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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Romance/Love · #1239453
Derek Challenges Lizzie -- working on formatting issues!
Chapter 3

      Once Morgan, James, and Michael returned home, Lizzie hurried to her room, changed, and fixed her hair so she was more presentable for company. She chose a rust-colored muslin gown with green leaves and although the style was outdated, the dress was one of her nicest with a small bustle and full skirt that at least gave her an illusion of having a figure. She knew compared to Karen, she would still look frumpy and outdated, but at least she was wearing her best, instead of her everyday dress of plain gray worsted wool.
      She gazed into the mirror and sighed. She had always secretly desired a figure which was more lithe and willowy like her stepsister’s. Instead her chest was much larger than fashionable, as was the width of her waist and hips. If she tried to wear the low cut concoction Karen was in, her chest would spill out of it. Lizzie knew she would end up looking and feeling like a cattle town saloon girl in the more fashionable dresses.
      She donned a clean, matching apron to protect herself from any accidents and went back to the kitchen and moved the numerous bowls and platters to the table. Once everything was in place, she found everyone in the parlor. Her brothers obviously entranced as Derek described his train ride from Chicago to St. Louis. Derek paused when he saw her and looked at her expectantly.
      “Sorry to interrupt, but dinner is ready.”
      “That is music to my ears. We can continue this conversation at dinner, right gentlemen?” Derek asked and her brothers eagerly nodded. Michael proffered his arm to her in a gallant display.
      “May I be your escort, madam?” He inquired with a grin.
      “Of course, kind sir.” Lizzie smiled and took his arm and he gave it a squeeze.
      “Derek seems like a good sort. Have you met him?” Michael inquired.
      “Briefly.” She glanced behind her and saw Derek offerhis arm to Karen and she eagerly latched onto his proffered appendage.  Derek sat Karen next her father and took a seat to her left. Morgan and James brought up the rear and sat and they all bowed their heads to give thanks.
      Lizzie was the first to pick up the platter of chicken and offer it to their guest. Derek gave Lizzie a warm smile and helped himself to two large pieces. When the platter made it back around the table it was empty and Derek noticed that both James and Michael had taken three pieces. He was about to offer her one of his pieces when she quietly rose and took the platter back to the kitchen and returned in short order with it heaped full again.
      Derek watched as she took only the smallest of legs and an equally small portion of potatoes and peas. He looked around the table and noticed everyone had quickly begun eating. He found himself discomfited by the fact no one was talking, not even to compliment Lizzie for making such a marvelous meal. He took a couple bites before looking up at Lizzie who happened to catch his gaze.
      “Is there a rule against talking at the table?”
Lizzie bit back a smile at his consternation, pleased to know at least one other person found the silence as oppressive as she did.
      “No, I think usually everyone is just too busy eating.”
      “And with such a magnificent meal, I can fully understand that. Let me be the first to compliment and thank you on preparing us such a wonderful repast. Everything is made to perfection.” It truly was the best meal he had in over a month. Lizzie blushed, but only gave him a hint of the big smile he had witnessed in the kitchen earlier. She gazed around the table and his eyes followed her path. He saw both of her brothers flush slightly.
      “Thank you, you are too kind.” Lizzie replied softly.
      “I will be the second to add my thanks and praise, Elizabeth. You’ve outdone yourself again.” Morgan chimed in, but focusing his attention on Derek. “Elizabeth is an absolute marvel in the kitchen. We are truly blessed to have her.I have recently asked her to help teach Karen more about cooking.”
      Lizzie’s eyes widened at his statement. When had he asked her that? She couldn’t imagine Karen cooking anything. For goodness sakes, the girl had taken well over an hour to snap peas! She kept her mouth shut and turned her attention to her plate.
      Derek immediately noticed Morgan’s use of the name Lizzie professed to hate. Lizzie's face was schooled into indifference.
      “I am not sure I am cut out for such tasks, I really have never had much luck in the kitchen.” Karen replied softly giving Derek a syrupy smile. “Derek, surely you must have someone that cooks for you. I am sure it is quite common for women in the big city to not know how to do such things.”
      Derek turned his attention to the girl beside him. “Not as common as you might think. I truly believe cooking is a skill everyone should know. Maybe we can learn together” He bit back a laugh as he saw the horrified look cross Karen’s features, and saw Lizzie’s head snap up in surprise.
      Lizzie turned an assessing gaze on the man beside her. “Men don’t have a place in the kitchen.”
      Derek leaned back a little and grinned at her. “Why not?”
      “Maybe for the same reason men don’t allow women to vote.” Lizzie saw Morgan give her a warning glare, which she ignored. She turned her considering gaze on their guest with a challenge brimming in their depths.
      “Derek, you never finished telling us about your trip to St. Louis.” James broke in hurriedly in an obvious effort to change the topic.
      Derek was undecided as to whether he should let James distract him from such an interesting subject or not. He wouldn't have guessed the woman beside him to be a suffragette and he would love a good conversation on her views. He opted to let it pass for now, especially since Morgan was sending a dark looks in Lizzie’s direction.
      “You're right, I did promise to finish my story didn’t I?” He glanced at Lizzie,but her eyes were on her plate. He reluctantly turned his attention to James and Michael who were full of questions about trains and were eager to find out all they could about the opportunities to be had in the big cities.

      Lizzie listened just as attentively as the men to Derek's extensive travels. She wondered exactly what life was like outside the small country community of Bonne Terre. She wished briefly she could see the huge steam trains, and the ladies in their fancy store bought gowns and hats. She wondered what it would be like to attend a ball, or go to the theatre. She sighed softly, realizing she would never experience those things. Their family couldn’t even afford the seed to plant their fields.
      She discretely watched Derek from under her lashes as he spoke. She noticed the cultured way spoke and the unconsciously graceful movements of his hands. It was obvious from his mannerisms and speech he was obviously well educated. She studied his face and noticed the strong chin and smooth line of his nose. He had long dark lashes that many women would have loved to have been blessed with, and his demeanor brimmed with self confidence. Yes, Derek Cargill was a very handsome man.
      She took a small bite of her dinner. Of course, she knew from experience, someone like him was not likely to be interested in her. Her gaze shifted to her beautiful step sister, especially with someone like Karen in the same vicinity. Lizzie suddenly lost her appetite. She started her regular routine of gathering empty plates to go back to the kitchen.

      Derek continued to answer questions as he covertly studied Lizzie, watching her bustle about the table gathering dishes and disappearing into the kitchen. She returned in short order with plates heaped with the cobbler he’d seen earlier drenched in thick sweet cream. Everyone in her family continued to ignore her as she set plates in front of them and then brought in cups of hot coffee.
      Derek was surprised when no one offered a smile or a word of thanks to Lizzie. He found himself irritated by their callous behavior towards the woman who obvioulsy spent such a great deal of time and effort on this meal. He smiled as she sat his dessert in front of him. Morgan asked him a question and he made a point not to answer and turned to Lizzie.
      “Thank you very much, Lizzie.” She gave him the briefest smile and returned to the kitchen. He expected her to return with her own dish, and was disturbed by the fact she did not. He continued to be polite to his host and answered the questions posed to him, but couldn't help but wonder what had happened to Lizzie? Was she ill? She hadn’t eaten very much at all, definitely not enough to keep up her strength. He noticed Karen contentedly eating a very large helping of the cobbler, and looked around the table. No one seemed concerned about Lizzie’s sudden disappearance. 
      Morgan set down his fork and sighed in contentment. “Derek, would you like to retire to the parlor for a glass of brandy?”
      Derek fought the urge to say no, but he didn’t want to be impolite to his host.
      “I think I could be persuaded to have one glass.”
      “Boys would you like to join us?” Morgan asked as he stood and James and Michael eagerly accepted his invitation.
      “May I go with you, father?” Karen asked hopefully.
      “No, you should help Elizabeth clean up from dinner.” Morgan said firmly.
        Karen could tell from the tone of his voice that there would be no swaying him. She put her head down so he wouldn’t see the anger in her eyes.
      “Yes, father.” She watched them leave and looked at the dishes in front of her and then down at her fine evening gown. There was no way she was going to chance getting a stain on this gown. She rose from the table and left the dining room quietly.

      Lizzie was washing dishes when she heard someone clear their throat behind her. She turned quickly and saw Derek standing by the door to the dining room with a tentative smile on his features.
      “Oh! Hello again.”
      “Hello. So is this is where you disappeared to? I thought maybe you had left to meet your beau for a stroll in the moonlight.”
      Lizzie nearly laughed aloud. She couldn’t even imagine such a thing.
      “You have to have someone to meet first.”
      Derek sauntered further into the kitchen over to the sink where she worked diligently.“I can’t imagine there isn’t some young buck begging you to marry him, after tasting that cobbler you made, I am half tempted to ask you myself.”          
      His words were so ridiculous she had to laugh. “No—I have no offers of marriage, and no suitors. I am surprised Karen hasn’t already explained how I am the local old maid. A woman well over marrying age, destined to do nothing but wait hand and foot upon her family for the remainder of her years.”
      “Surely you can’t be serious…an old maid? You can’t possibly be much over twenty.” He looked at the smooth skin of her cheeks, blooming with youth and good health. How could anyone possibly consider her old?
      “I will be turning twenty one next week and in this community, that is bordering on being ancient. According to the town gossips, I should have been married four years ago and had three children by now.”
      “If you ask me that is complete nonsense. I know many young women close to your age who are not married. No one would dare call them old.”
      “Maybe I need to move to Chicago, because in Bonne Terre if you aren’t married by the time you are twenty, you're well on your way to being an old maid.” She noted the casual way he stood leaning against the long table where she was stacking the clean dishes. He had removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves which showed his tanned and muscular forearms. Something about the way he stood there made the hair on her arms prickle in nervousness.
      “What brings you back to my kitchen?”
      “I was hoping to steal some more of that absolutely delectable cobbler you doled out earlier.” He watched the rhythmic movements of her hands in the soapy water.
      “I don’t know about stealing some, but I would be happy to get some for you.” Lizzie picked up a towel to dry her hands.          
      “No need for you to wait on me. I will get it.” Derek grabbed two clean plates and set them on the table. He walked over to the stove and peered inside and grinned at her as he pulled out his prize.
      Lizzie stared in amazement. “How on earth did you know it was in there?”
      “Janice puts hers in the very same place. She says it’s the safest place, somewhere the bugs and I can’t see it.”
      “Who is Janice?” Lizzie inquired as she watched him retrieve a spoon and dish out two large helpings of the cobbler.
      “The only woman who has been able to completely capture my heart—our family cook.”
      “Is she pretty?”
      “Pretty? Not sure if anyone would say she is pretty. She is a very large, black woman who makes the best pies in the city of Chicago. Unfortunately, she is twice my age and already married. Of course, I’m sure it would anger her to hear this cobbler you have made is better than hers, and believe me when I tell you that is quite a compliment.” He went to the larder and pulled out the cream and poured a generous dollop over each portion.
      “Thank you. You know I have never had anyone compliment me so much on my cooking.”
        Now it was Derek turn to look up surprised. “Now that I find hard to believe, if every meal you make is like the one you prepared tonight, you could earn a fortune in the city. Please sit down and join me, I hate to eat alone.”
        “Oh, I couldn’t possibly. I have to finish these dishes and—”
        “I must insist, and since I am a guest, you must abide by my wishes, now sit.”
        The deep, commanding ring in his voice floated over her spine and she fought the oddest shiver that seemed to float down the back of her neck. Lizzie moved to the trestle table and sat gingerly across from the strangest man she had ever met. She eyed the dessert and admitted it looked very good, but she rarely ate any of the treats she made her family. She knew she didn’t need any of the extra pounds they might add.
      “Don’t tell me you aren’t at least a little hungry. You hardly ate enough to fill a bird’s gullet at dinner.”
        “It isn’t seemly for a woman to eat large portions.”
        “It also isn’t seemly for a woman to faint from hunger, and if you eat like you did tonight at every meal then it is only a matter of time. Now eat.”
        Lizzie was surprised he noticed how little she ate, she was certain none of her family did. She took a small bite of the cobbler. She had to admit it was quite good. One of her best, actually. She looked up and locked eyes with their guest, the warm expression in his eyes made her breath caught in her throat.
      “Now you know why I had to come back for seconds. You can’t expect a man to resist such a temptation.”
Lizzie flushed, wondering at his choice of phrase. It almost seemed like he wasn’t talking about the cobbler. She took another bite to cover how unnerved she felt.
      Derek grinned when she blushed, it was a delightfully refreshing reaction. “So are you a suffragette?”
      “Excuse me?”
      “A suffragette, a woman who firmly supports the fight for the woman’s right to vote.”
      “I agree women should be able to vote, but I don’t know if I would be considered a staunch supporter. I have never been to a rally or anything, although I have read about them on occasion.”
      “The way James wanted to steer the conversation away from that topic, I would have thought you were quite vocal on the subject.”
      “You are obviously very observant. You don’t miss much do you?”
      “You can learn a lot from observation.”
        “James doesn’t like me to talk about it,” Lizzie explained. The only way she was even informed about the matter was by stealing the local papers from Morgan’s office and reading them in secret.
      "It is a volitile topic. I'm sure you would most likely find the rallies interesting, although they can get a bit out of control sometimes. Some women would find they have a greater impact if they did not go to extreme measures.”
        Lizzie looked up surprised. “You sound like the idea of women voting doesn’t bother you.”
        “Why should it? Women live in this country too. Why shouldn’t they have a voice in who runs the country and the laws that are enacted?”
        “Morgan, James, and Michael hate the idea of women voting. They believe it will give women strange ideas and destroy society as we know it.”
        It would mean a few changes. However, I can’t see it as the downfall of society.”
        “Have you ever been to a rally? I was under the impression men didn’t attend.”
        “Well some do, but no I haven’t. I've only stood on the outskirts of an occasional impromptu street speech.”
        “I couldn’t imagine actually attending a rally”
        “Why not? St. Louis is only a two day coach ride from Bonne Terre. I think they have at least two rallies a year there.”
        “I could never do that.” She didn't even want to imagine Morgan’s reaction.
        “I would say a woman of twenty one would have the freedom to attend if she chose.”
        “I couldn’t even pay the stage fare.” Lizzie told him matter of factly.
        Derek eyebrows pulled together. “You don’t receive a stipend from your family of your own?”
        “I receive a small one from the money my mother left me, but it all goes to Morgan for the mortgage on the farm.”
        Derek’s head came up in surprise. . “If you don’t mind me asking, why are you paying Morgan? Isn't this his farm?”
        “Well not really. It belonged to my father and mother. Morgan moved in once they were married, and my mother took out a mortgage to help him start the livery. My brothers and I have to repay the loan before we can take out money to raise crops and cattle.”
        Derek studied the girl across from him with a frown. This arrangement with Morgan sounded completely backwards. Shouldn’t he be paying them since it was his livery which had caused the farm to be mortgaged in the first place?          
        “So that is why there aren’t any crops in the fields. I thought that was strange.”
        “Yes, we hope to have everything paid up in two years time, and then I want to go to Saint Louis to buy some cattle to start our own herd. I think we could make a profit raising beef to sell to the local mining community.”
        “Why doesn’t Morgan loan you the capital you need to start your herd? If you were successful, you could pay him back twice as quickly.”
        “I suggested it, but he wasn’t willing. He thought it was too risky.” Lizzie was uncomfortable talking about this subject with a virtual stranger and decided to change the subject.
      “This is good. I think I see why you like it so much, it is quite a treat.”
        Derek didn't comment on the change in topic.  However, he planned on ferreting out more about this strange situation. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand, it was the thought someone being taken advantage of.
“If there is one thing I know and appreciate, it is good food. Can I request another one of these for tomorrow night? I will be willing to pay you handsomely.”
        “I would never charge for something I would make anyway. And if you think the peach cobbler is good, tomorrow I should treat you to my apple dumpling.”
        He rolled his eyes appreciatively. “I will have to earn the right to eat more than my share by helping you dry all those dishes. But I will warn you, if you keep making delicacies like this, I may never leave.” He grinned as Lizzie laughed and he found he enjoyed being the one to bring a smile to her face, but her smile did not dispel the unhappiness he noticed deep in her eyes. 

Chapter 4

      Derek was up with the sun, and as he descended from his room, he could already smell the fresh biscuits baking in the oven. He greeted Morgan, James, and Michael who were all sitting at the kitchen table contentedly drinking coffee while they awaited their breakfast. He nodded to Lizzie and she gave him the slightest smile in return. She quickly turned her attention back to the breakfast she was cooking over the stove, and Derek’s stomach rumbled expectantly.          
      “You are up earlier than I expected.” Morgan stated to his guest, taking a sip from his cup. “What are your plans today?”          
      “I want to get familiar with the the town and do some scouting for some possible locations for the mill, I am just hoping the best place is not where the mine is.”          
      “Well Bonne Terre could definitely expand. We have some rather fine land right here.”          
        Derek watched as Lizzie’s head whipped around to stare at her step father.          
      “But our land is not for sale.” Lizzie stated firmly, she looked at both men in turn.          
        Derek admired the fact she was so quick to state her position, and was obviously protective and devoted to her family’s property.          
“As I said, today is merely a scouting mission. I have two more locations around St Louis I will be scouting before I make a firm decision and attempt to build.” He watched as Lizzie handed out plates piled high with the fresh biscuits. Poured over top of them was a delicious beef gravy. His stomach rumbled again as the aroma assaulted his nose. He ate in a leisurely fashion, noticing once again Lizzie did not partake of the meal. He saw her take a biscuit and head out the side door into the garden.
“Where is she headed?” He asked curiously.          
“Probably to feed and water the animals,” Michael answered without concern.          
Derek tried not to choke on his breakfast. She fed and watered the animals too? What didn't Lizzie do?          
The men around him quickly ate their meal and excused themselves from the table. They said their goodbyes as they headed out the door for the day.          

Derek finished his breakfast, noticing no one at the table bothered to pick up their plates. He helped himself to another helping of the biscuits and gravy and noticed Lizzie standing outside with a hammer, nailing a loose board on the garden fence. His expression darkened a little in consternation. Did the men around this house do nothing they should to help?
He stood, watching her as she tried to straighten an obviously bent nail before applying the hammer to nail again. Lizzie walked back out of sight towards the barn and he finished his meal. He didn’t feel comfortable leaving his plate, and he quickly washed it and set it in the drain rack, as well as the others her family had left behind, before he walked out to the barn. He waved to Lizzie feeding the chickens as he walked by the open stalls noticing there was still manure in the stalls from the horses that had been hooked to the wagon. Surely Morgan, James, or Michael at least took care of this chore when they returned, he thought. He groomed and saddled his mount. He led him from the stall, deciding to wait to clean the stall when he returned.          

Lizzie watched their guest ride off towards town. She realized as she readied herself for bed, she had very little interaction with anyone on a personal level each day. Her days were spent in a standard routine of daily chores which were always in abundance around the farm. It was a nice change in routine to sit down and have an actual conversation with someone. Karen and Morgan usually only spoke to her when she wanted something, and her brothers were not much better. She had always talked with her mother, but she was gone. Maybe having no one to talk to was one of the reasons she missed her so much.          
She smiled thinking of the way Derek had insisted helping her finish the dishes last night. What a strange man he was. She found it stranger still how she didn’t feel uncomfortable around him. Usually when men approached her, Lizzie found herself feeling shy and self conscious, but Derek Cargill didn’t make her feel that way in the least. She felt very comfortable around him, nearly as comfortable as she felt around her brothers. By the time they retired for the evening, she felt as if she had known him for years, instead of a few short hours.          
She walked back in the house to clean up the dishes and noticed the plates, forks, and cups in the drain rack. She couldn’t help but smile at his thoughtful gesture. She wished the rest of her family would take lessons in considerate behavior from their Derek Cargill.          

Derek returned to the farm in the late afternoon feeling particularly disgruntled. He had managed to get caught on his explorations in town by Karen McAllister and had been forced to become an unwilling escort to the girl as she paraded him around the small town. In Karen’s defense, he had been introduced to a number of influential people and had discovered much about the general layout of the town. Unfortunately, he had not had a chance to ask any pertinent questions about his venture since the girl would hardly let him get through the introductions before commanding his or the other parties attention. Karen talked so much no one else could get a word in edgewise He was thankful when he finally managed to escape her. As he approached the barn, he noticed Lizzie leading Karen’s horse and carriage inside and he stopped in surprise. Surely this woman didn’t hook up and unhook the carriage for Morgan’s spoiled daughter on top of all the other tasks she took on? He vaulted out of the saddle and she looked up and gave him the briefest wave, her face looked tired and somewhat worried.          
“Good Afternoon. Need some help?”          
“No, not really,” Lizzie replied distractedly. She walked the horse and carriage into the barn and quickly began unfastening the harness straps with obvious practiced ease.          
“Are you sure? You seem troubled by something.”          
“Oh, I need to hurry because I have to start dinner. I am running a little behind today.”          
Derek tied his horse up to a hook on the wall by the door. “I would be happy to take care of the horse and buggy for you. I have been looking forward to the apple dumpling you promised last night.” Lizzie gave him a hint of a smile.          
“I couldn’t let you do that. You are our guest, I am not going to put you to work acting like a livery boy.”          
“If my help assures dinner is on the table on time, I will do anything you ask. I get very irritable when I get hungry, so it is probably best to just let me help out.” He walked up beside her with a devilish grin, and began to unhook the buggy from the horse.           
Lizzie met his gaze and felt her chest tighten a little in response. She dropped her eyes from his and took a step back, wondering why she felt far too warm all the sudden.          
“Well we couldn’t have that I suppose. Thank you.”          
“Don’t thank me. My thanks will be enjoying another one of your mouth-watering dinners coupled with good conversation.”          
“Well if the conversation is good, it will only be because you are doing all the talking. Conversation isn’t the high point of the evening typically.”          
“I found no complaints in the conversation last night.” Derek added, as he moved to the other side to finish unhooking the buggy.          
“Exactly my point, you were the one talking the entire time.”          
“I wasn’t referring to what was said at the dinner table.” His eyes met hers and he found it charming when she blushed and averted her gaze. He wasn’t certain he had ever met a girl who blushed like she did.          
“Well, I enjoyed it as well. It was a nice change.” She could feel her cheeks burning with the admission and wished she hadn’t said anything.          
“I better get started, if I hope to have things prepared in time.” She hurried out of the barn, feeling quite flustered.          

Derek watched her hasty retreat and wondered if Lizzie had ever had dealt with a man other than her two brothers. If she had, he was certain she would be married instead of maintaining the spinster status she currently held. He liked the way she seemed so genuine in her behavior. He smiled at the thought and wondered if he had never met a girl who so instantly charmed him. He didn’t understand why she wasn’t married, unless it was for the mere fact her family never allowed her to step a foot off the farm. He would have thought there would have been at least one man who would have married her for her skills in the kitchen alone.          
After he removed the harness he took the horse to the stall, noticing the straw was freshly raked. He walked to each of the stalls and found they were all clean and he grimaced when he realized Lizzie had cleaned the stalls and had been forced to muck out his as well. He couldn’t help but be disturbed by the amount of work the girl obviously did every day. It was more than two or three of his father’s servants were assigned on a daily basis.          
It seemed to him Lizzie was nothing more than the McAllister’s family’s glorified servant, doing everything for them and receiving very little in return. He realized he had very little knowledge about the way farm work was divvied up, but it seemed Lizzie did just about everything.  He did not want to jump to any hasty conclusions, but decided once he was finished caring for his own mount, he was going to do a little investigating into the daily tasks of Lizzie Jennings.          

Lizzie was standing in front of the sink washing dishes. She methodically washed each plate setting it in the drain rack with barely a thought. She was listening to the soothing sounds the crickets and locust made in the quiet of the evening and turned her face to catch the night breeze wafting in through the window and the open kitchen door.          
She always enjoyed this time of her day. It wasn’t until the end of the day she could relax and just mindlessly wash dishes without another concern for the rest of the evening. Often, she would finish putting everything away and go sit on the bench just outside the kitchen door, and listen to all the soft calls of the insects and the rustling of the birds as they settled down to sleep. She could lean her head back against the warm side of the house and close her eyes and not worry about anything. She covered a yawn with the back of a soapy hand. She didn’t think she would take the time to sit outside tonight, for as she washed and rinsed dish after dish, she found herself growing more and more tired. She yawned again, deciding she would probably go to bed as soon as she finished.          
“All alone in the kitchen again?”          
Lizzie startled slightly at Derek’s unexpected voice behind her. She glanced over her shoulder in surprise. She wondered if he had come to ask for more dessert again and she turned back to the sink with a hint of a smile.          
“The kitchen is my favorite room.”          
“Mine too.” Derek walked over and picked up a towel from the table and moved to the rack of dishes beside her. He picked up a plate and began drying.          
“Are you trying to earn another piece of dessert?” Lizzie inquired with a slight grin. She was beginning to understand his comment about his cook bemoaning his rather large appetite. She wondered briefly where he put everything he ate, for there didn’t appear to be an ounce of fat on his frame she could see.          
“That was a mighty good dumpling you made. I could be tempted to have another helping.”          
“You don’t have to dry dishes in repayment. I would be happy to get you a piece.”          
“I know. I know you would probably get me anything I asked for if it was within your ability.”          
Lizzie wondered at his comment, which seemed just a touch sarcastic. Why he was in her kitchen drying dishes? Their guest shouldn’t be helping with her work, and this was the second time today he had lent a hand. His efforts with this morning’s dishes had not gone unnoticed.          
“So did you come in here because you had a desperate desire to dry dishes?”          
He smiled at her saucy question. “No, I just thought you might need some help—or perhaps like some company.” He picked up the next dish and was stacking them neatly on the counter.          
“I don’t need help. I do this every day. As far as company—well, it is a nice change.”          
“Seems to me you do a multitude of things every day. You know I have to wonder, do you do all the work around here?” He stressed the word all, since the only thing he had seen Lizzie’s brothers do was put up the team of horses and the wagon.
“Well, I suppose I do most of the tasks on the farm.”          
“And no one helps you?” “What about Karen? Does she not help you?” Derek turned slightly so he could see her expression.
Lizzie smile broadened at the thought of exactly how Karen had helped yesterday. “No, I wouldn’t say help is what Karen does. She is more of a hindrance. I do things faster by myself.”          
Derek nodded slightly, he had assumed as much. He had met a hundred girls just like Karen at the social gatherings he had been forced to attend with his parents.          
“That doesn’t surprise me, she defintely seemed to be that type of girl.”          
“What do you mean—that type of girl?” Lizzie asked. She continued to wash dishes and place them in the drain rack for Derek to dry. Although she didn’t feel right about him helping her, he didn’t seem to be bothered by the chore, and she found herself feeling somewhat comforted by his presence in her kitchen.          
“Karen strikes me as the type of girl who prefers to sit and look pretty, and has no thought in her head except for what dress she plans to put on for the next social gathering or how to best style her hair.” Derek continued to dry the plates shaking his head in disgust. He had no use for girls who couldn’t carry on a conversation which didn’t pertain to themselves or their clothes.          
Lizzie glanced up at Derek in surprise. Did this mean he wasn’t taken in by Karen’s beauty as she had first assumed? The more she thought about it, he really had paid very little attention Karen at dinner this evening and she had spent the entire meal pouting because of it.          
Derek met her gaze with a grin. “Am I wrong? I am typically a great judge of character.”          
“I wouldn’t say you were wrong. I’m simply shocked.” She looked back down at her soapy water feeling a strange flutter in her stomach when he smiled at her.          
“About what?”          
“Well, no one ever seems to notice or be bothered by that particular trait in Karen.”           
“What you meant to say is no man seems to be bothered by it. I am absolutely certain most women notice, especially in this small of a community.”          
“I suppose,” Lizzie stated uncertainly. She remembered some of the looks Karen received from some of the other wives in the community and they weren’t always favorable.          
“At any rate, I didn’t come in here to talk about your step sister. I had quite enough of her today.”          
“I didn’t realize you had spent time with Karen today.”          
“I ran into her while I was in town, and she felt the need to play the affable escort. To be polite, I was forced to allow her to escort me around town.”          
Lizzie stopped washing and turned towards him in surprise. She had never met anyone who hadn’t fallen for Karen’s obvious charms.          
“I finally escaped when she went shopping with a few of her friends. I have to admit I’m surprised you weren’t with her.”          
Lizzie rolled her eyes slightly. “Karen is always in town wasting her time and her father’s money. I find both of those items in short supply, and I’m not inclined to waste either.”          
“I don’t imagine you are. Besides I don’t know how you would find the time anyway. Especially when it appears you are working from before dawn to well after dusk. I can imagine it would be difficult to engage in any type of leisure activity.”          
“There are many women in this town who work harder than I.” Lizzie replied instantly.          
“Somehow I highly doubt that. I would also guess most women don’t muck out stalls daily, especially if they have able bodied men folk around to do it.” He glanced at her out of the corner of his eye to watch her reaction          
“I do what is necessary to keep this place going. My brothers are far too tired to do that particular task when they return home in the evening.”          
“And you are not tired? You were yawning when I came in, so maybe they need to help you with dishes.”           
Lizzie placed her soapy hands on her hips. She could feel her temper rising at his insinuations.          
“I don’t need help, and most especially from a guest in my house. I am not sure what you are implying, but we have a system that works well in this house.”          
“I am not disagreeing with that statement. I think it works very well, especially for the other residents in this house.”          
“What are you saying?” Lizzie demanded, her eyes beginning to spark dangerously.          
“I am saying from what I have seen, you work all day like a slave in your own home while your family does virtually nothing to help you.”          
“That is completely unfair. James and Michael work all day in the mine, and Morgan is gone all day at the livery. There is no one else to do the work here.”          
Derek could tell he had hit a nerve. Lizzie did the lion’s share of the work and she knew it, even if she didn’t want to admit it to him.          
“What about Karen?”          
Lizzie grabbed another towel, wiped her hands, and moved to the table. She began picking up the remaining dishes she had stacked there.          
“Morgan has spoiled Karen so long she won’t lift a finger to help. This is my home, and I do not plan to see it fall into shambles simply because there isn’t anyone else to do the work.” She found herself becoming confused and angry at his allegations, and actually, a bit overwhelmed by his sudden focus upon her          
"I still fail to understand, why every chore around this property is somehow yours to manage just because the men leave for part of the day. You don’t think it is a little bit unfair you are left to slave alone and take care of everything here? Your brothers could be of more help in my opinion.”          
“I did not ask for your opinion.” Lizzie stated angrily, meeting his eyes and trying to control her temper as she set the dishes into the sink          
Derek was not bothered by the obvious heat in her tone, happy to see there was a spark of fire inside her.          
“Maybe not, but there are four other people who live in this household. Why should you be the only one to do every single chore on this farm from dawn until dusk?” He held up a hand before she could argue.          
“Before you berate me—let me simply list the things I have seen you do.” Lizzie reluctantly nodded and he continued.
“You obviously do all the cooking, you weed and care for the garden, feed the livestock, clean the house, as well as clean and mend laundry. I also saw you fixing the fences around the garden, cleaning the stalls, as well as attempting to unhook the buggy. I can only guess Karen didn’t hook it up in the first place. You dote on that girl, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you help her dress and do her hair like a maidservant.” He watched as she dropped her eyes and flushed          
“Lizzie your family treats you like you are their own personal slave, and not one of them lifts a finger to help you do anything. They don’t even offer a word of thanks in return for everything you do for them.”          
“That isn’t fair. You’ve been here one day and assume to know everything about my family and myself in that amount of time? You may be wealthy and rich and able to afford servants to help you, but there isn’t the luxury in this house.” Lizzie turned back to the sink, he said nothing she hadn’t already considered on her own.
“What is not fair is the way you are being treated by your own family. It is because I do have servants I can recognize the fact you are not even treated half as well as our own hired help. Being a servant is a step up from working like a slave for no benefit. At least a servant is paid.” Derek pointed out calmly.          
“I don’t need to be paid to do what I can for my family.” Lizzie stormed over to him and poked a finger in his chest. “I definitely don’t need to be told by some arrogant pig of a man who waltzes into town a day ago and thinks he knows more about me than I do myself. I have plenty of help when I need it.” Lizzie knew her statement wasn’t exactly the truth, but she wasn’t about to admit it to this man.          
“Really? While you are in here doing extra dishes and work with a guest in the house, where are they? What task keeps them occupied right now? Are James and Michael caring for the animals? Perhaps cleaning the stalls? Is Morgan fixing the hinge on your door? Perhaps Karen is sweeping the floors?”          
Lizzie dropped her hand to her side. She couldn’t meet the intensity of his stare. She realized for the first time she had no idea what James and Michael did after dinner, or Morgan and Karen for that matter.          
“You don’t know do you?” Derek asked softly, trying to keep his anger at bay. It wasn’t this girls fault. Her family were the ones who had taken unfair advantage of her, Lizzie was only trying her best to take care of her family.          
Lizzie shook her head, swallowing hard. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know.          
“James and Michael have gone back into town for a drink at your local saloon. Morgan is in the formal parlor reading the paper and having a brandy and a cigar. Karen is probably in her room pouting because I refused to take a walk after dinner with her. I can only guess her room is where she hides to escape from work.” He watched as her chin trembled slightly and his heart went out to her.          
“Lizzie, I hate to tell you, but each member of your family has left and is enjoying a leisurely pursuit, while you stand in this kitchen and continue to work just as hard as you have since before the sun rose, and continue to work long after it sets.”          
She blinked her eyes quickly, chasing a tear that blurred her vision. Why was this man in here telling her this? Why was he standing beside her calmly drying dishes and offering his help when no one else ever did? No, that wasn’t fair! Her brother’s would help, if she asked. She took a deep breath and faced him, her chin coming up defiantly.          
“James and Michael know I am more than capable of the work. I don’t need or want their help, and I do not want yours either. I would much prefer you leave my kitchen and my duties to me.”          
“So you are telling me you believe the inequalities of women not being allowed to vote should be rectified and are unjust, but you are perfectly accepting of unequal treatment in your own home?” Derek challenged her.          
“I am not a servant and no one treats me like one!”          
“Really? So when is your day off? When do you go to town as Karen did today and shop? When do you go have lunch with your friends? Do you have friends? When was the last time you bought a dress, went for a walk, or slept to eleven?”          
“Those are frivolous endeavors. I do not need to do any of those things! It is a waste of time.” Lizzie started to turn away from him but he caught her forearm gently.          
“You have merely convinced yourself it is a waste of time because you are not allowed to do those things.”          
“I can do anything I want to do!” Lizzie hissed loudly, not wanting anyone else to hear as she pulled her arm from his grasp, feeling a strange sensation where his hand had been.                    
Derek looked down, trying not to smile at the stubborn set of her chin.
“Then prove it. I dare you to ask someone to take on a few of your duties tomorrow so you can go to town.”          
Lizzie turned away from him and went back to washing the dishes. “This is ridiculous and childish. My brothers would do anything I ask.” She knew better than to expect anything from Morgan or Karen.          
“Then ask them, and meet me for lunch in Bonne Terre tomorrow.” Derek challenged.
He wanted her to go to lunch? With him? Her mind whirled. “I couldn’t possibly. Who would get Karen her lunch?”
         Derek gritted his teeth and counted to five before he answered. “Karen can make her own lunch. After all, she is a grown woman. Did anyone make you a meal when you were her age?”
         Lizzie was very tempted to agree to his ridiculous dare. She would laugh when she proved him wrong.
         “Of course, I can understand if you wish to live the rest of your life in solitude tending to the needs of your selfish family and never have a life of your own. I mean who would want that?” He inquired in a slightly sarcastic tone.
         “For goodness sakes, you make it sound as if I were chained to the house.” She laid a dish in the drain rack and she felt his hand grip her wrist gently and she looked up in surprise as a shock of feeling shot up her arm from the place he touched her up to her shoulder. Her eyes met his very serious ones and she wondered why on earth he cared about how her family treated her, and what she did.
         “If you think you have so much freedom, then prove it. If you prove me wrong, I will graciously admit how wrong I am and beg for your forgiveness.”          
Lizzie rather liked the thought wiping that arrogant smirk from his features while he begged her for forgiveness. “Fine, I will prove it. When and where?”          
“I am sure you know of Mae’s—and at high noon.” Derek wiped the suds off her hand gently before he brought it to his lips and kissed the back of it tenderly. “I will be awaiting your arrival most eagerly.” He grinned at her stunned expression, turned quickly, and left the room.          
Lizzie stared after him, still feeling the tingle that still ran the length of her arm, realizing for the first time in her life she actually had a date.
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