Beth rolled the bag closed as she considered his question. While she appreciated the efforts made by her stepfather’s family to include her, she always ended up feeling out of place with her worldly clothes and pierced ears. Andrew’s father was one of the worst—his scowling disapproval made her want to disappear. Not once had the man smiled at her, even in her mother’s presence, and Mom was his sister-in-law!

As she sought an answer, she felt a yawn build. She gave it free rein and then pushed her lips into a regretful pout. “I’m sorry, Andrew. Tell your mom thanks for the invitation, but I’ve been putting in some long days finishing up the cardinal piece. I think I’ll just head home, eat a sandwich, and turn in early.”

Andrew pressed his fork through the flaky layer of crust topping the wedge of cherry pie in front of him and carried the bite to his mouth. His mother made the best pie of anyone in Sommerfeld, where every girl learned to bake as soon as she was old enough to wield a wooden spoon. If he could find a girl who cooked as good as his mother, he’d marry her in a heartbeat.

Andrew shrugged. “Okay. Have a good evening then.” He stepped out the door, leaving her alone.

Heat filled his face at his bold thoughts, and he glanced around the table at the visiting adults. They seemed oblivious to his flaming cheeks, and he released a small sigh of relief before digging once more into the pie.

Lately his thoughts turned too frequently to matrimony. Part of it, of course, was his age. At twenty-three as of a month ago, he was old enough to assume responsibility for a wife. . .and children. He chewed rapidly, dislodging that thought. Part of it was being the only son still living at home, his brothers all having established homes of their own. And part of it was Beth.

His hand slowed on its way to his mouth as an image of Beth Quinn filled his mind. Her long, shining ponytail, her bright blue eyes, the delicate cleft in her sweet chin, the way her slender hands held a pencil as she sketched her designs onto butcher paper. . .

“Andrew?”

Mother’s voice from across the table brought him out of his reverie.

She pointed at his fork, which he held beneath his chin. “Are you going to finish that pie or just hold it all evening?”

A light roll of laughter went around the table. Andrew quickly shoved the bite into his mouth, certain his cheeks were once again blazing. On his right, Uncle Henry gave him a light nudge with his elbow.

“If a man’s not eating, he has something important on his mind. Want to share?”

If the two had been alone, Andrew probably would have asked his uncle’s advice on how to cope with these odd feelings he harbored for Beth. After all, Uncle Henry had loved Beth’s mother for years—even during the period when she wasn’t a part of the fellowship of their meetinghouse. Surely he, of all people, would understand Andrew’s dilemma.

But they had an audience—Henry’s wife, Marie, and Andrew’s parents. So rather than approach the topic that weighed heavily in his thoughts, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

“Beth got that commissioned cardinal scene finished, and it’s a beauty.”

Both Uncle Henry and Aunt Marie smiled, their pleasure apparent. Equally apparent was Mother’s worry and Dad’s disapproval.

Dad cleared his throat. “One picture doesn’t make a career, son. Don’t put too much stock in it.”

The cherry pie lost its appeal. He pushed the plate aside. For as long as he could remember, his father had discouraged his interest in artistic endeavors. How many times had he been told in a thundering tone that a man couldn’t make a living with pictures, that he needed to set aside such foolishness and choose something practical? More times than he could count. The only reason Dad tolerated his time at the studio now was because during the winter months he wasn’t needed as much on the farm. Yet Andrew knew that even when spring arrived he’d want to be in the studio. Unlike his brothers, his heart wasn’t in farming or hog raising.