Hello everyone, Patricia Davids here again. I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog, so to make up for my absence I’d thought I’d share the first chapter of Shelter from the Storm. This book is the second installment for the North Country Amish series.
Shelter from the Storm is available for preorder in paperback and ebook format. You can learn more about the book, including purchase links, by clicking HERE.
Secretly pregnant and unwed, Gemma Lapp has a difficult choice—face her Amish community or raise her baby alone. But when a storm strands Gemma in the wilderness with her former crush, Jesse Crump, she knows her secret won’t be safe for long. Gemma can’t imagine trusting a man again…until Jesse proposes a marriage of convenience. Could their arrangement lead to love?
That couldn’t be Gemma Lapp.
Jesse Crump turned in his seat to get a better look at the Amish woman on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street. She was wearing a black Amish traveling bonnet and a long dark gray cloak. She was pulling a black wheeled suitcase behind her. He couldn’t get a good look at her face. His driver and coworker, Dale Kaufman, pulled ahead when the light changed, and Jesse lost sight of her. There was nothing outwardly to suggest it was Gemma other than the Amish clothing but something about her, perhaps her small stature, reminded him strongly of the woman he wished he could forget.
“What’s the matter?” Dale asked, noticing Jesse staring behind them. “Is something wrong with the load?” He slowed the pickup and trailer carrying two large garden sheds.
Jesse turned around to stare straight ahead. “I thought I saw someone I knew.”
“That Amish woman waiting to cross the street?”
Dale knew Gemma. Jesse hoped he had gotten a better look. “Ja, did you see who it was?”
“I saw she was Amish by her clothing, but I couldn’t see her face because of that big black bonnet. Who did you think it was?”
“Gemma Lapp.” He had been thinking about her lately. She was on his mind far too often. Perhaps that was why he imagined he saw her.
Dale glanced his way. “You mean Leroy Lapp’s daughter? I thought she was in Florida? Boy, that would be a great place to live during the winter, wouldn’t it? Have you ever been there?”
“Nee.” Jesse was sorry he’d said anything. Most of the three-hour drive had been made in silence, the way Jesse liked it, but only after Dale tired of Jesse’s one-word answers to his almost endless chatter.
Dale accelerated. The ancient truck’s gears grated when he shifted. “It could be that she’s on her way home for a visit. The bus station in Cleary is just down the block from that corner.”
Dale shook his head. “Nah. Leroy would’ve mentioned something if she was coming home. That girl is the apple of his eye. She was always easy on the eyes if you ask me. Too bad she got baptized before I had the chance to ask her out.”
Jesse scowled at Dale. The man wasn’t Amish, but he worked for an Amish bishop. “If you want to keep delivering sheds and supplies for Bishop Schultz, you’d better not let him hear such talk.” It was the longest comment Jesse had ever made to the man.
Dale’s stunned expression proved he got the point. “I meant no disrespect, Jesse. I like Gemma. You know how Leroy is always rattling on about her.”
Jesse leaned his head back and stared out the window at the homes and small businesses of Cleary, Maine, flashing past. He had eavesdropped on Leroy’s conversations about Gemma a few times. He knew about her job in Pinecrest at a pie shop, about the large number of friends she was making among the Englisch and Amish folks, and how much she loved the ocean, but he had never asked about her himself.
Bishop Elmer Schultz, like most of the men in their community, including Jesse, had a second occupation, as well as being a potato farmer. The bishop owned a small business that made storage sheds in various sizes. Jesse had worked for him since coming to Maine three years ago when the community of New Covenant was first founded.
Starting a new Amish colony anywhere was filled with challenges, but the rugged country of northern Maine had its own unique trials. Here, more than anywhere, a man had to depend on the people around him in times of trouble. There was no certainty that the community founded by Elijah Troyer could survive. Elijah had passed away two years ago. Nine of the original ten families remained and more had come the past summer.
The move to New Covenant, Maine, may have been a difficult choice for some of the families in the community, but not for Jesse. He had jumped at the chance. In Maine he didn’t have to hang his head because he wasn’t as smart as some or because he was bigger than everyone else. In Ohio he’d been known as Jesse the Ox since his school days.
The child of a single mother, he’d been orphaned at thirteen. He quit school and became a hired man with no hope of owning his own land until he answered an ad in the Amish newspaper seeking hardy souls willing to settle in northern Maine and offering a small parcel of land as an incentive. The beautiful scenery of Maine and plenty of hard work soon overshadowed Jesse’s memories of his unhappy early years. Until Gemma Lapp managed to reopen those old wounds with her sharp tongue.
He could still see her standing with her arms crossed and her face flaming red as she sputtered, “Jesse Crump, you’re as big as an ox and dumber than a post.”
All because he had rebuffed her offer of marriage.
She had barely been twenty-one at the time, not old enough to know what love was, but she’d taken the notion that she was in love with him. He’d suffered through weeks of her attempts to gain his affection. She tried everything from fresh-baked pies delivered to him at work, letters full of her newfound love, even getting her father to hire him to do handywork on their farm where she was always close by chatting about how wonderful it would be to marry and have children.
He was almost eight years her senior and not interested in settling down until he had enough land to support a family. Her proposal wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been alone, but they hadn’t been. A half dozen people overheard her offer, his pointed rejection and her scathing words in reply.
The snickers, taunts and jeers that had made his school years and young adult life miserable were only in his head but in that moment, Gemma had unlocked feelings of inferiority he had lived with for years and worked hard to overcome. If she saw him that way, surely others did too.
He kept to himself after that day, hoping her remarks would be forgotten, but they stayed stuck in his head, even though no one else echoed them. He strove to avoid being anywhere near Gemma for the next six months. Big as an ox and dumber than a post. It wasn’t until she left New Covenant that he stopped hearing her words. In spite of her comment, he hadn’t disliked Gemma. She was loyal to her friends. She was a hard worker. She had a good sense of humor, but she was also headstrong and willful.
It had been nearly a year and a half since the embarrassing incident. He thought he’d put it out of his mind but it seemed he hadn’t.
Gemma’s father, Leroy Lapp, worked with Jesse at the bishop’s business. Leroy had recently been chosen to become the community’s second minister. The influx of six new families in the spring had swelled the congregation, making it more than Bishop Schultz and his first minister, Samuel Yoder, could manage. Especially now that plans were underway to start their own Amish school.
“Maybe she’s making a surprise visit,” Dale said when the silence stretched too long to suit him.
“Maybe you could drive faster. It’s almost noon.”
“What’s your hurry? We’ve got all day.”
“I’ve got to get back before the bank closes. I need to get a cashier’s check for the earnest money the auction company requires I put up before I can bid on the property I’ve got my eye on. They want ten thousand dollars to prove I can afford the land.”
“Oh, right. The land auction. I almost forgot about that.” Dale shot Jesse a sheepish glance and focused his attention on the road.
The farm Jesse owned was small, but he had plans to expand. The money he’d made building sheds over the last few years would help pay for more land. He had his eye on eighty acres that bordered his property to the west. It was fertile land ready for planting in the spring. He couldn’t ask for a better piece of property. It was going up for auction the day after tomorrow. The auction company required earnest money in the form of a cashier’s check or cash before anyone was allowed to bid and Jesse wasn’t about to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.
He gazed out the passenger’s side window at the farms that lined the highway, interspersed with heavy forests already covered with the first snows of winter. His thoughts drifted from the land he intended to purchase back to Gemma. If Gemma did come to visit her family in northern Maine, it wouldn’t be in the middle of November. Gemma didn’t like the snow. To hear her tell it, she didn’t like much of anything about Maine.
He was sure his name topped the list of things she disliked most about the North Country.
“There won’t be another bus going that way until the day after tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” Gemma stared at the agent behind the counter in stunned disbelief.
The tall thin man with thick glasses stopped writing in a logbook of some sort and peered at her over the top of his glasses. “Of course I’m sure. I work for the bus company.”
She held up the flyer she had picked up in Boston. “The schedule said there is a bus going to Caribou every day.”
“Look at the small print. There is, until the fifteenth of November. Which was yesterday. After that, bus service drops to every other day until the fifteenth of April. Today’s bus left two hours ago. Won’t be another one until the day after tomorrow. Next,” he called out, leaning to look around her.
Only one elderly man stood behind her. He held out a piece of white pipe. “Do you have a J-trap that will fit this size and PVC glue?”
“I sure do, but you’ll need cleaner, as well as glue.” The agent came out from behind the counter and led the man to the plumbing section of the hardware store that doubled as a bus station in Cleary.
Gemma waited impatiently for him to come back. When he did, she clasped her hands together tightly, praying the tears that pricked the back of her eyes wouldn’t start flowing. She couldn’t afford a motel room for two nights. “I don’t have much money with me. Are there any Amish families in this area?”
The man behind the counter rubbed his chin. “Let me think.”
The Amish opened their homes to other members of their faith even if they had never met. She would be welcomed, fed and made to feel like one of the family. The command to care for one another was more than a saying. It was a personal commitment taken seriously by every Amish family, no matter how poor or how well to do they were. Many times, she had seen her mother stretch a meal for three into a meal for twice that many when Amish travelers appeared unexpectedly at their door. She waited hopefully for the clerk’s answer.
He shook his head. “Nope. Not that I’m aware of, anyway.”
She sniffed as her vision blurred. “Thank—thank you.” She started to turn away, humiliated by her runaway emotions. They were one more unhappy part of her horrible situation.
“You might check with the sheriff,” the agent offered with a hint of sympathy in his tone. “He may know of some.”
She managed a half smile for him. “Where do I find the sheriff?”
“I’ll call him for you. He’s usually home for lunch at this time of day. You are welcome to wait here.” He gestured to a wooden bench sitting in front of a large plate-glass window.
She nodded, unable to speak for the lump in her throat, and wheeled her suitcase over to the bench. Sitting down with a sigh, she moved her suitcase in front of her, so she could prop up her swollen feet. She leaned her head back against the glass and closed her eyes. After two solid days on a bus, she was ready to lie down. Anywhere.
“Miss? Excuse me, miss.”
Gemma opened her eyes sometime later to see the agent standing in front of her. She blinked away the fog in her brain. “I’m sorry. I must have fallen asleep.”
“You’ve been snoozing for a couple of hours. The sheriff just got back to me. He’s been working an accident out on Wyman Road. He doesn’t know of any Amish in these parts. You’ve been here for quite a while. I thought you might like something to eat. You mentioned you were short on funds, so I brought you a burger from the café down the street.” He held out a white paper bag.
“Danki. Thank you. That’s very kind.” She sat up surprised by the unexpected gift. What did he hope to gain by it? She rubbed her stiff neck and waited to hear the catch. “It smells wunderbar.” She slowly took the bag from him.
“You’re welcome to use our phone to call someone. The store will be closing in an hour, but the diner down the street stays open all night.” He sent her an apologetic glance and walked away.
She bit her lower lip to stop it from quivering. She could place a call to the phone shanty her parents shared with their Amish neighbors to let them know she was returning and ask her father to send a car for her, but she would have to leave a message. It was unlikely that anyone would check the machine this late in the day.
Besides, any message she left would be overheard. She knew two women who checked the machine each morning for the sole purpose of keeping up with the local gossip. Unless she gave a reason for her abrupt return, speculation would spread quickly. If she gave the real reason, even Jesse Crump would know before she reached home. She couldn’t bear that, although she didn’t understand why his opinion mattered so much. His stoic face wouldn’t reveal his thoughts, but he was sure to gloat when he learned he’d been right about her. He had called her a spoiled baby looking for trouble and said that she would find it sooner or later. Well, she had found it all right. A thousand miles away from him in Florida.
No, she wouldn’t call. She didn’t want to make her parents the center of conjecture about her return or have them bear the expense of hiring a car to fetch her. What she had to say was better said face-to-face. She was cowardly enough to delay as long as possible. Her appetite gone, she put the burger bag on the bench beside her.
She didn’t know how she was going to find the courage to tell her mother and father that she was six months pregnant and Robert Troyer, the man who’d promised to marry her, was long gone.
Jesse and Dale delivered both sheds as promised, but the second customer wasn’t ready for them, despite having chosen the date and time for them to arrive. The two men spent an extra three hours helping the owner clear the area where he wanted it. They even leveled out a gravel pad for him before setting the building in place.
Jesse joined Dale in the cab of his ancient but prized pickup when they were done. Dale’s expression showed his annoyance. “I can’t believe we did all that work for him and then he claimed it was included in the price of the shed instead of paying us. What a rip-off. There are always a few dishonest folks who think they can stick it to the Amish and get away with it, because the Amish won’t come after them for the money.”
Jesse understood Dale’s frustration, but his faith required him to forgive those who would do him ill. “Give thanks that you are not like him. It is better to be a poor man than a dishonest one.”
“It’s a good thing I’m not Amish. I’m gonna get my money and I’ll get yours too. I have a brother-in-law who works for an attorney. I’m not afraid to go after someone who cheats me.” Dale turned the truck key, nothing happened. He tried again with the same result. He glanced sheepishly at Jesse. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
He hopped out of the cab and reached behind his seat to pull out a large toolbox. “This old heap has taught me to never go anywhere without my tools.”
He raised the hood and propped it open, disappearing from Jesse’s view. A few seconds later, he looked around at Jesse. “Loose battery cable. Try it now.”
Jesse scooted across the bench seat until he was behind the wheel. He turned the key and the truck roared to life. Dale dropped the hood, pushed his toolbox behind the seat again and got in as Jesse moved back to his side of the seat. “Are we heading back, or do you want to get a motel room tonight and start fresh in the morning?”
A glance at Dale’s face told Jesse his coworker was worn out. “We’ll get a room.”
As eager as Jesse was to get back, making the long drive this late wasn’t practical. Tomorrow afternoon would be soon enough to have the bank issue him a cashier’s check as earnest money for the auction the following day. He needed the land to expand his farm. It could be years before another piece of farm ground so close to his own came up for sale.
Dale grinned. “Good. Let’s get something to eat too.”
“Sure.” Jesse was getting hungry. The sandwich he’d packed for his lunch was long gone.
“I know this great little burger place just off the highway downtown. Our crew used to eat there every chance we got.”
“Crew?” As soon as he asked the question, Jesse knew it was a mistake.
“I worked two summers for a logging company up the way. Didn’t I ever tell you that? The pay was good, but the hours were long and the work was dangerous. The first week I was on the job, a tree fell within inches of my head. Inches. That was just the start of it.”
Jesse was sure he was about to hear everything that had happened to Dale during those two years. He settled himself in resignation. Hopefully dinner would put a halt to Dale’s storytelling.
As they drove back into town, Jesse searched for the Amish woman, hoping to see her face and prove it wasn’t Gemma. The streets and sidewalks were almost empty. He didn’t spy anyone in Amish clothing. Dale pulled the pickup and empty trailer into a parking lot off the main street. When he opened the door, Jesse got a whiff of mouthwatering fried onions and burgers. If the fare was anything like the aroma, they were in for some good food. His stomach growled in anticipation.
He followed Dale inside the small diner, ducking slightly to keep from knocking his black hat off against the doorjamb. Several people were seated at tables and at a counter. They all turned to look. He should have been used to the stares, but he never got over the feeling that he was an oddity. An Amish giant. At six foot four, he towered over Dale, who was five foot eight at the most. Jesse’s hat added another two inches to his height, and his bulky black coat made him look even bigger.
He happily took a seat in a booth where his size was less noticeable. His friend Michael Shetler once told him he needed to hang out with bigger friends. Good advice, but the problem was there wasn’t anyone his size in their Amish community.
A waitress came over and pulled a pencil from her dark curly hair. “What can I get you?”
“Two of your lumberjack burgers, two orders of fries and I’ll have a soda. What do you want to drink, Jesse?”
Dale winked at the waitress and grinned. “The Amish like to keep things simple.”
She ignored Dale and focused on Jesse. “Are you with the Amish lady waiting at the bus station? Oscar, the bus station attendant came over a little while ago and bought a burger for her. He said she had missed her bus and didn’t have enough money for a motel. She was hoping to find another Amish family in the area. He asked me if I knew any and I don’t.”
“We aren’t from around here,” Dale said.
Jesse hesitated a few seconds, then stood up. “Which way is the bus depot?”
She pointed her pencil up the street. “It’s not really a depot. The bus line just has a desk in the hardware store.”
He touched his hat. “Thank you. Go ahead and eat, Dale.” He couldn’t leave without offering aid to another member of his faith. He would pay for her motel room and make sure she had money to use for food if she needed help.
He walked out the door and up the sidewalk to the hardware store. A bell tingled as he walked in. A quick glance around showed him a woman in Amish clothing sitting on a bench near the other end of the store. She sat huddled in her seat with her head down and her hands gripping her handbag as if someone might tear it from her grasp.
He stopped a few feet away, searching for something to say, to ask if she was okay, if he could help and he finally settled for a simple good evening in the native language of the Amish, Pennsylvania Deitsh. “Guder nacth, frau.”
The woman looked up. He stared at her familiar face in astonishment. “Gemma?”
Her eyes widened. “Jesse?”
The color left her cheeks. She pressed a hand to her lips and burst into tears, leaving him with no idea what to do.
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.