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By:Shelley Shepard Gray

During those moments of consciousness, Holly would try and sound chipper and chatty. For her sake, he would attempt to smile, but they both knew even that effort cost him. Brandon was slipping away. He was losing interest in almost everything in their world, talking more about the past and their mother than Holly could ever remember.

There was only one subject that ever drew a familiar spark into his beautiful hazel eyes—Katie Brenneman.

Almost three years ago, he’d fallen hard for Katie. In return, she’d led him on, then broke his heart. Katie had broken Holly’s heart as well. She’d thought they’d been good friends. Best friends.

Then she’d found out that Katie had just been pretending to care about them. She’d never intended to go to trade school with Holly. She’d never intended to one day be roommates like she’d promised. She’d never intended to ever fall in love with Brandon.

No, she was Amish.

To Holly’s dismay, Brandon still carried a torch for Katie. And now she was the only person he wanted to see. So Holly was swallowing her pride and doing everything she could to contact Katie.

Even though, really, Holly couldn’t care less whether she ever saw Katie again. She didn’t appreciate being used.

As the machines clicked and sighed around her brother, Holly nodded to the nurse on duty, then walked to the hospital’s front lobby and posted the letter.

The irony of the address didn’t escape her. The truth was, even though she’d felt she had become best friends with Katie, the fact remained that really, she hadn’t known her very well at all. She didn’t know where she lived, only that she shopped at the McClusky General Store.

Oh, and that Katie had lied to them all. About who she was and what her dreams were. About who she loved and what she wanted to be.

As Holly watched the envelope slide down the glass mail slot, she wondered what Katie would do when she saw it. Not wanting to put Brandon’s news in the letter, Holly had asked Katie to meet her at the Brown Dog Café. Part of her hoped Katie would ignore the note.

But even though Holly wished that, she hoped and prayed that Katie would rush to Brandon’s side. He wanted to see her. He needed to see Katie.

And so, Holly knew she would do whatever it took to give him what he wanted. Even reaching out to the girl she’d hoped to never see again.

Chapter 3

“I know my brother Jonathan’s intentions are true. They are without reproach, and without any ulterior motives. Katie’s presence is surely needed.”

With a sense of alarm, Katie looked at her mother, who was busy frying chicken. Beside her Anna was peeling potatoes. She, herself, was rolling out pie crust. Winnie was pressing some napkins for the evening’s meal at the inn.

Though the tasks were mundane and their hands busy and useful, the conversation certainly was not. It seemed to bump along and halt like a wheel stuck in a rut, stopping and starting in rough movements.

Anna looked so ill at ease that she’d most likely peeled more potatoes than they would need over the coming week.

Katie felt her own nerves being pulled as the silence stretched on. “Mamm?” she said. “Did you hear?”

“Ach. Yes.” With a frown, her mother glanced up from the frying pan. “Things are not as simple as you make them seem, Winnie.”

“Sometimes they are,” Winnie fired back. She placed the hot iron she’d been using back in its holder. Chin up, she looked at them all, her light blue eyes shining, the perfect contrast to her dark-as-night brows and hair. “I think you may be making things too difficult. Jonathan and I need help. That is all. We need another pair of hands.”

“You are not asking for only our hands, Winnie. You are asking Katie to live with you.”

Katie’s cheeks heated. She knew that tone in her mother’s voice. It plainly said her patience was wearing thin and to tread lightly.

It was obvious Winnie heard no such warning. Still ignoring her pile of ironing, she crossed her arms over her chest. “I thought your offers of assistance were genuine when Sarah passed on.”

Anna groaned and grabbed another potato.

Katie sucked in a breath. Winnie’s words were mighty harsh. Of course all of the Brennemans had offered to help back at Sarah’s funeral. But helping when they were able and her living with Jonathan were two different things.

“My offer was indeed genuine, Winnie,” Mamm said quietly. “I have helped your family out time and again over the last year and a half.”

Katie kept her head down, concentrating on fluting the pie crust’s edges. Oh, her mother was in a fine state. Winnie shouldn’t push so.

But still, she did. “It would just be for two months. Let’s see, it’s the first of November now. In two months, it will be the beginning of January.” She pointed to the frosty windowpane, evidence that the weather outside was finally getting colder. “What’s two months, after all? The spring crocuses won’t even have started to bloom.”