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Seeds of Deception
By Linda Castillo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Linda Castillo
All rights reserved.
Zimmerman's Orchard was the last place fourteen-year-old Katie Burkholder wanted to be, especially with her older brother, Jacob. He was bossy and about as fun as a milk cow — one that kicked. But Mamm had insisted. She needed six bushels of apples for pies and apple butter, both of which she planned to sell. Katie had already finished the sign Datt would post at the end of their lane: HOMEMADE APPLE BUTTER $3.99. DUTCH APPLE PIES $5.99.
No worms, her mamm had told them as they walked out the door. And keep your sister out of trouble.
She'd just had to add that last line. As if there was trouble to be found in an orchard. Mamm was probably still angry with her. Two nights ago, Katie had been caught reading, huddled beneath her covers, using the flashlight she'd bought for a buck at the drugstore. The reading itself wasn't the problem, but the material was. It was the book her best friend, Mattie, had given her. A mystery novel in which the young heroine solved crimes and just happened to receive her first kiss. Katie had been enthralled with the story, but before she could finish Mamm had confiscated the book and tossed it in the trash. Now Katie was relegated to picking apples, with Jacob watching her every move.
Datt had hauled them to the orchard in the buggy and dropped them off. While Katie walked ahead, Jacob checked them in with Mrs. Zimmerman, who supplied them with bushel baskets, two wagons with hand pulls, and instructions on where to pick.
"Stop looking so dejected."
Katie glanced over her shoulder to see him pulling both wagons behind him. "I have better things to do than tromp around in this orchard picking apples with you," she said.
"Like what?" He smirked. "Read an English romance book?"
"It was a mystery novel," Katie defended herself, taking the handle of the second wagon.
"You're just jealous because I read better than you."
"Better at filling your head with useless words maybe." He started down the row of trees. "Mamm says those books are trash."
Katie scooped a rotten apple out of the grass and threw it, hitting him solidly in the back.
Jacob spun, laughing. Katie couldn't help it; she laughed, too. Her brother might be older, but he still liked to have fun on occasion. When he wasn't trying to boss her around, anyway.
"Better not bite off more than you can chew," he warned. "I can throw a lot harder than you."
He had a point. Not that long ago, she'd been able to outrun him, throw the baseball farther than him, and outwrestle him. But not now. Jacob was nearly a foot taller than her and his muscles were the size of small hams. Of course, Katie knew he was too kind to ever hurt her. On the contrary, she was the one who'd been accused of possessing a mean streak.
He motioned toward the far end of the orchard. "I'll start a couple of rows over at the end and we'll work our way toward each other."
Glad to be rid of him, Katie watched him walk away, trying hard not to feel sorry for herself. It wasn't fair. Not only had Mamm taken her book, but she'd ripped it in half. That had hurt. Worse, she wouldn't be able to return it to Mattie. At least Mamm hadn't found the lip gloss she kept hidden in a sock in her drawer.
Resigned, she dropped the wagon's handle to the ground, went to the nearest tree, and plucked a shiny Ginger Gold apple off the branch, setting it carefully in the basket so as not to bruise it or nick the flesh.
Around her, the late August day was glorious and warm, with a breeze that held a hint of autumn. She daydreamed as she worked — the one thing she was good at, it seemed. She entertained forbidden thoughts about the boy who had helped her datt and brother cut and bale hay a few weeks ago. Daniel Lapp was Jacob's age, a good worker, and he had the face of an angel. Pretty eyes that sparkled when he smiled. It had been hot that day, and Mamm had asked her to take lemonade to them out in the field. Daniel hadn't said a word to Katie, but he'd smiled when she handed him the glass. Her legs weren't quite steady when she walked back to the house. Later that night, she'd dreamed of him.
She'd just twisted another apple off the branch when something hit her in the back hard enough to hurt.
Drawing back to defend herself from her marauding brother, Katie spun. "Mattie!"
The Amish girl doubled over with laughter. "You should have seen your face! Like you were under attack and you were going to beat the crap out of someone!"
The image struck Katie's funny bone and for a full minute the girls' laughter rang out. Mattie Erb had been her best friend for as long as she could remember. In the past, Katie had seen her at school, which made learning so much more tolerable, even though they'd gotten their knuckles rapped for speaking out of turn or laughing when they weren't supposed to. But the Amish only went to school through the eighth grade; both girls had finished last year. Katie didn't get to see Mattie as often now. She missed those easy, carefree days. Mattie was funny and pretty and, like Katie, had a penchant for getting into trouble. They were a match made in heaven.
"What are you doing here?" Katie asked.
"Picking apples — same as you, dummy."
Dropping a piece of fruit into her basket, Katie walked over to her friend. Mattie wore an Amish dress like the gray one Katie was wearing, but maroon, and an off-white cardigan with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows. Like most of the other Amish girls their age, they wore sneakers and matching organdy kapps.
"Mamm needs three bushels for pies." Mattie tilted her head, her eyes sparking. "Is Jacob here?"
Mattie had a crush on Katie's brother — though he wasn't the only boy she had her eye on. It was one of the reasons Mamm didn't approve of their friendship. She said Mattie was "boy-crazy and wild." Of course, Katie loved her even more for it.
"He's two rows over at the other end," Katie replied.
"You're lucky to have such a cute brother," Mattie said breezily.
"Cute like a pig, maybe." But the blues that had been weighing her down all morning began to lift. Now that Mattie was here, the day was looking up.
"Have you seen anyone else we know?" Mattie asked.
"No such luck." Tugging an apple from a branch, Katie checked it for worms and took a bite. "Just us boring girls."
"Speak for yourself." Digging into her apron pocket, Mattie withdrew a tube of lipstick. "Peach Berry Dew is definitely not boring."
Katie watched as her friend swiveled the tube and glided the lipstick over her mouth. It was the color of a ripe, wet peach. It looked good on Mattie, she thought. And not for the first time, Katie found herself wishing she were as pretty as Mattie. Hopefully, it wouldn't be too much longer before her figure filled out.
"Where'd you get it?" Katie asked.
"Fox's Pharmacy. They've got the best colors."
Wearing makeup was forbidden by the Ordnung, which made Katie wonder if Mattie had bought it — or if the lipstick had somehow found its way into her pocket. She didn't ask.
Mattie offered the tube to Katie. "Try it."
Katie shook her head. "Jacob will tell."
"So wipe it off before he sees you. He'll never know."
Glancing toward the far end of the orchard and seeing no sign of her brother, Katie accepted the tube. Never taking her eyes from Mattie's, she applied the color. It glided on like silk. "It smells like strawberries."
"A little dark for you." Mattie reached out and touched the side of Katie's mouth, erasing a smudge with her thumb. "But you look good. Sexy."
Katie grinned and felt herself blush. "You, too."
Pulling their wagons, the girls strolled between the endless rows of trees, picking apples as they went. Mattie wasn't quite as careful not to bruise hers. Every now and then she'd toss one aside with a little too much force. "Worms!" she'd exclaim and before long they were both throwing perfectly good apples and cutting up.
Katie had nearly filled her first basket when she heard the rumble of an engine. Scrubbing her hand across her mouth, she turned to see Billy Marquart and another Englischer boy on an ATV. The small vehicle's bed was piled high with tools — a chainsaw, bags of mulch, some kind of sprayer, and two shovels. The boys were clad in work clothes, their shirts emblazoned with the orchard's logo.
Billy shut down the engine. "Now, ain't that a sight for sore eyes. Two pretty little Amish girls, picking apples."
Katie's interaction with non-Amish was limited; her parents were firm believers in the tenet of separation. But Painters Mill was a small town, and she'd seen Billy around in places where the two cultures intersected. The feed store. The horse auction. In town. He was a year or so older and good-looking, with black hair and brown eyes. But he was also a known druvvel-machah — troublemaker — with a smart mouth that, according to Jacob, he "ran a little too often."
Billy and Mattie had had some kind of run-in at the auction in Millersburg a couple of weeks ago while Mattie was working at the concession stand. Billy had ordered hot chocolate, but accused Mattie of spitting in it. She denied it, but the owner, a Mennonite guy by the name of Zook, hadn't believed her and fired her on the spot.
Mattie slanted Billy a smile. "Look what the wind blew in," she said. "A piece of trash."
Billy's grin widened. "You're not still mad about that stupid concession job, are you, Matts?"
"I don't like liars," she said sweetly.
"Takes one to know one," he returned. "But hey, if I'd known you wanted to swap spit, we could have found a better way than you spitting in my frickin' hot chocolate."
Turning her back to him, Mattie picked an apple and held it out for Katie to see. "Oh, look, a rotten apple." She tossed the apple over her shoulder, and it struck Billy's leg.
Sighing, he turned his attention to Katie. "Nice lipstick."
Self-consciously, Katie reached up and touched her lips, her eyes flicking to Mattie. Her friend looked back at her and chuckled. "Just a little smear," Mattie whispered.
Katie wiped her mouth with her sleeve, her face heating in embarrassment.
The second boy said something beneath his breath and the two broke into laughter.
"Don't pay any attention to my friend Gavin." Billy smiled appreciatively at Mattie, his eyes bold as they skimmed over her body. "So what are you girls doing here, anyway?"
"Um, picking apples?" Mattie replied, adding a generous dollop of smart-ass to her voice.
"I reckon you're not going to let me off the hook until I apologize, are you?" he asked, trying to charm her.
Turning away, Mattie resumed picking apples. "I don't really care."
Billy addressed his friend without taking his eyes off of Mattie. "Hey, Gav, why don't you head down to the other end and get started on that branch? I'll meet you there in a few minutes."
"You got it, Bill."
Gavin climbed onto the ATV and started the engine. Giving the two girls a mock salute, he put the vehicle in gear and roared away.
When he was out of sight, Billy crossed to the girls, his focus riveted on Mattie. Katie didn't mind. She didn't like being the center of attention. And she didn't much care for the likes of Billy Marquart. He might be attractive, but he was also coarse and foul-mouthed, and she was relieved she wasn't the object of his affection.
"So, are you going to forgive me or what?" he cooed.
Mattie didn't even look at him. "Why would I do such a thing?"
Billy rolled his eyes in a self-deprecating way that might've been charming if it hadn't been so rehearsed. "Because I'm irresistible?"
Now it was Mattie's turn to laugh. "If I had a mirror, I'd give it to you so you could admire yourself all day."
Shaking his head, he shifted his attention to Katie. "What about you?"
Katie liked to believe she was worldly enough to converse with an English boy, even an obnoxious one like Billy. But there was something in the way he looked at her that made her uneasy. Like he was privy to some secret joke that had been made at her expense — and only he understood the punch line.
Instead of coming back with some sharp, Mattie-esque retort, Katie found herself dry-mouthed and tongue-tied. "Mattie didn't spit in your hot chocolate," she managed, "and she doesn't want to trade spit with you."
"Yeah?" Billy assumed an amused countenance. "That's not what I heard."
"You should apologize to her," Katie said, "and mean it when you do."
"I did —"
"No, you didn't," Mattie cut in.
Wishing he'd go away, Katie yanked a scarred apple off the nearest branch and tossed it into her basket.
Smiling, Billy moved closer to Mattie and got down on one knee, as if he were about to ask her to marry him. "Will you forgive me?" he asked.
Mattie threw her head back and laughed a little cruelly, then picked another piece of fruit. "You're an idiot."
"I admit it. I'm an idiot. A big, stupid one. Now will you forgive me? Please?"
Mattie slanted him a look over her shoulder, her eyes alight with interest. "What are you going to do for me?"
Looking around, he shrugged. "Hey, I got cigs if you want one." He glanced toward Katie. "You, too. I got a whole pack."
Mattie looked intrigued by the idea. Too intrigued. Katie knew a bad idea when she heard one. If her brother didn't smell smoke on her, Mamm would. Her punishment would surely be something unpleasant, like mucking stalls for the next year or two.
"Jacob is working just a few rows over," Katie said. "And I have to get these baskets filled."
Mattie clucked. "Come on, Katie. Don't be such a stick in the mud. Just one?"
Shaking her head, Katie plucked another apple from the tree. "Can't."
Her friend shifted her attention to Billy and turned on the charm with a smile. Katie almost felt sorry for Billy; he didn't know it, but he wasn't nearly as smart as Mattie. He didn't stand a chance.
"Well, we can't smoke out here in the open," Mattie pronounced.
He motioned toward Zimmerman's old barn, a run-down structure tucked into the corner of the field. "No one ever goes in the barn. The old man keeps the tractor and hay inside. I'm in there all the time." He passed her a cigarette. "Here you go."
"Going to cost you more than one." Turning up her nose at the proffered cigarette, Mattie held out her hand. "The whole pack."
Katie smiled inwardly at her friend's pluck and experienced a moment of envy that she didn't have the same confidence.
Billy shook out a couple for himself and set the pack in her hand. "You drive a hard bargain for an Amish girl."
"It's the least you can do after telling that big fat lie and getting me fired."
"I take it all back, babes." He stared at Mattie as if she were some exotic delicacy and he was famished. "Let's go."
Something in his eyes gave Katie pause. The flash of a thought or emotion she couldn't identify, but she knew it wasn't good. Fingers of worry kneaded the back of her neck as Mattie fell into step beside him.
"Mattie, I don't think you should go," she called out.
"Keep picking," Mattie said breezily, completely unconcerned. "Toss a few apples in my basket, too, will you? I don't want to fall behind."
"Er is en leshtah-diah maydel," Katie said emphatically. He's a beast that blasphemes girls.
Mattie gave her an I-know-what-I'm-doing smile. "This won't take long."
Standing next to their wagons, Katie shook her head and watched her friend and Billy go through the gate, traverse the dirt track, and disappear inside the barn.
For an instant, she regretted not going with them. Not because she wanted to be in that dusty old barn with the likes of Billy Marquart, but because she didn't want Mattie in there alone with him.
The logical side of Katie's brain told her that Mattie knew how to handle herself, but the knowledge was little comfort; Katie also knew her friend didn't always use the good judgment God had given her. Billy had a reputation for kissing and telling. If Mattie let him take things too far, everyone in town — including the bishop — would know about it.
Sighing, Katie watched them disappear into the shadows. "I hope you know what you're doing," she muttered.
She picked up both wagon handles and pulled them a few feet down the row. Keeping an eye on the barn, she went back to working, but her mind wasn't on picking apples. There was a new presence dogging her now — worry — and Katie didn't like it.
"Where'd you get that second wagon?"
Katie startled at the sound of her brother's voice. She'd been so embroiled in her thoughts — so intent on watching the barn — that she hadn't heard him approach. She turned to see him ducking beneath the low-slung branches of two trees.
"It's Mattie's," she replied.
"Mattie Erb? No wonder you haven't gotten much done." He looked at her basket and shook his head. "Where is she?"
Katie blinked, her mind whirling. She was such a terrible liar ... "Not that it's any business of yours, but she went into the barn for a pee break."
"Oh." He glanced away, trying not to look embarrassed. Served him right for being so nosy, she thought. "I know how you two are when you're together with all the talking," he said. "I've already filled two baskets and you've barely filled one. Datt'll be here shortly to pick us up."
Excerpted from Seeds of Deception by Linda Castillo. Copyright © 2016 Linda Castillo. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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