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Chapter 1

Montana Territory, Bitterroot Mountain Range, Spring 1889

“I think we should find another way to kidnap him.” Carrie Kerr grabbed onto the pommel to stop from bouncing out of the saddle and straight onto the barely used road as her horse lunged up the hill. She placed her free hand over her stomach to staunch the burning sensation deep within the pit of her belly. They had to do something about Simon, but Aunt June’s plan resembled a patchwork quilt made of fine silk and threadbare burlap—enticing and solid in one square, but ready to tear apart with each hole-ridden piece in the middle. “Someone who lives this far up the mountain, and isn’t a logger, can’t be trusted.”

“Oh bosh.” Aunt June, Carrie’s godmother, leaned forward in her saddle—a trick Carrie had used many times to help stay centered on the horse during a steep ascent. “Plenty of people choose to live away from the bustle of the city, and most of them aren’t bad at heart. They’re simply eccentric.”

“I don’t think an eccentric doctor is what we need right now. We need one we can trust. How long has it been since he practiced medicine? What if he kills Simon?”

“You and I will both be there. We can ensure that will not happen. In any case, we don’t need a doctor who is trustworthy. We need one with no morals. It will be fine. Wait and see.” Aunt June smiled in reassurance, but Carrie didn’t feel the effects of the grin. Simon wasn’t going to be happy once he woke up to find they’d tricked him onto a train. For his own good, of course. At least she hoped it would do him good. These days, there was no telling what might set Simon into a downward spiral of self-pity andirritating surliness. Some days he behaved as he always had—with a jaunty spring in his step—but most days he hid in a deep bottle of amber poison. If she were going to fix Simon, he needed to get past his scars and trauma from the previous logging season. He needed to find a new passion in life, one that would keep him well for the remainder of his days

A dilapidated cabin came into view surrounded by equally rough outbuildings. Chickens pecked the ground beside the house, and tucked behind them a mud-bogged pigpen barely held in its overfed occupants. Outside, a large man wearing a yellow-stained cotton shirt leaned into a wagon. Aside from the mud covering the wheel, the wagon was about the only thing on the homestead that looked to be in good shape. The man stood up tall, scrunched his reddened face, and blocked the sun with his hand as Carrie trotted her horse up next to Aunt June’s and stopped before the man.

Aunt June dismounted. “Doctor Larry McGuinn?”

“’Pends on who’s askin’.”

“Are you the traveling doctor who does his business between here and Seattle?”

“’Pends on who’s askin’,” he said again, and spit on the ground. “Did I sell you my miracle serum?”

“Heavens no.” Aunt June clutched the base of her throat. “Do I look like I need a miracle serum? No, sir. When God made me, he made perfection. We’re here because we’re in need of your medical services.”

“Oh?” He spit again. This time the brown stream landed on the front of his shirt, right smack in the middle of the stain. He narrowed his eyes and smoothed his long, greasy hair back. “How’d you know where to find me?”

“Mary Lou sent me. She said your going rate is ten dollars a visit, but I’m willing to give you more. Ten for your services and twenty to keep your mouth shut.” Aunt June curled her lip and stared hard at the disheveled doctor. Carrie mimicked her godmother’s stare. If this half-cocked plan was going to work, they needed the doctor.

The man smacked his lips together, no doubt envisioning all of the tobacco and booze he could procure with the money. “What exactly is it you’re needin’?”

Carrie slid another glance to gauge her godmother’s reaction. Nothing about this situation felt right. In fact a hole formed in her stomach and led straight to the bottom of her feet. She probably wouldn’t eat until after Simon’s inevitable outburst once he got to the mountain. Aunt June’s shoulders relaxed and the corners of her mouth twitched as if she held back a smile. “I heard there was a concoction we can get that makes a person go into a deep sleep. We need a bottle of that.”

The doctor scratched his head. “Well, now, I don’t know about a deep sleep, but my miracle serum could make one pass out, if you take enough.” “What I’m looking for is the potion given to Queen Victoria back in fifty-three. It’s still in use today, I presume.”

“Well, now, chloroform isn’t something I got a lot of and it can be deadly if too much is given. It’ll cost ya forty dollars for a dose.”

“Thirty,” Carrie said, and narrowed her eyes to match Aunt June’s hard-bargaining glare.

He shook his head but took a few steps over to the side of his wagon and began to rifle through the contents. “Forty is my final offer.”

“We’ll give you forty, but you have to come with us to administer it, since it’s deadly and all.”

“Forty for the chloroform, ten for the visit, plus the fee to keep my mouth shut. I think that tallies up to one hundred and ten dollars.”Good gracious! To Hades with eccentric, the man was a downright bunko artist. No way Aunt June would give in to such extortion. Carrie bit her tongue against the urge to respond, and waited for the sharp retort her godmother was sure to give.

Instead, and to Carrie’s consternation, Aunt June simply crossed her arms over her chest. “Ninety.”

“One hundred even.” He spit. “I’ll need to stay overnight in a hotel.”

“Deal.” Aunt June extended her hand and the doctor shook it. “Be at 106 Pine Street at nine o’clock tonight. I’ll have your money waiting.” Carrie followed as Aunt June wheeled her mount around to head down the mountain, but stopped. A part of her wanted to interject, face the dirty doctor and void the deal. The other wanted to see Simon happy once more. The latter won her internal battle, so she kept her mouth shut. Simon was special to Aunt June, but he was also her best friend’s brother, and a dear friend to Carrie.

“Nine o’clock sharp,” Aunt June said to the doctor. “With each minute you’re late, I will take off five dollars.” Aunt June ended her statement by kicking her horse to a trot.

Carrie snapped the reins and leaned forward in the saddle to urge her horse to follow.

When they were far enough down the trail to be out of sight from the uncouth man behind them, Aunt June slowed her horse to a walk next to Carrie’s mount. “That man is definitely a bunko artist, but he is also the only doctor in the valley who will keep his mouth shut and do what we need, and he knows it.”

Carrie’s horse stumbled over a rock jutting from the ground, but she caught herself in the saddle without toppling over the top of her bay mare’s head. “I don’t trust that man. How do you know he is going to be sober by the time he comes to your house? What if he gets the dose wrong and kills Simon?”

“Don’t you worry about the doctor. Simon will be fine once we get him to the lumber camp. Wall and Blue will be by my home at eight tonight, and Elizabeth and Garrett are standing by with the train to get us all to the camp by sunup. Only thing you need to worry about is what to cook for them hungry loggers tomorrow morning. I’ll be dealing with Simon, who’s sure to be as friendly as a skinny grizzly bear in late fall. At least we’ll have a few of the Devil May Cares there to help us. Once we get Simon up the mountain, he’ll be back to the flannel-mouthed scoundrel we all adore. He just needs to remember who he is.”

Carrie nodded and turned her attention toward the steep decline of the mountain trail. If only Simon could find his way back to the man he’d once been, then all would be well. Before the accident, he’d stolen her heart. But she chalked her infatuation up to the days she’d spent nursing him back to health and the fact that he was her best friend’s brother. She loved him as Beth did—at least that’s what she told herself after he’d dipped into a shadow of self-pity and alcohol. Now she vowed to live as Aunt June— independent and fighting hard until her dying breath. But first, she had to remind Simon who he had been once upon a time. After all, it was her fault he’d become desolate and brash in the first place. If only she hadn’t pushed for him to see his wounds. If he had had more time to come to grips with his accident, maybe he wouldn’t have changed.

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