Whitehorse - By Katherine Sutcliffe


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"Damn cows. Damn Manord Krups for owning cows. Why couldn't he breed dogs or cats, or budgies for that matter? Anything that doesn't require a large-animal vet. When is the last time you saw a small-animal vet make a house call for a budgie? I must have been out of my mind to think this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I could be asleep right now in a warm bed, dreaming of pouring coffee for some sexist bastard who thinks copy toner smells like Chanel. Instead, I'm up to my butt in mud, covered in blood, and with a temperature of one hundred and two."

The cell phone crackled with static. Leah Starr, D.V.M., shook it angrily before screaming into the receiver again. "Hello? Can you hear me? Speak up, Shamika. I'm losing you."

"I said, you have a message from Roy Moon at Whitehorse Farm … a colicky horse or something."

"Do you know what time it is? It's after midnight—"

"Sorry. I guess the horse forgot to check the clock before getting his gut in a twist."

"Tell them to call Dean Crabbet. I've had enough for tonight. Crabbet is a perfectly reliable vet—"

"Come on, Leah, you knew it was inevitable that they would eventually call. Why shouldn't they, for Pete's sake? You live in their backyard. You lease this farm from them—"

"Forget it!" She punched the End button, cutting off the call, and threw the cell phone onto the truck seat, which was cluttered with a stethoscope, syringes, and shoulder-length rubber gloves. She refused to look at the bloody fetotome on the floorboard. The nausea in her stomach was enough reminder of the fetotomy she had been forced to perform on one of Manord Krups's prized Holsteins. Cutting up a calf in utero that refused to be born was not something she cared to dwell on at the moment. Not when the worst storm to hit Ruidoso, New Mexico, in fifty years was bombarding her truck with hailstones the size of golf balls, turning the already pitiful back road into an ice-skating rink. This was all El Nino's fault. Again. This was late May, for God's sake. She should be basking in sunshine and complaining about the heat by now.

God, her throat hurt. She felt as if someone had doused her in kerosene and set her on fire. The fact that she was soaked to the bone wasn't going to help matters one little bit. Neither was the fact that the truck heater was on the blink for the third time this year and there was no longer money in the budget to get it fixed—again. Judging by the way she had begun to shake, she suspected her temperature had just climbed another notch. Thank heavens for Shamika. She would have a honey-laced cup of hot tea waiting for Leah, a warmed blanket to wrap around her shoulders, and a friendly and tolerant ear to listen to Leah's ranting about the pitfalls of being the only woman vet in the area.

Reaching over the steering wheel, Leah scrubbed the condensation from the inside of the windshield and squinted to see through the downpour. With only one good headlight that barely illuminated the way, the dark road might have been an abyss straight to hell. Why she had chosen this route was beyond her—must have been the fever. FM Road 67 was perilous in the best of weather. It twisted and turned like a sidewinder—it had virtually no shoulders and flooded when the skies so much as spit rain. Even now water sucked at her hubcaps. Any deeper and she would stall for certain, and then what? She imagined rescue workers discovering her emaciated, fever-ravaged body somewhere down the river. Good damn deal. At least she would get a decent night's rest for the first time since she'd set foot in the veterinary college at Texas A&M University six years ago.

The hail turned to rain as her headlight reflected off the stop sign at the junction of Highways 249 and 67. Leah took a deep breath and mopped her brow with her shirt sleeve. Almost home. Another fifteen, twenty minutes max and she would climb into a steaming tub of water and then bed. She would not so much as stick her head out of the covers for three days. She might even down a few sedatives to assure that she slept undisturbed. Not wise, certainly, but occasionally necessary when the world became more than she could