Phineas King knows better than to expect anything but shock and pity wherever he shows his face. Horribly scarred from the van accident that claimed his mother’s life, he chooses to keep his distance from everyone, focusing his time and energy on the bees his family raises. If no one sees him, no one can judge him. So why does he start finding excuses to seek out Deborah Lantz, the beautiful new arrival in town?
Deborah can’t get out of Bee County, Texas, soon enough. Once her mother and younger siblings are settled, she is on the first bus out of this dusty town. She is only waiting on the letter from Aaron, asking her to return to lush Tennessee to be his fraa. But that letter never comes. As she spends time getting to know Phineas—hoping to uncover the man beneath the scars—she begins to realize that she no longer minds that Aaron hasn’t sent for her.
As both Deborah and Phineas try to come to terms with lives that haven’t turned out the way they imagined, they discover that perhaps Gott’s plans for them are more extraordinary than they could have dreamed. But they need to let go of their own past sorrows and disappointments to find the joy and beauty that lies just ahead for them both.
Getting lost might be a sign.
Deborah Lantz wiped at her face with the back of her sleeve to hide her grim smile. Getting lost might be a sign Mudder shouldn’t marry a man she couldn’t really claim to know—not in recent years, anyway. Abigail Lantz would call such a thought pure silliness and she would be right. Why would God send them nine-hundred miles away from their home in
only to give them a nudge in the wrong direction so they ended up lost deep in
south ? Texas
Not likely. God had a plan for the Lantz family. Deborah need only be patient. At least that was what she’d been told hundreds of times.
As if it were an easy task. Deborah wiggled, trying to get more comfortable between Hazel’s booster seat and Rebekah, who had her nose pressed to the van window, not wanting to miss a single thing, even after watching the same monotonous, flat countryside for hours. Deborah longed to feel the excitement of her younger sisters. At nineteen, she was old enough to know what she’d be missing back home. All the singings with her friends, the buggy rides with Aaron afterward, the frolics. She would miss the chance to become Aaron’s fraa and mudder of his children.
All the things she’d ever wanted.
Wrinkling her nose at the scent of sweat and warm feet, she leaned toward the window to watch the barren countryside now that Bert Richards had slowed down as much as he dared on a highway where the speed limit signs read seventy-five miles per hour.
“There! There it is.” Caleb, who served as map reader, pointed with one finger and fumbled the map with his other hand. “Tynan,
796. Turn there. Turn there.”
“Got it.” Bert whipped the steering wheel to the left. The force of the turn sent them all listing in the same direction. Hazel crowed with laughter and clapped her chubby hands. Bert hazarded a quick glance back, his forehead wrinkled above bushy eyebrows only partially hidden by thick, black-rimmed glasses. “Sorry about that. I didn’t want to miss the turn a second time. Is George still behind us?”
Deborah scooped up her notebook from where it had lodged against the van door and turned to peer through the back window. The van that carried their bags of clothes and the boxes of household goods still followed at a steady pace. “Jah. Yes, he’s still behind us.” Her tone sounded tart in her ears. She worked to soften it. “George is a good driver.”
Too good. Maybe a second or third wrong turn and they could wheel around and go home.
Deborah hugged her notebook to her chest, thinking of the two letters she’d begun. One to Josie, her best friend, and one to Aaron, who’d been well on his way to being her special friend. If only she could write to them and say it was all a big mistake and they were coming home. Then she could erase the look on Aaron’s face as he watched her get in the van and wave until she couldn’t see him anymore.
One more turn. One more turn and she would meet her future.
Gaitan Road.” Bert sang out as he made a
sharp right turn at a corner that featured a yellow sign that read Support Beeville Bees. Buy Local Honey.
“We did it. We’re here.”
“Indeed we are.” Mudder clapped her hands, her face lighted with a smile. The weariness of the trip dropped away, and Deborah saw an Abigail Lantz she hadn’t seen in a long time—not since Daed’s death more than two years ago. “We made it. Praise Gott.”
Praise Gott. Deborah hoped Mudder wouldn’t read her face. If coming to
made her mother
happy, than Deborah would make the best of it. Bee
Make the best of it. That’s what Daed would’ve said.
Whatever it is.
Even if it involved leaving behind the only home they’d ever known and all their friends and most of their family because Mudder wanted to marry an old beau who’d stepped aside long ago when she married Daed.
The van rocked to a stop in front of a long, dirty white building with rusted siding and a tin roof. The sign out front read Combination Store. A broken-down black buggy sat in front of it as if someone had parked it there and left it to waste away until it collapsed and disappeared into the earth.
“Come on, come on, don’t just sit there. Let’s get out.” Mudder slid open the door. “Stephen will be waiting.”
“He’s waited this long . . .” Deborah bit back the rest of the sentence. Mudder did what she thought was best. Deborah had no business questioning. “Are you sure he’s meeting us?”
“I told him we were dividing the trip into two days so we would arrive middle of the afternoon today.”
Deborah slipped from the van, glad to stand on solid ground. Dirt puffed up around her bare feet, then settled on her toes, turning them brown. Grasshoppers shot in all directions. Two landed on her apron. She brushed them away, more interested in the deafening sound in the air like a buzz saw cutting lumber. She’d never heard such a ruckus. The smell of manure mixed with cut hay hung in air heavy with humidity. She glanced back at Leila, who climbed down with more grace. She had the same bewildered look on her face as Rebekah. “What is that noise?”
“Cicadas, I reckon.” Rebekah shrugged. “Leastways that’s what I’m thinking. Caleb was reading about them in his books.”
Bugs. No doubt, her little brother would love this place.
The letters Stephen had written to her mother had talked about
as if it were a garden oasis. Deborah had imagined groves of citrus trees so
laden with oranges and grapefruits that the branches hung to the ground. He
described wild grapes, olives, and figs, filling Deborah’s mind with images of
something downright biblical—an Bee County Eden sprouting
up in . Texas with palm trees.
After all, Stephen said the Eden Gulf of Mexico
wasn’t far. He even said they could wade in the salty water if they had such a
Deborah definitely had a hankering, but it didn’t involve the ocean. She sidled closer to Leila. “This is the promised land?” She kept her voice down. “Citrus and orchards?”
Leila stuck Hazel on her hip and hoisted her canvas bag onto her shoulder. “Mudder sure thinks it is.” Despite the sweat on her face and the scraggly hair that had escaped her prayer kapp, Deborah’s younger sister didn’t look the least bit concerned about meeting the people who would be her new community. “She’s as happy as a bee on honeysuckle.”
Rebekah tittered and Hazel joined in, even though at three, she couldn’t know what was so funny.
“Are those twisted things trees?” Leila wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something bad too. “They sure are stunted looking.”
“Live oak, I think.” Caleb loved to share all the tidbit of information he squirreled away in his head from his beloved books. “The cacti are called prickly pear. The fat parts are nopales.”
He stumbled over the pronunciation of the last word. It came out no-pails. Whatever they were called, they didn’t look like they would be featured in the garden of Eden. They were more like the wilderness Deborah imagined when the bishop preached about the Israelites wandering around for forty years.
More thoughts she would keep to herself.
“Stephen mentioned the drought.” She tried to fill her voice with bright hope for the sake of her brother and sisters. After Stephen showed up in
for a wedding, Mudder had started to
smile more. Deborah liked her mother’s smile. “Some of the fields are green.
Look over there—see that garden. It’s nice. They irrigate. And there’s a
greenhouse. I’m sure that’s what Stephen was talking about. That’s probably his
farm there across the road.” Tennessee
The farm would one day be their home if Stephen had his way. And he would. Otherwise, why had Mudder agreed to move here?
The door of the Combination Store opened and Stephen strode out, one hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes from the sun. Onkel John marched right behind him, along with their cousin Frannie. Stephen had the lightest white-blond beard Deborah had ever seen. It matched
blond hair that curled under his straw hat and eyes the pale blue of summer sky. “You made it. I’ve been waiting for you. We didn’t know what time you would get here or the whole district would’ve turned out to greet you.”
He stumbled over some invisible rock. His face turned a deeper radish red under his sunburn. He hadn’t changed at all in the four months since they’d seen him back in
. “It’s good . . . very gut to see you again.” Tennessee
Mudder’s face turned a matching shade of red. “I thought you might be in the midst of chores.”
“I’m here.” Stephen stopped short a few feet from where Mudder stood, arms dangling at her sides. His massive, sunburned hand came out. Then, as if he thought better of the idea, he wrapped his fingers around his suspenders and snapped them. “I’ve been waiting to see you . . . and the kinner.”
Mudder wiped her hands on her apron, then smoothed her prayer kapp. Deborah opened her mouth to try to break the strange pause. Leila elbowed her. She closed her mouth.
“Well, don’t just stand there, say hello to Stephen and your Onkel John.” Mudder slipped past Stephen and accepted a hug from her brother as if to show her brood how to do it. “I’m so grateful to be here. What a long drive. My legs couldn’t take much more of that. Come, kinner, say hello.” Mudder grabbed Deborah’s arm and tugged her forward. “Onkel John is offering us a place to stay in his home. I reckon the least you can do is say hello.”
Squeezing past Stephen without meeting his gaze, Deborah nodded to her onkel, who towered over her, the sun a halo around the flat brim of his straw hat. He settled for a quick wave, while Frannie studied her sneakers as if caught in a sudden fit of shyness.
“Let’s get your things out of the vans. That’s our place right there yonder.” John pointed to an L-shaped house down the road from the store. “No point in moving the vans. I’m sure the drivers are ready for supper and a place to lay their heads. They’ll have to drive back to Beeville for that.”
“I’ll take care of it, John. Y’all visit.” Stephen strode toward the back of the first van, Caleb, Leila, and Rebekah straggling behind him. “I imagine the kinner are hungrier than bears and tired enough to hibernate for the winter.”
He chuckled. Deborah searched for the humor and couldn’t find it. Mudder had packed plenty of food for the trip. They’d turned the meals into picnics at the rest stops along the way. If she admitted the truth, those picnics had been fun.
“I’m Frannie, remember me?” Frannie had her mudder’s wiry frame, upturned nose, and freckles. She had grown taller since the last time Deborah had seen her, but she was still a bundle of sharp corners. “Come on, I’ll help you. Careful where you step. The horses have been decorating the road today. Don’t worry, y’all will get used to this heat.”
Thankful for a friendly face on someone close to her own age, Deborah veered in Frannie’s direction, careful to avoid the horse droppings she’d been so kind as to point out. Deborah wanted to put off the moment when she would have to enter one of the houses with rusty siding desiccated by the wind and sun and submit to the reality that this would be her home from now on.
Appearances meant nothing. She knew that. Still, hardscrabble dirt and the buggy junkyard next to the store and the sorry looking houses bothered her. Because they didn’t look like home. She liked her district with the neat yards, freshly painted wood frame houses, plain, but clean. She liked the pinks, purples, and yellows of the flower garden Mudder planted every spring. Would God find fault in these folks picking up the place a little, making it more pleasing to the eye? He created beauty, didn’t He?
God didn’t make mistakes and God made this place.
If God didn’t make mistakes, why did Daed have to die? What kind of plan was that?
Too weary to try to sort out her disconcerting thoughts and impressions, all tangled up like fishing wire and piercing hooks, Deborah led Frannie around to the back of the second van. A strange, shelled brownish-black creature with a pointy face, pink nose, and long, scaly tail trundled toward her on four short legs. It stopped within inches of her bare toes and sniffed.
She stumbled back, arms in the air, screeched, lost her balance, and plopped on her behind in a heap on the hard, rocky ground.
The ugly animal changed directions and scurried into the scraggly, brown grass, apparently as afraid of her as she was of it. “What was that?”
A man with a shock of dark hair hanging in his eyes under the brim of his straw hat tugged a trash bag of clothes from the van and plopped it on the ground. “I’ve never had anyone scream at the sight of my ugly face before.” Despite his nonchalant tone, a scarlet blush burned across his face, deepening the ugly hue of the thick, ropy scars that marred it. He had the same twang as Frannie, but it was at odds with his hoarse voice and the harsh sarcasm that underlined his words. “Guess there’s a first time for everything.”
About The Author
Kelly Irvin is the author of The Beekeeper’s Son, the first book in the Amish of Bee County series, published by Zondervan/HarperCollins. She is currently working on the second book of the series, The Bishop’s Son, which will release in June 2015.
Kelly is also author of the Bliss Creek Amish series and the New Hope Amish series, both from Harvest Housing Publishing. She has also penned two inspirational romantic suspense novels, A Deadly Wilderness and No Child of Mine.
Kelly has been married to photographer Tim Irvin for twenty-seven years. They have two young adult children, one gorgeous new granddaughter, two cats, and a tank full of fish. In her spare time, she likes to write short stories and read books by her favorite authors.
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