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Authors: Rebecca Kertz

Noah's Sweetheart (19 page)

BOOK: Noah's Sweetheart
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There was a large boulder half-submerged in the dirt; it made a good perch on which to sit and reflect as one listened to the gurgling stream.

Noah smiled as he gestured for her to sit. Rachel sat and he settled on the rock beside her.

She could smell his clean scent, hear the subtle inhale and exhale of his breath. His nearness made her heart sing.

They sat for a time in silence, disturbed only occasionally as a thought came to one or the other.

“Where does the stream go?” she asked.

Rachel had the strongest urge to take off her shoes and wade into the cool depths of the stream.

Noah bent and removed his shoes. Rachel didn’t wait but a heartbeat before she untied her own shoelaces and rolled down her black stockings. In unison and without words, they reached out to clasp hands as they stepped into the stream and felt the cool water swirl about their bare ankles and the mud beneath their toes and the soles of their feet.

“Be careful of the rocks,” Noah warned just as Rachel moved a step and felt a hard edge beneath the water. She gasped and started to tumble, but Noah grabbed her closer, steadying her. The feel of Noah’s chest pressed close stole Rachel’s breath and made her face heat.

He released her quickly but that one quick moment stayed in her memory, leaving an imprint.

“Are ya hurt?” he asked as he helped her out of the water.

she said breathlessly. “I was startled, that’s all.” She managed a smile of thanks. “It would have been a long ride home if I’d gotten soaked to the skin.”

Darkness had descended quickly. Rachel could barely see enough to put on her stockings. After he put on his shoes, Noah went to the buggy and pulled a flashlight out from under the seat, and switched it on so that Rachel could see. She put on her shoes, and with Noah’s help, she scrambled to her feet.

“I’ll take ya home,” he said.

She nodded. “I enjoyed the outing.”

“Ya did?” He walked to her side of the buggy and held out his hand.

She placed her hand in his.

Clasping her fingers, he helped her step up into the buggy. “You’ll meet with me again?”

Rachel made herself comfortable as she took her seat. “I’ll come again.”

Noah was pleased as he circled the buggy to grab hold of Janey’s lead, turning her back in the right direction, before he stopped to hop up onto the driver’s side. It had been a wonderful night with the girl he was sure was God’s choice for him. He just had to be patient and convince her that he would be the best husband for her.

A light breeze stirred the air, making the ride back pleasant. They were silent for a time until Rachel exclaimed with wonder, “Look, lightning bugs!”

She’d always loved them as a child and the sight of them still gave her enjoyment. There were tiny flashes of light in the wooded area not far from the lane. They looked a lot like the Christmas lights that the English had in their homes and businesses.

“They are nice to see,” Noah agreed, and then the
hoo hoo ho-oot
of an owl once, and then again, drew his attention toward a treetop. He searched for the bird but couldn’t see it. Still, he knew the call. “Great horned owl.”

Rachel cocked her head to listen. The sound came again and she smiled. “Do you have any barn owls? We have them on the farm in Millersburg.”

“We did. Haven’t seen or heard from any in a long time.”

The mare’s hooves made a muffled clip-clop in the dirt. Rachel enjoyed the sound and Noah’s company. Tomorrow school would start, and she would be busy with her students.

The wagon jerked. Old Janey whinnied and snorted as she balked at continuing.

“Walk on! Walk on!” Noah commanded, but he could sense that something was wrong. He aimed the flashlight along the woods line and caught the glint of two eyes and the outline of an animal.

Rachel froze with fear.
she screamed.

Chapter Fifteen

oyote! Hold on, Rachel!” he said just as the coyote broke from the trees to run toward the buggy.

Rachel stifled a gasp of fright as old Janey went wild and half reared in the traces. Rachel held on tightly as Noah fought to control the plunging mare. The coyote stopped in the middle of the lane in front of them, stared at them a moment, then dashed away into the fields.

“Gently! Gently! Easy now, Janey,” Noah crooned. “You all right, Rachel?”

“Holding on!” She was familiar with coyotes; they’d been a problem in Ohio, especially on a neighbor’s farm. The sight of one filled her with terror, but that fear was nothing compared to the deep-seated panic that the buggy would overturn and she would be trapped in the tangle of wood and spinning wheels.

Easy, girl. Easy.” Noah held on to the leathers, soothing the horse with his voice. When Janey settled a bit, he jumped down from the wagon and moved carefully toward the animal’s head, where he continued to speak softly to ease her fear.

Janey trembled and danced nervously, ears twitching and eyes rolling back to show the whites. Rachel clutched the edge of the wagon seat.

girl,” Noah was telling the horse.

Slowly, Rachel’s tension eased. “Is she all right?” Rachel asked. “And what about the coyote?”

Janey is fine. She could sense the coyote before we saw it. Don’t worry. The animal is long gone. I’ll tell my
and brothers to keep an eye out for it, but I doubt we’ll see it again. I think we frightened it as much as it scared Janey.”

“May I have the flashlight?” Rachel asked as she climbed down from the wagon.

Noah handed it to her. She shined the light on the woods and across the field. There was no sign of an animal…neither a movement in the brush nor a glint of two strange eyes.

“We have coyotes in Ohio,” she told him. “They ate a neighbor’s chickens and then they went after his black Lab. The dog was killed.”

Noah studied her face in the lamplight and saw how upset she was. It hadn’t helped that the buggy had almost overturned. It must have reminded her of her first day in Lancaster County.

“I think he is long gone, Rachel,” he said softly.

She shuddered. “I hope you’re right.”

Janey trembled and balked, still shaken by the coyote encounter. “We’d best walk her back,” Noah said. “Can you make it?”

“It’s not far. I’ll be fine,” Rachel said. She wasn’t in a hurry to get back into a buggy being pulled by a spooked horse.

Noah held on to the bridle and with Rachel beside him started to walk back toward the schoolyard. “Rachel…you all right?”

I am fine.”

Noah paused to examine her features. What he saw reassured him. “Let’s get you home, then.” He rubbed the horse’s neck. “You too, Janey.”

The air was still; the song of insects filled the night. The darkness around them lit up here and there with the flash of fireflies. Rachel heard Noah’s muffled footsteps mingled with the sound of hers and the dull rhythmic thuds of the mare’s hooves on the dirt road. She chanced a look at Noah and saw the outline of his features in the outer glow of the flashlight he held. His brown eyes glistened in the light, his expression looked serious. Rachel had the strongest urge to grab his hand and hold on tightly, but she kept her head and continued to walk silently beside him.

After a fifteen-minute walk down the dirt road, Noah caught a glimpse of the teacher’s cottage ahead. As they approached, he noted with a soft inner smile the flowers planted on each side of the front door. He had seen Rachel and her cousins digging in the dirt not long ago. They had done a nice job of arranging the petunias, marigolds and vinca plants.

“Home,” Noah announced as they reached the cottage. “I’m sorry you had to walk back.”

Rachel met his gaze. “I’m not.” She appeared to hesitate, as if wanting to say something more, but was unable to find the right words. “I enjoyed the buggy ride.”

“And the walk?”

She beamed at him. “
The walk was the best part.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow?”

starts tomorrow,” Rachel told him.

He’d known about school, but he’d hoped she wouldn’t use it as an excuse not to meet with him. “
but it will end by three o’clock or so.” Noah reached out, captured her hand. “You will think about what I said?”


“It’s all right, Rachel.” He reached over to open the door. He peeked inside to make sure all was well. “
night,” he said softly. He wouldn’t push her, but he wondered if he’d kept his heart from showing in his eyes. “I will see you soon.”

He saw her swallow.


His smile was crooked. “Have a good first day of

Rachel watched as Noah walked Janey and the buggy onto the road and continued to stand at the door until Noah disappeared from sight.

* * *

Early the next morning, Rachel stood at the door to the one-room Amish schoolhouse and smiled at her new students as they filtered inside. She nodded at each child who passed her, mentioning those she knew by name.

“John. Jacob. Mary Elizabeth.” She smiled at several other children whose names she had yet to learn.

Within minutes, every child had taken a seat, and Rachel stood in the front of the classroom and introduced herself, speaking in the Amish German dialect.

The older children already received most of their education in English. This school year would be the first time for the youngest children to begin their English lessons, but time and their quick minds would soon have them chattering away like the others.

The day went well. The children seemed eager to be back in the classroom, except for one or two boys whose attention drifted until Rachel called it back.

At lunch break, the children opened their packed lunches and ate at their desks before going outside to play. As they did during class, the older students helped the younger new students get adjusted. They showed them the swings in the schoolyard. While the younger children played on the swings, the older boys played catch with a baseball. Soon it was time for the afternoon lesson to commence. The littlest of her students practiced writing As and Bs while the older ones read from a reader designed to teach them about community life.

Rachel dismissed the class just after two-thirty in the afternoon. “I will see you tomorrow morning,” she said with a smile. She had given them little homework on their first day of class. The children had enough to do to help out at home; they didn’t need to be overworked by school.

After her students left, Rachel straightened the classroom before she exited the school and locked the door. She turned to head home and then gasped. Noah Lapp stood about three yards away, as if waiting for her.

“How was your first day as our Happiness teacher?” he asked conversationally, but she thought she detected a hint of anxiety beneath his pleasant demeanor.

“We had a
day. The children were happy to be back in class.” She paused. “Most of them were. My cousin John is still unconvinced he needs to come to school.” Rachel studied him a moment as he accompanied her toward the cottage, sensing something odd in his mood. “Is something wrong?”

Noah attempted to smile.
He halted near her front steps and waited for her to unlock the door. “Rachel—”

She faced him.
Today, he wore a short-sleeved maroon shirt with his triblend denim pants. It looked as if he had combed his hair recently before putting on his wide-brimmed straw hat.

He held her glance and then looked away toward the road, almost as if in a daze. After several seconds of silence, he finally said, “You had a nice time last night,

She nodded. “I did.”

“I’m sorry if you were frightened.” He seemed distressed about the coyote sighting and the unplanned walk back.

Rachel caught and held his gaze, her smile soft. “Noah, I would have been more frightened if you hadn’t been there taking control.”

He seemed pleased by her response. “The coyote—”

Rachel felt herself tense up. “
I didn’t like that part, but we had a nice time at the stream and before…and I didn’t mind the walk. Really.” She waited a heartbeat and then asked, “Did you find him?” She straightened her white
pretending to be indifferent, that the idea of the coyote in the area didn’t bother her.

“Ya don’t need to worry about him any longer. He made the mistake of venturing onto an Englisher’s farm and raiding his henhouse. The man took prompt care of him.”

Rachel flinched. She didn’t want the animal to hurt or bother anyone, but neither did she want to see it harmed. Noah was quiet for a time. She stood studying him, wondering what was on his mind.

He seemed reluctant to speak and what he said startled her. “Rachel, I know someone hurt you in the past, but I won’t hurt you. You believe me?”

She felt her heart thumping. This wasn’t a subject she was ready to discuss with him. Seeing how genuinely upset he seemed, she said softly, “I believe you won’t hurt me.” She touched his shoulder and then pulled back as if burned. “Sometimes things happen that cause someone to be hurt.”

“I will wait for you, Rachel Hostetler,” he said, his expression earnest. “I will wait until you trust me enough to believe in me…until you’ll say yes to our courting.” He left, heading toward the main road.

“Noah—” she called out, unable to help herself.

He stopped and faced her.

“I will see you tonight?” she asked. She no longer cared if he knew that she wanted to spend time with him.

“It is my brother’s birthday,” Noah said quietly. “Will you come to the house?”

“I don’t know—”

“Come,” he urged. “My mother will be glad to see you. The Kings are coming, too.”

Her aunt and uncle would be there? That fact gave Rachel comfort. No one would think anything of her presence if her relatives were there.

BOOK: Noah's Sweetheart
4.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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