troubled souls. For Tom, a farmer’s son, losing his leg felt like
losing his future. Jenny, a young prostitute at Madam Mamie’s
parlor house, has never thought she had much future to lose.
talent. And both Tom and Jenny have a knack for hitting on new
possibilities. Can they, together, find a better path?
Creek, Nebraska, in early 1876, a few months after the conclusion of
What Heals the Heart. Several favorite characters from Book 1 make
Wonderful characters, many with hearts of gold, small-minded
characters that truly showed their ignorance and dreams that couldn’t
be broken . . . from an author who lets her words feed our
imaginations.” – Tome Tender review
between the characters . . . It is always a joy to read this author’s
stories.” – Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews
Tom Barlow leaned against the fence for support and tossed the last sack of fall potatoes into the wagon. He could still load a wagon, at least. Not the first time he tried, or the second — and the way he fell the second time, landing on his arm, had made him even more useless for the next week. But he’d got the hang of it now.
Pa came out of the house, putting on his hat as he walked to the wagon. “Coming with me, son?”
That was a puzzle with no good answer. Tom could use the rail of the fence and a handy stump to climb into the wagon without Pa’s help, but getting back down was more of a trick. He could try it, and maybe fall down for folks to laugh about, or stay perched up on the wagon like a cigar store Indian for passersby to stare at.
“I’ll come.” At least, whatever happened, he’d get to see something different for a change, if only the little bit of difference between the farm and town. It was bad enough being stuck around here before, when he could at least sneak off with one of the horses between chores and ride around a bit.
Sometimes, he could hardly believe he couldn’t just hop onto a horse — or a wagon — the way he used to. Other days, he could hardly believe he’d ever done it at all.
After they dropped off the sacks at the train station, Pa drove to the square and parked in a shady spot near the dry goods store, within reach of the water trough. “Keep an eye on the horse and wagon for me, will you, while I go in?” Pa had been thinking along the same lines as Tom, seemingly. And maybe he didn’t much fancy having the people in town see his son stumbling around like a barely-born colt.
Tom gave Pa a short nod just a hair shy of rude. Pa paused, his eyebrows going lower like he was thinking of fetching a strap, before he shook his head a little and headed toward the general store.
Now Tom had nothing to do but feel conspicuous and look around him. The first thing he noticed was a cardinal, landing in the nearest tree with a twig in its beak, bright red against bare branches. It could fly most anywhere, but here it was in Cowbird Creek. It must feel a whole lot different than he did these days.
Tom saw himself working into an even worse mood, and tried to steer another way. It was sunny, at least, and sunshine always boosted his spirits some. And that tree with the cardinal might be bare still, but right under it was a forsythia bush well along in its blooming, the first of many to come.
Then something moving caught his eye from down the street. He turned to see a girl walking up — no, walking didn’t do justice to it. She sort of bounced along, stepping out strong and lively, her yellow hair bouncing too, bright in the sun under a little nothing of a hat. There was plenty of her, all put together just right, and a pretty face to finish off with — not what you’d call refined, but a straight-ahead honest sort of good-looking.
Why hadn’t he seen her before, at a dance or a church social? Or had she been some little stick of a kid and just lately blossomed out?
He’d already got a nice long look at the front of her, and now she headed into the store and let him enjoy the view from behind. He sighed to see her pass through the door and out of sight.
Coming into town did beat sitting at home watching cows, at that.
Another woman came walking past, older, with a little boy skipping alongside her. Skipping, like any child did, like Tom had often enough. He closed his eyes and waited for the pain to ease. But before he got to opening them, he heard the boy’s voice. “Why’s that man got a wooden leg? Was he a soldier, like Uncle Jake?”
Tom ground his teeth, cussing in his head. What with the way he was growing out of his trousers, and sitting high up on the wagon, anyone could see the wood between his trouser leg and his boot.
Meanwhile, the woman was saying, “No, Johnny. He’s too young. He’d have been maybe your age when the war ended.”
“Then what happened to him, Ma?”
The woman glanced up at Tom, looking embarrassed and sorry, as she grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him along, saying something Tom couldn’t hear. But right behind came two men, the barber and some other fellow, who acted like they’d heard it. Because the barber said to the other man, not troubling to be quiet, as if Tom was deaf along with crippled: “Poor lad. At least a soldier who lost his leg gets a pension, and knows he’s a hero. And an old man with a game leg was a young man with two good legs once.”
And all Tom could do was sit there on the wagon like a log, thinking how the barber was right. No honorable war wound for him, no life full of memories. One clumsy moment, and his life was more or less over before he’d done much of anything with it.
And there, finally, came Pa carrying a big sack of provisions, smiling like someone just told him a joke, taking big steps. But when he reached the wagon and got a look at Tom’s face, he all of a sudden seemed to shrink shorter.
They didn’t talk on the ride home.
become a small town doctor. And if he wakes from nightmares more
often than he would like, only his dog Major is there to know it.
and yet enigmatic farmer’s daughter, and Freida Blum, an elderly
Jewish widow from New York. Freida knows just what Joshua needs: a
bride. But it shouldn’t be Clara Brook!
including a wager: if he can find Freida a husband, she’ll stop
trying to find him a wife. Will either matchmaker succeed? Or is it
Clara, despite her own scars, who can heal the doctor’s troubled heart?
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of
What Heals the Heart
Joshua Gibbs felt sun on his face and thought about opening his eyes. He decided to wait. He had some blessings to savor that wouldn’t need sight.
He was in a bed, a four-poster with a well-stuffed husk mattress, instead of in a tent on rough ground. He was in Nebraska, far from any of the towns he had passed through — or seen devastated — during the war. The sound nearest his right ear wasn’t the whistle of a shell or the wails and screams of dying men, but the soft grumbly snore of his Irish Setter. And the dog’s name might be Major (or, to give the full grandiloquent version, Reginald Phineas Major), but that was the closest to an officer he’d find for miles around.
And what Joshua smelled, when he took a slow, lazy sniff, was a mix of Major and almost-clean bed linen, and not . . . well, no need to sully a brand new morning with the memory of what he’d have smelled this time nine years ago.
But thoughts like these were not worth staying abed for. He opened his eyes and sat up, stretching out his arm and laying a hand lightly on Major’s side for the warm breathing comfort of it. Major’s eye twitched, and his tail, but that was all. A dog knew, without having to think about it, what safety meant.
Joshua levered himself out of bed. He’d shave, get dressed, and take a walk with Major before frying himself some breakfast.
As a boy, if he could have even imagined himself so old as thirty-three, he’d have assumed he’d be leaving a wife behind staying warm in bed or making breakfast, or better yet, accompanying him on his morning amble. But things change. War changes them. And solitude suited him, these days.
Most of the latest — perhaps the last? — snow had melted. It wouldn’t take him too long to clean off his boots after his walk. Joshua liked having clean boots when he saw patients, even if some folk in town might think it affected of him.
He headed away from the square to start, toward the creek that had given Cowbird Creek its name. If he’d been taking this road out of town to see a patient, he’d have been riding his trotter Nellie-girl or using one of the livery stable buggies. He wouldn’t have had time or attention to spare for the serviceberry bushes just starting to put forth their lacy white flowers, or the sparrows with their thin high chirps, stirring about on whatever business sparrows had.
He got as far as the buttonwood tree by the creek before his hollow stomach reminded him to turn round. He took a turn around the square and saw a light in the laundry. Li Chang looked to be hard at work already. It wasn’t easy to get the Chinese fellow talking, as busy as he kept himself, but his tales of the gold fields could cure anyone of hankering after mining. Though he’d managed to make enough of a stake to set up his business and even pay for help — except the help had given up on America and gone home a year since.
Turning the corner brought Joshua past the church. Passing the church meant passing the churchyard. A few of his patients were at rest there, though others were buried on their farms. One or two of them wouldn’t be there yet, if he’d known then what he knew now. He paused, bowed his head, and sent them a silent apology, and a promise to stick to his books until he knew as much medicine as anyone could learn that way.
At least there were other folk, asleep in bed or about their chores, in town and outside it, who might have been sleeping colder in the ground if not for him.
He picked up his pace, more than ready for breakfast. He had bacon and eggs he’d got in payment from the farmer whose cough he’d dosed two days ago. Good thing he liked his eggs runny, because he hadn’t left all that much time for cooking and eating before opening his office and seeing who sauntered or stumbled or limped in to be doctored.
often-intertwined themes of family, communication, the impossibility of controlling events, and the persistence of unfinished business.
for special content and a giveaway!