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Under Montana Skies
Darlene Graham



Laura stared up at Katherine’s seasoned face in disbelief.

“I’m sorry,” she managed. “How old was his daughter?”

Katherine’s hand stilled on the dishrag and she stared out the window. “Three.” She spoke as if in a trance.

“How awful,” Laura said.

Katherine nodded. “Elizabeth and Adam had waited several years to have her. Elizabeth was a research scientist and did not want her demanding career goals to interfere with a child’s happiness. She had waited until…she and Adam had reached a certain level of success and then…then they had Anna.”

“I see,” Laura said quietly. She still didn’t know what to say.

Katherine turned on the spigot in the sink. Water blasted out and she rinsed the cloth under it, shaking her head. “This water drains by gravity from the spring. Never reliable. Sometimes a torrent, sometimes a dribble. And always freezing.”

“Katherine, are you okay?” Laura asked.

Katherine nodded. Laura reached out and clasped the older woman in a hug.

And that was how Adam Scott found them, embracing.

“Ms. Duncan!” he boomed from behind the screen door, then jerked it open.

Laura and Katherine broke apart as he stepped into the room, but not before they gave each other one last parting pat. When their gazes met as they released each other, Laura thought she read warning in Katherine’s.

“Are you ready to go to work?” Adam frowned at Laura’s attire. “I’d like my morning treatment as early as possible.”

“Uh, no. I’m sorry. I’m not ready.” Laura cinched her robe. “I, uh, I need to go up and put my scrubs on, and—” she pulled her mop of hair back “—I’ll be right down.” She turned, jerked on the leather strap on the narrow door and dashed up the stairs.

In her embarrassment and haste she hadn’t closed the door completely and when she got to the landing at the top she froze when she heard Adam say her name.

“What were you and Ms. Duncan talking about?”

“I think you know.” Katherine’s voice sounded tearful.

Laura clutched the railing.

She heard Adam’s sympathetic reply— “Ahh, Katherine,” —and then his heavy bootfalls as he crossed the room. “Are you all right?” he asked tenderly.

She heard Katherine sniffling and saying something in a small pained voice. Then Adam murmuring softly. He finished with something that sounded like, “You mustn’t keep upsetting yourself.”

Laura crossed the room to start dressing and tried to ignore the conversation below her, but the voices continued to drift clearly up the stairs.

“Adam, I think we should be honest with this young woman.” Katherine’s voice was louder, firmer now.

Adam’s tone sounded exasperated. “No. That’s not a good idea.”

Laura coughed loudly, hoping they’d realize she could hear them. Evidently they must have gotten the idea, because she heard Adam’s footsteps again and then a creak as the stairway door closed.

ADAM HAD PUT his finger to his lips as soon as he’d heard Laura cough. Katherine was a little hard of hearing, and it was easy for her to forget how well sound carried in the quiet cabin, but he had no excuse for being so careless. After he closed the door to the stairs, he led Katherine into the front room to continue their conversation.

“Laura and the people at Mountain Home Health Care don’t need to know any details. The fewer people who know, the better. That way nobody can inadvertently lead Gradoff to me before I’m ready.”

“Adam, I told you before—this is a dangerous scheme. You don’t know—”

“I know what I’m doing, and I’m sticking to my plan.”

“But now Laura will be staying up on the mountain with us. How can we possibly keep the truth from her?”

“How much did you tell her?” Adam struggled to keep his voice from sounding alarmed.

“I told her about…both of them. It states on your chart that you’re a widower and I just blurted out the part about Anna.” Katherine’s eyes filled with tears when she said the name.

“Katherine.” Adam looked down at her snowwhite head and his heart contracted. It was bad enough that his brainstorm—his greed—had killed Elizabeth and Anna. He would have to live with that for the rest of his life. His guilt was his punishment to bear. But to see how Doc and Katherine also suffered…

He stepped closer to her. “It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not, but I won’t speak to her about it again. She’s such a nice person, but still, I know I shouldn’t have said anything.” A note of fear rose in Katherine’s voice. “What if she goes back down to town and talks to someone about what I’ve already told her? How long do you think it would take Gradoff to connect you to a widower who had also lost a three-year-old child?”

Adam didn’t answer. He could send them all away and accelerate his plan, but his arm wasn’t ready. His only choice was to make sure Laura stayed here and didn’t go back to Kalispell until he was ready.

“Don’t worry,” he said firmly, “I’ll make certain she won’t want to talk about it again.” Adam softened his voice. “Katherine, please be patient. You have no idea how grateful I am to you and Doc for all your help. It won’t be long now. Toeless is coming up any day. He has some new information. He’s good at what he does, and Ms. Duncan is evidently good at what she does, too. My shoulder actually felt better after only one treatment. Look—” he wiggled his fingers on his right hand for her “—hardly any pain this morning. When she comes down, would you please tell her I’ll be waiting for her in here?” He put his good arm around Katherine’s thin shoulders and hugged her. “And don’t worry. Everything will be all right.”

She patted his fingers, and Adam smiled at her, vowing to end this ordeal as soon as possible.

LAURA CAME DOWN the stairs a few minutes later feeling composed and professional: clean bright blue scrubs with Mountain Home Health Care stenciled on the breast pocket, hair up in a tight braid, immaculate white athletic shoes, equipment bag slung over her shoulder.

She improvised a hot pack, pouring steaming water from the kettle over a folded towel and rolling it up inside a plastic bag. Then she was ready to face her patient.

She found him in the barren front room, going over some papers at the oak table and sipping coffee from a heavy white mug. The shutters had been thrown back from all the windows, thank goodness, making the room a study in soft sunshine and glowing warm wood.

“Mr. Scott?”

He looked up with the mug poised at his lips. He was dressed in a gray sweatshirt and sweatpants, in anticipation of his treatment, she supposed, with only thick gym socks on his feet. He jerked his head toward the massage table, still folded, by the fireplace. “Doc and Katherine suggested we set the table up over there.” He sipped the coffee and resumed reading the papers.

“That’s nice,” Laura said. She crossed the room to the bed, which Katherine had already made up. It was also Katherine, she assumed, who had placed a folded thin cotton blanket across one side.

Laura pushed on the mattress with a palm. “For now, this will be good enough. Nice and firm.”

He grunted and kept reading.

She picked up the cotton blanket—it would be useful—then crossed the room and dropped her bag beside him. “You’ll need to sit backward in your chair like you did yesterday.”

He pushed the chair out from the table, scraping the wood floor, then flipped the chair around and sat facing away from her.

“Here.” She tucked the cotton blanket over the back of the chair for his comfort. “You’ll need to remove your shirt, please.”
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