Authors: Donna Fletcher
Tags: #Historical Romance, #19th century
“Put me down!” Lil demanded.
“When I’m done with you,” he said. He lifted her up higher, one arm firmly holding her narrow waist, and he flattened her chest against his. His other hand grasped the back of her head and forced it toward him.
“Don’t,” she said in a rush, but the word was captured by his mouth.
His lips stung in a sexually virile way, and his tongue followed, entering her mouth without delay. He probed and tasted with such leisure and skill and with such command she tingled down to her dangling toes. He excited, thrilled, and terrified her all at once.
His lips released hers, his teeth giving one last sensuous tug to her bottom lip. He set her on her feet, holding her until her legs steadied.
Lil shook her head, her common sense returning. How dare he take such liberties with her? How dare he assume he could kiss her at his whim? She raised her hand to deliver a swift blow, more for her own pride than in defense.
Rolfe caught her wrist firmly just inches from his face. “So you enjoyed it that much.”
Lil grew furious at his audacious suggestion and struggled to free her hand.
He dragged her out of the shadows and on past a moaning Doug. “I suggest you watch your behavior for the rest of the evening before you find yourself in a situation you can’t get out of so easily.”
Lil tugged at her hand. “Let go of me. I can take care of myself.”
Rolfe stopped and released her so abruptly she stumbled backward. “Shall we return to the shadows, Lillian? You can show me how well you can take care of yourself.” His voice was a harsh whisper.
Lil shivered. She wasn’t certain which frightened her more, his threatening whisper or the threatening shadows.
Rolfe stepped toward her, extending his hand. “Give me your hand, Lillian, and allow me to escort you back to the dance.”
“I can escort myself,” she insisted, raising her chin in defiance.
“And be on the tongue of every woman in Little by tomorrow morning? Haven’t your actions fueled them with enough gossip?”
Lil sighed. Why did she always get herself into such messes?
Rolfe spoke softly, like a patient parent to a spoiled child. “Give me your hand, Lillian. I will take you directly to your father.”
“And deposit me at his feet, so he can look after me?” Lil’s tone was loaded with buckshot and ready to fire.
Lil grabbed her skirt, lifted it some, and brushed past Rolfe, stopping for a moment to look him square in the eyes. “I don’t take orders from any man, least of all a dandy lord from England.”
Rolfe opened and closed his mouth repeatedly while searching for retaliatory words as Lil walked away. The only words that finally came to mind were “Bloody hell.”
The pounding was incessant. Lil tried burying her head beneath her pillow. The steady drumming drifted right through the feathered barrier.
“Lil! Lil!” the insistent voice called.
Lil jumped out of her bed. It wasn’t a dream. She fumbled for her pink cotton robe on the vanity bench nearby. She met her father coming down the hall, fastening his trousers.
“Sounds like you’re needed badly,” he said and preceded her down the stairs.
As soon as Sam opened the door, Julie, one of the girls from Susie’s saloon, rushed in. “Lil, you’ve got to hurry. She’s dying. Hurry! Please!”
Julie frantically grabbed Lil’s hand and tried to drag her to the door.
“Easy, Julie,” Lil soothed and tugged at the girl’s hand to hold still. “Is it Bibi?”
Julie nodded her head so fast she sent her blond curls bouncing. “She’s bad. Real bad.”
“Let me get dressed and grab my medical bag. You go back and tell Bibi I’ll be right there.”
“But I’m not supposed to come back without you,” Julie pleaded.
Lil patted the girl’s shoulder while directing her to the door. “I’ve never let any of you girls down. I’ll be there right away. We’re just wasting time arguing. Now go.”
Julie reluctantly agreed and flew out the door almost as fast as she had entered.
“I’ll walk you over to the saloon,” her father offered.
“It’s not necessary. Get yourself some more sleep. Sunrise is at least two hours away,’’ Lil said, rushing up the steps.
Sam leaned over the banister and called up. “I’ll walk you. It’s too dark for you to be wandering around on your own.”
“You know I’m not afraid of the dark, or of being on my own,” Lil called back. “You must have been talking to the lord.”
“I always talk to the Lord,” Sam teased, buttoning up the chambray shirt he had slipped on in haste.
Lil hurried down the steps, her blouse sleeves rolled up and her hands busy fussing with her hair, pinning it up and out of the way. “You’re not going to start acting like a protective father after all these years, are you?”
Sam grabbed the black bag Lil had brought down with her. “Maybe I should have been more protective and
Lil balanced forward on her toes and stretched up to kiss her father’s cheek. “I couldn’t have asked for a more fatherly father. You gave me two of the things I needed most—freedom and courage. I’ll always be grateful to you for that.”
Sam restrained his emotions, though it was obvious by his taut features that Lil’s words had affected him deeply.
“We’d better get going,” Lil said. “I’m worried I may be too late to save the baby, and I certainly don’t want to lose Bibi.”
Sam followed his daughter out the door and into the dark night.
The sun broke on the horizon and no one, in the corner room on the second floor of Susie’s saloon noticed, or cared. They were too busy fighting to save Bibi’s life.
“Julie, I’m going to need more clean cloths and hot water. Make certain the water is boiling. Maggie, make sure those leaves I gave you are steeped to make a strong tea.”
Lil had been in constant motion since she had entered the room hours ago. At first glance she had thought only a miracle could save the girl. There had been so much blood, and Bibi had been beyond pale. Lil had quickly pushed such discouraging thoughts aside and set to work.
It had been too late to save the baby, but she had no intention of losing Bibi as well. She had finally managed to stop the bleeding. Fever had set in, though, and that worried Lil. She alternated sallow bark tea with chamomile for fever and as a calmative. So far, Bibi had rested comfortably.
Time would be her enemy or her savior.
Doc Talbert entered the room quietly out of respect for the sleeping patient. “You have your hands full, gal.”
Lil pushed back the fallen strands of hair from her face and nodded. “Fever’s set in.”
Doc shook his head, looking down at Bibi. “It don’t look good, Lil.”
Lil didn’t need to be reminded that fever was a healing patient’s worst enemy, especially after a miscarriage. The birthing fever was feared by many a woman. If it was allowed to get out of hand, the patient didn’t stand a chance.
“I’ll stop by throughout the day,” Doc said, “although it looks like you’ve done about all you can.” He braced his hand on Lil’s shoulder. “Don’t wear yourself out, girl. Sometimes it’s strictly the Lord’s decision.”
Lil tried to smile. Her mouth betrayed her and quivered. “I can’t lose her. I just can’t.”
Doc nodded in understanding. “I know the feeling.”
After Doc left, Lil set to work sponging Bibi down with cool water. She changed the sheets and the girl’s nightdress for the third time, to the annoyance of Julie and Maggie.
“I don’t get it,” Maggie complained. “She’s just going to mess them up again.”
“Her chance of recovery is better if she’s kept clean,” Lil explained. She didn’t really care if the two girls understood as long as they helped her, and if they didn’t, she’d see to Bibi herself.
Julie rolled up the soiled sheets to take downstairs. “We shouldn’t be complaining, Maggie. It could be us lying here. Bibi would be the first one to help.”
Maggie’s worried frown revealed that she understood the truth of Julie’s words. “I’ll get more clean sheets for later.”
Lil smiled without difficulty this time as the two girls hurried from the room. She leaned over Bibi and felt her head. Still warm, but at least not hot. She arched her back and rubbed the soreness that had centered in the lower middle. Spotting her medical bag on the floor near the rocking chair, she walked briskly over to it. She pulled out a book and sat down in the rocker. She skimmed the pages like a determined hunter. Perhaps she had overlooked something that would be of help. She had often read
, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing with its remedies. She had learned much over the years, some through trial and error, but most from the old woman up in the hills whom Doc had known for years. He had urged Lil to learn as much as she could from the old healer, and she had, but her thirst for more knowledge was strong. She delved into the book, glancing now and again at Bibi as she searched for ways to help the ill girl.
Early evening found Rolfe sitting at a corner table in Susie’s saloon nursing a glass of whiskey. He hadn’t been able to get Lillian Prescott out of his mind since he had kissed her two nights ago. She haunted his days as well as his nights. He had been appalled by his ungentlemanly behavior, but not sorry. The kiss had been memorable. Her savory taste had lingered on him. Each time he thought it gone, his tongue would accidentally come across it in the hollows of his mouth and tarry there, aching for its full flavor. He had recalled the feel of her against him. The gentle bow of her back, the firmness of her round breasts, and the trimness of her waist had remained steadfast in his mind. Then there was the rich scent of her, like fresh lavender, vibrant spruce, and cool mountain spring water all rolled into one.
He had battled with his mutinous thoughts long enough. She wasn’t his type of woman. She was too independent, too involved in her work to allow room for a husband. She would never obey him and act like a lady.
As he raised his glass to down the contents and drown his sorrows, he caught sight of her. She looked disheveled. Her strawberry blond hair hung in strands around her face, having slipped loose from her chignon. The sleeves of her blouse were rolled up and rumpled. She looked unkempt, as though she had had a long, tiring night, and the suggestive thought sent his imagination and ardor soaring.
Lillian disappeared as fast as she had appeared. He wondered if he had imagined her, conjured her up, so intent had he been about her lately.
“A man shouldn’t drink alone,” Sam said, walking over to Rolfe.
“Why’s that, Sheriff?”
“He thinks on things he shouldn’t. Things he can’t change or have. Then he just drinks some more.”
Rolfe laughed and kicked a chair out from beneath the table. “Then join me so I won’t think on things.”
Sam obliged and took the seat. “Heard everything’s going mighty good out at your place.”
Rolfe motioned to the barkeep for another glass so Sam could share the bottle of whiskey on the table. “I keep forgetting what a small town this is.”
Sam grinned. “Why do you think we call it Little?”
“The tale goes that a man passing through these parts looked around this area, spit on the ground, and proclaimed this place ‘too little.’ Folks dropped the ‘too’ and kept the ‘Little.’ “
Rolfe laughed and poured Sam a drink. “That’s quite a tall tale.”
“You’ll hear many of them around here. Everyone has one or two to tell. You’ll probably acquire a few of your own in time.”
Rolfe shook his head. “I expect to lead a quiet life. I’ll have no tales to tell.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. You can never tell what might happen. Like for instance I got a feeling I’m going to be winning a lot of money in a card game tonight.”
Rolfe waved at the barkeep for another bottle. “I must warn you, Sheriff, I excel at cards.”
“Like you do at riding horses?”
Rolfe couldn’t hide his smirk. “I’d say they’re about on par.”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s play,” Sam said, rubbing his hands together.
“May I join in?” Henry Smith asked, coming up behind Sam.
“Sit yourself down, Henry” Sam said. “I can always use more money.”
“I’m pretty good at cards,” Henry said, slipping off his jacket and throwing it across the empty chair next to him.
“Probably as good as Rolfe is at riding,” Sam said and laughed. Henry joined him. Rolfe just smiled.
Lil changed the bedding again. Night had fallen and Julie and Maggie were expected to work. Lil didn’t mind. Susie had been more than fair to Bibi. She couldn’t expect Susie to allow two of her girls to help her care for Bibi all evening.
Her fever had remained constant. Lil was relieved it hadn’t gone up, though she wished it would dissipate altogether. Bibi’s sleep was erratic now, and she moaned and tossed in the bed.
Lil did all she could, forcing more tea down the girl’s throat every time she woke. Doc had stopped by on and off throughout the day, as he had promised. He looked Bibi over, shook his head, and left after giving Lil a reassuring pat on the back. She wasn’t fooled by the encouraging gesture. She knew Doc assumed Bibi wasn’t going to survive.
Lil rubbed her eyes. She felt exhausted, as though she’d been up for days. She couldn’t allow herself to nap even for a minute. She kept her hands and her mind busy. As she washed bedclothes and folded the clean dry sheets, in her mind she planned the winter care of the herbs in her garden. And then she thought about the patients she needed to see to after this ordeal was over.
Bibi moaned, and Lil rushed to her side. She felt her head. The fever had risen.
“Damn, you’re lucky.” Sam shook his head in disbelief.
“More like skillful,” Henry corrected, staring down at the few coins left in front of him.
“I warned you, gentlemen.” Rolfe reached for the winning pile in the center of the table and added it to his already sizable stack of coins.
“You aren’t giving up yet, are you?” Sam asked, pouring each of the men another glass of whiskey.
Rolfe stacked his coins in neat rows. “I should be asking that of you two.”