The past few months had been relatively quiet for Lou and Kid. Jamie and Davey decided being brother and sister wasn’t so bad, but they still had their moments. Kid and Lou were slowly becoming close again. Kid and Davey were regulars at Sunday dinner, while Lou and Jamie could often be found helping Kid out on his ranch. Today was no different. Lou and Kid were trying to get as much work done as they could while the kids were gone. Rachel and Teaspoon had taken the kids to Texas with them for a couple weeks. Lou and Kid weren’t very sure about spending so much time away from the kids, but Teaspoon insisted the time alone would do them a world of good.
“Lou? You still in here?” Kid and Lou had been working since sun-up cleaning out the barn and working on the new corral fence. Kid had had enough of digging post-holes. He hoped that Lou was up for some lunch.
“Over here Kid.” Lou was enjoying the time alone with Kid more than she’d like to admit. It was almost like old times. As she’d been cleaning out the stalls, she couldn’t help but remember what had led them to where they were today. Kid had never asked what went on after he had left, but she wished he would. She’d like to tell him about the hell she’d gone through raising Jamie by herself and those terrible days when Jamie was missing. Maybe she’d have him over for dinner before the kids got home and tell him her secrets.
“Let’s go get some lunch and take a break. I don’t think we worked this hard for the Express.” Kid smiled at the memory of those first days when Teaspoon had so many chores for the boys.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that Kid.”
“I’ve got an even better idea. Let’s go down to the swimming hole and take the rest of the afternoon off.”
“I’m…ummm…no, I don’t think it would be a good idea.” Lou couldn’t help but remember the stolen afternoons they’d spent together at the swimming hole.
“C’mon Lou. It’ll be fun. It’s such a hot day, it’ll be relaxing.” Kid knew why Lou was so hesitant, but he wanted to take this step.
“Alright, I guess. What can it hurt?” She was so nervous at the thought of going swimming with him. She remembered what used to happen when they went swimming and right now she wasn’t ready for that to happen. Lou was happy that they were getting close again, but hadn’t completely forgiven Kid for leaving her when she needed him most.
“I’ll get the horses ready if you’ll pack up some sandwiches.” At her nod, Kid grabbed Katy’s saddle.
“I forgot how much fun swimming with you can be! I’m glad I decided to come.” Lou had enjoyed the swim more than she thought she would. She was afraid of the memories from days gone by.
“I know what you mean. It was almost better than the old days.”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far.” Lou couldn’t help but smile at his statement. She was so happy that they had gotten close again. “Why don’t you come over for dinner tonight?”
“I’d love to! I take it you’ve learned how to cook.” Kid remembered all the meals he’d choked down while they were riding. Lou always tried to cook for them when they went out alone. He never wanted her to feel bad about it so he’d eat it no matter how awful it was.
“Yes I learned to cook! I still can’t believe you ate some of that stuff! Why don’t you show up around 6?” Telling Kid about what Wicks had done to her would be hard, but telling him about what had happened to Jamie would be harder. She hoped he wouldn’t hate her after she told him.
“I’ll see you then.”
Dinner was perfect. Kid could hardly believe that he had ever had problems eating what Lou cooked. “This was wonderful Lou. Thanks.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had another reason to have you here though. I need to tell you what happened when you left.”
“You don’t have to Lou. I know it wasn’t an easy time for you. I feel terrible for what I put you through. You shouldn’t have had to go through that on your own.” Kid would always feel guilty for leaving Lou.
“If our relationship is going to progress any farther, I need you to know what happened. It’s very important to me that you know. If this changes your feelings for me, I understand.”
“It won’t change my feelings for you. I can promise you that.” Kid knew this was going to be one of the hardest things he’d ever heard. “Whenever you’re ready to tell me, I’m ready to listen.”
“Alright, here goes…”
Lou couldn’t believe her eyes when she got out of bed. Kid’s things were gone. It was like he had never been there. As she dropped down to the floor, she noticed a note with her name on it propped up against the lamp. “Maybe I’m wrong.”
The other boys woke up when they heard Lou’s sobs. She never even considered that he’d leave her. “Why couldn’t he have just waited? I just need more time.”
“Lou, what’s goin’ on?” Buck had heard Kid leave the night before. He had even tried to stop him. Kid just wouldn’t listen to reason. No matter how many times he told Kid he was making a huge mistake, Kid said he was doing the right thing.
“He left. He says he can’t just be friends so he left.” Buck just held Lou as she cried. She let the other boys read the note and they couldn’t believe it.
“What the hell is he thinking? I’m gonna go and bring him back.” Jimmy would do anything to make Lou happy again. He’d really like to beat the hell out of Kid when he found him.
“No! I don’t want him to be forced back here. He’s got to come back on his own.” Lou didn’t know what she was going to do without Kid. She knew she’d hurt him terribly when she turned down his marriage proposal, but she had no idea this would happen. Why couldn’t he just be patient with her?
“I’m gonna go get Rachel.” Cody couldn’t stand to see a woman cry and Lou’s tears were more than he could bear.
“Rachel? You in here?” Cody hoped that she wasn’t sleeping.
“I’m in the kitchen. What’s going on Cody?” Rachel was surprised to see Cody up so early. He didn’t have a run that day and usually slept as late as he possibly could.
“Kid’s gone. He left Lou a note saying he just couldn’t stick around and be friends with her. She’s real upset.”
“What is that boy thinking? I’ll head right over.” Rachel couldn’t believe that Kid would leave Lou. Lou had told her what happened in the barn after she had turned down his proposal. He must’ve been more upset than everyone thought. “Go get Teaspoon and get him to the bunkhouse. He needs to know what’s going on.”
Rachel wasn’t prepared to see the state Lou was in. She had never seen Lou this upset. None of them had for that matter. Rachel had a feeling things were going to get worse before they got better. “Lou? Honey, what’s going on?”
“Oh Rachel! He left me.” Lou pulled out of Buck’s arms and reached for Rachel. As Rachel began to comfort her, they heard Teaspoon yell.
“Rider Comin! Who’s up?” Cody hadn’t gotten to tell Teaspoon what had happened during the night.
“I’ll go.” Cody rushed out to saddle his horse.
“Boys, what’s going on here?” Teaspoon had never seen Lou cry.
“Come out here, I’ll tell you what’s going on.” Jimmy couldn’t take Lou’s sobs anymore. He wanted to go find Kid, but he’d follow Lou’s request and stay there. “Kid’s gone.”
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
“He couldn’t stick around after she turned down his proposal. Said he couldn’t just be friends with her.”
“Merciful God. You gonna go and get him.” Out of all the boys, Kid was the last one Teaspoon expected to pack up and leave in the dead of night.
“She told me not to. She wants him to come back on his own.”
“Let’s take her in the house. I don’t think that she’ll be riding again anytime soon.”
The next few days were very tense at Sweetwater Station. Lou rarely left the house. She spent most days in Rachel’s spare bedroom sleeping and crying. The boys wanted to go after Kid, but Lou was very insistent that they leave him alone. She’d decided that if he didn’t want her, the hell with him. She could do better.
“Lou, it’s time for dinner.” Rachel wanted Lou to visit the doctor. She’d had no appetite and when she did eat, she ended up getting sick. Lou kept telling her that she was fine, it was just stress. She’d be better as time passed.
“I’ll be there shortly Rachel.” Lou had decided to write Kid a letter telling him how much he’d hurt her. She’d been working on it all afternoon, but hadn’t gotten far. “More will come to me after dinner.”
Lou didn’t stay at the table long. She picked at her food and then rushed upstairs to be alone. Rachel sadly shook her head. “ I hope she stops grieving for him soon. She’s making herself sick.”
“All we can do is wait. As time goes on, she’ll get better.” Teaspoon could tell the boys didn’t believe a word that he was saying. “I know you boys don’t believe me, but she’ll meet someone that will make her forget Kid. Someone who will sweep her off her feet.”
“I don’t think so Teaspoon. I think that person was Kid.” Buck was the one person that Lou had confided in since Kid left. She had tried talking to Jimmy, but he was so angry at Kid it hadn’t helped at all. In fact, it made things worse.
When Lou reached her room, she decided to work on her letter to Kid more. There was so much she wanted to say to him, but she didn’t know how to say it. As she read what she had written, Lou wished Kid could hear the words and the pain behind them.
“Rachel! Where are you? You got a letter.” The residents of the station rarely got mail, just an occasional letter from Emma and Sam. Cody couldn’t wait for Rachel to tell them who’d written and what was going on.
“Cody, I don’t understand how one person could be so loud. I got a letter?”
“Yeah, don’t know who from though. The handwriting looks a little like Kid.” No one at the station talked about Kid leaving. It had been a few weeks and Lou’s health had been deteriorating ever since. Rachel had been trying to convince her to go to the doctor, but Lou always insisted she was fine.
“Let me see that.” Rachel tore open the envelope and couldn’t believe what she was reading. Kid was back in Virginia and had no intentions of coming back. He just wanted to let her know that he was all right so she wouldn’t worry. He asked about the boys, but hadn’t mentioned Lou. Rachel hoped that didn’t mean he’d forgotten about her this quickly. “Cody, don’t tell Lou about this letter. Let the others know that to. When she’s feeling better, we’ll tell her what’s going on.”
“She go to the doc’s yet?”
“Not yet. She doesn’t know it, but Teaspoon and I are taking her tomorrow. She’s going to wither away to nothing if we don’t make her take care of herself.”
“She’s not going to like this.” Cody knew he’d have to find a place to hide in the morning so he didn’t have to hear Lou’s protests. Maybe he’d ride out to the swimming hole with his new book.
“She has no choice.”
Dinner that night was a quiet affair. The boys watched Lou push her food around her plate and occasionally take a bite. Buck didn’t like the way that Rachel had decided to keep Kid’s letter from Lou. He thought she deserved to know how callous Kid was being. Lou had told him how worried about Kid she was. She had been hoping that she’d hear from him, but she also knew that she wouldn’t.
“Did Kid tell you where he was staying Rachel?” Lou’s head jerked up at the mention of Kid. No one had told her he’d gotten in touch with Rachel. Everyone shot a look at Buck for bringing up the letter. Rachel thought all the boys understood that Lou wasn’t to know about it. She’d be better off if she thought he forgot all about her.
“He’s in Virginia Buck, that’s all I know.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me he had written?”
“We didn’t want you to be hurt Lou. He just wanted us to know he was alright.” Rachel hoped this would be a turning point for Lou. She hoped that knowing Kid was alright would help Lou to take better care of herself. She still wished that Buck had kept his mouth shut though.
“Can I read the letter?” Lou wanted to see something from Kid. She was still angry with him for leaving, but she missed him so much. She knew that turning down the proposal was a bad idea. She didn’t want to go on without him, but now he’d left her with no choice.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea Lou. He’s not comin’ back. It’s best if you just try to get over him.” Rachel knew she sounded very harsh, but she wanted Lou to realize that her life wasn’t over because Kid left.
“I understand that he’s not coming back Rachel, but I’m not going to get over him.” Lou got up and left the bunkhouse. She couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Rachel and Teaspoon had told Doc Barnes a little about Lou’s situation. They made sure that he understood Lou didn’t want to see him and didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. Other than the riders, Doc Barnes was the only person in town who knew Lou was a girl. He had come out to the station after she’d been thrown from a horse. Teaspoon still felt guilty about that. Before he’d found out she was a girl, he’d insisted that she help break horses. She had tried to get out of it, but when Teaspoon threatened to fire her for not pulling her weight she had no choice. The doctor agreed to keep Lou’s secret, but had a hard time not telling Teaspoon the truth.
“C’mon Lou. You can’t keep putting this off. You haven’t gotten any better, if anything you’ve gotten worse. It’ll give me some piece of mind.” Rachel had been listening to Lou come up with excuse after excuse why she couldn’t go to the doctor.
“Fine. He’s just going to tell me that it’s stress and there’s nothing wrong with me. You try having the man you love leave and see how well you handle it.” The words came out of Lou’s mouth before she thought. She couldn’t believe what she’d just said. “Rachel, that’s not what I meant. I’m so sorry!”
“I know what you’re trying to say Lou, but you’ve got to understand that we all care about you and we’re worried. You’ve lost weight. Now let’s go.” Rachel grabbed Lou’s arm and pulled her to the doctor’s office.
“Well Lou, it’s seems that you’re about three months pregnant. That’s what has caused your loss of appetite and tiredness. I am concerned by your weight loss. You need to start eating better and resting. May I ask where the father is?”
“He left and I don’t think he’s coming back.” As happy as Lou was to be having Kid’s baby, she was just as disappointed that he wouldn’t be there to help her raise their child.
“I think you should try to find him. Let one of the boys look for him. You’ll need his help, well, it’ll be easier with his help.” Dr. Barnes felt sorry for Lou. He’d always admired her strength and desire to provide for her family. A baby on the way wasn’t going to make things any easier. “Here’s a list of foods you should eat and activities you can and can’t do. I’d like to see you in a couple weeks to see how you’re doing.”
“Thanks. If I have any questions, I’ll be sure to come to you.” Lou walked out of the examination room in a daze. She walked past Rachel without really seeing her and headed out the door.
“Is she alright Doc?” Rachel hoped that Lou hadn’t gotten bad news. She could tell by the look on Lou’s face that she’d gotten a shock.
“Yes, you’ll have to get her to tell you. I gave her a list of foods she needs to eat and activities she should do, please help her to follow that.”
“We will, thank you.” Rachel left the office and hoped to Lou would confide in her.
Lou went into her room and sat down at the desk. She couldn’t believe that she was going to have a baby. She thought back three months and remembered the ride Teaspoon had sent her and Kid on. They had to go to Fort Laramie to pick up some bank drafts. Of course the drafts weren’t ready so they spent two wonderful days and nights together. She’d bought a dress and they took advantage of the freedom to be together.
Lou took a deep breath to prepare herself before walking into the bunkhouse for dinner. She had decided to tell everyone right away so they would stop worrying. She would be able to take care of both the baby and herself. And if any of those boys even suggested going to Virginia, she was going to hit them upside the head.
“Evening Lou. Haven’t seen much of you today.” Rachel had told the boys what little she could about what happened at the doctor’s.
“I’ve been restin’ like the doctor said to.” Lou took a look around the table at her family and hoped that they wouldn’t think badly of her for what she was about to say. “I want to let y’all know what’s goin’ on. I’m pregnant.”
No one said a word. Teaspoon got up and gave Lou a hug. “This is wonderful news.” He turned toward the table, keeping an arm around Lou and grinning at the boys. “I’m gonna be a grandpa.”
It was as if everyone was waiting to see Teaspoon’s reaction to Lou’s announcement. All the boys gave Lou a hug and Cody started a campaign for the baby to be named after him. Lou was relieved at their reaction and sat down to start eating dinner.
After dinner, Teaspoon and the boys headed to town to see how Barnett was fairing. “Evening Barnett. Quiet?” Teaspoon hoped it was. He and the boys needed to figure out who was going to go and find Kid.
“Why don’t you take off for a couple hours. Get somthin’ to eat.”
“Awright Teaspoon. Night Boys.”
Barnett barely made it out the door before Jimmy started up. “Teaspoon, I’m headin’ to Virginia. You can’t stop me. I’m going to find him and drag his ass back here. How could he leave her like this?”
“He didn’t know Jimmy. Lou just found out herself today. If he would’ve known, he wouldn’t have left.” Noah hoped Jimmy would listen to reason, but he couldn’t completely understand Kid’s reasons for leaving.
“That’s no excuse. He still shouldn’t have left her.”
“Noah’s not sayin’ he shoulda left her Jimmy. None of us understand why he would leave her, but he did.” Cody was tired of the nightly debates between Jimmy and Buck. Jimmy had been determined since Kid first left to go after him. Buck knew Lou didn’t want that and made sure to remind Jimmy of that. The tension in the bunkhouse was almost unbearable.
“Boys! Now Jimmy, I want you and Buck to go and find Kid. Don’t bring him back. Lou don’t want that. Just find him and tell him that she’s havin’ his baby. If he wants to come back, he’ll come. We can’t pressure him.” Teaspoon knew that Lou didn’t want anyone to go after Kid, but she wasn’t going to get a say this time. “I don’t want anyone to tell Lou where they went. We’ll just tell her that they’re on a special ride. Now go get some sleep, your leavin’ at dawn.”
The boys filed out of Teaspoon’s office and quietly headed back to the station. Buck pondered Teaspoon’s wisdom at sending him and Jimmy after Kid. His opinion about the decision didn’t matter much though, there was no talking Teaspoon out of it.
“Lou? You’re up early this morning.” Rachel was surprised to see Lou it was the first time she’d gotten up to help since Kid left.
“It’s time to pull my weight around here. I gotta start doing stuff for me and the baby. I know Kid’s not comin back. I can’t lay around hopin he’s gonna show up. It just ain’t gonna happen.” Lou had done a lot of thinking the night before and realized that even though she’d never feel for anyone what she felt for Kid that she’d have to try to move on. Her child needed a father.
The girls worked quietly to get breakfast ready for the boys. Lou watched Rachel cook and hoped that she would be able to cook like Rachel some day. The food was ready right when the boys headed into the bunkhouse. As Rachel started serving, Lou noticed that Jimmy and Buck were missing.
“Aren’t we gonna wait for Jimmy and Buck?”
“I sent them out on a special run. They’re gonna be gone for a couple weeks at least.” Teaspoon had no doubts that Lou would figure out something was up. He just hoped it would be awhile before that happened.
“Oh, I hope they make it back sooner than that.” Lou thought there was something fishy about the really long ride, but she didn’t question it.
“Buck and Jimmy came looking for me?”
“Yeah, I didn’t even know that’s what they were doing until they got back. I had other things on my mind. They were gone about three weeks.”
“When did you guys move to Rock Creek?” Kid had been surprised when Rachel wrote him that they’d changed stations.
“Not long after Jimmy and Buck got back. That was when I started telling people I was a widow. The boys kept up my lie so no one knew that I hadn’t been married.” Lou had always been a little ashamed of lying to everyone, but she didn’t want people to give her child a hard time.
Teaspoon wasn’t sure how to tell the boys, Rachel and Lou that they were moving. Because of ongoing problems at the Rock Creek station, the company was relocating them. He hoped that they would be able to have better luck keeping the station running smoothly.
“Evening Teaspoon. Glad you could join us.”
“Everybody better have a seat. I’ve got an announcement to make.” Teaspoon looked around the table at the faces of his family. “We’re gonna be moving to Rock Creek.”
“Why?” Everyone was so surprised at Teaspoon’s announcement. Cody asked the question they all had.
“The company is having troubles with the station there. They want an experienced group of riders to take over.”
“Excuse me.” Lou jumped up from the table and rushed out of the bunkhouse. What was she going to do if everyone moved? She didn’t want to be alone. She also didn’t want a town full of people to judge her because she was having a baby by herself.
“Teaspoon, you’re not gonna leave Lou here by herself are you?” Buck knew that if Lou couldn’t go with them to Rock Creek he’d leave the Express. He didn’t want her to be left alone.
“Of course not. She’s family and she’s coming with us. I’m gonna go and talk to her.” Teaspoon left the bunkhouse and found Lou sitting on the corral fence. “Not gonna be long before you won’t be able to climb up there anymore.”
“I know. I’m gonna enjoy it while I can.” Lou was dreading what Teaspoon was about to say. She just knew he was going to tell her she couldn’t go with them. She’d already had Kid leave her, she didn’t want to loose the rest of her family too. “When do you guys move?”
“Jimmy, Cody and I are heading out in the morning to get things ready, then the rest of ya are coming out next week.” Teaspoon grinned as Lou looked down at him with amazement.
“Me too?” Lou wasn’t sure she’d heard him correctly. She must be mistaken.
“Of course you too. You’re family. You don’t think I’d miss the chance to spoil my grandbaby do you?”
Lou carefully climbed off the fence and threw her arms around Teaspoon. “I didn’t think that y’all would want me with you. How are we gonna explain the baby? I don’t want people judgin’ you for being with me.”
“We’ll tell ‘em you’re a widow. Nobody needs to know the truth but us. C’mon, Rachel made cake. We don’t want Cody to eat it all before we get a piece.” The pair headed to the bunkhouse for some dessert and to tell the others the plan.
Lou had thought a lot about her feelings for Kid recently. She had realized that she never wanted to be with anyone else if she couldn’t be with Kid. She would have his baby with her and that would have to be enough.
The move to Rock Creek went much smoother than they anticipated. Lou felt bad about not being much help, but she wasn’t allowed to lift much anymore. She was relieved that no one questioned that she was a widow and she had even started making some new friends. Rachel had started teaching her how to cook. After a few weeks, she finally got the hang of it and the boys didn’t even make faces when they took the first bite anymore. It was a good thing too. Rachel was going to start teaching school soon so Lou would be in charge of feeding the boys.
“Rachel, you gotta letter today.”
“Thanks Noah. How was your run?” Rachel noticed Kid’s handwriting on the envelope and decided not to tell the other that she’d heard from him again. She didn’t want Lou to get her hopes up.
“Quiet. Hi Lou. How ya feeling?” The boys had started betting on when Lou would have the baby and what it would be.
“Big. I’m ready to have this baby. Who’s the letter from Rachel?” Lou noticed Rachel trying to hide the letter in her pocket and thought to herself it must be from Kid.
“Just an old friend. I’m saving it for later.” She didn’t like lying to Lou, but she didn’t think she had much choice. They all knew she needed to move on, she just hadn’t done that yet. Maybe once the baby was born things would change.
Lou knew that Rachel was hiding something from her, but didn’t want to press her for information. She had to keep believe that everything would work out in the end. “I’m going to visit Teaspoon. I’ll find out if he’s gonna be home for dinner.”
Rachel and Noah watched Lou leave. As the door closed, Noah turned to Rachel. “Letter’s from Kid isn’t it.”
“Yeah. Don’t let any of the boys know. They’re gonna want to try and find him again. Besides one of them might let it slip to Lou. She’s got to get over him.”
“I don’t think that she wants to get over him. I’ll keep your secret though.” After Jimmy and Buck had returned from Virginia, the boys had decided that they would do whatever they had to in order to keep Lou happy. She deserved better than she had gotten.
“Hey Teaspoon, anything exciting goin on?”
“Why hello there little mama! How are you feelin today?” Lou had been walking to the office to visit Teaspoon since they moved to Rock Creek. He really enjoyed the time they’d spent together and had learned a lot about her.
“Rachel got another letter from Kid. She’s trying to hide it from me.” The pair had had long discussions about Kid’s letters to Rachel. They didn’t come often, but she had gotten a couple since he left. It was hard to believe it had been almost four months since he left. Then again, it seemed like it had been so long since she’d seen him.
“We talked about this. You know she’s just tryin to protect ya.” Teaspoon had tried to convince Rachel to let Lou read the letters, but it didn’t work. He could understand her reasoning, he just didn’t think she was going about this in the best way.
“I know, but I’d like to see what’s goin on with him. How he’s doin at least.”
“I know what you mean Lou, but maybe eventually she’ll let you see them.”
“I hope so.”
Another loss plunged the small family into the depths of dispair. Losing Ike the way they did, was the hardest thing the group had gone through. Lou kept reminding herself that he died protecting the woman he loved, but that didn’t lessen the pain any. She didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to him before the funeral. With her baby due any day, she wasn’t allowed to go very far from the house. As it was, she had to beg and plead to be at the funeral. With Ike gone, Buck had drawn into himself. He was angry at the world, killing Neville hadn’t helped ease his pain. Lou had tried to talk to him, but he ran away every time she tried and there was no way she had any chance of catching him. Today was different though. Ike had been gone two weeks today and Lou wasn’t about to let Buck run away from everything again.
“Buck Cross! I know what you’re goin through. Why won’t you talk to me about what happened? You were there for me when I needed a friend, why won’t you let me do the same for you?” Lou was lucky her voice carried. Buck got further and further away with every step she took, but her last question stopped him.
“You have enough on your plate Lou. I don’t wanna add to your burden.” Buck had wanted to talk to Lou since he had shot Neville, but with the baby due he didn’t want to do anything to upset her.
“Add to my burden?! By talking about your feelings? If anything’s addin to my burden, it’s chasing after you. Would you like to come in the house and talk now or are ya gonna make me chase you?” Lou smiled as Buck headed towards her. “Thanks for coming back. I really don’t think we could’ve handled chasing anymore.” Lou smiled up at Buck and the pair headed into the house.
“I felt terrible I wasn’t there when Ike died. Could you show me where he was buried?” Kid had always felt so guilty about Ike. Like if he would’ve been there Ike wouldn’t have died.
“Of course. We can go up there tomorrow. We buried him in a Kiowa ceremony. It was just us. We did have a service at the church, but it was after the Kiowa ceremony. Kind of a memorial service. There weren’t a lot of folks from town, but it was nice.”
“Whatever happened to the woman he died for?”
“Emily? You haven’t met her yet have you? She disappeared for awhile after Ike died, but came back about a year later with the cutest little boy. Looks just like Ike. She named him Isaac Matthew, but everybody just calls him Ike.” Lou and Emily had gotten very close. “Maybe when the kids get back next week, we’ll have Emily, Ike and her husband, Michael over for dinner.”
“I’d like that. I feel like I missed so much.”
The boys had taken to watching every move Lou made. Cody joked once that she was bigger around than she was tall. It was a good thing Lou couldn’t run, Cody wouldn’t have lived to see another day. In fact, Teaspoon sent him out on a special run that same day just to make sure Lou didn’t try to poison him in his dinner. Things would be much more peaceful when Lou finally had this baby.
“Mornin Teaspoon. Cody back from that special run you sent him on yet?” Jimmy thought it was so funny that Lou was gonna kill Cody. Teaspoon thought that sending Cody away would help, but Lou was just waiting for him to get back. She had been planning her revenge for days and he couldn’t wait to see it.
“Not yet. Should be back in a day or two. She still set on killing him?” Teaspoon had hoped that Lou would have her baby before Cody got back and then she would be too distracted to want to kill him, but it wasn’t working out very well.
“You know she is. I can’t wait to see what she’s got in store for him. He knew better than to tease her.”
“I know, but sometimes that boy just doesn’t use his head.” The pair was laughing over Cody’s misfortune when Rachel burst into the bunkhouse.
Lou had been feeling very uncomfortable for the past couple days. Of course, Cody had to open his big mouth about how big she’d gotten. It was a good thing Teaspoon sent him on a run because she was going to make him pay the next time he wanted to eat. She’d get him when he came home in a couple days.
“Lou, what’s wrong? You’ve been quiet the past couple days.” Rachel had a feeling that the baby would soon be here, but Lou hadn’t mentioned any pain.
“My back’s been sore. Besides, I’ve gotta come up with the perfect revenge for Cody. I’ll teach him to make fun of me.” As Lou pushed herself up off the couch, a sharp pain took her by surprise. She gasped and dropped back on the couch.
“You alright?” Rachel rushed over to Lou’s side.
“I think this baby is finally gonna put in an appearance.” Lou was relieved to be finally having the baby, but was scared about what was going to happen next.
“You want me to have one of the boys get the Doctor?”
Lou’s labor seemed to be going very fast. After an hour, Lou was begging Rachel to get the doctor. Rachel ran to the bunkhouse. She knew she’d seen Teaspoon and Jimmy head inside. When she got to the door she heard them laughing as she burst through.
“Whoa Rachel! What’s the rush?” Teaspoon would expect Cody to burst through a door like his pants are on fire, but not Rachel.
“It’s Lou. One of you needs to go get the doctor.” Rachel ran out of the bunkhouse to go back to Lou’s side as Jimmy headed out for the doctor. Teaspoon followed Rachel to the house and hoped the other boys would make it back before the big event.
Lou couldn’t have imagined the pain she was going through. It was during an especially hard contraction that she decided she didn’t want Kid to know about the baby. She’d figure out what to tell her child when the time came, but Kid didn’t deserve any of the credit for this. “Rachel?”
“What can I do for you?” Rachel was hoping the doctor would make it on time. Jimmy had returned with the news that the doctor was delivering another baby and would be there as soon as he could. He told Jimmy he was sure that Rachel could handle the delivery if she had to.
“When you write Kid, don’t tell him. I don’t want him to know this is his baby. I’m doing all the work, I’m takin all the credit. Be sure Teaspoon and the boys know this too.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
“He left me Rachel. He doesn’t deserve to know this baby.”
As the sun was peeking over the horizon, Lou held the most perfect little girl in her arms. It had been a very long night, but she had decided it was worth the effort. “Too bad your daddy can’t see you. We’ll be alright though. You’ve got lots of uncles to spoil you like crazy.” Lou was enjoying the alone time with her daughter before Teaspoon and the boys came up to meet the baby.
“Lou? Are you ready for some visitors?”
“Of course I am. C’mon in and meet Jamilah Louise McCloud.”
“Jamilah? Where’d you come up with that?” Cody had ridden in late that night and was relieved to hear that Lou was occupied giving birth instead of setting him up for disaster.
“It was my Mother’s sister’s name. She was one of my favorite aunts.” Lou handed the baby to a very proud Teaspoon.
“I think it’s a perfect name for my first grandchild. Hello little Jamie. You look just like your mama. Yes you do. If we’re lucky, you won’t act just like her. If you do, we’re never gonna have a minute of peace.” The boys and Rachel found that to be very funny, but were surprised that Lou didn’t respond. Jimmy nudged Buck as he noticed that Lou had fallen asleep.
“I think we should go.” Jimmy lead the boys out of the room as Teaspoon handed Jamie to Rachel.
As Teaspoon stepped off the bottom step, the boys had already started discussing who was going after Kid this time. Jimmy and Buck wanted to go back. They reminded Teaspoon that they already had a good idea of where he was.
“Now boys, I don’t think we should go lookin for him this time. She’s made it clear that she doesn’t want us draggin him back. I think we’ll play it by ear. If she should decide she needs him, we’ll head out looking for him.” Rachel had told Teaspoon about Lou believing that Kid didn’t deserve to know about Jamie. Convincing the boys she doesn’t want Kid to know was turning out a lot easier than he thought it would.
“The second she wants him around, I’m goin after him.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less from ya Jimmy. Now you boys go get some sleep. It was a long night.”
The first three months of Jamie’s life passed very quickly. Lou didn’t really have the time to worry about where Kid had gone or miss him being there to help her. She had her hands full between the baby and the boys. She had just put Jamie down for her nap when Cody came up to the house.
“Lou, you got a visitor. Real nice lookin lady.”
“Where is she? I don’t see anybody Cody.” Lou had been having a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach for the past couple days. She was just hoping that she was catching something.
“Ma’am? Over here.”
“Louise? Is that you?”
“Charlotte?” When Lou left St. Jo, she didn’t think she’d ever see Charlotte again. Out of all the ladies at the house, Charlotte was the only one who took the time to look out for Louise. She was the one that got Louise out of the house after Wicks had hurt her. Lou had always felt that she owed her life and all she had to Charlotte, but seeing Charlotte on her doorstep didn’t please her one bit.
“Thank you so much for bring me to Louise Mr. Cody.”
“Yer welcome ma’am. I’ll leave you ladies to catch up.”
“It’s been a long time Charlotte. Why don’t you come in?” Lou wanted to ask about Wicks so badly, but also wanted to know how Charlotte had found her. She’d made sure to never write Charlotte for fear Wicks would find her and come after her.
“It has been a long time. I understand why you never got in touch with me. I had to do a lot of searchin to find you.” Charlotte had always thought of Lou as a little sister. She knew Wicks had been up to something the night he’d finally gotten to Louise. He’d made sure that she was busy with customers all night long so she couldn’t keep an eye on Louise. At least she’d been able to get Louise out before Wicks could hurt her again. “You’ve done very well for yourself. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you. I’ve changed a lot since I left St. Jo. Charlotte, where’s Wicks?”
“Dead. He cheated the wrong man. I can’t say I’m sorry either.” Charlotte hated lying to Louise, but knew Lou would never let her stick around if there was a chance of Wicks showing up. Besides, when she left Wicks was on death’s door anyway. He couldn’t have survived.
“That’s a relief. Now, we should get you checked into the hotel. I’d let you stay here, but it’s not my house. Give me a couple minutes to get Jamie ready to go and we’ll walk you over there.”
“Wait, Louise, who’s Jamie?”
“My daughter. I’ll explain later.” Lou left Charlotte standing in the sitting room with an amazed look on her face.
Charlotte quickly grew close to all the members of the Express family and became a member herself. Jamie loved spending time with her Aunt Charlotte, giving Lou the chance to go riding more often. Before Charlotte’s arrival, the boys used to do everything in their power to find something else to do. They loved their niece dearly, but didn’t feel ready to babysit.
Lou had only been gone about twenty minutes when someone knocked on the door. Charlotte was shocked at the face staring at her through the screen. “It can’t be you! You’re dead!”
“Surprise, I’m not. Now Charlotte, I believe you took something of mine. I want it back.” Jamie started to cry at the raised voices. Charlotte rushed to pick up the baby, but Wicks beat her to Jamie. “Well, well, well. Who do we have here?”
“Put her down! I’ll get you your money. Just leave her alone.” Charlotte rushed toward Wicks, but he pushed her to the floor as soon as she was close enough. He noticed a picture on the mantle and moved for a closer look. Looking at him from the picture was the one woman that had gotten the best of him. He wondered where she’d disappeared to and had even worked Charlotte over real well for information. She hadn’t been able to work for a week.
“So you’re little Louise’s child. Why don’t you and I go for a little ride? I’m sure your mama will come looking for you real quick.” As he walked out the door with Jamie in his arms, Charlotte rushed at him for a second time. She was so intent on getting Jamie back, she didn’t notice the gun in Wicks’ hand. She was shocked when she heard the shot and felt the bullet hit her. “Tell Louise I’ll let her know where and how she can get her baby back.” Charlotte knew that telling Lou that Wicks wasn’t dead would be hard, but telling her that he had taken Jamie would be worse.
Lou loved being able to ride again. Having Jamie was wonderful, but she missed the freedom of her riding days. She couldn’t just pick up and ride like she used to. She had really needed to get away today. Jamie had been more cranky than usual today and the boys each needed something special to be done for them and it had to be right now.
“Well Lightening, I guess I can’t avoid them anymore. We better head back home and take care of all the children back there.” Lou’s hour of peace and quiet had gone much more quickly than she expected it too. As she approached the house, she was surprised to see the doctor’s buggy in front of the house. A feeling of dread came over her as she worried something terrible had happened to Jamie. Lightening had barely stopped before she jumped to the ground.
“Lou! Wait!” Jimmy had drawn the short straw again. He was not looking forward to telling Lou that Jamie had been kidnapped and Charlotte was dying. The doctor said the shot wasn’t intended to kill instantly, but to cause her great pain. It had worked.
“Jimmy, I’ve got to find out what’s going on.”
“Hold on, I can tell you.” Lou spun around to face Jimmy. He could see the worry for her child in her eyes. He couldn’t help but think that Teaspoon or Rachel should be the ones to tell her what happened. He was no good at this kind of thing. “Charlotte’s been shot. Doc says she ain’t gonna make it.”
“No. Who did this?” Lou’s legs dropped from under her at the idea that her friend was dying.
“There’s more. Honey, he took Jamie.”
“WHO THE HELL DID THIS?” Lou felt her world drop away as she found out her daughter was taken. There was one man who would want to hurt her this bad, but he was dead. Charlotte had assured her he was.
“Man by the name of Wicks. Said Charlotte had something that he wanted and he’ll let you know how you can get Jamie back.” Jimmy wrapped his arms around Lou’s shaking form. He didn’t know what to say to her other than they were already working on finding Wicks and getting Jamie back.
“She said he was dead. Told me they buried him and he could never show up. How could he take my baby if he’s dead?”
“Honey, Charlotte wanted you to know he was practically dead when she left. It was just a matter of time. She wanted to get to know you again and knew you wouldn’t let her if she told ya he wasn’t quite dead yet. She never meant for it to happen Lou.”
“I know that Jimmy, but it happened. That monster has my baby.” The terror Lou felt was overwhelming. She would do everything in her power to insure that Jamie was back in her arms as quickly as possible.
“Who was Wicks Lou? Why were you so afraid of him?” Kid could tell that what happened still bothered Lou. As soon as she got to this point in the story, she started pacing around the room.
“After I left the orphanage, I had trouble finding work. No one wanted a 13 year-old girl. I had just gotten caught trying to steal some bread from a store. The owner threw me out on the street in the middle of winter. I huddled down in an alley tryin to figure out what to do next when Wicks asked me if I needed a job.” Lou couldn’t believe how innocent she’d been then. She had no idea what she’d gotten into by working for Wicks. “I needed the job, so I took it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was months before I realized what the place was. I should’ve realized sooner. I did the laundry, all those lacy undergarments. Charlotte was nice to me from the start. She became a sister to me. Looked out for me. One night, she was real busy with customers and Wicks found his chance. Kid, that was the worst night of my life and I’ve been so ashamed about it. He forced himself on me. Charlotte found me shortly after he left and got me out of there. I didn’t see or hear from her again until she showed up after Jamie was born.”
“That explains a lot about what happened between us I guess. I wish I could’ve been here for you through that.” The longer Lou’s story went on, the more guilty Kid felt. When she needed him most, he wasn’t there for her. He regretted leaving more than he ever had before. “How’d you get Jamie back?”
The search for Wicks and Jamie began almost immediately after Charlotte had been found. Buck and Cody started tracking long before Lou got back from her ride. Teaspoon and Rachel stayed with Charlotte as she died. She told them what happened and what she thought would help them get Jamie back. Teaspoon reassured Charlotte that nothing would happen to Jamie and that none of it was her fault. He didn’t envy the person who had to tell Lou what was going on.
After Charlotte had passed on, Teaspoon found Jimmy and Noah pacing on the porch. “Boys, which one of ya is gonna tell Lou what happened?” Jimmy and Noah just looked at each other. Neither wanted to have to give Lou the terrible news. “I figured neither of ya would be volunteering, so we’re drawing straws. Noah, you first.”
Jimmy knew he’d end up telling Lou. For some reason, he always seemed to draw the short straw. He wished Kid was around so he could tell Lou what was going on. Of course, Kid probably wouldn’t be the most help in the situation.
“Jimmy, if she’s not back soon, ride out and find her. We can’t keep her from knowin too long.” With that decided, Teaspoon headed to the undertakers to arrange for Charlotte’s funeral.
Buck and Cody had no problems following Wicks trail. He made no attempts at hiding it. Cody and Buck were surprised when he stopped at an abandoned trapper’s cabin not far from the way station. They could hear Jamie crying from their position about 50 yards from the cabin.
“She must be hungry or somethin. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her cry like that.” Cody wanted to rush to the cabin and rescue his niece, but knew that would mean sure death for her. “What are we gonna do? Sit here and listen to her cry?”
“You ride back and tell Teaspoon we found Wicks. I’ll stay and keep an eye on everything. If he moves, I’ll let you guys know. Work on a plan and figure it out fast.”
“Let’s hope he doesn’t get the idea to move her. Be careful!”
“Ride safe Cody! Tell Lou we’re gonna get her back.” Buck watched Cody ride back to the station and had no doubt in his mind that little Jamie would be back in her mother’s arms very soon.
“What’s the plan Teaspoon?” Jimmy wanted to rush out and save Jamie, but Lou had told them how sneaky and underhanded Wicks could be.
“We’re gonna wait for Buck or Cody to come back and let us know where he’s hidin out. Once we know where he’s at, we’ll start working on gettin our girl back.”
“Rider Comin’! Looks like Cody. They must’ve found him.”
“Noah, go get Lou from the house, she’ll want to hear this.” Teaspoon watched as Noah rushed to the house to get Lou. They practically had to tie her down to keep her from going after Wicks herself.
“Lou! C’mon, Cody’s back. He’s got news.” Lou rushed out the door and beat Noah to the bunkhouse door.
“Now that y’all are here. We know where he’s at. Buck’s keepin his eye on him. Said if he moves anywhere he’ll let us know. He’s gonna stick with him though.”
“How’s Jamie? Did he hurt her?” Lou was frantic to have Jamie back in her arms.
“Lou, we couldn’t get close enough to see her, but she sounded alright.” Cody regretted what he said as soon as the words were out of his mouth. “You know how she gets when you ride with her. She hates that. I’m sure that’s why she was so loud.”
“You better be right Cody.” There wasn’t a doubt in anyone’s mind that Lou would take it out of Cody’s hide if Jamie was hurt. “How are we gonna get her back?”
The plan sounded too easy, wait for Wicks to contact Lou, then make a move. Lou hated the idea of her baby being with that monster longer than necessary, but understood that she didn’t have much choice. Only she and Jimmy were left in the bunkhouse. Everyone else couldn’t watch her pace anymore and had found chores to do until it was time to leave. Cody had gone to relieve Buck a few minutes before and Lou hoped that Buck would be able to tell her that Jamie was being treated well.
“I wish Kid was here.” Lou knew that she would make it through this crisis, but also realized how much easier problems were when Kid was there to help her out.
“Want me try and find him again after we get Jamie back?” If Jimmy had been surprised at Lou’s revelation, he didn’t show it.
“No. He left me, he’s never contacted me. He might make this easier, but he’s obviously moved on. I suppose I should to, but it’s just too hard. Jamie needs a father, but I know the only one I really want for her is Kid.”
“You’re better off without him Lou. I know you still have strong feelings for him, but he must not’ve felt the same for you. If he woulda he never coulda left you.” Jimmy had always wanted to be more than just friends with Lou, but Kid had been around. After he left, Buck was around her and she was concerned with the baby. Maybe now he’d make his move.
“Maybe I am. Tell me this though, how do I explain everything to my daughter? I try everything in my power to not even think about Kid cause it hurts so much. Maybe it’ll just be the two of us forever.”
“Lou, you can’t cut yourself off from happiness because Kid left. You have every right to find yourself a good man to spend your life with. He’s out there somewhere for you.” Jimmy didn’t like hearing Lou say she wasn’t going to look for a new love. As much as he wanted to be that man, he realized that What Lou and Kid had had was something very special. Something that only the lucky ones find and you never get over when you lose.
“Jimmy, I know where he is. He’s in Virginia and he’s never coming back.” As Lou headed out the door, Jimmy decided that he’d do anything in his power to bring Kid back to his family.
“Buck! How’s my baby?” Lou was glad to see Buck. He was the only one who could tell her what had been going on with both her daughter and Wicks.
“She’s fine Lou. He’s got a woman there takin care of her.” Buck hadn’t wanted to leave his hiding spot. Cody was very insistent that he head home to get some sleep though. He’d been sitting up all night just watching. Not that anyone had gotten any sleep back at the station.
Buck walked up to Lou, hugged her and headed into the house for a little nap. As he was walking through the bunkhouse door, little Charlie Johnson came running up yelling for Lou. “Miz Louise, Miz Louise. I gots a message fer ya. Man paid me a whole nickel to deliver it.”
“Thanks Charlie. If you run up to the house, I’m sure Rachel’s got a cookie or two for ya.” Lou’s smile faded as Charlie ran off for his cookies. “It’s from Wicks.”
Buck rushed to gather everyone in the bunkhouse to hear Wicks’ demands. While he was doing that, Lou read the note.
“What’s it say Lou?” Jimmy watched the color drain from Lou’s face as she read the note.
“I have to bring him the money that Charlotte stole from him or he’ll kill Jamie. I don’t know what money he’s talkin about. Charlotte never told me she stole money.”
“She told us she took five thousand dollars from the safe in Wicks’ office before she headed out here. She put the money in the bank in you and Jamie’s names. She thought he owed it to ya.” Teaspoon was glad he had been around to hear Charlotte’s last words.
“So the money’s mine. I’m gonna just get it and give it to him. We don’t need it. We’ll be just fine.” Lou was determined to do whatever it takes to get Jamie back.
“We may not have to do that Lou. Last night he left the cabin for a couple hours. I thought about following him, but I didn’t want to leave Jamie. I could head back out there and follow him while Cody watches the cabin.”
“No Buck. You need to get some sleep. Give Noah directions to the cabin and he can sit with Cody. Now Noah, if Wicks leaves the cabin, one of you follow him wherever he goes. I don’t want him out of your sight. In the morning, we’ll send Buck back out to keep watch at the cabin. Jimmy, you and I are going to go and take a look see around that pond. We’ll find a place for us to keep outta sight. We’ll have to be out there before Wicks is due to meet Lou.” Teaspoon hoped the plan would work. He didn’t want to loose any more of his boys or any of his girls for that matter. “Lou, you go pull out part of that money. Charlotte intended you to have it so yer gonna have it.”
Getting the money from the bank hadn’t been hard. Lou stared at the pile of money sitting on her bed hoping that it would be enough to get Wicks to leave her alone. She knew it wouldn’t be though. Now that he knew where to find her, she’d have to leave her family. He wouldn’t leave her alone until he was dead. The second night without Jamie in the house was harder than the first. Knowing she was with Wicks made it that much worse. She turned her back to the money and began a letter to Kid.
Lou couldn’t take the fear and loneliness welling up inside her. She put her head down on the desk and cried herself to sleep.
Lou had trouble finding chores to keep her busy during the day. Jimmy had stopped back for a few minutes to tell her they were staying out at the pond. They didn’t want to risk Wicks finding out they were there. Cody had reported back that Wicks never left the cabin that night. He said as far as they could tell, Jamie was fine. He and Noah headed out to the pond while Buck went back to the cabin.
“Lou, why don’t you try to eat somethin?” Rachel had been trying to get Lou to eat since breakfast, but she hadn’t gotten her to stop cleaning long enough yet.
“I can’t Rachel. I’m so scared that he’s not gonna give her back to me. What if he wants more than just the money?”
“The boys are out there. They won’t let anything happen to you or Jamie.”
“What if he’s already hurt her?”
“Then he’s dead.”
The ride out to the pond was a lot longer than Lou thought it was. She couldn’t wait to hold her baby in her arms again. Two days had been too long. As she saw the pond in front of her, she saw Wicks step out from behind the trees.
“Nice to see you again Louise. It’s been too long.”
“Where’s my baby?” Memories of what had happened to quickly surfaced. He hadn’t changed a bit, but evil usually doesn’t.
“She’s safe. You don’t think I’d risk bringing such a small child all the way out here. She may get chilled.” This was a development they hadn’t counted on. Lou hoped one of the boys was still watching Jamie. Maybe they already had her back.
“You won’t be getting your damn money until I see that she’s alright. If you’ve hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
“Now Louise, you know I would never hurt a child.” Lou wasn’t sure what was going to happen next, but she knew without a doubt that Wicks would be dead as soon as she had Jamie back. She’d kill him with her own hands if she had to. “Do you have my money?”
“Of course. Here it is.” As Lou prepared to throw the bag to Wicks, she heard a bird call that could only be Buck. The boys were watching and something was about to happen. She saw movement from the corner of her eye and realized the boys were set to attack. She threw her bag to Wicks and dropped to the ground. Shots rang out and Wicks fell in a heap as the money hit the ground in front of him.
“Lou? You alright?” Teaspoon had gotten concerned when he saw her drop. He should’ve realized she’d have known what was going on.
“Yeah. Where’s Jamie?”
“Cody and Noah got her and took her back to the station. They rushed the cabin after Wicks left and had no troubles overpowering the woman he had watching the baby.” Teaspoon barely got the words out of his mouth before Lou was on Lightening and headed home. “Boys, let’s get this mess cleaned up and head home.”
“Jamie wasn’t hurt was she?”
“She didn’t have a scratch on her. I was terrified for weeks to let her out of my sight. Even though Wicks was dead, I just knew he was going to show up and take her again. It was months before I could sleep through the night. Jamie was sleeping through the night before I was.” Lou smiled at the memory. “Kid, I swear I was checking on her more after that then when she was first born. It was the hardest thing I had gone through.”
“I should’ve been there to help you. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
“I know you are. You’re here now though.” Lou sat down close to Kid and smiled as he put his arms around her.
“I’m not goin anywhere either. Got too much to stick around for. Not that I didn’t have enough before. I just wasn’t lookin close enough.” As Kid kissed Lou, he realized that his feelings for her hadn’t changed at all since he’d left her all those years ago. If anything, he loved her more. “Lou, I’ll understand if you’re not ready for this, but I gotta do this.”
Lou gave him a confused look as he knelt down in front of her and took her hand. “I’ve never stopped loving you and after what you’ve told me, I love you more. Louise McCloud, will you marry me?” She hadn’t expected him to ask that or that he’d kept the ring he’d tried to give her years before. As tears rolled down her cheeks, she gave him the answer she wished she’d given him before. “Yes, I’ll marry you. I’m ready to start living again, not just getting by.”