"Uncle Kid, Uncle Kid."
Kid turned to see his eldest nephew, Ike, running towards him. He straightened himself, and readied his arms to pick the boy up. He smiled as the boy threw himself into his arms and giggled as Kid tickled him.
Kid put the boy back down and ruffled his hair affectionately. "Where's your Ma?" he asked.
"She's resting in the house. She said I could come here and help you and Pa."
"She did?" Buck asked as he came to stand by them.
Kid couldn't help but chuckle at his friend's annoyed face.
Ike nodded proudly. "She said that I keep waking her and Camille up, and that I should help you out with the horses."
Buck grunted something and walked back inside the barn.
"Come with me, Ike, let's see if Cody's managed to tame that horse."
The boy clapped his hands excitedly. "Uncle Kid," he started, "when will you teach me how to ride?"
"You will have to ask your father that, Ike. He can teach you."
"But you're the best, Uncle Kid, even Ma said so."
Kid chuckled at the boy's antics. "Well, don't let your father hear you say that."
"Why?" the five-year-old looked confused.
"Just don't," Kid smiled and patted Ike's head.
"Hey, Ike, what's going on?" Cody called as they neared him.
"Uncle Kid is going to teach me how to ride a horse," Ike answered proudly.
"Is that so?" Cody asked, winking at Kid who shook his head desperately.
Ike nodded eagerly. "Have you tamed the horse yet, Uncle Cody?"
"Not yet, your Uncle Jimmy wanted to have a go at him too, by the way, Kid, have you seen him?"
"I think he's at the other corral. He said something about hiring a new hand; I think he's doing some interview or something."
"Well, excuse me, I promised my wife I'd come check on her," he told them as he started towards his house.
"How is she feeling?" Kid asked.
"Like she's ready to explode," Cody grinned. "Too bad she still has a couple of weeks to go."
"Well, if that baby's anything like its father, I expect him to make an early appearance," Kid mumbled.
"I heard that," Cody called back, the grin never faltering.
"Well, Ike, looks like it's just you and I," Kid smiled at the boy.
"Can you teach me how to ride, now?" Ike asked excitedly.
"Well… I don't know…" Kid tried to think of an excuse.
"Kid, can you help me for a second?"
Kid sighed in relief as he heard Kaitlin, Jimmy's wife, call out for him. He turned to her and smiled as he saw her coming down the stairs, her four-year-old son at her heels, while she held her two-year-old daughter on her hip.
"Sure, what is it?" he asked.
"Can you please hitch the buckboard for me? I have to take Hannah to the doctor's office and I can't find Jimmy."
"He's at the corral," Kid commented. "I'll get the buckboard for you. Is everything alright with Hannah?" he asked as they went towards the stable.
"Yes, it's a routine checkup. Nothing to worry about."
"Do you want me to take you there?"
"No, thanks, Kid," Kaitlin answered and put her hand on his arm. "But I would love it if you could keep an eye on James Jr. for me."
"No problem," Kid smiled; he loved his nephews and nieces. Having no children of his own, he adored his 'brothers' children. They, their wives, and children were his only family, along with Teaspoon and Rachel.
After a couple of minutes, he watched as Kaitlin drove the buckboard expertly out of the yard. He gazed around at the homestead. The four of them, himself, Buck, Cody and Jimmy started a horse ranch together after the Pony Express closed. They bought a big scope of land, not far from the old station, where Rachel and Teaspoon still resided, now as husband and wife, and proud grandparents to the four little ones. Cody went off to scout for the army during the war, but they all kept his share of the profits for him. Being family, they never measured and bickered over the equality of the workload. They all did what had to be done, and they all had their more laid-back moments.
Now, after just over six years, their ranch, The Ex-Riders was one of the most profitable ranches in the territory, which made them immensely proud. The four remaining riders of the Sweetwater-Rock Creek Pony Express outfit, who started out as strangers, became a united family, honorable partners, and respectable citizens.
Their ranch had three big corrals full of horses; each corral had its own stable attached to it. A smaller corral and stable for their personal use stood a little closer to their houses. There was also a huge barn in which they stored all their supplies and equipment. A bunkhouse for the ranch hands stood to the right of the stables. They usually had about four employees, but one of the older hands got married a week before and left with his wife westward.
In front of Kid was Cody's house, where he lived with Caroline, his wife of two years. Cody met Caroline on his way to Rock Creek after the war. She had lost her husband over a year before in the war and was heading west to start her new life. Caroline was due in a couple of weeks with their first child, and Kid couldn't remember Cody ever being this happy before.
Next to Cody's house stood Buck's. Buck and Jenny married six years ago, a short couple of weeks after she returned from her family back east to stay with her father in Rock Creek. They gave him his first nephew, Ike, named after their friend, and Camille, their two-year-old daughter, named after Buck's childhood friend.
Behind Kid was Jimmy and Kaitlin's house. Jimmy met Kaitlin on his final run for the Pony Express to Seneca. He was mesmerized by her and couldn't stop thinking about her even after he came back to Rock Creek. The rest of them were so fed up with his unending talk about her that they made him go back there and introduce himself. Kid chuckled as he remembered accompanying Jimmy to make sure he went through with it. Kaitlin needed some persuasion, but after a few visits to Seneca, she agreed to let Jimmy court her. Jimmy moved to Seneca for a couple of months to stay close to her, until she agreed to marry him and they returned to Rock Creek together. They now had two beautiful children, James Jr., and Hannah.
Next to the Hickoks' house was his own one-room cottage. He sighed as his gaze lingered on the small structure. He loved his friends and their families, but he longed to have his own someday, and the longer the time that passed, the more he doubted it would ever happen.
Shouts woke him from his reverie. He saw Ike and James arguing in the middle of the yard.
"What's going on here?" he heard Jimmy bellow right next to him, and felt a slap on his back.
The two boys jumped in their place, silenced.
"What are you fighting about?" Jimmy asked, eyeing Kid suspiciously. Something's bothering him lately, he thought.
"Ike said that Kid is the best rider," James explained angrily, "And I told him that it was you."
"No!" Ike exclaimed. "Even my Ma said that Kid is the best rider. She said your Pa is the best shot."
Kid and Jimmy exchanged amused looks. "Good thing Cody and Buck aren't here," Kid mumbled.
Jimmy snickered, but turned serious when he noticed Kid's gloomy stance. "Are you alright, Kid?" he asked concerned.
Kid nodded. "Just thinking, Jimmy. So, how was that interview going?" he changed the subject.
Jimmy didn't buy his friend's response but knew better than to insist. Kid would come and talk to him when he was ready and not a second sooner. "I hired him," he said simply.
Kid whistled in surprise. Jimmy was usually the more demanding of them all when it came to hiring new hands, and he seldom employed anyone, it was usually one of the other three that handled the interviews, but since they were all busy when the candidate arrived, Jimmy had to handle it. Kid was positive now that the man was more than capable for the job, if he passed Jimmy's interview.
"Where's dinner tonight?" Kid asked, watching Ike running towards his father who was walking idly towards them.
"Buck's," Jimmy answered.
"What about me?" Buck smiled.
"Just wanted to know when we're eating tonight," Kid answered.
"Jenny's nervous about it since her father is also coming tonight," Buck commented, "at least Teaspoon and Rachel will be here too."
Jimmy grinned, but Kid just looked at the ground, shuffling his feet absentmindedly. Buck and Jimmy exchanged confused and worried glances. It struck them as odd how their friend never found anyone after his former girlfriend left with another man over seven years ago. They were still riding for the express from Sweetwater when a new schoolteacher arrived. Kid was smitten with Samantha from the first moment he saw her. She was a southern belle, and it seemed they had a lot in common. Kid courted her for a month before an old acquaintance of hers popped in town. At first, she continued her relationship with Kid as before, but a week later, when Kid arrived at her house, ready to propose, he found that she was gone. Not even a letter to explain herself.
Kid was devastated and never saw another woman after that. A lot of the girls in Sweetwater sighed in relief when they first heard that he was single again, and also in Rock Creek, he always had girls dreaming of him, hoping he would ask them to the town's social. But Kid remained aloof. He felt that after Samantha, every girl would be just second best. He also doubted he would ever be able to trust a woman like that. True, he loved his "brothers'" wives as if they were his own sisters. And then there was Rachel, who was like a mother to him, but he couldn't think of any woman he would be able to trust and love like he did Samantha.
"Buck Cross, you come here, now!" a shout from Buck's house was heard.
Buck smiled sheepishly, and ran towards his house and angered wife.
Jimmy chuckled and patted Kid's back. "Have you seen my wife?" he asked. "It's too quiet here…"
Kid smiled. "She took Hannah to the doctor's," he answered flatly. "Jimmy, do you mind watching over the boys? I want to wash some before dinner."
"Sure," Jimmy smiled.
"I tell you, that man is one of the best I've ever seen. You should see him riding a horse, as if he'd been doing this his whole life," Jimmy told them of the new hand he employed that afternoon.
"I still can't believe you've hired anyone," Cody commented from across the table, where he sat next to his wife.
"And it's not just that he knows how to ride. I've seen men ride before. What blew me away was that someone this small could ride like he did. At first I thought he was just a boy, but he told me he was twenty."
"Some men are like that," Teaspoon said, "Puny but spry."
"Well, he's puny alright," Jimmy smiled.
"Why did you hire him then?" Buck questioned.
"He's also spry," Jimmy winked.
"What's his name?" Kid asked.
"Lou," Jimmy answered and took another bite of his steak. "Lou McCloud."
"So, when is he starting?" Kid asked.
"He's already sleeping in the bunkhouse tonight. Should start tomorrow," Jimmy answered. "Where do you think he should start?"
"I don't mind starting with him," Cody chimed in. "I'd be happy with the help."
"Of course you would," Buck answered sarcastically.
"It's only reasonable that he'd learn Cody's chores first. We don't know when Caroline will have the baby and Cody will have to help her…" Jenny interfered.
Her husband broke into laughter. "Haven't you gotten to know Cody by now, sweetheart?"
Jenny blushed at Buck's comment, but Caroline smiled at her. "They're right, Jenny. I love my husband, but he's not the most diligent out of the four of them," she whispered.
When they finished their dinner, everyone went to sit in the parlor. Kid stayed with Jenny to clean the dishes. It was a usual routine. At first the women used to object to him helping them, saying they could handle it by themselves, but soon they understood - it was his way to 'repay' them. They knew he often felt awkward with his single status around them. Every Sunday and Wednesday they ate dinner together. Other nights it was each family in their own house, with Kid either alone or with the Hunters. Him helping out with the dishes after dinner, was his way to participate in their ritual dinners.
"So, how are you, Kid?" Jenny asked. She too noted that he was even quieter than usual, if that was possible.
Kid shrugged as he handed her the wet plate to dry. "Fine, I guess."
"Don't give me that, Kid. I know you better than that."
Kid smiled at her. Jenny had a way of knowing when he was upset. "It's my birthday," he confessed.
"Kid," she exclaimed. "Why didn't you say something?"
Kid shrugged again.
"I hate it when you do that," Jenny scolded him as if he were her five-year-old son.
"Do what?" he looked perplexed.
"Shrug your shoulders like that. It makes me feel like I'm talking to Ike."
"Sorry," Kid smiled sheepishly. "I just don't like talking about it."
"You don't like talking about anything, Kid," she smiled warmly at him. "So, are you coming to the town dance next weekend?" though she knew what his answer would be, she thought it would make a good subject change.
Kid sighed and smiled at her. "You are so transparent, Jenny. You know I never go to those events."
"But maybe you should. I'll dance with you, and Kaitlin will too, not to mention all the other giggling girls," she smiled. "Come on, it will be fun."
Kid kissed the top of her head. He knew Jenny cared a lot about him, they all did. He felt ashamed at being so jealous of them. He knew he was gloomier every year at his birthday - he couldn't help himself. "Thank you, Jenny. I'll think about it."
She knew he wouldn't and he knew she knew, but neither said anything. They finished the dishes in silence.
"Jenny, please don't say anything about it," Kid pleaded with her, just before they joined the others in the parlor.
"I won't, Kid," she promised, "but you know they will all be happy to know."
"I know, but I don't want them to."
Jenny nodded and they entered the parlor.
Kaitlin was already in bed when Jimmy entered their bedroom. He stripped and climbed into bed, pulling her closer to him. "What do you say we start working on making another baby?" Jimmy whispered as he kissed her shoulder.
Kaitlin laughed as she let him undress her.
"What's so funny?" Jimmy asked.
"Well, I don't mind the working part, but we're three months too late about the making baby part," she answered.
Jimmy stopped his kissing and started right at her face. "You mean to tell me…"
"Are you sure?"
"When I was at the doctor's I asked him to check on me too. I had my suspicions, and he confirmed."
"That's wonderful." Jimmy exclaimed. "Why didn't you say something at dinner?"
"Because I wanted to tell you first, and because Kid didn't look like he would like to hear that tonight. Did you see him? He looked sadder than usual."
Jimmy sighed and rolled to his back, his desire to make love to his wife leaving him. "I don't know how to get through to him. With every year that passes, every day, he seems to close up more. I tried to speak with him today, but he managed to avoid answering."
"Well, we just have to be there for him when he does decide to speak," Kaitlin sighed and kissed her husband. "But, maybe it will be good if you told him first about the baby, give him time to digest it."
"Kid, hey Kid," Jimmy called as he ran to his best friend's side as he walked over to the stable.
"'Morning, Jimmy," Kid answered. "Something important? I just wanted to take Katy for a little ride."
"Well, I wanted you to be the first to know," Jimmy smiled. "Kaitlin is going to have a baby."
"Another baby?" Kid exclaimed. "That's wonderful, Jimmy, congratulations."
"Thanks," Jimmy said. "If you'd tell me your name and it's a boy, I'd name him after you."
"I wouldn't want to do that to your son," Kid smiled. "I'll see you later, ok? Tell Kaitlin I'm really happy for you."
Jimmy nodded as he watched Kid enter the stable. That went well, Jimmy thought just before he watched Kid riding out.
Rachel and Teaspoon exchanged worried glances. Kid was sitting at their table, picking at his food, not uttering a single word the whole dinner.
"Son," Teaspoon started. "You know you can tell us anything."
Kid lifted his gaze from his plate to find both Teaspoon and Rachel looking at him intently. He smiled at them, knowing he will not be able to evade them as he did his friends. "It was my birthday yesterday," he blurted.
"Oh, Kid I'm so sorry, I totally forgot. Why didn't you say something sooner? We'd have bought you something," Rachel rose and gave him a tight hug.
"Thank you, Rachel, but I don't need anything," Kid returned the hug. "My mother was my age when she had me," he continued.
Rachel and Teaspoon remained silent, waiting for him to continue at his own pace.
"I always thought I'd have a big family. That I'd meet some nice girl, get married and have lots of children. When I met Samantha, I thought that this was my chance, but I was wrong. The problem is, I still love her. She still fills my dreams. How will I ever be able to meet another girl, not to mention fall in love with one? She hurt me so much, she's really messed me up. And above all, I feel guilty for feeling so jealous. Jimmy just told me this morning that Kaitlin is going to have another baby. I couldn't even be happy for him. I love them all so much, but I want some of that too," Kid finished with a sob, shamefully covering his face with his hands.
Rachel sat by his side and pulled him to her chest, rocking him as if he were a child. She kissed his head and turned her teary eyes to her husband.
Kid cried for a long hour. He was exhausted and out of tears. Rachel made the bed for him in the guest room and Teaspoon helped him up.
Teaspoon came downstairs and sat next to his wife, putting his arm around her shoulders.
"It's so hard seeing him like this, Teaspoon. He's such a good man. He doesn't deserve this."
Teaspoon held Rachel as she cried herself to sleep. He laid her on the sofa and covered her with the quilt. He kissed the top of her head and headed up to his room. He hated seeing any one of his boys this miserable, but Kid had always had a special place in his heart, ever since he asked for Teaspoon's advice when he just started courting Samantha. In a way, Teaspoon felt responsible for Kid's heartbreak, even though he could never have guessed how his relationship with her would end.
The next morning Kid came back to the ranch. No one asked for explanations and none were given.
"Morning, Kid," Cody greeted cheerfully as Kid entered the stable with Katy. "Missed you here yesterday. You should have seen that new hand Jimmy hired."
"What about him?" Kid asked unenthusiastically.
"Ike and James Jr. were left stunned by him. He's even better than you," Cody grinned and slapped Kid's back.
Kid smiled sheepishly. "At least now Ike will have someone else to bug over riding lessons."
"Don't bet on it," Buck came out from one of the stalls. "You're still his favorite uncle."
Kid looked shyly at the ground. "Anything new around here besides Mr. Best Rider Ever?"
Cody shook his head and laughed. "Don't take it too hard, Kid. We still need you around here."
After Kid tended to Katy he went outside to start on his chores. He looked around the ranch and saw that small rider everyone was so excited about. He came closer, watching intently. He saw Ike and James Jr. watching the rider from the other end of the corral. He smiled as he noticed their mouths ajar and eyes almost popping out. Jimmy was standing next to them, talking to the rider. When Jimmy noticed Kid there he waved at him, which drew the new rider's attention. Jimmy motioned Kid to come closer.
"Lou McCloud, I'd like you to meet my partner, Kid," Jimmy said when Kid reached them.
"Nice to meet you," the young rider acknowledged in a low voice, and extended his hand for a shake, over the corral railings.
"Nice to meet you too," Kid shook the other man's hand, smiling as he noticed the man in front of him had to climb on the railings in order to reach him, "Welcome. I hope everything is to your liking."
"Oh, you have an amazing place here," the young man exclaimed, which caused both Jimmy and Kid to grin.
"We are very proud of it," Jimmy answered.
"Well, I'll leave you to it," Kid said and walked away.
Jimmy looked after him, but frowned when he saw his new employee staring at his friend as well. It was not a neutral look, there was something else… don't even go there, Jimmy thought and shook his head.
"Excuse me," Caroline waddled into the barn. She looked for her husband, but the only one there was the new hand. "Mr. McCloud, have you seen my husband anywhere?"
The new hand turned to see the heavily pregnant lady coming towards him. He averted his eyes from her and shook his head.
"I'm Caroline Cody," she smiled at him, though confused he wouldn't even acknowledge her. "Where can William be?" she asked no one in particular.
"Maybe he's at the stables," the man replied in a strangely low voice.
"I was just there…" Caroline started, but then something caught her eye. She circled the man, staring him directly in his eyes, then grabbed his hat and pulled it off.
Waves of soft brown hair dangled to the middle of the back of the young… man? "Who are you?" Caroline demanded of the stunned young woman standing in front of her.
The young woman fought the tears that threatened to spill out. She grabbed her hat back from the lady in front of her, pulled her long hair up and covered it with the hat. "My name is Lou McCloud. I work for your husband," she whispered.
"What is your full name?" Caroline asked.
"Louise. Louise McCloud."
"Well, Miss McCloud, what are you doing here? This is no job for a woman," Caroline said softly.
Lou averted her eyes again.
"Why are you here?" Caroline tried again.
"I'm here to work. Mr. Hickok gave me the job because he thought I was good at it."
"From what I've heard you're more than good," Caroline smiled.
Lou smiled back shyly. "Why shouldn't I do this then?" Lou questioned. "If I'm good at it, then that's it. It's all that counts."
"But you can get hurt."
"So can they," Lou replied vehemently.
Caroline nodded. "Why are you dressing like that?"
"Do you think Mr. Hickok would have hired me if he knew the truth?"
Caroline shook her head and smiled. "How long do you think of keeping it a secret?"
"As long as you'll let me," Lou met Caroline's eyes determinedly.
"I won't tell," Caroline smiled. "But if you wish to talk, you can always come to me."
"Thanks," Lou smiled sheepishly.
"How's it been in the bunkhouse with the other boys?" Caroline asked. "It must be hard on you."
"All it takes is adjustments," Lou smiled. "I'm getting to bed the last and wake up the first. The hair is what I'm afraid will give me in, but I can't bring myself to part with it."
Caroline smiled understandingly and patted her hand.
"There you are!"
Both women jumped at hearing Cody's voice booming from the entrance.
"I thought you ran off on me," he smiled as he neared his wife and hugged her waist lovingly.
Caroline kissed his lips. "I was looking for you and stumbled on Mr. McCloud here."
"I see you've met my wife, Lou. Isn't she the prettiest woman you've ever seen?" he grinned at the young man in front of him.
Lou nodded. "I should better get back to work, Mr. Cody," she replied in her low tone. "Ma'am," Lou addressed Caroline and tipped her hat.
"Call me Caroline," she smiled at her new friend.
Lou nodded and returned to her chores.
"So what was it that you wanted?" Cody asked as he watched Lou walk away.
"Just missed you," Caroline smiled and hugged her husband. "I'm tired of being cooped up in that house alone all day long."
"I know, sweetheart, but remember what the doctor told you - you have to take it easy. The baby will be here soon enough, and then you'll have plenty of running around, at all hours of the day," he smiled mischievously.
She swatted his shoulder lightly and laughed.
"Maybe I can go for a little ride," she started, forming an idea.
"You can't ride, Caroline," he reminded her.
"But I can sit on a buckboard. I just want out. I want to go to the creek, go anywhere. Please, Billy, maybe you can come with me," she pleaded, though she knew what his answer would be.
"You know I can't just go in the middle of the day, honey."
"What about someone else. Maybe Lou could take me there."
Cody pondered this for s second. "I don't know him that well…" he started to protest.
"He's harmless," Caroline smiled. "Come on, it's something I really want."
"You know I can never say no to you," Cody grinned and kissed her lips. "I'll ask him to accompany you. When do you want to leave?"
"Thank you," Lou said after a few minutes of driving quietly.
Caroline smiled. "I should be the one thanking you. I was sick of this damn ranch." Lou looked surprised at her, and Caroline giggled. "Don't get me wrong, I love the place, and I love our friends, but I haven't been out of there for so long…"
They both remained silent until Caroline started again. "So, Louise, tell me something about yourself."
Lou smiled at the woman next to her. There was so much to tell, but she'd only known this woman for a few hours, and although she seemed nice enough, Lou couldn't bring herself to confide in her.
"How come a girl as pretty as you isn't married?" Caroline asked.
"It's a little hard finding a man, dressed like this," Lou smiled in return. "I guess I haven't found anyone worth losing my disguise for."
"Where are you from?" Caroline continued. She was very curious about her younger friend. Not a lot of women will choose this kind of life Louise chose.
"I'm from a little farm outside of St. Joe," Lou answered curtly.
Caroline had a feeling there was more to it than Louise would let on, but felt it was too soon for her to push on the subject.
"I hope you'll like it here in Rock Creek. Maybe even find that someone worthy enough of you," Caroline smiled warmly.
"Can you tell me more about your ranch? You all seem to be very close to each other. Why is it called The Ex-Riders?"
"Well," Caroline began, "My husband, Jimmy, Kid and Buck all used to ride for the Pony Express. When the Express closed, they started this ranch. Buck and Jenny have two children, a boy and a girl; Jimmy and Kaitlin have a boy and a girl as well, and are expecting their third child. Billy and I are married for almost two years now, and this will be our first child," Caroline put a hand on her expanded belly.
Louise smiled at her. "What about the fourth partner?" she asked. "Isn't he married?"
Caroline looked intently at Lou, as if searching for something. "Kid is not married," she said finally.
Lou nodded, but sensed it wasn't a subject her friend would like to develop.
The first week passed quickly and Lou got to meet everyone at the ranch.
Her silent boss was an enigma. She couldn't quite figure out how a man as handsome as he was, was still single. He seemed nice enough, though he barely said a word to her. He showed her the horses he was in charge of, but he was all business and never once even seemed remotely interested in anything else.
She saw how he behaved with the others' children. He loved them and they obviously loved and adored him. At almost any given moment one of the boys was following him like a shadow. He played and laughed with them, and Lou realized the children were the only ones she'd ever seen him laugh with.
She shook her head, and laughed at her foolishness. What are you doing thinking of him, anyway? she scolded herself. He was her boss, and anyway, he would never know her true identity.
She couldn't wait for the evening to arrive that day. The town social was to take place and the thought of having some time for herself was too good to pass up. The other hands asked her if she wanted to come, but she declined all their persuasions. She knew no one would be around since her bosses were also attending, and she planned a quiet evening of bathing, reading and feeling girly.
She waved at her co-workers as they rode out and peeked out the window to see her employers and their wives drive their buckboards out of the yard. With all the commotion of the buckboards and the children's banter, she failed to notice that not everyone was on their way to the town's event.
Kid was on his way to his house from the stable in which he checked on Katy. The light in the bunkhouse caught his attention. He knew everybody was going to town, so he drew his gun and silently crept along the walls. He peeped through the window and his breath was caught in his chest.
Inside was a naked woman, entering a hot bath. The steam from the hot water engulfed her body as she sank into the water.
Kid had never seen a woman naked before and the sight thrilled him. He was confused and shocked at himself for keep staring into the room, but he couldn't tear his eyes from the sight before him.
He knew he didn't have anything to compare it with, but was certain this was the most beautiful woman in the world.
He realized his gun was still in his hand, and holstered it, still not taking his eyes off the woman in the room. He took a step back when suddenly she turned her head towards the window. Anger swept through him as he realized he knew that woman. His new employee, their new hand that Jimmy hired… is a woman, he shook his head and crept closer to the window again. He knew she would not be able to see him since he stood in the dark, and he wanted to make sure. Yes, he's definitely a 'her', he thought. He contemplated whether or not he should barge in at that moment and confront her, but his Southern upbringing won over his anger and he realized it wouldn't be proper for him to walk in on her while she was taking a bath. He turned and walked to his house. He would speak to the boys about it first thing in the morning, and then he would confront her.
Kid turned and twisted the whole night. Images of the young woman in the bunkhouse haunted his dreams. He dreamt of her face, her body. He even dreamt of kissing her beautiful mouth. At the break of dawn, Kid finally decided to get an early start. There was no use in trying to get any more sleep. He knew what he would dream about. He suddenly realized it was probably the first night in a long time he didn't dream of Samantha. He figured his friends would probably sleep later than usual after the previous night.
He walked into the stables and went to check on the horses. He was surprised to hear someone else, humming to himself. Kid followed the sound and to his dismay came face to face with none other than 'Mr.' McCloud.
"Good morning," Lou greeted, her voice low and her eyes averted.
Kid didn't answer. He knew that if he opened his mouth he would not be able to control himself, and he wanted to talk to his partners first, get their opinion on the matter. He turned his back to her and started out of the stable.
"Is there anything wrong, Mr. Kid?" Lou asked, surprised by his cold reaction to her greeting. While he was never talkative, he was never rude before either.
Kid turned and in a flash was in front of her. He was not able to control himself any longer. "What are you doing here?" he bellowed.
Lou took a step back, taken aback by his closeness and his tone. "What do you mean?" she asked, "Mr. Hickok hired me a week ago."
"What's your name?" Kid's voice was still booming.
"Lou McCloud, sir. You've already met me," the puzzled look on her face did nothing to appease him.
"Your real name. What is your real name?" he shouted.
"What do you mean?" she tried to sound as unaffected by his insinuations as she could. "This is my name."
"I know what you are," Kid told her, not shouting anymore, but the anger still very visible in his voice.
Lou took another step back. "W… what do you mean?" she asked, though the shudder in her voice gave her up.
Kid came closer to her and pulled her hat from over her head. She closed her eyes as the locks of hair flew over her shoulders. She felt the tears stinging her eyes under her closed lids.
"What are you doing here?" Kid asked again, his voice softer now, at her womanly appearance.
Lou opened her eyes and stared right into his. She prepared herself against the scorn she was sure she'd see in his eyes, but instead was surprised to see compassion and sadness inside the most amazing blue she'd ever seen.
"I came here to work," she finally answered. "I needed a job, and saw the advertisement for a hand on your ranch. I know horses, I've proven that, so I thought I'd apply."
"But it's not a proper job for a woman. You can't keep doing that."
"Why not? Aren't you pleased with the job I'm doing? I've pulled my weight around here like everybody else. You can't fire me just because I'm a woman," she said stubbornly.
Kid shook his head and smiled slightly. "What's your real name?"
"Louise," she smiled shyly back. "Louise McCloud."
"Nice to meet you, Louise," Kid smiled and extended his hand for her to shake.
"You've already met me," she laughed, but shook his hand anyway.
He kept staring at her and after a couple of seconds, she started to feel uneasy with his stare and shifted her weight some, her arms folded on her chest protectively. He looked into her eyes, and she felt like he was looking right into her soul.
They both jumped at the sound of Buck's greeting.
Lou was hidden behind Kid's larger body. She quickly grabbed her hat from his hand and put it on her head, tucking her hair under it.
"Morning Buck," Kid greeted. His earlier resolutions faltered now. He wasn't sure what he was going to do about her, but he knew he had to think about it some more. Maybe he ought to talk to her about it before he spoke with his friends. "How was last night?"
"The ladies enjoyed themselves," Buck answered with a smile as he came to stand by the two. "How was your night?"
"Uneventful," Kid said, and tried his best not to blush as he saw the realization hit Louise.
"You didn't go last night?" she asked horrified.
Buck chuckled. "Kid? He never goes anywhere."
"Excuse me," Lou excused herself and ran out of the stable.
"What's with him?" Buck asked.
Kid shrugged and followed Lou outside.
Kid hoped he would have another chance to speak with Louise later that day, but as soon as he walked out of the stable, Cody came running out of the house in his long johns and called for him to hurry and get the doctor since Caroline was in labor.
Actually, with the excitement of the new baby girl, Helen, and the work around the station he didn't get the opportunity to talk to Lou again in the next couple of days.
On the third day after their first conversation, Kid saw the perfect opportunity as he watched her mounting one of the horses and ride off. He knew this was her day off and so without drawing any attention to himself he saddled Katy and followed her. He didn't know where she was heading but her tracks weren't hard to follow.
He saw her horse grazing idly near the creek and dismounted Katy. He knew he should probably let her know he was there, but something inside urged him to keep sneaking soundlessly.
The sight of her washing in the creek astounded him. She stood with her back to him, the water lapping at her waist, her wet hair glistening in the sun. His conscience won and he turned away and walked back to where the horses stood.
He sat on the grass, his back resting against a tree. His mind was racing in all directions. He couldn't stop thinking about her. Last night, before he fell asleep he realized he was hoping for the dreams that filled his sleep the last couple of nights. He couldn't even remember why he was so in love with Samantha to begin with. She was nowhere as beautiful as Louise, but it wasn't just that. There was something about the young woman masquerading as a boy that intrigued him like nothing ever did before. He felt himself drawn to her and wanted to know everything about her.
He was so caught up in his thoughts, he never noticed her coming towards him, until she cast a shadow on him.
He looked up sheepishly. "Hi," he smiled.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, sitting beside him. She had no doubt he was there for her.
"I wanted to talk to you," he answered honestly.
"What about?" she decided not to make things too easy for him. She knew she was taking a risk, him being her boss and all, but something about him stirred something she'd never felt before. She waited impatiently for the moment he would speak to her again.
"I wanted to apologize for the way I behaved the other day. It's just that I was so surprised to find out about you, and… I guess I was angry and confused…"
"How did you find out about me?" Lou had a feeling it had more to do with the night of the town social than it did with Caroline telling him.
Kid blushed and cleared his throat. "That night when everyone went to town, I thought I was the only one left at the ranch. When I saw a light in the bunkhouse I went to check on it…" he let his voice trail off. He sneaked a glance at Louise and saw that she was blushing as well.
"How much did you see?" she whispered.
"Enough," he answered. "Enough to see how beautiful you are."
She turned surprised to him, and he smiled at her. "You are beautiful," he repeated.
Lou blushed again and averted her eyes, but he put his finger under her chin and turned her to face him again. He smiled sheepishly and lowered his head to kiss her. He lingered on her soft lips for only a second before he pulled away. He smiled when he saw her closed eyes and relaxed features. She opened her eyes slowly and smiled back at him. He took her smile as an approval to go on and kissed her again, this time more intimately.
They pulled away at the sound of one of the horses neighing. Both blushed and looked away. After a minute, Kid broke the silence. He cleared his throat. "Are you going to stay?" he asked.
"Unless you want me to go," she whispered, afraid of his answer.
"No, I don't," Kid replied quickly. "I want you to stay, but I don't know how I feel about you staying in the bunkhouse with those men."
"This is my home now," she retorted. "Where do you expect me to stay?"
"What about your friends?" Lou asked.
Kid looked at her. "I don't want to tell them yet," he answered.
"Caroline knows," Lou confessed.
"What?" Kid exclaimed. "How does she know?"
It was Lou's turn to shrug. "She just does."
"Did she tell Cody?" Kid asked.
"I don't think so, but I can't be sure. He didn't say anything to me."
Kid thought about it for a moment. "Still," he finally said. "I don't want the rest to know just yet."
"Why?" Lou questioned.
Kid looked at her intently, as if trying to read her thoughts. "Because I want to understand this," he replied. When he saw she didn't quite understand he continued honestly, "it's been a while since I've been involved with someone. I know they are all very worried about me, but I want to be sure about us first."
"What about us?" Lou asked, her voice husky with emotion.
Kid smiled at her and caressed her hair. He then cupped her cheek in the palm of his hand. "Ever since I first find out about you I can't stop thinking about you," he confessed. "It's been a while since I've felt anything like that, but I'm pretty sure what it means."
Lou closed her eyes and rubbed her cheek against his hand. She kissed his palm and opened her eyes, smiling at him.
Kid smiled and kissed her again, pulling her onto his lap. When they broke the kiss, they sat in silence for a long moment. Kid caressed her soft hair, while her head rested against his chest, her hand on his arm.
"I'd better get back," Kid said reluctantly, gently pushing her from him.
Lou rose to her feet and helped him up. Kid pulled her into another hug, unable to walk away from her just yet. He kissed the top of her head and mounted Katy. "I'll see you later," he smiled and rode back to the ranch.
Lou followed him with her eyes until she couldn't see him anymore. She put a finger to her lips, savoring the feeling of his lips on hers.
Kid's mood was much better at dinner that evening. They were all gathered at the Codys', celebrating the new baby. Rachel, Kaitlin and Jenny all prepared the dinner and the three of them also took care of the cleaning, ushering the rest of them, including Kid, out.
"Kid's in a better mood," Rachel remarked as she gathered the dirty plates.
"I noticed that too," Jenny smiled. "He actually talked tonight."
"Did you ever find out what it was that bothered him lately?" Kaitlin asked.
"It's was his twenty-fifth birthday last week," Rachel confided.
"It was?" Kaitlin exclaimed. "Why didn't he say anything? We would have celebrated it."
"He didn't want to make a fuss," Rachel replied. She felt a little guilty for repeating Kid's reasons, which he confided to her and Teaspoon. "It brought some sad memories for him," she said simply.
Jenny and Kaitlin knew better than to dwell on it.
"I know what," Jenny exclaimed suddenly. "Why don't we throw him a birthday party?"
"I don't know…" Rachel replied.
"Yes!" Kaitlin smiled excitedly. "That's a great idea. It doesn't have to be something big, just a family celebration for him."
The girls' enthusiasm was contagious and soon the three women began to plot.
The next couple of days couldn't pass fast enough for Kid's liking. He and Buck left on a planned trip to Buck's brother's village to purchase some horses. Kid's thoughts were filled of Louise, the few moments they shared and their kisses. He feared his friends' reactions when they found out about her true identity, but there was nothing he could do about it now.
When they finally came back home, he couldn't find her anywhere. He didn't have much chances to look either, with all the horses they bought that needed taking care of.
Later, after dinner, Kid was sitting with Jimmy and Cody on Jimmy's porch. He eyed the bunkhouse, carefully so his friends won't get suspicious. He only half listened to Cody's banter, his mind on the beautiful woman in the bunkhouse. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the door of the bunkhouse open and a small figure emerge. He looked at his friends to see if any of them noticed, but they were too caught up in their conversation to see anything.
Kid stood and stretched. "Excuse me," he said, "It's been a long day. I'll go check on Katy and head to bed."
"'Night Kid." Jimmy and Cody called after him.
He waved his hand at them as he headed towards the stable. He wasn't sure she'd be there, but it was a start. He smiled when he saw her near Katy's stall. He hurried across the stable and picked her up in his arms when he reached her. He kissed her deeply, letting her know from his kiss how much he missed her.
"I missed you too," she laughed when he broke the kiss.
He put her down and took her hand in his, leading her into an empty stall. He sat on the hay, pulling her to sit on his lap. He kissed her again, this time more softly.
"How was your trip?" Lou asked when he broke for air.
"Good," he mumbled, searching for her lips again.
Lou giggled and wriggled out of his embrace. She sat across from him and laughed when he feigned an insulted face.
He crawled to her and was almost hovering above her. Her breath caught in her chest, she waited for him to make the next move. He stared in her eyes and smiled mischievously. "I missed you so much," he said huskily.
"Me too," she smiled.
Kid lay on the hay next to her and pulled her down to lie next to him, his arm around her shoulders, her head resting on his. "You know, basically I know nothing about you," he commented.
"What do you want to know?"
"Why are you here," he started and quickly continued. "I know, you told me you were here to work, but this is not the obvious job for a woman. Why not do something more traditional?"
"Why should I?" she asked, getting a little angry. "I'm good enough, I've proven that. This is as good a job as any, Kid."
Kid held up his hands in surrender. "I didn't say you can't do the job, Louise, but you have to admit, it's not the most fitting job for a woman. Otherwise you wouldn't have to disguise yourself."
Lou knew he was right, and even though they didn't know each other for long, she knew she could trust him. "I ran away from an orphanage outside of St. Joe. I left my younger brother and sister there. I was fifteen when I left them to look for a job and maybe someday have enough money to buy someplace for us. I couldn't find anything at first."
"It was getting colder and I was hungry and cold and this man came and offered me a job doing laundry in his fine establishment, as he put it. It took me a while to understand what kind of place it was, but by then I was so used to have my belly full and a bed to lie in at night, that I didn't care."
"One night, about a year after I came there, he said that I owed him for his generosity and decided to claim," Lou took a deep breath, unable to continue.
"Oh my God, Louise, what did he do to you?" Kid asked, tears in his throat.
Lou sobbed against his chest and he tightened his embrace. "The morning after it happened one of his ladies sneaked me out. I started dressing as a boy, at first to be able to escape him, but when I realized it was easier to find a job that way, I adopted the outfit."
"Well, regardless of the reasons, Louise, I'm glad you've ended up here," He said softly after she calmed down. "And I'm glad I found out your little secret."
"How about you, Kid?" she started. "I know nothing about you."
"There's nothing to know," Kid whispered.
"You told me the other day that you've felt this way before. Who was she? Where is she now?"
Kid swallowed the lump in his throat. He knew he owed her an explanation; he wanted to tell her, to come clean. "Her name is Samantha. I courted her a few years back. I went to her place to propose, when I found the place empty. She left with someone else, not even leaving a note to explain."
Lou propped her head on one hand so she could look at him as he spoke.
"I loved her very much, Louise," Kid continued, unable to meet her eyes. "I couldn't forget her no matter how much I tried and how much my family tried. That is until I saw you," he smiled at her and kissed her lips.
"I saw a lot that night," he grinned sheepishly at her and chuckled as she blushed. "I didn't mean to, but there you were and at first I couldn't bring myself to look away. Don't be embarrassed, Louise, you looked beautiful. I kept dreaming about you that night, even in my sleep I couldn't get you out of my head."
She smiled at him and rested her head on his chest.
"I know it's early, Louise, but I know what I feel. I'm not going to rush things, though. You can set the pace, that is, if you want to."
She didn't answer and he lifted his head to look at her. He smiled as he realized she'd fallen asleep. Probably didn't even hear a word I said, he thought.
He lay there with her next to him and felt his eyes begin to shut. He kissed her head and drifted off to sleep.
"Have you seen Kid, Buck?" Jimmy asked as he entered the stable the next morning.
"Not since we came back yesterday, why?"
"I can't find him anywhere. I stopped by his place this morning, but he wasn't there. Katy's here, where can he be?"
Kid stirred at the sound of voices. He thought he heard Jimmy's voice, but what was he doing in his room? He tried to get up and tell Jimmy to get out, when he realized there was someone sleeping next to him. He opened his eyes and smiled as he saw Louise and the previous night's event came back to his mind. Almost immediately he realized they over slept and that his friends were looking for him.
"Louise," he whispered and shook her shoulders gently, "Louise, honey, wake up."
"Uh?" she mumbled as she stirred. "Where are we?"
Kid chuckled at her expression. "We fell asleep here last night," he explained. When she tried to speak he put a finger on her lips. "Shsh, there are others in here, looking for me."
"What? Who?" she asked right before Buck's voice reached her.
"Maybe he's at Cody's."
"I don't know, Buck. He's behaving a little odd lately." They heard Jimmy's voice next.
"Did you talk to him?"
"I tried, Buck, but you know him. He doesn't talk. He's still brooding over Samantha."
Kid smiled as he felt Louise giggle silently. "Maybe I should let them know I'm here," he whispered. He felt uncomfortable eavesdropping on his friend's discussion about him. He knew they meant well, they were worried about him, and he figured he would've been too if he was in their place.
Lou nodded and kissed him.
"I'll get them out of here so you can sneak out," he said when they broke the kiss for air.
Kid walked out of the stall to his friends' amazement.
"Were you sleeping here?" Jimmy asked incredulously.
Kid scrubbed his head sheepishly, "I guess I was more tired than I thought. I came here last night to check on Katy and probably fell asleep."
Jimmy shook his head despairingly.
"Come on," Buck said. "Jenny told me to bring you over for breakfast."
The three of them left the stable and Kid smiled to himself as looked back in time to see Louise sneak out of the stable.
Later that day the four partners of the ranch sat at Jimmy's dining table for a work meeting. They tried to get down and talk business every few weeks. It wasn't something mandatory, but whenever one of them had something to say, they all gathered for a little talk.
Kid sat next to Buck, not really following the conversation, until something Jimmy said caught his attention.
"I don't know," Buck answered Jimmy. "He's very good with the horses."
"I know he is, Buck, I've hired him, but I can't ignore what the others are saying. If they don't feel comfortable with him…"
"What's the matter with him?" Kid asked and smiled sheepishly as they all turned to look at him surprised to see him there. "What?" he laughed, "I've been listening."
"Well, they say he barely speaks to them, he never joins them when they go to town, he never takes a shower…"
"They told you he smelled bad?" Kid asked surprised, he knew for a fact that she was clean.
"Jimmy, maybe he's just shy," Buck offered. "He's much younger than the rest of them and he's probably just shy of undressing in front of others. We need to give him some more time."
"Jimmy, he's the best hand we have, or had, in a long time," Cody put his two cents in.
"I know that, Cody, and I understand what you're saying, but having only one hand will not be enough, and I'm afraid they will leave on account of him," Jimmy explained.
"They told you they'd leave?" Kid asked shocked.
"No, they didn't actually say that they will, but we can't take that risk."
"So what are you saying, Jimmy?" Kid asked, unable to control the dread in his voice.
Jimmy turned to look at him, surprised at the emotions he heard in his friend's voice and saw on his face. "Kid, is there something you want to tell us?" he asked quietly.
Kid backed in his seat. "What? No!" he exclaimed. "Just like Cody said, he's our best hand."
"So, what do you suggest?" Jimmy wanted to know.
"Maybe we should talk to him, let him know how his co-workers feel," Buck suggested.
"I don't know, Buck," Jimmy shook his head. "It will be too weird to say something like that to him."
"I'll talk to him," Kid offered. He braced himself against the bewildered faces he knew he'd receive from his friends.
"You?" Cody was the first to get his senses back. "You will speak to him?"
"Why not?" Kid asked indignantly. "You don't think I'm capable of talking to one of the hands here?"
"Of course you are, Kid," Buck tried to ease his friend's mind, "it's just that lately you've been somewhat under the weather, and we thought you might not want to be involved."
"I am involved," Kid answered angrily. He wasn't sure what he was angry at. He knew exactly where his friends were coming from. He knew they were worried about his behavior lately, though he had to admit he had changed drastically since he found out the truth about Louise. He wasn't even aware of the smile that formed on his lips, until he saw the questionable expressions on his friends' faces. "Look, I am committed to this place just as much as you do," he started again, more calmly this time. "I know I had some rough time lately, but I'm fine now. I'll talk to McCloud," he didn't wait for their response and went out of the house.
He paused as he stepped out of the house, his eyes scanning the yard, he smiled as he noticed Louise leaning against the corral fence, talking with James Jr. and Ike. Ever since she arrived there, the boys had taken a liking to her, following her around whenever their mothers let them.
He noticed Caroline sitting outside her house, holding baby Helen in her arms. He remembered Louise telling him Caroline knew her secret, and since he desperately needed someone he could talk to, he decided to go and say hi. He felt awkward, and the look on Caroline's face told him she felt the same. He liked her, and she was his brother's wife, but he wasn't as close to her as he was with Jenny or Kaitlin. Still, for now, she was his only available confidant.
"How are you?" he asked clumsily as he climbed the porch steps and took off his hat.
"Great," she answered cordially. "How are you?"
"Fine," he smiled. "I was wondering if I could talk to you about something."
"Me?" she was obviously surprised. "What about?"
"Louise," he answered sheepishly.
She gasped surprised, "How do you know?"
"I know," he said and looked around to check that no one was seeing him. "Can we step inside for a minute, I'm afraid someone might hear us."
Caroline nodded and opened the door to the house. Once inside she put the baby in her cradle. "How did you find out?"
"It's a long story, Caroline. A bit embarrassing too…"
She smiled warmly at him. "And I understand she knows that you know."
Kid nodded, not meeting her eyes. "We're kind'a seeing each other," he admitted.
"You are? Oh, Kid, that's wonderful," she exclaimed.
Kid stuffed his hands in his pockets. "I don't know, Caroline. I've been hurt before, and I don't want to go through this again."
"She doesn't seem that kind of a woman, Kid," Caroline defended her friend.
"Neither did Samantha," Kid mumbled. "I feel like I'm falling for her too fast," he blurted out, "I barely know her and I can't stop thinking about her. I don't know if it's normal. It wasn't so intense with Samantha. And the way she works here, and me being her boss… I don't know, Caroline. It's so confusing," he sank onto the couch.
Caroline sat next to him. "Look, I can't tell you what to do, but she's a nice girl. I had a chance to talk to her, and I really like her. If you feel you're rushing into things, maybe you should pull away some and take your time."
"But I don't know how much time I have with her," Kid said desperately. "Jimmy just told us that the others in bunkhouse are starting to feel uncomfortable with her presence. They don't understand why she doesn't go out with them, or why she never takes showers with them… I told Jimmy I'd speak with her, but I don't know how much this will help, since she can't really change her behavior as long as she keeps working here like this."
"Does it matter that she's a woman?" Caroline asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Does it matter to you that she's a woman doing this job?" Caroline explained.
"No. She's doing a great job regardless. But you know how people think. Heck, I used to think the same way," he admitted. "But it's not just that," he continued with a deep breath. "I don't want anything to happen to her. And besides, she should be able to dress like a girl, but I don't think the other men will agree to share their bunkhouse with a woman."
"Maybe she doesn't need to stay in the bunkhouse," Caroline suggested with a wink.
"I don't understand. Where will she stay then?"
Caroline raised her eyebrow, indicating he should think about it himself.
Before he could answer the door opened and Cody stepped in. "Kid, came to check on my beautiful daughter?" Cody grinned.
"Yeah," Kid smiled back; relieved the Cody wasn't at all suspicious. "I should go back to work now," he thanked Caroline and kissed the little baby in her cradle before stepping outside.
Kid grinned when he entered the stable later that evening and found Louise was already there waiting for him.
"You have a beautiful mare, Kid," she commented as she patted the mare's neck.
"I know. Cost me a couple of broken ribs too," he smiled. "I was broke, before I joined The Express and I kind'a wandered around until I saw this beautiful mare and I knew I had to have her. The livery stable's owner told me she costs 25 dollars, which of course I didn't have. Just outside there was this ring and you could win 30 dollars if you just stood up after three minutes of fighting this boxing champion."
"You fought him?" Lou exclaimed.
"No," Kid laughed. "I was more of a punching bag. He was a pro, but I was standing after three minutes and won the money. She was the best purchase I've ever made," Kid finished proudly.
Lou looked at his eyes, a faraway look crossing his face. She felt her heart swell with warmth. She snuggled against him and hugged him tightly.
"What's this for?" Kid chuckled.
"I don't know," she mumbled against his chest.
He smiled and took her hand, leading her to the empty stall they spent the previous night in.
"Are you sure it's a good idea?" she asked as she saw where they were heading.
"We just have to be careful and not fall asleep," he assured her.
He sat on the hay, bringing her to sit on his lap. He let his fingers run through her silky hair. "The others wanted me to talk to you?" he blurted after a moment of silence.
She looked up at him, afraid of what he might say.
Kid kissed her lips softly, wishing to ease her mind. "Your roommates aren't too comfortable with the fact that you keep to yourself," he told her, smiling at her to let her know he wasn't angry with her.
She rested her head against his shoulder. "I guess I could be nicer to them. I was just so scared all the time they will figure out what I really am," she replied.
"I just don't want you to go, Lou," his voice was husky.
She looked at him, her eyes big with amusement.
"What?" he asked shyly.
"It's the first time you called me that," she smiled.
"I like it," she smiled. "It seems to suit me better than Louise."
"At least in this outfit," Kid remarked, motioning for her manly attire.
"I promise I'll be more careful from now on," she promised. "I'll be more friendly to my roommates, give them no reason to dislike me."
"Well, they also didn't quite understand why you never went to the swimming hole to bathe with them," he grinned.
She swatted his shoulder playfully. "Well, then, maybe I will someday…"
"Don't you dare," he laughed and rolled her to lie on the ground. He lay beside her, moving a stray hair from her face. He kissed her lips, softly but demandingly. She responded by deepening the kiss, entangling her arms around his neck to keep him close.
Kid pulled back reluctantly, feeling he wouldn't be able to hold back from touching her further if the kiss continued like that. He smiled apologetically at her disappointed expression. "It's getting late. I think we should part for tonight."
Lou nodded understandingly. "Same place tomorrow?"
Kid nodded. "I'll see you tomorrow, Lou."
He kissed her briefly before leaving the stable to spend the night alone in his small cabin.
Caroline watched from her bedroom window as Kid emerged from the stable. She smiled as she watched Louise exiting the stable a minute later.
"What's so funny," her husband asked from the bed.
"Nothing," she hurried to lie next to him. "So, how are you going to get Kid out of here tomorrow?"
"I asked him to come and help me with the groceries. How long do you need us gone for?"
"A couple of hours should do it," she kissed her husband's lips. "I should go to sleep now. Helen will probably wake me up before too long." She snuggled next to him and closed her eyes, not before a plan formed in her mind.
Lou watched as Kid and Cody rode out of the yard. Her heart skipped a bit as Kid locked his eyes with hers for a brief moment.
Lou turned to see Caroline walking towards her, holding her baby in one arm, a small bundle in the other.
"How can I help you, ma'am?" Lou smiled at her friend.
"I want to show you something," Caroline whispered as she came closer. "Come with me."
Lou followed Caroline and was surprised to find herself in front of Kid's cabin. "What are we doing here, Caroline? He just left with your husband, we shouldn't be here."
"Oh, relax, Louise," Caroline laughed and opened the door, ushering Lou inside.
Once inside Lou let her gaze travel over the small room. It was definitely a single man's room. There was a small table with a couple of chairs by the window, a small kitchen with a coffee pot over a small stove. The washbasin was filled with dirty cups and plates. A distinctive smell of coffee filled the small room. There was a small fireplace, by which half a dozen of logs were piled. There was a chest, its drawers half open, a few clothing items peeking out. Finally, Lou spotted a large bed at the far end of the room, the sheets carelessly thrown over the bed. Lou blushed at the amused look Caroline threw her way.
Caroline laid the baby in the middle of the bed and turned to watch Louise. "We're throwing Kid a birthday party this evening," she started. "I thought it would make him happy if you could come."
Lou blushed even a deeper shade of red, when she realized Caroline must know about her relationship with her husband's partner.
"Don't be embarrassed, Louise," Caroline smiled warmly. "I think it's wonderful. I have known Kid for two years and I've never seen him as happy as he is these days," she said truthfully. "You're good for him, Louise. I hope you'll find him worthy enough to lose your disguise for."
"I will if he asks me to," Lou admitted, surprised as the realization of what she was admitting to hit her.
"That's great to know, Louise. So, as I said we're throwing him a surprise party later today, and I brought you something you could wear to the party," Caroline continued as she pulled a beautiful gown from the bundle.
"I can't wear this," Lou exclaimed.
"Why not?" Caroline laughed.
"I've never worn anything this beautiful."
"Well, then it's high time you did," Caroline smiled. "You will look wonderful in it."
"But won't they all recognize me?"
"What if they will?" Caroline asked.
"Kid didn't want everyone finding out just yet. He said he wanted to figure out his feelings first," Lou had tears in her eyes. The thought of wearing the beautiful dress was so welcomed, but she had to let it go before she got her hopes up.
Caroline looked sadly at her. "How do you feel?"
Lou sighed in frustration. "Like it's wrong. Like it's not proper to feel what I'm feeling so fast. How can I already be so much in love with him, when I barely know him?" she exclaimed, sitting on the bed.
"Well," Caroline started fondly, "there's no right or wrong here, Louise. Just your feelings. I can tell you that Kid is the most honorable man I know, my husband included. He would never use anyone or take advantage of a situation. If he's with you, it's because this is what he really wants, even if he's still unaware of it." She smiled at Lou who turned two hopeful eyes towards her. "But I tell you what, you get dressed in this gown and wait for him here. He will not have a chance to enter his room once he and Billy return, and you can wait here. I'll find some excuse to send him here and then you can surprise him yourself…" her eyes shone of mischief and Lou couldn't help herself but get carried away with the plan.
"So, who is she?" Cody asked Kid on their way back from town.
"Uh? Who's who?"
"Kid, if I didn't know better, I'd say you're in love."
"What are you talking about, Cody? Who would I be in love with?"
"I don't have the answer for that, yet, but that faraway look in your eyes, the absent-mindedness, the smile on your face…" Cody let his voice trail off as he saw Kid's annoyed expression. "Why are you acting like it's a bad thing?" Cody questioned. "It's wonderful. The only thing I have to figure out now is with whom."
"Oh, Cody, drop it," Kid exclaimed.
"When was the last time you were with a woman, Kid. I think what you need is to get some pressure off…"
"Cody!" Kid hissed, unhappy with the direction the conversation was going. Over the last couple of nights, ever since he and Lou fell asleep in the empty stall, his dreams became of a more sexual nature. He wanted her like he never wanted anything before, but he knew it was wrong, and he didn't want to ruin their relationship by rushing her into something she wasn't ready for.
"Were you with another woman since Samantha?" Cody insisted.
"I was never with Samantha the way you mean," Kid rushed to defend his ex-girlfriend's honor, even though she wasn't worthy of it.
Realization came upon Cody and he grinned. "You've never been with a woman yet, have you, Kid?"
Kid blushed to the roots of his hair. He knew his friends had experience, even before they were married, but he was brought up differently. He was taught that it was wrong to be with someone in that way if there wasn't a sacred pact between them. He wasn't sure of Lou's beliefs, but after what she's told him of her childhood in St. Joe, he knew he would not rush her into anything.
"Cody, just drop it," Kid said and spurred his horse faster.
"They're here," Caroline cried as she saw her husband and Kid enter the yard. She knew Cody would convince Kid to drop by their house for dinner before turning to his own room.
Kid and Cody dismounted in front of the house.
"Where is everybody?" Kid questioned, his eyes searching for Lou.
Cody shrugged and climbed the stairs, Kid behind him.
"Surprise!" everybody cried at once, as Kid entered the house.
"What is this all about?" Kid asked, a big grin on his face.
"We realized we missed your birthday, so figured it's better late than never," Jenny hugged him. "Congratulations, Kid."
Kaitlin came next and hugged him tightly, Rachel right behind her. Kid felt blessed to have such great friends.
"Kid, maybe you should go change into something more festive," Caroline suggested quietly when she had her turn in the hugging. "I just sent Cody up as well."
Kid nodded and slipped out of his party unnoticed.
He walked the short distance between the houses quickly, his eyes scanning the yard for any sign of Lou. He started unbuttoning his shirt even before he entered his cabin and untucked it from his pants as he opened the door. He gasped in surprise when he noticed her, sitting nervously on his bed.
"Surprise," she smiled sheepishly, standing up.
He closed his mouth, but still couldn't utter a single word. His eyes were wide with amazement. "W… what are you doing here?" he asked once he found his voice.
"Caroline thought it would be a good idea if I waited for you here," she smiled.
"You're beautiful," Kid whispered, afraid to break the magic of the moment.
Lou giggled. "It's Caroline's. I never owned something this beautiful," she admitted.
"It's not the dress, Lou, it's you." he closed the distance in two strides and picked her up in his arms, kissing her deeply.
"I want you to come with me back to the party, Lou," Kid said finally, putting her back on the floor. He pulled his shirt off, dropping it to the floor carelessly, and grabbed a clean one from the drawer. In his haste, he didn't notice the mess he made as more clothes flew out.
Lou giggled at his behavior and he turned and smiled at her sheepishly. "If I'd known you were coming here I'd tidy up the place."
"I don't mind," Lou said in a husky voice. She stood in front of him and let her hands wander over his bare chest mesmerized.
Kid stopped her wandering hands and brought them to his lips. "Lou," he grunted. "Everybody's waiting for me."
Lou bit her lower lip, her eyes downcast shamefully.
Kid's heart filled with warmth and… love. He was certain of it now. He loved her. More than he ever loved anyone. More than he loved Samantha. He put a finger under her chin and lifted her face so he could look in her eyes. "Will you return here with me after the party?" he asked huskily.
Lou nodded, not trusting her voice.
Kid kissed her again, putting all his desire into his kiss. He pulled away and quickly put his clean shirt on. He grabbed her hand and pulled her with him back to the party.
"Where's Kid?" Cody asked his wife. It had been a while since Cody had come back from changing his clothes.
"I sent him to his place to change clothes as well," she smiled playfully.
"What did you do, woman?" Cody recognized the mischief glint in her eyes.
Caroline just shrugged. "Here he comes," she answered nonchalantly when she saw him through the window.
The next moment the door opened and in came Kid, holding the hand of a beautiful woman. There was something familiar about the brown haired girl. She wore a Burgundy velvet gown, with a heart shaped neckline. Her hair was flowing down her back, soft and shining. Happiness shone in her eyes.
"My, my, Kid. You sure are full of surprises," Cody exclaimed. "Ma'am," Cody acknowledged, taking her hand in his and kissing it. Lou giggled at his antics and looked happily at a smiling Caroline.
Buck and Jimmy exchanged confused looks.
"Is this…" Jimmy started.
"It is," Buck answered.
"That little snake," Jimmy smiled and came forward to greet the couple. He hugged his friend close, and then greeted his employee, "Miss McCloud, nice to see you looking so beautiful."
Buck came next, embraced Kid and kissed Lou's hand.
"Well, what do you say we sit down to eat?" Jenny called coming out of the kitchen.
She eyed the strange woman suspiciously. Buck saw her expression and ushered her back into the kitchen where Kaitlin and Rachel were finishing the last preparations.
"Who is she, Buck?" Jenny asked.
"Who's who?" Rachel looked up at the couple.
Buck held his hand up, to stop them. "It's Lou," he smiled. "Our new hand."
"Lou?" Jenny cried in shock, "The one Ike can't stop talking about?"
Buck nodded, grinning.
"But she's a beautiful woman," Jenny insisted.
"And a great horseman, horsewoman," he corrected himself.
Dinner couldn't pass quick enough for Lou. She enjoyed the conversation, and everyone treated her very fondly. They accepted her as one of their own from the very first moment she came through the door. True, there was some awkwardness at the first moment they realized she wasn't what they thought she was. Kid kept throwing loving glances at her, and squeezing her hand under the table.
After dinner, all women went to the kitchen to clean while the men and children gathered in the lounge.
Caroline entangled her arm in Lou's and the both of them entered the kitchen together. "How are you doing, Louise?" Caroline whispered.
Lou smiled at her friend, grateful for all the help and support she received from her. "You have a wonderful family, Caroline. Everyone is so great."
"I think they all like you too," Caroline grinned back.
"So, Kid," Jimmy started, sitting next to his best friend. "You sneaky little…"
"Jimmy!" Buck hissed, motioning for the children playing on the carpet with their grandfather.
"What do you want to know?" Kid smiled at his friends.
"How long has this been going on?" Cody wanted to know.
"Since a few days after the town event."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Jimmy asked.
"I wasn't sure," Kid answered truthfully. "I wanted to be sure."
"And you are now, son?" Teaspoon asked from his place on the carpet where Hannah and Camille climbed all over him.
Kid nodded. "I love her," he confessed.
The party was over. Kid gathered all the presents he'd been given, thanked everyone, and kissed the ladies. Everyone bid their good nights and headed to their respective homes, the children sleeping in their parents' arms. Kid helped Jimmy and Kaitlin with Hannah since Kaitlin didn't feel very well. He went inside the house after Jimmy to put the child in bed. Lou waited for him on the porch, Kaitlin keeping her company.
"He's a good man," Kaitlin started. "I'm glad he's so happy."
Lou smiled, embarrassed.
Kaitlin squeezed her arm affectionately as Kid came out. "Good night," she smiled at them and entered her house.
Kid smiled sheepishly at Lou, offering her his hand. "Would you like to take a walk, Miss McCloud?"
Lou giggled and took his hand.
They walked in silence for a few moments, until they reached the last corral. Kid leaned against the fence and pulled her close to his body, his hands on her waist. He looked at her eyes intently, then, slowly, lowered his head and kissed her, lightly at first, but then deepened the kiss, meeting her tongue with his. She brought her hands to his neck, her fingers combing his hair. Kid pulled her even closer to his body, wanting to feel her with every inch.
They broke the kiss and locked their eyes, their emotions bare. Kid took her hand in his and started towards his home. He blocked the voices in his mind that tried to tell him this is not what his mother taught him, and concentrated on the woman next to him. Even though it went against everything he was taught as a young boy in Virginia, there was nothing he felt was more right than to make love to Louise.
They entered the small cabin and embraced in a heated kiss again.
Lou stretched on the bed, her hand searching for the man she slept with before. When it came up empty, she sat up, clutching the blanket to her chest.
"Did I wake you up?" Kid smiled from the fireplace.
"Your absence woke me up," she pouted.
"It was so cold; I thought I'd get the fire started." He took off his long john's bottom and climbed into bed, pulling her closer to him. He kissed her head as she rested it on his chest. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
Lou kissed his chest before answering. "Happy," she smiled.
"I love you," Kid blurted out.
Lou looked at him surprised. "You do?"
Kid nodded seriously. "I love you," he said again.
She smiled and kissed him. "I love you too, Kid."
He rolled her to her back and kissed her deeply.
It was almost noon when Kid finally woke up. He smiled as the memories of the previous night came to his mind. He lost track on the number of times they made love during the night. After each time they dozed off for a short time, only to wake up, their desire renewed. He hugged her close to him, making her stir.
"What time is it?" she asked sleepily, rubbing her eyes.
"I'd imagine it's around noon."
"Noon?" Lou exclaimed and sat up.
Kid nodded. "What do you expect? It was almost dawn when you finally let me get some sleep."
"What?" Lou laughed and swatted his shoulder. "It was you who kept me up."
Kid laughed with her, but then turned serious. "I don't want you to go back to the bunkhouse."
"Kid…" she retorted.
"Listen to me for a second, will you?" he pleaded. "I'm not saying quit, and no one will fire you, but I don't want you to live in the bunkhouse either."
"Where am I supposed to live then?"
"Kid…" she started again.
"Just think about it, ok?"
"Ok," Lou smiled.
Kid got up from the bed and started dressing. "I have to go get some things done," he said. "You can stay here if you wish."
"I should get some things done as well. I promised Cody I'll finish some things this morning," Lou started to get up, but Kid stopped her.
"I'll talk to Cody. You take the day off."
"Kid," she retorted. "I have a job to do, don't give me special treatment. You should treat me like all your other employees."
"You're not like all my other employees, Lou. You're my girl," he smiled sheepishly. "You didn't complain about the special treatment I gave you last night…"
She giggled and pushed him away as he tried to kiss her.
"What do you say of having dinner in town?" he asked before he left.
"I'd like that," she smiled.
"'Morning, lover-boy," Cody greeted Kid as he came to where his three friends were standing.
"'Morning," Kid smiled.
"Slept well?" Buck asked nonchalantly.
"Never better," Kid grinned.
Jimmy clapped his back, "We're really happy for you, Kid."
"Thanks," Kid said. "Cody, Lou said there was something you wanted her to do. I told her she could take the day off, that I would do it. What is it you need?"
"Don't worry about it, Kid. It can wait till tomorrow."
"I also asked her to not go back to the bunkhouse," Kid informed his friends.
Buck and Jimmy exchanged bemused glances. "Good luck, Kid."
Kid grinned and walked away from them to start on his chores.
Lou sat on the bed, looking around her at the mess in the room. She felt happy, peaceful. She peeked out the window and smiled as she saw her love trying to break one of the new wild horses. He was so handsome and full of confidence as he sat atop the horse.
She sighed as her eyes darted over the room again and smiled to herself as she decided to do something about it. She opened the window and started with cleaning the kitchen.
"Buck, can I talk to you a minute?" Kid approached his friend a couple of hours later.
"Sure, Kid. What's on your mind?"
"Well… it's about Lou," Kid stammered.
"It seemed you figured it all on your own," Buck grinned.
Kid blushed at Buck's comment.
"Relax, Kid, I'm not making fun of you. We're all very happy for you. We hated seeing you so sad."
Kid nodded. "I know. It was so wonderful waking up with her this morning… I want it to be like this every morning," he confessed.
"Have you asked her already?" Buck asked, understanding the full meaning of what Kid was saying.
"No, not yet," Kid shook his head. "I want to do it right. I thought of heading to town to buy her a ring, and make reservations at the restaurant."
Buck smiled. "I'll back you up," he patted his friend's back.
Kid whistled to himself as he walked down the main street of Rock Creek. He entered Teaspoon's office and flopped himself on the chair, opposite his sleeping mentor. He banged his hand on the table and smiled as Teaspoon jumped in his chair.
"Kid," Teaspoon's grinned. "What brings you here?"
"I just came for a visit, and I wanted to ask you something."
"Sure, Kid, I'm glad you came today. I wanted to congratulate you on your beautiful girl. You seem to be very happy."
"I am Teaspoon."
"I just don't want you to get hurt again, Kid."
Kid looked perplexed. "Why would I get hurt?"
"Well, Kid, you didn't have luck before, and I'd hate to see you get hurt again by a woman."
"Lou's not like that, Teaspoon!" Kid shot angrily, rising to his feet. "She will never hurt me."
"I don't say that she will," Teaspoon held his hand up to show he did not mean to upset Kid. "I'm sure she's an amazing young woman, but nevertheless, it's you I'm worried about."
Kid sat back down and Teaspoon continued, " You know I love you like a son and I and all our family will always be here for you and back you up whatever your decision will be, but, and I think I am saying it for all of us, we just hope you won't rush yourself or her into anything, Kid."
Kid averted his eyes from the man he thought of as a father. "I'm going to ask her to marry me tonight," he whispered.
Teaspoon nodded solemnly. "Then I hope she will say yes and I'll marry you soon."
Kid returned his eyes to Teaspoon. "Thank you," he said. "This means a lot to me."
"So what was it you wanted to ask, Kid?"
"Well, I don't think she should stay at the bunkhouse anymore, and as much as I want to, I don't think it's proper that we live together if we're not married," he blushed slightly. "So, I was wondering if I could move into the old bunkhouse, just until we do get married."
"You know you're always welcome to stay with us, Kid. Rachel will be thrilled to have you there to fret over, but maybe you should ask Louise about that first…"
"I will talk to her about it tonight; I just wanted to know that I can stay at the way station," Kid said as he rose to his feet. "Thanks, Teaspoon."
"Good luck, son," Teaspoon called as Kid left his office.
Kid knocked on the door to his own house. He realized some things will have to change if he wanted to have her in his life.
Lou opened the door for him, and smiled surprised. "Why did you knock, Kid? This is your house."
"I know," he answered sheepishly, "but you're here now, and I didn't want to just barge in. What did you do to my house?" he asked incredulously as he noticed the clean state his house was in.
Lou grinned back at him. "You didn't expect me to live in this pigsty, did you?"
Kid blushed and hugged her close. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about this," he started. "I told you this morning I don't want you to go back to the bunkhouse, but I don't think it's a good idea that we stayed here together, so I spoke with Teaspoon, and I will stay at the old way station."
"No, Kid," Lou called and pulled back from his embrace. "This is your house, this is your ranch. I'll move back to the bunkhouse."
Kid took her hand in his. "Please, Lou, let's not fight over it," he pleaded. "I won't feel comfortable here knowing the woman I love sleeps in the same room with three other men. And now that they know you're a woman, I doubt they'll accept sleeping with you in the same room. This is the most reasonable solution, Lou. For me it will be just like going back to my parents' house. And it's not like they live too far away. I'll come here in the morning."
She snuggled close to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Thank you, Kid."
Kid kissed her head. "Now that this is settled, I'll go back to work. I'll pick you up at seven for dinner?"
"Oh, Kid," Lou suddenly exclaimed. "I'm not sure dinner in town is the best idea…"
"Why not? You wanted to go this morning…"
"I just realized I have nothing to wear to town. All I have are britches and manly shirts."
"I don't mind what you wear, Lou. You're still going to be the most beautiful girl there."
"But not so much of a lady," Lou retorted sadly. "Maybe we should postpone it until I have the chance to buy a dress in town."
"What about that dress you wore last night?" Kid asked.
"It's not mine. Caroline came with the idea of me waiting for you here and she brought me her dress."
"Well, I'm sure she wouldn't mind sharing another dress with you. I'll ask her to come and see you."
Lou lifted her head and he claimed her lips in a heated kiss. She brought her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. He responded by tightening his embrace of her waist. "I should go, Lou," he mumbled into her mouth as she backed her way towards the bed.
"Please stay for a few more minutes," she begged and smiled as he started kissing her neck.
They fell on the bed, their hands pulling at each others' clothes.
Kid kissed her bare shoulder before he quietly sneaked out of his cabin.
He scanned the yard, hoping his friends won't catch him sneaking out like that. He felt a little guilty for not pulling his share as much as he used to, but he also knew his friends would understand. They each had their more 'private' moments, like when Cody joined the army, or when Jimmy courted Kaitlin, or when Buck went to his brother's village after he and Jenny got married… this was his time.
On his way to the barn, he stopped by the Codys' and asked Caroline if she could drop a visit to Louise an hour later. She promised she would, and he continued, ready to go on with his chores, anxious for the day to be over so he could take his girl to dinner.
Kid sat across from Louise at the town restaurant, two candles illuminating the table. He couldn't stop staring at her.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered.
She blushed and looked down at the tablecloth, which made him smile and his heart swell with love for her.
"What would you like to eat?" the waiter asked.
They gave him their orders and Lou giggled as Kid asked for a bottle of champagne to accompany the food.
"What?" Kid asked sheepishly.
"Nothing," Lou smiled happily. "I'm just so happy to be here with you."
"Me too," Kid said and kissed her hand.
"That was a wonderful meal, Kid. Thank you," Lou said when they exited the restaurant.
Kid smiled at her. "It wouldn't have been this wonderful if you weren't here to share it with me. Would you like to take a walk?" he asked.
"Like the 'walk' we took last night?" Lou laughed, a little tipsy from the champagne.
Kid bit his lip, "I just don't want this night to be over yet," he admitted.
Lou nodded and hooked her arm in his.
They walked down the main street, Kid pointing out some of the places like the old way station, Teaspoon's office, the Doctor's, or the dress shop. Before they knew it, they reached the far end of the street. Kid turned to face Louise and took both her hands in his.
Louise looked at him expectantly, sensing he had something important to say.
He smiled at her and licked his lips. He looked around to see no one was watching and then kneeled on one knee and reached into his pocket with one hand, still holding hers in his other.
"Lou… Louise," he started. "I know we only know each other for a short time, but I know how I feel, and you told me you feel the same way,"
She nodded, tears filling her eyes.
He pulled a little box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a beautiful and delicate diamond ring. "Will you… marry me?" he whispered, lifting his eyes to look in hers.
Lou was amazed by what she saw in the depth of his blue eyes. There was love and desire, longing and wanting. She got down on her knees so she would be at eye level with him.
"Yes," she laughed. "Yes, I will marry you."
Kid slipped the ring on her finger, then cupped her face in his hands and kissed her deeply. They kissed like that, on their knees, for long minutes, unwilling to break the moment.
When they finally broke out for air, Kid grinned at her. "You've made me the happiest man in the world, Louise McCloud. I love you."
"I love you too," she replied.
Kid awoke the next morning in his old bunk in the bunkhouse, a smile plastered on his face. He thought of the night before. After Lou accepted his proposal, they returned to the ranch. It was almost impossible for him to leave her there and not come in and make love to her again, but he felt it would not be right. Reluctantly, he tore himself from the kiss and ran towards the stable. He saddled Katy quickly and rode towards the way station. He had the feeling that if he'd take his time, he would not be able to hold back.
When he arrived at the way station, the house was already dark. He entered the warm bunkhouse, smiling as he realized either Teaspoon or Rachel had already started the fire for him. At this moment he loved them so much, he loved everyone. Lou agreed to become his wife, and nothing could ruin his mood.
Kid sat on his bunk just as the bunkhouse door opened slightly.
"Can I come in?" Rachel asked from outside the door.
Kid smiled and rose from the bed. He opened the door wide for Rachel to enter, his smile widened when he realized she brought him some breakfast.
"Teaspoon had to head early to town," she apologized for the absence of her husband, "but I thought it would be nice having breakfast with one of my boys again."
"Thanks, I don't remember when the last time I had a real breakfast was," he smiled sheepishly.
"Why not?" Rachel asked, surprised.
Kid shrugged. "I guess when you're single, it's easy to skip meals."
"Well," Rachel handed him a plate full of eggs, bacon, and biscuits. "Teaspoon told me this might change soon."
She had her answer when she saw the wide grin on Kid's face.
"So, when's the big day?" she asked.
"We hadn't discussed it yet," he answered, then turned serious. "Do you think I'm doing the right thing, Rachel?"
Rachel put down her mug of coffee and reached for his hand on the table, squeezing it lightly. "I know you, Kid. You will never rush into anything unless you were absolutely sure. She seems like a nice girl, and if I saw correctly, there was a lot of love for you shinning in her eyes the other night at the party. I love you, and I want you to be happy. There is no right or wrong if you're happy, as long as you don't hurt anyone," she smiled at him.
"Thank you, Rachel. That means a lot to me."
"What's going on?" Caroline asked her husband when he entered the house.
Cody flopped on a chair. "I don't know where Kid is," he told her. "His girlfriend did show up, but he's nowhere to be seen. I don't think he slept at the ranch tonight," he added.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Katy was not in her stall this morning."
"Well, then, if this is so, the poor girl probably didn't eat anything for breakfast."
"Billy, go to her and invite her over for breakfast," she told him.
"What?" Cody exclaimed. "I can't do that, Caroline. She's one of my employees, I can't treat her differently."
"William Frederick Cody," she cried. "You go out there now, and invite the poor girl here. She's my friend and your friend's girlfriend, if not something more."
"What do you mean 'something more'?"
Caroline sighed and sat on a chair next to him. "Buck told Jenny who told Kaitlin and me that Kid planned on proposing to her last night. Seeing her here, in his house, I guess she said yes."
"That old…" Cody started with a smile but stopped at the look his wife gave him. "Okay, ok, I'm going. But I don't like it."
"Your objection has been noted," she told him, grinning.
Cody felt awkward as he neared Lou. She was shoeing one of the horses, working alongside Buck.
"Good morning," he greeted.
"Hi, Cody," Buck greeted back.
Lou looked nervously around.
"Um… eh…" he stammered. "Caroline wanted me to invite you over for breakfast. She figured you didn't have anything eatable at Kid's place."
"Where is he anyway?" Buck asked.
"He said he'd be staying at the old way station for awhile. He did say he'd be back in the morning though," Lou answered shyly.
"Probably Rachel made him some breakfast," Buck smiled, fondly remembering the breakfasts Rachel used to make for them.
"Oh, yes, Rachel's breakfasts…" Cody had a dreamy look in his eyes.
Lou laughed. "I am hungry," she admitted. "Kid doesn't have anything at his place."
"Well, he's not used to having guests," Cody said, missing the angry look that passed over Lou's face or the murderous glances from Buck.
"I'm not a guest, Mr. Cody," Lou said defiantly, her head high. She left the men and headed towards the Codys' house, fuming the whole way.
She knocked on the door and entered when she heard Caroline calling her to enter.
"'Morning, Louise. Have a seat. You must be starving."
"I am," Lou admitted with a smile and sat at the table.
Caroline sat next to her, while Lou ate her breakfast.
"Thank you, Caroline," Lou said when she was done eating. "I didn't even realize how hungry I was."
Caroline looked baffled for a minute. "Is everything alright, Louise?"
Lou nodded solemnly, unsure of what to say. She felt awkward at the ranch without Kid around. She wasn't sure of her place there anymore. She knew she had a job, and Kid promised her this will not have to change, but still, she was a little anxious about his friend's behavior, Just like Cody, a couple of minutes ago. And here she was, having breakfast at his house, talking with his wife, her only female friend.
"Did Billy say anything to offend you?" Caroline asked, knowing her husband all too well.
"It's alright," Lou tried to smile. "I just wish Kid would get here already. He spent the night at the old way station," she explained.
Caroline patted her shoulder. "He will be here soon enough. And don't you worry about my husband none," she smiled. "He doesn't always think before he speaks, but he has a good heart. I think he just doesn't quite know how to deal with you and not realizing what you are sooner."
Lou smiled back. "I guess you are right. Still I wish Kid would arrive already."
"How was your evening yesterday?" Caroline tried to change the subject. Her smiled widened at the dreamy look in Lou's eyes.
"It was beautiful, Caroline. Everything was so magical. Him, the dinner, the walk…"
"I take it you said yes," Caroline laughed at the girl's obvious happiness.
Lou looked surprised. "You knew?"
"First thing you have to learn around here. Very little is kept a secret," Caroline giggled and missed the horrified look that crossed Lou's face.
A knock on the door cut her train of thought.
"It's open," Caroline called.
"Caroline, is Lou here?" Kid asked before he even entered the kitchen.
At hearing his voice Lou sprang to her legs and rushed into his embrace.
"What's that all about?" Kid chuckled.
"I missed you," Lou mumbled shyly.
Kid laughed and kissed her lips lightly. "I missed you too."
"Ahem," Caroline cleared her voice, reminding them that she was there.
"Sorry, Caroline," Kid blushed. He brought his hands to hug Lou, who still clutched at him like she'd never let go. "Lou, honey," he tired to entangle her from him. "I really should get to work."
"Maybe you can come here for lunch," Caroline suggested.
"Thanks, Caroline. You sure it's not imposing?"
"Nonsense, Kid," Caroline smiled. "I'm making lunch for myself and Billy anyway. We'd love if you joined us."
"Are you sure Mr. Cody will be happy about it?" Lou asked nervously.
"Why not?" Kid asked, holding Lou's shoulders, looking into her eyes. "Did he say anything to you, Lou?"
Lou was surprised at the anger she saw in his eyes. She shook her head. "No, Kid. Everything is fine."
Kid wasn't sure he believed her but decided to drop the issue for the time being. "Well, I really should go now," he quickly kissed Lou's lips once more. "I'll see you at lunch then."
Lou watched him leave and sighed. "Are you sure, Caroline?" she asked again.
Caroline nodded and hugged her. "Don't worry about Billy, Lou."
"Well, I should probably get back to work too," Lou finally said. "Thanks for breakfast, Caroline. I guess I'll see you at lunch."
Kid entered the barn to gather some things he needed for work. He thought about what Lou said, and felt the anger sweep through him again. How dare Cody insult her? he thought. Another voice in his mind told him to calm down. He had no idea if Cody even said anything.
"How's Rachel's breakfast? Still as good as it used to be?" Buck smiled at him.
Kid smiled at his friend. "Maybe you should come tomorrow morning, check for yourself."
"So, Kid. You have anything to tell me?" Buck tried to pry.
"Did Cody say anything to Lou?"
"What do you mean, Kid?"
"I want to know if he said anything to her that made her upset."
"He didn't mean anything, Kid. He just made a very Codyish remark. You know him," Buck tried to lighten things up.
"What did he say?" Kid sighed.
"He just remarked that your place probably doesn't have anything to eat since you're not accustomed to guests."
"She's not a guest, Buck."
"And that's exactly what Lou told him. Kid, she can take care of herself, and Cody really didn't mean anything."
"Well, I think I have to talk to you guys about something," Kid said after a couple of silent moments. "Can you get Cody? I'll go find Jimmy. Let's meet at your place."
Buck nodded and the both of them left the barn.
"You need anything else, boys?" Jenny asked when she brought them the coffee pot and the mugs.
"No, sweetheart, thank you," Buck smiled and kissed the palm of her hand.
"So, Kid, what is it?" Jimmy started when Jenny left them.
"Well, I wanted to talk to you about Lou," Kid started. "First of all, she's not a guest," he eyed Cody angrily. "Secondly, I asked her to marry me last night and she said yes."
"Congratulations, Kid," Buck grinned at his friend.
"Isn't it a bit soon?" Jimmy asked suddenly.
Kid shot him an angry glare. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you've only known her for a couple of weeks, and you're already marrying her. What about Samantha?"
"What about Samantha?" Kid tried his best not to shout in frustration. He could not believe his friend. Why couldn't he just be happy for him?
"Well, you've been brooding over her for seven years, and all of a sudden this mysterious woman arrives and you fall head over heels with her… I don't know Kid, I don't want you to get hurt."
"Why do you so sure I'd get hurt? Lou is not Samantha. She's nothing like her. She's sweet and smart and she's not afraid of hard work. I love her, why can't you accept it?"
"We do, Kid," Buck answered calmly, looking at Jimmy and Cody, daring them to say different. "We're just worried about you. We want you to be sure this is what you want. If you're sure then we're one hundred percent behind you."
"Well, I'm sure, Buck. I love her and I know she loves me. I've never known anyone like her and I've never been this happy. I'm not the same young boy I was when I've been seeing Samantha. I know what I want. And I understand what you said about me thinking of Samantha up until a few weeks ago, but that's just it, Lou makes me so happy that I haven't thought about Samantha since."
They were all silent for a few moments, until Kid broke the silence again. "Look, guys, I care a lot about what you think. You are not only my best friends, but you are my family and I love you all, but I need to know that you stand behind me on this one. I know what I'm doing and I know what I want. I want her. I know it's fast and I know that some of you may feel uncomfortable with her," he eyed Cody carefully, "but I guess I need your blessing."
"You have our blessing, Kid. If this is what you want, you have our blessing," Cody smiled. He rose from his seat and approached Kid. Kid also rose and the two hugged. "I didn't mean to upset her, Kid. I just talked without thinking, you know how I am sometimes," he apologized with an impish smile.
"I know Cody, it's ok. Thank you," Kid smiled at his blond friend and sat back down.
Buck patted his shoulder. "Congratulations, Kid. I'm really happy for you."
"Thanks, Buck," Kid replied.
Jimmy kept staring ahead, contemplating. "Well, then, I guess we need to look for another hand now," he smiled. "I'm happy for you, Kid. Congratulations."
Kid nodded and smiled. "Well, Lou is not going anywhere. She's intending to keep her job."
"What do you mean, Kid? Why should she do that?" Buck asked surprised.
"Because she loves the job and she's good at it. I don't see why she can't do it if this is what she wants."
"Well, when's the big day, Kid?" Cody asked
"We haven't discussed that yet. But I'll try to remember to invite you," he grinned mischievously.
"Hey, Teaspoon," Buck greeted the older man as he rode into the ranch. "What brings you here?"
"I'm here to see Kid, is he anywhere around?"
"Well, I think he just came out of Cody's house. Maybe he's in at the far end stable."
"Rachel wanted me to invite him and Louise to dinner tonight," Teaspoon said, somewhat unenthusiastically.
"You don't sound too happy about it," Buck commented with a small smile.
Teaspoon shook his head and smiled sheepishly. "I just feel like he's rushing into this. Like he's marrying her because he spent the night with her once, and now thinks he needs to do the right thing by her."
"I don't know Teaspoon," Buck said and laid a hand on Teaspoon's shoulder. "He talked with us this morning. He sounds pretty in love with her. She's a nice girl, we all saw that at his party, and it looks like she loves him too."
Teaspoon nodded solemnly. "Well, I won't say anything to him, I just hope he'll be fine."
Buck smiled and started to back up. "I should get to that horse I'm working on," he explained. "Send Rachel my love."
"Will do," Teaspoon promised and headed towards the stable.
"Hey, Teaspoon," Kid called as he saw Teaspoon coming into the stable. "What brings you here?"
"Is this something you all agreed to as the ranch's formal greeting?" Teaspoon chuckled.
"Uh?" Kid asked confused, wiping his hands on his pants.
"Never mind," Teaspoon smiled. "Rachel sent me here to invite you and the lovely Louise to dinner."
"Oh, we'd love to come, Teaspoon," Kid smiled. "What time do you want us there?"
"How about seven?"
"Seven it is."
"Kid," Jimmy poked his head through the stables door, coming from the attached corral. "I really need your help with this horse. Hi, Teaspoon."
"Well, I won't be in your way, boys. See you tonight, Kid," Teaspoon waved his hand and started towards the exit.
"Bye, Teaspoon. See you later," Kid called after him and followed Jimmy to the corral.
Lou felt self-conscious when she walked up the stairs to Teaspoon and Rachel's house at the old way station. Kid was right next to her, clasping her hand in his. He gave her a reassuring smile before he knocked on the door. A minute later a grinning Teaspoon opened the door for them.
"Good evening, Miss McCloud, Kid," he greeted them.
"Good evening, Teaspoon," Kid responded, while Lou merely smiled, still a little uncomfortable.
All her anxiety and self-doubt soon vanished, though, as the meal progressed. Lou could fully understand why Kid felt so strongly bonded with the couple. They have obviously loved him as if he was their own son.
Teaspoon was a very funny and easygoing man, and Lou felt she would love to hear more of his stories and wisdom.
Rachel was a beautiful woman, and Lou couldn't help but feeling a little bit jealous of her femininity. Even though Kid assured her that he thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him, Lou couldn't help the longing to be able to fill in a dress like Rachel could. Other than that, Lou hoped that some day she could cook as well as Rachel.
The conversation was smooth and they shared a couple of laughs, mostly at Kid's expense. Lou thought he looked so at ease, so naturally at home, and she felt her heart swell with love for him.
After dinner Teaspoon and Kid went to the parlor, while Lou helped Rachel with cleaning the dishes.
"I've never seen Kid this happy before," Rachel commented with a smile, handing Lou a wet plate to dry.
Lou smiled gratefully. "I've never been this happy either," she admitted.
"He really loves you," Rachel observed.
Lou nodded. "I love him too."
Rachel's grin widened. "That's all I need to know. As long as the both of you love each other and make each other happy, that's all that's important." Rachel quickly dried her hand in a towel and pulled Lou in an embrace. "Congratulations on your engagement, Louise."
The next couple of weeks passed quickly enough, Lou thought, and tomorrow was her wedding day.
She exited the small cabin and went straight to the barn, ready to start her day. She smiled as she spotted her fiancé, already working at the far end corral, trying to break the newest horse. He smiled at her, but quickly regretted his momentary lack of attention as the horse began to buck and he was thrown to the ground. Lou gasped and was about to head his way when he quickly jumped to his feet and waved at her, letting her know he was all right. She laughed and continued towards the barn.
Later that day Lou and Kid ate lunch together at the small cabin.
"This time tomorrow, we are going to be husband and wife," Kid remarked when they finished their simple meal of cold sandwiches. He pulled Lou from her chair and brought her to sit on his lap. "You know, you can still back out."
"Are you crazy?" Lou laughed and kissed his mouth lightly. "I love you. Marrying you is the best thing that's going to happen to me." Suddenly a thought crossed her mind. "Are you having second thoughts, Kid?" she asked gravely. "Is this why you're asking me?"
"What? No, Lou. I love you too. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I can't wait to marry you."
"You're not just marrying me because we… you know… slept together back then?"
Kid shook his head and hugged her close. "I loved you even before we made love, Lou. I think I loved you from the first moment I saw you in the stable the morning after the town event. Please marry me tomorrow," he begged, tears in her eyes.
Lou cupped his face in her hands and kissed his lips. She too had tears in her eyes. "I'll marry you tomorrow," she nodded. "I love you, Kid."
"I love you too, Lou."
They kissed again, more passionately now. Lou's fingers entangled in his hair, his hands roaming all over her back. He drew her closer as she started unbuttoning his shirt. Kid moved to kiss her neck, eliciting a moan of pleasure from her.
The sound of her moan entered his brain and he stopped his kisses and caresses immediately. "Lou, we shouldn't," he panted, out of breath from the kisses. "We should wait until tomorrow."
Lou gazed directly into his eyes and nodded. She rose from his lap, and planted another kiss on his lips before she headed out. "We should get back to work, Kid," She smiled from the door.
Kid sighed and smiled back. He lazily rose from his chair and followed her outside.
"Will you stay still for a second?" Caroline scolded, as she tried to put another hairpin into Lou's hair.
"How much longer?" Lou asked, clearly impatient. She was already wearing her wedding dress and only the hairdo was keeping her from walking down the aisle.
"Just a couple more minutes," Caroline chuckled. "You'll get to Kid soon enough."
There was a knock on the door and Lou quickly rose to answer it, ignoring Caroline's protests. At the door was a beautiful woman, dressed in the finest dress Lou had ever seen, her long black curls were swept up, leaving only a few loose ringlets to frame her beautiful face.
"Hello," she smiled, her southern drawl evident. "I'm looking for Kid. I was told I could find him here," at seeing the woman in front of her, wearing the wedding dress she hurried to add, "I'm sorry to interrupt you, I can see you're busy, but it's very important that I speak with him."
Lou looked at the woman uneasily. Something in her didn't sit well with Lou and she looked questioningly at Caroline who still stood behind her. Caroline just shrugged. She had no idea who that woman was.
"Well, is Kid here?" the woman asked impatiently. "I'm an old friend of his. My name is Samantha. Samantha Edgars."
At hearing the name, Lou took a step back. The color drained from her face. Caroline heard the name as well and came to stand by her friend. "Kid is not here," she said coldly. "What do you want with him?"
Samantha looked bewildered by the rude woman before her. "I don't think it's any of your business, miss…"
"Mrs. Cody," Caroline answered. "And I can't imagine what business you might have with Kid."
"Well, that's between him and me. I know your husband is a good friend of his, but I don't think he'd appreciate your attitude towards me," Samantha sneered.
"Kid is at the church, waiting for his bride to arrive," Caroline held her head up, unfazed by the woman.
Samantha squinted her eyes and looked more closely at Lou, studying her. "I don't believe you," she called. "There's no way Kid will ever find her," she pointed dismissively toward Lou, "attractive. Look at her, she can barely fill out the dress. She looks like a little girl."
Caroline took a deep breath to control herself as she felt Lou back up inside the cabin, deeply insulted by the cruel woman's words. "You should go now," she hissed.
Samantha shrugged and turned around. "I'll be waiting here on the porch for him, somehow I don't think there will be a wedding today," she smiled slyly.
Caroline closed the door behind her and rested her head on the wood, collecting herself. she turned at the sound of a sob escaping her younger friend's lips.
"Oh my god, Caroline. This is she, isn't it?" Lou panted, having trouble to keep her composure. "She's back!"
"What's taking them so long?" Kid whispered to Jimmy who stood right next to him. "Shouldn't they be here already?"
Jimmy shrugged. Truth was Lou was taking much longer than they expected. "Want me to send someone to check at the ranch?" Jimmy asked.
"Yes, please," Kid replied.
Buck rode fast to the ranch, hoping this was all just wedding jitters. He brought his horse to a halt at the sight in front of him. Though he hadn't seen the woman in seven years, he recognized her. This is not good, he thought as he approached her.
"What are you doing here, Samantha?" he asked.
"Well, hello to you too, Buck. It's so nice to be so warmly welcomed," she said sarcastically.
"Don't even start, Samantha," Buck retorted angrily. "What are you doing here?"
"As I told the two women in the cabin, it's between Kid and me. It's none of your business."
"Oh my god, Lou," Buck mumbled as realization dawned on him. He moved past Samantha and opened the door slowly. "Can I come in?" he called.
"Yes, Buck," came Caroline's response.
The sight in front of him almost broke his heart. Caroline sat on the bed, while Lou walked around the room, collecting her things and stuffing them into a carpetbag. She wore her men clothes; her wedding dress discarded on the bed. Her eyes were red and swollen and tears kept running down her cheeks. Caroline looked at him, her eyes pleading for help.
"What are you doing, Lou?" Buck asked from the door.
"Packing." Came the short reply.
"But Kid is waiting for you at the church, Lou," he said softly.
"Well, I don't want to come between him and her," she snorted, indicating with her head to the woman outside the door.
"Kid doesn't love her, Lou. He loves you and wants to marry you."
"He's been thinking about her for seven years, Buck," Lou cried. "Of course he still loves her. He only wanted to marry me because she was not available."
"Lou, you should speak to him. You should let him make the choice. I know he will choose you. He loves you," Caroline tried.
Lou closed her bag and looked at the two. She then locked her eyes with Caroline's. "Please explain everything to him. Tell him I only wanted what's best for him. Tell him I love him too much to compel him to do something he doesn't want to."
Lou looked one more time around the room before she opened the door and stepped outside. She didn't even spare a glance towards the woman sitting outside the cabin and headed straight to the stable to saddle her horse.
"I've had enough," Kid hissed and without waiting for a response from Jimmy strode out of the church, rode off towards the ranch.
Jimmy and Cody exchanged confused looks and quickly followed him, leaving a shocked audience.
They arrived at the ranch just as Lou walked her horse out of the barn. Buck and Caroline were standing in the yard, looking helpless. Kid dismounted and walked toward the woman he loved with all his heart on shaky legs.
"What are you doing, Lou?" he choked. "Where are you going?"
Lou stepped away from him as he moved closer. A sob escaped her as he caught her arm and pulled her into his arms.
"What are you doing?" he asked again, holding her close, smelling her scent.
"Uh, Kid," Jimmy came to stand by the embracing couple. He motioned with his head towards the dark haired woman that was still sitting on the porch of his cabin.
Kid followed Jimmy's indication and felt anger like he'd never known before building up inside of him. He passed the sobbing Lou into Jimmy's arms and briskly strode over to where his ex-girlfriend sat. "What the hell are you doing here?" he bellowed, yanking her to stand.
"W… what do you mean?" she stammered. "I came here to be with you."
Kid looked as if someone slapped him.
"I… I made a mistake when I left you," she put a hand on his chest to relax him. "I knew Robert from before and when asked me to go with him I just couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. You do understand, don't you? He could provide for me better than you could back then. He was very rich and he took good care of me, but then he died last year from pneumonia. I realized only recently how much you loved me, and how foolish I was to leave you. I decided to give us another chance," she smiled seductively at him.
Kid drew back from her, pushing her hand away. He was still silent as she kept talking.
"I forgive you for wanting to marry this boyish girl. I understand it's partly my fault since I wasn't here…"
Kid felt the anger inside him reaching a boiling point at her insults. He let his frustration out in a roar, punching the wall of the small cabin so hard that Samantha jumped back in surprise. "Get the hell out of my life and never come back," he yelled. He then took a steadying breath before he continued, his voice still louder than normal, "I'm sorry I've ever met you. You are a sorry excuse for a woman. That 'boyish' girl over there is the woman I love and intend to marry today. She's more of a woman than you'll ever be. She has more class and she's smarter and gentler, kinder and more beautiful than you can ever hope to be."
Kid didn't wait for her to respond and stormed away from her. He neared his friends, who stood there staring at him surprised. He grabbed Lou's hand and pulled her from Jimmy's embrace. He half dragged her with him to the barn. Once they were inside, he closed the barn door behind them.
He turned to face Lou, still very angry. "What are you doing, Lou?"
When she didn't answer him he hit one of the walls with his fist in frustration. "Where were you going, Lou?" he shouted. "You were going to leave me, weren't you?"
Lou started sobbing, her body shaking with misery. At her cry, Kid's anger disappeared and he rushed to her, gathered her in his arms, caressed her hair, and whispered soothingly into her ear.
"Where were you going, Lou?" he asked again, his voice broken with his own sobs. "Why were you leaving me?"
Lou's arms came up to hug his waist. "She's back, Kid. Samantha. The woman you loved for seven years. I don't want to come in between your happiness."
"What are you talking about, Lou?" Kid asked, his hands cupping her face, tilting her head so he could see her eyes. "I don't love Samantha anymore. I love you. I wouldn't have asked you to marry me if I didn't."
Lou looked skeptical.
Kid chuckled at her face and kissed her lips.
"But she's so beautiful," Lou replied, unable to believe Kid was choosing her over the woman outside.
Kid shook his head. "She's ugly in here," he retorted and pointed to his heart. "I don't understand how I ever felt so strongly for her. I must have been a bigger fool than I thought." He took a deep breath before he continued. "I love you now, Lou. Now and forever. I still want to marry you, if you're still willing. I would have wanted to marry you regardless of Samantha. Please tell me you'll marry me, Lou. I don't know what I'd do if you won't."
Lou stared into the blue eyes she loved so much and saw his sincerity and his love for her. Kid interpreted her silence as hesitation and started to back away, his heart breaking. Lou looked bewildered at his retreating form and hurried to grab a hold of him and hug him tightly.
"Of course I'll marry you, Kid. This is all I've ever wanted since I met you. I love you. I was just scared you didn't love me."
Kid felt tears running down his face, but he didn't care to wipe them off. All he cared was the woman in his arms telling him she loved him. He tenderly tilted her head so he could meet her lips with his. He held her close as their kiss lingered, their tears mixing together at their closeness.
"Come on, Lou," Kid panted when they broke the kiss. "We need to get married."
The both of them exited the barn hand in hand to the applause of their awaiting friends.
Caroline hurried towards her friend, smiling and laughing through her own tears. "Come, Lou, we need to get you dressed and fit to marry."
Both women hurried towards Caroline house, while Caroline motioned to her husband to bring Lou's wedding dress over from Kid's cabin to their house.
"We will only take fifteen minutes, boys. Why don't you head on back to the church? I'm sure the guests are becoming quite restless," Caroline called before she followed Lou into the house.
"Well, Kid. I guess we should get you back to the church then," Jimmy smiled and slapped his friend's back.
"Yeah," Buck agreed, coming closer to them. "Jenny and Kaitlin are probably worried sick by now."
Kid nodded but took a couple of steps closer to his house. Cody emerged carrying Lou's dress in his arms. "Cody, will you stay with the girls here, escort them to the church."
"Sure thing, Kid," Cody smiled. "Want me to take out the trash here while I'm waiting?"
Kid shook his head and walked up the stairs to where Samantha sat, holding her cheek in her hand. "You should go now," he said menacingly. "If you give Lou any more trouble, I swear to God…" he could not even finish and just sighed in frustration and pity. "You are a sad woman, Samantha. I should be angry at you but actually I feel nothing but pity." With that, Kid turned and walked to where Jimmy and Buck stood waiting for him. "Let's go," he said as he mounted Katy.
It took the girls just over half an hour to get ready. As they exited the house, Cody whistled appreciatively. "Well, who would've thought, Mr. Lou McCloud…"
Lou blushed but let him help her up the buckboard. She scanned the yard for a trace of the other woman.
"She's gone," Cody replied.
She smiled at him, grateful for his understanding.
Cody helped his wife and climbed to sit beside her. He took her hand in his as he drove the buckboard to town.
The ceremony was short, everyone was anxious to hear the whole story as to what happened before. As soon as Teaspoon pronounced them husband and wife, Kid claimed his bride's lips in a heated kiss.
They ran down the steps of the church and kissed again to the sound of applause from all their family, friends, and guests.
Kid cupped Lou's face in his hands. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too," she answered.
Author note: I would like to thank Ellie for beta this story and for the support. This story wouldn't be the same without you.