Read A Churn for the Worse Online

Authors: Laura Bradford

A Churn for the Worse

More Praise for the National Bestselling Amish Mysteries

“The best cozy mystery debut I've read this year.”

—Harlan Coben on
Hearse and Buggy

“The characters are interesting and delightful. The setting in the wonderful town of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, is just that, heavenly. Mixing Amish and ‘English' town folk is intriguing . . . I recommend this book to any reader interested in Amish novels, cozy mysteries, or who just wants to read a fabulous book.”

—Open Book Society

“Delightful . . . Well-portrayed characters and authentic Amish lore make this a memorable read.”

—
Publishers Weekly

“Bradford concocts a clever whodunit . . . Her characters possess depth.”

—
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“An engaging amateur sleuth that interweaves Amish society with an enjoyable whodunit. Claire is a terrific protagonist whose wonderful investigation enables readers to obtain insight into the Amish culture.”

—Genre Go Round Reviews

“The Amish customs and traditions are fascinating and blend nicely into the mystery, while the author's ability to provide an authentic sense of community makes this story engaging.”

—
RT Book Reviews

“Engaging characters fill this well-plotted mystery. The Amish community of Heavenly is realistically depicted and English (as the Amish call non-Amish) characters are woven into the community in believable ways.”

—The Mystery Reader

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Laura Bradford

HEARSE AND BUGGY

ASSAULTED PRETZEL

SHUNNED AND DANGEROUS

SUSPENDERED SENTENCE

A CHURN FOR THE WORSE

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

A CHURN FOR THE WORSE

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Laura Bradford.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14827-7

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / March 2016

Cover illustration by Mary Ann Lasher.

Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For Joe.
I'm honored to call you
friend.

Acknowledgments

While the stories that comprise the Amish Mysteries come to life in my imagination, there are times I turn to other people to enhance certain aspects. That was certainly the case in this book as I worked to create the featured horse. A huge thank-you goes out to reader Valeria Cannata for answering my endless (and I do mean,
endless
) questions about horses. Her help was invaluable to me and her love for her own horses was palpable in every correspondence we shared.

I'd also like to thank all of my readers for supporting this series by buying each book, spreading the word, and sending me such nice notes via my website and/or my Facebook author page. Knowing that folks love Claire and Jakob as much as I do is heartwarming.

Finally, if you enjoy my writing, I hope you'll check out my new series: Emergency Dessert Squad Mysteries. Information about it can be found on my website:
laurabradford.com.

Chapter 1

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Claire Weatherly lifted her cheek from its resting spot against Jakob Fisher's chest and smiled up at the handsome detective. “If I was thinking something, I'd tell you for free. Really, I'm just enjoying sitting here with you and looking out at
that
—” Sweeping her hand toward the lush green fields in the distance, Claire dropped her sandal-clad feet back onto the floor and brought their rhythmic motion to an end. “Every time I think I've picked my favorite season here, the next one rolls in and I change my mind all over again.”

Jakob's attention traveled across the very fields he'd once walked as a child, an odd expression momentarily claiming the peace he'd worn so easily only moments earlier. “Summer was always hard work. The second we'd harvest one crop, we'd prepare the field and plant the next. But when we got to play it was”—he cupped his hand over his mouth,
only to let it slide slowly down his clean-shaven chin and back to its original spot atop the swing's armrest—“the
best
.”

“Tell me,” she said, scooting to the opposite end of the wooden swing so she could have an uninhibited view of his face as he spoke. “Leave nothing out.”

His smile was back, along with his focus. “When I was really little—like two or three—I loved jumping in the hay. Skinned my knees a few times before I got good at gauging how much hay was needed for a soft landing.” He laughed at the memory, the warm, rich sound rivaling the effects of the setting July sun on the left side of her face. “Then, as I got a little older, summer meant walking down to Miller's Pond and spending a few hours catching frogs with Benjamin. We'd search high and low for the two biggest frogs we could find, place them on the ground, and then try to make them race one another back to the pond.”

She tried to imagine the two grown men as eight-year-olds, their pant legs rolled up to their knees, their heads covered by the same straw hats worn throughout the Amish community of Heavenly, Pennsylvania, and beyond. Any momentary success she had, though, was quickly marred by the reality of what had happened to that childhood friendship not more than three or four years later—a downward spiral that had only recently begun to show the faintest signs of a reversal. Or as much of a reversal as there could be when one's core beliefs demanded he not speak to the other.

“But the best part of summer was getting to go to the lake with Martha and, later, Isaac. Skipping stones, making paper boats, wading in to our knees . . .” He linked his hands behind his head and stretched his feet out along the wooden
boards of the front porch. “I was incredibly blessed in the sister and brother department, that's for sure.”

“Do you ever regret your decision to leave?” It was a question she'd wanted to ask many times over the eleven months she'd known the police detective, yet, until that very moment, she'd never had the courage. Still, she couldn't help but brace herself for the possibility that his answer might reveal a regret she'd have to learn to live with if their relationship continued to progress at its current rate.

His elbows moved side to side along with his head and she felt her body sag with relief in response. “No. I was meant to be a cop. I just wish I'd come to that realization before baptism. If I had, everything would be different.” His eyes returned to the fields in the distance, but Claire knew his thoughts went beyond the greenery of the crops to a mental space that held not only his sister, Martha; his niece, Esther; and Esther's husband, Eli; but also his brother, Isaac; his mother; the rest of his nieces and nephews; and, perhaps, even his father.

Closing the gap between them with one small scoot, Claire guided Jakob's hands down to his lap and gave them a gentle squeeze. “At least with Heavenly Treasures, you can see them from time to time.”

“True. Your gift shop and its connection to Martha and Esther has been a godsend in that regard. But there's something else I'm grateful about when it comes to your shop.”

She felt the twinge of excitement caused by his thumbs as they gently massaged the backs of her hands, and willed herself to remain in the conversation. “Oh?”

“It's because of your dream to own that shop that I have you in my life.”

“Knock, knock . . . Is there room for one more out here?”

Claire held Jakob's gaze long enough to acknowledge the magnitude of his words and then peeked around the back of the swing to nod at the woman standing in the front doorway of Sleep Heavenly Bed and Breakfast with a magazine in one hand and a plate of cookies in the other. “There's always room for you, Aunt Diane. Especially when you have cookies,” she teased, releasing Jakob's hands from her grasp as she did. “Come. Sit. Please.”

Jakob turned his head to follow the sixty-two-year-old's trek across the porch and over to the wicker settee on their left. “We were hoping you'd have some time to come out here and sit with us before nightfall, Diane.”

With any other man, Claire would have to doubt his words, especially when her aunt's entrance had come at such an emotionally charged moment, but Jakob was different. He meant what he said, and he, more than anyone else, knew the importance of Diane's place in Claire's life. The fact that Diane treated Jakob, as well as everyone she came in contact with inside or outside the walls of her inn, like family made his response second nature.

“I have to admit, I could have been out here thirty minutes ago, but I got lost in
this
.” Diane sank onto the floral cushion and waved the magazine in the air.

Jakob leaned across the armrest of the swing to read the title stretched across the cover photograph depicting a large brown horse and its sixty-something male owner. “
The Stable Life
?”

“It's been my favorite magazine since Claire was a little girl,” Diane said.

“It's true. That's the one magazine I couldn't cut up for
a school or camp project.” Claire directed her aunt's gaze toward the inn's nearly empty parking lot. “I was surprised to see everyone head out so soon after dinner tonight. Is there something going on somewhere?”

Slowly, Diane lowered the magazine to her lap and held out the plate of cookies for Jakob to take and share. “The writer, Jeremy, and his photographer, Hayley, headed into town for coffee and to get some material for that online thingy they do.”

“It's called a blog,” Claire interjected. “Theirs is apparently centered on travel or something like that. And Hank—the small-business guru? Where is he this evening?”

Jakob set the cookie plate on his lap and waited for Claire to pick one first. “Small-business guru?”

“That's just my terminology,” Claire said, before taking a bite of the still-warm chocolate chip treat. “Mmmm . . .”

“Mr. Turner is actually a teacher at a small community college in Wisconsin, I believe.” Diane waved away Jakob's offer of a cookie and continued on, her knowledge of her guests and their backgrounds, no matter their length of stay, impressive. “He's here doing research about the many cottage businesses that put food on the table in Amish homes. He's hoping to use what he learns as a motivator for his students when classes resume in the fall.”

“If he's from Wisconsin, why did he travel all the way to Lancaster to do his research?” Jakob asked. “There are Amish communities in his own state.”

Diane settled all the way back against her chair and lifted her chin to the evening breeze. “He wanted to come here—to the first substantial Amish settlement.”

“Okay. That makes sense, I guess,” Jakob said, nodding.

“He's an interesting man. Really seems to care about his students.” Diane gestured up to the second floor. “In fact, I believe he's upstairs in his room right now, plugging his day's notes into his computer.”

Jakob finished his first cookie and moved on to a second, his appreciation for Diane's baking skills earning him a smile from the woman in the process. “Sounds like an interesting crew. How long are they here?”

“The blog duo arrived today while I was at the gift shop, and Hank—Turner—checked in yesterday.” At Diane's nod, Claire stood and wandered over to the railing, the sun's descent in the western sky beginning to pick up pace. “But there's more. A full house, in fact, isn't there, Aunt Diane?”

“That's right. Bill Brockman is a travel agent from Kentucky who is thinking about sponsoring a trip to Heavenly next spring. He's here to decide if he should go ahead with it, which is why he's out and about right now. He wants to see what the town is like at various times throughout the day.” Diane looked down at her magazine and then back up, first at Claire, and then at Jakob. “And then there's Jim Naber, the consultant hired by the town to determine if there are any other ways to attract tourism dollars to Heavenly. He missed out on dinner on account of an invitation to the mayor's home.”

Jakob joined Claire by the railing and draped his arm around her shoulders. “I wish they'd quit with all of that. We have just the right amount of tourists. Any more, and Heavenly is going to lose that special something that makes people want to come here in the first place.”

It was a fear Claire knew they all shared. Heavenly was
the perfect blend of the past and the present, thanks to its Amish residents on the western side and their English counterparts on the eastern side. In between, along Lighted Way, the two lifestyles mingled, complementing and benefitting each another in ways that went well beyond the financial aspects of the Amish- and English-owned shops and cafés that lined the thoroughfare.

“All we can do is say a prayer that Heavenly remains as it should,” Diane said. “So people like Judy Little, the last of our current guests, who is now off on a long walk, will see fit to come back a
third
and a
fourth
and a
fifth
time.”

The approaching
clip-clop
of a horse's hooves made them turn, as one, toward the driveway. Sure enough, a gray-topped buggy, common to Lancaster County Amish, turned into the parking lot and stopped in front of the hitching pole Diane had insisted her inn have, despite the rarity of an Amish guest.

“Are you expecting someone?” Claire asked of her aunt while simultaneously leaning over the railing in the hope of gaining a glimpse of the driver.

“No. But—”

“Wait!” Claire straightened up and made a beeline for the steps. “That's
Annie
! Driving a buggy by
herself
!”

At the base of the steps, Claire turned right and headed across the top of the driveway and into the parking lot. When she reached the side of the buggy, she smiled up at the kapp-wearing sixteen-year-old inside. “Annie Hershberger, what is this?”

“Dat said I could hitch my new horse to his buggy and come say hello.”

“Hello.” Claire took a step back to allow the girl enough
room to exit the buggy and then followed her to the hitching post. “I didn't know you were driving a buggy already.”

“That's because I wanted to surprise you.” Annie secured the horse and buggy to the pole and then turned to the sturdy brown horse, her voice adopting a slight singsong quality as she opened her palm to reveal a round, red-and-white-striped candy. “Yah. This is for you, Katie. For doing such a good job.”

Claire looked from Annie to the horse and back again, the joy in her employee's face impossible to miss. “This is your horse?”

“Yah. Her name is Katie. Dat took me to pick her out on Saturday. She is gentle and sweet, and she likes peppermint candy just like me.”

In a rush of motion just over Claire's left shoulder, Diane stepped forward and ran her hand along the side of Annie's horse. “Oh, Annie, she is beautiful.”

Annie rocked back on the soles of the black lace-up boots barely visible beneath her simple aproned dress and beamed. “Yah. There were many horses to choose from that day, but I knew at once that Katie was for me. It was that way for Henry, too.”

“Henry?” Claire felt Jakob's presence behind her and reached for his hand, pulling him into the circle made by Annie, Diane, Katie, and Claire.

“Yah. Henry Stutzman. He took Mary home after the sale. Mary is a bit bigger and is more black than brown, but she is a good horse, too.”

“Does it make you nervous to go off with Katie and the buggy by yourself?” Claire asked.

“Nah. I have been practicing for some time.”

Jakob relinquished Claire's hand in favor of the horse. After saying something into the animal's ear in Pennsylvania Dutch, he turned back to Claire with an explanation for Annie's apparent confidence. “Very often, Amish children are given a miniature horse when they are eleven or twelve. The horse is hooked up to a pony cart for the child to practice with. Younger siblings get a kick out of it because it means lots of rides around the farm.”

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