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Authors: Molly O'Keefe

Tempted

BOOK: Tempted
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Tempted

Into The Wild #2

By

Molly O’Keefe

Copyright © 2015 Molly O’Keefe

All rights reserved.

 

ISBN-13:

 

E-book formatting by Jessica Lewis

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in encouraging piracy of copyrighted materials in violation with the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Table of Contents

With many thanks to the talented people who help me publish these books; Amber at Book Beautiful for the stunning covers. Robin Harders and Simone Seguin for their thoughtful editing and Jessica at Author Lifesaver – because you are totally saving my life!

 

And thank you to the readers for reading and enjoying these books!

 

Prologue

1865

Andersonville Prison, Georgia

 

T
hey were easy to ignore. The wounded. The dying. The battle-weary and nightmare-ridden. The old soldiers like him who had crossed that bridge at Antietam and walked the blood-soaked road out of the Battle of the Wilderness—they were made of hide and bone and grit.

Most of them would not walk out of this hell. Perhaps none of them.

He didn’t even see those soldiers, his fellow prisoners, anymore. They were a sea of sunburned flesh and rags. Burned-out holes where eyes should be.

They looked just like him, he imagined, should he ever see himself again.

Even the raiders, with their savageness barely contained by their flesh, he could ignore. Their taunts and efforts to control the sea of prisoners inside the stockade with brutality and fear no longer filled him with outrage. Somehow he even managed to ignore the rain and the relentless heat. He didn’t notice the flies anymore, either.

Whatever was left of him from before the war—gone. Lost in the heat. The degradation.

But when the gates opened, letting in new prisoners stumbling in formation, clutching their haversacks and a threadbare blanket each—all that was left of what lay outside those barricades—Steven had to look away. Into a white-blue sky heavy with heat and empty of clouds.

They are not men. None of us are
, he thought, over and over until the words meant nothing and he could live in his body again.

“Whose is this?” the soldier in charge of the division of thirty men asked during mess, holding up the cube portion of cornbread and the sliver of raw bacon that was their ration for the next twenty-four hours.

Steven’s name got called and he took his ration and split it in half, twisting the other half in a handkerchief for the morning.

One of the new prisoners, a kid not old enough to shave by the looks of his chin, got the last ration, a miserly bit of cornbread. The boy gobbled it down, took the bacon and nearly did the same with it too.

This boy was no concern of his. But not so long ago he'd been in charge of boys like this one, and he'd been good at it, and the instinct rose up from where he tried to keep it buried.

“Wait on that, boy,” Steven murmured, keeping his voice low and his eyes down so as not to draw any attention.

“What do you mean?” the boy stammered. He sounded like the Irish soldier who’d lived in the tent next to Steven until the dysentery killed him.

“Lots of hours until morning. That’s all the food you get.”

Underneath his sunburn and his light, pale hair, the boy went white.

He’d seen that before too. That unholy moment of recognition. The boy would cry himself to sleep tonight. And the raiders would torment him. And Steven could keep his head down and turn away, go back to his tent, his own misery, his own tooth-and-nail fight to keep the small fire of his humanity and his dignity and hope burning in all this darkness.

Or he could help this boy, show him the small space where the other Irish soldier had slept. He could fight off the raiders, who didn’t bother him anymore. Not after he bit Vic’s ear nearly off.

But what would it matter? The boy, with help or without, would die eventually.

They all would.

We are not men anymore. None of us are
.

So he turned, saying nothing, leaving the boy to the other soldiers to destroy or care for as they would.

 

Chapter 1

 

October 14, 1868

Denver, Colorado

 

T
he knock woke up Anne Denoe. So the shouting was really not necessary. But it did add a certain fumbling urgency to the speed with which Anne pulled on her wrapper and headed for the staircase.

“I’m coming, keep your hat on,” she murmured. She’d had a banister attached to each side of the staircase so she could practically vault down the stairs. Because knocks in the middle of the night, followed by shouting, usually meant time was of the essence. And as a woman with a club foot, it could take quite a bit of time to go down stairs.

Moonlight fell into the house through the windows, landing in great white blocks across the wooden floor. She crossed from dark to light to dark again before unlocking and opening the front door.

“We need Doc Madison.” It was too dark to see who the two men were, holding the slumped body of a third between them. But she could tell by the voice it was Tell Garrity. Which meant the man in the middle was Tell’s brother, Sam Garrity. Again.

“Doc Madison is out,” she lied. “Bring him into the surgery.”

Moving back through the blocks of light, she led them down the hallway past the staircase to the room next to the kitchen. The two men heaved Sam up onto the table while she lit the lamps and rinsed her hands at the basin in the corner.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Sam ran his mouth again at Delilah’s,” Tell said.

Oh, Sam
, she thought.
One of these days I’m going to sew up your mouth and not your wounds
.

Looking at Sam, rumpled and dirty and small on the table, she could almost piece together what had happened. His hand was wrapped in a bloody cloth, and in the middle of his forehead there was a giant goose egg. His eye was black and swollen. His lip split. His nose broken. Badly.

He was a mess.

“Man at the bar took out a big Bowie, stuck it through Sam’s hand so he couldn’t go nowhere, and smashed a bottle across his head and whaled the livin’ tar outta him.” Tell and his other brother, Joe, stepped back away from Sam and the table, giving Anne room to work.

Unwrapping the cloth, she found a bloody gaping wound straight through his hand, near the knuckles.

“Take off his clothes, would you?” she asked, and the Garrity brothers honestly blushed.

“Ma’am—”

“I am a widow,” she lied. “And a nurse. I will not faint, and if you want your friend treated, he needs to have his clothes off.”

The boys did what she asked, heaving Sam’s dead weight around so they could strip off his jacket and the shirt beneath it.

“You can leave his pants,” she said.

Tell wadded the shirt and coat into a ball and put it on a chair in the corner.

“Thanks b…boys,” she said. “You can go. I’ll get him cleaned up for Dr. Madison.”

Tell and Joe, filthy from months up in the mountains chasing gold and silver, looked at each other. “We’re worried about leaving you alone with him,” Tell said. “He’s dangerous. More… more than usual.”

In the ball on the chair was Sam’s blue Cavalry jacket from the Union Army. It was threadbare and worn, hardly enough to keep out the spring chill, much less the colder weather that was coming. Most of the soldiers from the war had moved onto new coats, new lives. Warmer coats that could stand up to a mountain winter. But not Sam. Sam kept the coat and the past very close.

“He’s out cold, gentlemen. And Doc Madison will be here shortly.”

After a little more protesting, the Garrity brothers put their hats back on and she escorted them out to the door. They headed south, along the dirt road, back to the action of downtown a few blocks away.

She locked the door behind them and instead of going back into the surgery, she went to knock on the door that led to the largest of the first-floor rooms.

“Doctor?” she called through the wooden door. She didn’t bother trying the knob. It would be locked. She knocked again, louder. “Doctor!”

There was a thump on the other side, and then she heard him walking toward the door, his gait heavy.

She stepped back and ran a quick hand over her hair, which she immediately regretted because instead of tidying it, she only made sure that it was a mess.

The door opened and the most handsome, the most brilliant and clever chloroform addict to ever walk the earth stood smiling at her.

His jacket was gone, though he still wore his vest and watch. His shirt was unbuttoned, past what was acceptable for her to see—he had curling dark chest hair, a mat of it—but they were beyond such things at this point. Slowly , he lifted his hand to push back the long flop of dark hair that hung into his eyes.

“Mrs. Denoe,” he said with a heartbreaker’s smile. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“Sam Garrity is in surgery again. He’s been stabbed through the hand.”

“Amputation?”

“Doctor—” she chastised.

He took a deep breath, and in those cloudy brown eyes of his she saw his shame. She didn’t look away or allow him the privacy of his emotions. Because he should feel shame. The longing, knife-sharp and wild, to slap his face, to grab his talented hands and shake him as hard as she could, was at times impossible to control.

So she simply stepped back and let him make his shuffling, wobbly way down the hall to the surgery. She glanced back into his room and saw, on the floor beside his bed, the twelve-ounce bottle of chloroform and the toweling cone he’d made to administer it to himself.

You’ll overdose one day
, she thought.
You’ll overdose and then where will I be?

They had a routine, the doctor and Anne, created over dozens of these situations. Doc would look over the patient—initially Anne had her doubts that he was seeing anything past the haze of the drug, but then he would sit back in a hard tall-back chair in the corner and tell her, explicitly and in exacting detail, what she needed to do.

And most of the time the patient lived. So she had to assume their system was working.

Doc looked over Sam’s body, lifted Sam’s hand, examined the wound that went through, and set the hand on the man’s chest. Elevating it so blood didn’t run out onto the floor. And then he reached up, grabbed a hold of Sam’s nose, and with an audible, sickening crunch of bones and cartilage, set it back into place.

“Clean him up,” Doc said, shuffling over to his chair. He held up the ball of clothing. “We’d do him a favor by burning those clothes.”

“I doubt he has any others,” she said. He made an assenting sound and dumped the clothes on the floor.

Sam’s body was beyond thin—it was skeletal. Ribs stood out against his skin in grave detail. His belly was sunk so far into his body she could pour water into the deep bowl of it and it would not seep out.

“Which means he will not have the means to pay us,” Doc said. He crossed one leg over the other and tugged at the seam in his pants. She would have smiled if it weren’t so sad. He’d been a dandy before. Boston, he’d told her once. A surgeon at the Massachusetts General Hospital. But someone had found him stealing ether, and he’d headed west.

She cleaned Sam Garrity as best she could. With the hand elevated, the blood had slowed. She turned the hand over to see his palm, where there was an answering gash. She could put her finger straight through.

“I could amputate,” Doc said. “Be faster. During the war I could do it in under ten minutes.”

“I will stitch him up,” she said. From the drawer of the small dresser upon which the basin of now-bloody water sat, she pulled out her extensive sewing kit. She had silver suture wire, a dozen different needles held in their buckskin cloth, and a new Degaine's Russian Needle Holder, which had just arrived last week. She selected the curved needle, the Russian Needle Holder, the forceps and thread.

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