The brilliance of the blue sky and heat of the sun weren’t as appreciated by the residents of Tenby as they had been in recent years.
In fact, the prospect of the long summer ahead did nothing but squeeze more anxiety out of an already terrified town. The year had already been tough for them as they continued to battle through the scares of another outbreak of cholera. People needed a break.
Veronica Saunders grimaced as she glanced out of the window at the rising sun and knew that they were going to be in for another day of sweltering heat. The doctor’s practice was bracing itself for any kind of increase in the number of patients. Since her father ran the practice, this was a concern that fell onto her shoulders too.
She folded her arms over her chest and tried not to think about a worst-case scenario if the number of cases continued to rise. Veronica knew that she was going to have to be much more careful with the patients, being a woman meant that even just tending to their bedside could offend them.
Her jobs revolved around the cleaning, not the actual tending to their symptoms; no matter how badly she wanted to. Veronica had always felt a deep passion for wanting to help people, it was something that had been ingrained in her from a very young age. Watching her father work and look after people had inspired her, yet it was a goal that had always felt unattainable. That wasn’t because she could do better at her job, it was simply because she was a woman.
“Good morning dear,” her father said wearily as he walked down the slightly rickety steps and made it into the small kitchen area.
Their house wasn’t anything impressive. A small dwelling was attached to the much more important part of the structure, the part designed to help people get better. Veronica managed a weak smile as she nodded to her father, Peter.
He was clean-shaven as always and stood with enviably straight posture, his years of studying had evidently taught him the best practice when it came to looking after himself. Veronica had noticed as she got older how much of this had rubbed off on herself.
She folded her arms in front of her and kept her shoulders down to help straighten out her back. The practice was quiet, but she knew that it wouldn’t be long before more people walking through their doors with symptoms of the dreaded disease.
“You look tired,” Peter remarked as he crossed the room and opened up one of the shutters.
“I am tired,” Veronica said with a sigh. She couldn’t even lie about it, there was no energy left in her body to pretend that the bags under her eyes were nothing more than shadows in the early light. “But I’ll be fine,” she quickly added and bit her lip.
The last thing that she wanted was for her father to think that she was unfit to work in the practice.
“You work too hard, my dear, you shouldn’t be straining yourself to work so late.”
She knew that he was talking about the studying that she did. If she wasn’t helping in the main room of the practice, then she was reading about medicines, researching the human body and all of its intricacies.
It was a subject that had fascinated Veronica from a young age and she wanted to learn as much about it as possible. Of course, that had always been really difficult outside of the safety of the practice.
“I’m fine, Father,” Veronica sighed as she walked over to the kitchen area and started to prepare some bread for the morning.
“All right. Well if you could start with the morning rounds, I’m sure that would be much appreciated.”
Veronica nodded and smiled at her father’s request, however, there was something in his tone that she didn’t like. A slight shake, a waiver of uncertainty that she didn’t hear too often. The town for days had felt as though it were on the edge of something, as though a dark cloud hung heavily above the shoulders of the small spot of land.
A calmness before the inevitable storm. They had all heard of the outbreaks in neighboring towns, the way that the disease spread was alarming, and people were frightened.
Veronica had noticed in recent days a distinct lack of people who ventured out into the main area of the town, too afraid of catching the illness themselves.
She sighed and washed her hands before entering the main part of the building. If anyone were to catch it, Veronica knew that she and her father were going to be at the most risk of getting the disease too.
The anxiety was growing around town, but Veronica knew that it was all going to bubble over at some point when a new wave of the disease would roll into the town.
However, she had to push away any doubts to allow a small smile to settle over her features as she walked over to one of the two occupied beds. If there was one thing that she had learned, it was that you should never worry the patients unnecessarily. Of course, one had to be realistic about things, but even when someone appears as though they aren’t going to live another day, you have to remain comforting and calm.
Veronica was pleased that the two men that they were caring for weren’t anywhere near that kind of state. Merely sick from a seasonal disease, not the cholera that so many feared.
“Good morning, Mr. Jones. I do hope that you had a good rest,” Veronica said in the softest voice that she could muster that morning.
Even just changing sheets was tiring when one had to constantly put on a pleasant outward appearance. This was something that she struggled with so early in the morning.
Veronica went about the rest of her morning chores with little difficulty. It was a routine that she knew well by then, she had her role and she was content with her life. However, she knew that outside of those safe walls, there were people that would talk.
They would say that she was playing at being a man, trying to be selfish, and find a role for herself instead of a husband. However, Veronica had become accustomed to shaking off such talk with ease. The last thing that she wanted was for someone to tell her what to be.
By the time the mid-morning was drawing to a close and the sun was reaching its peak of the day, Veronica was drained and exhausted. Her back hurt slightly from being hunched over countertops and beds, but she still tried to muster up the strength to begin making lunches.
The only pleasant thought that she could hold onto was the idea that they hadn’t yet had any new cases of cholera coming in. The wave of infection appeared to have yet to make it to the borders of Tenby, and Veronica could only hope that it would stay that way.
“I’ve heard that we’re going to have to make sure we’ve got an extra stock of supplies,” her father said as he walked into the cramped kitchen.
“Really?” Veronica asked while trying to hide the waver in her voice.
“It’s getting bad in other parts of the state, even throughout the entire country it sounds bad. I just hope that there’s some way that we can avoid the worst of this. Hopefully, such a small town won’t be affected too greatly.”
Veronica nodded along with what he was saying. Normally, she would take great comfort in her father’s words, however, there was something different in his voice that scared her this time. She didn’t like the slightly foreboding tone that came with his words, warnings of stocking up were never a good sign, after all.
“What will this mean for the practice? What if one of us becomes infected?”
“We’re going to have to take special measures to ensure that it doesn’t happen,” Peter responded urgently. “We’re going to have to make sure that we don’t come into contact too much with patients. It’s transferred through water, and so we are going to have to boil it before drinking it.”
Veronica had read all about the effects of the disease and just how easily it could infect entire towns. If it were to get into the water supply, she was sure that they wouldn’t be able to stop the rate of infections until there was nobody left.
She continued to mull these thoughts over in her mind for the rest of the afternoon. However, the morning really had been the calm before the storm, and the realities of the disease became more prominent as the day went on.
First, it was one man with symptoms that matched the information coming from the town hall, then it was two more, and then there were another handful of people that started to experience symptoms.
Veronica could feel her heart falling slightly with each new case that showed up at their door. It felt as though they were going to be overwhelmed even faster than they had first thought. She swallowed thickly and kept her head down to help out in any way that she could, but the panic felt by everyone was a symptom that nobody had prepared for.
The only positive that Veronica could find in the situation was the fact that for the time being, people were willing to overlook the fact that she was helping out in the practice. People were scared and willing to accept help from anyone, no matter the gender or background, and so Veronica felt much freer to do the various jobs.
“Father, what are we going to do if we run out of beds?”
“There are other places in town that will be able to accommodate the ill, I’m sure of it. We aren’t the only practice thankfully, I’m sure that there will be plenty of beds to go around.”
The weak smile that Peter managed was a testament to the fact that perhaps they were going to have to be slightly more serious about this. This wasn’t like anything that Veronica had seen before, and panic settled into her chest like a dead weight.
“But what if the beds do…” she stopped talking as she felt someone’s eyes on her.
A woman sat off to the corner beside one of the beds, in both hands she held onto one of the men that occupied the bed.
Veronica quickly closed her mouth and looked at her father for guidance on what she should do next. She didn’t want to panic people that were clearly already on edge from worrying too much.
“Just try to keep the morale up,” Peter whispered to her. “We can’t afford to let people think that this is going to be a particularly bad outbreak. We have to keep a positive outlook on this.”
Veronica could only nod in response, but there was no way that she could remain calm as she looked around.
They were a doctor’s practice with a room full of beds, they weren’t one of the hospitals that had been built in response to the frequent outbreaks of the disease. Her father was simply one of the practicing professionals that had been called up in the area to offer some help to the effort.
Veronica wished that there was a hospital much closer to Tenby, but the reality was that the closest one was miles away in one of the larger towns.
She let out a heavy sigh while turning away from the patients and rolled her shoulders back in an attempt to alleviate the stress that wound tight in her body. The action did little to settle her nerves, but Veronica knew she couldn’t stall going back over to the patients to help out.
The one thought that she had to continuously push away—much like a persistent fly—was that there were going to be a lot of long nights ahead of them.
Over the coming days, the influx of patients grew, and the bags under Veronica’s eyes continued to darken. She felt a shift in the air, the panic was easing as the dreaded reality set in. People were too scared to leave their houses, and those that did kept their heads down and didn’t socialize in the way that they would have once done before.
Veronica didn’t like the way that the town seemed to shun those infected with the disease, as though it was their fault for catching it in the first place.
“Veronica,” her father said in a soft voice, beckoning her over to the edge of the room. The curtains had been drawn for days, only letting in slight splinters of light to ease with the symptoms.
She walked over and tried to seem spritely and ready to tackle a new day.
“I think you should go out for a while. You’ve been kept in here for the best part of the last few days, I think you need some fresh air.”
“But I have to help.”
“Yes, but there has been a small lull this morning in the demands of these people. Part of the job is determining when is a good time to go and take a break, it’s something that will come with time, but you have to be able to do it. Otherwise, you will not be a doctor for long because you will get sick yourself from the exhaustion.”
She knew that he was right. But it was a hard truth to accept. Veronica wanted to continue helping people, never in her life had she felt so validated when doing the various tasks like trying to break fevers and making sure that the place remained sanitary.
Her body yearned for a break badly. Just to sit down outside and take in the fresh breeze was a luxury that she had been trying to ignore. She found herself nodding and sighing heavily in agreement with her father.
“All right, but I will be back soon in case anything urgent happens.”
“Go on,” Peter urged her as he gestured to the door.
Veronica closed her eyes for a moment and let her head hang as she started for the exit to the practice. Even though she had been helping for the past few days, she still felt incredibly guilty to just have the ability to walk on out of there.
The people inside were so sick that they could barely sit up, she knew that it must be hard to see someone come and go with her ease.
As soon as the fresh air hit her skin, Veronica felt her body relaxing slightly as she tilted her head up to gaze at the sun. She took down her blonde hair from the confinements of the pins that held it at bay and allowed the wind to pass through it for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
The sigh that escaped her lips was one that felt incredibly overdue and she shrugged her shoulders back to alleviate some of the tension that had built up through her. The last thing that she wanted was for anyone to think that she was enjoying herself, but at that moment, she couldn’t lie; it did feel good to be outside and not working.
Veronica knew that it wasn’t going to be a popular thought, but she breathed in the sensation of being free from the confines of the dark practice.
“Veronica!” A familiar voice called out to her. She knew instantly who it was that approached on the wobbling horizon, even before the woman’s skirts were fully in her field of vision.
“I’m finally on a break, Emily,” she said as her close friend neared and stood beside her.
“I’m so glad, I haven’t seen you properly in days.”
Veronica smiled but backed away slightly as her friend came closer. She knew the various ways that cholera could be passed, it was mainly just in the water supply, but that didn’t mean that it couldn’t jump from one person to another if they were close enough.
“Of course,” Emily nodded and let her head dip slightly. “I’m sorry, everyone in town has just been so frightened, it’s good to see someone that might be able to provide us all with a bit of hope.”
Emily pushed back a dark curl that fell in front of her eyes as she spoke. Veronica was slightly surprised to see her out without a bonnet on her head, her fair skin was now purely at the mercy of the sun.
Veronica quickly turned her attention to the much bigger issue to come out of that statement. The idea that Emily was now relying on her to give her some reassuring news. However, there was nothing that Veronica could say that would help.
She thought about the state of their practice and the people inside that were suffering as they spoke.
Veronica didn’t want to spread false hope, but equally, she didn’t want to spread fear.
“There was a slight lull in the number of cases yesterday, but I still think that it’s too early to say anything.”
Veronica bit her lip and tried her hardest to hope that she sounded convincing. Emily’s eyes narrowed for a moment, but the suspicion soon passed and she nodded slowly.
“I’m sorry,” Veronica continued. “I wish that I had better words to comfort you with, but this is really only the beginning.”
“I just hope that it’s not like the last outbreak, you know when people were running around as though the world was going to end. The panic was so great that it outweighed the danger of the disease!”
Veronica didn’t want to be the one to tell her friend that the panic certainly didn’t outweigh it. Instead, she could only nod along with Emily’s words and hope that she wouldn’t question her on it.
“How is your father coping?”
“He always says that he works well under pressure,” Veronica sighed. “But I fear that this might just be too much for even him. He’s getting older too, and there is no hiding from that fact, I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be able to keep up with this pace.”
It was a sobering reality that Veronica often tried to push away. The idea that her father was reaching the end of his career and would soon be retiring to the comfort of their small house.
“But who will take over the practice?” Emily asked with wide eyes.
Veronica ignored the hurt that she felt for a second as she looked at her friend. It was simply common knowledge that if she were to go on in her father’s footsteps, Veronica would run the risk of tarnishing the family name from the shame of it.
“Well, I still hope that perhaps the medical society in the area will let me—”
“You’re not still going to ask them are you?” Emily blinked in astonishment.
“But I’ve been—”
“Veronica, you know that they will laugh at you, they’ll make a mockery of you.”
“I don’t care, I want to do this and I want to be able to help people. Why should they get in the way of that?”
“Because you know how things are around here. Sure, maybe if you moved to Houston or even Dallas, somewhere big where things like this might be overlooked. But here in Tenby, it will be the talk of the town for weeks to come.”
She knew that Emily was right, it was just hard to hear it being spoken out loud. Veronica winced at the idea of ruining the family business with her own ambitions, it wasn’t something that she wanted to do.
“Look, I know that you want to help your father, he’s a good man and he deserves it. But are you really going to put it all on the line to run a practice on your own? Who will want to be treated by you?” Emily’s voice was soft, but her words stung with potent power.
She was only trying to look out for her friend, to voice what so many others wouldn’t dare say to Veronica’s face. For that, Veronica was glad to have Emily around. At least she was honest with her.
“But I can’t just let his legacy crumble when he’s too old.”
“If you want to help him, I would suggest exploring other ways in which you could do so,” Emily shrugged.
A short silence followed as Veronica tried to think of what she was getting at, there was always going to be some kind of end result with her leading statements.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Veronica gave up and held up her hands as she spoke.
“I’m talking about getting out of the practice, finding a husband that will be able to take care of you instead of you taking care of your poor old father.”
Veronica let out an annoyed sigh as she realized that she really should have seen this coming. She shook her head and tried to ignore the way that the ‘h’ word made her blood boil.
Of course, it was natural for women to think about that as a way out. Marriage was their main purpose—but Veronica didn’t want to settle for that.
“I just can’t think about having to depend on a man for the rest of my life. I don’t think it’s right and I certainly can’t think of anyone in this town that I like enough to marry.”
Veronica had always been career-driven, men were in the background of her mind, and sometimes they weren’t even there. She had heard enough of the woes and dramatics that focusing on men caused thanks to her friends like Emily.
“Oh now that can’t be true, there must be someone,” Emily said with a frown. “What about Laurence, the lawyer’s boy? He’s handsome enough, and I don’t think that you will ever struggle with money.”
“I just…I can’t do things that way, it’s just not how I want to live my life, Emily. I want to have a purpose for myself, and not just to be someone else’s wife.”
Emily rolled her eyes and shook her head as she gave Veronica a pitying smile.
“I’m just trying to help you here, I know that it’s not the advice that you want, but it might be the only way that you can get out of this.”
Veronica had always been stubborn when it came to what she wanted to do with her life. She wouldn’t let anyone tell her that she couldn’t work at a doctor’s practice and help people, it just wasn’t something that she even wanted to consider.
“I’m sorry Em, I just…I can’t be something that I’m not. A wife that cooks and cleans and stays in the house all day just isn’t the life that I want.”
Veronica knew it sounded selfish and it was going to put a strain on the relationship she had with her father if she continued down that path. However, she didn’t want to think about that for the time being, all she wanted to focus on was the fact that she had the ability and skills to help people.
“You know that this can’t continue,” Emily said in a warning tone. “Veronica, I don’t want to see this go badly for you, I want you to be happy.”
“I know you do, but how could I be happy doing something that I don’t like?”
“Do you think that anyone will want to come to a practice that is run by a woman? They’ll say it’s witchcraft or something,” Emily fired back.
Veronica let out a heavy sigh as she glanced back in the direction of the practice and knew that she should be heading back soon.
“The only thing I know is that when a person is sick enough, it doesn’t matter who’s treating them as long as they make them feel better.” Veronica then turned back to her friend and nodded her head slightly. “I don’t want to upset you Em, but we have different ideas about what to do with our lives. I just hope that you can accept mine one day.”
After saying goodbye to her friend, Veronica started back toward the practice with a slightly heavier heart. Hearing her anxieties being voiced out in the open made it so difficult for her to ignore the fact that she really would be going against her father’s wishes if she didn’t find a husband.
Veronica knew that her father always wanted the best for her, but she was going to struggle in the world if she didn’t have a man by her side when her father was gone.
“His Heart’s Tender Distraction” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Veronica Saunders has always admired her father’s work, but following his footsteps in medicine seems impossible for a woman. However, soon enough, cholera’s outbreak suddenly makes her contribution to the patients’ treatment a matter of life and death. The situation is almost out of control until a young doctor, Jeremy, arrives after her father’s desperate call for help. Veronica is not only fascinated by his handsomeness but also by how determined he is to help others. To her disappointment though, he remains completely cold towards her, which upsets her deeply. After their unfortunate first meeting, can she ever hope to work with him harmonically, let alone find love in his eyes? Will she find a way to express her newborn feelings, setting her ego aside?
Having lost both his parents to cholera, Jeremy Silva’s goal is to become a doctor, carrying on the family’s tradition that has gone on for generations. Veronica’s father’s advert is the chance he has been looking for, so he rushes to their help. With the terrible illness gripping the town in a cloud of fear, he has to stay more focused than ever, but her presence is a constant distraction that he finds surprisingly difficult to ignore. Will his passion for his work stand in the way of his happiness? Will his abrupt and distant behavior alienate her irreparably?
Even in the midst of cholera’s darkness, Veronica and Jeremy’s hearts shiver for the first time. As they grow closer, they find themselves magnetically attracted, but when faced with fear and pain, will the couple be able to stay true to their new feelings?
“His Heart’s Tender Distraction” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.