You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Whitaker House (April 1, 2013)
***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:Janna Kauffman enjoys her job as a personal shopper for the homebound in her Amish community. But when Janna’s niece, Meghan, comes to live with her family—part of a plan by Janna’s sister to rid her daughter of her rebellious ways—Janna spends less time shopping and more time explaining Meghan’s erratic behavior to local police officer Hiram “Troy” Troyer, who was raised Amish but left the faith after a fatal accident that killed his brother and also a brother of Janna’s. Frequent interactions draw Janna and Troy together, rekindling an attraction they first experienced in their youth. What will become of their relationship? And will headstrong Meghan ever tame her ways?
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (April 1, 2013)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The police officer sorting though the Gala apples reminded Janna Kauffman of Hiram Troyer, but this Englischer couldn’t be her teenage crush. With a sigh, she focused again on the display in front of her. Cabbage. She picked up a head. Homemade coleslaw would go well with the hamburgers and baked beans she had planned for supper. As she set the cabbage in her cart, she couldn’t help stealing another peek at the good-looking officer. Dark blond hair, cut in a fancy hairstyle; trim build…ach, she shouldn’t be noticing such things about an Englischer.
Janna looked away, but not before he glanced back at her. She did a double take. She thought his eyes were blue, like Hiram’s, but she couldn’t be sure; he turned around and walked away. Probably headed for the doughnuts. She smiled and turned her attention to her shopping list.
10 bags carrots (5 lbs. ea.)
When she placed the carrots in her cart, the hair on the back of her neck stood up with a tingling sensation, as if someone were watching her. She turned and caught the policeman’s glance just before it slid away. A thrill shot through her to think that an Englischer might be attracted to her, an Amish woman, but she stifled it. His interest was a moot point. Of course, he might have just been curious about why she’d loaded her cart with so many carrots.
He disappeared around a corner and down an aisle. She picked up her list again.
10 oranges (Emma Brunstettler)
Emma believed that an orange a day kept all sickness away. And it seemed to work for her. Janna selected ten ripe ones and loaded them into Emma’s mesh bag. The hair on the back of her neck rose again, as did her pulse. Her breath hitched.
She wouldn’t look. Instead, she lowered the bag of oranges into the cart. Somehow she missed, though. They tumbled out and went rolling across the floor.
“Klutz.” A woman carrying a plastic basket stepped over the fallen fruit and hurried away.
As Janna bent to pick up the first of the escaped oranges, she noticed a pair of legs wearing blue pants approaching. It might be a store manager, coming to yell at her. Hopefully not. Worse, it might be the police officer. Had he witnessed her clumsy humiliation? She didn’t know which she dreaded more. She risked a glimpse as he crouched and started gathering up the oranges. The police officer. He grinned as he reached out to hand them to her. She tried to keep her burning face averted as she stretched out a quivering hand to accept the fruit and then stuffed each piece back inside the bag.
His smile would have made her weak in the knees, if she weren’t already squatting. Even so, she put one hand on the floor to keep her balance.
He stood, picked up his few grocery items from the edge of a display, and turned to go.
She found her voice. “Danki.”
He glanced back at her and winked, causing her heart rate to accelerate even more. “Careful with those oranges. They’ll get you every time.” He strode toward the checkout lines. She smiled when she noticed the box of doughnuts and canister of coffee he had tucked under one elbow. In his other hand was a bag of apples.
Janna gripped the bag of oranges in one hand and slowly stood, watching him as he moved through the checkout line, even as she gave herself a silent yet stern lecture for ogling him the whole time.
An hour later, she pushed the cart, piled full with her bagged purchases, outside and across the parking lot to her buggy, her thoughts still on the handsome police officer.
She started sorting through the bags, searching for the Yoder family’s groceries to load first, since their home was the last stop she would make along her delivery route.
“Janna Kauffman?” An Englisch man’s voice shattered her concentration.
Janna’s heart stuttered. Was it him? She stopped rifling through the plastic bags in her cart and looked up. A policeman approached, but he wasn’t the one from the store. This man had dark hair, and sunglasses covered his eyes. Her heart crash-landed somewhere in the vicinity of her toes.
“I’m Officer Pete O’Dell.”
Janna summoned a smile. “Is there a problem, Officer?”
He didn’t grin back. His lips didn’t even twitch. She stiffened, trying to prepare herself for the bad news she felt sure she was about to hear. She searched her mind for possibilities. She knew she hadn’t double parked, and dropping oranges wasn’t against the law. Ach, maybe there’d been an accident.
Just then, the passenger door of the police cruiser parked behind him opened. Her rush of thoughts stopped as the blond officer from the store climbed out and approached her, sliding his sunglasses down from the top of his head to cover his eyes.
Her face heated again in shame for having stared at him in the store. He looked at her buggy, and the stacks of coolers labeled with the full names of Amish men. “Where’d you get all these?” He opened up the lid of a red cooler labeled “Elam Troyer”—the father of her childhood crush. That seemed like a slap in the face. The cooler would be empty, except for an ice pack.
Janna sucked in a breath. The officers probably thought she’d stolen the coolers. “It isn’t what you think.” She waved a hand toward her cart, still piled with plastic bags. “I do their grocery shopping.” Embarrassed at being caught in yet another humiliating situation by the cute cop, she pulled her shopping list out of her pocket and shoved it toward him.
He took it and began scanning it.
Officer O’Dell shifted his weight. “Are you the guardian of a Meghan Forrest?”
Renewed panic filled Janna. She pushed down her fears and nodded. “She’s my niece.”
“Has she contacted you today?”
“No, but she can’t; she’s in school.” At least, that’s where she was supposed to be. But if he was asking, then maybe it was Meghan who was about to receive bad news. “Is it her mom?” She froze, dreading the answer. If anything had happened to her sister Sharon, she didn’t know what she’d do.
“Your niece was just picked up for shoplifting,” said Officer O’Dell, matter-of-factly. “We need you, as her guardian, to come to the police station.”
“Excuse me?” Janna shook her head. This couldn’t be happening. “I think you must have the wrong person. Megan is still in class.” She glanced at the position of the sun, then looked for a watch. She found one, conveniently located on the arm of the handsome officer. Almost noon.
The other officer still studied her shopping list, not contributing anything to the conversation.
“Well, apparently she decided to skip school today. Will you come with us to the station, Ms. Kauffman?” Officer O’Dell’s question sounded more like an order, as if she had no choice.
A knot formed in her stomach. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” But she stood there, staring at the plastic bags in the cart. Plastic bags full of perishables. She needed to deliver the food first. Or sort it, at the very least, load it into the coolers, and pray that it would still be cool enough after she’d handled the situation with Meghan. Otherwise, she’d have to pay out of her own pocket to replace the spoiled food. Besides, late or incomplete orders wouldn’t help her business any. And here, she’d been marveling at how well her day had been going.
“Now would be a good time, Ms. Kauffman.” Officer O’Dell grabbed a plastic bag from her cart and tossed it into the buggy.
Janna reached for the bag and pulled it back out. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she said again. Maybe he hadn’t heard her the first time. “I have to get these bags sorted and put the food in the coolers so it won’t spoil.”
“Go on, O’Dell. I’ll help her.” The blond policeman handed her back her list. He ran his fingertip over Elam Troyer’s name written in black permanent marker, then turned is dark sunglasses in her direction. “What can I do?”
Officer O’Dell scowled and strode back to his cruiser.
Janna swallowed. She wasn’t Meghan’s parent—just one of her temporary guardians, until Sharon felt ready to welcome Meghan back home. She sighed. Since the police probably wouldn’t ask a parent to fly in, she would have to deal with it. Unless Daed could do it. For a second, her hopes flared. Then died. Nein, Daed and Mamm were in Springfield, visiting someone in the hospital. Their driver wouldn’t bring them home again until this evening. She was it.
“I don’t know if you can help,” Janna said. “I need to pack the items on my list in the proper coolers. I tried to keep the orders separate in the store, but the bagger sort of packed them into the cart at random, so I still need to figure out who gets what.” Normally, she was better organized, but this time, the police officer had taken her rational capacities prisoner.
“Then, you tell me which cooler it goes into and I’ll put it in.”
She watched his eyebrows rise above his dark glasses. He really did seem familiar…
“So, why do you do their grocery shopping?” He tapped his fingertips on the lid of Elam Troyer’s red cooler.
She shrugged and decided to answer generally. The Troyers’ reasons were personal and certainly none of his concern. “Oh, various reasons. Some are too sick or old or physically unable; some are mamms with newborns at home. Others are widowers with no interest in shopping.” She looked through the contents of one bag, consulted her list, then handed it to the officer. “This goes to Elam Troyer.”
A muscle flickered in his jaw. She wondered if the name meant something to him.
But it was probably her overactive imagination.
He should be shot for neglecting his parents like he did. Hiram Troyer, better known as Troy, removed his hand from the top of the cooler, lifted the lid, and lowered the plastic bag inside. He’d run by their house on the way home and check on them. If they were paying someone else to do their grocery shopping, then something must have happened.
He held up another bag. “Same family?”
She nodded distractedly as she sorted through another bag.
He dropped it in the cooler, keeping his gaze on her. Janna Kauffman. I’d figured she would have gotten married by now. She always stood out at the singings and frolics, back when—. No point going there. That was a lifetime ago. Still, when he’d seen her eyes for the first time in years, it had felt like an earthquake, rocking his heart and rearranging his mind. The aftershocks still rumbled through him.
But his thoughts were no longer scrambled; they were crystal clear—and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He just didn’t know how he was going to do it.
Janna handed him several more bags. “These are the last of Elam Troyer’s.”
He was glad his sunglasses hid his eyes as his gaze slid down her curvy body beneath the usual cape dress, hers lavender. She was still as attractive as ever, with light brown hair and hazel eyes. She’d skipped the black bonnet the women usually wore over their prayer kapps when they went out—but he’d seen other women do that, especially as the days got warmer. And they’d been reaching 80 degrees almost daily for almost a week now. Eighty-two, he thought he read on the digital sign in front of the bank. He could have been mistaken, though, because gazing into Janna’s eyes left him reeling. He looked away.
He’d left Meghan locked up in custody in the otherwise empty police station. He slid his glance back to Janna, then away. “Hurry and finish.”
Okay, that was a bit abrupt, but he needed to get back to the station before the manager of the store Meghan had allegedly robbed showed up to give a statement. She’d been running the cash register and needed to find someone to cover for her.
Troy glanced in the direction of the police station. Maybe O’Dell had gone straight back there. Troy had told him he’d talk to Janna, but, as usual, O’Dell hadn’t listened. Probably because a hint of action beat the dispatcher job O’Dell was supposed to be doing today.
Come down to it, Troy needed to do his job, instead of standing there staring at this woman. He needed to get away from Janna and the feelings she awakened in him.
Years of striving to be the model bishop’s daughter, and here she was, on her way to the police station. At least she wasn’t the one in trouble. She hoped shoplifting wasn’t punishable with jail time. Sharon would never forgive her if Meghan ended up with a sentence to serve. Maybe she could talk the nice blond policeman into going easy on her niece. And somehow keep the news from her older sister.
As Janna maneuvered her buggy into the parking lot of the police station, she began to regret the samples of meat and cheese she’d succumbed to while shopping. They weighed heavy in her stomach.
She climbed out of the buggy, tied the reins to a telephone pole, and went inside the station, wishing again that she didn’t have to handle this. Wishing the problem would just disappear. If only the blond policeman had waited for her. But he’d disappeared before she could talk her horse, Tulip, into leaving the grocery store parking lot.
Officer O’Dell sat at the reception desk with his feet propped up in front of him, a full mug of coffee in one hand, what appeared to be a McDonald’s burger in the other. The room smelled like fresh-brewed coffee. A glance around showed an almost full pot on a file cabinet.
“Ms. Kauffman,” he said around a mouthful of food. “Go on in.” He pointed abruptly over his shoulder at a partially closed door.
Janna inclined her head to acknowledge his directions and then stepped over to the door. She knocked once, then pushed it open.
The blond officer sat behind a big desk, talking on the phone. King of the office, apparently. He cast a quick glance in her direction but made no visible acknowledgment of her presence. He was handsome, but instead of the friendliness she’d seen earlier, now his expression was stern. She probably didn’t know him. Maybe she’d just seen him around town a time or two.
Meghan sat hunched over in a far chair. She didn’t look over at all. Not gut.
A woman wearing tight black pants and a low-cut hot pink stood against the wall on the other side of the desk. She, too, kept her eyes down, as she played with the bangles on her wrist.
Janna inhaled as deeply as she could, given the knot in her stomach. She pressed a hand to her abdomen, hoping to keep her snacks down.
The officer finally set the phone in its cradle and looked up at Janna. His blue-eyed gaze pierced her. He was good-looking but scary—not someone she’d want to tangle with on a dark dirt road. Or even in a brightly lit office.
He nodded at the empty chair facing his desk. “Please, have a seat.”
She thought she’d rather stand, like the woman with the bangle bracelets. Position herself right there by the garbage can, in case her food decided not to stay put. But obediently, she dropped compliantly into the chair. Again she glanced over at Meghan, who studied the floor as if fascinated by the pattern in the linoleum tiles.
Janna cleared her throat. “I’m sure this is just a simple misunderstanding.”
The officer slid a card holding a pair of earrings across the desk. They were dangly and sparkly. Definitely something Meghan would wear. “We found these in your niece’s possession.” His voice was stern. “Would you like to see the surveillance video?”
He went ahead and pushed a button of the remote control on his desk. On the monitor behind him, a rather grainy picture appeared of Meghan and someone Janna didn’t know. She must have gotten away, or maybe they’d put her in another room. Despite the poor quality of the film, it was clear enough to see both girls slip some merchandise into their pockets.
He pushed another button, and the screen went blank. His cold eyes speared Janna again before he shifted his gaze to Meghan. “Shoplifting is a serious crime, and it usually lands you in jail for up to a few months. But, since this is your first offense, we’re willing to work with you.” He gestured to the woman with the bracelets. “Ms. Taft, the store manager, has said she won’t press charges if you agree to six weeks of community service. I just talked to the DA to make sure this was agreeable. He said you could begin Monday after school. You’ll report to the county courthouse. And you will not enter that store again. If you do, the management won’t hesitate to report you for trespassing.”
Janna nodded. “I’m sure it won’t happen again.” I hope. She glanced at Meghan to look for any indication that she felt the same way, but her niece’s face was impassive.
He tapped the card holding the earrings. “The DA also expects you to pay for the merchandise you stole. Three times the retail value.”
Janna glanced at Meghan. “How much did they cost?”
“Forty-nine ninety-five,” said the woman standing there. Her tone was less than friendly.
Janna couldn’t hold back her gasp. “And you want her to pay three times that much?” Acid burned in the back of her throat. She stood and moved to the trashcan.
“Take a seat, Ms. Kauffman.” This officer meant business. She wondered what had become of the kind gentleman who’d help her gather her fallen orange and later load her buggy with groceries. This man looked the same, but his attitude and bearing were completely different.
Janna cast him a frantic look, then lost the contents of her stomach—and what was left of her pride.
Ms. Taft gagged.
“Eww, Aunt Janna. Gross!”
At least Meghan had generated a reply.
Blinking back tears, Janna wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
The officer stood, opened a miniature refrigerator, and produced a bottle of water. Her throat burned.
“Thank you.” She reached to accept the water from him.
When their hands touched, fire shot through her fingertips, and she glanced quickly at him. His blue eyes widened as they met hers, but his expression remained sympathetic. Maybe he was friendly after all, and not so scary. She set the garbage can outside the door and then approached his desk again.
“Now. Back to business.” The officer’s voice hardened, and he sat down, all traces of kindness gone. “As I was saying….” He repeated himself, with enough force to make Janna’s stomach churn again. No matter the punishment Daed would kum up with for Meghan, it couldn’t be harsh enough for forcing Janna through this torture.
Something the policeman said must have penetrated Meghan’s indifference. She flung a wad of cash on the desk. Her hands didn’t even shake.
Janna stared in disbelief at the bills. Sharon sent Meghan a monthly allowance, but with the way Meghan spent money, Janna hadn’t thought she’d have any money left.
The manager reached for the stack and flipped through it. Apparently satisfied with the amount, she slid it into her pocket. “Thank you, Officer,” she almost purred. Then, she turned to Janna and hissed, “If that thieving brat ever sets foot in my store again, you can be sure I’ll have her arrested.” She flipped her hair, spun on her heel, and stomped out of the office.
“Thank you for coming in, Ms. Kauffman.” The uniformed man rose to his feet. “You can go now. I’ll escort your niece back to school.”
Janna didn’t even try to force a smile. “Thank you, sir.” She turned to Meghan. “I expect you to kum straight home after school. We are going to have a talk.”
“What. Ever.” Meghan punctuated the words with a sneer. “You aren’t my mom.”
Her comment struck like a fist, knocking the air from Janna’s lungs. No, she wasn’t Meghan’s mom. But she had once been her favorite aunt. They’d been more like sisters, really, since they were only five years apart.
Janna glanced at the police officer on her way out. In light of the humiliation she had just suffered, she decided that if she never saw him again, it would be way too soon.
She also decided that, whatever Sharon’s reasons for sending Meghan to Seymour to live with her Amish relatives, they weren’t gut enough.