Now that they've happily married off two of their grandchildren, Anna and Felty Helmuth are ready for their next matchmaking challenge. What better way to celebrate the most heartwarming of seasons--and make Huckleberry Hill, Wisconsin, the place for unexpected love. . .
A difficult marriage has left the Helmuths' widowed great-granddaughter, Beth, finished with wedlock. She's content to live with them and make a life for herself and her toddler son. But once she turns down handsome Tyler Yoder's proposal, it seems only fair to encourage him to find a suitable wife. Trouble is, his gentleness and generous ways are showing her how joyous a real meeting of hearts can be. . .
After a failed courtship, Tyler thought the best he could hope for in a wife was mere companionship. But spirited Beth is the one he longs to protect, and hold close. Earning her trust is the hardest thing he's ever had to do. And soon, both will discover that forgiveness and understanding are gifts that only rekindled faith--along with the happiest of holidays--can bring.
Praise for Jennifer Beckstrand's Huckleberry Hill
"A delightful cast of characters in a story that overflows with Amish love and laughter." --Charlotte Hubbard, author of Harvest of Blessings
About the Author
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By JENNIFER BECKSTRAND
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Beckstrand
All rights reserved.
Crouched on her hands and knees, Anna Helmuth shined her flashlight into the darkest corner of the cellar, where old storage boxes and ancient furniture gathered dust.
"Felty, dear," she called, hoping her voice carried up the stairs, through the cellar door, and into the kitchen, where her husband washed up the dishes.
He might not be able to hear her, but she could hear him singing at the top of his lungs. "Each day I'll do a golden deed, by helping those who are in need."
It was no use. Felty was in one of his singing moods, and Anna wouldn't be able to make him hear her. She grunted as she tried to get to her feet. Her left leg had fallen asleep, and she couldn't budge an inch. Not a single inch. She turned off the flashlight, stowed it in her apron pocket, and slowly pushed herself backward with her hands. Her knees creaked like a pair of rusty hinges as she shifted to a sitting position. Propping her hand on a sturdy cardboard box, she attempted to pull herself up. No use. Her hinter parts would not cooperate.
How had she gotten herself into this predicament? She was only eighty-two years old, for goodness sake, hardly an old lady. It must have been that extra biscuit with strawberry jam she'd eaten for breakfast.
She could still hear Felty singing. "While going down life's weary road, I'll try to lift some trav'ler's had." Oh, how he loved that song!
If only he knew how badly his wife needed her load lifted at this very minute. "Felty, dear," she called again.
She might be forced to crawl up the stairs. Either that or she could take a lovely nap on the cellar floor, and Felty would notice her absence when supper didn't appear on the table.
Anna waited until he took a breath, then yelled as loudly as she could without straining her throat. "Felty, do you have Rhode Island?"
The refrain halted abruptly. Felty always attuned his ear to talk of license plates. Smiling at her cleverness, Anna heard him shuffle to the top of the stairs and open the cellar door. "Are you down there, Annie?"
"Jah, and I'm stuck. It wonders me if you could lend a hand."
Felty clomped down the steps and peered at her by the dim light from the small window.
"My knees gave out," Anna said.
Felty reached out both hands and, nearly toppling over himself, pulled Anna to her feet. Anna limped around the cellar, testing her legs for signs of arthritis. "Fit as a fiddle," she finally declared.
"Why was you sitting on the floor?" Felty asked.
"I was looking for the baby crib."
"That old crib? I chopped it up for firewood twenty years ago yet."
"Firewood?" Anna propped her hands on her hips. "Felty, that crib cradled our thirteen babies."
"And got mighty gute use. It was like to collapse with the next baby. So I burned it." Felty's eyes twinkled. "We ain't had a baby in this house for forty years, and unless you're thinking of bringing another one into the world, it was better as firewood."
"Now, Felty. We need the crib for our great-great-grandson Toby."
"Is he coming for a visit?"
"He and his mother are going to live with us. They'll be here tomorrow."
Felty massaged his forehead just above his right eyebrow. "Annie, what are you up to?"
"Amos has been gone over a year now, and it's time we found Beth a new husband."
"Beth told her mother she doesn't want a new husband."
"Well, that's silly. I'm sure her mother didn't believe that. Every girl wants a husband, and Beth has a son to consider. "
Felty wrapped his arm around his wife of sixty-three years. "I lost a lot of sleep over your last match, Annie-banannie. The doctor says I need a nap every day. "
Anna kissed Felty on the cheek. "I can't see how a budding romance will interrupt your daily nap."
Felty sighed in resignation. "Who is the lucky fellow destined for our great-granddaughter?"
"Do you remember Tyler Yoder?"
"Of course I remember him. Our grandson Aden stole his fiancée."
"Lily and Tyler were never right for each other. But Tyler and Beth are a match made in heaven."
"Made in heaven or in an Amish mammi's daydreams?"
"Now, Felty, every match we've ever made has been a success."
Felty grunted. "In spite of us, not because of us."
"Beth needs our help. She's obviously not very gute at picking her own husband."
Felty shook his finger. "Don't speak ill of the dead."
Anna turned around and started climbing the stairs. "I didn't say a word against Amos. It was more a criticism of Beth."
"Where are you going? I still haven't agreed to this."
"Seeing as Tyler hasn't set foot here since church five months ago, I've got to pay Aden a visit. I need an excuse to get Tyler to Huckleberry Hill. Aden still feels guilty about marrying Tyler's fiancée, and when I tell him I've found Tyler's match, he'll be eager to help."
"Annie, I don't think I can stand any more lovebirds disturbing my peace."
Anna stopped halfway up the stairs. "So, you admit they'll fall in love." She grinned. "We should buy a crib so the baby doesn't have to sleep in a box."
Felty chuckled softly and followed Anna up the stairs. "I slept in a bureau drawer until I turned three."
"What a lovely thought, Felty. I can imagine that you were an adorable baby, like Beth's son, Toby. Cute, lively, and in need of a father."
"Every child should have a father. Especially our only great-great-grandchild."
"I knew you'd come to see it my way."
Felty shook his head in resignation as he paused at the top of the stairs to catch his breath. "Did I hear you say something about Rhode Island?"CHAPTER 2
Tyler Yoder jumped out of his skin as his open-air buggy came around the bend and he saw a small child standing in the lane directly in the path of his horse. "Ach, du lieval" he yelled, as he pulled hard left on the reins to keep Dobbin from trampling the little boy. The horse swerved sharply and came to a stop a mere three feet from the child.
The toddler didn't seem to understand how close he'd come to death. As the dust settled, he stared at Dobbin with one finger stuck up his nose and a big grin that revealed a mouth full of tiny teeth. His feet were bare and his orange-auburn hair perched wildly on top of his head. Tyler had never seen such an adorable child, but why he had the presence of mind to notice, he would never know.
His legs felt like pillars of gelatin as he set the brake and slid out of the buggy. Breathless and shaking, he ran, or rather stumbled, toward the little boy, who couldn't have been more than two years old. Tyler glanced in the direction of the Helmuths' house. What was this child doing out here all by himself?
The boy's eyes grew as wide as buggy wheels when he saw Tyler coming toward him, and he turned and ran in the opposite direction, pumping his chubby little arms and giggling with glee. He must have thought Tyler wanted to play tag.
Tyler sped up but didn't catch him before the toddler lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. The boy immediately voiced his indignation with an ear-piercing wail. When he caught his breath, he held it so long, Tyler feared he might hyperventilate. The second wail proved louder and more pathetic than the first. Tyler wrapped his hands around the boy's waist and helped him to his feet. The child's whole face turned damp as wetness spouted from his eyes and nose.
Unsure of what to do, Tyler pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and began mopping up the little one's face. "There, there. No need to cry," he said, in the most comforting voice he could muster. He caressed his little hand and patted him on the head while whispering, "Hush, hush."
The boy stopped crying as suddenly as he had begun. He popped his finger into his mouth, whimpered halfheartedly, and stared at Tyler with wide blue eyes. Tyler lifted the little boy's trouser legs. His knees were red, but the skin wasn't broken, and judging from the fading bruise on his forehead and the small scab on his elbow, he'd been in a few tussles with the ground before. Children this age weren't called "toddlers" for nothing.
"Let's see what we can do about your trousers," Tyler said, brushing the dust and gravel from the boy's padded bottom and straightening his pant legs.
The boy held out his hands, and Tyler lifted him into his arms. He rested his head on Tyler's shoulder and seemed to settle in for an extended stay. "Has it been a hard day already, little guy?"
Tyler snapped his head around as he heard a door slam behind him.
A young woman, gliding like a fast-moving tornado, stormed across the front yard. "How dare you?"
She snatched the toddler out of Tyler's arms and held the boy's head protectively against her chest. Tyler remembered her. She was the Helmuths' great-granddaughter Beth, and she used to live in Bonduel. She'd married a man from Nappanee, Indiana, who had passed away recently. Tyler hadn't laid eyes on Beth for three or four years.
At the moment, Beth looked more like a badger than the Helmuths' great-granddaughter. She practically spit out her words. "Toby is just a baby. You never spank a baby."
"Spank?" Tyler was stunned into silence.
"I turned my back for one minute, and then I looked out the window and saw you spanking Toby. Never touch him again or I'll come at you with a hot poker." She bounced Toby on her hip as if to comfort him, but he wasn't crying. He didn't even seem upset. Grinning at Tyler, he grabbed onto his own ear and squeezed it with his chubby little fingers.
Beth whirled on her heels, stomped across the front yard in half a second, and marched up the porch steps. She nearly ripped the door off its hinges before slamming it behind her.
Tyler kneaded the back of his neck. It was going to be a long day.
Beth closed the door with such force that it rattled Mammi's front window. She'd done it. She'd stood up to that man and told him what was what. Her heart beat with exhilaration and indignation. The gall he had spanking someone else's child! And a helpless toddler, to boot.
Mammi stood at the kitchen sink, elbow deep in dishwater. "Is everything all right, dear? You gave me quite a start."
Beth held tight to Toby, while he struggled to free himself. "I'm sorry, Mammi. Toby must have escaped out the front door. When I looked out the window, a man was spanking him. I ran right out to fetch him." Her legs quivered like overcooked spaghetti. She sat down to catch her breath.
Mammi's eyes widened in disbelief. "Who spanked my little punkin pie?"
Someone tapped on the front door. Beth's heart pounded double time as she stood and peeked out the window. "Him. He's the one."
Mammi bustled to Beth's side and stood on her tippy toes to get a good view of the horrible man standing at the door, waiting to be let in as if he hadn't just offended the entire family.
Beth was horrified by Mammi's reaction. Mammi burst into a grin the size of the sky, clapped her hands, and almost tripped over her feet trying to reach the door. She flung it open and flung out her arms to greet the visitor. "Tyler Ybder, you are a sight for sore eyes yet."
Beth's arms tightened around Toby as Tyler walked into the room, his steps tentative, his brow dark and furrowed. Tyler Yoder. He had looked slightly familiar. Beth remembered seeing him at gatherings and singeons before she married Amos and left Bonduel, but she didn't remember him very well. After she had met Amos Hostetler, she hadn't noticed any other boys, even the good-looking ones. Despite her hostility, she eyed Tyler appreciatively. He'd turned out quite nice to look at.
But he was still a dirty rat.
Tyler took off his hat and glanced at Beth as if she would pounce on him. "I'm meeting Aden here."
"Cum. Sit down," Mammi said. "Beth made some cookies. Would you like a cookie?"
Beth wouldn't stand for being in the same room with such a person, even if Mammi acted as if an angel had crossed their threshold. "I'm going to my room," she said, still gripping wiggly Toby in her arms.
Tyler jumped to attention. "Wait. I'm not sure why you're so mad at me, but I want to apologize."
"Apologize? Since when does a man like you apologize?"
"A man like me?" He seemed more puzzled than angry at her insult. "What do you mean?"
"A man who hits little children."
He bowed his head and looked as if he had been stricken with some very bad news. His humility surprised her. "I would never hit a child."
"I saw you from the window."
He fixed Beth with an earnest gaze. "I don't want you to think I'm looking for an argument, but that's not what happened. I almost ran over him
Beth felt the heat rise in her cheeks as if she'd swallowed a boiling pot of tea. "You almost ran over him?"
"I didn't expect to see a baby playing outside unsupervised."
Beth pressed her lips into a hard line and bounced Toby up and down with renewed intensity. "So now you think I'm a bad mother?" She tightened one arm around Toby and poked Tyler forcefully in the chest with her finger—just to back him up a bit. "Let me tell you something. It's not easy to raise a son by myself. Don't judge me until you walk in my shoes. And don't preach to me either."
Tyler took a step back. "I'm sorry if you think I'm preaching. I'm just grateful I stopped the horse in time."
"Were you mad because he spooked your horse? Is that why you spanked a twenty-month-old?"
With her hand still on the doorknob, Mammi stood frozen in place, grinning as if she thought their confrontation was wildly entertaining.
Tyler's frowned deepened. "I didn't spank anybody, and may the good Lord forgive me if I ever do." He lifted his hands in surrender. "What do you think you saw? I brushed the dust off his trousers. He fell down, and I helped him up. No spanking involved. He gave me shock, but I wasn't angry."
Beth examined his expression and found only sincerity there. His eyes and face didn't hold one spark of anger. She hadn't expected that. Even the smallest things used to set Amos off.
Toby pushed away from her and reached out to Tyler. Beth's jaw dropped to the floor, and she took a step back.
Toby only struggled harder against her grip. "Dow, dow," he said.
Beth reluctantly set her son on his feet, and Toby immediately stretched out his hands for Tyler. Tyler backed away and Toby followed him, whining to be held. He backed Tyler to the wall, and Tyler acted as if a guard dog had cornered him.
Her mouth curled in amusement. Perhaps she'd been a bit hasty. Maybe what she thought she'd seen wasn't what she'd actually seen. It was possible that Tyler had only been trying to help.
Tyler cocked an eyebrow and twitched his lips upward. "I'll pick him up if you promise not to attack me with a hot poker."
Beth knew she must be blushing clear to the tips of her toes. She'd made a complete fool of herself. Tyler's intense scrutiny only succeeded in heightening her embarrassment. "Go ahead. He's taken with you already."
Tyler scooped Toby into his arms, and Toby wasted no time in snuggling against Tyler's shoulder.
"I'm sorry I got mad." Beth studied Tyler's solemn expression. She shouldn't have accused him so harshly. "I'm really, really sorry."
"I'm not mad."
"I hurt your feelings."
"But you look so serious," Beth insisted.
"So I've been told."
Mammi finally shut the door and gave Tyler's arm a pat. "Tyler is not inclined to smile, but a finer man you'll never meet."
Not inclined to smile? Mammi must be trying to make her feel better. If Tyler hadn't been attacked by a crazed mother, he'd be inclined to smile. Beth felt the need to wipe that serious look off his face. Surely he would smile if he knew she bore him no ill will. "I panicked when I couldn't find Toby. When I glanced out the window and saw you with him, I guess I wasn't thinking straight."
"It's okay. I would have been frantic if I had lost my son." He played with Toby's silky soft fingers. "He must have an angel watching over him. Dobbin stopped just in time, praise the Lord."
Excerpted from Huckleberry Christmas by JENNIFER BECKSTRAND. Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Beckstrand. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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