DEPENDING ON THE DOCTOR
Nevada Bounty, Book 2
Lydia Templeton teaches other people’s children, but dreams of having a home and family of her own. Plain and mousy, she protects her heart and relies on herself, accepting that she may never find a place where she really belongs.
Emmett Wilder served as a Civil War battlefield surgeon. After the war he dosed himself with plenty of alcohol to forget the blood and violence. Unfortunately, drunk doctors make mistakes, and Emmett’s no exception, so now he travels the country selling homemade medicinal tonics and trying to outrun his demons. Keeping to himself he can’t hurt anyone else and he likes it that way.
But Emmett owes a favor to Lydia’s brother, Randall, who decides it’s time to collect. After their mother dies, Randall sends Emmett to Nevada to find Lydia and bring her home to Nebraska. Along the way Lydia and Emmett tangle with train robbers, natives, and an accidental marriage only to find that Randall is the worst enemy of all.
As Lydia journeys across the country with Emmett, she’s forced to face her worst fears and deepest desires, discovering along the way that her real strength comes from Depending on the Doctor.
Emmett’s worried blue gaze fixed on me.
“What time is it?” I asked. Dusk glowed outside the window. “How long did I sleep?”
He smiled, the humor of it reaching his eyes. “Most of the afternoon, I imagine. I’ve been talking with some folks in the other car and when they decided it was time for supper, I came back to find you sound asleep.”
“Train travel makes me sleepy,” I said.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it? You’re not expending any energy, just sitting, and yet the rhythm of the train lulls most folks to sleep eventually.”
“Are you hungry? We haven’t eaten all day, but I packed some food for us in my satchel.”
“That would be nice, thank you.”
I unpacked a loaf of bread, some cold chicken, and some apples we’d picked and stored from the ranch’s orchard, and we settled into our supper.
I watched him eat. Our interactions had been cautious, even awkward. I was bad enough at conversation when I knew someone, but with a stranger like Emmett, I was completely out of my element. So I just watched him. As a former doctor, his education had been apparent, but he carried himself with the confidence and ease of affluence—both financial and social. I wondered how he’d ended up as a traveling salesman.
My curiosity won out over my social awkwardness. “So Mr. Wilder, how did you end up doing what you do? Why would you give up being a doctor for life on the road? It can’t be easy.”
He’d been concentrating on his apple, studying it after each bite. It couldn’t be that interesting. When I spoke, it startled him, and he looked up at me with a pained and puzzled look in his eyes. Maybe it had been a bad idea to ask about his past. I had a difficult time with judging appropriateness.
“It’s a long story,” he said. “One that wouldn’t interest you.”
I figured in for a penny, in for a pound. I’d already started, I may as well forge ahead. “We have a long trip ahead of us, so a long story will be perfect. And I’m interested in everything, Mr. Wilder. I’m curious by nature.”
He lifted a brow in what I could only interpret as an acerbic gesture. “I’m sure you are,” he mumbled, just loud enough for me to hear.
He shifted in his seat, facing me more directly. “Let’s just say this: my past isn’t something I like to discuss, and since our association is going to be short I prefer not to sully whatever meager impression I’ve managed to make on you thus far.”
“You’ve made a most honorable impression on me so far. I can’t imagine that you’ve anything in your past that’s so ghastly as to change that impression.”
“Don’t be so sure. You hardly know me.”
“Which is why I asked. So that I may get to know you.”
He stared at me hard, and I felt as if I’d won a point in an ongoing score. He bit his apple and took the time to chew and swallow. I watched him, and he watched me. I imagined him sizing me up, trying to decide how much to tell me, if anything at all. I’d have him at my side for a couple more days, and then he’d be gone, so why not bask in his attention while I could? I had no illusions that his attention was anything other than a man fulfilling his duty. But he seemed not to mind my company, so I allowed myself to indulge in enjoying him.
I was no more immune to an attractive man than any other woman, they just never paid me any mind. At the moment, I had one all to myself. Of course, Emmett was both handsome and intelligent. The perfect—and perfectly lethal—combination, at least where my fragile heart was concerned.
“All you really need to know is that I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I’m doing my best to put them behind me. What about you? What would make you leave a home where you have people who clearly love you, and go running to your brother solely because he asked?”
Well, he’d neatly side-stepped my questions and turned things back on me. Mentally, I awarded him a point in our little game. I glanced at him to find him leaned back, arms stretched out over the backs of the seats. He looked pleased with himself, fully aware that we were doing a verbal dance around each other.
“You’re not the only one with mistakes in your past.”
He chuckled. “That, I seriously doubt. Little Miss Proper?” He shook his head, rejecting my pronouncement.
“No. Not possible.”
His blue eyes twinkled with amusement, and my cheeks heated with a pleasurable blush. I couldn’t help myself. I appreciated his attention. I enjoyed talking to him and, to my surprise, he made me feel playful—something I’d never, ever felt with a man.
“Oh, don’t be so sure, Mr. Wilder. You hardly know me.” I echoed his response, teasing him—perhaps even flirting with him, though I’d never actually flirted so I had no way to gauge my success.
His smile froze, and he swallowed, but it looked more like trying to avoid choking. From the way he looked at me, I thought I’d done something wrong. His hungry expression made no sense to me.
I dropped my gaze to my hands in my lap. I’d allowed myself to get carried away in the moment and humiliated myself. “I’m sorry, that was impertinent of me.”
He made a sound halfway between a cough and a laugh. It wouldn’t do for him to choke on his apple, or his disgust.
“Impertinent?” He said. “That was downright sassy.”
From his expression, I had to assume he thought sassy was good, because he grinned at me like a fool.
I looked down at my lap again, then glanced at him again from under my lashes. “Is sassy good?”
“Yes, it’s good. It’s nice to see you relax some.”
I released the breath I’d been holding, and smiled at him. “I’m not generally sassy. You’re right when you call me proper. I am. I don’t know how to be anything else. Proper was always the best way to be invisible.”
His brows came together. “Why would you ever want to be invisible?”
His voice suggested incredulity, whereas I would have thought the answer was obvious: invisibility meant safety.
“That isn’t a fair question,” I said.
“Because it requires me to discuss my past, and I thought we’d come to a mutual—if unspoken—agreement that the past is off limits as a topic of conversation.”
“Now I’m intrigued.”
I nearly snorted at the idea. “Trust me, Mr. Wilder, I’m the least intriguing person you’ll ever meet.”
“I don’t believe that for a moment, Lydia.” His voice had taken on a husky quality and I wondered if he’d injured his throat when he choked on the apple.
“Well, it’s the truth. I’m plain and boring, and I’ve lived a plain and boring life.”
“You’re not plain and boring, you just hide behind plain and boring. I saw you with those children. You came alive with them.”
“That’s easy. I adore them. Children are honest. I know what to expect from them.”
“Well, they clearly love you.”
I couldn’t help smiling in the face of his compliment. “It’s the adults I have trouble with. But I’m working on it. At least I’m trying.”
“You seem to be doing fine.”
“You make it easy,” I said, then snapped my mouth shut. Had I really just said that? I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry. That was…”
“Impertinent?” he asked. His sparkling eyes teased me.
“Forward,” I said.
"I like forward," he said, and I blushed so hard I had to look away.
Oregon Ducks fan.
Donut and pastry addict.
I like cats.
I’m terrified of balloons.
When I’m not writing you’ll find me in a college classroom teaching English, or working as a literary agent for an amazing agency…and of course, wrangling my family.