In this sweeping new historical series by Virginia Wise, a young woman finds a new life in America’s first Amish settlement—and discovers that love requires a special sort of courage . . .
Pennsylvania, 1737. Greta Scholtz braved a perilous journey—and the loss of her beloved father—to find religious freedom in America. With two orphan children she's taken under her wing, she's trying hard to survive this rugged new world. So she won't let settlement elders pressure her into marrying reserved widower Jacob Miller. She and Jacob simply can’t agree on anything—even if the unexpected feeling between them is proving an irresistible force . . .
After losing his wife and baby, grief-stricken Jacob keeps everyone at arm’s length. Duty is the only reason he began helping the headstrong Greta make a life for herself and her charges. Yet he’s grown to admire her, especially her strength in the face of obstacles—including him and his wounded ways. But wrenching misunderstandings and a jealous rival could separate them forever. To find harmony—and perhaps even a future together—Greta and Jacob must take a leap of faith and risk opening their hearts . . .
About the Author
Virginia Wise’s favorite pastimes include wandering Lancaster County’s Amish country and exploring living history museums that inspire her stories—and help her connect readers with a forgotten past. When she’s not writing, she enjoys painting and taking long walks in the woods. Visit her online at VirginiaWiseBooks.com.
Read an Excerpt
Pennsylvania Backcountry, 1737
Greta Scholtz wandered past the stumps of freshly cut hemlocks. She raised the blade of her hand to her forehead and squinted into the sun. The old milk cow could be anywhere. Greta felt just as lost in the strange, new land. She frowned, hitched up her skirts, and slogged through the muddy clearing.
"Rose!" Greta cut her eyes toward the forest. "Rose, where are you!?" She hoped that the cow had not wandered beneath those dark, towering pines. Backcountry settlers fenced in their crops and let their livestock roam free to forage and fend for themselves. Cows and hogs grew fat and happy on the bounty of the forest — unless they met a hungry predator.
The otherworldly howls of a wolf pack had woken Greta during the night and she could not rest until she knew that Rose had escaped their hunger. The young woman scanned the shadowed underbrush that lay beyond the clearing and imagined the quiet, stealthy beasts that roamed the foothills of the Blue Mountain. Here, at the far edge of the colonies, the New World teemed with bears, mountain lions, and bobcats.
A soft bell rang. Greta whipped her head toward the sound and grinned. "Rose!" She marched to the other side of the clearing, then hesitated before plunging into the old growth forest that separated her from the other settlers. How can I overcome all of the dangers of the backcountry? If only Father were here. But Father was not there. And I will never see him again. He risked everything to bring them to a land where they were free to worship as Amish, but he never laid eyes on the green hills of Pennsylvania.
Memories of the voyage pushed into Greta's mind. The small group of Anabaptists felt so full of hope when they boarded the Charming Nancy. After decades of persecution in Europe, Greta's people knew they would be safe in Pennsylvania. "William Penn made a place where everyone is free to worship as they see fit," Greta's father, Johannes, had explained. She remembered his smile as they plodded up the ship's gangplank with everything they owned stuffed into one small chest.
But Johannes Scholtz had not survived the voyage to see the Promised Land. He was not alone. One in nine passengers died on the voyage. Overcrowding, disease, and deprivation spelled disaster for the old and young. After they sailed, Greta heard rumors that profit-hungry trading companies preyed on German immigrants by crowding them into the hold like herrings. Others claimed that dishonest middlemen pocketed money meant to buy food for the voyage, condemning passengers to weeks of malnourishment.
Greta trudged toward the wayward cow. With her father gone, there was no man of the house to stand between her and backcountry predators. I will learn to shoot a musket myself. The other families in the tight-knit community would be happy to help her, but Greta wanted to show the settlement that she could handle the challenges of her new life.
And yet, here she was, chasing after Rose again. "I have to stop fearing the wolves." There was no one to hear her words but a deer that paused beneath a gnarled hemlock. The animal froze and stared at Greta with soft brown eyes. Greta cupped her hands around her mouth. "Rose! Come back!" The deer flinched, leapt across a rotten log, and disappeared into the forest.
No wonder the elders are pressuring me to marry. How can I possibly manage on my own? I do not want to be a burden on the community. But how can I settle for a loveless marriage with a stranger who takes me in out of charity? She sighed and pushed a stray lock of chestnut-colored hair under her prayer kappe. And who do they expect me to marry, anyway? A widower twice my age? There are not many eligible bachelors out here, in the middle of nowhere.
Greta emerged into a clearing and spotted her cow in the middle of the neighbor's kitchen garden, surrounded by crushed vegetables. A section of the fence that protected the crops lay broken on the ground. "Rose! No!" The cow raised her head, stepped forward, and flattened a head of cabbage with her hoof. Greta clenched her eyes shut and pressed a palm to her forehead. "Oh, Rose! What have you done this time?" She rushed through the front yard and grabbed the cowbell around Rose's neck. "Come on, Rose. Out of the garden! Please!" She glanced toward the cabin door. Greta had just arrived in the Anabaptist settlement, and this was not the way she wanted to make a first impression on her new neighbor. Rose chewed her cud and watched Greta with a dull expression. Greta pulled harder. The cow stood stock-still, then bellowed and took another step forward without warning. Greta lost her balance, fell backward, and landed hard in the mud. She groaned and wiped a splatter of dirty water off her face. At least no one saw that!
"I've seen pigs wallow in the mud before, but never a young lady." The deep, masculine voice startled Greta and she flung her head around.
A tall, broad-shouldered man stood over her. Dark eyes locked onto hers and Greta felt her stomach leap. She stumbled over her thoughts, unable to respond to his words. "Oh! I ..." Her gaze moved from the man's eyes to his strong jaw, hardened features, and muscular build. Greta felt her face turn red and she looked down. "I ... I ... it is just that ..." Greta shook her head and wiped her muddy hands on her white apron. The stranger leaned forward, close enough for Greta to catch the twinkle of amusement in his brown eyes. She cleared her throat. "Rose, she ..." The man took Greta's hands and pulled her to her feet without any effort. His tall frame blocked the sun and she stood in his shadow, still unsure how to respond. She adjusted her prayer kappe and straightened her neck cloth, which modestly covered her shoulders and chest.
"Well?" the man repeated, and raised his eyebrows. Greta couldn't tell if the expression showed playfulness or irritation.
"My cow. She broke in."
"Ja, I can see that." The man offered a small half smile. "What do you plan to do about it?"
Greta hoped the smile was meant to make her feel more comfortable. No, he must be making fun of me. I must look ridiculous with my muddy dress and trespassing cow! "I ... I will take care of all of this." Greta bit her lip. "I promise. I am sorry —"
The man nodded and glanced at the sky. "The day is almost over. And there will be no work tomorrow."
"I will come back after the Sabbath." Greta stared into the man's eyes, trying to decipher his emotions. "First thing."
"That will be much appreciated." The man tipped his hat and turned away.
Greta let out a breath of air as the tension in her shoulders relaxed. The man's gaze had felt so intense as he studied her. She wished she knew what he had been thinking. Most likely, he is exasperated with Rose and me and is struggling to be polite. I must try harder to fit in here.
Greta tugged on Rose's collar. "Let's go." The cow did not move. Instead the animal lowered her head and bit into a tarragon leaf. Just when I thought I couldn't be any more embarrassed! "Rose, come on!"
The man turned back around and raised an eyebrow. He strode over to Rose and grabbed her collar. The cow raised her head and stared at him. "Time to go, ja?" The animal lumbered forward. Greta's cheeks burned as she marched after Rose and the stranger.
"I don't understand ... Rose usually —"
"Ja," the man cut her off, and shrugged. "I will see you first thing day after tomorrow."
* * *
Jacob Miller frowned as he watched Greta Scholtz lead her cow into the forest. The memory of her steady gaze burned inside his mind. He had fallen into those lively green eyes and could not find his way out again. What was it about her that drew him in and would not let him go? It must be the outrageous way that we met. She looked so ridiculous, sprawled on the ground with that adorable expression of shock on her face. Jacob winced. He didn't want to find her — or any woman — adorable. His heart was still too raw. He shook his head and tried to force his attention back to his work. But his gaze lingered on the young woman as she strode across the clearing.
She must have felt humiliated, but she kept her head held high and promised to fix the problem instead of shying away. Though young and unprepared, she seemed eager to overcome the challenges of the backcountry. A familiar sense of loss flooded him. I remember another woman like that. He cut off the train of thought before the memories overtook him.
Remember, the Lord taketh away. ...
Jacob knew that there was more to that verse. But after months of grief, he struggled to believe that the Lord giveth. Life in the backcountry felt like it was all take, and no give. Less than a year had passed since he had buried Marta with his own hands. He remembered shoveling cold earth over the grave and promising never to open his heart again. Jacob pushed aside the unwelcome warmth that Greta Scholtz forced upon him.
He needed to finish splitting a log before sundown. What is the matter with you? Focus on your work. But thoughts of Greta pushed into his mind as he struck his ax into the wood. He remembered the delightful sprinkle of freckles across her nose and cheeks. He remembered how she tried to look dignified as she lay sprawled in the mud. And he remembered the endearing quiver in her voice as she fought to overcome her embarrassment. Yes, that Greta Scholtz knew how to make quite an impression.
Jacob shook his head and let his smile drop back into a frown. He set down the ax and wedged a fat wooden peg into the crack he had hacked into the log. He wiped his hands on his knee breeches and picked up a massive wooden mallet. His face hardened as he raised the heavy mallet far above his head and swung it down against the peg. The force of the blow ricocheted into his shoulder and jaw. After enough blows the peg would force the wood apart. Then he would have to repeat the process again and again, down the entire length of the log.
Jacob sighed and swung the mallet down again. Be practical. Prepare for winter. And, whatever happens, don't fool yourself into thinking that a captivating young lady can make things right again.
* * *
Greta felt completely and utterly humiliated. The cowbell clanged as Rose followed behind her and the constant noise made her feel even more vulnerable and exposed. Even though she walked alone through the forest, Greta imagined everyone in the settlement hearing the bell, looking up, and laughing at her. She told herself that she was overreacting, but all she could think about was that man, standing over her with that hard, humorless expression.
Why did he stare at me like that? What was he thinking? She pressed her hands over her face and squeezed her eyes shut. He was thinking about what a ridiculous woman I am! How could everything have gone so wrong so quickly! Closing her eyes made everything worse because his image blazed inside her mind. His chiseled features ... the way his hands closed around hers and lifted her without effort ... his dark, mesmerizing eyes. Greta opened her eyes. The fact that she could not stop thinking about him made her as confused as his attitude did. Whatever is wrong with me? Greta felt her forehead. Mayhap I am coming down with a fever. I must be delusional. Why else would that man make such an impression on me?
She heard a shout and looked up. The six-year-old Fisher twins ran along the footpath that wound through the settlement. The woolen hosen on Peter's legs sagged, showing a sliver of bare calf beneath his knee breeches.
"Peter, pull up your hosen before you catch cold!"
Peter grinned and waved, then darted past without straightening his stockings. Greta shook her head, but smiled. Peter and Eliza's parents took sick and died on the Charming Nancy during the crossing. She remembered how she held the twins close and shared their grief as they endured endless days together in the dark hold of the ship. If only I could take them in. They are alone in this harsh new world just like me.
Greta sighed and gave Rose's rump a gentle slap. "Go on now. But watch out for the wolves, ja?" If I had a husband, the elders would let us adopt Peter and Eliza. She felt a stab of longing, then forced the emotion away. I will not fall for the first man I meet in the New World. And I certainly will not fall for that man,no matter how much the elders think I need a husband. He could never be interested in me after today.
The thought of that tall, broad-shouldered man with the amused half smile reignited Greta's embarrassment. She slunk across the clearing and flung open the door of a small log cabin. I hope I never see him again. Except, that would mean never staring into those dark eyes again. ... Greta cut off the thought.
"My goodness, Greta." Ruth Yoder looked up from her mending with a startled expression. "Whatever has come over you?"
Greta sighed. "I'm sorry, Ruth. I've only been here a few days and I'm already disturbing your quiet evenings." Greta had felt like a disruption ever since she came to live in the small cabin. After the Charming Nancy arrived in Philadelphia, Greta and her fellow Amish made their way to the base of the Blue Mountain, at the very edge of the Pennsylvania frontier. The land had just opened for European settlement the year before and the new group joined a handful of Amish families who had already cleared land and put down roots in the wilderness.
The new settlers scrambled to house everyone and Greta felt fortunate that the group found her a cozy home with an elderly widow — although the elders made it clear that the arrangement was temporary. They insisted that the backcountry was no place for a single young woman and an old widow.
Ruth patted the bench beside her. "You are not disrupting, dear. I cannot tell you how lonely I've been since my husband died."
Greta sighed and slumped onto the rough, backless bench. No roads had been cut through the backcountry yet, so settlers had to leave their wagons — and furniture — behind. The benches, and almost everything else inside the cramped cabin, had been handmade from whatever materials could be found in the Pennsylvania wilderness.
Greta wiped her brow with the corner of her apron. "It is not an easy life here."
Ruth let out a long, deep breath. "No, it is not." She looked down. "I thought that, after so many years of hiding our faith, my husband and I would live out our old age in peace. But it was not der Herr's will."
"And I thought my father would live out his years here too, free and happy."
A smile broke across Ruth's wrinkled face. "But I am grateful that you have come to me. It is wonderful that more Amish are finding their way to our little outpost."
"To think that this was all forest just a few months ago," Greta said.
"Ja. One year ago, when my husband and I arrived here, there was naught but trees and wolves."
"We will make a new life here. I know we will."
"Ja. You are so young, Greta. You have your whole life ahead of you. I can only imagine what der Herr has planned for you here, in the New World."
Greta looked away. How can I manage without Father? I feel so alone in this strange, wild land.
"What is troubling you, child?"
"I'm afraid that I have not gotten off to a very good start here."
"Oh?" Ruth raised an eyebrow. "What happened today? You certainly came into the house like a storm."
"I heard the wolves and went looking for Rose."
"Is she safe?"
"No harm done, then."
"Well, not exactly." Greta sighed. "Rose got into the neighbor's kitchen garden."
"Oh dear. Which neighbor? Not Jacob Miller, I hope."
"If Jacob Miller lives beyond that stretch of forest." She motioned in the direction of his farm.
Ruth suppressed a smile. "He is a handful, that one."
"Well, that is one way to put it." Greta put her face in her hands. "I can never see him again. I just can't face him after ..."
"After what? It can't be that bad ... can it?"
"Oh, Ruth! I fell in the mud and there he was standing over me with this expression of ... of ... complete disapproval! It was the most embarrassing moment of my life!" Greta thought she caught a gleam in the old woman's eye.
"Most women would be eager to see such a handsome man again. Hmmm?"
Greta scowled. She hoped that Ruth did not think she felt an attraction to Jacob Miller. That would be preposterous after he caught her in such an embarrassing situation. Absolutely preposterous. Greta cleared her throat. "If he's handsome then I certainly did not notice."
Ruth shrugged and turned her attention back to her mending. "Of course, dear."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Where the Heart Takes You"
Copyright © 2019 Virginia Wise.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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
This book was quite enjoyable to read and the author did a wonderful job describing all of the hardships the first Amish settlers in the New World had to face in 1737. These hardy souls lost plenty of relatives on the ship during the journey from Germany but in their practical and plain way, the Amish people always overcome adversity. My only frustration was that it took forever for Greta and Jacob to overcome their prideful ways and admit that they had fallen in love with each other! I read a complimentary copy of this book provided by Kensington Books through NetGalley and all opinions expressed in my voluntary review are completely my own.
Where the Heart Takes You is the beginning of a new historical romance series by noted author, Virginia Wise. The main characters, Greta Scholtz and Jacob Miller, are members of a small Amish group newly settled in the New World. They traveled from Germany to Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s to escape religious persecution. Jacob and his wife arrive in America with the first group of Amish settlers. Unfortunately, his wife dies tragically, and he retreats from society. Greta, who traveled with the second group, arrives with a set of fraternal twins whose parents died during the sea voyage, but without her father, who also didn’t survive the crossing. Despite their personal demons and the loss each has suffered, a romance develops between the two, but their bond is tested by their community and by an unexpected rival for Jacob’s love. Virginia Wise masterfully describes the scenery. She takes you directly to untamed America. The background scenery almost becomes another character and is intricately woven into the story. Greta, in particular, finds herself at odds with the surroundings, often in a completely hilarious way. This is one of my favorite aspects of the book. The characterization is superb. I appreciate that the characters are well-developed and evoke emotional responses. Oblivious characters tend to drive me crazy, so I sometimes found myself talking out loud in outrage. Jacob’s tendency to be blunt and hurtful in his rejection of Greta’s affection was a negative aspect for me, but an inspirational them radiates throughout the novel: inner beauty is preferable to outer beauty. Where the Heart Takes You is beautifully written. Even though this is a chaste Christian novel, it’s not short on romance. The author strikes the right balance between religion and romance, and adds just the right amount of adventure. I rate it 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of chaste and/or historical romance. If you are opposed to religious themes, this is not the book for you. My thanks to Kensington Books and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. However, the opinions expressed in this review are 100% mine and mine alone.
The author has set this book in the 1730’s Pennsylvania and a founding settlement Amish Community, and we experience it first hand through the eyes of a recent [Charming Nancy] survivor, Greta Scholtz. Life is very basic, and all are trying to survive and have put their faith in God. We also meet Jacob Miller, a grieving widower, who is not interested in another woman. I loved this book, and the words flew of the pages, and when it ended I felt a loss. Never thought about how they cooked bread, a communal oven, wow! What we take for granted! There are a few chuckles here, especially playing the pig pen, and then there are several scary times, but in all I have a good visit here, and hope for more! I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Kensington Books, and was not required to give a positive review.