Chapter 39

December 26, 1914

Audra sat at the desk in the parlor, her brows furrowed in frustration. No matter how she rearranged the rooms of Winchester, there was not a bed for Parker. When she cross referenced her findings with the ledger, she found that there was not enough money to buy or build a new bed for him either. Even building a trundle for under another bed would prove too expensive. Audra hadn't realized how tight the finances of Winchester were.

Pieces of her hair escaped the neat bun she had started the day with. She had pulled out little tendrils here and there to twirl in her worry. What would become of Parker if she could not find a place for him here? He would have to go to another orphanage where she would not be able to keep a protective watch on him. Then, he could very easily be adopted by another family that would treat him cruelly. If there wasn't room here for Parker, there would be room for him with her. She wouldn't let Aunt Vera refuse this time, she would adopt him, even if she didn't have a husband.

She remained at the desk a while longer. Though she gave up on finding room for Parker, she still had some things to do for the Taylor case. Eli and Quinn had found a few more adoption records where the Taylors were supposedly involved. Her hand began to cramp as she wrote down all of the information she needed. Aunt Vera came in, and Audra was glad to see her, she needed a break and wanted to talk to her about Parker.

"Audra, could you come into my office please?" Aunt Vera said with very little emotion. Audra's stomach plunged. Whenever Aunt Vera had asked that before, it always meant parting with one of the children.

Audra stood and pushed her chair into the desk. Settling her skirts, she pressed a hand down the front of them, which also served to calm her a little. She entered the room and found that it was surprisingly full. Jessie stood in a corner, Eli was next to her, his hands on Parker's shoulders, who stood in front of him. When Aunt Vera and Audra entered, the small room was practically cramped.

"We need to talk about Parker," Aunt Vera said gently. "As you know, he is not really an orphan any longer, so we can't keep him here at the orphanage."

"What do you mean he's not an orphan! He doesn't exactly have parents." Audra said with emotion.

"I know my dear, but he's been adopted."

"No, he was adopted; he's not anymore."

"He's been adopted again," Aunt Vera said softly, resting a hand on her shoulder as she delivered the news.

"Oh," Audra said, trying to keep the tears she felt in check. She didn't want to cry in front of Eli. He had done so much to get Parker away from those horrid people. It was too bold of her to think that she might have another chance at keeping Parker. Of course the money he had given for Parker would have had to come from somewhere. He probably managed to find a wealthy family looking for a son, and got them to graciously let her have Christmas with him.

While she tried to keep from crying, Parker turned to Eli, and asked him something in a whisper. Too much was going on for Audra to pay any mind to it. But, as Parker started to walk toward her, she felt the tears well in her eyes. He was such a precious boy. His dark eyes sparkled at her with love, and his chocolate brown hair was messed like usual. The clothes he was wearing spoke to the wealth of the family he would soon be joining. She even noticed a new, not hand me down pair of special shoes on his feet.

Despite her grief at losing him, he still smiled at her, showing large holes where three teeth were missing. He had been treated so horribly and yet he was bravely willing to try another family. Her eyebrows creased in confusion as he knelt directly before her, and looked up.

"Miss Audra, would you do me the honor, of becoming my momma?" he asked slowly. She just stared at him, completely confused by what he had asked. Part of her wanted to laugh at how adorable it was to see him trying to act so grown up.

Kneeling down, she took his hand in hers. "Love, you know I'd like nothing more than to be your momma, but it seems like someone else wants to be." She was about to pull him into a consoling hug when he whipped away from her, his face meeting with Eli's.

"Dad! She doesn't get it!" he called loudly over his shoulder.

Audra stood in surprise, both of her hands flying to her chest. She had thought herself confused before, but nothing could match the state of her mind at this very moment. Eli pressed his lips together and gave a little smile. He stepped forward and got down on his own knee. Once there, he pulled Parker up onto the knee that was supporting his stance. From that position, he asked, "Audra Leigh Dillon, will you marry me?"

"And become my momma?" Parker added.

"Parker called Eli dad. Parker asked me to be his mom. Eli asked me to be his wife. I'm so terribly confused!" Audra thought, wishing she had somewhere to sit down.

"Parker, why don't we go get a cookie and some milk," Jessie suggested. "Vera, you too."

"But I want to know the answer just as much as Daddy does!" Parker said in a disappointed tone.

Audra had not taken her eyes from Eli's until that moment. She managed a smile for Parker, and brushed a hand over his hair. "Don't you worry, Park. Go on with Jessie, I promise as soon as Dr. Eli and I have talked, we'll come have a cookie with you and tell you everything."

"He's not Dr. Eli, Miss Audra; he's my dad. But, I'll go get a cookie with Jessie if you really want me to."

Eli smiled and gave him a pat on the back, "That's exactly what we'd like you to do."

"Did I do something wrong? Is that why Miss Audra looks like she's trying to solve a really hard math problem?" Parker asked in a whisper loud enough for everyone to hear.

Audra and Eli laughed at his childish misinterpretation of the situation. "No, buddy, you did everything just perfect. I bet Miss Audra is just surprised. So, we'll straighten it out and be out in a little bit."

"Alright," Parker said, grudgingly. It was obvious he didn't want to miss out on the most momentous occasion of all their lives.

As soon as the door clicked shut, Audra felt her way to a chair and sat down. "Parker is yours?"

"Yes. Aunt Vera pulled me aside last night and asked how I had gotten him back. When I told her I paid the Taylors for him, she said it had essentially been an adoption. When we take the Taylors to court for the other children, we'll make it official with the judge."

Audra chewed the information over in her mind. She wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation. A few days ago, she had decided that she was in love with Eli Sullivan, but didn't know how to say anything. She also couldn't believe that he loved her anymore, because he hadn't agreed to marry her when she had asked. Now, he was asking her to marry him, and she wanted more than anything to say yes. Saying yes would make her happier than anything in the world, she would get to stay by his side for the rest of her life, and she would get to have Parker as her son. But, could she say yes without knowing that Eli loved her?

"Are you asking me to marry you because you need a mother for Parker?" she said suddenly, surprising herself a little bit.

"Because that would be so terrible?" Eli answered.

Audra caught herself just before showing her shock. The look of teasing on Eli's face couldn't be mistaken for anything else. She had done the exact same thing to him only months earlier. Why would it be any different for him to ask her?

"But, in all seriousness. I am asking you to marry me because I love you. I don't want to spend another day without you." Eli's eyes brushed over her features, and then squinted, marking his own confusion. "You didn't know?"

She felt silly now, and laughed, "I knew you were in love with me once, but when you refused to marry me to get Parker, I figured you didn't love me anymore. I thought if you did still love me, you'd be happy to marry me despite the circumstance."

"That was precisely why I couldn't marry you. Audra, I love you with an intensity that I couldn't compare to anything else on this earth. Your compassion and strength had my attention almost from the moment I met you. When I fell, I knew it was forever. No one could ever take the place you hold in my heart." he said gently, taking her hands.

"I'll marry you," she answered, unable to stop the smile that sprung to her lips. She expected him to kiss her, or at the very least capture her in his arms. Instead, he looked at her sternly.

"Are you marrying me to be Parker's mother?"

She had no trouble answering him honesty, and the words tumbled out before Eli had finished speaking, "No. I'd like to marry you because I love you. I don't know how I missed it before, Eli. You are the kindest, steadiest, most amazing man I've ever met. My world is certainly better with you in it, even if it means spending less time at Winchester. Almost losing Parker made me realize how badly I want a family of my own. While I thought about that, I also realized that you were the only man in the world I wanted to share it with."

Now Eli's lips swept hers up in the sweetest of kisses. Her smile only intensified as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her more deeply. Eventually, he pulled back, his eyes sweeping over her face in a tender gaze.

"How do you know I wasn't lying?" Audra asked, one eyebrow raised coyly.

"Because, Miss Dillon, you couldn't have faked that kiss if you tried."

She laughed, throwing her arms around him, "I love you," she whispered into his collar.

"Parker and I were right! You do love me second best!"

She squinted at him, "Well, maybe it's a tie."

Eli laughed, "That's exactly what Parker said."

"Speaking of Parker, he'll be anxious to get an answer to his question," Audra sighed.

Eli agreed and the two went out to the dining room. Parker looked at them both with uncertainty. When the smile bloomed on Audra's face, it was as if he knew the answer. He jumped out of his chair and into Audra's waiting arms, where he kissed her on the cheek. The afternoon proceeded with Parker using the words Momma and Dad as often as he possibly could. Neither of them would ever forget who their son was.

Not too long after the joyful event in Winchester, Olivia and Quinn burst through the door with an announcement of their own. Audra and Olivia hugged, laughed, and cried about the events of the last couple of days. It seemed that everything had worked out in Winchester exactly as it should have.

Both Olivia and Audra were married within the month, and the sisters and their husbands fought for the remaining children at the Taylors'. They spent the first month of their marriages finding places for the children. It was lucky that Quinn had purchased that house beforehand, because its rooms were used by the little darlings until a place was found for them. After the month of hard work, Parker spent two weeks with Audra's grandparents while the married couples took their wedding trips.

For two girls who had more on their mind than marriage, they had both done quite well for themselves. Even Aunt Marty approved of their husbands. She even went as far as doting on them by offering to buy their wedding dresses. Olivia and Quinn got right to work on their home for the older children while Audra found her footing as a mother and wife. Their lives at Winchester had come to an end, but both were better women because of their commitment there.


I hope this ending was satisfying to all you faithful readers! I would like to thank ALL of you for your encouragement and support of this story. It has been so much fun reading your reactions to what I've written. I would especially like to thank fictionluvr, who volunteered her time to edit my horrible grammar and offer advice that was much needed! Thanks! Now, as promised, the summary of the sequel, which I am super excited to start posting!

This story is still you will have to make due with just the summary for now. Know that I have just finished chapter 16, so updates will not be slow in coming. But, I think I need a title to start posting...a title that fits. So...if reading the following jogs your brain in any creative way, please, let me know in your review, or a private message, I'd be most appreciative!

After a devastating loss, Tessa Evans is left to raise her three younger siblings. The depression forces them to a shanty, where they live from meal to meal, unable to provide for simple necessities. Circumstances lead the Evans family to Dr. Parker Sullivan, a man who is willing to take any patient, despite their inability to pay. But, Dr. Sullivan and his family offer more than medical help. Tessa and her siblings are showered with support, friendship and love, the very things they've been missing for three years. Will the circumstances that led Tessa to Parker and his family, keep her from following her heart?