Rebecca Fisher's life was upended when her husband was accused of murder and died in prison. Now someone is reminding the Amish widow that all hasn't been forgiven. When the threats escalate and her stepson rebels, Rebecca turns to former army ranger Jake Burke for help.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Alison Stone has an industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech. She traded her corporate career for motherhood, and eventually discovered a passion for writing.
Alison lives in Western New York with her husband of twenty years and their four children where the summers are gorgeous and the winters are perfect for curling up with a good book-or writing one.
For more information please visit: www.AlisonStone.com.
"I won't be long." Rebecca Fisher scooted forward on the vinyl seat in the van and raised her voice over the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the worn wipers scraping against the windshield.
"I have another pickup." The driver's words were clipped, as if a return ride hadn't been understood. He pulled back the sleeve of his jacket and checked his wrist-watch. "Meet you back here in thirty minutes?"
"Yah." Gathering the folds of her skirt and her tote bag, Rebecca climbed out of the van, popped up her umbrella and slammed the van door closed. She cast one last glance at the driver, who seemed oblivious to her indecision. Not as chatty as some, the young driver was one of several employed in the heavily Amish community of Apple Creek, New York, to cart the Amish around when they didn't want to be bothered with a horse and buggy.
Standing on the sidewalk under her black umbrella next to the brick building, Rebecca watched the red brake lights of the van as it slowed, then disappeared around the corner. She tugged on her black bonnet, trying to shut out the brisk wind and the whipping rain. It was late September, too early for snow, but the cold and rain were a hint of the winter to come in western New York.
Rebecca checked the address for Professor Jacob Burke on the slip of paper in her hand. Then she squinted at the name of the building carved into the stone above the nearest doorway. Her heart sank. It wasn't the building she was looking for and all the buildings looked the same.
If Rebecca didn't hurry, she might miss the professor. The college student she had talked to at the Apple Creek Diner where Rebecca worked as a waitress had assured her that Professor Burke had office hours on Monday and Wednesday from four until six-thirty.
Rebecca clutched the collar of her coat and turned down the first brick path leading between a row of buildings. Oh, so many buildings. A male college student strode toward her, his hands stuffed in his coat pockets, his hood pulled up against the rain and his eyes straight ahead.
"Excuse me. Do you know where...?"
The young man continued past without as much as a sideways glance.
She squeezed the handle of the umbrella tighter and looked down at the piece of paper as it flapped in the wind, the writing smeared from the rain.
"Can I help you?" An older woman stopped and gestured with her umbrella toward the young man who hadn't bothered to stop. "Don't take it personally, dear. The young people today walk around with those thingies—" she pointed to the side of her head "—in their ears. They don't hear anything except whatever it is they're listening to on their phones."
"Oh," Rebecca said, feeling completely out of her element on the college campus. "I'm looking for the Stevenson Building. Room 214. Professor Jacob Burke's office."
"The anthropology building," the woman said, as if suddenly everything made sense. It was no secret the professor of anthropology studied the local Amish. Perhaps the woman thought Rebecca was availing herself to his research, but that was the furthest thing from her mind.
Smiling, the woman spun around and pointed across a wide courtyard with her free hand. "You're close. It's right over there."
"Thank you." Rebecca tucked the piece of paper into the tote she had draped over her arm. Drawing in a deep breath, she pulled back her shoulders and strode across the courtyard to the arched doorway of the brick building. Her pulse whooshed in her ears in competition with the drops pelting her umbrella.
Rebecca pulled open the heavy wooden door and held it for a second with her foot. After wrestling to close her umbrella, she stepped into the marble entryway. The door slammed, echoing in the cavernous space, startling her. She adjusted her wind-whipped bonnet and smoothed what little hair was visible near the crown of her head.
Dragging her fingers along the cool metal railing, she climbed the stairs and walked down the empty hallway until she found room 214. Professor Burke's office.
Slowing her pace, she fumbled with the hook and eye on her coat, feeling the heat gathering. Finally, her trembling fingers released the hook and she slipped off her coat and draped it over her arm. Through the narrow window on the office door, she noticed a young man sitting at the desk and talking on the phone.
Rebecca turned and looked down the hallway; a trail of water had dripped from her umbrella. If she lost her nerve now and left, she'd have to stand in the rain for close to thirty minutes waiting for the driver.
You've come this far.
When Rebecca finally turned the handle and stepped into the narrow entryway, the young man was watching her with a curious expression, something Rebecca would never get used to. Sometimes she wished she never had to leave the farm. She missed the quiet life she'd led before her deceased husband's actions had drawn her into the limelight.
Now most every day she had to venture away from the solitude of farm life to work at the diner, where she often felt like a character in a play, expected to act out a role when the tourists stopped in for a meal. Some even had the nerve to talk really loud to her, as if she were deaf.
However, the end of summer had meant the departure of the bulk of the tourists and their curious gazes. They had been replaced primarily by less generous college students; vacationers tended to leave her an extra dollar or two at the diner after they had tasted her shoofly pie. Money she could ill afford to lose now that she was a single mother.
"Hello?" the dark haired young man said, his lilting voice making it more a question than a genuine greeting.
Rebecca worked her bottom lip. "I'm looking for Professor Burke."
The boy at the desk, who couldn't be much older than her Samuel, turned toward the open door a few feet away. "Is Professor Burke expecting you?"
Under her bonnet her scalp tingled. She had obviously made a misstep. She should have found a way to reach the professor before showing up unannounced.
"I...um..." She smoothed her hand across the coat draped over her arm. The umbrella bounced against her leg when she took a step backward.
"Hello, I'm Professor Burke." A tall, clean-shaven man appeared in the doorway, an inquisitive smile in his warm brown eyes.
Rebecca took a confident step forward but kept her hands securely wrapped around the coat she was carrying, her tote and umbrella clasped underneath. "I'm Rebecca Fisher. I'm Samuel Fisher's mem... " She let her voice trail off, hoping he'd acknowledge that he knew Samuel before she went on much longer.
Professor Burke's eyebrows raised and his eyes darkened. "Yes, I know Samuel well. Is something wrong?"
Rebecca felt the young man's eyes on them. "Perhaps we can talk in private?"
"Of course." Professor Burke held out his arm, gesturing to his inner office. When she hesitated, the professor entered his office first and sat behind the large desk.
Rebecca followed him and sat at one of two chairs on the opposite side of the desk. She would have felt claustrophobic in the small space if it hadn't been for the large windows overlooking the courtyard.
The young man appeared in the doorway. "I finished collating the test papers. If there's nothing else, I'm going to blow this joint." His gaze traveled the length of her. Rebecca dropped her umbrella, then she bent over to snap it up, happy for the distraction.
"Thanks, Tommy. Have a good night."
The door to the main hallway clicked shut. Rebecca shifted in her seat, relieved to not have an audience. "I'm sorry to bother you this late, but I'm worried about my son. Actually, he was my husband's son, but I claim him as my own." She was telling this man information he already knew.
Professor Burke threaded his fingers and rested his elbows on the desk. She felt as if he was studying her like a farmer inspects a calf before making his bid at the auction.
"I'm very curious why you've come to me, Mrs. Fisher."
"Because I have nowhere else to go."
* * *
"Nowhere else to go?" Jake stood, then walked around to Mrs. Fisher's side of the desk. When he sat next to the young Amish woman, she angled her knees away from him, creating as much distance between them as possible. He looked down and stifled a smile.
"I need to talk to you about Samuel." Mrs. Fisher placed her tote and umbrella on the floor and folded her coat over them. She straightened her back and hiked her chin in a gesture that seemed forced. "I may come across as—" she seemed to be searching for the right word "—backwoods to you, but I know you spend time researching the Amish and you know a lot of the youngie. You knew Elmer King. And you know my son."
Jake's heartbeat slowed as he remembered Elmer, the outgoing young Amish boy who had died in a car wreck over the summer. The image on the front page of the small-town paper of Elmer King's old red Chevy Camaro wrapped around a tree and his straw hat on the pavement said far more than a tidy quote the journalist had tried to elicit from the professor who studied the Amish. Jake was suspicious that some opportunist had placed the straw hat there for added effect.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
Jake tried to shake the image, but his stomach pitched at his guilt for not having known how to help the boy. Elmer had been one of the youth he had gotten to know over the past three years as a professor at Genwego State. Jake felt strongly that his missteps had led to Elmer racing off in a rage that fateful night.
Dragging a hand across his hair, Jake let out a long sigh, buying time to formulate his thoughts. "Yes, I knew Elmer. What does this have to do with your son?"
"Samuel and Elmer were friends. My son is not the same young man he was before Elmer's death."
"Samuel's had a rough go of it."
Rebecca nodded slowly and wrung her hands in her lap, seemingly growing more agitated. When she didn't seem as though she was going to speak, Jake asked, "How can I help you?"
She gave him a measured stare before dropping her gaze to her hands clutched in her lap. "Professor Burke, I'm worried about Samuel."
Jake rested his elbow on the armrest. He waited for her to continue. As a researcher, he often went into the Amish community and performed a delicate balancing act between developing authentic friendships and fostering relationships in the name of research. It was unusual for an Amish person to stroll into his office, never mind a young Amish woman.
"You've become friends with Samuel and his gang, yah?" The Amish referred to the groups of somewhat like-minded young adults who hung around together as gangs. The term lacked the negative connotation that it held in the English world.
"Yes, I've gotten to know your son."
"Is he..." Again, she seemed to be searching for the right word. "Is he okay?"
He studied her face. Myriad emotions played on her features.
"He seems to be okay. I know you both have experienced some backlash from the community after Willard was arrested." Rebecca's husband, now deceased, had been convicted for killing two of his Amish neighbors.
"Backlash." Rebecca seemed to be trying on the word. "Yah, we have had issues from graffiti on the barn to smashed eggs on our windows. The sheriff never made any arrests."
"Samuel told me it had stopped." He studied the woman, estimating her to be in her late twenties, early thirties at the most.
"It had. Then more recently, it started up again. Someone took all four wheels off Samuel's wagon..." Her voice trailed off. "I am grateful they took them off and didn't just loosen them. I hate to think—"
"It sounds like a police matter," Jake interrupted. "I'm not sure why you're here... I'm a professor."
Rebecca rubbed her flattened palms together. "It's twofold, really. I called Sheriff Maxwell once... I'm friends with his wife. We grew up together." She waved her hand, as if that part of the story was inconsequential. But any time someone left the Amish community, it scarred those that remained.
Rebecca drew in a deep breath and continued. "Samuel became very agitated when I called the sheriff. He holds himself partially responsible for his father's arrest, even though we all know...well, we all know what his father did."
"Yes, I'm sorry. Sorry for your troubles. Sorry for your loss."
"Me, too. This is not the life I imagined for me or for my children."
"It took a lot of courage for Samuel to work with law enforcement to aid in his father's arrest."
Rebecca ran a shaky hand across her lips. "Maybe he wouldn't be taking this all so hard if his father was simply in prison." Her shoulders rose and fell on a heavy sigh. "When Willard was killed in prison, I think something inside Samuel broke. I don't know how to reach him anymore."
"I'm not sure how I can help, Mrs. Fisher."
"Please, call me Rebecca. I no longer feel like Mrs. Fisher."
"Okay." He hesitated, waiting for her to continue.
"I've watched my son talk to you at the diner. He's confided in you. I need..." She closed her eyes briefly. ".I need to know what you know about my son so I can reach him before I lose him for gut. Like the Kings lost their son, Elmer."
Jake ran a hand across his chin. "What is it you're worried about?" A niggling suspicion told him why she was here, but he didn't dare say.
Rebecca's gaze lingered on his. "I need to know if Samuel's involved with drugs like his friend was." Her voice was strained, as if it took every effort to get out the words.
"Samuel's a young adult." Jake measured his response, trying to distance himself from the pain on Rebecca's face. Her son—her stepson, actually—was enjoying his running around years with the usual bending of Amish rules. If Jake broke the young man's confidence, the young Amish men wouldn't talk to him. On the surface, it would jeopardize his research at the college.
"Samuel needs to find his own way," Jake said.
"He needs guidance. He has no father."
Jake didn't know if Samuel was into drugs, but if he was, Jake wanted to be there for him without the interference of his mother. He needed to foster Samuel's trust.
Jake had learned that the hard way.
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Book Description Thorndike Press Large Print, 2016. Book Condition: Very Good. Lrg. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Bookseller Inventory # GRP97406587