There’s horse trouble in Montana again. Only this time, horses aren’t being stolen, they’re being shot. No hard-working ranch horse or Amish horse and buggy is safe. Then Daniel appears—a visitor from Lancaster County. With cornflower-blue eyes and a strong, square jaw, he is everything that her boyfriend Mark is not. He’s funny, well-mannered, and completely dedicated to his family. Mark, on the other hand, finds it hard to tell Sadie the secrets of his past. He tells her pieces of the shadowy story, then won’t speak to her for weeks. Will Mark help her? Or is he one of the horse-hunters? Why, Sadie wonders desperately, are there so many secrets? Will the truth surface in this second book in Linda Byler's "Sadie's Montana" series, or is the truth too hard to bear?
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Sadie's Montana Book Two
By Linda Byler
Good BooksCopyright © 2012 Good Books
All rights reserved.
Even when you have a firm grip on it, hope can be torn away by the sound of your mother's voice. That's another reason why it's easier to love a horse.
Horses are sympathetic. You can tell by the way they lower their faces, very still, unmoving, when your fingers comb the silky forelock of hair.
Driving horses don't have that forelock. Their Amish owners keep it cleanly cut so that it is easier to put on the bridle. A driving bridle has two bits that must be coaxed between the horse's teeth, and shiny, patent leather blinders attach to the side of it. When the top of the bridle goes up over the ears and the chin strap is secured, the horse looks neat, and, well, Amish.
Sadie Miller's thoughts moved with the steady ca-chink ca-chink of the hoe as she chopped resolutely at the stubborn crabgrass between the rows of string beans. The unceasing Montana wind moved the tender garden plants restlessly, their green leaves swaying and bending like funny, green dancers.
Her mother moved ahead of her, bending over to remove the weeds from around the new string-bean plants, her graying hair tossed in the breeze like the bean plants. Her dichly, that triangle of blue handkerchief cut diagonally and hemmed on the sewing machine, moved and flapped wildly at the wind's command.
Mam was not overweight. She was not thin, either. She was just right for 50 years old. Her sage green dress whirled around, lifting above her knees, and she grabbed at the pleated skirt impatiently.
"Ach! Will this wind never die down?" she asked Sadie.
Sadie didn't answer, simply because it felt good to let Mam know she was sulking unhappily.
Why? Why did Mam have to come down on her like that? It wasn't fair. She was 21 years old, and Mark was as good as forbidden.
Ah, Mark. That tall, impossibly dark-haired, dark-skinned youth of her dreams. Not really youth. A man, at 31 years old. He was the only person Sadie had ever truly wanted. And now this.
Sadie had opened the subject earlier. She was the only one in the garden with her mother, and she was glad to tell her about meeting Mark on the day when Reuben accompanied her on the quest for a buckboard they had seen advertised in the local paper.
Sadie had been riding Paris, her beloved palomino, while Reuben was on Cody, the small brown mare. They had first thought the horses were from a wild herd. Later they discovered that the animals had been stolen from a wealthy rancher in Hill County. Richard Caldwell, the owner of the ranch where Sadie worked, had contacted the owner of the stolen horses to make things right. Meanwhile, Sadie continued cooking in the huge, commercial kitchen for as many as 25 ranch hands with Dorothy Sevarr. Dorothy was rotund, and she was aging, but she had a heart of gold despite her fiery personality. Kindness flowed from her in great, healing quantities.
Dorothy's husband, Jim Sevarr, still drove his ancient pickup truck back and forth from Sadie's house, providing her transportation to work. He was an old cowboy, much more comfortable on the back of a faithful horse than driving his cranky pickup, whose gears were never where they were supposed to be.
Sadie and her family lived on the side of a wooded ridge, thick with pines and aspen trees. Their log home had been built by Sadie's father, Jacob, a carpenter and builder.
They had moved to Montana from Ohio about five years earlier, the age-old lure of the west drawing Jacob Miller. The family had settled into the budding new church and community, which the Old Order Amish had started in the beauty of the Montana landscape.
The move, however, had taken its toll on Sadie's mother, Annie, who had slid down a despairing slope of depression, her condition steadily deteriorating into severe mental illness, which Jacob found difficult to acknowledge.
Mam's continuing silence made the space between them an uncomfortable irritation that Sadie could not let go. Inside her, disobedience raged while rebellion infuriated her. Tears lodged in her throat.
Yet as Sadie watched her mother's nimble fingers tugging at the stubborn weeds, she did thank God again for the educated doctors and the hospital stay that had enabled Mam to begin her long climb out of the pit of misery that she endured so bravely and silently.
Still. How could she? Did mothers have a right to forbid their daughters from seeing someone?
Life with Mark, or more precisely, the hope of life with Mark, was unthinkable now. Her future rose before her, black, bleak, and windswept. She would turn into a spinster, no matter her beauty or her hair shining like a raven's wing. It shone black actually, depending which way the light settled on it. It nearly matched her blue, blue eyes fringed with thick, black lashes.
Sadie Miller was too pretty for her own good, the old ones said. Beauty could be a curse. Once it got into a young girl's head and puffed up her pride, it became a great, heavy mushroom of vanity that would inevitably take her down every time.
They watched Sadie in church and shook their heads. God was already moving in her life, they whispered. Look what had happened to Ezra. Killed when the buggy went down over the bank on Sloam's Ridge. Sadie almost losing her own life. Ezra would have been the perfect husband for Sadie—loyal, steady, conscientious.
She was just different, that one.
Jacob and Annie had her hands full with three more daughters, one as pretty as the next. Leah, Rebekah, and Anna were all as pleasing to the eye as their oldest sister, but Sadie was the only one gallivanting around on that horse, as far as they knew. She rode around on that palomino horse named Paris, which was downright unladylike. If Jacob and Annie knew what was right and proper, they would rein her in with a firm hand.
They clucked, wise in their years, but they also knew that Jacob Miller's daughters added spice to their lives, mixing some flavor into their work-focused existence.
None of them dating right now either. Not one. Robert Troyer's Junior would be a good one for Rebekah, now wouldn't he? Him being so tall and fair. They clasped their hands and mostly thought these things, but with an occasional slip of the tongue to each other, accompanied by a knowing twinkle in their eyes.
Mam straightened her back at Reuben's call. She lifted a hand to shade her eyes, searching for her only son, her youngest child.
"Here we are, Reuben. In the garden."
"Can I have a popsicle?"
"How many are left?"
"A whole bunch."
Mam bent to her task, her back turned, and resumed weeding. Sadie cleared her throat, never breaking the hoe's rhythm. The dirt was loosening nicely, although it wasn't the fine loam they were used to in Ohio. The growing season was shorter here in Montana, and having a good, productive garden was much more challenging.
The evening sun began its rapid descent behind Atkin's Ridge. Sadie often thought the sun was like a drop sliding down a tumbler of water. It didn't move very quickly until it neared the base of the glass. Then, in a rush, it was gone. That's how the sun was.
So once it began its descent for the evening, you didn't have much time left in the garden, or to return from a ride, or whatever it was you were doing in the evening.
The silence stretched between the women, until Mam straightened her back, rubbed it with her fist, and groaned. There was no sound from Sadie. Mam turned, watched her eldest daughter's silent hoeing, then stood solidly, her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowing.
"Now Sadie, you can just quit your poosing this second. I told you how I feel, and that's the way it is. If you don't want to listen to your father and me, then I suppose you'll have to suffer the consequences."
Sadie stopped her steady hoeing and learned on the handle with the back of the hoe resting on the ground.
"You don't have to say it again, Mam. You already told me once."
Mam watched Sadie lower her eyes and shuffle the hoe back and forth with one hand on the handle.
"Come, Sadie. Let's go sit on the porch swing. Then we can talk. I'll listen awhile and promise to stay quiet this time."
Sadie looked up, blue fire in her eyes.
"What is there to say? If you and Dat forbid me to see Mark at all, then there's nothing to say."
"It would be different if we knew his background. He says he was raised Amish, but where? By whom? Who is his family, if they exist at all? What kind of name is 'Peight'?"
Sadie sighed and lifted her hoe, the skirt of her green dress swirling as she turned and walked decidedly out of the garden.
Mam watched her go, then slowly made her way to the house, her shoulders stooped with dejection.
Sadie put the hoe into the small, log garden shed. She picked up an empty bag that had contained black sunflower seeds for the bird feeders by the window in the dining room. She put it into the trash barrel and wondered why Reuben never picked up anything.
It was the same way with his clothes. He shed his trousers and shirts beside his bed, both turned inside out. His socks, also turned inside out, remained where he conveniently peeled them off.
No shower for Reuben in the evening. He hated showering before he went to bed. He did it only in the morning, so his hair stayed straight and silky all day, swinging handsomely, the brown and blond strands throwing off the light so that no one knew what color his hair actually was.
Reuben wouldn't talk about girls. He thought they were an unhandy lot, especially in school, bossy know-it-alls who weren't worth a lick at baseball. The only one who came close to being normal was Alma Detweiler, who could bat a ball over the one-room schoolhouse, and often did, making a home run in the process, her long, thin legs churning with admirable speed as she rounded third base, her head turned to watch the ball.
He had taken to dabbing a bit of cologne on his shirt from the wee bottle of Stetson that Leah had given him for Christmas. The practice was a source of knowing winks from his older sisters, who of course never said a word to him.
It was hard enough being 13 and the only guy in the family.
Sadie closed the door, turning the latch firmly, then watched the sky change from blue to orange then lavender, and, finally, purple. The sunsets were nothing short of spectacular here in Montana, and she never tired of them, ever.
She wondered if Mark was seeing the sunset. Was he up on that old barn roof replacing the metal, or had he already finished the job? Was Wolf, his dog, lying at the foundation of the barn? Was Mark whistling under his breath, or was he quiet? More melancholy, morose even, when he was alone?
How did one go about forgetting a person? How could you ever get over the pounding beating of a heart in love?
He had held her against himself three times—once at the mall when she was fainting, spilling her drink all over the shining tile floor. Once at the death of Nevaeh, the beloved black and white paint she had helped nurture back to health at Richard Caldwell's ranch. Once more ... When was it? A few weeks ago? A few years? It was hard to tell the difference now.
Mark had gone out of Sadie's life, back to Pennsylvania, after Nevaeh died, saying he was not good enough for her. He had asked to come see her, a genuine Saturday evening date, and then disappeared. Leaving a note saying only that he needed time to make peace with the past. To right wrongs.
Then there was her dream. Mark as a small boy, a florid-faced man with a whip, the knowing when she woke up. Did she still know?
She thought Mark was her destiny, the man who should be her much sought-after will of God that Mam preached to her girls.
And now this.
Verboten. Forbidden. If she saw Mark, she would be ungehorsam, a kind of curse clearly understood among her people. Parents were to be honored and respected. Above all, children were required to be obedient.
But at her age? Wasn't she allowed to make her own choices now?
Her choice was Mark Peight, clear and defined. She loved him and would travel to the ends of the earth for him.
Sadie started when Dat came around the corner of the shed, almost bumping into her. He pushed back his straw hat, ran a hand through his graying beard, and smiled his slow, easy smile.
"Whatcha doin'?" he asked, mimicking Jim Sevarr.
"Oh, just standing here watching the colors change in the sky," she replied easily.
Dat was like that nowadays. Ever since his pride had taken a crushing blow because of his Annie's mental illness, he had only become a better father—more open, mellow, and slow to judge.
"You look a bit poorly around the eyes."
Sadie laughed. "I'm not."
She poked at a small rock with the toe of her foot. "Well, maybe a bit. It's Mam."
The concern Dat carried in his heart instantly became visible. Sadie saw this look only when Dat's confidence in Mam's health and well-being slipped a bit off center.
"Is she ...?"
"No. It's about ... Remember Mark Peight?"
Jacob nodded, his mouth a firm line.
"Reuben told me he's back. Said he has a dog named Wolf."
Her father shook his head heavily, burdened, concern clouding his blue eyes.
"I don't know, Sadie. Mam and I talked, and ..."
"I know what you talked about. She told me. Twice."
The anger started in her feet and propelled her forward, away from Dat. Then it spread. The tingling adrenaline lent wings to her bare feet, and she ran, racing past the house, down the long, sloping driveway, onto the dusty, country road. Her feet pounded the macadam, her hands pushing down the pleated skirt that flapped in the stiff, summer breeze, her breath coming in quick puffs.
Better to get away. Just run. Keep running.
She ran past the one-room, Amish schoolhouse, the split-rail fence around the schoolyard. She ran past the patch of pines that were forever swallowing the ball from softball games.
She once told Reuben that a dragon lived in those pines and ate the softballs for dessert.
Sadie smiled, thinking of Reuben's indignation and his lecture reminding her that Mam and Dat had taught them not to tell lies. Now here she was, 21 and an old maid. Well, dangerously close to one, anyway, and still telling lies. There was no such thing as dragons.
S'hut kenn dragons.
Sadie laughed out loud. Her laugh became a hiccup, the hiccup caught in her throat and became a sob, and still she ran.
When she saw the moon climbing in the sky, she stopped beside the road, her chest heaving as she caught her breath. That felt better.
The exercise cleared her head, driving the anger away for now, but she knew it would be a constant companion. Yes, Reuben, a dragon of sorts. She would need strength to overcome it.
The unfairness of the situation was staggering. She sank to her knees beside the roadside, plucked long stems of grass, and bent them over and over. Still her eyes remained dry.
She saw Reuben, then. He was running, fast and low, his eyes wild. He was calling her name, and Sadie could tell he was afraid by the whites of his eyes.
Instantly she was up on her feet, waving her hands.
"Here, Reuben, here I am."
Her brother slid to a stop, his fists clenched, his face white. His words tumbled over each other like gravel pouring out of a wheelbarrow.
"I mean it, Sadie. If you ever take off running like that again, I'm going to ... going to ... I don't know what!"
"I was just ..."
"No, you weren't. You big baby. Dat is about nuts. Now get back to the house and stop acting like ..."
A shrill, whining rang out. A distant, yet uncomfortably close crack of a rifle, the bullet emitting a deadly whine. Then another.
"Hmmm," Reuben raised an eyebrow, mirroring Sadie's wide eyes and lifted brow.
"Somebody must be practicing their aim."
"It's awfully close."
"Let's get back."
Another shot rang out. The sound was not unusual in the Montana countryside. Ranchers were always on the lookout for predators, or chasing unruly cattle by shooting, or practicing their shots from horseback. "Cowboying around," in Dat's words.
"It's sorta dark for ranchers to be after the coyotes."
"Maybe it's a lion," Sadie said.
Reuben instantly turned his head to search the deeper shadows of the pines, chewing the inside of his cheek the way he did when he was afraid. "Ain't any lions around."
"Jim says there are."
"He don't know everything."
They walked back in silence until they came to the schoolyard. Sadie pointed to the pine woods on the opposite side of the split-rail fence. "How many softballs do you think that woods contains?"
Excerpted from Keeping Secrets by Linda Byler. Copyright © 2012 Good Books. Excerpted by permission of Good Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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