Authors: Sarah M. Anderson
Men of the White Sandy #4
Sarah M. Anderson
Copyright © 2014 by Sarah M. Anderson
Edited by Mary Dieterich
Cover design by Leah Hanlin of BlueSky Design
All rights reserved. Except in use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the copyright holders. For questions, comments, or permissions, please contact Sarah M. Anderson at [email protected]
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the U.S.A.
To Melissa Jolly, who didn’t kill me when I woke up before the crack of dawn to start Clarence while we roomed together at a conference. Best roommate ever!
Clarence Thunder pulled into the parking lot at the White Sandy Clinic and Child Care Center and shut off his truck. He yawned as he rubbed his eyes. Man, it was early. Not even six in the morning.
But the parking lot was empty. Just like he wanted it to be. He had a pound of some fancy flavored coffee, a Matchbox car, and a plan.
He got out of the truck and opened up the Clinic. So far, so good. He’d been half afraid that Nobody Bodine, the night janitor, might still be lurking around. If Clarence was going to make a fool of himself over a woman, he didn’t want an audience for it.
But the place was empty, so he got the coffee going. The whole time, he rehearsed what he was going to say when Tammy Tall Trees showed up.
“Hey, Tammy—I made you some coffee.”
But the more he rehearsed it, the weaker it sounded. Hell. He didn’t know what else to do, though.
For the last four months—ever since the Child Care Center had opened up right next door to the Clinic, Tammy Tall Trees had been arriving at six thirty every morning, along with her three-year-old son, Mikey. And the first thing she did was make coffee.
Clarence got to work about seven—give or take. He operated on Indian time, which meant that sometimes he got here at seven fifteen, sometimes he got here at eight. Didn’t matter much. He was the head nurse at the Clinic. It didn’t function without him.
At first, when Tammy had started getting here before him, she’d said, “Clarence, I made the coffee.” They’d exchanged pleasantries about the weather or people they knew. That was how Clarence found out that Dr. Mitchell’s sister, Melinda—the one who’d come out to run the Child Care Center—had somehow fallen for Nobody. Clarence still couldn’t figure that one out, but who was he to judge?
Then, after a moment or two of Clarence and Tammy chatting, either a kid or a patient would show up and Clarence would go to his side of the building while Tammy went to hers and that was that.
But recently, in the last month, Clarence had noticed a change in their little morning ritual. Instead of saying, “I made
coffee,” Tammy had started saying, “I made
And maybe that wasn’t much. One word. Three little letters. That didn’t say much about whether or not she was interested in him, did it?
Except . . .
Tammy had a way of looking at him now that he was pretty sure she hadn’t been doing back when she started. She’d hold her cup of coffee up against her lips and blow on it gently—she was a gentle woman—and then, she’d look up at him through her thick lashes and he’d see the corners of her mouth curve up at the same time a pretty blush would dust her cheeks and
if it didn’t hit him like a ton of bricks.
That look combined with those three little letters—that had to mean something, right?
Clarence had never been particularly good with women. He was big, he could be mean when he had to be—all things that could appeal to women with a thing for bad boys—but he was a nurse. When he’d joined the Navy right out of high school and gotten off this rez for a decade, being a male nurse—a Lakota Indian male nurse at that—had
been the way to score with the ladies. It had been the shortest path between Clarence and a punch line.
But it was a job—a job he was good at. He didn’t have the head to be a doctor, but he was good with people and had a strong stomach. And because he had a regular job with a regular paycheck—hell, ever since Dr. Mitchell had come out and started paying him with real money, it was even a decent paycheck—Clarence had been able to save up a little and get some nicer things. Like his truck. The Dodge Ram was only three years old and it ran real good.
That had to be a point in his favor, he decided as he filled up the coffee pot. Clarence didn’t know much about whoever Mikey’s father was. Tammy’s sister, Tara—who was the receptionist at the Clinic—only referred to him as ‘that dickbag,’ which was a sentiment salty enough to make Clarence blush, old seaman that he was.
As far as Clarence could tell, Tammy was pretty much on her own. Well, sort of on her own. She lived with her mom, who helped take care of Mikey. Flo Tall Trees was more like Tara—brash and outspoken and not afraid to tell you when she thought you were screwing it up.
Tammy was different, though. She was quiet and shy. She had a way with the kids that she watched over—she was the one to soothe hurt knees and hurt feelings, whereas Melinda Mitchell was the loud, bouncy, fun one.
Clarence knew that because he’d taken to popping over to the Center when they had a lull—which wasn’t often, but still. He’d stick his head through the door and survey the chaos—or the story time, or the snack, or whatever—and there would be Tammy, right in the middle of it all, handing out hugs and encouragement and always with this beautiful smile on her face. Those kids could be crazy, but he’d never once seen her lose her cool.
“Hey, Tammy—I made you some coffee. And I brought Mikey a toy.”
Yeah, that was better. The toy car was a key part of his plan. Namely, he was banking on the car buying him five minutes of uninterrupted time to talk with Tammy. Ten minutes would be better. That was the best he could hope for. Ten minutes to try and figure out if she was looking at him like she was interested, or if she just
God, he hoped she was interested.
He fumbled with the flavored stuff—vanilla bean, the label said. He was out of practice—Tammy had been making the coffee for months now. But finally, after one or two false starts, he got the water dripping. He checked his watch. Six fifteen. Perfect.
Clarence stashed his lunch and did a hurried version of his morning check. The Clinic was his home away from home and he liked to see that it was in proper working order. Shipshape and Bristol fashion, as his Navy supervisor was fond of saying. Yeah, the Clinic had seen better days, but it did what it needed to.
Clarence had been here for ten years, through five doctors. None had stayed as long as Dr. Mitchell. Of course, none of them had married the local medicine man, either—but Dr. Mitchell had. And then her sister had come out here and gotten together with Nobody Bodine, which was about the craziest thing he’d ever heard. Nobody Bodine could find love with a woman?
If a convicted felon—and a janitor, for God’s sake—could win a lady’s heart, why couldn’t Clarence?
Clarence didn’t like being nervous. But this thing, whatever it was, between him and Tammy was making him
. She was so quiet and kind—what if she wasn’t really sending him signals but was just taking pity on him? Poor old Clarence, the freak male nurse who joined the Navy even though he grew up in a sea of grass.
And if he screwed this up? Then he’d have to deal with Tara. She’d been the receptionist for about four years. She did a good job wrangling the patients, but if she thought that Clarence was screwing around with her little sister, she might cut him to ribbons.
“Good Morning, Tammy—I picked up some new coffee I thought you might like. And a toy for Mikey.”
No, no—too formal, too stiff. Because what if he was wrong? Aw, hell.
Six nineteen. Six twenty-four. Six twenty-eight. The seconds crawled by. Then it was finally six thirty—and she didn’t show up. The coffee finished perking and everything but no Tammy, no Mikey.
Panic rolled deep in Clarence’s stomach. He shouldn’t have tried the fancy stuff—then everyone would know that he’d done something different, that he’d been trying to impress a woman. Tara might cut him to ribbons anyway.
He was about thirty seconds from dumping the whole pot down the drain when headlights flashed through the windows. He sagged in relief as he watched Tammy get out of her rusty old Accord and then walk around to the other side to unbuckle Mikey. She lifted the boy out and hugged him to her chest, where he sleepily rested his head on her shoulder.
Clarence felt himself breathe at the sight. There was something so damn sweet about the woman that called to him. She was a lot shorter than he was and had very generous curves—the kind of curves that he’d heard other women make fun of, back when he was shipping out of San Diego.
But she wasn’t fat, not to him. She was . . .
Tammy was perfect, really. Warm and soft and just right for a man like him to hold.
Mikey kicked out of Tammy’s grip and went streaking toward the Center door.
Now was the time to make his move. His small, cautious move. He filled up two mugs and checked to make sure the car was in his pocket. He managed to get the door open without spilling the coffee down the front of his scrubs. “Morning, Tammy. I . . .” his throat almost froze up. He was forced to ‘harumph,’ which caused Tammy to pause and turn her full attention him.
Her eyes lit when she looked at him. They just lit up. “Hiya, Clarence,” she said in that soft way of hers.
“Mama,” Mikey screeched. “I need paper!”
And the light in her eyes—well, it didn’t fade but it redirected to her son. “Hang on, hon.” Tammy glanced back at Clarence. “One moment—I just need to get him set up.”
“No problem,” Clarence said. Then he remembered the car. “Hey, Mikey—I got you something.”
“You did?” Tammy asked, turning those big brown eyes back to him.
“Presents?” Mikey yelled as he came barreling up to Clarence. “Gimme gimme
“Now, Mikey,” Tammy said in as scolding a voice as Clarence had ever heard her use. “Use your manners. Pleases and Thank Yous.”
“Pease Tank You for the present!” The little boy stuck out his hand and waited.
Clarence realized he was still holding both coffees. He handed one to Tammy and fished the little car out of his pocket. “Here you go, kiddo. Have fun.”
“A car? YAH!” Mikey grabbed the car and took off.
“Mikey, honey—say thank you!” Tammy called out after him, but the boy wasn’t paying attention.
Which was just the way Clarence wanted it.
“Sorry about that,” she said, turning those big brown eyes back to him. “He doesn’t get new presents very often. He’s very appreciative.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, trying to be cool. He took a sip of his coffee and almost spit it back out. It was too sweet and vanilla-y and barely constituted coffee. He choked and started coughing.
Tammy looked alarmed. “You okay?”
“Fine,” he managed to get out. “It’s early, that’s all.”
She dropped her gaze and studied her mug. Oh, hell—had he screwed this up? But then she said, “You
a little early today.”
Then she looked up at him through her lashes, like she wasn’t sure what she would see. There was something in her gaze, something hopeful and cautious and nervous and sweet all at the same time.
If there weren’t a kid ten feet away, Clarence knew what he’d do. He’d tilt her chin up far enough that he could kiss her pretty lips, her neck, her . . . everything.