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Authors: Tami Hoag

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BOOK: Sarah's Sin
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Sarah gave him a long, amused look and burst into laughter.

The ride into Jesse was surprisingly pleasant for them both. Sarahs embarrassment subsided and she relaxed enough to enjoy Matts company. He was nothing short of gentlemanly, chatting with her about her family, ask
ing questions about the horse and buggy and listening with genuine interest as she told him about the quiet simplicity of Amish life. She pointed out the farms of family Mends—Jon Schrock the carpenter, Jake Yoder and his wife, Katie, who made beautiful baskets and sold them in Jesse at the folk-art center. She told him the names of the big Belgian horses Martin Lapp was working through his cornfield.

For Matt the ride was one of his first forays into fresh air and sunshine since his hospital-ization. He felt much better than he had the day before. He especially felt better since he was near Sarah, and he decided she was a much greater tonic than any medication he had been prescribed.

He listened to her describe her people and her way of life, so very different from the life he was used to, slower and so peaceful. He watched the way she handled the reins, her small, unadorned hands sure and steady. She was dressed in what he had come to think of as her “uniform”—heavy dark hose, black shoes, blue dress with a black “cape” or bodice covering, and apron pinned in place. Over this she had put a heavy black woolen cloak that tied at the throat. Instead of the small white cap he had grown used to seeing on her, she wore a larger, more concealing black bonnet, the brim of which hid most of her profile like
the blinkers on Otis s bridle. It was garb he might have found quaint on some anonymous Amish woman. On Sarah he found it annoying. He wanted to see more of her. She was a lovely young woman. It was frustrating to only catch glimpses of that loveliness.

He tried to picture her in his minds eye in jeans and a sweatshirt, but he couldn't do it. He could see her in a flowing flowered skirt and a dainty blouse with a lace collar. Something feminine and pretty with her hair tumbling in a thick, magnificent wave down her back. Yes, he thought with a smile, he could picture that quite easily, almost as easily as he could picture her wearing nothing at all.

He sat back and enjoyed the ride, enjoyed the scenery, enjoyed the quiet of the countryside. It had bothered him his first couple of days here. He was used to the noise of a busy city. But now, as he sat relaxed beside Sarah, he absorbed the peace of it. A cornfield stood on one side of the road, tall beige stalks dry and ready for picking. On the other side cattle grazed in a tree-dotted pasture, the trees in full fall color. It was beautiful rolling countryside. So peaceful, so far removed from the gritty reality of the inner city. There were no gang wars here, no endless parade of junkies and bums and drunks. There was still order and sanity in a place like Jesse.

In all fairness, there was still order and san
ity in most of the TWin Cities area too. The level of urban squalor wasn't nearly so depressing as it was in most cities, but the decline in the poorer areas was steady and disheartening and spreading slowly into the near suburbs like creeping rot. In most respects the metropolitan area was a great place to live—clean, pretty, culturally active, artistically aware—and most of its inhabitants probably didn't give much thought to the prospects of decay and rising crime rates and crumbling morality, but these were things Matt saw on a daily basis. Knowing all those problems were not just a couple hundred miles away from Jesse, but a whole state of mind away, was a relief for him.

The town of Jesse looked like something out of Norman Rockwell's imagination, tree-lined streets and prominent church steeples, brick shop-fronts and tubs of chrysanthemums on the street corners. A tour bus was unloading in front of the chamber of commerce building, and tourists turned with cameras in hand to snap photos of Sarah s horse and buggy.

“You're a celebrity,” Matt said with a grin.

“I'm an oddity.” There was a bitterness in her voice she didn't usually feel, and she realized that while she didn't much care what the tourists thought of her, she suddenly cared very much that Matt Thome not think of her as a curiosity. He didn't say anything, poor
man. What could he say? Of course she was an oddity to him. He was a hotshot doctor from the big city. It was a sure bet his life was not crowded with Amish.

“I have to go to the drugstore and the fabric shop and to the grocer's and the dime store,” she said, pulling off onto a side street and up to an honest-to-goodness hitching rail.

Matt was amazed. A town with hitching rails! He hadn't imagined anything like it existed except on reruns of
Gunsmoke
, Sarah, of course, didn't think it strange at all. She wasn't the oddity here, he thought, he was. He was the alien invading her territory and so were the tourists.

“Is there anyplace in particular you'd like to go?” she asked.

“Ah, well, I thought I'd pay a call on the local doctor, get my dressing changed, have him pull the stitches out of my chin, talk shop.”

“The ride didn't injure you, did it?” Sarah asked, turning her face up to him. Her eyes looked even bigger, widened by concern and framed by the stiff brim of her bonnet.

Matt felt a little bubble of warmth in his chest. He smiled at her and reached a finger out to skim down her nose. He was pretty sure the buggy ride had jarred his teeth loose, but Otis wasn't going to be able to drag that information out of him, not when Sarah was looking up at him that way. “No. I'm fine. Thanks for asking.”

“Sure,” she said, giving him her teasing smile. “That's just my way of seeing if you're fit to help carry the grocery bags.”

They both chuckled at that, then time just caught and held, frozen in the air like a snow-flake as their gazes met.

I wish he would kiss me again
, Sarah thought, knowing she shouldn't want it, but wanting it just the same.

I
want to lean down and kiss her
, Matt thought, the magnetic force of desire tugging at him, pulling him a fraction of an inch closer as his gaze focused on the vulnerable curve of her mouth. He wanted to taste her again, her sweetness, her innocence. Then a gaggle of tourists rounded the corner, cackling and waddling along the sidewalk like a band of roaming geese, and the moment was gone.

They agreed on a time to meet back at the buggy. Sarah pointed Matt toward Dr. Cos-well's office, then went her own way.

At the fabric shop she purchased sturdy blue cloth to make two new shirts for Jacob because it seemed he was growing faster than her mother could sew for him and because she simply enjoyed doing it. Doing things for Jacob helped to ease the ache of not having children of her own.

As usual, her gaze wandered longingly over the array of patterned fabrics that crowded the displays of the small shop and she thought of
how she might look in an English-style skirt cut from the bolt of cream with large mauve roses and dark green leaves on it She ran her fingers over the nubby texture of a fine white eyelet and pictured it as a flowing nightgown adorned with pale blue ribbons. But she bought only her length of durable broadcloth and moved on to the next of her errands.

As she went about her business she did her best to ignore the curious looks and the outright stares directed at her by other patrons of the businesses, mainly people from out of town, for the townsfolk of Jesse had long ago become accustomed to seeing Plain people. Still, it made her uncomfortable. More so today than most days. Today she didn't want to feel so different from everyone else. Today she didn't want to have it pointed out to her that she wasn't just an ordinary woman doing her shopping. Today everything about her Amish-ness irritated her like burlap chafing against her skin. She wanted to fling her bonnet off and wear sneakers and not worry about her long skirts snagging on store shelves. And the reason was Matt Thorne.

At the drugstore she finally gave in. Along with the supplies for the inn she purchased a tiny blue vial of perfume called
Evening
in Paris and a copy of
Glamour
magazine that featured articles on fall fashions and dating in the nineties. The clerk gave her a curious look,
but evidendy decided all the items were for someone else at Thornewood and made no comment. Sarah paid the bill at the pharmacy counter and quietly thanked the woman. On her way to the front of the store she paused when she was out of view of the clerk and dug her two prizes out of the bag. The perfume she tucked into a small pocket she'd sewn inside the waistband of her apron. The magazine was tucked between the folds of the latest edition of the
Jesse Herald-Dispatch.

She pressed her packages against her with one arm and arranged the newspaper-magazine combination in her hands, the magazine opened to an ad for ladies' razors. She bumped the drugstore door open with her hip and stepped out onto the sidewalk—directly into the path of her father. His gaze was focused on the hardware store farther down the street and he plowed into her unchecked, sending packages, paper, and magazine all flying.

“Sarah!” he said, startled, grabbing her by the shoulders to catch her from falling.

“Pop!” She sounded—and looked, she supposed—more guilty than surprised, and she could have bit her tongue. She was twenty-five, a grown woman, but with Isaac she would ever feel the wayward adolescent.

She pulled out of his grasp and they both bent to gather up the packages. He got hold of
the magazine before she could reach it and he scowled at the picture on the front cover—a doe-eyed young woman with short, wild hair, exaggerated makeup, and a thick collar of gaudy necklaces. Isaac scowled so hard, it seemed to elongate his lean, lined face and lengthen his scruffy gray beard. Thick, woolly eyebrows drew together in a severe V of disapproval that reached from the rim of his black felt hat to the bridge of his nose. With forced calm, Sarah gathered her other articles and then took the magazine from her father's hands as she straightened.

“I&m just in town to do some shopping for the inn,” she said. It was probably as much a sin as an out-and-out lie, but she couldn't help not wanting him to think the worldly book was hers. They'd had the argument too many times for her to go looking for it.

Isaac sniffed, his scowl not lessening. He was no more than an inch or two taller than Sarah, but carried himself so straight and so stiffly, she always had the impression of him towering over her. He straightened his heavy work coat, his broad hands brushing off some of the road dust in a gesture that seemed insultingly symbolic to Sarah.

“Where is the woman who runs the place?” he asked in German. “Is she too good to do the shopping?”

“Ingrid is away at her other place of busi
ness,” Sarah answered primly in the tongue that was her first language. She had always thought it rude to speak a language in public that others couldn't understand—which was, of course, her father's reason for doing it—but she gave in on the point this time. She was having enough trouble grappling for control of her temper. Ingrid was her friend as well as her employer and she took great exception to her father's dim view of the woman.

“A woman running businesses all over the place,” Isaac grumbled. “Where is her husband then? Staying in the same house as you without his wife?”

“John Wood is gone to California.” She tried not to flinch even inwardly at the information she was not giving her father. God knew the eruption that would cause. Isaac Maust's rebel daughter staying in a house with a handsome young doctor from the Cities and no one to chaperon. It made her dizzy just thinking about it. Then she remembered with a sudden terrible jolt that Jacob knew all about Matt's presence. Jacob, whom Isaac himself had sent to the inn. Her heart thudded in her chest like a hammer. Before she had a chance to think about it, she pressed on. “Ingrid left me in charge of the guests. Five for the weekend.”

“Guests.” Isaac spat the word, as if using it for tourists were some defilement of the term.
“And one of them teaching your brother filthy foul language.”

“What?”

“Jacob came home the other day saying such words. He got his mouth washed out, I can tell you.”

Sarah was as appalled as if Jacob had been her own son and Isaac some stranger bent on disciplining the boy for imagined sins. She couldn't hold back her gasp of outrage or her defense. “Gross? Is that the word?” Isaac turned purple. “That's not bad language! It's just a word the English children say—”

“Reason enough to stop him using it. I have one child among the English already. I have no desire to see another go astray.”

Sarah drew back, her lips pressed together in a tight line against the pain. How dare he accuse her of going astray when she had tried so hard to stay among them, when every day she fought her own spirit to stay Amish.

She lifted her chin to a stubborn angle her father had seen too many times. “Yes, I've traded my horse for a fancy car, you know. A … a … Dagmar,” she said, not quite sure if that was the right name or not. It sounded impressive nevertheless.

Her sarcasm brought only another disapproving snort. She could feel her father's steel-blue eyes boring into her. “What is this I hear?”

“Hear?” She swallowed hard. “From who?”

“Micah Hochstetler asked you to go to the Beachys' auction with him and you wouldn't go. He says you're acting high and worldly more and more.”

“He goes around saying such things and you wonder why I wouldn't go with him?” She rolled her eyes.

“He is a fine young man, a member of the church with his own farm.”

“And you think that's reason enough for me to go around with him?”

“I'm thinking if you married and had children as you were meant to, we'd not live in fear of being visited by the deacon.”

“I've done nothing to warrant a visit from the deacon!” Sarah protested, her temper flaring as it always did when she exchanged more than five lines with her father.

He stared meaningfully at the magazine in her arms.

“I have committed no sin,” Sarah said stubbornly.

“Excuse me,” a third voice intruded with a sharp, sarcastic edge. “Is there a problem here?”

BOOK: Sarah's Sin
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