Romancing Olive . . . 1891 . . . Spinster librarian, Olive Wilkins, is shocked to learn of her brother’s violent death at a saloon gaming table. Compelled to rescue and raise his children, Olive travels to Ohio, intending to return to her Philadelphia home with her niece and nephew. Little does she know that the children have come to love their caretaker, widower Jacob Butler. Will Olive return home without them or learn to love Jacob as well? Excerpt below.

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Spencer, Ohio 1891>>
Olive Wilkins found the sheriff’s office as promised, beside a busy general store. The walls were thick stone and the bars at the windows cast striped patterns on the floor. A weary faced man with sun toughened skin sat behind the desk. >>
“Just a minute . . .” the sheriff said.>>
Olive waited dutifully as he wrote, letting her eyes wander from the cells in the corner of the room to the gun belt looped over the hook near the door to the sign proclaiming Sheriff Bentley as the law in this small Ohio town. >>
“What can I help you with, ma’am?’ he asked as he looked up from his papers and tilted back his hat.>>
“My name is Olive Wilkins and my brother, James Wilkins and his wife Sophie, lived here in Spencer. I am here to take his children back to my home in Philadelphia. But I am not quite sure with whom they are staying. The note from my sister-in-law’s family is unclear,” Olive explained as she pulled the oft folded and unfolded letter from her bag. >>
The sheriff sat back in his chair and tapped his pencil stub against his mouth. “John and Mary are staying with Jacob Butler.”>>
“How are the Butlers related to my brother’s wife?” Olive asked.>>
“They’re not,” Sheriff Bentley replied.>>
“Then how did the children come to . . .”>>
“None of Sophie’s family, the Davis’s, would take them in,” he interrupted.>>
“Oh.” >>
“Jacob Butler couldn’t abide two children living on their own in that shack, so he took them home. He was your brother’s closest neighbor,” the sheriff explained. >>
“Sophie’s family abandoned them?” Olive asked. Could this man be talking about James’ nearest relatives? Could there be two sets of orphaned children in one small community? With the same names? No, there could not be. >>
“The Davis clan couldn’t tell you how many children or dogs belong to them,” the sheriff said. “But they sure didn’t want more.” >>
Olive frowned, certain she had misunderstood. “My brother’s children lived alone on a farm? Surely Sophie’s family would have never . . .”>>
“I don’t right know I’d call Jimmy’s place a farm,” the sheriff interrupted and met Olive’s bewildered eyes. “The worst part is I don’t know how long the children were in the house with their mother dead and if they saw her murder.” >>
Olive’s knees threatened to buckle and her eyes darted from the sheriff’s face to her handbag to the desk. “How could that be? The Davis’s letter only said that James and Sophie had died. I . . . I just assumed that it there had been influenza or a dreadful accident of some kind.”>>
The sheriff stood, came around the desk and seated Olive in a chair. “Jimmy was killed when he got caught cheating at cards. He wagered the farm and the man who killed him rode out and tried to stake his claim.” He looked away and grimaced. “When I got back to town a couple of days later, I rode out to check on Sophie. It looked like she put up a hell of a fight.”
Olive clutched the letter from her brother’s in-law in her hand. She pictured her only sibling in her mind’s eye as a young man when she had last seen him. The pride of her mother and father, a charming, handsome boy who filled their Church Street home with laughter. At twenty years of age, he had loved Sophie Davis with such abandon; he’d left all he’d known behind to make a life with his new wife on the plains of Ohio. Sophie’s kin were farmers and she wanted no life other than that which the soil and the tilling of it, brought. So James announced his intentions of making Ohio his new home, where he would farm and raise his family. >>
The death of Olive’s parents, only a year apart had left her bereft, but she had cared for them through their illnesses and she saw their demise inch closer with each day. The news of James and Sophie’s death, however, left her grief stricken. But her misery would certainly pale in comparison to the devastation John and Mary must feel. Without preamble, this pair of deaths had orphaned her ten-year-old niece and four-year-old nephew. >>
“And the children?” Olive asked.>>
“Couldn’t find hide nor hair of them wild things. Searched everywhere. Jacob checked the house about a week later and found them living there. Mary gave him a fight. She was scared to death, even though she knew Jacob and his children. And John, that boy hasn’t spoken a word since,” he replied. >>
Tears threatened Olive’s eyes. She could not decide which of all of this horrifying news was the worst. But it could not be. The sheriff must have some of this information wrong, otherwise . . . “I’ll have to make sure that Mr. and Mrs. Butler understand how thankful I am someone took in Mary and John.”>>
The sheriff propped a hip on the corner of his desk. “There is no Mrs. Butler. Jacob’s a widower. His wife died a year ago giving birth to their youngest son.”>>
“How . . . can you tell me how to arrange transportation to the Butlers?” Olive asked.>>
“I’ll be going out that way tomorrow. I’ll rent a wagon, unless you ride. No? Then I’ll take you out there,” he offered.>>
“That’s very kind of you Sheriff,” Olive replied. The social courtesies came without thought while her heart grappled with what the sheriff had said. She pulled her cloak tightly around her and left the office feeling numb. >>
Olive found herself walking aimlessly through town. In her mind she played and replayed the story the sheriff had told her and it rubbed raw all that she knew to be true of how she was raised, how James was raised, how life was to be lived. She glanced down and only then realized she still held the letter that had brought the heart breaking news.>>
Sophie’s family had written her that there was no one to take in the two small children after their parents’ death, so Olive faced the greatest challenge she had ever known. She would rescue these orphans, blood of her blood, and love them and take them back to Philadelphia where she would raise them in their father’s childhood home. >>
Olive had stared out the train window on the trip to Spencer, mile after mile, dreaming of Sunday afternoons at the ice cream parlor, helping John with his studies, and someday leading Mary into womanhood. What a wonderful continuation of the Wilkins’ legacy Olive would be able to bestow. She would be firm but gentle, patient, but with high expectations of these bright shining pennies. She would read them the letters their father had written and take them to church and love them and they would love her. >>
Olive made her way back to the Jenkins Hotel as night drew closer. There was no point or need to dwell on the sheriff’s grim tale. She would discover the truth on her own soon enough. She sat on the edge of the bed and surveyed the room. The wallpaper hung precariously above the bed and a small nightstand held only a chipped washbasin and pitcher. She smelled mildew and the oil from the kerosene lamp, now throwing shadows and revealing dark stains where the rain had run down the wall. Turning the lamp down to a soft glow, Olive undressed and dusted her skirts. Her hat she placed over the flowered pitcher. After fastening all twenty-eight pearl buttons of her nightdress, she undid her hair and let the waist length mass pull at her scalp as she massaged her head. Glory, does that feel good, Olive thought while brushing her hair the required one hundred strokes. >>
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