Horse Doctor Adventures – Small Town Secrets

All the signs were there. It was the end of a long, punishing drought. The rain signaled a change for many of us who relied on the land. It also coincided with an event that would change my life forever. It was the beginning of the end.

As I drove my vet truck in torrential rain toward the last call of the day, I phoned my friend to request an extension of her babysitting duties. “Hey, Jules, is this crazy or what? I’ve got one call to go. Can you stay any longer?”

“Two inches and counting, Carly.” I heard Julie walking down the hall in our house. “I can stay, but it’ll cost you.”

“Inches and not millimeters. That’s old school, isn’t it? I’m sorry to do this to you. I called the hospital, and Dan’s on a home visit. The receptionist didn’t know when he’d be back.”

“When’s the last time you talked to your neighbor? An ambulance pulled up a few minutes ago …

Horse Doctor Adventures - Small Town Secrets
Horse Doctor Adventures - Small Town Secrets

Horse Doctor Adventures Small Town Secrets

American-born veterinarian, Carly Langley, lives in rural South Australia with her husband and two small girls. Their neighbor and babysitter, Mrs. Miller, is found dead. She is a treasured member of the family, so it is inconceivable that Carly would want to kill her. The police think otherwise.

Who killed Mrs. Miller and why? How does Carly prove her innocence? Who in this town is on her side and who is determined to frame Carly in this unusual death.

Several townsfolk come to her rescue, including a hotshot lawyer from Sydney and an Aboriginal high school student.

Many others offer her help. Their objectives are questionable. Who can she trust? Even her veterinary clinic bosses have doubts about her innocence.

Her prospects for a guilty finding and significant jail time, not to mention the loss of access to her beloved carrot cake, send Carly in a downward spiral.

Who, if anyone, will come to her rescue. This town has secrets. It's up to Carly to solve this mystery and demonstrate her innocence.

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Horse Doctor Adventures - Small Town Secrets

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All the signs were there. It was the end of a long, punishing drought. The rain signaled a change for many of us who relied on the land. It also coincided with an event that would change my life forever. It was the beginning of the end.

As I drove my vet truck in torrential rain toward the last call of the day, I phoned my friend to request an extension of her babysitting duties. “Hey, Jules, is this crazy or what? I’ve got one call to go. Can you stay any longer?”

“Two inches and counting, Carly.” I heard Julie walking down the hall in our house. “I can stay, but it’ll cost you.”

“Inches and not millimeters. That’s old school, isn’t it? I’m sorry to do this to you. I called the hospital, and Dan’s on a home visit. The receptionist didn’t know when he’d be back.”

“When’s the last time you talked to your neighbor? An ambulance pulled up a few minutes ago.”

“Oh, no. She has a cold. I hope she didn’t fall.”

“They don’t call ambulances for colds.”

“Dan saw her this morning. He never said anything.”

Dan and I are living the dream. I’m a veterinarian, and Dan’s an emergency-room physician. I come from a farming community and migrated from the United States to a small, rural town north of Adelaide. At the same time, Dan’s a city boy from Sydney. I followed the accent. We met at the university’s emergency room, where Dan was doing his residency in the States.

I heard Julie walking down the hall in our house.

I was finishing my internship in equine medicine at the university veterinary school. I sprained my ankle. It would be spectacular to say I’d been injured while wrestling a stallion. Sadly, in fact, I twisted my ankle while sliding in my socks on the freshly waxed linoleum in the corridor of the veterinary hospital. It was a regular competition between the large and small animal interns. Who could slide the farthest? The customary, late-night match followed the semiannual floor waxing on the old linoleum hallway.

I was transported over to the university hospital, where a young, redheaded doctor with an Australian accent was attending emergencies. “Hi, I'm Dr. Langley,” was all I needed to hear. Forget his kind manner, above-average looks, and warm hands on my ankle. I was smitten by the accent.

Several days after the encounter, I saw him running in the local park. He acknowledged me with a wave as he and a few other men ran by me while I sat on a bench, throwing a ball for my dog, Buster. My heart didn’t skip a beat. That’s a ridiculous idea. My heart did increase in rate, and I’m reasonably sure there was a ventricular ectopic beat, which made me catch my breath. I waved, but soon he was gone. Buster replaced the ball in my lap, reminding me that my sole reason for living was throwing the ball for him.

I saw the accent again in the grocery store a week after that. We were both wearing green scrub tops, and I smiled as we passed in the aisle. I instinctively examined my right shoulder to check for any residual manure left from a recent rectal palpation I’d performed earlier on a colicky pony. I couldn’t see any, but I smelled my scrub top and checked for the “Eau de Manure.” It passed the smell test. Phew.

I simply caught the accent.

“How’s the ankle? Any other sliding competitions this week?”

I didn’t hear the question at first. I simply caught the accent. “Pardon? Oh, no, all good, and the floor’s too worn for sliding now. We have one or two nights after it’s waxed before it becomes too abrasive. Thanks for asking.”

“I try to follow up on all my patients.”

“Really?” I was confident that it was a lie. I wasn’t a total beauty, but I wasn’t bad, either. I was above average on the social scale of the contemporary ideal looks for the times. The long blonde hair and slim build didn’t hurt, but what woman thought she was anything more than average, considering the one flaw that obsessed her? In my case, it was a small scar on my chin that was a gift from my brother. When we were fighting, he knocked me into the kitchen table, which resulted in a hospital trip and a poor stitch job by the local doctor.

“Oh, yes, all my patients.” His face reddened, and he turned away and appeared to intently study the selection of baked beans. He glanced back and smiled. I suggested and handed him the cheapest brand.

“They all taste the same. If money’s the criteria, four out of five interns will choose this one.” I handed him the generic brand and pushed my cart on down the aisle with no further interaction. He was way out of my league—no sense in torturing myself. Rip the bandage off quickly. Short and sharp. Two months to go, I'm gone and moving back home to work with Dr. Tuttle, my mentor, and family veterinarian.

At the checkout counter, I encountered the “accent” again. He was in line ahead of me. He turned and smiled. I tried to appear blasé as I returned the smile and pretended to be busy with a magazine I’d picked up at the counter. As I emerged from the store, he was standing by the door and appeared to be waiting for someone.

“So, do you have children, or just want them?”

“Huh?” Why did he ask that?

“You were reading Parent’s Magazine.

Now it was my turn to blush, and I did. I hadn’t even noticed the magazine or contents which I had pretended to read. “Oh, a friend’s having a baby, and I want ideas for a present.” A ridiculous reply, and I guessed he realized I was lying too.

“Your name’s Carly, right? I don’t remember your last name. I know it’s probably unprofessional of me, but would you like to meet for coffee or something?”

Replace that bandage and queue the wedding bells. Yes, sir, the game was on. “Well, I suppose I could. Now or another time?” Appear calm, relaxed, and casual. Don’t let him feel your pulse because the tachycardia is a dead giveaway.

That was then, and now is now—several years and two redheaded children since those first giddy days of infatuation. I currently work as a vet and negotiate child care in rural South Australia.

“Carly? You there?” Julie sensed I’d lost my train of thought.

This jolted me back to reality. “Of course. Could you stay? I won’t be any longer than six o’clock. If it’s a problem, I can pick up the kiddos and take them with me?”

Dan and I hadn’t wasted any time starting a family. The girls were three and five, and both total gingers. I was reasonably sure another one was in the oven, but I was merely a few days late. I hadn’t told Dan yet. Of course, he would want a boy, but he would never say it out loud. I didn’t care. I knew I’d reproduced myself with Casey, the firstborn. Unlike her younger sister, Faythe, Casey was a total tomboy. She loved all animals and accompanying Mum on veterinary calls.

The word “mum” made me cringe. I wanted to be called mom, but that went out the window when Casey heard the other children at playgroup call their mothers by the colloquial term. Casey was a switched-on little girl. When she wanted something, she called me, mom. This ploy came from coaching by her father, who frequently suggested the children call me “Mom,” but secretly was pleased they addressed me as “mum.”

The plan was for Dan and me to raise the children in rural Australia. When the girls were old enough to go to high school, we intend to move to a bigger town where their education would not suffer. We might even relocate back to the States. I didn’t care as long as the “accent” was by my side.

“Earth to Carly, earth to Carly.” Julie was trying to attract my attention, and recognized she was failing. “Stay out all night. My rates double after five, you know.”

Julie was my bestie. She was a nurse, who worked in the local community hospital with Dan, and was also an ovarian cancer survivor. The regular babysitter was Mildred Miller, an older neighbor, who was at home sick with a respiratory infection. Julie was only filling in. I met Julie when Dan started attending at the hospital and asked her and her husband, Mick, to join us for dinner. Julie had fifteen or more years on me, but we bonded quickly. Julie’s children were finishing school, and it was only in a pinch that I'd called her to ask if one of her daughters could babysit the girls for me today. Julie volunteered herself as her kids were sick, too.

“One hour, pinkie promise.” I kicked up the windshield wipers. “Be glad you aren’t out in this. It’s really coming down. To hell with the drought. The rain gods must be feeling generous.”

“Hey, Carly. That ambulance is still parked up across the road. Looks as though your babysitter might be headed to the hospital. Let me go suss it out, and I’ll tell you what’s going on when you get back.”

“Oh, no. I hope she’s going to be okay. I’ll hurry. I hate for her to deal with this on her own.” I felt responsible for Mrs. Miller’s safety. I knew she depended on Dan and me both for physical as well as financial support. This was returned in spades with her care of our daughters. I worried that she was alone and ill. If something happened, I would never forgive myself.

Julie made sure I heard her addressing the girls. “Hey, girls. Want some sweets before dinner? We can watch some reality television while we eat ice cream and lollies.” Julie laughed. She knew I was strict about snacks before dinner. They didn’t watch television, except on special occasions. Our house had poor reception, anyway. However, I was going to hurry home before they were utterly corrupted. I would learn about Mrs. Miller when I returned.

I drove to the property, where three ranch horses were standing in the mud. One horse was holding his leg off the ground while pivoting on the sound limb. The owner was standing under the shelter, waiting for me. Jimmy Medika was a local Aboriginal station hand who lived in the town with his family. He worked on a remote station and was gone for weeks at a time. His wife worked at the bank, and the children were grown and in the process of moving out. Their youngest daughter was in her last year of high school.

“Hello, miss. Thank you for coming.” Mr. Medika was particularly formal. “I think it’s a hoof abscess. However, since I need to get back up to the station next week, I thought it was best to have you out.”

The “station bred,” bay gelding is a mixture of quarter horse and brumby. He was a kind horse, but his leg hurt. The pressure of an expanding, infected fluid pocket under the hoof is like a blood blister under a fingernail. Froggy’s digital pulse throbbed, and he jumped when hoof testers were applied to the inside quarter of his foot. When he jumped, he knocked me sideways. “Seems like we found it. I’ll get a poultice and a sharper hoof knife, and we’ll see if we can’t get it open and draining. If we can release the pressure, you should be good to go in a day or two. How’s his tetanus status?”

“All good, miss. Remember, he cut himself a few months ago. I still have leftover antibiotics.”

“Don’t use any yet, Mr. Medika. Wait until the abscess bursts. You might not require antibiotics, anyway.”

“You can call me Jimmy.”

“You say that every time, but you call me “miss” or “doctor.” It goes both ways, you know.” I smiled at him, and he grinned back.

“Maybe someday, miss.” Most people called me by my first name, but he and a few others were still formal. I loved my clients, and they could address me as they chose.

I located the tract from the sole of the hoof to the probable abscess. However, because I didn’t hit “pay dirt” or frank pus, I finished applying a poultice to Froggy’s foot and left for home. I was soaked from the rain and cold. Feeling cold was entirely foreign. I was in heaven. I turned off the car air conditioner and opened the window. The steam was fogging up the windshield, so I had to turn on the defroster.

As I turned into the driveway, I noticed an ambulance and several emergency vehicles still parked at Mrs. Miller’s house. I was alarmed. I raced up to my front door to avoid a new rain shower. Julie was inside, watching from the window.

“Dinner’s finished. As a bonus, the girls are bathed and dressed in their nightgowns.”

“Oh, consider yourself kissed. But, more to the point, what’s going on across the street?”

The girls, who emerged from their rooms, ran over to me, which put a crimp in our conversation. Julie shrugged. “I’ve been waiting for you. Don’t know. I didn’t want to leave the kids. The ambulance has been there for an hour. It doesn’t look good.”

“Is that Kendall’s car?” Kendall was our friend too. Kendall Bidwell was one of the four local cops. She was a legend in the area and was responsible for initiating several programs for our town's children. Her after-school programs appeared to be working to decrease crime. Rural towns had their share of crime partially due to a lack of kids' activities as they grew up. Alcohol and even drugs were a problem for young and old. Domestic violence was sadly prevalent in our town, as well. Dan often witnessed the resulting injuries with his work as an emergency doctor at the hospital.

Dan and I loved the rural life and the friends we’d met, but challenges still existed. The lack of support for our professional endeavors was one of many. Finding friends with similar interests was another. Dan played footy, and he made numerous friends through sports, but we craved intellectual stimulation. The positives outnumbered the negatives. My friends met my social needs. Both Julie and Kendall read books and were up to speed with respect to the current affairs of the world. Both had a wicked sense of humor, and neither was below taking on challenges. We formed a bond when the town mayor wanted to prohibit horses inside the city limits. As if….

The torrential rain continued. While I started to get the girls ready for bed and prepare dinner for Dan and me, Julie walked over to the cars parked out in front of Mrs. Miller’s residence. Everyone was inside the house, and I watched Julie enter Mrs. Miller’s home and retreat outside with Kendall. They talked briefly, and then Julie ran back to the house. She returned to our residence soaked.

“Kendall’s not saying, but I know enough to say Millie’s not babysitting anymore. The ambos and police are waiting for detectives to come from Adelaide before they move the body.”

“You’re joking.” I almost said the F word, but I remembered the little ears listening and eyes watching every move. “Where the heck is Dan?” I picked up my phone to call him, but the battery had died. “What is going on over there?”

Julie was shaking from the wet and cold. “Don’t know. Kendall isn’t talking. She asked me how long I’d been at your house and if I’d observed anyone entering the house.”

“Had you?”

“Nope. The girls and I sat at the window, watching the rain all afternoon, and didn’t see anything. Hey, I need to get back home. Just got a text from the sick bay, and supplies are required. Heading to the chemist. You want anything?”

“No. Thanks, though, and thank you for today, too. I guess I’ll suck it up and start the kids in day care. I’m dreading the tidal wave of colds and viruses from the cesspool of immunologically naïve small children.”

Julie laughed. “Welcome to motherhood. Better now than when school starts.” She shrugged. “You can’t protect them forever. It’s a big dark world out there, and acquired immunity is the only way to survive.”

“I guess. It’s not the kids. It’s me. I’ll get whatever they bring home, you know.”

“Ever the concerned, caring mother….”

“Yeah, I’m a bit of a fraud.” I stared out the window and saw Dan’s SUV roll into the driveway. “Here, he is.”

As Julie walked down the steps and toward her car, Dan ran past and waved to her. I saw Julie point to the Miller house, enter her little red Kia, and pull away. Dan paused, stood in the rain, and gazed toward the Miller home, turned, and ran up the steps to our house.

As he entered, Dan was already soaked, yet he had a smile and tried to playfully hug me. I backed up and stuck my hands up. “Touch me with those wet clothes, and you’re dead meat, mister.”

Dan held up his hands in the arrested mode and smiled. I knew he was aware of what happened next door. “Terrible news. They’re coming over to talk to me. Was I the last person who saw her? Carly, she was sick, but not that sick, and she was only seventy-two. I assume they’ll do an autopsy. I know her husband died several years ago, and they didn’t have any kids, but are there any other relatives?”

“I think she has a sister in Melbourne or Sydney.” I could hear the girls calling their dad. I pointed to the bedroom where they both slept. “You’re being summoned.”

He stripped off his shirt and pants. I tossed him a towel and went to the laundry to get him a T-shirt and some sweats. “Can you read to them for a minute while I finish cooking our dinner?”

He grinned and went to the girls’ bedroom. Our house was small and old. It boasted just two bedrooms and a small office. This was convenient when Dan’s overbearing mother, Mira, visited. A night or two was all she could stand. It was exceptionally inconvenient when my mother wanted to come. Mom had traveled from Idaho twice. Our hide-a-bed accommodation didn’t make her want to return anytime soon. We’d bought the house from my bosses when we moved to town. We decided it was more important to live near the hospital than in the country.

I wanted to raise the girls with animals. To date, however, we didn’t even have a dog. Because bringing Buster to Australia was simply too complicated, he’d remained with my mother until he died last year. Well, if my twitchy uterus and timing were correct, we were going to finally make a move. I figured it was as good a time as any to inform Dan we might need to expand.

Julie’s cooking was not as good as a Miller dinner. I purposely explained to Julie that I would cook for Dan and me. Mrs. Miller did it all. She regularly washed our laundry, kid wrangled, prepared our meals, and even grew a beautiful vegetable garden for us. I was sick, thinking of her dying alone in her house without someone holding her hand. It must have been quick. I was hopeful that her death was painless. Maybe she died in her sleep.

I poured a glass of wine for Dan and some juice for me. He noticed immediately and gave me “the look.” He cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrows. I smiled and nodded. Dan wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me. “Are you sure?”

“Eighty percent. I haven’t done a pee test, but I’m pretty confident. You have a lot to answer for, Danny Boy. You know what this means.”

“A netball team.”

“A new house.” I was ready for this conversation.

“A second car.” He grinned like a fool.

“Diapers and late nights.”

“Nappy’s darling, when are you going to start speaking like the natives?”

“A new wardrobe.”

“Bigger breasts.”

“A vasectomy.”

“Tubal ligation. That way, you can meet with the milkman, and I’ll never know.”

“As long as he looks like Hugh Jackman.”

“You win. I’ll have the vasectomy.” Dan took his glass, and we clinked them together.

“Well, early days, it can wait until he’s born.” I wanted to throw Dan a bone. I knew he would love a son.

“Or she. A softball team.” Dan sipped his wine and grinned like a kid in a candy store.

“Have I told you that I love you lately?” God, I loved that man.

“Show, not tell. Isn’t that what you learned in your creative writing class?” Dan smiled as he sipped his wine.

“I like your thinking, Danny Boy.” While we both were happy about the possible pregnancy, we kept watching through the window at Mrs. Miller’s house.

“What was she like when you were there last night?”

“Sick, but not dying sick. I can’t believe she’s deceased.”

“Did she have any heart problems?”

“None. I was convinced it was merely a bad cold. I prescribed paracetamol, a decongestant, and rest. I thought she’d be fine in a day or two. Do you have anyone to care for Casey and Faythe tomorrow?”

“Not yet.”

Someone knocked at the door as we were finishing dinner. Dan was clearing the table, and I answered it. A plainclothes detective showed me his picture and placard that hung on a lanyard from his neck. “Mrs. Langley?”

I never bothered correcting the “Mrs.” for the doctor. He probably didn’t know I was a vet, anyway. “Yes, how may I help you?”

“I must speak to your husband. Is he home?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll get him.”

“Before you do, may I ask you some quick questions?”

“Certainly.”

“I understand you employ Mrs. Miller, and she didn’t come today due to her illness? And did you go to work or stay home today?”

“She’s been sick for a few days. My friend Julie Chambers stepped in for me and was here all day. I was at work until six o’clock.”

“I understand. Do you have a number for Ms. Chamber’s?”

I picked up my phone, which was still charging on the table next to the door.

“What’s going on? Mrs. Miller simply died, didn’t she? Is there something else? Is there something I need to worry about?”

“Probably nothing.” He was scribbling Julie’s name and number.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Detective Ronald Billings, ma’am. I need to see your husband.”

Dan came around the corner from the kitchen, put his hand around my waist, and smiled at the detective.

“Dr. Langley?” The detective took a long, hard look at Dan, but then he smiled and laughed. “Danno, it is you. How are you? Still playing footy?” He reached out his hand and shook it warmly.

“Ronald McDonald, you dirtball. How the heck are you? How’s Marci? How many kids? I see you met my better half. Carly, this is my classmate, Ronny, the guy I told you about when we stole my dad's car. I guess you’ve given up your life of crime and joined the other team.”

The detective was laughing. “Yep, I play with the bad boys now. Hey, Danno, I need to take you down to the cop shop for a statement. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Just a sec. Let me get on some other clothes. Carly, if I’m not back in an hour, call our solicitor and try to raise some bail.” We kissed. He patted my tummy, and he left with his old friend.

Now it was my turn to blush, and I did. I hadn’t even noticed the magazine or contents which I had pretended to read. “Oh, a friend’s having a baby, and I want ideas for a present.” A ridiculous reply, and I guessed he realized I was lying too.

“Your name’s Carly, right? I don’t remember your last name. I know it’s probably unprofessional of me, but would you like to meet for coffee or something?”

Replace that bandage and queue the wedding bells. Yes, sir, the game was on. “Well, I suppose I could. Now or another time?” Appear calm, relaxed, and casual. Don’t let him feel your pulse because the tachycardia is a dead giveaway.

That was then, and now is now—several years and two redheaded children since those first giddy days of infatuation. I currently work as a vet and negotiate child care in rural South Australia.

“Carly? You there?” Julie sensed I’d lost my train of thought.

This jolted me back to reality. “Of course. Could you stay? I won’t be any longer than six o’clock. If it’s a problem, I can pick up the kiddos and take them with me?”

Dan and I hadn’t wasted any time starting a family. The girls were three and five, and both total gingers. I was reasonably sure another one was in the oven, but I was merely a few days late. I hadn’t told Dan yet. Of course, he would want a boy, but he would never say it out loud. I didn’t care. I knew I’d reproduced myself with Casey, the firstborn. Unlike her younger sister, Faythe, Casey was a total tomboy. She loved all animals and accompanying Mum on veterinary calls.

The word “mum” made me cringe. I wanted to be called mom, but that went out the window when Casey heard the other children at playgroup call their mothers by the colloquial term. Casey was a switched-on little girl. When she wanted something, she called me, mom. This ploy came from coaching by her father, who frequently suggested the children call me “Mom,” but secretly was pleased they addressed me as “mum.”

The plan was for Dan and me to raise the children in rural Australia. When the girls were old enough to go to high school, we intend to move to a bigger town where their education would not suffer. We might even relocate back to the States. I didn’t care as long as the “accent” was by my side.

“Earth to Carly, earth to Carly.” Julie was trying to attract my attention, and recognized she was failing. “Stay out all night. My rates double after five, you know.”

Julie was my bestie. She was a nurse, who worked in the local community hospital with Dan, and was also an ovarian cancer survivor. The regular babysitter was Mildred Miller, an older neighbor, who was at home sick with a respiratory infection. Julie was only filling in. I met Julie when Dan started attending at the hospital and asked her and her husband, Mick, to join us for dinner. Julie had fifteen or more years on me, but we bonded quickly. Julie’s children were finishing school, and it was only in a pinch that I'd called her to ask if one of her daughters could babysit the girls for me today. Julie volunteered herself as her kids were sick, too.

“One hour, pinkie promise.” I kicked up the windshield wipers. “Be glad you aren’t out in this. It’s really coming down. To hell with the drought. The rain gods must be feeling generous.”

“Hey, Carly. That ambulance is still parked up across the road. Looks as though your babysitter might be headed to the hospital. Let me go suss it out, and I’ll tell you what’s going on when you get back.”

“Oh, no. I hope she’s going to be okay. I’ll hurry. I hate for her to deal with this on her own.” I felt responsible for Mrs. Miller’s safety. I knew she depended on Dan and me both for physical as well as financial support. This was returned in spades with her care of our daughters. I worried that she was alone and ill. If something happened, I would never forgive myself.

Julie made sure I heard her addressing the girls. “Hey, girls. Want some sweets before dinner? We can watch some reality television while we eat ice cream and lollies.” Julie laughed. She knew I was strict about snacks before dinner. They didn’t watch television, except on special occasions. Our house had poor reception, anyway. However, I was going to hurry home before they were utterly corrupted. I would learn about Mrs. Miller when I returned.

I drove to the property, where three ranch horses were standing in the mud. One horse was holding his leg off the ground while pivoting on the sound limb. The owner was standing under the shelter, waiting for me. Jimmy Medika was a local Aboriginal station hand who lived in the town with his family. He worked on a remote station and was gone for weeks at a time. His wife worked at the bank, and the children were grown and in the process of moving out. Their youngest daughter was in her last year of high school.

“Hello, miss. Thank you for coming.” Mr. Medika was particularly formal. “I think it’s a hoof abscess. However, since I need to get back up to the station next week, I thought it was best to have you out.”

The “station bred,” bay gelding is a mixture of quarter horse and brumby. He was a kind horse, but his leg hurt. The pressure of an expanding, infected fluid pocket under the hoof is like a blood blister under a fingernail. Froggy’s digital pulse throbbed, and he jumped when hoof testers were applied to the inside quarter of his foot. When he jumped, he knocked me sideways. “Seems like we found it. I’ll get a poultice and a sharper hoof knife, and we’ll see if we can’t get it open and draining. If we can release the pressure, you should be good to go in a day or two. How’s his tetanus status?”

“All good, miss. Remember, he cut himself a few months ago. I still have leftover antibiotics.”

“Don’t use any yet, Mr. Medika. Wait until the abscess bursts. You might not require antibiotics, anyway.”

“You can call me Jimmy.”

“You say that every time, but you call me “miss” or “doctor.” It goes both ways, you know.” I smiled at him, and he grinned back.

“Maybe someday, miss.” Most people called me by my first name, but he and a few others were still formal. I loved my clients, and they could address me as they chose.

I located the tract from the sole of the hoof to the probable abscess. However, because I didn’t hit “pay dirt” or frank pus, I finished applying a poultice to Froggy’s foot and left for home. I was soaked from the rain and cold. Feeling cold was entirely foreign. I was in heaven. I turned off the car air conditioner and opened the window. The steam was fogging up the windshield, so I had to turn on the defroster.

As I turned into the driveway, I noticed an ambulance and several emergency vehicles still parked at Mrs. Miller’s house. I was alarmed. I raced up to my front door to avoid a new rain shower. Julie was inside, watching from the window.

“Dinner’s finished. As a bonus, the girls are bathed and dressed in their nightgowns.”

“Oh, consider yourself kissed. But, more to the point, what’s going on across the street?”

The girls, who emerged from their rooms, ran over to me, which put a crimp in our conversation. Julie shrugged. “I’ve been waiting for you. Don’t know. I didn’t want to leave the kids. The ambulance has been there for an hour. It doesn’t look good.”

“Is that Kendall’s car?” Kendall was our friend too. Kendall Bidwell was one of the four local cops. She was a legend in the area and was responsible for initiating several programs for our town's children. Her after-school programs appeared to be working to decrease crime. Rural towns had their share of crime partially due to a lack of kids' activities as they grew up. Alcohol and even drugs were a problem for young and old. Domestic violence was sadly prevalent in our town, as well. Dan often witnessed the resulting injuries with his work as an emergency doctor at the hospital.

Dan and I loved the rural life and the friends we’d met, but challenges still existed. The lack of support for our professional endeavors was one of many. Finding friends with similar interests was another. Dan played footy, and he made numerous friends through sports, but we craved intellectual stimulation. The positives outnumbered the negatives. My friends met my social needs. Both Julie and Kendall read books and were up to speed with respect to the current affairs of the world. Both had a wicked sense of humor, and neither was below taking on challenges. We formed a bond when the town mayor wanted to prohibit horses inside the city limits. As if….

The torrential rain continued. While I started to get the girls ready for bed and prepare dinner for Dan and me, Julie walked over to the cars parked out in front of Mrs. Miller’s residence. Everyone was inside the house, and I watched Julie enter Mrs. Miller’s home and retreat outside with Kendall. They talked briefly, and then Julie ran back to the house. She returned to our residence soaked.

“Kendall’s not saying, but I know enough to say Millie’s not babysitting anymore. The ambos and police are waiting for detectives to come from Adelaide before they move the body.”

“You’re joking.” I almost said the F word, but I remembered the little ears listening and eyes watching every move. “Where the heck is Dan?” I picked up my phone to call him, but the battery had died. “What is going on over there?”

Julie was shaking from the wet and cold. “Don’t know. Kendall isn’t talking. She asked me how long I’d been at your house and if I’d observed anyone entering the house.”

“Had you?”

“Nope. The girls and I sat at the window, watching the rain all afternoon, and didn’t see anything. Hey, I need to get back home. Just got a text from the sick bay, and supplies are required. Heading to the chemist. You want anything?”

“No. Thanks, though, and thank you for today, too. I guess I’ll suck it up and start the kids in day care. I’m dreading the tidal wave of colds and viruses from the cesspool of immunologically naïve small children.”

Julie laughed. “Welcome to motherhood. Better now than when school starts.” She shrugged. “You can’t protect them forever. It’s a big dark world out there, and acquired immunity is the only way to survive.”

“I guess. It’s not the kids. It’s me. I’ll get whatever they bring home, you know.”

“Ever the concerned, caring mother….”

“Yeah, I’m a bit of a fraud.” I stared out the window and saw Dan’s SUV roll into the driveway. “Here, he is.”

As Julie walked down the steps and toward her car, Dan ran past and waved to her. I saw Julie point to the Miller house, enter her little red Kia, and pull away. Dan paused, stood in the rain, and gazed toward the Miller home, turned, and ran up the steps to our house.

As he entered, Dan was already soaked, yet he had a smile and tried to playfully hug me. I backed up and stuck my hands up. “Touch me with those wet clothes, and you’re dead meat, mister.”

Dan held up his hands in the arrested mode and smiled. I knew he was aware of what happened next door. “Terrible news. They’re coming over to talk to me. Was I the last person who saw her? Carly, she was sick, but not that sick, and she was only seventy-two. I assume they’ll do an autopsy. I know her husband died several years ago, and they didn’t have any kids, but are there any other relatives?”

“I think she has a sister in Melbourne or Sydney.” I could hear the girls calling their dad. I pointed to the bedroom where they both slept. “You’re being summoned.”

He stripped off his shirt and pants. I tossed him a towel and went to the laundry to get him a T-shirt and some sweats. “Can you read to them for a minute while I finish cooking our dinner?”

He grinned and went to the girls’ bedroom. Our house was small and old. It boasted just two bedrooms and a small office. This was convenient when Dan’s overbearing mother, Mira, visited. A night or two was all she could stand. It was exceptionally inconvenient when my mother wanted to come. Mom had traveled from Idaho twice. Our hide-a-bed accommodation didn’t make her want to return anytime soon. We’d bought the house from my bosses when we moved to town. We decided it was more important to live near the hospital than in the country.

I wanted to raise the girls with animals. To date, however, we didn’t even have a dog. Because bringing Buster to Australia was simply too complicated, he’d remained with my mother until he died last year. Well, if my twitchy uterus and timing were correct, we were going to finally make a move. I figured it was as good a time as any to inform Dan we might need to expand.

Julie’s cooking was not as good as a Miller dinner. I purposely explained to Julie that I would cook for Dan and me. Mrs. Miller did it all. She regularly washed our laundry, kid wrangled, prepared our meals, and even grew a beautiful vegetable garden for us. I was sick, thinking of her dying alone in her house without someone holding her hand. It must have been quick. I was hopeful that her death was painless. Maybe she died in her sleep.

I poured a glass of wine for Dan and some juice for me. He noticed immediately and gave me “the look.” He cocked his head to the side and raised his eyebrows. I smiled and nodded. Dan wrapped his arms around my waist and kissed me. “Are you sure?”

“Eighty percent. I haven’t done a pee test, but I’m pretty confident. You have a lot to answer for, Danny Boy. You know what this means.”

“A netball team.”

“A new house.” I was ready for this conversation.

“A second car.” He grinned like a fool.

“Diapers and late nights.”

“Nappy’s darling, when are you going to start speaking like the natives?”

“A new wardrobe.”

“Bigger breasts.”

“A vasectomy.”

“Tubal ligation. That way, you can meet with the milkman, and I’ll never know.”

“As long as he looks like Hugh Jackman.”

“You win. I’ll have the vasectomy.” Dan took his glass, and we clinked them together.

“Well, early days, it can wait until he’s born.” I wanted to throw Dan a bone. I knew he would love a son.

“Or she. A softball team.” Dan sipped his wine and grinned like a kid in a candy store.

“Have I told you that I love you lately?” God, I loved that man.

“Show, not tell. Isn’t that what you learned in your creative writing class?” Dan smiled as he sipped his wine.

“I like your thinking, Danny Boy.” While we both were happy about the possible pregnancy, we kept watching through the window at Mrs. Miller’s house.

“What was she like when you were there last night?”

“Sick, but not dying sick. I can’t believe she’s deceased.”

“Did she have any heart problems?”

“None. I was convinced it was merely a bad cold. I prescribed paracetamol, a decongestant, and rest. I thought she’d be fine in a day or two. Do you have anyone to care for Casey and Faythe tomorrow?”

“Not yet.”

Someone knocked at the door as we were finishing dinner. Dan was clearing the table, and I answered it. A plainclothes detective showed me his picture and placard that hung on a lanyard from his neck. “Mrs. Langley?”

I never bothered correcting the “Mrs.” for the doctor. He probably didn’t know I was a vet, anyway. “Yes, how may I help you?”

“I must speak to your husband. Is he home?”

“Yes, of course. I’ll get him.”

“Before you do, may I ask you some quick questions?”

“Certainly.”

“I understand you employ Mrs. Miller, and she didn’t come today due to her illness? And did you go to work or stay home today?”

“She’s been sick for a few days. My friend Julie Chambers stepped in for me and was here all day. I was at work until six o’clock.”

“I understand. Do you have a number for Ms. Chamber’s?”

I picked up my phone, which was still charging on the table next to the door.

“What’s going on? Mrs. Miller simply died, didn’t she? Is there something else? Is there something I need to worry about?”

“Probably nothing.” He was scribbling Julie’s name and number.

“What did you say your name was?”

“Detective Ronald Billings, ma’am. I need to see your husband.”

Dan came around the corner from the kitchen, put his hand around my waist, and smiled at the detective.

“Dr. Langley?” The detective took a long, hard look at Dan, but then he smiled and laughed. “Danno, it is you. How are you? Still playing footy?” He reached out his hand and shook it warmly.

“Ronald McDonald, you dirtball. How the heck are you? How’s Marci? How many kids? I see you met my better half. Carly, this is my classmate, Ronny, the guy I told you about when we stole my dad's car. I guess you’ve given up your life of crime and joined the other team.”

The detective was laughing. “Yep, I play with the bad boys now. Hey, Danno, I need to take you down to the cop shop for a statement. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Just a sec. Let me get on some other clothes. Carly, if I’m not back in an hour, call our solicitor and try to raise some bail.” We kissed. He patted my tummy, and he left with his old friend.

I hope you enjoyed the first chapter. You can find the full book on Amazon.
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