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Lilly's Wedding QuiltA Patch of Heaven Novel
By Kelly Long
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Kelly Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLilly Lapp was late. Of course, in the whole scheme of things, no one was bound to notice a missing schoolteacher from the ceremony. Not that her job wasn't deeply valued, but she knew that the eyes of all the Old Order Amish Community pressed into the King family's largest barn would be torn between watching two things—the wedding of the season and the face of the man who was not the groom.
She adjusted herself on the hard buggy seat and gave a brisk slap of the reins in an attempt to encourage her horse, Ruler, who plowed along with disinterest through the bleak cold of the late November day. She wished she'd remembered her gloves, but the visit by the Englisch police officer had thrown her normally practical frame of mind and she'd left home in an uncollected hurry. A wounded horse thief hiding in the area, indeed.
Fortunately, her mother had still been asleep when the officer had arrived. Lilly was sure that her widowed mamm would not have given him permission to search the barn and the outbuildings. But Lilly felt that it was her duty to cooperate with the authorities, no matter how strange their notions may be. She just could not believe that any of her own community would ever steal a horse from an Englisch farm, not when there were so many horses available as part of everyday life. Besides, it was wrong. Though, of course, there was always the possibility that someone could have done this. The Amish were certainly not perfect. Still ... she could not imagine it.
She felt that Ruler might be picking up speed when the first crystalline drop of icy rain hit her cheek through the open front of the buggy. Soon it was pouring, a thick deluge that struck with all the intensity of a thousand miniature knives. Ruler began to toss at the reins, and Lilly swallowed, nervous at his behavior. She knew she had to get him into shelter of some kind, but the wedding home was still a good two miles away.
She blinked as the rain slanted, pelting into the buggy and soaking her dark cape. Ruler had given in to the onslaught and stopped stock-still along the side of the road. There was no help for it; she'd have to get out and lead him to shelter. From what she could gather, they were somewhere near Deacon Zook's property. The shifting wind moved the fog and revealed the reassuring bulk of an outlying barn. She slipped from the buggy, quaking from the cold, as she went to the horse's head and unhitched him, grabbing the reins. She reasoned that the storm would soon pass and the buggy would be all right along the roadside. She pulled, and Ruler lifted his head to roll a baleful eye at her before finally beginning to move forward.
It seemed miles to the barn, though it was only several hundred feet. Trudging in the freezing rain in her best shoes and long dark dress—which were meant for socializing and not warmth— made the walk almost unbearable. Finally, she pressed her hands against the closed door of the barn, taking deep, panting breaths and searching for the latch with numb fingers.
To her amazement, the door slid open from the inside, and a tall, dark-haired Amish man stared down at her with a grim look. She blinked her eyes, licking surreptitiously at a splat of rain that dripped past her mouth, then spoke the first thing that came to her mind.
"Jacob Wyse. What are you doing here? Today's the—" she broke off as his handsome face tightened beneath the brim of his black hat.
"The wedding?" he snapped. "Right. But wedding or not, I'd like to know why you're fool enough to have a horse out in weather like this. You surely must have seen the rain coming."
He brushed past her to grab Ruler's reins, and she sagged backward out of the way as the horse followed Jacob like an obedient lamb, leaving her to cling to the barn door with limp hands and suppressed words of ire on her lips at his assumption that she was some sort of weather vane.
"Come in here out of the cold," Jacob ordered from the dim interior of the barn. She tried to make haste to obey, though her legs seemed too numb to move. He finally came back and hauled her into the shelter without ceremony, sliding the door closed with a strong arm. He sat her down on a bale of hay and returned to Ruler where he ran caressing hands over the animal's back with a dry rag and made soft, soothing sounds in his throat.
Lilly tried to slow her breathing as she listened to the sudden quiet of the barn, insulated by bales of hay and stacks of feed bags. Although she was soaked to the skin, she couldn't seem to think to do anything about it and surveyed the interior instead. She recognized Jacob's bay gelding, Thunder, in a stall, munching at some hay, while another horse's head appeared over a half door near the far wall. Then she glanced up at Jacob as he finished wiping Ruler down and led him with ease to an empty stall. He filled the hayrack, turned back to her, and sighed.
"Why are you here?" he finally asked, looking at her like she was an unwanted bug at a picnic. Indeed, considering her bedraggled appearance, she probably looked more hag than girl. But there was nothing she could do about it at the moment, so she slipped off her soggy bonnet.
"I asked you the same thing. Though, in my case, it's rather obvious that the storm brought me here. Shelter for my horse, you know."
He shook his head, and she tried to ignore the pull of interest that she felt being so close to him. Jacob Wyse was, in face and form, the most attractive man in the community. She'd thought so ever since they'd been in school together and she'd watched him tend to a stray and starving dog that some other boys were trying to drive away. Jacob had stared the boys down one by one, then went to lift the animal into his strong arms, never knowing he was also stealing Lilly's impressionable young heart at the same time. But now at twenty-four, Jacob's tall muscular form, rich hazel eyes, and dark chestnut hair with lighter streaks from the sun were all the more appealing. Still, he'd never spoken more than a few words of any consequence to her in all the time she'd known him.
In the community where everyone knew everything about everyone else, it had been well understood for years that Jacob Wyse only had eyes for the beautiful Sarah King, and every other girl was just part of the mountainous landscape. But today, Sarah King was getting married ... to another man.
Lilly snapped her attention back to him when she realized he'd been speaking.
"Wh—what?" She shivered, trying to subdue the urge to let her teeth chatter.
"I said, for the third time, that you're soaked. Go back into one of the stalls and take off as much as your decency will allow. I'll find you a stable blanket."
"I will ... not." She meant to sound outraged, but her voice came out in a thready squeak.
Look, I'm not having the beloved schoolteacher of Pine Creek come down with pneumonia on my time. Move!"
She sat still, her practical nature telling her that what he was suggesting made sense, but the woman in her felt insulted at his tone and the casualness with which he commanded she undress. She knew that Jacob Wyse didn't especially care for the idea of schooling and schoolteachers, at least he didn't when he was younger. His opinions must not have changed much.
"A gentleman ... would offer me ... his coat." There was no holding back her teeth chattering now. She watched as a grim smile spread over his handsome face.
"A gentleman might," he agreed.
She reminded herself that he looked good but his temperament had always been wild and brooding. She realized the unpredictable weather might be easier to deal with than him and wondered if the rain had lifted any so that she might just leave.
"It's still pouring; you can hear it."
"How did you know what I was thinking?" Lilly asked.
He smiled a real smile then, just briefly, and she felt her heart catch in her chest.
"What's in a woman's mind is easy enough to figure out—it usually involves what they think they want and what they wish they had."
She tried to ignore the blush that warmed her cheeks; his arrogant words made her fume.
"You should open a shop ..." she suggested. "Doctor Wyse's thoughts on women and the summation of their brains."
"Stop the hoech-nawszich schoolteacher talk and undress, or I may take it into my professional head to help you out."
She tried to stand, outraged at his words, but her skirt had frozen to the hay. She could only flounder in an undignified manner.
He bent to lift her, then staggered as if her weight was too much for him. She huffed in embarrassment until she realized that he'd reeled backward in a sudden wash of pallor. "What's wrong?" Lilly asked.
He shook his head. "Nothing."
A bead of sweat dripped down his cheek.
"Jacob, are you ill?"
He seemed to rally at her question and stood upright, wiping his cheek. "Nee," he said in a hoarse voice. "But neither am I ... a gentleman."
She stared at him as he opened his heavy black coat and slid it off. She gasped when she saw the blood that stained his white shirt, beginning near his left shoulder and expanding downward to his elbow. "Jacob! What happened?" A dawning awareness struck her. She glanced to the horse in the far stall and then back to the man who nearly sagged before her. "You're the one they're looking for? The horse thief?"
"Smart girl," he acknowledged, his eyes narrowing with pain.
Jacob allowed himself to sink down onto a bale of hay. He slid off his hat and closed his eyes. For some reason, it felt all right to reveal his wound to the serious, wide, blue eyes of the schoolteacher. She might talk high, but he knew from overhearing conversations that she loved the kinner she taught. And anyone who had a heart for children had compassion, and he needed some right now.
He heard her tussle with her skirts and then opened his eyes to watch her come forward and kneel between the sprawl of his legs. She was nothing if not practical, he thought as she matter-of-factly reached to examine his wound with slender fingers. She leaned close to lift the edge of the handkerchief he'd used to help staunch the blood flow.
"Before the cancer took Daed he taught me a lot about veterinary science, so I learned something about wounds," she murmured.
Of course you did. He had to think to keep from muttering the comment aloud.
"You were shot from behind, obviously. From what I can see of the exit wound, it looks clean. No arteries were hit or you would have bled to death by now."
"Thanks for the thought."
"What happened exactly?"
He looked away from her, staring up at the broad barn beams above them. "I was fool enough to give in to—let's say a reckless urge—and stop by Tom Granger's farm because I heard a horse in pain and distress. I got sick of all the unfairness in life, and when that idiot farmer left the barn with a bloodstained whip in his hand, I went in and put the mare on a lead and led her away. Granger saw me, shot me, and I've been hiding out here since last night. I'm lucky no police have come knocking."
He glanced at her eyes, warm with respect, and he wanted to duck away from her open emotion. Another woman might have played the game of feigning shock at his actions. Clearly, the schoolteacher didn't understand the affectation of womanly wiles and, more than that, she seemed to hold some kind of misguided admiration for him. And he didn't think that rescuing a horse from Granger was worth admiring, even though everyone around knew Tom Granger was a surly Englischer who mistreated his wife, son, and stock, and who cursed loudly as Amish women and children walked past his farm.
Jacob roused from his musings when Lilly replaced the handkerchief and folded the torn edges of his shirtsleeve back over the makeshift bandage, fussing with the fabric.
"You are fortunate that you've escaped the notice of the police. They've searched the area but probably overlooked this outlying barn."
"Well, that's one thing in my favor, I suppose. But I've got to face them sooner or later, and I—"
He realized that she peeked at his mouth while he spoke, and he recognized the brief, veiled glance. Girls had studied his lips with speculative interest since he'd turned sixteen, and impetuous instinct now drew his eyes to her lips.
He was bone weary, wounded, and besides the physical pain, his heart hurt more than the time an anxious stallion had broken his ribs.
But he was also alive and sick of feeding on ideas about what might have been. Now mattered. That was all. What was right in front of him. He ignored the prick of conscience that might have checked his words and tilted his head to one side.
"I know what you want," he said evenly and without conceit.
She startled, a ready denial in the depths of her eyes.
He shook his head. "Don't. I want it too."
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
Then the schoolteacher knows more about books than she does about herself, he thought, leaning forward.
He cupped his callused hand around her fragile chin before she could draw away.
"I'm talking about escape," he whispered. "Just for a moment. No responsibilities. No wedding. No heartache. Nothing—but now."
He lowered his lashes until all he could see was the petal pink of her mouth against the paleness of her skin and then he dipped his head. He kissed her until he felt her resistance melt into tentative response, and then he closed his eyes. He wanted to banish the image of Sarah that burned in his brain and slanted his chin to deepen the kiss. He heard his own frantic intake of breath when she laid a hand on his chest, and he surrendered helplessly to the fantasy of another man's wife—a vision that he longed to deny.
Chapter TwoLilly envisioned a thousand granules of sugar quickening through a funnel to some dark, waiting center. She was sliding with them, covered in sweetness, until the rational part of her mind intruded. Substitute. Substitute teacher. Sarah's substitute. She wrenched backward and Jacob made a strangled sound in his throat that jarred her senses, leaving her longing to soothe him. But she sank back to rest on her legs. Her mouth stung and her chin burned from the dark shadow of his jaw. She prayed that the Lord might forgive her for allowing such a thing. And then added her request that He also might bring someone, someday, to love her with as much passion as she felt through Jacob's kiss.
She watched him come to himself, like a dreamer waking with reluctance. His heavy lashes lifted from his flushed cheeks and he sighed.
"No, you're not," she replied, surprised at the steadiness of her voice. "You wanted an escape; you got it."
His green-gold eyes narrowed. "I think you got a bit of it too, Miss Schoolteacher."
"You're right, of course. I've never had the kiss of a man, only a father's."
A tenseness appeared around his handsome mouth at her admission, and he looked away.
"You need medical attention."
He nodded, still concentrating on some unknown spot at the back of the barn. "Jah, but the only doctor around is the good Grant Williams, veterinarian at-large. And he, as you know, has other plans this morning."
Lilly didn't need to listen hard to hear the bitterness in his tone.
Dr. Williams was an Englischer who'd been baptized into the community only a few months past, but he was as accepted as one to the bonnet born. And, he was the man who had won Sarah King's heart.
Lilly tapped her lips with her index finger as a half-formed idea began to take shape.
"What?" He swung his penetrating gaze back to her.
"If we go anywhere in town to have you treated by the Englisch, they'll tell the police. Lockport is too small for the town not to know about the horse. So, you only have one person to treat you—the groom."
"Have you lost your mind?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. Not for nothing was she a teacher, easily engaging stubborn students. "Have you lost yours? And have you stopped to think of how it will look if you don't show up for the wedding?"
He glared at her. "What does it matter?"
"It matters because you're not going to run away. You're going to live here, work here, and so will the Williamses. And you also know how this place is—everyone is just waiting to see how you will react to the wedding. To not show up suggests weakness; something I'm sure is not part of your character."
Excerpted from Lilly's Wedding Quilt by Kelly Long Copyright © 2011 by Kelly Long. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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