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Authors: Patricia Davids

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BOOK: A Home for Hannah
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“What’s taking him so long?” she muttered.

Amber spread a fluffy white towel on the table and laid the baby on it. From her case, she withdrew a disposable diaper and a container of baby wipes. “Nick understands what is needed. He respects the Amish in this community. He’ll help us, you’ll see.”

Miriam found her eyes drawn to Nick once more. He made a striking figure silhouetted against the morning sky in his dark blue uniform. He’d always been handsome, but age had honed his boyish good looks into a rugged masculinity that was even more attractive. He’d gained a little bulk in the years since she’d seen him, but it looked to be all muscle. He was tall with broad shoulders and slim hips. At his waist he wore a broad belt loaded with the tools of his trade: a long black flashlight, a gun and handcuffs among other things.

As she watched, he raked his fingers through his short blond hair. She knew exactly how silky his hair felt beneath her fingertips. His hat lay on the counter beside her. She picked it up, noticing the masculine scent that clung to the felt. In an instant, she was transported back to the idyllic summer days they had enjoyed before her world crashed around her.

Thinking of all she had lost was too painful. Quickly she put the hat down and clasped her hands behind her back. “What is taking so long? Surely, he could make a decision by now. Either the baby can stay with us or she can’t.”

The outside door opened and Nick came in. He looked around the room until his gaze locked with Miriam’s. She couldn’t read the expression on his face. Was it good news or bad?

Chapter Two

 

“W
ell? What did you decide?” Amber demanded. “Do we have to involve social services?”

Nick couldn’t take his eyes off Miriam. Emotions could cloud a man’s judgment, and Miriam raised a whole bushel of emotions in him. She had since the first day they met when he was nineteen and she was an eighteen-year-old, fresh-faced, barefoot Amish beauty. Did she remember those wonderful summer days, or had her brother’s death erased all the good memories of their past?

He brought his attention back to the present issue. “I’ve talked it over with the county attorney. He is willing to agree that the baby has not been abandoned, although the situation is certainly unusual. Hannah can remain in the custody of Ada and Miriam Kauffman for a period of seven days.”

Miriam’s eyes widened with surprise. “She can?”

“For
two
weeks,” Amber said with a stubborn tilt of her chin.

Nodding curtly, Nick said, “However, if the family has not returned for her after two weeks, she becomes an abandoned infant, and I will call Child Protective Services.”

“I’m sure someone will come forward before then.” Amber’s obvious relief eased some of his misgivings. She was more familiar with the Amish in the Hope Springs area than almost anyone. If she thought he was doing the right thing, he was willing to follow her recommendation.

Miriam didn’t say another word. It was a struggle to keep from staring at her. He couldn’t believe she still had such a profound effect on him. He had stopped seeing her the summer he turned twenty because he knew how strong her faith was and how important it was to her. He hadn’t been willing to make her choose between her religion and his love.

The truth was he’d been afraid he would come out the loser. As it turned out, he had, only for a different reason.

He cleared his throat. “I’ve checked for reports of missing or abducted infants. Just because you saw an Amish buggy driving away doesn’t automatically make this an Amish infant. Fortunately, there aren’t any babies under one week of age that have gone missing nationwide. We’ll go with your theory until there is evidence otherwise. If an infant girl is reported missing, that changes everything.”

He paused. They weren’t going to like the rest of what he had to say. “Now, I’m not willing to let someone who dropped a baby on your doorstep just waltz in and take her back. If they do show up, this will be immediately reported to Social Services.”

Miriam glared at him. “I thought the point of us keeping the baby was to avoid that?”

“By letting you keep the baby, I’m making it easier for the mother to return or for her family to come forward when they might not do so otherwise. I’m sorry. I won’t budge on this. Someone who is desperate enough to leave her child with you in the dead of night needs help—she needs counseling. I mean to see that she gets it.”

The women exchanged looks. Ada and Miriam nodded. Nick breathed a mental sigh of relief. He said, “The note is too vague to open an official investigation into the mother’s whereabouts. I see concern, but there is no evidence of a crime. ‘It’s not safe’ could mean any number of things. However, I agree that we need to make an effort to find this young woman. The sooner, the better.”

Amber threw her arms around him. “You’re the best cousin I could ever ask for.”

“That’s not what you said when I wouldn’t tear up your speeding ticket.”

Amber blushed and cast a quick look at Miriam. “He’s joking.”

He rolled his eyes. “Right. Ladies, I don’t want word of this baby getting out to the general public. Keep it in the Amish community and keep a lid on it.”

Miriam frowned. “I would think public exposure is exactly what we want.”

“When news of an abandoned baby surfaces, the nut cases come out of the woodwork. Women who desperately want children will claim it’s their baby. Some are crazy enough that they will try to take legal action against you. People who want to adopt and simple do-gooders will come forward with offers to take the child. Trust me, it could become a media circus and a nightmare trying to sift fact from fiction.”

“All right. Where do we start?” Amber asked.

“We can start by trying to tie the basket or the quilt to a specific family.”

Ada spread the blanket open on the table so they could examine it. It was a simple quilt of patchwork blocks with a backing of blue-gray cotton. She said, “I don’t see a signature or date, nor do I recognize the stitch work. It’s fine work. Perhaps someone in the community will recognize it.”

Nick put the basket on the quilt and snapped several pictures with his cell phone. “I’ll email these photos to some of the shops that carry Amish goods. Maybe we’ll get a hit that way.”

Amber’s cell phone rang. She opened it and walked away to speak to the caller.

“What else can we do?” Miriam asked.

“Do you recall what kind of buggy it was?”

“It was dark. I saw a shape, not much else.”

“Did it have an orange triangle on the back, reflective tape or lights?”

“I couldn’t tell.”

“So we can’t even rule out the Swartzentruber Amish families in this area. They don’t use the slow-moving-vehicle signs. What about the horse? Could you recognize it again if you saw it?”

“No, I didn’t see the animal, just the back of the buggy.”

Amber returned to the room and said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go. I have a patient in labor. Miriam, I’ll leave the car seat with you. Nick, can you help me get it out of my car?”

“Sure.” He followed his cousin outside to her station wagon knowing she was going to grill him about his past relationship with Miriam.

Amber opened the door to the backseat. “It sounds like you have a history with the Kauffman family. Why don’t I know about it?”

He leaned in to unbuckle the child safety seat. “It was years ago. You were away at school.”

“Care to fill me in now?”

Lifting the seat out of the car, he set it on the roof and stared out across the fertile farmlands waiting for spring planting. He could hear cattle lowing in the distance and birds chirping in the trees. The tranquility of the scene was at odds with his memory of that long-ago night.

He closed his eyes. “The summer I turned nineteen, I started working for Mr. Kauffman as a farmhand. They lived over on the other side of Millersburg back then. It was our grandmother’s idea. She thought I should learn how hard it was to work a farm the way the Amish do. She thought it would give me a better appreciation of the land.”

“Grandmother is usually right,” Amber said with a twinkle in her eye.

“She is. Anyway, I worked there for two summers. Miriam, her brother Mark and I became good friends.”

“Why do I sense you and Miriam were more than friends?”

“We were kids. We fell in love with the idea of being in love, but she was strict, Old Order Amish. We both knew it wouldn’t work. We chose to remain friends. It wasn’t until a few years later that things changed.”

“What happened?”

Nick took a stick of gum from his pocket using the added time to keep his emotions in check. Even now, it was hard to talk about that night. He popped the gum in his mouth, deftly folded the foil into a small star and dropped it back in his shirt pocket.

“Ten years ago I was a brand-new deputy and a bit of a hotshot back then. I didn’t go looking for trouble, but I didn’t mind if I found it. One night, we got a report of a stolen car. On the way to investigate, I caught sight of the vehicle and put on my lights. The driver didn’t stop. Long story short, a high-speed chase ensued. A very dangerous chase.”

“What else were you supposed to do?”

“Protocol leaves it up to the responding officer’s discretion. What I should have done was drop back and stop pressing him when I saw the risks he was willing to take. I should have called for a roadblock to be set up ahead of us. I didn’t do any of those things. I kept after the car. It was a challenge to outdrive him, and I wasn’t about to back down.”

“It sounds like you were doing the job you’d trained to do. I know your father was killed during a traffic stop. I’m sure that made you doubly suspicious of anyone who tried to get away.”

She was right. “That did factor into my decision, but it shouldn’t have. I tried to get around the car, but we slammed into each other. The other driver lost control and veered into a tree. I’ll never forget the sight of that wreckage. The driver was killed instantly. It was Mark, Miriam’s twin brother.”

Amber laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you relive the whole thing.”

“You want to know the really ironic thing? I’m the one who taught Mark how to drive. I never understood why he didn’t just stop. He’d never been in trouble. I doubt he would have spent more than one night in jail. To have his life ended by a
rumspringa
stunt, a joy ride, it wasn’t right.”

“The Amish believe everything that happens is God’s will, Nick. They don’t blame you. That would be against all that they hold sacred.”

“Miriam blames me. I tried to talk to her after Mark’s funeral. Even months later she wouldn’t see me. As you can tell, her feelings haven’t changed.”

“Then she needs our prayers. Finding forgiveness is the only way to truly heal from such a tragedy.”

He lifted the car seat from the roof of Amber’s car. “You should get going. You don’t want the stork to get there ahead of you.”

Amber grinned. “You’re still planning on coming to my wedding, right?”

“Rats, when was that again? I might be fishing.”

She punched his arm. “A week from this coming Saturday and you’d better not stand me up for a trout.”

“Ouch, that’s assaulting an officer. I could arrest you for that.”

“Whatever. Phillip would just break me out of jail.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Absolutely—almost sure. Tell Miriam she can bring the baby into our office anytime tomorrow morning. I happen to know Dr. White has a light schedule. If the baby begins to act sick before then, she should take her to the hospital right away. She’s a nurse. She’ll know what to do.”

“I’ll tell her.”

Her expression became serious once more. “Nick, Miriam had to know when she called me that I would involve the law. She might not admit it, but I think she reached out to you.”

Nick considered Amber’s assertion as she drove away. What if she was right about Miriam’s actions? What if she was reaching out to him? Could he risk the heartbreak all over again if she wasn’t? He glanced toward the house. She had left her Amish faith. That barrier no longer stood between them, but the issue of Mark’s death did.

Nick was about to start a week’s vacation. If he left town now, he might never have another chance to heal the breach with Miriam. He wanted that, for both their sakes. In his heart, he knew there was a reason God had brought them together again.

He shook his head at his own foolishness. He was forgetting the most important part of this entire scenario. Somewhere there was a desperate woman who needed his help. She and her baby had to be his first priority.

* * *

 

Miriam decided to ignore Nick when he came into the kitchen again. He held a car seat in his hands. The kind that could easily be detached from the base and used as an infant carrier. He said, “Would you like me to put it in your car?”

“I’ll get it later.”

“Is there anything else you ladies need?”

“We’re fine,” Miriam said quickly, wanting him out of her house. She’d forgotten how he dominated a room.

Ada spoke up. “Would you mind bringing the baby bed down from the attic for us?”

His eyes softened as he smiled at Ada. “Of course not.”

“I’ll get it later,
Mamm,
I’m sure the sheriff has other things to do.”

“I’ve certainly got time to fetch the crib for your mother.”

His cheerful reply grated on Miriam’s nerves. She felt jumpy when he was near, as if her skin were too tight.

Her mother said, “
Goot.
Miriam, I’ll take Hannah.”

Miriam handed over the baby. Her mother smiled happily, then looked to the sheriff. “Nicolas, if you would give me the bottle warming on the stove, I’ll feed her.”

He lifted the bottle from the pan at the back of the stove. To Miriam’s surprise, he tested it by shaking a few drops of formula on his wrist, and then handed it over.

Did he have children? Was that how he knew to make sure a baby’s formula wasn’t too hot? Had he been able to find happiness with someone else, the kind of happiness that eluded her?

He caught her staring when he turned and asked, “Which way to the attic?”

She all but bolted ahead of him up the stairs to the second floor. The attic was accessed by a pull-down panel in the ceiling of her bedroom. She rushed into the room, swept up her nightgown and the lingerie hanging from the open drawer of her bureau, stuffed everything inside and slammed it shut. She whirled around to see him standing in the doorway.

Her bed wasn’t made. Papers and books were scattered across her desk. A romance novel lay open on her bedside table. The heat of a blush rushed to her face. For a second, she thought she saw a grin twitch at the corner of his lips. Her chin came up. “I wasn’t expecting company in my bedroom today.”

BOOK: A Home for Hannah
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