Today’s post is a humorous excerpt from “The Marriage Bargain” which will be in the anthology, A Groom’s Promise.
A quick background into this scene, Maybell’s father told her Hugh wants to court her, so she is trying to do everything she can to lose his interest without coming out and telling him she’d rather be with his brother, Jack, instead.
She messed up her hair and clothes and then (for good measure) stuck parsley between her teeth. She also put a very bitter herb into Hugh’s stew. (Don’t worry, the herb didn’t hurt him.) Oh, and she didn’t put the herb into anyone else’s stew.
“Where have you been?” he pa asked.
She glanced away from Jack and saw Hugh coming into the dining room from the kitchen, looking as if he’d been in a hurry.
“I’m – I’m sorry I’m late,” Hugh said, wiping his hands on his pants to dry them from having just washed them for the meal.
“Where were you all this time?” her pa pressed.
“I shouldn’t have, but I stopped in to see Opal and the baby.”
Maybell’s eyebrows rose. Since when did men take it upon themselves to visit babies, especially ones that weren’t in their family?
Her pa appeared equally shocked. “You shouldn’t have done that.” After a moment, he added, “Since you’re a newcomer to this area, you may not understand how important harvest time is around these parts. There’s a lot to do and we can’t afford dilly-dallying.”
Setting her napkin aside, Maybell stood up. “I’ve been keeping your food warm. You set yourself down and I’ll bring it in.”
She brought in his bowl of stew and set it before him. God willing, that rue herb would do the trick. If men were as concerned about eating tasty meals for the rest of their lives as Ada said, then it would.
“Thank you,” Hugh told her. “I appreciate you keeping this hot for me.”
Hopefully, that would be the only thing he’d appreciate this evening.
“Maybell?” her pa called out, turning her attention to him.
“Yes, Pa?” she asked.
“Why don’t you take what’s left of your stew and sit beside Hugh?” With a sly grin, he winked. “You two need to get better acquainted.”
“But Pa…” She tried to think of a way to argue with him without arousing Hugh’s suspicions. It had to be his idea things would never work between them. She couldn’t very well do that if she didn’t do what her father wanted.
To her horror, Hugh pulled out the chair next to him. She glanced at her pa again who waved her over to the spot. Then her gaze went to Jack, noting the way his brow furrowed in confusion.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have a choice. She had to do this. She sat down next to Hugh and smiled at him, showing him her teeth—and the parsley—in all their glory. He blinked but gave no other indication that he noticed it. Instead, he returned to his seat. She watched as he took several bites of stew, his hunger probably prompting him to go faster than he would otherwise. But after a few seconds, he stopped chewing and grew still.
She bit her lower lip. Did she put in enough rue? Was it as bitter as she hoped?
He quickly swallowed, grabbed the glass, and drank most of it down in several large gulps. He coughed, shuddered, and downed the rest of the water.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Good. It was as bitter as she wanted!
“This is my best stew yet,” she told him. “I used my special recipe. What do you all think?” she asked her pa and Jack.
“It’s good, as always,” her pa replied.
Jack nodded and muttered a compliment, but his mood had turned considerably dark since Hugh’s arrival.
“You alright?” her pa asked Hugh.
“Oh sure, Maybell always makes the greatest meals.” Hugh coughed and ate a roll.
“Yes, but my stew is especially good,” she said.
“It’s true,” her pa agreed. “She won a cooking contest at the church with this recipe.”
“I did.” Gesturing to his bowl, she asked, “You’re going to finish it all, aren’t you?”
Hugh’s mouth hung open for a moment, and she could swear he gasped at the thought.
“It’s very important that the man who ends up with me enjoys what I make.”
“Maybell prides herself on her cooking,” her pa said. “As well as she should. She did outdo herself tonight. I hope she makes this more often.”
“Oh, I will, Pa,” she replied. “I promise.” She turned her gaze back to Hugh. “I just might make this every week from now on.” Then, for good measure, she smiled again, showing him her teeth, and let out a belch so low that only he could hear it.
He paled then got to his feet. “It’s been a long day, and I’m exhausted.”
“Already?” she asked. “I haven’t even served my apple tarts.”
“No. I can’t stay. I need to get some sleep.”
“I need to have a word with you first,” her pa said, rising up from where he was sitting.
Hugh shifted from one foot to the other then let out a sigh. “Alright, sir.”
She waited until the two left the house before turning to Jack. “Would you like dessert?”