Last week we announced that When Summer Comes (Whiskey Creek) by Award-Winning Author Brenda Novak is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded When Summer Comes (Whiskey Creek), you’re in for a real treat:
by Brenda Novak
in its Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged!
One day, Callie Vanetta receives devastating news…
She needs a liver transplant. But her doctors warn that, in her case, the chances of finding a compatible donor aren’t good.
Determined to spend whatever time she has left on her own terms, she keeps the diagnosis to herself and moves out to her late grandparents’ farm. She’s always wanted to live there. But the farm hasn’t been worked in years and she begins to fear she can’t manage it, that she’ll have to return to town.
One night, a stranger comes knocking at her door…
He’s an attractive and mysterious drifter by the name of Levi McCloud, and he offers to trade work for a few nights’ shelter. Callie figures she doesn’t have anything to lose. He needs a place to stay until he can fix his motorcycle; she needs an extra pair of hands. The arrangement seems ideal until what was supposed to be temporary starts to look more and more permanent. Then she realizes she does have something to lose—her heart. And, although he doesn’t yet know it, Levi stands to lose even more.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
The barking of her dog dragged Callie Vanetta from a deep sleep.
Rifle, the German shepherd her parents had given her for Christmas, was only two years old, but he was the smartest animal she’d ever known, certainly savvy enough not to make a racket in the middle of the night without reason. Despite all the critters that scurried around the place after dark, he hadn’t awakened her like this once in the three months since she’d moved to the farm.
So if he thought she had something to worry about, there was a good chance she did.
Despite the warm June night, chills rolled through Callie’s body as she lay on her back, blinking against the darkness. She’d always felt so safe in her grand parents’ home. They’d passed away five years ago, but the comfort of their love and the memories created here lingered on. Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could almost feel their presence.
But not tonight. Fear eclipsed all other emotions, and she wondered what she’d been thinking when she gave up the small apartment above her photography studio downtown. She was out in the middle of nowhere, her closest neighbor over a mile down the road, with her dog sounding an alarm and scratching at the front door as if some menace lay beyond it.
“Rifle?” She whispered his name as loudly as she dared. “Hey!” she added, making kissing sounds.
He charged into her room, but he wasn’t about to set tle down. He circled in place, whining to let her know he didn’t like something he heard outside. Then he darted back to the front door, singularly determined to show her where the trouble was.
She thought he might try to rouse her again. He obvi ously hoped to get her out of bed. But she was so fright ened and undecided about what to do she couldn’t move. Especially when he quit barking and emitted a deep, threatening growl—one that told her he’d laid back his ears and bared his teeth.
The hair rose on Callie’s arms. Her dog meant busi ness. She’d never seen him like this. What had him so upset? And what should she do about it? She’d watched too many truecrime shows not to realize what could happen. But, given her health, getting murdered would be too ironic. Surely, this couldn’t be leading there.
She’d just decided to call the police when a heavy knock sounded and a male voice carried into the house. “Hello? Anyone home? Sorry to wake you, but… could a man come out here, please? I need some help.” A man? Whoever was at her door wasn’t from Whis key Creek. Her family had lived in the area for genera tions. Everyone knew that this was the Vanetta farm, that the aging Theona and Herbert had died within
months of each other and she was living here alone. “Hello?” the man called again. “Please, someone an
Should she respond? Letting him hear her voice would tell him she was a woman, which didn’t seem smart. But she had her dog to defend her. And she had a pellet gun she used to scare off skunks and raccoons and any other animals that might have rabies or get ag gressive.
Problem was she couldn’t remember where she’d put it. The screenedin porch that overlooked the outbuild ings in back? The mudroom off the kitchen? She might even have left it in the barn. Until now, she hadn’t felt any need for selfdefense. All the wildlife she’d encoun tered seemed more afraid of her.
Still, she should’ve kept that gun close. What good was it otherwise? She wasn’t going to scare anyone away with her camera.
“Open up!” Bang, bang, bang.
Drawing a shaky breath, she called 911 on her cell phone, which had been charging on the nightstand, and, speaking as low as she could and still be heard, told the operator that she had a stranger at her door. The opera tor advised her to sit tight, a squad car was on its way, but she slid out of bed and groped through the dark ness for some clothes. Summer had come early this year. With the weather so mild, she hadn’t worn any thing to bed except a pair of panties. In case her visitor tried to break in before the police arrived, she wanted to get dressed.
“Can someone help me?” the man hollered.
Wearing a Tshirt and blue jeans, and armed with the knowledge that someone from Whiskey Creek’s four man police force would soon arrive, she crept toward the door. What was wrong?
Despite the ruckus her dog was making, her visitor didn’t seem to be giving up. His determination lent him a degree of credibility, even though she knew her rea soning was flawed. His persistence didn’t necessarily mean he was telling the truth. If he had a gun and was capable of using it, he wouldn’t have to worry about getting bitten.
So…was he really hurt? If the answer was yes, how’d he get that way? And how did he come across her prop erty, tucked away as it was in the Sierra Nevada foot hills? She couldn’t imagine some random individual driving these back roads at one in the morning, espe cially midweek. She encountered plenty of strangers during tourist season, which was upon them, but always in town. Not out here.
“Shit,” he grumbled when he got no response. Then something hit the door harder than a knock, as if he’d crumpled against the wooden panel and was sliding to the porch floor.
A flicker of concern warred with Callie’s fear. Maybe he really was hurt. Maybe he’d run his car into a ditch or a tree and injured himself so badly he was about to die… .
She snapped on the porch light. Although it went against her better judgment to let him know she was home, he’d managed to convince her that he might really need help. Some of the TV programs depicting real homeinvasion robberies also showed innocent victims who were unable to get help because of other people’s fear.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
A swiping sound suggested he was using the door to steady himself as he clambered to his feet. She peered through the peephole, hoping to catch a glimpse of him, but even with the porch light on she couldn’t see much—just a man’s head covered in a hooded sweat shirt.
“Thank God,” he said.
She might’ve thought it was one of the Amos brothers. Although they’d calmed down in recent years, a cou ple of the younger ones still caused problems, from drunken and disorderly conduct to selling crystal meth to fighting. But they lived down by the river on the other side of town, they’d never bothered her before and she would’ve recognized the voice.
“Who are you and what do you want?” she called out over Rifle’s barking. The dog was even more ex cited now that he had the support of his master in tak ing on this interloper.
“Name is Levi, Levi McCloud. I need a firstaid kit, some water and rags.”
She ignored the second part. “I don’t know a Levi.” “I’m just…passing through, ma’am.” He was leaning too close to the door for her to dis tinguish his features. Was he doing that on purpose? The idea that he could be made her more nervous
than before. “But you decided to stop here?” “No choice. My motorcycle…broke down a mile or
two back.” “That’s how you got hurt?” “No. It was a…a couple of dogs. They ran out and
attacked me…for no reason…while I was pushing my bike. Got me good, too.”
The way he forced his words through his teeth suggested that he was in pain, but maybe he was faking it. Maybe he was planning to rob her, rape her, possibly kill her.
“Where did this happen?” she asked.
He attempted to laugh but the sound died almost immediately. “Hell if I know. I’ve never been around here before.”
“Then what made you come now?” “Heard it was pretty country.” That was it? He was out on a joyride? Alone? His
response didn’t seem particularly plausible, but the scenario he gave wasn’t inconceivable. Out here in the country, dogs weren’t always penned up or put on leashes. He could’ve been attacked, as he said.
She was tempted to open the door, if only to verify his story, see his injuries. But she couldn’t take the risk. “How’d you get away?”
“Listen…” He dropped his head against the door, covering the peephole entirely. Now it was impossible for her to see anything. “I don’t mean to frighten you. Is there…is there a man in the house? Someone else who…who might not…be afraid of me?”
She didn’t want to let on that she was alone. But if a male didn’t take command of the situation soon, he’d know, anyway. Perhaps he’d said that to confirm what he already suspected. “Tell me how you got away from the dogs.”
“I…convinced them I wasn’t…anything they wanted to mess with.”
Meaning he’d hurt the dogs as much as they’d hurt him?
She wondered whose pets they were, and if the incident had really happened. “How badly are you hurt?”
“Hard to tell in the dark, but…it’s bad enough to make me bother you, which isn’t something I wanted to do.”
She wiped sweaty palms on her jeans. “Okay, just… stay where you are. I’ve called for help. The police will be here soon.”
“The police?” Instead of reacting with relief, as she’d expected, he cursed and shoved away from the door. “Are you serious? They won’t do anything for me.”
“They’ll get you the medical attention you need,” she said, but he wasn’t listening. He was leaving. She could hear the porch creak under his weight.
“Where are you going?” she yelled. He didn’t answer. After hurrying to the window, she dropped to her
knees in an effort to catch a glimpse of him before he could move out of sight.
For just a moment, she could make out the broad shoulders of a tall, spare man wearing jeans with that hoodie.
Why was he taking off without the help he needed? And why had he acted so averse to meeting up with the police? Was he wanted? A known felon?
Possibly. He had to have some reason for avoiding the authorities. But seeing how obviously he favored one leg, she believed he really was hurt.
She checked the time on her cell phone, which she’d brought with her. How long could it take to get a cruiser out here? She didn’t want to be any more vulnerable than she already was, but she also didn’t want to be responsible for the death of a lonely, injured stranger.
“Come on, come on,” she muttered, but each minute felt like an hour. When she couldn’t wait any longer, she sprang to her feet and ordered her dog to silence.
Reassured by this show of strength, Rifle stared up at her, tongue hanging out and tail wagging eagerly. He seemed to be asking, “What now? What are we going to do now?”
“We’re going to see where he went,” she told him. She wasn’t sure he could comprehend her words, but speaking calmed her, and he certainly understood her intention. He barked once to confirm that he was ready.
Holding him by the collar, she slowly, cautiously, opened the door a crack and peered outside. The porch was empty, just as she’d assumed. She couldn’t hear or see any movement, didn’t know where the stranger had gone.
Rifle struggled against the grasp she had on his collar. Then he nudged the door open wide enough to squeeze through and pull her along with him. He even tried to drag her down the steps. Clearly, he wanted to go after the man.
She wasn’t up for that. But before she could insist they go back in and lock the door, she stepped in what her dog had probably smelled—something dark and wet smeared on the floorboards of the porch.
The second she realized it was there, she knew what it was. Blood.
The police had come and gone, and they hadn’t found a thing—no tall, dark stranger hiding on the premises. Not in the old tack shed. Not in the barn. And not in the cellar. They attempted to follow the blood that led down the steps of Callie’s porch, but the trail disappeared in the grass and dirt about ten feet away.
They poked around for over an hour, hoping to dis cover what had happened to her guest, but they didn’t have any search dogs with them and Rifle wasn’t trained to track. They tried using him for the first thirty minutes, but he was so distracted and excited by the two officers who’d come to help, she eventually had to shut him up in the mudroom, where she kept his food and water.
In the end, the police couldn’t figure out where the injured man had gone, which left Callie as unsettled after they drove off as before. She couldn’t help won dering if they hadn’t found the stranger because he didn’t want to be found. She didn’t think he’d had time to go far, not injured as he was. So how had he just… disappeared?
Maybe he hadn’t. Maybe he’d reached a neighbor’s property. But if that was the case, why hadn’t anyone else called to report a bloody, hoodwearing stranger? And why hadn’t the cops been able to find his motor cycle? Was there a motorcycle? And was it really bro ken down?
Exhausted in a way she’d never been before she’d been diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, she finished cleaning up the blood—she didn’t want to see it when she woke up—and went into the house.
Rifle barked and scratched at the mudroom door, whining to be let out. But even now that everyone was gone, he was too excited. She didn’t want to deal with an agitated dog after what she’d already been through. She’d found her pellet gun in the barn, felt that would offer her some defense if the man came back. So she called out a goodnight to Rifle, promising she’d take him for a long walk in the morning. Then she used the bathroom off the kitchen and checked all the doors.
Once she was satisfied that the house was as secure as she could make it, she took a final peek through the window, dragged the heavy pellet gun to her bedroom and peeled off her jeans. She was too rattled to sleep almost nude, like she’d been doing earlier, but she knew she’d never get comfortable in fabric as stiff and heavy as denim.
It wasn’t until she’d propped the gun against the wall next to her headboard and crawled beneath the blankets that she heard a noise. She wasn’t sure what it was; it had been too slight. But when it came again her fear returned.
She looked around—eyes wide, breath held—and realized her bathroom door was closed.
She rarely shut that door. It was in the master bed room and she lived alone. There was never any reason to.
But that wasn’t the only thing that made her heart race. The light was on in there. She could see it through the crack near the floor.
Several thoughts went through Callie’s mind at the same time. She had the pellet gun and her cell phone, but her dog was shut in the mudroom. Should she slip out, free Rifle then call the police?
She had to have some way to defend herself until help could arrive. A pellet gun, even a highpowered one, wasn’t the best weapon with which to stop a man. Thanks to a deluge of adrenaline, her limbs felt like rub ber. She doubted she’d have the strength to effectively use any weapon, especially a heavy one.
That said yes to the dog. But she wasn’t sure she could stomach what a struggle between Rifle and the intruder would entail. If she’d been told the truth, her visitor had already been attacked by two canines—and he’d beaten them off. She didn’t want to risk Rifle’s life, didn’t want anyone hurt if she could avoid it. Life had become too precious to her. Since her diagnosis, she considered every moment a gift, and she felt that way not just about her own life but everyone else’s.
At least now she understood why her dog had continued to strain at his leash and wouldn’t calm down when they were searching. She’d chalked his behavior up to youth and inexperience, but that wasn’t it at all.
He was the only one who could smell, probably even hear, that they still had company.
Sneaking into the house while she and the police were searching the outbuildings was a bold move—so bold she’d never seen it coming. Why had the stranger taken such a risk? Was he so badly hurt he’d had no choice?
Or he was determined to gain whatever he wanted from her.
The memory of his blood on the porch, on her bare foot when she stepped in it, weighed heavily on Cal lie’s mind. If he’d given her AIDS, there wouldn’t be much point in continuing to search for a liver donor… .
Sweat poured down her body as she once again slid out of bed and pulled on her jeans. She’d simply va cate the room, take her phone and her gun and barri cade herself in the mudroom with her dog while she called the police.
But then she heard a curse, a clatter and a crash that was so loud, her dog started jumping against the door clear on the other side of the house.
What had happened? If Callie had her guess, the man had fallen.
“Hello?” she called out, hesitating midway across the room. She was holding her phone as well as the gun, which made it difficult to use either one.
There was no answer. No sound or movement, either.
Had he hit his head and knocked himself out—or worse?
“Oh, no,” she murmured. In order to lift and aim the gun, she had to put down her phone. She hated to do that, but she was quickly growing more worried than scared, so she set it on her dresser close by. “I know you’re in there.”
“I pretty much…figured that…at this point.” He sounded tired. No, more than tired. Drained. That was hardly what she’d expect from someone who meant her harm. But she’d never encountered a psychopath be fore—not knowingly, anyway. She had no clue how one might act.
“I’ve got a gun!” she warned.
“Unless you plan…on shooting me for no reason… I don’t really care,” he said. “Just tell me the police are gone.”
Why would she admit she was alone? “They’re not. They’re right outside. I can call them in if necessary.”
There was another long silence. “Did you hear me?” “Let them go and I…I’ll leave. I just…needed some
soap and water. That’s all. Some gauze would’ve been nice. But you don’t have that. What kind of woman doesn’t have a firstaid kit?”
“I have a firstaid kit. But I don’t keep it the medicine cabinet.”
“Too bad. It would sure…make a nice sendoff present, if you…could…forgive my intrusion.”
What condition was he in? He was slurring his words. Talking at all seemed a struggle for him. “How’d you get inside my house?”
“Wasn’t hard. You and those…two officers…” “Yes?” He made an attempt to rally. “You were so intent on
trying to use your dog to follow my trail I just…circled around behind you. I could tell where you were at all times. Until you brought him in.”
“How’d you keep from dripping blood all over?”
“I wrapped my sweatshirt around my arm…hoped that would help.”
It had done the trick. The trail of blood had dis appeared completely. “Sneaking in here takes a lot of nerve,” she said.
“Lady, sometimes you…have to do…what you have to do. What else can I tell you.”
Lady? That made her sound old. She thought of her good friend Cheyenne marrying Dylan Amos just four months ago, right before the doctor had given her the bad news about her liver, and winced. She’d wanted a husband, a family. She’d never had a hint of health problems, no reason to believe she wouldn’t eventu ally have kids. Now chances were that she’d die before summer’s end.
There were more noises. These Callie couldn’t fig ure out. “What’s going on?” she asked, worried again.
“I’m trying to get…the hell out of…your bathtub.”
She was beginning to believe this whole night really had been about his injury. “What’s wrong? You can’t?”
“It’d be easier…if I wasn’t so…damn dizzy.”
What was she going to do now? She wasn’t sure she had the heart to call the police on him again. It wasn’t as if he’d waited in her bedroom and attacked her. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t let me get you some help,” she said. “I tried.”
“No, you called the police.” “Same thing.” “Not quite.” She inched closer. She still held her gun at the ready
but she was feeling more and more confident that she wouldn’t have to use it. “Why are you so afraid of the authorities?”
He didn’t respond for a few seconds. Judging by the noise, he was once again trying to get up. “Why do you think?”
“Not for anything serious.” He cursed as though he’d done something that hurt.
“Are you okay?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he reverted to the ques tion she’d asked before. “I have a few…unpaid speed ing tickets.”
That sounded far too innocuous to explain his reac tion. Surely it couldn’t be the truth. “You’re lying,” she said. “Why would that make you afraid of the police?”
“We don’t get along.” “Meaning…” “I’ve had…a few runins with them. They don’t like
vagrants. Besides, a warrant is a warrant. Whether it’s for a speeding ticket or…or whatever else, they’ll take you in. I can’t let that happen.”
He’d called himself a vagrant, but he didn’t sound like one. Although she could tell he was in considerable pain, he was mostly coherent. Articulate, too. “Where are you from?”
“Does it matter? Look, if you’ll…help me a minute, I’ll be…on my way.”
“Where?” “Wherever the road takes me.” She crept right up to the door. “I thought your motorcycle broke down.” “I’ll fix it. Believe me…I want to leave as badly as you want me gone. I have to get to my…my ride before someone else comes across it.”
Including the police. No doubt they’d impound it.
She listened for movement but didn’t hear anything. “Are you coming out or not?”
“I think…you’re going to have to come in. Just… whatever you do…keep that dog of yours away.”
“He’s in another room. But I can get him in here pretty darn fast if I need to,” she added.
“I won’t hurt you. Give me some bandages. Then I’ll go.”
Lifting the barrel of the gun so she could reach the knob, Callie pushed the door wide.
Sure enough, the man she’d first spotted on the porch was in her tub. He must’ve stumbled and fallen while trying to clean himself up, because he’d broken the shower curtain rod on the way down. The curtain lay on the floor, stained with blood. Blood speckled the vanity, the floor and the bath mat, too. But that wasn’t what concerned Callie. He didn’t look good. He’d man aged to get to his feet, but he was huddled, shivering in nothing but a pair of bloodstained jeans in the corner, where he could use the walls to hold himself up.
Callie felt her jaw drop. “Look at you.”
He seemed to summon what strength he had left. “About that firstaid kit…”
“You need more than a BandAid.” About her age, maybe a little younger, he had blood smeared all over him as if he’d swiped here and there to staunch the flow. The hooded sweatshirt he’d been wearing was tied around one arm; his bloody Tshirt lay on the floor not far from the shower curtain. She couldn’t ascertain the injuries on the arm that was covered, but she could see he’d been bitten several times on the arm that was bare. “You need painkiller, maybe food, a good doctor—
and a heck of a lot of sleep.” He didn’t respond. There was a gray cast beneath
his tanned skin. That was probably new. But Callie suspected his gaunt, ravaged look wasn’t. This man was accustomed to living a hard life. His cheekbones were pronounced, testament to the fact that he was too thin, especially since he had such wide shoulders and big hands. And yet…he wasn’t unhandsome. Some how his rawboned features gave him a rebel air and enhanced the impact of his hazel eyes, which regarded her with the wariness of a wild animal cornered be cause of injury.
He didn’t trust her any more than she trusted him, she realized.
Lowering the gun, she set it aside. Maybe dropping her guard was the wrong thing to do. Maybe it put her own safety in jeopardy. But she no longer cared in the same, fearful way she had before. Without a function ing liver, she was going to die soon, anyway.
But maybe she could save him.
The woman was small, even for a woman, and curvy. With platinum blond hair and big blue eyes, she had a certain…bombshell look about her. Thirty or so, she was wearing a pair of jeans and a Tshirt with no bra. The nobra part was unmistakable.
“Come here.” She stretched an arm toward him. “Let me help you out of the shower.”
Levi shrank against the tile. There wasn’t any reason for her to touch him. She’d only get blood on her clothes, and he’d caused her enough trouble for one night. “I just need—” he fought the dizziness that made it almost im possible to stay on his feet “—your firstaid kit.”
Somehow he had to stop the bleeding so he could see how bad his injuries were. He could tell that both arms were chewed up, especially his right, which he’d swaddled in his sweatshirt. He’d also been bitten on the back of the neck, his shoulder and his leg in two places. He didn’t know much about the dogs that’d attacked him, wasn’t sure of the breed—it’d been too dark and things happened too fast. The only thing he could say for sure was that he hadn’t been able to outrun them, even after he ditched his bike. When sharp teeth sank into his flesh, he’d been forced to fight. After that it had been a blur of snarling, lunging and gnashing teeth— on his part and that of the dogs.
Fortunately, he’d won. Or they’d all lost. One dog had finally taken a hard enough kick that he didn’t want any more and the other had followed him when he limped away, whining. Levi had done his share of limping, too. It hadn’t been a minor encounter for any of them.
The woman with the smooth complexion and soft, round features still had her hand out. “I’m afraid it can’t be that simple, Mr. McCloud. You need a doctor. Come on, I’ll take you to the hospital.”
“No.” He had no permanent address, no insurance and very little money. Everything he owned was stuffed into the backpack he’d left with his bike, except for the clothes on his back and the waddedup bills in his pocket. Maybe twenty bucks at the most, it was just enough to buy food until he found his next odd job.
Worry tightened her voice. “How many times were you bitten?”
“Several.” Closing his eyes, he rested his head against the wall. “I’ve never seen animals so intent on tearing someone to pieces.” He winced at the memory. He’d been chased by a few dogs since returning from Afghanistan. Being out on the streets left him vulner able. But he’d never been attacked. He’d made it through six years in the military, fighting in some of the worst hot spots in the Middle East without taking a bullet, only to be mangled by dogs in his own country.
“My arms took the brunt of it,” he explained. “They wanted the front of my…neck, my jugular, but I kept blocking them. I would’ve been…better off with my leather jacket on. But I’d worked up a sweat pushing my bike and…had taken it off. Bad luck.” He chuckled, but the thought of his bike, his jacket and his pack brought back the concern he’d been feeling earlier. He had to re trieve his belongings before someone stole them or the police came by. He’d had to leave his motorcycle right there on the side of the road, couldn’t continue to push it after the attack. It was too damn heavy.
“Okay, well, at least sit down. You’ll only hurt your self more if you don’t.”
“I’ve gotta go.” He tried to step out of the tub, nearly toppled over and had to let her help him down onto his ass. Muttering something he couldn’t quite make out, she rolled up a towel she got from a cupboard and put it behind his head. Then she brought in a heavy blan ket and covered him, right there in the tub. “Stay put,” she ordered as she tucked it tightly around him. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
The decisiveness in her voice made him lift his head. “Where are you going?”
“To get the firstaid kit, since that’s all you’ll accept.”
Relieved, he let his head fall back. If she was going to call the police again, she wouldn’t have braved coming in. Surely that meant he’d soon be bandaged up and on his way. He’d walk his bike to the small goldrush town a few miles back where he’d had dinner and find the necessary parts and tools to make the repairs. Maybe he could offer his services to an auto shop for a few days in trade for what he’d need. He’d done that before. He could fix any kind of engine, had been in charge of the heavy equipment for his platoon in Afghanistan.
Trying to keep his mind off the pain, Levi concen trated on the gas station with the repair bays he’d no ticed in town before settling on a café. But he must’ve drifted off despite his efforts to remain lucid, because when he opened his eyes there was another man in the room. He was easily in his seventies, his hair completely gray, and he had a hook nose, full beard and paunch that hung over his belt. He’d removed the blanket that had kept Levi warm, which was what had disturbed him.
The woman who’d covered him was now wearing a bra under her shirt. She wrung her hands as she peered over the old man’s shoulder. “Is he going to be okay?”
Levi didn’t give him a chance to respond. “Where’s the firstaid kit?” he asked, calling her on the deception. She had the grace to look abashed. “I’m sorry. I was
afraid you were going into shock. You need a doctor.” The other man glanced up at her. “I’m not a doctor.” She sent Levi an apologetic grin. “But he is a veterinarian.” “Who’s mostly retired,” the guy said with a note of
exasperation. “Still good at his craft.” She patted his shoulder with
obvious affection. “This was my grandfather’s friend and nextdoor neighbor. Now he’s my friend and neighbor. Godfrey Blume, meet Levi McCloud.”
“So what do you think?” Callie shooed Rifle out of her way so she could pour the coffee she’d put on a few minutes earlier. Levi McCloud was asleep in her bed, but Godfrey was sitting at her kitchen table.
Every time her neighbor yawned she felt bad about waking him in the middle of the night. He was near ing eighty. But she hadn’t expected providing Mr. Mc Cloud with medical attention to take several hours. She’d been so caught up in helping to wash and ban dage his wounds, she hadn’t noticed the passage of time until she saw the break of dawn. Now her rooster was out in the yard, crowing for all he was worth.
She couldn’t help smiling when she caught sight of the old bird strutting past her kitchen window. She loved early mornings. They reminded her of summers with her grandparents and awaking to the smell of frying bacon.
“I did what I could,” Godfrey said. “But I wish he would’ve let us take him to the hospital. Or even to a real doctor. I’ve never seen an attack like that.”
And her neighbor had worked with animals his whole life! She frowned as she set the sugar and cream on the table. “We did what we could.”
“Mr. McCloud is a surprisingly stubborn man, given the extent of his injuries.”
Once Godfrey had ascertained the large number of stitches their patient required, they’d both tried, once again, to get him in her car. Godfrey could only offer him a topical analgesic to ease the pain—and Tyle nol. But there was nothing they could do to overcome
Mr. McCloud’s resistance. He tried to leave on his own power when they insisted, and would’ve done so if they’d pushed it any further. At that point, Godfrey had relented and agreed that some care was better than none.
“We should report the dogs to animal control,” she said. “They need to be restrained before they hurt some one else—a child, for instance.”
“I plan on looking into it.” Her neighbor had been the only veterinarian in town for most of his life. He’d offi cially retired three years ago, when the newly licensed Harrison Scarborough opened his practice. But some people still brought their animals to Godfrey.
“Do you have any idea whose pets they might be?” she asked while pouring herself some cranberry juice. She was on a strict diet that precluded alcohol, salt and coffee, among other things.
He smoothed his shirt over his belly. “My bet? There’s a couple of pit bulls down the road, around the bend.”
“Really?” Callie had never seen any, but she’d been pretty preoccupied of late. Adjusting to the shock of her diagnosis, especially since she’d never consumed much booze, hadn’t been easy. She’d thought only alcoholics had to worry about cirrhosis. “You think it’s them?”
“I can’t imagine what other dogs it could be. I know all the rest of the animals in the area, and they wouldn’t do something like what we saw.”
“Whose pit bulls are they?”
“Belong to a couple of young men, maybe twenty eight or twentynine, who are renting the old Gruper place. They’re here for the summer, doing some pros pecting.”
Gold panning and dredging had become popular pas times. A lot of tourists visited “the heart of gold coun try” to relive the history of the ’49er. Coloma, where gold was first discovered in California, was an hour away, but the entire area had been rich in ore. At 5,912 feet, the nearby Kennedy mine was one of the deepest gold mines in the world.
“So you’ve met these men?” she asked.
“Just last week. I was selling my gold dredge. They saw my flyer on the bulletin board at the diner and came over to buy it. I guess they weren’t finding anything using the panning method.”
“Did you like them?”
“Not a bit.” Godfrey spoke with his usual candor, but she’d already guessed his feelings from his sour expression.
“They’re unruly braggarts with big mouths and no respect. If I hadn’t known better, I would’ve thought they were related to the Amoses.”
The Amoses weren’t as bad as they’d been imme diately after their father went to prison. As a matter of fact, she really liked Cheyenne’s husband. But she didn’t mention that she now knew Dylan and cared about him. She didn’t want to veer off topic. “I’m surprised they didn’t hear their dogs growling and barking. You’d think they would’ve gone out to see what was going on.”
He shrugged. “They were probably passed out, drunk.”
“They’re big partiers?” “That’s the impression they gave me.” “Great.” She rolled of her eyes. “Just who you want living so close—and with a couple of unsafe pit bulls, too.”
He acknowledged her sarcasm with a tip of his cup. “Fortunately, it’s only for three months.”
Rifle brushed up against her, wanting some attention, so she bent to scratch behind his ears. “Short timers or no, they still have to keep their dogs from biting people,” she said. “Mr. McCloud could’ve been killed.”
Godfrey sipped his coffee before responding. “I plan on heading over there later.”
Knowing he’d do whatever needed to be done, she changed the subject. “Will Mr. McCloud be okay?”
Her neighbor’s hands were oversize, like her injured guest’s, except that Godfrey’s were also thick. When he was stitching up Levi’s bite wounds, Callie had been impressed by how dexterous his sausagelike fingers could be.
“As long as those bites don’t get infected, he should be. He’ll have a few scars, but I made the stitches very small. That’ll help. In my opinion, he should get a tet anus booster, but he claims he was in the military, that his shots are current.”
“They make sure soldiers stay up on that sort of thing, don’t they?”
“They do. If he was really a soldier.”
Apparently, Godfrey was taking nothing for granted. The people of Whiskey Creek could be suspicious of outsiders. But Callie believed at least that much of Mc Cloud’s story. He had a tattoo on one shoulder depicting an eagle with the word Freedom. A tattoo on the other arm said R.I.P. Sanchez, Williams, Phelps, Smith. The names were in different fonts, as if they’d been added as he’d lost friends.
She preferred not to consider how hard that would be to cope with.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your help, G.,” she said, using the nickname her grandfather had given him. Poppy had coined a nickname for everyone. It was usually a shortened version of that person’s first name but Godfrey became a little tricky. Only his wife sometimes teased him by calling him God.
“Happy to help. You know how much Mina and I care about you.” Although his words were kind, he shot her a warning look from beneath his hairy eyebrows that indicated she might not like what was coming next.
“But…” she said, giving him the opportunity to speak his mind.
“But I’m going to stick my nose into your business and tell you that I think you should send this man on his way.”
“I will, of course. As soon as he’s better.” “I mean as soon as he wakes up.” Rifle wandered off as she sat down at the table. “G.,
he just got over a hundred stitches!” “That’s okay. In a few hours he’ll be able to walk
well enough to vacate the premises.” But how far would he have to go? Godfrey had mentioned infection as if it was a serious concern. Certainly heading off into the wild blue yonder wouldn’t mini mize that risk. And what if Levi couldn’t find his mo torcycle? For all she knew, the cops had impounded it. Even if the bike was exactly where he’d left it, it wasn’t running. That was the whole reason he’d been in a position to be attacked in the first place. “He needs time to recover.”
“We don’t know anything about him, Callie. We don’t even know if his version of what happened is true. Having him here might not be safe.”
Callie sipped her juice. “But he has no home.” And he had no mode of transportation. “Where will he go?”
“Wherever he was going before he met you.”
His protectiveness wouldn’t allow him to consider any mitigating factors, so she didn’t argue further. “I’ll send him off as soon as I can,” she promised.
Godfrey finished his coffee and got up to bring his cup to the sink. “I’d better go. I’m sure Mina’s wondering where on earth I am.”
“Of course. Thanks again.” When she ushered him out, she put Rifle into the fenced part of the yard so he could get some exercise. Then she returned to the house and stiffened in surprise. Levi McCloud was no longer asleep. He was coming out of her bedroom.