Chapter 1

"Sam, that plan of yours is so plum crazy it might actually work," Teaspoon said laughing. He got up from his desk, went to the stove and poured two cups of coffee.

Sam Cain laughed along with his old friend and said, "That's what I'm hopin'. It's been going on long enough, time to put an end to it." He accepted the offered cup of coffee then asked, "So you think the boys will be up to it?" He leaned back in his chair, hoping for the answer he wanted.

Teaspoon rubbed his chin as he sat back down and answered, "Never known them not to be, especially if it gets 'em outta makin' runs and there's reward money to be split up." He paused before continuing, "If I were you, though, I'd keep quiet about your little ace-in-the-hole."

"You don't think they'll like that part, do you?" Sam asked.

Teaspoon shook his head. "Not a chance, they've become awful protective of her, especially Kid. Frankly, it don't sit all that well with me neither but it is up to her. And knowin' her, she'll say yes just to prove to us that she can do it."

Sam got up and went to look out the door. This was his first trip back to Sweetwater since leaving his position as town marshal to become territorial marshal. "Teaspoon, I went every which way with this thing, nothin' else will work. I don't like usin' her either. But from what I remember of bein' in gunfights with her before I knew she was a 'she', no one's more suited for the job than Lou McCloud," he said pointedly to Teaspoon.

"Louise," Teaspoon corrected.

"Huh?"

"That's her name, didn't Emma tell you?"

"Yeah, yeah, she did, actually. I was in so much shock findin' out about her, I couldn't think straight for a week," Sam admitted, sitting back down.

"Well, at least you were told. I had to find out the hard way; it wasn't easy seein' that your son was actually a daughter," Teaspoon winced, embarrassed, at the memory of finding out his smallest rider was not what he thought.

"Seein'?" Sam asked.

"I ain't goin' there and that's final," Teaspoon insisted, grateful to be interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come on in!" he called out.

Lou poked her head in, having noticed he had company and not wanting to interrupt. "You wanted to see me, Teaspoon?"

"Yeah, Lou, I did," he said, motioning for her to enter the office. "Well, actually we both did."

Lou looked at him curiously then her mouth fell open as she saw Sam turn to face her. "Sam?!"

"It's good to see you, Lou, or should I say, Louise," Sam acknowledged, grinning broadly.

Lou laughed and took Sam totally by surprise by throwing her arms around his neck for a hug. He hesitated only a moment before returning the gesture.

"Sam, I can't believe it's you! What are you doing here? Is Emma with you?" Lou asked hurriedly.

"No, I been moving around too much lately, she wasn't able to make it. But now that I've been here and she finds out, you can bet we'll be back before you know it," Sam told her.

"Sam's here on business, Lou," Teaspoon informed her.

"You need Teaspoon's help on somethin'?" she asked, curious.

Sam looked at Teaspoon then confessed, "Actually, Lou, I need your help. How would you feel about wearin' the prettiest dress and jewelry you could find?"

She looked back and forth between the two, then sat down in the nearest chair, having a feeling this was going to take some time. "What do you need me to do?" she asked.


Chapter 2

"So what do you need us to do, Sam?" Jimmy asked.

He and the other riders had been thrilled to see Sam again and after catching up and reminiscing about old times over dinner, they settled down to an apple pie Rachel had made. They were now curious about why Sam was here on professional business.

"Help me catch a stagecoach robber," Sam answered. He unfolded a wanted poster and laid it in the middle of the table. Hands instantly grabbed for it, with Cody winning, so the riders gathered around him to read it.

"Douglas Harmon," Kid read. "Only a three hundred dollar reward - for robbing stagecoaches?"

"He ain't worth more than that?" Cody asked between bites of pie.

"Well he's never killed anyone," Sam explained.

"Then how does he do the robbing?" Jimmy asked, totally confused.

"He sweet talks the passengers into giving their money over to the robbers," Sam said simply. He laughed when he saw the looks of confusion around the table.

"Uh, Sam, would you mind going into more detail on that?" Cody asked.

"Hey, Lou, don't you wanna hear what this is about?" Kid asked, turning to her bunk where she was laying.

She rolled over, putting down the book she was looking at, and replied, "No thanks. Since I'm not part of this, there's no reason for me to find out what's going on. Noah, Ike and I are gonna have enough on our minds just keeping this place going with the rest of you gone." She quickly looked at Sam and Teaspoon before going back to her book.

Kid didn't catch the look and shrugging, turned back toward Sam. "So how does this guy get away with these robberies?" he asked.

Sam sat down and explained, "Well it seems that Harmon is a sly character and he's not actually involved in the robberies. He always portrays a passenger on the stagecoach and acts overly friendly to instill the trust of the other passengers. Then something happens to delay the coach or cause it to take an alternate route: broken wheel, tree blocking the road, mud slide, stuff like that. So when the coach is going around, who happens to be waiting for them in their new destination?"

"Harmon's gang, I bet," Jimmy answered. "And let me guess, Harmon convinces the passengers no one will get hurt if they give the gang everything they want. Am I right?"

"Completely," Sam told him. "Harmon even gives over what's on him to make it look real."

"Then how do you know he's involved?" Buck asked.

"Well, this gang has been strikin' all across the territory and while investigating it, we've looked at everything we could, including passenger lists. Harmon's name's been on four of them and another name, we believe to be part of the gang, had been listed twice," Sam continued.

"So how do you know where he'll strike next and how do you stop him if he's not the one holding the gun?" Kid asked.

"As of now, all the coaches hit have been headed for big cities and the passengers are either successful businessmen or well-to-do citizens returning home. Either way, they're loaded with money or jewels and not armed," Sam explained. "As for stopping him, he's got one weakness that we've noticed - women."

"That's a weakness?" Cody asked. "Shoot, I'll take that problem any day."

"Cody, that is your problem," Jimmy said, smiling.

"I choose to go out with a lot of women to discover my true soul mate," Cody said emphatically. "I am never reduced to kindling due to their presence."

As the others laughed, Teaspoon said, "That's enough on that subject, Cody. What Sam means is that Harmon almost got caught because he fell for a female passenger and wanted to keep seeing her. He got away as the law was on their way to arrest him."

"So the gang's almost been caught?" Buck asked.

"Only Harmon and just that once," Sam explained. "You see, the robberies occur in the most remote locations possible so by the time the coach makes it to a town, the gang is out of the area."

"I think I know where you're going with this," Jimmy said.

"So where you gonna get a woman from?" Kid asked, finishing Jimmy's thought.

Sam looked at Teaspoon and told them, "Oh, I've got someone lined up. She can handle herself real well and none of you boys had better try to play hero and protect her. She has a job to do," he warned.

"What kind of woman would wanna get mixed up in a stage robbery?" Jimmy asked the other riders. "There's still guns involved. Harmon's probably just been lucky about not killing anyone yet. His luck could change at any time."

"She's probably a homely little thing and will have to flash around a lot of money and jewels to get him to be interested in her at all," Cody speculated.

Across the room, Lou had to pull the covers over her head to keep the others from noticing the huge grin that had spread across her face. It felt so good to be a part of something they had no idea about, especially knowing they wouldn't be pleased once they found out.


Chapter 3

Kid sat on the dusty seat of the stagecoach, leaving Sweetwater, headed to St. Louis. He tugged at the tie around his neck, not used to wearing clothes of this quality. He moved closer to the window, pulling a briefcase with him, to allow an older man and woman to enter the coach and sit if they wanted.

He smiled politely as they sat opposite him. He then glanced out the window and watched Jimmy talking to the driver. Jimmy was holding a rifle, since he had assumed the role of riding shotgun for the driver. Jimmy caught Kid's eye and indicated the door to the coach office then quickly looked away.

Kid glanced in that direction and saw a finely dressed man approaching the coach. Kid could tell he was well to do: the clothes looked too expensive to wear, his hat was the type you only found city fellows wearing and his shoes were immaculate. He watched the man enter and sit on the same side as he was. Both men exchanged courteous nods then looked opposite ways.

Out of the corner of his eye, Kid could see the man checking him out, as well as the couple across from them. He knew this fellow was Douglas Harmon and just by looking at him, could see how he'd gotten away with all the robberies that he has; he could probably sweet talk his own mother into giving away everything she owned. He shook his head smiling, thinking of what this woman that Sam knew would have to go through ... in the arms of Harmon, more than likely.

The driver approached the door and said, "It'll be just a few minutes, folks. A last minute passenger is just buying her ticket as we speak - oh, here she comes now." He moved aside and opened the door, offering his hand for assistance.

Jimmy and Kid, along with Douglas Harmon, watched the woman as she exited the building and made her way to the coach. She accepted the offered hand and climbed aboard. All anyone could see was a petite woman in a lavender dress. The garment had a full skirt, tight bodice and revealing neckline that was obscured by the presence of ecru lace. She wore beige gloves and a lavender hat to match the dress.

Douglas Harmon caught his breath at the beauty before him. He quickly offered her the seat between himself and Kid.

The woman smiled graciously at him and as she turned to sit, looked in the Kid's direction, revealing large brown eyes framed by long lashes. She smiled seductively at him and had to catch herself from laughing as his jaw fell at the sight of her.

Kid watched in shock as Lou smoothed out her dress and sat, leaning toward Harmon but making sure her hip was no more than an inch from him. He slowly let out his breath, thinking of how he was going to have to have a long discussion with Sam and Teaspoon for putting her up to this. Try as he might, he couldn't deny how beautiful she looked. It was just too bad her affections would be directed toward another man.

Kid shook his head to get those ideas out of his mind; he had a job to do, they all did. Worrying about Lou would only make him mess up, he was sure of it. But how could he not worry? They weren't officially a couple but their feelings for each other had been getting stronger with each passing day and he did not want to see her with another man, even if it was only pretend.

"Alright, folks, we're movin' out!" the stagecoach driver announced.

The coach jolted forward, causing the passengers to grip the sides of the structure to steady themselves. Lou, being in the middle, had nothing to hold onto so when Harmon offered his arm, she smiled graciously and leaned into him for support.

Watching, Kid admitted to himself, "Yep, it's gonna be a long trip!"


Chapter 4

Douglas Harmon couldn't stop staring at the vision sitting next to him. She noticed him watching her and turned her attention his way, flashing him a breathtaking smile. At that moment, he knew his heart was taken. Removing his hat, he addressed her, "My dear, you are going to make this trip a pleasure every step of the way. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Douglas Harmon and who might you be?"

Lou smiled shyly at him and replied, "My name's Louise McCloud and it is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Harmon." She held out a gloved hand, which he took and graciously kissed. She blushed then asked, "So what has you headed to St. Louis, business or pleasure?"

"Business, every step of the way, Miss McCloud."

What I'm wondering is at what step are you going to 'conduct' this business? Lou wondered. She quickly smiled at him and said, "So I assume it's safe to say you've been to St. Louis before. This is my first trip, and from what I've heard, it's a charming city."

The elderly woman across from Lou interrupted, "It is, dear, you're going to love shopping there. My husband and I have lived there over thirty years and wouldn't live anywhere else. We are Mr. and Mrs. George Holcomb."

Lou smiled pleasantly at her and said, "It is so nice to meet you. It makes a person feel wonderful inside to receive a welcome like the one that's been bestowed upon me here." She gazed deeply at Harmon. "I do hope someone would be willing to assist me in finding my destination once I arrive in your fine city."

"You stick with me, darling, and I'll take you places you've never been before," Harmon told her.

Kid looked past Lou at Harmon, not believing that man had the gall to say something like that to a woman he had just met. He then shot a look at Lou as she answered, shyly, "Why, Mr. Harmon, I hardly know you." She then surprised Kid by looking right at him and asking, "And what about you, sir, are you from St. Louis as well?"

They stared at each other for a few seconds then Kid broke away and answered, "Yes, Ma'am, my father owns a law firm there. I've been in Sweetwater on business, now I'm returning home. Folks call me Kid, by the way."

"What an unusual name, I don't believe I shall ever forget it," Lou said in a sultry voice before turning back to Harmon. "Well I certainly hope this will be an uneventful trip, I just don't think I could handle any surprises along the way."

Harmon kept staring at her. He finally managed to reply, "I would never let anything happen to you, Miss McCloud. Faced with any sort of danger, it is always wise to listen to someone who knows how to handle the situation."

"Well, seeing how I know nothing about firing a gun or defending myself, I'll be sure to listen to you if the need arises," Lou said. This fella was so full of himself, she didn't know how she would get through the next few days. Still she had no choice but to keep smiling at him, wishing she was staring at the Kid instead.

Kid glanced at her quickly then stared out the window. He had to admit he was very impressed with how Lou was handling herself, she almost had him convinced she was too weak and innocent to know anything about defending herself. If Harmon only knew the type of woman he was infatuated with, he would definitely think twice. Kid was sure of that from experience.
**********

After hours of riding on the hot, dusty road, the driver finally stopped alongside a stream that was shaded by a patch of trees. He and Jimmy jumped down as the driver announced they'd take a half hour break for lunch.

Jimmy hung back instead of following the driver. He wanted to get another look at their last passenger. He'd been definitely in as much shock as the Kid undoubtedly must had been upon seeing Lou in the lavender dress. Her appearance caught him off guard but sitting up front for all those hours, he'd had plenty of time to think about the situation. He was sure that if anyone could handle themselves in whatever danger lie ahead, it would be Lou. But he couldn't figure out why Sam and Teaspoon had to ask her, of all people? He wasn't doubting her capabilities, it was the fact that she couldn't handle herself the way she was accustomed to, not in that get up.

He caught Kid's eye and headed to the stream for a drink. Kid followed and casually bending down, drank a handful of water then whispered, "What are we gonna do with her?"

"You mean besides tie her to her bunk when we get back? Sam and Teaspoon knew what they were doing by asking her, she'll be okay. You know as well as any one how she can handle herself," Jimmy told him, quietly. He started to fill his canteen to waste time.

Kid paused before answering, "I know she can, but I still don't like it," he admitted, standing up.

"Why, you jealous, Kid?" Jimmy asked, grinning. The riders all knew Lou and Kid had strong feelings for each other but for some reason kept trying to deny them.

"No I ain't jealous," Kid said defensively. He realized he'd raised his voice so he looked around to be sure they were still alone. "I just don't wanna see her get hurt is all. Every time she has been faced with danger, she was dressed like a boy and had a gun, well she certainly don't look like a boy now and she's unarmed. Besides, you don't have the view I do. If she bats her eyes at him one more time, I swear I'm gonna throw up!" He walked back toward the coach.

Jimmy started laughing and said to himself, "Yep, he's jealous." He saw the elderly couple coming toward the stream so he walked away before they got there.


Chapter 5

Kid never thought he'd be so grateful to see a way station in his life. He couldn't take one more moment of the flirting that was going on between Lou and Douglas Harmon. The Holcombs thought it was cute, which made him want to jump out the window at the picture of it all. Harmon was acting like a love sick puppy, making a fool of himself, and treating her like she was made of glass and would break. This was a man who orchestrated stagecoach robberies? He couldn't even think straight around a woman.

As Kid was exiting the coach, he stopped mid step as he realized he'd just described himself. "Damn," he said under his breath. How was Lou able to have that effect over men? He'd have to sleep long and hard on that question. He just wished Lou would be in the same room as he was, like back in the bunkhouse.

After a hearty meal at the station, the passengers took advantage of the early hour to move around the property. Lou and Harmon sat on the porch swing, heavily engrossed in conversation. Lou found him rather amusing, like a little boy. She was having a hard time picturing him as the mastermind behind what she was sure would be going down in the next day or two.

As the two sat holding hands, Kid passed by on his way to his room. Lou looked away from him, feeling guilty; nothing was officially going on between her and Kid but she felt something strong whenever she was with him and was sure he felt it too. She quickly turned to Harmon and declared, "I just cannot believe how exhausting that ride has made me feel. If you will excuse me, I feel I need to retire for the evening."

"Of course, my dear," Harmon said, acknowledging her request. "Allow me to escort you to your room." He offered his arm, which she took with a smile. He paused outside of the room she would be staying in alone and bid her goodnight with a kiss on the cheek.

After she quickly went through the door, he retired to his room, which he would be sharing with Kid and Jimmy. Harmon was sure he wouldn't be getting much sleep, the presence of a dark haired beauty would be haunting his dreams, that was for sure. He sighed contentedly. The next couple of days would be very fulfilling, in more ways than one. He closed his eyes, not aware that his two roommates were constantly looking at each other, wishing they had a way to communicate with the other.

**********

Buck sat on a rock at the top of a hill, overlooking the way station. He, Cody, Sam and Teaspoon had been following the stagecoach since it left Sweetwater. It was easy to do since the driver and Jimmy knew they were nearby, they just had to make sure the passengers didn't get suspicious someone was in the vicinity. It was just a matter of time until Harmon's gang struck and they had to be close by to lend a hand.

Cody came up to join him. As the two friends sat, Cody commented, "I still can't figure out where I've seen that lady before. She looks so familiar, it's driving me crazy." He and Buck had been surprised at the presence of the beautiful woman riding in the coach. They weren't expecting someone so nice looking, and it really threw them when they felt as if they knew her from somewhere.

Buck looked at him, smiled and said, "Cody, every woman you see drives you crazy. You may as well just forget about her, you'll see her soon enough when we go after the gang."

"I know but that's not soon enough, I wanna know now," Cody whined.

"Well there's no chance of that happening so you better go get some sleep so you can relieve me in a few hours," Buck told him.

Cody grumbled and said, "Well at least I'll have pleasant dreams about meeting her and showing her how a real man treats a woman." He went back to the campfire Sam and Teaspoon were seated around.

Buck went back to watching the way station, glad he didn't have to admit to Cody that he was just as curious as to the identity of the woman in purple. If he could only see her face, he would know where she was from. He wondered how Kid was faring, riding in the same coach with her all day. "It must be interesting," he whispered to himself.


Chapter 6

"Lou!" Buck exclaimed. "That's Lou down there!" He looked at Sam and Teaspoon for an explanation. Every time the coach had stopped, Buck had spent all his time watching the woman, trying to figure out why she looked so familiar. It took two days but he finally realized.

"What?" Cody asked, in disbelief. He'd also spent the last two days watching the woman in purple but with different thoughts in mind. He moved closer to the clearing and after staring hard, admitted, "Well, I'll be! Sure don't look like the Lou we know. Think she'll wear that outfit around the bunkhouse when this is all done?"

Buck looked at him, not sure if he was serious or not but knowing Cody, he was more than likely serious. "I wouldn't count on it. Knowing the Kid, he'll probably burn it as soon as she takes it off," he replied.

"Do you think she'll be asking for help to take it off?" Cody asked, not dropping his train of thought.

"Cody!!" Buck hissed. "Will you just drop your infatuation with the lady in purple. It's Lou, and the only thing you're lucky enough to see her in is her long johns!" He went back to his horse, leaving Cody to mope over what might have been.

**********

Riding up front with the driver, Jimmy spent his time constantly searching the surrounding area. He'd been doing this for two days straight and it was starting to get very boring. The only entertainment he had was watching Harmon make a fool out of himself, slobbering all over Lou. It made him laugh the way Lou had him wrapped around her little finger. And he only got that view when they stopped, Kid at least got to watch them all the time. Of course, Jimmy speculated, knowing the Kid, he was probably wishing he was sitting where Jimmy was and didn't have to watch.

Jimmy spent his days trying to see any trace of Buck and the others, as well as any sign of trouble to indicate Harmon's gang was nearby. He had just leaned back on the seat, resting the rifle in his lap, when the driver pulled the coach to a sudden stop.

Jimmy looked at him, instantly grabbing the gun, and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Take a look at that?" the driver said, pointing straight ahead. "Looks like the bridge is out." He jumped down and started walking forward, with Jimmy following quickly to catch up.

Wondering why the coach had stopped, the passengers looked out the window and saw the driver and Jimmy walking away. Curious, they got out to see what was going on. They saw the two men stop and stare at something in the creek, which was in front of them.

Harmon stood watching everyone and finally said, "It looks like there might be some trouble ahead. Maybe I ought to go see what is going on?" He started to walk toward the men but stopped when a hand was placed on his arm. He turned around to stare into two dark, intense eyes.

"Please don't leave me," Lou said, in a frightened voice. "You promised you wouldn't if there was any trouble in the area." Before he could protest, she turned to Kid and asked, "Kid, sir, would you be willing to go see what the trouble might be? I would be forever grateful if you would."

Kid looked at her, impressed with her thinking that quickly. He nodded then approached the driver and Jimmy. He could feel Harmon watching him every step of the way, so he talked loudly, "The lady asked me to find out what is going on to cause us to stop like we have?"

The driver spoke quietly, "We can't cross here, the bridge is out."

"From what?" Kid asked. "Flash flood?"

Jimmy shook his head and replied, "That's what I first thought, but look at the creek bed, the water's too low for that to have happened, and it's not age or too much use."

"This was the result of someone's handiwork," the driver told them. "We got no choice but to go back to that fork in the road that we passed and take the path that leads to the right."

"Looks like this is it, Kid, " Jimmy said. "You got your gun, right?" When Kid nodded, he asked, "What about Lou? Is she able to fire if need be?"

Kid moved closer to him and answered, "Not a chance. She's got no place to keep a gun on her, not in that tight outfit she's wearing. And I'm afraid Harmon is going to try to keep her right by his side throughout all this, putting her in more danger instead of trying to protect her." He glanced back at Harmon who had his arm around Lou's waist for protection.

Jimmy saw that too and told Kid, "It's gonna be up to you to get her away from him somehow, Kid."

Kid quickly nodded then headed back to the other passengers to update them on the changed route. He noticed that Harmon was the only one not complaining about the delay.


Chapter 7

Teaspoon hung back along the wooded road, signaling the others to hold up. They dismounted and walked on foot to get a better view through the clearing of what the driver and Jimmy were looking at.

"Looks like the bridge is out," Buck observed. "And if it is, they'll have to turn around and go back to the fork in the road."

Sam looked at the others and said, "Well, looks like this is it. What do you say we head back to the fork and wait for them to pass us?" He glanced at all of them for their opinion.

"I'd say we got no choice in the matter," Teaspoon told him. "Alright, boys, let's get to it. It's only a matter of time before that gang stops them." They took off toward the new destination.

**********

Lou sat on the seat, next to Harmon, trying hard not to fidget. She wanted so badly to look at Kid and confer with him about what would be happening any time now. She didn't dare, though, knowing she would be putting both their lives in danger if they were caught even looking at each other.

All of a sudden, all the passengers were jolted forward in their seats as the coach came to a sudden stop. Out of force of habit, Lou instinctively grabbed hold of Kid's leg for support then realizing it was the wrong leg, leaned into Harmon, praying he hadn't noticed. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw he was looking out the window instead.

The Holcombs starting talking at once, demanding to know what was delaying their trip this time, when a gun pointed through the door at them silenced any more complaints they might have. A man opened the door and motioned the passengers out, with Kid being the last to disembark.

Kid stepped to the ground, trying to stay as close to Lou as possible, and surveyed what was going on. Six men with guns were surrounding the coach. The driver and Jimmy, having been stripped of their weapons, were being watched by two of the men, near the driver's seat. The remaining four had their sights set on the passengers.

Harmon pulled Lou closer to him as he took a step toward the gang. Lou glanced back at Kid, trying to indicate that she couldn't break away from him, his grip was too firm around her waist.

"I demand to know what's going on here?" Harmon began.

He was interrupted by the tallest member of the gang. "I'll do the talking around here. Now I want all of you to remove all your valuables and place whatever money you might be carrying into this here bag." He shoved a satchel toward them.

Mrs. Holcomb started crying so Lou decided to follow suit. She must have took Harmon by surprise because he released his hold on her.

Harmon turned toward the women and said, "Dear Mrs. Holcomb and Louise, I can assure you that if we agree to their request, no one will get hurt. Am I right to assume that?" he asked turning toward the tall man. "These are decent folk, not armed, they just want to go about their business. I give you my word, we'll give over every last personal item we have with us if you'll just let us go. Besides, we are no where near a town to warn anyone about you, it will take us too long to get to the next marshal."

"Well you do have a point there," the gang member answered. "And seein' as how I'm in a generous mood, we'll think about it. Now start unloading." He shoved the bag toward Harmon first then went down the line.

When he got to the Holcombs, they started protesting again. The tall one grabbed Mrs. Holcomb and Harmon intervened to help Mr. Holcomb get his wife away from the man.

"Mrs. Holcomb, please, these men mean business. If you don't turn over everything you own, they will undoubtedly kill us," Harmon explained. He calmed her down and she finally nodded at him.

Before the Holcombs could finish removing their jewelry, there was a shout from the nearby trees and a warning shot fired into the air. The gang members turned toward the noise.

"This is Territorial Marshal Sam Cain, drop your weapons and move away from the coach!"

The tall man instantly fired in the direction of Sam's voice then pulled the Holcombs toward him to use them as a shield. Suddenly a shot was fired from behind him, hitting the coach. Looking back, he saw Cody aiming at him from a branch in a tree alongside the road.

The other gang members looked around, not sure where to fire first. When shots came from two more directions, they started firing back, forgetting about the passengers. Jimmy took advantage of the men being distracted. As the driver threw himself at the two men near them, Jimmy climbed aboard the stagecoach and retrieved the gun he'd hidden under his seat. He aimed it at the gang members, allowing Buck and Teaspoon to come out of the woods and approach the coach by sneaking around the horses.

Not wanting to get caught but also wanting to protect Louise, Harmon grabbed her. She cried out in defense, which got Kid's attention. Harmon tried to shush her but it wasn't working. His attention on her and the gangs attention on Sam's presence was all the distraction Kid needed. He grabbed the gun that he'd hidden in the small of his back and aimed it at Harmon.

"Let the lady go, Harmon," Kid ordered.

Harmon looked at him in shock and tried to squirm his way out of the situation, "I can assure you, Kid, that I am only looking out for the lady's best interests."

"Like hell you are," Kid told him. "Now let her go or you won't be around to see morning."

Someone fired at Sam and missed but Cody retaliated and wounded the man. As another gang member turned on Cody, Teaspoon came up from behind, stopping the man with a gun in his side. Buck put a gun to the tall man's back and ordered, "Drop it real slow and you won't get hurt." The man looked around and saw that Sam had come out of hiding, followed by Cody, and they now held the other gang members at gun point. He had no choice but to obey.

Harmon looked around and seeing these new men occupied with the other members of his gang, took the only chance he could. He pushed Lou forward. She stumbled and fell against Kid, who lost his balance as well, dropping his gun. Harmon then took off for the trees.

Lou, landing on top of Kid, recovered first. She jumped to her feet, grabbing Kid's gun at the same time and fired it above Harmon's head. He came to a stop and looked back in shock.


Chapter 8

After the initial shock of seeing Louise holding a gun on him wore off, he started to approach her. "Louise, please, put that weapon down before you hurt yourself. You could have shot me." He continued coming near her.

"That's far enough," Lou commanded. "It's all over, Douglas, you've sweet talked your way out of your last robbery." She kept the gun trained on him, aware that Kid was now standing a few feet behind her.

"Louise, dear, I can assure you that you have misunderstood my intentions," Harmon attempted to explain. "I was merely trying to draw the gang's attention onto me, thereby leaving you free from possible injury."

Lou chuckled as she listened to his explanation. "You are good, I'll admit that, you could have anyone eatin' out of your hand but you chose the wrong lady. While flattery is nice, there's a whole lot more that attracts a woman to a man, and frankly, you ain't got it."

Harmon looked at her in disbelief. "Louise, after all we've said to each other, how can you talk like that? I don't understand, I thought I meant something to you."

"The only person you mean anything to is yourself," Lou told him. "I'm not who you think I am and there's no way I'd wanna be." She took a step back and holding the gun up at her side, said, "Take care of him, Kid."

"I got him, Lou," Buck interrupted. "Kid, get her out of here." He ordered Harmon's hands behind his back then watched him as Cody came and tied them together.

Kid carefully took his gun out of Lou's hand and putting his other hand on her shoulder, asked, "You alright, Lou? He didn't hurt you, did he?"

She slowly looked at him and took him by surprise as she put her arms around his neck and hugged him. "I'm fine, Kid, just tired is all." She closed her eyes as she felt his arms rubbing her back. She then looked up at him and said, "Let's go home, this bein' a lady is exhaustin' work." She paused a moment then grinned at him.

Kid started to laugh and commented, "Well, watching you being a lady isn't any easier, I can assure you of that."

"Why, Kid, you weren't jealous, were you?" she teased, swishing her skirt around.

He stared at her long and hard before finally admitting with a smile, "Not at all, Lou, as long as you promise not to do this again anytime soon. But it will be good knowing you're back in the bunkhouse where you belong."

Lou smiled, pleased that he'd admitted that he liked her being at the Express station. On her way back to the stagecoach for the ride to the nearest town, she passed Jimmy who gave her a quick smile.

Jimmy approached Kid, having overheard their conversation, and said, "We still gonna tie her to her bunk?"

"You better believe it!" Kid answered, shaking his head at the type of woman he was attracted to.

Lou stopped outside the stagecoach as Cody came up to her. He looked her up and down then, with a goofy grin on his face, said, "If you need any help getting that dress off, Louise, all you have to do is ask."

This caught the interest of the other riders who approached.

Lou moved closer to Cody and in an overly sweet voice, replied, "Cody, when the time comes to take this dress off, I will be needing help but I can assure you I won't be asking you for it." She smiled at him as his grin disappeared. "Coming, Kid?" she asked as she walked away.

Holding himself up even taller and grinning at Cody, Kid answered, "Right behind you, Lou." He went toward the coach to help her aboard.

Cody stared after them and wondered, "What does he got that I don't got?"

"The lady in purple," Buck answered as he and Jimmy looked at each other and broke out laughing.

As the riders mounted their horses, holding the reins of the captured gang members' animals, Sam and Teaspoon surveyed the scene. Nodding in satisfaction at a job well done, Teaspoon looked at Sam and said, "I knew that plan of yours was so plum crazy it would work! And I also know we're gonna get an earful from Kid and maybe Jimmy, too, regarding our use of Louise in this here scheme ."

Sam let out a long sigh and confessed, "I was afraid that would be coming the moment the idea of using Lou came into my mind. I was just kinda hopin' they would forget we put her up to it once we caught the bad guys."

"Sam, those boys are so pigheaded, the only time they forget anythin' is when I give them a chore to do!" Teaspoon declared. "But I always knew they could do it," he said proudly to himself. He urged his horse forward as the coach started up, followed by Jimmy, Cody and Buck leading the prisoners. He and Sam took up the rear.

Inside the coach, Lou and Kid sat opposite the Holcombs but this time Lou leaned into Kid's side as he put his arm around her shoulders. Kid tried to pull her into him, ready to give her a kiss but stopped as the two of them noticed the pleased looks bestowed upon them by the elderly couple, the same looks they gave Lou and Harmon the whole trip. Lou and Kid glanced at each other and broke out laughing. They were finally trying to act on the feelings they'd felt during the entire ride and it was in front of an audience no less!

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