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"Good boy, Toby." Dr. Cheyenne Granger laughed as the hound dog standing on her examining table swiped her chin with his tongue. She may have been just out of vet school but she was so happy with her choice of profession she could not contain her joy. She wrapped her arms around the elderly canine.
"You are such a good patient." She lowered him gently to the floor and gave his ears a rub. "Are we friends again?"
Big chocolate eyes forgave her for having stuck him with a needle a few moments before.
"Thanks, buddy." No one on earth could forgive the way a dog could. "Are you ready to find your mom?"
Toby swiped her face a second time and wagged his tail. "Yes! Let's go!" he seemed to say as he tilted his head to one side and glanced toward the closed door.
"Then lead the way, handsome." She seized his leash. Toby knew the path down the short hallway past the patient rooms to the waiting area where the air-conditioning blew against the hot summer Wyoming sunshine. Several dogs panted with nervousness alongside their owners, waiting for their appointments. One particularly unhappy cat yowled from a carrier in the corner.
"Toby!" Terri Baker Gold rose from one of the cushy chairs and hurried over. The dog gave a cry of relief and raced into his owner's arms. "What a good boy. Did you think I wouldn't be waiting for you? I would never leave you, baby."
The hound licked Terri's chin at the reassurance. Happy that his appointment was over, he wagged his tail and looked expectantly at the door.
"We should get the results from the lab in a few days. I'll give you a call. Other than that, I've sent a prescription over to the pharmacy." Cheyenne grabbed a biscuit from the bowl on the counter and held the bone-shaped treat out to Toby. "You let Terri know if you don't feel better, okay, boy?"
The old dog took the treat politely, crunching away with canine satisfaction on his face.
"Thanks, Cheyenne." Terri, a lifelong friend, smiled. "Nate must be thrilled to have you join his practice."
"He hasn't tossed me out yet," she quipped from behind the counter where the receptionist, Tasha Wi-sener, chatted on the phone. Multiple lines were lit up; another busy day. "I'm the one who is thrilled to be here. I'm grateful Nate has taken me under his wing. I wouldn't want to work anywhere else."
"Especially with so much going on in your family." Terri opened her purse and pulled out her checkbook. "The Grangers have had two weddings already with two more to come. Then there's Rori's pregnancy and rumors about Frank and Cady."
"Yes, and you're about the hundredth person who has hinted for insider information on Dad's intentions toward a certain inn owner." She couldn't help laughing. Her dad's quiet romance with Cady Winslow had become the talk of the town. "I'm the last to know anything. Besides, even if I did know something and admitted it, guess what would happen next?"
"Me. I would happen," Tasha intervened. She hung up the phone and tapped a few computer keys. Ter-ri's bill popped out of the printer. "I would repeat it, my mother-in-law would get wind of it and the whole county would know by nightfall. Nothing is private in a small town."
"And if it is, not for long." Cheyenne grabbed the next patient's chartthe Stone family, who didn't yet have a pet of their own but had been to the clinic twice already. Little Julianna had a rescuer's heart.
Wondering what had brought the Stone sisters in today, Cheyenne straightened her white coat, opened the door and walked into the cozy examining room. Sunlight streamed through the window and tumbled onto the soft, buttery walls and tile floor. Two chairs flanked the window, one filled by a tween wearing a frown, a fashionable summery top, shorts and matching sandals. The other girl, grade school-aged Julianna, clutched a shoe box. Tiny holes had been punctured in the lid to let in air.
"Cheyenne!" Her brown pigtails bobbed as she held out the box. "It's a baby bird. A hawk caught him and I waved the yard rake at him until he let the baby go."
"Sorry," Jenny apologized with a big-sister-in-charge attitude. "I told her not to bother. But she insisted. I don't think there's anything you can do."
"I can't let her suffer." Julianna blinked back tears and her button face crinkled with the pain she felt for the bird. "It says in the Bible that God loves the sparrows. This is a finch, but I'm sure He loves finches, too."
"I know He does." Cheyenne took the box gently, worried over what she would find inside. "I'll take a look and see what we can do to help this little guy."
"She's a girl, or I hope she is. I named her Tomasina. Everybody needs a name." Julianna sniffled, doing her best to be brave and hold back her tears of concern. Her sister fought the same concern by lifting her chin as if she so did not care.
Cheyenne wasn't fooled. This was the sisters' third visit since she'd joined Dr. Cannon's practice. She understood what the girls could not say. She carefully placed the shoe box on the metal examining table and eased off the lid.
Tucked in the corner and huddled in a cozy bed made of a soft hand towela brand-new guest towel by the looks of itlay a baby goldfinch, tiny and fragile. Broken bits of down littered the towel. The creature trembled, terrified and in pain.
Julianna squeezed her eyes shut, her fingers steepling in prayer. Cheyenne could feel the force of it from where she stood, a child's pure, unselfish wish. Surely the good Lord would hear such an honorable request.
"Hey, Tomasina." She spoke softly, willing all the calmness she could into her voice. "It's good to meet you. I imagine you are really missing your mama."
The baby bird tilted its head to focus on her. The little heart beat wildly, tapping against the fluffy down on its breast. How terrifying this had to be and how alone the chick must feel.
"You are safe, little one." The finch was too young to fly and probably too paralyzed with fear to move. Tenderly, she scooped the tiny bundle into the palm of her hand and held it carefully so the bird felt secure. Sure enough, talon marks tracked around the exposed abdomen, puncturing the skin where claws had dug in. They didn't look too deep, but with such a tiny creature they didn't have to be.
"See, right here?" She took the time to hold the finch for Julianna's inspection. The girl came closer, eyes wide and bottom lip trembling when she saw the contusions. "That's where she's bleeding. I need to clean the wounds and tend them."
"She's not going to d-die?"
"I don't know, but I promise to take good care of her."
"I know you will." Julianna gently stroked the bird's soft head with the tip of her forefinger. "You've got to be all right, Tomasina. Be sure and do what Dr. Granger says."
The little girl was too cute. Cheyenne bit her lip. The bird in her hands relaxed a bit. Maybe the creature realized she was not in any danger or perhaps her fear was too overwhelming. She needed to get the little one into the back and cared for. "If you girls want to go home, I'll call you and let you know how she's doing."
"Will it be very long?" Julianna took charge of the abandoned shoe box and lid. "Can we stay?"
Hard to look into those big brown eyes and say no. "Go ahead and hang out in the waiting room but give your dad a call. He needs to know where you are. This could take a while."
"Oh! Dad." An "uh-oh" look puckered her adorable face. Julianna seemed to expect her father might not be pleased with this latest development.
Probably the dad feared he was about to be surprised with a vet bill. Well, she would waive the charges, just as she had before. The last thing she wanted was to make Julianna think she shouldn't step up and help God's creatures. She opened the door. While she hadn't officially met Dr. Stone yet, she'd heard good things about him. She had spotted him enough times around town, at Cady's inn and her sister's wedding to have gathered an impression about the man.
Serious. Subdued. Not exactly social. Striking, broad shoulders wait, where had that come from?
She saw the girls off in the direction of the waiting room before heading into the back with the bird huddled in her palm.
"The Stone kids again?" Ivy Tipple, their tech, looked up from checking on the black Lab in one of the kennels recovering from his emergency surgery, the blood pressure cuff in hand.
"How did you know?"
"Who else would bring in a baby bird, considering this economy and the cost of a vet bill? Do you need a hand?"
"No, go ahead and finish with Buster. He's looking much better." The Lab's tongue still lolled but his eyes were open.
"He's doing well. He's going to survive his fight with that coyote. Way to go, Buster." Ivy knelt to her work, catching the swish and pulse of the Lab's heart with the Doppler. The sound filled the back room, and Cheyenne gave thanks for the steady beat. The Lab had a close call.
"His blood pressure is not only up, it's perfect," Ivy announced. "You did good today, too, Doc."
"Just doin' my job." The one God had blessed her with. She opened the nearby cabinet with her free hand, sorting through the supplies she would need, praying she could make a difference for the little creature in her palm. She couldn't disappoint Julianna Stone with her big, soulful brown eyes.