Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2) (2 page)

BOOK: Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2)
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Earl Watkins dropped the cloth to
the counter. “It’ll go out with the two-ten rider.”

  
“Very good. Put it on my account. Thank
you, Earl.”

  
Jed pulled the envelope from his
pocket and passed it across the counter. Earl took the letter, scanned the
address lines, and placed it a wooden box behind him.

  
Relief washed over Jed as he
retreated back to the street.
Help was on
the way
. Doctor Cole would send a good man.

 

Chapter 2

 

  
M
ay is the month for journeys
, thought Hannah Sutton. She’d traveled
up the Missouri river by steamboat, and now she rode in a lurching supply wagon
to her final destination.

  
Under a starry sky, Hannah inhaled
the damp night air and began to wonder if she’d truly accepted the job.

  
She told herself she was thrilled .
. .

  
She peered at the shadows dancing
across the desolate landscape and hesitated briefly in her self-consolation.

 
 
She was grateful . . . she was needed here . . .

 
 
Hannah shifted on the hard seat as she
tried to find something uplifting about this new life. She’d managed to find
something special about each day for most of her twenty-six years, but now
loneliness and frustration were closing in. She quickly turned her thoughts to
the sick and injured, who needed her skills, and her lips curved upward. Doctor
Rutherford would gain her hands and what she could give of her heart – to
the work, of course. Her efforts would surely be appreciated.

 
 
Hannah’s inescapable destination had been forged in a long ago
conflagration. Her carefree years were taken before she celebrated her ninth
birthday, but her father had worked tirelessly to ensure her education. He said
nothing could steal a body’s book smarts and training.

  
Now events moved at a blinding
speed. She’d quickly penned notes to friends and family, and when Hannah
embarked on the arduous journey she focused forward. She was driven to bury the
past ever deeper; these measures of her life music were marked
accelerando
.

  
Smiling softly, she touched the
letter in her pocket, and recalled how she’d made her decision when she’d seen Rutherford’s
hand on the thin letter paper. She imagined a firm confidence beneath the
simple, bold strokes; such sure-footed script came from a man who led others,
one who was intelligent and direct and honest.

  
“Wounded Colt!” The wiry driver
croaked in a raspy voice Hannah associated with a tobacco habit. The wagon
yawed and creaked as it turned onto the town’s main street.

  
Her heart aflutter with
anticipation, Hannah swayed against the rocking motion and gripped the sideboard.
Leaning forward, she squinted, hoping to see her new colleague. Alas, crickets
and frogs formed the lone welcoming committee, and all were jumping away from
the grinding wagon wheels. She knew Doctor Rutherford would be waiting for her
along the main street, so she composed herself, smoothed her hair. Hannah would
have to make the introductory remarks, as he’d be expecting a man. She furrowed
her brow, searching for the right words to say in that first awkward moment. It
wouldn’t be easy, but then nothing in her life had been easy since the fire.

 
  
She was confident of one thing: It
wasn’t likely anyone would remember gangly eleven-year-old Amy Sutton. She’d
grown to full womanhood. Her curly chestnut hair had calmed to gentle waves.
Her cheeks were no longer rosy childhood plump; her skin was soft ivory, her
lips full. She’d reclaimed her Christian name on the day she’d taken her seat
at college, the day she dedicated her life to the service of alleviating physical
suffering and caring for others in need.

  
Hannah reminded herself of the
advantages of accepting the job in Wounded Colt. She knew well the liberation
ladies enjoyed in the territories. Plucky Montana women didn’t have the burden
of petticoats or corsets, and she was excited by the prospect of such freedoms.
In warm weather she could wear a lighter skirt, something soft that wouldn’t
brush her legs. Although they weren’t sore anymore, Hannah sometimes felt
phantom pains, reminders of the scars of a lost childhood.

  
Hannah took a deep breath and
settled restless hands in her lap. Doctor Cole had approached her with this job
offer because she was finishing her studies. She was ready for the next
challenge. He told her he thought she’d find acceptance easier on the frontier.
As one of less than a handful of women who’d been allowed into medical schools,
Hannah had met with disbelief and distrust in her patients. Indeed, she’d
sometimes felt these same sentiments from her own classmates. But this was
Wounded Colt. She’d likely encounter minds as open as the sprawling range. She
mustered her courage and determination to meet her new partner.

  
The driver slowed the horses to a
plodding amble. Main Street was quiet, except for gusts of laughter drifting
from the town’s saloon.

  
“Whoa Pops, whoa Sam.” The driver
pulled on the reins, and they halted.

  
A single man stepped forward from
the shadows.

  
“Evenin’, Charles.”

  
“Howdy, Roy.”

  
The new stranger was tall and
young and Hannah saw the outline of a gun belt riding low on his hips. Her
heart lurched at the sight, but she relaxed when she made out a glinting star
on his wool vest. A tentative smile played across her lips.

  
The lawman’s gaze fell upon the
lone passenger. “Well, now. Here’s a nice surprise. Howdy, Miss.” He doffed his
hat and grinned. Then he barked up at the driver. “Where’s Rutherford’s bone
healer?”

  
“I’m the doctor.” Hannah summoned
a wider smile and extended her hand, while putting the other into her pocket, ready
to produce Dr. Rutherford’s letter as proof.

  
The stranger named “Roy” dropped
his jaw. “I’ll be. You’re the mail order?”

  
“Doctor. Not a bride.” She
regretted the words as soon as they slipped from her mouth. Her cheeks blazed.

  
He raised an amused eyebrow. “Hmmm.
Welcome, Miss, er, Doctor.” He offered a hand to assist in her debark from the
high step. Hannah lit on the ground, but she was yet unsteady on her feet, so
she leaned against the sheriff’s side.

 
 
“I appreciate your hospitality, Mister. Where’s Doctor Rutherford?” She couldn’t
hide her disappointment. Her thoughts suddenly ran to wild speculation. What if
the doctor had fled the town? Perhaps a tragedy had befallen him. What if he’d
died? Maybe outlaws attacked him or a rattlesnake bite did him in. Or, what if
he’d changed his mind about needing help? She’d used all her money for the
tickets, and he was supposed to pay her back when she arrived.

  
“Don’t worry. Rutherford’s got a
doctor’s excuse. He’s tending to Mrs. Carson,” the man named Roy explained. “Babies
decide to arrive at the least convenient times. By the way, I’m Roy Easton, the
law in this establishment.”

  
Her shoulders relaxed. “Oh. Hannah
Sutton. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Her grey eyes blinked as she
assessed the man more closely.

  
Roy Easton lightly touched his hat
brim. She saw his eyes flicker and his mouth tighten as his gaze moved down her
skirt to her dusty boots. He was considering her unusual dress. Like Mary
Walker, the Civil War surgeon, Hannah had taken to amputating her skirts slightly
below the knee, and she wore men’s trousers beneath to cover her legs and
ankles.

  
Roy Easton ‘s warm smile met her pursed
lips. “I can see you ain’t no greenhorn, Miss, I mean,
Doctor
Sutton. Rutherford asked me to show you up to his place and
get you settled. You must be tired.”

 
 
“That I am, Mr. Easton.”

  
Hannah stepped to and fro, as she
was still recovering her land legs. Charles and Roy moved to the rear of the
wagon and slid off dirt-covered trunks. They carried the luggage into the
jailhouse.

  
“I’ll haul these up in a wagon tomorrow
morning, if it suits you,” Roy grunted as he pushed the luggage through the
door.

  
“It’s fine. I only need the
necessaries bag tonight.” Hannah locked a firm hand around a small case and
waited on the boardwalk outside the jail entrance.

  
The men finished the task and emerged
from the office. Sheriff Easton grabbed a lantern from a post, and Charles
climbed back into his seat and snapped the reins to move his rig down the
street.

  
The lawman turned to her and
frowned. “You’re late.”

  
“Yes sir. We ran into rain,”
Hannah replied.

 
 
“Rutherford didn’t mention he was
expecting a pretty
lady
doctor.” His
voice teased.

  
“No. I don’t suppose he considered
the possibility,” she murmured. “I pulled the short matchstick.” Hannah blushed,
and she was grateful for the cover of darkness. Used to being alone and
outcast, the feeling was magnified this night. The town was shuttered, and the
man who was supposed to meet her was absent. He’d sent this proxy, but instead of
a gruff sweat and tobacco trail man, which she would have preferred, this one
was a charmer, and his flirtatious manner made her uneasy.

  
Roy Easton leaned in to hear her. “That
makes you a pioneer, and pioneers do well here,” he drawled. “I expect you’ll
be a perfect mate for Rutherford.” He paused. “Professionally speaking, of
course.”

  
“Of course. Thank you for your
confidence.”

 
Her gaze ran over the broad-shouldered
lawman. He was the picture of health, a pleasant aspect of this dingy street in
the middle of a dreary night.

  
The man’s eyes flickered
recognition. “Did you say Sutton?”

  
She studied the nick on his chin.
“Yes.”

  
He slid a finger up his neck and
scratched under his broad-brimmed hat. “There was a Sutton family here when I
was a kid. Their place burned, and they went back east. They lost a son in the
fire, and another was burned as I recall, but she survived.”

  
Hannah’s back stiffened, and her
eyes narrowed.

  
“You wouldn’t be related?”

  
“It’s a common name.” She looked
past his shoulder, anxious to change the topic of conversation.

  
“Yes, I ‘spose. Josh and Amy,” he
added. “Those were the kids. There was another girl, still in the cradle. I
knew Josh. He’s up in the cemetery, God rest him.”

  
She drew in a ragged breath. “Mr.
Easton, as I said, I’m tired.”
 
Her
gray eyes misted, and she was thankful for the darkness a second time.

  
“Of course, of course. Let’s get
you to Doc’s.”

  
He turned and walked with long
purposeful strides. The tall shadows of false front buildings were a godsend; the
sheriff didn’t notice as she brushed the tears away from her eyes.

  
The five-minute hike to the little
two-story house tucked down a side street gave enough time for Hannah to regain
her composure.

  
“Will his wife be there to meet us?”

  
“Heh, that’s a good one,” he
laughed. “Rutherford’s a bachelor. There’s little joy in his life.”

  
“Oh.” Hannah had tried to envision
him countless times on the journey, and she’d settled on conjuring up a man
with a wife and children, a strong leader in the community. She’d imagined him
welcoming her, not only as partner in practice, but also as family, folding her
warmly into the household. In her fantasy his wife would come to be like a
sister, and the children would love her like a dear aunt.
 

  
“He has sisters or brothers?”

  
“Nope.”

  
“Oh.”
 
Her voice pitched lower.

  
Easton heard her disappointment. “Don’t
worry, he’s not eccentric. He’s social enough. I’ve seen him play hopscotch
with the kids. Oh, you’ll get on with Rutherford. Everyone does. He’s a good
doc who needs a partner, what with all the miners and ranchers coming in to
these parts since the war. The ladies are fond of him.”

 
 
“His letter lacked mention of himself. My mentor assumed he’d be married
by now.”

  
“Single women aren’t rushing out
to the territories, Miss. Those that make the trip are a precious lot. A young
woman looking for matrimony in Wounded Colt can have her pick of the herd,
pardon my saying.”

  
Hannah had no interest in
marriage. Or, to be perfectly honest, she figured the institution had no
interest in her. Marriage was not for offering a scarred body to a man, and
therefore Hannah was not eligible. Not two years prior, her father’s business
associate had shown a marital interest in her. Her father had taken him aside,
and with Norwegian efficiency, Hannah’s suitor was swiftly passed to her sister.

BOOK: Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2)
13.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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