Will a baby girl bring them together at last?
She’ll do anything for her niece…Even marry the man who broke her heart.
Nothing can keep May Bender in her Amish hometown—except caring for her baby niece. But the bishop insists that May also marry her widowed brother-in-law, Thad Hochstedler—the beau who jilted her to wed her sister. Can May risk her heart long enough to learn the real reason for Thad’s first marriage…and possibly rediscover their love?
|Edition description:||Original Large Print|
|Product dimensions:||5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.00(d)|
About the Author
Marie Bast grew up on a farm in northern Illinois. In the solitude of country life, she often read or made up stories. She earned a B.A., an M.B.A., and an M.A. in General Theology and enjoyed a career with the federal government, but characters kept whispering her name. She retired and now pursues her passion of full-time writing. Marie loves walking, golfing with her husband of 27 years, and baking. Visit Marie on MarieBastAuthor.com and mariebast.blogspot.com.
Read an Excerpt
Washington County, Iowa
May Bender had made her decision, but how could she possibly tell him?
Conjuring up the strength of a Goliath, she readied herself for battle. But first, she set dinner on the table, lifted her year-old niece, Leah, into her high chair and handed her a piece of bread smeared with jelly. Leah tilted her head and gifted aentie with a very toothy smile.
She was going to miss this little pumpkin. May wrestled a tear from her cheek with the tip of her finger.
Tucking that sad thought away, she eased onto the chair across the table from Thad and bowed her head for silent prayer. After the blessing, she took potatoes for her and Leah's plate, then handed the bowl to Thad. His hand glided over hers as he grabbed the bowl. She jerked her hand back as a tingle shot up her arm.
Thad, toting a farmer's appetite, loaded his plate and took a bite of pork chop. "Mmm, gut."
The compliment stunned her. He didn't often hand them out. In fact, they didn't often talk much at all. "Danki, it was just a little seasoning. That reminds me, the door on the spice cupboard sticks and a couple of the others are swollen from humidity." Without raising his head, Thad nodded. "I'll take care of them on the next rainy day."
May took a slice of bread, buttered it and pushed a few crumbs off the table, watching them drop to the floor like pieces of her life. Her faith taught her to forgive, but how could she forget April and Thad's betrayal when he sat across the table from her every day?
Leah picked up a few peas with her index finger and thumb. Dropping a couple, she managed to shove a few in her mouth, giggling at her achievement. She smacked her lips and handed her soggy bread to Aent May. "Mamm, Mamm, Mamm ..."
"Oh, danki for sharing, but you can keep it, sweetie."
Pushing her hand in her pocket, May touched the letter, to draw encouragement. "Thad, my aent in Indiana has offered me a job. She wants me to help run her café and bake shop in Shipshewana and take it over when she retires. Edna has given me three months to make up my mind."
He took another bite of food but didn't respond.
May didn't need twelve weeks to think it over; she just needed to box up all her belongings and make the arrangements. It was time she moved. Time she got away from Thad Hochstetler, her brother-in-law. A man who had once courted May, then dumped her for her beautiful sister, April.
She raised her chin to face him. "You know you'll need to hire a nanny?"
He took another bite of pork chop, then nodded.
May glared at him. Nineteen months ago, Thad had brought May home from singings, and April rode with his bruder Alvin. Her sister must have loved Alvin. They had both been baptized, joined the church and their banns were set to be read on the next Church Sunday. Six weeks after Alvin's death from his buggy accident, April and Thad wed.
Thad cleared his throat. Deep lines creased his forehead just under a dark brown swatch of hair that had fallen forward. He raised his head and locked eyes with hers. His mouth twisted into a weak smile, the edges nervously twitching. "Would you ... consider postponing your plan to move to Indiana? I hate to ask this, but I'd appreciate it if you would stay on a little while longer and watch Leah."
"What?" A tear pressed at the corner of her eye. "You're joking, right?"
"The farm's income has declined by almost 35 percent this past year with the problem The Amish Dairy Association has been having with the USDA and its inspection agencies. Small farmers are losing money by the day trying to compete with the big dairy producers out west when they violate the organic rules and overproduce." His voice quaked. "The inspection agencies have been lax in suspending violators and writing citations for fines. I can't afford a full-time nanny right now with a mortgage, and Mamm's arthritic hips won't allow her to chase a one-year-old all day." May drew a deep breath, holding it deep in her chest before blowing it out. "The longer I postpone the move, the harder it will be on Leah." And me.
"Look, May, I'm in dire straits here ... I could lose the farm."
Contempt for him boiled her blood. "You mean my mamm and daed's farm that you inherited from my sister. It's been in our family for 170 years." She spit out the words as if they were wrapped with barbed wire.
"Small dairy farmers are being driven out of business all over the Midwest." He let his gaze drop, then raised his eyes to meet her glare. "I'd really appreciate it if you could stay a while longer."
May fisted her hands. Her world was tumbling, as if a spool of thread dropped to the floor, unraveling before her eyes.
She heaved a sigh but caught the look of pleading cross his face, then vanish in a heartbeat. "I'll think about it."
Thad nodded, scooted his chair away from the table, snatched his straw hat from the peg on the wall, plopped it on and headed outside.
May clutched her chest while pain arrowed through her. Why had she told him she'd think about it? She had thought about it, and the time was right to move.
She dropped her fork and covered her face with her hands. Nein. Nein. Nein.
April's words whirled through her head. "I'm dying, sister. Promise me you'll take care of Leah and Thad."
"Nein, April, I can't do that. Not after what Thad did ..."
"I feel the life draining from me. You must do it, May, please! Forgive me. Thad and I never meant to hurt you. Things just happen." April exhaled a long breath and closed her eyes. Her hand fell limp.
May steered her mind back to the present.
Why had she made that promise?
A blast of evening air squeezed through the screen in the door and circulated around the room, giving it a fresh scent. While Leah played on the floor with her blocks, May stowed her decision for now, washed the dishes and straightened the kitchen.
When Leah started to fuss and rub her eyes, May snatched her up and snuggled her close. "I won't be able to do this much longer if I decide to go, little one." She kissed Leah's sweet little head when she laid it against her shoulder, almost falling asleep. "Nein, let's get you bathed and settled in bed."
After putting the child to sleep, May closed Leah's door with Thad's request still whirling in her head. How could she stay here? He was certainly insensitive to her need. Her fingers twitched with the impulse to start packing now. She'd never be able to sleep. Tiptoeing quietly down the hall, she headed to her sewing room.
Sewing always calmed her nerves.
She grabbed her basket of long strips of cloth she'd torn from old clothes and started sewing them together to make rag rugs. She finished connecting the last strips together, then glanced at the battery clock. Ach. Midnight. After tidying the sewing room, she trudged down the hall to her room and collapsed on her bed.
She rubbed her hand over her quilt. The softness of the cottton reminded her of Leah when she was born. Her sweet boppli softness, and even then, she was as lovely as April with dark blue eyes like Thad's. She'd hated her sister for stealing Thad from her, but how could she stay angry when April was dead? She would have been so proud of her tochter.
Oh, April, you were so careless in caring for yourself and letting the diabetes get out of control, like it had with Mamm. May pressed her hand over her eyes to blot out all the ugliness she'd silently heaped upon April.
Lord, please forgive me for my sins. It was sisterly rivalry, or maybe jealousy that I coveted what she had. April always got what she wanted, and I got her hand-me-downs. Thad had a right to choose, and he chose April. I can't even tell her I'm sorry. Your scripture says I must forgive, but it's hard to forget the trespass. Help me to learn.
A deep yawn coaxed her out of her shoes. She removed her prayer kapp, letting her long auburn hair cascade over her shoulders. After putting on her nightgown, she burrowed under the covers, drowsiness tugging at her eyes.
She loved Leah so much, but she couldn't pass up the opportunity that Aent Edna offered. Could she? A once-in-a-lifetime offer?
Could she pass it up to help Thad? For the sake of the farm?
But Edna's offer was a vote to move.
The next morning, sunshine poured in between the curtains and roused May from sleep. She glanced at the clock. Ach, 7:00 a.m. The thought of Thad waiting in the kitchen hungry pushed the cloudiness from her head. A gut Amish woman always saw to it that the men had a nourishing meal before they started their workday.
Although Daed assured May she could stay in the haus until she married, it was uncomfortable living with Thad. That was another vote in favor of moving.
She dressed and hurried downstairs. When she entered the kitchen, the aroma of strong coffee assaulted her nose. Thad stood over the stove, bacon in one pan and French toast in another. Her eyes roamed from the stove to Leah in her high chair, smiling as she ate scrambled eggs. She held her little hand out and offered May a gob of egg.
"Danki, lieb, but you eat it." She turned to Thad. "I'm so sorry I overslept. I don't know what got into me." Something she never wanted to have to do ... apologize to Thad Hochstetler.
He turned and swept his arm in the direction of the table. "Sit. Your breakfast awaits you, Miss Bender."
He was being nice, too nice. Now what did he want?
Thad smiled. "I noticed you worked late in your sewing room. We're a family and that means we help each other out. Occasionally, we forget to set our alarms. No harm done. Sit. Breakfast is ready." He placed the platter on the table and sat.
After silent prayer, May dribbled syrup on her French toast and took a bite.
He scooted a slice onto his plate and ladled strawberries over top. "Mmm, your garden strawberries are gut. I picked them fresh this morning."
May tossed him a she-could-hardly-believe-it stare.
A knock on the door pierced the silence, then the screen door popped open. Lois Plank, the midwife, and her son Elmer stepped in.
"Hullo. Come in and sit." Thad motioned with his free hand.
"It smells gut in here." Elmer stuck his nose in the air and took a couple of deep whiffs. "Only it's a little late for breakfast." Lois raised a brow at Elmer's nosy remark. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I've come to give Leah her twelve-month checkup."
"Of course!" May stood and pulled Leah out of her high chair. Lois followed May into the other room.
"How's the cheese business, Elmer?" Thad leaned back in his chair and glanced at his guest. "Looks like you dashed over here right from your factory."
Elmer brushed a hand down the front of his shirt. "Jah,Mamm doesn't like to drive all over the township by herself when she makes her rounds."
Thad listened to Elmer drone on, naming all the other homes they would visit today. When the women returned to the kitchen, May sat Leah in the middle of the floor with her toys.
"Lois, Elmer, would you like a cup of coffee?" May grabbed the pot off the stove and placed it on the hotplate as she sat. "Please sit."
"Nein. I have other appointments. We need to get going." Lois motioned for Elmer to head for the door, which he ignored.
Thad cut into another piece of French toast, put it in his mouth and watched Elmer scurry to May's side, slipping into the chair next to hers.
Thad sniffed and breathed in a tangy whiff of cheese stuck to Elmer's shirt. The smear of ripened cheddar from Elmer's aging room seemed to mingle with his blue cheese spot. Thad stifled a smile. Elmer called himself a cheese artisan.
"How are you, May?" Elmer's voice dripped with concern. He leaned toward May, put his arm around the back of her chair and pressed in closer. "I'll stop by tomorrow." He tossed Thad a better-not-try-to-stop-me look, quickly adding, "Thad, are you attending the meeting tonight over at the Millers' dairy on the USDA's organic standard?"
"Wouldn't miss it." Thad glared at the cheesemaker. He wanted to tell Elmer to stay away from May, but she'd resent his interference.
Elmer leaned even closer to May. "I noticed your garden has a lot of beans ready to harvest, and you'll probably want them for your vegetable stand. Why don't I stop back later and help you pick them? It'll be cooler this evening."
"Danki, Elmer, but aren't you going to the meeting?"
"I'll go late. They chew over everything before they get down to business." Elmer threw Thad a sly smile.
"Are you sure you don't want a cup of coffee?" May started to stand.
Lois shook her head. "Danki, we need to go if we're going to stick to our schedule. Elmer, it's time."
The screen door squeaked open and the distinctive shuffle that followed pulled Thad to his feet. "Gut mornin', Mamm." His cheeks burned as he caught a hint of judgment in her eyes.
"What's going on in here?" Gretchen took a deep breath and looked around. "Are you still lollygagging over breakfast? You should be out in the field, jah?" She tossed a sour glance at Thad, then turned toward the table with a stern look. "May, you need to get up earlier and get the food on the table by five thirty. April never ran her haus like this. There are beans in the garden to be picked and canning that needs to be done."
Elmer stood and gave a nod. "Gut mornin', Gretchen. Nice to see you. I forgot you and Aaron were staying in Thad's dawdi haus while the one on Jonah's farm was being refurbished."
"It's nice to see you, too, Elmer. Lois, you checking on our Leah?"
"Indeed. She's a sweet little thing and in gut health. No worry with her, Gretchen. May, don't forget about the quilting frolic in three weeks."
"Jah, it's on my calendar."
Elmer held the screen door for his mamm. "See you later, May."
Thad pulled his hat from the peg on the wall and headed out the door with a sideways glance at May. She sent him a glare. He'd hurt May when he'd tossed her aside for her sister. There was no way to apologize for that but his sharp-tongued mamm only made things worse. "Come on, Mamm, I'll walk you out."
In the evening, May and Leah sat on the porch and watched Thad disappear into the barn after he'd hitched Tidbit to the buggy. Twenty minutes passed. Her gaze swung from the barn door to Tidbit as he pawed the ground nervously, waiting to stretch his legs. Why was Thad taking so long getting ready to go to the dairy association meeting?
A buggy turned into the driveway, the wheels crunching over the rocks as she watched Elmer park it in front of the haus. He stepped down and waved as he walked toward her.
Elmer was handsome and his bronzed skin set off his sky blue eyes. He'd definitely be a gut catch for some woman, but not her. She only thought of him as a friend, and he deserved a frau that would liebe him.
Thad closed the barn door and stalked toward the haus, a grimace plastered on his face as he nodded to Elmer. Ah, now she understood why Thad had stalled after hitching Tidbit. Elmer.
When they were all kinner in school, Thad and Elmer had some kind of rivalry. It seemed like everything was a competition to them, horseback riding, swimming, but it was more than that. But she couldn't quite tag it. If she didn't know better, she'd think Thad was jealous. Nein, that couldn't be. It was just their old silliness, like two small buwe.
A smile tugged at her lips as Elmer got closer. He had donned a clean blue chambray shirt and trousers. Gut. He had smelled like cheese curds earlier in the day.
Before Elmer reached the steps, Thad smacked the reins across Tidbit's back, and the buggy shot off down the driveway toward the gate. May gripped her apron as she watched the speeding buggy. She relaxed as Tidbit slowed before he crossed the road.
"Gut evening, May. How are you this evening?"
"A bit tired."
"Jah? I'll stay only a little while."
She faced Elmer, then glanced at the road after Thad. A twinge of sadness washed over her. She couldn't believe that Thad might lose the farm. Her family's farm. Daed and Mamm fought hard for years to keep the farm, to make the payments and to put food on the table every day. This land ran through her veins almost as much as her blood did. It was who she was. Even if she had to go door-to-door in town with a bucket of vegetables to make a sale, she'd do it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Amish Marriage Bargain"
Copyright © 2019 Marie Elizabeth Bast.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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.