Mystic Cowboy: Men of the White Sandy, Book 1

BOOK: Mystic Cowboy: Men of the White Sandy, Book 1
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Dedication

To Becca.

 

I’d like to thank Newton Love and Annette Love Hatton, as well as the Lakota Language Consortium, for all their help with the Lakota translations in the book. Many thanks to Laurel Levy for being an awesome critique partner and one heck of a pediatric nurse. Also, thanks to Mary Dieterich and Mom and Dad for always being behind me—even when I was driving in reverse! I couldn’t have done it without you! And finally, thanks to Jill Marsal for believing in this story even when everyone else had given up on it, and thanks to Heidi Moore for appreciating a good skinny-dipping scene.

Chapter One

He let his mind go blank as he stared at the fire. Years of practice kept his feet and hands still until he was little more than the stump he was leaning against. The calm that overtook him left little else. In the distance, a coyote set off a round of cries into the night. The crickets called over the breeze like young braves singing to their lovers while the grasses shushed the river like a mother comforting her baby.

The sounds of his world surrounded him and told him he was right with it. He was where he belonged, doing what he should.

If he was patient, he would see his next idea in a vision. Recently, he’d been getting real good at being patient. Patience was getting his work into art galleries from South Dakota to New Mexico, and that one pipe bag he’d made last year was in the Museum of the American Indian in D.C. Patience was making him a major player in the world of Indian art.

He sat for a long time, but time itself wasn’t important. What was important was patience, the vision. And the next bag. The longer he sat, the better the idea would be.

At some point between the hoot of a hungry owl and another breath of wind, things changed and the vision took him. The temperature dropped from sixty to six in a heartbeat. The snow seemed not to fall from the sky, but spring straight out of the ground. The fire disappeared into the steam of breath coming from his mouth. He could just make out the low ceiling of smoke that pointed to a village over the next hill.

Peace filled him. Nothing else mattered but this connection to the past, the past that held the key to his future. Nothing else mattered but a winter’s day on the plains. He could see it now. The white background. His next pipe bag would be a winter scene.

The thud of hooves drew his attention. A horse, the red paint on his face looking like blood in the snow, ran toward him from the east. White flakes were kicked up with each stride, shrouding the horse in a cloud of ice.

A horse. A red-and-white paint horse running through the snow. The image assembled itself in his mind’s eye. Tanned leather, long fringe, beaded tie done in the same white. It would be a beautiful bag.

The horse ran right past him, so close that he was lost in the ice cloud. He waited. This was the end of the vision. As soon as his eyes cleared, he’d be back in front of his fire, next to the river on an early May evening. And then he could get started on his leather.

But it didn’t happen. Instead of the past leaving him behind, it pulled him deeper into the vision. When his eyes cleared, he saw the horse was gone, and he was colder than he’d ever been in his life. Feeling suddenly a little lost in time, he looked around the place he was in. And what he saw only added to his confusion. Instead of four prints in the snow, he saw only two headed toward the village.

He stared at the tracks. Not hooves—not a horse. Human. Small human prints. It looked like the heels were dragging a little, fanning the snow out in a long tail behind each step. He didn’t know what to make of them, but he tucked the shape and size away in his mind. Maybe he would do a pair of moccasins too. He hadn’t done mocs for a good long while.

Just a pair of mocs couldn’t be why he was still here freezing his ass off in the snow. The village. Something in the village was pulling on him. He began to follow the tracks, tripping through the snow banks. He didn’t remember walking being this hard. Usually, if he moved at all in his visions, he seemed to float above. But not now. The cold air tried to rip the breath from his chest as the snow clawed at his feet. He fought on, trying to remember that this snow wasn’t really here, and that he wasn’t about to get frostbite chasing down a horse that left delicate human footprints. This was all just a vision. Nothing more.

He lost his footing and slid the last few feet down the hill and into the safe circle of tipis. It was a little warmer in the circle, sheltered from the wind behind the hill. He stood, dusted the snow from his braid and looked for the tracks.

And saw nothing but bodies.

Panic stuck in his throat as he began to count the dead. Five here, seven there—the numbers climbed quickly. Dressed in the traditional buckskins, the people—his people—lay on the ground where they’d fallen, their pocked skin almost as white as the snow that held them in its grasp. There was no blood, so it wasn’t a war party or the blue-coat soldiers come back again.

He looked at each member of his family, held forever in death’s grasp. There was no one left to perform the death rites, no one to keep their souls until they were ready to be judged by Owl Woman.

The sickness had come.

Through the haze of horror that blinded his eyes almost as much as the wind-whipped snow, he tried to focus on what he knew. He knew what—and when—this was. This was the smallpox epidemic, and it had wiped out whole branches of his tribe, the Lakota tribe, back in 1831. A hundred and seventy years ago—a past long dead.

Or was it? Why was this particular past coming back to him now? Why had the horse—the footprints—led him here?

He looked for any sign of life. Some had lived: the tribe had survived this sickness. Someone had to have lived.

There were the footprints again, but this time they were different. The tracks stopped next to each body, and what looked like knee prints were pressed into the snow. Someone else had been here. Someone else knew of the sickness.

He studied the tracks. For the life of him, he couldn’t tell if the horse—the person—who’d left them had brought the sickness or had tried to stop it. Tried and failed. Everyone here was dead, except for him.

The horse appeared again, agitated and wild. Foam dripped out of its mouth. The horse was sick too. And it was charging. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t get out of the way of this death bearing down on him.

“What do you want?” he shouted, hoping the horse could hear him, praying it would listen.

“I came here looking for you,” a voice said. It didn’t come from the horse, but from the wind around him. He couldn’t tell if it was a threat or a promise. The horse—death—blew blood out of its nose as it ran faster and faster at him.

He closed his eyes, bracing for the impact. Instead, the cold, the snow, the horse, the voice all disappeared, and he found himself once again sitting in front of his fire on a cool May night. His blood was pounding, and he was so dizzy he was sure he was going to throw up. After a moment, the feeling passed. It always passed.

But what he’d seen didn’t pass.

The sickness was coming again. And someone was coming with it.

 

 

Thank goodness
, Dr. Madeline Mitchell thought as she hurried into the sterile gown and snapped the shield over her face. Anything to get her away from all those half-hearted well wishers at her farewell party.

“Drugs!” the woman—girl really, probably no more than seventeen—who was sprawled on the stretcher screamed. They hadn’t even made it to a room in the E.R. yet.

At least it’s not a boring night
, Madeline thought as she bent to check. The baby was already crowning. The girl screamed again, and another inch of the head emerged. They would barely have time to get to the room. Drugs were out of the question. She was just going to have to tough it out.

Madeline let her training take over. She loved the E.R., loved the unexpected. In fact, right now she was loving the unexpected more than she normally did. It was her last night working before she bailed on Columbus, Ohio, and to bring a new baby into this world as her final act at the hospital seemed fitting. She was doing a last little bit of good.

Madeline followed the stretcher as they raced down the hall, keeping her hand on that little head.
You can do it, baby
, she thought, almost as much to the girl as to the infant. “I want you to push,” she said, keeping her voice low and steady as the door shut behind them. Then she looked at the nurse for some explanation as to why this girl was in the E.R. and not the maternity ward.

The nurse shrugged. “Her mother said she’d been in pain all afternoon. Thought it was an appendix. When we told her the daughter was in labor, the mother passed out in the waiting room.”

“Where’s the on-call O.B.?”

The nurse rolled her eyes. “Your guess is as good as mine.”


Drugs!
” The girl’s voice careened off the walls. The head gained another inch.

“She’s a screamer,” the nurse said under her breath.

The girl was probably in six degrees of shit with her parents right now and was about to have a natural childbirth, whether she wanted one or not. Madeline could see from the terrified look in her eyes that she felt alone. The last thing she needed was a snippy nurse making her feel even smaller.

“I’m right here, honey. You’re not alone,” Madeline said in her most soothing tone as she shot the nurse the look that everyone referred to as the Mitchell sneer. It came in very handy at times like this. The nurse backpedaled and shut the hell up. “You can scream if it helps, okay? But I need you to push.”

The girl nodded and sucked in a huge breath. Madeline barely had the chance to wish for earplugs before she was cradling the newborn baby boy.

Perfect
, she thought as she did the quick check. Of course, they’d run tests on him—it sounded like he’d gotten no prenatal care—but he was perfect. The girl, who was now sobbing, had needed Madeline right then more than anyone else in the world, and she’d been there for her.

This is what she lived for.

In the middle of the adrenaline rush, a tinge of sadness snuck up on her. She’d never see either of them again, never know if they turned out all right and lived happily ever after. She was leaving. The weight of her decision hit her in the sternum.

“I can’t believe you’d rather go to some Indian reservation than stay here and do
this
, Dr. Mitchell,” the nurse said, her voice dripping with cynicism as they waited for the afterbirth.

“I’ll still be doing
this
,” Madeline shot back, keeping her voice low. The mother of the girl had been wheeled in on a matching stretcher, and they were both crying. It’s not that Madeline didn’t feel for their situation, but she didn’t allow herself to get too attached to patients in the E.R. Caring about patients was a recipe for insanity. “I’ll be the only doctor within a hundred miles.” Pregnant teenagers, gunshot wounds, car accidents—she expected to see more of the same on the reservation. “But don’t forget, I’m double certified. I’ll be doing general practice. A lot of preventative stuff. Those people just need a good doctor.”

The nurse scoffed, an attitude that was shared by more than a few people at the hospital. “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Madeline had heard the gossip whispered down silent hallways. Darrin, her recent ex, had spread more than his share it. They all thought she was nuts, and in her weaker moments, Madeline was afraid they might be right. Her sister, Mellie, was the only one who thought Madeline was doing the right thing.

Maybe she was nuts, maybe she wasn’t. That didn’t change a thing.

The Lakota Sioux on the White Sandy reservation in South Dakota needed a good doctor. Madeline needed—well, she wasn’t sure what she needed anymore.

She looked at the baby, mother and grandmother, all bawling their heads off in nearly perfect three-part harmony. She needed this, this rush from doing her job and doing it well. But it wasn’t enough anymore.

She needed something else.

She hoped to hell it was out West.

Chapter Two

This couldn’t be the West. The thought popped into Madeline’s head as she crested a small hill and saw what she could only pray
wasn’t
the White Sandy Clinic and Hospital. But there wasn’t another building in sight, and she’d followed the directions. The squat building looked like someone had chucked cinder blocks at each other, and the depressing gray color did little to detract from the peeling metal roof or the front door that was patched with half a sheet of plywood. Above the plywood were the scratched, faded letters that spelled out
Clinic
. This was it, her home away from home for the next two years. It was as if the place had been pillaged years ago and no one had bothered to fix it up since then.

BOOK: Mystic Cowboy: Men of the White Sandy, Book 1
11.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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