In USA Today bestselling author Amanda Flower's second Amish Matchmaking mystery, Millie Fisher has plenty to keep her busy through her golden years, whether it's minding a pair of rambunctious goats, meetings with her quilting circle, and matchmaking. But the witty widow always makes time to solve the odd murder . . .
Some Amish men don't know what's good for them. That's what Millie Fisher told herself when young Ben Baughman set his heart on marrying Tess Lieb. With Tess's father refusing to give his blessing and Tess's ex-boyfriend being a wet blanket, the hapless couple was bound to butt heads more than Millie's Boer goats. But when Ben tragically dies in a mysterious fire, Millie wonders if someone in her hometown of Harvest, Ohio, wanted Ben out of the wedding picture altogether . . .
With the help of her quilting buddies, and her outspoken Englischer friend Lois, Millie is determined to patch together all the clues without even dropping a stitch. She only hopes it won't be the death of her . . .
Release date: December 1, 2020
Publisher: Kensington Books
Print pages: 304
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Courting Can Be Killer
It wasn’t a question that I could answer since I was Amish and had never owned a credit card. If I bought anything on credit, it was store credit from an Amish merchant whom I knew well.
“I knew I should have gone to the ATM,” she grumbled as she rooted through a patchwork purse that was big enough to carry a toddler. “I might have a few more bills at the bottom of this thing, but sorting through it is like digging to the center of the earth.” Her cheeks flushed red under her heavy makeup from the exertion.
If the purse and makeup weren’t clues enough, the spikey, purple-red hair and chunky, brightly colored costume jewelry would tell any passerby that Lois Henry was not Amish, nor had she ever been tempted to convert. In fact, the very thought of Lois living the Plain life was downright ludicrous.
My friend certainly stood out in the crowd of mostly Amish shoppers. I caught more than one Amish merchant give us the once-over as we walked by. I guessed that Lois and I made an odd pair. We’d been that way since we’d been girls. Lois was the flamboyant Englischer, and I was the sedate Amish woman. To be honest, although it might not look like it, I did get into my fair share of trouble too. I was blessed enough to have Lois, who was always willing to get into mischief with me.
Lois was either oblivious to the suspicious glances of a few of the Amish men who we passed in the market, or she just plain didn’t care. I suspected the latter of the two. Lois had never cared what anyone thought of her. When we were children growing up on neighboring farms, I had been jealous of her exuberant way of going after whatever it was she wanted. When I was young, I associated her behavior with being Englisch because Lois and her parents were the only Englischers I knew. I have since learned that her Englisch upbringing had very little to do with it. Her devil-may-care attitude came from her and her alone. From her clothes to her words, Lois always expressed herself as she wanted to.
She yanked on my arm. “Holy smokes, Millie, do you see that? That chair is just like the one my mother had when I was growing up.” She pointed at an orange, molded-plastic chair. “I have to see if I can snap it up!”
I glanced around the market. “I think you have a gut chance of succeeding. It doesn’t appear that anyone else is looking at it.”
“They may be just playing it close to the vest. I can’t be the only one here who knows to act cool when negotiating a deal.” Lois came up with a fistful of bills from the bottom of her purse. “I knew there was more in there. My granddaughter, Darcy, is always telling me to get more organized, but then I wouldn’t find surprises like this twenty-dollar bill at the bottom of my bag.”
“Act cool?” I asked.
She tried to smooth the crumpled bill the best she could. “Yes. When we talk to the vendor about the chair, we must act like we don’t want it.”
“But you do want it.” I adjusted my grip on the shopping basket I had brought with me. As of yet, I hadn’t added anything to it. Truth be told, I hadn’t come to the flea market this day to shop. I was looking for someone.
She clicked her tongue. “Millie Fisher, you would be the world’s worst gambler.”
“Considering I am a sixty-seven-year-old Amish woman, I choose to take that as a compliment.”
She shook her head. “Just know I won’t be taking you on my next trip to the Rocksino in Cleveland. You would completely ruin my luck.”
I patted the prayer cap on the top of my snow-white hair. “I thought you gave up gambling after you pushed your fourth husband into that hotel swimming pool.”
“I took a break, yes, after that little incident.” She finished smoothing the bill and tucked it into the pocket of her teal jacket. “However, in this life one should always be willing to take a chance and roll the dice.” She grinned. “That sounds like one of the Amish proverbs you recite all the time, doesn’t it?”
“It doesn’t.” I shook my head. “Not at all.”
She winked at me, not the least bit offended by my remark. I wished I could be as easygoing as Lois, but on this special errand, that was impossible. I turned back to the vendor she had pointed out.
She grabbed my arm and spun me in the other direction. “Don’t look at him. If you do, he will know we’re interested in buying something from him.”
I sighed and smoothed the sleeve of my plain green dress. “Do I have to remind you that you were pointing at him a moment ago?” Even shopping with Lois was an adventure. “Besides, why do you want that chair? It’s orange,” I said. “It doesn’t go with a single item in your house.”
She laughed. “Nothing in my house matches, and that’s just how I like it.”
That was the truth.
“Since I might have trouble acting cool, why don’t you speak to the man about the chair, and I will keep looking for Ben,” I said.
Finding Ben was the real reason we were at the Harvest Village Flea Market. I had been worried about the young man, and because I was the only one in the village—if not the state—who knew him well, I felt responsible to make sure he was all right.
“Good deal,” Lois said. “By the time you find Ben, I will have that chair in my possession for half of what it’s worth.”
“Why don’t we meet at the livestock judging area? I would like to know how the goats are getting on for my grandnephew Micah,” I said.
Lois laughed. “Sounds like a plan, but I don’t need to see the judging to know that Phillip and Peter are wreaking havoc for Micah and all the judges.”
I grimaced but didn’t correct her. Phillip and Peter were challenging goats. In this case, Lois was probably right. She strolled over to the man with the chair, and I shook my head.
I knew she would come away with the chair. I only hoped that she didn’t come away with a new husband too. Lois had a talent for collecting those as well.
With Lois occupied, I continued my search of the flea market for Ben Baughman. Ben was a nineteen-year-old Amish man who had recently moved to Holmes County from Michigan. I had known him since he was a child, because he came from the same community in which I had lived for ten years while taking care of my invalid sister. Ben had been a nearby neighbor in Michigan and a thoughtful one too. He was gut to both my sister and me, and he came over as often as he could to help me with the chores. He never let me pay him, and I was grateful for it. Taking care of my sister Harriett had been meaningful but hard work.
A few months ago, after my sister’s death, I moved back to Holmes County, Ohio, where I’d grown up. To be honest, I didn’t expect to see Ben again as I had no desire ever to return to my sister’s community and I could see no reason why he would come to Ohio. However, a month ago, I received a letter from Ben. He said that he was planning to move to Holmes County so that he could find work in a larger Amish district. The Amish district where he lived was very small and most of the men worked with Englischers. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but Ben said he wanted a more authentic Amish life and felt he could find that in Holmes County, where the Amish population was so much larger.
I told him he was welcome to come, and I offered him a room in my little house until he got on his feet. I don’t think he was even there a month before he found a basement room for rent. He was determined to make a life of his own.
Behind me, I heard Lois’s voice carry as she haggled with the antiques vendor over the chair. By the sound of the seller, he was already beginning to waffle on his price. I had expected nothing less.
I scanned the large barn for any sign of Ben. I was in the middle of a crush of shoppers and merchant booths that sold everything from produce to furniture to old toys and guns.
I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong day to be looking for him. Perhaps I’d come on a day Ben didn’t have to work. He was a guard of sorts for the flea market. In the last few weeks, there had been a rash of robberies. Many of the vendors had been hit. When they threatened to leave to protect their goods and their families, the flea market owner had posted a job for an after-hours guard. I had seen the notice for the job on the community bulletin board at the Sunbeam Café, which Darcy Woodin, Lois’s granddaughter, owned and operated. Lois worked there part-time, but her hours seemed to be irregular at best; she only worked at the café when she was bored or when Darcy was desperate for a second set of hands.
When I saw the posting, Ben had just moved to Ohio. I told him about it, and he applied and got the job right away. I thought I had done my duty, and my young friend was nicely settled. What I didn’t know was that he was going to meet his match at the flea market and that it would lead to complications.
I spotted Ben beside the baked goods stand. It was the end of September, so the stand was heavy on apple tarts, pumpkin pies, and sweet potato cookies. He wasn’t alone. He was speaking with a woman in a flowered blouse, long skirt, and prayer cap. I knew right away that she was Mennonite from her almost plain dress and cap. She handed Ben an envelope. He nodded, folded it twice, and tucked it into the pocket of his navy work shirt.
The woman walked away, and Ben smiled as I approached him. His straw-colored hair stood on end despite the strict Amish bowl-cut that he adhered to. A dusting of freckles danced across his face. He might be nineteen, but when caught in the right light, he could pass for twelve. He certainly didn’t look like someone old enough to be a night guard or to be falling in love and considering marriage.
He smiled wider, and I saw the gap between his two front teeth that also added to his youthful appearance. “Millie, it’s so gut to see you. Do you need to do a little shopping here at the flea market? You will be hard-pressed not to find what you need here. It seems that everything is for sale.”
I shook my head. “I’m not in the market for anything in particular right now, but I know that Lois will do enough shopping for both of us.”
He laughed. “This doesn’t surprise me. I’m on the way to my second job. I just . . .” His voice trailed off as he looked across the flea market.
“What job is this?”
“The lumberyard,” he said. “Wait no. This one is stocking the Harvest Market. That’s where I need to go next. Eventually, I will get it all straight. In a week it will be habit, knowing everywhere I need to go and when I need to be there.”
I frowned. “How many jobs are you working, exactly?”
“Four.” He paused when he saw the look on my face. “It was five, but I dropped one. Five was one too many.”
“Four sounds like too many too,” I said, concerned. “If you are forgetting where you need to be.”
“It’s worth it . . .” He trailed off and looked at the orchard stand. Now I knew why he was standing in this part of the flea market. He had the perfect view of the apple orchard stand and the lovely young woman selling the apples. Tess Lieb.
“How’s Tess?” I asked.
His face broke into a smile that was made even more endearing by the gap in his teeth. “She’s wonderful. Oh, Millie,” he said to me quietly in Pennsylvania Dutch. “She’s my match. I just wish her father could see that. I’m working so hard to prove to him that I’m the right fit.”
Tess was an eighteen-year-old Amish woman who lived with her parents and younger siblings on their vast apple orchard just outside of the village. This time of year, her family’s orchard stand did a brisk business, as both Englisch and Amish wanted to buy apples that were the best and crispest.
September was the height of business for the Lieb Apple Orchard. In the fall, the orchard was a hive of activity as the apple-picking season went into full swing. They sold apples to wholesalers, at the local markets, and even from the orchard itself with a pick-your-own grove of trees.
Tess and her siblings were spread out selling their apples all over Holmes County; the family had a strong presence in all the markets, but Tess always seemed to be at the flea market, where Ben had first laid eyes on her.
Across the flea market, Tess handed an elderly man his quarter-bushel bag of apples. As she accepted his money, her eyes strayed in Ben’s direction. When their eyes locked, she blushed. If not completely in love, she certainly was enamored with Ben’s attentions. It was my job as a matchmaker to recognize whether Ben and Tess were a perfect match, or whether it was just Ben’s wishful thinking. Affection would make no difference to their matrimonial prospects if her family was against the match.
Tobias Lieb, Tess’s father, stepped into the apple booth and glared at Ben before speaking harshly to Tess. She dropped her eyes and began bagging more apples. “The apple will not roll far away from its tree” was the Amish proverb that was on the top of my mind. That didn’t bode well for Ben, I was afraid.
Ben looked away from Tess with a sigh. “As you can see, Millie, I have gotten nowhere with her father. I don’t know how, but he seems to dislike me even more than he did weeks ago. I only want to prove to Tess’s father that I am ready to settle down,” he went on. “I know that I am young yet, but I can provide for the family I want to have. I will be twenty next week,” he added, as if this gave weight to his argument.
“At twenty, you will still be a young man with your whole life in front of you. Give it time,” I said, ready to share the wisdom I came to the flea market to impart in the first place. “Nothing lasts forever, not even your troubles,” I said, reciting another Amish proverb.
He frowned at me. “Where’s this coming from, Millie? I thought you would back me up.”
I sighed. “I received a letter.”
“A letter?” he asked. “Who from?”
I glanced at the apple booth and then back at Ben. “From Tobias.” I swallowed. “And it was about you.”
Ben’s face flushed red. “Why would Tobias Lieb send you a letter about me?”
I closed my eyes for a moment, realizing my mistake. I should have spoken to Ben in private, not out in the middle of the flea market. True, not all the shoppers paid attention to us, but I felt the prying eyes of a few on my back. One of those, I was afraid, just might be Tobias Lieb.
“Maybe we should go outside to talk about this,” I said in a low voice.
Ben folded his arms. “I have half a mind to go over to Tobias right now and ask him what’s going on.”
I placed a hand on his arm. “Calm yourself, and please don’t do that. It will only make things more difficult for you as far as Tess is concerned.”
I noticed that the greengrocer in the next booth seemed to be very interested in our conversation. “Come, Ben, let’s go outside.”
“Fine,” he said and stomped in the direction of the back exit.
I followed a few paces behind him and wondered how I could have bungled this so badly.
From the back of the flea market, we could see the secondary barns. The land we were on had once been a horse farm. I had never known the owners though. Sometime while I was in Michigan caring for my sister, it was transformed into the Harvest Village Flea Market.
I knew that my nine-year-old grandnephew Micah, as well as my two ornery Boer goats, Phillip and Peter, were being judged somewhere in one of those other two buildings. Months ago, Micah had asked if he could show the goats at the local competition, and I had agreed, even though I knew it would not be easy for him, or anyone, to handle Phillip and Peter. His mother, my beloved niece Edith, ran Edy’s Greenhouse, the largest Amish greenhouse in the county. Because of all the valuable plants in the greenhouse, owning goats was not a good option on her land. So Micah was borrowing mine. He’d come to my farm every day for the last few weeks, trying to prepare the goats. Judging by the way the goats ignored his every command, I didn’t have high hopes they would place. Even so, it was something Micah cared about, and I believed every child—every person, for that matter—needed a special interest.
“Please, Millie, tell me about his letter,” Ben said. The frustration that had been on his face a little while ago was gone now. In its place was resignation. What had happened between the Liebs and this young man to cause such an expression?
“Tobias knows that I’m the closest person you have to family in Holmes County, and he wrote me to ask you to stop pursuing Tess.”
He balled his hands into fists. “I suspected as much. It doesn’t matter to him that Tess and I love each other. It doesn’t matter to him that I would do anything for his daughter, absolutely anything. I am working all these jobs to prove myself to him, and her.”
“I know this, but if her father doesn’t approve—”
“You think I should give up on her?” He was hurt.
“I didn’t say that. I said nothing like that. I think you should not be in such a terrible rush. It’s very possible that her father is concerned that the two of you have developed such deep feelings for each other so quickly. You are only nineteen. She’s eighteen. There is no reason to be in such a hurry. You don’t want to make a match that estranges Tess from her family. In the long run, this will cause both of you pain. Patience is what you should hold onto now.”
He shook his head. “Nee, Millie, that is where you are wrong. There are things that Tobias clearly didn’t tell you.”
“What things?” I asked. “Maybe if you told me what they were, I would have a better understanding of your position.”
He shook his head. “I need to go to my next job.” He gave me a small smile. “I do not blame you for your words, Millie. I know that you have told me this only with the hope that it will help me.”
I studied his face. He was exhausted. I frowned. “I’m worried that you are stretching yourself too thin.”
He shook his head. “I’m fine. I catch a nap here and there when I can.”
“You’re not sleeping at night?”
“I can’t just now. I’m watching over the flea market. It’s my job to make sure the market is secure overnight.”
I frowned. “Have there been more robberies?”
He looked around as if he was afraid someone might overhear. “Nee, but a time or two I have scared off men who were set to cause trouble. I know if I hadn’t been here, they would have taken whatever they wanted from the market.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Who were they? Amish or Englisch?”
“They were Englisch. At least their dress was Englisch. I don’t know who they were.”
“Did you call the police?”
“Oh no, the owner of the flea market wouldn’t like that. He hired me so that he wouldn’t have to get the police involved. You know the Amish would rather take care of things their own way.”
“The owner is Amish?”
“Nee, he’s Englisch, but he wants to keep the Amish vendors calm, so they don’t leave the flea market. Having the police poking around won’t do that.”
“Who’s the owner?” I asked.
“Are you working here tonight to guard the market?” I asked.
He nodded. “I will be here from nine at night until seven tomorrow morning, when the shop keepers come and set up for the day.”
Ben walked me back into the flea market, and his gaze fell on Tess again. “Have you ever seen anyone so lovely?”
I smiled. “I have, but everyone thinks the object of their affection is the loveliest of all.”
“They would be wrong. Tess is the only one.” He grabbed my hand. “Millie, you have to convince Tobias that I am the right man for his daughter. You are the village matchmaker. You should be able to do it.”
“I can’t change a father’s mind as to what is best for his child,” I said quietly. “It may be that you will just have to wait until he believes Tess is ready.”
He turned pale. “I can’t wait. Time is too short for that.”
I wanted to ask what he meant by that, but he released my hand. “I must be off, or I will be late. As it is, I will have to pedal fast on my bicycle to reach my next job on time.” With that, he slipped through the back door again, leaving me wondering why a healthy young man would believe time was short.
I debated going over to speak with Tess, but then I thought better of it. I could tell whether or not people were a gut match, but it was not my place to cause trouble between parents and their children. If Tobias didn’t want Tess to marry now, or even be courted, Ben would have to be patient and wait. Someti. . .
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