It was love at first sight. When Wolf Hayward and Molly Donivan gazed into each other’s eyes in a crowded train station during the Civil War, they knew they were meant to be—and sealed their commitment with a passionate kiss. He promised to find her after the war—until he realized she was the daughter of a Union General when he was a Southern spy behind enemy lines. But he’ll never forget her and Molly will pledge to wait for the man she only knows as “Benjamin.”
Eight years later, Wolf—now a Texas ranger—is chasing down some outlaws when he is struck down by a falling signpost—and wakes up to see the beautiful woman he has never forgotten. Molly doesn’t recognize him as the handsome soldier who swept her away so long ago, but she can’t help being intrigued by his kindness and charm. And she can’t help imagining what it’s like to be in his arms after the sun goes down...
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The air on a windy july day in Austin, Texas, had a way of weighing down against a man's skin, heavy as a river made of sand. Wolf Hayward felt the thin layer of grit around his eyes crease as he squinted into the sun.
"Tuesday," he mumbled, pulling his handcuffed prisoner off a horse. If possible the man was dirtier than he. "I think it's Tuesday, Francis, but I can't be sure."
The prisoner shook like a long-haired dog, creating his own personal dust cloud. "Call me Francis again, Captain, and I'll have to escape just to kill you. Ain't no one but my mother ever called me that, and I let her live 'cause she could cook. Can't say the same for you, Hayward."
"I haven't heard you complain about the grub all week." Wolf checked the wrist chains one last time before they started down the street and into civilization. Francis Digger might be congenial enough right now, but Wolf had seen the man turn to killer in the blink of an eye. Francis and his brother had been in Texas since before the war. For years, they'd stuck to robbing their own kind. But with the state's new growth, they'd taken to bothering respectable folks. Their last stagecoach robbery left two passengers dead and the driver without the use of one arm.
"It weren't that your cooking's so bad." Francis followed behind Wolf, the chains allowing him little freedom. "It was just monotonous. Beans and sourdough twice a day for a week kind of makes a man long for a little variety. Ever' night I fell asleep knowing what Ididn't finish for supper, I'd face at breakfast."
"Well, they'll give you whatever you want to eat before they hang you." Wolf watched the street. If Francis's brother planned to free him, there were only a few minutes left. In a hundred feet, the cold-blooded killer would be safely locked away in jail, and there were enough Texas Rangers in Austin to make sure that's where he stayed.
The buckskin-clad prisoner swore as he raised his nose like a wild animal smelling trouble. "Tuesday, you say. Hell, it don't matter to me, but you oughta know the day you're going to die, Captain Hayward."
Wolf chuckled. "I got you this far, didn't I? In a few steps you'll be in jail, and I'll be having my first drink in a month. If your brother planned to save you, he would have done it long before now."
Wolf pulled the prisoner along the covered walk. Signs advertising each business hung so low Wolf had to bend his huge frame slightly as they moved toward the jail. He glanced into the new mercantile as they passed. Austin was growing so fast, he couldn't keep up with the stores. At the end of the war, cattle grazed in the streets; now stores popped up fast as weeds once had.
Two ladies strolled by. They stared at him, from his hairy face to his knee-high leather moccasins, and giggled as they quickly moved along. Wolf realized he no longer fit in. He hadn't reached thirty, but he felt like an old man. He now looked more like a drifter than an officer of the law. Four years ago when he landed here in Texas, this had been the place for him. Wild, and rough. A state where a man's history didn't matter as much as his strength and skill with a gun.
But now there were new businesses and respectable ladies. Austin had more permanent buildings than he could count. Curtains even framed the drugstore they moved past.
He glanced in the window at the line of bottles circling a mortar and pestle. For a moment he stared at the sun glistening off the display. Then, like a vision from an old nightmare, Wolf saw the reflection of Francis's brother, Carrell Digger, in the window. The older Digger was crouched in the shadows between two buildings across the street.
As the wavy vision raised a rifle, Wolf reacted with lightning movements. With a mighty heave, he swung Francis by his handcuffs into the glass storefront and twisted to face Carrell with his Colt already springing to action.
Gunfire shattered the air. The women and Francis screamed. Glass fell like crystal rain into the sunlight. The ambusher crumpled, his second shot striking metal just above Wolf's head.
Wolf had no time to exhale with relief or see if Francis was all right. A shingle flew from above and struck him hard across the forehead.
As the huge lawman folded to his knees, the remaining chain holding the pharmacy sign snapped. The sign hit the walk only seconds before he did.
The last thing Wolf Hayward saw before his world went black was Molly Donivan's name carved on the sign with the word alchemist below it.
Molly Donivan, the one name he'd spent a war and what seemed like half his life trying to forget.
Memories danced in the blackness of his consciousness, drowning out the hard thud of his head against the walk.
First only as shadows, then clearer in his mind's eye, came a vision from the past.
"Pardon me, miss," he whispered to an angel dressed in Union blue. Hundreds moved around them at the crowded Philadelphia train station. New recruits anxious to go to war, returning heroes, families whispering tearful good-byes and crying heartfelt greetings.
She met his stare with shy green eyes.
He couldn't tell her he'd watched her all morning as she moved among the arriving wounded. He'd never be able to explain how each time she touched a soldier in comfort, he'd felt a longing grow within him. Or how the sight of her warmed his heart as though he'd known he'd always find her.
"You don't know me...." He stumbled over words. "There's no time, and I don't know if you'll believe me." He loved the way she faced him so directly. The intelligence in her gaze shook him to the core. He rushed ahead. "But my name is Benjamin and I know I've been looking for you all my life."
A train whistle sounded, rippling the air with impatience. Smoke swirled around them. He felt suddenly uncomfortable in his blue uniform with the shiny lieutenant's bars on the collar. Strangers rushed in streams on either side.
"I have to board. This is my train." He smiled down at her, memorizing her face. "But I must have your name before I go. I'll carry it with me until this war is over. Then I'll find you. I swear, I'll find you." He knew he sounded desperate, but he didn't care. She wasn't someone he could see once and forget.
"Molly," she whispered, then shouted above the crowd. "Molly Donivan."
A soldier running to board pushed him closer to her. "Molly," he whispered only an inch from her cheek. "Do you believe in love at first sight?"
Young, innocent eyes studied his face. "I'm starting to," she answered as her fingers lightly brushed across his heart.
Before he could stop himself, he kissed her boldly, wildly, in front of hundreds of people. Heaven exploded in his mind as she moved into his embrace, and he realized she was kissing him back.
She was tall, willow thin, and made for his arms.
The whistle sounded again. Urgent now. Steam poured from the train as the mighty iron horse began to move. There was no time. He had to go. But for a second he wasn't sure he could release her.
She slowly stepped back without a word, her eyes sparkling with tears. There was no need, no time for words. Somehow in a moment they both knew what they'd found ... what they were about to lose.
He ran frantically, catching the last steps of the now moving train. "Wait for me, Molly Donivan," he yelled above all the noise. "For I'll love you until my heart beats no more."
She touched her fingers to her lips as tears bubbled onto her cheeks.
He patted the side of the train as though it were a horse that had waited for him and now had to run. Just before he lost sight of her, a general stepped to her side. It took him a moment to place the older man. General Donivan! One of a handful of Union doctors he'd been watching. She had to be the general's daughter!
The realization slammed against his heart with the impact of a fully powered locomotive.
She was a general's daughter, and he ... he was a Southern spy deep behind enemy lines, dressed in Union blue. For a moment, he'd forgotten the war and his mission.
Wolf fought the memory from eight years ago as voices intruded into his brain. He could have gone back and found her somehowif it had only been time and space that stood between them. But a war separated them. He'd known as she disappeared from his sight he could never return to her. Not to Molly Donivan. Not to a general's daughter.
Shouts grew louder, pulling Wolf back fully to the present.
"Move him out of the way while I see to the man in chains," a woman proclaimed.
Wolf opened his eyes slowly as a skirt brushed the side of his face. A tall lady in black stood above him, issuing orders to everyone.
"We'll see to the prisoner, ma'am!" someone shouted. "You see what you can do for our captain."
The skirt tickled his face again. "This mountain of mud and hair is a Texas Ranger?" the woman asked.
Josh Weston leaned down. "Yes, ma'am, Captain Wolf Hayward. One of the best, but unfortunately he don't clean up much prettier." Josh laughed and stepped over Wolf. "I doubt a board hitting him over the head could do much damage, but you might want to see to it before he bleeds all over your porch."
Before Wolf could stand and put the young ranger in his place, the woman knelt beside him.
Intelligent green eyes locked with his.
"Molly," he whispered, matching a memory with reality.
"That's right," she answered. "I'm Molly Donivan. Dr. Molly Donivan. If you'll lie still, I'll see what I can do about that cut."
Her fingers brushed his forehead, pushing hair away from the wound.
Wolf closed his eyes and reached for her as he'd tried to reach for a memory for eight years.
Molly screamed as she tumbled atop him. He held fast until her punches hurt enough to register that maybe she didn't want his hug. Groaning like an animal, he released her.
She wiggled to a sitting position atop him. "Stop that!" she ordered as she shoved his arm to the walk beside his head.
He made no effort to move.
"Be still and behave yourself, or I'll hit you with the board across the other side of your head, Captain."
He stared into her angry green eyes and fought down a laugh. His Molly had matured into one headstrong woman, full of fight and fire.
"Nice job." Josh Weston squatted beside them, his clean-shaven face dimpling with his wide smile. "You always sit on your patients, Doc?"
Molly quickly scooted off Wolf. "When they don't cooperate."
Wolf didn't miss the way she lifted her chin. She was not a woman given to apology or explanation.
Josh tipped his hat respectfully. "Well, you'd better climb back on the captain, 'cause I've never known him to cooperate. He's worse than a wild mustang about being doctored. Last year when a doc over in El Paso had to dig a bullet out of his leg, it took four of us to hold him down."
The young ranger patted Wolf's shoulder as he gave Molly an apologetic look. "Just rest easy, Captain Hayward. We got the Digger boys on their way to jail. Neither one is hurt bad enough to miss the hanging tomorrow."
Wolf nodded and raised up, forgetting that Molly thought her grip held his arm down.
He watched her stiffen with anger. "If you're able"she tried to gain control once more"I can treat you in my store easier." Despite what Josh had just told her, there was no fear in her stare.
Standing, Wolf followed her inside as the last of the rangers headed toward the jail. Watching her move, he tried to believe she was really before him. If this was his Molly, she'd changed, he thought. The willow-thin body he remembered had matured into a woman with gentle curves. But the eyes were the same. The voice only slightly lower.
It couldn't be her, he reasoned as he moved through the small store. The same name, the same hair, the same eyes didn't matter. If she was his Molly, she'd remember him.
Wolf glanced past the counter to a wall covered in mirrored shelves filled with all sizes of bottles. A hundred reflections looked back at him.
Hell, he thought, I don't even recognize myself. He'd gained fifty pounds, at least, from the slender man of years ago. His face had been clean-shaven, his hair short. A hundred battles had scarred not only his body, but his soul. No wonder she didn't know him. Even his speech had slipped back into his natural Southern drawl, losing the practiced Northern tone he'd worked so hard on.
She pointed him toward a stool as she disappeared behind a curtain at the back. "I'll get water. You stay put," she ordered.
Wolf let the blood drip down his face and onto his shirt. He didn't own a scrap of material clean enough to wipe an open wound.
His eyes followed her when she returned. Questions came to mind, but he held his tongue. The war might be over, but nothing had changed. If she even remembered that day at the train station, she still wouldn't want to see him. He'd heard her father died a hero for the North, fighting disease and operating conditions in field hospitals until a stray bullet from a nearby battle found him.
She rolled up her sleeves. "Hold still. I have to wash enough dirt off you to see the wound before I can treat it."
Wolf frowned. "Are you a real doctor?"
She winked as if thinking of lying. "As real as you're going to get in this town. I can promise you I went to med school as long as any practitioner in Austin. My studies were mostly in pharmacy. Much to my father's disappointment, I prefer to work making prescriptions rather than with patients."
"Like the snake-oil doctors with the wagons going from town to town?" He watched her reaction, almost hoping to make her angry again so he could see those green eyes sparkle.
To his surprise, she nodded calmly. "That's me." She leaned forward and began cleaning the wound. "I did go to college for two years and my father was a doctor, but today, basically I mix potions."
"Over at Fort Mojave in Arizona, the Apache killed six medicine men last year for failing to cure the fever infecting the tribe."
"I assure you, Captain, you'll live. I'm in no fear of my life."
She was so close he could smell her, an intoxicating blend of medicines and perfume and woman. He was afraid to breathe for fear he'd lose himself in the smell of her. "You married?" The question was out before he thought to stop it.
"No," she answered as she worked.
"Widowed?" He glanced the length of her sober dress. Black was the color many women her age wore. But his Molly belonged in blue.
She paused. "Not that it's any of your business, Captain, but the man I loved died in the war."
Wolf didn't know if he was happy or sad to hear that she'd loved someone. Happy, maybe, that she'd gone on with her life and not pined away for him. Sad that she'd known loss.
"Want to go to dinner with me?"
She continued to wipe blood from his forehead. "No," she answered simply.
"If I take a bath and clean up?" he tried again. In his life he could never remember asking a woman to step out with him, but he figured the direct way had to work.
"No, thank you," she answered as she dabbed ointment on his cut.
Wolf shrugged. "Then I guess marrying me is out, Doc?"
A smile brushed her lips. "This is going to hurt, Captain. Try not to jerk."
Wolf's stare never left her face as fire brushed across his torn skin. She leaned close, blowing softly along the cut.
He fought the urge to reach for her. "Thanks," he whispered. "What do I owe you?" He didn't want to think that she'd treated him for money, but after all, it was what she did for a living.
"A new window." She replaced the cap on her bottle of medicine. "I don't charge for the doctoring."
"A window and dinner. I insist on evening the score. I'll not be beholden."
"All right. If you can clean up before sundown, I'll share a meal with you. But understand clearly, Captain, we're not walking out with one another, only having dinner. I'm far too old and have no time in my life for such foolishness as courting."
Wolf replaced his mud-caked hat. "I understand." He knew she couldn't be much past her mid-twenties. "I'm obliged you've agreed to share a meal with me. Until sundown."
"Until sundown, Captain." She turned without another word and disappeared behind the curtain at the back of the store.
It took Wolf several breaths to make himself move away. "Until sundown, Molly," he whispered as he walked outside.
Never a Bride JOVE BOOKS
By Amelia Grey
Copyright © 2001 Gloria Dale Skinner. All rights reserved.