Chapter 1

As the boys made their way in from mending the corral fence, Jimmy spied a note on his bunk. He retrieved the paper and Cody instantly asked, “Whatcha got there, Jimmy?”

But before he had time to answer, Cody snatched it from his grasp and began reading aloud. “My Dearest Jimmy – I have admired you from afar and would like to introduce myself. Meet me in the lobby of the Split Rock hotel promptly at two o’clock, Wednesday. I am in anticipation of finally making your acquaintance. Until then, I am, your secret admirer.”

Cody hooted with laughter and whistled loudly. Jimmy grabbed the note back and quickly scanned it. Sure enough Cody hadn’t fabricated it, someone indeed wanted to meet him. He smiled to himself.

“It’s not every day someone gets a letter like that.” Cody informed him.

“Don’t cha think I think that, Cody?” Jimmy told him. “What I want to know is how she snuck in here while we were all right nearby.”

“Easy. I put it there.” Lou spoke in her deepest voice possible. No one had found out her secret yet and she wanted to keep it that way as long as possible.

Stunned, five pairs of eyes stared back at her. Before their imaginations ran wild with her last comment, she quickly added, “Boy in town gave it to me to deliver to ya’, Jimmy.” She gave him a wink and then added, “Are ya’ goin’?”

“Yeah, Jimmy, are ya’?” The Kid asked.

Cain’t leave a pretty gal waitin’ ya’ know.” Cody advised.

“Now how do you know she’s pretty?” Buck asked Cody.

Ike answered for him “*To him any girl is pretty*”

“Thank you, Ike…I think.” Cody responded.

“Well I’ve got a ride comin’ up to Split Rock in a coupla days. Guess it must be kismet that we meet.” Jimmy grinned.

Silently, the rest of the riders envied Jimmy. Here they’d only been working for the Express a few months and already he had an admirer.

*~*~*

The next two days passed slowly for all the riders. They were all anticipating what would happen in Split Rock and couldn’t wait to hear about it when Jimmy returned.

Quite a lot of ribbing went on in that short span of two days, as well. Mostly from Cody, who was more than a little jealous and his pride stung that a girl would pick Jimmy over himself.

“Ya’ know, Jimmy, I’d be more than happy to take your ride to Split Rock for ya’. She doesn’t know what she’s missing wantin’ ta’ meet you instead of me. I could save ya’ the heartache and go in your stead. Because once she meets me, she’s gonna wanna dump ya’ like a hot potato.”

“Leave off, Mr. Cody.” Teaspoon spoke up. “Let the young man go meet his lady admirer.” Teaspoon, who had heard of nothing else in the last two days was also eager for the meeting to take place, if only so he wouldn’t have to keep hearing about it.

“Hey, what if it’s Abigail McPherson? Maybe she changed her mind about Lou and decided to like me instead.” Jimmy pondered aloud.

“Doubt it. She’d be going after me, not you.” Cody boasted. “What she sees in Lou, I’ll never know.” He added without thinking, since Lou was standing nearby.

She walked up and socked Cody in the arm, hard, and headed towards the bunkhouse.

“Aw, Lou, what was that for?” He called after her.

“For not thinkin’, as usual.” Jimmy explained the self-absorbed rider. “Even Lou has his pride.”

Cody just shrugged.

Soon Emma could be heard calling them to supper. As they all trailed into the bunkhouse, Emma greeted each of the riders by name and gave Jimmy a knowing look. She smiled brightly and asked, “So, Jimmy, lookin’ forward to tomorrow?”

“Aw, Emma, don’t you start now, too.” Jimmy complained.

“I was only askin’. ’Sides it’s not like something like this happens every day.”

“Now where have I heard that one before?” He asked, as he glared at Cody.

“You just be sure to be nice to her if she’s not exactly…uh, well…” Emma trailed off, not sure how to say what was on her mind since she’d heard about it.

“Ya’ mean, if she’s ugly.” Cody remarked. “Haw haw, that would be great! I can just see it now the great Jimmy Hickok bein’ chased by a homely gal. No wonder she picked you over me. Good riddance, Jimmy, you can have her!”

The boys all snickered.

“William Cody, you hush your mouth this instant. That isn’t what I was going to say.” Emma protested with hands on her hips.

“Sure as shootin’ sounded like where you were headed, Miss Emma.” Teaspoon interjected.

“Mr. Spoon…”

”Now Emma, don’t go getting all riled up on me. You know as well as I, no one knows what that girl will look like and the boy needs to be prepared.”

Dread started to fill Jimmy. Not once had it crossed his mind that she might not be attractive. What if she was some toothsome creature that wouldn’t leave him alone after he met with her?

“Cody, your offer still open to take my ride tomorrow?” Jimmy asked the blonde headed rider.

“Jimmy Hickok! How can you even think about not goin’ after all the trouble this young lady has gone through to meet you. You’re goin’ on your scheduled ride tomorrow and that’s final.” Just for good measure, Emma had to add, “And you are going to meet with her.”

Inside, Lou’s feminine side was seething with anger. Leave it to a man to put so much importance on a woman’s face, instead of the beauty on the inside of her that really counted. But without giving away her position as a female, she could say nothing and held her tongue.

“*Sometimes beauty is in the eye of the beholder*” Ike signed.

“Ike’s right. The Kiowa believe that true beauty lies within a person.”

Good ole Buck and Ike, Lou’s estimation of them just rose higher with their comments.

Kid, who had remained silent through it all finally advised Jimmy he should go. His reasoning, “You’re never gonna know ‘til you go and meet with her. What if she is beautiful. You could be passin’ up a good thing.”

“And if she’s not?” Lou asked, growing more angry as each minute passed.

“Well…” Kid began.

“He could always shoot her if she won’t leave him alone.” Cody chimed in and started laughing again.

Emma slapped down the mashed potatoes on Cody’s plate and gave him a stern look, instantly sobering him up.

“You remember what I said, Jimmy, and you’ll see everything will turn out fine.” Emma was quick to advise, as she continued to serve up the meal.

Noting the stationmistress had put her foot down, Teaspoon quickly changed the subject to something a little more safe and the meal continued without another word mentioned about Jimmy’s upcoming meeting.

*~*~*

Somewhere later that night, a girl lay awake, her nerves aflutter in anticipation of finally revealing herself. She had been in love with Jimmy Hickok from the first moment she laid eyes on him, before she had even known his name.

She tossed and turned, getting very little sleep and worried that when morning came she’d have dark circles under her eyes. Her looks, she thought, were passable, but she wanted to look her absolute best come the afternoon when she would finally meet her one true love.

*~*~*

Jimmy was having similar trouble sleeping. He wasn’t worried so much anymore if she wasn’t beautiful because of the comments Buck and Ike had made about the importance of inner beauty. But what he was starting to worry about was what if he didn’t live up to her expectations. If she’d only seen him from afar and never actually met him, how did he know that she’d be satisfied with him after finally talking with him?

He’d never had trouble with attracting other girls before, but this time seemed different. More important. What she really thought of him mattered. Sounded kind of silly, considering he’d never met her before, but there it was.

*~*~*

By the time morning came, Lou and Buck had left on their rides, one going East and one West. Kid and Ike were already hard at work on their chores. The only rider still asleep besides Jimmy was Cody.

Teaspoon’s booming voice woke the two riders up. “Rise and shine boys!”

Jimmy who looked a little worse for wear having not slept a wink until late into the night, quickly rose. Cody on the other hand was a different story.

Silently nodding to each other, Jimmy and Teaspoon each took an end of Cody’s sheet and yanked, effectively getting the rider out of bed by dumping him on the ground.

“What the…why’d you go and do that, Jimmy?”

When Jimmy inclined his head toward Teaspoon, Cody realized the why and got up off the floor, rubbing his backside. Mumbling something about not getting enough beauty sleep.

Ignoring Cody, Teaspoon told Jimmy, “I’ve got those papers ready for you to take to Split Rock. As soon as you eat you better get a move on before two o’clock comes and goes.” He winked at Jimmy and left him to get ready.

*~*~*

Twenty minutes later, Jimmy was ready to ride and ready to meet this mysterious admirer of his.

“Ride Safe!” Teaspoon called after him.

Chapter 2

The ride to Split Rock was uneventful, but slow going because it started raining half way there. It was just a little before two o’clock when Jimmy arrived in town. His first stop was the sheriff’s office to deliver the papers from Teaspoon. Of course the sheriff wasn’t in and Jimmy was forced to wait for his return. It was 2:20 by the time the sheriff returned and Jimmy was late for his meeting with his mystery woman. He hoped she was still there waiting.

Meanwhile, across town a girl was waiting at the hotel. Furious with herself for even writing the note in the first place, she paced the small space of the lobby, sat down and then immediately stood up and started pacing again. Maybe the rain they were having had slowed him on his journey. She vowed she’d wait another ten minutes and then she was leaving.

Glancing out the window, she saw him. Drenched from head to toe, he had never looked more attractive to her than he did now. He had come after all. She was so afraid that he wouldn’t show. But none of that mattered now. All that mattered was he was there and soon she’d be meeting him for the first time.

Hurrying across the street and onto the boardwalk in front of the hotel, Jimmy grumbled to himself. She probably wasn’t even here anymore and then he’d never know what she was like or even who she was. Maybe he’d send her another note…nah, she’d probably think he stood her up. He’d never hear from her again.

As he entered the hotel, he removed his hat and ran his fingers through his hair trying to squeeze out some of the rain. He removed his slicker and looked around the lobby. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.

A petite lady with brown curls greeted him with a magnetic smile. Dressed in a gingham yellow dress and wearing delicate pearl earbobs with a matching necklace, his now not-so-mysterious admirer greeted him.

She held out her hand to him, curtsied, and said, “Jimmy Hickok. I’ve been wanting to introduce myself for a long time.”

Taking her hand and kissing the back of it, he looked at her quizzically. Cocking his head to one side he finally realized who she was.

“Lou! What on earth…how are you…why are you…You’re a girl!”

The desk clerk gave Jimmy a strange look, cleared his throat and left his post.

“Yes, Jimmy. Always have been.” She declared, more than just a little nervous now at his reaction to her.

“But why…how…” He stammered, grasping for something to say.

“Why don’t we take a little walk to the restaurant. I’m as hungry as Cody.”

When he started to say something, she quickly added, “I’ll explain everything when we get there.”

Nodding, he numbly took her arm in his and they walked to the end of the boardwalk and stopped at a small restaurant.

Once they were seated, silence reigned for a few minutes as he just sat and really looked at her.

Searching for something to say, all Jimmy could come up with was, “Where are your glasses?”

She touched her face and said, “Oh, I don’t really need them. They’re just part of the disguise. They hide my eyes better.” After another pause, she asked, “What are you really thinking, Jimmy?”

“I’m thinking how stupid I am for not noticing it sooner. But how come you’re masquerading as a boy and working for the Express? Are ya’ on the run or something?”

“I’ve got a younger brother and a sister in an orphanage in St. Joe. I’m trying to save up enough money to get them out of there so we can all be together. The Pony Express pays good money. Shouldn’t take me long at all.”

“Well you can certainly handle yourself well from what I’ve seen. How on earth have you keep this a secret for this long?”

“It’s only been a few months and besides most people only see what they want to see. I dress like a boy, they see a boy. I dress like this, and people see a girl.”

“No, a woman.”

“What?”

“I said you’re a woman, not a ‘girl’.”

Lou blushed.

“So what’s your real name? No, wait, let me guess. Louisa?”

“Close. It’s Louise, Louise McCloud.”

He put his hand out to shake hers and said, “Nice to meet you, Louise. I’m Jimmy.”

She batted his hand away and said, “I know who you are.”

“Yeah, you know me, but I’m only just starting to know who you are. I thought I did.”

“You do know me. You just don’t know this side of me. I’m still Lou, Pony Express rider.”

“But why’d you take this chance? Why’d you want me to meet the real you?”

Lou’s face turned deep red and she looked down at her napkin. Fidgeting with the tablecloth, she drew up her courage and looked him in the eye. “I wanted you to know. I wanted to tell you…”

“Yeah, go on. You wanted to tell me what?” Even though he had a very good feeling he already knew, he still pressed her for more.

“I wanted to be pretty for you. There I’ve said it. I wanted you to see me as someone other than ‘just Lou’. I wanted you to look at me the way you and Cody looked at Abigail McPherson. I really like you, Jimmy. I like you a lot. And I’m taking a big chance here letting you know the real me. I hope you won’t tell anyone else, at least not yet. I need to prove who I am, that I can do the job and do it well before I let anyone else know. If Teaspoon sees what a good rider I am then maybe he won’t fire me if he ever finds out. But you…you, Jimmy, I can trust you. Don’t ask me how I know that, but I just know I can. Am I right? Can I trust you with my secret, Jimmy?”

He gave her a wide grin and nodded. “Yeah, Lou, you can trust me. I won’t say a word to anyone. As for Teaspoon firin’ ya’ if he finds out, I doubt it. You ride just as well as the rest of us, maybe better.”

The waiter arrived and they placed their order.

“Ya’ know I wasn’t exactly sure you’d show up considering all the talk that was going on last night, especially with what was comin’ out of Cody’s mouth.”

“Lou, about that, had I known…”

”Ya’ don’t have ta’ explain, Jimmy. It must have been pretty strange getting’ a note from a complete stranger and trustin’ enough to go through with meetin’ me. I just didn’t know how to ‘reveal’ myself to ya’ without all the other boys finding out, too.”

“Lou, ya’ did just fine. I’m just sorry you had to listen to what Cody said. Wish I could take it all back. Somewhere in the night, I realized I was pretty darn lucky to have someone willin’ to go through all this trouble just for me. Nobody’s ever cared enough to do anything like this for me before. Only one who’s ever really cared ‘bout me was my ma.”

“She musta been one special lady.” Lou remarked.

“Yeah, she was.” Changing the subject before he got too misty-eyed, he said, “Ya’ know, I’m not exactly somebody worthy enough to get mixed up with, Lou. Cain’t say I’m gonna be what you’d call safe company. Sure you want to do this? We can still go back ta’ you just bein’ Lou.”

“Jimmy, I realize you don’t really know the real me yet, but one thing’s for sure I’ve got a mind of my own and I’m not afraid to use it. Once I’ve got it set on something I go after it. As for you bein’ safe company, I doubt any of us workin’ for the Express is safe. Between the Indians and the outlaws and just plain runnin’ over the territory, anything can happen. And before ya’ say anything else, I know what you’re thinkin’. You think just because of what happened with Longley you’re not worth bein’ with, don’t deserve happiness because you think all you are is a gunslinger and don’t have anything to offer another human being ‘cept heartache and danger.”

“Ya’ think you’ve got me all figured out, huh, Lou?”

“Ya’ can tell a lot about a person from just watchin’ ‘em, especially when they don’t know they’re bein’ watched. I know enough about you to know what makes you tick and what you’re thinkin’ when you think no one’s watchin’.”

“Geez, Lou, you make it sound a mite creepy.”

She shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t mean to be. Just statin’ a fact.”

Their food arrived in short order and they dug in, both hungry from their ride.

The meal ended quickly and each ordered a dessert, trying to make their time together linger on as long as possible. Although neither one knew much of what to say to each other, they just enjoyed being together.

After they were finished eating, it was too late to get a start back home and the issue of accommodations came up. Lou told him she had a room at the hotel. She had used it earlier to change into her dress.

“Ya’ can come up and stay with me. Before you go getting any ideas I mean to share the bed like Pony Express riders, nothing else.” ‘At least not yet’, Lou thought to herself.

“Wouldn’t think otherwise, Lou.” He grinned. But what he was really thinking would have set her face aflame.

As he began to follow her into the hotel, the desk clerk gave Jimmy a dubious look. Jimmy in turn winked at him outrageously. The clerk cleared his throat and began a fit of coughing.

Once upstairs, Lou asked what he did to the clerk.

“Just left him with no doubt as to what was goin’ on, is all.” He slyly replied.

“Jimmy Hickok! There’s nothing goin’ on. Yet.”

“Why Lou…”

“Uh, did I say that out loud?” She had the good sense to look embarrassed.

“Yep.”

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all.” She said, growing nervous. Not sure if she could trust herself to be all alone with him and not do anything.

“Lou, I promise you, we won’t do anything you don’t want. If you just want to sleep that’s what we’ll do. Alright?”

Hearing his words and believing in his promise to her, made her fall for him all the more. But at the same time brought memories back to another time a few years ago with a mongrel named Simon Wicks. She quickly pushed the bad memories away, telling herself this was Jimmy and she had nothing to fear from him and opened the door to her room.

After she lit the lamp, it soon became apparent to Lou that she had nowhere to change out of her dress. Back at the bunkhouse she was always in her long-johns and didn’t have the problem of bloomers and a chemise.

Noting her predicament, Jimmy at first couldn’t believe his good fortune. But he tapped down his desire and offered to turn his back. Only peeking once while she was changing, he wondered how he was going to get through the night sleeping next to her. She had quite a shape underneath those baggy boys’ clothes. For the second night in a row, he realized sleep would be long in coming to him. But it would be worth it, if he could only hold her in his arms for the night.

“Alright, Jimmy. I’m ready.” She squeaked.

‘Not as ready as I am.’ He inwardly groaned to himself.

When he turned around he found her already under the covers. Jimmy began to strip down to his long-johns and Lou quickly shut her eyes. It wasn’t as if she’d never seen him before, but there was something so intimate about being completely alone with him while he undressed.

Seeing her tightly shut eyes, he quipped, “Lou, it’s not like you haven’t seen me before. Come to think of it, you’ve probably seen me in much less.”

Her blushing from head to toe gave him the answer he was seeking. They were always taking dips in the pond nearby the way station.

Obtaining some sense of enjoyment out of her discomfort, he smiled to himself. If her blush was any indication, she must have liked what she’d seen. Hell, she obviously must have liked what she’d seen, else he wouldn’t be here now standing half-naked in front of her. Deciding to push her as far as he possibly could, he removed the top half of his long-johns as well.

He jumped in under the covers and she squealed with half embarrassment and delight. “Uh, Jimmy, I thought we were just gonna sleep like two Pony Express riders.”

“We are. It’s a little chilly on top of the covers. You don’t mind, do ya’?” He asked her, hoping she wouldn’t tell him to leave.

“If you were cold, why’d you take off your shirt then?”

He just shrugged. “If you’re cold why don’t you scoot closer to me and we can share some body heat.”

“I’m not the one that’s cold here, Jimmy Hickok.” She meekly protested.

Sensing her resolve was melting by the moment, he reached out and pulled her closer to him.

Sighing in contentment, she said, “Mmm, this feels nice.”

“Yeah.”

She laid her head on his chest so she could hear his heartbeat. As he stroked her hair, she had never felt so safe in her entire life.

“It doesn’t get any better than this, does it, Jimmy?”

Kissing the top of her hair, he could think of one or two things that would make the moment perfect. But determined to live up to her trust in him, he didn’t want to push her.

She kissed his chest and her lips burned into his skin.

“Lou.” He croaked. ‘Was that his voice?’

“Yes, Jimmy?” She continued kissing him.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“I think I have a pretty good idea.” She boldly said.

“I thought you wanted us to sleep together as two Pony Express riders.” He reminded her. ‘Now why’d you go and remind her of that’, he chastised himself.

“We are, Jimmy.” She boldly said in between kisses. “We’re two riders, one just happens to be a girl and the other…” She smiled, “Well, the other happens to be a very alluring and captivating…man.”

He took her chin in his hand and raised her head to his and he captured her lips with his. “Woman, not a girl, Lou. You’re all woman. And all I need in this world.”

Pulling his lips away from hers, he asked, “Are you sure, Lou?”

Not being able to find her voice, she nodded.

Wanting to make absolutely sure, he said, “You’ve got to say it, Lou.”

“I’m sure, Jimmy. I’ve never been more sure. I…I love you, Jimmy. I feel like my whole life has been leading up to this one moment. Make love to me, Jimmy. Make me feel like that woman you insist I am.”

His brilliant smile lit the entire room. Lou asked about the light and his response was, “Leave it. I want to see every inch of you. No more wondering what you really look like.”

They kissed again and as the kiss deepened and they removed the rest of their clothing, they engaged in a dance that was as old as time.

Chapter 3

The morning dawned brightly as the two lovers lay entangled with each other. Jimmy was the first to awake. He laid unmoving so he could study the wonderful slip of a woman that had made her way into his life.

Thinking back to the first time they’d met those few short months ago, he realized then there was something special about her, but he had mistaken it for a bond of friendship. He couldn’t have thought much else, he’d taken her for a boy just like everyone else.

He lightly brushed a strand of hair away from her face and smiled. Dizzily, he thought back to night before and how quickly he had fallen for her. How quickly she had gotten under his skin. And how quickly she became someone he couldn’t live without…not without dying inside.

She was one strong woman, living in a man’s world the way she was, and yet at the same time she was as delicate as a flower, opening only for him. He felt wonderful, but at the same time was doubtful as to the life they could have together. He knew the way he’d led his life so far was nothing to be proud of and felt the future only held more danger for him. But for her he would try to change. At least not be so quick with the Colt. A man could make a name for himself that way and a name like that wouldn’t be something he’d want to offer her or could offer her.

Stirring out of his reverie, he felt the small kisses she laid upon his arm. He looked over at her and smiled…again. He felt like he’d never smiled this much in his whole life.

“You look like you were deep in thought. Not having regrets are ya’?” She asked.

“Not one. You?”

“I’d never regret what we did last night. But Jimmy, there is one thing.”

Instantly on alert, he asked her what was wrong.

“Oh, nothin’s wrong. I was just wondering…”

“What?” He asked, afraid of what she would say.

“Could we do it again?”

Laughing with relief, he took her in his arms and they slowly made love.

*~*~*

Over an hour later, their growling stomachs forced them out of bed to seek a different kind of nourishment for their bodies.

Lou hopped out of bed without a stitch on and Jimmy let out a low whistle. As she dressed in her boy’s garb, he asked, “How on earth am I going to work side-by-side with you every day without thinking ‘bout what happened here?”

“When ya’ come up with the answer to that one, let me know.” She laughed, tossing his clothes in his general direction and made them purposely fall short of their mark. Jimmy rose from the bed to retrieve them. It was Lou’s turn to whistle, but her face turned red as she did so.

“Lou, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” He told her.

“I know. I just…I never enjoyed myself so much before. Ya’ know you’re gonna be getting a lot more little notes on your bunk for some more rendezvous.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it, ma’am.” He winked.

She stuffed her dress into her saddle bag and placed her hat over her now flat hair. Quickly, she leaned in to kiss Jimmy’s cheek, but he moved at the last second and his lips met hers in a lazy and brazen kiss. He reluctantly pulled away before the kiss led to something more, saying, “If we don’t get a move on Cody’s likely to come lookin’ for us.” Sure enough, that got her moving.

*~*~*

After they ate and led their horses away from the livery, they mounted up and rode side by side slowly out of town.

Not wanting to leave each other’s company so soon, they agreed to ride back home together, telling everyone else that they met up with each other on the trail.

On the ride back, they each talked of their families that were now long gone. Lou gained some insight on Jimmy’s abusive childhood at the hands of his father and understood much better the reasons behind his shoot-out with Longley.

She then spoke lovingly of her deceased mother and then of her brother and sister at the orphanage.

“When’s the last time you’ve seen ‘em?” Jimmy asked her.

“A few years ago.”

“Why don’t you go visit them anymore?”

“Because I wanted the next time I saw ‘em to be the time I brought ‘em home with me. Cain’t do that yet, haven’t got enough money saved.” She said, holding back the tears that were sure to come whenever she thought of Jeremiah and Teresa.

“Lou, maybe I’m buttin’ in where I don’t belong, but ya’ ought to go see ‘em. Take it from someone who has an older sister, she can be a real pain sometimes, but it’s a nice feelin’ to know she’s there if I ever need her.”

“Thanks, Jimmy.” She smiled. “I needed that. Maybe I will go. Soon as we can get some time off that is.” Lou added.

*~*~*

As the miles went by and they got closer and closer to home, the tension between the two riders became almost impenetrable. The ease with which they talked earlier faded away into awkwardness.

Jimmy was the first to break the silence. “Lou, ‘bout last night, you sure you aren’t regrettin’ what we did?”

“No, Jimmy, I don’t regret a thing. It’s just now that we’re gettin’ so close to Sweetwater, I’m just not sure of anything. I don’t know how I’m gonna keep my secret now.”

“Lou, I promised you I wouldn’t tell and I won’t. When I make a promise I keep my word.”

“It’s not that. I told ya’ I trusted you. It’s just how am I gonna be around ya’ and not have it show on my face that there’s somethin’ goin’ on between us.”

“They all still think you’re a boy. They won’t think anything.”

“Cody will pick up on somethin’.”

“So what? We don’t tell him nothin’.” Jimmy insisted.

Chapter 4

The way station came into view and naturally the rest of the boys were anxiously waiting outside for Jimmy to arrive.

Noting that Lou was with him peaked their curiosity, but when she merely said, “Guess who I met on the trail back.” They quickly turned their attention back to Jimmy.

Lou took Sundance and Lightning to the barn and began methodically brushing them down. Giving her some much needed time alone.

Outside, Cody and the boys were pressing Jimmy for details and asking one question after the other.

“So is she pretty?” Cody asked first. When Jimmy nodded, Cody insisted he knew it all along.

Buck reminded Cody, “You thought she was going to be ugly before Jimmy left and you know it.”

Cody ignored Buck and still insisted, “I could tell from her handwritin’ she was pretty.”

Kid asked Jimmy, “So, was it Abigail McPherson?”

Jimmy shook his head and grinned, “Prettier.”

“Now how can someone be prettier than Abigail McPherson?” Cody asked, clearly dumbfounded.

“They can, Cody. Now shut your trap before you stick your foot in it.” Jimmy said, getting irritated at the other rider.

Cody clutched at his chest and mocked, “Oh, you wound me, Jimmy.”

“So what’s her name?” Kid wondered aloud.

Jimmy kept his silence.

“Aw, c’mon, you’ve gotta tell us her name, Jimmy.”

“I don’t have ta’ do anything, Cody.”

Just then Lou walked out of the barn.

Cody started toward her and asked, “Did ya’ see her, Lou? You said you met him on the trail. Was she with him?”

Dazed, she didn’t know how to answer him. Maybe she’d just play along so as not to arouse too much suspicion. “Maybe.” Was all she said, toying with Cody for irritating Jimmy to no end.

“So was she as beautiful as your Abigail?” Cody asked.

“She’s not my Abigail.” Said an irritated Lou, wondering how on earth the conversation had switched to Abigail when she thought they were talking about Jimmy’s admirer.

“She came around while you were on your ride.”

“Who?”

“Abigail McPherson. She was lookin’ for ya’.”

“Was not.”

“Alright, so she came to see Emma, but she might have been here to see ya’, too.”

Blowing her hair out of her face in frustration, she tried changing the subject and asked where Ike was. It worked.

“He’s out on a run. Should be back any time now.” Cody informed her.

Lou and Cody joined Jimmy, Buck and the Kid. Seeing them standing around doing nothing, Teaspoon quickly put them to work, assigning meaningless tasks to each. Before the group broke up, Teaspoon said to Jimmy, “Nice to see ya’ back, son. Was wondering if you were going to carry off that little gal and not come back.”

“Aw, c’mon, Teaspoon, not you, too.”

The station master held up his hands in surrender. “Alright. But anytime you want to talk about it, son, I’m here. Now git to work.”

*~*~*

Somewhere in the day during their tasks and completely by chance, Jimmy and Lou met in the barn. Not being able to stay apart, especially after the night they spent with one another, they quickly melted into each other with one deep, lustful kiss. Breaking apart before getting caught, Jimmy whispered for her to meet him at the swimming hole in a half an hour. Lou readily agreed and they went their separate ways.

*~*~*

A half hour later Lou was already in the swimming hole waiting for Jimmy to arrive. She leaned back, floating on her back, when she bumped into him behind her.

As he whispered what he wanted to do to her, he gave her shivers up and down her spine and she gave him a delicious smile.

Noting her shivering, he asked if she was cold.

“Not a bit. In fact, just the opposite.”

Throwing caution to the wind, the two lovers were soon making love without a care of getting caught. As it turns out, they should have been a bit more careful.

Teaspoon decided a nice dip would be just what was needed to ease his tired, aching muscles. He began stripping down to his long-johns, but what he saw stopped him in his tracks. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing what he was seeing, but the vision still didn’t go away. There were two of his Express riders engaged in what could only be called lascivious behavior. He would have never thought it of Hickok. Lou maybe. There had always been something a little odd about the boy.

Teaspoon waited from his vantage point until the pair left the water before he approached them. Exactly what he would say to them he wasn’t sure. For once, Teaspoon was at a loss for words.

“Boys, I think ya’ll got some explain’ ta’ do.” Teaspoon’s voice carried over the distance between them.

“Oh, shit. Jimmy what are we gonna do? Do ya’ think he saw us?” Lou was frantic with worry and dressing as quickly as she could.

“From the tone of his voice, there’s no doubt he saw somethin’. Lou, I know you’re not gonna like this none, but you’re gonna have ta’ tell him.” When she gave him a desperate look, he insisted he wouldn’t tell, “But do ya’ really want him ta’ think we’re two boys doin’ what we were just doin’?”

“No, Jimmy, I wouldn’t do that to ya’.” Straightening her shoulders, she marched straight over to Teaspoon and confessed. “Teaspoon, it’s not what ya’ think…at least not exactly what ya’ think. See, my real name is Louise, Louise McCloud and I’m Jimmy’s secret admirer.”

You could have knocked Teaspoon over with a feather, he was so shocked. “Well thank the good Lord for small miracles.” Then he smiled. “Louise, is it?”

When she nodded, he added, “Well if that don’t beat all. Cain’t understand why I didn’t see it sooner.”

By now, Jimmy had come to stand beside her, laying a reinforcing hand on her shoulder. “Teaspoon, you ain’t gonna fire her, are ya’? Ya’ know she can ride better than the rest of us and she shoots straight.” Then as if making up his mind, Jimmy pressed on, “Just so ya’ know, if you fire her I’m goin’, too. It wouldn’t be fair of ya’ to hold it against her just because she’s a woman.”

“Now hold it a minute. Who said anything about firin’ her? She a mighty fine rider, you’re right, Jimmy. And what Russell, Majors and Waddell don’t know won’t hurt ‘em none.” Hooking his thumbs into his suspenders, “Now then, just how many of the boys know about this? I take it Cody doesn’t know, else I’d have heard ‘bout it by now. Does Emma know?”

“I’m the only one who knows, Teaspoon, I swear.” Jimmy vowed.

“Well this sure does explain some things. Always thought you was a mite puny for a boy your age, Lou, uh, Louise.”

“Lou’s fine.” She told Teaspoon. “Does this mean we need to tell the boys?”

“Well that’s up ta’ you, Lou. But I think they have a right ta’ know, especially if ya’ll think you’re gonna continue this kind of activity I walked in on. No need to give Cody a fit if he catches you two. And Emma needs to know. It wouldn’t be right not to include her. ‘Sides, knowin’ her she probably already suspects somethin’. There’s no keepin’ secrets where that woman’s concerned.” Pausing for effect, he finally added, “Well, go on and give the rest of the boys somethin’ to talk about. Me, I’m headed in there to give these old bones some time to relax in the water.”

As the pair headed off in the general direction of the bunkhouse, Teaspoon shook his head, part in disbelief and part in relief. Disbelief at the little turns life gives you. And relief in that maybe little Lou was just what Jimmy needed to settle himself down and channel some of that anger away from his gun.

Only time would tell.

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