After writing QF94 as Teaspoon's Rules on Courting, Dede wondered if I had found a list. Sadly I hadn't but she did.

Medieval Sourcebook: Andreas Capellanus: The Art of Courtly Love, (btw. 1174-1186)
DE ARTE HONESTE AMANDI [The Art of Courtly Love], Book Two: On the Rules of Love

So you know what happens next...

01. by:
04. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing. Tea and Cookies by: Miss Raye
08. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons. All Wrong by: Miss Raye
10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice Forgive Me by: Miss Raye
12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved The Real Thing by: Miss Raye
13. When made public love rarely endures Open for Discussion by: Miss Raye
14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized Love Isn't Easy by: Miss Raye
16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates. Hard Hit by: Miss Raye
18. Good Character alone makes any man worthy of love. Face the Fire by: Miss Raye
23. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little. Up All Night by: Miss Raye
27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved. Your Touch by: Miss Raye
28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved. Feeling Like a Fool by: Miss Raye
30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved. Everywhere by: Miss Raye
Tea and Cookies
Miss Raye

Lou washed off her hands and face in Emma's mudroom and gave one desperate look toward the door before she hear Emma's soft voice calling to her from the kitchen. "Come on in, I'm a little behind schedule, but if you don't mind waiting for cookies, come on in and give me a hand."

A soft smile curved Lou's lips and she wiped off the bottoms of her shoes before making her way into the kitchen, following the scent of Emma's tea. The kitchen was warm, but it was far from stifling and Lou took of her jacket, hanging it up on a hook near the door. "Emma?"

Emma Shannon lifted her head and smiled. "Right here." After a moment she looked back down at the dough she was rolling out over the surface of her table. "Sorry, I had a few things to do this morning and my trip into Sweetwater ran a bit long."

Louise pulled out a chair and sat on the far side of the table. "You don't have to go through the trouble, Emma, I-"

"It's not any trouble, Louise." Standing for a moment, Emma used the back of her hand to brush away the errant tendrils of hair that escaped her bun. "Being outside of town there's rarely an excuse to do things like have tea or sit and chat with another woman. You wouldn't deny me the luxury, would you?"

When Emma put things like that, Louise just didn't have the heart to argue. "I guess," she looked away a moment before confessing, "I like it too… I just… didn't want to be a bother."

Emma handed Louise a water glass. "Good… then you won't mind helping me a bit."

Louise saw the good natured twinkle in Emma's eyes. "Of course not."

The two women started to work on the dough, setting their glasses in it edge first, a quick twist in one then the other direction separated a perfect circle of dough. After they had a half dozen on the sheet, Emma lifted her gaze to look at Louise. "So… what's on your mind?"

Looking up over the edge of her glasses, Louise tried to give her face a look of calm. "Nothing."

"Nothing." Emma's tone was full of laughter. "Right."

Another circle separated from the whole and Louise picked it up between her fingers and laid it out on the sheet.

Emma added one and set her glass into the dough to make another. She was happy to be looking down at the dough when Louise sighed. "It's about the Kid."

"Ahhh," Emma put another cookie on the sheet, "somehow I had a feeling it was about him."

Louise's shoulders slumped. "Is it so obvious?" A moment after she asked the question, Louise continued on. "Of course it 'has' to be… I guess I don't keep my own secrets very well."

Emma gave her a sympathetic look. "Sometimes when you're in the middle of something that you feel strongly about, it's hard to see it from the 'outside.'"

Nodding, Louise set her cup down on the side and folded her hands in front of her on the table. "I just don't understand… sometimes Kid's holdin' my hand… or givin' me a kiss behind the barn. And then at the table… or on the porch by the bunkhouse he just… he just… sits there."

One cookie after another lined the sheet under Emma's careful ministrations. "What is it you want him to do?"

Louise picked up a discarded portion of dough and played with it between her fingers as she pondered the answer to Emma's question. "I dunno, Emma… I just don't know."

Emma placed one last cookie on the sheet, filling up the shiny surface with discs of buttery dough. "It's hard when you're young… and you meet a young man… you want it to be like the stories in the dime novels and the lady's magazines."

She continued on as Louise nodded her head a bit. "It sounds like you want him to… show how he feels even when the two of you aren't alone."

Looking up through her bangs, Louise shrugged. "I guess… I just don't know why he feels… like he can't."

"Well now, I can't speak for the Kid since I haven't talked to him," she held up her hands for calm as Louise blinked at her, worried, "and I won't… this is between you and me. Still, things are different for a man than for a woman… or at least they think things are different."

"Do you think… I dunno… maybe he's not ready for the boys to know?"

Emma stood and lifted the sheet in her hand, moving toward the stove. "Maybe… but if you ask me, the boys already know."

"They certainly tease enough." Louise stood and helped Emma open the front door of the stove. "It's just so hard to understand what's in his head… and he won't talk about it."

Emma closed the door and straightened her back, a hand moving to her lower back to ease a twinge in her muscles. "I wish I had all the answers for you, Louise… but I'm afraid you're just going to have to be patient and ride it out… if you want to be with the Kid."

"I do!" Louise answered, her eyes as bright as her lips were taut. "I just don't know how long I can wait."

Emma lifted the tea pot and set it on the table beside two cups. "For now, would you settle for waiting on the cookies?" Emma poured a cup of tea for Louise and then one for herself.

Louise sat back down in her chair and gave Emma a grateful smile. "Thanks, Emma… really, thanks."

Lifting the cup up to her lips, Emma gave her a wide smile. "My pleasure, Loulabelle."

All Wrong
Miss Raye

It had been a long day and an even longer week and if there was something that could have gone wrong with his ride, it did. It had taken considerable effort to soften his hands when he was in the barn with Sundance, but she had known his mood probably more than he did and so she stood, quiet and patient as he struggled with his own emotions. Stopping by the pump he'd poured a liberal amount of water over his head trying to shock himself back into someone that was fit to be around.

As he walked up to the bunkhouse he realized he hadn't succeeded.

"You just don't understand, Kid."

Jimmy's step faltered, more at hearing the words than by the person who said it. It sounded like he wasn't the only one having 'one of those' days.

"What're you saying, Cody?"

"I think you're getting' worked up over nothin'." There was a moment of silence and Jimmy stepped closer to the window and out of the line of sight of the rest of the station. "If you'd just think about it instead of reactin' all the time, you'd see."

"Oh, that's rich comin' from you."

"You ain't part of this discussion, Noah." Cody's tone was more aggravated than sharp, but Jimmy could only imagine Noah's expression. "I'm talkin' to the Kid."

"I get that you're tryin' to help, Cody," Kid began as his voice began to fluctuate in volume, Jimmy realized he was probably moving around the room, "but you haven't seen what I've seen."

"Oh, I've seen plenty," Cody shot back, "we've all seen it, but you're all balled up in the middle of it, Kid… that's why you can't see the truth when you look at it."

"Oh I'm lookin' all right, Cody. I just think when you aren't involved in something, you don't understand what's under the surface."

"Oh, we're involved, Kid… no one in this bunkhouse is left out of it." Cody's tone was getting a little exasperated, his volume rising. "So if you'll just listen for once, you may just learn something."

There was a moment of silence, then, "Fine."

Chair legs scraped on the floor inside the bunkhouse and Jimmy leaned against the outside wall to listen in.

"Good," some of Cody's usual jovial tone returned, "now, lesse if I can open your eyes to a little bit of truth."

There was a laugh that fell into the silence and Jimmy didn't have to hear Cody's muttered curse to know that it was Noah who was enjoying himself a little too much to hold it in.

"One thing you gotta remember about Jimmy is just that."

"Just what?"

"Just that." Cody responded. "Jimmy is Jimmy."

"Oh boy," Noah added, "that's really insightful."

"Jimmy's not gonna change his spots, Kid." Cody pronounced his ruling with great aplomb. "Jimmy's gonna go after what he wants and he's not exactly quiet about it, neither."

"I think you're mixing your metaphors Cody."

"Well, excuse you, Mr. Know-it-all," Cody barked back at Noah, "but this doesn't involve you. Come on, Kid, think about it. If Jimmy really wanted Lou for himself, why would he be 'sneaky' about it? Why go around behind your back about it? This is 'Jimmy' for gosh sakes. He doesn't do anything by backin' off of it."

There was a moment of silence again and Cody stepped right into it, maybe he had Kid quiet and thinking about it after all.

"He was pretty much barrelin' into the whole thing with Sarah Downs."

"Oh yeah," Cody sounded elated, "now you're makin' my own argument for me. Really, look at what he did when he mouthed off to Longley. Jimmy just can't help but say what he really feels."

"That's true… I guess."

"See?" Cody was fairly crowing. "Thank goodness… now maybe we can get some peace in this place! Whoo hoo- ow!"

Jimmy wasn't sure if Cody knocked himself over or if someone tipped his chair but he was very nearly happy that he'd been hurt. Turning away from the window, Jimmy headed back for the barn. Sure, on some level Cody's logic made sense, but the problem was… it wasn't the truth.

It was one thing to leap into things when you were so sure of what it meant. Pushing Longley's buttons came as easy as breathing. Being young and stupid didn't need any sort of surety.

Sarah Downs had been all desperate instinct. The instinct to pursue was instantaneous and then the instinct to protect had overrun everything else. Love… it wasn't really love. It was the need to prove himself.

Emma… Emma had been a jumble of emotions. A struggle to grow up and be worthy of a woman he truly admired. He wanted her to see him as a man… he wanted to be worthy of a woman like her. And even though she said as much, he hadn't believed her and had felt lost.

Still, she'd told him he'd find someone… someone that would love him… and that's where he was stuck.

How would he ever be able to open himself up to losing ever again? How would he find the strength to set himself up for that kind of disappointment?

So for now, the last thing he was going to do was jump, no matter how much it was tempting to do.


Forgive Me
Miss Raye

The town of Wheeler wasn’t on his normal route, but Christmas was fast approaching and it had become increasingly difficult to shop for Louise now. Since the Express had closed down and they’d all moved on to different jobs, Louise had found her calling as a reporter for the newspaper in town and she always seemed to pop up when she wasn’t supposed to. Buck pulled off his gloves and shoved them into the pocket of his coat.

The young man working at the front of the stable was eager enough to take his reins, but it took a moment of consideration before he would hand over the reins with any measure of trust. Few people that worked with horses had any sort of aptitude or affinity for the job. Buck watched as the young man gently ran his hand down the long graceful face of his mount and listened as the young man whispered quietly to the mare. “I’ll take good care of her, mister.”

Nodding, Buck put the reins in the boy’s outstretched hand along with an extra coin just for him. Buck left chuckling as the boy fumbled with the coin and nearly lost it in the hay piled up a few feet away.

The day’s ride had been harder than he’d anticipated and he wasn’t quite ready to admit that it wouldn’t get any easier as he and the rest of his friends were only getting older. So, rather than scouring the stores for a suitable gift, he decided to start fresh in the morning. The hotel would be his first and last stop of the day.

Across the busy street he took in the bustling atmosphere of the town. Here it seemed as though the people didn’t notice the color of his skin, the line of his features… didn’t recognize the mark of his Kiowa heritage… or maybe they didn’t care. Figuring it really didn’t matter much since he could duck in and out of Wheeler without causing much stir, he’d keep coming back again and again for that reason.

As he stepped up onto the boarded walkway he touched the brim of his hat to a couple of young ladies passing by and they both colored prettily. The bright light of the afternoon sun slanting over the rooftops across the street flared in his vision and when he stepped inside the hotel he couldn’t see enough to avoid a collision with one of the maids.

“Buck?”

*** ***

She stood there and he wondered why she didn’t look away. Dressed in the uniform of a maid it couldn’t possibly sit well with her to see him. It couldn’t. Kathleen Devlin was a singular woman. She had pride enough for a dozen women and standing in the middle of the hotel lobby, her starched collar rubbing her neck raw, she should have been at least a bit embarrassed, or angry.

“I guess you didn’t expect to see me here.”

He could only manage a nod in response.

“Then again, I didn’t expect to be here.” There was a little giggle at the end of her words but it was thin, wan in its complexion and he didn’t know what to make of it… what to say if anything.

“Kathleen?” The imperious voice startled her and she looked around Buck at the source.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Carmody… I was just startled,” she flickered a look at Buck, “I knew Mr. Cross a few years ago.”

Buck could see the man in the reflection of a wall mirror, the man was older, the grey in his temples was nearly taking over the color of the rest of his head and he was rail thin… looked as though he breathed as little as he ate. The man gave a sigh that looked to vibrate through his whole body. “Well then, far be it for me to part old friends so soon.” He gave her a pointed look. “Take your break and if you wouldn’t mind…” he looked over at the hotel’s restaurant, the front door closed and the lights dark. She gave a quick curtsy to the man, her fingers trapping the sides of her skirt so it wouldn’t tangle with her legs. “Thank you, Mr. Carmody, I won’t be long.”

When she looked back up at Buck, a breath caught in the back of his throat. There was a moment when the old Kathleen smiled back at him and it was mesmerizing. She was a beautiful woman, even trussed up in the garb of a maid. She would always be beautiful with her eyes shining up at him.

Perhaps she sensed the shift in him, the way he stood a little taller looking into her eyes and she cleared her throat. “Mr.Cross, if you’ll follow me, please.” She turned away and moved quietly through the room as though she was no more than a shadow and opened the door for him to precede her into restaurant.

*** *** The door closed behind him and he took a breath before turning around. He wasn’t quite sure that she’d be there… maybe she’d only been a shadow… or a dream vision come to taunt him.

“Buck?” There it was, the soft sound of her voice, a wavering quality that made her seem small in the room. “I’m sorry, if you don’t… don’t want to talk to me, I understand.”

He turned to look at her, a wealth of questions in his eyes and poised on his lips but he couldn’t quite marry the look of her, hands wringing together with the uncertainty in her voice. “Why would you say that?” He could hear the sharp tone of his voice and was nearly helpless to stop it.

Buck wasn’t going to wait for an answer to that silly question. He forged on with one of his own. “Where’s your father? Don’t tell me that he’d condone you working in a hotel?”

“My father…” she measured out her words like they cost money, “has been dead for nearly a year. He never quite recovered from all the things that happened in Sweetwater and one morning I went to wake him and he was… just gone.”

“I’m sorry, Kathleen, I-“

“Sorry?” The laugh that escaped her lips fell between them. “Why are you sorry? He was… we were horrible to you!”

He weighed her words and nodded. “Then I’m sorry for you. You loved him and the death of someone you love is hard.”

She stepped closer, her eyes looking into his face. “Losing Daddy taught me some hard lessons. I had no idea what kind of a person I was until I had to face everyone… alone. Daddy had loved me like a doll… and I became every ounce the petulant child he’d encouraged me to become.” She looked down at her hands, the blisters and reddened skin was hard to look at… painful. “Then one day the money was gone. I’d never known how to manage my own affairs, that’s what Daddy did. So, left to my own devices, I was lost and penniless. “

“Kathleen-” there was a hesitancy in his voice, a prelude to something difficult… something weighing on his heart, “I-“

She reached her hand, intending to press a finger against his lips to silence him… but the horrible condition of her hand seemed to shock her back into the present, when the gap between their positions had all but switched. “Don’t… it wouldn’t make anything right between us, Buck… and you don’t owe me anything… I’m the one.”

He couldn’t seem to wrap his mind around the words; around the meaning in her eyes. “What do you-“

“You’re a better man than my father, Buck. You’re a man with real values and a good heart. Even now you’re probably thinking about how you could help me and that… that means a lot.” She gave him a shy smile. “More than you could know… but I’m not the Kathleen you courted a few years ago… all spit and fire and determined to hurt her father in any way she could…”

The Real Thing
Miss Raye

“I can’t believe it,” Cody stammered and sputtered at the small gathering of show performers, “I… the world renowned Master of Showmen,” his hands painted the marquee in the air, “can’t get one man to kiss a woman and look like he means it.” He cast a hard look at the offender who leaned casually against the rail between the arena and the audience seats. “What is wrong with you Hickok?”

The man in question pushed the brim of his hat back on his head so that he could get a good look at his accuser. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with me, Cody… you got it in your head to put this silly little… what did you call it?”

“Skit.”

“Skit in front of all these payin’ customers… ain’t one of them gonna believe a moment of your silly stories. Hell, we all know how you like to make things bigger’n they were.”

The rest of the cast tried in varying degrees to hide their amusement as Cody sucked down a couple of gasps of air. He pressed a hand to his chest and had to work to gather his thoughts together before he addressed his old friend. “Jimmy, I am… hurt and shocked at your accusations.” He paced forward a step or two and swept his hand toward the main part of the arena. “We are here to put on a show for the good people of New York and that’s what we are goin’ to do! So I need you to pull some semblance of acting skill together and kiss that woman like you mean it.”

Jimmy turned to the actress in question, watching her saunter forward in her ‘cowgirl’ get up with pants that looked like they’d been painted on and a blouse that had more buttons and trim than actual fabric.

Cody grinned and gave a few enthusiastic nods. “Now, Hickok… you can’t tell me she ain’t pretty.”

Shaking his head Jimmy agreed. “Can’t tell a lie. She is beautiful.”

The smile on the actress’ face said how much she enjoyed the compliment.

“And you can’t say that many a man wouldn’t loooove to kiss a woman as beautiful as her.”

Jimmy gave a nod. “I’d say many a man would be happy to give her a kiss.”

She laughed and pushed back her shoulders, emphasizing her ample attributes. “How did you know?”

The rest of the cast laughed right along with Jimmy and the buxom actress except for Cody. “So?”

“So, what?” Hickok answered back.

“Why can’t you just kiss her like you enjoy it?”

A small commotion at the entrance of the tent drew Hickok’s attention. The guard at the door tipped his hat and stepped out of the way and a figure stepped into the mouth of the tent. The bright sunlight outside the tent made it impossible to see the face of the young woman that entered. Her silhouette was simple, a skirt, cut at modest length swished near the ground stirring up a few puffs of dust, a jacket cut less dramatically than the current style dictated, ended with a simple collar instead of a froth of lace at her throat. The whole thing was capped off by the short flat brim of a straw boater hat held down with a pearl tipped pin.

Jimmy stepped away from the area railing and gave a wink to the actress who wore her disappointment plainly on her face. She turned to follow him with her eyes, pouting as he walked away.

Wild Bill Hickok, dressed in his customary finery, black woolen long coat over a white shirt, a scarlet strip around his middle, setting off the finely tooled leather holster carrying his twin pearl-handled Colts, met the young woman in the center of the arena, his eyes filled only with her.

Stepping out from the curious knot of performers, Cody pushed his own hat back, sending it slipping down his back to be saved only by the strings tied together under his chin, and looked at the young woman as she emerged from the concealing window of light. He caught sight of her skin, browned slightly from spending time out of doors and in the sun, then the shy sweep of her smile as she greeted the gunman with a whisper of words; finally as she turned to Cody he realized exactly who he was looking at. “Well I’ll be damned.”

Hickok and his love ignored the laughter from the cast as they struggled to keep the shocked showman on his feet. Instead, Hickok wrapped one arm around the young woman, nestling his palm against the small of her back as he drew her forward. “Lord how I’ve missed you…”

She touched the side of his face with her hand, her palm gently caressing his newly shaved skin. “Not as much as I’ve missed you.” The moment she curled her fingers through the hair at his temple he leaned in for a kiss. A kiss that had as many blushing as it had cheering and Cody shook his head, his hands balled at his hips.

Turning to the assembled crowd he swept a hand at his two old friends and bellowed. “Now ‘that’s’ the kind of kiss I wanted.”

Turning his head slightly Hickok hissed at his old friend. “Get your own girl, Cody.” He didn’t wait to see the look of exasperation cross Cody’s features; he merely turned back to his lady love and showed her how glad he was to see her.

Open for Discussion
Miss Raye

The bride and groom were the picture of love and happiness as they gathered together behind the wedding cake. Emma deftly took the knife in hand and with Sam's guiding hand they made the first slice to the cheers and smiles of their family and friends. The main street of Sweetwater had been transformed into a festival of paper lanterns and colorful tablecloths. Every family and business for a few miles surrounding the town had come together to add to the celebration of the marriage of their marshal and his lady love.

Emma bit into the piece of cake held aloft by Sam's hand and to quickly cover the bit of frosting that smeared on her lip, Sam placed a kiss on her mouth discreetly 'tasting' away the frosting as he stepped back. He saw the light of promise in her eyes and swallowed hard at the thought of his impending honeymoon.

Brought back to the present by the chorus of cheers from the townsfolk, Emma quickly made the necessary cuts into the cake to provide enough pieces for the ravening crowd and turned when she felt a tentative touch at her elbow.

When she turned, it still took Emma a moment to remember who it was standing beside her so lovely and graceful. "Louise…" she may have taken too long to say the name, letting the two syllables slide from her lips with a little too much relish, but then again, it wasn't everyday that she could call her young friend by her true name, "you look so lovely today."

The young woman blushed and her gaze flickered around them to see who, if anyone was paying attention. "I only look this way 'cause you let me put on this dress and stand up beside you at your wedding." The young Express rider's eyes were filling quickly with tears. "Oh Emma… what am I gonna do when you're gone?" Louise grabbed onto Emma's arm, alarm in her eyes. "Oh please don't think that I'm just sad that you're goin' just 'cause I wanna be… well you, know, like this…"

Emma smiled down at her, using her free hand to smooth away a tear that had managed to escape onto her cheek. "I don't think anything of the kind, Louise… you know that we share a special friendship and I'm glad for any chance that I can help you have fun and be… the beautiful young woman you are." Emma hugged the young woman tightly and to anyone watching the exchange it seemed as simple as two close friends sharing a moment together.

Buck stepped in for a moment and brushed a kiss on Emma's cheek before turning a smile on Louise as well. "Don't forget," he whispered, "you both promised me a dance before the night's over."

Emma touched the young man on the shoulder and nodded. "Just let me know when you have free spot on your dance card, Buck." He gave Lou a shy smile and backed away into the crowd.

Bending down a fraction of an inch Emma sought Louise's troubled gaze. "Are you missing a dance with one of the boys standing here gabbin' away with me?"

"No…" Louise looked over at the edge of the crowd and spotted the Kid and Ike standing together, "not really."

Emma gathered Louise up against her side and whispered to her. "What's wrong, Loulabelle?"

Louise looked up into Emma's worried eyes and she longed to tell her all the emotions running around inside of her, but this was Emma's wedding and she shouldn't have anything on her mind but her life with Sam Cain. Forcing a smile on her face and hopefully the right light into her eyes, Louise gave Emma a warm hug and then a kiss on her cheek. "Nothin' that a few dances with my friends can't take care of."

Sam stepped up beside his wife and pressed a kiss to her temple. "Hey there, Louise."

Blinking back the threat of tears Louise smiled up at the marshal. "Marshal Cain. I want to thank you again for invitin' me to your weddin'."

"Once I heard Emma had a friend she wanted to stand beside her at our weddin' I was only too happy to move heaven and earth to get ya here." Sam gave her a winning grin that had Louise grinning back. "What a surprise when you turned up out of the blue."

"Well," Louise searched for the memory of what story they'd told Sam, "it was a lucky thing that-"

"Lucky for us that is," Sam picked up Emma's hand and brushed a kiss over her palm. Emma's smile melted into near rapture as her husband drew her closer to the dance area, "now if you'll excuse us-"

Louise watched them melt into the shifting mass of dancers in the street and she blinked back another onslaught of tears. She was happy for her friend… her dear, dear friend, but come tomorrow Emma would be off on her honeymoon and when she returned with Sam in a week they'd be packing up for the territorial seat and it would be months or maybe a year before she'd see her again.

"Well hello there, Miss."

She froze and sought an immediate exit as Teaspoon appeared at her elbow. "Hello, Mr. Hunter."

Teaspoon held out a plate with a slice of cake on it. "Would you like some cake, Miss?"

Shaking her head, Louise tried to find a way to turn her head to the side without seeming rude. "I'm fine, thank you."

"Can't say I've seen you 'round town, Miss… Miss ah…"

"Louise, Mr. Hunter."

"Oh," he puffed right up like a prized peacock. "Heard of me, have ya? Are you a friend of the bride or the-"

"Bride, oh I see Emma now… I really should see if she needs anything, 'scuse me Mr. Hunter."

Louise couldn't believe that Teaspoon hadn't heard the thundering of her heart as she'd tried to avoid him getting a good look at her face. She had to find something to do and quickly if she was going to avoid being recognized.

"Hey, Lou," Kid pulled her into the shadows and looked down at her with a somber expression, "having fun?"

"I've been worried about you."

He looked confused at her comment. "Worried about me, why?" He gave her a little smile as he shifted back and forth on his feet. "You sure are pretty tonight."

She smiled for a moment and shook herself. "That's exactly my point," she started, "one minute you're looking like you want to run out of here and then the next you're smilin' at me… I just… it's just confusing, Kid."

Reaching down he took her hand in his and gave it a little squeeze. "I've just had a lot on my mind, Lou… most of all, you."

"Me?" She wasn't sure she liked how that sounded.

"Well, us…" he gave her another smile, "you like wearing that dress, don't you?"

"Sure, Kid… Why wouldn't I, it's beautiful."

He gave her one more look, his mind busy above his happy smile. "What if it could be like this anytime you wanted?"

"Sure, in a perfect world, but-"

Kid leaned in brushed a kiss on her cheek and disappeared into the crowd.

*** ***

A few minutes later, Lou had all but forgotten the strange conversation with the Kid as Ike squired her around the dance floor. They had a few mishaps with Lou going one way instead of the right way and Ike's feet tangling with the new lengthened cuffs of his pants. As the band played the last few notes of the reel Lou had to grab onto Ike's arm to steady herself as they shared a hearty laugh.

"There you are, Lou." They turned toward the voice and Louise struggled to keep the smile on her face. Kid was back pulling a bewildered Teaspoon behind him.

She gave him a pointed look and then smiled at the station master, holding out her hand. "I'm Louise, yes… nice to meet you 'again' Mr. Hunter."

Teaspoon, charmed by the winsome young woman smiled and placed a kiss on the back of her hand. "Yes… yes… Emma's charming young friend… how are you enjoying the party and-"

"She's not just Emma's friend, Teaspoon, you see-"

Ike stepped in between Teaspoon and Kid, signing to the station master. Teaspoon had to hold up his hands and shake his head. "Slow down, Ike… I can barely understand."

Without thinking, Louise started translating. "He said that he thinks Jimmy needs to-"

Buck took Louise by the arm and stepped in front of her, finishing the translation. "Needs you to take a look at something."

"Yes," Teaspoon scanned the crowd for a moment before turning back with a quizzical expression on his face, "but how did Louise-"

Emma was suddenly at his side. "My my, Mr. Spoon, don't you look dashing!"

Giving Emma a wink he gave her a little bow. "And you, my dear lady are ravishing!" He straightened quickly and gave Sam a 'manly' nod. "No offense, Marshal… I'm not tryin' to turn her head or-"

"Teaspoon…" Kid's insistent tone brought the older man back around to the conversation at hand.

"Kid," Buck leaned in and looked the Kid square in the eye, "what are you doin'? Don't we…"

"Don't you boys," Emma interrupted, worry plain in her eyes. Sam, standing beside her looked completely lost, "have somethin' to do… for me?"

"No-" "Yes-"

Kid and Buck spoke at the same moment and Kid rushed on to finish. "You know how you've been sayin' how hard it'll be to find someone to replace Emma?"

Teaspoon slid a look to Emma and saw her obvious distress, why the woman was positively pale and on her own wedding day. "Now, son… I don't think this is somethin' we aughta discuss right here… poor Emma's just gotten married and you have her gone'n-"

"And here's her replacement." Kid swung his arm out to point at Louise nearly hitting Ike in the process. "Lou."

"Son," Teaspoon chided, wiggling his finger, "her name's Louise and-" the gathered Express family held their collective breath as Teaspoon ambled closer for a good look. He took Louise's chin in his hand and turned her face this way and that and then as a final measure he formed both thumbs and forefingers into round circles and held them up to Louise's face. He stumbled back half a step. "Well I'll be spitted and smoked come sundown… LOU!" The assembled townsfolk turned toward the sound of distress and watched realization dawn over the older man.

"Teaspoon, I can explain-" Louise began to shake, her face heating up with a blush at having the whole town staring at her.

"You better," started the older man, "just what do you think y're doin' puttin' on a dress!"

The whole party was abuzz with talk. The various conversations buzzed around them like a swarm of locusts come to rob them blind. Buck looked out over the crowd and stared back at the curious onlookers, their heads popping up and down like prairie dogs looking for a meal.

Emma took Teaspoon's hand. "Mr. Spoon… I think we should talk about this later-"

"Oh I think now is a good time," he turned to Lou and seemed to think better of it for a moment, turning back to Emma, "what did you think was gonna happen, Emma? Lettin' one of the boys play dress up? Was this a joke to see if I'd notice?"

Sam's expression was stoic as he looked across the group at the smallest rider, unsure of what was happening before him.

"Teaspoon, please…" Louise stepped closer, putting herself between him and Emma. "It's not what you think, Teaspoon… I'm… I'm not a boy, just been pretendin' to be one, 'cause I needed a job to make money and girls only got two ways to do it out here… and neither one suits me."

He looked at her, skeptical curiosity in his gaze. "You're a girl?" He saw her nod and still he couldn't quite let it go. "How long have you been one?"

That got a little titter of laughter from the riders. "I've… always been a girl, Teaspoon." She choked up on the end of her laugh and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth to stop herself from crying. Ike standing at her side put a hand on her shoulder.

"You knew?" Teaspoon watched as Ike and then Buck gave a solemn nod. "And you too?" Cody and Jimmy, the newest to step up to the gathering, nodded.

Emma stepped over to Lou and put her arm around the young girl's shoulders. "I knew from the start, but Sam, I think," she looked over at her husband and read the unanswered questions in his eyes, "didn't know 'til now."

Teaspoon's face went from shock to the tightness of anger at the corners of his mouth to bewilderment again. "I've got to think about this, Lou… Louise."

She stepped forward and tentatively reached out to touch his arm, but Teaspoon drew back a fraction of an inch just out of range. "I know, Teaspoon… I never meant for you to find out like-" she bit into her bottom lip for a moment, "like this."

"Then how?" He avoided the eyes of the riders… of Emma, but especially Louise. "How was I supposed to find out?"

Louise stepped closer and tried unsuccessfully to catch his eye. "I was going to tell you."

It was a long moment before he nodded. Slowly. He walked around Louise and stopped before Emma and Sam. "Wish you both the best. I'd like to stay, but I've got a lot of thinkin' to do and-"

Emma reached out to him, but he stepped away. "Sorry, Emma… I need t' think this through on my own."

She nodded and leaned into Sam's embrace as Teaspoon disappeared into the night toward the livery.

"Why?"

Lou turned to face Kid, her hands clenched at her sides. "Why did you do that?"

"I was gonna fix it for you, Lou." Kid shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned in closer so that others couldn't hear. "I wanted everything between us to be out in the open… this way we don't have to sneak around and hold hands and dance… with you doin' Emma's job we can still work together and everything will be fine."

He leaned in closer, his lips a fraction of an inch from brushing against her cheekbone, and she stepped back to look into his startled eyes. "You had this planned, didn't you?" She didn't wait for a response. "That's why you were so distracted, right?"

Kid nodded.

"I wish…" she took in a little breath, "I wish you'd let me into the plan, Kid… I wish," she looked up at him, tears shining in her eyes, "I wish you'd let it be my decision too."

She started to move past him and he grabbed her by the arm. "Where are you… the job, Lou… we couldn't wait with the job on the line… we had to get in and tell Teaspoon before-"

"That's just it, Kid," she reached over with her free hand and slowly removed his fingers from her arm, "we didn't tell Teaspoon, you did."

He whirled around as she walked away from him. "Wait, Lou… wait!"

She turned around, barely able to see him through her tears. "What, Kid? What else do you have to say?"

"I did this for us… because I… because I care so much about you." He pointedly ignored the looks from their friends and focused only on her. "Just tell me we're gonna be fine… you and me."

She paused for a moment as if thinking through his question over and over again before she answered. "I don't know, Kid… I just don't know."

Love Isn't Easy
Miss Raye

Hard Hit
Miss Raye

William Tompkins was a man of stout body, singular spirit and drive. It made him a formidable man to deal with and in the towns of Sweetwater and Rock Creek most avoided being anywhere near him unless they had business to do in the mercantile.

Teaspoon leaned against the post closest to the pot bellied stove near the counter and warmed his hands as Paul Oldman and John Turner hunched over their latest game of chess. "You've been mighty quiet today, Tompkins."

The shopkeeper looked over at him and narrowed his gaze. "I'm busy… got my inventory to do." He lifted a sheaf of papers in his hand to illustrate the point. "You got somethin' you need?"

Teaspoon nodded at the store in general, a few of the riders were quietly gathering supplies. "The boys are doin' a fine job by themselves, I thought I'd make some conversation to pass the time."

"Well I got no need for conversation unless you're buyin' something."

The bell that hung over the door at the front of the shop danced with a little jingle-jangle as the door swung open.

Stepping inside past Cody was a tall woman of unquestionable grace and stature. With a back straighter than a ramrod and a thick bun of black hair she stepped into the center of the store and gave its contents a thorough look. "Who is the proprietor of this establishment?"

Teaspoon looked at Tompkins who seemed frozen in place.

While she was waiting, the woman slid two gloved fingers along the counter at her side.

"Hmmm… dusty."

Cody looked from Tompkins to the woman. "Well it is kinda windy."

She turned her imperious glance at the young man. "Excuse me?"

Shrugging, Cody pointed at the counter. "Wind.. .it blows the dust in… nothin' to really stop it around here… Lord knows Rachel has her hands full dusting at the Station."

"That's 'cause you're not much help with anything, Cody." Jimmy's challenging look had Ike shaking with laughter. "'Sides I ain't heard Tompkins complaining yet."

Teaspoon took a step closer to the counter. "Uh, Tompkins?"

The storekeeper didn't move a muscle, his face nearly devoid of color.

"Well," the woman huffed, "if there's no help available I'll just have to find a mercantile with some 'kind' of service to make my purchases." Turning on her heel, the wide skirts of her dress flaring out to brush against the nearby tables and counters, she left behind in her wake a perfumed cloud of dust.

"Boy, Tompkins I've never seen-" Teaspoon paused in mid chuckle and the words on his tongue fell right out of his mouth when he saw what was happening.

Tompkins, leaning heavily on one arm stared at the door, his free hand clutching at his chest. The fine fabric of his shirt was nearly knotted beneath his grasping fingers. His mouth opened, but no words were heard.

"Teaspoon? Is somethin' wrong with Tompkins?"

Cody shrugged. "Maybe it's from that time Lou whacked him upside the head with that pan?"

Walking up to the man, Teaspoon leaned close enough that he could lower his voice. "Tompkins? Y're beginnin' to scare me a bit… should I get the doctor?"

"That… that woman," Tompkins stared at the closed door, "did you see that woman?"

"Why yes, Tompkins," Teaspoon agreed, "you ain't ha-lucy-nating if that's what y're worried about."

"Wasn't she…wasn't she…"

"Obnoxious?" Offered Jimmy.

"Stuck up," corrected Cody.

Tompkins sighed. "She's glorious!" His fingers tensed on his shirt. "Ahh..."

"What's wrong?" Teaspoon's gaze was concerned.

Gasping for air Tompkins struggled to explain. "From the moment I saw her… there was this fluttering and twistin' inside my chest… like my heart was tryin' to march right out of my chest."

"Cody," Teaspoon called over his shoulder, "get the doctor here as fast as you can."

"No, no…" Tompkins tried to stop him, but Cody wasn't one to listen to Tompkins over Teaspoon so out the door he went, "it ain't like that… it's not painful... really."

Jimmy's questioning look was dubious. "Right… then what is it Mr. Tompkins?"

There was a collective gasp as a smile… an honest to goodness smile… cracked the solemn and mostly stern expression of Tompkins' face.

Teaspoon, stepping back for a moment, pronounced his own diagnosis before the doctor ever showed up. "Well boys… I think it's love."

Face the Fire
Miss Raye

The arrival of a horse and rider had Kurt Aldman out of his chair. A step away from the door he grabbed his rifle from the wall.

“No, Papa!” Anneka sprang from her chair but did not reach her father in time. The older man stood on the front porch of their small soddy and lifted his rifle to his shoulder.

The rider still partially visible in the twilight raised his hands above his shoulders to show that he was unarmed.

The man with the rifle had steady aim. “What do you want?”

Anneka reached the porch and stopped short of touching her father. She couldn’t bear it if he fired by accident. “Please Papa, I told you he was coming tonight.”

Kurt narrowed his gaze at the young man and sighed. With a hard shake of his head he turned to his daughter. “This is the man you want to court you?”

“Yes, Papa.” She moved quickly into the darkening yard and took Ike’s hand as he slid from the saddle. “This is Ike McSwain.”

The older man narrowed his gaze. “Why doesn’t he speak for himself?”

Sweeping off his hat, Ike let go of Anneka’s hand to reach out a hand to her father. As he stepped into the glow of the lamps Kurt stepped back. “He’s a mute.” Her father’s tone was distasteful at the least.

Ike stopped short as though he’d walked into a glass wall. Dropping his hat on the ground he signed, Anneka quickly stepping to his side to see what he was saying. She touched Ike’s arm and nodded a few times. “I know… let me tell them.”

She looked at her mother, her blonde hair bathed gold by the lamps. Vreni was a slight woman, but she had a strength that said she, like her daughter, was strong enough to make a real go at it in the West.

“He said he was pleased to meet you both.”

Kurt let go of a huff of air and peered at the young man. “You want my daughter for a wife, do you?”

Ike looked down at his hands and then to Anneka, her wide eyes smiling up at him. With a simple sign between them he nodded toward her parents.

Smiling, Anneka told them. “He’s asked me to marry him.”

“How can you be sure, when he can’t say a-”

“He’s of a good heart. He has a good job, Papa.”

“He’s covered in dust.”

Anneka didn’t waste a moment to look at Ike’s clothes. “For as well as you shoot, Papa, you are acting as if you were blind.”

“Don’t you sass me girl. I’m not so poor that my girl has to marry a half-wit to-”

“Father!” The fervor in Anneka’s voice had her mother gasping for air. “You’re being cruel… I won’t have it.”

“Well, without ‘my’ say-so he won’t be havin’ you either.” Wresting his arm from his wife’s grasp, Kurt turned his back on all of them and headed to the barn.

With a sigh, Vreni turned to the house and retreated into the safety of her kitchen, father and daughter had fought for years and both had managed to survive without her help.

Anneka felt the tremors going through Ike’s body. Felt the way the muscles beneath her hands felt like iron. “Ike.” Turning to him she had to struggle to see his face through the tears in her eyes. “Please… he-“

Suddenly in the harsh hold of his embrace, she flattened her hands on his chest and smoothed the fabric of his shirt and leaned her head in to listen to the thunder of his heart.

“I know what you’re thinking, Ike… please don’t hate him. He just has in his mind that I’m going to marry and be rich and that’s just what he’s been hoping for since he and Mama came to this country when they were just married.”

She felt the gentle touch of his hand on her hair and sighed, burrowing her face into the front of his shirt, smelling the soap and leather that reminded her of him. “He doesn’t hate you, Ike… he hates that he can’t control the future. He can’t ‘make’ things one way or another.”

Anneka leaned back a little and saw the warmth in Ike’s eyes and smiled. “He never knew that coming to America would mean that his daughter would be a woman with her own mind… a woman who can fall in love with a man that he might not… understand.”

Ike signed, *we both love you… a father understands love*

Sadly she shook her head. “My father is worried about my future more than my happiness.”

*I have a good job*

Smiling, Anneka reached up to touch his cheek, marveling at the smooth warmth of his skin. “You have a good job, yes… but more important than that to me… you have a good heart.”

Ike looked over her head at the barn’s closed door. *I should talk to him… man to man.*

Her expression darkened. “Ike… I don’t think that-”

He touched a finger to her lips and gave her a wink. Stepping away from her, he moved back to his horse. Reaching into his saddle bag he pulled out a couple of items and held them out for Anneka to see. Laughing with delight Anneka wrapped her arms around Ike’s neck and gave him a quick kiss on the lips. As she stepped away she smiled at the look of surprise on his face. “For luck.”

Ike nodded slowly as if he just couldn’t concentrate enough to make his body move any faster.

Anneka waved Ike toward the barn. “Well… what are you waiting for? Go!”

*** ***

The door of the barn opened up and Kurt spared the doorway a glance until he saw the young man step in. “Humph… you still here?” To the boy’s credit, the smile on his face didn’t falter. “Bet you’ve met a lot of people that don’t like you cause of the way you look.”

Ike shrugged and then nodded. Lifting the two objects in his hands he dashed off a few strokes and walked close enough to turn his slate into the lantern light.

Mr. Aldman read the words aloud. “Not the first time.” He let out a sigh and looked down at his hands. A whittling knife in his left hand, he held the half-formed carving of a horse in his right. “I don’t mind that you can’t talk… I like quiet folk.” He looked up at Ike and shook his head. “But what kind of prospects do you have? This is the land of opportunity and most don’t want to deal with someone… someone they can’t communicate with. What can you offer her?”

Considering the question, Ike looked down at the slate, his writing hand turned so that his cuff wiped the chalk from its surface. He wrote a few words and turned it back. GOOD JOB – SAVED MONEY

Kurt nodded. “That’s good for now.” He set the horse to the side, the knife following after it. “But that ‘riding’ job will end and what will you do for money?”

That was a question Ike wasn’t prepared for. It took a moment for him to decide on an answer. ANYTHING TO TAKE CARE OF ANNEKA

“You don’t get it, do you, boy?” Kurt stood, his stool rocking back and forth with the movement. “What you have with my daughter is sweet,” he held his hand up, “I’m sure it’s real… but in a world as hard as this is… with all the struggles just making ends meet… we add the coming war-” Kurt turned back to Ike and leaned against the wall and hung his head. “You only see the dreams… I only see the pain and struggle. I don’t think you’ll convince me otherwise.”

Ike erased the chalk and wrote another message. He held it out toward the older man, but Mr. Aldman waved it off.

“Enough. I’m done talking about this.” He reached for his whittled horse and put it in his pocket. “Go home, Ike, I-”

Ike watched the man move slowly as though the weight of the world was weighing on his shoulders and he was tempted to let him have his rest, but he knew that Anneka was waiting for him and she’d know… she’d know that he gave up.

Steeling himself, Ike reached out a hand to stop Mr. Aldman from leaving.

“Wha-?” The older man was shocked and stopped suddenly to look down at his arm and then back up at the man who’d come to marry his daughter. “Let me go.”

Standing his ground, Ike shook his head.

“I said,” Kurt stepped back and ground his teeth together, “let go!” With a grunt he pulled his arm away and knocked the lamp down from its hook. “Dammit.”

Kurt dropped to his knees reaching for the lamp, but missed the handle and felt the burn of fire along his fingertips as the fire flared to life in the hay. Wheeling backward from the fire he reached for a blanket to beat the flames.

Ike had been silent behind him and somewhere in the back of his mind; Kurt cursed the young man for his cowardice. A terrified whiny turned his attention toward the side of the barn and he blinked a few times at the two fine horses being led to safety by Ike’s capable hands.

“Papa!” Anneka’s fearful face was just beyond the door way and the first trails of smoke. “Papa! Come out!”

Kurt turned to the same man he’s scorned before. “Keep her safe!”

Ike led the horses out by ropes and put their lead lines into Anneka’s hands. With the brush of a kiss on her temple he turned her toward the house and pushed.

As soon as she was on her way he ran back into the barn.

*** ***

Anneka froze in her tracks and whirled around just in time to see the wall above the door collapse into a smoky pile of rubble. “No!”

*** ***

Inside the barn, Kurt was choking on the smoke rapidly filling the barn, holding his coat sleeve over his nose and mouth wasn’t helping one bit. He took another swing at the fire with the heavy horse blanket and nearly doubled over in a coughing fit.

A wet tear of cloth behind him was all he heard before the cool press of water touched his cheek. Blinking through the smoke, Kurt saw Ike’s concerned face and the kerchief that Ike was pressing against his nose and mouth. He didn’t need his daughter or a slate to translate the next ‘sign’ from Ike. *breathe*

Kurt surveyed the barn and knew it was a total loss. There would be nothing to save in a few minutes and his determination to try is what got him stuck in the burning building. Himself and now… Ike.

Pulling the kerchief from his face, he put his hand on Ike’s shoulder turning him from the fire. “It’s no use… we need… to find a way… out.”

Nodding his understanding, Ike made a quick look around the barn, burning whirligigs of wood raining down around them. Back at the station he would have known exactly where to look. He would know exactly where to reach. Here… he’d never been in the Aldman barn until tonight. There… leaning up against the wall.

Using his hands to tell the older man *wait here* Ike ducked beneath a weakening beam and snatched up the old axe nearly hidden in the smoke. It was a good axe, sharp and clean. Later he’d understand the importance of the axe… of its care, but right now it was a means to an end.

Checking behind him to make sure Mr. Aldman hadn’t wandered into the circumference of his swing. Again and again, every time the axe swung back before a strike Ike’s lungs filled with smoky air, particles of burning material searing the sensitive lining of his lungs. After more than a minute the smoke had all but blinded him to the wall. Ike could only depend on the memory of his body, having performed the task numerous times before, but only now was it to save their life.

Somewhere above the crackling of the fire, Ike heard something that leant strength to his weakening muscles. Anneka’s voice. She was calling for him… calling for her father. With renewed strength Ike leaned into each swing of the axe and finally… finally heard the bone-numbing sounds of splintering wood.

*** ***

Ike woke to the gentle sound of Anneka’s voice. Struggling to sit up, Ike looked around the room, his eyes still burning from heat and smoke. Her hands reached for him and smoothed a wet cloth over his skin. “No… no… lay still.” A feather light kiss brushed against his forehead. “You’re in no condition to move.”

His lips moved, soundless asking the only question on his mind. *FATHER*

A moment later, a hand much stronger than Anneka’s pressed on his shoulder. “I’m here, son… thanks to you, I’m here.”

The telltale creak of wood and a settling thud told the story to Ike’s curious ears. A stool brought to his bedside. The groan of age said it was Mr. Aldman settling in beside him. From the opposite side, Anneka leaned close to whisper. “I’ll be right back.”

A deep laugh reached him from the other side. “Don’t worry… I haven’t scared her away from you.” There was a deep intake of breath and then a sigh. “And I guess you not talking is a good thing for once, because I’ve got some apologizing to do and I’d rather not have you telling an old man ‘I told you so.’”

For Rain from Germany… who wanted an Ike story and my muse was in a suggestive mood.

Up All Night

Cody swung the door open and nearly fell over Kid. “What the- Kid?”

Ducking away from Cody’s unsure feet, Kid stood and turned to see his friend. “Sorry ‘bout that, Cody… I was just doin’ some thinkin’.”

“Good.” Cody nearly stumbled off the edge of the porch. “You think… I’ve gotta pee.” He stepped through the weeds and swung open the outhouse door. “What are you thinkin’ about?”

The door swung shut behind Cody.

“I dunno if it makes any sense.” Kid was still tryin’ to puzzle through his own thoughts. “I thought I had it all figured out.”

“Oh…” Cody’s voice barely made it around the outhouse door, “this is about women.”

“Samantha just left.”

“Who?” Another pause. “Oh, that girl with the over watchful servant.”

“She’s not Samantha’s servant… at least not really. Martha was pretending to be Samantha’s servant so folks wouldn’t know that she’s her mother.”

Silence. “What?” The door opened enough for Cody to turn his head and look out through the crack. “She’s her mother?”

Turning away, Kid scuffed the toe of his boot in dirt. “Yeah… that was somethin’ to get used to.”

“What did she do, put one foot on the stage and look back at you – ‘Sorry I gotta leave you, Kid… oh and by the way this grumpy woman hoverin’ over me is my mama?’” Cody let out a low whistle. “Boy, am I glad I wasn’t the one sweet on ‘er.”

“Yeah well, it wasn’t like I was lookin’ to get into somethin’… “ Kid sighed and kicked at a stone, sending it skipping out into the moonlight. “It kinda came on me all of a sudden like… and I was… I was helpless.”

“Helpless.” Cody’s scoffing tone was clearly heard. “You fell hard… not that I blame you. That girl sure knew how to use what the good Lord gave her. She had all that-”

“Cody…” Kid’s warning might not have been needed.

“Charm!” Cody’s voice muffed as the door swung shut on Cody. “She had buckets of charm.”

“True.” Kid leaned back against one of the porch posts of the bunkhouse, closing his eyes to see her smile in his mind. “She was charming… too charming for my own good.”

Cody stepped out of the outhouse and shrugged. “Look, Kid. I know how it feels to be so in love with a woman that I can’t think straight, but you better watch out… you stay out here much longer moonin’ over her… you’ll be fallin’ asleep in the saddle.”

“I can handle myself in the saddle, Cody.”

He held up his hands in surrender. “I ain’t gotta problem with you ridin’, Kid… and the good Lord knows I got no problem with you not eattin’ at meals’n’such…. But keep it up and Lou won’t have to worry about bein’ the small one around here.”

Cody climbed up onto the porch and walked toward the door. He stopped before heading back inside. “Really, Kid,” Cody’s voice was full of sage wisdom, “ain’t no use starvin’ yourself over a girl, cause when you finally find yourself ready to get back into lovin’… you won’t have the energy to do much more than sit up and beg.”

The bunkhouse door closed behind Cody and Kid let out a less than silent curse. It was one thing to moon over a woman that may return your feelings but one that lit out of town like the devil himself was chasing her… there’s little sense in that… but then again when it came to love… sense had little to do with it.

Your Touch
Miss Raye

Rachel rolled out of bed on instinct. The clatter of hooves approaching town in the dark was never a good sign. With one hand reaching for the rifle nearby, she peered along the edge of the curtain counting heads at first, then the lead mount broke into a patch of moonlight and Rachel lurched to her feet. "Riders Comin'!"

Cody, Ike and Louise burst from the bunkhouse in rapid succession, each still dressing while clutching firearms in their hands. Rachel's tone had brought them running, but it also gave them reason to be cautious.

Teaspoon called out from the back of the pack and set them into motion. There wasn't any danger of an attack, not anymore… but they had injured and Cody set aside his rifle in exchange for a bucket. They'd need lots of water and he knew he could bring up a couple of bucketfuls from the well in no time.

Lou shoved the barrel of her pistol in the back waistband of her pants and caught Buck's dark glance as he rode in, slowing his mount instantly as Sundance stopped behind him. "I'll get the reins," he shouted over the clatter around them.

Moving around to the side she found herself nearly buried beneath the lanky bulk of Jimmy's body as he slid down from the saddle. It was only Ike's strong grip on Jimmy's arm that kept them both from collapsing in the dirt.

With Ike's quiet strength they made their way inside with Teaspoon and Rachel bringing Noah with them moments after. Jimmy didn't really stir until Ike lowered him onto a single bunk near the door. The rider's eyes opened suddenly, alert and confused at the same time. "Ike.." the word was hard to say, scratching past the split lip. Feeling the hands on his shirt front Jimmy looked down at them, slowly turning to look at the young woman beside him. "Lou…"

She shook her head and dipped her eyes back down to her hands so he wouldn't see the tears. "What have you done to yourself this time?"

Jimmy hissed as she pulled the fabric of his shirt away from the wound in his side. "I didn't plan this, you know?"

"I know…" she looked up at him, sorrow in her eyes for the pain she'd caused him. Reaching out she took a cloth from Ike's outstretched hand and set to cleaning the skin around the wound, "its still in there." The worry in her tone shivered through her body, chilling her skin to the touch. "Ike, help me lay him down and go get the doctor."

Nodding, Ike put his hand on Jimmy's shoulder and started to lower him backwards, but Jimmy shook his head and grabbed Lou's arm right above the elbow, stilling her movements. "Lou…"

"Jimmy, this ain't no time to be stubborn, that bullet ain't gonna come out on its own and I'm no surgeon."

"I ain't arguin' about that, Lou… but you gotta do me a little favor."

She blinked away her tears and looked up at him. "What? Anything, just lie down."

He gave her a wolfish grin, more instinct than intent. "Who am I do deny a beautiful woman?" He saw the pain and doubt in her eyes and sobered his tone. "Just stop lookin' at me like I'm about to die… let me see a little hope in your eyes while I enjoy those gentle hands of yours."

"I'm wiping away your blood!" She could barely hiss out the words, her frustration mixing with fear.

"But in my mind," he closed his eyes and let Ike lower him to the mattress, "I'm just thinkin' of you… touchin' me." There was more than a touch of his wolfish grin left on his face as she continued to wipe away the blood, muttering under her breath.

Feeling Like a Fool

Louise didn't like being used. It was one thing to help out a friend in a tough spot, it was another entirely to become involved in a game of cat and mouse with a killer. Especially when the last girl playing mouse was lying in the undertaker's office cold and very very dead.

"Lou?" She squeezed her eyes tight and tried to ignore the urgent sound in his voice. She was supposed to be alone. "Lou?"

Throwing back the covers she moved to the window and opened it up enough to see Kid sitting outside.

"What are you doing here?" She looked from one side to another to make sure there was no one with him and that no one could overhear him. "This isn't goin' to work if-"

"I just wanted to talk to you." He looked away for a moment. "To explain why I didn't tell you about Margaret."

"You told me about her alright, Kid." She hissed at him in the half-dark that the moon provided. "You told me she was a nice old lady."

"Come on, Lou." He leaned toward the window, his hands pressed on the sill. With the darkness around him it was hard to see her expression. "I just want to explain."

"Explain, then." She pulled her wrap tightly around her body and moved to the window. "Just be quick about it so we can get back to what we were doing." She looked at the door and then back at Kid.

"I knew that if I told you, that she was pretty'n all, that as soon as I said that you'd get mad at me and stop listening. I knew how much trouble I'd be in and everything would just blow up in my face like it does all the time."

"You're not the one impersonating a dead woman, Kid, so let's not talk about things blowing up." She took a breath. "How many times has one of us gotten into trouble and the others volunteered to wade right in and help out? Every time, right?"

Kid had to nod.

"You gave me the book and I was happy about it. If you'd told me that she was pretty and been up front with me then I wouldn't have had to find out about it in front of everyone… and I wouldn't have felt like such a fool." Her feet were chilled and she rubbed them together to try and put some warmth back inside her bones. "I might not have been happy that you had a pretty woman giving you a book of poetry, but at least I would have had the truth."

"Lou, you know how much you mean to me."

She nodded, couldn't do anything but acknowledge the truth. "Yes, I know you… feel things for me… and at times I know you love me, but when you lie, Kid… it makes it difficult to know when you're being real with me and when… you're playing me for a fool."

A sound in the hallway outside her door had her sliding down the window and climbing back into bed. It wasn't how she'd wanted to end the conversation, but then again she hadn't wanted to start it right then.

They'd finish their conversation later… maybe… if she lived long enough.

Everywhere
October 24, 1864

Elizabeth Custer beamed at her husband, her arm linked through his as her eyes sparkled with delight. “Really George, I can’t believe that you’re so calm… this is quite the honor.”

Patting his wife’s arm, George Custer looked at his friend and scout and gave a nod. “I can’t take all the credit, dear. Hickok here is one of the reason’s we’ve been so successful during the campaign. I can’t help feeling that I should be promoting him as well.”

Swallowing past the laughter in his throat, Hickok took a long sip of his punch before setting the cup aside. “The problem with your little plan is that I’m not ‘in’ the military so you’ll just have to suffer through raising my pay if you can’t put stripes on my arm.”

With a swish of her skirts, Elizabeth was at his side placing her hand on his arm. “The problem with you, James…” she drew out the sound of his name into nearly a purr, “is that you’re too wild for your own good.”

“Lizzie…” George’s warning tone didn’t quite match the twinkle in his eyes.

“Why don’t I like that look in her eyes, George?” He took a moment to find the exits in the room with a quick sweep of his eyes.

General George Custer shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t argue… it isn’t worth the aggravation.”

“And,” added his wife, “the sore back from sleeping on the chaise.” She turned her attention back to her husband’s scout. “Really, James… you ought to start thinking about settling down. You can’t spend the rest of your life traipsing about hither and yon… you need a woman to…”

“Excuse me…”

A couple nearly bumped into him as they twirled on the dance floor and he was about to take them to task when a flash of blue caught his eye. She was across the floor with her back to him but he knew her face… knew what her face should look like. He’d seen it a million times in his dreams… and her partner started a turn on the dancefloor-

“James?”

He turned back to Elizabeth distracted by the sound of his full name. He turned back to look for her on the floor, but she was gone. “I’m sorry… I thought I saw someone I knew.”

She gave him a delicate pout when he turned back. “I hope it was at least some pretty young thing… then I may forgive you.” She must have seen a little bit of the turmoil in his gaze. “That’s what I’ve been saying…”

Again he was lost as he always was. Lost in his thoughts of her. She was always somewhere beneath the conscious surface of his mind, closer when there were moments like this. Whenever he was awake.

Lizzie was making plans for him… wanting him to find a woman. How we he supposed to tell her that he found one and she would never be his.

He’d seen her on the train heading back East, her smile reflected in the windows as he’d watched the land fly by as thought he’d brought her with him… instead of leaving her behind.

She’d been the young woman cradling her newborn outside a General store, her soft whispers calming cries into cooing. Her soft expression had stolen his breath and warmed his heart.

The soft touch of a nurse’s hand had felt like heaven and he’d sworn that it was ‘her’ face leaning over his, her eyes filled with concern.

He’d left Rock Creek to put his feelings to rest and instead she was in every thought and every waking moment. She gave him no rest… no solace… only a wistful need to hear her voice in the quiet of the night and feel her gentle touch one more time.”

Lizzie wanted him to find love… Jimmy was having trouble escaping it.

But ever since you said good-bye
I've been out here on the wind
And baby you would be surprised
All the places you have been

Everywhere
sung by: Tim McGraw

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