Chapter 1

“Ride safe, Lou,” Kid called out as Lou caught the mochila from Buck and headed out. He knew she hated it when he fussed over her, but sometimes he just couldn’t help himself. He shrugged off the thoughts and turned his attention to Buck as he climbed down off his horse.

“Awful quiet around here,” Buck noted, looking around.

“That’s ‘cause Teaspoon’s at a station masters meetin’ in Elk Ridge,” Cody explained from his perch in the shade of the bunkhouse porch. “He left early this morning. Won’t be back for three, four days.”

“Lou the only one on a run?” Buck asked.

“Yep,” Jimmy replied from his perch next to Cody.

“Just us men-folk,” Cody added, settling his hat over his face in preparation for a nap.

A door slammed open up at the house and the two lie-abouts jumped to their feet. Ike chuckled silently before catching Buck’s eye.

**And Emma.**

“Buck, glad you’re back,” Emma greeted him. Then she leveled a stern glare at the other four riders before laying into them. “I thought Mr. Spoon doled out a heap o’ chores for you boys before he left this mornin’. You best get on them if you want lunch. Ain’t nobody getting fed ‘til that barn gets mucked out.”

A chorus of “yes Emmas” went up from the group and they wearily trudged toward the barn.

“Is it just me, or does Emma seem a little bit…” Buck trailed his voice off.

“Like a bear who sat on a hornet’s nest?” Kid ventured.

“Yeah,” Buck agreed.

“She was pretty surly at dinner last night,” Cody added, still a bit wounded.

**Told Cody he couldn’t have thirds,** Ike explained to his friend.

“I think somethin’ happened with her and Sam yesterday,” Jimmy continued on as they neared the barn. “She came back from town lookin’ ready to spit fire.”

“Yeah, well..I'm gonna go ask..."

"Just leave well enough alone Cody."

Cody waved off Jimmy's warning and sauntered up to the laundry line. Jimmy stood there shaking his head, Cody never could listen to reason. Emma acknowledged the blond rider with a withering glance.

"What is it Billy?"

He leaned on the post, causing the rope to sag. "Nothing much Emma, just wonderin'."

Emma set a pin and stood to face him. Wiping her brow with the back of her hand she squinted into the sunlight, "About what?"

"Nothin' really-"

Jimmy threw down the piece of straw he'd been playing with and walked away, "It's your funeral..."

"It's just that I ain't seen Sam in awhile-"

Emma shook her head and leaned down to the basket, pulling out one of Teaspoon's striped shirts. She shook it out and dropped it over a section of the line; "Not that it's any of your business Billy...” she sighed, "but Sam and I haven't been talking to each other lately."

She shoved a pin over cloth and line and let go of a heavy breath.

"You two gonna patch things up?"

Emma smiled a bit, "Maybe... that is if we can stand to be in the same place at the same time... without arguin'."

Cody leaned against the post and the line sagged a few more inches... "When do you think that'll be?"

Shoving him away from the line, Emma picked up another shirt, one of Ike's, "Soon I hope."

"Really?" Cody nodded his head and rocked up onto the balls of his feet, "I'd say you're gonna get your wish."

Emma froze, "What are you talking about Billy?"

Cody moved a step over and pointed at the horizon, "Well heck Emma, ain't that Sam ridin' in?"




Turning on her heel, Emma stared at the approaching rider. Too tall and broad shouldered to be any one else but Sam. "That...that, no good... what nerve! Showin' up here…without asking... Well I oughta..."

Cody chuckled silently behind her.

"Billy? You better hightail it over to the barn before you're in as much trouble-"

Cody ducked back toward the barn, one eye on the trail.

“Well, then this oughta make things interesting,” Kid said as Cody joined the others.

Emma shoved the remaining wet clothes back into her basket and lifted it onto her hip.

Now within shouting distance, the rider called out, "Emma! Emma...don't be mad."

"Mad? You don't know the half of it-” She stalked off toward the house, her skirts wrapping around her legs as she ate up the ground.

"Emma, don't go!"

Faces peeked out from the barn entrance.

Emma marched up the stairs and set a hand on the doorknob.

"Just give me a minute to exp-"

*SLAM*

The door shut him out. He had just pulled his mount to a stop by the cottonwood tree.

Even with the door closed, he dismounted and swung the gate open.




The window to the right of the door slid open, "Go away!"

"Emma!" Sam ran up onto the porch and tried to catch her eye. She saw him coming and reached up to shut the window.

"Aw…come on Emma, give me a chance..."

Sam got there a split second before the window slammed down into its base. He stood and looked down in his hands. Wildflowers, or at least that's what they were. They'd been reduced to stalks when they'd been caught in the window.

Chapter 2

Five stunned faces peeked out of the barn watching the scene unfold between the Marshal and the station mother. Sure, they’d seen Emma mad before…but now…now they were glad they weren’t on the receiving end of her wrath. Sam turned, the stalks still in his hand, and stepped off the porch.

The boys filed slowly out of the barn, chores forgotten. Sam grabbed the reins of his mount preparing to ride out when he caught sight of the riders.

“Just what I need, them boys ribbin’ me mercilessly,” he grumbled under his breath and prepared to leave. He stopped short, one foot in the stirrup, when he heard the concern.

“Everything alright Sam?” Jimmy asked.

Sam glanced back at the house, and then took a step toward the riders. Maybe they could explain to Emma he was sincere.

“I don’t know,” he replied, continuing to walk towards the boys. “Emma an’ me…well…she’s mad at me for somethin’ she thinks I did…or didn’t do…I ain’t even sure which anymore.”

“So you brought her flowers,” Buck stated.

Sam looked down at the pathetic stalks in his hands and dropped them to the ground. “Yeah, for all the good that did me.”

Cody stepped forward, a grin on his face. “Well see Sam, there was the problem. You brought her flowers.”

Five bewildered faces looked at him, and Cody drank in the moment to spread his ‘enlightenment’ with the rest. He stepped up to Sam and put his arm around the Marshal’s shoulder. “See, women like to be wooed.”

“Wooed?” Sam echoed in puzzlement.

“Yeah, flowers are nice an’ all. But if you’re really lookin’ to charm Emma, here’s what you should do.” Cody kept his arm around Sam’s shoulder and led him off from the others, talking in a low voice. The others strained forward to hear what Cody was saying, but the look he shot them over his shoulder stopped them from following.




Emma looked up over her glass at Sam sitting quietly before her. ‘He sure does clean up nice,’ she thought as the wine worked through her system. Dinner had been a quiet, subdued affair. She still was a bit perturbed at the boys tricking her into dressing up, saying they wanted to take her out to dinner. She should have known it was a ruse.

She still couldn’t quite believe she agreed to go to dinner with Sam. She may be upset with the boys, but Sam…Sam still had her seeing red. Yet here she was, sitting across from him eating a delicious meal that she didn’t have to cook, in a quiet restaurant. She figured she might as well try and enjoy herself, even if Sam was her dinner companion.

The sidelong looks and hushed conversations of the townspeople weren’t lost on her, but she had proven long ago she didn’t get wrapped up in their opinions of her. She knew she and Sam were fodder for the town gossips, and they sure had given the people plenty to wag their tongues about lately.

As dinner was winding down, Sam somewhat anxiously cleared his throat. “So Emma, you think you might be done bein’ mad at me now?”

Emma blinked and then stared at him. Had she heard him correctly? “What?”

“You done bein’ mad at me now?”

Her eyes went wide and she threw her napkin down on the table. “No I’m not done bein’ mad at you,” she said through clenched teeth.

“I just thought…what with dinner an’ all-“

“Really? You thought if you took me out to a fancy dinner all would be forgotten? That you could buy your way back into my good graces?” she snapped back, her voice rising with each word.

Sam tugged nervously at the collar of his shirt, trying to ignore the people who were beginning to stare. “Emma, keep your voice down.”

“Don’t tell me what to do Sam Cain!” Her voice rising til it reached its crescendo. “You think you can parade me out in front of all these people in a fancy restaurant and I wouldn’t make a scene. Well I’m not the one who started this in the first place.”

The only sound in the room after that was her chair scraping back across the floor as she stood and gathered her belongings. Head held high, eyes trained forward, Emma walked out ignoring the other people in the room. When she reached the door, Sam slumped down in his seat and rested his head in his hand.

“Well, just great,” he sighed.

Chapter 3

Kid looped Katy's reins over the hitching post outside the Marshal's office and withdrew the bunch of dispatches the Territorial Marshal had sent.

He stepped through the open door, "Sam?" He slid the letters across the desk and leaned closer, "Sam?"

Sam Cain, hardened Marshal stared off into space, his eyes boring into the wall, all because of a woman. Sam sighed, "What am I gonna do?"

Kid looked around the room, "Sam... you alright?"

His head snapped up, "Kid? Huh? Did you say something? Is something wrong at Emma's?"

Smiling, Kid shook his head, "No… the Territorial Marshal sent these letters for ya."

Sam picked them up from the desk and thumbed through them. "Thanks Kid, but I could've picked them up at the station." He slowed down with his last few words as he watched Kid shake his head, "Emma still mad?"

"Yeah, you could say that."

"Sheesh!"

Kid laughed, "I just don't understand it Sam, she looked real happy when you picked her up last night."

Sam dropped the letters back on the desk and stood, "Things didn't stay that way. I don't know what it was exactly, but something I said... or did…well, she didn't like it much."

"She was pretty upset at breakfast this morning."

"Yeah?"

Looking at the Marshal, Kid could tell by the slump of his shoulders that this was hitting Sam hard. "Yeah." He followed Sam to the door and the two walked down the boardwalk together.

"You know what really sticks in my craw?" Kid shook his head, not that Sam saw it; he looked straight ahead as he moved down the street. "I hardly ever get a chance to see her. I mean, she lives miles outside of town... I mean, sure I got a deputy, but I can't be runnin' off to the waystation everytime I want to see her...and I really like seein' Emma."

Kid chuckled, "Yeah, we figured."

"I just don't know what to do."

"Sam?"

"Yeah Kid?"

"If you don't mind me sayin'.... what if you-"




FWUMP

FWUMP

Emma stood in the middle of the yard, beating one of her rugs. With each swing she sent up massive clouds of dust, "-all those dirty dusty boots, in the house…out of the house…. " She hefted out a sigh and brushed some stray wisps of hair away from her forehead.

FWUMP

FWUMP

So intent on venting her frustration from dinner the night before, Emma completely missed the call from the bunkhouse porch. "Rider comin’!"

"Hey Sam!"

That got her attention. She looked over the laundry line and glared, "You best be headin' back to town Sam Cain… I ain't about to talk to you right now."

His boyish smile shaved a bit of anger away, "Aw Emma! You know you can't stay ma-..." Another glare threatened to level him where he stood, "alright…you can… but I'm here to make it up to you."

Emma's shoulders relaxed a bit and Sam's smile nearly doubled.

"I know I really put my foot in it last night-"

"That's an understatement."

Sam grimaced, "Well, I… never mind...” He watched as Emma took a couple of swings at the rugs, the wire arm bending back with each powerful stroke. "Emma…I came all the way out here, … 'cause…well, 'cause-"

Emma looked back at the fence, "What happened to your horse?"

"My horse?" Sam felt like a speck of dust in a tornado, he couldn't tell which end was up. "Nothing happened to my horse!"

"Well then, why did you come out here in a wagon?"

"Jonas at the Livery rented it to me."

Emma leaned back and stared at him, a concerned look in her eye, "I don't know what is the matter with you…I"

"I'm movin' you to town."

Emma's eyes went wide as her mouth gaped open, "You're what?"

Sam waved his hands, "Now wait, before you say anything else, I want to tell you that I think this'll be for the best. You know I'm always worried about you…all the way out here, miles from town. I never know what could be happening to you out here."

"Sam."

There was a stern warning embedded in her tone- but Sam skipped right over it, "I even found a place for ya. Old Man Jones is moving back East…so you can have his house…it's right near the middle of town. I can come over and see you anytime you like-"

"Anytime I like…hmm? What in blazes could you be thinking? Did you ride out with your hat off… did the sun bake your head to a crisp…did you get 'horse kicked' or something?"

The excitement in his eyes died, "What's wrong Emma?"

"Oh dear Lord! You actually ASKED me a question!" Emma turned away from the rug, the beater still in her hand, "I've just about had it with you Sam Cain!"

"Emma honey-"

"Oooooh!" She raised the wire wand above her head, "Go back to town Sam."

He tried to smile but cleared his throat when she took a step forward, menace in her eyes, "Emma?"

"I said, take your wagon and head on back to town! You ain't movin' me anywhere. This is my home and last I checked I still had a say in how I live my life!"

She'd backed him up to the gate and Sam felt the business end of one of the wooden pickets poke him in the backside. "Ow!" He nearly jumped over the gate in his haste to get it open.

Emma followed him, the rug beater held high over her head, "Now git!"

Sam swung up onto the buckboard seat and leaned down to face her, “What can I do-"

She pointed a rigid finger at his chest, "Go back to town and stay there until you've come to your senses."

Chapter 4

He treated it like a military maneuver, a scouting mission if you will. To anyone watching, it would have looked like a sneak attack. But for Sam Cain, it was just defensive. He was protecting his backside, which still hurt from his last encounter with Emma.

He'd gone back to town and tried to work on the mountain of paperwork on his desk. Tried…and failed.

Every thought was about Emma. He needed to fix this or he'd die trying. 'Especially cause Emma'd probably be the one doin’ the killin'.'

He left his horse about a half mile away, picketed to a saguaro, and found his way through the sparse brush and up behind the bunkhouse. He kept one eye on the house, hoping Emma wouldn't see him.

Sam looked around at each building, house, barn and then into the windows of the bunkhouse. "Where the heck is everybody?"

"Right here Sam."

Leaning against the outside wall of the bunkhouse Sam clutched at his chest, "What in blazes... BUCK!"

The Kiowa stared back at Sam, waiting for the marshal to regain his composure.

"You could've killed me.. scarin' me like that! What were you doin' sneakin' up behind me anyway?"

Buck arched a quizzical brow at Emma's beau, "I could ask you the same thing."

Sam straightened up, "Yeah, well, I'm sure you've heard that Emma's not real happy with me right now."

Nodding, Buck agreed, "We might have heard something."

"Well, I'm here to.. I mean.. I wanted to...” Sam removed his hat and set it against his hip, the other hand pushed through his hair again and again. "Aw hell Buck, I don't know why I'm here. I guess Emma'll just chase me off again." He looked around, "Where is she?"

Buck walked past Sam, motioning for him to follow. "She went into town for supplies; took Ike and Jimmy with her."

"She buyin' that much…she need help carryin'?"

The corner of Buck's mouth turned up in a crooked smile, "Nah, we think she took them along as look outs. Whatever you did, well, she ain't none too happy."

"Tell me something I don't know."

He followed Buck through the open yard, pausing only as Kid and Cody emerged from the barn, "Sam!"

Sam side stepped, waving his hands, "Oh no…no…you two…you just keep your distance."

Kid cocked his head to the side, "Sam? You okay? You look..."

"Yeah, I agree with the Kid, you don't look too good."

"Well thanks boys-"

Cody continued, "You know what you need? You need-"

Sam leveled a finger at Cody's nose, "Stop. Just stop right there. Don’t say another word!" He took in Cody's curious glance; "The LAST thing I need is advice from either of you! You both just... just stay out of my business."

Looking around for Buck, Sam saw him head out behind Emma's house. He rushed to follow, kicking up billows of dust. "Buck…Buck wait."




When Sam turned the corner, he couldn't see Buck anywhere. "Ah heck! Where did he go?"

Buck emerged from behind a flap of tanned buckskin. The hut blended so well with it's surroundings that it was barely visible. A puff of smoke arose from the top of the structure.

"What you got there Buck?"

He leaned his head toward the structure, an impassive look on his features, "Sweatlodge."

"SWEATlodge? That don't sound too appealin'."

Buck shrugged, "Teaspoon swears by it. Always brings us in when we're having troubles thinkin' things out."

Sam looked at the little structure again, "I bet Jimmy spends more than his share of time in there."

Buck's expression was non-committal, "He used to…but he seems to have calmed a bit."

Taking a step closer Sam looked back at Buck, "Teaspoon goes in there you say?"

"He built it."

Sam nodded and stroked his chin while he considered his course of action. The feel of his day's growth of whiskers under his fingers helped clear his mind, "Alright then... if Teaspoon goes in there, can't be half bad, can it?"

Buck didn't answer him, merely pulled back the flap and allowed Sam to enter first.

From the corner of Emma's house, Cody and Kid watched as the flap closed behind the two.

"Wouldja look at that."

"I saw... so?" Kid was tryin' to get back into the bunkhouse, but Cody was holding his arm.

"I wonder what's goin' on in there."

"Yeah, well I don't." Kid pulled his arm away and walked back inside, leaving Cody by himself on the porch.




Sam sat down on the dirt floor across from Buck. Unsure of what to do, he let his long legs straddle on either side of the rock pile in the center of the lodge. Buck gracefully crossed his legs and leveled a look at Sam.

"So uh... what do you do in a Sweatlodge?"

Leaning forward, Buck picked up a longhandled spoon and dipped it into a bucket nearby. He lifted it out of the bucket with great ceremony and showered it onto the rocks piled between them. Steam snaked up from the rocks, tumbling over itself as it moved through the air. Instantly, Sam felt beads of sweat pop up all over his forehead. "We sit, we think, we -"

"Yeah... I know," the wry tone was not lost on Buck, "we SWEAT."

The Kiowa smiled, "You're learning fast Marshal."

Sam stuck a finger between his kerchief and his neck, easing the space between the two, all the while grumbling under his breath, "Smart Aleck."

Silence again descended on the two men in the sweatlodge, only to be broken by the rhythmic *splunk* *hiss* as Buck continued to fill the air with curls of steam.

Sam did his best to catch the rider's eye, but Buck had his gaze fixed on the task at hand, "Ain't ya gonna say anything Buck?"

An eyebrow raised at the question, "What would you like me to say?"

Clearing his throat around a kernel of frustration, Sam reached up and unbuttoned the neck of his shirt, "What you brought me in here for."

There was a cool regard as the water tipped over the lip of the ladle and sizzled the air between them, "I brought you in here to think."

Sam undid a second button down the front of his shirt. "Think? I don't know what a body can do in here besides sweat."

"Forget about how your body feels, let the spirits talk to your heart... your mind."

His hands undid the buttons at each wrist, "My mind ain't thinkin' about much else besides this ... this heat!"

Sam waved off the fan that Buck offered him, annoyed at his own reaction to the heat. Shrugging his shoulders, Buck proceeded to wave the fan in front of his own body, "Your choice."

Sam dragged his palms over his pant legs, trying to dry them off. "Why don't you just tell me-"

"Tell you what?"

"Your advice."

"About?" Buck did his best to keep his calm visage from cracking.

Sam huffed out a breath. "Emma."

"Oh?" Buck ladled another spoonful over the rocks.

"Would you stop doin' that!" Sam pushed his sleeves back up to his elbows, "Just leave me alone." He stared at the young Kiowa across from him and took in his owlish stare, "That's it.. I'm leavin'."

Sam turned to leave and was surprised to find out that, "My legs ain't movin'."

"Sam?"

He turned back to Buck, "My legs.. I can't get them to ... to .. what the heck did you do to me?" Before Buck could answer, Sam felt the dam inside of him break. Words roiled over each other as Sam let loose his frustrations, “If it ain’t one thing it’s another. What am I doin’ sneakin’ out here anyway? I’m a man ... not a... a... prairie dog! I mean, it ain’t all my fault...it takes two people to yell, don’t it?”

Another button was undone and Sam pulled his hat off and dropped it on the ground, “I don’t know how Teaspoon stands it in here,” he grumbled to himself. “Besides,” Buck didn’t think Sam realized it, but his volume had nearly doubled, “I tried.. I REALLY tried to make it up to her. Cody said to take her to a fancy dinner...I did! Kid told me to move her closer to town, so’s I could spend more time with her...I did! Look! Look what it got me! Now I can’t even come over to...to try to talk with her.. why Emma’s ready to shoot me if I show my face around here. So that’s the thanks I get? Huh? I just can’t believe it!”

Buck sat there stiff as a board, his eyes wide. As he listened to the frustrated words of the Marshal, he swallowed around the lump lodged behind his Adam’s apple. “Uh.. Sam?”

“That’s it you know.. that’s just the final straw!”

“Sam?” Buck watched as a shadow slipped through the tiny opening at the front of the lodge, “Sam?”

The Marshal continued on, his volume building again. “I mean it Buck, this time, I’m gonna make her crawl back to ME!” Sam laughed, the sound almost maniacal. “She thinks she’s got me as weak as a new born foal, but I’ll show her! That’s right.. I’ll be the ...the..” He looked around lost, “Buck? What word was I thinkin’ of?”

Buck shrugged again. He wanted to stop Sam, but the Marshal was on a roll. Besides, the shadow waiting outside had just put it’s hands on it’s hips... this was not going well.

“Well, I doesn’t matter ‘cause.. ‘cause..!” Sam fumbled with the next button, but instead of undoing it, he managed to pop it off the shirt, “Aw HELL!” Sam all but jumped to his feet and smacked his forehead on one of the low hanging beams, “Ow!!!”

Doubling over, Sam barreled through the opening and nearly ran smack into, “EMMA?!” All the blood in his head rushed to his toes, “Oh my-”

“Crawl to you? I doubt that.. I really doubt that. In fact, I’m wondering what you’re doin’ out here if I don’t mean enough to you, to make a little effort-”

“Little? Emma, I’ve been breakin’ my back tryin’ to...”

She leaned into him, “You’ve done no such thing!”

“Emma?” Sam looked back and saw Buck sneaking away. “Emma?” Over her shoulder, Jimmy, Ike, Cody and Kid were approaching. “I ah... I came to see you.. and a ... well-” Sam reached up with his left hand and ruffled his hair, the damp strands sticking up in an odd configuration, “I wanted to-” Frustrated Sam opened his hand as he reached for the words.

Emma’s eyes widened as she saw the lonely button in his hand. She snatched it from him before he could react. “This? You came for THIS!?”

Sam shook his head, ‘no.’

“Sam Cain!! After all that you just said, you think...you came to ask me to fix your shirt! Oh!” She flung the button at him and stalked away before the button bounced off his chest and was lost in the grass at his feet.

The Marshal stood there, his mouth slack.

“Sam!” Cody admonished, “That wasn’t the smartest thing-”

“Cody!” Sam reached for his Colt without thinkin’, “Don’t you-”

Cody ran off toward the safety of the bunkhouse while Sam stalked off toward his horse.

Chapter 5

Jimmy silently walked into the bunkhouse, but with all the noise Emma was making, he doubted she’d hear him anyways. Dishes were clanging in some mad melody as Emma was ranting angrily about Sam. He stopped and leaned against a bunk, observing.

“Dang fool.”

SLAM went a bowl on the table.

“What was he thinkin’ anyways? Out there in that blame sweatlodge with Buck…talkin’ on and on ‘bout us…how he can’t understand why I’m mad.”

She angrily grabbed the flour, a fine white mist rising as she measured it out into a bowl.

“And then that stunt he pulled…thinkin’ he could move me into town. Who does he think he is?” she angrily huffed, stirring rapidly not caring about the batter spilling over the side.

“Emma?” he finally ventured to say.

She started and spun around. “James!”

“You alright?” he asked, walking toward the table, surveying the scattered mess.

“I’m fine Jimmy, you just startled me is all.” She offered a weak smile and brushed the back of her hand against her cheek. A streak of flour and pasty batter followed her hand onto her cheek.

“Sorry,” he said. “But I meant all this,” sweeping his hand toward the mess, “and you and Sam.”

She bristled at Sam’s name and turned back to her mixing. She bit out, “Everything’s fine, James.”

“No it’s not, Emma. Anyone can see that.”

Emma leveled a glare at Jimmy, but he pressed on. “You’ve been madder than a wet hen, snappin’ at everybody, yellin’ at Sam and running him off the property. That ain’t like you Emma. We’re all worried about you.”

She turned, holding the batter-laden spoon and said, “Well I ain’t asked for your concern. And I certainly didn’t ask for that fool-“

She stopped when she saw the smile he was trying to hide. “And just what is so funny?”

He said nothing, not daring to provoke her. As he lost the battle with his smile her eyes narrowed and she angrily shook her spoon, “Just get out of here! I’ve had it up to my neck with men!”

SPLAT “Emma!”

“Oh Jimmy, I’m sorry,” she said as she suddenly realized what she’d done. Batter lay splattered on Jimmy’s hat, clothes and face. A small drop was dangling from the edge of his hat, threatening to fall with the slightest movement.

Hastily reaching for a towel she wiped his face as she said, “Jimmy, I’m so sorry.”

“Emma stop,” he said pushing the flour-covered towel away. He could feel the flour dusting his face and mixing with the bits of batter.

“Jimmy, just let me help,” she said reaching for him again in an attempt to wipe it off. He pushed her hands away again and stepped back before she suddenly got the urge to try and give his face a spit polish.

“It’s alright Emma, I’ll wash up later,” he said and eyed her cautiously until she finally laid the towel on the table. “This is what I’m talkin’ about.”

When she bristled at the mere possibility of Sam’s name, Jimmy’s eyes shone with concern. “Just what did he do that’s got you so riled up?”

Emma stewed for a minute, clearly agitated and finally managed to convince her mouth to work. “Well…he just…he said…that is, I mean I think…”

A smile began to turn up one corner of her mouth. “You know, I can’t exactly recall what started this whole thing.”

The slightest hint of a smirk tugged Jimmy’s lips, and he carefully said, “Then don’t you think you’re bein’ just a bit hard on him? If you can’t even remember what you’re angry about…seems to me maybe you should just give him another chance.”

Emma stood there for a moment before she broke a full smile, “I’ll think on it.”

Jimmy slowly nodded his head and smiled. He turned and was almost to the door when Emma’s voice stopped him.

“Jimmy, thank you.”

He shrugged his shoulders, flashed her a lopsided grin and stepped out the door.

Chapter 6

He pushed into the Marshal’s office, slightly out of breath from the swift ride to town. Sam didn’t seem to notice him until he shuffled his feet and Sam’s head snapped up.

“Ike! What are you doin’ here?”

Ike just tilted his head to the side as he peered at Sam and then took a seat next to the desk. Sam shifted restlessly, wary of another one of Emma’s riders here to offer ‘advice.’ A moment of silence passed between them until Sam couldn’t take Ike’s searching gaze anymore.

“What is that you need Ike? Don’t tell me you’re here to offer me help with Emma. You boys have gotten me in deeper than I already was. So if that’s why you’re here, then just git. I ain’t listenin’ to another word.”

Ike shook his head slowly, and then finally signed something to Sam. Sam arched an eyebrow quizzically and just stared. For all the time he’d spent around the mute rider, he’d never picked up much sign. One of the other riders had always been there to interpret.

Sensing Sam’s confusion, he signed again, slower and more distinctly. Sam still stared blankly, and Ike began to get a little frustrated. He signed the words again a third time and Sam, growing equally frustrated finally begged, “What are you tryin’ to say?”

Ike grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and hastily wrote: Just say you’re sorry.

Sam smirked and shook his head ruefully. “Just say I’m sorry? Seems awfully simple, Ike. Emma’s awfully mad at me.”

Ike shrugged and picked up the pen again. Have you told her?

“Told her I’m sorry?” Sam asked as he leaned back in his chair. “Sure I did…I’m pretty sure I told her…ah heck, I don’t know.”

Then tell her.

Ike wrote the simple words and slid the paper back to Sam. The weary marshal picked it up and sighed as he read the words.

“I don’t know if she’d even let me on the property to apologize Ike. After the whole sweatlodge thing she’d probably shoot me on sight.”

Ike sat silent for a moment, pondering the possibility. Emma had been hopping mad and every rider steered clear of her, not wanting to get in her way. Every rider except Jimmy. He’d entered the bear’s den and escaped unscathed, except for some flour and batter on his face. Ike still didn’t understand how that had happened. He picked up the pen again and took the paper from Sam.

Maybe not. Jimmy talked to her.

Sam read the words and pondered them in silence. He certainly couldn’t go on like this. He was miserable. He’d be a fool to try and fix it again, but he’d be a bigger fool not to.

“What should I do?” he asked Ike.

Ike merely shrugged and signed something to Sam. Then giving a nod goodbye, he stood and walked out of the office. Sam watched him go, and nodded to himself as the meaning of Ike’s gestures sunk in. ‘Figure it out yourself.’

Sam rose with determination and picked up his hat. He turned to his deputy and said, “Barnett, think you can manage to watch the town by yourself for a while? I’ve got something I need to take care of.”

Then he strode out of the office with long, determined strides.




Sam set the brake on the wagon and quickly slid off the seat. He returned Emma's grin and walked toward the fence. He stopped abruptly as his easy smile turned into a cautious look. "Emma?"

Setting her hands on her hips, Emma turned a saucy shoulder to the Marshal, "Sam?"

Quickly surveying everything within reach, Sam determined that there was nothing nearby that Emma could use for a weapon. Taking in a deep breath Sam looked straight into Emma's eyes. "I'm sorry."

He waited and was taken aback when she gave no outward reaction to what he said.

Her gaze was level and open, watching him with a familiar eye.

"Emma?" Sam looked away, his control and practiced apology blew by with the wind, "I don't what else to say. I know I've been makin' some idiotic choices, but I know how stupid I must look right now. " He paused to suck in a breath, "I mean, what was I thinking? Lookin' to the boys for help? Good Lord, what was I thinking?"

"I have no idea."

He was so intent on his diatribe, Sam completely missed Emma's comment.

"I tried to think of what to do.. how to fix it. I couldn't think of anything, well nothing that would help. I'm just a fool when it comes to… aw heck, when it comes to love." The breath he'd been holding whooshed out in a warm rush. "Yep, that's what this is.. Love. Awful, gutwrenching, scary, foolhardy, wonderful, warm, heart-thumpin' love. I don't remember the last time I told you, but it's true Emma. Now, I know you're angry-"

"Sam-"

He stopped mid-thought, "Emma?"

"Sam Cain, you are the strangest man I've ever met."

He looked like he'd swallowed a rotten egg, "Strangest?"

She smiled and set her hand against her cheek, "I never know what's goin' on in your head Sam."

He took a step closer, "That's simple Emma. I'm thinkin' of you. Especially when I'm in town and you're all the way out here. " Leaning closer he was almost nose to nose with her, "I miss ya honey. I love you."

She smiled and blushed all the way to the roots of her red hair, "Aw Sam, that's the sweetest thing-"

"You still mad?"

Her eyes rolled in mock frustration, "I'll think on it." She nearly doubled over at his helpless look. "Oh Sam-"

“You know Emma, you kill me. I never know when you’re jokin’ or you’re serious.”

She smiled and leaned her head on his arm, “Is that what brought you out here Sam?”

“Yep.” He stood there smiling at her.

“Well then, what’s that basket in the back of the wagon?”

“Basket?” Sam stood there, a guileless grin on his face, “Wagon? Basket? That’s right! Emma, I came to take you on a picnic.”

“Oh? Really?” Looking at Emma’s grin, he knew that someone had already ruined the surprise, but as long as she wasn’t aiming her shotgun at his head, he was happy.

Sam walked over to the wagon and offered a hand to help Emma up onto the seat.

Cody ran up as Emma was settling into the seat, “Emma... Emma? What about supper?”

The bunkhouse door opened, “Y’all better wash up, supper’s on the table.”

Cody felt like he’d taken an arrow in the stomach, “Hickok? You cooked?”

Jimmy nodded and stepped out onto the porch, Emma’s white apron tied in place around his waist. “Yep. Thought Emma deserved a rest after what she’s been through.”

Sam flicked the reins as the riders filed into the bunkhouse, walking as if they were marching to their deaths. He smiled down as Emma’s soft laughter reached his ears. “It’s sure nice to take you out for a picnic lunch Emma, but do you think leaving Hickok in charge of cookin’ is the best thing?”

She settled a hand on his knee and smiled off into the afternoon sun, “I’d say it’s their just desserts.”

The horses kicked into a gentle lope and Sam felt the tension fall from his shoulders, “You’re right Emma. You’re absolutely right.”

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