Mail Order Doctor, page 2
She glanced around. “Should we be here without knocking?”
“It’s my grandfather’s home. I grew up here. Walt raised me and my three younger brothers after our parents died in a stagecoach accident.”
She turned to him. “Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“It’s all right. The accident happened a long time ago. I was twelve, George was ten, William was six and Danny was only three. Walt!” he hollered and stomped down the long hallway toward a door at the end.
“No sense in yelling your head off, he ain’t here.” The deep rumble of a man’s voice sounded from her right.
Julia turned to see a tall, blond man striding toward them.
“Where is he?” Matthew stomped to the other man. “He can’t hide from me.”
“Said he was taking a little trip to Denver and would be back in a month or so.”
“That old reprobate. The bast…” Matthew looked over at Julia and clamped his mouth shut.
“What did he do now?” asked the man.
Julia figured he must be one of Matthew’s brothers.
Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. “He married me off.”
“He what?” The blond man began laughing and waved a hand. “To this young woman, I presume.”
“Yes. Julia, meet my brother Danny…er, Daniel.”
“Dan is fine.” After composing himself, he held out his hand.
She didn’t think this situation was a laughing matter but Julia extended her hand anyway. “Julia O’Brien…er…Reynolds.”
He took it and kissed the top.
“You are not my wife,” growled Matthew, fisting his hands.
“I am.” She jutted out her chin. She would not let her confusion or disappointment show. After arriving thinking she was in love with Matthew Reynolds and he her, to find out he doesn’t know who she is, hurts. “And I have the papers to prove it.”
“Papers?” asked Dan.
“Yes,” Matthew began to pace. “A proxy marriage that I signed for. Only I didn’t. I mean, I wouldn’t. Walt tricked me.”
“Sounds to me like you’re saying the signature is yours. If so then you’re married,” said Dan with a nod. “Legally. Don’t know what you can do about that. Why don’t you come in and sit down?”
“No. We’re just here to see Walt.” Matthew stopped pacing. “I’ll have it annulled. If I don’t bed you, we can get an annulment.”
He smiled like the cat that got the cream, but Julia wasn’t deterred. “I don’t want an annulment. We are married, Matthew Reynolds. Truly and legally. Get used to it.” She would not go back to New York. She would not be paid only sometimes forcing her to live in a shabby apartment complete with rats. If she had to she’d make him bed her. That would put an end to all the annulment talk.
Stepping backward, Matthew raised his hands into the air. “Why would you want to be married to someone who doesn’t want you?”
Julia admitted that was a tough one. But if Walt had been so desperate as to pretend to be his grandson, and he knew Matthew very well, there had to be something of Matthew in those letters.
She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them and looked directly at Matthew. “Look, you paid for my tickets out here and I don’t want to go back. I have nothing waiting for me in New York, except a shabby apartment and doctors who want to take advantage of me. I want to help people and have my own practice. I’m a nurse and a midwife. I can help you with your female patients. And,” she grinned. “I might grow on you. I’ve been told I’m not exactly ugly.”
“No, of course, you aren’t.” said Dan flashing a wide smile. “You’re quite lovely.”
“Beautiful, even,” admitted Matthew with a nod.
“I’m gratified you think so. I think you’re rather attractive, too.” Ha! That was an understatement. She’d nearly tripped over her own feet when she finally got a good look at him in the guest room. Brown hair, with a little gray at the temples, eyes blue as the bluest sky behind those spectacles. He was taller than she was by a good half foot, so around six feet tall. Not too muscular, just right, lean without being skinny.
“Thank you. But what am I going to do with you?” Matthew scrubbed his face with his hands.
“I suggest we sleep on it.”
“What?” said Dan and Matthew together, staring with widened gazes.
“Sleep.” She clasped her hands together against her cheek and tilted her head. She rolled her eyes. “You know, rest in separate beds.”
“Yes, but where will you sleep?” asked Matthew, scratching behind his ear.
Dan put up his hands, palms out. “She can’t stay here. Walt isn’t home to be a chaperone and I don’t need any gossip about me sleeping with your wife.”
“My things are already put away in the guest room of your house. I’ll sleep there. It will cause the least amount of titillation for those prone to it.”
“We’ll get this straightened out. You can sleep there for tonight, but other arrangements will to have to be made tomorrow. We are not married, nor will we be.”
If Julia hadn’t been made of such stern stuff, she might have taken exception to his words. But she didn’t take offense. She figured she knew what had happened, but that didn’t mean she was letting him off the hook. No, she’d fallen for Matthew Reynolds before, and now that she’d seen him, she wanted him even more than she had when she married him. And she had married him, whether he knew it or not. He admitted the signature was real, so whether or not he liked it, Matthew Reynolds was well and truly married to her.
“Well, I suppose we might as well go back home. We’re not getting any satisfaction from Walt any time soon. The wily old son of a gun, has made sure to cover his tracks.”
Matthew shoved his shoulder. “You won’t find it so funny if he does it to you. He may already have.” He cocked his eyebrow. “Signed any papers lately?”
“He wouldn’t.” Dan stopped chuckling. “He’s already got you married. Why would he do it to me?”
“He wants great grandchildren. You, Will and George are as likely as I am to give him what he wants.”
“Well, hell. Excuse my language, Julia.” Dan pushed away from the wall he’d been leaning against.
“You’re excused. How long until Walt gets back, did you say?” Could she convince Matthew to stay married to her?
“He won’t be back until he figures Matthew has settled down.” Dan smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. “He said a month, but after he considers it, he may not be back any time soon.”
“Come on, Julia. Let’s go home, I mean, my house. I need to get some rest. Patients show up early around these parts.”
Dan walked them to the door. “Nice to meet you, Julia. I hope we’ll get to see more of you.”
“Oh, you will. I have no intention of returning to New York.”
“Let’s go” growled Matt.
“Goodbye, Dan.” Julia turned to follow a scowling Matthew out into the night to where he waited for her at the buggy to help her up. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled, before walking around the back to the other side of the carriage.
“You’re a very stubborn woman,” Matthew grumbled.
“And you’re a stubborn man.” She grinned, even though he couldn’t see it in the dark. “We appear to be well-suited.”
“Don’t say that. We aren’t suited for anything.” He turned the horses toward home.
“Well, we’re suited to work together. I’m a nurse, remember? I can help you.”
“Okay, I admit that’s a possibility. My patients are definitely increasing in number. The silver mines have brought in thousands of people.”
“Why don’t we start with that…my helping you? The rest we can discuss later.” She looked up in the sky at the thousands of stars and not a cloud in sight. “It’s beautiful, you know. We can’t see this many stars in New York.”
“I never thought
She shivered. “It gets cold quickly when the sun goes down. Walt told me I’d be able to use some of my heavier clothes at night.”
“We’ll be home soon.”
Matthew yawned just as they arrived at his house. “I’m too tired to talk about this now. I haven’t slept in twenty-four hours and have got to get some rest. Go on inside. I’ll put away the horses.”
“Do you have a barn?” She sat forward to look for the structure.
“There is a small stable in back big enough for the buggy and two horses. That’s all I need.”
“Will you teach me how to drive a buggy?”
“You won’t be here long enough to need to learn.”
She whipped her head around to glare at him. “But until I do leave, I may need to know how, so will you teach me?”
“Yes. Now will you just go inside?”
“Of course.” She heard the weariness in his ragged tone. The poor man was exhausted. “Are you hungry? I can fix something if you like.”
“Starving. Thought I’d just have some leftovers.”
“How about some scrambled eggs, toast and coffee? I looked through your kitchen when I first got here.”
Matthew pulled to a stop and looked at her. “You would do that for me?”
“Of course. You go take care of the horses and I’ll get busy in the kitchen.”
Matt came around the buggy and helped her down. Julia entered the house, took off her coat, hat and gloves and placed them on a big overstuffed chair in the parlor. She found the lamp on the small table by the door and lit it before making her way to the kitchen. She lit the stove and took the coffee pot to the sink where there was a water pump, filled it full. The coffee beans and grinder were on the counter. She measured a goodly amount of the beans into the grinder and then poured the grounds into the coffee pot and put the pot on to boil. Then went to the icebox where she found a basket of eggs, some milk, and butter.
The wall behind the stove had five cast iron skillets of different sizes hanging on it. She took a medium-sized one and put a portion of the butter in it to melt. While the skillet got hot, she beat six eggs, found a loaf of bread, and cut four slices to toast. She buttered the bread and put it butter side down in a larger second skillet. She was hungry, too, and hoped Matthew wouldn’t mind if she cooked some for herself as well.
Fifteen minutes later, the coffee was made, the eggs were cooked and the bread toasted.
Matthew came inside and rubbed his hands together.
“I could smell the coffee from outside. I don’t usually get fresh coffee in the evening, if I get any at all.”
“Come, sit down, while I fill a plate for you.”
She piled a plate high with scrambled eggs and toasted bread, then poured him a cup of coffee and took all of the food to where he sat at the table.
“Here you go. Eat up.”
He glanced at the skillet with the eggs. “Aren’t you eating, too?”
“I thought I would, if you don’t mind. I haven’t had a decent meal since I left New York.”
“No, I don’t mind. Go ahead. Looks like there’s plenty.”
She took a portion of eggs and toast along with a cup of coffee. “Do you want milk with your coffee? Sugar?”
“No, black is just fine.”
“Me, too. I prefer it black.” She sat across from him and picked up her fork. “So tell me about yourself. If you weren’t corresponding with me, and I won’t say you weren’t, then I probably don’t know much about the real you.”
He shook his head. “There’s not much to know. I have very little time for anything but work. I admit I’ve thought about marriage and children, but couldn’t find the time to court someone.”
“So maybe it’s a good thing you married me.” She smiled and shrugged. “No courting required.”
“I didn’t marry you.” He put down his fork and picked up his coffee. “For goodness sakes, will you stop saying that?”
“All right. For the sake of argument, I won’t say you married me.”
“Thank you.” He picked up his fork and began eating again.
“What do you do when you do have time for fun?” She scooped up a forkful of the fluffy eggs and put them in her mouth. “mmm.” She couldn’t stop the yummy sound. “I’m sorry. I’ve only had apples and some biscuits for days. The food at the stage stops was unpalatable and the rail stops before that weren’t much better.”
“It’s all right. I’ve traveled to New York and I know the food at the rail stops is horrible.”
“I did stay overnight in Tucson, waiting for the stage, and managed to get a real meal there, but even that wasn’t very good. I stayed at the hotel across from the railroad station. I think they knew they had a captive audience and didn’t try very hard for quality.”
“I know the hotel you mean and you’re right. They don’t hire very good cooks because they know their only customers are the rail passengers. And where else would they go? There’s usually no time to search the town for a decent restaurant.”
“That’s right. If I hadn’t been staying overnight, I would have only had fifteen or twenty minutes, an hour if I was lucky.” She took a sip of her coffee. “So tell me about yourself.”
“Why don’t we see what you know about me and I’ll fill in the holes, rather than me repeating what Walt has already told you.”
“Very well.” She put down her coffee. “You’ve been a doctor since 1864. You were in the War Between the States, did a lot of surgery on our soldiers and hated it. You came back to Tombstone several years after the war and set up shop where your grandfather and brothers still lived. Even being back home, you’ve had your share of severe situations with injuries from mining accidents. You deliver babies, but I’m hoping you’ll let me help with that. In your letters—”
“I never wrote any letters,” he grumbled, taking a big bite of toast.
“Right,” she amended. “In the letters I received, agreement was given that I would be able to open a practice for women alongside yours, specifically pregnant women. I’m very good at what I do. I’ve delivered hundreds of babies.”
He steepled his fingers over his cup of coffee. “Why did you leave what sounds like a thriving business, to come to a place as remote as Tombstone?”
“Well, I may have had a lot of patients, but most of them couldn’t pay much. I simply couldn’t afford to stay in New York. Although Tombstone may be remote, thousands of people are here and more coming every day. You could use the help. Plus the men in New York who sought to court me wanted a traditional wife. They assumed I would give up being a nurse and be just a wife.” She straightened her posture. “I won’t do that.”
“So I see.”
“In your letters—” before he could protest, she held up a hand and added, “I mean in the letters I received, the author indicated he would be satisfied with a non-traditional wife. I can do some things, like cook, but I don’t like to clean house. Do you clean your house or have someone do it for you?”
“I have a woman who comes every day to clean, dust, do the dishes and make the beds. She also does laundry once a week.”
“Well, you best keep her, because I don’t do those chores unless I’m forced to. So do you think I can start my practice with yours?”
He leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “I don’t think you’ll be here long enough to open a business.”
“I don’t intend to leave. If I have to live at the hotel I will but you or Walt will have to pay the bill, since I should be living here.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Although, Mr. King would, I’m sure, put me up at the hotel if I asked him.”
He sat up straight. “Ben King? What does he have to do with any of this?”
Julia thought she caught a hint of jealousy in his tone.
“I met him on the stage from Tucson and just came to find out he owns the hotel. For some reason we ta
“Did he mention that he also runs a couple of brothels and the Bird Cage Theater?”
“No he didn’t.” Brothels! Good grief. “But I don’t suppose that matters as long as he doesn’t expect me to work in one of them.”
He pushed back from the table and stood, then picked up his dishes and took them to the sink. “In any case, I don’t think that is something we should decide when we are both so tired.”
She took her dishes over to the counter, as well. “I’m not tired. I slept for awhile before you woke me up.”
“Well, I am exhausted and I intend to go to bed. Goodnight Miss O’Brien.”
“Very well. Goodnight, Matthew.”
“It’s Matt. Most people call me Matt.”
“Matthew sounds better, but if you prefer, I’ll try to call you Matt. Do you think you could call me Julia?”
He gave her a curt nod. “Call me what you want, Julia. Goodnight.” He turned and walked away toward the bedrooms.
Julia decided to do the dishes and clean up a little. She’d just told him she didn’t clean, which was a lie, but she hoped her practice would take off and she wouldn’t have time for household duties.
If she could get Matthew, he was definitely not a Matt, to help her, to send his patients to her, she could do well. If he didn’t…she didn’t want to think about that.
Matthew was exhausted and needed sleep, but he couldn’t get over the need to know more about the woman now residing in his guest room. Julia. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. He couldn’t think like that. She had to go. Regardless of what that paper said he was not married to her. If only Walt were here, then he could get this mess all straightened out.
Well, never mind. He’d go meet with Judge Blackstone tomorrow and see what he could do about it.
Now that he was finally in his bed, he put his arms behind his head and stared at the ceiling. What was he going to do with her? What if the judge agreed that they were truly married? Surely he could get an annulment. All he had to do was stay away from her.
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