“No, not like that! You bend at the waist and then you turn!” A stern voice lectured sharply, the words being cut off by the sharp click of a large, wooden door closing.
The girl on the other side of it breathed a sigh of obvious relief, her blue eyes fluttering to a lengthy close as she came to stand just in front of the recently shut door. Her cheeks were stained a bright pink, her body held with the kind of rigidity that came only from stress. Every line of her body seemed to scream as to such, her left hand lifting slowly to press into the soft, small roundness of her belly for reassurance.
At least she wasn’t the only one that the midwife spoke to that way. She was just glad to be out of the oppressive, stark setting of that woman’s sitting room.
It didn’t seem to matter how long she spent with her, she wasn’t warming to her like she had hoped. Frau Madeline was as severe as she was unapproachable, and no matter how hard Sally tried she couldn’t make herself like her. Which was a pity, seeing that she would be delivering the baby growing in her belly in just six short months…
“I am calm,” Sally breathed, the words pitched low under her breath. “I am steady. I am aware. I am okay,” she muttered them like a mantra through slow, deep breaths. Betsy, Reverend Carl’s wife, had parted the saying she had used during her first three pregnancies to her the week before last, after the service. It was one of the few things that ever seemed to calm Sally’s racing heart.
She wasn’t sure how much she believed what she was saying, personally, but she knew that saying it did calm her somewhat. Calm was in such short supply lately too, with all of the worry of her own pregnancy and going it alone with Frank away at war…
“I am not going to let a midwife scare me out of raising my child the way that I know I want to,” she continued. She said it much in the same way she had her previous mantra, breathing deeply through the words as she made her way slowly down the front steps.
Sally may not have had a whole breadth of knowledge when it came to child-rearing, being as young as she was…and this was her firstborn who she was making plans for wholly on her own, but she liked to think that she did have a rough idea of what was acceptable and what wasn’t.
Frau Madeline telling her that she needed to start steeling herself now to let her child cry for increments from birth in order to develop their vocals properly just felt wrong. It sat ill in her belly, like day-old, curdled milk. No amount of trying to talk about it with the other woman had helped either.
But then, Frau Madeline was an old-school purist, with beliefs that at times seemed to be harsher than was absolutely necessary.
“Worry will make the baby come out sour,” Sally muttered, cross with herself for remembering that adage as she increased her pace in order to make it home more quickly. “How does one sour a baby? It isn’t as if they are cucumbers to pickle!” She snorted, wrinkling her nose as she hurried towards the post office.
She didn’t see how Frau Madeline expected her not to worry with her husband away at war. Overly close or not, he was still her husband, and that was a bond she couldn’t think to try to explain to the older woman.
“I’m a married, soon-to-be mother myself,” Sally muttered to herself crossly. It wasn’t as if she were some wet behind the ears child playing at birthing babies here…yet the woman talked down to her as if she were no older than ten, and the Frau her irritated grandmother…
Her cheeks blanched, color quickly flooding them afterward for the strange, sideways look that the man passing her gave her. With how often she was alone lately sometimes it was difficult for her to remember the rules of society and decorum, ones she was currently breaking by talking to herself so obviously as she had been.
“Excuse me,” she whispered, the words half-sighed as she stepped around him and his large hat. “I’m sorry, I—”
He didn’t give her the chance to finish, striding away after side-stepping her without so much as a backward glance. It wasn’t rude, at least she didn’t think that it was intended to be. He had given her just enough space to make her turn onto Main Street easier, even with her center of gravity being as off as it was quickly becoming.
She half-smiled to herself in the midst of her awkwardness, putting the flat of her palm back to that growing curve at the top of her stomach, thinking how much worse it was likely to become the bigger she got. The thought shouldn’t have been as comforting as it was, and yet…
Her name brought her up short, her body half-turning with raised eyebrows.
The boy who stood there looked distinctly uncomfortable, glancing between the letter in his hand and her, as if waiting for some sort of reaction. Sally wasn’t sure what that reaction was supposed to be though, or how she was supposed to answer at all. At least not until she understood that he was waiting for her to confirm that she was, in fact, her.
“Yes?” she croaked after a moment, her confusion clear.
“This is for you,” the boy rushed out, all but pushing the envelope into her hands. He barely waited for her fingers to close around it before stepping back, his body rushing back off from the direction down the street he had come from.
“How odd,” Sally mused, her lips twitching. She supposed he might be unused to delivering letters. Not that the way he had done it was exactly normal either, she looked down to the envelope, her chest tightening suddenly,
She hadn’t paused to consider why she would be receiving mail. She had no family to speak of, no one to write her a letter who wasn’t already living in this town other than Frank…Frank who she hadn’t heard from in weeks.
She’d been battling the anxiety from that for so long now, almost her entire marriage in fact, that it had become second nature. Check for letters, be disappointed that there weren’t any, resume worrying over Frank until she was reminded that no news was still good news.
There were enough women in black walking these streets in town due to the loss of loved ones for her to take that advice seriously. There wasn’t a single day that went by that someone or another couldn’t be seen in some stage of grief over their husband, son, brother, or father. The town had become a postcard for the war that waged on the other side of the country, a temple of grief broken up by brief respites of happiness.
“No, no, no,” Sally whispered, her voice tight as she broke the seal on the letter in her hands.
If no news was good news, what omen lay within her name written in an unfamiliar script?
She knew before she read the words within.
She had known when she had finally realized what it could be, if she were being honest. She had just not wanted to admit it, to believe it. To think it even was to acknowledge that it was real.
It wasn’t Frank who was writing her, though it was news of Frank.
A commendation for his service, with a ‘we regret to inform you’ before the news that made Sally’s stomach shrink in upon itself, the words blurring behind the tears that rushed to her eyes.
We regret to inform you that your husband has passed…
Why did they use those words? So bland and dismissive, as if the act of death was in itself a passive thing. As if he had stepped over state lines and gone from one place to another, with the ability to return.
Her world shifted, her point of axis going out from under her as her feet slipped.
One moment she was standing, the next she was on her knees, her fingers pushing into the red dirt of the earth beneath her as she stared at the paper now adhered to the ground in front of her.
We regret to inform you…
Somewhere in the distance, someone was screaming. She thought that it very much sounded like they were even screaming her name, but even that sounded as if it came through the other side of a very long tunnel with water between them both. She thought she could make out the words doctor and hurry, but that could have been her saying them for all that she knew.
Though what good a doctor would do for a man already dead…
She shifted, struggling to get up from where she had fallen, her hands scrabbling against the compact earth and the sticky substance that was quickly spreading over the top of it. Had she dropped groceries? Spilled milk?
Her one hand lifted, eyes narrowing to see better through her tears.
The blotted, crimson mess on her hands was still warm, almost tacky to the touch, and so profusely covering her skin that she could barely see past it to the porcelain color beneath at all. It wasn’t milk that her hands slipped and slid in, but blood.
Her breath came quicker and less controlled as she felt that same sticky warmth coating the insides of her thighs beneath her dress, her panic overriding that of her grief and fear. Suddenly those stomach cramps that she had taken for pain over the words she was reading on the paper felt even more fatal.
Suddenly Frau Madeline didn’t seem so severe.
The hot tears poured from her eyes as someone stopped her from scrambling back to her feet, a calm voice near her ear instructing her to breathe deep. Even with as far outside of reality as she felt in that moment she knew that she could listen to that voice. Even, calm, collected…As if they knew that everything was going to be as okay as they kept promising her.
“Breathe,” the voice repeated, drawing her gaze up from her blood-soaked skirts and hands.
The greenest pair of eyes she had ever seen stared back, as calm and unmovable as the compassion in the voice they accompanied.
“I’m going to ask you to trust me, Sally, and all you have to do is do that. Trust me and hold that baby in, just for a little bit longer, okay?” His hands moved over her, the unseen arms of this must be giant, pulling her to his chest and up so that she was in the safety of the comfort of his arms instead of on the ground.
He didn’t seem to care that she was bleeding all over him any more than he seemed to be worried by what was happening. Somehow that calm ease made her feel as if maybe she weren’t going to die here and now along with all of that blood. Somehow his voice made her feel as if the both of them, her and her baby, were in good hands.
The world dulled around the edges, black creeping into her vision, and she knew that the nod she gave him back for his question was barely that at all and more a miniscule jerk of her head.
I am calm.
I am steady.
I am aware.
That blackness took over, her head lolling forward as the scene around her began to change. She didn’t see the stranger increase his strides and pace as she passed out, all-out running down Main Street with her in his arms.
I am going to be okay.
The periwinkle curtains in the living room fluttered with the light breeze flowing through them, drifting back and forth against the window sill. The spring afternoon was the perfect weather to allow the breeze to cool the old Victorian home, the sunlight filtering in and reflecting off the shinier surfaces within.
Sally just couldn’t help feeling like it was a mockery of the actual atmosphere in the house.
She moved through the space slowly, her hands grazing over the wall as she walked, that same listless feeling filling her that had seemed ever-present for the last few months.
Even that phrasing still felt off.
It had been multiple months now since she had first received the news of Frank’s death, and even all of these weeks later it felt like some sick kind of joke. No matter how many times she repeated the truth to herself it felt off, distorted.
There were some mornings she still woke up feeling as if she was just waking up inside of the doctor’s office the morning after receiving the news, convinced that there was still blood on her legs and a sharp pain in her abdomen. This morning had been like that.
She’d woken up convinced that she was still in her first few months of pregnancy…and finding out she hadn’t been, was almost heartbreaking. It was always the same, and it always took that firm kick just inside of her ribs to convince her that things were really going to be okay.
At least for a moment.
And then she had moments like these.
Moments when she wandered around the home that Frank had so proudly shown her, looking at all of the nice furnishings and the handed-down family antiques…She had to force herself to look at them, to think about their value and who in town might be willing to buy them, and which ones she would be willing to part with first.
“You’re doing it again,” a voice pointed out, the words carrying across the living room.
Sally jumped, her eyes rotating over to where the voice had come from in surprise. The blonde young woman sitting on the love seat didn’t seem surprised by the action though. If anything, her honey-colored eyes just seemed to deepen with an understanding sadness.
“Sorry Rebecca,” Sally muttered, straightening her shoulders and wandering back into the living room. Her body almost seemed to waddle with each step, swaying to and fro to support the massive circle of her belly as she moved.
“Don’t apologize to me!” Rebecca replied adamantly, her lithe form leaping up from where she’d been sitting as Sally approached. Her gentle hands helped lower her into the armchair that she had been favoring as she grew in size, worrying over Sally in an almost maternal fashion. Or, would be maternal, if it weren’t so awkward and uncertain. “You know I understand what you’re going through right now.”
Sally snorted, waving Rebecca off and smiling softly at her attempt at comforting her.
“No, you don’t,” she responded, not unkindly as the words might suggest. “Chester was your brother, and you loved him.” Sally didn’t begrudge her that. She, herself, had loved Chester almost as a pseudo brother, and that pain had been different. Not lesser, not greater…Just different.
“Well, sure, he wasn’t my husband,” Rebecca started, bringing over the small pillow from the couch before Sally could even start shifting in discomfort. She nimbly slid it behind her friend’s back with a smile, patting Sally’s protruding belly before retreating once more.
“Oh, no, that’s not what I meant at all!” Sally despaired, covering her eyes with one hand and inhaling shakily. “This is why I told you that you needn’t bother sticking around after bringing over the soup from your mother, Rebecca. I’m horrible company right now, really, and I’m constantly saying things not in the way that I mean to say them and—”
“And you’re hurting,” Rebecca cut her off gently, leaning forward and taking both of Sally’s hands within hers. “What thin skin would I need to have to leave you here alone just on the fear of possibly becoming affronted? What a shallow friendship that would be!”
Sally laughed, much like she was sure had been Rebecca’s intention. But even her laugh was cut short, a sigh stretching her ribs as she glanced back down. “I didn’t love Frank, you know,” she admitted, her voice small and soft. She spoke almost as if she were afraid to give voice to the words. “I didn’t really know him, not really, we hadn’t gotten the chance…”
“You’d only just known one another for less than six months before he was shipped off to war!” Rebecca soothed, rubbing her thumb across Sally’s hands slowly. “No one expected you to love him yet! Don’t tell me you’re feeling guilty over that?”
“Of course I am,” Sally sputtered. Her laughter breaking between the words was a cross between bitter and sorrowful. “Oh, Rebecca, I don’t know what I’m feeling! Half the time I’m just sad and the other half I’m so worried I’m afraid I won’t be able to see straight!”
“Because of the money?” Rebecca asked the question haltingly, glancing away as if she were sorry to have mentioned it at all.
But Sally couldn’t deny that being part of it.
“The money, the baby, raising it on my own. You know, I have no idea how I’m going to support the two of us. The stipend we’ll get from the military won’t be enough to even support myself, let alone me and the baby. And then the dreams…” Sally’s voice cut off suddenly. She swallowed as she pulled her hands away from Rebecca’s guiltily.
She really hadn’t meant to say so much. She didn’t want to worry her friend, and she’d been trying so hard lately to convince her that she needn’t worry about her at all.
“Are you still dreaming about the blood?” Rebecca asked softly, not appearing at all upset by her friend’s sudden need for personal space.
“The blood, the letter…” Sally trailed off, looking over at the mantle over the fireplace as if it held some answer to the desperation churning in her belly. “There are some mornings I wake up and I think I’m back there again, and others I wake up and I think that I’ve lost the baby…and then I feel like a terrible mother because I have to wonder if I wouldn’t be better off having lost it rather than bring it into this world with no idea how I’m to take care of it!”
Sally cut off once more, this time with a choked sob that she tried desperately to swallow before it made any sort of noise. What kind of poor excuse for a friend was she? Here she had already resolved not to pour her troubles out over Rebecca, and yet a small handful of questions and she succumbed regardless.
“You,” Rebecca said fiercely, pulling Sally’s face to look over at her with a determined sort of conviction. “Are not a bad mother! You are a great mother, already! And you are going through so much all on your own.”
“I’m not on my own,” Sally disagreed, shaking her head and smoothing the skirts of her dress out for a distraction. “I’ve got you, Reverend Carl, and his wife Betsy! You are all over here all of the time helping me out.”
“You know what I meant,” Rebecca amended, lowering her voice and sitting back. Her chin wobbled as if she were going to add more, but she shut her mouth back with a snap, the triangular set to her face suddenly even more severe for how hard she was clenching her jaw.
Sally thought that she was one of the most beautiful women that she had ever seen, and it wasn’t just because she was her best friend. Even now, with as anxious as she was, and undergoing all of the stress she was dealing with, here she was trying to make Sally’s life easier, offering Sally the emotional support that Sally had been so dead set on offering her before everything in her life went akimbo.
“Dr. Harper says I’ll be fine,” Sally said reassuringly, although she wasn’t sure if it were more for her own benefit or Rebecca’s. “He’s checking in often as well, and everything else will surely sort itself out eventually.”
“Dr. Harper,” Rebecca laughed, a knowing glint in her honeyed amber eyes as she raised her eyebrows. “That man is just about the most handsome doctor I’ve ever seen.”
“Rebecca!” Sally chastised, red staining the apples of her cheeks in embarrassment as she hurriedly looked away.
“Oh please, Sally, you cannot tell me that you haven’t noticed it too!” Rebecca latched onto the more lighthearted subject, a gentle note of teasing beneath her words.
Sally knew what Rebecca was doing, and despite herself, she couldn’t stop from replying in kind.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she mumbled, that red climbing even higher and brighter in her cheeks. “I’m just very thankful to him for having saved mine and my baby’s lives.” Her voice was prim, her chin lifted despite the laughter from her friend in the background.
She was most certainly not going to admit to having noticed any such thing. Especially not when doing so could cost having Dr. Harper as the one to deliver her baby. She had been so scared for those first few months thinking it was going to be Frau Madeline, what with Dr. Harper having been new in town and all.
“We’re all thankful to him for that,” Rebecca agreed, still snickering. “That doesn’t change his outward appearance though, Sally.” She calmed her giggles slowly, standing up and brushing out her skirts as she glanced over to the clock on the mantelpiece. “Are things still going well with him?”
Sally huffed, shaking her head and folding her hands over her thigh as she refused to agree. Instead, she focused on Rebecca’s question.
“Better than with Frau Madeline, certainly. He’s been wonderfully attentive, more interested in asking me what it is I plan on doing and advising me versus just telling me there is only one way to do things.”
Rebecca shuddered, shaking her head with a look of distaste. “Well, make sure he knows when it is my turn to start having babies he’ll need to be in town still. I won’t be going through that wretchedly strict woman either.”
Sally laughed, carefully pushing herself back up to her feet as she noticed Rebecca gathering her things. No doubt she needed to get back to her mom’s house and help ready prepare for the kids getting out of school. “You’d better hope he is,” she agreed lightly. “There’s just something…calming about him.”
The memory of the bright green of his eyes flashed through her mind, reminding her of how he’d managed to stem her panic attack all of those months before when they’d first met. They had been the same eyes waiting to greet her when it was she’d come out of unconsciousness, so sure that she had lost her baby.
His bedside manner then had been just as impeccable; just as warm and comforting. Unflappable, that was the word she had used when describing him to Reverend Carl. Any woman in her position would have respected and appreciated such a manner.
“And not handsome at all,” Rebecca teased, following Sally to the door and pausing just inside of the doorway before she walked through it. “You will tell me if there’s anything you need though? Or if you even just need for me to come sit with you so that you have someone to talk to?” Her worried eyes looked carefully over Sally’s features, as if looking for some hint of a lie.
Sally was touched and she only smiled in return as she nodded. She braced her body weight against the door she held open, waving Rebecca off.
It was only when Rebecca had made it down the front steps and through the gate that Sally allowed her hand to fall back to her stomach, her smile slowly melting from her lips.
The company was as appreciated as the concern for her was, but Sally couldn’t stop that worry from crawling back up the back of her throat the second that her friend left. No matter what she said, no matter what distractions were offered her, there was still that concern for her and her unborn child.
Not even the truth of James Harper’s handsome face could dispel that.
The birds chirped merrily from their perches in the tall pine trees outside, calling back and forth like they were singing round-robin carols. Somewhere in the distance, a bullfrog called out for its mate, and the sound of horse-pulled carts and faint, idle chatter underlined it all.
James Harper thought that as perfectly laid out as it was, the scenery on its own made a good argument for why he had moved from Connecticut all the way down here to Arizona. It was the Wild West, his friends had cautioned; full of outlaws, dishonesty, and backwater ways. He had been expecting no less than that when he had arrived, but he had certainly been hoping for more.
Arizona, as he had told his mother, wasn’t quite the West that they had always heard about.
“You’re sure I need to make an appointment for that, doc?” a gruff voice asked from his right.
He had, he realized, for a moment forgotten that he had been mid-conversation, so overcome with awe for the scenery that they were passing.
“Yes, Bud, I’m afraid you do,” he answered back congenially, grinning around the words. As simple of a problem as the boil the man described sounded, it wasn’t the sort of thing that one could go examining walking down Main Street as they were. Certainly not with as much mixed company as was about, with where Bud was saying the boil was located.
“Aw, shucks,” Bud muttered, his eyebrows furrowing as he kicked a rock out of his path. “I was hoping to go tell the missus it was all already sorted. She’d been on my case about it since it cropped up last week…”
“You can certainly tell her it is being handled,” James offered kindly, biting back a grin at the man’s hopeful face. “After all, you’re ready to set the appointment, that is the first step.”
“When can you fit me in, doc?”
“Thursday around noon I should have an opening. Just stop on by the office and I’ll see if I can’t figure out the treatment from there, alright?”
“Thanks,” Bud sighed, pushing his hat back and wiping the sweat from his brow. “Corrine’ll sure be happy. I’ll see you Thursday then, doc.”
James watched him break away with an expression torn somewhere between amusement and disbelief, shaking his head as he resumed his walk back down the mildly busy street. He’d never get over the odd assortment of folk who seemed drawn to the town. He was sure he’d seen just about every type of person since moving to it, and equally sure that he found them all just as fascinating as the next.
While he was sure that some towns, actually out West instead of just west-ways of Connecticut, could boast the outlaws and bandits that his friends had all been expecting, Arizona seemed to be more a mixture of folk all looking to settle somewhere new and exciting. Combined, of course, with those who had just settled along the path further south.
Then again, he could have just been removed from all the bandits and outlaws due to being a doctor and not the sheriff, but either way, he was satisfied with his lot.
“Another exciting surgery patient?” Another voice interrupted his musings, this one softer and more gentle than Bud’s.
It was the voice of the person he had been walking down Main Street to go check on.
Mrs. Sally Giuseppe.
Even in the bright, unforgiving light of the noon-day Arizona sun, it was hard to find any physical faults with her. Her auburn hair framed her heart-shaped face almost angelically, falling in soft curls down to her shoulders and highlighting the deep indigo of her blue eyes.
James had to swallow before he could answer her, clearing his throat and grinning despite the sudden nervousness which entered his belly. “No ma’am, unfortunately not,” he responded easily, his smile clear, even in the tenor of his voice. “Just a patient.”
He took in the basket on her arm, and the slight bow to her walk, quickly reaching to take the basket from her before she became any more unbalanced than she already was. Her shoulders were hunched, likely from the strain of carrying anything at all with as far along as she was, and her stride a good deal slower than when he had last walked with her.
“You didn’t need to do that,” she admonished, the thanks in her tone unmistakable despite it. Even all of these months later the grief and burden in her gaze were almost too difficult to stare at for too long, something she seemed to struggle with as well. She glanced away, straightening slightly in an obvious attempt to ease some of the strain off of the small of her back.
“I’m sure I didn’t,” James answered calmly, winking at the not-quite-censure in her tone. “But I wanted to. I thought we had talked about you taking it easier over these next few weeks?” His admonition was careful, offering her his arm for extra support as he walked them down the street towards her house.
“I wanted fish,” she answered almost guiltily, glancing at the basket now in his arms as a faint blush colored her cheekbones.
“Surely the reverend and his wife, or your friend Rebecca, could have gone and gotten it for you?” James checked the hobble in her step carefully as he spoke, his brow furrowing with concern.
Sally Giuseppe was easily the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but he was beginning to find that she was also the most stubborn, and it was plain to see that she was shrouded in a dismal sort of misery.
Unfortunately, she was far from his only widowed patient. The longer that he stayed in town here, the more women he got to add to that dreary roster he would have wished to never have been forced to keep. The war had taken its toll on so many lives. Both those it stole from the battlefield and those that had been left on the home front.
“I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone,” Sally admitted, her voice small, as if she knew that she was going to be rebuked for saying as much.
She very likely was, by any of the three names that he had thrown out there to begin with. It was why he didn’t immediately do so as well. Sometimes it helped to have an understanding ear more than it did an insistent helping hand. At least it did when there were already three insistent helping hands.
“Then next time send for me,” James teased, opening her front gate and ushering her through. “I can assure you, you will not be a bother to me. Why, I was so bored today I took away from work entirely just to come bother you instead!”
Sally laughed, a sweet, light sound that never quite reached her eyes despite the color it brought to her face.
“You flatter me, Dr. Harper—”
“James,” he cut in, correcting softly. “You can call me James.”
It had to have been the fourth time he had offered such. But, just as all of the times before, he could see her hesitate.
“James,” she amended, the one corner of her lips twitching as he helped her to climb her front steps. “I’ll try to keep that in mind…”
“No you won’t,” he laughed, letting go of her arm as she opened her front door. “And I will try not to hold it against you.” His teasing was lighthearted, handing her basket back to her as well, as she leaned against the doorframe to her house.
Her lips twitched again, another smile that never quite reached her eyes turning her lips up at both corners. “I appreciate that. Was there a reason that you came all the way out here, or…?”
“Just to check on you,” he admitted, shoving his hands down into the pockets of his trousers and taking a half step back. There was no harm in this truth, after all, he was her doctor. And, no matter what else was going on, he was concerned for her and her well-being.
“Were you worried about something in particular?” Sally trailed off, the worry in her eyes mounting even higher and James cursed himself for having been so dismissive when he knew how anxious she had been lately.
“Not at all, Sally! No, please don’t stress yourself. Just, given everything, and how close you are to delivery…I’ll probably be coming out quite a bit more frequently to make sure everything is progressing as expected.”
Sally didn’t seem at all assured by his words, her brows furrowing further as her hand unconsciously fell to her protruding middle. “Because of the bleeding?” Her voice was small, the fear highlighted in how sharply her words were pronounced.
James winced, the instant mental imagery that accompanied her words almost paining him. It was, decidedly, the most jarring way he had ever met another person before. Her grief and anxiety combined had forced her body to escalate to such heights that it had really been a touch and go situation there back in his office, both for her and the baby, after he had gotten them there.
“No, well…yes,” he admitted haltingly, cursing his poor choice of words. “It does complicate things somewhat, but I’m not worried about a repeat of that, if that’s what you’re asking.” James stopped, his lips pulling tight in dissatisfaction for how poorly he was getting his point across. “I’m just checking on you,” he finished lamely.
Sally nodded, her expression not quite as trusting as it had been before, but James was pleased to see at least some of the worry dissipate from her face.
“Thank you,” Sally murmured, her gaze dropping to her blossoming belly and denying James the opportunity to further try and decipher her expressions. “Both for checking on me and walking me home. I think I’m going to go take your advice and put my feet up. I’ll see you later this week though?”
James tried to capture her gaze with his own once more, taking a step backward, back down the front porch steps with a smile. “Of course! It was my pleasure. I’ll stop by here in the next few days to actually do an examination and see how we’re doing…” He trailed off, his smile falling as she stepped back and closed the door between them.
He didn’t know why he seemed to get so tongue-tied around her. Even the simplest of explanations suddenly became complicated, his words tripping over one another and mucking up the waters between them. When, quite frankly, Sally Giuseppe was the last patient he wanted to make uncomfortable.
He winced, turning around smartly on the steps and heading back out of her front gate with a frown.
Something about the end of their encounter sat grimly within him, as if his brain were trying to warn him that there were some signs or symptoms that he had missed. It wasn’t as if he could go running back up her steps to demand her let him in to check on such, though.
It was, he knew, also highly possible that he was just worried about her.
He had, in the last four months, tended to worry more about Sally than he had ever worried about another human being in his entire life. Maybe she was right and it was the blood and the mayhem of their first meeting. Or maybe it was just a kind of medical premonition letting him know she needed to be watched more closely.
Whatever it was, he would just need to resolve to come and check on her more quickly in the coming days.
He adjusted the front of his coat as he walked, rearranging his schedule mentally to be able to do just that. It was only a matter of fitting her between other appointments and being sure that he was able to leave his office to do so.
Now if only he could banish her indigo eyes from his mind as easily as he rearranged his schedule.
Sally Giuseppe was beginning to make him feel as if he were just the sort of unprofessional doctor that he had never wanted to become. Were he less concerned with her well-being he might well have actually reported himself for how often he thought of her.
As it was, she was near driving him mad with the same sort of worry he begged her not to concern herself with.
James couldn’t help but wonder what she would look like if every one of her smiles were allowed to actually reach her eyes.
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Sally Guisepe never expected to see her husband sent off to war immediately after they got married. Unfortunately, her life falls to pieces once again when she receives news of her husband’s death. To make matters even worse, she also has to navigate her first pregnancy while nursing a broken heart. Unable to support herself, she fears for her baby’s well-being but thankfully she is saved by the young new doctor in town. When his calming presence offers her the chance for peace, she grasps it tightly… but what happens when that offer is complicated by emotions that she never meant to develop? Can her heart survive another war?
James Harper has always dreamed of starting his own medical practice. Settling down or finding someone to love is the last thing on his mind. When he steps in to help Sally Guisepe in her time of need though, he finds himself drawn in by her kind nature and affection. Despite his best intentions, he can’t seem to keep his professional demeanor in place when it comes to her. Yet James is determined to set his feelings aside and do everything he can to ensure that Sally and her baby are taken care of. Will he be able to ignore the call of his heart forever or is he doomed to chase Sally away when everything comes to light?
Neither Sally nor James know which road to take, overwhelmed by the consequences of a war they were only ever on the fringes of. While Sally faces a difficult decision that could change her future forever, James’ heart will force him to confront powerful feelings he hadn’t bargained for…Can they find their happiness with one another, or are they destined to stay forever on the other end of love?
“Giving Love a Second Chance” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.