Autumn Winds by Charlotte Hubbard

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Seasons of the Heart Book 2

Lord, if this rain’s gonna cause another flood like ya sent Noah, I hope You’ll give me a sign to get to higher ground. Can’t have my bakery blowin’ off the face of the earth in this wind, either, as we’re countin’ on these pies and cakes for the big party tomorrow!

Miriam Lantz slammed the whistling window shut. When was the last time they’d seen such a fierce wind? Rain pelted the roof of the Sweet Seasons Bakery Café, not quite drowning out the troubling thoughts that had wakened her in the wee hours. Too often these past weeks she’d dwelled upon Bishop Knepp’s vow to somehow get her out of this business and into his home. Ordinarily it wasn’t her way to fret so, but Hiram Knepp could stir up more trouble than a nest of ornery hornets, if he had a mind to. It hadn’t made him one bit happy, when an English fellow had outbid him to buy this building a month ago.

Miriam sighed. It wasn’t her way to start the day’s baking at one in the morning, either, but lately she’d felt so restless . . . as unsettled as the weather they’d had all during September. Now that she and her partner Naomi Brenneman wouldn’t lose their building—or their booming business--she should be focused on her daughter Rachel’s wedding, set for October twentieth. Such a happy time, because Naomi’s son Micah was the perfect match for her daughter! But even kneading the fragrant, warm dough for the cornmeal rolls on today’s lunch menu didn’t settle her.

Miriam pushed the grainy dough with the heels of her hands, then folded it over itself and repeated the process time had so deeply ingrained in her . . . sprinkled more cornmeal and flour on the countertop, and then rolled the sleeves of her dress another fold higher. “Awful warm in here,” she murmured.

The oven alarm buzzed, and she pulled out six thick pumpkin pies. As she replaced them with the large pans of apple crisp on today’s menu, Miriam paused. Was that a horse’s whinny she’d heard outside?

Not at this hour, in this storm. Who’d be fool enough to risk life and limb--not to mention his horse—traveling the dark county blacktop that runs through Willow Ridge?

She inhaled the spicy aromas of cinnamon and cloves, imagining the smiles on folks’ faces after tomorrow’s preaching service at Henry and Lydia Zook’s, when they surprised the bishop by celebrating his fifty-fifth birthday. These pies, made from her sister Leah’s fresh pumpkins, would be the first to go—but their hostess, Lydia, had also ordered a layer cake and sheet cakes from the Sweet Seasons for the occasion.

And if Hiram gets the notion I baked all these things especially to impress HIM, he’d better just find somebody else to court. And to raise his kids, too!

Miriam chuckled in spite of her misgivings. If anyone could think of a way to dodge the bishop’s romantic intentions, it would be her and her girls! It was no secret around Willow Ridge that Hiram’s young wife, Linda, who’d died of birthing complications, had borne more than just the burden of being married to their moral and community leader. While Miriam believed she could live the more upright life required of a bishop’s wife, serving as an example to their Old Order Amish community, she had no illusions about sharing the same house with Hiram and his rambunctious kids—not to mention his daughter, Annie Mae, who was in the throes of a rumspringa no stepmother wanted to deal with!

A loud crash out in the dining room made Miriam jump. Glass tinkled over the tables and a sudden gust of wind howled through a jagged hole in the window before the power went out.

The bakery grew eerily quiet, what with the freezers and the dishwasher shutting off. This storm was a reminder of how her gas appliances at home had an advantage over the electric ones required by the health department and installed by the Schrocks, the Mennonite quilters she shared her building with. Miriam was no stranger to the darkness, as she started her baking at three every morning, but this storm had set her on edge. And when had she ever seen a huge tree limb on the table closest to the road?

“Lord a-mercy, what’s next?” she murmured as she warily made her way through the darkness, between the café’s tables. “Better have Naomi’s boys clean this up before folks come in for the breakfast—”

Again a horse neighed, right outside the window this time.

“Whoa, fella! Easy now!” a male voice coaxed.

A bolt of lightning shot across the sky, to backlight a frightening silhouette of a huge percheron rearing up, frantically pawing the air. The horse’s handler stood near the damaged tree, struggling with the reins, still talking as calmly as he could while dodging those deadly hooves. “Pharaoh, take it easy, fella! We’ll wait out the storm right here, so—”

But another ominous flash filled the sky and in his frenzy, the horse tipped forward to buck with his powerful back legs.

Miriam heard a sickening thud as those hooves connected to a human body, and then a cry of pain and another thud when the fellow struck the café’s outside wall. The huge Percheron galloped off, whinnying in terror, its reins flapping behind it. Things got very quiet. Only the patter of the rain and some rapidly retreating hoof beats punctuated the darkness.

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