Buck peered through the window from his hiding place in Tompkins' store. Actually, it wasn't Tompkins' store anymore; it was the Peabody's store - Kid and Lou Peabody.
Two weeks after Kid and Lou were married, the family all gathered for the Sunday dinner, Lou finally put her foot down, demanding to know Kid's name. She'd been fine at the ceremony, especially considering the look on Teaspoon's face. But she now wanted to know the name she would have for the rest of her life. Buck had been there along with Jimmy, Teaspoon, Polly, and Rachel. The whole scene had tickled Teaspoon and he'd almost told everyone but Lou had stopped him. She wanted to hear it from Kid.
Kid had hemmed and hawed and tried every way he could think of to get out of it, but for naught - Lou wasn't budging. She had kindly let him begin with telling her what their last name was. "I'm Louise what? I'm not McCloud anymore." Kid couldn't argue that point so he muttered the last name. "Peabody" They all had looked at each other, not seeing the problem. Peabody was a fine, normal name.
So Lou had moved on, the success showing on her face. "Okay so we're the Peabodys. What's your first name? I'm Mrs. Who Peabody?" Teaspoon had giggled gleefully and Polly had slapped his arm to quiet the man. Sighing, Kid had turned from them and took a few steps away. The group had moved as one towards him, anticipating the next word out of his mouth. "Fnnnnnn." They'd exchanged confused glances and Jimmy had asked if anyone had heard him. Teaspoon had piped up that he had; this time Lou had slapped him.
"Kid, come on." Lou had nudged him in the side and Kid had squirmed away but it did have the effect of getting him to face them. "Fnnnns." Teaspoon had grunted and opened his mouth but Polly had poked him causing Teaspoon's mouth to snap shut.
With her hands on her hips, Lou had just opened her mouth, when Kid had heaved out a deep breath and said….
Most of them had tried very hard to keep straight faces. Teaspoon had commented that it was a strong, classical name, between coughs and snorts. Kid had eyed the older man, not needing to say that Teaspoon's name left a lot to be desired, making Teaspoon let loose his laughter. Polly and Rachel had been almost too cheerful, their smiles looking forced, about what a fine name it was. Buck hadn't said a word, not trusting the act of opening his mouth. And Jimmy hadn't even made the effort to refrain from laughter so it came in one big fit. Lou stood there, biting her lips to keep from laughing but finally she'd given in too. "So I'll be Mrs. Kid Peabody, that works."
And that was a perfect example of how their marriage went. They were two halves of a whole and so happy, it could sometimes make Buck feel giddy from the sweetness. They made the best of every situation because they had each other. He was thrilled for his friends; he loved them very much and wanted the best for them. But, unfortunately, that deep love and constant affection had turned Lou into a woman on a mission - to make sure everyone in her family was as happily married as she and Kid.
Buck sighed and eyed the festivities going on in the street. It was Rock Creek's Second Annual Spring Fling - Teaspoon in his role as mayor had come up with the idea and the name. He'd described it using a definition he'd found, as "a period of indulgence on the eve of responsibilities," and everyone had loved it. Buck smiled and thought of how Teaspoon had always been such a unique individual, coming up with some of the wildest ideas. Buck remembered the tennis and baseball games they'd played. He laughed out loud despite his trying to keep hidden. Teaspoon was always trying to make people happy and he did a fantastic job.
That he and Polly had been the first caught in Lou's 'web of marriage' (which is what Jimmy was calling it) hadn't really surprised anyone. Truthfully, to Buck, it was child's play to get Teaspoon to ask Polly, even if the man had kept declaring his decision to stay a bachelor. Anyone with eyes could tell how much the man loved Polly. Buck, along with Jimmy, had been sure Teaspoon would ask her eventually. But Lou had gone after them anyway; setting up romantic dinners, getting Teaspoon to take time away from the mayor's office to go on picnics, making sure no one bothered him with little things while Polly was visiting him. Buck and Jimmy thought Lou was being ridiculous but it had happened. After just a few months of Lou's manipulations, Teaspoon had asked Polly. Jimmy had sworn it was to shut Lou up and stop her from bothering them. Whatever the reason, it only intensified Lou's matchmaking fire.
The next one was Rachel. Oh, Lou had constantly been working on Jimmy and Buck but after the success of Teaspoon and Polly, Lou had switched her complete concentration onto Rachel and Janusz. Again, not a stretch for him to ask her and it had taken Lou just a month to get him to propose. Kid had contributed by helping Janusz with the words. It hadn't been necessary because as soon as Janusz showed Rachel the ring, he hadn't gotten a word out; she'd jumped up and squealed, hugging the man until he couldn't breathe.
So now Lou moved on to harder targets and bounced back and forth between Jimmy and Buck. Jimmy had done everything in his power to avoid Lou and the possible mates she paraded in front of him. Unfortunately, his job as a deputy kept him out in the open so Lou could easily catch him unawares. Buck had been better able to dodge Lou because of his job in the livery and smithy. He could spot her coming and duck out the back with no problems. Jimmy had asked Buck for his help and Buck had agreed. They had vowed to stand fast and stand together but with Lou's persistence it soon turned into an "every man for himself" situation. Thus, the reason Jimmy finally gave in. He had refused to go as far as a wedding but he was courting someone nonetheless, though a might slower than Lou wanted. The lucky young lady, Amy Blackwell, was the daughter of the restaurant owner. Jimmy actually seemed happy, and that made Buck happy. But that also made Buck the sole remaining target.
Again he peeked out the window and saw that everything was in full swing. Relaxing, he leaned against the counter and thought about the last four months. Buck supposed he was flattered that Lou cared so much about his happiness. But what she couldn't seem to grasp was, no woman in Rock Creek wanted to marry an Indian. He'd seen the looks on their faces when Lou would broach the subject. And Buck knew she was talking about him. They'd be smiling when they first met Lou on the wooden walk, they'd chat and then Lou would somehow turn the conversation to Buck. Immediately, they looked embarrassed, surprised, or sometimes worse, disgusted. He'd tried to talk to Lou but she just wouldn't listen. She was going to find him someone.
"Buck there's a girl out there for ya'. We jus' have to pull out these weeds and get to the beautiful flower."
Buck had just groaned and given up. He decided on a different track, more of a coward's way out. For the past two weeks he'd kept on the outskirts of town. Coming in by the back door and sleeping in the stables. He hadn't been home since and Jimmy had come by the day before to warn him that Lou was not happy. She had told Jimmy it seemed Buck was avoiding her. Jimmy had sworn to Lou that Buck was just busy. Buck was very grateful for his friend's help, considering Buck hadn't been much help to Jimmy. However, Jimmy had advised him that it was only a matter of time.
Grunting at the thought, Buck leaned forward and looked out the window, searching for the matchmaking queen. He saw her talking to Sarah Croft, the daughter of the bank manager. Sarah Croft? Was Lou nuts? He gritted his teeth. He thought she knew not to even think of a girl like that. As he watched, Sarah flipped her cotton-blonde curls back off her shoulder. She was taller than Lou but that wasn't the reason she was looking down at his friend. Sarah rolled her eyes, scrunched up her nose, and turned so quickly, her hair smacked Lou in the face. Lou just laughed and continued fixing plates for people.
Buck smiled. Nothing was going to get Lou down. She was just too happy for that. She was now three months pregnant and her life was so perfect, people like Sarah weren't worth a second thought from Lou. As happy as Buck was for them, that pregnancy had made her even worse when it came to her hunt for a match for Buck.
Buck watched as Lou wiped her hands on her apron and reached back to untie it. Kid came up behind her and untied it for her. Turning her to face him, Kid kissed her forehead and Lou smiled broadly. Buck felt a lump form in his throat and he had to swallow hard to dislodge it. He did want that. He wanted exactly what Kid and Lou had. Hell, he wanted what all of them had, including the goofy smile that Jimmy now wore daily. But that wasn't an option for him here in Rock Creek. There wasn't a woman there that would have him.
Noticing movement, his eyes focused and he saw that Lou was walking straight for the store - and she was just steps from the walkway. Jumping up, he realized he didn't have time to run out the backdoor without making a sound, so he ducked into the storeroom. Just as he was gently closing the door, he heard the bell over the front door chime. He moved to the back of the small room, hoping Lou would grab what she needed and leave. As he looked around, trying to find a hiding place if he needed it, he heard muffled voices. Lou was with someone. When she laughed, he figured it was Kid but then he heard a husky laugh that wasn't Kid. He concentrated and from the sound of the second voice, it was a female. Wonderful. He was going to get caught hiding in Lou's storeroom by Lou and his potential wife.
Buck shook his head. Where did that come from? Wife? He had to get ahold of himself and figure a way out of here. Again, that enticing laugh. It reminded him of a creek he'd stopped by, the sound of the shallow water running over the rocks. A slight shiver went up his spine. Curious as to who belonged to that laugh, Buck tiptoed to the door and opened it just a tiny bit. He peeked out and saw Lou but couldn't see the other person. However, he could now hear the conversation clearly and Lou called the young lady by name.
"Miss Keeney," Lou said, "I really appreciate all the help you're givin' me with this." She walked around the counter and started perusing the shelves. "I know it's here somewheres," she mumbled.
"Oh no Mrs. Peabody," the young woman said. "I appreciate you including me. After all we've only been here for a few weeks."
Buck immediately knew who the woman was. Miss Siobhan Keeney, daughter of a very wealthy cattleman that had just purchased a fair amount of land outside of Rock Creek. They were Irish and Mr. Donal Keeney was a shrewd businessman. He'd worked his way from a drover to owning a vast herd. He'd also done some mining, hitting a wealthy strike but knowing when to sell out; and had invested in the railroad in the beginning. His fortunes were many.
Donal Keeney was wealthy but he was also practical and unpretentious. He was a big, burly man, a bear in stature, who loved to talk and tell his tale of coming over from Ireland with nothing but the clothes on his back. Buck remembered the first time he met Mr. Keeney when the man had come in for help repairing a dozen yokes. He'd thrust his hand forward and said, "Name's Keeney, Donal Keeney. M'name means 'ruler of the world.'" He'd eyed Buck intensely, waiting for the Kiowa's response and Buck hadn't disappointed the man. Buck had firmly shook the man's hand and said, "So you're the one I complain to." Mr. Keeney had let loose a deep, hearty laugh so loud that passersby peeked in to see what the commotion was.
Buck had instantly liked the man and had learned Mr. Keeney's opinions on some of the well-to-do in Rock Creek, namely Mr. Jason Croft, the bank manager. Buck had been quite pleased to know that Mr. Keeney thought Mr. Croft was a "horse's arse." Buck had also found out that Mr. Keeney had been widowed three times and had but one child, a daughter. The women's conversation continued, pulling Buck out of his musings.
"Da is pleased that we could help with the setup," Miss Keeney was saying. "And I'll be more than happy to…."
Buck pulled back, fearing she'd spotted him but he saw that the young lady was walking behind the counter, looking at Lou.
"Here, I can get that," Miss Keeney offered as Lou was stretching on her tiptoes trying to get a small sack of sugar down from a higher shelf. Miss Keeney easily removed the bag and handed it to Lou. She blushed and said, "Normally I hate being this tall but it does come in handy."
"Thank you so much," Lou said. As Miss Keeney returned to the other side of the counter, Buck saw a twinkle appear in Lou's eye and he groaned inwardly. He knew what was next.
"So Miss Keeney, is there anyone special in yer life?" Lou asked as innocently as possible.
Miss Keeney's blush deepened. Buck felt bad that the woman was embarrassed and was annoyed that Lou wasn't paying attention.
"Please, call me Siobhan," she said, avoiding the question.
"Well Siobhan, then call me Lou." Lou was stacking items to take back to the party. Without looking at Siobhan, Lou continued, "So…is there?"
Siobhan looked down at her feet, squirming slightly in the light of the attention. Buck was ready to jump out and defend the woman but the young lady said softly, "No, no one. Just me and Da."
Buck was pleased to see the sympathetic look on Lou's face and thought she'd leave Siobhan alone but that wasn't Lou's way. "Well, we've jus' gotta fix that."
Siobhan's head whipped up and her eyes were wide. "How do you mean?"
"Welllll," Lou drawled and Buck cringed. "Ya' know the fella that works in the livery?"
Buck thought it impossible but Siobhan's eyes grew wider and she just nodded.
Lou leaned forward and crooked her finger at Siobhan as if to let her in on a fabulous secret. Siobhan walked slowly to the counter and bent her head forward. "He's a friend of mine and a wonderful man," Lou said. "Almost as wonderful as my husband." She giggled and Buck nearly choked. He really wished the Lou they all knew and loved would come back and this incarnation of her would go away.
"Oh, um, Mr. Cross, right?" Siobhan mumbled. Buck steeled himself for the excuses. "He, well that is, I couldn't…I mean, it wouldn't…well it's just…" Siobhan's voice faded off.
"But Buck is really kind and hardworking," Lou enthused, "and he's not a drinker and he treats all people fairly even when they…."
Buck tuned out the pitch. He felt the bile rise in his throat at the way Lou was almost auctioning him as if he was a beeve to sell to the highest bidder. He started to walk to the back of the room; he would wait until he heard the bell and then leave the back way and perhaps keep going. But Siobhan's voice stopped him and her next words shocked him.
"No, it's me!" she squeaked to stop Lou's rambling. Lou slowly closed her mouth and looked curiously at Siobhan. "I know that Mr. Cross is all those things and more. He's wonderful." Buck could have sworn there was a pleasant lilt in how she'd said that. "He's done so much to help Da and, well, Da thinks the world of Buc…er, Mr. Cross." As her voice faltered, her fair complexion was crimson and the corner of Buck's mouth twitched. A young woman was blushing because of him. He also pulled his shoulders square at the mention that Mr. Donal Keeney, a man that was fair and friendly but could be difficult at times, a man that could own Rock Creek, liked Buck.
"Da wants someone to pass the ranch to and he's getting older and could use the help. I know Da would like someone like Mr. Cross as a son-in-law," Siobhan said wistfully. The thoughts of being the son-in-law and heir to the expansive fortune was heady but that Mr. Croft would have to do business with Buck was fiendishly delightful. The look on the man's face would be worth marrying anyone.
Buck closed his eyes. What was he thinking? Just because Mr. Keeney liked him, didn't mean Miss Keeney did. And Buck wouldn't marry someone that didn't at least like him. But the tone of Siobhan's voice when talking about him, made him wonder. Lou gave voice to the question he was thinking of.
"So what's the problem?" Staring at Siobhan, the expression on Lou's face was of barely contained excitement. Buck sighed knowing that, at Siobhan's declaration, Lou had found his mate.
"What?" Siobhan asked, shaking her head as she looked at Lou in bewilderment.
"If yer pa likes him and you like him, and it does sound like ya' do," Lou coaxed, reaching across the counter towards Siobhan, "then what's wrong?"
Siobhan snorted and Buck bit the inside of his mouth to not laugh. "Mrs. … I mean, Lou, I appreciate you being nice but I know what I look like."
Buck leaned closer to the door and looked at Siobhan. She was tall, actually, she was very tall, but not taller than he was. He'd actually been intrigued at the fact that he could look right into her eyes. And she did have beautiful eyes; an odd combination of a pale green encircled in deep blue that Buck found quite pleasing to look at - as long as she actually looked up. Siobhan had a tendency to look down at her feet. She was so soft-spoken that most times Buck had to lean towards her to hear what she said, when she did speak at all.
And it had taken him a few meetings before he'd really seen her eyes. She wore a pair of glasses that reminded Buck of the ones worn by the young woman Ike almost proposed to. Only Siobhan was different than Annie. Annie looked directly at you and Siobhan didn't. He thought about how things could have been different if Ike had married Annie. Shaking the thoughts that were headed down a dark path out of his head, he watched as Siobhan nervously twisted the end of her long wheat-colored braid.
"Um, I'm not sure what ya' mean?" Lou asked, honestly dumbfounded.
Siobhan sighed. "I'm too tall; no man's going to want such a giant. My hair," she lifted the plait, "my hair's dull, looks like oats, and, I'm just not…." Again, her eyes darted to her feet. Lou came around the counter and took both of Siobhan's hands. It wasn't hard for Lou to get the young lady to look at her; Lou was short enough to just stand under Siobhan's gaze.
"That is not true," Lou said, squeezing Siobhan's hands. "Don't think that way." Glancing towards the front, she grimaced. "We should be gettin' back out but I wanna talk to ya' some more on this." With one final squeeze, Lou released Siobhan's hands and reached for the items on the counter. Snapping her fingers, Lou said, "I almost forgot, would ya' mind goin' in the storeroom and gettin' some of that molasses. Mrs. Peters asked if we could get some more. Seems the boys have been pouring too much on their beans."
Buck grunted. He'd thought he was free and clear for sure. Instead, he saw Siobhan nod and head for his refuge. Glancing frantically around, he spotted a couple of crates that he could kneel behind. Rushing over to them, he'd barely squatted down when the door opened.
"It's in the middle section of shelves, near the top," Lou called.
Buck watched as Siobhan scanned the shelves. Spotting the molasses on the second shelf from the top, she reached up but realized she didn't quite have the stretch. So she went up on her toes and still didn't quite reach.
"Humph," she grumbled. "Waste that I'm this tall and can't reach that."
Suddenly a force (Buck would swear later it was a spirit and blame Lou) took control of his body. He stood up and walked over to where Siobhan was in the process of stretching to her fullest height. Almost flush against her, he reached up. Their fingers touched and Buck said softly, "Let me help you."
The sudden intake of breath made Buck smile. "Sorry if I startled you." This time he heard her swallow hard. He chuckled as she turned her head slowly to see who it was. Her eyes were like two full moons and Buck grinned.
He looked up to see his fingers just had leverage on the glass jar and tried to roll it towards him. Unexpectedly, the thick liquid shifted causing the jar to teeter on the edge. Grasping for the jar, he thought it would fall but he saw the jar right itself as Siobhan's long, slender fingers held the jar steady. Together they brought it down slowly and, when he was able, Buck got his hand around it.
"We make a good team," Buck said, holding the jar out to Siobhan. She just looked down at her feet, not seeing the jar in Buck's hand. He reached out, knowing he was taking a big risk, and curled his knuckle under her chin. Lifting her head, he looked into her eyes. "There. That's better." The blush had crept into her hairline and over her ears. Buck had a fleeting thought of kissing everywhere that blush reached. He quickly dropped his hand and shook his head.
"Is this all?" he asked, not wanting her to know he'd been hiding in the room the entire time. He hoped she wouldn't notice the lack of another door.
"Uh, yes," she whispered, still staring at Buck.
"Shall we go?" He didn't move a muscle, letting her decide the next course. He was pleased to see a small smile appear on her lips.
Without a word, she turned and walked out of the storeroom, and Buck followed, his eyes fixed on the braid hanging down her back. He wondered what her hair would look like loose, spread over a pillow. Coughing, he looked up, hoping to divert his attention, and saw that Kid was there. When had the bell rung? He couldn't believe he'd missed that. He glanced at Lou who was wearing a very self-satisfied look. Buck just arched his brow and she giggled.
"Oh good Siobhan, you have help. Would you mind takin' these outside?" Lou asked so sweetly, Buck was sure butter would melt in her mouth. He again, arched his brow but he picked up the sugar in his other hand and placed it in the crook of his arm. That gave him a free hand to lightly place against Siobhan's back. She glanced around, blushing as she saw where his hand was. Siobhan picked up the salt and headed towards the door. Lou noticed there was a goofy grin on Buck's face.
Lou watched the two walk outside, Siobhan held the door for Buck as he tried to do the same. Their arms got entwined and Siobhan giggled nervously as Buck grinned, trying to twist around her. They righted themselves but Buck didn't remove his hand, that was now firmly against her back.
"When did Buck get here?" Kid asked, puzzled by the events. He'd been looking all over for Buck.
"Oh, since just after we took the stuff outside," Lou said, still watching the couple.
"For the last three hours?" Kid asked, incredulously. What would make Buck stay in the store for that long?
"Mm-hmm," Lou murmured, absentmindedly.
"And how do ya' know that?" Kid said, eyeing her suspiciously. She shrugged innocently and laughed when Kid rolled his eyes.
"Oh, I knew he was hidin' hereabouts, close enough to keep his eye on me." She smacked Kid as he nodded knowingly. "So here would be perfect for today," she explained.
"And you jus' happened to come in here…."
"What? We needed more things…sugar…salt…."
"And ya' needed Miss Keeney for that?" Kid needled his wife.
"I couldn't get the sugar off that shelf or the molasses from the back," Lou said, raising her nose in the air.
"There are a dozen jars sittin' right over there," Kid said, pointing at a table in the back corner. He chuckled at the false look of surprise on Lou's face. "You are somethin' else." Lou nodded her head once, took hold of Kid's arm and the two strolled out the door.