Overcome the past and any other obstacles that stand in the way of the future God has planned for you.
Three years after the accident that almost claimed her life, Emma Esh has recovered physically but has no memory of the year before the accident. When she moves to a new community to help her sister Lydia and brother-in-law, Caleb, prepare for the birth of twins, she falls for their neighbor Samuel.
But the twins’ premature birth, a visit from the Englischer Emma once dated, and the sudden return of her memory threaten Emma’s romance. After the secrets of her past are revealed, will love be able to overcome all obstacles?
About the Author
Rachel J. Good grew up near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the setting for her Amish novels. A former teacher and librarian, she completed her master of art from Vermont College while raising five children. In addition to having more than two thousand articles and twenty books in print or forthcoming under several pseudonyms, she also juggles freelance editing and illustration careers.
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By Rachel J. Good
Charisma House Book GroupCopyright © 2017 Rachel J. Good
All rights reserved.
Bundled in her black wool cloak, Emma Esh knelt in the newly tilled garden, a flat of seedlings beside her. Once she would have danced with joy in the pale sunshine of early spring after being cooped indoors through the long, cold winter. But the past month had drained much of her exuberance.
So had the past three years of her life. She had no lingering physical aftereffects of the accident that had almost taken her life, other than the loss of her memory about the months before and after it happened. But her spirit had never healed. So she'd been happy to move to the Gratz area, more than an hour from Lancaster, to help her sister Lydia and brother-in-law, Caleb, before the birth of their twins. Perhaps once the bopplis arrived, Lydia would turn her mothering instincts to the newborns instead of worrying about Emma's every move. Her sister meant well, and Emma appreciated all Lydia, Caleb, and Mammi had done to nurse her back to health after her coma, but Lydia's hovering made her feel as if she were twelve instead of nineteen.
Emma concentrated on the plants beside her. Gardening soothed her, made her feel whole again. The spring sunshine warmed the ground and sent comforting rays through her cloak as she bent over the soft, moist earth. She lifted a seedling from its pot and inhaled the savory tomato-y aroma. Then she pinched off the lower leaves, set it in the hole, and gently bent the stem before covering it with soil.
Whoosh. A heavy weight slammed her backward, smashing her head against the ground. Gasping, desperate to suck some air into her crushed lungs, Emma opened her eyes to find a furry face inches from her own. A huge mouth opened, revealing pointy white teeth. Then a wet pink tongue scraped across her cheek.
"Bolt," a deep male voice commanded, "off!"
A handsome stranger, black bangs hanging in front of his eyes, bent over her, his hand outstretched. "Ach, I'm so sorry. She slipped out the door again." He clamped his other hand on the Irish setter's collar and pulled the dog off Emma, leaving muddy paw prints across her skirt.
Still dazed, Emma lay where she'd fallen, gazing up at him, unsure whether the rapid pattering of her pulse was from her recent fright or from looking into the greenest eyes she'd ever seen.
"Are you all right?" Worry crinkled his brow.
"I-I'll be fine." Ignoring the hand he'd extended, she tried to sit but winced at the sharp jab in her side.
The stranger dropped to one knee beside her. "Don't get up if you're hurt. Is there someone I can fetch?"
"I don't need help." Heat flooded Emma's cheeks when her words came out sharply. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Please forgive me." Then, pinching her lips together, she steeled herself to sit without assistance and without getting poked again by the straight pins. If only Mamm would let them use snaps instead of pins to secure their dress seams.
"There's nothing to forgive. I'm the one who let my dog escape." The words were barely out of his mouth when the Irish setter twisted free and bounded off, crushing the rows of seedlings Emma had just planted.
"Oh, no!" The stranger dashed off after the dog, swerving to avoid the tomato plants the setter had crushed. Gasping for air, he made a desperate tackle, landing a few feet beyond the garden, the dog wriggling under him. With a firm grip on the Irish setter's collar, he stood, the front of his shirt, galluses, and black pants splattered with dog hair and dirt.
Emma suppressed the urge to giggle at his sheepish expression, the clod of mud clinging to his forehead, and the panting dog struggling to jerk free of his hold.
He pinched his lips together as he studied the mess. "I'm so sorry. Let me put Bolt in the house. Then I'll help clean up."
"Bolt?" Had he called the dog that earlier? Emma had been too distracted to pay attention. Now she couldn't hold in her mirth.
Rather than taking offense, the stranger glanced down with a rueful expression, then joined in her laughter. "Jah," he said between hearty chuckles. "Short for Lightning Bolt. She zigs and zags so fast I can't catch her sometimes." He waved a hand toward the disaster in the garden. "Like she did here. And now look at me."
Emma gazed at him, and her laughter ended in a sharp intake of breath. Then his eyes met hers, and she stopped breathing altogether. Part of her wished she could reach up and wipe that dirt from his forehead.
His cheeks flushed, the man lowered his gaze. "Well, I best get this troublemaker inside. I'll be back shortly."
Emma followed his progress to the back door as he cajoled Bolt along. She admired his patience with the unruly dog. Part of her hoped he'd hurry back, but another part warned her to finish repairing the garden before he returned. She knelt and hastily replanted a few of the undamaged plants, but the dog had destroyed most of them.
She was almost finished with the final row when he returned in fresh clothes. With a bit of disappointment, she noticed he'd washed the mud from his forehead, leaving his bangs damp.
"Sorry for taking so long. Please accept my apologies for the damage."
"Ach, no, don't blame yourself. Bolt can't help being lively." Emma chuckled, remembering him chasing the Irish setter.
A hint of a smile played across his lips. "I'm glad you can see the humor in it. Most people would be upset. I suppose I did look rather foolish chasing and tackling her."
"Not really." Actually he had looked athletic and strong, but Emma couldn't say that. When she was younger, she might have blurted that out. Over the past few years she'd learned to hold her tongue, but she couldn't control the laughter bubbling up inside. "It was the —" She dissolved into giggles and gestured helplessly to his forehead and shirtfront.
"The mud?" he finished. "I looked a sight, didn't I?"
Actually, except for the mud, he had been quite a sight. That thought was enough to quell the laughter. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be making fun of you."
"I'm just grateful you aren't angry." His smile widened. "I'm afraid I never introduced myself."
"I don't think we had time."
"True. I'm Samuel Troyer. Sam." He motioned to the house next door. "I've come to help my onkel Eli with the planting and harvesting."
Emma felt awkward kneeling on the ground admiring the stranger towering over her. "Welcome to the neighborhood," she managed to answer. "I'm Emma Esh, and I'm new here myself. I came a month ago to stay with my sister Lydia and her husband, Caleb."
"It's nice to meet another newcomer. I've been here a week but haven't met many people yet. Onkel Eli keeps me busy." He rocked back on his heels and surveyed the garden. "I was sure she uprooted more plants than that. You've done a wonderful gut job of fixing the garden, but not all of those plants can be replanted, can they?"
He knelt beside her, close enough that the scent of soap wafted toward her. Although she wanted to lean closer and inhale the fresh smell, Emma resisted the urge. Sam's large tanned hand reached for the spade at the same time she did, and their fingers collided.
A hazy memory floated through her mind but disappeared before she could focus on it. If only she could grab the fleeting bits of the past and patch them together like the quilts Mamm made.
"Are you all right?"
Sam's voice came from a distance, cutting through the fuzziness.
"I-I'm fine." I think.
"You look dazed. You hit the ground rather hard."
"Don't worry, my skull's pretty thick. At least that's what my family always says. That I'm hardheaded."
Sam's deep laugh sent shock waves through her. "You have a great sense of humor."
Emma quirked one eyebrow. "My family never thought so. I'm afraid I was a lot like your pup when I was younger."
Good? Emma turned a puzzled gaze up to meet his but wished she hadn't. She found herself admiring the long lashes framing his eyes. She lowered her eyes and dug a hole for one of the last few seedlings, struggling to keep her mind on the conversation. "I doubt my family would agree with you on that. I had a habit of speaking and acting before thinking." Often she still did.
"That's called being spontaneous. It's a wonderful gift."
A gift? Emma almost choked. Not according to Mamm and Lydia, who'd spent much of their time trying to teach her to sit still, be patient, and stay silent.
She couldn't resist peeking up at him again to see if he was teasing or serious, and found Sam studying her closely.
"You look as if you don't believe me," he said.
"It's nice to hear my behavior called something other than troublemaking for a change."
Sam's eyes held compassion. "Many people don't appreciate the honesty that comes with speaking your mind. I've always found it refreshing."
Emma blinked back the moisture in her eyes. Ever since the accident, even simple kindnesses caused a sudden flood of tears. "Ach, if only my family believed that were true."
A seedling cupped in one hand, Sam tilted his head as if inviting a confidence.
Emma wished she hadn't said anything. Waving one hand dismissively, she said around the lump in her throat, "I was always the problem child." She couldn't look at Sam, so she concentrated on setting a seedling in the hole and patting dirt around it. "Breaking my exuberant spirit seemed to be everyone's mission."
I'm so, so sorry.
"What?" Emma was sure she'd misheard him.
"As you can tell from my dog, I prefer exuberant spirits. I've always thought it a shame when parents force lively children to be docile and quiet." He pretended to glance over his shoulder. "I shouldn't let the bishop hear that. It's not always a popular view."
The crinkly smile lines around his eyes and the rueful twist of his lips intrigued Emma. It was a contrast to the dour frowns she'd endured most of her life.
Sam laughed. "I bet your family thought you were a lot of fun to have around."
"Not really. My earliest memories are of everyone — Mamm, Dat, my sister Lydia, the older women at church, even the bishop — glaring at me or pinching their lips in disapproval. Even worse was my mammi's sad-eyed look of disappointment."
"That's such a shame." Sam's words sounded sincere.
Emma still wasn't sure if he was mocking her. "You seem calm now. Sedate even." Sam's face crinkled up in a mischievous grin. "Do you still break out and have fun? You know, like Bolt? Do things others don't approve of?" "Not anymore."
Sam's gentle eyes promised acceptance, but her memories were too murky, and she shouldn't be criticizing her family to a stranger.
To deflect the feelings she was struggling to hide, she thrust his question back at him like a lance. "Do you?"
"I haven't for a while." His words held a hint of sadness. He stood, brushed off his hands, and dusted off his pants. "I should be getting back to work."
Emma wondered what had caused the light to disappear from his eyes. Once again she rued her words.
Sam held out a hand to help her to her feet. "And you should get out of the sun. Your cheeks almost match the tomatoes."
Thank heavens he attributed her flushed face to being outside. What would he think of her if he realized his touch, combined with his acceptance and kindness, had set her face ablaze?
When he let go of her hand, Emma's spirits dipped as if the day had gone from being sunny to overcast. "Wait." Emma reached for his hand again but stopped short. Hadn't she just told Sam she didn't act impulsively? She'd almost pulled on his sleeve to stop him from leaving.
Sam stood waiting, hands clutching his galluses, eyeing her quizzically.
"Umm, I thought ..." What had she thought? She couldn't say that she wanted him to hold her hand again, stay and talk to her. But with Sam waiting patiently for her to finish her sentence, what could she say? "That is, I wondered, well, if you'd like a glass of root beer." She hoped he didn't detect the relief in her voice that she'd made a quick save.
When he looked at her, fingers plucking at his galluses, she regretted blurting out the invitation.
Sam looked regretful. "Much as I'd like to, I'd better leave for work. I told Onkel Eli I'd get there as soon as I could." One side of his lips rose in a crooked, but endearing, smile. "Danke for the thoughtful invitation."
Of course he had work to do. And he'd already been delayed by helping her. Still Emma couldn't help but feel disappointed. She forced herself to smile back. "I'm sorry to keep you from your onkel."
"You didn't delay me. It was my dog who caused the havoc."
Emma couldn't resist. "Well, you said you liked spontaneity."
"Jah, I did. And you have to admit, aside from the damaged plants, it was rather fun. After all, I got to meet you."
Emma wasn't sure how to respond. She wasn't used to compliments, although there was a time ... The thought trailed off as she lost track of what had almost surfaced.
"I'm glad about that too. That I got to meet you, I mean. Not about the tomato plants. Oh —" Once again her tongue had tangled her in trouble. "Don't worry about them." She rushed her words out to cover the slip. "I didn't mind replanting them. Really I didn't."
"I regret that, but it was nice to spend some time with you." He shuffled and thrust his hands deeper into his pockets. "I should go, but I hope to see you around."
"Me too." Emma hoped she didn't sound overeager. She released a pent-up breath after Sam turned and walked away. But she lingered in the garden, taking her time gathering her tools and the flats, so she could watch him until he was out of sight. Then she carried the tools to the shed, her mind racing as fast as her pulse.
It had been a long time since she'd talked to a man around her age, and she regretted her lack of practice. Back at home, by the time she'd recovered from the car accident, other couples had already paired off. Even worse, conversations stopped abruptly when she approached, leaving her feeling self-conscious and left out. At least here at Lydia's no one knew of her accident or looked at her pityingly.
Emma shook off her gloom and concentrated on Sam. His smile. His closeness as they'd knelt in the garden. His kind words had soothed her and made her feel whole rather than broken. The thought of him smeared with dirt and dog hair made her smile. She tucked that image of him into her heart and her faulty memory bank.CHAPTER 2
Her long blonde hair still damp from the shower, Lydia brushed a few wayward strands from her face, supported herself against the kitchen counter, and reached for a glass in the upper cupboard. A twinge in her side made her catch her breath. She eased her arm down, set the cup beside the sink, where it wobbled a few seconds before settling, and then massaged just under her rib cage until the stitch ended. Even simple movements during her pregnancy often set off these odd spasms, so Lydia was grateful to have Emma's help with the chores.
At the same time, Mamm had been relieved to send Emma to Caleb's daadi haus, far from the gossip in their g'may. Lydia hoped that if Emma stayed in this new area, nothing would trigger memories of three years ago — the year Emma turned sixteen and started Rumschpringe. So far her younger sister hadn't remembered anything about those months or her time in the coma, for which they were all grateful.
As Lydia filled her water glass, she glanced out to the garden, where Emma was bending over the plants. Emma lifted her face to smile at someone beside her. Lydia scooched over until she had a clearer view. A dark-haired young man, who appeared to be in his early twenties, was squatting a row away from her sister, chatting as if the two of them were old friends. Who was he, and how had Emma met him without her and Caleb knowing? At least he was Amish rather than Englisch, but she and Caleb would have to find a way to keep Emma and this young man apart.
Hands cupped under her belly to ease some of the burden, Lydia waddled toward the back door. For now, she'd call Emma inside to help with a job. They could sort the baby clothes. That would keep them busy until Caleb got home. But before Lydia could reach the back door, Emma and the man stood. He tucked his hands into his galluses and looked uncomfortable as Emma spoke. Then he turned and left. Lydia exhaled in relief. Perhaps she had nothing to worry about — except for the fact that Emma stared after him for a long time after he left. Although Lydia couldn't see her sister's face, judging from Emma's stance, she'd definitely need to keep an eye on this situation.
Excerpted from Buried Secrets by Rachel J. Good. Copyright © 2017 Rachel J. Good. Excerpted by permission of Charisma House Book Group.
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