What could bring an Amish widow and a wealthy circus owner together? Though Hannah Goodloe knew she'd violated countless unwritten laws, she had to visit the only man who could help find her runaway son. But when the enigmatic Levi Harmon agreed to take her on his train, the results were utterly unpredictable.
Levi never expected to find the embodiment of all he wanted in a woman in the soft-spoken, plainly dressed Hannah. And for Hannah, to love an outsider was to be shunned. The simple pleasures of family, faith and place to belong seemed an impossible dream. Unless Levi unlocked his past and opened his heart to God's plan.
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About the Author
Three times a finalist for RWA RITA; finalist and winner of RT Reader's Choice; Holt Medallion Award of Merit finalist and winner in 2000 Rising Star contest; semi-finalist Nicholl Screenwriting Award; author of 40+ novels + five works of non-fiction; website www.booksbyanna.com; lives in Wisconsin and Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Sarasota, Florida, May 1928
Levi Harmon pushed aside the piles of bills littering his desk and swiveled his high-backed, leather chair toward the series of leaded glass-paned doors that led outside to the front lawn. The room had been designed as a solarium, but Levi had seen little use for such a space and instead had located his Florida office in the room with its tiled terrazzo floor, its arched doors opening to the out-of-doors that he loved so much. After all, what was the use of being rich if not to live as you pleased?
He walked out onto the terrace and leaned against the stone railing. Before him the lawn stretched green and verdant past the swimming pool and rose garden, past the mammoth banyan trees that he'd insisted the builder spare when constructing the mansion and on to the gatehouse that was a miniature version of the mansion itself. He'd worked hard for all of this and had thought that by now he might be sharing it with a wife and children, but work had consumed him and he had never found a woman that he thought suited to the kind of vagabond life he'd chosen.
He'd come outside to think. Perhaps he should take a walk along the azure bay that most of the mansion's rooms looked out on. That always calmed him whenever business worries piled up. And indeed, they had begun to pile upnot just for him but for many men who had taken the cash flows of their businesses for granted these past several boom years. He had started down the curved stairs to the lawn when he noticed a woman he did not recognize walking up the driveway.
She moved with purpose and determination, her strides even, her tall slender frame erect, her head bent almost as if in prayer. As she came closer, he saw that she wore a dark gray dress with a black apron and the telltale starched white cap that was the uniform of the Amish women. How was it possible that she had not been stopped at the gate, detained there while the gatekeeper made a call to the house?
At that same moment he heard the phone in the foyer jangle. He moved back to the open office doorway and continued watching the woman even as he half listened to his butler, Hans, hold a quiet conversation with the gatekeeper. The woman was even with the pool when Hans came onto the terrace to deliver his report.
"She is Mrs. Hannah Goodloe," Hans said.
"She's Amishprobably lives out near the celery fields," Levi said impatiently. "What business could she possibly have here?"
"She would not say, but insisted on speaking with you personally. Shall I "
Levi waved him away and went inside, rolling down the sleeves of his white shirt as he retrieved his jacket from the hall tree in his office. "Show her to the Great Hall," he said as he ran his fingers through his copper brown straight hair.
"Very good, sir," Hans murmured, but his words came with little approval. "May I remind you, sir, that your train."
"I know my schedule. This won't take long."
"Very good, sir."
Levi listened to the tap of his butler's leather heels crossing the marble foyer to take up his post at the massive double front door. By now she should have reached them and yet neither the bell nor the door knocker sounded. Had she changed her mind?
He crossed his office and peered outside. No sign of her retreating. Assuming she was standing on the front steps, perhaps gathering her courage, he could simply walk around to the front of the house and encounter her there. But for reasons he did not take the time to fathom, it seemed important that this womanthis strangerenter his house, see the proof of all that he had accomplished, marvel at the beauty of his self-made world in spite of her religion's stand against anything deemed ostentatious.
And even as the chime of the front doorbell resonated throughout the house, Levi thought not so much of the present, but of a time when he was not so different from this plain-living woman who now stood at his door.
Just by coming to the winter home of the circus impresario, Hannah had probably violated several of the unwritten laws of the Ordnung followed by people of her faith. In the first place, the minute the gatekeeper had turned his back to make the call to the mansion, she had slipped past him and started her walk up the long drive. Surely that was wrong. But she had to see the only man capable of finding her son.
All the way up the drive, she kept her eyes on the ground half expecting to hear the gatekeeper running to catch up with her as she followed the pristine, white-shell path until it curved in front of the massive house itself. Only then did she glance up and her breath caught. The house soared three stories into the cloudless blue sky, its roof lined with curved terra-cotta tiles sparkling in the late-morning sun. Curved iron balconies hung from large arched windows on the second and third stories, and everywhere the facade of the house had been festooned with ornate carvings, colorful tiles and stone figures that were as frightening as they were fascinating.
Hannah dropped her gaze and started up the front stairs, avoiding the detailed iron railing that lined either side of the wide stairway and refusing to be tempted to admire the tiered fountain where water splashed like music. Even the stairs were a rainbow of colorful marble in pink and purple and pale green. She supposed that for a man like Levi Harmona showman known for his extravaganzas and exotic menagerie of animals from around the worlda little purple marble was to be expected. She sucked in her breath, straightened her spine and prepared to knock.
But the massive wood door was covered by a gate, a barricade in filigreed iron that boasted twin medallions or perhaps coats of arms where she might have expected the obvious door handle to be located. Perturbed more than amused at this need for such material grandeur, Hannah took a step back and studied the house. Determined not to be daunted in her mission, she made a detailed study of the entrance. After all, the man entertained guests, did he not? Surely those people had to at some point enter and exit the house.
The doorbell was housed in the uplifted hand of a bronze sculpture of a circus clown located to the right of the door. Hannah took a deep breath, uttered a short prayer begging God's forgiveness for any misdemeanor she might be committing and pressed the button. When she heard a series of muffled bells gong inside the grand house, she locked her knees rigidly to keep them from shaking and waited for the doors to open.
"Good morning, Mrs. Goodloe," a man dressed in a black suit intoned as he swung open the inside door, and then opened the wrought-iron screen for her. "Please come in. Mr. Harmon is just completing some business. He asks that you wait for him in here."
The small man of indeterminate age led the way across a space that by itself was larger than any house she'd ever seen. Hannah avoided glancing at her surroundings, but could not miss the large curved stairway that wound its way up to the top of the house, or the gilt-framed paintings that lined the walls.
"Please make yourself comfortable," the man was saying as he led her down three shallow steps into a room easily twice the size of the space they had just left. He indicated one of four dark blue, tufted-velvet sofas. "Mr. Harmon will be with you shortly."
"Is that " Hannah stared across the room at a wall of polished brass pipes in a range of sizes and the large wooden piece in front of them.
"The Butterfield pipe organ? Indeed," the man reported with obvious pride. "Mr. Harmon purchased that when they demolished the old Butterfield Theatre in London. He had it taken apart, labeled, then shipped here to be reassembled. It makes the most wondrous sound."
"I see." She had no idea what he was talking about. She had simply been taken aback to see an enormous pipe organ in a private home.
"Actually, the organ was Mr. Harmon's gift to me, ma'am." And then as if reminding himself that he was not to offer such information, he cleared his throat. "May I offer you a cool glass of water, ma'am?"
She had walked the five miles from her father-in-law's house near the celery fields down Fruitville Street, and then along the bay to the Harmon estate. But she had not come on a social call. "No, thank you," she replied as she perched on the edge of one of the sofas and folded her hands primly in her lap.
Seconds later, the silence surrounding her told her that she was alone. If she liked she could walk around the grand room, touch the furnishings, peer at the many framed pictures that lined the tops of tables and even satisfy her curiosity to know what the bay might look like seen through one of the multi-colored panes of glass in the sets of double doors that lined one wall. But an Amish person was never truly alone. One was always in the presence of God and as such, one was always expected to consider actions carefully.
Hannah focused on her folded hands and considered the rashness of her action in coming here. But what other choice did she have? Caleb was missing and she had every reason to believe that he had run away. Oh, she had been foolish to think that taking him to the circus grounds the day before would somehow dampen his romantic ideal of what circus life was like. She had thought that once the boy saw the reality of the dirt and stench and hard work that lay behind the brightly colored posters, he would appreciate the security and comfort of the life he had. She had even thought of promising him a visit to his cousins in Ohio over the summer as a way of stemming his wanderlust. But when she had gone to his room to rouse him for school this morning, he hadn't been there and his bed had not been slept in.
She laced her fingers more tightly together and forced herself to steady her breathing. She would find Caleb even if she put herself in danger of being shunned to do it.
She'd heard no step on the hard, stone floor and yet when she looked up, Levi Harmon was standing at the entrance to the oversized room. He was a tall man, easily topping six feet. He looked down at her with eyes the color of the rich hot chocolate her mother used to make. "I understand there is a business matter we need to discuss," he added as he came down the shallow stairs, and took a seat at the opposite end of the sofa she already occupied. "I must say I am curious," he admitted, and his eyes twinkled just enough to put her at ease.
"My son, Caleb," she began and found her throat and mouth suddenly dry. She licked her lips and began again. "My son, Caleb, is missing, Mr. Harmon. I believe that he may have run away."
"Forgive me, ma'am, but I hardly see."
".. With your circus," she added, and was relieved to see his eyes widen with surprise even as his brow furrowed with concern.
"It would not be the first time," he said more to himself than to her as he stood and walked to the glass doors, keeping his back to her. "What does your husband think happened to the boy?"
"My husband died when Caleb was four. He's eleven now. This past year he has " She searched for words. "There have been some occasions when he has tested the limits that our culture sets for young people."
"He's been in trouble," Levi Harmon said.
"Nothing serious," Hannah hastened to assure him. "Then last month I found one of your circus posters folded up and hidden under his mattress. When I asked for an explanation, he told me that he wanted to join your circus. He had actually spoken to one of the men you employ to care for the animals."
"And what did you say in response to this announcement?"
"I tried to make him see that the poster was nothing more than paint on paper, that it made the life seem inviting but it was not real. That nothing about the circus is real."
She saw him stiffen defensively. "Oh, I know that it's your livelihood, Mr. Harmon, and I mean no disrespect. But for people like usfor a boy like Calebit's a life that goes against everything we believe."
"What happened next?"
Hannah was surprised that he did not question her
further, but rather seemed determined to get at the root of her story. This was the part that was hardest for her because in the seven years since her husband had died, she and Caleb had never had a harsh word between them. "He became quite unlike himself," she said almost in a whisper. "He was sullen and stayed to himself. I went to our bishop but he said that time was the great healer."
"And you believed that?"
"For a while," she admitted. "But when nothing changed I decided to go against the bishop's advice and take action."
He turned to look at her. "What did you do?"
"I took Caleb to your circus, Mr. Harmon."
Levi tried and failed to disguise his shock that she would do such a thing. "You saw the show?"
"No. I took him to the grounds after the matinee yesterday. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what living the life of a circus worker would really be."
"My performers and crew are well cared for, Mrs. Goodloe. They have chosen this life for any number of reasons and "
"I did not mean to imply otherwise, sir. However, a young boy's eyes are often clouded by the color and excitement associated with that lifethe parades and the applause and such." She stood up and moved a step closer as if she needed to make her point and yet the tone of her voice remained soft and even solicitous. "I wanted Caleb to see that a life of traveling from place to place could be a difficult one."
He could find no argument for that. Instead, he turned the topic back to her reasons for coming to him.
"That matinee was our last show of the season down here," he said. "At this moment the company is on its way to our headquarters in Baraboo, Wisconsin, with stops along the way, of course."