Read an Excerpt
The gentle spring breeze sent cherry blossoms floating through the air, pink petals settling over Rachel and James as they walked hand in hand through the orchard.
Rachel King stepped away from him and held her arms out, wanting to breathe in the beauty of the petal shower. “It’s like falling snow!”
James Lapp planted his legs apart and tipped back his hat. A slight smile appeared as he watched her reach out to catch falling petals. “That’s the difference between us, Rachel. You see a shower of flower petals. I see early blooms that’ll wither if we get a late frost.”
“That’s the good in living off the land. It keeps a man down-to-earth.”
“I know you’re used to this wonderful sight, working in the orchard every day, but there’s something about blossoming trees that makes the heart burst with joy.”
“Ya, if you don’t have to prune them.” The warmth in his dark eyes told her he was teasing.
“Is it a chore when you love what you do? You’ve told me yourself that your dat used to call you a tree monkey. When it was time to pick peaches, he couldn’t get you to stay on the ladder.”
James chuckled. “That was me.” He leaped up, grabbed on to an overhead branch, and hung there a moment before doing an easy chin-up.
“You’re still a tree monkey!” she said, glorying in the cascade of petals loosened by the jolt to the tree limb.
“Ya, but I’ve learned that a ladder is the easiest way up a tree.” With dark hair that framed his handsome face and smoky eyes that warmed for Rachel, James was solid and grounded. His steady calm was one of the things that had won Rachel over a year ago when he’d started driving her home from singings and youth gatherings. At a time when other Amish fellas were putting boom boxes in their buggies and tossing back beers, James followed a simple path, choosing baptism and the management of the Lapp family orchards. Rachel liked to picture him as the root system that anchored her to the earth.”
James dropped to the ground and leaned down to pick up a fallen bud. “Here’s one for you.”
Rachel held her breath as he came close, brushing back the edge of her prayer Kapp to tuck the pale pink bud over her left ear. His touch sent shimmers rippling down her spine even as the gesture warmed her from head to toe. Ya, he kept her feet on the ground, but he let her heart soar.
“There.” His dark eyes held her as his broad hands dropped to her shoulders. “You are the finest blossom in the Lapp orchard.” His arms encircled her, and she melted in his embrace. Rachel loved the way he made her feel small and delicate against his strong, solid body. His lips touched hers gently, quick as a butterfly’s glance, but she felt the spark of love in that kiss.
“We should go to the sugar shack,” she murmured. “Out here in the orchard … people can see. Your parents might be watching.”
“With these trees so thick with blossoms? I think we’re well hidden.” He caught her in his dark gaze. The flicker in his eyes let her know that he was feeling the same love that stirred her heart. Could he feel the quiet tremble of her limbs? Or the wooziness that overtook her when his lips nuzzled her jaw, leaving a trail of tingling sensation that became heated by his warm breath?
“Besides,” he whispered, “I don’t care if they see us. I don’t care if they know that I love you, Rachel.”
I love you, Rachel.
His words swelled and blossomed inside her, filling her heart with goodness and light. But just when they were about to kiss, the sweet moment faded, slipping away like sugar sifting between her fingers.
A dream … it was all a dream.
In the pink light of early morning, Rachel opened her eyes to blots of color that made up the large bedroom shared by the King girls.
All a dream.
Rachel closed her eyes and clung to the sweetness, holding tight to the scent of cherry blossoms and the sureness of love. James loved her! And James was strong, standing and walking and swinging from a tree, healthy and hearty as ever!
She tried to hold in the goodness of the dream, but reality tapped on her mind like fat raindrops. James would not be grabbing on to a tree in the orchard today, or anytime soon.
Before she could ease herself away, she was back in that terrible moment, hearing the sickening screech of tires on the road, the grind of metal. The accident. Although Rachel had been able to walk away from the wrecked van, James had not. He was still recovering from spinal injuries, confined to a wheelchair for now. Maybe forever.
“Sighing, she rolled over to see her younger sisters asleep in the double bed. Twelve-year-old Bethany’s bare foot hung out from under the quilt, and nine-year-old Molly’s sweet lips were pursed like a rosebud. Sleep was the only time Molly’s lips were still, but Rachel didn’t mind her chatterbox little sister. In fact, her sister’s gabbing was just the sort of reassuring company Rachel had sought when she gave up her room in the attic to move down here with the younger girls. Rachel had hoped to spend more time with sister Rose, too, but Rose, now sixteen, had other notions. Eager to leap into Rumspringa, Rose had missed the point of companionship and moved up to Rachel’s room, sure that a young man would soon come courting at her window. Oh, Rose, so full of dreams!
Still, Rachel was grateful for the chance to talk more with her other sisters, whose steady breathing in the bed across from her was reassuring. Let Rose have the room upstairs; no young man would be calling for Rachel anytime soon, not with James still unable to walk.
Rachel closed her eyes in the hopes of recapturing the sweet dream—reliving the time when James had moved freely and managed the family orchard without fail. With a deep breath, she tried to bring back the scent of blossoms and the warm strength of James’s arms around her.
But the dream was gone, and so was the James she had fallen in love with. The accident had pulled him away from her … so far away. Many things changed when a vehicle had hit the van Rachel and James had been riding in back in January. The other driver, a young Englisher girl, had been killed, and James’s uncle Tom Lapp had died later in the hospital. So much heartbreak for two families, Englisher and Amish alike. The accident had sent old Jacob Fisher into a terrible fit of breathing, but he seemed to be recovering, thank the good Lord. And James, her James had hurt his back, really bad.
The golden wash of light told Rachel that it would be time to start the day soon, a fine Monday morning. Time to wake her sisters and roust them from bed. There were chores to be done, a breakfast to prepare. Cows to milk, and a house and barns to redd up. All tasks that went against Rachel’s grain. But now, she would do the stinkiest chores gladly if it meant that James could get better.
She slid out of bed, pulled the quilt over her shoulders, and padded barefoot to the window seat Dat had built. Outside, sunshine shot over the green and purple hills in the distance. The morning air was cold, but the sun promised warmth to the day—Gott’s promise of springtime and light and hope. Rachel thought of the colors in the paint kit her Englisher friend Haley had given her and wished she had time to paint right now. How she would enjoy mixing colors to come up with spring-field green, daffodil yellow, crocus purple, and the rich blots of pink and purple and orange and red that made up a sunrise. Upstairs in her old room, among the many unfinished canvases, was a new painting she had just finished for James. It was different from her usual style, but she thought it might spark some joy in his heart.
And James was so very much in need of joy.