Morgan Gallagher was waiting on a patient, Tom Hershey. Tom’s wife Ellen had passed away a week ago and Morgan was worried about the elderly man, who had a bad heart. It was late and Morgan rolled his shoulders, feeling the stiffness of his three a.m. morning. He’d had to go over to the Bronson Ranch and stitch up one of the cowhands who’d been in a brawl Saturday night.
Yawning, Morgan let his gaze move with familiar disinterest through Sylvan’s old mission church. He liked the new windows that folks had chipped in for, especially the one dedicated to Luke the Healer; the man’s face looked appropriately tired to Morgan’s eyes, for someone who took care of others. As he waited for Tom to finish chatting with Reverend Doyle, his gaze passed on and collided—bam!—with hazel eyes brimming with unshed tears.
Morgan’s breath hitched and his heartbeat picked up, even as the stranger looked away, his fawn-colored hair flattened from wearing the cowboy hat that rested on the pale wooden pew. But what Morgan also noticed along with the eyes were the man’s tanned hands, clenching the wooden seat in front of him.
He was tall and thin—maybe a bit too thin to Morgan’s critical eye. He possessed the muscular upper body of a man who worked hard out of doors, typical in their Western town. In his bleached jeans’ pocket, Morgan saw leather work gloves sticking out.
Throat tight as he remembered the look in those beautiful eyes, the blues and greens reminding Morgan of labradorite, he moved forward, feeling compelled to offer his help to the stranger.
But just then Reverend Doyle took his arm, startling Morgan. He didn’t catch what the man said, but then Tom was there and Morgan shoved aside the unsettling connection he’d experienced with the man sitting in the pew. He wanted to make sure Tom was taking his medicine, getting plenty of rest, and maybe he’d suggest he join the local senior’s bridge club, so the older man wouldn’t feel so alone.
By the time Morgan had satisfied himself he’d done right by Tom; his gaze went automatically to the blond pew where he’d spotted the cowhand.
It was empty. The man was gone.
Luke Walker shoved his hair off his forehead and replaced his hat as he exited the small mission by the lakeside of Sylvan. He didn’t know why he’d gone in there, since God knew how long it had been since he’d been in a church, but he was so tired, and he’d hoped maybe he might find… something. Inspiration. Hope.
Instead, he’d sat there, fighting tears, and met the compassionate blue eyes of a lean stranger wearing a blue work shirt and jeans, but not quite looking like a man who worked out of doors. He’d had the feeling the man had read everything in his face, so he’d ducked away as soon as his attention was elsewhere.
He shook his head as he retraced his steps back to his truck and horse trailer. He’d found nothing in the church to help him in practical terms. His meager savings were almost gone, and he couldn’t find work because of Jessica. His last job had involved leaving civilization far behind, taking people on trail rides deep into a national park, and he’d loved it, but it wasn’t something he could do now.
The dark voice inside him whispered that maybe it was time to give her up. That he’d never counted on this. That this was not what he’d wanted.
But as he got closer to his old truck, he caught her thin cry, and the sound seemed to wrap around his guts. He unlocked the passenger door, feeling immediately guilty for leaving her, even for the few minutes he’d snatched thinking she was safely asleep.
She wasn’t asleep now. Her blue eyes were open as he raised his newborn baby girl high into his arms, rocking her gently. He thought she liked that, but hell, what did he know?
“Jessie,” he whispered. “Jessie girl.”
She made a fretful sound and on instinct, since he’d lived in fear the two weeks since he’d had her, Luke touched her forehead. She felt much warmer than she had when he’d gone in the church. Did she have a fever?
Morgan exited the church, still musing on the mysterious stranger he’d glimpsed. His eyes had been so tormented. Maybe he should ask Reverend Doyle if he knew him?
He grimaced, because he was aware that his attention had also been caught by basic attraction. He couldn’t help it; cowboys with sandy hair and rangy, muscular builds had always been his thing, ever since he read Shane. Maybe that was what had propelled him to come out West once he’d finished his residency in a Boston hospital: the hot, romantic dream of a cowboy of his own.
It hadn’t happened, of course, so instead, what had compelled him to stay was that people in the outlying farms and ranches around the Sylvan area really needed a doctor. He knew he’d saved lives and helped people in this town, so it did make up a little for having little life outside his work.
A baby’s cry made him look toward a tree-shadowed part of the cracked asphalt parking lot, and there he was, the tall, sandy-haired man of mystery wearing his cowboy hat… and holding a baby.
The man’s face was tight as he looked over at Morgan, who had hesitated by his SUV. “Is everything all right?” Morgan called gently.
“I don’t… shit, I don’t know!” the stranger rasped. His beautiful eyes were frightened. He was holding the baby all wrong.
Morgan unlocked his vehicle and pulled out his bag before striding over to the stranger. He held those hazel eyes calmly, trying to impart silent reassurance.
“You a doctor, Mister?” the man asked him.
“Yes,” Morgan said. “I’m Dr. Morgan Gallagher. I have a clinic at a homestead I own about a mile from here.”
“Luke Walker.” Luke watched anxiously as Morgan studied the baby’s face.
“What seems to be the problem?” Morgan asked gently.
“I think she’s running a fever,” Luke said. He flushed. “I’m not sure I can pay you. I was going to try the emergency clinic in Glenda Falls, since they take charity patients.”
“That’s a long way from here. I’m sure we can work something out,” Morgan offered. No way could he send off a possibly sick child when he might be able to help. “We’d probably be better to head to my clinic, however, so I can examine her.”
Luke’s jaw bunched. “I’d be obliged, only if there is some way to pay you back, I’d rather work for it.”
Morgan nodded, understanding pride. “I’m sure I can find something. Follow me back to my clinic,” he said briskly.