Authors: Serena B. Miller
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Christian, #Romance, #Amish & Mennonite
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To Derek Miller.
Thank you, Son, for the sacrifices you’ve made in serving our country, and for your continual insight, love, and encouragement.
Special thanks to my friend Pat, who shared the story of her mother-in-law demanding to be let inside the WWII German work camp so she could care for her son. My thanks to Mark Risner, a dairy farmer, for his tutorial on breeds and behavior of bulls. Thanks also to his young son, Matthew Risner, who personally demonstrated the behavior of a crazed bull. Thanks to Paul Stutzman, fellow writer and Mennonite, who helped explain the belief system of his church. Any mistakes made are all mine. To all my Amish friends in Holmes County—I can never thank you enough for all your patience, love, and trust. Endless thanks to Beth Adams, for her great editing skills, and Sandra Bishop, for her wisdom and strength as she steers her authors through the stormy waters of an ever-changing publishing world.
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart saying, “There was in a certain city a judge . . . and there was a widow in that city and she kept coming to him.”
—LUKE 18:1–3 (NAS)
ope Schrock had never met a bull she liked. This three-year-old Jersey eyeing her husband was no exception.
“Is he not a beauty?” Titus stood on the bottom rung of their board fence and admired the sleek, fawn-colored animal that the
dairy farmer had delivered in his livestock truck. “He’ll make many strong calves. Dairy farmers from all over the county will be lining up to pay me for his stud services. His granddam sold for eighty-five thousand dollars at public auction.”
“Very impressive.” Hope wished Titus had chosen a different way to add to their income. “How much did he cost?”
Titus ignored her question. “His granddam was judged All-American Grand Champion. Owning this bull assures us of a prosperous future.”
The animal snorted, pawed the earth, and stared at Titus.
“I think he wants to eat you first.” Hope gripped the hands of five-year-old Carrie and four-year-old Adam to keep them far away from the fence. “How much did he cost?”
Titus laughed and jumped backward off the fence. He was as agile as a young buck. Then he picked up Carrie, grabbed Hope about the waist, and whirled her around in a forbidden
dance, giving her a quick kiss before he released her. Little Adam looked on, grinning at his father’s foolish behavior. Titus could act quite
“This bull will help us buy a real farm instead of these two acres we’re renting. We will build a wonderful herd of cows. In a few years we’ll have one of the most prosperous dairy farms in Holmes County.”
“Lord willing,” Hope amended.
“True,” Titus said. “Lord willing.”
She adjusted her prayer
, which had gone awry from Titus whirling her around. He had always been more openly affectionate than most Old Order Amish and she was not sure what to do about it. She enjoyed being loved by her husband, but his delight in her was sometimes embarrassing.
Now, however, they were in their backyard, a private place, assuming their
neighbor, Mr. Lemon, wasn’t looking out his window. The man did seem to spend an inordinate amount of time watching their comings and goings. She supposed it was because they were his first Amish neighbors. People did seem to stare.
Or Mr. Lemon might simply be lonely. They’d only just recently rented this place and hadn’t gotten settled in with neighbors yet. It had belonged to an
couple who had gotten too old to be left on their own. Their son, who lived in Cleveland, was renting it to them. He’d already sold off all the land except for the two acres that included the house and the small barn.
She and Titus had disconnected the electricity and brought in a generator. All this was apparently fascinating to Mr. Lemon, who watched from his back porch—much like her people bird-watched.
“Be careful!” She glanced over her shoulder, worried. “Mr. Lemon might be watching.”
Titus smiled and laid a hand on her barely swelling stomach.
“With another babe on the way, Mr. Lemon might guess that your husband finds you irresistible.” He nuzzled Carrie’s creamy neck with his beard, making the little girl giggle.
“I am a blessed man,” he said. “It is no small thing to have a fine wife, two healthy children, another on the way, and a strong new bull in my pasture.”
Hope once again glanced at the animal. It had been shorn of its horns, but its massive neck and shoulders rippled with power. It was large for a Jersey. She guessed it to be nearing eighteen hundred pounds. Only a board fence separated them from all that simmering power.
“I do not like the looks of that animal,” she said. “He has a wildness in his eyes that worries me.”
“All bulls have wildness in their eyes,” he scoffed. “You can’t expect a bull to have eyes like a kitten.”
“I suppose not.” She hesitated, then asked, “How much did it cost?”
Yet again, her husband ignored her question. Whatever it had cost, she wished he had not purchased it. The feeling she got from the bull was malevolent in the extreme. She could almost feel its black thoughts focusing on Titus, and that frightened her. It was clear to her that the animal hated him.
“He’s turning his side to you,” she warned.
“And what does that matter?”
“My father taught me that bulls do that right before they attack.”
“To let you admire how big and powerful they are.”
“Oh, Hope.” He laughed. “I respect your father’s knowledge of livestock, but how could he possibly know—”
The bull charged.
Titus turned pale, and stood rooted to the spot with Carrie
in his arms. Hope screamed as the bull hit the top board with its massive head and bounced back, then shook the pain away and charged again.
“Oak.” Titus was visibly shaken. “Good, solid oak. It’ll hold.”
“Hold or not”—Hope grabbed Carrie out of his arms and strode toward the house, pulling Adam behind her—“I want you to call the man you bought him from and sell him back.”
“He won’t let me sell him back,” Titus called. “He gave me too good of a deal.”
“How good of a deal? What did you pay for that animal, Titus?” Once she’d deposited the children inside the house, she came back onto the porch and stood her ground. She was not going to stop asking until he told her.
Titus’s eyes did not quite meet hers. “Ten thousand dollars.”
The amount took her breath away. It was every dime they had to their name! It had taken her six frugal years to save that much.
“Then sell at a loss.” Hope’s teeth were practically chattering from fear. Jersey cows were known for their gentleness, but Jersey bulls could be crazy mean, and this one was off the charts. She would never have agreed to the purchase if Titus had told her what he was intending.
“Please, Titus. Get rid of that animal. I’m begging you.”
“He’ll settle down. Eventually. You’ll see.”
“Titus . . .”
try to sell him back to the man I bargained with. I looked that animal over good before I bought him. For me to say that I want to change my mind because my wife told me to . . . well, I’d be a laughingstock.”
“Better a laughingstock than injured or killed.”
“Silence!” His voice grew stern. “I do not want to hear another word.”
Titus was an easygoing, loving man, but he
a man and the head of their home. Therefore the final decision about the bull was his. He’d heard her protests, and chose to ignore them. There would be no more protests allowed. She swallowed her fear and her anger and went inside.
It was time to be
an obedient wife, no matter how loudly her mind screamed that Titus had made a terrible mistake.
It was so frustrating. For as long as she could remember, she had enjoyed outdoor farmwork more than the domestic chores inside. Oh, she was competent enough in housework, sewing, and cooking. Her mother, Rose, had seen to it,
but it was the running of a farm that fascinated her. It always had.
There was an age gap between her, the eldest, and her two younger brothers and two sisters. Because of that, she’d gotten to spend more time than most with her father as he worked his land and cared for their animals. He had often commented about what a wonderful farmer she would make . . . if she were a man.
If she were a man, Titus would have listened to her. Because she was a woman, her kind and loving husband frequently dismissed her advice. It was not fair, but she had learned to accept it. Like so much that her people did and believed, it simply was the way things were and always would be.
It was difficult to do her housework, though, knowing that Titus was outside going about his chores with that animal watching him. She kept glancing out the window, nervous as a cat, checking, wishing Titus would come inside where it was safe.
The window over the sink overlooked the farmyard. From there she could see the barn, the pasture, the chicken coop, and even the lean-to in which they kept the family buggy.
She could also see the bull, and he was still upset. At the moment, he was on his front knees pounding his head into the ground in anger. She’d seen other bulls do that and it always
frightened her. One local farmer had been crippled when he tried to run away from a charging bull. He tripped, fell, and was nearly pounded to death.
She gave Carrie and Adam their Saturday-night baths, tucked them into bed, and had just set the supper dishes in the sink when she saw Titus entering the small pasture with a rope in his hand. She did not know why he felt the need to go in there, especially while the bull was still riled up, but she knew it was a mistake. A fatal mistake.
From her kitchen window, she screamed a useless warning as that thundering, flesh-and-blood locomotive tore across their small pasture, straight at Titus.
She went running out the back door just as it knocked him over and began to pummel him with its massive head. Titus was not a large man. He looked like a rag doll to her as she leaped off the porch. Then she heard a gunshot.
Mr. Lemon shot the bull again and again, trying to keep it from further savaging her husband’s crumpled body.
• • •
“Cardboard characters. Predictable plot. Drivel disguised as dialogue. I expected better from a Nate Scott novel.”
Logan Parker, aka “Nate Scott,” gulped down his shock and dropped the
New York Times
onto the floor. The review felt like a sucker punch. He had gotten a handful of bad reviews in the past, but like most authors, he had trained himself to ignore them. The enjoyment of books was a subjective thing. People had different tastes. What one enjoyed, another person might hate.
Ignoring reviews was part of his job. If his self-esteem rose and fell on the basis of a good or bad review, he would never have been able to write the past twenty-three novels, nine of which had risen to
New York Times
This last one had netted him an advance that was more than some people made in a lifetime. “Nate Scott” was a name publishers were willing to bet big money on, so why did this one review hit him so hard?
Perhaps it was because this particular reviewer was a friend and someone whose opinion he respected. More likely, it was because it verified what he already suspected. The characters of his latest novel
cardboard. The plot
predictable. The dialogue