Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2) (8 page)

BOOK: Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2)
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Chapter 10

  
H
annah
poured cream over her sunrise and huckleberry-dappled oatmeal. Gazing out the
window, she could see pink light pushing streaks across the lonesome starlit
prairie. A coyote howled in the distance.

  
She arched an eyebrow at the man
she barely recognized across the breach of table. His usual frosty demeanor had
melted away sometime during his bath the previous evening. He’d asked twice if
she’d be able to sleep, and then he’d come up to give her an extra blanket
– the first time he’d entered his bedroom since it became her territory.

 
Now he leaned closer to her when speaking,
as if there were more familial intimacy between them. Was the surge of kindness
due to the terrible death she’d witnessed at the ranch the previous day?

  
This morning his speech was
slurred, and his eyes were bloodshot. She suspected he’d taken a nip from the
whiskey supplys. Hannah monitored the bottles, and they didn’t appear to be
down beyond what she’d dispensed to patients. Yet, he could be hiding a supply
. . . or it could be something else. She made a mental note to watch his habits
more closely. At least he’d slept through the night without yelling or
thrashing. She’d worried he might have night terrors after the death at the
ranch. Traumatic amputation was a gruesome injury for any doctor to view, and
it no doubt conjured bad memories in a battle-seasoned surgeon like Rutherford.

 
Hannah understood well how doctors
needed a break from pain and suffering when they weren’t working. Rutherford
would send her packing if he knew of her physical inferiority. He saw physical
deficits every day, all day long, and he wouldn’t want to see such liability in
a partner, not to mention in a spouse, after hours of dealing with it on the
job.

  
He settled his mug on the table
and his blue eyes rested on her. “Nice day,” he observed. His low voice was a
caress.

  
“New day. Quiet,” she whispered.

  
“It will stay that way. Babies
arrive during bad weather.”

  
She laughed warmly. “It’s the way
of it.”

  
“Mishaps too.” He was quiet for a
moment. “But better weather comes, and patients are made whole again, mostly.”

 
 
She nodded.

  
His mouth tightened. “I saw too
much death in the field.”

  
Her heart lurched, and she yearned
to reach out to him. But what could she say to comfort a man harboring so many
wounds inside?

  
He fell silent for a few seconds.
“Yet, scarred men, with lost limbs, went home to loving wives and families, and
many have whole lives today. Disfigurement doesn’t keep them from pursuing
their dreams.”

  
Hannah frowned and stirred her
cereal. “It’s easier for a man. Women love men for their character. Men love
women for beauty . . . physical perfection.”

  
Doctor Rutherford drew a hand
through his thick hair and appeared to mull over her words. “The greatest
beauty is on the inside. Every man has his own way of considering women. It’s
not always what you think.”

  
She shrugged a shoulder. Hannah wanted
to believe him, but she’d not be swayed by wise words from a man who wanted to
impress an underling with his maturity. She had direct experience: Her suitor
had ultimately chosen her perfect sister, after he was made aware of her shortcoming.

  
He looked away. “Being whole on
the outside isn’t what makes a man or woman. It’s how they wrangle with what
life throws them.”

  
Hannah felt like they were playing
shadow tag with such conversation. He must be speaking of his own internal
suffering, and she wondered what she could do to stop the torture he endured.
She’d be a fool to feel anything for him. She certainly wouldn’t put herself
through a romantic rejection again, but maybe she could help him by being his
friend.

  
Before Hannah could form a reply a
sharp knock sounded at the door.

  
“I’ll go.” Leaping from her chair,
she was relieved to end the odd chat.

  
Hannah swung open the door to find
sunlight streaming around Roy Easton’s large dark frame.
 

  
“Mr. Easton!”

  
Although he was carrying a large
package, he managed to doff his hat in a lumbering motion. “Howdy Miss, er, Doc
Sutton.”

  
“Come in, come in,” Hannah rushed
out.

  
“Only for a short spell . . . do I
smell coffee?”
 
The sheriff grinned.

   
“You do. Please, sit with
us.”

  
He hesitated for appearances sake
as he entered the room.
 
“Hello, Doc.
I’m just here to make this delivery before I get back to work at the newspaper,”
he said as he leaned the large package against the wall. “It came in on the
wagon yesterday.”

 
“Ah, that has to be the medicine I
ordered. Thanks, Easton.” The doctor rose and pumped the sheriff’s hand.

  
Hannah quickly pulled a chair down
from the wall pegs and set it at right angles to her and Jed at the table.
“Sit,” she commanded.

  
Easton slid into the offering. “Not
yours, Doc. It’s for Doc Hannah.”

  
“Oh! It must be from my father. He
said he’d send my supplies.” Hannah was as giddy as a schoolgirl on the first
day. She rushed to the counter to find a knife to cut the package strings, but
then she caught herself and poured a cup of coffee for Mr. Easton. She laughed.
“I forget my manners.” After she carried the java to the sheriff she sat beside
him. “I can open it later.”

  
“Don’t delay on my account,
Doctor,” advised the lawman.

  
“Oh, I know what’s inside. I can
wait.” She sat back down. “How are Cal and the men holding up?”

  
The sheriff looked at his hands wrapped
around the tin cup. “We hadn’t lost a hand since the range war with
Dullen.”
 
He shook his head slowly.

  
The room was quiet for a few
moments while Hannah rubbed her forehead. “Do tell us,” she finally broke the
heavy silence, “how is your work at the schoolhouse?”

  
Easton took a sip of brown liquid.
“I’m keeping my head above water. You know Latin?”

  
Hannah and Jed laughed. “All
doctors speak Latin. That’s why our patients don’t understand us,” Jed
explained as he wiped his eyes.

  
Easton took another shot of the
coffee. “Hmmm. That’s good. A man could get used to your ministrations, Doctor
Hannah.” He looked pointedly at Jed. “Truth be told, school lets out early
these days, leastwise until Geneva and Ned come back from their honeymoon.”

  
Rutherford’s grin edged up. “Easton,
you’re too soft. You’ll make Geneva’s job difficult when she returns.”

  
“Could be,” Easton replied with a
twinkle in his eye, “but, speaking of soft and couples on honeymoon, you both
should know folks are set atwitter since I ran the column on our new lady
doctor.”

  
“Oh?” Red crept up Hannah’s cheeks.

  
Jed let out a chuckle. “I’m almost
afraid to ask. What’s on the grapevine?”

  
The sheriff drained his cup.
 
“The single menfolk agree you should get
the first shot at marrying up with Hannah.” He winked at her. “After all, she’s
your mail-order. And, at least one old biddy is whispering about you two living
in sin out here on the edge of town.”

  
Jed slapped a hand to his thigh
and let out a hearty guffaw. “That’s a good one.”

  
Hannah’s cheeks went from pink to
flaming. “I’m here to work! Doc expected a man. He didn’t send for a woman!”

  
Easton looked amused at her
discomfort. “Yes, ma’am. We all know Doc’s a saint.” He winked. “Look, I’m just
telling you what’s going around town. Don’t shoot the town crier.”

  
Jed’s broad smile was teasing. “Easton,
you better hope you stay healthy.”

  
The lawman-schoolmaster-newspaper
publisher rose from his chair and sashayed to the door. “I’ve gotta get over to
the schoolhouse for the morning roar. Emily is letting the students in.”

  
“Right,” Jed mock saluted as Roy
Easton hurried out the door.

  
As soon as the door slammed behind
him Hannah sputtered. “He stirs things up.”

  
Jed’s mouth twisted in amusement. “That’s
his job. He’s the town meddler. In a small town the only news is petty stuff.
You know, who visited whoever last Sunday, who bought a new suit, that sort of
thing. You’re a big item in the Wounded Colt press, and Roy will work the angles.”

  
“Your defense of Mr. Easton is
noble, but it doesn’t make it better.”

  
“It will pass. Everyone knows his
game, and they play along, except his brother, who fell into Roy’s trap. Cal
married the woman Roy set up for him. The rest of us are too smart to be
victims of his scheming.”

  
“I’d say he did his brother a
favor. I met his wife at the wedding, and Sarah’s very nice. What if it doesn’t,
sir?”

  
“Doesn’t what?”

  
“Pass.”

  
His hands flew up in the air and
he grinned.
 
“I’ll have to marry
you,” he teased.

  
Hannah laughed. His good humor
made one dish of meat into a feast. “Only after a fifty-year courtship, sir.”

 
 
 

Chapter 11

  
J
ed was
restless as a new colt. He paged through a research tract as he lay on the
blanket in the shade of the oak tree. He looked up, and he smiled when he spied
Hannah wiping a smudge of charcoal across her cheek. He reveled in watching her
openly, as she was rarely distracted from her canvas.

  
She gazed down at him. “What are
you reading?”

  

Boston Medical and Surgical Journal
. It’s a review of Lister’s germ
theory of putrefaction.”

 
Hannah’s head bobbed eagerly. “Yes, yes.
It’s why sanitation is critical.”

  
“I agree. But how to prove it? We
learned from the bedside during the war, but more work remains to be done in
the laboratory.”

  
“It’s complex. Cole wants to go to
Germany to learn their experimental methods.”

  
“To my mind there’s no risk in
assuming they exist. We must learn how to avoid and eliminate these germs, as
they are quite possibly the cause of diseases.”

  
“I’m with you. Forward thinking is
best. It must be a cornerstone of our practice.”

  
Hannah turned her intensity back
into sketching the scene. She didn’t take the wonders of nature for granted.

  
He wanted to ask about the scars
on her legs, and as a doctor he routinely asked such questions, but now he
remembered his mother’s rule: Take care to gaze not on the marks or blemishes
of others and ask not how they came. He decided to draw her out with talk of
her childhood.

  
“When did you learn to draw?”

  
She captured the tree outline
before looking up. “Since I could hold a pencil, and my father paid for art
lessons, but only after I begged for six months running.”

  
“You are persistent,” he remarked
from his position on the blanket.

  
“My mother badgered him to send my
art supplies after I wrote her, and I was happy when Roy delivered them. I like
to sketch, and then paint. I love landscapes.”

  
Jed had, at first, protested against
going on the picnic, calling it “utter nonsense”, but she’d prevailed when she
packed the cooling chicken into a basket. He’d have no dinner if he’d stayed
behind, and he couldn’t let a green woman take a jaunt into the wilderness alone.
The whole town would have his hide for neglecting such a duty.

  
Now they sat on a grassy hill on a
beautiful June day. Bees were buzzing and a jay called out from a high perch in
the tree above their nesting place.

  
“I can create a world, and escape
into it for a while.”

  
“Escape?”

  
“Work. Worries,” she stared at him
with wide eyes. “Everyone needs a pastime. Relaxation.”

  
“Yes, everyone should recreate on Sunday.”
It pained him to admit his relaxation didn’t come without drugs.

  
“Doctor Cole used to say we’re so
busy treating others we don’t take time to treat ourselves. I’m doing something
for myself. You should, too. Recreations cleanse the soul.”

  
“I don’t have such talents.”

  
She furrowed a brow. “Everyone has
something.
 
Hunting. Fishing. Wood
carving.”

  
Maybe it was the sun or her
carefree manner that compelled him to open up. “I used to play base ball.”

  
She quickly scraped her charcoal
across the canvas. “When you were a kid?”

  
“During the war. Most of the
surgeons had more practice at playing ball than treating war wounds. At first.”

  
“I like base ball.”
 
She blew lightly on the paper to dismiss
charcoal particles. “ A manful recreation. What was your position on the
field?”

  
“I played the first base.”

  
“Oh, lots of action there! Doctor,
you should start a town team. It would be something for Easton to write about
in the paper, instead of me.”

  
“We have a town team.”

  
“Then you should play.”

  
Jed grunted, lay back on his
elbows, and picked up his reading. The sun warmed through his shirt and
trousers, and after a spell he dozed off.

  
Hannah was sitting on the blanket with him, smiling.
 
She moved closer and pulled the pins
from her hair. He suddenly had an insane desire to see her naked.

  
“I’d bet you have
pretty legs,” he said.

  
“You want to see
them?
 
I’ll show them to you.”

  
Hannah lifted her
skirt to her knee. The calves of her legs were slender, sinewy, muscular, and
her little feet were adorable.

  
Jed couldn’t resist
the impulse to touch, and stretched to touch the flesh.

  
With a jerk she
pulled her dress down.

   
“You can look, but
not touch!”

  
He couldn’t help
himself. The need that had triggered his desire was too strong, too impetuous.
He seized her around the waist and tried to capture her lips. She wasn’t able
to dodge him, and for a moment he felt his chest against Hannah’s firm breasts.
For brief seconds he held her lips prisoner, and then her mouth gentled and
responded to his, and it was a sensation as hot and blinding as a strike of
lightning. She twisted, broke loose of his grasp, and fled into the
battlefield.

  
Men were everywhere,
bloodied and crying out. Hannah stopped and fell to her knees at the side of a
young corporal. She yelled back to him. “Get your hand on this artery! The man
is bleeding profusely! I can’t see to saw off his leg!”

  
“Get some light in here!” Jed was shouting out loud, thrashing and
sweating. He woke to Hannah beside him on the blanket, yelling back, “I have
the light! I’ve got the light, sir!”
 
She was leaning into him, courageously, dodging his flailing arms.

 
Jed grabbed her shoulders and brought
her against him. “Thank God, you’re here.”

   
“You were having a
nightmare, sir.”

  
Panting and shaking and feeling
deep humiliation, Jed held her ferociously to him, as if she were the cure for
this terror. Maybe she was, but he wasn’t going to delve into it just then.

  
“It’s ok, sir. I worked with veterans
back in Ohio.
 
It’s ok.”

  
Jed’s trembling continued.
 
“It’s not ok, Dr. Sutton. I have
laudanum in my bag. Please get it for me.”

  
“You sure, sir?
 
It can become a habit –“

  
“I need it.”

  
Indeed. Shuddering had seized him
and his wounded soul was bared to her.

  
Hannah’s eyes widened, and she moved
away from him slowly, and he watched as she dug into his bag and found the
bottle. She dispensed the drug with water she poured from the canteen into a
tin cup.

  
“Thank you, Doctor Sutton.”

 
 
Hannah’s mouth was drawn tight. “How
long?”

  
“It started while I was serving. All
the docs needed something.”

  
Her eyes misted and she lowered
her head. She seemed to understand how the horror had pierced his soul.

  
Then she did something completely
unexpected. Leaning forward, she hovered just a moment, and then she dipped
down and planted a kiss on cheek.

  
“That’s it, then.” She sat close
beside him.

  
“Yes, that’s it.”

   
Hannah was silent for a
moment.

   
“It’s why you needed an
assistant.”

  
Jed turned onto his side. “Yes.”

  
“Your family knows?”

   
“Of course not. Why do you
think I’m out here? They’re bitter about the war as it is.”

  
“Bitter and angry describes half
the nation.” She was silent again. “Look, I can be useful to you.” She bent her
head towards him and murmured, “Jed.”

  
She shyly offered a peck on his
forehead, but he shifted and covered her half opened lips fully in a deep kiss.
Her innocence was apparent, but this second kiss lasted longer than the first.
He thought it was the first kiss ever she took, and it pleased him greatly. He
wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her down to the sanctuary of his
chest.

  
When she pulled away her cheeks
were red. “I shouldn’t have taken the liberty, sir. I thought I could help you
move on. This can’t happen again.”

  
“No, it cannot,” he breathlessly
agreed. “I can’t have a woman.”
Sleep
with a woman in his condition? Accept her love and help?
Not a chance. But damnation,
Hannah Sutton was making him want to try.

  
  

BOOK: Healing Hearts (Easton Series #2)
13.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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