Home > A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)

A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)
Author: Janet Dailey



Blue Moon, Montana

Spring 1919



THE PRAIRIE GRASS HAD LONG SINCE SPREAD OVER THE LONELY HILLTOP grave. Even the headstone, fashioned from a slab of oak, was so weathered that the name and dates were barely readable. But Dr. Kristin Dollarhide had no trouble finding the spot her sister-in-law had described.

Dismounting from the dun mare that had carried her here, Kristin dropped the reins and looped the riding crop around her wrist. The long grass swished against her boots as she walked toward the grave of the boy who’d been her first love. Her lips whispered his name.


The wildflowers she’d stopped to pick along the way were wilting in her hand. But they were all she had. Kneeling, she laid the sad little bouquet at the foot of the headstone. Alvar Anderson had been shot in a senseless fight between ranchers and immigrant farmers two days before Kristin had been due to leave Blue Moon for travel and school. They’d said goodbye the night of his death. But she’d been unable to stay for his funeral.

In the ten years that had passed, there’d been other men in Kristin’s life, most of them killed in the Great War. But Alvar would always own a piece of her heart—his memory the last remaining part of her that was pure and good.

Maybe here, on the Montana land where she’d grown up, that memory would help her find peace.

Her gaze took in the broad sweep of the prairie, rising to wooded foothills and then to peaks that towered above the tree line. The wheat fields she remembered were gone, the immigrant homesteaders driven away by drought, locusts, harsh winter blizzards, and finally the Great War in Europe that had taken so many of their young men.

One of those young men had been Axel Anderson, Alvar’s younger brother, who would never come home again.

In the near distance, she could see the remains of the Anderson homestead—the foundation of the pillaged house, a few fence posts, the toppled privy. Everything else had been stripped for building materials made scarce by the war.

A white butterfly settled on Alvar’s headstone, rested a moment, then fluttered away. Kristin’s gaze followed it as it dipped and danced over the tiny yellow flowers that dotted the grassland.

They had been so young, she and Alvar. Her one regret was that they hadn’t made love. Instead, her first time had been a groping encounter with a fellow medical student she barely knew, in the rumble seat of his Model T.

But why think of that now?

She was about to get up and leave when a shadow fell over her, like a cloud passing across the morning sun. Turning, she gave a startled gasp. Silhouetted against the glare, a tall, rough-looking man in trail-worn clothes stood a few paces behind her. He had come up so silently that she’d been completely unaware of him.

The rifle she’d brought along for safety was on the horse. All she had was her riding crop. If the big man wanted to overcome her, the flexible leather rod with its flat tip wouldn’t be much help. Worse, she could see that he was armed. But he made no move to draw the pistol that rested in a holster on his hip.

Scrambling to her feet, she faced him, the sun in her eyes and the crop in her hand. “Not a step closer, mister,” she said. “Not unless you want a whipping.”

“Take it easy, miss.” He tipped his weathered hat. His speech—easy-paced, with a hint of a drawl—was pure Texan. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was about to speak when you turned around.”

“A likely story.” Kristin kept her grip on the riding crop. “Why didn’t you say something sooner? Why did you sneak up behind me like that?”

“I wasn’t sneaking, miss. But I was at a loss for words. I didn’t expect to see a woman out here alone. I was as surprised as you were.” He moved to one side, changing the angle of the sunlight. She could see his face now—features that could have been chiseled from granite. His short beard, peppered with gray like his hair, failed to hide the jagged scar that ran from his left temple to the corner of his mouth. His dark eyes had a haunted look—the kind of look Kristin had seen on far too many veterans who’d survived the war—as this man likely had.

But that didn’t mean he wasn’t dangerous. The horrors of combat had a way of twisting men’s minds. Some, even those who’d come safely home, still saw the enemy everywhere. Driven by fear and delusion, this powerful stranger could hurt her, even kill her.

Kristin looked past him to the rangy buckskin horse that he’d left near her mare. She knew horses. That one showed quality breeding. Her danger senses prickled. Where would the stranger, who had the look of a vagabond, get a horse like that unless he’d stolen it—maybe even killed for it?

Fear crawled up her spine like a snake’s cold belly. But she knew better than to let him see how nervous she was.

“This is private property. What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“I might ask you the same question.”

“But I asked first. What’s your business on this land?”

His mouth tightened. He nodded and spoke. “Actually, I was looking for a family. I have a map, showing the way to their place, but I must’ve read it wrong because there’s nothing out here. I was about to ask you for help when you saw me and got the wrong impression—not that I blame you.”

She exhaled, less afraid now but still keeping her guard up. “Most of the people who used to live out here have moved away. What was the family’s name?”

“Anderson. I’m looking for the Lars Anderson homestead.”

“You’ve found it.” Kristin lowered the riding crop, relieved in spite of herself. “Their house stood right over there. You can see the foundation.”

“So you know the family?”

“The eldest Anderson daughter married my brother.”

“Then you must know where they’ve gone. I need to find them. It’s important.”

“They live in town now. Mr. Anderson homesteaded this land and farmed it for years. He wanted to leave it to his two sons. But he lost heart after both of them died—one of them years ago. He’s buried right there.” She nodded toward the grave. “The other one died in the war. He’s buried in France.”

“That would be Corporal Axel Anderson, right? He’s the reason I’m here.” Reaching into an inner pocket of his vest, he drew out a creased, stained envelope. “My name is Logan Hunter—Major Logan Hunter, not that it makes much difference these days. I was Corporal Anderson’s commanding officer. He wrote this letter before he died in the Argonne Forest. I promised to get it to his family. See—he didn’t have an address, so he drew this map on the back.”

The man’s story rang true, especially with the letter as evidence. As Kristin’s gaze took in the sealed envelope, something tugged at her emotions. The young boy she remembered had been so bright and full of promise. Axel’s death must have broken his father’s heart.

“I apologize for threatening to whip you, Major,” she said. “I’m Dr. Kristin Dollarhide. I was stationed in France and posted to a stateside veterans’ hospital after the war. I’ve just come home myself. If you want, I could give that letter to my sister-in-law for her family. It would save you the trouble of finding Axel’s parents.”

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