Author's Note: This is not a Kid friendly story. Read at your own discretion. Chapter One

March 1864, Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory

Louise knew it was coming. She hadn't heard from Kid in almost a year. She sat at the kitchen table of the ranch house she, Kid and Buck had built before Kid went to war for the Confederacy. She looked at the envelope with the Confederate Seal on the front. Louise sighed and opened the letter knowing she had to get it over with. It said that Corporal Kid McCloud had been killed in action over six months ago. His remains were unidentifiable, but they found his name on an envelope in his back pocket and that's how they knew it was him. They sent their condolences and would be sending Kid's personal effects to her soon. Louise let out a sob and looked to the heavens.

"Kid, why did you have to go fight in the war when you had me and family here to look after?"

Louise got up from the chair she sat in and went to tell the others of Kid's death. She knew they were all expecting it like she was. She knew she would have to carry on with what she and Kid had started with the help of Jeremiah and Teresa and of course Buck, who was a full partner in the ranch. Louise had never had any children with Kid. He said it was best because he may not come back, and he didn't want his child to grow up without a father in its life.

Louise always thought that she would have had a part of Kid with her if she had his child, but that was never meant to be. She wiped at the tears that were starting to fall from her eyes as she walked out the door and to the barn. Buck would be the first one she would tell for he was the closest friend she had ever had. He had been her rock for the two years since Kid left. They would get each other through this.

~*~

Nine months later

It was almost Christmas; Louise and Buck had brought Jeremiah and Teresa to the Christmas Social in town. Buck and Louise danced up a storm. They had not had this much fun in a long time. When the music ended on the waltz they were dancing, Louise said she needed some air. Buck accompanied Louise outside into the cold brisk night. They looked up to the star filled sky.

"It is a beautiful night isn't it? I feel like I could look at the stars all night until the sun comes up," Louise said as she looked from the stars to Buck. He wasn't looking at the stars he was looking at her with a funny look on his face. A look she had seen on Kid's face many times before they were married.

"It's not the night that's beautiful, and I could look at you forever and not get tired one bit," Buck said blushing.

"Thank you, Buck. That's a very nice thing to say. Did I tell you that you look very dashing tonight?"

Louise brought her hand up and brushed a piece of hair out of Buck's face. She kept her hand there and felt the feeling she had been experiencing for several months, but had hidden from everyone else.

Buck brought his hand up to Louise's cheek and caressed her face. Then they kissed. It was sweet and gentle. Buck pulled back and looked into Louise's eyes to see if she was shocked or appalled, but he only saw love and caring in her eyes. He smiled at Louise as he caressed her face again.

"I've wanted to do that for a long time. You aren't angry that I kissed you?" Buck asked as he took a step back.

Louise smiled at Buck and giggled. "No, I'm not mad. I haven't been kissed like that in a very long time. Was it just out of curiosity, or are there feelings behind it? If there are feelings behind it, I would be very happy if you did it more often."

Buck smiled the biggest smile Louise had ever seen him smile. "I know this isn't the time or place, but I wanted to ask you if you would allow me to court you. I know that your mourning period isn't over yet, and that you may not be ready for any man to be in your life romantically, but I just thought I'd ask and hope for the best."

"I would be honored to be courted by you, Buck. We've been friends a long time. I think you should first be friends with the person who courts you then, you know if you have firm ground to stand on when you want to take the next step. From now on I'll consider you my beau," Louise answered, feeling happier than she had been in a long time.

Buck smiled at Louise and nodded his head in agreement. "Care to take another spin around the dance floor, Louise? I have never danced so much in my life. I've never had so much fun in a suit before," Buck said, laughing as he put his hand out to Lou. Louise took his hand, and they walked back inside to dance together as a couple for the first time.

Chapter Two

June 1865, Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory

The June sun shone brightly as people made their way to the little church located in the center of town. Buck paced nervously across the small room at the back of the church as he waited for the ceremony to begin.

"Would you relax?" said Teaspoon, as he sat watching his young companion. "Everything is going to go just fine."

Buck took a deep breath. "I just can't shake the feeling that something is going to go wrong," he said. "I can't explain why; I just know something is going to happen."

"You're going to get married," said Teaspoon, with a smile. "And then, the kids are going to come stay with Rachel and me for a week so you and your bride can have some alone time." He stood and went to join the younger man.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. "We're ready."

Teaspoon patted Buck on the shoulder and the two of them stepped out of the small room into the church proper. Once there, Buck took his place at the front of the church while Teaspoon moved to stand beside him as his best man.

They both turned to face the back of the church as the door opened and Teresa McCloud made her way down the aisle. Shortly after she reached the front, everyone stood and Jeremiah escorted Louise up the aisle to where Buck stood waiting.

Louise looked beautiful, and Buck's nerves were swept away when he saw his bride. He had a big smile on his face as Louise took his hand. Louise smiled brightly at Buck and then turned to Reverend Parker. Buck continued to look at Louise intensely with a loving smile, so much so that the Reverend had to clear his throat several times to get Buck's attention.

Buck turned to the Reverend embarrassed that he was staring at Louise. He mumbled 'sorry' to the Reverend which made Teresa giggle. With everyone's attention focused in the right place the Reverend started the ceremony.

Louise and Buck said their vows reverently and lovingly, looking deeply into the other's eyes. The rings were made special with an inscription in each written by the bride and groom to each other. Buck's ring had the inscription:

To The Love of My Life ~ B

Louise's inscription said:

To The Man of My Dreams ~ L

They placed the rings on the other's left ring finger and the Reverend Parker pronounced them man and wife. Before the Reverend could say 'You may kiss the bride' Buck was already kissing Louise passionately. It was a little too passionate for the Reverend Parker who cleared his throat extremely loud and for a long time. Buck and Louise parted and looked sheepishly at the Reverend. They then turned to their guests, and then smiling and holding hands they walked out of the church into a new life together.

Chapter Three

December 1865, Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory

Louise Cross stood on the porch of her home and watched as her husband and siblings worked the animals in the pens. She was once more feeling a bit under the weather and had decided that she needed to go see the doctor; she was fairly certain that this wasn't the same "illness" that was bothering the other people in town. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves before making her way across the yard.

"Buck," she said, as she approached the corral. "Could you spare Jeremiah and Teresa for a minute?"

Buck turned to face his wife. The fact that they'd been married almost 9 months did little to keep him from being surprised each time he saw her wearing the simple band they had purchased. "Sure," he said. "Are you feeling any better?"

Lou shook her head. "I was thinking maybe I should go have Doc check me out. I was hoping Jeremiah could hook up the buckboard, and that Teresa would ride into town with me. She could do the shopping while I'm at the doctor's."

Buck nodded. "Sounds like a good plan," he said. "You sure you don't want me to go along?"

"I'm sure," said Lou. "Besides, you need to get these horses broke so we can sell them. That rancher isn't going to wait forever."

Buck once more nodded. "Jeremiah," he started.

"Consider it done," the boy said, as he climbed down from the top of the fence and ran to the barn.

"I'll go get my shawl and the shopping basket," said Teresa, as she also climbed down from the fence and headed to the house.

"You aren't letting her work the horses are you?" Lou asked with a frown.

"Only once Jeremiah and I have them gentled," Buck said. "She's really good at putting on the finishing touches." He smiled at his wife as he added, "Just like her older sister."

Lou sighed. "I guess I can't forbid her from doing what I was doing before I started feeling poorly," she said. "I was just hoping that she'd have more of a chance of growing up like a proper young lady."

Buck laughed softly. "I'm not sure she wants to grow up to be a 'proper young lady'," he said. "She wants to be just like you. I think she has a noble goal in mind."

Lou smiled at her husband. "Thank you," she said, "but I was hoping her life would be easier than mine."

"It will be," said Buck. "She has something you didn't have; she has you." He leaned over and kissed Lou's cheek. "Now get on into town so you can get her back here to me; I'm in desperate need of her assistance with this one particular filly."

Lou kissed Buck's cheek and headed back to the house where Teresa was waiting in the buckboard. As soon as they were out of sight of the ranch, Teresa asked, "Do I really have to stop working with the horses?"

"Who told you that?" asked Lou.

"Jeremiah said that you were telling Buck that it wasn't lady-like, and so I shouldn't be doing it." She hesitated only a moment before adding, "I really like it, and Buck never lets me do anything dangerous." She blushed as she finished, "He told me I was too special to get hurt by an untamed horse."

"You are," said Lou. "I didn't say you had to stop; I mentioned that I was wishing you were able to have a more proper upbringing, but if you like what you're doing there's no reason to stop at least not yet."

"You mean I may have to sometime?" asked Teresa.

Lou nodded. "I need to tell you a secret, Sugar bear."

"What?" asked Teresa.

"I think the reason I'm sick is that I'm going to have a baby. If that's true, I'm going to need you to help me with the housework a little more. Just until I'm feeling, better."

"Will we know today?" asked Teresa.

"Possibly," said Lou. "If we do, I need you to promise not to say anything to anyone until I say you can. It's our secret, right?"

Teresa nodded. "But why?"

Lou simply shrugged. "Just promise."

"I promise," said Teresa. "I won't say anything to anyone about you may be having a baby. I'll just volunteer to help around the house more until you feel better."

"Thanks, Sugar bear," said Lou, as she pulled the horses to a stop in front of the doctor's office. "You think you can make it over to the store on your own?"

Teresa nodded.

Lou handed her the reins and hopped down. "I'll be over there soon," she said. "If I'm not, just come back here."

Teresa once more nodded, and headed down the street.

Lou watched her leave, and then made her way up the stairs to the doctor's office. Once inside she explained her situation to the doctor.

He quickly examined her and confirmed her suspicions. "You're a couple of months along," he said. "You should be showing in the next few weeks." He smiled at the young lady in front of him. "If you don't mind me asking, why did you wait so long before coming in?"

"I was hoping it wasn't this," said Lou as she finished buttoning her top. She sighed deeply.

"You don't want children?" the doctor asked in confusion. From what he'd seen of the way Lou and Buck interacted with the younger McCloud children they would make wonderful parents.

"I do," said Lou. "I'm just not so sure about Buck," she whispered.

"He's great with your brother and sister," said the doctor, hoping to offer encouragement.

"I know," said Lou, "but they aren't his. They aren't part Kiowa. He's always said he didn't want any child to have to suffer through what he did so…" She just let the words drop.

The doctor put a hand on her shoulder to offer encouragement. "Just remind him that he didn't have the two of you as parents, or that brother and sister of yours for an uncle and aunt." He smiled at the young lady as she slid down from the examining table. "I'm fairly certain no child that has such a loving family will suffer much of anything."

Lou smiled at the doctor. "Thanks, Doc," she said. "That's just want I needed to hear."

~*~

Lou was silent on the way home and wondered how she was going to tell Buck she was expecting their first child. She knew what the doc said was right, and that their baby wouldn't be left alone in the world like they had been. Lou and Teresa stopped off at Teaspoon and Rachel's to ask if her siblings could stay the night. Rachel was more than happy to have the two children with them over night. Lou wanted to be alone when she told Buck about the baby. She didn't want her brother and sister to hear if Buck was not happy about her being pregnant.

That night Buck came into the house and smelled his favorite meal cooking in the oven. He walked into the kitchen to find that Teresa wasn't helping Lou with supper.

"Hi, Honey, supper smells great. Where's Teresa? Why isn't she helping you? I thought you didn't feel well." Buck asked as he gave Lou a kiss on the lips.

"Hello, Sweetheart, Teresa and Jeremiah are at Teaspoon and Rachel's for the night. Go wash up. Supper will be ready in five minutes." Lou said as she gave her husband a kiss and smiled at him.

During supper Lou was nervous about telling Buck about the baby. She didn't eat much, and Buck noticed and wondered if there was something specifically wrong with Lou that the doctor told her.

Buck took Lou's hand in his and said, "Lou is there something wrong? You haven't eaten much and you look like you're going to cry. Is there something you want to tell me?"

"Yes, there is something I have to tell you, but I'm not sure how you're going to take it."

"Honey, why don't you just tell me and get it over with," Buck said frightened that Lou was going to tell him she was sick.

"Well, I know you were against this happening, but it happened. Buck, I'm going to have a baby in about seven months. I know you said you didn't want to have a child because you didn't want it to go through what you went through being part Kiowa. Buck, I'm so sorry. I know you didn't want this, but it's our baby and he or she will be loved so much and cared for by everyone in our family. It will have a mother and father and an aunt and three uncles and a grandma and grandpa. This baby will have everything we didn't. I know you'll be a wonderful father, and I want to be a mother so much. Buck, say something."

"Excuse me. I'll be right back." Buck said gruffly and walked out of the house.

'Oh lord. He's upset. What am I going to do?' Lou thought to herself as she began to cry.

Buck came back in the house five minutes later. He was carrying something wrapped in buckskin. He found Lou in their bedroom on the bed crying. His heart broke for her. He had to set things straight with his wife.

Buck sat down on the bed and said, "Louise, Please don't cry. I have something to show you and something to say. Will you please look at me?"

Lou lifted her head and Buck wiped away the tears with the pad of his thumb.

"What do you have to show me?" Lou said with her brow furrowed, and a grim look on her face.

"It's something I made about three months ago." Buck unwrapped the buckskin and held up a beautiful dream catcher that was smaller than the ones he'd made for Jeremiah and Teresa.

"I've been having these dreams about us and our family. In the dreams I see you and me and a little boy with long brown hair and your eyes. He had my smile, and I'm teaching him how to ride a horse by himself. His laughter was like a balm to my heart after years of wandering and now having found you and a home he made me feel like my life was complete. I've had this dream every night for four months. I knew it was a vision of our child. I should have never said I didn't want a child, knowing that with you we would be, loving, caring and protecting parents. I made this for our baby's cradle. I want this baby more than you'll ever know, Louise. I am the happiest man in the world. You have given me your love, a permanent home, a family of our own and now a child to love, and raise with you. I will be forever grateful to you, Louise, for making my life better every day. I am giddy beyond belief with the idea of having a baby with you. Our child will be the most wanted, happiest and most loved baby in the world. Thank you for giving me this gift. I love you more than life itself," Buck said as he put his hand over the curve of Lou's abdomen where their baby was growing.

"You really want this baby? You're not angry about this? You've really been having dreams about us having a son? Oh, Buck I love you so much. We have tonight by ourselves. Make love to me. Show me how much you love me and how happy you are," Lou said as she put her arms around Buck's neck and kissed him deeply. Buck returned the kiss and set the dream catcher down on the nightstand. He laid Lou down and made sweet love to her over and over again. After, they fell into a sleep where both Buck and Lou dreamed of their child. They were very happy dreams.

Chapter Four

September 1866, Rock Creek Nebraska Territory

The next few months passed quickly. Lou was able to continue to help with the work on the ranch until the month before she was to deliver. At that time the doctor suggested that she cut back just to managing the house. At first, Lou was upset that he was making her give up some of her responsibilities, but after the first two days she realized that he had been right. She felt much more relaxed and had more energy at the end of the day.

Buck found her sitting quietly studying the nursery one evening when he and Jeremiah came in from working the stock. "You feeling alright?" he asked, as he leaned down and kissed her cheek.

Lou nodded. "Just a little twinge every now and then," she said. "I'm thinking it might be a good idea…" She stopped speaking when the little twinge turned into a full-blown contraction. She gripped the handles of the rocking chair and waited for the pain to pass.

"Should I send Jeremiah for the doctor?" Buck asked.

Lou simply nodded.

Buck called down the stairs. "Jeremiah, it's time."

Jeremiah ran from the house, quickly saddled his horse, and headed into town.

When she could speak, Lou said, "Can you get me into our room?"

Buck picked her up and carried her across the hall. "You want me to get you anything?" he asked.

Lou shook her head. "Just stay with me until the doctor gets here," she said. "I don't want to be alone."

Buck sat next to her on the bed. As they sat waiting for the next contraction to hit, both were lost in thought and prayer.

Finally, the doctor arrived. He asked for Teresa to assist him, and ushered Buck out of the room. As he left, Teresa whispered. "Everything will be fine."

Buck and Jeremiah were soon joined by Teaspoon and Rachel. Rachel went in to the room to see if she could be of any additional assistance. She soon returned to where the men folk were waiting. "Teresa has everything under control," she said. "Lou is doing well."

Buck smiled his thanks. "Any idea how long?" he asked.

Rachel shook her head. "Usually first babies take their time," she said, "but the other day Louise told me that her mother once mentioned that the women in her family usually gave birth fairly quickly."

Buck sighed. "I hope so," he said. "I hate to think of her in the pain she was in while we were waiting." He stood and walked across the room to look out the window. While he surveyed the ranch yard, Buck offered a prayer that Lou and the baby would be fine and that his son arrived soon.

A few hours later, Buck's prayers were answered when Teresa came out and told Buck he could come into the room. She then went into the kitchen and started to prepare something for everyone to eat.

Buck ran up the stairs and into the room he shared with his wife. She was propped up in the bed holding their son while he nursed for the first time. She smiled at Buck as he entered the room. "He's beautiful, just like his dad," she said.

Buck went to her side. He knelt down next to the bed. He gently kissed Lou's cheek so as not to disturb his child. When the baby had his fill, Lou moved so that Buck could see his face. Buck gently stroked the baby's cheek. "He has your nose," he said softly.

Lou smiled and did her best to hide her yawn.

The doctor moved and took the baby from her. "She needs to rest," he said to Buck. "It was a short, but hard delivery."

Buck nodded. He kissed Lou's cheek once more and helped her settle into the bed so she could get some sleep. He then followed the doctor to the bassinet and small changing table. The doctor quickly checked the baby, cleaned him up a little more, and then showed Buck how to diaper him. He then laid the baby in the small bed. "He needs to rest, too," the doctor said.

Buck simply nodded as he stood looking in awe at the sleeping child.

The doctor's hand on his shoulder brought Buck back to the present. "I'll see myself out," he said.

"Thank you, Doc," said Buck. "Are you sure they're both alright?"

The doctor nodded. "I'll check back tomorrow," he said, "Don't let Louise get out of bed until after I've been back to see her except for…" He didn't have to finish the statement.

"I'll do my best," said Buck.

The doctor shook Buck's hand. "Congratulations, Mr. Cross," he said. "Have you thought of a name yet?"

Buck nodded. "His name is Jason Noah Cross," he said. "Louise wanted to honor her mother by using her father's name; and we both wanted to honor our friend Noah. In a way, he's partly responsible for us being together. He once told me I needed to be brave enough to let Lou know how I felt about her." Buck stopped speaking and smiled. "It took me a while, but when I finally decided to tell her, it was partly because I remembered having that conversation."

"It's a good strong name for a healthy strong boy," said the doctor. "I think I'll go let the others know that everyone is alright, and that they can come in one at a time to meet him."

Buck once more nodded. "Thanks again, Doc. I'll see you in the morning."

The doctor left, and a few minutes later, Rachel entered. She checked on Lou and then joined Buck at the bassinet. "He's adorable," she said as she watched the sleeping baby.

Buck nodded. "I can't believe he's mine," he said. "I never thought I'd find a woman who was willing to share her life with me, much less one that would want to give me children. I'm such a lucky man."

Rachel leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Louise is also a lucky woman," she said. "Now, let's go get something to eat. Teresa has been busy, and you are going to need your strength the next few days until Lou is up to getting out of bed."

Buck allowed Rachel to escort him down the stairs to the kitchen where Teresa was already serving the others. He smiled at her. "Thank you," he said. "I'm so glad you are here to help with this; we'd starve if it was up to me." He laughed softly as he sat down.

The friends enjoyed a simple meal, and then, after everyone had a chance to look in on Lou and meet Jason Noah, they left for the evening. Rachel promised to return in the morning to help keep Lou resting until the doctor came.

After a week, the doctor gave Lou permission to get out of bed and start working around the house. Eventually, she was allowed to go back to working on the ranch, and things settled into a pleasant routine.

Chapter Five

December 1866

It was the week before Christmas, and Lou was spending some time with Teaspoon. She put Jason Noah down for his afternoon nap. "You sure you don't mind?" she asked for the third time.

"I'm sure," said Teaspoon. "I think it's nice that you want to have some time alone with your husband. I'll be happy to keep the children to give you that opportunity. Consider it an early Christmas present."

Lou smiled. "Thanks again. I never realized that adding a baby to the family would make it so much harder for Buck and me to…" She blushed and let the sentence drop.

Teaspoon laughed softly. "Well, don't worry about it tonight. You just go enjoy some time with Buck."

Lou leaned over and kissed his cheek. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to repay you and Rachel," she said, as she left his home and headed to the school to let Teresa and Jeremiah know that they should go home with Rachel.

She then went home and prepared a romantic meal for Buck. She prepared a relaxing bath for him to use when he came to the house from working with the new stock. She expected him to be here soon searching for Jeremiah.

Just as Lou finished preparing the tub, Buck came in the house. "Where's Jeremiah?" he asked. "Did he have a lot...?" The question died on his lips when he saw Lou coming out of the kitchen wearing her robe.

"You feeling alright?" he asked. "Do I need to go get the doctor?"

Lou shook her head. "I feel fine," she said, as she moved across the room to meet him. "I just thought we could use some alone time, so…" She turned and headed back into the kitchen.

Buck followed her. He smiled as she dropped the robe from her shoulders and crawled into the tub. "Care to join me?" she asked.

Buck quickly disrobed and joined Lou in the tub. They spent some time giving each other pleasure as they washed away the dirt accumulated by the day's activities. When the water grew cold, they got out and dried off before putting on their robes and enjoying the meal Lou had prepared.

After the meal, Buck carried Lou upstairs to their bedroom where they spent the rest of the afternoon making love and sleeping. The next morning found them wrapped in each other's arms with smiles of contentment on their faces.

Buck crawled out of bed and covered Lou. He made his way downstairs, cleaned up the remains of the previous evening's meal, and quickly made a simple breakfast. He carried this back up to Lou and surprised her with breakfast in bed. Once she was finished eating, they once more spent some time making love before Buck had to get to work.

As he left to go check on the stock, Lou cleared away the breakfast dishes and prepared to head into town to pick up Jason Noah. She smiled as she worked. "I hope you don't mind a big family, Buck," she whispered as she worked. "I'm pretty sure we made us another baby last night; it just feels so right."

The Cross family spent Christmas alone at their ranch. Teaspoon and Rachel stopped by early in the day to drop off presents for the kids and tried to convince them to come into town for the dance. Both Buck and Lou begged off, so Teresa and Jeremiah decided they wanted to stay at the ranch with them. It was a pleasant evening, and everyone turned in early, happy with the life they were making together, and looking forward to the New Year and the possibilities it would bring.

After the break from work for Christmas, things once more settled into a routine. A few months after their special day, Lou once more began to feel a bit under the weather. This time she felt certain that she was once more expecting, but decided to again check it out with the doctor before saying anything to Buck. As happy as he was with the one child, she wasn't sure how many children he wanted to have or felt they could manage.

"I think I'm going to take Jason Noah into town to visit his Grandpa Teaspoon," she said. "We haven't seen him since Christmas, and you know how much Teaspoon loves his little boy."

Buck nodded. "I think that's a good idea," he said. "It will give you a chance to ask Teaspoon about finding us some extra help. He mentioned at Christmas that he might know someone we could afford."

Lou nodded. "I remember him mentioning that. I'll be sure to ask."

She loaded the baby's things on the buck board, placed the bassinet on the seat next to where she would sit, kissed Buck good-bye, and then climbed on board. She dropped the baby off at Teaspoon's office. "You just need to watch him for a few minute. I need to go visit the doctor."

Teaspoon smiled knowingly at the young woman he considered his daughter. "Thinking I'm going to have another grandchild soon?" he asked.

Lou simply nodded.

"Good," said Teaspoon. "I've always wanted a passel of grandkids."

Lou laughed. "I'll be back in just a bit and let you know how that's working out for you."

She made her way across the street to the doctor's office. She went in and explained her symptoms. She wasn't surprised when the doctor once more confirmed her suspicions. "It's about the same as last time," he said. "You're a couple of months along and everything looks fine."

Lou smiled her thanks. "I guess I'll be seeing you again next month then," she said.

The doctor shrugged. "You don't have to check with me every month unless you feel something's wrong," he said. "I just wanted to keep an eye on you last time because it was your first; things went well, so I don't expect any problems with this one."

Lou once more smiled. "That sounds even better," she said. She quickly dressed and headed out of the doctor's office. At Teaspoon's office she made arrangements for him to keep the baby until school let out. "You can have Teresa and Jeremiah bring him home with them," Lou said.

Teaspoon smiled, as he figured out why Lou wanted to be alone with Buck. "How are they going to get home?"

"I'm going to leave them the wagon and take the horse they rode," said Lou.

"You sure that's a good idea?" asked Teaspoon with a wink.

Lou blushed as she realized that Teaspoon knew what she was up to. "I'll be fine," she replied as she made her way to the door. Once there she stopped and turned to face him. "I almost forgot," she said. "I have two things I need to ask you. First, please don't tell anyone about my condition, not even Rachel. I'm not ready just yet for anyone other than Buck to know."

Teaspoon nodded.

"Second, I was supposed to ask you about that fella you knew could possibly help us out. I'm thinking we need him more than ever now."

Teaspoon nodded. "Nathan Johnson," he said. "He helps over at the livery for a place to stay. He's sweet on Miss Violet who helps Rachel at the school. Rachel figured if he started working for you, he'd feel better about asking her out."

Lou nodded. "I'll talk to Buck, and we'll let you know in the morning." She took her leave of Teaspoon and went to the school to tell Jeremiah and Teresa about the charge in plans. She then went to the livery to swap modes of transportation.

Chapter Six

As she dismounted, a friendly young man came to assist her. "May I help you?" he asked.

Lou started to say no, but decided to see how good he was with the animals. "Yes," she said with a smile. "I need to leave these here for my brother and sister, Jeremiah and Teresa McCloud, to use after school, and I need to get the horse they used so I can get home."

The young man studied her for a few seconds before saying, "I should have known you were Jeremiah's other sister. I'm Nathan Johnson. Pleased to meet you Mrs. Cross. I'll get Jeremiah's horse ready for you and then tend to these two." He turned and disappeared into the shadows of the livery stable.

He quickly returned with the horse saddled and ready.

"I'm impressed," said Lou. "Thunder can be hard to saddle."

Nathan smiled as he patted the horse's neck. "Just need to know how to sweet talk him, is all."

He then assisted Lou onto the horses back before turning his attention to the team attached to the buck board.

Lou rode off, but stopped to watch the young man work for a few seconds before once more heading toward home.

Lou was pleased that Buck was working the horses in the far pen. That meant she could get into the barn without him seeing her. She didn't want him to know she'd left the baby in town. She wanted to surprise him with her news when he came in for lunch.

She quickly tended her mount and then made her way to the house where she prepared a simple meal for the two of them. This done, she freshened up and went to call her husband in for his meal.

Chapter Seven

When Buck entered the house, he could sense something was amiss, but Lou seemed unconcerned. "Everything alright?" he asked as he kissed Lou's cheek. "Where's Jason?"

Lou nodded. "Everything's fine. I just left Jason visiting with Grandpa Teaspoon." She moved past him to the kitchen door and stared off into space.

Buck turned around to join her. He wrapped his arms around her waist and stood behind her following her gaze. "Thinking about the new house you want again?" he asked.

Lou nodded. "How long would it take to build?" she asked as she leaned into his embrace.

Buck stood lost in thought for a moment. "If I can keep Jeremiah out of school so we could work during the week, about three, four weeks. Why?"

Lou turned to face Buck and put her arms around his neck. "I think we could use the extra room soon," she said.

"Really?" said Buck with a slight smile. "How soon?"

"About seven months," said Lou.

Buck leaned his head down to kiss her. "Guess I should see about going into town and getting supplies."

"That will have to wait," said Lou. "I left the wagon for the kids. I wanted to be alone with you this afternoon." She moved to kiss him and was rewarded with him picking her up and carrying her upstairs.

Once Lou caught her breath, she snuggled against Buck. "I think I found the extra help we need around here," she said. She told Buck about Nathan.

"I'll talk to him in the morning when I go to order building supplies," said Buck.

"We'll talk to him," said Lou. "Now you've got to go eat and get back to work."

Buck stroked her hair, but instead of moving to get out of bed and dressed, he rolled Lou onto her back. "I'm not hungry for food," he whispered as he captured her mouth.

Chapter Eight

The sound of the kids returning from school woke Lou. She was pleased when she heard Buck greet them outside. He must have snuck out of bed when she'd fallen asleep.

Lou smiled when she heard Buck tell them the news about finally building the house up the hill that they'd been talking about before Kid left all those years ago.

"Why now?" asked Jeremiah. "I mean, I don't mind missing school, but what happened that made it so important to get it done now?"

Teresa looked at Buck and then up to the window of the room he shared with Lou. "Louise is having another baby," she said.

Buck nodded. "She found out this morning, but we've decided not to tell anyone just yet. We figured it would be nice for you two to have your own rooms and not need to share with one of the babies. The nursery in this house is way too small for two cradles." He paused. "What we're telling everyone is that we wanted to offer this house to anyone we hired to help us with the ranch."

"Anyone in particular in mind?" asked Jeremiah.

"Teaspoon suggested Nathan Johnson," said Buck. "Louise met him and is impressed."

"He's good," agreed Jeremiah. "Even Thunder likes him." He paused. "I still get to stay and help with the house?"

Buck laughed softly as he nodded. "If he'll start right away, two of us can work on the house while one works with the horses. We'll get done even quicker if we can do that."

Teresa took Jason and left the men making plans and went inside to find her older sister. She met Lou on the staircase.

"You alright?" she asked, as she set Jason down.

"Just tired," said Lou.

"Want me to help with supper?" Teresa asked.

"That would be wonderful," Lou said, as she picked Jason up.

"Did you have fun with Grandpa Teaspoon?" she asked.

The baby giggled.

As Teresa made her way downstairs to start the meal and work on her homework, Lou took her son into the tiny nursery and changed his diapers before feeding him and putting him in his bed. She then went to join Teresa in the kitchen.

Chapter Nine

Early the next morning, the entire Cross Clan headed into town. After dropping Buck at the lumber mill, Lou took the children to school. She explained the situation to Rachel who agreed to send Jeremiah's work home with Teresa. Miss Violet was agreeable to coming out once or twice a week to tutor him in exchange for a meal and a place to stay the night. This would start as soon as the building supplies were available.

Lou then took Jason to get Buck and go in search of Nathan Johnson. After talking to the young man a few minutes, Buck offered him the job.

"I can't pay you much more than you make here," Buck explained," but you'll have a nice place to stay once we get the new house built, and we'll feed you three meals a day."

"We'll also do your laundry," said Lou.

"Where would I stay until the house is built?" asked Nathan. "I don't have a horse to get there from town each day."

"You could stay in the tack room," said Buck. "It's not bad; that's where I stayed when we first started the place."

Lou suggested, "Why don't you come by this evening for supper? We can show you the room and what you'll be expected to do. You can stay the night and get back here in the morning with the kids when they come to school."

Nathan agreed, and the Cross family headed for home.

Nathan arrived with Jeremiah and Teresa. Jeremiah and Buck showed him around and explained how the ranch worked. They ended the tour with the barn where Nathan's room would be.

"This is actually nicer than where I'm staying," Nathan said. "When did you want me to start?"

"As soon as you can," said Buck. "I don't want to cause any problems with Mr. Hawkins at the livery, so…" He let the sentence drift.

"I don't think there'll be any problems," said Nathan. "Jasper's been hinting that he might need to let me go. I'll talk to him in the morning and see about starting here next week. That lets me help him finish up some of the repair jobs he's got waiting."

"That sounds good," said Buck. "That way you can get settled here and learn the routine before we mess it all up by building the house. Those supplies won't be ready for a few weeks."

The three men then made their way to the house and enjoyed the meal Lou and Teresa had prepared. After the meal, Lou insisted that Jeremiah show Nathan around the place and help him stow his gear in Jeremiah's room.

"I can just stay out in the tack room," Nathan said.

Lou shook her head. "We need to get that fixed back up with a bed and dresser. You can stay here tonight; Jeremiah has room."

The two younger men left to explore the house, and Teresa started to clear away the dishes. As Lou moved to help her, Buck reached up and took hold of her hand. He pulled her to him and kissed her deeply. "Thank you," he said when he let her go.

"For what?" asked Lou, a bit breathless from the passionate kiss.

"For everything," replied Buck.

Lou blushed. "You're welcome," she said. "Now, as much as I enjoy your company, I need to go help Teresa and you need to go work on the books."

Buck sighed as he stood. He once more pulled Lou to him and kissed her before taking his leave to go up to their room and work on the ranch books.

Chapter Ten

The next few weeks sped by, and soon the Cross family was settling into their new, larger home just up the hill from the smaller house. Nathan Johnson was all moved into the older home and was proving himself to be a big help around the ranch.

It was decided that they would hold a party to celebrate the new house and success of the ranch, as well as to announce the news of Lou's pregnancy. She was now four months along, so she would be showing soon anyway. When she'd decided to try and convince Buck to build the new house, she'd also decided to keep her condition secret because she didn't want to hear about how she shouldn't be doing all the things that needed to be done to get it finished.

~*~

The housewarming was underway. Jimmy and Cody made it to Rock Creek for the festivities and to meet their nephew Jason Noah. Most of the people in town whom they had made friends with were in attendance. Everyone was having a fun time, and Lou thought it was time she and Buck announced that there would be another little Cross family member in their midst soon.

Buck yelled to get everyone's attention. When the guests had all quieted down he said, "Everyone Louise and I would like to say thank you for coming today and we have something important to tell you. In about five months from now there will be another member of the Cross family to welcome. Louise and I are having our second child, and we're thrilled."

Everyone clapped and shouted out congratulations. Buck and Lou were so happy and so was their express family at the thought of another baby in the family.

Chapter Eleven

Lou was feeling energized five months into the pregnancy. She had started, with Rachel and Teresa, the baby's layette. Buck and Jeremiah were working on the nursery, and Buck had already built a new cradle for the baby. Jason's cradle got a lot of use, and Buck thought it would be nice for the new baby to have a new cradle. Buck was also working on a new rocking chair for Lou to rock both Jason and the new baby in. He was carving a buck, a doe and two fawns in the backrest. It was to be a surprise for Lou. The rocking chair she used for Jason was loaned out to them by Teaspoon and Rachel.

One day during Lou's fifth month she was hanging laundry when she heard a horse approaching. She stepped to the side of the house and grabbed the shotgun that was there when she caught sight of the horse. It was a brown and white paint mare. She thought for a moment that it was Katy, but then quickly thought it couldn't be. She stood there with the shotgun raised when she saw the rider. Lou did a double take and then let out a terrified scream and said, "Kid?" Then she crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.

The rider jumped off his horse and was at Lou's side in an instant. He checked to see if she had hit her head and then carried her into the house and set her down on the settee. It was Kid, and he was wondering why Lou was in this big, brand new house and why she looked like she was pregnant. Then there was a cry from above from a baby. Kid kissed Lou on the mouth and touched her face tenderly and ran upstairs to see to the baby.

Kid walked into the baby's room and looked down in the crib at him. Rage overcame Kid as he looked at the baby that looked like both Buck and Lou, his Lou. He left the baby crying in the crib and when he was in the hallway he let out a growl and cursed both Buck and Lou.

"I can't believe it! My wife had a baby with Buck, and it looks like she having another! Buck was supposed to be my friend and partner! He was supposed to look after Lou until I came back, not get her pregnant twice! He'll pay for this! They both will!" Kid yelled as he ran downstairs.

Kid kneeled on the floor next to Lou and shook her roughly shouting her name until she came to. Lou opened her eyes and gasped loudly. Kid looked at her his visage angry.

"Kid! How did you…I thought you were dead. Am I dreaming?" Lou said as he looked at her, the rage in his face not changing.

"What did you think I was dead and thought 'Oh I don't have a husband anymore so I'll go lay with all his friends' was that what you thought Lou? You thought you'd have Buck's half-breed bastard. Well you must have liked lying with him alright because low and behold you're pregnant again. Is this one Buck's or maybe its Jimmy's or Cody's, or do you not know whose it is, Lou?"Kid shouted. "Is it some random guy who was looking for a good time? It looks like you gave him a good time. You're nothing but a whore."

Lou blinked rapidly while Kid hollered at her about things that weren't true. Lou got a terrible pain in her head and felt very light headed and dizzy. She also felt like she was going to throw up her lunch. She turned her head and vomited all over Kid. He jumped back and yelled.

"Damn it, Lou. Why the hell did you throw up on me, the truth too much to handle?"

As Kid was berating Lou, Buck was coming up the hill from the horse corrals. He heard someone yelling and began to run to the house. He drew his gun and ran into the house. Kid was saying the most awful things to Lou when he heard a gun cocked behind him. Kid halted what he was saying and said," Hi, Buck, Now that you've got my wife pregnant are you going to shoot me in the back too, just like you stabbed me in the back, friend?"

"Get away from her, Kid. I mean it. I don't want you anywhere near my wife." Kid turned around with a shocked look on his face. "That's right. We got word you'd been dead for six months and I didn't even kiss Lou until over a year after we were told you had died. We love each other. We have a child together and another one on the way. The Confederacy wrote Lou and said you died and sent your personal effects. You couldn't expect Lou to be a hermit and not get married again. We got married over a year and a half after you supposedly died. You have no rights over her anymore. She doesn't feel smothered anymore. She has a husband who won't coddle her and wrap her in cotton wool. She loves me now. Not you. Now get out of our house. I don't want to see you back here," Buck said as he went to stand by Lou. He saw the front of Kids shirt and pants and was glad Lou got sick on him. Buck looked down at Lou. She looked pale and she was shaking. He was very concerned about his wife and their unborn child.

"I'll leave now, but I will be back to see Lou and to take her back with me to the hotel, and we will be husband and wife. Your marriage isn't legal because I'm alive. You're living in sin and have a bastard and another one coming. Let's see how you get out of this mess," Kid said as he turned and walked out the side door. There was the sound of a horse galloping away and soon all was silent.

"Lou, are you alright, Sweetheart? Did he hurt you? I'm so sorry, Lou. If I had known there was a chance Kid was alive I would have never kissed you at the Christmas social, but I don't regret marrying you and having Jason and this new baby with you. I love you so much, Louise. If you want to be with Kid, I'll wait until the baby is born and bring them both to the Kiowa to live until they are old enough to choose their own paths. Or, you can keep the children, and I'll leave, and Kid can be their father. I don't want to do it, but I will for you to be happy," Buck said with tears in his eyes.

Louise was still light headed, but the dizziness, sick feeling and pain in her head were gone. She was still shaky after the unexpected arrival of Kid. She looked at Buck and smiled a tremulous smile.

"Buck, I don't want you or our children to leave. You're my husband and I love you with all my heart. I stopped loving Kid while he was still here and was so hard to handle because he wanted to leave for war. You were right; he did smother me. In some ways I was glad he had gone to war so I could have my sanity back. I knew when we stopped hearing from him that he was not coming back, and I resigned myself to being alone. Then you told me your feelings for me, and I had those same feelings for you, and I wasn't alone anymore. You brought my sister and brother back to me and gave me the children I always wanted. You are the one I will always want and need in my life. I don't care what Kid said. We're married in our hearts, and we're married in the Kiowa tradition. We'll figure out a way for Kid to give me a divorce. We'll have another wedding and make it all legal and we'll be the family we always were." Buck kissed Lou and helped her up off the couch. Lou was still lightheaded, but said nothing, not wanting to worry Buck. Teresa and Lou made dinner, and Lou went to bed early to rest after all the commotion that had happened that day. She still found it hard to believe that Kid was alive, and she and Buck were not legally married. Lou decided that the next time she saw Kid she would ask for a divorce. Buck came to bed, and Lou was still awake waiting for him to come to bed.

"Did Jason go down alright for you? Did he like his alone time with Papa?" Lou asked Buck while he got ready for bed.

"Yes, he went down fine, and he and his Papa loved the alone time together. We went out to the barn and watched Jeremiah feed and water the animals. Then I told him a Kiowa legend, and he fell asleep in my arms. I love our family, Lou. I can't think of a better place to be than in this house with you and the kids," Buck said as he slipped into bed.

Buck heard Lou gasp and grab his hand. Buck started to go to get the doctor when Lou put his hand on her stomach, and he felt their unborn child kick for the first time. Buck got a look of pure joy on his face. The baby kicked several more times for good measure.

"Wow this little one sure can kick. This is the first time I felt him or her move. I remember the first time I felt Jason kick. You had your stomach against my back in bed, and he kicked me in the kidney. That sure was an interesting feeling to wake up to," Buck laughed, then turned serious. "Are you okay about what happened? You don't want to go see the doctor tomorrow and have him check you and the baby? I don't want to lose you or the baby because Kid decided to come back after years of being gone and thought dead and yell at you the way he did. If he comes near you again, Lou I swear I'll beat him to a pulp. The only reason I didn't shoot him was because you loved him once, and I don't want to bring you that pain."

"Buck, don't worry about me or the baby, we're fine. Go see Teaspoon and tell him Kid is back and what happened and see what he can do to convince Kid to give me a divorce. If Kid won't do it, I can always say he abandoned me and then we found out he was dead. We can tell the judge that we waited until my mourning period was over and got married a long time after we knew Kid was dead. We have a baby and a new baby on the way. They can't make me stay married to Kid. He has no case. He lost his rights to me when he abandoned me and he went off to fight. You know we fought before he left in the middle of the night and didn't say goodbye. The judge will grant me a divorce, and we can be together for the rest of our lives. Don't worry, Sweetheart.

With this said, Lou gave Buck a passionate kiss, and they went to sleep for the night with Buck holding Lou against his chest with his hand protectively on her belly.

Chapter Twelve

At the same time Buck and Lou were in bed sleeping, Kid was in the saloon getting blind drunk, which had become a favorite pastime for him in the last several years. Kid was doing a great job of slandering Buck and Lou's names in front of the other customers. He was saying hateful things and talking of his past few years in Virginia. "That stinkin' half-breed gone and knocked up my wife twice. They have a damn bastard and another one on the way. Can't trust thievin' heathen savages. Look out for my ol' pal Buck. He'll lie with your wife and make her pregnant for sure. Lou ain't no better. She worked in a whorehouse before she came to the Pony Express. She wasn't pure when I got her. Had sex with me before marriage, and then she took up with that Injun while I was away fightin' for what's mine. She lived with us boys for over a year in that bunkhouse. She saw us naked or half naked. She walked around with only long johns on, paradin' around flauntin' her feminine wiles. She's a whore if ever I saw one. I don't know if I want her back. I'll tell you this; I will not give her a divorce. She ain't marryin' that scum of the earth breed. I'll make sure of that. She'll service me, not him. I had a better woman in Virginia when the war was almost over. Her name was Elsie. She was great in the sack, better than Lou. She was a beautiful woman with long wavy brown hair and a body that would please any man. She had beautiful brown eyes like mix of chocolate and brown sugar. She was a good cook and made me happy after I was wounded. She had my baby, a little girl with brown hair and blues eyes. We named her Nora Lee. She was a good baby. She never cried much. She was learning to walk when the fever struck. I tried to take care of Elsie and Nora Lee, but they died anyway. I buried them next to each other and carved them beautiful head stones. My woman and baby girl were gone, so I just rode my horse anywhere the wind would take me. I had me a whole slew of whores, probably close to one hundred in the past year or so. None of them was like my Elsie. I used those whores until they were screamin' for mercy. When I tell Lou she can't have that damn divorce, she'll have to come back with me, and I'll make her scream for mercy too. I'm not the boy who left here lookin' for a war to take away the need to be with women other than my wife. I'm a man now and have wants and needs that my wife will either give me or I'll get it at this here saloon." Kid motioned for a saloon girl to come over. She was scared and very young. Kid grabbed her arm, threw some coins at the bartender and dragged her upstairs. Soon after you could hear her screams and Kid hitting her telling her to shut up.

Little did Kid know that his old friend Jimmy was sitting in the back of the room nursing a beer and fuming at Kid for what he said and the fact that he had another woman and a baby when he could have come back to Rock Creek and be with Lou. He was headed to the jail to tell Teaspoon about what Kid said and what had happened after he was wounded in the war.

Chapter Thirteen

Buck went into town while Jeremiah and Teresa went to the school for the day. Buck went to the jail to see Teaspoon about Kid and how he had treated Lou, making her sick and saying things that were hateful and cruel. When Buck got there he found Teaspoon sitting with Jimmy talking quietly, and it looked like both men were very angry.

Buck stood in the door and looked at the two men he knew he could trust with his and his families lives and said, "I take it you've heard that Kid is back and is not happy about me being married to Lou and having Jason and another baby on the way. That bastard made Lou sick while she's pregnant and said horrible things to her. I would have shot him, but I thought it would hurt Lou too much. What's he done now?"

"Why don't you have some coffee and take a seat, and we'll let you in on what Jimmy heard Kid say last night at the saloon," Teaspoon said to Buck with a grave tone to his voice.

Chapter Fourteen

Lou was knitting in the living room with Jason on a blanket playing at her feet. He was making happy noises as he played with his toys. Lou looked up when she heard a horse ride up to the house. She wasn't expecting Buck home so early, so she got up to get the shotgun. Lou didn't even make it to the front hall where the shot gun was when Kid walked into the house and grabbed her by the arm. He brought her into the kitchen and kissed her hard on the mouth. Lou struggled to get away from Kid and tried kicking him between the legs, but her skirts got in the way. When Kid pulled away she slapped him as hard as she could. Kid back handed her across the face, and Lou had to catch herself by gripping the kitchen table.

"Get out, Kid! I will not have you treating me like some punching bag in my own house! I don't want you here, and when Buck finds out what you just did, he will kill you. Teaspoon will find a technicality that keeps Buck from jail or hanging. You can be sure of that." Lou said as she spit blood all over Kid shirt

"You really think I'm scared of Buck. How about I go find Buck and kill him for lying with you and having that bastard that's squalling in the other room. How about I take that bastard boy of yours and bring him to the nearest creek and drown the half-breed, the way Buck's mother should have done with him when he was born. Then I'll take you somewhere where we won't be disturbed and have a little fun. I don't mind tying you up and having my way with you with you being pregnant. Maybe it will shake that baby loose, and you'll lose it.

Lou could smell the liquor on Kid's breath and knew he was out of control. She had to do something to protect Jason and her unborn child.

Lou was about to tell Kid that they had a hired hand that wasn't far away when she had a horrible pain in her abdomen and head. She felt like she couldn't speak or move. She tried to yell out but couldn't. Lou fell to the ground at Kid's feet, having some sort of seizure. Kid looked down at Lou and saw blood pooling under her, but with the alcohol impairing his judgment, he couldn't think what to do. Kid did what he did best, he left. Little Jason crawled his way into the kitchen and sat beside his mama, crying and patting her head trying to wake her up.

Buck and their hired hand Nathan Johnson heard a horse galloping away and headed to the house to see who it was. Buck cold hear Jason's frenzied screams and ran into the house. He called to Lou and found her lying on the floor in a pool of blood with Jason at her side. Buck picked up the baby, gave him a kiss and handed him to Nathan. Nathan took Jason into the other room while Buck saw to Lou. Buck saw all the blood and looked for a bullet wound and found none. That's when he knew that Lou had had a miscarriage. He picked Lou up and cradled her in his arms. Buck carried Lou up to their bedroom and laid her in their bed. He kissed her forehead and ran back downstairs to where Nathan and Jason were.

"Nathan, I need you to go for the doc, Teaspoon, Jimmy, Rachel, Jeremiah and Teresa. Tell them to get here as fast as they can. I'll take Jason and wait with Lou. Hurry! Lou's lost the baby and she's lost a lot of blood." Buck took Jason from Nathan, turned and walked up the stairs.

Nathan saddled his horse and was galloping toward town in three minutes flat. Buck brought Jason upstairs. He could tell his son was scared and needed to be with him right now. Buck walked into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. He let the silent tears fall for the baby they lost and for his wife who he knew would be devastated. Jason finally settled down and fell asleep in his father's arms. Buck brought Jason to his room and laid him in his crib as he kissed him on the forehead.

Buck went back into the bedroom and looked at Lou with such love. That's when he noticed her bloody lip and a mark growing in color and size on the side of her face. Buck instantly grew angry and knew Kid had been there when Lou lost the baby. He had probably been the cause of it. Buck heard a buggy, a buckboard and horses approaching the house. He heard Doc and Rachel running up the stairs. He moved to allow them into the room and to the bed. Buck was so angry he didn't remember going downstairs until Teaspoon gave him a bear hug, and Jimmy said how sorry he was.

"Teaspoon, Jimmy, can I talk to you both outside?" The three old friends went out to the new barn Buck and Nathan had just built closer to the new house. "Kid did this! I saw that Lou has a bloody lip and a mark like someone backhanded her! He made Lou lose the baby, and I'm going to beat him to a bloody pulp until he promises to give Lou the divorce she wants! My wife lost our baby at 5 months into the pregnancy. We felt the baby move last night, and the kicking was strong and frequent! If Lou dies I will kill him! He had a mistress and a baby in Virginia and didn't plan on coming back! He has no right to say Lou can't have the divorce and be with me when he had the same in Virginia! I don't know what to do if Lou dies! How will Jason know his mother?! He's just starting to say Mama! I can't lose her! She makes me whole! I'm only half a person without her!" Buck yelled as he began to cry. He fell to his knees and sobbed. Teaspoon put his arms around Buck's shoulders and brought him over to a hay bale and had him sit down.

"Buck, I will have one of my deputies go find Kid and bring him to the jail. I want to question him myself. I want you to focus on Lou, Jason, Jeremiah and Teresa. We will find out what happened. If Kid was here and left her when she needed help, we'll deal with it. I know you want to hurt him as much as he hurt Lou and you, but I don't think I can bring him up on charges for leaving her when she was losing the baby. If he did hit her, I don't think I can bring him up on charges because technically she's still his wife. She's his property. I'll have to speak to Lou when she wakes up and see what went on here with Kid. Until then all we can do is wait," Teaspoon said to Buck and Jimmy.

Jeremiah came running out of the house calling for Buck. Buck got to his feet and ran to the house. He knew the doctor had something to say.

"Doc, is Lou alright? Can I see her?" Buck said anxiously.

"Buck, the news is not good. Everyone's in the sitting room. Why don't we go in and I'll tell you all what's going on with Lou.

Buck and the doctor walked into the sitting room. Buck took a seat next to Teresa and put his arm around the small girl he'd come to love as a sister.

"The prognosis is not good. Lou has lost the baby. It was a girl and she would have gone to term, but Lou's heart beat went so fast that it caused two things to happen. Lou went into early labor and that caused her to lose the baby. It also caused Lou to have a severe stroke. Her right side can barely move and she cannot speak. I have a book of exercises for stroke victims at my office I will bring it over tomorrow when I come back to examine Lou. Lou's speech and body are affected, but her mind is still the same as it was. She can hear fine and see as well as she could before. I suggest you don't talk like she isn't in the room because knowing Lou's temper she will get agitated and that could do her harm. I want someone with her at all times for the first few weeks. She's going to need someone to help her with everything. She is as helpless as little Jason, except he can cry out and move freely. I want you all to try and keep her spirits up and try to get her to talk. The exercises will be imperative to her being able to go back to her old self. It will take time, but I think she will be able to do what she did before the stroke. I've explained all this to Lou. I asked her to blink her eyes twice if she understood, and she did just that. That's how I know she's aware of her surroundings. No stress. Everything is to be quiet and low key. She could suffer another stroke if she gets too much stress. I'm sorry this isn't better news. I'm sorry about the baby, but there was nothing I could do. I'll see myself out."

Teresa and Rachel let out sobs as Buck held his little sister-in-law and Teaspoon held Rachel. Buck fought back tears and anger as he sat with Teresa. Jeremiah looked lost, and Jimmy was stone faced, not looking anywhere but at the ground.

Chapter Fifteen

They spent the night taking turns sitting with Lou and doing their best to keep her calm and rested. No one spoke to her about what happened, and Lou didn't try to get them to; she was content to put it out of her mind.

The next morning, the doctor arrived bright and early. He checked in on Lou before doing anything else. After his visit with her, he sat at the kitchen table with Buck. "I've brought that book I spoke of," he said. "I marked the exercises I want you to get her to try. Let's look them over to be sure you understand what is required. After we've discussed them, I want to explain things to Louise and have the two of you work through the routine to be sure you both know what it is you are doing."

Buck nodded. "I think it would be a good idea for Jeremiah and Theresa to hear this as well. They may have to help Lou with them at times."

The doctor agreed.

Buck had his in-laws join them. Rachel had arrived so she went to tend to Jason and spend time with Lou.

The doctor took his time explaining each exercise in detail. He had each of them pretend to be Lou as the others took turns helping with the exercises. Finally he decided they were ready. As they made their way back to the bedroom, he said, "I've sent word to my brother in Saint Joseph that I'm in need of a person to help with her speech. He knows some people who do that type of work. I'm hoping to have a list of names shortly."

"What do we do until then?" asked Buck.

"You ask her questions that she can answer with a yes or no," explained the doctor. "One blink for no, two for yes." He paused outside the bedroom door. "I realize that it will be difficult to communicate with her that way, but until she gets a bit more control of her right hand that is the best you can do."

Buck nodded. "The trick is going to be to keep her from getting upset when we don't understand what she wants," he said. "I don't want her hurting herself because I can't figure out her needs."

The doctor nodded his understanding. "Just do the best you can to keep her calm." He then knocked on the door before pushing it open.

As they opened the door, Buck caught a glimpse of Lou sitting propped up in the bed, staring out the window, doing her best to avoid looking at Rachel and Jason. "We're going to go now," Rachel said as she bent down to kiss Lou's forehead.

As she passed by them, she whispered, "She wouldn't even look at us. I'm worried that she's withdrawn into herself to avoid having to deal with her loss." She looked at the doctor, "What do we do?"

"Just keep talking to her like you would as if she wasn't sick," the doctor said. "Tell her about what is going on, what your plans are. Just when you want a response, ask in such a way that she can respond with a yes or no. Watch me."

He made his way to Lou's bedside. "Good morning, Louise. I brought Buck, Teresa, and Jeremiah back up here to start on those exercises I told you about. You ready?"

Lou slowly turned her head and blinked twice.

"Good," said the doctor. He then instructed Buck to join him. They worked through the first few exercises. "I think that's enough for now," he said when he noticed that Lou was getting tired. He helped her settle back into the bed.

"Would you like me to sit here with you?" Buck asked.

Lou blinked once.

"You sure?" Buck said.

Lou blinked twice and shifted her gaze outside.

Buck nodded. "I guess you're right; I should be outside working, but…"

Lou simply looked at him. Her gaze showing that she was getting angry at his trying to baby her.

Jeremiah said, "How about Teresa works at cleaning in here while Lou tries to rest?" he suggested. "Today is the day she usually straightens up the bedrooms anyway."

Lou blinked twice and tried to smile at her brother. She then glanced back out the window to show him that he needed to get outside also.

The men left, and Teresa started to work at putting the room back into order after the events of the previous evening. As she worked, she talked to Lou about school and one of her classmates that she found interesting.

"I think that went well," said the doctor. "I'll check back again in the morning. You will need to do the next set of exercises after lunch, and the final set after dinner. Eventually you want to do all of them all three times, but until she's strong enough to do that…" He let the sentence drop.

Buck nodded. "Thanks Doc,' he said. They walked out of the house together. "We'll see you in the morning."

Chapter Sixteen

After a few weeks, the Cross household settled into a routine that had them taking care of Lou and Jason, as well as managing to keep the ranch running. Lou grew stronger every day, but she still didn't seem interested in Jason. Whenever anyone brought him into her room, she would look out the window. The doctor told them not to worry or make a big deal out of it since that could possibly upset her, and that would be bad.

About a month after the incident, a speech therapist arrived and started to work with Lou as well. She also noticed the withdrawal from Jason that Lou exhibited, but agreed with the doctor that it would be best to give Lou a little more time before forcing her to interact with her son. "She may just be worried that she'll hurt him."

"I'm not asking her to hold him or feed him," said Buck "I'm just asking her to look at him. How would looking at him hurt him?"

"Maybe she's afraid she'll scare him," said Teresa.

"What?" said, Buck.

"I know she thinks she's ugly now," said Teresa. "I caught her looking at herself in the mirror and crying the other day. I finally managed to get her to let me know that she thinks she's ugly and scary because of the way only half her face works."

Buck nodded. "I'll have to do a better job of letting her know how beautiful she is," he said. He smiled at Teresa, "I promise not to let her know you said anything."

It took a couple more weeks, but finally they were able to convince Lou that Jason would not be scared, and that he needed his mother in his life. One afternoon Rachel came over to spend time with Lou so Teresa could have time with her friends while the men kept working. Lou was strong enough now to be moved outside, and it was a beautiful early spring day. MaryAnn, the speech therapist, and Rachel managed to get Lou downstairs to the porch swing.

While MaryAnn and Lou were working on her speech, Rachel had Jason out in the yard playing in the dirt with him. As she sat laughing at one of his antics, Jason pulled up and tried to walk. Lou saw him, and realized that if she didn't start working harder at the exercises she was doing, her son would be walking before she was. She made a promise to herself that she was not going to be confined to this chair and be a burden to her family. She had allowed herself to feel sorry for long enough; her son needed her, her husband needed her, her brother and sister needed her, she needed her. As she finished up her speech exercises, she made a promise to herself that by summer she would be walking.

Chapter Seventeen

Lou worked long and hard on both her speech and exercises. By May Lou's speech was almost to the way it was before her stroke. She was able to communicate with everyone. Lou was very pleased that she could now talk to Jason. Lou would sit on the floor with her son and play with him. She had the use of her arms and hands back and could sit up without falling backward. Her face muscles were growing strong with exercises she did when she was alone. Lou could now smile, frown, move her face when she laughed and was able to kiss her son and sister and brother. She could also kiss Buck. He would get a little frisky in bed at night and they would end up kissing each other passionately. Lou wanted more, but her body wasn't ready for it. She vowed she would make love to her husband every night when she was able, and that they would have more children. She knew Buck was devastated about losing their baby girl, as was she, and she wanted to have more children not to replace the daughter they lost, but to give Jason siblings and bring more joy to their lives with more children.

One day at the beginning of June, Lou was on the porch swing with Jason playing on a blanket next to her on the porch. Buck was in the barn. Lou was talking to Jason as she looked down the road thinking she heard a horse coming. She got frightened that it might be Kid. After what he said to her about what he would do to Jason she needed to get to her son and protect him. Lou had only stood up on her own several times and there was always someone next to her. She could walk unassisted for about ten to fifteen steps then she would have to sit down. Lou was so scared it could be Kid that she stood up and walked down the porch steps holding onto the railing tightly. She made it without falling. Lou reached over and pulled the blanket that Jason was on to the edge of the porch. She picked him up and kissed his head.

"Come on, Sweetheart lets go see your Papa in the barn." Lou walked carefully, holding onto the side of the house. She made it to the door of the barn and then to a hay bale that she sat down on.

Buck came around the side of the house looking for Lou and Jason when he saw they weren't there. Buck began to panic thinking Kid had come and kidnapped them. Buck ran to the middle of the yard to look for footprints. He found Lou's scuffed shoe marks and followed them. Half way there he yelled out, "Louise, where are you?"

"Buck, we're in the barn." Lou answered. Buck ran to the barn and skidded to a stop when he saw Lou and Jason standing next to Lightning's stall petting the horse. Buck was flabbergasted.

"Lou, Honey how did you get in here? No one else is around to help you."

"Well, Buck, I walked in here with our son when I thought I heard a horse coming up the road. I thought it might be Kid, and after what he threatened to do to Jason, I had to get him somewhere safe. I didn't think I could handle getting the screen and door to the house open while holding the baby, so I walked down the steps and picked up Jason and walked in here. Lightning seemed lonely so we visited with him for a while. Does that answer your question?" Lou said, smiling from ear to ear.

"This is a miracle. Lou you walked a whole lot farther than you could before and you were carrying the baby. This is wonderful. Do you feel alright? Do you need help getting back? I can't believe this. I've been praying to the Great Spirit to let you walk on your own, and they answered me. I love you so much, Lou," Buck said in astonishment as he walked over to Lou and Jason and kissed her passionately. He then took Jason from Lou and tickled him and gave him a kiss. "Let's go in the house and have lunch as a family. I just can't believe you walked all that way. I'm so proud of you, Louise."

Chapter Eighteen

Lou progressed faster than the doctor thought was possible. She was now back to her old self and taking rides on Lightning, where she would spend time relearning certain things she had long thought gone from her memory.

The doctor came and examined Lou one last time and said she was over the stroke and could resume her household and wifely duties. That meant that Buck and Lou could make love again. Something both Buck and Lou had wanted more than anything.

That night in bed Buck and Lou made passionate love to each other. As they lay there in the afterglow of their love making, Lou told Buck she was going to take a ride to Blue Creek in the morning. It was only a few hours ride and she'd be back by dark.

"Lou, I don't think a woman in a buckboard on the trail alone is a good idea. I can go with you or I can ask Jimmy," Buck said wondering why Lou wanted to go to Blue Creek.

"I don't need you or Jimmy to babysit me. I plan on wearing my Pony Express clothes and put my hair up in my hat. I'll wear my gun and I'll be careful. I just want to see about a saddle for Jeremiah's birthday in a few weeks. Mr. Tompkins said that the livery owner has the perfect saddle for Jeremiah, and I want to look it over before we can go over there and get it. I want them to take me seriously so I'm going to dress like a boy to get them to speak to me honestly. I can take care of myself, Sweetie. I'll be back before dark. You have to get supplies in town tomorrow and you promised Teresa you would teach her how to ride too. Rachel is coming over to take care of Jason and help Teresa make dinner. I need to do this for myself. I'm going to go if you say no, but I'd like your blessing," Lou said to Buck with a determined look on her face.

Buck, knew, Lou would go and prove she could do it, even if he forbid her to go. So he said yes and told her to be careful and, if she wasn't home by dark, he and Jimmy were coming after her.

Buck and Lou made love once more before going to bed. They held each other as they slept. The next morning Lou was up before dawn and on her way before anyone else was up. She left a note saying she went early and would be back soon.

Chapter Nineteen

Lou arrived in Blue Creek and tied the horse she borrowed from Jeremiah to the hitching post. Lou looked around the town. She went to the saloon and looked in the doorway and saw him in there playing cards and drinking. It was time to finish this.

Lou walked into the middle of the street and called with her deepest most deadly voice.

"KID! I'm talking to you, Kid! Come out here you coward! I'm calling you out! You piece of scum! Come out and face me or are you too yellow!"

Kid walked out of the saloon to see Lou standing in the middle of the street looking like a hardened gunslinger. He knew this day would come, but always thought it would be Buck not Lou.

"What do you want, Lou. I don't got time for games. I'm sorry about the baby, but I meant what I said no divorce. If you know what's good for you, you'll leave now and not come back," Kid said with a tinge of anger in his voice.

"You going to come out here and see who's the quicker draw, or are you too lily livered? You have to pay for what you done."

"Alright, Lou, I'll play your little game. You won't shoot me. You never had the stomach to shoot someone down in the street," Kid said as he walked into the middle of the street.

"I've been through a whole lot of changes while you were gone, and after what you did I'm willing to do anything to put you down like the dog you are."

Lou's hand hovered over her gun. Kid got into place and looked at Lou. He barely recognized her. Kid went for his gun, but Lou was faster and shot Kid down in the dirt. Kid got a surprised look on his face for one second and fell to the ground. Lou walked up to him and bent down.

"I can't believe you did it." Kid rasped as blood dribbled from his mouth.

"Believe it, Kid. You should have never come back. The worlds a better place without you in it. You changed too much and became a horrible excuse for a man. Good bye, Kid," Lou said as she got up to get her horse. Kid died as she was standing up. Her job was done. He was gone, she was free and her baby girl could rest in peace.

As Lou was getting on her horse a saloon girl ran to her. The young girls face was black and blue and she had a split lip. Her arm was in a splint and she had a black eye. Lou just looked at her.

"Thank you, I don't think I would have survived another night with him. He was an awfully mean man. He do something to your wife, Mister?" The saloon girl asked.

"Let's just say he got what he deserved, and my baby girl can rest in peace, and my son can grow up not having to worry about Kid hurting him. You take care of yourself. I'm going home."

The saloon girl just looked at looked at Lou with wide eyes. Lou mounted up and rode home to her family.

Epilogue

The only one Lou told about what she did to Kid was Buck. He understood Lou's need for vengeance. He said he would have done it himself, but he didn't want to cause Lou more pain.

The news got around that some gunslinger had killed Kid. No one was overly upset that Kid was dead after what had happened between him and Lou.

Lou was a free woman. One night while Buck and Lou sat by the creek not long after Kid's death, Buck asked Lou to marry him. She said yes immediately, and Buck took her old engagement ring off and gave her a new one with a beautiful blue stone set between two diamonds. Lou kissed Buck more passionately than she ever had. They made love by the creek and then went home to tell everyone their news. Buck and Lou were married in a small ceremony that Teaspoon officiated at.

Jason was not walking but running everywhere. He was as fast as a jackrabbit. Keeping up with him was a chore sometimes, but his family loved to chase him as he giggled. Buck was teaching the boy how to ride and he took to it like a duck to water.

Two months after Buck and Lou were married officially, Lou found out she was pregnant. Buck was ecstatic, and Lou was over the moon. Lou's pregnancy went well with no problems or troubles.

Lou gave birth to a baby girl. She was strong and healthy with brown eyes, golden colored skin and dark brown hair half way down her back. They named her Eileen Rose Cross.

Buck and Lou had five more children. They loved them more than life itself. They never forgot the baby girl they had lost and the challenges they had had, but the hard times had made them stronger and closer as a family. They were very happy for the rest of their days.

The End

Author's Note: Karen and I would like to thank Marlea for beta-ing our story. You were a big help. S.

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