Joanna Carson is twenty-six, and unmarried. She accepts a job to look after three children, and hopes to find a new life out in Willow Springs, Kansas. Jake Peters is thirty-seven, widowed, and needs someone to look after his young children. In his advertisement, he stated he wanted someone forty or older, in order to keep up with propriety. However, he is surprised when he picks up a young woman at the train station. A man of his word, he won´t go back on his promise. Little do they know what is in store for them.

Wanted: Woman to care for three young children. Please send applications to Mr. Mark Blythe, Willow Springs, Kansas.

Joanna Carson stood before the ad for the third time that month. John Wilson, the general store´s proprietor, watched her from behind the counter and chuckled.

"Ya thinkin´ about getting´ yerself some new work?" The older man smiled, resting his arms on the counter and leaning forward. Joanna directed her attention to Mr. Wilson and stepped closer to the counter.

"Perhaps, Mr. Wilson." She smiled cheerfully, adjusting her hold on the basket she carried. John shook his head and laughed again.

"And ya think Jed´s gonna let you go off to Kansas fer that job?"

"Now, Mr. Wilson, honestly, I'm a big girl now an´ can look after myself." She pretended to scold him, "It ain´t got nuthin´ to do with my brother Jed." John nodded, humouring her. Joanna went to the shelves, seeking out the items she needed. John went about his work, straightening things and making sure everything was in order, humming as he went. Joanna peeked behind her to see if he was looking, a sneaky grin on her face. She started to hum as well, harmonizing with him. John stopped abruptly, then laughed.

"Well, Miss Carson, ya still got that perty voice of yers!" He exclaimed, referring to her decision to quit singing with the church choir just a month before. Joanna stopped humming as well.

"Gosh, can't a girl leave the church choir of her own will?" She replied teasingly, "or does she have to do it with the approval of the congregation?" Before letting Mr. Wilson respond, she explained, "I jes´ figured that with the baby coming soon and all, it would be best if Jed and Marianne didn't have to come into town early every week." She brought her basket up to the counter, where Mr. Wilson was standing again.

"Suppose that's good enough fer me." The older man relented. Joanna watched him as he rung up her purchase. In the past ten years she'd lived in Madison, she'd seen the man age quite a bit. He'd suffered a heart attack while in his forties, and it had changed him quite a bit. His blonde hair was now gray, his skin wrinkled and worn by the weather, but his blue eyes were still bright and merry. Joanna handed him the money for the purchases, and thanked him. She tucked the basket under her arm, and headed to the door. She paused before the doorway, and pivoted on her heel to look at Mr. Wilson again.

"Jed ain´t the boss of me, and he already told me I could take the job iffen I wanted to." She smiled spunkily, her hazel eyes sparkling. Then, she was out the door as suddenly as she'd come in. She and John Wilson had started teasing each other when she was sixteen, and now more than ten years later, it had become a custom.

Joanna tipped her head back to look up at the sky as she walked out on the wooden sidewalk. The sun was shining, and the May weather was perfect. With a smile on her face, she made her way to her twin brother´s wagon just a short distance from the general store. Jed was waiting, grinning at her from the wagon seat.

"Gol´, Joanna, you took ages!" He hopped down and came around to her side of the wagon to help her up, "Were you givin´ Mr. Wilson a hard time agin?" He took the basket from her hand and placed it on her seat. Joanna stuck her tongue out at him and accepted his offered hand.

"He starts it, you know." She replied, defending herself. Jed shook his head as he walked around the front of the wagon. He climbed up to the seat, and took the reins in his hand.

"Ah huh," he nodded to his sister, whistling at the horses to go, "Would ya quit picking on old men and find yerself a respectable man to settle down with instead?" He pretended to plead with his sister, batting his eyelashes at her. Joanna slapped his thigh playfully.

"Well, what if I like old men better?" She returned, faking a serious air. Jed sombered, and Joanna knew he wasn't playing anymore.

"Sis, nice old men like Mr. Wilson ain´t gonna marry you and keep you safe, and you ain´t gonna be giving him children." His bluntness caused her to blush, but what he said was true.

"Yeah, I know, Jed," She replied simply, "It's jes´ that none of the boys here in Jacksonville wanna marry me. I'm too old for the younger ones, and the only ones left are forty and ain´t never been married." Jed nodded, clicking his tongue at the horses, encouraging them to go faster. There was a scarcity of unmarried men in town, because of the gold rush in California.

They both remained silent for a moment, the only sound being the wagon creaking as it moved. Joanna looked over at Jed.

"Jed, ya know how we talked about that advertisement in Mr. Wilson´s store?" She asked.

"Yeah, why?" Jed kept his gaze on the road ahead of them. Because he wasn't joking around, he actually looked his age. Joanna took a deep breath to prepare herself.

"Well, I sent an application while I was in town today." She admitted, "That's what took me so long." If Jed was startled, he didn't show it.


"Well, I jes´ wanted to see if it was OK with you?" She felt like she was asking her father´s permission for someone to come calling, and it was a feeling she didn't like.

"Jo, I done tol´ you if was fine by me iffen that's what you really want." He insisted, using his hand to make his point, "And if you've gone and sent an application, then that's even better." Joanna looked into his hazel eyes that matched hers, and was relieved to see that he was being honest.

"Thank you, Jed." She said, briefly touching his shoulder. Jed looked over at her with a big grin.

"Well, Sis, don't feel like ya need to stay here with Marianne and me. Missy may be a handful sometimes, but you don't have to stay with us jes´ because it´s nice to have extra help." Missy was Jed and Marianne´s five year old daughter.

"Before long, the dirt road led them to Jed´s home. From the road, they could see Marianne out in her garden and Missy playing nearby. Jed smiled at the sight of hem, and slowed the wagon down to a halt.

"Jo, one day yer gonna be the beautiful mother with a child in tow." He predicted, looking into her eyes. Joanna met his gaze, and hoped he didn't see that she disagreed with that statement. Her 27th birthday was approaching, and she hadn't had a beau since she was 22. After that, it was as though the young men had labelled her an old maid and given up. The Gold Rush out in California hadn't helped either, since they had been having hard times with the crops.

Marianne saw them, and waved. Jed and Joanna both waved back, and Jed had the horses head towards the barn. While Jed put the horses away, Joanna took the basket into the house. Jed had built the wood house right before he and Marianne were married. It had started as a basic log cabin, and then he'd added on once they had the money. The log part served as the kitchen and spare room, while the rest of the house comprised of Marianne´s pantry, two bedrooms and a sitting room. There was also a loft in which Missy slept, just over the kitchen. Joanna took the contents of the basket, and put them away in the pantry, then went out to the garden.

Missy ran up to her when she heard the screen door shut. Her dark brown braids flew behind her, reminding Joanna of her own childhood.

"Hello, little one." Joanna greeted Missy as she threw her little arms around her waist. Missy looked up and beamed at her, revealing a dimple on her cheek.

"Hiya, Auntie Jo! Mama and I are workin´ in the garden. Wanna help us?" Joanna accepted her niece´s offer. She hated being called ´Auntie´, but since Marianne had taught her that, Joanna didn't want to offend her sister-in-law. Joanna and Missy walked hand-in-hand to Marianne, who was fussing with her flower patch.

"Mama, Auntie Jo´s gonna help us!" Missy announced cheerfully. Marianne looked up at them from her kneeling position and smiled.

"That's awfully nice of Auntie Jo, isn't it?" She responded to her daughter, then to Joanna she said, "Hi, Jo. How was town?" Although a gentle smile lit her face, Joanna saw the violet smudges under Marianne´s eyes and heard the exhaustion in her voice.

"Town was fine." She replied casually, "Caroline said to tell you hello, and promised to come help with the baby when the time comes." Caroline was the postmistress in town, and also a good friend of Marianne´s. Marianne nodded at what Joanna said, but didn't reply. Missy saw a butterfly, and went off to chase it.

"Marianne, are you all right?" She lowered her voice so as not to worry Missy.

"Joanna, I'm fine." Marianne assured her, rising. She winced as she stood, placing a hand on her pregnant belly and smiled, "Honestly, Jo, it´s just a contraction. It's completely normal." But Joanna wasn't convinced.

"Marianne, you've been having contractions every day now for the past week. Everything is not all right." She spoke seriously, but still kept her voice down, "How many have you had today?" Marianne´s face softened as she admitted,

"Quite a few. The baby will come tomorrow or the day after, if I'm correct." Joanna nodded, looking down at the ground, then at Marianne´s abdomen.

"It's too early." She commented, not expecting an reply. Marianne was a small woman, even shorter than Joanna, and the baby was obviously small. If she lost it, it would be the third baby in three years.