Will Marriage save her family?
Bethany Martin has until Christmas to prove to the Amish community that she can raise her siblings-including her mischievous brother-without a husband. Then handsome newcomer Michael Shetler arrives, winning over Bethany’s siblings. He might be the answer to their prayers, but Michael has a troubled past. Can Bethany love a man with secrets…even if it’s the only thing keeping her family together?
“Your brother’s behavior reflects badly on you, Bethany, and on our community. Something must be done.”
Bethany Martin sat across from Bishop Elmer Schultz at her kitchen table with her head bowed and her hands clasped tightly together in her lap. Her dear friend Gemma Lapp sat beside her.
Bethany was grateful for Gemma’s moral support.
“We Amish are newcomers here,” he continued. “We can’t afford to stir ill will among our Englisch neighbors. Don’t you agree?”
Bethany glanced up and met his intense gaze. She nodded slightly. An imposing man in his mid-fifties the bishop had a shaggy gray and black beard that reached to the middle of his chest. A potato farmer by trade, he was known for his long and often rambling sermons, but he was a fair man and well-liked in their small Amish community. Bethany didn’t take his visit lightly.
She prepared to defend her brother.
“Ivan isn’t a bad boy. It’s just that he misses his grandfather. He’s angry that God took Elijah from us and he feels guilty. The two of them were very close.” Her heart ached for her troubled brother.
“Time will heal this,” Gemma added.
The bishop sighed. “Your grandfather Elijah was a fine man, Bethany. I have no doubt that he kept the boy’s high spirits in check, but Ivan has quickly put one foot on the slippery slope that leads to serious trouble. He needs a firm hand to guide him and mold him into an upstanding and righteous man.”
“I can do that,” Bethany assured him. “I’ve raised Ivan from the time he was five and our sister Jenny was a newborn babe.” She might be their sister, but she was also the only mother they had ever known. Both mother and father to them after the man who bore that title left his family for fourth and final time. Bethany’s anger surged to the surface but she quickly brought it under control. At least her mother had been spared knowing about his final betrayal. Bethany brought her attention back to the matter at hand.
Gemma waved one hand. “Ivan is almost fourteen. Boys that age get into mischief.”
It was a weak argument and Bethany knew it. Her brother’s recent behavior was more than mischief, but she didn’t know what to do about it. He seemed to be done listening to her.
The bishop’s expression softened. “Bethany, your grandfather was concerned that you have sacrificed your chance to have a family of your own in order to care for your siblings.”
She drew herself up straight. “I don’t feel that way. Ivan and Jenny are my family.”
The bishop laced his fingers together on the table. “I am the spiritual leader of this community and as such I have a duty to oversee the welfare of all my flock. Normally I would leave the discipline of children to their parents. In this case I feel duty bound to step in. Elijah was my dear friend. It was his vision that founded our new community here. It was his desire to see it grow. For that we need the goodwill of our Englisch neighbors.”
“I’m aware of that. I spent many months helping him search for the best place to settle. New Covenant is as much my dream as it was his.” She didn’t like the direction the bishop seemed to be going.
“Then you agree that we can’t let the reckless actions of one boy ruin what has been created.”
“He isn’t trying to spoil anything.” Bethany was compelled to defend Ivan, but the truth was she didn’t know what was wrong with him. Was he acting out because of his grief or was something else going on?
His school work had suffered in the past weeks. His teacher had complained of behavior issues in class. He had been in several scuffles with non-Amish boys earlier in the year but they weren’t anything serious. It was his recent secrecy and withdrawal that bothered Bethany the most. How could she help him if she didn’t understand what was amiss?
She lifted her chin was compelled to speak up for him. “There is no proof that he damaged Greg Janson’s tractor or that he is responsible for letting Robert Morris’s cattle loose.”
Bishop Shultz leveled a stern look at her. “He was seen near both farms at the time and he’d been in fights with both the Janson and Morris boys.”
“That’s not proof,” she insisted.
The bishop pushed back from the table. “I have written to your uncle in Bird-in-Hand.”
She frowned. “To Onkel Harvey? Why?”
“Elijah mentioned that Harvey and his family plan to visit you this Christmas.”
“That’s true. We are expecting them to stay a week as they were unable to come to the funeral.”
The bishop rose to his feet. “I have asked your uncle to take Ivan with him when the family returns to Pennsylvania.”
Bethany’s mouth dropped open. “Nee, you can’t send Ivan away. This isn’t right.”
“It was not an easy decision. I know your intentions are goot but the boy needs the firm guidance of a man. You are too easy on him.”
“Because he’s still a little boy.” The situation was quickly slipping out of her control. They couldn’t take her brother from her. Fear sent her pulse pounding in her temples. “Please, Bishop, you must reconsider.”
“I will not.”
Bethany pressed both hands to her heart. “I promised my mother before she died that I would keep the family together. I promised her. Don’t do this.”
The bishop’s expression didn’t change. Her plea had fallen on deaf ears. Men were the decision makers in her Amish community. The bishop had the last word even in this family matter.
He took his coat and hat from the pegs by the door and put them on. “Bethany, if you were married I wouldn’t have to take this course of action. Your husband would be the one to make such decisions and discipline the boy. With Elijah gone, I see no other choice. I must think of what is best for all, not just for one.”
He nodded to her and left. Bethany wanted to cry, to shout at him, to run after him and beg him to change his mind, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good.
“I’m sorry.” Gemma laid a hand on Bethany’s shoulder.
“What am I going to do? There has to be a way to change the bishop’s mind.”
“Why don’t I make us some toast and a cup of coffee. Then we’ll put our heads together and come up with a plan.”
“We’re out of bread and I don’t want any coffee.”
“What Amish woman runs out of bread?”
“This one. There has been so much to do since Daadi’s passing I haven’t had time to bake. If Ivan straightens up and starts behaving, if he apologizes to the bishop maybe he’ll be allowed to stay. It’s five weeks until Christmas. That’s enough time to prove he has changed.”
“Or you can get married. That will fix everything.”
Bethany gave her friend an exasperated look. Emma knew Bethany’s feeling about marriage. It wasn’t for her. “It’s unlikely that I could find someone to wed me before Christmas, Gemma.”
“If you weren’t so particular, maybe not. Jesse Crump holds you in high regard.”
Bethany wrinkled her nose. “Having a conversation with Jessie is like pulling teeth. He’s a nice enough fellow but he never has anything to say.”
“Ack, you’re too fussy by far.”
“You marry him.”
Both Gemma’s eyebrows shot up. “Me? Not a chance. Besides, it isn’t my brother that is being sent away.”
Bethany battled her rising panic. “I wish Daadi were still here. I don’t know what to do.”
Gemma slipped an arm around Bethany’s shoulders and gave her a hug. “If your grandfather was still alive we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Ivan’s troubling behavior had started when their grandfather became ill early in the Ffall but it had gotten much worse since his death. Her gaze moved to the closed door leading to her grandfather’s workroom. Their grandfather had happily spent hours worked repairing clocks and antique watches during the long winter months in his tiny shop. With the door open she used to hear him humming or muttering depending on how a particular project was progressing.
The workshop hadn’t been opened since Ivan found Elijah slumped over his desk barely breathing. The boy ran to find help but by the time it arrived Elijah was gone.
She should have mailed his unfinished works back to their owners before now but she couldn’t bear to enter the room. The grief she tried so hard to control would come pouring out when she did.
Tears stung the back of her eyelids now, but she quickly blinked them away. The quiet strength and unquestioning love of her grandfather had seen Bethany through the worst times in her life.
It was still hard to accept that she could never turn to him for guidance again.
She drew a deep breath and squared her shoulders. He would tell her prayer and hard work solved problems. Worry and regret never did. There had to be a way to keep her family together and she would find it.
She slipped into her coat. “Thank you for coming today, Gemma, but I’d best get the rest of my chores done.”
Gemma followed her to the door. “I don’t know how you’ll manage this farm without Elijah and Ivan.”
“One day at a time and with the help of our neighbors if I need it.”
“I’ve never known you to ask for help.” Gemma moved to put on her black bonnet and coat.
“I asked you to sit with me when the bishop came today, didn’t I?”
Gemma rolled her eyes. “Okay, you have asked for help one time. I wish I knew what to say but I think it is all up to Ivan. I’m surprised he wasn’t here this morning.”
“He’s at school. I didn’t want to take him out of class.”
The New Covenant Amish community was too small yet to have their own school. The five Amish children in their church, including her brother and sister, attended the nearest public school. It was far from ideal but the teachers and school board had taken great pains to accommodate the needs and customs of the new Amish pupils.
The two women walked outside together. Gemma pulled on her gloves. “Do you want me to come over this evening when you talk to him?”
Bethany shook her head. “Danki, but I think it’s best I speak to him alone.”
“All right. I’ll stop by tomorrow and you can tell me all about it.” The two women exchanged a hug. Gemma climbed into her buggy and drove away.
Bethany’s breath rose as puffs of white mist in the chilly mid-November morning as she crossed the snow-covered yard to the newly completed red barn. It was the latest building to be added to the new community. The bulk of the structure had been raised in a single day with the help of an Amish community from upstate New York. Thirty men had traveled all night by bus and worked feverishly to complete the barn before taking the long bus ride home again that night. Someday the people of New Covenant would return the favor.
Her grandfather had had plans for half a dozen additional structures to attract more Amish families to New Covenant. It had been his dream to form a thriving Amish district in Maine, far from the tourist centers in Pennsylvania. To him, fewer tourist meant less money but more time to spend close to God and family without worldly influences. If only he could have lived to see his dream grow and thrive.
A car horn sounded bringing Bethany back to the present. She glanced toward the county road that ran past their lane. Frank Pearson’s long white passenger van turned off the blacktop and into her drive. Frank was the pastor of a Mennonite congregation a few miles away. He and her grandfather had become good friends. Frank used to visit weekly for a game of chess and to swap fishing stories.
Frank pulled up beside her and rolled down his window. “Good morning, Bethany.”
“Hello, Frank. Would you like to come in for some coffee?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have time today. I have my bereavement support group meeting in twenty minutes. I just stopped in to see how you’re getting along and to invite you and your family to attend one of our meetings when you are ready. It doesn’t matter what faith you belong to or even if you are a non-believer. We all grieve when we lose loved ones.”
“Danki, Frank. I don’t think it’s for me.”
“If you change your mind you’re always welcome to join us. Please let me know if you need help with anything. I miss Elijah, but I know my grief is nothing compared to yours. I promised him I’d check in on you.”
“Our congregation here is small but we have been well looked after.”
“I’m glad to hear it. I’ll stop by again in a few days and stay a while.”
Maybe Frank could reach Ivan. “Why don’t you come to dinner on Sunday? I know Ivan and Jenny would enjoy seeing you again. Maybe you can interest Ivan in learning to play chess.”
“You know, I believe I will. Your cooking is too good to resist. Thanks for the invite.”
“You are always welcome here.”
After Frank drove away, Bethany fed and watered the chickens, gathered the eggs and then fed and watered the and geese before heading to the barn. Her mind wasn’t on her chores. Her conversation with the bishop replayed in her head as she fed and watered their two horses. Outside the milk cow’s stall, Bethany paused and leaned on her pitchfork. “I’m got trouble, Clarabelle.”
The cow didn’t answer her. Bethany pitched a forkful of hay to the family’s placid brown and white Guernsey and then leaned on the stall door. “The bishop has decided to send Ivan to Bird-in-Hand to live with Onkel Harold. It’s not right. It’s not fair. I can’t bear the idea of sending my little brother away. It will break his heart and Jenny’s to say nothing of mine. We belong together.”
Clarabelle munched a mouthful of hay as she regarded Bethany with soulful deep brown eyes. The bell around her neck clanked softly as she tilted her head to allow Bethany to scratch behind her left ear. Bethany complied. As a confidant, Clarabelle was unassuming and easy to talk to, but she was short on advice.
“Advice is what I need, Clarabelle. The bishop said Ivan could stay if I had a husband. Someone to discipline and guide the boy. I don’t believe for a minute that is the solution but I’m getting desperate. Any idea where I can get a husband before Christmas? And please don’t suggest Jesse Crump. Now if you can tell me how to get Jedidiah Zook interested in walking out with me I’m all ears.”
“I doubt your cow has the answers you seek but if she does I have a few questions for her about my own problems,” a man said in an amused drawl.
Bethany spun around. A stranger stood in the open barn door. He wore a black Amish hat pulled low on his forehead and a dark blue woolen coat with the collar turned up against the cold. He carried a duffle bag over one shoulder and he leaned on a black cane.
The mirth sparkling in his eyes sent a flush of heat to her cheeks. How humiliating. To be caught talking to a cow about matrimonial prospects made her look ridiculous.
She struggled to hide her embarrassment. After looking the man up and down, she stabbed the pitchfork into the hay again and dumped it into Clarabelle’s stall. “It’s rude to eavesdrop on a private conversation.”
“I’m not sure talking to a cow qualifies as a private conversation but I am sorry to intrude.” The man put down his duffel bag.
He didn’t look sorry. He looked like he was struggling not to laugh at her. At least he was a stranger. Maybe this mortifying episode wouldn’t become known in the community. She cringed at the thought of Jedidiah Zook hearing the story. “How can I help you?”
“Mind if I sit here for a minute?” He pointed to a stack of straw bales beside the barn door.
She wanted him to go away but her Amish upbringing prevented her from suggesting it. Any stranger in need deserved her help.
He didn’t wait for her reply but limped to the closest bale and sat down with a weary sigh. “The bus driver who dropped me off said New Covenant was a little way along on this road. His idea of a little way does not match mine.”
“It’s less than half a mile to the highway from my lane.”
He rubbed his leg. “That’s the farthest I’ve walked in six months. How much farther do I have to go?”
“You have arrived at the south end of our community.”
He tipped his head slightly. “I thought New Covenant was a town.”
“It’s more a collection of houses strung out on either side of the road right now, but it will be a thriving village one day.” She prayed she spoke the truth.
“Glad to hear it. I’m Michael Shetler, by the way.” He took off his hat and raked his fingers through his thick dark brown hair.
She considered not giving him her name. The less he knew to repeat the better.
He noticed her hesitation and cleared his throat. “It’s rude not to introduce yourself in return.”
She arched one eyebrow. “I’m being rude? That’s the pot calling the kettle black. I am Bethany Martin,” she admitted hoping she wasn’t making a mistake.
“Nice to meet you, Bethany. Once I’ve had a rest I’ll step outside if you want to finish your private conversation.” He winked. One corner of his mouth twitched revealing a dimple in his cheek.
Something about the sparkle in his blue eyes invited her to smile back at him but she firmly resisted the urge. She stabbed the pitchfork into the remaining hay and left it standing upright. “I’m glad I could supply you with some amusement today.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve had something to smile about.”
The clatter of hooves outside caught her attention as a horse and wagon pulled up beside the barn and stopped. She caught a glimpse of the driver through the open door. He stood and faced the barn. “Ivan Martin, are you in there? It’s Jedidiah Zook. I want to speak to you!”
Her gaze shot to Michael. His grin widened. Her heart sank as he chuckled. “I may not have given Clarabelle enough credit. It seems your preferred beau has arrived. It was Jedidiah Zook you hoped would come courting, right?”
She glared and shook a finger at him. “Don’t you dare repeat one word of what you heard in here.”
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USA Today Bestselling author Patricia Davids grew up on a Kansas farm with four brothers. After college she began a wonderful career as a nurse. In 1973 Pat wrote a letter to a lonely sailor. Little did she know her talent with words would bring her love, marriage and motherhood.
An avid reader, Pat longed to write a book, but put her dream on hold as she raised a family and worked in an NICU. It wasn’t until 1996 that she began writing seriously. Today, Pat enjoys crafting emotionally satisfying romances where love and faith bring two people together forever.