“What’s goin’ on?” Lou dropped the reins in Rachel’s lap as she jumped down off the buckboard seat.

Rachel shrugged. “I was with you in town, remember?”

The female rider scowled in the station mistress’ direction, not appreciating the sarcasm being handed her way. Something was definitely different at the station from when she and Rachel had left for town a couple hours ago. Lou glanced around at the frenzy in which things seemed to be taking place.

She saw Buck come out of the barn then a second later, turn around like he’d changed his mind or forgotten something and nearly run smack into Jimmy as he was exiting the building. As Jimmy headed across the yard, in the direction of the backdoor of Rachel’s house, Lou’s attention was drawn toward the bunkhouse porch. Teaspoon came out of the door with Kid following so closely behind he made it look like the station master had two heads. Kid was listening intently, Lou could tell by the crease in his brow, as Teaspoon told him something she was too far away to hear. The next thing she knew, he was taking some papers that were handed to him by the older man and stuffing them in the mochila he held, without so much as glancing at what he was being given. As Teaspoon turned to head back into the bunkhouse, Kid jumped off the side of the porch and headed toward the building that seemed to hold the key to all her questions, the barn, Lou gave Rachel another glance, getting the same shrug in return.

Ignoring Rachel, as she was as much in the dark as Lou was, the rider took a step toward the person who seemed to be behind the change in pace at the station.

“Forget it, Lou, his mind’s made up.”

Lou stared into the face of Cody as he seemed to appear out of nowhere and was suddenly blocking her path from her destination. She was beginning to get a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach and it had nothing to do with the nausea she’d been experiencing the past couple days; a lot of it had to do with a certain blue-eyed rider who hadn’t so much as glanced her way in his haste to get to the barn. True they weren’t together anymore and he didn’t owe her an explanation to anything but it would have been nice if he’d think enough of her to tell her what was going on. But since that wasn’t likely to happen, she was dependant on the blonde rider standing in front of her.

“Whose mind’s made up and about what?”

“Teaspoon’s and about who’s goin’ out after the Pinter Gang.”

“The Pinter Gang? No one’s goin’ out after ‘em. Sam said he didn’t need any help, that the Army was gonna take care of ‘em, seein’ how dangerous they are.” Lou glanced Rachel’s way once more, to see that the station mistress had followed her and had now heard what Cody had said as well. Both women exchanged worried looks as they knew the blonde rider was one to exaggerate on most subjects but never when it involved someone’s safety or something as serious as the need to have a posse formed.

“Yeah, well it seems the Army now has to deal with a band of Indian renegades that are attacking settlers and they can’t be in two places at once.”

“So why don’t they get more soldiers from another fort? This ain’t like anythin’ we’ve done before.” Lou was getting more and more nervous, thinking about all the possibilities that could go wrong with some of them going out after that gang. She was also beginning to get a little angry that Teaspoon seemed to have made the decision of who would be risking their lives for a worthless gang. She didn’t like being left out when a decision of this magnitude had been made.

“Apparently there’s no time for that so Teaspoon came ridin’ in here like the law was after him, givin’ us the message from the Army and sayin’ who needs to go. Seems Sam’s gotten a posse together and will only need three of us to join up with him, one being a tracker of course.” Cody couldn’t help keeping the hurt out of his voice that he hadn’t been picked. He understood the marshal’s reasoning but felt he could do some good if he was going.

“So who’s goin’?”

“Well it obviously ain’t you or you woulda been here. And he didn’t need someone good with a rifle, though I think he’s makin’ a mistake there,” Cody huffed in annoyance. “Ike and Noah are out on runs so I guess you can figure out who’ll be headin’ out of here any time now.” He crossed his arms over his chest, wanting to see Lou’s reaction. He knew she would be angry that she hadn’t been considered and wanted her to be because then he wouldn’t be the only one feeling as rotten as he was.

Lou’s head spun toward the direction of the barn as she recalled the action going on around it just moments ago. She began to breathe heavily as too many thoughts began to take over her mind, anger leading the way. “He can’t do that ... he doesn’t know what’s at stake … I have to stop him!” Lou headed toward the bunkhouse, her stride slow and purposeful at first but then turning into a desperate all out run as she went up the steps and charged through the door.

“Louise!” Rachel called out in alarm. “Remember what we talked about.” She was getting more and more nervous upon seeing Lou’s reaction to Cody’s news. Rachel knew Lou well enough to know she could be as hardheaded as the rest of them and forget what’s important as she focuses on one point and one point only … and she was afraid that one point was her being left behind.

Cody turned from watching Lou’s retreat to face the older woman. “I don’t know why she’s wastin’ her breath, Rachel. His mind’s made up,” he repeated from his earlier statement. He then spun on his heel and headed toward the barn. He’d been moping long enough. If it was him heading out on a mission of such seriousness, he would appreciate the others helping him get ready. The least he could do was check their saddle straps and make sure they had everything they needed.

Lou slammed the door closed behind her, definitely catching Teaspoon’s attention as the man looked up from the letter he was placing in an envelope. He held his hand up as he stood up from the table. “Forget it, Lou. My mind’s made up.” He headed toward the door only to have his path blocked by the short rider.

“You think it’s fair, the decision you made?” she asked as she crossed her arms over her chest and spread her feet apart in a defiant stance she took whenever she wanted answers. “This ain’t a mail run or us goin’ out lookin’ for a bank robber; this is about hunting down a man that will do anything not to get caught!”

“I took all that into consideration when I made my choice.” Teaspoon sighed. He knew Lou would be the hardest out of the lot to convince his decision was justified. She had too much to prove and her heart was also too involved where the others were concerned.

“But you still made it. You didn’t think about tomorrow or next week or even next year. You just went ahead and threw them out to the wolves! You didn’t give anyone else a chance to voice their opinions on the matter or to tell you you’d picked the wrong people.” Lou was panting by this time; she was so fuming mad at the man standing in front of her.

“Now, Lou, I know you can ride and shoot with the best of ‘em. I’ll admit your ridin’ is better than all the boys put together but there are reasons why I chose those three out there and why you ain’t one of ‘em. And if it has to do with you bein’ a girl then that’s my decision and somethin’ you’re gonna have to live with ‘cause some people are better in certain situations than others!” His voice was rising as he spoke. He was getting mad now.

“This ain’t about me not goin’; it’s about who is goin’!”

Lou was in her own little world now, arguing with not only Teaspoon but herself as well. She wasn’t feeling herself lately and her emotions were getting the better of her. But what she really wanted to do was string that gang up herself for putting people she cared about in danger but since she couldn’t do that, taking it out on Teaspoon seemed the logical thing to do at the moment.

She kept glaring at him. “You think it’s so easy to just slap a badge on their chests, tell them to ‘ride safe’ then turn your back on them. Just ‘cause we’re orphans and been treated that way most of our lives don’t mean we ain’t got people who care what happens to us!”

“Louise, that is enough!”

She fell silent instantly. He only called her by her given name when it was absolutely necessary; when there was no other way to get her attention. Lou kept her head lowered but her eyes were raised, watching every move he made. It took a lot to get Teaspoon Hunter mad and she’d made him madder than mad; he was boiling over with near rage and she was to blame.

“You think I am heartless enough to force ‘em to leave, knowin’ they might not be comin’ back?” Teaspoon stood with his hands on his hips, staring down at the young lady in front of him.

“Sorry, Teaspoon,” Lou mumbled as she quickly crossed her arms over her chest again and frowned.

“Not that I need to explain my actions to you or any of ya but I will, seein’ how it’s the only way I’m gonna convince ya that I didn’t just pull straws here.” He went back to the seat he’d just vacated and sat down, pointing to the table top as he began to speak again. “I sat all the boys down, told ‘em exactly what was goin’ on, what would be expected of ‘em; I didn’t whitewash the truth about the danger they’d be facin’ or what the odds might be of ‘em comin’ back. And, yes, this is just like goin’ out after a bank robber ‘cause no matter who you’re goin’ up against, you gotta have a clear head and a steady arm so you can get the drop on ‘em and not the other way around.”

Teaspoon kept his eyes on Lou as she had slowly sat down at the table during his speech. Something seemed out of sorts with the girl he’d come to consider a daughter. He thought part of it might have to do with the rider he’d just sent to the barn with a mochila full of papers but he also knew she cared deeply for all the boys, as he did. “Sam told me to pick three of you lot to meet up with him. He wanted Buck ‘cause no one’s better at trackin’ than he is; and I knew two guns were needed, the best shots that I could send so naturally that meant Jimmy and the Kid. So you see, I didn’t tell ‘em, I asked. They could have backed out and I wouldn’t’ve thought any less of ‘em. But they all gave the same answer.”

“What was that?” Lou literally sat on the edge of the bench as she stared at Teaspoon.

“They didn’t have anythin’ here keepin’ ‘em from goin’.”

“They all said that?” Lou’s voice was barely above a whisper as she suddenly found the table very interesting.

Teaspoon gave her a sad grin that she didn’t see. He knew there was still love between his two riders, only they hadn’t seemed to be able to admit it to one another if Kid’s response and her reaction was any indication. “Sorry, sweetheart, but yes, all of ‘em.”

Lou nodded her head. “That’s my fault. I did that to him,” she muttered. Lou then whipped her head up in Teaspoon’s direction, a trace of hope shining in her eyes. “Teaspoon, when are they leavin’?”

“Soon as I get this last letter out to the Kid.”

“Could you give them a couple more minutes? There’s somethin’ important I need to do.”

“Lou, they should be gone alrea … you got five minutes, that’s all I can give ya.”

“I’ll take it and thank you.” She jumped up and nearly knocked over the bench in her rush to get out the door and to the barn. The clock was ticking as she had a lot to say in a short amount of time.

Her thoughts were in a whirlwind as she hadn’t planned on doing this, not yet anyway. That was the whole reason for going into town with Rachel today, to get the older woman’s help with what she thought might be wrong with her. Lou hadn’t wanted to tell Kid until she was sure, but this situation wasn’t one she’d run through her head so it called for a reaction she wasn’t ready to give but knew she needed to.

Not stopping until she was inside the opened barn door, Lou suddenly didn’t feel confident any longer; she felt scared to death. As her gaze automatically fell on the second stall on the left, the female rider knew in an instant that five minutes wouldn’t be long enough; in fact, five hours wouldn’t be long enough. How was she going to do this to him? Seeing as how Jimmy and Buck had instantly looked up at her entrance but he had deliberately chosen to keep his attention on the one girl in his life who never let him down, Lou knew this would be one of the hardest things she’d ever had to tell anyone … if he would let her tell it to him, that was.

“You come to give us good-bye hugs, Lou, seein’ as how you might be the last woman we lay eyes on.”

“Talk about being positive, Jimmy,” Buck criticized as he began to lead his mount toward the door.

“I meant until we come back,” Jimmy told him as he and Sundance joined Buck and his horse. “Why would I think anything else?”

Buck only shook his head, as answering would only lead to them getting into a deeper discussion that they didn’t have time to start much less finish, or much less want to discuss for that matter, before they took off. “We were hoping to see at least you, Lou, before we left.” When Lou’s eyes turned in Buck’s direction, he leaned his head close to her and whispered, “When I said ‘we’ I meant all three of us.” He looked at her to see her reaction. He knew something was up with her because her eyes hadn’t left Katy’s stall; she hadn’t retorted in kind to Jimmy’s girlish comment about her giving them hugs; and she seemed to be both scared and serious at the same time, a dangerous combination in his book.

Hearing Buck’s last comment seemed to bring Lou back to the present and made her aware of what he and Jimmy had been saying to her. “’Course I come to see you off but there was somethin’ I was hopin’ to do before you all leave.” Twisting her hands together nervously, Lou walked past Buck and Jimmy and headed toward the still occupied stall.

“Kid.” Her voice was soft as she tried to get the Southerner’s attention. “Kid.”

He had heard her enter the barn; heard what the others had said to her, even Buck’s loud whisper that he was included in the ‘we’; she had him wondering what she was hoping to do before they left; and he had heard both times she’d just called his name, the second time being a bit louder than the first.

“You got somethin’ to say, Lou, or you just like the sound of my name,” he said, echoing words Jimmy had thrown at him not too long ago. He winced instantly out of regret because it was uncalled for him to be brash with her when she clearly wanted to speak to him. “Sorry,” he told her quickly, “I just meant that I got a lot of gettin’ ready to do in a short amount of time.”

“It’s alright. I was only hopin’ that maybe before you go I could talk to you for a minute or two … alone. Maybe we could go for a short walk?” The twisting of her hands wasn’t going as well anymore as she’d broken out in a definite sweat, making her hands slippery like never before.

This time Kid turned to look right at her. “Walk?” he asked in surprise. “Lou, didn’t Cody or Teaspoon tell you where we’re goin’? We gotta leave as soon as Teaspoon finishes up that last letter he was writin’.”

“I know; he told me.” She also knew from the quick glance she’d given him on her way out the bunkhouse door that the five minutes he’d said he would give her would really turn into as many minutes as she needed to get said what needed saying. “He also said he’d be a few more minutes with that letter so we do have time.” Lou looked expectantly in his direction, hoping her little lie would convince him. She also gave Buck a quick glance, hoping that the astute Indian would pick up on her urgency and lend a helping hand. The small rider grinned when she heard his voice from behind her a moment later.

“Jimmy and I will finish up with Katy for you, Kid. Cody can help too once he gets back with those extra supplies. Why don’t you go?”

Kid looked from Lou to Buck to Jimmy; he then looked from Jimmy to Buck to Lou; finally he gave a small nod to the woman he still loved and left Katy with a final pat on her rump as he followed Lou out of the barn.

He kept following her as, for someone with short legs, she was walking with a very long stride that in his unexpectedness, he was having a hard time keeping up with.

Lou didn’t have a plan as to where she was walking; she just knew what she needed to tell him had to be done with certainty that no one would be around to hear her. Any other time and she would have found it funny that he had to run to keep up with her; today, however, there was nothing going on that made her feel anything close to amused.

Kid, meanwhile, had caught up with her and continuously stared down at her, trying to read the expression on her face. Why wasn’t she saying what she obviously wanted to say to him?

When he finally couldn’t take the silence any longer, even if it was only a short walk they’d taken around then out behind the barn, Kid spoke to her. “I thought you said you wanted to talk to me. You kinda took me by surprise since we haven’t had a real conversation since we broke up but I’m here and I’m ready to listen so what is it?”

“Um…” Lou wasn’t able to get anything else out of her mouth in her nervousness. He was right; they hadn’t talked, practically at all, since she’d said no to him.

They were both hurting but neither had approached the other to voice how they were feeling or to see if the other was alright. This did seem odd that she would chose now to want to talk but what she had to say couldn’t wait because what if he never came back? She didn’t like thinking about such a thing but she had to force herself to. She needed him to know this before going off to face the danger he was about to. Lou wasn’t even trying to change the words Teaspoon had told her, that the boys had no reason holding them from going, she just felt he had the right to know.

In the far off corners of her mind, Lou was actually hoping that it might help him fight to survive; weeks ago she would have been the reason he’d have done it but she’d broken that trust off so this little part of her that she might be holding would hopefully be enough to keep him alive.

Kid stopped walking out of frustration and when she stopped and turned to look at him, obviously in surprise that he wasn’t following her anymore, he huffed in annoyance. “If you don’t wanna talk now then I’m goin’ back to finish getting’ ready. I’ll see you when I get back, Lou.” He turned to go but didn’t take more than a step before she began to speak.

“Kid, I’m late.”

This time he looked at her in surprise. “Well if you have to go somewhere … and I obviously do too … then we can go our separate ways and you can tell me when we get back.”

She liked that he kept saying ‘when’ he got back and not ‘if’ but they weren’t close enough at this time for her to let him know that. So instead Lou shook her head before turning her eyes toward the ground. “Not that kind of late; the kind you always tried to protect me from.” She turned and walked a couple steps away from him as she was afraid to see his reaction to her statement.

There was something unnerving in the way she was making little nervous gestures with her hands and how she wouldn’t look at him when she spoke. But what got to him was her saying he’d tried to protect her from this lateness. He recalled saying several times when they were a couple how he wanted to protect her from the town’s folks thinking of her a certain way if their actions produced …

“Lou?” he stammered uncertainly as he stepped closer to her until he was looking at her over her shoulder.

She could tell from the tone of his voice that he had caught her meaning. Lou took a step away from him as she turned to look at him. “I don’t know for sure. Rachel said she’d go with me to the doctor tomorrow; we tried today, only he wasn’t there. But I ain’t been myself for a while lately – I get sick all the time and when have you ever heard me say that my pants are too tight and I can’t button them anymore?” She gave a nervous laugh as she didn’t know what else to do now that all that information was out in the open and there was nothing else to do but wait for Kid’s reaction.

Saying he was in shock would be an understatement. Kid was beyond speechless. Yes, he’d voiced his concerns each time they were together and whenever he knew Lou’s monthly should be coming, but his love for her had always won out each time and they would still give their bodies to each other. It had always struck him as funny that not once had Lou said she was scared of that happening to her; it was always him being scared for her. He never wanted anyone looking down on her for doing something that wasn’t proper to do outside of marriage, even if it was out of true love.

But when he and Lou had broken up, Kid realized he hadn’t given a thought to making sure her time came after their last time together. “How late are you?” he finally asked but he knew. Kid knew the exact date of the last time he’d given himself completely to her so he didn’t need her to answer; he just hadn’t known what else to say.

Lou felt hurt that he had to ask that question. Their last time together must not have meant as much to him as it did to her, she thought. Before she could answer, though, she realized she had been wrong to think that.

“That was a dumb question,” Kid told her with a soft chuckle and a shake of his head. “I mean, I’ll never forget the last time we were together.” Their eyes locked for what seemed like forever before Kid broke his gaze and looked off to the side, fearful he’d revealed too much of his feelings there. “You must really hate me.”

“No! I don’t recall you forcin’ yourself on me. I gave myself to you.” It was hard for Lou to talk about such a matter but it needed to be said and Kid obviously needed to hear it. She’d known that somehow he would take all the blame for what she might be going through. “I could never hate you, Kid. I knew the risks, even if I didn’t wanna admit to ‘em or think about ‘em.”

Kid stood there watching her. She wasn’t blaming him. He couldn’t help the small smile that played across his face until he realized he was smiling and remembered why she’d taken him away from the station. Fear crept across his face but when he was aware she’d caught him smiling at her, he blushed and looked down at the ground. It was true that their intimacy had been a decision that both wanted to be a part of but it wouldn’t be him going through the changes as a result; it would be her. No, that was wrong; he was already feeling what the news could do to a person’s life. He looked back up at her. “After we, um, went our separate ways, I kinda forgot that it could still be a possibility.”

“Me too until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.” Lou crossed her arms over her chest as it felt uncomfortable talking about how this came to be with him. It was funny if she thought about it because of how many times he’d seen her without clothes on and she was standing there feeling like she was talking about something improper with him.

Kid watched her closely, noticing her stance. When she crossed her arms as such, it was her way of cutting herself off. He had never wanted this to happen to her, to them, but if it was going to happen and they weren’t a couple anymore, would she let him be a part of it? “I shoulda paid more attention, seen that somethin’ wasn’t right with you.”

“I didn’t let you,” Lou admitted sadly before taking a deep breath, mustering up the courage she needed to finish saying what she needed to.

‘What do we do now?’ That question was on the tip of Kid’s tongue but somehow he knew the answer without asking it. There was only one thing that he could do to justify the situation; one thing that would hopefully make things alright between them. But before he could speak, she turned the conversation in a direction that made his earlier fears seem more real.

“I ain’t askin’ for anythin’, Kid. I’m not holdin’ you responsible or forcin’ you into somethin’ you ain’t ready for. I would never do that to you.” More than anything, Lou wanted to reach out and place her hand on his arm, hoping that would lead to him placing his hand over hers and eventually drawing her body up against his. But she had no right to touch him and this wasn’t the type of situation where they could so easily forget how hurt they were from the other’s actions. This type of situation accented those hurts because of how this came to be.

“Lou.”

“I just felt you had a right to know.”

“Lou.”

“Yes, Kid?” She looked at him, realizing for the first time that he had been trying to get her attention. All she wanted was to take care of him like he tried to take care of her. They’d made a mistake because she hadn’t listened to him so that didn’t mean his life had to be ruined. Well now he had her attention. Lou braced herself for what she knew was coming, what she didn’t want to hear but what Kid would feel obligated to say.

Kid reached out and lightly took hold of her elbow. He understood why she was saying those things. It was exactly what he would say to her if something had happened to him. But what he was about to tell her was what the situation called for. “You’re not alone.”

“Huh?”

“You’re not alone,” he repeated softly. After saying it a second time, Kid knew it was the right thing to do … the only thing.

“I’m not?” Lou looked at Kid in surprise and confusion. Where was the marriage proposal or the ‘I told you so’?

He shook his head. “If it happens to be true … and you seem to think it is … I’ll be there for you every step of the way … if you’ll let me, that is.” She got very nervous as he kept looking at her. “I wouldn’t make any demands on you, only offer you my support. The rest we can work out when we see fit.” Kid shrugged, trying to make it seem like it was no big deal what he was offering.

“I would never make you stay away if you didn’t want to. It would be a part of you, too.” Lou gave him a small smile.

Kid grinned back at her. He felt like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders; worrying about her not letting him be a part of it and helping her with anything she might need had taken precedence over how scared he felt at the idea of possibly becoming a father.

A peacefulness had seemed to settle over them. Circumstances had forced her to reveal her secret before it could be confirmed and those same circumstances were coming between them finding out together the fate of their future. She’d never dreamed of Kid reacting the way he had. He was more in shock than she was right now but he’d been so levelheaded and calm when he’d told her what she thought she’d never hear. It was the first time that he hadn’t acted out of what was right or wrong, but instead acted out of what he thought she needed from him.

She needed so much more from him but this was the best start she could hope for and she didn’t want to ruin it. The sooner he left, the sooner he would be back and the sooner he would hear if he was going to be a father or not. There had been no pressure from him, only caring and support. That thought alone would pull her through the hard days and nights that lay ahead.

Kid wondered what she was thinking. All thoughts of what he’d been doing before this walk had vanished from his mind as he tried to think through what they were more than likely about to face in the coming months. “Lou,” he began before getting cut off by her.

“You best be gettin’ back, Kid. The boys’ll be waitin’ on ya.” Lou had given Kid what she needed to and gotten in return the best he could give her. The best thing now was to leave things as they were.

“Let ‘em.”

“Cain’t.” She expected this sort of answer from him but she wasn’t ready to continue with more of this conversation right now. It had been hard enough to tell him the news; she wasn’t ready to start making any sort of plans … especially when he was about to leave and risk his life all in the name of helping a friend out. She admired and hated him for giving the answer he had to Teaspoon’s request but then he wouldn’t be the Kid if he’d done otherwise. “Teaspoon already gave me five extra minutes to talk to you and I know we went over that. If you don’t get back now, you know he’ll say no the next time we ask him somethin’.”

Lou turned on her heel and began a brisk walk around the side of the barn to where the others would be waiting for him at the double doors. She would have liked to tell him that they’d said all they needed to say right now but he knew it and she would have liked to tell him that she just wanted him to know of the possibility before he left but he knew that too. That was why she was now leading the way back to where the others stood waiting for them.

Kid watched her retreating back as if in a trance before shaking his head awake and doing what he’d done on their walk out there – he took large steps in his attempt to keep up with her. He didn’t have to ask what was going on – he knew. Changing the subject was Lou’s way of saying they were done talking about this for now. And no amount of prodding on his part would get her to continue it. In her mind enough had been said and the rest could wait for later. In a way Kid was glad of this little trait of hers.

When he’d caught up to her and they ended up walking side by side in silence back the last few steps until they rounded that last corner and became visible, Kid found himself wanting to steal a peek at her. He couldn’t help it. Things were more than likely going to be changing between them once again; it was a change they had brought upon themselves. When they had been a couple, Kid had done everything he thought he should instead of everything Lou had needed him to do. Today, Kid had done everything she needed him to do. He could have said so much more but instead he gave her only what she needed at this time. Maybe he had grown up some, he thought with a sad smile.

As they came around the side of the barn to where the others were waiting for them, Kid’s thoughts drifted to what he’d just been told. He’d done one thing right so far but he still had one more to do and that was to come back from this mission. Lou needed him, even if she hadn’t said it … and he needed her.

Lou stood back away from everyone as Kid left her side and climbed into his saddle. She couldn’t recall how many times they had stood around like they were, getting ready to wish ‘ride safe’ to those heading out on a run. She wrapped her arms around herself at the thought of the type of ride Kid, Jimmy, and Buck were heading out on. Lou couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to any of them but what she had just told Kid was actually pushing that worry out of her mind. She had a more pressing concern at the moment and the thought that she would actually have to go through it alone, despite her assurance to Kid that he didn’t have to be a part of it, was making her sick to her stomach.

After Teaspoon, Rachel and Cody had said their good-byes, Lou stepped forward. She looked from one rider to the other as she spoke, starting with Jimmy then Buck and ending with Kid. “Ride safe … all of you.” Her brown eyes locked onto the blue eyes she knew so well.

“You bet,” Jimmy assured her as Buck gave a nod in agreement. The two of them turned their horses and with a nod to each other spurred the animals into action.

Kid had turned Katy so it looked like he was going to follow Jimmy and Buck but the angle he was at would also allow him the chance to continue to look at Lou. When she’d said ‘all of you’ Kid knew he had to break her little trait about when a discussion was ended or not. So when the other boys began to ride away, Kid didn’t follow straight away. He moved Katy in the opposite direction until he was alongside where Lou was standing. Looking down into the eyes he knew so well, Kid leaned closer to her and whispered so only she would hear, “I will be back and we’ll talk more then.”

Lou grinned, happy that he hadn’t heeded her warning and left things as is. True he hadn’t said anything more yet but there was the promise that he would and she knew that with him returning from this ride, she would be ready to hear everything he had to tell her and that she’d be ready to tell him everything she wanted to tell him. Not wanting to keep him any longer as the others were already out of the yard, she nodded her head and answered, “I’d like that.”

With one last wave from Kid and one last moment of their eyes meeting before he turned all his attention to catching up to his two friends, Lou wasn’t even aware that Teaspoon and Rachel had come to stand on either side of her. All she was aware of was that Kid would fight his hardest to come back to her … to them, she thought as her hands moved from resting at her side to resting on her middle.

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