Kristi Lapp flicked the reins impatiently. “Kum on, Samson. ‘Slow’ isn’t the only speed you’re capable of, ain’t so?” She needed him to pick up the pace. Silas Troyer had banged on her door earlier to alert her that his frau, Susie, was going into labor, and then he’d raced down the lane in his horse-and-buggy to notify their family members of the imminent birth.
Kristi was especially excited about this boppli. Susie had four girls, all of them a year apart, and she’d been expecting to have a boy this time, based on how different it had felt carrying him. Mamms usually sensed these things. And Kristi predicted she was right.
Several deer stepped onto the road right in front of Kristi, none of them even glancing her way. Smiling, she pulled the reins slightly to the right to direct Samson away from them, over to the side of the road. A similarly sized herd had meandered its way through her family’s backyard the other day, and she’d always admired the animals for sticking together as they did.
She tightened her grip on the reins and gave them another flick, hoping to encourage Samson to move more quickly.
As the deer were crossing the center line into the other lane, the powerful roar of an engine broke the serenity of the setting. A red sports car crested the hill up ahead, barreling in Kristi’s direction at a speed she’d never witnessed on this road. She heaved a breath of exasperation. Any idiot would have noticed one of the several signs that read, “Watch for Buggies.” They were impossible to miss, and Kristi had passed four of them in the last mile alone.
As the car whizzed toward her, the herd of deer scattered, darting in different directions. The driver swerved sharply into Kristi’s lane to avoid them, and she gasped, frantically trying to steer the buggy over toward the shoulder. A chill ran up her spine at the sight of the steep embankment and deep ditch below.
One of the spooked deer pivoted. Made a mad dash straight toward her horse. Samson reared and immediately took off at a run, straight toward the ditch.
“Whoa, Samson!” Kristi planted her feet against the front of the buggy and pulled back on the reins with all her might. Leave it to Samson to shift into high gear at the worst time.
The car sped past, but Samson wouldn’t slow down. He was heading straight for the side of the road. Panic surged through Kristi, constricting her breath. Should she try to jump out? She dropped the reins and scooted to the edge of the seat.
She was too late. The buggy lurched as Samson ran headlong over the embankment. As the vehicle tipped, she was propelled out the side. Hours seemed to pass before her body collided with the ground and pain engulfed her.
Teetering on the edge of consciousness, she thought briefly of Susie. How desperately she wanted to be there to assist with the birth of her boppli! Especially considering the problems she’d had with her first delivery…. And then she blacked out.
Shane Zimmerman flipped on his fog lights to illuminate the low-lying clouds, which created interesting shapes and shadows against the dark backdrop of woods lining the rural Missouri highway. He scanned the area for deer ousted from their natural habitats by hunters. Of course, rutting season also brought them out of hiding. Not that he hunted. He did treat many a pet that had been injured accidentally by a hunter, such as the Great Dane boarding at his clinic while she recovered from the surgical removal of an errant bullet.
Shane reached inside the console for a CD—the latest release from LordSong—and slid it into the player. As the uplifting music filled the car, he flexed his shoulders in an effort to relieve the tension of the busy day behind him. He looked forward to getting home and kicking back to read his Bible and watch the evening news.
As his Jeep crowned the hill, he tapped the brakes at the sight of a wrecked Amish buggy. He scanned the area, but there was no sign of horse or driver. The animal must have been released and carted home. Or put down, if its injuries had been severe enough.
Returning his gaze to the highway, he slowed. A young buck lay on the road, still alive yet struggling.
Shane pulled his Jeep to the shoulder, put it in park, and clicked on the hazard lights. Leaving the keys in the ignition, he got out, his heart pounding in time with the obnoxious dinging sound of the car. Cautiously, he approached the deer. Its brown eyes fixed on him, wild with fear. The animal lurched to a standing position for a second but quickly collapsed again on the hard pavement, where it remained. Its labored breaths intensified. Whoever had hit it had driven off, leaving it to die. Was the same person to blame for the buggy accident? He’d probably never know.
“It’s okay,” Shane spoke softly.
The deer flicked its ears and struggled to its feet again.
“I’m here to help you.” Shane stepped closer, keeping a wary eye on the rack of antlers. It was hardly the biggest he’d seen, but even small antlers could do hefty damage.
With another flick of its ears, the buck struggled to a semi-standing position and limped off to the edge of the road and into the forest. It would surely die, but Shane couldn’t do anything about that. He wasn’t about to chase an injured wild animal through the woods. He didn’t carry much medical gear in his Jeep, anyway, aside from a few larger tools used for treating farm animals.
He started back toward his vehicle, but a glance at the buggy lying on its side gave him a strong urge to check it out. No point in hurrying. He rubbed his eyes, weary after a long day at the clinic, and surveyed the scene. The buggy appeared to be abandoned.
Then, he moved to the edge of the embankment and gazed down the leaf-covered slope. Something caught his eye. A woman? Shane squinted. Sure enough, there was an Amish woman, wearing a maroon dress and a black apron. Gold hair peeked out from underneath her white prayer kapp, and a black bonnet hung loosely around her shoulders. “Hello?”
No answer. His breath hitched. Had she hit the deer? Or had the deer hit her? He frowned. Accidents caused by deer affected more cars than buggies, by far. Where was the horse?
Heart pounding, he scrambled down through the brush into the ditch. As he crouched beside the woman, his nose caught the metallic odor of blood. The brilliant red on her dress wasn’t part of the fabric. He lifted the hem just enough to spot the injury. Her left leg lay at a weird angle, with a bone protruding from the skin. Definitely broken.
His heart sank. He couldn’t help her. His expertise was limited to animals.
But he was the only one there. And she needed help—urgently.
“Hey.” He touched her left hand. It felt warm. He noted the shallow rise and fall of her chest. His fingers moved down to her wrist, feeling for her pulse. Alive but unresponsive. He reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and dialed 9-1-1. When the dispatcher answered, he said, “I’d like to report a buggy accident. We need an ambulance. The woman is unconscious and bleeding with a badly broken leg. Looks like a serious injury.” He added their approximate location.
Glancing again at the bone sticking out of her skin, Shane shuddered. Animals, he could handle. Humans were too easy to identify with; their injuries hit too close to home. He leaned down and gently pushed her hair away from her neck. Her pulse was extremely rapid and weak. He breathed a prayer that help would arrive quickly.
As he studied her face for the first time, recognition nearly knocked him off balance. This woman lived right next door to him. What were the odds of that? Her backyard was overrun with weeds, a stark contrast to her meticulously maintained garden in the side yard. He’d seen her working there many a time. She had the most beautiful dog he’d ever seen, a Siberian husky. And the thought had dawned on him, more than once, that the dog’s owner was more than usually beautiful, as well.
She wasn’t married, as far as he knew. The only other people he’d spotted next door were an older couple, presumably her parents. Their last name was Lapp, if the stenciling on their mailbox was current.
Shane would have to stop by the house to let her family know about the accident. They would probably be worried sick when she didn’t return.
The young woman moaned, drawing Shane’s attention. He saw her eyelids flutter slightly, and then her eyes opened.
“It’s okay,” he said, gazing as calmly as he could into her grayish-green eyes. “Help is coming.”
“The pain…my head…my leg….” She winced as tears filled her eyes. “Who are you? I’ve seen you before.”
“I’m Shane Zimmerman. Your next-door neighbor.” He reached for her hand, hesitated, then folded his fingers gently around hers. As their skin connected, he was startled by the jolt that shot through his fingertips and gained intensity as it traveled through his hand and up his arm. He had no explanation, other than his being overly tired. “You’ll be fine,” he assured her.
She only moaned again and closed her eyes.
Shane stared down at her bloodstained skirt and saw that the fabric was saturated. He grimaced. She needed help fast, or she’d bleed out. Animal or human, he didn’t want death on his hands tonight.
God, help me. Shane let go of her hand and yanked his sweatshirt up and over her head. He lifted her skirt again and pressed the garment against her wound, knowing he could be introducing harmful germs. But there wasn’t a choice. He tried to make her as comfortable as he could without letting up the pressure. Even though she didn’t rouse again, he explained every measure he took, from applying pressure to strapping his belt as a tourniquet around her leg. Then, he sang a couple of Amish songs, the ones he remembered learning from his grandparents. His father had left the Amish as young man, choosing to marry Shane’s mom, who wasn’t Amish. But Shane had often spent entire summers with his grandparents.
Time hung in the air as he waited for help to arrive.
Finally, there was a screech of brakes and a rumble of gravel on the road above, followed by the sound of a vehicle door opening.
“Down here!” Shane called.
Seconds later, an EMT carrying a medical bag peeked over the embankment. “Ambulance is right behind me. You didn’t move her, did you?”
“No. But she’s bleeding profusely. I did what I could to slow it down.”
The man half climbed, half slid, down the slope toward Shane. “I’ve got some emergency flares in the back of my truck. Mind setting them out while I take a look at her?”
“Not at all.”
Shane did as he’d been asked, then walked over to the buggy to inspect it more closely. The leather harness straps dangled with frayed ends, indicating that the horse had broken free, possibly when the buggy tipped. He checked the immediate area and even wandered a ways into the woods for signs of a wounded animal, but no clues turned up. The roar of sirens in the distance beckoned him back to the site of the wreck.
In his Jeep, he found a rag and wiped off his bloody hands while he thought out the statement he’d make to the police.
An ambulance screeched to a stop beside the pickup, lights flashing, and a police cruiser pulled up alongside. It wasn’t long before the ambulance wailed away again, spiriting its nameless passenger toward the hospital in Springfield.
After Shane had finished answering the police officer’s questions, he started the two-mile trip home, keeping his eyes peeled for an injured horse. He passed his own small plot of land without any sign of the animal.
He pulled into the driveway next door, hurried up to the house, and pounded on the front door. No response. After several moments, he knocked again. He knew that the Amish generally kept their doors unlocked, but he didn’t feel comfortable opening the door and hollering into the hallway of a stranger’s house. He rapped one more time, just to be sure.
Shane turned around and saw a man on the front porch of the house across the street.
The man started down the steps. “Can I help you?”
“I’m looking for Ms. Lapp’s family. She was in a buggy accident.”
The man came closer. “She hurt bad?”
Shane nodded. “Bad.” Would she survive the trip to the hospital? His heart clenched.
“Donald Jackson. Me an’ the wife live here.”
Shane stretched his mouth into a tight smile. “Shane Zimmerman. Neighbor on the other side.”
“Oh, the new guy. Vet, right? Welcome to Seymour.”
“Thanks.” It hardly seemed appropriate to exchange pleasantries when someone’s life was hanging in the balance. Shane shifted his weight. “Does she have any family?”
Donald shrugged. “Everyone has some. See her parents and other people around from time to time. Sometimes lots of buggies over there. Besides, ain’t the Amish all related? Heard that somewhere.”
“Seems that way sometimes.” Okay, this man was no help. A howl from the backyard reminded Shane about the Siberian husky. “I’m going to check on the dog.” He strode down the porch steps and made his way around the side of the house.
Donald trailed him. “Barn’s always unlocked, I’m pretty sure, so you could get the dog’s food. I never see her lock it, anyway. But then, I don’t watch her twenty-four-seven or anything.”
Shane raised an eyebrow. This Donald apparently watched her often enough to know about the barn door and the dog food. “Nice meeting you, Donald. I’ll just make sure the dog has fresh water, and then I’ll go.” He needed to find someone Amish to notify.
Seeing the red and white Siberian husky in a large kennel in the backyard, Shane opened the gate and went in, shutting it behind him. The dog whined and jumped up, wrapping him in a sort of canine embrace. Shane hugged her back. This breed was so affectionate. He rubbed her neck, then stepped back, picked up her metal water dish, and headed for the outside spigot, which he’d spotted on his way to the backyard. The dog followed closely at his feet, growling in a friendly way, as if she carried on a one-sided conversation. At the spigot, Shane filled the dish with cold water, then checked the barn door. It was unlocked, as Donald had said it’d be.
Shane stopped and scratched the dog behind her ears. “I’ll be back later to get you some food.” He hesitated. “No, I’ll do it now.” He turned back to the barn and slid both wobbly doors open, going into the darkness. He paused, wishing for his flashlight, then remembered that his Amish grandfather had always kept a lantern near the door. He turned back and groped along a shelf, finally feeling the familiar metal base of a lantern. Next to it was a book of matches, one of which he used to light the wick. It didn’t seem right, being in a stranger’s barn, but the dog would be hungry.
He found the dog food and bent down to scoop some into the dish. Then, he straightened and looked around. This was an Amish farm. There’d be other animals to bed down. Cows. Chickens. Horses. He sighed.
A nicker sounded, and Shane turned to the door. Ah, the prodigal buggy horse, dragging the frayed strands of a harness. Shane spoke softly to the animal as he grabbed hold of one of the harness straps, and then he led it back to an empty stall. The dog followed, whining all the way. Shane gave the sweaty horse a rubdown, checking it for injuries. Nothing seemed amiss, other than the wild look in its eyes and the way it kept tossing its head, probably responses to the trauma of the accident.
When Shane had calmed the horse as best he could, he glanced around again. He knew the basics of managing an Amish farm, thanks to the years he’d spent helping his grandparents, but it was more than one person could handle alone. Another Amish family would probably take on the rest of the chores.
Still, he wanted to go to the hospital to check on Ms. Lapp. Why did she still weigh so heavily on his mind? He’d done his duty to her, a stranger.
His decision made, he returned the dog to her kennel. Before closing the door, he gave her another rub behind the ears. “I’ll be back.”
The dog flopped down on the ground with a reproachful whimper, as if he were abandoning her in her time of greatest need.
“Your master was in an accident, but she’ll be okay,” Shane explained. “I hope.” He crouched down to the dog’s level. “I’m going to the hospital right now to check on her.”
With another whine, the dog lowered her head to rest on her front paws. Apparently, she had resigned herself to his departing.
Shane drove home for a quick shower, then got back in his Jeep to head to the hospital. First, though, he stopped by the farm on the other side of his property. The mailbox there also said “Lapp,” and he figured the residents had to be relatives of the injured woman.
Seconds after he pulled into the driveway, a man came out into the yard. Shane introduced himself and asked for confirmation that this family was related to the other Lapps, specifically the young woman with the Siberian husky.
The man frowned. “Jah, we’re family. I’m Kristi’s onkel. Timothy. I’m caring for their livestock while her parents are visiting family in Sarasota. I was getting ready to head over there.”
Shane proceeded to tell Timothy about the accident. For a relative of Kristi’s, he processed the information rather stoically, Shane thought.
“Can I give you a lift to the hospital?”
Timothy took a step back. “Nein, I’ll contact the bishop, and he’ll get the word out. And I’ll make a call down to Florida to tell her parents.”
At the hospital, Shane went directly to the emergency wing and approached the front desk. “Kristi Lapp, please.”
The receptionist nodded and checked something on her computer. Then, she looked up with a sympathetic smile. “If you’ll take a seat in the waiting room, a doctor will be out to talk with you in just a few minutes.”
She must be in more serious condition than he’d thought. Shane went down the hall to the waiting area, where he was relieved to find a coffeemaker. He poured himself a coffee and watched several minutes of the sitcom playing on the TV mounted on the wall overhead.
As the only person in the room, he had his choice of seats. He selected a chair in a corner and picked up a magazine from the end table next to it. However, the contents didn’t appear to be any more interesting than the drama he was caught up in, so he put it back. Instead of reading, he prayed for Kristi and for the doctors working on her. It felt strange praying for a woman he didn’t know and waiting for an update from the doctor, as if she meant something special to him. But it seemed she did, even though he’d just met her. Did their brief interaction even count as a meeting? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he hadn’t felt this strong a connection with a woman since Becca. Immediately he dismissed the thought.
He was glad he’d found out her name. Calling her “Ms. Lapp” seemed so wrong. Plus, he probably wouldn’t have been permitted to see her if the hospital staff thought he was a stranger.
Several people came into the waiting room and exited again during a period of time that felt like hours.
At last, a doctor came into the room. “Family for Kristi Lapp.”
Shane blew out a breath. Family he wasn’t, but he was the only person there for her. Hopefully, the doctor wouldn’t ask how he was related. He got up, feeling a twinge of guilt at his act of impersonation.
The doctor led him into a private conference room and gestured for him to sit down. “She’s in recovery. We’ve given her a blood transfusion, and we’ll be monitoring her hemoglobin and hematocrit—that is, blood values. As soon as we’re sure they are in the normal range, she’ll be referred to an orthopedic surgeon for a procedure we abbreviate as ORIF: open reduction internal fixation.”
Shane nodded. He was familiar with the procedure, but the doctor was probably accustomed to having to explain it, so he continued.
“Open reduction—that’s how we put the bone back in the position it’s supposed to be. And internal fixation is how we stabilize it—with a rod down the center of the bone and plates on either side, to keep it in the position it’s supposed to be in until nature takes her course and it heals completely. The plates may be removed later, as long as the bone heals well. Also, her femoral artery was nicked, but she’ll be fine. Lost a lot of blood. We had to give her three units. She’s going to have substantial bruising and probably be in considerable pain.”
“Has she regained consciousness?”
“Not yet. But brain activity is normal, and we expect no complications.”
“Thank you.” Shane stood up and started for the door.
“If you want to wait, I’ll have a nurse come and show you to her room.”
Shane stopped in the doorway. “I’ll come in tomorrow.”
The doctor frowned. “I’m sure your wife will want to see you when she wakes up.”
Kristi woke up in an unfamiliar room filled with odd beeping noises. Straight ahead, a television was mounted on the celery-green wall. To her right was a beige-colored curtain; to her left, a big, dark window. The hospital. How did she get here? Someone must have found her. What about Samson? What had happened to him?
Had Susie birthed her boppli? Kristi groaned and shifted on the bed, noticing the bedside table with a plastic pitcher of water and an empty tumbler. And…flowers? She smiled at the vase holding six pink rosebuds, a cluster of baby’s breath, and some other greenery. Who would have sent a bouquet? Maybe the person who’d found her.
With great effort, she reached with her right arm toward the table, pain washing over her anew. It seemed every part of her body ached. Despite the discomfort, she extended her arm just far enough to snatch the white envelope from the plastic forklike thing tucked into the bouquet.
Her left hand had an IV needle stuck in it, taped down. She grimaced at the sight. She’d have a bruise there, probably, but that would be the least of her injuries. Even with her pain-blurred vision, which made it seem as if the room was spinning, she could tell from the shape of the blanket that covered her legs how swollen they were. Her left leg, in particular—that’s where most of the pain radiated from. Wincing with effort, she tore open the envelope and pulled out a plain white card. The message written inside was simple:
You’re in my prayers.
Sweet, but it must have been intended for another patient. She didn’t know anybody by the name of Shane Zimmerman. Or did she? Her head pounded as she tried to figure it out. No one came to mind.
Maybe this mystery man would come to the hospital to see her.
She pressed the card to her chest and closed her eyes, imagining a tall, handsome Amish man. Hopefully, when she fell asleep, he would visit her in her dreams.