Loving a Healer in Disguise (Preview)

Chapter One

“Pop, how many times have I gotta tell you? Dagnabbit, I’m twenty-four years old and a man grown. Can’tcha give me credit for knowin’ my own mind? Can’tcha just accept the fact that I don’t wanna take over this ranch—never have, never will!”

“You’re an ungrateful young pup, that’s what you are! Your grandfather started this spread when he was half your age, and—”

“Twelve, Pop? He was only twelve when he set up the Red Oak? Last time you told this story, Gramps was eighteen. He just keeps gettin’ younger and younger, don’t he? I s’pose next time you tell it, he’ll rise right outa his grave to fill me in on his own version!”

“That’s enough! You’re my only male heir, which means you get this place, like it or not!”

The disagreement, an ongoing feud between father and son for many months, had begun in the kitchen on this fine April day, just after breakfast, continued into the library, and was now finishing up on the front veranda. Strong, flat words, first of all, then progressing, as always, to shouts on Warren Findlay Grant’s part and roars on Edgar Herman Grant’s.

Nothing was ever resolved. Each had his own point of view and, both being stubborn and opinionated, found it difficult to see any other. Warren was, as yet, too inexperienced, despite his claims; Edgar was too set in his ways.

The most disappointing thing for Warren, fondly known as Fin, was that his mother stood firmly beside his father on every issue. Never giving support to her only son, the oldest child, and supposedly the apple of her eye.

Except that, with a huge ranch that must be managed and four younger sisters taking up lively and busy space, Fin had never felt himself to be the apple of anyone’s eye, least of all the senior Grants. You’d think, he’d often privately groused, that Edgar and Amelia would be proud enough of their sole male offspring to praise him a bit, to shore up his sometimes battered ego, to give him a sense of importance and value in the family. Especially since both were so determined that he assume inheritance of and responsibility for a property which he loved but hated feeling tied down to for the rest of his days.

But it hadn’t happened.

Oh, Fin was mostly past the sense of resentment—actually, almost one of alienation—that had festered over the years. He’d grown out of that. Pretty much, anyway. But he didn’t want the Red Oak. He had other fish to fry, and other goals to seek. Possessed of his own dream, and committed to pursuing it at no matter what cost—which might include estrangement from that irascible, exasperating, non-supportive set of parents.

They were much alike in many ways, Edgar and Warren. Despite the difference in their ages, both were tall and lithe, with big frames that wore well, and clear, far-sighted eyes of brown as dark and rich as the first glimpse of coffee in the morning. Edgar’s unruly mop of hair had turned the streaky gray of an owl’s feathers, but Fin’s similar mop remained the soft dusty gold of his childhood.

“Just what is it you wanna do?” Clearly, Edgar wasn’t finished with the argument. He stood facing his son, in the welcome shadow of the porch roof, with both hands propped on hips and his expression disgruntled. “Holy Hannah, here’s this bountiful piece of land, buildin’s, and cattle, just waitin’ for you to take ownership some day, and you turn up your high-falutin’ nose at it.”

“High-falutin’!” Fin almost choked on that. “Pop, I been followin’ your orders practically since I was born, handlin’ whatever chores come my way, hard or filthy dirty or downright disgustin’. And then you insult me like I was some greenhorn straight outa some big city.”

“I tell you what, son, you dunno how lucky you are and how easy you got things. How many fellers your age d’ you figure get to have somethin’ like the Red Oak just handed over to ’em?”

With a groan, Fin plopped down on the wicker settee and stretched out both long legs. He stared off into space for a few minutes, seeing, but yet not seeing, the vast area that sloped slightly downhill from the handsome and sizable Victorian established under a canopy of live oak and red oak, for which the ranch was named. In the near distance stood all the buildings necessary to a successful large holding: substantial barn and stable, bunkhouse accommodating  six to eight cowboys, cook shack, a foreman’s small cabin, several sheds put up for various purposes, a blacksmith’s workshop, and so on.

In the far distance, beyond, stretched the rolling knolls of Hill Country, Texas, its rich earth home to a variety of barley and bluegrass, dropseed and wildrye. Pasture abounded for the feeding of livestock, as did nearby corral fences and smaller enclosures. This land, and the Red Oak Ranch in particular, was blessed with rivers and smaller creeks, a moderate climate, rising and falling bluffs of sandstone or timber, and luscious scenery galore.

From childhood on, Fin had explored every inch of the place, fished from the banks of Comanche Creek, sought out and reveled in every hidey-hole possible to escape his pestiferous sisters and their demands. He really, truly, did love the Red Oak. Then, why, with his parents ready and willing to turn over the property to him, at some later date, was he so dead-set on fighting against their wishes?

“Warren Findlay Grant, how dare you constantly uproot our family and cause your father such upset?” That was his mother, come out onto the porch to join in the fray. “You know such goings-on are hard on his heart!”

Scolding. Always scolding. And why not? It was plain he was a failure, a disgrace, and would never amount to a hill of beans, no matter how many rich and verdant acres were attached to his name.

Scots, both of them, and as disciplined and immovable as the moors from which their ancestors had sprung. There was no sense even trying to fight against such rock-hard rigidity; he would only beat himself bloody in the process.

“Ma, all I’m tryin’ to do is find my own way in life,” he tried to point out. With marked patience, it might be noted, and proud of himself for the effort.

“And what exactly is that, I’d like to know?”

With a stifled sigh that barely lifted the front of his blue-and-beige checked shirt, Fin took time to mentally count to ten before answering. “A writer. I’ve told both of you a hundred times, my callin’ lies in the printed word. Don’tcha ever listen to me?”

“No need to be fresh with me, young man,” snapped his father, who had given up standing still in disapproval to pace back and forth from front door to railing. “You ain’t too big for me to tan your britches.”

Honor thy father and thy mother? Ha! Not a prayer, with that sort of attitude. Fin felt coiled anger beginning to unleash itself in the pit of his belly, ready to boil up and spew forth.

The rattle of harness and the soft thud of horses’ hooves came up the drive, approaching to announce the return of the buckboard with all four of the younger Grant sisters inside and Dusty Rawlings, the foreman, at the reins. It was enough of a diversion to interrupt the heated discussion, at least for the time being. Disgruntled that, once again, no resolution could be found between two sets of warring parties, Fin reflected that, with nothing settled, it wouldn’t take much for the touchy subject—and emotions—to re-surge in the near future.

“Hey, what are y’all doin’ out here?” asked Finella, climbing lithely down from the wagon’s high seat, once the vehicle was safely halted. “You got some family confab we weren’t invited to?”

As the next in line of the Grant siblings, at twenty-three she was a mature and comely young lady, whose charms had so many beaux flittering around the place that they needed to be swatted off, like persistent blue bottle flies. Her hair, done up for this morning’s trip to Tolliver into a thick braid, held all the reddish-golden highlights of her ancestry; since her complexion had been lightly tanned by the Texas sun, because she often went out bare-headed, the color set off her hazel eyes to perfection.

“Ah, hello, girls.” Amelia, still trim and slim despite her age and the physical strain of bearing five children, moved toward the railing. “You’re back sooner’n I expected. Got everything I wanted in town, did you?”

“Sure did.” 

This was Iona, second daughter and just coming into her own at seventeen, who  moved from her middle position on the bench, sassy as a grasshopper, and allowed Dusty the opportunity to lend her a helping hand to the ground. 

“Mama, Mr. McClennon was havin’ a big sale at The Emporium, and we’re in luck. Wait till you see the bolts of pretty fabric we bought. Several kinds, in fact. Some fine dresses can be made from every piece, I assure you.”

Iona’s hair had been pulled back into a mass of curls, the color of warm apple cider, and decorated with a bow rather than covered by a hat. Pretty as a picture, as were all the Grant girls, with creamy skin only faintly dotted by freckles and alert long-lashed eyes one or two bashful boys, hopeful as to a possible future courtship, had called blue as the prairie sky.

The two youngest daughters scrambled down, unaided, from the bed of the wagon box to trundle excitedly up the walk toward the steps.

“And we picked up all the supplies you asked for, Mama. Flour and sugar, the spices, two boxes of kitchen matches, and a set of dish towels.” 

“And, guess what, Mama? Mr. Higgins—he said he’s the new side partner there—got in a big shipment of candies, so I got me some!”

Similar enough in coloring and appearance to be twins, although Kenzie was thirteen and Lileas twelve, both had been blessed with vibrant, joyous personalities and coppery hair that almost crackled with energy. Their mother had done her best to make genteel Southern ladies of the two, but had failed thus far. Being tomboys, their garments were usually in quite a visible state of disrepair, complete with all manner of stains, tears, and unidentifiable spots.

Fin, observing all this activity from the relative safety of his veranda seat, and the affection which the girls always received, made a mental note—not for the first time—on the fact that such glaringly Scots names had been given to all of the Grant offspring. His mother’s doing, he suspected. Nothing was more important to her, and to his father, as well, as family. They were manifestly proud of their history and birthright.

Why not of him?

He rose, stuffing down a twinge of irritation, to affably greet his sisters, who had spent the morning running errands and probably blowing off excess steam at whichever shopping paradise they had happened upon. Lord knew they’d come back with enough bulky odds and ends to fill in one of the gullies that opened around Comanche Creek, he discovered, as he strained several sets of muscles trying to haul one of the packed gunny sacks inside. 

Without question, he loved his sisters. He just found them and their busy-ness often overwhelming, especially when taken en masse. Like a flock of twittering birds.

“H’lo, Dusty,” he greeted the foreman, who was also helping unload and carry. “What in blue blazes did them gals end up buyin’?”

Dustin Rawlings grinned. “Think one of ’em claimed they needed a new chifforobe. That’s what we’re humpin’, Fin. All in pieces. I got me two drawers, here—nice and light. Since you’re younger and stronger, I’m leavin’ you the chest to lug in.”

For a man of his decrepit age—middle thirties, or thereabouts, a fact about which his employer’s son sometimes heckled him—he appeared remarkably hale and hearty. Not a speck of gray in that thick chestnut-brown hair beneath his sombrero, only a few lines in his suntanned face, youthful far-sighted gaze from his blue-gray eyes. And certainly plenty of limber movement, without creaks or groans, as part of that muscular frame.

In addition to his overseer duties, undertaken during the past fifteen years, he also served as mentor to young Fin and, occasionally, as surrogate father.

Now, with the buckboard unloaded and its giggling, chattering female passengers gone inside to share their morning’s adventures with both parents, both Fin and his friend climbed aboard to return their vehicle to the barn and unhitch the team of two great roan Belgians. 

“I gotta get outa here, Dusty,” Fin, who had barely been able to contain pent-up frustration, commented while they worked.

“Huh. A trip to Tolliver, or somethin’ a mite longer?”

“A lot longer. Bigger. Been thinkin’ that some time away, bein’ on my own for a while, would be the smartest thing I could do.”

The gentle draft horses, released into a corral with plenty of pasture and a trough full of water available, flung their silky blonde manes and flicked their matching tails with pleasure. Immediately, the two sought shade under the branches of an overhanging bodark tree. Rather than one-ton towering and powerful behemoths, Dutch and Frenchie might have been giant contented cats, resting with eyes half-closed and ready to purr.

“C’mere, son.”

The foreman headed toward the rail fence, propped one heel on the bottom rung, rested both arms on the top, and turned his head inquiringly. “Now. Tell me what’s goin’ on.”

Fin followed suit, staring off into a distance of greenish hills hazed by heat. “Aw, there ain’t nothin’ new, it’s the same ole stuff. Can’t seem to do anything right, and I sure as Hades do a lotta things wrong.”

“Yeah, I know. Sometimes you figure it don’t make sense even gettin’ outa bed. Well, Fin, with your pa’s health bein’ not so good, you could do worse than to inherit the place.”

“That’s just the problem, I don’t want it, and neither of the folks will listen to me.”

Dusty sent him a sideways, considering look. “You’d be givin’ up a lot, y’ know, did you not accept the offer.”

“Don’t remind me,” said Fin bitterly. “I hear that from ’em every time they bring it up.”

“Reckon they’d prob’ly like to settle the issue once and for all,” the foreman put forward in a sympathetic tone. “But you got your own row to hoe, and that’s a hard thing for your folks to understand. Must be kinda stuck in their craw.”

“S’pose so.” Dissatisfied, Fin removed one foot from the lowest rail to kick dispiritedly at the top of a mottled stone lodged deep into the dirt. Which served not to do the slightest damage to the stone but did somewhat injure his toe. “Lookit that. Talk about bein’ a worthless failure—can’t even shift a danged rock.”

Smiling, Dusty glanced down at the offending area, then up again. “Son, that ain’t no rock—it’s a boulder next to the post, and it was there b’fore we ever built our fence. You couldn’t shift that thing with a stick of dynamite. And who’s been fillin’ your head with such balderdash?”

“You gotta ask?”

“No, I reckon not.” A sigh, a long, pensive look over the property he had cared for as if it were his own. “So, what now?”

Fin lifted a decisive chin. “There’s a whole daggone world out there, Dustin, and I wanna see it. I wanna write about it. Can’t do that stuck here on the ranch. Time for me to pack my bags and go.”

Chapter Two

Oh, she was tired. Had she ever felt so exhausted in her whole twenty years of life on this earth? Yet, the exhaustion was mixed with exhilaration and an overwhelming sense of satisfaction, and hardly anything could top that feeling.

After all, it isn’t every day that a woman considered the weaker sex was able to pull a calf, straining to be delivered but bottlenecked somewhere along the way, into the world from its equally exhausted mother, and, in the process, save the lives of both!

The grateful farmer had paid her well for her hours of work, and she was, thankfully, on her way home, in the deepening twilight of this pleasant spring day.

Elaine Jenkins could revel in the overwhelming sense of gratification for everyone involved, all the way around. Especially for that poor mama cow, afterward, who had, despite her fatigue, shifted her great bovine head to begin applying a rough tongue to her baby’s slippery coat.

Meanwhile, here Elaine was now, plodding along home on a mare who was taking her sweet time to make the journey. Stopping to nibble at every fresh-looking clump of grass or look up dreamy-eyed at the sliver of moon beginning to show, thought Elaine, with a twinge of irritation, and half-heartedly flapped the reins.

“Come on, Julie,” she urged. “I’d like to get home before the snow flies, if that meets with your approval.”

Julie, the shortened name for Mint Julep, turned her glossy neck slightly and blew out her lips in what could be considered equine derision. She probably assumed she was old enough, and had worked hard enough, to take as much time as necessary to amble anywhere, no matter her owner’s insistence upon greater speed.

With a sigh, Elaine realized that the will of the mare was probably stronger than her own. She settled more comfortably into the saddle and considered, with some guilt and much reluctance, the scene that would be awaiting her when she arrived. If only she could make a safe beeline before her father decided to close his blacksmith shop for the day. Once she had the chance to begin throwing together some sort of supper, he would never guess where she’d been and what she had been up to.

First, though, was the detour to Uncle Hadley’s house, for her necessary change in clothing and attitude. 

Returning the long way about, to avoid crossing the path of anyone else on the road, she meandered through the side streets and back streets of Cedar Ridge. Most folks in the quiet town of two thousand souls—or thereabouts, give or take a few dozen—were leaving their place of business at this hour. They would meet friends, stop by and squander some cash at one of the saloons, or make a beeline for their residence, large or small, for the evening meal and a few hours of relaxation before bedtime. To discipline the children, sweet-talk the wife, or end up in the middle of some marital dispute. Such, sometimes, is the stuff of families.

Hadley Bower, her father’s brother-in-law, lived in a very small house separated from neighbors by a large tract of land run to seed and a cluster of mammoth old oaks. He shared what was not much more than a four-room cabin with his son, Tom, close in age and appearance to cousin Elaine, and lived a frugal, almost an impoverished existence. 

Halting, she slid stiffly down and tied Julie’s reins to the nearby sapling in a loose knot. Normally, the mare was too docile and well-bred to wander off, but you never knew.

“Yoohoo, Tom,” she called softly at the warped front door, after a gentle knock. “Tommy? It’s Eli.”

“C’mon in,” said a voice from inside.

Tom, it seemed, once she entered the dimly lit room, had been sent to pick up a few staples at the Ridgestore but had not yet returned. But Hadley was sitting in his accustomed easy chair, blinking like an owl from the sudden infusion of fading light, cane at the ready beside him should it be necessary to rise.

“Really, Uncle? How long ago did he leave?” 

Concerned, but pressed for time, Elaine had already stepped into the kitchen for a basin of water, a cake of soap, and the thin folded towel—everything waiting, as always, for her use. Given all the various liquid and solid effluvia in which she had been immersed today, she was anxious to wash away as much as possible.

“Oh, I dunno for sure, honey. Mid-afternoon, maybe,” her uncle answered mildly. “Musta found somethin’ that took his interest, keepin’ him later.”

Elaine considered that while she disappeared behind the three-panel corner screen which always served to give her shelter during the shift from professional mode to personal. Stripping off her battered Stetson, fake sideburns and mustache, and loose, filthy male attire that reeked of a lengthy session in the cow barn, she quickly began to wash. The cool water and fresh-scented soap did much to ease the ache in every one of her overworked muscles, not to mention the fatigue.

By now, she was well-practiced in the routine of quick-change artist, and within only a few minutes she was dressed in the garments she had removed and carefully folded earlier this morning. Neat powder-blue shirtwaist, full navy skirt, her mother’s cameo brooch, sturdy black boots—nearly everything with which she had begun her day.

Quickly, she checked her reflection in the mirror. Face as clean as might have been expected, with clear creamy skin free of barnyard dross, and wide-set bright blue eyes full of hope and anticipation looking forthrightly out at the world. The tiny scar near the corner of her mouth was hardly even noticeable.

Grabbing a brush from her reticule, she proceeded to tidy the disheveled mahogany mop falling in waves barely to her shoulders. Her father, astonished by her bold step in having the mass of her tresses chopped off a year ago, had complained that the shortness was unseemly, and he just knew she would regret the decision.

“I’m not worried, Papa,” she had assured him. “Hair keeps on growing, no matter what. But, for now, this length is so much easier for me to manage with what I do.”

“What you do?” he had paused with a frown to repeat. “How does havin’ long hair cause any problems with your learnin’ how to midwife all these ladies expectin’ babies? Can’tcha just pin it up, outa the way, like most gals seem to manage?”

Oh, Papa, if you only knew! she almost cried out aloud to him.

And someday he would—soon enough, Elaine promised herself. Just as soon as she had arranged events as she wanted. As soon as she gathered up plenty of courage to face his ultimate wrath.

Disappointed, he had walked away shaking his head. “Your poor ma woulda never approved.”

Since her poor ma had died during childbirth some seventeen years ago, leaving Elaine with only a dim memory of warmth and softness and little else, that seemed a moot point. She thought that many mothers, given the chance, would have chosen to respect and support a child’s decision as to her own future, even if that child were female and expected only to marry and reproduce.

“Hey, honey, you got a few minutes to spare?” her uncle asked now, with hope in his voice. “Just maybe have a cup of coffee, tell me all about this latest case?”

She didn’t. But, mostly housebound as he was, clearly the man was feeling lonely and left out. And she would try always to respond to the needs, voiced or not, of the man who had trained her in the veterinary field, who had for years patiently answered all her questions, attempted to soothe the way for her path to an actual license and practice.

“Of course I do, Uncle Hadley.” 

Now that she was reasonably clean from her excursion into the cattle pen, with all its attendant messy business of birth, she was able to give him the hug and kiss on the cheek which he deserved. 

“Here, hand over your cup, and I’ll warm it up with a refill. Do you still have some of those cornbread squares I brought over for you yesterday?”

All during her early childhood, and beyond, she had loved and cared for animals—the cute, cuddly ones, like puppies and kittens, who might have been orphaned and in need of warmth and bottles; the older dogs and cats, often left homeless and wandering the streets; calves and cows, colts and mares, piglets and sows. In between, she took in the occasional wildling—a bird with broken wing or leg, a kit fox fending for itself, even the rare turtle or lizard.

The home in which she and her father lived was—at least, in his oft-voiced opinion—overrun by critters. And Elaine rejoiced in every one of them.

From the beginning, she had acted from pure instinct in tending to their essentials. When more complete advice was required, such as cleansing wounds or wrapping injuries, she sought out the help of Uncle Hadley, her mother’s brother, who always had time for consultation. It was under his auspice, his tutelage, his gentle recommendations, that she had learned so much. It was due to his sharing of knowledge and experience that had led her to realize this was her calling in life.

Her father vehemently disapproved of such a venture.

Her uncle, a veterinarian himself, did not. In his lights, there could be no grander, no more meritorious, no more compassionate cause than in the service of helpless, often victimized non-human beings. Five years ago, since Elaine had completed a fairly decent general education, he had taken her on as an apprentice. 

Elaine guessed that Uncle Hadley saw her as his surrogate child, since his only son, Tom, had been born with intellectual challenges. Not stupid, by any means; not exactly handicapped. Just a little slower than the average boy—or young man, as he was now. He was a gentle soul, who had been bullied enough by fellow students and associates over the years to have pulled in on himself and retreated from much of humanity. Were it not for his father needing care, Tom would have, most likely, headed for the hills to become a hermit and live off the land. 

“How are you feeling, Uncle?” Elaine, mulling over all this while she fetched the hot coffee and what was left of yesterday’s sweet bounty, asked as she took the chair across from his.

He smiled. What hair he had left made a fluffy white fringe around his head; that, his spectacles, a very short beard, and the lack of trimness around his middle gave him the appearance of a benevolent St. Nick.

“Fair to middlin’, Lainie, fair to middlin’. How about yourself?”

Nearly two years ago, Hadley had been called to examine the swollen knee of a mustang, still wild and fresh off the range. Careful, as always, with a nervous and antsy animal ten times heavier in weight than himself, he had lifted the leg with gentle hands. Only to have a tornado erupt around him. 

Later—much later—it was determined that straps to hold the horse in place at a hitching post had been improperly fastened. At the first touch of human hands, the young stallion had exploded, kicking and lunging at whatever happened to be in his way.

That was Hadley.

Gravely injured in the accident, he was only partially recovered even after all this time. His left hand was no longer of much use, and his left leg had suffered the same fate, requiring the use of a cane. He had been forced to give up most of his practice, along with hope of a full rehabilitation. However, he often thanked providence for providing him with such a willing and capable student in the form of his niece, who took to the business as a duck takes to water.

Cousin Tom served the general public as go-between, taking pleading messages for help and information, which he then immediately passed on to Elaine. Hadley was, of course, always much interested in what was going on and argued the merits of this treatment for this case and that treatment for another. His brain was still as sharp as ever. His body, so damaged in that tragic mishap, was not.

“Oh, before I forget…” Hastily, Elaine pulled a handful of bills from the small case she always carried. “This is what Mr. Riley paid me before I left. As you can see, he was extremely grateful.”

“I’m proud of you, girl. Sounds like you did a fine job. But I wish you’d keep part of this, for all the work you did.”

“Not necessary, truly. Papa supports me,” Her grin revealed a perfect set of dimples, “in the style to which I’m accustomed. Besides, I’m just a student. I can hardly accept pay when I’m still learning.”

Hadley gave a hoot of laughter. “Some student. I swear, you’ve already mastered more’n I had at twice your age. Still, I appreciate it, Lainie. Dunno how we’d manage, otherwise.”

Rising, she crossed the small room to press an affectionate kiss upon his temple. “We’ll see you through it, Uncle. Meanwhile, I’d better be on my way. I’m sure Papa will be home soon, if he isn’t already, and wondering where I’ve gotten to and why his supper isn’t on the table.”

With his good hand, he patted her forearm. “Thanks, my dear. I reckon I’ll see Eli again, next time there’s a call out for animal doctorin’.”

“Shoosh, I reckon that’s about right.” Another grin, this with her huskier, rougher Eli manner. “Lemme just put all my dishes in the kitchen. Ah, wait, that’s Tom at the door, now.”

Alerted by the clump of clumsy boots on the small front stoop, and a fumble at the handle, she moved to let him in. Instantly his face lit up with pleasure. “Hiya, Lainie. Didn’t know whether I’d see you yet t’day.”

He was a tall, lanky fellow, not yet into his full growth, with large hands and feet that seemed too big for his body and a thatch of coarse brown hair. But his expression was sweet and docile, and his temperament generally so biddable as to be quite taken advantage of, if someone decided to do so.

“Yes, but I’m afraid I must fly, Tommy. You know how Papa hates my being late. All those midwifery courses, you know.” Chuckling, she laid one palm tenderly on his stubbly cheek, blew a kiss to her uncle, murmured goodbye, and hastened away.

Mint Julep gave her the type of look with which a much-put-upon spinster teacher might have favored a tardy student. As in, What have you been doing in there? How could you possibly take so long? I’m tired and hungry, and I want my supper.

“I must accept that sort of chastising from my father,” Elaine told the mare severely, as she mounted with skirts flapping. “I refuse to accept it from you. All right, now let’s see whether you can move faster than molasses in January.”

So far, the ruse had held.

Naturally, once she had proposed taking over urgent veterinary calls for her uncle, Gabriel Jenkins had put his foot down and forbidden her to even consider such a tomfool notion.

“You’re a lady,” he had pithily pointed out. “I ain’t any more’n a simple blacksmith, but, by gum, I ain’t about to have my daughter trottin’ around, visitin’ ranches where anything bad could happen, workin’ with big rowdy animals where you might get hurt, and big rowdy males where you might get even more hurt. And what kinda reputation would that give you, anyway?”

“My reputation be—”

“Elaine, you’ll wanna get married someday. You’ll find some likely young cuss and get ready to settle down. But that won’t happen if men in these parts have already been lookin’ at you like you’re some kinda outlandish gal whose brain has got as messed up as a coddled egg.”

Further argument had been useless, she knew. Her father was a brick wall, and she was the one beating her head against it.

So, she had devised this scheme, with Hadley Bower’s reluctant approval.

It was Tom Bower’s explicit task—in addition to care of his father and household maintenance—to relay the message to Elaine every time a patient’s owner asked for help. Elaine would then rush to her uncle’s home, bind up her very female bosom to flat rather than curvy, change into male attire of britches and flannel shirt and slouch hat, and attach the fake sideburns and mustache with a material similar to spirit gum. 

Thus was she magically transformed into the very capable, very reliable Eli Bower. Elaine’s mythical cousin, from her mother’s side of the family, only recently arrived in town and thus unknown to Gabriel Jenkins, was currently residing at the Bower place. Mannerisms, speech, and deportment copied from Tom only added authenticity to her disguise.

Much as Uncle Hadley appreciated her actions, he deplored the reason for them. In fact, he was beginning to mention, more and more frequently, that Elaine really must break down and tell her father the truth. The sooner the better. She had been living under a lie for far too long, keeping secrets; and, Hadley insisted, eventually the truth would out. Better to have it out at a time of her own choosing, rather than being forced into an outing by someone else, under very uncomfortable circumstances.

Elaine agreed. 

The trouble was, she was somewhat enjoying the intrigue of the situation. This behind-the-scenes deception rather appealed to her sense of drama. The idea of having to strip away the costume and persona of some manufactured individual and reveal her actual self, not only to her father but to all the Cedar Ridgians depending upon her skill, felt faintly alarming.

Would Gabriel roar like an angry bull at the revelation? Would he descend into a fit of temper as she had never before witnessed? Would he banish her from the house?

That, too, had held her tongue silent.

She sighed.

“Good girl, Julie,” she approved of the mare’s steady clip-clop over the dusty earth of Main Street. “You’ll get me home just fine. Now, if you could just whisper in my ear some hints as to a quick supper for Papa…”

“Loving a Healer in Disguise” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

As the only child of a strict, widowed father, Elaine Jenkins’ life is far from the romantic dreams she secretly cherishes. Her bold defiance of societal norms leads her to create a disguise as ‘Eli Bower,’ assuming her uncle’s veterinary practice in Texas. Concealed beneath short hair, a fabricated mustache, and boyish attire, she vows to keep her true identity hidden, even from her father. Yet, her heart longs for a connection that transcends her disguise…

Will her secret push away the very affection she desires?

Warren Findlay Grant, equally entangled in his own web of secrets, dreams of a life far from his destined path as a rancher. Yearning to pursue his passion for writing, he leaves the family ranch, only to find his fate intertwined with Elaine’s in an unexpected storm. Rescued and cared for by ‘Eli,’ an enigmatic connection forms between them. Unbeknownst to Fin, ‘Eli’ could be the woman who could fulfill the unspoken desires of his heart…

Can Fin combine his writerly aspirations with the realities of ranch life, or will his secrets unravel, jeopardizing both his and Elaine’s futures?

When a vicious disease imperils the Red Oak cattle, and a revelation about Elaine’s double life strains her relationship with her father, the stakes of their concealed affections escalate. In this entanglement of love and deception, will Elaine and Fin seize the chance for a love as wild and free as the land they cherish, or will the weight of their secrets doom their chances for happiness?

“Loving a Healer in Disguise” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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