Wolf Creek Homecoming

By: Penny Richards

Prologue

St. Louis, 1877

“Hey there, Rachel Stone!”

Weighted down with loneliness and bone tired, Rachel was mounting the steps of her boardinghouse when she heard the greeting. The familiar, husky voice stopped her in her tracks and caused her heart to stumble. There was no way it could be who it sounded like, she thought, turning. But it was. Her mouth fell open in surprise.

Gabe Gentry, the handsome, younger Gentry son, was standing there. The same son who, if the rumors could be believed, had asked for his inheritance prior to his father’s death and left their hometown of Wolf Creek two years ago. If the gossipmongers were correct, he was busily running through the funds, chasing every good time he could find.

But Rachel believed that gossip was just bits and pieces of the truth often distorted and exaggerated as the tattletales passed the story around. She had a hard time believing he was as bad as everyone claimed, since her own experiences with him had been good ones.

He was attractive, friendly, fun loving and always pleasant, and she’d liked being around him. Of course, that might be because she had always had a bit of a “thing” for him, even though she was the elder by two years. Guilty or not, his reputation made him the kind of male who inhabited a young woman’s daydreams, and the kind parents prayed would give their daughters a wide berth.

While she was woolgathering, he stopped less than two feet from her and reached out to tap her chin with a gentle finger. Her mouth snapped shut.

“Cat got your tongue?” he asked, favoring her with a mischievous half smile.

Rachel stared into his dark blue eyes, willing steadiness to her trembling voice. “Gabe?” she said at last. “What are you doing here, and how did you find me?” she asked, still trying to come to terms with the fact that the man who had been the subject of too many of her youthful fantasies was standing on her doorstep.

He laughed, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his stylish trousers. “It really is a small world. Would you believe I ran into Buck Hargrove coming out of a restaurant last night? He’s here on some sort of railroad business, and while we were catching up on what’s been going on back home, he mentioned you were here studying to be a doctor. Since I don’t see too many folks from home traveling around the way I do, I thought I’d look you up.” He smiled, a rueful twist of his lips. “Never thought I’d admit it, but I’m a little homesick for Wolf Creek.”

“You could go back for a visit sometime, you know.”

Was it her imagination, or did a shadow cross his attractive face? “Yeah,” he said with a bright smile. “Maybe I’ll do that.”

He seemed uncomfortable for a moment then rallied. “So are you really going to be a doctor?”

“That’s the plan.”

“That’s unbelievable.”

“Why is it unbelievable? I thought everyone knew I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

“Yeah, but saying something like that and actually doing it... Maybe it’s so incredible because everyone thinks of medicine as a man’s line of work.”

She loved talking about her chosen field but felt strange trying to justify her decision standing in front of her rented rooms. “Would you like to come inside? Mrs. Abernathy usually has lemonade made, and I don’t think she’ll object if we sit in the parlor awhile.”

He looked indecisive for just a second, but then smiled and said, “I’d like that very much.”

Inside, Rachel fetched the beverage and some cookies, and they sat in the shabby parlor. Gabe looked out of place in his fine, tailor-made clothing, sitting among her landlady’s simple, worn furnishings.

Settled in a threadbare armchair, a glass of lemonade in hand, she asked, “Where were we?”

“You were about to tell me the woes of women entering medicine.”

“Oh, yes. The annoying part is the arrogance of the male students and even some of the professors. They make no secret that they think it’s utter folly for a woman to even think of entering their elite ranks.”

Her face took on a pompous expression. “Women are not mentally equipped to grasp the intricacies of the circulatory, lymphatic and muscular systems and they are far too delicate to deal with the sight of blood and innards,” she intoned.

Gabe threw back his head and roared with laughter. “They actually said that?” he asked when he’d regained his composure.

“Among other things.”

“And how are you doing with the blood and guts?”

“Actually very well. I have yet to faint at anything we’ve dealt with in the lab, which not all of them can say.”

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