Home > A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)(4)

A Calder at Heart (Calder Brand #3)(4)
Author: Janet Dailey

The words were well meant. But Kristin would never forget the horror and the misery, shells exploding in the trenches, shattered limbs that had to be sawed off, men dying in her arms. And the gas attacks—men screaming when they couldn’t get their masks on or hadn’t been issued any.

“Was it hard being a woman doctor among all those men?”

“I was a doctor. Under those conditions, my being a woman didn’t matter. And there were nurses with me—the bravest young women I ever knew. They had no protection. When the shells hit a hospital tent or an ambulance, they died along with the men.”

Blake took a long, deep breath. He stood silent for a moment, as if trying to imagine the unimaginable. “Will you be all right?” he asked.

“In time. I’ll have to be, won’t I?” She forced a smile, then leaned forward, resting her forearms on the rail. “I rode into town today and checked on possible places to set up my practice. I’ll make a final choice in the next few days. Then, as soon as that crate of supplies I ordered arrives in Miles City on the train, I’ll be open for business.”

“So soon? Are you sure you’re ready?”

“To treat fevers and sprains and deliver babies? I’m more than ready.” She sighed, inhaling the fresh, clean mountain air and the smell of awakening grass. “I rode out to the old Anderson place to visit Alvar’s grave. The family was gone, of course—Hanna told me they’d moved into town. But a man showed up while I was there. A stranger. He struck me as someone you’ll want to watch.”

She told him about meeting Logan Hunter at Alvar’s grave, the letter and his story of being Axel Anderson’s commanding officer, and the revelation that he was a blood relative of Webb Calder.

“Did you believe him?” Blake asked.

“I saw no reason not to. He looks enough like Webb to be related. And he got angry when I implied that he might be lying. He said he was looking to buy some property and even joked that we might become neighbors. I hope that doesn’t mean trouble.”

“What it means, I think, is that Webb Calder has brought in reinforcements. With most of the drylanders gone and so many people lost in the war and to the flu, there’ll be plenty of land to choose from. If I know Webb, he’ll encourage this relative of his to settle someplace that will give him an advantage over me.” Blake fell silent, as if he might know more than he was telling her.

“When do you plan to start up the lumber mill again?” she asked.

“As soon as my order for the first wagonload of logs comes in. With veterans returning home, starting new families, there’ll be a need for new homes and businesses. And I shouldn’t have any trouble hiring a crew. Robertson, my best sawyer, said he’d welcome the work. He can train the rest.”

The lumber mill had been idle for two years, with no logs available because the lumberjacks in the Northwest were off fighting. Now everything was about to change. During the war, the chief source of income for the Dollarhides had been selling horses and beef cattle to the army. Now, with the lumber mill starting up again, they were poised to take advantage of the building boom that was bound to come. Blake had planned well. The Dollarhide fortune was in capable hands.

“You have a beautiful family,” Kristin said, changing the subject. “Your little girls are as pretty as their mother, and so smart. And Joseph—he’s getting tall. I have to remind myself not to call him Little Joe anymore.”

Blake chuckled. “He put a stop to that when he started school. He’s in sixth grade now. He saddles his own horse every school-day morning and rides it to town. You’ll remember Hanna’s sister Britta. She’s his teacher now. She says he’s the brightest student she’s ever taught.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.” Kristin’s gaze followed the flight of a nightjar, the moonlight glinting on its white-barred wings as it swooped after insects. She took a deep breath. “I don’t suppose you’ve heard from Mason, have you?”

She sensed a sudden rise in tension. Mason Dollarhide, their half-brother by Joe Dollarhide’s first wife, had left Blue Moon twelve years ago in the dead of a winter night. The reason why was known only to the families involved—but surmised, perhaps, by longtime residents of the town.

“I haven’t heard from Mason since he disappeared,” Blake said. “I don’t even know whether he’s alive. His mother is still running the Hollister Ranch. She could be in touch with him. But that’s all I know—or care to know.”

“What about Joseph? People talk. Sooner or later the boy’s bound to learn the truth. Have you told him anything at all?”

“You mean have I told him that Mason seduced an innocent girl and got her pregnant—and that I married her at my father’s insistence, to save her honor and keep her child in the family? Have I told him that Mason is his father?”

Blake kept his voice low, but the words rasped with emotion. “How do I dump all that on a boy who’s just beginning to find his way in the world?”

“You tell him the rest of the story,” Kristin said. “After you married Hanna, you fell in love with her. You learned to love her baby, and you became his father in every way but one. People have survived far worse beginnings than that.”

“You’ve never been a parent, Kristin. You can’t imagine what it’s like, having to hurt a child you love—especially if it means telling them they’ve been lied to all their lives.”

“I’m aware of that. And no matter what I might think you should do, he’s your son. I promise not to meddle in this—it’s your decision.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” Blake turned away from the rail as Hanna stepped out through the double glass-paned doors, which had been left partway open.

“I’m sorry to interrupt.” Her smile was genuine. “Elsa says she won’t say her prayers and go to sleep until her daddy comes to tuck her in. I’m afraid we’ve spoiled her.”

“It’s fine,” Blake said. “We were about to go inside anyway, weren’t we, Kristin?”

“Yes. It’s getting chilly out here.” Thankful for an end to the awkward conversation, Kristin followed her sister-in-law into the parlor. She had liked Blake’s wife from the beginning. Hanna was as strong as she was pretty, without an unkind bone in her body. And she was Alvar’s sister, with the same blue eyes and wheaten hair—a gentle reminder of the boy Kristin had loved.

“It’s been a long day for me,” she said. “I think I’ll turn in early, maybe read for a while. Thank you for giving me back my old room, Hanna. That makes me feel right at home.”

“You are home,” Hanna said. “This house is as much yours as it is ours. We’d be happy to have you stay forever.”

Not that she intended to stay, Kristin reminded herself as she climbed the stairs to her cozy room at the end of the hall. As a doctor who’d taken an oath to do no harm and to keep in confidence anything she might see or hear in her practice, the last thing she wanted was to be torn between that oath and family loyalty. In the smoldering conflict between the Dollarhides and the Calders, with its history of flare-ups, she couldn’t allow herself to take sides.

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