Under Montana Skies
Darlene Graham

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“Please,” he repeated. “I’ve got to get this shoulder working again. And I can’t do it without a therapist.”

Laura held her foot on the brake while she stared out the windshield and considered.

He needed her skills, and she needed his money.

Four years of physical-therapy training had depleted every cent she’d filched from Stuart. All she had now was a simple little frame house back in Kalispell, this eight-year-old Toyota and her self-respect.

She gave Adam Scott a sidelong glance. “I suppose you know I’m the only physical therapist who’s prepared to work with you.”

He didn’t flinch, didn’t look angry, didn’t even laugh derisively. He merely gave her another squinting assessment, then blinked as if coming out a dream.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all, Ms. Duncan,” he said. “I can’t say that I blame them. I can be difficult. But I promise, if you stay, I’ll treat you professionally. Now, won’t you please come inside?”

CHAPTER TWO

AS SHE STEPPED into the cabin, Laura’s misgivings about taking on this case only increased.

Thick-hewn beams, darkened with age, spanned the low ceiling, making the long rectangular room feel oppressive and gloomy. Her first impulse was to dart around to the windows set squarely into three of the walls and throw back the heavy wooden shutters.

Instead, she set her satchel at her feet and let her eyes adjust to the dim light while she waited for her patient to come back in.

He’d gone through a door toward the back to get another chair, she supposed. The fact that there was only a table and one lone chair in this barren room was spooky, not to mention the darkness and the general lack of…life about this place.

Laura rubbed her hands up and down her sweatshirt-covered arms. Even though it was early September and the last scraps of snow on the high peaks were long gone, the mountain air had a definite chill. She hoped she could complete Mr. Scott’s treatment program according to her six-week plan. Sixteen Mile Creek road would be impassable once the first heavy snows fell.

She eyed the massive stone fireplace. It was swept clean and cold-looking, like the mouth of a cave.

The walls of the room, rough knotty-pine planks, had absolutely no decoration, the wooden floor, no rugs. The place looked the same as Laura guessed it had for—what?—the past century or so.

On the round oak table was a solitary paper plate holding the remains of a plain bologna sandwich. What kind of man chose to live such an existence?

She turned and looked back out the front door, which stood open. Should she close it? No. If she did, this room would be as dark as night.

Beyond the shadows of the porch she spotted the corner of a well-tended garden, which she hadn’t noticed when she’d driven up. That was odd. She craned her neck to see more. It sloped down the sunny side of the mountain in neat rows. What did he do with all those vegetables? she wondered. As she watched, a big shaggy yellow dog sauntered into the picture and flopped down in a shady spot at the edge of the garden. Well, if the man had a dog, maybe he wasn’t all bad.

“Ms. Duncan?”

She whirled around, instantly blushing, embarrassed that she’d allowed his deep voice to startle her.

He clumped into the room, frowning and carrying a chair with his good arm. He banged it down opposite the one at the table. “Have a seat.”

Laura crossed the bare floor and after she adjusted the chair—the wooden legs made a terrible scraping noise—she sat, none too comfortably.

He lowered himself into the chair opposite and pushed the sandwich aside.

“Did I interrupt your lunch?” she asked. Her own had been a quick carton of yogurt and some crackers and fruit from the basket of goodies she’d packed.

“Let’s see the contract.”

Laura’s cheeks grew hotter. Okay. So he was going to be consistently rude. She supposed she could deal with that.

“Can we have some light?” she asked pleasantly.

Without a word he got up—the chair legs made that terrible scraping noise again—and rounded the table to the nearest window. He slammed the heavy wooden shutters aside. Light poured through wavy-paned glass onto the table-top, making the white paper plate glow.

While he returned to his seat, Laura dug the contract out of her bag. When she held it out, he snatched the pages from her hand. He reached across and rubbed his right shoulder, frowning as he read the document.

Finally he tossed the papers onto the table. “I asked for a male therapist you know,” he said flatly, and crossed his well-muscled arms over his chest.

“I know,” Laura answered quietly, “but as I told you, I’m the only one who would come. Didn’t Mrs. Summers explain that to you?”

Adam Scott scowled. “You are absolutely not what I had in mind.”

“I’m sorry about that, but let me assure you I am very good at what I do.” She smiled. “And you did ask me to stay. Tell you what, I’ll give you a complimentary treatment—” she picked up the contract, “—and if you don’t like it, I’ll leave.”

He glared at her and snatched the papers from her hand again, then slapped them on the table in front of him and held out his hand for a pen. “Where do I sign?”

She pointed out the three places where he would consent to her treatment plan, assure her of full payment and allow her to release his medical records to any insurance carrier. “Sign here, here and here.”

As the pen scratched across the paper while he signed his name, Laura noticed he still wore his wedding band.

He stopped after signing only two of the lines. “I don’t use insurance,” he stated in a tone that invited no discussion. Laura pointed at the fee figures. “Fine. Initial these, please.”

He gave her a grudging nod and did so.

One more piece of business. “Where will I be staying?” she asked as she handed him the carbon copy and put the signed original back in her satchel. She could always go back into the tiny town of Libby and stay at the modest motel there, but that would mean arduous daily trips up that Sixteen Mile Creek Road, and it would cost them valuable therapy time.

She’d noticed a smaller stone house a little farther up the mountain. It actually looked pleasant, inviting. Maybe she could stay there. One thing was certain: he was just about the most attractive man she’d ever seen, and she wasn’t about to stay under the same roof with him.

At last he smiled. A relaxed slightly crooked smile that bared strong white teeth.

“I was planning to put an extra bed up here.” He didn’t wait for her response to that. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and said, “Now you can see why I asked for a male therapist.”

“What about that small house farther up on the mountain? Could I possibly stay there?”

His face darkened.

Instead of answering her, he stood and crossed the room to the door. He braced his good arm on the frame and stared out at the lovely garden.

After what seemed an eternity, he said, “No. The stone house is closed.” He hung his head as if thinking, then spoke quietly. “I guess you could take the bedroom upstairs and I could…I could open up the stone house.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Scott, but my staying upstairs doesn’t address the problem. I’m not comfortable staying alone on this mountain with you in this isolated cabin—”

His long weary sigh interrupted her. For another moment he kept his head lowered. Then Laura saw his shoulders move, thought she actually heard a chuckle.

“Ms. Duncan, you certainly drive a hard bargain. All right. I know a reliable older couple down the creek. They’re—” his voice became gentle, “—they’re very nice people, very stable. If I ask them, they’ll come and stay in the house with you—they can sleep downstairs.” He said all this with his back toward her. “Over there.” He gestured at an empty alcove at the other side of the room. “The old guy has bad knees, so the stairs would be too much for him.”

When Laura remained patiently silent, he turned and looked at her. His dark eyes had a thoughtful squint, as if he was making a difficult decision. He swallowed. “And I’ll sleep in the stone house. Would that be satisfactory?”
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