to help John with some fencing.

Craig stood and looked at his two-story house. It was a large home, too large for one man. The previous owner had had a large family, so there were six bedrooms upstairs. The kitchen was a nice size to cook in. Lily had told him she loved to work in his kitchen, because there was so much room to move around from one project to another and so many places to store a variety of food. There was a room off the kitchen that could be used as a parlor, if he had a wife who would want to use it as such. There was another smaller room he used as an office and to keep track of his, farm finances. He spent most of his time in this room when he was in his home. There was a large built-in bookcase on one end of the room, where he was slowly collecting good books to read.

Yes, Craig thought to himself. I need to start filling this house up, and I might as well start with an orphan boy.

Chapter 3

The next day, Amanda woke up early, so she could get ready to meet with the Town Committee about adopting a little girl. After her husband had died, she had converted the parlor into a dressing room where her customers could try on dresses, and she could take their measurements. There were two large mirrors and a small area she had blocked off with a movable wall to be used as a small changing area. Opposite of the mirrors were her sewing machine and a long table where she cut fabric.

She kept the kitchen for herself and a small room off the kitchen as her bedroom that her husband had used as a study and office. She had another room located behind the parlor where she stored her fabrics and notions, so her customers had something to immediately choose from. This room used to be the bedroom she had shared with David.

Amanda decided to wear a forest green dress with black trim that was more suited to colder weather, but she chose to wear this dress to meet with the Town Committee, because she felt it made her look her best. She brushed out her long brown hair and put it up in her usual bun on the back of her head. She slipped on her sturdy black shoes, and then she was ready to go.

When she opened the door to leave, she saw a woman walking on the pathway that led to her house. It was the mayor’s wife, Mrs. Margaret Porter.

“I am so glad I caught you!” Mrs. Porter exclaimed, as she approached. “I do hope you haven’t purchased the fabric yet, because I want to make some changes to the dress I ordered a few days ago.” Mrs. Porter walked right into the house without being invited, continuing to talk as she did.

“Last night I was talking to my dear friend, Mrs. Mabel Brown, you know who she is, don’t you?” Mrs. Porter walked over and sat down on a chair that Amanda had set up for her customers, continuing to talk without waiting for an answer from Amanda.

“She told me that I should include some more lace around the collar, and I shouldn’t have as much ribbon. She says that the styles are constantly changing in the East and this way my new dress will be exactly like they wear back there.”

Amanda followed Mrs. Porter into her sewing room, sighing silently to herself. She hoped she could get Mrs. Porter to leave before too long, so that she wouldn’t miss being able to talk to the committee. Mrs. Porter did love to talk, and talk she did for the next 30 minutes.

When Mrs. Porter finally left, after making the decision to stay with the original plans for the dress, Amanda sighed to herself in relief. She should still be able to make it. She grabbed a shawl and quickly left her house, before another customer showed up.

She quickly walked to the Town hall and into the big room where the town meetings were held. In the middle of the room was a large table with five men sitting behind it. There was the mayor, Mr. Richard Porter; the reverend, Mr. Owen Watson; Dr. Brad Collins; and two other men who worked with the mayor and did not contribute to the interview. One of the men listened to the proceedings, and the other was busy writing.

Amanda introduced herself, though most of the men knew who she was. The mayor invited her to sit down on a chair in front of them.

“Tell us why you feel you would be a good candidate as a mother to an orphan child,” the reverend requested.

Amanda proceeded to tell the men a brief history of her marriage and then death of her husband and how lonely she has been since. She talked about how she regretted not being able to have children with David and how she thought she had a lot she could contribute to an orphan girl. She would love her, educate her, and even teach her the skills of sewing, so the child would be able to contribute to society and have the means to support herself when she was grown.

After Amanda finished talking, each of the men were given an opportunity to ask her questions. One question posed by the mayor was about finances, and Amanda was able to reassure the men that she could support a child without any outside help.

Then the doctor spoke. “I think we should grant Mrs. Drake her wish to adopt a child.” He looked at the other men. “Although she is a woman and single, I think she will do well as a mother, and remember we did give Mr. Craig Parker permission to adopt.”

The other men nodded their heads in agreement. Then the mayor spoke directly to Amanda. “You have our permission to adopt a girl who is under five years of age, but you must allow the couples to choose first. If there is a child left, she may be placed with you.”

Amanda left the Town Hall five minutes later with a paper in her hands with the committee’s agreement that she could adopt a little girl. She stopped outside of the building and opened up the paper to read it. She felt relieved that she had been granted permission, and even though she would need to wait until all the other couples had chosen, she felt very hopeful there would be a child she could adopt.

“It looks like the committee voted in your favor like they did me,” Craig stood in front of her holding his own copy of an agreement.

“Yes, I am so excited!” Amanda told him, briefly forgetting her irritation with him and the continued marriage proposals. “They will place a little girl with me as long as she is under five years old and as long as none of the couples have chosen her.” Her dark eyes sparkled with excitement, and Craig thought to himself he had never seen her as beautiful as she was at that moment.

Amanda then looked at the paper Craig was holding and some of her excitement died. “So you are going to try to adopt also?”

“Yes, I have been approved to get an older boy eight years of age or older.”

“Please don’t use him like a hired hand,” Amanda pleaded to him and Craig stepped away from her with a frown on his face.

“Since you refuse to marry me, I might as well adopt a child. At least then I will have someone to talk to and share my house with,” Craig retorted, tired of her accusing him of not being able to care for a child properly. He put his papers in his pocket and walked away, leaving Amanda staring after him with her mouth open.

Maybe he is as lonely as I am, Amanda thought to herself, and for the first time she felt like, maybe, they did have something in common after all.

Chapter 4

Friday afternoon finally came. Never had time traveled so slowly for Amanda. She did her best to keep herself busy. She finished the child’s dress she was working on and started cutting out the fabric for Mrs. Porter’s dress. She also found time to make a small dress for her new daughter, hoping that she would be able to really give it to someone and that it would be the right size. At the last minute Thursday evening, she made a small rag doll with a matching dress for the child.

About ten minutes before 2:00, Amanda left her dress shop and walked quickly to the Town Hall down the street. She walked into the building and into the room where she was interviewed a few days before. Numerous chairs had been set up in rows and a small stage had been placed in the front of the room with many chairs set up in a row. They were still empty, so Amanda knew that the children hadn’t arrived yet.

She looked around and was amazed at the number of people in the room. She recognized many people, but there were several people she didn’t know. Surely not everyone here wants a child, she hoped. She waved to her good friend, Lydia and her husband, Clinton Byron. They owned a large cattle ranch located south of Maple Grove. Amanda walked over to where they were sitting.

Lydia stood as Amanda approached to give her a hug. “It is so good to see you,” Lydia said. “I hope everything is going well.”

“Things are fine,” Amanda hugged Lydia back and smiled at Clinton in greeting. “Are you considering adopting a child?”

Lydia looked at Clinton as she answered. “Yes, we hope we can find a baby or a young child under two years of age.”

“We have a huge house and the ranch. We figure we have enough to offer a child who doesn’t have a family,” Clinton explained.

“That’s great,” Amanda said, very happy for her friend. She knew that Lydia had had several miscarriages and had been unable to carry a child to term. Lydia never looked very happy or at peace whenever Amanda saw her, although she always denied her unhappiness. Amanda hoped adopting a baby would help fill some of the emptiness Lydia seemed to display.

Amanda held up her papers. “I was accepted to take a little girl under five years, if there is one left after all the couples have chosen.”

Lydia shrieked with joy and hugged Amanda again. ” That is great. I hope it works out for you.”

“I’m not sure if I will get a child though,” Amanda looked around the crowded room. “There are many more people here than I’d expected.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” Lydia waved her hand. “I suspect most of these people are just here to watch.”

Amanda was shocked at the thought. “How awful! Do they think these children are a bunch of animals? They shouldn’t be allowed here, if they aren’t serious about adopting.”

“Well, as much as I agree with you, you have to admit this is a rare occasion. If we weren’t planning on taking a baby, I would have been tempted to watch.”

Amanda looked around and saw some of the Town Committee walking to the front of the room. “I want to sit closer so I can see the children better.” She pointed to the front row of chairs. “I think I will go sit over there.”

She said her goodbyes and good lucks to her friends and walked over to the row of chairs that was closest to the stage as possible. Most of the chairs were taken, but then she saw that one was not, and it happened to be right next to Craig Parker.

Amanda hesitated, not wanting to sit next to Craig but wanting to sit as close as possible. He then spotted her and waved his hand for her to come over to him.

“I saved you a seat, since I knew you would want to sit next to me,” he explained when she reached his side.

Amanda started to make a sharp retort, but then saw the usual twinkle in his blue eyes and knew he was teasing her again, so she just smiled and sat down.

“Thank you, Mr. Parker.” Craig smiled at the use of his formal name.

The minute she sat down, the hall quieted, as the doors opened, and a tall, thin man and heavy-set woman walked into the room leading a group of children. Amanda noticed that the man was holding a little girl who was big enough to walk. The plump woman was holding the hands of two, other, young girls. They all walked to the front of the room, and the woman started to direct the children to sit in the chairs on the stage. Amanda watched as three, older girls that looked to be the same age sat next to each other. They were each holding a baby or toddler. The man sat the little girl he was holding on a chair, and an older boy immediately sat next to her, grabbing her hand with his own.

They must be brother and sister, Amanda thought. I hope they won’t be separated. She then noticed that the little girl’s left leg was twisted.

After all the children had sat down, Amanda quickly counted that there were only four girls that looked to be under the age of five, counting the little girl with the twisted leg. There were two babies, but she had decided she wanted a child older than two-years old. Five girls to choose from didn’t seem very many, and Amanda’s heart sunk, knowing she probably would not be able to take a child home with her.

“Don’t give up hope yet,” Craig whispered to her, letting her know he knew what her thoughts were. She smiled her appreciation. When she looked at him, she couldn’t help but notice his broad shoulders that filled out under his blue shirt. He had gotten his hair cut, and there was a lock of hair sticking straight up that made Amanda want to reach up and smooth it into place. Realizing her thoughts, her heart fluttered again. Amanda quickly looked away, silently telling herself to not get caught up in his good looks and charm.

The mayor stood and introduced the man and woman as Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Carver. He explained that this couple had been with the children on the train ever since they hadleft New York 10 days ago. The mayor then announced that Mr. Carver had some instructions to give, allowed the man to take his place, and sat down in the front row next to his wife.

Mr. Carver stood and began to speak. “I welcome you all, and I am thrilled with the interest and turnout we have this afternoon. This is truly a wondrous event for the children and for the town of Maple Grove. I want to thank the Town Committee for their part in helping these, beautiful children find new homes.

“I know that everyone is anxious to begin, so those that have been approved can be matched with a child, but I must go over some ground rules and procedures. There are two key points.

“These girls and boys are hoping to find a new home. We have 18 children available between the ages of 6 months and 14 years of age. We are hopeful that all 18 will be placed right here in Maple Grove, but, if that doesn’t happen, we will continue onto the next town until they are all placed.

“We are allowing the children eight and older to make the decision whether they want to go with a family. If they feel uncomfortable in any way, we will not force them to go. The final decision is theirs. There will be a one-year-waiting period between child placement and legal adoption. We will be sending out a representative a few times in the next year to check on the children. If at any time we feel dissatisfied with the child’s care, we will remove the child from the home. Please be aware that even though this is rare, it has happened.”

Mr. Carver paused in his speaking to pull a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe perspiration from his neck and brow.

“In order to avoid mass confusion, we will call each name who has a letter of recommendation in random order. Once a choice has been made, please move over to where my wife is sitting, and she will help you complete the paperwork.” He pointed to a table that had been set up to one side of the room with Mrs. Carver sitting behind it.

Mr. Carver then called the first name which happened to be the reverend and his wife. With them was their teenage son. Amanda watched as their son walked right up to a young girl who looked to be about six years old. He squatted in front of her and started to talk to her.

Chapter 5

Amanda sat quietly in her chair, watching, as one by one each child was paired up with a family. She noticed that no one tried talking to the little girl with the twisted leg.

At one point, the blacksmith and his wife tried to talk to the boy sitting next to the little girl with the twisted leg, and Amanda heard the boy yell, “I don’t want to go with anyone! I don’t want a new family!”

Mr. Carver walked over to try to calm the boy, but it was obvious he would not agree, so the blacksmith and his wife walked over to another boy.

Craig leaned over to Amanda and whispered, “I am going to adopt that boy.”

Amanda looked at him in amazement. “He seems so angry. Why would you want to have a boy that is displaying behavioral problems?”

“He just needs someone who will care about him. He’ll settle down. I believe I can help that boy.” While Craig was talking, he kept his eyes on the events on the stage, but then he turned to look directly at Amanda. For the first time, she saw that he felt very deeply about the proceedings, and they were very important to him.

“I’m not the heartless man you seem to think I am. A little hard work has never hurt anyone, but I don’t plan on working the boy too hard. He needs acceptance and a place to belong. He will have that with me.”

Amanda felt confusion as she turned her head back towards the stage and pondered Craig’s words. Maybe, she thought, he really could provide a good home for an orphan boy. Maybe I have been too harsh, too critical of him as a man, because of the many times he has proposed to me. It all seemed like a big joke to him. Maybe he really does want to marry me.

Soon there were only three children left. Of course, the boy who yelled at the blacksmith was still there, still clutching the hand of the little girl beside him. There was also another boy sitting on a chair a few seats down the row, looking sad, as he stared at the floor.

Mr. Carver called her name and Craig’s. They both jumped up and walked onto the stage.

“It seems there is a little girl left,” Mr. Carver said to Amanda. “I need to warn you though, she can barely walk without pain. Her leg was injured in a wagon accident that took her parents’ lives when she was two-years old. It hasn’t healed properly.” Mr. Carver pointed to the boy sitting next to the little girl. “That boy is her big brother.”

“What are their names?” Amanda asked.

“Jeremy and Grace.”

“Would you like to come live with me on my farm?” Craig walked up and asked the boy.

“I keep telling everyone, I don’t want a new family!” The boy hollered again with a frown on his face.

Mr. Carver put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and started to reprimand him, but Craig held his hand out to silence the agent.

“Tell us why. You have to have a reason for not wanting a new family.”

The boy looked at Craig suspiciously, as if he didn’t believe Craig cared about his reasons. Craig stood patiently waiting for his answer.

“I don’t want to be separated from Grace. She and I are all we have left of our family.” He finally responded with defiance in his voice.

Mr. Carver leaned close to Craig. “We have explained to him that being able to stay together will likely not happen. The best he can hope for is if they both go to families who live close by and they can visit.”

“How old is Grace?” Amanda asked the agent.

“She is four years old,” he replied.

“Tell us why it is so important you stay together,” Craig requested of Jeremy. “Why is it so important that you might be giving up a chance for a new family for yourself and for your little sister who could be cared for?”

“After Grace was born, Ma was always sickly. Pa told me my sister was my responsibility and that I was to take care of her if anything happened to my ma or him.” The boy looked bravely at Craig, blinking back tears from his eyes. “I promised him I would. I can’t break my promise to my pa.” The boy’s eyes pleaded with Craig to understand.

Amanda turned to Mr. Carver. “If I wanted to, would I be able to adopt Grace?” She asked, needing to make sure.

Mr. Carver nodded. “You can adopt her, but remember that Grace will need a lot of care, and there could be more expenses you will need to pay for because of her leg.”

“That won’t be a problem. I have the means to do so,” Amanda answered.

She missed seeing a surprised look from Craig, when he heard her admit that money would not be a problem. She stood and quietly looked at the little girl. She had long, blond, curly hair that desperately needed a brush. The dress was a dull brown, and it was too large for her. But Grace glanced up at her with such a sweet, shy smile, which made Amanda immediately fall in love with her.

Craig and Mr. Carver were still trying to convince Jeremy to change his mind. While Amanda was thinking, she noticed another couple who already had a passel of children walk off the stage with the last boy who had been sitting by himself.

“We always have room for one more,” the woman boomed out with her arm around his shoulders. “You’ll have more brothers and sisters than you will know what to do with, and you can have a place with us for as long as you want it.”

Amanda then knew what she had to do. “Mr. Parker, may I talk to you for a minute?”

Craig looked confused, but nodded. “If you would excuse us.”

Mr. Carver nodded his head, as Amanda and Craig returned to the seats they had been sitting in.

“It looks like I will be able to adopt Grace,” Amanda said to Craig as soon as they were seated. “And you want to adopt Jeremy.”

Craig nodded. “I will if I can get Jeremy to agree. We would need to make sure they visit each other often.”

Amanda looked down at her lap, hoping she was making the right decision. “Do you still want to marry me?”

Craig looked at her in disbelief, as if he wasn’t sure he had heard her correctly, and then he smiled with delight. “Yes, I still want to marry you.”

“Then I accept your proposal. We can both adopt Jeremy and Grace, and then they can stay together. Jeremy can keep his promise he made to his father.”

“That is a great idea,” Craig said. “When do you want to marry?”

“It probably should happen soon, don’t you think? So they can stay together.”

“How about today?”

Amanda took a huge breath and then nodded. Everything was happening so fast. But she needed to marry him, so the children could stay together. She felt a peace in her heart that this decision was right for all four of them.

“Would you be willing to live on my farm?” Craig asked.

“Of course, Mr. Parker. My shop is too small for the four of us.” Amanda replied. “I would like to keep my, sewing business though.”

Craig looked like he was going to argue but then backed down. “That’s fine, although I think it’s time you call me Craig, don’t you?”

Amanda nodded her head in agreement and smiled at him. He took her hand and squeezed it, and Amanda felt another stirring in her heart for this man who had relentlessly pursued her for the past year. A caring started to take root in her heart, and she could not stop it.

“Let’s go let everyone know our decision,” Craig kept Amanda’s hand in his, as he led her to the children and Mr. Carver.

“Mrs. Drake and I have been able to come up with a way we can all be happy,” Craig looked at both children as he spoke. “I have been asking her to marry me for quite some time now, and she finally accepted. We will be married today, and then we can adopt you both. This way you can keep your promise to your father, Jeremy, and you can both stay together.”

“Do you mean it?” Jeremy asked in disbelief. “You would marry, so we can stay together?”

“Yes,” Amanda answered. “We would like all of us to be a family.”

“Is that an acceptable plan, young man?” Mr. Carver asked, with a twinkle in his eyes, happy that things were working out for everyone.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then let’s get the paperwork done, so your new mom and dad can get married.”

Craig picked up Grace, and they all moved over to the table where Mrs. Carver was sitting. They quickly filled out the necessary paperwork. As soon as the last paper was signed, Craig motioned to the doors.

“Let’s go get married!” he said with excitement, and they started down the street towards the reverend’s home to make the vows to become a family.

Chapter 6

Amanda and Craig walked down the street towards the church and parsonage. Craig held Grace, while Jeremy walked beside them. Amanda noticed that Jeremy’s eyes looked happier, like a huge load had been lifted from his shoulders.

When they got to the parsonage and knocked on the door, the reverend’s wife, Mrs. Abby Watson, answered. She looked happy to see them, but she had a question in her eyes, as she let them in.

Mrs. Watson led them into a parlor and told them to sit down on a gray-colored sofa. Craig kept Grace on his lap, and Jeremy sat between them. Amanda noticed Jeremy looking around the room in awe, as if he couldn’t believe how nice the furniture was. A gray sofa was perched at the edge of a large, colorful, area rug. There was another, smaller sofa on the opposite side of the room with a wooden table in front of it. The fireplace had a mantle made out of maple wood above it. On the mantle was a large clock and a few knick-knacks. Above the mantle was a large, oval mirror with a gilded frame. The walls had been papered with a rose-covered design. It really was a beautiful room.

“We are looking for Reverend Watson,” Craig explained. “We have decided to get married, and we would like it to be done today.” While he was talking, the reverend came into the room.

“What’s this I hear about getting married?” Reverend Watson asked with a smile.

“Amanda and I have adopted these two children, and we would like to marry, so we can be a family.”

The reverend looked carefully at Craig and then at Amanda. He finally nodded, as if he liked what he saw, and he had received the answer he was looking for.

“Although I generally give counsel to have an engagement of at least a few months, and I like to meet with each couple before marriage, I do approve of this one. I will be happy to perform the marriage. I understand why it needs to be rushed,” the reverend said, as he shook hands with Craig and then Jeremy. “Today is your lucky day,” he said to the boy.

Jeremy nodded his head in agreement. “My new dad and mom have agreed to marry, so Grace and I can stay together.”

“Well, there are other reasons I want to marry Amanda,” Craig looked at her with his usual teasing grin. “I didn’t think she’d ever agree to marry me. I should have thought to throw a few children into the proposals. We would have been married long ago.”

Amanda looked down in embarrassment. Did he have to announce how many times he had asked her, and she had turned him down? She felt a touch on her sleeve.

“Congratulations,” Mrs. Watson said softly to her. “I think you will be happy. Mr. Parker is a fine man.”

Amanda smiled her appreciation and started to say something when they were interrupted by the reverend and Abby’s teenage son, Benjamin.

“Ma, I think Mary is done with her meal and is tired. Can I show her the room we prepared for her?”

“Yes, I will go with you. I am sure this has been a tiring day for her.” Mrs. Watson looked at her husband and then at Amanda and Craig. “Please excuse me.”

After Mrs. Watson left, Amanda turned to the reverend. “I noticed that you and Mrs. Watson also adopted an orphan.”

“Yes, we did,” the reverend responded. “We have always wanted another child, but the good Lord has only blessed us with Benjamin. He has been asking for a little sister ever since he was small. We decided we would allow him to choose one of the orphans for his sister, and he chose Mary.”

“I’m sure Mary will be happy living here with you and your family,” Amanda said. “I am sure all the orphans were able to fine good homes right here in Maple Grove and in the surrounding area.”

“That’s good to hear,” the reverend said. “We will have to help each other and do what we can to make this town the best place for them to live in.”

“So will you marry us now?” Craig asked, getting the conversation back to the reason they had come in the first place.

“Yes, I will,” the reverend agreed. “We need witnesses. Will you mind if we just perform it here in our parlor instead of the church? That way Abby and Benjamin can be the witnesses, and they can stay nearby if Mary needs them.”

Both Amanda and Craig agreed to the plan. The reverend left the room and soon returned with his wife and son. He asked Amanda and Craig to stand near the fireplace. Grace stood next to Amanda and Jeremy stood next to Craig. The reverend picked up the Bible and started the wedding ceremony.

While Reverend Watson talked, Amanda tried to concentrate on the words but could not. She found herself comparing the difference between her first wedding and this one to Craig. She and David had eloped because his family was against the wedding. They had been married in the local courthouse, but Amanda hadn’t cared. She loved David so much, she was just happy to be marrying him. They had had a good life together and had been very happy. Would she be able to have a good marriage with Craig?

Amanda looked into Craig’s eyes. He was looking down at her, and she saw something in his eyes that she never thought she would see again. She could tell he deeply cared about her. This marriage, even though it was happening because of the children, meant something to him. For the first time, Amanda felt regret for putting him off and rejecting his proposals for so long. She knew that he was a good man, and he would treat her and the children well.

At that moment, as she repeated her marriage vows to Craig in front of the reverend, his wife and son, and her new children, she vowed that she would do everything she could to be a good wife to Craig and a good mother to Jeremy and Grace. Hopefully, someday she would feel love for him.

When the time came to exchange rings, Amanda and Craig looked at each other. Neither of them had thought of rings. Amanda looked down at her left hand and saw that she still wore the ring that David had given her. She immediately struggled to take it off in embarrassment. Craig stopped her.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. He then turned to the reverend. “We will use this one for now.”

The reverend nodded and continued the ceremony. Then Amanda heard the words, “You may now kiss the bride.”

Amanda jerked her head and looked up at Craig. Was he really going to kiss her? As he bent his head toward hers, she suddenly realized she wanted to experience his first kiss, even in front of so many witnesses.

Craig’s lips touched hers softly. Then suddenly his arms went around her, and he deepened the kiss. It only lasted a second, but in that moment, Amanda felt feelings toward Craig that she had never felt before. When he stepped away, she had to force herself to not lift her hand to touch her lips in wonder. Could a simple kiss, a wedding kiss, really mean so much? Why did her heart flutter at the thought of kissing him again?

Craig was shaking the preacher’s hand and thanking Mrs. Watson and Benjamin for being part of the wedding. He had taken Amanda’s hand after the kiss, and he kept holding it until they were ready to leave the parsonage.

Abby had offered to serve refreshments, but both Amanda and Craig declined.

“We have so much we need to do before we can head out to the farm,” Craig explained, while Amanda nodded her head in agreement.

“You need to spend time with your new daughter,” Amanda said, “and we have some shopping to do for our new son and daughter.” She turned to look at her children as she spoke.

Soon they were out the door and on their way to the general store, a new marriage, a new family, a new life.

Chapter 7

“That didn’t take very long,” Jeremy said with some relief in his voice, and Craig chuckled.

“Are you my new mommy?” Grace asked Amanda from her place in Craig’s arms, and Amanda nodded.

“Is that okay, sweetie?”

Grace nodded but looked down at her brother for confirmation.

“Sure, Grace, these people are our new ma and pa. We won’t have to go back and live in that orphanage again.”

Grace looked relieved at his words and laid her head on Craig’s shoulder.

“We really should pick up some supplies for these two and then go to my shop, so I can pack a few things to take to your farm,” Amanda suggested.

“Our farm,” Craig corrected her, and she smiled. “Grace looks tired. Should we go to your house first, so she can rest for a bit?”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Amanda agreed. They quickly walked to her shop, and she led them all inside.

Jeremy immediately started looking around, making himself at home. Amanda led Craig to her small bedroom behind the kitchen and indicated he could lay Grace down on the bed.

“Why don’t you go to sleep for a little while?” Amanda suggested to Grace, who nodded her head in agreement and closed her eyes.

Soon she was sound asleep. Amanda lightly brushed some of her blond, curly hair from her face, marveling that she now had her own daughter and son. She was amazed how quickly things could change. She stood up quickly and turned around, bumping into Craig who had been standing behind her.

“Oh, I thought you had left to go see to Jeremy,” Amanda stuttered breathlessly, feeling flustered that they were standing so close together. Her room was so tiny. There was barely room for her bed and a small chest for her clothes.

Craig started to answer and then stopped. His hand reached up and brushed some strands of hair from her face, much like she had just done to Grace.

“The kiss I gave you at the reverend’s house didn’t seem quite right. I’d like to try again.” Time seemed to stop, as Amanda watched his eyes move to look at her lips, then back to her eyes. He slowly bent his head, and she tilted her face in anticipation.

“Man, you sure have a lot of fabric here,” Amanda heard Jeremy call out. “Is this a store?”

They both jerked their heads away from each other, and Amanda felt a distinct disappointment. For a moment, she wanted to experience his kiss again. She shook her head slightly in confusion. She shouldn’t want him to kiss her. Even though they were married, they hardly knew each other.

Craig looked disappointed too, but then he grinned and whispered, “Later.” He turned and left the room to find Jeremy.

Amanda sat down on the edge of the small bed and covered her face with her hands. She could faintly hear Craig explain to Jeremy how his new mom had a sewing shop and sewed dresses for some of the women who lived in town. She felt very confused. I shouldn’t be having these feelings for Craig, she thought. I was blessed to have love in my first marriage. I am not sure I can feel love for someone else again. When they were standing so close together, with Craig leaning close ready to kiss her again, she felt his closeness like a touch to her heart.

She did not feel ready to join Craig and Jeremy just yet, so she released her hair from her bun. She picked up her hairbrush and quickly brushed through the tangles and redid her hair. She quickly made sure Grace was still sleeping and left her bedroom.

When Amanda entered her sewing room, Jeremy ran up to her. “Could you make Grace a new dress? She hasn’t had a new one in a long time. The dress she has on isn’t even hers. Someone gave it to her, and it’s very old and too big.”

Amanda smiled at her new son and marveled on how much he cared and showed love for his sister. She walked over to her sewing table and picked up the dress she had finished the night before.

“I actually made this dress yesterday, hoping I would be able to give it to my new daughter today.”

She showed the dress to Jeremy. It was made from a light-pink fabric with small, red flowers all over it. She had added a ruffle around the hem and sleeves and ribbon at the neck. It had many little buttons that buttoned up the back.

“That’s mighty fine work,” Craig complimented her. Amanda smiled her thanks.

She picked up the rag doll with the matching dress to show them. “I made this, too. I think every little girl should have her own doll.”

Jeremy nodded his agreement. “Ma had made her one when she was a baby, but I don’t know what happened to it. Thank you, ma’am.” He looked down, his facing showing some concern.

“Is something bothering you?” Craig asked him.

“I just want to ask that, if this doesn’t work out and you might decide you don’t want me, will you promise to take care of Grace and always be her ma?” Jeremy looked apprehensive as he talked. “I don’t think she remembers our ma, and she should have one.”

Amanda sat down on her chair she used to do most of her sewing. “Of course, Jeremy, but…”

Craig interrupted her. “You aren’t going to be sent back. We are a family now, and you are an important part of it.”

Amanda nodded her head in agreement to Craig’s words.

“Maybe,” Jeremy didn’t look convinced. “But I sometimes can cause trouble, and a lot of people don’t seem to like me.”

“We can work on that, Jeremy, but I agree with your new dad.” Amanda wanted to reach out and hug the boy, but she did not think he would accept it. “We are a family now, and we will stay together.”

Jeremy looked a little more relieved at her words, but she knew that they would need to show him they meant their words over time.

“Why don’t you come into the kitchen with me,” Amanda asked him, “and we can have something to eat. It’s almost dinner time, and I bet you are hungry.” Jeremy voiced his agreement and followed her into the kitchen.

With Craig helping, she quickly made a stack of meat sandwiches and sliced up some apples and carrots. Grace woke up a few minutes into their meal, so Amanda gave her some food to eat, too.

While her new family finished their meal, Amanda quickly gathered up necessary supplies and clothes to last her a few days and put them into a carpetbag. She was soon ready. She allowed Jeremy to give Grace the new dress and doll. Amanda was relieved when Grace squealed with joy and hugged the doll to her chest.

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