The Hope of Her Heart - Liz Isaacson Page 0,1

the aisle and meet him at the altar. A stab of guilt poked right into her chest, though she’d come to terms with what she’d done, and she’d done her very best to make it right.

“Ready?” She looked up and away from her thoughts.

“A timer, Etta?”

“Let’s go, baby,” she said, pushing start on her timer. She put the phone in the cupholder on top of the stroller and took the first step. Preacher came with her while Biscuit trotted ahead, and she knew her cousin wouldn’t talk. If she had something to say, she said it, but more often than not, they just walked together. Then she’d go inside and make fresh coffee and make sure Preacher got settled on the couch with his canine friend. By then, Charlie had been coming out of her office, and Etta had been going back up to the homestead.

It worked out that this morning walk got her back home about time to put together lunch, and since she didn’t do field trips up to Shiloh Ridge in the winter, she’d been feeding anyone who wanted to come to the homestead for a week or so now.

After the successful Thanksgiving dinner a couple of weeks ago, where she’d invited August Winters and things had gone well with her core family of four siblings, their spouses, children, and Mother, Etta had considered asking him to come to the ranch for lunch. Or offering to meet him in town, as he had a very busy construction job.

He used to have a very busy construction job, she corrected herself. August had just taken a new job, and he was starting on Monday. He was moving into a new place today, as Etta had learned a few days ago when she’d texted him to see if he could get together this weekend.

They didn’t see one another in person all that often, because he had a nine-year-old daughter he wanted to protect. Dating was new for him, he’d said, and Etta understood the complexities of having children and trying to fit a new love interest into the situation.

She was fine going slow and being cautious. It gave her time to make sure the man she’d started seeing was being honest with her. So many in the recent past hadn’t been, and perhaps Etta wore jade-colored lenses in her dating glasses.

“You’re lifting your leg well,” she said.

“It feels good today,” Preacher said.

Betty screeched and threw her plastic keys on the ground. Etta kept right on moving, bending to swoop them into her hand as she passed. The baby started to fuss, but Etta didn’t give her the keys. She set them in the cup holder with her phone and kept a steady pace.

When Betty really got herself worked up, which only happened after a few more steps, Etta reached for the sippy cup in the other part of the cup holder. “Okay, Betty Boop,” she said. “Enough of that.” She stepped next to the stroller and extended the two-handled cup toward the girl. She had fat tears clinging to her lashes, which made Etta’s whole soul light up. “Oh, you poor thing. Here’s your milk. No more crying now.” She made sure the girl had a good grip on the cup before she moved back behind the stroller.

The road snaked right and into the small cowboy community, and Biscuit, Preacher, and Etta went with it. “Looks like someone’s moving in,” she said, noticing two cabins down at the end, both with trucks backed up to them.

“Yeah, new hires,” Preacher said. “I can’t really do anything with birthing season, and I hired a couple of new men.”

“Two people for what you do alone,” she said with a smile. Preacher did not return it, and a sigh moved silently through Etta’s body. “Preacher.”

“I don’t need praise, Etta. Not right now.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured.

“I don’t even know why I’m still foreman. I’ve told Bear and Ranger and Ward to get Judge to do it a hundred times. They won’t let me resign.”

“No one wants you to do that.”

“What about what I want?” he asked, sliding her a glare out of the corner of her eye. “Instead, I have to hold a bogus title and then hire people to do what I can’t. It’s ludicrous.”

“They wouldn’t be foreman.”

“Judge could do it.”

“Judge doesn’t want to do it.”

“Then Mister.”

“As soon as you’re better, it’s—”

“I’m not going to get better,” Preacher said. “Why am I the only one who can see that?” He looked up into the