by Rosemarie Hauer
Smiling, Josiah watched as Elizabeth walked across the meadow, bending down
every now and then to examine a flower. She had asked him to accompany her
on her expedition to collect plants for her biology lessons, and he had
readily agreed.
Josiah thought he had never seen anything more beautiful in the world than
Elizabeth's radiant face when she discovered yet another treasure. She still
had that childlike quality about her that made Heaven on earth possible. It
worried him, though, because that very quality more often than not posed a
danger to her, because she was all too willing to plunge herself headlong
into something she was momentarily convinced of. That made her a force to be
reckoned with when someone tried to get in her way. Smiling to himself, he
remembered having been witness to her persuasive powers several times, when
she had talked to stubborn settlers who didn't see any use in sending their
children to school. He had seen her dance in the rain and play in the
sunshine, and it didn't surprise him in the least that the children adored
her. After all, so did he.
"Josiah, look at this," she called, waving him over to where she knelt in
the grass, running her fingertips over the petals of some rare flower. "Do
you know what it is? It's beautiful."
He squatted down beside her and took a closer look at the light blue flower.
"I don't think I've ever seen it before," he admitted, "but then I'm no
expert." When he finally raised his eyes, she was sitting in the grass,
studying him.
"Thank you, Josiah," she said, "for being so patient with me, for giving me
your time so often."
He dropped to his knees and sat back on his haunches. "No big sacrifice, you
know," he said with a grin.
She lifted one hand to his face and he felt her cool fingertips on his chin
as she touched him lightly. "People are probably gossiping already," she
said, but he didn't have the impression that that particular fact bothered
her too much. Unable to help himself, he captured her hand in his and
pressed his lips to her palm. He hadn't meant to do that, he had no
intention of overstepping any boundaries. He knew all too well that
fulfilling the desire springing to life between them every time they
exchanged a look or shared a touch was so out of reach. She trembled, and he
released her immediately. He knew it would have been wiser to drop his gaze
but he couldn't. Her eyes were huge and rich with emotion as she stared at
him, her expression unreadable.
"I'm sorry," he murmured, avoiding her gaze as he rose to his feet. She
followed him instantly, placing one hand lightly on his sleeve.
"Don't be," she said. He moved, meaning to gently pull away, but her fingers
tightened reflexively around his arm. "Josiah, I..."
He raised his head, looking at her, and the expression on her face took his
breath away. Underneath the concern that pulled her brows into a frown he
sensed her desire to drop the tight rein she was keeping on herself, and the
moist glitter in her eyes betrayed a yearning that spoke to the deepest
places in his soul. He doubted that anybody had ever looked at him like
that, with so much tenderness and awe.
Josiah was faintly aware of murmuring her name, and the next moment she was
there, placing her arms around his waist as she leaned her cheek against his
chest. He pulled her to him with involuntary possessiveness and buried his
face in her hair, inhaling deeply. She smelled of sunshine and her soft
breathing reminded him of the wind that whispered through the high summer
grass. Suddenly she raised her head and his whole range of vision narrowed
down to the sight of her full lips so close to his face. He had known the
love of women, and he had never been shy to give and receive kisses of any
kind, but now his heart pulsed wildly in his throat as he faced a longing so
deep that it stole his breath away.
She pulled away, and a silent prayer of gratitude flitted through his mind
-- that she was reasonable enough to stop him, to lead him out of this
before it was too late. But the next moment he felt her lips on his cheek,
her touch as light as the flutter of a butterflies wings. He gasped under
her caress, his mind reeling with the promise of her seemingly innocent
kiss, and it was with effort that he remembered his vow never to do anything
that would cause her harm.
The regret in her eyes tore at his heart and he lowered his head until their
foreheads touched.
"This is going to kill both of us," he murmured.
"It doesn't have to," came her whispered reply.
With exquisite tenderness he showered her face with tiny, pristine kisses,
deliberately avoiding her mouth. Her eyelids fluttered under his lips and he
thought his heart would burst with the depth of his love for her. When he
finally pulled back to look at her, he found her studying him with moist
"Sometimes I think," she began, "that God must be very cruel to split a
being who is perfect in its completeness in two imperfect, aching halves."
"As I understand it," he replied, "it was meant as a chance to grow."
"To make the moment of reunion all that much sweeter?" she offered quietly.
He swallowed around the lump forming in his throat. "I think so."
"Then how can it be wrong to complete the circle?" she asked in a tremulous
voice. "How can wanting to be whole again be a sin?"
Josiah cast a helpless glance at the deep blue sky. "It isn't," he finally
said. "There is nothing more sacred than the act of love." He felt her
tremble against him and his arms tightened around her in involuntary
They stood together in silence for a long while, and finally Elizabeth was
the first to move. "There's a time for everything," she murmured, leaning
back in his arms. "Isn't that what the bible says?"
He smiled down at her. "That's right."
Her face was radiant as she cupped her palm around his cheek. "Good," she
said simply, and Josiah thought he had never heard a word with sweeter