CHAPTER 1

The final days of the Pony Express were winding down as the riders all prepared for the upcoming wedding. The tension at the station mounted daily with the approaching war and at times things were so quiet a pin could be heard dropping. All conversations about the coming war were kept to a minimum in order to keep the atmosphere upbeat for Kid and Lou as they prepared for their life together.

Though these discussions were set aside thoughts of the effects ran through everyone’s minds. This war was tearing the country apart and it was going to very well do the same to the Express family. Everywhere you went now in Rock Creek there were soldiers petitioning for folks to join the fight. There was no way to escape the impending doom they were all facing. These thoughts and more ran through Buck’s mind as he leaned up against the corral watching the town goers of Rock Creek walk by in the distance.

The coming war hadn’t done much to stop the raids on Indian land and the disputes were continuing, if not worsening with every day. Though they were not a main focus anymore, Buck still felt the struggle of his people to find a place for themselves while their homes are ripped from them at every chance. With the fighting already going on between the North and South both sides have been spreading out through open territory trying to gather as much land in their favor, in turn causing more death and destruction to not only his people, but the land they are fighting to protect. His loyalty to both families was again being tested. On one side, he felt pulled to go back to the Kiowa and help with the struggle to find and keep land while this war spreads. On the other hand, he had Teaspoon, Rachel, Jimmy, Kid and Lou to think about, not to mention what will happen to Noah and Jesse once the Pony Express disappears. Where will they go and who will take them in? Buck was surely stuck once again between two worlds.

“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” Noah questioned Buck as he approached the corral.

“Nothing,” Buck retorted as Noah gave him an inquisitive look. He recanted letting out a little smirk, “Everything.”

Noah sat up against the corral fence beside Buck, “Thoughts like that can drive a man insane.” Buck just nodded staring down at his boots.

“Rachel asked me to pick up a friend coming in for the wedding. Said she’d be arriving on the stage in about 20 minutes. Wanna keep me company while I wait?” Noah asked.

Buck hesitated, but he knew there wasn’t much else to do since he finished his chores and Cody’s this morning. He shrugged his shoulders and Noah began walking in the direction of town. They made the short walk to Tompkins’ store and Buck took a seat on one of the barrels out front as Noah leaned up against one of the support beams to the left of the stairs.

“Who’s this friend we’re meeting?” Buck finally inquired.

“Just someone I used to know,” Noah retorted.

Noah didn’t go into a further detail and Buck just didn’t have the desire to push the question any farther. With all the tension around he was hoping it wasn’t an old friend who would end up bringing more with them, but he figured if they were here for the wedding, it surely couldn’t be a bad addition to the group. Conversations of the wedding were the only positive things being discussed lately at the station and if anything would keep things on a positive note, Buck was willing to take it.

The two watched as Union soldiers set up a table across from them. Buck stared down at the dirt covered wood planks as Noah’s eyes stayed fixed on the blue uniforms across the way. Neither one said a word to the other. The tension of the city mounted as they waited. Soon, in the distance, the big red coach could be seen kicking up dust while heading into town. Noah’s attention turned to the oncoming stage coach and he let a slight smile escape his lips; a smile, it seemed to Buck, that he was trying to hide. Buck stood from the barrel and he soon wondered if there was something Noah was keeping from him.

“Who did you say this friend was again?” Buck asked.

Buck turned to him then turned his attention back to the oncoming stage coach. Through the window he could make out the blurry features of someone looking out.

The coach slowed to a stop in front of the store and the driver jumped down from his perch. Buck’s eyes were fixed on the stage door as Noah quickly approached it. Buck froze in his spot not sure if he should or even could move closer. The door flew open and he could make out the delicate hand of a young lady protruding from the opening extended to a smiling Noah. A hand he was sure he knew and soon confirmed as he spotted the ring so subtly placed on her finger. The emerald and silver ring he had once given to the toughest and most beautiful woman he had ever met.

The arm of the young lady exiting the coach was wrapped in a fine purple velvety cloth. This was not the arm of the rough neck woman he remembered adorning that ring. Noah helped her slowly make her way down the coach steps and into his arms. Buck watched as he wrapped his arms around her picking her up off of her feet and spun her around, the air catching her long flowing purple skirt. She chuckled. Buck just stared in amazement still unable to move.

Noah placed her gently onto her feet and she reached back into the coach to grab a parasol that matched her softly flowing dress. As she turned to face him, Buck could make out the small sandy ringlets that cascaded down behind her neck and into the small hat that also matched the purple of her dress and now blocked the sun from her eyes. This was the sight of a real city lady.

She turned her emerald gaze on him and dropped her parasol. Neither one of them could move as they stared deeply into each other’s eyes. Noah just watched them unsure of what was going to come next. The mixed feeling of joy and anger washed over Buck as he tried to understand the picture of the beautiful woman in front of him. They both stood motionless taking in the sight of the other.

Buck couldn’t take the silence any longer. He had to be sure that what he was seeing was real.

“Dani?”

She let a soft smile release across her face. She slowly walked up to him and put her hand to his cheek.
“Yes,” she said as she continued to stare into his eyes.

All the confusion melted away the second he felt her hand on his skin. He placed his hand over hers pulling it away from his cheek and wrapped his arms around her. They stood, motionless once again, but this time in a long and deep embrace. Both holding onto each other as if they had years of holding to make up for. Noah watched as the two locked bodies, content in knowing that what could have been a disastrous reunion turned out to be a joyous occasion.

CHAPTER 2

Buck and Dani continued to hold each other as the stage coach driver untied the luggage from the back of the coach. Noah picked up the parasol, took the carpet bag he was handed and walked over to the couple. He put his hand on Dani’s shoulder.

“Come on you two” he said.

They separated as Dani let out a soft laugh and Buck wiped the small tear from his eye. The three turned away from Tompkins’ store and headed in the direction of the station.

“You knew she was coming?” Buck questioned Noah. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Noah turned looking past Dani who was walking between them to respond when she cut him off.

“I told him not to. When I wrote to you a few months back telling you where I was and you didn’t respond I figured you were still upset. Noah said you weren’t really talking about it so I wasn’t sure how you would take me coming.” She shot Noah an aggravated look, “I also didn’t know you would be coming with him to meet me.”

“I wasn’t planning on asking him to come, but he seemed down. I was hoping this might cheer him up,” he grinned at Dani, “or give me a good fight to watch.” He motioned to Dani’s hand which was now firmly grasped around Buck’s arm, “And obviously it cheered him up.”

Dani stepped closer to Noah putting her other hand around his arm locking herself between her two favorite men as they made their way past the crowd that was forming on the street. Noah and Buck weren’t anxious to stick around and watch what they knew would eventually turn into a shouting match as it did the day before. They didn’t want to ruin this moment the three were sharing. It was the happiest they had felt since they were told of Kid and Lou’s engagement. As they walked Dani couldn’t help but notice Buck staring at her.

“What?” She smiled at him.

“I just can’t get over how different you look,” he smiled back.

“Is that good or bad?” she asked.

They continued to walk staring at each other.

“It’s just very different from the gunfighter I remember” he commented.

“Well, a woman strapped with a six shooter sticks out in the big city. I bought a fancy dress and it seemed to suit me though I do miss wearing trousers. Don’t have to worry about them creeping up when you sit down or sliding off a chair. I tell you, this fabric can make you land on your butt quicker than you can sit down.”

Buck got a good laugh at that image and as they both looked up they realized they had made it to the bunkhouse. Dani noted that there wasn’t much difference from the Sweetwater station other than the fact that this station was in town. The walk passed by too fast, but she was relieved to evade the gathering crowd in town.

They approached the bunkhouse.

“I’ll put your things in your room,” Noah said as he parted from the couple.

Dani gave him a quick hug and he made his way to Rachel’s. She lifted up her skirt and headed up the stairs into the bunkhouse. Buck followed close behind.

“It seems bigger than the Sweetwater one; still pretty dark though.”

Buck just nodded and kept his eyes on her as she walked around the center table. She stopped when she realized he was again staring at her.

“What?” she stared back.

“Just getting used to,” he paused, “well, you.”

She blushed and turned back to the bunk in front of her. A silence swept the room. Dani let out a deep sigh and turned her attention back to Buck.

“Buck, I’m sorry for” he stood up and walked to her, “everything that happened when I...”

He placed his finger over her lips, “Shhh, I don’t want to talk about that right now. There is nothing more I could ask for than to have you here to share Kid and Lou’s wedding with us.”

The two lost themselves as they continued to gaze into each other’s eyes.

The door slammed open interrupting the moment. Both pairs of eyes turned to the door where there stood a five foot six blonde teenaged boy staring back at them.

“Jesse,” Buck let out under his breath. Jesse’s eyes never left the beautiful lady standing next to him. “I guess I need to introduce you two. Jesse this is Miss Danielle Dixon. Dani, this is Jesse.”

Dani put her hand out for Jesse to shake and as he reached for it he questioned.

“Danielle Dixon? Noah’s sister?”

“The similarities are astounding, aren’t they?” she let out a muffled laugh. Buck shot her a grin.

“It isn’t that. You don’t look like much of a gunfighter to me,” Jesse retorted.

Dani pulled her hand away and dropped her smile.

“I’m not a gunfighter,” she corrected.

She took a step back trying to control her growing anger.

“But I heard Cody talking about you. You’re Jane Marks, the lady gunfighter.”

Buck knew the look on Dani’s face and realized he needed to intervene before she lost her lady-like manner.

“Jesse, Jane Marks died almost a year ago. I think you need to let it go. Come on, Dani.”

Buck placed a hand on Dani’s shoulder and escorted her outside. She took hold of one of the poles on the deck and kept her attention away from the door and Buck. He let out a sigh and was just about to address her when a small figure walked past the front steps.

“Lou?” Dani inquired. Lou turned to face her and their eyes met. Dani quickly forgot about the boy inside and walked down the steps to Lou. “Wow, I do have to say, you look better in a dress.” They leaned in to hug each other.

“So do you,” Lou replied as they pulled apart.

“Where’s Kid?” Dani asked.

“He’s out on a run with Jimmy, but they should be back anytime now.”

“I was thrilled when Noah wrote and told me about the wedding. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m sure it’ll be lovely.”

Buck had to laugh as he watched the two women discuss the wedding. He remembered when they were ready to kill each other at one point when they first met, now they seemed like old friends.

“Would you like to see the dress?” Lou asked.

As Dani nodded they turned to the big white house opposite the bunkhouse and began walking. Buck was completely forgotten and Noah, just leaving the house, was ignored. The two chattered their way up to the house as Cody, Teaspoon, Rachel and Noah came from around the bunkhouse and made their way inside.

The two women chatted on about the wedding plans in Lou’s make shift room after gawking over the beautiful wedding gown she had specially made. Lou mentioned how different Dani looked as Dani took a seat on the bed removing her hat.

“Well, things are much different in Boston. After everything happened here I tried to think of the one place that no one would come looking for me. No one would be expecting a gunfighter to live in a big city in the North, let alone a woman gunfighter. I made my way to Boston, put on my best lady–like manners and what you see is what you get.”

“It suits you,” Lou pointed out and then asked how things were going between her and Buck.

“Oh, Buck! We just left him standing there.” They both giggled to each other. “Let me go apologize for leaving him like that. I’ll be right back.”

Dani made her way down the stairs and out onto the front landing. As she began to descend the stairs she watched as Noah exited the bunkhouse. She could tell something had upset him. She quickly headed down the steps.

“Noah. Noah, wait!” she yelled to him.
Noah ignored her as he stomped across the station.

“Noah, what happened?” she asked.

He gazed out over the grounds finally acknowledging her.

“He still thinks we’re kids. Teaspoon thinks he can dictate what we can and can’t do. The station’s closing and this war is coming. It’s time to grow up. I’ve fought too long to just sit by and watch this war happen without me. It’s time I put on a uniform and take a stand. If Cody can do it, I can.”

Noah leaned up against the corral fence. Dani just stared at him as she became just as serious.

“There are other ways to take a stand Noah, without putting on a uniform.” He turned his eyes toward her as she leaned against the corral fence. “I was going to save this conversation for later, but now seems as good a time as any. I want you to come to Boston with me. You can be a part of the Underground Railroad.”


CHAPTER 3

“What?” Noah’s anger began to fade.

“I couldn’t tell you in my letters for fear they would be intercepted somewhere along the way. I’ve been working with an abolitionist group outside of Boston. A small group of us help lead the way to Canada.”

Dani stared at the bunkhouse as Noah took in the information she had just shared with him.

“Look. It doesn’t have to be Boston. There are groups everywhere. We can go wherever you want.” He still gave her no response, “You don’t have to give me an answer now. I know Russell, Majors, and Waddell are broke. Have been for months now and with the telegraph lines going up, it’s only a matter of weeks before the Pony Express falls apart. I just figured that you would want to carry on your daddy’s legacy.”

“By running?” he snapped at her. “You think that’s what he wanted? For us to run like scared little children into a dark, secluded hiding place? All the slaves that are making their way up to Canada are just running from the problem. They need to stand and fight for their freedom.”

Dani turned away from him, the anger rising in her now red face in reaction to his tongue lashing.

“That’s easy for you to say. You were never in shackles. You never felt that whip hit your back,” she stated.

Noah angerly interrupted her.

“That’s easy for me to say? Look at you! You can hide behind that white skin and those green eyes.” Noah grabbed her arm, “You’re a pretty little white girl, with no worries. Life is just grand for you!”

Dani quickly turned slapping him across the face. She continued to stare into his eyes, now standing toe to toe with her brother.

“You’ve got some nerve! You didn’t watch your mother get sold away from you or feel the sting of your mistress’s hand or your master’s cane everyday! Yes, I use my white face to do what I can so I don’t have to sit by idly watching other slaves like our mother get sold from their own children! So I don’t have to watch them get beaten and branded like cattle. I help them escape so I don’t have to watch them die! All this war is going to do is bring death and more hatred. It isn’t about the color of someone’s skin, it’s about white men fighting over who gets a say in what. I’m not going to wait for it to become about slavery when I can do something about it now!”

They stared angrily at each other both refusing to back down.

Finally Noah removed his eyes from her and they separated. Both went back to leaning against the corral fence when Dani looked up realizing that Buck and Lou had watched the entire exchange from the house porch. Noah soon realized as well that they had an audience and let out a sigh.
“I’m sure they think we’re ready to kill each other,” he pointed out as Dani nodded. “You might want to go attend to what you came here for. Buck looks like a lost puppy standing over there.”

“I guess I should go tell them not to worry.” She pushed away from the corral fence and began walking in the direction of the house, but quickly stopped and turned toward Noah, “I didn’t come here for him. I came here for you. Just think about it.”

With that she turned back toward the house and walked away leaving Noah to his thoughts.

__________________________

Supper came and went. Everyone watched as Lou became more and more anxious about Kid’s return. It was almost dark and he and Jimmy hadn’t made it back yet. It was probably for the best that the attention was focused on Lou or else the room would be nothing but silent. After the blow up earlier with Cody, Noah, Rachel and Teaspoon and then with Dani and Noah, there wasn’t really much left to be said.

“I can’t sit here any longer. I’m gonna go take a walk through town,” Lou finally decided.

She exited out the front door as the room, once again, fell silent. Everyone stared at their now empty plates attempting to avoid eye contact with each other.

“If she keeps worrying like that she’s going to worry herself into a frenzy,” Buck chimed in.

“I’m sure she’ll be just fine,” Rachel stated.

A few more minutes passed. The tension was too much. Buck stood up from the table.

“Dani, would you care to join me for a walk?”

She looked over at Noah then back up to Buck and stood from the table. They both headed to the door and could make out Rachel’s voice behind them, “Who’s helping with the dishes?”

“Beautiful night; brings back some memories,” she smiled to herself.

“Yes it does,” he now smiled in return.

They slowly walked through the grounds taking in the beautiful sunset behind them.

“Buck, I’m sorry for leaving things the way I did,” she stated.

He stopped and faced her.

“You don’t have to apologize. I forgave you a long time ago,” he pointed out.

“When you didn’t respond to my last letter, I thought you hated me.” She looked away not able to meet his eyes.
Buck placed his finger on her chin tilting her eyes up to meet his.

“I could never hate you,” he responded.

He turned and began walking.

“I received your letter the week after Ike died. I was so hurt and lost I wasn’t ready to deal with anything, especially you. When I thought I had lost you I felt like a part of me went with you that day. Even after I found out you were still alive, something still felt like it was missing. Then, when Ike died, I felt completely empty.”

She walked beside him making sure to keep some distance.

“I never meant to hurt you,” she started but was interrupted.

“I know, but that didn’t make the pain any less. For those months before I found out, I played that day over and over in my head. Part of me wished that I had died from that gunshot. Then I wouldn’t have had to watch you bleed to death in front of me. The book and the letter never made that image go away and as long as you were gone, that was my last memory you. That is, until this morning.” She grasped his hand. “When you walked off that coach I thought I was dreaming. You looked so beautiful,” he paused, “And so different.”

She stopped and turned to him.

“But I’m not different.”

“Yes, you are.” He let go of her hand.

The quick reaction led to a long silence between the two.

“Dani, why did you come back?”

“I was invited to a wedding, remember?”

Buck shook his head.

“I know you better than that. You didn’t just come back here for the wedding.”

“I came back for Noah,” she paused looking him in the eyes, “and for you.” They began walking again, “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about you. This ring is the only thing I have and as the months went on I started forgetting your eyes, your hands, your face. It was as if your memory was slowly fading away.”

“I had a beau in Boston for a while,” she looked away from him. “But he could never replace what I felt for you. I wasn’t sure how you would take it if I came back. When Noah wrote to me about the wedding, I figured it would be the perfect time to visit. Things have cooled off around here and I needed to see you again.” She looked back at him placing her hand on his cheek, “I wanted the memory of your face to take back with me, even if I couldn’t have you.”

They both stood as the deafening silence took over.

“Will you please say something?” she pleaded with him.

“I tried so hard to get that image of you lying there dying out of my head.” He looked into her eyes, “I knew that if I opened your letter it would bring it all back and I was already dealing with that loss. I just needed to forget you.”
The silence entered between them once again. Buck closed his eyes taking in the feeling of her hand against his skin. Dani couldn’t take it any longer.

“I still love you, Buck.”

Buck looked deep into her eyes, “This morning I realized you truly are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” he paused as she leaned in to kiss him, but he quickly pulled away, “But, I can’t.”

Her hand fell to her side. She stared at him in shock as his eyes broke contact with hers. They both stood there taking in the weight of his words. She soon realized what he was saying and looked away as well. She nodded, wiped away a tear and looked back up as she nodded.

Taking a moment to regain her composure, “I’m going to head back to my room. It’s been a long day.”

With that she turned and walked away, back to the house, alone.


CHAPTER 4

The wedding went off without a hitch. Lou was the most beautiful bride anyone had seen and the couple was happily married. Dani kept her distance from Buck and Noah staying to the back of the church. She was the first to realize exactly who Wild Bill Hickok had walked in with. She was quite aware of who Rosemary Burke and her husband were and truly had no wish to be around them.

As the wedding came to a close the happy couple stepped outside to receive their congratulations as man and wife. The celebration was almost perfect, until the reality of impending war brought the high spirits crashing down. With a young man’s death on the minds of everyone, there didn’t seem like much of a reason to celebrate. The tension in the reception hall just kept mounting and seemed like at any second it was ready to blow.

The rest of the riders kept their distance from each other though they all tried to have a good time. Buck watched as Kid and Lou danced. Soon Teaspoon and Rachel, then Jimmy and Rosemary followed suit. He looked around hoping to find Dani somewhere in the hall, but realized she must have only stayed for the wedding. It’s not like he could blame her. He wasn’t really in the mood to stick around much longer as it was. He was quickly snapped out of his thoughts by Noah’s raising voice next to him. Jesse and Buck watched as Noah headed out of the hall.

After Noah’s let down with Captain Urbach outside he made his way back to the station. He had almost made it into the bunkhouse when he heard a noise from within the stables. He walked up to the doors grabbing a shovel that was sitting just outside. He lifted it up as he crept inside. He entered to the unmistakable sound of a cocking gun as he edged in.

“Dani?”

There she stood, clad in her brown trousers, white shirt and hat with her holster strapped to her leg and her ivory handled, rose adorned six shooter pointing right at him.

“Where are you going?” Noah asked forgetting how angry he was 30 seconds before.

She re-holstered her pistol and continued strapping on a saddle to one of the remaining Express horses.

“Tell Teaspoon, I’ll send him some money for the horse when I get back to Boston.”

“Why are you leaving?”

She shook her head at Noah and went back to what she was doing.

“I shouldn’t have come here. Everything’s changed.”

Noah grabbed her arm turning her to face him.

“I’m sorry about yesterday. I was angry at a lot of things. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“It doesn’t matter.” She pulled away from him, “You don’t want to come with me and I knew that before I came here. I know you’re as stubborn as your father was and twice as bull-headed. You think you can solve the world’s problems with a gunshot. People don’t respond to threats Noah and that’s all the Confederacy and Union are doing, making threats. I wish you didn’t feel the need to be in the middle of the battle. You can’t solve your problems with a gun. I had to learn that the hard way. It cost me the man I love and it looks like it’s gonna cost me you. I won’t sit here and pretend to be happy that you wanna strap on a uniform.”

“Well, you’re in luck. I can’t anyway. The Army isn’t takin’ coloreds,” he admitted.

Noah sat down on a hay bale as Dani turned away from the horse.

“I can’t say as I’m sorry to hear it. Don’t ask me to be sympathetic,” she responded.

“I wouldn’t expect any less.” He looked up at her, “Don’t leave tonight. It’s dangerous for a lady to be out this late by herself.”

Dani gave him an annoyed look.

“I’m not really worried about that,” she stated as he continued to stare at her.

“Stay tonight for me then. You may not be worried about it, but I am,” he added.

She continued her cold stare at him.

“Why little brother, I didn’t think you cared,” she retorted.

It was his turn to pass her the annoyed look.

“Dani.”

“Fine, I’ll stay tonight.” She sighed as she took a seat next to him, “but I’m catching the coach out of here tomorrow.”

Noah nodded as they both quieted down and gazed at the horses ahead of them.

_____________________

The reception soon ended and the rest of the riders returned to the station. Noah and Dani headed into the bunkhouse. Buck took full notice of how Dani was dressed and guessed what must have taken place. They had all sat in silence, taking in the events of the day. Cody sat down at the table and shined his boots while Noah and Dani sat across from him. Buck tried to calmly read, but it was getting too hard for him to concentrate so he made his way outside to stare at the stars.

Jimmy and Rosemary soon rode up to the bunkhouse. Buck nodded to them as they passed him entering the small building. Noah and Dani turned to face the couple. Realizing who had entered Dani turned away.

Jimmy couldn’t resist, “I thought I was gonna find a real city woman sitting here when I walked in, but I guess Jesse was just telling me a story.”

“Hello, again, Hickok.” Dani kept her eyes in the direction opposite of them. “I think I’m gonna be headin’ back to my room, I need to get some sleep.” Dani stood from the table.

“Danielle Dixon?” Rosemary questioned. Dani just ignored her and pushed her way through the couple as she headed out the door.

“I was just joshin’ her. What’s her problem?” Jimmy inquired of Noah and Cody.

Rosemary followed Dani out.

“Danielle, wait” Rosemary requested.

Buck watched as the two women confronted each other on the porch. Dani turned around to face Rosemary.

“Mrs. Burke,” she said very coldly.

“So you know who I am?” Rosemary replied.

“Yes, I’m very aware of who you and your husband are and I have no interest in holding a conversation with you.” Dani turned away.

“My husband’s dead, Miss Dixon.” Dani continued to look away, but acknowledged her statement.

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Burke, but I’m not surprised. Good night,” she retorted.

With that she left Rosemary and Buck standing on the bunkhouse porch as she trekked back to her room.



CHAPTER 5

Noah spent the night tossing and turning in his bunk. He couldn’t get the image of that young man who died out front of the church out of his mind. He mixed the images of the wedding and the voice of Captain Urbach around in his head. Soon pictures of Cody in that blue uniform he so desperately wanted to wear filled his head. As he finally turned to wake up Dani’s words entered his mind.

“There are things you can do besides wear a uniform.”

Was it really running? Would his father have wanted him to help the runaways to freedom or convince them to stand and fight? Why was he so scared that Dani was right? He sat up in his bunk as his eyes adjusted to the dark surroundings. He noticed that most of the other riders were tossing and turning the same as he heavy with the burdens that he too faced, but instead of waking them decided he didn’t want to disturb their attempts to sleep.

He quietly got out of his bunk and found his trousers laying off to the side. He quickly slid them on and walked out onto the porch with only his long johns and trousers on. As he shut the bunkhouse door he found that he was not alone on the porch.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Rosemary inquired. He shook his head and took a seat on the bench beside her. “What’s on your mind?” she asked.

Noah felt at ease with Rosemary and began telling her about his wanting to serve in the Army, his father and his conversation with his sister. Rosemary perked up with the mention of Noah working out of Boston with the Underground Railroad.

Though Rosemary wanted to push him in that direction, she figured he had to make the decision for himself as she was a first hand witness to how dangerous that work can be.

“I can’t say that I agree with the Army not allowing anyone to fight for the cause because of their skin color. I can’t really say that makes much sense, but then nothing about these past few days has made much sense. Isaiah’s death has me rethinking a lot about what’s going on and who I can and can’t trust, but what I can see is your sister cares a lot about you and she is right; there are a lot of other ways you can help. The question is could you be content with not standing and fighting? That is a question only you can answer however I don’t think that it should rip you and your sister apart. Too many families are being torn apart by this war and family may be the only thing that can get any of us through it. Danielle cares so much about you that she made a trip thousands of miles across a war torn country just to see you. I would say you’re pretty lucky.”

Noah looked down at his feet realizing how right Rosemary was. He kept his eyes on his feet unsure of what to say, but looked up as he realized Rosemary was now standing from the bench.

“I think I’m going to try to get a little more sleep before sun up,” she said.

Noah nodded to her as she stepped down from the porch. He continued to sit a little longer letting her words sink in and decided it was time he tried to get some sleep as well. He had a few hours to at least try.
_____________________

Sun up quickly came and they all got to their early morning chores as Rachel cooked breakfast. When Dani didn’t show Noah figured she probably wanted to sleep in preparing for a long coach trip. When an hour or so passed after breakfast he made his way up to her room. He lightly knocked on the door. When she didn’t answer he knocked a little louder. There was still no answer, so he turned the knob and made his way in.
“Come on sleepy head, get up,” he stated walking to her bed.

He found himself in a panic as soon as he realized that her bed was neatly made and her carpetbag was gone. He ran out of the house and out to the stables thinking that maybe she had decided to leave last night. He made it to the stables only to find that no horses were missing. He ran to the bunkhouse where he found Kid sitting at the table while Lou seemed to be trying her hand at cooking.

“Have either of you seen, Dani?” he asked.

Lou kept her eyes on the mixing bowl, but responded, “She was in town; said she was waiting on the coach.”

Noah turned and ran out the door as Kid shouted to him, “Is everything alright?”

Noah headed into town ignoring the other inquisitive riders as they shot him the same question as Kid.

As he hurried into town he could make out the same beautiful purple dress being adorned by a pale looking Dani sitting in front of Tompkins’ store. He slowly trotted up the steps to join her. She kept her attention ahead. He sat down beside her and gazed out into the town.

“You sure are in a hurry to leave,” he stated.

“Not much worth stickin’ around for,” she replied.

“I really am sorry about the other day. I wasn’t thinkin’ too clearly. You caught me off guard,” they both continued to stare off as she nodded her acknowledgement.

“I knew I should have waited to bring it up. Didn’t actually know if there would be a right time, but then, my timing never has been that great, has it?” They both let out a slight laugh.

“No, it hasn’t,” he replied.

“I’m not ready for you to leave,” he became serious once again. “I’m not sure what I want right now, but I do know that no matter what, I need my family with me. I need someone that understands what I’m feelin’. I need you.”

A silence passed between the two as Noah waited for a response. Dani looked down at her bag and then to Noah.

“I need you too,” she finally replied.
He smiled as she leaned in to hug him. They released each other and Noah stood up.

“Well, ma’am, would you be so kind as to accompany me for lunch at the fine dining establishment in this here fair town?” She grinned at him.

“You’re paying?” she jokingly questioned.

He nodded and she stood from the bench as he offered his arm to her. She graciously accepted it, Noah bent down to pick up her bag and they headed down the street.

“Make me a deal” she requested as they walked.

He nodded.

“During lunch, no discussing the war or Buck.”

He hesitated but nodded his reluctant approval as they made their way to the restaurant. The siblings shared a nice meal together and sat for hours talking about whatever came to mind, including childhood memories and filling in the gaps of what has been going on between her last visit and now.

They slowly walked back to the station.

“What are you gonna do about Buck?” Noah questioned.

“I thought we agreed not to discuss him,” she retorted while giving him her normal aggravated look.

“I agreed not to discuss him during lunch. Lunch is over,” he slyly replied.

“He made things pretty clear to me and how he managed to ignore me yesterday, I’m sure he meant it,” she answered with a sigh.

“Didn’t seem like he was sleeping too well last night. I think that might have something to do with you,” Noah pointed out.

“I won’t hold my breath,” she turned her eyes away.

As she turned back she noticed Noah smiling at her.

“What?” she questioned.

“No matter how many times I see you dressed like this, I just can’t get over it. Though I do have to say, it looks good on you.”

“Well, if I’m staying here, it’ll give me a reason to wear my trousers. I have to be honest, I hate this damn dress. I would much rather be comfortable. It’s like they say, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans,’” she stated letting out a little smile.

“The big city has smartened you up.” He let out a laugh.

“Are you saying I wasn’t smart before?” She inquired.

He just laughed as they made their way to the station. They both kept their attention ahead, but Dani was quite aware of Kid, Lou and Buck watching them from the bunkhouse porch. After ascending the steps at Rachel’s Dani turned to Noah.

“I think I’m gonna go change and take a nap,” she stated.

He nodded catching the sight of Buck heading in their direction. Noah gave her a glance and then walked toward the stables. Buck approached her.

“It’s good to see things worked out between you two,” Buck pointed out.

Dani nodded keeping her eyes away from his.

“Dani, look, I’m sorry about…” She cut him off. She looked him straight in the eyes.

“Buck, don’t. You said what you needed to say and that’s fine. I came here for Noah and I’m staying for him,” she retorted.

With that she entered inside leaving a bewildered Buck alone in front of the house.

Later that night, Noah went up to check on her.

“Supper’s ready if you want any.” She continued to lie in her bed.

“I think I’m just going to read tonight. That lunch was pretty big and to be honest I would rather not see Buck, right now.”

He nodded his understanding and exited the room leaving her to her thoughts.


CHAPTER 6

Dani lied half asleep in her bed. Any attempts to get a good night’s rest were quickly dismissed as she thought about how she had poured her heart out to Buck and had been rejected. For the first time in her life she had found real love and her past had made it all disappear. She continued to lie on her side staring at the wall for what seemed like hours. She watched as the sun slowly made its way into her view through the window. She heard the knocks on the door behind her, but ignored them as she continued to stare out of the window.

The door opened.

“I brought you some breakfast.” She let out a small grin and turned toward the voice.

“Thanks Noah,” she sat up as he took a seat next to her in bed while handing her the plate.

“It’s been a rough few days,” he remarked as she took a bite of her eggs. She nodded and continued to look at the plate. “I’m glad you stayed.”

She let a few seconds pass before she replied to him.

“Well, you’re all I have now and I’m not ready to give that up just yet,” she admitted.

He gave her an understanding look.

“You may not see it, but Buck is hurting just like you.” She looked back down to her plate as he continued, “I just think you need to give it some time. You’ll see; it’ll all work out.”

She looked back up with an unsure expression.

“We’ll see.”

“So what’re you gonna do today?” he asked.

She took another bite of her eggs.

“I think I’m gonna try my hand at target practice. It’s been a while since I shot that thing and I need to see if it still even works.” She laughed, “Care to join me?” He returned her grin, “No, I have some chores to take care of this morning.”

She nodded.

Silence once again gripped the room as Noah stood up from the bed with his back to her.

”I wanted you to know that I’m considering what you asked about Boston.”

She smiled as he turned to face her.

“I’m glad,” she said in return.

“That isn’t a yes, you know? I just said I was considering,” he added.

She continued to smile at him as he sat down again beside her.

“What made you change your mind?” she asked.

“Well, I spoke with Rosemary the other night and she enlightened me about a few things.”
Dani shook her head.

“Look, Noah, Rosemary’s trouble. Promise me you’ll stay away from her.” He lowered his eyebrows giving her a confused look, “I’ve heard plenty of stories about the Burkes. I’m sure they have good intentions, but wherever they end up someone comes gunnin’ for them.”

“Sounds like someone I used to know.” He winked at her.

“I’m being serious,” she replied,

“Fine,” he stated as he leaned in to kiss her forehead, “I need to get to those chores.”

He stood up and walked to the door as she returned to her plate of food. He turned back around before exiting.

“And Dani, everything’ll work out.”

She nodded in his direction as he closed the door behind him.

_____________________

Everyone had scattered for the day going about their new lives. Buck assumed Teaspoon was at his office keeping the peace. Rachel and Jesse must be at school. Cody was off somewhere with the Army taking part in his new job as a scout and Kid and Lou were off exploring the life of husband and wife. Buck looked around the now empty station and realized things would never again be booming. The rowdiness and the laughter had been replaced with the cold and emptiness that only memories could leave behind.

The war had come closer to them than they ever could have imagined and he knew now that somehow Jimmy was tied into it. Something had happened after the wedding that everyone was keeping quiet about. Cody had been up and out before dawn and Jimmy and Rosemary kept to themselves after they came back to the station. Yesterday was so tension filled barely a word was spoken. There was a time when the riders felt like they could share almost anything with each other and now they were hardly speaking. Things had changed and Buck was lost to where he would end up when the family finally broke apart.

He was awakened from his thoughts by the sounds of gunshots in the distance. Buck ran to the barn, quickly saddled his horse and rode out toward the shots. A half a mile outside of town he came to find a lone gunman firing away at what appeared to be cans on a log. He approached to find the young lady he had dismissed so coldly a few nights before as she re-mounted the cans she had been firing at. He dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, but made sure to keep his distance. Dani stepped back about 10 feet from the log and began firing again.

He wasn’t sure what to say, but managed to blurt out the first thing that came to mind.

“Old habits die hard, I guess.”

She paused before her next shot.

“Cans don’t shoot back,” she said plainly as she kept her eyes ahead and took the last few shots knocking off each can one shot at a time.

The sounds of her footsteps toward the log and her resetting the cans filled the air when no words could. Buck just watched still unsure of what to say. She took her place again, 10 feet from the log, where she began reloading.

“Dani, I’m sorry about the other night.”

She continued to stare down at her rose adorned pistol.

“I’m real tired of hearing ‘I’m sorry,’” she stated as she finished reloading and took aim at her target.

Buck kept his eyes on the cans and watched as one by one they came crashing to the ground.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he shouted over the shots. “Things between us just felt so,” the final can came crashing to the ground as he finished his statement, “different.”

She continued to keep her attention on the cans and headed in their direction to reset them.

“Maybe things are different,” she exclaimed while slowly putting each can up, “Maybe I’m different, but that’s because of you. You showed me that I don’t have to live by the gun. You gave me respect not because I was Jane Marks, but because I was Danielle Dixon. You showed me that there are men out there that don’t just believe that women are things to be used and thrown away when they’re done,” She began walking back to her spot, “You gave me love without asking for anything in return. That day you proposed I told you I was through with being a gunfighter and I meant it. After everything happened I put my Colt into my bag and it stayed there until yesterday.” She turned her back to him.

“Things are different between us,” Buck began his explanation, “When you got off that stage it was like everything I had tried so hard to forget was thrown right back at me. The feeling that I had tried to push away all those months ago hit me harder than when we first met; harder than the day I proposed. I saw that ring on your finger and it scared me because when you stepped out of that coach I saw my wife for the first time. I saw the woman I was ready to spend my whole life with and I got scared. I can’t run from that anymore,” he paused to think of the right way to word it. “Things are different, Dani. They’re stronger.” He grabbed her shoulder and spun her around to face him revealing the tears falling down her cheeks. “I love you.” He leaned down meeting her lips with his.

She dropped her pistol and they truly embraced for the first time in eight months. Dani could feel the warmth in Buck grow strong as their tongues intertwined. The passion they had first found with each other had returned ten fold and in that moment the whole world disappeared. They both deepened the kiss as Buck guided Dani to the ground below them. The passion and desire overtook them as the kisses lead to touching and touching lead to much more. In that field, they lost themselves in each other, finally confirming their love away from everyone and everything that got in the way. In that field, they made love for the first time.

CHAPTER 7

Dani sat up from the ground draping her shirt around her bare chest. Beside her Buck laid in only his trousers and a smile. She continued to button up as he pushed himself up onto his elbows. She leaned over to kiss him.

“Next time we really should bring a blanket,” she smiled to him.

“Next time?” he questioned.

He quickly stood up on his bare feet, being careful where he stepped and made his way over to his horse. Dani watched as he retrieved a blanket from his saddlebag, “Never know when this is going to come in handy,” he winked at her as he came toward her placing the blanket down and unfolded on the ground. Dani repositioned herself on the now neatly laid cloth as Buck sat down beside her. She grabbed her boots and began to slide them on.

“Dani, can I ask you a question?”

He watched as she stopped dressing and looked at him.

“Of course.”

He pushed his knees up at an angle and placed his arms around his legs.

“What happened between you and Rosemary?”

Dani looked off into the distance as she began to explain.

“It isn’t what she’s done to me. After I left, I vowed that my killing days were through. I could lie, cheat and steal to get a slave to freedom, but I was not going to take a life. Isaiah and Rosemary Burke don’t share that sentiment and I just don’t respect those actions. My father may have been a master, but he was still my blood. I’m not willing to take away anyone’s father, brother or husband’s life for any cause, including this war.”

“You really have changed,” he put his arm around her.

She smiled to him as he began kissing her neck.

“Buck,” she giggled. “We should really get back. We’ve been gone a while.”

He pulled her back as she rolled over to lie on top of him.

“So, what are we going to tell everybody?” He asked with a big smile still plastered across his face.

“What do you want to tell them?” she joked with him.

“I want to tell them we’re getting married, but if you’re not ready for that then we can wait.”

She leaned in to kiss him long and hard. As she pulled herself back she looked deep into his eyes.

“You aren’t interested in Boston,” she stated.

He nodded in agreement.

“I figured that before I came. I made a decision on the way here that if things worked out between us I am willing to go wherever you feel the need to be.”
Smiling, he pushed himself up to again meet her lips. Pulling away she said, “I’ve been yours since the first day we met Buck and I know that you need to be near your family. There are slaves all over and I can help them no matter where I am. I can do anything as long as I’m with you.”

He rolled her over, placing himself on top and leaned in to kiss her. She pushed him off, laughing as she got to her feet. “I need to get cleaned up, is there a swimming hole around here somewhere?” Buck pointed off into the distance as he got to his feet.

“There’s one over there. Maybe I should join you.”

He put his arms around her from behind.

“That would be nice, but do me a favor first. Will you go back to the station and check on Noah for me? We’ve been gone a while. I don’t want anyone to worry.”

He kissed her neck once more, nodded and pulled away heading for the blanket, picking up his clothing as he walked.

Dani finished putting herself together and picked up her gun from the ground. She turned around walking back to Buck as he finished putting on his boots and buttoning up his shirt. She watched him pack up his saddle bags and pull his hair into a pony tail. She leaned in to kiss him before he mounted his horse. She held out her pistol to him.

“I don’t want that,” he said.

“As long as you have it, I don’t. I gave it up for you before and now that I have you, I don’t need it.”

He nodded and motioned to his saddlebag. She slid it inside and closed the cover securing the strap. She placed her hand on his knee.

“I’ll be back in a little while,” he assured her.

She smiled at him and slapped his horse into motion yelling out to him.

“Tell Noah he was right.”

He waved his compliance and road off toward the station.

Dani walked over to her own horse, grabbed the reins and walked in the direction of the swimming hole Buck had pointed out to her. As she made her way there, she quickly undressed again. She slowly entered the water until she was completely covered and began swimming. An hour seemed to pass by and though she wanted to wait for Buck to return there were now dark clouds filling the sky and it appeared as if it was ready to storm. She figured, maybe he had lost himself in the excitement and already told everyone, so she walked out from the water and began dressing. Behind her she heard a horse approaching and a smile crept from her lips as she took a seat on a small tree stump to her left. She didn’t turn around, instinctively knowing who she would find behind her. She heard him dismount and joked.

“Did you get lost?” she asked sarcastically.

When she received no response she turned around to find the serious face of her lover staring back at her.
“Buck?” she questioned.

A sense of fear quickly enveloped her.

“What’s wrong?” As he came closer she could make out his dry red eyes. She stood up, “What is it?” Buck opened his mouth but found that no sound would escape it. Tears began to well up. She approached him placing both hands on his face and he dropped his eyes to the ground. “What?” she asked softly. His eyes met hers and she could barely make out the faint whisper.

“Noah’s dead.”

CHAPTER 8

Buck continued to stare at Dani waiting for whatever reaction was about to come. She pulled her eyes from his, dropping her hands to her side. There was no emotion in her face and he knew that she was either going to blow or completely shut down. He tried to prepare himself for either as she turned away from him.

“You saw his body?” she asked very coldly as he faced her back.

“Yes,” he confirmed.

She grabbed the rest of her clothes and headed for her horse.

“Take me to him,” her voice continued to be devoid of emotion.

“He’s at the Undertaker’s,” he pointed out.

“Take me to him,” she repeated.

He nodded as they both mounted their horses. She kicked her horse into a gallop in the direction of town. Buck tried his best to catch up and soon led the way.

They approached the Undertaker’s office and both calmly stepped down from their mounts. Dani continued to keep her eyes ahead and focused. She knocked on the door as Buck came up behind her. The Undertaker slowly opened the door.

“Yes?” the old man peered out at the couple.

Dani stared straight ahead as Buck addressed the man.

“We need to see Noah Dixon,” he stated.

“I’m sorry, it’s getting late and I really don’t think it would be a good idea,” the older man replied.

She continued to stare straight ahead.

“That wasn’t a request,” she lashed out.

“Please, sir, she’s his family and she needs a moment to say goodbye,” Buck added.

The Undertaker looked over the two, nodded and opened the door. He led them to the back room where, on the table, a body was placed under a plain white sheet.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” the Undertaker stated as he turned to head out of the room.

Dani approached the body and slowly pulled back the cover revealing Noah’s face. Buck realized how peaceful he appeared. Dani continued to pull the cloth down as she laid her eyes on the bullet wounds on his shoulder and chest.

“What happened?” she asked.

Buck swallowed down his sadness and began telling the story.

“Noah was trying to defend Rosemary Burke. She was going after the men that killed her husband. He didn’t want her to go alone.”

She nodded her understanding never letting her eyes leave her brother’s face.

“I warned him,” she managed to get out.

A few more seconds passed.

“Where’s my gun?”

Buck paused unsure if he should tell her. She removed her eyes from Noah looking up at him.

“Where is my gun?” Dani got louder.

He stared back at her.

“Dani, I don’t think…”

She didn’t let him finish his comments as she stomped her way out of the back room and out of the office. She walked over to Buck’s saddle bags and began pulling everything out from them letting it all fall to the ground. After pulling the sheet back over Noah’s body he made his way after her.

“It isn’t in there,” he plainly stated.

“Where is it?” she asked, yet again very coldly.

“I put it under my bunk when I got back to the station.”

With that she ran to her horse, quickly mounted it and kicked it into a gallop. She made it almost completely to the station before Buck could react.

Rosemary watched from Rachel’s porch as Dani slammed her way into the empty bunkhouse. She knew she shouldn’t confront her, but something compelled her to follow Dani in. As Rosemary entered she saw Dani ripping through one of the bunks.

“Danielle, I’m so sorry,” she started apologizing, but was soon confronted with a loaded and cocked six shooter. As Rosemary stared down the barrel Jimmy entered from the front door rubbing his already aching head. He realized what was happening and quickly drew his gun pointing it at Dani. At almost that exact same moment Kid and Lou entered from the back door, Kid quickly drawing his gun and pointing it at Jimmy.

Jimmy’s eyes never left the two women.

“You gonna let her kill Rosemary, Kid?” Jimmy addressed him.

Lou stared at Kid.

“Can’t say as I’d be sorry if she did,” he replied.

“Kid,” Lou managed to squeal out.

The group stood in silence, the only sound that could be heard was the beginning of a storm now causing rain drops to hit the roof above them. Everyone stood completely motionless as Buck burst in behind Kid and Lou. Taking in the scene before him he turned his attention to Dani.

“Dani, you can’t do this. Killing Rosemary isn’t going to bring Noah back.”

She just stood keeping both eyes on Rosemary.

“I know it won’t, but the way I figure it, I shoot her, then Hickok shoots me and we both get put out of our misery.”

Buck turned to Jimmy.

“Jimmy, put it down,” he demanded.

“Not until Kid puts down his,” Jimmy stated as he continued to stare at Rosemary and Dani.

Buck and Lou both faced Kid who gave in and dropped his gun. Jimmy followed through dropping his as well. Buck tried to approach Dani.

“You don’t want to do this.”

“If you want to blame anyone, blame Jesse,” Jimmy interrupted.

“Jimmy,” Lou whispered.

“No, he’s the reason Noah’s dead. They knew the Army was coming. It was a set up.”

Dani turned her attention to Jimmy.

“That boy had something to do with this?” she questioned.

“Him and his brother just road out of here,” Jimmy nodded.

Dani un-cocked her pistol and headed out past him leaving them all behind. Buck gave Jimmy an angry glance and headed out after her.

Dani had already trotted into the distance and right into the storm that had so quickly erupted. Buck rode as fast as he could to catch up to her.

“You don’t know where they went,” he shouted over the trotting and rain.

“Then you’ll show me,” she shouted back.

“No, I won’t” he stated.

Dani slowed her horse and drew her pistol.
“You’ll show me…” he interrupted her.

“Or what? You’ll shoot me?”

He stopped his horse and dismounted. She continued to stare at him from atop her mount.

“I’ll find them without you.”

He moved in her way and grabbed the reins from her.

“Get out of my way,” she stated.

“No, this isn’t going to solve anything.”

She quickly dismounted cocking her gun, “Get out of my way!”

He continued to stare her down determined to stand his ground.

“This isn’t going to bring him back. He’s gone, Dani.”

She continued to stare at him as her expression slowly shifted.

“You don’t think I know that? I stared into his lifeless eyes just like you did,” her frustration grew with each word as she yelled her feelings over the rain. “He’s dead because of this stupid war and if that boy had anything to do with it, he’s dead too.”

Buck tried his best to reason with her.

“Noah was so proud of you for finally putting that life away and becoming a real lady. Do you think he would have wanted you to go back to how it was, you always running?” he reasoned.

“I’m sure he wouldn’t, but he’s dead now and I don’t think he wanted that either.” Dani’s tone became solemn, “Now move!”

Through the sounds of the storm they could make out the hoof tracks of at least two riders approaching. Dani didn’t remove her cold stare from Buck who squinted to make out the faces saddled behind them. Three riders quickly drew their horses to a halt. Cody was the first to stop with Kid and Jimmy fast behind. Cody tried his best to speak over the rain as he kept his own pain in check.

“The army’ll be running a raid on Pearson’s men in the morning,” Cody spoke up.

She turned her attention over her shoulder, but still refused to drop her Colt.

“They killed Noah, Dani, not Jesse,” Kid added.

“If you want blood, you’ll get it tomorrow,” Jimmy interjected.

The three stared on, willing Dani to concede. They where quickly rewarded; she un-cocked her pistol and re-holstered it as the rain began to slow.

The five riders made their way back in silence between the drops of water that managed to soak all of them through to the skin. The ride was short and uncomfortable. They arrived at the stables met by Lou and Rachel. Both seemed relieved to see that everyone had come back. They offered to take care of the horses as the riders parted company. Kid decided to stay and help as Buck, Jimmy and Cody chose to go back to the bunkhouse. Dani headed to the main house, avoiding any contact with anyone. As she approached the front door she heard her name called from behind her. She turned to find a very sullen Cody had followed her up.

“Dani, can I talk to you?” Cody asked.

Her response was a simple nod as she stopped and faced him. It was obvious that Cody was in a lot of pain and it seemed as if he needed to share it with someone.

“I’m sorry about Noah,” he tried to hold back the tears. Dani didn’t make it any easier with her lack of response, “He wasn’t supposed to be there. I tried to stop him and when he got shot I tried to help, but it was too late.” He finally broke down and let his frustration out as he began crying. She continued her silence as he shed his tears, “I just wanted you to know that.”

He added his last statement realizing he was going to get nothing in return and turned to walk away. She grabbed his shoulder to get his attention.

“This wasn’t your fault. You loved him and I know you would have done everything in your power to protect him,” she admitted.

She removed her hand and walked away while Cody kept his sights on the building in front of him. He heard the door close, wiped his tears away and began the walk back to the bunkhouse.

Finally inside Cody found the quiet of the group too eerie. Buck sat calmly at the center table with Rosemary sitting at the opposite end. Lou and Kid had made their way inside and where now sitting on Kid’s bunk as Jimmy sat on his. The tension in the room was fierce and it seemed like everyone was lost in their thoughts. As Cody took a seat in his bunk, Rosemary quickly shot up and headed to the door.

“Where are you going?” Jimmy grabbed her attention before she made it out.

“She needs to hear how sorry I am,” she seemed intent on getting Dani to listen to her.

“Rosemary, I think she just needs to be left alone, right now,” Lou tried to interject some sense.

“Do you really want to face down that gun again?” Jimmy questioned.

“If that’s what she needs to do than she can do it,” she grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. Jimmy stood up from his bunk.

“Then I’m going with you,” he added.

Both Kid and Buck stood at the same time, but Buck was the first to respond.

“No, I’ll go with her.”

He didn’t wait for any agreement; he simply followed Rosemary outside and up to the house.

As they entered they found Rachel working on some sewing in the foyer. There was only a candle illuminating the room and it took a second for their eyes to adjust. Rosemary nodded to Rachel and began her trek up the stairs. Rachel gave Buck a worried look and he shook her off as he continued to follow behind. She didn’t bother to knock as she arrived at the dimly lit room. Buck hoped they would catch Dani at a moment when the possibility of getting to her gun was limited. There they found her sitting on her bed cleaning what appeared to be a piece of her revolver. Buck felt a small sense of relief, but was not ready to let his guard down.

“Lucky you,” Dani addressed them. “I already took the bullets out, but if you were smart, you would turn back around and head out that door.”

Her cold statement didn’t deter Rosemary.

“I came here to say I’m sorry and to tell you that Noah died protecting me. That is something you should be proud of. The army had no right to tell him he couldn’t serve. This was his way of helping the cause and he died bravely for it.”

Dani’s aggravation was evident on her face as she stood from the bed.

“Was that really supposed to make me feel better? Are you that arrogant to think that his death was justified by your actions?” She took a step toward Rosemary; a step which Buck mirrored behind her, “I don’t care if he died bravely, he still died. If you’re so ready to die for your cause then have at it, but stay the hell away from me or so help me God, when I’m done with Pearson tomorrow, I will be coming for you.”

The two women stared at each other as Buck looked on unable to move or speak. There was nothing he could say to either to make the situation any better. He prepared himself for any reaction. Rosemary finally backed down once again defeated and took her cue leaving the room as she closed the door behind her. Dani just shook her head and walked back to the bed ignoring Buck’s presence in the room. She picked up the empty chamber and her cloth and continued where she left off. Buck just stood in the corner unsure of what to say.

Minutes passed as she kept her attention on the task at hand. He figured she didn’t want him there with her so he turned out of his corner grabbing the door handle.

“Don’t go,” she stated in almost a whisper.

He turned to find her soft eyes now truly meeting his for the first time since the swimming hole. He nodded his response and slowly walked toward the bed sitting behind her. She turned her attention back to her piece.

The silence between them was deafening. She kept her eyes turned away from him as she rubbed the luster into the nickel chamber. Soon the sound of rubbing was replaced with her soft sobs. It broke Buck’s heart listening to her try to hold in her heartache. He stood from the bed and positioned himself in front of her on his knees. He looked into her eyes.
“It’s okay to hurt,” he stated.

“No,” she shook her head, “I’ve done my damndest not to feel anything for so long and I come here and that all gets washed away. I hate myself right now.”

Buck couldn’t understand her need to be numb.

“Why?” he questioned.

“Because if I was here earlier I could have stopped him or at least gone with him,” she continued to beat herself up as the tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“Do you regret what happened between us?” Buck inquired.

Dani looked away from him.

“Not at all. That’s why I hate myself. I came here for him. And then I run off with you and he dies,” she admitted.

“You have every right to be sad and angry because he’s gone,” Buck pushed her eyes up to meet his. “Nothing I can say or do can change that, but know that what we did was not wrong. We didn’t cause his death and neither did Rosemary or Jesse or anyone else.”

“Except Pearson,” she shook her head.

He nodded his agreement back to her and another moment of silence passed between them. Buck’s urge to be with her took him over.

“Do you want me to stay with you tonight?” he asked.

She wiped the tears from her cheek.

“Yes,” she stated.

He took a seat next to her as she reached for the pieces of her Colt putting it back together. Reaching for her holster she placed the weapon inside and returned the rig to its hanging point on the bedpost.

She turned to Buck who tried his best to give her a reassuring look. Buck stared deeply into her emerald eyes. The tension was too much as she leaned into him meeting his lips with hers. He quickly returned the kiss as they both let their eyes close to the room around them. For that moment they were able to shut out everything that had happened and return to that morning when it was just the two of them in each others arms. Dani pulled back releasing him and lying down on the bed. She patted the open spot beside her inviting Buck to lie down. He welcomed the invitation lying down on his side; he placed his arm around her waist and his head on her shoulder.

Nothing more was spoken between the two as thoughts of the wedding, the morning they had shared, and Noah and Pearson’s men filled Buck’s mind. Trying to get a decent night’s sleep was not going to be an easy task with such uneasy images floating around in his head. The realization of the impending death that tomorrow would bring swept through him. Before closing his eyes to enter his fitful slumber Buck knew morning would come far too soon. He held onto Dani as tight as he could and let himself drift away.


CHAPTER 9

“He’s dead Dani,” Buck yelled to her from a few feet away.

She seemed mezmorized by the image of the now dead man who had been responsible for the taking of her brother’s life. She couldn’t move or react. It seemed almost as if she was waiting for him to jump up so she could take a final shot at him, but that wasn’t going to happen. Cody had gotten the satisfaction of that shot while she lay frozen on the cold ground.

She heard the crunch of the leaves beside her from the approaching footsteps. She gave no mind to the hand that now wrapped gently around her arm urging her to get up. She found that despite the numbness she felt all over she could somehow push her right leg under her and quickly jumped to her feet. She continued to stare off into the distance.
The young Kiowa refused to release his hold on her arm. He wasn’t exactly sure what would happen now that Pearson was dead, but something told him to hold on tight until she chose to pull away. He knew that she hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and the early rise was now catching up to her. The adrenaline that had kept them both firing away at anyone who posed a threat was now drained away. He simply waited for her to make the first move.

He didn’t have to wait too long. She re-holstered her pistol and grabbed the hand that was still firmly positioned on her upper arm. He expected that she would push him away, but instead she gave his hand a squeeze. She looked deep into his dark eyes and nodded to him. She took in a deep breath and pushed herself toward the gathered group of riders and soldiers. He released her arm and followed her.

The fight winded down. All of the men that had surrendered had been taken away in chains and everyone headed back to the station. Thankfully none of the Express family had been hurt in today’s battle, but no one had forgotten the one who had passed on the day before. His spirit is what got them up this early morning ready for a fight they weren’t sure they would walk away from in a war that was now slowly ripping them apart. His image is what drove Cody on now to stand up and fight and it was his face that flashed through Cody’s mind when he pulled the trigger killing Pearson. The blonde stared away at his saddle as the world moved around him.

Someone cleared their throat behind him grabbing his attention as he turned around to face who ever had broken him away from his thoughts. He was met with the beautiful green eyes that shared a similar face to his memories. She smiled at him,

“I was never so happy to have someone out shoot me in my life,” Dani remarked to him.

He seemed slightly lost not really sure how to take her comment or even if he understood what she meant. She must have picked up on his confusion because she added,

“I had Pearson in my sights and I couldn’t take the shot,” she planted her eyes on the ground.

“Maybe you didn’t want to take the shot,” he introduced.
“And what makes you think that?” she questioned.

He cleared his throat and took a deep breath trying to prepare his words wisely.

“Noah told me you had given up your gun and from that fancy dress you showed up in, he was obviously telling the truth.”

She nodded to him.

“Seems to me you had put this life away. Not many people can say they get that chance, but you did and seemed to me you were happy when you came here. A far cry from the lady gunfighter I remembered.”

She was almost amazed by the wisdom the young and cocky boy she first met was now putting out to her. She began to realize that he had grown up right along side her brother and the wisdom of his words were proof of that. He continued,

“Maybe you knew if you took his life, you were walking back into that. Maybe you weren’t ready to go back to that life again.”

His words hit her like an arrow to the heart. The pain she had been feeling since she found out Noah was dead brought back every feeling of hate and pain she had carried with her before she made it to Boston. Her lack of trust and her lack of care were set aside to make her life worth living and the second she strapped on her gun again, it was as if she stepped back into the shadows. He was right, it wasn’t that she couldn’t take it; it was that she didn’t want to. Even though every impulse in her body screamed to pull the trigger, her heart wouldn’t allow it.

She looked up meeting his eyes. For the first time, Cody actually saw true emotion stretched across her face which was accented by the tears that now flowed from her eyes. He knew from her reaction that he had hit the nail on the head. She let out the breathe she had been holding,

“Damn you for sounding just like him.”

Her words seemed like they should have been ones of anger, but it appeared to be just the opposite. She kept her eyes on Cody.

“I was hoping to hear from the gloating jackass I had come to know. I guess you have grown up and from the sounds of it, Noah rubbed off on you.”

Cody had to smile at the thought as she rubbed the tears from her eyes. She smiled to him and unexpectedly leaped forward catching him off guard. She wrapped her arms around him,

“Thank you for being his friend.”

Though a second of hesitation passed through him, he wrapped his arms around her taking the gesture as it was intended. He felt a slight feeling of forgiveness coming from her and knew that his words last night didn’t fall on deaf ears. She pulled away and looked him in the eyes,

“You’re a good man, Cody.”
Buck caught the interaction out of the side of his eye as he passed them heading from the barn to the bunkhouse. Cody and Dani parted ways as Cody mounted up and road off. Buck watched Dani slowly turn to head in the direction of her own horse. She mounted up not giving a second glance around her and road off into the open field. He wanted to ride out after her. He wanted to follow and shout out how much he loved her, but he was afraid that all that had happened he would just push her farther away.

Rachel had their meal out and waiting, but there now just sat Buck and Rachel. The Kid and Lou trotted back to their hotel looking to enjoy a quiet meal together after the tiring morning. Jimmy was undoubtably off soothing Rosemary somewhere. Teaspoon and Cody were finishing up with the Army and Pearson’s men and Dani was nowhere to be found. This empty table was symbolic of where they were all heading...in different directions and Buck stuck alone, unsure of where he would fit.

As Rachel cleared the table from the solemn meal approaching hoof steps came into the yard. Buck stared at the rider as she dismounted and took in the sights around her. There they were with this wall separating them. Him trapped in a box by himself and her on the outside alone looking just as lost as he felt. He wanted to give her space, but if there was one thing that this lonely lunch had proven to him is that he needed to know what is coming next for him. Everyone else seemed to have started on their paths, even those on a path to the grave. He now needed to find out what his would be and if it would be alone. He politely excused himself from the bunkhouse and headed out to the coral fence where Dani had now propped herself up on to the top post.

He grabbed the middle post and stared off into the distance.

“I was wondering when you would stop staring at me and come out here,” she stated.

“Wasn’t sure if you wanted any company.”

“Well, you came out so I’m guessing that means that you want some company.”

“I guess I do,” he had to admit.

The silence caught up to them again and Buck simply waited for her to make the next move.

“I can’t stay here,” she said.

He released the breathe he was holding. Those weren’t the words he was hoping to hear, but he had to take them despite the need he had to scream out to her.

“He was the only thing I had left. Without him, I’m nothing.”

“You have me, Dani.”
“Buck, I understand that your family is here and I couldn’t ask you to leave and at this point, I don’t want to.”

Not sure how to take her last statement he just listened.

“This is your home and your family. Mine is gone now and you are just a reminder of that fact.”

She jumped down from the fence standing in front of him. He was keenly aware of the fact that she was doing everything she could to avoid his eyes.

“So you’re just going to leave? You’re just going to run away from us, again?” he asked.

“I’m not running away!” she raised her voice.

Buck couldn’t help, but to react and let his frustration with everything take him over.

“Yes, you are. We have something special and that scares you. You will look for any reason to run away and not face us.”

“Us? How can you even claim there is an us? We can’t get close without someone getting hurt. The first time you propose you get shot and then this time Noah dies. Don’t you think someone is trying to tell us something?”
“I don’t know, Dani, but I do know that when I’m with you I can face down anything.”

His tone became one of calming as he reached out to place his hand upon her cheek.

“I love you and I wouldn’t think twice about asking you to marry me everyday.”

“Buck, stop it!”

She pulled away from him turning her back.

“I can’t do this. I have people that need me in Boston. I have so much that follows me around. I just don’t know if I can hold onto us and not feel regret and pain. Your family is here. You’ll move on. I just don’t know if I can move on with you.”

He was now facing the fear he had been feeling since he revealed to her that her brother had died. Everything that he had hoped not to hear was being thrown full force at him.

“Please, Dani,” where the only words he let escape his mouth.

The rest became trapped in the back of his mind. She refused to look back at him.

“I need some time to think,” she stated as she slowly headed back to the main house.

There was not one more word he could get out. What was there left to say? He was caught in the middle with no side to call his own. His worst fears had come true. He was once again alone.


CHAPTER 10

He watched as the gentle breeze caused the tiny sandy ringlets to cascade across her tear streaked face. The heavy burden of contemplation stretched across her features as she stared into the open grave dug for the sole purpose of tombing away the only kin she had left. He wondered why she had waited until the funeral had cleared before she came to finally say goodbye, but he figured it was simply easier without the prying eyes. There was no explanation need given to the silence except perhaps to the questions she was now asking herself.

She stood locked on the pine box below her as if she was facing down yet another demon standing 6 feet away drawing down on her. She seemed focused and ready to draw on a ghost she could never kill no matter how many rounds she fired off. Despite the strong stance she held she couldn’t mask the pain that throbbed inside her; the pain she let hang from her cheeks in tiny wet droplets. She truly was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. He wanted to approach her, but something inside him told him to wait and just cherish the vision he was beholding.

She reached into the small black bag that accompanied the soft black dress she was adorning. He stared intently at her hand as she retrieved a shiny steel object from the clutch. There was no mistaking what she was unleashing from the grips of the small bag. She took a second to stare down the stunning weapon that had become such a large part of her being. She examined every crevice as if she were almost looking for something she had lost years ago. She released her eyes from the piece and peered up into the sky, the minuscule ray of sunlight catching the glint in her eye as she looked up. Then with the swift glide of her hand she released the nickel plated, ivory handled, rose adorned Colt into the open grave. Turning back, her gaze caught him once again in that emerald bewitching as it had the first day they met in that smoky saloon in Silver Springs.

“Why did you follow me?” she asked Buck obviously aware of his presence during the unfolding scene.

“I guess I was worried that you would leave without saying goodbye.”

Dani allowed a slight smile to release from her lips. He seemed so sincere, there was no way to be angry with him.

“I just needed to be alone with him.”

He nodded his understanding as he finally approached her shapely form. The tension between the two rose as Buck fought the urge to reach out for her. All he wanted to do was comfort the hurt they both had to force away. Only hours before this saddening time they were ready to run off and get married. He remembered a time before that, before she was snatched away from him that marriage was the one joy he had to look forward to. Why was it that they could have no peace and calm in those times?

“I love you, Buck,” she whispered.

He couldn’t fight it anymore and he reached for her cheek releasing one of the ringlets from the tear it had become entangled in. She again peered into his dark eyes staring deeply.
“I love you, too.”

She reached out pulling him into a strong embrace as the tears began once again streaming down her face. He can make out the soft sobs coming from his shoulder which she had nestled herself into. He could feel the hot tears begin to seep from his eyes as he just held on tight.

“Where do we go from here?” he asked.

He could feel her loosen her grip as she tilted her eyes to meet his once again.

“I don’t know, but I’m not ready to let you go.”

“Then don’t,” he stated pulling her in close.

He held on her to her as if he was holding on for dear life. He looked out into the open area surrounding them and he could just make out the small figures walking around the small town of Rock Creek. He could make out towns folk and those in blue uniforms. He could see the lines at the tables of those who would be joining in the fighting that had now claimed one of their own. The Rock Creek Station felt first hand the effects of upcoming war that was now pitting brother against brother. In the distance he saw what no one now could stop, but in this moment he had her and the peaceful silence around them. In this moment, he could find the one little glimmer of peace he could hope for. In this moment he truly felt love could win over hate.

They pulled apart and began walking toward the crowd in the distance. Toward the town that was slowly becoming a battle zone, but as he felt her arm around him he felt a little more ready to face it. The end may be coming for the Pony Express, but the thought wasn’t as unbearable as before.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Take it one moment at a time,” he replied wrapping his hands around her as they walked to a future full of uncertainty, pain and endings, but in this very glimpse of things to come he knew he wouldn’t be facing them alone.

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