Title: A Healing Touch
Author: Liz Arnold
Genre: Historical Romance
Doctor Hilliard: Medicine Woman. Snakebites or smallpox, saving people, including herself, is what Molly Hilliard does best, and she intends on being a doctor in the Northwest Territory, except her guide is causing all sorts of problems of the heart.
In post-revolutionary America, Molly Hilliard wants to be more than an herbal healer, and she answers the lure of adventure on the Ohio River and journeys to the Northwest Territory seeking the freedom to set up a medical practice. Along the way, she tries to hire Romney Applewood as a guide, but he is going the opposite direction. After ten years as a captive of the Delaware Indians, Romney wants to get as far east as possible to forget his past and avoid the bounty on his head for taking part in raids upon settlers’ homes. Something about the way she sacrifices herself to heal others, and something about the way he endures the difficulties he encounters because of his tormented past, links them in more than their quest as they blaze new trails in their lives and on America’s frontier.
The rushing water snatched them, and they floated fast to the joint of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers. Romney watched as Molly gripped the canoe sides while cool air from the fresh mountain melts whipped the hair back from her face. Another paddle lay in the bottom of the boat, but she didn’t move to pick it up.
Romney paddled with the current. Dip. Pull. Lift. Dip. Pull. Lift. He didn’t speak, but his rhythmic breathing echoed over the plow of his oar shoving the waves behind them.
He kept one eye on the waterway stretching out in front of them and the other eye on Molly’s quiet presence in the canoe. Mud stained the hem of her skirt as it lay gathered at her feet. The fact that she didn’t appear concerned about the dirt on her clothes made him wonder if he had misjudged her. Most women would be in a tizzy over the damage to their skirts. Molly looked steadfast and determined.
Romney caught sight of Molly’s shoulders rising as she inhaled a deep breath. The songs of afternoon birds filled the air, trees whipped by on the banks, and a crow screeched its distinct call to the others in his murder. Romney sent up a prayer to The Great Spirit that the call of the crow was a good sign and this would be a successful hunt.
Romney stopped the steady drag of the paddle and held it in the water as they sailed along with the rapid flow.
“Do you need me to help?” she asked without turning around.
“We cannot afford to lose the paddle,” Romney answered stiffly.
“I can hold on to a canoe paddle, thank you. Perhaps as well as you.”
“It is not necessary. When the current slows, you can help.”
“How long before we reach Fort McIntosh?”
Romney did not answer. She repeated, “How long—”
“It depends on the way of the sipo.” He paused. “The speed of the river.”
As they neared the waters’ apex, multiple canoes and flatboats of all sizes came into view.
“Is that the Ohio?” she asked pointing up ahead.
“It is,” Romney replied, his eyes steady on the crowded waterway ahead.
Several vessels crowded together and stretched across almost the entire width of the river from the east to the west bank.
“I didn’t realize how many people would be on the river today,” Molly said, picking up her paddle and dipping it into the water.
Snow on the mountains had finally melted due to the spring thaw, and the river’s pace had intensified as a result. Anxious, eager settlers had waited for months for the ice on the river to break apart. They had lived out the winter on their dry-docked boats or in wagons, some in make-shift dwellings, praying for the cold to give way soon.
The first early morning crack of the frozen chunks was heard a little more than a week ago, and it stirred everyone into action. Romney noted one particular flatboat ahead that had a wagon lashed to the top of the cabin with a woman perched on the seat surveying the scene. She did not appear worried about the precariousness of her position.
“What if that woman on the wagon falls into the river?” Molly asked to no one in particular. “These aren’t the calmest waters I’ve ever seen.” She leaned her body forward then back in rhythm with the stroke of her paddle.
Romney struggled to keep his eyes on the congestion ahead and not on Molly’s tiny figure swaying in time with her oar.
Without warning, the current slowed, and Molly matched her strokes to the sounds of Romney’s paddle as it dipped and pulled on the other side. Together they created a single, unified motion propelling them evenly through the water, bringing them closer to the array of boats clustered at the point. However, they were still relatively close to the Pittsburgh side of the Allegheny River.
Romney reversed his paddling action to slow them down, but some other people didn’t seem to heed the dangers of so many boats in one small area. Romney struggled against the pull of the strong current to avoid running into the other boats, but they passed by as if it were a race.
Yelling, whistling, fiddle music, and a general cacophony filled the air as the excited pioneers mixed their voices with the river’s frantic, splashing water. Molly held her paddle firmly below the waterline as Romney guided them forward toward a group of larger boats stalled in the water. How could the river be rushing past them and these boats be motionless? Soon the cause of the commotion made itself visible. Three flatboats had jammed against each other and were turned in dangerous opposition to the current.
“We need to hold back,” Molly yelled over her shoulder.
Romney held his paddle firmly straight up and down in the water, but they headed for the melee in spite of his efforts.
Suddenly women screamed and men worked with increased, frantic speed to separate the connections while some attempted to keep them steady. Another boat floated up fast and slammed into one of the stalled vessels with a violent crash. Wood splintered in every direction, sending flailing people haphazardly into the cold water.
Boats, wagons, animals, goods, and people spilled into the river. Boxes and trunks smashed into some of the chunks of ice floating aimlessly on the surface. Livestock splashed into the water now rippling with violent waves. In no time, the chaos reached from one side of the river to the other.
Wave after wave of water folded back from the disaster, splashing against the sides of Romney and Molly’s canoe. Then a strong jolt from behind, as if they had been hit by another boat, tipped them into the erratic depths with everyone and everything else. As soon as he felt the bump, Romney dropped the oar and grabbed for Molly, catching her by the shoulders as they submerged.
In seconds, ice-cold blackness sucked on Romney’s body. He kicked his legs and erupted through the surface, Molly in his arms. Her heavy, wet skirts swirled around his legs, but he kicked harder, propelling them toward the riverbank. He held Molly tightly with one arm wrapped at her waist. Water sputtered from her mouth as she fought against the powerful pull of the deep waves with outstretched arms. Debris washed over them and slowed down their progress. He fanned his strong legs again and again until they were near the water’s edge.
Soon, they crawled up on the riverbank. Struggling for breath and pushing the hair out of their eyes, they sat on the sand and viewed the devastation. Their canoe had vanished, and rapid waves rippled in at their feet. People yelled and flapped their arms frantically while boxes and debris bobbed around them. Survivors hung desperately onto things floating in the river as they called for help.
“We…” Molly began, gasping for air, water dripping from her face. “How c-can we h-help them?”
Romney focused on the chaos. The crying, screaming, and confusion sounded to him like the fighting he had known as a Delaware. The sense of panic stretching up and down the river forced old habits to rise in his consciousness. He calmed his mind and steadied his body with a deep breath.
“Are you safe?” he asked.
Molly nodded. “Can you help them?”
He stood up and walked to the water as his eyes scanned the scene while deciding which direction to go. Romney stretched his arms out in front of his chest and dove back into the violent, swelling current.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
“A Healing Touch fulfills both of these wishes with an exciting frontier adventure story wove through by a mature, sweet, yet steamy love affair between Molly, who wants to serve the frontier as a physician, and Romney, who spent his formative years as a captive of an Indian tribe. The book also provides a lovingly researched and detailed backdrop of early American, making this story a wonderfully satisfying read.” – JL Davidson
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