From Dreamspinner Press
Reverend Ian Kenyon knows the harsh sting of life and how a man can suffer a loss of faith. The death of his wife and newborn son shook him to his foundations, and he's been drifting ever since. Bryn Morgan has returned home from prison to the only family he has—an abusive father who abandoned him to the law when Bryn was unjustly accused of rape. Still poor, lost, and shunned, Bryn searches for work, any work that will allow him to survive.
Reluctantly moved by Bryn's plight, Ian hires the young man to work on his farm despite Bryn's prickly, defensive nature. Soon Ian fears his growing feelings of grace and compassion might be something else, something more... heated. Whatever the cause, he knows they are impossible to pursue, because Heaven only knows what would happen if a man of God began to have forbidden feelings for his hired man.
The next morning, Ian was trimming his beard in his bedroom vanity mirror. He looked out the second floor window when he glimpsed movement outside. He rinsed his blade in the warm water Mrs. Robson provided fresh every day and leaned close to the pane to take in the view.
A slight figure, hunched against the cool morning wind, leaning against the apple tree.
It was Bryn Morgan. Apparently he had nowhere else to go? Pity moved in Ian’s chest and he tried to shove it aside. Hell, he’d hired the boy and he just knew it had been a mistake. He preferred to drift through his days, lost in memory, in hating himself, but from the moment Bryn’s name had been mentioned, Ian had been moved to defend him.
"Huh," Ian grunted.
He pulled out his clerical collar and put it on, seeing reflected a man with dark, untamed hair in need of a trim from Mrs. Robson, a beard, and wintry hazel eyes looking back at him.
Some days he wanted to just wear regular clothing, but folks came by at all times needing comfort, or he could be summoned to tend to the sick or dying...
No one but he knew what a meaningless gesture it was.
Ashes to ashes.
Tears pricked his eyes so he closed them, shaking his head.
He better go downstairs and get that boy out of the wind. At least he could do that much.
"Coffee?" Ian couldn't let Bryn go without food. He had a feeling the young man would shove aside his concern.
Bryn nodded, gaze on the floor.
Mrs. Robson wouldn't bring coffee to the ex-convict, so Ian did, and also a plate of thick bread with cherry preserves. Bryn took it automatically, looking slightly startled that Ian would care enough to push the issue of food on him.
Ian invited Bryn to come sit with him and Mrs. Robson but he only shook his head, slouching against the wall, watching as Ian said grace.
After breakfast, Ian was moved to say to Mrs. Robson on his way out to show Bryn around, “He wasn’t so bad.”
“He certainly watched you, even tried to mimic your fine table manners!” Mrs. Robson noted calmly, stacking dishes in the sink for washing.
“He did!” Ian blinked.
“But then he used to sneak over to the church before he was sent up. I saw him looking in the windows some days when you gave service.”
Ian frowned. “I wonder why he did that?”
"Chickens can be mean," Ian instructed, rubbing the back of his neck.
"I know how to collect eggs!"
Ian sighed. Bryn had been like this all morning. It was clear he had no experience farming or caring for animals, but he kept insisting he knew what he was doing.
The milk cow had kicked him. Daisy, Mrs. Robson’s beloved plow horse, had pushed out of her stall and nearly trampled him and now here were the chickens and Bryn had so far broken three eggs and his hands were bleeding from being pecked by the agitated hens.
Bryn wasn’t a good hire. He didn’t listen and his walls were so thick that he was defensive to even the most mild criticism. It was almost as if he wanted and expected to be fired.
"Look here, this little guy never got eaten..." Ian reached down and lifted a tiny golden chick in his big palm, deciding to teach Bryn another morning about collecting eggs. It would keep and they had eggs enough.
Bryn's tense expression eased. "Is he soft? He looks like a seed from a dandelion."
"He's very soft. Here." Ian placed the chick on Bryn's palm and watched wonder replace the stamped wariness on the young man's face.
"I never touched anything so..." Bryn ran a finger tip over the little bird.
Ian noticed the boy's shoulders relaxing. "Let's tend to your hands."
Ian returned with supplies from the house to find Bryn had managed to gather all the rest of the eggs without breaking any, but his hands were a mess.
"You did a nice job," Ian praised, deciding not to lecture the young man, though his bleeding hands made Ian inwardly wince. "Will you let me clean your hands?"
"It might hurt some," Ian warned, taking one and wiping it gently with alcohol.
Bryn didn't even hiss from the pain. "Used to it."
Ian felt his pity return. "Bryn's a Welsh name," he noted, thinking to make conversation.
Bryn's eyes were fixed on the straw-covered floor. Finally he burst out, "Why're you so nice to me? Is it because you're a man of God?"
Ian hesitated. He didn't know how to answer the simple question. He was used to lying to the townspeople about his lack of faith, but he didn't want to deceive this strange, bitter youngster. He wasn’t even sure he could since Bryn had old eyes in a young face.
"You've had it rough."
He cleaned the other hand and noticed Bryn's ribs sticking out through gaps in his shirt. "Will you eat with me later, Bryn?"
"You don't want...more from me, do you?" Bryn suddenly demanded.
"...More?" Ian blinked. "More what?"
And suddenly Ian knew. "Oh."
Bryn flashed a glance at Ian, hell burning in his eyes. It was something Ian had seen in his own shaving mirror this morning.
"No, I never..." Ian cleared his throat. "I'm merely...alone. It would be nice to have someone to eat with. That is all."
Bryn shrugged. "I'll think about it," he mumbled.
Ian felt a strange despair as he watched Bryn snatch a broom and begin cleaning out the old straw in the hen house. He sensed that he carried still-bleeding wounds, just as Ian did.
But what could he do for Bryn? Ian couldn't heal himself. He could find no comfort. Yet he wanted to give comfort to this young man, he realized, startled.
"Was prison..." Ian fumbled. "I suppose it was bad."
Bryn paused in his sweeping to give Ian a derisive glance. "Yeah, it was bad!" He laughed in Ian’s face.
Ian stroked his beard, watching Bryn sweep. He used to know what to say. How to help people.
Clearly he had no idea how to reach this prickly young man.
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