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Threads of GraceA Patch of Heaven Novel
By Kelly Long
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Kelly Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePine Creek, Pennsylvania
Nine Years Later
Exactly how many women do you plan on kissing?"
Seth Wyse grinned at his older bruder, Jacob. "As many as it takes."
The early morning sunlight of first summer played through the open barn doors and highlighted the reddish tones in Jacob's long dark hair. Seth noticed with curiosity the way that same light illuminated the golden hairs on his own forearm. It amused him that newcomers never took them for brothers. Although both of them were tall and broad-shouldered, Seth had blond hair, blue eyes, and a ready smile. Jacob had dark hair, hazel eyes, and a brooding look about him.
"As many women as it takes to get the Widow Beiler out of your head?" Jacob paused in currying the dark mare and shot a frown in Seth's direction. "I thought you were over her. Besides, you're starting to get more of a reputation than you already have among the women folk. One of these days some nice mamm is going to catch you in action, harness you to a bride, and that will be that."
Seth sighed and shifted on the bale of hay where he sat. He had been a bit over the top with the girls lately, but only because he was so frustrated trying to imagine what a kiss with Grace Beiler would be like. Still, Jacob was right about one thing: Seth was obsessed with the woman—had been since the first time he'd laid eyes on her.
"What?" He snapped out of his reverie to meet Jacob's glare.
"For the third time, get up and do something. Get over her."
"It's not that easy. There 's something in me that's drawn to the woman."
Jacob sighed. "Ach, it's the artist in you."
Maybe Jacob was right. Perhaps Seth's obsession with the lovely Widow Beiler did have some connection to his secret painting and charged dreams. But ever since Grace Beiler had moved to their small community a little over six months ago, he'd tried everything short of standing on his head to get her attention—or failing that, to get the desire to be near her out of his mind.
"At least Grace trusts you with her sohn," Jacob said.
"Yeah, because of you. And Lilly. She likes Lilly."
Jacob grinned. "I like Lilly too."
"That's right, big bruder. Go ahead and tease. You've got a wife you can't wait to go home to, a babe on the way, and you even have a dog. The perfect life."
Jacob rolled his eyes. "Do you want a hund?"
"I want her to pay attention to me," Seth said. "I just turned twenty-four. Maybe she thinks I'm too young. I wonder how old she is. Maybe if I was older, she 'd look at me."
"Age has nothing to do with love."
"Danki," Seth said with a sour expression. "That helps a lot."
A small figure appeared in the doorway and both brothers looked up. It was young Abel Beiler, breathless and sobbing.
"What's wrong, Abel?" Seth moved toward the child. Abel had autism, a traumatic brain birth injury, and many developmental delays. He was hesitant with his trust. Seth had learned not to do anything with abrupt haste around the boy, as it only seemed to upset him.
The boy's violet eyes, so like his mother's, were huge in his pale face as he stared up at Seth. "Mama's hurt. Her legs are stuck. Under ... under some rocks."
"Okay ... okay. Tell me, slowly." Seth put a gentle hand on Abel's shaking shoulder. "Where is she?"
"In the garden at home. The rock wall fell down. She ... she was planting flowers."
Seth glanced at Jacob. "I'll go."
Jacob stepped in front of him and held out his hand to the boy. "Abel, come here."
The child moved but still hiccupped with sobs. "I'm scared."
"I know," Jacob soothed. "I'll stay here with you, and Seth will go see to your mamm, all right? It's going to be okay."
Seth heard the words from a distance as he threw the reins over their fastest horse, and then he began to pray.
Grace winced as she tried to hoist herself up on her elbows. She'd been foolishly working near a low, unstable rock wall, attempting to do some repairs and plant some flowers. Her shoe had caught on a jagged stone and the whole thing had given way.
She blew a dark hair off her brow in exasperation. Her kapp was askew. Her right foot hurt badly, and she couldn't wriggle free of the weight of the stones. She had no choice but to send Abel to the Wyse farm for help.
She knew her son had been scared, and she uttered a prayer for his peace of mind. Yet she could not help hoping, as she gritted her teeth and tried another fruitless movement, that it would be Jacob Wyse who would come. Not Seth.
The less rational part of herself mocked her silent plea. Of course you want Seth Wyse. Why else have you been avoiding him for six months?
Grace groaned and caught a fierce grip on her wayward thoughts. True, she had been avoiding him, but only because he was so obvious. So sure of his charm. And so young.
She could avoid him, but she couldn't avoid the truth: for the first time in her life, she had met someone who attracted her. But for a hundred reasons, she couldn't take the chance. It was too soon. Everything was too raw. There was too much risk. Too much pain.
She had come to Pine Creek to get away, to heal. To protect herself and her sohn. She couldn't—wouldn't—jeopardize that for a handsome face and a quick smile.
Suddenly she heard the approaching hoofbeats of a single horse. Grace shielded her eyes against the summer sun and caught a glimpse of golden hair. She stifled a groan, anchored herself more sturdily on her elbows, and lifted her chin. She could strive for dignity, if nothing else.
He was off the horse and by her side in a moment. "Grace? How bad is it? Maybe we shouldn't move you."
He ran strong, practiced hands down the length of her legs to where the rocks lay. Shame burned like her skin at his touch, even through the fabric of her apron and dress.
"Do you mind?" she snapped.
He shot an incredulous look at her. "I'm trying to help you, not touch you."
"Es dutt mir leed," she apologized in a whisper. "Of course. I need help. It's mainly my right ankle, I think."
As he began to move the rocks away, she took a deep breath and concentrated on looking up at the blue sky. Waves of pain drifted through her. But more than the pain, she was aware of the clean, fresh scent of him, like linen and green grass and life itself.
She bit her lip as he reached the last bit of the wall.
"Can you move anything?" he asked.
She began to ease her left leg out from the debris. Her black shoe looked dented and mashed, but she flexed her ankle and bent her knee. "I think this leg's okay."
He exhaled a sigh of relief and turned to the other foot. "I'll try not to hurt you," he said, his hand poised above her right leg.
But you will, a voice inside her said. You will ...
She pushed the thought aside. "Go right ahead. I manage pain well."
Don't hurt her. Don't ... don't hurt her. He repeated the words silently, like a prayer.
Under normal circumstances, Seth knew how to handle a woman as well as he knew how to manage an injured mare. But he felt cold sweat dampen the back of his cotton shirt when he saw the awkward angle of her right ankle. How could she not be screaming in pain?
"I think it's broken, Grace. I'm going to have to stabilize it before we go to the doctor."
"Do what you think best, but I'm not going to the doctor. Once it's set, it'll heal. I'll be fine."
He blinked. Any other woman would be begging for relief—or, he thought wryly, surrendering to his arms like the heroine in one of those Amisch romance novels his mamm read, waiting to be carried off and rescued.
"You are going to the doctor," he said after a moment. "If money is the issue, I'll pay. You don't have to be all public with the community fund."
He saw a blush suffuse her white cheeks, but he plowed on. "If you're worried about Abel, you know Jacob is fine with him. And if it's simply me—well, too bad. Der Herr saw fit to bring me to you today."
"It's all of those things," she said.
He nodded. "Fair enough. Now, hold still if you can. I'm going to slide this piece of wood under your foot and calf." He tried to concentrate on explaining what he was doing and not on her oblique statement—"It's all of those things."
Well, that should tell him something. As if it wasn't already obvious that she didn't care a whit for him. She hadn't given him so much as a smile in the six months she 'd lived in Pine Creek. He ought to take Jacob's advice and just forget her.
Seth ripped off his shirtsleeve and tore it into strips, then gingerly slid the fabric around the wood and her leg. He steeled himself as he tightened each strip to the fullest, trying not to hear her quiet whimper.
When he was done, he laid his hands on his thighs and fought for breath. He felt winded, as if he 'd run a mile in a sodden field. "I'm sorry. So sorry."
She shook her head, her lips white and compressed.
"I'll go get your wagon and bring it round. Then I'll take you to Lockport Hospital. Don't worry, okay?"
He longed to touch her, simply to comfort her. And he almost reached out. Almost.
Then he rose and made himself walk away.
Chapter TwoIt's a bad break, Mrs. Wyse." The old doctor was soft-spoken and serious-eyed behind his spectacles.
"Mrs. Beiler," Grace corrected him.
"Oh, excuse me," the Englisch man said. "I thought your husband introduced himself as Wyse."
Grace frowned up at Seth, who shrugged and gave her an innocent smile. It wasn't worth the effort to correct the doctor again. She was feeling singularly tired and oddly quivery from the medicine she 'd been given for the pain.
"Abel," she whispered.
"He's fine, Grace. Everything will be all right." Seth leaned closer, and she caught the clean scent of him again—teasing, tantalizing—as she felt herself slip thickly into sleep.
She was dreaming. He could tell by the way her black lashes fluttered against her cheeks. She made small, ineffectual movements of her hands, as if she struggled to contain something beyond herself.
"Grace," he whispered. No response.
He leaned over the hospital bed. "Grace," he repeated.
Don't touch her, a voice inside warned him. Don't touch ...
But she was so close, and so obviously troubled. He lifted one of her hands, turned it palm up, and ran the pad of his thumb over it. Her fingers were rough with small needle pricks, marks that testified to hours of hard work, making quilts to sell.
Then her eyes opened and she was staring up at him in confusion.
"Grace, you're at the hospital. They've set and cast your leg and ankle. Do you remember?" He gently laid her hand back on the white sheet.
"What about Abel? He'll be so worried." She made as if to rise, reaching toward the small red Call button on the end of a cord near her head.
"Whoa, wait. I called the barn at home. It's only been three hours. Abel is fine, making gingerbread with Mamm."
She sank back down on the pillow.
As she seemed about to drift off again, a nurse bustled in the door—stout, Englisch, probably in her late fifties.
"I'm Peggy," she announced. She promptly stepped in front of Seth where he hovered by the bed. "If you'll excuse us, Mr. Wyse, I need to check her vitals."
"Uh, sure." Seth moved back.
The nurse looked him up and down, her gaze pausing on his bare arm. She arched an eyebrow. "I understand you did some first aid yourself, Mr. Wyse?"
Seth flushed when Grace seemed to focus on his arm as well. "Yes. Only a bit."
"I owe you a shirt," Grace mumbled.
The words echoed in his brain, mingling disbelief with resounding promise. It was an intimate thing, the making of a shirt. But when he looked at her pale, beautiful face, he saw only a blank detachment in her gaze. Maybe she was still drugged.
"Forget it," he said. "Let's focus on getting you home instead."
"Yes, you're free to go," Nurse Peggy said. "Dr. Green gave you a walking cast, and you'll soon get used to the feel of it. In the meantime, use the crutches until you get your sea legs. He wants the cast on for at least four weeks. Don't get it wet." She produced a plastic bag with something gray folded inside. "You put this sleeve over your cast when you shower—er, bathe. It's got a little pump seal with it." She handed the bag to Seth and glanced between the two of them. "She'll need help for a few days—getting around, taking some pain meds. Make sure she uses the crutches until she gets used to balancing on the rubber heel. Any problem?"
"No," he said. "No problem at all. She'll have everything she needs." He ignored Grace 's glare and turned a full smile on the nurse. "Thank you."
The nurse arched an eyebrow at him as if to say he wasn't so bad, for an Amisch. Then she pulled some forms out of a chart for Grace to sign, took the completed forms, and left without another word. Once she had gone, he leaned one hip against the bed and chuckled at Grace.
"What are you laughing at?" she demanded.
"You," he said with a grin. "You need help, and you're going to get it."
Grace leaned on the crutches and tested her weight on the walking cast. She gazed down at it—it was blue, the color of the sky on a midsummer day. The thing felt cumbersome but not too heavy, and much to her surprise, she had very little pain.
Still, she wondered why on earth she had listened to Seth Wyse when he told her that she was coming to the hospital. Because she 'd done nothing but listen for years and years, that's why. She had been conditioned to obey.
He pulled the wagon up, then jumped down to help her.
"Back or front?" he asked.
She could barely recall the ride into town. He had laid her on a pile of quilts in the back of the wagon. Now she decided the front would be better—even if it meant sitting next to him and balancing her cast.
He lifted her, crutches and all, before she could even catch her breath.
"You weigh nothing, Grace," he said.
"It's not the most polite thing to comment on a lady's weight."
He slid her onto the seat, took her crutches, and deposited them into the bed of the wagon. Then he grinned. "Maybe I'm not the most polite of men."
She stared straight ahead as he climbed up beside her and took the reins. Of course he was polite. She could hear his kind voice in her mind, talking to people before Meeting, joking with Jacob at some gathering, soothing Abel as he taught him to ride.
The wagon jerked forward and he caught her arm. "Hey, better lean against me with that leg."
"Come on. I don't bite, Grace."
She inched a little nearer to him, careful to keep her leg propped on the front board. He encircled her shoulder with a strong arm, edging her flush against his side.
"You can't drive with one hand."
He laughed, a merry, rich sound from deep in his throat. "Grace, I could drive a horse blindfolded and using two toes. Don't worry. And, by the way, I picked that color out, you know."
"The blue. Your cast. I picked it out for you. Could have had green, but I thought it wouldn't go well with your dresses."
She stared down at the blue cast and forced herself to concentrate on the dull throbbing of her leg and the rhythmic sounds of the horse 's shoes striking the pavement. "It's vanity to think that way. It ... it doesn't matter what I wear or how I look."
He pulled her an inch closer. "Nee. It doesn't matter, Grace. It doesn't matter at all."
Seth wished the ride would last forever; she fit so perfectly within the circle of his arm. But he knew she was in pain, and more than that, he knew that she would not like what he was about to say.
"You know," he began in a matter-of-fact way, "you're going to need help, like the doctor said. Your place is so small, to get around with crutches and all. I thought that maybe you should stay—"
He glanced down at her. "What?"
"Nee, danki. Abel and I will be fine together."
He nodded. "Might be a challenge, though, keeping an eye on that boy at the start of a summer's fun." He knew the boy was jumpier than a fly on a string.
She seemed to hesitate, just for a split second. "I—we'll be fine."
Despite her response, he persisted. "You're quilting too, right? You'll need something rigged up so that you can keep that ankle elevated while you work."
"I'll figure it out."
"I have no doubt you can handle everything, Grace. But at least for a day or so—especially while you're taking the pain medicine—why don't you stay at our house? We can keep an eye on Abel, and you can go home feeling better."
She was wavering. He could see it in the set of her fine jaw-line and the pulse that throbbed in her throat.
"It really would be gut for Abel," he added. "I'll take him riding."
This final volley seemed to do the trick. She squared her shoulders beneath his arm. "It's late. I guess—for tonight only. If your mamm won't mind."
Excerpted from Threads of Grace by Kelly Long Copyright © 2013 by Kelly Long. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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