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If the Amish farmer standing outside her screen door would smile, he'd be a nice-looking fellow but he certainly wasn't smiling at the moment. His fierce scowl was a sharp reminder of all her life had been beforetense, fearful, pain-filled.
Faith Martin thrust aside her somber memories. She would not allow the past to follow her here. She had nothing to fear in this new community.
Still, the man at her door made an imposing figure blocking out much of the late afternoon sunlight streaming in behind him. His flat-topped straw hat sat squarely above his furrowed brow. That frown put a deep crease between his intelligent hazel eyes.
Above his reddish-brown beard, his full lips barely moved when he spoke. "Goot day, Frau. I am Adrian Lapp. I own the farm to the south."
His beard told her he was married. Amish men
were clean-shaven until after they took a wife. He had his pale blue shirtsleeves rolled up exposing brawny, darkly tanned forearms folded tightly across his gray vest. A familiar, nauseous odor emanated from his clothes.
Faith's heart sank. It was clear he'd had a run-in with one of her herd. What had he been doing with her animals?
She managed a polite nod. Common courtesy dictated she welcome him to her home. "I'm pleased to meet you, neighbor. I am Faith Martin. Do come in."
He made no move to enter. "Is your husband
It seemed the farmer next door wasn't exactly the friendly sort. That was too bad. She had prayed it would be different here. "My husband passed away two years ago. It's just me. How may I help you?"
Her widowed status seemed to surprise him. "You're living here alone?"
"Ja." She brushed at the dust and cobwebs on her apron and tried to look like a woman who managed well by herself instead of one who'd bitten off far more than she could chew.
His scowl deepened. "Your creatures are loose in my fields. They are eating my beans."
Faith cringed inwardly. This was not the first impression she wanted to make in her new community. "I'm so sorry. I don't know how they could have gotten out."
"I tried to catch one of them by its halter, but it spat on me and ran off with the others into the cornfield."
She saw the green, speckled stain across the front shoulder of his shirt and vest. Alpaca spit, a combination of grass and digestive juices, was unpleasant but not harmful. What a shame this had to be her new neighbor's first introduction to her alpacas. They were normally docile, friendly animals.
Faith never tired of seeing their bright, inquisitive faces waiting for her each morning. Their sweet, gentle natures had helped her heal in both body and spirit over the past two years.
"The one wearing a halter is Myrtle. She's the expectant mother in the herd. You must have frightened her. They are leery of strangers."
"So I noticed," he answered drily.
"Spitting is their least endearing habit, but it will brush off when it dries." Faith's encouraging tone didn't lighten his scowl. Perhaps now wasn't the time to mention the smell would linger for a few days.
"What did you call them?"
"Alpacas. They're like llamas but they have very soft fleece, softer than any sheep. Originally, they come from South America. How many did you say were in your field?"
"I counted ten."
"Oh, no!" Fear blotted out any concern for her neighbor's shirt. If all of her animals were loose in
unfamiliar country, it would be difficult, even impossible, to round them up before dark.
Her defenseless alpacas couldn't spend the night out in the open. Stray dogs or coyotes could easily bring down one of her half-grown crias, or they might wander onto the highway and be hit by a passing car. She couldn't afford the loss of even one animal. She had everything invested in this venture and much more than money riding on her success.
Please, Lord, let me recover them all safe and sound.
As much as she hated to be seen using her crutch, Faith grabbed it from behind the door. It was wrong to be vain about her handicap, but she couldn't help it. It was a personal battle she had yet to win.
The pickup truck that had crashed into their buggy two years ago had killed her husband and left her with a badly mangled leg. Doctors told her it would be a miracle if she ever walked again, but God had shown her mercy. After a long, difficult recovery she was able to get around with only her leg brace most of the time. But chasing down a herd of frisky alpacas required exertion and speed. Things she couldn't manage without added support.
She pushed open the screen door, forcing Adrian Lapp to take a step back. She didn't miss the way his eyes widened at the sight of her infirmity.
Let him stare. It wasn't something she could keep secret. She knew her crippled leg made her ugly and awkward, a person to be pitied, but she wouldn't let
it be her weakness. Right now, the safety of her animals was the important thing, not her new neighbor's opinion of her. "Where did you see them last?"
"Disappearing into the cornfield beyond the orchard at the back of your property."
"I will need to get their halters and lead ropes from the barn." She left him standing on the porch as she made her way down the steps.
Adrian quickly caught up with her. "I'm sorry, I didn't know I will take care of the animals for you. There is no need for you to go traipsing after them."
His offer was grudgingly given, but she sensed he meant well.
"I'm perfectly capable of catching them." She didn't want pity, and she wasn't about to leave her valuable livestock in the hands of a man who didn't even know what kind of animal they were.
Hobbling ahead of him across the weedy yard, she spoke over her shoulder. "Once I catch them, can you help me lead them home?"
Faith headed toward the small, dilapidated barn nestled between overgrown cedars some fifty yards from the house. In the harsh August sunlight it was easy to see the peeling paint, missing shingles and broken windowpanes on the building. The Amish were known for their neat and well-tended farmsteads. She had a lot of work ahead of her to get this place in shape.
She didn't know why her husband had never mentioned owning this property in Ohio or why he had chosen to leave it sitting vacant all these years, but finding out a month ago that she owned it couldn't have come at a better time.
She pulled open the barn door. Copper, her mare, whinnied a greeting. Faith spoke a few soft words to her as she gathered together the halters and lead ropes that were hanging on pegs inside the doorway.
Adrian took them from her without a word and slipped them over his shoulder. She was grateful for his help but wished he wasn't so dour about it. Why couldn't her alpacas have chosen to eat the beans of a cheerful neighbor? Maybe she didn't have any.
She led the way around the side of the barn to the pens at the rear. The gate panel that should have been wired closed had been pushed over, offering the curious alpacas an easy way out. Why hadn't she paid more attention when her hired help set up the portable pen and unloaded the animals? Now look what her carelessness had wrought.
Adrian removed the thin wire that had proven to be an ineffective deterrent. "Do you have a heavier gauge wire than this or some strong rope?"
"I'm sure there's something in the barn that will work."
"Then I should find it." He turned back toward the barn door.
Faith called after him. "Shouldn't we find my animals first and then worry about how to keep them
in? It's getting late."
He didn't even glance in her direction. "It won't do any good to bring them back if they can just get out again."
She pressed her lips closed on a retort. She had learned the hard way not to argue with a man. Her husband had made sure she understood her opinions were not valued.
Leaving her new neighbor to rummage in the barn, Faith headed toward the rows of trees that stretched for a quarter of a mile to the back edge of her property, knowing he could easily overtake her. It was slow going through the thick grass, but at least she knew her alpacas would be well-fed through the summer and fall once she had her fences in place.
It didn't take long for Adrian to catch up with her. As she expected, his long legs made short work of the distance she had struggled to cover. A twinge of resentment rippled through her before she firmly reminded herself it didn't matter if someone could walk faster than she could. All that mattered was that she walk upon the path the Lord had chosen for her without complaint.
Adrian wasn't sure what to make of the woman
charging ahead of him through the tangled grass of the old orchard. Her handicap clearly didn't slow her down much. He'd been curious about his new neighbors as soon as he'd spotted the moving van and large horse trailer inching up the rutted lane yesterday.
The farmstead had been deserted since he'd been a lad. It hurt his soul to see the good farm ground lying fallow and the peach orchard's fruit going to waste year after year. He could do so much with it if only he had the chance.
Even though he'd seen he had new neighbors, he hadn't gone to introduce himself. He didn't like meeting people or answering questions about his life. He liked being alone. He preferred to stay on his farm and work until he was bone-tired and weary enough to fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow at night.
Too tired even for dreams or for nightmares.
He wouldn't be here today if Faith Martin had kept her animals penned up properly. This was costing him an afternoon of work that couldn't wait.
He glanced sideways at her. She was a tiny slip of a woman. She didn't look as if she could wrest this land and buildings back into shape by herself. A stiff wind could blow her away. Why, the top of her head barely reached his chin whiskers.
A white prayer kapp covering her chestnut-brown hair proclaimed her to be a member of the Plain
faith, but he didn't recognize the pattern. Where had she come from?
She wore a long blue dress with a black apron and the same type of dark stockings and sturdy shoes that all the women in his family wore. As she walked beside him, the breeze fluttered the long ribbons of her kapp about her heart-shaped face, drawing his attention to the slope of her jaw and the slender curve of her neck. She was a pretty little thing with eyes bright blue as a robin's egg. She had long eyelashes and full pink lips.
Lips made for a man to kiss.
He tore his gaze away as heat rushed to his face. He had no business thinking such thoughts about a woman he barely knew. What was wrong with him? He'd not taken this much notice of a woman since his teenage years.
He used to look at Lovina that way, used to imagine what it would be like to kiss her. When they wed he discovered her kisses were even sweeter than he'd dreamed. After her death, he'd buried his heart with her and raised their son alone until.
So what was it about Faith Martin that stirred this sudden interest? He studied her covertly. She pressed her lips into a tight line as she concentrated on her footing. Did walking cause her pain?
Her eyes darted to his face, but she quickly looked away as if she were uncomfortable in his presence.
Her glance held a wary edge that surprised him. Was she frightened of him?
He hadn't meant to scare her. He quickly grew ashamed for having done so. He wasn't used to interacting with new people. Everyone in his family and the community knew of his desire to live alone. He truly had no reason to be surly with this woman. Her alpacas hadn't actually damaged his crop.
He glanced at her again. How could he set this right? How could he bring back her smile?
Adrian abruptly refocused his attention to the task at hand. He had a corncrib to finish and more work waiting for him at home. He didn't have time to worry about making a stranger smile. He would help her gather her animals and then get back to his labors. A few moments later they reached the end of the orchard.
The fence that separated her land from his had fallen down long ago. Only a few rotting uprights remained to mark the boundary. Beyond it, his cornfield stood in tall, straight rows. There was no sign of her odd creatures. They could be anywhere by now.
Faith cupped her hands around her mouth and called out, "Myrtle, Candy, Baby Face. Supper time."
He listened for any sound in return but heard only the rustle of the wind moving through the cornstalks. What did an alpaca sound like? Did they moo or bleat?
She took a step farther into the field. "Come, Socks. Come, Bandit."
Suddenly, a wooly white face appeared at the end of the row a few yards away. He heard Faith's sigh of relief.
"There's my good girl. Come, Socks." The animal emerged from the corn and began walking toward her with its head held high, alert but wary. It was butternut-brown in color with a white face and four white legs. Its head was covered with a thick pelt of fleece, but the long neck and body had been recently shorn, leaving the animal with an oddly naked appearance. It approached to within ten feet, but wouldn't come closer.
Faith glanced at Adrian. "Give me one of the halters and a lead rope and wait here."
He had no intention of venturing closer. Although the animal looked harmless, he still reeked of Myrtle's earlier disapproval.
Faith walked toward Socks with her hand out. The animal made a low humming sound, then ambled up to her and wrapped its long neck around her in a hug.
"Were you lost and scared? It's okay now. I know the way home." She crooned to it like a child as she slipped the halter on, then scratched behind the alpaca's ear.