"The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides." - Time Tested Beauty Tips
Buck paused in the wide doorway of the barn and turned his hat in circles, his fingers pinching the brim as he wondered.
He'd seen her heading out to the barn, knew that she'd be busy for awhile… knew that it would give him time to think… time to gather his courage and tell her, "You were right."
She looked at him, her hands lowering to her sides, the pitchfork dropping down to rest in the golden strands. "About? When am I wrong?"
He shared in her laugh and saw the effort she made to make him smile.
Looking back down at the mess of hay at her feet she drew her arms back and swung the sharp points into the hay and chucked them higher onto the pile. "Are you thinkin' about that girl?"
Buck didn't answer immediately, but he did move further into the barn so she didn't have to squint into the bright sunlight beyond.
Forkfuls of hay flew again and again, building into a rhythm of momentum. "The others were sayin' how they don't blame you one bit. They thought she was really beautiful."
"Nope." She pursed her lips together just a bit as she continued to work.
"But you do?"
The tips of the pitchfork fell back into the hay at her feet. She lifted her eyes high enough to see his expression. She shook her head once, her eyes staying on his face. "I never said that, Buck. Didn't think it either." She leaned the handle of the pitchfork up against the half wall beside her. "She was pretty, Buck… really had a way about her."
He looked up, confused by the tone of her voice. It wasn't like her. Didn't have the edge he expected, the way she'd sound if she was scolding him. He expected it and if truth be told, he wanted it. Knew that out of all the riders she'd be the one to take him to task over his stupidity.
"But she didn't… like me, not really."
That got a smile. "You don't really think that, Buck. She liked you; she had to if she trusted you to take her all the way to Saint Louis."
He shifted from one foot to the other. "It wasn't trust. She knew she had me fooled, even told me she'd studied theater in Paris. I should have known."
"You ain't no fortune teller, Buck. How could you know what was in her head?"
"I should've…" he paused and arced a look away from Lou, unwilling to show her the pain in his eyes. "I saw what she wanted me to see, I guess." His mind swam with images from their picnic beneath that skeleton of a tree. "I doubt she even thought of me as a person, really. 'Exotic' she called me. That's not something you call a person, more like an animal in a menagerie."
"Don't." The conviction in her voice lifted his eyes to her face. "Don't do this to yourself, Buck. She used you, but it doesn't mean that-"
"I never really looked her in the eye, Lou." He gave her a rueful smile. "Too busy looking at everything else, countin' myself lucky that she wanted to see me… talk to me!"
"You can't do this to yourself, Buck. It ain't right what she's done, but you can't let it make you miserable. Just take it as a lesson learned. Next time a girl dazzles you with a smile and pretty look, look deeper than you did this time and-"
"Get all of you stuck in the middle of a gunfight."
She shrugged. "Nothin' more than what you boys did for me when I went after Jeremiah and Teresa."
"That was family, Lou, not-"
Louise stopped him with a touch, her hand laid across his forearm. "So was this, Buck. She didn't think beyond what she wanted and that got you in trouble. I wasn't gonna let it happen without tryin' to stop you." She gave him a pointed look. "Just remember you shouldn't trust a pretty face, they're nothin' but trouble."
He crooked his finger under her chin and tilted her face up into the sunlight. "Then we're in trouble, how am I ever going to trust you again?"