This first installment in the Sisters of Holmes County series is more of the same for Brunstetter, who has more than a million of her Amish-themed novels in print. Grace Hostettler is settling down to a conventional Amish life and marriage to a kind young man in her community. But when a stranger from her past shows up, she's forced to acknowledge the "English" life and family she left behind during her rowdy adolescent rumschpringe period. Will her new husband accept her when the secret of her past comes tumbling out? Unfortunately, technical problems mar this novel about second chances. Grace is a weak and uninteresting protagonist who is more an observer of the action than its leading lady. While Brunstetter's fans will no doubt appreciate the novel's loving-even hagiographic-portrait of the Amish, the Amish characters' dialogue often feels stilted and unnatural, impeded rather than enhanced by awkward sprinklings of Pennsylvania Dutch. Stock English characters, such as an intrusive reporter and an aggressive developer who wants to buy up Amish land, add little to the story. (July)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information\
A Sister's Secret (Sisters of Holmes County Series #1)by Wanda E. Brunstetter
Grace is the oldest sister in the Hostettler family. Having put her rumschpringe (running around years) behind her, she has returned to Holmes County, joined the Amish church, and begun a new life. For the past four years, everything has been going fairly well, until the day she sees an English man who knows enough of her past to jeopardize her future. Will Gary Walker's passion for Grace destroy more than one life? Amish man Cleon Schrock is planning to marry Grace, but ignorant of her past. Will love and faith triumph over shame and deception in Holmes County?\
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A Sister's Secret
By Wanda E. Brunstetter
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Wanda E. Brunstetter
All rights reserved.
A chill shot through Grace Hostettler. Stepping outside the restaurant where she worked, she had spotted a redheaded English man standing near an Amish buggy in the parking lot. He wore blue jeans and a matching jacket and held a camera in his hands. Something about the way he stood with his head cocked to one side reminded her of Gary Walker, the rowdy Englisher she had dated for a while during her rumschpringe, her running around years. But it couldn't be Gary. She hadn't seen him since—
Grace pressed her palms to her forehead. Her imagination was playing tricks on her; it had to be. She forced her gaze away from the man and scanned the parking lot, searching for her sister. She saw no sign of Ruth or of her horse and buggy. Maybe I should head for the bakeshop and see what's keeping her.
Grace kept walking, but when she drew closer to the man, her breath caught in her throat. It was Gary! She would have recognized that crooked grin, those blazing blue eyes, and his spicy-smelling cologne anywhere.
He smiled and pointed the camera at her. A look of recognition registered on his face, and his mouth dropped open. "Gracie?"
She gave one quick nod as the aroma of grilled onions coming from the fast-food restaurant down the street threatened to make her sneeze.
"Well, what do you know?" He leaned forward and squinted. "Yep, same pretty blue eyes and ash blond hair, but I barely recognized you in those Amish clothes."
Grace opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off. "What happened? Couldn't make it in the English world?"
"Don't tell me you talked Wade into joining the Amish faith." He slowly shook his head. "I can just see the two of you traipsing out to the barn to milk cows together and shovel manure."
Grace swallowed against the bitter taste of bile rising in her throat. "D–don't do this, Gary."
He snickered, but the sound held no humor. "Do what? Dredge up old bones?"
Grace wasn't proud that she'd gone English during her rumschpringe or that she'd never told her folks any of the details about the time she'd spent away from home. All they knew was that she had run off with some of her Amish friends, also going through rumschpringe, so they could try out the modern, English world. Grace had been gone two years and had never contacted her family during that time except for sending one note saying she was okay and for them not to worry. They hadn't even known she was living in Cincinnati, or that—
"So, where is Wade?" Gary asked, halting Grace's runaway thoughts. She shivered despite the warm fall afternoon and glanced around, hoping no one she knew was within hearing distance. The only people she saw were a group of Englishers heading down the sidewalk toward one of the many tourist shops. "Wade's gone, and ... and my family doesn't know anything about the time I spent living away from home, so please don't say anything to anyone, okay?"
He gave a noncommittal grunt. "Still keeping secrets, huh, Gracie?"
His question stung. When she'd first met Gary while waiting tables at a restaurant in Cincinnati, she hadn't told him she was Amish. It wasn't that she was ashamed of her heritage; she'd just decided if she was going to try out the English world, she should leave her Amish way of life behind.
But one day when a group of Amish kids came into the restaurant, Grace spoke to them in German-Dutch, and Gary overheard their conversation. He questioned her about it later, and she finally admitted that she was from Holmes County, Ohio, and had been born and raised Amish. Gary had made light of it at first, but later, as his quick temper and impulsive ways began to surface, he started making fun of Grace, calling her a dumb Dutch girl who didn't know what she wanted or where she belonged.
When Wade came along and swept Grace off her feet with his boyish charm and witty humor, she'd finally gotten up the courage to break up with Gary. He didn't take to the idea of her dating one of his friends and had threatened to get even with her. Had he come to Holmes County to make good on that threat?
"Wh–what are you doing here, Gary?" Her voice sounded raspy, almost a whisper, and her hands shook as she held her arms rigidly at her side.
"Came here on business. I'm a freelance photographer and reporter now." He jiggled his eyebrows. "Sure didn't expect to see you, though."
Grace heard the rhythmic clip-clop of horse's hooves and spotted her sister's buggy coming down the street. "I–I've got to go." The last thing she needed was for Ruth to see her talking to Gary. Her sister would no doubt ply her with a bunch of questions Grace wasn't prepared to answer.
Gary lifted his camera, and before Grace had a chance to turn her head, he snapped a picture. "See you around, Gracie."
She gave a curt nod and hurried away.
* * *
Ruth squinted as she looked out the front window of the buggy. What was Grace doing in the restaurant parking lot, talking to an English man with a camera?
She guided the horse to the curb, and a few minutes later, Grace climbed into the buggy, looking real flustered. "H–how was your interview?" she panted.
"It went fine. I got the job."
"That's good. Glad to hear it."
"Who was that man with the camera?" Ruth asked as she pulled slowly away from the curb and into the flow of traffic.
Grace's face turned red as she shrugged. "Just ... uh ... someone taking pictures of Amish buggies."
"It looked like you were talking to him."
"Jah, I said a few words."
"Were you upset because he was trying to take your picture?"
"Some of the English tourists that come to Berlin and the other towns in Holmes County don't seem to mind snapping pictures without our permission. Either they don't realize we're opposed to having our pictures taken, or they just don't care." Ruth wrinkled her nose. "I feel such aeryer when they do that."
Not even Ruth's comment about feeling vexed provoked a response from Grace.
"Guess it's best if we just look the other way and try to ignore their cameras."
As Ruth halted the horse at the second stoplight in town, she reached across the seat and touched Grace's arm. "Are you okay? You look like you're worried about something."
"Just tired from being on my feet at the restaurant all day."
"You sure? That frown you're wearing makes me think you're more than tired."
"I'll be fine once we get home." Grace smiled, although the expression seemed forced. "Tell me about the bakeshop. What will you be doing there?"
Ruth held her breath as the smell of manure from a nearby dairy farm wafted through the buggy. "Mostly waiting on customers while Karen and Jake Clemons bake in the other room," she said, clucking to the horse to get him moving again when the light turned green. "Some days, I'll be working by myself, and others, I'll be with my friend Sadie Esh."
"Are you wishing you could help bake?"
Ruth shook her head and turned the horse and buggy down the back road heading toward their home. "Not really. I'll be happy to keep waiting on customers until I get married some day. Raising a family is my life's dream." Ruth glanced over at Grace. "Of course, I'll have to find a husband first."
"What about Luke Friesen? You think things might get serious between the two of you?"
"I don't know, maybe. For now I'm going to concentrate on my new job." Ruth smacked her lips. "Just thinking about all those delicious pastries and pies at the bakeshop makes me hungry."
"I'm sure Mom will have supper started by the time we get home, so you'll be eating soon enough."
"Speaking of Mom, I heard her mention the other day that she'd like for the two of you to get busy on your wedding dress soon."
Grace nodded and turned toward the window. Was she staring at the vibrant fall colors on the trees lining the road, or was she trying to avoid conversation?
"Do you still want me to help with the flowers for your wedding?" Ruth questioned.
"You'll need several fresh arrangements on the bridal table, and I'm thinking maybe one big bouquet in the center of each of the other tables would look nice."
"Will you want some candles, too?"
"Since Cleon's mother and sister make beeswax candles, I'm sure they'll want to provide those."
"I hope Cleon knows how lucky he is to be marrying my big sister."
"I–I'm the lucky one." Grace picked at her dark green dress as if she noticed a piece of lint, but Ruth didn't see anything. Of course, she couldn't look too closely as she had to keep her eyes on the road. Just last week, a buggy coming down one of the hills on this stretch of road between Berlin and Charm had run into a deer.
Grace sighed, and Ruth gave her a sidelong glance. If something was bothering Grace, she would talk about it when she was ready. In the meantime, Ruth planned to enjoy the rest of their ride home. Shades of yellow, orange, and brown covered the birch, hickory, and beech trees, and leaves of red and purple adorned the maple, oak, and dogwood. A dappling of sunlight shining through the trees gave her the feeling that all was right with the world—at least her little world.
* * *
Cleon Schrock stepped up to the counter near the front of the restaurant where Grace worked and smiled at Sarah, the owner's daughter. "I came to town on business about my bees, so I decided to stop and see Grace. Would you tell her I'm here?"
Sarah shook her head. "Sorry, but Grace got off work about ten minutes ago. Said something about meeting her sister, who had an interview at the bakeshop."
"Okay, thanks." As Cleon turned toward the door, he felt a keen sense of disappointment. He hadn't seen Grace since the last preaching service, and that had been over a week ago. "Have a good evening, Sarah," he called over his shoulder.
Cleon opened the front door, and just as he stepped out, he bumped shoulders with a tall, red-haired English man. The fellow held a fancy-looking camera in one hand and a notebook with a chunky green pen clipped over the top in the other. "Sorry. Didn't realize anyone was on the other side of the door," Cleon said with a shake of his head.
"Not a problem. As long as you didn't ruin this baby, no harm was done." The man lifted his camera. "She's my bread and butter these days."
Cleon stood, letting the man's words sink in. "Are you a newspaper reporter?"
"Nope. I'm a freelance photographer and reporter, and I've written for several publications." He smiled, revealing a set of straight, pearly white teeth. "The pictures I submit often bring in more money than my articles."
Cleon gave a quick nod; then he started to turn away.
"Say, I was wondering if you'd be willing to give me a quick interview. I'm trying to find out some information about the Amish in this area, and—"
"Sorry, not interested." Cleon hurried down the steps and onto the sidewalk. The last thing he wanted was for the Englisher to start plying him with a lot of questions about the Amish way of life. He'd read a couple of articles about his people in the newspaper recently, and none of them had been accurate. Cleon rushed around back to the parking lot, untied his horse from the hitching rail, and climbed into the buggy. If he hurried, he might catch up with Grace and Ruth on their way home.CHAPTER 2
As Cleon headed down the road in his open buggy, all he could think about was Grace and how much he wanted to see her. He was excited to tell her about the latest contacts he'd made with some gift stores in Sugarcreek and Berlin, and if he didn't spot her buggy on the road, he would stop by her folks' place before going home.
The horse arched its neck and trotted proudly as Cleon allowed his thoughts to wander back to the day he'd first seen Grace Hostettler. It was almost four years ago—the day after he and his family had moved here from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He'd met Grace during a preaching service that was held at her folks' house. She'd seemed kind of quiet and shy back then, but after a while, they'd become friends and were soon a courting couple.
He'd wanted to ask her to marry him sooner but had waited until his beekeeping business was going strong enough to help support a wife and family. Besides, Grace hadn't seemed ready for marriage until a year ago. She had told him that she'd been gone from the Amish faith for a time before joining the church and that she'd only been back in Holmes County a few months before they'd met. Cleon had tried a couple of times to ask about her rumschpringe years, but Grace didn't seem to want to talk about them, so he'd never pressed the issue. What Grace had done during her running around years was her business, and if she wanted to discuss it, he figured she would.
A horn honked from behind, pulling Cleon's thoughts back to the present, and he slowed his horse, steering the buggy closer to the shoulder of the road to let the motorist pass. He gritted his teeth. At this rate, he would never catch up to Grace's carriage.
Once the car had passed, Cleon pulled back onto the road and snapped the reins to get the horse moving faster. The gelding flicked his ears and stepped into a fast trot, and several minutes later, Cleon caught sight of a black, closed-in buggy. Since no cars were in the oncoming lane, he eased his horse out and pulled up beside the other buggy. He saw Grace through the window on the left side, in the passenger's seat, and Ruth on the right, in the driver's seat.
"Pull over to the side of the road, would ya?"
Ruth did as he asked, and Cleon pulled in behind her rig. He climbed out of his buggy, sprinted around to the side of the Hostettler buggy where Grace sat, and opened the door. "I went by the restaurant hoping to see you, and when Sarah said you'd already left, I headed down the road, hoping to catch up with you."
Grace offered him a smile, but it appeared to be forced. Wasn't she glad to see him?
"I was hoping I could give you a ride home so we could talk."
Her face blanched, and she drew in a shaky breath. "Talk about what?"
"About us and our upcoming wedding."
"Wh–what about it?"
Cleon squinted as he reached up to rub his chin. "What's wrong, Grace? Why are you acting so naerfich?"
"I–I'm not nervous, just tired from working all day."
"She's been acting a bit strange ever since I picked her up in the restaurant parking lot," Ruth put in from the driver's seat. She leaned over and peered around Grace so she was looking right at Cleon. "If you want my opinion, I think my big sister's feeling anxious about the wedding."
"I am not." Grace's forehead wrinkled as she nudged Ruth's arm with her elbow. "If you don't mind, I think I will ride home in Cleon's buggy."
Ruth shrugged. "Makes no never mind to me, so I'll see you at home."
* * *
As Grace climbed into Cleon's buggy, her stomach twisted as though it were tied in knots. Had Cleon met Gary while he was in town? Could Gary have told him things about her past? Is that why Cleon wanted to speak with her? Maybe he'd decided to call off their wedding.
"Are you okay?" Cleon reached across the seat and touched Grace's arm. "You don't seem like yourself today."
"I'm fine. What did you want to say to me concerning our wedding?"
"I wanted you to know that I lined up a few more honey customers today, and if my business keeps growing, eventually I'll be able to stop farming for my daed." Cleon smiled. "Once we're married, you can quit your job."
A feeling of relief swept over Grace. Cleon must not have spoken to Gary or learned anything about her past, or he wouldn't be talking about her quitting her job after they were married.
He picked up the reins and got the horse moving down the road.
Grace pushed her weight against the back of the leather seat and tried to relax. Everything was okay—at least for now.
They rode in silence for a while. Grace listened to the steady clip-clop of the horse's hooves as the buggy jostled up and down the hilly road, while she thought about Cleon's attributes. He was strong and quiet, and ever since she'd met him, she'd appreciated his even temper and subtle sense of humor. He was the opposite of Wade, whose witty jesting and boyish charm she'd found appealing. But Wade had never seemed settled, which could have accounted for the fact that he'd worked as a cook for five different restaurants during the time they'd been together.
Excerpted from A Sister's Secret by Wanda E. Brunstetter. Copyright © 2007 Wanda E. Brunstetter. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
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.
Meet the Author
New York Times, award-winning author, Wanda E. Brunstetter is one of the founders of the Amish fiction genre. Wanda’s ancestors were part of the Anabaptist faith, and her novels are based on personal research intended to accurately portray the Amish way of life. Her books are well-read and trusted by many Amish, who credit her for giving readers a deeper understanding of the people and their customs. When Wanda visits her Amish friends, she finds herself drawn to their peaceful lifestyle, sincerity, and close family ties. Wanda enjoys photography, ventriloquism, gardening, bird-watching, beachcombing, and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Richard, have been blessed with two grown children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. To learn more about Wanda, visit her website at www.wandabrunstetter.com.
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