Chapter 1

The barn was dimly lit with the candlelight radiating from the lantern resting peacefully on the hay bale that was quickly forgotten. Her softly flowing orange ringlets were accentuated by the flickering flame. His lips came to meet hers in a passionate kiss then traveled up and down her neck. She grabbed a hold of his light blue shirt attempting to catch her balance under his passionate advances.

"Kid, we can't do this," she managed to get out between kisses.

His advances only increased with the sound of her thick Irish accent. He couldn't help but be overcome by her smell, her warmth and her beauty. There was nothing else he was thinking about other than her in this very moment. These past few weeks had all been working up to this one heated moment alone.

Shuffling of feet brought the entrancing moment between the two to a halt. Shannon pushed away from him as they both turned to face the opening to the stables. They were met with a stern pair of eyes staring plainly at the Kid not even acknowledging the young lady whom he was delighting over. Kid could feel Shannon's eyes piercing through him with her need for reassurance, but he couldn't give it to her so he kept his glare on the intruder. She finally looked away and without a word ran from his side and out of the stables.

"Shannon " he yelled after her.

He wanted desperately to go after her and convince her that what they started wasn't wrong, but he knew he first had to deal with the prying eyes of his bunk mate. Kid headed out of the stables and past him.

"What are you doing, Kid?" Jimmy finally questioned.

"Spying on me now?" Kid shot back.

"No. Lou noticed that you were really quiet earlier. She was worried when you didn't come in after supper," Jimmy answered.

"So, you're not spying for yourself, you're spying for Lou?"

Kid's anger seemed to grow at the mention of his ex's name.

"She still cares, Kid and so do I," he retorted. "It's nice of you to think of me Jimmy, but since you and Lou have each other, my business really doesn't concern either of you anymore," Kid's voice went from anger to stern.

Kid attempted to walk away, but Jimmy quickly grabbed his arm and swung him around.

"That girl is dangerous," Jimmy exclaimed.

As Kid spun around he pushed Jimmy away from him. They stood for a few seconds staring. He searched desperately for any venomous words to spit at his ex-friend, but none came to mind. He finally pulled his eyes away and walked off.

Jimmy continued to glare at him as he watched the confused man walk off. When Kid had finally left his sight Jimmy headed into the bunkhouse. As he opened the door he was met with the prying eyes of his new love. She smiled up at him from the confines of her bunk. She placed down the book she had been reading beside her and jumped up to greet him.

"Is he okay?" she asked.

Jimmy had to fight back the twinge of jealousy that overtook him as she first questioned about her ex over taking him into her arms. He knew she was worried so he did his best to overcome the green monster in his gut and stick to his reason for tracking Kid down in the first place. He nodded to her.

"He just needed some time to himself," he answered.

Lou nodded her understanding then looked around the room motioning to the emptiness that surrounded them. She slowly approached him with her arms extended motioning for him to come closer. Jimmy gladly accepted the invitation walking toward her with the same knowing grin on his face. She placed her arms around his neck as he leaned in to match lips with her. Jimmy allowed himself to once in his life shut his eyes to the world around him. In her arms he truly felt safe. Both seemed to become lost in the moment as they deepened the kiss allowing their bodies to press closer together.

Soon they found their tongues intertwined as the temperature of the room quickly rose. Deaf and blind to the world around them Jimmy nudged Lou on to his bunk. There they lay side by side never once removing their lips from the other's. Lou's hands began to roam freely around his back and quickly glided to his chest reaching for the buttons of his shirt. BOOM

The bunkhouse door slammed open as the two pushed apart and turned to see who had interrupted their alone time.

"Well, hello there," Noah stared at the couple with a mischievous smile.

Jimmy jumped up from the bed and immediately grabbed for the buttons on his shirt. Lou looked up at Noah with a nervous smile as he raised one eyebrow showing he was very aware of what he'd walked in on.

"Can't trust you two alone for five minutes," he shook his head.

Jimmy passed him an annoyed look as he reached the final two buttons.

"I'm just joshin' you Jimmy," Noah stated. "Where is everyone?"

Lou stood from the bed as Jimmy tucked his shirt in. She walked over to the center table and sat down.

"Not sure. Everyone seemed to head out after supper," Lou answered.

"Except for you two, I see." He allowed the smile to return.

Lou let out a little giggle as she eyeballed Jimmy who had now returned to sitting on his bunk.

"I'm sure they'll be back tonight, at least Cody. He has a run first thing," Jimmy had found his voice.

Noah looked back and forth between the blushing couple and moved for his bunk. He removed his hat placing it on the bed.

"I'm mighty tired and I think I'm going to try to sleep. I'm not going to have to worry about waking up and seeing something I really don't wanna see, am I?" he smiled again.

"No," Jimmy stated gruffly.

Lou let out another small giggle. Noah shook his head and lied down on his bunk. Jimmy mirrored the motion lying on his. Lou gave Jimmy one final glance and a small smile passed between them. She stood from the table, leaned down to the lit candle and blew it out.

"Good night," she said as she jumped onto her bunk.

Chapter 2

That morning Kid woke up bright and early determined to catch Shannon as soon as the store opened. Dawn broke and he was the first out of bed. Cody came in a close second and rolled out as Kid slid on his trousers over his long johns.

"You're up early," Cody whispered.

Kid ignored his comment as he buttoned up his shirt. Cody, too tired to care that he was being so rudely treated, turned his back to Kid as he too slid on his trousers and shirt. Once he had grabbed his hat from the bedpost he turned around to say goodbye to Kid. To his astonishment Kid had already left the bunkhouse and was nowhere to be found in the yard. Cody just rolled his eyes as he tied on his holster and headed out of the bunkhouse for his run.

Kid made his way down the main street of Rock Creek set in his destination. The pink and orange sky guided him along his path. As the feed store came into view he looked around the town to see if there were any town goers approaching it. He knew Tompkins normally had Shannon open the store at daybreak, but Kid noticed that she still had yet to arrive. This sent his mind racing. He had never known her to be late with anything.

He approached the front door and peered inside. To his dismay his first observation was correct. She hadn't opened the store and she wasn't even inside setting up. He took a seat on one of the barrels deciding that if he went to her hotel room he would seem too eager. He looked out over the town as the beautiful dawn sky gave way to the normal bright sunlight. His ears caught the noise of rattling planks under him and he turned around finding Shannon walking up to the front door.

"Shannon," he smiled to her.

She refused to look away from the door and as she came within reach of the handle, she had her back turned to him. He leapt from the barrel and stood behind her unsuccessfully trying to grab her eyes.

"Kid," she blankly acknowledged.

He continued to survey her reaction very aware of the thickening of her accent. It was obvious she was still upset about the night before. Once she got her blood boiling he could hardly understand a word she said. In this situation she had every reason to be upset. Jimmy had no right to intrude on them the way he did and he could have gone about it in a much better way.

The door flew open and Shannon walked inside with Kid hot on her heels.

"I'm sorry about last night," he said.

"It's fine Kid," she responded refraining from meeting his eyes.

She made her way around the counter as he placed his hands on the wooden barrier. She kept her gaze on the counter surface. He bent down still trying to retrieve her eyes from their distant stance.

"No, it isn't," he pointed out as he placed his finger under her chin. "Please look at me, Shannon."

Her reaction was hesitated, but she slowly complied meeting her Irish emerald eyes with his baby blues.

"Kid, it doesn't matter. Maybe it was right for him to stop us. Things could have gone too far and I don't think you're ready for that," she softly pointed out.

He once again placed his hand on the counter surface.

"It matters to me and there is nothing that happened last night that I didn't want to happen," he corrected her.

"Maybe something happened that I wasn't ready for," she retorted. "I know how your friends see me. I'm the town whore."

"That isn't you," he once again corrected, "I know that wasn't something you had a choice over."

"Most people don't tend to see it that way," she admitted.

"I'm not most people and that was the past. You can't keep beating yourself up over it now. You're completely different and if the rest of this town would pay attention they would see the beautiful woman you are now." He placed his hand on her cheek.

She smiled to him. Her eyes welled up with tears as he kept his eyes locked on her. She closed them allowing a single droplet to escape. All it took was the one tear to show the regret she had of her previous life and her want to change it. Kid used his thumb to wipe it away.

"No matter how this town treats you, you will always have at least one admirer," he continued to smile at her in an attempt to convince her of his pure intentions.

She nodded to him as she took in a deep breath sucking in the last of her sad expression. Once again allowing her eyes to meet his she noticed him leaning in closer over the counter. There was nothing more she wanted than for him to kiss her and she was greatly rewarded as his lips greeted hers for the first time in 10 hours. She eagerly accepted them.

The awkward sensation of the counter between them caused Kid to pull back from the delicate kiss he felt was necessary to calm her down. Perhaps it was a good thing that the hard edge had ended the moment. He felt movement behind him and caught the presence of someone in the doorway. He turned his attention to the opening.

"Kid," Tompkins greeted. "Rachel has you up bright and early this morning. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?"

"Mr. Tompkins," Kid tipped his hat. "No, I just came to place an order."

Kid turned back to Shannon who was trying her best to hide the grin that had popped on her face upon Tompkins' entrance. He gave her a sweet smile in return and quickly turned serious again as he turned to exit the store. Shannon watched as he smoothly walked past Tompkins to the doorway. He whipped around to look back at her and attempted to wave. Unfortunately his foot caught the bottom edge of the doorway and he tumbled forward. To keep from falling completely to the ground he grabbed onto the doorway hiking himself up as the momentum pulled him forward.

Shannon closed her eyes as she again tried to cover a laugh that fought so desperately to get out. Kid picked himself up as redness overtook his tan face. He looked around obviously wondering if anyone else had caught his early morning tumbling performance. He brushed himself off, waved to Shannon and walked out of view. Tompkins came up behind her as she continued to stifle her laughter.

"That boy is sweet on you," Tompkins pointed out covering his own grin.

After gaining her composure she turned to the older gentleman behind her. Her glowing radiance revealed that she too was aware of his observation, but didn't plan to admit to it.

"What makes you say that?" she asked.

"Usually a boy doesn't kiss a girl like that unless he is fond of her," he stated.

Now her fair skin was taken over by the flustering red of embarrassment.

"You approve?" she questioned.

"Not my place to approve or disapprove, but I can say that Kid is a fine boy from what I can tell. I know your father would approve of any man who would treat you the way you deserve," he remarked.

Shannon let a small grin pass over her teeth as she took in his words. Mr. Tompkins and her father were close friends growing up, so he would be one to know his wishes even though she was be too young when he passed to remember.

"Thank you," she kindly stated in return.

He nodded and turned his back to her as he placed his hat on the coat rack behind them. Shannon turned to glance at the door replaying their fond kiss and his soft caress then giggling to herself at the memory of his embarrassing final moments. She leaned forward bringing her elbows to rest on the counter top as she took in a deep breath allowing the fresh morning air to fill her lungs. A new day awaited.

Later That Day

Jimmy and Lou lied entangled in each other's arms looking over the open field. They had decided to take a late ride through the surrounding terrain to escape the various eyes and comments of the rowdy station crew. Ever since things between Lou and Kid became shaky and then Jimmy entered the picture, the tension around the station had doubled. No one was sure how to take the new couple and being around Kid on a good day still consisted of walking on eggshells.

Lou let out a low moan as she allowed herself to relax under the weight of his arm. The gesture caused him to focus his sights on the breath taking woman sharing this moment with him. Aware of his gaze upon her she returned it staring deeply into his eyes. The soft breeze caught hold of a strand of her auburn hair releasing it in the center of her forehead. He gently pushed the strand back placing it behind her ear. She reached up trapping his palm on her cheek where she placed a single kiss upon it. He trailed the back of his fingers up her cheek and turned his palm up resting it on her cheek bone.

Her eyes revealed so much about her. She could either scold you with one look or speak her undying lust. He could tell without a word that she was begging him to kiss her. As he leaned in scooping her head up to reach his she quickly confirmed the silent message as she deepened the kiss pressing his lips further into hers. She draped her left leg over the back of his thighs as she continued to pull him in closer to her. His powerful arms drew closer together as the embrace became tighter and tighter.

Lou tightened her grip around his leg as she rocked her body toward his causing him to land on his back onto the grass beside him. Crashing with a thud she let out a giggle between kisses. He couldn't help but laugh with her as he abruptly grabbed the back of his head feeling a sudden throbbing from a rock he must have come in contact with during the landing. Lou realized he was in pain and sat up on his stomach. She let out another giggle as she leaned in to kiss his cheek.

I'm sorry," she got out between gasps.

He just smiled up at her as he continued to rub. The sunlight caught her light brown hair and seemed to radiate an angelic glow around her face. Jimmy became awed by the vision.

"You're beautiful," he softly stated.

The apples of her cheeks lit up with the compliment. She let her eyes fall from his as her blushing only added to her beauty. He couldn't let this moment pass by.

"I love you Lou," he tenderly admitted.

He was caught off guard by her reaction to his revelation. She seemed to tense with the statement and the mesmerizing smile was lost to a straining of her expression. She sat motionless staring at his chest.

"Did I say something wrong?" he cautiously questioned.

"No," she retorted. "I'm just not sure what to say."

He pushed his upper body up holding himself there with his palms resting strongly on the ground behind him. She refused to make contact with his confused eyes and assuredly irritated expression.

"You could tell me you love me too," he offered.

She sat quietly, afraid to admit that she wasn't ready to make such a claim. Her and Kid had only been broken up a few weeks before she began her intimate meetings with Jimmy. She hadn't even thought of taking this relationship to that point, yet. She knew she still had a lot of healing to do and Jimmy's companionship was helping her take her mind off of the many issues she tried so desperately to avoid.

He could read her expression and hesitation like a book. She wasn't willing to say she loved him and chances are it was due to the Kid. He had no intention of playing second fiddle to a memory and he let his aggression become evident as he abrasively slipped out from under her tiny body. She fell back onto the ground as he stood up to make his well needed exit. She watched as he leaned down picking up and dusting off his hat. He didn't glance at her once before he began the trek to his awaiting horse.

"Jimmy wait," she demanded as she stood.

He stopped but did not turn around to address her.

"Wait for what, Lou? You don't love me. There's nothing else to say," he rationalized.

He was right. There was nothing she could say to take back the hurt he was now feeling. She just wasn't ready to say those words to anyone again. Her heart had been through too much already. She hoped he would have been too afraid to admit the feelings she knew he had. It made things easier when they were just fooling around and she didn't have to open herself up.

He mounted up keeping his eyes straight ahead kicking his stead into a gallop. The dust he kicked up spread into the air behind him covering Lou. She gasped as the dirt filled her lungs and the realization of the situation passed over her. She may have just lost him forever.

Chapter 3

The clanging of tools from outside of the barn knocked Lou out of the deep abyss she had escaped to since Jimmy left this morning. He had refused to even acknowledge her presence before his ride to Silver Springs and rode off kicking up dust, putting as much distance as he could between them. The hurt in her heart was overshadowed by the guilt she felt for not being able to repeat those three little words to him though she desperately wanted to. She did have a deep need to say them, but she couldn't say them to him.

Her eyes continued to glance over the cracked wooden planks that made up the barn walls. The walls that stood between her and the sunshine she felt she didn't deserve to experience. She had a man who loved her, who would stand behind her when she needed and beside her when she wanted; a man she shared her hopes and dreams with that respected her more than she respected herself. He was everything she could have ever asked for and yet when those three little words came out of his mouth she desperately needed to push them away.

Another pang of guilt filled her body as she focused in on his mouth as he said "I love you" to her. The words filled her ears and her heart full of joy, but the guilt lied in the voice she heard saying those words. Those feelings came from the hope that those three little words had come from another man. A man she thought she didn't want anymore. At first there was one glowing moment where she pictured Kid's mouth saying "I love you" and heard his voice accompanying it. They flowed so naturally from his lips to her ears, but that sudden jolt of joy was quickly masked by the deep guilt that now encompassed her entire body.

No, she didn't deserve the bright rays of the sun, because she only wanted to disappear into the darkness of the shadows that saved her from having to face how she truly felt about these two men. One man she had pushed away because she loved him too much and another she has pushed away because she wasn't sure if she loved him at all. In the comfort of the barn she could hide from the eyes of everyone that had seen the way Jimmy had dismissed her this morning. At least in here, darkness overshadowed the sun. CLANG

"Sorry, Lou," Buck apologized, "I didn't know anyone was in here."

Lou's eyes shifted to the shovel that had been so roughly thrown to the ground. It was as if she was caught in a daze not realizing who had done the throwing.

"Lou, you okay?" he asked, noticing the unshakable attention she was giving the shovel.

His voice finally caught up to her thoughts. She shook herself out of the fog and noticed the young Kiowa's disheveled appearance. She deduced that he must have been coming in to escape the same sun she avoided only it seemed he was avoiding the heat it radiated. His shirt was unbuttoned, slightly revealing the tan rippled chest he generally didn't flaunt, and was pulled from his black trousers. It flowed down his back reminding her of Jimmy's embarrassed appearance a few days earlier, though Buck was in no rush to button himself up. With how hot it was outside, she couldn't blame him.

"Sorry Buck," she responded. "Guess I just got a lot on my mind."

"Anything you want to talk about?" he inquired.

She shrugged at him as she picked up a piece of hay and began twiddling it through her fingers. This was one nervous gesture that gave her away to all of her bunkmates.

She watched as he bent down to pick up the heavy object that had earlier caught her attention. She turned her gaze back to the wooden barriers that surrounded her as he approached. He took a seat beside her placing the shovel to his left and flipped his shirt tails allowing them to flow over the bale behind him. This movement allowed a bit more of his sweat soaked skin to peak out from behind the cloth as he turned his deep brown eyes to her.

"This wouldn't have anything to do with a certain gunfighter who wasn't in the best of moods this morning, would it?" he questioned.

"Is it that obvious?" she smirked.

He nodded to her in response as he let out a soft chuckle.

"I'm so confused," she began. "How can one person have such a hold over someone else?"

"I guess love does that," he stated.

"Love complicates things," she retorted. "I had everything planned out and it all gets wiped away the second someone brings up the word love."

"I don't think you can control who you fall in love with," he replied.

"Or who falls in love with you," she added.

There was something in her voice that made him think twice about exactly what or who this conversation was about.

"I don't think I'm following you," he confessed. "Jimmy told me he loved me," she pointed out.

"And that complicates things?" he asked still confused.

"I guess it shouldn't seein' as we've been spending all this time together," she confirmed.

"But?" Buck continued to prod.

"I couldn't say it back," she admitted.

An uncomfortable silence swept through the open barn. Buck shifted his body to dislodge a piece of straw that had been poking him in an uncomfortable area as Lou threw the piece of hay she had been fiddling with off to the side. Buck broached the next question very slowly.

"Do you want to say it back?" he asked.

This time it was Lou's turn to shift on the bale alleviating some of the tension she was feeling due to slouching and the rest due to her next revelation.

"I do," she hesitatingly confessed.

"But?" he questioned once again.

"Not to him," she finally revealed.

Buck let a deep breath release from his lungs. The image of her once sandy brown haired, clean cut suitor entering into his mind clashing with the image of the long haired suitor she was now tangled up with.

"Does Kid know how you feel?" he questioned.

She shook her head 'no' in response.

"Do you plan on talking to him about it?" he dove right into the solution.

"I pushed him away," she stated, "And then everything with Jimmy. Why would he want to talk to me about anything?"

"Did your feelings for Kid ever go away?" he asked.

She once again shook her head 'no.'

"Then maybe, neither did his," he pointed out. "You can never be sure until you ask him."

"It isn't that simple, Buck," she countered.

"It is that simple," he assured her. "You'll never know unless you ask and the worst he can say is he doesn't feel the same for you."

"What if he says he doesn't?" she inquired.

"Then you'll know and you can move on from him and allow yourself to get close to Jimmy," he offered.

He could tell she was still hesitant about the whole situation he was telling her she needed to take part in.

"Or you can at least decide your feelings for him without constantly questioning your feelings for Kid," he added.

"How did you become so smart about love?" she smiled.

"I'm a good listener," he pointed out returning the smile.

"Yes," she said before placing a peck on his cheek, "You are," she confirmed as she jumped up from her seat.

He watched as she darted for the open doors to the barn.

As she planted a foot outside, the radiant sunlight caught her tiny form. She hesitated, letting her eyes adjust from the shadow of the barn they had come to embrace earlier in the day. She let her gaze fall over the surrounding yard and soon caught sight of the bunkhouse door. She took in one deep breath. 'The hesitation and doubt ends here,' she convinced herself. She needed to know if there was a ray of hope and it was time to face the man that shadowed her every thought.

~*~*~*~*~

Kid sat staring at the boot so gruffly held in his hand as he ran the brush across it. The days dust had embedded deeply into the stretched fabric that showed the obvious wear it had encountered through out the past 6 months of use. As he brushed away he noted that the room had become quit hot despite its dark interior. The bright summer sun had turned the normally dank surroundings into a sweat inducing sauna and this realization brought him to the conclusion of why he had found himself alone in the room.

Perhaps it was the thought of the fiery red-headed Irish beauty that kept him planted on his bunk as the perspiration began to gather on his lip, the heat now taking its toll on his adrenaline fixed body that rushed with happy endorphins as the memories of the earlier moments flooded his mind. He couldn't help but unconsciously laugh as he readjusted himself on the bed, the pain in his rear from yesterday's tumbling act being set off by the lumpy surface beneath him. Her giggle repeated in his ear causing the tingling sensation she normally had on him to return to his entire body. He stared, dazed at the brush and boot that he found were no longer touching due to his flourishing thoughts and realized he had forgotten the task.

"Kid?"

He finally looked up keenly aware of the annoyed tone in the voice questioning his presence. The tone seemed almost of frustration, perhaps at the fact that it was not the first time his name had been called.

"Kid? Hello?" Lou repeated.

Kid shook himself out of his daze placing his hand over his eyes to shade them from the intruding sun.

"Hey Lou. Sorry," he replied though he didn't at all sound as if he actually was.

She watched him from the confines of the bunkhouse doorway, the sunlight from the outside casting a shadow from her slender body onto his face. His eyes returned back to his dingy boot as he once again dragged the bristles across the leather. He paid no attention as Lou approached the table, sat and faced him. She was quite aware that he was giving her the cold shoulder. She couldn't exactly blame his need to focus his attention elsewhere, but she entered the room with a question to be answered and she wasn't leaving until she got it. As she moved her attention from his boot to his face the smile he exuded could have lit the room of its own accord.

"What's got you smiling so wide?" she wondered aloud partly hoping that maybe it was her presence.

As he once again shook himself aware she realized that it had little to do with her. He cleared his throat in preparation of his answer.

"Nothing."

"Come on, Kid. Something's got your mind in a flutter," she stated.

He shook his head at her making sure to keep his smile to himself and his eyes directed anywhere but hers. He was actually getting slightly frustrated that she of all people was pushing him for answers about anything. She had no right to be questioning him about his life.

"Nothing I want to talk about right now," the smile quickly left behind with his sharp, cold words.

Lou knew that this turn in tone was Kid voicing his spite for her and feeling the words like a knife to her gut, she couldn't help but re-evaluate the purpose of her sitting there with him. She dropped her eyes to the floor and quickly became tongue tied.

"Was there something you wanted, Lou?" he questioned, his eyes boring into her downward turned eyelids.

He knew her well enough to know she didn't come in here to make small talk. There had been no intentional conversation between the two of them in weeks other than the normal dinner chit chat that neither generally directed toward the other. Kid had found himself more than once keeping his opinions from the group on issues brought to the table simply to avoid the possible chiming in of his ex and her new lover. Lover? That word sent a sense of disgust racing through his veins and he now became even more agitated with her being in such a close proximity to him, alone.

She hesitated her response.

"I thought I did, but now I'm not too sure."

Eager to escape his growing anger he put his boot beside the left post of his bunk and stood placing himself within inches of her seated knees. Lou noticed the uncomfortable sensation between them, but knew that if she didn't take this opportunity now she would be stuck in the same self loathing situation she had found herself in sitting alone contemplating in the barn. She stood from the table catching his arm before he turned to the door.

She now found herself in the uncomfortable but familiar position of her body almost pressing directly against his. Her eyes met his chest and she stood mesmerized, wafting in the scent of his musk and sweat, a scent she had come to revel in sleeping with his musk covered pillow all those nights she had to sleep without him in the bunk below her. His broad build and strong arms kept her eyes stuck intently ahead of her. She dropped her hold on him.

Just as she was lost in the moment, he could feel the warmth her tiny body emitted as it came oh so close to his. Her hair being placed at nose level giving off a smell he came to cherish whenever he could partake of it. The auburn brown of it catching his attention and for a brief moment he had to fight the urge to wrap his arms around her; that simple and normal occurrence now being anything but. She turned her soft brown eyes to his and he became lost in them as he had so many times before. The flash of another pair of brown eyes on a face he had recently come to despise shook him from the intense experience and he pulled away from her longing gaze.

"I have chores to tend to," once again using the cold non-caring tone to mask the feelings he pushed deep inside.

"I came to talk, Kid," she pointed out.

"Well, I'm here. Talk," he non-chalantly stated.

She in turn pulled away from him and took a seat on the table figuring that it would put her a little higher up than returning to the bench. It didn't appear as if Kid would be relaxing anytime soon and she figured he would probably remain standing until she finally came out with the topic. She took in a slow breathe.

"I want to talk about love," there was no other way to start the conversation coming to mind.

She watched as he wrinkled his brow in confusion. He opened his mouth to reply and she tried to think of something to follow the statement up to no avail.

"That is not a conversation I want to have with you," he pointed out turning to the bunkhouse door.

She was able to grab his attention before he got to the handle.

"You said you wanted to be friends, right?" she asked.

He refused to turn around but addressed her question.

"Yes, I did, but I really don't think I'm the one you should be coming to if you're having problems with Jimmy," not holding back the irritation in his statement.

"I wasn't talking about Jimmy. I was talking about you."

The subject dawned on him sending him flying into immediate anger at the possible conversation Lou thought she had a right to have with him. She goes and runs off with another man and thinks she has some right to confront him about his love life. Can she possibly be anymore selfish? He turned beaming his intent eyes into hers.

"So, Jimmy told you about Shannon? Of course, why wouldn't he?" knowingly asking a rhetorical question.

"Shannon?" she wondered aloud. "You two are unbelievable."

"Shannon O'Keefe?" the name of the only Shannon she knew escaping her lips.

"You both seem to think you have some right to my business," Kid continued his rant. "Well, you don't and I'd appreciate it if you'd just stayed out of it. Neither of you have a say in anything I do."

He allowed his hand to finally grasp the handle he had been stopped from reaching earlier and stomped out the main door. Lou stood lost to the name that had so brutally slapped her in the face. Her eyes stayed locked on the splintered wood of the door that separated her from that blazing sun she had been trying to escape. The scorching white light she felt she had no right to now radiated onto the man who had so abruptly slashed at her heart with the mention of a new love. Love? She had entered that room to find out about love and she had received her answer with a door slam and a rude awakening attached.

She had to get out, but she couldn't move. Her feet were molded to the floor as the name stabbed into her brain like a sharpened blade. Shannon O'Keefe. She could have dealt with his lack of love toward her, but she wasn't prepared for him to admit loveā€¦for someone else. The once lustrous sun that she had tried so hard to hide from now beckoned her presence. She pulled with all the force she could muster removing her feet from their invisible restraints. She jolted forward, flinging the door open and forcing herself back out into the dreaded sunlight and away from the room that echoed her name. Shannon.

Chapter 4

Anger ravaged her as the name repeated relentlessly in her head. Dust kicked up around her enraged form as the presence of the beaming sun was quickly forgotten for the coral fence that now became the focus of her anger. As her hands and feet came in contact with the splintered wood she began to imagine the face of a stranger taking the harsh blows instead. How could she be so stupid to think that for a brief moment he could have been happy because of her? That sweet little smirk was due to the recollection of his time spent with another woman. Not just another woman, Shannon O'Keefe.

The dust she continued to kick up soon became a thick fog surrounding her and as her angered gasps became stronger she began to wheeze heavily. The dust soon filled her lungs and she quickly found herself on her knees violently gasping for breath. Trying to calm herself she opened her eyes to reach out for the fence, but found that her sight was blocked by the tears bursting from them. Whether the tears were flowing because of the dust or the outburst that lead to it she didn't know, but either way she was unable to steady herself. To her relief her hand found the warmth of another's to latch on to helping her to her feet and pulling her away from the choking haze.

"You alright?" Buck questioned through worried gaze.

Lou continued to fight through the tears and the painful hacking as she turned her eyes toward his face and negatively nodded her unhappiness. Buck could see the pain in her eyes and guided her once again to the ground leaning her toward the barn wall. From behind, more dust was kicked up by a steadfastly approaching Rachel and Ike. Both leaned down to match eyes with the still crying Lou trying desperately to find out what was wrong.

Feeling extremely awkward and slightly embarrassed Lou pushed the tears from her face. Streaks of beige and brown cascaded across her rosy cheeks.

"I'm fine," she managed to get out.

*Are you sure?* Ike signed with Buck repeating for emphasis knowing Lou was still having problems seeing.

She nodded her assurance as she braced the ground to stand. She found herself unable to look the threesome in the eyes too embarrassed by her reaction to the unexpected news. She allowed herself to look the fool twice in five minutes and unconsciously shook her head in recognition of the situation letting a few stifled coughs out on the way up.

"You scared me to death. The way that Ike came crashing into the house, I was sure one of you was dying," Rachel added.

"I just got some dirt caught in my throat. I'm fine now," she stumbled forward to escape the deep stares.

The three let her push through unsure what to say to their troubled friend. Rachel passed a glance to both of the boys as she broke through them to follow Lou. The two took the hint and kept their feet firmly planted as they allowed Rachel to deal with the disheartening situation.

"Louise, wait " Rachel yelled in the direction of the loudly stomping rider.

Lou slowed up enough to allow Rachel to join her on her self loathing walk of shame.

"I'm such an idiot," Lou exclaimed. "This whole time I was thinking about him, he was busy thinking about someone else."

Rachel wasn't sure if this outburst was meant for her to hear or if she was intruding on a painful moment of reflection for the distraught girl. She took the following silence as her cue to add her two sense in.

"Jimmy is interested in another woman?" she question.

The daggers Lou's eyes threw Rachel caused her to pause in her tracks realizing the it wasn't that particular male to which Lou was referring. Lou finished her stampede toward the house abruptly stopping at the foot of the front stoop.

"Kid?" Rachel once again attempted to question.

Lou froze in her spot at the tone in which Rachel asked the question; the tone that gave away her disappointment in the topic at hand. The two had talked many nights about how Lou had moved on with her life and had found a new love. Rachel had repeatedly asked her if she was sure and Lou wouldn't hesitate to confirm her stance. She was now revealing that the opposite was true and had been even through all those long conversations.

Lou planted herself on the top of the stoop and allowed the cold silence to sweep over her. She turned her gaze out to the empty station that sat in view lit by the calming afternoon light that was quickly becoming masked by the grey cloud cover. A few more raspy coughs escaped her chest as she tried to calm down the feeling of doubt and hate coursing through her veins. Rachel followed through with the echo of nature around them as she too gazed out into the darkening sky trying to find the right words to address the situation. Lou didn't give her much time to put those words together.

"Shannon O'Keefe," Lou blurted out.

Rachel let the realization of the name Lou had revealed pass over her.

"The young lady working for Tompkins?"

Lou turned once again passing Rachel an enraged glare as she unintentionally kicked up more dust with her every heavy footed movements.

"The whore working for Tompkins." Lou stated not giving a second thought to how using that word made her appear.

Rachel was taken back by how quickly Lou spit out that word and exactly how venomous it sounded. Lou needed to calm down if anything was going to be discussed, but at that moment it seemed like it would be easier to wrangle rattles snakes than to get her to sit down.

To be continued...

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