Authors: Donna Fletcher
Tags: #Historical Romance, #19th century
“Reason?” Susie stood up to her five-foot-seven-inch height, intimidating to some, especially since she had a perfect body, a face to match, and beautiful white-blond hair that made her the envy of every woman in Little. She also chose her clothes wisely. Instead of garish colors she chose subdued shades that hinted and teased like the soft mauve she now wore, which clung temptingly to every curve of her body.
Lil continued as Susie poured two cups of tea from the silver serving set on the sideboard. “Her pregnancy isn’t going well. I fear she may lose the child.”
Susie handed her the delicate pink china cup. “I don’t run a charity ward here but I don’t expect a sick girl to work. How long would you suggest she abstain?”
“At least two weeks. It should be more, but I can judge her condition better in two weeks.”
“Two weeks is fair enough,” Susie agreed and returned to her seat. “Now to a more interesting topic of conversation. I hear Lord Sherborn is quite a specimen of a man.”
Lil looked Susie straight in the eye. “I suppose so, if you like arrogant and aristocratic men.”
Susie raised an eyebrow. “Sounds as if the lord didn’t make a good impression on you.”
“He made an impression all right... the wrong impression.”
“That’s interesting. I’ve heard that all the ladies in town have been tripping over themselves to get an introduction. They can’t talk enough about how handsome and well mannered he is.”
“Handsome? Well mannered?” Lil repeated, leaning forward in her seat as though she hadn’t heard her correctly.
“Mary Beth Hodges says that to look upon Lord Sherborn is to look upon a god sent down from the heavens.”
Lil couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Admittedly Lord Sherborn wasn’t hard to look upon, his eyes being his most arresting feature. And his form was adequate... perhaps a bit more than adequate she allowed, recalling the way he filled out his clothes. She supposed, given that good-looking men were rare in Little, that Lord Sherborn could be looked upon as exceptional, and the thought irritated her. “Mary Beth Hodges is a twit without an ounce of brains.”
Susie showed no surprise over Lil’s snappish response, even though it was out of character. “I myself am looking forward to meeting the gentleman.”
Lil stood up. “I’m sure he’ll issue one of his command appointments to you.”
Susie frowned, not understanding Lil’s remark.
Lil didn’t bother to explain how Lord Sherborn frequently dictated to those around him and how they, like sheep, followed. “I’d better be going. I’ll check in on Bibi periodically.”
“I’ll walk you out,” Susie offered, coming around to the front of her desk to join Lil. “I need to talk with Jim anyway.”
The two women were deep in conversation when they entered the saloon and, at first, didn’t take note of the table occupied off to the left by Sam Prescott, Henry Smith, and Lord Sherborn.
The three men spotted them, and though it wasn’t a surprise to Henry or Sam to see Lil in Susie’s place, they felt embarrassed by her presence, particularly since Lord Sherborn’s eyebrows rose in obvious disdain.
Lil and Susie caught their uneasy glances at the same time. Since neither woman could back down from a challenge, they hooked arms and walked over to the men’s table.
“Sam, Henry, good to see you here,” Susie said, adding a smile that could have charmed the most pious man. “Sam, I was just telling your lovely daughter that I see more of her than of you.”
Sam moved uncomfortably in his chair, and Henry’s cheeks burned with two glaring red spots.
Sam, hoping to save the situation, offered an explanation for his daughter’s presence. “Lil’s work—helping Doc Talbert in his doctoring—makes her a frequent visitor to certain establishments.”
“You help the local doctor, Lillian?” Rolfe asked with more surprise than interest.
“You find something wrong with that, Rolfe?” Lil asked sweetly, noting that he was dressed as inappropriately now as he had been when he arrived. The only difference was that his cravat had been replaced by a narrow tie, similar to those that the men of Little wore for their Sunday best.
Henry and Sam cringed at the ease with which she addressed Lord Sherborn by his given name; neither man felt it appropriate to do so just yet.
“Medicine doesn’t seem like a suitable profession for a lady,” Rolfe answered.
“And why is that?” Lil pushed, ready for a confrontation.
Rolfe was absorbed by the way her green eyes brightened in a fiery challenge. This brashness in a woman was foreign to him and appealing in an amusing sort of way. “Tending the sick should be left to those best qualified.”
“And men are more qualified?” Lil asked.
Rolfe nodded in that arrogant manner of his. “Not that women aren’t intelligent, but their frail feminine nature is best suited for other tasks.”
Sam shook his head, and Henry moaned. Susie’s smile broadened.
Lil retained her composure without an ounce of difficulty and spoke as though reading from a prepared list: “Sewing, keeping house, tending the garden, and rearing children, to name a few?”
“Commendable tasks for a woman and with so many duties to keep her busy she wouldn’t find herself involved in things that need not concern her.” Rolfe’s emphasis on the word “concern” raised everyone’s brow.
Those words longed to rush from Lil’s lips, but instead she offered, “I wish you luck in finding yourself just such a wife.”
“I’m sure I’ll have no problem.
of the women of Little have been gracious. I’m certain amongst such gems I will find a suitable wife.”
“I have no doubt you will,” Lil said. “Actually you should introduce yourself to Mary Beth Hodges. She’d be perfect for you. Now if you all will excuse me I have to help Doc Talbert saw off a leg.”
Sam couldn’t hide the laugh that surfaced. Henry buried his furiously blushing face in his hands, and Susie sent Lil a wink as the young woman brushed past her.
Rolfe watched her departure while directing his words to Sam. “Your daughter is quite
from the other women of Little.”
Sam wasn’t one to mince words himself. “My daughter is outspoken, Lord Sherborn. Life hasn’t been easy for her. I admire her, and I’m proud of the courage she displays in standing up for her convictions. As you said, there are many gems in this town, and Lil is the rarest one of them all. The man who’s lucky enough to capture her heart will find he’s gotten himself one special lady.”
Rolfe decided at that moment that Sam Prescott was a good man to cultivate as a friend. As for his daughter, it was obvious from what he’d gathered in the last few days that she was highly regarded in town, and it wouldn’t do to make an enemy of her. He would keep his distance and treat her with respect. Those fiery green eyes and that blazing hair could tempt another man. He was not at all interested.
“Let me introduce you to another special lady,” Sam said and received an approving nod from Susie. “Susie, meet Lord Rudolph Sherborn.”
Susie held out her hand, and Rolfe stood, taking it in his.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Sherborn,” Susie said, her lips dripping in sweet seduction.
“The pleasure is distinctly mine, Susie,” Rolfe said and squeezed her hand with just enough pressure to bring a generous smile to her lips.
“It’s been a long trip for you. I have some special imported sherry in my private quarters, perhaps I could interest you in a taste?” Her hand returned his squeeze.
“Dad! Hurry!” a voice shouted from the open doors of the saloon.
All eyes turned and were caught in shock by Lil’s appearance. Blood was splattered across the front of her blouse and the top of her skirt.
Henry collapsed in his chair. He had risen at the sound of her voice but was now, after one look at the blood, turned pale and was too upset to be of any help.
Sam and Rolfe rushed to Lil’s side.
“Are you all right?” Sam questioned.
Lil nodded her head, not the least bit concerned with her appearance. “Fine, but Jed Barker’s been in a knife fight with a stranger passing through town.”
“How bad is he hurt?” Sam asked.
“The wounds look worse than they are, but it’s going to take some stitching to close them up. They’re mostly on his arms.”
“Dumb old goat,” Sam muttered and marched out of the saloon.
Lil turned to leave, but found her arm grasped by Rolfe. “Perhaps you should sit down and let me get you a drink.”
“I can’t.” Lil was surprised by his obvious concern. “I need to get over to Doc Talbert’s and help him stitch Jed up.”
Rolfe yanked her into the saloon in one quick jerk, to the astonishment of Susie and Henry. “You can’t be serious,” he demanded. “Just look at you. You’re a mess! You’ve already done more than you should have. Let the doctor handle the rest.”
Lil yanked at her arm, but Rolfe’s grasp remained steadfast. She immediately amended her opinion of him; he was much stronger than she had thought. His grip was purposeful and intent on staying put. “Your concern is most admirable, but I’m needed at doc’s. Now please release me.”
“You’re stubborn, Lillian,” he said, still refusing to let her go.
“That I am. Now take your hands off me.” Her eyes were bright with fury and charged for battle.
He released her so abruptly that she stumbled briefly before righting herself and hurrying off without so much as a backward glance.
Rolfe stood stock-still for a moment, annoyed over his impassioned protection of Lillian. Fear had gripped him so strongly when he had seen her covered with blood that his instincts signaled him to shield her against further hurt. The only sane explanation for his odd reaction was that the sight of blood had brought back a rush of memories and emotions.
Suddenly Bea was there, bloodied and needing him to safeguard her. But this hadn’t been Bea. Bea had died in the birthing bed, her frail hand still clinging to his in a last desperate attempt to hold on to life.
Susie was about to walk up to him when he stormed out of the saloon muttering angrily to himself.
Susie smiled with glee and rubbed her hands together. “The lord and Lil... obviously not a match made in heaven!”
Lil rubbed the back of her neck trying to relieve the sore muscles. It had been a busy morning. Doc Talbert had left town before first light. The Murphy, baby had decided to welcome life two months before he was due, and Doc was busy making sure that he’d survive. That left Lil alone to look after morning patients. “Busier than usual” didn’t come close to describing her morning. She had set two broken bones, stitched numerous wounds, seen to a few earaches, treated a prickly rash that was driving old Mrs. Howard crazy, and even tended to Billy’s dog, that now sported a large bandage around his right front paw. And the day wasn’t over yet.
Lil sighed and smiled simultaneously. She loved her work. She loved helping people. It brought her great joy to see Mrs. Howard grin with relief minutes after applying a soothing balm to her rash. She treasured the toothless smile on Fred Ferguson’s face when his earache eased after she applied Doc Talbert’s herbal drops. She even delighted in the lick on the face she had received from Billy’s dog, Pooch.
She untied the strings of the white apron she wore and tossed it in the pail filled with hot sudsy water to soak before washing. Doc Talbert insisted on cleanliness and had given her some articles to read on its importance. She herself felt that common sense dictated such, but she enjoyed reading about all aspects of the field of medicine.
Medical science had interested her as long as she could remember. She was grateful to Doc Talbert for his patience with her. He had been allowing her to tag along with him since she was twelve, and he had never discouraged any of her inquisitive questions. He actually seemed to delight in them. He would lift his bushy gray eyebrows slightly, rub his hand over the bald spot on the back of his head, and then proceed to answer her. Of course, he’d have to remove the ever-present cigar from his mouth first. Doc was famous for smoking his cigars right down to a stub, his contention being that he ate less when he kept the stub between his teeth, though the size of his distended belly proved otherwise.
It was his deep commitment to his patients that Lil admired the most. He was always there for them, no matter how late the hour or how bad the weather. The townsfolk of Little knew they could count on him. He was a special man, and he held a special spot in Lil’s heart.
Holly was waiting for her to share the noonday meal and local gossip as usual. Lil hastily readied herself for the short walk down the street to Holly’s house. Her hair was in place, or out of place, since it had a mind of its own, which was fine with Lil. She wasn’t given to following fashion, especially with the tons of undergarments a woman was expected to wear, and that stupid, nonsensical bustle.
Comfort and sensibility were more to her liking. She often needed to get close to patients or to move away fast, and a mountain of clothing only managed to impede her work. So her wardrobe consisted of plain, nondescript, and practical clothing, like the dark blue skirt and white starched blouse she wore. She checked the ornate brooch at her neck to make certain it was in place. It had been the only piece of jewelry her mother had owned, and it had passed to Lil upon her death.
She rarely, if ever, wore a bonnet, so after checking the two-room office she stepped outside, eagerly anticipating her noonday meal with Holly.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” a voice from behind her said, a bit out of breath.
Lil didn’t recognize the cowhand standing before her, hat in hand and looking as though he had ridden hard, though not far. “Can I help you?”
“This is the doc’s office, ain’t it?”
“Yes, it is. I’m Lil, Doc Talbert’s assistant.”
The man looked nervous. “You mean the doc ain’t here?”
Lil shook her head. “No, he’s out at the Murphy place. He’ll be gone for another day at least.”
The man ran his hand through his thick wavy hair and let out a weary sigh. “That man’s gonna be mighty pis—” The cowhand caught himself, remembering he was in the presence of a lady. “He’s gonna be mighty mad.”