The Doctor's Choice(10)

By: J. D. Faver

Opening the door wide, she stopped short when she came face to face with a tall, distinguished-looking man in a western-style leather jacket and cowboy hat. A whisper of white etched the temples of his light brown hair.

“Miss Carmichael?” Blue eyes twinkled as he flashed a wide white smile.

“Actually, it’s doctor,” she corrected, eyeing him warily.

Extending his hand, he walked toward her. “I stand corrected, Dr. Carmichael. I’m your neighbor, Eldon Kincaid. I came to express my condolences.”

She suppressed a shiver recalling everything she’d heard. “Come in, Mr. Kincaid.” She stood aside for him to enter.

He tossed his hat on the bentwood rack beside the door as though he’d done it before.

She gestured toward the sitting room. “I’m having guests for dinner, so I won’t have much time to spare.”

He seemed surprised, as though unaccustomed to having women brush him off. “I’ll just take a few moments of your time.” He perched on the edge of Aunt Silky’s rose-colored brocade loveseat, looking large and masculine. ”I’m sorry for your loss. Your great-aunt was quite a woman.”

“Yes, she was. I can’t believe she’s gone.”

“I understand you were her only surviving relative.”

When she nodded, he continued, “Then I assume Silky left the ranch to you?”

Cami eyed him suspiciously. “You seem to be very well informed, Mr. Kincaid.” Though her solemn face betrayed no emotion, Cami felt both disgust and apprehension. Why was this man in Silky’s parlor right after her funeral questioning her about the inheritance? She wished T-Bone and Frank would hurry and make their appearance.

“I’m sorry to be insensitive, Doctor Carmichael, but may I inquire as to your plans for the ranch? You see, Silky and I were in the midst of negotiations for the sale of the property.” He sat back on the loveseat, glancing at her speculatively. “I can see that you’re surprised.”

“Why, as a matter of fact, I am. I was under the impression that Aunt Silky would never have parted with the place…willingly.”

He leaned toward her in a conspiratorial manner. “Silky and I were old friends. We first met when I was a young Land Man out scouting for the big oil companies. I got a lease on her land that ran for a long time.”

“Oil? On this land?”

“Nothing worth drilling for.” He gave her a one-sided smile. “All the big fields are played out around here. What’s left is too hard to get to. Gulf and foreign oil is easier to come by.”

She nodded. “So you met Silky years ago?”

He settled back on the small sofa, spreading his arms across the back. “That’s when I first fell in love with this area. I started buying ranches back then and, over time, my holdings have grown.”

“I’ve heard that from various sources, Mr. Kincaid.” Cami fixed him with a non-committal gaze. “What made you think that my aunt was willing to sell to you at this time?”

“Everyone has their price, young lady. I’m pretty sure that Silky and I had just about arrived at hers.”

“I see.” Staring at the powerful man, she felt small and vulnerable.

“And, I would be willing to take up negotiations with you right where Silky and I left off.” Kincaid pushed back on the loveseat with a satisfied expression.

“I think you’re talking to the wrong person, Mr. Kincaid. You see, I’ve accepted a fellowship in immunology. The will stipulates that I live here for a year to inherit. The ranch will pass to someone else.”

Kincaid’s expression changed from smug superiority to astonishment. “What? That can’t be! You’re the only one she had to leave it to. Don’t tell me it goes to the cat?” His face took on a florid hue and he made sputtering noises.

“Not the cat,” she assured him. “If I refuse to submit to the conditions of the will, my great-aunt stipulated that the ranch go to Mr. Breckenridge Ryan, her attorney.”

“Damn!” Kincaid leapt to his feet. “That can’t be!”

“I’m afraid so.” Cami stood and turned toward the door. “I hate to rush you off, Mister Kincaid, but I must get back to my dinner preparations. Thank you so much for dropping by.”

He jammed his hat on his head. “When are you leaving, Doctor?”

“Tomorrow afternoon, Mr. Kincaid.” She twisted the faceted glass doorknob, letting a frigid draft rush inside.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning. I may be able to change your mind.” He left abruptly, his boots sounding like hammer blows as he strode across the porch.