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"Get to the shelter! A tornado is heading this way!"
The male voice, accompanied by the incessant blaring of a vehicle horn, didn't wake Grace Lantz. She was already awake, her arm wrapped around her sister's shoulders, both of them kneeling beside their shared bed.
"Dear Jesus, please calm storm like in story we read in Bible class," Patience said as she leaned into Grace, shivering.
Too bad real life wasn't quite so cut-and-dried. Grace hadn't been able to sleep due to troubling thoughts about her imminent marriage, and she was already praying, Is this it, Lord? Did you want me to come to a complete and total end of myself? Well, I have. Now what? So when Patience awoke due to the storm, it'd been a simple matter to slide to their knees.
The horn blared again, followed by a pinging that sounded like hail hitting the window glass.
The bedroom door slammed against the wall as their older brother Jon barged into the room. "Come on. Hurry now."
"I finish prayer," Patience whimpered and stayed by the bed.
Jon huffed and looked at Grace. "The storm's pretty bad."
"Amen." Grace finished the prayer for her sister, snagged her hand, and pulled her to her feet.
Jon led the way with the dim, flickering beam from his flashlight's dying batteries as they rushed downstairs to the small basement. They all bypassed the big monstrosity of a wood-burning furnace with vents leading up through the haus. Mamm had already laid out sleeping pallets on the side of the basement that didn't leak. Daed and Jon never seemed to find the time to apply sealant to the one wall.
"Please, Jesus. Save us from the storm." Patience sank to her knees and prayed out loud.
"Amen." Daed sat beside her and patted her arm. "We should all pray for safety."
"And try to get some sleep," Mamm added, looking pointedly at Grace. "Tomorrow's a big day."
And with that, Grace's thoughts swirled back to the wedding, to the backless benches sitting in neat rows in the barn. The wagon waiting—the one that carried the benches from haus to haus each church Sunday, wedding, or funeral. Her stomach clenched, roiled. She sank into the softness of the quilt pallets Mamm had prepared. It was her last nacht as an unmarried girl. She was supposed to be excited, thinking about tomorrow nacht alone with Timothy, but were these prewedding jitters normal? The doubts? The fears? Her married friends never mentioned them. The—
An angry roar, like a train rushing past, filled the air. But this train was filled with scary thumps, bumps, and a sucking sound that seemed to squeal and scream.
Patience prayed the same words louder, probably so Gott could hear her over the strong winds. "Save us from the storm, Jesus."
How could Grace comfort her younger sister when she was filled with fear, too? Not because of the storm. Illinois tornadoes always seemed to miss them. How many nights had she spent in this basement due to false alarms? She wouldn't have even bothered to go downstairs if it weren't for Jon coming to get them.
Instead, the wedding demanded Grace's attention. Maybe she should pray, but how could she when her thoughts spun as fast as the wind outside?
An eerie silence filled the air. Grace raised her head. Daed met her gaze. "Try to get your sleep, Gracie. It's your wedding day tomorrow."
Jah. It was. And she wanted to crawl over and curl up in Daed's arms and ask him all the questions that still whirled in her mind. But she was a grown woman—plus, she needed to take care of Patience.
Grace pulled her sister into her arms, lay next to her on the pallet of quilts, and held her close until her breathing evened.
Ich liebe dich, Timothy. Really. That was her last thought before her eyelids closed.
She woke to Daed shaking her shoulder and holding a lantern. She rubbed her eyes and stared up into his grim face. "Daed?"
"You need to come upstairs." His mouth worked as if he wanted to say more, but nothing emerged.
"Is Timothy here?"
Daed gulped and shook his head.
Her breath lodged in her throat. "You're scaring me." The words were whispered so she wouldn't wake her sister and Mamm.
Grace pushed to her feet and followed Daed from the cellar.
He stopped and pulled open the backdoor. The sun wasn't even up yet. The sky was just barely lightening.
She sucked in a breath.
The barn was gone.
The backless benches were gone.
The buggies and wagons were gone.
And the big tree with the swing hanging on it lay uprooted across the driveway, the open family buggy perched neatly on top.
* * *
Zeke Bontrager pulled his best friend's transistor radio closer and adjusted the volume.
The other two men in the loft with him fell silent. They'd spent the night there just in case the mare needed help delivering her new foal. She hadn't. The foal had been safely born a half an hour ago and was nursing when the men left the stall to try to catch a few hours of sleep in the loft, if they could, with the violent thunderstorm raging outside.
"A line of severe thunderstorms moved through the region during the overnight and early morning hours. Eleven tornadoes have been confirmed, with widespread straight-line wind damage resulting across much of Illinois and eastward before the storms weakened over northwest Ohio," the broadcaster's static-filled voice said.
"Jah, I heard that Hidden Springs, located near Arthur, Illinois, was really hit hard last night." His brother Eli picked up his hat from the loft floor and twirled it on his finger. Such a show-off.
"I wonder if they need help. If they do, maybe we could volunteer," Zeke said. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to show Daed that he was a hero and not just a goof-off, as Daed was so fond of calling Zeke. He glanced down to the dark barn floor below. How long before people would be up and he could find out about arrangements?
"I think we should go." His friend, Hezekiah Esh—better known as Kiah—turned the radio off as it started blaring music with a strong bass beat. "I don't want my daed to find out about the radio. He'll take it away and lecture me about how a preacher's son needs to set a good example, even if he's on his rumspringa."
"Jah, and how will you explain knowing about the tornado?" Eli scoffed.
Kiah frowned. "Since it just happened…maybe he won't ask. Chances are he'll have heard anyway. Just not from a radio." He shoved the forbidden device farther away and covered it with some loose hay.
"I agree. We definitely should go." Zeke stood and brushed the straw off his pants. "I'm sure the Mennonites are already on it. Maybe they'd let us join in."
"You'd get to go anyway since you worked search and rescue before." Eli frowned. "Me, I'd have to ride in on your shirttails if I'm allowed to go at all. My boss threatened my job if I take any more unnecessary time off. And since I have no search-and-rescue experience, he'll see it as unnecessary."
"Your own fault. You're the one who decided that float trip was more important than work." Zeke frowned. Eli needed to grow up. Maybe if Zeke was gone for a while, his brother would learn to stand on his own.
"Hey, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And you went, too." Eli swatted him with his hat.
"As a guide." Zeke swatted him back. Why did he always resort to such childish behavior around Eli?
"Boys." Kiah's daed stood at the foot of the ladder. "We need to talk."
Kiah peered down. "The horse is fine, Daed. We were with her up until a little bit ago. Did something go wrong?"
"I just peeked in. You did a fine job. It's not about the mare."
Kiah grimaced and kicked more straw at the radio.
Zeke raised his eyebrows.
Eli scampered down the ladder first, no doubt because, as he often told Zeke, he was only guilty by association and, therefore, not guilty at all. "Whatever it is, I didn't do it," he said when he reached Preacher Thomas.
"Nein, and you won't. Go on, now. And put your hat on straight." The preacher waved him off.
Eli straightened his hat and trotted out the barn doors. "See you at home, brother. When you get released from your punishment."
"Grow up." Zeke followed Kiah down and then stood silently beside his best friend, his gaze fixed on the ground. There wasn't any point in confessing to the radio sin until they knew what the preacher wanted. But he couldn't think what else he might have done.
"Our brothers in Hidden Springs need us. A couple of vans are leaving in less than an hour. And since you both want to go, you will. But I expect to hear you made a positive difference there and didn't get into trouble. I also expect you to act like mature young men."
Zeke caught his breath. Kiah's daed had heard their conversation? And he implied he thought they were immature? Okay, maybe they were, but they'd been alone. No girls to impress. No one around to judge. Or so he'd thought.
"You'll be assigned to one of three jobs: search and rescue, cleanup, or reconstruction. Possibly all three, depending on the need."
Zeke raised his gaze enough to peek at Kiah.
Kiah's Adam's apple jumped. "We'll be as good as gold, Daed."
"And don't think I don't know about the radio."
* * *
Grace didn't know where to start. She mindlessly helped Mamm with breakfast and cleanup, then slipped into her tennis shoes and ran out to find Daed and Jon. It was surprising Timothy hadn't shown up to check on her and her family yet—or for the wedding, which was supposed to be at eight thirty that morning. Nobody had, for that matter. But maybe word had already gone out that the wedding would be postponed until the next available Thursday, since their barn was gone.
And maybe Timothy's family had suffered even greater losses. Should she go check on them? Probably. But she'd have to walk five miles…unless Daed and Jon could lift the buggy off the tree. She'd wait until after lunch. That would give Timothy time to do the protective future-husband thing and check on her first.
Jon and Daed tossed the remaining rubble off to the side of the place where their barn once stood. There was a mess, but considering everything lost, not that much remained. A shingle or two, broken pieces of boards. A broken hammer—the iron part was there; the wooden handle was missing. The chickens were gone. The hog had been killed. The cows were missing with no word on their fate. And one horse—out of three—wandered around the pasture, none the worse for wear.
"Can I help?" Grace skidded to a stop beside Daed as he crouched down to gather a handful of nails.
Daed sighed and pointed toward the haus. "We have some broken windows. Sweep up the glass, and Jon and I will work on getting the glass replaced or the windows boarded up next. Then help your mamm with Patience. She doesn't handle change well."
The understatement of the year. But Grace wanted to be useful. Not just sweeping up glass. Or doing laundry, because if the glass shattered, some might have sprinkled over the bedding.
Cleanup chores the morning after a tornado was not how she imagined her wedding day. She'd imagined Timothy gazing lovingly into her eyes, touching her hand gently, and whispering sweet nothings. Something that made her feel loved and cherished, even if he'd never treated her that way in…well, ever. He'd been more pragmatic. We're a good match. And they were. But…was it wrong to want sparks? To want to be with him? To dream of their wedding with longing instead of dread?
Maybe something would change when they saw each other after this terrible disaster. He'd be more demonstrative. She'd be more receptive.
She could hope.
"I thought I'd run over and check on Timothy's family after lunch, if it's okay." Grace glanced at Daed, then toward the end of the driveway.
"I'm surprised he hasn't come by yet." Daed glanced toward the road, too.
Jon chuckled. "He probably thought to make his escape while the going's good. At this rate, little sister, I might be married before you."
Considering his wedding would be in two weeks, it was probably true. Weddings were held only on Thursday mornings during the fall or in the early spring. She and Timothy might have to wait until next year. But maybe her unrealistic expectations for flutters and sparks would fade by then.
She glanced toward the road again, as if Timothy would come around the corner. Too much to hope for, probably. Though Jon had already gone to check on Aubrey's family. She glanced at her brother. "Aubrey—"
"Aubrey and her family are fine; danki for asking. No damages." Jon smirked.
Daed frowned. "Be nice, Jonathon."
"Sorry, Daed. Sorry, Gracie."
Grace sighed. "I'm glad they had no damages." She caught her breath. Maybe Timothy's family had more damages than hers. "You passed by Timothy's place on the way there, though. Are they…?"
"I didn't see any damage at their property," Jon said. "But the road was a mess getting there, and I had to be careful of downed power lines. I ended up cutting through the woods, pastures, and fields, and I didn't really look too closely at their place."
Maybe Timothy hadn't wanted to make the effort that Jon had to. Timothy did like to take the easy way, and cutting through pastures wouldn't be as simple as the road. However, if he suffered from prewedding jitters as badly as she, maybe he had made his escape. She might be suffering from doubts and insecurities, but being jilted wasn't an option. She'd be talked about and teased for days. Weeks. Months. Who knew?
"Gracie? Gracie, where are you?" Patience called from somewhere inside.
Grace headed toward the haus.
Bride Jilted during Tornado.
Or: Groom Rides Tornado to Freedom.
Perhaps she spent too much time peeking in The Budget for news.
But if he had left, she'd what? She had no idea.
After courting three years, there was no turning back.
Zeke climbed out of the van and stretched. It was only about a four-hour drive from Shipshewana, Indiana, to Hidden Springs on the outskirts of Arthur, Illinois, but being cramped into the back seat of an overfull vehicle had taken its toll. At least he'd had plenty of time to pray that he'd somehow be a hero in his daed's eyes. And they weren't even there yet. Instead, they were taking a bathroom and refreshment break at a fast-food restaurant.
After he'd ordered a hot mocha, they got back into the van.
Zeke reclaimed his window seat and looked at the scenery. Now that they were closer to Hidden Springs, signs of damage were everywhere. A church was gone, but the sign remained. The words read HE CAN CALM THE STORM. Zeke snorted. Jah, He could, but apparently He didn't want to.
Trees were down all over the place, shoved partially off the road, and men in orange vests and hard hats worked around downed power lines. Zeke supposed they'd turned off the electricity so they could move the lines from the road and work on them, but he didn't know for sure. Electricity was foreign to him.
The driver pulled into a large parking lot at a school. A few cars, pickups, and vans were already parked there, and someone carried a box filled with towering stacks of paper cups inside. Someone followed with a large yellow picnic jug.
Zeke forced his cramped legs into movement and climbed out of the van. Hopefully, his duties wouldn't require him to climb into the back seat of another Englisch van. He'd prefer a horse and buggy. Or to travel by shank's pony, though someone in the van had mentioned the Amish and Mennonite host families might provide transportation.
Kiah jumped out of the van and moved to stand beside Zeke. The Red Cross hadn't arrived yet, but considering this was a disaster, they no doubt would arrive in a few days. Until then, the Mennonite missionaries they'd ridden with were in charge of giving directions. Or rather, whomever they reported to here in Hidden Springs.
Today, the sun was shining, and other than the stray shingles, siding, and chunks of insulation lying in the parking lot, Zeke didn't see any damage at the school.
"Leave your bags in the vehicle until you meet up with your host family." The Mennonite driver paused in front of them. "Go on inside, report, and get your assignments."
Zeke nodded and followed the others in his group who'd already headed in that direction, Kiah by his side.
As they neared the building, a large, white Siberian husky mix with dirty, matted fur approached. He looked well-fed but was minus a collar. Most of his group ignored the dog, but Zeke crouched down, hand extended.
An older Amish man came around the corner.
An injured Englisch man wearing ratty jeans and a green T-shirt and smoking a cigarette kicked at the animal. The dog cowered. "Stupid stray."
"You shouldn't be cruel to him," Zeke said, peering up. "You're displaced, too. In fact, we all are for now."
The man grunted, crushed out his cigarette, and went inside. The Amish man smiled and said something under his breath that Zeke didn't catch.
The dog sniffed his fingers, wagged his tail, and licked Zeke's hand, then sat in front of him, staring up at him with one pale-blue eye, one brown.
Zeke stood. "You can be my dog while I'm here. I'll find you a good home. I think I'll call you Shadow."
Kiah had gone into the building without Zeke, so he turned and followed his friend. The dog stayed on his heels until he reached the door; then he stopped and sat.
"You're well trained, aren't you, boy?" Zeke patted the dog's head. "Stay." He went inside, followed by the Amish man.
A square folding table stood just inside the door. A piece of paper taped to the front read, SIGN IN HERE. Someone's smartphone lay abandoned on the table, along with a pen, a stack of index cards, and a half-empty paper cup of black coffee. An unoccupied gray folding chair stood behind that, and about half of his group loitered there, staring at the abandoned paper. Zeke joined them. No one seemed to know exactly what to do.
The Amish man walked past and disappeared through another doorway. Since Zeke didn't know him, he probably was a local.
"The driver went to find someone in charge," Kiah said. "I hope they put us together."
"Me, too." Zeke would much rather be with his friend than with his distant cousin Vernon, who was also on this trip. He and Vernon barely tolerated each other.
Zeke glanced around the gymnasium. Pullout bleachers and basketball hoops were on the perimeter of the room, while colorful tape circles, lines, and half circles marked the open area. Over by the far wall, someone had set up a few cots, along with a long table and more gray folding chairs. A few Englischers sat there, holding phones or computer tablets. The driver stood beside the table, talking to a lady in blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. Aside from the colorful tape on the floor, the whole windowless room appeared bland. The woman gestured to a door at the side of the room, and the driver went in that direction, disappearing from sight.
A few minutes later, the same older Amish man from outside reappeared. He was small, slight of build, wiry, and had a bustle in his step. He hurried up to their group, the driver behind him.
"Welcome! We're so glad you're here to help us." Despite the lack of size, his voice boomed. "Follow me, please, and we'll let you know where you're going and what you'll be doing. This way." He turned on his heels and hurried back the way he came from.
Zeke glanced at Kiah, and they followed.
"This way," the man said at the doorway, and he took off at a fast trot down a long hallway with lockers—also gray—lining the beige walls.
"Apparently color interferes with higher education," Kiah said.
Zeke laughed, earning a glance from a brown-haired young Englisch man about their age, wielding a wide broom. He wore ragged jeans with holes in both knees and a bright-green T-shirt with a name of a soft drink printed on it—the same man who had kicked the dog. His hair was longer than most Englischers', with unruly curls throughout. A large white bandage was wrapped around the top of his head and a red gash marred one cheek. His eye was swollen shut. Maybe he was the janitor?
The Amish man led the way into what must be a classroom, though it was unlike any Amish classroom Zeke had ever seen. Tables instead of desks. A computer at the teacher's desk. A screen instead of a chalkboard.
A skeleton, taller than the man who took them there, stood guard beside the desk. Next to the bony hand, another half-full cup of black coffee waited.
Zeke stumbled to a stop and scratched his neck, staring at the staging of the bony hand and the coffee. This was getting weirder and weirder.
"The school is being used as a meeting place for the volunteers and a temporary lodging for the families who'd lost their homes," the Amish man explained as he approached the desk and sorted through a mess of papers. "Ah, here we are." He started calling out names and handing an index card to the person who answered.
"Um." Zeke cleared his throat and forced his attention away from the bony hand. "Here?"
"Don't be afraid, son. If you know the answer, just shout it out." The man chuckled. With a tilted head, he surveyed Zeke for a long, silent moment as if gauging his worth. "Ezekiel Bontrager," the man said again with a look that made Zeke want to be a better man. "You'll do."
What? Zeke frowned. Had his reputation followed him here from Shipshewana?
The Amish man shuffled through the cards, pulled out another one, and handed it to Zeke. It had the name Seth Lantz written on it along with an address. "Roads are bad out that way. Lots of damage. You'll likely end up walking partway. Be sure to avoid downed power lines. Seth knows you're coming, and he'll give you and your buddy a place to stay and your assignments."
His buddy? Zeke edged closer to Kiah and glanced at his card.
His best friend's card had a different name.
Could they trade with someone so they had the same destination?
"Don't ask to trade." The slight, wiry man shook his head. "I was told to keep you boys separated."
Well, that was unfortunate. But it probably was wise if the organizers wanted them to interact with the community instead of each other.
Zeke would make the best of it. "The place I'm staying…Any unmarried daughters?"
The thin, wiry man smirked. "Twelve sons. Ain't it a wonder?" He laughed as if he'd made a joke. But his eyes held a measure of something. Mischief, maybe.
Zeke didn't get it. But apparently a pretty girl to spend his downtime with wasn't in the forecast, either.
The Mennonite missionary who was also in the room eyed Zeke sternly. "There'll be no dating on this trip. Period. You are here for assistance only. That no-dating line is drawn in quicksand. Not mere sand. That means it won't be overlooked. Immediate punishment."
* * *
Grace cleaned the entire upstairs, sweeping and scrubbing the floors. She made the beds with fresh sheets, including the ones in the spare rooms. They might be asked to house an Amish family whose home became uninhabitable due to storm damage. Mamm took the sheets to wash and hang outside.
- "Fans of Amish romance will love The Amish Wedding Promise. In Laura's signature style, you'll find a swoon-worthy hero battling his own insecurities, a daring heroine longing for the one who fulfills her heart's desire, and an ever-loving God who can calm the raging storms of life. This book pulled on my heartstrings, but also made me laugh. Another book from Laura that I didn't want to put down! Once you begin reading this author's books, you'll want to read them all."—Jennifer Spredemann, author of An Amish Deception
- "Can a tornado and a cancelled wedding be God's answer to Grace's prayer? When Laura V. Hilton tells a story, expect the unexpected!"—Charlotte Hubbard, author of New Beginnings at Promise Lodge
- "[An] enjoyable inspirational romance."—Publishers Weekly on Christmas Admirer
- On Sale
- Dec 17, 2019
- Page Count
- 352 pages