“Oh my gosh, this is just like the dream I had last night!” Lalita Torres pivoted three hundred and sixty degrees in the dining room of the Edwardian country house known as Rock Ledge House. “Except in my dream it was my house, and I had just discovered this amazing room I never knew was there.”
Nonnie swung the lightweight backpack off her shoulders as she came to Lalita’s side. “Only you would have historical house dreams.” She dug through her pack until she found a hair clip. “Gads, it’s hot in here.” She twisted up her honey blond hair and clamped it.
Lalita wiped her own brow and ran a hand through her chin-length black hair. “Yeah, I’m wishing I’d brought my tiny battery-powered fan.”
The living history docent nodded. “The coal-burning stove roaring in the kitchen puts out quite a bit of heat.”
Lalita looked the woman up and down. “And we’re sweating in shorts and tank tops―not multiple layers of clothes that covers every inch below our chins.”
Nonnie shook her head. “I couldn’t do it. I’d melt clean away.”
As the docent led them into the butler’s pantry, Lalita gave a final look at the elegant china place settings. As she lingered, trying to memorize every detail, Nonnie grabbed her arm and pulled. “Okay, okay, I’m coming.”
Their guide was already in the middle of explaining the “servants gray” paint that was used in all of the servants’ areas of the house, and Lalita wondered what it would have been like to be the scurrying mice behind the scenes of this wealthy family’s ten course dinner parties. She smiled. What would it be like to be the ones served?
Lalita Torres loved history, but it wasn’t the big picture wheres and whys that interested her. It was the details of the human story. The minutia of everyday life and living. As the docent explained the electromagnetic bell system for the servants, Lalita scribbled in a small notebook.
“For that book you’re going to write someday,” Nonnie teased.
“Actually I’m thinking of my doctoral thesis.” The docent had moved on, waving them up the narrow, steep back stairs.
“You’re really going to keep going after you get your Masters?” Nonnie puffed behind her as they turned to ascend to the third floor. “Aren’t you sick of school yet?”
“Not yet. There’s so much history to learn.”
They stopped at the top to catch their breath. “Who’s going to pay for it all?”
A young girl in period dress had followed them up the stairs and directed them to look around the servants’ quarters at their leisure. “There are scholarships and grants for Native Americans. That’s how I’ve been going for this long. Plus, I’ve taken a year off here and there to work and save for it.”
Nonnie moved past her to look in the small closet. “Must be nice. I’ve tried numerous times to get a scholarship and have never gotten more than a couple hundred bucks. And you’re not even a full Indian.”
Lalita bristled. Nonnie was one of her oldest friends, but sometimes she didn’t think before she spoke. “I’m not Indian at all, since I wasn’t born in India. What I am is one quarter Cherokee.”
Nonnie ignored her.
Lalita felt immediate remorse for correcting her. “I’m sorry, Nonnie. I knew what you meant.”
Nonnie shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. It’s just that―” She waited until the rest of the group had left the room. “It’s just that it feels like reverse discrimination. I can’t get the money for school because I’m white and have no tragic ancestral story.”
Lalita blinked, wondering if Nonnie would really like to have Wounded Knee, the Sandy Creek Massacre or the Trail of Tears in her family history.
Not to mention spending much of your childhood bumping around in foster care.
“How come you’re only staying until Friday when you said you were off work for two weeks.”
Lalita pulled her sunglasses off the top of her head and put them back on her face. “I want to get some painting done in my apartment before classes start. Then my parents are going on some kind of family reunion cruise, and they want me to house sit and watch their dog.”
The two left the blacksmith demonstration in search of the Chambers House that was built in the 1870’s. “What? They aren’t taking you with them?”
“It’s okay. I mean, they really aren’t my family anyway. You know I’ve always felt like an outsider.”
Nonnie shuffled her feet on the dirt road, making fat snake-like tracks. “Why did two white people adopt an In― a Native American kid anyway?”
Lalita stopped, forcing Nonnie to turn back. “Please tell me you’re kidding.”
Nonnie looked confused for a a few moments before breaking into a grin. “Yeah, I’m kidding. Of course I’m kidding.” She turned back to the road and continued shuffling, though now in zigzags. “You’ve gotten really touchy.”
Lalita shook her head as she jogged to catch up. “And you’ve acquired a weird sense of humor.”
They walked in silence for a while with Lalita wondering what had happened to the easy friendship they used to have in high school. Nonnie finally spoke. “Well, what else do you want to do while you’re here? We’ve hit most of the historic places that I know of―Garden of the Gods, the Pioneer Museum, old buildings downtown…”
“I don’t know. I definitely want to tour Glen Eyrie and go up Pikes Peak.”
“You have to call ahead for Glen Eyrie.”
“Okay, so we do that tomorrow. Shall we go up Pikes Peak today?”
Nonnie looked at her watch. “I’m not driving it―too scary―so we’ll have to take the cog rail. There might be time if you don’t dawdle all through the rest of the Ranch. There’s a house and a homestead to see yet.”
Lalita started to walk faster. “Well, let’s get moving, then!”
The Chambers House wasn’t as elegant as Rock Ledge House, but Lalita found it fascinating, nevertheless. Her eyes drank in the carved wood furniture, the ornate standing wood stove, and the small pipe organ.
She lingered in an upstairs bedroom full of smaller beds. The kids’ room. She knelt down to take in the details of a china doll, and she smiled imagining the little girl in long blond curls that might have played with it. She sighed. If there was anything she loved even more than history, it was kids. She spent most of her summers working at a daycare.
Nonnie was moving on, so she followed her into the master bedroom. Everything in her wanted to slip into the lacy, high-collared dress that was on display. “Wouldn’t you love to play dress-up for just a day?”
Nonnie wrinkled her petite nose. “Maybe an hour. In the winter. These clothes are too hot.”
“I know, but I’d like to give it a try.”
Nonnie headed for the stairs to go back down. “What’s stopping you? You know how to sew. Make yourself a fancy Victorian dress and go shopping at Safeway.”
Lalita followed her down the narrow stairs. “That’s the problem. I’d want to wear it in an appropriate setting. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be a part of a historical ball where everyone dressed in the time period and knew all the dances?”
Nonnie stopped at the bottom and looked back, her blue eyes staring blankly. “Yeah, that would be a hoot. While you’re there, I’ll go to the bar next door.”
As the two moved back through the house to the exit, Lalita wondered what had happened to her old friend. We used to have more in common.
“Why oh why did you make me drink so much water!” Lalita was squeezing her legs tightly together on the not-so-comfortable bench of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.
Nonnie gave her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, that’s what you’re supposed to do when you travel from 7,000 to 14,000 feet to prevent altitude sickness. I assumed you wanted to enjoy your time at the top once we got there.”
Lalita looked at the rain beating on the windows. “I’m not sure ‘enjoying ourselves’ is gonna happen anyway.” The lightning illuminating the thunderheads seemed far away, but their tour guide had warned them of the danger of running around on the highest point in a lightning storm―no matter how far away it seemed.
Lalita’s last minute idea to go up Pikes Peak had earned them the last two spots on the last run of the day and the fold down jump seats at the front of the second car.
Now they were sitting at the top of the mountain, not allowed to exit the rail car until the light show stopped. The next bolt seemed less intense and farther away, and Lalita reached out and tugged the sleeve of the twenty-something tour guide. “Do you think it will be much longer? I really really have to use the bathroom. There’s going to be a puddle here very soon if you don’t let me off this car.”
The young man with a high-lighted blond faux hawk grimaced. “I’m sorry, but no one gets off until the lightning stops.”
Lalita nodded, thin-lipped, and closed her eyes. She was shivering as well. It had been eighty-eight degrees at the bottom, but it was in the thirties at the top. The shorts and tank top she had on was like wearing nothing at all. Nonnie, who was similarly dressed, put her arm around her, and the two huddled together for warmth.
“So much for my brilliant ideas,” Lalita spoke through chattering teeth. “I’m gonna pee right here and freeze to the seat.”
“Give me fair warning,” Nonnie growled.
After a few silent moments where Lalita did nothing but pray for bladder control, Nonnie nudged her arm. “Oh look, Lita! A rainbow.”
Lalita opened her eyes and craned her neck to look where she was pointing. “It’s a beauty, alright.” Her pressing need kept her from further excitement, however, until she realized what the clearing skies meant. She breathed a sigh of relief when she noticed the blue-eyed guide heading their way, smiling. She and Nonnie rose, as their seat actually had to fold up so the door could be opened.
“I know you’re in a hurry, but please don’t run to the building,” he warned.
Lalita nodded, took two steps at a slow pace, then sprinted to the gift shop.
After their emergency bathroom stop, Lalita and Nonnie met up at the check-out counter, each with articles of clothing and blankets in their arms. Lalita held up a red union suit that sported “Pikes Peak or Bust” on the rump.
“There must be more idiots that come up here inadequately clothed to be selling long johns and blankets,” she observed, looking around at the milling crowd from the cog rail. “But today, I think we get the prize.”
Nonnie snorted. “Some ‘prize.’ This stuff isn’t cheap.”
Lalita took a few steps forward as the line started to move. “Of course not. They know we’ll pay anything once we’re up here and freezing our butts off.”
After paying, Lalita went to the bathroom again to slip into her long underwear. She’d hoped to put it on over her clothes, but there was too much bulk. Slipping out of her shorts and tank top, she stuffed them into her shopping bag before pulling on the outfit that was guaranteed to garner her a few stares. “Thank heavens I have on my hiking boots rather than my rhinestone-studded sandals.”
Making her way back through the gift shop, she found Nonnie in front of the “World Famous Donuts” sign and snapped a selfie of them sampling the wares. She checked the time. The lightning storm had eaten up some of their alloted minutes, but she was determined to see something of the view before she had to climb back in the rail car. “Come on, Nonnie, we need to go have a look while there’s still time.”
Pulling their woven wool blankets tight around them, they headed out and snapped another selfie in front of the Pikes Peak Summit sign before jogging to the rocky edge. There were still dark clouds in the south, but the north was clearing.
Turning her attention outward, Lalita marveled at the massive boulders close to the top and the distance she could see. The view across the mountains was indescribable. “Wow.”
A whistle sounded, and Nonnie turned. “Time to go.”
“Wait. I haven’t taken any pictures of the view yet.”
Nonnie continued back to the cog rail car. “Well, hurry, you don’t want to get left up here.”
Lalita snapped pictures in several directions, and when the whistle sounded again, she turned in resignation, sliding her phone back into her soft leather shoulder bag and gripping the blanket closed at her chest. A sudden breeze blew a wisp of her dark hair into her eyes, and she stopped a second to work her hand out from under the blanket to clear her vision.
A moment later, her hair lifted, her skin tingled, and the brightest flash she’d ever seen sent her into darkness.
The pounding on Tate Cavanaugh’s door was relentless. He had just settled into a hot bath when it began. He’d gotten caught in the rain while out on a call and hoped to ward off the chill with the steaming tub, but it seemed that there was to be no rest for the weary. Or at least no hot bath for the doctor this evening.
He had already sent Mrs. Kettler home for the night, so unless he wanted his 5-year-old daughter to jump out of bed and answer the door after dark—which she just might do, being a rather impulsive child―he needed to haul himself out of the tub and answer the door post haste.
Wrapping a towel around his waist, he dripped down the stairs to the door and at the last minute considered that whoever was on the other side might be female. He wavered. “Who is it?”
“Martin and Alfred Hill. We’ve got someone who needs your help.”
Tate unbolted the door and pulled it open to the dark night that was only illuminated by the lantern held by one of the Hill brothers. The other was carrying someone bundled in an Indian blanket, and all of them looked as though they had gotten caught in the rain as well. A sizable puddle was forming on his covered front porch.
He stepped back. “Bring him in. What’s the trouble? Illness or injury?”
Martin shook his head as he set the lantern down just outside the door, and Alfred stepped through with Tate’s new patient. “We don’t really know. He was found at the top of Pike’s Peak when the cog rail train made its final run of the day. He’s breathin’, but nothing seems to wake him. He even slept through the downpour we got caught in. With just the buckboard, we couldn’t give him any shelter.”
He paused and just seemed to notice the doctor’s lack of dress. “Sorry we interrupted your bath, Doc.”
Tate shook his head and waved the two men down the hall toward the stairs rather than his examination room at his right. “Bring him this way, Alfred. We better get him warmed up. The man doesn’t need a case of pneumonia on top of whatever else is ailing him.”
Alfred hesitated and gave a quick glance to his brother. “There’s something you might want to know first.”
Martin pulled the blanket away from the dark-haired bundle’s face. “His features ain’t real strong, but he looks like he might be a young Injun. Ute, maybe, or Cheyenne.”
Tate studied the face surrounded by hair as dark as midnight that had been plastered to his head by the driving rain. The bronzish skin was paler than usual due to cold, but he could definitely see the high cheek bone structure common to the Colorado natives. He wondered what could have befallen this young Indian and felt a chill run up his spine, but shook it off as being due to his current state of near nakedness.
“Duly noted. Now let’s get him undressed and in the tub. If you two wouldn’t mind doing that, I’d like to put something on that’s more suitable to the occasion.”
Striding upstairs with the Hill brothers following, he nearly ran into his daughter standing in the hallway. “Nellie, what are you doing out of bed?”
She pulled on his towel, wide-eyed, and he had to make a quick grab for it lest he’d be standing there in nothing at all. He stroked her curly blond head as he guided her back to her bedroom. “You haven’t answered my question yet, Miss Nell.”
She whispered a reply that Tate didn’t catch, but didn’t have the time or inclination to ferret out. “Well, whatever your excuse, it just won’t serve. Back to bed with you. And stay there.”
He gave her a little push into the room that should have been filled with all the frills that girls love, but instead was as practical as the doctor himself. Turning into his own room, he quickly got dressed while the Hills took the bundled young man to the room next to Nellie’s. Donning trousers and shirt, he decided to forgo footwear until he had his patient in a better state.
He padded across the crewel-carpeted hallway to his bathroom and was surprised to see the brothers kneeling in front of the young man, who was laid out on the floor. As he entered the room, they both turned, their slack-jawed expressions only puzzling him further. “I thought I asked you to get him undressed.”
Tate took in the boots that were small even for a young man, his gaze traveling up the red union suit to where the Hills had started to unbutton it. They rose and stepped back, allowing the doctor access. His brows rose at what could only be a bright pink support for what he didn’t need to be a doctor to know were obviously breasts.
Tate watched his patient, wondering if he should take her to the hospital in Denver―a journey that would take him away from his practice for several days. She was still out after twenty-four hours, and he feared a full out coma. He and his housekeeper, Mrs. Kettler, had been monitoring her around the clock, and even little Nell had stayed with her, giving her droppers of water and broth at regular intervals.
After the discovery that “he” was a “she,” he’d sent the Hill brothers to fetch Mrs. Kettler but proceeded to undress her himself down to her underthings―the strangest, skimpiest underthings he’d ever seen. If she hadn’t been in desperate need of warming up, he would have waited for his housekeeper for the sake of propriety, but he’d told himself that the young woman’s health was more important, and he was, after all, a doctor.
Mrs. Kettler had arrived in time to remove the last of the girl’s wet clothes and get her dressed for bed in one of his late wife’s nightgowns.
As surprising as her underclothes had been, the colorful flowered tattoo that covered her right shoulder and upper arm had captured his attention the entire time he had been warming her in the bath, and even now his eyes drifted to the spot, even though he couldn’t see it through the long-sleeved gown.
He couldn’t help but appreciate the artistry―he’d never seen a tattoo like it―but was shocked that a woman would have such a thing permanently done to her body. Not to mention the piercings on her earlobes. One of her earrings was missing, but the hole was still plainly there. With such bodily decoration, he feared that she had spent time in a house of ill repute. The cross necklace she wore at least spoke to the possibility of redemption.
He sat back, letting his gaze rest on her peaceful face, her long dark lashes resting against her high cheek bones. Perhaps it’s all merely for tribal distinction.
Another curiosity was her hair. Not even the Ute men wore their hair so short. His eyes narrowed remembering the union suit she’d been wearing with the prospector’s slogan on the backside. Was she trying to pass for a miner? He smiled. Better remove the other earring, then, missy.
He was just about to make himself a cup of coffee, when her nose twitched and a sigh escaped her lips. Pulling his stool closer to the bed, he was hopeful that his wait was over.
Lalita couldn’t open her eyes for the pounding in her head. She groaned and almost immediately felt a hand on her forehead. A deep voice resonated an “Ah” that sounded miles away, ringing in her ears for several moments before there was silence once more.
She tried to turn her head, but light sparked around her eyes, sending her hands in search of her face. They seemed to be under something heavy and cloth-like, and she panicked to get her hands out.
The weight lifted off of her arms as the voice spoke again, sounding closer this time. “Shh, it’s all right. Can you hear me?”
Lalita tried to swallow but her mouth had absolutely no spit. She gave a small nod as she licked her dry lips in vain.
A strong hand slid under her shoulders and lifted, and she felt a glass against her lower lip. “See if you can take a sip for me. You’ve been out quite a while.”
Lalita gripped the quilt as she sipped the water. She had a vague remembrance concerning water, but it slipped away before she could grab onto it. The last thing she remembered was watching the blacksmith at the history farm. It was really hot by the forge. Did I faint?
When the glass was pulled away, and she was laid back down, she was determined to see where she was. Putting a hand to the eye that was throbbing, she managed to ease the other one open.
A very serious man was looking at her intently. She shut her eye tight and opened it again, trying to gain better focus. Dark brown eyes stared back.
Suddenly aware that she was no longer in her clothes, both eyes snapped open, and despite the pain in her head, she looked down to see what exactly she had on. She seemed to be in a lightweight, though long-sleeved granny nightgown of some kind, and she was pretty sure she didn’t have anything on underneath. “What the hell’s going on?” she squeaked out, covering her right eye with her hand once more.
The man reached for her hand, easing it away from her face. “It’s all right. There’s no need to be frightened.” His mouth hinted at a tiny smile. “Or any need to swear. I’m a doctor. You’ve been injured somehow, but I’m at a loss to know just what happened. You don’t appear to have any abrasions, contusions, bruises, or broken bones.”
Lalita closed her eyes again. “My head hurts something awful. Do you have any extra-strength Tylenol?”
Instead of answering, the man who claimed to be her doctor pried open the eye closest to him and held some kind of lantern up to it. “You speak very well for a Ute woman.”
She pushed his hand away. “A what woman?”
He took her hand and pulled it to the bed. “A Ute woman. The natives of this area. Or did you come from elsewhere?” He then proceeded to examine her eye once again.
Once again, she pushed him away. “Hey! That’s really annoying right now when my head feels like someone’s hitting it with a cricket bat.”
“I’m terribly sorry, but if you’ve had a head injury, I need to examine your eyes―see how they respond to light.”
He started his hand toward her other eye, and she slapped it. “Just wait a minute. I’ll do it myself.”
It took a lot of effort, but she managed to flutter the other eye open. “Why would you assume that I’m descended from your local tribe? People travel all over, you know.”
Lalita wiped the watering corner of her eye as the doctor sat back on the stool he had pulled close to the bed. He seemed to be trying to contain a smile. “That they do, Miss. My apologies for my assumptions. You have obviously been well educated.”
She stretched out her arms in front of her. “So what’s with this funky nightgown, and is Nonnie here?”
“The nightgown was… I let you borrow it, since your clothes―such that they were―were soaking wet. Two men brought you to my door last night, and no one has inquired about you.”
“Last night!” She bolted upright, only to fall sideways with sudden vertigo.
The doctor caught her. “Careful. Take it slow. You are most certainly short on sustenance.”
Lalita clung to him as the room spun, her thoughts spinning with it. Last night? Nonnie must not know where I am. “I need to let Nonnie know what’s happened, although I don’t really understand what’s happened. She was with me at Rock Ledge Ranch, so where is she?”
He held on to her stiffly, his breath tickling her ear. “What were you doing at Rock Ledge Ranch?”
Lalita was perplexed by his tone that almost sounded accusatory. “Taking the tour like everyone else. What do you think?”
He didn’t speak for a moment. “You were not found at a ranch. You were found on top of Pikes Peak.”
The spinning in her head stopped, and she pulled out of his arms. The scent of his strong aftershave seemed to come with her. “Pikes Peak? But Nonnie wasn’t with me?”
He shook his head, looking more than a little concerned. “I’ve heard nothing of a Nonnie.”
“I don’t understand…”
“Neither do I, Miss… I guess I should inquire your name.”
“Lalita Torres,” she answered, on the verge of tears.
“Well, Miss Torres, I’m Dr. Tate Cavanaugh, and let’s not panic just yet. I’m sure more will come back to you as time goes on, and I promise, we’ll find your Nonnie.”
Her stomach rumbled, and the brown-haired man gave her hand a pat. “Mrs. Kettler has left for the day, so I suppose it’s up to me to find you something to eat.”
Lalita looked around the room, and for the first time, it dawned on her that she was in a house rather than a hospital or doctor’s office. A very stylish house. A very stylish Victorian house. She looked back to the man who was heading out of the room in high waist slacks and suspenders over his crisp white shirt. I don’t remember going up Pikes Peak at all… Maybe I never left Rock Ledge Ranch.
While Tate warmed some broth on the stove, he pondered his new patient. He was relieved that she was awake and the need to take her to the hospital had diminished. Along with the arduous journey, he feared that she might not receive the best care due to her heritage. Many folks bore animosity toward Indians.
He stood straighter, his chin ticking up. Many do, but I will not.
Her level of education was more than a little surprising given her gender and background, but her colorful way of speaking wasn’t likely to land her in the best of social circles. There were certain society rules that most young ladies were schooled in at a very young age. He thought of his late wife’s struggle to fit into Denver society, and he grit his teeth.
Dipping a spoon in the broth, he tested its warmth with a sip before setting it on the spoon rest. Satisfied, he poured the broth into a bowl and turned to retrieve a clean spoon from the drawer, when he heard a crash.
Running down the hall to the examination room, he found his patient on her knees, trying to pick up pieces of a broken lantern. He quickly moved to lift her up by the shoulders “Careful, girl, you’ll cut yourself.” Scooping her up, he carried her back to the bed and examined her feet before pulling the quilt over her once more.
She looked mortified. “I’m so sorry. I’m sure that was an antique. I can pay you for it.” She looked around the room. “That is, if I can find my purse. That’s what I was looking for when I got dizzy. That and my clothes.”
Tate waved a hand in dismissal. “Nonsense. It was an ordinary lantern. Nothing special about it. Now stay in bed while I fetch your broth and a broom.”
Returning moments later, he helped Lalita to prop herself up in bed and left her to the eating of the broth while he swept up the broken glass and mopped up the spilled oil with an old rag.
He straightened from the task just in time to see her lift the bowl to her lips. His eyebrows rose of their own volition. “Well,” he stuttered, trying to pretend he hadn’t witnessed her lack of social graces, “how do you feel after a bit of broth?”
She wiped her mouth on the napkin he’d given her. “I’m still starving. Could I have something else before I leave?”
“Leave? I don’t think you’re quite ready to strike out on your own yet. Besides, it’s getting dark. We should probably see how you feel in the morning.” He set the broom behind the door. “I’ll give you a thorough exam then, and hopefully, your full memory will have returned.”
Her mood seemed to shift in an instant. “Look, I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken care of me for a day, but it’s time to cut the crap. You’re just a volunteer at the Ranch pretending to be a doctor for the sake of realism. I should just give Nonnie a call and have her come get me. Since I can’t find my purse, and my phone is in it, would you be so kind as to let me borrow your cell?”
Tate had no idea what the woman just said, and he feared she might be having a stroke. Moving swiftly to her bedside, he sat on the stool. “Can you repeat that?”
Rolling her eyes, she flung the quilt back and attempted to get out of bed. Tate put out a hand to stop her. “Miss Torres, I’m going to ask you to stay in bed. Even though I can find no evidence of it, I believe you’ve had a head injury that could lead to further serious complications. Can you understand what I’m saying?”
She sat down, clearly exasperated. “Of course I can understand what you’re saying, but I’m saying I need to leave now. The show’s over. You’ve done a marvelous job of staying in character, but I really need to go.”
Tate blinked, wondering how to proceed. He needed to calm her down before she fled and injured herself again. He tried smiling. “Thank you, Miss Torres, for your sincere compliment, but I’m going to ask you to stay here with me just one more night.”
The girl’s lips went into a thin line, and her agitation was evident. “Why don’t I have anything on?”
Tate wondered if this was more gibberish. He put a hand to her forehead to check for fever but found her to be cool to the touch. “What do you mean? You very plainly have on a nightgown.”
“Underneath, Sherlock. I’ve got nothing on underneath.”
He had no idea why she’d call him Sherlock when he’d told her his name quite plainly, but he did understand the rest of her sentence and despite being a doctor, he blushed. “Miss Torres, I can explain.”
Lalita crossed her arms over her chest. “So talk.”
“When the men brought you to me, you were soaking wet from a rain storm and nearly blue with cold. It was important to get you warmed up, so… so my housekeeper got you undressed for the bath. Not me.” He moved to a free-standing wardrobe and opened the doors. “Your clothes are right here. Mrs. Kettler laundered them today, and you are free to put them back on if you like, although I think the union suit may be a bit warm for this time of year down here in the valley.”
He wasn’t sure why he’d felt the need to cover up the fact that he had, indeed, undressed her down to her undergarments. As a doctor he had dealt with much more embarrassing facts.
Lalita rose and walked across the room. Her boots, socks, underwear, and bra were stacked neatly on a shelf, along with a pair of red long johns that were obviously not hers. “Where’s my tank top and shorts?”
The doctor’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know about those items. This is what you were wearing when you arrived.”
She shook out the long johns and held them in front of her. “Are you kidding me? I was wearing this?”
She read the backside—Pikes Peak or Bust— and had a flash of a memory that was there for just a moment and gone. She swayed, and he stepped forward to steady her. She felt fear rise up again, but it was squelched by the appearance of a small blonde holding a china doll in a nightgown almost identical to the one she was wearing.
The doctor followed her gaze, his manner shifting gears. “Miss Nell, what are you doing out of bed?”
“Papa, I heard a noise, and I wondered…” she whispered. She stepped into the room and pulled on his arm. He bent his ear to her lips, and Lalita had to strain to hear her. “I wondered if she was awake.”
Before he could answer, Lalita stepped forward, forgetting her earlier fear. “I am awake.”
The girl closed the gap between them, and Lalita squatted down to her height, still holding the long underwear. “Did you help take care of me while I slept?”
The little blonde nodded, her long curls bouncing. Lalita put a hand to her shoulder. “Well, I appreciate it very much.”
Nell cupped her hands around her mouth, and Lalita turned her head to receive the intended message. “I’m also hungry.”
Lalita smiled and looked up at the man who was smiling down at them both, looking a bit mystified. “Me, too. I believe your papa was about to make me a bedtime snack. You can join me.” She rose and stuffed the long johns back in the cupboard. “Isn’t that right, Doc?”
“I suppose we could try a bit of bread with some broth this time.” He turned his attention to his daughter. “Nell, go wash your hands.”
He waved a hand toward the door. “Miss Torres, would you care to join Nellie in the dining room?”
“In a minute. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll at least put on my underwear.”
Nodding, he reached for the door knob. He hesitated before closing it behind him, however. “Does this mean that you’ll be staying until morning?”
“May I ask what made you change your mind?”
“Well, I just figured this all out. My two passions are history and kids, and here I am in a cool Victorian house with an adorable little girl.” She smiled. “And you’re totally hot.” She took her clothes off the shelf. “I’m still sleeping, Doc, and this is just a really fantastic dream.”
What People Are Saying:
“I immediately was drawn into this book’s richly developed characters (including being delighted to find a Native American main character). The finely crafted historical details intertwined with romance and suspense made it impossible to put down. There were several unpredictable twists that left me exclaiming out loud in surprise. I loved this book!”
“I loved this book. I find myself thinking about the book and wondering how Lalita and Tate make their 2 worlds work together.”