Forever His Texas Bride (Bachelors of Battle Creek #3)(9)

By: Linda Broday

“I know.”

The door opened again, and this time it was the doctor. Shuffling his feet, he ambled into the cell as though his shoes were two sizes too large and moving slow was the only way to keep them on. He carried a fresh pail of water.

“Our patient is looking better,” he said to Rayna.

“I kept watch over him like you asked. He still has a fever though.”

“I’ll check his wound, and we’ll change the bandage. Did he sleep and eat well enough?”

“I’m sitting right here, Doc. You don’t have to act like I’m not in the room,” Brett managed quietly.

The doctor stared at Brett like he’d just noticed him. “Indeed you are.” He set his bag and pail of water down beside the bunk. “My hands aren’t too steady, Rayna. Can you unwrap his bandage for me?”

“Yes, Doctor Perkins.” She moved back into Brett’s cell. He tensed when she stood in front of him.

Though they’d slept in the same bunk last night, this seemed different. The bandage had been a barrier of sorts between them. Now her fingers would be touching his bare skin. That was something wives did, he was sure—only not pretend ones.

She untied the muslin and began unwrapping all the strips. Feeling her sudden pause, he turned his head and saw that she was biting her lip.

“Doc, blood has seeped through, and the gauze is stuck.”

“You’ll have to loosen it by soaking. One thing we don’t want is to pull the wound and start it bleeding again,” Perkins said. “You can do it. I have faith in you, dear.”

Rayna went back to work. She got some water from the pail and began gently dabbing his back.

Other than the coolness of the water, he didn’t feel anything. No pulling, no stinging. But the minute her warm fingers touched his skin, he jumped. The brush of her hand was almost unbearable in its tenderness. His ragged breath was loud in his ears. He’d never known such gentleness.

The woman who excelled at picking pockets and giving to those in need had bestowed upon him a great prize, and she didn’t even know it.

* * *

Over the next few days, Brett regained some of his strength.

But the clock had started ticking again.

Each day brought him closer to the meeting with his Creator. Hammering and sawing commenced at daybreak and didn’t cease until dusk. The gallows would soon be ready, even though he had yet to see a trial.

At first he hadn’t taken the threat seriously. It seemed too unlikely that they’d hang an innocent man. Now, worry set in. His only hope was that the farmer would get word to Cooper and Rand. Yet he admitted that the chances of them arriving in time were slim.

He sat up with effort and glanced into Rayna’s cell, where the sheriff had again locked her after barring Doc Perkins from giving him any more medical treatment. It was difficult to see her without the lanterns that Oldham had taken away. In the shadows, he could barely make out her slight form.

Rayna Harper had been a bright spot in all this. She was an exceptional woman. Through the false bravado and blunt talk, he glimpsed the scared little girl inside of her. Beneath it all lay a fierce yearning to better her circumstances. She had such a big heart that she could no more stop herself from caring about others than she could sprout wings and fly.

Eyes adjusting to the shadows and gloom, he finally saw her with her eye pressed to the hole in the wall, looking out.

“It’s just about ready,” Rayna announced. “Won’t be long now. You need a miracle.”

Brett took the carved wooden heart from his pocket. The talisman had again failed to deliver good luck—not that he’d had any faith in it anyway. He believed in what he could see. “Looks like you’ll get my moccasins after all.”

She rose and gripped the bars separating them. “I never thought they’d really do it.” Her voice trembled.

“Makes two of us. Will you remember me, Rayna?”

“I’ll think of you every time I put those moccasins on. You’re really brave, Brett Liberty.”

He forced a tight smile. “I have no choice.”

Whether the credit for his bravery went to the blood of warriors in him or his years in the orphanage, Brett didn’t know. He only knew that when his time came, he’d not beg or cry out. It didn’t seem to serve much purpose. It wouldn’t change the end result. He wouldn’t show any weakness. He’d keep his honor as a man.