Can graphic designer Gracie Temple have it all: the big-city life and a job at a successful advertising firm? Just when she feels life coming together she receives an unknown uncle’s inheritance in a quiet Kansas Mennonite community. The house comes with a dark legacy and a cast of interesting neighbors, including farmer Sam Goodrich. Can Gracie shake off the dust of this town, or will its secret charms pull her in to stay?
The Harmony Series:
Book 1 - Simple Secrets
Book 2 - Simple Deceit
Book 3 - Simple Choices
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
By Nancy Mehl
Barbour Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Nancy Mehl
All rights reserved.
"She wants a talking pizza on the cover."
Grant slid my proposal across the desk until it rested in front of me. His dark eyes narrowed, warning me not to argue. We both knew it was useless, but I couldn't stop myself. I'd worked hard on a menu cover for Pizzazz Pizza. The lines were clean and bold, the graphics eye-catching.
"You know pizzas don't actually speak, right?" An attempt to keep a note of sarcasm out of my voice failed miserably.
He sighed and ran his hand through his short salt-and-pepper hair. Managing an advertising agency isn't easy, and Grant works with more problem clients than most. Grantham Design is a mid-range firm. Not the worst but not the best. Grant's dream is to make it to the top like Sawyer, Higgins, and Smith, the number one advertising firm in Wichita. I'm pretty sure I knew what those guys would tell Olivia Pennington to do with her chatty Italian pie if this was their account. But unfortunately for Grant and me, we couldn't afford to lose her as a client.
I sighed and picked up my beautiful proposal. Maybe I could make it work for someone else—a client who was savvy enough to leave designing to the designers.
"A talking pizza," he said once again. "And don't get too creative, Gracie."
"Exactly what every designer strives for, a complete lack of imagination."
"Just make it work." With that, he turned and strolled out of my office, leaving me with a rejected design and a verbal food product in my future. I stared out the window at the deli across the street. Feeling hunger pangs, I glanced at my watch. Maybe I could consider the new menu design over lunch. Uptown Bistro serves the best hummus in town. Just thinking about it made my mouth water. My jaw dropped when I saw the time. Nine thirty? How could it only be nine thirty?
I flashed back to the excitement I'd experienced two years earlier when I graduated from college with a degree in graphic design. I was determined to set the design world on fire. But since then I'd discovered that the real world is a lot different than what I'd imagined. Most clients aren't interested in seeing my ideas. Instead, they boldly declare that they "know exactly what they want." Unfortunately, their brilliant suggestions are simply remakes of overused, hackneyed concepts, completely inappropriate for their needs. Like a talking pizza. I rubbed my forehead, trying to rid myself of the beginnings of a tension headache. Sometimes I felt like a kid who'd been handed a box of crayons and admonished to "color in the lines" without any chance for creativity or fresh ideas.
I put the Pizzazz Pizza packet in my drawer and stared at my computer screen. Well, if she wanted chatty food, I'd give her chatty food. At that moment, several ideas popped into my head that would make for interesting dialogue. Of course, none of them were appropriate for a family night out at the local pizza parlor. Then I began to wonder just what a pepperoni-covered pastry would say if it could talk. I was pretty sure it would scream "Help!" as loudly as possible since it was about to be sliced into pieces and devoured. However, I doubted seriously that Olivia Pennington would appreciate the humor behind such an idea. A few other entertaining concepts were drifting through my mind when the phone rang.
I sighed into the phone. "Dad, I thought you were going to stop calling me that."
"Grace Marie, I've been calling you Snicklefritz ever since you were a little girl. You used to like it."
I leaned back in my chair and stared at the framed photograph of my parents that sat on the edge of my desk. "But I'm not five anymore. What if you accidentally use it in public again—like you did at graduation?"
My dad laughed. "Your friend Stacy said I was 'darling.'"
"Stacy was not and never will be my friend, Dad. She told everyone about that silly nickname. There are still people from school who call me Snicklefritz."
My dad's hearty laughter made me grab a strand of hair and twirl it around my finger—a nervous habit I couldn't seem to shake.
"So what's up?" My stomach tightened a notch. He usually never contacts me at work unless something's wrong. Like two weeks ago when he told me he'd broken his leg and would be out of commission for a while. And the call last year after Mom was diagnosed with cancer. Thank God, she's fine now.
"Honey, we got word today that your uncle Benjamin passed away."
My stomach relaxed, and I let go of my hair. I'd never even met my father's only brother. He lived in a little Mennonite town somewhere in northeast Kansas.
"What happened, Dad?"
There was a prolonged silence. When he spoke, my father's voice trembled slightly. "It was his heart, Gracie."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, honey. I just wish ..."
"You tried everything you could to mend your fences with him, Dad. You have nothing to feel guilty about."
A shaky sigh came through the receiver. "I know that, but it doesn't make it any easier right now."
"Do you need me to come home? When's the funeral?"
"The community has already held the service."
"You mean no one told you about your own brother's funeral?" I didn't even try to keep the indignation out of my voice. "What kind of people are these? Is it because you're banned or something?"
"Now don't jump to conclusions. Turns out Benjamin left strict instructions that this was the way he wanted it. The pastor who called me felt badly but didn't know what else to do except to honor my brother's wishes. He—he also wanted me to know about Benjamin's will."
"So what did he leave you?" It couldn't be much due to Benjamin's lifestyle.
"He didn't leave me anything, honey. My brother left his house in Harmony, along with all of his belongings to you, Gracie."
Goofy talking pizzas had obviously warped my brain. My father's words made no sense.
"What? He left what to who?"
"Left what to whom, Gracie."
"Dad, this is not the time to correct my English. Why in the world would Uncle Benjamin leave me his estate? He didn't even know me."
"I don't know, honey. The congregation we belonged to when I was young believed in The Ban. Benjamin embraced the practice the rest of his life, even though the church as a whole doesn't do it anymore. You were born after your mom and I left Harmony. Since you were never part of the church, I guess in Benjamin's mind you're the only relative left who isn't off-limits." He sighed. "You know, my brother wasn't always so judgmental. Originally, Benjamin fully supported my decision to leave Harmony. But after your mom and I settled in Fairbury, something happened. He changed—and not for the better." My father paused. "I wish I'd taken him with me when I left. Maybe things would have turned out differently."
"I'm sorry, Dad. I really am. But this still doesn't make any sense." It would take some time before I could grasp the idea that I was now a property owner in a little Mennonite town.
"I wish I could help you more, Gracie. But with this leg, I can't travel. And Mom needs to stay here to take care of me. I'm overnighting the papers so you can look at them yourself. You'll have to decide what to do from there."
"Seems to me that Uncle Benjamin took a big chance leaving everything to someone he didn't know. I might decide to sell the land and plant a Motel 6 in the middle of Harmony."
My dad chuckled. "Well, that would definitely shake things up a bit." He hesitated for a moment. "Your mother and I left Harmony because the bishop of our church opposed our marriage even though our parents supported us. He ruled that town, Gracie. His judgmental attitudes made life unbearable. But your mother reminds me that he's been gone a long time. Pastor Mueller, the man who called today, seemed nice. Very understanding. Not at all like Bishop Angstadt. I'm not crazy about the idea of your going to Harmony alone, but your mother tells me I'm overreacting. Pastor Mueller said he would do everything he could to help you. He sounded very sincere."
"Send me the papers, Dad. I honestly don't know what I'm going to do about this."
"I don't want to make your mind up for you, Snickle ... er, Gracie. But maybe you could go for at least a week or two. See if you can find someone to buy the place. The money would certainly create a nice nest egg for your future. And while you're there, you could rescue some of the possessions that belonged to Mama and Papa so they can stay in the family. When my folks left Harmony, they deeded the house to Benjamin and left almost all their belongings behind. My guess is that Benjamin kept most of our family heirlooms. It would mean a lot to me if we could get them back." He paused and took a deep breath. "But once you get them, if you feel uncomfortable in Harmony, I want you to turn around and come home. Forget the stuff. You're more important than any heirlooms. Promise me, Gracie."
"Okay, I promise." My dad tends to be overdramatic when it comes to me. His emotional response to their old hometown didn't alarm me. I suddenly thought of my grandfather. "Dad, are you going to tell Papa that Benjamin died?
"No. Mom and I have talked about it. I don't know if he even remembers Benjamin anymore. It would just confuse him, I'm afraid."
Papa Joe lived in a nursing home and was in the last stages of Alzheimer's. Mama Essie had passed away almost five years ago. They'd never been able to understand why Benjamin had turned his back on the family and stayed in Harmony. Now it was too late for them to reconcile. At least in this world.
Harmony. Strange name for a place that had brought so much destruction to the Temple family. Would this gift from my uncle help to heal the past, or would it bring even more pain? It was impossible to know the answer to that question by just sitting in my office.
I smiled down at the sketches of Pizzazz Pizza's new logo. Let Grant figure out what conversational cuisine says.
I was going to Harmony.CHAPTER 2
With a promise from my best friend, Allison, to look after my cat and a warning from Grant that I had to be back in two weeks for an important client meeting, I took off Friday morning for Harmony, Kansas. After leaving Wichita, the only towns I saw along the way were small, rural places where life looked much slower and more relaxed than it did in the city. I was reminded of life in tiny Fairbury, Nebraska, where I'd been raised. As a teenager, I felt as if I lived behind a big picture window, destined to watch the world go by without actually being a part of it. Getting a job and moving to the big city had been a dream come true. Surprisingly, as I watched the countryside rush by, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the way things used to be. My reaction surprised me. I had everything I wanted in Wichita—a job with an ad agency, an apartment downtown, and more friends than my entire high school class in Fairbury. I dismissed my errant feelings as a case of homesickness. It had been almost two months since I'd seen my mother and father. After I returned from Harmony, I'd schedule a weekend trip to Nebraska.
I stopped for lunch in a place called Walalusa. As with many small towns, the local diner had two distinct qualities you could count on—curious stares from the regulars and a burger loaded with grease, fried onions, and dripping cheese. Thirty minutes later I left with a full tummy, a bag of homemade peanut butter cookies, a pat on the back from a waitress named Floreen, and a vow to stop by again on the way home.
After about an hour and several wrong turns, I finally found an old, crooked, weathered sign that pointed the way to Harmony. I kept the notes I'd written from my father's verbal directions on the seat next to me and drove slowly, watching street signs so I wouldn't get lost. Homes with modern farm machinery were interspersed with older farmsteads that had horses, ancient tractors, and plows.
I rolled my car window down and breathed in the aroma of wet earth and burgeoning fields planted with wheat, alfalfa, and corn. I'd almost forgotten what the country smelled like.
Eventually I found a signpost that announced my entrance into Harmony. Instead of heading straight to Benjamin's, I decided to drive around a little. I turned onto what seemed to be the main road, a wide dirt street dotted with buildings. On the corner sat a large white building with a bell tower and a sign that read BETHEL MENNONITE CHURCH. A group of people stood in the front of the church, laughing and talking together. Most of them wore the kind of clothing I'd expected to see. The men had on dark pants, solid-colored shirts, and black or dark blue jackets along with the large brimmed hats that made them recognizable as Mennonites. The women wore dresses that reached almost to their ankles. A couple of them had added another covering—almost like a jumper or apron. A few sported the traditional head covering. But to my surprise, there were also women and men in more contemporary outfits. Jeans, sweatshirts, flannel shirts—even one young woman who wore shorts and a T-shirt.
Several of them looked my way. At first I wondered if it was because of my car, a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle. But a quick look around revealed I was mistaken. Along with the black buggies and horses I'd expected, quite a few cars were parked on the streets. Some plain and dark with painted bumpers and others quite modern—even new.
On the other side of the huge church was a park with a massive stone water fountain, a small lake, various types of colorful flowers that reached up from well-tended garden plots, freshly painted shelters, and wooden picnic tables large enough to hold an entire family. The landscaping and careful maintenance showed extreme care and concern. I promised myself a visit some afternoon during my trip, accompanied by one of the novels I'd packed away in my suitcase.
As I drove farther down what was obviously the main drag, I couldn't help but notice the street signs. Although I was currently on the obligatory Main Street, the other interconnecting roads had interesting names like Bethel, Resurrection, and Charity Lane. I wondered if Hope Road was ahead somewhere since Uncle Benjamin had lived north of Main Street and Faith Road.
Harmony certainly had a small town atmosphere, but unlike so many of the abandoned and dying rural communities throughout Kansas, this place was vibrant and alive. I checked out some of the various businesses. Among the rows of neat, colorful buildings with hand-painted signs, I discovered a meat market, a bakery, a candle shop, a clothing store, and a secondhand emporium. Ruth's Crafts and Creations caught my eye, and Mary's Kitchen looked to be doing a brisk business, even though it was three in the afternoon. Lights sparkled from inside several buildings, and a bearded man in dark clothes and a wide-brimmed straw hat was using a phone attached to the wall outside. Old-fashioned streetlamps lined both sides of Main Street, and benches sat along the boardwalk, each one filled with men deep in conversation or women doing needlework while they talked and laughed together.
Harmony bustled with activity, and the residents certainly weren't the dour, grim people I thought I'd encounter. This wasn't the town my father had described at all, but a charming place full of happy people. Spring flowers blossomed in window boxes. Honeysuckle bloomed over handrails and climbed up the sides of buildings. Children ran up and down the covered, wooden sidewalks, giggling and playing just like children anywhere else. I had the strangest feeling I'd stepped back in time and landed inside a Norman Rockwell painting. The real world seemed far away from this place—as if Harmony had found a way to banish it outside its borders.
I drove all the way through town, continuing to draw stares from people I passed. Just like every other small town, everyone knows when a stranger is among them. Feeling a little uneasy with the attention, I headed for Uncle Benjamin's. At the place where the businesses ended and houses began, I found the handpainted street sign that read Faith Road. At the corner of Faith Road and Main Street stood another church, this one much more modern. The square redbrick building sported a sloping roof and a large metal cross attached to its front face. A sign sat a few feet from the road that read Harmony Church. Two churches in a town this size just added to my list of surprises. Dad had only mentioned Bethel—the Mennonite church my family had once attended.
Excerpted from Simple Secrets by Nancy Mehl. Copyright © 2010 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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you enjoy Amish fiction, I'm sure you'll like Nancy Mehl's new book, SIMPLE SECRETS, out now from Barbour Books. SIMPLE SECRETS is the first of a series combining mystery, romance, and suspense, set in the fictional small Mennonite town of Harmony. The town itself becomes a character in the story, and you'll find yourself wanting to settle in for a visit...a place populated by nice, friendly people, one of whom happens to be a killer. SIMPLE SECRETS is a charming read with a likeable heroine who resolves a family secret, solves the mystery, and finds love.
I was raised on cozy mysteries. My mother had them on her bookshelf and brought them home from the library in a basket. Nancy Mehl won my heart with her series, Ivy Towers Mysteries. I picked up this book eagerly and was not disappointed. A hot cup of tea, rain pouring outside, and a cozy--that's life.
Gracie Temple's estranged uncle left her his farm and hopes she will be able to succeed where he could not. But someone wants Gracie to leave Harmony and go back where she came from. What are they afraid she will uncover? And can she solve the mystery without endangering more of her family?
"Too many people are looking for a place where they feel comfortable. But life is not just about comfort. It is about being in a place where you are needed." When Grace learns from her father that an uncle she never met has left her his property in the small Mennonite town of Harmony, Kansas, she is definitely put out of her comfort zone. Born and raised a city girl, Grace travels to Harmony with the goal in mind to get in and get out. She wants to sell the property and return to her job as a graphic designer in the city. Harmony has other plans for her. After finding a letter written to her my her late uncle, Grace is unsure how she can sell the property without hurting her family. With the help of neighbor Sam, Grace begins to unravel secrets that have been hidden for over thirty years in this small town. Perhaps sometimes things are best left hidden. The second book I have read of Mehl's has only left me wanting more. I am eager to read her next work.
Simple Secrets is a very well written christian mystery that takes place in Harmony Kansas a small Mennonite community. When Gracie Temple inherits her uncles property in Harmony she is sort of surprised. She had never met this uncle, when her family left the Mennonite community years before her uncle decided to stay and never contacted anyone in the family again. Gracie decides she will take a quick trip to dispose of the house and collect some family heirlooms, but once she arrives she finds a letter left to her by her uncle that discloses the murder of a man named Jacob Glick, and her uncle Ben believed that Gracie's dad murdered this man, so to hide the murder Ben buried the man on his property and then spent the rest of his life keeping a secret to protect his brother. Gracie is sure that her dad is in no way responsible for the murder, but who is ? Can she trust her new found friend Sam Goodrich to help her figure out who the real murderer is? The author throws out several suspects for us to choose from, but this is no easy mystery to solve, I thought I had it right but was surprised at the end. This is a very fast paced read full of mystery, suspense, romance and also a glance at the Mennonite community. The author keeps you guessing right up till the end trying to figure out who the murderer actually is. I loved my visit to Harmony and look forward to reading the next book in this great Mennonite series titled Simple Deceit due out 12/10.
Gracie Temple is a graphics designer in Wichita. Her father calls and gives her the news that his brother Benjamin, whom she has never met, has died and left Gracie his estate. She makes plans to go to Harmony and see what she has inherited. Her initial reaction is to sell the house right away. But she decides to take a week or so to look things over and make up her mind. When she rolls into Harmony she decides to look around a bit before going to Benjamin's house. The town she sees is not the town her father had described. There are shops all up and down the street, people everywhere, some dressed in the traditional Mennonite fashion she was familiar with, and others dressed "normally". She gets a lot of stares but she figures it's because she is the stranger in town. After getting settled in and meeting a couple of her neighbors she finds a letter that her uncle left her. He tells her something in that letter that changes everything! Who was Jacob Glick and why is his body buried on her property? Who is the real killer? Why does everyone in town act so strange when she mentions the name of Jacob Glick? Can she even trust her closest friend in Harmony, Sam Goodrich? Gracie and Sam follow clues and do some digging to try and find the answers. As I read this book, I was drawn into the town and into the lives of the people of Harmony. I could smell the fried chicken that Sam's aunt, Sweetie Goodrich, was cooking. I could see the rooms of Sweetie and Sam's house as Gracie was given a tour. Ms. Mehl did a wonderful job in writing the book! I don't think anyone who reads it will be disappointed. I had a hard time putting it down!
Simple Secrets by Nancy Mehl is the first book in the Harmony series about a mostly Mennonite community in Kansas. Gracie Temple grew up disliking her family's hometown because of the Ban on her parents for their marriage against the bishop's wishes. When her uncle Ben dies, whom she's never met, and leaves her his home, she's forced to go to Harmony to deal with the home. A letter from Ben tells her of a thirty year old murder and secret that she must get to the bottom of if she is ever to return to her life as a graphic designer in Wichita, but after meeting Sam Goodrich, Gracie isn't so sure that Wichita is where she wants to be. Mehl puts an interesting spin on the extremely popular Amish or bonnet fiction genre. Gracie is an outsider with a prejudice against Mennonites, and the community has plenty of secrets to hide. The reader comes to understand the differences between Mennonite groups as Gracie meets her neighbors and the townsfolk. There's a couple of strong messages: people are individuals regardless of the groups they belong to and sometimes the past must be dealt with before the future can be lived. I hope in future volumes Mehl finds companions for lonely Sarah and bitter Sweetie, but the town of Harmony will provide plenty of compelling romances for quite some time.
SIMPLE SECRETS by Nancy Mehl is a Inspirational romance/mystery set in modern day Harmony, Kansas. It is the first in The Harmony Series which is fictional town in Kansas, it is about the secrets of this small Mennonite town. It has mystery, romance, secrets, forgiveness, family and the old quote "the truth will set you free". It is well written with depth and detail,fast paced and a page turner. This small Mennonite town is warm, caring, has a truckload of secrets, but this would be a wonderful town to live in, grow up in and raise a family. The characters are also warm, caring and will pull you into the story and feel their heartbreak, their joys, their triumphs and hurt. I would highly recommend this book, especially if you enjoy Mennonite stories, which is simpler to the Amish ways but not as strict. This book was received for review and details can be found at My Book Addiction and More and Barbour Publishing.
When Gracie Temple gets a phone call from her father saying that her Uncle Ben has passed away and has left his house and belongings to her, she sets out as soon as she can. Her Uncle lived in a small Mennonite community in Harmony, Kansas and Gracie has never even met him. She arrives with the intention to get things sorted rather quickly, but soon discovers there may be a greater plan at work. A letter addressed to her from her late Uncle causes her to stay and solve a decades old mystery. She meets the handsome Sam Goodrich, who instantly volunteers his assistance. Together they discover sinister things going on in Harmony, including a former corrupt Bishop, a thief, an evil man, and possibly an attraction to each other. I liked that the way the mystery unfolded over the course of the plot. There were no slow points, and since there were clues in just about every chapter, the reveal wasn't left for a huge climax at the end. I thought Sam was quite the romantic guy! Gracie is a fish out of water for most of the book, a feeling that many readers will be able to identify with. I enjoyed being there with her as she saw the Mennonite people as something other than her back woods country assumptions. It seemed we met more modern Mennonites than the more conservative "old ways" ones. Nancy Mehl adds a ton of little details on their way of life - especially when it comes to the cooking - my mouth was watering the whole time! With a last shout out the beautiful cover, this series is sure to be a hit with the Amish and Mennonite readers.