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Clearwater Book Nine

When pediatrician James Macis rushes to the aid of a woman and her child holed up in a cabin in the mountains just outside of Clearwater, he’s uncertain what to think. After spending most of his career in a big city hospital, he’s adjusting to the unsteady ways of small town living, but he never expected he’d have to care for a sick child without modern medical supplies.

After some regrettable choices, Ella Carmichael chose to hide, never guessing her decision would jeopardize her daughter’s life. Alone in the middle of the woods, she’s more terrified than ever. The only thing she wants is for Abbi to be well. For that, she’s willing to risk facing civilization again.

James never thought his relocation would give him the chance to have the family he’s always wanted. While Ella focused all her efforts on protecting her daughter, the world passed her by. Will a sick child help James and Ella find fulfillment?

How dare he! She glanced back at Abbi before stepping out of the cabin and shutting the door behind her. With her arms crossed over her chest, she stalked toward Ryan who was exiting his vehicle. “Who the hell is this? You know I don’t want anyone here!”

“Ella, I brought Doctor Macis with me. He’s a pediatrician in town, so calm yourself or I’ll have to detain you.”

“Detain me? How dare you? We’re talking about my daughter here.” She charged at Ryan, anger filling her, instinctively lifting her fists.

With one simple sidestep, he pinned her to the side of his SUV, wrapping his hands around her wrists before she could hit him. “This is the only way,” he snapped, his voice firm. “Either you stand aside and let him help Abbi or I’m loading her into the SUV and taking her to the hospital myself. Your choice.”

She glanced back to the man who had come around the side of the SUV; he didn’t look like any doctor she had ever seen with his low-slung jeans and shaggy, curly hair. His casual dress surprised her. The top buttons of his shirt were undone, and she wasn’t sure if his easy manner was comforting, unprofessional, or both.

She took him in before turning back to Sheriff Ryder. “You can’t do this. Get another doctor from another town…someone who doesn’t know.”

“Doctor Macis is new to Clearwater, he didn’t know what happened. If you don’t let him help Abbi I’ll make good on my promise.”

She shook her head. “No, I can care for her myself.”

“Ella, this is your last chance.” He used his free hand to reach for his handcuffs. “I’ll do it.”

Sheriff Ryder’s fingers dug into her wrists as the last light peeked through the trees, glimmering on his handcuffs as they came into view.

“Don’t make me choose risking my daughter or going to jail,” she countered.

“Ma’am, I’m only here to help, please let me see to her.” Doctor Macis stepped closer. “While you’re wasting time fighting us, your daughter could be getting worse. Now either let us help her or I’ll help him detain you. Instead of being there when Abbi wants her mother, you’ll be in the back of the SUV waiting to go back to the station. Is that what you want?”

“If you hurt her—”

The sun was setting over the mountains of Clearwater, Wyoming, bringing another day to a close. Pediatrician James Macis had left a large practice to partner with his brother-in-law, Doctor Michael Johnson. Between the two of them, they were the only pediatricians the tiny town offered. It was a quicker, more routine practice he always thought he wanted, but now that he was here, settling into things, he found that he enjoyed it. He was able to get to know the residents of this small town better than he had ever been able to with any of his clients in Denver.

When he had taken the position, it was to be closer to his sister, nieces, and to give Michael more time with his new family. Now that James was here, he wondered if this wasn’t where he always should have been. He fit into Clearwater better than he ever had in Denver. There was no doubt in his mind why Michael loved it here. There was something about a small town that couldn’t be found anywhere else, or maybe it was just Clearwater. Everyone acted as if they were part of a family, not just friends or neighbors. People looked out for each other, and when things got tough they stuck together to get through it. James never saw that in Denver.

Another thing Denver didn’t offer was the chance to leave the office in the early afternoons for the day. In a small town, his hours decreased, allowing him more time for the activities he enjoyed but never had time for. This past winter, he’d hit the slopes in Jackson Hole more than ever before. During the summer, he swam in the lake, had barbeques, and explored the town. He’d lived in Denver for years, but never saw as much as he had in the last ten months.

Now that fall was upon them and the town was gearing up for Halloween, he was experiencing the joys of the season he’d never known existed before. Next weekend there would be a fair at Clearwater Lake with the main attractions being a pumpkin pie taste test, bake sale, bobbing for apples, and a pumpkin carving competition. It was their last big celebration before Halloween and the iciness of winter. One last chance for the residents to get out and be social before the snow trapped them in their houses. He had to acknowledge he was looking forward to it. The very idea of it put a spring in his step and gave him something to look forward to.

The doorbell forced him to take his gaze off the sky, and he glanced behind him into the house he rented. Without x-ray vision to see who was at the door he was going to have to get up from his relaxing seat on the patio. He grabbed his cell phone off the glass table and started to the door. Crossing the spacious kitchen and living room, he quickly made his way to the front door and pulled it open.

“What can I do for you, Ryan?” He stepped back to let the other man in.

“We need to talk.” Sheriff Ryan Ryder walked into the room, his hand on the butt of his gun as though he’d walked right out of a novel about the old west. It was a natural pose for him. His jacket opened enough to reveal the dark blue uniform shirt pulled tight against his broad chest.

“Sure, Sheriff, just come right in.” James couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice. Since moving here, the two men had become friends but something about this visit said it was business not pleasure that brought him here. “So what can I do for you?”

“Maybe I stopped by to have a beer with you.”

James shook his head. “Everything about you screams you’re on duty and we both know you don’t drink during work hours.”

“As sheriff and the only full-time law enforcement, when am I not on duty?” Ryan moved farther into the house but didn’t take a seat; he stayed standing as though he was on guard.

“When your deputy, Jordan, is on duty, you’re not,” James reminded him. He’d met Jordan and his wife Chloe two months ago, shortly after she’d given birth to their daughter Bianca. Being a pediatrician, he knew more of the parents and children in town.

“Now that Jordan has finished the house behind Winterbloom Bed and Breakfast, he’s able to pick up a few shifts again. Perfect timing with Halloween. Peak season for Jackson Hole is around the corner, which makes our little town busier.”

“You didn’t stop by to tell me they finished the house? Or that you’re going to be busy busting hardened bicycle thieves, so what brings you here?”

With a nod, Ryan adjusted his gun belt. “There’s a woman living just outside of town. She’s been hiding out there since her daughter was born four years ago.”

“Hiding from what?” He wanted to curse himself for his curiosity.

“The child’s father brought trouble here a few years ago. He killed a man and got twenty to life in prison. Ella felt she was to blame since she was the reason him and a few of his friends were here. See, she was born and raised in Jackson Hole, the guys were from Cheyenne,” Ryan explained. “I arrested him and now I go up every so often to make sure she’s okay. I was there today and the little girl needs a doctor.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know the extent of the illness but she’s been unable to keep anything down for the last two days. She’s burning up with fever, and she’s got stomach cramps that have her screaming out in pain.”

“She needs to be in the hospital.” James couldn’t believe his friend who had been a sheriff for years didn’t realize how bad the situation was.

“I know she’s in bad condition but taking her to the hospital means I have to remove her from her mother’s care. She’s unwilling to leave the cabin they’ve holed up in. I’ve come to you to seek medical care for the child so it doesn’t have to come to that.”

What Ryan described made it sound like the girl should’ve been in the hospital, not some backwoods cabin. He didn’t have the equipment needed on hand to care for a child that sick, nor did his doctor bag carry fluids the girl so desperately needed.

“Only a hospital has the equipment that will help her,” James said, his tone incredulous. “I’m sure she’s extremely dehydrated and is in need of fluids. Not to mention tests that should be run to find out the cause of her illness. The flu is bad this year, but what you’ve mentioned sounds worse than that.”

“I understand what I’m asking, but taking Abbi away from her mother isn’t going to improve her condition. If anything, it’ll make it worse. Abbi has never been around anyone other than her mother. Even after all these years with me visiting occasionally, she hides when I come around. She’ll be terrified to be taken away from Ella, especially in a hospital surrounded by all those people. There’s a little girl that needs your help, so will you come with me?” When James didn’t answer, Ryan added. “You know as well as I do that sometimes in our careers we have to go against the norm for a person’s best interests. Bringing medical care to Abbi, instead of taking her to it, is in her best interest.”

“What if I can’t help her?” James asked, doubt creeping in.

“We’ll deal with that if it happens.” There was a twinge of sadness in Ryan’s eyes. “She’s pretty bad off and I’m not going to let the girl die. If you say she needs more medical care than you can provide, she’ll get it even if it means tearing her away from Ella kicking and screaming.”

It was against James’s better judgment, but he agreed. “I’ll need to stop by my office to get supplies. I’m also going to call Michael.”

Ryan’s hand rubbed the butt of his gun. “Your brother-in-law has helped on cases similar to this, and I would have gone to him tonight, but with twins I didn’t want to risk he might bring some sickness home to them.”

James headed away from the entryway to grab supplies he kept on hand when Ryan’s words stopped him mid-step. “Cases like this?” Thinking he’d heard the sheriff wrong, he paused and glanced over his shoulder.

“Clearwater is a great small town where most of the locals are average people, but there are others who live in the mountains who are less social. Doctor Bowmen—Richard, the OBGYN—and Michael have gone into the mountains occasionally to assist with difficult births, attend to sick children, whatever is needed.” Ryan took his sheriff’s hat off and tossed it on the entryway table. “Doc, small town living is different from your big city.”

“Don’t I know.” He moved farther into the house gathering the things he needed, while his thoughts turned back to the office a few days before. After months of being in Clearwater, he hadn’t realized a difference until his first barter patient came to his office with his son who’d broken his arm. The man wanted medical care in exchange for a freshly killed deer.

After some negotiation with Michael’s help, they agreed Mr. Allen would clean the deer and deliver the meat in exchange for his son’s arm being set, placed in a cast, and removed once the time came. If Michael hadn’t been in the office, he’d have ended up with a freshly killed deer that still needed to be skinned, cleaned, and cut. It had been an eye opening experience that let him know that he had a lot to learn about his new home. Things were sure different here than in Denver, but he loved living here.

“Come on, James, we really need to go.” Panic clung to Ryan’s words.

“I’m coming.” He grabbed his supplies, then pulled out his cell phone, debating on whether to text or call Michael. He might have some advice on handling situations like this. Instead, he pocketed his cell phone and picked up his pace. He’d deal with Abbi and if he needed advice he’d called Michael then. Right now, Michael had his own family to deal with and since that was his sister and little niece, they mattered a great deal to James as well.

“I’ll take my truck and follow you, but remember I need to stop by the office to get more supplies.” He grabbed his coat from the banister where he’d tossed it when he came home from the office.

“I can drive us both. It’s a rough route to get to their cabin,” Ryan warned him.

“You might get a call and have to leave.” James shook his head. “I need to have transportation if she declines.”

“Without me, you’re not going to be able to convince Ella to allow you to take Abbi to the hospital.”

“No, you’re going to make it clear to Ella when we arrive that if the child’s health declines I’ll take her to the hospital with or without her permission. Got it?” He slipped his arms into his jacket. “If you don’t make sure Ella understands that, then we’re taking her to the hospital now.”

“I’ll tell her but you’re still going to have a fight on your hands.” Ryan zippered his coat. “If I have to leave it would be best if you waited until I got back to take her to the hospital.”

“That’s not always possible.” James snatched his keys off the table. “Now let’s go.”

“Just don’t do anything stupid while you’re there.”

“Never.” James followed Ryan out, checking to make sure the door locked behind them. Even though most people in Clearwater didn’t lock their doors, he couldn’t let go of the habit.

“I’ve got to pick something up at my place so I’ll meet you at your office,” Ryan hollered on his way to the police SUV.

“Don’t be long, I don’t know how to get there.”

“I’ll be there before you’re out.” Ryan slid behind the wheel and was gone before James even started his truck.

Maybe it was the big city side of him, but this whole situation made James uncomfortable. If this child was as sick as Ryan described, she needed constant medical care. Care he couldn’t provide in a cabin, far from his office, and equipment he might need. But what bothered him the most was Ella was risking her daughter because of guilt. He couldn’t understand how a parent could step aside while their child was suffering.

* * *

James carried a bag with electrolyte drinks and bags of fluids for an IV to his truck when he noticed Ryan standing next to it. “I already loaded most of the things, so I think I’ve got everything.” As he went over the list again in his mind, he realized he should have a kit for cases like this in his truck so he’d always be prepared.

“I want you to take this.” Ryan held out a gun.

“What would I need that for?” James placed the bag in the back seat of his truck before shutting the door.

“Even though Ella lives out in the middle of nowhere, things can still happen, so if I have to leave you there I want to make sure you’re protected.”

“That’s what you stopped by your place for, isn’t it?”

Ryan nodded. “We’ve gone to Clearwater Combat and Gun shooting, so you know how to use it. Now take it.”

“I had Jordan order me a nine millimeter. It’s going to be in next week.”

“That doesn’t help you now. This will.” Ryan held the butt of the gun out to him. “Now take it so we can go.”

Instead of arguing, he took the gun and hooked the leather holster to his belt. “Let’s go, there’s a little girl who needs us.” He focused on the girl and tried not to think about Ryan’s insistence he have a gun. The idea of encountering danger—whether animals or people—in the woods outside of town was a bit overwhelming, especially when he had to care for a sick child in less than ideal conditions.