Danny awoke in a pool of sweat, gasping for air, and sitting straight up. Buck sat up and tried to hold her, "Danny, what's wrong?"
Trying to catch her breath, Danny quickly rushed out of bed without saying a word. Looking at her in total bewilderment, Buck climbed out of bed, and followed his wife. Danny raced upstairs to the children's bedrooms. Peering into Summer's room, Danny took a deep breath, and closed the door. Resting her back on the hallway wall, she let out a sigh of relief, as a solitary tear rolled down her cheek.
Buck approached her, gently placing his hand on her cheek, and whispered, "Danny, she's okay. Let's go back to bed."
Danny closed her eyes as she felt Buck's touch, kissing his palm. Nodding in agreement, Danny followed Buck back downstairs. Climbing back into the bed, Buck looked at Danny and asked her again, "Danny, what is wrong?"
"I had a…a bad dream. Summer was in trouble…"
Buck laughed, "Summer is always in trouble. The boys in town threw her in the pond today because she called one of them a horse's…"
Danny smiled and shook her head, "No, Buck. I'm serious. I can't explain it; the dream was a warning. Something is going to happen. She's in trouble, and she needs our help."
"Okay, okay, but right now she's fine. Let's go back to sleep and we'll talk about it tomorrow."
Danny lay back down as Buck wrapped his arms around her. She felt the gentleness of his kiss on her neck, and she tried to relax enough to continue sleeping; but a deep rooted worry kept invading her rest.
* * * *
Danny was up early preparing breakfast for her family. Buck came out of their bedroom, and went into the kitchen to kiss his wife.
"Good morning. Did you finally get to sleep?" Buck asked with concern.
Danny smiled, "Yes, but the dream last night…Buck it really scared me. I know it sounds silly, but I really do think it was a warning."
"I'm sure it was, but Danny, you know as well as I do that Summer has always kept us running. You can't worry all the time, alright?" Buck kissed Danny quickly, hearing the children getting ready to come down for breakfast. "I've got to go out feed the animals. I'll be back in a minute. No more fretting," he said as he made an exit outside.
Summer came bounding down the stairs. She was now seventeen. With long blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, the bluest eyes, and the darkest tan, she was the spitting image of her mother. She was wearing leather trousers and a red blouse.
A tomboy through and through, she didn't pay much attention to any of the boys in the town, except to try to outride or outshoot anyone who dared take her on. More than once, Summer would come home with a black eye or a busted lip, which was fine when she was younger; but she was growing into a beautiful young woman, and Buck and Danny were constantly reminding Summer that she would have to start acting more like a lady.
"Good morning, Mom!" she said with such exuberance. "What's for breakfast?"
"How about eggs, bacon, and biscuits?" Danny said taking a good look at her daughter.
"How about some coffee?" Summer said heading straight for the cupboard.
"Mornin' Mom!" Ike said pulling his suspenders up. The youngster was now twelve; and with black hair and the deepest brown eyes, he looked like Buck made over.
Following close behind was Hunter, now ten. Hunter looked like a slight mixture of both parents. His hair was light brown with a touch of auburn when the sun would hit it just right. His eyes were hazel but his skin was just as dark as his father, leaving no one to deny that he was part Kiowa.
"Mom, do we gotta go to school today?" Hunter asked grabbing a biscuit. "I mean it's such a beautiful day, it's just perfect for goin' fishin'. Can we Mom? Please."
"Yeah, Mom, we only got another week until we're out for summer. Can't we skip today?" Ike chimed in.
"No, everyone is going to school this morning," Buck said as he walked in with Noah and Jed, tagging along. Kid and Lou's two children were the spitting image of their parents. Noah was now twelve with wavy, sandy hair, and glasses. Jed, the more mischievous of the two and only seven, had dark brown hair and sky blue eyes.
"Mornin', Aunt Danny," Noah said as he sat down at the table and grabbed a biscuit.
Ike looked at his father with a frown, "Ah, how come, Dad?"
"You've only got another week of school and your grandmother would get me good if you all skipped, especially since she's the teacher. Now hurry up with breakfast, and get your chores done, before you leave," Buck said messing up the hair on his oldest son's head.
Ike and Hunter both rolled their eyes. Hunter looked up at Buck and asked, "Can we go fishin' after school, then?"
"Alright, but be home by supper," Buck said.
Noah spoke up then, "Uncle Buck, can they spend the night with us? Ma said it was alright with her."
"Yeah, Uncle Buck. Can they?" Jeb asked, echoing his brother.
Buck met Danny's gaze over Ike's head, "It's alright with me if it's alright with your Aunt Danny."
Danny narrowed her eyes, "Well, if your Aunt Lou said it's alright then its fine with me."
"Dad, Stan and the rest of the boys are going hunting after school. Is it alright if I go?" Summer asked as she took a bite of the eggs.
"No! You need to come home instead of going with a bunch of adolescent hooligans," Danny spoke up.
"Mom! Come on, why can't I go? It's not fair. Ike and Hunter are going to the creek," Summer pleaded.
"They're fishing. I just don't want you going out in the woods, unchaperoned, with a bunch of young men. It's not proper. Did they even invite you to go?" Danny said.
"Well, no. They ain't men and I'm just as good as any of those boys. Besides they're gonna be hunting with bow and arrows, and I know I'll be better than any of them."
"Summer, I would rather you come home," Danny responded.
Summer stood up, exasperated, and tried to reason with her mother, "But Mom, they dared me. They don't think I can…"
Buck finally interrupted, "Enough! Summer please come home after school, at least for today. I need some help breaking one of the horses."
"But Dad…" Summer tried to speak but Buck stopped her.
"Summer, come home after school. That's it!"
Crossing her arms in defiance and stomping her foot in disapproval, she snarled, "Fine. Can I go ahead and leave for school?"
"Yes, and don't forget your lunch," Danny said.
"We gotta leave too, Mom! We gotta get to our chores," Ike said as he grabbed his pail, as Hunter, Noah and Jeb followed behind.
Finally the house was quiet, as Buck watched Danny cleaning the dishes. "Danny…"
"Please, don't say anything. I'm sorry, but I'm just worried about her, especially after that dream last night," Danny said turning around to face her husband.
Buck approached Danny and wrapped his arms around her, "I know, but I think you're just worried because she doesn't need us as much. Danny, she's growing up. You've got to give her a little breathing room."
"Alright," Danny said looking up at her husband. Kissing him gently on the lips, she continued, "Thank you for backing me up. I promise I'll try to back off a little."
"You know…the kids are gone and I gave the wranglers the day off. Would you like to go to our special place by the creek bed?" Buck said embracing his wife closer, raising his eyebrow seductively.
Danny smiled up at her husband and placed her arms around his neck, "The creek? Buck Cross, what are you up to?"
Buck leaned down and kissing Danny seductively on the neck, "I'm trying to take advantage of a quiet day with my beautiful wife. I'll saddle the horses, bring a nice blanket, and if you'll pack us a lunch, we can have a picnic, just the two of us, our "quiet time" before Summer gets out of school."
Danny smiled, closing her eyes, as she sighed, "Picnic it is. I'll meet you outside. Give me thirty minutes?"
Buck and Danny rode the horses across the prairie enjoying the morning. Arriving at the creek bed, they dismounted from their horses. Danny removed her shoes and sat on the rocks, letting her feet dangle in the rushing water. Buck sat next to her, "Do you remember the first time we sat here? You brought Savior here to train him, and I was furious. But when I saw you sitting here…you were beautiful. You still are," Buck looked at Danny smiling. Danny was looking straight into his eyes. Leaning in for a kiss, Buck suddenly grabbed Danny, pulling her down as an arrow buzzed right over her head.
"What was that?" Danny asked, sitting back up, in shock.
"An arrow," Buck said looking in the direction from where it came. "Get down, and stay here."
Danny nodded in agreement.
Buck went into the trees, looking for whoever was lurking. Danny heard a scream, a girl's scream. She recognized the voice instantly - Summer. Sure enough, Buck came out of the tree line holding his daughter by the arm with one hand, and Summer's bow and arrows in his other.
"Summer Storm! What are you doing? You're supposed to be in school," Danny was furious.
Buck turned Summer towards him and Danny, "Summer, you could have killed us with this. We both told you not to go hunting."
"I didn't see you. I was aiming for the deer, and you told me I couldn't go after school with the guys, but you didn't say I couldn't go without them," Summer said.
"You know exactly what we meant. Let's go," Buck said directing his daughter.
"Where to?" Summer asked.
"Home! You want to skip? Fine. I've got plenty of work for you to do," Buck said.
Danny rode back to the house on Savior, with Buck and Summer doubling up on Warrior. Arriving at their home, Buck noticed a young man sitting on the steps. After he and Summer dismounted from his horse, Buck took the reins, and handed them to Summer, "Take the horses into the corral and cool them down. Then I want you to muck out every one of the stalls in the stable."
"But, Dad…all of the stalls?" Summer began to protest, but quickly backed down seeing the scowl her father gave her.
Buck walked towards the house with his hand gently pressed on the small of Danny's back. Danny glided past the stranger, opened the front door and headed into the house.
The young man held out his hand, "Mr. Cross? They told me in town you might be hiring. My name is Isaac…Isaac Met…Isaac Metlin."
Buck viewed the stranger with curiosity. He was used to all sorts of horse wranglers, but somehow this young man intrigued him. It wasn't the way he dressed or the way he spoke, but rather his eyes. They were soulful, lost, and hungry. That was the only way he could have described them. There was gentleness there too.
"I'm always looking for new wranglers. Have you ever broken horses before?" Buck asked.
Isaac nodded his head, "Yes, sir. I've got a way with the critters. I ain't met a horse I couldn't control."
Buck thought for a moment, "Well, I've got a couple of geldings here now I'll be working with this afternoon. I'll give you a chance and see what you've got; but I'm warning you, we don't break them by using whips, so if that's how you 'control' them, you'd best leave now."
"No sir, I don't use whips. And I appreciate the chance," Isaac responded enthusiastically.
"Alright, the bunk house is over there. Take an empty bed. The rest of the men have the day off, but they'll be back by midnight. You'll find I pay better than most, two dollars a day, plus meals. I don't take to drinking on my land. What you do on your days off is your business as long as it's not here. I've got children, and I'd appreciate it if you remember that. We're getting ready for a big contract with a ranch out of Texas. We've just received a hundred head, all of them wild, that'll need to be trained. "
Isaac smiled, "Yes Sir. Thank you."
Buck finally smiled and said, "Feel free to look over the ranch once you get settled. And quit calling me Sir. My name is Buck. You're welcomed to join us for supper this evening. My wife cooks some mouthwatering chicken and dumplings."
Isaac smiled widened, "Yes, Sir, I-I mean Buck!" With that, the young man turned, and headed off to the bunk house, carrying a small bundle, presumably his extra clothing, with him.
Isaac entered the bunkhouse, found an empty bunk, and sat down. Opening the small, ragged bag, he removed a folded piece of paper. Taking great care to open it and looking at the hand drawn picture of his mother, Isaac whispered, "I'm here, Ma. I don't know what I'm supposed to do, but I'm here."
* * * *
"This is so unfair. All I did was skip school. Geez, I graduate in two weeks," Summer mumbled to herself as she cleaned out the stall. She was so intent in her focus, she never heard Isaac come up behind her.
"So who are you?" Isaac asked her.
Hearing the deep voice, Summer started and spun around. "Who am I? Who are you?"
"Well, you're a prickly thing, huh?"
Blowing her hair away from the front of her face, she looked at him with narrowed eyes, "Mister, I just asked who you are? I don't think it's proper to call me prickly."
Isaac cleared his throat, "Excuse me. My name is Isaac Metlin. Mr. Cross just hired me, told me to look around. I just wasn't expecting to hear someone mumbling. It was my understanding that all of the hands had the day off."
"I ain't a hand," Summer looked agitated.
"Well, may I ask who you are then?" Isaac asked, trying to suppress a smile.
Summer took a breath, "My name is Summer…Summer Cross."
"Oh, the daughter. What are you doing here?"
"I skipped school if you must know," Summer answered the handsome young man. She continued to rake out the stall she was in. "I was trying to use my bow and arrow to hunt a deer. I still need a little practice with the arrow. I missed the deer and almost hit my mom and dad while they were sitting by the creek."
Isaac was trying now not to laugh. He picked up a hoe and started working in the stall next to the one she was working on and turning away so that she wouldn't see, he said, "Maybe I can teach you to shoot with a gun."
Summer stopped and yelled over to the next door stall, "Teach me to shoot? I know how to shoot. What? Just because I'm a girl, you don't think I can shoot. I just need to practice some more with a bow and arrow, that's all!"
Isaac dropped the hoe, backed out of the stall, closer to the opened barn door, "You are the prickliest thing I ever met!"
Summer came storming out of the stall then, dropping the rake, "PRICKLY? Did you just call me PRICKLY? AGAIN!!"
Isaac threw up his hands in defense, "Whoa, darlin'. I didn't mean anything by it."
Summer advanced on Isaac so fast. He picked her up hoisting her over his shoulder and threw her in one of the water troughs that sit right outside the barn door.
"Now settle down," Isaac yelled.
"SUMMER!!!" Buck hollered as he approached.
"Oh, Zeus! Oh, Zeus! Now you've done it!" Isaac said to the drenched girl. "I'm fired for sure."
Summer sat up and took a deep breath of air. Her hair falling in front of her face, she started screaming "YOU THREW ME IN!! YOU THREW ME IN!! I OUGHT TO…"
Her words were cut short by the sudden jerk on her arm, lifting her out of the trough. "Summer Storm, what did you do now?" Buck was not in a mood to mince words.
"Nothing, Dad. He…"
"Never mind, go in the house, and get cleaned up. Your mother needs some help with supper tonight," Buck shook his head.
"GO!" Buck told his daughter.
Summer turned and headed for the house, dripping from head to toe. She mumbled all way back to the house.
Isaac stood as still as a statue. 'What did I just do?' The thought kept repeating itself over and over in his head. "Sir, I'm sooo sorry. I should've never…"
Before he could say what he was thinking and apologize for dumping the boss's daughter into the water, Buck surprised him. Once Summer was far enough away, Buck turned and faced Isaac with a giant smile on his face, and then he proceeded to burst out in laughter. "Son, don't worry about it. You're not the first person to dump her in a trough, although, you are the first without a scratch to show for it. My daughter can be a handful sometimes. She always seems to find trouble."
"Still, I never…I should've…darn it…she just came at me. All I did was offered to teach her to shoot," Isaac said, defensively, as he followed Buck to the back towards the corral.
Buck stopped and turned to Isaac and burst in laughter again, "You offered to teach her to shoot? Oh this is going to be fun."
"Mr. Cross, am I fired?"
Buck's laughter had finally slowed and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, "No, you're not fired. In the first place, I haven't seen you work with the horses yet."
"And second?" Isaac asked.
"And second, any man who's willing to stand up to my daughter, and walk away without a scratch, well that might just provide us with a little entertainment. And quit calling me Sir."
"Yes, Si-Buck. Buck, if you don't mind me saying so, she sure is a prickly thing."
Buck looked at Isaac, "Oh, please, don't tell me you told her that?"
"Well," Isaac shrugged, which set Buck into another round of laughter.
* * * *
"So, what's he like?" Danny asked her daughter.
Summer had run upstairs to her room and stripped out of her wet clothes. She was towel drying her hair while she watched her father and the new ranch hand out her bedroom window, when her mother came in. "Huh? Who? The new hand?" Summer asked without turning around. "He's obnoxious, that's what."
Danny tried hard not to chuckle, "Obnoxious? Why?"
Summer spun around, "He threw me in the horse trough and then he had the nerve to call ME prickly. If Dad hadn't come out when he did…I would've…I would've…well, I don't know what I would've done. He's infuriating."
"And very nice looking from what I've seen," Danny said, sitting down on her daughter's bed.
"Nice looking? Humph! I didn't notice," Summer said as she combed her long hair.
Danny arose from the bed and walked towards the bedroom door, "Well, young lady, you will mind your manners this evening. He is coming to dinner and your father has taken a special interest in him."
"No buts. You will be nice," Danny said, shaking her forefinger.
Looking in her clothing chest, she found a light peach dress with short sleeves. Holding it in front of her and looking at herself in the mirror, she smiled, remembering how handsome he had looked. He was much older than the boys at school, but he didn't seem too much older than Summer. Maybe that's why she seemed intrigued by him. He infuriated her but he seemed more mature than the boys at school but different than the other men that worked on the ranch. 'Well, guess I made a fool of myself earlier. I just have to be nice. I'll be so nice; he won't know what hit him.' She couldn't remember the last time she had worn a dress, but tonight, she wanted to wear one.
* * * *
Buck was laughing and walking through the front room with Isaac. "Make yourself at home," Buck said, as he went into the kitchen to help Danny. The boys were staying with Kid and Lou, so the house seemed very quiet.
Isaac looked around the room, and was headed to the settee, when a hand drawn picture over the mantle caught his attention. He was walking over to look more closely, when a voice behind him, caused him to stop and turn.
"So, how do you like our ranch, Mr. Metlin?"
Turning around, Isaac saw Summer gliding down the stairs. Looking up, his lip turned up into a surprised smile. He almost didn't recognize the young woman, who just a few hours ago, he had thrown into the trough. Her hair was put in a loose but very proper bun with a few of the strands framing her face. Her dress was plain, but lovely. She was a vision. "You look beautiful," he told her.
"Don't you mean prickly?" Summer said with a slight hint of a smile.
Isaac was still staring, "I'm sorry about that. Can we start over? Please call me Isaac. I ain't old enough to be called no mister."
Summer took a deep breath, her temper had since subsided, "Isaac? You can call me Summer."
Isaac turned back towards the picture. He couldn't help but be pulled to the plainly framed pictures. The heads of six people were hand drawn in one of the frames. The one that garnered his complete attention was the second picture. It only showed one person, again hand drawn. The picture showed a young man, not much older than himself; a bandanna wrapped around his head. Isaac took an inward breathe, "Who are they?"
Buck came into the room. Seeing Isaac standing by the mantle, it left no doubt in his mind. Buck had watched the young man work with the horses all afternoon, but seeing him and the picture, Buck knew. Clearing his throat and averting his eyes, he answered the question before Summer could, "That was me, when I was with the Pony Express," Buck said with a shy grin, pointing at the top middle of the picture with six people.
"Who are the rest of them?" Isaac asked, when he felt he could trust his own voice.
Buck smiled and moved closer to the mantle. Pointing to the top right corner, "Well, that fellow you might recognize, that's Bill Cody."
"Buffalo Bill? I almost got to see his show once. Missed it by a week though," Isaac said, grinning.
"We all just called him Cody. He always had a way of talking to people, and boy, could he eat. That there is Jimmy Hickok."
"Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok? That's something," Isaac shook his head in disbelieve.
Summer spoke up then, "That's Uncle Jimmy, not Wild Bill." She approached then and pointed to the two people on the bottom, a young man with a black string tie and very demur-looking young woman with cropped hair, "This is Uncle Kid. He's the marshal. And this is my Aunt Louise. She dressed up like a boy and rode with the Pony Express. You should see her hair now. Comes way down here," she smiled and was indicating her knee with her left hand.
Buck couldn't suppress his grin, listening to his daughter doting on her aunt and uncle.
"That last fellow there, he's a black man. Was he a slave?" Ike had heard the stories about the Great War between the States; and had even met some former slaves.
"No, that young man was born free. Back then that was very special. His name was Noah Dixon. He died in Cody's arms just a couple of days after Kid and Lou's wedding day. I guess that's the day the war really started for us," Buck answered, hauntingly looking at the man in the top corner of the picture.
Isaac bit his tongue. He wanted to know, but he was still gathering the courage to ask. Finally, he couldn't wait any longer, "Who is that? The picture, all by itself?"
Buck's eyes watered and his expression grew solemn. He cleared his throat, trying to speak, "That is my brother, Ike…Ike McSwain."
Summer came to stand next to her father, "My uncle died before my father left the Pony Express. These are his drawings." She spoke so softly, that Isaac was compelled to look over at her. He glanced and saw her standing with her hand in Buck's, a tear streak down his face.
"Supper's ready," Danny said breaking the silence. "Summer, would you please show Isaac to the table?"
"Yes, Ma'am. Right this way," she said as she released her father's hand and swept by Isaac. Isaac smiled at Danny and followed Summer into the dining area.
Buck quickly wiped his eyes and smiled at his wife, "Well, let's have some of your delicious chicken and dumplings."
Danny lowered her voice and gently placed her hand on Buck's chest, having him stay in place, "Are you going to be alright?"
Buck averted his gaze, cleared his throat, and whispered, "I have to do this. I have to play this out. I'll be fine."
"You're sure? You're sure that's Ike's son?" Danny asked.
Buck looked into his wife's eyes, "I've never been more sure of anything. I don't know why Emily never said anything, or why he hasn't said anything yet, but that is Ike's son."
Danny reached up and kissed her husband gently, "Then we'll both see how this plays this out."
* * * *
Supper had gone well. Isaac had avoided most questions regarding his folks, managing instead to talk mostly of his travels for the past two years. He was lying on the bunk staring up at the empty bed above him, when he heard the signal. Glancing towards the house, seeing all the lights were out, and knowing that the rest of the hands wouldn't be back for another two hours, Isaac made his way to the thicket of trees, where a rider and a horse awaited him.
"Well, I see you made it inside the house," Drake asked as Isaac rode in. Chewing on an unlit cheroot, the black haired six-foot tall gunfighter said with a drawl. A slow grin appeared on his face, "Is the half-breed taking to you alright?"
The makeshift campsite was a sight. Four or five men, all members of Drake Jackson's gang, were scattered around the fire. Two more were posted as guards in the trees. Isaac climbed down from the horse and approached the man in charge.
Isaac pasted on a fake smile, careful to keep his true feelings hidden, "He's taking to me alright. We'll see how much though when the rest of his crew comes back. What's so special about those books anyways, Drake?"
Drake looked up and down at the young man, "Those books are kept locked up tight. They say that besides his family, those books are his most prized possessions. They ain't even kept in a bank vault. Something that expensive and special would make us a pretty penny, wouldn't it? Besides, that'll just be the icing on the cake, so to speak. That half-breed only deals with cash sales, so this new contract he's got, he'll bring the money straight back home, where we'll be waiting. You remember your job?"
"Yeah, get close to him, try to gain as much trust as I can and find out where the safe is in the house," Isaac answered.
"Good. Good. See boys, I told you this little pup'd be good for something," Drake addressed the men sitting around the fire with laughter. Gripping Isaac's shoulder with a heavy hand and giving him a harsh squeeze, he spoke directly to the young man, "You'd best be getting back before the other hands start arriving. We'll meet up in two weeks, see if there's any update. And boy?"
Isaac looked directly at Drake, "Yes Sir?"
"You'd best remember where your loyalties lie. You remember that half-breed left your ma and you to fend for yourself. If it hadn't been for me, you'd be dead by now," Drake grin turned almost sinister.
Isaac thought a moment before he responded. The man had terrified Isaac and his mother. He took a steadying breathe before he spoke, "I won't forget."
* * * *
Buck was up early the next morning. He walked over to the bunkhouse and spoke for a moment with his foreman, Josh Harvey; letting him know about his hiring Isaac the day before. Buck instructed Josh to have Isaac ride with him that day, showing him the land. Buck informed him that he would be gone most of the day, finishing the paperwork for the new stock, and visiting with Teaspoon.
After Josh assured his boss that he'd take the boy under his wing, Buck walked to the barn and hitched up the buggy. Walking back into the house, Buck found Summer ready to go to school, dressed in her trousers and white blouse, her hair in one long braid falling down the back.
"Would you like a ride into school this morning?" Buck said with a smile.
Summer raised her eyebrow and asked her father, "Why? Don't trust me?"
Buck chuckled, "Yes, I trust you. I'm headed that way though. You want a ride or not?"
"Sure, I'll meet you outside," Summer said; kissing Buck on the cheek, grabbed her lunch pail and headed out the door.
Danny walked up beside Buck, "Are you going to talk to Kid?"
"Yeah, Teaspoon, too. I figure they'd want to know about Isaac. Josh is going to keep an eye on him until I get back."
* * * *
Isaac watched as Summer came out of the house. Even dressed in the trousers, she was beautiful. Summer looked in his direction, smiled and waved. Isaac approached the buggy.
"So, you're headed to school today?"
Summer widened her smile, showing her pearly white teeth, "Yes, but Dad's taking me. I don't think he trusts me to get there on my own. Will you be here this afternoon?"
Isaac chuckled, "Well, unless your dad fires me between now and then, I'll be here."
Buck walked out of the house and climbed into the buggy. Summer looked at Isaac and said, "Good. I'll see you this afternoon."
Buck shook his head and tried to hide the humor in his eyes. Taking the reins in his hands and releasing the brake lever, he nodded at Isaac, "Stay with Josh today. He'll show you the ropes. We'll be back soon enough."
* * * *
"Are you sure?" Teaspoon asked.
Buck nodded, "Teaspoon, the boy is Ike and Emily's son. He's Ike's double and the way he handles the horses…"
Kid just sat and listened. Shaking his head, he finally stood up and approached the window, "Buck, do you want me to send some telegraphs? See if we can find out about Emily? Anything about Isaac?"
Buck again nodded, "Please. The last I heard from her, it was four, maybe five years ago. The last letter I sent came back unopened. But even when she was writing me, she never mentioned having a baby."
"Well, you remember she was an independent girl. That's one thing that drew Ike to her. She'd always had to take care of her daddy. She probably knew you'd feel responsible for the boy after Ike died," Teaspoon commented.
"I would have been responsible, and still am," Buck said.
Teaspoon finally asked, "Buck, why hasn't the boy said who he is? You said he's using a fake last name."
"I don't know for sure that it is fake. It's just…it's just a feeling. As for why he hasn't said, I don't know. Danny and me, we're keeping an eye on him, going to try and draw him in. Maybe he just wants to find out more about us," Buck shrugged.
On Thursday the following week, when Summer came home from school, she and her brothers went straight to the training corral in the northern section of the ranch. They always loved watching as their father and mother and the rest of the hands were training the horses. Buck and Danny turned and waved at their children as they all took their places on the posts. Summer took special notice as she saw Isaac breaking the black horse. He was handsome.
One of the men came riding in fast. In the distance, Buck could see the wrangler's partner with about fifteen horses. Stopping just short of the corral, the hand jumped down from the saddle, "Buck, we got problems up on Wicker's Ridge. Looks like a cougar. It had most of those horses riled up something fierce."
Buck walked to the man, his brows arching in worry, "Any of them hurt?"
"Maybe, I know there was a mama with this group, had the colt not more than three or four days ago. I found some blood, not a lot mind you, but the mama and baby ain't with them now. You want me to go see what I can find? I would've looked some more but I figured I'd get the rest of them back here to safety first."
"No, you stay with the group, ride them on over to the south side," Buck said. Turning towards the post, he yelled, "Summer, grab your bag and mount up. Take the rifle and plenty of ammo."
Summer was off the post and in a run, "Yes, Sir."
Buck then turned his attention towards his new charge, "Isaac, get you a good mount and a good side arm. You're riding with Summer."
"Sir? I'll go, but if there's a wildcat out there, no woman needs to be riding out there, especially your daughter," Isaac looked genuinely confused.
"Isaac, don't worry about my daughter. She's the best healer we've got for the animals. It's her gift. And she may not be good with a bow, but she's fast and accurate when it comes to a rifle; and a pistol for that matter. I'd go out with her myself, but I've got a meeting in an hour. Go with her and watch her back."
Before Isaac could protest, he saw Summer approaching with two horses, saddled, packed and ready to go.
They rode in silence for almost three hours, before Isaac finally spoke up, "How much farther is this 'Wicker's Ridge'?"
Summer nodded, "Not much farther, just pass that bend up there and through the creek. It gets a bit rocky though. It was a lean winter, so now the cats are coming in closer to the ranch. Have you ever killed a cougar before?"
"Can't really say as I've ever even seen one. What about you? You ever killed one?" Isaac asked, happy for the conversation.
Summer nodded, "Last year. One came at my younger brother, Ike. Well, at least I think I killed it."
Isaac thought for a moment, "What do you mean you think you killed it?"
Summer laughed, "I shot at him, and hit him too. But Ike had his hunting knife and stabbed that big cat in the throat. It fell right off of him. I guess it could've been the bullet between his eyes or the knife in its throat. Really doesn't matter, the cat was dead and Ike's still here."
Suddenly, a movement in the brush caught Isaac's attention. Holding up his hand, he halted his horse. Summer stopped hers as well, pulling the rifle out, watching and listening. A painted mare came out of the trees. Before Isaac could mount a protest, Summer was off her horse and made her way towards the scared beast.
"Whoa, girl," speaking so softly, her tone soothing the terrified animal. "I'm not going to hurt you. Just let me take a look at you." Summer began to gently caress the animal's nose and then its neck, gently looking and feeling for any injuries. Stroking the horse on the side, she heard the small whimper. The mare turned and went to the edge to trees. Summer followed and found the small colt, cut up and lying down.
Isaac was off his horse and handed Summer her bag. As he stood back and watched her, it became harder to swallow. A lump was in his throat. She was amazing. He was suddenly overwhelmed with feelings he couldn't explain. He'd always been good with animals, but watching someone else, someone as beautiful as Summer with an amazing healing touch, and he was awestruck.
Summer applied several herbs and then a cooling salve on the cuts and scratches. Standing up, she looked around, "I don't understand. The cat could've killed him. We need to keep our eyes open. He's close, I can feel it."
"I know. I feel it too," Isaac said, on full alert now.
"Isaac, we can't go back tonight."
"What do you mean?"
"The colt is too weak. We're too far from the ranch for us to carry him, and he can't walk. The herbs and the salve should help stop the bleeding and hopefully by tomorrow morning, we can take it very slow to get him back."
"We can't stay out here all night. Summer, that cat is out there somewhere."
"I know. We'll just have to take turns watching," Summer was determined. She immediately moved to a spot next to the creek, and began to set up camp.
Isaac tried again, "Summer, it's not proper. Your father would have my head…"
Summer nodded, "My father trusts you. The only other people he's ever trusted to go out with me has been one of my uncles."
"You've got school. You were in trouble for not going…"
Summer shook her head and scoffed at him, "I've only got one more day before graduation and I'll be missing for a good reason."
Isaac looked exasperated, "We can't stay."
"Well, then you go on back. I'm staying. That colt needs to rest."
"You are one of the most stubborn, hardheaded…"
Suddenly his words were cut short by his own gasp causing Summer looked up at Isaac. His eyes had grown wide as he made slow moves, lifting his rifle. Summer heard it then; a low growl directly in back of her. She froze.
Isaac would have one shot. "Summer, when I say down, get down," he said in a very low voice.
Summer watched Isaac, her heart pounding so loud it sounded like a drum in her ears. One beat…two beats…three….
Summer fell, covering her head, as a shot rang out. She felt the thud of the large beast fall directly beside her. As she raised her head, she saw the glazed over eyes. As she gasped, Isaac reached down and grabbed her, wrapping his arm around her waist and drawing her close.
"Are you alright?"
Summer was still in shock. She tried, but no words would come out. Isaac held her tighter, gently leaning her head onto his chest, "Summer, Summer. You're okay. I've got you."
Isaac sat on the ground holding Summer until her shaking had eased. Isaac chuckled and shook his head, "I know your pa said you seemed to always find trouble, but that was just a little too close for my taste. How about you?"
"I do not find trouble," Summer looked up into his eyes, finally finding her voice. She pushed away from Isaac out of his embrace, "I didn't want to find that cat. That was sheer accident. I do not…"
"Alright, alright," Isaac held his hands up in mock defense and smiled, trying very hard not to laugh. "I'm sorry. Can we start over?"
Summer huffed and then smiled, "Alright, but if you say one more word about me finding trouble…"
"I won't. I promise," Isaac said, with a slight chuckle. Looking back at the cougar, he asked, "What'll we do with that?"
"Well, we could figure out a way to take it home," Summer said, slowly approaching the dead animal.
"Why would we do that?"
"Take the skin off, cure it and make a blanket or a rug. My dad taught us to respect the animals. If it has to be killed, then we try to make the death worthwhile."
Isaac shrugged, "Alright, but I ain't skinning it."
* * * *
Summer built a fire, while Isaac fished in the creek.
"Catch anything yet?" Summer hollered over at Isaac.
Isaac looked back, "Does it look like I caught something?"
Summer approached, "Do you want me to show you how?"
"Have I told you how aggravating you are?"
Summer sat down next to him, "What? I was only trying to help."
Isaac was quiet for a moment before he finally asked, "Summer, tell me some more about Ike."
"My brother? Well, he can be a pest sometimes. What do you want to know?"
Isaac laughed, "No, I mean Buck's brother. You said he died, before the end of the Pony Express. Was he sick?"
Summer thought for a moment, and then took a deep breath, "No, he wasn't sick. Well, he was when he was a young boy. Scarlet fever, I think. Because of the fever, he was mute, and he didn't have any hair. According to my father, they met at an orphanage. Both were picked on for their differences, my father because he was half-Kiowa, and Ike, because he was mute. One day some boys were beating up on my father, and he looked up, and Ike was fighting beside him. They became friends that day; stuck by each other through thick and thin."
Summer smiled, "My father taught Ike to 'talk', with his hands."
"His hands?" Isaac looked at Summer.
Summer nodded, "Sign Language, like the Kiowa use."
"How did he die?" Isaac had heard the story before from his mother, but he wanted, no he needed to hear it as Buck told it.
"Ike met a girl and fell in love. My father says that they would've been married within the next month if not the next week. Ike didn't give his heart easily and he fell hard for Emily. Emily's father was killed by a no good gambler. Emily went looking for retribution. Ike ran to the saloon to stop her. When he entered, the gambler shot him. My father said that if Ike had had it to do over, he would have. He loved Emily and he saved her."
Ike stared straight ahead, afraid of the tears on the brink of falling if he dared to look at Summer. His mother had told him over and over how his father had died, that there was no way anyone could have prevented it or saved him. She often blamed herself, and it hurt Isaac to see the pain of guilt in her eyes. Isaac had held onto the belief that it was Buck's fault; that he should have stood beside Ike and that after his father died, Buck should've taken care of him and Emily.
He couldn't help his next question, "What happened to the gambler?"
Summer didn't hesitate, "Dad won't talk about it. I asked my grandpa once. He simply told me that justice was served."
"What happened with Emily?"
Summer seemed to ignore his question as she watched the pull on the line, "Isaac, pull it in. You got one!"
Isaac shook his head to clear his mind, and pulled the trout in.
* * * *
After cooking and eating the trout, Summer settled back using her saddle as a seat, "You asked me about Aunt Emily. I can't tell you much."
Isaac looked at her questioningly, "Aunt Emily? I thought you said they weren't married."
Summer shrugged, "I said they would've been. Dad always referred to her as my aunt, so that's what I've always called her. I've never met her though. Dad and my Aunt Lou kept in touch with her for a while. She went up north to live with some of her relatives. They wrote her all the time, trying to get her to move back here. Dad even offered her half of the ranch, in Ike's name, but she refused. She stopped sending letters back maybe five years ago."
"Did she dislike Buck and Lou?"
"No, not at all. My Aunt Lou said that Aunt Emily was always very independent. She had taken care of her father and herself for a long time, even before she met Uncle Ike. They always figured she didn't want to feel like a burden to them, but they never considered her a burden. To hear them talk about her, they loved her dearly."
Isaac watched the expressions on Summer's face, "Did they have a child?"
Summer looked confused, "No. I don't think she ever married either. She loved Uncle Ike too much."
She wasn't lying. Had his mother ever even told Buck about him? Suddenly, all of his hate was turning…turning to his mother? No. Summer was right. His mother was very independent. They never accepted charity.
His hatred was redirecting towards the one person who had tricked and beat his mother and tormented him - Drake Jackson. Emily had married him, but only because he had promised to take care of her and Isaac. She died two years later from a head injury.
"Isaac. Isaac," Summer snapped her fingers under Isaac's nose, bringing him out of his trance. "Are you alright?"
Isaac blinked and then smiled, "I'm sorry. I was thinking about my ma."
"Tell me about her," Summer said.
Suddenly, Isaac smiled, "Her name was Emily…too." Talking with Summer was easy. The more he talked, the more relaxed he felt. He told her about how they lived with his ma's aunt until the aunt died. He then told her how he and his mother were kicked out from their home, how she took in laundry to make enough money so they could eat, how she would scrub until the lye made her hands bleed. He told her that even during the hardest times, they were happy.
Happy until she met a man who talked real nice and promised to take care of her and Isaac, but once they were married, he turned mean. He told her about the beatings and how he could hear his ma cry, about his life with Drake. When his mother died, he stayed with Drake because he didn't have anywhere else to go, until now. They talked until the sun set and the moon begin to rise.
Finally, Summer looked at the man who sat beside her. Isaac noticed her staring at him and had to ask, "What is it?"
Summer leaned in closer to him, and watching his eyes, kissed him gently. Isaac returned the kiss, lightly at first, and then drew her closer to him. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he pulled her closer.
When their lips finally separated, he leaned his forehead to hers, "Summer…I…I." He couldn't finish his thought.
"I know. I feel the same way," Summer smiled up at him and said.
"I've never been able to talk to anyone, not like I can talk to you," Isaac's eyes sparkled as he watched her.
Summer put her fingers to his lips, "That was my first kiss."
Embarrassed now by her boldness, she stood up, "I need to clean these dishes."
"I'll help," Isaac reached for the pan, accidently touching her hand. He looked up and smiled.
Once they were by the creek, Isaac couldn't help but splash a little of the cold water playfully at Summer. She shrieked, and then splashed back. Suddenly, the two became lost in their own game, laughing and splashing until Summer slipped on a rock and fell into the freezing creek.
"SUMMER!" Isaac raced into the water by her side, helping her stand.
Walking her to the fire, he quickly threw more wood on the flames. Looking at Summer, he could see her shaking. He was as wet as she was, but his only thoughts were of her. Rummaging through his saddle bag, he pulled out a towel and a blanket, "Quick, get out of your clothes."
Summer shot him a look of distain, and thru chattering teeth, she said, "No, I'm not taking my clothes off."
Isaac's teeth begin chattering just as vigorously, "We don't have a choice. We'll both get pneumonia if we don't get warm and dry."
"Okay, but only to my undergarments. And don't get any ideas."
Isaac couldn't help but chuckle, "I promise. I'll be a gentleman. Okay?"
Summer began unbuttoning her blouse, as Isaac turned his head, and avoided looking at her. As soon as she pulled the wet garments off, leaving her in her camisole and pantaloons, Isaac handed her the only towel. Allowing her to dry off first, he was true to his word. He took her clothes, and laid them on the other side of the fire to dry. He wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, taking the towel from her. He then moved behind the saddle to remove his wet clothes. Bringing his clothes to dry beside hers, he caught the sight of her eyes as she watched him through the fire.
He wore no shirt and was in his summer long johns. Summer felt her heart stop from the sight. His chest was broad and muscular. She darted her eyes, when he caught her watching him.
She started when he came to sit beside her.
Rubbing his hands on his arms, he tried to warm his cold body. Summer offered him half of the blanket. He accepted the offer and wrapped it around his shoulders. With their bodies touching, Summer could feel they were warming.
"It's going to be a cold night," she said.
Isaac looked at her, "I know. Our clothes will be dry tomorrow morning, but not tonight. We can share the bedroll and the blanket."
Summer's eyes widened.
Isaac continued noticing her hesitance, "Just to sleep Summer. Our body heat will keep us warm."
Summer swallowed, hard. Taking a breath, she answered him, "We kissed earlier."
"'I'm not about to forget that," Isaac said as a slow smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. "But, I promise Summer, we're just going to sleep. I think we can talk more about the kiss tomorrow, when we're headed back to the ranch. Okay?"
What he said made sense and Summer trusted him. She relented, "Alright, but nobody is to know about this. It's one thing to stay out here overnight, but…"
"You don't have to say another word. I will not soil your reputation."
Summer nodded. Isaac laid the bedroll down and they both curled up under the blanket. Within minutes, Summer's breathing slowed, and Isaac knew she was asleep. He put his arm around her waist, drawing her closer to him. All he could think about was how at ease he was here. Here at the ranch, working with the horses, and now sleeping with Summer in his arms. He finally felt like he belonged, like he was home.
One thought kept invading his mind - Drake. He knew he would have to talk to Buck. Isaac realized what he most wanted laying there with Summer and he knew what he had to do. He would confess to Buck and turn Drake in. He had to, he loved Summer. He didn't think he would fall so hard so fast, but he had. He loved everything about her - her smell, her smile, her face, her feistiness. Placing a light kiss on the top of her head, he drifted off to sleep.
Isaac awoke looking up at the barrel of a rifle. Summer had turned during the night and her head now lay on his chest, his arm gently draped around her shoulders.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he slowly moved his focus up to who was holding the rifle. BUCK!
Isaac gently shook Summer, never taking his eyes off of Buck, as he whispered her name, "Summer, Summer. Sweetheart, I think you need to wake up now."
Summer stretched and moaned. Isaac shook her again, "Summer, wake up before your father shoots me."
Summer opened her eyes and smiled as she looked at Isaac. Seeing the fear on his face, she followed his gaze. Summer's eyes widened and she grabbed the blanket, raising it to her chin, "DAD!"
"Well, we found the cat," a voice came from further down the campsite - Jimmy Hickok, Uncle Jimmy. Summer sank lower under the cover.
"The colt looks good. Summer did a good job bandaging him up." Grandpa Teaspoon! Oh, no! Summer froze.
Kid was standing right next to Buck. Summer looked at her father and tried to explain, "Dad, it's not what you think."
"Get dressed. Now," Buck's voice was low and steady, but fierce. His gaze and speech were both directed toward Isaac.
"Dad, please, it's not what you think…"
Isaac slowly rose from the bedroll. Although he was looking at Buck, he spoke directly to Summer, "I don't think he wants to listen right now, Summer. Let me just get dressed, okay?"
Isaac reached his clothes and shrugged on his pants. Grabbing Summer's clothes, he started to walk back to her.
"You stay right there." Buck's eyes were full of fury.
"I'll hand them to her son," Teaspoon took the clothes from Isaac's hands.
"Buck, put the rifle down," Kid spoke, his voice as calm as could be.
Summer took her clothes and quickly got dressed under the blanket. She watched her father. She had never seen him so mad.
"I trusted you with my daughter," Buck spoke slowly.
Jimmy walked up to Isaac. With one of his cockiest grins on his face, he placed his hand on the young man's shoulder, "You can't kill him, least wise, not yet."
Summer raced over to Isaac and stood in front of him, coming between Buck and Isaac.
"Dad, please. We didn't do anything. Our clothes got wet and it was cold. Please."
Buck took a few more deep breaths, before Teaspoon interceded. Slowly approaching Buck, he placed his hand on the rifle lowering its aim.
Leaning in, he spoke Buck as a father would, "Buck, we need to get on back. You're too upset right now to deal with this. Come on, son. Let's go. Danny will be waiting for us."
Finally Buck turned his attention to Teaspoon and nodded. He still hadn't spoken to his daughter. He'd worried all night about her, especially after Kid and Jimmy showed up after midnight with the news about Isaac. Buck mounted his horse, took a deep breath, and turned to Teaspoon, "I'm going to ride on ahead."
"But Dad," Summer tried again.
"Summer, you'd best ride close by me," Teaspoon walked over to his granddaughter.
Summer looked back at Isaac and held out her hand. Isaac gently touched it before she followed Teaspoon to her mount.
Kid walked over to Isaac, "You can help me and Jimmy with the colt."
Noticing the badge on Kid's shirt, Isaac took in a deep breath, and pleaded with him, "Marshal, I swear, we didn't do anything."
Kid gave Isaac a sad smile, "We'll get everything straightened out when we get back to the ranch."
Isaac looked from Kid to Jimmy and back to Kid, and lowering his eyes, he nodded in agreement.
* * * *
Buck rode a little faster than the rest of his group. He was confused and angry. He knew he had to stay away from Summer and Isaac, he needed to clear his mind a bit. If he said the wrong thing, he would lose both of them. As he rode, he thought back to last night ----
'"Do you think they're all right?" Danny asked.
Buck had smiled and looked into her eyes, "They're fine. Summer has a good head on her shoulders and she can take care of herself. And I trust Isaac."
Danny nodded, "I still don't understand why he hasn't told you who he is. Lou is at her wits end. She wants to come over and see him, but Kid's told her to wait a few more days."
Chuckling, Buck responded, "You know as soon as Lou sees him, she'll grab him and hug him, and won't let go."
It was at the time, well after two in the morning, that Kid began banging on their door. Opening the door, Kid entered, followed by Teaspoon and Jimmy.
"Jimmy? What? When did you get here?"
"I'm sorry Buck. I know it's late," Kid immediately began. "Look I sent out the telegraphs about Isaac and Emily. Jimmy got one of them. I think you need to hear this."
Jimmy came up, "Buck, Emily died about five years ago. At the time, she had married a man by the name of Drake Jackson. He turned out to be an outlaw. He used to beat her and her son. I got a letter from Emily telling me about Isaac and her new husband. She was terrified," Jimmy cleared his throat, getting emotional. "She begged me to come get her and Isaac, but I got the letter too late. When I got there, she was dead and Isaac was gone. I've been looking for him ever since."
Buck sat and listened, speechless. Five years. Ike's son has been with an outlaw for five years. Outlaw? Suddenly, he found his voice, "Jimmy, Isaac's been with Drake Jackson's gang this whole time? Where is the gang now?"
Kid answered then, "Buck, we think the gang is around here somewhere."
"We…we have to go. We have to go now," Buck was shaking.
"Summer," Danny's voice was so small. Buck looked to see his wife standing on the stairs, a look of terror on her face.
Buck stood up and approached his wife, "Danny, she's fine." He took her in his arms. Danny laid her head on his chest as his arms wrapped around her. Placing a kiss on the top of her head, he whispered, "We'll go get her and find out what's going on."
Danny looked up, "Do you trust him?"
Buck answered her; honestly, "Yes."'
Bringing his thoughts back to the present, Buck looked back at Summer, riding beside Teaspoon. His mind was racing. Summer wasn't his little girl anymore. She was a grown woman. He had found her sleeping with Isaac. It didn't matter whether anything had happened; she'd be seen as being compromised. And she had fallen in love with his best friend's son, who had spent the last five years with an outlaw gang. What was he going to do? He thought back to the first day he saw Summer. She was so small and feisty. How or what was he going to tell Danny.
Danny was waiting on the porch when Buck rode in. Lou was standing close behind.
When everyone had dismounted, Buck handed Summer the reins, "Take care of the horses."
"Take care of the horses, Summer, you and Isaac. I need to talk to your mother. Your uncles will be right outside the stable," Buck said speaking to Summer but looked directly at Isaac.
Turning his attention to Teaspoon, he said, "Let me talk to Danny, and then I'd like for all of you to come in with me when I talk to Isaac."
Teaspoon nodded and asked, "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know yet. I just need all of you there. I think it's time Isaac told us a few things."
Summer and Isaac walked the horses to the stables.
Once inside, with no one around, Isaac asked, "Summer, are you alright?"
Summer lifted the saddle off the horse, sat it on the post, removed the blanket and began to brush the animal. Isaac gently turned her to face him. Tears were running down her face.
"I've never seen my father so upset."
Isaac took Summer in his arms and held her. Finally, he had to speak, "Summer, about the kiss last night…"
Summer tried to pull away, "It's alright if…I mean Dad and my uncles…if you want to leave, I'd understand."
Isaac smiled, "No, I love you."
"You do?" Summer's grin was so wide.
"Yes," Isaac responded and leaned down, giving her a gentle kiss. Clearing his throat and stepping away, he spoke, "Summer, before we…before I speak to your father, I need to tell you something. I told you my mother's name was Emily."
Summer nodded, patiently listening.
"My mother's name was Emily and my father's name was Ike…Ike McSwain," Isaac spoke and then raised his gaze to meet Summer's.
"Ike McSwain? I don't understand. Uncle Ike? He didn't…"
"He did. Ma didn't know she was expecting until she reached her aunt's home. She would tell people that she was a widow, but people were cruel…" Isaac choked up from the memory. "It wasn't until I was thirteen that she explained about my father, how she loved him but that he was killed before they were married. God, what a fool I was."
Summer listened, but she had to ask, "Why didn't she tell my father? He would have helped."
"Summer, that's something I'll have to tell your father. What I need to tell you is who I am," Isaac took a deep breath and continued, "And why I'm really here."
"Why?" The question was heavy on her lips.
Isaac closed his eyes, "I was supposed to come here to gain your father's trust and help Drake steal some things from him." Isaac raised his eyes to see the pain in Summer's. "Please, everything I told you about Drake was the truth. I was scared of him and I hated your father for not knowing about me, for not coming to get me. I was angry at my Ma for not protecting me from him, but more than anything else, I was angry at her for not protecting herself."
Summer walked over, running her hand down his cheek, wiping a tear away he wasn't even aware had fallen. She thought before she spoke.
"You're going to talk to my father? Tell him everything?"
"Yes. If I have to go to jail, so be it. The more I learn about my father, my real father, the more I want to be more like him. I should have listened to Ma. She made me promise to get away from Drake and find Buck, but when she died…I was mad at everyone and everything. When Drake told me we were coming here, I was scared of what I find. The only thing I have left of my ma's is a picture she said Ike drew for her and her bible."
Jimmy called into the stable, "Isaac, I believe we need to go in the house now. Summer, just a warning. Your Ma just came storming out of the house with your Aunt Lou behind her. She's headed this way."
Summer looked at Isaac and kissed him on the cheek, "I'll be waiting for you."
Isaac smiled, nodded and followed Jimmy into the house. They walked through the house to into a room he didn't notice the first night he had been there. It was Buck's office. Walking through the double doors, he saw Buck sitting behind his desk. Teaspoon stood near the window looking out and Kid was sitting in a chair near the bookcase. Jimmy followed him and closed the doors behind him.
Sitting in the chair facing the huge oak desk, Isaac cleared his throat and waited for Buck to speak. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Buck stood and walked over to a picture on the wall. He removed the picture, revealing a safe. Still not speaking a word, he turned the dial and opened the safe. Buck reached in and removed two books. He turned around and handed the books to Isaac.
Isaac looked down at the books in his hands. Confused, he asked, "I don't understand?"
"They're yours…I mean they're yours now. They were your father's. They were Ike McSwain's."
Isaac ran his fingers over the cover of the small books, tears gathering in his eyes.
"You know who I am. How long have you known?" Isaac's voice was quiet and small.
Buck watched him, "Since the first day. You have your father's gift with animals, and his eyes."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Isaac asked never taking his eyes off of the precious books he held, gripping them tighter.
"Why didn't you?" Buck countered.
The door opened and Lou came in. She felt a catch in her breath and looked straight at Isaac, everything in her was aching to take the young man in her arms and hug him. But she spoke to Buck, "Danny's alright. She and Summer saddled up Buster and Shadow and went for a ride, just the two of them."
"Was she calmer?" Buck asked.
Lou looked up at Buck, "Yes, she was just worried."
Kid scooted to the edge of his seat then. Leaning forward, resting his elbows on his knees, he spoke, "Isaac, you've been riding with the Jackson gang. Are they here?"
Isaac averted his eyes and nodded, "Y-yes. He married Ma." Isaac closed his eyes and swallowed before continuing, "Ma didn't know how he was, not until it was too late. I stayed with him after she died because I was scared of him."
Isaac opened his eyes and looked up, meeting Buck's gaze, "He hates you. I don't know why, but he hates you something terrible. He used to beat Ma when he heard your name. After a while, I began to hate you too, because you didn't come and get us, and because I blamed you for Ma being hurt."
"I didn't know," Buck said softly. "I would have been there in a heartbeat."
Isaac wiped the tears from his face with his hand, "I know that now. I was fourteen when Drake married Ma. Ma was a smart woman, but I think she just felt rundown and tired and proud. She was going to write you once, before Drake, but she learned that you had married and had a family. She told me it wasn't right to ask for your help then. But after Drake came and the beatings started, she begged me to run to you if anything happened to her. After she died, I couldn't. When Drake said we were coming here, I obeyed so I could meet you myself."
"But why here? What does he want?" Buck asked.
"He wanted these books and money, but I…these books, I don't understand," Isaac said looking at the books again.
"He's come to get revenge. You killed someone close to him."
All eyes turned around to look at Teaspoon. The older man turned from the window and looked at the stunned audience.
"Teaspoon, what do you talking about? I don't know Drake." Buck asked.
"You knew his pa. I only told you one time, son, that you crossed the line. Do you remember when?" Teaspoon asked.
"Neville?" Buck said.
"Who is Neville?" Isaac said.
"Neville…Neville Jackson was the man who shot and killed Ike - your Pa, and Buck shot and killed him," Teaspoon answered, speaking to Isaac but looking at Buck.
Buck sank into his chair, "I never knew his last name. It didn't matter, not to me."
"How did you know he had a son, Teaspoon?" Lou asked.
"I was the Marshal at the time, remember? I had to notify his next of kin. His wife took the news well. She said he was no good and had left them a long time before, but his son…he had the coldest eyes I'd ever seen. He went to prison for robbery shortly after that."
"What's done is done. Where is Drake and his gang, Isaac? We need to catch them," Jimmy came forward then.
Suddenly the door flew open and Buck's foreman came in the room with a stricken look on his face, "Buck, it's Danny! Buster came running back in here like the devil himself was chasing him. No rider, but there's blood on the saddle."
Everyone was out of the office in a panic, heading toward the stables. Buck barely noticed that the horses had been saddled and were ready to ride. "What about Shadow and Summer?"
"They didn't come back. Just Buster," the foreman answered as Buck and the rest mounted the horses.
"Which way were they riding?" Buck asked.
"Danny said they were going to ride north towards Demon's Galley."
"The gang is camped out at Demon's Galley. I missed my meeting with Drake. If Summer and Danny headed that way, they'd be headed straight to Drake," Isaac spoke and all heads turned in his direction.
"What do you think you're doing?" Kid asked when he saw his wife on the horse next to him.
"I'm going with you," Lou answered.
"Lou! You stay here!" Kid yelled.
She had a set of guns strap in a belt around her waist and looked defiantly at her husband, "Like hell, I will!"
Teaspoon looked up at his boys, "I'll go to town and get Rachel and the children. Ride safe!"
Five miles outside of the ranch, and Buck felt his heart almost stop. He saw the crumbled lump in the road and recognized the clothing. He jumped off of his horse and ran to the body.
"Oh, God! Danielle! Danielle, oh, no, no! Please, answer me," Buck cried, gently lifting and cradling her body, sweeping her hair from her forehead.
There was a bruise on the side of her cheek, and blood. Blood! Buck look down at his hand and then at Danny's side.
"She's been shot!" he yelled to the others.
Lou dismounted and crouched down beside him, "Let me see, Buck."
Danny opened her eyes and raised her hand, cupping Buck's face, "I'm alright. Buck, they took her. They took Summer. I couldn't stop them."
"Buck, it's not bad, but I need to get her back to the ranch. Looks like she took a hard hit to the head, too," Lou said.
Buck dried his eyes with his free hand and looked at Danny. Taking her palm, he kissed her, "I'll get her back."
After getting Danny up on the horse in front of Lou, the group of men watched as the women rode away. Buck felt anger build inside him, the type of anger he had only felt once before - the day Ike died. The question was would he cross the line when he found Drake. He would if it would get Summer back.
Isaac sat on his horse, watching Buck. He had got to know the easy-going boss who laughed. He had watched Buck be the stern but loving father to his daughter and his sons. He had witnessed honesty that he had forgotten could exist. But the man who mounted the horse in front of him was different. Buck's entire continence had changed. Isaac saw a man who would die and kill to protect his family. He saw a man angry, but in complete control.
He also watched the others following behind, ready to follow this half-Kiowa leader, giving him their quiet strengths. For the first time in his life, he felt - Pride. This is where he belonged. And someone had taken someone they all loved, someone he loved.
As they reached a rise, close to the camp, Isaac pulled up close to Buck's side, "Let me go in first."
Buck stared ahead, and after a moment of silence, he asked, "Why?"
"Because Drake is expecting me, because he wouldn't have taken Summer if it hadn't been for me, but mostly because I love her. I can get close to enough to her to get her out of danger before you all come in, guns a blazing. Look, I know we've got things we have to work out, but trust me now. I love Summer, as much as Ike loved my Ma, and I'll kill anyone who tries to hurt her."
Buck turned and faced Isaac, "Alright, you go in first. Just remember, get her out of the line of fire."
Isaac then turned to Jimmy, "Last time I was here, I noticed Drake had at least two, maybe three men in the rocks as lookouts."
Jimmy nodded, "Come on Kid, we'll take care of them."
* * * *
Summer was sitting by the wagon, her wrists tied together with a thin piece of leather wrapped through the wheel spokes. The men were sitting around the ashen remains of a campfire playing a game of cards. Suddenly, one of the men with blackened teeth, jumped up excited. Everyone else threw their cards down. The man approached her and crouched down. Placing his filthy hand on the underside of her chin, he forced her to look at him.
"I just won first dibs at you."
Bile rose in the back of Summer's throat. The stench of his breath was almost more than she could take.
Summer spit in his face, "You'll be dead before you can lay a hand on me."
He hit her then with such a force, Summer felt as if she'd been hit with the trunk of a tree instead of a fist. The back of her head struck the wheel of the wagon, causing her head to spin for a moment, and she prayed she wouldn't pass out.
"Claude! You lay one more hand on her and I'll kill you myself!" Isaac rode in and dismounted without stopping his horse. Isaac advanced on the man quickly, grabbing him by the collar, and knocked him to the ground with one punch.
"Come on, Isaac! I won her fair and square," Claude pleaded, rubbing his jaw as he cautiously got to his feet.
Isaac was by Summer's side, cutting her binds, and gently checking her face. He looked straight into her eyes, smiled, and whispered, "Your pa said you could always find trouble. Are you alright?"
Summer was so relieved to see Isaac. She nodded and tried to give him a smile. Her jaw was swelling so the smile was faint, but there.
Isaac held her close, "Stay close to me."
Drake walked into sight then, "Well, you finally decide to show up? And it seems you're a bit attached to the half-breed's daughter."
Isaac looked straight at the man standing before him, "I'm here! Let her go, Drake! She ain't got nothing to do with this."
"Now why should I do that? I still don't have that money, or the books."
Isaac held Summer's hand. Looking at Drake, he said, "Money? Buck doesn't have any money at his place. He doesn't deal with gold or cash. That's just a rumor."
Drake chuckled, "I still want the books."
Isaac let go of Summer, walked to where his horse stood and opened his saddle bag. "The books? Here's your books!!!"
Isaac threw the two books in Drake's direction. He caught them with ease, a wide grin on his face. Looking down, his smile quickly faded and a scowl formed on his face as he untied the string holding them together.
"What the hell are these?! "The Littlest Cowboy"…"The Holy Bible"? I said get the books in his safe, you stupid, worthless little bas…"
"Those are the books that were in his safe. They're worth more than money. Maybe not to you, but they are to me. I didn't have to steal them either. He gave them to me. Let her go Drake. If Ma ever meant anything to you, please let Summer, go for me."
Drake threw the books to the ground, an evil grin on his face, "Your Ma? Hell, boy, I only married her so I could find out what I could about Buck Cross. That man killed my pa. I can't let something like that go unpunished, now can I?"
"Why now? Drake that was twenty years ago," Isaac asked.
"Why not? I went prison shortly after I got the word about my pa. I hated the man, but he was killed by a half-breed. Can't let a no good redskin get away with that. After I got out, I figured I'd have more fun getting revenge through your ma, and, of course, through you. I have no intention of letting his daughter go, or you. I want you both dead, I just want to make sure the half-breed sees me do it."
Drake slowly pulled his gun and aimed it at Isaac.
"Let them go, Jackson. It's me you want dead."
Drake turned his head and saw Buck standing to his right. Turning his attention back to Isaac, he spoke directly to Buck, "Well, well…it didn't take you long to get here. Did you come to save your friend's bastard son or your precious daughter?"
With a sly smile, Drake turned his aim at Summer. With a sudden intake of breath, Isaac leapt towards Summer. Isaac saw the flash, heard a loud bang, and everything fell to black…
Isaac slowly opened his eyes and swallowed. Feeling disoriented, he adjusted his sight. There was a ceiling above his head and he was lying in a bed.
"Hello. Did you finally decide to wake up?"
He smiled, hearing the voice. Turning his head to look, he cringed as a sharp pain shot through his right shoulder. Blinking, he saw Summer sitting next to the bed, her right arm in a sling.
"Water. Some water," Isaac tried to speak.
Summer poured him a glass from the pitcher sitting on the nightstand. He took a small sip as she held the glass for him.
Summer leaned forward, "Drake tried to shoot me. You jumped on me, throwing me to the ground. He shot you in the shoulder. He would've killed us for sure, but my dad shot him."
Summer lifted her hand, "It's just a sprained wrist. Good thing I'm left handed."
"What about Drake's men?"
"Hmmm…well, they really didn't want to mess with Uncle Jimmy and Uncle Kid, so, they decided to surrender," she answered with a smile.
"How long have I been out?"
Summer smiled, "Two days."
Isaac looked at the books lying on the table next to the bed, and then turned his attention to Summer. "The books."
"I couldn't leave them in the dirt. I heard what you said about them when you gave them to Drake," Summer answered. She was beautiful. Her cheek was bruised, but she smiled; looking at him with adoration in her eyes.
"I love you," Ike smiled.
Summer leaned down and kissed him on the cheek, "I love you, too."
Buck cleared his throat as he entered the room. "Summer, why don't you go check on your mother?"
"Alright." Summer looked back at Isaac and lowered her voice, "I'll be back in a little while."
Buck closed the door once Summer left.
"How is Mrs. Cross?"
Buck looked at the young man, "She'll be fine. She was fighting with one of the men when he tried to take the reins from her. A gun went off, grazing her side. When the bullet hit, the horse bucked, throwing her off. She has a concussion, so we won't let her out of the bed right now."
"You killed Drake?" Isaac asked.
Buck took the seat next to the bed, "No, I didn't. I shot him in the side. The doc says he'll live. He's been arrested."
"Buck, what happens now? Will I go to jail?"
"That's up to you. Cody contacted the governor, who agreed to allow you a full pardon if you testify against Drake and his men."
Isaac looked straight ahead, "What would my father have done?"
"Ike witnessed a woman get shot once. He was terrified. The man had me kidnapped, and threatened to have me killed if he took the stand. Your father trusted his friends to find me and he testified. I was so proud of him when I walked into that courtroom," Buck answered him, a faraway look in his eyes.
"Then I'll testify."
Buck stood up, "Good. Now we need to discuss the night you spent with my daughter."
Isaac began to speak, but Buck put up his hand, "Let me finish. Regardless of whether anything happened, Summer will still be branded with a reputation." Turning his back to Isaac, Buck continued with a smile on his face, "After discussing this with Danielle, we feel that Summer will need to be married."
"But I want to marry her," Isaac said hurriedly. "That is if you'll allow me to, and if she'll have me. I don't have anything to offer her," his voice trailing off.
Buck turned then to face Isaac, "You'll have a name, if you'll accept it."
Isaac looked at Buck questioningly, "What do you mean?"
"Cody also had the Governor write up the papers to change your name. You would be Isaac Metcalf McSwain. All you would have to do is sign them. I assume 'Metlin' was a false name," Buck raised his eyebrow.
Isaac smiled, "I'd have my father's name? Ma would be so proud."
Buck spoke again, "You'd also be able to offer my daughter a home, a ranch actually."
"I don't understand. I don't have anything like that."
Buck continued, "Half of this ranch would have been Ike's. This place, this was his dream, as much as it was mine. I offered it to Emily after Ike died. It's rightfully yours. I'd be honored if you would accept half interest in this place."
Tears fell from Isaac's face. When he finally trusted himself to speak, he wiped his eyes and said, "I guess I need to talk to Summer." He chuckled then, "She sure can find trouble."
* * * *
Three Weeks Later
"Mr. Cody, I would like to give you my utmost appreciation for the use of your carriage to this fine event," Ezra Standish said as he stepped out.
Cody disembarked and assisted his wife, Louisa, down from the carriage.
Louisa leaned and whispered in her husband's ear, "My dear, I believe we have met someone who talks as much as you do."
Cody chuckled, "Louisa that is not funny."
"Maybe not, but it's the truth. You should offer him an act in the show."
Unaware of the conversation, Ezra looked up to see Danny walking towards them. He spoke up, "My, my! You look as lovely as always."
Ezra took Danny by her hands and kissed her on both of her cheeks.
"Ezra, I'm so glad you could come. Summer's been asking about you," Danny said.
"I hope my niece has been asking about me, too," Cody teased.
Danny grabbed Cody and hugged him, "Not just her, but Isaac, too."
"What is he like? What does he look like? Where is he?" Cody asked excitedly.
Danny laughed, "Calm down. Louisa, is he always like this?"
Louisa hugged Danny and answered with a chuckle, "Usually worse, but I'll keep him."
Danny turned to Cody, "Isaac is in the bunkhouse with Buck getting ready. Why don't you two men go join them? Louisa, you can come with me."
The ranch was decorated with long tables, full to the brim with chicken, roast, potatoes, corn, beans, and squash. Another two tables were added for the desserts, too numerous to count. More food was added as each family arrived. The whole town had come to see the wedding.
Buck had a dance floor built for the festivities. The musicians were made up of neighbors who played the banjo, fiddle, guitars and even, a jug. They would play as they're gift to the young couple.
Lou, Emma, and Louisa greeted each family as they arrived, while Rachel and Danny assisted Summer. Finally, it was time.
Buck stood in the doorway of his daughter's room. His breath caught in his throat as tears formed in his eyes. She stood before him, her hair braided down her back, with miniature daisies placed throughout. Her dress was light peach satin, with lace ruffle trim to the waist. A cascade of peach ribbon fell down the front as ruffles continued from the waist to the floor. The medicine pouch from her childhood hung around her neck, something old. A small pearl ring adorned her right hand, a gift from Teaspoon and Rachel, something new. She held one of Lou's lace handkerchiefs, something borrowed, in one hand. In the other she held her bouquet of hyacinths, something blue.
"Do you think Isaac will like it?" Summer asked.
It took a moment for Buck to trust his own voice.
"You look beautiful. I think he will be as speechless as I am." Walking towards her, he spoke with emotion, "Summer Storm Cross, my daughter…I am very proud of you. I never imagined that I could ever have a family as wonderful as the one that I have and I thank God every day for your mother, and for you, Ike, and Hunter. But seeing you standing here…I feel even more blessed." Buck wiped an errant tear that fell down his face, "Well, let's get you outside before your mother comes looking for you."
Summer took her father's arm, leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "I love you Daddy."
Isaac stood at the altar. His knees still felt weak. He had been pacing back and forth all morning, sick to his stomach, accepting patiently all of the teasing from the men who had gathered to wish him well.
As he stood there, he looked at the new family that stood around him. He had wanted Buck to stand with him as his Best Man but Buck would be walking Summer down the aisle, so he had asked Teaspoon, the man who had been the closest thing to a father to Ike.
The fiddle began to play and Isaac looked down the aisle. Isaac felt his heart stop. All the worries and weak knees ended.
Looking at the crowd of people gathered, and seeing Isaac at the end of the aisle, suddenly Summer felt her knees give way. Buck felt her sway and gripped her elbow a little tighter. Speaking softly into his daughter's ear, Buck asked, "Are you alright?"
Summer stopped walking and stood frozen. She quietly responded, "Oh, Dad! I'm scared."
Isaac looked down the aisle, his brow frowning; he motioned his hand low, urging Summer to come forward. Summer stood there and shook her head. He motioned again. Again she shook her head.
"Summer, what is it? You love Isaac," Buck spoke with a chuckle and looked to his wife for encouragement. Danny looked down the aisle at her husband. Her brows raised in amused concern.
Suddenly, Isaac stood in front of Summer. Lowering his voice, he leaned towards her, "What's going on?"
"Maybe we're making a mistake. I..I..mean…well…I don't know," Summer looked at him and gave him a devilish smile.
Buck slid away from the quarreling couple and settled in the seat next to his wife.
"What do you mean you don't know? We've got a whole passel of people here to see a wedding. Are you walking with me to meet the preacher or not?"
Summer stomped her foot, "I'm thinking."
"Great Zeus! That does it!" Isaac reached down, picking her up by at the knees and placed her over his shoulder, mumbling the whole time, "I've never. You are the most stubborn woman I've ever in my life seen. I swear, finding trouble, that's what I've done."
He walked straight up to the preacher.
"ISAAC MCSWAIN! YOU PUT ME DOWN!!"
"I'm giving you two choices. You say 'I do' or I'm throwing you in the horse trough.
Kicking wildly she yelled, "DAD!"
Buck spoke up, "You're on your own sweetheart."
Summer stilled, speaking to Isaac, "You wouldn't dare!"
"Well? What's it gonna be?" Isaac asked with a grin.
Everyone in the audience held their breath awaiting her answer.
"Put me down Isaac. I'll say 'I do'. "
Isaac lowered gently to her feet. Summer smiled and then punched him in the stomach.
"Ooph…I guess I deserved that." Taking Summer's hand and turning his attention to the preacher, he said, "Can we skip right to the 'I do' parts."
Trying to hold his chuckle to himself, the preacher began, "Summer Storm Cross, do you take Isaac McSwain to be your lawfully wed husband, to have and hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in heath, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?"
Summer looked at Isaac and smiled, "I do."
"And do you, Isaac McSwain, take Summer Cross to be your lawfully wed wife, to have and hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in heath, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do you part?"
Isaac looked at Summer with love so evident in his eyes, "I do."
"Then, with these vows you have both made before these witnesses and before God, and by the power invested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss your bride."
Isaac didn't need any encouragement. He looked down into her eyes and lowered his mouth to hers. The kiss was light, but the fire was lingering, a promise held in secret. He barely heard the shouts and applause from the loved ones standing around. Summer was his wife.
Buck stood; overjoyed to see his daughter so happy. His breath stilled as he saw the figure of a woman, small in stature approach Isaac. She smiled and blew a kiss. Cold chills shivered up Buck's back as he recognized her. It was Emily!
Buck watched in silence as the figure turned into the crowd that had gathered around the newlyweds. Emily didn't seem to notice the people and no one saw her. Buck watched as she held out her hand and took the hand of a man. Looking up to see the face of the man, he saw him. It was Ike. He looked straight at Buck, smiled and signed to him, 'My friend, my brother, thank you.'
They then turned and walked away into nothing.
"She was very pretty."
Buck turned and looked at his wife, who was standing next to him, in disbelief. He asked, "You saw Emily?"
"Ike too," Danny answered.
Danny smiled, took her husband by the arm, and leaned into his embrace, "Because you have a special bond with Ike and I have one with you. I'd say that Ike and Emily have been waiting and watching over their son; willing him here to be with you, to be with us. And that seeing him fall in love with our daughter was more than they could hope for. They're together now and they're happy. Come on. Let's go congratulate our children."