The evening turned out to be wonderful. Danny and Buck were busy dancing all evening, and when they did take a break, Danny was introduced to everyone in the town. The ladies buzzed around her with all sorts of questions and invitations. And the men flocked to Buck, patting him on the back, and congratulating him on his luck.
Finally, Buck caught Danny's glance. He nodded his head towards the door and Danny smiled back, slightly shaking her head in agreement. Buck made it to the door and headed outside.
Another five minutes passed, when Buck saw Danny come out of the town hall. Spotting Buck, Danny walked towards him, and rolled her eyes.
"A little too much?" Buck asked her with a grin, offering his arm so that they could take a stroll.
"Everyone is very nice, almost too nice. Why do I get the feeling everyone feels guilty over playing along with Mary Ellen one too many times?" Danny responded taking her husband's arm.
"Probably because most of them are. Danny, do you understand what it means to be married to me?"
"What do mean?" Danny stopped so she could look at her husband.
Buck looked down at the ground, and after taking a deep breath looked up into his wife's eyes, "Most of the time the townsfolk will be fine. But the first sign of trouble, and usually, they're looking for 'The Injun' - 'The Half-Breed' to blame. Prejudice is a thin line. A part of the reason I didn't want to come tonight was because of Mary Ellen, but another part of me was worried about how you would be treated."
Danny hand caressed Buck's cheek, "Buck, I'm fine. She just hurt my pride a little. That was all."
"I'm not talking about Mary Ellen. I'm talking about the prejudice you'll have to deal with. You understand that most of those people inside can turn on me…on us for the simplest reason. They played along with Mary Ellen because most of them felt threatened by me, not Mary Ellen. I feel safe here in this town. It's a good town. I have good friends here, but there is always going to be people who distrust me."
Danny couldn't help but smile and raising her head to meet his, kissed her husband passionately. Releasing him from the embrace, she spoke. "Buck, I've known prejudice all my life. I know how quickly people can turn on you. I've had to fight because my sister was Indian and I've had to fight because I'm female, and because of other reasons as well. Sometimes it was easier when I dressed like a young man. People were cruel, but they were more accepting seeing a young man with an Indian maiden, rather than two women traveling together. The point is, I married you because I loved you; and I understood the kind of prejudice I would have to deal with. I can handle it."
Smiling down at his wife and nodding back at the town hall, he asked "Do you think anyone will miss us if we go on home?"
''I'm sure they will, but I don't care. I really am exhausted. Buck, does my hair really look okay? I haven't had it this short in a few years. I used to keep it short but that was a long time ago."
"Danny, you look amazing. Why do you think I want to leave early? I can't wait to get you home. You're not too tired, I hope."
Danny laughed at him, "Why Mr. Cross, I do believe you're being very presumptuous."
Buck cocked his eyebrow and with a crooked smile said, "Well, Mrs. Cross, I just can't help myself."
After breakfast the next morning, Buck went outside to find Charlie Stone already there.
"Charlie, you're here awfully early."
"Yeah, I couldn't sleep much last night."
"Anything you can talk about?" Buck asked his head wrangler.
"Well, I think I'm in love," Charlie leaned on one of the posts with a grin on his face.
"What? Well, congratulations. Who's the lucky lady?" Buck couldn't help but snicker and pat the older man on the back. He had never been married and usually didn't pay any attention to any of the women in town.
"That Mrs. White, the one that helped Danny last night, Mrs. Ellie White," he said as a matter of fact. "I've noticed her before but, I wanted to give her proper time to mourn. But when I saw her last night with all that spunk, well, I just decided that I just couldn't wait any longer. You know I ain't getting any younger. Buck, tell me about that boy of hers."
"Jason? Well, he's a good boy, young man really. He's nineteen now. I think he took it hard when his Pa died. He'd gone to school back East when Mrs. White, Ellie wrote and told him that Ezra, his Pa, was sick. He came right back home. He never realized how bad things were for his Ma and Pa until he came back. They had taken out a big loan on the farm to pay for his school. He never thought twice about staying."
"What about her other boys; she had three more?" Charlie wondered where her other children were.
"They moved on about three, maybe four years ago. They all married and went their separate ways. When Ezra died, I went over and helped Jason and Ellie fix the house up."
Charlie took off his hat and scratched his head, "Well, I hope you don't mind, but I offered him a job here."
"Not at all. When did he ask for a job? He knows he could've come to me and asked."
Charlie smiled, "He asked me last night. You've been a little busy lately. Besides, it gave me a reason to ask Ellie to dance. Do you think he'd mind if I called on his Ma?"
"I don't think he'd mind but work with him for a while. Trust me; if he's here working, you're going to see Ellie." Buck laughed and nodded towards the horizon at the young man walking down the road.
"Heaven's be. Where is that boy's horse?" Charlie asked putting his hat back on his head.
"They only have one and he won't let Ellie be there without it. She'll pick him up this evening. You watch and see."
Buck waved to the young man as he walked up. "Good morning Jason"
"Mr. Cross, I hope you don't mind. I asked Mr. Stone for a job last night." The young man addressed Buck expecting to be sent back home.
"So Charlie told me. Glad to see you here. And I've told you before, call me Buck. I'm not that much older than you are. You ever broke a horse before?"
Jason sheepishly looked at his new boss and shook his head.
Buck studied the young man and said, "Well, you'll be learning from the best. Listen to Charlie and you'll do fine. How about for right now you clean out the stalls."
Danny stepped out onto the porch in a simple, brown, calico dress and looked directly at her husband. It was very plain, not flashy, but complimented her figure quite nicely. She had decided to wear the dress today because they were expecting Ethan Wisener and his brother. She felt it looked more traditional to a rancher's wife's attire than her standard shirt and pants.
Buck looked up and smiled and noticed that not only was she wearing the dress, but she was also wearing a small medicine pouch he had made for her. He had left it on the bed post with a note attached. He wasn't sure if she would wear it or not. She was beautiful. He wanted her now more than ever, but he had to work on the ranch today. Her smile would have to last him all day.
Danny had found the medicine pouch on the post with a note attached. It told her how he had made it for her. He wanted to give her something to show his protection for her; she could hold it and think of Buck when he wasn't near. She wore the necklace with pride.
Rose had made a medicine pouch for her when they were younger. She'd given it away and now the memories of why were slowly creeping into her mind. As she held the small bag in her hand, she felt a stir of emotions, the love for Buck but also an underlying sense of guilt.
Buck had shared so much with her; and she had told him everything, well, almost everything. She just couldn't face the pain. Not yet.
"No...No...You can't have her!!...NOOO!!!" Danny hollered out in the darkness. She awoke in a pool of sweat. The moon shone through the window but little light reflected in.
"Danny, wake up! It's okay." Buck gently shook his wife awake before quickly lighting the lantern beside the bed.
Turning back around, he could see her sitting up now and shaking with fear. Her arms were folded across her chest and she was breathing so fast. Buck held his wife close to his chest, gently rocking her back and forth, and stroking her hair. Finally, Danny's breathing relaxed.
"Was it the same dream?" Buck asked as he gently turned his wife to look at him.
Looking up at him with such fear in her eyes, Danny responded with a nod. "I'm sorry, Buck."
"Danny, it's not Mary Ellen is it? That was over two months ago. She can't hurt you anymore." Buck didn't think it had anything to do with the dance, but for the past month, Danny had been having nightmares.
"No. It's not about her," Danny said trying to hold back tears creeping into her eyes.
"Hey, it'll be okay. Was it Rose? Do you want to talk about it?" He held her close to his chest now.
"I can't, not now. Please understand. I will, just not now."
"You know you can trust me with anything, right?" Buck asked her, feeling a bit hurt, but understanding that she needed more time.
"I trust you, with my life. I just…I can't tell you…not yet."
"Okay, when you're ready then. Are you going to be alright this week? I'll tell Teaspoon I can't go."
"No, you go. I'll be fine, Buck. I'm staying with Lou while you and Kid are gone. She's due any day and Kid won't worry as much if you're with him."
"Alright. Let's try to get some sleep then." Buck leaned over to turn off the lantern and lay back down.
Looking at her husband in the little bit of light that shined in the window, she kissed him and lay down on his chest with his arm gently protecting her. "Thank you."
"For being you."
"Push, Lou! Push!" Danny was supporting Lou, cooling her head with a wet rag. Rachel was assisting Ellie White. She was the best midwife around and had delivered more babies around Rock Creek than any doctor.
"Almost Lou! I can see the head. A little more," Ellie said.
"NOOO! I HAVE TO WAIT ON KID!" Lou was hoping her husband would be there.
Suddenly the door burst open with Kid rushing in "I'm here, Lou!" Kid came up next to Danny and she moved aside allowing Kid to take her place.
Coming out into the sitting room where Teaspoon, Charlie, and Jimmy were patiently waiting, Danny saw Buck standing there. Buck couldn't help himself and asked with a slight chuckle, "Is Kid okay?"
"Don't you mean is Lou okay?" Danny asked a little confused.
"No, I meant Kid. Why do you think we're back a day early? He had us ride the horses so fast with no stopping. I'm glad to be home though. Maybe I can get some sleep tonight."
Suddenly the cries of a baby floated into the room. Kid came out with a smile that beamed with pride and a small bundle in his hands, "It's a boy! Ten fingers and ten toes. He's perfect."
"How's Lou?" Danny asked.
"She's tired, but she's fine. Danny, she said you can go on in. Isn't he perfect?" Kid asked turning his attention and his new son to the men in the room.
"He's so small," Buck said as he and Kid both admired the small baby.
"Well, Kid I hope you don't mind Grandpa Teaspoon holding him," Teaspoon said as he pulled on his suspenders and approaching the young man.
"Me too," Jimmy spoke up.
Danny couldn't help but laugh a little as she watched the men gawking over the baby. She figured she would get to see the little one in a bit and she wanted to check on Lou first. As she walked into the room, she could see that Lou was resting.
"Hey, you did great Lou," Danny whispered softly as she placed her hand on Lou's.
"Isn't he beautiful?" Lou was tired but proud.
"To be honest, I haven't seen him yet. The men folk won't let anyone else around," she said with smile.
"You rest now sweetie. We'll take care of these men folk. You did a fine job young lady," Ellie was amazed at the spunky young woman.
"I am so proud of you, Lou." Rachel reached down and gave Lou a gentle kiss on her cheek.
The women came out of Lou's room and Ellie took the baby. "Now, everyone needs to give these young folks some breathing room. You men folk have seen the baby. Everyone back to work. Out!"
"Oh come on, Ellie. Just a few more minutes," Charlie begged his bride-to-be.
"No sir. You all go on. Let us women cook dinner so Kid ain't got to worry none. Kid, you go get cleaned up and then you can take the baby back in with Lou. Danny, here you take the baby for a moment. Maybe it'll give you and Buck some inspiration."
Danny took the child into her hands, and looking down at the small body in them; she felt lightness in her head as the room began to spin. She knew that she was going to faint. "Take the baby."
Rachel looked at Danny and saw how pale she had become. "What?"
"Take the baby, quickly."
Rachel reached for the child, just in time. As she took the child, Danny collapsed. Buck ran to her side.
She could hear mumbled sounds and then she could begin to make out voices. "Danny, Danny, wake up." It was Buck.
Opening her eyes, she could see everyone in the room looking at her with concern.
"The baby, is he okay?" She tried to sit up but another wave of lightness hit her and she was forced to stay lying down for a moment.
"The baby's fine. Are you okay?" Buck was very worried.
"I, um, I just want to go home." Danny was suddenly exhausted.
A few weeks after the birth of the baby, and things seemed to be getting back to normal. Jimmy and Kid were assisting Teaspoon more in town as he was preparing for his retirement. Buck had gone to Fort Laramie to buy and sell some horses. He had already been gone a week. And Danny's nightmares had slowly begun to cease.
Danny was walking on the sidewalk in town when she turned a corner and ran into a fancy gentleman who came out of the saloon.
"Oh, excuse me," Danny said looking up into the blackest eyes. Her heart was beating faster with horror. She recognized him immediately and prayed that he didn't recognize her.
He tipped his hat and smiled at Danny with a grin that sent a wave of nausea through her. "Danielle, well, my contacts were correct. It's been a long time."
"Franks, what are you doing here?"
Douglas Franks grabbed Danny by the arm so hard she gasped and pulled her into an alley out of the sight of gawking spectators. "That's Mr. Franks to you, you little whore."
He leaned down to try and kiss Danny and she turned away, shaking with fear.
With a slight laugh, he said, "Oh, that's right. You've gone respectable now, but not too respectable. I understand you married a half-breed. Supposed to be some kind of 'upstanding businessman and part time deputy' in this town. I wonder how upstanding he would be if he found out how fine you were to me. Finer than anyone the parlor house had to offer."
"What do want, Mr. Franks?"
"It's simple, I want you back. And I want my kid."
Danny looked up in surprise.
"Oh, yes, that's right. I know you had my baby. Did you really think you could hide that from me? I own everyone in that town. The midwife you used came to me for money. You just lucked out and left before I could get to you. Where's my kid?"
Danny was scared to death but having dealt with Douglas Franks before; she decided to appeal to him quietly. "The baby's gone, Douglas. Rose is dead and I'm married now. I moved on. I have a new life. Please, leave me alone."
"You know I can't do that. Danielle, you were the best I ever had. You took what belongs to me. You still owe me."
"You can't have me," Danny jerked her arm away from Franks and turned to the street. He grabbed her again as she reached the sidewalk and this time she turned quickly and slapped him.
"Why you little…"
"Hey! Mister, I suggest you let the lady go." Franks heard the cock of the gun. It was Jimmy. He had seen Franks grab Danny by the arm and watched as she slapped him.
"Sorry, miss, I thought you were someone else." Franks released his grip and tipped his hat with an evil grin and looking straight at Danny whispered, "We're not finished here."
As Jimmy approached, Franks spoke directly to the deputy, "No harm done."
"Danny, you alright?" Jimmy asked, not putting his gun up just yet.
"Yes. I'm fine," rubbing her arm.
"I suggest you keep moving mister, and you'd better be careful which lady you decide to grab from now on," Jimmy said motioning with his pistol.
Franks walked away slowly, never taking the smile off of his face.
"Danny, who was that guy?" Jimmy said still watching Franks.
"It's nothing," hoping that would answer his concern.
"Danny, he ain't 'nothing'. I've dealt with his kind before. Who is he?"
"Jimmy, please. Don't tell Buck. Please. I'll take care of it." Danny said with a quiver in her voice.
"I don't like lying to my friends," looking into her eyes, he could see the fear. "Alright, I won't say nothing, but I'm gonna keep my eyes on him. Danny, I don't know what's going on, but you need to talk to Buck."
Danny knew what she had to do. She couldn't hide from it anymore. Douglas Franks wasn't going to go away and she wasn't going to run. Not this time.
"Teaspoon, I need your help." Danny was standing in the Marshal's office.
Danny decided to talk to Teaspoon first. She knew that she would need his help filing paperwork and doing research and she knew he would be very discrete. Danny spoke and Teaspoon listened. She couldn't hold back the tears as her story unfolded.
"Please, don't judge me Teaspoon. I didn't know what else to do."
"I ain't judgin' you. I've lived long enough to know life ain't easy. This is a big secret though. You have to tell Buck, especially now."
Danny looked at the older man wiping the tears with her handkerchief, "I know. I did what I thought was best for everyone. Then Rose died and I met Buck and got married. Everything happened so fast. I can't hide from it; I don't want to hide it anymore. Teaspoon, I'm scared."
"Now, young lady, there ain't no reason to be scared. Franks ain't gonna hurt you. Not as long as we're around." Teaspoon was holding Danny like a father would comfort his daughter.
"I'm scared to tell Buck. How do you think he'll take it?"
Looking down at Danny and wiping the tear that was falling, "Danny, he's gonna be hurt and it ain't gonna be easy. But he's gonna take it better if he hears it from you and not from Franks. He's a good man. You know that."
"Teaspoon, can you find out before Buck gets back?"
"I'll wire them right now. In the meantime, I want Jimmy to stay with you," Teaspoon went to the door and motioned for Jimmy to come in.
"Oh, no, Teaspoon," Danny started to protest.
"Now hush, he's staying. That Franks character, he ain't gonna take no for an answer. I don't want you out at that place by yourself."
It was a silent ride home. Jimmy rode Sundance beside Danny, who was riding in the buckboard with the month's supplies. She dreaded the questions she knew Jimmy would ask. It was easier talking to Teaspoon. In some ways, he reminded her of her own father.
The thoughts of not having her family around anymore caused tears to form in her eyes. She turned her mind to Buck, holding the medicine bag in her hand, and wishing he would quickly return. She had been so scared to tell him. She never thought she would have to. She wasn't trying to hide anything, just trying to protect. Isn't that what mother's are supposed to do?
Stopping the buckboard at her home and climbing down, she quickly began to unload. Charlie came up and began to help when he noticed Jimmy climbing down from his horse.
"Hey, Jimmy. What brings you out here?"
Suddenly, Danny looked at Jimmy, slightly nodding and pleading with her eyes, 'Oh, no. Please don't tell him. No one else needs to know. Not yet. I wish Buck was here.' Danny thought as she raced into the house.
Jimmy knew only part of the story and he could see the torment in Danny's eyes. Responding to Charlie, he simply said, "Danny, was just getting a little jumpy out here by herself," and elbowing Charlie in the ribs, he continued, "and I think Rachel and Teaspoon wanted a couple of days of privacy, if you know what I mean."
Charlie snickered, "Yeah, I guess I do."
Jimmy took the rest of the supplies on into the house, where he found Danny sitting at the table crying.
"Danny, I ain't trying to pry, but if you want to talk, I'm here," Jimmy looked at the small figure and his heart ached for her. He had really come to admire the young lady who had married his best friend.
"Jimmy, how much did Teaspoon tell you?" Danny asked wiping her tears.
"Not much. Just that you knew this Franks fellow from a long time ago and he's trying to cause some trouble. I'm assuming that it's not anything illegal though. Danny, I saw the way he grabbed you on the street. That wasn't just a man grabbing an old girlfriend. You knew him in a different way, didn't you?" Jimmy sat down in the chair beside her.
"I should've told Buck. I just…I was ashamed. I didn't know what else to do. Please understand, Franks was the only one. He took a 'special' interest in me. I just needed the money. Rose had gotten so sick and almost died. We couldn't get any money from our inheritance, not for another year."
Jimmy took her hand in his, "Danny, why is he here?"
"He wouldn't let me go. He beat me so bad one night that we had to run. A month later I found out I was pregnant. Franks found out. He wants the baby and me."
"Lord, Danny. Does Buck know any of this? Where's the baby now?"
"No, he knows that I, that Rose and me were saloon girls, but not about Franks. He doesn't know about the baby. No one knew. It was safer that way. I had a friend hide her in a safe place," Danny answered now holding the medicine pouch Buck had given her.
"Her, the baby was a girl? Where is she?"
"I don't know. I knew Franks would try to come after me. I didn't want him to find out about the baby. Teaspoon is checking with some people to see if he can find out anything. She'd be four now."
"What about your friend?"
"He's long gone by now. I don't know where to find him. But I trust him."
"But you didn't trust Buck? Danny," Jimmy couldn't help but shake his head.
"Don't judge me, Jimmy. I tried to forget it. I thought my daughter would be safer. I never expected to find love, not like Buck. When Buck gave me the medicine pouch; the nightmares started. It reminded me of the one I gave to my daughter before I had to give her away…then when I held Lou's baby in my hands, I saw my daughter's face. Oh, God! Jimmy, what did I do?" Danny broke down into tears.
Jimmy took Danny in his arms and held her, placing a gentle kiss on the top of her head, "It's gonna be okay. Buck will be back soon. Everything will be fine. You'll see."
It was two more weeks before Buck came back. Danny had tried to stay out of town, away from Franks' prying eyes. Still no word from the wires Teaspoon had sent out.
Teaspoon kept a close watch on the town's unwelcomed guest. More and more men seemed to be riding into town, all of them on Franks' payroll.
Evening was approaching and Danny's nerves were frayed. Suddenly, she heard the sound of her husband riding up. Buck had taken Jason with him and they had managed to bring back ten new colts. She watched out the window as they herded the horses around back to the corral. She could feel the nausea beginning. 'I have to tell him. It's now or never'
Jimmy was standing on the porch, a Winchester repeater laid leaning on the post, and he was watching the parameter of the place when Buck walked up. It wasn't that he didn't want to see his good friend, but Buck knew something was wrong.
"Jimmy, what's going on? Is Danny alright?"
"There's been some trouble. I think it's best if you talk to her first," Jimmy answered his friend and motioned for him to go inside the house.
Usually, coming into the house after a long trip was a joyous occasion. Buck would walk in and find the tub filled with hot water, the kitchen would emit comforting smells of coffee and supper, and Danny would be standing there with open arms. But today, it was different. The silence was deafening, the house looked dark, empty; and there was no comforting smells. As he headed up the stairs to their bedroom, he could feel his chest tightened with anticipation.
He approached the partially cracked door, pushing it open. Danny sat on the edge of the bed with her back facing Buck, looking at the window.
Buck sat on the other side to the bed and placed his hand on Danny's shoulder, "What's going on? What's happened?"
Still sitting on the bed, grasping the pouch in her hand for comfort, she turned slightly to face her husband, "I have some things to tell you. It's a part of my past I never wanted anyone to know about."
Buck looked into his wife's eyes. The brilliant blue seemed dark. Her face seemed so hollow. He could tell she had lost some weight and didn't look well, "Is this about the nightmares?"
Looking down to avoid his eyes, she continued "There's a man in town. I worked for him a long time ago. He's come looking for me."
"You worked for him, on his farm?" Seeing the fright on his wife's face, and her avoidance to look him in the eyes, he continued his questions, "As a saloon girl?"
Getting no response, and feeling the anger building inside him, he asked one final question, "You were his whore? Right? RIGHT?!"
Danny nodded, tears streaming down her face, still unable to look her husband in the eyes.
Buck stood up, rubbing his forehead in thought. "Who is he? WHO IS HE?"
Danny jumped slightly. His raised voice had startled her.
Danny knew this was not going to be easy, but he had to know. Swallowing hard, she continued, "His name is Douglas Franks. I just turned eighteen. Rose and I had taken jobs at the saloon Franks owned. All we did was serve the drinks. It didn't pay much but we did okay, until Rose got sick and I couldn't pay the doctor. I didn't know it at the time, Franks owned everyone, including the doc. I asked him for an advance, that was all."
"After he paid the doctor, he told me that I owed him. Rose wasn't in any condition to be moved. She had to get better. I didn't have a choice. I was just trying to buy my time until we could get out of there."
Danny closed her eyes now and shivered. Talking to Buck was bringing back all of memories she had tried so hard to suppress. The touch, the smell, the looks, and the feelings of worthlessness, of loneliness - the sensations came back, suddenly overtaking her sense of belonging.
Buck sat back down on the bed, but this time he didn't face his wife. He couldn't look at her, not yet. He had wanted her to confide in him the way he had confided in her, but now he wasn't sure he wanted to know anymore.
"How did you get away?" Buck asked.
Opening her eyes and looking at her husband as he faced the door, not willing to look at her, she answered, "I still don't know. I don't remember much about that night. I remember he beat me so bad, and being in the alley. Rose was there with a friend. He got us out of town."
Buck turned around with a hardened look on his face, "Why is Franks here, Danny? What does he want? Jimmy's not standing guard for nothing. Did you take something from him?"
The question stung.
"I didn't take anything from him?" Danny responded, raising her voice in defense, trying to see some compassion in her husband's eyes.
"Why did he come here looking for you then?" he asked, raising his voice, louder than hers.
"BECAUSE I HAD HIS BABY!" Danny yelled the words. Realizing how abrupt she was, she put her hands over her mouth. This was not the way she wanted to tell him.
"His what?" looking into her eyes, Buck suddenly realized, he didn't know this woman. He loved her and she had stood by his side. He knew about Rose and he understood her need for revenge, but the more she told him, the more he felt betrayed.
"I was four months pregnant when Rose got me away. He never knew. The midwife went to him later to get money. He's been looking for me ever since."
"Where's the baby now?" Buck asked, still not changing his expression.
"I don't know. She would be four now. The gentleman that helped me and Rose took her somewhere safe. I knew that if Franks caught me…I had to protect her. Teaspoon's trying to find her now. Buck, I'm sorry. I should've told you. I thought she would just be safer if no one ever knew."
Danny tried to touch her husband on the shoulder, longing to have him hold her and tell her, 'Everything will be alright'.
"'I trust you with my life' that's what you said. You trusted some stranger to hide your daughter, but you didn't trust me."
He stood up, jerking away, grabbing the closest thing within reach, and throwing it out the window.
Jimmy jumped with the sound of crashing glass from the upstairs bedroom and seeing the blue water pitcher shatter on the ground. He heard the stomping of feet as Buck descended down the stairs. The door swung open with such force, banging against the side of the house as Buck exited, never addressing his friend.
Jimmy stood there for a moment in shock, until he realized that Buck was saddling a fresh horse. He headed down off the porch to where Buck was.
"Where are you going?" Jimmy called out to Buck.
"Look Jimmy, thank you for staying here and watching out for Danny, but this is between me and her."
Placing his hand on Buck's shoulder to turn him around, he talked more sternly, "Buck, don't you leave. Danny needs you."
Suddenly, Jimmy fell to the ground. Buck had punched his friend and dared him to get up. "Stay out of it, Jimmy!"
Buck jumped up onto the pinto he had saddled and rode off. He needed to see Teaspoon. He needed to ride. He just needed to think.
Jimmy stood up and threw his hat to the ground, rubbing his jaw and cursing under his breath "Damn it, Buck!"
Only his pride was hurt. Picking his hat up and dusting it off, he turned and saw Danny standing on the porch. She leaned on the post with her arms wrapped around it. She let go of the beam, turned around, and went inside. Jimmy walked to the house.
Opening the door, he could see Danny moving in the kitchen. He came up behind her, "Danny, are you okay? He's a stubborn fool, that's all. I'll go and bring him back."
Danny turned around, "Jimmy, don't. Buck was right. Can I get you some coffee? I'll start on dinner in a minute." She moved almost ghost like.
Jimmy sat down, "What do mean he's right? We all got pasts. That ain't a reason to judge you."
Danny poured a cup of coffee and sat it in front of Jimmy, taking the seat next to him, "Jimmy, he's not mad about my past. I mean he is, but that's not what hurt him. He feels like I don't trust him. I do, but I guess I never realized how much, until now."
"What's gonna happen?"
"He'll cool off and then, maybe we can talk. I love him and I know he loves me. The truth is out, no more secrets, no more lies. Franks can't hurt me. I don't feel threatened anymore."
"What about your daughter?" Jimmy looked at Danny, feeling slightly jealous of Buck for having such a vulnerable, but strong woman.
"I'll find her. Teaspoon is looking and I know now I have family to help. Everything is going to be alright," Danny looked at Jimmy with a weak smile.
It was dark when Buck rode up to Teaspoon's. Taking his horse into the barn he removed the bridle and saddle, he didn't see the old man's horse in any of the stalls. Rather than go in to see Rachel, he went to the back stall, spotting a bottle of whiskey Teaspoon had sitting on a shelf.
He sat down beside a barrel, looking at the bottle. He hadn't taken a drink since the night Kid's brother had taken all of the Pony Express riders out to the saloon. That was six years ago. He didn't like the taste then and he doubted that he would like the taste now. He just wanted to dull the pain.
It was midnight before Teaspoon came home. He was putting Buttercup in his stall when he noticed the pinto. Hearing singing and mumbling from the back stall, Teaspoon walked back to investigate.
"Buck, what the devil?" Teaspoon looked down at the drunken, young Kiowa.
"Teaspoon, guess what? You're all out of liquor." Buck sat smiling, and holding an upside down bottle.
"Are you out of your mind!? What are you doing here?"
"Teaspoon, I left her."
"Yep. Hey, did you know that Danny has a kid. She didn't tell me. She didn't trust me enough to tell me." Buck was so drunk that he was laughing.
Laughter turned to tears as he continued, "Why didn't she trust me? She said she trusted me, but she didn't." Suddenly, all of the whiskey that had felt so warm going down his throat was churning in his stomach. He turned and threw up.
Teaspoon, suddenly understood the reason for Buck's drunken stupor, knelt down next to him, "Son, you ain't in any shape to discuss this right now." Reaching for one of the bedrolls in the stall, he laid it close to Buck, and gently told the young man, "Lie down and sleep it off. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
Looking back, Teaspoon could see Buck sound asleep on the bedroll. Turning out the lantern hanging in the barn, providing the only light besides the moon, he walked into his own house.
"That boy's been out there all night. How drunk is he?" Rachel asked.
Teaspoon gave his wife a gentle kiss, amazed she knew about Buck, "Passed out. He downed a whole bottle. How did you know he was out there drunk?"
Rachel chuckled at her husband, "Darling, after being a station mother to seven boys and one girl, and being married to you, there's not much I don't know, including the fact that you had a bottle of whiskey out there."
"I forgot all about that bottle. That boy's gotta a lot of hurt. We'll let him sleep it off for the night and I'll haul him back home tomorrow."
It was two o'clock in the morning before Danny fell asleep. She had sat by the fireplace with Jimmy, not saying much. She was dressed for bed in her nightgown and one of Buck's shirts. She would wear his shirt every night while he was away. Tonight it was different. She just needed to feel that he was holding her.
Danny had laid her head on Jimmy's shoulder and he now could see she was fast asleep. He carried her up to her room, laying her in the bed. He noticed the medicine pouch around her neck. He gently removed it and hung it on the bed post; covering her with a quilt, he headed back downstairs.
Four-thirty in the morning, Jimmy awoke with a start. Light glowing through the window and the sound of horses in a panic, had Jimmy on his feet. Buckling his holsters and grabbing his jacket, he rushed out of the house in time to see the stable was on fire.
Jason came running out of the bunkhouse along with the other two ranch hands.
"GET THE BUCKETS!" Jimmy was running as fast as he could. "JASON, HELP ME WITH THE HORSES!"
Everyone was busy, trying to get the horses out of the burning stable and throwing water hopelessly onto the flames. Jason was overcome with smoke. As Jimmy pulled him out into the fresh air, he heard Danny scream and the hoofbeats of horses in a place they shouldn't be.
"Danny," he said under his breath.
Jumping to his feet, he ran back towards the house. He felt the sharp stab on the back of his head as he passed the buckboard sitting out front. Falling to the ground, he could make out the silhouettes of men on horseback. Hearing her screams and the sound of gunshots, he blacked out.
Teaspoon and Rachel awoke to the sound of gunshots and someone yelling his name. "What in tarnation?" The Marshal jumped out of bed, grabbing his gun belt, and looking out the window before leaving his house.
"Teaspoon, quick! It's Miss Danny and Jason and Jimmy," the young ranch hand was rambling.
"Calm down, son. What happened?" Teaspoon was trying to get the story out of the scared youth.
Buck came wondering out of the barn, rubbing the back of his head, and trying to awaken from the drunken stupor from the night before.
"We woke up with the stable on fire. We were trying to put it out. Jimmy turned back and…," the young man was talking so fast, "Teaspoon, there was probably ten to fifteen men. They was at the house and they grabbed Miss Danny. They hit Jimmy on the back of the head. It's like they came out of nowhere. Jason, he was coughin' from all the smoke, he tried to shoot at'em. They shot him."
Teaspoon ran to the barn to saddle his horse, Buck was already inside saddling the pinto. Jumping up onto the horses, Teaspoon looked at the young ranch hand, "Go to town, get Kid and the Doc. Rachel, you best go tell Lou, and get Ellie."
Buck raced to his home. Every thought, every worry, every fear; he had to shake it. He had to get there. As they approached the ranch, they could see the flames jutting up over the tree line.
The remaining ranchhand had managed to corral the majority of the horses. Only a few had taken off, running from the flames when they were freed. All had escaped the fire unharmed. Jason had been moved over to the well, and the young man was running towards Jimmy to check on him.
Teaspoon and Buck rode up and got down from the horses. Teaspoon headed towards Jason. The bleeding was bad, but it had only grazed the skin on his upper arm. Next, he raced towards Jimmy.
Buck was already kneeling down checking on his friend.
Jimmy slowly opened his eyes. The figures above him were cloudy and his ears were ringing. Finally, he could make out the voices.
"Jimmy, Jimmy. Are you alright?"
"Son, are you okay? Can you hear me?"
"Buck? Teaspoon? What the…?" suddenly becoming aware of his surroundings; and the last scenes before he had blacked out, "DANNY!"
Trying to sit up and grabbing the back of his head, he tried to look around, "They got her. We've got to go."
"Hold on there. The only place anyone's going right now is in that house. The Doc will be here soon. I want him to check you and Jason out." Teaspoon was trying to calm the young gunfighter.
"Teaspoon, we've got to go. We've…" the words trailed off as Buck swallowed trying to hold back his anger and tears.
Teaspoon looked at the distressed young Kiowa, "Son, I didn't say you weren't going. But right now, we need to get our bearings straight. I need to talk to Kid and we need the doc to check everyone out. And you're going to need provisions and light to see these tracks. And you're gonna need some help. Now let's get these men inside."
The doctor patched Jason up with Ellie and Charlie standing by. Lou was attending to Jimmy, as Kid was discussing with Teaspoon the number of men Franks had with him. Rachel looked around the parlor and the kitchen, and not finding Buck, she went upstairs.
Sitting on the bed, facing the broken window, she could see his figure. He was watching as the light from the sun rising was beginning to shine.
"Sweetheart, what are you doing up here by yourself?" Rachel walked up and sat beside where Buck was.
Buck had found the medicine pouch hanging on the bed post and was holding it in his hand, "It's my fault. I should've been here. Instead, I was in a barn, drunk, sleeping on the hay, and feeling sorry for myself."
Rachel looked at the timid young man and her heart broke, "Oh, honey, it's not your fault. There was too many of them. You being here wasn't going to change that."
Buck couldn't hold back the tears now and leaned on his dear friend, "Rachel, what if I never see her again. What if…"
"Stop that right now. You be mad at Franks, not yourself. He's not gonna hurt her. She's gonna be fine. You're gonna find her. It will be alright."
A few hours later, the doctor gave Jimmy the okay to ride. Teaspoon ordered Kid and Lou to both stay. Kid didn't protest as much as Lou did. He had to remind the young lady that she now had a small baby at home who needed her more than Danny did.
"Alright boys, I've wired my old friend, Judge Orrin W. Travis. You're goin' to head to a town called Four Corners. There ain't a sheriff there per se, but the Judge has hired seven men to help keep justice. He's wiring them now. When you get into town, go to the Clarion. It's the local newspaper. The woman there is his daughter-in-law. She'll get you to the men. Good luck, boys. Ride safe." Teaspoon looked at his charges and hoped everything would be fine.
Buck and Jimmy rode hard all day. It was a two day ride from Rock Creek. Once they got to Four Corners it would be another day and half's ride to where they were headed. Teaspoon was going by the information that Danny had given him. He only hoped that Franks would be headed back to the town he owned - Kettleston.
The two close friends sat by the fire that night in silence. Buck never spoke a word. The whiskey had finally cleared from his head, but the pounding was still there, reminding him of his guilt. Jimmy couldn't take the silence any longer.
"Buck, it ain't your fault. She's gonna be alright. You'll see."
"Let's just get some sleep. Okay? We've got a ways to go tomorrow." Buck laid down on his bedroll, holding her medicine pouch wrapped in one of Danny's handkerchiefs tightly in his hand.
He tossed and turned all night, never fully falling asleep. 'Where is she? Is she alright? Will she forgive me?'
"Buck, Buck, wake up. Eat some of the bread Rachel packed for us. Come on, we got to get goin'."
Buck woke up, not even remembering when he had finally dozed off. Getting back on their horses they headed off to Four Corners. They finally arrived at six that evening.
Mary Travis, the Clarion's owner and the Judge's daughter-in-law, was waiting on Jimmy and Buck to arrive. She had gotten the message from the Judge and was headed to tell Chris Larabee. She was coming out of the newspaper's office when the two rode up.
"Mr. Hickok and Mr. Cross, I presume?" She was a petite young woman whose hair was as blonde as Danny's.
Buck couldn't speak, thinking how her long hair reminded him of Danny the first time he'd met her.
Jimmy took over and answered the young woman, "Yes ma'am. Marshall Hunter said you would direct us to the right people."
"Yes, I just received the message. I was headed to see them myself. I'm sorry the wire was so slow. The Judge received the wire late. He had it rushed to me as soon as he received it. He must be very close to Mr. Hunter," Mary Travis said trying to make small talk as they walked to the saloon.
Jimmy responded, "I wouldn't know ma'am. The Marshal knows a lot people."
The saloon seemed to be a little rowdy, but quickly quieted as Mary entered, followed by the two strangers.
"Get yourselves a drink, gentlemen, while I talk to Mr. Larabee."
They both watched as she approached what appeared to be a blonde headed man dressed in a white and black striped shirt, black hat, vest, pants, and long jacket sitting at a table in the far corner. The brim of his hat was pulled down low and he never looked up.
Jimmy and Buck nodded politely and walked up to the bar. Buck had decided no more whiskey for him. He needed to stay clear headed. "Sarsaparilla, please."
Both men were taken aback by the bar keeper's demeanor.
"We don't serve half breeds in here!"
"Excuse me?" Jimmy had been riding for two days and did not feel like dealing with this.
"It's okay, Jimmy. I'll wait outside." Buck was exhausted and he just wanted to lay down somewhere.
"No it ain't okay. You're just as thirsty as I am," Jimmy said looking at Buck. Drawing his gun and aiming it at the bartender, Jimmy told the man, "You heard him, a sarsaparilla."
Suddenly, Jimmy heard the cocking of at least three guns surrounding him. Holding his ground and never looking at any of the men, he stared at the bartender who was shaken.
Buck looked at each of the men surrounding Jimmy and himself. One was a chestnut color haired young man wearing buckskins, reminding him of Cody. His hair was much more wavy than Cody's had been.
Another was a bigger fellow, wearing a blue shirt and tan pants and a tan jacket, darker brown hair, blue eyes, and a mustache.
The third gunman was a lot younger than the other two. He had black hair and was wearing a brown suit and derby hat. He actually reminded Buck of Bulldog, an old friend who had read all the dime-store stories and wanted to come out west.
"Everyone put their guns down," Chris Larabee spoke softly, but directly, and walked over to the bar. The other men followed Chris's directions, uncocked their weapons, and placed them in their holsters.
Jimmy uncocked his pistol and slowly placed it in his holster, turning around to face Chris with a smile.
"Bartender, get these two gentlemen a drink please," Chris was smiling right back.
"Look Mr. Larabee, like I told these two. I don't serve half breeds."
"Excuse me. You will serve who I tell you to serve," a Spanish Senorita, with black flowing hair came from the room behind the bar, carrying a tray of burritos. "I run this place, not you."
"Look no woman's gonna tell me who I can serve," the bartender said defiantly.
"Well then, you're fired."
The bartender took off his apron and threw it on the bar.
"My apologies, gentlemen. What can I get for you?" She spoke with the spiciest Mexican accent and was wearing a white billowing shirt with a black skirt that came right below her knees.
"Well, my friend here asked for a sarsaparilla and I'd like a beer and one of those burritos, if you don't mind," Jimmy said with a grin as he watched the young lady. He was smitten with the fiery senorita.
"She's a spicy one, alright. But I'm afraid you ain't got a chance. My name is Buck, Buck Wilmington." The man with the tan shirt and dungarees held out his hand.
"Mr. Hickok, Mr. Cross, I'm Chris Larabee," Chris held out his hand towards former Pony Express riders.
"Hickok? As in Wild Bill? Well, I'll be. We drew on the famous Wild Bill. I'm JD Dunne. Pleased to meet ya," said the excited young man in the derby hat.
"My name is James, Jimmy to my friends. I ain't no 'Wild Bill'," Jimmy seemed a bit irritated.
"JD calm down. Sorry, Hickok. He don't mean anything by it. He just gets a little too excited. Buck, take JD over yonder so me and Mr. Hickok and Mr. Cross can talk a moment.
"Yeah, sure Chris. Come on JD," Buck Wilmington said as he smacked the back of the young man's head with his hat.
Jimmy, Buck, Chris and the gentleman in the buckskins went back and sat down at the table in the corner.
"I understand you two need our help. The judge said that a young lady was kidnapped. He said you're headed to Kettleston. Anything else we need to know?" Chris asked as he downed a shot of whiskey.
"Jimmy, you deal with this." Buck stood and addressing the two men sitting at the table he asked, "Does this town's hotel allow Indians in it or do I need to sleep at the livery?"
The man with the buckskins stood up, "Not everyone in this town is like the bartender. Come on, I'll show you to the bath house and the hotel. My name is Vin, Vin Tanner."
"Thanks, Buck Cross," was all he could say as they exited the saloon. Exhaustion and worry was overtaking Buck and Jimmy was worried about his friend.
"Mr. Hickok, anything else we need to know?" Chris asked again, getting Jimmy to turn back and address him.
"Sorry, the young lady that was kidnapped was Buck's, uh Mr. Cross's wife. We're both deputies in Rock Creek. They burned his stables and they took her out of her house right before dawn."
"I see. That explains his demeanor. How many men?"
"They knocked me out, but because of the number of men that had been in town and the tracks that Buck counted, we believe there was at least twenty. We would've tried goin' in to Kettleston on our own, but Marshal Hunter insisted on gettin' a hold of the Judge."
"I'm still curious. Who took her? I assume you know, otherwise how would you know which town they went to?"
"The man's name is Douglas Franks. He claims he owns everyone in the town. Danny, Mrs. Cross, got mixed up with him a long time ago. Seems he ain't too good at lettin' people go."
"Well, why don't you two try and get a good night's sleep. Kettleston is still a day and a half away. I'll gather everyone together and we'll meet you at the livery tomorrow morning, say seven?"
"Alright," Jimmy said, shaking Chris' hand. "Sorry about drawin' the gun earlier. Me and Buck, we've been friends a long time. This is tearing him up and I don't take kindly to people trying to walk on him."
Chris nodded, and Jimmy walked out of the saloon and headed to the hotel.
Seven riders were waiting at the livery stables the next morning as Jimmy and Buck walked up. The three men that had drawn on Jimmy the night before were there. Jimmy tried to remember their names - JD, Vin, and Buck. 'Well, that would be an easy one to remember,' he thought. Chris was there and so were three men they had never seen. Chris introduced the three.
"Mr. Hickok, Mr. Cross, I like you to meet the rest of our crew. Josiah Sanchez, he's our preacher."
Josiah nodded at the men. He didn't say much. He was a graying man with a muscular build. He wore a multicolored poncho with a beaded necklace and a black wide brimmed hat.
"Nathan Jackson, he's good with a knife, and he's also our healer."
"How do you do?" Nathan addressed the two. He was an African-American man of average build and he carried three knives strapped to his back.
"And Ezra Standish, he's, well, our local con man."
"Gentlemen," Ezra tipped his stylish hat. Out of all of the men, Ezra was very well dressed. He wore a red suit jacket with matching pants, a silver, silk vest, a white shirt with a black ascot and laced cuffs. He spoke with a Southern accent.
"Where are we headed, Chris?" Vin asked.
"Kettleston, after a man named Franks," Chris responded.
"Douglas Franks?" Ezra asked.
"Yeah, you know him?" Chris looked at his friend.
"Unfortunately, I've had some unpleasant dealings with the man. He's an unsavory sort and definitely no gentleman. It'll be a pleasure to take him down." Ezra shook his head and rode beside Chris.
"Franks, what do you want with me?" Danny was exhausted.
They had ridden for three and a half days after the men had taken her out of the house. She had managed to grab some of her britches when she saw the flames from her window. She was racing down the stairs to follow Jimmy out to the stables when she felt a hand grab her around the waist and another placed over her mouth. She had fought hard, but the men were too big and too many. She had managed to bite the hand placed over her mouth, releasing it long enough for her to scream.
She was thankful that no one touched her on their journey. Apparently, Franks had already left Rock Creek, leaving instructions to have her brought to him, unharmed. All she could do the trip there was look at the evening sky, at the stars, and whisper to herself; as if Buck could hear her.
The first night, she reached for her medicine pouch, and realized it was gone. Her only comfort was Buck's shirt. She was still wearing it. She just closed her eyes during the day, and thought about how he would hold her again. He was coming; that she was sure.
"Well, Danielle. You still owe me. Nobody leaves me unless I say so," Franks lit a cigar. The smell causing Danny to become nauseous and light headed.
"I don't owe you anything. My husband will be here soon," Danny's stomach was churning. She had previously attributed her ill feelings to her nerves, but through the travel and especially now, she understood. She was expecting. She had to hold on, wait on Buck, and protect this child.
Suddenly, she felt a sting across her face, taking her breath. He had hit her so hard; she now tasted the blood coming from her lip. She looked up at him, holding back the tears she so badly needed to release, as he hit her again. This time, he used his fist, hitting her jaw on the other side of her face.
"Who's coming? Your husband wasn't even there. My men told me he was passed out drunk in a barn. The only one that would try to come would be that gunfighter and my men will take care of him. Stupid girl."
"LILY! LILY! GET IN HERE!" Franks yelled.
In came a red headed young woman probably no older than eighteen, in a bright blue silk dress, with black lace along the edges. She was very timid and Danny could tell she had the traces of a black eye that was healing.
"Yes, Mr. Franks," the voice was so light, her eyes never looking up at him.
"Get this filth cleaned up. Give her a bath, fix her hair, get her in a new dress for tomorrow," Franks grabbed Danny by the face to look at her. "Try and cover the bruises. Get her out of my sight until she looks presentable."
Lily took Danny into the wash room in the back of the saloon. Memories came flooding back. She remembered this was the safest place. The girls there would take turns, soaking in the tub, trying to escape the stench of the men who had touched them. Franks had an obsession with being clean and therefore, all of the girls would have to be cleaned until he approved. This gave each one a small window of solitude, which they all desperately needed.
Soaking in the tub and looking at the small red-headed figure helping her, Danny had to ask, "How long has he had you here?"
Looking down, almost embarrassed, Lily replied, "Three months. I asked for a job serving drinks. I have a small brother and sister and my pa died of the fever. I couldn't pay the mortgage. Mr. Franks paid it off, moved my brother and sister into an orphanage, and told them I was dead. He threatened to kill them if I tried to escape." Looking at Danny, she pleaded, "Please ma'am, don't try to escape. He'll kill you, ma'am, or one of us."
Danny looked at the terror in Lily's eyes. She knew that terror. "How many girls are here now?'
"Ten. Four serve drinks. Four for the paying customers and two are Franks. That way when one is messed up, he can have the other."
"You're one of Franks?" Danny asked as she got out of the tub.
"Yes." Lily handed Danny a towel and a nightgown.
"Because ma'am, you're the only one that got away. I wasn't here but everyone knows who you are. Somehow you and your sister got out. You gave the girls hope. Word is, he was so mad that he had one of the other girls killed, so no one else would try to leave. Now, you coming back, he wants all of us to know, he can get to us anytime."
Danny's heart was breaking. She had had to get away. Now she knew the consequences of her escape.
"What does he want with my child? He doesn't want a kid."
"The same reason he took my brother and sister - leverage."
Lily took Danny upstairs to one of the rooms.
"You rest now, ma'am. It's late. He'll leave you alone tonight," Lily said gently touching Danny's face. "You know how he don't like things messed up."
She was finally alone for the first time in almost four days. Danny looked at herself in the mirror, seeing the swollen jaw and busted lip; and sitting on the bed, broke down into tears.
Nine men sat around the campfire that night. They could be to the town in two hours. Chris wanted to stop, rest, and plan.
JD was fascinated at the fact that Jimmy and Buck had rode for the Pony Express. Jimmy supplied the young man with plenty of tales.
Finally, Chris spoke up. "Ezra, I need you to tell me everything you know about this fellow and the set up of the town."
"Well, gentlemen, I've not been there in four years. I'll tell you what I remember about Mr. Franks. Douglas Franks is the epitome of a cretin, a true monster of a man. He owns the drinking establishment in town. He has a bordello of sorts upstairs. I visited his establishment for a card game. I became acquainted with several of the young ladies."
Buck Wilmington, the ladies man of the group, began a slight snicker, "Ezra, you little devil."
"Not that kind of acquaintance, Mr. Wilmington. There were two sisters, in particular, who were my 'good luck charms'. I was enamored with one, my 'Wild Rose', she was of Indian descent," Ezra watched the fire as if in deep thought.
"The other sister had the lightest color of hair and the loveliest singing voice. I called her 'my little Songbird'. Unfortunately, greed got the better part of me, and I left town for about five months for a better card game. When I returned, my sweet Wild Rose looked as though she had aged ten years. She was sullen and distressed, and my Songbird was nowhere to be seen. It seems that in my absence, Rose had taken ill and Franks had paid her doctor bills. He had turned my Songbird into his own personal Dove for payment. My Songbird had signed a deal with the Devil himself."
Buck and Jimmy stared at each other. Both knowing it was Danny that he was talking about, but neither wanting to interrupt his story. They both turned back to look into the fire
Nathan spoke up, "What happened, Ezra?"
Everyone could see the pain in Ezra's eyes as he continued, "Rose asked me to take a stroll. It was the only way they would allow her to leave the dance hall. She begged me to help her and her sister. I told her 'no'. I had started to walk away, when I heard a commotion in back of the establishment. I walked down the alley with Rose behind me. I'm ashamed to say that I hid in the shadows as Franks took one final kick at My Songbird. He turned and went back inside, leaving her by the trash," Ezra's voice was shaking. "We went to her side; the poor child was half dead. Rose dropped down and held her, and I knew then, I couldn't leave either one of them. No one had seen us, and I took them out of town."
"Where'd you go?" Chris asked, with all of the men listening intently.
"We rode as fast as we could for two days, into the mountains. Rose tended to her sister's wounds as best she could. I took them to an Indian village. Rose spoke their language and they agreed to watch over them, at least for a while."
"Where is the baby?" Buck almost choked as he heard the words come out of his own mouth.
All of the men suddenly stared at Buck, including Ezra, "Excuse me, sir?"
"I asked about my wife's baby?" Buck looked directly into Ezra's eyes.
All eyes returned to Ezra, who with a gasped responded, "Good Lord, its Danielle we are trying to rescue."
"Baby? Ezra, what's he talking about?" Chris asked.
Ezra looked at Buck, "Danielle is your wife? What about Rose?"
Buck answered with no feeling, "Yes, Danielle is my wife. Rose died, before me and Danny met."
Ezra looked away and continued his recollections, "Danielle was four months pregnant when we got her away. Rose wasn't sure if Danielle would make it through the night, much less be able to carry the child full term. When she began to heal, I left. It was four more months before I went back to the town. No one knew where the ladies had gone, but Mr. Franks was still fuming; swore he would make both of them pay for leaving. I went to check on Rose and Danielle.
The Indians wanted them to leave. They believed the child was a curse and they did not want it born in their village. I found a midwife the next town over and I paid her quite well, I assure you. We decided that I would take the child and make sure she was safe. That way if Franks ever found them, the child would be safe."
Ezra blinked trying to fend off the tears as they began to form, "It was the hardest decision Danielle ever had to make. Apparently, she was the tough sister and Rose was the gentler, but when it came to that child…I'll never forget the screams as Rose took the child from Danielle's hands. I still wonder if it was the right decision."
All of the men looked into the fire. Josiah spoke first, "'Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man.' Ezra, I believe you did a very unselfish thing at the right time. Is the child alright?"
Ezra smiled and looked at his friend, "She is a vision. She looks just like her mother. She's never been more than a half-day ride from me. She calls me Uncle Ezra."
The former Pony Express rider felt slightly relieved. The man that Danny had placed her trust in, had been worthy of that trust. He smiled thinking about a miniature Danny. He now had to focus on getting his wife back.
Ezra finished telling the men about the layout of the town and they all laid down to rest.
It was midnight. Buck looked down at the town. He had waited until everyone was asleep, snuck out of camp, and rode to the mountain perch overlooking where his wife had been taken. He wanted to see the town by himself. He had even contemplated riding down and trying to rescue her by himself. Suddenly, he felt someone behind him.
"Checkin' out the town?"
Buck turned around to answer Vin. "How did you know I was here?"
Vin smiled, "Because, if it was my wife, I'd be here."
"Why are you here then? She's not your wife," Buck asked.
"Nope, she's not. I heard you get up, thought I'd follow."
Buck watched the town, "I wasn't there when they took her. I was mad and drunk."
"Well, I don't know a married couple yet that hasn't had a fight."
"I keep thinking maybe if I'd been there, maybe if we hadn't fought, maybe I could've stopped them."
Vin sat and listened to the Kiowa, "The truth is maybe if you were there, you'd be dead now."
"Why shouldn't I just ride down there and get her?"
"Because, the whole point of rescuing her is for the two of you to be together, I don't see how you can be together if you get yourself killed. But, since we're here, we could scout out the town. I'll head to the other side and check it out, if you promise not to try anything stupid."
Buck nodded his head in agreement as Vin moved to another area. Buck turned his attention back down to the town. The saloon was at the end of town on the left side, next to the livery stable. There was an alley in between the two. On the second floor of the saloon next to the alley, there were two windows with a ledge. Across the street sat the general store with the jail next door. The doctor's office was next to the jail.
Buck looked up to see Vin signing to him, telling him he could see five lookouts. Two in the back of the saloon, two on top of the water tower, and one at the store. Buck was amazed that Vin knew the sign language of his people. He signed back. Buck had found five more lookouts; two in front of the saloon, two in the livery stable and one sitting on the stoop outside the doctor's office. That left at least five more that they couldn't see. It was in the dead of the night, so they could be sleeping.
Meeting up and riding back to camp, Buck asked Vin, "How did you know Indian sign?"
"I lived with the Comanche and some other tribes for a while. They taught me how to track, too. Let's get back. We need to get some rest."
The nine men awoke early the next morning, before dawn. Chris spoke, "Jimmy, you and Mr. Cross are going to stay up on the ridge with Vin until you get a signal."
"Now look, we want to go down there too," Jimmy didn't like staying behind.
"Franks and his men know what you look like. Even if he hasn't seen Mr. Cross, he knows that she married an Indian. He'll be expecting you, both of you. We need to take them by surprise. Don't worry, you'll get your shot at him, but we need to find out where she is first. Okay?" Chris dared Jimmy.
Buck took Jimmy by the arm, "He's right Jimmy. I want her safe."
Chris continued, "Ezra, Buck…um…Wilmington, and me are going in the saloon. JD, Nathan, Josiah, spread out through the town, look for weaknesses. Don't draw attention to yourselves. Vin, keep a close eye on us. I want you three far enough away they don't see you, but close enough to ride in quick. Mr. Cross, don't worry. We're going to get her back."
Danny awoke the next morning, finding another body in her bed. Startled she rolled over. It was Lily.
"Lily, when did you come in?" Danny shook her awake.
Lily yawned and rubbed her eyes as she woke up, "Sorry ma'am, we have to share rooms. You were sound asleep when my shift ended. I didn't want to wake you."
"It's okay, I'm glad you're in here. I don't feel so alone," Danny said as her stomach began to churn. Jumping out of the bed and grabbing the trash can that sat close by, she threw up. She took a washcloth sitting by the water basin and quickly wiped her mouth.
"Miss Danielle, are you alright?" Lily jumped out of the bed and ran to her side.
"I'm fine," Danny looked up and saw herself in the mirror. She fought back the tears. She had to be strong.
"You're…you're expecting…aren't you?"
Danny closed her eyes and opening them saw the look of concern in her new friend's eyes, "I just figured it out last night. I have to be careful until my husband comes. Franks doesn't know. If he knew, he'd try to make me lose it."
Lily looked at her new friend, "Miss. Danielle, do you really think your husband is coming? What if Mr. Franks kills him?"
Danny turned around to face Lily, "My husband is coming. I know Buck, and believe me; Mr. Franks won't be able to touch him."
"Miss Danielle, take me with you please. If I stay, he will kill me."
Taking the hands of the young woman, Danny said "We'll both get out of here."
Suddenly both women jumped at the sound of banging on the door.
"Open this door!" Franks yelled.
Unlocking and opening the door, Lily tried to explain, "I'm sorry Mr. Franks. It was her first night here and I didn't want her to try and wander around."
Franks backhanded Lily with such a force that it knocked her off her feet. "I've told you before. You don't lock doors, not for any reason. Now find Danielle a dress to wear today." Turning his attention to Danny, he continued, "Well since you didn't appreciate my bed and apparently you'll bed down anyone, including savages, you'll be my newest upstairs girl."
"What makes you think I'd do that?" Danny knew it wasn't smart, but she dared him.
"Because if you don't, I'll kill her," he said as he grabbed Lily by the hair and pulled her to her feet. "I'll slit her throat right in front of your eyes. I've killed one girl because of you, two ain't gonna bother me none. Now, get dressed. You'll be ready to come down in one hour."
'Leverage' He didn't have the child she once carried, and he didn't know about the baby she was carrying now, but still he had leverage. Her head swirled around her. She didn't know what to do.
Chris went in the saloon first, taking a seat in the far corner, with his back facing the wall. Buck Wilmington came in next, sitting at the bar. Ezra came in last, making sure everyone saw him, sitting at a table near the stage area, next to the stairs.
"Well boys, it's been too long. Could I interest anyone in a mild mannered game of chance?" Ezra said smiling at the group of gentlemen sitting at the table, watching the stage. Three girls were on stage dancing. Ezra was to give Buck a sign if he saw Danny. So far, no sign.
Franks came down the stairs, with Danny close behind. He had her by the wrist. He noticed Ezra at the table playing cards. Franks had always wondered if Ezra was the 'man in the dark' the midwife told him about, the one who had paid to keep her quiet, the one who had helped Rose and Danny escape.
Danny recognized the man at the table, the man that she had entrusted with her daughter; suddenly not knowing whether he was friend or foe.
"Mr. Standish. It's a pleasure to see you again. I haven't seen you in a while," Franks said with a tight grip on Danny.
"Why Mr. Franks. It's a pleasure to be back. That nasty war kept me away from several of my favorite establishments. I see things here are still booming," Ezra said briefly glancing up from his cards. "Do my eyes deceive me or is that my 'Little Songbird'?"
Buck looked at the mirror. He could see the blonde lady who was holding Franks' arm. He could also see the bruises on her face and he could tell she was terrified. Chris also saw Danny, but he also counted how many men were in the saloon.
"You are correct Mr. Standish. Danny here doesn't sing for the customers anymore, she has now been promoted to entertaining the customer in private, would you like to be her first?" Franks dared Ezra trying to gage his reaction.
Ezra felt repulsed by the question, but he knew he would have to suppress his feelings. "Well thank you for the offer Mr. Franks, but it appears I'm in the middle of a very profitable game right now."
"I'll take her for a spin," Buck said as he lifted the mug of beer to his lips, and turned around.
Danny's heart sank to the pit of her stomach. The only other man she had ever trusted was allowing her to be handed over to a stranger.
"You? What makes you think I want her first customer to be someone like you?" Franks asked Buck Wilmington.
With a smile, Buck answered, "Well, because I have an appreciation for beautiful women, I've been on the road for a very long time and have a lot of pent up frustrations, and I'll pay twenty bucks for a few hours."
Franks smiled, "Twenty, huh. She's yours. You can have the first room to the right." Franks shoved Danny towards Buck taking the coin from his hand.
Taking Danny by the elbow and heading upstairs, Buck turned around and tipped his hat. Chris stood up and walked outside, lighting a cheroot cigar. Vin was watching from the overlook from his brass spy glass.
"Chris just gave the signal. Mr. Cross, Hickok, let's go."
Nathan, JD and Josiah had also seen the signal. Chris walked across the street to the jail. Nathan went to the back of the saloon and waited. JD and Josiah took positions on the other side. All were in place.
Closing and locking the door upstairs and turning around, Buck Wilmington had to quickly duck. Danny threw the closest thing she could find, a glass vase. With tears in her eyes, she picked up the water basin on the table and threatened this stranger, "Mister, don't take one more step."
"Now Miss, hold on there," taking a step towards Danny, Buck was trying to explain. Danny threw the water basin as he grabbed her. He had no choice but to throw her on the bed and pin her arms above her head. "Miss, I'm not trying to hurt you. Mrs. Cross, you're husband sent me."
Danny was struggling, tears flowing down her cheeks, when suddenly, she heard her name. 'Mrs. Cross', Franks had never said her last name. Looking up at the man, who was holding her down, she went surprisingly limp. "You called me Mrs. Cross."
"Yes, I'm going to let you go now. Okay." He released his grip and allowed her to get up. "Mrs. Cross, we don't have much time. My name is Buck, Buck Wilmington. Your husband should be here any moment, but I need to go to the window and let them know we're up here. Okay."
He moved slowly. He could tell that as fierce as she was, she was also very fragile. Buck opened the window.
Nathan met Buck Cross in back of the saloon. They watched as the window opened on the second floor. They could see the two men in back and two at the livery stable. Pointing to the two at the stable, Nathan takes off.
Buck snuck up behind the two at the saloon, hitting one on the head, knocking him unconscious, as the other one turned; he quickly threw his knife, hitting the man in the neck, silencing any sound.
Taking his knife and gathering his horse, he waited for Nathan's signal. Nathan made a noise inside the stable, causing the two men to come in, out of sight from the others. Throwing two knives, and hitting both men. Taking his knives from the dead men, he calmly walked out of the stable and crossed by the alley so Buck could see. Taking his horse, he went under the saloon ledge.
Buck Wilmington turned to Danny, "Mrs. Cross, come on. We have to go."
Danny looked at this stranger, and pleaded, "I can't leave her."
"Lily, he has her next door. He'll kill her. Please."
"Who's Lily?" The horrible thought that is was her child crossed his mind.
"She's one of the other girls."
"Alright, come on."
He climbed onto the ledge and went to the next window. Looking in he could see the small frame of a red headed woman crying on the bed. Hearing the knock at the window, Lily looked up. Raising the window, Buck asked, "Ma'am come on, quickly. We're getting out of here."
Lily saw Danny standing beside him. Shakily she came out on to the ledge.
Danny helped Lily climb down, as Buck Wilmington carefully watched around.
The Kiowa waited patiently as he could see his wife come down next. Gently taking her by the waist, he hugged her tightly as her feet hit the ground, kissing her on the top of her head, saying, "I'm so sorry."
Danny wrapped her arms around him, "It's alright. Let's get out of here."
Buck Wilmington jumped down, "Come on you two. We ain't got much time till all hell breaks loose. Mrs. Cross, you need to get you and this lady to safety."
Releasing his hold of Danny and finally looking at her face, he saw the bruises. The relief on his face quickly turned to anger, the kind Danny had never seen in her husband, "I'll kill him. I'LL KILL HIM!!"
The Kiowa took off to the front of the saloon into the street.
"Damn! Get up on that horse, Mrs. Cross. Get out of here," Buck Wilmington quickly helped Lily up and took off to follow the former Pony Express rider, knowing he would be out for revenge, not just for the kidnapping of his wife, but for the beating he knew she had taken.
"FRANKS!!! FRANKS!!!" Buck marched right into the middle of town. Chris dropped his cigar on the ground and made his way towards Buck. Jimmy came out on the other side.
Franks came outside to see what all the commotion was. Seeing the Indian in the middle of the street, he couldn't help but feel slightly superior. He leaned on one of the posts outside the saloon.
"Well, I wondered when Danielle's half breed would show up. Would you like for me to go and get her for you? Although, I think we'd better wait until her customer gets through with her first," Franks was accompanied by the laughter of the men who had followed him outside.
Once everyone was outside, Ezra gathered the rest of the ladies and made sure everyone exited safely through the back door.
"Oh, I think her customer is through and quite satisfied," Buck Wilmington came walking up beside Buck.
Franks smile dropped realizing that he was the same man who had given him the twenty dollar coin. It was then he saw Jimmy and Chris.
"Mister, someone needs to tell you that kidnapping people is against the law," Chris said looking up from the brim of his black hat.
"Damn it. KILL THEM!" Franks said as he drew his gun and began to fire.
Shots rang out from everywhere. Vin took out the two in the water tower. He wasn't a fast shot up close but with a long range rifle, he could shoot just about anything.
JD took out two by the jail, and Josiah shooting at least three. Chris and Jimmy shooting wildly as every man there wanted to be the one to take out the two gunfighters. No one could match they're shooting though.
Danny could hear the shots. She couldn't stand it any longer. Climbing down from the horse, she turned to Lily, "Go on to their campsite. We'll be there soon."
"What are you doing?" Lily was begging her.
"I have to go back. I have to know that Buck's alright. Go on. If we don't come back, run. Get to the orphanage and get your brother and sister. Go to the town of Rock Creek and find the Marshal. Lily, do you understand?"
Lily shook her head in understanding, "Danielle, thank you."
Danny rushed back. She had to see what was going on.
Buck Cross was gunning for Franks. He saw him take off running towards that back of the livery stable. Franks reached the back of the stables just as Danny came around the corner. Grabbing her, and holding her with one arm over her chest, he now held the gun to her neck, "Stop right there Half Breed or I'll shoot her."
Buck stopped short. Holding his hands up with the barrel of his gun pointing toward the sky, Buck looked into Danny's eyes.
"Put the gun down. Slowly."
Buck did as he asked, never taking his eyes off of his wife. As he felt the gun dropped from his hand, he could see Franks turn point the gun at him. Danny rammed her elbow hard into Franks' side, causing him to release his hold. A shot rang out, then two. Danny ran to Buck's side. Danny dropped to her knees as her husband fell.
"NOOOO!" she screamed, with tears falling down her face. She pulled her husband onto her lap and held him tightly.
She looked up to see Franks, lying dead on the ground. Ezra's gun still smoked from the bullet that had exited it.
The gunfire from the street slowly began to subside, as Franks' men either ran or were killed. The other six and Jimmy came around the side.
Jimmy saw Danny on the ground, holding Buck's limp body with blood on her hands. He ran to his friend's side trying to hold back his tears.
Nathan ran up. "Ma'am, ma'am, please. Let me see if I can help."
Josiah tried to touch Danny on the shoulders to gently move her, and she jerked away from his touch. Tightening her grip on Buck and trying to clenching her teeth holding back her tears, she dared him, "No, I'm not letting go of him."
Jimmy gently touched Danny on the arm, "Danny, Danny, please let go for a minute. Let Nathan see. Come on, it's me Jimmy. Please."
Danny looked up at Jimmy and seeing him, she released her hold. Nathan quickly examined Buck.
"He's alive. The bullet is in there deep, in the shoulder. He's losing a lot of blood. Help me get him to the doctor's office." Vin and Josiah picked up Buck and started carrying him.
"No, No, No," Danny started fighting as Jimmy tried to calm her.
"Danny, it's gonna be okay," Jimmy held her face to look into his.
"Jimmy, I don't want the doctor here in town to see him. Please."
"Danny, the doctor's dead. Nathan is taking care of him."
Looking into Jimmy's eyes, Danny couldn't hold on anymore. She released all of her tears. Jimmy wrapped his arms around her, picked her up and carried her to the doctor's office.
Danny sat in the waiting room, leaning on Jimmy, and waiting to hear something from Nathan. The rest of the men began to come in.
Josiah approached Danny and knelt down before her, "Ma'am, I know I'm not a healer like Nathan, but let me clean your face and make sure you're okay."
Looking at the gentle giant, she nodded her head slightly and sat up. "Thank you." She next answered the question that every one there wanted to know, but felt improper asking, "I'm alright. He just hit me on the face. He never touched me, the other way. My face hurts, but it looks worse than it is. I would really like some more clothes."
Jimmy looked down at Danny. He had not even noticed what she was wearing. She was in a thin bodice covered in blood and pantalets, with a red skirt wrapped around her waist. Her outfit was very revealing and she was shivering.
Josiah took off his poncho and handed it to Danny, "I know this isn't much, but it will keep you warm."
"Do you have some more clothes over at the saloon?" Chris asked
Danny looked up at the man in black, "I was wearing my husband's blue shirt and a pair of britches."
JD spoke up, "Wilmington and me, we'll go see if we can find something. Would you like something to eat, ma'am?"
"Yes, please. Thank you. What about the rest of the girls?"
Vin spoke up, "They're all alright. Most of them took out of here, headed back to their families, I suppose. Maybe with Franks gone, the good people here can build a better town."
Danny showed a faint smile and wondered about Lily, hoping the young lady found her siblings and her way to Rock Creek.
JD had found Danny's clothing and she had managed to eat a little. Her nausea was beginning to subside.
It seemed like hours before Nathan opened the door.
Everyone looked up, as Danny and Jimmy stood up and walked towards the young healer. "I got the bullet out. It actually hit right below his shoulder, on the right hand side. The wound itself wasn't bad, but he lost a lot of blood. We'll have to see if he makes it through the night."
Danny's heart sank, "I want to see him."
Nathan moved out of the way, and let Danny and Jimmy into the room.
Danny sat down beside the bed. Buck lay with just a sheet covering him. His clothes lay folded on the desk in the corner of the room. She looked at the bandage soaked with blood and placed her hand on Buck's.
Jimmy looked down at his friend, and spoke trying to hold in his tears, "Buck, you have to be okay. You've got everything to wake up for. We got Danny back." He couldn't hold it in anymore, "I'm sorry, Danny. I gotta go outside."
"It's alright, Jimmy. I understand," Danny watched as Jimmy left the room and closed the door. Turning her attention to her husband, Danny spoke, "Buck, I don't know if you can hear me. I love you. I trust you. I'm sorry I was so scared to tell you everything. I belong with you, and you belong with me."
Danny laid her head on the covers close to her husband's left side.
Early dawn and Danny awoke to the slight movement of her husband moving his left arm. A slight moan came from Buck's throat. Lifting her head, she smiled as she saw Buck looking at her.
With a husky voice, Buck asked, "Water, can I have some water?"
Danny sat up, her smile widening, "You're thirsty?"
Danny jumped up from her chair and opened the door, "Nathan, he's awake and he's thirsty."
Nathan came into the room as Danny poured a glass of water. Buck sat up as Nathan checked his wound and gave him the glass of water. Turning to Danny, Nathan smiled, "I think he's gonna be fine."
Nathan looked at the young couple, "I'll let everyone else know. I think you'll be able to ride tomorrow. Get some rest today."
Buck looked at Danny, lifted his left hand to touch her face, and smiled, "You're still the most beautiful woman I've ever known."
Danny leaned down and kissed her husband. It was a light kiss and upon her release, she looked into his eyes, "I feel like I haven't seen you in months. Buck, I should've told…"
Buck placed his hand on her mouth and shook his head. He caressed her cheek, "It's over. No more secrets."
"Well…" Danny looked at her husband slyly.
Buck raised his eyebrow at his wife, "Danny, if there is anything else, I think now is the time to tell me."
"Alright," Danny cupped her husband's face in her hands, and continued, "I'm pregnant. I didn't know until I got here."
Buck couldn't hold his excitement in, "Pregnant?" He looked down and placed his hand on Danny's stomach.
"Danny, Mr. Standish said you used to sing. I've never heard you."
"Franks took so much away from me. He took my innocence, my trust, my pride. Being with you, made me feel safe again, loved. I'll sing again, one day. I want to find my little girl. I want us to be a family. I want to be her mother. I want you to be her father."
"I understand now how hard it was for you, letting her go. We'll talk to him and bring her home," Buck leaned in and kissed his wife. "Ouch, I guess I need to heal a while longer. Danny, look in my pants pocket."
Danny went over to the desk and checked his pockets. She pulled out her handkerchief. She looked over at her husband with confusion. Opening the white lace, she saw the medicine pouch. Tears flowed down her face as she put the necklace on.
Everyone awoke the next morning. It would be a day and a half's ride back to Four Corners.
"Do I have to wear this sling?" Buck asked a bit irritated.
"Yes you do. Now be careful with that arm. I don't want you busting any of those stitches," Nathan said as he checked Buck Cross's bandages.
As everyone was packing their horses, Danny looked around and asked, "Where is Mr. Standish?" panic showing in Danny's voice.
"Ezra? He left yesterday, when Nathan told us that Mr. Cross was fine," Chris said, answering the young lady and tightening his saddle. "Is everything alright?"
Buck put his good arm around his wife, "We wanted to try and get our daughter."
"Buck, I don't even know her name," Danny looked at her husband with sadness in her eyes.
"I'm sure he'll meet us in Four Corners. Come on. Let's get going," Chris said as he climbed up into his saddle.
Buck smiled as he looked at Danny, "We'll find her. I promise."
It was a much lighter mood riding back to Four Corners. The men couldn't believe the difference in the young Kiowa. He talked and smiled. Buck and Danny told Jimmy and the rest of the group that Danny was expecting when they stopped for lunch. Suddenly all of the men were congratulating the young couple.
When they rode into Four Corners the next day, Buck took Danny straight to the Clarion to see Mary Travis. Mary took one look at the young woman that had been rescued and took her inside her home. She found Danny some clean clothes, and poured her a warm bath with lilac bubbles.
Buck went over to Nathan's to have his bandages changed. And Jimmy went straight to the telegraph office and sent a wire to Teaspoon. He knew Teaspoon would only wait so long before he would come looking for them.
Once Nathan was satisfied with the way the wound was healing, Buck went to the saloon, meeting up Jimmy. Walking in and looking around, they sat down with Chris.
"Have you seen Mr. Standish?" Buck asked.
Chris shook his head, "No. I asked around. He never came back. I'm sorry. He's a gambler, but I just can't believe that he would take off."
Buck looked at Jimmy, "Jimmy, what am I gonna do? This is gonna kill Danny. She wants her daughter back. How am I gonna tell her that this guy's disappeared?"
"Hickok, did Ezra say anything to Danielle after he shot Franks?"
Jimmy shook his head, "Nothing. Danny didn't say anything to him either. I think she was still in shock until Nathan came out of the room."
"Buck, you and Jimmy rest up tonight and take Danielle on home tomorrow. We'll keep a watch here. Ezra gets antsy, but this just doesn't sound like him. It was good working with the both of you," Chris shook hands with both men.
Danny was quiet on the ride back to Rock Creek. Riding into the ranch, Jimmy, Buck, and Danny were met by the smiling faces of their friends. Rachel and Lou rushed to Danny as she climbed down from her horse. Teaspoon, Kid, and Charlie were there by Buck and Jimmy.
"We were so worried about you," Rachel gave Danny a big hug.
"Oh, my Lord! Jimmy, you didn't tell us Buck was hurt," Lou rushed over to Buck after noticing his arm in a sling.
"I'm fine. I just can't use my arm for a while," Buck said, trying to get closer to Danny.
Elle came out of the house, followed by two small children.
"Rachel, who are they?" Danny asked.
Teaspoon walked up and took Danny by the arm and headed towards the house, "Well, it seems someone told a young lady to get her brother and sister and find the Marshal in Rock Creek."
"Lily? She's here? She's alright?" Danny looked at Teaspoon and smiled.
"Why yes, she's doin' just fine. Matter of fact, she has a very attentive admirer," Teaspoon nodded towards the house.
Danny saw Lily come out of the house with Jason White not far behind. Seeing the two young people standing on the porch and talking, Danny couldn't help but feel happiness for them.
Elle White started calling for everyone, "Dinner is ready. Lou, little Noah's awake and not very happy."
Lou blushed and walked a little faster towards the house, "Lord, that boy is always hungry. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was Cody's kid."
Dinner was talkative and full of questions. Jimmy told everyone about Danny's rescue and informing Teaspoon that he had accepted a temporary position as Sheriff in Kettleston until the Judge found a permanent replacement. He was headed back in the morning.
Buck thanked the men at the table. In his absence, Teaspoon, Kid, Jason, and Charlie had rebuilt the stable. Jason had even made a couple of very profitable trades for Buck.
Danny stood up, held her husband's hand as he sat in the chair beside her, and asked for everyone's attention. "Excuse me, everyone. We have a couple of things we need to say. Buck and I would like to thank all of you, for everything. The meal was fantastic, and seeing our family waiting on us when we rode in was beyond words. It appears that our family is growing. Lily, I glad you came here. You won't be alone now.
Um, we would also like to tell everyone that Buck and I are expecting."
All of the women rushed to Danny with congratulations and hugs, causing a temporary release from Buck's hand.
Buck interrupted the celebration. He knew Danny had more to tell, so he continued, "Ladies, everyone, there is more. We thought we had found Danny's…our daughter. The gentleman who has taken care of the little girl helped me get Danny back and he's the one who killed Franks. But it seems now that he has disappeared. No one had seen him since then."
"Dear Lord, is there anything I can do?" Teaspoon asked with genuine concern.
"Mr. Larabee was going to watch out for him. He couldn't believe that he would just disappear, especially after finding Danny. We're not going to give up."
Buck stood up after dinner and excused himself and Danny, "If it's alright with everyone, I would like to take my wife for a stroll. We really haven't had much time to be by ourselves."
"I think that would be a great idea. You two go. We'll clean up and serve some cake. I'm happy for the both of you. Danny, you'll find your little girl. Have faith," Rachel said and then gave Danny a light kiss on her cheek.
Walking hand in hand with Buck, Danny watched as the sun was beginning to set.
"Buck, would it be alright if I gave the cottage to Lily?"
Buck turned his wife to look at him, "You don't have to ask me that. You bought the cottage and you fixed it. And even if it was mine to give, I couldn't think of anyone more deserving."
Buck lifted Danny's chin and leaned down to kiss his wife, passionately. Suddenly, the sound of someone clearing their throat caused the couple to jump slightly and look around.
Sitting on a horse in front of Danny and Buck was Ezra Standish. Sitting in front of Ezra was a small child.
"Mrs. Cross, my sincerest apologies for my abrupt departure. I had some legal matters that I needed to attend to," Ezra tipped his hat and slowly made his way down from his horse. He reached up and picked up the small child dressed in boy's clothing.
Ezra was trying to straighten the child's clothing and continued to speak, "I'm sorry for the outfit. Your daughter can be slightly difficult when it comes to wearing dresses, and believe me; I have bought her the best. She insists on wearing these."
Danny watched long blonde hair fall on small shoulders as Ezra removed the hat the child wore. "Uncle Ezra, I need my hat."
"Young lady, you were supposed to wear a dress," Ezra responded.
"Aw, dresses are for Nancy's," the little girl said as she stopped the ground.
Danny was scared to speak. She knew if she tried to utter a word, the tears would be uncontrollable. Buck sensed his wife's fright and gently placed his hand on the lower part of her back.
"Danielle, I would like for you to meet your daughter. Rose named her Summer Storm. Believe me, sometimes I know why. She can be as bright as a summer day; and then her temper will flare and she is as dark as a storm."
Danny looked up at Ezra, "Rose named her?"
"Yes. She never told you?"
Danny shook her head and dropped to her knees, "Summer Storm, it's beautiful."
Summer walked over to her mother and with small hands felt of Danny's hair. Summer then noticed the medicine pouch that Danny wore and touched it, "I have one just like you do."
Danny took a deep breath, looked at the medicine pouch that Summer wore, and touched the little girl's hair, "I gave that to you the day you were born. Your aunt made it for me to keep me safe. I gave it to you to keep you safe."
"Are you really my Mommy? Uncle Ezra said that I can live with you now because the bad man is all gone, and he won't try to get me now but I don't want to wear dresses. They just get dirty."
Danny felt a mixture of laughter and tears as she looked at her daughter, "I'm really your Mommy and I don't like to wear dresses either. Do you want to come live with me?"
Summer didn't answer and instead walked to Buck's side. Buck lowered to the ground so that his gaze met the little girl's. She then felt Buck's hair and looked at his medicine pouch. With curiosity, she looked at Buck, "Uncle Ezra said you're my Daddy and the bad man shot you." Tilting her head as if examining Buck's face, she asked, "Are you a real Indian? I told the other kids my Aunt was an Indian but they wouldn't believe me. Can you teach me to ride a horse? Uncle Ezra teached me to play Black Jacks but the other kids won't play with me because I win a lot."
"Ezra! You taught her to gamble," Danny stood up and looked at Mr. Standish.
"Now Danielle, I taught her a very profitable trait."
Summer walked over to Ezra and tugged at his pant leg. Ezra bent down and Summer asked him in the most sincere voice, "Uncle Ezra, will you still come see me if I stay with Mommy and Daddy?" She then whispered, "I really like them a lot."
Looking down into her blue eyes, Ezra picked her up in his arms and hugged the child, "Summer Storm, nothing could keep me away."
Ezra put the child down. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a stack of folded papers, "I had the Judge re-issue Summer's birth certificate. To hide the child, I had used my last name. The papers now show her name to be Summer Storm Cross with Danielle Stuart Cross as her mother; and Running Buck Cross as her father. She belongs here. She is now legally yours, both of yours."
Danielle hugged the man she had trusted so long ago, "Thank you, Ezra. You'll always be welcome in our home. You're part of our family."
Buck shook the man's hand, "You've given me more than you know."
Danny and Buck took their new family back into the house and introduced everyone to Ezra and Summer.
Everyone began to leave for the night. Ezra had decided to stay in town with Jimmy. Lily was staying with Ellie, who had fallen in love with Lily's brother and sister. After Buck said goodnight to the last guest, he closed the door, and headed upstairs.
Standing at the door of the guest room, Buck heard singing, beautiful and heavenly. He pushed the door open, lightly, peering in. Danny was tucking Summer in the bed.
Summer looked up at Danny and yawned, "I love you, Mommy. I don't have to share my bed with anybody? I'm going to sleep now. Don't go away anymore."
Danny smiled and kissed the top of her daughter's forehead, "Goodnight, darling. We're not going anywhere."
Danny stood up and walked to the door where her husband was watching. Buck and Danny went to their room.
"She's amazing, Danny. And she's ours."
"Buck, are you alright?"
"I just feel…I never thought I would find someone to share my life with and then you came along. I didn't think I could be any happier.
When they came and took you, I felt so empty, that I'd lost all hope. I almost died, and when I woke up, you were there, and you surprised me with a new life," Buck smiled and touched Danny's stomach.
"And now, there's a little girl next door, who is so bright, and so full of life. For a long time, I thought I was destined to be alone and now I know that I'm the luckiest man in the world. I love you Danielle Cross," Buck leaned down and kissed his wife, gently, passionately, deeply.