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Authors: Patricia Davids

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

His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (22 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“I don’t agree with you, but I won’t say anything for now.”

“That’s all I’m asking. Thank you. So, are you going to open that can for me or not?”

Smiling, her sister tossed the can in the air and caught it again. “I’ll give it my best shot.”

Karen successfully extracted the yellow kernels from their stubborn metal prison while Lindsey put the kettle on to boil. A minute later the oven timer rang. Karen snatched up the pot holder before Lindsey could reach it and opened the oven. She pulled out a cookie sheet with a small pizza on it.

“This is your lunch?”

“That and the corn.”

“Pizza and corn?”

“It’s not as weird as it sounds.”

“Yes, it is. You need something healthy.” Karen set the cookie sheet on top of the stove.

“This is healthy.”

“At least drink some milk with it.” Karen pulled open the refrigerator door.

Lindsey winced. She knew there wasn’t any milk. In fact, there wasn’t much of anything in her fridge except a half-empty bottle of ketchup and one lonely dill pickle in a jar. “I haven’t had a chance to get to the commissary.”

Karen shut the door and frowned at Lindsey. “Since when?”

“Since before the accident.”

“Obviously, it’s a good thing I stopped by. Eat while I have a cup of tea and then I’ll drive you to wherever you need to go.”

Lindsey used a spatula to transfer her overly crisp pizza to a plate and then set the plate on the table. “You don’t have to run errands for me.”

“I can see that no one else is. Where are the tea bags?”

The kettle began to whistle. After finding a cup and filling it with hot water, Karen joined Lindsey at the table. Waiting until after her sister had fixed the tea, Lindsey asked, “Are you going to tell me why you’re here?”

Karen raised her cup to her lips and blew on the steaming brew. She took a sip and set the cup down. “This is very good tea. What kind did you say it was?”

“Earl Grey, and don’t change the subject.”

Taking a deep breath, Karen closed her eyes and said, “It’s Dad.”

“I don’t understand.”

Karen leaned her elbows on the table. “He won’t stop fixing me up. I’m only twenty-one but all of the sudden he acts like I’m the only chance he’ll ever have for grandchildren. There has been a steady parade of guys who just
happen
to stop by our apartment. He’s driving me crazy.”

“I’m sure Dad—like the rest of us—is having a hard time adjusting to Danny’s condition. Do you want me to talk to him?” Lindsey took one bite of her pizza, then pushed the unappetizing concoction to the side.

“Thanks for the offer,” Karen said gently. “But I’m hoping a little separation will be good for both of us. That’s why I’m at your door begging to stay and nurse you through this injury. And before you say no, I did discuss this with Abigail. She can do without me for a few weeks. Please, can I stay?”

Lindsey patted the orthopedic brace and sling the specialist had fitted her with. “I don’t need a nurse, but a roommate who can grocery shop and run the can opener will be a welcome addition until I’m out of this contraption.”

“Honey, that sounds great.” Karen’s relief was evident.

“Don’t be too sure. This is a one-bedroom apartment and that means
you
get the sofa.”

Karen’s tinkling laughter was music to Lindsey’s ears. During their frequent and lengthy phone conversations, the sound of happiness had been sadly lacking in her sister’s voice. Danny’s injury had affected everyone. They were all trying to find a new “normal” for the family.

Picking up her teacup, Karen said, “Roommates pay rent. What’s space on a lumpy couch going to cost me?”

“The use of two good arms and your skill as a chauffeur. If you really don’t mind driving me, I’m dying to get over to the university to see how Dakota is doing. But what about school? Can you afford to take the time off?”

Setting the white cup down, Karen picked up her spoon and began to stir. “I had already decided to take a semester off. I couldn’t concentrate in class. There was no use flunking out on top of everything else.”

Seeing Karen’s grief made Lindsey acutely aware that her baby sister was dealing with a lot more than their father’s matchmaking. “I wish I was closer so that I could help, too.”

Rising, she carried her plate to the counter. After dumping the remains of her uneaten lunch in the trash, she laid the dish in the sink and turned on the water. It was then that she felt Karen’s hands on her shoulders turning her around.

Tears blurred Lindsey’s vision and she loathed the fact. She had tried so hard not to cry. “I hate that this has happened to him.”

“I know.” Karen’s voice was low and brimming with emotion. “But Danny believed that protecting his country was more than a job. It was something that he knew in his heart he had to do.”

Lindsey squeezed her eyes shut against the pain that swallowed her heart and made it hard to breathe. “But the price...was too high. He is the best...and the brightest...and this seems so cruel.” The words, when she finally managed them, were ragged and broken between her sobs.

“I know you love him. He knows it, too.”

“I haven’t told him that often enough.”

“You don’t have to. He sees it. I wish I could hug you, but I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.”

“My left side is fine,” she hiccupped. To prove it, she embraced Karen with one arm and the two of them clung together as they wept.

* * *

From the corner of his eye, Brian caught the fugitive movement. Without looking up from the grant application on his desk, he said, “Isabella, don’t chew on that pencil.”

The culprit ignored him.

He tried injecting more menace into his tone. “Isabella, I said, no!”

The oversize brown lop-eared rabbit perched on the corner of his large desk chose to disregard his warning. She pulled her prize from the purple Wildcat mug he used to hold his writing utensils. Settling the yellow number two under one paw, she began to nibble it to bits.

“You little minx.” He rose from his chair and scooped her up, tucking her firmly under one arm. He stuck the pencil back in the mug with numerous other scarred victims.

He drew a hand down her soft, furry body, then scratched her favorite spot behind her left ear. “Why do you always zero in on the new ones?”

Lifting his cane from the back of his chair, he crossed the office and pulled open the door. Seated at the reception desk was one of the young students who doubled as a part-time secretary for him.

“Jennifer, will you put Isabella in her outside cage, please?”

“Of course. What did you do to get banished from Dr. Cutter’s desk this time?” she asked the rabbit as she took her from Brian.

“The usual,” he answered.

“Ah, pencil nibbling, were we?” She, too, scratched the bunny behind the ears.

“I can’t break her of the habit.”

“You could try switching to pens.”

“I like pencils. They let me change my mind as often as I need to.”

“So does the delete key on your computer.”

“It isn’t the same.”

Rolling her eyes, Jennifer headed for the outside door and said, “Therein lies your problem, Doctor. You have to learn to say what you mean the first time.”

Brian turned back to his office. He knew how to say what he meant, but he was often accused of being too gruff. Whenever he needed to draft a letter or a grant application, he worked and reworked the words until they seemed soft and polite enough. Pencils worked best for the task. After he had the tone he wanted, he typed his work into his computer. Some might say he was making twice the work for himself, but he still preferred his tried-and-true method.

Certainly, his upcoming lecture on pastern arthrodesis for the Equine Surgical Conference in January was no exception. It was an honor to be asked to speak and he wanted his address to be perfect. He intended to rework it until he was completely satisfied. Fortunately, the college bookstore had an excellent supply of the large yellow legal pads he liked best.

Back at his desk, he put aside his work on his presentation for the moment and opened the file on Dakota. The gelding wasn’t doing as well as he had hoped. The surgery itself had gone well, but the big horse seemed to be having more pain instead of less. That wasn’t encouraging. A knock at his door caused him to look up. Jennifer stood in the doorway minus the rabbit.

She motioned toward the folder he held. “Is that the file on the army horse? I was wondering how he was getting along.”

“I’m not happy with his progress. Even with the medication he’s getting, his respiratory rate and pulse rate are higher than they should be. The staff has been reporting that he’s restless and he isn’t eating well.”

“None of those are good signs.”

A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth, but he held it back. “So you
have
been paying attention in class. Will wonders never cease?”

She blushed and looked chagrined. “Is there anything else you need, Doctor? If not, I’m going to take off.”

He hadn’t meant to offend her, but before he could form the right words to apologize, she was out the door.

Of all the females he had known in his life, only Isabella never seemed to care what tone he chose or how gruff his words sounded. If only more women had her tolerance, his life would be a lot easier.

Before he had a chance to dwell on the current poor state of his interpersonal skills, Jennifer opened the door again. “Doctor, Sergeant Mandel is here to see you.”

The sudden rush of pleasure he felt at hearing her name unnerved him. He tried unsuccessfully to stifle his excitement.

“Show her in.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

She nodded but before she could close the door, he said, “Jennifer, I was teasing earlier when I made that remark about you paying attention in class.”

“You were?”

“Of course. I think you have an excellent future in the surgical field.”

She looked doubtful. “You do?”

“I do.”

She flipped her long blond hair back over one shoulder. “Wow! Okay, but next time you’re kidding someone, Doc, you should smile.”

“I’ll certainly try to do so.”

Chapter Four

J
ennifer held open the door so that Lindsey and another young woman could enter Brian’s office. Lindsey appeared much more rested today, he noticed when she walked in. To his surprise, she looked even prettier than he remembered. She radiated an energy that seemed to warm a place inside him that he had almost forgotten existed. Like the dancing flames of a campfire on a cold night in the mountains, she left him longing to draw closer to the warmth.

Wearing a camouflage shirt and matching pants with black boots, she looked every inch the soldier—except for the blue sling on her arm. She certainly wasn’t the type of woman that normally would have interested him. Since his wife’s death he couldn’t think of a single woman he had been this attracted to, but there was something about this woman that intrigued him. He didn’t care for the sensation. When he realized he was staring, he shook off the fanciful notion and rose to his feet. “Please come in, Sergeant Mandel. Have a seat.”

Her smile flashed briefly and was gone. She appeared hesitant as she sat on the sofa. “Thank you for seeing us. This is my sister, Karen Mandel.”

He nodded to the woman dressed in jeans and a tailored navy shirt. “I’m pleased to meet you.”

Addressing the two of them, he said, “As you may know, Dakota’s surgery went very well. He’s tolerating his cast, which is always a good thing. In two to three weeks he’ll go back to surgery to have the pins removed and a new cast applied.”

“Yes, Captain Watson has been keeping us informed,” Karen said softly.

“Captain Watson is the reason we’re here,” Lindsey began. “Because of this arm, I’ve been reassigned to light duty. My orders are to oversee Dakota’s care.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’ll be doing what I can to help here. Karen has asked to be involved, as well, and Captain Watson has agreed. Providing we’re not in the way, of course.”

“Are you sure you’re fit to work?”

“I can do whatever is needed, within reason.”

“Working around sick and injured horses can be dangerous.”

She leaned toward him, her smile changing from hesitant to forced. “I know that, Doctor.”

Of course she did. She was the one with the broken arm. Retreating into his most professional demeanor, he said tersely, “That is something you can’t forget when you are here. Given your injury, I’m not sure what you will be able to do.”

Her smile disappeared. Did he only imagine the room grew a few degrees cooler?

“I’ve been taking care of the unit’s animals for over a year, Doctor. All sixteen horses plus the two mules. I’m sure I can manage to be of some help to you and your staff, even if all I do is muck out the stall. I know how to follow orders.”

He sat back in his chair, registering her annoyed tone. She was upset, but he didn’t know why. “Very well. I’ll let the staff know that you’ll be...assisting here until the horse is fit to return to the army’s stables.”

“Thank you,” she snapped back.

“May I see Dakota now?” Karen asked, glancing between Lindsey and himself with an odd gleam in her eyes.

“Certainly. He is through the double doors at the end of the hallway. His stall is the first one on the left down the first aisle. I need to speak with my secretary and then I’ll join you at his stall in case you have any questions.”

Brian tucked the file under his arm and escaped from his office. Fortunately, Jennifer had already left for the evening. He laid the file down and raked his fingers through his hair as he tried to gather his scattered thoughts.

The idea of having Lindsey in the clinic every day was a disturbing one. Without understanding exactly why, he knew she would interfere with his work. She would be a distraction he didn’t need, but he couldn’t see how to prevent her from coming.

Her request wasn’t all that unusual. Animal owners occasionally spent long hours with their pets and he’d rarely had to forbid access. Besides, she had her orders. There wasn’t much he could do about it except try to avoid her.

Even as the thought occurred to him, he knew that avoiding Lindsey wasn’t what he really wanted.

* * *

“Take a deep breath, Lindsey,” Karen said after Dr. Cutter had left the room.

Lindsey tried to swallow her irritation with the man. “I’m a soldier in the United States Army. I’ve been trained to do my duty no matter what the circumstances. A broken arm is no treat, but I’ve been assigned to Dakota’s care and I’ll follow my orders. It doesn’t matter if he thinks I can or not.”

“He’s only trying to be kind.”

“I didn’t hear a lick of kindness in his tone.”

“Maybe not in his tone, but I certainly saw it in the way he was looking at you.”

Lindsey turned to Karen in stunned surprise. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“I don’t blame you for being interested in him. He’s attractive and he loves animals—what’s not to like?”

“I certainly don’t see the same thing you do. Come on, I’ll show you where they’re keeping Dakota.”

Leaving his office, Lindsey glanced toward the reception area. Dr. Cutter was standing at the desk, but his cute young secretary was nowhere to be seen. Not that it mattered what his hired help looked like. It certainly didn’t matter. Not to her, Lindsey decided.

Leading Karen toward the recovery stalls, Lindsey waited until they were through the door before she spoke her mind.

“The man is rude and he’s arrogant and I am certainly not interested in him.”

“I’ll admit he needs a little fine-tuning, but he has potential.”

“Potential for what? No, don’t tell me or you’ll sound like Danny. He never lets up with the ‘When are you going to settle down?’ speech. Once he got married, all he could think about was how I needed to find someone, too.”

Being in love had made him forget the painful scenes from their childhood, but Lindsey never forgot them. She knew better than to believe she could make an army career and a marriage work. Her own parents had been perfect examples of how wrong it could get. The endless fights, the recriminations, the tears and the broken promises she had witnessed as a child were things she couldn’t forget. As far as she was concerned, it was better not to have children than to subject them to the kind of childhood she’d had.

Marriage was hard enough without adding frequent reassignment, long separations and dangerous duty to the mix. Danny had been willing to take the chance that he could make it work with Abigail, and maybe they would be one of the blessed ones, but Lindsey wasn’t willing to open her heart up to that kind of pain.

At Dakota’s stall, Karen leaned through the rails and ran a hand down the big bay’s nose. “Whatever made you think I was talking about settling down?” she quipped. The sly smile she cast Lindsey over her shoulder made Lindsey want to shake her.

Leaning on the gate beside her sister, Lindsey decided to set her straight. “For your information, I have no intention of starting a relationship. The army is my life. I love moving to new posts, seeing new places, meeting new people.”

“Why? I hated it as a kid.”

“I guess the good Lord gave me the wanderlust gene. Our father had it and the next generation of Mandels will probably have it, too.”

“Except that there won’t be a next generation of Mandels.” Karen’s soft words brought the extent of their loss into sharp focus.

Lindsey slipped her good arm over Karen’s shoulders. “I’m sorry. That was a thoughtless comment on my part. We can pray that Danny and Abigail may still be blessed with a child.”

“I guess we can’t spend our lives trying not to say or do something that will remind us of Danny’s condition. I think it has been hardest on Dad. He really wanted to see the traditions of the family carried on.”

“I know. That’s my duty now. I’m going to carry on and serve with distinction.”

“Why? Hasn’t our family given this country enough?”

“You don’t mean that.”

“I’ve often wondered if you aren’t trying to live the life you think Dad wanted without finding out what kind of life you wanted for yourself.”

“This
is
the life I want,” Lindsey insisted.

Karen sighed in defeat. “As long as that’s true then I’m going to be happy for you, but you don’t have to do it alone. Sharing life’s burdens is part of the reason God made it so that two could become one.”

Reaching out, Lindsey tweaked her sister’s nose. “When did you get so wise?”

“I think it was in Philosophy 101 my freshman year.”

Lindsey smiled at her joke. The door to the hallway opened and Brian walked over to join them. “Do you have any questions, ladies?”

Lindsey turned to study Dakota. The cast extended from above his knee to below his hoof. It was wrapped in bright blue cloth.

“As you can see,” Brian began, “he is wearing special shoes on his other feet to accommodate the height of the cast and keep him standing level.”

“Why is that important?” Karen stepped over to make room for Brian to stand between herself and Lindsey.

“It will help prevent undue stress on his other legs. Horses carry most of their weight on their front legs. Unlike dogs or cats, they can’t stand three legged for long. We want him standing evenly, but not moving around much.”

“I expected to see him hanging from a sling.”

“We do use slings if we have to, but usually that is for bone breaks in the upper legs.”

Lindsey drew her hand down Dakota’s neck. “He doesn’t look as if he feels well. Is he in pain?”

Brian flipped through the chart that was wired to the front of the stall. “I’ve ordered pain medication. He’s been receiving regular doses. His X-rays show the pins are in excellent position. He should recover full use of the leg.”

Lindsey finally voiced the question she had been afraid to ask until now. “Do you believe Dakota could be healed enough to walk three miles with a rider by late January?”

“It might be possible, but I can’t give you a guarantee.”

“He has to be fit by then. If it’s possible, then that’s good enough for me. If you do your best for him, prayer will take us the rest of the way.”

“I’m sorry, but why does he have to be fit by late January?”

She turned to face him. “Because the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard will be participating in the Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C., on January twentieth and Dakota has to be there.”

Brian shook his head. “That’s only ten weeks away.”

“But is it possible?”

“If this new treatment works as well as I hope, perhaps, but you certainly can’t count on it.”

“He’ll make it. I know he will. I have faith.”

“Unrealistic expectations will only lead to disappointment, Sergeant Mandel.”

“Aren’t you a man of faith?” Karen asked.

“I’m a man of science, especially when I’m in this building. Dakota’s progress will be carefully documented and analyzed to help gauge the success or failure of this therapy. I believe in what can be documented. I believe in results that I can quantify.”

Lindsey studied his face and noticed again the stormy gray color of his eyes. Was he always so serious, she wondered? What did he do for fun? Was he married? She glanced at his hand. He didn’t wear a ring.

The direction her speculations were heading surprised her. She forced herself to stick to the important topic at hand. “Has this therapy been tried before?”

“In small animals like rabbits and dogs, but surgical repairs on horses are very different. Their weight is the biggest issue. The stress load on the healing break can be very high. That can lead to repair failures, especially if the horse is high-strung and doesn’t remain quiet.”

“Dakota isn’t high-strung, but he loves to work. I’m not sure how he’ll take being confined.”

“He has been quiet for us.”

Lindsey ran a hand down Dakota’s back. “I still think he is in pain. Isn’t there something else you can do for him?”

“I don’t want to add additional medications unless I have to. If he is having pain, I’m sure it will decrease soon.”

Lindsey noticed that Brian seemed ill at ease. He didn’t make eye contact with her. He kept a tight grip on the chart as if it was some type of shield. His superior manner began to irritate her. Either he wasn’t really concerned about the horse or he didn’t think she knew what she was talking about. Why did everything this man said rub her the wrong way?

“It isn’t fair that Dakota has to suffer because you don’t want to mess up your study.”

“I assure you we don’t let our patients suffer needlessly.”

“How can I be sure of that?”

His eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Are you questioning my judgment?”

“Of course not, Dr. Cutter,” Karen interjected calmly. “I’m sure Dakota is getting the best of care.”

“He is. If you intend to make yourself useful, Sergeant, I suggest you see my secretary first thing in the morning. She will supply you with a list of duties and the times we have set up for Dakota’s treatments. I’m sure she’ll be able to find something you can manage with one arm.”

With that, he left the two women and exited through an outside door.

Lindsey cast a sideways glance at Karen. “You’re right, he has potential. He has the potential to annoy me to no end. He isn’t the only one who knows about horses. There’s more than one way to treat pain in an animal.”

“You aren’t giving him a chance, Lindsey.”

Maybe Karen was right. “I know, but something about him gets to me.”

“Why?”

“Maybe it’s because he never smiles. When he’s talking to me, I get the feeling that he’d rather be somewhere else. Maybe I just don’t like that he was right and I was wrong the day Dakota fell.”

Karen studied Lindsey for a long moment. “I think there is more to your feeling than dislike. You know, I think I’m going to enjoy watching the two of you butt heads.”

* * *

As he pulled into the driveway of his home, Brian decided he had wasted enough time thinking about Lindsey Mandel. Why should he care if she didn’t trust his judgment? Except that he did care.

Stepping out of his pickup, he opened the small carrier on the front seat that Isabella rode in and lifted her out. “Come on, girl, we’re home. Let’s see what the mailman left for us.”

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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