Saturday, February 1, 2014

Houston McClintock by Caroline Clemmons

Houston McClintock is on the way back to his Texas home from Tennessee. He carries the money from the sale of his late grandparents’ farm. While riding through Georgia woods, he is attacked by robbers and gravely wounded. Stripped of all his belongings—even his clothes and boots—Houston is left for dead. A Cherokee, John Tall Trees, rescues Houston and takes him home for his daughter, Gentle Dove, to heal. Her skill and determination save Houston’s life.
As Gentle Dove—called Dovie—nurses Houston back to robust health, the two develop strong feelings for one another. Houston wants them to marry, but Dovie knows the disdain most Anglos feel for Cherokee. She can’t subject her wonderful Houston to censure from his family and friends. Will Houston’s family accept Dovie? Can Houston convince her that his love is true?  
Northwest Georgia, 1858
Too weak to move, Houston McClintock’s eyes refused to open.
“You’re safe now.” The voice soft as velvet calmed him.
He gasped to speak but his dry throat and tongue refused to cooperate. A damp cloth moistened his lips, then drops of water trickled into his mouth.
Someone bathed his face. Blessed coolness. He forced open his eyes.
The most beautiful woman he’d ever seen leaned over him. Her bronze skin proclaimed her an Indian. Light from the window shot blue and copper highlights across her coal black hair. Kindness shone from her face. She appeared near his age of twenty-five.
”Good morning. My name is Gentle Dove, but friends call me Dovie.” Her smile illuminated her features. She braced his head and held a cup to his mouth.
Gratefully, he swallowed.
He searched the room for clues. Planed log walls bore signs of expert craftsmanship. He lay in a brass bed covered by a brightly colored quilt. Dovie wore Anglo clothes.
In whirling memories, he recalled his frantic ride for the trees. Men shooting. Pain in his shoulder and head. The sensation of falling.
Had the robbers stolen his saddlebags? Money from the sale of family land in Tennessee? His favorite horse, Lightning?
He tried to rise but fell back. “Where?”
She laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Don’t fret. You’re in the home of John Tall Trees in Georgia. You were badly injured and stripped when Papa found you.”
Damn, was he buck naked? Houston slid his hands frantically under the covers. He exhaled relief when he realized he wore britches.
She smiled mischievously as if she understood his concern. “You’re taller than Papa but he loaned you clothes. We didn’t risk opening your wounds to add a shirt.”
He glimpsed strips of fabric binding his shoulder and chest. “Bad?”
“I dug out the lead, but we almost lost you. Only a strong will could have survived.” She leaned forward to adjust the bandage at his forehead. Honeysuckle filled his senses and a cascade of lustrous ebony hair fell across his chest.
An older man appeared behind Dovie. “About time you woke up, young fella. I’m John Tall Trees.”
“Here...long?” The few words he’d spoken since he’d awakened exhausted him.
“Four days ago I found you and tracks of three men. You needed help immediately. My daughter is very skilled in our medicines.”
“Don’t fear.” She checked his shoulder bandage and offered a wry smile. “I have also studied white man’s medicines.”
John gestured over his shoulder. “Big dun showed up. Figured she was your horse.”
He sighed with relief. At least he hadn’t lost Lightning. “Saddle?”
“None. Horse appeared interested in the house. Guess she tracked you here.”
Dear Lord, his family’s money was in the saddlebags. They’d trusted him and he’d let them down. “Family...write…for me?”
“Sure, tell me who.”
“Father…Vincent McClintock...McClintock Falls…Texas.”
John Tall Trees nodded. “Your name?”
“I’ll post a letter today.” He repeated the name and address.
Houston tried to nod, but the hammering in his head increased.  He closed his eyes