Peter Grayson is traveling the wayward path against his family's wishes, gambling to earn his living after his brother was shot and killed. Needing to experience life to the fullest now, Peter travels to Texas to reclaim his granddaddy’s sugar-cane plantation. Finally, he saves enough from his gambling winnings to buy back the family home, but he’s robbed and left for dead. He’s nursed back to health by a kind—and mysterious doctor. Seeking revenge for the injustice dealt him, Peter tracks down the young thief and his lovely sister, Cecilia Ashby. Not only is Cecilia living on Peter’s plantation, but she’s keeping secrets of her own.
A sliver of light from the saloon highlighted a hulking figure curled against the wall. By the deep moan, Cecilia assumed it was a man. His breathing grew more ragged by the second.
She rushed to kneel beside him. Even in the shadows, his face glowed with a deathly pallor. Although large and muscular, she could still roll him onto his back. An intense moan escaped him. Moving her hands over him, she checked for injuries, but it wasn’t until she rolled him on his side and touched his back that she understood the crisis. A warm, sticky substance coated her fingers. She brought her hand to the small amount of light and gasped.
“Can you hear me?” Cecilia spoke in her doctor’s voice, much lower than her own.
He didn’t respond. Shallow breathing echoed through the silence, and her heart wrenched. She had to work fast, or she might lose him.
Taking care not to hurt him more, she pulled off the man’s over jacket and unbuttoned his shirt. She lifted the garment and peered at the injury on his back. The moon didn’t shine very well in between the two buildings but enough for her to see the spot she needed to study. Instead of finding the hole a gunshot would make, a slice about an inch long appeared lower on his back.
She hissed and sank on her heels. He’d been stabbed.
A different rhythm took over her heartbeat. Panic consumed her, threatening to cut off her breathing. Hank had run away from the scene. Tears filled her eyes. Could her brother be the culprit?
Cecilia grabbed the unconscious man’s wrist. His pulse was faint—dangerously slow. She had to help him. Now.
She ripped a band of fabric from his shirt and tied it around his torso, praying it would slow the flow of blood. Quickly, she jumped to her feet and rushed into the back door of the saloon to get help. Squinting against the sudden bright lamps, she spotted the sheriff as he climbed the stairs with one of Deborah’s painted ladies on his arm.
“Sheriff Hampton,” Cecilia called, running toward him.
He whipped his head her way. His gaze did a quick take of her bloodied shirt and hands. With a jerk, he turned and rushed down the stairs coming straight for her.
“Doctor Copeland. What’s happened?”
Using the back of her hand, she swiped her brow. “I need help. There’s an injured man in the alley. He’s been stabbed, and I need to get him to my office.” She took a deep breath. “And I need a wagon to haul him.”
Sheriff Hampton nodded and elbowed his way through the crowd. She turned and hurried out the back door to her patient.
Cecilia touched the stranger’s brow. His skin wasn’t as warm as before. Her heart hammered against her ribs, and a knot formed in her throat. In her three years of practicing medicine, she hadn’t lost one patient due to a knife wound and she wouldn’t lose one now.