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Authors: Tami Hoag

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BOOK: Sarah's Sin
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It was only after she had finished shaving
him that Sarah brought up the one question she had been wanting most to ask Matt. She sat back with the damp towel wound around her hands. She knew she should move to the chair beside the bed, but she had grown comfortable sitting next to him, and in truth she enjoyed the small tingle of pleasure that came from her hip brushing against his leg.

“Ingrid told me you'd been injured in some kind of attack, but I didn't understand.”

That makes two of us
, Matt thought. He considered himself sophisticated, worldly, experienced. Still he had a difficult time dealing with the senseless violence of gang warfare. He couldn't imagine how he was going to explain it to Sarah. He wasn't sure he wanted to. But she sat beside him, waiting patiently, looking so eager to learn something about the Big World.

“I'm in charge of the emergency room at a hospital in the Cities,” he began. “Its a county hospital in what has become a very bad part of town. We see a lot of victims of crimes, a lot of criminals.” He broke off, frustrated. “Do you know what street gangs are?”

She nodded solemnly. “I read about them in Ingrid's

The idea of Sarah reading
threw him for a moment, but he shook it off and went back to his explanation. “Well, gangs have been growing in the Minneapolis area
over the last five or six years. Gangs from Chicago and Los Angeles are moving in, calling it 'Moneyapolis' because of the potential for profit they see there. Consequently, we're starting to see a lot of gang-related crime and violence.

“This time it happened right in my emergency room—with me in the middle of it. The Disciples and the Vice Lords got into a little disagreement over a drug deal.” He pointed to the bruise above his left eye. “I got hit here with the butt of a shotgun. This is where I connected with the edge of a cabinet,” he said, indicating the stitches on his chin. “I've got three cracked ribs, and the bandage on my leg is hiding a nice big bullet hole.”

His account was a much-tidied version of the explosion of violence and hatred that had rocked the ER that night. He deleted the blood and gore and the fact that a sixteen-year-old Vice Lord had ended the evening as a corpse. He didn't tell Sarah that an innocent child had been wounded by flying glass from a broken cabinet door or that he himself had sustained a concussion and a bruised kidney in addition to his other injuries. He could see that the G-rated version had upset her enough.

Sarah felt herself go pale as Matt calmly tallied his injuries. He was so matter-of-fact about it. The idea of that kind of violence shook her to her very core. That one human
being could do such terrible things to another was beyond her understanding. She had lived such a sheltered life, a life narrowly structured around faith and family. And she had wanted for so long to escape that rigid structure and explore the world beyond. It frightened her something fierce to know such awful things happened in that world she was so eager to discover. She tended to think of it in wonderful terms, that it was full of amazing things to learn and experience, when it undoubtedly held equal amounts of suffering and evil. Whenever that realization struck her, she felt naive and foolish, and now she felt fear for Matt as well.

“You could have been killed,” she murmured, shivering at the thought.

Matt looked at her with sympathy for her now-sullied naivet6. “Yeah,” he said softly, reaching out to cover her small hand with his.

Funny, he thought, that he was the one who had been attacked, but it was Sarah who needed comforting. And it was odd how good it felt to give that little bit of comfort. He had been trying so long to make a difference in the world by patching up the wounded and sending them back out into the war. Yet just this one small gesture made him feel better. Maybe he had given up thinking the world could be saved by his meager efforts. Maybe he had seen too much of people who had lost all re
spect for humanity. He had certainly seen far too much of needless suffering and senseless death. And here was this one simple, sweet Amish woman, touched by his pain. He wanted to kiss her just for caring.

Hell, he just plain wanted to kiss her.

“You know what I could use, Nurse Troyer?” he said softly, trying to coax a smile out of her.

Sarah shrugged, too shaken to trust her voice.

“Some breakfast. I'm starved.”

She nodded and managed a tiny smile. “Ya, a good big breakfast. You need your strength for healing.”

She moved to rise, but the pressure of Matt's hand on hers kept her seated beside him. Her heart did a little flip as she looked down at the sight of her small hand engulfed in his. His was wide and capable looking with blunt-tipped fingers and neatly manicured nails. It felt warm and gentle, and she suddenly couldn't remember the last time she'd been touched that way.

Seemingly with a will of its own, her hand turned over and rubbed palm against palm with Matt's. The friction generated a heat that sizzled through her, burning her breath away in her lungs and igniting fires in all her most secret womanly places. It should have felt for
bidden, but it didn't. It felt good. She felt alive.

She could sense Matt's dark eyes searching her expression, and she made a little face and pulled her hand back to the relative safety of her own lap.

“You have no calluses,” she said quietly. It came out sounding like an accusation, as if it were a wicked, sexy secret he had deliberately kept from her.

“I get paid a lot of money to keep these hands as soft as a baby's,'

“It seems strange to me,” she admitted. “Most of the men I know are farmers. Even their wives have calluses.”

“I can't afford them. As a doctor my sense of touch has to be sensitive, acute. I have to be able to read people with my hands,” Matt said. “Here. Ill show you.”

Sarah sat as still and wary as a doe, watching him as he lifted his hands to cup her face. He closed his eyes, thick dark lashes sweeping down like lace fans. His fingertips stroked along the surface of her skin like a whisper, following the ripe curve of her cheek, the line of her jaw. The pads of his thumbs brushed the outer corners of her mouth, and her lips parted in unconscious invitation.

“Beautiful,” he whispered. “Delicate. Sweet.”

His fingertips slid into the soft tendrils of hair that curled down along the nape of her neck, and he drew her forward gently, inexorably, so that she felt more like she was falling than being pulled toward him. Her own eyes drifted shut, lulled by the sensuous spell he had cast over her And his lips brushed over hers with as light a touch as his fingers', sampling, tasting.

“Sweet,” he murmured again, the word itself a kiss.

For Sarah, time stood absolutely still, and she was aware of everything about the moment: Matt, the warm, minty taste of him, the feel of his hands cradling her head, the softness of his mouth, the scent of fall drifting in through the window on a warm Indian summer breeze, the rustling of the dry leaves on the big maple tree that stood beside the house, the crack of a branch, and the surprised cry—

Sarah bolted from the bed. “What on earth?”

Blossom hurled herself across the room, howling like a hunting hound in full cry. She reached the open window just before Sarah, flinging her front half onto the sill, and her speckled nose up against the screen.

“Bow-ooooo! Bow-ooooo!”

With her hands clamped to her ears, Sarah peered out, scanning the tree limbs for signs of
life. At the base, a pile of brilliant orange leaves began to move. And suddenly a small blond head poked through, and she was staring down into the wide blue eyes of her baby brother.


“Hello, Sarah!” the boy called, giving her a merry grin that revealed two dark gaps where teeth were missing. One small hand emerged from the pile of leaves to wave up at her. “I come to visit with you.”

Sarah muttered a prayer in German under her breath and pressed a hand to her pounding heart. “Are you hurt?”

“Not so much as I might have been,” he conceded. “In my coat I tore a hole,” he said, his English translation of German thoughts spoken slightly out of order.

He pulled back a flap of dark cloth along his left elbow to illustrate the point for his sister. The blue cotton shirt beneath his jacket had fared no better. Jacob's brows knitted together in belated concern as he took notice of the bloody scrape on his arm.

“Stay right where you are, young man!” Sarah ordered, pulling back from the window.

Matt was already out of bed, thumping around the room with his cane, searching for something.

Sarah glared at him. “And just what do you think you're doing?”

“Someone's hurt. I'm a doctor. I'm going to help,” he said in a voice that brooked no disagreement. He yanked open the closet door and shoved aside half a dozen shirts, hangers singing along the iron rod. “Where's my medical bag? Don't tell me Ingrid didn't pack my medical bag.”

“Fine,” Sarah muttered through her teeth. “I won't tell you.”

It seemed futile to try to stop Matt now that he had already gotten out of bed. The horse was out of the barn, and she had more important things to do than chase him. She had to get to her brother. She had no idea how far Jacob had fallen. He might have broken something or injured himself inside. A hundred terrible fears sprang up in Sarah's throat. She rushed out the door of the bedroom and down the stairs with Blossom hot on her heels, the long-bodied hound negotiating the steps like a Slinky.

A shaggy chestnut pony grazed unattended in the front yard. Sarah ran past him, a handful of skirt and apron knotted in her fist to keep the garments from tangling around her legs. Jacob sat exactly where he had fallen. The boy was chest-deep in fallen leaves, but he didn't look so pleased about his predicament as he had initially. He was cradling his arm
against him and trying valiantly not to cry. Big, bright tears swam in his eyes, and his mouth trembled in spite of the fact that he had pulled his lower lip between his teeth and was biting down for all he was worth.

Sarah hurled herself to her knees in the leaves in front of him. “Let me see,
,” she said gently, her voice trembling as much as her hands as she reached out toward him.

“I&m not a baby,” Jacob snapped. He twisted away from her, more out of fear of pain than defiance. “It's just a scrape is all.”

“How about letting me be the judge of that?” Matt suggested.

He was winded and pale, half-dizzy from trying to descend the stairs faster than was prudent for a man in his condition. But he managed what he thought would pass for a brave face and gratefully sank to his knees in the cushion of the leaf pile.

Jacob stared at him with owl eyes. “Who are you?”

“My name is Matt. I'm a doctor.”

“You're English.”

“If that means I'm not Amish, then I guess you're right. Is that okay with you?” Matt struggled to maintain a sober face as he asked. The boy was adorable, maybe seven or eight with yellow hair and a dusting of freckles across his impudent nose. The smile he gave Matt was a smaller version of Sarah's, but his
eyes gleamed with sudden excitement rather than dry amusement.

“Ya, sure,” Jacob said, looking Matt up and down with wonder. “You ain't wearing no trousers,” the boy observed.

“Jacob! Your manners!” Sarah hissed, her sense of propriety all mixed up amongst her fears. Her heart was still going a hundred miles an hour at the idea of her baby falling from a tree. She had been the one to look after Jacob most of his young life. Their mother had taken ill after his birth, and Sarah, who had no baby of her own, had gladly seen to Jacobs care. She had never grown out of thinking of him more as a son than a brother.

Matt took no offense at the boy's lack of manners. He scooted a little nearer Jacob. “Nope. These are my lucky running shorts. Want to know why they're lucky?”

The blond head bobbed.

“Because I used to wear them all the time back in college when I ran in races.”

“What is this college? Is it a town?”

The question knocked Matt speechless for an instant, until it occurred to him that the Amish probably didn't go in for higher education. “It's the kind of school a guy has to go to if he wants to become a doctor,” he explained.

“And did you win the races?” Jacob asked, typically unconcerned with the idea of school.
Races, however, were of great interest. He stared up at Matt, waiting for his response, unconsciously relaxing his hold on his injured arm.

“Sometimes,” Matt said, slowly reaching out. “Let's have a look at this. So you like to climb trees, do you? I used to be the champion tree climber on my block when I was a kid. The second best tree climber was a girl. Can you believe that?”

“No.” Jacob pulled back a litde as Mart's fingers closed around his wrist, but he slowly relaxed and straightened out the arm. “I don't know any girls can climb trees except for Sarah.”

“Is that a fact?” Matt shot Sarah a surprised grin and chuckled at the blush that crept across her cheeks. “I'd like to see that.”

“Jonah Voder is the best tree climber I know,” Jacob went on, warming to the topic, forgetting all about Matt examining his arm. “He's ten and he can climb like a squirrel. I can climb pretty good, but sometimes my reach is not far enough. I'm only eight and I'm not so big as Jonah Yoder is.”

Sarah leaned in to get a look at the scrape, her expression worried. “Is it broken?”

“Heck no, it's just a scrape,” Matt said, rolling his eyes at Jacob. “Girls.”

“Girls,” Jacob parroted derisively. He gave
his sister a superior look. “Heck no, Sarah. It's not broke.”

“It's a doozy of a scrape, though,” Matt said. “Really gross.”

“What is this gross?” the boy asked.

“Gross is like
yucky looking,” Matt explained, making a face that indicated it was something a boy could appreciate in a way no one else could. It was a look that breached the culture barrier. Gross was a concept relished by all boys everywhere, even if they didn't use the same word for it.

Jacob eyed his wound with new delight. “Gross,” he said, obviously liking the way the new word sat on his tongue. He looked up at Matt and they both grinned.

“Radically gross!”

Jacob giggled. “Rad-ic-cally gross!”

“Well have to clean it up and put some goop on it,” Matt said, sobering.

The boy looked up at him, suddenly not so brave. “Will it hurt so very much?”

“Nothing a champion tree climber like you can't handle. At least you won't need stitches, like I did,” Matt said, showing off the line on his chin.

Jacobs eyes widened in a horrified awe. “Did you get that falling out of a tree?”

“No. I had a little accident at work.”

Sarah helped her brother up, clucking at him and muttering in German as she dusted
the leaves off him and herself. She scooped up his wide-brimmed felt hat and clamped it on his head. Matt struggled to his feet and leaned heavily against his cane for a moment as the world swayed around him.

“Maybe we can get Sarah to whip us up some breakfast while you and I get that arm taken care of.”

Sarah glanced up, her stomach clenching at the sight of Matt, pale and wobbly. “Run along into the kitchen, Jacob. Sit at the table and wait for us, and no playing with the toaster.” As the boy scampered off, she took a step toward Matt. “Are you all right?”

“Sure,” he said, forcing a weak version of his sexy grin. “I'm still a little light-headed from that kiss is all.”

She looked at him as if he'd just insulted her, turned on her heel, and hurried off toward the house with a rustle of skirts.

Matt watched her go, bemused. Flight wasn't the usual effect he had on women. He scratched his throbbing head and frowned down at Blossom, who had come to root through the leaves like a hog sniffing for truffles. The kiss he had shared with Sarah had stunned him. It had been the lightest of kisses, almost chaste, but the electricity had darn near knocked his socks off. She had to have felt it too.

Well, he was feeling too weak to think about
the mysteries of the female mind just now, let alone try to subjugate them. And there was an injury to tend to. Dredging up the last of his energy reserves, he started toward the house, almost tripping over the basset hound that had settled herself on his feet.

“Why aren't you in school today?” Sarah asked as she unloaded first aid supplies from her arms onto the pine harvest table in the sunny, spacious kitchen.

Jacob jumped back from the counter where he had been fingering the trigger of the shiny chrome four-slot toaster. “Our teacher has the croup so we don't have no school.”

“You haven't any school,” Sarah corrected.


“What? No substitute teacher?” Matt asked, motioning Jacob to have a seat on the table.

“There is only one teacher in our Amish school,” Sarah explained. “We have none in reserve.”

“And I suppose this is a one-room school-house with privies out back,” Matt said, half-joking.

Sarah gave him a cool look, her chin lifting. “Of course.”

Embarrassed, Matt wished he could disappear into the linoleum. But seeing no graceful way out of his blunder, he simply ignored it, clearing his throat and turning attention to
Jacob once again. He cleaned the boys scrape, his touch as delicate as he could keep it as he worked out the bits of tree bark and dried leaf.

Sarah hovered at his elbow, looking ready to throw herself between them at the first sign of any real pain from her brother. Every time Jacob winced, Sarah flinched and sucked in a little gasp. For every stray tear that squeezed its way out of Jacobs eyes, Sarah shed two. Matt watched her out of the corner of his eye, torn between amusement, sympathy, and annoyance.

“I'm just cleaning it and applying a dressing,” he said. “This isn't an amputation we're talking about here. And I assure you, I know what I'm doing. I'll have you know I graduated fourth in my class from the University of Minnesota med school.”

“How many was in it?” Sarah asked, not quite joking.

Matt gave her a look. “Very funny. Why don't you sit down before you pass out? Or better yet, get started on that breakfast you promised me.

She cast an anxious glance at Jacob, who was more interested in playing with the dispenser of adhesive tape. She forced herself to back away, step by agonizing step, gnawing on her lip and blinking back tears.

“Your confidence in me is overwhelming,” Matt said sarcastically. “Take some comfort in
knowing I can't run away from you. If I screw up, you can pummel me to a bloody pulp with the bludgeon of your choice.” He turned to Jacob and made a face. “Girls. You'd think she'd never seen anything gross before.”

Jacob sniffled and giggled and swung his feet over the table edge.

While Sarah set to work on the breakfast, Matt and Jacob settled themselves at the table and discussed things of interest to boys. Mostly Jacob told Matt everything he knew about farming, how good the corn crop looked, how they were getting ready to harvest, and how he was going to help. He talked a steady blue streak, and Matt looked grave and nodded at appropriate intervals. Sarah watched them out of the corner of her eye, thinking Matt was awfully sweet for listening and asking questions. He probably didn't give a hoot about how dry the corn was, but he paid attention as if it were of great importance to him.

What a good father he would make, she thought, wishing she could ignore the sweet pang of longing in her breast. She set Matt s breakfast down in front of him, along with a steaming cup of coffee, trying not to think about the comfortable domesticity of the scene.

“Does Mom know you are here?” Sarah asked Jacob as she handed him a glass of milk
and set a plate of oatmeal-raisin cookies on the kitchen table.

Jacob eyed the cookies like a starving creature, reaching slowly for the biggest one even though he hadn't asked permission. “Ya,” he said. “I had done my chores and Pop said for me to come visit with you.”

“Did he?” Sarah murmured more to herself than to Jacob. She couldn't stop the little rush of temper that spurted up inside her. Isaac hadn't sent his youngest son to merely keep her company or to keep him out of the way on the farm. He had been sent as an unwitting observer. Jacob would eagerly relate all he had seen at the English inn. Sarah would never ask him not to. Her job was her own. She did nothing here to be ashamed of.

Her glance darted to Matt, and guilt slapped splashes of color high across her cheeks. They had kissed. She'd sat right on his bed and let him kiss her.

And Jacob had been scrambling up the tree just outside the window.

“Why were you climbing that tree?” she asked.

Her brother's eyes were round and innocent. He shrugged and talked around a mouthful of cookie. “Because it was there.”

BOOK: Sarah's Sin
13.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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