A/N: Based on the prompt for QF #34 - Omen.

Muttering to herself, Lou rolled on her back, switching positions for what seemed to be the tenth time in as many minutes. Realizing that wasn't comfortable either, she sat up with a grunt and punched her pillow a few times. Turning on her left side, she tried to find sleep. By all accounts, it was a perfect night for it. The window was open, letting in a cool, gentle breeze, and she had a soft, warm quilt to snuggle under. Other than the owl that she'd heard for the last week, the night was so still.

But that was the problem.

It was too quiet, allowing her to hear the buzz inside her head. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the many thoughts and voices that were whirling around in her mind. Sighing, she again rolled on her back and knew it was impossible to sleep. As she stared at the ceiling, she contemplated everything that had happened since accepting Kid's proposal. One more day until the wedding. One more day before Lou was gone forever and Louise took her place.

She knew she shouldn't think that way and should be happy but things had happened that just didn't set right with her. Things that continued to nag and were the cause of her restlessness over the last few nights.

Knowing there'd be no sleep tonight, she sat up and, plumping the pillows behind her, picked up the list she'd started the day Kid proposed, three weeks ago. It was supposed to help her remember the things she needed to do or the places she needed to be for the wedding, to make sure all the preparations went smoothly; it was like a count down to that special day. Unfortunately, as she read through and remembered each entry, she could see that preparations weren't going smoothly. It seemed that something just wasn't right.

The problems started a few days after their engagement.

*~*~*~*~*

"Lou, since you ain't ridin' for the Express no more, you'll move in with Rachel. That'll make plannin' the weddin' easier. You really shouldn't be out here with the others anyway."

Lou stared at Kid. She didn't know she wouldn't be riding for the Express anymore. When did they decide that?

"Um, Kid? I thought I'd ride 'til we got married since we'll need the money."

"Lou," Kid said, taking on that patronizing tone she hated, "you'll be buyin' a dress and all the things a bride buys so naturally people'll find out you ain't a boy. 'Sides, I'll be takin' care of you." He chuckled, shaking his head at the question.

She looked down at her plate. She couldn't believe he was bringing this up at dinner. She felt everyone's eyes on her.

Teaspoon cleared his throat, breaking the silence.

"Well, now Kid, might be you and Lou should discuss this later," Teaspoon said, helpfully.

"What's there to discuss?" Kid looked perplexed.

Surprised by Kid's obliviousness, Cody choked on the roll he'd just devoured. Buck let out a heavy sigh and, slapping Cody a few times on the back, helped his friend clear his windpipe. Noah groaned, putting his head in his hands.

Hearing the reactions going on around her, Lou realized that, as unfortunate as it was, Kid was right. She was spoken for and it wasn't proper for her to be in the bunkhouse with five other men, even if one was her intended. Before she could speak though, someone spoke for her.

"How 'bout that Lou may want to continue ridin'?" Jimmy stated, trying for the same patronizing tone as Kid but his had an undercurrent of anger. This received nods from the other riders.

Lou looked around at everyone. She thought of these people as her family and appreciated how they stood by her through all her decisions. But, as much as she loved them, Kid was truly to be her family. Plus, as her husband, she supposed she should listen to him.

"No, Kid's right."

Lou saw the stunned expressions her announcement caused, which made her feel she was failing them in some way. What hurt her most though, was the glimpse of disappointment she saw in Jimmy's eyes, but as quick as it was there it was gone, replaced by an understanding smile for her.

"See, Lou understands," Kid said as he placed his arm around her shoulders. "It's for her own good. And I know you all care about us but I'd appreciate you honorin' our decisions."

She saw that no one missed the look Kid directed at Jimmy.

The remainder of the meal was finished with little conversation.

*~*~*~*~*

Staring out the window, Lou sighed. She couldn't understand why sometimes she felt like she was suffocating around Kid. When he'd put his arm around her at dinner that night, she knew it was supposed to be a comforting, affectionate gesture but to her it seemed like it was a controlling action. As if he was telling everyone there that she was his now. Especially Jimmy.

After that night, everything returned to normal and the plans proceeded without much difficulty for about a week.

Looking again at the list, she saw engagement party.

The good folks of Rock Creek, headed by the least likely person, Tompkins, had gotten together to throw a party in their honor. Seemed everyone was thrilled about the prospects of a wedding, wanting a celebration, and no one appeared bothered by the fact that Lou wasn't a boy anymore. She chuckled as she thought about one of her first meetings with the storeowner and guessed he had forgiven her for hitting him on the head with that frying pan back in Sweetwater. It was a wonderful party and everyone was having a good time dancing and socializing.

That was, until Reverend Franklin came over with his wife.

*~*~*~*~*

"Louise, you look lovely."

Lou smiled at the reverend. He'd been the least surprised when she appeared on the streets of Rock Creek as Louise and not Lou. Reverend Franklin had said that things weren't always as they appeared. The clergyman sounded very much like Teaspoon.

"Thank you Reverend Franklin. How are you both doing?" Lou returned Mrs. Franklin's warm embrace.

"Well, we are very happy for you and Kid and how blessed you both are. But I must say, you will be truly missed when you leave." His wife nodded in agreement.

"I'm sorry?" The smile slowly faded from Lou's face.

"When you go back to Virginia with Kid."

"Oh."

She didn't know what else to say so she continued with the pleasantries until she could excuse herself. Walking towards the side door, she quickly exited into the night air. Breathing deeply she tried to calm her thoughts.

She couldn't believe Kid would do that. Yes, they'd been talking about the possibility of leaving but it had always been just that, a possibility. Lost in her thoughts, staring at the sky, she didn't hear Jimmy approach.

"Lou, you feelin' all right?"

Turning towards her friend, she couldn't keep the tears from falling.

"No, I ain't."

"Hey, what's with this? You're supposed to be the blushin' bride not the cryin' bride," Jimmy teased.

Touching her arm, he motioned towards the steps so they could sit. Lou followed dutifully.

"Jimmy, Kid's tellin' people that we're goin' to Virginia."

"Oh, that."

"What? You know about it?"

Lou was furious. If Jimmy knew then that probably meant the rest of the riders, including Teaspoon and Rachel, knew as well.

"You mean you ain't?" Jimmy seemed confused.

"I mean that it's been talked about but there weren't no decisions made."

"Sorry Lou, I just thought it was a done deal. Kid told me 'bout it a couple a' days ago and I'm pretty sure most ev'ryone knew by then," Jimmy explained. "I just can't believe nobody said nothin' to you b'fore this. 'Specially Cody."

She had to laugh. Actually, what Jimmy said made her wonder if something had been said and she just wasn't paying attention. She'd been doing that a lot lately.

"I guess you're right. Maybe someone did say somethin' and I just wasn't listenin'."

They sat in comfortable silence as Lou mulled over what she knew.

"I think we'd best go in b'fore someone misses you."

Understanding Jimmy's meaning, they quickly slipped back into the party. Lou, standing by the door, saw Kid come around the corner as Jimmy left the room.

"Where've you been? I been lookin' for you."

"Needed some air," she quietly replied.

Kid put his arm around her waist and that's where he remained for the rest of the party.

*~*~*~*~*

On their way home, Lou brought up the conversation with Reverend and Mrs. Franklin. Kid told her that since it was decided, he didn't see the harm in telling people. When she argued that she thought they were still talking about the possibility, his response didn't alleviate her anxiety.

"Lou, I told you that if war came I'd prob'ly go fight for Virginia," Kid explained, "and I said leavin' you'd be the hardest thing I'd ever have to do. Well, I don't have to leave you now. You're gonna' be my wife and you should do as I say that means you come with me. We'll be just as happy together in Virginia as we would here."

Actually, she wasn't sure what to feel from his response but it wasn't happiness.

Lou looked back at the list. Wedding dress.

She couldn't believe that fiasco. Four days before the party, she'd gone to Sally Firth, the dressmaker, and picked out a simple but elegant pattern since she didn't want much frill. She had wanted to go elsewhere because she'd pretended to be a boy for so long she was now a bit self-conscious walking into the dress shop, even as a girl. Kid had said it was ridiculous to get something miles away that could be just as easily bought here in Rock Creek. So, her measurements were taken and the order was placed.

The day after the party she'd gone to the dressmaker's to inquire about fitting appointments. Kid had been annoyed that she'd waited this long but she explained that there had been at least three other girls with wedding gowns on order before her.

The news at the dressmaker's wasn't good. Her dress hadn't even been started. Sally assured her that the dress would be completed on time and to come back in two days for a fitting. It worried Lou that this would be one week before the wedding but Sally again assured her it would be fine since once the initial fitting was done the rest was easy and quick.

There began a week that went downhill fast.

*~*~*~*~*

"Here you are Louise," Sally smiled, handing Lou her dress to try.

Lou looked down and almost cried. It wasn't her dress. This dress had lace covering the bodice, the sleeve cap was puffed up so much it probably would be head high and there were ruffles all over the skirt.

"Sally, this ain't right!"

Lou watched as, smile fading, Sally immediately lost her cordial demeanor.

"What do you mean 'this ain't right?'"

Lou could see that Sally was not pleased at having her work questioned. So she tried to explain without screaming at the woman.

"This isn't what I ordered. I didn't want ruffles or this much lace. The design I chose was simple."

"Well, it is a wedding dress and it should have ruffles and lace. Besides, you've been parading around as a boy all this time, it'll do your femininity some good to put on frills," Sally sniffed.

That was it. Lou tossed the gown back at the woman and, turning with head held high, marched out of the store.

*~*~*~*~*

Lou looked over at the dress that was hanging on the closet door. Thank the Lord for Rachel.

Lou had come home so upset but, instead of offering comfort, Kid had yelled that it was her own fault for waiting too long. When he'd asked what she planned to wear, she said what she had on and stormed out of the bunkhouse.

Rachel, hearing their argument, had told Lou she could help. Lou thought about how wonderful the older woman had always been to her and how she had felt about Rachel when the woman first came to the station back in Sweetwater. My how times and feelings had changed. It was like she had an older sister watching out for her and guiding her.

Rachel had opened a small trunk in the guest room and pulled out a beautiful pale blue dress. The blue was so light it shimmered. Since the dress needed so many alterations due to the differences in Lou's and Rachel's figures, they had basically used the fabric to create a completely new dress. Working into the night, they finished it by late morning the following day. Five days before the big day.

*~*~*~*~*

"Rachel I don't know how I'm gonna' be able to thank you," Lou said, as she tried on the finished dress. It was exactly what Lou had wanted in the first place. It was perfect. Then Lou looked at her reflection. Not at the dress, but at the woman wearing it.

A stranger stared back from the mirror.

"Louise, are you alright?" Rachel walked up behind Lou, a concerned expression on her face. Her brow knitted in worry, she put her hand on Lou's shoulder.

"Something's wrong, isn't it?"

Just as Lou was about to tell the woman everything she'd been feeling, a voice called out from below.

"Lou?"

It was Kid. Lou snapped out of her trance and smiled at Rachel.

"I'm fine, really." She turned to face Rachel. "Really I am." Was she assuring Rachel or convincing herself?

"Lou!"

"Comin' Kid!" she answered, the exasperation apparent to anyone who heard her.

Lou hurriedly got out of the dress and into her comfortable, worn, slightly dirty trousers and shirt. She was herself again and felt the anxiety leave her. She saw that Rachel was still eyeing her, as the woman picked up the dress to hang it up.

"Honest Rachel, I'm fine." She leaned over and kissed her friend on the cheek. "I jus' gotta' go is all."

Rachel nodded but Lou knew she didn't believe her. She didn't believe herself but couldn't stop the lie.

Racing downstairs she saw Kid pacing in the small kitchen. He whirled around when she jumped the last two steps to the floor.

"Uh, Lou," Kid stammered, moving from one foot to the other, "can I talk to ya'?"

"Seems to me, you're doin' jus' that," Lou answered, coolly. She wasn't going to forgive him so easily this time. He'd really hurt her feelings over the last few days. Wait. Make that the last few weeks.

Kid sighed. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a small, purple, velvet pouch. He handed it to her.

"This is for you."

Lou wasn't sure she trusted her hands because they were shaking. She wiped her palms on her pants, not only to remove any dirt or sweat, but also to try and steady them. She reached out for the pouch.

"I got this for ya' as, well, as a wedding night present," Kid said, blushing as he said 'night.'

The pouch was so soft and the purple seemed to vibrate, it was so brilliant. Lou pulled the thin, gold cord, untying the closure around the gathered material. Laying the pouch in her palm, she let the sides fall open. Inside was the most beautiful, delicate, shiny silver locket she'd ever seen. The filigree was so intricate she was amazed at how they could have accomplished it on such a small surface. It looked like it had a sheath of silken-threaded crochet work over it.

"I know I should'a waited for, well, um, that night," Kid stammered, coughing over the word 'night.' "But, I jus' want you..."

Lou didn't let him finish. She was on him in an instant, jumping into his arms. She covered his face in kisses. Kid was barely able to get a breath.

"Kid I'm sorry," Lou said, between kisses. "I jus' am so nervous 'bout all this," more kisses, "and I know I waited too long for the dress," he was finally kissing her back, "and I know it's less 'an a week until the wedding but..." He pushed her off.

"Lou, it's fine," Kid reassured her, "as long as you know it's important to make sure all these thing's are taken care of b'fore Thursday." He drew her into his arms and kissed her long and hard.

"Um, 'scuse me, I thought Rachel was in here."

Lou ended the kiss at the sound of that voice. It was Jimmy. Looking over at him, she caught his eye before he quickly looked down. He never looked back up, just stood, staring at the floor. She heard Kid growl.

"Here I am, Jimmy." Rachel came down, glancing over at Lou.

Lou felt as if she'd done something wrong. Why? She was allowed to kiss her fiancÚ.

"Come on Lou," Kid grumbled, staring straight at Jimmy, "let's find some privacy." He grabbed her hand and, before she could say a word, pulled her out the door.

*~*~*~*~*

She and Kid had gone to the swimming hole for a dip, where she had thanked him completely and fully for the locket. The thought brought a smile to her lips but it felt forced not happy.

What was wrong with her?

Jimmy's face popped into her mind. The way he'd looked at her when he'd interrupted her and Kid in their moment of passion made her blush from head to toe. His eyes had darkened and Lou thought she saw a flicker of want. For who? Her?

When they got back from swimming, Jimmy was nowhere to be found. Though she wasn't actually looking for him, she felt his absence keenly. He finally showed up for dinner and it took everything she had to keep the smile from her face, the smile that was on her face now.

Dinner. That caused the smile to fade. Since the day Kid proposed, dinnertime had become a forum for Kid to inquire about everyone's opinions on whatever was happening with the wedding plans or, for that matter, whatever was happening with her and Kid period. Lou thought he just wanted the subject of conversation to be about them.

She was always uncomfortable when he brought up some wedding subject, but when it was something that she considered personal, something that should stay between the two of them, she got angry. The "night of the locket," as Lou thought of it, was one of those times.

When she finally put the locket on for the first time, after swimming, Lou thought the chain was too long since it caused the locket to hang between her breasts. But of course, Kid told her she was wrong and that the jeweler in St. Jo told him that was the style. Style or not, she wanted it to lie in the hollow at the base of her throat.

For some reason, at dinner that night, the debate over the locket placement had become a topic for the rest of the riders. Cody thought that if the jeweler said that was the style then Lou shouldn't argue. Neither Noah nor Buck had an opinion, saying it was up to the wearer to decide. That left Jimmy. He continued to stare down at his plate as he quietly sat eating. He didn't voice his opinion but he hadn't put voice to anything through the entire dinner.

She had figured Jimmy didn't care one way or the other but found out later, she was wrong. Lou shivered just thinking of it and her hand automatically floated to the dip in her throat.

*~*~*~*~*

"It's alright Rachel, I'll do it," Lou said, picking up the clean blankets and bedrolls.

Heading to the barn, she fiddled with the locket around her neck. She was still aggravated over the discussion at dinner. It wasn't anybody else's business how she wore the locket.

Deep in thought she pushed the barn door open and was halfway in before she realized she wasn't alone. Looking up, she stared straight into the dark eyes of Jimmy.

"Lou," Jimmy said casually, his eyes going back to the harness he was fixing.

"Umm, Rachel finished washin' and mendin' the bedrolls and blankets so I'm puttin' 'em away," she mumbled, feeling foolish since she had the items clutched in front of her.

"I can see that." Jimmy nodded, without looking up, and continued working the leather.

Lou walked purposefully over to the shelf where they kept the extra bedding. She tried to keep her eyes from wandering over to where Jimmy was sitting. She was determined to put the gear away, quickly, so she could get out of there. Being short, she had to stand on her toes, which unfortunately, as she shoved the blankets on the shelf, caused her to lose her balance.

"OH!" Lou stepped back to stop herself from falling.

She felt a slight tug at her neck and saw that the chain had snagged on a small hook. Luckily she'd caught herself before it was damaged. As she inspected the small links, making sure there weren't any pulls, she felt Jimmy behind her.

"Ev'rythin' alright?" Jimmy's low voice vibrated down her spine.

She spun around, dropping the locket in place.

"Yeah, jus' clumsy is all." She tried to get past him but he stopped her by picking up the locket.

"Ya' know," Jimmy said, his voice so low it was almost a whisper. He rubbed his gloved finger over the delicate, silver webbing that covered the surface. "I do believe the chain is too long." He looked up, keeping her captive with his eyes. He dropped the locket into its original spot.

Lou didn't know what to do. Well, she knew what she should do but her body had stopped listening to what her mind was trying to tell it. Since her legs didn't seem to be working, she remained anchored to the spot.

"Now, jus' cause somethin's the style doesn't mean it suits ev'ryone," Jimmy said, keeping her gaze fixed on him. "See, I think the length of the chain," lifting the edge, he slid his finger up the chain, "should depend on the lady that's doin' the wearin'. Dependin' on her tastes and on her," he paused giving Lou's body the once over, then continued, "body shape and size."

Lou's eyes widened. She felt every nerve stand at attention. 'Oh God, what if Kid walked in, I've been gone an awful long time,' her mind screamed, but her body just laughed.

"Now, Lou, seein' as you're so tiny," he said, a small, sultry smile formed on his lips, "I think it should be closer to your throat." Looking down at her neck, Jimmy did something she would never have expected. He brushed his gloved finger over the notch in her throat. 'That's exactly where I want it,' she thought, not sure whether her mind meant the locket or Jimmy's finger.

Before she could blink, Jimmy quickly walked back to the harness and sat down. As he picked up the leather strap, he added, "'course, that's jus' my opinion."

*~*~*~*~*

Again, a shiver ran through her body. She loved Kid, she was sure of it, but Jimmy made her feel all weak-kneed and breathless. It didn't make sense to her.

The next day, she had spent in Blue Creek buying the remaining items she needed. It had taken Teaspoon to convince Kid that she and Rachel would find items that Rock Creek just didn't have at the moment. Actually, Rachel had known Lou needed to get out of town and had enlisted the marshal's help. To placate Kid, who had other business, Teaspoon sent Buck. Lou felt bad for him, disrupting his day like that, but, as always, Buck never complained and the three actually had a very nice day.

Jimmy wasn't around when the threesome left, which was rather early but then he wasn't at dinner that night either. Lou felt a strange, empty feeling, however she didn't want to ask after Jimmy for fear of riling Kid. As luck would have it, Rachel asked and Teaspoon just smiled and continued eating. This frustrated Lou to no end. Especially since Jimmy hadn't returned by the time she and Rachel went to the house.

Actually, he didn't return until the wee hours of the morning, a fact she knew because she'd sat in her window looking for him to ride up.

"Ahhhhhhhhh!" She pulled her pillow over her face. Why aren't things going the way they were suppose to?

Removing the pillow, Lou looked back at the list. Get locket fixed.

Not one of her finest hours.

*~*~*~*~*

Bored, Lou wandered around the yard. She'd finished the chores she had, which weren't many. Kid wanted Rachel to teach her all the things a wife should know. Cooking and cleaning, sewing and mending. That's why Lou was bored.

Fiddling with the locket around her neck, she walked into the bunkhouse. She still wasn't sure about the chain so she'd left it as it was. Looking around, she realized how much she really missed the old, drafty place. Without thinking, she walked over and sat on Jimmy's bunk. She leaned over and put her face in his pillow. She caught a whiff of the musky smell of leather and hay. What was she doing? She jumped up and ran out the door.

Once safely outside, she looked around to see if anyone was about. Without her riding or pitching in with the station, the boys were kept very busy. Soon she found herself in the barn and went over to see how Lightning was doing.

The horse gave her a very indignant snort. She laughed.

"I know," she said, rubbing the horse's nose, "it's been an awful long time since I seen ya'." She leaned into the horse's neck. She loved the smell and missed being around these majestic animals. Kid had thought it would be safer if she didn't ride at all before the wedding. Of all the controlling things he had done, this was the worst. Lou had almost shot him. He'd done everything he could think of to convince her. Finally, he'd made it so difficult for her to refuse; she relented.

"Well, he ain't here now, is he?" she said to Lightning. The horse whinnied his approval. "Come on let's go for a ride." Lou quickly readied the horse. She paused a moment before securing the saddle, realizing she hadn't felt this excited in weeks. Blaming it on the boredom, she dismissed the thought

What freedom she felt! She let Lightning have his head and just run flat out. Taking the horse through his paces brushed the rust off her abilities as well. Laughing, she performed the vaults that got her hired. "Puny, but spry." She'd always remember Teaspoon's words.

Realizing that it was getting late, she pointed Lightning in the direction of home. The old horse understood and, at a nice leisurely pace, headed for the station.

Once in the barn and going through the motions of caring for Lightning, it hit her how much she truly missed all this. All the rides, the mucking out the stalls, the rubbing down the horses after a hard run, the adventures she'd had with the other riders. She didn't want to give this up.

Lost in thought, she pulled the saddle from the horse and placed it on the top stall rail. When she turned away, the chain caught on the horn and this time she wasn't as lucky. Gasping, she watched as the locket fell to the dirt floor. Unfortunately, her sudden movement startled a dozing Lightning and the horse stepped forward. The locket disappeared under the large mount's hoof.

"Damn it!"

Lou fell to the ground trying to move Lightning's hoof to save the precious silver oval. Aggravated, Lightning stepped back and Lou saw that she was too late. The filigree, the perfect weave of silver on silver, was now smashed in and she could no longer rub her finger across the raised pattern.

Crying, she picked up the damaged necklace and sat on a hay bale, too emotionally spent to move. What was she going to tell Kid? This thought made the tears fall harder. Approaching footsteps caused her to jump up and continue rubbing down Lightning. What if it was Kid? She heard the door open.

"Hey, Lou," Buck said, surprised to see her in there. He'd heard more than one of Kid's arguments against Lou riding before the wedding.

"Buck," she murmured, hoping he wouldn't hear the sorrow in her voice. She should have known better.

"Lou?" Buck was by her instantly, touching her shoulder lightly, trying to get her to turn around.

"Oh Buck," she wearily sobbed, allowing her friend to support her as he guided her over to the same hay bale she'd just left.

"What's wrong?" Buck's eyes told her he wanted the truth.

Lou crumbled under his scrutiny and proceeded to tell him everything that had happened since Kid had proposed, including her views of the incidents he was witness to. It all just flowed out of her like a lanced boil. The more she talked the faster it came, as if she wanted to rid her mind of every last image. When she finally got to the current predicament, she opened her fist and showed Buck the locket.

Buck looked at the lump of silver that had once been a gift from Kid. She watched as he, deep in thought, paced the length of the barn. He seemed to be having an internal discussion with himself. Finally, stopping in front of her, she assumed he'd come to a decision.

"Lou, I know you don't understand my beliefs but have always respected the fact that they are different than yours," Buck began, weighing out his every word before continuing, "but I think all of these happenings are tryin' to tell you somethin'."

Lou looked at him, wiping the last of the tears from her face. What was he talking about? Confused, she scrunched her face up.

"They're signs," Buck said, sighing.

"What?" Lou looked incredulously at the Kiowa. She knew Buck, being an Indian, believed in spirits and portents and that the earth and all the animals meant something but how could simple situations mean anything other than bad luck? "So, I guess that owl I been hearin' the last few nights isn't jus' bein' neighborly?" She tried to laugh it off but the sound was anything but convincing.

"Fine, then," Buck said, "let's just say they ain't signs. Tell me how you feel about marryin' Kid?"

"Well," Lou faltered, she wasn't sure what to say. "It's jus' that sometimes he looks at me like he's not really seein' me. Like, like, he's seein' the person he hopes I'll be and that, well, maybe I'll start bein' that person."

Buck smiled at Lou and, squatting down in front of her, took her hand. "I think you are the person you should be. Maybe you should start actin' like it."

Lou sat staring at the ground in front of her. Buck stood up, still holding her hand. She sighed and, giving one final sniff, pulled herself up.

"Thanks Buck," she said, "I appreciate everythin' you've said and thank you for listenin'."

"I'll always listen, Lou. Whenever you need me." He pulled her into a big hug and she accepted willingly and gratefully.

"What's goin' on here?"

Lou heaved another sigh, she knew she had to deal with this and couldn't put it off any longer. She turned to see Kid, with an odd look of distrust, staring at Buck. She closed her eyes and groaned. Why was he acting like this about Buck, of all people?

Buck leaned over and, without taking his eyes off Kid, kissed Lou on the top of her head. If that wasn't enough to startle Lou, he also whispered in her ear.

"Is there someone that looks at you and sees you?"

Grinning, he walked passed Kid. "Just havin' a chat. I suppose it's dinnertime. See ya' in the bunkhouse." And then she and Kid were alone.

*~*~*~*~*

"Is there someone that looks at you and sees you?"

After Buck had asked her that question, she hadn't been able to form a coherent thought. So when Kid came up to her and asked her, again, what she was doing. She just opened her hand and showed him the locket.

Not a smart move. Kid had been beside himself with anger. He'd ranted about her being irresponsible, about how much the locket had cost, about how she should have been cooking or sewing, about how she'd promised not to go riding and a myriad of other evils that she had done but all she could hear was Buck's voice asking the same question over and over.

"Is there someone that looks at you and sees you?"

Finally, exasperated over Lou's continued silence, Kid stormed out of the barn towards the bunkhouse. She'd remained in the same spot for a few moments more and suddenly realized she hadn't finished grooming Lightning. Almost as if the events that had just occurred hadn't, she took brush in hand and commenced to brush her horse.

After she'd completed her chore, she slowly trudged back to the bunkhouse. Everyone was finished eating but Rachel had saved her a plate. The older woman wouldn't take no for an answer so Lou sat down to the table to eat, alone. Kid had left the minute she'd entered the room, making a mumbled excuse of having not finished some chore.

Why hadn't she just begged Kid for his forgiveness? She hadn't been able to then and she still had not done so now.

That brought her to the last two disappointments that hurt worse than everything else combined. She looked at the list and, even though she couldn't read it through her tears, knew what it said. The first Emma and Sam.

*~*~*~*~*

"Lou," Cody said, not wanting to deliver what he had on his person.

"What is it?" Lou was lost in thought, pretty much where she spent most of her waking time. And, with the lack of sleep she'd suffered the last week or so, it seemed like she was there twenty-four hours a day.

"I got a letter for ya'." Cody took the envelope from his coat and handed it to her. "It's from Emma." He looked at her sadly, like he knew what it said.

"Did you read it?" Lou asked, the accusation plain.

"No!" Cody replied, seemingly upset that she'd think that. "It's jus', well, things ain't gone quite right for ya' and, well, it's jus', that is, I'm hopin' it ain't more bad news." Cody was sincere in his apology and Lou could tell.

Squeezing his arm, she gave him a sad smile and took the letter. She stared down at the small, rose-colored envelope, again, lost in thought. Cody had a point and she was almost scared to open it.

"Uh, Lou?" Cody said, drawing her out of her musings. Head down, he toed at the dirt. "I just wanted to tell you that, um, whatever you do, I'm behind you. And, well, I just think that you should do whatever makes you happy." Before she could respond, he walked off with his horse toward the barn.

Sighing, she took the letter and walked over to the porch, hoping to be left alone to read it. She was thankful that Teaspoon had sent Kid on a quick run, giving the other boys a rest. She slowly ripped the seal.

Dear Louise,
First let me tell you how happy I am for you and Kid. I wondered if he'd finally wear you down. I see his patience paid off. He's always wanted to take care of you. You know how much I want to be there to watch you walk down that aisle. I know you're going to make a beautiful bride because you are a beautiful young lady. Sadly, I won't be able to attend. Sarah has chicken pox and Sam's going to be gone for the next week or so. Don't worry about Sarah, doc says she's going to be fine, we just have to keep her home for several more days.
I'm sorry I waited this long to tell you but I was so hoping that I'd have good news. Remember that you are always in my thoughts and I love you and Kid very much. Once Sam gets home and you two have settled in after the wedding, we'll come for a nice long visit.
Take care my dear. You'll always be my little Loulabelle. Just be happy.
Love, Emma

Lou dropped the letter. Running from the porch, she didn't see Jimmy and ran face first into his chest.

"Whoa, Lou," Jimmy said, catching her before she fell back. "What's the matter?"

She looked up at him and just wailed. Shaking her head, she pulled away from him and ran behind the barn. How could this be happening? Emma not coming to her wedding. Nothing was right, nothing.

*~*~*~*~*

Cody had come running out of the barn, after hearing Lou cry. When Jimmy told him what happened, Cody had told him about the letter. The two found it on the porch where Lou had dropped. By the time she'd gathered her wits, everyone at the station knew Emma wasn't coming.

No one had said a word to Lou for the rest of the day. Dinner was miserable because, though they tried to make conversation, the boys were just not good at getting Lou's mind off her despair. Jesse had said that if Kid was there she'd feel all right. This just made matters worse, because Lou didn't believe that.

Finally, staring out the window, she thought about the last disappointment. It had happened that day and her heart still ached.

*~*~*~*~*

"Lord knows Lou that if I could do somethin' else I'd do it," Teaspoon said, the man suddenly looked older than he was.

Lou just stood there stunned. What did Teaspoon mean, Jimmy and Buck were leaving tomorrow at dawn? What run could be more special than her wedding, which was the day after tomorrow? Her mouth was dry and her throat had closed up. What was she going to do? She couldn't get married without Jimmy; he was supposed to walk her down the aisle. Just as she decided that they'd postpone the wedding, Kid spoke up.

"Well, Noah and Cody are already gone and I certainly can't go so if you need them to go," Kid said, in a tone that, to Lou, was almost nonchalant, "then they need to go." Kid, taking Lou by the hand, walked toward the house but, as an afterthought, turned back to Teaspoon and the two riders. "Oh, but ya' both'll be missed."

Dumbly, Lou followed Kid to the house, not looking back. Once in the house, she shook her befuddled head, and confronted Kid.

"We could jus' postpone the wedding," she suggested. "I mean they are..."

"What?" Lou saw Kid was furious. "Why should we do that? Ev'rythin's planned and set. B'sides it's not like either one are part of the wedding."

Lou could only stare at Kid. Didn't he remember that Jimmy was giving her away? As she tried to remind him, he held his hand up to silence her.

"Lou, what's done is done," Kid said and walked over to the spare room where everything for their wedding was stored. "Now hurry up, dinner'll be ready soon."

Tired and not in the mood to be with Kid, she walked outside, hoping to see Jimmy and, at least, let him know that she'd truly miss him. Jimmy wasn't there and, seeing Buck with Spirit, went over to talk to him.

"Sorry 'bout that Lou," Buck said, shaking his head sadly. "I really was lookin' forward to seein' you as a bride."

"No Buck, I'm sorry." Lou was fidgeting, feeling anxious. "The way Kid said what he did, well, it ain't right. I'm really disappointed that you and Jimmy can't be there."

Buck gave Lou a knowing look and she squirmed under his steady gaze. He always had a way of looking inside you for the truth. After just a moment, he stopped staring at her and brushed her hair from her eyes.

"It's getting' long," Buck said, commenting on how much Lou's hair had grown in such a short time. Since she didn't trust her voice, she just returned his smile. "Ya' know I think I'll get Spirit and my things ready now so I can get to bed right after dinner. Poor Jimmy, he had to go into town for Teaspoon, he prob'ly won't get to his things until well after dinner." Buck nodded, walking away with his horse.

Dinner had lasted an eternity. She helped Rachel clean up and soon it was time for bed. The two ladies walked to the house in silence, Lou knew Rachel was letting her have the time to think. As Rachel opened the door, Jimmy walked out of the bunkhouse, just as Buck said, and headed to the barn.

"Uh, Rachel, I, um," Lou stammered, watching Jimmy, "I..."

"Forgot something in the barn?" Rachel provided, with a knowing smile.

Blushing, Lou nodded and headed to the barn. She glanced around, hoping that no one would come out of the bunkhouse. No one did. Once in the barn, she released the breath she'd been holding.

There he was, securing his bedroll to the back of his saddle, inspecting his horse blanket for any holes or burrs, and basically getting ready for a few days in the saddle. He hadn't looked up when she entered but she knew he knew she was there. A small smile had formed on his lips.

"Guess you have one more day 'til you're Mrs.," Jimmy paused, chuckling as he continued, "Mrs. Whatever your name'll be."

Lou laughed softly. It was the question everyone had, would Kid finally reveal his real name when the vows were said?

"Darned if I'm gonna' miss it," Jimmy said, finally looking at her.

"Oh, Jimmy," Lou sobbed, running up and throwing her arms around him before realizing what she was doing. He just stood there, letting his arms hang down by his side. After a moment, he broke the silence.

"Look Lou," he said, gently pushing her away, "all I want is your happiness and if that's marryin' Kid, well then I'm all for it." He went back to getting ready for tomorrow.

Lou felt lost. It was like Jimmy had just sliced the bond between them. But what did she expect? She was getting married, which implied she was moving on to a life with Kid, not Jimmy. She didn't understand why it had to be that way. They were all friends. But something had happened over the last few weeks between Kid and Jimmy that had put stress on the friendship. Deep in thought, she didn't hear the barn door.

"Jimmy here's your..." Jesse stopped. "Oh, um, I, uh, sorry."

Jimmy looked up at Jesse and smiled. "That's alright, Jesse. Lou's just saying good bye."

Lou swallowed a lump in her throat that felt like her heart. "Ride safe," she said, softly, keeping her eyes fixed to the ground. She turned and went back to the house.

*~*~*~*~*

Sighing, she folded the list and put it back on the bedside table. Tomorrow was the day before her wedding. Everything was ready. Everything but her.

Hoo, hoo...

Listening to the owl, she heard the voices of her friends in the bird's eerie calls.

Hoo, hoo... "I just think that you should do whatever makes you happy." Cody had told her.

But what was that?

Hoo, hoo... "You're gonna' be my wife and you should do as I say." Her future husband had said.

Did Lou ever do what someone else told her?

Hoo, hoo... "Just be happy." The woman that had become her surrogate mother had emphasized that point by underlining it.

Did Emma think she wasn't happy?

Hoo, hoo... "All I want is your happiness." Said the constant itch in her brain named Jimmy.

Was that really all he wanted?

Who, who... "Is there someone that looks at you and sees you?" Buck had asked. The owl seemed to be asking the same thing.

Was there someone?

Hoo, hoo... "Something's wrong, isn't it?" Rachel, who had been looking at her intently over the last few weeks, had asked the key question.

Something was wrong.

Yawning, she realized that her lids were heavy with lack of sleep. Putting all thoughts from her mind, she scooted down into her warm, soft bed and fell asleep. Her last thought was of Rachel and she decided to talk to the woman.

*~*~*~*~*

Because she wasn't able to finish the sleep she'd started earlier that morning, Lou had been up since dawn. After collecting the eggs, she had just started breakfast preparations when Rachel walked in.

"Mornin'," Rachel said. She looked curiously at Lou, trying to determine if it was just nerves that had the young woman up this early or was there something else.

"Mornin'," Lou replied, hearing the curious lilt in the woman's greeting. Knowing Rachel was probably wondering why she was up so early, Lou sighed, figuring it would be better to get on with the conversation and get the answers to what was bothering her.

"Um, Rachel, could we talk?"

"Certainly." Rachel donned her apron and was about to heat the skillet when Lou touched her arm. The look in Lou's eyes startled Rachel and she didn't move for a moment.

"I mean really talk." Lou walked over to the table and sat.

Once Rachel was facing her, Lou crossed her arms on the table and laid her head down. She didn't want to look at the woman for fear of the recrimination she knew she'd see in Rachel's eyes. From the safety of her arms she told Rachel everything that had happened.

"Rachel, I don't know what's the matter with me. I should be happy but..." As she spoke, it sounded as if her voice was coming from deep inside a well.

"Why?" Rachel reached for Lou's hand. She needed Lou to understand that she would not judge her in any way and that Lou should not be embarrassed to talk. In fact, Rachel was pretty sure she knew what was causing Lou's angst.

Lou raised her head and, confused, asked, "Why what?" She saw nothing but concern in Rachel's eyes.

"Why should you be happy?" Rachel smiled, squeezing Lou's hand. "If it's because you're gettin' married well, you're right, happiness should be in the mix. But happiness is there long before the marriage; it's not one of the wedding presents. So if you aren't then you aren't. There are no 'shoulds' with happiness."

Lou wrinkled her brow. "But I love Kid." As the statement left her lips, she felt the doubt in her gut.

"Do you love Kid or do you love being with Kid?" Rachel was right. Lou had been confusing the lust she felt for Kid as love. Rachel sighed inwardly, 'women have been doin' that forever.'

"I'm sorry, I don't understand. There's a difference?" Lou sat up straight, letting her hands fall in her lap. She'd never realized there were different ways to feel love. She was just so exhausted from all of this.

"Lou, you're a young woman becoming acquainted with your," Rachel paused, trying to choose the right wording, "passionate side. It might be that, well, you're attracted to Kid and you're mistaking that for love."

Lou stared at Rachel. Was that what her problem was? She wasn't in love with Kid?

"But, but, the feelings I have," Lou stammered, "I'm sure it's love." Crestfallen, she looked down, quietly adding, "I think it's love."

Rachel pulled her chair around so she was right by Lou, face to face. "Louise, don't think," Rachel put her hand over Lou's heart, "feel." Rachel, with a steady gaze not wavering from Lou's face, thought, 'Please let her see this, she shouldn't regret how she lives her life.'

Lou sat, staring down at Rachel's hand. Feel. Suddenly, as if a thick, woolen blanket was removed from her heart, she said, "I need to talk to Kid."

Rachel stood and, to hide the relief showing on her face, pulled Lou up into her arms.

Lou felt the warmth of the embrace wash all her worries away. She actually felt slightly giddy, though that could very well be from the lack of sleep.

"Thank you Rachel," Lou said, releasing herself.

"Lou, there's one other thing," Rachel said, taking Lou by the shoulders. Lou still hadn't dealt with the other dark and brooding issue.

"What?" Lou said, with a heavy sigh. Wasn't there always 'one other thing?'

"Remember what Buck said," Rachel reminded her. She was pleased that at least one other person, not only saw a problem with Lou going through with this wedding, but also saw that there was an underlying problem as well.

"Is there someone that looks at you and sees you?"

"Rachel, I can't think a' that now," Lou moaned. "I can't deal with that. It's bad enough I have to go tell Kid, the day b'fore our weddin', that we ain't gettin' married."

"What?"

Lou couldn't believe that they hadn't heard the door open. Uttering a small, barely audible groan, she turned to look straight into a pair of hurt, confused eyes.

"Kid," Lou began, but not knowing what to say, she asked, "how much did ya' hear?"

"Enough!" He stormed over to where she was standing and demanded, "What are you talkin' about?" How could she say they weren't getting married? She must be having the jitters Teaspoon was warning him about.

"Um, I believe I'll go tell the others that breakfast will be delayed." Rachel quickly left the tense scene. Neither Kid nor Lou even noticed.

"Kid," Lou tried again.

"What do you mean, 'we ain't getting' married?'" Kid said through clenched teeth. She didn't seem jittery so he didn't think it was that. Suddenly it dawned on him what the cause was.

"Kid," Lou started but was stopped again.

"This has somethin' to do with Hickok, don't it?" Kid was now pacing. He liked to pace, it helped him think things through. He needed to get her away from Rock Creek, the Express and, especially, Hickok.

Lou hated it when he paced because it made it very difficult to have a discussion about anything.

"No, it..." Lou was getting a cramp in her neck watching Kid walk back and forth.

"I think it's best we just leave for Virginia now, today, forget the wedding tomorrow," Kid said, punctuating each word with a step. "Go get packed and I'll settle things with Teaspoon. I'm sure..."

"LOOK AT ME!"

Kid stopped, turning to look at Lou. "What?" He couldn't believe she'd yelled at him like that. Of course he'd heard her yell before but there was something different about this one. He didn't have time to worry about her female outburst so he dismissed it and continued planning.

"Kid, I need to talk to you." Lou was about ready to nail Kid's feet to the floor

"We can do that on our way to..."

"NO!" Lou covered her face with her hands. She had only a thread of control left before she snapped. She dropped her hands by her side making fists and, closing her eyes, took a few deep breaths.

"Lou?" He wondered if she'd heard a word he said, especially since she'd interrupted him like that.

She put her hand up without opening her eyes, making him understand that he was not to talk. She heard him grunt and pull a chair out to sit.

"Fine, have a tantrum, I'll just wait 'til you can control yourself."

That was it. In that short sentence, Kid had said everything he thought of her. She was a child that he had to placate, to take care of. She opened her eyes, both physically and mentally.

"That's right Kid," Lou said, really seeing him for the first time. He was in the chair Lou had vacated just a few moments earlier. "I'm just a child so you're gonna' make all my decisions and take care of me. That's it, isn't it?"

"Now Lou," Kid started, he was getting weary of her fit and decided to just nip it in the bud. But she had other plans.

It was that same patronizing tone he always used when she was upset. When he tried to stand, Lou, striding over to him with fierce determination, put both hands on his shoulders and forced him back into the seat.

"You will listen to what I have to say and you'll keep your mouth shut."

Kid's jaw dropped. He knew Lou was a spitfire but he hadn't really seen her this angry, even when he'd tried to move her in with Rachel the first time. For the moment, he was speechless.

"Kid," she said, easing her grip. She decided to take advantage of his silence and continued, "Please just listen."

Kid didn't know what else to say so he nodded. This seemed to ease her tension and she sat down in the chair that had been Rachel's.

"Kid," she said, almost laughing at the fact that she was pretty sure she'd said his name a dozen times since he'd entered. "Somethin' has been botherin' me for a few weeks now and I don't think it's fair to keep goin' the way we've been."

"I don't know what ya' mean," Kid mumbled, not able to admit to himself that he'd known something was wrong with Lou from just after he proposed.

"You do too," she chided, softly. "I love you but I don't think...no, wait...I know I'm not in love with you." There. She'd said it. Feeling the chain release its hold on her gut, she almost giggled with relief but she knew she couldn't do that to Kid.

"Hunh," Kid scoffed, "you love me but you're not in love with me. What's that supposed to mean?" He knew exactly what it meant. It was the same feeling he'd had for Doritha. Now he understood the hurt she'd felt.

"Please," Lou pleaded with him. "Try and understand."

She didn't want this to ruin their friendship but, really, what type of friendship did they have? They'd barely known each other before Kid had discovered she wasn't a boy and then, once he knew her secret, the sultry feelings as a man and a woman flourished. Sure they'd been through a lot together but so had the other riders. And, sometimes, she felt closer to Jimmy or Buck than she did with Kid.

Kid didn't say a word and stared at a knot in the wooden front door.

"And," Lou said, knowing she needed him to understand this, "it has nothin' to do with Jimmy." Though she didn't believe it herself because, in a way, it did have something to do with Jimmy. If she could have the deep feelings she had for him, she shouldn't marry Kid.

Still concentrating on the knot, he asked a rather uncomfortable question. "How could we be together and you not be in love with me?"

Kid's tone was rather bland and to Lou it seemed asked more out of curiosity than acrimony until he finally looked at her. Kid's normally bright blue eyes were now dull and cold.

Lou saw the hurt and anger that she expected but, just before she looked away, she saw some dark, underlying feelings. Disgust and resentment. Those raw emotions kept her eyes glued on his. Though they appeared as a faint flicker, as intent as her scrutiny was, she saw the animosity deep within his eyes. This shocked her, but as she pulled her gaze to concentrate on his face, she didn't see a hint of those feelings in his expression, just the initial hurt and anger she'd seen. She didn't think he knew he felt them now, however, she was sure that in time his vehemence would grow.

Now, she knew, she wasn't going to change her mind. She'd been nervous about talking to him but his expression had just solidified her decision. Lou knew it was the right one. There was no concern for her happiness in his eyes.

"Fine Kid," she coldly replied, "you think all you want about me. It ain't gonna' change my mind." With that said, she got up and walked out the door.

*~*~*~*~*

The Express was over. Kid had stayed on to complete his obligation and was honored with the last ride. It was only right since he'd taken the first one that had started it all. What had begun as just a job, ended as a true family.

Though Kid had been sullen toward Lou and Jimmy, he still treated the others as family and had mourned when Noah died. They said goodbye to Cody as he left to scout for the army. And, finally, Kid headed for Virginia, alone. He left, still believing that Jimmy was the cause of his failed relationship with Lou. He'd never said goodbye to the two and no one knew if he'd ever talk to either one again.

When the Express ended, Emma had contacted Teaspoon about the old Sweetwater station, wanting one of her family to take the house. Buck had jumped at the chance. He'd saved almost all of his Express money and had dreamed of owning a horse ranch. Without any plans and having quite a savings herself, Lou asked if he would consider being partners. She was embarrassed when Buck picked her up and twirled her around. She took that as a yes.

So, Lou, Buck, Teaspoon and Rachel headed back to Sweetwater. Jimmy had stayed until the group left, never acknowledging where he was going. It was a tearful goodbye, with Jimmy and Lou staying in an embrace, neither one wanting to let go. Teaspoon cleared his throat, indicating they needed to be on their way. Jimmy stood by his horse and watched his family, Buck and Lou on horseback and Teaspoon and Rachel in the wagon, take their leave.

*~*~*~*~*

Over a year had passed and there'd been so many changes during that time. The old Sweetwater station was now the Cross/McCloud, or CM, ranch. The decision to put Buck's name first was based solely on the brand, they'd simply liked the look of CM better than the MC. All the decisions were made that way. Lou and Buck talked everything over and, when in doubt, did what they always did. Asked Teaspoon.

The older man was, again, marshal. It was almost as if they'd never left. Tompkins was back and as ornery as ever. But with one change. Buck was now treated with respect since he co-owned a decent sized ranch for the area. And to his credit, Tompkins soon learned it was easier to deal with Buck than with Lou. He learned that the Kiowa had a very good head for business and was much calmer when shipments were delayed. Buck, of course, found it very amusing but was gracious enough not to show it.

They'd decided that Teaspoon and Rachel would stay in the house. Even though they were in separate rooms, these living arrangements still kept the biddies' tongues from getting rusty. A smaller house had been built on the land for Lou. Buck had insisted on staying in the bunkhouse, turning it into his house. Lou had argued at first but knew it was falling on deaf ears. With Buck, once he'd made up his mind it was final. Besides, he didn't want to give up the memories he had from sharing the old place with the other riders. She'd been impressed with the addition he'd made, adding a porch and knocking out a wall to enlarge.

Since Buck took over the old bunkhouse, they needed a new one. They'd come up with the idea of building it near the stables with an overhang, allowing the hands to get to and from easily, especially in inclement weather or during foaling season. Buck knew that foals rarely picked lunchtime to be born.

Everything was running smoothly and business was starting to pickup. Realizing this, the owners decided to add a few more employees to the two hands they already had. They had Teaspoon post a notice. The person to respond surprised everyone.

*~*~*~*~*

"I understand you're lookin' for a ranch hand, ma'am?" the voice asked.

Lou whirled around from the corral post she was helping Pete with, releasing it to fall on the poor hand's head. Flustered to be face to face with the man she thought she'd never see again, she tripped over the rails waiting to be nailed in place. Falling right into Jimmy's arms, she started laughing. Righting herself, she turned to Pete.

"Lord Pete," she said, as she went over to help the man, "are you alright?" She reached her hand out to touch his head but he jerked away from her touch, more out of embarrassment than pain.

"Uh, yes'sum, I'll go see if Miss Rachel can help," the wiry, older man proved more agile than he looked as he jumped up and hurried toward the main house.

"Well, are ya'?" Jimmy asked as that slow, sensual grin formed on his lips.

Not wanting Jimmy to see how nervous she was, she put her shaking hands on her hips and smiled.

"Yeah, we are hirin'," she said. Playing along, she crossed her arms and continued, "have you done this sorta' work b'fore?"

Jimmy just laughed.

"I need a better answer than that," she insisted.

Before Jimmy could respond, Buck came running out of the house, as Rachel followed close behind, squealing with delight.

Laughing harder, Jimmy just barely caught the older woman as she flung herself into a hug.

"Oh, Jimmy!" She pulled back, giving him the once over. She noticed he had filled out a bit. This made her wonder what he'd been doing. "What have you been up to?"

"Well, now, I really haven't been doin' much of anythin'," Jimmy vaguely answered. Changing the subject, he said, "I rode into town first and saw Teaspoon. He's the one that told me I may find some work here." His smile was directed at Lou.

"Work?" Buck said, a bit surprised by his statement.

"Yep, I'm in need of somethin' to occupy my time," Jimmy drawled, again directing it toward Lou. "I'm willing to start low."

"Jimmy, you're family, you can..." Buck started but was cut short.

"Fine, you can start as a hand and you'll stay in the bunkhouse with the others," Lou stated firmly.

So Jimmy was back. She wasn't in the mood to just open her heart immediately. It scared her. Determined to keep this a working relationship from the beginning, she looked each person directly in the eye, willing them to argue. No one did, they weren't stupid.

"I need ya' in the barn," she called over to Pete, who was loitering on the porch, not wanting to disturb the reunion. He quickly scurried over to her.

Jimmy stood, in silence, watching as the petite woman walked toward the barn. That same small smile played, again, on his lips. Buck and Rachel looked at each other and grinned. They both knew what the ranch family had in store and it was going to be a pleasure watching it play out.

"Well, I should be getting supper ready," Rachel said, hugging Jimmy again. She smiled and walked back to the house. Just before entering she turned back to Jimmy and added, "It sure is good to see you again."

"Thanks Rachel," Jimmy waved, finally turning from watching Lou, since she'd already disappeared into the barn. He looked around at the ranch for, really, the first time, since his attention had been solely on Lou.

"This is really nice," Jimmy said, glancing at Buck. "You've done well."

The wistful tone wasn't lost on Buck. He knew his friend was tired and wanted to be home again. Plus, he also hadn't missed how Jimmy had watched Lou. Not only was that hunger still in his eyes, there was something more. If the Kiowa had to place a bet on what it was, his money was on love.

"You know it's gonna' take her some time b'fore she's ready," Buck said, making sure Jimmy understood. Though he'd be thrilled for his two friends to find happiness, Buck felt his loyalty was to Lou. Not only was she his partner but, now, she was his best friend.

Jimmy stared at the barn. He stood there for so long, Buck thought he hadn't really heard him. Just as Buck was going to question him again, Jimmy slowly turned toward him.

"Ya' know Buck," Jimmy said, sounding as if he was going to impart the wisdom of many years on his friend, "some wouldn't believe it but I'm a patient man."

To this, Buck snorted. "You are joking, right?"

"Nope," Jimmy said, smiling. "'Course I'm only patient for things that matter to me and are worth the wait. What's the sayin'? Good things come to those who wait."

Buck laughed. "Well, let's see how long she keeps you waitin'."

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