Autumn Winds
seein’ her in the apartment alone with me, and—well, there’s no easy way to explain this, Miriam. When Rhoda expressed . . . romantic notions, I told her I was too old for her. She didn’t like it one little bit.”
    Oh, but that grin on her smudged face played with him! Miriam cleared her throat.
    “Not much you can do about bein’ thirty-five, Ben.”
    “Ah. So she talked to ya.”
    “Mostly she cried and carried on like it was my fault ya turned her down.”
    “Rhoda’s a nice girl. Smart and perty, like her mamm . I s’pose that’s your fault, too, Miriam.”
    “ Jah , and if it weren’t a sin, I’d be right proud of it, too—Rhoda bein’ smart and perty, that is.”
    She’d kept a straight, serious face, but then she chuckled. The kitchen rang with their laughter, and Miriam got to giggling so hard she couldn’t stop. Her whole body shook with laughter, and Ben liked it that he’d made her give in so completely to a moment of happiness.
    “I—I felt awful bad for her, Ben,” she admitted when her laughter settled down, “but I thank ya for spellin’ it out instead of lettin’ her go on with hopes and dreams that weren’t gonna work out.”
    “And how did ya know that?”
    “Know what?” She looked up from smoothing the batter in the pans, eyes wide, as though she had no idea what they’d just been talking about.
    Once again Ben felt fluttery inside. How did this woman make him laugh so easily—make him feel so alive and vibrant? “How’d ya know I wouldn’t go along with Rhoda’s plans for my life? She’s a gut catch, ya know.”
    “I raised her that way.”
    It was Ben’s turn to chuckle when she stuck her pans in the oven as though they hadn’t been discussing something important. “You’re a tease, Miriam.”
    “ Denki , Ben. It feels gut to have a man tell me that.” She cocked one eyebrow as she ran water into her dirty mixing bowl. “But I can’t lie to ya. While I felt all crushed and hurt inside for my girl, I was happy for me. And mighty grateful for the way ya stood up to the bishop yesterday, and—”
    “I was just doin’ the right thing.” Ben shrugged, crossing his arms. “And I wanted Hiram to know straight-out I wasn’t gonna go along with his plans for your life, either.”
    “And why would that be, Ben?” Miriam nipped her lip. Had she gotten too forward and presumptuous? This fine-looking fellow had only been in town forty-eight hours and already he’d shaken up a lot of lives.
    “I like puttin’ that smile on your face of a mornin’, Miriam. If it’s the only thing I accomplish all day, makin’ you happy makes me happy, too.”
    Miriam felt the color creeping up her neck. Oh, but this man was a smooth talker! In all their years together, even when they’d been young and courting, Jesse Lantz had never been so flirty or quick with a quip.
    Your husband was somber and serious, but he took gut care of ya. Have ya forgotten that part?
    Where had that prickly thought come from? The ding-ding-ding of an oven timer gave her something to do as she considered the questions that had whirled in her mind ever since Ben Hooley blew in with the rain. But she hated to spoil this fine mood they were in.
    Ben watched her pull out one pan and then another of the biggest, puffiest cinnamon rolls he’d ever seen. The cinnamon-raisin filling bubbled out between the pinwheels of dough and filled the air with the promise of sweetness . . . Sugar and spice and everythin’ nice. That’s what Miriam Lantz is made of!
    “I’d like to think that little grin’s somethin’ I put on your face, too,” she replied quietly. “But we’ve got things to talk about.” She avoided his gaze now . . . began to drizzle white frosting over the hot rolls.
    “What do ya want to know, Miriam? I whooshed into Willow Ridge and we haven’t had a chance to talk about—”
    “Are ya baptized into the Old Order faith, Ben?”
    His eyebrows rose. “ Jah , I am. Took my

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