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Authors: Elizabeth Lane

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But what did it matter? If Harriet Smith wanted
to be impossible, that was her problem. He was
happy for the chance to help Jenny, but he would
rather tangle with a wounded wildcat than deal with
the prickly schoolmarm again.

Brandon jammed the coins into his pocket and
reached for his crutches. If he hurried, he might be
able to catch the mayor before he left his office for
the day. With luck, Hans Peterson would be willing
to set up an account to pay for Jenny’s work without
the formality of going through the council. That
would make everything easier.

As he opened the door of his office, the memory
of Harriet’s presence crept over him like a lingering
aura. The thrust of her breasts against him, the warm,
womanly aroma of her skin, the trembling softness
of her lips swept over him, filling his senses with
thoughts of what he could not—must not—allow
himself to have. Brandon bit back a groan as the pain
of need sank deeper. Thinking of her like this was the
worst thing he could do. He was finished with the
woman—had to be. For good.

Brandon forced her memory to the back of his
mind. Then, still aching, he locked the doors of the
bank and hurried off on his crutches to find the mayor.

* * *

Harriet stepped off the boarded sidewalk that
fronted Main Street and headed down the alley that
separated the hotel and the dry-goods store. If she cut
behind the livery stable, she would emerge partway
down the cemetery road, which led to her little house.

There would be no funerals taking place this late
in the day. Harriet was grateful for that small boon,
at least. She had a reputation to maintain in the community,
and she could not afford to let curious eyes
see the state she was in.

As she skirted the back of the hotel, picking her
way past bins of refuse and heaps of discarded furniture,
the stinging November wind made her eyes
water. She dabbed at the wetness with her tattered
handkerchief, telling herself it couldn’t possibly be
tears that were trickling down her cheeks. There was
no way a man like Brandon Calhoun could make her
cry. It was only the weather, nothing more.

But what a fool she had made of herself, thinking
she could expect decent treatment from such a man.
He had belittled her plan and her motives. Then he
had caught her wrist, spun her into a corner and almost
crushed her against the wall before he backed
away and accused her of throwing herself at him.

Her face flamed as she recalled the solid male
heat of his body against hers, that sensually chiseled
mouth, a mere handbreadth from her own and moving
closer. Merciful heaven, she had actually been
fool enough to think he was going to kiss her!
Worse, she’d been ready to kiss him back, ready to
feel all the wild, glorious sensations that had flooded
her body when his lips had captured hers beneath
the wrecked buggy. Then, in a heartbeat, everything
had changed. He had pulled away, glared down his
nose at her and declared in a self-righteous tone
that he was not prepared to pay the price she was
offering.

A gasp of rage that was not quite a sob forced its
way out of Harriet’s throat as she tripped over an old
bed spring and almost fell into the half-frozen mud.
Brandon had scalded her with humiliation. She had
wanted to punch him with all her strength, to bloody
his cheek with her knuckles, maybe loosen a couple
of teeth in that smug, arrogant mouth. Oh, why
hadn’t she done it? It would have felt so good!

Blinking back tears, she trudged toward the rear
of the livery stable, where the road cut back toward
the cemetery. The cold wind jabbed icy fingers
through her shawl and plucked tendrils from the hairstyle
Jenny had arranged so carefully that morning.
The air had the damp feel of an approaching blizzard.
She would be lucky to make it home before the storm
struck full force, pelting her with sleet and freezing
her to the bone.

She had almost reached the road when two squat,
burly figures in sheepskin coats stepped directly into
her path.

“Not so fast, teacher lady,” a nasal voice growled.
“Me and my brother want to have a little talk with you.”

Harriet’s heart crept into her throat as she looked
into two identical faces and recognized them as the
pair she’d seen with Brandon in the bank.

“I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else,” she
said, trying to push past them. “I don’t even know you.”

“Aw, but we know you,” the second man whined.
“You was there outside the bank office when we was
leavin’. Looked to us like you was waitin’ for the
place to close up so you and that bastard banker could
have yourselves a little quickie! How was it, eh?”

Harriet drew herself up. “Let me pass. You don’t
know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t we?” The first man grinned, showing a
missing front tooth. “You was in there alone with the
son of a bitch for as long as it takes. We wasn’t born
yesterday y’know.”

“We have nothing to talk about. Let me pass before
I start screaming.” Harriet tried to sidestep the
two men but one of them seized her wrist. The other
hooked her neck with his arm and clamped a smelly
hand over her mouth. His breath reeked of bad teeth
and bad whiskey.

“You give that boyfriend of yours a message for
us,” he snarled in her ear. “Tell him that if he lays one
greedy finger on our ranch, he’s gonna be one sorry
man. After we git done with you, you might not look
so pretty!”

Harriet tore herself away as he loosened his grip.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” She
spat out the words, half-hysterical with rage and fear.
“Brandon Calhoun isn’t my boyfriend. And he
wouldn’t care if you cut me up in pieces and threw
me to the coyotes! You’d only waste your time and
risk getting yourselves thrown in prison. Now leave
me alone! Take your problems somewhere else!”

The men sidled away, as if they knew they had little
to fear from her. The one who’d grabbed her neck
gave her a leering grin. “You tell the bastard what we
said, hear?”

Harriet stood quivering and disheveled as the two
men vanished into the livery stable. Her heart was
slamming so hard against her ribs that she felt as if
it might crack her bones.

Her first impulse was to run back to the bank, find
Brandon and warn him. But after what had happened
between them, she was loathe to face him again. Besides,
it was her own safety, not his, that the pair had
threatened. And, now that she thought of it, they
looked like a couple of buffoons—all bluff and bluster.
Surely they could not pose any serious danger,
especially to a man like Brandon. As for warning
him, there was no need. The two men had already
threatened him in the bank. Brandon would be very
much aware of any danger they posed.

Lifting her chin and lengthening her stride, Harriet
made her way along the cemetery road. The wind
howled around her. Snowflakes whirled through the
air as the storm’s first blast struck her solitary figure.
She fought her way homeward, feeling lost and alone
in the vast whiteness. Now, through the flying flakes,
she could see the house. She could see the smoke
curling from the chimney and she knew that Jenny
had made a warm fire to welcome her. There would
be hot tea brewing on the stove and conversation to
cheer her while she rested from her ordeal. What a
blessed angel Will’s little bride had turned out to be!

How much should she tell Jenny about the afternoon’s
horrific events? Nothing, she swiftly decided.
In her delicate condition, the last thing Jenny needed
was disturbing news. But another idea occurred to
Harriet as she paused on the stoop to stomp the snow
off her feet. Maybe Jenny would be interested in
helping with the class as a volunteer. There wouldn’t
be any money in it, but she might enjoy working
with the children. And if she did a good job, there was
always a chance that the mayor could be talked into
paying her a small salary.

Yes, Harriet thought, as long as Jenny was interested,
the plan could be made to work. If Brandon
was too proud and self-absorbed to help, so be it.
They would manage without him.

Harriet opened the door. Only then did she smell
the acrid gray smoke that was pouring out of the iron
cookstove.

Chapter Ten

F
linging the door wide open, Harriet rushed into the
house. Smoke was pouring from the kitchen stove,
curling from beneath the burner covers, fanning from
around the oven door and forming a ghostly ring
around the black pipe that served as a chimney. Thick
gray layers hung below the ceiling, blanketing everything
in the house.

“Jenny!” Choking on the bitter air, she rushed into
the bedroom. The wide bed was empty, as was the bed
in her own small room. Before leaving, she wrenched
the window sash upward. A cross draught of icy wind
from the front door swept through the house.

“Jenny! Where are you?” She dashed into the sitting
alcove and found the girl at last, curled like a sleeping
kitten on the settee beneath the rose afghan that Brandon
had sent with her clothes. Her eyes were closed,
her breathing deep and even, but her face was pale.

“Wake up, Jenny!” Harriet seized the thin shoulders
and shook them hard. Jenny moaned faintly but
did not open her eyes.

“Wake up!” Harriet slapped the pale cheeks, softly,
then hard enough to leave stinging red marks. “Jenny,
wake up!”

“What are you doing?” Will burst in through the
open doorway.

“The smoke—I can’t wake her—”


No!
” Will bent over the back of the settee and
swept his wife’s unconscious body up in his arms.
“Come on, we’ve got to get her outside!”

Together they plunged out into the storm. As he
cradled Jenny against him, Harriet could see Will’s
lips moving in silent prayer. Harriet prayed with him.
Please, oh, please, let her wake up
.

Shocked by the cold, fresh wind, and the feel of
snowflakes on her face, Jenny coughed and opened
her eyes. “What…?” She stared up at Will in confusion.
Then she turned her head. Her gaze darted toward
the house, where smoke was still pouring out
of the open door. “Oh, no!” she groaned. “What’s
happened now?”

“It doesn’t matter, darlin’.” Will caught her close,
and buried his face in her hair. Harriet caught the glint
of a tear in his eye. “But did you do anything special
to that stove?”

Her lovely cornflower eyes stared up at him.
“Why—I gave it a good dusting this afternoon, right
up to the top of the stovepipe. Then I put more wood
on the fire and lay down to take a little nap…that’s
all I remember. Did I do something wrong, Will?”

“Not that I—” He frowned. “The damper! You
must’ve bumped the handle that closes it! Stay
here!” Lowering her feet to the ground, he passed
her to Harriet’s waiting arms and dashed back into
the house.

“Will—” she called after him, but her voice was
too feeble to carry above the storm.

Harriet wrapped the shivering girl in her thick
wool shawl and cradled her against her breast. “He’ll
be all right,” she soothed. “Take some deep breaths.
You need to clear the smoke out of your lungs.”

Jenny gulped the stormy air. “Oh, Harriet, I
could’ve burned the house down, and everything you
own with it! As it is, we’ll have to air all the clothes
and bedding to get rid of the awful smell! Oh, why
do I have to be such a silly goose?”

“Hush.” Harriet rocked her like the child she was.
“You couldn’t have known about the damper—no
one told you. And the damage is nothing that a little
fresh air and washing won’t cure. You’re all right,
that’s the important thing. You could have died in
there!”

Jenny’s face paled. “Why, yes, I suppose I—oh!”
Tearing herself away from Harriet, she began to
retch. Her body shook with heaves, as she bent over,
clutching at her stomach. “Oh, no!” she gasped.
“Oh, Harriet, what if I’ve done something to hurt
the baby?”

Will came out of the house, his arms loaded with
blankets. “It was the damper, all right, closed as tight
as a drum. But the rod that held it open had corroded
through. What happened wasn’t your fault, Jenny. It
was that rusty old stove. The landlord should’ve replaced
it years ago!”

He studied his wife’s ashen face, then thrust the
blankets toward Harriet. “You two bundle up in these
and get under the shed till the smoke clears out of the
house. I’m going to fetch Dr. Tate.”

Neither Jenny nor Harriet were of a mind to argue.
They staggered toward the rickety toolshed while
Will set off for town as fast as his long legs could
carry him.

Jenny continued to feel nauseous, and Harriet
grew more and more concerned as the minutes
passed. Without a doctor’s examination, there was no
way of knowing whether Jenny had breathed in
enough smoke to harm herself or the baby. Dr. Tate’s
home office was no more than a fifteen-minute run
for Will, but if the old man was out on a house call,
he might not be back for hours.

Bundled in blankets, Jenny rested her damp head
against Harriet’s shoulder. “My baby’s got to be all
right,” she whispered. “I love him so much—I’d
rather die than have anything go wrong!”


Him?
” Harriet laughed, masking her worry.
“Have you had a revelation?”

Jenny sighed. “Of course not. I just have a feeling
it’s a little boy.”

“And if it’s a girl?”

“Oh, that will be fine with me, and with Will, too.
We just want a healthy, happy baby.”

Harriet’s arm tightened around Jenny’s shoulders.
If only Brandon could hear his daughter’s
words, she thought. If only he could hear the love
in her voice, he would realize how wrong he’d been
about everything.

“Harriet?”

“Yes?”

“Today when I was lying down I think I felt something
inside me, almost like a little fluttery fish moving
right under my hand. Do you think that could’ve
been him? Is that how a baby is supposed to feel?”

“That’s something I’ve never experienced,” Harriet
replied softly. “You should talk with a woman
who’s had babies, Jenny.”

“Oh, but you know everything!” Jenny exclaimed.
“You’re so wise, Harriet!”

“No, dear, I may have memorized a lot of facts,
but in other ways I’m not wise at all, especially where
babies are concerned.”

Harriet watched the snowflakes flying past the
eave of the shed, thinking that she would probably
never feel that miraculous first flutter of a child
growing in her body. That part of her life would be
forever missing, like the lost piece of a broken toy.
She would spend her life teaching other people’s
children, watching them learn and grow, but the
closest she would come to holding a baby of her
own would be when she helped care for this precious
child of Will and Jenny’s. She would savor
every minute of that time, she promised herself. She
would make it a sweet time, with no room for envy
or self-pity.

“I always wished Papa had married again after
Mama died,” Jenny said. “Our house was so big and
lonely and quiet. I had friends over sometimes, of
course, but I would have loved some little brothers
and sisters to play with.”

“Why didn’t your father remarry?” Harriet could
have kicked herself for asking.

“I guess twelve years with Mama would sour any
man on marriage. Heaven knows, plenty of ladies
have set their caps for him, and he’s even seemed interested
in a few, but—” She broke off as a dark, distant
object caught her eye through the whirling mist
of snow. “There’s Dr. Tate!” she cried. “And Will is
with him. Oh, thank goodness!”

By the time the doctor’s buggy pulled up to the
house, most of the smoke had cleared from the rooms.
While Will braced the damper open and put fresh
wood on the fire, Dr. Tate examined Jenny in the chilly
sitting room. Frowning behind his thick spectacles, he
listened to her heart and lungs, peered into her eyes
and pulled up the eyelids to examine the whites.

“How do you feel, Jenny?” he asked her.

“Better—but what about my baby?” Jenny’s eyes
were wide with fear.

“I think both you and the baby are going to be
fine,” he said, taking off his stethoscope and folding
it into his black bag. “But I want you to lie down and
keep warm for the rest of the day, hear?”

“I’ll see that she rests,” Harriet said. “Would you
like some hot coffee, Doctor? It won’t take a
minute.”

“Thanks, but I’d better head Bessie for the barn,”
he said. “The longer I delay, the more snow there’ll
be on the road, and she’s getting to be an old horse.
Like me.” He shot her a sidelong glance. “Would
you walk out to the buggy with me, Harriet? It’s a
mite slippery for these old legs.”

“Certainly.” Harriet felt a jab of concern as she
reached for her shawl, tossed it around her shoulders,
and picked up her reticule. Despite some rheumatism,
Simon Tate was a fit and agile man for his seventy
years. She had never known him to need help
walking through ankle-deep snow.

All the same, she guided him to the door and offered
him her arm as they stepped outside. Feigning
unsteady balance, he linked his elbow through hers.

“What is it?” she asked as the front door closed
behind them. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing right now, but I do have some concerns
I need to share. I don’t want to frighten Jenny or
worry the boy, so that leaves you.”

“Tell me.” Harriet spoke through the knot of fear
that had jerked tight in her throat.

“It’s the birth I’m worried about,” he said. “She’s
a delicate little thing with very narrow hips. Unless
the child is small and perfectly positioned, she’s
likely to have problems—and those problems could
kill both her and the baby.”

Oh, no
… Harriet’s mind formed the words, but her
mouth could not utter them.
Not this! Anything but
this!

“My advice would be to get her to a specialist in
Denver and leave her under his care for the last few
weeks of the pregnancy. When that girl goes into
labor, it’s going to take more expert hands than mine
to get her through it safely.”

“I’ll see that it’s done,” Harriet said, thinking of
the money set aside for Will’s education. How unimportant
that seemed now. She would spend every
cent of it, and more, if need be, to see that Jenny and
her child survived the birth.

“How much do we owe you, Doctor?” She
reached into her reticule, hoping she had enough
cash to pay the old man.

“Nothing. It’s taken care of.” He gave her a wink
as he climbed into the buggy.

“But you came all the way out here in the snow!
You performed a medical examination on Jenny!
Certainly we can’t expect you to do all that for
nothing!”

“I didn’t say I was doing it for nothing, I said it
was taken care of.” The doctor grinned down at Harriet
from the wagon seat. “The last time I saw Brandon
he told me to see that Jenny got all the medical
attention she needed and to send the bills to him—
but Jenny’s not to know, understand?”

Brandon again. Harriet sighed. She was grateful
for Brandon’s help, especially in view of the doctor’s
concerns for Jenny. But why did he have to be so high-
handed about it? Why couldn’t he give his daughter
the one thing she wanted and accept Will into his
family? What a terrible, foolish thing pride was!

“Does Brandon know what you just told me about
Jenny?” Harriet asked.

“He does. And he’s ready to pay for her confinement
with a specialist in Denver. Again, Jenny’s not to know.”

“He doesn’t have to do this,” Harriet said. “We
aren’t charity cases. We can pay.”

The doctor hunched into his ample black coat and
picked up the reins. “Brandon would never stand for
that. Beneath that blustery nature he shows the world,
he’s a very kindhearted man.”

“Well, he’s certainly done a good job of fooling
me!” Harriet shouted into the wind, but the doctor
had already turned his buggy down the road and was
vanishing into the storm.

* * *

The Holiday Social was the biggest event of the
season. By tradition, it was held in the town hall on
the second Saturday evening in December, and all the
respectable citizens of Dutchman’s Creek were expected
to attend.

Jenny, who was growing rounder by the day, had
declared that she wasn’t feeling well enough to go.
Her real reason, Harriet suspected, was that she had
no wish to see her father, who, as a member of the
city council, would certainly be there.

Will, of course, had chosen to stay home and keep
his wife company. Harriet would gladly have done the
same. Unfortunately, as the town’s only teacher, she
was expected to take charge of the bake sale, the traditional
fund-raiser for the school. She had been
dreading the event for weeks, especially the dancing,
which was sure to be an exercise in humiliation. When
it came time to choose partners, the bachelors would
ignore her in favor of the younger women; and if a
married man asked her to dance, even once, his wife
would look daggers at her for the rest of the night.

Whatever happened, the whole evening was
bound to be an ordeal, especially with Brandon there.
Maybe if she hid behind the baked-goods table no
one would notice her. Surely she had a dress that
would match the color of the wall behind her, allowing
her to blend in and simply disappear.

Jenny, however, had very different plans for her.
“Just pretend you’re Cinderella and I’m your fairy
godmother!” she laughed, twirling Harriet’s long
tresses around her fingers and pinning them into
place. “You’re going to the ball, and it’s my job to
see that you look beautiful!”

“You might as well try making a silk purse out of
a sow’s ear,” Harriet said ruefully. “Really, Jenny, I’m
only going to tend the bake table.”

“Oh, no! You’re going to dance with the prince
and he’s going to fall wildly in love with you!” Jenny
twirled to the wardrobe in high spirits, which seemed
to droop as she opened the doors and pawed through
Harriet’s sad collection of gray, brown and navy blue
dresses.

BOOK: Her Dearest Enemy
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