Read an Excerpt
A Marriage of the HeartThree Amish Novellas
By Kelly Long
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Kelly Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTwo months later ...
The sunlight of early autumn filtered through the clear windowpanes and made passing shadows on the wide fir floor of the Bender farmhouse. The family was gathered for a hearty meal, and the gut smells of cooking mingled with robust conversation.
"I tell you that it's downright odd, that's what." Rose's father gestured with his fork to the lunch table at large. "Two of our hens—our best layers, mind you—a goat from the Lamberts', and the sheets from old Esther Mast's clothesline. All of it missing, and dozens of other things from the community over the past few months. I say there's a thief hereabouts, and that's the truth."
Rose's mother calmly passed the platter of sauerkraut and kielbasa to Rose's two older brothers to take seconds. Then she offered the fresh platter of airy biscuits to Aenti Tabitha, Father's sister, and nodded her head as her husband sputtered himself out.
"Maybe it's a Robin Hood type of thief," Aenti Tabitha ventured, her brown eyes shining. At fifty, she often seemed as young as a girl to Rose with all of her romantic ideas and flights of fancy. Yet her suggestion stilled Rose's hand for a moment over the saltshaker. What would it be like to meet such a romantic figure of a man? Dark and mysterious in nature ...
Abram Bender shook his head at Aenti Tabitha. "Tabby, you always have had a heart of gold—looking for the best in others. But Rob in the Hood, like the Englisch folktale? Taking from the rich to give to the poor? Who's poor in our community? Don't we all see to each other? Nee, this is just a thief, plain and simple. And I don't like it one bit."
"The weather'll change over the next month or so," Ben remarked over a forkful of boiled potatoes. "Any thief is likely to drop off in his ways once there's snow on the ground to track him."
"Or her," Rose said, for some reason wanting to provoke.
"What?" her father asked.
"I said her. Your thief could be a female, Daed." She didn't really think the thief was female, yet she had a strange urge to enter the suggestion into her father's mind.
Her daed gave a shout of laughter, then resumed eating. Ben turned to her with a smile while her other brother, James, just rolled his eyes.
"Rose, no woman in her right mind is going to go thieving about," Daed said. "It's a gut thing you're marrying Luke come December. Maybe he'll settle down some of your wild ideas."
"Perhaps." She smiled, her green eyes flashing heat for a brief second.
"Well," Ben interjected, "Rose's narrisch thoughts aside—there's a storm due tonight, supposed to be a doozy."
"Ya, I heard." Father rose from the table and hitched up his suspenders. "Come on, boys. We'd best tighten down a few things." He bent to pat Mamm's shoulder. "Danki for lunch." Then he pinched Rose's cheek fondly. "And no more foolish thoughts from you, my miss. Remember, you're to be a married woman soon."
Rose didn't respond. She toyed with her fork instead, making a mash of the potato as an idea began to take shape in her head.
* * *
As Rose cleared the lunch table mechanically, she avoided her aenti's eagle eyes. Ever since she'd been little, she'd felt as though Aenti Tabby could see the subdued thoughts churning inside her head, and just for a moment she wanted to debate the merits of her plan undisturbed. Still, she knew the intent look on her aunt's face and had to admit that the older woman's intuition had fended off trouble for her many a time. But today—something was different. Today Rose wanted trouble. She drew a sharp breath at the hazardous thought, but the idea fit with her nature of late. It seemed as though her spirit had grown more restless, less satisfied with life, ever since she'd accepted Luke's proposal. She'd tried to pray about it, stretching her feelings out before the Lord for guidance, but nothing had come to her.
Aenti Tabby caught her eye in an unguarded moment as they washed and wiped the dishes. "I'd like to see you in my room, Rose, after we clean up a bit. If you don't mind?"
"Um ... sure, Aenti Tabby, but I have to hurry. I'm going to bake some pies this afternoon."
"Bake? Pies?" Her aunt and mamm uttered the questions in unison, and Rose concentrated on dabbing at a nonexistent spot on a dish. The whole family knew that she was a hard worker, to be sure, but baking was not a skill that she possessed or an activity she particularly enjoyed.
"Ya." She nodded vigorously, forcing a soft curl to spring loose from the back of her kapp. "I need to practice, you know? Luke likes a gut apple pie, or perhaps blueberry." She stretched to put the plate away in the cupboard. "But I'll be glad to come and talk with you before I start."
* * *
Aunt Tabby, who had never married, lived with the Benders and was a cherished part of the home and family. Rose and her brothers often sought the sanctuary of their aunt's room for advice, comfort, or a smuggled sweet long after supper. But Rose knew that she had been distinctly absent lately from any visits with her beloved aenti and mentally prepared to face what might be some pointed, but truth-provoking, questions about herself and Luke.
Aunt Tabby sank down onto the comfortable maple bed with its patchwork quilt and patted a space next to her. "Kumme and sit, Rosie."
Rose blew out a breath, then came forward to relax into the age-old comfort of the well-turned mattress. She half smiled at her aenti, remembering times she'd jumped on the same bed and had once taken a header that nearly landed her in the windowsill. But that was childhood past—long past, or so it seemed to her heart.
"I'll not keep you long, Rose, but I want to ask—why did you agree to marry Luke?"
The question was even more probing than she'd braced for, and a thousand answers swirled in her mind.
"Luke. Why did you accept his proposal?"
"Well ... because he's ... we're ... we've always been best friends."
Aunt Tabby frowned. "I've never married, child, but I do wonder if that is reason enough to build a life together."
Rose said, "It's made both of the families happy."
"That's true, but what about you? Are you happy?"
There was a long, disconsolate silence that wrung Rose's heart as her aunt touched her shoulder.
"I'm supposed to be happy," Rose said, thinking hard.
"Ya, that's true."
"I just—I expect too much, I guess. Like wanting some kind of—I don't know."
"Like wanting someone mysterious and romantic?"
Rose gazed in surprise at her aenti, who laughed out loud.
"I was young once too, and I think it's perfectly normal to want more from a relationship than just friendship. But maybe—maybe there's more to Luke Lantz than meets the eye. Have you thought of that?"
Rose shrugged as her aunt cleared her throat. "Luke's father—well, we courted some. He was always shy, but then ... well. He had it in him to do some fine kissing now and then."
Rose stared at her aenti's flushed face. "You and Matthew Lantz? Aenti Tabby—I never knew you dated him. Why didn't you marry him?"
"It wasn't what the Lord wanted for me."
Rose marveled at the simple statement. She knew her people lived by the will of Derr Herr, but to give up a relationship because of faith was difficult for her to comprehend. She knew she had spiritual miles to go before she would make a decision like that.
"Haven't you ever regretted it? Not even when—well, when Laura Lantz died of the influenza? You're still young, Aenti Tabby. Maybe you and Mr. Lantz could—"
"Nee," the older woman gently contradicted. "I've never regretted it, not even when Laura died. In truth, I believe I would have regretted more if I had not obeyed what I felt was the Lord's leading. And just think—had I married Matthew, there would be no Luke for you."
Rose frowned. "Ya, you're right."
"So, you will try, Rosie? To see all there is of him?" Her aunt gave her a hug.
"Ya, Aenti Tabby—all that there is."
Chapter TwoA hawk gave a keening cry as it began its twilight hunt while the evening shadows stretched across the grass to wend through the windows of the Lantz woodworking shop. Luke closed the heavy ledger and glanced at his watch. Six o'clock. He was done tussling with another day's accounts for his family's furniture-making business, and his head ached from the numbers and the customers. But his father wouldn't trust an outsider with the books, and although Luke was as skilled as any of his brothers in woodworking, he was the only one "with a head for business," as his daed liked to say. So he sat in the stuffy office and dutifully did his job, though he would much rather let his hands run down the fine smoothness of a wood grain than the tally of a day's earnings.
He leaned back in the chair, letting himself drift for a moment until the familiar pleasure of imagining Rose came to mind. In truth, he couldn't believe she'd accepted his proposal so readily. He wasn't always the most persuasive of persons, and Rose could be headstrong.
He didn't jump when his father clapped him on the back.
"Dreaming of your bride, sohn?"
Luke smiled, looking over his shoulder. "She's worth the dreaming, Daed."
"To be sure. But now's the time to see what Joshua's managed for supper. Kumme."
He followed his father into the old farmhouse and stifled the urge to look about for his mother as he came through the door. It was difficult for him to believe that she was gone, even after two years. She'd been what the Bible called a "gentle and quiet spirit," but she'd been a vigorous light to each of them as well. He knew that part of what he loved about Rose was her own light and sweetness, and that her spirit was a balm to his grieving soul. He knew she'd bring that comfort to the whole house once they married, and he mentally charged himself once again with making sure that she wasn't overtaxed physically or emotionally with the inherent burden of taking on a household of men.
His brother Joshua looked up rather sheepishly from the stove when Daed asked what was for supper. "Fried potatoes and bacon."
Luke stifled a groan. He longed for variety—vegetables, pie, anything. Even when kindly members of the community brought them hot meals, it wasn't the same as having someone cook for them with love. And there had been no one to maintain a kitchen garden since Mamm passed, so they were restricted to more plain fare. Still, he knew it was food in his belly, and he was grateful for it. And so he told the Lord when Daed bowed for silent grace.
* * *
Rose squelched a sudden cry as the blueberry juice from the bubbling pie dripped over onto her hand. She hastily deposited the pie onto a rack and ran to soak the burn in the bowl of cool milk and vinegar she'd used in making the crusts. She glanced at the kitchen clock as she blew a loose tendril of hair away from her damp forehead and was glad to see that it was only just past seven. Her family was relaxing in the adjoining room after supper, and she'd volunteered to clean up alone so that she could finish her pies in peace. Now, if she could just keep Ben and James from wanting a taste ...
She lifted her hand from the milk and gazed ruefully at the half-inch-long red mark on the back of her hand. But it gave her an idea. Taking a scrap of dough, she opened the woodstove and threw the pastry piece inside. Within seconds, the smell of burning piecrust filled the air. She smiled and scooped up the pies, this time carefully holding a dish towel around each pan as she bumped open the back screen door with her hip.
She ignored the groans of her brothers as the burning smell hung in the early evening air, then set the pies on the porch rail. Now, if only no animal would take a nibble before she caught her real prey ...
"Rose!" Her mamm's voice echoed, and Rose flew back inside, closing the door carefully behind her. The unpleasant smell had wafted throughout the house.
"Mercy, child! What are you doing? Where are your pies?"
Rose sighed. "Outside."
"Burned that badly?" her mother asked as she fooled with the damper on the stove and waved a damp dish towel through the air.
Rose said a quick prayer for forgiveness as she delayed her response. She wasn't used to withholding the truth.
"Well, open the window then, so we can get some more fresh air in," Mamm urged.
"Ya, Mamm—open the window!" Ben bawled from the other room.
"And teach Rosie to bake before she kills poor Luke and the whole Lantz clan!" James's voice joined in the banter.
But Rose simply smiled as she wrestled with the heavy window; she had put her plan into action.
Chapter ThreeIn the crowded confines of the well-concealed tent, oil lamps held the encroaching night at a cheerful distance. A hodgepodge of gathered furniture, dishes, quilts, and other small items filled the contours of the vinyl walls, while a thick, hand-braided rug covered the bulk of the pine-needled floor.
"It's too much, really. You have to stop." The Englisch woman's tone was torn between gratitude and remorse as she balanced a blueberry pie in her outstretched hand and a fussy toddler on her lean hip.
Her benefactor shrugged as another child, slightly older, clung to his leg in a familiar game.
"Mommy! His shirt's all dirty. Wash it!"
He laughed and brushed at the blueberry juice stain on the front of his sweatshirt.
"Never mind, Ally." He glanced around the tent, then back to the woman. "There's a storm coming tonight. Supposed to be bad. I don't like the idea of leaving you here."
She smiled. "The Lord will protect us. You staked the tent so well, and I doubt anything can shake this stand of pines."
"Have you had any word—I mean—do you know when?" He stared with intent into her eyes.
He nodded. "All right. I'd better go." He set the other pie down on the washstand near the quilt-covered cot and noted that he'd need to bring more blankets soon. He disengaged the little girl from his leg, then bent to receive her sweet kiss. "Good-bye," he whispered.
She clung to his neck. "Thank you for the pies. Tell the lady thank you too."
"Who made the pies."
He smiled. "Maybe I will."
* * *
Rose waited until the house had been asleep for more than half an hour before she crept from her room, avoiding the third step from the bottom of the back staircase and its telltale squeak. She almost giggled to herself as she maneuvered, remembering a time she'd sneaked out to see Luke when they were young. They thought they could catch the biggest bullfrog from the local pond, the one with the baritone that soothed the locals to sleep on summer nights, if they could only get there late at night. They'd ended up with no frog, muddy clothes, and stiff reprimands from frustrated mothers the next morning. It had been fun, but that was a long time ago.
Rose told herself that she wasn't a child anymore, looking for grandfather frogs on moonlit nights. No—she was a woman who wanted to hunt for something, someone—whose very nature seemed to call to her. Rob in the Hood, as some of her people called him from the old German rendition of the tale. She tiptoed across the kitchen floor and then gained the back porch. She switched on a flashlight and caught her breath, then smiled; both pies were gone without a trace. Of course, she told herself, as she stole into the wind-whipped air, a possum could have gotten them, but an animal would have left an overturned plate, a trail, a mess. A thief more likely would not ...
She glanced without concern to the moon and dark gathering clouds overhead; the incoming storm suited her mood. She passed the kitchen garden, still sprawled with the bulging shadows of pumpkins yet to be harvested, then broke into a light run toward the forest that encircled the back of the farmhouse. She knew nearly every inch of the woods between her family's home and the Lantzes'—though she had to admit she hadn't been walking there in the months since her engagement. It seemed that courting, as well as the usual influx of work of the farm during harvest, had kept her too busy. But now she trod the pine-needled ground with secret delight. She could tell from the air that the rain would hold off for a while, and she pressed more deeply into the trees, certain that the best place for a would-be thief to hide would be the woods.
Excerpted from A Marriage of the Heart by Kelly Long Copyright © 2010 by Kelly Long. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.