Monday, April 30, 2012

The Ruby Brooch Chapter Seventeen

KIT SPOTTED JASPER as soon as she rode into camp. She glanced around and was surprised and thankful that there were no storm damaged wagons or dead animals. The chewing-out she expected might well be the only storm related disaster. But what could Cullen do worse than accusing her of being a siren luring him to his death? Well, for one, he could throw her off the wagon train. If he did, would Henry come to her defense? Or John? She’d tried to plead her case to Henry before without success, so she doubted he would be any help if she were banished. She just hoped she hadn’t tossed her chance of finding the South Pass wagon train in the trash like a pocket full of two-dollar losing tickets.

There was no point in going to her wagon and delaying the inevitable confrontation. She rode straight to Henry’s camp and dismounted just as he exited his tent. He had tear-streaks in his whiskers. “Good, God, Henry. What’s the matter?”

“Where you been, missy?”

 Heat flushed her cheeks. “Where’s Cullen? I’ll tell you both at the same time.”

“He’s sleep.”

“This late?”

“Don’t reckon he knows the time.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“He went out looking for you. I found him face down in the mud a few hours ago.”

She shifted into paramedic mode, sensing something serious had happened. “What’s wrong with him?”

 “You two are dumber than crock-heads.”

She breathed in and out, slowly, so tempted to grab the gun out of Henry's holster and shoot him. “Where is Cullen?”

He pointed over his shoulder. “In there.”

She threw back the flaps. Cullen’s deathbed face shocked her. “Did he get shot?”

Henry massaged his brow. “Nope.”



Her fists clenched and unclenched. “Henry. Don’t make me drag it out of you. Tell me what happened.”

And he told her everything he knew.

To treat Cullen, she needed her supplies, and she needed to get Cullen away from Henry. “Will you carry him to my wagon?”

“He’s fine where he is.”

“No, he’s not. Everything I need is in my wagon.” She turned on her heels and hurried to her campsite. A few minutes later, Henry and John delivered the patient.

“What else can we do?” Henry asked.

“Take off his clothes,” Kit said.

Henry’s eyes widened above pink-tinted cheeks. “All?”

“I want to see his cuts and bruises.” She chewed on her bottom lip while she studied the bruise around Cullen’s eye. “How long ago was he in a fight?”

“Four days, I reckon.”

“Wonder what the other guy looks like?”

“Other guy?” Henry said with a grunt. “There was three of ‘em. Cullen’s got more guts than you can hang on a fence.” 

She blew out a breath, hot with exasperation. “It doesn’t take guts to get into a fight. It takes guts to stay out of one.” On closer inspection, the bruises on his chest concerned her. He might have a rib or two broken. If so, a jagged bone could injure another organ. For now, she’d keep him quiet and control his pain, enabling him to breathe easier.

“Help me roll him over.”

Henry squeezed Cullen’s shoulder and tilted him forward. He moaned.

Kit drew back at the sight of a three-inch, jagged laceration just above his hips. Anger brought her blood to a quick boil. “Why didn’t he do something about this?”

“Didn’t want me to see to it. Said he’d wait for you.”

“He’s too smart to let this go untreated.”

“Finding you was more important.”

She held out her hands in a questioning gesture. “But he wasn’t even speaking to me.”

Henry spoke with quiet words. “The boy’s mixed up when it comes to feelings for you.”

Whatever those mixed up feelings were, she couldn’t dwell on them now. “Henry, you and John go outside and wait. Let me see what I can do.”

“He’ll be all right then.” Henry’s words formed a statement, not a question.

She didn’t deserve such faith. If he could see her shaking hands knotted in her lap, he’d have doubts instead. “Let me do what I can,” she said with false confidence.

Cullen groaned and tried to lift his head.

She pressed back on his shoulders. “Be still. I’m going to give you something for pain. Can you tell me where you hurt and what the pain feels like? Is it sharp, throbbing, burning? Can you swallow a pill?”

“Sharp. Hurts like hell in my back. I can swallow.” His raspy voice barely sounded human.

She placed a Percocet on his tongue and gave him a drink from a canteen.

“What is it?”


“Never heard . .  .” His words slurred as if he’d had several shots of whiskey.

“It’s a narcotic. Give it a few minutes. It will take the edge off your pain.” Between the well-stocked medicine cabinets at MacKlenna Mansion and Scott’s medical bag, she’d collected a generous supply of painkillers and antibiotics. “Open your mouth and take this one, too.”

“What is it?”


She pulled a stethoscope from her bag, and listened to his heart. He watched her from beneath hooded lids. “What’s on your neck? What’s on my arm?”

“Stethoscope.” She placed the chest piece in his hand. “I can hear your heart and lungs. That’s a blood pressure cuff on your arm. Your pressure is too low.”

“Why’d you go away?”

She stuck a thermometer in his mouth. “Keep this under your tongue. Don’t talk. I’m back now. It doesn’t matter.”

In his condition, she couldn’t imagine how he had stayed on a horse. And the thought of him lying in the mud made her sick at her stomach. She removed the thermometer. His fever was too high.

“I need to apologize,” he said.

“Quiet.” Before she could get the tourniquet around his arm to start an IV, he drifted off to asleep. She started an IV with saline to rehydrate him, then rolled him over, and cleaned the laceration’s jagged edge. He looked like he’d been kicked with a sharp-toed boot then raked with the spur’s rowel. The cut had been open too long to stitch. She cut away small pieces of devitalized tissue and dressed the wound. Healing would have to occur from the inside out.

Henry had done a half-decent job cleaning him up, but he still had mud in his hair. The medication took the edge off his discomfort, and the tension in his arms, neck and face seemed to ease. She pressed a light kiss on his mouth, surprised by how warm and soft his lips were.

“Get well, Cullen.”

“Kiss me again,” he mumbled. And she did, convinced his memory would fade as quickly as the kiss.

KIT MADE A pallet in the back of the buckboard and with John’s help, Cullen hobbled to the carriage for the day’s ride across Nebraska.

He contorted his face with each step. “I’m not a damn invalid. I can ride my horse.”

Kit watched his head wobbled on his shoulders. With his eyes so glassy, it was a wonder he could see to put one foot in front of the other. Sure, he could ride. That’s what got him into this mess to begin with.

“I stayed up all night taking care of you. Either you ride in the buckboard, or John will put you back in my wagon and you can bounce across Nebraska for all I care. What do you want to do?”

“Ride with me.”

She crossed her arms and tapped her fingers against her elbows. “I’m in no mood for surliness.”

“I won’t complain.”

He probably wouldn’t complain but he’d ask questions she couldn’t answer. “Okay.”

The move from the wagon to the buckboard exhausted him. He was asleep within minutes. When he woke hours later, he appeared to be coming out of a fog, blinking rapidly to focus. She handed him two pills and held his head while he drank from a canteen.


He nodded and wiped away drops of water from his chin. “Where’d you go?”

“I’ve been right here.”

“During the hailstorm.”

“I found a cave about a mile from the wagons. The gully filled with water, and I got trapped inside.”

His eyes moved along her face. Her checks flushed, and she glanced away afraid she’d reveal something about herself he didn’t need to know.  “I was there. At the gully. I saw a light, but I didn’t see a cave.”

The light must have been her flashlight. Should she say something? No. Ignore it and move on. She grabbed Tabor’ hairbrush and began to brush him, avoiding eye contact with Cullen. “It was a miracle I found it.”

He rubbed a small bruise on his arm made by the IV needle. She sensed a question sat on his tongue ready to roll out. Tabor meowed and jumped from her lap. The brush held globs of cat hair. 

“Where’d your people come from?” Cullen asked.  

She pulled hair from the brush, stalling to think. “The MacKlennas came from Scotland.” 

“What year?” 

 “The first Thomas MacKlenna left Callander and immigrated around 1763.”

“A Highlander?”

“You’re not the only one in America.”

The corners of his mouth wrinkled with a smile that pushed into his dimples. “Aye, there are a few of us.”

“Where’s your family from?” she asked.

“I grew up around Callander, but my family immigrated to Richmond, Virginia. I’ll mention the MacKlennas to my father. We might share common ancestors.”

She swallowed a tickling of anxiety. Could he post a letter and get a response before they reached South Pass? She didn’t think so, but…

“Did Thomas MacKlenna immigrate to Kentucky.”

“He got a land grant for the original four hundred acres. Stayed and farmed for a few years, then returned to Scotland where he died. His son Thomas inherited MacKlenna Farm. That’s where I grew up. Three thousand acres of lush bluegrass.”

“Old Thomas is your grandfather?”

“Great.” Great-great-great-great-great-great.

Cullen kept his eyes focused on hers for a beat or two. “Why’d you leave? What does Oregon offer that your farm didn’t?”

If she tried to tell him it was complicated, he might strangle her. She scratched her nose, took a breath. “I needed to get away for a while.” 

“Get away?” Suspicion dripped from his voice. “From a farm you love and still own?”

“Yes, but—”

“Don’t you dare say it’s complicated.”

 “This is where our last argument ended.” She paused, took the edge off her tone, and continued. “I don’t want to fight with you. I’m not going to talk about certain topics. Either you accept that, or—”

“We keep arguing?” 

“I’m not going to argue.”

He glanced at his arm and rubbed the small puncture wound. “If I ask you what you did to my arm, are you going to say it’s complicated, too?”

She gazed at his hooded eyes and sensed he already knew the answer, but that was impossible. He was asleep when she gave him the IV. She took a deep, shivery breath and said, “Yes, it’s complicated.”

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