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But while Fertile might seem as pristine as April’s starched white uniforms, it’s anything but. Soon the spunky blonde will need all the strength she can muster to fight her powerful attraction to Joe Jones, a man who has “heartbreaker” written all over him; stare down a bunch of malicious gossips; and fend off a would-be suitor who’s up to no good. And there’s worse to come, as a bitter widow plots revenge and her husband’s twisted legacy comes home to roost. Now, in a town where so many have something to hide, tensions are rising faster than the river. When all hell breaks loose, April must hang on tight to the man she loves if they’re both to survive.
If you purchase this book without a cover you should be aware that this book may have been stolen property and reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher. In such case neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
Time Warner Book Group
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Visit our Web site at www.HachetteBookGroup.com.
The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook Edition: May 2005
Cover illustration by Wendell Minor
BOOKS BY DOROTHY GARLOCK
|After the Parade||Nightrose|
|Almost Eden||A Place Called Rainwater|
|Annie Lash||Restless Wind|
|Dream River||Ribbon in the Sky|
|The Edge of Town||River of Tomorrow|
|Forever Victoria||The Searching Hearts|
|A Gentle Giving||Sins of Summer|
|Glorious Dawn||Song of the Road|
|High on a Hill||Sweetwater|
|Hope's Highway||This Loving Land|
|The Listening Sky||Wild Sweet Wilderness|
|Lonesome River||Wind of Promise|
|Love and Cherish||With Heart|
|Midnight Blue||With Hope|
|More than Memory||With Song|
APRIL SAT IN THE CAR, her hands gripping the steering wheel, and peered at the muddy road ahead through the windshield of her Model T Runabout. Amid the heavy rain, she could see only a few feet past the radiator cap on the hood of her car. The road behind her would be deep in mud by now, so there was no point in turning back even if she could.
With a sigh of despair she turned off the motor, closed her eyes and said a little prayer. "Please, God, let someone come along to help me." Then a little voice whispered in her ear. "God helps those who help themselves."
It was impossible to see out through the isinglass on the side curtains. April worked the lever that wiped water from the windshield. During the second or so that the glass was clear, all she could see was the muddy road ahead and a fence that ran along the side. The last time she stopped she had estimated that she was about ten miles from Fertile. Surely she had come five miles since then.
She had walked five miles many times and could do so again. The watch that hung from a gold chain around her neck said three o'clock. She had two choices. She could sit here for the rest of the day and let night come, or she could get out of the car and walk to Fertile. The days were getting shorter this time of year, and if she didn't want to be stranded out here in the dark, she had to get along.
April removed her shoes and stockings, took her valuables out of the suitcase on the seat beside her and put them in the pockets of the old coat she decided to wear. She tied her shoelaces and hung her shoes around her neck, opened her umbrella and stepped out into the driving rain.
Cold, soft mud covered her feet to her ankles. Standing beside the car, she adjusted the umbrella and gave the auto an affectionate pat.
"You've been a good girl, Daisy. You brought me this far without a single complaint. I hate to leave you, but I have no choice."
She had inherited the 1925 Model T Runabout when her grandfather died. It had served her well during her last year of nursing school and during the two years her grandmother lived following his death.
Despite the heavy downpour, only a trickle of water had seeped in around the side curtains. The top was as good as the day her grandfather replaced it shortly after he had brought the shiny new car home. Hortense, her grandmother's pet goat, had climbed on the top of it, and her sharp hooves had gone through the roof. She had hung there, suspended, until April's angry grandfather, threatening to kill her, had pulled her out. The car had been kept in the shed with the doors closed after that.
"I'll be back for you, Daisy."
April started up the road. She had gone only ten steps when her feet slipped out from under her and she fell back in a sea of mud.
"Dammit!" The hand not holding the umbrella had instinctively gone out to break her fall and was now covered with mud to her elbow. She had to use it to tip her straw hat back out of her eyes so that she could see. "Damn, damn, dammit to hell!" she swore. Sorry, Grandma, you said not to cuss unless I just had to. Well, this is enough to make a preacher cuss.
Rain hit her in the face as she tried to scramble to her feet only to fall back again. Finally she had to turn over on her knees and put her hand down in that soupy dark mess to push herself up. When she was back on her feet, she righted the umbrella to shield her head and shoulders from the rain and trudged on down the muddy road.
If she'd had the sense of a goose, she thought now, she would have stopped when she saw that it was going to rain. But how did she know that it had probably been raining here for hours and that she was heading into it? Her skirt was wet and wrapped around her legs, making it difficult to walk. She reached down and pulled it and the coat up past her knees. There surely wasn't anyone around to see her legs except maybe a cow or two in the fenced pasture.
After a while she found her breath coming hard and her heart beating fast from the exertion. It was tiring pulling her feet out of the sucking mud. The rain had settled into a steady downpour. She stopped to rest, and when she looked back, she couldn't see her car. Her entire world was a ten-foot radius around her.
When she came to a place where water ran over the road, she stopped and stood first on one foot and then the other. He
who hesitates is lost. The thought came and went as she lifted her skirt and coat up past her knees, and stepped into the muddy water again. When it reached midcalf, she took careful steps, feeling her way, until she knew that was as deep as it was going to get. As she walked out of the water, she let the wet garments drop around her cold legs.
With her head bent April plodded on down the middle of the road. Rain beat against the umbrella. Thunder rolled overhead. If she hadn't been so wet and miserable when she thought about Elbert Prescott, the pharmacist back in Independence with whom she had kept company for a while, she would have giggled.
Short, plump, persnickety Elbert, who wouldn't be seen without his starched shirt and bow tie, would be horrified to see her wet and covered with mud. If not for his snooty mother's objection, Elbert would have asked her to marry him. Of course, she wouldn't have accepted; but it would have been nice to have been asked, considering the Prescotts were supposed to be the upper echelon of Independence society.
April felt just a little guilty that she had led Elbert on a bit. It had been a balm to her ego to have the most eligible man in town pay attention to her. She had been a source of gossip during her school years because she and her mother had come back to town to live with her grandparents and had been silent about her father. Many thought she had been born out of wedlock; but she knew differently, and so had her grandparents.
She was beginning to despair of reaching town before dark when the rain slackened a bit and she spotted a small house and a lean-to shed set in the middle of a pasture. A burst of hope rose like a bubble in her heart. She would go there and ask for help. She wasn't able to find a break in the fence or a lane leading to the house. To get there, she would have to go over or under two strands of barbed wire. Without her shoes, she couldn't go over. She lowered the umbrella, removed her hat, lay on her back and scooted under the barbed strands.
After getting to her feet, she raised the umbrella again and trudged toward the house. Walking was much easier on the sod even though it was soaking wet. She thought briefly about trying to improve her appearance before she knocked on the door, but that thought fled when out of the corner of her eye she saw a large animal with horns! The beast stood perfectly still looking at her. She hurried toward the house, turning her head frequently to keep watch on the animal.
Thinking to use the umbrella to ward off the beast if it attacked, she lowered it and held it at the ready. The rain streamed down her face and filled her eyes. She blinked rapidly to keep them clear. When she was within a dozen yards of the house, the animal pawed the earth and started toward her.
"Stay back," she warned. "Stay back or I'll whack you!" The bull, blowing steam from its nostrils, came on the run. "Get away ...or... I'll hurt you." Panic made her voice loud and shrill. She raced for the porch of the small house, praying the door wouldn't be locked. When she jumped up onto the porch, a man stood in the doorway.
"Don't you dare hurt my bull! I've got every cent to my name tied up in that animal."
April turned back with the umbrella raised to see that the bull had stopped and stood looking at her. Afraid to turn her back on him, she backed toward the door. The man reached around and tried to take the umbrella out of her hand, but she held on to it.
"How were you going to hurt Rolling Thunder with an umbrella?"
"I was going to poke him in the eye."
The man eyed the metal tip. "That would have done it. I reckon the loss of an eye wouldn't have kept him from doing what I bought him for."
With the danger past, April looked up into the face of the tall man. He had laughing blue eyes and a head of sandy hair almost the same color as hers. He was grinning like a jackass eating strawberries!
"I'm stuck down on the road."
"No, you're not. You're standing on my porch."
"My car is stuck down on that poor excuse for a road." "Oh, why didn't you say so?" Then, "You tried to drive a car down that road?"
"Evidently, or I'd not be stuck," she said irritably.
"You got a little wet, too, didn't you? And a little muddy." "You're very observant."
"Hmmm . . . one of my better traits." He tilted his head to look at her bare, muddy feet. "You'll have to wash your feet before I can let you walk on my Persian carpet."
"Maybe I don't want to come in."
"Sure you do. I've got a kettle full of beef stew. Smell it? Besides that, I don't think Rolling Thunder likes you."
"Is your wife here?"
"Which one?" His brows drew together in question. "Listen, mister, call off your bull, and I'll get on back down to the road." She stepped to the edge of the porch and unfolded the umbrella.
"Ah . . . shoot! Can't you take a joke? It's been boring as hell here all day."
"I'm in no mood for jokes. Amuse yourself with Rolling Thunder, not me."
"Wrong gender, ma'am."
"Oh!" With one eye on the bull April stepped off the porch.
"Come back now." The man grabbed her arm. "I'll behave. My name is Joe Jones. I don't have a wife."
"I can certainly understand why." April shrugged off his hand and turned. "Jones? Do you have brothers?"
"Yes, and three sisters."
"Your brothers' names?"
"Jason and Jack, and little Jacob."
"What does Jack do?"
"He's helping Pa farm right now."
"Does he do something else?"
"Plays baseball sometimes."
"Dr. Forbes told me about Jack Jones being an exceptional ballplayer. He said the Jones family were a decent, well-respected family." She gave him an exasperated look. "Was he wrong?"
"Doc was right. We're pillars of the community. Are you the nurse he's been expecting?"
"April Asbury, R.N."
"Well, you sure don't look like an R.N. or a P.N. or any other kind of N. You look like a half-drowned little kitty cat right now. Come in. I promise not to pounce on you."
Holding on to the porch post, April held first one foot and then the other beneath the stream of water pouring off the roof.
"I'd hate to ruin your Persian carpet." Not until her feet were free of mud did she step inside onto the wide plank floor.
Joe lit a lamp, and April could see that the one room had a cookstove, a bed, dresser, table and chairs.
"I'm warming up the pot of stew my sister sent over. You'd better get out of those wet clothes."
"Yeah, sure." April looked at him with lifted brows. He seemed to fill the small room. She felt crowded.
"I'll go out on the porch if you insist, but I'd rather stay." "It won't be necessary for you to make the sacrifice. I don't have any dry clothes to put on."
"I'll lend you some of mine until yours dry. Now, don't get all starchy on me. I'll go out on the porch. I can't have Doc's new nurse getting sick on my account. He'd be sure to find that I had TB or cancer or something just to pay me back." Joe opened a drawer and pulled out a pair of worn work pants, a flannel shirt and a pair of socks. He tossed them on the bed. "I promise not to peek," he said as he went out the door and shut it behind him.
April had to smile in spite of herself. She didn't feel one bit threatened even if he was big as a horse. Dr. Forbes had amused her with stories about the people in Fertile. Joe and Jack Jones belonged to the Jones family who lived on the edge of town. During the summer months they had baseball games in a pasture beside their house and dances in the yard between the house and the barn.
"The boys, Joe and Jack, can spin some of the wildest yarns you ever heard." She had no trouble believing that now. Dr. Forbes had told her about Julie Jones, who raised her siblings after her mother had died. She had married a neighbor and taken the younger children with her. The children's father had married the sister of the Methodist preacher, and they'd had one child.
April wondered while she was getting out of her wet clothes why Joe Jones hadn't married. He was certainly old enough. The flirt! She rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and the pant legs, cinched the waist with her belt and put on her shoes, which she had kept dry beneath her coat. She looked at herself in the small mirror over the washbasin. She was as bedraggled as a wet hen, yet Joe Jones had still flirted with her. She bet that he'd flirt with a stump. Some men were like that. She ran her fingers through her hair and opened the door.
"Well, now, that's better. I was getting worried that Doc had pulled a fast one."
"What do you mean, a fast one?"
"He said the easiest way to build a practice was to get a pretty nurse. He's bragging that his new nurse will cause every single man within fifty miles to suddenly get sick. I had my doubts when you stumbled in here. But now . . ." He circled around her, his eyes going up and down as if he were judging a horse or a cow. "Hmmm . . ." Her dark blond hair was full of colors, curling wildly around her face and making an unruly fall down to her shoulders. "Pretty brown eyes," he murmured. "And a kissable mouth. Tall, too. I don't like to bend way over to kiss a woman." He stroked his chin. "Doc did just fine for an old . . . goat."
"Mr. Jones, Dr. Forbes isn't an old goat! And if you should be foolish enough to get fresh with me, be aware that I carry a large hatpin, and I know how to use it when I meet up with a masher who isn't smart enough to keep his hands to himself."
"Ouch! Masher, huh?"
"Yes, masher. Now, where can I hang my wet clothes?" "Toss them on the line over the stove. When the rain lets up, I'll take you over to my pa's place, and in the morning I'll go down and pull your car out of the mudhole."
"I would appreciate that. And, of course, I'll pay you for the trouble."
"How much?" He was laughing at her. His expression was rich with the droll humor of a natural-born flirt. His eyes, beneath heavy straight brows, were so blue, so bright and vivid with laughter that they fascinated her. They were twinkling stars in his sun-browned face. There was a fine etching of spider wrinkles around his mouth. He was a good-looking man, probably well aware of it. Watching him set out bowls and spoons on the table, she judged him to be between twenty-five and thirty.
"How far did you drive today, Miss R.N.?"
"Asbury. April Asbury. I drove from Kearney. I stopped to visit a distant cousin."
"By jinks damn! I'm dining with a relative of Jesse James. They say everyone in Kearney is related to him in one way or the other."
"Sorry to disappoint you. My cousin moved there from Independence a few years ago."
"Naw?" He looked crestfallen. "Shoot! If you were related to the outlaw, it would have raised my standing at the pool hall. I might have gotten a few free games after spinning the yarn about the cousin of Jesse James spending the night at my house."
"You mean that would create excitement—"
"Sure. If you've seen the uncle of Charles Lindbergh, you're a celebrity in town."
In spite of herself, April laughed. "Do you ever get off-stage, Mr. Jones?"
"Not when I'm having fun, Miss Asbury." He grinned at her and nodded for her to sit down. "My sister Julie is like a mother hen." Joe stirred the stew heating on the stove. "Even though most of us are grown up now, she still mothers us."
"Most of you?"
"Our baby sister, Joy, just turned sixteen. She's a handful, but no more than our other sister, Jill, was at that age. Jill's married to my best friend, Thad Taylor. We own adjoining tracts of land and farm together." Joe ladled stew into a bowl and placed it in front of April. "If I'd known I was going to entertain a lady tonight, I'd have shaved."
Inhaling the aroma from the stew, April suddenly realized that she was hungry.
"I hate to leave Daisy down there on the road all night." "Hell and damnation, woman!" Joe dropped his spoon on the table. "You didn't tell me there was another woman—"
"You didn't ask me." April enjoyed watching him jump up from the table and pull out a slicker and mud boots.
"Does she have an umbrella?"
"No. An umbrella wouldn't cover her."
"Well, hell. I don't have another slicker."
"She doesn't need one. This stew is delicious. I must get the recipe from your sister. You should eat yours before it gets cold."
"I can't sit here and eat when a woman's sitting down there on the road. She's probably scared to death."
"She isn't a woman."
"What is she? A kid? My God but you're a cold one." "Let's see . . . 1925. That would make her about nine years old."
"You left a nine-year-old kid down there in the car by herself? I can't believe anyone would be so stupid. My God! What was Doc thinking of when he hired you?"
"He was thinking that he had gotten the best nurse to come out of St. Luke's Nursing School."
"A nurse is supposed to have a little horse sense! Who is with her?"
"Nobody, unless someone came along."
"Don't eat all the stew. I'll be back as soon as I can." "Daisy will be all right until morning. If I couldn't drive her out of that mudhole, you sure can't."
Joe turned at the door. His eyes honed in on her and narrowed. She lifted her brows in a silent reply and raised her empty bowl at the same time.
"May I have some more of your sister's delicious stew . . . please?"
"There's not a woman or a kid down there? Daisy ...is your car?"
"The sweetest little Ford Runabout you ever did see. I'm crazy about her."
"I ought to strangle you." He began taking off his slicker and kicking out of his mud boots.
"But you won't. The Jones family are pillars of the community. You told me so yourself."
"Well, I lied. The Joneses are blood brothers to Al Capone." He bared his teeth. "We're also cousins to Pretty Boy Floyd and Bugs Moran. My great-great-great-grandpappy was Benedict Arnold's best friend."
"Hmmm. That does change things. You are a bad lot. I've not known Dr. Forbes to make such a mistake in judgment. It makes me seriously doubt his medical ability."
"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. I've been told that my intelligence is above average. Let this be a lesson to you, Mr. Jones. Know the facts before you jump to conclusions."
"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?" he said again, enjoying bantering with her.
"I don't even have to think about it."
"Well, think about this—I've got one horse. I can let you ride with me, or I can make you walk along behind carrying a load like an Indian squaw."
"I'm not worried. The Joneses would not want their reputation tarnished by such a dastardly deed. I must ask your sister for the recipe for this stew."
"You wouldn't want the recipe if you knew what was in it," he growled. "Worms, grasshoppers—"
"Oh, I love worms. Have you ever had them dipped in chocolate?"
Joe lifted his eyes to her smiling face and couldn't look away.
By damn! She was something else.
THE NIGHT WAS DARK, foggy and utterly quiet except for the labored breathing of the horse and the whisper of leaves in the treetops as the wind passed through them.
"I hope you know where you're going. It's darker than the bottom of a well out here."
"How many times have you been in the bottom of a well?" "Are you never serious?" she asked with an exasperated sigh.
Joe chuckled. "The horse knows where we're going." "Thank goodness for that." April tried to sit up straight and not lean back against him. "How much farther?"
"Not much. Cold?"
"Then sit still or I'll not be able to keep the slicker around you. You're the most mule-headed woman I ever met." His voice was close to her ear. "You'd not admit you were cold if you were freezing to death."
"You've only known me for a few hours, Mr. Jones. How do you know how stubborn I am?"
"I can read you like a book, Miss April. You're cold. You're wishing you'd stayed an extra day with Jesse's kin down in Kearney and missed the rain. And you're wondering what my pa is going to say about me riding in this time of night with a pretty woman dressed in my old work clothes." When he laughed, his breath was warm on her ear. "Since my pa married my stepmother, he's been a churchgoin' man. He might get out the shotgun and make me marry you."
"Oh, no! I can't let that happen. Dozens of women will commit suicide, and I'll carry the guilt to my grave."
His arms pulled her tightly against him, and she could feel the movement of his chest when he chuckled.
Lord. She was rare. He'd not had so much fun since he'd stood by and watched a fat girl chasing his friend Thad Taylor down a street in Oklahoma. If not for the fact the creek might be flooding the road, he'd take her on to town just to prolong his time with her.
"We're almost there. Old Sam's picked up speed. He's thinking about that nice dry barn ahead and a bucket of oats."
No doubt about it, Joe Jones was a charmer. Every single woman in Fertile, Missouri, must be after him. April vowed not to be among them. When she met the right man and settled down, it would not be with a handsome man. Her father had been one, and, according to her grandmother, her mother had not had an easy time with him.
- On Sale
- Mar 1, 2006
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing