The moment Levi Troyer caught sight of his family’s farm he knew something was wrong. The yard, which had been filled with activity less than two hours ago, was now empty, and it looked as though it had been abandoned in a hurry.
Even though it was not his mother’s routine to wash clothes on a Thursday, she had wanted to take advantage of the sunny spring weather. When he left this morning, she had been pouring gasoline into the small engine that powered their wringer washing machine. He was concerned to see that the long wire line was empty, even though it should be heavy with wet laundry by now.
During his entire twenty-five years, he had never known his mother to leave her laundry unfinished. In fact, she prided herself upon having it on the line by eight o’clock in the morning at the very latest. Now it was almost nine.
He clucked his tongue and with his heels nudged his horse into a faster trot, but as he drew closer, he saw that not only was the drying line empty, but dirty clothes still lay in piles on the back porch where Sarah, his four-year-old sister, had been helping their mother sort as he had trotted past them this morning on his way to deliver a special-made basket to a customer.
A bucket of water lay overturned upon the porch, the water within it spilled, staining the porous wood. No voices called to him from the house. No slamming screen doors broke the quiet of the lovely spring day.
He glanced up at the clear blue Ohio sky, checking for a threat of rain. Not a cloud in sight. Maam had not canceled her plans because of the weather.
“Guta Myah!” he yelled.
No voices greeted him.
“Good morning! Is anyone home?”
The only answer was the caw of a crow rising from a corner of the cornfield. There was not even the scritch-scratching of his stepfather’s handsaw coming from the workshop to cut the oppressive silence. Always before, whenever Levi came home from the nearby village of Mt. Hope, his two little brothers and sister would be watching for him. They would come running, excited over the small treats they knew he would have tucked away in his pockets.
Of course, there was always the possibility that his stepfather could have cut himself in the woodshop. His mother might have slipped and hurt herself carrying the heavy buckets of water from the well for her laundry. Or one of the children might have been hurt by the new vile-tempered rooster who had a zeal for flying at whoever came near the hens. If that were the case, he would make certain the rooster ended up in his mother’s stew pot before nightfall! There were so many potential accidents waiting to happen on a working farm. Sometimes he felt as if he spent most of his waking hours watching out for his family, trying to keep them safe.
He dismounted, flipped the reins of the horse over the side porch railing, and strode through the back door, hoping to find his mother in the kitchen busy cooking dinner—ready with an easy explanation to dispel this feeling of dread that had come over him.
The kitchen, too, was empty. The only sound greeting him was the tick-tock of the old regulator clock. There was no music of his mother’s singing or his stepfather calling out to her for some small thing. No teasing. No laughter. Absolute silence except for the clock and the creaking of his own work boots as he walked across the wooden floor.
He hurried into the front room, the feeling of sick dread thickening with every step. Everything looked exactly the same as when he left this morning—except for the pile of old clothes in the corner. For a moment, he thought it was nothing more than misplaced laundry. Then his brain processed the fact that it was his stepfather’s crumpled body.
He crossed the front room in three long strides and knelt at Daed’s side. There was no pulse in his wrist or his neck. Abraham Shetler’s life had drained out into a pool of blood, saturating the rag rug that Maam had painstakingly made one winter.
Levi’s own pulse hammered in his ears as he took the stairs two at a time to the bedrooms.
He found his mother lying on her right side in the hall, directly outside the doorway of her bedroom. One arm was outstretched and her eyes were closed. Her choring kerchief had come undone and her blond hair spilled out. Blood saturated the front of her dark green dress. She was curled up as much as her pregnancy allowed. Somehow she had managed to ball up her work apron and press it against her right side before losing consciousness.
He fell to his knees and placed his fingers against her neck. Unlike his stepfather, she still lived. He pulled the stained apron away and saw a bullet wound in her right side, almost grazing her rounded belly. To his eyes, the bullet wound seemed much too small to have caused so much blood.
She was only a few weeks away from giving birth. His mind recoiled from the possibilities of what the bullet might have done to the unborn babe. What kind of person shot a woman heavy with child?
“The children”—his mother opened her eyes at his touch—“are hiding in barn.” She began to cry softly. “Thank Gott you are here!”
His gentle mother was a noted healer in their tight-knit society—a woman who had absorbed as much knowledge as possible with the eighth-grade education their faith allowed. He had often helped her tend her medicinal herb garden while she patiently taught him the healing properties of each plant.
One thing he knew—no plant or herb could treat a bullet wound. He had to get her to the hospital as fast as possible. She needed an ambulance. Now.
Resentment flared within him over the fact that, unlike the Old Order Amish, his Swartzentruber Amish church did not allow them to keep a phone of any kind—not even a telephone shanty at the end of their driveway for emergencies.
He had no way to call for help.
His mind went into overdrive, evaluating his options. By the time he could harness and hitch the driving horse to the buggy, then carry his wounded mother out, load up the children, and drive the ten miles per hour the horses could sustain all the way to Pomerene Hospital—nine miles away in Millersburg—it would be too late. Suddenly her belly tightened, her body convulsed, and she cried out—much as she had cried out when his little brothers and sister had been born here in this house.
She could not be in labor. Not now. It was too early.
“Hold on, Maam.” He pressed her work apron tightly against the bullet wound and raced back down the stairs. He plunged through the door, leaped upon his startled horse, and galloped to the barn.
“Are you all right?” Levi called up to the hayloft as he paused at the giant doors of the barn.
“Jah,” he heard a small voice responding.
“Stay where you are. I am going for help.” He wheeled his horse around.
“But, Levi . . .” Albert’s frightened face appeared above him. “Can we come down now?”
“Do not step foot out of this hayloft until I return. Verschtehsht du?” He looked Albert straight in the eyes. “Do you understand?”
The little boy nodded.
Thanking God for the obedience his good mother had instilled in her little ones—they would stay put until he returned for them—he urged his horse into its fastest canter as he shot out onto the road, racing for his mother’s life, eating up the distance that separated him from their closest neighbor, and thanking God for their Englisch neighbor who had no prejudice against telephones.
He also thanked God for the brokers who brought their less-than-perfect racehorses from Kentucky up to Ohio to the Amish auctions. He had purchased Devil Dancer only a month before—in spite of Daed’s insistence that the name was a bad omen. Levi did not believe in omens. He believed in strong, well-muscled lines and the gentle willingness he saw in the lovely mare’s eyes. After one week, delighted with his purchase, he had changed her name to Angel Dancer.
He rarely let her run flat-out. She was too valuable an animal to risk a broken leg on the uneven ground of their fields. There was no telling when a hoof might accidentally bury itself in a gopher hole or trip over a rock. Now, on the graveled back road, with the reins slack enough to allow her all the headway she needed, it seemed as though she sensed the urgency of his mission and wanted to live up to her new name. She seemed to grow wings as she raced toward their neighbor’s home—running like the champion she had been bred to be. It felt as though her hooves barely touched the ground as they flew toward help for his mother.
“Good girl!” he whispered.
As his horse skittered to a stop in front of the neighbor’s house, he prayed that someone would be home. Anyone. If not, he would access their telephone by himself—even if it meant kicking in a door or breaking a window to do so. He could repair the window or door. He could not repair his mother. Even the Amish knew the magic of the numbers 911.
“Hello! Is anyone home?” He leaped off his horse and ran up the porch steps.
To his relief, a young woman flung open the door. She was dressed in white shorts and a red tank top and her dark blond hair was cut as short as a boy’s.
“What’s wrong?” She put a hand up to her eyes to block out the bright morning sun.
“I am Levi Troyer. We live over there.” He pointed to his home. “My mother has been shot. She needs help.”
He hoped that this woman was Grace—the Englisch granddaughter his mother had met while visiting Elizabeth Connor a few days earlier. When Maam heard that their neighbor had finally come home after her heart surgery, she had taken the lady some freshly dug sassafras root, all washed and ready to be made into medicinal tea.
When she returned from her visit, Maam told them that Elizabeth was being well cared for by her oldest granddaughter, a nurse just back from the strange land of Afghanistan. The two of them had a wonderful good time, she said, talking about the healing of sick people.
Levi’s stepfather, like most Swartzentruber men, was wary of unnecessary contact with the Englisch and had warned her not to spend too much time with this granddaughter of Elizabeth’s. Daed had reminded her that they were to keep themselves apart from the world.
The woman—this Grace Connor—did not hesitate now or pepper him with questions. She jerked a slim cell phone from her pocket and punched in numbers.
“Claire Shetler has been shot at her farm, two miles west of Mt. Hope. We need an ambulance here immediately!” Grace gave her name and the location of the Shetler house, then shoved her phone back into her pocket and without another word disappeared into the house.
Levi saw Elizabeth Connor making her way slowly onto the porch, steadying herself with a walker. She was wearing a cheerful pink sweatsuit, but she was pale and shaky, hardly recognizable as the hearty, active woman he had seen working in her garden with a rototiller less than a month ago. He had waved and called out a greeting. She had laughed and challenged him to a contest to see who could produce the first tomato of the season.
“What’s going on, Levi?” Elizabeth said. “Is Claire okay?”
“Someone shot her and she is going into labor.”
“Oh, my goodness!” Elizabeth’s hand flew to her mouth.
Grace emerged with a large black leather bag slung over one shoulder. In her hand she clutched keys. “Go inside, Grandma, and lock the door. Call Becky at school and tell her to come home until I get back.”
“I’ll be fine,” Elizabeth said. “You concentrate on helping that poor woman.” She made a shooing motion with her hand. “Go!”
The granddaughter jumped into a small red car. “Do you want to ride with me?” she asked.
“No. I will be right behind you.”
She spun gravel as she took off toward Levi’s home.
There had been few times in his life when Levi had been as grateful to another human being as he was at this moment. He had hoped only for the use of a telephone and a quick response from the ambulance people. Having a trained nurse already speeding toward his mother was a gift from God.
His strong horse was fast, but the car was faster. As he urged Angel Dancer on, his broad-brimmed straw hat blew off and landed somewhere in the field beside him. He barely noticed. A summer hat was nothing. It could be replaced with a few dollars and a quick visit to the home of the Swartzentruber woman down the road who wove them. The value of his mother’s life was incalculable.
Sometimes the Englisch could try his patience—like when loud rock music tumbled out of their open car windows and frightened his horse, or when they insisted on taking pictures of a people who hated being photographed. Not now, though. He was grateful that Elizabeth’s granddaughter with the too-short hair and the immodest clothing lived so close.
He rounded the curve and saw Grace’s car slide to a stop directly in front of the porch, crushing a portion of the mint garden his mother raised each year for tea. As she mounted the porch steps, he flung himself off Angel Dancer and ran into the house behind her.
Grace was already bent over his stepfather, checking for a pulse. She glanced up at him, her expression grim. “He’s gone.”
“Where’s your mom?”
“Up there.” He nodded toward the stairwell. Grace ran for the stairs and bolted them in front of him, taking them two at a time, as he had done earlier. He had never seen a woman do that before. Of course, she was not wearing long skirts. Even under the circumstances, he was a little embarrassed by her shorts and skimpy top.
All thoughts about the woman’s clothing were erased by the sight of his mother, still crumpled on the hallway floor. Her breathing was shallower than when he had left, and the labor pains that wracked her body seemed to have grown weaker. She appeared barely conscious.
“Claire, what have they done to you?” Grace knelt and placed two fingers against the side of his mother’s throat. She scanned Maam’s body with narrowed eyes. “How far along is she?” Grace grabbed latex gloves out of her black bag and snapped them on.
“Not yet eight months.”
Grace gently rolled his mother onto her side. “There is an exit wound. Good. It looks like the bullet passed straight through the fleshy part above her hip. If the shooter was trying to kill her, he was a bad shot. I don’t think the uterus was compromised, but there’s too much blood on the floor to be coming from this one wound.”
She pulled Claire’s skirt above her knees and made a clucking noise in the back of her throat as she found and inspected a second wound high on her right leg. “I’m afraid this bullet must have hit the bone. It’s still in there.” She grabbed a length of rubber tubing from her black bag and wrapped it around his mother’s upper thigh, pulling it tight, creating a tourniquet.
His mother would be mortified if she knew he had seen her like this, and yet modesty mattered little when the life of someone so precious hung in the balance.
Levi had never felt so helpless or as useless. Give him a saw and a hammer, and he could create a fine table or build a sturdy house. Give him a young black ash tree from the north side of the hill, and he could turn it into work baskets that would last for generations. Give him a hoe and a plow, and he could feed a family. But standing here over his wounded mother was so alien to him that he was practically paralyzed by the enormity of it.
“What can I do?”
Grace’s green eyes flashed as she twisted the tourniquet tighter. “Pray!”
Instead of praying, he slammed his fist against the wall, welcoming the pain. From afar off he heard the ambulance siren as he silently cursed the Englisch person who had brought this terrible evil to his family.
An Uncommon Grace
Grace Connor, a military nurse formerly stationed in Afghanistan, hopes that moving to a farm in rural Ohio will help her recover from the ravages of war.
Levi Troyer finds his pacifist beliefs challenged when he discovers his stepfather has been killed and his mother wounded by an unknown intruder. Levi and Grace are thrown together when she comes to his family’s rescue and saves his mother’s life. A deep attraction develops—even though a relationship between them is strictly forbidden.
Levi belongs to the most conservative and isolated of all Amish sects—the Swartzentruber Amish. Even before meeting Grace, Levi had begun to question some of their teachings. He has considered leaving, but knows he will be banned forever from contact with his younger siblings and widowed mother—who need him to survive. He is torn between his love for Grace and his responsibility to his family.
Grace considers leaving her beloved farm and reenlisting rather than continuing to live near the man she loves but cannot have. Levi must confront the Bann if he pursues Grace. And a murderer must be caught. When lifelong allegiances are tested, can love and justice prevail?