around the house and found Aunt Eula leading her wayward charge up the steps. The child's hair was a mass of dark curls, still dripping wet, and her eyes were bright with mischief. Olivia could tell little else about her for the towel draped over her shoulders, except, of course, that her bare feet were muddy from a dash through the flower bed.
"Aunt Eula, we need a chance to think this over."
"What do we need to think over?” Eula brushed past Olivia and led the child into the kitchen. Maddy hurried to hoist the little girl back into the tub of water, scolding her for running off and for tracking dirt on the freshly mopped floor.
"There is a great deal to consider."
Eula motioned for her to be quiet and led her out into the hall while Maddy bathed the little girl for the second time.
"You would actually consider turning away a motherless child?” Eula's hushed tone didn't disguise her disappointment. “You were raised better than that, Olivia Chandler. And you of all people should sympathize with her situation."
Indeed, Olivia remembered very well the overwhelming sense of loss at her own mother's death, but she resented the comparison. “I was much older than she is, and—"
"You loved your mother less when you were younger?"
"Don't twist my words around.” Olivia cringed inwardly, hating the way she sounded. “I only meant—"
Maddy led Sarah into the hall, once again clean and draped with a towel, and issued the child a stern warning. “Don't let me catch you traipsing through this house with muddy feet again, you hear?"
Sarah nodded, and Maddy returned her to Eula. With hardly a glance in Olivia's direction, her aunt dismissed the entire conversation, saying only, “We'll talk about this later."
Eula held out her hand to Sarah and led her toward the stairs. “Come along, child. We have to get you dressed before your papa gets here."
Olivia breathed a sigh of relief. Matthew was coming for the child, so the arrangement was only fleeting. Thank goodness. When he arrived she would offer her solution to his problem—a full-time nursemaid to care for the girl and ease her own conscience.
She followed Maddy into the kitchen. “Will it be too much trouble if Mr. Bowen stays for supper?"
"Of course not.” Maddy stooped to open the oven door and check whatever was baking inside. The wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon filled the kitchen, and Olivia remembered how Matthew always bragged on Maddy's apple pie. “He'll be coming for supper most every night."
"Every night?” Obviously Maddy remembered as well.
"As long as the child is staying with us.” Straightening up, she closed the oven door and began checking each of the simmering pots on the stove. “I say it's for the best. The child won't think he's took off and left her."
"Well, it seems you and Aunt Eula have everything worked out,” she snapped. “I wish you had taken the trouble to ask my opinion."
Maddy eyed her with a solemn expression. “We figured you was Christian enough not to have any different opinion."
Olivia opened her mouth to rebut but said nothing. Instead, she turned and left the kitchen without a word, refusing to accept the dilemma everyone seemed determined to force upon her.
* * * *
"Good evenin', Mr. Bowen. Come right on in."
"Hello, Maddy.” Matthew stepped inside the foyer of the house he knew so well as a boy. Glancing around the spacious entryway, he was astonished to see that the interior of the house was just as he remembered. Nothing had been changed or even rearranged. It seemed a lifetime since his last visit, and it saddened him to think how much had changed since that time. “It's good to see you."
He turned at the sound of his baby girl's voice and smiled at the sight of her running toward him. He knelt down and scooped her into his embrace, savoring the feel of her arms around his neck. “Hello, sweetheart. How's my girl?"
"I had a baf',” she informed him, leaning back to study his
Lacy Williams as Lacy Yager, Haley Yager