A Brand-New 3-Book Series from New York Times Bestselling Author Wanda E. Brunstetter.What happens when making an elderly Amish couple very happy means going along with a lie that gets bigger by the day? Michelle Taylor is not who her new family in Lancaster County believes her to be. The Lapps were looking for their long-lost granddaughter when they met Michelle and she assumed the identity of Sara Murray. Once homeless and hopeless, Michelle has come to love her new Amish friends and even considers the idea of romance among them. Finding an old blue jar in the barn that is filled with slips of paper containing thoughts, quotes, and prayers by an unknown author becomes a boost to Michelle’s budding faith— but also convicting. How can she tell the truth without hurting the ones she has truly come to love?
About the Author
New York Times bestselling and award-winning author, Wanda E. Brunstetter is one of the founders of the Amish fiction genre. She has written close to 90 books translated in four languages. With over 10 million copies sold, Wanda's stories consistently earn spots on the nations most prestigious bestseller lists and have received numerous awards. Wanda’s ancestors were part of the Anabaptist faith, and her novels are based on personal research intended to accurately portray the Amish way of life. Her books are well-read and trusted by many Amish, who credit her for giving readers a deeper understanding of the people and their customs. When Wanda visits her Amish friends, she finds herself drawn to their peaceful lifestyle, sincerity, and close family ties. Wanda enjoys photography, ventriloquism, gardening, bird-watching, beachcombing, and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Richard, have been blessed with two grown children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. To learn more about Wanda, visit her website at www.wandabrunstetter.com.
Read an Excerpt
One week later Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Michelle Taylor stared at the contents of her wallet and groaned. She barely had enough money to buy groceries this week, much less pay the rent that was due five days ago. She'd lost her job at a local coffee shop a month ago and hadn't been able to find another position. What little money she had saved went to pay last month's rent. Soon Mr. Henson would be hounding her for June's rent, and if she didn't come through, he'd probably throw her out in the street, like he had the last tenant.
Michelle looked around her shabby studio apartment. It came fully furnished but didn't include more than the basics — a few dishes and cooking utensils, a small kitchen table with two chairs, a well-used sofa, and a bed that pulled down from the wall. In the cramped kitchen area, peeling linoleum held little appeal, nor did the water-stained ceiling. The vinyl on the wall near the kitchen table had been ripped, and the chipped cabinet doors where she kept her canned goods hung askew. The rust-stained sink and crooked blinds on the window completed the gloomy picture in this room, not to mention the hum of the old refrigerator that just about drove her batty.
Then there was the pathetic bathroom. The toilet ran unless she shook the handle a couple of times. Chipped grout, blackened in places with sickening mold, made the faded tile behind the tub/shower combination anything but pleasing. Hard water stains covered the shower door, and some of the tiles on the floor had begun to buckle. The sink faucet dripped constantly, even though Michelle had tried several times to fix it — a job her landlord should have taken care of. There was nothing high class about this dwelling, but at least it gave Michelle a roof over her head — same as it did for the rest of the building's occupants. No one in this building was high class, most certainly not Michelle.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, she moved from the kitchen area and sank to the outdated, black, imitation-leather sofa. Leaning her head back, and using her fingertips, she massaged her throbbing forehead. What I should do is get out of Philly and make a new start somewhere else. Guess I could go back to Ohio and see if Al and Sandy will take me in again. Course, it's been so long they might have moved, or at the very least, taken in more foster kids, so they wouldn't have room for an unwanted guest.
Michelle hadn't seen her foster parents since she graduated from high school and went out on her own six years ago. She hadn't called or even sent a postcard to let them know where she was or how she was doing. "They probably wouldn't care anyhow," she muttered. "Truth be told, Sandy and Al were probably glad to get rid of me."
Michelle squeezed her eyes shut, wincing as her headache worsened. Shoulda kept my grades up in school. I may have had a chance at a college scholarship and might be workin' at a decent job by now. Guess this is what I get for being a know-it-all and running off the minute I got out of high school.
When Michelle left Columbus, she'd gone from town to town, taking whatever menial jobs she could find. When things went bad, or she ran low on money, she moved on, always searching — always hoping — wishing she could put down permanent roots. All Michelle had ever wanted was to feel loved and accepted — to feel like she truly belonged. Of course, it was only wishful thinking. At the rate things were going, she'd never have a place she could call "home" and mean it. It was doubtful Michelle would ever know what the love of a caring family was all about.
Her head jerked when someone pounded on the door. Oh great. I bet that's Mr. Henson, coming for the rent I don't have. If I don't answer, he'll think I'm not here and go away. She sat perfectly still and didn't make a sound.
The pounding continued. "Michelle! Come on, sweetie, I know you're in there, so open this door."
Relieved that it wasn't Mr. Henson after all, she called, "Coming, Jerry."
Michelle jumped up and hurried across the room. Jerry had been kind of edgy when he came to see her last night, and she didn't want him to make a scene outside her door. A few times before when she'd refused to let him in because he'd been drinking too much, he'd become loud and boisterous. After some of the other tenants complained about the noise, the grumpy landlord warned her that she would have to leave if it happened again.
Another loud knock on the door, and Michelle jerked it open. "Said I was coming. Didn't you hear me through the paper-thin door?"
Jerry's eyelids lowered as he stepped inside and slammed the door shut. "Yeah, I heard ya." He reached out and pulled her close.
Michelle smelled the rotten-egg scent of beer on his breath as soon as he kissed her, and she nearly gagged. Michelle had never acquired a taste for alcohol or appreciated the smell of it. The same thing held true for cigarette smoke. It wasn't that she thought she was too good for those things. They just made her feel sick.
"How'd your day go?" Jerry held Michelle so close she could barely breathe. "Did ya find another job yet?"
"No, I did not. Nobody seems to be hiring right now." Michelle pulled on her shirt collar. "And if I don't find something soon, I'll be kicked out of this apartment building for not paying the rent." She didn't let on that Jerry's yelling outside her door could also get her kicked out. He wouldn't think twice about threatening the landlord.
Jerry released his hold on her and sauntered across the room to the nearly empty refrigerator. "Ya got any beer?"
"No, and I hardly have any food either. If my luck doesn't change soon, I could end up living on the streets with all the other homeless people in this town."
Jerry raked his fingers through the ends of his curly brown hair. It looked like he hadn't washed it in several days. "You ain't gonna end up on the streets, sweetie, 'cause I want ya to move in with me. I told you that last night, remember?"
Michelle did remember. How could she forget? After she'd declined his offer, they'd had a big argument that ended with Jerry grabbing her so tight, she'd been left with bruises on both of her wrists.
"Michelle, did ya hear what I said?" Eyes narrowing, he got right in her face.
She nodded. "I'm just thinking, is all."
"Well, don't think too long. Just pack up your things and let's go. You'll be glad to say goodbye to this place."
"I told you last night that I'm thinking about leaving town — at least for a while. I may go back to Columbus to see my foster parents."
Jerry's brown eyes darkened as his nostrils flared. "And I said I don't want you to go anywhere but with me." His features softened a bit. "I'd miss you, baby. And you'd miss me too. Ya know you would."
Michelle twisted a strand of her long auburn hair around one finger. If she stayed in Philly and moved in with Jerry, he'd want more than she was ready to give him. They'd known each other less than a month, and even though Michelle was attracted to Jerry's good looks, his possessive nature worried her. Almost from the first night they'd met in a pool hall across town, he'd acted as if he owned Michelle. What worried her the most about Jerry, however, was his temper. In her early childhood years, she been the brunt of her parents' anger, until child services intervened and put Michelle and her brothers, Ernie and Jack, in foster care. Unfortunately, they had not all gone to the same home.
If a person could choose their parents, Michelle would certainly not have picked Herb and Ginny Taylor. Dad abused Mom physically and emotionally, and they both abused their kids. Michelle could still see her father standing over her with his belt raised, an angry scowl on his face over something he'd accused her of doing. He hadn't aimed for any particular spot. The belt connected wherever it landed, on her legs, arms, and back. He'd treated the boys just as harshly, often smacking them around until bruises or angry welts appeared.
Their mother was no better. She often pulled Michelle's hair and lashed out in anger. It was usually not because of anything Michelle had done wrong, but rather because Mom was mad at her husband.
One time, when Michelle had defended Ernie for something he'd been unjustly accused of, Mom screamed at Michelle, "Shut your big mouth!" Then she'd grabbed Michelle around the neck and tried to choke her. Fortunately, little Jack started bawling really loud, and Mom came to her senses. She'd never apologized though — just made a few threats and sent Michelle to her room.
Michelle blinked when Jerry waved his hand in front of her face. "Hey, snap out of it. You're spacing out on me, babe. Now go pack up your things and let's get outa here before that money-hungry landlord of yours comes to pay you a visit."
Looking him steadily in the eyes, Michelle thrust out her chin, then vigorously shook her head. "I am not moving in with you, Jerry. So please stop asking."
He drew closer so that they were nose to nose. "You're my girl, and you'd better do as I say."
Michelle couldn't mistake his tone of agitation, and a familiar fear bubbled in her soul. She took a step back, biting the inside of her cheek. "I — I appreciate the offer, Jerry, but as I said before, I'm not ready to move in with you." She spoke slowly and kept her voice low, hoping it would calm him.
"Well, ya wanna know what I think, sugar? I think you don't know what ya want."
"Yes I do, Jerry, and it ... it's not you." Michelle didn't know where her courage came from, but she felt a little braver.
"What do you mean, it's not me? We've been together almost every night since we first met." His words slurred as he grabbed Michelle's shoulders and gave her a cruel shake.
"Stop it! You're hurting me." She pushed him back.
He sneered at her. "Ya think this hurts? If you leave me, Michelle, you'll hurt even more. You know you love me, babe."
Michelle swallowed against the bile rising in her throat. She wanted Jerry to leave but feared his reaction if she ordered him to go.
"Come here and give me some love." Jerry grabbed her again, and before she could react, he kissed her neck roughly, while holding her arms tightly behind her back. His lips moved from Michelle's neck to her mouth, and then he pushed her down on the couch. "You're mine. And don't you ever forget it."
Michelle fought against Jerry's brute strength, and when he wouldn't let her up, she bit his arm.
"Why, you little —" He cursed and slapped Michelle's face so hard her head jerked back.
She cried out and somehow managed to wiggle out from under him and off the couch. "If you don't leave right now, I'll scream at the top of my lungs for someone to call the cops. And they will too. You can count on it."
Jerry leapt off the couch and, panting heavily, gave her another hard slap, right where he'd hit her before. Whirling around, he stomped across the room and out the door, slamming it behind him.
Gasping for breath, Michelle ran to the door and bolted it shut. She had to get out of here — not just because she had no money to pay the rent, but to escape the man she'd foolishly gotten involved with.
She dashed to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Her hand immediately went to the red mark quite visible on her face. "Ouch. I do not deserve this kind of treatment — not from Jerry or anyone."
Wincing, Michelle ran some cool water on a washcloth and dabbed it on the red, stinging skin.
Today was not the first time Jerry had physically abused her, and if she stayed in Philadelphia and kept seeing him, Michelle knew it wouldn't be the last.
* * *
Michelle awoke with a pounding headache. After Jerry left last night she'd had a hard time getting to sleep. Was he right? Should she stay and move in with him? Would that be the sensible thing to do? It would certainly take care of her financial problems.
Michelle shook her head. What am I thinking? He's a jerk. I need to get away from him now. If I don't, I could end up in an abusive relationship for the rest of my life.
She pulled herself out of bed and plodded across the room. Staring out the window at the depressing scene, Michelle weighed her options. She was tired of the unexciting view that greeted her every day. Seeing all the buildings surrounding her apartment made her feel closed in. And what little bit of sky she could actually see was dismal, just like her mood. She could either stay here in Philly and keep searching for another job, or get out of town and start over someplace else. One thing was sure: she had to break things off with Jerry. He was a loser and, short of a miracle, he would never treat her with love and respect.
While brushing her teeth, Michelle glanced in the cracked mirror. At least there weren't any marks left where she'd been slapped, and Jerry hadn't loosened any of her teeth. Dad had done that once to Mom, and they'd been too poor to go to the dentist.
Shaking her negative thoughts aside, Michelle got dressed and went to the kitchen to fix breakfast. She'd no more than taken out a bowl for cold cereal when a knock sounded on the door.
"Hey babe, let me in. I have somethin' for you."
Michelle groaned inwardly. Jerry was back. She figured if she didn't open the door, he'd keep knocking and wake the whole apartment complex, including her landlord.
She opened the door a crack, but kept the chain bolted. "What do you want, Jerry?" "Came to say I'm sorry for last night." He held a pink carnation in his hand. "I wanna start over, darlin'. I promise never to hit you again."
Yeah, right. Michelle did not have to think about his offer very long. She didn't trust him not to hit her again. She'd had enough abuse when she was growing up. After hearing the same old assurances from her parents that they were sorry and it wouldn't happen again, Michelle knew good and well that Jerry would never keep the promise he'd just made.
"Sorry, Jerry, I'm not interested in starting over." Michelle shut the door in his face.
"You'll change your mind when you've had a chance to think things over," he called through the door. "I'll be back tomorrow, and we can talk about this again."
"You can come back if you want, but I won't be here," Michelle mumbled under her breath, as she heard his footsteps fading away. She lifted a hand to her still-tender cheek. "You'll never do this to me again. Don't know where I'm headed, but I'm gettin' out of here tomorrow, one way or the other."CHAPTER 2
Mary Ruth Lapp ambled down the driveway to get the mail. She'd meant to go to the mailbox earlier, but it had rained hard most of the day, and she hadn't felt like going outside. As some of the clouds parted, a glorious sunset appeared with pink, gold, and orange hues. Mary Ruth took in its beauty, while breathing in the fresh after-rain scent.
Some days it was hard to feel positive, with all the terrible things going on in the world, but today wasn't one of them. Mary Ruth's spirits soared as she looked toward the trees and listened to the birds singing overhead as they found places to roost for the night. Of course she had always liked the month of June with the fragrance of flowers bursting open all around and mild temperatures that went well with tilling the garden.
Sighing contentedly, Mary Ruth reached the end of the driveway and pulled the mail out of their mailbox. She sorted through several advertising flyers, along with a few bills. There was also a letter addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Willis Lapp, but the return address was missing. In the place where it should have been was a sticky, rough spot, as though the address label had been pulled off.
She bit her lower lip. "Now I wonder who this came from." Not only was the postmark smudged, so she couldn't tell where the letter had originated, but parts of their address were unreadable. She was impressed that the post office had managed to deliver it.
Mary Ruth decided to open it right there on the spot, but as she struggled to open the envelope flap, it slipped from her hands, landing on the soggy, wet ground.
"Ach! Now look what I've done." She bent down and scooped up the letter. Unfortunately, the envelope acted like a sponge, turning it somewhat soggy. Wiping it quickly on her dress, Mary Ruth fussed, "Hopefully I saved the inside, and nothing got smudged."
Despite her curiosity, she decided to wait until she got back to the house to open the envelope. Besides, she was losing daylight, and it would soon be too dark to read.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Hope Jar"
Copyright © 2018 Wanda E. Brunstetter.
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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