In Amy Lillard's poignant introduction to Wells Landing, a small Amish community is home to two brave souls hoping to forget their painful pasts and rebuild their faith in the future. . .
Caroline Hostetler arrived in Oklahoma determined to forge a new life for herself and her daughter, Emma. As a single mother, she values the warmth and safety she's found in close-knit Wells Landing. She's even caught the eye of a handsome newcomera man who just may be the partner she longs for and the father Emma deserves. But the arrival of an Englisher threatens to lay bare the secrets she's worked so hard to leave behind. . .
After losing his life-long sweetheart, Andrew Fitch moved to Wells Landing to work in his uncle's furniture business and nurse his broken heart. Finding love again seems all but impossibleuntil he meets Caroline and Emma. But his plans to join their lives together may be shattered when the truth of Caroline's past comes to lightunless, together, they can learn the true meaning of sacrifice and forgiveness. . .
About the Author
Amy Lillard is an award-winning author of over forty novels and novellas ranging from Amish romance and mysteries to contemporary and historical romance. Since receiving a Carol Award for her debut novel, Saving Gideon (2012), she has become known for writing sweet stories filled with family values, honest characters, a hometown feel and close-knit communities. She is a member of RWA, ACFW, NINC, and the Author’s Guild. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. Please visit her online at www.AmyWritesRomance.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Amy Lillard
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Amy Lillard
All rights reserved.
"Who is that?"
Caroline Hostetler shifted Emma in her lap so she could peer around the sleeping toddler's head. A young man was unloading a headboard from a wagon trailer hitched to a bright green tractor. "That's Abe Fitch's tractor."
The strings of Emily Ebersol's prayer kapp danced with her nod. "Jah. It is."
"I bet that's Abe's nephew come down from Missouri." Lorie Kauffman moved to get a better look.
If there was one thing Caroline could say about Wells Landing, Oklahoma, it was that not much happened. Such was the way of small Amish communities, even Beachy ones. Life was slow, but it was a gut slow. Not much changed, like the stores and shops on Main Street and the three friends who ate their lunch in the park each afternoon.
Emily nudged Caroline in the ribs. "Did Esther say anything about buying new furniture?"
Caroline leaned to the left and squinted in the warm April sun, trying to get a better look.
"Dat said his name was Andy or ... Andrew. Jah, Andrew." Lorie waved a hand in front of Caroline's face. "Hello? Caroline?"
Caroline shook herself out of her stupor, only then aware that she had been staring at the young man unloading the rails for the bed. He was the most handsome man she had ever seen. Even from across the street she could tell. Broad shoulders, dark wavy hair, there was just something about him that made her want to sit and watch him all day long.
"Esther and I talked about buying a new bed, but we decided against it." Caroline shifted her sleeping fifteen-month-old again.
Abe's nephew had parked the tractor between the only two shops in the building directly across from the small city park where they sat. He could only be delivering the beautiful handmade piece to Esther's Bakery, where Caroline worked, or to the Kauffman Family Restaurant, where Lorie helped her father and stepmother feed tourists daily.
Emily flicked her hand toward the building across the street. "Where else would he be taking it?"
"The restaurant." For sure and for certain. She had told Esther that she did not need a new bed. They could not afford one, not with the new oven they had just bought for the bakery. There had barely been enough money for that.
"Nay, we did not order it. You did say Esther wanted you to have a new bed." As Lorie said the words, the handsome young man picked up the headboard and started for the bakery.
"Oh, nay. She did not." Caroline stood, carefully adjusting Emma so she wouldn't wake her, and started toward the bakery.
She had to wait as a car passed, followed by a horse-drawn buggy. The minister, Dan Troyer, gave a quick wave as he passed. Caroline, arms full of Emma, could only nod in return. Then she continued across Main Street.
"What are you doing?" She stopped just short of running into the young delivery man, fueled by disbelief and anger.
He propped the headboard against his legs and pushed his straw hat back on his head. "Goedemiddag."
His eyes were the purest blue she had ever seen, crystal clear and the color of the ocean in the pictures over at the travel agency.
"Goedemiddag." She backtracked. "What are you doing?"
"Delivering this bed." He picked up the headboard, then started around her.
She moved in front of him, effectively blocking his path. "Why?"
He set the headboard down again and scratched his head just under his hat. Two of the deepest dimples she had ever seen slashed down his cheeks as he smiled. "It's what I do."
Huh? What was the question?
He picked up the headboard once again, moved easily around her, and continued toward the bakery. She mentally chastised herself for allowing him to distract her as she followed behind.
He stopped, and she nearly crashed into him. Emma stirred as Caroline ground to a quick halt.
"It's my job."
She shook her head and lifted Emma a little higher. When had her baby gotten so heavy?
"No, it's not my job?"
She adjusted Emma again. Her arms were going to sleep under the limp weight of the toddler. "I don't want the bed."
"That's fine, then, because I'm not giving it to you."
"You are taking it to Esther."
"That is what my onkle told me to do."
"But Esther bought it for me. After I told her not to. So you can take it back where it came from." She could feel Emma sliding down once again. Why was he being so stubborn? Why wouldn't he take the bed back to his uncle's shop and stop arguing with her before she dropped Emma completely?
"Sorry." He didn't look sorry as he gently nudged past her and into the bakery. Caroline had no choice but to follow him inside.
Esther came around the high bakery counter just as Caroline pushed through the doors. "It's here." The woman who had been both savior and mentor to her in the past two years smiled with pleasure.
"Esther Lapp." She and the handsome nephew of Abe Fitch said her name at the same time.
"Jah?" She looked at each of them in turn.
"I'm here with the bed you ordered," the nephew said.
Caroline admonished, "You weren't supposed to do this."
The ever-cheerful, sweetly plump widow turned her attention to the dark-haired delivery man. It was better by far for Caroline to think of him in those terms rather than as the most attractive man she had seen in a long time. Or ever. Those were the thoughts of a carefree teenager, and she was neither a teenager nor carefree any longer.
"Gut, gut." Esther smiled as she took the invoice from him and penned her name at the bottom. "Will you take it around back to our apartment and set it up?"
"Jah," he said with another of those heart-stopping smiles.
"I left it unlocked for you."
"Nay. Nay. Nay" Caroline stepped forward. She had to do something. She could not accept the bed. Just as she could not allow him to come into her rooms.
"Is she always this ... negative?"
Caroline rubbed Emma's back as the child stirred. "I am not negative. I told Esther last week that she could not order me a bed, and she did anyway. So you can just take it back to your onkle. I apologize for any inconvenience."
"I told you last week that you work too hard by far for me to not offer you a bonus. If you won't take money, then I will gift you with a bed," Esther said.
"I told you it was not necessary," Caroline countered.
"I told you it was."
"But—" Caroline turned as the nephew started out the door.
"When you ladies are finished, I'll be around setting up the bed."
As quick as that, she lost the argument.
Emma stirred in her arms, waking now that all the excitement was over.
Esther reached for the child, and she went straightway into her arms. Caroline rubbed her hands together, trying to get the feeling back into them.
"You've done so much for me and Emma, I—"
"Shush," Esther said, planting a kiss on the top of Emma's dark curls. "I wanted to, and I did."
Caroline shook her head and gave the woman a one-armed hug. How could she explain that she appreciated all of the things that Esther did, but the more she did, the less capable it made Caroline feel?
"You are like a daughter to me," Esther said, leaning into the hug even though she had her arms full of toddler. Emma rubbed her fists into her sleepy eyes and gave a yawn.
Caroline was overcome with love. Only two short years ago when she had come here to Wells Landing she had thought her life to be over, but now ... now she had more than she had ever dreamed.
She blinked back her tears of gratitude and happiness. "Danki, Esther."
"Gern gschehne." Esther handed Emma back, then moved behind the counter as a customer came into the bakery. "You'd better make sure that handsome young man puts your bed where you want it. Then come on back. We have a cake to bake for tomorrow."
"Jah," Caroline said, then rushed out the door to see to the delivery.
Andrew Fitch unloaded the last of the rails and the footboard for the bed he'd been asked to deliver and carried them around the back of the building to the living quarters Esther Lapp had indicated. At least now he was able to do his job without that blond-haired narrisch woman with the sleeping boppli in her arms.
Okay, so she wasn't really crazy, more like ... determined. Either way, he'd never forget the flash of defiance in her hazel eyes as she stood in front of him blocking the way.
For a minute, though, he thought perhaps his uncle had let his preoccupation get the better of him. Thankfully Esther had confirmed, and Andrew had breathed a sigh of relief.
He propped the pieces against the wall and smiled to himself.
"What is it that you find so pleasing?"
He jerked his head up, meeting that unforgettable hazel gaze. "Nix," he replied with a hidden smile.
She gave a curt nod, and Andrew wondered if she was always this ... guarded. He wasn't sure where the word came from, but there it was. Guarded. She watched him as if he were about to commit some heinous crime. Or discover all her secrets.
"I came to deliver the bed, to set it for use. That is all."
She watched him, the dark-haired baby on her hip. "I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting you." She deposited the baby in the playpen and started picking up the toys scattered all over the floor. The apartment wasn't messy, just lived in.
The baby started fussin' at being put down, pulling herself up and dancing around, seeking the woman's attention. She handed the child a blanket as a peace offering.
He'd like to ask if the child was indeed hers or if she was merely watching her for the mother. But it was too familiar a question to ask of this guarded angel. They were just so different was all. She had golden blond hair and hazel eyes, whereas the baby had dark hair and the most unusual gray-colored eyes, the likes of which he had never seen.
"My bedroom is the one on the left." As the woman said the words, a pink flush on her cheeks hinted to the intimacy of the statement.
"Esther asked that the old bed be taken away and the new one put in its place, jah?"
More pink. "That is fine."
"I think we started off wrong." Andrew straightened and tipped his hat to the woman. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Andrew Fitch. I just moved here from Missouri to help my onkle with his furniture business."
A hesitant smile flickered across her lips. "Gut to meet you, Andrew. I'm Caroline Hostetler. And this is Emma."
He allowed himself one last look, one last smile, then he went back to work.
Caroline lingered on the fringes, always watching but never in his way. He wasn't sure how he felt about her hovering. Was she interested or spying? Curious or distrustful? He'd probably never know.
What did it matter anyway? He shook away the thought and focused on the job at hand.
In no time at all he had the new bed set up and the old one loaded into the wagon.
"Hope to see you around, Caroline and Emma." He nodded toward the pair, and with no more reason to stay, he let himself out.
Andrew stepped into his uncle's furniture store, breathing in the earthy scent of wood mixed with furniture wax. It was a far cry from the smells of farming, but Andrew kept telling himself that he would get used to it.
He sighed. There was a lot in his world that he was trying to get used to, come to terms with, and all those other sayings that were clever disguises for "learn to keep living."
"Andrew? Is that you?"
Abe Fitch shuffled out of the back, wiping his stained hands on an equally soiled rag. Years of turning wood had left him stooped-shouldered. Though he had never married, Abe still wore the traditional beard of Amish men after they wed, a sure sign that he had passed his fortieth birthday. The hair on his chin was dark, streaked with gray, and almost as curly as the fuzzy hair on his head. "Did you get the bed all set up for Esther Lapp?"
"Jah," Andrew said.
He ran his thumbs underneath the galluses attached to his barn-door pants and rocked back on his heels. "It was really for Caroline Hostetler."
Abe pushed his wire-rimmed glasses farther up on the bridge of his nose and squinted back at him. "Jah. Caroline. It seems Esther did mention something about that."
"What do you know about her?"
"Well, now, I've known Esther all my life. She married John Lapp, right after she joined the church. Let me see, that would have been about—"
"I was asking about Caroline."
"Oh. Oh. She just showed up one day. Nigh on two years now. Widowed, pregnant."
"She's a widow?" He shouldn't be so pleased that she wasn't married.
Why did he even care? It wasn't like he was ready to start courtin' again. Or if he'd ever be. Maybe it was the simple fact that they had something in common: They both had lost someone dear to them. She had lost her husband, and he had lost—
"She's a gut girl, that Caroline. She'd make a fine fraa."
"Nay" Andrew shook his head, nearly flinging his hat to the floor. "That is not why I am asking. I just, uh ... Well, I'm just trying to get to know the people in the district ... if I am going to live here and ... uh, live here."
His words in no way reflected the truth, but Abe was too involved in his own world to seem to notice. Thankfully he didn't see the red flush creeping up Andrew's neck. But that was his uncle, a little brilliant, a little absentminded, and one of the best furniture makers in Oklahoma.
Abe shrugged. "You unload the old bed?"
"Jah, I did."
"Gut, gut. After I finish this table, we'll head on back. Esther invited us to supper tonight."
"I invited Abe and his young nephew to supper tonight."
Caroline resisted the urge to prop her hands on her hips. A defiant pose would only look suspicious. "Now why would you go and do a thing like that?"
"Seeing the two of you together this afternoon made me realize how much you work and how you are never around people your age."
"I'm around people my age all the time. Emily is twenty-one, as is Lorie. I'm just two years older."
Esther shrugged. "I thought it would be fun to have company."
"Fun? For who?" She stopped and eyed the woman who had taken her in when she had no one. "It is you, jah? Maybe you are the one who needs company?"
Esther had the good grace to blush. She turned back to the bubbling pot on the stove. "Don't be gegisch."
"Nay, of course not." Caroline smiled to herself as she used a wet rag to wipe the peas from between Emma's fingers. "I'm not being silly a'tall."
So Esther liked Abe. What an unlikely pair: the plump baker and the absentminded furniture maker. Still, it would be a gut match. Abe needed someone to take care of him, and Esther liked to nurture. Otherwise she would have never taken Caroline in on that rainy September night.
"You should change your apron," Esther said, pointing at the smear of flour across Caroline's middle. Two years and she still hadn't mastered the art of baking without wearing as much flour as she needed for each recipe. "You wouldn't want to give the wrong impression to young Andrew."
Caroline pulled Emma from the high chair and planted a kiss on her newly cleaned cheek. "I will change my apron, but not for the reasons you are thinking."
"What would that be, liebschdi?"
"I will change my apron because the one I have on is soiled and not because we have company."
Esther poured some water into the pot and stirred it once again. "It is no matter why you do it, but that it is done."
Caroline left the room smiling just the same.
"Andrew, would you like another biscuit? Caroline, give Andrew another biscuit. It's her own recipe," Esther added. "One of the best things I got when she came to live here."
"Oh, jah?" Andrew shot her a quick smile filled with those incredible dimples. For once Caroline was glad that Esther was so chatty.
Excerpted from Caroline's Secret by Amy Lillard. Copyright © 2014 Amy Lillard. 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.