Authors: Lynda Bailey
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product or the author’s imagination and any resemblance to any actual person living or dead, business establishment, event or locale is entirely coincidental.
COPYWRIGHT 2012 by Lynda Bailey
Published by Lynda Bailey. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.
Publishing History; First Edition 2012
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To Suzanne and Jenn. Thanks so
ladies for your support and stellar feedback. You both totally rock!
To my husband Pat. I couldn’t do any of this without you. I love you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Indian Territory, 1882
Like a June bug on a hot skillet, Matilda Grace Townsend couldn’t stay still.
Every time she sat, nervous energy forced her to stand. She paced the short distance to the window and drew aside the faded calico curtain only to spin on her heel and retrace her steps before her gaze could fix on anything outside. Her boot heels clacked a steady beat on the wooden floorboards as her denim pants swished in time to the macabre tune. The fire crackled at her back, but she didn’t feel the warmth.
Only cold dread.
She darted her gaze to her father’s closed bedroom door. Again. Influenza or no, Pa should’ve cussed a blue streak at Doc Bingham then tossed the good doctor out on his ear for being so meddlesome.
Yet it was quiet. Too quiet. Like that awful stillness right before her mother died. She might have only been four at the time, but she remembered.
Anxiety churned in her stomach. She clenched her hands into tight fists, her stubby nails stinging her palms. Lordy, she wanted to hit something. Someone. She’d give them to the count of five and then she was going in, her father’s temper be damned. Might do him good to get riled up.
A thumping noise whipped her around. Logan Cartwright barreled into the house on a strong gust of wind. He shouldered the door shut against the wicked March weather.
The sight of the tall, blond-haired Kentuckian quieted her ragged nerves even as her eyebrows pleated. “What are you doing here? I thought you were riding out to the herd.”
He pulled the well-worn Stetson from his head and combed his fingers through his hair. “I was.” He nudged his chin toward her father’s bedroom. “But Chuck said your pa wanted to see me.”
“Why would Pa send for you?”
“I don’t know. Figured it was important, though. He wouldn’t have sent Chuck otherwise.” He hung his lambskin-lined coat on a peg beside the door. “What’d Bingham say?”
“Doc’s still in there.”
Logan’s intense gray eyes, the color of an Appaloosa horse, met hers. “Still?”
“Yes.” Frustration again starched her spine. “And I’m sick of waiting.” She stepped toward the bedroom door. “I’m going in there.”
Logan laid his hand on her arm. She jerked away and faced him, fists up.
“Whoa, easy there, Matt.” He raised his hands and stepped back. “Causing a stir won’t help anything. Let Doc do his job.” He moved to the fireplace and the coffee pot hanging on the hook. He poured a cup. “You want some tea?”
“Chuck has yet to get to town,” she bit out, whatever calm she’d felt vanishing like snow on a summer day. “And I drank the last of the tea two days ago.”
He poured a second cup. “Then have coffee. Last time I checked, we still had plenty of sugar.”
He set both cups on the table before sitting in a straight-backed chair. Matt again balled her hand into a fist. His head made a tempting target.
He took a sip. “Either hit me or have a sit. Your choice.”
She didn’t want to sit so to keep from swinging at Logan’s thick skull, she resumed her pacing. She felt his gray gaze on her every step.
“He’s gonna be all right, Matt.”
She rounded on him. “What makes you so dang sure of that?”
“I just am.” He kicked the other chair out from the table with his foot. “Sit down. You’re wearing a rut in the floor.”
“Am not,” she retorted, not caring that she sounded more like a child than a grown woman of nineteen years. Still, she plunked her backside into the chair and reached for the second cup. After spooning in a generous portion of sugar, she took a sip and grimaced. No amount of sugar could make coffee taste better than bull piss.
“Have you seen him today?” Logan again inclined his head toward the bedroom door.
She shook her head then tucked her too short hair behind her ear. “I was mucking stalls when Chuck found me. Said Pa wanted to see me, too.”
Logan’s full lips twitched. “Figure Chuck likes his new job as a carrier pigeon?”
Matt fought to smile back. “He’d rather cook a pigeon than be one.”
After the shared quiet chuckle, silence blanketed the room. It bore down on Matt, making it hard to breathe. She straightened her shoulders with a toss of her head and blinked at the burn in her eyes. “I talked to Roscoe about getting back on guard duty at the herd.”
Logan stiffened. “What the hell for?”
She hitched a shoulder. “I need to stop lollygagging.”
“You haven’t been lollygagging. You’ve been needed here.”
“To do what?” Anger and a good dose of fear spiked her words. “It’s not like Pa lets me take care of him. He’d rather go hungry than have me spoon broth down his throat.”
“You’re his daughter. Your place is here.”
She crossed her arms and jutted her chin. “Roscoe’s the foreman and he agrees I should get back on guard duty.”
A muscle popped in Logan’s cheek. “Like hell. I’ll take your shifts.”
“You’ve taken every one of my shifts for the past three weeks. And with half the men still recovering, you’ll end up with this dang influenza yourself.”
“Doubtful. Doc says if I haven’t gotten it by now, I won’t. Besides, it’s temporary. Once Gene and everybody else are back on their feet, things will get back to normal.” He calmly sipped his coffee.
Scowling, she opened her mouth to inform Mr. Logan Cartwright that she didn’t need him or anyone treating her like a ninny little girl. But the creak of her father’s bedroom door cut off the words. Doc Bingham stepped out of the room. She jumped to her feet, as did Logan, their chairs scraping the floor.
“How is he?” they asked in unison.
The doctor took his sweet time closing the door before first eyeing Logan then her. “Reckon that’s for him to say.”
A chill settled at the base of her spine. “What does that mean?”
Bingham scrubbed his hands down his face with a sigh. “It means your father wants to see you.”
She started for the bedroom.
“But first, he wants to see you.” Bingham pointed to Logan.
Stunned, Matt halted in her boots. She swerved her gaze to Logan who stared back, his eyebrows arched high. After a pause, he pushed his chair under the table then walked to her father’s room. With a last look, he disappeared through the door.
The essence of wildflowers followed Logan as he walked into Gene’s room. Wildflowers. It never failed to amaze him that Matt could smell like the plants long buried under the winter snow. Yet there was no mistaking the sweet, lingering scent.
But the stench inside the murky room quickly curdled his stomach. He coughed to keep from gagging. The shell of a man sitting on the bed was hardly recognizable as the forceful Standing T owner. “You wanted to see me, Mr. Townsend.”
Gene waved a hand. “Don’t just stand there, boy,” he gasped. “Come have a seat.”
Logan fought not to react to the old man’s thin voice as he perched on the bedside chair, his knees wide and his hands in loose fists on his thighs. With no idea why he’d been summoned, he held his tongue.