Last week my prequel e-novella to the Amish Quilt Shop Series, which I write as Isabella Alan released! It’s know available on all ebook formats for $2.99!
Here’s the first chapter, to introduce you to my Amish town of Rolling Brook. Enjoy!
An Amish Quilt Shop Mystery Novella
A person might think it’s easy to spot a black and white French bulldog wearing a red and purple striped sweater and matching boots in the snow. That person would be wrong.
I brushed my long blond curls out of my face as I peered under an old feed trough on my aunt Eleanor Lapp’s Amish farm. I found pebbles, stray pieces of hay, and an abandoned spider web—at least I told myself it was abandoned. No French bulldog. I dusted snow and dirt off my corduroy-clad knees as I stood. My Frenchie, Oliver, was scared into hiding by my aunt’s chickens. It hadn’t even occurred to me that Aunt Eleanor allowed the chickens to roam the yard. If I had known, I would never have taken Oliver outside for a potty break without first corralling the wayward poultry. Oliver took one look at them and bolted. He suffered from an unexplained phobia of birds.
The chickens were the last livestock on the farm. The cows, sheep, and horses my aunt raised during my childhood had been sold to pay her medical bills.
“Oliver!” I called as I circumnavigated the outhouse, which was no longer in use since my aunt’s Amish district adopted indoor plumbing, praise be. I shivered at the idea of scurrying to the outhouse in the middle of a frigid February night.
“Oliver! The chickens are back in their coop. They won’t hurt you. I promise.” I spotted a dot of red under the low boughs of an evergreen tree ten yards from the house. “I can see you.”
He wriggled forward, and the dot of red, his boots, disappeared underneath the tree. Well, that backfired, I thought. And when had he learned English?
Suddenly frantic barking peppered with high-pitched tweets disturbed the quiet winter morning. Three blackbirds zoomed from the tree like missiles. I ducked at the last second before they beaned me in the head. Oliver was a breath behind. His eyes were the size of oranges and he ran at me full tilt, catapulting his solid body into the air. “Oomph!” The wind whooshed from my lungs when I caught him. I stumbled back on the slick snow-covered grass but managed to maintain my footing.
I rubbed Oliver’s back as if he were a human toddler. “It’s okay. It’s okay. They’re gone.” He burrowed his head into my chest. Maybe my fiancé, Ryan, had been right. Maybe I should have left Oliver in Texas with him.
When Oliver stopped shaking, I bent to set him on the ground. “Can you walk into the house?”
He kicked at me with his doggie boots. I took that as a “no.”
I turned and started to carry him to the small pale yellow ranch house with black shutters that my uncle Jacob had built nearly forty years ago on a corner of his family’s land. He had built the house right after my aunt and uncle married. The couple had been unable to have children, and much of the Lapp acreage had been sold to other Amish farmers. After my uncle died, my aunt kept a tiny corner of the original property for herself along with the little yellow house and a flock of aggressive white chickens.
When I drove to Holmes Country from the airport the day before, I was pleased to see that the house appeared just as it had when my parents and I moved to Texas when I was ten.
The clip-clop of horses and the rattle of buggies took my attention away from Oliver and the chickens. Two Amish buggies turned from the road onto my aunt’s property. Oliver burrowed his black and white head into my shoulder again when he eyed the large horses pulling the buggies closer to us. “We aren’t in Dallas anymore,” I whispered to the dog.
His batlike ears flicked toward my voice.
The horses came to a stop side by side. A middle-aged Amish woman sat in the driver’s seat of the first buggy. She set the reins across the buggy’s dashboard and had an economy about her movements as she climbed down from the buggy, pulling a horse blanket out with her. She waved to me before securing the blanket on her horse’s back.
A younger woman, in her twenties I guessed, carefully lowered herself from the second buggy, which was driven by Anna, my aunt’s oldest and dearest friend. Anna was close to my aunt’s age, somewhere in her late sixties, but her cheeks had the rosy glow of activity and health, while my aunt’s were drawn and pale. Anna handed the younger woman two quilting baskets. “Angie, I’m glad to see that you made it. How was your flight?”
“It was fine.” I patted Oliver’s back. “My dog probably would disagree.”
The petite younger woman smiled. “What’s his name?”
I smiled. “Oliver.”
“He’s darling. I’m Rachel Miller. I’m so happy to finally meet you, Angie. Eleanor talks about you constantly. She’s very proud of you.”
I smiled. “I’m proud of her, too. She’s the toughest woman I know.”
Anna adjusted her wire-rimmed glasses before taking one of the baskets from Rachel. “She is that.”
The first woman examined my dog. “Is he wearing clothes?”
I blushed. “A sweater and boots. He’s a Texas dog. He’s not used to an Ohio winter. I didn’t want him to catch a chill.”
She arched an eyebrow at me. “He’s just a dog.”
I frowned. Oliver was much more than just a dog.
Rachel took a tentative step forward and let Oliver sniff her hand. “He’s sweet.”
The bird trauma forgotten, the Frenchie gave her his best doggie grin and licked her hand.
“Don’t mind Martha,” Rachel said under her breath. “She’s the most practical woman I know, and that’s saying something considering most of the women I know are Amish.”
Martha lifted her quilting basket from her buggy. “I can hear you, Rachel.”
Rachel covered her mouth to hide her smile.
“Eleanor is ready for us?” Anna asked.
I set Oliver on the ground. “She’s been talking about it all morning. She misses your quilting circle meetings.”
“And we miss having her at them.” Anna hooked her basket over her arm. “How is she feeling today?”
My face fell slightly. “Today is a good day.” My aunt had been battling cancer for the past three years, and recently the disease resurfaced with a vengeance. As soon as I heard the cancer returned, I was on the next plane to Ohio. I wanted to spend as much quality time with my favorite aunt as possible. Not that I thought the worst—she beat it before, she would beat it again. Neither Ryan nor my mother, Aunt Eleanor’s much younger sister, were pleased that I’d left Dallas in the midst of wedding planning.
Martha started toward the house. “We will catch a chill if we stand out here much longer.”
“I almost forgot!” Rachel hurried back to Anna’s buggy. “I brought some treats from the bakery to share.” She set her quilting basket on the floor of the buggy and removed a large flat basket covered with a navy blue linen cloth.
I took the basket from her hands. “I’ll carry that.”
Oliver bumped into the back of my calves. Apparently, he didn’t want to be on his own in this strange snowy world.
“Thank you.” She placed a hand to her stomach. “I’m expecting my third child in May, and I’m not as steady on my feet in the snow and ice as I used to be. Aaron—that’s my husband—is so overprotective. He wouldn’t let me drive the buggy here and insisted that I ride with Anna. I hate to put Anna out like that.”
Third child? Rachel looked no more than twenty-five. I was thirty-three and not yet married. In the Amish world, I would be a spinster.
Anna pushed her bonnet back, revealing her white prayer cap and steel gray bun underneath it. “Put me out? It was no trouble at all.”
Martha was halfway to the house. “I prefer not to stand outside in the cold. Eleanor is waiting for us.”
“We’re coming,” Anna called. She lowered her voice, so that only Rachel and I could hear. “She’s so bossy.”
Inside the house, I took the ladies’ black cloaks and bonnets and hung them on the pegs by the front door while my aunt welcomed her friends with warm hugs. She wore a black kerchief under her white prayer cap to cover her bald head. I knew that she wore that kerchief more for warmth than from embarrassment. My aunt was a handsome woman, but she had never been the least bit concerned about her appearance.
Anna held Aunt Eleanor at arm’s length. “Your cheeks are rosy today, my friend. This is a blessing.”
“It is,” my aunt said, sounding slightly winded. “It’s always a blessing to see you all. It’s been too long. I hope to go into town this week and see the shop. How is it doing, Martha?”
Aunt Eleanor owned Running Stitch, an Amish quilt shop in the downtown area of Rolling Brook—well, as downtown as a tiny Amish town can be. When she became too ill to manage the store, Martha stepped into the role and had been caring for most of the shop’s day-to-day operations for the last two years.
Martha sat in an oak rocking chair and set her quilting basket beside it. “It is gut, but sales are slow. They will pick up again in the spring.”
My aunt nodded. “Ya, I remember how the dark winter months drug on in the shop. Danki for taking such gut care of it for me. I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Martha sat a little straighter in the rocking chair and beamed under my aunt’s praise.
Aunt Eleanor smiled. “I don’t know what I would do without any one of you. You are my dear friends.” She gripped my hand. “And now my sweet Angie is here.”
Her fingers were cold. “Aenti,” I said, using the Amish word for aunt, which I had always called her. “You’re cold. You should sit closest to the stove.”
“Nee, I am fine.” She waved to the sidebar against the wall holding a pot of tea, carafe of coffee, and tray of sugar cookies. “Please, everyone, help yourself to some coffee and cookies.” My aunt removed the navy cloth from the bakery basket I’d set beside the cookie tray, revealing an assortment of muffins and Amish donuts, which smelled even better than they looked. “Where did those come from?”
Aunt Eleanor gave a mock frown. “Rachel Miller, do you think I don’t know how to provide for my guests?”
The younger Amish woman squeezed her hands together. “Oh, no, Eleanor. I know you are a wonderful baker, too. I didn’t mean to insult you. Aaron made too many today and asked me to bring them.”
“So they are cast-off pastries,” Martha said with a mischievous glint to her eye.
Rachel’s mouth fell open. “Nee. I—I . . .”
Anna selected an Amish donut from the basket. “Goodness, Rachel, ignore them. They’re only teasing you.” She shook the donut in mock reprimand at the other two women. “Don’t pester the poor girl. You know she’s sensitive.”
As I helped Oliver out of his boots, I smiled, happy that my aunt felt well enough to joke with her friends. The Frenchie curled up in front of my aunt’s black potbelly stove, still cozy in his striped sweater.
Aunt Eleanor grinned and some of the fatigue fell from her face. “I’m sorry, Rachel. We should not worry you so. Danki for the doughnuts and muffins. I know we will all enjoy them with our tea and kaffi.” She sat on a matching rocking chair to Martha’s.
I heartily agreed, even though I couldn’t eat one. I was on a strict fifteen hundred calorie diet for the wedding and already spent my day’s allotment, plus half of tomorrow’s, on the breakfast of eggs and pancakes my aunt insisted on feeding me. I winced as I foresaw extra hours in the gym with my sadistic Norwegian trainer, Ludvik, back home. Perhaps he’d even make me do another juice cleanse. Ludvik swore by them. I shuddered.
“What is wrong, Angie?” Anna asked. “Are you cold?”
“A bit.” It was easier than explaining the juice cleanse to a room of Amish women.
The ladies chatted as they prepared their mugs of tea and coffee to their liking and set their quilting projects out. I removed the appliqué wall quilt I was making on my lap as well. Aunt Eleanor remained in her rocking chair, and I handed her a cup of tea and a doughnut.
Rachel eased into a corner of the couch, and Anna perched on an armchair. Bright white winter light reflected off the snow outside and through the sparklingly clean windows. Despite her illness, my aunt kept a spotless home. I winced to think what she would say about the dirty dishes I left in the sink back in Dallas.
My aunt reached into a bushel basket sitting beside her chair and pulled out a folded quilt. “I had a special reason for asking you all to come here today.” She smiled at me. “Other than to see my beautiful niece.” She smoothed the quilt in her lap. It was a Sunshine and Shadows patterned piece made with hundreds of two-by-two-inch solid-colored squares that rippled outward from one square in the middle of the quilt. The two inch border was in navy, and wave stitching held the cloth and batting together. Even from across the room, I could tell the handiwork was exquisite.
Anna’s teacup stopped halfway to her mouth. “Is that Evelyn’s quilt?”
“It is,” my aunt replied.
“How did you get it?” Rachel asked.
Aunt Eleanor ran her right index finger over the tiny stitches. “Her cousin, who is handling Evelyn’s affairs, sent it to me. She said there were instructions with it to mail the quilt to me. She sent it as soon as she found it.”
Anna set her teacup on the end table next to her. “Why would she give it to you? You and Evelyn were gut friends, but shouldn’t it go to her family, like her cousin? That was her most prized quilt.”
“She didn’t give it to me to keep,” my aunt said.
I held up a hand. “Wait, back up. Who’s Evelyn?”
Martha removed fat squares from her basket and began cutting them into triangles. “Evelyn Schmidt. She was the fifth member of our quilting circle.” Her scissors sliced through another piece of maroon fabric. “And she’s dead.”
Don’t forget to enter my Amish Quilt Giveaway!
It’s SUPER SEPTEMBER! Amanda Flower (also writing as Isabella Alan) has three novels releasing in September 2013. To celebrate, she is giving away an authentic Amish Quilt hand-stitched by Amish in Holmes County, Ohio.
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