Read His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage Online

Authors: Patricia Davids

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His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage (27 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“I wouldn’t put it past her,” Jennifer muttered.

Brian glared at her but didn’t allow himself to be diverted. “It isn’t safe to let her in with Dakota no matter how cute you think it is.”

Lindsey opened her mouth and closed it again. Anger at his accusation momentarily robbed her of speech. She took a step toward him.

“Are you saying you think I took your precious rabbit out of her cage and put her in with my lame horse just because I thought they looked cute together?” Resentment lent a steely edge to her words.

“You go, girl.” Jennifer crossed her arms and looked smug.

Brian took a step back. Lindsey could see the indecision wavering in his eyes. “If this is another one of your harebrained ideas for stress reduction...”

“I have no idea how your rodent found her way out of her pen and into here, but I had nothing to do with it.”

“Rabbits aren’t rodents, they’re lagomorphs,” Jennifer supplied with a bright smile.

“My horse doesn’t need a lop-eared fur ball to reduce his stress and keep him company. He has me. Perhaps if you paid more attention to
your
pet, she wouldn’t be looking for love in all the wrong places.”

“Lagomorphs have four upper incisors. The second pair is peglike and posterior to the first. Rodents only have two upper incisors.”

Both Lindsey and Brian turned to stare at Jennifer.

“Well, it’s true. A rabbit
isn’t
a rodent. I can’t believe the pair of you. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a hare’s brain and don’t ever say
rodent
like it’s a bad word.”

Brushing between Brian and Lindsey, Jennifer slipped through the gate into the stall and picked up Isabella. Slipping out again, she paused and looked from Brian to Lindsey and back. “Any more name-calling and someone is going to find their mouth washed out with soap. Apologies are in order, and I mean now.”

Lindsey watched Brian’s secretary exit through the main doors with the squirming rabbit under her arm. Dakota whinnied frantically as his new friend was carried away.

Without taking her eyes off the doorway, Lindsey asked, “Did she mean it?”

He stood beside her looking in the same direction. “I’m not sure, but I’m not taking any chances. I’m sorry I suggested you were harebrained.”

“I’ve been told there’s nothing wrong with a hare’s brain, so apology accepted. I’m sorry I called Isabella a rodent.”

“You’re forgiven.”

“She’s kind of a weird woman,” Lindsey ventured.

“I had no idea until recently just how strange she is,” he acknowledged.

Glancing at Brian from the corner of her eye, Lindsey suddenly found herself overcome with giggles. Brian shot her a dour look but couldn’t keep the smile off his face. A second later he was chuckling, too.

* * *

By the middle of the following week, Dakota’s condition had improved enough to allow him to be transferred back to the fort stables. With the unit members providing around-the-clock care, Brian knew there wasn’t any reason to keep the horse at the clinic. Except that it meant he wouldn’t be seeing Lindsey anymore.

The day after the big bay left it suddenly became a much quieter building. At least twice before noon Brian found himself standing beside the empty stall and staring into the space. He should be wondering how Dakota was getting along, but he had confidence that Lindsey and the men would follow his instructions to the letter. What he found himself wondering was how Lindsey was getting along. What was she doing? Was she resting her arm the way she should, or would she be trying to do too much?

Jennifer came up beside Brian and propped her chin on the rail. “I miss him already.”

“He’ll get the best care possible and he’ll be happier in his own stall with the other horses he knows.”

She sighed. “I know the horse will be happier, but I’m not sure the rest of us will be.”

Puzzled at her depressed tone, he looked at her closely. “You’re not taking about missing the horse, are you?”

“Duh? I’m talking about that gorgeous hunk.”

“Forgive me if I seem a little slow, but which hunk would that be?”

“Private Avery Barnes. That Boston accent of his was to die for. Can’t you think of some reason to send me out to the fort?”

“Jennifer, if Private Barnes is interested in seeing you again, he’ll call.”

“Oh, like you’re going to call Lindsey?”

“That’s neither here nor there.”

“Which means, no.” She shook her head as she walked away muttering, “Men are
so
not bright.”

At the doorway, she stopped and looked back. “How is it that so many of you are in charge of stuff?”

Brian watched her walk out without replying. He had no intention of seeing Lindsey unless it was in an official capacity. He liked her, but it would never be more than that. The love of his life was dead and he knew there would never be another.

Yet, he did miss Lindsey.

He rested his arms atop the cool metal bar of the gate. The hay bale where they had shared bits and pieces of their lives still sat in the corner of the stall. In those hectic hours when Dakota had been so ill, Brian had learned a lot about Lindsey Mandel.

She was dedicated and tireless when it came to doing her duty. She was witty and funny, often when he least expected it. The mental image of her parking a tank outside the clinic made him smile even now. She was sure of her place in the world and that place was in the army. Yet she didn’t believe in mixing marriage with her career.

It was a shame, really. She had so much to offer. She was more than a pretty face. She was a woman with a heart and a soul. Her faith in God seemed unshakable in spite of being abandoned by her mother as a child and her brother’s devastating injury. She would make some man a fine wife if he didn’t mind her going off to war.

Like most Americans, he listened to news and saw almost daily the way brave young men and women sacrificed everything for the freedom he took so much for granted. He was ashamed to admit that he had thought of them as foolishly brave. But there was nothing foolish about Lindsey or about her love of country.

Emily would have liked her.

Pushing away from the gate, he made his way back to his office. He had a mound of paperwork waiting for him. The extra work would be good. It would help keep his mind off the void that had formed in his life. Lindsey and her horse were gone. Now his life could finally get back to normal.

But was that what he really wanted?

Chapter Nine

L
indsey ran the flat brush from Dakota’s withers to his rump and worked down his side until his coat held a high shine. Inside the cavernous limestone stable that had been built in 1889, she listened to the sounds of other horses being led out for their morning exercise. Their shod feet clattered noisily on the uneven cobblestone floor. The cool interior smelled of old wood, horses, hay and oiled leather. It was a scent she had come to love in the sixteen months that she had been assigned to the unit.

The repetitive motion of brushing Dakota didn’t require much thought, leaving her mind free to wander. The place it chose to go was back to the Large Animal Clinic.

Had Isabella managed another escape only to find Dakota gone? What was Brian doing today, Lindsey wondered? Was he thinking about her?

“A penny for your thoughts?”

She turned to see Shane leaning on the lower half of the wooden stall door and looking bored now that their season was over.

“They aren’t worth that much,” she replied, picking up a mane and tail comb.

“Need some help?” he offered.

“Sure. Trying to comb a tail one-handed is harder than it looks.”

“How’s the arm doing?”

“It hurts, it itches, and the fact that I can’t use my hand is driving me nuts—other than that, it’s fine.”

“At least you don’t have to stand on it.” He motioned to the cast on Dakota’s leg.

“I know. Poor boy, I can’t imagine being uncomfortable and not being able to tell anyone.”

“He’ll tell us, just not with words.”

“He has been nipping at the wrap today.”

“See what I mean?”

Lindsey ducked under Dakota’s neck and began grooming his other side. Shane spoke softly and patted the big bay’s rump before pulling his tail to one side to comb it.

Lindsey glanced at him and her hand stilled.

“What?” he asked when he noticed her staring.

“Danny and I were doing this very thing the last time I saw him before he was wounded. It was only a few days before he shipped out. Neither one of us wanted to say goodbye, so we worked side by side grooming Dakota without saying a word. Danny loves this horse. I thought he was crazy to pay boarding fees and buy feed on an enlisted man’s salary, but he vowed he would trailer Dakota to any post in the U.S., including Alaska, rather than sell him. I think he would have taken him overseas if he thought it was safe.”

“Karen said the same thing.”

It was just the opening she had been looking for to ask Shane about his feelings for Karen, yet was it really any of her business? Because she cared for both of them, she took the plunge. “Shane, about Karen—”

“Rest easy.” He cut her off before she got any further. “Karen is a wonderful person and as sweet as they come, but there isn’t anything between us.”

“I only wanted to say that I wouldn’t object if there were. I think you’re a great guy.”

“I think I am, too,” he agreed loudly. “Feel free to fix me up with any of your friends. This down-home Texas boy will show ’em a good time.”

“I beg to differ,” Avery said from the doorway. “If any of your friends want to be treated like a lady, they need to go out with a gentleman like myself, not a hayseed cowboy.”

Lindsey chuckled at their good-natured teasing. “I want to keep my friends, so I won’t let them go out with either of you.”

Avery wrinkled his brow. “Ouch.”

Shane looked at him. “Did she just insult us?”

“Yes, but she did it with a smile. It makes me wonder if I should show her our new toy?”

Glancing between the two of them, she pressed her lips together, then said, “Okay, I’ll bite. What toy?”

Avery held up a small gray case the size of a camcorder. “Our new thermal-imaging recorder. This way we can keep an infrared eye on Dakota’s leg and report any hot spots or inflammation in his other legs before they get serious.”

She ducked under Dakota’s neck and came over to examine the camera. “This is great. Did Brian send it over?”

Shane shook his head. “No, your boyfriend didn’t splurge on this. This is army issue.”

“He isn’t my boyfriend. How does it work?”

“I’ll show you.” Avery flipped up the screen, pointed the camera at Dakota and a multicolored image of a horse appeared.

“What do the colors mean?” Lindsey pointed to the screen.

“Blue is cool. The warmer an object is, the closer to red it appears on the screen. See how the floor and walls show up as blue. Dakota is warmer than the floor. He shows up as greens and yellows.”

“Except for that spot on his cast,” she pointed out.

Avery moved closer. “Yes, he has quite a bit of heat coming from the lower portion of his leg.”

“Does that mean there’s a problem?”

“It means I’m going to give your boyfriend a call and have him check it out.”

“Stop it. I told you he isn’t my boyfriend.”

Avery closed the camera and winked at Shane. “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

* * *

Brian finished rewrapping Dakota’s new cast with a bright blue elastic webbing designed to help prevent the horse from chewing on it.

“That was a good call, Captain. If the rub had gotten much worse we could have had a real problem with a pressure sore.”

“Private Barnes is the one who found it.”

“Your men have done a good job of looking after this fella.” Rising from the short three-legged stool he used when he was out in the field, Brian patted Dakota’s shoulder.

“We want to see him well and back on active duty.”

“I hope that happens, Captain.” Putting his supplies back into his case, Brian tried to sound casual. “Where is Sergeant Mandel today? When Dakota was at the clinic she stuck to him like a burr.”

“She had to report for physical therapy up at the hospital.”

“Her arm isn’t worse, is it?”

“No, but there is some concern about the damage to the nerve. It’s too bad, really. She and Dakota were to carry the U.S. flag in the upcoming Inaugural parade.

“She mentioned that Dakota needed to be healed enough to walk three miles with a rider by January twentieth.”

“Do you think he’ll be able to do it?”

“Six weeks in a cast would leave four weeks for rehabilitation and strengthening. He might be ready by then, but it’s a big if.”

“This ride is very important to Lindsey.”

“Keep doing what you’re doing and he may improve enough to go. I’ll have some of our students check back in a couple of days to see how he’s doing.”

The two men shook hands and Captain Watson walked back to his office. Brian began repacking his bag and supplies into the special compartments built into the bed of his truck. He had just closed and locked the tool chest when a dark blue sedan pulled up beside him. The door opened and Lindsey got out. It was as if the sun had come out from behind the clouds.

“Hi,” she said as she walked up to him.

“Hi.” He couldn’t think of anything else to say. Oddly enough, she seemed at a loss for words, as well.

He gestured toward her car. “I didn’t think you could drive.”

“Avery suggested I get a spinner for my steering wheel. It works great, but I still overcorrect a little. How’s Dakota?”

“Fitted with a new cast and doing fine.” The silence lengthened again. He closed the truck door.

“So, how is Isabella getting along?” Lindsey asked quickly.

“She’s good.”

“Not making any more escapes?”

“Not a one.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“I guess I’d better be going.”

“Oh, sure. I didn’t mean to keep you.” She took a step back, uncertainty clouding her eyes.

“I’ll be back the day after tomorrow to check on Dakota. Maybe I’ll see you then?” He knew he should send some of his fourth-year students, but he found he wanted the excuse to come back and spend time with Lindsey.

“Great. I’ll look for you.” Her bright smile tugged at his heartstrings.

He climbed into his truck and drove away. Glancing in his side mirror, he saw her watching him from the edge of the roadway. Resisting the urge to turn around and go back was the hardest thing he had done in a long time.

* * *

A week later, Lindsey was leaning against Dakota’s stall door when she heard halting footsteps on the cobblestones behind her. She knew who it was without turning around and her heart gave a happy leap. Brian had been out to check on Dakota twice during the past week, but at the last visit, he had pronounced Dakota well on the way to recovery. Since there wasn’t any problem with the horse, had he come to see her?

“Good morning, Lindsey.” The sound of Brian’s voice sent a sparkle of happiness shooting through her veins. She turned to face him, hoping her delight didn’t show. “Good morning, Brian.”

“How’s my patient doing?”

“Getting better every day.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

He stopped close beside her, his arm just brushing hers. She didn’t pull away as she realized how much she had missed his company and how right it felt to be with him. “What are you doing here?”

“I want to take a few X-rays to document the bone’s healing progress.”

Of course he hadn’t come just to see her. Lindsey pushed aside the tiny disappointment she felt and resolved to be content with his company no matter why he had chosen to come. “Do you need any help?”

“I will if you aren’t busy.”

“I’m afraid I have a tour due any minute. I’ll get one of the other men to help.”

“I’m not in any rush. What sort of tour?”

“It’s a group of schoolchildren from Topeka.”

“Is that why you’re dressed in your itchy-looking blues?”

She brushed at the shoulder of her short cavalry jacket with one hand, then tugged the hem down as she stood up straight. “How do I look? Notice anything different about me?”

“Is this a trick question?”

“No, I got my cast off yesterday.”

“I see that now. Good for you, but you still have the sling.”

“I don’t have much feeling in my hand or arm yet. This way it isn’t dangling against my side.”

“Nerves heal slowly. Give it some time. Even with the sling, I think you look very nineteenth century.”

“That’s the idea.” She dusted the top of her knee-high black riding boots by rubbing them on the back of each pant leg.

At the sound of a vehicle, she looked toward the parking lot and saw a small yellow school bus pulling up. She settled her cap snuggly on her head. “Pardon me while I see to our visitors.”

Lindsey was proud of the CGMCG and she especially enjoyed giving tours to the dozens of Scout troops, grade-school classes and veterans’ groups that visited the post each year.

Brian asked, “Is there any reason I can’t join the tour? I’d like to know more about your unit.”

“I’d be delighted to have you, provided you help keep the kids in line. I’ve found that the boys especially tend to get rowdy when no one is looking.”

She put on her best welcoming smile and walked outside. In the courtyard, she noticed a wheelchair lift being lowered to the ground at the back of the bus. A middle-aged man waved to her and instructed the group of ten-year-old boys next to the van to stop horsing around. The girls, standing off to one side, were giggling and whispering to one another.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard stables.”

“Hey, you’re a girl.” The biggest boy in the group smirked. “Girls can’t be in the army.”

“Actually, women serve in many units in today’s military. But during the period when this stable was built, women were not allowed to enlist.”

“Didn’t a few women serve in the Union Army during the Civil War?” Brian asked.

She shot him a grateful look. “That’s correct. Both the Union and Confederate Armies had women who fought disguised as men. It goes to show that women can be good soldiers and as brave as men in battle. If you’ll come this way, we’ll start our tour with the barn.”

She paused inside the large double doors where a life-size model horse stood before a wall displaying photographs of cavalry horses in action.

“Please watch your step. These old cobblestones can be treacherous.” She gestured toward the uneven floor.

“Wouldn’t it be better for the horses to have these torn up or paved over,” Brian suggested.

She wrinkled her nose. “Don’t think we haven’t asked. Unfortunately, this is a historical building and can’t be altered. This is the last remaining original stable building. It was constructed of native limestone and timber in 1889. It originally housed sixty mounts. At one time it was converted into a pistol range before being returned to its original function when our unit was formed. Before we get started, I’d like to have each one of you sign our guest book.”

One by one, the children signed their names in a ledger on a podium until only the boy in the wheelchair was left. Brian took the book and handed it down to the youngster. The boy shyly smiled his thanks.

“As you can see,” Lindsey continued, “our model horse, Stick and Stone, carries everything a cavalry horse would have been equipped with in the 1880s. The saddle is called a McClellen and has the unique feature of an open split down the center and a rawhide seat. Would anyone like to guess why?”

The boy in the wheelchair raised his hand. Lindsey pointed to him. “Yes?”

“It allowed air to circulate and help keep the horse’s back from getting sore?”

“That’s right.”

“Brainiac,” one of the group muttered.

“The only thing he knows about riding a horse is what he reads in a book,” the big boy scoffed.

As Lindsey led the group down farther into the barn, Brian replaced the visitors log and waited while the boy in the wheelchair struggled to maneuver his chair down the wide aisle.

“Do you need a hand?” Brian offered when it was obvious that the boy’s wheels weren’t rolling well over the uneven stones. He put his hands on the handles of the chair.

“No, I can manage,” the kid said defensively, pushing harder.

“I’m sure you can. I only offered because...please don’t tell anyone...but walking on a rough surface like this makes me afraid of falling.”

The child looked back at him. “It does?”

“Would you mind if I just held on to the back of your chair to steady myself?”

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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