Healing the Nurse’s Heart (Preview)

Chapter One

May 1882

Outside Chastity,


The door had a crack in it. It was right where it met the frame and hard to see unless one looked. Maddie Ryan had been looking. She’d been trying to find a way out, and now she had it.

All around her the building was silent except for the creaking sounds she had become so familiar with in the last three days. She fancied she could hear the gentle snores of the women who worked and the men who kept them, but that was most likely only imagination. They were above her in the little rooms that were their cells.

Maddie guessed it must be around mid-morning from the light creeping in around the door. It was a good time. It was the only time she had to escape.

When the two burly men had thrown her into this closet three days ago, they hadn’t thought about everything in here with her. They hadn’t thought of the towels, linen, and soap boxes. They had expected her to lie there in the dark and cry and cry until she agreed to their terms. They had expected her to yield. Well, they didn’t know Mrs. Ryan’s daughter. If there were one thing Maddie would never do, it was lie down for someone to walk over her.

The most useful things in the closet with her were the soap boxes. Once she had dried her eyes on a towel and begun thinking clearly, she started forming her plan. It was simple, but weren’t those the best plans? Convoluted things that required a lot of planning would never work in this situation. All Maddie had were the clothes on her back; the men had taken everything else. And to think she’d fallen for their lies. Well, for Tyler’s lies.

She forced that out of her mind. This was not the time to be thinking about that blackguard. Rising to her feet, she moved to the door.

Maddie held the top of a soap box in her hand, a square of thick card that would serve her purpose perfectly and listened at the door. The room beyond was silent as the grave. It was now or never. Either she got out of this closet now, or they would come for her and drag her out later to face a life she couldn’t contemplate.

Slipping the card between the door and the frame, she wiggled it upward. The card was a snug fit, but then it would have to be if it would lift the latch and set her free. It would need to be sturdy enough. The card made its slow, painstaking way up to the latch, and Maddie gritted her teeth, trying to keep her hand from shaking.

With a ripping sound that seemed deafening in the silence, the card tore. It came out in two pieces held together by the flimsiest of bits of paper. Maddie let out a whimper and then slapped a hand over her mouth. Had anyone heard her? Would it matter? They could consider the noise as nothing but her giving up her fight.

She needed another card. Another soap box stood on the shelf. She made her way to it and pulled the top off. This time she inserted it right up close to the latch, hoping the first card had cleared the way should there be anything to remove.

With her teeth chewing the inside of her cheek, she worked the card up the last bit to where the iron bar about as thick as a pencil, lay across the door. With a flick of her wrist, she felt the latch begin to rise. She jerked the card again, and the latch rose a little higher.

She was too short. The latch was set high on the door. It seemed so silly. She was certain it was almost out.

Leaving the card where it was, she grabbed some towels and rolled them into bundles. Standing on them gave her little lift, but it was enough. She jerked the card up, and the latch came away with a jingling sound that seemed to engulf the world. It was so loud to her sound-starved ears.

As the door slid open, Maddie found she had to turn away. She couldn’t look at the light. Three days of only the dimmest light had made her eyes sensitive. She grabbed a rag from a basket on the shelf behind her and tied it over her eyes. That was better until they adjusted.

She didn’t have time to wait. They might be right there, waiting for her. Tyler might know what she planned to do and be sitting right there outside the door. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as panic slid like hot fire through her veins.

“Calm down,” she said in the quietest of whispers.

Blinking to clear her eyes, she could see a bit better. The kitchen in front of her was empty. No guard had been posted, and no alarm sounded. That made sense. Why would they bother? Clearly, Tyler and Georgie felt the lock would be sufficient to keep her in. It had probably worked countless times before with other women who tried to resist them. Good. Underestimation was a weapon she could use against them. They didn’t know her well at all. She was a fighter. She was part Irish for heaven’s sake! Well, her father was, and some of that feistiness had to have rubbed off on her.

Maddie found her back and legs were stiff and aching from being in the closet. She hadn’t had space to stretch out unless she stood. She was dirty, but that didn’t matter. She was also in a den of vipers and needed to get out.

The brothel Tyler and Georgie ran was a large place with many rooms, and not knowing the layout, it took Maddie some time to find a way out. All the doors were locked and most of the windows were tiny. When it was open, the place was loud with music and laughter. Now, during the time when everyone who worked there was sleeping, it was so silent that Maddie was certain every creak of a floorboard, every rustle of the air disturbed by her movement, would draw someone to her, and her escape would be foiled.

But no. No one appeared even though she went from one alcohol-drenched, cigarette-smoke-stained room to the next, searching for a way out. There had to be one. Just one. That was all she needed. Maddie was about to give up and go up a floor when she found herself in the front parlor. It had a large window, and some of the bars had come out.

Well, what do you know?

The space between the window frame and the remaining bars was big enough for her to squeeze through. It seemed that Lady Luck was smiling at her. Maddie figured she was owed, considering all the bad luck that had brought her out here.

She went through the window legs first. Her skirt got stuck and pushed up over her face, but she didn’t care. This was the outside world. Tugging the fabric, it tore with a ripping sound. Maddie landed in the dirt under the window, her heart beating like hammers in a busy forge and her breath coming in short gasps.

Get up! Get up and run!

The sunlight was dazzling, even with the cloth over her eyes. They instantly teared up again. She wiped them and tried to get her bearings. It had been dark when she arrived there three days ago. Tyler had met her in the town down in the valley. It was a place called Chastity. The irony didn’t escape her now as she thought about it.

She couldn’t go down into the town. It would be the first place Tyler and Georgie would look for her. But she had to go somewhere. To the trees. Tall pines formed a half-moon to the right of the brothel.

Okay, to the trees, and then what?

And then …?

And then she would have to take care of herself.

She got to her feet and ran for the trees. Several of the upper windows looked out over that side. Maddie kept waiting to hear a voice cry out, someone sounding the alarm that she was gone, but she reached the trees with no fuss sounding from the brothel.

The brothel stood by itself on a hill, looking down on the town of Chastity. From here things looked peaceful. Could she make it to the train station? She had arrived by train the other day, but then she’d had a ticket. How would she buy one now? And where could she hide, waiting for the next train to arrive? No, her best bet was to get as far from here as possible.

Once in the thicket, the trunks of the pines and the low bushes that grew up in patches hid her from sight. She tried to get her bearings again. Now where to? Away. But away where?

It didn’t matter where to. Her grandmother would tell her to run as fast and as far as she could. The where-to would sort itself out. She shouldn’t worry about it when the wherefrom held so much fear on its own.

Still, she must choose a direction.

“Meme, if you’re with me, help me. Which way do I go?” Maddie asked, speaking to her dead grandmother, who she felt was always nearby, watching out for her.

As though in reply, a breeze sprang up. It blew towards her left where the ground began to rise. It was heading toward the distant peaks reaching up to the sky, the opposite direction to Chastity.

“Thank you, Meme,” Maddie said.

She began to run.

Time passed in a strange blur. Under the canopy of pine needles, the light didn’t hurt Maddie’s eyes, and she took the cloth off. She moved briskly for the first part of that journey, trying to get as much space between herself and the brothel as possible. She kept the distant white snowcapped peak on her right to ensure she didn’t move in circles.

After a long time, the ground rose sharply, and the trees subsided. A track there led up over the ridge and down into another valley. Maddie followed it. She was getting hot and thirsty. She thought of home and how she would sit with her mother, brothers and sisters, and Meme, eating eclairs and drinking hot chocolate. Those were the best days spent in the kitchen with Meme, baking all kinds of treats. Most of them were to sell to make the rent, but a good portion would always be left for them to eat. How she longed for those days again. Of course, with Meme gone, they could never be had again.

After a while longer, she was ravenously hungry, and the sun was unrelenting. Not a cloud blemished its perfect blue. How she wished she were back in Boston. She wished she had never read that advertisement in the paper or fallen for Tyler’s lies. If only she hadn’t let her circumstances force her hand.

A deep, gnawing longing to be back where things were familiar filled her. She wanted to go home.

The longing sapped the strength from her legs, and she collapsed in a heap by a pine tree. Clinging to its trunk, Maddie sobbed. What was she going to do? She was penniless with nothing but the clothes she stood up in. That was not a good way to start a new life or return to an old one. How would she get there?

Of course, this beat being forced into whoring by a couple of blackguards. Maddie didn’t regret her choice to make a run for it. Even dying in the mountains would be better than being a slave at the brothel.

Soon she was heading downhill. She found a little creek that burbled by its water, clear and cool. She drank deeply and greedily. The lack of food began to be her biggest concern. When last had she eaten? She couldn’t recall. She knew there had probably been two meals at the brothel, slid in through the door with a gun pointed at her head. She had eaten that slop only because not to would mean becoming too weak to do anything.

Oh well, there would be food at the end of this journey. Perhaps she could appeal to some kind person’s good nature, and they could help her. Maybe she could find a homestead and offer to bake for them in return for a little aid.

Maddie was an excellent baker if she said so herself. Her Meme, God rest her soul, had taught her how to bake like a French pastry chef. She could bake cakes, eclairs, Madeleine, for which she was named, and on and on.

The thought of all those delicacies made Maddie’s stomach grumble, and she pushed those thoughts away. All she could do was concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

It was late afternoon, with the sunlight slanting through the pine trees, when she reached another town. Her feet ached, and her skin felt as though it had been burnt raw by the sun and then covered in a layer of dust. Her skirt was torn on thorn bushes as well as the brothel’s window, and her golden hair hung in limp, sweaty strands about her face.

None of that truly mattered, though, because she was at the end of her energy. There was nothing left in her, and if she had to sleep on the street that night, she would. Maddie had reached her breaking point.

The town had a large sign up at the entrance saying Welcome to Prudence Nevada. Maddie paused at the sign. It had to be better than Chastity.

The streets of this town were still quite busy despite the hour. People in Prudence seemed to make the most of their daylight hours as stores were still open, and people still bustled about. Maddie could feel she was getting more than a few curious looks. No one approached her or asked if she was all right, though. She needed help, but she had never asked for help or accepted charity in her life. She didn’t know how one went about it. Was there a procedure or something?

Perhaps she should head to the town church. Didn’t they have to help someone in need? She was quite certain it was written somewhere as a kind of law. And so Maddie wandered the streets of Prudence for a while until she spotted the steeple sticking up between the trees.

She made for it, but before reaching it, she came upon the town square. At one end was a large wooden board held up by two posts. It had a pitched roof placed over it to protect it from the weather. Bits of paper tacked to the board fluttered in the breeze.

Curious, Maddie wandered over to it. It turned out to be a noticeboard, and people had put up papers regarding just about anything. There was one advertising a church dance that would be taking place in about a week; another was from a gentleman looking for a lady to cook for him; another was someone selling old boots; another was a plea for baby clothes, and so on and so on. Maddie found herself absorbed in them as though each slip of paper was a window into a life in the town.

It was purely by chance, or perhaps once again Lady Luck had made an appearance, that her hand fell on one advertisement. It was written on yellow paper and hidden under many other messages.

Help Wanted.

Mr. Benjamin Walker seeks a young lady to help him nurse his aged mother back to health. Nursing experience is required. Please apply at 23 Willowbrook Avenue, Prudence.

Maddie considered this for a moment. She had nursing experience, having been her grandmother’s sole caretaker before she passed. She had done everything for the old lady as she had become too frail to help herself. Did that count? Maddie thought it would. But how to prove it? This Benjamin Walker could contact her mother back in Boston, and she would verify it.

Hope began to kindle, however dimly, in Maddie’s breast. If she could get a job, even a temporary one, she could earn enough to buy a train ticket home. She could go back to Boston and be with her mother and siblings. She could get her life back.

Her hands began to shake again, and she swallowed her tears. Focus. Just focus. You have to get this job.

The town had a communal well at one corner of the square. Maddie pulled on the rope and brought a bucket full up. Looking at her reflection in it, she saw what a mess she was. No wonder no one had spoken to her. She looked like a wild woman with twigs and pine needles in her hair and skewed and dirty clothes.

It took her several minutes to wash her face and hands, neaten her clothes and have a drink. Then, feeling much better than she had in three days, she set about finding 23 Willowbrook Avenue.

A very kind woman pointed her in the right direction, and Maddie walked the two blocks to the house on her sore, blistered feet. The house stood in a row, all built much the same. They had porches and gardens and reminded her somewhat of home. This was good, and she was hopeful.

Walking up the steps to the front door, Maddie took a deep breath to steady her nerves. Then she lifted her hand to knock.

Chapter Two

May 1882



It had been a week since Benjamin Walker’s mother had taken a fall down the steps to the cold cellar. His whole world had changed at that moment. Being called from work by Mrs. Eastman, his housekeeper, right in the middle of the day, to find Helen like that. She had been at the bottom of the stairs, her right leg at a most unnatural angle. The sight had stopped his heart for a second.

“I didn’t move her,” Mrs. Eastman, a large widow woman who took no nonsense from anyone, said. “You said I shouldn’t.”

“I know,” he said. “You did the right thing.”

And it had been the right thing. He had needed to stabilize the leg before moving it. Most people didn’t know that some of the biggest veins and arteries in the human body were in the legs. Nicking one could cause a person to bleed out and die, and broken bones could be sharp.

As the town’s apothecary and only medical professional, Benjamin knew what he was doing and soon had his mother’s leg strapped up. It was her shin bone, as he explained to her, that had fractured and moved out of place. The shin was actually made of two bones, but he wasn’t about to get technical with her.

Between them, Benjamin and Mrs. Eastman had managed to move Helen into the parlor, and there she had mostly stayed. Her right wrist was also fractured, which he found out later once he’d had a moment to examine her. She had also sustained a slight concussion when she hit her head in the fall.

All this meant that Benjamin now had a new problem. His mother, a sprightly lady of fifty years, was now as helpless as a small child. She couldn’t walk, she couldn’t dress herself, and she certainly couldn’t keep herself entertained as the wrist fracture made using her right hand difficult.

For a few days, Mrs. Eastman tried to manage the housework, the cooking, and looking after Helen, but she had found the strain too much.

“I just can’t get anything done,” Mrs. Eastman moaned one evening when Benjamin returned from his store. “It’s not her fault. She tries to keep herself amused and not to be a bother, but your mother needs care. That leg is paining her something dreadful, and she has no distraction but the paper.”

And so, in response to that, Benjamin had gone to the women he was friendly with in town and asked for their help. Sadly, none were willing. Even the lady he was currently courting, Eloise Bender, was not inclined to help with his mother.

“It would only be a couple of hours in the day,” he had said.

Eloise had wrinkled her pretty brow and shaken her auburn head. “But I have all my committees and engagements to attend. The ladies depend on me.”

The only person willing to even stop by was Annie Birch. She was the blacksmith’s daughter and a farrier of great renown. She could shoe a horse in minutes. Despite being a busy woman, she offered to stop by once a day and bring his mother new journals and magazines to paw through.

“Don’t worry,” Annie said. “Helen will be up and about in no time. This is just a little inconvenience. You’ll see.”

Benjamin had hoped it would be so, but his mother’s injuries were slow to heal, and now, two weeks into her convalescence, he could take no more. He had placed an advertisement on the noticeboard in the town square, hoping some kind lady would answer his call for help.

So far, two had come.

The first had been waif thin, with straw-colored hair and sunken eyes. Benjamin knew she was too frail to help his mother around just by looking at her. Poor thing seemed on the brink of starvation. Instead, he had given her something to eat and then had Mrs. Eastman raid the pantry for groceries the poor soul could take home.

The second applicant had been a burly woman. She had a loud voice that boomed through the house like a foghorn. His mother had insisted she leave, immediately.

“I can’t walk, Ben,” she had said. “But if you leave me with that woman, we’ll have to add deaf to the list of afflictions too.”

And so, when a knock came on the door that evening, Benjamin was quite surprised at what he found on his doorstep.

The woman there was of good build; he could see that straight off. She had good posture, golden blonde hair, and blue eyes. Clearly, she was down on her luck, her clothes being dirty, but they weren’t shabby. This intrigued him. What had driven her to come to his door to apply for a job?

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, her voice pleasant and soft. “Is this the house of Mr. Benjamin Walker?”

“It is I am him,” he said, feeling suddenly flustered. She was quite pretty under the slight patina of dust that seemed to cling to her. “How may I help you?”

“I’m here about the position,” she said, her eyes dropping to regard the front step. “I saw the advertisement on the notice board.”

“Yes,” he said.

A loud knocking came from inside. It was his mother’s way of calling him nowadays. He peered inside and caught her watching him. She nodded and gestured with her left hand that he should allow this woman in.

Well, it was worth a shot. She seemed pleasant, and frankly, he was at his wits’ end.

“Would you like to come in?” he asked.

She nodded. “Thank you.”

Stepping to the side, he allowed her to enter. She smelled strongly of pine, as though she had spent some time rolling around in the leaves or perhaps touching the sap on the tree trunks. There were several pine needles lodged in her hair. Benjamin judged this to be an accidental addition to her ensemble as the way they were lodged didn’t fit with any other conclusion. As he took her in, he noticed her dress did have sap on it. Where had she come from?

“Just through here,” he said, leading her into the parlor. There was no way around it; it seemed his mother had decided she would be helping to interview this woman.

“You have a lovely home,” the young lady said, taking it in with a long look.

Benjamin regarded the parlor and shrugged. To him it was a modest place with old furnishings that were comfortable. His mother sat by an open window, propped up on the sofa.

“Hello there,” she said brightly.

“Good evening, ma’am,” the young woman said.

“I’m Helen Walker, and you are?” his mother asked.

“Maddie, I mean Madeline Ryan,” the young woman said.

“Well, Maddie, have a seat,” his mother said, gesturing to one of the wingback chairs opposite her sofa. “I’m afraid I am quite unable to stand unaided at the moment, so you’ll have to take me as I am.”

Maddie nodded.

Benjamin took a seat on the other wingback chair and studied the young woman. She had a grace and poise about her that was most appealing, and her manners were top-notch. That was good. His mother put great stock in manners.

“So, tell us a little about yourself, dear,” his mother said.

Something like fear passed over Maddie’s face, but she swallowed and replaced the look with a smile. “There’s not much to tell. I’m from Boston. I came out west a few days ago …” her voice trailed off, and she swallowed deeply again.

“Would you like some water, or perhaps a cup of tea?” Helen asked.

“I would love some tea,” Maddie admitted. “It was a long walk.”

At her words, Benjamin took a look at her boots. Yes, they were covered in dust. Once again, he wondered where she had come from.

“I’ll bring a pot directly,” Mrs. Eastman called from the kitchen. Benjamin was certain the woman had the hearing of a bat.

“Thank you, Mrs. Eastman,” his mother called. “There, now, do go on, please. What brought you out west?”

Maddie took a moment as though composing her thoughts. A vein in her neck stood out as though her heart was beating fast. Was she nervous? Well, it was a job interview, and those could be stressful. Still, he didn’t think it warranted such a physiological reaction. Was she telling them the truth?

“I came out west to meet a man,” Maddie said, cocking her head on one side. Her expression was grave. “He … he was not a nice man. I had to leave.”

Helen nodded. “I understand, dear. Don’t worry. Was it one of those mail-order bride advertisements I’ve been seeing in the paper?”

Maddie nodded and regarded her hands, which she held in her lap.

“Well, I’m sure you’re not the first or the last woman to be fooled by some fancy penmanship,” Helen said. “And so, you left the gentleman in question?”

She nodded. “Today, as it turns out. I just left. But that’s not how I usually behave. I am very loyal and dependable. My mama always says that I am the one to rely on for her children.”

“And do you have any nursing experience?” Benjamin asked as Mrs. Eastman came into the room carrying a tray laden with tea, milk, sugar, and a plate of cookies.

Maddie eyed the cookies hungrily but waited until Mrs. Eastman finished pouring the tea for everyone. As she handed the cup and saucer to Maddie, the housekeeper added two cookies. Maddie’s eyes glassed over as though with unshed tears, and the hackles on Benjamin’s neck stood up. What had happened to this poor young woman to bring tears to her eyes when presented with tea and cookies?

She thanked Mrs. Eastman and sipped her tea. Then, seemingly more refreshed, she continued with her recount of her experience.

“At home, we’re six children. We were raised by my mama and my Meme; that’s my grandmother,” Maddie said. “A few years ago, she fell terribly and ill was bedridden. I did everything for her. I cleaned her, fed her, read stories to her. She was French, and her English wasn’t good, so I mostly read French poetry to her. She loved that.”

“I’ll bet she did,” Helen said, munching a cookie. “How long did you care for your Meme, was it?”

“Yes, for three years, and then she passed,” Maddie said. “I was with her right up to the end. We used to bake together when she was stronger. She loved to bake Madeleines. Do you know them?”

Helen shook her head. “What are they?”

“They’re French cookies shaped like seashells,” Maddie said. “My Meme insisted my mother name me Madeline because they were her favorite cookies in all the world.”

“Oh, that is precious,” Helen said.

Benjamin knew this had gone too far. Something about this young woman, as appealing and pleasant as she was, had him worried. He didn’t know what it was, but she seemed to be dragging a shadow behind her. And if there was one thing he had learned in this life, people with shadows like that were trouble.

“Since you’re new to town,” his mother was saying, “I wonder, do you have anywhere to stay?”

Maddie’s expression grew muddled as though she was confused and worried at the same time. “I …”

“Mrs. Eastman!” Helen called.

A moment later, the housekeeper arrived in the room again.

“Please take Maddie to the kitchen and give her some of the old clothes from the charity box,” Helen said.

Benjamin nodded. Yes, his mother would give this poor young woman some aid and send her on her way. Although she had got on with Maddie better than with any of the others, she wasn’t right for this position. It was that indefinable something that she dragged behind her, that trouble he could sense and not understand, that meant she should stay away. It was a pity as he was beginning to like Maddie.

“Healing the Nurse’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Maddie Ryan has fled her past, only to be trapped in a nightmare of a life in the West. When the man she thought to be her savior turns out to be a monster, she is left with nothing but a wounded heart and a flicker of hope. Alone and penniless, Maddie’s future seems bleak until she stumbles upon a glimmer of hope in the most unexpected place.

Will the shadow of her old life follow her into the light?

Benjamin Walker is a man with his own set of problems. After his mother’s fall, he’s left to care for her alone while trying to manage his business as the local apothecary. When Maddie answers his ad for a nurse, Ben’s world is turned upside down. He’s drawn to her strength and resilience, but he’s already sworn to another woman, leaving him torn.

Will he risk everything for a chance at love?

As if that wasn’t enough, a mysterious illness is plaguing the town’s children, and Ben struggles to find a cure. Amidst the chaos, Maddie and Ben find solace in each other, but will their love be enough to conquer the obstacles in their path? Join them on their journey through the rugged terrain of Nevada, as they discover that love is the ultimate healer.

“Healing the Nurse’s Heart” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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