Last week, I turned in the edits for A Killer Carol, the 7th book in my popular Amish Mysteries series. The book will release in September and it will be a Christmas-themed story—one I can’t wait for longtime readers of this series to get their hands on.
That said, I know there are a lot of readers out there who have yet to find me, as an author, or this series. So because of that, I thought it might be fun to take a peek back to where it all started by sharing the very first chapter of the very first book in the series with all of you here. Perhaps you, too, will start to fall in love with the characters that have touched the hearts of so many of my readers…
Hearse and Buggy
By Laura Bradford
Claire Weatherly looked around the empty stockroom, kneading the small of her back with stiff, tired fingers. Three hours earlier she’d been almost convinced it would take an act of God to clear away the last of the handmade furniture left behind by the previous tenant. Bed frames, tables, chairs, chests, and cribs had claimed the much- needed space for weeks, a glaring reminder of one more task that needed to be completed before Heavenly Treasures would finally feel as if it were truly there to stay.
Because it was. And so was she.
Sure, there had been times—like three hours ago—when she’d been inclined to give in to the doubts and simply roll over, convinced her fresh start was nothing more than idle daydreams with a hefty dose of delirium thrown in for good measure. Yet she’d pressed on, driven by the same little voice that had prodded her to make some of the best decisions she’d made in years. Including taking a gamble and leaving her ex-husband’s harried world in favor of one where she actually fit.
At the sound of Esther King’s timid voice, Claire turned and drank in the sight of the young woman in her plain royal-blue dress and white apron.
“Oh, Esther, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!”
A hint of crimson rose in the nineteen-year-old’s face. “Sore eyes?”
“Sore eyes, sore arms, sore legs . . . Take your pick.”
Esther’s soft brown eyebrows rose toward the white head cap secured to her matching brown hair. “Are you sick, Miss Weatherly?”
“No, no—I’m fine. A little tired, perhaps, but fine.” She waved her hand around the room. “So? What do you think?”
Esther’s gaze followed suit, a shy smile inching her full lips upward. “You did nice. You cleared everything from the room just as you said you would.”
Indeed, she had, the last of the items—a beautiful chest—being picked up by one Eli Miller, not more than ten minutes earlier.
She met Esther’s eye and held it a beat. “Eli was sorry he missed you.”
“Eli?” Esther’s hand flew to the cape of her dress and smoothed its way down to her apron. “Eli was here? In the shop?”
Claire knew she shouldn’t tease, but she couldn’t help it. Esther needed a little spark in her life. “He was. And even though he’s rather distracted by everything going on with his sister, he asked about you.”
All color drained from the young woman’s face. “He did?”
Esther took a step back and flopped against the wall. “This is when I miss my cousin Hannah’s world. If I had a cell phone as she does, you could have called me, and I would have come sooner.”
With a few easy strides, Claire claimed a section of wall to the left of her new friend. “Do you miss it?”
“Miss what?” Esther asked.
“Living the way you did, the way the English do every day.”
Esther closed her eyes, her audible inhale filling the space between them. “Sometimes. I mean, I love Mamm and Dat, and I’m glad I made the decision to come back after Rumspringa and be baptized, but . . . sometimes . . . I wish I could do things Hannah can do.”
“Like be able to tell Eli I like him, rather than wait for him to notice me.”
“Then you’re not worried about his temper?” The second the words were out, Claire wished she could recall them. Eli Miller was a nice guy. He’d been nothing but polite the few times she’d run across him coming and going from Shoo Fly Bake Shoppe next door. Several times a day, he showed up at the Amish bakery to see if his sister, Ruth, needed anything, and when she did, he attended to what- ever it was in quick fashion. That, and the fact that Esther thought so kindly of him, should be enough to drown out any whisperings Claire had heard about his short-fused temper.
“His temper is not good, but he does not deserve so much shunning. What that man did was wrong.”
Claire reached out, rested a calming hand on Esther’s arm. “I know. And you’re right. I can’t imagine how a man like Mr. Snow could hurt your community in the way he did. Pocketing money that rightfully belonged to your family, and to people like Eli and his brother, was wrong. He should have been thrown in jail.”
And it was true. Walter Snow, the previous tenant, had lured Amish furniture makers to his shop, offered their work on consignment, and then stiffed them of money that was rightfully theirs for months before the Amish had grown wise to his thieving ways. Unfortunately, Eli had taken a stronger stance than the rest of his community, breaking his oath of nonviolence and threatening the shopkeeper with bodily harm if the money wasn’t returned.
“How was Eli to know Mr. Snow would leave town in the middle of the night, taking everyone’s money and leaving his own wife behind?” Without waiting for a response, Esther continued as she paced around the room, the strings of her head cap dangling in a rare show of independence. “Yet, to hear Eli’s brother, Benjamin, and even my own grandfather talk, you’d think Eli was the criminal. And he did nothing more than speak his mind.”
“I’m sure it will blow over soon. It has to.” But even as she put words to the hope she knew Esther needed, Claire knew it wasn’t the case. The Amish took their vows very seriously. To break one carried consequences—lasting con- sequences to those who refused to repent.
A jingle of bells from the main part of the store propelled Claire from her place against the wall. “I’ll get—”
“Esther? Are you here?”
Claire glanced at her employee in time to see the girl freeze, mid-pace. “Yes. Yes, I am here, Mamm. Just one minute. I will be right there.”
A charge of excitement made Claire reach out, momentarily thwarting Esther’s move toward the main room. “That’s your mother?”
“I didn’t know you’d convinced her to come.”
“I did not know either,” Esther whispered.
It was hard not to laugh at the mixture of bewilderment and fear on the young woman’s face—bewilderment and fear Claire understood yet was equally anxious to ease. “It’ll be okay, Esther. You wait and see.”
“You do not know Mamm.”
“That’s about to change.”
Beckoning for Esther to follow, Claire made her way out of the stockroom and into the main shop, the shelves lining the walls showcasing a smattering of Amish crafts, many of which had been made by Esther. As she rounded the corner, Claire couldn’t help but do a double take. For there, in the middle of the room, stood a virtual carbon copy of the young woman at her heels. The hair was the same soft brown shade, the hazel eyes a nearly perfect match, and their height was no more than a centimeter off from one another.
And, like her daughter, Martha King was dressed in typical Amish dress, though, as an older woman, her apron was black and her dress color a bit darker. But the burgundy hue the mother had chosen did little to mute the pretty face that peered back at Claire.
“Mrs. King, I’m Claire Weatherly. I’m honored to finally meet you.” She stuck out her hand only to pull it back and opt for a smile instead. “Esther has told me so much about you.”
Martha’s gaze moved to a red-faced Esther. “She has?”
Claire rushed to explain, for fear the woman would think her daughter had spoken in a boastful manner. “She tells me you taught her how to quilt and how to make many of the items my customers love so much.” She pointed toward the shelf that, only yesterday, had been filled with candles of varying sizes and shapes. “Esther’s creations are some of our most popular items.”
“We are grateful for the money you send home with Esther each week. It has made up for some of what Mr. Snow took when . . .” Martha’s words trailed off as she seemed to realize what she was saying. Such matters were not for the women to pay any worry.
“It’s money Esther has rightfully earned.” She flashed a smile in Esther’s direction, hoping some of the tension that seemed to hover around the young woman’s shoulders would dissipate. “In fact, your daughter is quite a businesswoman, if I must say so myself. She comes in with a price in mind and holds firm. “
Martha eyed Esther closely but said nothing. Flushed, Esther toed the wood-planked floor.
“I was hoping that maybe you might consider showcasing some of your own crafts here at Heavenly Treasures as well.”
A peaceful silence blanketed the room as Martha appeared to consider Claire’s request, her eventual response catching both Esther and Claire off guard. “My daughter told me you were interested in speaking to me about this, but I put it off, certain that you would lose interest . . . in this shop and the Amish way. But I have listened to Esther these past few weeks, listened to the things you have told her, and I have changed my mind.”
Esther’s mouth gaped. “You mean you’re going to bring your painted milk cans and wooden spoons here, too, Mamm?”
“If Miss Weatherly will allow, then yes.”
“Yes?” Claire echoed.
“Yes. You can pick up some items on Thursday.”
It took every ounce of strength Claire could muster not to jump up and down, squealing. Suddenly, the shop she’d opened with little more than hope was showing the kind of potential she’d only dared to imagine.
This time, when she reached outward, she didn’t stop, her hand closing over the top of Martha’s in a gentle squeeze. “Thank you, Mrs. King. Thank you so much.”
“Esther, it is time to go.”
With barely more than a nod at Claire, Esther’s mother marched toward the front door, stopping midway with a glance over her shoulder. “Miss Weatherly? If we are to work together, you shall call me Martha.”
And just like that, Claire felt the familiar sting in her eyes. For five long years, she’d been Mrs. Peter Ross—the Wall Street wife who existed simply to attend company dinners and sit home alone the rest of the time. But now, thanks to a healthy dose of courage and her aunt Diane’s offer of solace à la Heavenly, Pennsylvania, Claire was making a life of her own. With people who wanted to be friends with her because of who she was, not who she was married to.
Swallowing over the lump that threatened to render her speechless, she eked out the only reply she could. “And I’m Claire.”
“I will have these things ready for you on Thursday.” Taking hold of her daughter’s arm, Martha continued on her path to the door, her black-stocking-clad legs freezing in motion mere inches from their destination.
“Mamm?” Esther nibbled at her lower lip. “Mamm, what’s wrong?”
Martha stepped to the left and leaned toward the large plate-glass window that overlooked Lighted Way—the road that linked Heavenly’s Amish and English communities. Here, the two worlds met, as cars shared the roadway with buggies, and sidewalks were traveled by the hatted and unhatted. Slowly, Martha’s finger rose into the air, pressing against the window. “Who is that?”
Claire moved in next to Martha, her gaze following the path indicated. “Oh. I believe that’s the police department’s new detective. I’ve not met him yet, but my aunt says he’s from New York City, like me.” Claire took a moment to study the tall man with the sandy blond hair and broad shoulders she’d seen in the newspaper over breakfast just that morning. More handsome in person, he moved with a sense of quiet authority befitting his new title. “Had I moved to a place like Washington, D.C., or Chicago, I’d have thought nothing of meeting others from New York. Yet here in Heavenly, it always takes me by surprise.”
“Do you know his name?” Martha asked.
She searched her memory for the name she’d seen captioned under his photo, her aunt’s running commentary on the latest happenings in Heavenly helping to fill in at least part of the answer her mind seemed unable to recall on its own. “Jakob. Jakob something or—”
“Fisher,” Martha finished. “Jakob Fisher.”
Esther gasped. “Fisher? Mamm . . . Wasn’t that your last name when you were—”
Grabbing hold of her daughter’s arm once again, Martha’s gaze dropped to the floor, a flash of pain skittering across her face before disappearing behind a facade that could only be described as stoic. “Esther, we must go. Now.”
Like what you’ve read so far? Want to keep reading? Hearse and Buggy is available in print, digital, and large print. You can learn more about the book, including purchase links, by visiting: https://www.laurabradford.com/hearse-and-buggy.
Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of the Amish Mysteries, a cozy mystery series set in Lancaster County. The sixth book in the series, Just Plain Murder, is now available. Her next Amish-based women’s fiction novel, A Daughter’s Truth, will release on May 28. For more information: www.laurabradford.com