Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly - Romance>Westerns/Cowboys
On the frontier of a new life...
Tired and hungry after two days of traveling, Susanna Hopkins is just about at the end of her tether when her train finally arrives in Cheyenne. She's bound for a new life in a Western garrison town. Then she discovers she doesn't even have enough money to pay for the stagecoach! Luckily for her, the compassionate Major Joseph Randolph is heading in the same direction.
As a military surgeon, Joe is used to keeping his professional distance. But, despite Susanna's understated beauty, he's drawn to this woman who carries loss and pain equal to his own and has a heart that is just as hesitant and wary....
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Emily Reese, not the brightest lady, had been unable to furnish Major Joseph Randolph, Fort Laramie's post surgeon, with a working description of Susanna Hopkins, her older cousin. "I think she is thirty-two," Emily had said. "Old, anyway."
Joe smiled at that. "I doubt traveling females will be thrilled if I ask if they are thirty-two," he had told her. "Give me a better description, Emily. She's your cousin."
He knew her well enough to call her Emily. Almost five years ago he had delivered her son, Stanley, in an army ambulance between garrisons. Emily Reese had been neither his best patient nor his worst one.
Emily obliged with a better description. "She is of medium height, average figure, and her hair is blond."
She became serious quickly. "I appreciate this, Major," she told him. "If you can take her in the ambulance, so much the better. She does not have much money." She thought a moment, then whispered, "Susanna is divorced."
"That is not my business," Joe said.
"You're a surgeon," she countered. "Anything I tell you is confidential."
He sighed, wondering how Emily Reese's husband managed to keep from drinking himself to death. Some men must prefer stupid wives. Come to think of it, Captain Daniel Reese wasn't the brightest company commander in the army. "Emily, I'm not a priest. I keep medical matters confidential."
She couldn't seem to stop. "She abandoned her son. I can't imagine that, but she is a relative, and my parents had to help her."
"I'm certain she had her reasons," Joe replied. Good God, what kind of relative would blab such a scandal? he asked himself. They sound as horrible as mine. "I hope you won't reveal this to anyone else," he said, not sure how much force to apply to a scold. "You know what gossips army people are."
"Should I make up a story?"
"Say nothing. All anyone wants is a teacher."
"I know! I will say she is a war widow!"
Joe sighed. "Emily, don't. Can't you imagine how distressed the veterans would feel about such a lie? We saw our friends die from Bull Run to Appomattox Court House! Please, please don't."
Joe hadn't minded the diversion of looking for a lady on the train. General court-martial duty in Cheyenne right before Christmas was never pleasant, unless those presiding thought to catch the eastbound Overland Express for home. He probably wouldn't have been involved in this unshirkable army duty, except that one of the defendants was a major, and there must be majors and above weighing him in the balance.
Joe had no plans. His former home was a plantation west of Richmond and his two widowed sisters residing there had long ago turned his portrait to the wall, and returned his letters, except the one containing a bank draft for taxes on the place. No wonder I am a cynic, Joe told himself on more than one occasion.
Unexpectedly, the court-martial had dragged on much longer than anticipated, and the officer board watched its holiday plans turn to gall and wormwood. The defendants—officers who should have been cashiered years ago—had argued long and eloquently to avoid removal from the army.
The matter had ground on, each officer on the board growing surly as the likelihood of Christmas at home vanished. To no one's surprise, revenge came as both defendants were cashiered.
Major Walters, a single fellow like himself, was in no hurry to return to dreary Fort Fetterman. The officers' mess at Fort Russell, near Cheyenne, was better and Joe...