me now.” Todd wasn’t taking any chances. Some other man might steal his bride. Besides, when he was alone with Ma for even a second, she begged him to get her out of here.
    Carver scowled. “You sound mighty sure of yourself.”
    “You can come visit us anytime. Ma’s got only me. Leaving her when she’s helpless and struggling – even with my bride-to-be . . . I can’t. Especially with my bride. I’ll not ask Miss Rose to bear such a responsibility alone. A man takes care of his own.”
    Rubbing his chin thoughtfully, Mr. Carver studied him for a long moment. “Then . . . you might could be betrothed. The women live in your house whilst you stay in the barn.”
    “You’re more likely to find a barking cat than an eligible woman where I come from. I’d be ten kinds of fool to dangle a prize like her around a hoard of randy cowboys. I won’t endanger her like that.”
    “Hmmm.” A slow grin crossed Mr. Carver’s face. “My Maggie Titania’s a princess, and any man would be blessed to be her husband. I ain’t about to send her off to someplace full of woman-hungry bucks with slick ways and smooth words.” His smile faded. “ ’Tis my duty to see she’s with a good, solid Christian man who’ll follow God’s Word. The Bible instructs a man to love his wife as Christ loves the church – to cherish her so much he’d be willing to give himself up for her.”
    He’s laid it on the line. And because I stuck with the truth, he’s going to turn me away.
    “I got the biggest decision of my life to make, and it’s only right you answer me.”
    Todd nodded. “Fair enough.” I’ve still got a chance.
    “A man whose heart is right with God and grounds his life in the Holy Scriptures – he can’t help but love his woman. Might take some time, and there are bound to be some bumps in the road, but that’s the truth. The questions are, do you love God that much? Are you a man to study the Bible each day and follow it in word and deed? Do you trust Him enough?”
    “You’re making it downright easy. The answer to all of those – ”
    Mr. Carver lifted his hand. “Don’t you answer me yet. You see, there are some other things that might make a difference.”
    Nothing would make a difference. Nothing . . . except if she couldn’t have children. He wanted several. But they’d adopt if it came to that. Any child under their roof would wriggle right into his heart in no time at all.
    “There’s things you ought to know. First off, I’m not talking outta my hat. My own marriage wasn’t a love match. I took Maude to wife and said my vows, leaning on the promises of God. She, too, loved the Lord with her heart, mind, soul, and strength. I know it’s not the way of things in these modern times, but there are still times when the hand of God reaches down to arrange situations. We have to recognize them.”
    “I’ve been praying for a wife. Ma took sick, so I prayed for the best of care, and the train kicked us out right here. Miss Rose is the answer to my prayers, and – ”
    “Son, you’re eager to get her hand. I’m making sure the details won’t become burdensome.”
    His jaw clenched. “Ma’s not a burden. I wouldn’t want a wife who viewed her as such. Miss Rose – ”
    “Dotes on your ma. You’re plowing off course. I’m talking about legacies. My niece has one she counts most precious.”
    “Thus I would wish her to keep it.”
    “Mountain women are tough, but they’re also tenderhearted. They know their minds, too. There’s a wildness that love tempers but won’t tame.”
    “Intelligent women have spirit. I’d want it no other way. What else could I tell you to put your heart at ease?”
    Mr. Carver glanced away. “Your actions speak louder than anything comin’ out of your mouth. I saw you beseeching the Lord for your ma’s sake. A man who can love so much he’d risk his own life – he’d be a good husband.”
    He’s softening. I actually have a chance!
    “I’ve been

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