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 (31 page)

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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White rail fences bordered the road and enclosed several corrals. The old two-story house was also painted white, but bright blue shutters kept it from looking austere. An American flag fluttered in the breeze from its holder on one of the porch’s tall square columns. In the spring and summer, Brian knew the green lawns were bordered with colorful flower beds, but winter had put an end to their bright displays weeks ago.

He stopped at the office door, but Patience Duncan opened it before he had a chance to knock. Patience’s erect bearing and boundless energy belied her sixty-odd years. Her salt-and-pepper gray hair was cut in a simple bob. Her worn jeans were tucked into tall black rubber boots and her green hooded parka had a hole in one elbow where an occasional down feather found its way to freedom.

“Brian, thank you for coming.” She threw her arms around him in a hearty hug.

“I’m always happy to help.” He was glad now that he had come. He needed to get away from his somber thoughts.

Patience stepped back. “Come in out of the wind. It sure turned cold fast. Makes me doubly glad our indoor arena is finished.”

Brian followed her inside the office. A second door connected the cluttered room to the larger pole barn. “Are my pupils here yet?”

“I’m only expecting one child today. The boy you referred to us.”

“Mark? Is this his first time?”

“It is. He was disappointed when I told him he wouldn’t actually be riding today, just getting to know Sprite and learning to take of her. His mother seemed very relieved. I think she needs this therapy more than her son does.”

“You may be right.”

“I’m happy for the light schedule because the army is sending out one of their horses for evaluation today.”

His heart sank. The last thing he wanted to do was face Lindsey today. Perhaps she wouldn’t be one of the people who brought Tiger. He could only hope. “I’ve seen the horse in action. I think he’ll be great for you.”

“I hope so. Speaking of the army, I think that must be them.” Patience stepped to the office window and drew the blue-and-white-checked curtain aside.

Brian moved to stand beside her. The red pickup and matching red trailer rumbling into the circle driveway were unmistakable. His heart jumped into overdrive when he noticed Lindsey in the front seat between Avery and Shane.

Patience let the curtain fall back into place. “Why don’t you show them where to take their horse.”

“Mark and his mother are waiting. I should get started with them.”

“All right. I’ve set up the arena so that you can have the back third. I’ll go meet the troops.” Patience gave him an odd look as she walked past.

* * *

Lindsey had noticed Brian’s truck in the driveway as soon as they pulled in. Excitement and delight raced through her, leaving her giddy with joy.

Resisting the urge to run and find him and fling herself into his arms took a fair measure of her resolve. There would be time for that later. Today, she was under orders to assess this facility as a possible home for a valued member of their unit. She didn’t take her assignment lightly.

A middle-aged woman came out of the office and walked toward them. “Hello, and welcome to Hearts and Horses. Call me Patience. You’ll never meet anyone so misnamed.” The woman flashed a broad friendly smile that put Lindsey instantly at ease.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m Sergeant Mandel and this is Corporal Ross and Private Barnes.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Well, let’s get a look at your horse, shall we?” Patience strode to the rear of the trailer without waiting for anyone. “How old did you say he was?” she called over her shoulder.

“Eighteen,” Shane answered as he hurried to keep up with her.

“A good age for horses and for men. How old are you, sonny?”

Lindsey smiled at Avery. “I like her already.”

A clang signaled the rear gate of the trailer opening. Lindsey and Avery followed as Shane and Patience led Tiger into the barn. Across the arena, Lindsey saw Brian introducing Mark to a small black mare with two white stockings and a star on her forehead. Mark’s grin told Lindsey exactly what he thought of his new friend. When Brian looked their way, Lindsey smiled and waved. He nodded in acknowledgment, but continued to give his attention to the boy. Puzzled by his less-than-enthusiastic greeting, she worried that she had done something to upset him. The idea was ridiculous. He had seemed fine when they parted company last night, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong.

Patience quickly began a series of tests for Tiger. First, she rode him bareback around a small section of the barn to get the animal used to her and his surroundings. Next, she asked Shane to walk him on a loose lead and guide him beside a long ramp. Once alongside the platform, Patience turned around backward and had Shane continue to lead the horse while she shifted her weight numerous times. It was obvious that Tiger was surprised by the activity, but he remained calm and composed. Patience dismounted and pushed a wheelchair up to Tiger. He sniffed it over, then proceeded to ignore it as she pushed it close beside him, even bumping into him slightly.

While Tiger and the men got a workout with Patience, Lindsey had time to watch Brian’s interaction with Mark and the horse. His quiet confidence and gentle encouragement soon had the boy and his mother brushing the mare’s coat and feeding her treats. A few minutes later, Brian took them over to show them the special saddle Mark would be using. It was fastened to a stand with handrails around it and Brian had Mark practice transferring on and off until he seemed satisfied the boy could do it without difficulty.

After a half hour, Mark and his mother left. Brian began walking toward the door just as Patience declared an end to her test. She told Shane to tie up Tiger and follow her. Dusting off her hands, she came to stand beside Lindsey. “I think he’s a keeper. He’s cool, calm and collected and he seems readily adaptable. That’s exactly the kind of horse we need. My thanks to the army for thinking of us.”

“It was Brian’s idea.” Lindsey was happy to give him credit.

“Then my thanks to you, Brian,” Patience called out. He stopped as the group led by Patience closed the distance between them.

“I have tea and coffee in the office and a dozen oatmeal cookies that I don’t want going to my waist—so you are instructed to go in and enjoy them. Let me put Sprite up and then I’ll give you the grand tour afterward so you can see if my stable meets your requirements. No arguments. Brian, show them the way.”

“I really should be going.”

“Nonsense. I’ve never known you to pass up one of my cookies. What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” he said defensively.

“Well, then, go show my guests a little hospitality until I get back,” she muttered as she tromped off.

Lindsey studied Brian, but he wouldn’t look at her. Something was definitely wrong.

Avery settled his cap more tightly on his head. “Nobody has to tell me twice to eat oatmeal cookies.”

They all began walking toward the office. “She would have done well in the military,” Shane said as he held open the door for the others.

“She certainly enjoys giving orders,” Avery agreed.

Shane patted Brian on the shoulder. “I’ve found most women do, especially women sergeants. Have you sent in your reenlistment papers yet, Lindsey?”

“They’re filled out, but I haven’t turned them in.”

“You’re still planning to reenlist?” Brian asked, a scowl on his face as he looked at her for the first time.

The disapproval in his tone cut her to the quick. “Brian, the army is my career.”

He glared at her. “I thought things had changed.”

“Have they? I don’t recall being asked anything except to consider it.”

Shane cleared his throat. “I’m going to go load Tiger. Avery, come help me.” He grabbed two cookies and pushed Avery toward the door back into the barn.

Lindsey crossed her arms over her chest. “I thought you understood my feelings.”

“Yes, you always made them clear.”

“I hope I have.” She couldn’t help the defensive tone in her voice. “I plan to ask for an assignment at Fort Riley.”

“But you can’t guarantee they’ll give you that assignment, can you?”

“Of course not.”

“For you it’s the army, your country, your family, your horse and then Lindsey somewhere way at the back of the line.”

“Brian, what’s wrong? Why are you so angry?”

“I thought we had something good between us.”

“I thought so, too.”

“Then where do I fit in your list, Lindsey? After the army but before the horse?”

“That’s not fair.” The hurt his tone caused went deeper than she had ever imagined.

“Life isn’t fair and you didn’t answer my question.”

“How can I give you an answer when we’ve never talked about it?”

Shaking his head, he walked to the door and pulled it open. “The same way you made your decision to reenlist without talking to me about it.”

He slammed the door behind him, leaving her staring after him with no idea what had just happened.

Chapter Thirteen

L
indsey tried to pretend that everything was okay. She went to work and to her physical therapy sessions, but her arm seemed to be getting weaker instead of stronger. She spent long hours walking Dakota, first around the small pen beside the stable and later on longer trips through the pastures and along the less traveled roads of the fort. When it was only the big horse walking beside her, she didn’t have to pretend, and the tears that she tried to hold in check would slip out.

Shane, Avery and Lee offered a few times to go with her, but she politely refused. After a few days they seemed to realize that solitude was exactly what she wanted and needed. Captain Watson made sure that the unit ran smoothly as preparations got underway for their trip to Washington, D.C. All the horses were outfitted with the special shoes that were required, uniforms were pressed and boots were buffed to a high gloss. Lindsey went through the motions without thinking about them.

When the first heavy snowfall blanketed the fort, she tried not to remember how happy she had been with Brian in the snow on Christmas night. Her heart might be broken, but it would heal in time the way her arm and Dakota’s leg had healed. Breaks were excruciatingly painful in the beginning, but with time the pain would fade to a dull ache. If she could just find a way to get through it until then.

When anyone asked about Brian, she would smile and say he was too busy to come out to the fort. She thought she had convinced the rest of the unit that she was fine. It was her sister she couldn’t fool.

A week after the trip to Hearts and Horses, Karen confronted Lindsey in the kitchen of their apartment.

“All right. What is going on?” Karen demanded, standing in the doorway with her hands propped on her hips.

“I’m not sure I know what you mean. I’m setting the table for dinner.”

“You know exactly what I mean. What happened between you and Brian?”

“Nothing happened.” She lined up the spoons beside the knives.

“One night you float in here telling me how in love you are and the next night I hear you crying yourself to sleep. Okay, call me crazy, but I think something is going on.”

“It didn’t work out. What do you want me to say?”

“A little more than that.”

Stepping up to her sister, Lindsey laid her hand on Karen’s shoulder. “It didn’t work out. That’s all there is to it. Now can we please talk about something else?”

“Do I need to have Shane go punch his lights out?”

Lindsey managed a weak smile. “As satisfying as that may sound, it won’t help.”

“I didn’t think so. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”

“Thanks, but it’s better to find out now than after we’ve spent seventeen years together the way Mom and Dad did.”

“I think it’s better to fall in love and stay in love.”

“That isn’t the path God has chosen for me.”

“You shouldn’t give up so easily. You love the guy. Take my advice and go talk to him. Isn’t he worth fighting for?”

He was, but she didn’t know how or who to fight. Brian had made the choice to end their relationship before it truly began. She strongly suspected his motives had more to do with his guilt over his wife’s death than her career choice, but she didn’t know how to make him see that. Tonight, she was too tired to search for answers.

“I’ve got a more important battle to win. I have to get Dakota fit to go to the Inauguration. I’m not going to disappoint Danny when he has worked so hard. After Washington, D.C., maybe I’ll go and see Brian. Until then, can we please not talk about him anymore?”

Karen reluctantly agreed and Lindsey was almost sorry she did.

* * *

Lindsey threw a saddle up on Dakota for the first time since their fall. It proved to be difficult with her weak arm, but she managed. It had been three weeks since his cast had come off. He was up to walking five miles a day without problems. To her eye, he looked as sound as a dollar, but the real test would be to see if he could carry her weight.

The company horses were due to depart for Washington, D.C., in two days. The decision whether or not to take Dakota had to be made within the next forty-eight hours.

In the small enclosed riding pen beside the stable, she spoke softly to him and stepped into the stirrup. He stood motionless as she swung up onto his back.

“Good boy. Let’s try a walk, okay?” She nudged him with her heels and he began walking with a smooth stride that gladdened her heart.

After ten circuits of the area without any sign of lameness, she pulled him to a halt.

“How does he feel, Sergeant?” Captain Watson asked from the stable doorway.

“As good as he looks, sir.” She patted Dakota’s neck.

“Excellent. All we need now is Dr. Cutter’s okay and Dakota is on his way with the rest of the herd.”

Just the mention of Brian’s name was enough to make her want to cry, but she didn’t give in to the urge. Once more she’d had it pounded into her head that a military life and romance didn’t mix. This time she had learned her lesson for good.

“I don’t see any reason Dr. Cutter won’t release him. His walk is sound.”

Captain Watson stepped out of the stable and came to stand beside her. Under one arm he carried the unit’s banner.

Lindsey’s heart sank. Her grip wasn’t strong in spite of the physical therapy that she had been doing religiously.

“Are you ready to try this?” he asked, nodding toward the staff in his hand.

“Yes, sir.” Lindsey was happy her voice sounded calm even if she was quaking inside.

Please, dear Lord. I need Your help now. Lend me the strength I need to do this for my brother.

Captain Watson handed up the banner. As soon as her fingers closed around the staff, she knew she couldn’t hold it. The flag slipped out of her grasp. He caught it before it hit the ground.

He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. She dismounted and spent a long moment staring at her boots before she looked up and met his sympathetic gaze. The choking pain in her chest made it almost impossible to speak, but she did. “I respectfully request that you appoint another soldier to carry the flag, sir.”

“Lindsey, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. It never was about me. It’s about honoring men and women like Danny—people who have given everything, including their lives, to protect and defend our flag. The last thing I want to do is disrespect their sacrifice by dropping the colors.”

“Do you feel that you can hold a saber in salute?”

Oh, how she wanted to say she could, but the truth came out instead. “I doubt it.”

“I see.”

“Does this mean that I’ll stay behind as part of the rear detachment?”

“No. Your family will be there and so should you. As you know, normally flag bearing goes by rank.”

“Yes, sir. Highest-ranking soldier carries the U.S. flag, next highest rank carries the army flag and so on.”

“That means Corporal Ross will carry the American flag in your place.”

“Sir, my concern is that Shane’s weight will be too much for Dakota.”

“I agree. I’ll leave it to you to decide who will ride Dakota in your place. At least he will be in the parade to represent your family if Dr. Cutter okays the trip.”

“Yes, sir. I know Danny will be honored to have any one of our unit members ride Dakota.”

“Thank you, Sergeant. You’re dismissed for the day. Let me know who your choice is tomorrow morning.”

Trying hard to maintain control, Lindsey saluted smartly, then watched the Captain walk away. When he was out of sight, she buried her face in Dakota’s mane and gave in to her tears.

* * *

Brian pulled up the most recent digital X-rays of Dakota’s leg on the computer in his office. They weren’t the best-quality films. The fourth-year students he had sent to the post to take the X-rays that morning hadn’t done as good a job as he would have liked. He should have gone himself, but he hadn’t wanted to risk running into Lindsey.

He leaned forward to examine the pictures more closely. He couldn’t be sure if the faint line extending into the second phalanx bone was artifact or new trouble brewing for Dakota.

He looked up at the sound of a knock on his door. Jennifer opened it and said, “Doctor, Captain Watson and Sergeant Mandel are here to see you.”

His heart sank. So much for avoiding Lindsey. He steeled his heart against the pain he knew was coming. “Send them in.”

He rose and extended his hand as Captain Watson entered. The Captain took it in a firm grip. Lindsey came in and stood quietly behind her commander.

“We’ve come to get a travel release for Dakota.”

“I’m afraid I have some concerns about that.”

Captain Watson frowned. “What type of concerns?”

“His last X-ray shows a small area that has me worried. I’d like to repeat the films tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor, but the horses are due to ship out tomorrow morning and my men will be flying out the following afternoon. The custom hauler the army has hired will be at the stable at ten sharp. If you need more films you’ll have to get them today.”

“You’re using a custom hauler? I thought your men would be taking the horses.”

“Army regulations make that difficult. If we haul the horses ourselves, we would have to stop every eight hours and rest the animals. The trip would take days. By hiring an outside firm, the horses can be transported straight through to Washington, D.C.”

Brian frowned. “You’re talking about almost twenty-four hours without a break.”

“That’s correct.”

“I’m afraid I can’t release Dakota to travel under such conditions.”

“Why not?” Lindsey demanded, looking at him for the first time.

“Standing in a moving trailer and being jostled in amongst other animals for so many hours would place entirely too much stress on his leg. I’m sorry, but I won’t grant his release under such circumstances.”

Captain Watson glanced at Lindsey. “I’m certainly disappointed to hear that. This is a very important event for my men. They’ve worked hard to get Dakota fit and ready to go.”

“I understand that, but the risk to the animal’s welfare is simply too great.”

“I can’t take the horse without a release.” He looked back and forth between Brian and Lindsey as if waiting for more to be said. When neither of them spoke, he drew a deep breath. “That’s it then. Thank you for your time, Dr. Cutter.”

Lindsey waited until Captain Watson left the room. When he closed the door behind him, she swung around to face Brian. “How can you do this to me? You know how important this is!”

“I’m not doing anything
to
you. I’m doing this
for
Dakota.”

Lindsey stared at Brian in growing disbelief. “He’s healed.”

“And I intend to see that he stays that way.”

“Brian, you know how important it is that he be in the parade, how important it is to my brother.”

“I know you want Dakota there to honor your brother, but what good will it do if Dakota’s leg fails on the trailer ride and he has to be destroyed? I know you don’t want that.”

“He can make the trip. He’s strong enough.”

“Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. As his vet, this is my call. I can’t let you risk his life for a few minutes of fame.”

“You mean you won’t risk letting the world see that your wonderful new procedure doesn’t work.” Disappointment gave her words a bitter edge.

“It did work. Dakota was out of his cast in record time.”

“But his leg isn’t strong enough to stand the trip to Washington, D.C.? How is that a success? Why not let us at least try using a sling or some way to support him?”

“I might agree to that if I knew the trip could be made in easy stages, but you heard Captain Watson. The horses are going nonstop by commercial hauler. That means hours of being shaken and jarred and crowded in with fifteen other animals. The risk is too much. Especially after all it took to save him in the first place.”

“But to not even try?”

“You’re upset. I don’t think this discussion needs to go any further.”

“I thought you understood what was at stake. My brother is going to be at that parade. How am I going to tell him Dakota won’t be?”

“Lindsey, I’m sorry.”

“I wanted to carry the flag for him, but I can’t. My arm isn’t strong enough. So, I want Dakota there because he was an important part of Danny’s life. When my brother gave Dakota to the army, it was his last piece of freedom, his last ounce of pride. He had nothing left to give his country and now you’re going to say that sacrifice means nothing.”

“Do you honestly think your brother would want you to risk Dakota’s life?”

At his question, the fight went out of Lindsey. “No.”

He stepped close. If only he would take her in his arms the way he had before. How could the feelings between them have changed so quickly?

“Go to Washington, D.C., Lindsey. Ride beside the flag with your unit. Honor your brother’s sacrifice, even if it isn’t in the fashion you had hoped.”

She pulled away from his touch. “I want to thank you for all you have done for Dakota, Dr. Cutter. You have the gratitude of the U.S. Army. I can see myself out.”

As she walked out the door of his office, Brian knew with a sinking heart that she was walking out of his life.

He started to go after her, but stopped with his hand on the doorknob. It was for the best. He didn’t have a heart to give her. He had buried it with his wife and child.

If I don’t have a heart, then what is breaking inside me?

BOOK: His Bundle of Love / the Color of Courage
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