Rural New York State
Thursday, October 16, 1919
Greta stopped and turned toward the deep voice coming from the barn—the voice she’d been trying to forget the last two years. She stepped through the barn door and almost dropped the crate of apples she carried. “Oliver. You’re back.”
His grin hitched up on one side, similar to that summer they’d worked together on Grandfather’s farm in 1916. She’d been fifteen and he was seventeen . . . skinny, though handsome to be sure, annoying and difficult to please. Oliver had mocked the way she pitched hay—amongst other things—and when he snorted, a result of his obvious suppressed laughter, Greta had decked him square in the nose.
His wavy dark hair was shorter now, but still fell over his forehead in a very attractive way. “You’re more beautiful than I remember.” He leaned the pitchfork he’d been using against the wall a foot from where she stood. With his hands deep in his pockets, he stepped back. “I’d hoped you were still around.”
She breathed deep, unsure of what to make of this boy-turned-man and his attentiveness. “You know Grandfather’s all the family I have.” She bit her lip. “He didn’t tell me you’d returned.” The crate seemed to weigh more the longer she stood idle.
As though Penny could smell the apples, the mare’s head appeared and she nickered.
Greta heaved the crate to Oliver. “Hold this a moment.” Selecting apples for the horses shouldn’t be difficult, but her hand trembled, no doubt from the shock of Oliver’s appearance. She’d prayed for this moment and now didn’t know what to say.
She turned and offered an apple first to Penny, then Jackson, and last, Storm—Grandfather’s black stallion. He snatched the apple from her hand. She squealed and sprang back.
“Storm hasn’t changed, I see.” He grinned but didn’t laugh.
How she’d love to hear the sound again. “Evidently, I haven’t either—he startles me every time.” She wiped her hands on her apron as she strolled to Oliver. “Anyhow, it’s nice to see you again. I’ll take the crate and leave you to work in peace.”
A worrisome shadow flitted across his face so fast she almost missed it. But then he smiled. “Take a walk with me.”
Her heart galloped faster than Storm across the valley. “First day back on the job, and you’re already looking for ways to get out of it, huh?”
He waited in silence, and the intensity of his gaze sent butterflies through her midsection.
“Fine. A quick one. I have apple pies to make for the harvest fair.”
He followed her behind the farmhouse and into the kitchen where he set the apples on the table. Greta glanced in the mirror beside the clock and resecured a few pieces of auburn hair that had strayed from her braid, snatched her pink shawl, then walked out the door he held for her.
They strolled to the field’s edge where the cows grazed beyond the fence Oliver had built the spring before he’d left for war. Two years. She’d presumed she’d never see him again.
He rested his forearms on the fence. “I’m surprised you haven’t hitched up.”
“Well, I’m surprised you didn’t make fun of me when Storm caused me to jump, carried the crate for me—” she wrapped her arms around herself “—and most of all, the shadows you try to hide in your expression. You never stopped laughing before. What happened?”
His gaze fixed toward the autumn-colored tree leaves in the horizon. “War. Loss. Death.” Then he turned, and her breath deserted her. “I’d pray for you every day and wish I’d dared to claim you before I left. Despite your grandfather’s opposition.”
“I’ve loved you from the first day we hauled hay together.”
“I was fifteen, Oliver. And I’m positive you called me a brat on two occasions and clumsy on numerous others.”
“You were perfect.” He chuckled. “I was never happier than when I was with you. I just didn’t know what to do with a beautiful girl I was forbidden to court. Your grandfather insisted—no talk of romance until you turned seventeen or I’d be out of a job.” His expression turned solemn. “By then, I was deep in the trenches.”
“I had no idea. Why didn’t you write?”
“What if I’d written but you’d never responded? Or had a beau? Or if you’d outright rejected me?” He stretched his hands between them in a silent question.
As she slipped her hard-worn hands into his, tears stung her eyes. “I would have written. Why didn’t you at least let us be friends?”
He leaned close, and she wondered if he might kiss her. “A hundred reasons.”
She shivered, and not from the cool breeze. “Care to share?”
“Had we been friends, I wouldn’t have been able to resist telling you that I loved you. If I told you that, your grandfather would’ve had my hide—and I wouldn’t have had the courage to leave you.” He pulled back.
She took in his strong jaw and the scar that took up two inches of his forehead, hidden beneath his hair before, but at this angle, it was visible. She wanted to know everything about how he got it, but, for today, perhaps a lighter question was needed. “Will you go to the harvest fair with me?”
“Askin’ a fella on a date, are you?” He wrapped his arms around her and smiled. “I’ll likely kiss you. Would that be welcome?”
She shrugged. “It might be.”
“We might be hitched by next week.”
She laughed. “Is this a proposal?”
He kissed her head. “More of a prediction.” He released her, took hold of her hand and started toward the barn. “I should get back to work before your grandfather returns from town.”
“Or he’ll have your hide?”
His smile lit his blue eyes. “Don’t worry. I have his blessing now.”
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