Authors: Isabella Alan
MURDER, PLAIN AND SIMPLE
“This series starter set in Amish Country will delight readers with its details of the community’s culture and lifestyle. The contrast between the simple life and a grisly murder play out nicely in this well-done cozy. . . . [The] author does a good job of introducing several key players in the community, which develops a strong sense of place and provides plenty of material for future mysteries.”
“Alan’s rich characterizations, skillful plotting, and evocative descriptions coalesce in this surefire winner.”
“The characters are entertaining and fun, people you would like to come across in your own life (well, except for the killer maybe).”
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
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Copyright © Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
In Loving Memory of my mother, Rev. Pamela Flower
to my readers. Your sweet e-mails, notes, and messages mean more to me than you will ever know. I write to bring you a moment of escape and laughter, but you give me so much more.
Gratitude to my agent, Nicole Resciniti. You are more than an agent. You are a dear friend, and I can’t imagine this crazy business called publishing without you. And to my editor, Laura Fazio, thanks for getting my quirky voice and goofy sidekicks, including Petunia the goat. We make a pretty awesome team.
Hugs to Delia, Mariellyn, Meredith, and Suzy, the four best friends a girl can have and the pillars who hold me up.
Blessings to my family, Andy, Nicole, Isabella, and Andrew; without you, I would be lost.
Love to my mother, Rev. Pamela Flower, who helped me plot, edited, and read every novel, published and unpublished, I have ever written, including this one. Now I must go on alone, but you remain the inspiration for every achievement in my life and word I write.
Finally, thank you to the Lord in heaven. This year has taught me what faith really is, and I believe.
hen my mother enrolled me in the Little Miss Texas Butterfly Beauty Pageant at the age of eleven, I don’t believe it ever crossed her mind that one day I’d be lying in the dirt with my arms around the neck of a runaway goat.
Petunia the Nubian goat baaed and kicked at me with her sharp hooves. I shifted my body away from her reach, and one of her long tawny-colored ears smacked me in the face. Two minutes ago, when Petunia had raced past me as I made my way to the auction barn, jumping on her back seemed like a fantastic idea. Maybe because it never occurred to me I would actually succeed in catching her. My blond curls fell into my eyes. I blew at them, but that only seemed to make the tangles worse.
The tan, white, and brown goat tried to maneuver her feet so she could stand up and make a break for it. A wild goat ride was not my idea of fun. “A little help, please!” I cried.
An out-of-breath Jonah Graber ran toward me and looped a leash around Petunia’s neck. Dust covered his plain clothes and Amish beard. “I got her.”
As I rolled off the animal, she glared at me with disconcerting goat eyes. I crawled backward on my hands and knees, jumped to my feet, and bounced off of something soft. Spinning around, I saw auction house owner Gideon Nissley catch his balance. His plain button-down shirt stretched across his ample stomach.
Heat rushed to my face. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Nissley.” The last thing I wanted to do was knock down the auction yard owner. This was my first day at the Rolling Brook Amish Auction. Gideon had agreed to have some of the quilts from my quilt shop, Running Stitch, auctioned off and had offered me space in the merchants’ tent to sell directly to tourists. I was the first English shopkeeper to have a spot in the auction, and I didn’t want to lose it.
I had my Amish friends, the Grabers and the Millers, to thank for my place at the auction. They had vouched for me and agreed to be responsible to the Amish community if I messed up. Seeing how I’d just tackled Gideon’s goat, the auction owner might be reconsidering his offer.
Gideon righted his straw hat on the top of his head. “What’s going on here? What’s Petunia doing out of her pen?”
It was Jonah’s turn to look sheepish. He flicked a bit of mud from his sandy blond Amish beard, which fell to the second button on his work shirt. “I’m so sorry, Gideon. Petunia got loose somehow as I was moving the Kings’ goats into the show pen.”
Gideon hooked his thumbs around his suspenders. If anything, it made his stomach appear larger. “Now, Petunia is a
goat, or as
as a goat can be, but I can’t have her running loose around my auction yard. What if she rammed into an
and hurt them? I’d be the one held responsible. Those
will use any excuse to sue me. That’s why we keep her in her pen on auction days.”
Did that mean he didn’t consider me an
Was that good news?
Gideon narrowed his eyes. “How did this happen?”
“I’m not sure, Gideon,” Jonah said as he dug the toe of his work boot into the dirt and reminded me of the ten-year-old boy who had been my childhood playmate. “It won’t happen again.” I noticed Jonah’s gaze travel over my shoulder.
All of Gideon’s attention was on Jonah, so I risked peering behind me to see what or who caught Jonah’s attention. As I did, Ethan and Ezra Graber, Jonah’s eight-year-old identical twin sons, slunk away. The boys looked exactly like their father had at their age, and they were just as mischievous. The only problem was there were two of them. Double trouble wasn’t even the half of it. But by the stony expression on their father’s face, I bet they regretted the goat-gate already.
Jonah’s jaw clenched. “It won’t happen again.”
“I should hope not.” Before Gideon stomped away, he said something to Jonah in Pennsylvania Dutch. The word I recognized was
. Me. I guess he considered me one after all.
Petunia munched on one of the fallen leaves around our feet. Her crunching and chewing blended in with the sounds of the auction: the auctioneer calling for bids for a ram inside the barn, the mooing of the dairy cows waiting to be brought to the block, and the chatter of both English and Amish as they moved around the grounds from tent to tent and barn to barn. Holmes County, Ohio, had several Amish auctions throughout the week, but the Rolling Brook auction was one of the largest and most successful. It was the one event in the tiny township guaranteed to attract the tourists away from the better-known Amish towns of Berlin, Sugarcreek, and Charm.
“What did he say to you before he left?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter.” Jonah removed his felt hat, ran his hand through his sandy-colored hair, and set the hat back in place. I always marveled at how Amish men, despite the hard labor that they did, were always able to keep their hats on. In that respect, they were kind of like Indiana Jones with beards.
“It matters to me, Jo-Jo,” I said, using the name I had called him when we were children. I had been born in Holmes County and lived here until age ten when my father took an executive job in Dallas. I came back permanently two months ago when I inherited Running Stitch from my late and beloved Amish aunt Eleanor. “I know he was talking about me. I heard
Jonah sighed. “He said something like ‘Don’t make me rethink my decision about the
I frowned. “Do you think he will kick me out of the auction? Because of the goat?”
. Of course he won’t. You’re not the person responsible. It’s those
.” Jonah’s mouth compressed into a thin line. “I’d asked them to make sure all the goats made it to the show pen. I don’t know what got into their heads to let Petunia out. Those boys . . .”
I laughed. “You caused just as much trouble when you were their age. I think I recall you swiping fry pies from your grandmother’s kitchen windowsill.”
Jonah grinned. “You will have to take that to the grave. You are guilty as my accomplice.” His grin grew. “And if I remember correctly, you ate your share of those pies.”
I brushed dirt off of the front of my shirt. “I don’t recall that part.”
Jonah snorted. “Maybe we should ask my
. She will remember.”
“What does your
remember?” A woman’s deep voice asked.
I turned to see Anna Graber walking toward us. Anna wore a black apron over her navy dress, and her gray hair was parted down the middle and rolled into a bun at the back of her head in the Amish way. A white prayer cap hid most of her hair from sight.
“That the twins are as bad as Jonah was as a child,” I said.
Jonah rolled his eyes.
Why do I think he picked up that habit from me?
“Ah,” Anna said. “That is true.” She examined her son’s appearance. “Thinking of the trouble he gave me as a child, it only seems fitting he would have twins.”
“I wasn’t that bad,” he scoffed.
Anna tapped her chin with her right index finger. “I seem to remember some of your
fry pies going missing.”
Jonah opened his mouth as if to protest or more likely tell my involvement in the crime, but Anna kept going. “Emma told me Petunia had run loose.” Anna patted Petunia’s head in the spot where her horns would have been if they had been allowed to grow. “I see you caught her.”
“Angie caught her. She tackled the goat like a football player.”
I narrowed my eyes at Jonah. “What do you know about football?”
“I see the Millersburg High School team practicing when I ride by their field. You were as good as any of them.”
I wondered if his comment was more insulting to me or the Millersburg High School football team.
“You two are no better than when you were
.” Anna removed a handkerchief from her pocket and handed it to me. “This should help”—she paused—“some.”
As usual Anna was neat and tidy. I, on the other hand, looked like Pig-Pen from
After wiping the worst of the dirt and dust from my hands, I tried to give it back to her.
“Oh, no, you can keep it.” She adjusted her wire-rimmed eyeglasses on her nose. “Angie, I’m amazed you caught Petunia. Have you done that before?”
I brushed dirt from my jeans, which only ground it further into them. “Nope. First time.” A smile formed on my face. I wrestled a goat to the ground. How many people could say that? Check for the bucket list.
Anna Graber arched an eyebrow at me. “I didn’t know you knew how to handle livestock.”
I shrugged. “It’s been an untapped talent up to this point.”
Jonah laughed. “I’ll take Petunia back to her pen. After that, I’m going to find those boys.”
Anna shook her head as her son led the reluctant goat away. “Those twins. I told Jonah they were punishment for all the trouble that he gave me as a child.” She frowned. “I think they may be punishment for all of us.”
I pushed my hair out of my face. A twig fell out of it. “Where’s Oliver? He was with me when the goat ran by.” Fear crept into my voice, followed by guilt for just now noticing my beloved French bulldog was missing.
He usually hid when he was afraid. The auction grounds were huge, with hundreds of nooks and crannies for the black-and-white Frenchie to squeeze into, especially one as easily frightened as Oliver. A Dallas pup, born and bred, Oliver wasn’t made for country living. He’d spent more of his life walking along pavement avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk than on grass. Who knew how he would react to all the new sights and smells of the auction. I prayed he hadn’t wandered into the poultry tent. My ornithophobic canine would be catatonic by now if he had.
Anna scanned the auction grounds. “I haven’t seen him, but I have been in the auction barn up until a few minutes ago.”
I scanned the area for the black-and-white Frenchie.
Where could he be?
Amish men and women carried wares to the various tents and outbuildings. English tourists milled around and took photographs when they thought the Amish weren’t looking. Red, yellow, and orange leaves fell from the maple trees and scattered around the grass and dirt paths. An Amish teenager fought a losing battle as he raked the leaves in a pile that was constantly disturbed by the chilly October breeze and the footsteps of distracted visitors who marched right through his pile. A yellow leaf landed on the brim of his black felt hat like a pointed insult. No Oliver.
“I have to find him. Petunia must have terrified him.”
“I’m sure he’s hiding somewhere until everything calms down. I’m going to find those naughty twins before Jonah does.”
I nodded distractedly, knowing the twins would be fine. Left to their own devices, they would rule the township. I didn’t even know where to begin looking for my dog.
“I know where he is,” ten-year-old Emma Graber said. I hadn’t even noticed the girl until she spoke.
Had she been there the entire time?
It was possible. Jonah’s daughter was as quiet and shy as the twins were loud and boisterous. I guess she was used to being overlooked with the outlandish twins as her younger brothers.
“Where?” I asked.
She twisted the end of her white apron in her hands. “He’s in the bunny pen.”
That can’t be good.