Authors: Liliana Hart
He shook his head in aggravation as his gaze locked with big brown eyes. The O’Neil’s had the land across the street, and they weren’t nearly so diligent about keeping their fence in good repair. Which was why several of the O’Neil’s cows had found their way into the two-lane road that divided the two families’ properties.
Thomas didn’t even have time to curse as he saw the black sedan come over the hill, barreling towards the roving cows. The driver saw them just in time and swerved to avoid a collision. Unfortunately, the twist of the wheel pointed the car at the MacKenzie’s newly repaired fence.
The screech of tires and the crash of metal and wood had Thomas running through the gaping hole in the fence after the runaway car. He heard his brother, Riley, shout after him, but he didn’t slow down. He winced when the car hit an old sycamore tree that had held a tire swing when he and his brothers were boys. His legs were long and it didn’t take him long to reach the accident.
Steam poured from the engine of the hood, and he could see a woman slumped over the wheel of the car. The crash hadn’t been hard enough for the airbags to deploy, so he wouldn’t have to worry about any of those resulting injuries. The biggest concern would be how hard she’d hit her head.
“Grab my bag, would you?” He yelled to Riley. “I’ll take her into the guest bedroom next to my office.”
“I’m on it,” Riley said.
He and Riley were the only two at the house that day. His brother, Dane, had gotten married the month before to Charlotte Munroe, or Charlie as everyone called her. Dane had been in love with for more than ten years, but circumstances had kept them apart until recently. Dane had left Surrender without knowing that Charlie was pregnant, and Charlie had left town soon after.
So needless to say, all the MacKenzies had been excited to welcome Charlie and her son to the family. Dane had moved into Charlie’s house soon after they’d reconnected, but he came by and kept Thomas company every once in a while. Usually when his book was giving him trouble.
His oldest brother, Cooper, was the Sheriff of Surrender, Montana, and he was working overtime because one of his deputies had gotten the flu. Cooper didn’t really live at the old farm house the brothers had grown up in anymore. It was easier for Coop to live in the apartment above the Sheriff’s office just in case he got an emergency call in the middle of the night. And it was easier for him to be discreet when he brought a lady home for the evening. All the brothers knew that Cooper’s taste in sex ran to the dark side, so they tried to respect that by staying away from his private quarters in town.
Riley was only eleven months older than Thomas, and he spent even less time at the house than Cooper did. Riley taught archaeology classes at the college in the next town over. When he wasn’t in class he was on a dig somewhere.
More often than not, it was Thomas left by himself to ramble around the big old house. Since he’d taken over Doc Shepherd’s position as Surrender’s only doctor two years before, he’d been all but married to the job. Because of his patient load, he’d finally decided to build a clinic and office onto the house, so there would be more time to see to the upkeep of the place.
The woman was stone still, and Thomas eased the car door open. The coppery tang of blood immediately overwhelmed his senses.
“Shit,” he murmured under his breath. “Miss? Can you hear me?” He felt for a pulse and noticed it was fast but strong. He ran his hands across the back of her neck and spine, checking for injuries, before gently lifting her head off the steering wheel. A nice sized lump was already forming on her forehead, and he frowned when he didn’t find a gash. He knew he smelled blood.
She moaned low and her eyelashes fluttered, but she didn’t come to. It wasn’t until he had one arm around her back and was slipping the other beneath her legs that he felt the syrupy wetness that coated his fingers. Her legs were covered in blood. Panic consumed him. What if she’d been pregnant? He hurried his steps so he was practically running.
“Hold on, baby, I’ve got you.” He held her close as he made his way into the house.
“What the hell?” Riley asked when he saw Thomas coming down the hall toward the guest room with his burden.
“I don’t know,” Thomas answered. “Put a quilt on top of the bed for me. I don’t want to ruin the mattress.”
He waited until Riley had the quilt spread out before laying the woman down. It wasn’t until he laid her out flat that he saw the jagged tear in her thigh. He breathed a sigh of relief.
She hadn’t lost a baby
“Damn,” Riley whispered, eyeing the woman in a way that immediately had Thomas’s protective instincts rising.
He looked at his charge and felt something shift inside of him. Her hair was spread across the pillow and glowed like fire. She had a peaches and cream complexion that was flawless and way too pale. Small breasts and hips were outlined in the formfitting clothes she wore and emphasized legs that seemed to go for miles. He couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone so beautiful in his life.
“What can I do to help?” Riley asked.
“You can get out,” Thomas demanded, deciding he didn’t want his brother anywhere near her. “Make yourself useful and let Dane know that we need Charlie to tow her car to the shop.” Charlie owned the only automotive repair shop in town.
“I don’t know, Thomas. It doesn’t seem right to leave you alone with her.?”
“I’ve managed to see patients without your supervision for two years. I think I can manage.” Jealousy crept its way along Thomas’s spine as he saw the way Riley kept ogling the woman.
Riley raised a brow at the growl Thomas let loose. “So that’s how it’s going to be, is it? It’s a good thing I’ve got a date tonight or I might fight you for her.”
“You’d lose,” Thomas promised. “I believe I was the one who broke your nose the last time.”
“Yeah, I owe you for that. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, Doc.” Riley left the bedroom and shut the door behind him.
A small moan left the woman’s mouth, and Thomas got to work. He ran his hands up and down her body clinically. Other than the bump on the head, a minor ankle sprain and the cut in her thigh, she seemed to be okay. He wanted to get a look at the thigh wound before he gathered his supplies. Stopping the bleeding was his first priority.
He examined the ragged edges of flesh and cloth and knew what it was at first glance. There were too many hunting accidents in this part of the country for him not to know what a gunshot wound looked like. But she didn’t look like any hunter he’d ever seen, so the question was, how had she gotten shot? His first instinct was to call Cooper and have him start running a check on her, but something kept him from picking up the phone. He wanted to hear the reason out of her own mouth. He wanted her to be his. He couldn’t explain the possessive reaction. He just knew he’d never felt anything like it before in his life.
Thomas went through the connecting door to his office and prepared a tray with everything he’d need to treat her. She was thrashing around on the bed when he came back in, her eyes open but cloudy with fear and fever.
“Shh, sweetheart. It’s okay. Just lay back and relax.” It hardly took any effort at all to push her back to a horizontal position. She was weak as a kitten.
“I n…need to leave,” she said, her teeth chattering. “My phone…”
“I’ll have someone get your stuff for you and bring it here. All you need to worry about is getting better. Can you tell me your name?”
She jerked out of his grasp and tried to get off the bed. Her attempts to push him away were feeble at best.
“L…let me go. You c…can’t keep me here.”
“Watch me, sweetheart. You’re in Surrender, Montana. My name is Thomas, and I’m a doctor. The sooner you let me fix your leg, the sooner you can leave.”
Pain-filled laughter, verging toward hysteria, escaped from her white lips. “You’re a doctor?” she asked. “Am I dead? Is this heaven?”
“No, sweetheart. It’s Surrender.”
He smiled into her delirious eyes, though his brow creased with worry. Her fever was high and her teeth chattered violently. She caught him by surprise when she brought her hand up and rested it on his cheek. Thomas froze. Her skin felt like satin, and he had the most insane urge to nuzzle against her hand and kiss her palm.
She smiled sweetly and stared at him with a depth that made him yearn. “My fallen angel,” she said, and passed out into a quiet sleep.
Thomas released the pent up breath he’d been holding and brushed her hair back from her face.
“And you’re mine, sweetheart. You just don’t know it yet.”
He pulled his tray close and gave her a shot to counteract the fever. Her clothes were ruined and bloody, and he tried not to notice how perfectly she was formed as he stripped her naked. He threw a sheet over her body and exposed only the upper flesh of her thigh, trying like hell to keep a sense of propriety. The sight of her pale flesh marred with bruises and the jagged wound was enough to have his fists clenching in fury.
What the hell had happened to her?
He washed away the blood on her leg and gave her a local anesthetic before checking to see if the bullet was still lodged inside. It wasn’t, so he began work on extracting the fibers from her clothes and then pulled the flesh together with small, neat stitches. When he was finished, he wrapped it in gauze. Her ankle was almost healed and didn’t need a brace, and her head could probably use an ice pack. A good night’s sleep is what she needed most. That and a good meal to replenish her strength.
Thomas held her hand loosely in his own, finding comfort in the simple touch.
“I came as soon as I heard,” Cooper said from the doorway.
He’d been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard his brother open the door. The late afternoon sun shone through the French doors that led to the deck outside, and he looked down at his watch. No wonder his neck was sore. He’d spent more time watching his unknown guest sleep than it had taken to tend her wounds.
“Did you get the car towed?” Thomas asked.
“Yeah, and I started a trace on the plates so I could get you a name.”
Thomas froze. He knew that specific tone of voice his brother rarely used. Bad news.
“The plates traced to a woman named Lucy Rowe. A little digging into her background showed her deceased as of two years ago. Miss Rowe had no living relatives and no record of ever owning a black Audi. When I looked a little further I noticed Miss Rowe had only acquired a social security number four years ago. The whole setup is bogus. I’m going to have some questions for your patient when she wakes up.”
Thomas kept his back to Cooper as he adjusted the woman’s sheet so it covered the bandage on her thigh completely. Cooper was much too good at reading facial expressions, especially his brothers’ facial expressions.
“Riley said she was covered in blood.”
Thomas cursed his older brother and his big mouth. “I stitched her up,” he said, omitting what had caused the wound. “The bump on her head and the fever is my biggest concern now.”
“Thomas,” Cooper said. “I want to know the minute she wakes up. Do you understand? She could be dangerous.”
He didn’t want to believe it. There was no way the woman who had looked at him with such trusting innocence could be a criminal. But he knew Cooper could be a bulldog about such things, so he nodded his head in agreement.
“I expect she’ll be out through the night and morning. You might come by after dinnertime tomorrow and see if she’s up to answering your questions.”
“Fine. I brought the bag I found in the backseat of her car.” Coop put it on top of the dresser. “There was no ID. Just a cell phone. It’s a disposable, so it’s not registered to anyone. I can bunk here tonight if you’d feel more comfortable.”
Thomas gave Coop a look of pure injured male pride. “You think I’m scared of a woman? You’re overreacting. I’m sure she has a reasonable explanation for everything. Stop being so suspicious.”
“That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
“Besides, if she knocks me unconscious and robs us blind, Riley will be here to call you to the rescue.”
“Negative to that. Susie Mobley invited him to her house for dinner. You’ll be lucky to see him till after lunch tomorrow.”
“She does make a damned good peach pie,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Maybe he’ll bring us back a slice.”
“I’ve had a slice of that pie, thanks. It has a tendency to be too clingy and demand marriage. I think I’ll pass on any more pie from Susie. Someday, Riley will learn that some pies aren’t worth eating.”
Thomas couldn’t help but snort out a laugh. “Get out of here and go give someone a parking ticket.”
Cooper closed the door behind him and Thomas moved to get up and stretch, but some sixth sense had him looking into the face of his patient. Dark blue eyes stared at him through a fringe of russet lashes. Her lips were pressed into a thin line of pain, and her face was flushed with fever. But she was awake. That was a start.
“How much of that conversation did you hear?” Thomas asked, automatically touching the back of his hand against her forehead. “Hold that thought.” He went to the kitchen and brought her back a glass of orange juice and then tapped three Tylenol into his hand.
“I don’t want anything to drink,” she rasped out as he folded her fingers around the glass. “I’m not thirsty.”