Tags: Christian Fiction
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Amy Lillard is an award-winning writer who loves reading romance novels from contemporary to Amish. These two genres met in her first book, 2012′s Saving Gideon. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. To find out more about Amy and her books, please visit her online at http://amywritesromance.com.
Katie Rose Fisher loved Samuel Beachy with an intensity that shook their Amish district. No one doubted they would one day marry, until Samuel turned his back on the church and joined the world of the English. Alone now in Clover Ridge, Katie Rose dedicates her life to God and the school children she teaches each day. Although she secretly longs for more, Katie knows God’s hand is at work, and she is happy. News correspondent Zane Carson never even knew Oklahoma had an Amish community until he got the chance to live among them and learn about their day-to-day activities. Their simple way of life is intriguing, but not half as much as the young teacher. Katie Rose is flattered over the attention she receives from Zane, but she has resolved to never marry. Even if she were to entertain the idea, it surely couldn’t be with an outsider like Zane. Never one prone to the restraints of organized religion, Zane finds a comfort in the rituals and blessings in the day to day righteous living of this small Amish community. He finds himself, God, and love with Katie Rose. But as Zane draws closer to Katie Rose, Samuel comes back to repent his ways and return to his place at her side. Can Zane convince Katie Rose that he is committed to adapting to her way of life, or will Samuel win her affections back for himself once again?
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Are you ready to go back out on assignment?” The phone line crackled slightly on the last word, but he thought Jolene Davidson, senior editor for Around the World magazine, had said “assignment.”Zane Carson sat up in a hurry. He’d been lounging on the couch watching reruns of Happy Days when he should have been at his physical therapy session. But he just wasn’t up to another round of incredibly boring exercises with the commando instructor. No sir, he just couldn’t do it again today. He’d been a little contemplative lately.
Okay, so he had been downright depressed. But who wouldn’t be? One bullet and his entire life had been put on hold. His entire life had changed. He’d been sent home, grounded, and for once he’d started to think about the future. His future. His and Monica’s.
“Of course I am,” he lied. But what better way to prove to everyone that he was ready to hit the red zone than jumping on the horse, so to speak?
“Are you sitting down?”
“As a matter of fact, I am.” Jo was always one for drama. If she weren’t such a wordsmith, she could have been an actress instead. “Lay it on me.”
“Oklahoma Amish country.”
“Come again?” Surely he heard her wrong, because he thought she’d said—
“Oklahoma Amish country.”
He leaned forward. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about you . . . going to Oklahoma . . . and living among the Amish to get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be part of such a community.”
“Jolene, I am a war correspondent. That means I cover wars.” He purposefully made his voice sound like he was talking to a four-year-old. When would they accept that he was ready to go back out into the field? Maybe ready was a bad word, but he needed to get back out there, if only to prove that he could.
“Now, Carson, this is an important assignment—”
“Jolene, there aren’t many wars in Oklahoma, and there certainly aren’t any in Amish territory.”
“Whatever.” He flopped back on the sofa, then grimaced as he jarred his healing shoulder. “Aren’t they conscientious objectors?”
“You’ve been calling every day asking for an assignment.”
He hadn’t called today and look where that got him.
“Now they want to give you one. You can’t turn it down if you ever want to get back into the red zone.”
She was right. But . . . “Did you say Oklahoma?” Did they even have an Amish community? Why not Pennsylvania? Everybody knew about Lancaster County.
“Everybody knows about Lancaster County. We’re looking for something different—smaller settlement, tighter surrounding community. Alternate worship right there in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Zane didn’t know if he would call their manner of religion “alternate,” but what did he know about such things? He’d never been to church. His parents had preferred to worship nature and his uncle hadn’t had time for that sort of thing.
“I need you to do this for me.” Those quietly spoken words held a wealth of information. “You do this and I’ll make sure you get the Juarez assignment.”
“I thought Douglas was in Mexico.”
“He’s ready to come home, but he’s willing to stay until we can find a suitable replacement.”
Juarez, Mexico. Where innocent people died for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was dangerous, very dangerous, this war on drugs. And exactly where Zane wanted to be. Jo knew that, and she used that information to her advantage.
He sighed. “When do you want me there?”
“Day after tomorrow.”
That didn’t give him much time. Zane pushed his fingers through his hair. It needed a cut, but it seemed like even that would have to wait. At least he was going back to work. Sort of. He really didn’t consider an assignment like this work. How challenging could it be? Amish. Right. But with Mexico dangling in front of him, what choice did he have?
“You’ll fly Chicago to Tulsa. There’s a driver who will pick you up and take you to Clover Ridge. And . . .” she paused for dramatic effect. “I’ve arranged for you to stay with a host family.”
“Wait. What? Hold on.” Zane ran his hands down the legs of his faded jeans and tried to get a handle on the information she just dumped on him. “A driver? Why do I need a driver? What about a car?”
Jolene sighed in an aren’t-you-just-the-silliest-thing kind of way that set his teeth on edge. “Zane, the Amish don’t drive cars.”
What had he gotten himself into?
“You’re going there to learn how to live like them, give the world an inside perspective. You certainly can’t do that if you’re zipping all over the place in a rental.”
That might be true, but he was sure he could get the feel for the lifestyle without being stranded in podunk Oklahoma with no means of transportation. But he knew better than to argue with Jo when she thought she was being brilliant. “Define ‘host family.’”
“Basically there’s a family, let me see here . . .” Zane could hear her shuffling papers. “The Fishers. You’re going to stay with them, and learn how to live like the Amish.”
“And what do they get out of the deal?”
She paused. “The satisfaction of helping their fellow man?”
He shook his head. “Helping their fellow man sell countless magazines and make lots of money. Isn’t that a little . . . un-Amish?” Even writers were sometimes at a loss for words. But someone once told him that the Amish weren’t interested in making money and getting ahead. They only earned what they needed to in order to care for their families. Or maybe he had read it in a magazine during one of his countless layovers.
“The mom has cancer. They’re hoping that the exposure will help bring more people into the community and thereby raise enough money to cover the medical costs.”
That seemed a little out of character too. But what he knew about the Amish could fit on the back of a postage stamp—with room to spare.
Host family usually meant an in-depth study, a series of articles, and quite a bit of time away from home. Zane glanced around his tiny apartment. He was so sick at looking at these walls. Maybe an assignment like this was worth getting out for. “How long are we talking about here?”
“Are you insane? Three months?” He flipped the calendar to October. Three months would get him back to Chicago at the first of the year. “I’ll be gone during Christmas.”
Jolene snickered. “I thought you might like to spend the holidays with someone other than me.”
Truth was he’d never spent any personal time with Jo at the holidays, or any other time for that matter, but he was one of the few reporters at Around the World that had no family to speak of. No one would miss him if he were on assignment Christmas Day. Not even Monica. Well, she might miss him, but she would understand. Not that it mattered. It’d never been a big holiday for him before or after his parents died.
“And you’re sure it’s okay with them?” The Amish were a tight-knit group, and the last thing he wanted was to invade their inner sanctum. He’d been in war-torn countries with bullets whizzing past his head like fiery hail, he’d suffered discrimination of being the only white face in the jungles of Africa, but there was no way he’d overrun someone’s private time with their family. That was not a road he wanted to travel down.
“Are you worried, Zane?” She said this, but what she really meant was, Are you going soft on me?
“Not at all.”
“Good, then. They’ll be expecting you on Thursday. I’ll send over the specs on the angle we’d like to see. This is a serious assignment, Zane. We want it all—interviews, pictures, the works.”
“In the meantime, it’s probably best to start your own research. You’d better get on it though. You only have a day and a half to learn how to live like the Amish.”
Soft music played in the dimly lit restaurant. Zane smoothed a hand down his tie, resisting the urge to loosen it. He was certain the maitre d’ would frown upon anything less than perfection from his diners. And the noose was for a good cause. He glanced at his dinner companion.
To call Monica Cartwright pretty was the understatement of the century. With her silky, black hair, flawless complexion, and petite frame, beautiful didn’t seem to cover it either. Gorgeous, stunning, breathtaking—those came close. Or maybe it was the way she carried herself, with a self-assurance that came from old money. Why she had set her sights on a footloose vagrant like him was beyond comprehension.
He wasn’t going to examine it too closely, though, but instead ride it for all it was worth. He absently fingered the little black box he’d tucked away in his suit coat. Tonight was a special night. And he had yet to tell her about his sojourn into the land of the backward.
That wasn’t fair. He was sure the Amish were good people, but he needed to be in the thick of things. That’s what made him tick, made him feel alive. What had Jo talked him into this time? Amish. She had better deliver on Mexico the minute he returned.
He lifted his gaze to Monica, only then aware he’d been staring at the menu without even reading it.
She shifted in her seat. “You’re a million miles away.” The immaculate navy blue cocktail dress hugged her like a second skin and matched her eyes to perfection.
“Sorry.” He smoothed his tie once again. She was probably sensing his unease. He’d have to tell her eventually about his assignment. She’d be disappointed, but she understood the business. Even if the magazine she worked for was owned by dear old Dad, Monica prided herself on working her way into her current position as staff editor of Talk of the Town magazine. Of course, she wrote about Chanel lipstick and Louboutin shoes, not the harsh realities of war. But she understood.
Of all the days to get an assignment.
“It’s all right.”
He was about to spill the news when the waiter came to take their order. One prime rib and one frou-frou salad later, he couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“I got an assignment today.”
“Oh.” Crestfallen was the only word he could think of to describe her expression. Of course, she thought he was going back to the Middle East.
“It’s an easy assignment.”
She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment, then gave him a sad, brave smile. “Where are you going?” For all her talk about accepting his job, he knew it wouldn’t be easy for her when he headed off to Mexico.
Her brows rose. “Are you joking?”
“I wish I was. It’s a crazy assignment, but if I want to get back out in the field, then I have to go.”
“I understand.” She looked down, seemingly captivated by the pattern on the ends of their flatware.
He hated the resigned slump of her shoulders. “It’s only for three months.”
“That’s not bad.” There was that brave smile again.
He shook his head. “There’s something else I want to talk to you about.”
She took a sip of water, watching him over the rim.
Zane’s hand started to tremble. Surely a natural reaction. After all, it wasn’t every day a man got engaged. He pulled the velvet box from his suit pocket and placed it on the table in front of him.
Her sapphire eyes grew wide. “Zane, I—”
He shook his head, effectively cutting off whatever she was about to say. “Just hear me out.” He took a deep breath, then flipped open the top of the ring box to expose the sparkling ruby and diamond engagement ring inside. Another breath. “Monica, I’ve always been something of a loner. I guess it’s in my genes, but getting shot made me stop and think about the future. That’s when I realized I didn’t have one. At least, not one that I was looking forward to.”
He cleared his throat and dropped down on one knee beside her. “Monica Cartwright, will you marry me?” His voice cracked on the last word, but she didn’t seem to notice.
She looked from the box on the table to the knot in his tie, but made no move toward the ring. “I don’t know what to say.” She didn’t meet his gaze.
“I believe this is where you’re supposed to say yes.”
“Oh, Zane.” Her voice was filled with anguish and indecision instead of the happy love that he’d been expecting. She tugged on his sleeve. “Stand up. Stand up.”
Zane rose, then sat in his chair, wondering where his proposal had gotten off track.
“What about your job?”
He shrugged, his shoulders stiff. Then he tried to laugh it off. “I’ll need to keep it, don’t you think? We’ll still have bills to pay.”
She dropped her gaze to her lap. “You’ll be gone most of the time.”
He reached across the table and took her hands into his own. “I was laying there in that hospital bed wondering if each sight was going to be my last and all I could think about was you. And the future. That’s how those soldiers do it, babe. They can go over there and fight because they know they have someone to come home to. I need you to be my someone.”
Tears filled her eyes, but she blinked them back. “I don’t know, Zane. I—I just don’t know.”
This was not the response he’d expected. In all fairness he was asking a lot. For her to wait on him, to wonder and worry, raise their family and never know if he’d return in one piece. But they weren’t the only couple facing the same prospects in this time of war. Others survived. They could too.
He picked up the ring box, snapped it shut, and pressed it into her hand. “You think about it while I’m gone, okay?”
She nodded and slipped the box into her evening bag. “It’s not that I don’t love you—”
“Shh. I know.” He pressed one finger to her lips. “We’ll talk about it when I get back.”
Engaged. He was engaged. Well, almost engaged. He’d taken Monica by surprise was all. And now this assignment. He was counting on the old absence makes the heart grow fonder thing to kick in while he was gone. She’d come around to his way of thinking. He was certain of it.
Engaged. It was a weird thought. There was someone waiting for him to return. Someone who counted on him to come back and continue their relationship without question. The idea was as foreign to Zane as the landscape whizzing past.
As promised, a driver named Bill had met Zane at the airport. Bill was more than willing to talk about the weather, the trees, and how the University of Oklahoma football team was playing this season, but Zane didn’t think it was the time to drill him for secrets into the culture he was entering. Bill wasn’t Amish.
“Mennonite,” he supplied with a smile and a glance in Zane’s direction.
“And what would you say the primary difference is?” Zane asked. “Besides driving.” He’d been a little surprised that the driver was also of the Anabaptist sect, though he wouldn’t have known it if the chatty Bill hadn’t volunteered the info.
“Well, now, there are quite a few differences. ’Course you got your Old Order Amish and your New Order Amish, they differ greatly as well.”
“And Clover Ridge?”
“Definitely Old Order.”
Zane nodded. Not that he understood any of what that meant. He wished he’d done a little more research. All he could remember about the Amish was the tragic shooting several years ago and that they seemed to be a loving and forgiving sort of people. He had been in Bosnia when it happened, so all his info had been filtered by the time it reached him.
“I thought Oklahoma was flat and dusty.” Zane gestured toward the green grass. The sky was colored a pristine blue, and the hills seemed to roll on forever into the distance. Sort of reminded him of Oregon and the commune where he grew up. At least how he remembered Oregon.
Bill laughed. “Not this part. You’re in what’s called Green Country. Out in western Oklahoma, it’s like that. Dry prairie. But neither side lives in teepees.”
Zane turned to face him, questions on the tip of his tongue.
Bill’s eyes twinkled.
Must be an inside joke, Zane thought, and leaned back in his seat.
The rest of the trip flew by in a blur of unexpected green. Bill pointed out a few more things along the way—mistletoe, the state flower, and the scissor-tailed flycatcher, the state bird. And in less time than it would have taken him to drive from his apartment to downtown, they were entering Clover Ridge.
The town was a mixed oddity of old and new. There was a McDonalds and a Walgreens, but somehow they had managed to keep the Walmart invasion at bay. A general store named Anderson’s sat next to the post office, then a lumberyard, and a Dairy Queen.
But most interesting of all were the buggies hitched to horses and tethered in front of all the stores. At least they weren’t in the drive-through line at Mickey D’s, he thought, hiding a smile.
In no time at all, they pulled into a long dirt drive lined with wooden fences on both sides. Across the road from the turn, a field had been left fallow, the rich, dark earth looking like no soil he had ever seen. A small wooden shanty stood at the edge of the field, seeming too new for the rest of the farm.
“Here we are.” Bill pulled the car to a stop in front of a rambling white house that looked like it had been added on to several times.
A big red barn stood opposite the haphazard structure, a pasture with no end spreading behind it. The yard itself teemed with life. Chickens, dogs, cats, geese, and even a duck strutted around pecking at bugs and giving the occasional cat a chase.
Bill didn’t even honk the horn. At the sound of the car’s engine, three people rushed from the house to the porch. Zane stepped from the car, looking from them to the stern-faced man coming from the barn, the obvious Amish patriarch.
Before he could utter one word of greeting, Bill raised his hand toward the elder man. “Abram Fisher. I’ve brought your new house guest.”
Abram raised his hand in return. “Bill Foster. It is good to see you.” The men shook hands and clapped each other on the back as Zane watched the group on the porch. A tall, slender woman stood in the center of the fray, most likely Abram’s wife. What had Jo said her name was? Ruth, yeah, Ruth.
“You’ll stay for natchess,” Abram said, not quite a question, but Bill nodded in return. “Wouldn’t miss Ruth’s cookin’ for nothin’ in the world.”
Abram shook his head. “Ruth’s restin’ more these days. It’s Gideon’s Annie who’ll be preparin’ your food for the evenin’. But a right fine cook she is at that.” Zane couldn’t help but notice the haunted look in his eyes at the mention of his wife’s name and once again he worried that his staying with them might turn out to be more of a hardship than a benefit.
He mentally shook himself. Maybe Jo was right. Maybe he was getting soft. Normally he wouldn’t care about such things. They had invited him here. They were getting something from the deal. He was just doing his job. And that’s all there was to it.
“What say you, Bill Foster?” Abram asked. “What else do we need to pay you for your services this evenin’?”
Zane stepped forward and reached for his wallet. “I’ve got this.” He pulled out two twenties and a ten, more than enough to cover the gas for the trip. He thought better of it and pulled out a couple more twenties. Surely that would pay for the man’s time.
Bill shook his head and made no move toward the money. “I’d rather not have money, if you’ve still got any of them pickles.”
Abram nodded. “That we do. A couple of jars of those, and I’ll say we’re even.”
Zane looked down at the cash he held in his hand. Pickles? Was he serious? The Amish man and the Mennonite shook hands. Evidently they were.
“But—” he started, not really knowing what to do and how to protest that Bill hadn’t taken his money in trade for services. Bill looked down at the bills in Zane’s hand.
“That’s mighty kind of you, son,” he said, plucking it from his fingers and handing it over to Abram. “Perhaps this would be better used in Ruth Ann’s fund.”
“Danki, Bill Foster,” Abram gave a nod of his head. “I’ll make sure Annie gets it.”
“Come on with you both.” Abram pointed to the bags Bill had pulled from the back of the car. The men grabbed the luggage and started toward the house.
“By the way, I’m Zane Carson.” He didn’t know why he felt compelled to say anything. It wasn’t like they had paid him the slightest attention, but he felt he should say something. Or maybe not. He adjusted the strap of his laptop bag and followed behind Bill and Abram.
“Ach,” Abram said with a shake of his head. “That you are.”
Zane didn’t have time to think about the lack of greeting. All at once they were standing at the foot of the porch.
“Annie, I hope you’ve prepared enough, we’ve got guests for supper.”
A petite woman with dark hair and unusual eyes nodded to Abram. “I have indeed. There is more than enough to go around.”
Her accent was different from the others’. Abram’s voice held the lilt of his German ancestors, but Annie sounded like a purebred Texan. And stranger still, Zane had a feeling he’d met her before.
“Abram,” the woman on the porch said, “introduce the family and guests.”
The eldest Fisher jerked his head. “Zane Carson,” he said with a motion back toward him. “This here’s my wife, Ruth Ann, and that’s Annie Hamilton, my son John Paul. Gideon will be along directly with our son, Gabe, and his boys.”
“And Lizzie,” Annie said. “I mean, Mary Elizabeth, will be here too.”
“Don’t forget Katie Rose,” John Paul added. “She’s my sister.”
Zane did a quick mental calculation and, depending on the number of boys that belonged to Gabe, there would be at least twelve people at this natchess, maybe more. He hadn’t survived in the Middle East without being quick, and he could only assume that natchess was the next meal.
Everyone bustled into the house, the inside much warmer than the greeting he’d received from Abram. Yet, there weren’t any of the vanity objects that dominated non-Amish housing. No pictures on the walls, no knickknacks scattered about. The floors were solid wood, covered only by a few homemade-looking rag rugs. There were no curtains on the windows, no cozy items strewn about. All in all he couldn’t figure out why it seemed so welcoming.
Maybe it was the family. Despite Abram, Ruth Ann and Annie seemed to welcome him into the house. Upon closer inspection, he could see the ravages of cancer treatment on the Fisher matriarch. She wore a black bonnet that he was pretty sure hid the last remains of her chemo-ravaged hair. Her skin held a gray tinge, her cheeks puffy from the steroids, her eyes sunken. Her dress hung on her frame, but those mossy green eyes sparkled with a light that even medical science couldn’t extinguish.
Annie was much younger and healthier, though Zane noticed she hovered close to Ruth as if to spot her in case she stumbled. Zane still couldn’t shake the feeling that he knew her somehow. They say everyone has a twin. Well, at some point in his life, he’d run across Annie’s.
“John Paul,” Ruth commanded, her voice strong despite her frail condition. “Take Zane Carson’s things upstairs and show him to his room.”
“Thank you, ma’am, but I can get it.”
Ruth shook her head. “John Paul will help.”
The young man stepped forward and for the first time Zane noticed he wore faded jeans to rival his own. His blue shirt looked impeccably tailored, and he’d rounded out his attire with a pair of dirty running shoes. Had he not had the distinctive chili-bowl hairstyle, John Paul Fisher would have looked like any other teenager in countless other small towns around the country.
Yet the women had both dressed the same: dresses covered in some sort of apron and shawl, hair pinned back and covered with a small, white cap. Why did John Paul dress differently? Zane made a mental note to find out the first chance he got.
John Paul picked up Zane’s suitcase and started toward the large set of stairs. “This way.”
Zane grabbed his computer and followed behind.
“You’ll be sharin’ a room with me, since Gideon’s Annie has the other.” He nodded his head to the closed door directly across the hall. He pushed open the opposite door and ducked inside.
Two neat beds sat side by side in a surprisingly large bedroom. Each bed was covered with a quilt of vivid colors—black, red, yellow, orange, and green. A rocking chair had a strange-looking floor lamp next to it, the neck of it protruding out of an old propane tank.
“This one’s the bed I usually sleep in.” John Paul pointed to the one on the right, and it wasn’t lost on Zane that he didn’t call the bed “mine.” “But I’m not here much.” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “whatever.”
“Then I’ll take this one.” Zane hoisted his laptop bag into the center of the quilt. “Tell me again, Gideon’s Annie is who?”
“She’s the dark-haired girl downstairs. She’s intended to my older brother Gideon.”
“Why do they call her by his name too?”
“You see, there’s a lot of Annies, but she is—”
“Gideon’s. Got it.”
“Come next fall, they’ll be married. Well, once she joins the church.”
Zane sat down on the bed, briefly wondering if John Paul would mind if he opened his laptop and took notes while the young man talked. Probably. So he kept his expression blank as he asked, “She’s not a member of the church?”
“No, she just moved here.”
“From another community, you mean.”
As in Texas? He wasn’t so far off the mark after all. He was pleased to know that six months stuck in his own apartment hadn’t dulled his instincts. “I wasn’t aware they had an Amish settlement in Dallas.”
John Paul shook his head. “Gideon’s Annie isn’t Amish. She’s an Englischer wantin’ to be Amish so she can marry my brother. She can’t do that until she joins the church. And she can’t join the church until she passes her lessons and proves that she’s committed to our ways.”
Now that sounded downright cultish, but Zane supposed love could do that to a person. “How did an Amish man meet a city girl from Texas?”
“Ach, man, now there’s a good story,” he said, sounding all the more like his father. “But it’s better voiced by Gideon or Annie. I can tell you, though, that Annie, she wrecked her car on a snowy night this past spring. Gideon rescued her from the car, and she . . . well, I suppose you could say that she rescued him from his grief. His wife and son died over a year ago. Gideon never quite recovered. Until Annie, that is.”
“I see.” In the shoes he wore right then, he couldn’t imagine how Gideon felt. How would he feel about the matter after Monica gave birth to his child?
John Paul sat down opposite him, and Zane nodded toward the young man’s jeans. “So the men are able to dress like they want and the women wear the . . .” He motioned toward his torso and head.
John Paul laughed. “No. All Amish men and women dress the same as each other, but I’m in rumspringa.”
“And that means . . . ?”
“I get a chance to go out and experience the world. I can wear what I want, drive a car, drink alcohol. Make sure I really want to join the church.”
“And if you decide not to join?”
John Paul shrugged. “Then I can leave the district and go to live with the Englisch.”
“Interesting.” More than, actually. He would have loved to question John Paul some more about the rum-whatever, but they had been gone long enough. Time to get back downstairs and meet back up with his host family. He made a mental note to find out more at the first available opportunity.
“Is there a place I can plug in my laptop?”
John Paul grinned. “No.”
“But the lamp?” He nodded toward the corner light.
“Runs off propane. Didn’t anybody tell you? There’s no electricity in Amish homes.”
He had heard something to that effect, but it just hadn’t sunk in. Or maybe it just didn’t seem possible. “They were serious about that?”
John Paul’s grin got a little bit wider. “Absolutely.”
Back downstairs, it seemed that the house would burst with all the people who had arrived for dinner. Gabriel, it turned out, had five sons ranging in age from four to thirteen with his daughter Mary Elizabeth topping the list at fifteen. From her, Zane learned that rumspringa started at sixteen and could last as long as five years. Soon Mary Elizabeth would be joining the run-around time. By the gleam in her eyes, she could barely stand the wait. Gideon also arrived, looking as much like Abram as Gabriel did. Both Fisher boys were bulky and solid, with coffee-dark hair. Their mossy-green eyes were identical to their mother’s, the one trait she seemed to have passed to her sons.
Zane couldn’t help but notice Gideon and his intended were not very affectionate—at least not outwardly. He did catch them staring longingly at each other when they thought no one was looking. Maybe that was part of the culture as well. He wished he’d thought to bring his notebook from his case, but then again, maybe it wasn’t kosher to take notes at the family dinner. Even if Bill the Mennonite driver was also attending. So Zane made do with mental notes, etching the questions into his brain so he could retrieve them later when he went to his room.
“Katie Rose,” Mary Elizabeth said, grabbing the arm of a woman he had yet to meet. With all the milling bodies, it was no wonder he hadn’t seen the Fisher daughter as she had arrived with her brothers.
She turned to face him, and Zane’s greeting died on his lips.
Tall and slim, she looked as much like her mother as the Fisher boys favored their father. Honey-blonde hair, pale green eyes, with the barest hint of color high on her cheekbones.
And she took his breath away.
She exuded an angelic quality that even surpassed the peace and love that shone in Ruth Fisher’s eyes. Wholesome. That was the first word to come to mind. She was what Monica would call a natural beauty. No makeup, no highlights, no artificial anything, and yet she was perhaps the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“It’s nice to meet you.” Was that his voice? He nodded to Katie Rose, still trying to get his bearings, as he reached out to shake her hand.
“And you as well. Welcome to Clover Ridge.” Katie Rose smiled as she shook his hand, and Zane’s breath stilled in his chest. Her fingers were warm in his, solid with just a few rough spots that told the tale of the life she lived. Monica would have been at the salon every day to have them removed, but they fit the natural beauty of Katie Rose Fisher.
He couldn’t pinpoint what it was about her that seemed to seep into his bones. She was not his type, but the man in him could appreciate her beauty. The engaged man in him, however, knew to keep his distance. Now was the time to show his professionalism.
“Katie Rose is our teacher,” Mary Elizabeth gushed. “Well, not mine anymore, but the other children’s. She’s wonderful.”
“I’m sure she is,” he said, realizing that he still held her hand in his.
Katie Rose pulled away, her smile unwavering. “I hope you enjoy your stay here.”
“I’m sure I will.” Zane did his best not to feel discarded as she nodded a “so long” and disappeared in the throng of her family.
Just when he thought the house couldn’t get any fuller, someone called out, “Go get Noni.”
From the back, John Paul brought in a stooped, elderly woman who couldn’t have been a day younger than ninety. Arthritis had gnarled her hands into near talons, but her eyes still held the sharp edge of intelligence. She had a walking cane and a long black dress, her iron-gray hair parted down the middle pulled back and covered just like the young women.
Once they were all seated around the two large wooden tables, everyone bowed their heads. Everyone, but Zane. He looked around at their bowed heads, his gaze stopping on one of Gabriel’s sons. Samuel? Or was it Simon? It didn’t matter. Only the buzzing silence that filled the room as everyone prayed. For what, he didn’t know. Zane had never been one to pray. At least not to a god . . . or the God. He just . . . never saw the point.
His gaze flitted from Simon to his aunt. Katie Rose had her head dutifully lowered, her eyes closed, and her hands folded neatly on the table. There was a peace about her that Zane couldn’t place, and he pushed back thoughts of his earlier reaction to her. Her beauty had taken him by surprise. Where he came from, women did everything from color their hair to inject their lips in order to gain the aura that Katie Rose held by the grace of nature.
Professional, he reminded himself. Be professional. He was a little out of practice at living with other cultures. Six weeks in Chicago had done that to him. Maybe Jo had a point: He needed this assignment more than he realized. He’d definitely be in trouble if he lost his edge in Juarez. Better to get back in the habit of adapting to the Amish before he had to survive in the wild world of Mexican drug lords.
He cleared his mind of personal thoughts of Katie Rose and inspected her with a journalist’s eyes. She, like the other women, wore a white kerchief-kind of hat perched on the back part of her head. Must be an Amish thing. He’d never thought about it until now, but in all the pictures he had seen of the Plain people, the women wore that same type of covering, or something similar. He made a mental note to ask John Paul about it.
Thankfully, Abram uttered “Aemen” and everyone raised their heads. Being at the table with so many people brought back memories of the cooperative where bowls of food were circulated and everyone served their plates before passing to the next person.
Someone burped. No one made mention of it, no one said excuse me or waited for another to do the honors. Another Amish thing? For so many people at the table, there wasn’t a great deal of talking. Even the children were strangely quiet. Granted, what he had seen of Amish children tonight led him to believe that they were better disciplined than kids on the outside. Still, he couldn’t help but believe that his presence at the table had something to do with it.
“How’s your natchess?”
Zane’s gaze jerked to Katie Rose. She smiled, and he realized her eyes were a lighter green than her mother’s. And sweetly smiling instead of tired, as she waited for him to answer.
He realized he wasn’t eating. Old habits and all. He’d never been a big eater. He was usually much more interested in what was around him than in food. But he had the next three months to absorb all he could of the Amish way of life. No sense in starving himself this early in the game.
“Oh, fine, fine,” he answered, taking a bite to add credit to his words. “Very good, in fact. My compliments to the chef.”
A few seats down, Annie blushed.
The meal was tasty. Some of the best food he had ever eaten. Maybe because it wasn’t full of preservatives or lean on fat and calories. He could feel it clogging his arteries that very second, but he wasn’t sure he cared. It was that delicious. “What do you call this?”
“Chicken pot pie,” Annie answered.
“It’s Annie’s specialty,” Mary Elizabeth said with a smile.
“And onkel’s favorite,” Matthew was quick to add.
Another inside joke?
“There was fine weather today,” Abram said from his place at the head of the table. “Tomorrow we’ll start plowin’.”
“Plowing?” Granted he’d been a city boy for the last twenty years, but he’d spent quite a few formative years in a commune. And he’d learned a thing or two about farming. One thing he knew was that it was October. Not time to plant anything.
“Jah,” Abram said with a short nod. “Plowin’.”
“You made out easy,” John Paul added with a nudge to his side. “Last week we laid the manure.”
“Seems like I came just in time,” he said with a laugh. For the first time since he agreed to this crazy plan of Jo’s, he realized the extent of what he’d gotten himself in to. Farming. And backward farming, at that. He rubbed at the dull pain in his shoulder. He supposed it was better than heading into a war zone. Safer, and not as stressful. A little cleaner and a lot cushier. But how was he supposed to live his life to the fullest on an Amish farm in the backwoods of backward Oklahoma? Three months, he told himself. Three months, and he was out of here.
Abram Fisher had made a mistake. He was a godly man. He had learned humility. And he could admit when he’d done wrong. And this time he hadn’t done right by his family.
He looked down the table to the stranger he had invited into his home—their home. He’d done it all for Ruthie. He was a selfish man, he knew. Every night he prayed to God to forgive him and his selfish ways and thoughts, but heaven help him, he wasn’t ready to let her go.
But this Englischer with his hard eyes and unsmiling mouth was not a man he should have asked to come into his house. Not like this. But the deed was done. Zane Carson was staying, living among them, writing about what it felt like to be Amish.
Abram couldn’t understand the draw of the outside world to their little community, but the Englischers seemed to be fascinated by the ways of the Plain folk. It beat him as to why. They all acted like Plain folk did something special. More special than just follow God’s plan. Everything was right there in the Bible for everyone to see, to use. T’weren’t any more special than that.
But with Ruthie’s cancer treatments draining the funds from the district, Abram had to do something to put it back. The only thing he could do was take the fancy, fast-talking editor lady up on her plan. Invite a reporter to come into their midst, live with them, work beside them, and then write a bunch of stories about the experience. She assured Abram that the articles would bring tourists from all over to sample the wares, tastes, and simple life that was offered in Clover Ridge. More visitors meant more money for the town, and more money for the town meant more funds in the emergency coffers. More money for cancer treatments.
So he had done it for Ruthie. Everything for Ruthie.
Tags: Christian Fiction
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for a local university. To find out more about Kaye and her books, please visit her online at kayedacus.com.
Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Follow the Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age. Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money. At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America. Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess. While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.”
Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.
An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.
“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”
Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.
“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”
“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.
“You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”
Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenile? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.
Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”
Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.
“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”
Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”
It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.
Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.
He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”
At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.
“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.
Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”
“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.
“The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.
“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”
He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”
She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.
Talk continued around her, rumors of fantastical exhibits and inventions supposedly coming to this great world’s fair, which would open in just under three months.
What would she be doing by then? What about Father and Maud and the girls? She shook her head, trying to stave off the unwanted visions of her father, stepmother, and little sisters begging on the streets of Philadelphia.
The steward entered the saloon and called everyone to follow him in to luncheon. Christopher offered Kate his hand. When she gained her feet, he bent over, placing his mouth close to her ear, as if to place a kiss on her cheek.
“I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t let it get you down. Everything will be all right. You’ll see.” He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and led her through the steward’s pantry, where the beautiful silver trays and chargers displayed there winked in the candlelight, mocking her with their opulence.
Mrs. Headington invited them to sit at her table for the meal, and Kate sank gratefully into the chair Christopher held for her. Though her brother knew almost all of the hundred or so first-class passengers traveling with them, Kate had kept to herself most of the voyage, unable to laugh and flirt and pretend the way Christopher could.
“You appear sad, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington gave Kate a knowing look. “Is it a young man you have left back home who occupies your thoughts?”
Kate latched on to the question. “I had—have a suitor, ma’am. He courted me for over a year. I believed he would propose before . . . before Christopher and I left for England. But alas, he did not.”
Christopher’s jaw slackened, and Kate felt a kindling of amusement at his astonishment over her ability to spin the story in such a manner. Perhaps she did share some of his abilities, buried deep within.
“I do not know what the fellow could have been thinking, allowing a woman like you to slip away with no firm commitment. Does he realize how easily he could lose you to one of our fine English gentlemen?”
If only Mrs. Headington knew what Devlin Montgomery knew.
“If the blighter is not man enough to propose before you left, you should consider yourself free to accept other suitors, Miss Dearing. Though you must allow me to caution you against those wicked men who want nothing more than to ruin virtuous young women like you.” Mrs. Headington raised her teacup in emphatic punctuation to her warning, though speculation filled her gaze. “There are plenty of lords who will look beyond the lack of a title when it comes to a pretty face, so long as she has a substantial dowry.”
Kate hoped one of them would also look beyond the lack of a dowry. Rather than let Mrs. Headington’s unintentional disparagement send her back into the doldrums she’d been in since that awful discovery on New Year’s Eve, Kate continued smiling and trying to engage in conversation with Mrs. Headington and the other travelers who joined them at the marble-topped table.
It would do her no good to show up on England’s shores dour-faced and hung all around with melancholy. She had little enough to work with as it was—being too tall, with average looks, and angular features. Oddly enough, for Kate, the Old World meant a new life. Here, where no one knew her, where no one could recount the names of the men who had courted her and then decided not to marry her, she could forget the past, forget her failure to find a husband. In England, she could become Katharine Dearing, the woman who could not only carry on a conversation about botany or politics with any man, but who could dance and flirt as well.
For ten years, since her debut at seventeen, she’d turned her nose up at the young women who simpered and giggled and flattered all the young men. Well, most of those young women were now married with families of their own.
She glanced around the table and studied the interactions between married couples and among the few unmarried young women and men. Could she remake herself in the image of the debutante across from her with the blonde ringlets, whose coy, soft eyes and sweet smiles drew the men’s attention like bees to nectar?
To her right, Mrs. Headington argued with Christopher about the politics surrounding the Great Exhibition and the worry of many that Prince Albert would bankrupt the country with the lavish display of agriculture and industry.
Kate Dearing would have joined in the conversation of politics. Katharine Dearing, however, turned to the balding, middle-aged man on her left. “What part of England are you from, Mr. Fitch?”
She lowered her chin and blinked a few times, trying to imitate the blonde’s batting eyelashes. The man beside her almost choked on his wine before setting down the goblet to answer, obviously no more accustomed to being flirted with than Kate was to flirting.
Dowry or no dowry, she must and would find a wealthy husband. And as her stepmother was so fond of saying, practice makes perfect.
Andrew Lawton drew his coat collar higher around the lower part of his face and pulled his hat down, wishing it would cover his ears, exposed as they were to the frigid winter air. Beyond the inn’s small front porch, snow blew and swirled on the indecisive wind—first toward, then away; left, then right. White dust skittered this way and that on the cobblestone street.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, longing for spring and the orderliness and discipline he would bring to the gardens at Wakesdown Manor. He had the plans all laid out on paper and was prepared to begin construction of the new gardens so they would be ready to burst into bloom when warm weather arrived. But instead, he was in Liverpool. And on a Sunday, no less.
Who would choose to travel by steamship in the middle of winter?
He’d only just managed to get away from Mr. Paxton and the Crystal Palace in time to catch the train from London to Liverpool yesterday. Eleven hours on an unforgiving wooden seat in the unheated third-class car—not wanting to part with his hard-earned wages in order to ride in the warmth and comfort of second class or the luxury of first—followed by a night on a lumpy bed in a freezing inn had done his back and his temper no favors.
Rather than go to the expense of a hiring a cab for the mile walk back to the train station, Andrew adjusted his collar again, hooked the handle of his valise over his left wrist, stuffed his gloved hands into his coat pockets, and leaned into the swirling wind with a brisk pace. The inn’s distance from the station had made it economically attractive for the overnight stay—half the cost of those within a block or two of both the train station and the Mersey River ports, where everything and everyone came in and out of Liverpool.
By the time he reached his destination, the swirling white dust had turned to hard, pelting ice. According to the timetable written on the board in the ticket office, the Baltic had docked ten minutes ago, shortly after one o’clock.
If he caught the two o’clock train, he would arrive in Oxford near eleven tonight. He desperately wanted to sleep in his own bed after so many nights away. He purchased three first-class tickets, as per his employer’s instructions, tucked them into his waistcoat pocket, then went to the telegraph office and wired Sir Anthony so he would know to be expecting his guests to arrive tonight.
Back out on the platform, he noticed the ferry from the steamship had landed at the far end. Passengers disembarked while crew unloaded baggage through a lower-deck portal.
He scanned the passengers coming toward him, looking for a young man and young woman traveling together. Americans. That was all Andrew knew. Dismissing several older people and a couple of women traveling alone, Andrew released his breath in frustration.
“You look lost, young man.” A woman in a dress too tight and juvenile for her ample form and age stopped in front of him.
Andrew doffed his round-crowned bowler hat—and the woman frowned at it a moment. If Andrew had known he would be making this side trip when he left Wakesdown, he would have packed his top hat, since the more serviceable bowler served to emphasize his working-class roots.
“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Andrew tucked the hat under his elbow. “I am supposed to be meeting a Mr. and Miss Dearing. You do not, perhaps—”
“Christopher and Kate. Of course I met them. It is hard not to get to know all the other passengers on a two-week voyage.”
Andrew inclined his head in relief. “Would you mind pointing them out to me?”
“No, not at all.” She squinted at the ferry. “Yes, there they are. Good-looking fellow in the indigo coat. The young woman is, alas, much plainer than her brother.” The woman leaned closer and dropped her voice. “And if what I heard in Philadelphia is true, their father, wicked man, just lost all his considerable fortune in a railway speculation that failed. Poor dear. Only way she would have caught a husband at her age and with her lack of beauty would have been with a substantial dowry.”
Andrew scanned the passengers coming off the boat. There—a young man in a dark blue overcoat. But that could not be Christopher Dearing. For the woman beside the man in the blue coat was anything but plain. Not beautiful like Sir Anthony’s daughters—but far from plain. A straw-brimmed bonnet hid her hair, but her brown cloak and shawl emphasized her bright blue eyes, even from this distance.
“Now, if you will excuse me, I must arrange my travel to London.”
Andrew gave the older woman a slight bow, then stepped forward to meet the Dearings.
Andrew stepped into the man’s path. “Are you Mr. Dearing?”
A smile replaced the look of consternation. He stuck out his gloved hand, which Andrew shook in greeting.
“Christopher Dearing.” He pulled the arm of the young woman in the brown cloak, who’d stopped a full pace behind him. “And this is my sister, Kate—I mean, Katharine.”
Katharine gave a slight curtsy, red tingeing her cheeks.
“Andrew Lawton.” He inclined his head, then dragged his gaze from the woman—whose face was, perhaps, a bit too square for her to be considered truly handsome—back to her brother. “Sir Anthony sends his apologies for not coming to meet you personally. But his youngest daughter fell ill two days ago, and he did not want to leave her.” He glanced back at Katharine Dearing, to keep her from feeling excluded from the apology.
Concern flooded her striking blue eyes. “I hope it isn’t a grave illness.”
Andrew reminded himself that Miss Dearing was Sir Anthony’s niece and, therefore, no one who should garner his interest in any capacity other than as one of the masters—fortune or no. “When last Sir Anthony wired, he did not believe it to be more than a fever due to the wet winter we are having and Miss Florence’s insistence on riding every day no matter what the weather.”
“I am sorry she’s ill, but it is good to know it isn’t dire.” Katharine looked as if she wanted to say more, but at the last moment lost her nerve.
“So . . . did I hear you correctly?” Christopher asked. “The name is pronounced Antony and not Anthony?”
“Yes, Mr. Dearing, you heard correctly.”
Miss Dearing transferred a tapestry bag from one hand to the other.
“May I take that for you, miss?” Andrew pushed his hat back down on his head and reached for her bag.
“Oh, you don’t—” But she let the protest die and handed him the bag with a sudden doe-eyed smile. “Why, thank you, Mr. Lawton. We arranged with the steward to have our trunks transferred directly to the Oxford train. The schedule they had aboard ship indicated there is one that leaves at two o’clock.”
“Yes, that is our train.”
Katharine looked up at her brother. “We should get our tickets now so that we are ready when it’s time to board.”
“No need.” Andrew shifted her bag to his left hand, along with his own, and patted the waistcoat pocket through his frock and overcoat. “I have already taken care of the tickets. The train arrived just moments ago, so we can go find a compartment.” He motioned with his free hand for Christopher and Katharine to join him, and he led them down the platform.
“My, but you have already thought of everything, haven’t you?” Katharine’s flirtatious expression seemed odd, like a daisy growing from a rosebush.
And the look of confusion on her brother’s face only added to Andrew’s. Surely she realized from his humble attire he wasn’t anyone who could offer her the wealth she apparently needed in a husband. So why would she overtly flirt with him?
“How long a trip is it from here to Oxford?” Christopher asked.
“Almost nine hours, so long as the tracks are clear.” Andrew looked past the roof of the station. Snow mixed with the icy precipitation from half an hour before, and it looked to start piling up quickly. Hopefully, traveling south and inland from here would mean away from the snow.
He found a compartment in the first-class car, set his and Katharine’s valises on the seat, and turned to assist her in. She thanked him profusely. Once she was settled, he and Christopher lifted the small valises onto the shelf over the seat opposite Katharine, and then sat, facing her.
Katharine wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and arms. Christopher leaned over and opened the grate of the small heater and stoked the glowing red coal. “I’d hoped maybe to see one of those new heaters I’ve been reading about—where steam heat is pumped from the fire in the locomotive throughout the cars in the train.”
“Have you an interest in the railway, Mr. Dearing?” Though he had no desire to make the sister feel left out of the conversation, Andrew was in great danger of allowing himself to stare at her now that she was in such close proximity. Upon second thought, the squareness of her jaw did not detract from but added to the symmetry of her face. And above all else, Andrew appreciated symmetry.
“Yes—my apprenticeship was with a firm that specializes in railway law. It’s fascinating to see how, in a matter of just ten or twenty years, the railroad has changed our way of life.” Christopher stretched his lanky frame into a position of repose, obviously accustomed to the comforts of first-class accommodations.
“I was twenty years old when the railroad came to Derby—my home—in the year ’40. It has quite changed the way of life for everyone there.” Andrew removed his hat and gloves and set them on the seat beside him.
Christopher’s eyes—brown, rather than blue like his sister’s—flashed with curiosity. “Really? I hardly remember when the first railroad opened in Philadelphia in 1832.”
“That’s because you were not quite six years old when it came.” Katharine’s soft voice reminded them of her presence—as if Andrew needed reminding. “I remember it well. Father took us to the parade and to see the locomotive take off. It was the first time we were all happy since Mother and Emma died.” Katharine’s focus drifted far away along with her voice.
Andrew stared at her. In the space of mere minutes, she had changed entirely. No longer did she seem a vapid flirt, but a woman one might like to converse with.
Katharine’s eyes came back into focus. “I do apologize. I didn’t mean to cast a melancholy pall over the conversation.” The strangely foreign flirtatious smile reappeared. “What is it that you do for Sir Anthony, Mr. Lawton? You must hold quite the position of importance for him to have sent you to meet us and escort us to Wakesdown.” Her long eyelashes fluttered as she blinked rapidly a few times.
“I am a landscape architect. I am redesigning all of the gardens and parks on Sir Anthony’s estate.”
At the mention of gardens, something miraculous happened. A warmth, a genuine curiosity, overtook Katharine Dearing’s blue eyes. Ah, there was the rose pushing the daisy out of its way.
“You’ve done it now.” Christopher sighed dramatically. “One mention of gardening, and Kate will talk your ears off about plants and flowers and weeds and soil and sun and shade.”
Katharine gave a gasp of indignation, but quickly covered it with the flirtatious smile again. “I am certain I do not know what you mean, Christopher. I would never think to importune Mr. Lawton in such a manner.” She crossed her arms and turned to gaze out the window.
The train lurched and chugged and slowly made its way from the station.
Andrew couldn’t tell if Katharine was truly angry at her brother or not, but he determined a change of subject might be in order. “Will you continue to read the law, Mr. Dearing?”
Christopher nodded. “I brought some books with me to study, yes. And I expect I’ll pick up many more on the British legal system while I’m here.”
Andrew opened his mouth to ask if Christopher were joking with him—but then pressed his lips together. Perhaps they had a different term in America for the pursuit of education in the legal system other than read. “Will you seek out a lawyer to apprentice with?”
“If Uncle Anthony doesn’t mind, I might do that just to keep myself busy.”
Katharine made a sharp sound in the back of her throat.
“Oh, right, I’m supposed to call him Sir Anthony until he gives us permission to call him uncle.” Christopher grinned at Andrew. “Though really, in this modern era, why anyone would stand on such formality is beyond me.”
Under the wide brim of her bonnet, Katharine rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, now freed from the mittens she’d worn earlier. Upon first seeing the Dearings, he’d assumed Christopher the older and Katharine the younger—from the way Katharine hovered behind her brother when they first met. Now, however, from Katharine’s memory of something that happened almost nineteen years ago, she was obviously the older sibling. And if Christopher had been six years old in 1832, that meant he was now around five-and-twenty. Meaning Katharine must be in her late twenties, if not already Andrew’s age of thirty.
That was what the woman he’d met at the station meant by “at her age.” Andrew was not certain how things were done in America, but here in England, Miss Dearing would be considered well past the prime marriageable age. And if the rumors that woman heard in Philadelphia were true, without a substantial dowry, Katharine had no chance of marrying well.
For the first time in his life, Andrew felt true pity for another person. The last thing he’d promised his mother before she died of lung rot was that he would not end up like her—condemned to live out her days in the poorhouse. He’d worked hard to get where he was today, and he would do whatever it took to continue bettering himself and his condition.
He thanked God he had not been born a woman.
Tags: Book Review, Christian Fiction, Thriller
From the back cover: Two brothers, one death–the bond of brotherhood faces its greatest challenge against resentment and guilt. Can the love between two brothers eventually win against pain and guilt?
When Firefighter David Boyette’s fiance perishes in a car fire, he blames his brother, Sgt. Jeremy Boyette, for her death.
Three years later, David returns home with a dark and devastating secret. With the help of family, a woman’s love, and a small child’s devotion, can David overcome insurmountable odds as he and Jeremy face the bitterness that enslaves him?
Together the brothers must decide if the bond of brotherhood is stronger than resentment and hate.
Anybody remember the old T.V. show “Emergency”? That show centered on the Paramedics and the Firemen every week with some help from the Police. Here Ms. Webb has joined the two Departments together with the two brothers. But hold on, David blames Jeremy for his fiance’s death so there is hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness between them. Now three years later David comes home with a secret. He really needs his brother to help him overcome in this area but Jeremy is having his problems as well. Can a new love, a young girl and his brother help David in his dark time? Ms. Webb has given us a powerful story about family and how desperately we need each other when the chips are down. Besides having some really exciting action sequences, “Mississippi Nights” is all about how a family relates to each other. The themes of unforgiveness, bitterness and what it can do to a person and the power of love are displayed to perfection. David, Jeremy, Maggie, Poppy and the other characters play out so well on the pages you would think you had known them all your life. “Mississippi Nights” is a great read that I was sorry to see come to an end. I look forward to more stories from this very talented author.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”