About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I need a doctor."
The commanding male voice echoed through the dispensary of Doc Maynard's hospital like a trumpet call. Catherine Stanway straightened from where she'd been bending over a patient, fully prepared to offer assistance. But one look at the man in the doorway, lit from behind by the rare Seattle sun, and words failed her.
He carried himself as proudly as a knight from the tales of King Arthur her father had read to her as a child. His rough-cut light brown hair brushed the top of the doorjamb; his shoulders in the wrinkled blue cotton shirt reached either side. He took a step into the room, and she was certain she felt the floor tremble.
Finding her voice, she raised her chin. "I can help you.
He walked down the narrow room toward her, the thud of his worn leather boots like the sound of a hammer on the planks of the floor. The blue apothecary bottles lined up on the shelves behind the counter chimed against one another as he passed. He was like a warrior approaching his leader, a soldier his commanding officer. Mrs. Witherspoon, waiting on a chair for the doctor to reset her shoulder, clutched her arm close, wide-eyed. Others stared at him or quickly looked away.
He stopped beside Catherine and laid his fingers on the curved back of the chair where the elderly Mr. Jenkins snoozed while he waited for his monthly dose of medicine. Scars crossed the skin of the massive hand, white against the bronze.
Up close, Catherine could see that his face was more heart-shaped than oval, his unkempt hair drawing down in a peak over his forehead. His liberally lashed eyes were a mixture of clear green and blue, like the waves that lapped the Puget Sound shores. The gold of his skin said he worked outdoors; the wear on this clothes said he made little income from it.
He was easily the most healthy male she'd ever seen, so why did he need medical assistance?
"Are you a doctor?" he asked. Everything from the way he cocked his head to the slow cadence of the question spoke of his doubt.
Her spine stiffened, lifting her blue skirts off the floor and bringing her head level with his breastbone. She was used to the surprise, the doubts about her vocation here in Seattle. Even where she'd been raised, a few had questioned that the prominent physician George Stanway had trained his daughter to be a nurse. More had wondered why their beloved doctor and his promising son had felt it necessary to get themselves killed serving in the Union Army. At times, Catherine wondered the same thing.
"I'm a nurse," she told their visitor, keeping her voice calm, professional. "I was trained by my father, a practicing physician, and served for a year at the New England Hospital for Women and Children. I came West with the Mercer expedition. Doctor Maynard was sufficiently pleased with my credentials to hire me to assist him and his wife."
"So you're a Mercer belle." He straightened, towering over her. "I didn't come looking for a bride. I need a doctor."
A Mercer belle. That, she knew from the newspapers back East, was synonymous with husband hunter. Obviously her credentials as a medical practitioner meant nothing to him.
Well, he might not have come to the hospital seeking a bride, but she hadn't come to Seattle after a husband, either. She'd already refused three offers of marriage since arriving two weeks ago. Her friend Madeleine O'Rourke had turned away six. Even her friend Allegra had had to argue with two would-be suitors before she'd wed her childhood sweetheart, Clay Howard, a successful local businessman, only two days after landing.
None of them had left the East Coast expecting such attentions. When Seattle's self-proclaimed emigration agent, Asa Mercer, had recruited her and nearly seventy other women to settle in Washington Territory, he'd talked of the jobs that needed filling, the culture they could bring to the fledging community. Already some of her traveling companions were teaching schools in far-flung settlements. Others had taken jobs they had never dreamed of back home, including tending a lighthouse. They were innovative and industrious, just as Catherine had hoped she'd be when she'd journeyed West.
"I'm not interested in marriage either, sir," she told him. "And I assure you, I am perfectly suited to deal with medical emergencies. Now, what's the trouble?"
He glanced around as if determined to locate her employer. Doctor Maynard had converted the bottom floor of his house for his patients. This room was his dispensary, the medicines and curatives lined up in tall bottles on the triple row of shelves along one wall, with a dozen chairs, frequently all filled, opposite them. The other room held beds along either wall, with an area at the end curtained off and outfitted for surgeries. That room was used primarily as a laying-in ward for women about to give birth.
After conversations aboard ship about the dismal state of Seattle's medical establishment, Catherine hadn't been sure what to expect of Doctor Maynard and his hospital. She'd been greatly relieved to find the wood floors sanded clean, beds nicely made and light streaming through tall windows. The doctor shared her father's view that fresh water, healthy food and natural light went a long way to curing any ill.
"I appreciate your offer," the man said, returning his gaze to hers. "But I would prefer a doctor."
She could see herself reflected in his eyes, her pale blond hair neat and tidy, her face set. She refused to be the first one to look away. In the silence, she heard Mr. Jenkins mumble as he dozed.
"Well, greetings, Drew!" The call from her employer caused their visitor to raise his head, breaking his gaze from Catherine's. She suddenly found it easier to breathe.
Doctor Maynard didn't appear the least concerned to find a mountain of a man in his dispensary. He strolled toward them with his usual grin. A tall man, he had a broad face and dark hair that persisted in curling in the middle of his forehead as if it laughed at the world like he did. After helping her organized father, Catherine had found Seattle's famous founding father undisciplined, impractical and irrepressible. He was also endlessly cheerful and generous. In the two weeks she'd been working at his side, he'd never turned anyone down, regardless of gender, race or ability to pay.
"And what can we do for you today?" he asked their visitor as he approached. "Are all the Wallins healthy? No more bumps, bruises or broken bones among your logging crew, I trust?"
The man hesitated a moment, then nodded. "My brothers are well enough. I'm here about another matter."
"I told Mr. Wallin I could assist him," Catherine assured her employer.
"O-ho!" Maynard elbowed the man's side and didn't so much as cause their visitor to raise an eyebrow. "Are you after my nurse, Drew? Can't say I blame you. Allow me to introduce Miss Catherine Stanway. She's as pretty as a picture and twice as talented."
Catherine didn't blush at the praise. She'd heard it and far more in her hometown of Sudbury, while she'd worked as a nurse in Boston and while aboard the ship to Seattle. Much of the time it came from no sincere motive, she'd learned. She was more interested to see how this Drew fellow would answer. Would he continue to argue with her in the face of her employer's endorsement?
He did not look at her as he transferred his grip to the doctor's arm. "May I speak to you a moment in private?"
Maynard nodded, and the two withdrew to the end of the dispensary nearest the door. Fine. Lord knew she had plenty of work to do. She had only determined the needs of about half those currently filling the chairs, and two women were expected any day in the laying-in ward. If Mr. Wallin couldn't be bothered to make use of her services, the fault lay with him, not her. She was fully prepared to do her duty.
Yet Catherine could hear the low rumble of his voice as she spoke to the woman next to Mr. Jenkins to determine her complaint, then went to reposition the pillow that had slipped out from where it had been cushioning Mrs. Witherspoon's shoulder. But though she tried to focus on the needs around her, she couldn't help glancing up at Drew Wallin again.
Whatever he and Doctor Maynard had discussed seemed to have touched his heart at last. His mouth dipped; his broad shoulders sagged. She could almost see the weight he carried, bowing him lower. What worries forced a knight to bend his knee? Her hand lifted of its own accord, as if some part of her longed to help him shoulder his burden.
She dropped her hand. How silly. She had work to do, a purpose in coming to Seattle that didn't involve any emotional entanglements. She was a trained nurse in an area that badly needed medical assistance. And that was a great blessing.
Every time she eased the pain of another, she forgot the pain inside her. Every time she helped fight off death, she felt as if she'd somehow made up for the deaths of her brother and father on those bloody battlefields. Surely God did not intend her to leave her profession to serve as any man's bride.
Besides, she liked nursing. Medicine was clinical, precise, measured. It kept her from remembering all she had lost. And each time someone passed beyond her help, she watched their grieving loved ones and knew she could not allow herself to hurt like that again.
No, whatever way she looked at it, she had no business mooning over a wild mountain logger like Drew Wallin. He was a knight with no shining armor, no crusade worthier than her own. The sooner she forgot him, the better.
Andrew Wallin stepped out onto the stone steps of Doc Maynard's hospital and pulled in a deep breath of the late-afternoon air. It never ceased to amaze him how Seattle changed between his visits to town. Another new building was going up across the street, and wagons slogged by in the mud, carrying supplies to camps farther out. The sun beamed down on the planed-wood buildings, the boardwalks stretching between them, anointing the treetops in the distance.
Yet he could not enjoy the sight, thinking about what lay waiting for him back at the Landing. If only he'd been able to counter Maynard's logic. But how could he argue one life against many?
He glanced back at the hospital. Something blue flashed past the tall windows, and he couldn't help thinking about Catherine Stanway. For a moment there, when he'd first spied her in the dispensary, he'd wondered whether his mother had been right to encourage him to find a bride among the ladies Asa Mercer had brought to the territory.
He hadn't been interested. The last thing he needed was a wife to look after when he already had the lives of six people to consider. Besides, he doubted that a lady brought from the big cities back East would know how to handle herself on a backwoods farm without more tutoring than he had time to give.
Catherine Stanway seemed a perfect example of a lady more suited to civilization. She was obviously well educated, her skills suited to a city. Her manners had been polished, her voice cultured and calm. Of course, he much preferred that attitude to the coy smiles and giggles that had marked his interaction with the few unmarried ladies of the Territory.
Then there was the fact that she was so pretty. Her hair was like sunlight shafting through the forest, her eyes resembled a pale winter's sky and the outline of her curves looked lovely behind the apron covering her crisp cotton gown. He knew exactly what would happen if his brothers ever laid eyes on her. Either he'd be standing up as best man in a wedding, or his brothers would hog-tie him and wrestle him to the altar. They seemed determined to see him settled with a wife. They couldn't understand that he already had enough on his hands taking care of them, Ma and Beth. There was nothing left of him to give to a wife.
With a sigh, he started down the steps toward where his team stood waiting farther along the block. The two youths arguing at the side of the wagon gave him as much concern as what was happening at home. As he approached, his youngest brother shoved his friend back. Scout Rankin, scrawnier than Levi despite being the same age, took one look at Drew and loped away. Drew grabbed his brother's shoulders and spun him around.
"What?" Levi snapped, fists raised protectively in front of his lean frame. "I was watching the wagon, just like you asked."
"You'd do better to watch the horses than fight," Drew told him with a shake of his head. He went to check that the sturdy brown farm horses were munching from their feed sacks. "What was Scout doing here?"
"Seeing some people for his father," Levi said, lowering his fists as Drew patted their horses down. "And I thought you were more worried about Ma than the horses. Isn't that why we came to town?"
It was, but he didn't like admitting his fears to Levi any more than he liked having to remind his brother why they didn't associate much with their nearest neighbor. The Wallin family had chosen homesteads at the northern end of Lake Union for the timber. Benjamin Rankin had other reasons entirely to avoid town. He'd turned his cabin into a high-stakes gambling den, and the smells issuing from the place told Drew he was likely making his own liquor, as well. Ma had tried befriending Scout, teaching him to read and write beside Levi, but the son's sullen behavior said he was turning out no better than the father. Drew didn't want any of Scout's bad habits rubbing off on Levi.
He removed the feed sacks and tossed them up to his brother. "Stow these."
"Why? Are we leaving?" his brother asked, clutching the dusty burlap close. "Where's Doc?"
"He's not coming," Drew reported. "Too many patients in town right now."
Levi frowned, dropping the sacks into the wagon. He glanced in the windows of the hospital as he tugged at the hem of his plaid cotton shirt. "I saw you jawin' at that gal. She's pretty enough. Maybe she could convince him to come."
Drew leaned against the rough wood of the wagon. "In the first place, it would take more than a pretty face to get Doc to abandon his patients. In the second place, the less we have to do with Nurse Stanway, the better."
Levi threw up his hands. "She's a nurse? That tears it, Drew. You know how bad Ma needs help. You get back in there and tell that gal she has to come with us!"
Frustration pushed him back from the wagon. "I asked Doc, Levi. He says he needs her here right now. Some women are expected in to give birth."
Levi shook his head, curly blond hair creating a halo he didn't deserve. "Women give birth all the time without someone standing over them. Leastways, that's how Ma did it."
"Ma didn't have a choice," Drew pointed out. "And if you recall, that's how we lost Mary, her giving birth without a doctor there to help. Now simmer down. I still need to check for mail and load the supplies we ordered before heading back."
Levi narrowed his dark blue eyes, a sure sign rebellion was brewing. Drew couldn't blame him. His brother had just turned eighteen and was feeling his oats. Drew had been the same way at that age. Then his father had died and left the responsibility for their mother and five siblings on Drew's shoulders. He'd settled down fast. He was glad Levi didn't have to face the same fate.