The tranquil little town of Willow Ridge is facing a startling challenge. Wealthy Nora Glick Landwehr is determined to make it her home again—and put her past to rest. Cast out by her own family, Nora can’t reconcile with Old Amish ways or her strict father. But she’ll do anything to help her community embrace the future . . . and make amends to the daughter she had to give up. So, she certainly has no time for her reckless new neighbor Luke Hooley. They disagree about almost everything. And how can she trust him if he always seems to believe the worst about her? Somehow, though, his unexpected support and passionate heart are helping her find her own way in faith. And Nora will discover that even in the face of insidious lies and unyielding judgment, God creates unexpected chances for forgiveness—and love.
Harvest of Blessings
Seasons of the Heart, Book 5
Read an Excerpt
“Welcome back to Willow Ridge, Nora. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”
How weird is this? Sixteen years ago, Nora Landwehr had never imagined herself returning, much less accepting the keys to a prime property from the man who’d been the bishop when her father had sent her away. But this little Amish spot in the road had changed a lot. And so had she.
“Thanks, Hiram,” Nora murmured. “I hope I’ve done the right thing.”
“At least you’ve arrived while your parents are still alive—if you can call it that.” His gaze followed the road toward where the Glick house stood a ways back from the county blacktop. “Mending fences in your situation will be much like opening Pandora’s box. Once you raise the lid, all your secrets will swarm out like hornets whether you’re ready or not.”
His choice of words made her wonder if she’d been wise to confide in Hiram Knepp, or to even go through with this transaction. But it was too late for second-guessing. As her gaze swept the panorama of Willow Ridge farmsteads, Nora was amazed at what she could see. From this hilltop perspective, Willow Ridge looked like an idyllic little town where nothing hostile or cruel could ever happen—like Mayberry, or Walton’s Mountain. But appearances could be very deceiving. “So, does Tom Hostetler still live there where all those buggies are parked?”
“He does. He’s the bishop now.”
“This being Thursday, is that a wedding or a funeral?”
Beneath Hiram’s short laugh, Nora imagined the bwah-hah-hah-hah of a melodrama villain. “As you probably realize,” he replied wryly, “a wedding, in retrospect, might indeed be a funeral of sorts, depending upon how it all works out. Annie Mae’s marrying Adam Wagler today.”
Nora thought back, waaay back, to when Adam must’ve been about school-age and Annie Mae Knepp had been a toddler—
And you’re not there to see your daughter marry, Hiram? She bit back her retort. Her realtor had hinted that Hiram had committed even more heinous sins than she had— and after all, her father hadn’t attended her wedding, either. If Hiram had been run out of Willow Ridge, she and this man with the devilish black goatee had a lot in common.
Nora didn’t want to go there.
She was looking for a way to move Hiram along, so she could figure out where her major pieces of furniture would fit before the moving van got here. And yet, if everyone in town was at the wedding, this would be a fine time to look around . . .
“I’ll have my crew remove the Bishop’s Ridge entryway sign tomorrow,” Hiram’s voice sliced through her thoughts. “That way you won’t be living in my shadow.”
Nora didn’t miss the irony there. Every Amish colony lived in its bishop’s shadow—and she sensed the cloud over Willow Ridge had gotten a whole lot darker of late, even if Hiram no longer resided here. “That’ll be fine. Thanks again.”
“What will you do with that big barn? I miss that more than the house.”
Nora smiled. No need to tell this renegade everything, for who knew what he’d do with the information? “I have some ideas,” she hedged. “Figured I’d live here a while before I committed to any of them.”
Finally, Hiram was headed down the road in his classic, perfectly preserved black Cadillac. Nora closed her eyes as the summer breeze caressed her face. She’d really done it. She’d spent her divorce settlement on this house and acreage with the huge barn, in the town where she’d probably be greeted with hatred and hostility as she stirred up old grudges like muck from the bottom of a farm pond.
But blood is thicker than water. Isn’t it?
Once the shock and accusations ran their course, Nora sincerely hoped to reconnect with her family. To ask forgiveness and make her peace while creating a purposeful, productive new life. Was she acting even more naive and fanciful than when she’d believed Tanner Landwehr was her ticket to a storybook ending?
Nora glanced at her watch. She still had an hour until the van was to arrive. She slid into her red Mercedes convertible to cruise town while she could still pass as an English tourist—not that anyone would see her. Everyone from Willow Ridge and the nearby Plain settlements would be at Adam and Annie Mae’s wedding.
Once on the county blacktop she turned left, away from town, and drove past a timbered mill with a picturesque water wheel. With its backdrop of river rocks, wildflowers, and majestic old trees shimmering in the breeze, the Mill at Willow Ridge was a scene straight out of a Thomas Kincaid painting.
Nora turned back toward town. Henry and Lydia Zook’s home looked added-onto yet again, and Zook’s Market had expanded, as well. The white wooden structure sported a blue metal roof that glimmered in the afternoon sunlight. A handwritten sign on the door proclaimed the store closed for the wedding.
Purposely not looking at her childhood home yet, Nora focused on the new house built on what had been the northeast corner of her father’s farm. Across the road sat the Sweet Seasons Bakery Café and a quilt shop—more new additions, although she recalled the blacksmith shop behind them, and the large white home down the lane, which had belonged to Jesse Lantz. From what she could tell on the Internet, Jesse had passed on and Miriam had opened a bustling business. Who could’ve guessed an Amish woman would have a website with pictures of her meals and bakery specialties?
Down the road stood the Willow Ridge Clinic, with what appeared to be a horse-drawn medical wagon parked beside it—yet another startling change. Nora headed down the gravel road on the left, past the Brenneman Cabinet Shop which looked the same as always. So did Tom Hostetler’s dairy farm, where black and white cows grazed in the pasture where a red barn sat behind the tall white farmhouse. Dozens of buggies were parked along the lane and around the side of the barn, yet the place looked manicured. Not so much as a scrap of paper marred the Plain perfection of this scene.
The sound of a hymn drifting out Tom’s windows compelled Nora to stop. She’d all but forgotten the German words, yet the power of hundreds of voices singing in one accord made her swallow hard. The melody seeped into her soul, its slow, steady cadence stilling the beat of her heart.
Nora sighed and drove on. Could she really go back to three-hour church services, hard wooden pew benches, and endless, droning sermons? She couldn’t recall the last time she’d attended a worship service. You couldn’t consider a quickie ceremony in a Vegas wedding chapel worship, after all.
Maybe you won’t have to worry about sitting through church. You haven’t been allowed back into the fellowship yet. Haven’t been forgiven.
Nora drove past the Kanagy place and then a few homes where the Zeb Schrocks and other Mennonite families lived. She passed the fork that led to Atlee and Lizzie Glick’s place—she wasn’t ready to go down that road yet—and followed the curve that meandered in front of the Wagler place and then past her own new residence. Definitely the finest house in town.
But what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?
Nora let out a humorless laugh. Her father, ever the sanctimonious Preacher Gabe even among his immediate family, had often quoted that verse when she’d wanted new dresses or some doodad she’d seen at Zook’s Market. The memory of his harsh discipline tightened her chest even after sixteen years of living in the English world. If that was her gut reaction without even seeing him, how did she think she could face him in person? So much water had gone under that proverbial bridge that Gabriel Glick would never, ever cross it to see his errant, banished daughter.
Nora brought herself back into the present. The moving van hadn’t yet arrived, so she pulled back onto the county highway where she’d begun her trip down memory lane. While everyone in town was at the wedding, she had the perfect chance to revisit her childhood home. To prepare herself for the ordeal she would soon face.
She pulled into the lane and parked behind the house, somewhat surprised to see the surrounding pastureland planted in tall corn that shimmered in the breeze. Knowing it wouldn’t be locked, Nora slipped into the back door. The kitchen appeared smaller and shabbier than she recalled, as though it hadn’t seen fresh paint since she’d left. How odd to stand in this hub of the house and not detect even a whiff of breakfast.
Nora moved on before she lost her nerve. She felt like an intruder—and she wanted to be long gone before anyone came home from the wedding. She peeked into the small downstairs room where she and her mother had sewn the family’s clothes on an ancient treadle machine—
Nora gaped. On a twin bed lay a motionless female form, like a corpse laid out in a casket. Is this what Hiram had meant by implying her parents were barely alive? Did she dare approach, or would this woman pop up like a zombie from an old horror movie and leer at her with hollowed eyes and a toothless grin? Nora wanted to bolt, yet she felt compelled to look this woman—surely her mother—in the face. If Mamma was so far gone, why wasn’t someone sitting with her? Or was she merely napping, too tired to attend the wedding? The way Nora had it figured, her mother was in her early seventies now—several years younger than her dat. Why did she look so far gone?
Holding her breath, Nora slipped to the bedside. The room felt stuffy in the July heat, yet a faded quilt covered her mother’s shriveled form up to her chin. A kapp concealed all but the front of her white hair, so all Nora saw was a pallid face etched with wrinkles. The eyes were closed, and again Nora felt she was observing a stranger in a casket rather than looking at her own mother. Last time she’d been here, Mamma’s face had been contorted with indignation as disgust hardened her piercing hazel eyes—
And suddenly those eyes were focused on her.
Nora froze. Not a muscle moved in her mother’s face yet Mamma’s gaze didn’t waver—until her eyes widened with recognition. Or was it disbelief, or fear?
Nora didn’t stick around to figure that out. Hurrying from the airless room and through the kitchen, Nora burst through the back door. She couldn’t gulp air fast enough as she climbed into her car and sped down the lane. She felt as though she’d stared Death in the face and Death had stared right back. If she looked in the rearview mirror, would a skeleton in a cape dress and kapp be chasing after her?
Her tires squealed on the hot blacktop as she sped toward her new home. What a relief to see the moving van lumbering across the bridge by the mill! Nora made the turn onto Bishop’s Ridge Road too fast and fishtailed in the gravel. She steered up the driveway and then pulled around back of the huge barn—to be out of the movers’ way, but also because she felt compelled to conceal her car.
Better get over that. You live here now, whether the neighbors like it or not.
Nora was walking toward the house when a tall, broad-shouldered figure stepped out of the shade behind it. His straw hat, broadfall pants, and suspenders announced him as Plain, and there was no mistaking the fascination on his handsome face. Yet Nora hesitated. Had this stranger been roaming around inside her house? Note to self: call a locksmith.
“Something I can help you with?” she asked breezily. Better to believe in basic Amish honesty than to accuse him of something he might not have done. It wasn’t like he could take anything from her empty house.
“Just coming over to meet my new neighbor,” he replied in a resonant voice. “I’m Luke Hooley. That’s my gristmill on the river.”
“Great place. Really scenic setting,” Nora replied. Even though the brim of his hat shaded his features, it was easy to see Luke Hooley was a looker—and that he thought he was, too. “So why aren’t you at the wedding?”
“Didn’t want to waste a perfectly fine July morning in church.”
Now that was different. But when he cocked his hat farther back on his head, the flirtatious glint in his deep green eyes was the same as any player’s on the prowl—and that was not what she needed right now. Nora was glad to see the moving van lumbering up the driveway. “Well, there’s my furniture. Nice to meet you, Luke.”
“I’d be happy to help you unload. That’s quite a job for a gal—”
“I’ve paid these guys big bucks to do the heavy lifting,” Nora insisted as she waved to the van driver. “It would become an insurance issue if you got hurt.”
“Been hefting furniture all my life. I won’t get hurt,” Luke replied with a cocksure grin.
Careful there, Big Boy. You don’t know the meaning of hurt until you’ve tangled with me.
“Sorry,” Nora insisted. “That’s the moving company’s policy, not mine. But thanks for stopping by.”
Nora walked around to the other side of the van to greet the driver. Hopefully her neighbor could take a hint and wouldn’t make a pest of himself. Luke was a fine-looking fellow, but she’d been married to one of those and she wasn’t in the market for another one.
As Luke hiked back toward the mill, he couldn’t quit grinning. The fox with the auburn ponytail bouncing behind her sparkly blue ball cap had been well worth a few moments of his time. She was a sizzling English chick—maybe his newest, best reason to not join the Amish church. And the way she’d squealed her tires coming out of the Glick place suggested she was keeping secrets other than her name. Secrets he would so enjoy coaxing her to confess.
Now he was glad he’d opted out of Annie Mae’s wedding—not that he’d remained interested in Hiram’s daughter after she’d taken in her four little sibs. She’d gone from being a wide-eyed adventuress to a mother hen clucking over her brood, and what man needed that? He’d just turned thirty and still felt no need to fill a bunch of bedrooms with kids. He did miss their dates . . . those times he and his brother Ira had run the roads with Annie Mae and Millie Glick—Luke halted in his tracks, thunderstruck. With her catlike hazel eyes—tigress eyes—and that red hair and stunning body, his new English neighbor could pass for Millie Glick’s twin.
But Millie was sixteen. This gal was his age.
And she’d come racing out of the Glick place as though she’d done something she didn’t want to get caught at.
Very interesting. Very, very interesting.