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A Heart's Delight
Author: Linda Ford




Willow Creek, a town in the Porcupine Hills of Alberta. The year—1887


A burst of laughter erupted in the dining room of Willow Creek’s café and bakery. Laura Fisher, age twenty, guessed the source of the amusement. Cody Remington, the man running the saddlery shop next door for his brother, Ryder, while Ryder and his new wife were away celebrating their marriage. Laura didn’t resent that her friend, Delcie, had found happiness with Ryder. But she found it hard to believe that Cody and Ryder were related. This Mr. Remington was so…so…Well, he was younger, twenty-two, according to Ryder, but that didn’t explain the difference.

“It sounds like our neighbor has arrived. He alvays brings the sunshine and laughter vith him.” Hilda chuckled as she sliced more bread for their hungry customers.

Neither of those words had popped into Laura’s mind. “How is it possible a grown man is so oblivious to the realities of life?” Laura spooned mashed potatoes and slices of roast venison on a plate, drowned them both in rich brown gravy, and added a heap of cooked carrots.

“You find his good humor annoying?” Hilda seemed puzzled by the idea.

“Maybe I do.” Laura put a few pickled beets on the plate and headed for the door adjoining the kitchen to the dining room.

“But vhy?” Hilda still said her ws like vs.

Hilda’s question slowed Laura’s steps. Why did she find Mr. Remington’s constant good humor so off-putting? Maybe because, for some inexplicable reason, it reminded her of Dale Fraser, and that was good enough excuse to dislike anyone.

She hurried into the dining room and placed the plate in front of the burly man who had ordered the meal. “Enjoy.” She smiled.

The man grinned up at her. “I’m enjoying everything about this meal already. Mostly the pretty woman serving it.”

Laura had grown used to the remarks men made. She continued to smile. “Thank you.”

The man shifted his attention a different direction. “Ain’t that right, Cody?”

Cody? Not Mr. Remington? The man was on a first-name basis with everyone who crossed the threshold here. And likely next door at the saddlery shop too. Not to mention the store across the street and… No need to go on. She knew her assessment was unfair—jaded by how he reminded her of Dale.

“You are certainly right on that score. Service with a smile from a pretty young woman. Doesn’t get much better than that.”

The burly customer laughed loudly and was joined by several others.

Laura spun from the room to complain to Hilda. “It’s hard to believe that man is Ryder’s brother. Why, Ryder would scold the others for such inappropriate comments. But this one laughs and encourages it.”

“I heard. Seems to me you ought to be flattered.”

“Well, I’m not.” Flattery, she’d learned to her sorrow, had a wicked and painful hook attached. Dale had wooed her, beguiled her, and trapped her with flattery. She had drunk it up so eagerly. She wouldn’t be so easily sucked in again.

“Did you get his order?” Hilda’s voice was gently chiding.

“Can’t you?”

Hilda glanced down at her soiled apron. “I’m not suitable. Besides, it’s your turn.” They took turnabout serving in the dining room. Today was Hilda’s day to work in the kitchen while Laura served.

“Fine.” She hurried into the dining room, took his order, and rushed back out in mere seconds. She dished up a plate of food and, her steps firm, her mouth tight, she returned to the dining room and crossed to the table where Mr. Remington sat, talking animatedly to the man at the next table. No doubt regaling him with one of his impossible stories. She sucked air into her tight lungs. She didn’t like that she was being foolish, judgmental, unkind, and all sorts of things she wished she wasn’t, but she couldn’t seem to help it.

Although there were few similarities between Mr. Remington and Mr. Dale Fraser, there was something about them that was far too much alike. She couldn’t even tell herself what it was.

Mr. Remington looked up, a wide smile on his face. For a moment, the smile slipped, the laughter in his eyes faltered. Then his humor returned. “You seem to have lost your smile.”

She put the plate of food in front of him. “You’ll maybe find it buried under the gravy.” She flung around and returned to the kitchen, Mr. Remington’s hoot of laughter following her.

Hilda stepped from behind the worktable and confronted her. “Laura, you vere rude to him. He doesn’t deserve it either as a man or a customer.”

Laura pressed her fingertips to her eyes. “I know. I just can’t seem to help myself when I’m around him.”

“You better find a vay.” The ladies were partners in the business, but Hilda was the boss and would tolerate nothing that compromised her standards for how the business was conducted.

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not to me you should be apologizing.” Hilda tipped her head toward the dining room as if she thought Laura might not know who she meant.

“I know. I will.” It was unlike Laura to be rude, and she didn’t care for her own behavior. “Give me time to think what I want to say.”

She filled coffee cups, removed empty plates, took in dishes of dessert, all the while avoiding Mr. Remington except to refill his cup, though she was conscious of his wary glances at her as she scurried from table to table.

The dining room had almost emptied when she took a generous portion of raisin pie to Mr. Remington. She set it before him.

He raised his smiling face. The smile didn’t quite fill his eyes.

She clasped her hands before her. “I was rude to you and I apologize. I had no call.”

He held her gaze. If she could believe what she thought, she would say he searched her eyes for more. But she had no more.

“Apology accepted.” His smile flashed.

Having done her duty and satisfied Hilda, Laura hurried back to the kitchen. As soon as Mr. Remington, their last guest, left, she and Hilda cleaned the dining room. They did the dishes, swept the floors, and set dough to rise for the first baking of bread in the morning. They’d be up early enough to bake cookies before their first customers arrived.

“The bakery is doing well,” Laura said.

“So is the dining room.” Hilda stared at the stove. “I’m going to prepare vegetables for soup for tomorrow. Could you get me some carrots, an onion, and a few potatoes?”

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