Cover image for Miranda
Miller, Linda Lael.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : Thorndike Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
173 pages ; 23 cm.
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FICTION Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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Author Notes

Linda Miller was born in Spokane, Washington and raised in the Pacific Northwest. She began writing when she was 10 years old after a teacher praised her for a story she had written. Through a correspondence course, she sold over 30 stories to magazines like True Confessions and True Romance. She sold her first novel, Fletcher's Woman, in 1983. Her first hardcover novels were Pirates (1995) followed by Knights (1996). She has written over 80 contemporary and historical romance novels. She is the author of numerous series including Stone Creek series; Montana Creeds series; The Women of Primrose Creek series; and Springwater Seasons series. In 2007, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Romance Writers of America.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One Fall 1875 "I've got two kids to tend to, and hogs to butcher," Landry announced forthrightly, that crisp, early October morning, in the dining room of the Springwater station. "Potatoes and turnips to dig, too, and fields to plow under. The fact is, I need a wife in the worst way." He paused, hat in hand, colored up a little, and cleared his throat. "So I've come to ask if -- well, if you'd marry me." It wasn't the most romantic proposal, Miranda Leebrook reflected, but she'd wanted Landry Kildare for a husband from the moment she clapped eyes on him a couple of months back, while the Hargreaves house was being raised, and she wasn't about to refuse his offer. Besides, she and little Isaiah-or-Ezekiel couldn't expect to stay on with the McCaffreys forever. Heaven knew the baby's real father didn't want either of them, and Pa and his woman, Lorelei, were long gone. Landry was a handsome man, with his mischievous hazel eyes and wavy brown hair, and Miranda enjoyed looking at him on any account. Now, gazing into that earnest face, Miranda tried without success to think up a bright and witty remark, something Rachel might say, or Savannah. Landry glanced around -- June-bug and Jacob McCaffrey were pointedly absent -- and cleared his throat again. "Of course I won't expect you to -- well, what I mean is, you'll have a while to get used to things." A hot rush of crimson washed up his neck to pulse in his lower jaw. "Having a husband and the like." His expression, normally boyish and winsome, proceeded from bleak panic to pure desperation. "What I'm trying to say is, you'll have your own room and all the privacy you want. Until -- until you're ready -- " She couldn't resist touching him any longer, and laid the tip of an index finger to his mouth. His lips felt warm and supple, and an odd little jolt of pleasure rocketed through her hand and up her arm to burst, a faint, delicious ache, in a soft fold of her heart. "Jacob and Miss June-bug warrant that you're a good man," she said quietly. "That's all the say-so I need. I'll have you for a husband, Mr. Kildare, if you truly want me for a wife." He swallowed visibly. "I want you, all right," he said. He averted his gaze, then made himself meet her eyes again. "I guess every woman likes to hear pretty words at a time like this. The plain truth is, I don't have any to say. I loved my wife, Caroline, and I never got over losing her. I don't reckon I'll ever feel just that way about anybody again. But I'll be good to you, Miranda, and I'll raise your little one like he was my own. I'm not a rich man, but I can provide for the both of you, and I'll never bring shame on you, nor lay a hand to either one of you in anger." She wished he could have claimed to love her, for she surely cherished deep if undefined feelings toward him, but at the same time she knew it was better that he hadn't. He'd have been lying, and she would have known it full well, and never given weight to another word he said from that moment until the day one of them died. Young as she was, barely eighteen, Miranda understood that no alliance could stand, let alone thrive, without trust. "I'll guess we should get on with it, then," she said, and blushed herself. She was painfully certain that neither Rachel nor Savannah would ever say anything so stupid when their whole future hung in the balance, and with it, that of their child. "I'll speak to Jacob," Landry said, with a slight, nervous nod. "About saying the words over us and all, I mean. You might want to get your things ready while I'm about that." She replied with a nod of her own. She had very few belongings -- just four dresses, two made by the industrious June-bug, and two donated by Savannah Parrish, the Doc's wife. There was a stack of flour sack diapers and some little clothes for the baby, too, and a reading primer Rachel Hargreaves had given her. Rachel was a schoolmarm, despite her marriage and prominent pregnancy, and she'd been helping Miranda with her reading now and again. She could make out the words all right, it wasn't that, but the task was difficult. Perhaps twenty minutes had passed when Jacob hobbled in, supported by his cane. He was tall, but his big frame had wasted. The light had gone out of his eyes since his heart had nearly given out on him, and he didn't hold forth of a Sunday morning as often as before, but the nearest justice of the peace was in Choteau, and he was the only real preacher for miles around. June-bug hastily summoned Savannah for a second witness, and when she'd arrived, beaming with delight at the prospect of a wedding so soon after her own, Miranda and Landry took their awkward places before Jacob, both of them listening earnestly to every word he said and responding whenever he asked them to speak. And so Miranda Leebrook was married, and became Miranda Kildare, all in the course of an October morning. She wore her best dress, a blue calico, and the cornbread June-bug had baked for the midday meal served as wedding cake. There was no party, no dancing, like when the Doc and Savannah got hitched, but Miranda didn't care about any of that. She and little Isaiah-or-Ezekiel were part of a family now; they had a home to go to, and folks to call their own, and a lifetime of unsullied days, just waiting to dawn. Her heart sang when Landry helped her into the seat of his well-used buckboard, then stepped aside so June-bug could hand up the baby, solid and heavy in his bundle of blankets. Then Landry was beside her in the wagon, his right thigh touching hers, his strong callused hands taking up the reins. He released the brake lever with a practiced motion of his left leg, and they were on their way. He raised his hat to the small assembly of well-wishers in front of the stagecoach station, still without smiling that famous smile that had made Miranda's insides quiver, and urged the team of two mules to a faster pace with a raspy sound from his throat and a slap of the reins. He did not look at Miranda, but kept his thoughtful gaze fixed on the track ahead. The far edges of the clearing where the town of Springwater was slowly taking shape were a fringe of gold and crimson, rust and dark green. The sky was a pristine, chilly blue, dabbed with white, and there was a quiet, thrilling sense of new beginnings, it seemed to her, woven in the air itself and into the bright, eager glow of the sun. She held her small son closer against her bosom as he began to fidget, and sat proudly beside her husband. Her husband. Miranda let her thoughts wander back to the day the Doc and Savannah were married. There had been a party then, and dancing to the tunes of a fiddle, and she'd been Landry's partner in a reel. When that spin around the floor of the Springwater station's main room had ended, Miranda was a different woman, totally changed. She'd loved the smell of Landry Kildare from then on, loved the sight of him, and the sound of his voice. Now, officially his wife, Miranda wanted to laugh aloud with joy, but she knew that would startle the baby and Landry, too, and maybe even the mules, so she held her exuberance inside, contained it, like a deep breath, drawn against a plunge underwater. In her mind, she rehearsed the life that lay ahead -- Landry's boys would come to love her like a second mother, she'd see to that. She'd stitch curtains for every window in the house, and keep the place so clean that folks were sure to remark upon it for miles around. She wasn't the best cook -- her fare tended to be plain and a little on the heavy side -- but she'd learned a few things helping Miss June-bug in the Springwater station kitchen, and she'd manage just fine. With practice, she expected she'd be able to make biscuits as feathery as anybody's. Yes, she assured herself, she would make it all work. Landry Kildare would never be sorry he'd taken her for a wife. Maybe one day, he might even come to love her, if she worked at things hard enough. It made her heart pound a little, just to imagine him looking at her the way Trey looked at Rachel, for example, or the way Doc looked at Savannah. The ride to his home -- glory of glories, it was hers now, too, and the baby's -- was short by comparison to the distance to say, the Wainwright place, or Choteau. Or Ohio, for that matter. The thought of Ohio, and the home place where her ma was buried, took a little of the shine off that magical day, bringing the farm to mind as it did and, with it, her lost mother. Miranda set the memories firmly aside. No sense looking back, longing for places and people she would never see again. No, sir. Miranda Leebrook Kildare meant to fix her gaze straight ahead, from that moment on. Miranda was a pretty little thing, Landry thought guiltily, as the team covered the last couple of miles, the buckboard rattling along over a rocky, rutted track. Eighteen, no more than that, and here he was, thirty-five, come next June. Nearly twice her age. He ground his back teeth. It wasn't like he was betraying Caroline; she'd been gone a long time, and he'd been lonely enough to howl ever since. He'd never stopped loving her, not for a moment, but he'd taken something of a shine to Rachel Hargreaves, when she'd come to teach at Springwater the year before. She'd been Rachel English then, spirited as a filly raised on the open range, but book-smart, too, and pretty. Alas, she'd married Trey Hargreaves, then half owner of the Brimstone Saloon, and never thought of Landry as anything more than a friend. Just as well, he supposed, given the fact that Trey and Rachel clearly loved each other as deeply as he and Caroline ever had. Landry couldn't have offered Rachel that kind of sentiment, much as he admired her, so she was better off with the man she'd chosen. Landry sighed to himself, and prodded the mules to travel a little faster. Maybe he'd lost his mind, waking up that morning with the intention of getting married before the day was out, but here he was, with a bride in tow, and sunset still a good four hours off. Oh, he'd been mulling the idea over for a long while, of course. Ever since Rachel English's arrival at Springwater, anyway. Maybe before that, if he wanted to be honest with himself. Well, in any case, the deed was done. He and Miranda were hitched, right and proper, and even though they could probably get an annulment, given that the marriage hadn't been consummated, Landry had no intention of seeking one. He'd thought the whole thing through, the way he did every new undertaking, looking at all the fors and againsts; he'd made his decision and he would abide by it. He set his jaw. "Mr. Kildare?" At first, he didn't know who she was talking to; proof enough of his state of mind, he thought ruefully, given the fact that he was the only one there, besides the baby and a pair of jackasses. "You can call me Landry," he said, and for the first time since he'd opened his eyes before dawn and set his mind on getting married, he smiled. "My boys are Marcus, he's eleven, and Jamie, he's nine. I don't mind telling you, they're a handful." Just for a moment, a shadow of uncertainty moved in her eyes. She'd met his sons, of course, Springwater being a small place. Heard tales about them, no doubt. Hell, they'd all be lucky if she didn't take to her heels before supper was set out. "How do they feel about having me and little Isaiah-or-Ezekiel around?" Landry ran the tip of his tongue along the inside of his lower lip. "I didn't mention that I was planning to get married today," he said. I had enough to do, just getting those little heathens off to school." She stared at him, held her baby a little closer. "You haven't told them?" He started to pat her knee with his free hand, then thought better of the gesture. Better not to touch her, lest he start getting ideas he didn't have any right to entertain. "Don't go fretting yourself about my boys," he said. "They'll be glad enough to eat somebody's cooking besides mine." Miranda didn't look all that reassured. He'd have sworn she gulped, as a matter of fact, and he fully expected her to say she'd heard his boys were monsters, which, regretfully, they were. Had been, ever since their mother died. Instead, she asked, "What made you pick me? For a bride, I mean?" They rounded the last bend, and the ranch house and barn were visible up ahead; Landry felt the same brief, skittering sensation of pride he always did when he first got a look at the place, whether he'd been away an hour or a week. All the same, he fixed his full attention on Miranda's troubled face. "Well," he said, a forthright nature being his private curse, "you were the only unmarried woman around here." A difficult silence settled over them, broken only by the jingle of harness fittings and the cloppity-clop sound of hooves. She drew the baby close again, murmured something to him, even though he hadn't stirred or made a sound. While she spoke, her gaze was on the house, the barn and corral, the trees, though it seemed to Landry that she might have been looking past those things to some other place, some other time. "I reckon that makes about as much sense as anything," she said, in a small voice. It made him hurt, the way she straightened her spine and raised her chin. "You probably could have sent away for a wife, but that would have taken some considerable time." He felt a stab of pity for her, but he understood pride, having an overabundance of it himself, and so did not let the emotion show. They were nearly at the gate now; he drew up on the reins, set the brake lever, and moved to jump down and raise the wooden latch. Something he'd heard in her voice, however, kept him from leaving the buckboard seat. "You truly don't mind? About the baby, I mean?" He had, of course, given the child a great deal of thought, and long since decided that the sins of the father -- or the mother -- should not be visited on the son. "You're my wife now," he said quietly, "and I expect you to be faithful to me. But whatever happened before today is your own business. We'll go on from here." She gave him a shaky smile that stirred something awake inside him, something that had been asleep for a long time. "You're not like most men, Landry Kildare," she said. There was a glint of shy admiration in her eyes. He grinned that time, more because he had no answer to offer than because he was amused, and got down to let the team through. When the mules and wagon were inside the fence, he closed the gate again and climbed up beside Miranda once more, to take up the reins. "I'll put the buckboard away," he said, "and turn the mules out to graze awhile, before I start on that field. You and the baby go on inside and make yourselves at home. I'll come in after a bit to see that you've settled in and all." She nodded, somewhat primly he thought, and looked down at the top of the infant's head, which was hidden by the blankets. He wondered if the kid could breathe freely, swaddled up that way, but couldn't quite bring himself to ask. He brought the wagon to a halt and helped Miranda down, lifting her by the waist. She was light, but sturdy, and strong as an otter pup. She held on to that baby like she thought he was going to snatch the little mite out of her arms and throw him down the well. When she was standing on her own two feet, he wrenched off his hat and held it out, stiff-armed as a scarecrow. "There's the house," he said, like she couldn't see it, standing right there where he'd left it. "You can go on in." Another woman might have laughed, or at least smiled, at his discomfiture, which must have been as obvious as that cabin or the mountains or the sky over their heads, but she didn't. She just stood there, with the last-gasp-of-summer breeze dancing through tendrils of her chestnut hair, some of which had come down from its pins during the ride out from Springwater, her eyes dark as bruises and so full of naked yearning that it nearly killed Landry just to look at her. He averted his eyes for a moment, out of plain decency. "I'll be in after a while," he said. Then he took hold of the harness, near the lead mule's jawbone, and started off toward the barnyard. The team followed, the buckboard bouncing along behind them, flimsy without the weight of its passengers. Miranda stood in the doorway of the Kildare house, struck by the neatness of the place. It didn't seem like a household of men, with its polished floors and sootless stone fireplace. There were curtains at the windows, crisp and new enough that they hadn't faded, and the rag rugs made splashes of color here and there, just inside the threshold, under her own feet, in front of the hearth, over by the big wood cookstove. There was a bright red-and-white checked cloth on the table, and somebody had picked a handful of dandelion ghosts and the very last of the wild tiger lilies and set them on a windowsill in a fruit jar bouquet. It was as though the lost Caroline Kildare had just left the room, moments before; Miranda could almost catch the scent of her perfume in the air, delicate and simple, but perfume nonetheless. She sighed and closed the door gently behind her, unwrapping her sleeping child from his many blankets. She was a bit overprotective of little Isaiah-or-Ezekiel, but it wasn't something she could help. The world was a dangerous and unpredictable place, and she'd seen countless babies die since the time she'd begun to take notice of such matters. It was important to keep him warm. The baby began to fuss a little, weary of being held and jostled. He probably needed his diaper changed, and some nourishment as well; she remembered that her belongings were still in the buckboard and set her shoulders. Mr. Kildare -- Landry -- would bring everything along when he came back to the house. Patting her son's sturdy little back, for he was starting to carry on in earnest now, Miranda went in search of whatever loft, lean-to, or nook was meant to serve as her private retreat. The first room she entered was plainly Landry's; his bed, covered by a truly magnificent quilt, was large and handcarved, with images of horses and eagles in the headboard, his boots were lined up under a window, his spare clothes hung neatly on pegs along the shady wall. Miranda felt a stirring she understood all too well, and slipped out. The next room, which was as untidy as Landry's was neat, clearly belonged to the boys. There were two beds, both unmade, and little shirts and trousers spread from one end of the floor to the other. She closed the door and proceeded to the last door. Inside, she found a slanted ceiling, a plain, narrow bed, and a comfortable chair with a stitchery basket sitting beside it on the floor. This, no doubt, had been Caroline's refuge, a place to rock her babies, to sew, to dream and think. Miranda felt an uncharitable -- and uncharacteristic -- pang of envy toward this unknown woman. Even though she'd been gone for several years -- June-bug had said her grave was in a copse of trees nearby -- Mrs. Landry Kildare was still a presence in that house. Resigned, Miranda laid her now-squalling baby on the bed and searched until she found some old pieces of cloth in one of the bureau drawers -- big squares of blue calico, probably intended for a quilt top. Having no other choice at hand, she put one to practical use, and she was sitting in the ornate rocking chair, one breast bared to nurse her baby, when she heard the cabin door open and close in the distance. Before she could consider the immodesty of her situation any further, Landry was standing in the doorway. His stance was easy, relaxed, yet his hands looked hard where they gripped the wooden frame-work on either side of him, and his gaze lingered a moment too long on her breast before shooting up to her face. "I brought your things in from the wagon," he said, awkwardly, and after a long time had passed. Miranda was embarrassed, for all that it was an ordinary thing to breast-feed a baby, and the suckling sound seemed to echo off the cabin walls. She wanted to cover her burning face, not to mention her naked bosom, but the only way she could have done that without disturbing the baby would be to pull her skirts up over her head, which was, of course, no sort of solution. Still, she knew her discomfiture showed, knew by the heat in her flesh and the anxious leap in the pit of her stomach. "Thank you," she said. He stared at her for a few moments longer, looking hard at her face, and then thrust himself forward and into the room with a small action of his powerful arms. Going to the bureau, he rooted around and found a lacy crocheted blanket, infant-size, which he draped over her and the baby with a motion so gentle that it tugged at a tiny muscle in the back of Miranda's throat. His was a simple, earthy sort of tenderness, nothing she ought to take meaning from, she knew, and yet she set store by it, even prized it. That particular brand of kindness had been sorely lacking in her experience. She thought Landry would leave then, but instead he sat down on the edge of that narrow bed, the springs creaking beneath him. He looked around the small room as though he hadn't been inside it in years, and maybe he hadn't, though it showed the same degree of neatness as most of the house did. "Caroline used to sew in here," he said, with a sigh that conveyed humor, rather than sorrow, and was somehow, therefore, all the more poignant. "She said it made her feel like she was living in a mansion, having a whole room to herself when she wanted some peace and quiet." Miranda smiled because he was smiling, but deep down, and for a reason she could not put a name to, she would rather have wept. "I reckon I would have liked her a lot," she said, and it was true, for all that she wished, in that moment, that the other woman had never existed. That, somehow, she could have managed to be first in someone's life, rather than a mere afterthought, a person who barely sufficed, except as a substitute. He expelled his breath in a combination laugh and chuckle, a sound, Miranda would soon realize, that was uniquely his, like so many other qualities she saw in him. "Speak up if you need anything," he said, and hoisted himself to his feet. Sure enough, the old satchel Miss June-bug had given her the loan of was sitting just inside the doorway, with the bundle of diapers and blankets and little baby clothes packed away inside. "I'll get you some water for washing up, if you'd like." She nodded, biting her lower lip. She was absurdly grateful, maybe because no man had ever treated her with such courtesy, not even the one who'd persuaded her to lie down beside him, to surrender her innocence, and then left her, pregnant with his child. Tears sprang to her eyes; she nodded once more and turned her head, hoping Landry wouldn't see, wouldn't question her. He did both. He caught her chin in his gentle, callused grip, and raised her face, looked full on at her sorrow and didn't flinch. "You'll have no call to fear me," he said. "I promise you that." "I ain't -- I'm not afraid of you," she sniffled, patting the baby as he let go of her nipple under the faintly musty infant's blanket and fell headlong into a sated, milky sleep. "I just -- well -- a lot's changed for me just since I got out of bed this morning. I don't rightly know what to make of it all." He drew back, and she was sorry for that; she experienced the withdrawal of his hand as a tearing-away. "You've got plenty of time to sort things through, " he said quietly, and though his expression was serious, there was a certain tender mischief dancing in his eyes. "I'll get that water for you," he reiterated, and then he was gone. Miranda fastened her bodice and laid little Isaiah-or-Ezekiel on the bed, with a pillow propped on either side to keep him from rolling off onto the floor. He slept contentedly, his long pale lashes lying like gilded fans on his cheeks. Just looking at him made her feel better. She was taken by surprise when Landry appeared with a basin in one hand and a bucket in the other, and started a little. He was looking at her in that strange, thoughtful way again, as though he'd never seen a woman with a baby before. Or, she reflected, a moment later, as if he hadn't seen one in a very long while. "Thank you," she said, pretending she was Rachel Hargreaves. She did that sometimes when she was scared, or overwhelmed, which was a good bit of the time. Made believe she was somebody else, most often Rachel or Savannah. It was a childish game, she knew, and by rights she ought to give it up, but she hadn't quite been able to let it go. Landry set the basin on the bureau top, the bucket on the floor beside it. Inside the basin, he'd set a bar of soap and a square of clean cloth. "I'd best get back to work," he said, in that same hoarse voice he'd used to ask for her hand in marriage earlier that day. "The boys will be home from school long about four -- you tell 'em I'll tan their hides if they don't put that room of theirs to rights. I'll carry my dinner out to the fields and come in for supper by sundown." Miranda could only nod yet again. She'd contrive to have something ready for him to eat even if she died in the effort, she promised herself. She wasn't so sure of her ability to deal with Marcus and Jamie, though. They were a pair of red-haired terrors, those boys, and even pretending to be Rachel probably wouldn't be enough to buffalo them into minding her. Then again, if she didn't get the upper hand right away, they'd surely make her life a pure and certain misery. "I'll be looking for you to come in after the work is done," Miranda said, belatedly realizing that Landry was waiting for an answer to his statement, or at least an acknowledgment. "You'll find canned goods and the like in the pantry," he said, as if reluctant to go, "and milk and butter out in the springhouse. We've got chickens and a cow, and once I get the butchering done, there'll be ham, too. I could show you -- " Miranda squared her shoulders. She couldn't have him thinking he'd tied himself to somebody helpless. "I reckon I can manage," she said. He nodded, made a parting gesture with the hand that still held his hat, and went out. Miranda immediately washed her face and hands, tidied up her hair, and then rummaged through the bureau again, until she found a pretty gingham apron to tie around her waist. She was peeling plump, smooth-skinned potatoes when the boys burst into the house, moving fit to outrun their own skins. Seeing Miranda working by the stove, they stared at her with round blue eyes, and it seemed their freckles might just leap right off their faces. "By gum, it's true," marveled the taller of the two. That would be Jamie, Miranda knew. Although he was younger than his brother, he was the bigger one. "Pa took himself a wife, just like Toby said!" Marcus added. Miranda couldn't tell whether her new stepsons were delighted or outraged, and she pretended not to care one way or the other. "I imagine you're hungry, " she said. "Learning taxes a body. You'll find some molasses cookies there in the pantry." She'd used June-bug's recipe to bake those cookies, stirring in a generous portion of bravado. The boys' response to the offering was important to her, but she didn't dare let them know. Rachel wouldn't show her hand like that so early in the game, and neither would Savannah. They rushed the pantry, those boys, like soldiers taking an enemy fort by storm, and came out with cookies in either hand. "Where's Pa?" demanded Marcus. "Why did he pick you?" Jamie added, face squenched with confusion. Miranda held her ground, didn't let on for a moment that she was nervous. "Your pa is where he usually is, at this time of the day -- working. He said you're to clean up your room or he'll tan your hides for sure. And I reckon he picked me because he thought I'd do as well as anybody else." The boys just stared at her for what seemed like a long while; they were handsome lads, she thought, with a sort of pride. They'd grow up to be fine men, if she had anything to say about it. Oh, yes, she thought, with new resolve, if she could give Landry nothing else, she would give him a mother for his sons. Jamie looked her up and down. "You ain't hardly any older than Marcus here," he said. "I'm eighteen," Miranda said. "And I've got a baby." "You weren't married when you got him, neither," observed Marcus. "I know," Miranda answered reasonably. Calmly. But inside, she felt like a deer on ice. "You're supposed to be married if you mean to have babies," Marcus informed her. Jamie assessed her again, thoughtfully, this time, and quite without rancor. "Are you and Pa going to make any? Babies, I mean?" She swallowed. "I reckon," she allowed. "Well," Jamie retorted, "if you do, see that you just have boys. The last thing we need around here is a passel of squalling girls." Miranda smiled. She hadn't had time to think about bearing Landry's child, not since marrying him anyway, but now that it was in her mind, she found she liked the idea. "I think it would be nice to have a girl. Somebody to keep me company." She had no more than drawn her next breath after saying those words when Landry filled the gaping space in the doorway. It was plain from the expression on his face that he'd heard what she said, and he had thoughts of his own about making babies. Copyright © 1999 by Linda Leal Miller