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High Country Hero
By Lynna Banning
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRussell's Landing, Oregon 1884
The instant Sage turned the corner onto Main Street, she saw the woman in purple calico barreling down the board sidewalk toward her. Oh, no. Not Mrs. Benbow. The plump seamstress was the biggest busybody in town.
Sage stopped, smiled and prepared to have her ears burned by the latest gossip.
"Ain't seen it yet, have ya, honey?"
"Why, the newspaper, of course. The Willamette Valley Voice. My stars, that man has a tongue somewhere's between a rattlesnake and a grizzly bear."
"Mr. Stryker, you mean?"
"Who else?" Nelda Benbow's voice was sharp with gleeful outrage. "That man gets the whole town in an uproar every single Thursday. Mind you, I don't think he really believes half the things he publishes in that puffed-up rag of his, but the harm's done soon as the ink's dry. And the hurt," she added in a gentler tone. She sent Sage a pitying look.
"Hurt," Sage echoed. "Who has Mr. Stryker crucified this time?"
"Best you set down before you read it, Sage dear."
The older woman gave her a quick pat on the shoulder and sped on down the walkway toward Duquette's Mercantile.
It? What "it"?
Sage had troubles enough without worrying over who Mr. Stryker's latest victim was. Last Thursday it had been Miles Schutte, head of the school board. In an editorial entitled The Three R's - Rum-soaked, Ridiculous and Rabble-rousing, the newspaper editor had lambasted Mr. Schutte with a stream of inflammatory adjectives and innuendo, all because he had drunk a toast at the school board meeting in honor of the new teacher, Miss Euphemia Prescott. Last year's schoolmarm, Molly Landon, had gotten married in the spring, and married women weren't allowed to teach in Douglas County.
Or anywhere else in Oregon, as far as Sage knew. The restriction was positively medieval. One would think mankind would be more enlightened near the end of the nineteenth century.
Perhaps Mr. Stryker would address this inequity? Her neatly buttoned shoes carried her straight to the newspaper office.
At her entrance, the editor rose to his feet. "Good morning, Miss West. Oh, I beg your pardon. Dr. West."
A thrill of pure pride shot through her. Dr. Sage West. It had taken her six grueling years, and she wanted everyone in town to celebrate her accomplishment. For the first time since its founding, Russell's Landing had a physician.
"Mr. Stryker." She smiled at the bony, stern-faced man who stood across the polished wood counter from her. He and his wife, Flora, had never had children of their own. When Sage was growing up, Friedrich Stryker had always slipped lemon drops to her when she had come into the newspaper office with her father.
She dug a five-cent piece from her reticule, dropped it on the counter and scanned the front page. Mugwumps Desert Blaine for Cleveland.
Railroad Tunnel Collapses. Republicans Bicker over Tariff.
"Article's on page three," the graying newspaper editor said in a dry voice. "My editorial's on page seven." He pocketed the coin and retreated to his desk.
Sage flipped the paper open and buried her nose in the third page. The still-wet black ink smelled sharp and oily. Engrossed, she moved to the shop entrance, pushed the door open and stepped out onto the boardwalk.
Recently returned from Philadelphia where she completed her medical studies, Miss
Sage Martin West, daughter of Mayor William West and his lovely wife, Henrietta ...
She stumbled over a loose board on the walk-way.
... away in the East for the past five years ...
"Six years," she murmured. "Almost seven. Oh, excuse me, Miss Nyland. I didn't see you come out of the mercantile."
"Reading the article about yourself, are you, Sage?"
"Yes. My, it does seem strange, though. As if I'm somebody else!"
"Come across Friedrich's editorial yet?"
"No, I -"
"Well, don't take it too hard, dear."
Miss Nyland whisked into the millinery shop, where a jaunty straw sun hat with a purple feather hung in the display window. The woman did love her bonnets, Sage remembered. She had worn them even when she taught school, and that was - my gracious! - thirteen years ago! Now Miss Nyland's prize pupil at Grove School was grown up and wearing bonnets herself. Or should be. Absently Sage smoothed her free hand across her bare head.
She shrugged and went on down the street, her eyes glued to the typeset lines.
Excerpted from High Country Hero by Lynna Banning Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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