Pushing a little harder than she meant to on the screened back door of her parents’ house, Faith Kemp tried to catch it before it banged closed. No need to let the ladies inside know they’d gotten under her skin.
The problem was, a sleeping baby strapped to her chest meant she had to be careful as she moved, and the bag of baby things made her even more awkward . . . so she missed. With a wince at the loud crack of wood on wood, Faith paused on the steps, shocked the baby hadn’t woken, and winced again at the hole of silence in the house.
Jah. They’d heard.
She sighed. The brisk Indiana autumn air blew through her dress and cloak, counteracted by the warmth of the bright sun. She still hesitated. Maybe she shouldn’t go out when the weather was so windy?
For a second, she debated sneaking back into the house to grab the library book she was reading so she could go to the empty dawdi haus across the graveled courtyard to read. One of the three primary structures on their farm— the main house, dawdi haus, and barn—the small set of private rooms where her grossdawdi had lived before his death was her favorite quiet escape.
I’ll probably get caught.
She couldn’t face another second with the ladies who’d come visiting. Most were kind enough, but several were the doubters in their Amish community. The ones who hadn’t been quick to welcome her back. Especially Martha Gick.
But ignoring them wasn’t easy when they were in her house.
“Faith!” her mother called from inside. “If you’re determined to pick blumes, make sure the boppli is warm enough.”
As if she would have done anything else. Faith looked down into the baby’s angelic face, her rosebud lips pursed in sleep. She’d taken care of this baby from the day her sister, Mercy, had given birth. She’d traveled across the country with her. Loved her. Cared for her. Even named her, because Mercy could hardly bring herself to look at her own child. In her heart, Faith knew that her sister had already decided to give the baby away and probably didn’t want to bond with her. Faith, on the other hand, had found her calling with motherhood. Every second with Rose was precious.
Mamm is only caring for her only kinskind, grandchild.
Faith managed to force lightness into her voice. “All bundled up,” she called back. “And I have a bag with her things.”
“And try not to trip.” Worry laced the words.
Hanging on to her patience took effort. “I’ll be extra careful.” She always was with the baby.
A pause greeted that, followed by a reluctant and yet still brusque, “Oll recht. Don’t stay out too late.”
Only late enough for the bevy of ladies gathered in the kitchen to leave. They were making applesauce from the fruit harvested from her parents’ small orchard. It would take them a while. Faith planned to stay away until they were gone.
Was it terrible of her to be happy that little Rose had fussed and fussed, meaning Faith couldn’t be of much help?
The baby scrunched up her face and let out a protest at Faith for standing still too long, even as she remained asleep. With a grin, Faith started down the stairs, out past the barn, and along the fenced fields of larger produce. The pumpkins and squash had both grown wonderful gute this year, ripe and round in the fields. Dat would need more help harvesting.
But she wasn’t going to worry about that right now.
The nattering women in the kitchen, with their probing comments and speculative glances, were too fresh. How Mamm missed the intent behind those glances and questions was a miracle, but she always gave people more credit than they deserved. Faith had been that way once, too.
And yes, she’d known when she’d returned home that it would take time to regain some of her community’s trust, but she hadn’t expected it to be this hard. She was the gute girl. Mercy was the one with all the dreams and plans and disdain for their upbringing. Meanwhile, Faith was paying the price for both of them all the same.
So much speculation.
Beyond telling their local community of Amish in Charity Creek, Indiana, that Rose was Mercy’s child, they hadn’t shared much else about Faith’s return with the baby. Mostly because Faith had refused to share the details with her own family, not wanting her parents to be more upset than they had to be.
And they would be, if they knew where and how Mercy was living.
Many in their church had been welcoming, but a few were unaccepting. They thought of Faith as a girl who’d jumped the fence and returned only when she realized she couldn’t make it in the Englischer world. She was fairly certain some wondered if Rose was actually her baby and she’d lied, pinning the sin on her absent twin sister.
But Rose wasn’t a sin and she wasn’t a mistake. She was perfect and innocent. She deserved love and a gute life.
Whatever path Gotte had intended for her, Faith never in a thousand years would have pictured this one. Although maybe this hadn’t been His plan for her. Maybe He’d had other ideas and Faith had taken a wrong turn. Or maybe her sister’s tornado of a life had carved a path through Faith’s decisions and forced her down a different road.
But Rose was the light of her life, and she wouldn’t change a thing. Except maybe Mercy coming home, too. Not that that would ever happen.
Her mater’s words ringing in her ears, Faith carefully made her way over the steps at one of the fences— coordination was not one of her blessings—and headed out into a large, untilled field beyond. One full of autumn wildflowers.
Goldenrod lit the entire area in happy yellow that glowed in the sun. Most would consider it a weed, but not only could it be used in herbal teas, it would be perfect for the autumn door wreath she was making as a donation for the upcoming Harvest Festival.
But first she had to find the perfect spot to lay Rose down. She didn’t want to risk scratching the baby as she plucked the flowers.
Lifting her skirts and the bag of baby paraphernalia, she hiked through the tall grasses to a spot at the edge of their property where the grasses were short, thanks to a large oak spreading its limbs wide and providing protection from the wind for the baby. There Faith spread out the blanket she’d brought, then carefully managed to wiggle Rose out of the straps and lay her in the center of the blanket. Thankfully she stayed asleep through the transition for once.
If she woke up and started crawling, she wouldn’t go past the edges of the blanket, so she would be safe enough. Pressing a kiss to Rosie’s soft cheek, Faith took up the flat basket she’d brought, along with gardening gloves and a pair of shears, and got to work cutting flowers, never going where she couldn’t see Rose, checking on her frequently. Despite the chill in the air, the day was perfect, with sun bright and warm on her face between gusts of wind.
She hummed softly to herself. No tune in particular.
“My bees need those blumes.”
On a gasp, hand flying over her heart, Faith whirled around at the deep baritone voice close behind her.
Letting out a sharp breath of relief when she recognized her intruder, she huffed a laugh. “Daniel Kanagy, you about gave me a heart attack.”
He said nothing to that. Instead, he stood there, studying her in that quiet way he had. Though, if she wasn’t mistaken, a tint of red warmed his cheeks.
Willing her still-racing heart to calm down, she offered him a smile. Even though she’d been home almost two months now, beyond one brief greeting—the first time she’d attended Gmay after returning to Charity Creek—she hadn’t talked to Daniel directly. Nothing beyond a nod on Sundays at Gmay or if they crossed paths. He’d always been a nice boy, if somewhat withdrawn, when they’d been in school together.
But he was that way with everyone.
She had no reason to expect him to greet her with harsh words or suspicious stares, but she’d started guarding her heart against people’s reactions to her since coming home.
“We haven’t had a chance to talk much since I got home,” she said. “How are your family? The store?”
She’d heard already through others, of course, but she didn’t know what else to ask. The Kanagys, who owned a family-run, all-Amish-made gift shop in town called A Thankful Heart, had three boys—Daniel, Aaron, and Joshua. The younger two had each recently married local girls, Hope Beiler and Joy Yoder, both of whom Faith liked.
Daniel made a face like he’d sucked on a lemon, and she almost smiled. He’d never been much for small talk, as she recalled.
“Fine,” he said. Then crossed his arms over what had become a broad chest.
The kind of strength that could weather any storm. The errant thought, and a fanciful one for her, sent heat into her cheeks. What a silly thing to think about a man she hardly knew.
Granted, he’d always been one of the best-looking boys in the district. All the Kanagy boys were, with their dark hair and dimples. Daniel had his mother’s rich brown eyes, but he was the only one with a cleft in the middle of his chin, which Faith had always thought made him seem trustworthy for some odd reason.
And his quietness, instead of being awkward, gave him an air of confidence and mystery. At least that’s what all the girls said.
The girls he ignored. Faith included. Maybe even more so, given who and what she was now.
At twenty-five, she was older. Now with a baby who was not her own to care for.
Not exactly a great prospect for marriage. Widowers with kinder of their own to raise . . . now, those had been buzzing around her like a swarm of bees. However, much to her parents’ dismay, taking on a husband who might pass away while she was still relatively young, leaving her with even more children to care for on her own, was not something Faith would consider. Which meant she needed to figure out how to support herself and a baby. Her parents loved her, but she had trouble picturing a future where she was anything but a burden to them, and Dat needed help on the farm.
She shushed the small voice in her head touting her faults.
“I’m glad you are all well,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to visit the shop. Has it changed much?”
“Some.” Another one-word answer.
Faith didn’t take it as rudeness or as anything against her. This was just his way.
“What are you doing out here?” she tried.
“Tending my bees.”
Right. He’d said something about bees when he’d startled her. At least that was more than a one-word answer. Faith smiled brightly. Daniel blinked. A long, slow one, like he wasn’t quite sure why she was bothering to aim her teeth in his direction.
“I thought bees went dormant as it got cooler?” she said, undeterred.
Mercy might be the wild one, the fun one, but Faith had always thought of herself as the easy one to be around. She liked people. Usually.
Daniel shrugged. “Honeybees overwinter, but only after it drops below fifty degrees.”
That was the longest sentence she’d gotten from him yet. Did she push her luck? “Overwinter?”
He took the bait, shoulders visibly dropping as he eased into a topic he clearly enjoyed. “The drones die off and the queen and female workers huddle in the hive and shiver to generate heat.”
Faith leaned forward, sincerely interested. “They shiver? I bet that’s something.”
Humor tugged at the corners of Daniel’s mouth for half a heartbeat until she ruined it by saying, “Maybe you can show me sometime.”
The corners turned into a frown. “Maybe.”
She stiffened. He wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance. Perhaps he was more wary of her than she’d thought.
Then he said, “But right now they are still foraging to build their honey stores for the winter . . . and you are taking their flowers.”
Faith startled, glancing around her. She hadn’t even thought about bees—just the arrangement she was planning in her head. “I’m so sorry.” She studied her half-full basket.
After a moment of hesitation, Daniel gave her a wave, then turned to leave.
“Is there an area where I can safely cut flowers that won’t disturb your bees?” she asked.
She wasn’t even sure why she did, beyond a sudden urge to not be alone, and Daniel Kanagy, of all people, was . . . nice . . . to be around. Comfortable.
Before he could answer, a tiny wail of protest sounded from under the tree. “Uh-oh. Sounds like someone’s awake.”
Faith left Daniel to hurry over to the tree, except halfway there she managed to stick her foot in a hole and fell to her hands and knees with a muffled oomph.
“Are you oll recht?” Big hands at her waist scooped her up to deposit her on her feet.
Faith sucked in sharply at Daniel’s sudden nearness. Not in alarm, but in the way she suddenly wouldn’t have minded a hug, too. To hide such a thought from him, she stepped back with a forced laugh. “I’m fine. It happens a lot.”
She peeped at his face, expecting censure, only to find a kind sort of worry there. To make him feel better she held up her glove-covered hands. “Gute thing I was wearing these.”
Another cry from Rosie brought her swinging around to continue hurrying to the baby. Sure enough, Rose was wide awake, had wriggled out of the blanket Faith had wrapped her in, and was scooting around, stopping at the edges of the blanket like she always did. Rosie didn’t seem to like the feel of leaves and grass on her hands and feet. All tangled up, and her face scrunched up and red, she was definitely angry that Faith had dared to leave her someplace where she couldn’t get away.
Did it make her a bad mother that she sort of dreaded the day when Rosie realized she could go past the edges of a quilt?
A shadow fell over them as Faith unwound the baby from her wrappings. She glanced up to find Daniel had followed. “What’s wrong?” he asked, staring at Rose.
“Nothing. She’s just hungry and”—Faith patted Rosie’s bottom—“and needs a change.”
Quickly she had the baby in a dry, clean cloth diaper, which was a feat all by itself. The child was never still, and a small sheen of sweat lined Faith’s upper lip by the time she’d finished. She needed to get a bottle ready, but she knew her Rose. At eight months old, she cried if she wasn’t held or crawling. No in-between. Faith glanced around for a safe place to tuck her, but the only available safe spot was Daniel, who hadn’t moved. With a mental shrug, she held a wiggling, protesting Rose up to him. “Do you mind?”
She nearly laughed at the panicked expression that stole across Daniel’s otherwise stoic features. She’d seen him play with kinder at various community gatherings, but never babies. And neither of his brothers had given him nieces or nephews yet. Maybe he wasn’t comfortable with them?
He didn’t reach for the baby, taking a step back even.
“Please?” Faith jiggled Rose midair, arms starting to ache. “It would help me so much.”
That did it. With visible reluctance, he scooped the baby out of Faith’s hands and up against his chest. At first, he tried to hold her like a regular baby, cradled on her back in the crook of his arm.
Rose was having none of that.
She thrashed her little legs and arms until he sat her up, then did everything she could to push and scoot up his chest to his shoulder.
Excerpted from The Gift of Faith by Kristen McKanagh. Copyright © 2023 by Kristen McKanagh. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Publishing Group. All right reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.