With two matchmakers on the loose in the Amish community of Birch Creek, the new innkeeper doesn’t stand a chance in this sweet Amish romance.
When Selah Ropp returns to Birch Creek, she is a different person than when she left. I know I haven’t done much listening in the past, Lord, she prays. But I’m listening now. Her new friend, Cevilla Schlabach, urges her to let go of regrets and allow this to be a fresh start. Cevilla herself, though, hides a secret longing behind her weathered face.
Levi Stoll and his family spent a year transforming a large English house into a small inn. Now that they are open for business, Levi is pleased to have Selah join them as an employee—as long as his grandmother doesn’t try any matchmaking schemes on the two of them. After all, Selah seems as guarded as he feels, and the last thing he wants is for anyone to remind him of his history.
With Kathleen Fuller’s trademark humor and memorable characters, The Innkeeper’s Bride reminds us that God’s grace in the present and our hope for the future is stronger than any pain of the past.
- Sweet Amish romance
- Full-length novel
- Third in the Brides of Birch Creek series, but can be read as a stand-alone
About the Author
With over a million copies sold, Kathleen Fuller is the author of several bestselling novels, including the Hearts of Middlefield novels, the Middlefield Family novels, the Amish of Birch Creek series, and the Amish Letters series as well as a middle-grade Amish series, the Mysteries of Middlefield. Visit her online at KathleenFuller.com; Instagram: kf_booksandhooks; Facebook: WriterKathleenFuller; Twitter: @TheKatJam.
Read an Excerpt
Selah Ropp leaned against a sheltering oak tree in the backyard of the Detweiler place and took a sip of hot chocolate. As she watched adults and children mingling in celebration of Martha and Seth Yoder's marriage, laughter filled the crisp November air, and a group of young adults had just started a rousing game of volleyball nearby. The wedding ceremony had been lovely and touching, and everyone's happiness was contagious. Almost.
She clung to the Styrofoam cup as if the hot chocolate was the one thing keeping her nerves at bay. Conflicting emotions weren't exactly new to her, but she was getting better at managing them. At least she hoped she was.
She looked up to see Martha heading toward her with a grin of wedded bliss. When she reached Selah, she hugged her. "I'm so glad you're here," she said.
"I wouldn't miss yer wedding for anything." She gave her a smile — a genuine one. When Martha had asked her to be her maid of honor, she hadn't hesitated to say yes. She was the only real friend Selah had made in Birch Creek when she moved here the first time, almost two years ago, but not because the community wasn't friendly. Her lack of friends was entirely her fault.
"I'm not just talking about the wedding." Martha squeezed her hand. "I'm glad you decided to move back." Her smile dimmed a little, and concern entered her blue eyes. "Are you?"
She nodded, although she wasn't being completely honest. Doubts had plagued her ever since she'd made her decision to return. But today wasn't about her feelings. "I'm thrilled for you and Seth."
"We're blessed with happiness." Martha beamed again. "I want you to be happy, too, Selah."
So do I.
"Are you going to play volleyball?"
Selah glanced at the game. She recognized all the players — Seth's brother Ira Yoder, barrel chested and well over six feet tall, standing next to a stout, tomboyish-looking girl named Nina Stoll. Selah's sister-in-law, Ruby, was playing, too, but not Christian. Her brother was a disaster when it came to athletics. Of course numerous Bontrager men were on both teams, their ages varying from early teens to early twenties. The Bontrager family had so many members they could form two volleyball teams by themselves.
She shook her head. "Not this time."
Martha nodded, and Selah knew her friend wouldn't push her to join the group. "I better geh see to Seth."
Seth seemed fine talking to Andrew Beiler and Sol Troyer by the barn, but Selah wasn't going to point that out. She smiled again as Martha hurried to her husband's side.
She stayed by the grand oak tree, an outsider looking in. She closed her eyes for a few moments, pushing aside her gray thoughts, reminding herself that she needed to focus on the positive — Martha's happiness, the beautiful fall day, the start of a new life after she'd made so many mistakes. When she opened her eyes, to her surprise Cevilla Schlabach was standing directly in front of her.
"Thought you'd fallen asleep there for a moment." The bold octogenarian, blunt as ever, tapped her cane on the soft grass.
Selah shook her head. "Just thinking, that's all."
Cevilla moved to stand next to her. "How are you settling in with yer bruder and sister-in-law?"
"Gut." This time she was being honest. She'd lived with Christian when they first moved here from New York, after he'd accepted the teaching job at the Birch Creek school. More than a little tension had been between them, and again, that was her fault. But their relationship was different now. She was different. "I've been busy helping Martha with the wedding."
"Ah, weddings. I've been to mei fair share of them over the years. Never a bride, though. Come to think of it, I haven't been a bridesmaid too often, either."
"Does that bother you?"
"The bridesmaid stuff? Nee.I don't let things like that get to me."
"I mean ..." She didn't know Cevilla that well, and she wasn't sure if she should ask such a personal question. But Cevilla was exactly the right person to talk to about this.
"Does it bother you that you're single?"
An odd look passed over Cevilla's face for a second, but then she shook her head. "Absolutely not. Singleness has its advantages, you know. You're responsible for only yerself, and you don't have to ask someone else their opinion before you make a decision. I enjoy mei privacy, and I was never too keen on little kinner. I like them after they grow up."
"Then you don't feel like you've missed out on anything?"
Cevilla tilted her head and looked at her. "The Lord is all I need. He always has been. So nee, I don't feel like I've missed out on anything."
But Selah caught Cevilla's gaze shifting to Richard, her friend and neighbor, who was seated at a table with Martha and Seth's parents, engaged in what looked like lively conversation. She knew even less about Richard, except that he and Cevilla were special friends. Selah wouldn't pry into Cevilla's business about that.
She felt Cevilla's hand on hers and then met the woman's gaze. Deep wrinkles etched her face, but her pale-blue eyes were bright and clear. "Life never goes like we plan. God usually has something better in store for us even if we don't know we needed or wanted it." She patted Selah's hand. "Focus on that instead of regrets."
An unexpected lump formed in Selah's throat. Cevilla smiled, and then she hobbled toward Richard. She was right, of course. Her counselor back home in New York, Anne, had been drilling basically the same concept into Selah during their therapy sessions. Some days she believed it, other days she didn't.
She brought the Styrofoam cup to her lips. Here's to conflicting emotions.
Whack! Something had slammed into the side of her head, knocking her off balance. Hot chocolate splashed all over her hands and down the front of her navy-blue coat.
She shook out her hand as Levi Stoll sprinted toward her. He pushed up his silver-rimmed glasses, his eyes filled with concern. "Are you okay?" he asked, peering at her. "Ira doesn't know his own strength when it comes to hitting a volleyball."
"Sorry!" Ira waved at her from the other side of the net.
"I'm all right." She held the cup out in front of her. Fortunately her skin had been cold and the chocolate lukewarm, so she didn't get burned. Her head throbbed in the spot where the volleyball hit, though. "But I might have a bit of a headache later on."
"I'll run and get some ice —"
"That's okay." She didn't want him making a fuss and drawing attention to her. "Mei head's pretty hard."
He chuckled a little, and then he said, "It won't take but a minute to get an ice pack."
"I'm fine." She brushed at her coat, which wasn't too wet.
He bent down and picked up the ball, tucking it under his arm. "Selah, right?" At her nod, he said, "I don't think we've formerly met. I'm —"
"Levi Stoll." She'd seen him at church last Sunday, two days after she arrived from New York. Ruby had pointed out all the people who'd moved to Birch Creek while Selah was away. She'd seen quite a few new faces.
His brow shot up. "I'm impressed you remembered."
"I'm pretty gut with names." She switched the cup to her other hand.
"Here." Levi reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. As he handed it to her, he said, "Want to join in?" He tilted his head toward the volleyball net, where the players were now milling around.
Oddly enough, she was suddenly tempted. Then her nerves got the best of her. Only a few people in Birch Creek knew about her past, and only three were privy to her diagnosis — clinical depression. The thought of that was enough to change her mind. She didn't want to put herself out there. "Not today."
"Maybe next time." He jogged backward. "You're missing a gut game, though." He tossed the ball into the air, caught it, and then spun around and hurried back to the other players.
She dabbed at her coat with Levi's handkerchief and then put it in her pocket before taking in a deep breath to calm her mind. Over the past year and a half, she'd learned to turn to God when she was confused and anxious, and she needed him right now. I know I haven't done much listening in the past, Lord, but I'm listening now.
* * *
After his encounter with Selah, Levi struggled to focus on the rest of the volleyball game. He kept looking over his shoulder to check on her, and in the process he, too, got smacked with the volleyball — twice. The second impact hurt a little, which reminded him of her getting hit with the ball. He peeked over his shoulder again in time to see her walk away. She'd insisted she was fine, but something in her eyes had told him she wasn't — at least not completely. He had no idea why he'd picked up on that. Or maybe he was reading too much into what he'd seen.
"Levi!" Nina hollered. "Look up!"
He did, just in time to see the ball zoom toward him. He quickly spiked the ball over the net. He might not be as tall as Ira Yoder or as strong as Zeb and Zeke Bontrager, but he could jump like a frog, and his aim was true. Devon, Zeb and Zeke's brother, dove for the ball and missed.
"That's the game." Nina jumped up and down but then stopped herself, smoothing out her skirt. His sister had changed for the better since they'd moved here almost a year ago. Levi guessed it had to do with her platonic relationship with Ira — if that's what it was. The two of them insisted they were only friends, but Levi suspected something more was between them. So did his grand-mother, even though they hadn't talked about it. Grossmutter always assumed any male within a five-mile radius was a possible suitor for her granddaughter. Nina wasn't her only target, though. She'd kept a hawk's eye out for potential spouses for him for years, and that hadn't changed when they arrived in Birch Creek.
When they first moved here, she'd tried to set him up with Martha and Nina with Seth. Then there was the matchmaking scheme Cevilla had come up with to get Martha and Seth together. That hadn't worked, but Martha and Seth fell for each other anyway — on their own. Thinking about all those shenanigans made his head swim. Hopefully both women had realized they should keep their noses out of other people's romantic business. His grand- mother had said as much, but Levi didn't hold much hope that his grandmother had learned her lesson. He'd yet to meet anyone as stubborn as Delilah Stoll.
That gave him pause. Would Selah be in Grossmutter's cross-hairs? He needed to nip that idea in the bud.
"Ready for another game?" he asked. But the other players were dispersing, the men predictably heading toward the food table. "Guess not," he mumbled, a little disappointed. He and his family had spent the past year transforming the large English house they'd bought into a small inn and building a house behind it for them to live in. In two weeks they would open for business, but right now he appreciated the respite from work the Yoder wedding provided. He hadn't spent much time at social events, something he'd always enjoyed. He was usually so tired by Sunday that he had only enough energy for church.
Although a big, delicious meal had been served after the wedding ceremony, Levi could use a snack. He was making his way to the refreshment table, which was full of cookies, cakes, homemade pretzels, chocolate candy, and other goodies, when he heard his grandmother call his name. He pushed up his glasses and turned around to see her bustling toward him. Delilah Stoll never simply walked. She was a whirlwind, and now was no exception. He looked longingly at a tray of chocolate chip cookies, but then he went to meet her.
"Wasn't the wedding wonderful?" Grossmammi looked up at him, smiling so wide her plump, rosy cheeks touched the bottom edge of her glasses.
Uh-oh. He recognized the gleam in her eyes. "Nee," he said, his voice firm.
Her brown eyes widened with fake innocence. "Levi Stoll, how can you say such a thing?"
"The wedding was just fine. Whatever tomfooleries you're up to are not."
"Tomfooleries?" She put her plump hand over her heart. "I have nee idea what you're talking about."
"Then you haven't met Selah yet?" Maybe he had misinterpreted that gleam. Maybe she was just that enamored with Seth and Martha's wedding, which was a typical ceremony in his opinion. He'd been to more than a few.
"Of course I have." The gleam intensified. "Isn't she a lovely maedel? Her bruder is the schoolteacher, you know."
"Ya, I know." His grandmother was hung up on family connections. Seth's father, Freemont, was the bishop, and that was one reason she'd been keen on Nina and Seth getting together. She still held out hope since Ira was Seth's brother.
"Intelligence is a gut trait to have, Levi."
"I'm all set, then, since I'm the smartest grosssohn you have." "You're mei only grosssohn." She gave him a light pat on the arm and then smiled. "But I mean it's a gut trait in a future frau —" "I'm not interested."
"Why not? I was already married by yer age, and so was yer vatter. The lack of interest you and Nina have in getting married is baffling. Don't you want a frau and a familye?"
"Possibly?" Her eyes widened again, looking like stupefied saucers behind her glasses.
"I think Daed's calling me," he said, slipping past her. "I don't hear him —"
"See you later," Levi called out. He hurried away before his grandmother selected his wedding date. Maybe he should tell her why he was opposed to her constant pressure to get married — besides the annoyance factor. He believed being single wasn't the worst fate in the world. He could be satisfied being single for the rest of his life. He was sure of that.
Then there was the unusual lack of available females in Birch Creek — as in zero, since the only young single woman had been Nina. And he wasn't going to go after the first single woman who moved to the community, namely, Selah, just because she wasn't taken. If he were to marry, it would be to the right woman. He would make his own decision, and his grandmother and everyone else would have to stay out of it.
But even if he explained all that to his grandmother, and he wasn't eager to do that, he doubted she'd listen. When Delilah Stoll made up her mind, it was set. Better to just dodge her attempts than to try to convince her to give up the goal altogether.
With quick steps, he walked to the front yard, giving him enough separation from his grandmother. Then he saw Selah walking down the driveway. Was she leaving? Christian and Ruby were still here, and it was only midafternoon. Plus, she was Martha's maid of honor, so he figured she'd be one of the last to leave. Curious, he jogged toward her, catching up to her as she stepped onto the asphalt road. "Heading home already?"
She stopped and turned, her expression guarded. "Ya."
"Why?" A better question would be why he was being so nosy.
Her eyes narrowed. "Because I'm ready to geh."
Her tone was testy, and he didn't blame her. He held up his hands. "Sorry. I didn't mean to bother you."
"You're not bothering me." She glanced down. "I was just surprised anyone noticed I was missing."
"I'm sure Martha will."
"She knows I'm leaving."
"I hope you're not leaving because of yer headache."
A flash of surprise crossed her features. "Oh, nee.Mei head is fine."
"Gut." He paused, the silence growing awkward between them. "Well, I'll let you be on yer way."
She nodded and then left.
He watched her for a moment before returning to the reception. He had to admit she was pretty. Very pretty. Dark-brown hair, blue eyes, soft-looking skin. But he'd seen pretty girls before. Not one who was so aloof, though. It was as if Selah had a three-foot invisible fence around her, and if someone got too close, they'd get shocked. For some reason, that both bothered and intrigued him.
Levi shook his head. Intrigue didn't equal interest. Still, as he headed back to the refreshment table, he couldn't help but turn around and check on her one more time.
* * *
"I've been thinking about hosting a sister gathering this spring." Cevilla Schlabach placed a piece of golden french toast on Richard Johnson's plate and then set the platter on the table in her tiny but comfortable kitchen.
Richard lifted one gray eyebrow. "You don't have any sisters."
She handed him the syrup. "I have my sisters here in the community. We're not related by blood, but we are sisters in Christ."
"And what would you do during this gathering?"
"Quilting, crocheting, knitting. Needlepointers are welcome too. I'm all about inclusivity."
"Is needlepointers a word?" He flipped open the lid of the syrup bottle.
"It is now." She sat down across from him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Innkeeper's Bride"
Copyright © 2020 Kathleen Fuller.
Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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