When a baby-only hours old-is discovered on the Amish bishop's front porch in Painter's Mill, Ohio, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called in to investigate. The newborn is swaddled in an Amish crib quilt, and the only other item found with the child is a hand-carved wood rattle, which Kate also recognizes as Amish.
The little girl seems healthy and whole; but who would abandon her and why? Though the quilt and rattle could be purchased, Kate suspects the mother is Amish, possibly young and unmarried, both of which would be powerful motives for such a desperate act. With the rattle and the baby quilt as the only clues, Kate must call upon her own Amish roots, and with the help of state agent John Tomasetti, search the Amish and "English" communities of Painters Mill for clues to unravel the poignant, puzzling mystery.
About the Author
Linda Castillo is the New York Times bestselling author of the Kate Burkholder novels, including Sworn to Silence which was adapted into a Lifetime Original Movie titled An Amish Murder starring Neve Campbell as Kate Burkholder. Castillo is the recipient of numerous industry awards including a nomination by the International Thriller Writers for Best Hardcover, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, and a nomination for the RITA. In addition to writing, Castillo’s other passion is horses. She lives in Texas with her husband and is currently at work on her next novel.
Read an Excerpt
A Hidden Secret
A Kate Burkholder Story
By Linda Castillo
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Linda Castillo
All rights reserved.
She thought she'd been prepared. What a fool she was, to think she could do this on her own. Stupid, stupid girl. If she hadn't been in such a dark place, she might have laughed at the magnitude of her own idiocy. At the moment, she didn't think she'd ever laugh again. Wasn't even sure she'd survive.
The pain was worse than anything she'd ever experienced in her life. Like a hand that had been thrust into her body, grasping at the very core of her, pulling and tearing until she was turned inside out. She screamed and panted and cursed. She writhed on her bed, crying uncontrollably, wet with sweat and twisting in the sheets. She'd sought relief on the floor, the hardwood cool against her face. She tried lying in a bathtub full of warm water, like she'd read in the books. Nothing helped. The pain only worsened as the night wore on. It became part of her, a vicious and unrelenting thing, beating her down, until she lay still, staring into the darkness, saving her breath for the next onslaught.
She'd never felt so alone. She'd never been so scared. Oh, how she wished he were here with her. Between the waves of pain, she talked to him. She cried for him; told him how much she loved him. How much she missed him. Then another surge engulfed her and she wished, not for the first time, that she was the one who'd died instead of him.
Twice, she almost called for an ambulance. Anything to end the suffering. Then she thought of her dad. How disappointed he'd be. She thought of her friends and how they would look at her if they knew. She thought of those who would never be her friend and she knew they'd turn this into something it wasn't. None of them would understand. She had to get through this. Alone.
An earthquake of agony tore through her. She bit down on the cloth between her teeth. She gave in to the urge to bear down. She pushed hard. Gave it her all. She just wanted it out of her body. She wanted this to be over. She wanted it gone so she could get on with her life.
Oh, God! Oh, God!
A final push. Animal intensity. Muscles quivering. Primal sounds squeezing from her throat. Sweating and grunting like a beast. The cruel fist clenching and tearing low in her belly. Her eyes fluttered. Her vision went dark. For an instant, she couldn't breathe. Couldn't hear but for the buzzing inside her head.
The pain shifted and eased. She sucked in a breath. Her senses returned. For an instant, she lay there, panting and exhausted, trying to absorb the magnitude of what she'd done.
After a moment, she sat up. A sob tore from her throat when she saw the bluish, bloody mass. A dark shock of hair matted with blood. Tiny hands and feet moving. Wrinkled red face. Little mouth mewling like a kitten.
She should have anticipated the blood. Warm and wet and slick on her skin. Bright red and shimmering against the floor. The sight of it terrified her anew. Not because it had come from her body, but because she didn't know how she would get it cleaned up before someone discovered her secret.
Panic nipped at her with sharp teeth. She'd read all the books; she knew what to do. Hands shaking, she grasped the scissors. Not thinking, not letting herself feel, she snipped.
And the final tie was severed.
* * *
The bishop dreamed of repairing the fence. The one on the south side of the pasture that had been kicked last spring by that rambunctious bay colt, knocking the third rail off the post. His wife had been after him to fix it for weeks now. He'd never admit it, but it was getting harder and harder to keep up with all the chores around the farm these days. Kneeling, he set the bubble level atop the board, set the nail against the wood, and let the hammer fly with a satisfying whack!
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The old man startled awake. Disoriented, he sat up, listening, unsure what had roused him. A noise outside his window? One of the animals? He glanced over at his wife, sleeping soundly beside him, and sighed. It seemed the livestock always got into trouble at night. The horses. The milk cows. That little pygmy goat that had gotten separated from its mother last week. It didn't matter how secure the pasture or barn, they always found a way to escape. Might as well rise now and get a jump on the day's chores.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The sound was faint, a barely discernible rap from downstairs. A neighbor stopping by to let him know that fat little goat had escaped its pen again? The little rascal was more trouble than he was worth. But the old man smiled as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was reaching for his clothes draped over the rocking chair when he heard the other sound. Not the goat, but the soft mewl of an abandoned kitten. Or a cat that had been injured, judging from the intensity of its cry. Whatever the case, it needed help.
He dressed in the darkness of the bedroom. Black trousers. Blue work shirt. He pulled his suspenders over bony shoulders and then wriggled into his black coat. On his way to the door, he plucked his flat-brimmed hat from the hook on the wall.
The steps creaked beneath his stocking feet as he made his way downstairs. The clock on the wall in the living room told him it wasn't yet four-thirty. He was thinking about a hot cup of coffee and helping himself to one of his wife's apple fritters as he went into the kitchen and lit the lantern. He carried it back through the living room to the front door. Setting the lantern on the table, he opened the door. There was no one there. He looked down; surprise quivered through him at the sight of the plastic laundry basket. A quilt inside. But who would leave an injured animal on his doorstep?
Something moved within the quilt. The sound that followed sent him back a step. Alarm fluttered deep in his gut. He pressed his hand to his chest. He'd fathered eleven children; he'd heard enough crying in his lifetime to know this was no animal, but a child, and a newborn at that.
Bending, he carefully peeled away a corner of the quilt. Sure enough, the wrinkled red face of an infant stared back at him. Tiny mouth open. Chin quivering. Hands fluttering.
The old man's heart turned over. "En bobli," he whispered. A baby.
He figured he'd held a hundred or more babies in the eighty-one years he'd been on earth. It had been awhile — even his grandchildren were older now — but holding one of God's children was something a man never forgot. Ignoring the arthritis in his knees, he knelt, plucked the child and quilt from the basket, and brought both to his chest.
"Vo du dich kumma funn?" he cooed in Pennsylvania Dutch. "Where did you come from?"
A rustle from the darkness beyond the porch startled him. Something moved on the other side of the lilac bushes that grew alongside the driveway. Cradling the baby, he stepped back and squinted into the shadows beyond the porch.
"Who goes there?" he called out.
He listened, thought he heard footsteps against gravel, faint and moving away. "Hello? Who's there?"
The only reply was the whisper of wind through the trees. Whoever had left this child on his doorstep was gone.
"Was der schinner du havva?" What've you got there?
He jolted at the sound of his wife's voice, turned to see her, still clad in her nightgown, a thick cardigan sweater draped over her shoulders, creeping down the stairs, a lantern in her hand.
Taking a final look outside, the bishop closed the door and started toward his wife. "I believe God has sent us a package from heaven."
She thrust the lantern toward him. Her step faltered; her eyes went wide when she spotted the baby. "Oh Good Lord! En bobli?" She looked from the child to her husband. "Where did it come from?"
"The porch," he told her. "Wrapped in the deppich, inside a laundry basket."
Recovering from her shock, she set the lantern on the table against the wall. "Someone left it? But who would do such a thing?"
The bishop shook his head. "A mother who's lost her way."
His wife's eyes attached to the baby. "Oh, poor little thing." She held out her arms, and he slipped the child into them. Though they were old, they remembered how to handle a baby. He wondered how many times over the years they'd passed a crying infant back and forth as a young couple building their family.
"It's cute as a button," his wife purred. "Look at that little nose."
"Do you think it's Amisch?" the old man asked.
"The deppich" — the quilt — "is Amisch."
He looked toward the door. "I wonder how long it was out there in the cold."
His wife made a sound, as if the thought distressed her. "I bet it's hungry." She clucked her tongue. "I don't have a baby bottle in the house. But I do have some goat's milk in the refrigerator."
"Easier on the stomach," his wife told him. "I can use my finger and get a few drops in its belly."
Looking down at the child in her arms, she trilled. "Witt du wennich eppes zu ess?" Want you a little something to eat?
The bishop stared at the tiny, wriggling infant and, despite the worry weighing him down, he smiled. "Don't fret, Little One," he said. "It's all part of God's plan."
He caught his wife's gaze. "The English police will want to know about this," he said.
"Es waarken maulvoll gat," she replied. There's nothing good about that. "Ich bag nix dagege." But I don't object.
He nodded. "So be it."
Cradling the child against her, his wife turned and started toward the kitchen.
* * *
A middle-of-the-night phone call is never a good thing when you're the chief of police, even in a small town like Painters Mill, Ohio. The chirp of my cell phone yanks me from a deep sleep. One eye open, I grapple for it on the table next to my bed. "Burkholder," my voice rasps.
"Chief, sorry to wake you."
It's my graveyard shift dispatcher, Mona. She sounds worried.
"No problem." I push myself to a sitting position and shove the hair from my eyes. The clock on the nightstand tells me it's not yet five A.M. "What's up?"
"I just took a call from the Amish bishop," she tells me. "He says he found a baby on his doorstep about twenty minutes ago."
"A baby?" I'm out of bed and reaching for my bra draped over the chair, yanking a fresh uniform shirt from the closet.
"Yup. A newborn."
"Any sign of the mother?"
"Just the baby."
"Is it hurt? Or injured?"
"He didn't think so."
I consider that for a moment. "Call Holmes County Children's Services, will you? They've got an emergency number for after hours. Tell them to meet me out there ASAP. And let the ER folks at Pomerene Hospital know we're on our way."
"And call Bishop Troyer back. Tell him I'll be there in ten minutes."
"Sure thing, Chief."
I end the call, my dispatcher's words tumbling uneasily in my brain. A newborn.
I look toward the bed to see John Tomasetti flip on the light. For an instant we squint at each other. "I caught the tail end of the conversation." He throws back the covers and steps into trousers. "What's up?"
I tell him about Mona's call.
"Abandoned?" he asks.
"Apparently." I feel the grimace overtake my face. "I've got to get out to the bishop's farm. If it's a newborn, it may need medical attention."
"You want some company?"
"You mean officially?"
"Or unofficially. Whatever works."
Usually, when dealing with the Amish, I prefer to do it alone. They're more likely to speak freely to me than to my counterparts, mainly because of my Amish roots and the simple fact that I'm fluent in Pennsylvania Dutch. But there's nothing usual about this call and I think it might be best to bring a partner along. Especially since John Tomasetti is an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
I smile at him. "You think you'll manage to behave yourself?" He snags a shirt from his closet and shrugs into it. "I'll do my best."
"That's a likely story." But I grab my equipment belt off the chair and buckle it at my hip. "Let's go."
* * *
Bishop David Troyer and his wife live on a farm just south of Painters Mill. I've known the bishop for as long as I can remember. When I was twelve, my datt caught me smoking a cigarette with a neighbor boy by the name of Brodie Mathis. It was a serious offense for an Amish girl, made worse by the fact that Brodie was five years my senior and an Englischer, to boot. It wasn't my first show of disobedience, and my datt delivered a robust "smacking" when he got me back to the house. The following Sunday after worship, he made it a point to put me before Bishop Troyer, who proceeded to lecture me on the importance of obedience and the benefits of being a "good child." The bishop possesses a powerful presence and, in my twelve-year-old heart, he was the closest thing to God I'd ever encountered. It was a formative experience. After that day, my opinion of him hovered somewhere between terror and awe. It wasn't until I'd graduated into adulthood that I realized while he can be judgmental, his words sometimes harsh, he is also kind and generous and fair.
I take the long gravel lane of the Troyer farm with a little too much speed. Ahead, the windows of the old farmhouse glow yellow with lantern light.
"Any idea who might've left their baby here?" Tomasetti asks as I pull up beside a ramshackle shed.
"Since it was left with the bishop, I suspect she's Amish." I consider that as I put the Explorer into Park and kill the engine. "Then again, if an Amish woman or girl had an unplanned pregnancy and felt she couldn't handle a newborn, it seems like the most likely place to leave a baby would be with her parents."
"Unless there are problems at home."
I glance at him and nod. "Hopefully the bishop will be able to shed some light."
I grab my Maglite, and Tomasetti and I take the sidewalk to the back door. I've not even knocked yet when the door opens and I find myself staring at the bishop. Clad in black with a long, steel-wool beard, eyes as dark and penetrating as mica, he's still got that powerful presence that intimidated me so completely as a child.
"Katie." His usually stern face is a mask of worry this morning.
"Bishop." I look past him toward the kitchen. "Thank you for calling me."
"It seemed like the right thing to do." His eyes flick to Tomasetti.
Extending his hand for a shake, Tomasetti introduces himself, using his official title. "Is the baby healthy?" he asks.
"If that baby's cry is any indication, she's as healthy as a horse." Stepping back, the bishop ushers us inside. "This way."
The mudroom is dimly lit, too warm, and smells of coffee and frying scrapple, an Amish breakfast staple. The plank floor creaks beneath our shoes as we cross to the kitchen. I find the bishop's wife, Ada, standing at the sink, cradling a small, wriggling bundle against her generous bosom.
"Guder mariye, Ada." I bow my head slightly. Good morning.
She nods, but doesn't smile. "Wie bischt du heit, Katie?" How are you this morning? The elderly woman's eyes flick to Tomasetti and only then do I realize the discomfort on her face is due to the fact that she's wearing a plain flannel nightgown, with an oversize cardigan and well-worn socks.
I cross to her and look down at the bundle. Tomasetti holds his ground just inside the doorway. Ada opens a flap, exposing a tiny, wrinkled face and cloudy blue eyes. "She's a pretty little thing," the Amish woman tells me.
"A girl?" I ask.
The woman nods. "I checked. And brand-new, too. Cord is still attached."
I stare down at the small, alienlike creature and a combination of affection and uneasiness presses into me. I've not spent much time around babies. In fact, I'll be the first to admit I'm more than a little out of my element. Even so, there's nothing more heartrending than to look into the eyes of such a tiny and vulnerable human being and know someone abandoned her.
"I'll just let you hold her while I get dressed."
Before I can object, the Amish woman places her gently in my arms. She must have sensed my hesitation — or maybe the instant of panic in my eyes — because she chuckles. "Keep her head in the crook of your arm to support it." Bending slightly — ignoring my discomfort — she coos at the baby. "Just like that."
Excerpted from A Hidden Secret by Linda Castillo. Copyright © 2015 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love this series. I can't get enough of Kate Burkholder. I love that Linda Castillo gives us short stories to hold us over until the next book is released. I highly suggest reading this and the entire series if you haven't already
I love ALL of Linda Castillo books .. especially the Kate Burkholder Amish series .. she has a new one coming out very soon After the Storm that i just cant wait to get my hands on .. Ive read them all !! If you enjoy Amish books check out her books You wont be sorry
This great little novella was a nice glimpse into the world of Kate Burkholder. It was very interesting to see Kate start to have some feelings of her biological clock ticking away while dealing with this case. I really felt for the young mother and all of the tragedy she had endured. I was glad that she made sure her baby was safe when she left her, and that all of the people who came into contact with the infant were so enchanted by her. I really liked the idea of the grandparents raising the baby. It seemed like Kate and Tomasetti were in a really good place together in this one and I enjoyed the way he just went along with her on her cases as a matter of course. This really whetted my appetite for the upcoming book!
Enjoyed but too short
I saw the film Amish Murder and checked our this short book to see if the book, Sworn to Silence might be a good read since the film was taken from that Linda Castillo novel. The film seemed to leave out so much as a 2 hour film has to do. The book was so much better and I am eager to read more in the Kate Burkholder Series. A Hidden Secret was well written and encouraged me to order the novel that the film was based on. I was not familiar with Linda Castillo but now she is one of my favorite authors.
A great short story to hold you over until the next full length Kate Burkholder. Even short this story has heart and leaves you wanting more.