As Christine Hershberger sat on the front pew bench, close enough to bask in the glow of her sister Mattie’s joy, she smiled brightly. At long last, she was attending the wedding that should’ve taken place years ago, when Mattie Bender and Amos Troyer were young and so deeply in love—before Dat had insisted that Mattie marry Marvin Schwartz instead. Now that Mattie and Preacher Amos had outlived their original mates, they were standing together, hand in hand, repeating the age-old vows after their new bishop, Monroe Burkholder. Christine, who’d lost her husband a couple of years ago, found it encouraging that at forty-five and fifty, her older sister and Amos had taken up where their youthful romance had left off, to enjoy a second chance at love that would see them through the rest of their lives.
Beside her on the bench, Rosetta grabbed Christine’s hand and squeezed it. This is so exciting! she mouthed.
Christine nodded, returning her younger sister’s squeeze. She had to admit, however, that the glimmer in Bishop Monroe’s green eyes eclipsed the happiness she felt for Mattie and Amos. Was it her imagination, or did Monroe glance at her as he led the happy couple in their vows, as though he hoped to be exchanging these sacred, binding phrases with her in the near future?
It was too soon to contemplate a wedding—the handsome bishop had only arrived at Promise Lodge a week and a half ago, on Christmas Eve. Yet Christine’s pulse thrummed with the distinct possibility that widowed Monroe Burkholder was as attracted to her as she was to him. Her soul took on the sparkle of the snowy, sunlit hills outside. Hope blossomed in her heart, because it felt absolutely wonderful to believe that such a prosperous, upstanding man might be interested in becoming her husband.
“Amos and Mattie,” Monroe said, his resonant voice filling the room, “I pronounce you husband and wife.”
The wedding guests sprang to their feet, their applause resounding like thunder in the lodge’s large meeting room. Mattie blushed prettily as Amos turned her to face the crowd. When he slung his arm around her to kiss her, a loud whoop went up from the men’s side.
Rosetta laughed, linking her arm through Christine’s. “And they’ll live happily ever after,” she said wistfully. “Maybe there’s hope for us, sister.”
Christine nodded toward Truman Wickey, their neighbor, who—along with Allen Troyer—had been Preacher Amos’s sidesitter. “Here comes your hope as we speak, Rosetta,” she said. “Now that our new bishop has performed his first wedding at Promise Lodge, it’s a gut time to ask his feelings about an Amish woman hitching up with a Mennonite.”
“That’s only a part of what’s on my agenda,” Truman said as he came to stand beside them. His hazel eyes held a special glow as he grasped Rosetta’s hand. “We’ll speak with Bishop Monroe, jah, but we’ll also celebrate this special day with Mattie and Amos. Lots of food to eat and lots of fun to be had, the way I see it.”
“We’re grateful to Floyd Lehman, too,” Rosetta murmured as she glanced toward their former bishop, who was now confined to a wheelchair. “It was gut of him to turn over the reins to Monroe. I thought Floyd might insist on remaining our bishop even though he can’t talk anymore.”
Christine nodded. A serious fall and a concussion had incapacitated Floyd last fall, after he’d tried to catch Preacher Amos, who’d tumbled from the roof of the shed beside Rainbow Lake. Amos had wisely followed the doctors’ instructions and taken physical therapy, or he would still be confined to a wheelchair, too. Floyd hadn’t been as receptive to his English doctor’s advice. He was a mere shell of the blustery bishop who’d come to Promise Lodge claiming God had declared him the new colony’s leader before they’d even met him.
“Jah, we can thank God for giving Floyd the wisdom to step down,” Truman said. “I see it as a fresh start for your whole colony now that Monroe has come—and a fresh start for Amos now that he’s married Mattie and his twins have decided to move back to Missouri, as well.”
“I believe Sam and Simon Helmuth’s nursery and greenhouses will be a boon to our other businesses,” Christine remarked, smiling as she watched Amos’s identical daughters congratulate their dat. “Barb and Bernice have always kept things lively—and when their babies arrive, Amos and Mattie will have grandkids to spoil.”
“And I bet they’ll have fiery red hair just like Sam and Simon,” Rosetta teased.
“Unless I miss my guess, Allen Troyer plans to live at Promise Lodge, as well,” Truman remarked as Amos’s dark-haired son clapped his dat on the back. “He was telling me he plans to take his license exams to become a plumber and an electrician, and then he’ll be set to help build the new houses his sisters and Bishop Monroe will need.”
“It’s amazing, how much our colony has grown,” Christine said. “Just last May we were purchasing this old, run-down church camp, and now we’re really picking up steam. It’s a dream come true—”
“And we have Mattie to thank for turning our dream into reality,” Rosetta put in.
“My dream,” Truman said with a mischievous wink, “is to stuff myself with wedding food and have you all to myself for the rest of the day, Rosetta.”
“I can’t argue with that,” Rosetta said playfully. “Let’s see if our cooks need any help carrying their heavy pans of food to the dining room, shall we?”
Christine smiled as her sister and Truman made their way through the crowd, following Mattie and Amos to the dining room. It was such a blessing to see Rosetta blooming at last, after devoting most of her adult life to caring for their parents until they’d passed. Truman Wickey was a wonderful man—and with his landscaping equipment, he’d felled trees, cut the underbrush from the orchard, and cleared the paths that would become the roads between their homes and businesses. She had a feeling Rosetta and Truman would be marrying soon, if Bishop Monroe decided their colony would agree to interfaith marriages—a more progressive belief than many Old Order Amish settlements condoned.
“You look lovely in that deep red dress, Christine. It was all I could do to keep my mind on marrying Amos and your sister.”
When Christine turned, Bishop Monroe was standing so close she nearly bumped into him. She smiled up at him a little nervously, for he was tall and broad and extraordinarily handsome—and his dimples had come out to play. “Mattie wanted Rosetta and me to have new dresses with some color to them,” she explained. “And since Christmas was only a couple of weeks ago, we decided this red would be more cheerful than, say, the usual dark blue or gray or teal.”
“Mattie’s a wise woman—with admirable taste in color and husband material, as well,” he added. He held her gaze with his glowing green eyes. “May I have the honor of sitting with you at dinner, Christine? And spending the rest of the day with you, as well? Once we’re alone, I’d like to discuss some important decisions.”
Christine wondered if Monroe could hear how rapidly her heart was beating. Was her face as red as her dress? “I’d like that a lot, Monroe,” she said breathlessly.
The crowd around them seemed to disappear as he offered her his elbow. All Christine could see was Monroe’s attractive face, framed by wavy brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard—and those deep green eyes that focused so intently on her. What decisions could he possibly want to discuss with her? Did she dare hope he wanted her to become a permanent part of his new home, his new life at Promise Lodge?
Monroe might’ve remained rooted to the spot, gazing at Christine’s flawless skin and the glossy brown hair pulled neatly beneath her kapp, and her green eyes as serene as an evergreen forest—except the happy folks around them had other ideas.
“Say there, Bishop! Better head into the dining room before you eat Christine alive!” one of the men teased.
“Jah, I’ve been inhaling the aromas of our meal all morning,” another fellow said as he clapped Monroe on the back. “Ruby and Beulah Kuhn and the other gals have whipped up quite a feast, I’m guessing.”
“No doubt about that,” Monroe said. He winked at Christine before turning to reply to these men, whose names he’d learned but whose voices he didn’t yet recognize. “Ruby and Beulah and the others have put a few pounds on me this week—and if I go through the buffet line before you, Eli and Marlin, you’ll be lucky if there’s enough food left to fill your plates,” he teased.
Monroe was pleased that two of Promise Lodge’s preachers felt comfortable enough to joke with him. Eli Peterscheim was a welder who’d followed Amos and Mattie and her sisters here from their previous Amish community, while Marlin Kurtz had come from Iowa with his married son, daughter-in-law, and two teenagers to reestablish his barrel factory. Marlin had agreed to serve as the colony’s deacon, because Eli and Amos had already been established as the two preachers.
But Amos was not particularly chummy with Monroe.
Monroe figured on giving Amos time to settle in with his new wife before he questioned him about his misgivings. It was true that he’d arrived at an unexpectedly opportune time to become Promise Lodge’s new bishop, yet he sensed Amos doubted his intentions and his background. He wanted nothing to interfere with the relationships he would establish with his new flock—and especially with his preachers.
But his past was behind him. And Monroe intended to keep it there.
He smiled at the folks who’d gathered around him and Christine—men and boys mostly, because the other women and girls had gone to the lodge’s large kitchen to help set out the meal. “It’s a happy day, and I’m blessed and grateful to be here among you,” he said as he met their gazes. “Every one of us came to Promise Lodge for a fresh start, and I look forward to the new future God will provide for us.”
“Let’s eat, Bishop Monroe!” a boy in the back piped up.
“Jah, we’re hungry!” his friend chimed in. “It’s been a long morning in church!”
Monroe laughed out loud. Lowell Kurtz and Lavern Peterscheim were the two boys who’d walked and stabled his Clydesdale after he’d arrived during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve. At twelve and thirteen, they were ruled by their stomachs. “You boys have your priorities in order,” he agreed jovially. “I think you need to go on ahead, to be sure the food’s fit for the rest of us.”
The lanky boys, all decked out in their best black pants and vests with crisp white shirts, didn’t wait to be asked a second time. As Lavern and Lowell grinned at him before entering the dining room, Monroe recalled his own boyhood with the uncle and aunt who’d taken him in after his parents died in a house fire. It did his heart good to see young boys taking an active part in their new settlement, for they were the future of Promise Lodge. He looked forward to hiring these two and their friends after his Clydesdales took up residence in the large barns he would have built for them.
A tug on his coat sleeve brought him out of his musings. Christine was smiling at him, making his heart thrum with longings he hadn’t felt since his wife had died.
“My sisters and I consider you our guest of honor at this wedding feast,” she murmured. “Shall we go?”
Monroe was momentarily tongue-tied. Shall we go? If Christine knew what her simple question, spoken in her soft, flowing voice did to him . . .
But then, Christine was forty and she’d given her husband two fine daughters before he’d died in a barn fire two years ago. Her wistful, hopeful expression told Monroe that she did, indeed, know the effect she had on him—and that she had no intention of letting him off easy. At this point in his life, he found women who spoke their minds a lot more enticing than when he’d been a young man exchanging vows the first time.
“Yes, dear,” he replied playfully as he tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow again. “Whatever you say, Christine.”