Chapter One

“That sounded like a scream!” Lou called to Buck as they made their way back from a special run to Fort Laramie. The ride had been uneventful so far and the weather had been perfect, until today. The sky was a dark gray that threatened to open up and pour at any moment.

“I thought so too. It seemed to come from over that rise. Let’s go check it out.” Buck answered Lou as he and Lou turned their mounts toward the sound.

The sight that met their eyes as they crested the rise sent a shiver of horror through Lou and caused Buck to feel a sudden jolt of hatred. A young Indian woman, dressed in a doeskin dress was fighting with two white men, trappers from their dress. One of the men caught her and tore the dress from her body while the other held her down. Their intent was clear.

Buck and Lou wasted no time on words, they sprang into action. Lou’s first shot went wide alerting the men to the would-be rescuers. Buck’s shot found its mark and the man on top of the struggling woman fell backward off of her. The other trapper had grabbed his gun and drew down on Buck at that same moment. Lou fired a spilt second too late and the trappers shot took Buck off his horse and into a crumpled heap on the ground. Lou’s shot had found its mark too and both trappers lay dead.

The woman had grabbed her clothes and stood, eyes wide with terror, staring at the sight of the dead trappers. Lou called to her and started toward the frightened maiden, not yet realizing Buck was down. “There, there, it’s OK. They can’t hurt you now.” Lou spoke soothingly to the young woman, at the same time signing the words. She hoped her time spent speaking with Ike would pay off and help this Indian woman. Lou looked her over quickly and could see that she’d been beaten up a bit; she had cuts and bruises all over her face and body. Her beautiful jet black hair was matted in places from the blood flowing from a cut over her eye. The long braid had been pulled apart during the struggle. She was fighting back tears as Lou continued toward her. “Are you OK, did they hurt you?” Lou spoke and signed.

The young Indian looked up through tear heavy lashes and shook her head. The tears finally spilled over and she accepted Lou’s embrace. After a moment she pulled away from Lou and slowly signed the words Friend, and Thank-you, while speaking in a language Lou didn’t recognize. It didn’t sound like the Kiowa Buck spoke.

Lou removed her jacket and wrapped the girl in it. She wasn’t more than thirteen or fourteen by the looks of her. Lou thought Buck was being polite and keeping his distance as the girl was wearing only Lou’s jacket and clutching her torn garments to her chest. The girl hugged Lou once again and then pointed in the direction of Buck’s horse saying something Lou didn’t understand but the distress in her voice was clear. Lou followed her gaze and saw Buck’s crumpled form lying on the ground. Both women ran to his side.

The sky opened up at that moment and great sheets of rain drenched them in seconds. The extra water made the blood pooled around Buck appear to be everywhere almost more than a person could have in them. Buck was pale. The rifle shot had caught him in the chest on the left side and had torn across his chest to the other side before going through his right arm. Lou and the girl both stared at Buck in disbelief; he appeared dead. There was so much blood. Lou dropped to her knees and took Buck’s head into her lap. Her tears fell on his face and the rain washed them away. She couldn’t see his chest rise or feel a heart beat. Lou held Buck in her arms and sobbed. The girl took Buck’s hand in hers and put her other arm around Lou. She cried too for a man she didn’t know. All she knew was that he was willing to die for her. He was a brave warrior and deserved her tears.

The sound of the rain masked the sound of the horses that approached from the opposite direction Lou and Buck had come. The Lakota Warriors quickly took in the scene before them. The dead trappers, one with his pants partly undone, and the two women, one white and one of their own, almost naked, kneeling beside a man on the ground and obviously upset, told them what had happened.

They had been returning from a hunt when they found some of the women from the village gathering berries, mushrooms and roots for food. One of the women noticed that her daughter and an older white woman who lived in the village were missing. They had just started to look for them when the white woman staggered into the area, blood streaming from her side. She’d been stabbed and left for dead by trappers; they had taken Shy Fawn, the daughter. The white woman, known affectionately as Old Mother, pointed the warriors in the right direction and begged them to hurry as she succumbed to her wounds. The men left to find Shy Fawn and the women prepared Old Mother’s body for her final journey. The short hike back to the village was made in silence, except for the occasional sob and the sound of the rain.

The warriors had been following the quickly fading path left by Old Mother as she stumbled back to the women. The warriors were impressed by her courage and stamina; many men would not have made it this far with those grievous wounds. Her praises would be sung for years to come as her story of bravery and courage was passed down to the future generations. The sound of gunfire drew the warriors to the spot where Lou and Shy Fawn knelt beside Buck. One of the warriors was Shy Fawn’s father, although Lou didn’t know it then. He shouted at the women and hurriedly dismounted and ran to his daughter’s side. Lou was unable to follow the exchange between the man and the girl but she figured the man cared for the girl by his actions and the obvious caring gestures. He looked at Lou and Buck, nodded speaking softly to the shaking girl in his arms. He too knelt beside Buck never releasing the girl.

Lou kissed Buck’s face and begged him not to die. She was covered in his blood. The rain had soaked her to the skin and without her jacket she could not pretend to be a boy. Her figure was clear to anyone looking at her. Lou looked at the men and wondered if she was in trouble. She didn’t really care at that moment, her main concern was Buck. The warrior beside her shouted something to the others and they dismounted too. Lou thought she was about to suffer the fate they had just saved the girl from, her body started to tremble. Her friend was dead and she was about to be raped. She just hoped it would all be over soon.

The warrior reached out and drew Lou into his embrace and led both women away from Buck. Some of the men came over and checked on Buck while others disposed of the trappers. Lou’s fear intensified when she saw the brutal manner the bodies were dispensed with. She watched with curiosity as the men worked over Buck, they seemed to be treating him as if he were alive. The warrior still held both women and Lou’s fears were somewhat allied. He hadn’t made any move to hurt her and seemed almost protective. Finally one of the men brought over Lou and Bucks’ horses and made a motion for her to mount up. Shy Fawn was placed on Buck’s horse, her torn dress more or less covering her lower body but she still wore Lou’s jacket to cover her better. Her father mounted his horse and Buck was passed up to him. Lou was impressed with the way he cradled Buck tenderly against him the whole ride back to the village.

CHAPTER TWO

Once back at the village, Lou was brought to a teepee where she was reunited with the girl, Shy Fawn, although she didn’t know her name yet. People spoke to her and seemed kind but she had no idea what was being said. Lou started to panic when another woman, Shy Fawn’s mother, started to undress her. Although there were no men in the teepee Lou was terrified. Shy Fawn understood Lou’s discomfort and asked her mother to help her first so Lou could see that all they wanted was to get her out of her wet clothes and into something warm and dry. Lou eventually calmed herself and allowed the older woman to dress her in an incredibly soft doeskin dress and slippers; she even combed Lou’s hair. She gently caressed Lou’s cheek as a tear escaped Lou’s eye. The older woman drew both younger women to her and hugged them, stroking their heads and speaking in a soothing tone. The woman sang to them, the song reminded Lou of a song her own mother used to sing to her as a small child. Lou was surprised to find herself drawn to these people; they had shown her nothing but kindness.

That night after a wonderful evening meal of stew and bread she was given a sleeping pallet and buffalo blankets beside Shy Fawn and her mother. Shy Fawn’s mother had gently brushed the hair from her face and kissed her forehead, just as she did to her own children. Lou smiled and knew that nothing bad was going to happen to her while this woman was around. Sleep took her even as she prayed that Buck was being taken care of as well. His fate was still unknown. She prayed he was alive but feared the worst.

~~~

Buck had been taken to the Healers teepee. He had gone to work on Buck and discovered that his wounds were not as bad as they had first appeared. Buck had lost a lot of blood but the bullet had skimmed Buck’s chest rather then gone through it. Had the bullet passed sideways through the chest he would have been killed. It had broken several ribs and broken Buck’s right arm on its way out but everything could be repaired. The blood loss and infection were the biggest problems.

Buck remained unconscious for the first two days. Fever took control of his body while the Medicine Man chanted the ancient rituals and burned sacred herbs and sage. On the third day Buck opened his eyes looked around him. He had no idea where he was or how he’d gotten here. His body ached but his mind reeled. What had happened? He fought to remember but the pain overwhelmed him. He drifted back into blissful sleep before the questions were answered.

~~~

Lou awoke to the sounds of the camp, unfamiliar to her; she sat up not knowing where she was. Shy Fawn was beside her instantly and touched her arm. Lou jumped then remembered the events of the previous day which had brought her here. She hugged the younger girl and signed “How are you today?”

Shy Fawn smiled sweetly and nodded. She very slowly signed “I am good, I only know some sign, men know more. What are you called? What is your husband called? I am called Shy Fawn.”

Lou sat up cross legged and both signed and spoke the words. “Shy Fawn, that’s very nice! My name is Lou, The man is Running Buck. Is he alive?”

Both Lou and Shy Fawn jumped when her father spoke “Thank-you for saving my daughter.” in halting English. Two sets of startled eyes looked at him. “Your husband is alive, but very sick.”

“You speak English!” Lou cried!

Holding up his hands and laughing. “Just a little, please slow down. I speak some but I do not often. I learn from Old Mother she teach me, You know Indian sign, Running Buck teach you?”

“Yes, Buck taught me, can I see him?” Lou asked excitedly.

“Not now. He is with our Man of Healing. He needs to say if your Running Buck can be seen yet.” The words were slow in coming as if Shy Fawn’s father had to think about each one before he spoke. “You are a daughter to me also now.” Lou smiled and hugged her new family.

Lou learned that Shy Fawn’s father was called Two Eagles and was an elder in the village, much respected by the others in the village. His standing in the village brought Lou immediate acceptance. Her mother was Blue Feather and had been with Two Eagles since she was fifteen summers, the love and respect between them was very evident. Shy Fawn had several brothers and sisters but Lou couldn’t keep all of their names straight. The Lakota names were hard to pronounce and they didn’t always translate well.

Lou helped Blue Feather and Shy Fawn with the normal day to day duties the women had to perform. She was surprised at the patience the women of the village had as they taught her the ways of the Lakota. Lou was beginning to see why some things upset Buck as much as they did. These people were not the blood thirsty savages men like Thompkins would have you believe. These people were, in many ways, more civilized than the white man. The children were happy and well cared for, the elderly were revered for their wisdom and not looked upon as burdens. Family seemed to be the most important single theme. There were a couple of other white women living in the village and they were there by choice. They had married braves and were happy with their new lives.

It had been three days and Lou was getting anxious to see Buck. They told her that he was getting better but still needed to be with the Man of Healing. Soon they said, soon.

CHAPTER THREE

Buck opened his eyes, his head ached and his chest was burning. He tried to sit up and his right arm was tried down to something. Someone spoke to him. He couldn’t see the person and he didn’t immediately recognize the language. He groaned in pain and frustration. Where was he, what had happened? Someone put a bowl to his lips. “Drink” the person spoke in Lakota, “it will take away the pain.” So Buck drank the liquid, he recognized it as willow bark tea. The tea eased the pain and Buck relaxed a bit. He could hear chanting and realized the person was praying over him, asking the Spirits to heal him and give him strength. He smiled and slipped contentedly into an easy sleep.

When he woke up again he was in a different place. He was on a regular sleeping pallet and was covered in buffalo hide blankets. Someone was beside him. There was a fire burning low in the center of the teepee and he could see through the smoke hole it was night. He was naked and there was a naked leg draped over his. An arm was around his waist and the other hand was near his face. The person these body parts belonged to was asleep beside him. He moved slightly to see who it was and was startled to see Lou.

“Lou, Lou are you awake?” he whispered quietly.

Lou opened her eyes and looked at him, sleep still in her eyes. When she realized he was awake she woke up fully. “Buck, it’s so good to see you awake, how do you feel?” She was lying at his left side and propped herself up on one arm. Her arm that had been around his waist moved up his body and her hand gently caressed his face. He leaned his face into her hand. It felt so good to be touched like this. Lou surprised him when she leaned in to him and kissed his cheek. He turned his head to look at her and her lips brushed his ever so quickly. They both smiled and Buck brought his left arm up and ever so gently put it around the petite woman pulling her to him. Her head found its way to his shoulder and her arm returned to its place about his waist. They slept together like that until the morning sun woke them.

Buck woke first and kissed Lou on the top of her head. Kid, you are a fool to have let her go. Buck thought as he remembered the tearful scene in the bunkhouse several weeks ago when Kid announced his intentions of marrying Samantha, the school teacher. They had left for Virginia last month to marry back in his home state. Lou had been crushed but Kid had wanted to move home and fight for the south for months. Lou didn’t want to go and the relationship died a slow and painful death. Jimmy had gone off to fight for the north and Cody was gone scouting for the army. Buck and Lou were left to carry on. Buck was working as a deputy for Teaspoon and Lou was going to start in the fall as an assistant to Rachel who’d taken over the duties as school teacher when Samantha left. This was probably the last run they would ever do together and look how it was turning out. He figured he didn’t stand a chance with her since whenever she was “Louise” at the town dances she was very popular. I’ll just enjoy this moment and remember it for a long time.

His thoughts were cut short when Lou said “Buck? Hello? Buck, a penny for your thoughts!”

“Oh, Sorry, I was just thinking about something. I’m a little confused about where we are and how we got here. Want to fill in some of the blanks for me?” Buck tried to move onto his side to face Lou but his body protested and he lay back with a painful moan.

“Take it easy there cowboy; you’ve got a lot of healing to do. What do you remember?” Lou said as she once again propped herself up on one elbow.

“The girl, is she alright? I remember some trappers were trying to rape her. I think I shot one but after that… only pain. It felt like my whole chest was on fire. Lou, I’ve been shot before but this was the worst. It hurt so bad; I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t. I remember chanting, and smelling sage burning. I don’t know…..The next real memory I have is waking up last night and seeing you beside me. Then again this morning, there you are. I’m glad I wasn’t dreaming.” Buck reached his left hand to Lou’s cheek and brushed it gently with his finger tips. “Thank-you, for being here for me.” He smiled as Lou held his hand to her cheek and smiled at him.

“The girl is Shy Fawn, she’s OK. She got beat up some and had a nasty gash over her eye but the men never got her.” Relief was evident on Buck face as he silently thanked the Spirits for helping them keep Shy Fawn safe. Lou continued “Her father is an elder in the village and her mother is so kind. She reminds me of my own mother. They’ve taken very good care of me. They have taken me in as a member of their family. We’ve been here about a week now. I’m learning some of the words for things and once they moved you into this teepee they moved me in with you. I was sleeping with Shy Fawn’s family before that. I’m not sure but I think they think you are my husband.” Lou blushed as she said the last sentence but rapidly went on to fill in the rest of the details from that fateful day one week before.

Buck listened and asked a few questions during her narrative to clear up a few details. Then all of a sudden it occurred to him she had said husband….. He was her husband?? “Lou back up… who’s your husband?”

“Ahh, well, Buck, you see it’s like this….they asked me what the name of my husband was and I just said you were called Running Buck. So they sort of figured that you were my husband. You gotta remember I was trying to use Indian sign and they speak English as well as I speak Indian sign. I don’t even know what kind of Indians they are, Buck. Please don’t be mad at me. I’m sorry.”

Buck tried not to laugh at the face she made but failed. His chuckles turned into a cough and he moaned in pain as the ribs protested the sudden movement. Lou tossed back the blankets and rose to get him some water. He became acutely aware of his lack of clothing and looked to Lou to see what she had on. Lou was dressed in a simple doeskin dress that tied at the shoulders and fell straight down her body to her mid calves. She was bare foot. The sides of the dress had small slits that extended up slightly past her knees. Buck thought he had never seen a more beautiful sight than Lou, dressed like this with the sun light in her hair.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” Lou asked as she brought him his water.

“You look, oh I don’t know, you’re so….” Buck blushed.

“What? What am I Buck Cross?” Lou demanded suddenly angry that he was making fun of her.

“Beautiful” the word came out so soft Lou barely heard it.

Lou looked at Buck, had he really said that? Did he mean it? She put her wrist on his forehead and checked for a fever. “You’re still a bit warm; I think you’re still running a fever.” Her voice softened as she helped him drink the water then started to check the bandages around his chest and arm. “I’ll be right back.” She left him lying on the pallet the blankets pulled down to his waist.

Buck tried to move some more but fell back feeling helpless and frustrated. He’d made a fool of himself with Lou and didn’t know how to correct it. He closed his eyes as tears of frustration threatened to spill over.

Lou returned awhile later she brought them both breakfast and clean bandages for Buck. He looked like he was asleep so she leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. His eyes fluttered open and stared up into her soulful eyes with his own chocolate brown ones. They looked at each other for several seconds before Lou finally spoke. “I brought us breakfast. You need to get your strength back so try to eat something.” Her hand caressed his face and his own covered hers.

“I wasn’t being mean Lou, and I wasn’t teasing you. You really do look beautiful.” He looked at her sincerely.

Lou leaned forward and kissed his lips gently at first then she moved her hand behind his head and deepened the kiss. His hand pulled her closer as his lips parted and her tongue met his. They parted several moments later both breathless and wondering what was happening. Without another word Lou helped him sit up and they ate in companionable silence.

Chapter Four

The rest of that day and many that followed it were a blur to Buck. He slept much of the time and rarely saw anyone other than Lou. He spoke with Two Eagles on several occasions, however, and found he’d been accepted as a son or rather a son-in-law! The Lakota elder had adopted Lou as his own. Buck knew there were others that had come in to check on him, he could remember voices but sometimes forcing his eyes open was too difficult. His dreams were vivid and sometimes crossed the borders of reality when he’d be dreaming of Lou and she’d be right there when he woke. She cared for him, nursing him back to health, but more than that. He realized he could no longer deny the feelings he had for her.

He’d fallen a little in love with Lou the moment he first saw her as a woman. Heck, they all had that day at Emma’s when Lou had descended the stairs in her dress. It had been hard living together in the bunkhouse, but they’d done it. Kid had courted Lou and Buck knew the break up had hurt her deeply. Lou knew he was a failure with women. She’d saved his life when the affair with Kathleen went so horribly wrong. She’d held him and let him cry on her shoulder when Jennifer said she needed to start a new life by herself. She’d helped him realize that Camille and he truly were destined to live separate lives. Lou knew his soul. He knew he was desperately in love with her. He never thought she would love him back. Kid or Jimmy yes, maybe even Ike had had a chance with her, never him or Cody, but now? Well, Cody was still out of the running he thought smiling to himself.

His chest didn’t hurt too much anymore and Lou slept curled up beside Buck, his arm protectively around her, every night. His right arm was still healing and still splinted to prevent movement so that was awkward and often in the way. The ribs were better but not pain free yet. If he moved carefully he could curl his body around hers and enjoy the closeness that position afforded them. She always slept in the simple little dress or his shirt which she had washed and repaired, and nothing else. Once he was used to Lou caring for him and seeing his entire body there seemed to be no reason for modesty. He chose to sleep in nothing but his own skin.

His injuries had prevented them from taking their relationship too far physically. He had done some exploration with his hands but his movements were restricted. Lou had gone a bit further but Buck’s comfort was always a factor to consider so they were taking things slow. He wanted, needed more. He was willing to do anything necessary to speed his recovery. He would often walk with the women to gather berries or draw water. He finally started to do some trapping of small game, rabbits mostly. Little by little his strength returned and he began to ride daily.

“Lou?” he whispered cautiously one very early morning. The moon had yet to set and the dawn was still hours away. The only reply was her curling even closer to him. Her hand rested on his lower abdomen, fingers just touching his hip. He reached his own hand down and brought hers up to his chest intertwining their fingers as he did. He was having some naughty thoughts with her hand that low on his body. “I love you” he whispered softly and kissed her head as she lay nestled in the crook of his arm. As he leaned his head toward hers to rest his cheek on her hair, he realized she was looking at him.

“Buck? What did you just say?” Lou asked sleepily.

“Shhh, it was nothing go back to sleep” he whispered. Why was he afraid to say it to her again? He hated himself for not trusting her with his true feelings but then…..

“Well, good night, I love you too. And that’s NOT nothing.” Lou whispered harshly, hurt that he wouldn’t repeat the words to her. She understood but it still hurt. She started to burrow down beside him so he wouldn’t know she was upset when his hand found her chin and raised it to his. His kiss erased all the hurt. The desire and passion in that one kiss left her with no doubts as to his true feelings.

He broke the contact between their lips long enough to huskily whisper the words she longed to hear. “I love you, Lou, so much it hurts.” The pent up desires and passions so long repressed finally took over and the rest of the night was spent fulfilling the needs their bodies craved.

Dawn found them lying sated, in each others arms. Buck’s body ached from the physical exertions it wasn’t used to while Lou swore she could still feel him. She’d never felt like this with Kid. Buck had awakened something in her that she’d never realized she’d missed. True passion. She’d only ‘danced’ with Kid; with Buck she had made love. The difference astounded her. She hoped he felt the same way.

Both Two Eagles and Blue Feather noticed a change in the couple the next day. The little looks they exchanged spoke loud and clear. The older couple smiled knowingly. Shy Fawn thought Buck was just feeling better. She had her own eyes and heart set on a young brave.

CHAPTER FIVE

They had been with the Lakota for nearly seven weeks. Buck’s arm and ribs were almost healed but he still didn’t have much strength in the arm. It would come with time, he knew, but he was impatient. Lou had mended his clothes and somehow managed to wash most of the blood out of everything. She had grown very close to Shy Fawn and her family and Buck knew the day they left would be hard for her. He felt he owed his life to the warriors who had found him and he did his best to repay the kindness they extended to him and Lou. He did a good bit of trapping and gave everything he caught to the village. As Buck and Lou prepared to head back to Rock Creek, the Lakota prepared to move off toward their summer hunting grounds. They would all part on the same day. Lou was amazed to find that the teepees doubled as travois to carry the possessions of the village on the way to the summer camp.

They helped break camp and said their goodbyes. Lou tearfully bade farewell to her new friends not knowing if she would ever see them again. Buck wished them all well and prayed to the Spirits for their safe journey and a good hunt. Just as they were leaving the Medicine Man stopped them, he walked over to Lou and told her she would be welcomed back for the naming of her child. Buck and Lou looked at each other in shock. “You will be blessed with three strong and healthy sons and two beautiful daughters. You will know sadness and hardship but you will face this together and your love will only grow stronger. Your son, the child you carry within you even now, will be a strong warrior like his father but also gentle and caring, like his mother. He will learn the old ways and fight for the Indian in ways I do not understand. Guide him well my young friends.”

Buck had translated for Lou knowing she didn’t know enough of the language to understand all the words of the Shaman. Lou was in tears and Buck was in shock. They had come to the Lakota as two friends and, as far as the Lakota were concerned, they were husband and wife. Lou had no idea if she was pregnant or not and certainly hadn’t said anything to Buck. As they rode away from the camp toward home both were lost in their own thoughts.

Buck kept looking back toward the departing village and shook his head. Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Nothing seemed out of place, no sounds or lack of sounds….. but…

That night they made camp in a meadow near a stream, it was beautiful. Lou was afraid that Buck would be angry with her about the pregnancy. Her fears had grown all day fueled by his silence. Finally while she was roasting the rabbit he had trapped she could take the silence no longer. “Buck, will you get mad at me and get it over with? Please, I’m sorry, I didn’t even know I was pregnant, I still don’t know for sure. I’m not even late yet. I promise I won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. I’ll move to St. Joe’s or something.” She blurted out the words so quickly Buck couldn’t reach her fast enough. She started to say something more but was silenced by his lips on hers. His strong arms pulled her tightly against him as he tangled his hands in her hair. The kiss was long, passionate and deep.

“Lou, I love you” he finally broke the embrace and held her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “I’m not going anywhere and neither are you. I’m not entirely without some knowledge of how babies arrive or how they are made. We made love for the first time what, two, maybe three weeks ago? I’m not stupid. I KNOW you wouldn’t know you’re pregnant. I’m thrilled beyond belief that you may be carrying my child. Do you want to know what I’ve been thinking about all day?”

The gleam in his eyes sparked a glimmer of hope in Lou’s heart. Maybe he was telling her the truth. He’d never lied to her before. “Yes” a little voice answered Buck.

He kissed her again before continuing. “I’ve been thinking about OUR future and the future of OUR children. I’ve got a good deal of money saved, most of what I’ve earned with the Pony Express. I really would like to buy that horse ranch Ike and I always talked about. I’d like you to be there running it with me, as my wife.” Buck knelt down and took her hand “Louise Mary McCloud, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? I’m asking you before we know if there is a baby or not so you’ll know I want to marry you for love and not for any other reason.” He looked deeply into her eyes the love he felt for her shining there for anyone to see.

Lou just stared at Buck for a moment and then fell to her knees with him. “Yes, Oh Buck, I’m so happy!! I Love You!” She glanced over Buck’s shoulder at the rabbit. “I think dinner is done we better rescue it before it’s too well done!”

They both laughed and soon were enjoying a slightly well done roasted rabbit. That night they lay together making love under the stars. Lou couldn’t believe the difference between dancing and actually making love. Buck was so gentle and caring, he always satisfied her before himself, sometimes several times. He had more stamina than Kid too. Kid would be done in after one short session; Buck could go on for hours. Lou couldn’t wait to talk to Rachel. Buck couldn’t wait to talk to Teaspoon. They both needed their ‘parents’ guidance on this new part of their lives.

CHAPTER SIX

They rode all the next day. They took short breaks during the day to rest and water the horses. Buck kept looking around like he was listening for something and it finally unnerved Lou enough to ask.

“Buck, what is the problem? Ever since we left the camp you’ve been looking back and acting strange. Is something wrong? Something I should know about?”

“Just one of my feelings, like we’re not alone; I can’t tell for sure. I thought we were being followed but now I’m not sure. I didn’t feel watched last night at all but today I do, its’ strange.”

Lou looked around and noticed nothing amiss. “I haven’t seen or heard anything, Buck… how unsure are you?”

“Like I said I’m not sure. We’re only half a days ride from Rock Creek what do you say we just keep going? If we are being followed I’d rather take a stand at home then out here.”

They rode into the old station well after dark and there were no lights on in the house. Not wanting to disturb Rachel and Teaspoon they walked their horses into the barn and cooled them off. After feeding and watering the tired animals they headed for the bunkhouse and their own bunks.

Buck removed his clothes and settled himself into the warmth of his own bed. Something was missing. He and Lou had slept in the comfort of each others arms for the last two months. He felt very alone. In her own bunk Lou was feeling pretty much the same. She’d gotten used to sleeping in Buck’s shirts and had taken a clean one to use as a nightgown but she missed his arms. Both of them tossed and turned for what seemed like ages before Lou could take it no longer. She hopped down from her bunk and squeezed into Buck’s.

“Lou, what are you doing?”

“I can’t sleep, I miss you. I know this is a little tight but I’m little…..”

Buck chuckled softly, than kissed her tenderly “I missed you too, now lets get some sleep we’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

~~~

Teaspoon was up before dawn and headed to the barn to begin his daily chores. He and Rachel had become very close over the last few months and he had moved into the house and her bed. He had been living in the house with Rachel before Lou and Buck went missing but the bed had happened afterward. Rachel was distraught over her missing ‘children’ and needed his strength and comfort. He’d been happy to oblige.

Teaspoon began feeding the horses and at first didn’t realize he was feeding Lightening until the horse wanted attention. One hard head connected with another and Teaspoon responded “Now you stop that Lightening, LIGHTENING you’re home!!!” Startled, Lightening shied away from Teaspoon and the other horses danced in their stalls nervously. “OK, OK, calm down, it’s alright. Sky Dancer, I see you made it back too.” He spoke soothingly to the horses as he headed back to the house.

“Rachel, you ain’t gonna believe what I found in the barn!!!” Teaspoon called as he met her in the kitchen. “Come on lets go look in the bunkhouse, I do believe our strays have returned.” He grabbed her hand and together they headed to the bunkhouse.

Assuming Buck and Lou were asleep they quietly opened the door and peered into the gloom of the bunkhouse. They could see Buck sleeping in his bunk but Lou’s was empty. Teaspoon crept silently over to check on Buck, Rachel a foot or two behind him. “Well, well, well, what do we have here?”

Buck was awake in an instant, on arm protectively around Lou and the other reaching for his gun.

“Buck it’s us. Don’t shoot.” Rachel screamed seeing the gun in Buck’s hand.

Buck visibly relaxed and put the gun back. “Hello, I didn’t…..” he got no further as Lou popped her head up and collided with his chin. “Ow”

“Not that we’re not happy to see you two but……”

Teaspoon was interrupted when the bunkhouse door crashed open and something fell into the bunkhouse landing on the floor with a yelp of surprise. Buck’s gun was out in an instant ready to fire at the intruder. Silence followed as four pairs of eyes stared at the person lying on the floor.

Shy Fawn looked at the gun pointed at her and burst into tears. Buck uncocked his gun and both he and Lou spoke at once. Lou in English and sign and Buck in Lakota. Shy Fawn ran to them and knelt beside the bed. Buck quickly checked the blankets, making sure he and Lou were decently covered. Teaspoon and Rachel just stood looking at the threesome and wondering what in the world was happening.

Buck continued to speak to Shy Fawn in her native tongue and while no one else could understand the conversation, the meaning was clear. What was she doing here? Buck was becoming angry and loud. The louder he got the harder she cried. Both Lou and Rachel tried to calm Buck and get him to stop yelling. Finally Lou took control of Buck in a way that made Teaspoon cringe.

“Shut up Buck” Lou spoke very softly into Buck’s ear. She had his full attention. The cot wasn’t really made for more than one person so Lou had easy access to some rather sensitive areas of Buck’s body. Rachel and Lou looked at each other and smiled a smile only two women can share.

“Now that’s better.” Teaspoon said once everyone was quiet again. “Buck I’m very glad I am not in your shoes, err, so to speak, right now. One woman mad at you is bad enough but you’ve got three of ‘em! Well done! I hope you survive the next few hours….. Lou, would you mind telling me what is going on????”

“Teaspoon this really isn’t what it looks like.” Lou stammered her face blushing bright red.

“Well, I wish you could see this the way Rachel and I do. I find your horses in the barn and you two in bed together. Buck, are you wearing anything at all?” Buck shook his head his face matched Lou’s. “Lou isn’t that one of Buck’s shirts? Is that all you have on?” Lou nodded she had on socks but didn’t think that would matter much to anyone. “Hands on top of the blanket, NOW!”

Shy Fawn had crept up to the head of the bed and was leaning against the wall, eye’s wide with fear. The occasional tear slid down her cheek. Rachel grabbed a blanket from one of the other bunks and knelt beside the frightened girl, wrapping her in the warmth of both the blanket and her arms. “Buck will you please tell our guest I’d like her to come over to the house with me. What’s her name?”

Shy Fawn answered before Buck could speak. “I am called Shy Fawn.”

“I’m called Rachel and that is Teaspoon. You seem to know Buck and Lou” Rachel pointed to each person as she said their names. Shy Fawn nodded and forced a small smile.

Buck spoke something and the girl looked at Rachel, Buck nodded and spoke some more. “I told her that you were our like our mother and you would care for her over at the big house. I told her we’d be over soon.” He looked at Teaspoon hopefully.

Rachel lead Shy Fawn out of the bunkhouse and away from the confrontation that was sure to follow. Teaspoon had Buck and Lou captive in that cot and as shocked as Rachel was to find them in that position she really wasn’t all that surprised. She’d love to stay and see how Teaspoon handled it but Shy Fawn was shivering.

“I’m waiting…. Buck, Lou, would one of you mind telling me WHY you are not only in the same bed but NAKED????” Teaspoon stood arms crossed, feet firmly planted looking down at the couple in the cot.

“I couldn’t sleep?” Lou’s voice was soft and her lip trembled. She looked like she was ready to cry.

“You couldn’t sleep?? You seemed to be doing just that when I walked in here an hour ago.”

“Teaspoon, this could be a long story and Lou and I would really like to speak to both you and Rachel so….. Ahh… Do you think you could leave so we can get dressed?” Buck was lying on his side as was Lou. Her back was against his chest. He wrapped his arms protectively around her and kissed the top of her head. His hands stayed on top of the blankets the whole time.

“Lou get dressed and over to the house to help Rachel with our young guest and breakfast. Buck, I’ll meet you out in the barn once you are decent.” Teaspoon left the bunkhouse shaking his head and mumbling something about young ones.

CHAPTER SEVEN

As soon as the door closed Lou started to cry. “I’m sorry Buck; I just wanted to be held. I should have stayed in my own bunk.”

Buck rolled onto his back pulling Lou onto him so she faced him. “Oh honey it’s OK. We’re going to be married soon. Don’t worry Teaspoon won’t be too hard on me. I may be mucking stalls for a month but it’ll be OK.” One hand gently tipped her face to his and the other pulled her even closer. The feel of his lips on hers instantly relaxed her and she melted into his arms. The kiss deepened until a knock on the bunkhouse door startled them back to reality.

“Any time this morning would be nice Buck!” Teaspoon grumbled through the closed door.

“Coming Teaspoon” Buck called back. Teaspoon couldn’t hold back the laughter any longer. He had a good idea what his knock interrupted. Lou and Buck looked at each other and burst out laughing too. “We better get dressed or we’ll really be in trouble.”

A few minutes later Buck found himself doing exactly what he had thought, mucking out the stalls. Teaspoon watched him for awhile and finally spoke. “Son, I was your age once and I know how powerful those urges can be but you gotta be more careful. What if it had just been Rachel who walked in on you? I know you really were sleeping but it was mighty clear to anyone with eyes you wasn’t wearing anything. The shirt Lou was wearing barely covered her, I saw you pull the blanket around her shoulders to protect her modesty. Is there any other surprises I should know about?”

“Teaspoon, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you and Rachel.” Buck leaned on the rake he was using. “I love her. I’ve asked her to be my wife and she’s accepted.”

“Work and talk” Teaspoon admonished after he let Buck out of the bear hug he’d enveloped him in. “Congratulations, I’m happy to find that one of my boys has some good sense. I’ll get the feed and we’ll get this done quick so we can get something to eat.”

“Teaspoon, I’ve thought I was in love before but this is so different. It just feels right, you know? I’d given up on finding someone that would even want to be my friend but Lou loves me Teaspoon. I’ve never really felt loved, wanted and needed like this. It’s so new and different I’m almost afraid I’ll wake up and find it’s all been a dream and the real world will come crashing down on me again. Does that make any sense? I don’t want to hurt Lou, ever, I love her too much. Is that possible? I…” Buck paused, his eyes moist.

“Son, I’ve lived a lot of years and I reckon I’ve seen more than my share of life and love and I have to admit you and Lou are probably two of the most deserving people for all the good that life has to offer. You both have the same heart. You are the type of person, Buck, that loves without question or judgment. You care about everyone and their feelings, many times at the cost of your own happiness. Of all the riders I’ve seen you hurt more times than all of them combined. Your heart has been shredded and yet you are still willing to love. I wasn’t sure you’d survive Ike’s death but you eventually came around. I think that little baby saved your life.” Teaspoon put his arm around Buck who was loosing the battle to hold back his tears. “I love you like you were my own, Lou too; hell it’s all of you. You and Lou belong together you’ve got a solid foundation for your marriage already; you’re the best of friends and you know each others’ secrets. I wish I had developed what you and Lou already have with any of my wives; I’d still be married with a bunch of kids of my own.”

Buck looked at Teaspoon with a tear streaked dirty face. “I love her so much, I don’t even have the words to say how I feel. I’ll be honest, we’ve already, well, you know….” Teaspoon nodded smiling. “I never knew it could feel so different. It kinda scared me. I mean I didn’t have much experience but I’d heard the others describing their, err, encounters and this was nothing like those. I don’t want to disappoint her if you know what I mean.”

“Son, you are a man in love and there is no feeling in the world better than making love to the woman who holds your heart. The way Lou looked sleeping in your arms, snuggled up against you smiling in her sleep, trust me, you cannot disappoint her. That was the look of a woman in love.” Teaspoon gave Buck a reassuring pat on the back. “Finish that up quick and get washed up, I’m hungry!”

Twenty minutes later the stalls cleaned and the horses fed and watered, as they headed toward the house, Teaspoon turned to Buck and asked “have you ever wondered how I got the nick name of Teaspoon?”

“Well sort of but I figured that was your business and you’d tell us if you wanted us to know.”

“Those cots are a might small for two people, don’t you think Buck?” Buck looked at him, nodded slightly and wondered just where this was going. “Well how was it we found you this morning? Snuggled together back to front, like spoons in a draw… I told you I was your age once!” Teaspoon proudly stretched his suspenders and smiled broadly. Buck groaned at the picture in his head.

“What is that look for, Buck?” Rachel asked as the two men entered the kitchen after washing up. Lou was setting the table and Rachel was taking biscuits out of the oven. Shy Fawn was nowhere in sight.

“Err, Ah, Nothing Rachel, Where’s Shy Fawn?”

“The poor child was exhausted so I put her to bed. Are you two ready to tell us about the last two months. We’ve been worried sick. Who wants to start?” Rachel asked as she brought the food to the table and sat down.

“We were on our way home, about a two maybe three day’s ride from here when we heard someone screaming. We found a couple of trappers attacking Shy Fawn. They were about to rape her, she was terrified. Lou and I just acted we didn’t think about much of anything except saving her. I shot the one who was on top of her and then I guess I got shot because the next thing I remember is waking up in the village in the Medicine Man’s teepee. Lou you’ll have to fill in those days until I really woke up a week or so later.”

Lou picked up the narrative telling them how Shy Fawn’s family had taken her in and cared for her. “It was raining so hard and I had given my coat to Shy Fawn since her dress was all ripped and I couldn’t leave her standing there naked. Anyway the rain made my clothes stick to me and I couldn’t pretend to be a boy because, well, you know. I thought Buck was dead, there was so much blood. They took Buck to the village and I didn’t see him for a few days but they kept telling me how my husband was doing. I was so scared that if they found out we weren’t married something bad would happen to me.”

“What made you think that, Lou?” Rachel asked.

“Remember when Jennifer Thompkins was here and all that happened. I remembered Buck saying that as his woman she fell under his protection and no one would touch her as long as he was around.” They all nodded. “Well since they thought Buck was my husband I thought maybe I’d be safe as long as he was alive.”

“You were probably right. As long as I was alive you were under my protection. I didn’t think about how frightened you must have been those first few days.” Buck reached for her hand across the table.

Lou continued to tell them all about their time with the Lakota, including falling in love. “It just felt so right lying in Buck’s arms. I couldn’t sleep when we got home last night so I was the one who climbed in bed with Buck. He didn’t make me do anything and he didn’t do anything improper.” At least last night….. she added to herself. “I learned so much from the Lakota, Rachel, it was amazing. If more people knew how they lived they would never call them savages or heathens. They are a kind and decent people and the family means everything to them. Which sort of brings us to our next problem…” Lou unconsciously looked toward the stairs. “What did you say to Shy Fawn this morning that made her cry?” Lou kicked Buck in the shin, hard. “Why is she even here? Is she the one that was following us?”

All eyes turned to Buck. “Ow, Lou, I said I was sorry” rubbing his sore leg. “Yes, she was the one following us. I thought Two Eagles had sent a couple of braves to keep and eye on us but it was her. She came on her own. She wants to see the white world and learn our language. She looks up to you Lou; you’re her big sister, sort of. I guess I got a little angry that she would just follow us and not ask to come with us. She says she left word with one of the other girls to tell her parents she’d left and where she was going. I asked her about that young brave she seemed so interested in and I think he’s the real reason she left.”

“What do you mean, Buck? Did he do something to her? Did he hurt her?” Rachel asked, the concern for the young woman written all over her face.

“Well, that is sort of the problem. It seems she saw Lou and me kissing and tried to do the same thing with this brave. Well he, like everyone else, knew about the attempted rape and rejected her because of it.”

“But other than ripping her clothes off, roughing her up and dragging her a bit, NOTHING happened.” Lou cried.

“I know Lou but that doesn’t matter. I think that’s why her father didn’t send anyone after her. He’s hoping we’ll give her a better life with us. That brings us to another major change.” He got up and walked around the table to take Lou’s hand in his. “Teaspoon, Rachel, you are the closest people we’ll ever have to parents. We’d like you to give your blessing to our marriage. I asked Lou yesterday and she accepted.”

The two couples looked at each other for a moment or two then everyone began talking at once. Buck finally looked at Lou and asked “You still do want to marry me don’t you?” She answered him with a kiss and the celebration continued.

Later that morning Shy Fawn was still sleeping, all the other adults were sitting on the porch watching the horses in the corral; Lou turned to Buck and asked “Buck, can I ask you a question?”

“You just did, but go ahead.”

“Do you want a big family? I mean, well, you know, what the Shaman said to us.”

Teaspoon and Rachel looked at the young couple, Buck just smiled. “I guess I better build us a big house.” He chuckled. “We’re going to start off with a house full and go from there.” Lou hit him hard in the shoulder. “What was that for?”

“Why don’t you just post it in town, Louise McCloud is pregnant and Buck Cross did it to her” Lou tried to get away but Buck was too quick.

“Lou, wait a minute. I didn’t say anything about you being pregnant. We don’t know that and probably won’t know it for a few weeks, anyway. I was referring to Theresa, Jeremiah and Shy Fawn. Remember them?” Lou stopped struggling and started to cry. Buck pulled her close to him and rocked her until she stopped. “Look at me, please?” Buck tickled her slightly and she finally giggled. “That’s better!” Lou punched him in the arm again, this time playfully.

“It may well be none of my business but…” Teaspoon let the words hang in the air a few moments and then continued. “Is there a possibility you are with child?”

“The Shaman told her she was as we were leaving the village. It’s too soon to tell really we only, err, err”

“I think we all get the idea, Buck.” Rachel added quickly before Buck and Lou turned any redder.

“Well it was only two or three weeks ago the first time so that’s too soon to tell, right?” Buck hugged Lou tightly. This was difficult to talk about.

“Eighteen days” Lou quietly said. “It was only eighteen days ago. Rachel, can I talk to you later, ALONE?”

“Sure, honey, anytime” Rachel placed a reassuring hand on Lou’s shoulder. “And to answer your question Buck, yes, it is much too soon to tell.”

“Son, it sounds like you’ve done a good bit of thinking on this marriage. I’m right proud of you, both of you. You are a mighty fine looking couple! What do you think my dear?” Teaspoon addressed Rachel and then drew her in to his side. The older couple kissed with so much passion that Buck and Lou blushed.

“Guessed we missed something, being gone as long as we have.” Buck murmured into Lou’s hair as he drew her close for a passionate kiss of their own.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Shy Fawn woke in the early afternoon and immediately began exploring her new surroundings. Rachel found her wandering around in her bedroom touching everything. She loved the vanity with the attached mirror and kept looking at herself and touching the image before her in wonderment. Rachel approached her and motioned for her to sit down beside her on the bed. Shy Fawn’s hair was all in disarray from her journey and sleeping so Rachel gently unwound the braid and finger combed the long thick mane before reaching for the brush. Rachel held up the brush so Shy Fawn could see it and said “Brush, this is a brush” and began brushing the younger woman’s hair. When she was done Shy Fawn’s hair glistened a beautiful blue black. Shy Fawn looked at herself in the mirror. Rachel smiled and pointed to Shy Fawn in both the mirror and in person. “You are beautiful”

“I am beautiful Shy Fawn!” Shy Fawn smiled at Rachel “I will learn fast, you will teach, yes?”

“Yes, I will teach you. Do you want to change your clothes? Some of Lou’s things might fit you.” Rachel gathered one of Lou’s old dresses she had mended and helped Shy Fawn change. “How old are you Shy Fawn? Oh, look at you, you’re so pretty”

Shy Fawn gazed at her reflection in the mirror and smiled. “Thank-you I am 14 summers” she turned and hugged Rachel.

“Let’s go down and show the others how beautiful you are.” Shy Fawn may not know all the words yet but she figured out the meanings quickly. She was a smart young woman and Rachel liked her immediately. This was going to be fun, watching her explore and grow in her new world.

Buck and Teaspoon were working with a new horse in the corral while Lou sat on the rails and watched the horse outsmart the two men. Rachel and Shy Fawn walked over and Shy Fawn said “Hi Lou! Look at me!”

Lou turned and gasped. The young woman was a real beauty. Her thick black hair fell below her tiny waist. Her skin was a wonderful copper color and her lips were a soft pink. Her deep brown eyes were framed by the longest thickest lashes Lou had ever seen. “My God, Shy Fawn you are beautiful! Is that one of my old dresses? It sure looks better on you than it ever did on me!”

“I’m not so sure about that last part but we’re going to have our hands full with such a beautiful daughter!” Buck declared as he reached the fence and put his hand on Lou’s thigh.

“Now just one moment there Buck, Lou, What makes you think you can have a daughter yet? You ain’t even married! Now Rachel and I, well we’ve already raised all you boys, and girl, and I think we could raise one more! You all didn’t turn out so bad!” Teaspoon drawled as he exited the corral through the gate followed by Buck.

“You’re not exactly married either Teaspoon” Buck pointed out.

“Rachel and I have both been married more than either of you two, so that makes us more married.”

“Teaspoon, what kind of logic is that?” Lou asked laughing so hard she almost fell off the railing. Everyone else joined in the gaiety even Shy Fawn although she had no idea what they were laughing about.

“Buck, Lou why don’t you show Shy Fawn around while I get dinner ready, AHHH after you wash up Buck. No offence but, you smell like that horse.” Rachel turned to the house “that goes for you too, you old six timer you!” Everyone laughed this time except Teaspoon who tried his best to look hurt but failed.

Dinner was a learning experience for Shy Fawn but a fun one as she enjoyed new foods and methods of eating. Rachel had made a chocolate cake from sour cream and if her other cakes were heavenly this one was to die for. Buck and Teaspoon almost came to blows over the last piece until Rachel reminded them they’d each had three already. They split it! Shy Fawn had never had chocolate and devoured every crumb of her two pieces. She smiled a very contented smile, rubbed her tummy, and said “Rachel that was marvelous” in a perfect imitation of Teaspoon! Everyone laughed!

CHAPTER NINE

Later that evening after everyone else had gone to bed Lou and Rachel sat on the porch swing and had their talk. “Rachel, it feels so different with Buck.” Lou started and then said nothing more.

“What do you mean different, Lou? The way he treats you? He seems to be gentle, he hasn’t hurt you has he?” Rachel queried a frown on her face.

“Oh no, just the opposite, he is so different from Kid or the rest of them. He’s different even than what I expected of him.” Lou looked at Rachel and sighed. “Kid was gentle and loving and he never hurt me, that way, you know…” Lou shrugged “but there was always a roughness about him like he came first and not much else mattered. Buck is so tender, so gentle, so careful and caring. He makes sure I’m happy before he’ll let himself be happy. I didn’t expect that from him.” Lou looked expectantly at Rachel.

“Buck loves you Lou, he accepts you as you are and isn’t trying to mold you into something he wants. Your needs are his needs. I’ve never seen two people so in love as him and you.”

“Rachel, the first time we made love it was like something I’d never felt before. I mean Kid and I did it too but it wasn’t the same. This was so different. It felt so good, not just the physical stuff but in here.” Lou placed her hand over her heart.

“Sweetie, making love isn’t just about making your body do something, if your heart isn’t in it; it’s just a physical thing. It sounds like you and Buck have that special type of relationship that everyone wants but few ever get. You’re truly in love, heart, mind, body, and soul.” She threw her arms around the younger woman and hugged her tightly. “I’ll bet he made sure your needs were met before his, huh?”

Lou was glad they were so close that Rachel couldn’t see the deep red she was sure her face was. “Several times!” Rachel heard the smile in her voice at the memories.

Life settled back down to normal at the old station over the next two months or at least as normal as life can be with a teenaged girl, a bride to be and the “mother” of the bride all excitedly planning the wedding. Buck and Teaspoon tried to stay out of the way as much as possible and spent much of their time in the marshal’s office in town. They figured it was safer being shot at occasionally by some drunk then getting under foot at home. Lou had moved into the house and substituted a pillow for Buck until the wedding, neither wanted to get caught in a compromising position again.

Buck sent word to Cody, Jimmy and Emma asking them all to come back for the wedding. Lou had been very adamant that Kid not be invited. Buck felt bad but he respected her wishes. Jimmy offered to collect Theresa and Jeremiah from the orphanage on his way into Rock Creek and Buck readily agreed.

CHAPTER TEN

Timothy Readon, from the bank, opened the door of the marshal’s office and asked for Buck. “I heard you have been asking about property for a ranch. Are you still interested?”

“Yes, I am” Buck answered shaking the man’s hand and offering him a seat.

“Well, a piece of land with a house, barn and a few out buildings has just become available. It’s the old Stewart place; I don’t know if you’d remember him, he may have been before your time here, deputy. He’s been living with his daughter in St. Louis and I guess he died a few months ago. The family had been renting the place out but now they just want to sell it. I haven’t been there myself but I’ve been told it needs work. Here’s the keys and a map of the property if you want to go have a look around. There is a good deal of land so maybe it would suit your needs. The land actually backs up to the station land I believe.”

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer. I knew the land behind the station was part of a bigger piece but I had no idea it was for sale. Where is the house?”

It’s hidden off a dirt road about a mile past Sawyers Creek. Good Luck Mr. Cross I hope you’ll see me about making an offer.”

“Thank-you Mr. Readon, I’ll go have a look around and I’ll be in touch.” Buck shook the other man’s hand as he left.

Buck and Lou rode out that afternoon and fell in love. The house had five bedrooms on the second floor plus an attic with two more. A huge kitchen and front parlor took up most of the first floor but there was a small den or library and a dining room plus a smaller sitting room off the kitchen. It didn’t need some work, it needed a LOT of work but if the price was right, the amount of land would make up for the state of the building. The barn and bunkhouse were in somewhat better shape and the young couple figured they could live in the bunkhouse while the repairs to the main house took place. They rode the perimeter of the property and decided the place was everything they hoped for.

Buck and Lou went to the bank the next day to speak with Mr. Readon. Their timing could not have been better. “Mr. Cross, Miss ….” Timothy realized he didn’t know Buck’s fiancé’s name.

“Mr. Readon, this is my soon-to-be wife Miss Louise McCloud, Louise, Mr. Timothy Readon. And please call me Buck.” Once the shaking hands and exchanging of pleasantries was over, they were led to a back office.

“Buck, Miss McCloud, I like you to meet Mrs. Elizabeth Convery, her father was Mr. Allan Stewart, the man who owned the property you are interested in.” Timothy motioned to chairs for all to be seated.

“Mrs. Convery was just explaining a small problem with her father’s will, I’m afraid it affects the property.”

Buck and Lou exchanged worried looks. They really loved the property. “What is the problem? We…” Buck started to speak but Mrs. Convery held up her hand.

“Buck, is it? Please call me Beth.” She smiled at the young couple liking them immediately. “Don’t worry; I’m sure something can be worked out. You see my father always had this dream of owning a horse ranch and he tried but by the time he had the money for his dream he was too old to realize it.” Beth could not help but notice the huge smiles growing on Buck and Lou’s faces. “My father’s will states that upon his death the property was to become mine and my sister’s but we would have to live there and raise horses. The real problem is that neither of us has any interest in that line of work. I’m married to a doctor and we are moving to San Francisco soon. He’s been asked to head a hospital there. My sister is married to a lawyer and lives in Boston. My father knew we would not be carrying on his dream and made a provision for that in his will. Neither my sister nor I need the money from the sale of the property, he knew that also so….. If you agree to fix up the property and run it as a horse ranch and can show a profit over a five year period the deed is yours.”

Buck and Lou sat there staring at Mrs. Convery with their mouths agape. Finally Buck shook his head and said “are you saying we would get the property for the cost of fixing it up and running a ranch?” Lou was squeezing his hand so hard it hurt, but he barley noticed then.

“Yes, I do believe that was what I said. Mr. Readon has informed me that was your plan all along so I know this has got to be good news for you. You already know it will be a lot of hard work but I think you two will be able to handle it.” She found their smiles infectious and smiled herself. “Do we have a deal?”

“YES!” they both answered at once causing Beth and Timothy to laugh.

“I’ll have the papers drawn up and copies sent to all of us. The deed will stay in the bank here. I can tell you’ll fulfill my father’s dream. You are the son he never had!” She hugged Lou and Buck then shook hands with Mr. Readon. “I’ll be at the hotel until the paper work arrives then we can work out all the details.” She handed a paper to Buck. “Here is a copy of the will, it will serve as your receipt for the house and property until the deed is signed over to you.”

Lou looked at Buck and he nodded. “Will you be in town until next Saturday? That’s our wedding day and we’d be honored if you could attend.”

“Why, I’d love that but my husband and children will be arriving on the next stage….”

“Please, you are all welcome. This is a gift we didn’t expect and I don’t know how to thank you.” Buck interrupted her before she could say no.

“How can I possibly refuse an invitation like that! Of course, we’ll be there just let us know the time. My husband and I would be happy to attend. Our two daughters will be excited too, you know how every little girl loves to dream of her own wedding with the man of her dreams!” Mrs. Convery winked at Lou as she finished the last sentence.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The next week and a half were a whirlwind of activity for everyone in the house. Cody arrived the day after the meeting at the bank and Jimmy arrived with Theresa and Jeremiah and all of their things from the orphanage the following day. Buck had conveniently forgotten to tell Lou about the arrangement with Jimmy and she was happily surprised.

“Rider coming, looks like a few people.” Lou sang out as she hung another sheet on the line. “Theresa! Jeremiah! BUCK! Oh my God! Jimmy!” the sheets forgotten she ran to meet the wagon.

Rachel, Teaspoon, Cody, Shy Fawn and Buck all watched as the joyful reunion took place. More than a couple of happy tears were shed. “Where do you want their things?” Jimmy asked once Lou released him from the bear hug she’d given him. “Buck asked me to pick them up and bring them home to stay.”

Lou looked stunned “to stay? Forever? Oh, Buck, Thank-you!” She threw herself into Buck’s arms and kissed him fiercely. Buck smiled and enjoyed the moment.

No one seemed to notice the looks that passed between Shy Fawn and Jeremiah. At sixteen he was starting to become a man and the raven haired beauty caught his eye. She thought he looked pretty good himself. The hurt from the rejection of the young brave vanished, never to be thought of again.

Sam and Emma, with their children, arrived later the same day. Lou had gone into town with Theresa and Shy Fawn for a fitting of the wedding dress and to pick out a dress for Theresa to wear. “I thought this bust needed to be taken in last time you tried it on but it fits just right now.” Sarah Ryder told Lou as she added another pin in the hem. “You are going to be radiant! Your husband is going to be speechless when he sees how beautiful you are.”

Lou blushed and stole another glance at herself in the mirror. She was beautiful but she too noticed the dress fit her better on the bodice. Was she growing? “Shy Fawn why don’t you show Theresa the dress you are wearing and see if she’d like to wear the same one.”

Shy Fawn had picked out a lavender taffeta dress with white lace at the sweetheart neckline and three quarter length sleeves. The bodice was fitted with delicate fabric covered buttons down the middle and tiny pink and white flowers embroidered in places. The waist was gathered with a pink satin ribbon and the skirt was full and fell to the floor. She’d never seen anything more beautiful, except for Lou’s gown.

Theresa fell in love with the dress too and arrangements were made to have another one made in the same color pink as Shy Fawn’s ribbon. Theresa’s ribbon was lavender and her flowers would be shades of purple. Both girls were happy and looked forward to the wedding. “Louise, you are so beautiful, I never even dreamed I’d see you in a dress like that! I can’t believe I’m getting a dress made! I’ve never had anything new before.” Theresa hugged Lou tears of joy on her cheeks!

“Well, get used to it Sugar Bear! Buck and I will make sure you have everything you need. You too, Shy Fawn!” Lou laughed. “Now remember not a word to anyone about what my dress looks like I want it to be a surprise.” Both girls smiled and nodded vigorously. “We need to get home it’s almost time to start dinner.”

“You COOK!” Theresa exclaimed with a look of mock horror.

“Hey, I’m trying, Rachel is teaching Shy Fawn and me. I’m sure she’ll be happy to teach you too. I haven’t burned the house down and no one has died from my cooking yet so I must be doing something right. Now git!” Lou playfully pushed the girls out of the dress shop.

“Who are they?” Shy Fawn pointed to the children playing in the door yard as they approached the station.

“I don’t know, someone must be visiting.” Lou said looking around. It was then she spotted Emma sitting on the swing with Rachel. “Emma, you made it!” Lou jumped down from the wagon and ran to her friend. More tears of joy were shed.

“Where is Sam? You didn’t come here with the kids by yourself did you?” Lou asked looking around for Buck. “Where are the boys?”

“Buck took everyone over to the new house. They all want to help get it fixed up as soon as they can. They’ll be back for supper, have you ever known Cody to miss a meal?” Rachel led the way into the house to start dinner.

“Buck, I really think we can get the house in move-in condition by the time you get back from your honeymoon. I’ve got the time, Cody’s got a month’s leave, Jeremiah’s gonna be living there so you know he wants to get it fixed up. Teaspoon said he could use me as a deputy while you’re away and he’ll help too. Sam’s gonna be here a couple of weeks too so I’d say you’ve got the man power!” Jimmy outlined the plans the men had made at dinner that night.

“That sounds great, what do you think Lou? By the way, are we going on a honeymoon and if so where?” Buck asked Lou cautiously.

“Only one problem I can see with your plan Jimmy, what about curtains and stuff. If you think I’m going to trust you all to make curtains, you are sadly mistaken. And Buck, we’ll talk later.” Lou grinned, Buck looked scared.

“I think Rachel, the girls and I can handle the curtains and such. I don’t want to see feed bags covering your windows either!” Emma laughed and the others joined in.

The rest of dinner was spent talking about plans for the wedding, plans for the house and generally catching up on the last few months and years. Shy Fawn and Jeremiah kept stealing glances at each other all night. This time they did not go unnoticed. Emma and Sam said they had an announcement as the supper dishes were cleared and the desert was served. “Emma and I wanted you all to know that we’re going to have another baby in about six months.” Sam beamed. Rachel and Teaspoon looked at each other and she nodded.

After everyone finished congratulating Sam and Emma, Teaspoon stood up and shocked them all into silence. “Since this seems to be the night for confessions, Rachel and I have one of our own. We were married two weeks ago and Sam, Emma, I think the race is on….. Let’s see which of our children is born first!”

“Well I’ll be damned”

“Cody, there are children here! Rachel, why didn’t you say anything?” Lou stammered.

“You, old Dog, you!” Jimmy smiled broadly.

“We live here, why didn’t you say anything?” Buck echoed Lou’s astonishment.

“Why, Mr. Spoon! This is wonderful!” Emma cried and she hugged Rachel.

Teaspoon just stood with Rachel beside him and smiled at his family. “This was too much fun to pass up! The looks on all your faces are amazing! This dog may be old but I’ve still got a few tricks left!” Everyone groaned, except the children and Shy Fawn, they really didn’t know what all the fuss was about.

CHAPTER TWELVE

The day of the wedding arrived sooner than anyone could have imagined but everything was in place. The food was cooked, the dresses made, the suits pressed, the bride was a bundle of nerves and the groom looked like he was going to be sick.

“Buck, what are you so nervous about?” Cody asked straightening his tie.

“Yeah Buck, you do want to marry Lou right?” Jimmy asked checking his hair in the mirror.

“I love her more than life itself; you all know that but what if I bring her down by marrying me. She’ll be branded as the half breed’s wife. I’m just… “

“Buck, come on, do you honestly believe Lou doesn’t know all of that? She’s known you as long as we have and she’s already been, as you called it, branded as your friend. We all have and we still like you…” Cody brushed off some imaginary lint from his lapel.

“Buck, you know how Lou and I felt about each other for awhile, right?” Buck nodded. “Well, at one time, I dreamed about this day only it was me not you marrying her. I can honestly say I have NEVER seen that woman more in love with anyone than she is with you. She knows all your faults and loves you for them. You hurt her you’ll have a few people to answer to, me being first, but I don’t think that will ever happen. Let me look at you, you look like a man ready to be married. What do you think Cody?” Jimmy asked checking his pocket for the thousandth time for the ring.

“Thanks guys, I’m so glad you were able to make it. I just wish Lou had let me invite Kid, it just don’t seem right him not here. I’ll write him later and tell him about it.” Buck sucked in a deep breath as a knock sounded on the door.

“The bride has arrived, time to get married.” The preacher’s voice called.

Buck hugged Jimmy and Cody then opened the door. “I’m ready, let’s go” a confident look and smile added to his handsome features.

As Buck took his place at the alter, the music changed and the door of the church opened. Shy Fawn and Theresa were escorted down the aisle by a beaming Jeremiah, followed by one of Emma’s daughters as the flower girl. A hush fell over the congregation as Lou came into view. Buck could not believe his eyes. The most beautiful woman in the world started coming down the aisle on the arm of one very proud Teaspoon. The dress was an ivory satin, covered in seed pearls and little beads that made the dress dance. The empire waist accentuated Lou’s figure and drew the observer’s eye to her face. The sweetheart neckline was rimmed in lace and a pearl necklace graced her slender neck. A thin lace veil covered her face while a much longer one flowed down her back and onto the floor behind her. Buck was awestruck. This beauty was going to become his wife in a very few moments. He silently thanked the Spirits for giving her to him.

While his attention was focused on Lou he didn’t notice movement behind him. Teaspoon and Lou reached the alter and he lifted her veil. Teaspoon kissed Lou, handed her over to Buck and took his place beside his wife. Buck helped Lou up to the alter and turned. “RED BEAR?!?” The older Indian stood beside the preacher dressed in his traditional ceremonial vestments. Buck had opted for a combination of Traditional Kiowa and a black suit. The brothers embraced and the ceremony began. Both Lou and Buck spoke their vows in strong clear voices, declaring their love for one another to the world. Red Bear gave the traditional Kiowa blessing and welcomed his new sister-in-law into the family.

“I love you Lou,” Buck whispered a bit too loudly, bent his head in and kissed her so tenderly she sighed. The new husband and wife turned to the guests and found there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even Thompkins was dabbing the corners of his eyes. Mrs. Convery and her family were beaming as if they’d known the couple all their lives. Someone started to clap and soon the entire church was applauding the new Mr. and Mrs. Buck Cross. Buck turned to Lou and drew her to him for another kiss before they started down the aisle and into their future.

Chapter Thirteen

Later that night Buck and Lou walked to the hotel and up to their room. “This has been the best day of my life, Buck, Thank-you.” Lou leaned into Buck.

Buck leaned down and scooped her into his arms, carrying her across the threshold. “Yes, it has been, have I told you how much I love you?” Buck’s lips found hers as he placed her gently on the bed. “You have made me the happiest man in the world.”

Lou started to unbutton the coat Buck wore. “I’m about to make you even happier!” He shivered as her hands touched his skin. They had deliberately not been alone together for the last month so that this night would be special.

Later they lay nestled in each others arms, bodies exhausted but happy. They murmured I love you’s over and over again to each other between kisses and gentle caresses. Sleep finally claimed them and they drifted off dreaming of their life to come.

Morning found them together again. The rest had built up their hunger for each other again and they made love with a passion neither could have even guessed existed before this day. When they had finally satisfied all their needs they realized they were hungry. “Is it breakfast or lunch time?” Lou asked as Buck’s stomach grumbled for the third time.

I’m not sure but I do know we can’t go down to eat like this. I think they require clothes in the dining room.” Buck laughed, kissing her nose. She hit him with a pillow as she got up to find their bags and some clothes. He got a good look at her body and he suddenly realized her stomach wasn’t as flat as it always had been and her breasts were bigger. He’d noticed that yesterday but he figured it was the dress that made them appear larger. “Lou, have you thought about what the Shaman told us? You know about the baby?” Buck asked as he playfully grabbed for her.

“I saw the doctor last week, Buck.” She let him catch her and pull her back onto the bed.

“And?”

“I’d like to introduce you to your son.” Lou said as she moved his hand down to her slightly rounded belly. When she looked at his face he was crying.

“I thought yesterday was the best day of my life but this one is better. I love you, Lou.” They missed breakfast and lunch.

They spent one more day at the hotel and then headed back to the station and their family. Red Bear had stayed there and was now “uncle” to all the children. Emma and Sam’s son, four year old little Sam, had become his shadow. Little Sam happily declared that when he grew up he was going to be an Indian Chief too!

The home coming was warm and joyous. Lou and Buck were the picture of happiness and their happiness was infectious. Red Bear took Buck aside and pointed out that Shy Fawn and Jeremiah were becoming close. Buck decided that it was going to be for the best for all concerned if Shy Fawn continued to live with Teaspoon and Rachel while Jeremiah moved to the ranch with them. Four babies on the way were enough! Red Bear had revealed that he too was going to be a father again very soon! The next day Lou and Buck left with Red Bear for a visit to the village. Lou had seen the Lakota life style now she would be introduced to her husband’s heritage.

Lou and Buck planned to be gone about two weeks and in that time the work on the ranch moved into high gear. Unknown to them Red Bear had also brought five healthy strong Indian ponies for Buck to start his ranch with. Red Bear wanted it to be a surprise when they moved into the new home. Good strong breeding stock was essential for the success of the ranch. Lou had asked Cody to contact Red Bear and let him know about the wedding and future plans. Red Bear had been delighted to make the journey and participate in the wedding. He was happy for his brother and relieved that Buck had finally found the love he so greatly yearned to find. Red Bear had tried to explain that the love of a good woman completes a man, but Buck had resisted. The chief was thrilled to see that this small woman had achieved what a respected War Chief could not.

Red Bear’s wife, Gray Dove, was heavy with child and glad to have her husband home. Both Buck and Lou were more than a little surprised that he had left her to be at the wedding but he had insisted. Red Bear’s older children and Gray Dove were shy at first but Lou used the skills she’d learned from the Lakota to help out so Gray Dove could rest. Gray Dove was more than grateful for the help from her sister-in-law and a bond was quickly formed between the two women. Exactly one week after Red Bear returned she gave birth to a healthy boy. Lou assisted in the birth and got a good look at what was in the future for her. The two women marveled at how perfect the baby was. Gray Dove taught Lou that certain herbs in combination would help take away the pains of childbirth and speed the recovery of the mother. Lou was amazed to find that Gray Dove was up and back to her normal day to day routine within two days of giving birth. Lou figured she’d be in bed at least a week.

Buck and Red Bear spent the week hunting and preparing for the feast to celebrate the birth. Lou suspected that Red Bear was also giving Buck some tips on being a good husband and father too. The two men, Chief and Warrior, both cried when the baby was born. These two men, both capable of taking a life or fighting to the death, were moved beyond words as the baby was placed in Red Bear’s arms.

Babies have an amazing power; they can melt hearts. This little one was no exception. He was named White Pony after the foal that was born at the same time. He had a full head of hair that already fell to his shoulders and big brown eyes. Gray Dove swore the baby’s hair had made her sick while she carried him! He had a little button nose that he loved to scrunch up a second or so before he cried and he could wake the dead! The adults learned to react before the cry; he was that loud and strong. White Pony was able to hold his head up before he’d lived a week. He was beautiful and Lou wondered what her own child would look like.

Too soon the time had come to return home and get down to the business of building a ranch. Buck and Lou stayed for the baby’s naming ceremony and feast then reluctantly headed for home. Buck explained to Lou that because of the War and the treaties that were being signed Red Bear and his village would probably end up on a reservation soon and they may never see each other again. Red Bear had given them three more ponies for the ranch and two special ones, one for their baby and one for little Sam. Red Bear had grown to love that child and wanted to present him with a real Indian pony. Buck knew Little Sam would love it and thanked his brother for everything. The good-byes were hard and Lou sobbed that night in Buck’s arms. “Will we always be saying good-bye to family?”

“Lou, honey, I promise we’ll ride out to see them again after the baby is born, OK? We need to get home to see Emma and Jimmy and Cody before they have to leave too.” That brought more sobs and a groan from Buck. He’d learn.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

The arrival home was a joyous one and Lou’s mood improved. Rachel told Buck not to worry it was the pregnancy that was causing the mood swings and tears. Buck wasn’t sure he could survive the next few months. The following day everyone piled into wagons and mounted up for a ride over to Buck and Lou’s new home. They blindfolded the couple before they reached the property so they had no idea what to expect.

Still blindfolded they were helped down and the blindfolds were removed. Buck and Lou found themselves facing the road they had just ridden in on; Rachel and Teaspoon stood in front of them, hands on their shoulders. “OK, are you ready?” Jimmy asked the excited couple. They both nodded. “Close your eyes…..Are they closed?” More nodding and the older couple confirmed the younger one had their eyes shut. “OK, turn ‘em….. Now you can look!”

Buck and Lou gasped. Lou started to cry and hugged first Buck and then Jimmy. “I can’t believe it” Buck said as he pulled his bride to his side.

The main house had a new coat of paint and all the shutters had either been replaced or repaired. The front porch was new and a white swing hung just left of the front door. Several hanging plants added splashes of red, blue, pink and green to the white house and porch. All the windows had also been repaired and curtains could be seen billowing in the gentle breeze. To the right of the main house stood the barn also sporting a new coat of paint, a new roof and doors. The corral beside the barn held the three ponies Red Bear had given them and five others also Indian Ponies.

“Whose horses are those?” Buck asked no one in particular.

“We’ll get back to that finish looking around first.” Teaspoon directed their attention to the bunkhouse to the right of the barn behind the main house. A long stone lined path led to the house and branched off to the barn. The bunkhouse had also had a makeover that included fresh paint and a new porch. A tack room, chicken coop, complete with chickens, and several smaller storage buildings completed the complex. Lush green pastures could be seen beyond the buildings and miles of fence promised the horses would be safe and well exercised.

“I can’t wait to see the inside. How much more needs to be done before we can move in?” Lou asked excitedly!

“Well, come on and take a look for yourself.” Emma took Lou’s hand and led her toward the front door.

Buck stood looking for a moment and then started toward the house too. Everyone was standing before the open door waiting. It took a second to sink in but Buck realized they were waiting for him to carry Lou over the threshold. “Mrs. Cross…I love you” Buck kissed her tenderly and scooped her into her arms. He hesitated for a moment before crossing the threshold into their new home. “I love you” he repeated and walked into the home followed by their family.

The interior of the house had been finished too. Lou couldn’t believe her eyes. The furniture had been covered with sheets the day they had inspected the property and they hadn’t known how much would be useful. “All it really needed was a little tender loving care” Rachel said and Lou and Buck walked in awe from room to room. The upstairs had another surprise. The master bedroom was done in red oak and polished until it gleamed. The bedstead was hand carved and matched the dressers and a large armoire stood open to reveal both Lou’s dresses hung inside and a mirror on the inside of the door. The biggest surprise was the room next door. It had been transformed into a nursery. The walls were done in light blue and fluffy white clouds floated across the upper walls and ceiling. The wainscoting was white and the whole room, although small, was cheerful and airy.

Theresa and Jeremiah dragged the couple down to their rooms and proudly showed what they had done. Theresa’s was a study in femininity with lace and frills everywhere. Jeremiah’s was more masculine and done in shades of blue. This was the first real home they had ever known and the first time they had rooms of their own.

While Lou stayed in the house with the other women, Buck headed outside with the men. His first stop was the horses. “OK, where did the other horses come from?”

“Red Bear brought them with him when he came for your wedding” Cody laughed. “He swore he’d scalp us if we told you about them before the house was ready!”

Buck laughed shaking his head, “He probably would have too! I don’t know how to thank you I never would have gotten the property fixed up this fast without your help. You saw Lou, she’s so happy; she’s always dreamed of having a home, a good home, to bring you and Theresa to. Now, thanks to you all, she’s done it!” Buck hugged them all his eyes moist with gratitude. How about the rest of the place I’m going to need to hire a hand or two soon to keep the ranch running smoothly. I’d still like to work as a deputy too, if I still have a job? By the way did you spend all my money fixing the place up or do I still have some left?”

“Well, Buck, funny you should mention….” Jimmy started, Buck looked worried. “It seems that my services with the Army are no longer needed and I have been discharged of all my duties. I’m sort of looking for a place to stay and a job. Know anyone who might be looking for a little help?”

“And, Yes Buck you still have money, the place wasn’t as bad as it looked. It took more elbow grease than silver to fix.” Teaspoon put his arm around the young man. “It seems I have room for two part time deputies. You, errr, wouldn’t happen to know any candidates?”

Jimmy and Buck smiled and everyone laughed. “Let’s go look at the barn and the rest of the place.” Sam said heading toward the barn.

The barn was perfect with stalls for breading and foaling as well as housing about twenty horses. Hay and grain had their own buildings for storage as well as a cistern for storing water. The bunkhouse was set up to sleep eight to ten comfortably and a cookhouse was located behind it. Jimmy’s things were already in the bunkhouse. “You knew I’d ask you to stay, didn’t you?” Buck laughed, “Jimmy Hickok you know me too well! But why didn’t you put your things in the house?”

“I’m more comfortable out here, Buck, besides it’ll be quieter! Let’s see two teenagers, a baby and a newly wed couple, yup! I’ll stay right here!”

“Hey Lou and I aren’t that noisy…..” Buck started but Sam cut him off.

“Buck our room is next to yours”

Buck blushed deeply and everyone laughed at his expense “Jeremiah close your ears!” Teaspoon laughed.

“I’m old enough!” Jeremiah made a face. “What noise?”

“OK, on that note I think we should head back to the house, I know Rachel and Emma packed a picnic lunch for us!” Sam turned Jeremiah back to the house followed by Teaspoon, Buck, Cody, and Jimmy.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Cody announced he had to leave the following day and Lou made him promise to come back when the baby was born if not sooner. She made it clear to everyone that as her family they were welcome in her home anytime. Buck had readily agreed. Sam and Emma stayed for another week and helped the newlyweds finish setting up their home with their own personal items and touches. Little Sam and his pony had become inseparable and Emma had to put her foot down more than once because he wanted to sleep in the barn with the horse. He was a natural on horseback and Sam teased Buck that Little Sam was really his or Ike’s child; neither was a possibility.

The next few months flew past. Buck and Jimmy were busy running the ranch and working for Teaspoon. Teaspoon was spending more time at home as Rachel’s pregnancy grew more and more advanced. Rachel and Lou spent a great deal of time together helping each other through all the highs and lows of being pregnant. Theresa began to take over many of the household chores with help from Shy Fawn. Shy Fawn, for her part, was adjusting well to living in the white world and asked for a “white” name; Jeremiah was more than happy to give her one. He called her Rose because she loved the wild roses that grew on the ranch. The bond between the two young people was growing and no one was surprised when he asked her to the Founders Day Dance. The adults decided that Buck was the one who should have a “talk” with Jeremiah about being proper with a young lady. Rachel had already had “the talk” as she called it with Rose. He was terrified.

“Hey Jeremiah, can I have a word with you?” Buck cornered him in the barn one afternoon.

“Sure Buck, What’s up?” the younger man asked.

“I’d like to know what your intentions are with Shy Fawn. You’re getting pretty close and well…. I, hmmm, I don’t want you to rush into anything.” Buck was sweating.

“We’re just going to the dance, Buck; I promise I won’t do anything to embarrass you. You, Teaspoon and Jimmy have made it very clear that if I’m not a perfect gentleman with Rose you’ll kill me.” Jeremiah laughed. “Besides Louise keeps reminding me that we’re still children, we’re not you know. Louise said if I touch Rose, I will wish that the three of you get me first. I know my sister. I’d rather be killed.”

“You’re what, almost seventeen? Shy Fawn is almost fifteen. You’re right you’re not children, that’s what’s scaring me. I was your age not all that long ago and I haven’t forgotten what it felt like. Please wait until she is at least a year older before you even THINK about doing anything…er…improper. I’m not saying don’t see her, just respect and love her. You do love her?” Buck looked at Jeremiah, right in the eyes.

The younger man shifted uneasily. “Rose has told me that in her village she would be married about this age and would probably have her first child by the time she was sixteen.”

“That’s very true but look around do you see a Lakota village? No, and if you’ve compromised that child I’m going to let her father deal with you.” Buck was growing angry, fearing they were already too late.

“We’ve kissed, that’s all I swear!” Jeremiah recoiled from Buck. “I promise I won’t do it ever again. I don’t know if I love her but I sure do like her, a lot.” He added quietly.

“Kissing is OK, just be careful is all I’m saying. When Lou has the baby we’ll be going back to the village to see Shy Fawn’s family and I’d like you to come with us. You can meet her parents and if you and Shy Fawn are ready to make a commitment to each other you may ask her family and the Shaman if it is OK. Do not do anything in the mean time to make her father dislike you, understand?”

“Yes sir,” came the answer. “I promise, but I can still kiss her right?”

Buck put his arm around the younger man and started toward the house. “Kissing is fine, but remember, respect her!”

“Buck, Jimmy, Jeremiah” Lou was calling from the porch, Shy Fawn was beside her.

Buck and Jeremiah broke into a run, “What’s wrong?” they could see Jimmy running also from the direction of the tack house. “Is it the baby?” Buck asked nervously.

“Well, yes and no. Rose just rode over to let us know Rachel is in labor.” Lou began amused at the look of relief on Buck’s face.

“I’ll go hitch up the wagon for you Lou” Jimmy called as he headed for the barn.

“I’ll help” Jeremiah called as he ran after Jimmy and away from Buck.

Buck took the stairs two at a time. “Are you sure it’s OK for you to go? You’re due soon too.” He took Lou into his arms.

“I’ve still got at least a couple of months, Buck. Don’t worry I’m fine and I want to be with Rachel” She kissed him gently calming him. He thanked the Spirits again for giving him this wonderful woman.

“I will go home now, Mama Rachel said to hurry, and she needs me.” Rose spoke her English was improving by the day.

“I’ll get Sky Dancer and ride with you. Lou, you’ll be OK with Jimmy? Yes, Shy Fawn, Jeremiah is coming too.” Buck answered her unspoken question. He still could not get used to calling her Rose.

Several hours later a visibly shaken Rose came downstairs to tell Teaspoon his daughter and son had arrived and Rachel was asking for him. The men all congratulated Teaspoon as he headed up to see his wife and children.

“Shy Fawn, what’s wrong?” Buck asked as he helped her to a chair. Jeremiah knelt on the floor beside her, holding her hand.

“She just saw the miracle of birth, Buck, I think it was a bit much.” Lou answered for Rose. Lou winked at him and pulled him over to the side. “Rachel figured that one way of stopping any thought of improper behavior between those two was to let her see the birth, start to finish. I think it worked!”

“Do you mean I had that talk for nothing? I was scared Lou…. So was he.” Buck kissed the top of her head. Maybe we should let him see you birth our son….” He didn’t get any further, the pain in his arm from her not so gentle punch shut him up.

“That, Buck Cross, is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard out of your mouth. ” Lou hissed “If you think for one instant that I would allow my own brother to see me like that you are sorely mistaken.” And with that she turned and went back up stairs.

“What did you do Buck? I ain’t seen Lou that mad in a while.” Jimmy watched as she entered the room at the head of the stairs. Buck just sank into the sofa and groaned.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The twins were happy and healthy and Teaspoon was every bit the proud Papa! He challenged Buck to produce twins his first time out and Buck just laughed. Lou was ready to burst, at least according to her and he didn’t think she’d see it as a joke. For once he kept his mouth closed and his arm remained unbruised.

Rachel had been right about Shy Fawn she started spending more time helping her and seeing Jeremiah with a chaperone. The Founders Day dance was a huge success and Jeremiah asked Rachel and Teaspoon if he could court his Rose. They agreed provided he also ask Two Eagles when they went to the village in a few months.

Sam and Emma sent word that, while they lost the race to see who had the baby first, they were the proud parents of another boy. They now had two boys and two girls and they considered their family complete. Lou couldn’t wait to give birth. She didn’t look forward to the pain but she didn’t think she could stand being pregnant one more day.

“I can’t take this anymore… I want to see my feet, I want to be able to roll over in bed without it taking a half hour, I want to be able to breathe normal. I want to get up out of a chair without help. I want to sleep through the night. I want to not have to use the privy every half hour. What do my feet look like Buck? I can’t see them. Do I still have knees?” Lou was almost in tears. He pulled her to him. “I want you to be able to put your arms all the way around me again, I want to feel your chest against more of me than just my belly and I what to stop being kicked from the inside.” Lou wailed.

Buck couldn’t wait either, he couldn’t do anything right. If he told her what her feet and ankles really looked like, she’d kill him. If he kissed the top of her head she said it was because he couldn’t get close enough in the front to kiss her lips. If he moved in bed she said it was because she was taking up the whole bed. If he made any noises in his sleep Lou claimed it was because the baby had kicked and he was disturbed or uncomfortable. He actually liked it when she snuggled up to him and he could feel the baby moving but she wouldn’t believe him. If he argued at all that she was wrong and looked beautiful to him she said he was lying. He was miserable.

Finally the big day arrived Lou awoke before sunrise feeling uncomfortable and got up, waking Buck in the process. “Are you OK, Lou? It’s not even dawn yet”

“I just need to use the privy, again. Go back to sleep I’ll be right up” she groaned slightly as a cramp caused more discomfort in her abdomen.

“Do you want me to help you?” Buck asked concerned about her being outside before first light.

“I’ll be fine, Buck, please go back to sleep”

He knew better than to argue with her so he rolled over and closed his eyes. He knew he wouldn’t sleep until she was back in bed. He waited, listening but didn’t hear the back door. Finally he decided to risk the argument and headed downstairs to see what was taking her so long.

“Lou, sweetheart, what are you doing?” He found her on her hands and knees wiping the kitchen floor and crying. “What’s wrong?” He dropped to his knees beside her.

“I didn’t make it, I’m so embarrassed, Please leave me alone.” Lou sobbed as another cramp hit her.

Buck pulled her to him and gently helped her to her feet. “Shhh, It’s OK. I’ll take care of this. Do you need to change?”

“I guess, will you help me upstairs? I’m a little dizzy, I haven’t been sleeping well.” Her sobs quieted as Buck scooped her into his arms and headed for the stairs. They were almost to the top when Buck felt her stomach tighten against his chest.

“Are you having pains Lou?”

“No, just cramps it must have been something I ate.”

“Lou, I don’t think it was something you ate, I think you may be starting to have the baby.” He laid her down on the bed and kissed her tenderly.

“Like you’d know? Just how many babies have you given birth to Buck Cross?”

Buck flinched, he knew she’d be angry with him and say things but he wasn’t ready for it to start so soon into the birth. “OK, I’m sorry but will you let me get the doc just to be sure? The stuff on the kitchen floor had a pink tinge to it. Please? For me? For our baby?”

“Fine, go run away just when I need you.”

“I’ll be right back.” Buck fled to Jeremiah’s room. “Jerr, saddle up and go get the doc I think your sister is having the baby.”

Jeremiah was up and out of the house in record time. Buck also woke Theresa to help him with Lou. She shooed him out of her room so she could dress. When she walked into the master bedroom she had to laugh as Lou took one look at her husband and yelled at him. “Buck look at yourself. You are practically naked.” He wore nothing but his longjohn bottoms. He turned bright red!

“Sorry Theresa, I’ll be a minute would you mind?”

“OK, I’m decent you can come in.” Buck called as he opened the bedroom door. “Will you stay with her while I clean up a few things?”

The day became one of the longest of Buck’s life. Lou’s screams of pain hit him harder than the bullet had. Rachel, Shy Fawn and Theresa all assisted the doc during the long labor while Jimmy, Teaspoon and Jeremiah watched Buck wear out the carpet in the front parlor. The twins slept most of the time and demanded attention from their father when they were awake. Finally there was one very loud long scream that sent Buck flying up the stairs, before he reached the top step another cry was heard. The baby was here. He stopped in front of the door, afraid that when he opened it Lou would be gone. Instead Rachel opened the door.

“Buck, I was just going to get you, come on in.” she held the door open so he could pass. “I’ll go tell the others.”

Buck looked at the bed to find his wife holding their infant. She was soaked in sweat and the sheets were wet and bloody but she was smiling. “Buck, come over and meet your son.”

“Our son” he corrected her. Theresa and Shy Fawn smiled as they watched Buck approach the bed with almost a reverent awe.

Rachel returned with clean sheets and a clean nightgown for Lou. “Girls why don’t you go down stairs and make some coffee and sandwiches for everyone it’s been a long day.” The girls left the room and Rachel took the baby from Lou. “Time to get you cleaned up. The doc just left he’ll be back tomorrow to check on you. The boys are chomping at the bit to see you and the baby,” Rachel turned and placed the baby in Buck’s arms. Once again the brave warrior cried.

“He’s perfect Lou, Thank-you, I love you so much.” Buck tenderly kissed his son’s tiny head as a little hand curled around a work worn finger.

Ten minutes later a knock sounded at the door, “Can we come in yet? Please?”

“What do you say? Are you ready to receive guests?” Rachel asked as she gathered the soiled linen.

“Come on in” Buck called after Lou nodded her head. They were both on the bed, Lou under the covers propped up against the pillow and supported by Buck’s arm he sat on top of the covers holding his wife and child against him. Everyone crowded in the room. “Everyone here? I’d… we’d like to introduce you all to Isaac Storm Cloud Cross.”

“Why Storm Cloud, Buck?” Rose asked.

“Because if it hadn’t rained the day we found you, Lou would have been thought of as a boy at the village and this little one might never have happened!” Buck grinned.

Little Ike started to fuss and Rachel shooed everyone out except for Buck. “Someone’s hungry, would you like me to help you this time Lou?” Rachel asked knowing the first time mother would have questions.

Buck watched in utter fascination as Lou brought the infant to her breast and nursed him. The sight of his wife and child touched him deeply and he knew he’d remember this day for the rest of his life.

Both mother and child fell asleep so Rachel gently picked Ike up and placed him in his cradle. She kissed each member of the Cross family. “Buck, you should try to sleep too. I know this has been hard on you. Don’t worry about the animals or the rest of us; we’ll take care of everything.” As she closed the door she took one last look at the bed, Buck’s eyes were already starting to close and a smile was touching his lips.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Theresa had taken over running the household and doing the cooking much to everyone’s surprise. She was becoming a very beautiful young woman at the age of thirteen, her maturity and grace seemed beyond her years. She was turning a few heads in school and was popular at the dances the town held.

Little Ike thrived under the doting care of his parents and numerous aunts and uncles. Life was starting to settle down to a workable routine now that Buck didn’t have to worry about Lou’s pregnancy. He had three mares to worry about instead.

“I’m sure glad I’m not a horse” Lou commented one day as she sat on the fence watching Buck and Jimmy working with a new horse.

“Why’s that? We take good care of the animals.” Buck looked at her quizzically.

“I can’t imagine being pregnant for eleven months. I couldn’t wait for those nine months to pass to see my baby and feel normal again. Oh and Buck, the doc says I can resume all my normal activities again.” She winked at Buck.

“I don’t think the horses care what they look like while they’re pregnant Lou, but they do get uncomfortable near the end.” Buck was a little slow to grasp the full meaning of her words. Jimmy wasn’t.

“I think I know two people who aren’t going to get much sleep tonight, right Buck?” Jimmy slapped him on the back. Buck’s look said ‘huh?’ “So Lou, you’re back to normal again, right?”

Buck looked at Lou and said “Really?” Jimmy caught Lou as she lost her balance laughing. The two friends had tears streaming down their cheeks from laughing so hard. Buck pretended to pout and blushed deeply.

“What’s all the noise about?” Jeremiah called from the barn and the laughter resumed even louder.

*~*~*~*

“Are you sure you don’t mind working the ranch alone for the next couple of weeks?” Buck asked Jimmy for the sixth time.

“Yes, I’m sure! Now will you people just go so you can get back here before those mares all foal?” Jimmy and Theresa would be staying at the ranch while Jeremiah, Buck, Lou, baby Ike and Shy Fawn all traveled to the Lakota village. It had been over a year since that fateful day that almost ended Buck’s life and changed them all forever.

Shy Fawn had adjusted well to life in the white world and had grown into a beautiful young woman. She and Jeremiah were in love and Buck wasn’t sure how long he could keep the two of them apart. Jeremiah, for his part, had kept his promise to the two older couples that no promises would be made until Two Eagles and Blue Feather had given their blessing to the union. Teaspoon and Rachel were sure they would be wed within a year. Buck and Lou hoped for two years but they admitted that probably wouldn’t happen.

They found the village easily and waited outside until Rose became Shy Fawn again and Lou fed the baby. A sentry spotted them and recognized Shy Fawn, they were escorted, wagon and all, right into the village to the joyous cries of welcome. Shy Fawn had just climbed down when Blue Feather saw her and ran to her daughter. Mother and daughter embraced both crying tears of joy until Two Eagles joined them. He held his daughter at arms length and declared her as beautiful as her mother!

The Shaman also greeted them and Lou passed him the baby. “What name have you chosen for him?”

“We’ve chosen Storm Cloud.” Lou answered in perfect Lakota as Buck placed an arm around her smiling.

“Come we must all sit at the fire, our family has come home.” Two Eagles motioned for everyone to walk into the village center. Needless to say, baby Ike was the center of attention.

The evening passed into night and the villagers began to retire to their family lodges. Buck and his family were given a teepee to use during their stay. They had brought many gifts for the village and their adoptive family. Shy Fawn stayed with her parents and siblings.

“This is where it all began, Lou. Have I told you how much I love you?” Buck asked Lou as they settled in for the night. Jeremiah had chosen to sleep with some of the other young men of the village near the fire, Shy Fawn had taught him to speak her language and respect their customs so he fit in well. That night Lou and Buck took advantage of sleeping children to renew their love for each other in the place it all began.

All too soon the end of the visit approached. Buck had told Jeremiah that he would have to ask Two Eagles, the Chief and the Shaman for permission to marry Shy Fawn, if that was what he truly wanted. Shy Fawn was old enough to marry in the village so the timing was right.

“Two Eagles, Shy Fawn and I would like to speak with you.” Jeremiah began taking her hand.

Two Eagles called Blue Feather over to him knowing full well what the conversation was going to be about. Blue Feather had seen the two of them together in a dream many months ago. The Shaman had also seen Shy Fawn in the white world as a wife and mother, happy, healthy, well cared for and loved. This was no surprise but that didn’t make Jeremiah any less nervous.

“You may speak, what is it you wish to seek my counsel for.” Two Eagles could barely suppress a smile as he remembered having this conversation with Blue Feather’s father many years ago.

“I have come to love and respect your daughter, Shy Fawn, and she also feels this way about me. We would like your permission to become as one, husband and wife.” Jeremiah had more to the speech he’d prepared and practiced hundreds of times but the best he could do was remember those two lines. His palms were sweating and his knees were shaking.

“What does your white family say of this union?” Two Eagles wasn’t going to make this any easier than he’d had it. This was the privilege of having daughters. He called to someone to get Buck and Lou and bring them to the teepee. Once they entered he continued. “You know why they are here?” He asked Lou and Buck.

“Yes, Jeremiah asked many moons ago for permission to see Shy Fawn. I, and others, gave that permission provided no promises were made between them until You, Two Eagles, had blessed the union.” Buck spoke clearly and nodded toward the young couple. “He will make a good husband and provide for his family, I will make sure of it.”

“If I do not approve?”

“We will honor your wishes, Two Eagles, But with heavy hearts.” Jeremiah said grateful that Buck had warned him he might be tested and how to answer the questions.

“Than I approve, on two conditions.” All eyes turned to the elder Indian. “The Shaman must approve and you will marry before you leave to go to back to the white world.” Jeremiah looked stunned.

“In the white world Shy Fawn is still too young to marry, I ask that they be married here but wait until Shy Fawn is a bit older before the marriage is sealed.” Buck came to the young couples’ rescue.

“I agree, the white world agrees with you daughter, you have made me proud. When you left to follow Buck and Lou, I knew it was for the best. You are always welcome here.”

The next day Shy Fawn and Jeremiah were married and a feast followed. The naming ceremony for Storm Cloud was held that night under the full moon and the entire village attended both. The newlyweds were a little upset that they would be sleeping in separate teepees that night but they understood it was for the best. They would be leaving the next morning for Rock Creek.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The next few months flew by and plans were made for a church wedding for the young couple. Buck and Lou had a small house built on the property so they would still be nearby. Rose was looking forward to fully becoming a wife and later a mother. She enjoyed caring for Rachel’s twins and Little Ike, she hoped for her own child soon.

The ranch was doing well and already had an excellent reputation as having the best stock in the territory. Buck had hired two more men to help with the horses and he was training Jeremiah as a foreman. The second anniversary of Buck and Lou owning the ranch found Buck and Lou happy and surrounded by family. As a joke Buck had put little Ike on his pony when he was six months old, the baby acted like he’d been born on a horse. He was riding without help as soon as he could hold himself up without loosing his balance. The child couldn’t walk yet but he could ride! Teaspoon swore there was some of big Ike in the child.

The third anniversary of the ranch found Lou expecting again and Little Ike following his father around like a puppy dog. The toddler was into everything; on more then one occasion Buck had to bathe the little boy after taking him out of the manure pile. Rose had gotten her wish and was now the mother of a beautiful little girl. She and Jeremiah doted on the child. Theresa had grown into a beautiful young woman as well and at sixteen had every young man in the territory vying for her attention. Buck was playing the overprotective father role well and none of them had measured up to the standards he set. The only hint of sadness was Kid. Buck had written him several times and never received a reply but the last letter had been returned unopened. Buck wondered what had become of his friend.

The forth anniversary of the ranch was a time for renewal. Lou had lost the child she was carrying the year before but recovered quickly. The ranch was doing very well and although the winter had been exceptionally harsh they had only lost one colt. All the children were healthy and happy. Shy Fawn and Jeremiah had traveled to the Lakota with their child and found her parents well. Shy Fawn’s younger sister had also presented them with a grandchild, a baby boy. The sadness Buck and Lou faced with the loss of the pregnancy was soon forgotten as early spring found Buck and Lou welcoming Mary Wild Flower Cross. Neither Buck nor Lou would say where the name had come from but there was a field of wild flowers not far from the ranch they enjoyed often, alone. The other adults could only guess at the significance of the name; often with a knowing smile.

One evening while everyone was over at Teaspoon and Rachel’s just sitting on the porch and watching the children play, Little Ike came screaming from behind the barn. “boogie man, Papa, BOOGIE MAN!!!” He flew into Buck’s arms.

“Whoa, there Storm, what’s wrong?” He spoke soothingly to the child, stroking the child’s back in an effort to calm him. “We went over this before there are no such things as boogie men.” He might have succeeded in calming his son if it hadn’t been for the twins also running screaming to their parents about the boogie man. Buck handed his son over to Theresa while he and Jimmy headed in the direction the children had come from. Rachel and Lou started herding the children inside when they realized the men had their guns drawn. One scared three year old was imagination but add two terrified four year olds and that equals trouble.

Jimmy rounded the barn from the left while Buck went to the right. What they found astounded them. They could see a man clothed in rags, covered in dirt and caked in mud. The man was emaciated and obviously scared. Jimmy and Buck looked at the man then at each other, it couldn’t be.

“Kid, is that you?” Jimmy asked as he approached the man. “Oh my God, what happened?”

Buck holstered his weapon and knelt beside Kid. He brushed some of the hair and dirt off Kid’s face then drew him in for a hug. Kid was trembling. “Let’s get you inside. Can you walk?”

“I scared your kids, I’m sorry.” He said weakly, “I’ll try.” He collapsed into Buck’s arms as his legs gave out.

“Jimmy, help me get him over to the old bunk house I don’t think we should take him into he main house until we get him cleaned up a bit.”

Jimmy reached down to help Buck and realized that Kid weighed so little he just picked him up and carried him alone.

“I’ll go get Rachel and Teaspoon.” Buck headed to the main house.

“Buck, what happened?” Lou took one look at Buck and knew something had clearly upset him.

“Rachel, I need some warm water, soap and rags, I think some broth might help too. Jimmy and I just found Kid.” Lou sat down hard and Rachel gasped. “We brought him over to the bunk house he’s in pretty bad shape.”

Everyone sprang into action Jeremiah rode out to get the Doctor. Rachel and Lou headed to the kitchen to get the water heating. Rose, now pregnant with her second child, volunteered to watch the children along with Theresa. Teaspoon and Buck grabbed some blankets and clothes and headed over to the bunk house.

The next few hours were a flurry of activity. Kid was washed up, fed, clothed and checked over by the doc. “He’s lucky to be alive. I don’t know what he’s been through but I can tell you he’s been shot and the wound is infected. It looks like the bullet went clean through but it was never treated. I don’t know how he got here. He has a fever and kept calling me captain. Was he in the war?”

“We don’t know much more than you, doc. He left here over five years ago with his bride headed to Virginia. He was plannin’ on fightin’ for the South so he probably was in the war. Thank God its’ over.” Teaspoon added.

That night Teaspoon and Jimmy spent the night in the bunkhouse with Kid. Buck took his family home and promised to be back in the morning to stay with Kid.

Lou woke up crying in the middle of the night. “Why didn’t you make me invite him to our wedding? He might not have gone back to the war. He might not be hurt; he’s going to die isn’t he? I still love him Buck.”

Her words shook Buck’s soul. He wasn’t sure what to say so he did the only thing he could think of. Buck pulled Lou into his arms and kissed her deeply, she didn’t resist him but it took a moment for her to respond. He kissed the tears off her cheeks and fought back his own. “I love you, Lou. You are my reason for living, I need you.” He kissed her again and this time her response was immediate.

“I need you too Buck. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I may still love Kid but I’m in love with you. I need you now more than ever.” She realized he was crying in the darkness and knew how deeply her words had cut him. Softly, tenderly, she began to make love to him. Somehow Lou knew that tonight they would conceive another child.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Somehow Kid managed to survive the next few weeks and little by little he told them his story. It was a sad one. He and Samantha had gone back to Virginia and were married. Their marriage was intense but short. The war had kept them apart much of the time but they still managed to spend some very happy moments together. Three days after the battle at Chancellorsville, Virginia, Kid received word that his wife had died during child birth. His son died too, after living only a few hours. Kid had them buried together. Kid was shattered. His wife and child were dead and the only other family he’d really known was a thousand miles away. The only thing he had left was Katy. Samantha’s mother was caring for her while kid fought the war. He had gained a reputation for bravery, often risking his life to save others. The war was his family for the next two and a half years but when it ended and the South lost he was left a broken man.

The only possessions he had of value were Katy and the letters from Buck. The letters Buck had sent were his life line. They told Kid of the marriages and births, the joys and the heartaches. Kid had clung to them; they were his only link to a past that he cherished. He asked God to bless Buck and his family every time he read those letters. They kept him alive.

He had the well read letters with him but no one had seen Katy. Samantha’s mother had died just as the war ended and he’d collected Katy and drifted slowly back to the only family he had left. Kid told them one day that he had to let Katy go; he just couldn’t care for her any longer. “She’s near here somewhere. I was in this field and there were other horses so I just took the saddle off and let her go. I didn’t think I’d live to make it here.” He tearfully admitted.

What Kid didn’t know was that Katy had already been found. The field he’d left her in was the field of wild flowers Buck and Lou enjoyed so much. Katy followed the other horses back to the barn and Jeremiah just put her in a stall not realizing what that horse meant to the people in his family. Almost a week later Buck spotted Katy in the corral by the house.

“LOU, come here! You’re never gonna believe this…..” He jumped the fence and approached the horse. She picked up his scent and trotted over. Buck checked her over and found she’d had a rough trip too but over all had fared much better than the Kid. There was nothing wrong with her that some good feed and tender care wouldn’t fix. “Looks like Katy found us! She’s scratched up a bit but I think once I clean her up she’ll be OK.” Katy nuzzled Buck and as soon as Lou reached her, she bent her head for the scratch Lou always gave her in the withers.

“She remembers us!” Lou gushed as she hugged Katy’s head and gave her that long awaited scratch.

“Kid’s gonna be thrilled! He was saying yesterday that he was afraid she was gone for good.” Buck laughed.

“Buck, I was thinking, we could use more help here and Kid’s gonna need a place to live. The old bunkhouse needs work and the twins are still afraid of him.”

Buck drew his wife close. “I was thinking the same thing. He can live in our bunkhouse with the rest of the crew until he gets back on his own two feet. I know Teaspoon was thinking of asking if he’d like to work as a deputy when Billy Johnson gets married next fall. He’ll need something until then.”

“I’ve been so busy with the kids I haven’t had a chance to see him in almost a month, how does he look? Is he gaining some weight?” Lou asked turning in her husband’s arms and circling his waist with her own.

“You’ll see him Sunday, at the town picnic, remember?” Buck responded as he moved his hand to draw her in for a kiss. Just as the Buck began to deepen the kiss a large damp nose pushed them apart.

“Hey, No fair Katy! Get your own man!” Lou giggled and Buck burst out laughing!

“I have an idea. After the picnic we’ll ask Kid to come back here to see the place and ask him to work for us for a few months. Katy can be right here and we’ll just let him see her. Let’s not tell anyone OK?”

“Buck, that sounds like a plan. Ah, since I sort of forgot about the picnic what do you want for food? Will fried chicken and potato salad do?” Lou closed the gate behind them as they headed for the house.

CHAPTER TWENTY

Rachel, Teaspoon, the twins and Kid were already set up with a table for the adults and a blanket for the children when Buck and his family arrived. Storm and the twins found a ball and were kicking it back and forth when Kid looked up and saw Lou, Not the Lou he knew as Buck’s wife but the Lou he had fallen in love with all those years ago. He dropped the apple he was eating.

“Lou?” Kid called rubbing his eyes.

“What is it Kid?” Lou answered from behind him as she unpacked the Cross family’s meal.

Kid spun around and looked from the young Lou to Buck’s wife. The two women laughed as they realized Kid had mistaken Theresa for Lou. “Kid, you remember my little sister Theresa….” Lou began.

“You’ve grown up! I can’t believe how much you look like Lou when she was your age. You’re beautiful!”

Theresa blushed and Lou laughed, “Why thank-you, Kid, I think….”

The rest of the day the families’ enjoyed the activities, good food and good company. When it was time to leave Buck asked Kid to come out and see the ranch. Kid had spent a good part of the day talking to Theresa and she in turn had enjoyed his company. Both Buck and Lou sensed a connection between the young woman and their long lost friend.

“She’s almost seventeen, Kid.” Buck said as they loaded the wagon up for the ride home.

“She sure don’t act that way. She’s so much like Lou but different. It’s hard to explain, I know she’s young, Buck, but, Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.”

Buck caught Theresa looking at Kid and smiled “I don’t think it’s just you, Kid, I got the feeling she kinda liked you too. Just please, no dancing!” Buck laughed at the stricken look on Kid’s face.

The ride back to the ranch was uneventful and Buck and Lou caught Kid and Theresa glancing at each other more than a few times. The ranch came into view and Kid was amazed. “That’s all yours?”

“Well not yet we have to wait about another six months and then the five years will be up and the deed should be ours. We already have a meeting with the Convery’s and their lawyer. Lou and I have done well but we couldn’t have done it with out Jimmy. He put a lot of hard work into this too. Jeremiah and Shy Fawn live in that house there with their two children. He’s the ranch foreman.” Buck pointed to a small white frame house not unlike Emma’s old home back in Sweetwater, complete with a white picket fence.

“Who’s Shy Fawn? I thought he was married to Rose.” Kid looked confused.

“Don’t mind Buck, he still insists on calling Rose by her Lakota name. Rose and Shy Fawn are the same person.” Lou cleared up the confusion as they pulled up into the yard. One of the ranch hands came out and took the wagon.

“How many horses do you have Buck? I’ve heard people talking in town and they say you have the best stock in the territory.” Kid asked looking toward the corral where a dozen or so horses were milling about.

“Right now I have about forty head, not all of them are for sale. The horses in the corral are privately owned or are breeding stock. You probably recognize Lightening and Sky Dancer.” Buck pointed Kid towards the horses.

Kid walked over to the fence and began to examine the horses when he spotted Katy. “Buck, where did you find a horse that looks like Katy? Can I buy it?” The horse’s hind quarter was the only part of the animal visible.

“Sorry, she’s not for sale. She already has an owner who loves her dearly.” Buck answered smiling; Lou slipped in beside Buck and whistled. The horse turned and approached the fence.

“Please tell me I’m not dreaming, Katy?” The horse shoved her large head toward the human she loved. Kid was fighting tears. “Katy, it is you. Who bought her Buck, who owns her? Please I need this horse.” He lost the fight to control his emotions.

“You do, Kid. She’s all yours. She was a bit scratched up and a little thin when she found us but another week of rest and she should be ready to ride. I had her reshod a couple of days ago. The Doc says she’ll be good as new.” Buck watched Kid climb the fence to be with Katy, “Oh and Kid? You may not sleep in the stall with her. We’ll be in the house when you’re ready to talk.”

~*~*~*~

Kid had agreed to work on the ranch and had moved into the bunkhouse. Jimmy was courting the sister of one of the ranch hands and there was talk of marriage between them. Lou had been correct about the conception of their child and the pregnancy was going well. Theresa and Kid found excuses to be together every chance they got and Buck had finally confronted Kid, while Lou confronted Theresa. The couple admitted they had very strong feelings for each other; Kid asked and received permission to court her. Buck was relieved, he still was uneasy about Lou’s admission of love for Kid.

The day of the meeting with the Convery’s arrived and nerves were on edge. Buck and Lou had suggested the meeting be held at the ranch so the Convery family could see the changes that had taken place. Lou was also in her eighth month and traveling into town was uncomfortable at best. The carriage the family had rented stopped in the door yard and Thomas Convery got out first. Elizabeth Convery was next followed but a much older gentleman, Buck presumed to be their lawyer. Buck and Lou waited for them on the porch.

“Mr. and Mrs. Cross” The older man spoke first. “I’m Nathan Benoit, I’ll be handling the transfer of the deeds and title of the land. I believe you remember the Converys, Thomas and Elizabeth.” He extended his hand.

Buck shook the man’s hand “Mr. and Mrs. Convery, Mr. Benoit, my wife Louise.” It was at that moment two young voices could be heard squabbling over a toy. “Excuse me” Buck left to end the dispute.

“Please call us Beth and Tom we don’t need to be so formal, Nathan, we’re old friends, Louise you look radiant! When is the baby due?” Beth stepped toward Lou and the women hugged. A second later they we almost knocked over as two laughing children tore out the door and down the stairs.

“Those two dervishes are our children Isaac and Mary. I’m due next month, Thanks, but I feel as big as a house!” Lou laughed.

“Our oldest just had her first last year and our youngest daughter is due in two months, she feels the same way but you both have that glow.” Tom also hugged Lou and shook Buck’s hand as he immerged from the house.

“Please come inside, I’ve got some fresh lemonade.”

“I have all the records from the ranch that you requested. What we’ve put into it, what profits we’ve made and current inventory.” Buck set a large file down on the table. He was nervous. They’d met all the terms of the agreement but it was still up to the Converys to sign over the deed.

“Everything appears to be in order, Mr. and Mrs. Cross.” Mr. Benoit said after studying the file for over an hour. Buck felt like his stomach was doing summersaults and his palms were sweating. Lou had shown the Converys the house and Buck had taken them on a tour of the ranch.

“I can’t believe this is the same place my father started. He would be so proud of you.” Beth Convery praised Buck and Lou.

“I’ve been told you have become a very astute business man, Buck. I’m more than impressed with the profit you’ve made and those are some of the best looking examples of horseflesh I’ve ever seen.” Tom Convery smiled. “Your family is amazing. I don’t know how you’re able to do it all. Do you travel to the auctions or do you have an agent?”

“Our friend Jimmy does all of that for me he’s the best salesman. He really knows horses too. He rode in the pony express with us. Part of our success is because of his efforts.” Buck spoke proudly.

“Excuse me, Mr. Cross, does the ranch have a name? I want to include that on the deed.” the lawyer queried.

“We’ve been calling it the Cross Ranch. We really didn’t want to name it until it was really ours.” Lou admitted.

Mrs. Convery gasped. “With all the work you’ve done and the success of the ranch did you think it wouldn’t be yours?”

Buck and Lou just looked at each other. “We’ve been disappointed before so we prepared for the worst but hoped for the best.” Lou finally admitted.

“The ranch is yours, you’ve earned it!” Beth hugged Lou tightly. “You’ve taken an old man’s dream and made it reality and added a family to brighten the place too.”

“I think we should call the ranch the Cross Express Family Ranch. Lou, what do you think?” Buck beamed.

“Sounds like a fine name for a ranch, Mr. Cross, now are you and your wife the sole owners?” Mr. Benoit was making notes on his legal pad.

Lou looked at Buck who responded, “Is there a way to make it a true family enterprise? Jimmy has been here from the start and worked as hard as the rest of us. We’d like him to have a part of it and then there are Louise’s brother and sister too.”

“I believe I can do that. Some of the larger ranches and farms are set up as family trusts, I believe, that means that whoever you designate as part of that family is part owner. I’ll have to look up the correct wording and you’ll have to supply the names but we can surely do this for you Mr. and Mrs. Cross.” The lawyer smiled as he shook Buck’s hand. “I need to get back to start drawing up the papers this afternoon. I’ll be back for dinner, thank-you for the invitation.”

The whole family gathered in the Cross dinning room that evening to celebrate the deed being passed to Buck and Lou. The Converys and Mr. Benoit were impressed at the size of the Cross Family. The youngest members of the family kept everyone entertained and were reluctant to go to bed as the evening drew to a close. Jimmy had made a favorable impression and everyone agreed he was a good sales man.

“I’m not half as good as Cody, he pops back every so often. He has this traveling show….” Jimmy didn’t get to finish

“You know Buffalo Bill Cody? Oh MY!” Beth exclaimed.

Everyone laughed. “He’s part of the express family. He rode with us too.” Jimmy laughed “He could sell eggs to an egg farmer! That man can sell anything and spin a tall tail out of it at the same time!”

“Don’t believe everything you hear about him, he’s been known to exaggerate on occasion.” Kid laughed.

The rest of the dinner was spent reminiscing about events that had happened over the last five years in both families and the plans for the future. It was very late when the Converys and Mr. Benoit left to head back to town. Everyone said their good byes and headed to their respective homes. Lou was exhausted and Buck carried her up to bed.

“Buck?” Lou asked sleepily after Buck tucked her in and was undressing.

“Hmm, what Hon?” His words were muffled as he pulled his shirt off over his head.

“Do you love me the same way you did when we were married?” Lou looked like she was ready to fall asleep at any moment.

“Nope” Buck heard Lou gasp before he could get the rest of the sentence out. He slid in beside her, pulled her to him and smothered her face with kisses until she laughed. “I love you more everyday!”

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

A week later everything had settled back to normal at the ranch and plans were being made for Theresa’s eighteenth birthday. The resemblance to Lou was amazing but Theresa was even more spirited than her sister. Kid was completely in love with her and she was totally smitten for him. Buck was making plans for the placement of their home on the ranch complex. He didn’t think it would be long before a wedding would take place. Jimmy had asked Rosalina to be his wife and she’d accepted. Buck figured if they were going to build one house they could build two. This truly was a family ranch.

“BUCK” Lou’s call sent him running.

“Lou, what is it?” She was curled up in a ball on the floor of the upstairs hallway. Her face was contorted in pain. “Is it the baby?” Buck started to lift her and felt wetness as he placed his hand under her legs. “Let me get you in bed and I’ll send someone for the doctor.” His voice quivered.

“I’ve come too far to loose this baby, it hurts Buck, Oh God, IT HURTS!” He placed her gently on the bed and ran to the window.

“Jimmy, Jeremiah, Rose, Someone, I need help.” Buck’s voice had an uncharacteristic hint of panic.

Two ranch hands ran out of the barn and Jimmy jumped the corral fence. “It’s Lou, someone get the doc and hurry something’s not right. Please find Theresa, she and Rachel went into town this morning.” Buck’s words set everyone in motion. Jimmy directed the one of the ranch hands to get Jeremiah and Rose and the other to saddle his horse and one other. Buck had left the window and returned to his wife. A scream was heard.

“Buck I think the baby’s coming. NOW!” Lou was breathing hard and trying not to cry. “Buck, HELP MEEEEE! ARRRGHH! I can feel it!”

Buck didn’t want to look but he had to; what he saw astounded him. He saw hair, lots of it, attached to a little head that wasn’t going to wait for any doctor or any female help. He reached down and gently guided the little head out and found the cord wrapped loosely around the child’s neck. Buck instinctively undid the loop and then guided first one little shoulder then the other out. Lou gave one big push at that moment and their second son made his entrance into the world. He didn’t make a sound.

“Hold him upside down by his feet, Buck. It helps clear the airway.” Lou somehow remembered what the doctor had done with the others.

“He so small, Lou.” Buck did as he was told. He was rewarded with a loud and lusty cry! “Nothing wrong with those lungs!” Buck allowed himself to feel relief, believing the worst was past. He started to lay the baby in Lou’s arms after tying and cutting the cord but she was obviously in pain.

“Something’s wrong, Buck, there’s more pressure than before. ARRRGHH, Buck, What’s wrong?” Lou was gripping the sheets in a death grip and breathing hard again.

Buck quickly laid his son in the cradle beside the bed and against his better judgment took another look. He almost passed out. “LOU, I SEE FEET!” He was way out of his element, birthing horses was one thing this was too much. “I think it’s a baby”

“Of course it’s a baby, Buck. Did you think I’d have kittens?” Lou hissed between clenched teeth. “Help me.”

Somehow Buck managed to get some air into his lungs, reached in and pulled. The baby delivered quickly and easily thanks to her brother being slightly larger. Two good pushes from Lou and their daughter arrived kicking and screaming into the world. “It’s a girl!” Buck happily exclaimed. “Please tell me there are no more in there.”

“Not a Kitten?” Lou teased. She was drenched in sweat but the whole ordeal had lasted less than a half hour. Lou directed Buck as he cared for her and their children. He looked worse than she did. He was covered in sweat, blood and other birthing fluids. “Buck?”

“What? Not again?” he looked ready to faint.

“No, I think that’s all for now. I just wanted to say I love you.”

Buck sat down on the bed beside her and their children. He took her face in his hands and kissed her so tenderly she sighed. “I love you so much it hurts” He kissed her again and started to cry. He was emotionally spent. “Thank-you”

Her tears joined his as the infants slept peacefully in their parents loving embrace.

“BUCK” someone called as the couple heard several pairs of feet running up the stairs. The door to the bedroom banged off the wall as Jimmy, Rachel, Theresa and the doctor all entered. They stopped short at the sight that greeted them.

“You missed all the fun” Lou quipped as everyone stood, mouths agape, staring at the young family. Storm Cloud and Wild Flower snaked into the room between the adults’ legs. “Storm, Flower come on over and see the babies.” The children climbed on the already crowded bed. “I’d like you to meet your brother and sister.”

“What’s their names, Momma?” Storm asked peering into the blankets. “They look the same, are you sure they are a boy and a girl?” His little face looked at his parents with a sort of sideways smile and a raised eyebrow.

“I wonder who he takes after?” asked Jimmy, laughing, as he turned to leave the room. “I’ll be downstairs, no offence Buck but you look like you could use a bath. I’ll put the water on.”

Rachel was laughing too. “Do you have names picked out? Buck, he’s right you are a mess.”

“I’d like to examine Mrs. Cross and the babies so Mr. Cross why don’t you take the older children downstairs for a few minutes.” The doctor opened his bag. “You’ve done most of my work I need to do something to earn my fee!”

Rachel had gotten clean clothes for both Buck and Lou out of their draws and handed Buck his as he herded the children out of the room. “Thanks Rachel.”

“Just put your clothes in the wash bucket with some water, I’ll do them later.” Theresa instructed Buck. Buck looked down at the ones Rachel had just given him. “Not those ones, the ones you’re wearing, silly!” Buck smiled sheepishly his brain had stopped thinking awhile ago.

~*~*~*~

“Well, if that don’t just beat all.” Teaspoon laughed later that week. “You had to go and out do Rachel and Me. Birthin’ your own young ones! I gotta hand it to you Buck, I’m not sure I could have done that!”

“Trust me Teaspoon, I’d rather be shot at; I was so scared. I thought Lou was gonna die. Then I thought I’d die when I saw those feet. She’s the one who deserves all the credit. She told me what to do. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen a baby born.” Buck put a loving arm around his wife and kissed her forehead.

“The doctor said he’s never seen anyone birth babies so fast. I didn’t have any warning at all. One minute I’m dusting and the next I’m soaking wet and in lots of pain. I couldn’t even stand up. You should have seen Buck. He was white as a ghost.” Lou laughed. “He turned a little green when Emmylou’s feet popped out.”

All the men were looking a little sick at the last comment. “Thanks for the visual sis.” Jeremiah swallowed hard. “What are their Indian names?”

“Noah’s is Red Sun and Emmylou’s is Purple Sky. They were born in the morning and that’s the last things I remember before Lou called me.” Buck smiled as a cry was heard from the bedroom. “Someone’s hungry, after you Lou.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Kid proposed to Theresa at her birthday party and she accepted. Jimmy and Rosalie were married two weeks later. Work progressed on the two new homes that were being added to the complex. Kid had chosen to build his home nearer to Rachel and Teaspoon because he was working full time as a deputy and it was closer to town. Jimmy’s house was half way between the Kid’s and Buck’s homes.

Buck and Lou had their hands full with the four children all under school age. Ike would be six in early December and Mary would be three in the spring. The twins were almost ten months old and into everything. Theresa’s wedding was in a month and the house was finally finished.

“You know Buck, sometimes I can’t believe how lucky we are.” Lou began as she sat in his arms on their front porch swing. Seven years ago we had nothing. The Express was ending; Cody, Kid and Jimmy were gone or leaving for the war. My brother and sister were still in the orphanage. You and I were just friends. Now look at us. We’ve got four beautiful children, a wonderful home and a successful ranch.” Buck kissed her head as she continued. “Jimmy needed a reason to come home and we were able to give it to him. Now he’s married and a father, did you ever think Jimmy would ever settle down, never mind become a father?”

“Fatherhood suits him well Lou, I never thought I’d see Jimmy cry but babies have a way of bringing out the parts of our hearts we thought we’d buried as we became men.” Buck hugged Lou to him. “Little Jimmy is so cute. He looks more like his dad every day.”

“He’s not even a month old yet Buck, how do you know who he looks like?” Lou playfully slapped Buck’s knee.

“Jeremiah and Rose have a home of their own and two happy healthy little ones. Did you know she’s pregnant again? She said she’s going to see if her parents will come here to visit when the baby is born. She actually asked if it was OK. Did she think we’d say no?” Lou continued as she nestled into the comfort of her husband’s arms.

“No, I didn’t know that, I’d been thinking of asking Red Bear the same thing. I mean visiting us, he hasn’t seen the kids in awhile and he’s never seen the twins.”

“Hmm, I thought for a moment you knew something I didn’t.” Lou Laughed.

“Are you pregnant?” Buck asked a little fearful of the answer.

“No, don’t worry. Anyway Theresa will be married soon and then she and Kid will start a family. They have their own house too. Buck, it’s all because of you and your hard work. We’ve been able to give so much to our family. Even Cody stops by every few months and he’s mentioned that he might like to have a real home too. He loves being on the road but since he’s gotten married he’s thinking about a family of his own.”

“He knows he’s welcome here anytime we’ve got plenty of land. I worry about Teaspoon, He’s getting older and doesn’t move as fast as he used to. Those twins of his are a handful! Rachel loves teaching; I think they’d have a dozen kids if they could. The ranch is running itself and Jimmy and I have thought about putting in more time in town until more deputies can be hired. If you say it’s alright. Storm will start school in the fall so that’s one less little Indian around during the day. It really looks like Kid is going to take over being Marshal.” Buck felt Lou shiver as a cool breeze rocked the swing. He pulled her shawl tighter around her.

“Sam and Emma will be coming for the wedding and Cody sent word he’ll be here too. I can’t wait. Do you realize this will be the first time since our wedding the whole family has been together at the same place and time?” Lou looked up at her husband.

“No, I guess I hadn’t really thought about it. Sam told me that Little Sam is as tall as Emma and still loves that horse. I can’t wait to see them.” Buck cocked his head to one side and listened for a moment. “Someone’s awake!”

~*~*~*~

The day of the wedding was perfect. Theresa asked Buck to give her away and he proudly accepted. The bride was beautiful in her sister’s wedding dress and vail. Lou had tried to get her to get her own but Theresa wouldn’t hear of it. She claimed she had never seen a more beautiful bride and wanted to look that beautiful too. Lou had cried at the compliment. The ceremony was very traditional and romantic. The couple had written their own vows to add to the sacred ones they repeated. Buck found himself brushing a tear away as he lifted Theresa’s vail and kissed her cheek. Kid still refused to give his birth name so he became Kid McCloud!

The reception was held in the church hall and the gardens beside the church. Buck and Lou were surprised when Theresa, Kid, Jeremiah and Rose asked them to join them in the front of the hall. Everyone was quiet as first Jeremiah and then Theresa spoke of their early years in the orphanage and the sacrifices that Louise had made for them then they recounted how Buck had married Louise and assumed the responsibility of raising them. They told how Lou and Buck had selflessly given them everything they needed and wanted and most importantly a loving home. The two young couples then presented Buck and Lou with a huge package wrapped in purple paper and tied with a white ribbon.

“I think you have this backwards” Buck began. “We’re supposed to give gifts to the bride and groom.”

“Aren’t cha gonna open it?” Kid prodded.

Lou untied the bow and Buck ripped the paper off. Inside was a beautiful puff quilt made by the loving hands of Rose and Theresa. Lou recognized some of the fabric immediately. The quilt had scenes from their lives sewn in fabric taken from old garments. Everyone was represented and both Buck and Lou were moved to tears. Buck found that Ike’s red bandana was the center piece. The name of every rider from the Pony Express was embroidered around its edges including Ike and Noah. Sam and Emma were represented as well and Teaspoon and Rachel. The date of Buck and Lou’s marriage was embroidered in the middle. Baby clothes from each child, niece and nephew were there as well as the birth date of each.

Buck and Lou held the quilt against them selves and drew the two younger couples into a group embrace. The tears flowed freely and the entire assembly followed suit. No more words were necessary. When Buck had composed himself he turned to the assembly “This quilt means so much I can’t put it into words so I’ll just say with all my heart Thank-you from Louise and me.” He guided his still teary eyed wife back to their table and the rest of the family.

That night two babies were conceived. Buck and Lou fulfilled the shaman’s prediction of a third son and Theresa and Kid also produced a healthy son. The ranch prospered for years to come and the second, third and forth generations of the Cross family continued to run it as a family enterprise long after the founders had gone on to their eternal rests.

Ike Cross had indeed learned the old ways from his father and Uncle and became a representative in Washington lobbying for the rights of the Indians. His parents lived long and happy lives with many grandchildren and one great grand child before passing peacefully into the next world. Teaspoon lived long enough to walk his daughter down the aisle and welcome his first grandchild before he too passed into eternity. The others all enjoyed similar lives and relative good health well into their advanced years.

The quilt was passed down, names were added and it finally came to rest in a glass case along with a family Bible and an old yellowed wedding dress with little glass beads that shimmered in the light.

The End

I’d like to thank my friends that were so helpful; I couldn’t have done this without your help. Leah for all her support and hard work correcting my mistakes! I’d like to thank Mimsy and Maria for their support and encouragement.

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