It's NOT a romance. It's not very funny.
No ropin' and ridin' anywhere
Part #11 of 13 episodes of how my heroes from Trouble in Texas met
and how they became so loyal to each other.
Book #3 Stuck Together --Vince's story--releases in June 3.
Closer Than Brothers
|Click to See how Callie handles |
Seth Kincaid when she's mad
Callie and Seth
"They're letting you go, Luke."
Callie wasn't going to tell him her big news until she absolutely had to. She'd told Pa and it'd taken some fast talking, but she'd gotten her way.
She didn't think Luke would like this, but Luke didn't get to decide what Callie did or did not do.
She handed him a shirt and a pair of pants. They'd brought Luke a couple of changes of clothes from home. She'd spent every spare minute, and they had been very few, working with her needle to make them fit. Callie could never have imagined how much weight he'd lost.
Luke took them and gave them a wry look. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He was in some kind of nightshirt. He couldn't possibly ride home to Texas wearing that and it appeared to be all he owned.
They'd had him out of bed a few times so he was steady, mostly. But Callie stayed nearby.
Luke stood and pulled the britches up under his nightshirt and buttoned them.
Callie pulled a rope out of her apron pocket. "Use this to belt your pants or they'll fall right off."
Then she eased his nightshirt off and had to fight back tears as she looked at his rib bones. His brutally skinny body made her want to pick up a gun and start shooting any Reb she saw. How could one human being do this to another?
She dressed him like a helpless child. Only the sickest were left and there were still plenty. A month after Andersonville had been opened by the Union Army, the ailing were still too many to count.
Keeping her eyes focused firmly downward, because she was afraid she might be blushing, she helped Luke get his foot firmly seated in his boots, then, when she had her unruly thoughts under control, she stood just as a bald man came over, walking straight for her and Luke.
Luke smiled. "Did you get them in?"
"Nope. But they're waiting outside. We found your pa. He looks just like you and we figured it had to be him. He's out there with a wagon and he said you were coming out, so they're going to see you're alive and well, and say good-bye all at once." The man shifted his eyes to Callie."
Luke said, "Callie, this is Jonas. He's a preacher and one of my best friends. We all helped each other get through Andersonville. Jonas Cahill, Callie Stone, my baby sister."
Jonas smiled and gave her a nod.
Callie couldn't believe Jonas was up and acting so steady. He was as skinny as Luke. "You survived that place, too?"
"Yep, and I handled it a sight better than this weakling kid, did."
Callie gasped. She remembered well that her brother didn't like being goaded.
Luke rolled his eyes. "Don't call me kid."
Jonas slid his arm around Luke's waist.
"I can walk." Luke tried to step away.
"If I don't look like I'm helping, the guard at the front door is going to catch me and throw me on a train going who knows where. Your pa said I can ride in the wagon with you a long way toward Missouri. So let me act like I'm helping."
"You're going along?" Luke smiled and let Jonas help. Whether he admitted it or not, Luke could use someone to lean on.
Callie still hadn't told Luke her news. She hoped having Jonas along, with his serene smile and steady way of handling Luke, made Callie abandoning him better. She felt like she barely knew her brother anymore, maybe he wouldn't even mind that she wasn't heading back to Texas.
The three of them left the hospital. Pa arranging that wagon was the only way they'd have been able to leave and, as it was, they shouldn't travel yet. But Pa was wild to get Luke out of here. Luke was wild to go.
Callie thought they were both headlong fools.
It was too soon and she'd told them both that a dozen time. Of course she didn't want to go at all for reasons she wasn't about to admit to either of them.
Two strangers rushed up to Luke and looked him over, smiling with such pure pleasure it made her throat ache. Callie wasn't much of a crier but Luke, to see what had been done to him, and to see these friends so happy that he'd survived.
Well, it about did her in.
She was introduced.
Vince Yates. He looked and his eyes fastened on hers, she knew they were brimming with
|Vince--who can handle anything|
can't handle crying women
Click to Buy
Dare Riker. He seemed nervous about something. He never quit twitching.
And Parson Jonas. They said hello and were ready to help lift Luke into the well padded back of the wagon.
Callie was out of time. She had to finally speak. "Luke, I'm saying good-bye, too."
Luke whipped his head around so fast he staggered. Vince caught him or he might have fallen. "What does that mean?"
"I told you there's a doctor here from Fort Worth. He needs help. Pa knows his family and trusts him. I'll be safe with him. I'm going to stay and work until he heads for home, then he'll bring me. There are some women traveling in his party so it'll be proper. Pa and I've talked it over. I think I'll be another couple of months, then I'll follow you to Texas."
Luke's black eyes flashed with worry and regret and some anger. Luke was always quick to substitute anger for anything else he was feeling.
Jonas lay a hand on Luke's shoulder. "I'll stay here with her, see to her…if you want, Luke."
"I will, too," Vince said. A cool character. Callie thought he might be a handsome man but he was gaunt—awful to look at. They all were. Vince watched her with cool blue eyes. Dare moved, nervous. Both were thin as cadavers.
Dare said, "I can try again to help in the hospital. Maybe now that so many have left, and I've
|Dare's doctoring has just begun|
Luke looked at Callie a long time, as if this was his decision. It wasn't, but she'd only tell him that if he made the wrong one.
Finally, Luke looked at Jonas. "I'd like it if you rode along with Pa and me. I'm not ready to say good-bye to all of you."
Luke pulled Callie into his arms. "It's kind of you to want to help, little sister. There's such terrible need. I wanted you to come home with me, but you won't be far behind."
They held each other for a long, quiet moment. Callie's eyes filled with tears. She didn't let them fall. She pulled away and ran a hand over Luke's fuzzy head and smiled at him.
"I hope you're good and fat by the time I get to Texas."
"I'll do my best." He gave her a kiss on the cheek.
"I love you, big brother."
Luke didn't say it back, but he nodded.
Pa said good-bye, his usual gruff self, but she saw the affection beneath it.
Luke's friends loaded him up, careful to see his bony body was well padded in the wagon bed. Jonas climbed up on the high seat and started talking with Pa as the wagon rolled away.
Callie watched them until they rolled out of sight. A tear streaked down her face as she turned to speak to Luke's friends.
Vince, for all his cool, let his eyes lock on that single tear and he stepped back as if recoiling from the sight.
Before he could recover, four military men rushed up behind Dare and Vince and grabbed them.
"All able-bodied soldiers were supposed to leave the area long ago." A man on each side held Dare and Vince's arms locked.
"No, wait." Dare gave Callie a frantic look.
"We can't leave her," Vince struggled against the grip of two men to one.
"I'll be fine." Callie really didn't want them to be watching over her. She could take care of herself.
"A train north leaves in ten minutes."
Vince broke the hold they had on him and surged toward her, grabbed her hands. She felt him press something into her fingers and his eyes burned into hers. He whispered, “Hang onto this. Don’t let anyone see it.”
He was grabbed and they hauled both of Luke's friends away. Callie clutched whatever Vince had given her tight, but she didn't intervene in their departure. In fact, she waved good-bye and smiled. It was kind of them to want to stay, but they needn't worry.
When they were out of sight, she looked at what she held and saw money. Blinking, in case it vanished, she saw a large roll of bills wrapped around something hard. Holding it sideways she was quite sure the center was made of a stack of gold coins.
She tucked it all deep in her pocket to count later as she walked back into the hospital and got to work. She remembered that vow, they’d be there for each other. They’d come if there was a need. A bond that was closer than a brother. Vince had just given her a great deal of money in a very bold demonstration of how seriously he took that vow.
Pa had left her with money for food. The room she was renting was paid in full for two months, but she felt safer knowing she had some money in case of trouble.
She'd be working all day.
All night she'd sit at Seth Kincaid's bedside and be ready when his nightmares came. She'd found a talent for waking him that no one else possessed.
A talent that made her heart race.
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