Kelly Irvin is the author of the Bliss Creek Amish series, which includes To Love and To Cherish, A Heart Made New, and Love’s Journey Home, which released February 1. 2013. She recently signed with Harvest House Publishing for a three-book spin-off series entitled the New Hope Amish.
Kelly has also penned two romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine, published by Five Star Gale in 2010 and 2011.
The Kansas native is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. A graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism, Kelly has been writing nonfiction professionally for thirty years, including ten years as a newspaper reporter. For more than nineteen years, she has worked in public relations for the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-four years, and they have two young adult children. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.
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Do you ever get a second chance?
It’s been seven years since her husband died, but Helen Crouch is doing just fine. She’s selling her jams and canned goods at the bakery and making a tidy living. But her whole world goes topsy-turvy when a new family moves to town. Gabriel Gless has brought his children to Bliss Creek to escape the worldly influences in Indiana. Helen and Gabriel have so much in common—the loss of their beloved spouses, the experience of raising their families alone, their rock-solid faith—so why can’t they seem to speak without arguing?
And that’s not all that’s going on in Bliss Creek this summer. In the middle of a punishing drought, the community is faced with the decision to uproot their families and establish a new settlement. As families struggle to say goodbye, each one must find the faith to follow the Lord’s direction.
* * *
Join the families of Bliss Creek in the dramatic conclusion to their story, and discover with them the joy of finding home.
Helen Crouch squeezed by a couple busy scolding a small boy who appeared to have a green lollipop stuck in his golden curls. Smiling, she angled her way through the growing crowd along the parade route. She could remember when Edmond had been that age. He’d been so sweet and anxious to please as he rummaged for eggs in the chicken coop or helped her pluck weeds in the garden. Ten years and a rumspringa later she could see little of that child in her only son. Inhaling the mingled aromas of popcorn and cotton candy, she held her hand to her damp forehead to block out a July sun that peaked through glowering clouds overhead. Maybe Edmond had slipped into the crowd to find Emma and Thomas for her.
Not likely, given a recent spate of disappearing acts by a sixteen-year-old apparently bent on squeezing every last drop from his running around.
“Mudder, look, funnel cakes.” The note of entreaty in Naomi’s voice told Helen her oldest daughter wanted to ask, but knew better. Their egg and jelly money wouldn’t stretch to treats—not this month. “They smell so good.”
“Not as good as chocolate-marshmallow cookies.” Helen patted her daughter’s shoulder. The cookies were Naomi’s favorite, which was why Helen had thought to pack them in the basket along with the sausage, cheese, and biscuits. “Let’s find Emma and Thomas. They’ll have saved a space for us.”
“Helen, over here!” As if she’d heard Helen’s words, Emma Brennaman’s high voice carried over the many citizens of Bliss Creek who’d gathered, despite the threat of an impending thunderstorm, to see the Fourth of July parade of area high school marching bands, cowboys on decked-out horses, John Deere farm implements, and fancy cars from the dealership on I-35. “It’s getting crowded already. We managed to save a shady spot!”
After glancing back to make sure her two younger daughters kept up with Naomi, Helen dodged a knot of Englisch teenagers who crowded Bliss Creek Park’s edge. They were busy examining a bag of firecrackers, looks of delight on their acne-dotted faces. She stubbed her toe in the crack of the sidewalk and stumbled. One of them grinned, his braces glinting in the sun. She forced a return smile. “So sorry. Can we get around you?”
The sea parted and they trotted through.
Why did she apologize? Habit? In another habit she’d never been able to break, Helen looked beyond Emma to make sure Thomas accompanied his wife. Her friend’s husband stood in the shade of a stout Elm, his back turned. He talked to another man, equally tall and lean. Helen picked up her pace and narrowly missed colliding with a double stroller and its occupants—rosy-cheeked twins dressed in matching red, white, and blue sundresses and bonnets. “Sorry. So sorry.”
Her daughters tried to hide their giggles behind their hands, as they tended to do when she made a blunder. “Mudder!”
“Hush, girls.” She turned to Emma, glad Thomas hadn’t seen her latest misstep. As if it mattered. He seemed engrossed in a conversation that held words like harvest and wheat and rain and something about a well having gone dry. Indeed, Thomas had his hands full, it seemed. Helen focused on Emma. “Have you seen Edmond?”
“He’s not with you?” Emma ran one hand over a crisp black apron that did little to hide her swollen belly while she grabbed little Caleb with the other to keep him from escaping into the street. “Don’t worry. Knowing Edmond, he won’t want to miss the fried chicken, homemade potato chips, and pecan-chocolate-chip cookies we brought to share with y’all. How’s your mudder doing? It’s too bad she couldn’t have come along.”
“She’s doing better, but crowds don’t suit her. What about Annie? Didn’t she come?” Helen glanced at the quilts strewn in the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street. No Annie. “When I dropped off my jams and jellies at the bakery yesterday, she promised me she would come—that she would try to come.”
“Ach, if only it were so.” The customary happiness in Emma’s face since her marriage to Thomas and Caleb’s arrival fled for a second. “She isn’t ready. She decided at the last minute she didn’t want to come. Couldn’t come, I reckon. She can’t seem to bring herself to celebrate anything yet.”
“She’ll get out when she’s ready.” Helen knew this from experience. The deep wound of loss took time to heal and could be ripped open by the simplest thing. A smell or a taste that reminded one of the person forever gone. “With time, she’ll find her way.”
“It’s been a year. It’s time for her to begin again.” Emma’s tone was kind, but firm. “She’s young and she should marry again. Noah needs a father. She needs a husband.”
“A year isn’t so much.”
Helen said the words at the same time as the man who stood next to Thomas, one hand propped on the tree’s trunk. He’d turned at Emma’s statement and his gaze met Helen’s. In his expression, she saw a fellow sojourner, someone who’d experienced the rocky, meandering road that follows the death of a loved one. Who had he lost?
“Not so long at all,” the man added, his dark eyes filled with a sadness that quickly fled, replaced with a polite blankness. “All things considered.”
Helen intended to agree, but instead remained mute. The man had been cut from the same cloth as Thomas, sewn with the same careful stitch. He could’ve been a twin, except older, at least forty. Threads of silver and gray shot through his dark beard and the unruly hair that escaped from under his straw hat. His eyes were large and the color of tea allowed to brew all afternoon in Kansas’s summer heat. His leathery, bronze skin spoke of years spent working outdoors. Crow’s feet around his eyes told the story of squinting against the broiling afternoon sun. Or laughing.
“Helen? Helen.” Emma’s insistent tone jerked Helen from her inventory of this stranger who seemed so familiar. “This is Gabriel Gless, Thomas’s cousin.”
Feeling as awkward as a child on the first day of school, Helen scrambled for a simple salutation. She opened her mouth and nothing came out.
Naomi nudged Helen with a sharp elbow. “Mudder?”
“Nice to meet you.” She managed a nod. “Welcome to Bliss Creek.”
Straightening, he moved toward her, a glint of laughter in his eyes. What was so funny?
“These are my daughters.” She introduced the girls. “Are you and your fraa visiting long?”
“My fraa passed.” No emotion visited those words but Helen saw the same expression in his eyes as before. He might be able to stifle the feelings in his speech, but not in his heart. “Been almost three years now.”
“Gabriel’s not visiting.” Thomas spoke up as if to rescue his cousin. He too knew about this rocky road, even if his had diverged toward happier times. “He and his kinner moved here from Indiana. Making a new start of it.”
Gabriel cleared his throat. “Meet the Gless clan.” He swept his long arm toward the wiggling mass of youngsters engaged in all sorts of tomfoolery on the quilts. “Isaac, Daniel, Mary Elizabeth, Samuel, Abigail, Seth, Isabelle, and little Rachel.”
They all chimed in with hellos that ranged from bellows to softly uttered words and ducked heads. Mary Elizabeth, whose blond hair and blue eyes must’ve belonged to her mudder, shifted from one bare foot to another. “Some of us will be looking for work, if you know of any.”
“Work . . . jah, jah, I’m sure you’ll manage that around here. Annie, Emma’s sister, have you met her?” Helen glanced at Emma who shook her head as if to say not yet. “She’s needing a hard worker who knows how to bake to help her out at Plank’s Pastry and Pie Shop.”
“Not now.” Gabriel gave the girl a sharp look. “We’ll have time for that later. For now, let’s enjoy the parade.”
Mary Elizabeth ducked her head, but she seemed pleased with Helen’s tidbit of information. Helen studied the rest of the children. Rachel appeared to be about three, Isaac probably twenty-one or twenty-two. Quite an age spread. At least the older ones could care for the younger. As if to underscore the thought, little Isabelle, who might be about four, escaped from Mary Elizabeth’s grasp and trundled toward Helen, arms up as if to offer a hug. Her sweet smile enveloped Helen, and she accepted the damp offering of a hug and a kiss.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Isabelle.” The hug warmed Helen’s heart. Her own daughters were quick with affection, but this little girl didn’t know her in the slightest, making her unconditional offering all the sweeter. “You are very welcome to Bliss Creek too.”
“Want cookie.” Isabelle had a lisp. She patted Helen’s cheek with a sticky hand that indicated she’d already had at least one dessert. “Hungry. Want cookie. Have cookie?”
Not only did Gabriel have his hands full with eight children, but this child would require extra care. In her almond-shaped eyes and round cheeks, her stubby fingers and arms were all the signs Isabelle was one of those special children who would forever be a child. Helen raised her gaze to Gabriel. She saw nothing in his bronzed face but a father’s deep love for his child.
Isabelle wiggled from Helen’s grasp.
“Pony!” Her hands flailed and she skipped in the direction of a wagon that had pulled into a parking lot on the other side of the street. “Pet pony.”
“Not now.” Gabriel called. “Don’t go in the street, little one.”
Isabelle looked up at Helen and smiled. “Pony.”
“Jah, pony.” Helen waved at Luke, Emma’s oldest brother, and his wife Leah who were directing their flock as they hopped from the wagon Luke had outfitted with rows of wooden seats for his big family. “You made it. The route’s almost full.”
An unsmiling Leah returned her wave with a barely noticeable flick of a hand. “We’re late as always,” the other woman called as she hoisted baby Jebediah on to one hip and rousted her twin girls from the second row seat. “I forgot the basket and we had to go back—”
The high, tight whinny of a horse interrupted Leah’s words. Helen glanced east toward the beginning of the parade route. A buggy, swaying from side to side, raced down the middle of the street, the horse pounding in a frantic gallop.
“What is . . . who is . . .” Helen’s questions were caught up in the murmurs of the crowd that immediately began to swell. Plain families didn’t participate in the parade. They only came to watch in anticipation of the fireworks display to follow. “Whose buggy is that?”
The horse looked familiar. Daed’s Morgan? She still thought of him as Daed’s Morgan even though her daed had passed in April. She couldn’t get a good look at the driver of the buggy. His hat covered his face. Then he stood and snapped the reins. One hand went to his hat and lifted it high. He whooped and yelled, “Yee haw, ride’em, cowboy!”
The voice. The face. The face so like George’s. Her cheeks suddenly hot, hands shaking, Helen started forward into the road. “Edmond? Edmond! What are you—”
A hand grabbed her arm and jerked her back so hard she tumbled into the quilt and landed atop Abigail. A knee gouged her back. With a startled cry, the girl scooted to the left, causing the other children to scatter. Tangled in her long skirt, Helen scrambled onto her knees, fighting to see over Daniel, Isaac, Samuel, and the other boys who jumped to their feet.
Gabriel dashed into the street and swept Isabelle into his arms just as the horse and swaying buggy whipped past them, wheels rattling on the asphalt. His momentum carried him to the far curb. He stumbled, dropped to his knees, but kept the little girl securely wrapped in one long arm.
The buggy, still swaying wildly, disappeared down the street. Several folks in the crowd, their faces at first puzzled, and then amused, began to clap. From the looks of them, they were tourists. The teenagers hooted and hollered their appreciation. Others, older folks, shook their heads and muttered, disapproving looks on their faces.
Gabriel popped up, whirled, and marched back toward the them, Isabelle still dangling from his arm like a stuffed doll.
“Who was that?” Despite his obvious anger, he kept his voice down to a low growl. He panted, furious red blotches on cheeks that had gone white. He seemed oblivious to his daughter’s giggles. “He nearly ran over Isabelle. He could’ve killed her.”
“Police. Stop. Stop that buggy now!” Police Chief Dylan Parker raced past them on foot, dodging people who had spilled into the street to watch the buggy continue its flight toward Bliss Creek’s city limits. The police officer’s hat blew from his head, but he didn’t halt. “Edmond Crouch, stop now!”
Sirens wailed. Flashing blue and red lights came into view. One of Bliss Creek’s three police cars gained on Chief Parker, swerved around him, slowed and then halted long enough for Parker to jerk open a door and climb in before picking up speed again.
The noise of the crowd grew. Laughter mingled with questions and curious bystanders turned their gaze on the Plain families who had congregated in one spot along the parade route.
“You’ve met my daughters.” Fighting the urge to cover her face, Helen rubbed the spot on her arm where Gabriel had jerked her aside and gazed up at him. “That was my son, Edmond.”
Kelly is giving away a copy of Love's Journey Home.The giveaway is only available to U.S. Addresses.
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