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 (29 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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“Dr. Cutter says Dakota may get his cast off in a few days.”

“That’s good, but you won’t be carrying the flag if you can’t use your hand.”

“I haven’t given up. I still have time to get better. I do my exercises, and I’m as determined as Danny to get in shape for the big day.”

“That’s my girl. Make your old man proud and show the world what we Mandels are made of. I know Danny is looking forward to seeing the pair of you.”

“I won’t disappoint him or you.”

“Have you talked to him lately?”

“I called them last night, why?”

“Did he tell you that with his tracheotomy capped off, he can stay off his ventilator for eight hours?”

“Yes, Abigail mentioned it.”

“He’s getting stronger every day and we have you to thank for that.”

“Danny is doing the work, Dad.”

“Yes, but Abigail and I both think you and that horse are the reason he’s found the focus he needs. We both thank God that you have done this for him.”

“He’s my brother. I’d do anything for him.”

“I know you would, honey.”

She finished talking to her father and talked briefly with Karen, then ended the call. Stuffing her phone back in her pocket, she stared at the ceiling.

Please, Lord, let Dakota be healed enough to travel and let me be strong enough to hold the flag. I couldn’t bear it if I had to let Danny down.

She had started to rejoin the men in front of the TV when a knock sounded at the front door. Hope sprang up in her heart. She pulled open the door and saw Brian standing in front of her. The darkness behind him was filled with soft, feathery snowflakes drifting down. It was a perfect Christmas evening.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing him here tonight.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, knowing she had to be grinning from ear to ear.

“Merry Christmas.” He held out a small red box with a silver bow. “This is for you.”

She took the gift and clutched it close to her chest. She had a present for him, too, but it could wait until later. “Thank you. Come in. The guys are watching TV in the other room.”

“Did I miss dinner?”

“I saved you a plate.”

“Good, because I’m starved.”

She looked behind him toward his truck. “Where is Isabella?”

He motioned with his head toward the stables. “I put her in with Dakota in his stall. I couldn’t believe how excited she was to see him.”

“The horse and the holiday hare. There’s a children’s story in that somewhere.” Lindsey stepped back and allowed him to come inside.

Brian shook the snow from his black overcoat and hung it on an empty peg behind the door. He couldn’t get over the way Lindsey stood watching him with that adorable, kissable smile on her face.

He smiled back. “Aren’t you going to open your present?”

“Not yet. After you’ve had your dinner.”

“All right, lead the way.” He followed her into the crowded room where other members of the unit were gathered around the television set.

Shane noticed him first. “Hey, look who decided to join us. Have a seat, Doc. The game’s tied and Baltimore has the ball on the six-yard line.”

Lindsey pulled him by the arm toward a table set up in the opposite corner of the room. “After he gets a plate. Turkey or ham, Brian?”

“Both.”

“Help yourself, we have plenty left.”

After loading his plate, Brian took the seat Shane offered. Lindsey sat crossed-legged on the floor in front of him and it wasn’t long until they were all engrossed in the football game.

The rapid-fire banter and good-natured teasing going on around him reminded Brian of his own family gatherings when he was a kid. Oddly enough, he didn’t feel like an outsider amongst these people. They were all far from their families and homes. They were strangers joined together by the special bond of military service. He relaxed and joined in the chatter, adding his own armchair-coaching comments and rooting for the team opposite the one Lindsey urged on.

In the end, his team lost, but he didn’t care. Watching Lindsey’s brief victory jig was enough of a reward.

As the evening grew late, one by one the men left until only Shane, Avery and Lindsey remained. Brian wished them all good-night and was headed toward the door and his coat when Lindsey rushed up beside him.

“I’ll go with you to fetch Isabella.”

“It may take two of us to pry her away from Dakota. Let me help you with your coat.”

“Thanks.” She turned around and slipped one arm into the heavy military-issue jacket he held. The other sleeve hung empty as he covered her sling.

“You need to button up. You’ll catch cold running around like that.” He pulled her jacket closed and began doing up the snaps.

“I can manage,” she protested.

“So can I,” he countered, and continued until he had the last one snapped beneath her chin. In the sudden stillness, he gazed down at her in wonder. His heart had been bound by grief for so long that he wasn’t certain what he was feeling. He was only certain that this woman had somehow managed to work her way past that barrier and plant seeds of kindness and friendship. What, if anything, might grow from those seeds he had no way of knowing, but he was willing to wait and see.

He stepped back and opened the door. “It’s getting late. I don’t want to keep you up past your bedtime.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Duty call does come early. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot something.”

Hurrying down the hall, she vanished around the corner and reappeared a few seconds later with a bulge in one pocket. “Okay. Let’s go round up the rabbit.”

Outside, the air had turned colder and the snow had begun to accumulate on the cars. A light dusting covered the ground, as well. Brian leaned on his cane heavily as they crossed the asphalt parking lot made slippery by the still-falling snow. Lindsey hurried on ahead. Brian was thankful she didn’t seem to notice his difficult progress. He really disliked walking on slick surfaces. He hated knowing one slip might leave him unable to rise unaided.

Once inside the barn, he breathed a sigh of relief. Lindsey, a few yards down the aisle, was turning on the lights at Dakota’s end of the stable. The commotion woke the other horses, who moved to hang their heads out the stall doors and check out their nighttime visitors.

Brian stopped to pet the onlookers as he made his way slowly over the rough cobblestones. “Merry Christmas, Trooper. Merry Christmas, Socks. Merry Christmas, Tiger.”

“They all wish you a Merry Christmas, too,” Lindsey said when he reached her side.

She nodded toward Dakota’s stall. “You won’t believe where your rabbit has decided to take a nap.”

“Where?” He leaned over the half door to look inside. Dakota lay at the back of the stall with his legs folded under him. Isabella lay perched on his broad back sound asleep with her head pillowed on her front paws and her long ears draped on either side of them.

Brian glanced at Lindsey and they both began to laugh. “You are right,” he said. “This really has the makings of a great children’s story.”

“Before you go, I want you to have this.” She pulled a black box from her pocket. “It’s actually from all of us, including Dakota, but I picked it out.”

“Thank you, but you didn’t have to get me anything. The turkey and dressing was more than enough.” He took the box from her and opened it. Inside lay a gold pocket watch engraved with a U.S. flag.

She leaned forward eagerly. “Turn it over and read the inscription.”

He did as she suggested. “‘To Dr. Cutter with endless gratitude. The CGMCG.’”

“I hope you don’t mind the initials. Writing out the Commanding General’s Mounted Color Guard would take up most of a large wall clock.”

“This is beautiful. Thank you.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

“I do. This makes two terrific presents this year.”

“What was your other one?”

“The equine ambulance company called the day before yesterday. They’re loaning us their newest model for our conference.”

“Brian, that’s great. I know how much it means to you.”

“True, but I’m still a little disappointed.”

She cocked her head to one side. “Why?”

“I didn’t get to see you open your gift.”

With a saucy smile, she pulled his box from the depth of her pocket. “I didn’t want to open it in front of the guys.”

“Open it now,” he suggested quietly.

“I can’t get the ribbon off one-handed, and I’m sure you don’t want to watch me try to do it with my teeth.”

“Let me help.” He hung his cane over the stall door and took the gift from her. Carefully, he worked off the silver satin ribbon and bow without breaking it, then held out the box.

She lifted the top and gasped with delight. “Brian, it’s beautiful.”

With the utmost care, she lifted out a small delicate snow globe. Inside the glass dome a bay horse pranced between snow-laden pine trees. She shook it and sent the glittering snowflakes whirling about him. “It looks just like Dakota!”

“There are fifteen bays in the stable. How can you tell that it looks like Dakota?”

“Because it’s my present and I say it’s Dakota.” She shook it again and the snow whirled faster.

“I’m glad you like it.”

“It will always remind me that your presence with us tonight was a special Christmas blessing.”

More than anything, he wanted to kiss her again, but something held him back. Some part of him didn’t trust the new emotions churning inside him the way her miniature blizzard swirled inside the glass bubble.

He said, “It’s getting late. I should get going.”

“Of course.” Did she look disappointed? She turned away before he could read her face.

He opened the stall door and stepped inside. Lindsey followed him and spoke softly to Dakota. She squatted by his head while Brian plucked his pet from her perch and cradled her in his arm.

“I’ll be back the day after tomorrow without the rabbit. If Dakota’s X-rays look good, we’ll get his cast off.”

She stood and shoved her free hand in her coat pocket. “Once that’s done, will you still need to see him?”

“I’ll need monthly follow-ups for at least six months to document his recovery.”

“And after that?”

“You won’t see me ever again.” He tried to make it sound like a joke, but his words fell flat.

She stepped close and he didn’t move away. She pulled her hand from her pocket and laid it on his chest as she gazed into his eyes. “I hope that isn’t true, because I would miss you.”

Raising on tiptoe, she brushed her lips softly against his.

Chapter Eleven

F
or the next day and a half, Brian couldn’t put Lindsey’s kiss out of his head. The scene played over and over in his mind and left him wondering constantly what he should have done or said differently. Anything might have been better than standing like a mute statue while every trace of common sense and logic evaporated from his brain, leaving nothing but the yearning to gather her close in his arms.

At least he hadn’t done that. Instead, she left him without a word, but her shy smile and knowing glance made it pretty obvious that the next move would be up to him.

So exactly what would he say to her today?

Packing his equipment into his truck, he prepared to go and take another set of X-rays of Dakota. In spite of the setbacks, the horse’s recovery had progressed much better than he had hoped. His combination of arthrodesis and bone-growth-gene therapy certainly looked like a success. The first draft of his report on the procedure sat on his desk. Having serial X-rays and a sound horse to back up his hypothesis would certainly make for a more interesting presentation at the conference.

He should be happy that the horse’s recovery was almost complete, but he wasn’t. Once Dakota’s cast was off, Brian knew he wouldn’t be seeing Lindsey unless he decided to become involved in a relationship with her.

Shoving an awkward piece of equipment into place, he tried not to think about her—about the softness of her lips or about the way she made him feel. He didn’t have time for a relationship. The more he tried to convince himself that was true, the more often thoughts of Lindsey intruded into his working day. When he was alone, it was even worse.

He stowed the last X-ray cassette in the truck and closed the door. He knew by the tenderness of her kiss that Lindsey had grown very fond of him. He wanted to be fair to her. She needed to understand that he couldn’t give her more than friendship. Not even if he found himself wondering exactly where
more
would take them.

He moved to the driver’s side and yanked open the door. It was with mixed emotions that he headed toward the Fort Riley stables.

* * *

Lindsey coasted through her morning duties on the same cushion of air that had held her up since Christmas night. Everything seemed right with the world and she couldn’t stop smiling. She was in love with Brian Cutter.

She hadn’t planned it. She still didn’t know how they could make their different situations work, but she knew that he was the man of her heart.

It was a secret she hadn’t told anyone. Karen had returned from Washington the night before, but the feeling was just too new and special to share.

Humming her favorite Christmas tune, she carried a bucket of grain to each of the horses and the mules in the barn and made sure that they all had water. The sprinkling of snow that had helped to make Christmas night so special had quickly melted. Today’s bright sunshine would soon dry the lingering mud. On one hand, Lindsey would have liked the Christmas white to last a little longer, but the horses were eager to get out into the open pastures and she didn’t relish the idea of brushing down a muddy herd when they came back in.

As she worked, she kept glancing out the stable doors toward the parking lot. Brian should be here soon.

Dakota whinnied loudly and she turned to him with a chuckle. “Are you anxious to see Brian, too?”

Shane came down the aisle pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with straw. He set down his load and rubbed Dakota’s forehead. “I think he’s anxious to get his cast off.”

“I know exactly how he feels. I couldn’t wait to get mine off, but I hope he does better than I did.”

“You’re getting better.”

She massaged her hand in the sling. “I can move my fingers a little, but my arm is still weak. I have a doctor’s appointment at four o’clock. I’m hoping he’ll let me out of this thing.”

“Hey, your boyfriend just pulled up.”

She spun around to peer out into the bright sunshine. “Brian’s here? Where?”

Shane lifted the handles of the wheelbarrow and pushed it past her. “No denials today? Do I hear wedding bells, Sergeant?”

Grinning back at him, she shook her head. “Don’t be silly. We haven’t even had a first date.”

“If he doesn’t snap you up, he’s a fool.”

“What a nice thing to say. Thank you, Shane.”

“I mean it. Morning, Doc,” he called out.

“Good morning, Corporal.” Lindsey watched Brian make his way toward them and she drank in the sight of him. He was dressed in a dark maroon sweater over faded jeans and his hair looked as unruly as ever. She resisted the urge to comb it out with her fingers. He stopped a few feet away from her. She wondered if he was as delighted to see her as she was to see him.

Shane glanced at the two of them, then chuckled as he pushed his burden outside. “I’ll be back to give you a hand with Dakota in five minutes.”

Brian looked down at the cobblestone floor. “How are you?”

“I’m good. How are you?”

“Fine. Lindsey, I’d like to speak to you in private.”

“I’d like that, too.” Avery and Lee walked by a second later. She tried to look nonchalant as she smiled and nodded at them.

Once they were out of earshot, Lindsey said, “It seems privacy is hard to come by around here, today.”

Brian seemed ill at ease, too, and she found that adorable. Love left her feeling shy but happy to be in his company.

Just then two soldiers came in with their saddles headed for the leather shop. Any hopes she had of finding time alone with Brian vanished. Knowing that they could be overheard, she said, “I mentioned your friend’s place, Hearts and Horses, to Captain Watson as a possible retirement place for Tiger.”

“What did he think?”

“He’s interested. He wants to talk to you about it and perhaps have us visit the facility. I know you said you volunteered there on the last Saturday of each month, but will you be going out there this Saturday?”

“They’ll be closed because of the holidays, but I did promise my friend that I would be there next Saturday. I should stay home and work on my lecture, but I really hate to disappoint any of the kids. Do you remember Mark, the boy in the wheelchair from your tour group?”

“Of course.”

“My friend told me his mother enrolled him as a Christmas present.”

“That’s great. I know he’s going to love it.”

Shane came back into the barn followed by a dozen unit members. “I brought the cheering section, Doc.”

“Then let’s get started.”

With the help of Shane and another soldier, Brian soon had his X-ray machine in place. That left Lindsey free to watch him work. He didn’t allow his stiff leg to hamper his job. Instead, he seemed to accomplish things with a minimum of motion, as if he had learned to make every move count.

“It will take a few minutes to print these,” he said as he exited the stall and headed for his truck. More of the men from the unit had gathered in the barn.

When Brian walked back in, Captain Watson was with him. As they stopped in front of the group, Brian held the black-and-white film aloft. “The cast can come off.”

A cheer went up and everyone began pounding each other on the back, shaking hands with Brian and giving Lindsey heartfelt hugs.

The Captain was the one who asked the question they all were wondering about. “Does this mean Dakota can travel to Washington, D.C.?”

“No, it means he can begin his rehabilitation. He’ll need to be hand walked for short periods only. I’ll give you a schedule of times to start with and then we’ll see how he progresses. I want to be notified at the first sign of any lameness.”

Lindsey clasped her hands together in front of her. “But there’s still hope that he’ll be able to make the trip, isn’t there?”

“A slim hope, I’m afraid.”

“That’s good enough for us, isn’t it?” Lindsey asked the men around her. They responded with resounding affirmatives.

“We have faith in you and in Dakota, Dr. Cutter,” Lindsey said. “He’s going.”

Brian studied the determined and hopeful faces around him and decided not to press the issue. No one here would endanger the horse by insisting he make the long trip if he wasn’t ready when the time came.

“Before I remove his cast, he’ll need new shoes put on. The ones he has on now will be too tall and I don’t want him to experience an uneven gait.”

“We have our farrier standing by, Doctor,” Captain Watson assured him. “It shouldn’t take long to change them.”

Once the new shoes were in place, Dakota stood quiet and calm as his cast was removed. Brian stepped back and asked Lindsey to lead him around the stall. At first, Dakota balked, but with some easy coaxing, he finally took his first steps. Without the weight of the cast, he raised his newly freed leg higher than the others several times but soon seemed to realize he didn’t need to.

“He has a slight limp, but I think he’s going to do fine,” Brian said to Captain Watson as both men watched the horse closely.

“You’ve done great work and the army is grateful.”

“I’m the one who is grateful, Captain. You allowed me to enroll him as my first patient in my clinical trials. His success will certainly add weight to my upcoming conference presentation. He may even make more funding available for the study. I can’t tell you how important that is to me.”

“We wish you all the best.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The Captain crossed his arms over his chest. “I wonder if we might ask one more favor of you?”

“Certainly, if I can.”

“Sergeant Mandel mentioned you know of a riding stable for handicapped children that might be interested in Tiger. He’s extremely well trained, as are all our horses, but I’d like your opinion on his suitability before I officially ask for his release from service.”

“I’ll be happy to look him over and make sure he’s sound, but the only way to tell how he’ll do is to expose him to the new environment. We’ll need to see how he reacts to wheelchairs, noisy children, unsteady riders, any number of unexpected occurrences. Hearts and Horses has an evaluation program and I know they would welcome the opportunity to see if Tiger would be right for them.”

“We can do that. Sergeant Mandel, assign a detail to arrange transport for Tiger to the Hearts and Horses facility. At the facility’s convenience, of course. We’ll go ahead with his evaluation, but make sure they know that he won’t be available until our return from Washington, D.C. I don’t want our senior member to miss this Inaugural parade. Fifteen years of service has earned him the right to participate.”

“Yes, sir.”

Brian felt the sensation of his beeper vibrating on his belt. He pulled it from his clip and read the message. He was wanted back at the hospital, but he still hadn’t had a chance to speak to Lindsey in private. He looked around and saw she was talking to Shane and Avery. It seemed that he wasn’t going to get a chance today.

Maybe it was for the best. Now that they wouldn’t be seeing each other so often they could simply allow the relationship to fade. Besides, what if he had read more into her kiss than she meant?

No, he decided, not speaking to her was taking the coward’s way out. He walked up beside her. “Lindsey, I’ve got to go.”

“Now?” She couldn’t have looked more disappointed if she had tried.

“I’m needed back at the clinic. Is there any way I could see you later this afternoon? I need to talk to you.”

“Sure. I have to go into Manhattan tonight. Why don’t I stop by the clinic later.”

“That would be fine. If I’m not in surgery, we can get a cup of coffee or something.” He wasn’t happy with the way that sounded. It was too much like asking her for a date, but he had no way to change his words. Why couldn’t a guy buy a verbal eraser?

“I’d like that. I’ll drop by about five-thirty. Is that too late?”

“Five-thirty will be fine. See you then.”

His emergency turned out to be a horse with a severe cut to its left hind leg. It took less than an hour to supervise while his fourth-year student stitched up the patient and another twenty minutes to update the owners and outline a plan of care. He had just finished his paperwork and was handing it to Jennifer to be filed at the front desk when he saw Lindsey coming in the front doors. His breath froze in his chest.

She paused inside the doorway and slipped off her tan coat, then draped it over her arm. It was then that he noticed she wasn’t wearing her sling. Smiling, she waved when she saw him.

She wore a dark green blouse with tiny flowers embroidered around the gathered neckline and on the short puff sleeves. A full black-and-green print skirt flared about her slim legs as she walked toward him. Dainty, high-heeled black shoes made those legs look even longer.

Jennifer pulled the file folder from his slack hand. “Wow. That is a big improvement over combat boots.”

He couldn’t have agreed more.

Lindsey stopped in front of him. Her bright smile turned his insides to pudding.

She said, “Hi. Am I too early? I can wait if you aren’t finished with your work.”

He found his voice and tried for a professional tone. “Ah, no, your timing is good. Why don’t we just step into my office?”

“Okay.”

He turned to his secretary. “Jennifer, hold my calls please.”

“With pleasure.” She winked.

He wanted to strangle her. Instead, he said, “Sergeant Mandel and I won’t be long.”

He allowed Lindsey to precede him down the hall. As he opened the door for her, he spied his rabbit in the middle of his desk engaged in her forbidden activity.

“Isabella, put down that pencil!” Brian strode to the desk and pulled the prize from between her paws. He picked her up and sent Lindsey a defeated look.

“I’ve tried everything and I can’t break her of getting into these.”

He raised Isabella to eye level and scowled at her. “You are a bad bunny. Do not chew on my pencils.”

Then, as if regretting his harsh words, he tucked her under his arm and stroked her head. Walking to the door, he opened it and called for Jennifer. She arrived and took one look at Isabella and the yellow paint flakes on her face and feet.

“Pencils again?”

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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