With her wedding business thriving, Annie Kauffmann could never leave her beloved Amish community. So when handsome Amish cowboy Levi Lapp tries to convince her father to move the family to Texas, she must put a stop to it. If Annie finds Levi a wife, he might forget his dream of moving…but can she keep from falling for him herself?
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Annie Kauffmann thought she'd just experienced a perfect day — business had gone well, the fall weather was exquisite and each member of her family was happy and healthy. She leaned her bicycle against the tree in the front yard and ran up the porch steps. Her mother was sitting in a rocker, knitting a baby blanket for her next grandchild. She had twelve and counting. If her mother was sitting, she was knitting — blankets, sweaters, caps and mittens.
"Gut day?" she asked.
"Ya." Annie sank into a rocker, smoothing her apron over her dress and sinking back with a sigh. "I confirmed two more weddings."
"Your catering business is growing."
"It is. The gut thing about these is one is for December ..."
"Not many winter weddings, so you must be speaking of Widow Schwartz."
"The same. The other is for later this month."
"You had an opening this month?"
"Ya, since you know ... Jesse's was cancelled."
"Real shame that Emma changed her mind. I believe she'll regret that."
"Maybe not though, Mamm. Maybe not."
Annie was suddenly aware of voices in the house — her father and another man. She peeked out over the porch railing, wondering whose buggy she had missed, but there wasn't one there.
"Who is Dat talking to?"
"I believe his name is Levi."
"Nein. Levi Lapp."
"I don't know a Levi Lapp."
"He's new here."
"Did he walk?"
"I imagine he rode a bus to town, but he walked here today to see your dat."
"Who does he know in Goshen?"
"He's staying with Simon King."
"Is he related to Old Simon?"
"I'm not sure."
Now Annie's curiosity was thoroughly piqued. "I think I need a glass of lemonade. Can I get you anything?"
Mamm smiled, not fooled for a minute. "Of course, dear. I would love that."
Annie stepped into the coolness of the house. Though it was September, the temperatures had remained warm, and the cool living room was a relief after her bike ride from town. Her father and Levi Lapp were in the kitchen, which would work perfectly. She straightened her apron, made sure her kapp wasn't askew and walked into the kitchen as if she had no idea she was interrupting.
She aimed for a casual stride but stumbled when she spied the man in a cowboy hat. A cowboy hat? She shook her head as if that would clear up what she was seeing.
"Annie. I'm glad you're home. I want you to meet Levi ... Levi Lapp."
Levi tipped the cowboy hat, revealing blond hair that curled at his collar. "Howdy, ma'am."
Had she fallen asleep and landed in a Western? "I'm Annie."
"It's nice to meet you."
"And you, as well. I was just fetching two glasses of lemonade. Don't let me interrupt ..."
"Levi's from Pennsylvania — the Lancaster Plain community."
"Ya? I imagine it's cooler there." She didn't care about the weather in Pennsylvania, but she couldn't exactly ask about the hat.
"It was cooler when I left. Now Texas, where I plan to go, is still much warmer. They have days in the eighties right through November."
"Texas?" Annie had pulled two glasses from the cabinet. At the mention of Texas she turned toward Levi, holding the glasses and trying to remember what she was going to do with them.
He wasn't ugly exactly, only odd looking because of the hat. He seemed to be tall and on the thin side, had a healthy tan and broad shoulders. His blue eyes twinkled as if he understood her confusion and was enjoying it.
Annie raised her chin a fraction higher. "I wasn't aware there were Plain communities in Texas."
"Oh, ya. There's one in Beeville, which has been there nearly twenty years. Only a few families, though."
"And you're going there?" It was really none of her business. She placed the glasses on the counter and walked over to the propane-powered refrigerator. Removing the pitcher of lemonade, she held it up, but her dat waved her away, and Levi didn't seem to notice. A dreamy expression had come over his face. It was as if he'd been transported to another place. She'd seen that look before — usually on a man who was smitten with a girl.
"Not to Beeville, to Stephenville."
"But you said ..."
"There's no community there now, but there was. It's where I grew up."
"You should hear the stories he tells, Annie." Her dat leaned back and crossed his arms. "Rolling hills, space for a family to grow, cattle and horses ..."
Now she was noticing the starry look in her dat's eyes. She'd seen that before. The last time, it was because he was dreaming of moving to a pig farm in Missouri that he'd read about in The Budget.
So that's what this was.
Another one of his daydreams.
Nothing to worry about there. This Levi fellow would probably be gone by the end of the week.
"Gut people too," Levi added. "Texans are quite friendly toward Plain folk."
Her dat thumped the table. "Sounds wunderbaar. Just what I've been thinking of."
Annie didn't answer that. What was the point? This was the way Dat's crazy ideas went. By next week he'd have moved on to raising exotic animals or trying a new crop. She loved her dat, loved everything about him, but she'd learned long ago not to worry about his wild ideas. She had a business to run — a thriving wedding catering business here in Goshen, Indiana. The last thing she needed to concern herself with was pulling up roots and moving to Texas.
Instead, she poured the lemonade into the glasses, smiled at her dat and the Amish cowboy sitting at their table and said, "I'll leave you two to your discussion, then. It was nice to meet you, Levi."
He tipped the ridiculous hat again and smiled as if she'd said something witty. Not just a cowboy, but a charming one to boot.
Levi spoke with Alton Kauffmann another fifteen minutes. When his wife, Lily, came in and started making dinner, he knew it was time to go.
She smiled at him as she pulled what looked like the mixings of a ham casserole from the refrigerator. "It's nice meeting you, Levi. I hope you'll come visit again."
"Oh, he will," Alton said. "The bishop has come up with a work schedule for Levi, since he's new to the area. He'll be helping me here two afternoons a week — Wednesdays and Fridays."
"We'll expect you to stay for dinner on those days ... if you can."
"Danki. I appreciate that."
Alton said something about checking on the horses, so Levi let himself out the front door. Annie was sitting in one of the rockers, writing in a journal. She didn't immediately notice him, and so he was able to study her for a minute.
Young — she couldn't have been over twenty.
Pretty — not that he was interested. He was here to recruit families to move to Texas, not court a woman.
Focused — she still hadn't looked up.
Levi cleared his throat. "Pretty place you have here."
"Ya, it is." She finally glanced up.
"Danki." "Reminds me a little of Texas, the way the hills stretch out to the west ..."
He could still see it in his mind. He wished he had pictures to show her, but of course being Plain they didn't usually fool around with cameras, even the ones on cell phones. He had a few Texas magazines that he'd brought with him. He'd have to remember to bring one over the next afternoon when he came to help Alton.
"You were awfully intent on what you were doing there." He nodded toward her journal.
"Oh. I have a catering business ... for Plain weddings.
I keep all my notes and calendar in here."
"That's interesting. I've never met an Amish businesswoman before."
"Really? You've never purchased something from a local bakery?"
"Oh, ya. Sure."
"Or bought fresh jam?"
"Peach and strawberry." He moved to the rocking chair beside her, placed the knitting basket that was in it on the porch floor and sat.
"All run by women entrepreneurs I would imagine ... Plain women entrepreneurs. You can find them in nearly every bakery and fruit stand — not to mention quilt shops and yarn shops. They are also house cleaners and most of our teachers. Schoolhouses aren't a business, but you get my point."
"I do. Obviously, this is a subject you've given a lot of thought."
She raised her chin like she had in the kitchen. It almost made him laugh. She was a spunky one.
"I've offended you, and I'm sorry. It wasn't my intention."
She considered him a minute and then closed her journal. "It's possible I'm a little sensitive about the topic, being an entrepreneur myself."
"So tell me about your business."
"Not much to tell. I cater weddings."
"I thought ..."
"That the family of the bride cooks the food? Ya. A lot of people think that. But when you consider that most of our weddings have over 400 guests ... well, the mothers of the bride and groom have an increasingly difficult time cooking for a gathering of that size."
"Maybe they could invite less people."
"And put me out of business? No thank you." Her tone was serious, but she smiled at his joke. "How did you land in Goshen? We're a good ways from Lancaster, Pennsylvania."
Levi didn't respond immediately because the actual answer was complicated. He certainly didn't want to go into his family situation with this young woman he'd known less than twenty minutes. And how could he explain how he'd vowed never to return to this area when he was still just a boy? Goshen did not hold good memories for him, but here he was. He decided to go with the simplest, though less complete answer. "My family knows Simon King. He lived with us in Texas, and he's interested in possibly returning."
"Mamm mentioned you were staying with Simon. We call him Old Simon because there are two others in the congregation — Tall Simon and Young Simon. Young Simon is older than Tall Simon but younger than Old Simon." She laughed and then added, "You know how Plain communities are."
"I do, and he's not that old."
"I'm just surprised he'd be interested in moving at his age."
"I suppose that since his wife died, he's a bit lonely. We stayed in contact over the years. When I mentioned that I was raising up a group to start a new community, he was interested."
"How many families do you need?"
"A dozen is the usual number, with at least one church leader."
"And that would be Old Simon?"
"How many families do you have so far?"
"There's myself, Simon and possibly your dat."
Annie covered her mouth with her hands. It took Levi a minute to realize she was laughing. It irritated him, though he couldn't have said why.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry." She pulled her lips into a straight line, and stared down at her lap, smoothing out her apron with her fingertips. Obviously, she was making a huge effort to rein in her amusement.
"No, tell me."
"It's only that Dat ..."
"I hope he hasn't raised your hopes. Mamm says he likes to dream, that it's entertainment for him like some people might read a book. It's harmless enough. We've all learned not to take him too seriously in that regard."
Levi stood and pushed his cowboy hat more firmly on his head, but Annie was now on a roll.
"Once he was going to move us to Canada ... there are Amish communities there, you know."
"Another time, it was a pig farm he was going to purchase, in Missouri, and then there was his idea to raise camels. He checked out a lot of books from the library for that one."
"I would think you'd show more respect for your dat. It seems that you don't take what's important to him very seriously."
"You're an expert on my dat now?"
"I can tell when a man has a dream."
"Ya, like me."
Annie stood as well and moved a step closer. She gazed up into his face. She looked at him in the same way his mother often had, and it only served to increase his irritation even more. There were always some who were closed-minded, who couldn't see the possibilities of a fresh start in a new place.
"I don't mean to be rude, Levi. However, if you're counting on my family moving to Texas, you should know that's not going to happen."
Instead of contradicting her, he said, "I'm glad I'll have plenty of time to speak to your family about this."
"Speak to them?"
"Since I'll be working here two days a week."
"You're going to be working here?"
"It's nice to meet you, Annie. Perhaps we can continue this conversation tomorrow. Your mamm has invited me to stay for dinner."
She crossed her arms and scowled at him as he turned and made his way down the porch steps.
Levi gave her a backward wave, but he didn't look back.
He wanted to. Annie Kauffmann made a pretty picture standing on the front porch with fall leaves pooled at her feet and a cat rubbing against her legs. He didn't allow himself a last glance, though. He knew all about naysayers, people who said it couldn't or shouldn't be done. He'd been stopped by them long enough.
This time, he had a plan.
If things went well, he'd be in Texas by spring.CHAPTER 2
Annie managed to avoid Levi on Wednesday when he came to help her father in the fields. They owned a mere eighty acres, but her dat used every bit of it. He adamantly believed in varying the crops, which increased the amount of work but also improved the harvest. The hay wouldn't be ready to cut for another two months. The sorghum would need to be harvested by the end of October, soybeans after that, and winter wheat had to be planted as well.
There was always work to be done on a farm.
It wasn't unusual for their bishop to arrange for young Amish men from out of town to find some work, and it was true that her father needed help, but she wasn't sure Levi Lapp was the kind of help he needed. Like the first day he'd spent time with Levi, her dat spent Wednesday evening asking enthusiastic questions about Texas over dinner.
"Big ranches there?"
"Some are. The King Ranch is bigger than the state of Rhode Island."
"You don't say."
"Many are smaller family places, though. Like we would have."
Annie and her mamm shared a look, but her mother merely shook her head. They'd been through this before. It was best to let the dream run its course. If this went the way of her dat's other ideas, he'd move on to something else before the end of the week. So she endured dinner with Levi and tried to simply nod and appear polite. Had he swallowed an entire encyclopedia of Texas trivia? She couldn't resist commenting when he laughingly told them about the Texas state mammal.
"They have three, actually. The longhorn is the large state mammal. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the flying state mammal. And the nine-banded armadillo is the small state mammal. Those are quite a sight to see. They can run up to thirty miles an hour ..."
"Why would they need to run for an hour?"
Levi seemed to consider the question seriously, and Annie was suddenly sorry she'd asked it.
"I suppose they wouldn't. My point is they're fast, and they can jump straight up too. I've seen them jump ..." he held a hand level with the table. "At least that high. It's something else."
Now she was irritated. In truth, she'd been irritated since he'd sat down and started spouting facts and figures. "Aren't they just large rats with shells?"
"More like an anteater or a sloth."
"Who would choose that for their state mammal?"
"Texans would. In fact, they did in 1927." He said all of this slowly, as if she were a child and couldn't grasp the concept.
Her mother jumped in and started talking about the possibility of rain, and Annie soon lost track of the conversation. Thinking back over what she'd said as she washed the dishes, she was rather proud of herself. At least she hadn't laughed at him. She hadn't openly mocked him, but what was his deal? Why did he act as if Texas were the promised land?
She'd simply have to pray for extra strength to curb her tongue when she was around him.
Friday that wasn't so easy.
On Friday, Levi managed to tax her patience to the limit.
It didn't help that she had a wedding the next day, the florist had ordered roses instead of mums and she'd spent ten hours in the kitchen cooking and shredding chicken. When Levi and her father trotted inside, leaving muddy prints across the floor she'd just cleaned, Annie thought she might flip like pancakes on a griddle. Things went downhill from there.
She placed a dish of chicken potpie in the middle of the table. Beside it was a loaf of fresh bread, butter and a large salad. Her mamm came in asking about the field work, and they all sat down to eat — including Levi. The serving bowls had barely been passed when her dat started in on the Texas trivia points for the day.
"Levi was telling me about Texas longhorns."
Levi held his hands up to his head and then spread them as far apart as possible. "Big longhorns."
"Horns curve outward and can measure up to eight feet in length," her father said. "Sharp on the end, but apparently they're gentle animals."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Amish Christmas Matchmaker"
Copyright © 2019 Vannetta Chapman.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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