Read an Excerpt
Brush of Angel's WingsA Heaven on Earth Novel
By Ruth Reid
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Ruth Reid
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRachel Hartzler wove through the wedding crowd, then dashed toward the line of parked buggies. Now that her sister Iva's wedding ceremony had ended, Rachel needed to rush home and help with the meal preparations. It wouldn't be long before the throng of wedding guests migrated from her aenti's house to her parents' home to continue celebrating.
She hitched her horse in haste, hoping to avoid the guests and their comments. Several had already mentioned that she would be the next Hartzler married. The last Hartzler, she'd inwardly corrected. She wasn't holding her breath. Marriage wasn't around the corner for her. At age twenty, well past the prime time to court, she had yet to be offered a ride home after one of the youth singings. Lately she'd been praying about becoming a teacher. A good job for a maydel.
Rachel climbed into the buggy and fastened the canvas leg covering over her lap. Despite the clear sky and sun overhead, Michigan's early spring wind produced a teeth-chattering chill.
"Geh on, Ginger." She tapped the reins. The horse obeyed and the buggy lurched forward. Once on the main road, she gave the horse a free head. The mare, feeling her morning oats, picked up the pace. A retired harness racer, Ginger ran faster than any of the other horses in her father's stock.
As a steady clopping of hooves from behind them grew louder, Ginger must have sensed competition approaching and her pace automatically increased. Rachel dismissed the fleeting notion to rein in the mare. After all, the icy winter had kept them both off the roads. With only a thin layer of slush on the pavement, it wouldn't hurt to let the horse burn her energy.
She glanced out the window opening at an approaching buggy. Shaded inside, the male driver's identity wasn't visible. His sorrel gelding came alongside her, nostrils flaring from the quick pace. The horse didn't have the zest to pass, despite his driver's calls to go faster.
It had been a long time since her last race. A flash of pride spurted through her veins. Ginger could win without an ounce more energy. But strategy was important.
Rachel caught a glimpse of how close the other buggy's wheel was to hers. Too close. Any connection would tangle them both into a heap. A good excuse to move faster. She clucked her tongue and Ginger happily obeyed. Her heart rate increased to match the faster clopping of Ginger's hooves. The brisk air burned Rachel's cheeks and a chill traveled down the back of her neck. She'd never gone so fast.
The stiff breeze caught her winter bonnet and slipped it off her head, saved from blowing away only by the loosely tied strings around her neck. Her flimsy prayer kapp flapped as a few of the pins holding the head covering in place loosened. She shifted the reins to one hand and used her free hand to grasp the strings of her kapp.
A few of her aentis had skipped the ceremony to prepare the meal, so she certainly didn't want to arrive home with her hair askew and her covering in disarray. Buggy racing was only something that happened between the boys, and even then the elders did not always overlook their boyish pranks.
The last buggy race she'd won caused some undesirable attention. She shouldn't want to risk spoiling her sister's wedding festivities just to prove she could handle a fast horse. Still, the excitement surging inside spurred her on. She would pull back on Ginger and drop her speed when they reached the bend on Northland Drive where the dirt road leading to the farm came into view. Continuing the race around the corner wouldn't be wise.
"Get over, there's a—" The man's muffled yell was swallowed by a blaring horn.
Rachel stuck her head out the side opening. A semitruck driver laid on the horn again as he sped past. The truck's draft pushed Ginger off the road and onto the dirt shoulder. The shuddering buggy wheel dipped into a large hole. Rachel slid across the seat and slammed hard against the door. Another jolt lifted her off the bench and hurled her toward the window. Something solid thudded against the side of her buggy and kept her from catapulting out.
She clambered to get back into position and held the reins tightly in her hands. She leaned back and pulled steadily on Ginger's reins. "Come on, girl, whoa!" she shouted, her voice shrill with fear. Finally, the horse stopped. She held her hand over her ribs and inhaled a few quick breaths. Her muscles quivered, but she didn't dare release her grasp on the reins, not with Ginger pawing at the ground.
Squeezing her eyes closed, she whispered, "Denki, God. You spared mei life."
"You got that right."
She jumped, startled by the appearance of the man and the harshness in his tone. She opened her eyes to come face-to-face with Jordan Engles.
"You nearly killed both of us." He cocked his head to gain full view of the inside of her buggy, narrowing his mossy-green eyes.
"I did? You were certainly intent on racing." She bit her tongue to keep from adding, And you lost.
He rubbed his neck while cranking it side to side. His expression relaxed and he cleared his throat. "Are you okay?" The edginess was gone from his voice.
Reality of the near accident sank in and rendered her speechless. She couldn't offer more than a mere nod. She rubbed her sweaty hands against the folds of her dress. Her palms, raw from the leather reins rubbing them, burned.
He squatted in front of the wheel, poked around a bit, then rose. "You've damaged the wheelbase."
Ach, her father wouldn't be pleased with the news. "I heard a loud thud. What did I hit?"
"Other than a hole? Nothing."
Before she had a chance to respond, he opened the door and made a short jerk of his head. "Get out. I'll drive you."
She flipped off the leg covering and lowered herself to the ground. Ginger lunged forward and the buggy shifted. Rachel jumped back inside, scrambled over the seat, and set the brake. Something she should've remembered the moment the buggy stopped.
"Take it easy," Jordan said.
Not knowing if he meant her or the horse, she moved with caution. With the buggy on the edge of the ditch, and his unwillingness to stand aside, there wasn't much space to step out. When she did, her arm brushed against his chest. She followed the hooks and eyes on his dark vest to his thick neck and snug-fitting collarless shirt. Then she lifted her eyes and focused on the dimple indenting the center of his chin.
He grinned. "You think you can move aside now?"
"I ... uh ..." If she could find a deeper hole, she'd bury herself. The entire incident left her stunned. But so did staring into his eyes.
Looking more closely at him, she realized his teeth were clenched and he'd pinned his shoulder against the wheel. When she glanced at the soft ground, reality of the situation soaked in like a stale slice of bread sponging up milk. Her movement threatened the buggy's stability.
"Move away from the buggy." He tossed his head, knocking the straw hat sideways on his head, revealing a thick mass of auburn waves.
She inched passed him. Instead of waiting for him at his buggy, she went around to the other side to calm Ginger, who hadn't stopped stomping the ground.
"Easy, girl." She glided her hand down the horse's neck and along her back to the harness buckle. After releasing the straps, she freed the mare. Unbalanced, the buggy shifted.
Jordan's strained groan sounded like a growl.
"Ach, I'm sorry."
She rushed back to the other side of the buggy as his boot slid over the mixture of gravel and slushy mud.
His jaw squared, causing the veins in his thick neck to swell with pressure. "Stand back!"
"You are not alone, child." The ten-foot spread of Nathaniel's unfurled wings engulfed Jordan under its protective canopy. Braced against the wheel, Jordan hadn't realized his burden had been lifted. He still pressed, still struggled, laboring against what had already been done.
Nathaniel covered Jordan's hands and pushed the limp wheel onto stable ground.
Standing mute, Jordan rubbed his hands together as though he recognized the source of the penetrating heat.
"Acknowledge God in your heart," Nathaniel whispered, spreading a warm breeze over Jordan's face. Even Nathaniel's gentle touch to his shoulder didn't awaken Jordan's spirit.
The young man glanced up at the sky. His mouth clamped tight.
Nathaniel's wings retracted. His radiance dimmed as he moved away. He could do no more at present. He would return to the perimeter of the ethereal realm, where he watched over his charge. Until called again by God.
* * *
Jordan bent his knee and touched the wooden rim. His heart hammered against his chest. He hadn't enough strength to push the buggy onto safer ground, yet he saw the movement. He'd read how adrenaline can surge during a crisis. The idea seemed logical. He stood and rubbed the back of his neck.
Rachel's sharp breath broke his concentration. As he turned to look at her, his arm accidentally brushed against her shoulder.
"Denki," she said softly.
If he hadn't witnessed her racing the buggy, he never would have believed that this small-framed girl standing beside him could control a horse that strong and that fast. He'd barely held on to his gelding after the semi spooked him.
Jordan opened his mouth to say something about her foolish driving on a major highway, but stopped when he saw her trembling lips.
A gust of wind lifted her kapp, exposing long wisps of untamed hair. In the sunlight, her wheat-colored hair took on a reddish tinge. He froze, captivated by the shine.
She spun away and attempted to straighten her head covering. An impossible task while she held the horse's reins.
Jordan came up beside her and took hold of the mare. "I'll tie her to the back of my rig."
"Denki." She kept her back to him and in a flash had the pins out and the kapp refastened.
The mare held her head high, looking about her, while he lapped the leather strap through a metal ring and pulled it tight.
Instead of climbing into the buggy, Rachel was frowning, staring off in the distance.
"You do want a ride, don't you?" he asked as he came up behind her.
Rachel glanced at his extended hand and climbed into the buggy unassisted. Seated ramrod straight on the bench, she tucked her chin against her chest and closed her eyes, while her fingers fumbled to shove more stray strands of hair under her head covering.
Her hair looked fine spilling out from the kapp. He would have told her so, but he didn't dare add more tension to the situation. Apparently, riding in his buggy had put her on edge. Her dress wasn't wrinkled, yet she repeatedly hand-ironed the folds on it.
He realized he was staring at her while parked on the shoulder of a busy road. Not wise—for more than just safety reasons. He picked up the reins and released the brake.
When the buggy jerked forward, she grasped the edge of the seat and peered straight ahead, offering a perfect profile of high cheekbones.
"Where's the bucket brigade?" he asked.
She looked confused. "For what? A fire?"
"You were running that horse hard. I figured there could only be one reason: a fire." Her blue eyes sparkled like the reflective surface of his favorite fishing hole and appeared just as cold. "Where are you going?"
She shifted on the seat. "I live up the road. We're hosting a wedding for my sister."
"Are you Micah Hartzler's daughter?"
"Jah," she acknowledged curtly, then faced forward.
"I've been helping the Troyers close up their farm. They're moving to Wiscon—you already know that, since Iva will be moving too."
"Jah, Iva and Fanny," she mumbled.
Rachel finger-pleated the same fold in her dress over and over.
"I'm Jordan Engles."
"Jah. I know about you."
Since his mother died and he'd recently moved in with his Amish uncle, it seemed everyone in the community knew something about him, or more accurately, about his shunned mother.
"Here it is." Rachel pointed to an average-sized farmhouse. The wide wooden porch wrapped around two sides and lanterns hung from the overhead roof beams. He pulled into the gravel drive and stopped Blaze near the smaller of the two barns.
"Denki." Rachel jumped out of the buggy.
"Hey, where are you going?"
She spoke over her shoulder, "I have chores."
He motioned to her horse. "You ran that mare. You cool her down and wipe off the lather."
Without offering a rebuttal, she returned, reached for the leather strap, untied it, and led the mare toward the barn. Jordan watched her go, admiring her spunk. His adrenaline had relaxed, and now he could enjoy the humor of this slight girl having a road race on a busy highway.
A stream of buggies flowed down the driveway as the wedding guests began to arrive. Since coming to Mecosta County, Jordan had met only a handful of people. One buggy separated from the stream and pulled up beside his. He recognized the driver as a young man about his age named Timothy King.
Timothy hopped down, walked around the buggy, and helped his pregnant wife from her seat, tucking her hand underneath his crooked elbow.
He brought her up to Jordan and patted her hand. "Jordan, this is mei fraa, Sadie."
Jordan touched the brim of his hat. "Hello."
Sadie smiled and returned the greeting. At that moment the bride and another woman swept her away from Timothy. The three put their heads together and spoke some sort of secretive woman chatter as they moved toward the house.
"Sadie's sisters?" Jordan asked.
Timothy grinned. "Jah. Those three are as thick as flies on a cow in summer."
Jordan didn't really know how to respond. He felt awkward in this group. He didn't belong. Didn't want to belong.
He didn't know what else to do with himself, so he stood next to Timothy, who greeted the bearded men and introduced each one to Jordan in turn. Jordan shook hands and returned greetings, but all the bearded men blended together. Matthew Troyer bounded up to them, clapping Timothy on the back. He smiled at Jordan. "You are staying for the meal and the frolic tonight, jah?"
"The meal but not the frolic." Jordan had done well to avoid the singings, frolics, and get-togethers that involved the pairing of unmarried couples. He gave the honest excuse that he had no intention of staying in the community.
A buggy moving much faster than the rest came down the lane and halted in the midst of the growing crowd. Micah Hartzler climbed out and searched the crowd. When he didn't find what he was looking for, he breathlessly addressed the small group of men standing before him. "Anyone seen Rachel? Her buggy is disabled on the side of the road."
Jordan cleared his throat and raised his hand like he was in elementary school. "I gave her a ride. She's in the barn tending the horse." Heat crawled up his neck. Her father must not think much of him for letting a girl do the barn work while he socialized.
"She's okay?" Micah's heavy breathing slowed.
"The wheel's in bad shape, but Rachel and the horse are fine."
Micah visibly relaxed. "Gut." He paused as though gathering his thoughts, then looked at Jordan. "Would you ride with me and lend a hand with changing the wheel?"
He hesitated briefly before answering. "Sure." He didn't want to be in the position of having to explain what had happened to the buggy. On the other hand, if her father knew, maybe he would prevent her from running that horse on a busy highway.
Rachel came out of the barn, her hands black from dirt and horse sweat. "Daed, I ..." She paused, glanced at Jordan, then continued. "The buggy wheel's damaged."
"Jah, so I noticed. I'm going after it."
She stepped forward. "Let me help."
"No need." Micah clapped Jordan's shoulder. "I found me some strong hands, ain't so?"
* * *
If Rachel could slip off to the barn without others noticing, she would spend the remainder of the night with the livestock. Horses don't ask questions or hint about her approaching and passing the age for marriage and babies.
She finished drying the casserole dish and passed it to Aenti Leah on her right, then accepted the next rinsed one from Aenti Esther on her left. The rumble and laughter and rise and fall of voices in the other room continued.
Sadie reached for Fanny's hand. "I'm going to miss you and Iva moving so far away."
"You'll have to help Rachel find a bu. Then we can make the trip home for her wedding." Fanny handed Rachel a dry dish towel, relieving her of the soiled one. "Don't make Iva and me wait too long."
Excerpted from Brush of Angel's Wings by Ruth Reid Copyright © 2012 by Ruth Reid. 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.