Child of Promise
Time for lunch.”
    Taking great care not to let Doc see her face, she hurried to her desk and picked up her hat and pocketbook. “Mind if I take an extra hour off? I don’t have any appointments this afternoon, and Millie could probably use the help.”
    “Take the whole afternoon off if you want. I can manage, and if there’s some emergency, it’ll be easy enough to ring you up at the rectory.”
    Beth nodded curtly, then all but fled for the door. “Thank you. I’ll do that then.”

    Noah shrugged on his coat and grabbed his hat from the coatrack. As he did, a knock sounded at the door. He left the hat where it was hanging and opened the door.
    Conor MacKay stood there.
    “Come on in,” Noah said, smiling in greeting. “If you’ve come to see Beth, though, she isn’t here. You’d do better to head to the clinic.”
    “I didn’t come to see Beth,” Culdee Creek’s owner muttered as he doffed his Stetson and walked in. “I came to see you, if you’ve got a few minutes to spare.”
    “I’ve always got time for an old friend. I was just getting ready to pay George Wilson a call, but it can wait a while longer.” Noah closed the door behind Conor. “Where would you like to talk? Would the kitchen suit, or do you prefer my office? If it’s the kitchen, I’m thinking Millie’s still got a piece left of her famous apple pie, and the coffee’s always hot.”
    Conor shook his head. “No, thanks. I’m not much in the mood for food, and I’ve already drunk more coffee this morning than Abby likes me to have in a day.” He used his hat to point in the direction of the kitchen. “We can sit in there, though.”
    Noah paused to remove his jacket and hang it back on the coatrack, then followed Conor into the kitchen. He took a seat across from his friend, leaned his forearms on the table, and waited.
    Conor wasn’t long in getting to the point. “It’s Beth. Abby and I are concerned about her.”
    Noah wasn’t surprised. If he had so quickly ascertained Beth harbored some secret pain, her parents would’ve surely noticed it even earlier.
    “What’s bothering you? About Beth, I mean?”
    “Well, she came home as thin as a rail, and that’s not like her. Then, though she stayed a week at the ranch, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling she couldn’t wait to get away from us. And the day Beth told Abby she was moving in with you, Beth let slip she’d been through some pretty rough times in medical school. Times she felt she didn’t dare tell us about, for fear we would’ve gone out there and brought her home.”
    “Which you would’ve, wouldn’t you, Conor, if you’d thought anyone was threatening your little girl?”
    Culdee Creek’s owner smiled thinly. “Yes, I reckon I would’ve.”
    “And Beth’s got your pride and determination. Can you blame her for not telling you all that was going on?”
    “No, I can’t blame her, but what did it cost her, Noah? What happened to her?”
    Noah leaned back and sighed. “I can’t say, Conor. But you know if Beth ever comes to me with the truth, I’ll do my best to help her.”
    “I know. That’s why I thought I’d better tell you this. So you could keep an eye out for her.” He paused, scratched his jaw, and eyed Noah consideringly. “I’ve never told you much about Beth’s past, have I? I mean, not much more anyway, than she was born out of wedlock when I hired on Squirrel Woman to take care of Evan after his mother ran off with that music teacher of hers?”
    “That’s pretty much it,” Noah said. “That and Beth and Abby didn’t hit it off well when Abby first came to Culdee Creek to be your housekeeper and Beth’s teacher.”
    “Well, there’s more, and it might have a lot to do with Beth’s pain right now.” He glanced over at the stove. “Maybe I will take you up on that cup of coffee after all.”
    Noah scraped back his chair, rose, and headed for the cupboard. After grabbing a mug, he walked to the stove and poured out

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