Jacob Lapp has loved Annie Zook since childhood. But she's never seen him that way. Once courtedthen rejectedby his older brother, Annie's wary of the Lapp men. But now that Jacob is working at her dat's blacksmith shop, he feels he's been given a second chance. It's no secret Annie wants a husband. Yet she's intent on marrying someone older, more establishedsomeone the opposite of Jacob. Can he ever break down the walls she's forged around her fragile heart and prove to her that he's the perfect man for her?
Lancaster County Weddings: Binding two hearts as one in Amish country
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Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The windows were open, allowing the warm breeze of early autumn to flow throughout the two-story farmhouse. Anna Zook sat in the family gathering room, folding laundry from a basket of line-dried clothes. She pulled out her youngest brother Peter's light blue shirt, held it up for inspection and then laid it across the back of the sofa.
It was quiet. Her mother, Peter and her sister Barbara had taken her grandparents up north to see her gross-mudder's sister, Evie, in New Wilmington, an Amish community north of Pittsburgh. Her older brother Josiah had left early this morning to visit the Amos Kings, most particularly his new sweetheart, Nancy. Dat was making some repairs to the grosseldre's house while her grandparents were away.
As she reached into the basket for another garment, Annie glanced at Millie, sleeping on the floor not far from her feet. Every day she thanked the Lord that Dat allowed her to keep her dog inside the house instead of out in the barn where the other animals were kept. In her community, most pets were excluded from homes, but Millie was special, at least to Annie. And her father was kind to understand what Millie meant to her.
She spread an apron on the cushion beside her, smoothing out the wrinkles before laying it on top of Peter's shirt. Millie lifted her head and eyed Annie briefly before closing her eyes and lying back down. Annie smiled tenderly at the animal. Millie was a black-and-white mongrel"mutt" Peter called herwith soulful brown eyes and a mouth that looked as if she were smiling whenever she sat up, panting for a treat. She loved Millie; the dog gave her unconditional affection, following her wherever she went. It had been Millie who had helped her get over the heartache and loss of Jedidiah Lapp. When he'd talked of being friends, she'd known he was telling her that he was no longer interested in her as his sweetheart.
I'll not be hurt again, she thought. Only by marrying for practical reasons would she keep her heart safe. I'll wed a church elder or a widower with children, someone who will appreciate me and be happy to have me as his bride. Then after the wedding, she would learn to become fond of her husband. No handsome young man would hurt her again.
As she folded pants, socks and undergarments, Annie frowned. Lately, her mother had been hinting that she wasn't getting any younger. "You should find someone to marry and soon," Mam had said.
How could she find someone to marry? Didn't they have to show an interest in her first? She tried to think of all the older men who were free to marry. Preacher Levi Stoltzfus. Amos King's brother Ike, newly back in his home community from Indiana, where he'd lived with his wife before she'd passed on.
Annie loved it in Happiness. Whomever she married must stay here. Charlotte King had married Abram Peachy, their deacon, and she was happy raising Abram's five children. If I can find someone as nice as Abram, I'll be content. First respect, then love will follow, a safe kind of love that brings only peace rather than heartbreak.
She picked up a stack of socks and set them carefully in the laundry basket. Next to the socks, she placed the folded undergarments. Suddenly, Millie rose up on all fours and began to bark fiercely.
"Millie!" she scolded, startled by her dog's behavior. "Stop that this minute!" What was bothering her?
But the dog continued to bark as she scurried toward the window, rose up on her hind legs, propped her front paws on the windowsill and then barked and whined as she peered outside.
"Girl, what do you see?" Annie frowned as she approached, looking over the dog's head to search the yard for the cause of the animal's agitation. And she saw the ladder against the grosseldre's house leaning crookedly against the gutter. Suddenly apprehensive, Annie searched for her father and then saw him, lying on the ground not far from the base of the ladder.
"Dat!" She rushed out of the house and ran to him. Millie slipped out behind her, but Annie cared only to get to her father to see if he was all right. Millie hovered nearby, wanting to get close enough to sniff Dat, and Annie had to scold the young dog to stay away.
"Dat," Annie breathed as she knelt near his head.
He groaned. "Annie" He tried to rise and cried out with pain.
"Nay," she said. "Don't move. We don't know how badly you're hurt."
Her father lay with his eyes closed, looking paler than she'd ever seen him. "I'll go for help. Stay where you are." She leaned closer. "Dat, can you hear me?"
"Ja," came his soft whisper, then he grimaced.
Annie stood, and raced barefoot through the grass and down the dirt drive as fast as she could, her heart thudding, her fear rising with each step. It wasn't safe to try to move him herself. She had to get help.
"We had a gut morning," Jacob Lapp said as he steered the family's horse-driven market wagon from Bird-in-Hand toward home. "Dat will be pleased that we picked up the lumber."
"Ja, and Mam will be happy we bought everything on her list and so quickly," his younger brother Isaac said.
Jacob flashed him a glance. "You helping Dat with the repairs at Abram's?"
"Ja, 'tis why he wanted the lumber this morning. The shed on the deacon's property has become unsafe. Abram is afraid that one of the children will get hurt."
Jacob silently agreed. A building that wasn't sturdy was an accident waiting to happen. "They'll have plenty of time to fix the shed today," he said conversationally. "It's a gut day to be working outside." His brothers were handy with tools, expert in construction. Jacob could handle a hammer as well as any of them, but he didn't want to work in that occupation for a living.
He sighed. He wanted what his older brothers had: a wife, a home and work that would provide for his family. His older brothers had found their life paths. Noah was an expert cabinetmaker with a thriving business. Jedidiah, his eldest brother, owned a small farm and supplemented his income with construction work when it suited him.
But me? I help Dat with the farmwork, but I don't want to be a farmer, nor do I want to work in construc- tion. And I don't have Noah's talent for making furniture. He had no idea what his special God-given gifts were, and until he discovered he had any, he'd not be thinking of marrying. He wouldn't wed until he could provide for a family.
As he drove down the main road, past Whittier's Store, and continued on, Jacob pushed those thoughts aside and enjoyed the scenery. The only sounds were the horse's hooves hitting pavement and the occasional rev of an engine as a car approached and then passed.
Suddenly, he saw a young Amish woman running barefoot down the road. She stopped and waved at them frantically as they drove past. "Schtupp!"
Jacob pulled the buggy to the side of the road. Once he'd reined the horse to a halt, he sprang from the vehicle and hurried back to see what was wrong. He recognized the young woman immediately. "Annie!" She was Annie Zook, a friend from childhood and his brother Jed's former sweetheart.
Annie hesitated. "Jacob?"
"Ja." He studied her with concern. "Annie, is something wrong? Can we help?"
She glanced from him to Isaac as if she wondered if they could help. "Dat's hurt!" she exclaimed. "He fell off the roof of my grosseldre's house!"
Jacob hid his alarm. "Is he conscious?"
"Ja," she cried, "but he's in pain!"
"I'll stay with you," he told her, "while Isaac goes for help." Isaac climbed out of the vehicle and approached. Jacob addressed his younger brother, "I'll drive to the Zooks', then you take the wagon. Find a phone and call 911." Isaac nodded, his expression turning anxious before he got back into the vehicle. Jacob helped Annie into the buggy, then he climbed in and took up the leathers. "Yah!" he cried, spurring the horse on.
The horse's hooves pounded against the macadam road. Jacob drove down the dirt lane to the Zooks' farmhouse, hopped out and helped Annie to alight. He turned to his brother. "Hurry, Isaac!" he urged. "Try the Martins or Whittier's Store."
"I will." Isaac slid over and grabbed the reins. "Don't worry, Annie. I'll get help." Then, he set the mare to a fast pace as he steered the animal back to the main road and toward the nearest available phone.
"Where is your vadder?" Jacob asked.
"Over here," she said. He accompanied her past the main house to where her father had fallen.
Jacob felt his heart beat faster as he saw the ladder, which looked like it would topple over. He noted the danger to Joe, who lay on the ground a few feet away. "Hold on, Joe!" He rushed to move the piece of equipment a safe distance from the dawdi haus before he returned quickly to hunker down near the injured man's head. "Joe?" he said softly. His fear rose when the man didn't immediately respond.
"Dat!" Annie sobbed, clearly terrified. "Dat, open your eyessay something! Please!" She touched her father's cheek. "Dat, Jacob Lapp is here. Isaac has gone for help."
Joe's eyelashes fluttered and then opened. "Annie?" Annie crouched next to Jacob. "Ja, Dat! Jacob and me. What hurts?"
"My leg," he gasped.
Joe tried to rise, then cried out and reached toward his left leg. Jacob immediately stopped him. "Nay. Don't move. You could injure yourself more."
Joe leaned back and closed his eyes. "Burns," he whispered. "Feels like fire."
"Hold on." Jacob's gaze met Annie's. "An ambulance will be here soon," he assured her.
Her blue eyes glistening with tears, she nodded. "I didn't know what to do."
"You did the right thing, leaving him be to get help." Jacob felt a little catch as he studied her. He'd never seen her looking so vulnerable. He rose to his feet and offered her his hand. She appeared reluctant to take it and rose without help.
It seemed like forever, but it must have been only ten minutes till they heard the ambulance siren. Jacob managed a smile. "Help has come."
"Thanks be to God," she prayed. He could see that she was trying to pull herself together.
The ambulance drove closer, rumbling over the dirt lane toward the house. "It was just you and Horseshoe Joe home?" Jacob asked softly, using the nickname that Annie's father went by in the community.
"Ja. Grossmudder and Grossdaddi wanted to visit family in New Wilmington. Mam, Barbara and Peter went with them."
Watching as the ambulance pulled into the yard and stopped, Annie hugged herself with her arms. "At the Kings. He left to see Nancy early this morning."
"When Isaac comes, I'll send him to tell your brother." Jacob noted her shiver and studied her with a frown. "Are you cold?"
"Nay," she whispered. "I'm fine."
He could see that she wasn't, but he kept silent. Jacob glanced downward and saw blood along the side of her left foot. "You're hurt!" he exclaimed, upset for not noticing before.
"'Tis nothing," she assured him.
The ambulance had stopped, and three men climbed out of the vehicle. Jacob approached to explain the situation to them and then took the men to Joe before he returned to Annie. "You should have someone look at your foot."
"Let me see it," he said firmly. She seemed taken aback by his brusqueness, but she obeyed and raised her left foot. He hissed at what he saw. "Now the other one." The right foot looked as bad as the left. The bottoms of both her feet were scratched and bleeding; the soles looked angry and sore. "What did you do to yourself?" he said gently. Running barefoot, she must have stepped on broken glass.
"Dat fell. I couldn't worry about shoes!" she cried, almost angrily.
Jacob nodded. "I know. I would have done the same thing. But now that your father is getting help, you must take care of yourself. Your dat is going to need you. You don't want to get an infection and be ill, do you?"
His words seemed to calm her. She sniffed as she met his gaze. " Nay."
"I'll run inside and get something for you to wear on your feet." He turned to leave. "I'll just speak with these men first to see if they can take a quick look"
"Jacob!" Annie's call stopped him in his strides.
He spun back. "Ja?"
"Don't bother the men. They're helping Dat. I can wait. You'll find black socks in the laundry basket in my grosseldre's kitchen. I did their laundry but haven't put it away yet." She gestured toward her grandparents' cottage. "And my grossmudder's old sneakers are by the back door. We wear the same size shoe. I can wear those."
Jacob studied her, noting the anxiety playing on her lovely features, the look of fear in her glistening blue eyes. Tendrils of blond hair had escaped from beneath her white prayer kapp. She wore a full-length black apron over a lavender dress. Jacob noticed the way her bottom lip quivered, as if she was ready to break down and cry. But she didn't. She remained strong.
"I'll get you the socks," he said softly. Inside the dawdi haus, he found the pair of socks right where she told him they would be. He grabbed them and the navy sneakers, brought them outside and handed them to her. "Your dat's in gut hands, Annie. These men know what they're doing." She nodded. "They'll get him to the hospital. You'll need to go there, as well."
"Ja," she said, glancing toward where the men bent over her father. She held on to the socks he'd given her but made no effort to put them on.
"Do you need help?" he asked quietly.
"Nay. I can do it." But she didn't move. She watched the men working on her father.
"Annie," he said. "Do you need help?" Without waiting for her answer, Jacob gently took the socks from her and hunkered down near her feet. "Hold on to my shoulder."
He tried not to think about the fact that he was holding Annie's bare foot as he carefully pulled on the first sock and then the second one. Within seconds, he felt satisfied that her injured feet would be protected. He rose and, without meeting her glance as she bent to put on the shoes, turned to watch the ambulance workers.
As two men lifted Joe onto a stretcher, the driver approached them. "Are you relatives?" he asked.
"I am," Annie said as she straightened. "I'm his daughter."
"We've secured his neck in a brace, and we've done what we could for him. It looks like he may have fractured his leg. We'll be taking him to General Hospital. They'll do X-rays and check for other injuries." The dark-haired man wore a white shirt and pants and a white jacket embroidered with the red insignia of the ambulance company. "Do you want to ride with us?" he asked Annie.
She hesitated. "Ja."
"That's fine," Jacob said. "We'll make sure Josiah gets to the hospital."
A car rumbled down the dirt drive and stopped near the main farmhouse. As Jacob approached the vehicle, the door on the driver's side opened and Bob Whittier stepped out. "Isaac called from the store," he said. "Rick Martin was there. Your brother told us what happened." He paused, studied the scene. "Do you need a lift to the hospital?"
Jacob shot Annie a quick glance. "Annie's going in the ambulance with Joe. I'll take the ride." The kind Englisher nodded and Jacob returned to Annie's side. "I'm going to follow behind the ambulance with Bob."
Annie didn't seem pleased. "You don't have to come."
"Ja, I do. You shouldn't be alone." He paused. "I'll stay until your brother gets there." He watched as the EMTs carefully shifted Joe onto a stretcher. "Looks like they're getting ready to move him."
"I need to get my purse," she said.
"Where's Isaac?" Jacob asked Bob as Annie hurried toward the farmhouse.