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Maddie Kincaid loved the rodeo atmosphere. Sitting on her horse, Fanchon, because they would be performing in the barrel racing event in a few minutes, Maddie basked in the noise from the stands, the sounds of the horses and bulls in the holding pens and the mixture of odors, from hot popcorn to the sweat of nervous animals. Even Fanchon, or Fanny, as the mare was more commonly called, evidenced excitement.
With her gloved hand Maddie stroked Fanny's neck and murmured, "Hold on, girl. We're up next. Stay calm."
Her touch always soothed the beautiful gray quarter horse mare, and Maddie let her gaze drift around to the men and women in jeans, boots and big hats awaiting their events. She could hear snatches of conversations and recognized the same thrill of competition in their voices that she felt in the pit of her stomach.
A roar went up in the stands, and Maddie heard over the loudspeaker that Janie Weston had knocked over a barrel during her race, which meant that if Maddie made a good ride, she would again win the trophy and the purse. Barrel racing was Maddie's specialty, and she could fill a small room with trophies, if she had a room. But her home was a long trailer that she pulled with a one-ton pickup truck. And so whenever she was in Austin, Texas, as she was now, she would go to her rented storage space and unload the trophies that she'd picked up since her last visit.
Maddie never let herself get overly confident, nor did she ever even think hallelujah when her toughest competitor knocked herself out of the race. It could happen so easily, and it had happened to Maddie a time or two. Besides, rodeo contestants were, for the most part, good sports and great people. Maddie knew a lot of them by name, especially those that followed the rodeo circuit, as she did.
Janie rode from the arena with a downcast expression, but when Maddie's name was announced as the next contestant, she sent Maddie a thumbs-up.
Maddie acknowledged Janie's courtesy with a smile and a nod and urged Fanny forward. At the starting post, she again touched Fanny and spoke quietly. In seconds the blare of the starting horn put both Fanchon and Maddie into action. At lightning speed Fanny circled the first barrel and then the second. Every movement made by Fanny and Maddie was smooth and necessary. Maddie's mind was totally focused on her race against the clock, and she barely heard the crowd now.
Then something happened. Fanchon took a sudden nose dive and Maddie went flying. She landed hard on her right side and blacked out.
The crowd fell silent, and the announcer didn't have to shout to be heard. "Folks, Miss Maddie Kincaid ran into a bit of trouble. As you can see, the medics are putting her on a stretcher. They'll see to it that Maddie is well cared for. I'll keep y'all posted."
The rodeo continued, but Maddie knew nothing for a good ten minutes. When she came to she was in an ambulance with a wailing siren, lying on her back with an IV needle in her arm and an attendant watching her vital signs.
"Fanchon," she said weakly.
"Your horse? She's fine. Not even a scratch."
"Are you sure?"
Maddie closed her eyes. She couldn't find a spot on her body that didn't hurt and finally whispered, "Pain."
"Yes, I know," the attendant said. "There's a mild sedative in your IV drip, but we can't give you anything stronger until you're checked for concussion. Try to relax."
The rest of Maddie's trip to the hospital was spent in "trying to relax." But her body hurt like hell and her mind was clouded just enough to make sudden, clear thoughts jump out at herespecially any thought pertaining to Fanny. After all, when the man in the white suit didn't know if she had a concussion or not, would he tell her the truth if Fanny had been seriously injured in their fall?
Being transported from ambulance to emergency room was fast and little more than a blur for Maddie. Then began the testsa battery of themand finally a pain shot that did some good. She went out like a light and woke up hours later in a hospital gown and bed. Her brain was fuzzy, and she was thirsty enough to drink water from a horse troughright along with the animals.
It seemed like a simple matter to get the tall glass of water she could see on the stand next to the bed, but when she tried to raise her right arm, it refused to cooperate. She finally lifted it high enough to see the thick blue fabric encasing her hand and lower arm. She knew what it wasa soft cast. She'd broken something. Not her wrist, because that would be in a hard cast. She'd seen many casts and bandages during her rodeo career. Banged-up cowboys and cowgirls were not a rarity, but this was Maddie's first accident that had put her in a hospital bed.
She rang for the nurse, and in a minute or so one came in. "You're awake. Good. What do you need, hon?"
"Some water, which I can't seem to reach for myself, and maybe a rundown on what else is broken besides my arm."
The nurse held the glass so Maddie could suck water through the straw. "Your arm's not broken, hon, it's a couple of little bones in your hand. You have no other fractures, but your entire right side is badly bruised."
"I feel awful," Maddie said in a whispery unsteady voice.
The nurse checked her watch. "You're due for another pain shot. I'll get it." She hurried out and returned almost at once with a syringe. "You have to turn a bit so I can reach your hip."
Turning even a "bit" was unbelievably painful for Maddie. In comparison, the sting of the needle was nothing.
"Your doctor will be in to see you sometime this evening," she said before leaving.
Maddie was already drifting off again, only alert enough to be glad about the doctor. She had questions, or she'd had questions when the nurse had talked so briefly about her injuries. Maybe she would remember them when the doctor appeared this evening. She hoped so.
As it turned out, the doctor showed up around four-thirty that afternoon. "I'm Dr. Upton," he said while reading the notations on what Maddie supposed was her chart. Finished with that he sat on the one chair near her bed. "How're you feeling?"
"I hurt," she said bluntly, if with very little force behind the two words. Along with varying degrees of pain from her head to her legs, she felt horribly weak, but had to find out everything she could about her injuries.
Dr. Upton nodded. "I don't doubt it. You took quite a spill, young woman. It's somewhat of a miracle that all you broke were two small bones in one hand. It's the hand you landed on, of course. Your abrasions were caused from being dragged through the dirt."
"Dragged? By what?"
"By your horse."
"Fanchon is a gentle mare and would never drag me!" The doctor smiled indulgently. "Sorry, Maddie," he said gently, "but that's exactly what happened."
"Then she was afraid."
"Possibly. Undoubtedly," he added. "She was falling, as well. Fear is only natural in that instance."
"Where is she? Do you know?"
"I knew that would be your first question once you were lucid, so I made some phone calls to find out. Fanchon is stabled at the rodeo grounds. She's fine and so will you be in time."
"In time?" Maddie repeated suspiciously. "How much time?" She should be on the road right now, heading for Abilene and the next major rodeo on the circuit calendar.
"I'd say at least a month." Dr. Upton got to his feet and began writing on the chart. "Even small bones take time to knit, Maddie, and I believe you'll require some physical therapy on that hand once the healing process reaches a certain stage. Now, I'd like you to stay here through tomorrow night, so we can keep an eye out for infection. If all goes well, I'll release you the following morning."
"Infection? In my hand?"
"Maddie, your right side is one huge abrasion from your forehead to midcalf. We had to pick minute pieces of gravel out of your skin with medical tweezers. There are antibiotics in your IV and antibiotic salve under the dressings on the worst of your injuries. You've also been given a rabies shot because of incurring open wounds around horses. Infection is a very real threat and " He saw the horror in Maddie's eyes. "You haven't looked in a mirror yet? You've been up."
"Twice, according to the nurses' notes on the chart. To use the bathroom, Maddie. You don't remember?"
"Well, your pain medication is quite powerful. I'm going to keep you on it tonight and then change it to a less potent drug in the morning. A nurse will be in later to check your dressings. I'll see you in the morning."
Maddie was in shock. She could handle a broken hand, but abrasions from her forehead to the middle of her calf? That, of course, was where her leg started being protected by her sturdy riding boot. "My God," she whispered. Was she going to be disfigured?
Maddie clenched her good fist and told herself differently. Dr. Upton hadn't even hinted at disfigurement, and she was not going to lie in this bed and imagine the worst.
But she was going to be laid up and useless for a month. "No!" she whispered. A whole month of doing nothing? She'd go nuts!
A dinner tray was brought in then, and Maddie looked at the cup of bouillon, the small bowl of green gelatin and another cup containing hot water for tea with very little interest. In the first place she wasn't hungry, and if she were, it wouldn't be for bouillon.
If she were a weepy type of woman, she'd lie there and bawl.
But she wasn't a crybaby, she was a doer, and she was not going to be an invalid for four miserable weeks, she simply wasn't!
The few times Maddie woke up in the night, she worried about her horse. When she came wide awake at six, she figured out that her pain medication must have been reduced during the night, because her head was clearer than it had been since the accident. Instantly, although in severe physical discomfort, she again worried about Fanny. Was a responsible person feeding her? Making sure she had fresh water? Taking her outside for exercise?
Barrel racing demanded total unity between horse and rider, and Maddie had no doubt that Fanchon was the deciding factor in her success in the arena. Without Fanny, Maddie knew she would be just another rodeo hopeful. Along with loving Fanny with all her heart, the quarter horse was extremely valuable monetarily, and what if someone should steal her from the rodeo grounds?
Maddie shuddered. She had to get out of this hospital today. Dr. Upton had said that if all went well he would release her tomorrow morning. That wasn't good enough for Maddie. She was not going to lie here all day and worry.
And so, when breakfast was deliveredsolid food this morningMaddie forced every bite of a bowl of sticky oatmeal down her throat and drank her glass of orange juice like a good little girl. When a nurse asked how she was feelingit had been a long time since her last pain shotMaddie lied and said, "Much, much better, thank you."
The nurse unhooked her IV and then brought in some pills. Maddie asked what they were and the nurse replied, "The blue one is an antibiotic, the white one is for pain."
"I'm only going to take the antibiotic," Maddie said with a hopeful little smile. "Is that all right? If I was in pain but I'm not and "
The nurse frowned. "No pain at all?"
"Very mild discomfort. Not nearly enough to knock myself out with pain medication, and even if the pill isn't that strong, I really detest that fuzzy-headed feeling I get from sedatives."
"Well all right, but you are to ring at once if you start hurting."
"Oh, I will."
The charade was more difficult when bath time rolled around. "I can do it myself, really," Maddie told the young woman who came in to give her a bed bath. The woman finally believed her and left, and Maddie soon learned how inept she was with her left hand. She hurt so badly that she nearly rang for that pill a dozen times. Gritting her teeth throughout the ordeal, she bathed herself and struggled into a fresh nightgown. Exhausted and not daring to show it, she waited for the young nurse to return and check her abrasions.
This time Maddie asked for a mirror, which was brought to her. "Oh, my God," she whispered when she saw the right side of her face.
"It looks worse than it is because it was painted with red antiseptic," the young nurse told her. "It's all up and down your right side. See?"
Maggie saw all right, and her heart felt heavy as lead. "Will it wear off?"
"Of course it will. When you're strong enough to take showers, it will disappear in a few days. You're healing nicely, Maddie. My orders for this morning are to apply antibiotic cream to your abrasions but to leave them uncovered."
"There's no sign of infection, then?"
"None at all." The young nurse was finishing up. "Dr. Upton will be in to see you, probably within the hour." She left the room.
Maddie closed her eyes. Weepy type of woman or not, she truly felt like bawling. She looked like a character in a horror movie!
Even terribly uncomfortable she dozed. She opened her eyes when Dr. Upton said, "No pain medication today, Maddie?"
"Hello," she said with as much normalcy as she could muster. "Should I take a drug I don't need?"
"No, you shouldn't, but I have to question why you don't need it." He checked her chart for another minute or so, then set it down on the foot of the bed and bent over her. "Look at the far corner of the room," he instructed and then beamed light into her eyes with what appeared to Maddie as a slender little flashlight.
"What's that for?" she asked.
"Just a precaution. I'm glad to see that there's still no sign of concussion. You were very fortunate, young woman."
He'd said that before, Maddie thought somewhat resentfully. Would he think himself fortunate if it were he lying in this bed with more bruises than a map had roads, hurting something awful and not daring to show it because he had to convince a doctor that he was well enough to get out of here today, instead of tomorrow?
He was writing on the chart, and she knew it was a forerunner to his leaving. Panic assailed her, but before she could ask for an early release, he said, "You're doing remarkably well. Keep this up and you'll be going home in the morning."