The moon was bright enough that Ruth cast a shadow, which meant it was bright enough for people to see her. Most people seemed to be asleep, except for whoever was trying to comfort that crying baby. And that crying baby. Her heart pounded so hard, she was sure it could be heard above her robe swishing against her legs. Which was also too loud. She bunched her robes in her hands until the hems reached her knees, and held her breath until she was out of the village proper.
This was crazy. Had she left too late? The moon had moved from when she’d fallen asleep despite her plan not to, but how long she’d been out, she had no idea. She’d never had to track the passage of time in the night. Would Boaz and the winnowers still be up? Or would she have to tiptoe around everyone while they slept, trying to find him?
She wound through Boaz’s olive grove rather than approach from the grain fields. Soon, she heard raucous laughter and snatches of song. Good. She wasn’t too late. These were relatively new trees, so the trunks weren’t quite thick enough to hide her. If she stayed three trees back from the edge, she could still see the people around the fires on the threshing floor, but they’d see her as just a shadow.
It took awhile to locate Boaz, because he was wearing work clothes like his laborers, not the rich man’s robe he usually wore. But when he’d walk up to a group, they’d defer to him, so she figured it out. They were still toasting and drinking. Ruth slumped against the tree and slid down. This was going to be a long night.
Between knocking the back of her head against the tree and pinching her thigh, she managed to stay awake until the winnowing party wound down. A group of men came into the grove to relieve themselves before settling down for what remained of the night. Ruth’s heart thudded again, not because they might discover her — they only stumbled into the edge of the grove, three trees away from her — but because Boaz was on the move, and she couldn’t get up to follow him. She pushed herself up on her hands and craned her neck to track him.
He visited every group of laborers and then disappeared behind a pile of threshed barley. Separated from the rest of the men. Which was the best she could’ve hoped for.
Was she really going to do this? She didn’t know anything about how a veiled woman acted, so she didn’t know how to avoid giving those cues, other than not exposing a man’s privates and snuggling next to him in a secluded area in the middle of the night. Avoiding that wasn’t an option.
The men settled down too soon.
Her legs trembled as she rose and picked her way to the far side of the grain pile. Boaz lay on his back, his arms outstretched, his cloak tossed to the side. He snored. She stood over him and clenched and opened her fists several times. It would be worth it. It had to be.
She knelt next to him and tugged his tunic ever northward until he was exposed. He snorted and stirred. She squeezed her eyes shut and braced herself for discovery. He rolled towards her, but stayed asleep.
Now what? Did she try to wake him? She put her hand on his shoulder and shook it. “Boaz,” she whispered. No change.
How long had it been since she’d touched a man? Months. His shoulder was solid and thick. Her grip on him softened and she slid her palm down his arm, snatching her hand away when he muttered. And then there was that. Tickling his “foot” would be a good way to wake him. But it’d also be a good way to let him know her intentions weren’t honorable. It looked so cute. So different from the stand-up state. She’d never touched one when it was like this.
She stifled a giggle. Was she really considering it? What she was there for was risky enough already. Would touching it be so much worse? Naomi had been vehement that Ruth was not to touch it. But just one little stroke? It looked so harmless. She reached out and, with a featherlight touch, ran her fingertips over it. Soft.
And he remained dead asleep. Ruth shrugged and lay down next to him, snuggling until they fit together, her back cradled by his front. Her breathing got shallower and faster as her body seemed to heat up from the inside. This felt both so right and so wrong. “Please, Lord,” she whispered. “Let this scheme work.”
Something was shaking her. She slit open her eyes. It was still completely dark. Darker than it had been before. She tried to roll over, but a hand on her arm prevented her.
“Who are you?”
In an instant, a flock of birds exploded in Ruth’s chest and stomach and she forgot her nice speech. Her breath came in pants. Boaz loomed over her so close that he blocked out the moon and the stars. She couldn’t see his facial expression at all. “Your servant Ruth.”
The hand on her arm caressed its way up to stroke her hair and rest on her cheek. No, no, no, no. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. She put her hand over his and trapped it against her face. “Spread the corner of your cloak over me, for you are my family redeemer.”
“My family redeemer,” she repeated, in case he missed the cue the first time.
She could feel the rumble of his voice as it left his chest. “You’ve outdone yourself this time, Ruth.”
Ruth counted five shaky breaths before he removed his hand and then put some distance between their bodies. Her brain was relieved, but her body ached for the pressure of his again.
“I’m not a young man.”
“You’re a good man.”
He snorted and said something that sounded like, “only just,” but she couldn’t be sure. “Lord bless you, daughter. You could’ve gone after a younger man. Nobody would’ve blamed you if you had. But you’re showing the family loyalty of a true Israelite.”
Ruth closed her eyes and dared to hope. This was going to work.
“Don’t worry. I’ll do the right thing.” He stroked her hair again and Ruth couldn’t stop herself from leaning into his touch. “Everyone knows you’re a virtuous woman, but there are plenty who’d love to prove otherwise. Nobody can know you were here.”
Shivers ran across her skin as he drew his fingertips down the back of her arm until he captured her hand.
“There is a snag. I’m one of a few possible family redeemers, and not the closest relative.” His thumb traced the inside of her wrist. “I’ll talk to him in the morning.”
She barely registered what he said. It was like her bones were melting into honey. “What?”
“The closest family redeemer. If he’ll marry you, I have to let him.”
That got her attention. All of this might be for nothing? “Who?”
Ruth gasped when Boaz named the man of the house they were staying at, Elimelech’s nephew Acharon: the last man she wanted to marry. Acharon, himself, was fine, but that would mean she and Naomi would have to stay in that house with a woman who already hated them. If Ruth became his second wife, it’d get so much worse.
Boaz put his fingertips against her lips and it took all her willpower not to kiss them.
“I’ll talk to him in the morning. At first light. As the Lord lives, I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’m the one to redeem you.” He closed the space between them and kissed her, a brief press of his lips on hers before he scooted back.
Thank you didn’t cover the depth of Ruth’s relief. She opened her mouth to try to put her feelings into words, but only a whimper emerged as tears ran down her face.
Boaz folded her into his arms. “Sh. Sh. I know what to do. It’ll happen.” He patted her back, but the comforting touch turned gradually arousing.
Ruth nestled her forehead into his chest. She didn’t trust herself. She couldn’t lift her face, not without–
“Stay here,” he whispered.
She shook her head.
“It’s not safe for you out there.”
She smiled. “I got here by myself.”
“It’s darker now.”
When she inhaled deeply to give her the fortitude to say no, her breasts rubbed against his chest, which made her toes curl. This was too dangerous.
“Turn around,” he said. “Stay with your back to me. Just for awhile. Until you can see.”
Although it was a bad idea, she did it. He put his arm around her and pulled her back against him. His “foot” was no longer in its soft state. There were several layers of wool between them, but there should’ve been more.
“Don’t move,” he said. “Please.”
She clenched her jaw and stayed as still as she could while panting like she’d just run the length of the village, but she must’ve fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew, he was shaking her awake again. Birds were singing, but it was still dark.
“You should go now.” Boaz’s breath was hot in her ear and before she could tell her hips otherwise, the undulated against him. He had her flat on her back in a heartbeat, his mouth on her neck, his hand on her breast. Just as quickly, he threw himself off her. “Stupid. That was stupid. Give me a moment.”
She swallowed hard and sat up, twitching her tunic and cloak back into place.
“I need to give you something,” he muttered. “Something for Naomi, so she knows…” His voice trailed off. “Barley is all I have here, so it’ll have to do.” He crawled closer to the pile of grain and gestured for her to come near. “Spread out your cloak.” She slipped it off and put it on the ground, where he loaded it with six scoops of grain. “That’s a start.”
Her legs were so shaky, getting to her feet was a bit of a struggle. Boaz gathered the ends of the cloak together and put the bundle over her left shoulder; she stumbled, but managed to stay on her feet. After everything that just happened, what was she supposed to say now? He seemed to have the same problem, and they stood there, avoiding eye contact.
“Thank you,” she said, but it must have sounded more tentative than she meant it, because he put his hand on her other shoulder and told her not to worry.
She trudged back to the village as a line of peach edged the top of the hills to the east. That was the second time Boaz told her not to worry. The last man to tell her that was Mahlon, telling her not to worry about his injury. He died the next day. Things with Boaz had to turn out better than that.