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Authors: A Taste of Honey

Mittman, Stephanie

A
Taste of Honey by Stephanie Mittman

 

THE
CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

Annie
Morrow's illusion of storybook love had long since faded under the burden of
raising five siblings and toiling on the family farm. Yet, as she watched her
brothers and sisters leave the nest, she couldn't help wishing for someone who
was truly her own.

Then
a spark ignited when Noah Eastman and Annie first laid eyes on each other. But
Annie had an "understanding" with the reverend. It seemed as if
happiness would remain just beyond Noah and Annie's reach — unless they risked
everything to take what should be theirs.

 

"One
of those special books that will make your heart smile... Sit back, kick off
your shoes, and enjoy." 

—Debbie
Macomber

 

NOAH'S
KISS

"Tell
me," he said, his hands covering Annie's so that even if she wanted to she
couldn't let go of his jacket. "Does the minister kiss you like
this?" He let his lips brush her temples, his breath against her cheeks as
he spoke.

She
stiffened and tried to back away from him, but the tree was behind her.
"The minister doesn't kiss me," she said with her chin held high.
"He respects me."

"And
is that what you want?" he asked, his hand brushing back the hair that
blew across her face, capturing a strand, and tucking it behind her ear.
"Just to be respected? Or do you want to be loved?"

 

 

HarperPaperbacks
A Division of
HarperCollinsPublishers

10
East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022

Copyright
© 1995 by Stephanie Mittman

All
rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced in
any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in
the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information
address HarperCollinsPublishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10022.

Cover
illustration by Aleta Jenks

First
printing: November 1995

Printed
in the United States of America

HarperPaperbacks,
HarperMonogram, and colophon are trademarks of
HarperCollinsPublishers

 

This
book is dedicated to all the men who, like Noah, wear their hearts on their sleeves
and don't care who knows how much they adore their wives.

Thank
you, Alan, for being one of them.

Special
thanks to the following people for their help with the researching of
A Taste of Honey:

Helen
Prill, secretary of the Van Wert Historical Society; Pete Emerick, wheelwright;
Dr. Steven Bourla; Dr. Steven Tremaroli.

And
more thanks to my agent, Laura Cifelli, and to my friend, Patty Murdock, for
all their help and encouragement.

CHAPTER 1

They
could all hear the train
whistle plainly. It howled from the west,
raising gooseflesh on Annie's arms despite the warm late September afternoon.
Swirling dust preceded the engine, covering them all with a film of gray that
invaded their nostrils and coated their tongues as though this day were no
different from all the others that had gone before.

In
truth, the drought that had plagued most of Ohio throughout the summer of 1890
was still hard upon them. But this morning it could have been raining shucked
ears of corn and fresh yellow rutabagas, and Annie Morrow wouldn't have
noticed. For today was the day.

New
York College for the Training of Teachers! A Morrow was actually going to
college. Annie could hardly believe it, despite all the scrimping and saving
she'd done to make it happen.

"Here
it comes," Bart said, as though the storm of dust, the clatter of metal
wheels on rails, and the shrill note of the engine whistle weren't signal
enough. "Right on time."

Both
she and Bart looked at Francie. Her face was pale, her hands gripping the new
canvas travel satchel Annie had bought at Hanson's Mercantile. Francie gave
them both a weak smile and looked around at the rest of the family.

The
whole brood was there, all six siblings, from Annie on down to Francie, as far
through the alphabet as their mother had made it before passing on and leaving
Annie to raise them all. And now, after all the years of babies and toddlers,
wild boys and willful girls, here they stood to send the youngest one off to
college. Annie could hardly keep her feet on the platform. She bounced on her
toes like an impatient child at the sight of the train and was gathering up the
luggage before the metal wheels had even begun to squeal.

"He
didn't come to say good-bye," Francie said to her oldest sister.

"Who?"
Annie said in return.

"Noah
Eastman. Even knowing how he feels about New York, I still thought he might
bring the girls."

How
could she be thinking of Mr. Eastman and his children at a time like this?
Annie wondered. How could anything matter but getting on that train and
starting in on a whole new life that didn't revolve around dirt and rain and
crops?

"Here's
something to eat on the train," Charlie said. He was the third oldest, but
he'd beaten both Bart and Annie to the altar. No doubt his wife had packed the
lunch. Charlie was lucky. He had married Risa Hanson and got both a wonderful
wife and a job in the mercantile with her and her father.

"I'll
miss you, Sissy," Francie said to Annie, her lip beginning to tremble.
"I'm not so sure—"

"You'll
do fine," Annie said reassuringly. "We've worked very hard for this
day, Francie Morrow, and I ain't havin' tears marring it. Is that clear?"

"Yes,
Sissy," Francie said, amid the din that rose around the pair as her
brothers and sisters began to close in with their good wishes and sage advice.

"Eat
plenty of vegetables," someone said.

"Write
us everything that happens," said someone else.

"Pay
attention to the teachers."

"Get
plenty of rest."

"Don't
talk to strangers."

"Keep
your satchel on your lap."

"Do
you have money to buy a cold drink?"

"All
aboard!" a man in a blue uniform shouted, and the family stepped back so
that the first Morrow ever to get beyond the eighth grade could board the train
that would take her to her future.

Annie
and Francie, oldest and youngest, walked together to the steps of the train.
Bart followed behind, lugging a beat-up leather gladstone bag that appeared to
be packed with the heaviest rocks in Van Wert County, Ohio. The sisters hugged
each other tightly, Francie clinging just a little longer to the woman who had
raised her from the day she was born.

"You'll
do fine," Annie assured the last of her brood. "You'll do us all
proud, like always."

"I
wish I didn't have to go," Francie said.

Annie
just had to look at the girl for Francie to nod her head with determination.

"You're
right, as usual. I might not ever get what I want if I don't go now."

"That's
my girl," Annie said. She took a step back and let the conductor help her
sister board the train. Then he took Francie's bag and nodded at Annie,
standing on the platform, her eyes misting over as she smiled and waved.

Bart
took Annie's arm and led her away from the train before the whistle sounded
once again. The whole Morrow family put their hands over their ears and watched
the steam pour out of the engine as the wheels began to turn slowly and Francie
headed for New York City.

"Guess
you wish it was you," Bart said as he handed her up into the old
buckboard. He stood staring up at her, a grimace on his face.

Annie
shrugged. What good did wishing do, anyway? What did it matter what she wished?
Did wishing keep her mother from dying? Did it raise the children she'd left
behind or put food on the table when the crops got flooded out and the chickens
up and died? Did it put dresses on Della or Francie's backs or shoes on any of
the boys' feet? Of course she wished she were the one going off to school back
east. But being able to send Francie was almost as wonderful.

"Waste
of good money sendin' Francie to some fancy school when she'd be just as happy
marryin' some handsome man and raisin' up a dozen or so little ones." Bart
was still standing by the wagon as though he might change Annie's mind in time
to yank Francie off the train and undo all Annie's hard work.

"Francie
ain't gonna have to settle for that kind of life, Bart. All the work and the
money was worth it if she can be an independent woman who'll be able to live
where and how she likes."

Bart
scowled, so Annie was relieved when a wagon coming down the street fast enough
to raise a cloud of dust captured her brother's attention. The driver slowed
only a little to avoid being caught up in the new electric wires they were
laying across the road, then barreled straight in the direction of the Chicago
& Atlantic Railroad station.

"Too
late!" shouted Ethan, the youngest of the Morrow boys, over the clanking
of the harness and the thudding of the buckboard as the man pulled his horse to
a stop. "Just missed her, Noah. Train's gone."

So
this was the famous Noah Eastman that Francie had mooned over as she packed her
bags for her future. After Mrs. Jorgensen, the last housekeeper, had moved
west, Francie had taken over caring for Mr. Eastman's girls, and after just
three months she'd been ready to give up her scholarship and stay on as a hired
girl—at least until Mr. Eastman thought she was old enough to marry him. Annie
had straightened her out on that quick enough. If Francie thought love could
make up for all the hard work of being a farmer's wife, she was just being
childish.

In
the end, Francie had done a turnabout and seemed finally to accept what Annie
had been telling her all along—that New York City held the answers to her
dreams. Finally Francie had agreed. Her fear was still with her, but Annie
sensed an eagerness, too, as if Francie knew that the key to her future lay at the
end of her journey.

Now,
seeing Noah, Annie wondered what had turned Francie's head. He was painfully
thin, nearly gaunt, and he looked like life had taught him a thing or two and
left the lessons printed on his brow.

"Damn,"
he muttered and then looked guiltily at the two little girls who sat next to
him, their bonnets askew, their faces dirty.

"Where's
Francie?" the littler one said, bright eyes looking around her as though
she'd never been to town. She was even more pathetic looking than her older sister.
They both needed a good scrubbing and a brush run through their deep-brown
locks.

"Damn
means
we missed her," the older girl said patiently. "It's Pa's way of
sayin' things didn't work out like they was s'posed to."

A
wide grin broke out on Noah's face. It seemed to erase the creases in his
forehead, and it changed the lines that ran from the corners of his eyes into
sparks that lit his face. Gooseflesh once again danced up Annie's arms and she
hugged herself, always surprised to feel fall in the air in September.

Ethan
did the introductions. He'd been working with Noah for over a year, since the
summer of '89, when Noah had moved to Ohio to work the farm his uncle left him.
Despite a ten-year age difference, the men seemed to be good friends. Bart mentioned
meeting Noah once or twice at some Farmers' Institute meetings. Charlie added
that he had seen him often in the mercantile. Della, when it was her turn to be
introduced, smiled one of those warm smiles that had melted every man's heart
from the time she was a toddler.

And
then it was Annie's turn. "This here's Sissy," Ethan said, using the
name Annie had been stuck with since Bart had learned to talk. "Sissy,
this here's Noah Eastman and his girls, Hannah and Julia."

Noah
stared at Annie until it was clearly impolite. And he kept on staring, his
mouth open and his eyebrows coming down close over his eyes.

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