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It was Monday, the worst day in the world to try to get a prescription filled. Behind the counter, the poor harassed male druggist was trying to field the telephone calls, fill prescriptions, answer questions from patrons and delegate duties to two assistants. It was always like this after the weekend, Cy Parks thought with resignation. Nobody wanted to bother the doctor on his days off, so they all waited until Monday to present their various complaints. Hence the rush on the Jacobsville Pharmacy. Michael, the pharmacist on duty, was smiling pleasantly despite the crush of customers, accustomed to the Monday madness.
That group putting off a visit to the doctor until Monday included himself, Cy mused. His arm was throbbing from an encounter with one of his angry Santa Gertru disbulls late on Friday afternoon. It was his left arm, too, the one that had been burned in the house fire back in Wyoming. The angry rip needed ten stitches, and Dr. "Copper" Coltrain had been irritated that Cy hadn't gone to the emergency room instead of letting it wait two days and risking gangrene. The sarcasm just washed right off; Coltrain could have saved his breath. Over the years, there had been so many wounds that Cy hardly felt pain anymore. With his shirt off, those wounds had been apparent to Coltrain, who wondered aloud where so many bullet wounds came from. Cy had simply looked at him, with those deep green eyes that could be as cold as Arctic air. Coltrain had given up.
Stitches in place, Coltrain had scribbled a prescription for a strong antibiotic and a painkiller and sent him on his way. Cy had given the prescription to the clerk ten minutes ago. He glanced around him at the prescription counter and thought he probably should have packed lunch and brought it with him.
He shifted from one booted foot to the other with noticeable impatience, his glittery green eyes sweeping the customers nearest the counter. They settled on a serene blond-haired woman studying him with evident amusement. He knew her. Most people in Jacobsville, Texas, did. She was Lisa Taylor Monroe. Her husband, Walt Monroe, an undercover narcotics officer with a federal agency, had recently been killed. He'd borrowed on his insurance policy, so there had been just enough money to bury him. At least Lisa had her small ranch, a legacy from her late father.
Cy's keen eyes studied her openly. She was sweet, but she'd never win any beauty contests. Her dark blond hair was always in a bun and she never put on makeup. She wore glasses over her brown eyes, plastic-framed ones, and her usual garb was jeans and a T-shirt when she was working around the ranch. Walt Monroe had loved the ranch, and during his infrequent visits home, he'd set out improving it. His ambitions had all but bankrupted it, so that Lisa was left after his death with a small savings account that probably wouldn't even pay the interest on the loans Walt had obtained.
Cy knew something about Lisa Monroe because she was his closest neighbor, along with Luke Craig, a rancher who was recently married to a public defender named Belinda Jessup. Mrs. Monroe there liked Charolais, he recalled. He wasn't any too fond of foreign cattle, having a purebred herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle, breeding bulls, which made him a profitable living. Almost as prosperous as his former sideline, he mused.
A good champion bull could pull upward of a million dollars on the market.
Lisa had no such livestock. Her Charolais cattle were steers, beef stock. She sold off her steer crop every fall, but it wouldn't do her much good now. She was too deeply in debt. Like most other people, he felt sorry for her. It was common gossip that she was pregnant, be cause in a small town like Jacobsville, everybody knew everything. She didn't look pregnant, but he'd over heard someone say that they could tell in days now, rather than the weeks such tests had once required. She must be just barely pregnant, he mused, because those tight jeans outlined a flat stomach and a figure that most women would covet.
But her situation was precarious. Pregnant, widowed and deeply in debt, she was likely to find herself homeless before much longer, when the bank was forced to foreclose on the property. Damned shame, he thought, when it had such potential for development.
She was clutching a boxed heating pad to her chest, waiting her turn in line at the second cash register at the pharmacy counter.
When Lisa was finally at the head of the line, she put down her heating pad on the counter and opened her purse.
"Another one, Lisa?" the young female clerk asked her with an odd smile.
She gave the other woman an irritated glance as she dug in her purse for her checkbook. "Don't you start, Bonnie," she muttered.
"How can I help it?" the clerk chuckled. "That's the third one this month. In fact, that's the last one we have in stock."
"I know that. You'd better order some more."
"You really need to do something about that dog," Bonnie suggested firmly.
"Hear, hear!" the other clerk, Joanne, seconded, peering at Lisa over her glasses.
"The puppy takes after his father," Lisa said defensively. He did, she mused. His father belonged to Tom Walker, and the mostly German shepherd dog, Moose, was a local legend. This pup was from the first litter he'd siredwithout Tom's knowledge or permission. "But he's going to be a lot of protection, so I guess it's a trade-off. How much is this?"
Bonnie told her, waited while she wrote the check, accepted it and processed it. "Here you go," she told the customer. She glanced down at the other woman's flat stomach. "When are you due?"
"Eight months and two weeks," Lisa said quietly, wincing as she recalled that her husband, away from home and working undercover, had been killed the very night after she'd conceived, if Dr. Lou Coltrain had his numbers right. And when had Lou ever missed a due date? He was uncanny at predicting births.
"You've got that Mason man helping you with the ranch." Bonnie interrupted her thoughts. "You shouldn't need a dog with him there. Can't he protect you?"
"He only comes on the weekends," Lisa replied.
Bonnie frowned. "Luke Craig sent him out there, didn't he? But he said the man was supposed to spend every night in the bunkhouse!"
"He visits his girlfriend most nights," Lisa said irritably. "And better her than me! He doesn't bathe!"
Bonnie burst out laughing. "Well, there's one bright side to it. If he isn't staying nights, you only have to pay him for the weekends Lisa," she added when she saw the guilty expression on the other woman's face, "you aren't still paying him for the whole week?"
Lisa flushed. "Don't," she said huskily.
"Sorry." Bonnie handed her a receipt. "It's just I hate the way you let people take advantage of you, that's all. There are so many rotten people in the world, and you're a walking, talking benevolence society."
"Rotten people aren't born, they're made," Lisa told her. "He isn't a bad man, he just didn't have a proper upbringing."
"Oh, good God!" Cy said harshly, glaring at her, having kept his mouth shut as long as possible without imploding. The woman's compassion hit him on a raw spot and made him furious.
Lisa's eyes were brown, big and wide and soft through the plastic frames of her glasses. "Excuse me?"
"Are you for real?" he asked curtly. "Listen, people dig their own graves and they climb into them. Nothing excuses cruelty."
"You tell her!" Bonnie said, agreeing.
Lisa recognized her taciturn neighbor from a previous encounter, long ago. He'd come right up to her when she'd been pitching hay over the fence to her cat tle one day and told her outright that she should leave heavy work to her husband. Walt hadn't liked that comment, not at all. It had only been a few days after he'd let her do the same thing while he flirted with a pretty blond parcel delivery employee. Worse, Walt thought that Lisa had encouraged Cy's interference somehow and they'd had a fightnot the first in their very brief marriage. She didn't like the tall man and her expression told him so. "I wasn't talking to you," she pointed out. "You don't know anything about my business."
His eyebrows rose half an inch. "I know that you overpay the hired help." He looked pointedly at her flat belly. "And that you're the last person who should be looked upon as a walking benevolence society."
"Hear, hear!" Joanne said again from behind Bonnie.
Lisa glared at her. "You can be quiet," she said.
"Let your erstwhile employee go," he told her. "I'll send one of my men over to spend nights in the bunk-house. Bonnie's right about one thing, you don't need to be by yourself after dark in such a remote place."
"I don't need your help," she said, glowering at him.
"Yes, you do. Your husband wouldn't have liked having you try to run that ranch alone," he added quietly, even though he didn't mean it, and he hoped that his dis taste for the late Walt Monroe didn't show. He still recalled watching Lisa heft a huge bale of hay while her husband stood not ten paces away flirting with a pretty blond woman. It was a miracle she hadn't miscarried, the way she hefted heavy things around. He wondered if she even knew the chance she was taking
She was looking at him with different eyes now. The concern touched her despite her hostility. She sighed. "I guess you're right," she said softly. "He wouldn't have."
He hated the way that softness made him feel. He'd lost so much. Everything. He wouldn't admit, even to himself, how it felt to have those dark eyes look at him with tenderness. He swallowed down the ache in his throat.
She let her gaze fall to his arm, the one that had just been stitched, and her soft gasp was audible. "You've been hurt!"
"Two prescriptions, Mr. Parks," Bonnie said with a grin, holding up a prescription sack. She bent to pick up the package, a strand of her short blond hair falling around her pretty bespectacled face. "And Dr. Coltrain said that if you don't take this pain medication, he'll have me flogged," she added impishly.
"We can't have that, I guess," Cy murmured dryly.
"Glad you agree." She accepted his credit card as Lisa turned to go.
"You drive into town?" Cy asked the widow.
"Uh, well, no, the car's got a broken water pump," she confessed. "I rode in with old Mr. Murdock."
"He'll be at the lodge meeting until midnight," he pointed out.
"Just until nine. I thought I'd go to the library and wait."
"You need your rest," Cy said curtly. "No sense in waiting until bedtime for a ride. I'll drive you home. It's on my way."
"Go with him," Bonnie said firmly as she waited for Cy to put his credit card back into his wallet and sign the ticket. "Don't argue," she added when Lisa opened her mouth. "I'll phone the lodge and tell Mr. Murdock you got a ride."
"Were you ever in the army?" Cy asked the young woman with a rare twinkle in his green eyes.
She grinned. "Nope. But it's their loss."
"Amen," he said.
"Mr. Parks " Lisa began, trying to escape.
Cy took her arm, nodded to Bonnie and herded Lisa out of the pharmacy onto the street where his big red Ford Expedition was parked. On the way they ran into the second pharmacist, a dark-eyed woman with equally dark hair.
"Hi, Nancy!" Lisa said with a grin.
Nancy gave a gamine smile. "Don't tell me, the line's two miles long already."
"Three. Want to go home with me?" Lisa asked.
Nancy sighed. "Don't I wish. See you!"
Nancy went on toward the pharmacy and Lisa turned back to let Cy open the door of the Expedition for her. "Imagine you with a red vehicle," she said dryly. "I would have expected black."
"It was the only one they had in stock and I was in a hurry. Here." He helped her up into the huge vehicle.