Author's Note: This story is a continuation of In the Family Way. A big thanks to Sameena for all her wonderful help.

Chapter 1

Jackson Louis walked into the saloon and paused just inside the doorway. It had been years since he had made his presence in such an establishment and he wouldn't be there tonight if it wasn't for the memory that had been eating away at him all day. He hadn't come there to drink, no, he'd never do that again, not for the rest of his life. Drinking was what had brought him down as low as a man could go, drinking was what had driven him from what he wanted so bad to get back but knew he couldn't. He had come there to be among people; the workers at his ranch had all headed into town right after dinner and he didn't want to sit in that big empty house with nothing but himself and his memories.
He sat at an empty stool at the bar and was immediately approached by the bartender. "Hey, Mr. Louis, never seen you in here before. What can I get you?" the bartender asked. "Beer, whiskey?"
Jackson shook his head and answered, "How about just a coffee? I don't drink." Not anymore, he said to himself.
He looked around the saloon as his coffee was being poured. They always looked the same, he noted. He spotted several of his employees at the card tables and in the company of the female employees. He watched the eager young men thoroughly enjoying themselves, knowing they had not a care in the world except getting up in the morning to start work.
More than half his ranch hands were young, probably only seventeen to twenty years old. As he sat and watched them, he wondered about another young man. And that was the reason he was at the saloon. He had wanted to find him so bad, tell him he still had family but he knew he had no right, not after the way he had treated him. When he'd gotten his life back together after he gave up drinking, he'd gone back to Virginia but it had been too late. He had found out that the boy's mother was dead, his brother had disappeared years before her death, and that he had headed west five years ago. If he could only find him again, try to make him understand why he had done the things he did. But it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.
"Mr. Louis! We never thought we'd see you in here," a young voice called out.
Jackson was brought back to the present and turned in his seat to face three such young men. He had to smile at their love of life. He had felt that way a long time ago but it was getting harder to bring those memories into existence. "I seem to be surprising a lot of people tonight," he told them. "As a matter of fact I'm here to celebrate a birthday, Ted."
Ted looked at his companions and said, "Gee, we're sorry, Mr. Louis, we didn't know it was your birthday, no one told us." He looked apologetic that they hadn't acknowledged the birthday of their boss. The other two boys took on the same look.
Jackson held up his hand and explained, "You can relax, it's not my birthday." He looked away and softly said, "Today is the day my youngest son was born. He's twenty years old now ... if he's still alive, that is."
"We never knew you had any kids, Mr. Louis," Ted said.
"That's because I don't talk about it," Jackson told him. "Not an easy subject when you were the cause of a lot of pain. Take a little advice from a man who knows, boys. Don't throw all your money away and if you think you can't stop drinking, then don't start." He put a coin on the bar to pay for his coffee, picked up his hat then said, "Well, good night, boys. Don't stay out all night, you have to fix that fence in the south pasture tomorrow."
"We won't and good night," Ted told him. The other boys echoed their replies.
Jackson stepped onto the sidewalk and looked up into the starlit sky. It reminded him of twenty years ago when he'd stood on the porch of his home in Virginia, looking up into a similar sky. Only that night he had been in too much fear to even notice the stars. Katherine Jean, his wife of seven years and the most important person in his life, was inside their small house trying to give birth to his second child. She'd had it difficult right from the start and was even put on bed rest the last two months. The doctor had been concerned that she and possibly the baby might not make it. Having given him a son six years earlier had left her weak and she shouldn't be having this child but she had insisted she wanted to be blessed with one more miracle to make her life complete. Now she might have to pay for her wish with her life.
Jackson closed his eyes to rid himself of the memories but they continued against his protest. It had seemed like forever until he finally heard the cry from his second child. He remembered rushing into the house and finding his wife holding a small bundle in her arms. She had seemed weak but gave him a big smile as she presented him with another son. He had cried in happiness, both for the child and more importantly because Katherine Jean was going to be alright. She insisted they name this baby after him since he meant the world to her and because she felt so blessed to be holding her new son in her arms. He had told her no to using his name six years ago when Jed was born; he'd told her a boy needed his own name so nothing would be hanging over his head if his namesake couldn't measure up to what was expected of him. She'd given in reluctantly but wouldn't this time. She wanted everyone to know that this was his son so he finally agreed and Jackson Charles Louis gave his name to his son.
Jackson sighed, thinking of how much it must have hurt his son to have the burden of carrying that name with him for the rest of his life. Maybe he had changed it long ago, he thought. Either way, the boy was still his son and nothing would change that, except the fact that he didn't deserve to have him for a son.
As he walked to his horse, resolved to never think on it again, he looked up into the sky once more and whispered, "Happy Birthday, Kid."

Chapter 2

Kid stood in the hallway of their ranch house and waited for Lou to blow out the last of the lights. He shifted his arms and put his daughter's head against his shoulder. She was only two years old and she already took after Lou in so many ways. Except for the bright blue eyes she had inherited from him, she had her mama's facial features and thick dark hair, which hung in curls down her back, her quick temper and was on the small side. But when she fell asleep, it felt like he was carrying dead weight.

Lou came up to him with some clothes thrown over her arm. She grinned as he shifted once again under the weight of a very sound asleep Katie. "It's been a long night for all of us," she said and started up the stairs, holding the lamp high so Kid could see where he was walking. "This is the first birthday we've celebrated in a while and I think we all over did it." She laughed then cut herself off as Katie started to stir.

"Sssh," Kid cautioned. "I'll tuck her in, why don't you get ready for bed? Since birthdays only come once a year and seeing how this is a big one, I don't think I'm done celebrating yet." He raised his eyebrows and gave her a look that would have made a school girl blush but Lou loved that look and without another word, went into their room, closing the door behind her.

Using light from the lamp Lou had left on the hall table, Kid pulled back the covers on Katie's small bed with one hand then placed his little girl down on the pillow. Instantly, she turned onto her side and her hand automatically reached out for the knitted pink blanket that was folded next to the pillow. Like it was a reflex, her hands tucked the blanket just so under her chin and leaned into it with her cheek.

Kid chuckled when he saw the smile that crossed her face. It was a good thing Emma had knitted that blanket and sent it to Lou when she'd heard the news of Katie's birth. No chance in the world of Katie's new sibling getting that blanket as a hand me down, if it turned out to be a girl. Maybe Emma would knit another one for the new baby once it's born. He felt foolish thinking about something like that, considering Lou was only six months along with their second child.

He puts all thoughts aside, except of what was waiting for him in his bedroom. He leaned down, kissed Katie's cheek, brushed dark brown hair out of her face, and quietly left the room. He closed the door, blew out the light in the hall, and entered his room. The sight before him made him stop with his hand still on the doorknob.

Lou usually wore a cotton nightgown to bed, especially when she was expecting, since it wasn't constricting. She had looked at the gown then caught sight of the new clothes Kid had gotten for his birthday, gifts from Rachel and herself. She grinned as she quickly undressed down to nothing and donned the largest shirt on the pile. She now lay propped up against a pillow wearing nothing but that shirt, a shirt that unfortunately, or rather fortunately, she hadn't been able to button all the way.

Kid glanced at his very expectant wife and had to catch his breath. He'd thought she was beautiful when she had been carrying Katie but there was such a glow to her this time. He knew she'd been through hell the last time at the hands of Wicks and trying to recover from what he'd done to her had been in the forefront of her mind. But all that was behind them now. There was no worry this time around, only excitement.

"You'd better close that door, unless you want to hear the pitter patter of little feet as they approach our room," she cautioned, her hand fooling with the collar of the shirt.

He was brought back to the present by her voice and quickly closed the door. He approached the bed, a grin on his face. "Isn't that one of my birthday presents?"

"Uh huh," Lou answered. "How does it look?"

Kid made it to the side of the bed and looked down at her, having a clear view down the front of her shirt, thanks to the open buttons. "Looks real fine from here," he told her, smiling. "I think you should wear it from now on, for some reason, I can't picture myself in it. Of course, I might change my mind if it wasn't on you anymore." He sat on the edge of the bed, quickly removed his boots, then stood to strip down to his long johns.

"Let me help you with those buttons," Lou offered and pulled him onto the bed, next to her. As she worked on opening his front, his hands deftly undid the ones that she had buttoned. He helped her out of his shirt then gently laid her down on the pillow.

As they kissed and explored all too familiar territory, Lou asked, "So did you really enjoy your birthday celebration?"

In between kisses, Kid replied, "'Twas the best one I ever had. You and Rachel outdid yourselves with that meal and everyone was so generous. I feel like the luckiest man alive." He stopped long enough to look into her dark eyes and said, "I don't need anything else in this world except you, Katie, this new little one and our family and friends. We've got a good business going here; there's nothing in the world that could bring me down right now, nothing at all."

Lou smiled at the man she loved more than anything and said, "Good, now if you don't continue where you left off, you're gonna start to bring me down." She touched his cheek.

"Wouldn't want that to happen," he told her as he caught her fingers with his teeth. She giggled and no more talk was heard as they gave in to their desires.

Chapter 3

Jackson walked across the yard from the house, where his office was. He had some requests for large amounts of horses already and it was still early in the spring. They had some promising foals this year, more than last year, so he would have no problem meeting every order he got.

He stopped at one of the corrals to look at the new stock. Hearing someone approaching, he turned and saw his foreman ride in, accompanied by two men on a wagon. They were returning from town with supplies but he noticed the foreman seemed to be in a hurry.

"What's up, Charlie?" Jackson asked, walking up to him. "Anything wrong?"

"Nah," Charlie answered as he swung out of the saddle. "Just got some interesting news is all. It seems we got us some competition."

Jackson stood with his hands on his hips and questioned, "What do you mean by that?"

Charlie handed his horse to one of the hands then walked with Jackson toward the house. "Well, it seems a couple ex-Pony Express riders started up a horse ranch the other side of the territory. From what I hear they got a good reputation of knowing horses and are starting to get some steady business coming their way. You got a telegram from Phillips, who bought from us last year, saying that he was going to be giving these boys a try, seeing as how they're a fewer days ride closer to him than we are," he explained.

Jackson sat on the porch of his house, thinking about Phillips, who was a new customer from last year. "I'll be sorry to lose him as a customer but that's how it goes," he told Charlie. "These guys must be pretty young if they rode for the Express. So where are they out of?"

"A town on the Kansas border, name of Rock Creek," Charlie explained. "Apparently the way station they rode out of was in that town so they stayed."

"You find out their names?"

"They're names are Buck Cross and McCloud - oh, what is his first name? It's a funny name, never heard of it before," Charlie mumbled, trying to jog his memory. "Kid! That's it, they say folks call him the Kid."

Jackson's head turned toward Charlie in total shock. "You said 'the Kid'?"

"Yeah," Charlie nodded. "Can't imagine where he'd get a name like that - must have really hated the one he was given." He didn't notice the hurt look on Jackson's face, instead he got up and headed toward the steps. "Well, Mr. Louis, I better head back to the barn, check on the guys."

"Charlie," Jackson said, stopping him. He felt like the wind had been knocked out of him. He'd given up all dreams of ever hearing that name again. This was too good to be true. "Where did you say they were out of? And you're sure about the name?"

Charlie walked back onto the porch, noticing the shocked look on his boss' face. "Yeah, I'm sure, about the names, I mean. And they're from Rock Creek, I've heard of it but never been there. Why? Is something wrong, Mr. Louis?"

"No, nothing's wrong, it's more than I could have hoped for. I need to ask a favor. I have to go out of town, I'll be gone two to three weeks, maybe," he started, not sure about anything except knowing he had to get to Rock Creek as fast as he could. "I need you to be in charge while I'm gone."

"Are you alright, Mr. Louis?" Charlie asked, concerned. He'd worked for Jackson Louis the last three years as his foreman. And in all that time he'd never seen the man as flustered as he seemed at that moment.

"What?" Jackson asked, being drawn out of his thoughts. "Oh, yeah, I'm fine. There's just something I need to look into. There's no one else I can trust with this place, Charlie. It's just like when Ken Hooper took me on here when I had nothing and gave me something I hadn't had in a long time, confidence. He trusted me enough to make me foreman then to leave this ranch to me when he took ill and knew he wouldn't recover. I've never asked for this big a favor before, Charlie."

"You can count on me, Mr. Louis, you know that," Charlie assured him. "Nothing will happen around here in your absense, I give you my word."

Jackson smiled at him and said, "You've been a good friend, Charlie. I appreciate the help." Well, I better get to packing, I've got a long ride in front of me."

Chapter 4

Jackson walked out of the lobby of the Rock Creek hotel after having registered. He only needed the room for sleeping so he decided to take a look around the small town he'd be staying in for several days. He got on his horse and turned it in the direction of the livery. As he rode in the opposite direction from whence he came, he observed all the businesses lining the streets. The town was actually bigger than he'd expected, with two side streets leading off the larger one.

He left his horse at the livery, feeling strange to have someone else take care of it for him. He'd always been the one to care for his horse and that wouldn't change no matter how many men he had working for him. The horse was the first purchase he'd been able to make since he had turned his life around seven years ago.

He stood outside the livery, watching the activity of the busy town. He shook his head as he looked at all the young men that passed him by. Was he fooling himself? How was he supposed to know which one of them might be his son? The last time he'd seen Kid was over twelve years ago, he was nothing but a small child. And the worst part of it was that for the last four years before he'd run out on his family, most of the time he saw them, he had been drunk. He couldn't even remember what Kid looked like as an eight year old boy. How was he supposed to know him as a grown man?

It would be easy if Jackson could just go into any of the stores and ask where Kid lived. But he couldn't take that chance, not after the way he'd left his family, injured and without any money. The truth of the matter was that he didn't deserve to know his son but he had to try. That was the main reason he'd gotten his life together again: to try to make it up to his family for all the years of hurt he'd caused them. And that's why he had returned to Virginia, only to find them all gone.

As he was walking along the sidewalk, heading toward the general store, he saw an expectant woman exit the store. She had her arms full of packages and seemed to be trying to look behind her at something low to the ground. As she turned around, the packages tumbled to the ground.

Jackson hurried forward to give the lady a hand. It was then he saw what she had been looking for. The cutest little girl came out of the store, holding a candy stick in her hand. The child bent down to help pick up a package.

"Katie, I told you to stay right behind me so you wouldn't get hurt," the woman addressed the child. "Now look what a mess we've got here."

"Here, let me give you a hand with that," Jackson called out, crouching to the ground and picking up the packages for the woman. Before she could protest, he continued, "Looks to me like you have your hands full. Now where would you like these?"

She looked at him, feeling a little nervous. It wasn't like her to trust a strange man, she'd been hurt too many times to drop her guard. But watching him pick up all her packages then stand looking at her, expectantly, something inside made her start to relax. He had the kindest eyes she'd seen in a man, well, expect for the Kid, that is. They were bright blue and that made them easy to read. If he had any sinister thoughts, she was sure they would be clouded over and dark.

She finally answered, "That's my buckboard." She pointed behind them and Jackson immediately started putting the packages in the back of the buckboard. "This is very kind of you and I don't know how to thank you, Mr.?"

"You can call me Jackson, and the pleasure is mine."

"Well, I'm Louise and this little lady here is my daughter, Katie." Lou smiled at him. She'd only known him for all of ten seconds but she liked what she saw. He held himself up high like he knew what he wanted out of life.

Jackson bent down and addressed Katie, "Well, good afternoon, pretty girl. If you don't take after your mama, all except those bright blue eyes of yours." He laughed as Katie twinkled her eyes at him until he couldn't see the blue any longer.

"She gets those from her daddy and I'm real glad she does," Lou commented. "Now I think it's time we headed back to the ranch. I want to thank you again. It was real neighborly of you to help out that way."

"Anytime, Louise, anytime," Jackson told her, lifting his hat. "And what about you, Miss Katie? Do you sit up front with your mama or in the back with the packages?"

Katie pointed and said, "Back."

"Alright, up you go." He lifted her into the back of the buckboard and set her down gently. She instantly sat and put a hand on the side rail, her other hand still not releasing her candy.

"She's a beautiful little girl," Jackson said softly. "I assume she's your first?"

"Yep, and number two's not far behind," Lou answered, rubbing her stomach in emphasis.

"Well, good luck to you, you've got yourself a nice family. Your husband's a lucky man."

"I'm the lucky one," Lou admitted. "Good bye, Jackson, and I hope we see you in town again." He didn't answer, only smiled, so she urged the horse forward. Jackson watched them ride away then waved as he noticed Katie holding her hand up to him. He continued down the street, wondering if Kid was fortunate to have found himself a good woman like Louise appeared to be. Did he have a daughter-in-law or any grandchildren? He hadn't thought about it before.

Chapter 5

Buck leaned against the rail of the corral, laughing. He watched as Kid picked himself up off the ground for the umpteenth time and brushed his backside off. "You give up yet?" he called out. He watched as the horse triumphantly went to the other side of the corral.

Kid approached him and said, "Never, I'm just getting warmed up." He grinned and shook his head at the stubborn horse before him.

"He just doesn't like that saddle, does he?" Buck said, as more of an observation than a question. "Why don't you take a break and I'll give it a try."

"Be my guest," Kid said, waving his hand toward the reason he was not too anxious to sit down at that moment. He opened the gate but instead of letting Buck into the corral, he let himself out as he saw Lou drive the buckboard into the yard.

The two men walked over to where she had stopped. Katie immediately jumped up and yelled, "Dada!" She stretched out her arms, waiting to be picked up.

Kid wrapped his hands around the small girl's waist and pulled her to his chest for a hug. "Was my big girl good in town today?" he asked as he noticed the remains of her treat in her hand.

"Mama mess," Katie said then squirmed her way out of her father's arms.

As Kid put her down, he asked, "Oh, yeah? And how did Mama make a mess?" He grinned at Lou, who Buck was helping down.

"It's all Tompkins' fault," Lou declared as Kid and Buck started gathering up her packages. "Everytime we go into his store, he gives Katie a candy stick, so she becomes his best friend and doesn't want to leave. I was out on the sidewalk, looked back for her and the packages just slipped out of my hands. A nice man was passing by and insisted on helping me pick everything up. Jackson, that was his name, wouldn't take no for an answer so I figured there was no harm in letting him help me."

Kid felt bad she'd had such a hard time in town and apologized, "Lou, I'm sorry you had to go to town with Katie by yourself. I know it's not easy. Next time I promise to go with you." He walked up the steps to the house with her.

"If I wasn't so clumsy nowadays, it wouldn't have been a problem. I'm just glad that man happened along when he did, you know me and bending down to pick things up," she reminded Kid with a grin. She then leaned over her protruding stomach to try to see her feet.

Kid laughed as he noticed she could barely make them out. He gave her a hug and said, "I hope you don't get mad at me if you wind up bigger than you did with Katie."

Lou scrunched her face up at him and playfully teased, "Well, if I do, I don't think there will be room for both of us in the same bed." She started to enter the house but stopped when Kid grabbed her from behind by putting his hands around her waist or at least what used to be her waist.

"You wouldn't dare!" he warned with a smile. "You'd be as lonely as I would and you know it." He pulled her to him and kissed her. She responded and for the moment, they forgot where they were.

Buck reminded them by loudly clearing his throat. "Will you look at that, Katie, it's no wonder you have a baby brother or sister on the way." He grinned at them, holding their daughter in his arms. She had all her uncles wrapped around her little fingers but most of all Buck, since she saw him every day.

Kid and Lou broke off the kiss, laughing. "Just you wait, Buck Cross," Lou told him. "Don't think that once you find a lady friend that you can keep us from giving you a taste of your own medicine."

"Believe me, Lou, I know you well enough to know you'd never let me be. That's why I have to get my comments in while I can. I'm hoping when that time does come, you'll be so busy with two little ones, you won't even notice I have a girl friend until you get an invite to the wedding!" Buck said, as he handed Katie to her. He grinned once more then headed back toward the corral.

Kid stood on the porch laughing. "He's got a point there," he said. "You will have your hands full once this baby comes along and before you blame this on me, remember one thing, it takes two to make a baby, darling." He quickly opened the door to the house and went in before she could say anything else.

Lou looked between Buck and Kid. She knew they were both right, she already had her hands full with just Katie. It was going to be a whole new experience to take care of two young 'uns. But Lou also knew herself and there was no way she wouldn't find out if Buck found himself a girl friend. She hoped he would, he was one of the nicest men she knew and deserved some happiness of his own.

Chapter 6

Jackson sat at a small table by the front window of the town's restaurant. He'd been in town a week now and had ended up sitting at that exact table for every meal. He would just eat and stare out the window at the goings-on of the town. He normally took his time during meals since he didn't have much to do while he was waiting to get a glimpse of his son.

He'd heard Kid's name mentioned several times in connection to a nearby ranch. He'd also heard the names of two other fellows who always seemed to be in his company, one name was Buck Cross, who he knew was Kid's partner. And the other was Lou, he didn't get a last name on that one. But he could tell from conversations that Kid was close to these two men.

Not wanting to appear like a vagrant by constantly walking the streets each day, he usually spent the afternoons going for long rides on his horse. Which was exactly what he did after he finished his lunch. Jackson found the area breathtaking and the peacefulness usually gave him the chance to do a lot of thinking. He was so anxious to see the Kid. He could have tried to find his ranch but didn't want to appear as if he was spying on him. He'd just have to bide his time. Sooner or later the man would have to make a trip to town and hopefully he would be in the right place to overhear a conversation that would let him know he'd found his son. He felt guilt ridden that he needed someone, anyone, to tell him who his son was. That's what you get when you haven't seen him since he was eight years old, he reprimanded himself. He thought it was pretty bad that he wouldn't even recognize his own flesh and blood if he was standing right in front of him.

After a long ride across the plains outside of Rock Creek, Jackson returned his horse to the livery. Only this time, he tended to the animal himself. He didn't care if he was paying someone else to do it, he needed that time alone with his horse. It wasn't easy for a man to find the perfect horse, not only one who rode well but also one he felt a connection to. He'd always felt that way about horses and had tried to instill that knowledge into his sons. Jed's mind had always been anywhere but on the farm so Jackson was sure he never got across to his elder boy but Kid, Kid was different. Even at a very young age, Kid had had an affection for any horse he came across and seemed eager to learn about them. Jackson sighed, regretting the fact that he'd started drinking and not paid any attention to his young son from that point on, so he'd never been able to encourage Kid to develop the wisdom he'd always had toward the animal.

That was another thing he'd shorted his son out of, information that could have helped him make a living for himself. Being a dirt farmer in Virginia, it was more necessary to have a plow mule to do the heavy work around the place than to have a good horse. And they'd not been profitable with the farm so buying a decent horse was out of the question. Jackson recalled winning one in a poker game, probably the only thing he won that he didn't lose by that same night. That was around the time that he would leave the family for long stretches. It was always after a night of constant drinking: he'd come home, find something to argue about, take it out on whoever was there, usually Katherine Jean and Kid, then leave them injured and scared and without any money and just take off. He'd wake up late the next day, having fallen off the horse and passed out on the side of the trail. Of course it would all be one big blur as to what he'd actually done to punish his wife and son. The telltale sign that he'd done anything at all would slightly be evident when he came back home. There would be a bruise that hadn't gone away or a busted arm that hadn't healed yet or even a twisted ankle that was just starting to be walked on normal again.

Jackson brushed the coat of his horse even harder as if he was trying to brush those memories away. Maybe he should just leave and not try to see Kid. If his son had managed to survive on his own and make a respectable name for himself, why should he bring up unpleasant images of what seemed like a lifetime ago? Jackson felt as if he ought to leave things as they were but something kept tugging at his heart, something that told him that he had to give it a try. And that something had the same exact name as he did and lived in Rock Creek in Nebraska Territory - both men were in the same town and Jackson vowed he was not going to leave until he'd had the chance to not only see but to speak to his son. He patted his horse's back, almost as if he was shaking hands to finalize a deal, then led his horse out to the corral.


Buck and Kid loaded another piece of lumber onto the wagon they were borrowing. They seemed to be doing this a lot lately, a few of the horses they were trying to break had the habit of kicking sections of the corral fence in their fight to throw their rider off. That wouldn't be bad except it always seemed to be the same part of the fence so it got weak and would fall apart if you so much as blew on it. This time, the two ex-riders were purchasing additional pieces of wood so they wouldn't have to keep making trips like this to town.

It was a warm day and by the time Kid and Buck had loaded the wagon, they were exhausted. Each took off his hat and wiped at the sweat pouring down their faces.

Kid looked at Buck and asked, "How come it always seems to be warmer than usual whenever we have work like this to do?"

"We're just lucky, I guess," Buck said sarcastically. "Either that or the horses can predict the weather and do it to us as payback." He grinned as he thought of how silly that sounded.

"Well, whatever the reason is, I can't wait to get back and have some of Lou's cold lemonade," Kid said, licking his lips in anticipation. He stood up and put his hat back on.

"I'm sure glad Rachel taught her how to make it 'cause I could sure use some myself right about now," Buck told him as he set about checking the ropes that were holding the lumber in place.

Kid turned to check his side of the wagon but paused before he took a step. He let out a slow whistle.

Buck looked up, saw Kid staring in the direction of the livery, which was next to the mill, and asked, "What? What did you see?"

"Just the most beautiful palomino I've ever laid eyes on," Kid answered and made his way over to the corral fence. Buck abandoned the wagon and followed Kid, who had leaned over the top of the fence to watched the horse. The horse seemed to sense Kid was interested in her because she came over to check him out. Kid instantly touched the horse's nose as he said, "Boy are you a beauty. Just do me a favor and don't tell Katy I told you that. Whoever owns you sure knows a thing or two about horses."

"Thanks for the compliment and I could say the same thing about you," a voice in the shadows of the barn said.

Kid grabbed the top rail of the fence. What was it about that voice that sounded so familiar?

"If your horse is that paint mare I saw over near that wagon then you definitely know a good horse when you see it," the voice continued.

Kid closed his eyes, trying to figure out where he'd heard that voice before. There was something so familiar about it that it almost hurt. His eyes flew open as he suddenly pictured himself back in Virginia, as a three year old boy, looking through a corral fence while listening to his father tell him about the different types of horses. He shook his head, trying to convince himself that his mind was just playing tricks on him.

"And my horse picked up on your horse sense right away. Someone taught you well; there's nothing more special than a good relationship between a man and his horse," the voice in the shadows added.

Kid gripped the railing harder and sucked in his breath. It couldn't be, he told himself, the owner of the voice he used to know had abandoned Kid and his mother more than twelve years ago. But why do the two voices sound so similar? It's not possible, he thought, there was no way on Earth he figured he would ever come in contact with the one person he'd ever felt hatred toward. It's been twelve years, twelve long and hard years since a man with that type of voice had spoken a word to him.

Wanting to prove he was mistaken and that it was just coincidence, Kid slowly raised his eyes and looked in the direction of the barn. The man came out of the shadows and slowly walked toward the two younger men. Kid stared as his bright blue eyes, which were new showing signs of fear, locked onto a pair of paler blue ones. But there was no mistaking to whom they belonged, the hair had some gray in it and the body was leaner than he remembered but the walk was the same and so was the smile on his face, not that he'd seen it all too many times.

Kid found himself backing away and felt like he couldn't catch his breath. He only stopped when he bumped into Buck. He felt Buck's hands on his back as he tried to let the Kid know he was there but Kid ignored the contact.

Jackson stepped closer, concerned for the young man before him and asked, "Are you alright, son?"

Son. That did it. There was only one man Kid would allow to call him 'son' and that was Teaspoon. As far as he was concerned, no one else had that right. He could tell the man had no idea who he was but knew that would change in a matter of moments. Without turning around, he said, "Buck, take the wagon back, I ... I can't be here." He turned around, jumped on Katy who was tied to a post by the mill, and took off down the main road of town.

Buck watched Kid's retreating figure and yelled, "Kid! Kid, what's wrong?" He knew he'd never get an answer but had to try. He then turned to the man beside the corral, assuming he had something to do with Kid's strange behavior. As he was about to say something, he paused as he saw the strange expression on the man's face.

Jackson had taken his hat off and continued to run his hand through his hair. He looked in the direction his son had gone in ... his son, just the thought of knowing he was that close to Kid made him feel weak in the knees. He looked at Buck and asked, "You said his name was Kid?" He didn't need an answer, he knew. He should have known the moment he saw him, the blue eyes, the thick dark hair, and the ability to tell a good horse when he saw one. Jackson thought he needed someone to tell him who his son was but should have trusted his judgement instead; these were the signs he should have been looking for all along.

Buck didn't take his eyes off the stranger who had obviously caused Kid to act like a confused, scared person. He wanted to know what was going on and wanted to know now. "Yeah, that's his name and before I tell you anything else, I have a question for you. What's your name and how do you know the Kid?"

Chapter 7

Jackson leaned against the corral fence and, not looking at Buck, answered, "My name is Jackson Louis and as for knowing the Kid, well, I don't think it's my place to say. As you could see he, uh, he wasn't too happy to realize it was me. I knew he would react that way, I just, I don't know, I wanted it to be different." Without another word, he left Buck and headed down the street, looking very dejected.\

Buck stared after him in total confusion. Basically, all he'd gotten out of the man was his name and that somehow he knew Kid. Buck needed to know if his friend was alright so he climbed aboard the wagon and headed out of town.


Kid felt as if his world was caving in around him. The last time he'd felt that way was when he'd found out about Wicks having Lou and what he'd done to her. He'd never wanted to get someplace so fast in his life, at that time it was St. Joseph to rescue her, now it was his ranch. His ranch, the home he shared with his wife and child. He would feel better once he was with them, he was sure of it. He'd had this nightmare as a small boy, the recurring one of that man returning and continuing what he had started. It felt like it was going to become a reality.

He stopped Katy outside the barn and just sat, looking at all that was his. Here he felt like a man, a man who had responsibilities and obligations but most of all was loved. Back in town he had felt like a small boy again, the same boy who'd been at the receiving end of one too many thrashings from the man he'd left back at the livery. The one person who hadn't been there for him, who, instead, had hurt everyone he loved then took off. How could this be happening? he wondered.

Lou had heard him ride up so she went out on the porch to greet him. She'd stopped when she saw him sitting on Katy and looking all around the ranch. He hadn't made an attempt to get down. Thinking he was hurt, she ran to him. "Kid! Kid, what is it? Is something wrong?"

She placed her hand on his leg to get his attention. The contact brought him back to the present and Kid looked down into the dark eyes of the woman who meant the world to him. Without saying a word, Kid dismounted and took Lou in his arms. He never wanted to let go of her again.

Lou let him hold her, sensing that something was wrong but also knowing Kid, that would mean he would tell her what it was when he was ready. And no amount of prodding could bring it on any sooner.

Kid released her then caressed her cheek with his large, calloused hand. She looked at him and was taken aback by the emptiness in his eyes. As he looked at her, he said, "Lou, I love you so much ... I need to take care of Katy." He touched her one more time then headed toward the barn, leading Katy into the shadows.

Lou looked after him debating whether she should follow him when she heard a wagon approaching. Noticing it was Buck, she waited for him to enter the yard.

"Lou, is Kid here?" he asked, before she could get a word out. He jumped off the wagon, looking around for any sign to indicate Kid had come back to his home.

"Yeah, he just went into the barn," she told him, sensing trouble. "Buck, what's going on? Did something happen in town? I've never seen the Kid so reserved before. It was like he wasn't even here." She wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered, thinking of the look that was on Kid's face.

"Lou, I don't know what's wrong with him but it has to do with this man he saw in town. One minute he was admiring a horse at the livery, the next he was backing away, almost panicking," Buck related. "I've never seen him act that way before."

"Did you find out who the man was?" she asked.

"All he told me was his name, Jackson Louis. He said Kid would have to tell me the rest." Buck and Lou looked at each other then at the barn. What was going on to upend the most stable person they knew in their lives?

Chapter 8

Lou gave up trying to button Kid's new shirt and climbed into bed. Ever since the night of his birthday, she'd taken to wearing the shirt instead of her nightgown. She knew she would outgrow it soon enough so she wanted to wear it while she could. But tonight, she didn't want to wear it because Kid's favorite thing to do was take it off, no, tonight she needed it close to her body because the owner of the shirt was not in the bed with her and she wondered if he would be.

After blowing out the light, she turned on her side trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in. The only one she liked was in the arms of her husband. Just as she'd closed her eyes, she heard the bedroom door open and, in the moonlight, could make out Kid entering the room. He must have thought she was asleep because he was moving very slow and quietly as he took off his boots and clothes.

"I'm awake, Kid, you can light the lamp if you want," she softly said.

Kid looked at the bed and saw her pushing herself up against the headboard, placing a pillow behind her back for support. He smiled faintly at her then sat on his side of the bed, facing her. He felt guilty that he'd spent the whole afternoon in the barn by himself and only saw Lou and Katie when he'd come in to eat, not that he actually ate anything. "I'm sorry I was such bad company at dinner, there are just some things I need to work out."

Lou placed her hand over his and told him, "Kid, you can tell me whatever is bothering you, I would never judge you or hold anything against you." She paused and decided to take a chance on guessing that his problem had to do with his past. "I know how hard it can be to talk about something that happened so long ago that you buried it away, hoping it would never find it's way to the surface." She'd felt that way with what Wicks had done to her as a young girl and it took a lot of courage to face those fears and reveal what had happened to Kid. It was the most important conversation she'd ever had with him because it allowed her the opportunity to put it behind her and get on with her life.

"Lou, I appreciate your concern but remember how you needed to tell me what happened at your own pace, when you were ready?" He waited for her to nod then continued, "Well, I'm asking the same thing. I can't even say in my mind what is going on so there is no way I could possibly say it out loud right now. Please try to understand."

Lou's heart melted as she saw the sadness in Kid's usually bright blue eyes. In response, she held her arms out to him. He fell into her waiting arms, grateful they were there for him. Usually he was the one to do the comforting, the holding, but tonight, he let Lou take care of him. As they snuggled down into the covers, he protectively laid his hand on her enlarged belly and closed his eyes, trying to prepare himself of the nightmares that he was afraid were ahead of him.


Kid rode Lightning hard, enjoying the feel of the wind in his face. Since Lou couldn't ride because of the baby, Kid had taken to exercising her horse whenever he had the chance. Lately it was getting harder to find the time but he'd made a point of doing it the past week. He needed to do it, needed to be alone. He found himself doing his usual routine of running the ranch but as he did it, his mind was elsewhere. Sometimes he wound up doing things over again because he couldn't recall doing them the first time.

Toward the middle of the day, Kid would tell Buck and Lou that he was going for a ride and just take off without any further explanation. Each day he was gone longer than the last. He knew his best friend and his wife were worried about him but he still couldn't bring himself to say anything to them. When he closed his eyes at night, that man was there, but it wasn't the image he'd seen in town, it was the man who'd hurt him so many times that he thought the pain would never go away. Kid had made a promise to himself that he wouldn't spend his life hating that man and he thought he'd kept that promise but now he had to admit he still did hate him, he always had and was sure he always would. He shook his head at the fact that he couldn't even refer to him as who he really was.

Kid was proud that he'd been able to put the memories aside and not feel like he had to reveal what had happened in order for people to know who he really was. That's what he kept beating himself up about - the thought that no one would judge him if they knew. But it wasn't that easy. He remembered how much more he admired Lou after he'd found out what she'd gone through before the Express at the hands of Wicks and when he'd been told what she did to protect his child, he was so amazed at the strength she possessed. He felt like he didn't have that strength, that if he started talking about it, it might take control of who he was and turn him into someone he didn't want to be.

He pulled Lightning to a walk as he approached the rise in the road that led to the ranch. He wanted so much to just go down there, walk up to Lou and start pouring his heart out. But he couldn't - he'd held it inside for so long, only admitting that he hadn't had it easy growing up and never actually saying the reason why. He didn't like attention drawn toward him and never wanted to appear weak. He knew he had faults, hell, he'd been reminded of them daily when he was riding for the Express and couldn't stop himself from wanting to protect Lou. The boys and, of course, Lou had tried, usually in vain, to make him see the errors of his ways. How could he tell them that part of the reason he had tried so hard to protect Lou was because of his mother? He knew first hand about the kind of voilence men were capable of doing to a woman. He had been too young and small to defend her against his father so he had had to sit back and watch the abuse. He also knew how a lady should be treated because his father had not treated his mother that way.

As Kid got off Lightning and led her into the barn, he thought about what Lou had told him before they went to sleep. It hadn't occurred to him last night but she was talking as if she knew his mood had something to do with his past. He paused as he was about to brush the horse and silently cursed himself for letting that man take him away from his family. The only time he'd been distant from the ones who cared about him was when he was confronted with his past. His brother Jed had made him have doubts about what he was doing with his life, and he didn't want to feel that way again.

Kid quickly fed and watered Lightning in her stall then went to the house. Tomorrow he would take a trip into town, there was someone he needed to speak to. He didn't want to talk to him but knew he needed to. It was the only way to make the nightmares stop.

Chapter 9

It had been almost a week since Jackson saw Kid at the livery. He spent each day walking around town, hoping he would see him again, all the while knowing he probably wouldn't. His son was scared of him, scared of the man he was - but he wasn't that man anymore. How he wanted the chance just to talk to him, let him know that he was different.

Jackson brushed his horse, after having returned from a ride. He couldn't help but feel a little proud that he'd taught his son something: he'd given him his knowledge and love of horses. His son had turned into a fine looking young man, he'd been scrawny as a child but years of hard work had obviously paid off. He was also shocked at how much the boy looked like Katherine Jean. He had her coloring but the eyes were all Jackson's. He'd forgotten that about him - how could he forget such a thing? He threw the brush down hard on the nearby table in the tack room, once again feeling remorse. How could he forget? It was easy, he told himself, because he hadn't really looked at his youngest boy for the last three years that he'd been in Virginia. He'd been too busy looking into a bottle, watching as the level went down.

He decided to take another walk around town. He'd done it so many times since he arrived that he was starting to know the exact routine of each shop keeper. He headed down a sidestreet and was met with a pleasant surprise. The woman and child that he'd helped out in town last week were sitting on the steps of the schoolhouse with the teacher.

He had been hoping to run into her again. She was a pleasant woman but he also knew he wanted to see her again because she was the first person he'd met in town. Being alone had never bothered him so much as it had this past week, with being so close to his son and yet so far away.

He continued along the sidewalk which ran adjacent to the schoolhouse. He paused wondering if he should call to get Louise's attention when he suddenly found himself staring down into two very bright blue eyes.

"Well, good day to you, Miss Katie," he said with a smile. "It's good to see you again but aren't you a little young to be going to school?" He was sure she wouldn't know what he was talking about but each time he spoke to her, he received a big grin from that pretty face so he wanted to keep talking.

"Jackson, it's good to see you again," Lou called out, walking toward him. They met at the fence to the school yard. Lou opened the gate and Jackson stepped inside. "Jackson, I'd like you to meet Mrs. Dunne. Rachel, this is the man who helped Katie and me out the other day."

Jackson took off his hat and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Dunne."

"The pleasure is all mine, Mr.?" Rachel paused, her hand automatically straightening any flyaway hairs. He was very attractive, she had to admit. He was older but it wasn't often that she saw a gentleman who made her worry about her appearance.

"Louis, Jackson Louis."

Lou looked at him, questioningly. That was the name Buck had mentioned, the name of the man who was the cause of Kid acting so strange. It had never even occurred to her that she hadn't gotten his last name when they first met. She was usually so cautious about meeting new people, especially men, but something about Jackson's personality had seemed so familiar to her. Even though she had only talked to him for a few minutes, it had felt like she'd done it before. Debating whether she should say anything or not, especially since she didn't know what the connection was, she decided to wait for Kid to fill her in.

Jackson, meanwhile, was talking to Rachel and somehow had wound up with Katie in his arms. Holding her made him think back eighteen years to when Kid was about two years old and Jackson had insisted on carrying him around as much as he could. His youngest son was a tagalong, always wanting to know what his father was up to and trying to be just like him. That's when he had spent countless hours talking to Kid about horses; the two of them would lean by the corral fence and even though their horse was old and slow, Jackson would tell the boy everything he knew. For some reason, Katie's personality around people made him think of his son. When Kid was little, his favorite thing had been to go visiting - it never mattered where they went, as long as there were people to see. Jackson looked away from Katie as he recalled how quickly that had changed in the Kid; he'd made his son withdraw into himself and become shy, and it was because he couldn't control his dependency on the bottle nor on his right hand, which he raised in anger more times than he wanted to think about.

Lou noticed the far away look in his eyes and was about to ask if everything was alright but was interrupted before she could get a word out.

"TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF MY DAUGHTER!!"

All eyes turned toward the direction of the street. Kid was walking, almost running, in his hurry to get to the school yard. He had dropped Lou and Katie off at the schoolhouse to visit with Rachel during recess, while he'd gone to the hotel, looking for Jackson. Not having any luck, he'd decided to walk around town in hopes of finding him. He had stopped dead in his tracks upon seeing his wife and daughter in the company of the man who had harmed him all those years ago. And now that man was holding his child. Flashbacks of nights in that small house in Virginia came back to him; Jackson had always started his tyrades with talk but that quickly changed to violence.

Jackson saw his son approaching him, his jaw set in anger, and trying to catch the meaning of what he'd said, asked unbelievingly, "Your daughter?" He looked toward the little girl in his arms as if he was seeing her for the first time.

Kid was in front of him by then and reaching for Katie, warned, "That's right. She's my child and I'd do anything to keep her out of harms way."

"Dada," Katie squealed and put out her arms. Kid took her, held her close to his chest, then put her down next to Lou.

Flustered, Jackson said, "I'm sorry, son, I didn't mean anything ... "

"Don't you ever use that word when referring to me - you got no right!" Kid interrupted, loudly. He was standing face to face with Jackson, his jaw as tense as it could get.

Lou stood by and watched as the man she loved was transformed into someone she didn't know. Kid was always the one who wanted to talk first and shoot second but here he was accusing this man of possibly wanting to harm Katie. It didn't make sense, true she didn't really know Jackson but he'd shown them nothing but kindness. She had to do something about Kid before he said anything else he would regret.

She steered Katie toward Rachel then took Kid's arm and pulled him back away from Jackson. "Kid, that is enough!" she ordered. "What's gotten into you? He wasn't gonna hurt Katie; Jackson is the man I was telling you about who helped us out in town the other day." She kept looking at him, hoping he would meet her eyes but he kept staring at Jackson.

"Believe me, Lou, out of all the people in this world, I'm the one who most definitely knows his name. I should have made the connection when you told me it the other day. I mean, how many Jacksons could there possibly be? I only know of two and that's too many as it is." Kid spoke with hatred in his voice, wanting it to be heard.

"Why?" Lou asked. "How do you know him? I didn't know his last name before but this is the man Buck mentioned you saw in town the other day." She moved until she was in front of Kid, making it hard for him not to look at her. "Kid, please, tell me what is going on."

Kid shifted his eyes to look at his wife. He put his hands on her shoulders and told her, "Lou, all I've ever asked is that you trust my judgement. I need you to do something for me, I need you to take Katie, go to the way station and wait for me there." As Lou opened her mouth to protest, he continued, "And I don't want you or Katie near this man again. Lou, I promise I will explain everything in time ... but that time is not now." He saw the hurt in her eyes at being told what to do, he hadn't done that to her since they broke up when they were riding for the Express. But he would do anything to protect his family, even making Lou mad. He took his eyes off her and directed them at Jackson once more.

Not wanting to carry this on in public anymore, as Lou looked around in embarrassment and started to notice people coming into the street to see what was going on, she decided to do as Kid wanted. "Jackson, I'm sorry," she told him softly, knowing Kid would be mad but she wanted to be sure he knew none of this was her doing."

"It's fine, Louise," Jackson assured her, not taking his eyes off his son.

"I'll see you at your house, Rachel. Come on, Katie." Lou took her daughter's hand and headed toward the way station. She paused when she saw Teaspoon approaching but then continued, feeling relieved that he would make sure things didn't get out of control.

"Well, I better get these children back into the schoolhouse," Rachel said, to no one in particular, since the two men closest to her hadn't taken their eyes off each other. She spotted Teaspoon, nodded to him, then turned around. She clapped her hands and called out to gather her students then steered them toward the stairs. One last look back and she was through the door, knowing it would be a while before she found out what that was all about.


Chapter 10

Teaspoon slowly walked to the two men facing each other, one he had seen around town the past week but really didn't know him, and the other was like a son to him. He nodded to Jackson, touched his hat, and said, "Sir." He then turned toward Kid, who hadn't acknowledged his presence yet and asked, "You alright, Kid?"

"I'm fine, Teaspoon," Kid answered coldly, still not looking at him.

"Well, now, I ain't so sure about that," Teaspoon began, finally catching Kid's attention. "Kid, I plumb heard you all the way to my office, half the town did in fact. Son, you're wound tighter than a spool of fishin' line, what's troubling you?" He put his hand on Kid's shoulder, out of concern.

Kid shrugged the hand away. "I appreciate the concern, Teaspoon, but I'm fine. I know exactly what I'm doing."

"I can't be sure of that, Kid, and until I can be, I think you need to be elsewhere for a while," Teaspoon instructed him.

Kid turned to him and asked, "What are you saying, Teaspoon? No offense, but you have no idea what's going on here."

"Apparently, neither does your wife," Teaspoon stated, starting to get firm with the Kid. "She's confused and worried and that's not good for someone in her condition. Now I'm not suggesting, I'm telling you, either go for a ride and clear your head or go to the way station and spend some time with your wife and daughter. Whatever you choose, I want to see the Kid I know when you come back into town. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly," Kid muttered, starting to feel guilty for making Teaspoon talk to him that way, so he was not able to meet his eyes. He gave Jackson one last look then walked in the direction Lou had taken.

Teaspoon waited until he was out of sight then turned to Jackson, who was also following Kid's movements. "Now, perhaps we could discuss this further over a cup of coffee in my office, Mr.?"

"Louis, Marshal, Jackson Louis," Jackson answered. He took off his hat and ran his hand through his hair, feeling like he'd been beat up in a fight.

Teaspoon drew in his breath upon hearing the man's name. His mind went back to Kid and Lou's wedding, which he had presided over, to the point in the ceremony where he had to mention the groom's name. As everyone had waited with bated breath, Kid whispered his birth name to Teaspoon. The older man clearly saw the pain it caused the Kid to even mention the name. He opened his mouth but, he couldn't reveal it, feeling it was something the Kid, and not he, should say if he wanted it known. Now, hearing the name again, it all started to make sense: the strange behavior Buck had mentioned, and now his yelling in town.

"Ah, I see. How about that cup of coffee, Mr. Louis?"

Jackson turned from the direction Kid had left in and looked at Teaspoon, noticing the recognition on his face. "I take it he's told you his name."

"He kinda had to during his wedding, seeing as how I was performing the ceremony, but I couldn't tell. It wasn't for me to say what he wanted to remain in his past," Teaspoon explained as he led Jackson to his office. "So, as you can see, he hasn't told anyone else, not even his wife." He headed toward the coffee pot on the stove.

Jackson followed Teaspoon into the marshal's office and took the seat offered to him. "His wife ... I can't believe when I was talking to Louise the other day that I was talking to my son's wife. And that little girl, Katie, she has his eyes ... my eyes."

"Yes, she does," Teaspoon agreed as he set a cup in front of him and took his seat at his desk. "That little girl is loved by more people than you can imagine. Being her grandpa, well, her Grandma Rachel and I tend to spoil her rotten." He paused as he realized he was saying this to Katie's true paternal grandfather.

Jackson looked at him in confusion. "Are you Louise's father?"

Teaspoon shook his head and explained, "No, it's a long story but she and Kid worked for me when I ran a Pony Express way station. All of us there sort of formed our own family so that's why I feel like I'm Katie's grandpa, since Kid and Lou are like my own kids."

Jackson looked away, thinking back to what had just occurred out on the street. Kid had obeyed Teaspoon the way a son would obey his father. How he wished he was in the marshal's shoes. "That's probably why they're such decent people. Kid sure didn't get that from me. I have been looking for him and his brother for the past five years - I figured it would mostly be in vain. I can't believe I actually found him, my son, and that would mean Louise is my daughter-in-law and Katie is my granddaughter. I have a grandchild."

"And another one on the way," Teaspoon reminded him. "They're hoping it's a boy."

"Not to carry on the family name, I'm sure," Jackson muttered, feeling dejected.

Teaspoon looked at him and scratching his chin, asked, "Can you really blame him? Look, Mr. Louis, sir, it's not my place to cast judgement on anyone but the Kid is the most levelheaded young man I know. He takes things seriously and only holds a grudge when he feels it's absolutely necessary. Now I don't know what happened back in Virginia, that's between you and him, and maybe his wife, now that he has one, but my opinion is that Kid thinks he's justified in how he feels toward you. And I tend to trust his judgement."

Jackson looked at Teaspoon, taking in the information the marshal told him about the type of person his son was. He couldn't help but feel left out - he was the one who should know this about the Kid, but he didn't. He'd been given the opportunity to mold a young person into someone special and he'd abandoned the chance. Maybe his son was better off because he hadn't been in his life, he couldn't be sure. He just knew he still had to make Kid understand all the reasons why he had left.

"You're right," Jackson told Teaspoon, as he got up and walked to the window. He didn't look at the marshal as he continued, "He has every cause in the world to hate me or not trust me. I did that to him - what kind of father does that to his own son?" He turned back to Teaspoon. "You seem to know so much about him and I don't know anything. Now that I think about it, I never did. I'm sure I don't deserve it but all I want is the chance to talk to him, let him know I'm not the same person I used to be. He probably wouldn't believe me anyway but I've got to try."

Teaspoon walked over to Jackson and said, "Maybe he doesn't want you to try. He's had a hell of a life, that much I do know from what he's told us. He's seen, done, and been through things a young person his age shouldn't have but he's strong because of it." He stepped closer to Kid's father, his hands on his hips, and warned, "He's finally found happiness. Don't disrupt what he's got, he and Louise have been through too much in their young lives. I love them like my own and I don't want to see them hurt."

Jackson stepped back in shock. "If you think I'd lay a fing ..."

"There are all kinds of hurt," Teaspoon interrupted. "And I wasn't implying physical." The two men looked at each other - Jackson taking in what Teaspoon said, while Teaspoon wanted to be sure his meaning came across loud and clear. The marshal held up his hand as a sign of peace. "All I'm tryin' to say is that I can understand you wanting to explain things to him but just don't push him into anything he doesn't want to be a part of. He's had to make that decision once when his brother was in town and it had torn him up inside."

Jackson looked at Teaspoon, anxiously, at the mention of his other son. "Marshal, you mentioned Kid's brother. Do you know where Jed is? I want to try to explain things to both my boys."

Teaspoon, sighed, hating to be the one to tell a man about the death of his son. "I'd say it's been close to three years since Kid and Jed found each other in Sweetwater, where the Express station was originally run out of. Jed was in on a plan to steal a gold shipment for the South; it backfired and he killed innocent men. Kid tried to stop him but Jed was determined. In the end, he was killed. He died in Kid's arms."

Jackson slumped into the chair near the office door and sat, staring at the floor. "He's dead? My oldest son is dead? He, um, he always used to get into trouble when he was younger but I always hoped he would straighten himself out." He paused then muttered, almost to himself, "But how could he? He needed someone to set him on the right course and that someone should have been me. I failed them both." He slowly stood and walked toward the door.

Teaspoon didn't like the way Jackson looked, so out of concern, he asked, "Are you going to be alright, Mr. Louis. I know you must be in shock. You don't have to leave yet if you're not ready."

Jackson looked at him and shook his head. "No, I'll be fine," he told him. "I just have to get used to the fact that he's ... that he's gone. Thank you for telling me and for the advice about Kid, Marshal. And I don't want to see him hurt, either. He's been hurt more than enough," he whispered sadly. He tipped his hat then walked out the door and slowly headed down the sidewalk.

Teaspoon watched from the doorway. He was afraid there were some dark days ahead for the Kid and vowed to help him anyway he could, afterall, that's what a father does for a son.


Chapter 11

Lou walked out onto the front porch of their ranch house and wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders. She had just put Katie to bed and now wanted to find her missing husband. He wasn't really missing, it just felt that way, since he had been with her all day but in body only. His mind had been back in town, thinking about Jackson Louis, more than likely. She was still upset that he had ordered her to leave and that it was done in front of people; he knew how she felt about being told what to do yet he had still done it. She'd felt like this past afternoon was one of the longest she'd gone through in quite a while. Kid had joined her at the way station shortly after she'd gotten there with Katie but except for a few words in greeting, he'd kept to himself.


They had left for home before Rachel got out of school and except for coming in to eat dinner, she hadn't seen Kid the rest of the afternoon and evening. Lou knew he was spending all his time in the barn so she headed across the yard to try to find out what was going on and what her husband's connection to Jackson was.

The door to the barn was open and a light was lit inside so Lou paused in the doorway, trying to spot where Kid was. She should have known he'd be in Katy's stall, brushing her down. She just stood and watched his movements, they were slow and very carefree. He only acted that way when his mind was on something else, something big and important.

"Kid," she said softly.

He turned in her direction in surprise. "Lou, hey, I didn't hear you come out. Katie in bed?" he asked. She expected him to put the brush down but was surprised when he went back to stroking it on the horse.

"Yeah, I just put her to sleep," she answered as she walked toward the stall. "I was starting to get worried about you. I know you like to brush Katy but to do it the whole afternoon?" She chuckled in an attempt to make light of the situation but frowned when her husband didn't catch on to what she was doing.

"I've just had a lot on my mind is all and I didn't think I'd be good company," Kid told her, without turning around.

When he still didn't put the brush down, she started to get annoyed and wanted him to know it. "Damn it, Kid! Will you just put the brush down and for once look at me and not your damn horse!"

Anticipating her anger, Kid turned around and walked toward her. He understood where the anger was coming from, he knew he deserved it but he just didn't want to face it right now. "Lou, I told you I've had a lot on my mind and I just needed to be alone to sort through some things," he told her as calmly as he could, without raising his own voice. "I don't have much to say right now, anyway," he muttered as he started to head back to Katy.

"You don't have much to say?" Lou asked incredulously, as she followed him. "How about an explanation for your behavior in town this afternoon?" She stood with her hands on her hips waiting to see what he'd come up with this time to push the subject aside.

Without turning around, Kid warned her through clenched teeth, "Not now, Lou."

She knew she was provoking him but at this moment, she didn't care. At least he was talking to her, even if she knew he was annoyed with her. "Why not 'not now'? You've been givin' me the silent treatment ever since we left the schoolhouse. You haven't even talked to your daughter." She didn't like talking to his back but, damn him, try as she might, he just wouldn't turn around.

Kid closed his eyes at the guilt she was making him feel. She was right, he was shutting them out but he couldn't stop himself from doing it. This had nothing to do with her and he wanted to keep it that way. He just needed a little more time to get the situation taken care of. "I don't mean to brush Katie aside," he told her.

"Just me right? Some things never change, do they?" she asked with a chuckle at the irony of it all. "I actually thought that I was the most important woman in your life, that you could trust me with anything you had to say. But I see I'm still second fiddle and always will be." She hoped her voice came across as nasty because that's how she felt right now. She was glad he'd turned around so she could make her point. She glanced at Katy then Kid and started to walk away.

Kid moved out of the stall and grabbed her arm before she'd gotten two steps away. "Lou, where is this coming from? I told you in town that I will tell you when the time is right but now is not the time."

"When will it be the time, Kid?" she asked as she pulled her arm away from his grasp.

"I don't know," he admitted then quickly changed his tone, realizing she was getting to him. If this kept up, he'd be confessing before he knew it and that was the last thing he wanted to do. "Look, I told you this afternoon and the other night that I needed time." He turned away from her.

"And I gave it to you," Lou told him, grabbing his arm before he could get away from her once again. "I've tried to give you space and not pester you into talking but the silence is killing me. And if you keep on this way, it's gonna start killing you too. I haven't had my husband by my side for over a week now. Whatever is going on with Jackson Louis is consuming you, it's like I don't even know who you are. Please, Kid, don't shut me out." Her voice changed from anger to almost pleading. He seemed so lost to her and it was upsetting that he wouldn't come to her with his problem.

"I'm not trying to shut you out, Lou, believe me. I just feel like things are caving in on me right now," he said as he took her hand off his arm. He held it for a moment then let it drop. "When I'm ready to talk, I will find you. Until then, I would just like the subject left alone. Can we please go to bed now?"

Lou thought for one brief moment that he was going to confide in her but realized it must have been desperation on her part. She couldn't help feeling angry again, he was shutting her out and it hurt. She looked away and didn't say anything.

He saw that she was still mad but there was nothing he could do about it. He had to try to make the problem go away on his own before he involved her in it. He walked slowly toward the barn door then stopped when he didn't hear her following. He turned around and asked, "Are you coming?"

"That depends on who I'll be going to bed with," she said, with an edge to her voice. "Is it the man I fell in love with and married or the stranger I saw in town?" She walked to meet him outside the barn.

He took the lantern off the hook by the door then closed the barn up for the night. "We're one and the same, Lou. Sorry if that disappoints you."

"The only thing that disappoints me is you not trusting me enough to confide in me. I made that mistake once with you and I'll regret it for the rest of my life." She paused to let him remember how he felt upon receiving the news that she was being held and raped by Wicks. "We can't change the mistakes we make, we can only learn from them. I learned to never take your love and trust for granted and I haven't since. Can you say the same?" Lou looked into his eyes until he looked away out of guilt. She then left him out in the yard and walked to the house alone.

He wanted to answer, to defend himself, but he knew it would come out all wrong and keep the fight going. The two of them were so good about going at it that they could keep arguing for days and Kid knew how it would turn out - with Lou on top. And, unfortunately, Kid thought, it had nothing to do with being in bed.

Kid stood there for several moments. She was right, he told himself. He had been so upset when he had realized that if she had only trusted his love when they were first going out then she would have told him about Wicks. "I do trust you, Lou," he whispered, looking toward the house. "I do ... and I will tell you, I promise. You just have to give me some time."

Tomorrow he would try to do something about getting his problem to go away. He was just afraid of how he would feel if he couldn't be convincing enough.


Chapter 12

Kid slipped out of the house as quietly as he could and headed to the barn. He felt bad that he hadn't awoken Lou before leaving but at least he left her a note saying where he was headed. Besides, what with chasing after Katie all day and carrying this new bundle, she could use the sleep.

As he saddled Katy, he couldn't help but think of the argument they'd had the night before. Although it hadn't turned into a shouting match, harsh words were said and for that, he felt bad. Maybe this trip to town would help him make the right decision and tell Lou what was going on. He didn't want another night like last night. When he'd gone into the house after their fight, he'd found Lou already in bed. And he'd found something else, too: the shirt he'd gotten as a birthday gift, the one Lou had taken over as her own for sleeping, was on the chair in the corner of the room, instead of on her. Even though he hadn't planned on disrobing her that night, he felt dismayed at the thought that he'd hurt her enough that she didn't want to feel that close to him. He didn't want to feel that way for too many nights, it would drive him crazy.

He rode toward town, enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the land. Town was just as quiet, since the shops and businesses were not yet being readied for the day. He pulled Katy up to the hitching post outside the Rock Creek hotel, wrapped the reins around the post and entered the lobby.

Otis, who had always seemed to spend all his time behind the front desk, looked up from the book he was reading. "Hey, Kid, morning."

"Hey, Otis, how ya doing?" Kid asked as he went and leaned on the counter. He'd known Otis since the riders had taken over the Express station in town and even though the man was about his age, Kid had always found it hard to talk to the clerk.

"Good, real good," Otis answered, nodding his head repeatedly then stopping to readjust his glasses as they slid down his nose. "What brings you to town this early, Kid?" Darn glasses, he thought, frustrated, maybe if he had more hair he could have used that to help keep his spectacles behind his ears.

"Well, I wanted to talk to one of your guests here at the hotel," Kid replied. "Would you be able to tell me what room Jackson Louis is staying in?" He had a feeling word must have traveled around town about his outbursts toward Jackson so he was trying to be as pleasant sounding as he could. If Otis had heard about yesterday then Kid didn't want him to think he would be breaking up the hotel in anger as he talked to the man.

"Uh, sure, Kid, I suppose I could let you know what room he's staying in. You sure you wouldn't rather meet him over to the restaurant - he eats there at eight o'clock exactly every morning?" Otis had heard about the incident out by the schoolhouse and he did like his job at the hotel very much and didn't want the place destroyed while he was on duty. He also knew the Kid's reputation so he decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "Ah, you're here already and it's nowhere near eight o'clock so you may as well try his room. He's in room six, it's on the second floor."

"Thanks a lot, Otis, I appreciate it," Kid said and headed up the stairs.

Otis watched him until he was out of sight, pushed his glasses up his nose again, and closed his book. He wanted to just sit and listen in case any trouble came out of room six.

Kid walked quietly down the hall and paused outside the room Otis had mentioned. Yesterday had been hard enough with facing the one person he hated, he knew this wouldn't be any easier - this time it wasn't accusing him, it was requesting something of him and more than likely being forced to listen to excuses.

He rapped on the door and was surprised it opened as quickly as it did. Jackson stood before him, his hands finishing the process of tucking his shirt into his pants, and with a very obvious surprised look on his face.

"Kid, I wasn't expecting to see you," Jackson said. "I mean, it's good to see you. Would you like to come in?" He held the door open wider and motioned toward the table and chairs set near the window.

Kid glanced in the room, which was not much bigger than the main room of the house he grew up in. He swallowed hard as he recalled the last time he'd been in a room alone with the man before him. What injury did he end up with that time? Was it a dislocated shoulder or a twisted ankle? Try as he might, he just couldn't remember, since his body had partaken of more injuries than he cared to dwell on.

After he silently reminded himself that he was a grown man and not a scared child, Kid slowly walked into the room. Without a glance in Jackson's direction, he headed toward the indicated table but did not take a seat. He turned as he heard Jackson walk toward him.

Jackson looked at the young man before him, he hadn't had a good view of him yesterday since there were other people present and he hadn't wanted to make anyone think he might do as the Kid had indicated. So, he had tried not to show too much interest in his son and chose to look away when Kid was going at him. He now saw what a fine man he'd grown into and none of it was because of him, he thought sadly, except for the blue eyes.

"I'm glad you came," Jackson began. "I was hoping for the chance to tal ..."

"I came here to ask a favor," Kid interrupted. "Would you please leave this town and forget you ever saw me or heard of me?" He spoke in a hurry and with an edge to his voice, there wasn't any way he could bring himself to be social and make polite conversation. He wanted one thing from Jackson and that was why he was here.

Jackson had expected something along these lines but he'd been searching for so long to find his son and now that he had, there was no way he could just abandon the chance to try to make things up to him. "I'm sorry, Kid, but I can't do that."

Kid nodded his head, his hands on his hips, knowing that would be the answer he would get. He looked Jackson directly in the eyes, eyes that were the mirror image of his own, and replied, "Why? What is it? Once family, forever family? Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you but it doesn't happen that way. I've been on my own long enough to have realized that just because you're born to a man and woman and given their name, doesn't mean they're your family. I found out every man has a right to choose who he wants in his family. Well, I found mine, here, thanks to the Pony Express - I have the best brothers a man could ever ask for; a woman who's half mother, half older sister; an incredible wife and child I adore; and a man who has been more of a father to me than you ever were." He spoke the last phrase with insult - he wanted Jackson to feel guilty about abandoning his family.

Jackson sighed and moved to sit at the table. "I know I deserved that. Son," he started to say then cut himself off. "I mean, Kid, all I'm asking for is the chance to explain why."

Kid turned toward the table, which was next to him, to look at Jackson and said, "I think it's a little late for explanations. I heard enough of them each time you forced your way back into the house. You know, I actually lost count how many times you lied to mama and got her to believe you were through with the bottle and would start working the farm again." He laughed at the reality of the situation. "You were such a smooth talker, you could almost talk anyone into anything. I may have been young but I knew better. I knew from the first time you hit me that we were better off without you. You never did anything to help me back then, why would I think you'd do it now? I can't make you leave but I can make you stay away from me, my wife, and my daughter." He leaned on the table and gave Jackson a cold stare.

Jackson looked into his son's cold eyes, wishing there was something there besides hate. "I don't blame you for hating me ..." he began.

"Don't you dare try to tell me how I feel," Kid replied. "I didn't think it was worth wasting my life hating you. From the moment you walked out, I never gave you another thought. And if you've been around this town for a while, I'm sure you found out I only go by one name, the Kid, and that I even took Lou's last name when I married her. I wanted no connection to you, nothing that would brand me as the type of man I could never become." He turned to walk toward the door but stopped at Jackson's words.

"Do you remember who gave you the name 'the Kid'?"

"Unfortunately, I do," Kid answered without turning around. "Answer me one question - where were you that you found out about me?"

Jackson studied Kid's back for a moment. Maybe this was a way in, at least it was a start, to have his son curious about where he has been. He stood and not wanting to invade the wall Kid seemed to have built around himself, he put his hands in his pocket and slowly answered, "I, um, I work a ranch on the other side of the territory and my foreman told me about two former Pony Express riders opening a horse ranch, which might give us some competition. He mentioned your names and when I heard him say 'Kid', I felt like it was the answer to my prayers. I'd been searching for you and your brother for so long, I figured it had to be you - how many men could possibly have a name like that? So, I had to come here to find out."

He was so anxious to start telling Kid something, anything about what he's been up to that he didn't notice Kid stiffen when he started talking about his foreman. Now, Kid slowly turned to face Jackson, a look of disbelief on his face. Jackson looked at him in confusion.

"Did you say 'your foreman'? Are you telling me you own a horse ranch?" Kid asked in a quiet voice. He'd never wanted to picture his father anywhere but if he had, that would have been the last place he'd have expected the drunk, violent person he remembered to have wound up. He waited with bated breath.

Jackson realized what the Kid was getting at but there was no way he was about to lie to him now, too much was at stake. He assumed his son wouldn't like what he had to say but he said it anyway. "Yeah, I ended up working at a ranch as foreman and when the owner died, he left it to me. So, it's my ranch now, has been for almost five years." He stood, waiting for the blow that he figured was coming his way. He didn't have to wait long but it didn't come in the form he expected.

Kid started to laugh. He looked up at the ceiling, shook his head, and laughed. "That is just perfect," he stated, still chuckling. The whole situation was so absurd, he couldn't help but find humor in it. "You run a horse ranch that probably makes more money than you know what to do with and for how many years did you struggle to get a simple farm going without success?" He spoke calmy, not once raising his voice.

Jackson watched, feeling guilty, as Kid moved about the room. "You know, it's incredible, you leave us beaten and broken, with no money, land that won't produce, and couldn't be bothered to give a damn what might happen to us. But you found the time to, I assume, clean yourself up and get a real job. What were we doing, holding you back?" He stopped right in front of Jackson.

"No!" Jackson shouted in defense then lowered his voice, not wanting to create a scene. "Things in my life didn't go as I had planned and once I started punishing those around me, I couldn't stop. It won't do any good to say I had a problem, there's no excuse for what I did." He hung his head in shame. He thought he would be able to explain the reasons he did what he had done but now he realized it wouldn't help any.

"You're damn right there was no excuse," Kid snapped at him. "We were your family and you hurt us like no man should hurt another living being. I may not remember everything you did but I do remember enough. And, you know, it's funny, the one thing you taught me was how to be the proper husband and father - since I learned from example what not to do."

With that said, Kid turned and walked toward the door. He suddenly stopped as he remembered something Jackson had said. He turned enough so he could see him out of the corner of his eye and said, "You mentioned my brother - well, you can stop looking for him, seeing as how he's dead." He spoke slow and decisively, wanting to upset Jackson but instead being surprised.

"I know," Jackson told him. "Marshal Hunter explained to me what had happened - I had asked if he knew where Jed was," he explained as he saw the questioning look in his son's face. "I'm sorry you had to go through that, I'm sorry you've lost so much."

Kid stared at Jackson. This being sorry business was new to him and he was surprised to find that he thought the man actually sounded genuine. He shook his head to clear the idea and headed toward the door once more, only to be stopped again.

"Kid, wait, please," Jackson called out, almost pleading. He could see some emotions washing across his son's face and they weren't all hate. "I know I've got no right to ask anything of you but I'm going to anyway. Please, can you give me the opportunity to explain things to you? You don't have to believe me, you don't even have to answer me, but can you just listen? Then I promise I'll leave Rock Creek and if you never want me to return again, then I won't." He didn't like making a promise like that but he needed Kid to trust him, he needed it so bad. He anxiously waited for a response.

Kid didn't turn around, afraid to look in the eyes that were so much like his own. He suddenly felt like he was being pulled in two directions: one part of him was curious as to what kind of excuse Jackson could give for doing what he had and another part of him was starting to shake. He'd been promised so many things as a small boy, only to have the words thrown back into his face as he was thrown against a wall. Some things you just couldn't forget and as much as he might want to, images of beatings and verbal abuse kept popping into his mind, telling him to get out while he still could.

"I have to think about it," Kid whispered. "I'll let you know." With that, he didn't turn back but bolted for the door, not bothering to close it behind him, and quickly made his way toward the stairs. His breath was tightening within him as he realized how badly he needed to get out of town and go home. He had to talk about it, he had to tell what had happened. He realized it finally and found himself in such a rush to get home.

Jackson had followed Kid to the door and had stood, watching as his son quickly made his way down the hall and out of sight. He wanted so bad to see Kid again, and wanted an opportunity to see his daughter-in-law and granddaughter. He sighed as he realized all his wishes lay in the hands of one of the people he used to abuse. He slowly closed the door, leaning against it for support, fearful this could be the last time he saw his youngest son.


Chapter 13

Lou didn't know who she should be worried about more: Kid, Jackson or all of Rock Creek. She'd found Kid's note on the kitchen table when she came down to make breakfast for herself, her daughter and her husband, whom, she had assumed was just outside handling the morning chores around the barn.

She knew he'd come to bed last night but didn't know how much earlier he'd woken up before her. She had instantly fallen asleep when she'd gotten into bed, staying to her side and facing away from his side, and hadn't heard Kid join her. But she found out he was there when she'd woken sometime in the early morning hours to find that the two of them had navigated toward each other. Even though she was still mad at him, it had felt so good to be ensconced in his arms that she hadn't tried to break free and had just fallen back asleep. She wasn't surprised they had slept that way, it was almost a reflex that they found each other. No compass was needed to locate the other one, she reflected.

She started to worry from the moment she'd found the note. What if Kid carried his attitude from last night into town with him? The citizens of Rock Creek would be in for a rude awakening, that she was sure of. But, until she heard otherwise, she would give him the benefit of the doubt.

In the past whenever she'd been worried or upset, she used to take out her feelings on Lightning's coat. But since she was with child and was careful to stay away from the animals, she found that housework was a good replacement. Whether it was beating a rug which was hung over the clothesline or scrubbing a floor, there was nothing like hard physical labor to take your mind off things.

Buck had shown up early to work on breaking in the new stock so Lou had offered to feed him and when he'd mentioned taking Katie outside with him while he waited for Kid to return, she had gladly handed her daughter over to the little girl's favorite uncle. Once she was alone, she set about cleaning the windows of the kitchen so that's where her mind was at the moment, trying to erase all the cobwebs from the corners and smears off the glass.

And that's how Kid found her - sleeves rolled up, hands and arms immersed in soap suds and a quiet hum coming from her lips. He stood in the doorway of the kitchen, watching the woman he loved working out her frustrations and worry, completely oblivious to his presence. He looked down at his feet, feeling guilty for not trying to stop the argument last night. He didn't know what had come over him, no, that was wrong, he did know. And, after being in town this morning, he now knew he couldn't keep things to himself. There were too many feelings to sort through and he couldn't, no, didn't want to do it alone anymore.

"Lou," Kid called out softly, not wanting to startle her.

She quickly turned around at the mention of her name and seemed startled to see him standing there. "Kid," she said, surprised and also happy to see him there, in one piece. At least he hadn't been in a physical fight, she noted from his appearance.

"Hey," Kid greeted her, something the two of them had started when they were riding and they automatically kept up without realizing it.

"Hey," Lou answered. "I'm sorry, I didn't know you were there. Did you, um, get things taken care of in town?" she asked cautiously, indicating his note on the table. It was good he was there and that he had come to see her, not the other way around but she still didn't know if he was about to give her the runaround again or not.

"Yeah," he told her and took a few steps closer to her. When she didn't seem to mind, he took a few more until he was only a couple feet away from her then continued, "Lou, I don't know how to begin to tell you how sorry I am for the way I acted and treated you last night. You didn't deserve it ... but I did. And you were right, I have been avoiding all of you, all of my family, but I don't want to anymore." He paused as he saw the curious, almost hopeful look on her face.

While she fiddled with the scrub brush that was still in her hand, he found himself twisting the cord on his hat. "Lou, I saw Buck out front with Katie and asked if he could do me, do us, a big favor and watch her for awhile. I was kind of hopin' since you wouldn't have her to stumble over, well, maybe I could take my wife for a walk down by the pond. I seem to remember it being particularly breathtaking down there this time of day." He gave her a boyish grin and waited for her response. She's never refused an opportunity to go to the pond with him and he was hoping she wouldn't start now.

Lou blushed from the memories of the early morning skinny dips she and Kid used to take the spring and summer after they'd gotten married. They would let Katie sleep in her basket on the shore and they would enjoy their husband and wife alone time. Actually, they probably enjoyed it too much, she surmised, feeling sure that was the location this new bundle of joy had been conceived at. For her and Kid, though, it was more like repeating the past, since Katie had been conceived down by the swimming hole they used to frequent in Sweetwater.

Pleased that he was making such an effort, she said, "Thank you for the apology and I'm sorry, too. I never should have pushed you the way I did. And, yes, I would love to go for a walk with my husband." She smiled at him, as she quickly dried her hands. She allowed him to hold the back door open for her then followed him down the couple steps and across the side yard toward the pond.

Kid glanced over at her and when she caught his eye, he couldn't help but smile. He always felt like the luckiest man in the world that she had chosen him as the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. He reached out to take her hand, and his smile grew as she grabbed hold of his and held on tight.

They were at the pond before they knew it and suddenly, Kid started to feel nervous. It was one thing to tell yourself that you were going to start talking, or rather confessing, all your deep, dark secrets. It was another thing, though, to actually say it - he didn't know where to start but lucky for him, Lou helped him out there.


Chapter 14

Kid found himself walking away from the direction Lou had started to take around the lake. Instead, he sat down on an old log and rested his arms on his thighs as he looked out over the pond. How do I say this? How do I begin? he kept asking himself over and over again.

Lou had instantly picked up on the change in Kid's behavior as soon as the pond had come into view. He had slowly let his hand slip from her grasp and had walked a couple steps ahead of her, with his head hung down. She paused as she saw him take a seat on the old log and saw the ache in his face as he struggled with his thoughts and memories.

All images of the argument from the night before vanished as she saw the anguish on the face of the man she loved. She felt so sure he wanted to tell her what was going on but still seemed to be in conflict with something. "Kid," she said softly to get his attention. When he looked up, she walked toward him until she was only a couple feet in front of him, before trying to make him feel better.

"Don't you know you can tell me anything ... or not tell me? Kid, whatever you're going through, I want to help you through it, please. You've helped me so many times and I just want to do the same; I couldn't have gotten past my problems concerning Wicks without you. Now, I know this has something to do with your past." She paused when he gave her a questioning look. "It's kind of a safe assumption with us, I mean, anytime something was bothering us it usually had to do with a ghost from our past," she explained as she came even closer to him. "But you've never talked much about it, and believe me, of all people, I can understand about not wanting to talk about it, about wanting to keep it hidden. Only someone near and dear to me helped me realize you can only keep it hidden for so long before it starts eating away at you. Please let me help you before that happens." Lou sat down next to him and put her hand over his.

Kid looked down at her small hand laying on top of his and turning his over, gave her's a tender squeeze. "I wanna tell you, Lou, I really do. But it's something I never wanted to face for the rest of my life and I was beginning to think that enough time had gone by so maybe I wouldn't have to face it." He looked at her with sunken eyes. He leaned in as she touched his cheek then continued, "I just don't think I can say the word out loud - say who he is ... or was. I'm afraid of what's going to happen if I do say it." He looked away from her, feeling defeated by something he had no say in.

Lou watched Kid as he talked. He was actually scared of whatever his connection to Jackson is and doesn't know how to deal with it. In all the time she'd known him, he was the levelheaded one. He always knew right from wrong, tried to talk first instead of shoot, and always seemed so in control of any situation that came along. Sometimes he tried to be too in control and that's why she'd broke up with him, he'd even tried to control her. But he wasn't any of those things at this moment, he almost seemed like a frightened little boy.

She knew she couldn't push him into saying anything if he wasn't ready so she stood up and said, "Kid, I love you more than anything and I'm here for you. Whenever you're ready to talk, I'm ready to listen. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out ... together." She gave him an encouraging smile. "You've helped me with so much for so long now I want to do the same for you, if you'll let me." She ran her hand through his hair then turned to go. She could tell he needed some more time alone and would grant him that.

"He's my father."

Lou stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes wide with shock and confusion. Slowly, she turned around to look at him and asked, "He's your what?"

After hearing her tell him how much she loved him and would help him through this, Kid realized he didn't want to keep it to himself. He did feel like it was eating away at him, like she'd said earlier, and maybe he did need to talk about it. The words were out of his mouth before he could stop it.

He leaned against his legs and looking at the ground, answered, "My father. The man who helped make me then actually destroyed a part of me. He took so much away from me and I was glad he was gone. But that day in town when I saw him, no, it wasn't even that because he looks nothing like he did back then. It was that voice, that voice that at one time had so much praise for me then before I knew it, was seething with insults and fury and hate. It could have been over the littlest thing but he'd find fault in it and not let it rest until I was beaten, physically and emotionally. I never thought I'd have to deal with him again but now that he's here, I'm scared ... I'm really scared." He looked at Lou for the first time since his revelation, hoping against hope that she might have the answer for him.

Lou went to him and knelt in front of him, resting her hands on his knees. "Kid, I don't understand. You kept your family life a secret for so long and never talked about them or dwelt on it that I just assumed he was dead. I think we all did. Kid, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry for whatever you've gone through and whatever you're going through now." She pushed herself up and gathered him into her arms, holding him against her chest. She could actually feel him shaking and it scared her. He needed her so much right now and she just hoped she wouldn't let him down.

She held him, not saying anything, just offering him her support. Slowly, she felt him pull away. He wiped at his eyes then looked up at her. "I've never talked about him before, out loud, not even when Jed came to Sweetwater. I couldn't - as long as I didn't say anything, then it was like he didn't exist. But he does and I've had to face it, that's why I went to town this morning, to ask him to leave here and forget about me, forget about us. But he won't, he wants the chance to explain things to me and if I grant him that, then he'll leave if I want him to." He stood up, turned to walk away then quickly turned until he was nearly on top of her. "Want him to?" he exclaimed in disbelief at the absurdity of the statement his father had posed. "The thing I wanted was for him to never find me." He offered his hand to Lou.

She gladly took his hand and tried to think of something comforting to say. "Maybe you should let him explain. Kid, I know I've only met him twice in town but he seemed like such a nice man, maybe he's changed." She winced when he roughly threw her hand away from his.

"You don't know what you're talking about, Lou," he told her angrily. "All he's ever done his whole life is con people into thinking he's something that he's not. He almost had me going a couple times this morning. Do you know how many times, from when I was three until he left when I was eight, that he would come back after abusing us and try to worm his way back in? He'd try so hard to convince my mother that it was the liquor and not him and now that he'd given it up, things would be back to normal. She fell for it a couple times then would find herself or us kids beaten the next day for practically no reason at all - and that's when she tried to make it end. She would try with all her might to stop him from coming back into the house but she was no match for him. And Jed was gone so much, I felt like I should do something to defend my mother but what could a little kid do against a monster like him. I tried sure enough but I'd always wind up with something near busted, but then that was his goal and he usually didn't leave until he succeeded." Kid found himself pacing all the while he was revealing his most kept secrets. He now stopped right in front of her, out of breath, hands resting on his hips, and stood staring at her. He wanted to scare her, scare her so she would think twice before going near that man again.

Lou stood in shock as he told one horror tale after another. She had no reason to doubt what he said but it was still hard to take in - Jackson had helped her and Katie and she was sure he didn't know who she was. She had only given him her first name, if she'd mentioned Kid by name he would have probably tried to get more information out of her. It just didn't make any sense, why would a man who had hurt his loved ones go out of his way to help a total stranger?

She felt a shiver run down her spine so she crossed her arms and rested them on her expanded abdomen. She looked at him, his blue eyes were so dark with anger and fear that it was hard to tell what color they were. "Kid, I'm sorry, I had no idea. This is between you and him, I got no right to interfere or pass judgement. I just don't like seeing you upset like this."

He softened his glare and apologized, "Lou, I'm sorry, it's just that when I saw him holding our daughter in town yesterday, I snapped. All I thought about was how he would take me in his arms and throw me against a wall or shake me until I felt so dizzy that I couldn't stand straight. I had spent so long pushing those images as far back in my mind as I could but between hearing his voice and seeing him with Katie, well, I knew it was just the beginning of my worst nightmare resurfacing." He cautiously reached up and touched her cheek. He hoped she would understand why he'd talked to her in the tone he had.

Lou leaned into his hand then slid into his embrace, wrapping her arms around his back, not wanting to let go.

Kid held her, resting his chin on the top of her head. He loved the smell of her hair; ever since she'd stopped riding, she'd started using a rose scented soap and the scent would linger on her for days. He breathed deeply as if he was remembering the smell for posterity. He lifted his head and his hands automatically caressed her hair. "I know this is never going to be over until I let him have his say. It's not going to change my mind, nothing could," he said, and wondered if he knew that for a fact or was he trying to convince himself of that thought? "Lou, can we head back now and maybe lie down for a while? I need to hold you, feel you next to me." He suddenly felt exhausted, he hadn't had a peaceful night's rest since he'd discovered Jackson in town but for some reason felt that if he were to lay down, he would fall asleep for sure.

She looked into those eyes that always gave her comfort and answered, "I'd like that very much." She smiled at him then took his hand and led him to the house. She would care for him anyway he wanted for the rest of her life, that was her promise to him and she'd never go back on it.


Chapter 15

Kid finished hitching up the buckboard and as he leaned against the side of it to wait for Lou and Katie to come out of the house, he once again reflected on how lucky he was to have her. She'd been there for him all yesterday afternoon and last night as well, listening when he wanted to talk and just sitting with him when he felt like being quiet. He did feel better with the knowledge that someone else knew a little of what it was like for him. He didn't really want pity, he wasn't that type of person, so he would probably never reveal everything to her or anyone else. There were just some things a man had to keep to himself, things that made him who he was today.

Since he'd made the decision to let Jackson have his say, Kid didn't want to dwell on it for too long - better to just get it over and done with. Then, Jackson could leave town, content that he'd had the opportunity to explain, and Kid would be able to get back to the normal operation of the ranch. He'd only been doing the bare minimum around the place, since his mind was elsewhere. He felt bad that he was letting Buck take the brunt of the work upon himself - Kid promised himself he'd make it up to Buck when all the other business was settled.

He was brought back to the present by his name being called repeatedly. Looking up, he got a big smile on his face as he saw his daughter racing toward him. He scooped her up in his arms and swung her onto his shoulder so she appeared to be flying. Katie automatically flapped her arms up and down, familiar with this game, and squealed with delight as Kid flew her around the yard.

Lou stood by smiling and shaking her head. "You better put the little bird back into the nest before she throws up everything she ate for breakfast." Kid laughed as he deposited Katie onto the buckboard seat and helped Lou to get up. "It's a good thing I didn't try to fly you or I'd have a broken back about now," he teased with a twinkle in his eye.

Lou scunched her face up at him and commented, "Is that so? Well, then, maybe you ought not to sleep in the same bed with me - I might roll over and squash you!" She pretended to huff and turned away from him. This was very familiar teasing between the two of them and usually resulted in the removal of all articles of clothing the moment they were alone in their room that same night. She was especially glad to see Kid acting this way after yesterday. He'd been so melancholy the past two weeks, she was beginning to wonder if the old Kid would return.

She was brought out of her thoughts by strong arms snaking themselves around her middle from behind. She was pulled toward the object of her desire and brought to rest against his chest. "That's a pretty scary thought, but I think I'll take my chances. Too bad we've only just eaten breakfast and not dinner because I'd like to see what would happen if you were to roll onto me just so. On second thought, you might just keep on rolling so I'd better have you sit on me instead!" He playfully started kissing her neck.

She was lost in his kisses for a moment then pushed him away. "Alright, alright, enough with the big jokes or after this one is born, I might not let you have your way with me again." Before he could respond, she took the reins out of his hand, put her arm around Katie to support her then urged the horse forward. Only then did she look at her husband and hand the reins back to him. Kid couldn't stop grinning; he knew she'd never carry out her threat. That was one of the things he loved about being with her: they just never seemed to get enough of each other, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

**********


Jackson stepped out of the general store and leaned against one of the posts out front. He watched the daily goings-on around him, not really seeing it but instead, thinking about what he'd just seen in the store. He'd gone in to pick up a few supplies and had found his way to the corner of the store that housed toys for small children. Before he knew what he was doing, he was inspecting dolls for the prettiest one then his attention was drawn toward painted spinning tops and wooden trains and wagons. These were items he'd wanted so badly to purchase for Jed and Kid when they were small but the family had never had enough money to splurge on such frivolous items. His boys had to make due with homemade toys.

He wished with all his heart that he would be allowed to buy any doll or baby item he wanted from the store and give it to his granddaughter and future grandchild. Grandchildren - the term brought a sad feeling into his heart. If he never saw them again, he knew it was something he deserved. He'd given away the chance the first time he had struck out his hand toward the Kid and made contact. Why did such an incident seem like it was out of someone else's life? Because, you were such a different person back then, he told himself. The first time your crop was destroyed by hail, you gave up on everything worthwhile, including yourself and the farm, but more importantly, on your family, he reprimanded himself.

All of a sudden, he noticed a man walking with a small boy at his side. The boy held onto the man's hand with all his might and looked up, smiling at something his father evidently told him. Jackson grinned, in spite of his situation, and found himself thinking back seventeen years to when Kid was only three years old.

"Jackson! Jackson! You'd better get away from that creek before your mama has your hide for getting your clothes soaked through," Jackson called out to his youngest son. Little Jackson, as his mama called him, was an adventurer, even at three years old. He was into everything, wanting to know how things worked or why they did what they did. Today he was busy trying to figure out why frogs liked to be near the water and the only way to find that out was to go in after them.

"Jackson comin', Pa," Little Jackson yelled and let go of the bullfrog he was holding. Jackson watched his son slosh toward shore and arrive at his side with a big grin on his small face. "They slip'ry feelin'" he reported.

"They sure are," his father agreed. "Now come on, your mama wants her little boy home and dried up in time for dinner." He started to take his son's hand to lead him toward the house but was met with resistance. Looking down, he saw a scowl cross the usually bright face of his youngest. "Something wrong there, son? That looks like an awfully big problem for a little boy to carry around."

Little Jackson stomped his foot on the ground and declared, "Jackson no lit'l boy, Jackson a kid."

Jackson tried to hide the small smile that was creeping onto his lips. So that was the problem, he thought. His youngest son was tired of being treated like a baby and more than likely wanted to be treated like his big brother was. "You're not a little boy anymore, huh? You're right, I should have seen it, you do look older to me and now that I think of it, have you been growing? I don't remember you being this tall before."

In response, his son pulled himself up as tall as he could, which forced him to stand on tiptoes to achieve his goal. With a very determined look on his face, Little Jackson repeated, "Jackson a kid. Jed the big boy and Jackson the kid." He nodded his head to show there would be no further discussion on the matter.

Jackson held out his hand and said, "Okay ... Kid, what do you say we head back to the house now? Is that alright with you, Kid?"

His son couldn't stop beaming at being called a kid by the person he admired most in the world. His father could do no wrong in his eyes and this proved it.

As the two Jacksons approached the small house, the door was opened by Katherine Jean. "There you two are, I was beginning to wonder if you'd get back while the meal was still hot. How's mama's little boy been?" she asked, stooping down until she was eye level with her youngest.

Little Jackson quickly looked up at his father, afraid he was back to being a little boy again.

Jackson looked at his wife and told her, "Um, Katherine Jean, there have been a few changes around here as of late. I'd like for you to meet our son who grew up on us without us even noticin'. This here is 'the Kid'." He said it in total serious, knowing that's what his son expected and received a huge hug in return.

"Jackson 'the Kid', Jackson 'the Kid'," the boy kept chanting and he ran into the house. "JACKSON 'THE KID'!!"

Jackson started roaring with laughter as his wife gave him a murderous look. She wanted little Jackson to stay her baby always and not grow up. Hearing him continue his chant inside the house, she sighed. She knew from that moment on she would never be able to say 'Little Jackson' again. How was she going to get used to calling him 'the Kid'? It worried her what other people might think when they heard him being called that. Somehow, though, she assumed it would be alright. There was something tough about her son, he was a very determined 'kid' so maybe the name did fit. Still, she couldn't imagine someone going through life known as that. So, if the name stuck with him, which she figured it would, she decided that she'd better have a talk with him about changing it back to his original. Of course, there was plenty of time to worry about that.



Chapter 16

Jackson suddenly looked up and saw he was standing in front of the marshal's office. He had been so deep in his memory he didn't realize he had wandered down the street and even crossed it. It wasn't too long after that moment in his life, after that wonderful day when he'd made his son so proud by naming him 'the Kid', that things had started falling apart for him and he had found himself taking it out on the ones he loved. He shook his head, definitely not wanting his mind to go back there.

Ever since his surprise visit from his son yesterday morning, he had an insatiable urge to find out more about the young man. Knowing the marshal was very close to Kid, Jackson found himself entering the jailhouse.

Teaspoon looked up from his desk upon hearing the door open and rose to greet Jackson. "Mr. Louis, it's good to see you again. What can I do for you?"

Jackson smiled at the warm greeting. "Good day, Marshal. I hope I'm not interrupting."

"Not at all," Teaspoon said as he walked around his desk. "Matter of fact, I could sure use the interruption right about now."

"That busy, huh?"

"That bored," Teaspoon explained and waved his hand over his desk, indicating a newspaper that looked to have been read more than once.

"Guess there haven't been any new arguments to break up lately."

"Nope, not since the other day. Matter of fact it's been too quiet, hate when that happens 'cause it makes for a long day. So, you see, the break is more than welcome."

"Well, I'm glad I could provide it," Jackson told him, nodding as Teaspoon offered a cup of coffee. "The reason I'm here is kind of selfish on my part - I was hoping you could tell me a little about my son."

"You two still ain't on talkin' terms?" Teaspoon asked as he handed over the cup of coffee then took his seat once again.

"No, we've talked, well, mostly I listened. But I keep on hopin' Kid will give me the chance to do some talkin'"

"He might surprise ya and come around," Teapsoon offered. "He's actually surprised me a lot lately." He hadn't heard anything from the Kid since the incident in town, not sure if he was expecting to or not. Kid had told him his real name during the wedding ceremony so he must have figured out by now that Teaspoon knew who Jackson was. Teaspoon also hadn't seen Lou lately either so he assumed that meant Kid was trying to keep things to himself and not let her in to what was probably a nightmare for himself. He shook his head - those two young ones were so good at keeping secrets from each other, it was a wonder sometimes how they managed to get hitched in the first place.

"I can see you've done a good job teaching him right from wrong," Jackson said as he stared at his cup. "I'm sure he appreciates having you around."

"Well, we've had our moments, you know, disagreements, but then what family doesn't?" Teaspoon paused. Damn, he chided himself. He needed to stop making inferences to them being a family. He looked up at the man who was Kid's real father, his own flesh and blood, not to mention namesake.

Family, Jackson thought. What he wouldn't give for the chance to get back his family. "I heard something crazy from the man who runs the general store. He said Louise used to ride for the Express. What did she do, pretend she was a boy?"

Teaspoon grinned, shaking his head, as his mind went back to the early days of the Express. "That's exactly what she did, had us all fooled too. Some more than others," he added, not going into details of how long it took him to find out. "Kid was the first to find out her secret and by the time the rest of the boys caught on, well, from the looks those two passed each other across the dinner table I'd say he was a goner. Lou has that effect on all that she meets but poor Kid got it real bad." He laughed at the memory of some of the foolishness that passed between his son and daughter.

Jackson shook his head. "I just can't see it. I know I've only met her briefly but she seems like such a lady."

"That she is. Well, folks do what they need to to survive," Teaspoon explained. He opened his mouth to continue but before any words could come out, he was stopped by the opening of the door and a squeal with his name attached to it.

"Gampa!" Katie giggled as she ran to jump into his waiting arms. "Katie here, Gampa."

"Well, I can see that little lady," Teaspoon grinned as he received a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "Now, did you come to town by yourself or is your mama around here somewhere?"

"Mama here," Katie told him as she pointed toward the door. She giggled when Teaspoon sat her down on the edge of his desk and pushed her long curls out of her face. Her fingers instantly went toward the newspaper that was laying on it.

Upon seeing Katie enter the jail, Jackson backed up until he was next to the cells. He watched with an aching heart as the little girl doted all her attention on the man she referred to as 'grandpa'. That should be me, he told himself. It would have been you, he chided, if you hadn't messed everything up years ago. She's my flesh and blood and she'll probably never know it.

He sighed, feeling sorry for himself. He leaned heavily against the corner of the jail cell and turned his head away. He couldn't watch anymore of the interaction between the two of them. He knew he didn't deserve to feel that way but, damn it, he couldn't help it. This was the way he had always wanted his life to turn out, he just hadn't wanted to work at it. Instead it was easier to push his way out of what he was a part of and go off on his own. Now the regrets were taking over and he felt like he would explode soon.

Lou stood barely in the doorway, watching her daughter interact with the man she thought of as her father. She was so glad Katie had him in her life. "That's right, I'm here. Katie insisted on seeing 'Gampa' so we had to rush right over." She smiled as she walked into the room. At the mention of Katie's name for Teaspoon, the little girl threw herself onto Teaspoon lap with a laugh, causing the man to fall back in the chair by the surprise of her actions.

"Gotta be on my toes when she's around," Teaspoon commented, grinning.

Lou stopped short after only walking two feet into the room. "Jackson," she said in surprise. "I didn't see you there." She glanced at him then followed his eyes as they left her and wandered over to the desk. She cringed in guilt at the sight before him. Here was Kid's father, his real father, standing not five feet from her and she couldn't acknowledge who he was. And to make matters worse, her daughter was calling a man with no blood relation to them her grandfather.

You're her grandfather, Lou said silently to herself. I'm so sorry you have to watch this. If only there was something I could do but it's not my place. Please forgive me. She wouldn't take her eyes off Jackson, hoping somehow that he could hear her thoughts and be comforted by them. But that was near impossible, the only one who could know what she was thinking at any time was the man she had married. Lou felt as if she was in the middle of a tug-of-war game, her emotions were constantly being pulled back and forth; she knew what it was like to have a rotten father so she understood Kid's feelings about wanting Jackson far away from their daughter. Yet, she still didn't see it or feel any worry when she was around the man.

"How are you, Louise?" Jackson asked, attempting to smile pleasantly. Act as if she's just another member of the town, that's all, he told himself. It's impossible, you fool. She's not just anyone, she's not just a nobody, she's your daughter-in-law. How he wished he could take her in his arms and say welcome to the family, of course, he had no family to welcome her to. He used to but he ruined that.

Jackson indicated the desk and said, "Your daughter seemed to have her mind set on seeing the marshal so I didn't want to get in the way." He hoped his voice hid his ache and awkwardness of feeling left out of that special bond between grandchild and grandparent.

Teaspoon was feeling just as awkward from the moment Katie ran in but with her on his lap, he had no choice but to pay attention to her. She expected it and he was not about to let her down.

Lou took a few more steps into the room, wondering what Jackson was doing there but not asking. "It looks like we're interrupting something. I'm sorry, we'll go. Katie, come on, honey," she called.

"No," Jackson insisted, stepping forward. "We were just having a casual conversation. You're family," he paused as it hurt to say that out loud. "You have a right to be here. I'll just be on my way. Thanks for your time, Marshal. Good day, Louise, and to you too, Katie." He headed toward the door.

"Jackson, wait," Lou called out. When he turned around, she went up to him. She liked him and there was no way she could ignore him. "The only reason we're here is 'cause Kid needed to come to town and we tagged along. Actually, he's over to the hotel right now ... looking for you." She looked into his eyes, trying to tell him she knew what it was about but didn't know what Kid would be telling him. Again, she chided herself for thinking he could read her thoughts or in this case, her eyes. Only Kid could do that. They could have a whole conversation with their eyes and never open their mouths once. They'd almost gotten into trouble back in their old Express days because their eyes had almost said too much at the dinner table, one too many times.

Jackson had no idea why she continued to look at him but for some reason, he didn't mind. It was actually comforting. She was an incredible woman, he could tell that even before he had talked to Teaspoon. He knew Kid had told him not to go near his wife and child but he hadn't sought them out. The three of the them just sort of ended up in the same location. He couldn't stop himself from wanting to talk to her, in more than a passing manner. Kid wanted to see him, that could only mean one of two things. Either Kid wanted to hear Jackson's explanation or he didn't, either way, Jackson felt sure it meant a quick departure out of town. What if this was the last time he would see Louise? He couldn't let this moment pass.

"Well, I go see if I can catch up to him. Louise, I just wanted to let you know how happy I am for you and Kid. I hope you have a long and happy life together, you and all your children. Kid sure picked himself a winner when he married you. I know it's not my place to say but if I could, I'd tell you without a doubt ... any man would be proud to call you his daughter-in-law." He gave her a smile then left the jail, not looking back. He felt good that she would always know what he thought of her. Now if only he could say the same about his son.

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