ECPA BESTSELLER • For fans of holiday romances and Amish life comes a new Christmas tale of surprising expectations and discovering miracles.
Old Order Amish Ivy Zook is wrestling with her need to shed her community's ways so she can grow the business of her dreams: planning parties. As long as she's stuck living without modernization, she can barely get her business on its feet. But if she leaves too soon, she'd cause trouble for her sister, Holly, who is planning her wedding to Joshua Smucker. All of their plans become twice as complicated when an old car crashes into the storefront of Greene's Pharmacy, carrying a Swartzentruber (ultra-conservative sect) Amish man, Arlan, and his very ill sister.
The Zooks take in Arlan and Madga, tending to the woman's illness and Arlan begins helping around the family farm. Ivy and Arlan are on different tracks, one wanting to leave her community and the other to return to his. But both young people are trying to discover what God has in store for their futures and what miracles might lie around the corner this Christmas season.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
CINDY WOODSMALL is the New York Times and CBA best-selling author of twenty-four works of fiction and a non-fiction book. She's been featured in national media outlets such as ABC's Nightline and the front page of Wall Street Journal. Cindy has won numerous awards and has been a finalist for the prestigious Christy, Rita, and Carol Awards. She lives outside Atlanta with her husband, just a short distance from her children and grandchildren. ERIN WOODSMALL is a writer, musician, wife, and mom of four. She has edited, brainstormed, and researched books with Cindy for almost a decade. More recently she and Cindy have co-authored several books.
Read an Excerpt
Ivy placed the last of the pink-rose centerpieces on a crisp white tablecloth and paused to smell the fragrance of the soft petals. Vintage porcelain teapots held the arrangements, and on each table sat a three-tiered tray with chicken-salad finger sandwiches, pink and blue cupcakes, and chocolate-covered strawberries. The teapots looked so much happier now than when she had found them languishing in an old storage room of this Victorian home.
She smiled. What a beautiful setup for a party. Stacy, the mom-to-be, would be thrilled. A good recommendation from Stacy’s family would help Ivy and Tegan get their fledgling party-planning business off the ground. She looked around the room and saw a few family members of the mom-to-be who had come to help Ivy with the preparations.
“Ivy?” Tegan pointed at the empty punch bowl. “Should I go ahead and fill the bowl with the punch?”
Ivy glanced at the clock. “I’d give it ten more minutes. We don’t want our punch-flavored ice melting too quickly.”
Tegan nodded and returned her attention to the table in front of her.
Sunlight filtered through a stained glass window, highlighting something on the rug. Ivy walked over to pick it up, and as she bent to retrieve the piece of decorative paper, she felt the envelope of money in the hidden pocket in her apron shift. She’d put most of her life savings from cleaning houses into that envelope and shoved it into her pocket a few hours ago. She couldn’t wait to hand off the money as a down payment on an apartment. Everything she longed for was coming together—establishing a party-planning business, getting a place to live with her friend Tegan, and leaving the confines of her Old Order Amish life.
But her Mamm’s sweet face flashed in her mind’s eye, and she swallowed hard. The look in Mamm’s eyes bored into her. The money wasn’t freeing. It was heavy and dirty.
She straightened her shoulders. No. Today wasn’t about guilt or fear. It was about chasing her dreams.
A giggle caught Ivy’s attention, and she glanced at the six-year-old who’d arrived with her mom, grandma, and aunt and had been helping them set up tables. During the next twenty minutes, the rest of the guests would start trickling in.
Ivy smiled. “Thanks for your help, Lily. Are you excited about celebrating your new cousin?”
The girl nodded, her blue eyes sparkling and her long, curly brown hair bouncing with each movement. “Yes, yes, yes! I really want to eat that pink cupcake.” She pointed at one of the nearby dessert trays. “And then Aunt Stacy said I could help her open all the gifts. Did you know that babies make big messes and go through lots of clothes?”
Tegan walked over from the table she’d just finished, dusted off her hands, and then smoothed her knee-length mauve lace dress. “Yeah, I have a little brother who was born when I was about your age, and I can confirm that.”
Ivy nodded and grinned at the young girl. “You’re pretty sharp.”
Lily looked Ivy up and down. “Do the Amish have parties for babies?”
“Well, sort of. But not like this. Usually women take homemade gifts and clothes to the mom after the baby is born.”
What Ivy didn’t say was how quiet the Amish were about pregnancy, an odd practice in her book. She loved helping the Englisch create such beautiful celebrations. The Amish would consider today’s event extravagant, with too much focus on an expectant mom. But no need to let Lily in on all that.
“Well, you should tell them it’s fun. Or I can tell them for you.” Lily gave a thumbs-up.
Tegan shrugged and pushed her long brown hair behind her shoulder. “Guess she’s solved your problems.”
Ivy forced a smile. If only it were that easy to change the minds of men and women who were convinced that following an old set of rules was the way to live. Most were reluctant to make a big deal about birthdays or any other special occasion except wedding days. Why weren’t all kinds of milestones honored? Some special events should be celebrated in such a way that they become a lifetime memory. The common Amish practice of ignoring or, at most, having a low-key observance of important days grated on her nerves, to put it mildly.
“Wow, look at this place. It’s beautiful!” Clara, the seventy-something owner of the Victorian-era home, walked into the dining room. Her eyes moved from floor to ceiling, taking in the draped pink and blue tulle and fairy lights. She turned a slow circle as she looked around. “Truly beautiful.” She smiled at Ivy. “Now’s a good time for me to talk if you have a moment.”
Tegan mouthed, “Good luck.”
“Sure.” Ivy waved to Lily and Tegan and followed Clara into the kitchen. The second floor of the spacious old house had been converted into an apartment with two bedrooms, a full bath, and a kitchenette. Clara lived in part of the main floor. The tenants had full use of the big kitchen except when the beautiful dining room was rented out for special events like today’s baby shower. Ivy’s heart raced a few beats. Would Clara let Tegan and her move into the upstairs apartment? If Clara decided to post the vacancy, she’d definitely get other applicants who actually had things like credit and a job history that consisted of more than dairy farming and cleaning houses. Tegan had the credit and the job history, but she didn’t have the money for the down payment without her parents’ help. And Clara likely thought, as many Englisch did, that since Amish young people didn’t have a credit score, credit card, or job history outside the Amish community, that renting to someone Amish was a risk.
Clara sat in a chair at the small round table in the kitchen’s sunny breakfast nook and gestured for Ivy to join her. She folded her crinkly hands in front of her on the table. “I’ve been thinking about your offer. I do want you and Tegan to live here. I really do. You both would be wonderful tenants, and God is my witness that I’m ready for nice girls to share my home with me. But I have concerns.”
Ivy nodded and leaned forward, trying to calm the butterflies in her stomach.
Clara gave a half smile. “With her good credit Tegan has met the prequalifications I require, and her parents paid her first and last months’ rent. Of course you don’t have all those things, and I’m okay with that. I understand. But Tegan’s parents have said it’s a sink-or-swim time for their daughter, and we both know she can’t afford the apartment without you. What I need you to know is that I cannot live on half of what that apartment is worth. I need the money from paying tenants to cover my living expenses. Without that money it’ll be a struggle to afford heat come winter.”
She wouldn’t let Clara down. “Yes, that makes sense. I promise that paying the rent won’t be an issue. Our party business is small right now, in part because of all I can’t do to help Tegan grow it while I’m living Amish. But once we’re here, we’ll be able to throw all our energy into expanding the business, and, if need be, I can supplement my income with my old, faithful job of cleaning houses.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that. I thought you felt strongly about living here. I would be thrilled if you and Tegan moved into the upstairs apartment after the current tenants move out in October.”
They are moving out in four months? Ivy struggled to take a breath. The last she’d heard, the tenants were staying through the first of the year. Still, Clara was willing to accept Ivy as a tenant. A grin tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Really?”
“Of course, dear. You’re such a bright spot in the day, and you always make people smile. I’d love to have you as part of this home.”
Ivy’s heart warmed. “That’s great to hear. I brought my portion of the down payment.”
Tegan was going to be so excited. She couldn’t wait to get out of her not-so-safe neighborhood. They could live in this beautiful home and work on their business. And Ivy would be available to pop in and check on Clara if she needed her. She enjoyed the sweet woman’s company.
Ivy looked at the delicate lace curtains adorning the window by the table. Mamm’s windows at home would never be decorated like this. Mamm. She was going to be crushed. But their relationship could mend in time, couldn’t it? For years they had worked side by side, whether cleaning homes or milking cows, talking long into the night, laughing until their sides hurt.
The nagging questions returned: Is it right to move into an Englisch home, even one as beautiful as this? Does my desire to do so make me ungrateful for the family and life I was given?
Ivy pushed the thoughts aside. She reached into her dress pocket and pulled out the envelope. She’d managed to put back a few dollars from every house-cleaning job for the last two years. Inside the envelope was one thousand dollars in cash. It was hard to let go of so much money when Mamm and she were barely making ends meet, but she had to be brave. Her dreams were worth it, right?
She slid the envelope across the table to Clara.
Clara smiled. “I’m looking forward to your moving in here.”
Ivy’s heart skipped as she rose from the chair. “Denki, Clara. I best get back to my work.”
The rest of the afternoon was a blur. The party went off without a hitch, but Ivy found her good mood faltering here and there. Mamm would eventually understand, right?
After cleaning up and bidding farewell to everyone, she called a driver to take her home. She usually drove a horse and carriage to get where she needed to go. Sometimes Tegan gave her a ride, but neither of those were available today. For the first time in a month, the traveling blacksmith was coming by the farm to shoe the horses, so she was without a rig, and Tegan was meeting up with friends in town.
The June sun wasn’t about to set, but she’d barely make it home in time for the evening milking. Thankfully she had eaten some of the sandwiches at the party, which should sustain her through the two hours of chores this evening.
The car rushed past the beauty of homes and farms that dotted the countryside. Some of the farmland was no longer used, abandoned through foreclosures or sitting idle because dairy cows had been sold and milking parlors had shut down. The overhead on a dairy farm often exceeded what could be earned. Cows were costly to feed, and vet bills were nonstop.
More than ten years ago, not long after Daed died, Mamm “loaned” most of their herd to dairy-farming relatives. That reduced the workload as well as the overhead so they were manageable, but it also meant that no milk broker would take the time to pick up their small amount of milk. The farm would’ve gone under had it not been for the Troyers, an Amish family who used to live just over the hill from them. After the Troyers lost their dairy farm, they moved closer to town and started a new business—making specialty cheeses and yogurts. Their business continued to grow, and they depended on Mamm for their milk.
But did Mamm really expect to continue to run the dairy farm year after year with just Ivy to help her? They had only ten cows. Some were in various stages of being a dry cow and couldn’t be milked because they were pregnant or had a new calf that needed their milk. So Mamm and she milked only eight of the cows most months, but all the prep work and cleanup still required two hours every morning and every evening.
After Ivy exited the car and waved to the driver, she saw Mamm walking to the barn, just as she had done every morning and evening for the past ten and a half years. How long did Mamm want to keep this up? At fifty her health was great. But Ivy’s sister, Holly, was marrying this December. Her brother, Red, lived in another town and was courting a girl he would marry. Neither of her siblings would live on this farm or even be close enough to help much.
“Ivy.” Mamm’s cheery voice washed over her as they embraced, but rather than Ivy feeling the usual comfort, knots formed in the pit of her stomach. “How was the job today, sweetie?”
“They loved it.”
She wanted to share the details of the beautiful flowers, lace doilies, and fine china, but she held back. Mamm mucked stalls and sloshed through manure and mud to complete tasks she took pride in. Between milking cows in the morning and evening, she cleaned homes, often on her hands and knees, scrubbing away other people’s filth. She asked about Ivy’s job because she loved Ivy, not because she understood or even wanted to. Not really.
“Of course they did.” Mamm squeezed her shoulder, and as Ivy followed her into the milking parlor, the familiar aroma of hay and cows hit her.
Mamm had spent years hoping Ivy’s love of useless dainty things—from fine china to electric twinkly lights intertwined with colorful tulle—would be overshadowed by something with more substance. After all, Ivy’s sister had a heart for what really mattered—working at a pharmacy and helping the Amish stay healthy.
As much as Ivy loved and respected her Mamm, she couldn’t stay. The Old Ways weren’t for her. With the exception of their common faith in God and His Son, Ivy thought differently on a lot of topics the Amish held dear. How could she stay inside a strict society she didn’t agree with?
Mamm climbed the ladder to the hayloft, not missing a beat even as she hoisted herself over a broken rung. Ivy kept intending to fix that. It was just one of dozens of things that needed repairing in the barn and milking parlor. But they never had any time it seemed. Still, despite all that needed repair, the structure itself—beams, trusses, stud walls, and foundation—was solid.
Ivy stood aside while Mamm tossed down the first bale of straw, and it landed with a thud. Ivy picked it up and tossed it next to the first stall. She and Mamm had this dance down pat after so many years. Prepare the stalls with straw, and fix the cows’ postmilking meal of silage and hay. Let the first group of cows in, put on disposable latex gloves to prevent spreading mastitis and spreading germs to the cows, clean the teats with a predip iodine solution, dry them with a towel, strip the foremilk, attach milking machines as soon as the solution dried, clean the teats again after the milking, and finally treat the animals to their dinner. The whole process had to happen twice. Since they had only enough milking machines and working stalls for four of the presently eight milking cows, the whole process took longer.