Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3)(5)

By: Linda Broday

Please help me get back to the Wild Horse. That’s all he asked. The thought of not seeing his ranch again brought jagged pain. The Wild Horse was a buffer between him and the outside world. It was the one place where he’d always been happy and safe.

“Will I die, Doc?”

“Not if I can help it, son.” Doc sounded reassuring at least.

A few minutes later, the sheriff and his deputy were back with the requested items. Brett could feel the hate from their eyes boring into him as Doc removed metal instruments from his bag and set them aside. Finally the pair left, turning the lock in the door between the cells and the office.

“About damned time,” the sawbones muttered and finished examining the wound. He asked Brett to sit up for a moment and held a bottle of whiskey to Brett’s lips.

When Brett tried to refuse, the kindly man pressed, “You’ll need something for the pain when I remove the slug. Don’t try to be a hero.”

Finally, Brett accepted a drink but instantly regretted it. The liquor left a burning trail down his throat to his belly and released a fit of coughing. “No more. I’ll deal with the pain. Just get on with it.”

“As you wish. Lie back down on your belly then, and I’ll get started.”

A few seconds later, Brett wished he’d not been so hasty in turning the whiskey away. The pain was far worse than anything he’d experienced, even in the orphanage when Mr. Simon took off his belt and whipped him as he curled into a ball on the floor.

He heard screams and realized they came from him. And then everything went black as he slipped beneath murky, swirling water.

* * *

In the next cell, Rayna plugged her ears with her fingers to block out the noises. Though Brett’s screams had ceased, fragments still echoed in the dim light. A drop of water fell onto her dress, and she realized she was crying.

The Indian was in such agony. And she couldn’t help.

His plight told her he was one of the have-nots, like her. Though she’d only just met him, it would kill a part of her if he died. He reminded her of a wounded animal—like the hawk she’d secretly cared for years ago after a storm snapped its wing in two.

Her father had raised a ruckus when he discovered she’d hidden the hawk in the wagon amongst the pile of bones. He’d cursed her, then yelled that bone-pickers had no business trying to be softhearted. Their only job was to collect the bleached buffalo skulls and fragments left behind after the hunters had passed through. The pickers received eight dollars a ton when they delivered them to be shipped back East, where factories used them to make bone china and ground them into fertilizer. That eight dollars barely kept them fed.

Raymond Harper had made her dump the hawk out beside the trail, saying that nature would take care of things.

Rayna shut her eyes against the memory of how it squawked and hopped around, desperately trying to fly. Her father calmly took out his gun and shot it, then turned to her. “Now quit your sniveling.”

Six months ago, after her father passed out under the wagon, she finally ran away.

The lonely expanse of prairie was better than staying with him. Anything was better than being a bone-picker’s daughter. Bone-pickers had no soul. But she did. She did her best to make sure of that. She removed her fingers from her ears to wipe away her tears.

The doctor was muttering to himself in Brett’s cell, sounding frustrated. She guessed he was having a hard time finding the bullet fragment. She opened her eyes.

“Can I help, Doc?” she asked softly.

He whirled. “Rayna child, I didn’t know he’d thrown you in jail again. Yes, I wish I had your good eyes. I can’t see as well as I used to.” Doc Perkins left Brett’s cell and returned a moment later with Sheriff Oldham.

“I’ll open her cell, but she better not try to escape. I hold you responsible for her,” Oldham muttered.

“For God’s sake, Sheriff, you have the door separating the cells from your office bolted. They don’t even have a window.”

“Can’t be too careful.”

The minute the key turned in the lock, Rayna rushed out and into Brett’s cell. “Tell me what you want.”

“The bullet fragment, child. There’s so much blood. Take these forceps and see if you can get it.”