Circle Eight: Tobias
Circle Eight series, Volume 6
by Emma Lang
a Historical Western Romance
Book Description:A broken man. A woman who needs a hero. A love that should never have been.
Rebecca Graham always knew she was to marry a hero and leave home in blissful happiness. She chose that man when she was seventeen. Unfortunately, her family hated him. In a fury over being swindled by someone else, Tobias burned down the Circle Eight, her family's ranch. He spent four months rebuilding alongside her family in penance. When he accepts her help to nurse his grandfather, she has hopes he will become the hero she envisioned. She was wrong.
Tobias Gibson never expected happiness for himself. His brothers, adopted by their patriarch Pops, were all that matters. After Pops dies while under Rebecca Graham's care, he cannot forgive her failure to save his grandfather. He ignores his attraction to Rebecca. There is too much bad blood between them.
Life never rolls forward as expected however. Five years after he'd last seen her, Rebecca Graham reenters his life. Together they face the storm that sweeps across their lives. They have to rely on each other and ignore the growing love setting their souls and hearts on fire.
The fist that crashed into Rebecca Graham’s jaw was small but hard and full of fury. Her neck snapped back and stars danced in front of her eyes but she held on to her temper and the arm in her hands.
“Sarah, you have to let me do this. I know it hurts but I need to set your arm.” Rebecca tried again and a second punch slammed into her cheek.
“Jehosophat, girl, don’t go punching Miss Rebecca. She’s trying to help you.” The old woman stood behind them, wringing her hands and pacing. Her granddaughter Sarah had broken her arm falling out of a tree. As the nearest person who could reset a bone, Rebecca had been summoned.
Then subsequently punched for her efforts. Sometimes her need to be a healer and an herbalist seemed like a mistake. A big joke by God to punish her for being the ugliest Graham sister, the unmarried spinster, the one holding out for a non-existent prince.
“If you don’t sit still, I won’t be able to set the bone and your arm will be crooked for the rest of your life.” Rebecca had two younger siblings and a passel of nieces and nephews. She knew how to handle unruly children. “Is that what you what?”
Sarah, a redhead with a riot of freckles on her nose, pooched out her lower lip and shook her head. The rough and tumble girl reminded Rebecca of her younger sister, Catherine, full of piss and vinegar and ready to take on the world one fist at a time.
“Then let me do this. You can tell all the boys how you bit through a piece of leather rather than cry.” Rebecca reached into her tapestry bag and pulled out an old leather strop that had belonged to her oldest brother, Matt. It had grown too thin for a razor, but folded in half, it would work for an eight-year-old to bite down on. Rebecca ignored the throbbing in her cheek and put the leather in the girl’s mouth.
Sarah scowled, her red brows furrowed, but she bit down on the leather. As Rebecca took hold of the girl’s arm again, she paled, making the freckles pop out like cinnamon spots.
“Close your eyes and imagine you’re in your favorite place.” Rebecca nodded to Mrs. McGinty, who stood behind her granddaughter this time, ready to intercede in case a little fist flew again.
Rebecca stared at the misshapen arm, seeing beneath the skin and muscle to the fracture. She had set bones before, with success, but every time was new and different. Challenging and intimidating. She took a deep breath and allowed a calm to settle over her. It happened each time she had to use her healing skills and she welcomed it, like an old and trusted friend.
She positioned her hands on the girl’s arm and pulled, moving the bones into place as though completing a puzzle. Within a minute, she was done. Sarah had pressed her face into her grandmother’s belly and quietly wept.
“Good girl.” Rebecca smiled and resisted the urge to wipe the sweat off her own brow. “Now let’s put a splint on your arm and then I’ll give you something for the pain.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Mrs. McGinty had tears in her eyes. “She’s all I have left of my son.”
Rebecca understood all about family and holding onto them with all your might. Her family was all she had as well, and although there was a lot more than one, she treasured every member. Eight siblings, all on their own path in life but tied together by their family ranch, the Circle Eight.
“I’m glad I could help.” Rebecca set to work and did what needed to be done. An hour later, she packed up her supplies, noting she would need to replenish her herbs soon. There had been too many people to heal as of late and not enough time to gather the much needed supplies.
“I can’t pay you much.” Mrs. McGinty held out a few coins.
Rebecca took the money with something that tasted like guilt. She knew they didn’t have much but if she didn’t accept payment, people would expect her to work for free and that would devalue her hard work. She tucked the coins into her reticule and nodded to the older woman.
“She should keep the splint dry and on her arm for at least four weeks. I will come by next week to check on her. Please send word if you need me before then.”
Rebecca left the McGinty’s farm with her steps dragging. The sun had started to set and with it the cool spring night. Winter had held on with a ferocity not seen for decades. Spring had finally arrived mere weeks ago. No wonder Sarah had been climbing a tree. She likely hadn’t wanted to spend another moment indoors. If Rebecca had been a young girl, she’d have been running wild with her brothers and sisters on a beautiful day like this too.
Rebecca’s horse was where she left him. Well, almost. The gelding had stretched his reins all the way over to a patch of sweet grass by the nearby garden. He was happily munching away. She shook her head at his antics. Matt had given her the horse when he was barely a colt, one of the first Matt had bred from their own stock. She’d been thirteen and so excited to have a grown-up horse.
She’d named him Ocho for the Circle Eight, her family’s ranch. Ocho had proved to have a unique personality amongst the horses. The saddle horse had incredible stamina and an easy gait that made him perfect for long rides. He also had a tendency to nip at her behind when she failed to rub him down fast enough.
“Ocho, we are headed home, boy.” After untying his reins, she secured the tapestry bag to the saddle horn and swung up into the saddle. Her split skirt allowed her to ride astride, unlike Catherine, who wore britches and rode as though she had fire on her ass at all times.
By the time she reached the Circle Eight, Rebecca’s exhaustion had sharpened to the point she was afraid she was going to fall asleep sitting up. She managed to put Ocho in his stall, rub him down and make sure there was feed and water. She couldn’t manage another thing.
Matt would lecture her if he saw her in her current exhausted state. Particularly given she likely had a black eye, which was no doubt swollen too. She avoided the house in favor of the well pump in the back yard. She set her bag down and knelt in the grass. Fortunately, her brother Benjy had oiled the pump a few weeks earlier and it moved easily in the darkness. Cool water spilled into her waiting palms.
She splashed her face until she felt more awake. The requests for her services had become much more frequent as her reputation had grown. There were few physicians within a hundred-mile radius and even fewer who were readily available. Folks had started calling her Doc, which was foolish since women couldn’t be doctors, but no matter how much she corrected them, the nickname persisted. Doctor Radicy was her mentor, the man she had looked to as a savior of the local folk. He’d taught her a great deal, but she had taught herself even more.
The number of patients had tripled in the last month alone. It seemed as though every day someone came by the ranch looking for Doc. Rebecca didn’t know if she would continue to practice healing or if she would go back to being an herbalist. Truthfully she enjoyed both but that left no time for herself. Certainly no man had wanted to be with her, which suited her just fine. Being the plain sister had its advantages.
She allowed herself, in the cover of darkness, to remember what it felt like to have her first kiss. The sweet surrender to the man she had already decided was to be her husband. Too bad he had seen her as a child, someone to pat on the head and send home. It hadn’t felt that way when he’d kissed her though, nor after when they rode home in the darkness. The night had hidden what they’d done. Her entire world had shifted, leaving her changed forever.
It had been five years, yet she could still taste him, feel the roughness of his whiskers, the warm gust of his breath. Rebecca had imagined being in his arms forever. Instead, she was left with an empty heart and unfulfilled dreams.
She patted her face dry with a cloth from her bag and headed for the house. Supper would be welcome, but the explanation for the black eye wouldn’t. Matt would yell at her, or at least admonish her for letting patients get the better of her. No matter. She loved what she did and nothing would change her mind on what she wanted to do with her life.
Rebecca was a healer in her heart and soul.
Tobias Gibson stared at the knotty roof inside the cabin. The scent of whiskey pushed through his pores; his body reeked of it. Hell, he was completely sour and stale in more ways than one. Everything he tried to do fell to shit so he stopped trying. Life had become a monotonous routine, which he dulled with liquor. It was an existence, but not a life.
Tobias was alone. Very, very alone. He spent his days prospecting in the dirt and shit, his nights at the bottom of a bottle. Pitiful and stupid. That should be his new name. He tried to make a living many ways but nothing felt right. All that was left were the few acres surrounding the cabin. A tiny piece of nothing.
The sun peeked through the grimy windows, reminding him it was daytime. He needed to get up and do something besides fart, sleep and feel sorry for himself. He rolled over and looked over at the corner. Inevitably his mind drifted back to that night five years earlier. To her. She had stood there, wide-eyed and appealing, tempting him to forget all his responsibilities.
As much as he wanted to forget Rebecca Graham, she crept into his thoughts often. Too often for his liking. She was likely married with a passel of young’uns by now. He had to stop remembering how she tasted, how she smelled, how she trembled in his arms. It was torture, self-flagellation he put himself through on a nightly basis. The liquor helped but not enough.
Tobias knew he was meant to be alone. He was too ornery for any woman to love him and too much of a son of a bitch, literally, to have a friend. Even his adopted brothers had given up on him. Foolish people thought they could change him. He was still the same person who had burned down the Circle Eight ranch to retrieve his grandfather’s deed and money. He was still the same person who caused the inadvertent death of the Graham’s grandmother in that same fire.
There wasn’t much he had touched that didn’t become ash in his hands. They were black with it. Tobias knew from a young age he was poison on two legs. His mother had known it, beat it into him. Took others a bit longer to figure it out. Now everyone had, leaving him truly alone. He lived his days wandering between the minutes, wondering if the world would ever give him anything but darkness.
“Fuck.” He threw himself out of bed and staggered sideways, landing hard on the old chair beside the bed. It cracked beneath his weight and splintered. His ass slammed onto the floor, jarring his spine hard enough to make his teeth slam together.
He stared at the jagged pieces and his throat closed. Pops had made the chair long ago when Tobias had come to live with his grandfather. It was how they had formed a bond, building a few pieces of furniture, but this chair had been the first. To a lonely, wild child, it was something solid, something stable. Now Tobias had broken another memory of the man who had shaped his life.
He didn’t know how long he sat there feeling sorry for himself, but it was long enough for the sun to rise high in the sky. He finally got to his feet, slowly this time, and went outside to piss.
The ground tilted this way and that, but he held onto the side of the house, splinters digging into his fingers that he’d have to be sober enough to pull out later. It was April, or at least he thought it was. The days blurred together, although winter had been long enough to make it hard to get to town for more whiskey.
Tobias pissed behind a tree since the outhouse was literally full of shit and needed to be closed over and new hole dug. Another task he hadn’t gotten around to doing. So he pissed on a tree and shit in the bushes. No one was around to care.
He knew he was a pitiful mess. A ridiculous, pitiful mess.
He made his way back to the house and his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten in quite some time. After some scrounging he found a bit of jerky and a biscuit that might have been made a decade earlier. It was food and his body needed it. He resisted the urge to chase the food down with his favorite drink. Instead he went back outside to the well and used every ounce of energy he had to pump the handle until he got some cool water. It tasted good, surprising him. He splashed some on his face and hair, waking himself up a bit more.
Tobias wandered over to the gravestone that sat beneath the big tree outside the house. Pops had loved to watch the sunset from that spot. Now he could see it every day from his final resting place.
“Ah, Pops, I miss you.” Tobias sat down with a thump and rested his arms on his knees. “I’ve failed at just about everything.”
The wind rustled the branches above him, the leaf buds emerging after the cold winter. Somewhere in the distance, birds chirruped at each other and a hawk squawked in the morning air. It was peaceful outside, but he would never discover the same within his soul. It was as black as the ashes that coated his heart.
“I wish you were still here. Selfish, I know, but if’n you were here I wouldn’t be alone.”
Not entirely true, of course. Tobias had run everyone else off in one way or another. He was alone because of his own stubborn foolishness. He’d gotten fired from his last job a month ago. No, it had been three months. Three months.
Where had three months gone?
Into a bottle, he thought sourly. With very little money left, he had to do something besides drink himself into the ground beneath Pops. Not that anyone would notice if it happened. Hell, he could lay there stiff as a dead opossum for months until someone found him. Likely never even get buried. Such was the life of a man who didn’t give a shit.
“What can I do?” He shook his head. “I’m lost, Pops. I can’t find my path.”
Tobias looked south as though he could see the start of his fall from humanity. It had been five years ago when they had fallen for that con man, Vaughn Montgomery, or O’Connor, as they knew him. Losing the deed and money had been the first step to hell. Now Tobias was trapped there with no way back up.
He needed a miracle.
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About the Author:Beth Williamson, who also writes as Emma Lang, is an award-winning, bestselling author of both historical and contemporary romances. Her books range from sensual to scorching hot. She is a Career Achievement Award Nominee in Erotic Romance by Romantic Times Magazine, in both 2009 and 2010, and a semi-finalist in the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.
Beth has always been a dreamer, never able to escape her imagination. It led her to the craft of writing romance novels. She’s passionate about purple, books, and her family. She has a weakness for shoes and purses, as well as bookstores. Her path in life has taken several right turns, but she’s been with the man of her dreams for more than 20 years.
Beth works full-time and writes romance novels evening, weekends, early mornings and whenever there is a break in the madness. She is compassionate, funny, a bit reserved at times, tenacious and a little quirky. Her cowboys and western romances speak of a bygone era, bringing her readers to an age where men were honest, hard and packing heat. For a change of pace, she also dives into some smokin’ hot contemporaries, bringing you heat, romance and snappy dialogue.
Life might be chaotic, as life usually is, but Beth always keeps a smile on her face, a song in her heart, and a cowboy on her mind. ;)Website: http://www.bethwilliamson.com
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