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"You're pregnant, Hayley." Kindly old Dr. Gerrard looked over the top of his half glasses at the young woman seated on the examining table. "Given your circumstances, my dear, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings."
Hayley Ryan stopped pleating folds in the loose-fitting paper gown and gasped as she spread both hands protectively across her stomach. "But I I've been losing weight. Not gaining. Are you sure your diagnosis is correct?"
The doctor patted Hayley's suntanned hand. "My practice here in Tombstone may be winding down, child, but I haven't been wrong in predicting blessed events in thirty years. Why, twenty-six years ago your mama sat in this very room, asking the same question." He chuckled. "Nine months later out you popped."
"I didn't mean to imply that that you don't know what you're doing." Hayley swallowed hard to keep from crying. "It's just that this isn't the best time in my life to be learning I'll soon have another mouth to feed. I'm not sure how I'll take care of myself let alone a baby."
Dr. Gerrard sobered at once. "I know. Gossip's running rampant about how your husband left town with that sassy-faced Cindy Trent from the nail-painting place." The doctor removed his glasses and gazed with unfocused sympathy into Hay-ley's turbulent eyes. "What kind of man, I'd like to know, leaves his wife while she's still grieving from burying her grandpa? I said it before, girl, and I'll say it againJoe Ryan's worse than a snake-oil salesman."
Hayley glanced away. She could do without having that fact driven home. A little more than a year ago, Grandpa O'Dell and many of his friends had cautioned her against marrying Joe. If she had a dime for every person in Tombstone who'd warned her Joe Ryan was the kind of guy who blew into town on his own wind and would likely blow out the same way, she wouldn't be sitting here now, alone and worrying about how to feed herself and the baby Joe had planted before he pulled his vanishing act. "It's easier for me to see now that Joe only married me so he could get his hands on the Silver Cloud mine," Hayley murmured.
"Big Ben O'Dell would turn over in his grave if he knew that four-flushing louse stole his mine and left you in this fix."
"What's done is done. There's no use crying over it, Dr. Gerrard." Even as the words left Hayley's lips, tears slid down her cheeks.
"I still can't believe Joe and that floozy forged your name on the Silver Cloud's deed. Wasn't more'n six months ago that Ben told me he felt so poorly he'd decided to sign it to you. Joe was sittin' right here. If you ask me, that's when the lowlife hatched his plan."
"Probably so. Then I suppose you could say I brought this mess on myself," she said glumly. "Gramps didn't like Joe to drive him to his breathing treatments. That day, Dee Dee Johnson phoned and asked me to go to the gem show in Tucson with her. I'd never been to a gem show, even though I've lived in Arizona all my life. I practically begged Joe to take Gramps for me."
"Don't be taking the blame, girl. Joe's the bad apple. He and that deputy-sheriff pal of his would steal a ladder off a firetruck if they thought they could melt it down and sell it for a dollar."
"You don't mean Shad Tilford?" Hayley frowned.
"The very same."
"He he's in charge of my complaint. Sheriff Bonner assigned Shad to my case when I asked the law to go after Joe for half the money from the mine sale. Shad hasn't been very helpful. He insinuated it was Joe's right, as my husband, to sell the Silver Cloud. He finally said he'd issue a warrant to bring Joe in for questioning."
"Humph! I'll wager Tilford got a cut of the money Joe received from the deal. I've suspected for some time that our deputy's a little shady. How he ever wound up wearing a badge is beyond me."
"Francesca said he was an L.A. city cop before he came to Tombstone."
"Just 'cause a chicken's got wings don't mean it can fly. I know Francesca has her fingers in a lot of pies in town, but how does she know Tilford didn't dummy up those fancy recommendations he flashed at the city council meeting?"
Francesca Portolo was one of the former lady friends of Big Ben O'Dell, and as such, she'd had a hand in raising Hayley. Hayley's dad had died in a mining accident when she was only a few weeks old. When she was three, her mother succumbed to breast cancer. Hayley's maternal grandfather, Ben O'Dell, a local prospector who'dmore than oncelost his shirt mining for silver, gold and copper, became guardian and caretaker of his grandchild. He, in turn, relied on the women who fostered dreams of becoming the second Mrs. Ben O'Dell to raise Hayley.
She had a soft spot in her heart for all of them, but Francesca, owner of the local fabric store, had taught Hayley how to sew and cook. In addition, she'd shown a lonely little girl tricks she needed to know about becoming a woman. So Hayley tended to believe Francesca.
"Like I said, Dr. Gerrard, I'm in a fix and it's not likely to change. Gramps had more downs than ups, but he was never a quitter. Nor am I. To tell you the truth, I'm relieved to hear it's a baby making me sick and not cancer, like killed Mama. If my health's otherwise okay, I'll get by without Joe."
"You're fit as a fiddle, Hayley, though a mite on the skinny side. Ask Esther at the front desk for the booklet I give all my prospective mothers. Tells you pretty much everything you need to know about prenatal care. Follow the book's advice and eat right. You'll have a healthy baby."
"Thanks, Dr. Gerrard. I guess my biggest worry, then, is how to earn the money to keep the rent paid, eat right and pay for my delivery."
"Your grandpa and I went back a long way. I'll arrange terms to make it easy on you, Hayley. Tell Esther that, too."
Hayley smiled, the first real smile since her grandfather's chronic asthma facilitated a persistent bacterial pneumonia from which he never recovered. Thank God, she thought, the world still held a few good men like Dr. Gerrard.
As Hayley left the clinic with the booklet and a supply of prenatal vitamins clutched in her hand, she set her sights on doing whatever was necessary to make a life for herself and the new life growing inside her.
Which seemed easier said than done when she returned home and found the mail had brought overdue notices on her utilities. Not only that, rent on the house was due in three days. She phoned Sheriff Bonner and voiced her concerns about Shad. Bonner said she had to be patient. They'd issued a warrant for Joe. It seemed he'd disappeared.
On hanging up, Hayley reviewed her options. She had the thousand dollars' guilt money Joe had left on the kitchen table. In the note he'd clipped to it, he'd said the money should tide her over until she found work. Of course, Joe ignored the fact that in a community-property state, he owed her half of the two hundred and fifty thousand he'd received from a mining consortium. Even so, it wasn't his taking the money that hurt so much. It was his betrayal. Never very outgoing, Hayley hadn't made a lot of friends her own age before Joe had come to town selling mining explosives. She'd been flattered by his interest. He was good-looking and charismatic. And he'd centered his attention on her.
Gramps had said disparaging things about Joe. So had several of the old-timers in town. Now Hayley wished she'd listened. But no one, especially not Gramps, understood how lonely she'd been for most of her life. Ben O'Dell had been a tough old codger who liked his solitude. He often took off for weeks on end, prospecting. When he was home, he was preoccupied with the Silver Cloud mine.
Mining was virtually all Hayley knew, too. And mining was tough. There hadn't been money for college at the time she graduated from high school. While her contemporaries moved on, Hayley had been stuck in Tombstone. Was it any wonder that at twenty-five, she'd latched on to Joe like a drowning woman with a life preserver? It was painful now to admit she'd been hoodwinkedthat she'd been stupidly trusting despite all the warnings.
Not a chance she'd make that mistake again. No, siree! Hayley Ryan was through with men. Anyway, she had bigger worries now. A thousand dollars wouldn't pay two months' rent, let alone keep up with utilities and buy food.
She needed a long-term plan. She needed a job. But doing what? Hayley drew stars on the back of her electric bill. Shoot, she didn't have a lot of skills, and Tombstone wasn't exactly a job mecca. Sometimes months went by without an opening being listed in the paper. If she knew anyone in Tucson or Phoenix, she could go there, where unskilled jobs were more plentiful. Thing was, she didn't even have transportation. Joe had traded in his car and Ben's sedan on a flashy convertibleor so she'd heard. The pencil lead broke as she bore down on the last star.
Idly she sorted a stack of bills while gazing blankly around at the meager accumulation of a lifetime. Dinnertime came, but she had no appetite. Although now she had to think about someone besides herself. The first item in Dr. Gerrard's prenatal care booklet said to eat nutritious meals.
Hayley finally settled on a salad with some grated cheese for protein. She was in the middle of halfheartedly tearing apart limp lettuce when someone knocked timidly on her door.
For a moment her stomach pitched. Had Joe repented? As quickly, Hayley knew she'd never take him back even if he crawled in on hands and knees.
It wasn't him she saw, anyway, as she peeped through the window beside the door. It was Virgil Coleman, one of her grandfather's retired mining buddies.
"Virgil, hi," she greeted the crusty gentleman who stood on the porch, crumpling a battered hat between his gnarled hands.
"Hate to bother you, little lady, you being in mourning and all." The old fellow carefully picked his way through condolences, as men his age were prone to do. Clearing his throat, he added, "My oldest boy, Hank, is coming tomorrow to move me up to his place in Flagstaff. We're putting my property up for sale. I wondered if you'd mind moving Ben's old pickup and camp trailer out of my shed? The Realtor said I gotta clean the place up."
"Pickup and camp trailer? I thought all of Gramps's equipment went to the consortium that bought the mine."
"Ben never used this stuff at the Silver Cloud. It's his prospecting outfit. In fact, the whole kit and caboodle was once your dad's. So I guess you know it's old. Truck still runs okay, though."
"I'd forgotten those things." Hayley could barely contain her excitement. "The unit is self-contained, right?"
When Virgil scratched the fringe of hair that ringed his bald pate, Hayley elaborated. "I mean, the trailer has a kitchen, bedroom and bathroom, doesn't it?"
"About the size of a postage stamp, but yep. Once Big Ben stepped inside, he filled the place. I reckon it served his purpose, though. A man huntin' ore travels light. He made do with it when he worked his claim down Ruby way."
"Waitare you saying Gramps had a mine other than the Silver Cloud?"
"Not a mine, but a claim site."
Hayley was floored by the news. And thrilled. And suddenly hopeful. "A duly registered claim?" she asked, her heart beginning to flutter excitedly.
Virgil stammered a bit. "'Spect so. Don't rightly know. If Ben worked it, I knowed he'd have filed right and proper."
"A name, Virgil." She grabbed the old man's scrawny wrist. "If you know what he called his claim, I can find the location in the recorder's office."
Shaking his head, the old man backed out the door. "Wish I could help you more, missy. Ben was real secretive about that claim. So can I tell Hank you'll pick up the truck and trailer tomorrow or the next day?"
"Yes. You bet. Virgil, you just made my day." Hayley flung her arms around his wasted shoulders and gave him a resounding kiss on his leathery cheek. Typical of an old miner, Virgil blushed and hurriedly stammered out a goodbye.
Hayley spent only a moment hugging herself in glee and dancing around the room. Then she went to the one place she thought her grandfather might have kept a record of the claim. The same antique strongbox where he'd stored the deed that Joe had stolen. But even if Joe had found placer or lode claims for the Ruby site, she'd still have the pickup and trailer.
As she took down the box with hands that shook, Hayley recalled reading a magazine in Dr. Gerrard's office about campers who parked their RVs for free out on the desert near Quartzsite. If nothing else, it'd be a place she could live rent-free until the baby arrived. A place where she could stretch the money Joe had left her.