For the Amish of Pontotoc, Mississippi, faith can open minds—and hearts—to create surprising bonds for a lifetime . . .
Independent-minded Leah Gingerich has always been outspoken. And even though she is now a progressive Mennonite, she's rediscovering the joys of family traditions back in her Amish hometown. Yet she can't help but clash with her handsome new Amish neighbor, Jamie Stoltzfus. He's too hard-headed and old-line to see that his traumatized young nephew, Peter, needs faith and help—or that a woman who stands up to him may be what he needs to heal . . .
After a devastating tragedy, Jamie moved to Pontotoc with his nephew for a fresh start. Holding fast to his beliefs is the only way he feels he can aid Peter—and himself. But somehow, Leah's freethinking ways and feisty challenges are sparking a happiness he's never felt before. Soon, Jamie can't imagine his life without her. But are their differences ultimately too great to overcome—or can love bridge their way to a future together?
Praise for Amy Lillard and her Wells Landing novels
“An inspirational story of romance, faith, and trust . . . will appeal to fans of Wanda Brunstetter and Beverly Lewis.”
—Library Journal on Caroline’s Secret
“Fans of inspirational romance will appreciate Lillard’s vivid characters and positive message.”
About the Author
Amy Lillard is an award-winning author of over forty novels and novellas ranging from Amish romance and mysteries to contemporary and historical romance. Since receiving a Carol Award for her debut novel, Saving Gideon (2012), she has become known for writing sweet stories filled with family values, honest characters, a hometown feel and close-knit communities. She is a member of RWA, ACFW, NINC, and the Author’s Guild. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. Please visit her online at www.AmyWritesRomance.com.
Read an Excerpt
Leah's heart beat a little faster in her chest as she pulled her car down the lane leading to her parents' house. Coming home. It always felt the same, like riding a roller coaster with no restraints. Even after all this time.
"Who's that?" Brandon, her fifteen-year-old nephew, pointed to the buggy parked to one side. He may have only been in Amish country for a short while, but already he could tell the subtle differences in each individual buggy. The Amish might strive for community and sameness, but some things couldn't be completely contained.
"I don't know." And she really didn't care. Not to be rude, but she was too tired to give it much thought other than that her family seemed to have company a lot. She didn't need to know who it was as long as there was still a place for her at the table. She pulled her car next to the parked carriage and turned off the engine.
The evening sun had dipped behind the tree line. September was quickly approaching, and soon it would be dark. That was the thing about fall and winter. The days were shorter, and when she had so much to do. Lord, please.
That was her prayer of late. Only two words, but powerful. She had been praying the same prayer for weeks, ever since she decided to open Twice Blessed, a secondhand store on Main. She had prayed so often she figured God knew what she was about to say. No sense in wasting His time with too many words.
She rested her head against the steering wheel and released a heavy sigh. It felt good to just sit there for a moment and soak it all in: being home, the upcoming grand opening of her store, and life.
She turned her head, opening her eyes to find Brandon looking in the passenger side window. A small frown of concern wrinkled his brow.
"Are you coming in?"
"Yeah." She sat up and grabbed her bag out of sheer habit. It wasn't like she needed her things at her childhood home.
She slung the strap over one shoulder and followed Brandon up the porch steps.
As usual, the Gingerich house was buzzing with activity. Brandon jumped right in, heading toward the back of the house where the kitchen was located. To get a snack or lend a hand, who knew? That was the thing about teenagers — they were hard to read.
"Hey, sis. How's the store coming?" Her twin sister, Hannah, swept in from the direction of the kitchen carrying a basket of bread. She deposited it on the table as Leah set her purse in a nearby chair.
"Good. Good." She moved in for a hug.
It felt more than good, more than wonderful, to feel her sister's arms around her. They had been so close growing up, but when Hannah decided to get a taste of the Englisch world, everything changed. It had taken fifteen years, but finally they were back on track.
"We have guests," Hannah whispered as she moved away.
"What kind of guests?"
"The male variety. One grown, one about six."
"Anyone we know?"
Hannah shook her head, her loosely tied prayer kapp strings swaying with the motion. It was still a little bit of a shock to see her sister in her Amish clothing. It had been so long since Hannah had worn Plain dresses. But Leah was starting to get used to it. "They're from Ethridge."
There were two Amish settlements in Tennessee. The one in Ethridge was the largest, while the one in Adamsville was small, like theirs in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Adamsville had sprung from nowhere when couples who lived in Pontotoc had too much family in Ethridge and grew homesick. The small town was a halfway point of sorts between the two communities.
"Where did Mamm find them?"
Eunice Gingerich seemed to always be on the lookout for lost souls. Maybe that was where Leah got it, that need to help her fellow man.
"You know Mamm."
That she did.
Hannah moved in close. "I think he's looking for a wife. Well, at least Mamm seems determined to find him one."
"Gracie?" Leah asked, speaking of their cousin.
Hannah shrugged. "If Gracie gets married, Mamm won't have any help."
"Just for a while." By this time next year, Hannah Gingerich McLean would marry Aaron Zook and become the mother of three new children she obviously adored.
Leah wasn't the least bit jealous. She had led an eventful life, one that she certainly couldn't have lived if she had remained in her small home community. She had traveled to faraway places, other countries, to build shelters for the poor, repair schools, and tell people about Jesus. Fulfilling.
"What are we whispering about?" Gracie glided into the room, the platter of roast beef nearly hiding her face from them.
"Our supper guests."
Gracie's mouth formed a small O as she set the food on the table.
"Where's Tillie?" Leah asked. Their youngest sister was seriously dating her longtime friend Melvin Yoder. Well, as serious as dating could be before either one of them had joined the church. But once that decision was official, everyone expected they would marry as soon as possible.
"Picking the last of the tomatoes," Gracie said.
"He seems nice enough," Hannah said.
"Who? The man?" Leah asked.
Hannah nodded. "And Peter's a little cutie. But ..."
"But what?" she asked.
"You'll see at supper. Now come help us set the table."
* * *
With all three women working, it didn't take long to get the food to the large dining table that sat in a room off the kitchen. In fact, it took longer to get all the people there. But once Leah's father came in from his workshop — she knew he was trying to squeeze every ounce of daylight from the sky — her younger brother, David, followed close behind. Jim, the eldest, had most likely headed to his own house across the way to eat with his own wife and children.
Introductions went all around. Leah did her best to hide her surprise when she was presented to Jamie Stoltzfus. To say he wasn't what she had expected would be a huge understatement. Not that she had known what to expect. Tall and broad, Jamie was younger than she had imagined, with reddish-blond hair and eyes the color of a spring sky. She could picture those eyes sparkling with laughter, but right now they were serious, with fine lines at the corners. Worried. That was the word. His eyes were beautiful, but worried.
"How do you like Pontotoc so far?" Leah asked, looking from Jamie to Peter. He really was an adorable child. He favored his uncle quite a bit, enough that they could easily pass for father and son.
Peter ducked his head and stared down at his bare feet. Fall was coming, and soon he would be forced to wear shoes — a terrible time for most kids in the district.
Leah waited for Peter to glance back up, fighting his own shyness, but his gaze remained downcast. She looked to Jamie, who acted as if nothing was amiss. "Not much different from Tennessee. Just smaller."
Her mother bustled past with a pitcher of water and smiled. "You'll get used to it soon enough. There are days when I feel it's too big." She turned her attention to Peter. "What do you think?"
Peter's head dropped a little lower.
"He doesn't ... talk." Jamie cleared his throat. "Not since the accident."
All conversation came to a halt. Normally Gingerich family time was busy and loud. Was it any wonder, with nearly ten people waiting to be fed?
"Oh." Mamm set the pitcher on the vinyl tablecloth and blinked. Her expression was one of shocked sympathy, but somehow Leah didn't think Jamie would appreciate the sentiment.
"It's all right though," Jamie said. His eyes held a bright light, as if he was doing everything possible to convince those around him, as well as himself.
Slowly the conversation around them had picked back up. Yet Peter kept his gaze trained firmly on the floor. Something about the boy touched Leah's heart. It could've been his mop of coppery brown hair that hung almost to his shoulders, or those blue eyes so like his uncle's. But it was more than that. It was the haunted look on his face, the shadows that deepened his eyes as if he had seen far too much in his short years.
"What happened to the back of your hand?" At Brandon's question, everyone's attention swung back to Peter. He seemed to withdraw into himself, making his presence even less than it had been before.
Gracie hurried over and linked her arm with Leah's. "My goodness," she chirped. "We forgot to put the butter on the table. Brandon, can you help me with the butter?" She said the words even as she steered Leah toward the doorway leading into the kitchen.
Brandon looked at her as if she had completely lost her mind. "Can't you — "
"I'll help too." Not one to be left out, Hannah eased past them all and into the next room.
They all bustled into the kitchen, where Brandon propped one hip on the smaller kitchen table and looked at his aunts and cousin. "Now, that wasn't obvious at all," he drawled. "I take it that it's some secret?"
Gracie shook her head. "Not a secret, but a painful memory."
They had only a moment to wait before Hannah picked up the rest of the story. "Did you hear about that fire in Ethridge?"
"About six months ago?" Gracie clarified.
Leah thought through all the news she remembered hearing in the last few months. "The house fire?"
"That's the one." Gracie nodded.
"But —" Leah looked back toward the dining room. She had spent enough time in both rooms to know that they couldn't be overheard, but she lowered her voice all the same. "His parents died."
"And his baby sister," Hannah filled in.
"Peter himself was in the hospital for a couple of months."
"Poor family." Leah made a mental note to add the Stoltzfuses to her prayer list. She might be exhausted and hanging on by a thread, but there were others out there still in need.
"So that mark," Brandon said, "it's a burn scar?"
"Jah," Gracie said. "But don't mention it. Peter is sensitive."
Brandon nodded. "I read this book once where these two kids run into a burning schoolhouse to save some other kids. One got really burned, but he died."
Leah's heart went out to what was left of the family — an uncle and a son. They had traveled so far for a chance to start over.
David poked his head into the kitchen and gave them all a small grin. "Dat said quit whatever it is you think you're doing and get back to the table. We have company and it's time to pray. Oh, and Mamm said bring the applesauce."
"Jah. Okay," Hannah murmured and moved to exit the kitchen. Leah grabbed the applesauce while Brandon and Gracie started toward the dining room once again.
The air around the table was thick with suppressed emotion. Leah could feel it like a weight pressing her down into her seat. The oppressive atmosphere did not change as everyone bowed their heads to pray. In no time, they were passing food around as everyone filled their plates. At least the conversation had started to flow again, though it was more stilted than smooth.
"What do you do, Jamie?" David asked as he scooped out a helping of mashed potatoes.
"For a living?" he asked.
Jamie cleared his throat. "I was hoping to get into a bit of handiwork."
"Like repairs and things?" David asked.
Jamie nodded. "I don't have enough land to farm. Farming's hard, going it alone."
Nods went all around the men at the table.
"Leah opened a store," Tillie blurted.
"Not yet," Leah murmured.
"Well, this week."
Jamie turned those incredibly blue eyes to her. "Is that so? What kind of store?"
"It's a resale shop. You know, clothes and house goods."
He nodded. "Where is it?" he asked. "In front of your house?"
Most all Amish in Pontotoc had a small store in front of their house in which to sell their family's products. Jams, jellies, pickles, and sauerkraut were peddled on a regular basis.
"It's on Main. Next to the Chinese restaurant."
"You're Mennonite," he said, as if for the first time noticing that she was dressed modestly, but not Plain. His face was passive as he spoke, but Leah saw the flash of censure in his eyes. A lot of people felt Mennonites were Amish who couldn't cut it. But that was far from the truth.
She lifted her chin. "That's right."
Around them, the conversation fell silent.
Jamie cleared his throat and dropped his gaze to his plate, but something in Leah couldn't let it go. How dare he pass judgment on her!
"Is there something wrong with being Mennonite?"
He seemed reluctant to answer. "They are more liberal, to be certain, jah?"
"And liberal is bad?"
"Leah, can you pass the potatoes, please?" Hannah's voice was unnaturally high-pitched, and she still had a mound of food on her plate, potatoes included.
"I want to hear what he has to say," Leah replied. She had been fighting these stereotypes ever since she had decided to join the Mennonite church. It was the closest she could be to the Amish without returning, but it was more than that. The message they preached, the love they shared, and the gospel of Jesus all spoke to her in a way Amish teachings never had. She turned her attention back to Jamie and raised one brow in challenge.
Jamie shrugged. "If it works between you and God ..." he said, but didn't finish the statement. He didn't have to.
"Wow, Mamm, this roast is delicious," Tillie said. "That's one of the best things about fall. Cooking in the oven again. I mean, you can cook in the oven in the summertime, but it heats up the house so bad. This is the earliest I've ever seen you cook a roast. I don't think I ever remember you cooking a roast in the summer the entire time I was growing up. What about you, Leah?"
She turned to her sister. "No, I can't say as I remember a single one."
And just like that, the conversation shifted. The atmosphere at the table seemed to relax, but every time Leah caught Jamie looking at her, she could see the remains of the censure in his eyes. What was so wrong with being Mennonite? She prayed to the same God, dressed modestly, and didn't have to rely on a driver if she needed to go someplace. So she didn't wear a prayer kapp. Her hair was still covered when she prayed. And just because she didn't make her own clothes didn't mean she was less godly than her sisters, or anyone else for that matter. Having a car didn't change what was in a person's heart. Maybe that was what was wrong with Jamie Stoltzfus. Maybe he was struggling with his own faith and taking it out on her choices. It was a good thing she wouldn't have to see him again after tonight. Come tomorrow, she would be far too busy with her shop to worry about the likes of him.
* * *
Jamie forked up another bite of the delicious roast and said a silent prayer of thanks. He had been eating his own cooking for days. Not that it was bad, but it wasn't good. Not like this.
The invitation from Eunice to come to supper tonight was a gift from heaven. He and Peter had been holed up in their tiny cabin at the edge of the Gingerich property doing everything they could to adjust to the move. But staying at his own house and eating his own food was not integrating him into this new community.
All he had wanted when he moved to Pontotoc was a fresh start. It was inevitable. No one there knew them. Oh, they knew his family or knew someone who did. None of the Southern communities were big enough to escape that. Everyone in Pontotoc knew someone in Ethridge. Everyone in Ethridge knew someone in Adamsville. Everyone in Adamsville knew someone in Pontotoc, and so on. If they didn't know one of his kin, then they had surely heard of the terrible fire that had claimed the lives of his brother, his sister-in-law, and their baby, Ellie.
"Handiwork, jah?" David asked again.
Jamie nodded. "I figure I can take Peter with me when I go to a job." He didn't want to leave the boy at home alone. Peter was having enough struggles adjusting to what had happened to his family.
"He's not in school?" This from Leah.
He had done his best not to look at her the entire time they had been seated at the table. It was a near impossible feat, as she was seated directly across from him. But even more than that, his gaze seemed to have developed a mind of its own and liked to look at her despite his best efforts not to.
"He doesn't talk." Was there a part of that he hadn't made clear? He had hoped like everything that Peter would come out of this chosen-mute state he had fallen into. The boy could hear and see, he could think and respond, but he wouldn't utter a word. It was beyond Jamie as to why, but the doctors in Nashville had cited trauma and told Jamie that he would come out of it when he came out of it. As long as he was eating, sleeping, drinking, and otherwise going about his normal day, not to worry about it. But Jamie worried. Oh, how he worried.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Love For Leah"
Copyright © 2018 Amy Lillard.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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