The Cowboy’s Amish Haven ~ Excerpt

Chapter One

Rubbing tired eyes, Levi Wyse breathed a sigh of relief. Days of hard travel were finally nearing their end. Mile after mile disappeared beneath the tires of his truck.

Goodbye, Montana. Hello, Texas.

Gaze focused on the road, he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. To stay awake for the last leg of the journey, he’d slammed down a few cups of coffee. Buzzed on caffeine and adrenaline, he felt tiny ignitions spark off his nerve endings. If only his blood didn’t feel so hot and his skin cold as ice.

Sleep. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and hibernate for a week.

Levi glanced at the child sleeping in his car seat. Seth stretched out as much as the cramped interior allowed. Thankfully, his son could bunk out anywhere. Teddy bear locked in the crook of one arm, Seth mumbled in his sleep.

Emotion squeezed Levi’s throat. The little guy was trying to be a trouper, but it was clear the last few months of hard travel had taken a toll. Instead of being dragged down the road, the child needed to be settled in a stable, normal routine.

Levi blinked to clear away the blur overtaking his vision. The white lines dividing the highway were running together. Pressing his fingers against his thudding temple, he pulled in a breath. To say he felt terrible would be an understatement.

He eased down the window and tipped back his head, allowing the cool night air to caress his stubbled face. The cobwebs and shadows inhabiting his mind thinned, but not enough to chase away his headache.

Feeling a twinge in his neck, he rolled his shoulders to loosen knotted muscles. His skin felt tight. A tremble threatened to overwhelm his fragile composure.

He had to find somewhere to pull over before he wrecked the truck.

Insides knotting, Levi clenched the wheel tighter. His destination was still miles away. He’d planned to find a place to set up the RV in Burr Oak. That wasn’t going to happen. He was too tired to keep going.

A familiar landmark came into view.

Recognition seeped into his fogged mind. The ranch he’d worked at as a teenager was just a few miles away.

Maybe the Lord was watching out for him after all.

Even though he hadn’t had contact with Samuel Schroder or his family in ages, he was pretty sure the man would let him park his camper for a day or two. As he remembered it, Samuel was always up before the sun, so pulling in early should not be a bother. Maybe he could even pick up some work doing odd jobs around the property to pay back the favor.

The next rodeo he planned to compete in was still a week away, so he’d have some time on his hands. Spending a little time in one place for a while would be nice.

Stirring, Seth opened his eyes. “Are we there yet, Daddy?” Yawning, he squeezed his stuffed bear tighter.

Sucking back a sigh, Levi brushed a few stray locks off his son’s forehead. “Ja.” Unwilling to risk falling asleep behind the wheel, he decided to head for the nearby ranch. “We’re getting close.”

*

Gail Schroder sprinkled flour over the cutting board and flattened out a ball of sourdough. Every morning she baked fresh biscuits, a task in which she took great pride. True, the recipe was a common one, but she’d made it her own with a few special ingredients.

As was her custom, she had risen before the sun. Dressing quietly, she eased down the stairs, preparing to wrangle the ancient monstrosity dominating the kitchen. Feeding a fair amount of wood and kindling into its belly brought the old cast-iron beast to life.

Breakfast was her first task. Fire stoked, she started an old-fashioned coffee percolator. The scent of burning oak and a dark roast brew filled the air with a delicious aroma.

Gail pressed out a dozen biscuits and brushed the tops with home-churned butter mixed with honey from the beehive. After opening the oven, she slid the first batch inside.

Stepping back, she swiped a hand across her perspiring brow. The old stove took no time at all to heat the first floor. As was the layout of most Amish homes, the kitchen, dining room and living room all inhabited a single large living space.

A rectangular wooden table covered with a pretty, ivory-colored lace cloth waited for stoneware dishes handed down through generations. The long picnic-style table with chairs on each side provided plenty of room for everyone.

A single wooden chair sat at its end, reserved for the man of the family.

Gail’s head dipped as her eyes misted. The painful grip on her heart grew tighter, burrowing deeper. Oh, how she missed her daed. Her mamm, too, was gone, leaving only herself and her younger sisters.

Gail glanced out the nearby window. The yellow-pink sliver appearing over the horizon was widening and brightening. Out in the henhouse, the rooster’s sunrise song cracked the silence of the night.

A new day was dawning, and a long list of chores waited. Cleaning, gardening, mending, tending the chickens, rabbits and goats that provided fresh eggs, meat and milk were just a few of the things that needed to get done.

The unexpected odor of charred bread and over-perked coffee singed her nostrils.

“Oh no!”

Gail snatched a flannel potholder and lifted the percolator. Liquid bubbled out of the spout. After setting the scorched thing aside, she fished the biscuits out of the oven. Twelve black circles greeted her eyes.

I ruined everything.

Biting back a sob of frustration, Gail stared at the disaster. Her emotions scattered in a thousand different directions. Without warning, her mask of stoicism and strength fell away, revealing deep cracks in her composure.

Grief. Loss. Confusion. They came at her from different directions, pecking at her like hungry ravens attacking carrion.

A tear rolled down her cheek. And then another.

Had her morning been normal, her daed would have been sitting in his chair, coffee in hand, Bible in front of him.

Gail swiped away her tears with a trembling hand. Since his passing, the family had left his Bible undisturbed. No one could bear to move it.

Walking over to the window to let in the morning breeze, Gail pulled in a hearty breath. Her focus was slowly returning.

Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the depths of the glass, she pulled a face at her image. Critical of her looks, she believed her eyes too wide set, and her mouth too generous. Her nose and cheeks were splattered with too many freckles. And no matter how tightly she wound her bun, a few brown curls always managed to escape her kapp.

I never look well put together, she thought, tucking her hair back into place.

A heavy rap at the back door interrupted her thoughts.

“Miss Gail?” a male voice called.

Gail recognized Ezra Weaver’s voice. A visitor so early in the morning didn’t bode well.

“Oh, please, Lord,” she murmured. “I can’t handle more bad news.” Being the boss was hard. Harder than she’d ever imagined. She had a multitude of problems, the least of which was the ranch manager who had just quit without a word. Overseeing the homestead, which included the breeding and sale of Longhorn cattle, was considered a man’s work. Now she had no guide, and no idea what to do.