April Kent County, Delaware

Heart thumping, Hannah Yoder awoke with a start in her bed, barely catching her Bible before it tumbled off her lap to the floor. Still foggy with sleep, she placed the Good Book safely on the nightstand beside her bed and retrieved the reading glasses that must have fallen when she dozed off. What time was it? Glancing at the clock on the mantel over the fireplace, she saw that it was eleven-thirty. 

I’m getting old and foolish, she thought, falling asleep with the propane lamp on. She never did that. A mother with a houseful of children had to be vigilant against accidental fires…especially when they lived in a two-hundred-year-old house. 

And then she remembered that five of her girls were grown and married and the sixth was promised to the community’s new preacher. Where has the time gone? Only yesterday, I was a young woman with a husband and seven beautiful children, and today, I’m widowed and nearly fifty. In another month, there would be only her youngest daughter, Susanna, and her foster son, Irwin, left to share the big farmhouse.

Nearly midnight and she had to be up by five-thirty…She’d never been one to have trouble sleeping, but maybe the stress of preparing for Rebecca’s wedding was affecting her more than she realized. She reached up to turn off the lamp, but then a nagging uneasiness tugged at her and drew her from the bed. The floorboards were cold and she slid her bare feet into a pair of her late hus¬band Jonas’s old fleece-lined slippers and reached for her flannel robe.

Something didn’t feel right. What had awakened her? Had she had a bad dream? One of her windows was open a crack, letting in a cool, damp breeze, but that wasn’t what had raised goose bumps on her arms. No, something was amiss.

She went to the window and stared out into the night. All was quiet in the farmyard. Common sense struggled with maternal instinct. Neither of the dogs had raised the alarm. True, their old sheepdog was somewhat hard of hearing, but Irwin’s terrier could hear a mouse squeak in the next county. There was certainly no intruder. What troubled her?

Hannah had always considered herself a calm, rational woman. One couldn’t remain sane raising a houseful of children and be prone to nervous fancies. She looked back at her bed, wanting nothing more than to crawl back under the covers and get a good night’s sleep. But she knew that she wouldn’t get a wink until she’d reassured herself that all was well.

Taking a flashlight from the nightstand, she switched it on. Nothing. Not even a faint glow. The batteries were dead. Again. Hannah sighed, guessing that Susanna had been playing with it.

The propane lamp was attached to the wall, so she took an old-fashioned kerosene lantern from the top of a dresser, lit it and, holding it high, padded into the hall. Quietly, feeling silly, she opened first one door and then the next. There was nothing out of place in the spare bed¬room across from hers. No one in the downstairs bathroom. Green eyes peered back at Hannah from the settee in the parlor, and her heart skipped a beat.

Meow!

“Oscar.” She let out the breath she’d been uncon¬sciously holding. “Sorry.” The glowing green orbs blinked and the tomcat flattened his single remaining ear against his gray head and flicked his long tail back and forth, obviously annoyed at being disturbed when he was on duty.

The landing at the bottom of the main staircase was still, every item in place, the wood gleaming and free of dust. And no wonder, Susanna, the same careless daughter who’d used up the flashlight batteries, had spent all afternoon waxing the floor and furniture, polishing the oak balusters and steps, and sweeping away cobwebs.