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The Forever Man
Carolyn Davidson

“Brought you a bucket of the first Baldwins, Johanna. Thought you could bake some for dinner. Sure would taste good with some brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkled over the top.” He swung the heavy pail easily, as if the half bushel or so of apples weighed but a few ounces, instead of the twenty-five pounds she was certain it contained.

Tilting her head to one side as she considered his request, she nodded. “I can do that. Anybody who picks apples half the morning ought to get a little of the fruit of his labor, I always figure.”

His laugh was boyish in its cheerful exultation, as if he had not a care in the world. The bucket swung, the apples it held brimming over the top, and Johanna was struck by the masculine beauty of the man she’d married. His hair was blown by the breeze, probably tangled by apple branches while he’d poked amid them on the ladder. Sweat staining his shirt in a half circle beneath each arm and his hands soiled by the honest labor he’d done thus far today, he presented a picture she could only admire.

“I’ll carry these to the kitchen for you, Mrs. Montgomery,” he told her, a grin wreathing his face.

The somber man she first saw two weeks ago atop his wagon had been a far cry from the male specimen facing her now, she thought. Tate Montgomery thrived on hard work. Sunrise found him in the barn, milking and feeding the cows. Contrary to his joking appraisal of his skills, he was an accomplished farmer, she’d found. Whistling softly, cajoling the cows with gentle, coaxing praises, he made short work of the chores.

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