Read Chapter One of BADLAND BRIDE by Lisa Mondello

BADLAND BRIDE ~ Dakota Hearts Book 2

Raised an Army brat, Regis Simpson was used to calling new towns home, learning to quickly make friends but never letting anyone get too close.  When devastating floods tear through the Badlands of South Dakota, she thinks Rudolph is just another town that needs to be rebuilt.  Nothing more.  The sooner she gets her work done, the sooner the people of Rudolph can heal and she can move on to the next town in need.  She never counted on the sexy town doctor, Keith “Hawk” McKinnon or his determination to break down walls she’d spent a lifetime building, making it impossible for her to leave.
Nothing pained Hawk McKinnon more than seeing people he’d known his whole life hurting.  He traded a high-paying salary at a city hospital to come back to Rudolph and make a difference where he’d dug his roots.  When the beautiful Regis Simpson comes to town offering help, he’s immediately drawn to her even though she’s spent a lifetime packing armor around her heart.  But once her work is done, she’ll be leaving again.  He’s determined to do everything possible to make her stay.

Chapter One
Army brats weren’t wusses. She’d been dealing with tough situations from the moment she’d pushed her way into the world. At least that’s what Regis Simpson’s daddy always told her. She should've known better than to traipse through mud and rubble without proper boots, no matter how stylish her flats looked in the store window. Her reward was the nice chunk of medal from the rusty fence that had somehow embedded itself into her ankle when she’d slipped.
     “You’re going to need a tetanus shot for that.”
     Regis looked up at the man standing over her. He’d just taken her on a thirty minute walk around his property to assess flood damage. It wasn’t pretty. Now as she was sprawled out on the muddy ground, smelling earth and Lord knows what else decaying, she tried to focus on the wetness from the ground seeping into the fabric of her pants rather than the pain in her leg.
     “I’m up on my shots,” she said, trying her best not to pass out as she pulled her leg away from the twisted fence. 
     Regis took the man’s proffered hands in hers and welcomed his help. She’d already been out to six properties today and couldn’t remember all the people she’d talked to.
     Tim Bennett. That was this guy’s name, right? Relief flooded her. She hated when her brain became overloaded with details. And Mr. Bennett had bigger worries than the damage she’d done to her leg to help keep her straight. Everyone in Rudolph and the surrounding towns in the Badlands of South Dakota were worried about whether or not insurance would cover enough to repair the damage to their property after the worst ice storms and flooding in a hundred years had swept through the area. That’s what she did and the only reason she was on a marathon tour of destruction. And there were days she wondered why she was still doing it after five straight years of living out of a suitcase and calling the local motel in Anytown, USA her home.
     “No, you really should have Hawk take a look at that. It looks pretty bad. Might need stitches.”
     “Hawk? What is he, a local Native American shaman or something?”
     Mr. Bennett smiled. “More like the local dare devil. Or he used to be anyway. People around here joke he went into medicine just so he could stitch up his own wounds because the thieving insurance companies cancelled his policy.”
     The joke fell flat and Mr. Bennett’s smile immediately faltered as if he suddenly remembered who he was speaking to. “Let me see if I can find something clean to wrap that leg.”
     “I’d appreciate that.”
     Regis couldn’t exactly blame Mr. Bennett for being nervous. It didn’t matter what town she was in across America. When a natural disaster struck an area, it caused upheaval and destruction that she needed to help these fine folks fix. She was their hope of a swift recovery…so long as she approved their claim.
     And that, she was sure, was the reason for Mr. Bennett’s nervous energy.
     While she waited, she carefully tried to put weight on her foot but felt warm moisture seep into her shoe as pain shot up her leg. She quietly let out a colorful stream of expletives that she knew sounded odd coming out of the mouth of someone in her position. But being raised by a single father on Army bases around the world, she heard a thing or two that made even her toes curls.
     Mr. Bennett handed Regis a couple of paper towels. “I found these in the car. They’re clean.”
     “Thank you,” Regis tried not to wince as she placed the paper towel on her leg. It was no use. She stood and carefully tried to put weight on her foot again. Her ankle throbbed but she forced herself to walk on it so she could get to her car. Once there, she leaned up against the car door and hiked up her pant leg to get a better look at her injury.
     “You’re definitely going to need stitches for that,” Mr. Bennett said.
     Feeling queasy, she asked, “You wouldn’t happen to have that Hawk doctor’s address on you, would you?”
     “No need for an address. Just stay on this road until you get to the center of town. Turn left at the diner and it’s right across the street. You can’t miss it. It’s the only clinic in town.”
     “Turn left at the diner. That sounds easy enough. Does this Hawk have a real name?”
     Mr. Bennett smiled. “His sign says Dr. Keith McKinnon. But I don’t know anyone who calls him that.”
     “Hawk? Right, thanks,” Regis muttered to herself as she eased her body into the driver’s seat. Once inside, she closed her eyes to the dizziness she felt. She had to drive to town and find this doctor’s office and hope this Hawk doctor could take care of her wound quickly. With her long lists of properties to assess, she couldn’t afford down time.
     As her engine fired up, Mr. Bennett said, “Ah, what about my claim?”
     “I’ll get back to you on that. I have the information for your paperwork.” Despite the cold March wind outside, beads of sweat bubbled up on her forehead.
     He looked worried. “Phone service is knocked out.”
     “I’ll be setting up an office at the senior center by the end of the week. You can check in with me there.”
     That is, she’d have an office if the senior center allowed her the space. She hadn’t heard back on that yet. Otherwise, she’d be seeing clients in the motel parking lot.
     As she drove towards the center of town, Regis tried not to look at the devastation around her. There were days she felt numb to it, having seen so much in the five years she’d worked at her job. But she couldn’t help but feel for the people who were suffering here. She passed a farm that had all its fields washed out. There were ruts in the mud, most likely caused by a tractor that had picked up debris and animals that hadn’t made it in the flood. A barn that had once seen its glory days of use was now caved in on one side due to erosion of the foundation from water damage.
     She tried not to look as she drove because she knew what everyone else here didn’t know. Not everyone would get what they needed. Not everyone would recover from this. And those who’d get bad news, would get it from her.
     A series of ice storms, and then an unseasonably high amount of rain, had caused massive flooding throughout South Dakota. The area around the Black Hills had been hit particularly hard. Her office had been inundated with insurance claims from thousands of people reporting property damage. She, as well as a dozen of her colleagues, had been on the road for weeks, examining the damage and submitting paperwork to approve each claim so people could rebuild.
     She saw the diner she’d eaten breakfast at that morning and hit her blinker for a left turn. The clinic was easy to miss being nothing more than an old farmhouse that had a fresh coat of paint and a handicap ramp newly installed out front. If not for the felled tree that had been recently cut into pieces and stacked neatly next to the parking lot, if you could call it that, she would have missed the sign.
She parked her car in the empty parking lot. “Maybe this will be quick and I can get back on the road.”
     After easing herself out of the car, she limped up the newly built wooden ramp, unpainted and still sporting the color of wood that hadn’t been exposed to the elements for long. She winced through the pain as she took each step toward the front door. A small sign hung next to the door giving the clinic's hours. She tried the door and it wouldn’t budge. Her shoulders sagged in defeat.
     “What does he do in the middle of the day? Go fishing?”
     “Nope, house calls.”
     Regis swung around to see a tall man walking up behind her on the ramp. He had the Irish blue eyes she’d seen on many models in advertising magazines she’d bought when she was a teenager, and the dark hair that looked a little unruly in the wind, but seemed to fit him perfectly. The light scuff of a beard wasn’t more than a day old, but already dark and covering his square jaw.
     For a moment, Regis was so taken with this handsome stranger that she’d forgotten why she was there.

* * *

“Dr. Hawk, or whatever his name actually is, does house calls? I thought that sort of thing went extinct with the dinosaurs. The guy must be a hundred years old.”
     Hawk fought to keep from smiling.  “There are days it seems that way.”  He then looked at the woman’s leg, and frowned as he saw the blood staining her pants. “We’d better get you inside so that can be cleaned.”
     “The door’s locked,” the woman said, leaning against the rail as he came up beside her.  Her face was pale, most probably due to the pain she was experiencing and the loss of blood.
He smiled, looking down into her eyes. “Luckily, I have a key.”  They were pretty brown eyes, he decided.  No, they were hazel. And the fact that he didn’t want her to turn away so he could know for sure surprised him.
     Standing six feet tall, he towered over her small frame, although he was probably no more than eight inches taller than her.  And she smelled like fresh soap as if she’d just taken a shower. But looking at the dirt and blood on her hands, that probably wasn’t the case.
     “You must rate to have your own key to the doctor’s office. When does this Hawk doctor usually come back?”
     He slipped the key into the door and turned the handle. Then he smiled as he pushed the door open and held it for her to come inside. “Why don’t you have a seat here. It’ll just be a minute.”
Hawk curled his fingers around the woman’s upper arm gently and helped guide her to the chair. As she sat down, a look of relief washed over her face.
     “Does that take some pressure off?”
     “Your leg. Does sitting help?”
     As he waited for her to reply, he walked behind the receptionist desk and sifted through the wall organizer that was filled with insurance forms. Nancy was going to have a fit if he had this woman fill out the wrong one.
     “Ah, a little.”
     He felt a muscle pull between his eyebrows as he glanced at the forms. For all his higher education, insurance forms were a mystery to him. Finally he sighed and dropped the papers on the desk.
     “I’m going to need you to fill out some forms, but I’m not sure which one's right at the moment and my receptionist, Nancy, will have my hide if I have you fill out the wrong form. So why don’t we just have a look at your leg first and fill out paperwork later?”
     “Your receptionist?”
     “Yes. She’ll probably be back from lunch before I’m done.”
     “You? Wait, you’re Dr. Hawk?”
     His lips curled up just slightly. “It’s just Hawk. But if you prefer, you can call me Dr. McKinnon.”
     Her mouth hung open just slightly. “Oh, I’m…oh, okay.”
     “Did someone tell you I was a deranged killer?”
     “What? No, of course not, it’s just…”
     She was adorable, all flustered with her flub. Hawk couldn’t resist teasing her. “They said I was a mean old bastard who was going to cut off your leg?”
     She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
     “Then what?”
     “You aren’t…I wasn’t expecting someone so…”  She took a deep breath.
      Color immediately stained her pale cheeks. “Young. You look like you just graduated college.”
     He chuckled. “So they didn’t tell you I was good looking. They told you I was old.”
     She sighed heavily. “No. Mr. Bennett didn’t say anything except your name is Hawk. What kind of person walks around with a name like that anyway?”
     “Me,” he said. “And I can assure you that you are in good hands. I may not be a crusty old doctor, but I not only went to college, I made it all the way through med school, my internship and a stint at the city hospital in Sioux Falls before coming back to Rudolph and starting my practice here.”
     Her shoulders slumped. “I didn’t mean to imply—”
     “Let’s get you cleaned up,” he said. “Let me help you—”
     He bent down to help her to her feet, and he caught a whiff of her soapy scent again. Normally he didn’t notice such things. But he was having a hard time not noticing every little detail about this woman from the slight hook of her nose to the patch of too many freckles on her left cheek.
     “No, I can do it.”
     “Okay, follow me,” he said as they made their way down the hall to the first examining room. He opened the door and let her into the well-stocked room first. Then he carefully helped her to climb onto the examining table before going to the sink to wash his hands. When he was done, he put on a white medical jacket that was hanging from a hook on the door, and then turned to her.
     “Now that you know my name, why don’t you tell me yours?”
     “Regis Simpson. But people call me Reggie.”
     “Why what?”
     “Why would people call you Reggie when Regis is such a pretty name?”
     Her lips lifted to a sideward grin. “You’ve got one hell of a bedside manner, Doctor.”
     “Did it make you forget the throbbing in your leg?”
     She thought a second and then chuckled softly. “That’s not why you said that to me.”
     “Are you sure about that?”  She was easy to tease and Hawk quickly realized he liked this woman’s spunk. But she was here for a reason and once she was settled on the examining table, he immediately fell into professional mode.
     “While I get what I need to clean your leg, why don’t you tell me what happened?”
     “I got into a fight with a rusty old fence on the other side of town and lost. I had to pull a piece out but I don’t think it’s too bad. It just won’t stop bleeding. I hope I didn’t hit an artery.”
Hawk looked up from the stainless steel tray he was putting gauze, saline solution and other supplies on. She was actually worried about it. “If you’d hit an artery you wouldn’t have made it over here alive. You are bleeding a lot though, so let’s have a look.”
     He pulled the table extender out and helped her lift her leg.

* * *

Regis never felt so foolish in her life. Handsome? Yeah, she couldn’t deny that. But to ask her that? Was he full of himself of what? Never mind that she’d already been thinking that from the moment she’d seen him walking up the ramp.
     “You didn’t have a medical bag,” she finally said.
     He glanced at her. “Excuse me?”
     “When you came up to the door you said the doctor does house calls in the middle of the afternoon. But you didn’t have a medical bag so I naturally assumed...”
     His face suddenly showed understanding at her fumbled attempt at an explanation. “I keep the bag locked in the truck. You never know when you have to run out quickly, especially now.”  Turning his focus to her leg, he said, “I’m just going to pull your shoe and sock off so I can see how far down this cut went.”
     Regis looked above him, behind him and at the posters on the wall warning of germs and the importance of washing your hands as the doctor peeled off her blood-soaked sock and shoe. She closed her eyes to the pain as he turned her ankle.
     “Let’s clean out this wound and see how bad it is,” he said. “Just lift your leg so I can put the towel underneath.”
     Gripping the table, she did as she was told and turned her head to the side as the cool liquid flowed over and stung her skin.
     “You’re not going to pass out on me, are you?”
     “Not if I can help it.”
     “Nancy?” he called out, startling her.
     A few seconds later, a middle-aged woman wearing a nurse’s jacket with cats printed all over it was standing in the doorway.
     “I wasn’t sure you heard me come in,” she said, looking over at Regis’s leg and frowning. “Oh, you got yourself a nasty one there. Where’d that happen?”
     Regis took a deep breath as the doctor worked on her leg. “Over at the Bennett property.”
     Sympathy shown on the woman’s face. “I heard the whole first floor was flooded.”
     “It’s about that bad,” Regis said.
     Hawk looked up at the nurse. “I didn’t have time to fill out the paperwork for Miss—”
     “Simpson. Regis Simpson,” she said.
     Hawk nodded. “Would you mind getting all that paperwork together while I take care of this wound?”
     Nancy shook her head and frowned. But by the motherly look she gave Hawk, Regis knew she was teasing. “Didn’t remember which form to fill out, huh? It’s a good thing you’re not at Sioux City General anymore. You think the other nurses would put up with this?”
     “He didn’t want me to bleed all over the new carpet.”
     Nancy chuckled with raised eyebrows. “That was very thoughtful of him. I see you already have this poor girl whipped. I’ll get that paperwork.”
     As Nancy left, Hawk’s hands paused on her leg as he looked up at her, giving her a wide smile that reached the depths of his eyes.
     “You’re getting me in trouble.”
     “I have a feeling you can do that all by yourself.”
     She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting from a country doctor, but the man standing next to her was not it. His eyes were the deepest shade of blue  Regis had ever seen. He was tall, leanly muscled and had one of those ruggedly handsome faces that would've looked perfect in a cowboy movie. And she couldn’t believe she was sitting on an examining table with the hots for her doctor.


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