Authors: Anna Murray
Rutherford made love to his wife three times during the night, and wonderful as
it was, in the light of day he couldn’t convince himself it was right. And,
judging from her coolness this morning, it appeared Hannah was also having
He cursed his eagerness to satiate
his needs. It was her first time with a man, and he’d tried to be aware and go
slowly. Or so he thought. She’d responded more boldly than he’d expected, but it
had been a long time for him, and comparisons didn’t come easily.
Yet he’d loved the feel of her soft hair
falling around his shoulders, her smooth skin, and full lips beneath his own.
He ached to talk about it, but
Jake was sitting dutifully at the table, waiting for his pancakes. Jed decided
he’d get Hannah alone after Emily Anders came by to fetch him. Thus, he
lingered over his coffee until the girl appeared at the door. Hannah proceeded
to run after Jake because he forgot his cap, and when she came back Jed
“You shouldn’t go out without your
cape.” An expression of worry was etched across his forehead.
“I had to catch him.” She sat down
and looked into her cup.
He took a deep, swift breath. “Are
you thinking about last night?”
“Some,” she looked up, her gray
eyes filled with worry, “I don’t know. I’m not sure I should have.” She sighed.
“We have to work as partners, and I need respect.”
“I do respect you.”
“Love should come first.”
“No matter what your mother told
you, I’m capable pleasuring your heart, if you dare to unharness and give in to
“It’s difficult.” Hannah’s eyes
misted and a tear rolled down her soft cheek.
“You need time?”
“Yes.” There was nervousness in
her voice. “My mind was set, from an early age, to have no such expectations.”
“Hannah, darling, you know there
is someone for everyone. I think we are made for each other.” He flexed his
fingers and reached across the table to cover her hand. “I have the rest of my
life to show you how I feel.”
Jed was diving into unknown waters
himself. He needed time, too. Hell, he wasn’t sure how he’d sleep with her
every night. What was he thinking? What if the nightmares came back? She’d
asked for sex to enhance her medical knowledge, and he’d been thrilled to
comply. Now his relief was mixed with disappointment. If she couldn’t accept
his love it would mean little. How could he help her to let her feelings run
He stroked her fingers gently, and an
alarm fired in his head. “Your hand feels hot.” He leaned forward, pushed his
hand up to her cheek, and then her forehead. “You’re burning up.”
“I’m overly wrought is all . . .”
Jed got up and ran around the
table. He pulled out her chair and slung one arm under her legs and the other
around her back. He swept her up tight against his chest, and carried her up
the stairs to her bed.
“I’m fine. Don’t be silly,” she
“You’re feverish, and I’m taking
care of you. You’re my only wife.”
“Thank heavens for that!” She
groaned. “How many women could handle you?”
“Only one,” he quipped. “and just
now I’m caring for you, Mrs. Rutherford.”
He kicked open the bedroom door
and carried her to the bed.
Minutes after he settled her in
the nausea gripped her with the force of a tornado, and Jed rushed to get a
pan. She vomited twice.
“Knew you were sick. Your cheeks
She rolled to her side pulled the covers around her. “I must have picked
this up yesterday when I was examining the Smithson kids. They were feverish.”
“I’m going down to the kitchen to
make tea. Stay in this bed. That’s an order.” He wagged a finger. The muscles
in his neck were pulled taut. “Don’t make me get my riding crop.”
She smiled weakly. “I submit,
Doc. I feel like a rag doll.”
“You need rest, partner. Jake will
do the chores when he gets back from school.”
“I don’t want to seem forward, but
could you smuggle up some tea?”
“You bet, honey. That’s what I
said I was planning to fix.”
“Yes . . . add a teaspoon of
honey,” she echoed.
Delirium, he thought. It was a bad
sign, and Jed was scared. A fever was dangerous as a rattlesnake bite.
forward and kissed her cheek. Guilt was eating him. Maybe she got sick because
he’d kept her up with his lovemaking.
Her eyes were fluttering shut, but
he kept up the banter.
“I’m going to get the tea, and
medicine now,” he whispered.
“The horses too. Get the
horses out before they’re burned,” she muttered senselessly.
“Sure thing,” he answered without
thinking. Fevered patients were nonsensical, and he was accustomed to replying
with whatever came to mind. “I’ll fetch them.”
“Don’t tell father! Don’t tell him
we were jumping in the hay mound, OK?”
“It’s our secret,” Jed retorted.
She swallowed, and turned her head
toward the whitewashed ceiling. “Mother is angry now. She hit me. It wasn’t my
fault. Billy wanted to sneak into the barn to play in the hay.”
“I know. It wasn’t your doing. It’s ok.”
“Not OK,” she blabbered. “Flames.” A
tremor shook the length of her body.
He remembered the scars along her leg, and her fear of fire. Dread crept
up his spine. Jed rubbed his neck to rid himself of the prickly sensation.
“Was Billy your brother, Hannah?”
Tears welled and spilled over,
down her soft cheeks.
“I was out, and he ran back to get
the bay. He ran back inside!” Her voice was ragged. “Stop, Billy!”
A lump formed in Jed’s throat. “I’m
so sorry, Hannah. So sorry.”
“When pa brought him out he was
cold. Mama was different after. She wanted to hurt me.
Somehow it was my fault.”
“But it wasn’t, Hannah. It wasn’t.”
Jed put the back of his hand to her forehead. She was burning up.
“I know in my head.” Her
voice was growing ragged.
“Hannah, you were only a child.
You are forgiven.”
“I am? You forgive me?”
“Yes. Hannah, do you forgive me?”
“For what? Don’t be a ninny.”
“During the war I had to let one
soldier die to save another,” he admitted painfully. ”More than once. We didn’t
have enough doctors.”
“The war wasn’t your fault.”
“And you didn’t start the fire.”
Hannah’s story tore at his heart.
He leaned over her and offered shelter and warmth. He
ran a hand through her hair and caressed
her soft cheek.
“But my mother –“
“Your mother was angry and
grieving. Some people turn their anger in the wrong direction, and they hurt
those they love the most.”
“Yes, yes . . . Hawkins started
the fire.“ She coughed. “My throat hurts.”
She was as confused and delusional
as a lamb lost in a blizzard. Jed tamped down his fear, slipped from the room,
and ran down the stairs to fetch the medicine.
stumbled into the comfort of his presence. When he leaned into her with water
she drank against the pain in her throat, and then pressed her face against his
shoulder. When the droplets on her mouth and chin soaked through the flannel of
his shirt he brushed them gently aside and ran his fingers through her tangled
“My head hurts.” She dug her
fingers into his shoulders.
“Try not to think on it. Dream of
“I’m inside a painting.” She
tilted her head back. Her gray eyes hovered, dark as storm clouds, under heavy
lids. “I’m working to get through today.”
“I know the feeling.”
They leaned against each other in
“I feel cold.”
She chattered and trembled.
Jed settled down beside her in the
bed and eased her into his chest. He wrapped the blankets around them. Her head
reached his shoulder, and he bent to place it under his chin.
Rain fell on the roof, and
sometime during the night it turned to bits of ice pelting like pebbles on the
glass panes. Hannah shivered, and he his strength held fast against her
In the morning the storm ended,
and Hannah’s fever broke, but weakness remained.
In the dim light Hannah stared
through the window at the lingering overcast sky, while she heard Jed stoking
the stove and moving pots to and fro below. Cold followed the icy storm on a
brisk wind, doubling over the prairie grasses. Shey’d be house bound, but she’d
do her best to paddle her weight.
Hannah looked up when she Jake’s
light footfall on the steps, and his dark head appeared in her doorway. She propped
herself on her elbows to make a run at getting out of the bed.
“Good morning, Jake,” she croaked.
“Pa says I should ask you what you
want for breakfast.”
“You tell Pa I can eat anything except
his burnt toast.”
“All right!” Jake spun around like
a windmill and clambered down the stairs.
Hannah swung her feet to the floor
and tested the weight of her lower body on her legs. Gripping the night table
she pushed up and wobbled to a stand. Slowly she stepped into a skirt and
pulled on her blouse. She ambled slowly into the hall, and steered for the
stairs. She sat down on the top step and moved down to each stair on her bottom,
by first placing her feet on the step below and then lowering herself to the
step above her feet. Stealthily she moved from one step to the next, and when
she got to the last step she stood up and shuffled into the kitchen. Jake was
seated at the table, and Hannah put a finger to her lips to hush him. Jed,
facing the stove, didn’t see her until he turned with a plate piled with
“What the -- !” He stopped himself. “What are you doing down here?”
Panic and anger were mirrored in his blue eyes.
Jed’s concern warmed her more than
the heat flowing from the open oven door. “I’m feeling much better, and a rumor
was going around about breakfast being served.”
“Didn’t the rumor include the news
that we were bringing it up to you?” Jed looked pointedly at Jake, who cringed.
“You’ll never land yourself a woman. You treat the horses better,” Jed growled
at the boy.
“I’m hungry. Are those eggs?”
Jed slid the plate in front of
her, and he sidled over to the door and took his duster from a hook. He moved
behind her and placed it over her shoulders and wrapped it snugly across her
breasts. Jed’s hand brushed against her neck, and his touch sent a tingle down
“Thank you,” she said quietly. She
attempted a smile, but those muscles were stiff from lack of use.
“I’m protecting my best partner.”
He sat himself across from her and winked.
“Jake, eat those eggs before they
get cold. The schoolmarm is waiting on you,” he barked.
The boy angled a frown in Jed’s
direction and dug a fork into his food.
Hannah’s gray eyes sparkled, and
Jed’s seductive smile chased away her exhaustion. For a moment she indulged
herself in fantasy and envisioned him holding their child, a cradle in the
corner behind him . . .
Her daydream was interrupted by a
sharp knock at the door. A coarse yell followed.
Jake bolted to the entrance.
A gruesome sight confronted him. The
blacksmith, Farrell, was carrying an unconscious young girl, and Roy Easton was
holding his own blood-soaked shirt against her side.
“We need help, quick,” Easton
Cold air rushed in behind as they barreled through the door. Jed rushed
them to the surgery, where the girl was lifted onto the table.