[Lauren’s] fingers tightened on the steering wheel as she descended a steep hill toward a covered bridge. It was over Bliss Creek. Most of the covered bridges in the county were only a single lane, so she must be sure no other vehicle was passing through it. She doubted many plain folks would be out in their gray buggies on such an inclement night, but she couldn’t assume. Not after the bane of her childhood, Adam Hershberger, had lost his parents when a car sped through a covered bridge without checking that no other vehicle was inside it.
Adam and Samuel and Joel…and her one-time best friend Naomi Gingerich. She hadn’t thought in years about any of the kids who would have graduated with her from the plain school. Were they still living in Bliss Valley? Regret clamped onto her. Though she didn’t care what had happened to those three cruel boys, she should have made more of an effort to stay in touch with Naomi. The two of them had been inseparable until her parents had jumped the fence into the Englisch world a few months before eighth grade graduation.
She shoved the memories aside. Each memory made her think about her parents—her adoptive parents—and she couldn’t deal with that. Not now.
Driving through the covered bridge gave her a momentary break from the storm. Her tires thumped on the wooden planks of the deck, the sound echoing against the walls. She slowed and gave her wipers a chance to clear the windshield. Again she kept her eyes on the road ahead of her. Looking at the interior of the bridge that she’d crossed often as a barefoot child would open her up again to the onslaught of memory and betrayal.
Ice pellets and snow struck the Beetle harder as she rolled out from beneath the bridge. Ahead of her, the road was un- touched. The other car must have turned before crossing the creek. If the emergency vehicles had passed this way, their tracks had been obliterated.
Lightly touching the gas, Lauren drove toward the stop sign she knew was less than a quarter mile away. Even that slight acceleration was too much. Her tires slid. The car spun. She twirled the wheel one way, then the other, trying to drive out of the skid and away from the stone abutment curling away from the end of the bridge.
Then she hit something. Not along the road. In it.
The car bounced hard. First the front tires, then the back. The suspension protested with crunches and crashing sounds. Her seat belt caught, cutting off her breath. The wheel jumped out of her hands. She fought to grab it. The car headed for the guardrail and the creek beyond. She pulled the car to the center of the road. A strange thud came from the front as her wheels turned.
Everything but the storm stopped as Ringo slid to a halt. The snow continued to fall, and no lights were visible anywhere. Was the car all right? Was she?
Every muscle ached as if she’d been slammed from one side of the car to the other, and a heated path followed her seat belt over her shoulder and across her collarbone. She panted as adrenaline pumped through her like an oil gusher.
First, the conversation with her mother and now slamming into the world’s worst pothole. What next? Didn’t bad luck come in threes?
Don’t put your faith in luck. Put your faith in God’s will. When you do His will, all will be well.
“Get out of my head, Mom!” She groaned, hanging her head as another rush of sobs threatened to explode from her throat. “Why should I believe anything you’ve ever said?”
Pushing aside the serrated pain cutting into her heart, she told herself to focus on the issues at hand. She was parked in the middle of a country road while a storm raged around her. She glanced at the box on the passenger seat. The folders must be pristine when she handed them to the representatives from Carl Welsh Development and Pan-Lancaster Growth Initiatives, the two companies vying to build the lone casino that would be approved. She took another steadying breath. She was okay. The folders were okay. Now, how about Ringo?
Though she wanted to sit there with her eyes closed, she couldn’t remain in the middle of the road. She sat straighter and eased her foot off the clutch to let the car roll forward and to the right so she was in the proper lane. For a second, she didn’t feel or hear anything unusual. She dared to believe the car was undamaged.
Then she turned it onto the road curving up another hill.
The wheels wobbled, and she heard a dull clunk. She wasn’t sure if the sound came from the wheels or the shocks or some other part, but hitting the pothole had damaged something in her car.
When she turned the steering wheel again and the sound grew louder, Lauren accepted the inevitable. Whatever was broken wasn’t going to let her get to Lancaster. She needed to find someone to look Ringo over and repair him. She glanced at her watch. It was past six. Even if she could find a mechanic in a place where many of the vehicles were buggies with single horsepower, would the shop be open? As she turned the wheels to go around another curve, the strange thud warned her she didn’t have any choice. She needed to get her car repaired.
A sign appeared out of the swirling snow. “Frank’s Auto Service. 1/4 mile ahead on the left.” Relieved, Lauren edged her car along the road. A battered concrete block building was ahead on the left. A trio of ice-encrusted cars were parked to one side and a dark house, that looked empty, was set behind it. Slowing, but not daring to stop, because she wasn’t sure she could get the car going again, she wanted to cheer when she saw a light on inside. She pulled into the parking area in front and winced when her front passenger wheel dropped into another pothole. The thump from the front of the car was now accompanied by a grinding sound. Had she busted something else?
Grabbing her umbrella and purse, Lauren zipped her coat and pulled up her hood as she got out. She grimaced as she stepped into a puddle of icy slush. She winced at the cold, but after a quick glance at her car which looked okay, she rushed into the building.
Odors of gasoline and oil struck her as she entered the dim shop. Nobody stood behind the counter. Parts were stored in cubbyholes on either side of a door that must have led into the service bay. Through the door’s window, she could see several cars, but the place appeared deserted.
There must be someone around. The door had been unlocked, and some lights were on.
As she pushed back her hood and shook water off one shoe and then the other, she noticed a sign on the counter.
“Ring bell. If nobody comes, look in the back.”
That was at least clear.
She hit the bell. Twice. And waited, letting water drip off her umbrella. By the time the bell’s cheery sound had died, she guessed nobody else had heard it. So she opened the door to the service bay.
“Frank?” she called.
“He’s not here. Can I help you?” came a deep voice from beneath a pickup at the far side of the bay.
A man, who’d been lying under it, pushed his way out. Her eyes widened as his long legs emerged and she realized he was wearing broadfall trousers. The pants, which buttoned rather than zipped, were what Old Order Amish men wore.
What was an Amish man doing working on cars?
His worn light blue shirt was topped by black suspenders. A dark brown beard emerged, but not a long one, so she knew he hadn’t been married for more than a few years. He pushed himself to his feet. As he bent to pick up an oil-stained cloth, he asked, “Can I help you? I’m Frank’s assistant. Adam Hershberger.”
She whipped her hood over her head and fought her feet that wanted to flee. She hadn’t seen his face, so he might not have seen hers either. She’d been wrong when she thought the worst possible place to be tonight was the road leading through Bliss Valley.
The worst place was coming face-to-face with the person who’d tormented her during the most dreadful years of her life.
Secrets of Bliss Valley #1
Caught between who she is…and who she was.
Lauren Nolt hasn’t forgiven the Amish community of Lancaster County for shunning her parents. But returning as a successful Englischer working for large developers is just what she needs to get a promotion and give her parents the life they deserve. Coming face-to-face with her childhood bully, Amish widower Adam Hershberger, is the last thing she wants. Yet when her world’s shaken by a shocking discovery, Adam’s the only one she can confide in…
Adam’s never forgiven himself for the part he played in Lauren’s past, nor what drove him to do it. But as developers threaten his great-grossdawdi’s farm, she’s the only one who can help. And with his little girl determined to bring him and Lauren together at every turn, keeping his distance is impossible. Now they must learn to trust each other—even as their secret feelings grow stronger. But is love enough to bridge the gap between their very different worlds?
About Jo Ann Brown
Jo Ann Brown has published over 100 titles under a variety of pen names since selling her 1st book in 1987. A former military officer, she enjoys telling stories, taking pictures, and traveling. She has taught creative writing for more than 30 years and is always excited when one of her students sells a project. She has been married for more than 40 years and has three children. Currently, she lives in Florida. She enjoys hearing from her readers. Drop her a note at www.joannbrownbooks.com