Notes from the Authors: This is where is becomes major AU

Chapter 1

Ike looked at Millie through the corner of her eye. They had just arrived back at the station after a trip to Sweetwater to see about Millie’s job. They’d talked to the newspaper and they were willing to give her one – once they’ve seen some of her writing. To celebrate the two decided that Ike could show her some of the country by going for a walk.

“You know,” Millie started. “If I get this job, it means you’ll be stuck with me here in Sweetwater,” she said half teasing, half serious. After she had gone to bed the night before, she thought long and hard about her conversation with Emma. Though she’d never courted before, she was more than willing to try with Ike - if he wanted to.

*I’d like it if you stayed in Sweetwater,* smiled Ike as he stopped and turned so he could look at her. *I’d like to read what you’ve written, too.*

Her smile brightened at his words, glad he wanted her to stay. But when he asked to see her writing, she sighed. Most of the stuff she had shown editors was about her growing up with the Shoshone. But she had one journal that she’d never shown anyone; the one about her last day when the camp was attacked. She had remembered so much over the past few months, that event alone just about filled the entire journal.

“When we get back to the station, I’d be glad to show you some of my writing. Though I’m not really sure how good it is.”

*I’m sure coming from you, it’ll be great.* Ike bit his lip as he looked into her eye.

“You always know what to say to make me feel better,” she grinned. “Thank you.”

They continued to walk around for awhile longer in silence. “I just wish I had more variety to show them. Just about everything is from when I was growing up with the Shoshone.”

Ike didn’t know how Millie was going to make variety show up in her work. Then he suddenly thought about something. *Just think about it, you have something that very few other people have. You’ve grown up with a different way of life, know the Indian way of life. You can use that and write about the white world.*

“I never thought about it like that. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ike.”

She had been so busy thinking of Ike, she missed the huge rock in her way and tripped over it. She groaned as she felt herself starting to fall.

Ike reached out and grabbed her by the waist so that instead of falling to the ground, she landed against his chest. She had a somewhat stunned look on her face and Ike was smiling down at her. He’d never been this close to a woman before.

Mille felt so safe in his arms, and as he looked down at her, she couldn’t fight the urge to raise her head and suddenly she was softly touching her lips to his.

At first Ike weren’t sure how he was supposed to react to Millie kissing him. At first he was just stunned. He didn’t know what to do with himself. Then he relaxed and pulled Millie closer to him.

She felt herself getting lost as Ike pulled her body against his. She finally broke the kiss and looked away ashamed.

“I’m so sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t mean… I’m sorry,” she said again quietly.

Ike reached out and turned Millie so that they were looking at each other. *Don’t be sorry,* he signed. *I liked kissing you.*

“Really?” she asked cautiously. “I really liked kissing you too.”

*I’m glad you feel that way because there’s something I’ve been thinking about. Something I’ve been meaning to ask you.* For a moment, Ike took Millie’s hands in his. *Are we courting now – I mean, do you want to court me?*

When he took her hands in his, sparks of electricity shot through her and she nodded happily. “I’d like that very much,” she said smiling. “Though I’ve never done this kind of thing before, so I’m not really sure what to do. But yes, Ike. I’d like to be courted by you.”

At the excitement in his eyes, she longed to kiss him again but held back.

*I’ve never done this courting thing either,* signed Ike. *Let’s just play it by ear.* He stood almost a head taller than her and looked down into her sparkling eyes. Leaning down he captured her lips in another kiss.

‘If this is what it’s like to court,’ she thought as they kissed again. ‘I could get used to this. It feels so right, so wonderful.’

Buck bit his lip as he sat silently in the bushes, watching his best friend and his new girlfriend kiss. He wanted to put an end to this – he didn’t want Ike to be hurt when she left. His friend had been hurt by women before. When it came to women, Ike gave away his heart too easily. Looking down, he knew all this – hatred – towards Millie had a reason in jealousy.

Buck wondered what it was like to court someone. He wondered if he could ever find a woman who would accept him for him, accept that he was Indian and that he could never be a white man.

Millie thought she’d heard something rattling in the bushes, but assumed it was an animal and ignored it. She reluctantly broke the kiss and smiled.

“As much as I don’t want to, we better start headin’ back to the station before Emma sends out a search party for us.”

Ike nodded in agreement. He didn’t want to leave this place. He wished there was a way he could stay with Millie right here, forever. *Yeah, I guess we should be heading back.* Ike gave her a quick kiss on the nose and then he offered her his arm.

She accepted the offered arm and as they headed towards the station, she hoped they would take more walks to the place she would always consider their special place.

***

As Ike and Millie came back to the station, the two looked at each other for a long time before they finally parted and Millie heading into the house to help Emma with lunch. Buck, though he didn’t want to harm his friend, decided that the two needed to talk.

“Ike, could we talk for a moment?” he asked.

*Sure, Buck. What’s wrong?*

“I saw you and Millie when you went for your walk. I overheard you askin’ to court her.”

*And she said yes,* signed Ike with a dreamy look in his eyes. *If being in love feels like this, then I’m love.*

“You just met her though. You’re my brother, and I don’t want you gettin’ hurt again. I know you think you care for her, but why rush things? Why not get to know her first before she breaks your heart?”

*I don’t know, Buck,* signed Ike as a smile came to his lips. *Being with Millie, it just feels right. One day, you’ll meet someone that feels just right, too. Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.*

“I hope so too, Ike, but I still think it’s too soon. I know you’d watch out for me as well, but I’ve seen it happen too many times. You think you’re in love, and then realize they were just using you. I don’t want to be the one to pick up the pieces when she breaks your heart.”

Ike thought about what Buck had said. *It’s true that I’ve been hurt before, but how am I supposed to know which is which if I don’t give it a try. Millie is different, she’s lived with the Shoshone, so she knows more than what most other women know and she has always been honest with me.*

Ike had a point about knowing if it was love or not until he gave it a try, but he wasn’t happy about it. His ears perked up when his friend mentioned her living with the Shoshone.

“Why was she living with the Shoshone? Is she part Shoshone?”

Ike shook his head. *Her parents were missionaries. The tribe let her stay after they died.*

Buck groaned at the thought her parents had been the type to try and convert the “heathens”. They were worse than the nuns at the orphanage who at least let him continue with his beliefs even if they didn’t approve.

“All the more reason to be careful, Ike. I can tell there’s no way I can change your mind, is there?” His friend shook his head and Buck was determined to find a way to get Millie alone to talk to her. “I hope this is real and you’ll be happy, but for now, don’t expect me to be happy about it.”

Ike shook his head. *I know this is difficult for you, but if you can’t be happy for me and support me in this, then I guess you’re not my brother.* Ike didn’t realize the meaning he put behind his signs before he made them. Not daring to look at Buck, he turned and walked towards Samson’s paddock.

Buck’s eyes grew wide as Ike told him where they stood. In all the time they’ve known each other, they’ve never let someone come between them, and he couldn’t belief Ike was serious enough about this girl to let that happen.

“Ike!” He called after him. “Ike, wait!”

But Ike kept going leaving Buck standing there shaking his head in disbelief and more determined than ever to speak to Millie.

Chapter 2

After helping Emma clean up after lunch, Millie sat out on the porch swing with her journals trying to decide which ones she could use or change to show the editor at the paper. Even with Ike’s earlier encouragement, she was still self conscious, and thinking of Ike made her remember the kisses and how her lips still tingled.

She was so lost in thought that she didn’t realize that Buck had approached the porch.

“Millie, we need to talk,” Buck said after having stood in front of the porch for a while, watching her. She was beautiful so he could see why Ike was attracted to her, but that didn’t make it right.

At lunch, Millie had sensed the tension between Buck and Ike at lunch and was wondering how long it would be before he came to talk to her.

“Sure, Buck, what’s on your mind?”

“You’re bad for Ike, you know that. His life was perfectly fine before you showed up.” Buck took a step closer to Millie to make sure that he got his point across.

She gasped at his harsh tone. “I don’t know that, Buck. Why would you even think that?”

“I heard about the Shoshone massacre. There were no survivors. Yet, you’re here. Your parents were missionaries. The Shoshones life was perfectly fine before they showed up. What aren’t you telling Ike?”

“I had no choice. I was six when my family went to live with them. It’s not like I could do anything to stop them from what they were doing.” She looked at Buck hoping he’d see the sincerity in her eyes. “Everything I’ve told Ike is the truth. But I don’t… I won’t talk about the massacre.”

“Why is that? Because you lived? The Kiowa has been massacred, too. You know what white men do? They wait until the men have left the village to go on a hunt. Then they attack the defenseless women and children. Is that how you came back to the white world? The village was attacked and they ‘saved’ you?” Buck stood, hovering above Millie, yelling at the top of his lungs.

“This time they didn’t wait until the men were gone,” she said quietly, trying not to relive that horrible day that she had tried so hard to forget.

Buck tried to hide his surprise at her comment. The details he’d been told by his brother on the massacre were sketchy at best, but he did know the men were present at the attack.

“And no one saved me from anything!” The tears started pouring down her face.

“Still, you’re bad for Ike. He’ll only end up being hurt when you leave.” With that, Buck turned around and walked away. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Millie.

Millie pulled her legs up on the swing and she buried her face in her knees as his words and the horrible memories of that day assaulted her.

***

Ike had been in the barn shoeing a horse when he heard the commotion going on outside. Seeing Millie on the porch swing crying and Buck walking away, Ike knew something must have happened.

He rushed to her side and held her close.

Millie leaned into Ike’s chest. “I don’t know why he hates me so much,” she sobbed. “He won’t even give me a chance.”

Ike rocked her back and forth and held her as he would a child. He wished there was something he could say to make her feel better, but he was at a loss for words. Once she seemed to calm down he pulled back so he could look at her.

*I’m sure Buck doesn’t hate you. He’s just – he’s just – I don’t know what he is. I think he’s mad at me because I told him that we’re no longer brother and he took it out on you. I’m sorry.* Ike leaned towards her and kissed her tearstained cheek.

“Why would you tell him that?” she asked shocked. “Ike, you’ve known him too long to throw your friendship away for me. Maybe…” She hated what she was willing to do, but she hated herself even more for coming between them. “Maybe I should just leave,” she said quietly, biting her bottom lip.

*I don’t want you to leave. Meeting you was one of the best things that could have happened to me.* Ike reached out to take her hands in his. Then a smile came to her lips. *You’re cute when you bite your lip like that.*

“I feel the same way,” she replied honestly. “But I hate that I’ve come between you and Buck and I don’t want you hatin’ me one day because of it.”

*I won’t hate you. How about we go for a walk to our spot and then you can show me some of what you’ve written. Then, we can come back when things have settled.*

“We may be there for a long time,” she giggled, wiping the last of her tears away. She grabbed her journals as they stood, and taking his hand in hers, they walked off towards their spot.

***

Buck had been standing in the background watching as Millie and Ike walked away to ‘their spot’. Those were Ike’s words. He felt his anger bubble and he didn’t know what to do with himself. “He’s such a fool,” he muttered under his breath.

“Somethin’ on your mind, Buck?” Teaspoon asked approaching him. He had noticed the tension between Buck and Ike and had the feeling that pretty new girl on Ike’s arm was the reason.

“Why can’t he see that she’s bad for him? Every time Ike has fallen for a girl she ends up hurting him.” Buck looked up at Teaspoon. “I’m worried about him.”

“Sounds like you need the sweat lodge, son,” he said as he lead Buck there. Once they were stripped down to their longjohns, they entered and Teaspoon looked at him.

“Why are you so sure this will end up like every other time?” he asked curiously.

“Because he doesn’t know anything about this girl. He just met her. All we really know about her is that her folks were missionaries that tried to convert the Shoshone to Christianity.” Buck looked up at Teaspoon, his eyes pleading for understanding.

Teaspoon saw the look in his eyes and shook his head. “Don’t sound like she coulda done anything about that, so what else is botherin’ ya?”

Buck looked down. “Ike told me he’s no longer my brother – because I couldn’t be supportive of him and Millie.”

“I can see why he’d say that.” Teaspoon held up his hand in protest as Buck looked at him and started to say something. “You’re not really giving her a chance. You’re just assuming things without gettin’ to know her. Could part of your problem be maybe ya’s jealous that maybe Ike might not need you so much anymore?”

“We promised we’d have each other’s back, always.” Buck pulled a hand through his now damp hair. “Guess he grew up while I’m still at the Mission school. Back then all we had was each other.”

“And you still do have each other, and each other’s backs. But I think part of that is even when Ike was likin’ other girls, you were still part of their relationship because no one cared for him enough to learn to communicate with him. Now a gal comes along that can and Ike’s on his own.”

Buck shook his head. “It’s not like that.” Then he thought about it for a moment. “Maybe it’s a little like that. I just don’t want him to get hurt. He falls head over heels for someone and then when she breaks his heart, then I have to be there to pick up the pieces. I hate seeing him like that so it’s better that he’s not hurt at all.”

“So you’d rather break up something that could be the real thing? I know it’s hard to see him like that, and I don’t blame you. But why are you so sure she’ll break his heart? I know they’ve just met and all and it seems like its happenin’ real sudden like, but sometimes it happens that way.” Teaspoon grinned as he rubbed his chin. “Happened to me with two of my wives.”

Buck squirmed where he sat. “I don’t know what to say. I just don’t want things to change because when something’s good, why change it?”

“Sometimes things gotta change. And although it’s not always for the best, you never know until you let it. I don’t know much about Millie, probably even less than you, but the way I seen her lookin’ at him, I don’t think she’s out to hurt him. Not intentionally anyway, and they may have some rough spots, but you should give her a chance. Besides, you’s so worried about her breakin’ his heart, think about what your behavior is doin’ to it.”

“I … I didn’t think of that. I have been acting like a fool, haven’t I?” Buck didn’t wait for an answer. “I still don’t like her, but I guess I have to accept that he does.”

Teaspoon nodded. “I think once you get to know her, you may find you have some things in common – other than your love for Ike.”

“I’ll try to get to know her better,” said Buck. “Though I don’t know how much we have in common.”

“Well you’re both strugglin’ to live between worlds. She was a white woman in your world and you’re an Indian in hers. It’s not easy for either of you, but unlike you, for whatever reason, I don’t think she can’t go back.”

“Thanks Teaspoon,” said Buck. “When her and Ike come back I’ll talk to them.”

“Good. And as upset as Ike is right now, I don’t think he meant what he said. But I wouldn’t force him to make a choice either. Because if he does and things don’t work out between those two, you’ll both be hatin’ yourselves more than the other.”

“I know. Guess I put all three of us in a bad situation.” Buck fiddled with his hands for a moment before he looked back up at Teaspoon.

The stationmaster nodded. “Let’s just hope for all your sakes that it’s not too late.”

Chapter 3

Ike sat underneath a tree and looked at Millie’s writing. *I really like your way with words,* he signed after he’d put the paper down.

“Thanks,” she said shyly. “I just hope it’s good enough for the paper,” she sighed.

*If it’s not, then it’s them that are stupid.* Ike leaned down and kissed her nose.

Millie loved the way he kissed her nose; it tickled and sent shivers throughout her body. When he pulled back, she smiled at him, hoping he would kiss her again like they had earlier.

“Although if I do get the job,” she started. “Between work and your rides and chores, we might not have the time see each other,” she teased.

Ike hadn’t thought about that, but still, he smiled. *Then we’ll make time. I’ll make sure of that.* He reached one arm around her shoulders.

“Oh I’m sure we can find the time,” she said leaning into him and resting her head on his shoulder.

Ike liked it when they were just resting together like they were now. He didn’t want to go back to the station – at least not yet. Placing a small kiss on the top of her head, Ike drew in the scent of her hair.

At that moment, the world seemed perfect. Ike had a way of making her forget about everything but the two of them. It was as she hadn’t existed before she met him.

Buck watched the two and he couldn’t help himself but to smile. They did look happy together. With his hat in his hands, Buck slowly moved towards them.

“Um, can we talk?”

“Maybe I should go,” Millie said, reluctantly lifting her head. “Let you two talk.”

“No, I want you both to be there.” Buck sat down in front of them. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve been acting lately, for the things that I’ve said and for being a jerk.” He looked down at the ground before he turned his gaze to Ike. “Ike, I’m sorry for trying to keep you away from Millie – for saying that she wasn’t good for you and that she was lying.” He turned to Millie.

“I’m sorry for judging you before I didn’t even gave myself a chance to get to know you. I … that has happened to me so many times and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I can see you that you care about Ike and I want the both of you to be happy. I need to learn to accept that things change and that we’ll always have each other’s back, like we promised each other when we were at the mission school.”

Millie had not been expecting Buck to come around so quickly, and she smiled at him. “That means a lot to me, Buck.” She looked at Ike and smiled. “I know it seems weird since we just met, but I really do care for Ike. And it’s been killing me that I’ve come between the two of you.”

Buck shook his head. “You didn’t come between Ike and me. I came between the two of you…” Buck was about to continue when Ike tapped his chest three times to get attention.

*I’m sorry about what I said earlier. All I wanted from you was to be happy for me and Millie and when you weren’t I said some things that I didn’t mean.*

A smile formed on Buck’s lips. “I know you didn’t mean them. And I didn’t mean to upset you askin’ about the massacre, and I believe you were there.”

She nodded. “I’m just not ready to talk about it,” she said quietly.

Ike pointed at the one journal she refused to let him look at. “I guess lettin’ you read about it isn’t the same as talkin’ about it,” she reasoned as she handed Buck the book.

“That’s alright,” said Buck, “There’s a lot of things I’m not ready to talk about either.”

“I know you’re worried about me hurting Ike, but I don’t plan on it. Maybe one day you’ll understand how we feel. There’s somethin’ special about him.” She looked at Ike and smiled. “And he makes me feel special.”

“I hope I get to feel that one day.” Buck looked at the two, and his eyes lit up. “In the meantime, does that mean I get to act really jealous like towards you?”

She laughed at his statement. “Only if I get to act really jealous towards you.” Growing serious she looked and him. “And I promise not to take all his time. That way you two can still talk about me behind my back,” she grinned.

Buck laughed, happy that they had made up and that he was starting to accept things, even when they are good, can’t always stay the same.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” he said standing up. “Have fun,” he began as he started to walk away, but turned his head over his shoulder and grinned widely. “But not too much.”

Millie giggled and put her head on Ike’s shoulder again. “I’m glad you two worked things out.”

*I’m glad we worked things out, too. I hate fighting like that.* Ike grinned down at Millie and his eyes lit up. *Now we just have to do something with his sense of humor.* The thought of having ‘too much fun’ hadn’t crossed his mind, at least not until Buck had mentioned it.

“Well I’m sure we can find other ways of havin’ fun.”

Chapter 4

Over the next few weeks things began looking brighter for Millie. She did get the job at the paper and when she weren’t working, she still helped out around the station in exchange for room and board. She and Ike also spent as much time together as their schedules allowed, and the other riders had began to accept her as part of the family.

One day while she was hanging laundry on the line and waiting for Ike to return from his run, she noticed Lou and Jimmy by the corral talking. She had watched the two for quite some time and wondered why the other riders didn’t notice what was going on.

“Lover’s spat?” Millie teased as Lou walked by after Jimmy rode off like a bat out of hell.

Lou nearly choked and her eyes grew wide. “What?”

Millie chuckled. “The others might not be able to see it, but I knew you were a girl from the first day.”

Lou looked up at Millie, her mouth open. “You knew?” she said a voice hardly above a whisper. Suddenly she started to feel very self conscious about herself.

She nodded. “I wasn’t exactly sure the first time I saw you, but yeah, I knew. And don’t worry, I’m not gonna tell the others.”

“Thanks,” smiled Lou and let out a sigh in relief. “Do you know if any of the others have, you know – found out?”

“Other than Jimmy, I don’t think so. At least no one’s said anything to me. Since Ike hasn’t said anything, I figured the others didn’t know.”

“That’s good,” said Lou. “I really need this job.” Then a sly smile came to her lips. “Now that I have another girl to talk to, how about the two of us get away for a little girl talk? You know, rant about our men.” Lou stood close to Millie so that there was no chance of the other’s accidentally overhearing.

Millie laughed. “I was hopin’ you’d suggest something like that. I love Emma dearly, but she’s so protective of Ike and it’s hard to talk to her about him.”

“She’s like a mother to us all,” said Lou. “Come on, let’s get away from this dreary place and make our own fun.”

Ike had just returned from his run when he saw Millie and Lou walk off together. He wondered what was up with the two of them. While he’d been on that run Ike had missed Millie so much he couldn’t wait to get home. Then when he finally got home, Millie was walking away with Lou.

Jealousy crept up on him.

Since it was a warm day, the two new friends decided to go to the swimming hole. Lou was relieved to have someone other than Jimmy she could now go swimming with, and another girl to be able to talk to.

“I’m glad someone else knows my secret, now.” Lou said. “It’s not easy livin’ in a bunkhouse full of guys that don’t know.”

“I can imagine,” Millie smiled. “But I’m sure it has it’s perks too. You’ve probably seen more of Ike that I ever will,” she said shyly.

“I guess that is true,” said Lou, “Living in a bunkhouse full of guys that doesn’t know I’m a girl, does have its upsides.” Then she stopped. “Do you want to see Ike?”

Millie blushed a bright shade of red. “I’d be lyin’ if I said I didn’t, but we’re both to shy and have only kissed so far. We haven’t even known each other that long, and I’m not sure how he feels about me.”

“I’ve seen the way he looks at you when he thinks you’re not looking.” Lou grinned. “The boy’s in love.”

“You really think so?” she asked uncertain. Lou nodded. “I think I’m in love with him too, but it’s all so new and confusing for me. After my parents died and I stayed with the Shoshone, they made it clear I wasn’t allowed to be courted by the boys in the tribe, so I guess I missed out on knowing what it was like.”

Lou smiled. “I never really thought about men before Jimmy found out I was a girl.”

“Are you and Jimmy…” she wondered but not quite sure how to phrase it, “together?”

“No, not at the moment. Right now, we’re more like friends, but there is a chance of something happening in the future.”

“Guess it would be kinda hard to be anything else with the others in the dark.”

“Yeah, it is. Millie, you’re lucky you get to be the girl you are. I – I’ve seen the way you and Ike are together and I can’t help but to get a little jealous.” Lou smiled as she said it. “One day, when I have enough money saved up, I’ll get my own place and I can get my brother and sister from the orphanage, then I can be a girl again.”

“Don’t be jealous. Maybe one day you’ll have what Ike and I have… whatever it is we have, with Jimmy or someone else. And around me, you can still be a girl. Too be honest, after about the fourth time a paper rejected me for being a girl, I thought about disguisin’ myself as a boy.

Ike had been watching the two for a long time. He couldn’t hear what they were saying because he was so far away and he wouldn’t want to get found out and accused of eavesdropping. How come Millie was acting a little too friendly towards Lou? They were both in the water and seemed like they were having a grand old time. Ike could take it no more, but stood up and jumped in the water to get their attention.

Lou and Millie heard the splash and immediately turned just in time to see Ike emerging.

“Ike!” Millie screamed. “What in the world? What’s gotten into you?”

“I’m gonna let you two sort things out among yourselves,” said Lou is a soft voice. “Just remember Ike, listen to what she has to say.” With that, Lou exited the water, making sure that Ike couldn’t see her.

Millie looked at Lou panicked. She wasn’t sure how she could explain to Ike about Lou without giving away her secret. Seeing Lou leaving, she turned back to Ike.

“It isn’t what it looks like,” she pleaded.

*Then what is it?* asked Ike as he took a step closer to Millie.

“We were just talking, honest. We… we have some things in common.”

Lou had been listening in on Millie and Ike and decided that she needed to say something. “It’s alright Millie, you can tell him.”

“Are you sure?” she called out as Lou nodded. “Ike, please don’t get upset. And promise me you won’t tell anyone. Promise me,” she begged.

Ike nodded, seriously.

Millie bit her bottom lip. She trusted Ike, but she wasn’t sure how he’d react. “Lou and I have some things in common because…” she looked back at Lou. “Because Lou’s… she’s a girl,” she said silently.

At first, Ike wasn’t sure what he had heard and this there was a funny grimace on his face. Then he turned his face to look at Lou and he wondered how he hadn’t been able to not see it before. His face breaking into a smile, Ike let out a sigh in relief.

Seeing Ike’s expression, Lou smiled and realized the couple would be okay and quietly left.

“I like Emma and all,” Millie started. “But sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone else. And I figured since her and Jimmy… Well I just needed someone else to talk to.” She looked away ashamed hoping he would understand and not feel hurt that she didn’t turn to him.

Ike nodded and moved in to place a small kiss on her lips. When he pulled back he smiled. *How about we get out of this water?*

Millie sighed when he broke the gentle kiss but nodded. As they made it back to the shore, they got out and Millie quickly found her clothes. But when she looked down, she quickly turned away from Ike realizing that with her undergarments soaked, he could probably see right through them.

Ike had a hard time keeping his eyes to himself. He’d never really thought about Millie in any other way than they were just courting, but now – when she was wet and in her undergarments, Ike couldn’t help but feel the blood rush to his head. As Millie turned, Ike was finally able to take his eyes off of her.

After she had finished dressing, she shyly turned back towards Ike. “By the way,” she said kissing his cheek. “Welcome home. I missed you and I’m sorry when you came back I wasn’t there to greet you.”

A bright smile came to Ike’s lips as the kiss on the cheek seemed to warm him. *I’ve missed you, too.* His body started to shiver because his clothes were all wet and the slight breeze didn’t exactly help any.

“We better get you home,” she insisted when she saw him shivering. “We need to get you warmed up quickly. It’s gonna be hard enough explain’ to Emma why we’re both soaked to the bone,” she smiled mischievously.

Ike nodded. *I think Emma’s gonna be mad.*

“Well let’s get you back so we can make you feel all better.”

Chapter 5

A couple of days after Ike had taken his little ‘swim’ in the pond, he could no longer hold back the feeling that he was about to lose his stomach, nor that he was about to fall over every time he rose. Sitting at the breakfast table, Ike didn’t eat, but instead gave his food the evil eye.

Millie looked over at Ike worried. Since the day at the pond he hadn’t been acting like himself and it bothered her. She’d asked him more than once if he was feeling alright and he said he was. But now she as she looked at him she could see he looked a little green and he wouldn’t even touch his food.

“Ike, what’s wrong?” she asked as she walked behind him, placing her hand on his shoulder. “You’re not eating.”

*I don’t feel too good,* signed Ike as he turned to look at Millie. He did so slowly because he was afraid that the room would start to spin even more if he did it at a normal pace.

“Ike,” said Emma as she stood to feel his forehead. “I think you need stay in bed for a couple of days. You’re burning up. That’ll teach you not to take a swim with your clothes on.” Ike cringed as Emma helped him stand.

Millie shook her head. “I told him it was stupid of him,” she said. But as Emma was helping him stand she smiled softly at him. “But he thought he had his reasons. Maybe I should stay here instead of going to work,” she said concerned.

Ike shook his head, immediately regretting the movement. *You’ll only get in trouble with the boss.*

“Are you sure?” she asked uncertain.

Ike gave a small nod and Millie and Emma helped him over to the main house. Laying down on the bed and having a warm blanket pulled over him, Ike let himself sink further down into the bed and get as comfortable as it was possible to get.

Millie still wasn’t sure if she wanted to leave him, but she knew he was in good hands with Emma. “If you’re sure then,” she said as she leaned down and gently kissed his forehead, realizing just how warm he was. She turned to Emma and quietly added, “If he gets worse, will you send someone for me?”

Emma nodded and a smile came to her lips as she noticed that Millie and Ike shared a look. *I love you,* signed Ike. *I’ll be here when you get back from work.*

Her heart skipped a beat as she saw Ike sign that he loved her for the first time. She wondered if it was true or the fever making him say it, so she just smiled at him.

“You’d better be,” she scolded teasingly. “I better not find you swimmin’ in the pond again.” She kissed him again, this time on the cheek, scared of catching what he had if she kissed him on the lips. “I’ll come back and check on you on my lunch hour.”

Nodding, Ike gave her a weak smile. *I’ll be waiting.* As Millie left to go to work, Emma tucked the blanket around Ike’s shoulders.

“I’ll make you some tea and some broth,” she said in a mothering voice as she pulled the damp bandanna from his head.

A little while later, there was a light knock on the door before Buck walked in. He looked at Ike lying on the bed pale and weak and tried to smile.

“Hey, buddy. I just got back from my run and heard you weren’t feelin’ to well. Anything I can do?”

Ike’s face lit up as his brother entered. *Hi Buck. Emma said it was just a common cold and that it’ll be over in a week or so.*

“Glad to hear it,” Buck said. “I got worried when Cody said he’d take your next run.”

*I may go swimming with my clothes on more often if it get’s Cody to do his job.* Ike gave Buck a silly face.

“Yeah well, I still don’t know why you were doing that in the first place. You oughta know better.”

*Sometimes being in love makes you do stupid things.*

Buck grinned. The more he took the time he got to know Millie, the worse he felt for his behavior towards her at the beginning. She was probably one of the best things that ever happened to his brother and he was glad for it. Ike seemed like a different person around her.

“I know, just don’t go doin’ it again. Millie’d kill ya if something happened to you.”

*That I know.* Ike grinned as Emma entered the room with the broth and the tea.

“Buck, why don’t you help Ike eat some of this broth and then I can get to some mending?”

*I can feed myself,* Ike tried to tell Emma, but it seemed that the older woman weren’t listening.

Buck took the bowl of broth and smiled. “Just relax and let her and Millie spoil you for a little while.”

Ike noticed that Buck had that special look on his face, the one that brooked no argument. Nodding in an okay, Ike admitted defeat.

Buck slowly fed him a bit at a time, but he noticed the effort it was taking his brother just to eat. He could tell Ike was getting really tired, but kept encouraging him.

“Just a bit more, Ike, then you can sleep.”

*But I’m not hungry anymore,* signed Ike.

He reluctantly nodded. “Then I’ll leave the rest here for when you do get hungry. Is there anything I can get you?”

Ike shook his head. *I’m good,* he signed as he sank back into a prone position. *I just need some rest and then I’ll be all better.*

***

All morning Millie couldn’t concentrate on her work. She was too worried about Ike and her mind kept wandering to him. She was concerned not only on how he was doing, but kept wondering if he meant when he said he loved her.

“Millie, why don’t you take the rest of the afternoon off,” her boss said concerned. “You’re mind’s been in the clouds since you got here.”

“Are you sure?” her boss nodded. “Thanks, Hannah,” she said as she grabbed her stuff and ran out the door. She quickly mounted Honey and rode back to the station as quickly as she could and immediately ran into Emma’s as Buck was leaving.

“How’s he doin’, Buck?”

“I got some broth in him, and he’s resting now,” answered Buck.

“Oh,” she sighed. “I don’t want to wake him if he’s sleeping and I know as soon as I enter the room he’ll wake up.”

“I think he’ll like it if you went to see him,” said Buck.

She smiled. “Thanks, Buck,” she said as she hurried to the room Ike was in. The door was open and she couldn’t help but think how much she loved him as she looked at his peaceful expression. Quietly she entered the room and sat down in the chair next to the bed and just watched him.

*You came,* Ike signed lazily and smiled up at her.

“Of course I did. How are you feeling?”

*Better now that you’re here.*

“Well I’ve got the rest of the day off to help take care of you,” she informed him. “But you need your rest so I’ll go see if Emma needs my help.”

*Can I get a kiss first,* asked Ike with a sheepish grin on his face.

“Ike, you’re sick!” At the mock pitiful look he gave her she shook her head. “Fine,” she said before leaning over and kissing him lightly on the lips.

Ike grinned as his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep.

Millie carefully tucked the blankets around him and kissed him on the forehead one last time. She went downstairs and found Emma hanging laundry.

“He may be sick,” she told Emma, helping to hang a sheet. “But he’s acting like his normal self.”

“That’s good.” Emma gave Millie a smile in thanks. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ike sick before.”

“Most guys I’ve seen that are sick act like babies, glad to know Ike’s not like that. Even now, after these past few weeks he still surprises me.”

“That’s what so great about getting to know someone, they never cease to surprise you.” Emma smiled at the courtship of Millie and Ike. They truly were a match made in heaven.

“Emma, can I ask you a question? Something happened earlier and I’m not sure if Ike meant it or if it was the fever.”

“Of course, you can ask me anything,” said Emma as they finished hanging the laundry. She led them towards the porch swing.

Millie fiddled with her hands after they sat on the swing, nervous and excited at the same time. “Well you know Ike and I are courtin’ and all and I like him, I really do, but…” She looked over at Emma. “Before I left for work this morning, he told me he loved me. He’s never said it before and since he’s sick…” She let out an exasperated sigh. “I don’t know what to do… what to believe.”

Emma hugged Millie to her. “I don’t think Ike would lie about something like that. He’s a good boy, and he’s honest. If he said it, then he meant it.”

She nodded. “Normally I’d agree, but with his fever he might not’ve realized he said it. That’s why I didn’t say it back to him,” she said sadly. “I think I’ve known it since the night we met.”

“Even if he doesn’t remember what he said later on, he meant it.” Emma gave Millie a bright smile.

“I just wish I knew what to do know. I’ve never courted before and… I don’t know, I’m just so confused.”

“I know, hun,” said Emma. “How about this? You just do what feels natural, and if there’s something you find confusing, you can come talking to me.”

“Thanks, Emma. Now if we can just get him better.”

“I’m sure we’ll manage that,” smiled Emma. “Speaking of which, how did he look when you saw to him?”

“Really pale and when I kissed his forehead, he seemed a lot warmer than he did this morning. He’s gonna be alright isn’t he?”

“Why don’t we go check on him?” Emma’s voice was reassuring as she led Millie inside the house. As the two women opened the door to Ike’s sickroom, they found him curled up in bed, his blanket a mess.

Millie saw how bad of shape the blankets were in and quickly tucked them back around him. Almost immediately, Ike started to kick them off again.

“Shh, Ike,” said Emma as she sat down on the bedside next to him and laid his head in her lap. “It’s alright, you’re only dreaming. It’s time to calm down now and rest so you can get better.” This action did seem to calm Ike somewhat and Emma motioned to Millie to tuck the blanket around him again.

Millie tucked him in again and he seemed to settle down but she was still worried. Ike looked almost as bad as her mother had before she died, and she had to fight back the tears that were threatening to fall quickly.

“He’s gonna be alright,” said Emma in a reassuring voice. “Ike’s a fighter, you know that.” Ike finished of Emma’s train of thought with a sneeze. Emma wiped his face which seemed to unsettle Ike and slowly his eyes opened.

Turning around he smiled sheepishly up at the two women. *Hi,* he signed.

“Hey,” she said biting her bottom lip. She knew Ike would make himself even sicker if he saw how upset she was.

*What’s wrong?* asked Ike before he reached out to her hand. He only managed halfway before it fell down on top of the blanket.

She shook her head. “Just wishin’ you were feeling better s’all,” she lied.

*It’s just a common cold, I’ll be back on my feet before you know it.*

“But if you want to get back on your feet you need to rest,” chided Emma. “Now you be a good boy and close your eyes and fall asleep.”

Ike nodded. *I’ll try.*

Chapter 6

Over the next few days, Ike’s cold would get better than worse than better again. The days he was worse drove Millie insane with worry, and as much as she tried to hide it, he knew better. But by the end of the week, it looked like he had turned the corner and would be fine.

Ike was sitting up in bed, resting a bowl of broth on his lap while every once in a while take a sip. *Millie, I’ll be fine, I promise,* he signed. *You don’t have to feed me.*

“Emma said to make sure you eat,” she reminded him. “But if you want me to go,” she said starting to stand up.

*No, I don’t want you to leave,* Ike hurried to sign. *It’s just that since I’ve been feeling better I want to do things on my own.*

Millie looked hurt briefly but nodded knowing he was right. “I guess you’re right, I’m just worried you’ll get sicker again.”

*Don’t worry,* signed Ike before he leaned in to give her a small kiss on the cheek.

She giggled at his kiss. “With as much kissin’ as you’ve been givin’ me, it’s a wonder I didn’t wind up in bed next to you.” Her eyes grew big when she realized how that sounded. “I meant sick as well.”

Ike’s eyes went wide as well and he started to cough.

“Maybe I should go get Emma,” she said worriedly as he continued to cough.

Ike shook his head. *I’ll be fine. See, all better already.*

“Just keep getting better. Promise me?” she begged.

*I will,* signed Ike before he pulled Millie into a hug and he placed a kiss on the top of her head.

Millie felt so at home in his arms. “Good. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you,” she confessed.

“Hey Ike, how you feeling?” asked Buck as he poked his head in the door. “Emma told me you were feeling a whole lot better today and … maybe I should come back later.”

Millie pulled back from Ike and smiled. “No, you can stay,” she told Buck. “I’ll go down and see if Emma needs me for anything. Maybe you can get him to finish his broth.”

Buck smiled at Millie as she left the room. Sitting down on the chair next to the bed, Buck looked at his friend. “You look a lot better than what you did a few days ago.”

*I feel a lot better, too.*

“I’m sure having Millie nurse you back to health has a lot to do with that,” he teased. “But you are lookin’ a lot better. You gave all of us a scare.”

*Sorry about that. Buck, do you think you can sneak me outside with you? I’m tired of being cooped up in this room.*

“I know you are, buddy.” He looked at the door and then stood and crossed to the window. He smiled when he didn’t see Emma or Millie outside. “They’re probably in the kitchen cooking so if you’re real quiet, I’ll do it.”

*Thanks, brother,* smiled Ike as he sat up and pulled on some clothes.

Buck helped Ike downstairs, carefully checking around every corner and listening closely for signs of Millie or Emma. Once outside, Buck helped Ike into the swing.

“I know you’d rather go check on Samson and the other animals, but they’re fine. And I don’t want you going too far.”

*But I wanna make sure,* protested Ike. *I know they’re fine, but I haven’t seen them in a week. Please Buck.* To make his point, Ike stood and folded his arms over his chest.

“If you get me in trouble,” he started, knowing there was no way he could talk him out of it. “I’ll kill you instead of the cold.”

Buck reluctantly helped Ike over to the corral and smiled as Samson immediately came to him. “See, they’re fine. Between Millie and me checking on them and feeding them I’m surprised they’re not fat.”

Ike sat down on a bale of hay and scratched Samson’s neck. There was a bright smile on his face as he was finally able to spend more time with the animals.

When Buck saw how much being with his animals cheered him up he smiled. “Maybe instead of Millie nursing you back to health, she should’ve left you out here with the animals,” he teased.

Ike turned to his friend and shook his head. *I love Millie too much to do such a thing.*

“I know you do, and from the way she was fussing over you, it’s obvious she feels the same. There were times she was more worried about you than I was. You’re lucky to have someone like her.”

*You’ll be lucky to someday,* signed Ike. Samson interrupted by nudging his head on Ike’s shoulder.

“Uh oh,” Buck said shaking his head as he looked towards the house. A furious Millie was heading their way.

“Ike! What on earth are you doing out here? I went to the room and you were gone.”

*I was tired of being cooped up inside,* he explained. *And I’ve been missing Samson and I wanted to see how he was.*

Millie looked hurt. “You shouldn’t be out of bed, and I told you I was taking care of him.”

*Will it make it all better if I go back to bed?* he asked before he stood and gave her a kiss on the cheek. *I’m sorry for getting out of bed.*

She shook her head. “No, you’re already outside so a few more minutes won’t hurt you. Or at least it better not.” She turned to Buck. “You should’ve known better than sneaking him out.”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” said Buck in a low and humble voice.

“Oh no!” Millie exclaimed before breaking out into laughter. “I’m turning into Emma!”

Ike’s shoulder shook so hard that he fell down on the ground. Buck wasn’t far behind.

“It’s not funny!” she said trying not to laugh anymore. “Okay, maybe it is, but I just can’t help worryin’ about you.”

Ike grinned and looked up at her before he pulled her down with him.

“Would you two like to be alone?” Buck teased.

*Yep,* signed Ike.

Buck smiled and nodded. “Have fun you two,” he said as he was leaving. “But not too much,” he said over his shoulder.

Millie looked at Ike and smiled. “You’re crazy, you know that don’t you?”

*Yep,* grinned Ike as he gave her a quick kiss.

“What am I ever gonna do with you?” she teased before giving him another quick kiss.

*I don’t know. Marry me.*

Millie placed her hand on his forehead. “I think your fever’s returning,” she said. She longed to believe he was serious and it wasn’t the illness making him talk crazy. “It would serve you right if I said yes.”

Ike sat up and took her hands and folded them in her lap. *I am serious. Millie, I know this isn’t the regular way things are done, but will you please marry me.*

When she saw the love and sincerity in his eyes, she couldn’t say no, and the tears started forming in her eyes. She nodded. “Yes, Ike. I’d be honored to marry you.”

A bright smile came to his lips as he leaned in for a kiss. His fingers wrapped themselves in her hair and he pulled her close.

She wrapped her arms around his neck as the kiss deepened. As he pulled her against him, she wasn’t sure if that was her heart trying to beat its way out of her chest or his.

“Hey, lovebirds,” called Cody from the porch. “Lunch is ready.”

Ike pulled back from the kiss and smiled.

“Do you feel up to eatin’ in the bunkhouse?” she asked, wishing they hadn’t been interrupted, but glad they had only been kissing.

*Yep, but only if I can sit next to you.*

“Deal,” she said standing up and offering a hand to help him up.

Ike offered her his arm and together they walked to the bunkhouse. Before they entered he stopped. *I can’t wait to tell them.*

“You know Emma will want to start planning for it immediately. And I bet a few of them are gonna wonder what the rush is.”

*Let them worry,* signed Ike with a bright smile.

Mille and Ike walked into the bunkhouse and sat down next to each other at the table.

“Glad to see you back, Ike,” Kid said taking his seat. The others agreed.

“Feelin’ better?” Lou asked.

*Yep. I’ve never been better. I’ve got Millie to thank for that.*

“Nothin’ makes me feel better than a pretty girl at my side playin’ nurse,” Cody joked.

*That, and the fact that just before Cody interrupted us, I asked Millie to marry me and she said yes.*

Everyone offered their congratulations and asked what seemed like millions of questions.

Millie looked over at Ike and smiled. “Told you so,” she mouthed. “I did agree to marry him, but we’re not rushing into anything. It’s only been a few weeks and there’s really no rush to get married.”

Buck was the first one to stand up and he walked over to the couple and gave Millie a hug and Ike a pat on the back. “I’m really happy for the two of you.”

“Thanks, Buck,” she said sincerely. She still couldn’t believe how close the three of them had become considering the rocky start they had gotten off to.

It was at that moment that the entire room broke into a complete chaos. Everybody wanted to congratulate them and Ike felt a little confused by all of the attention he was suddenly receiving.

Millie felt overwhelmed at the attention she and Ike were getting. She looked over at him and knew he was uncomfortable as well. Taking his hand in hers under the table, she gave it a squeeze and smiled reassuringly at him.

“Okay that’s enough,” Emma said seeing the young couple’s reaction. “Leave them be and eat. There’s time for questions later.”

Ike gave Emma a look of thank you and he squeezed Millie’s hand under the table.

Chapter 7

As the other riders entered the town hall for the dance, Ike pulled Millie aside. *I know we’re not rushing things, but I wanted to get you this.* Reaching into the pocket of his pants, Ike pulled out a small pouch and out of it appeared a golden ring.

“Oh Ike, it’s beautiful,” she said smiling at him.

Ike reached for her hand and placed the ring on her finger. *I wanted to do this the right way.*

“Thank you,” she said kissing his cheek. “But it doesn’t matter how you do things as long as we’re together.”

*I love you,* signed Ike before he placed a light kiss on her lips.

“I love you, too,” she said, glad she could finally tell him. “And I know we’re not rushing things, but I can’t wait to be your wife,” she grinned.

Millie’s words made Ike smile. *Come on, I want to show off my fiancé.*

Ike introduced her to the few people in town she hadn’t already met and then led her to the dance floor. She was a horrible dancer, but Ike didn’t seem to mind having his toes crushed as long as she was in his arms.

“I told you I was a horrible dancer,” she said, smiling at him.

Ike shook his head to tell her that she was better than him, but his hands were otherwise engaged. Instead he shook his head and smiled.

“Why is it even when you can’t talk, you still know just what to say?” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek.

A slight blush came to his cheeks as Millie kissed him. In response, he held her even closer to him and let out a small sigh.

As he held her against him, Millie rested her head against his chest, glad the band was playing a slow number, and hoped they would continue to play one.

Alas, the song had to end and Ike led Millie to one of the refreshments tables. *Would you like some punch?* he asked with a bright smile.

“Yes, please,” she said realizing how dry her throat was.

Ike brought her a cup of punch and some cookies which she devoured quickly.

“You’d think I hadn’t eaten in days,” she teased. “I’m glad we came tonight.”

*I’m glad we came, too.* Ike smiled down at her before he poured a glass of punch for himself. It tasted a little different than what he was used to, but he liked it so he poured himself another glass. *I like showing off my fiancé.*

Millie started her second cup of punch wondering why it seemed to have a kick to it. “I like showing you off to. Make sure those other girls staring at you know you’re mine,” she said with a grin.

*Then how about another dance, to show off each other.* Ike grinned as he offered his arm to her.

“I thought you’d never ask,” she said as she led him to the dance floor.

***

As the next dance ended, Millie and Ike went outside to catch some fresh air. Ike held both of her hands in his and a wide grin was plastered to his lips. *I love you,* he signed and leaned in to kiss her.

Breaking the kiss she told him, “I love you too.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him again. With each kiss, sparks of electricity shot through her body and curled her toes. Private moments between the two of them like this were rare and she enjoyed every second of it.

Ike had no idea how it happened, but getting some air seemed to mean that they were to go to the livery and sneak up into the hayloft and share some extra private moments. Their kisses were heated and he was tugging at Millie’s blouse. He wasn’t sure what had come over him, he just knew that it felt right.

Millie smiled at Ike as his hands began to roam. She knew they probably shouldn’t be doing what she knew they would wind up doing, but it didn’t matter to her - being with him felt so right, so perfect. She eagerly began helping him out of his shirt as their kisses became more loving yet demanding with the passion that was about to explode.

***

Ike had found a stray blanket to cover them with as neither of them felt like getting dressed just yet. He held Millie close to him and placed small kisses on her neck. He wanted to tell her just how much he loved her and he wished he had a voice.

Millie closed her eyes and smiled as he kissed her neck. He may not have been able to say how much he loved her, but he had shown her in a way that had left no doubt in her mind. “I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone,” she whispered, as she lightly scratched his back.

Her words made Ike smile even more as he pulled her closer. Closing his eyes, he drew in the scent of her hair.

“What in God’s name…?” Ike looked up at the sound of a strange voice and his jaw dropped to the ground.

Millie groaned at Teaspoon’s voice. If anyone had ruined the moment, she had expected Cody or one of the other riders, but not Teaspoon. She looked at Ike, unsure what to say or do.

“Um…” said Teaspoon, “why don’t the two of you get dressed and then … well, I assume I’ll talk to the both of you later.” He hurried outside while shaking his head. He’d believed it if it were Cody, but Ike – that just didn’t make sense.

“You’re not gonna get in trouble for this, are you?” she asked worriedly as she sat up and began searching for her clothes. “I hate to think you might get fired because of me…”

Ike shook his head. *I don’t think so. He might get mad, but I’ve never seen him fire anyone before.*

Ike reached over and grabbed her shoulders to get her attention. *No matter what happens later we’ll stay together. I love you Millie and that’s never gonna change.*

She smiled at his words that immediately made her feel better. “I love you too.” She gave him a quick kiss, wishing they could have a few more minutes alone together.

***

Millie and Ike went back to the dance and tried to avoid Teaspoon’s fatherly glare. She tried to concentrate only on Ike, but Lou standing against the wall in the corner kept catching her eye.

“I feel so bad for Lou,” she whispered. “These dances must be so hard for her since everyone but me, you and Jimmy know her secret.”

*Why don’t you ask him to dance.* Ike nudged his head in Lou’s direction.

“That’s a great idea!” she said smiling. “Are you sure you don’t mind?”

Ike shook his head and smiled. *Have fun.*

Millie kissed his cheek. “One dance with her and then I’ll be right back in your arms,” she grinned before walking over towards Lou.

“Would you like to dance?” Millie asked Lou as she approached the lonely rider.

Lou’s face lit up. “I’d love to.”

Millie and Lou headed towards the dance floor where a fast song was playing.

“I saw you standing in the corner lookin’ sad,” Millie started. “And Ike suggested I ask you to dance.”

“Remind me to thank him,” smiled Lou.

Buck watched in shock as Millie and Lou danced on the floor. He had seen Millie and Ike go off earlier, but decided to give them some time alone together. But now he grew angry as he saw her dancing with someone else. He walked over to Ike.

“I can’t believe she’s dancing with Lou,” he told Ike. “Why are you letting her?”

Ike turned to his friend. *Because Lou looked sad and I asked her to.*

Buck stared in shock. “Why? Lou could’ve asked any girl in town to the dance. Or he could’ve accepted any of the dances he’s already been asked to accept. Millie’s engaged to you, she has no right dancin’ with Lou or any other guy here!”

*You still don’t like Millie, do you?* Ike’s brow furrowed as he thought that argument was over.

“I just don’t want to see you hurt. I saw you two sneakin’ off so I know you wanted to be alone. It’s not right for her to be dancing with him. And Lou should know better. You don’t see me askin’ Millie for a dance do you? No. Because I thought she loved you. But it makes me wonder now.”

*Buck, please... If you want to dance with Millie you’re more than welcome to. You’re my friend and she’s my fiancé and I trust her. Something you don’t.*

Buck couldn’t believe how naïve his friend was acting. “Why should I when she claim to love you, but is dancing with another guy? It’s just not right! Do you know what the others in town are gonna say about her? About you?”

*Buck, please believe me when I say that is just two friends enjoying a dance. Friends, Buck. Nothing more, nothing less.*

He looked over and shook his head as the two were looking their way and laughing. “I want to hear that for myself,” he said before quickly walking towards the couple.

“We need to talk,” he said placing his hand on Millie’s shoulder and turning her to face him.

“Can’t it wait?” Millie asked.

“No,” he snapped. “Now we can either go outside and talk or do it here.”

“Buck,” Lou started. “There’s no need to be rude.”

Buck glared at Lou. “You have a lot of nerve,” he said as he took Millie’s arm and led her outside.

Ike looked at what was happening and followed Buck and Millie outside. *Buck, what’s going on? Why are you acting like this?*

“Buck, it’s not what you think,” Lou insisted.

Buck stopped when they were far enough away from the town hall. “It is what I think and I wanna know why.” He looked at Millie. “You claim to love Ike. Say you want to marry him, but you’re betraying him by dancing with someone he considers a brother.”

Millie looked at Ike then Lou, not sure what to say or do. “I do love him and want to marry Ike.”

“I’m telling you Buck,” Lou said. “You have this all wrong, and you need to calm down before you say or do something that will tear apart your friendship with everyone apart.”

*Buck.* Ike took a step forwards and laid a hand on Buck’s shoulder. *Why are you still going at this?*

“I’m sick of seein’ you hurt,” he explained. “It’s one thing if she was doing it behind your back, but to be so open about it.” He turned to Lou. “How long has this been goin’ on?”

“Nothing has been going on,” exclaimed Lou. “Buck, I guess I should let you in on a little secret. I’m not who you think I am. I mean… I’m a girl. Millie, Ike and Jimmy are the only one who knows and now you.”

Everyone turned at the sound of gasps to see the other riders.

“A… a girl?” Cody stuttered.

Noah shook his head. “Well that explains a lot.”

“You knew?” Buck asked Ike. He wasn’t sure if he was more ashamed of his behavior or hurt that Ike hadn’t trusted him to tell him.

*Yeah, I knew.* Ike shook his head at the mess. *I tried to tell you that there was nothing going on between Millie and Lou.*

“I was just trying to make her feel like part of the crowd,” Millie told Buck. “Every dance she stands against the wall watching as all of you dance with pretty girls.”

“Guess now you believe nothing’s going on,” Lou said.

“I’m sorry,” said Buck as he looked down on his shoes. “I’ll meet you guys back at the station.” Buck walked off trying his hardest to control his breathing.

Millie felt horrible as she watched Buck walk off. The night had been so perfect until a few minutes ago. “I’m sorry, Lou. I didn’t mean to cause all this trouble. Now the others know your secret.”

“What secret?” Cody asked looking innocent.

“Thanks Cody,” grinned Lou.

Ike moved closer to Millie, unsure what to do. Reaching out he held her hand in his. *Why don’t we go back to the dance? Let’s give Buck some time to cool off.*

“Are you sure?” Millie asked as the others started to head back into the town hall. “He looked pretty upset and I’d understand if you want to go check on him.”

Ike stopped walking. *I’m not sure what the right thing to do is anymore. In all the years that I’ve known Buck I’ve never seen him act like this before. He’s usually calm and collected, doesn’t jump to conclusion. Lately he’s been the complete opposite.*

“Maybe he still feels like he’s going to lose his best friend. He knows we’re gonna get married and start a life of our own. A life he won’t be such a big part of anymore.”

*Just because I love you. That doesn’t mean that I’ll care any less about him. He’s been my brother for so many years. I’m not gonna throw that out the window.* Ike shook his head in frustration. *Maybe I should go talk to him.*

“I know that and you know that, but I think he’s still having a hard time knowin’ that. I’ll go back with you and turn in.” She grinned at him. “And if Emma’s still busy by the time you two are done talking…” she wiggled her eyebrows at him before kissing his cheek.

Ike’s face broke into a grin. *Let’s go,* he signed, *I can’t wait for everything to sort themselves out.*

Chapter 8

Buck felt horrible for his behavior the whole way back to the station. He was truly happy for Ike and Millie, but he was also jealous. For so long, he was a big part of Ike’s life, and now he felt as if he wasn’t as needed as much anymore.

Emma looked at Buck though the window. She hadn’t expected anybody back to early yet. Pulling her shawl around her shoulders, she walked outside to meet him. “Buck, why don’t you come inside with me and I’ll see about getting some coffee in you.”

“Thanks, Emma. I think I could use some coffee right about now,” he said as he walked over to the house.

Emma put an arm around Buck’s shoulders and led him up the stairs to the house. Sitting him down at the table she set the pot on the stove. “I figured you’d still be at the dance enjoying yourself.”

He shook his head. “I wasn’t enjoyin’ it much and made it so the others couldn’t either,” he said ashamed. “I’ll be surprised if anyone ever talks to me again.”

“Now Buck, it can’t be that bad.” Emma reached out across the table and took his hand in hers.

He nodded. “I saw Millie dancin’ with Lou and well… I said some things that… well if I had known the facts ahead of time, I wouldn’t have.”

“Oh Buck.” Emma stood to pour a cup to him and one for herself. “I’m sure things may seem a little hopeless right now, but they will work themselves out in the end. I’ve never seen Ike happier than when he’s with Millie. You’ve seen him smile.”

“I know,” he said taking a sip. “And I’m happy for them, I really am. Especially Ike, he needs something good to happen to him and Millie’s just the thing. But there’s something else that I just can’t explain…”

“Why don’t you try? It’s better to get thing off of your chest than to have them eat you from the inside out.”

“I wonder if I’ll ever have what he has,” he said feeling selfish. “I guess I keep thinking since I was originally scheduled to take the run where he met Millie, what would’ve happened if I had met her first.” He saw the look on Emma’s face and shook his head. “I don’t mean I’ve got feelings for her, not like he does, but I just wonder when I’ll get the chance to love someone like they love each other.”

“Buck, I know you’ll have that one day. And there’s nothing wrong to feel jealous. What matters is what you do with that jealousy.” Emma moved across the table to give Buck a hug. “You’re a good man, and somewhere out there, the right woman for you is out there.”

“That’s just the thing, though. Ike was lucky enough to find someone who doesn’t mind he can’t speak. But is there enough luck in the universe for me to find someone who’ll love me for being a half breed?”

“I think there is. You may have to look for a while. Just look at Teaspoon, how many times has he been married?”

Buck chuckled. “Guess there is hope for me after all. But hopefully I’ll get it right the first time.”

***

After his chat with Emma, Buck had gotten some sort of sense on things. He was about to enter the bunkhouse when he saw Ike and Millie arrive at the station. Sighing he knew he needed to talk to them sooner or later.

Millie sighed as she saw Buck heading towards her and Ike. She was hoping to spend a few stolen moments alone with Ike before the others came back, but with the look on Buck’s face, she knew he wanted to talk. As much as she tried to hide it from Ike, his accusations earlier had hurt her and she wondered if she’d ever be able to forget his behavior.

“I’m gonna turn in,” she said to Ike as Buck approached them.

“No, please wait.” Buck took a step forwards. “I just talked to Emma and I realized something. The reason I’ve been acting the way I have lately because I’ve been jealous of the two of you. You two are so in love and I wanted to feel that too. So instead of being happy for you, I tried to break the two of you apart and I’m so sorry for doing that. There’s no excuse for what I did.”

“You’re right, there’s not. But this time it was more than just me that got hurt,” Millie reminded him. “What if Lou loses her job because the others know her secret? The guys seem to accept it, but if Teaspoon or Emma find out…”

“I’m sorry,” said Buck, looking down at his feet. “I started more trouble than what I realized.”

Millie bit her lip, wanting to say so much more to him. “Just keep in mind we’re not the only ones you need to apologize to,” she said before kissing Ike on the cheek and heading towards the house.

Ike looked after Millie and smiled at the thought of the time they’ve spent together earlier. *Come on Buck,* signed Ike, turning back to his friend. *Tomorrow’s another day.*

Buck smiled knowing at least Ike had forgiven his earlier behavior. “Do you think Millie will ever forgive me?” he asked as they headed into the bunkhouse.

*I think so. You just have to prove yourself.* Ike sat down on his bunk and took off his boots. *Buck, are you gonna be alright?*

Buck sighed but nodded. “Eventually. I guess I just want what you have.”

*You can have that.* Ike smiled at his friend. *You just have to put yourself out there. Take a chance.*

“I’ve tried,” Buck said as he finally sat on his bunk and began preparing for bed. “You saw how the girls treated me tonight; not one of them would dance with me. They all hear those in town who bad mouth the Indians and won’t even give me a chance.”

*One day, a lady will give you a chance.* Ike grinned.

Chuckling, Buck threw his sweaty sock at his friend. “True. After all, one gave you a chance,” he teased playfully.

*I’ll get you for that,* signed Ike before he threw his own sock at Buck.

The two friends were still throwing things at each other when the others arrived a short time later.

“Pillow fight!” Cody yelled as he grabbed his pillow and hit Jimmy over the head with it.

“Why you mangy…” Jimmy reached for his own pillow and started to chase Cody around the room.

Soon all of the riders were hitting each other and the earlier events were forgotten.

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