Set your GPS for the small town of Harmony, Kansas, where a city girl becomes embroiled in mystery and romance. Graphic designer Gracie Temple is engaged to Sam Goodrich. As she returns from chaperoning her protégée, Hannah Mueller, during summer art classes in the city, Gracie is eager to finish her wedding plans and marry the man of her dreams. But unexpected events threaten to disrupt the peaceful lives of those in Harmonyand Gracie’s wedding. Hannah goes missing, and Gracie’s happy plans become a mess of suspicion and fear. Will Gracie ever find contentment and marital bliss in Harmony?
The Harmony Series:
Book 1 - Simple Secrets
Book 2 - Simple Deceit
About the Author
Nancy Mehl lives in Wichita, Kansas with her husband, Norman, and her son, Danny. She’s authored nine books and is currently at work on her newest series. All of Nancy’s novels have an added touch – something for your spirit as well as your soul.
Read an Excerpt
Will a Missing Mennonite Teen End Gracie's Hopes for a Happy Future in Harmony?
By Nancy Mehl
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Nancy Mehl
All rights reserved.
You will get packed right now because ... because ... I said so!" Yikes! I almost turned my head to see if my mother had crept up behind me. Because I said so? Isn't that what parents say when they can't think of anything else?
"You are not my mother, you know," Hannah said defiantly.
Like I wasn't very well aware of that. I shook my head, trying to come up with something that sounded wise. I could use some of Sweetie's good old homespun smarts right now. She'd know what to do. Several of her past pearls of wisdom flitted through my head, but none of them seemed to fit this situation. There was something about pigs flying, but that didn't seem appropriate either. Feeling defeated, I slumped down into a nearby chair. "Listen Hannah, you know how hard it was to talk your parents into letting you come to Wichita for six weeks and take art classes. I fought for you. I promised to take care of you and not let you get into trouble. But ... but just look at you!"
The beautiful young woman who stood in front of me certainly didn't resemble the chaste, quiet Mennonite teenager I'd brought to Wichita six weeks earlier. Her simple clothing had been replaced with jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt that stated TODAY WILL BE THE BEST DAY EVER! I had the distinct feeling this would not prove true.
"Robin gave me these clothes so I wouldn't feel like such a freak, and I like them," she responded. Her bottom lip stuck out in a definite pout.
A twinkle of silver caught my eye. "She gave you that bracelet, too?"
Hannah raised her wrist. "It's a friendship bracelet."
The bracelet was made with silver and colored beads, and a silver heart dangled from it.
"It says 'Love, Friend, and Forever.'" She pointed to engraved inserts evenly spaced between the beads. "It means Robin and I are forever friends. But you want to send me back to Harmony where I don't have any real friends at all!"
I sighed so forcefully, it was a wonder the girl stayed on her feet. "That's ridiculous. You have all kinds of friends in Harmony. I actually thought I was one of them."
No response. Just more pouting.
"Listen," I said forcefully, "I want you to put on the clothes your parents sent with you. I'm responsible to them, and I can't take you back to Harmony looking like this." I stared closely at her. "Is—is that mascara? And are you wearing lipstick?"
"Everyone wears it." Her bottom lip stayed in the pout position.
I pulled myself up from my chair, fighting the urge to say If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump off, too? Boy, I really was turning into my mother. "We're leaving this afternoon, and that's all there is to it. Allison is returning from her vacation in the morning, and she wants her apartment back. We are going home to Harmony!" The note of hysteria in my voice seemed to startle Hannah, and she took a step back. Had I scored a point? Maybe becoming slightly unhinged would get the results I so desperately needed. I was trying to come up with something really over the edge when Hannah's bottom lip began to quiver and tears filled her eyes.
"I—I love it here," she said, her voice breaking. "And Mr. Monahan said I could live with him and his family and attend a high school that has special art classes. He practically guaranteed me an art scholarship to college."
My anger began to melt. Hannah wasn't really fighting against me—she was fighting for her dream. Unfortunately, I couldn't help her. "Look, Hannah, I understand. I really do. But this is not the way to go about it. We need to go home and talk to your parents. I'll explain the opportunity Jim's offered you. If it's meant to be, then it will happen." I frowned as my eyes traveled up and down her body. "But you need to get rid of those clothes and clean off your face. If you go back looking like that, they'll never agree to let you leave Harmony. Or even your room for that matter."
She stared down at her sandals. "They won't let me live here," she said, her voice so soft I could barely hear her. "We both know that."
I didn't respond, but I was fairly certain she was right. However, sharing that thought at this moment might trigger another bout of resistance that I didn't have time to deal with. "Your parents love your paintings," I said, trying to sound reassuring. "They know you have real talent. You can't be completely sure they'll say no. But even if they do, you're only a year away from graduating and turning eighteen. Remember that Jim said if you couldn't go to high school here, he'd still try to get you into a good art school or college. Your grades are excellent, and you have a good shot at being accepted." I walked over and put my hands on her shoulders. "Hannah, you have to go home. Your parents love you, and you love them. You can't stay here without their permission. If you put up a fight now, you'll lose Jim's support as well as mine—and you'll hurt your mother and father. I know you don't really want to do that." I put my hand under the teenager's chin and pulled her face up so she had to look at me. "You know I'm right."
Tears spilled from her china-blue eyes. "I—I know. It's just ..."
"You're afraid if you leave, you'll never find a way to come back?"
She nodded, and her face crumbled. "It's so wonderful here, Gracie," she blubbered. "Wichita is exciting and full of so many opportunities. If I get stuck in Harmony, I'll never be anything!"
I raised one eyebrow at her, wondering if she'd forgotten that I'd chosen Harmony over Wichita. I'd found the love of my life, and my freelance work as a graphic artist was going very well. "If your parents won't let you come back and finish high school in Wichita, in a year you'll be free to determine your own future." I let go of her chin and shook my finger at her. "But if you want me to talk to them about Jim's offer, you'll clean your face, change your clothes, and get packed. If you don't, I won't raise a finger to help you when we get home. And I mean that."
The young girl's eyes grew wide as she weighed her options, but both of us knew she had no real choice. She turned slowly and headed toward the guest bedroom. While she packed, I set about writing Allison a quick note, thanking her for the use of her apartment. As I wrote, I couldn't help but compare myself to Hannah. Here she was fighting hard to stay away from Harmony while I was fighting just as hard to get back. Odd how two people can see the same thing in totally different ways. I loved the small Mennonite town with its friendly residents and old-fashioned flavor. Yet Hannah regarded Harmony as her prison.
I folded the note and put it under the glass candy dish on Allison's fireplace mantel, aware that she'd see it since she never actually put candy in the dish. She only used it to hold her car keys. I stared at my reflection in the mirror over the mantel. Although I still looked the same—reddish-brown hair and green eyes—the apprehension in my face was obvious. Quickly looking away, I sat back down in the chair next to my already-packed suitcases.
I felt like a traitor. I'd never suspected our visit to Wichita would turn out like this. If I had, I never would have pushed Emily and Abel Mueller to let Hannah come. They'd resisted my old art teacher's offer to enroll their talented daughter in his six-week summer art course. Their concern for Hannah had made them reluctant to let her go. But I'd finally convinced them to trust me, and now their worst fears had been realized. Hannah's view of the world outside Harmony had changed her. How would I be able to explain it? I chewed my lip and worried for a while. Finally, I picked up the phone and called Sam, hoping he could make me feel better. No answer. Great. He and Sweetie were probably out in the orchard picking apples and peaches.
Sam and his aunt worked hard on their fruit farm. Correction. Soon to be our fruit farm. My wedding to Sam was now only two weeks away. Thankfully, my absence hadn't caused any major problems since we'd planned a small ceremony, and Sweetie had taken over all the preparations. It was Saturday and my parents would be arriving on Monday—along with my grandfather.
I'd been surprised when my mother called to tell me Papa Joe was coming. My grandfather's Alzheimer's was originally considered to be advanced, but recently he'd seemed to rally. Doctors said his lack of speech and other symptoms may have had more to do with depression than the disease. When new medication began to help lift the hopelessness he felt after losing my grandmother and moving into the nursing home, he began to talk again. Although Alzheimer's still continued its evil and devastating march against him, according to my parents, there were times when he almost seemed like the man he used to be.
Now Joe wanted to see Harmony once more before he died, and my parents felt he should have the chance before he slipped into the darkness of the disease for good. I looked forward to seeing him even though the last time we'd been together, the man I'd known had seemed so far away. I had some fear that this visit wouldn't be any different. Seeing him as just a shell of the robust man he'd once been broke my heart.
With the conflict between Hannah and me finally behind us, I felt more relaxed than I had in days. I'd almost drifted off to sleep when Hannah called my name. I opened my eyes to see the girl I'd brought to Wichita. Her pastel pink dress and plain brown shoes replaced the contemporary clothing her friend Robin had given her, and her long blond hair had been pulled into a bun and tucked under her white prayer covering. I rose from my chair and looked closely at her face. No sign of makeup.
"Thank you, Hannah. I know this is hard for you, but ..." I reached out to touch her, but she jerked away from me.
"Don't tell me you know how I feel, because you don't. Maybe you like hiding out in Harmony, but I don't intend to spend the rest of my life buried there."
I felt a rush of indignation. Somehow I'd turned into Hannah's enemy even though I'd gone out of my way to give her this opportunity. It didn't seem fair. I grabbed my bags. "Let's get going," I said sharply. "We're already leaving later than I'd planned."
Without a word, Hannah picked up the soft cloth valise her mother had sent with her, and we walked out of the apartment. On the way to the car, all I could do was wonder what would happen when we reached Harmony. An uneasy sense of dread filled me—and it stayed with me all the way home.CHAPTER 2
I was kinda afraid somethin' like this would happen," Sweetie said, handing me a tall, cold glass of her home-brewed iced tea. "That girl ain't never seen nothin' outside Harmony and a few small towns around here."
She joined Sam and me as we sat in white rocking chairs on the huge wraparound porch of their beautiful red Victorian house. Even though it was July, a cool breeze helped to push the hot, humid air away. It felt good to be home, but I couldn't get the situation with Hannah out of my mind. "Abel told me that sometimes they drive to Topeka to eat dinner," I said. "I assumed since she'd seen a larger city, she wouldn't be overwhelmed by Wichita."
"Pshaw," Sweetie spat out. "That Chinese restaurant they go to is right on the edge of town. Hannah ain't never been all the way inside Topeka."
"Man, good thing I didn't take her to Kansas City or St. Louis. She would have really gone off the deep end."
Sam reached over and took my hand. "It's not your fault, Grace. You were trying to help her. You couldn't possibly have anticipated her reaction. Quit beating yourself up."
I threaded my fingers through his and squeezed lightly. "I'm glad you feel that way, but I have to wonder how Emily and Abel are going to react."
"They're not stupid people," Sweetie said. "And they love you. Besides, they're not gonna give Hannah permission to live in Wichita with some guy they don't even know. It ain't never gonna happen. After that child figgers it out, she'll settle down."
"I hope you're right."
"Truth is, the Muellers oughta be thankin' their lucky stars. Those girls that went missin' in Topeka still ain't been found—alive or dead. At least Abel and Emily know where their daughter is."
Sweetie was referring to the disappearance of two young women who'd vanished about a month apart before I left for Wichita. At first, it was assumed they'd taken off on their own. But investigators now suspected they'd been abducted.
"I don't think anyone in Harmony really took much notice," I said. "You know Harmony. No one believes something like that could happen here."
"Seems strange after two murders that occurred right on their own turf," Sam said.
I shrugged. "One took place over thirty years ago, and the other was committed by an outsider. I'm not saying folks in Harmony aren't wary of strangers, but most of them truly believe God has blessed this place with special protection."
"And so He has," Sweetie said. She sat up in her chair and stared at me. Her ever- present bun had fallen to the side of her head, making me think of Princess Leia in Star Wars. Of course, Sweetie would need another bun on the other side, hair coloring to cover her gray, and a lot of plastic surgery to come close to looking like Carrie Fisher. She yanked at the T-shirt under her cutoff overalls, trying to adjust it so it wouldn't tug so tightly at her neck. "Anyways," she croaked loudly, "we need to stop talkin' 'bout all this bad stuff and start thinkin' 'bout your weddin'. I got almost everything ready, but I need to go over it with you. There's a few decisions left that you gotta make."
I sighed, let go of Sam's hand, and settled back comfortably in my rocking chair. "Let's talk about it later, okay? I'm really tired, and I need to go home and unpack. Besides, I'm sure Snickle is ready to get home, too."
As if on cue, a plaintive meow came from around the corner. Snickle, my cat, and Buddy, Sam's dog, trotted up to us. Snickle greeted me by rubbing up against my leg while Buddy jumped up in my lap, almost spilling my tea. Snickle and Buddy had become great friends, and I had to wonder if Snickle really would be happier at our house. Staying with Sweetie and Sam while I was in Wichita may have changed his perspective as to what home really looked like. I wasn't too concerned though. After the wedding, we'd be living here anyway, so I guess in the long run, being with me for two weeks wouldn't ruin him. As if reading my mind, Sweetie piped up.
"Are you gonna drag that poor cat back to your place again? Why don't you just leave him be? He loves it here, and you're over every day anyway. Wouldn't that be easier on you both?"
Sweetie, who had sworn up and down that she hated cats, was crazy about Snickle. And he was nuts about her, too. Frankly, he spent more time hanging around her than he did me. Persnickety feline.
"You're probably right," I said, stroking Buddy. "If you don't mind, I think I will leave him here. With my parents and my grandfather coming, it might be best."
Snickle ran over to Sweetie and nuzzled her leg as if thanking her for allowing him to stay with his good doggy pal. Sweetie chuckled and bent down to stroke the calico cat that had become her friend. "You know, we tried keepin' him inside since he ain't got no claws to defend himself with, but he kept slippin' out. Funny thing is, Buddy keeps him in line. If Snickle starts to wander too far, Buddy barks and barks. Then he starts rounding this silly cat up and pushin' him home. I ain't never seen nothin' like it before." Snickle jumped up in Sweetie's lap, turned around once, and lay down. He didn't even look my way.
"Guess I know where I stand," I said with a smile.
"If it makes any difference, I like you," Sam said laughing.
"That's good, 'cause in a couple of weeks, you won't be able to get rid of me."
"You decided what to do with your house yet?" Sweetie asked.
"No. I can't sell it; it's been in the family too long." My father and his brother had been raised in that house. And Benjamin, my uncle, had left it to me when he passed away. I'd thought about renting it out, but that didn't feel right either. "Guess I'll let it sit until God gives me some direction."
"Good idea," Sweetie said. "Ain't smart to get ahead of the Lord. You'll know what to do when the time comes."
Excerpted from Simple Choices by Nancy Mehl. Copyright © 2011 Nancy Mehl. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had a very difficult time getting into this book. I didn't hate it but I wasn't entranced either. I really enjoyed the characters but I had trouble with the tense. It was a bit like reading a journal when I prefer to 'experience' a story not 'remember' it. I also missed book two and felt a bit out of the plot - even though it can be read a stand alone - it just didn't work for me. Other than that I enjoyed the mystery and the characters.