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Katie's Song

In a one-room Dakota Territory schoolhouse, Katie Shelton, "granny-medicine doctor," encounters a steady stream of problems that complicate her already-troubled life. But when Dr. Denver Holt strides into the school, the turmoil his presence creates within Katie eclipses everything else. From that day on, she and Denver share an unwilling alliance to doctor and love all who need them, especially his daughter and Katie's father. After her mother died and Katie's father sank into depression, Katie accepted this temporary teaching job in order to support herself and Pa while she donated her time and skills as a granny-medicine doctor. Because her mother died at the hands of a Western "diploma" doctor, Katie distrusts all horse-and-buggy doctors, including Dr. Denver Holt. Katie believes that her own granny-medicine skills surpass his university-trained ones. In spite of her efforts to exclude Denver from her life, Katie cannot stop thinking about him. As she teaches and baby-sits his motherless daughter, seven-year-old Ivy, Katie is drawn closer to her and unwillingly begins to understand Denver. By observing Dr. Holt's superb medical skills, selfless concern for his patients, and boundless love for his little girl, Katie learns that not all Western doctors are mercenary quacks. Just as Katie begins to have strong feelings for Denver, she meets Alexa, and sees the lovely woman as an incomparable rival. Katie adds this false assumption to the growing list of reasons why she should fight the love for Denver that swells inside her like warm bread dough. In her confusion and loneliness, Katie turns to Fitch Addison, a wealthy, available man with a dark past and an even darker character. His charm and self-pity conceal the real Fitch as he pursues Katie like a hawk shadowing his prey. Until Katie can forget her bias toward Western doctors, recognize the vile behind Fitch's guise, and accept Denver's love for her, she will not allow herself to return the doctor's love and allow God to put a new song in her heart.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

Eileen Dunn Bertanzetti    During her childhood, Eileen's parents instilled in her a love of reading and writing. Today, Eileen pursues writing--and the researching for it--with a passion which she shares with her readers. Since 1989, Eileen has worked as an instructor for The Institute of Children’s Literature. She's published 5 books including Katie’s Song, and over 150 stories to over 25 publications. With her beloved husband Greg’s help, Eileen raised three "perfect" children who have--so far--given her six "perfect" grandchildren. Her family--especially Greg--allows her freedom to pursue her writing career with zeal--and for that, and for God's abiding presence and help, Eileen is grateful.

4 Stars!

"Katie's Song is a beautiful, heartwarming read. It made me cry. But they were good tears and I felt better for having shed them. You'll love this book."

Buzzy's Review News

4 Stars!

"Katie's Song brings to life the conditions the American West brought to families who lived when the West was wild and men could tame the woman by love. Bertanzetti has created a heartwarming story inspirational fans can't help but love."

Just Views

4 1/2 Stars!

"I have read an inspirational before but nonetheless was a bit thrown at first by the strong faith evidenced in this novel. However, I was quick to see how perfectly it fit in with the story and the eventual message conveyed. It is a hauntingly beautiful story. The message at it's heart, never conveyed more clearly than with this charming romance. Near the end, I sobbed. Twice. I'm so very glad that I had the opportunity to review it."

Scribes World Reviews

Chapter 1

Ten minutes before Katie dismissed her fourteen restless students for the day, nine-year-old Greg Pianucci clutched his abdomen and groaned.

Now what? What else could go wrong this first day of school? Teaching children was not turning out to be what she had expected.

Within the first hour of school, Greg's younger brother Doug had smeared ink all over his hands, face, and tattered clothing. Horse racing during recess, Norman Pascal had fallen off his mare, ripped his pants, and sprained his ankle. Vera Haltar had accidentally dropped her homemade, wooden doll into the outhouse hole. From a student who confessed he planned to fish in Bad River after lunch instead of returning to school, Katie had confiscated a fishing pole with which she rescued the fallen doll. And now Katie's once-neat bun at the back of her neck sprouted long tendrils of black hair, making her look as if she had just climbed out of bed.

A month ago, when Katie and Pa had moved to this rolling prairie southwest of the town of Twin Rivers in Dakota Territory, she had planned to leave the specter of death behind them, buried with her beloved mother. But death haunted the whole West, even in this one-room schoolhouse. This morning, Edith Robert had informed Katie that her sister would not be returning to school this year because she had died during summer vacation. Knowing that diseases such as smallpox, scarlet fever, and consumption stalked the West of 1880 like coyotes shadowing their prey, Katie had cringed at the news. Thinking about the dead girl made Katie want to hide her face in her hands and weep for the whole Robert family, but she knew she had to be brave for Edith and the other students.

And now what was the matter with Greg Pianucci who continued to moan as if in terrible pain? The ankle-length skirt of her plain, brown, calico dress swished against her cotton-stockinged ankles as Katie rushed toward his desk where he doubled over it and sobbed. His older sister, Lori, who shared the double desk and bench with him patted him on the back and tried to console him.

"Where does it hurt, Greg?" Katie asked. She knelt beside his desk on the schoolhouse's dirt floor, knowing she would later have to scrub the filth from her dress.

Pointing to his left side, Greg said between groans, "Right here, Miss Shelton."

Katie sighed with relief. Pain on his left side meant it probably didn't involve his appendix. Maybe it was just an ordinary stomachache from eating too much of that homemade taffy Katie had seen him sneak out of his lunch pail a half hour ago. "Lori," she said to his sister, "run to my shack and get my medicine bag. You'll find it in the trunk at the foot of my bed." If you can call that lumpy, corn-husk-filled mattress on its creaking, wooden frame, a bed, Katie silently added. Back on their farm in Pennsylvania, her bed had been canopied with ruffles and lace, and Ma had made it cozy with a blue-and-white patchwork quilt she had stitched for Katie's fifteenth birthday just three years ago. Three long years ago. Katie remembered how her father had decided that the family would move out West and leave their farm, friends, relatives, and conveniences behind.

"Why?" Katie had asked him. "We have everything here in Pennsylvania."

"The Homestead Act promises free land to anyone willing to go West for it, and so we're going," Pa had said. "Don't worry. You'll make new friends and learn to love life on the big ranch we're going to have."

But two years ago in 1878 when Katie and her parents finally settled in Dakota Territory, they discovered that the harsh realities of prairie life were nothing like what had been advertised about the West. Pa had to borrow money to start the Shelton ranch, northeast of the town of Twin Rivers where the Missouri and Bad Rivers met. Before he could make his plans succeed, summer's drought, spring's floods, fall's prairie fires, and winter's blizzards killed the livestock, destroyed the crops, drove him further into debt, and exhausted and weakened Ma.

Katie believed that if her father hadn't forced them to move out West, her mother would still be alive. And her father wouldn't sit in his chair day after day, staring out the window and mourning for his wife. When Ma died last year, Katie thought, something inside Pa died, too. With her mother gone and her father too heartsick to work, all responsibilities rested on Katie. Before she had acquired this teaching job, she'd had to sell most of what little they had left in order to pay Ma's doctor bills.

Not that the doctor did her any good. Katie scowled. If her father had allowed the three of them to stay in the East, the doctors there would have known what to do for her mother. But out here -- where anybody could pretend to be a doctor and get away with it because there were few regulations and fewer people to enforce them -- the only doctor Pa could find had ended up making Katie's mother worse instead of better. When Ma first got sick, Katie had told Pa she could treat her mother, and Pa should forget about calling a doctor. But Katie's father insisted his wife needed a "professional."

After Katie's mother died and Pa could no longer work, Katie, with only one year of high school left to complete before graduating, had to quit school and find a job. Six months later, southwest of Twin Rivers along the Bad River in Dakota Territory, she found this teaching job. She had rejoiced when the person hiring her, Mr. Fitch Addison, Superintendent of Twin Rivers School District, told her she would not have to board with one of the student's family as single schoolmarms usually had to do. Mr. Addison told her the teaching job included living in the "fine little house, behind the school, that had belonged to the previous teacher."

Katie soon discovered that "fine little house," which was only a two-minute hike from the schoolhouse, would make a better chicken coop than a home for humans. She consoled herself with the fact that at least the shack would shelter her and her father until she could claim a piece of land and afford to build a sturdy house on it for the two of them.

Katie gently probed Greg Pianucci's left side with her fingers. She felt nothing unusual. "Just rest here with your head on your desk," she told him. "When Lori returns with my medicine bag, I'll give you something to make you feel better."

Back East, Ma had taught Katie everything Ma's own mother and aunts had known about doctoring. "Folks don't always have enough money to pay a doctor, so they call on me to treat them," Ma had told Katie. "Someday you'll be able to doctor folks, too."

Katie hadn't been sure she wanted to doctor people. What if she did something wrong, and her patients got worse? But Ma had assured her that doctoring, like mothering, was a natural thing for women, and that God would always be there to help Katie help others. "The Lord's the best doctor that ever was," Ma had said.

If God was the best doctor, why had the Lord let Ma die? And why did God let Pa continue to suffer? Even though Katie blamed her father for Minnie Shelton's death, Katie loved him more than life itself, and it grieved her to see him so sick.

Until her mother's death last year, Katie had read her Bible every day, gone to church every Sunday, and sung solos at services, but now... Now, she could no longer believe God loved Pa or her. She had not opened her Bible, attended a church service, or even hummed since her mother's death a year ago. The "new song" Katie used to sing to God in her heart had died along with her mother.

Lori Pianucci raced into the schoolhouse, carrying Katie's medicine bag. "Here, Miss Shelton," Lori said, puffing from her efforts. "Your pa just sat there in his rocking chair, not saying a word. You want me to go back and find out if he's okay?"

"No." Katie reached into her mother's soft leather medicine bag, one of the few belongings Katie had kept after she sold their bankrupt Dakota ranch. "My father's sick, but there's nothing you can do for him." Sighing, Katie added, "Nothing anyone can do," and uncorked a small, brown glass bottle she had taken from the bag.

By now the other twelve students, ranging in ages from six to sixteen, had crowded around Katie, Lori, and Greg. "Children, you may clean up your desks and go home," Katie told the twelve. "I'll expect you all here at eight tomorrow morning with slates and a book from home to read out loud to the whole class." The school did not even have a set of McGuffey Readers, so Katie had decided the students could bring something from home to read until she could convince Mr. Addison to buy them a set of Readers.

"What's that?" Lori now asked as she and Greg stared at the bottle Katie held.

"Dried chicken gizzard linings." Katie carefully poured a yellowish powder out of the bottle and into a metal spoon.

"Ugh." Lori scrunched up her face beneath her long, tousled, dark hair.

"Please bring me the water pail and dipper from the corner," Katie said to her.

"You gonna make me swallow that chicken stuff, Miss Shelton?" Greg asked, disbelief in his voice and a scowl on his dirty face.

"Don't worry," Katie assured him. "It's the fastest way to get rid of a stomachache."

When Lori returned with the bucket and dipper, Katie took a metal cup from the medicine bag, dropped the spoonful of powder into it, and mixed in a half-dipper of water. Katie placed the cup to Greg's lips. "Drink this in one swallow."

As Greg followed his teacher's directions, seven-year-old Ivy Holt tugged on the long skirt of Katie's dress. Until now, the schoolmarm had not noticed that Ivy had not headed for home like the other students. "You may go home, now," Katie told her.

"I'm waiting for Papa," Ivy said. "Can I watch?"

"May I," Katie automatically corrected. "Oh, I guess," she added, sighing. "How do you feel now?" Katie asked Greg whose long-sleeved shirt cuffs only reached to four inches above his dirty wrists, and whose pants needed five more inches in order to reach his ankles.

"Still hurts, Miss Shelton," he said and pressed his hand against his left side as if that would stop the pain.

"When my papa comes, he can take a look at you," Ivy told Greg as she patted his shoulder.

Within the last month, Katie had acquired this teaching job and moved Pa and herself to the shack. Except for her closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Pianucci and their four children, who lived a five-minute gallop away, Katie had not had time to learn about her students and their families before school began. Knowing nothing about Ivy's father and wondering what he could possibly do for the boy, Katie asked her, "Your father?"

Ivy's two long, blonde braids jiggled when she shook her head up and down. "He's a doctor." She straightened her little shoulders and grinned.

Katie stiffened. A doctor -- a Western doctor? "No. Greg will be just fine in a few minutes. Your father doesn't need to treat him." Was her father the doctor Mrs. Pianucci had spoken about? The same doctor who had been out to check on the woman and her unborn child who was due any day now? Dr. Holt better not make any mistakes when he delivers that baby, Katie thought.

Hoping her bitterness toward Western doctors didn't manifest itself through her voice and stiff posture, Katie said to the two girls, "Why don't we help Greg go outside and walk around a bit? The fresh air will do him good."

"But what if he has a-append--" Ivy stammered.

"Appendicitis," Katie finished for her, trying not to sound impatient with this well-meaning child. "No, this is just a stomachache from eating too much of his mother's homemade taffy."

Ivy shyly dipped her head, inched closer to Greg, and said, "Okay, Miss Shelton, but we should still pray for him."

Pray? Katie remembered the last time she had prayed. She had been kneeling beside her mother's sickbed, begging God -- as she had done for the past six months -- not to take her beloved mother from her. But as Minnie Shelton gasped her last breath, Katie knew her prayers had only wasted time. Katie had watched as her father knelt beside the deathbed, agony etched on his bearded face, and collapsed against his wife.

"It's all my fault," Earl Shelton groaned. That was the last Pa had spoken to anyone, and it was the last time Katie had prayed.

Not wanting to hurt Ivy's feelings, Katie said to her, "You go ahead and pray, dear. I'll gather Greg's things so he can go home and rest."

"Don't you want to pray with us, Miss Shelton?" Ivy asked, her heart-shaped face turned toward her teacher.

"Uh, I have to get Greg's lunch pail and write a note to his parents to tell them about his pain."

Ivy's shoulders sagged. "But Papa says God will always help us if we just ask. Papa says it was our prayers that kept Mama from hurting too much before she died."

Her mother died, too? Katie wanted to ask how a loving God could allow the mother of this sweet, little girl to die. But Katie didn't want to hurt Ivy's faith, so instead she said, "I'm sure God will listen to your prayers without me, dear." Katie grabbed Greg's dented, metal lunch pail from the shelf above the coat rack and headed for the safety of the chair behind her big, wooden desk. In only one day of teaching, she had learned that she could feel as if she were protected behind a fort's wall when she sat or stood behind her desk.

After Katie dipped her pen into the ink well and began the message to Greg's parents about his stomachache, she tried to ignore Ivy's soft praying, but she could not.

"Dear Jesus," Ivy prayed in her sweet, small voice while Greg and his sister bowed their heads, "please make Greg better. Papa says You'll give us everything we need, so I know You'll take care of Greg. Thank You."

Ivy's words reminded Katie of the countless times she had prayed for Ma to get well.

And now she's dead. Bitterness burned her stomach like the Dakota sun burned the prairie grasses in late summer. And Earl Shelton spent every day just sitting at the shack window, never smiling or speaking, never moving except to shuffle to the outhouse, his bed, or the kitchen table. Even when Katie cooked his favorite meals, Earl would eat only starvation-size bites of food. She might as well chop up the kitchen table, a rickety old thing left by the last teacher who had lived in the shack, into firewood for the stove!

She recalled the fine furniture that had graced the Shelton farmhouse back East. Here, in Dakota Territory, in Katie's shack, she used wooden nail kegs for kitchen chairs. Wooden shipping crates acted as cupboards, work stands, and bedside tables. The two beds were lumpy, corn-husk-filled mattresses perched on rickety frames, also left by the former teacher. She remembered how good it had felt to wake up after sleeping on her feather mattress back East.

Carrying Greg's lunch pail and the note she had written to his parents, Katie returned to the three children. As she handed the note to Lori, Katie heard the crescendo of thudding hoofbeats and rattling buggy wheels on the hard ground outside.

Ivy rushed to the window. "It's Papa!" Her leather, high-top shoes scuffed the dirt floor as she danced toward the door.

After handing the note and Greg's lunch pail to Lori, Katie helped the boy to stand. She had to make sure Ivy's father knew Greg didn't need a doctor. Katie could manage perfectly well with the skills her mother had taught her.

But when Ivy's father strode through the door and dipped his head slightly so that his Stetson did not bump the top of the door frame, Katie realized her mother had failed to teach her one of the most important things: how to react calmly to the sight of the most handsome man Katie had ever seen. He looks more like a cowboy than a doctor. She patted her hair and cringed as she felt the rebellious strands popping out of her once-neat bun. She feared her hair looked as if she had let chickens roost in it. Poking the loose tendrils back into her bun, she tried to ignore the rush of strange, warm feelings that coursed through her like flood waters down the Bad River.

A grin sliced across his darkly tanned face as Ivy's father scooped his daughter into his arms and hugged her. "How was your first day of school?" he asked her as he lowered her gently to the floor.

While Ivy chattered about her day, Katie ushered Greg and Lori past Ivy and her father. Trying to ignore the doctor whose blue-checked shirt and black jeans hugged his rugged frame, Katie ordered Lori, "If Greg gets that pain again on the way home, stop and let him rest."

Outside, in back of the school, Katie watched as Lori led her horse out of the school's rickety barn, saddled him, helped Greg climb into the saddle, and then seated herself right behind him. Lori bunched up her long, tattered skirt behind herself, displaying patched bloomers that met her scuffed, high-top shoes.

After Katie waved good-bye to them, she ambled to the front of the schoolhouse, hoping she had waited long enough for Ivy and her too-handsome father to leave. But there stood his horse and buggy tethered to the flagpole in front of the school. Knowing she had no other reason to remain outside, and needing to straighten up the inside of the schoolhouse before heading toward the shack to care for her father, Katie took a deep, steadying breath and marched inside. She almost collided with Ivy's father as he led his daughter toward the doorway.

"This is Miss Shelton, Papa." Ivy looked happy and content with her small hand nestled inside her father's big, tanned one.

Before Katie could head toward the safety of her wooden desk, the other big, tanned hand grabbed hers and gently shook it. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Shelton," he said, grinning.

He had held her hand for only two seconds, but in Katie's silent opinion it was two seconds too long as those strange, warm feelings snaked through her, again.

"I'm Denver Holt." He lifted his hat from his head and tipped it toward her, revealing thick, dark hair that looked as if he had not brushed it all day. Somehow, that shaggy look appealed to Katie. She liked it much more than the slicked-down style sported by some of the men she had seen in the nearest town, Twin Rivers, when she first arrived there with her father.

"Ivy tells me you took fine care of Greg Pianucci today," Denver said. After the doctor restored his Stetson to his head he asked, "He had a pain in his side?"

"Yes." Katie reminded herself she had no time for silly feelings about any man, especially this Western doctor. Pa needed her, and she had vowed to take care of him as long as he lived. That left no time for foolishness.

"Which side?" the doctor asked.

"Left, so it wasn't appendicitis." She resented his inquiry.

"That doesn't necessarily rule out appendicitis, Miss Shelton." Denver squinted at her. "I think I'll take a look at the boy."

Katie didn't know which feelings were more annoying: the strange, warm ones she had felt just moments ago, or the jabbing resentment that had suddenly replaced them when Denver questioned her about Greg and insisted on checking him. Didn't this man think she could do a good job of doctoring the boy?

"He's fine, Dr. Holt," she replied, clenching her fists.

"We've lived in these parts for four years," Denver said. "I've treated just about every child in your school, at one time or another, and I like to check them out personally when something like this happens. That way, I'm better able to treat them whenever their families call for me."

"You needn't examine Greg." Katie stood as tall as her five-foot-three-inch frame would allow. "He was feeling much better when he and his sister left here." Katie didn't need some Western doctor interfering with the care of her students. She could do just fine without him.

Denver's grin only annoyed her more as he spoke. "Well, I suppose I'll just have to trust your judgment. But if your students ever do need my services, Miss Shelton, just send someone to get me."

All Katie could think was, Why? She forced her tight mouth into a smile.

Tipping his hat to her once more, Denver added, "If I don't see you before, I'll see you here at church Sunday."

"I won't be here." Katie wondered how one man could irritate her so.

"Oh, you go to church in Twin Rivers?"

"No." She glanced at Ivy. She didn't want to disappoint this sweet student, yet she didn't want to lie, either. "I don't go to any church." Katie watched his grin droop into a frown and added, "I used to go, but stopped a year ago, when my mother died." Now why did I say all that? she thought, irritated with herself. It's none of his business. But something about this rugged-looking man drew her, in spite of her every effort against that attraction.

"I'm sorry about your mother." The corners of Denver's mouth drooped even lower in sympathy. "I know what it's like to lose someone you love. If you--"

Just then, through the open window, Katie heard hoofbeats approaching the schoolhouse. Above the noise, a female voice shouted Denver's name.

What now? Katie wondered if the voice belonged to Lori Pianucci. Had the girl returned to tell Katie that Greg was worse and needed more of the schoolmarm's doctoring? But it didn't sound like Lori's voice.

"Excuse me," Denver said to Katie as he hurried his daughter out the door.

Katie followed them, still wondering to whom the frantic-sounding voice belonged. She heard the woman exclaim, "Thank God you are here, Denver! I rode to your house, but your housekeeper said I would find you here."

While Katie stood in the doorway, she watched as a young woman, who did not look more than three years older than Katie, and who looked as if she had bought her clothes from the most stylish shop in Philadelphia, perched sidesaddle on a sleek, brown horse. The woman's green, bloodshot eyes looked as if she had been crying.

Is she sick? Katie wondered, empathy squeezing her stomach. Then, Katie realized that perhaps Denver was this beautiful woman's beau, and something akin to jealousy gripped the schoolmarm's stomach even harder.

"Alexa!" Denver rushed toward the woman, his black, leather boots bumping prairie stones as he hurried. "Is he worse?"

"Much worse." Alexa tightened her hold on the reins with her right hand. With her left, she pulled a dainty, silken handkerchief from the pocket of her form fitting, yellow bodice with its accents of white braid. "Please hurry, Denver." From beneath Alexa's white, velvet riding hat flowed long, red hair like a horse's mane. With the handkerchief, the woman dabbed her eyes and answered Katie's unspoken question when she added, "If my husband dies, I just do not know what I will do."

Though Katie felt sorry for this Alexa, whose husband obviously was sick, she was relieved to know the woman already was married. But why should I care?

Turning toward Katie, Denver asked, "I hate to do this to you after your first day teaching here, Miss Shelton, but would you mind if Ivy stays at your home until I finish caring for Mrs. Winthrop's husband? I don't want the sight of his condition to worry my daughter. Usually I leave her with our housekeeper, but I don't have time to take Ivy home, right now."

Katie could not turn away any child. "Of course," she quickly replied. Anyhow, it would be nice to have company, instead of spending every hour in the shack alone with Earl who hadn't spoken since his beloved Minnie died. And with Katie's nearest neighbors a five-minute gallop away, the schoolmarm usually received no visitors to ease her loneliness. The only people who had knocked on her door since she and Pa moved here last month were the Pianucci children when one of the four of them or their parents needed Katie's healing skills.

As Denver and Alexa sped across the prairie, Katie headed toward the schoolhouse with Ivy. The room still needed straightening up before they hiked to the shack, where there would be cooking, cleaning, and no end of chores, but Katie was grateful for all the work because it kept her from dwelling on what had happened to her mother -- and on the bleakness of life with her silent father.

Tidying up the schoolhouse with Ivy's help, Katie still couldn't help wondering why Mrs. Winthrop had called her husband's doctor, "Denver," instead of "Doctor Holt." It wasn't proper for a married woman to be so familiar with a man to whom she was not wed. He and Mrs. Winthrop must be good friends, Katie decided. After all, he had said he and Ivy had lived in the area for four years. Still, she couldn't help wondering about the pair who had just ridden away together. Dr. Holt's wife had died, and now Mrs. Winthrop's husband was dying. What if....

No. Katie decided she shouldn't allow herself to think such improper thoughts. She banished them, along with the jealous feelings that had attacked her. She looked forward to having Ivy spend time with her at the shack. How wonderful to have company after a month alone with mute Pa. Only one thing now spoiled Katie's anticipation: If only Ivy's father wasn't Dr. Denver Holt. If only Katie didn't have to see him, again. If only....