Poppy sighed. “Until Griff started throwing rocks at Queenie. She'd take off and you'd get upended for sure and certain. Besides, Shawano is too far for a buggy. It's got to be the bus.”
“Or not at all,” Rose said. “I've chosen not at all.”
Poppy pursed her lips. Not if she had anything to say about it. “It's not fair. You love the animal shelter.”
“But I'd rather be safe than frightened out of my wits every Wednesday.”
“Same goes for my sisters,” Luke said. “They won't be going back.”
Poppy glared at Luke. “We can't let Griff bully us like this.”
Luke shrugged. “I won't allow my sisters to put themselves in any kind of danger, and it's not our way to involve the police. They wouldn't be able to do anything anyway.”
Poppy's chair scraped loudly against the floor as she stood up. “I'm going over there. Griff Simons is going to hear just what I have to say about it.”
, Poppy,” Rose said, the panic rising in her voice. “This is why I didn't want to tell you. You promised not to get in a fight.”
Poppy shook her head. “I never even promised I wouldn't get mad.”
Luke grabbed her wrist and tugged her to sit. She didn't want him to yank her other shoulder out of its socket, so she sat down. Reluctantly. “This is foolish, Poppy, and you know it. You're not going to convince Griff of anything and you're very likely to get hurt.”
She lifted her chin and stared Luke down, all two hundred plus pounds of him. “Someone has to stand up to him or this will never stop. I refuse to be intimidated by a teenager who thinks he owns the road.”
Luke furrowed his brow. “I don't want to argue with you.”
“There's nothing to argue about. I'm going over there.”
He gave a low, frustrated growl. “I forbid it, Poppy. It's for your own good.”
Poppy frowned. Just when she was starting to like him . . . “You forbid it? You're not my
Or my boss.”
Rose placed a hand over Poppy's. “He's right, Poppy. You could get hurt, or you could make it worse. Griff would do something just because you told him not to.”
Luke gave Poppy a stiff nod. “Listen to your sister. She knows what she's talking about.”
Poppy folded her arms. She wouldn't let Rose and Luke talk her out of doing what was right.
Luke reached over and took her hand in plain sight of Rose, Billy Idol, and Farrah Fawcett. A warm sensation traveled all the way up her arm. She didn't want to, but she softened like butter on a hot day. “It was wrong of me to forbid you from doing anything,” Luke said. “You are smart enough to make your own choices, but please don't go over there. Rose and I would both be sick if something happened to you.”
Luke had never shown her the puppy dog eyes before. The puppy dog eyes were nearly irresistible. It was too bad he tried to persuade her instead of argue with her. She could dig in her heels when they argued. She had no defense against persuasion.
“And I'd be really mad at you,” he said under his breath.
Poppy groaned. “There has to be something we can do. If Rose and your sisters stay away from the animal shelter, then Griff has succeeded and we've given him power over our lives.”
Luke gave Poppy's hand a squeeze before letting go. “Rose, can you go to the animal shelter anytime you want?”
“I suppose so.”
“Every morning at six forty-five sharp, Griff's truck rumbles out of his garage and down the road, and he doesn't come back until three or four. I know because that truck of his is so loud, I can hear it in my workshop with the door closed. What if you and Dorothy and Joann went to the shelter earlier in the day and returned before Griff comes back? That works with the bus schedule, doesn't it?”
Poppy gave him a mock sneer. “
, I hate that I didn't come up with that idea myself.”
Rose's eyes darted from Poppy to Luke and back again. “I suppose that might work. We could avoid Griff altogether.”
Luke nodded. “For sure and certain. And Poppy won't have to take another trip to the hospital.”
“I would have been fine,” Poppy said, glad she wouldn't have to find out. She might be brave enough to fight a grizzly bear, but it was always better if she didn't have to.
Aunt B burst in the door. Her eyes went wide as she caught her breath and clutched her chest. “What is that creature on my table?”
Poppy giggled and ran her hand along the strands of the fake horsetail hair. It looked like a long, hairy, lifeless cat. “It's a new tail for Queenie to help her keep the flies off. Luke brought it over.”
Bitsy eyed the tail suspiciously before nearing the table and running her black-polished fingernails across it. “It's long.”
“And pretty, ain't not?” Poppy said.
Aunt B lifted her eyebrows and widened her eyes. “I've just had an epiphany.” She practically raced to the glue drawer and pulled out her trusty notebook and a pen.
“What's an epiphany, Aunt Bitsy?” Rose said. “Do you need a doctor?”
Aunt B stood at the island and furiously scribbled notes into her book. “
. I'm right as rain. What if my vampire falls in love with Rapunzel? Instead of climbing up her hair, he could jump into her tower and jump out with her in his arms. Vampires are very strong, you know.”
As usual when B worked on her book, Poppy had no idea what she was talking about. She seemed excited about it, though, and that was all that really mattered.
“I thought you said vampires were skinny,” Luke said. “How can he be strong without any meat on his bones?”
Aunt B paused long enough to look up and frown at him. “Never give a writer advice, Luke Bontrager. It's unwelcome, and it inhibits the creative flow.”
Luke blew out the air between his lips. Poppy giggled. When it came to Aunt B, Luke should probably keep his mouth shut.
It was too late to still be up, but Luke had spent a lot of time at Poppy's house this week, and he still had an order of chairs that needed to be stained by morning. The propane lantern hissed as he touched up the last chair.
The fatigue had been worth every minute of sacrifice. He smiled to himself. Poppy was coming around.
He was pretty sure she didn't hate him anymore, and he was pretty sure he loved Poppy better than his own heart. Well, not pretty sure.
Sure and certain.
He'd marry her tomorrow if she'd have him.
Luke's frown felt as if it cut a deep trench in his face. She didn't hate him, but could he convince her to say yes? He'd made a lot of mistakes with Poppy. Maybe too many to make good on.
Then again, he'd been allowed to help with the bees today. The beehives were the most prized possessions on the Honeybee Farm. It gave him some hope that Poppy trusted him enough to let him work the hives.
He scratched the small bump on his wrist that Poppy had insisted on spreading toothpaste over. He'd gotten stung three times today, which according to Poppy was a very bad thing, not only because it hurt but because the bees died after they stung him. Bitsy was downright hostile about his bee stings and scolded him for killing her bees. He didn't get an ounce of sympathy from her.
He had worn an old sweatshirt that zipped up the front, gloves, and a beekeeper's veil, which was a hard, wide-brimmed hat with netting draped over the top of it. Poppy had worn a sweatshirt and jeans with her pants legs stuffed into her long stockings.
Even though it was very un-Amish, Luke quite liked Poppy's beekeeping outfit. It didn't really matter what Poppy woreâshe was still the prettiest girl he'd ever laid eyes on. The bishop approved of the outfit for beekeeping, but Paul Glick still threatened to have the whole family shunned for wearing pants.
Luke scowled. Paul Glick had given Poppy and her sisters nothing but trouble. Still, he couldn't be too irritated with Paul Glick. His and Poppy's mutual dislike for Paul had given them something in commonâat least a place to start their relationship. He had to give Paul the credit for that. Poppy's righteous indignation over Paul was one of the first things Luke had liked about her.
After being closely connected to Poppy for several days, Luke had decided that she was not so much stubborn as she was fiercely loyal to her aunt and sisters. She couldn't be talked out of anything if she thought she could save her family from pain or injustice.
Would Poppy ever include him within that circle of loyalty? His heart skipped a few beats. Maybe she already had. She had scolded Billy Idol on Luke's behalf today when Billy Idol tried to scale Luke's trousers. It wasn't much, but it was something.
At least Poppy had agreed to stay away from Griff Simons. No matter how badly he had scared Rose, Poppy could see the wisdom in keeping away from him. Lord willing, Griff would go off to college or join the military and only plague their neighborhood for a few more weeks. If not, Luke didn't know what they'd do.
He'd pray for college.
Someone tapped on his workshop door. He opened it, and Poppy seemed to catapult into the workshop as if she'd been fired from a cannon. She wore her royal-blue dress and her hair tied up in a scarf. Her feet were bare. She must have been in a hurry. Hair poked out in every direction from the unruly braid that sat half in, half out of her scarf. Her green eyes looked almost wild, and he could practically hear her heart pounding.
He took her by the shoulders and led her to a stool. “Poppy? Is everything okay?”
She wouldn't sit. “I almost caught them.”
Luke's stomach dropped. He knew exactly whom she'd almost caught. Couldn't Poppy use even a grain of caution? “Who?”
“The two boys who have been tipping our beehives and pulling our clothes off the line.”
“Poppy, you've got to be careful.”
She didn't even listen. “I was lying in bed and thought I heard something, so I threw on my clothes and tiptoed outside with a flashlight. The two of them were spray-painting our barn door again.”
He was going to die of a heart attack. “You didn't try to stop them, did you?”
She seemed more excited than frightened. “I got real close and shined my flashlight in their faces. One of them cried out, and they dropped their spray-paint cans and ran away. I chased them behind the barn, but I didn't have shoes and it was too dark to see anything.” She was panting for air by the time she finished her story.
Luke scrubbed his fingers through his hair as the familiar anxiety and desperation and irritation warred with each other in his chest. Did love always feel this rotten? “Poppy, they could have ambushed you in the dark.” He shuddered at the possibility. She'd be the death of him.
She gazed at him with wide, innocent eyes, as if that were the strangest notion in the world. “They wouldn't have done that. They were too scared to do anything but run.”
“You shouldn't have even left your house.” An icy hand wrapped itself around his throat. “Poppy, you put yourself in terrible danger.”
Poppy finally caught her breath. “I did not.” She bloomed into a devious smile. “I got a good look at one of their faces.”
“Who was it?”
“I don't know, but it wasn't Paul Glick and it wasn't Griff Simons.” She smiled even wider. “And it wasn't one of the boys I punched in school. Isn't that good news?”
“Only like chicken pox is better news than measles.” She wasn't wearing her sling, so he gently wrapped his fingers around her forearms and nudged her to sit on the stool. “You must promise me that you will never do that again.”
She acted as if he'd insulted her. “Of course I won't promise. I got a
look at one of them. It's only a matter of time before we catch them and make them stop pestering us forever.”
He covered his eyes with one hand. “But not you. Promise me you won't be the one to catch them.”
be the one to catch them. You can be sure of that.”
He wanted to shake some sense into her. Instead, he sat down on an unfinished dining room table and gazed at her in resignation. “So, did you come over to make sure I wouldn't get a wink of sleep tonight?”
“I need your help. They painted
on the orange barn door, and it's got to be painted over before Rose wakes up in the morning. Griff Simons scared her so bad on Wednesday, and I don't think she could bear another fright like that.”
Luke rubbed the whiskers on his chin. “If Rose's anxiety is anywhere near as high as mine, she's in a bad way.”
“You and Dan and Josiah painted the barn the last time they spray-painted it. I was hoping you could help me again.”
Luke could be smart when he wanted to. “All right. I will help you paint it on one condition.”
She narrowed her eyes. “What condition?”
“You must promise me that you won't try to catch those boys. If you hear them outside the house, you'll stay inside where it's safe. Maybe the bishop will approve a cell phone, and you can call the police.”
Her mouth fell open. “I've already told you. I won't make you any such promise. I'm going to catch them.”
He had to stand firm for her own good. “Then I won't help you with the painting.” He had her between a rock and a hard place, but she'd come around. She would do anything for Rose.
“Fine,” she said, standing up and marching to the door. “I'll paint it myself.”
“You don't have any paint.”
“Walmart is open twenty-four hours. I'll hike to the phone shack and call a taxi.”
Frustration rumbled in Luke's chest like an underground volcano. It wasn't an idle threat. Poppy wouldn't think twice about walking to the phone shack in the middle of the night. She would have tried even Job's patience. He got to his feet. “Okay. Okay. I'll get my paint and brushes and come over.”
It irritated him that her smile seemed to make everything all better. “
, Luke. I will meet you out there in a few minutes.”
He held up his hand. “I'll only do it if you go back into your house and go to bed.”
“But you need help.”
“Dan and Josiah will be more than happy to help me again. Dan would move mountains for Lily, and Josiah would swim oceans for Rose. They won't be hard to convince.”
“I still want to help,” Poppy said, squaring her shoulders as if she were gearing up for a fight.
He sighed and gave Poppy a defeated look. “Do it for me because I'm such a nice person to paint the barn for you, and I would feel so much better knowing you're safe inside, tucked into your comfy bed instead of running around the countryside chasing beehive tippers.”
“I'll be perfectly safe if I stay close to you, Dan, and Josiah.”
He gave her the stink eye. “You won't be safe because I will be tempted to throttle you.”
She grinned. He must not have been very intimidating. “You're the one who's not safe. I've half a mind to throttle you.”
“As long as you stay in the house.”
“You're no fun, Luke Bontrager.”
“And you're going to give me an ulcer.”