Read an Excerpt
Rhoda tiptoed across the dark kitchen. Only the blue flame under the pan on the stove and a lone candle illuminated the room. Electric lights first thing in the morning bothered her. Besides, when she got up before Bob and Camilla, she found comfort in the familiarity of a wavering flame.
She measured out freshly ground cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon and mixed it into her apple purée and sugar mixture. The aroma of simmering apple butter filled the air. Since she couldn’t start her days at the farm alongside her sister-in-law Phoebe in the kitchen, this was the second best thing—alone and trying new recipes.
Choose… A female voice sliced through the quietness.
Rhoda’s heart clenched. Had she wakened Camilla? Or was Rhoda hearing her sister again? It had sounded like a real person, and something moved, maybe someone in a dress, near the doorway. She turned off the flame under the pan before easing toward the living room. She saw no one.
Choose! The shriek jolted her like an unexpected clap of thunder, and Rhoda stumbled against a table.
Something fell over, and cold water, a lot of it, splashed on her dress and bare feet. The word choose continued to echo in her ears.
Her heart pounded as she skimmed her hands over the tabletop, searching for what she’d knocked over. Perhaps she felt stems of some kind and what seemed like cool textured glass rolling back and forth. A vase, a large one that apparently had been filled with water. She set it upright. As her eyes adjusted to the soft glow of moonlight, she padded across the wooden floor and reached for the light switch. But she paused mere inches from it. How had it come to this—she, a devout Amish woman, was taking refuge in an Englisch home?
She lowered her hand, leaving herself in the dark.
The easy answer was that Jacob had banished her from living on the farm.
Well, more or less.
He hadn’t made her go. But he’d invited her to leave and then had refused to talk to her. Fresh ache flooded her. Not a minute had gone by that she didn’t miss him. He felt the same way. She knew he did.
Still, here she was. An outcast.
The taunting voice was clearer now. It sounded like Emma, her late sister. Although it had been as real as if someone were in the room with her, Rhoda realized it was her own conscience blaring at her.
She had chosen, but Jacob was too wounded to listen to her. Shoving back her frustration and regret, she set her will to get through the coming day. She returned to the kitchen to get a towel. The digital clock on the microwave glared at her: 5:19.
She’d been up for hours, and thankfully it’d be daylight within the hour. Despite feeling out of place in an Englisch home, she was here, in the dark, trying a new recipe for the canning business and hoping she didn’t disturb her hosts.
It wasn’t a disagreeable place, but she would never feel fully at ease inside this house. Sadness tried to rob determination from her. She was no longer a part of the farm’s mealtime discussions about the workday. Or part of the camaraderie, chats, or even disagreements that were vital to running the business.
What was she going to do if Jacob’s anger and hurt didn’t dissolve?
A tapping noise caught her attention. “Rhoda, are you okay?” Camilla’s whisper seemed to come from the front of the house. She was probably outside Rhoda’s bedroom door.
Poor Camilla. Rhoda had to be the most unpleasant houseguest ever, but the Cranfords were too good to ask her to leave. For that she was grateful.
She went in that direction, shielding her eyes from the bright light in the hallway. “I’m in here. So sorry to disturb you.” Rhoda turned around to see long-stemmed white roses scattered and water dripping off the edge of the round mahogany table. Bob had brought home a couple of bouquets a few days ago. “I’m so sorry.” Rhoda hurried back to the spot and spread the kitchen towel over as much of the puddle as she could.
Camilla joined her and picked up the flowers and put them back in the vase. “Neither the mess nor the noise matters.” Her tone was difficult to define at times, usually somewhere between guarded and caring.
Rhoda knelt, and her lone braid fell over her shoulder as she began mopping up the water. “I was trying so hard not to wake you and Bob.”
“We’re fine. It’s you we’re worried about.” Camilla put her hands on her hips, making her short gray ponytail sort of wave. “But it smells wonderful in here. You’re working on recipes again, aren’t you?”
“Ya.” Did Camilla mind?
“So just how long have you been up?”
“You need sleep more than new recipes. Is something keeping you up at night?”
Since Rhoda had arrived on her doorstep two weeks ago in need of a place to stay, Camilla had voiced concerns over why she’d left the farmhouse. She wished Camilla would stop asking, and so far Rhoda had managed to sidestep the questions. Nonetheless, of all the people she had ever known, Camilla was one of her favorites.
Rhoda continued drying the floor. It was tempting to open up…except she couldn’t bear to know what Camilla would think of her once she heard. Truth was, Rhoda had no one else she could talk to right now. Even her brother and sister-in-law were disappointed in her. Since Leah was Samuel and Jacob’s younger sister, Rhoda couldn’t confide in her either. It’d be wrong to put Leah in the middle of this mess.
What had possessed Rhoda to think that two families—the Kings and the Bylers—could live under the same roof while trying to establish a new Amish community?
It had been naive.
Camilla wandered to the couch and picked up Rhoda’s prayer Kapp. Rhoda had placed it there hours ago, meaning to put it on before anyone else was up. Camilla ran her fingers down the long strings of the Kapp. “I read once that Amish women wear these even in their sleep.”
Was she changing the subject or aiming to start an easygoing conversation in hopes Rhoda would open the floodgates?
“Some do.” Rhoda flipped the towel and pushed it across the floor. The women who wore them at night were the kind who might wake and start praying. But lately Rhoda was more the kind who woke and stewed.
She was beyond disappointed in herself over this mess. But what had Samuel been thinking? And Jacob… What kind of a man was he to cut her off the way he had?
She wasn’t sure who she was the angriest with—Samuel, Jacob, or herself. But her frustration with the trio kept her in turmoil.
Camilla put the prayer Kapp back and crouched near her. “Rhoda.” She touched the back of Rhoda’s hands, stopping her from cleaning up the water. “I only want to help you the way I wish someone had helped me when I was your age.”
Rhoda eased from Camilla’s gentle touch and ran the towel in wider circles.
Camilla stood. “Bob and I don’t mind being awakened. But I believe you need to talk about why you’re staying with us.”
“I can’t.” She took the wet towel through the kitchen and into the laundry room. What could she say—that she was a hypocrite, a girl who dressed and lived plainly because she wanted to honor God but had let two good men, devoted brothers no less, each kiss her?
Rhoda was desperate to talk but not to Camilla. If she could get to the one man who could restore some measure of peace to her, she would. But neither brother had any desire to talk to her. She loved Jacob, but she needed to talk to Samuel…after she yelled at him for messing up her life as well as the relationship between the three of them. He would have answers, half-baked ones most likely, but by the time they were finished, she’d at least feel some clarity, enough to start sleeping again.
When she came out of the laundry room, Camilla was in the kitchen with the lights on. “Were you making apple butter by candlelight?”
Rhoda blew out the candle. “Between it and the glow from the gas burner and all the electronic things in the room, I could see well enough.”
Camilla’s wry smile didn’t quite override the hint of bewilderment in her eyes. “I’m sorry, but I need to say what’s on my mind. I didn’t ask why Jacob never accompanied you when you came to visit us or why he disappeared altogether when your legal troubles began. And I let you push Bob and me away during that whole mess of false accusations of drug trafficking. But aren’t you ready to talk?” Camilla moved in closer. “For your sake, child.”
In spite of her desire to keep Amish matters among the Amish, Rhoda’s resolve began to falter. The whole situation was ridiculous. Jacob was finally home after months of being in hiding, and yet Rhoda had never felt so lonely. For her, that was really saying something. She’d spent so much of her life ostracized and alone. Then Jacob swooped in and made the pain of all those days vanish like apples from trees during the harvest.
A faint smile crossed Camilla’s face. “Las Vegas has a motto: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But they have nothing on the Amish or on Rhoda Byler, do they?”
Rhoda leaned against a counter, lost in her heartache. “I don’t know how I got to the place of living with the Englisch. It all happened in the blink of an eye.”
Actually, it’d happened in the length of a kiss.
She ran her cold, damp fingertips across her lips, remembering the power of those few moments. “Do you understand men?”
Camilla set a few dishes in the sink. “It took me a lot of years and many a mile traveling down a rocky path after the wrong men, but eventually…after…”
Rhoda heard the rest of Camilla’s sentence as if she’d spoken it aloud— after my poor decisions caused my son to walk out, never to return.
Rhoda’s heart turned a flip. It was the strongest confirmation she had felt that Camilla did have a son. The day Rhoda moved into the farmhouse, and even before she met Camilla and Bob, she had often sensed a man and a child trying to tell her something. It was eerie, and Rhoda wished it would go away, but since then, whenever she gently hinted about Camilla having children, Camilla denied it, retreating like a stray dog being chased off by a landowner.