Under Montana Skies
He couldn’t afford to let himself have these feelings. He needed a fully functioning arm and shoulder if he was going to do what he had to do, and he didn’t need to be distracted by the charms of his therapist. This arrangement would never work. Somehow he’d find another way to get his therapy done.
He pulled on his boots, which set off a twinge of pain in his shoulder, found his shirt, sneered at Ned while he buttoned it, then headed down the stairs.
The laughter fell off when he ducked his head around the narrow door at the foot of the stairs.
“Adam,” Katherine said kindly, and stepped away from the stove toward him. “Did you sleep well?”
“We were just getting acquainted with Laura.” Doc smiled up at him from the rocker.
Laura Duncan was standing at the chopping block, where the big gift basket sat with the cellophane all askew as if they’d been digging around in it. Evidently she’d been slicing chunks of cantaloupe into a crockery bowl, but now she stopped. She, too, was smiling. Everybody looked happy. He was glad to see Doc and Katherine enjoying themselves, but he had no intention of joining the party. For him there was no such feeling as happy. Only one thing drove his days and nights now. One thing. And Doc and Katherine knew that.
“Ms. Duncan, I need to speak to you. Alone.” He marched past her into the main room and waited with his boot propped on the big stone hearth.
IN THE KITCHEN, Laura looked from Doc to Katherine, confusion and embarrassment rendering her speechless. Things had been going so well!
She’d immediately liked Doc and Katherine Jones, lean white-haired retirees who wore Birkenstocks and sincere smiles. As soon as they’d walked in the back door of the cabin, their arms loaded with groceries, Laura had sensed their good humor, their kindness, their wisdom.
As the older couple bustled about putting away the food and chattering, it was obvious they felt at home and knew where everything was stored in the small kitchen. In no time they were all sipping steaming mugs of the herbal tea Laura had taken from her basket.
“We come up the mountain all the time,” Katherine explained. “We try to help Adam. I cook. Doc tends garden and does odd jobs.” She sighed. “Poor Adam—such a long recovery.”
After they’d helped Laura situate her gear, they’d given her a tour of the place—forty acres in the middle of a national forest. The last of such private land, Doc explained. The log cabin was built late in the nineteenth century, Katherine told her. The stone house, she said, was added later.
The whole time Adam Scott had slept soundly, and as the sun lowered, there had been an almost palpable peace about the breathtakingly beautiful old homestead.
Then, Laura thought, the minute the man stomped down the stairs, there was tension again.
Doc cleared his throat and scratched the top of his balding pate. “You’d better go see what he wants, Laura.”
“Yes,” Katherine added. “The soup will keep.” She turned to the stove and stirred it.
“Excuse me, then.” Laura laid aside the knife, wiped her hands on the apron Katherine had supplied and went into the main room.
She wished he’d lit a lamp. The pale evening light that filtered in through the lone unshuttered window didn’t allow her to see him, much less read his expression.
His voice rumbled, disembodied, from beside the fireplace. “We need to discuss this arrangement,” he said.
Laura dropped her hands to her sides and squared her shoulders. “Mr. Scott, I’ve been thinking. Maybe I’m not the right therapist for you, after all. I’ll arrange some sort of replacement immediately and, of course, I won’t hold you to that contract.”
“What?” Even in the darkness, Laura sensed his sudden dismay.
She wished she had a plausible excuse. She’d tried to think of one all afternoon while he slept. But what could she say? I think I’m attracted to you, so it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to do your therapy? Though it was true, that sounded so unprofessional it made Laura cringe. “I’m leaving, but I’ll stay till I find a replacement.”
Wait a minute, Adam thought as he studied Laura in the dim light, she’s leaving? The strangest mix of emotions assailed him. He was a scientist, a logical man, but he couldn’t explain these feelings. Upstairs he’d been certain she should go, but the second she announced that she was leaving, his heart had started to beat faster and his breath had actually become short. She reached up self-consciously to adjust her tiny earring, making it glint, and he was struck again by how feminine she was, how even her slightest movement affected him.
“Ms. Duncan—” he found his voice “—I know I’ve been…less than cordial. But now that you’ll have the Joneses here with you…” His voice trailed off. He felt genuinely at a loss. When had his goal become keeping her here?
“Please, believe me, Mr. Scott, it’s not anything you’ve done,” Laura was saying. “And I like Doc and Katherine a lot. I just…I just don’t think I’ve got what it takes to complete your therapy. I know my limits.”
“But my arm and my shoulder—when I woke up they already felt better.” He stepped forward, feeling like a panic-stricken little boy. “I’ll double your salary.”
“Mr. Scott! I couldn’t let you do that.” Even in the darkening room, he could see her eyes widen with shock. “That would make my fee almost twenty-five thousand dollars!”
“I want you to stay,” he stated simply. She didn’t reply.
DINNER WAS QUIET, uneasy.
Katherine had lit a kerosene lamp in the middle of the table, which alleviated the gloom, and the food was delicious, especially Katherine’s homemade bread, but Laura sensed Adam’s tension. And the way Doc and Katherine addressed him—so kindly, so carefully, as if he was fragile and needed encouragement—bothered her. It also began to bother her that the Joneses had so easily given up their own beds for this man. What was their relationship? It seemed more than neighborly.
“Adam, aren’t you having any brown Betty? I made it just for you,” Katherine said.
“You don’t have to cook especially for me, Katherine. I told you that.”
After dinner Adam and Doc busied themselves setting up a bed for the Joneses in the small alcove on the other side of the fireplace. Laura didn’t ask where the bed had come from. This place was full of unanswered questions, some less important than others.
After she helped Katherine with the dishes, Laura washed up at the kitchen sink, visited the outhouse with a flashlight, then retreated to the attic.
It was Katherine, she assumed, who’d thoughtfully placed a vase of wildflowers on the chest and made up the bed with fresh sheets—his bed. Laura shook the thought off. She had to remain professional and detached.
She turned on the small bedside lamp and settled herself in, ready to pore over the thick sheaf of Adam Scott’s chart again.
“All right, Ned-o.” She glanced at the dummy propped against the wall. “Let’s see what this guy is all about.”
Adam Scott had had a long recovery indeed. Ruptured spleen. Pins in his broken shoulder. Months of surgeries, antibiotics, treatments. Yet he appeared to be in good physical condition, considering all his trauma.
Strengthening the arm and shoulder muscles and restoring complete range of motion would be the last painful step. Except…She thumbed through the chart, looking for psychotherapy referrals. None.
“Patient refuses” notations next to entries documenting offers of counseling and pastoral care made it clear that everyone who’d tried to help Adam Scott had been rebuffed. There was something disturbing about this case, about this man, something she couldn’t see just by reading his charts.
She flipped back to the biographical data. All the blanks were neatly filled in, and she’d read it all this morning. She sighed. “All the same, I reckon we got us a real pitiful one, Ned.”
She closed the chart, scooted under the thick down comforter and tossed her way into a restless sleep.
SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT a sound, something softer than a moth’s wing, awakened her.
She opened her eyes a crack and without raising her head looked around the unfamiliar room. Rain pattered softly on the metal attic roof and the mountain air had grown so chilly that her nose felt cold.
Lightning flashed, and standing there, clearly silhouetted in the floor-to-ceiling window at the far end of the attic, was a man.
For an instant Laura was paralyzed by fear, as thunder rolled over the roof. Her heart raced.
Another bolt of lightning illuminated the figure. Though she couldn’t see clearly without her glasses, she recognized the build. Adam Scott. Of course. But what on earth…?
Waves of sheet lightning in the distance kept him constantly in view now. His pose was alert, still.
He faced the window, holding a pair of binoculars. They were bigger than normal, Laura thought, with a long extra piece in the middle, perhaps the night-vision kind she’d seen in thrillers.
She was about to let him know she was awake when, as the room darkened, she thought she saw him turn his head in her direction.