April 1868 Colorado Territory
Danica took a deep breath, summoning her courage, then stepped up to the weathered door of the sheriff’s office. What she did in the next few minutes would decide not only the rest of her life but that of the stranger inside. A man’s life depended on whether or not she had enough courage to walk through the door. She’d seen the handsome blond man’s face, as he looked out the jailhouse window at the scaffolding being erected to hang him. She’d asked about him in town and had watched him from the shadows of the alley for over an hour, before deciding to come to the jail. He had a chiseled face with big blue eyes filled with intelligence and fear. It wasn’t the face of a bank robber or a murderer, he also looked oddly familiar, if she could see his face more clearly she knew she’d be able to remember him.
Under the town charter of Widow’s Creek, any single woman with property could stay an execution by marrying the condemned man. She was single, of marriageable age, and had property, but could she really bring herself to marry a stranger. She looked over her shoulder and her eyes settling on the front of the saloon seeing the three saddle tramps who had accosted her that morning. Widow’s Creek was a small but growing town; however, there were few women under the age of fifty. The saloon didn’t even have any saloon girls, which meant as a young woman she was constantly harassed by cattle tramps and miners whenever she came to town. Even dressed in her brother’s clothes they bothered her. Then there was Damian Winslet, her nightmare.
Damian was as cruel and heartless as the devil. He was the spoiled son of a wealthy rancher who’d owned a spread outside town. No one said no to the Winslets, but Danica had, and paid the price. Two years ago Damian had demanded she be his, and when she’d refused he’d dragged her from her buckboard and into the forest. He’d tried to rape her, and when she’d fought him off he’d become so enraged he’d pulled a razor from his boot and sliced her up. Telling her he’d done it so no man would ever want her, then he’d left her to die. Only by the kindness of a stranger she’d survived, when she’d made it back to town to tell the sheriff what Damian had done, Damian was gone. Damian’s father had died four months ago and now Damian was back and letting everyone know that she was his property. She had no illusions that fate would spare her again. She needed a protector, so desperation and loneliness found her standing before the battered door of the sheriff’s office planning the unthinkable, marrying a stranger.
Danica realized her hands were shaking; she hadn’t been this terrified since Damian had attacked her. She took a deep calming breath then turned the handle and stepped inside.
Nick leaned against the cold wall, watching with morbid fascination as they constructed the gallows that would hang him. Tomorrow morning he was scheduled to hang for crimes he’d not committed. Nick was a surveyor, working for the railroad. His job was to scout areas that the railroad was interested in and send reports back to New York, as to whether the conditions were suitable to put a line through. Two weeks ago, he’d been caught in a flash flood and lost his pack mule and gear. He’d ridden into Widow’s Creek a week ago, tired, dirty, and hungry after sleeping on the ground for a week without so much as a blanket and living off the land. Nick had telegraphed a report to his boss about what had happened and asked him to wire him money to replace his supplies. Then as he was walking down the sidewalk the sheriff arrested him, charging him with a list of crimes including holding up several banks and shooting a bank clerk.
Nick had tried to explain that the sheriff had the wrong man, but without his equipment, he had nothing to validate his story. A weasel-faced little man had come to the jail, introduced himself as Judge Peterson, and proclaimed Nick guilty without a trial. He’d then sentenced Nick to hang and left. Now barring a miracle he was going to die. Nick was thirty-one, with nothing to show for his life. No wife or children to mourn his passing, and his family had disowned him for going against his Quaker upbringing.
What he needed was a miracle, his overly religious mother would have told him to pray. Well, I’ve tried to do what’s right Nick thought, tried to live a good life. God, if you’re there send me a sign, I don’t want to die for something I didn’t do. Give me a chance to be a better man, a chance to find love again; to find a woman who would love him and he could love back. He didn’t care what she looked like, as long as she was kind and had a good heart.
There was a clang and Nick turned to see the sheriff banging a metal plate against the bars.
“There is someone here to see you.” The sheriff motioned for Nick to come closer. “And mind your manners, or I’ll teach you some.”
“Sammy don’t frighten the man anymore” A lilting female voice came out of the darkness, and the sheriff stepped back. “He’s probably scarred witless with you making him stare at that abomination.”
“But Danica, he’s dangerous.” The sheriff abruptly staggered sideways, as if pushed.
“He’s no more dangerous than a lamb; now get out of my way.” The voice took on a commanding tone and the sheriff moved sideways. Nick’s eyes fell on a diminutive figure in men’s black work clothes, and a weathered black Stetson. The woman moved forward to be backlit by the office windows and he could see that though dressed as a man, the figure had all the right curves in all the right places. The woman removed the Stetson, then fluffed her hair, letting it fall about her shoulders in soft curly copper waves. Her hair fell past her shoulders and down her back, Nick wondered fleetingly how she’d manage to get all that hair tucked up under her hat, then he wondered what it felt like. Was it silky as it looked, hell he was about to be hung and he was fantasizing about a woman’s hair.
“Hello, Mr. Sawyer, my name is Danica Angelina MacPherson and I’ve come to make you a proposition.”
Nick’s eyebrows rose as he moved closer to the bars, trying to see the woman’s face, to see if it was as lovely as her voice.
“Well if it’s a business proposition you’ve come at a bad time.”
Nick heard the sheriff snort and then watched in amusement as Miss MacPherson backhanded him in the stomach.
“Sammy get out and shut the door.” She ordered.
“But Danica he’s a criminal” The sheriff protested.
“Get out now.” Miss MacPherson barked, Nick was amused to see the sheriff turn tail, and run.
“Well Miss MacPherson I like you all ready, but as I’m to be hung tomorrow I don’t know how I can help you.”
“That’s why I’m here. You see if you agree to my proposition you won’t be hung, in fact, you’ll be paroled, and be a reasonably free man.” Miss MacPherson moved closer but still stayed in the shadows, in such an infuriating way that he couldn’t see her face.
“You can get me out of here lady, I’m all ears.” Nick moved forward to hang off the bars studying the woman half hidden by shadows before him. “What do I have to do?”
“You simply have to get married, Mr. Sawyer.” She replied.
Nick didn’t quite believe his ears and strained to see Miss MacPherson’s face.
“Married? I don’t understand. How is getting married going to save me from the noose?” Nick watched Miss MacPherson shift her weight, all the while worrying the brim of her hat.
“It’s simple under the town charter any single woman of property can marry a condemned man, thereby staying his execution. The man has to agree to stay with the woman for one year and be a true husband to her, and then he’s a free man.” Danica eased closer to the cell, but still hung in the shadows. “You see the town’s called Widows Creek for a reason. About thirty years ago there was a mine accident, it killed most of the men folk and left about thirty widows. The widows made and passed the Hanging Man’s law, in the hopes of securing new husbands.” Danica inched closer to the cell.
“And I’m a single woman of property, and I need a man. So I’ve come to ask you to marry me, in exchange for your life you have to agree to stay with me for one year and give me a child. After that, you can go or stay as you wish.”
Nick couldn’t believe his ears, all he had to do to save his neck was get married.
“Hell yes, I’ll marry you.”
“There is something you should know before you agree.” She moved forward so that the light from the cell window fell on her face. She turned her head, pushing her copper hair aside and Nick could see a twisted scar on her left cheek, which ran down the side of her face to disappear beneath her hair.
“The scar goes down my shoulder and over most of my back. I’ve others on my back, arms, and legs. You’ll have to deal with the scars, and know that I want a baby. If you can handle bedding a woman with scars we can get married.”
Nick tried not to cringe. “If I might ask, how’d you come by them?”
“There is a man, Damian Winslet; his father owned a big spread outside of town. Because his father was rich Damian thinks he can have his way, whenever he wants. He wants me, and I’ve said no more than once.” Danica pushed down the bitter lump in her throat. “I was driving home from church and he stopped me, he demanded I be his. When I said no he dragged me from my buckboard and into the forest, and he tried to rape me. I hit him with a branch and bit him and he got mad. He said if he couldn’t have me, he’d see no man ever did. He beat me till I was nearly unconscious, then he pulled a razor out of his boot and sliced me up before leaving me to die. A Navajo medicine man found me and saved me. When I got back to town Damian was gone, and he’d told everyone in town he’d seen a bear attack me.”
“Damn, the stinking bastard,” Nick exclaimed. Danica was small, even for a woman; Damian Winslet had to be a real bastard to have done what he had.
“That about sums him up. His father died four months ago and now he’s back. He’s made it clear that he wants me. So I was hoping, seeing as you’re probably as desperate as I am that you’d take me up on my offer. I don’t expect you to stay long; in fact, I expect you will leave once your name is cleared. But in the meantime, it would give me some peace of mind knowing I could at least come and go from town without fearing him.”
Nick admired Danica’s courage; she had to be terrified right now. He studied her in the shadowy light. She had been pretty before that bastard had sliced her up. She was still a fine-looking woman, with eyes like cut emeralds and a pink bow-shaped mouth. She had a little bump of a nose and high cheekbones in a little heart-shaped face; yup she was still a damn fine-looking woman.
“You’re not afraid I’m going to kill you or worse?”
“No, I asked about you in town. Everyone says you were polite, paid for your hotel room up front, and paid Johnny at the livery extra to take good care of your horse.” Danica let her eyes meet his, and was startled by the intensity of his gaze. “I looked at your horse, he’s well taken care of, your saddle is custom-made, and you have an extra thick saddle pad. You’re a man that cares about his horse, cares a lot, and out here that says something about a man. Mrs. Swanson at the hotel says she found two books in your room and a Bible. A murdering bank robber wouldn’t be totting books about or paying extra to have his horse taken care of.”
Nick gave her a rueful smile, Danica MacPherson was clever. “Go on.”
“Some of the boys in town said you stopped Riddley Jackson from beating up the little Peterson boy, again showing you’re a decent man. So I figured I had nothing to lose.” Danica took a deep breath. “I’m twenty-six, and I don’t have a face. I want to get married, I’m tired of being alone and frightened. I figure I’m never going to find a man to want me or love me, looking like this, but I can live with a man as my friend.” Danica felt tears come into her eyes and blinked them away. “I have my own spread, and it’s too big for me to handle on my own. I’ll make you my partner in it, as legal as you like if you decide to stay. I just want children and a little companionship; the winters here get long and cold.” Danica blinked away more tears. “My brothers used to say all women look the same in the dark. I know I’m nothing to look at, but I’ll not nag you or shout at you. I have the best cook in five counties, and I can offer you your own room with a big feather bed. What do you say, Mr. Sawyer, would you like to get married?”
“Miss MacPherson from where I’m standing you’re the most beautiful woman in the world, hell yes I’ll marry you.” Nick gave her a lopsided grin. “And if I lay eyes on the bastard that did that to you, he’ll be wishing he wasn’t born. Don’t you want to know anything about me?” Nick leaned on the bars and saw Danica shrug.
“You can tell me later, right now I have to save you. Sammy said they didn’t give you a trial that Judge Peterson ordered you hung. He said you were tried in Spring Lake on a John Doe warrant. I know for a fact that isn’t legal, judge Peterson is as crooked as they come.” Danica moved closer and studied Nick’s face. He looked familiar, in time she’d place his face. “Judge Samuel lives outside of town, he’s retired, but he owes my father a few favors. Based on the town charter and the favors he owes my father I can get him to issue a stay of execution and sign an emergency marriage license.”
Nick shook his head in disbelief, whoever this woman was she was smart and had a backbone. He liked her already.
“You have any friends who can vouch for you, Mister Sawyer?”
“My boss can, I’m out here on rail roadbusiness. I’m a surveyor scouting for places to put a new line in. I also have some friends in the army and in Boston who would vouch for me.” Nick had asked the sheriff to let him send off some telegrams, but the sheriff had refused, saying it was a ruse to summon his gang. He wished he had a damn gang right about now. “But your fat sheriff wouldn’t let me contact them; he said it was a trick to summon my gang. I’m a surveyor, but I don’t have proof. I lost my pack mule and my equipment two weeks ago in an accident. When I told the sheriff who I was he didn’t believe me, because I didn’t have my gear.”
“I can take care of Sammy. Write down the names and addresses of your friends and what you want to say. I’ll see Sammy sends your telegrams. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve seen the judge.” Danica replied.
“You mean it, this isn’t some sick joke?” Nick demanded his eyes wide with disbelief.
“I mean it under the town charter all a condemned man has to do to be paroled is marry a lady land owner. That would be me.” Danica gave him a smile and then turned to walk towards the door to the office. Nick watched her walk away and grinned for the first time in days, Miss MacPherson had a mighty fine bottom. He watched her open the door, and then heard her shout for the sheriff.
Nick watched in amusement as the sheriff appeared to argue with her for a moment before stepping back hands up. He heard a door open and close hard, and then heard the sheriff bellow for the deputy. He saw the deputy give the sheriff a nod before hurrying away, followed by the sound of a door being slammed.
Nick looked out his window, he saw the deputy run up to the men working on the scaffold. The deputy shouted something and the men stopped working and got down. Nick shook his head in disbelief, Danica wasn’t lying she was going to save him.
“Danny said I was to see you were able to send off telegrams and that I was to give you a copy of the town charter, so you knew she wasn’t lying.” The Sheriff’s voice startled Nick and he turned to see him holding out paper, and a pencil, as well as a small book opened to a certain page. Nick stepped up to the bars taking the paper, pencil, and book from the sheriff.
“You mean Miss MacPherson?” Nick asked.
“Most folks call her Danny. She said you were innocent and that Judge Peterson had treated you unfairly. She told me to give you a decent meal, a wash, and a shave. That I was to send for new clothes from the mercantile and put it on her account and to tell you she’d be back as soon as everything was fixed with the judge.” The sheriff gave Nick a stupid smile and he didn’t know whether he should thank the sheriff or scream that he was a fool.
“Just like that, you’re going to do what she says. You’re going to believe her? When nobody in this town would believe me?” Nick growled.
“Danny is special, and I owe her. I literally owe her my life, and she got me this job.” Nick saw the sheriff smile. “So I guess I owe you an apology Mr. Sawyer, calling you a bank robber and all. I’ll let you write those telegrams; Danny said she’d pay for them.” The sheriff turned to go, and then paused to look back at Nick.
“You have to promise to be kind to her. She’s had a hard life and she’s been hurt a lot by men.” The sheriff paused. “Her first fiancé, the no-good bastard left her the day before their wedding. He said she wasn’t good enough for him, wasn’t pretty enough. Then during the war, Danny was working as a doctor’s aide, near the battle lines. Her fiancé was a doctor; a cannonball hit the tent they were in. Danny saw him get torn apart, he died in her arms.” The sheriff paused again, looking even more nervous. “And there is a man in town, Damian Winslet, he hurt her badly, and he won’t leave her alone. His father owned most of the judges here about, so I can’t touch the bastard. So you promise you’ll be nice to her.”
Nick realized his fingers were digging into the book. “I promise I’ll treat her like a queen.” The sheriff grunted in acknowledgment.
“I’ll be back in ten minutes for those telegrams. And one last thing, just so you know.” The sheriff paused again with his hand on the door. “Danny may have land but she’s cash poor, it’s all because of Damien. He’s trying to force her off her place, force her to be his whore. But Danny is a lady, she may not dress like it but she is, and she won’t give in to him. Just thought you should know what you’re getting into.”
“Thank you but right now from where I’m standing it doesn’t sound like anything I can’t handle, and I as for Miss MacPherson, I don’t hurt women.” Nick saw the sheriff nod, before stepping through the door. Nick held the book up to the light coming in from the window.
It was a copy of the town charter, opened to a law that had been passed thirty years earlier. The law stated that due to the deaths of the majority of men in the town from a mining accident, any single woman, who was a landowner and a taxpayer could save a condemned man from hanging by marrying him. In return, the man was given a limited pardon, and was allowed to travel about town and the territory as long as he was accompanied by his wife. The man in exchange for his life had to agree to be a true husband to her, to work to provide for the woman in some capacity, and to father at least one child. In addition, the marriage had to be proven to be a real marriage that the couple had three weeks from the date of the wedding to consummate the marriage, and six months in which to father a child, or the marriage would be dissolved. Nick shook his head in disbelief and set the book down. He was in an insane town, and an even crazier territory, such a law would never stand back east.
Nick dropped to the hard cot that had been his bed for the past week and paper in hand began to write to his boss in New York. No one would believe he was being accused of bank robbery or facing a noose. He thought of Danica MacPherson, he’d have to sleep with her if his name wasn’t cleared. It had been three years since he’d last been with a woman, and that had been Carmen. He felt a strong pain inside whenever he thought of her, even after three years he still wanted her, still loved her. She’d been the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, and she’d wanted him, a poor man from a nowhere town. But she’d ripped his heart out, and made him lose his faith in women. She’d run off the night before their wedding with his best friend, and he’d fallen apart after that. He’d left his job at her father’s engineering company and taken a job with the railroad as a surveyor. He traveled constantly, never staying in one place longer than a week. The constant change in scenery had helped heal his broken heart, but it was lonely work.
Nick was tired of traveling, tired of sleeping under the stars in all kinds of weather or staying in flea-bag hotels. Death or marriage to a pretty stranger, a hell of a choice. He’d given up on marriage after Carmen had run off on him, but his parents had been married for forty years and were still as much in love as the day they wed. Hopefully, his name would be cleared quickly and he wouldn’t have to stay married to Miss MacPherson for too long, not that she wasn’t good-looking, but he’d never been the kind of man to sleep with a woman he didn’t care for. Nick groaned in disgust and bent to write his first telegram, he supposed it wouldn’t be a hardship to sleep with Miss MacPherson.
Danica reined the team to a stop before Macgregor’s Mercantile. She engaged the brake and jumped down landing lightly on the dusty street. She patted her pocket to be sure the special pardon and marriage license was still there. She could still run, nothing was final till Mr. Sawyer signed his name beside hers. She looked over at the jail, she couldn’t do that though, a man was now depending on her to save his life, an innocent man. She was going to marry a stranger, no not a complete stranger; she’d remembered where she’d met him. He had been one of her patients during the war, she’d taken two bullets out of him and then sat by his bed for two days till she knew he’d live. It hurt that he didn’t remember her, but he’d been in bad shape and she wasn’t the kind of woman a man looked twice at much less remembered.
Danica stepped onto the wooden sidewalk, pulling her Stetson further down on her face, to hide the scar. About two hundred yards away was the Golden Lady Saloon and as usual drunken wranglers and drifters were hanging out front. She hurried into the mercantile and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Mac behind the counter; he gave her a friendly smile.
“Danny, Sammy said you’re going to marry the stranger, was he kidding?” Mac demanded as she stepped up to the glass counter, the floorboards creaking loudly.
“No, it’s the truth. He’s innocent; I can feel it in my bones. If I marry him I can save his life.” Danica fought down the butterflies in her stomach. “And I’m tired of being alone, of being scared. With him about I can sleep easier, and not be so nervous coming to town.” Danica saw Mac nod. She’d known Mac all her life, he and his wife Lucy were two of her few friends.
“If you say he’s innocent then I believe you. I took a good look at your belt; I gave you a hundred for it. I took the money over to Sammy with a new shirt, jacket, and pants.”
Danica was pleasantly surprised, she’d sold her brother’s silver and turquoise belt buckle to Mac, and she’d only expected seventy or eighty dollars for it and not a hundred.
“Thanks, how much do I owe you?” She reached for her jacket pocket and Mac shook his head. “Nothing, with what you brought in to sell and the supplies you bought today everything came out even, well I think you owe me a dollar but I’m not going to quibble about it.”
Danica gave Mac a smile of relief. She’d sold her father’s and brother’s pistols to the pawn shop along with some of her mother’s jewelry and she’d sold her brother’s horse to the livery. With what Mac had given her for her belt, she had just over the thousand dollars she needed to pay for Mr. Sawyer’s bail.
“Thanks, I have to go see Reverend Dickerson and buy a dress.” Danica looked down at her britches and dusty boots, wearing her brother’s old clothes were good enough for the ranch and town but not getting married.
“Okay and good luck, I’ll be looking for you next week.” Mac gave her another smile and Danica hurried out the door. Once outside she looked about to see no drifters or cow hands were in sight and hurried down the sidewalk till she came to Millie’s dress shop. She took a deep breath to control her nervous stomach and pushed the door open, a little bell over the door made a soft jingle and Danica nearly jumped out of her skin. The door closed behind her and she looked about nervously, feeling out of place among the racks of pretty dresses.
“I’ll be right with you.” A voice called from the back of the store and Danica pulled off her Stetson and began looking about the shop.
“Oh, Danica it’s you.” Danica turned to see Millie standing in the back of the shop. Danica gave Millie a nervous smile, Millie was what a woman was supposed to look like Danica thought. She was five foot seven, with a nice oval face, a good straight nose, big light brown eyes, and lovely light brown hair. Millie also had a nice hourglass figure, with small pert breasts. Danica by comparison was five feet tall with breasts the size of melons and slim hips. Millie also always dressed like a lady and not like a roust about. “What can I help you with?”
“I need a dress.” Danica nervously clenched the brim of her hat.
“A new dress for church?” Millie stepped forward and reached for a rack of pretty pink and white dresses.
“No, I need a wedding dress.” She managed to say and saw Millie’s eyes go wide.
“A wedding dress?” Millie stared at her in amazement. “But who, is it Jeb Evans, I know he likes you.”
Danica looked at Millie as if she’d grown an extra head. Jeb Evans, barely knew she was alive. When she’d been a girl he had come to her house to play with her brothers and had called her carrot top. Jeb’s father and her own had wanted them to wed before the war, but she’d said no, she’d barely liked Jeb, much less loved him.
“No, it’s not Jeb. I’m going to marry the prisoner, under the town charter I can save his life if he marries me.” Danica saw Millie go pale.
“Your joking. ”
“No, he’s an innocent man, I’ve spoken to him. He’s a surveyor for the railroad, and he’s not a stranger to me. I met him when I was a nurse. He said he doesn’t care about my scars and he can protect me.” Danica bit her lower lip as she felt tears well up. “So I’d like a dress, something pretty, as I’ll never be getting married again.”
“Oh Danica, I didn’t mean anything by what I said.” Millie gave Danica’s arm a squeeze.
“I know, it’s just I’m terrified, but if I don’t do this an innocent man is going to hang, and I’ll never have another chance of finding a husband.” Danica felt tears in her eyes and blinked them away, then reached inside her jacket to pull out a small black velvet pouch. “I don’t have any money, but I have my mother’s pearl necklace and the matching earrings. I know you have always liked them, would you trade me a dress and some shoes for them?”
Millie reached to take the pouch. “But they are worth far more than a dress and shoes.”
“I’ll need a veil and under things as well, is it a deal?” Danica was praying Millie said yes, otherwise she’d be getting married in her work clothes.
“Yes, of course, I have just the dress.” Millie wound her way through the racks of dresses then pulled something off the wall, she came back to Danica holding up a white satin dress, with a lace overlay.
Danica could only stare; it was the most beautiful dress she’d ever seen.
“It’s beautiful.” Danica was afraid to touch the dress, lest she soil it with her dirty hands.
“I’m glad you like it, come in the back and we’ll try it on. When is the wedding?” Millie asked turning to the back of the shop.
“It’s at three.” Danica saw Millie make another face.
“Oh dear, that doesn’t leave much time for me to alter it, but I’ll see what I can do. Would you like to use my place to wash and change?” Millie asked, waiting for Danica to follow her. Millie’s house was attached to the dress shop, so she was always close to her work. “That way you won’t have to get a hotel room.”
Danica could only nod; she didn’t have money for a room. She’d figured she’d wash and change in the church’s lady’s room before the wedding, to be able to change at Millie’s would be a blessing.
“Thank you; I don’t know what to say.” Danica felt more tears well up.
“Don’t worry about it, I can fix your hair if you like. I think your hair is so pretty, the way it sparkles in the sun it will be a real treat to do it up, now let’s try this dress on okay?” Millie gave Danica a beaming smile making Danica feel better; perhaps her wedding wouldn’t be a complete disaster after all.
The door to the office opened and Nick stood, expecting the sheriff but to his surprise it was Danica. He hadn’t decided yet whether she was crazy, an angel, or both. He watched her walk hesitantly towards the cell, staying in the shadows.
“I wanted to be sure Sammy was taking care of you, and that he sent those telegrams off for you.” Danica moved closer to the cell, her eyes on Nick. She saw him nod, he was hanging on the bars watching her intently.
“Yes thank you, they even brought me a beef steak with all the fixings, if they hadn’t stopped work on the scaffold I’d have thought it was my last meal.”
“No, I saw Judge Samuel; all the papers are being drawn up. He’s going to have them ready for you to sign before the wedding.” Danica looked at the clock on the wall, it was a little past two. “Reverend Dickerson is going to marry us at three if that’s all right.”
“Hell yes that’s fine, is something wrong, or are you having second thoughts? You keep staring at me, and considering my present situation it’s making me nervous.”
“No second thoughts. It’s just you look familiar. You weren’t in the cavalry were you, first Dragoons?” Danica asked, startling Nick.
“Yes I was, how did you know?”
“And shot in the Battle of Brandy Station, hit in the chest near your heart and in your left arm?” Danica moved closer and saw Nick’s blue eyes widen.
“Yes, I was. How in the hell do you know that?” Danica moved to the bars, the light from the window just falling on the top of her face illuminating her hair and green eyes.
“I thought it was you, I never forget a face. I was a nurse and a surgeon’s aide during the war. They brought you to me, Dr. Edmunds said Danica see what you can do, he’s a mess and I don’t have time to save him. Then he walked away and left you to me.” Danica saw Nick’s eyes narrow. “They said you were going to die, that the bullet was near your heart. Dr. Edmunds said he could spend an hour patching you up, and you’d likely only die, or he could save other men. He said I could try and save you if I wished.”
Nick took a deep breath as memories washed over him; he remembered being hit and falling from his horse. Then it was just pain and confusion, disjointed images. But he remembered a soft voice, a small hand holding his, and a bright golden halo of hair. He remembered begging a woman not to let him die, and her promising she’d save him.
“That was you?”
“Yes, I was never told your name, but I remember you, most of the men were crying or begging for their mothers or sweethearts.” Danica rested her right hand on the bars. “You simply squeezed my hand, and you said don’t let me die, please don’t let me die.” Danica took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. “I said I wouldn’t and you said promise me. You promise me you won’t let me die. And I said I promise Captain. I promise I won’t let you die, that I was going to make sure you lived to be an old man. ” Danica felt Nick studying her, then he laid his hand on top of hers, as she rested it on the bars.
“It took me half an hour to get the bullet out of your chest and stitch you up. I used tiny stitches because I didn’t want to leave a bad scar.” Danica felt Nick squeeze her hand, and a tingle ran down her arm. She tugged her hand back. “I remember thinking you were handsome, that one day you’d have a sweetheart and a wife, and I didn’t want them shocked by a big scar. The same as on your arm, I used tiny stitches. The doctors kept shouting at me to hurry, to leave you, but I ignored them. You see the battle had turned, we were being shelled, and had to evacuate, but I wouldn’t leave you. I said to myself I made this man a promise, and promises are sacred things.”
“You did a wonderful job, the scar on my chest is hardly noticeable, and you would never know I was shot in the arm. Thank you.” Nick watched Danica step back into the shadows again, obviously afraid to let him see her clearly.
“You’re welcome. I came to see you in the field hospital; to be sure you were all right. I wasn’t supposed to follow up on any of the men I worked on. You see I wasn’t supposed to be at the front lines, but they were shorthanded. I slipped into the hospital and sat with you for two days. You woke up and asked if I was an angel. I said no, then I told you again you were going to be all right, but before you could answer they threw me out for breaking the rules. I’m glad to see you recovered.” Danica backed towards the door, Nick watching her the whole time. “I have to go, the judge is going to see you before the wedding with papers to sign, and I’ll see you in the church.”
“Miss MacPherson,” Nick called and watched her pause as she reached for the door handle. “How did you know you could save me?”
“Just a feeling, something said you can help this man, and I’d helped Dr. Edmund on all the chest cases. He would say too bad you’re a woman or you’d make a fine surgeon.” Danica turned to open the door. “I guess it was the same feeling that had me come into town today. I normally come to town on Sunday. I sell eggs and produce, then go to church. I don’t like coming to town, people stare at me and whisper because of the scars, because of what happened. But this morning something told me to come to town today. I brought some of my brothers’ things to pawn, and produce to sell, and heard about you I guess it was your lucky day.” Then she pulled the door open and stepped into the office closing it behind her.
Nick watched Danica go, he’d been trying to decide if Danica was crazy for offering to save him or an angel sent from heaven. Considering what she’d just told him, she was an angel sent to save his life again. He’d never remembered the woman’s face, just a soft voice and a small hand squeezing his. He’d always assumed a doctor had removed the bullets, he’d never dreamed it had been a nurse. He’d been given to her because they’d written him off. She must be one hell of a nurse to have saved his life, no a hell of a surgeon. Nick had never been a religious man. He’d said his share of prayers before going into battle but the fact the same woman was going to save his life twice had to mean something. His mother would say it was a sign, but a sign of what? He and Danica MacPherson were supposed to get married? Maybe he was supposed to help her as she had helped him. One thing was sure he’d only stay with her as long as it took to clear his name and then he was gone.