Authors: Miralee Ferrell
Tags: #Fiction, #Christian, #Romance
Grinning wide, a miner trooped up to the gawking stranger, dangling the now battered and dusty object from his finger. He turned to the rest of the laughing crowd and shoved the disreputable headpiece into the hands of the nearest man. “Pass this around, gents, and let’s get this man a decent sombrero.”
Cheers resounded and men tossed coins and bills into the offered basket. The miner turned with a smile. “Hold out your hands.”
The stunned city slicker did as he was told and the miner pushed the hat into them. “Hop on over to the dry goods store and tell the clerk to fix you up proper.” He gave the city slicker a shove in the direction he’d indicated. The crowd gave another cheer, then started to disperse. Apparently that hour’s entertainment had ended, and it was time to find something else to amuse them.
Nevada rubbed his chin, surprised at what he’d seen. If this didn’t beat all—that was a cowboy trick, for sure. He wondered what the motley assortment of men would have done had the stranger put up a serious fuss. Probably sent him rolling down the street after his hat, instead of taking a collection.
A jolt shot through him, and he swiveled around. Where had the woman with the veil gone? In the excitement he’d completely lost track of her before he’d gotten a look at her. He let loose a low groan and urged his horse forward. He didn’t have a prayer of discovering her identity, but he could ride up the street a ways and see if he could spot her.
Another searching glance brought him up short. A man with a gold star on his vest strode toward the stage. Looked like the law had arrived. All he could do was hope the woman would keep her word. Time for him to slip into the background and disappear.
Christy eased farther away from the laughing group of men, only slightly disturbed by the scene that had played out before her. It had been a number of years, but the memories rushed back quite easily. Men having sport at another’s expense—be it a city slicker, a drunk, or a tenderfoot. So many of the folks in Last Chance had been decent, law-abiding citizens that she’d almost forgotten how this part of the world lived. She shook her head. Time to get out of here and see if she could find her brother.
Too bad she’d been unable to let Joshua know what day she’d arrive, but hopefully it wouldn’t be too hard to discover his and Ma’s whereabouts. A dark-frocked man wearing a flat-brimmed hat and a gold star on his lapel pushed his way through the crowd. Christy shrank back, not caring to face his questions right now. All she wanted was for her arm to be treated and to find where her mother lived. The details of the stage holdup could come later.
She took a few more steps away from the laughing crowd and cast a look around for someone familiar. Fingers touched her arm, and she turned. A tall, slender man stood before her. He was dressed mostly in black, his broadcloth suit neatly pressed and a flat-crowned black hat snugged down on his dark hair. He wore a white shirt with the stiff collar turned up and a pair of dust-covered black boots. She’d wager he was a gambler. It may have been nearly five years since she’d escaped the dancehall life, but she could still spot a man of chance with her eyes half closed.
“May I direct you somewhere, dear lady?” Dark blue eyes peered from beneath slender, raised brows.
“No. Thank you.” She turned to go, then realized she’d have to speak to someone. A glance revealed no other women in the area, and none of the men sauntering nearby looked much better. “Excuse my manners. I would appreciate being directed to the doctor’s office.”
He gave a half bow and extended his arm. “Allow me to escort you?”
Christy shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. If you’d point it out, I’d be most appreciative.”
His eyes narrowed, and he touched the end of his small mustache. “Most assuredly, but I must insist on at least accompanying you. My name is Gordon Townsley, and I’m one of the managers at the Oriental.” He said the words as though they should have special meaning.
“The Oriental?” She didn’t smile. Men who were this forward didn’t need encouragement.
“One of the premiere establishments in our fair city.” He cleared his throat and offered his arm again. “Please, I insist. A lady like yourself could easily be accosted on this rowdy street. I’d hate to have anything untoward happen as you make your way there.”
Christy hesitated. She had no idea where the doctor’s office was located, or how to find her brother or mother. So far this man offered the only help in sight, and he’d given her no reason to spurn his assistance. She bobbed her head but didn’t touch the extended arm. “All right. I’d be grateful if you’d show me the way, Mr. Townsley.”
The corner of his chiseled lips quirked up, but no sense of warmth was conveyed. He lowered his arm and touched her shoulder, turning her slightly toward him. “Right this way.” He led her to the boardwalk running in front of a mercantile and assisted her as she stepped up. “What did you say your name is?”
He gave a slight start. “Grey. Any relation to Joshua Grey?”
Christy’s heart leapt. “Yes. You know my brother?”
“I do. He frequents my establishment on a regular basis. Likeable fellow, if a little prone to provoke a fight at times. Does he know you’re in town?”
“No. He sent for me, but I wasn’t sure when I’d arrive.” Her spirits sank at the realization this man’s business must be a gambling hall. “I’d be pleased if you could direct me to him.”
“I can’t say if he’s there now, mind you. But I’ll certainly be happy to show you the way to the Oriental after you finish at the doctor’s office.” He steered her around a throng of miners surging out the batwing doors of a saloon. Their loud laughter and coarse voices drifted back, along with the distinct odor of alcohol. “If I may be so bold as to ask?” He tipped his head toward the bandana knotted around her arm. “I see blood on that rag. What happened?”
“Our stage was attacked, and a stray bullet caught me in my arm. It’s no longer bleeding and no bones were broken, although I must admit there’s a bit of pain yet.”
His eyes widened. “I should think so. I’m amazed you haven’t swooned right at my feet. Why, you never even mentioned your discomfort.”
A flick of his wrist directed her attention to a sign up ahead. D
was emblazoned in deep-blue letters on a sanded slab of wood hanging above a window on the second floor of the Golden Eagle Brewery. “His office is upstairs.”
He directed her through a door and across to a staircase. “Most women I know would be screeching with pain or lamenting their experience.”
Christy shrugged. “Not much to be gained by that. It burns like fire, and I’ll be happy to have it cared for, but there’s no need to fuss over it.” No sense in letting this man see her anxiety. It would probably only encourage him. All she wanted was to get this arm tended to and find her family.
Admiration and something she couldn’t quite decipher lit his eyes. She turned her gaze away, suddenly uncomfortable with this neatly dressed, dapper man. He pushed open the door, and a bell jingled above it. “Let me see if the doctor is here.”
“That won’t be necessary. I’m able to take care of myself.” But her words fell on empty space as Townsley’s frock-coated form disappeared through another doorway leading toward the back of the building.
Solid footsteps echoed on the plank floor, and a man who looked to be in his early thirties appeared at the door, Townsley right on his heels. “Sorry to keep you waiting. I just finished with a surgery. Bullet wound. Had to dig so deep I felt like I was performing assessment work.” He grinned and cocked his head. “Rich in lead but too punctured to hold whiskey. Poor chap pulled through. Hopefully he’ll not get liquored up next time when he decides to accost someone with a gun. Now, how can I help you?”
Christy held out her arm. “I’m afraid liquor had little to do with this bullet wound, Doctor, but there was certainly a gun involved.”
Doctor Goodfellow had the grace to duck his chin. “Pardon my poor manners, ma’am. It seems I’ve been in the wilderness too long and no longer know how to address a lady. I graduated with honors from Cleveland Medical College, but you’d certainly not know it from my behavior today.” He beckoned her toward the door. “Come. I’ll take you back to an exam room and fix you right up.”
Gordon Townsley stepped forward. “I’ll wait for you, Miss Grey.”
“No need. I’m sure Doctor Goodfellow can direct me once we finish. There’s no telling how long this will take.”
“Nonsense. I have no pressing business to attend to, at any rate.” He settled onto a wooden chair in the waiting area.
“All right. Thank you.”
She followed the doctor beyond the open doorway and into a dark hallway. They walked three steps, then turned right into a cubbyhole lined with shelves on one side and holding nothing else but a cot with a small table alongside.
“You said your name is Miss Grey?” The doctor motioned to the cot. “Sorry I don’t have anything better to offer. If you wouldn’t mind taking a seat on the edge?” He reached for a clean cloth, a towel, and a pot of water while she perched on the canvas surface. “I’m going to soak this bandana before I try to remove it. You might want to spread this towel over your skirt so it doesn’t get wet.”
She did as he suggested, and the next few minutes passed in silence as the doctor carefully removed the cloth tied around her arm. He swabbed the blood-encrusted area and probed at the wound with skilled fingers but made no comment. Christy bit her lip to keep from crying out. The hole in her flesh started bleeding again, and a burning heat shot from her elbow up to her shoulder.
“I’m sorry. I know it hurts. Would you like some laudanum for the pain?”
“No. I won’t touch it.” She didn’t care to tell him her sister, Molly, had used it more than once, and she’d always believed her dependence on alcohol started with the nasty drug.
“Up to you. I’ll be finished shortly, in any case.”
He reached over to the nearby shelf and removed a can, prying open the lid. A foul odor drifted from the canister and Christy wrinkled her nose.
“It smells bad,” he said apologetically, “but it’ll help seal the wound. It has turpentine in it, so it might sting, but that will pass quickly.” He dipped his fingers in the concoction and smeared a liberal amount on a piece of gauze, then placed it over the gaping hole.
Christy gasped and gritted her teeth.
“Sorry.” The doctor unwound a long strip of clean white cloth and wrapped it around her arm from her elbow almost to her shoulder, covering the entire affected area, and drew her sleeve back down. “There we go. I’ll want to see you tomorrow.”
“How much do I owe you?” She reached for her reticule and groaned. She’d tucked it into the seat of the stagecoach and the outlaws had found it. Thankfully the rest of her money still rested in her trunk.
“You can settle up after I see you again.” Doctor Goodfellow pulled open the door of the small exam room and ushered her back up the hall to the waiting area. “Care to take any laudanum with you, Miss?”
“No, but thank you for seeing me, and I’ll come back tomorrow.” Christy extended her hand, and he took it, bowing over it for a moment.
Townsley rose from his chair and removed his hat, nodding first at the doctor, then Christy. “You ready to go, ma’am?”
Christy shot him a glance, torn between trying to get rid of the man and allowing him to help her. But right now family was uppermost in her mind, so she pushed her concerns about Townsley’s character aside. “Yes. I’m anxious to find my brother.”
He escorted her out the door and down the boardwalk. “It’s across the street on the corner. Can’t guarantee Josh will be at a table right now, but someone might know of his whereabouts.”
They crossed the dusty side street and stopped at a two-story building flanked across the front with large windows. Several decorative pillars propped up the overhanging roof, and a number of rough-clad men stood under the shade of the porch. Loud music blasted out the open door along with brash laughter and the tinkling of glasses.
Townsley touched her arm and halted her. “Why don’t you wait here, Miss Grey?”
Christy scooted sideways and peered around him. At that instant, the door swung open, emitting a miner who appeared to have imbibed liquor beyond his capacity.
The man swerved to pass her and paused, clumsily lifting his hat. “Good day, Miss. If you’re comin’ to work here, I’ll be back. Don’t see women like you around here very often.”
Townsley stepped in front of Christy and placed a hand on the man’s chest, shoving him backwards off the boardwalk. He hit the ground with a loud grunt.
Townsley towered over the prostrate man. “We don’t want you coming back here, mister. Go down the street and try Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon; they cater more to your kind.” He turned around and eyed Christy. “I don’t want to leave you outside. Most men in this town would never touch a lady, but there are those who might say something they shouldn’t. Would you be willing to step inside while I look for your brother?”
Revulsion surged inside Christy, and her stomach knotted. She’d seen far too many of these places and had never planned on setting foot in one again. “I’m not sure.…”