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Authors: Patricia Davids

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His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (24 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“Lindsey!” Avery called from the rear of the truck where he was throwing a saddle on a gray gelding named Tiger. “My saber is in the back of the trailer. Can you get it for me?”

“Sure thing.” She stood and moved toward the trailer, taking the time to speak softly so that all the horses knew she was passing behind them. In the trailer, she opened the door of the storage compartment and pulled out Avery’s sword.

“Is that real?” a small voice asked behind her.

She turned to smile at two young boys who were obviously brothers. They boasted the exact same shade of ash-blond hair and identical pairs of bright blue eyes. The oldest boy looked to be about ten years old. She pegged the younger one at six or seven.

“Yes, this is a real saber. It’s a replica of the type used by the U.S. Cavalry back in the Civil War. If your parents take you over to the rodeo arena after the parade, you can see how they are used.”

“Wow,” said the littlest, wide-eyed youngster.

“Told you it was real,” his brother said smugly.

“But soldiers don’t ride horses anymore. They drive jeeps and tanks,” the younger one stated with a glare at his older sibling.

Lindsey vividly remembered arguing with Danny over silly things when they were kids. Her memories of him were good ones, she realized. For the first time since his injury, those memories didn’t bring pain, but rather a quiet joy.

“You’re right,” she said. “Modern soldiers do drive jeeps and tanks, but there are special units like mine that are keeping the traditions of the Old West cavalry alive. We are real soldiers and this is our job.”

“Cool.”

“Way cool. Can I hold the sword?”

She shook her head. “I’m afraid not.”

Clearly disappointed, the young pair took off back into the crowd forming along one side of the town’s main street.

Lindsey carried the saber to Avery. He tipped his head in the direction to the boys. “New recruits?”

“Maybe. The little one would have been more impressed if you had a tank instead of a horse.”

“Boys and their toys.”

“You know that’s true,” Lee Gillis said as he led his horse over to stand beside them. “How’s the arm, Lindsey?”

“Not painful as long as I don’t bump it, but I still can’t feel my fingers or use my hand. I won’t be riding for a while. Who gets to stay behind with me?” Lindsey asked, looking over the line of saddled horses.

“Captain said to leave Socks with you. He’s been a little nervous since the fall and we don’t want him acting up in the parade. The Captain is riding Tiger.”

“That’s fine. Tiger will be happy he doesn’t have to wait here while the rest of the boys run off and have fun.”

Having one of the horses waiting beside the trailer was a good way to get people to stop and visit. Tiger, as the oldest and most calm four-legged member of the unit, usually had that honor.

Lee frowned as he looked toward the gray gelding standing alert at the end of the picket line. “I heard Captain Watson telling someone that it was time to retire Tiger.”

If that was true, Lindsey was happy Tiger would be able to participate today. “He’s been with the unit for more than fifteen years. That’s a long time.”

“What will happen to him?” Lee asked.

Shane patted his shoulder. “Don’t worry. We’ll find a good home for him.”

Once the unit was mounted and ready to proceed, the grand marshal, who was also the mayor and the local grocery-store owner, fired a starter pistol into the air and the small-town parade began. The floats might have been put together on hay wagons, but they had been decorated with as much care and pride as any Rose Bowl entry.

All along the street people rose from lawn chairs and curbsides to stand as the unit rode past with the flag unfurled and the horses’ hooves clattering in unison. Farmers, mill workers and townsfolk alike took off their hats. Most placed a hand over their heart and, beside them, their children did the same. Here and there in the crowd, a few men saluted and Lindsey knew with certainty that those proud few knew exactly what price freedom asked.

As the parade moved away, Lindsey waited beside the pickup prepared to answer questions from people who were interested in military history, who were horse lovers, or who were simply curious about the unit. It was a part of her job that she truly enjoyed. Once the last float left the staging area, she didn’t have to wait long before a few people began to gather around and venture close enough to pose inquiries.

It always touched and humbled her when people came up just to say they were proud of America’s military or to say thank you for serving their country.

Lindsey had just finished telling several high-school-aged girls about what it was like to serve in the army when she spied a familiar figure walking toward her. Her heart gave a funny little leap. “Dr. Cutter, what a surprise. What are you doing here?”

“I was in the neighborhood...what I mean is...”

Lindsey thought she detected a blush on his tanned cheeks.

He cleared his throat and began again. “I was doing a follow-up visit on one of my patients and I remembered that you mentioned your unit would be here today. I thought I would see firsthand what type of work your horses do. It will help me better evaluate when Dakota will be fit to return to duty. I had a glimpse of what you do the day you fell, but I’d like to see the whole thing minus the pileup.”

“I’d be delighted to have you attend our exhibition. When the men return from the parade route, we’ll travel over to the rodeo arena and set up there.”

“Great, I’ll see you later.”

“I’ll look for you.”

* * *

Brian found the rodeo arena without difficulty. It wasn’t long before the parade ended and those planning on attending the Little Britches rodeo began filling the seats. Sitting on the wooden planks of the grandstands, he watched for Lindsey. He spotted her along with the other unit members when they rode into the arena on the back of a flatbed truck loaded with rails and jump pillars. Dressed in red shirts and matching red ball caps, they went into action with military precision.

Lindsey was in charge of carefully measuring the distance between jumps and directing their setup down the middle of the course. As she was doing that, other men marked off and placed a series of upright poles along one side. Yet another soldier walked onto the field carrying a huge bunch of red, white and blue balloons. Soon they were divided up and secured to the jump pillars.

Once they were finished, the truck pulled out of the gates and Lindsey, breathless and bright eyed, joined Brian in the stands.

“Are you ready to be amazed and awed by fabulous feats of skill and daring?”

“I’m ready.” The words were barely out of his mouth before rock music began blaring from the loudspeaker. The gates opened and eight horses and riders thundered in and circled the enclosure at a gallop. By the time they had made their second pass around the area, Brian was entranced.

Dressed in blue period uniforms and with banners waving, the detachment looked exactly like a piece of Western history come to life.

At a shouted command that he couldn’t quite understand, the group came to a halt, head to tail. A second shout of orders had the horses wheeling into a single line. Like the sweep hand of his watch, they all turned in tight formation. The inside horse was actually prancing backward as they kept a straight line until a full circle had been made.

“Pretty good, huh?” Lindsey leaned forward and grinned at him.

“Very impressive.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

She was right. The line broke apart and reformed into a column of twos, then charged down the course flying over each balloon decorated jump. At the end, they split apart and galloped back to the start where they formed into twos again.

A unit member on foot walked into the arena. He carried a red-painted milk jug in one hand. Stopping near the center, he turned to face the mounted men and held up the jug in his hand.

Lindsey leaned toward Brian. “In the old days they used melons to practice this.”

All the soldiers drew their sabers. Suddenly, the first horse exploded off the line and charged toward the man on foot. With precision that Brian couldn’t believe, the rider impaled the jug off the man’s hand and bore it aloft like a trophy until he reached the far end of the arena. Wheeling his horse around he held his saber and the jug out to his side and raced back. A second horse and rider charged down the field and speared the jug from the extended saber as they flew past each other. All eight riders repeated the maneuver, transferring the jug from sword to sword at a full gallop without a single miss.

Brian looked at the small woman seated beside him. “Can you do that?”

“Sure. Piece of cake.”

“Now
that
is amazing.”

“There are about seven historical mounted color guards in the United States military, but we are one of the few that train in combat techniques. Here, there is no distinction between women and men and the jobs we perform.”

“Did you know that the equestrian sports are the only Olympic event in which men and women compete as equals?”

“I did. Do you know that we have our own cavalry competitions?”

He shook his head. “No, but after watching this, I’d like to see one.”

“You’ll have to wait until next September. I forgot to ask, how is your other patient doing?”

He looked momentarily perplexed. “My other patient?”

“The one you came here to see?”

“Oh, right, that patient. Dolly is getting along very well. Her owners say she is doing everything she was doing prior to surgery and more. That consists mainly of eating a lot and giving rides to their grandchildren when they visit on the weekends. I’ve advised them on a better diet for her and stressed the need for more exercise.”

“Like having the grandkids over twice a week?”

“Three times a week would be better.”

She laughed. “It was never hard to convince me to ride a pony when I was a kid. Hopefully, Dolly’s family is the same way. Do you have any children?”

The smile that had been lurking in his eyes vanished. His face turned stone cold so quickly that Lindsey was taken aback.

“My wife and our unborn child died in a car accident several years ago.”

His voice held the hard edge she had noticed the first time she had spoken to him. Back then, she had wondered if his leg was giving him pain. Now, she knew his suffering went much deeper than that.

She laid a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

He stood up. “Thank you. If you’ll forgive me, I just remembered that I have to get back to the clinic.”

Surprised, she said, “Aren’t you going to stay for the rest of our performance?”

“Another time, perhaps. Good day, Sergeant Mandel.” He made his way out of the grandstands, leaning heavily on his cane.

Lindsey watched him walk away and couldn’t help but think that he looked like a very lonely man, even with the festive crowd milling around him.

Chapter Six

“D
o we have everything?” Karen pushed a cardboard box in on top of a stack already filling the front passenger’s seat of the Jeep nearly to the roof. The backseat was equally loaded.

“If you don’t, that’s too bad,” Shane said, holding open the door for her. “Nothing else will fit in here.”

“There’s still room for a few more things,” Karen insisted. Dressed in faded jeans and a pink cable-knit sweater with her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, she looked much younger than twenty-one.

“Only because I’m not sitting in the driver’s seat yet. Once I’m in, we won’t have room for a toothpick. I may have to eat a box or two of cookies just to reach the gearshift.”

She thrust her hands on her hips. “Don’t you dare eat anything unless you pay for it, soldier.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied with a good-natured grin.

Lindsey listened to the exchange with a little smile playing on the edge of her lips. It didn’t require mind-reading skills to see that Shane had taken a liking to her little sister. She wasn’t sure how Karen felt about him, but she hoped nothing serious was forming.

She knew she was getting ahead of herself. A few smiles and jokes didn’t make a relationship. They’d only known each other for a few weeks.

Almost exactly the same amount of time that she had known Brian.

Giving herself a mental shake, she dismissed the idea that Karen was interested in Shane. Knowing Karen’s dislike of the military, and after seeing what had happened to Danny, Lindsey was sure her sister wouldn’t want to become involved with a serviceman. Perhaps she should mention as much to Shane. He was a friend and she didn’t want his feelings hurt.

“Are you sure you know where to take this stuff?” Karen asked as she moved aside and let Shane shut the door.

He didn’t exactly roll his eyes, but he came close. “The east entrance of the K-State football field.”

“Good. We’ll meet you there. Lindsey, are you ready to go?”

“I am. Thanks for doing this, Shane.”

“Anything to help, Lindsey. You know the whole unit is rooting for Dakota. The Captain said his second surgery went well yesterday.”

“According to Dr. Cutter, he removed the pins and replaced the cast without any problems.”

The curt postoperative report yesterday had been the longest amount of time Brian had spent in her company since that day at Medicine Falls. He was obviously a busy man with a heavy surgery schedule, lectures to prepare and students to teach. Each time Lindsey saw him he seemed to be heading somewhere else. All week she had wondered if he was deliberately avoiding her.

Shrugging off the hurt that idea caused, she glanced into the packed vehicle. “You’d better get going. We’ll meet you there.”

Once Shane pulled away from the curb, Karen’s liveliness visibly deflated, causing Lindsey to take a closer look. Karen seemed pale and there were dark circles under her eyes that she had tried to disguise with makeup. Without a word, Karen climbed into her blue sedan. It was then that Lindsey remembered her cell phone was still sitting in the charger in the living room. “I’ll be with you in one second, Karen.”

She dashed into the apartment, snatched up the phone and raced back down the steps. As she hurried around the front of the car to the passenger’s side, she saw that Karen was resting her forehead on her hands at the top of the steering wheel. Opening the door, Lindsey slid into the seat. “Are you okay?”

Looking up, she gave Lindsey a wan smile. “I have a headache, that’s all. I guess I stayed up too late baking last night.”

“You’ve been baking for three days nonstop. I told you we would have enough. Just look at how much food the people on post donated. You didn’t have to try and do it all by yourself.”

“I wanted to do my part.”

“You’ve done more than your part. You’ve been my driver, my cook, my nurse and my constant companion for the past two weeks. Why don’t you stay here and lie down? I can catch a ride with someone else.”

“Don’t be silly, I’ll be fine.”

Lindsey wanted to believe her, but an hour later she could see that Karen truly wasn’t feeling well. Once the tables and home-baked goodies had been set up outside the stadium, Shane returned to post, leaving the two women to hopefully sell all of their baked goods to hungry college football fans.

The day couldn’t have been much better for a football game or for a bake sale, Lindsey decided. The temperature wasn’t bad as long as she stayed in the sunshine. The bright rays kept the breeze from feeling cold until one of the white clouds with a flat gray bottom blocked the sun as it drifted past. Then, it wasn’t hard to imagine that Thanksgiving was less than a week away.

Before long, they were doing a brisk business, but Lindsey kept one eye on her little sister. When they had a break in customers, she insisted Karen sit down and put a cool cloth on her forehead.

“That feels good. I’m sorry to be a drag, Lindsey. I don’t get these headaches often, but when I do, they really take it out of me.”

“You should go home and rest.”

“I can’t leave you to sell all this by yourself. Besides, how would you get home?”

“I could drive her.”

Lindsey looked up in surprise to see Brian standing with a loaf of homemade bread in his hand. He wore a long-sleeved, pale yellow shirt tucked into khaki chino pants. The perpetual frown was missing from his face as he smiled at her.

After the way he had been avoiding her, she hadn’t expected to see him today.

“How much for this bread?” he asked, holding out a loaf.

“Two dollars,” Lindsey answered, willing her suddenly erratic pulse to calm down and her voice to sound casual. He shouldn’t have this effect on her, but every time she laid eyes on him, it was the same.

“Are you sure you don’t mind driving Lindsey home, Dr. Cutter?”

“Please call me Brian. Of course I don’t mind giving her a lift.” He handed over the bills.

“But it’s out of your way,” Lindsey protested as she took his money. She wasn’t prepared to deal with the emotions his sudden appearance evoked. She needed more distance between them, not less.

“I don’t mind.”

“Good, it’s settled then,” Karen cut in quickly. “You’re an answer to my prayers.”

If Lindsey didn’t know better, she might have suspected that Karen was doing a little matchmaking. But because she knew her sister really wasn’t feeling well, she swallowed any further protests.

“Go home and lie down, Karen. I can handle the sales by myself.”

“You won’t be by yourself. I can stay and help.”

Brian’s offer caught her off guard. “That’s all right, I can manage.”

“I’m sure you can, but I’m going to help anyway.” He came around to her side of the table. With him close beside her, she noticed the crisp, spicy scent of his aftershave. All her senses suddenly seemed heightened. He began rolling up his sleeves and she took note of the tanned muscles on his forearms. His fingers were long and well manicured. He had the gentle but strong hands of a surgeon.

She looked up to find him watching her in return. Sunlight glinted off his blond hair. He didn’t look the least bit grumpy.
Handsome
was the word that came to mind. Her breath caught in her throat. He definitely was good-looking when he wasn’t scowling. So why did he want to spend time with her?

The flattering notion that he might enjoy her company as much as she enjoyed his was quickly discarded. She wasn’t looking for a man in her life, handsome or otherwise.

Once Karen had gathered up her belongings and left for her car, Lindsey turned to Brian. “You don’t have to stay or give me a ride. I can call one of my friends on post and have them come get me.”

“I don’t mind helping. Besides, you’re going to be overrun with customers in a few minutes.”

“Why do you say that?”

“My secretary saw your flyer about this sale and suggested I have an announcement made during the game. A lot of these kids saw your fall and I’m sure they’ll want to help.”

“That was very kind of you.”

“Don’t give me too much credit. It was Jennifer’s idea.”

“I’ll have to remember to thank her tomorrow.”

“You can, but don’t overdo it. The woman already has a high opinion of herself.”

Before Lindsey could think of something else to talk about, his prediction came true. The football game ended and they were swamped with fans eager to buy cookies, cakes and brownies for a good cause. A few people even made donations without buying anything.

Brian sat at the cash box making change while Lindsey stayed busy answering questions about Dakota and visiting with the customers. Whenever he had a free moment, he spent it studying her. Having one arm in a sling didn’t appear to hamper her as she boxed up the requested items. She was a true people person with a ready smile and an easy laugh that everyone around her responded to. It was no wonder he found her attractive.

For the first time he admitted the truth of those feelings, but that didn’t change the fact that she wasn’t for him. She deserved someone with a whole heart to give her. He wasn’t a whole man in body or in soul.

Thrusting aside his somber thoughts, he resolved to keep a tight rein on his feelings. He would be foolish to allow something other than a professional relationship to start between them.

Before long, the last bag of chocolate fudge was bought and paid for and Lindsey dropped into a folding chair beside him.

“I can’t believe we sold everything.”

“Everything except these cookies.” He pushed the plastic bag with a dozen dark brown oatmeal cookies toward her.

Lindsey opened the Ziploc top and offered him one. “Please accept this humble payment in return for your help today.”

He took the cookie and bit into it. “I see why they didn’t sell. They’re kind of burnt.”

“I know.” She zipped the bag shut and tossed it into a box at her feet.

He indicated the bare tables. “What do we do with these?”

“They belong to the college. We just rented them for the afternoon. They can stay here.”

“Are you ready to leave then?”

“I guess I am. Hey, didn’t you have a loaf of bread in your hand earlier?”

He checked around. “It must have been sold out from under me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“I’ll have Sergeant Link’s wife bake you another one.”

“You didn’t bake it yourself?”

A bark of laughter escaped from her before she pressed her hand to her lips. “I made those oatmeal cookies. Baking is not one of my strengths as you can plainly taste.”

He grinned. She didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed to confess her shortcomings. He admired that. “What is one of your strengths?”

Wrinkling her brow, she considered his question. “Adaptability. That’s my strength. I lived in five states and four countries before I turned twenty. I’m not even sure how many schools I attended as a kid.”

“That must have been hard.”

“It might have been worse if I hadn’t had Danny and Karen. Having Danny looking out for us made it easier to always be the new kids. That and the riding schools. No matter where Dad was stationed he always enrolled us in riding classes.”

“Where is your brother now?”

A deep sadness settled over her features. “He lives in Washington, D.C., but I wish he lived closer. Danny was wounded in action last summer. He’s a quadriplegic, now. He’s finally at home, but he still requires around-the-clock nursing care.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.”

“So, do you ever get tired of moving around?”

She tilted her head to the side. “No. Karen hated it when she was little, but Danny and I did okay. Maybe someday I’ll find a place that will make me want to settle down, but for now the army is my home.”

He rose and grasped his cane. “That must be my cue to return you to your post.”

She rose, too, and finished stuffing several empty boxes in a nearby trash barrel. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

“Not at all. I’m parked over there.” He pointed across the emptying parking lot to his white truck.

Lindsey fell into step beside him, adjusting to his slower pace without any sign of impatience. The silence lengthened between them, but he didn’t find it uncomfortable. At his truck, he unlocked the vehicle with his remote key. She moved without hesitation to the passenger side, not waiting for him. He tried to hurry and open the door for her. She realized what he was doing when their hands closed over the handle at the same time.

The softness of her skin caught him by surprise. The bones of her hand felt delicate and dainty beneath his palm. A warmth stole over him that had nothing to do with the sunshine beating down on them.

She gave him a chiding look. “Oh, puleeze. I can get my own door.”

At least she seemed unaware of the effect she had on him. He strove to keep his voice neutral. “Perhaps, but my mother raised me to be a gentleman.”

“And my father raised me to be a grunt.”

“A what?”

“That’s slang for a foot soldier.”

“It’s not a very nice term.”

“It’s not always a nice job.”

“In a test of wills, I’ll match my mother against your father any day of the week. They don’t make them any tougher than she is. Please allow me.” He nodded toward the door.

Slowly, she pulled her hand out from beneath his. “You win. This time.”

“Duly noted.” He pulled open the door and waited while she climbed in.

Lindsey watched Brian move around to the driver’s side and took a few quick breaths to calm her racing heart. Never had the touch of a man’s hand unnerved her the way Brian’s touch did. The idea that she might be attracted to him was something she didn’t want to contemplate. Falling for him was a sure road to heartbreak.

“Please, Lord. More heartache is the last thing I need,” she whispered under her breath before Brian opened his door.

He stowed his cane on a rack in the rear window and started the ignition without a word. The silence that had seemed so comfortable only a few minutes before now seemed tense. They were only a few blocks from the stadium when his cell phone rang. He pulled it from his shirt pocket. Lindsey listened to the terse conversation with interest. After a few questions, he gave brisk instructions to the person on the other end of the line and then snapped his phone closed.

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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