Donovan's Angel

By: Peggy Webb

The Donovans of the Delta – Book 1





Dedication

For the real Baby, who inspired the book.





CHAPTER ONE

The crisp, dry leaves rattled like old bones as Martie swung her rake briskly back and forth. She sang as she worked, lifting her lusty contralto voice in joyful abandon. Nearby, a large blue-gray Siamese cat gingerly tested the growing pile of leaves with a delicate paw.

Plop! A tattered marigold landed at Martie’s feet. “Why, thank you, Baby.” Dropping the rake, she knelt beside her gangly-legged golden retriever puppy and playfully scratched the soft, pale fur under her neck. “Where have you been this morning?”

Baby’s tail thumped the ground as she bathed her adored owner’s hand with a wet, pink tongue.

Giving her puppy one last pat, Martie picked up the drooping yellow flower and stuck it behind her ear. Baby pranced happily around the yard, stopping long enough to give the cat a thrill by nipping at his tail, and then she disappeared through a gap in the tall clapboard fence.

Martie finished raking and sat beside an unkempt flower bed to attack the weeds that had established residence there. She reveled in the feel of the black, loamy earth under her hands. Her patch of earth, she thought. Her house. Her town. It felt wonderful to belong someplace, and she was glad all over that she had chosen this little town to settle down in after all her vagabond years. The minute she’d seen Pontotoc she had known that this was a good place to hang her hat. There was a feeling of permanence about it, a solid sense that generations had sat under its ancient oak trees and that countless others would come along to enjoy the splendid rapport between civilization and nature in this sleepy Southern town.

Absorbed in her work and her thoughts, Martie was completely unaware of the growing pile of marigolds behind her. Marigolds without leaves, marigolds with roots, marigolds with tattered heads, homeless marigolds gasping for breath in the jaws of Baby. As Martie turned to reach for a trowel, she saw the mountain of wilting flowers and the golden wave of Baby’s tail as she disappeared through a hole in the fence.

“Good grief! What have you done?” She clutched a mutilated marigold. “Come back here!” The dog blissfully ignored the command.

The quickest way to see what her rambunctious pet was up to was to climb the oak tree, jump down on the other side of the fence, and follow her. She just hoped an irate gardener with a gun wasn’t waiting on the other side. Knotting her bright peasant skirt between her legs, she grabbed a low-hanging branch and swung up the tree. Quickly she shinned up the trunk, her legs navigating the limbs with ease. Branches snatched at her topknot of white-gold hair, pulling random curls down around her neck and forehead. She straddled a fat limb and inched along until she was on the other side of the fence. Parting the leaves, she peered down into total devastation. A once proud flower bed was almost naked, and her pet was digging with a vengeance, determined to strip the bed of its few remaining flowers.

“No, Baby,” she called sharply.

Doleful brown eyes lifted up to the sound of a familiar voice. There was a moment’s pause as clouds of dust settled to the ground; then, reluctantly, Baby stopped digging and scampered back through the fence.

Martie judged the distance to the ground. It was time to face the music. Maybe she would get lucky. Maybe the owner of this flower bed was allergic to marigolds and had been planning to have them dug up anyway. She looked at the ground again. The fence was taller than she had imagined, and the tree trunk was on the other side. She would have to swing down from the limb, Tarzan style. Of course she had done more daring things in her lifetime, but she was partial to her bones. She didn’t relish the idea of breaking them for the sake of a few flowers.

The bark scraped her knee as she shifted her legs and dangled from the limb. She lost her precarious grip, and the upturned earth met her body with a soft whump! With her face in the dirt and her rump saluting the breeze, she wriggled experimentally. Thank goodness, nothing seemed to be broken.

“Well, hello there.”

The resonant tones of that voice vibrated all the way down to her toes. She twisted her upended bottom so fast that she made lightning look slow. Underneath the smudges, her face was bright pink. “Hi,” she said as she looked up into the face of a very large man. He had a pair of silver-gray eyes that were startlingly light in the deep tan of his face, and a lock of black hair hung down over his forehead as if mussed by the careless hand of a loving wife. Martie felt a quick flash of irritation at the loving wife, and the unexpected thought muddled her usually sharp mind. “I’m planting flowers.” Her hands sifted aimlessly through the dirt.