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Authors: Rebecca Kertz

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BOOK: Noah's Sweetheart
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She was touched by his—and no doubt his father’s—thoughtfulness. She smiled her thanks as she accepted the key. She stared down at the brass object, feeling the weight of it in her hand, knowing that with it came the responsibility of educating their Amish community’s children.

“Noah.” Charlotte approached and saw what Rachel was holding. “How wonderful!” If she sensed attraction of any kind between her cousin and Noah, she didn’t show it. She seemed genuinely glad for Rachel. “Will you take us through the house tomorrow?”

Noah nodded.

“Noah! Charlotte!” Aunt Mae called.

It was time for Sunday services. Obediently they filed into the King house and took their seats on the benches set out for them. The men were on one side, the women on the other. The benches filled three sides of the room, with the fourth side for the preacher who would conduct the service.

Noah’s gaze met Rachel’s from across the room. Feeling her face heat, she quickly glanced downward before focusing on the minister. She could feel the intensity of Noah’s attention, but she refused to glance his way, focusing instead on the word of God. The congregation began to sing from the
Ausbund,
the book of hymns.

Rachel thought she heard Noah’s voice above the rest, but realized that with her continued thoughts of him, she had probably just imagined it.

As they moved from the
Loblied,
the second hymn always sung at every church service as well as at weddings and other sacred events, Rachel listened intently as Preacher Levi Stoltzfus spoke about God’s word. He talked with great emotion, and Rachel could feel the depth of his passion for the
Ordnung,
his deep belief in the Amish faith. She felt the love of God and the warmth of His people as she sat in church in her aunt’s home.

Soon, they were singing a third hymn from the
Ausbund.
Rachel glanced in Noah’s direction, but then hurriedly looked away when she realized that Noah had continued to study her throughout the entire Sunday service.

Chapter Six

A
fter the congregation sang the last hymn, Preacher Levi closed the service, and the church members dispersed for food and fellowship. The house instantly became a hive of noise and activity. The worship service had taken a little over three hours, and the children who had been good and obedient during church were ready to run about and burn off energy.

With purpose evident in her steps, Aunt Mae went straight to the kitchen, followed by her daughters and niece. The young men of their church district worked to move benches and set up tables in preparation to dine. The older men went outside to load any unused benches into the cart.

“Rachel,” Aunt Mae said, appearing every inch the one in charge, “will you get the potato salad and coleslaw out of the refrigerator? Charlotte, see if any of the tables are ready and work with Nancy to get out the plates and utensils.”

“Yes,
Mam.
” Charlotte grinned at Rachel as they passed each other on the way to do Mae’s bidding.

Rachel smiled as she heard her aunt address her eldest, married daughter. “Sarah, please check on the children and make sure they don’t get into the desserts before dinner.”

Conscious of the way Noah had watched her during Sunday service, Rachel headed toward the back room, where the gas-powered refrigerator and chest freezer were situated.

She opened the refrigerator. The appliance was full. The women of their church district had brought enough to feed the entire community. Rachel bent inside, searching first for the potato salad. She found the large bowl on the back of a shelf. Rachel rearranged and lifted several other food items so that she could reach the glass bowl of Aunt Mae’s potato salad.

Rachel had trouble balancing what she held in her arms as she shifted another platter on the shelf to better reach the coleslaw.

“Here, let me take that,” a familiar voice said.

Rachel gasped and nearly hit her head on the inside of the refrigerator. “What are you doing back here?”

“Offering to help you.” Noah grinned at her as he relieved her of her armful.

Rachel stared at him, unable to respond or look away.

“Aren’t ya going to find what you’ve come for?” he asked softly.

“Ja.”
Rachel quickly bent inside to retrieve the potato salad and coleslaw bowls. She stood carefully, only to find that he continued to study her. Blushing, she found a place to set down the bowls and then tried to gather the dishes Noah was holding.

He released them and Rachel set them back in the refrigerator. Noah was holding the potato salad and coleslaw when Rachel turned around.

“I can take them now,” she murmured as she reached for the bowls while unwilling to meet his gaze.

“I’ll carry them for you.” Noah felt a spark of delight as he watched pink stain Rachel’s cheeks.

“It’s not necessary,” she insisted. “Shouldn’t ya be helping the men set up tables?”

“Nay.”
Noah studied her intently, making her face warm.

She arched her eyebrows as her eyes finally met his. “And why not?”

The corners of his lips tilted upward. “The tables are done, and the men are outside waiting to be called to supper.” He held up his filled arms. “I prefer to help with the food.” His voice softened. “To help
you.
” He grinned. “A much better pursuit than talking about today’s weather or the growth of one’s field crops. Besides, the potato salad may be Aunt Mae’s, but the coleslaw my
mam
made.”

Noah watched Rachel’s changing expression as he spoke. Truth be known and admitted only to himself, he would rather spend the day in her company than do any other thing on the good Lord’s earth.

He had enjoyed watching her during church service. He could tell she was as aware of him as he was of her. She met his gaze and then averted her glance. He saw her look about to see if anyone had noticed the silent interaction.

He liked Rachel Hostetler. He liked her a lot.

“What about Charlotte?” Rachel asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“What about Charlotte?” he echoed. Had he spoken his musings aloud? No, he realized. She would have looked mortified or pleased—whichever reaction she might have had if he had spoken how he felt about her.

“She will be looking for you.”


Nay.
Charlotte has enough to keep her busy with Mae’s directions.”

At the mention of her aunt, Rachel stiffened. “Please,” she said, “she asked me to bring the salads to the table. If I take too long, she will wonder—”

“Wonder what?” Noah teased.

“Noah!” Charlotte said as she entered the room. “Are you helping or hindering cousin Rachel?”

Rachel met her cousin’s gaze with gratitude. “He’s offering to help me, but I think he should be helping the men.”

Charlotte laughed. “Rather than you?”

Rachel was surprised by Charlotte’s reasoning. “He’s like a younger brother. I think he enjoys teasing as much as helping.”


Ja,
Rachel,” her cousin answered. “You are most probably correct.” And she didn’t seem in the least concerned at finding her and Noah together in the back room.

Her cousin did not seem upset by Noah’s attention to her. Were the women of the church district mistaken? Were Charlotte and Noah destined to be man and wife—or was it just wishful thinking on the part of the elders?

Noah had his way. He carried the potato salad and coleslaw to the main table where the men would be invited to dine. Rachel, in the meantime, had found Aunt Mae and pitched in to help carry in the meats and breads and vegetables.

“Rachel,” her cousin Sarah said as she arranged cookies and muffins on a plate on the kitchen worktable, “you are enjoying our community?”

Rachel smiled, for she easily could admit the truth. “
Ja.
I like Happiness and I’m eager to work with the students here.”

“The teacher’s cottage,” she said, “it looks
gut?

Rachel nodded, noting again how much Sarah resembled Aunt Mae. “It will be done soon. The
schuulhaus
is ready, too. There will be swing sets for the
kinner.
The men have been working hard to ensure that all will be ready.”

“Noah has been working there often,” Sarah said.

Rachel’s heart skipped a beat. “Noah and Samuel and Noah’s brothers.”

Her older cousin nodded. “You will have my John in your class.”

Rachel smiled. Little John was Sarah’s youngest son; David, her cousin’s eldest, had finished the eighth grade over a year ago. “I will. John is a
gut
boy and smart. He does not think he needs to go, but I will show him differently. He will make a fine farmer, but he should know how to deal with the English.”

Sarah agreed, but soon Eli approached to speak with his wife, taking her attention. Eli Schrock was a man of short stature, even shorter than his wife. His hair and chin-beard were dark, his build strong. Sarah made introductions between Rachel and Eli.

Dressed like the other Amish men of the community in his black Sunday best, Eli was polite and pleasant, his gaze recognizing her as a family member. He wore a black vest over a white shirt. His trousers matched his vest and wide-brimmed felt hat, which he wore low and that shaded his serious blue eyes. “‘Tis
gut
to meet ya, cousin Rachel.”

Rachel nodded and murmured an appropriate response. “And you, Eli.”

Watching the interaction between husband and wife, Rachel saw how suited Sarah and Eli seemed for each other. Their two youngest offspring, John and Rose Ann, were enjoying a game of tag nearby. Rachel caught the look of affection that glistened in Eli’s eyes as he watched them at play.

This is what God intended,
she thought.
A
gut
man loving and caring for his family.

Would she ever find happiness with a family of her own? Rachel experienced a flash of pain as she recalled her courtship with Abraham Beiler and the plans they had made to have a family together. She no longer knew if a husband and children were in her future. In the Amish community, it was important for a woman to have a family, but it could be that the Lord had other plans for her.

Unbidden, an image of Noah’s smiling face came to mind. Was it possible that the tiny spark she felt when she was in Noah’s company was a sign sent by God to give her hope that she could someday have a husband? Not Noah, she assured herself quickly, but some other fine man? She sighed. She was afraid to care for a man. She’d felt betrayed by Abraham. Could she ever recover from his betrayal?

The men, including the church elders, came to the table to eat. The women served them, and then while the men enjoyed their food, the women and children ate in the kitchen. The King house wasn’t as large as the Lapp residence, but all of the church members still fit nicely.

“It was a fine church service,” Miriam Zook said as the women cleaned up afterward.

“Ja,”
Agnes Troyer said, “Preacher Levi is a blessing to us all.”

“So is our deacon, Abram Peachy,” Alta Hershberger commented as she wrapped up the leftover loaves of bread and set them on the table for others to take home afterward. “He is a man with a kind heart.”

“She thinks every available man has a kind heart,” Emma King whispered to Rachel. “Always looking for a husband for her Mary, poor thing. Mary can find a husband without her dear
mudder
‘s help.”

Rachel had to control a grin. Emma King was her cousins’
grossmudder.
She and
Grossdaddi
Harley had returned recently from a trip to North Carolina, where they’d been visiting relatives of Emma’s. Charlotte’s grandparents were outspoken and full of common sense. Meeting them for the first time, Rachel had liked them immediately.

Unaware of Emma’s comments, Alta, Agnes and Miriam continued their conversation about Deacon Abram and his children.

Rachel couldn’t help listening with interest. She looked at her cousin, who met her gaze with a barely perceptible smile curving her lips. Charlotte had seen Rachel listening to
Grossmudder
Emma.

“Do you think he will ever marry again?” Miriam put the lid on a bowl of pickled beets.

“Abram?” Alta arranged leftover muffins from different sources on one plate.

“Ja.”

“‘Twould be a shame if he didn’t,” Alta said. “Those five
kinner
of his need a
mudder,
and there are some girls in our community who need a husband.”

The women finished cleaning up the table and moved outside to sit in chairs arranged in the front yard under a shade tree. The sun was warm and the sky was clear. Rachel thought they couldn’t have asked for a nicer day.

Alta settled her attention on the two cousins who stood near their seats, waiting for Aunt Mae and some of the other women to come out into the yard. “Charlotte, Rachel, you would like to marry someday,
ja?

Rachel and Charlotte could only nod. It would have been a terrible thing to do any differently.

“Now, Alta and Miriam, don’t you be planning any of my girls’ weddings,” Aunt Mae said as she joined the group. “There will be time enough when God wills it.”

Rachel sat down, while Charlotte returned to the house. Katie Lapp joined the group, carrying baby Hannah. “May I hold her?” Rachel asked, loving the way the child had curled into her the last time she’d held her.

Katie smiled and handed over the sleepy little girl. “She feels comfortable with you,” Noah’s mother said. “You have a gift with children. You will be a wonderful teacher.”

Rachel stood to settle the baby comfortably against her and then sat, ready to enjoy the afternoon. As the women chatted about the service, the meal and their children, she listened, content as she rubbed her hand over a dozing Hannah, who lay against her chest. She was conscious of the warmth of the baby against her and tears threatened. She closed her eyes so that no one would notice and willed the memory, the pain and fear, away.

BOOK: Noah's Sweetheart
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