Guthrie, Oklahoma, 1903. Betrayed by his fiancée’s infidelity eight years ago, pharmacist Michael Henderson vowed he'd never risk his heart again. But he doesn't anticipate the tug of attraction he shares with his new employee.
Heidi Lester flees her home, determined to prove to her overprotective parents she can conquer her debilitating asthma, to make a life of her own. However, her unscrupulous fiancé has no intention of letting her go. He has his own plans for Heidi and her inheritance.
Will a scheme to ruin Michael's family force Heidi to marry her fiancé, or will assistance arrive from a surprising source to allow her to be with the man she truly loves?
Michael Henderson glanced up from where he stood behind the counter in The Guthrie Pharmacy.
“Young man, are you listening to me?”
His attention returned from the distraction of the doorbell, to old Mrs. Benson, who visited at least once a week to complain about her numerous aches and pains. Once again, she insisted Michael fix up a prescription for her, even though he’d told her she should see the doctor first.
Before he could respond, a slight young woman came into his vision holding the “Help Wanted” sign he’d placed in the window three days ago.
He smiled at her. “I’ll be right with you.”READ MORE
Mrs. Benson tapped the wooden floor with her cane. “I tell you that doctor don’t know from nothing about my aches and pains. Every time Peter brings me there, he says the same thing. Hot compresses and rest. How am I supposed to rest? Is he sending someone to my house to cook and clean?”
Michael patted the older woman’s hand. “All right, I have something to take care of your pain. It’s new, called aspirin. I’ll fix up a small packet of the powder. Mix a little bit in a glass of water and drink the mixture down. The medicine should help you.”
She nodded, and her frown eased. “That’s better. I knew I could count on you to help me out even if that good for nothing doctor can’t be bothered.”
Unfortunately for the citizens of Guthrie, Michael agreed. The new doctor who’d replaced old Dr. Carpenter’s when he’d retired seemed to be more interested in the young women in town, than practicing medicine. Guthrie had its share of doctors, but many of the older patients found the trip to another part of town difficult. In this area they were stuck with young Dr. Kane.
Like it or not.
“Now don’t use too much,” Michael warned as he handed Mrs. Benson the small envelope. “A little less than a teaspoon in water, every four hours or so.”
The older woman fumbled with her string purse, took out a nickel and placed the coin on the counter. “That enough?”
“That’s fine. Take care of yourself, and be mindful of ice patches on your way home.”
She thumped her way to the door, and his attention turned to the young woman. A pretty little thing, but with the look of someone who’d been beaten down by life. As she walked toward him, he took in her mass of red curls struggling unsuccessfully to stay in the bun she’d fastened at the nape of her neck. Her piercing blue eyes, shadowed by thick dark eyelashes, blinked rapidly, and she chewed on her lower lip. A long brown coat covered her from neck to toes.
“I see you’re holding my Help Wanted sign. Are you applying for the job?”
“Yes. Can I ask what the job is?” The words came out breathless, and so low Michael had to lean across the counter. Somehow the low winded voice fit with the rest of her. Her hands shook where she clutched the sign, and overall, she appeared ready to take flight.
He checked his watch. Almost six o’clock. “I’ll tell you what, Miss…?
“Miss Lester. Heidi Lester.”
“I’m Michael Henderson, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He smiled, but she only nodded, her eyes wide, like a frightened animal.
“It’s closing time anyway, so suppose I flip the Closed sign on the door and then we can talk without interruption?”
She licked her lips and stood back when he moved around the counter. He headed to the door, pulled down the shade, then flipped the sign from Open to Closed.
“I have a small area in the rear of the store, would you care to join me there?” He smiled again, but she merely nodded and followed him as he led her past the counters of drugs and medical equipment. Michael pushed aside a curtain hanging between the store and combination storage and kitchen. “Please, have a seat.” He motioned to a small table and two chairs next to the wall.
Miss Lester sat at the edge of the seat, clutching the Help Wanted sign so tightly the paper crinkled. Michael reached across the table and took it from her hands. She blushed.
The poor woman looked scared to death, and if she continued to chew on her lower lip, he’d have to return to the front of the store to get some salve for her.
“Would you care for some tea? I have a hot plate here, and I could heat some water.”
“No, thank you.”
Michael settled into a chair, reached behind him, and pulled a pad and pencil off a shelf. He wrote Heidi Lester at the top of the page. “Do you live in Guthrie?”
“Yes. I, um, rent a room in Mrs. Wilson’s house.” She took in a shuddering breath. “On Sixteenth Street.” Her voice squeaked, and she licked her lips.
“I know Mrs. Wilson. She’s a customer of mine. A very nice lady. Have you been there long?”
She shook her head. “Only three days.”
He sat back and played with the pencil as he studied her. “Where did you live before?”
“What sort of, um, job did you say it was?” She glanced at him briefly, then studied her lap.
He doodled on the top of the paper, contemplating Miss Heidi Lester who didn’t want him to know where she came from. He’d let his questions go for now, see how the interview went.
“It’s a clerk’s job.” He rested his foot on his bent knee and crossed his arms. “I had a woman working for me, but her daughter moved from Guthrie to Dallas and Mrs. O’Reilly decided to move with her. She’d been with me since I opened the store, about eight years ago.”
Miss Lester nodded and wiped her palms on her lap. Not very talkative. How in heaven’s name would she be able to deal with customers?
“Anyway, the job involves waiting on customers, keeping the shelves stocked, dusting, counting money at the end of the day, and getting the bank deposit ready. Once in a while, if there are no customers, I may need some help in mixing prescriptions, but I would supervise any work you did.”
She nodded. Her pale face and pinched features reminded him of a cornered animal. If he wasn’t so desperate to replace Mrs. O’Reilly he would probably thank Miss Lester for coming in, and immediately forget about her. She seemed achingly shy and nervous. Of course, applying for a job would unnerve anyone, but her behavior appeared to be something more.
However, in the three days since his clerk had left for Dallas, life in the store had been chaotic. Winter always brought more colds and chest complaints, which required medications to be mixed. He had young David Kemp making deliveries after school, but he desperately needed a second person in the store.
He’d also recently added a soda fountain which had attracted school children wanting sodas mixed up, and candy from the penny jar. He found a great deal of satisfaction in his flourishing business, but couldn’t deal with it all alone.
“What type of work have you done in the past?”
Her head jerked. “I, ah, worked…in a milliner shop.”
That caught his attention. “So you dealt with customers?”
She hesitated. “No. I did sewing in the back of the shop.”
Michael tapped his pencil on the table, and took a deep breath. “Miss Lester, I’m not sure this job would be suited to you…”
She leaned forward, twisting her purse into a mess, her voice trembling. “Oh please, Mr. Henderson, please. I really need a job, and in the three days I’ve been looking, I haven’t found anything except working at the Blue Belle Saloon, and I don’t want to do that.”
Anger shot through him. What in heaven’s name possessed Eric Connors to offer a saloon job to a skittish woman like Miss Lester? Certainly he wouldn’t expect her to entertain men upstairs in Miss Lizzy’s Bordello!
“What I intended to say is, although I’m not sure about hiring you, I’m willing to try you for a week to see how you work out. Would that be acceptable?”
She quickly sat up, her eyes bright. “Yes, yes. A trial period would be fine.” Her mouth broke into a huge grin, and she wiped sweat off her upper lip.
What a transformation. Her smile changed an already pretty face into a beautiful one. The twinkle in her eyes, and her full lips revealing straight white teeth, sent his pulse racing. Something twisted in his middle he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years.
He cleared his throat. “You understand you’ll have to speak with the customers?”
“I realize that.”
Michael stood. “I’ll need you to come in tomorrow at nine o’clock. We’re open from nine-thirty until six o’clock. You will have one half hour for lunch. We’re also open half a day on Saturday from nine-thirty until noon. Can you work those hours?”
“Yes. That’s fine.” She hopped up so quickly, she nearly upended her chair. Michael grabbed it before it tumbled to the ground.
“I’ll be here first thing in the morning. Thank you so much.” She grabbed his hand, and almost shook it off his arm.
Michael led her to the front of the store, unlocked the door and let her out. “See you tomorrow.”
“Yes, thank you very much. I’ll be here. Thank you again.” She backed away, then turned and walked into a light post.
“I’m fine.” She rubbed her forehead, adjusted her hat, and hurried away.
Michael shook his head. Strange woman. Hopefully he didn’t just commit a huge error of judgment.
Heidi grinned and the giggle inside her erupted. She had a job! She had to stop herself from shouting, or skipping.
Perhaps she’d needed to tell a little lie to be hired. Since the job didn’t require her to sew, her dishonesty shouldn’t matter in the long run. The lie about the milliner shop popped out of her mouth before she even thought about it. Mr. Henderson didn’t seem the type to hire a woman who’d never worked a day in her life.
Things were working out. She had a nice room in a lovely house, and a job. For the first time in her twenty-three years, she depended on no one but herself. A quick count of the coins in her purse assured her she could stop at the coffee shop and purchase something to eat. In a week she would be paid.
She frowned. She never asked what the wages were. Well, no matter, Mrs. Wilson didn’t charge much for her room, and Heidi had plenty of clothes. Food would be her only expense.
Her lips broke into a smile again, and her heart sped up. She actually did it. All on her own, with no one telling her what to do. Wouldn’t they all be surprised to see her now? Her parents, Clarence, his mother. Especially his mother. The woman who’d told her more than once Heidi must marry her son because she could never look after herself, and no other man would have her.
She hurried the two blocks to the coffee shop. Warmth surrounded her as she stepped into the cheerful restaurant. Old Mrs. Bonner, whom she’d met her first day in Guthrie, waved after she delivered plates to a woman and small child. Heidi’s stomach growled as she took a seat at a small table near the blazing stove. Relaxed, now that her ordeal had ended, she inhaled deeply and unbuttoned her coat.
“What can I get fer ya, sweetie?” Honey, the waitress with the brassy red hair who’d told her about the Help Wanted sign in the drug store, stood next to her, pad and pencil in hand.
“I would like some of the chicken noodle soup, please. And a few crackers.”
“Is a bowl of soup all you’re gonna eat for supper?”
“I have to watch my money. I won’t receive my first pay for another week.” She grinned.
Honey’s smile revealed a chipped tooth in front. “Girl, did you get that job at the drug store?”
Heidi nodded excitedly. “Yes I did. Mr. Henderson hired me to work as a clerk in his store. Isn’t that wonderful?”
“Sweetie pie, your news is the best I’ve had all day. I’ll tell you what. I’ll bring you extra crackers to celebrate your new job.”
“Thanks. I’m really excited.” No matter how hard she tried, Heidi couldn’t stop smiling.
After Honey left, she sat back and watched the other diners. Everyone here had jobs. She belonged. A normal person. No one looking at her would ever guess she had something wrong with her.
Her thoughts drifted to Mr. Henderson, as she took a sip of water. He seemed like a nice man. A friendly smile, good teeth. She laughed. Why she noticed his teeth, she had no idea. More relaxed, she wondered about him. Certainly a good looking man. Tall, brown wavy hair, hazel eyes. Clean shaven, with a stubble of a beard already showing. She’d noticed his hands when he wrote on the pad, and tapped his pencil. Strong fingers, with neatly trimmed nails. Was he married? Engaged?
She chided herself. Mr. Henderson had offered her a job, nothing more. She wanted to present a good impression so she could succeed. What he looked like, and whether he had a wife or fiancée, didn’t matter.
Honey brought her soup, four large crackers and a piece of apple pie. “The pie is my present to you for your new position.” She winked as she placed the steaming bowl and small plate in front of her.
“Thank you, Honey. I should be giving you a present for telling me about the job.”
The waitress shook her head. “No. I just let you know. You did the rest.” She placed her hand on one hip and grinned at her. “When do you start?”
Heidi closed her eyes in pleasure as she took a sip of the thick, delicious soup. “Tomorrow.”
Another diner signaled for Honey. “I gotta go. Good luck tomorrow. Stop in and let me know how your day goes.”
“I will. Thanks.”
She returned to her meal. The soup warmed her, and the unexpected treat of the apple pie provided a nice ending to a wonderful day. With the tension of the day over, and her belly full, she had to stifle a yawn. The five block walk to Mrs. Wilson’s house suddenly seemed far. The quicker she could reach home, the better. She’d been told for years night air would trigger a breathing attack.
She waved to Honey and paid her check with the cashier. Tomorrow she would be doing a similar job, collecting money from customers. Her coat buttoned, hat snugly tied under her chin, and a plaid wool scarf tucked securely around her neck, Heidi stepped into the cold night air.
After a half a block her breathing became labored. Stay calm, don’t panic. She slowed her gait and repeated the words. Kept her mind occupied with happy things. Her new job, her new independence. The happy thoughts weren’t working, and anger surfaced. The breathing illness would not come. She would not succumb to it.
By the end of the first block, she’d broken out into a sweat. Please let me reach home and lie down.
The wheezing got louder, her air more elusive. Slow and steady steps. People were looking at her strangely. A few more steps. She stopped, took shallow breaths. Halfway through the second block, she reached out for a light post, and clung to it, bent over, gasping for breath. Black dots danced in her eyes. Oh no, don’t faint.
“Miss Lester?” A warm, familiar voice came from a distance. Heidi turned her head, and the dark dots merged into one large one, right before she collapsed into the arms of her new employer.COLLAPSE
Night Owl Reviews wrote:
There was love, romance, angst, some darkness, laughter, hope and despair.
Nancy L., Amazon Review wrote:
I laughed out loud at some of the dialogue and situations. I think you will enjoy this story by Callie Hutton.
I loved this book--Heidi and Michael are wonderful together. We get to see Michael's Uncle Jesse and his family again. Clarence was a true slimy villain and oh--that Gloria made me so mad! I was prepared not to like Heidi's mother at first, but she was wonderful--her attempts to stall the wedding had me laughing out loud. And poor Michael needed a taxi or a cell phone so he could get to the church on time! If you want a romance with humor and heart, read this one!