You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Whitaker House (March 1, 2012)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laura V. Hilton is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother of five, breast cancer survivor, author and book lover. Although her educational background is in business, reading is Laura’s lifelong passion, and writing a gift she’s developed to the delight of her growing fan base. Laura’s reputation for the authenticity of her Amish settings is no accident – it’s in her blood as she learned as a child from her Pennsylvania Amish grandmother. Besides her Amish of Seymour Series for Whitaker House, Laura published two novels for Treble Heart Books, contributed to a Zondervan devotional, and has written hundreds of book reviews for the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Christian Suspense Zone, and a variety of Internet publications. She also posts reviews on her book review blog: www.lighthouse-academy.blogspot.com. Laura and her family live in Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas.
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
Annie Beiler is a spunky, spirited schoolteacher, but she's struggled ever since the man she was promised to "jumped the fence" and left the Amish of Seymour. She needs a man who is committed to his Amish beliefs. And now, she's struggling to regain the trust of the school board members and the parents of her pupils for taking her class on an unauthorized field trip to a nearby Civil War battlefield. She's put on probation, and one wrong step could cost her the position permanently.
Joshua Esh of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, moved to Missouri ostensibly as part of the man swap meant to bring new blood into the community. Annie Beiler caught his attention the moment he arrived in Seymour, but he's disheartened to discover that she is promised to another man–Luke, who left the Amish but vowed to return one day and claim "his" Annie. So, Josh fills his social calendar with singings and frolics, taking a different girl home from every event–with the exception of Annie, since she is already committed to someone.
When Luke comes home, Annie pushes him away, and Josh Esh comes to her rescue. But the situation becomes awkward, since Josh is staying with Luke's family. An awareness of each other's attraction to Annie causes the awkwardness to escalate, and Annie's father soon invites Josh to stay with his family. But not all of the Beilers are happy about this new arrangement.
Soon, a buggy accident ends in a shotgun wedding after the bishop witnesses a kiss between Josh and Annie and insists they get married right away. The two protest, but the bishop is adamant. He later tells them why: he'd overheard some talk about a scheme Luke was launching to force Annie to marry him.
Marriage brings some dark secrets to the surface, and Annie and Josh must confront their issues and deal with the past if they plan on a future together.
List Price: $10.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (March 1, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
“May I take you home from the singing?”
Annie Beiler’s breath hitched, and her gaze shot from the dusty toes of her powder-blue tennis shoes to the drop-dead-gorgeous man standing not three feet in front of her. Unfortunately, his tentative smile wasn’t aimed in her direction.
Nein, Joshua Esh’s hazel eyes were locked on Rachel Lapp. Annie had to admit Rachel was cute, with her strawberry blonde hair and green dress that perfectly matched her eyes.
Joshua was what her Englisch friends called a “player,” for sure. Everyone talked about how he never took the same girl home from singings twice. And Annie couldn’t help hoping that he would eventually make his way to her.
Rachel’s face lit up. “Danki, Joshua. I’d love a ride.”
Annie scowled. If and when he got around to asking her, she’d turn him down. Someone should have the willpower to say nein. Just that evening, Rachel had been talking with Annie and some other girls about Joshua’s flirtatious ways. It appeared that she’d merely been jealous since he hadn’t asked to take her home.
Okay, to be honest, Annie did feel a bit envious, too. Make that more than a bit. And it wasn’t just because of Joshua, although he had played a big part in it. The truth was, none of the buwe who’d come from Pennsylvania in the man swap had ever offered to give her a ride. Not a single one.
She didn’t consider herself that unfortunate-looking.
Annie brushed past Joshua and Rachel and left the barn. Immediately, she regretted having gone outside, because she did need to find a way home—unless she rode along with another couple. But she didn’t think she could stand there alone by the barn doors, hopeful, when all the buwe she noticed didn’t seem to know she was alive.
Like Joshua Esh.
Especially Joshua Esh.
Annie kicked a rock and winced when it didn’t budge.
“Annie? Is that you?” A familiar male voice sounded from out of the darkness ahead of her.
She jumped. She hadn’t expected to hear that voice. Not in a month of singings. She frowned. “Luke?”
“Jah.” He moved into the circle of light from the lanterns hanging around the barn.
Annie planted her fists on her hips. She wouldn’t make the mistake of falling for Luke Schwartz twice—not that she’d really fallen for him the first time. It was just that he’d asked. And a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, right? Okay, she’d realized he wasn’t what she wanted—he wouldn’t make her top-ten list of the dreamiest Amish men—but he was better than nothing. She pulled in a deep breath, steeling herself. “What are you doing here?”
“Ach, that’s a wunderbaar way to welkum me. I’ve kum home.”
She stilled, her hope building, despite her internal warnings. “For how long?” She didn’t want to spend her life alone. Didn’t want to rely on the kindness of other couples for rides. Didn’t want to be the only girl left unattached, unaccepted, unwanted.
But, then again, she didn’t want to settle for just anyone, either.
Luke didn’t quite meet her eyes. “You wound me.”
Ach. Not for gut, then. The pencil fell from behind her ear, and she stooped to pick it up, careful not to glance at him as she rose.
“Never without that ever-present pencil, I see.”
She winced, hating that he mocked her. It wasn’t common to take a pencil to singings, she knew, but what if she wanted to write something down? The name of a book she’d like to read, perhaps, or something she wanted to mention to her students the following week. Maybe even the initials of her number one dream guy, who stood somewhere nearby but didn’t pay any attention to her. Who didn’t know she was alive. “Sarcasm doesn’t suit you.”
He sighed. “May I give you a ride home? Looks like things are breaking up.”
She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, but I already have a ride. Maybe another time.”
Luke laughed. “Right. I heard how popular you are. Having to beat the buwe off with a stick, ain’t so?”
Annie stiffened. “So, you couldn’t pay rent on that run-down trailer and ran home to your parents, jah?”
Someone moved up beside her, and she turned her head. Whoever it was didn’t register. What she did notice was that others were gathering around her and Luke, watching their exchange.
She was in enough trouble already, having nearly gotten dismissed from her teaching post. The school board had permitted her to continue teaching, provided she was put on probation. All she needed was for one of these eavesdroppers to go home and tell his or her folks. She’d be out of a job so fast, a racing horse and buggy wouldn’t be able to keep pace. She searched for something to say, something to defuse the situation.
Luke’s glance slid from her to whoever had stepped up to offer wordless support. He sneered, then backed up a space. “Well, since you have a ride, I’ll just catch you later, then. Gut to see you, Annie.”
She forced a smile. “Glad you’re back, Luke.”
He turned and disappeared into the darkness.
Joshua stood beside Annie for a moment. Silent. Wishing he could say something to salve the hurt she must feel. He sensed the pain radiating from her as she watched the redheaded man walk away.
The whole situation confused him. He’d been attracted to Annie the moment he’d met her, but when he’d fished for more information about her, he’d found out she was taken. Off limits. All but engaged to Luke Schwartz, who had vowed to return for her someday. Apparently, that day was now.
Yet Annie hadn’t been waiting with bated breath.
Joshua didn’t know exactly what that meant.
He knew only what he wanted it to mean.
The crowd around them thinned as the pairs began to make their ways to their buggies. Joshua became conscious of Rachel standing on the other side of him, twisting her apron in her hand while she waited on him to do something. He wasn’t sure what.
He swallowed the lump in this throat and turned to face the brunette schoolteacher. “Um, Annie. I’m going right past your haus. I can give you a ride, if you’d like.”
The expression in her dark eyes could have withered a lesser man. “I couldn’t possibly impose on a courting couple.”
“Ach, you know gut and well Rachel and I aren’t courting.” He couldn’t commit to anyone. Not when his attention had been caught and held by one certain Amish schoolteacher. But he wouldn’t approach her—not until he knew for sure what was happening between her and Luke. Or seeing if he could somehow catch her eye. Choosing a future frau was a serious thing. After all, he’d be spending the rest of his life with her.
It wasn’t like God would point her out with a bright-neon light, one that he’d be sure to notice in this quiet, rural community. Then again, maybe He had. Joshua had certainly sat up and taken notice of Annie.
“I’m going right past your haus,” he repeated, tucking his thumbs into his suspenders to keep from reaching out and touching her arm, grasping her hand, or otherwise physically imploring her to just hush up and come along.
The good Lord certainly hadn’t made Annie Beiler into a submissive maidal. Not like Rachel Lapp, who still stood silently on his other side, waiting for him to finish. She’d probably be a docile, obedient frau. Unfortunately for her, he liked a bit of spunk.
Spunk was something that Annie Beiler possessed in abundance, if what he’d overheard during the school board meetings was true.
Ignoring him, Annie turned around and headed for the barn. He watched her go, torn whether to follow or not. Rachel still waited quietly by his side, so he straightened and faced her. “Shall we?”
She met his gaze, her green eyes wide. “Maybe we should wait to see if Annie needs a ride first. Her sister left with a beau, and her brother isn’t here.” She looked around. “Neither is her best friend.”
“Jah.” Joshua swallowed, then glanced back at the barn. “I’ll ask again.”
“Has Luke returned home for gut?” Rachel asked before he’d taken a step.
Joshua shrugged. “He was at the haus when we came back from church this afternoon, and he said he’d kum home.”
“His parents must be so happy.”
Joshua nodded, but the truth was, he didn’t know. The Schwartzes had both seemed rather skeptical when they’d found Luke on the porch after church. Already, the whole community seemed to know about his homecoming. Who needed a phone when the grapevine was so effective? Annie had looked surprised to see him, however, so perhaps the news hadn’t spread as quickly as Joshua thought.
“I’ll go see if I can find Annie. Be right back.”
Rachel smiled. “I’ll wait at your buggy.”
Joshua gave a brief nod, then headed back inside the lantern-lit barn, where he breathed in the scents of animals, dust, and hay. He skirted the table, still laden with sandwiches, vegetables, and cookies left over from the singing, and walked toward a far corner where he thought he saw a brown dress in the shadows. Annie always wore brown, as if she wanted to go unnoticed. Hidden from view. Invisible.
Of course, given the recent conflicts with the school board, maybe flying low was the best thing for her.
With a sigh, Joshua paused, backtracked, and grabbed a couple of peanut butter cookies off the table. Taking a bite of one of the crumbly cookies, he retraced his steps toward the corner where he thought Annie was hiding. He swallowed. “Annie?”
He rounded a pile of hay bales and saw her, crouched low. “Hey. You’ll never find a ride hiding back here.”
She jumped up and straightened her shoulders. “I wasn’t hiding. I was….” She looked around and picked up a piece of straw, poking it back into the bale. “Cleaning. They missed this corner.”
Joshua raised his eyebrows and silently watched her pick up more straw for several moments. Fighting a grin, he leaned against another bale of hay.
Annie balled her fists and planted them on her hips. “Aren’t you going to go? Take Rachel home?”
“It’s more fun watching you pick up straw. And I’m sure the Stoltzfuses will appreciate that you took so much time cleaning this part of their barn. By hand, no less. I’ll be sure to tell Shanna.”
“You’re insufferable. Nein wonder your community swapped you out.”
Her comment couldn’t have been farther from the truth, but he didn’t mind. That was just what he wanted everyone to believe—for now, at least. But it didn’t matter. The temptation to grin won out. “Jah. I’ll just be the thorn in your side, here. Now, quit being so stubborn and admit you need a ride home.”
“I’ll admit nein such thing.”
She needed a ride, of course, but the thought of imposing on Joshua and Rachel—that wasn’t right. How could she? Besides, she didn’t want a ride as an act of charity. Yet that was the only way she’d get one. She thought about walking, but she refused to give Luke and Joshua the pleasure of seeing her reduced to setting out on foot.
“I’ll wait until you have a ride, then. Or till you accept one from me.” Judging by the obstinate set of Joshua Esh’s jaw, refusing was no longer an option.
She pulled in a deep breath and then nodded. “I guess I can let you drive me. Danki.” It hurt to say that. If only he had asked her first, because he wanted to, instead of asking out of a sense of obligation. As if she was a charity case.
Annie followed him outside and climbed in the backseat of the buggy behind Rachel and Joshua. His was an open buggy, not one for courting, and the two sat with a good foot between them—a respectable distance. Annie reached for the folded quilt on the seat beside her and pulled it close, wanting the comfort. The security.
Joshua glanced over his shoulder at her. “Cold?”
“Nein.” It was a bit breezy. The scent of autumn filled the air, though only a few leaves had started to turn. There was no good reason for wanting the quilt, other than her insecurity. She wrapped her arms around it, cuddling it like she would one of Mamm’s quilted throw pillows when company came, and she wanted to hide but had to be physically present. Not that the pillow hid her, but it made her more comfortable. And this quilt certainly wouldn’t hide her either. She glanced down at it. Maple leaf pattern. It was beautiful.
Joshua turned around once more and studied her, open concern in his hazel eyes. The horse snorted and tossed its head, as if to show its impatience to be off. Annie squirmed, again wishing someone else had asked to take her home. Well, someone had. Luke. She winced, her stomach suddenly churning. An ex-beau or Joshua and his girl of the day: a lose-lose decision.
“I’ll take Rachel home first, then you,” Joshua said. He clicked his tongue to the horse.
“Nein, take me home first.”
Joshua shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. We’ll kum to Rachel’s haus before yours. If I take you home first, I’ll have to backtrack to drop her off and then again on the way to the haus where I’m staying.”
Annie frowned. “But—”
“I hate backtracking.”
She pulled the quilt closer, crossing her arms over it.
Joshua glanced at Rachel before looking ahead at the road again. They hadn’t spoken, but Annie was sure they’d communicated nonverbally. Probably a mutual acknowledgment of the unwelcome third party in the buggy. She’d never know.
“We got a lot done at the Kropfs’ haus last week, ain’t so?” Rachel turned sideways in the seat so that she faced Joshua and could see Annie. “You did a great job painting in the kitchen, Annie. It looks so much brighter with a fresh coat of white paint. Those brown water stains on the wall were nasty.” She glanced at Joshua. “You were working upstairs, ain’t so? Helping the other men put on a new roof?”
Annie sank into the back seat, glad that Rachel filled the silence with chatter. But still, she didn’t need any more proof that her presence had put an awkward spin on things. What would she have to say to Joshua after Rachel was gone and they were alone? She supposed she could apologize for ruining their evening. She studied Joshua’s profile when he glanced at Rachel, wishing for the thousandth time that he’d asked to take her home because he wanted to. She hugged the quilt closer.
Rachel still chattered nonstop. “I heard that the floorboards upstairs were rotted, too.”
“Jah. We had to be careful where we stepped. Should be as gut as new now.”
“I think it’s a shame that Amos Kropf let his haus fall into such a bad shape. Don’t you?”
Joshua voiced appropriate responses to her comments, and, soon, their conversation was a vague drone in Annie’s ears. Yet, all too soon, he pulled the buggy into the drive that led to Rachel’s haus. It was a tidy stone place that looked hardly big enough to house her entire family. It didn’t need to, of course, since all of her siblings but one were grown and married. Her younger brother, Esau, was fourteen, so this was the last year Annie would have him in class. He was one of the big buwe, but he hadn’t caused her any trouble. He was as sweet as his sister. She’d actually miss him, she realized.
“I’ll be right back.” Joshua glanced at Annie, then vaulted out of the buggy and came around to walk Rachel to the door. They talked too quietly for Annie to make out what they said. All she heard was the muffled sound of voices.
The horse raised its tail and made a deposit. Annie glanced away, readjusting the quilt on her lap.
Too soon, Joshua was back. He climbed into the buggy and twisted around to look at her. “Move up here by me. I’m not a chauffer.”
“Jah, that’s exactly what you are.”
He hesitated, studying her. “Either that or a taxi service, jah?”
She smiled, in spite of herself. “Jah.”
He grinned back. “Get up here.”
After a moment, she laid the quilt where she’d found it, smoothing the wrinkles. Then, she climbed over the buggy seat, settling in next to him. Closer to him than Rachel had sat. “Danki for taking me home.”
His grin liquefied her knees. Good thing she wasn’t standing. Had he smiled at Rachel that way? He reached for the brake, released it, and clicked his tongue. Seconds later, they were back on the road.
“Did you have fun at the singing?”
“Jah.” It had been okay, until Luke had showed up.
“Gut. You haven’t kum to many singings in the past few weeks. Just on occasion.”
He’d noticed her? Annie fought the urge to smile. “You’re new in town. I go to all the singings. Well, almost all of them.” She had missed a good number after Mamm’s accident.
“I’m not that new. I’ve been here since the end of June. Four months. And I would have noticed if you were there all the time. Believe me.”
He’d noticed her enough to miss her? Then, why hadn’t he asked…?
“Sorry I tagged along on your ride with Rachel.”
He glanced at her. “I don’t mind giving you a ride. It’s a pleasure. As for ruining the evening with Rachel, don’t worry. I might decide to visit her later this week.” He shrugged as if it didn’t matter.
Annie’s heart sank. She leaned back in the seat, shifting away from him as far as she could. Not that she’d been sitting indecently close. She did have a reputation to uphold. Such as it was.
He glanced at her again. “So, heard that you are meeting with the school board on Monday to discuss some things.”
Tomorrow. She shut her eyes briefly. “News does get around.”
“Heard you rented a van to take the students on a field trip to a Civil War battlefield. Without permission.”
She fought the urge to bow her head in shame. Instead, she held steady, tightening her lips, glad that he didn’t have any kinner in school, and would have no reason to attend.
But then, he lived at the haus where the meeting would be held. With Luke’s family.
Jah, he’d be there, to witness her humiliation firsthand.
Annie Beiler's ex-beau, Luke, had jumped the fence, so that is why she thought that no one wanted to court her. Little did she know that Luke had warned everyone to leave Annie alone because he was back and intended on marrying her. Annie, on the other hand, had no intention on rekindling their relationship because she knew he wasn't reliable or a kind person.
Joshua Esh was with an exchange from Pennsylvania and was taken with Annie from the beginning, but knew she was intended for another - a man Joshua didn't like. As time progressed, Joshua learned that Annie's father might be interested in matching him with Annie, but Annie seemed to have other ideas.
This was a captivating read that had me interested from the first page. It was different from the other Amish stories I've read in the past - hitting on some new things I didn't know about, like the exchange and also that a Bishop can make a couple get married or they are disgraced.
These characters were true to life and the situations were very realistic. I enjoyed this book so much that I really want to go back and read the others in the series. Even though this is book 3 in the series, it can be read as a stand alone. I didn't realize it was the third until after I had finished reading and went to see what other books Laura V. Hilton had written.
A must read for any Amish fiction lover!