Authors: Jennifer Beckstrand
Tags: #Romance, #Amish
© 2013 by Jennifer Beckstrand ISBN 978-1-60936-770-1
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without written permission of the publisher.
All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual people or events are purely coincidental.
Cover design by Garborg Design |
Interior design by Müllerhaus Publishing Group |
Summerside Press™ is an inspirational publisher offering fresh, irresistible books to uplift the heart and engage the mind.
Printed in USA.
To my sisters, Allison Sharp, Andrea Gappmayer,
Juliet Sanders, Melinda Boyack, and Alesha
Thompson, all incredibly talented and
accomplished women who make me laugh and
know how to play a mean game of Nertz.
I am deeply grateful to Mary Sue Seymour for her business savvy and instincts. I appreciate Lindsay Guzzardo and Connie Troyer, who take a red marker to my work. It always looks better after they’ve finished. Priscilla Stoltzfus again saved me from egregious errors, as did Kathy Kuderer. Thanks ever so much. As always, thanks to my very supportive children and my best friend and hubby, Gary.
Seth Lambright couldn’t stand the sight of Miriam Bontrager. It didn’t matter that her eyes were the shade of lavender spring crocuses or that her skin was surely soft as silk. He still felt that familiar twinge of irritation when he saw her at the auction.
Miriam didn’t even acknowledge Seth when she came to the stable with her
John. Oblivious to the unkind feelings Seth harbored for his daughter, John was his usual amiable self, smiling and complimenting Seth generously on his horses.
“The chestnut is a beauty, ain’t not, Miriam?” John said.
Miriam simply nodded while looking about.
Seth followed her lead and attempted to ignore her as she stood a few steps apart with her boyfriend, Ephraim. A stranger would never guess that Miriam and Seth attended
or church services in the same district and had ever since they were babies. Nor would anyone ever believe that they’d gone to the same primary school. Even though he was four years older, she knew him well enough, but she still treated him as if he were invisible.
For one irrational second, Seth was tempted to insist that Miriam actually make eye contact with him instead of offering the indifferent pride that always got his hackles up. But ultimately he wanted to make a sale, not a point, so he patted his horse on the neck and said, “She’s a pretty one. Strong and gentle. A perfect riding horse.” Then he couldn’t resist. “You like to ride, don’t you, Miriam?”
She shrugged and rubbed her hand tenderly along the grain of the mare’s coat. Seth was surprised when she nuzzled her face against the mare’s nose.
“She is a
rider when she has the time,” said Ephraim, her self-appointed mouthpiece and probably soon-to-be fiancé.
It seemed Seth would not be privileged to hear Miriam’s voice today.
John examined the mare with the careful eye of a husbandman, running his fingers along the muscles in her legs and knees, lifting her feet and checking the hooves, prying open her mouth and inspecting the teeth. “Superior horse,” John finally said, folding his arms and standing back to take a look at the animal as a whole.
John looked at his daughter. “This is the one I want. She don’t move when you saddle her, and me and Seth took her out this morning. Smooth gait.”
Miriam narrowed her eyes and suddenly paid closer attention. “Are you sure, Dat? Seth is just a beginning trainer.” She walked around the horse and performed the same inspection John had just completed.
While trying not to be offended by her lack of faith in his abilities, Seth couldn’t help but be impressed at the same time. She knew what to look for, how to properly assess the value of a horse. She examined the mare head-on, looking to see if it favored a lead and studying the ears and eyes for illness.
“How old?” she said.
“Two years,” said Seth. “One of the first I bred.”
“I will admit…,” John said, “three years ago I thought your horse-breeding idea far-fetched, considering how young you were and how you only had that old stable. But I’ve heard good reports of you, and the quality of these animals speaks for itself. You have a gift.”
Seth said, bursting with pride but keeping his satisfaction contained in a proper show of humility by lowering his eyes and lacing his fingers together.
“May I take her out?” Miriam said.
Ephraim took off his hat and swished his fingers through his hair. “We don’t have the time to spare today.”
Miriam knit her brows together. “Oh. Very well. If you think we are short on time, never mind.”
“You’ve got to ride a horse before you even think of buying it, Ephraim,” John said.
Miriam. Try her out.”
Miriam looked doubtfully at Ephraim and then at her father. Seth had the mare saddled before the boyfriend said another word.
The mare didn’t move a muscle as Miriam deftly mounted and situated herself. She raised an eyebrow in appreciation.
“This one ain’t bothered by the noise,” John said.
“She doesn’t spook,” Seth said. “Real calm.” He walked the mare out of the stable and into the sunlight.
“Good eyesight,” Miriam said.
Seth released the reins and Miriam directed the horse to the corral used for staging livestock during the auction. He rested his hands on top of the barrier fence that ran the perimeter of the corral and watched as Miriam walked the horse around the yard. When Miriam prodded the mare into a trot and then a canter, the animal had no problem switching gaits. Seth couldn’t keep a smile from his face. He had trained her well.
Miriam began turning the horse around imaginary obstacles. She’d have no trouble there. The mare obeyed the slightest pressure from the reins and legs.
Miriam proved herself a superior rider. Just one more thing she did better than anyone else in the community. She must be so proud of herself.
After about ten minutes, Miriam rode the horse back toward Seth and the stable. She leaned over and patted the mare’s neck, cooing words that Seth could not decipher.
He relaxed his shoulders and released his grip on the fence. He hadn’t realized he’d been clinging to it so tightly.
Once she reached the gate, Miriam dismounted, strode to Seth, and handed him the reins without raising her eyes to his face. “I hardly had to touch the reins to slow her down. Very light in the mouth. For a beginner, you’ve done a nice job with the training. Good for you.”
Seth clenched his teeth. Wonderful. She had gone from standoffish to condescending in a matter of seconds.
“I will tell Dat I like it. Matthew Eicher has some gute horses too, but I know you need the money.”
Seth tried to keep a straight face. This was what she thought of him—poor Seth Lambright, the motherless boy who depended on the kindness of his neighbors to make a living?
Give me strength.
Miriam smiled. “Dat says it is gute to invest in a boy like you, just starting out in your own business.”
“Don’t do me any favors.”
Miriam probably wouldn’t have paid heed to his reply except that he hadn’t been able to keep the bitter edge out of his voice. She stopped short and frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
“If you think you’re too good to own a horse trained by me, please feel free to buy elsewhere.”
Miriam’s mouth gaped and her eyes went wide with indignation. “I do not think that.”
Seth clamped his mouth shut and marched for the safety of the stable. He should have held his tongue. Wasn’t any skin off his teeth if Miriam Bontrager was stuck-up. He shouldn’t have let her get to him like that. But today was a milestone, his first auction as a seller, a day of accomplishment for all those months of hard work of getting his horses ready. And Miriam Bontrager had to dampen his mood. He wished she’d never stuck her lightly freckled nose into the stable.
When he neglected to reply, Miriam pulled his arm and stopped him up short. “I don’t think I’m better than you.”
Why had he opened his big mouth? “I am joking,” he said. “I’m a little tense today yet.”
She trained her eyes on him.
you are not joking. Why do you assume you know what I am thinking?”
“ ‘If you think you’re too good to own a horse trained by me, please feel free to buy elsewhere,’” she repeated to him, with the same irritated emphasis he’d used. “What have I done to offend you, that you judge me so harshly?”
With no desire to be cornered by Miriam Bontrager, he gripped the mare’s reins, lengthened his stride, and scowled in any direction but hers.
She stepped in front of him and stared until he wanted to turn to dust. “Tell me.”
He paused, ran his hand across his forehead, and looked for an escape route.
She didn’t budge. “You don’t like me.” This realization seemed to take her by surprise. She lifted an eyebrow in disbelief. “Why don’t you like me?”
Her arrogance and maddening self-assurance goaded him past endurance. “You are a snob, Miriam Bontrager,” he said.
Whatever she expected him to say, it wasn’t that. With her mouth open wide enough to catch flies, she turned to stone, and Seth led the horse around her and back to the stable.
She didn’t follow.
* * * * *
Who does Seth Lambright think he is?
Miriam cocked her arm back, grunted, and threw another rock as hard as she could into the field behind the stable. She’d always had the best arm of all the girls. She looked down at her feet. There were plenty more rocks to throw to express her utter frustration.
Why did that boy have to go and ruin a perfectly wonderful day? Ephraim had bought her a frozen lemonade, Macie Glick had told her she liked the color of her dress, and her quilt had sold for three hundred dollars at the auction.
Three hundred dollars! She’d need less than half of that to buy more fabric, and the rest she could send off to the Haiti Mission Fund. Surely no other girl in Apple Lake had ever donated so much.
would be pleased.
And then Seth Lambright had to go and wreck her entire day. At times like this, Miriam hated that she put so much stock in what other people thought about her—even someone like Seth, whom she shouldn’t care a snit about.
She raised her hand to heave another rock in the direction of the cornfield but thought better of it. The tiny cornstalks, barely six inches tall, didn’t deserve her abuse.
“Miri, what are you doing?”
Ephraim leaned against the outside wall of the stable with his arms folded, smiling in amusement. Ephraim stood an average height with a shock of curly golden hair and a smile that always sent a warm sensation tingling into her fingers. When he smiled, he showed all his teeth, and Miriam loved the little gap between his bottom front ones.
“Getting some baseball practice in? Or throwing a tantrum?” he said, still laughing at her with his eyes.
Miriam threw down the three rocks in her other hand and brushed her hands on her apron. “Throwing a tantrum.”
“Better here than in the stable where everybody can see you, I guess.”
He came closer but didn’t touch her. Even though they were madly in love, Ephraim thought it best that there be no touching until after the wedding. Miriam rejoiced to have such a careful boyfriend.
“What are you throwing a tantrum about?”
“Do you know what Seth Lambright said to me?”
“I have no idea.”
“He said I am a snob.”
Ephraim raised his eyebrows then threw back his head and laughed.
“It is not funny, Ephraim.”
“Yes, it is. Seth Lambright doesn’t know anything about anything.”
“Why would he say that about me?”
Ephraim waved his hand as if swatting a fly. “Don’t worry about it. He’s jealous.”
“You think so?”
“He had a crazy mother who took her own life. His dat makes almost nothing at the plant and misses services all the time. Not to mention, his sister is jumping the fence and going to college next year. His family is a mess. You, on the other hand, have a perfect family that everyone looks up to. Your dat is a minister and owns all that property. You’re well-off, as far as Amish people go.”
Miriam looked away. “We give a lot to charity and the church.”
“Of course you do. Seth Lambright is jealous, plain and simple.” Ephraim tucked a lock of his hair behind his ear. “Why does it bother you? Instead, you should count your blessings that you aren’t one of them. I thank the good Lord every day that I was born into my family, not an unfortunate one like Seth Lambright’s.”
“He says I think I’m too good for him.”
“Don’t let him make you feel ashamed about that. Some families
better than others. His dat will never be bishop or even minister, sure as you’re born.”
Miriam wasn’t quite as pleased with Ephraim’s reasoning as she wanted to be. She almost contradicted him. Weren’t all people equal in the sight of God? Surely Seth Lambright, who kept to himself and had lost his poor mother five years ago, was as good as Ephraim Neuenschwander, a minister’s son. Wasn’t he?
“I don’t want to talk about Seth Lambright,” Ephraim said. “I want to talk about my plans for a blissful future. Two and a half years from now in November sounds like a wonderful time for a wedding, don’t you think?”
Miriam tried to hide her disappointment behind a wan smile. “But you said we would marry next year. I’m almost nineteen years old.”
“I overheard Bishop Schwartz and my dat speaking of it yesterday. Young people rush into marriage, letting their eagerness overtake their self-control. The bishop specifically mentioned your cousin Rebecca, who married only two weeks after getting engaged. And in April too.”
“Some would say they are so much in love, they just couldn’t wait to be together.” In fact, it was Miriam’s dream of an ideal love story. She’d stayed up until midnight for two weeks straight to make Rebecca’s wedding quilt. Just because most Amish couples said vows in November or December, was it really so terrible that Rebecca and Levi married in April?
“You wouldn’t believe how many tongues waggled because of it,” Ephraim said. “The bishop said that young people should carefully plan and prepare before taking such a big step.”
Miriam hesitated. Rebecca and Levi’s sudden decision had started gossip in Apple Lake by people who were appalled that they had broken with long-standing traditions. Miriam would hate to have her marriage cast in a bad light from the beginning. “I would not want to go against the bishop’s counsel. If you think waiting is best—”
“I do. And so does my dat. It will give us more time to earn money for a house. Bishop Schwartz says a couple should be financially stable.”
“That is sound advice. I will make more quilts to sell.”
The extra time would also allow her to make the most beautiful quilt of all for her almost-fiancé. They wouldn’t be officially engaged for more than two years. Miriam let a sigh escape her lips.
“We could make thousands of dollars from your quilts.”
Miriam thought of the Haiti Mission Fund. Maybe she could set aside a little of that money for her marriage. As the bishop had said, she and Ephraim must carefully plan and prepare for their life together. A life of bliss and love and financial stability.