Authors: Kate Bridges
His voice was husky at her ear, his breath warm at her neck. “You know the night I mean.”
Her chest tightened beneath his scrutiny. She moved over to the medicine bag lying beside her on the grass, hastening to tidy her bottles. “Now I know you’re feeling better,” she said, trying to sound casual. “But next time I’ll give you laudanum instead of morphine.”
He reached out and touched the back of her hair, weaving his fingers between the black strands and her spine, sending waves of pleasure tumbling across her skin. “Why did you flee? Don’t you want to answer the question?”
“No,” she whispered, completely still beneath his stroke.
“Then how about this one—if you were going to run away, why did you tempt me? Why, Amanda, did you bother to kiss me back?”
The Doctor’s Homecoming
“Dual romances, disarming characters and a lush landscape make first-time author Bridges’s late-19th-century romance a delightful read.”
“The great Montana setting and high Western action combine for a top-notch romantic ending.”
“Kate Bridges has penned an entertaining, heartwarming story that will live in your heart long after you turn the last page.”
—Romance Reviews Today (romrevtoday.com)
Luke’s Runaway Bride
“Bridges is comfortable in her western setting, and her characters’ humorous sparring makes this boisterous mix of romance and skullduggery an engrossing read.”
The Doctor’s Homecoming
Luke’s Runaway Bride
The Midwife’s Secret
Dedicated to all the loving mothers I met while working in the Neonatal Intensive care. My heart goes out to each of you.
May 1888, Town of Banff
Rocky Mountains Park, District of Alberta
t had been eighteen long months since she’d felt aware of a man’s gaze.
The man she was here to meet, Tom Murdock, stalked into the sawmill at precisely ten-fifteen and slammed the papers he was carrying onto the corner desk. With a groan of frustration, he glanced up through the cloud of sawdust to the back, noticed Amanda Ryan walking toward him, and caught and held her eye.
A sprinkle of nerves took root in her stomach. Raindrops trickled down her bonnet. Horses clomped in the mud outside.
“That’s him, that’s the boss,” said the thin Scotsman leading her, but Amanda had already deduced it from Murdock’s confident glare.
With a quick, sharp breath, he released her from his scrutiny and shouted orders to his men, straining to be heard above the buzzing band saw and clatter of boards. Dressed as if he’d just come from outdoors, he tossed away his cowboy hat, yanked off his long leather duster, then
shook the rain from its massive sleeves. He wore miner’s pants, indigo Levi’s with orange stitching that melted into muscular thighs, and black pointed boots with shiny silver toes. Of strapping height, with powerful hands and a dark profile, he looked more like a leader of a cattle drive than mill owner and log builder. He radiated masculinity. And anger. And she’d come at a bad time.
“Right this way, ma’am.” Dressed in baggy overalls, the Scotsman squeezed between two worktables and ignored the other men’s inquisitive glances. “Watch your head.”
Amanda veered beneath the water pails hoisted from the ceiling—a first line of defense in case of fire. The scent of pine and sawdust tickled her nostrils. Ignoring her queasy stomach, she pressed her oilskin slicker to her green twill skirt and wove from the side door from where she’d entered, to the front where Tom Murdock stood. Who could be upset here, surrounded by the beauty of ice-capped mountains, springtime air and acres of trees? And where was his partner, Mr. Finnigan? The older, stockier man she’d met in Calgary town, eighty miles east, who’d smiled readily and invited her to come? Should she leave and come back later?
“Watch your step over that log.”
Passing over it, she smiled gently at the bearded, friendly faces. Many of these men had wives and children. Some of their wives had yet to become mothers, and hopefully Amanda would grow to be their friend, even deliver their babies.
Of course she shouldn’t leave. She’d come a long way to hire Tom Murdock, and a long way to build her dream. Just because he was in a surly mood didn’t mean she had to be.
While the sun broke through the clouds, streaming
through the high windows, highlighting his black hair and clean-shaven jaw, a big, wet, white husky dog barreled around his desk.
“Wolf,” he shouted, pointing to the door. “Get out of here. You’re soaking wet.”
His laced, black leather vest fell open, revealing a row of shiny buttons down a crisp blue shirt. His rigid face softened into handsome planes and deep dimples. He was a pleasure to look at, but that’s not why she’d come. Good looks were not something you could respect, like being a hard worker, or a good husband, or a kind man.
The Scotsman leading her stepped aside. “Tom, this lady says she wants to speak to you. Mrs. Amanda Ryan.”
Mr. Murdock regarded her for a moment. Heat emanated from his muscular body, as well as the scent of shaving lotion. A current of curiosity passed between them.
Amanda peeled off her worn leather gloves, tugging a bit harder over the finger with the hole, and held out her hand. Tilting her face at him, she sent him an exploratory smile. “How do you do, Mr. Murdock?”
Her knitted scarf dipped around her throat. Green. His eyes were green, but he didn’t smile back.
“Mrs. Ryan. Call me Tom.” As he nodded, a strand of black hair slid down his forehead. Leaning closer with extended palm, he glanced down at her ringless fingers.
Self-conscious, she gulped. She’d finally removed it six months ago and could no longer hide behind it when a man looked her up and down. But, selling her ring had funded a dozen bottles of medicinal tonics, one crate of silk sutures and a brand-spanking-new fetal stethoscope.
When his long, calloused fingers laced into hers, his grasp was firm and warm. It maddened her the way her pulse began to rush.
“I’m in a bit of a jam and don’t have much time,” he
said. “If you’ve come about the woodstove, I can have it delivered in the morning. Works fine, never gave me trouble.”
She glanced to where he motioned. Surrounded by a stone floor that would deaden any stray sparks, a shiny cast-iron stove crackled with fire. Beside it sat an empty smaller stove, the one to which he pointed. She took a step closer, enjoying the warmth on her frozen toes. It’d taken such a long time for her to stoke the fire in the shack this morning due to the damp wood, and longer still to get it rolling to this wonderful blaze. She hoped her grandmother was still enjoying its heat.
“I’m not here about the stove.”
When she turned around again, he was seated and rummaging through his desk. “Well, whatever it is, my foreman will handle it. I’m expected somewhere in twenty minutes. Patrick, come here a moment,” he shouted to the far side of the mill, at one of the men hammering a cabinet, then reached back into his top drawer. “What on earth is this?” He pulled out a gray envelope, tore open the letter and began to read.
While keeping her waiting! Perhaps she should take her business elsewhere and forget about his excellent recommendations. How could he let her sit at his heels while he read his correspondence?
He winced, then paled. A flash of vulnerability rippled across his face.
Was he in some sort of trouble? She didn’t know much about him. Mr. Finnigan had mentioned he was unmarried, that the sawmill was a Murdock family business and that Finnigan himself was simply an investor. She moaned with sympathy. You never knew what someone else’s pain felt like until you walked in their shoes. The neighborly thing to do would be to help instead of to criticize.
Stepping closer, she squeezed the frayed ribbon of her purse. “What is it? Is it…bad news?”
He jerked out of his concentration. A wave of redness washed his face. “Nothing.” He folded the sheet and jammed it into his denim pocket.
Before she had a moment to think about that, a flash of white fur caught the corner of her eye. She looked up as the dog raced toward her. He shook himself, spraying water in a six foot diameter.
Amanda yelped, then laughed, cupping a hand over her face.
Disarmed, Tom leaped from his chair, encircling her waist, tugging her out of the spray and standing in the line of fire himself. “Wolf!” When the dog stopped, Tom peered down at her. “Sorry, he’s gotten you all wet.”
She managed an awkward smile, well aware of his hard fingers pressing through her clothing. How long had it been since a man had touched her?
“Luckily, I’ve got my rain slicker on,” she murmured, inches from his face.
At least the dog had penetrated Tom’s veneer. Transformed him, really. Creases appeared at the corners of his warm eyes. A boyish smile touched his mouth and those deep dimples reappeared. The scent of his shaving lotion met her nostrils again. It was something she missed, sharing those intimacies with a man, waking up together, watching him shave.
Uncomfortable with the awkward silence and his touch, she wriggled free and removed her plaid bonnet. She wasn’t ready for any man to touch her, no matter how much she wished she were. He cleared his throat with an anxious cough, but his eyes followed the movement of her hand as she patted the damp bun beneath her mended kerchief. When he glanced at her plain clothing, she moist
ened her dry lips. How long had it been since she’d dressed to impress anyone?
The moment dispelled at the sound of the dog chewing. Tom’s tall dark figure sprang toward a stack of lumber where the dog crouched, chewing on something brown. “Hey, dammit, give me back my glove.”
The husky wanted to play. Tom charged around her, his broad shoulders leaning behind the desk, but the dog escaped with a glove between his teeth. The two were amusing, and the beautiful animal reminded her of her own two lovable mutts, Missy and Ranger, which she’d lost when she’d lost her husband, William. She missed the dogs.
“I’ll get the glove,” hollered Patrick as he whizzed by.
With a look of exasperation, Tom shoved a hand through his wavy black hair, turned back to her and caught her soft laughter.
“My dog’s well trained, don’t you think? Took me nearly a year to get him to this level of obedience.”
“You’ve done a marvelous job.”
Tom’s subtle grin played with her pulse. Friendliness flickered in his eyes, and he seemed ten years younger. Mid-thirties? This time, he really looked at her, her simple country bonnet, her kerchief, her high-laced, worn-out leather boots with the temporary insole covering the hole she hoped he couldn’t see. Heat seeped into her cheeks as she glanced away. But the boots
lasted one more winter, and the cold weather
almost over for the year. Speaking of which, her toes had warmed up, but were thawing and tingling with pain.
She moved her slender body away from the fire. Perhaps she should ask for his partner. “I’ve…I’ve come to see Mr. Finnigan.”
Tom shifted. A thundercloud appeared on his face again. “Finnigan? What business do you have with him?”
The harsh tone of his voice sent a shiver through her spine. How could a man turn abruptly from one mood to the next?
“I’m new to town, and you’re a builder, aren’t you? And you do supply lumber? That’s what Mr. Finnigan told me.”
As she stared into Tom’s intimidating features, the firm line of his lips, the challenge in his eyes, her body vibrated with determination. She already knew he supplied the cheapest lumber in town, seeing that he owned the only sawmill.
“Zeb Finnigan hasn’t been in town for five days. How did you happen to meet him if he wasn’t here?”
“We met in Calgary last month, at the Cattlemen’s dinner. My…my husband used to be a member.”
She gulped. “He’s gone now. I’m…I’m widowed.”
The harsh line of his black brows softened, but the caution in his voice remained. “I’m sorry.”
She pressed her lips closed and glanced down at the floor, away from his appraising stare. She hadn’t meant to…tell a
It just came out. In truth, she hadn’t known for sure what she’d say when someone asked about her former husband, and yet here it was. She’d fibbed. And why?
Because looking up at Tom Murdock, she didn’t feel like fessing up to her failures. She didn’t feel like having him look at her with sorrow, the way everyone always did. She’d finished with her mourning, and her anger at her former husband, and was ready to start anew. She was eager to resume the skills her late grandfather—one of the hardest working doctors in Calgary—had taught her. Midwifery skills to help the women who sought her help, and medical knowledge to tend to children and their ailments.
Realizing her fib wouldn’t hold for long, for as soon as Mr. Finnigan arrived, he was a man who knew the truth about her husband, she felt herself flush. She’d fibbed and hadn’t done it well.
Amanda straightened her spine. It was no one’s business but hers. “I’ve bought some property and I’d like to build a log cabin. Something simple, with a couple of spare rooms in the back.” She’d already allotted every nickel of her small inheritance to put toward her practice and the children.
“I think I’ve heard of you,” he said, recognition shimmering in his bright eyes. He sat on the edge of his desk. The wood creaked beneath his muscled weight. “You’re new to town, just been here since yesterday, right? Are you that woman I spotted at the mercantile yesterday afternoon, who rides that—”
“What difference does that make?”
“No difference.” His grin was charming. The row of strong, white teeth wasn’t quite centered, so his smile seemed especially intriguing. “We’re friendly folks in Banff. We’ve never seen anything like it before, that’s all.”
She pressed her fingers into her skirt, clasping her bonnet, surprised again by his unpredictability.
He stood and grabbed his duster. “Sorry about… Let’s start again. Forgive me, I really do have an appointment. Patrick will be back in a minute to take the information from you, and I’ll take it from there. What property did you buy?” He tugged on his cowboy hat. Now he was even taller.
Tension left her muscles. She fell into step with his long stride as he walked to the door. “That pretty square along the mountain, on the end of Hillside Road.”
He stopped in surprise.
When she stopped beside him, her dangling purse slammed against her slicker. She answered cheerfully, “Mr. Finnigan sold me that shack on the five-acre square—”
“On the right or left side of the road?”
His voice lowered to a deadly calm, his face grew solemn. “The one with the huge spruce? Lot D ninety-five?”
What was wrong with him? She swallowed past the dryness in her throat. “Yes. And the tall pines. You know it?”
Bracing himself, he stepped back and stared at her. “What the hell is going on here? Finnigan sold you
Her heart began to thump. She answered in a rush of words. “Well…it might have belonged to you and Mr. Finnigan at one time, maybe as partners here at the sawmill, but didn’t he tell you? He sold it.”
Tom blinked, then grinned slowly. “This is a joke, right? Dammit, my whole morning’s been one whole joke, hasn’t it? Finnigan’s been known to pull my leg, he’s a real practical joker around here—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but he sold me that property.”
He paused, then clenched his jaw. A moment passed. “I don’t believe you.” His menacing stance caused her stomach to quiver. “You might be part of this whole thing.” His eyes narrowed. “Lady, just who the hell are you?”
A warning voice whispered at the back of her mind, but she ignored it. She lifted her chin a notch and matched his icy gaze with one of her own. “I told you who I am. And I don’t like the way you’re talking to—”