By Caroline Clemmons
Today I'm sharing a FREE short story with you titled HOUSTON McCLINTOCK.
Texan Houston McClintock encounters life altering misfortune in the Georgia forest. Perhaps Gentle Dove, the beautiful Cherokee healer, saves his life in more than one way.
Prequel to THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE
And the McClintock Series
Northwest Georgia, 1858
Too weak to move, Houston McClintock’s eyes refused to open.
“You’re safe now.” A voice soft as velvet calmed him.
He fought to speak, but his dry throat and tongue declined his effort.
A damp cloth moistened his lips, then drops of water trickled into his mouth.
Someone bathed his face. Blessed coolness. Gently, the person cleared his eyes.
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 a few years younger than his age of twenty-five.
“Good morning, I am happy to see you are awake. 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.
His gaze 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.
Whirling memories 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.”
Was he buck naked? Houston slid his hands frantically under the covers. He exhaled relief when he realized he wore britches.
She smiled and her eyes twinkled 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 and pressed medicine into the wounds. We almost lost you. You bled a lot. 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 since I found you and tracks of three men. You were in a bad way and needed help immediately. My daughter is 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 he was your horse.”
He sighed with relief. At least he hadn’t lost Lightning. “Saddle… bags?”
The man shook his head, a sympathetic expression on his face. “Nothing. Horse appeared interested in the house so we guessed he was yours. Smart horse to track you here.”
Horror struck, his family’s money was in the saddlebags. They’d trusted him and he’d let them down. “Family...write…for me?”
“They will be worried. Tell me who.”
He gathered his strength, to speak the necessary words, “Father…Vincent McClintock...McClintock Falls…Texas.”
John Tall Trees nodded and repeated the spelling. “Your name?”
“I’ll post a letter today.” He said the name and address once more.
Houston tried to nod, but the hammering in his head increased with the slightest movement. He closed his eyes.
Dovie tucked the quilt around him. “Rest. When you wake, I’ll have warm soup for you.”
The next few days tested Houston’s self control as Dovie tended to his needs. Her gentle ways spoke to his heart. Her intellect intrigued him. Her wry sense of humor made him smile. And when their eyes met, he sensed she shared his interest.
He also enjoyed the Tall Trees’ down-to-earth values. Helping others. Peace. Unencumbered life. Why couldn’t everyone live this way?
His first day back on his feet, Dovie walked him as far as a chair. “Disgusting I’m so weak.”
Several days later, he walked to the front porch with Dovie supporting him with his arm draped over her shoulders. The sun heated his skin, but not as much as the woman beside him. He turned to face her, gazed into her mesmerizing dark eyes, and gave in to temptation.
“Dovie,” he whispered, lowering his mouth to hers. Meeting eager response, he molded her against him and deepened the kiss. Her low moan of pleasure sent his hands roaming over her back.
The sound of a deep cough broke them apart. Dovie’s father stood in the yard, arms crossed.
Dovie stared at the ground as if embarrassed.
Unashamed, Houston kept his arm around her waist.
“Looks like you’re feeling fine, young fella,” John Tall Trees said. “Daughter, are you all right?”
She raised her head. “Yes, Papa.”
“Good.” Eyeing Houston, the older man pointed an accusing finger. “Don’t you dare hurt Dovie.”
“I won’t, sir, I will treat her with the respect she deserves. You have my word.”
John nodded before he strolled into the house.
Over the following weeks, Houston kept his promise, but found it mighty hard whenever Dovie was in his arms. As their love grew, he determined to make her his wife.
Six weeks since he’d been attacked, Houston vowed he would never tire of seeing Dovie’s graceful movements. He’d dragged his feet about resuming his journey because he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her.
“Let’s wed now, Dovie. Please, then you can come with me.”
She didn’t meet his gaze. “If your family says they will welcome me, I will marry you and live in Texas.” She turned and her gentle eyes held sadness as she regarded him. “I have met too many whites to believe you could be happy with me. Disapproval would kill your strong spirit.”
Anger spiraled through him. He had to admit she was right about many whites. “Your opinion is the only one that matters.”
She turned away. “You’ll care what your parents and brother think. If what you believe is true, you can return for me. If you don’t come back, I’ll carry you in my heart.” She fled to her room.
Disheartened, he stomped to the front porch.
John sat on the long bench against the wall.
Houston plopped beside him. “Hate to leave, but Dovie won’t marry me until I tell my family I love her. Also, they trusted me and I should face them in person when I tell them how I was robbed of their money from the sale of Granpa’s farm.”
“You are an honorable man to feel as you do.”
“John, you haven’t said. Do you mind if your daughter and I wed?”
The older man glanced his way. “I like you, and you are a fine man. It’s my wish to see Dovie married with children.” Several minutes passed before John shrugged. “But who can say? Perhaps you will feel differently about us when you are surrounded by your own people.”
Sick of the same argument, Houston exhaled his frustration. “My love for Dovie is genuine. She and I belong together.”
Without speaking, John stared at the pasture where his horses grazed.
Frustrated, Houston stood and went inside.
The next morning, Houston saddled Lightning with tack loaned by John, and then led the gelding to the cabin steps.
“When I return, we’ll be wed, Dovie.” He embraced her, wishing to hold her forever.
She pulled away to look up at him. “I will keep my love for you in my heart.”
He captured her hand and pressed it over his heart. “My heart beats for you.”
He shook hands with John. “When I return, I will repay you for your kindness, but I can never repay you for saving my life.”
“Travel safe, my son.”
Houston realized John Tall Trees harbored the same doubts as his daughter. He saw it in the older man’s eyes. Houston knew father and daughter believed they would never see him again. He’d prove them wrong.
“If I don’t return, Dovie, you’ll know I’m dead.”
Houston rode for over two weeks before he reached the Texas Hill Country town of McClintock Falls. When he turned into the long, tree-lined drive to his parents’ home, his heart lightened. Although John had written he’d been robbed, Houston dreaded telling them he’d lost the money, but looked forward to sharing his good news.
He shouted, “Hello the house.”
Papa and Mama came outside. Mama waited on the porch.
His father hurried to embrace him. “We’ve been watching for weeks. How are you, son? Any permanent damage from your injuries?”
“Naw, you know I’m too ornery to keep down.” Pleasure drove travel’s weariness from him. He handed Lightning’s reins to a stable hand and walked up the steps with his father.
His mother accepted his kiss and placed a hand on either side of his face. “Let me look at you and be certain those heathens didn’t hurt you. Glad that Indian wrote us, but no good comes of associating with their kind.”
Houston stepped back and frowned at his mother. “Mama, remember that white men robbed and almost killed me. John Tall Trees and his daughter literally saved my life.”
All his life Mama’s uppity ways had annoyed and sometimes embarrassed him. He’d never had them driven home so hard before. She was overly proud the town was named for Papa, but how did that make them better than anyone else?
His father slapped his back and pushed him gently forward. “Now, Zarelda, he just said the Indian family saved his life. I’d say that’s plenty good.”
“John Tall Trees found me in the woods near their home. Robbers had shot me, got the money from the land sale, stripped me bare, and left me for dead. I’d have died, but John took me to his home. His daughter nursed me back to health.” Houston wanted to say more, but decided to bide his time.
“We’ll miss that money, but your safety is all that really matters. I see you still have Lightning.” His father wouldn’t stop patting his back.
“The robbers stole him, but he showed up at the Tall Trees’ place minus his tack.
His mother’s skirts swished until she settled into her chair in the parlor. “Sit down and tell us about the trip. How were the folks in Tennessee?”
“Couple that bought Grandpa’s farm appeared nice. Folk were happy to see me and peppered me with questions about both of you. Sorry our kin’s letters for you were stolen. I can tell you who wrote, but not what their letters said.”
His father sat across from him. “Nice of that Tall Trees fella to send us word. We’d of been sick out of our minds otherwise.”
“John’s parents and other Cherokee friends escaped removal by hiding in the forest. His wife has passed on, but he and his daughter live in a large log home. He’s well respected and an educated man. Has near as many books as you do.”
“An Indian reading books? Hmph, getting above himself in my opinion. Doubt he actually read them, anyway. Probably stole them.” His mother turned up her nose.
Houston’s homecoming wasn’t going the way he’d imagined. An emptiness settled in Houston’s belly. Sadness sliced through his dreams. He’d had such hopes about the future. Admitting Dovie and John had been right hurt more than being shot had.
“Mama, the daughter, Dovie, is the local healer like Austin’s wife is here. Since they’re far from a doctor, local people of all races and incomes seek her skill.”
Vincent McClintock slapped his knee. “A healer? Now wasn’t that lucky for you?”
His longing for her had been almost unbearable. “She’s a remarkable woman in many ways.” Houston took a deep breath. “I’ve asked her to marry me.”
His father smiled and slapped his back. “Congratula—”
“You what?” Mama interrupted. She stared agape for seconds before she jumped to her feet and shouted, “Houston McClintock, I won’t have it.” She shook her finger at him as if he were a child. “You’ll marry a nice white girl and have white children. No Indian will ever set foot in this home, do you hear me?”
Dovie added another pebble to the thirty-three in the jar she’d set on the windowsill, one for each morning since Houston had been gone. When the jar was full, she’d know he wasn’t coming back. Her heart ached with missing him. She longed for his strong embrace, the smiles they’d shared. Now that she’d known his love, loneliness overwhelmed her.
Papa patted her shoulder. “You must keep busy, Dovie.
Deep inside she knew his family would not accept her. She belonged in the Georgia forest. Here she had a purpose. Helping people with her healing brought her pleasure. Without her, who would tend those who now sought her care?
I’m strong. I have a good life. I will survive alone.
Yet sunlight shining through the half-filled jar taunts me.
Truly I want Houston.
Dovie wiped tears from her face. The sound of horses trotting toward the cabin caught her attention. Did someone need her help? She rushed to the window and peered through the glass.
Houston rode into the yard leading three beautiful mares and a mule. Packs loaded the mule.
He’d returned to her! She flung open the door and ran to greet the man she loved with all her heart, her soulmate.
After dismounting, Houston grabbed her and spun in a circle.
Her father stepped from the barn, a wide grin splitting his face. “Hello,” he shouted. He hurried toward the couple. “I will take care of the animals.” He led them toward the barn.
Laughing, she searched Houston’s eyes. “I...I wasn’t certain you’d return. Our worlds are so different.”
“Your world is mine, my love.” He kissed her softly at first, and then ardently. “I’ve missed you every minute. I hope we can be married right away.”
She ran her palms over his powerful chest and wide shoulders, almost unsure he’d really returned. “I’m so glad you’re here. I feared you’d stay with your family.”
He caged her in his strong arms. “You’re my family.”
“Are we going to Texas?” She leaned back to watch his sky blue eyes.
Sadness briefly tinged his face, swiftly replaced by a wide smile. “My love, our home will be here with your father. Forever.”
Understanding flooded her. His family had rejected her, but he’d chosen her over them. How she loved this wonderful man. Her heart almost burst with happiness.
She caressed his strong jaw and smiled. “Forever is perfect.”
In case you haven't read the story of Houston and Dovie's son, Dallas, here's the cover and a link to the book on Amazon. Of course, it's in e-book, print, and is free in KU.
Stay safe and keep reading!