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Montana Territory, 1885 - There’s only one thing he can do to protect her desire and her reputation…marry her. Daisy Lenox has always felt invisible next her beautiful and vivacious sisters. But the new town doctor, Ethan James, changed all that. He watches her with an intensity that she can’t deny. He’s the first to encourage her and the first to offer a stern reprimand when she needs it. Doctor Ethan James has a secret…until Daisy Lenox follows him and learns the truth—nearly getting herself killed in the process. While caring for Daisy, Ethan is determined that she never takes such a chance with her life again. Warning: Panty melting! Daisy is the fourth book in the Wildflower Bride series. It's is a wildly dirty romance with a inquisitive heroine and obsessed alpha doctor determined to make her his.
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Liczba stron: 188
Copyright © 2015 by Vanessa Vale
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author's imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Cover design: Bridger Media
Cover Photos: Big Stock: Alan and Vicena Poulson, Eky Studio; Fotolia.com: Jacob Lund
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LILY - Chapter 1
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About the Author
Also by Vanessa Vale
I was cold. Bitterly cold. I’d never been so cold in my life. If I ever survived this, I’d put a pot-bellied stove in every room of my house, wear wool stockings even in the summer. I had long lost feeling in my fingers and toes, my dress and coat beginning to stiffen and freeze. I crawled across the snowy ground, making it only a few feet from the river’s edge.
At first, the shock of the water had taken the air from my lungs, but it also spurred me right out of it. It was too late. I was wet from head to toe. My horse that had tossed me stood placidly beside the bank, his warm nose nuzzling me. My teeth chattered loudly, otherwise I would have scolded the animal for being skittish and unseating me. What had caused the animal to rear, I wasn’t sure. It mattered no longer, for there was no one about. The prairie was open with small rises, miles and miles of open land in every direction, the tall mountains off to the west. I had no dry clothes. No blankets. I’d eaten my bread and cheese snack an hour earlier.
My plan had been to follow Doctor James to see where he went several times a week. The man had become my obsession and his absence from town and the lack of gossip about him had made me curious. One of my adoptive mothers, Miss Esther, knew about Mr. Peters’ ingrown toenail, Mrs. Ray’s difficult breech birth, Bobby Cuthbert’s croup and the Maxwell twins’ chicken pox. She knew nothing about Doctor James’ excursions and that meant the man was keeping them very well hidden.
Like some people, I didn’t care about idle gossip or any of the townspeople’s ailments. I cared about what Doctor James did that no one knew about. The reason was clear and I admitted it; I was obsessed with the man.
I tried to squeeze the excess water from the hem of my dress, but my fingers couldn’t move. It made me think of the first time I’d seen Doctor James, when my obsession with him began. It had been one of those late fall days that was surprisingly warm, summer not willing to give way, when an Indian called Red Bear fell ill directly in front of me in the mercantile. He’d come to town to trade buffalo hides, wool and furs. While Mr. Crane had been concerned for the man and had sent his son for Doctor James, some of the other customers did not hold Indians in such high regard.
After I asked Mr. Crane for a wet cloth and a cup of water, I knelt by the man who appeared to be just overheated. I wrapped the cool cloth around his neck and waited for Doctor James to arrive. I’d never met the new doctor before, only heard of him from Miss Esther, who knew about everyone and everything within fifty miles. My married sister, Rose, was halfway through her first pregnancy and had gone to see him on a few occasions. Her husband, Chance, was overly protective and had taken her all the way to town early one morning for what had amounted to indigestion, so she’d diverted her embarrassment of an unfounded concern to share with us unmarried Lenoxes—there were five of us still—about how handsome the man was.
Based on what Rose said, I’d expected him to be attractive when he rushed into the mercantile, but it had still been quite a surprise when he knelt beside me. His impressive physique was clearly outlined in the trim fit of his suit. His pants had stretched taut over his thigh muscles and his dark hair was cut neatly and with precision.
It had been his hands that had appealed to me most. Yes, his hands. They were big, perhaps twice the size of mine, with long, blunt fingers. Dark hair sprinkled the backs and his skin was tanned from the long summer sun. Perhaps he didn’t use those incredible hands in any remarkable sense on Red Bear, but as he assessed and tended to the Indian, I considered what they would feel like against my skin. Would there be hard calluses? Would his grip be firm or gentle? How would he touch me? Where?
I’d licked my lips at the thought of the man tending to me in such a clinical and straightforward way. The man didn’t coddle. He didn’t panic and gladly took the cup of water from Mr. Crane. The ladies who fretted over an Indian collapsing in their midst were easily calmed by the doctor’s forthright manner. I was relieved to see he had no issues about helping the man and he went up in my esteem.
He hadn’t even broken a sweat on that warm day, unlike myself. I’d become overheated and surprisingly damp between my legs.
Red Bear recovered readily enough after he’d drunk his fill.
“The cool cloth and cup of water was what was needed, Mr. Crane,” Doctor James told the shop owner. “I may have to hire you as my assistant.”
The older man held a small bag of flour under his arm. “The credit goes to Miss Lenox. She was the one with the quick thinking.”
I knew what to do because it had happened on occasion at the ranch. I’d read in a book about the cool cloth around the neck, helping to lower the person’s body temperature, and it seemed to have been beneficial to Red Bear.
Doctor James ensured the man had another glass of water and was recovering well, seated in a shadowy corner of the store. He collected his doctor’s satchel, then turned to face me. His dark eyes held mine before they roved over my face and down my body, making my heart skip a beat. My palms began to sweat and it was quite difficult to breathe. Perhaps I would be the one to swoon next. I’d never had this…this visceral reaction to a man before. Hyacinth and Rose had told me about it, but I’d rolled my eyes and scoffed at their ridiculousness. Clearly, I’d been in the wrong.
“Well done, Miss Lenox.”
My cheeks heated furiously and since I was too flustered to speak, I just nodded my head.
He’d afforded me one last look and placed his hat back upon his head, tipping it with a finger as a farewell. “Ladies,” he’d offered to the older women who had been watching the recovery. His gaze had returned to mine one last moment, held it just as I held my breath. “Miss Lenox.” He’d turned on his heel and left as quickly as he’d arrived.
While the townsfolk had gone back about their business, I’d watched the doctor’s retreating form through the store window.The most delicious feeling had coursed through me, as if I’d drunk an entire bottle of Miss Trudy’s huckleberry wine. His voice, his gaze, when directed on me, had been very potent indeed.
“Doctor James is quite mysterious,” one woman had murmured to another.
“Yes, I’ve heard he’s from the South and his accent certainly attests to that.” She’d picked up a glass jar and studied the brined cucumbers. “Do you think Mrs. Atterbury’s homemade pickles are as good this year?”
I hadn’t cared about talk of pickles. Frustrated, I’d wanted to hear all the gossip about Doctor James. I’d moved to the premade dresses, neatly folded on a table.
“I believe he is from Georgia.”
Georgia. I hadn’t been able to imagine Doctor James being as genteel as what I’d heard of those from that state. His voice had been deep and clear, but he’d kept it constantly low-pitched when he questioned Red Bear, the letters rolling off his tongue in a way that matched his calm demeanor.
“I’ve not had need for him yet, but he tended to my nephew’s summer cold.” One woman had picked up a bolt of gingham fabric, studied it, then returned it to the table.
The other had leaned closer. “He is an attractive man. Unmarried.” She’d uttered the last as if he were royalty instead of just a bachelor. “Perhaps your Amanda should be considering him?”
I knew the woman’s daughter. While she was amiable enough, she was too mild to suit the new doctor. He needed someone with a keen wit, a stylish demeanor and a pleasing face. He needed… me.
“Perhaps, but I worry that she would be in danger if he associates with the Indians.” She whispered the last as she looked over to where Mr. Crane was chatting with Red Bear. “I should invite him for Sunday dinner and learn more,” she clucked. She lifted her chin, resolute. “It is only fitting to welcome him to the area.”
A new man in town was open to idle chatter, speculation and much eagerness among the women—especially the mothers of an unmarried daughter—for a worthy one was hard to come by in the Montana Territory. A doctor was quite a catch, but fraternizing with the Indians was frowned on by some.
The ladies had twittered like two birds, perhaps already seeing matrimony on the horizon.
I’d put the dress I’d been pretending to admire back on the table and went to retrieve my own basket from the counter. If I was going to catch the eye of Doctor James, if I wanted to feel this way again, I had to be quick about it. It was only a matter of time before one of those women got her clutches into the poor man and dragged him to the altar to stand beside her daughter.
Since Doctor James was new to town and was not aware of the ferocity of these women’s intentions, it had fallen to me to protect him from such an atrocity.
I couldn’t survive for long in this weather soaking wet. The river was icy cold even in the summer from snow melting in the mountains, but since it was December, it had to be just above freezing. Steam rose from the water, indicating it was warmer than air. Think about survival, not scientific facts.
Unfortunately, I’d most likely die out here because I’d kept my interest in Doctor James a secret. In the two months since the incident at the mercantile, I’d watched him as closely as I could—it was difficult with four sisters and two mothers at home to have any new routine or interest go unnoticed.
At the same time, with so many in the house, it was quite easy to be overlooked, especially since I loved to sit quietly and bury my nose in a book. With all the busyness that came with running such a large household, it was difficult to have anything more than a scrap of attention. Dahlia had gained most of it because she’d been a tad wild and overt. We’d been close, spending most of our time together, and I’d been able to receive at least some of that attention. But Dahlia had married Garrison Lee and there was a noticeable void that I’d felt keenly. I’d had plenty of time to read and think about Doctor James’ hands… and other equally appealing parts.
And that had made me make some rash decisions, like following the man off to… somewhere. I moaned at the pain in my fingers.
I could strip the saddle from the horse and use the blanket beneath, but without shelter and dry clothes, it would not help much. I couldn’t remain here. I had to mount the horse and ride, hoping I could survive the distance home. It would take over an hour and I certainly didn’t have that long. I glanced in the other direction as my body shuddered. Was Doctor James near? If I continued west, would I come upon him faster than returning home? Surely, he was visiting a patient and that meant shelter. Heat. Safety.
I stumbled to the horse and picked up the reins. Somehow, I was able to hoist myself into the saddle, but I could no longer remain upright. I leaned down against the horse’s neck and it was warm beneath my frozen cheek. Squeezing my thighs together, I urged the horse into motion. I was thankful that was all it took, for I had no strength left. We faced the setting sun and the mountains and I had to just hope that Doctor James, somebody—anybody!—was nearby.
My mind drifted, thoughts came into my head and slipped away. I knew this was a sign of hypothermia. I tried to wiggle my fingers and toes but it hurt too much. I thought of Rose’s baby, who I would most likely never see. Hyacinth’s, as well. I thought of the trip to town when Doctor James had confirmed Hyacinth’s suspicions. I’d gone with them. It had only been a few weeks earlier. The plodding of the horse had my thoughts drift back to that occasion.
Jackson had stopped the wagon in front of Doctor James’ house. The door to his residence was at the front, but there was a side entrance that led to two rooms that he used for his practice. I’d been inside a time or two as a child visiting the previous doctor, once when I broke my arm—Dahlia had pushed me down the back steps—and another time when three of us girls drank some bad apple cider at the fall festival.
Doctor Monroe had humored me by lending me his medical journals. They’d been too complicated for me as a child, but the older man had seen my eagerness for the sciences and continued to share until he retired and moved away. Since then, I ordered scientific journals and books on unusual and varied topics through the mercantile; however, I had no one with which to share my learnings.
I’d become familiar with the glazed and vague looks my family would give me when I shared with them a snippet from my reading and while unintentional, it had hurt. I’d watch as everyone raved about Hyacinth’s quilts or Marigold’s artwork. But what I discovered in books wasn’t considered overly interesting to them, so I stopped sharing. It didn’t mean I stopped reading further, but I kept it to myself. Because of this learning, I knew now as I shivered uncontrollably that it was my body’s last attempt to sustain warmth. My sluggish, shifting thoughts moved from the past to the present and back again. It was like dreaming, but I was most definitely awake. If I slept, I wouldn’t hurt so much. My thoughts drifted again.
When I rode with Hyacinth and Jackson to the doctor’s that day, there had been frost on the ground and it had been bitterly cold. Jackson had given blankets to both Hyacinth and myself for the ride, but that didn’t do much to keep me warm, for I’d forgotten my hat in my haste. My cheeks burned and the tips of my ears were numb. Doctor James had opened the door to Jackson’s knock.
Nodding, he stepped back and allowed us entry. “Mr. and Mrs. Reed, Miss Lenox.”
He wore a black suit with a crisp white shirt. The thin dark tie he wore made him seem so stiff and formal. There was a pot-bellied stove in one corner that kept the room quite warm. I removed my gloves as I stared at Doctor James.
“I apologize for cancelling yesterday,” he said to Jackson and Hyacinth. “I had a sick patient out of town.”
“We understand,” Jackson said, then turned his head to give me a pointed look.
“Ah, yes.” It was time to take my leave. I pulled the supply list from my coat pocket and held it up. “I will get the basket and go fill this. Will an hour be sufficient?” I offered the question to Doctor James. He nodded once and held out his hand toward the inner doorway for Hyacinth and Jackson to proceed for their visit.
“Quite,” Doctor James said as my sister and brother-in-law left us alone in the room. His one-word response was what I had hoped for. I wanted to hear his unique accent and know his thoughts. Something… anything about the man.
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, hoping to calm my racing heart. I’d longed to be together like this, alone, but with him in front of me, tall and almost stern in demeanor, I didn’t know what to say. “I’m yours” wouldn’t work. Speaking of the weather was too benign a topic for the likes of him. “I… I have read that the allergic reaction to a bee sting is now noted to be similar to those who offered the same reaction to eating strawberries.”
Doctor James arched one dark brow. Instead of rolling his eyes as Dahlia often did or offering me a smile that indicated I was being humored as if I were a child, he tapped a finger over his lower lip.
“Indeed? Then it’s best that not only are there no bees this time of year, but the strawberries are not in season. Those who might fall prey have a reprieve.”
“Indeed,” I replied.
I inwardly groaned. I was a complete dolt. Why would a doctor want to learn something about medicine from a simple girl from the territory? Surely Amanda would have said something that was witty, humorous and made her appear even more attractive to the man. I came across as a ridiculous bluestocking. Flustered, I spun on my heel and opened the outer door to go about my errands. Perhaps then I could think of something witty to comment upon. Cold air swirled in.
I spun at the dark voice and looked at him, closing the door with my shoulder. Hopefully, he didn’t see the eagerness I tried to hide.
“You are well read,” he commented.
I offered a small smile. “I enjoy science.”
“You have books on the subject?” His voice did not hold a mocking tone and he seemed genuinely interested.
“Mr. Crane orders them for me and they are shipped from Denver. I hope to have a new one today.”
“On what subject?”
I bit my lip, afraid to say. “The migratory patterns of New England water fowl.”
The dark brow rose again and I could have sworn I saw the corner of his mouth tip up. “I see.”
When he said no more, I opened the door once again. Clearly he wasn’t interested.
“You’ve forgotten to wear your hat,” he commented, his words stopping me. “Winter comes early in these parts, I’ve learned. It is too cold to go without.”
I nodded dumbly.
“Perhaps you would like to choose a book from my collection the next time you are in town… if you wear your hat.”
I could only nod. “Perhaps you would like to read my new book when I have finished?”
“I might read it. Many of those New England birds migrate to Georgia, where I’m from.” He nodded his head. “Good day, Miss Lenox.”
My mouth fell open and I stood rooted in place as he left me to join Hyacinth and Jackson, the inner door clicking shut behind him. While I should have felt chastised by his words regarding my lack of outerwear, I felt something else entirely. It was the warm, soft feeling I had when he had complimented me in the mercantile over the summer.
I couldn’t help the grin that spread across my face and I dashed off to fill the list. Doctor James seemed to be one of the only people genuinely interested in the fact that I loved to read and the unusual topics at that. He’d only seemed mildly surprised, but did not mock me for being well read. In fact, he’d offered to lend me one of his books. It was this attention that made me feel… special. Happiness filled me and kept me warm in a way a hat could not do.
My thoughts returned to my current predicament. The horse continued to plod forward, step by step. He seemed to know where he was going. I should just sleep, then all would be better. I wouldn’t be cold any longer. I wouldn’t feel numb. The painful sting of the cold was gone now. I could continue to dream of Doctor James, to hear his voice, to imagine the feel of his hands. The horse whinnied, then settled. My hands fell from the reins. I’d let go and hadn’t felt it. I could just let go now.
Sleep. I’d just sleep for a minute.
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