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Amish widow Hannah Yoder prays her daughters will each find a husband someday. Still, sensible Ruth believes it's God's will that she stay home and help care for her younger sisters. But when a handsome young man comes to Kent County, Ruth starts to rethink her plans. Not yet part of the church, Eli Lapp is allowed to run wild. Yet something in Ruth's sweet smile and gentle manner makes him yearn to settle down—with her at his side. Can Eli convince her that their lives should be entwined together on God's path?
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Spring... Kent County, Delaware
Ruth Yoder lifted her skirt and deftly climbed the wooden stile at the back corner of the fence that marked the property line between her family's farm and their nearest neighbor. The sun-warmed boards felt good on the soles of Ruth's bare feet, bringing back sweet memories and making her smile. Dat's stile, God rest his soul. How she missed him. The world had always seemed safe when her father was alive. Without him at the head of the table, life was more uncertain.
What was certain was that if they didn't hurry, recess would be over, and Mam wouldn't get her lunch. "Come along, Susanna," she called over her shoulder to her sister.
"Come along," Susanna repeated as she scampered up the stile, clutching their mother's black lunch pail tightly in one chubby hand. Susanna would be eighteen in a few months. She should have been able to carry the lunch across the field to the schoolhouse unaccompanied, but in many ways, she would always be a child.
The English said Susanna had Down syndrome or called her a special-needs person, but Dat had always said that she was one of the Lord's gifts and that they should feel blessed every day that He had entrusted her to their family. Susanna's chubby face and slanting blue eyes might seem odd to strangers, but to Ruth, her dear little face, framed by the halo of frizzy red hair that marked her as one of Jonas Yoder's seven daughters, was beautiful.
Susanna's white Kapp tied over her unruly bun, her Plain blue dress and white apron were exactly like those that Mam had sewn for Ruth. But Susanna's rosy cheeks, stubby little feet and hands and bubbly personality made her unlike anyone that Ruth had ever known.
Sometimes, to her shame, Ruth secretly felt the tiniest bit of envy for her sister's uncomplicated world. Ruth had to struggle every day to be the kind of person her mother and her church expected. Being a good soul just seemed to come naturally to Susanna. Ever since her sister Johanna had married and moved to her husband's farm down the lane, the responsibility of being the oldest child had settled heavily on Ruth's shoulders. It was that sense of responsibility that had caused her and Mam to have words after breakfast this morning. Not an argument exactly, but a disagreement, and that conversation with her mother made her stomach as heavy as one of Aunt Martha's pecan-raisin pies.
"You're twenty-three out, Ruth," Mam had reminded her as she'd taken her black bonnet from the hook and tied it over her Kapp before starting off for school. "You joined the church when you were nineteen. You've done a woman's job in our house since you were fifteen. It's past time you chose a husband and had your own home."
"But you need me here," she had insisted. "Without Dat, running the farm, taking care of Susanna and teaching school is too much for you. It's better that I remain single and stay with you."
"Fiddle-faddle," Mam had said as she'd gathered her books.
"...Roofie! You're not listening to me."
"Ya, I am." Ruth shook off her reverie and steadied her sister as she descended the steps on the far side of the fence.
"But you're not. Look!" Susanna pointed. Above the trees, in the direction of the school, rose a column of smoke.
"Samuel's probably burning brush."
"But, Roofie." Susanna trotted to keep up with Ruth's longer strides as they followed the narrow path through the oak grove. "I smell smoke."
"Mmm-hmm," Ruth answered absently. Tonight she would apologize to her mother and—
"Fire!" Susanna squealed as they entered the clearing surrounding the one-room schoolhouse. "The school is on fire!"
Ruth's mouth gaped in astonishment. Ahead, clouds of smoke billowed from the front porch and cloakroom of the neat, white schoolhouse. In the field, behind an open shed, Ruth spotted the children engaged in a game of softball. Upwind of the building, no one had smelled the smoke yet.
"Sit down, Susanna," Ruth ordered. "Sit here and guard Mam's lunch."
"But the school—" her sister protested, hopping on one bare foot and then the other.
"Don't move until Mam or I come for you."
Susanna sighed heavily but dropped to the ground.
Thank You, Lord, Ruth thought. If there was one thing she could depend on, it was that Susanna would always do as she was asked, so at least she wouldn't have to worry about her safety. Closer to the school than the field, Ruth ran toward the burning structure, bare feet pounding the grass, the skirt of her dress tugging at her knees.
As she drew closer, she saw Mam's new student, Irwin Beachy, crawl out from under the porch. His face and shirt were smudged black, and he was holding his hands out awkwardly, as though they'd been burned.
"Irwin? What happened? Are you hurt?" she called to him.
The boy's eyes widened in terror. Without answering, he dashed away toward the woods.
"Irwin!" Ruth shouted. "Come back!"
When the boy vanished in the trees, she turned back to the school. An ugly crackling noise rose and flames rippled between the floorboards of the front porch. Through the open door, she could see tongues of red flame shimmering through the black smoke. The cloakroom seemed engulfed in fire, but the thick inner door that led to the single classroom was securely closed.
Wrapping her apron around her hands to protect them, Ruth grabbed the smoking rope that dangled from the cast-iron bell by the steps. She yanked hard, and the old bell pealed out the alarm. Then she released the rope and darted to the hand water pump that stood in the yard.
By the shouts and cries coming from the ball field, Ruth knew that the children had heard the bell and seen the smoke. By school age, every Amish child knew what to do in case of a fire, and she was certain they would arrive in seconds. She pumped hard on the handle of the water pump, filling the bucket that always sat there, and then ran back to dash the water onto the front wall of the school. Two of the older boys pounded up behind her. Toby Troyer pulled off his shirt and beat at the flames with it. Vernon Beachy grabbed the empty bucket from Ruth's hands and raced back to refill it.
Ruth's mother directed the fire-fighting efforts and instructed the older girls to take the smaller children back to where Susanna waited so that they would be out of danger.
Two of the Beachy boys carried the rain barrel to the other side of the schoolhouse and splashed water against the wall. Other boys used their lunch buckets to carry water. One moment they seemed as if they were winning the battle, but the next moment, flames would shoot up in a new spot. Someone passed her a bucket of water, and Ruth rushed in to throw it on the porch roof. As long as the roof didn't catch fire, the building might be saved. Abruptly, a sensation of heat washed up over her. She glanced down to see that sparks had ignited the hem of her apron.
As she reached down frantically to tear off the smoldering apron, strong hands closed around her waist and lifted her off the ground. Before she could utter a protest, Ruth found herself thrown onto the ground and roughly rolled over and over in the grass. Her bonnet came off, her hairpins came loose, and her hair tumbled down her back.
"Are you trying to kill yourself? Didn't you see your apron on fire?" A stranger with the face of an angel lifted her into his arms, and gazed into her face.
Ruth couldn't catch her breath. All she could do, for a second, was stare into the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever seen. Behind her she heard the shouts of male voices, but she couldn't tear her gaze from the eyes.
"Are you all right?"
She swallowed hard, unable to find her voice, and nodded as she began to cough.
"You scared me half to death," he murmured, still hold ing her against him, his body as hot against hers as the flames of the fire behind them.
"Is she hurt?" Mam laid a hand on Ruth's arm as her rescuer backed away from the smoking building.
The sound of her mother's voice brought her back to the reality of the situation. "Put me down," she ordered, embarrassed now. "I'm fine."
"Her apron was on fire. Her clothes would have gone up next," he explained, lowering Ruth gently until her bare feet touched the ground.
"It looks like the fire's almost out," Mam said, turning to see Roman and one of the older boys spraying the back wall with fire extinguishers. "Thank goodness they were able to climb in the window and get the extinguishers."
Ruth snatched off her ruined apron and accepted her Kapp that Mam handed her. Flustered, she stuffed her loose hair up in the dirty Kapp, stabbing the pins she had left into the hastily gathered knot of red hair.
"You sure you're all right?" The beautiful stranger was beside her again. He cupped a strong hand under her chin, tilted her head up and looked boldly into her face.
Ruth bristled and brushed away his hand. The man staring at her was no angel and entirely too handsome for his own good. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with butter-yellow hair that tumbled over one eye and a dimple on his square chin. He was clean-shaven, she noticed, so he wasn't married, although he was certainly old enough.
She choked and coughed again, more flustered by his familiarity than by the smoke still lingering in her mouth and lungs.
"Eli Lapp." He offered his hand to her the way the En glish did, but she didn't take it.
Another flush of embarrassment crept across her face.
"And you must be Ruth, Hannah's daughter," he said, letting his hand drop, but still grinning.
Ruth looked to her mother, feeling a betrayal of sorts. Mam knew this Eli? How did he know Mam? How did he know Ruth?
A hint of unease flashed across her mother's face, quickly replaced with her normal calm. "Eli is Roman's sister's son. He's come from Belleville, Pennsylvania...
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Book Description Camden, 2012. Condition: Very Good. Large type edition. Ships from the UK. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Seller Inventory # GRP85922411
Book Description Camden, 2012. Condition: Good. Large type edition. Ships from the UK. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Seller Inventory # GRP102194990
Book Description Camden, 2012. Paperback. Condition: Very Good. Ex-library. Dispatched daily from the UK. Seller Inventory # mon0000062002
Book Description Camden, 2012. Condition: Good. A+ Customer service! Satisfaction Guaranteed! Book is in Used-Good condition. Pages and cover are clean and intact. Used items may not include supplementary materials such as CDs or access codes. May show signs of minor shelf wear and contain limited notes and highlighting. Seller Inventory # 1445849240-2-4