Oops, forgot to post this on Friday last week!
Hidden in Plain View
by Diane Burke
After a tragedy rips through her Amish community, Sarah Lapp doesn't rememberanything. She can't recall her Plain upbringing, her deceased husband or the shooting that landed her under the protection of handsome undercover cop Samuel King. She is, however, aware of the confusing feelings he creates in her from the moment he walks into her life. Sam is determined to protect Sarah and her unborn baby in case the shooters return. Because if they do, it'll be more than just Sarah's memory at stake.
Excerpt of chapter one:
Sarah Lapp lay on a bed with raised metal rails. She noted a darkened television screen bracketed to the opposite wall. A nightstand and recliner beside the bed.
I'm in a hospital.
She tried to sit up but couldn't. She was hooked up to machines. Lots of them. Fear pumped her heart into overdrive.
Why am I here?
Again she tried to move, but her body screamed in protest.
Burning pain. Throbbing pain.
Searing the skin on her back. Pulsing through her arm and gathering behind her eyes.
She tried to raise her left arm to touch her forehead but it felt heavy, weighted down, lost in its own gnawing sea of hurt. She glanced down and saw it bandaged and held against her chest by a blue cloth sling.
I've injured my arm. But how? Why can't I remember? And why do I feel so scared?
She took a deep breath.
Don'tpanic. Take your time. Think.
Once more she inhaled, held it for a second, and forced herself to ever so slowly release it. Repeating the process a couple more times helped her regain a sense of calm. Okay. She could do this.
She opened her eyes and stared into the darkness. "Sarah?"
Sarah? Is that my name? Why can't I remember?
Her heart almost leaped from her chest when one of the shadows moved.
The man had been leaning against the wall. She hadn't seen him standing in the shadows until he stepped forward. He obviously wasn't a doctor. His garb seemed familiar yet somehow different. He wore black boots, brown pants held up with suspenders and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows. He carried a straw hat.
"I thought I heard you stirring." He approached her bed and leaned on the side rail. She found the deep timbre of his voice soothing.
The faint glow from the overhead night-light illuminated his features. She stared at his clean-shaven face, the square jaw, the tanned skin, his intense brown eyes. She searched for some form of recognition but found none.
"I'm glad you're awake." He smiled down at her.
She tried to speak but could only make hoarse, croaking sounds.
"Here, let me get you something to drink." He pushed a button, which raised the head of her bed. He lifted a cup and held it to her lips. There was something intimate and kind in the gesture, and although she didn't recognize this man, she welcomed his presence.
Gratefully, she took a sip, enjoying the soothing coolness of the liquid as it slid over her parched lips and trickled down her throat. When he moved the cup away, she tried again.
"Who…who are you?"
His large hand gently cupped her fingers. She found the warmth of his touch comforting. His brown shaggy hair brushed the collar of his shirt. Tiny lines crinkled the skin at the sides of his eyes.
"My name is Samuel, and I'm here to help you."
Her throat felt like someone had shredded her vocal cords. Her mouth was so dry that even after the sip of water, she couldn't gather enough saliva for a good spit. When she did speak, her voice reflected the strain in a hoarse, barely audible whisper.
"Where… What…" She struggled to force the words out.
"You're in a hospital. You've been shot." Shot!
No wonder she had felt so afraid when he'd moved out of the shadows. She might not remember the incident, but some inner instinct was still keeping her alert and wary of danger.
"Can you tell me what you remember?" There was kindness in his eyes and an intensity that she couldn't identify.
She shook her head.
"Do you remember being in the schoolhouse when the gunman entered? Did you get a good look at him?" Schoolhouse? Gunman?
Her stomach lurched, and she thought she was going to be sick. Slowly, she moved her head back and forth again.
"How about before the shooting? Your husband was inside the building constructing bookshelves. Do you remember bringing a basket of treats for the children?"
His words caused a riotous tumble of questions in her mind. She had a husband? Who was he? Where was he? She tried to focus her thoughts. This man just told her she'd been shot inside a school. Had anyone else been hurt? Hopefully, none of the children.
"Sarah. There's no easy way to tell you. Your husband was killed in the shooting."
The room started to spin. Sarah squeezed her eyes shut.
"I'm so sorry. I wish there had been an easier way to break the news." His deep, masculine voice bathed her senses with sympathy and helped her remain calm. "I hate to have to question you right now, but time is of the essence." The feel of his breath on her cheek told her he had stepped closer. "I need you to tell me what you remember—what you saw that day, before things other people tell you cloud your memories."
A lone tear escaped and coursed its way down her cheek at the irony of it all.
"Can you tell me anything about that day?" he prodded. "Sometimes the slightest detail that you might think is unimportant can turn into a lead. If you didn't see the shooter's face, can you remember his height? The color of his skin? What he wore? Anything he might have said?"
He paused, giving her time to collect her thoughts, but only moments later the questions came again.
"If you don't remember seeing anything, use your other senses. Did you hear anything? Smell anything?"
She opened her eyes and stared into his. "I told you." She choked back a sob. "I can't…can't remember. I can't remember anything at all."
His wrinkled brow and deep frown let her know this wasn't what he had expected.
"Maybe you should rest now. I'll be back, and we can talk more later."
Sarah watched him cross to the door. Once he was gone, she stared at her hand and wondered why the touch of a stranger had made her feel so safe.
Sam stood in the corridor and tried to collect his thoughts.
He hadn't expected to be so touched by her unfortunate circumstances. He had a policy to never let emotions play a part when he was undercover or protecting a witness. Sarah Lapp was a job, nothing more, and he had no business feeling anything for her one way or the other.
But he had to admit there was something about her. He'd been moved by the vulnerability he saw in her face, the fear he read in her eyes. She was terrified. Yet she had stayed calm, processing everything he had to tell her with quiet grace.
She'd been visibly upset when Sam had told her about the shooting. She'd seemed shocked when he informed her that her husband had been killed. But learning that she had had a husband at all seemed to affect her the most.
He hadn't had an opportunity yet to talk with Sarah's doctors about the full extent of her injuries. Was she really suffering from memory loss, and if so, was it a temporary setback or a permanent situation?
Sam often relied heavily on his gut. His instincts this time were warning him that he had just stepped into a much more complicated situation than he had first thought.
He needed to talk with the doctor.
When he glanced down the hall, he saw Dr. Clark, as well as several members of the police force, including his superior, with three Amish men in tow. Dr. Clark ushered the entire group into a nearby conference room and gestured for Sam to join them.
Once inside, Sam crossed the room and leaned against the far wall. He saw the men shoot furtive glances his way and knew they were confused by his Amish clothing.
He didn't blame them. He was disconcerted by it, too. He hadn't donned this type of clothing for fifteen years. Yet his fingers never hesitated when he fastened the suspenders. The straw hat had rested upon his head like it was meant to be there.
Jacob Lapp, identifying himself as the bishop of their community and acting as spokesperson for their group, addressed Captain Rogers.
"We do not understand, sir. Why have you brought us here?"
"Please, gentlemen, have a seat." Captain Rogers gestured toward the chairs around the table. "Dr. Clark wants to update you on Sarah's condition."
They pulled out chairs and sat down.
Dr. Clark spoke from his position at the head of the table. "Sarah is in a very fragile state. She was shot twice in the back, once in the arm and once in the head. She has a long road to recovery, but I believe she will recover. To complicate matters, she is suffering from amnesia."
"Will her memory return?" Jacob asked.
"I'm afraid I honestly don't know. Only time will tell."
The man on Jacob's left spoke. "Excuse me, sir. My name is Benjamin Miller. I do not understand this thing you call amnesia. I had a neighbor who got kicked in the head by his mule. He forgot what happened with his mule, but he didn't forget everything else. He still remembered who he was, who his family was. Why can't Sarah?"
The doctor smiled. "It is common for a person not to remember a traumatic event but to remember everything else. What is less common, but still occurs, is a deeper memory loss. Some people forget everything—like Sarah."
"When she gets better, she will remember again, ya?" Jacob twirled his black felt hat in circles on the table.
"I hope that once she returns home, familiar surroundings will help, but I cannot promise anything," the doctor replied.
The men looked at each other and nodded.
"There is something else. Sarah is sixteen weeks pregnant."
Sam felt like someone had suddenly punched him in the gut. Wow, this woman couldn't catch a break. As if amnesia, gunshot wounds and widowhood wasn't enough for her to handle. He raised an eyebrow, but steeled himself to show no other reaction to the news.
The doctor waited for the men at the table to digest the information before he locked eyes with Jacob. "Mrs. Lapp has informed me that Sarah has had two prior miscarriages."
Jacob nodded but remained silent. The information regarding this pregnancy seemed to weigh heavily upon him.
"I'm sorry to inform you, Mr. Lapp, that even though she has made it into her second trimester, she still might lose the child. She has experienced severe trauma to her body, and currently she is under emotional stress as well."
"With my son gone, this will be our only grandchild." Jacob's eyes clouded over. "What can we do to help?"
"You can allow me to protect her." Sam pushed away from the wall and approached the table.
The bishop's expression revealed his confusion. "Protect Sarah? I don't understand, sir. The man who hurt Sarah is gone, ya? She is safe now." Jacob looked directly at Sam. "Excuse me, sir. We do not recognize you. What community do you call home?"
Captain Rogers nodded permission for Sam to answer the questions.
"My name is Detective Samuel King. Standing to my left is my partner, Detective Masterson. To his right is Special Agent Lopez from the FBI. We believe Sarah is in grave danger."
"From whom?" Benjamin spoke up, gesturing with his arm to the men sitting on either side of him. "Her family? Her friends?"
Sam addressed his words to Bishop Lapp. "Since I was raised Amish, Captain Rogers thought it might be easier for me to blend in with your community as Sarah's protective detail."
All three men gasped, then turned and whispered in their native Pennsylvania German dialect commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch.
Sam understood not only the words, but also the emotions and objections the men were expressing. The Amish do not care for law enforcement and try to keep themselves separate from the Englisch way of life.
"With respect, sir," Jacob said, "although grateful, we do not feel we need your protection, and neither does Sarah."
Sam sighed heavily. "You are wrong." When he had their full attention, he said, "If you do not allow us to help, Sarah will be dead before this week is over, as well as her unborn child and many of the kids who were inside that schoolhouse when the shooting occurred."
Samuel noted the sudden pallor in Jacob's face. He recognized bewilderment in the other men's eyes and glimpsed hesitation in their body language, but they continued to listen.
Sam pulled out a chair and faced the men. He explained about the diamond heist and the murders of the other thieves, which led to the shoot-out in the school.
Matthew Kauffman, the third Amish man in the group, spoke up for the first time. "If you were once Amish, then you know that we cannot allow police to move into our homes. It is not our way."
"I understand your dilemma," Sam responded. "I assure you that although I left my Amish roots behind, I never abandoned my respect for the Amish ways."
"You do not speak like us," Benjamin insisted. "You sound like an Englischer"
Sam slipped easily into the lilt of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. "Many years of living with the Englisch, and you can start to sound like one, ain't so?"
"Why did you leave your home, sir?" Benjamin asked.
Sam took a moment to decide just how much he was willing to share with these men.
"In my youth, I witnessed too many things for a young boy to see. I witnessed theft of Amish goods that went unpunished. I witnessed bullying and cruelty against the Amish people, yet I could not raise my hand to retaliate."
The men nodded.
"I witnessed worse. I witnessed drunken teens race their car into my father's buggy just for the fun of it. My parents did not survive their prank."
Several heartbeats of silence filled the room as everyone present absorbed what he'd said.
"The Amish forgive." Sam shrugged. "I could not. So I left."
"It is difficult sometimes to forgive, to not seek vengeance and to move on with life." Jacob's quiet voice held empathy. His eyes seemed to understand that Sam's emotional wounds had not healed and still cut deep. "I understand how hard it can be. I just lost my only son. But."
He looked Sam straight in the eye. "It is not our place to judge." When he spoke, his voice was soft and sad. "Judgment belongs only to God, ya? "
"And vengeance belongs to the Lord, not us," Benjamin Miller added.
"I am not talking about vengeance," Sam said, defending himself. "I am talking about justice."
Jacob scrutinized Sam as if he were trying to determine his character from his words. "How do you know whether what you call justice, Detective King, is what God would call vengeance? Is it not best to leave these matters in God's hands?"
A sad ghost of a smile twisted Sam's lips. "I believe God intended for us to love one another, to help one another. I believe He expects us to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Children. Unborn babies. An innocent woman who doesn't even know the gravity of her loss yet. Isn't that God's will?"
Jacob remained silent and pensive.
Sam had to work hard to control his emotions. There was no place in police work, particularly undercover police work, to let emotions control your actions or thoughts. But he understood these people. He'd been one of them. He knew they were pacifists who refused to fight back. If a gunman walked up and shot them dead on the street, they'd believe it was God's will.
How was he going to make them understand the danger they were in? Or worse, defend against that danger? Jacob was their bishop. He was the one he had to win over. Sam knew the only hope he had of convincing Lapp to go along with the plan was to drive home the pain the man was still feeling from his loss. He challenged him with a hard stare.
"Are you willing to accept responsibility for the deaths of your loved ones, Bishop? Your neighbors' loved ones? To never see your grandchild? To attend the funerals of your neighbors' children? Because you will be killing them just as if you held the gun and shot them yourself."
Sam's voice had a hardened edge, but he made no apologies for his harshness. He had to make these men understand the seriousness of the situation if he stood any chance of saving their lives.
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