Read His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage Online

Authors: Patricia Davids

Tags: #Fiction, #Religious, #Romance, #General

His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (19 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Dear Reader,

I hope you enjoyed
His Bundle of Love.
This was my first published novel. The story is one dear to my heart since I spent many years as a registered nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit much like the one where little Beth spent her first months. The drama, pain and joys of my work were sometimes difficult to put into words, but I wanted to portray Caitlin in a realistic light. Her feelings of guilt and helplessness are something many mothers experience when their baby is born prematurely.

While our nurses and doctors work tirelessly to save each child that comes to us, we also know that ultimately their fate is in God’s hands. It is His strength that makes our work possible.

Also like Caitlin, there are people secretly coping with illiteracy. Sometimes it is because of learning difficulties as a child or because of language barriers, but shame and fear of ridicule often lead these people to live without the joy of reading the Bible, a restaurant menu, a good romance or a simple story to their grandchildren. I hope my portrayal of Caitlin’s struggles has given you new insight into this growing problem.

The Color of Courage

A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
—Proverbs
16:9

To Joshua.
You’re the best grandson in the world, honey.
Now get those grades up!
And to all the men and women serving
in the United States military.
Please accept my thanks and my humble gratitude.

Prologue

“L
indsey...I need you...to do this.”

Standing beside her brother’s hospital bed, Sergeant Lindsey Mandel fought back tears. She held his hand though she knew he couldn’t feel it. “Danny, what if it doesn’t work out?”

“You’ll make it work...I know you will.” He spoke quickly because he could only talk when the ventilator keeping him alive breathed out.

She brushed her hand over his close-shaven head. He was six years older than she was, thirty-one to her twenty-five. Today, he looked decades older than when she had seen him three months ago. “Don’t give up, Danny. You can still get better.”

A wry smile twisted his lips. “Who are you...kidding?” What might have been a chuckle turned into a cough and an alarm sounded from the monitor above his bed.

Frightened, Lindsey glanced to Danny’s wife, Abigail, sitting on the other side of the bed. Behind her, the door to the room opened and a nurse in green scrubs looked in. The beeping stopped and Abigail waved the woman away. “It’s all right. He just needs to stop talking for a while.”

Admiring her sister-in-law’s calm, Lindsey willed herself to relax. Abigail rose, moved to Lindsey’s side and asked, “Why don’t we go grab a cup of coffee?”

“Good idea.... Get her...out of here...for a while.”

Abigail leaned down and kissed his forehead. “You just want us to leave so you can flirt with the cute nurses.”

“Rats...you found...me out.” He closed his eyes.

Lindsey leaned down to kiss him, too. “I’ll be back,” she promised.

He nodded, but his eyes remained closed. He looked so weary. When she turned to go, she heard him say, “I’m proud of you...First Sergeant...Mandel.”

A heavy band of emotion squeezed her heart. “I’m proud of you, too, Master Sergeant Mandel.”

“Don’t spend...your whole leave...in this hospital.”

“I’ll spend my leave anywhere I choose,” she retorted.

A fleeting smile crossed his face. “Headstrong... as ever.”

“Because you raised me that way. Stop talking and rest.”

Outside of his room, Lindsey paused as several men in uniform walked past, pushing others in wheelchairs. Everywhere she looked, the halls of Walter Reed hospital bustled with activity. Walking silently beside Abigail to a small waiting room, Lindsey waited until her sister-in-law filled two cups from the vending machine. Dressed in a pair of rumpled beige slacks and a wrinkled mauve shirt with her dark hair pulled back haphazardly into a silver clip, Abigail looked worn to the bone.

“The coffee isn’t good, but I’ve had worse.” She handed one to Lindsey.

Lindsey stirred a packet of creamer into the piping brew. “I can’t believe Danny wants me to take Dakota away. He loves that horse. He’s given up, hasn’t he?”

Initially, her brother’s will to live in spite of his injuries had helped Lindsey cope, but the unfairness of it all weighed on her.

Abigail gestured toward the red vinyl chairs lining the wall. “Why don’t we sit down. I don’t think he has given up. He’s just coming to terms with the reality of the situation. The shrapnel severed his spine. He’s a quadriplegic. After three months of therapy, he knows he isn’t going to get much better.”

“But there’s still hope.”

“The doctors think, with work, he’ll be able to breathe on his own, but he’ll never ride again. Yes, he loves that horse. That’s why he wants you to take Dakota back to Fort Riley with you.”

“Danny has lost so much already. It doesn’t seem right to take Dakota away, too.”

“Look around you, Lindsey. Most of the men and women who are patients here were wounded in action. Do you know what the majority of them say they want? To stay in the service. To get back to their units. Danny knows he can never go back, but he needs to do something positive. He feels he can do that by donating Dakota to your unit. You have no idea how excited he was when he heard about your transfer into the mounted color guard last year.”

“Danny tried to transfer into the Third Infantry a number of times. The Old Guard has a mounted unit. Why not donate Dakota to them? That way Dakota would still be in Washington, D.C., and Danny could go and see him when he’s better.”

“I thought about that, but the Old Guard only takes black, gray or white horses. Your unit takes bays.”

Brown horses with black manes and tails and minimal white markings were the traditional mounts of the Seventh Cavalry, the regiment Lindsey’s unit portrayed at Fort Riley, Kansas. Dakota wouldn’t be excluded for that reason, but less than half of the horses brought to the fort passed the intensive training requirements.

“What if he isn’t suitable for us? Then what?”

“He’s just got to be, Lindsey. Please, make this work. It would mean so much to Danny. He desperately needs something to look forward to, or else—or else I’m afraid to think about what could happen.”

Chapter One

L
eaning forward in the saddle, Lindsey patted Dakota’s neck and tried to quell her nervousness. “This is it, boy. This is your final test. You have to get this right.”

The dark brown gelding responded by tossing his head and pulling at the reins as if to show her that he was eager to get down to business. She couldn’t help but smile.

Running a hand down her mount’s sleek, muscular neck, she found the calmness she needed. She drew a deep, cleansing breath. The cool breeze carried the smell of dust, fallen leaves and the earthy scent of horses. Looking over the fence to the hills rising just beyond the road, she saw the golden-hued stone buildings of old Fort Riley where they stood nestled between oaks, elms and sycamores bearing the first touches of fall colors. Dakota pulled impatiently at the reins again.

“Okay, I’m the one stalling,” she admitted. “I just want this so badly—for you and me, but mostly for Danny.”

Each week her brother called for updates about Dakota’s training, offering advice and pointers that she didn’t really need but accepted anyway. Today, he would be waiting impatiently for her call. She intended to give him good news.

Reaching down, she checked that her saber and rifle would slide easily out of their scabbard and boot. The reproduction models of the 1860s U.S. Cavalry equipment were spotless after her careful preparations that morning. Even the brass buttons of her blue wool cavalry jacket gleamed brightly in the late-morning sun. She was as ready as she could get.

Be with us today, Lord, for Danny’s sake.

At the touch of her heels, Dakota bounded forward. Together, they sailed over a series of low jumps, then slid to a halt and whirled back at the end of the field. On the return run, Lindsey drew her saber and headed into a series of poles topped with red and white balloons. As Dakota wove in and out, she slashed left and right, breaking as many as she could. He didn’t even flinch at the loud pops or the swish of the sword cutting close beside him.

Four men on horseback waited for her at the end of the course. She slowed to a trot. Each man drew his saber and held it over his head with the tip pointing backward. One by one she struck their swords with her own as she passed close behind them, making the steel weapons ring with bell-like tones.

Sheathing her saber, she drew her pistols. Digging her heels into her mount’s sides, she headed into the jumps again, this time blasting the balloons with her revolvers. Dakota raced on without faltering until they cleared the last hurdle. Only one maneuver remained.

Holstering her guns, she pulled the horse to a sliding stop and dismounted. Drawing her carbine rifle from its boot, she gave a low command, lifted Dakota’s foreleg and pulled his head around. “Throwing the Horse” was the hardest movement for the young gelding to perform. Many horses refused the command.

To her relief, Dakota knelt, then lay down and rolled onto his side without hesitation.

“Stay down,” she ordered. Stretching out behind his back, Lindsey rested her rifle on his shoulder and fired off three rounds. They were only blanks, but the sharp reports were as loud as if they had been real bullets. Dakota jerked slightly at the sound of the first discharge, but remained quietly on his side, providing lifesaving cover for his rider as cavalry horses have been trained to do through the ages.

As the echoes of the last shot died away, Lindsey rose to her feet and gave the command to stand. After scrambling to his feet, Dakota shook himself and waited patiently for her to remount. She wanted to throw her arms around his neck and hug him, but not now, not yet.

“Good boy, you were perfect. Just perfect,” she murmured as she swung up into the saddle. She knew she was grinning like a fool, but she couldn’t help it. After only three months of training, Dakota had proved himself worthy of a place in the elite Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard at Fort Riley. Danny would be so proud.

She returned to the end of the field, where other members of her unit sat on their horses. Beside the men, Captain Jeffery Watson, her unit commander, stood with his arms crossed and a faint frown on his face. Stopping in front of him, Lindsey saluted smartly.

“Well done, Sergeant Mandel.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The other men in her unit gathered around. “You looked fine out there.” Private Avery Barnes was the next to offer his opinion. The dark-haired Boston native pushed his cap back to smile at her with a roguish grin.

“She always looks good. It was Dakota who looked great,” drawled Corporal Shane Ross as he leaned over and patted the horse’s neck. It was no secret the tall blond Texan was fond of all the four-legged members of the unit. He took as much pride in their skill as he did in the abilities of the horses’ human partners.

“So, does this mean Dakota is in?” the third soldier queried. Private Lee Gillis, the newest enlisted member of the mounted color guard was watching their captain closely.

Captain Watson reached out to rub Dakota’s cheek. “I will admit that I was worried when I learned that Dakota belonged to your brother, Sergeant.”

Lindsey gave him a puzzled look. “May I ask why?”

“The last thing I wanted to do was to tell a wounded veteran that his horse wasn’t suitable for our unit. Thanks to your hard work, I won’t have to do that. I think Dakota makes a fine addition to our stable.”

She nearly melted with relief as the men around her grinned and offered their congratulations. “Thank you, sir. I know I speak for my brother when I say that it is an honor to have Dakota accepted.”

Crossing his arms again, the captain allowed a smile to soften his stern features. “As the icing on this cake, I wanted you all to know that I just received word from the Joint Task Force-Armed Forces Inaugural Committee that the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard had been invited to participate in the upcoming Presidential Inauguration parade.”

A cheer of excitement went up from the men. Lindsey grinned at their enthusiasm, “That’s wonderful news, sir. Will Dakota be going, too?”

“Dakota has earned his place. And, of course, as the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, you will be the U.S. flag bearer for our unit. I’m sure you’ll want to ride Dakota for that, but if you prefer another mount, I’ll understand.”

“Oh, no, I’ll be riding Dakota.” Wait until she told Danny. He would burst his buttons with pride.

“I’ve decided to include Dakota in Saturday’s performance. Can he handle the crowd at a Kansas State football game?”

“I know he can, sir.”

“Good. That will be all, Sergeant. Dismiss the detail.” Captain Watson stepped back from the horses.

Lindsey saluted, dismissed the men and then let the overwhelming happiness sink in. Being asked to participate in the Inaugural parade was an incredible honor. She might be the one bearing the flag, but she would be carrying it for her brother. Giddy with delight, she headed for the stables. This was one phone call she couldn’t wait to make.

* * *

Early Saturday afternoon, Brian Cutter walked along the edge of the Kansas State University football field in Manhattan, Kansas, leaning heavily on his cane. Halftime activities for the first home game of the year were well underway. The energetic shouts of cheerleaders dressed in purple and white, the noise from thousands of fans and the blare of the band was almost deafening. But Brian had his eye on a group of halftime performers who seemed unfazed by the clamor.

Beneath the goalposts at the north end of the field, six horses stood quietly waiting for their riders. The matching bays all sported dark blue blankets and McClellan Cavalry saddles.

He had watched them being unloaded behind the stadium and something in the third horse’s gait had caught his attention. The gelding’s walk wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was nothing more than a bruise from the trailer ride, but he wanted to make sure the horse’s rider was aware of what he’d seen. Until the horse was examined, it shouldn’t be ridden.

The riders were out now and preparing to mount. Brian tried to hurry, but his bad leg was aching again. He didn’t need a weatherman to tell him a cold front was moving in. Sharp pain shot through his hip and forced him to rely more heavily on his cane, making him feel much older than his thirty-two years. He arrived at the temporary picket line just as a young woman dressed in Civil War military garb was checking her saddle and girth.

“Excuse me, miss. I need a word with you.” Brian knew he sounded curt and short of breath. She turned her attention on him and whatever he had intended to say flew out of his mind the way a yearling bolts out the barn door and into a summertime pasture.

She was a stunning woman. Even dressed in men’s clothing did little to hide her feminine figure. The round, flat-topped soldier’s cap with its short bill sat atop a mass of thick, auburn curls, but it was her eyes that captured his attention. An unusual color of silver green, they reminded him of the springtime quaking aspen near his Montana childhood home. A sprinkling of freckles dusted her cheeks and nose. Her lips were full and parted in a sweet smile.

“Yes?” she prompted. Something in her wide smile reminded him of Emily.

He pushed the ridiculous idea aside. His deceased wife and this woman didn’t look alike at all.

The female soldier glanced to where the other members of the group were forming up. “You said you needed a word with me? I’m about to go on. Can you make it quick?” Her tone was polite but dismissive. He found himself irritated with her attitude.

“Your horse is lame. You shouldn’t be riding him until someone looks at his right front leg.”

She frowned, as if deciding whether or not to take him seriously. “Dakota seems fine to me.”

To her credit, she walked around the animal and ran her hand down the horse’s leg, then led him a few steps to observe him before giving Brian a frosty smile. “I don’t see a problem.”

“I saw it when he got off the trailer.”

She swung up into the saddle with ease. Looking down at him, she managed a smile that wasn’t quite polite. “We just finished a fifteen-minute warm-up. He’s fine, honest. I’m sorry, but my men are waiting on me.”

“You’re doing the animal a disservice. You should pull him out of this exhibition until he can be examined.”

“Thank you for your concern, but I know this horse better than anyone. If he were having trouble, I’d be the first to notice.”

He stepped forward and laid a hand on the horse’s bridle. “I’m a vet. I get paid to notice when an animal isn’t moving right.”

From the corner of her eye, Lindsey saw that several of the support men from her unit who weren’t riding had begun to move toward her. If this guy didn’t back off, he might find himself in a lot of trouble. A scene was the last thing she wanted. A big part of the CGMCG’s mission was public relations.

“That may be true, but you aren’t our vet. Thank you for your concern. Excuse me, I have to go.”

“Suit yourself, but you’ll only make him more lame. When he’s limping tomorrow, remember that I told you so.” He stepped aside to let her ride out and join her group.

Lindsey cast a look back at the rude man who seemed to think he had some say in what she did. He was a little above medium height and slender, but not skinny. His gray eyes were piercing and a perfect match to the leaden sky overhead. Nicely dressed in a gray tweed sport coat over a blue button-down oxford shirt and gray slacks, he wasn’t a bad-looking guy. She might even have said he was kind of cute except for his personality.
Arrogant
wasn’t a strong enough word to describe him.

Dismissing the man’s brusque words, Lindsey forced herself to concentrate as the unit lined up for their first maneuver. Today they would begin the exhibition by riding two by two and taking four low hurdles as a column while their bugler blew “To the Gallop.” It was a sure crowd-pleaser.

Lindsey patted Dakota’s neck while they waited. They were the first horse and rider in a line of three. During his warm-up, he hadn’t seemed as eager as usual, but they had been training hard the past few days and they were both tired. Still, he certainly hadn’t been favoring either front leg.

“We’ll take a few days’ rest after today, fella. How does that sound?”

Actually, it sounded like a really good idea. She hadn’t realized how tired she was until her conversation with the grumpy guy.

She glanced back once more. He was watching her from the picket line. The wind blew his shaggy blond hair this way and that. The frown on his face made him look intimidating. He was rubbing his right thigh until he saw her looking. He stopped and straightened. Still scowling, he walked down the sidelines in front of the stands. She couldn’t help wondering why he needed the cane. Was it a recent injury?

Perhaps the last woman he had tried to bully had kicked him in the shin. The image made Lindsey smile until she realized how unkind it was. The man had only been trying to help.

Beside them, the bugle sounded and Lindsey leaned forward as they began at a walk, then advanced to a trot and then into a gallop down the football field. Making a turn in tight formation, the horses thundered toward a row of jumps set up on the fifty yard line. As they approached the first obstacle, she felt Dakota hesitate then jump off stride. With another horse close behind them, there was no room for error.

Something was wrong. Before she could pull out of line they were on the second jump. Dakota launched forward, and she relaxed. This jump was good. He was fine.

Only he wasn’t. His knees buckled when his front feet hit the ground. He fell, catapulting her forward. Lindsey threw out her arms and tried to kick free of the stirrups. She had an instant to breathe a prayer for help before she felt the impact of her body hitting the ground, followed by Dakota’s weight rolling over her.

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
7.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Supernatural: Night Terror by Passarella, John
A Merry Christmas by Louisa May Alcott
A Taste of Paradise by Connie Mason
Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers