The challenge was five stories, each story concerned with one of the five senses.
The stories do NOT need to match the graphic
Each story expands the tale of Sam's first few weeks in Sweetwater.
Seeing Is Believing Sight: Sam's eyes are finally opened when he comes to Sweetwater and he feels the blinders fall away when he meets a certain redhead.
Heartsong Sound: The sweet sounds of Emma are overpowered by the dull roar of a certain annoying woman. Can Sam get everyone in tune?
Common Sense Smell: Sam tries to fix what's rotten and hopefully help a family see that the solution is ripe.
A Taste of Home Taste: As they say, a way to a man's heart...
A Touch of Class Touch: Will Sam finally be able to make contact with Emma and scratch the surface of their feelings?
Seeing Is Believing

Marshal Sam Cain leaned against the pole outside his office looking out over the town – his town. He watched the people go about their business and it felt good. With the help of a few high-ranking friends in the government, he’d gotten this offer from the governor after hitting bottom. He’d seen what was waiting for him at the end if he continued on the path he was on and he didn’t want that. Looking towards the future and forgetting about the past, he’d gladly accepted the position. He’d been in Sweetwater for just over two weeks and had already proven his worth. He shook his head thinking about how busy those weeks had been.

In town for only two days, he’d been working the night duty and had stopped a trio of thieves from stealing horses out of the livery. It hadn’t been hard; the bumbling idiots had made enough noise to wake the town. All he’d done was yell causing them to drop the reins and run. However, his neighbors thought he was wonderful, particularly Mr. Link, the livery owner. After that, the man had praised Sam every time the two saw each other, sometimes a few times a day. And much to Sam’s embarrassment, Mr. Link was still doing so.

Sam’s next achievement happened at the beginning of his second week and made him feel more like a success. He’d saved a young boy by pulling him out of the path of a runaway wagon. Again, the town had just showered him with praises, going so far as to insist they give him a proper welcome; a celebration in his honor so he could meet everyone. And the Ladies Auxiliary was just the group to plan it.

That’s when he’d met her.

*~*~*~*~*

“Marshal Cain,” a strong female voice called from the front of the office.

Sam was in the back, looking through the supplies to see if they needed anything. “Be there in a minute,” he yelled, his head stuck inside the cabinet.

“We’d like to talk to you,” the same voice said, from behind him. Directly behind him.

Sam’s head jerked around and he saw five women standing there, staring at him. ‘How’d they get back here so fast?’ Four of the five were smiling at him with silly grins; but the one doing the talking, he supposed she was the leader, wasn’t smiling at all. In fact, to Sam she seemed a bit annoyed.

“Well, ladies,” he said politely, as he twisted around. He felt trapped with the small storage closet behind him. “Um, perhaps we could go back into the office.” He motioned with his hand hoping they would take the hint. All they did was move to the side just enough for him to squeeze through and walk towards the front. Shrugging slightly, he did and they dutifully followed.

Once at his desk, he turned to face the women and smiled. “What can I do for,” he looked down at the one who spoke, “uh, for you.”

At that moment – and he knew it sounded foolish – everything else fell away and all he saw was the face in front of him. He hadn’t felt this way in a long time. Ever since Jenny was murdered, he’d cut himself off from any type of feeling, happy or sad. It was easier to be bereft of any emotion, closing his eyes to everything around him. That was until now. Looking into this woman’s brown eyes, he saw in them a reason to feel something again.

“Marshal Cain,” the redhead said, looking up at him, “we're the Ladies Auxiliary and, um, we wish to speak to you, uh, about,” she seemed flustered, “about having a celebration in,” he saw her swallow, was she nervous? She cleared her throat and continued, “In your honor.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” Sam said, blushing, humbled by the idea. When he saw the other women’s faces fall and actually saw disappointment in those beautiful brown eyes in front of him, he added, “A simple gatherin’ would be nice but no need to honor me for anythin’. Just doin’ my job is all.” That put the smiles back on three of the women’s faces, but Mrs. Bricker looked slightly displeased, and her daughter’s face was blank.

“Alright,” the leader said, “it’ll be ‘gettin’ to know our new town marshal’ and we could plan it for the end of next week. How’s that?”

“That sounds just fine,” he said, grinning more than he had in years. As the ladies around the redhead giggled, even the Bricker women, and the group turned towards the door, Sam realized he didn’t know her name.

“Um, ma’am,” he said, hesitantly. When they all turned back, he smiled sheepishly. “I know Mrs. Bricker and her daughter Miss Eunice here.” He nodded towards the two ladies on his left, causing Miss Eunice to giggle harder and Mrs. Bricker to swat the girl’s arm. He smiled uneasily but continued, “Um, and I know Mrs. Felton and Mrs. Gibbs here,” he paused, looking at the ladies on his right who nodded and smiled. “But, I haven’t been introduced to you.” He raised his eyebrows hopefully.

“Oh this is Miss Shannon,” Mrs. Bricker informed him, in her usual intrusive way. “She doesn’t live here,” she looked at Sam and then her daughter, “Miss Shannon lives outside of town…far outside.” She raised her nose haughtily and nudged her daughter towards Sam. He unconsciously stepped back and turned his attention to Miss Shannon once more.

“Well, Miss Shannon,” he said, happily, with a big grin, “it is nice to meet ya’.” He moved towards the door and opened it for the ladies.

Smiling up at him, Mrs. Felton and Mrs. Gibbs wished him a good day and were the first out the door. He heard them immediately start talking about what all needed to be done to get the festivities underway. He turned to the three remaining women, who seemed rooted to their spots. Finally, much to his disappointment, Miss Shannon moved towards the door.

“Thank you for your time Marshal,” she said. She looked up at him, lingering for a moment until Mrs. Bricker cleared her throat. Miss Shannon blushed slightly and said, “Have a good day.” He watched her hurry to catch up with the other two women, feeling as if the sun had just set; the brightness that had entered his life was gone. But he was rewarded when she glanced back and gave him a small smile, which he returned. Again, Mrs. Bricker cleared her throat.

Rolling his eyes, he turned and faced the woman. “Ya’ know Mrs. Bricker, you really should get that checked, ya’ don’t wanna get sick with this celebration comin’ up.” He smiled holding the door for them. When Miss Eunice snorted and coughed, Sam was sure the young lady was stifling her laughter. He winked at her behind Mrs. Bricker’s back as the woman turned to glare at her daughter. All attention back on Sam, Mrs. Bricker crossed her arms over her chest – a commanding pose.

“Marshal Cain, you will need someone to accompany you to this event you know,” Mrs. Bricker said, using her elbow to nudge her daughter once more towards the marshal.

“Well, I figured I’d go alone so I could talk to ev’ryone,” Sam explained. “I’d hate to escort someone,” he looked at Miss Eunice and smiled, to which she giggled nervously, “and then have to ignore them because I was gettin’ to know the townsfolk.”

He smiled again, wider this time, hoping the woman would acquiesce. She stared at him for a moment, wearing a contemplative look. Sam knew she was weighing his excuse to make sure it was valid. When she nodded once, Sam figured it had appeased her and sighed inwardly. However, she wasn’t done and walked over to stand directly in front of him.

“Marshal Cain,” she said softly, “she may be called ‘miss’ but she’s not.” She reached over, grabbed her daughter’s hand, and practically dragged Miss Eunice out the door. Sam closed it behind them with a sigh. 'What was that supposed to mean?'

He walked two steps towards his desk and stopped short. Was that hateful biddy talking about Miss Shannon? Was she married? Sam turned back and stared out the window towards where Miss Shannon and the other ladies had gone, wondering why fate would play such a cruel trick as giving him a seed of feelings for a woman that couldn’t return them.

*~*~*~*~*

Sam scanned the sidewalk across the street, where Mr. Tompkins’ store was and where he knew she was walking. He’d learned her name, Emma, and had also learned that she wasn’t married. He’d asked his deputy, Barnett Hamilton, about it, knowing he didn’t have to worry about the man picking up on why he was asking the questions. The man was clumsy, slow, and a rather inept lawman, but Barnett had a good heart and he was a kind man. He’d told Sam all about Emma and where she lived.

Sam had set up a way to run into her a few days later and they talked briefly. He’d insisted she call him Sam because he hated all the formalities of using his title all the time, but his real reason was he wanted to get to know her more. She’d given him permission to call her Emma, which delighted him. It had been a short, somewhat awkward, meeting, both of them stammering and stuttering what they wanted to say. They probably could have just stood there staring at each other, reading everything in their eyes. He knew she felt the same about him as he did about her.

Smiling, he was aware that she was watching him at that moment so, looking in her direction, he nodded, touching his hat. He saw her return his smile with an alluring one of her own. He couldn’t wait for the celebration.

*~*~*~*~*

Sam Cain. He was all Emma could think of. It had been seven years since Evan had run off and she’d lost her baby. She’d cut herself off from any feelings of passion or affection. It was as if she didn’t see the would-be suitors, though a few had tried to coax her into a relationship but to no avail. A couple of years after Evan had left, William Tompkins, the gruff store owner, had tried to get her to go to a few of the dances with him. She had been pretty sure he’d done it only to cheer her up, for some reason he seemed to have a soft spot for her. She’d appreciated the thought but had refused, though she had attended alone and danced with him. She’d been perfectly happy to live out her life in her own home, just outside Sweetwater, and help her neighbors when they needed her. She was very sure she could have survived without ever laying eyes on Sam Cain.

But fate saw things differently.

*~*~*~*~*

Just over a week since their new marshal had arrived and already Emma was tired of hearing about how heroic he was. She didn’t begrudge the man his abilities. Just the day before, he had saved Timmy Sullivan from that crazy old Chester Diggs, who was always driving his wagon much too fast for the main street. But saving Mr. Link’s horses was a completely different situation. She knew that the supposed horse thieves were the three Bricker boys. This delighted her to no end, since their mother was so overbearing and condescending to the other people in town, even more so to those that lived outside of town. However, no one told the marshal this and Mr. Link praised Marshal Cain as if he’d been sainted.

Sighing, she listened to the other women on the Ladies Auxiliary committee drone on and on about how the town really should honor Marshal Cain. Tired of the discussion, Emma said, “Does it really have to honor him? Why not just have somethin’ –”

“Miss Shannon,” Ethel Bricker said, stressing Emma’s name, “He’s done this town a great service in the short amount of time he’s been here. Not only what he did for,” she looked down her nose at Nelly Sullivan, “Mrs. Sullivan’s little boy, but what about Silas George?” She smiled smugly. “So I believe we’re all in agreement, or am I mistaken?”

Emma knew Ethel’s game and was more than equal to play. “Actually, that’s why we should have this just so the marshal can get to know the people. All this flattery is prob’ly makin’ him uncomfortable.” She paused, letting the other women think about this. “I do agree that he’s done a great deal but doesn’t that go along with the badge?” Again she paused, looking around at the other women. She saw Charlotte Felton and Ann Gibbs, her two best friends, nodding their agreement.

“‘Sides, Nelly here,” Emma smiled at Timmy’s mother, a sweet, quiet woman, “has thanked the marshal with one of her wonderful chocolate cakes. I’m not sure we can compete with that.” She received the laughter she was trying for, as well as the other women murmuring their approval to Nelly.

“And,” Emma stressed the word, “I think what he did for Silas was also in his line of duty. He is to protect the town and, in order to do that, he should visit those people that live farther out. No matter how others disagree.” She eyed Ethel but kept her smile. Ethel was always dismissing people who lived outside of town as if they were strangers.

Finally it was time for Emma to drop the last point. “And, I’m pretty sure the horse thieves won’t be back anytime soon.” She looked directly at Mrs. Bricker and smiled sweetly. “Do you?”

Mrs. Bricker bristled, her back set rigid. “I still think we should suggest this to the marshal.” She patted her daughter Eunice on the leg. “Eunice here is becoming very friendly with Marshal Cain.” Eunice sat wide-eyed, staring vacantly at the other women.

Emma did feel sorry for the girl. She had no hope of growing into a strong woman because her mother was such a dominate force in their family. Her three brothers seemed useless and her father was so bullied that the man spent most of his time either at the bank where he clerked or the saloon. Realizing Ethel wouldn’t let this go, Emma said, “Fine, if the board goes to Marshal Cain with this idea will that satisfy you Ethel?” Emma already knew it would and that the woman would think she’d won.

Ethel smiled triumphantly and nodded. So the five women on the board, Charlotte Felton, Ann Gibbs, Emma, Ethel Bricker and her daughter Eunice, set off for the marshal’s office. Emma walked with Charlotte and Ann, both of whom had sung the marshal’s praises but had also agreed with Emma. Perhaps having a celebration for a man that was just doing his job was a bit odd.

On their way to the jail, Emma spotted the deputy. “Barnett, is the marshal in his office?” She figured it would be better to find out he wasn’t there than have to do this.

“Um, yes ma’am, Miss Shannon,” he muttered, glancing shyly at Eunice. “He’s doin’ paperwork.” He ducked his head when Eunice smiled at him.

Emma thought this was sweet but saw Ethel squeeze Eunice’s hand hard enough to make the girl wince. Emma was ready to scold the woman but Charlotte said, “Thank you Deputy,” and continued walking towards the jail, forcing Emma to follow her.

“Emma,” Charlotte whispered, “I know what you were gonna say but it’s best to just stay outta Ethel Bricker’s way.”

Emma shook her head. She was so weary of the town closing their eyes to people like Ethel Bricker. She wanted to make everyone see just how wrong the woman was; unfortunately for Emma she might have to accept that the townsfolk were wearing blinders and refused to see and do anything about it. If Ethel’s own husband wouldn’t or couldn’t handle her then what hope did the town have?

Reaching the marshal’s office, Ethel barged to the front of the group and opened the door. Walking inside, the women looked around. No one was there.

“Looks like he’s not here,” Eunice said, meekly.

Emma was sure the young woman wanted to run. She never understood why Ethel had forced her daughter to be on the board, as well as forced her onto the board members. Ethel took a seat, as if to wait as long as it took, and motioned sternly for Eunice to sit as well. Emma shook her head.

“Marshal Cain,” she called.

“Be there in a minute,” a deep voice yelled from the back.

Ethel scurried out of her chair, tugging on Eunice’s arm. Knowing that the woman would bombard the marshal, pushing her daughter at him, Emma maneuvered her way in front of Ethel, as the woman finally got Eunice out of her chair. Grunting her disgust, Ethel shoved Eunice in front of her and followed Emma, with Charlotte and Ann behind them.

“We’d like to talk to you,” she said, as they stood behind him. Ethel pushed to get a better vantage and nearly caused Emma to fall into the marshal’s back. The look Emma gave Ethel made the woman shrink away.

The marshal’s head jerked around and Emma saw the surprised experssion on his face as he stared at them. Emma knew he was probably overwhelmed since they stood practically on top of him. She glanced around and saw that the other women had silly grins on their faces. Sighing inwardly, she looked back at the marshal.

“Well, ladies,” he said politely, as he twisted around. “Um, perhaps we could go back into the office.” He held his hand out for them to proceed.

Emma was about to walk ahead when she saw the others move to the side for him to walk first. She was mortified. He was being gentlemanly and they were acting like complete ninnies, even Charlotte and Ann. He shrugged slightly and walked towards his desk. The four women followed behind him like puppy dogs. Emma groaned inwardly but followed as well.

As the marshal got to his desk, he turned to face them and smiled. “What can I do for,” he paused and Emma saw he was looking at her, “uh, for you.”

Emma suddenly realized that she hadn’t actually seen the marshal up close since she’d never really been introduced. He’d always been at a distance. She’d been away visiting some friends when he’d arrived and had never come by to introduce herself. Perhaps unknowingly she’d kept herself away because of how she’d possibly react to him after everything she’d heard from her friends and neighbors.

At that moment – and she knew it sounded foolish – everything else fell away and all she saw was the face in front of her. She felt a burning sensation inside her and knew it was her heart coming out of a very long sleep. She’d closed her eyes to everything around her. That was until now. Looking into this man’s blue eyes, she saw in them a reason to feel something again.

“Marshal Cain,” she said, looking up at him. “We are the Ladies Auxiliary and, um, we wish to speak to you, uh, about…about having a celebration in,” she swallowed nervously and cleared her throat, “in your honor.”

“Oh, that’s not necessary,” he said, blushing.

He seemed uncomfortable by the idea and even though she had just been proven right, she was actually disappointed. She wanted to honor this man for what he’d done for Sweetwater. She looked up and saw his expression seemed to change from embarrassment to worry. ‘Why would he be worried?’

He quickly added, “A simple gatherin’ would be nice but no need to honor me for anythin’. Just doin’ my job is all.”

Emma smiled. He’d been worried about letting them down. “Alright,” she said, “it’ll be ‘gettin’ to know our new town marshal’ and we could plan it for the end of next week. How’s that?”

“That sounds just fine,” he said, grinning broadly.

Emma found herself wanting to see him smile more often. She heard the other ladies giggle and closed her eyes momentarily so she wouldn’t roll them. When she opened them, she saw he was still smiling at her. Blushing, she turned towards the door, as did the other women.

“Um, ma’am,” he said, hesitantly.

Everyone turned to look at him. Emma realized he again was looking at her and was specifically talking to her.

“I know Mrs. Bricker and her daughter Miss Eunice here.” Emma saw him nod towards Ethel and Eunice, causing Eunice to giggle harder. Emma almost laughed at the nervous smile on his face. “Uh, and I know Mrs. Felton and Mrs. Gibbs here,” he looked at Charlotte and Ann, who looked at Emma with bemused smiles. The blush on her face deepened. “But, I haven’t been introduced to you.”

“Oh this is Miss Shannon,” Ethel said snidely. Emma hated how she used her formal name. She was one of the few people in town, unfortunately for Emma, who knew what had happened to her. “She doesn’t live in town.” Emma watched Ethel look at the marshal and then at Eunice. “Miss Shannon lives outside of town…far outside.” She raised her nose haughtily and nudged her daughter towards Marshal Cain. Emma was again mortified by the actions of this woman. But the marshal took a step back and looked at Emma.

“Well, Miss Shannon,” he said, with a crooked, boyish grin, “it is nice to meet ya’.” She glanced over and saw the shocked look on Ethel’s face. She felt like laughing but followed him as he moved towards the door and opened it for them.

Charlotte and Ann were the first out the door, nodding to Marshal Cain and wishing him a good day. Emma could hear them planning the festivities immediately. When he turned towards her and the Brickers, Emma had hoped that Ethel would follow the other two but the woman stood firm. Ethel actually looked challengingly at Emma. This time Emma rolled her eyes at the woman and was rewarded by a slight gasp. Eventually though, she gave in and walked towards the door, knowing Ethel would stay there for spite.

“Thank you for your time Marshal,” she said. She looked up at him, lingering for a moment until Ethel cleared her throat. Sighing inwardly, she added, “Have a good day.”

Once out the door, she hurried over to Charlotte and Ann.

“Well,” Charlotte murmured, “seems our new marshal has eyes for a certain redhead.”

Emma ducked her head, a small smile appearing on her face at the thought. She looked back and saw he was still watching her. Turning back to her friends, she said, “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” Ann echoed, incredulously. “We all saw how he looked at you and couldn’t take his eyes off you.”

Emma giggled, feeling light for the first time in years. “Ethel may have somethin’ to say about that.”

The three laughed and headed towards Tompkins’ to figure out what was needed for the festivities.

*~*~*~*~*

A few days later, Emma ran into the marshal. He’d insisted she call him Sam something about doing away with all the marshal nonsense. She giggled and returned the informality by giving him leave to call her Emma. The conversation was a bit awkward because of all the breaks and pauses; it seemed that they just couldn’t get the words out that they wanted to say. However, if their eyes could talk, their mouths wouldn’t be needed. She saw all the hope he had in his eyes and she knew hers reflected that.

She stood staring in his direction, lost in thought, when she saw him looking right back at her. He smiled charmingly, nodded, and touched the brim of his hat. She grinned slyly in return. She couldn’t wait for the celebration.

Heartsong

Sam enjoyed listening to the banter of the townsfolk. It not only made his day, but it also was full of helpful information. He learned tidbits that aided him in getting to know his neighbors and going about his duties. The best time was when the Kline sisters, Sarah and Lucy, were around. They easily were the most extensive and dependable in the gossip department. The two women were sweet, nothing malicious was ever discussed, and Sam appreciated the way the women cared so much about the town.

The problem was how uncomfortable he felt about eavesdropping but he needed to, no matter how much it made him feel as if he were prying, because the people still seemed to not want to bother him. This exasperated him to no end. If no one told him about something, how would he know to do anything about it? It made sense to him but the town hadn’t grasped this concept.

Not that they wouldn’t tell him about emergencies, but it was the smaller things he wanted to know about, the things the town felt they could take care of themselves. During the first week he was in Sweetwater, he’d found out, standing outside Tompkins’ store (always a hotbed of information gathering) that Silas George had hurt his leg and was laid up in his home. The old man lived alone a few miles outside of the town. Sam had already known his neighbors were going by to check on Silas but he’d felt it was his job to do so as well. So Sam had made it a point to either go by himself or have one of his two deputies go out there, just to make sure the older man was safe.

He’d also found out that his horse thieves had been the three Bricker boys, Ethan, Daniel and Thomas. He’d decided not to do anything about it and stored the information away for future use. He’d figured having that bit of knowledge could come in handy, considering how much Mrs. Bricker liked to throw her weight around. It also helped that he’d caught Ethan trying to steal a saddle – Sam’s saddle. He chuckled to himself thinking of how stupid you had to be trying to steal the saddle from the marshal’s horse.

Thus, Sam had been traveling the gossip circuit every day since, two or three times a day; which is what he was doing as he walked slowly down the sidewalk, taking in all the sounds of Sweetwater. He heard Gustav Bahr’s hammer slamming down on his anvil; accompanied by the snorts and whinnies from the horses waiting for shoes. He waved to the big, burly man.

“Samuel!” Gustav called. “You doing well, yah?”

Sam nodded. “Sure am. Hows ‘bout yourself?”

“Cannot complain!” Gustav added a deep, jovial laugh that made Sam join in. “You be safe!” He turned back to hammering.

Sam continued on but the sounds around him began to diminish and the ones in his mind took over. A deep, melodic voice, that reminded him of sorghum slowly pouring out of a bottle. A husky laugh that sent shivers down his spine. Those were the sounds that surrounded him, playing over and over in his mind. The sounds of Emma. He heard her saying his name. “Sam.” The first time she’d said it was just a few days ago and it had become like a chant in his head. His ears ached to hear her sound – a word, a laugh, a sigh – her voice.

There was still a few days until the dance and he was getting antsy. He’d enjoyed watching her as she’d shopped the day before, and the intimate smiles they’d exchanged, but he couldn’t continue doing that in public. It wasn’t proper and he didn’t want to do anything to hurt Emma’s standing in the town. He sighed. “I guess I’ll keep the melodies in my head,” he muttered.

“Marshal Cain!”

Sam whirled around with his hand on his gun ready for trouble. Huffing out a breath, he glared at his deputy. “Barnett!” he snapped. “That’ll get ya’ shot one day if ya’ ain’t careful!”

“We gotta do somethin’,” Barnett gasped out, ignoring the warning.

“About?” Sam’s expression changed to concern. Barnett, most always a mellow man, sometimes to the point of being comatose, was on the edge. He seemed very anxious about something.

“Miss Eunice!”

“Whaddabout her?” Sam asked. He was losing his patience. His good mood was fading fast and he didn’t want to stand there all day trying to drag this out of Barnett. If someone was in danger, they needed to do something fast.

“She’s gone!”

Confused, Sam stared at Barnett. “Gone? Ya’ mean Mrs. Bricker sent her away?”

“DO SOMETHING!”

Sam stepped back. Though he’d only been there a couple of weeks, he’d never heard Barnett raise his voice. Fact was, Sam usually had to tell the deputy to speak up. Putting his hand on the younger man’s arm, Sam motioned towards the office across the street. Without a word, they walked quickly to the jail.

Once inside, Sam pulled out a chair and gently pushed Barnett into it. He put his hat on his desk and took Barnett’s hat and placed it beside his. The deputy seemed in a trance, a terrified look on his face. This was actually scaring Sam, particularly since this was coming from this quiet, gentle man.

“Now,” Sam said softly, sitting on the edge of his desk, “tell me what’s goin’ on.”

Barnett sighed heavily and raked a hand through his hair. “Well,” he mumbled, blushing, “I been visitin’ with Miss Eunice for ‘bout a month now.” He ducked his head in embarrassment. “I know it’s wrong, ‘specially with what Mrs. Bricker thinks of me but…”

“Forget about Mrs. Bricker right now,” Sam said, “just tell me about Miss Eunice.”

“We got a secret spot a bit outside a’ town,” he said, a small smile played on his lips as he thought about it. Shaking his head, he continued, “We jus’ go there an’ talk.” He looked up at Sam. “Nothin’ else I swear. You gotta believe me. I’d never do nothin’ to compromise Miss Eunice; she’s too special for that.”

Sam nodded his head. “I believe ya’. Does Mrs. Bricker know?” Sam figured the answer to that might solve the whole mystery.

“I don’t rightly know,” Barnett murmured. “Mrs. Bricker really wants Miss Eunice an’…” he glanced down at the ground and then up at Sam, “you together. She’s wanted that from the day ya’ walked in here.”

Sam sighed. “I was afraid of that.”

He’d actually heard, during his walks, people talking about how Mrs. Bricker was determined to get Sam and Eunice together. Ethel Bricker had always felt that no one in Sweetwater was good enough for her daughter – that was, until Sam came to town.

“I hated ya’ at first,” Barnett admitted. “But then I saw that ya’ seemed to not even notice Miss Eunice and –”

“Barnett,” Sam said, “Miss Eunice’s –”

“Oh, I ain’t faultin’ ya’,” Barnett assured, “I’m actually glad ya’ didn’t.” He grinned for the first time since meeting up with Sam outside. But the smile turned wistful. “Eunice ain’t the most beautiful woman, people prob’ly think she’s a bit plain. But I think she’s wonderful.” He paused, staring down at his hands, lost in thought. After a moment, he looked up at Sam. “It’s like, there’s this song two people share that they can only hear and it’s only meant for them. Well, I hear her song and she hears mine.” As soon as that was out of his mouth, his eyes went wide and he turned a deep red.

Sam was startled by the poetic way Barnett had described how two people were drawn together. He felt a lump form in his throat. It explained everything. “I understand,” Sam said softly, reaching out to pat his deputy on the shoulder. ‘More than you know.’ Sam leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest. He really wondered how much of this had to do with Mrs. Ethel Bricker. “Go on.”

“Anyway,” Barnett said, encouraged by Sam, “then ya’ started askin’ all kinds a’ questions ‘bout Miss Shannon, so I figured ya’d set yer eyes on her. She’s right purty.”

Sam blushed. All this time, he’d thought Barnett was none the wiser about the questions. Sam had thought he was being so subtle. He chuckled. “So what happened that makes ya’ think Miss Eunice’s gone?”

“Well…we can’t meet ev’ryday, her ma would get suspicious,” Barnett said, a hard tone creeping into his voice. “So we set it up that we’d meet ev’ry three days. Well,” he paused, swallowing hard, “today is the third day an’ she wasn’t there.”

Sam released the breath he was holding. He’d been expecting to hear that Barnett had found something making him think there’d been foul play. “Maybe she couldn’t get away.”

“No, that’s not it,” Barnett insisted. “I know she’s in trouble.”

“She’s not.”

Sam and Barnett both looked up and saw Emma standing there. Sam couldn’t stop his smile from forming, even with the circumstances, and he saw her blush slightly, a small smile appearing on her face.

“What’s happened?” Barnett demanded, jumping out of his seat.

Sam could tell Barnett was ready to ride into hell for the young woman so Sam stood up in case he had to stop the deputy from leaving.

Emma sobered, walking over to stand in front of the man. “Barnett,” she said softly, placing her gloved hand on his arm, “she’s at my place.”

“What happened?” Barnett asked again, this time in almost a whisper.

“She’s safe…but she had a fight with her ma and,” Emma paused, glancing over at Sam, “Mrs. Bricker slapped her.”

Barnett sucked in a breath and clenched his teeth. Before he said anything, Emma held up her hand. “It’s not bad, scared her more than injured her.”

Barnett dropped back onto the chair, whether from relief or anxiety, Sam wasn’t sure. The deputy looked imploringly up at Sam. “Sam, we gotta help her.” He glanced down at the ground before looking back into Sam’s eyes. “I gotta help her. This’s my fault.”

Sam shook his head. “Barnett this ain’t your fault. If anyone’s to blame it’s Mrs. Bricker.” He looked at Emma. “Whaddabout her pa?”

Emma shrugged. “As far as I can tell, Peter’s never been able to stand up to Ethel but in this case, who knows. He’s at the bank now.”

Sam’s brow furrowed as he thought about the next step. Finally, he sighed and said, “Well, there’s not a lot we can do.” He saw the stricken look on Barnett’s face and felt guilty for putting it there. He grunted in resignation. “I’ll go talk to Mr. Bricker and see if we can figure somethin’ out.”

Barnett jumped up and grabbed Sam’s hand, shaking it vigorously. “Thank ya’ Sam, thank ya’ very much.”

As Barnett nearly shook Sam’s hand off, Sam knew all the man wanted was to see Eunice and make sure she was okay. “Emma, before he takes my hand off, would ya’ take Barnett to see Miss Eunice?”

Grinning sheepishly, Barnett dropped Sam’s hand, and grabbed his hat off the desk. He was by the door and waiting for Emma before either Emma or Sam could speak. Emma smiled and nodded. “Sam, take it easy on Peter. He’s had to put up with a lot for a long time.”

“I can only imagine,” Sam said, nodding. “But he shoulda’ done somethin’ well b’fore now.” He and Emma looked at each other for a moment longer, and right then he really did know what Barnett was talking about. He heard the song playing strong in his heart.

“Um,” Barnett hemmed, impatiently bouncing back forth on his feet.

That broke the gaze and Emma nervously smoothed back her hair. “We’ll be at my place if ya’ need to talk to Eunice.”

Nodding, Sam moved towards the door. “Dependin’ on what Mr. Bricker says, I may be by.”

Sam stood in the doorway as Emma and Barnett rushed to Emma’s wagon and Barnett helped her onto the seat. Hurrying to his horse, he snatched the reins from the post, grabbed the pommel, and pulled his lanky body onto the saddle. The horse could sense Barnett’s impatience and the animal pranced restlessly around as rider and horse waited for Emma to get moving. With one last look back, and one last smile, Emma snapped the reins getting the wagon moving.

Sam watched the wagon roll away, led by his lovesick deputy. The song was fading but he could still hear it playing. He ducked into the office, grabbed his hat, and headed to the bank. This situation needed to be settled now, before it hurt anyone else and ruined everything.

Common Sense

“Marshal!”

Sam was on his way over to the bank when he heard from behind the grating voice of Mrs. Bricker. Slowly he turned towards the woman but didn’t move. He waited for her to come to him. “Yes Mrs. Bricker?”

“I demand you do something this instance!” She marched up to him, her heels clicking against the wood. “Your deputy has kidnapped my daughter!” She said it loud enough for everyone around them to hear.

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “I think ya’ should lower your voice Mrs. Bricker.”

“I will not!” she insisted, as she stomped her feet in place and faced him. “This is your fault!” She poked him in the chest with her finger.

Sam took a deep breath and was assaulted by the smells. It was as if the woman couldn’t quite decide what flower she wanted to smell like so she put everything on – lilac, rose, lavender, honeysuckle (or so Sam thought) and some Sam didn’t even recognize. Blowing out through pursed lips, he was trying very hard to keep a tight rein on his temper. He glanced over Mrs. Bricker’s shoulder and saw the Kline sisters whispering to each other. That was all he needed. “I seriously think we should take this elsewhere.”

“I don’t care if I embarrass you,” she said, snidely, her hands fisted on her hips. “The people in this town need to know how you led my daughter into thinking you cared for her when all along you were having trysts with that Shannon woman!”

That was it. No one, particularly this insufferable woman, was going to insinuate that Emma would do anything of the sort. Sam took hold of Mrs. Bricker’s arm and forcefully escorted her towards the bank. “I think we need to include your husband in this Mrs. Bricker. Please come with me.”

Sam heard Mrs. Bricker gasp when his hand clamped around her upper arm. He saw that she had to run to keep up with his long strides but he didn’t care, and he didn’t slow down. He found it funny every time she uttered one of the many sharp grunts of surprise and shock on the way. He knew a small crowd had gathered behind them and was now following but he didn’t care about that either. If it meant resolving this entire foolish situation, and keeping Emma’s name from slander, he’d call the entire town out to witness.

Finally reaching the bank’s entrance, Sam released Mrs. Bricker’s arm. He opened the door for her to enter but she just stood there, nose in the air, refusing to budge. He leaned towards her so she was the only one that could hear him. “I’ll throw ya’ over my shoulder if ya’ don’t get in there.” When she smirked in disbelief, he added, “I’ll do it and I’m sure ev’ryone here will get a good laugh.”

He looked over at the people, at least a dozen, who surrounded them. She followed his gaze and, to his satisfaction, her eyes widened. She turned back to him and glared. Lifting her nose higher in the air, she marched through the door like she owned the place. Rolling his eyes, Sam followed and closed the door behind them. To make sure no one else followed, he locked the door and pulled down the door shade. When he also drew the shades on the large window, he heard a few grumbles of dissatisfaction and chuckled.

Removing his hat as he walked into the room, he immediately noticed how the place smelled. A flood of differing odors – ink, paper, starch, and other smells that made Sam feel confined. The thought of a job that kept you inside all day was unthinkable to him. He yearned for the outdoors when he was stuck in his office doing paperwork, and that wasn’t close to the amount of time these men stayed in. At that moment, Sam wished he was outside, with the crisp, sweet-smelling breeze blowing as he rode his horse, far away from town towards a certain destination, but at that moment that wasn’t an option. Resolved to his duty, Sam saw that there weren’t any other customers, which was good for them.

Sam watched as Mrs. Bricker went directly to Mr. Charles, the bank manager, and demanded, “Get my husband out here, now.”

Mr. Charles, a gracious and friendly man, stared nonplussed at Mrs. Bricker for a moment and then looked at Sam. “Marshal, what can I do for you?”

Sam smiled at the man’s indifference to the woman. He chuckled when Mrs. Bricker snorted her indignation at Mr. Charles ignoring her. “If it ain’t a bother, I’d like to speak to Mr. Bricker.”

“Certainly Marshal,” Mr. Charles said.

The bank manager walked to the backroom and stuck his head inside. Mr. Bricker appeared instantly, a smile on his face. When he saw Sam – and his wife – the smile faltered. He cautiously approached the two. “Um, Marshal,” he said, hesitantly, “is there a –”

“Why are you talking to him?” Mrs. Bricker screeched. “Why are you asking him? You should be asking me!”

“Uh, yes, well, um,” Mr. Bricker stammered.

“Mr. Charles,” Sam said, before Mrs. Bricker could say anything. When she opened her mouth to interrupt, Sam held up his finger and shook his head. She clamped her mouth closed, forcing her lips into a thin, white line. Mr. Bricker looked at Sam in awe.

“Now,” Sam resumed, “Mr. Charles? Ya’ think we could we use your backroom? I’d rather not take this to the jail, especially since a few people are waitin’ outside.”

Puzzled, Mr. Charles walked to the window and pulled the shade back slightly. He saw that there were, indeed, a few people outside. Quite a few, in fact. His lips quirking, he turned back to Sam. “Why yes, Marshal. Go right ahead.”

Sam grinned knowing Mr. Charles wasn’t sure whether to frown or smile. He stepped aside and held his hand out so Mrs. Bricker would precede him. As was always her way, she lifted her nose up in the air and, when she walked by her husband, she grabbed his arm and pulled him with her. Sam watched, both amused and disgusted by the scene. Turning back to Mr. Charles, Sam said, “I doubt that woman can smell a thing with her nose stuck up so high.” Mr. Charles coughed politely to cover his laugh so the couple wouldn’t hear him.

However, he did lean close to Sam and said, “She’s walked like that for so long, I’m not sure she could breathe if she lowered her head.”

Sam chuckled and slapped the man on his back. He headed to the backroom but before walking in he turned to Mr. Charles. “Oh, I locked the door so those folks wouldn’t be followin’ me in here. Sorry ‘bout that.”

“That’s fine; anyone that needs something can wait. This is official business.”

Sam appreciated Mr. Charles’ sense of duty as he headed to the back. It would help him, while questioning the Brickers, if there weren’t people loitering around, hoping to get a peek at what was going on. He wasn’t looking forward to this conversation in the least. Sam tried to stay out of people’s personal lives and how they handled their family, especially since he wasn’t able to do anything. If it wasn’t against the law, his hands were tied. Personally, he didn’t like it when people mistreated their children or men hit their wives but there was nothing he could do. Taking a deep breath, he walked into the room. Mrs. Bricker was standing over Mr. Bricker, her mouth moving a mile a minute, as he sat, head down, in a chair.

“Mr. Bricker, do ya’ know what happened b’tween your daughter and your wife?” Sam asked, thus ending Mrs. Bricker browbeating her husband.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Mr. Bricker said, quietly. His expression was confused but Sam detected a hint of concern.

“You do not know what you are talking about,” Mrs. Bricker insisted. Sam saw her face turn red and wondered if it was from anger or shame. He decided he was on the right track.

“Mrs. Bricker seems to think that Miss Eunice has been kidnapped by my deputy.”

“Barnett?” Mr. Bricker asked, incredulously. He smiled at the thought. “I can’t see him doing anything like that. He’s always been so nice –”

“Nice?” Mrs. Bricker blustered. “Because of Marshal Cain here, this supposedly nice man has filled our daughter’s mind with horrible ideas!”

Mr. Bricker turned to his wife. “Exactly what has happened?”

Mrs. Bricker flushed a deeper red. “I discovered that Eunice has,” her lip curled into a sneer, “feelings for that man.”

Mr. Bricker stood and took a few steps forward, hands on his hips and his back to his wife. “What happened?” His voice was low and Sam distinctly heard the edge to it. Though annoyed that it took this much to get the man’s attention, Sam was pleased that it appeared Mr. Bricker was going to do something about it.

“Well, I, um, she,” Mrs. Bricker stammered as she nervously smoothed her skirt and clasped her hands together.

“Ethel,” Mr. Bricker said, turning to face her finally. His expression was like stone.

Suddenly Sam felt very uncomfortable and offered, “Um, folks I’ll just wait –”

“No, Marshal, please stay,” Mr. Bricker said, softly, his eyes not moving from his wife. “Since you’re name seems to be among those with whom my wife finds fault when it comes to this, I believe you have every right to hear those charges.” He finally looked at Sam. “Isn’t that how the law works?” He smiled confidently.

“Fair enough,” Sam said, shrugging and returning the man’s smile.

“Now,” Mr. Bricker continued, turning once more to his wife, “Ethel, why do you think this is Marshal Cain’s fault?” As Mrs. Bricker took a breath to respond, Mr. Bricker held up his hand and stopped her. “And please don’t say that he enticed Eunice into thinking there was hope for them. You did that, not the marshal.” He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

Mrs. Bricker’s mouth fell open in surprise. She tried to recover and think of something to say but only ended up opening and closing her mouth like a fish.

“As for Barnett kidnapping Eunice,” he said, “I know that’s false.” He sighed, his shoulders sagging just a bit. “How did you find out that Barnett and Eunice have been meeting?”

Mrs. Bricker snapped out of her shock. “You know about this?” To Sam, her tone sounded more hurt than accusatory.

“Yes,” Mr. Bricker said as he walked to stand in front of her, “she’s a grown woman now; you have to allow her to find her own happiness.”

“But I want her happy,” Mrs. Bricker whined, her eyes full of hurt.

“No, you want her perfect,” Mr. Bricker said. “And you want the perfect man for her and the perfect life.” He sighed heavily and shook his head. “Ethel, there is no perfect anything. As much as you want the marshal here to marry Eunice, he’s not perfect either.” With a sideways glance at Sam, he smiled. “No offense Marshal.” To which, Sam raised his hand to indicate he was fine.

“Why are you saying this?” Ethel said her tone snippy.

“Because, it’s true,” her husband said, putting his hands up to take her arms but stopping just short. “You haven’t always been like this, Ethel. I want the woman I married back.”

The shock on her face was palpable and Sam squirmed slightly in discomfort.

“You have to stop.” Again, he held up his hand to stop Mrs. Bricker’s argument. “I won’t have you interfering anymore in the lives of our children.” He turned to Sam. “Marshal, I’m sorry about my sons. If you feel they need to be put in jail –”

“Stop Peter!” Mrs. Bricker pleaded, holding her hand out in supplication. “They’ve done nothing to warrant putting them in jail!”

“Ma’am I’m sorry,” Sam said, “but I know they’re the ones that tried to steal the horses my first week here.” He truly felt bad when he saw the devastation on her face. She’d tried so hard to put up such a front and now that it was crumbling down, her strength was leaving her. He paused, debating on whether to continue with the latest bit of news but decided it was best to get everything out. “And, a few days ago, I caught Ethan tryin’ to steal a saddle.”

“How do you know it wasn’t his,” she said, grasping at the last bits of their status in town, refusing to let go of the reputation she’d worked so hard on building.

“Ma’am, it was from my horse.” Sam glanced away as her eyes teared up. When Mr. Bricker moved, Sam saw him tenderly put his arm around his wife. Watching this scene, Sam truly understood Barnett’s point about couples and made him eager to see Emma.

“Well, I’ll leave you folks alone,” Sam said, as he put his hat back on his head. Turning to leave, he remembered, “Um, Eunice is at Miss Shannon’s,” he ignored the unpleasant expression on Mrs. Bricker’s face. “Barnett’s out there too. I’m ridin’ out now and I’d like to tell them that everythin’s okay…is it?”

“Yes Marshal,” Mr. Bricker answered, “I believe it is.”

Sam opened the door and walked a few steps out into the main office. It had gotten very stuffy in the small room with the three of them, tempers high, so Sam took a deep, cleansing breath. As he started towards the front, he felt a hand on his arm. It was Mr. Bricker.

“Marshal, I want to thank you for…well, for taking an interest in my family like this. I guess I just lost all control and let things get away from me for so long that I thought all was lost. It took something right under my nose to make me wake up and it truly smells sweet.” He smiled broadly and stuck his hand out towards Sam. “I’m sorry.”

Sam willingly shook the man’s hand. “Things can happen but you’ve got a good family.” When Mr. Bricker gave Sam a wry smile, Sam laughed. “You do. Your boys would never be successful as thieves so get them into somethin’ else.” A thought popped into his head and he added, “Ya’ know, I could use a boy around the office. Sweepin’ up, doin’ simple chores and maintenance. D’ya’ think Ethan would be interested?” Sam figured if he could get the eldest boy involved in law-abiding work, the other two would follow.

Mr. Bricker’s face lit up but before he could say anything, a soft voice came from behind him. “When should he start?”

The two men turned to see Mrs. Bricker wiping her eyes with a handkerchief. She still had a slightly annoyed look on her face but Sam decided this was a start. “How ‘bout tomorrow?”

“That’s fine,” Mr. Bricker said, smiling at his wife as Mr. Charles walked up.

“Um, Peter,” Mr. Charles said, “why don’t you take the day. We don’t have any pressing matters to attend so I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“If it’s not a problem,” Mr. Bricker said, “I would appreciate that.”

“No, you and your lovely wife run along,” Mr. Charles said, smiling at Mrs. Bricker, who had yet to look up.

“Thank you sir,” Mr. Bricker said. He guided his wife to the door, grabbed his coat and hat from the brass rack, and opened the door. He looked back, gave Sam and Mr. Charles a grateful smile, and escorted his wife outside.

Sam caught a quick glimpse as the Brickers left and saw that the people who’d gathered outside had given up and had gone about their business. Relieved of that fact, he turned to Mr. Charles. “Thank ya’ very much.”

“No, thank you Marshal Cain,” Mr. Charles said, a knowing smile crossing the man’s face.

Sam blushed slightly. He never took to praise, whether overt or subtle. To him it was doing his job. “Well, I’ll be on my way.”

He almost ran to the door. He couldn’t wait to get outside, into the open space, breathing in the natural smells. The backroom had been suffocatingly small, worse than the main area. Opening the door, he inhaled deeply the aroma of Sweetwater. He now wanted to get to one particular smell, a clean smell of lilac water and soap – Emma’s smell.

Hurrying to his horse, he jumped on and set the animal running in the direction of Emma’s place. There were some people there that were waiting for some good news.

A Taste of Home

Sam didn’t mind the night duty. In fact, he sometimes preferred it. It gave him time alone to think. He usually was able to resolve any issues he had or solve any problems that he couldn’t get to during the day. This night, as he leaned back in his chair, was a little different. He wasn’t supposed to have the night shift. He smiled as he propped his feet up on his desk and reveled in the peace and quiet.

Three days earlier he’d thought that peace would be damaged beyond repair. Mrs. Bricker had not only accused Barnett of kidnapping her daughter, but Sam of beguiling the young woman, breaking her heart, and of having dalliances with Emma. Sam had been pretty sure that if these accusations got out, Barnett would be arrested, Sam would lose his job but worse, Emma would be smeared for life in the small town. However, Sam had actually contained the predicament and only a handful of people really knew what had happened. Now, Barnett was having dinner at the Brickers’ home and Mrs. Bricker seemed to be actually trying.

Stretching, he sat his feet on the ground and reached for his coffee. Taking a sip, he spit it out. “Ugh,” he grunted. “Cold coffee.”

Grumbling, he got up, stretched again, popping his weary joints, and walked over to the stove. He picked up the cloth beside the pot and grasped the handle. As he poured the steaming brew, the wonderful smell greeted his nose. “Ah Ethan,” he murmured as he placed the pot back and waved the cup under his nose. Even though it was very hot, he took a small sip. He couldn’t help it, he was so excited about what he’d experience. The steaming liquid rolled down his throat and the slight taste of hickory danced over his tongue. Shivering with pleasure, Sam walked back to his desk, a contented smile on his face.

Ethan Bricker had started working for him two days ago and already Sam was pleased. The fifteen year-old was one of the hardest workers the marshal had ever seen. The place was spotless, the office and the cells. Ethan had also decided that he would personally take care of the horses Sam and his two deputies used, even though Mr. Link had assured them that he and his stable boy were more than capable. Sam had appeased Mr. Link by keeping his personal horse in the livery owner’s care.

As for the office, the wanted posters were in alphabetical order. Sam had come in that evening to find Ethan going through them. When Sam questioned what he was doing, Ethan explained that he was putting them in alphabetical order. He’d asked if Sam wanted them another way and Sam had to fight from giggling like a schoolgirl. He just shook his head and told Ethan to do it however he wanted.

But the thing that sent Sam into the heavens was Ethan’s coffee; and he made it for them all the time. The boy had said it was the way his mother always made it so he’d learned it from her. Sam had been only slightly surprised by the news that Ethel Bricker did take care of her family and do her duty by them. Ethan had mentioned that his mother was acting differently and seemed to be quieter. Sam hoped everything worked out for the family. Taking another sip of the coffee, he leaned back, propped his  feet on his desk, and pulled his hat over his eyes.

“Sam Cain, is this how ya’ protect the town?”

Sam jumped up, sent some papers flying, and knocked his seat over. In all the commotion he nearly fell to the floor. He looked up to see the prettiest woman in town laughing uncontrollably.

“Thanks Emma,” he said, with mock indignation, happy that the coffee was okay. “Is that how ya’ greet your trustworthy and remarkable lawman?”

She wiped her eyes. “Oh, Sam, ya’ really are remarkable.” When he smiled at her, she added, “Remarkably funny.”

He rolled his eyes, bent over and righted the chair. Turning back, his brow was furrowed in confusion and concern. “Emma, it’s late, what’re ya’ doin’ here?”

“I’m in town for tomorrow’s celebration,” she said. “Remember this is gonna be pretty much an all day event.”

He looked heavenward as he remembered. There were so many things the town wanted to do that they decided to make a day of it. There would be a fair during the day with all kinds of foods and games, and the dance at night with more food. Emma had talked Sam into participating at the fair and he’d been foolish enough to agree. When he’d found out he’d be in the dunking booth, he’d balked but she’d bribed him with shameful treats. She’d made him an apple pie and he’d eaten the entire thing. It had been wonderful, buttery, sweet goodness, with a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. His mouth began to water.

“Sam,” she said, looking at him curiously.

“Um, uh, yeah,” he blushed. He pulled a chair around for her to sit and noticed, for the first time, she was holding a basket in her hand. “What’s that for?” He grinned, hoping it was more apple pie.

She laughed as if she could read his mind, which he didn’t doubt she could. “I figured ya’d be hungry here all by yourself so I brought ya’ this.” She sat the basket on the desk and pulled off the cloth covering the contents.

As she removed each item, Sam felt a giggle bubbling up. There was fried chicken, biscuits, a covered container he hoped held gravy, a small bowl of mashed potatoes, and a large slice of her wonderful apple pie. “Emma, you’re spoilin’ me.”

He sat back on his chair and watched her make up a plate for him. She gave him three pieces of chicken, with two heaping spoonfuls of potatoes. When she uncovered the container, he’d wanted to cheer – he was right, it was gravy. She poured a liberal amount on the potatoes, and finally placed two biscuits on top. After she was done, she sat the plate in front of him, handed him the utensils, and sat on the chair opposite him. He looked down at the plate and back at Emma. “Ain’t ya’ gonna join me?”

“No,” she said, “I ate with Charlotte and her family. I’m stayin’ with her.”

He nodded and picked up the fork. As he was about to dig into the fluffy potatoes, his tongue couldn’t wait for the buttery taste, Emma cleared her throat. He looked up, fork suspended in the air.

She bowed her head and glanced up at him. He sighed, stabbed his fork in his mound of potatoes and bowed his head as well.

“Lord we’d like to thank you for this good food and the good friends that provided it. Thank you for another wonderful day. Please bless the day tomorrow, it’s for a very good man.” Sam grinned but kept his head bowed. “And please stop the people from wanting to apply him for the sainthood. I don’t think –”

“Very funny,” he said. “Amen.” He picked up the fork and dug into the potatoes.

The taste was exactly what he’d expected and he closed his eyes to savor it. It had been a long while since he’d had good food like this – when Jenny had cooked for him. But all that had stopped when she was murdered. He’d eaten in restaurants and saloons since but the taste of a home cooked meal, the love put into each bite, there was something to be said about that.

The townsfolk had brought him food, cooked dishes and desserts, when he’d first started but that had ended after a few days. Then it was mainly canned goods and meats, things he could use over time. So he’d had to cook for himself in the sparse, lonely room above the jail. He swallowed and opened his eyes. Smiling, he looked at Emma but his smile faded when he saw a shimmer of tears threatening to fall.

“Emma,” he said softly, putting the fork down and leaning towards her. “What is it?”

She smiled and wiped at the tears as they slid down her cheeks. “Nothin’. I’m bein’ foolish.” She pulled her handkerchief from her reticule.

He shook his head and smiled tenderly. “I can’t believe you’ve ever been foolish.” He wanted so badly to take her in his arms and chase the sadness that was in her eyes away. But that wasn’t the proper thing to do. She was probably taking a bit of a risk bringing him this dinner so late and staying with him alone in the jail. There was a strong tug at his heart to make this right and proper but that also scared him. Her sigh brought him out of his thoughts.

“It’s jus’ that,” she said softly, “it’s been a long time since I’ve…” she swallowed the lump in her throat. It was so hard for her to say this and she felt ridiculous that something as simple as cooking for a man again, would have this affect on her.

“Since you’ve cooked for…” he said, leaving the answer unsaid. He knew how she was feeling. The same emotions had exploded inside him with just that first bite. She sniffed and hiccupped a small laugh. He smiled and realized she’d be okay.

“Go on,” she said, sniffling a bit, “finish your food b’fore it gets cold.”

“Emma, thems the best words I’ve heard in a long time.” He laughed and picked up his fork, digging into the mashed potatoes with a vengeance. So much so, that he heard Emma laughing. He looked up, grinned, and turned his attention to the chicken. While he pulled the meat off the breast, he glanced over at Emma. “So,” he chewed his bite, “are ya’ ready for the,” he paused, suddenly not sure of himself, “um, the dance.”

Emma smiled and blushed. She looked down at her hands, as she nervously twisted her handkerchief in her lap. “I think the ladies have everythin’ under control.” She glanced up at Sam, smiling shyly.

“Well,” Sam mumbled, “that’s good.”

They sat quietly as Sam continued eating. It was a comfortable silence that they both enjoyed immensely. Finally, with one last forkful of pie, he was finished. He sighed and put his napkin on his plate. Leaning back and stretching contentedly, he said, “Emma, that was wonderful.” He watched as she stood and busied herself putting the remainder of the food away. She held up his very clean plate and grinned.

“Very good Marshal.”

He laughed, blushing slightly. “Guess I was hungrier than I thought.” As she finished and covered the basket, he stood and walked around the desk. She picked up the basket and they walked to the door. Standing for a moment, neither one was sure what to say.

“Emma, I–” “Sam, I–”

They laughed nervously, both feeling a bit self-conscientious. Sam held his hand out towards Emma, indicating for her to go first.

“Sam,” she said softly, looking down at the basket she clutched like an anchor, “it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way.” She sighed and looked up into his eyes. She saw such compassion there that her throat closed. She couldn’t talk so she shook her head and closed her eyes. She felt him close the distance and stand right in front of her.

Again, Sam wanted to take her in his arms, kiss her, and stay that way for the rest of his life. The feeling was so strong. “Emma, I can’t ask ya’ to the dance ‘cause I did a stupid thing.” He bowed his head, angry with himself for giving the excuse he had to Mrs. Bricker. Though things had changed within the Bricker family and Eunice and Barnett were going to the dance together, Sam didn’t feel right escorting Emma.

“Sam,” she murmured, reaching out and touching his arm lightly. She felt him stiffen so she dropped her hand back to the basket handle. With just that touch, she didn’t trust herself. “I know about the dance and what you tol’ Mrs. Bricker.” Emma snorted. “Believe me, she may be changin’ but it’ll be a long time comin’ b’fore she’s acceptin’ of me.” She saw Sam open his mouth and she knew he wanted to defend her, so she held up her hand to stop him. “Sam Cain, I don’t need a knight. That ain’t what’s best for me.” She inhaled deeply and, figuring it was now or never, continued, “I want a man that’ll stay by my side, through whatever comes at us.” She looked up at him, her gaze steady.

Sam smiled a sad smile. “Emma, I don’t know what I can promise; things don’t tend to turn out quite how I expect ‘em to.” It was his turn to hush Emma and he held up his hand. “But, I’ll give ya’ what I can.” He looked hopeful, baring his heart to her.

“Fair enough,” she said, grinning broadly. “Well,” she cleared her throat nervously, “I suppose Charlotte’s prob’ly wonderin’ where I am.” He opened the door for her and stood to the side. “I guess I’ll see ya’ tomorrow…Sam.”

“Yes ya’ will,” he promised.

A small smile played on her lips and she walked out the door. Sam followed outside and watched to make sure she got safely to the Felton house attached to the mister’s tannery and leather shop. Once on the porch, Emma turned, waved, and in an instant the front door opened and Emma disappeared inside.

Sam stood for a moment longer staring at the house that held the woman he loved. A silly grin crossed his face. The woman he loved. He saw the curtain in the upstairs, far right window flicker and open. There she was. She waved to him again and he returned it. He finally turned to go back into his office. Tomorrow would be the beginning of a wonderful journey home.

A Touch of Class

Sam pulled at his collar as he paced in the back of the Excelsior Hotel’s main room. It was finally time for the dance. The music was playing merrily in the background but Sam couldn’t think about dancing yet. Where was Emma?

The day had been hectic but fun. He’d played the dupe and willingly sat on the bench in the dunk booth for the first thirty minutes of the day. He’d been impressed with the skills of some of the local children, especially since his rear hadn’t touched the bench for a second each time he’d climbed up there before he was falling back into the water. It had been a long thirty minutes but once that was over, the day had been his to enjoy. Or so he had thought.

He’d gone back to the office to quickly towel dry and change. His plan for the day had been to seek out Emma. He might not have been able to take her to the dance but he was determined to see her most of the day. Or so he had thought.

Once he was outside, the town had monopolized his time in one way or another. He’d had to judge the pie tasting contest, as well as the pie eating contest. All the women had wanted him to eat whatever they’d brought and the men had wanted him to inspect their livestock. He must have seen at least a hundred horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. But he hadn’t just looked at them, no, the men wanted Sam to touch each one of them. He’d been fine with the horses, even the cows. But handling chickens and pigs – Sam never wanted to do that again. He wasn’t a farmer, never had been a farmer, never would be a farmer.

As for eating, Sam had been so full within an hour that he’d ended up with a parade of dogs behind him because he was feeding them. Standing at the table, he’d looked around for Emma. He’d spotted her red hair a few times but it had seemed that she was always on the opposite end of the crowd. He had wanted to feel her calming presence beside him.

So that’s how his day had gone, until six o’clock when Tompkins had announced that it was time to move the festivities into the hotel. Sam had been so relieved; he’d slapped Tompkins on the back and laughed. Tompkins had looked at him curiously but hadn’t said a word. Sam had headed off to change into his nice suit, which he was now wearing as he continued to pace the floor. Where was Emma?

“Marshal Cain,” a sweet, airy voice said from behind him.

Sam turned and saw Julia Newell staring up at him, a sly look in her eyes that was probably meant to be seductive. Sam had heard about her on his many gossip walks and she wasn’t proving the talk wrong. His name had been connected to hers but only that she had plans for her and him.

“Miss Newell,” he said, taking a step back. He glanced over her head, looking for the woman he wanted to be with.

“Did ya’ miss me?” she purred, her slight Southern twang drawing each word out.

Sam glanced down at her, his brow furrowed. “Uh, miss you?”

Immediately her face fell and Sam had to stifle his laugh. “I’ve been away for weeks.”

“Miss Newell, I’ve only been here for…well, weeks.”

“I went to St. Jo to go shopping,” she said, her lower lip protruded in what Sam was sure she thought was a desirable pout. He coughed this time to stop his laughter. This woman was too much of a flirt for Sam. But she wasn’t hindered by his lack of conversation and leaned toward him. He kept his eyes from wandering down by staring over her shoulder.

“Do ya’ like my dress?” she asked, pulling the skirts out so he could see all of it, again, showing off her low neckline by bending at the waist. “I got it and a few others in St. Jo.”

“Well, you did go shopping,” Sam mumbled, hoping Emma would save him soon. Suddenly, Miss Newell grabbed his arm and leaned against him, laughing. Not a normal, happy laugh; it was actually a high-pitched, nasally, whiny. Sam stared utterly perplexed at the woman, thinking maybe she’d been overcome by the vapors. But when he saw the smile on her face along with the noise she was making, he realized that she was really laughing.

“Oh Samuel, you are so funny,” she said, much louder than she needed. “I do love bein’ in your comp’ny.”

Sam’s mouth dropped open and he just stared, not knowing what to say.

“Marshal,” a quiet voice said from behind him.

His head popped up at the sound. Grinning (and completely forgetting about Miss Newell) he turned quickly and said, “Emma, it’s so good to see you.”

She smirked and looked around him shamelessly. “And your friend?”

A nice shade of red rushed up from his neck and covered his face. “Um, uh, well, she’s, um….” Miss Newell sauntered around Sam, rubbing against him as she did, ending close by his side.

“Well, Emma,” she said, her tone dismissing, “I thought you’d change after the fair.” She eyed Emma up and down. “Oh, wait, you did, didn’t you? It must be so easy having the same style dresses in similar colors.”

Sam gritted his teeth. At that moment, he wished he was wearing his gun because he would have used it. He was about to jump to Emma’s defense but found there was no need.

“Oh Julia,” Emma said sweetly, “I don’t have need for such frippery.” She cocked her head to the side, as if admiring Julia’s dress. “Hmmm, funny thing is, looking at you; the silk purse adage does come to mind.”

Miss Newell’s gasp could be heard throughout the room, especially since most of the people were standing by to watch these new festivities. There were many snorts, titters, and outright laughter from the crowd. Sam was speechless but didn’t stop the proud grin that spread across his face.

“Miss Shannon,” he said finally, stepping forward and putting out his arm, “would you do me the honor of this dance?”

She grinned and curled her arm through his. “Why Marshal Cain, I would be delighted.”

He led her out to the floor, both forgetting completely about Julia Newell, who was left standing, gaped mouthed. She stomped her small foot but no one seemed to pay her any mind.

The couple twirled around the dance floor and Sam could only think how wonderful it was to finally have Emma in his arms. The softness of her hand in his, the sparkle in her eyes, and the bright smile on her face. It was a smile that outshone the noonday sun. All of that was intoxicating enough but the shape of her hip under his hand messed with his concentration. He tried very hard to listen to what she was saying but it didn’t register. And he really didn’t care. He maintained a smile on his face, and every so often would nod and say “unh-huh.”

As they circled the floor, Sam caught Barnett’s eye and the man nodded, wearing a grin that practically split his face in two. Eunice was standing close to his side, laughing at something with her hand gently on his arm. Sam chuckled, knowing exactly how Barnett felt.

Many others also caught Sam’s eye. Bill Tompkins grinned slyly and raised his glass, to which Sam rolled his eyes. Mr. Link, with his wife and seven children, all clapped when the couple danced by. Emma giggled and Sam blushed. When she caught sight of the blush, she laughed harder. Both Charlotte and Ann gave them a knowing look, wearing what looked to Sam like smug smiles.

“Why are they lookin’ –” Sam started to ask, confused by the expressions.

“Never you mind,” Emma dismissed, but he saw the look she bestowed on them.

Knowing he’d never understand women, he just nodded. On the last pass of the dance, the couple saw Mr. Bricker standing by his wife with his arm draped around her shoulder. She seemed truly happy and when she looked up as Sam and Emma looked over, Mrs. Bricker did an amazing thing – looking from Sam to Emma, she smiled softly and waved. A slight gasp came from Emma and Sam looked down.

“Didn’t think it would happen did ya’?”

Emma just blinked a few times, a stunned expression on her face as she stared at Sam’s chest, and said nothing. After a moment, she looked up.

“You are a good man, Sam Cain.”

“Uh, well, I, it wasn’t nothin’,” he mumbled, looking down shyly. Before the music ended, she suddenly turned, keeping hold of his hand, and pulled him from the floor. All Sam could do was follow.

Doing his best to smile and nod as they passed people, hoping to keep the town gossip to a minimum, he realized his efforts were moot when he came face-to-face with Bill Tompkins. And flanking Mr. Tompkins were the famous (or infamous) Kline sisters. Sam’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth, hoping to think of something to say that would explain this situation as Emma still pulled him. Thankfully, before he could mess it up, she jumped in.

“Dreadfully hot on the dance floor,” Emma called over her shoulder, “just gettin’ a breath of air,” and continued tugging Sam across the floor.

“Is that all?” Tompkins teased, so Sam could hear. Sam grimaced and turned bright red, leaving the three gossips laughing.

Once outside and around the side of the building, Sam stood his ground and pulled her arm, causing Emma to fall back into him. He caught her, his hands gently on her hips, and turned her to face him.

“You’ve got a lot of class Miss Emma,” he drawled, pushing a stray hair behind her ear.

“Likewise Marshal Cain,” she said, softly.

Their eyes locked and Sam knew this woman was what he needed, had needed for a long time. Without thinking, he leaned in, placed a tender kiss on her lips, and pulled slowly away. His face lingered within inches of hers until the knowledge of what he’d done sunk in. Straightening quickly, he ran his hand through his hair.

“Uh, aw Emma,” he stammered, “I jus’, I mean, I’m sorr –”

“Do ya’ hear me complain’,” Emma murmured, her face still tilted towards his. He grinned sheepishly. “But I will start if that’s all I get.”

The shock registered for just a moment before his grin grew and he said, “Yes ma’am.”

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