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Plain PursuitA Daughters of the Promise Novel
By Beth Wiseman
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2009 Beth Wiseman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLunch with her editor usually meant one thing. Trouble.
Carley couldn't think of anything she'd done to warrant the meeting. Granted, she hadn't written any award-winning stories for the newspaper lately, but she'd held her own. Every deadline had been met. The stories had been newsworthy. But something was clearly on Matt's mind. His forehead creased with concern as they took their seats at a small deli near the office.
"They have good burgers here," Matt said, scanning the menu. He was stalling.
"I'm just going to have a salad." Closing the menu, she folded her hands and waited. It was straight-up noon, and the harried waitress was taking orders several tables over. Carley was glad to see her favorite sandwich shop back in business and full of hungry patrons. It had taken months for Houston to recover from the devastating effects of the hurricane, but life had obviously returned to normal.
Normal. Such a loose term, she thought, waiting for Matt to drop whatever news had prompted the lunch.
Matt finally closed his menu and sighed. "Carley, you're a good reporter ..." The lines above his bushy brows became more prominent. She waited for the but. He cleared his throat instead, and she took theopportunity to remind him of her tenure.
"I've been with the paper four years. I'd like to think I've done a good job." He nodded his agreement, although his expression remained solemn. "What's wrong, Matt?"
She searched his face, her heart rate kicking up. Matt had been her editor at the paper since she started, and they'd been to lunch only twice. Once as a celebration of sorts when she won a prestigious award, and once when Matt felt an article she wrote had crossed the journalistic line.
She hadn't won any awards lately.
"Carley, you've got plenty of unused vacation. Why haven't you taken any?" His eyes cut to the jagged scar spanning three inches across her left forearm. Instinctively, her right hand covered the evidence of the event that had forever altered her life.
"I took two weeks off when Mom died." Where is he going with this? It's been six months since the accident.
"Carley," he grumbled, "that wasn't a vacation, and part of that time you were in the hospital yourself." He shook his head as the waitress approached.
"I'll have the grilled chicken salad," Carley said after Matt ordered his burger and fries. She immediately regretted her decision. What was the point? You couldn't live forever. She bet her mother would have loaded up with an extra helping of pie on Christmas Day if she'd known it was her last day on earth.
"No, wait. I change my mind. I'll have a burger and fries too."
"Good girl," Matt said after the waitress scurried away. "You're too thin as it is."
"Now what were you saying, Matt?" She'd rather get this over with and salvage her appetite.
"I want you to take some vacation time."
Although his tone left little room for argument, she quickly countered. "I don't need a vacation."
"If you don't see it, then I'll just come out and say it: you aren't at the top of your game. You're a far cry from it, Carley. Your stories lack the zing they used to have. The facts are there, but they're lacking ... What's the word I'm looking for?"
"I have no idea." She folded her arms across her chest.
"Emotional capacity," he continued. "You used to weave emotion into your stories-just enough to spruce up the article." He shrugged, and she saw the pity in his eyes as they locked with hers. "The intensity of your writing just isn't there anymore."
"I-I didn't realize that." She fought the sudden tremor in her voice. "I'll work harder."
When it appeared Matt was going to argue, she dug deep for the truth. "I need to work, Matt. It's all I have."
She dropped her gaze, hating the vulnerability she knew her expression revealed. Matt has to understand. I can't take any time off. What would I do? Until six months ago, her leisure time had been divided among her mother, her boyfriend, and her friends. Now her mom was gone, and Dalton had broken off their three-year relationship. And after one too many declines, her few girlfriends quit asking her to participate in their activities.
She had nothing but work.
"That's what I mean, Carley," Matt urged. "You are a beautiful woman with no relationships or interests outside of work. You're slowly withdrawing from life, and it's noticeable in your writing." He leaned over the table. "Carley, on a personal note, we're worried about you."
"Who is we?" She knew the answer. "Katrina?"
Her reporting rival had bumped up a notch to assistant editor awhile back and now latched onto every opportunity to remind Carley of her position.
"Yes, Katrina and I discussed it, Carley, but-"
"She doesn't like me, Matt."
Right away she realized the comment sounded childish.
"Not true." Matt shook his head and pushed an envelope in Carley's direction. "This is a month's vacation pay. You've accumulated a lot more than that. Take a month off, Carley. Come back refreshed. You should have taken more time off after the accident."
Carley peered at the envelope on the table as the waitress returned with their lunches and offers of ketchup and extra napkins. "I'm not taking a vacation, Matt. Why should I be forced to use my time right now?"
"Because you wouldn't like the alternative." He wrapped his mouth around his burger.
Carley wasn't hungry for anything except Katrina Peighton's hide. This was her doing, not Matt's.
"So let me get this straight. Either I go on vacation or I'm fired?"
"Don't look at it that way, Carley," Matt said between bites. "Take advantage of this. I would."
Her thoughts churned. What will I do? Sit around my big empty house?
No. Too much time to think.
She bargained. "I'll take a week off."
"A month, Carley. We will welcome you back with open arms in one month."
By the end of the meal, she'd reluctantly accepted the envelope. Not that she had any choice in the matter. Matt made it quite clear her vacation started directly after lunch.
Chapter TwoCarley tried to keep her eyes on the road as she studied the map laid out beside her on the car seat. She'd never been to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but a sign flashed by, indicating twenty-six miles to the town of Paradise. Good. She was on the right track.
She watched the farmland scrolling by and thought about seeing Lillian. Her friend had fled the craziness of Houston a year and a half ago, moved in with her Amish grandparents, married an Amish man, and now happily resided in the town of Paradise with her new family. Carley couldn't help but wonder how much her friend might have changed. From her initial letters Carley knew Lillian's grandparents' farm in Paradise had provided Lillian with a safe haven where she could get her life together. But when Lillian wrote to say she had converted and was staying-that was a lot to swallow. Carley couldn't get past the lack of electricity, much less the fact that Lillian had married Amish widower Samuel Stoltzfus, become a stepmother to his thirteen-year-old son, and now had a baby of her own.
Of course, Carley knew she had changed too. Everything had changed last Christmas Day ...
According to Lillian's letters, she had been baptized in the Amish faith-a required step toward marrying an Amish man. Her friend also adhered to all their Plain customs, including the wardrobe. It was an unbelievable transformation. No television, makeup, jewelry. No computer.
Hmm. Carley eyed her laptop on the floorboard of the rental car. How was she going to charge the battery?
One thing shone through in all Lillian's letters: she was happy. As a writer, Carley excelled at reading between the lines. She had looked for clues that perhaps Lillian wasn't as content as she let on. She couldn't find one. Lillian's destination seemed to have brought her the peace Carley knew Lillian longed for.
Carley felt like she was still wandering, her own destination unknown.
Which brought her to her current situation. In her last letter to Lillian, Carley had asked her friend if she might come for a visit and do an article about the Amish ways. Lillian quickly responded with an invitation-which Carley accepted the day her forced vacation began. She would put her leave to good use. Even better, she would incorporate work into her trip.
Work would keep her sane.
* * *
Lillian popped a loaf of bread into the gas oven. Carley would be hungry when she arrived. Hopefully her friend would like the meatloaf and baked corn casserole she had prepared, along with the chocolate shoofly pie for dessert. If she hurried, she could have the meal ready before Anna woke up for her feeding.
She scanned the wooden table in the middle of the kitchen. It was covered with a variety of jellies and applesauce and some pickled red beets. For a moment she pondered whether she should have tackled the sauerbraten recipe instead. But the meatloaf was a lot less work, and Anna had been fussy all afternoon. She'd fallen behind on the household chores.
Maybe she should have baked a peach pie instead of the rich shoofly with its filling of molasses and brown sugar.
Or maybe she should stop worrying so much about Carley's arrival. But she couldn't help it. Their last time together, Lillian had sported blue jeans, a name-brand blouse, stilettos, full makeup and silver jewelry, and a designer handbag.
She tucked a loose strand of hair beneath her white Kapp, glancing down at her blue linen dress covered by a black apron. Her plain black leather shoes were a far cry from the spiked heels of her past.
The screen door slammed shut behind her. Samuel.
"It smells gut in here," he said, kissing her smile before tossing his hat onto the rack in the den.
"Danki. I hope it's gut." She breathed in the aroma of baking bread while she mixed the sauce that would go on top of the meatloaf. "I hope Carley likes it."
"Your friend will be here soon, no?"
Lillian knew Samuel worried about her Englisch friend coming to visit. They had discussed it, and although Samuel assured her it was fine for Carley to stay with them for the month of May, Lillian also knew Carley's visit was an exception to an unspoken rule: no outsiders allowed. But it wasn't that long ago she'd been the outsider in the Old Order Amish district. How quickly a year and a half had gone by.
"She should be here any minute," Lillian informed Samuel. "It's almost four thirty, and I know you must be hungry. David should be home soon too. He's at Mamm's doing some yard work." She stirred the sauce atop the gas range. "I think you'll like Carley, Samuel. And she promised me the story she writes for her newspaper will include only things we're comfortable with."
She caught the uncertainty on Samuel's face, which he quickly hid with a half smile. "Ya, I know," he replied.
"You said there are a lot of misconceptions written about the way we live. Wouldn't it be nice for someone to get it right in print?" She challenged his skepticism with a playful wink, hoping to alleviate some of his fear.
"Ya, it's just that ..." He hesitated, grimacing.
"What?" She turned the fire down under the sauce and slid in beside him at the kitchen table.
"I'm sure everything will be fine, Lillian. I just don't trust those who print words about our lives, and I don't know this Englisch woman."
Lillian grasped his hand. "But I do. And I trust her, Samuel."
"Then I will trust her too." He gave her hand a squeeze. "Now where's my little boppli?"
"Anna should be waking up hungry any minute. I was just trying to finish supper before Carley gets here." She returned to the sauce, and Samuel stood. "Carley is a gut person, Samuel. Try not to worry."
As his arms wrapped tightly around her waist, Samuel nuzzled the back of her neck. "You are a gut person, Lillian. Besides, worry is a sin."
"Ya, it is," she whispered as she tried to push aside her own worries over Carley's arrival.
* * *
Carley pulled into the dirt driveway off Black Horse Road. In the distance, she could see two gray buggies parked beside a white farmhouse surrounded by colorful foliage. Two crimson barns stood off to one side. Drawing closer, she noticed two horses peeking out the window of the smaller structure. The place was incredibly manicured-neatly trimmed grass in the yard, and the fields freshly cut as well. She could already picture herself watching the sunset from one of the wooden rockers on the large wraparound porch. It would be like living in a postcard.
She continued to scan her surroundings as she parked the white Ford alongside one of the buggies. When she stepped out of the car, she poked her head inside one of the boxlike transports. Black leather seats and room enough for four. She couldn't wait to go for a ride.
The squeak of a screen door drew her attention toward the house. The woman running down the porch steps-in a blue dress with a black apron, white cap, and black shoes-might have been hard to recognize on the street. But Lillian's full smile and bubbly bounce gave her away instantly. That was how Carley remembered Lillian, and she was glad to see some things hadn't changed.
"Lillian!" She hurried across the yard, greeting her friend with a hug. "You look great!" It was true. Her friend's transformation into an Amish woman worked for her. Dressed in her Plain clothes, devoid of makeup and the accessories of the past, her face gleamed. Carley could only assume it was the peacefulness Lillian had spoken of in her letters.
Carley needed a dose of that.
"I look a lot different than the last time you saw me." Lillian's voice sounded uncertain.
"Yes, you do. You look happy. And I'm so glad for you. Where's the baby?" She couldn't wait to get her hands on little Anna.
"Inside with Samuel. Come in, come in." Lillian grabbed Carley's hand and tugged her toward the house with the enthusiasm she was known for. "You look great, too, Carley. You really do."
It was a sweet thing to say. And Lillian tried to sound convincing. But Carley knew she didn't look great. The past six months had taken their toll.
Forcing the thought aside, she clomped up the porch steps behind Lillian. When they reached the top, Lillian stopped and eyed Carley's shoes. "I'll tell you a secret," she whispered. "I miss fancy shoes."
Carley looked down at her friend's feet. "You always did have a thing for shoes. But I bet those are a lot more comfortable than these." She pointed to her brown, pointy-toed pumps.
"Oh, I'm sure they are. But if you catch me trying on your shoes while you're here, don't tell anyone."
"It'll be our secret."
The two of them giggled like schoolgirls. It felt good. As Lillian ushered her into the house, Carley wondered if Matt had been right. Maybe she did need a vacation. Being around Lillian might provide a much-needed reprieve from the grief that had blanketed her in Houston.
They entered the house through the kitchen. Backless benches on each side of a wooden table stretched long enough to seat at least ten people. While there were no ornate carvings on the table or benches, the colorful display of various foods complemented it.
Plain whitewashed walls and white countertops were enhanced by vibrant blooms on each of the three windowsills. No microwave or electrical gadgets. With the exception of a large rack holding various pots and pans next to the stove, there were no wall hangings. The room was functional yet charming.
Carley glanced up at the lantern dangling from the ceiling above the middle of the table. "Wow."
Lillian stood at a gas range against the far wall, swirling a spoon in a large pot. Wonderful aromas emanated from that part of the room. "It's a lot different from the kitchen I had in Houston," she said sheepishly as she set the spoon on the countertop and motioned for Carley to join her at the kitchen table. "But you know how much I like to cook. And one thing is for certain: Samuel and David like to eat."
"Do you miss it-your life before, I mean? The modern conveniences?"
"Nope," Lillian said without reservation, then paused with a twinkle in her eye. "Only the shoes."
Excerpted from Plain Pursuit by Beth Wiseman Copyright © 2009 by Beth Wiseman. Excerpted by permission.
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