October 13, 2010

Home to Singing Trees by Liz Flaherty

Home to Singing Trees by Liz Flaherty
Available from The Wild Rose Press

Escaping her painful past, Sarah Williamson finds a new life for her loved ones when she takes a position as housekeeper with Liam McKissick at Singing Trees Farm, an idyllic place considering the horrors she’s faced. Sarah, her daughter, and young sister-in-law feel at home as her heart warms to Liam, but then her daughter is kidnapped and danger again threatens her serenity. The need to flee and protect her family battles her growing love for Liam.

Widower Liam McKissick endured a loveless marriage. Unwilling to take another chance at love, he devotes his time to work and family. Despite his efforts to keep to himself, his passion grows for Sarah who brings life and love to his home. Notwithstanding her past and the trouble it may cause, he proposes. Can he risk his heart and family to make her stay?


She was in the tree.

“Sarah!” Liam bellowed, taking the three steps off the porch in one and striding toward the tree. “Good morning, Jess. Good morning, Emily. Mrs. Williamson, come down here right now!”

“I can’t do that, sir. I have another swing to hang after this one. I got the nicest boards at the sawmill yesterday, and the sawyer didn’t even charge for them, and I begged the rope from Davis.” She peered down at him from what seemed a very long way up, and the skin around her green eyes looked bruised, as though last night’s conversation had disturbed her as much as it had him. “I think children need swings to play on, don’t you?”

“Bribed Davis is what she did,” Gavin mumbled from his stance on the porch. “We’re having chicken and dumplings and chocolate cake for supper. Personally, I don’t see a daggone thing wrong with a little bribery here and there. Keeps a man” –he stopped and chuckled— “well-fed.”

“Swings are all well and good, Sarah, but you don’t need to hang them. Davis or I will be glad to. Now, come down from there.” Ignoring Gavin’s glee, Liam hitched his coat back out of his way and placed impatient hands on the hips of his trousers.

“I will in a minute.” She shinnied further out the branch, looked down at her legs hanging down on either side of it, and turned fiery red. “Would you turn your back, please, Liam?”

He could see the stockings that covered those splendid legs were darned and shabby, her shoes had holes in their soles, and the petticoats that swung below her hideous brown skirt had been sewn from flour sacks. The thick bun of copper-tinted brown hair, pulled tight when he’d left this morning, had loosened considerably, and soft tendrils blew about her face.

She looked magnificent.

He turned his back.

But he didn’t want to.

He waited five minutes, while Gavin yelled instructions and Sarah called back rejoinders that didn’t sound in the least servile, while the girls played Ring-Around-the-Rosy around his legs until they fell into a tangle at his feet.

“Are you ready to come down now?” he asked after the five minutes were up.

“Well, I would be, except—” She stopped.

“Except what?”

“Except I seem to be stuck to something, and I can’t figure out where I’m stuck or what I’m stuck to.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Impatient now, wanting her safely on the ground, Liam pulled off his coat and handed it to Jessie. “Hold this while I rescue Mrs. Sarah.”

“Mrs. Mama,” Jessie corrected him over her shoulder as she carried the coat to lay it neatly over the porch rail.

Liam looked from his daughter to the woman in the tree. “Mrs. Mama?” he said mildly.

“I’m sorry. They came up with it this morning, and I didn’t know how to dissuade them.” Sarah looked slightly sheepish, and Liam had a feeling she didn’t really mind the new title.

“And I should warn you,” she went on, “they’ve decided that from now on, Emily is to call you Dr. Papa. I couldn’t talk them out of that, either.”

“Actually—” Liam swung himself into the tree with a grunt of effort “—I prefer it to Dr. Kamissick.”

He moved onto the branch on which Sarah was sitting. “I guess we’re going to check the strength of this limb before the girls swing from it, right Mrs. Mama?”

“Looks that way,” she mumbled, blushing again, and he stopped moving for a moment, totally captivated.

Sue Anne Klein didn’t blush, he remembered suddenly. She simpered. If Emily’s conception and birth were the result of something sordid, something less than honorable, would her mother still blush at every whipstitch?

“Your skirt’s hooked,” he said, his voice remarkably like that of a boy still waiting for his first shave; he was surprised it didn’t crack halfway through the sentence. He was pretty sure he was blushing, too. Oh, Lord.

He sat so close to her he felt the heat from her skin and smelled the faint scent of roses that always seemed to surround her. Her head was bowed as she tried to see where her skirt was caught, exposing the pale skin of the back of her neck to his interested perusal.

He could almost feel that sensitive skin against his lips, the warmth of her body beneath his hands. He had a natural physical reaction to those thoughts and was hard put not to groan aloud.

“I’ll try not to rip your skirt.” He leaned sideways to reach where the skirt was caught and could see the way her full breasts pushed against the material of her waist and whatever she wore under it.

Oh, dear, sweet Lord.

Liam tugged at the thin fabric of her skirt, frowning when it tore and exposed Sarah’s petticoat.

Good God, the woman embroidered flour sacks before she made them into underwear.

“Sorry,” he said. For what? Ripping her skirt or ogling her underwear? “I think you’re loose now. I’m going to back up and go down first, all right?”

She nodded without turning her head, and he could see the telltale red creeping around her neck. “You’re entirely decent,” he whispered, “although I wouldn’t mind a bit seeing the rest of that petticoat.”

“Dr. McKissick!” she hissed, her voice a fine cross of indignation and embarrassment. “In case you forgot, there are children waiting right at the bottom of this tree.”

He grinned. “I think they’ve probably seen your petticoats. They aren’t nearly as interested as I am.”

She turned her head, and even though her cheeks still bloomed pink and she tried her best to frown, laughter brimmed in the mossy eyes.

If he stayed up this tree, Liam knew he would kiss his housekeeper, regardless of who waited below.

Reluctantly, he climbed down.

Certain she’d set a record for how many times a person could blush in one day, Sarah inched backward to the fork in the tree, swung one leg over as modestly as possible, and stepped to the lower branch.

Liam looked up at her.

“Please turn around,” she begged. “You, too, Judge,” she called to the man on the porch. “I don’t descend all that elegantly.”

Liam held up his arms. “Jump.”

“Oh, no, Liam. I’m too big. I’ll knock the wind right out of you.”

He frowned the scowl that had intimidated her that first couple of days, before the night they’d worked together to bring a new baby into the world. “I’ll take that chance,” he said, a glint of determination in his eyes.

Sarah sighed. “All right, but I warned you.”

He caught her against what was surely the hardest chest in the state of Indiana, held firmly by what were definitely the strongest arms, and allowed to slide slowly to the ground against what was without doubt the most arousing body.

Arousing? What am I doing even thinking a word like arousing? Dr. Papa or no, he’s your employer, Sarah Mary, and don’t you be forgetting it.

When Liam didn’t release her immediately, she raised her hands to his shoulders to push him gently away and caught sight of her work-roughened fingers against his immaculate shirt—a cruel, but effective comparison. Liam McKissick was among the cream of the area’s social crop. He had money, influence, and unparalleled good looks.

Sarah Mary Williamson was a housekeeper, the mother of an illegitimate child and the guardian of a sister-in-law who had been pursued against her will by the father of that child.

Like spotless white shirts and rough red hands, the two didn’t belong together.