A/N another ADULT version of this story is available and will soon be found at an adult site. This one is suitable for most.

Chapter One

Rock Den Township, Kansas

“Confess your crimes, Half Breed.” The man was screaming at him again. Buck had tried to tell them they had the wrong man but it didn’t seem to matter. As the whip found the now tender bleeding flesh of his back he tried to remember how this run had gone so wrong….

Teaspoon had asked him to make this last run into Kansas for the Army. Buck had wanted nothing to do with it but there was no one else left to go besides him. Kid and Lou were married, finally, and had gone to collect Lou’s brother and sister from the orphanage. Cody was off scouting for the Army. Jimmy had left to see his sister and her family before the war tore the country apart. Noah was gone, like Ike, cut down before they really had a chance to live. Neither Kid nor Jimmy was due back for at least 2 weeks so Buck was stuck with the run.

The run had started well enough and the package had been delivered without incident, it was the ride home that brought him to this hell. Thanks to heavy rain and flash flooding he’d had to ride miles out of his way to avoid the flood. He’d finally found himself in this little no name town, hungry, wet and tired. He’d been looking for the livery to rest his horse and maybe find a dry place to sleep for himself. It wasn’t to be. He hadn’t been in town more than a few minutes when a woman spotted him and screamed. People came running from the few buildings that made up the main square and everyone was pointing and saying “IT’S HIM!” He should have turned around and high tailed it as far away as possible but Buck realized he was in serious trouble a second too late. He was staring down the barrels of several guns and surrounded by a sea of angry faces.

He’d been taken, none to gently, to the Sheriff’s office. His weapons taken away, his hands tied tightly behind his back, his legs tied at the ankles, and gagged, he had been thrown to the floor of the cell. The cell door slammed shut behind him and he was left wondering what all this was about.

Several hours later the Sheriff finally spoke to him. “You understand English Breed? I don’t want to waste my breath if you don’t.”

Still gagged Buck could only nod. “Good, I have half a mind to just let that mob outside have you now but I want to wait till the women you raped get here, better yet, that little girl you killed, her Daddy can’t wait to get his hands on you.” Buck was shocked! He shook his head and tried to scream that it wasn’t him but the sheriff just laughed. “Not so bold now, huh, Indian? You’re gonna die a very slow, painful death, I’ll make sure of that!”

Buck’s stomach tied itself into a knot; he wasn’t even going to get a chance to say anything. He’d already been tried and convicted before he even rode into town. He didn’t have long to wait, four women were brought in one at a time; each one barely glanced at him if they even looked in his direction at all. Buck’s hope died a little more as each of the women sobbed hysterically and identified him as her rapist. While his heart broke for these women, his thoughts went to his mother, had she been as devastated as these women or was it worse for her. His mother had been treated as an outcast, almost as if she had invited the attack.

He wanted to cry out ‘look at me I’m not him’ but his efforts were in vain. Finally the father of the murdered girl arrived, Buck’s hopes were raised when the man said “I don’t know, Hank, I really thought he was older, and I could have sworn Boomer got a piece of him. His pants ain’t torn”

Buck was horrified when the sheriff and two deputies opened the cell door and cut most of his clothing off. One of the deputies took Buck’s boots and tried them on. “Hey they fit… Mind if I take ‘em? He ain’t gonna need ‘em.”

The sheriff, the one they called Hank, just laughed. “Yup they’re all yours, but do you think you’ll ever get that Breed’s smell out of them?” To the father, Hank said “I don’t see any bite marks…. maybe you’re right but this town needs to see someone pay, one dead Indian is as good as the next.” They all nodded and Buck’s hope died. They knew he was innocent and they didn’t care. He was a dead man.

Chapter Two

The next morning Buck woke to the sounds of saws and hammers, they were building a scaffold. Still tied and gagged, now almost naked, he lay on the cell floor and prayed to the Spirits for the strength and the courage to die with honor and dignity. He had been given no food or water, he hadn’t really expected any. The sun was shining brightly and everyone that came in the sheriff’s office was smiling and seemingly in a good mood. They had their man. They would get justice at his expense. Then a ray of hope entered Buck’s bleak world.

She burst into the office with a loud bang of the door and the words “Where is he? Where is the bloody monster?” Even Buck had to smile at the shocked look on the sheriff’s face.

“Now Mrs. Reilly there is no need for you to upset yourself like this, he’s been identified by the other victims” Hank managed to splutter.

From his vantage point on the floor Buck could see the woman but he doubted she could see him. The sun was on her face and her green eyes appeared to be glowing, her hair certainly was! Her hair was the color of the sunset; a golden red fire was all Buck could think of. Her skin was a golden color too, like she spent a lot of time outside. She reminded him of Emma, Lou and Rachel all rolled up in one! She was a woman who would have her say, no matter who stood in her way.

“Well, Hank, are you going to stand there and look like a fish out of water or are you going to show me the prisoner? I’m the only one who really saw him and you know it.”

“You’ll see him this afternoon when we take him out. Not before” Hank steered the woman to the door and gave her a little shove out. He turned to the deputies and said “She could be trouble but I doubt anyone will really care once we get them going.”

Buck had tried to sleep, his body was numb from being bound and stiff from lying on the cold cell floor. He must have drifted off because he awoke as the cell door was opened and the real horror began. The first kick caught him solidly in the ribs, emptying his lungs of air. The next was in his back, the rest were a blur, and he only remembered seeing the boots. One of the men was kicking him with his own boots. The assault continued as they pummeled his face and body with their fists. Tasting blood, Buck finally lost the battle to stay conscious.

Chapter Three

Buck slowly became aware of feeling cold and wet. It was dark, a cold light rain was falling, and many people were shouting. He couldn’t feel his arms; his legs were tied, somewhat apart, to two posts. His arms were tied at the wrists between the two upright supports for the scaffold. He briefly remembered being tried like this by the Kiowa during his test but the pain then was nothing compared to the burning in his shoulders now. He was wearing some sort of cloth tied with a rope around his waist in the style of a breech cloth but nothing else. He was beyond caring about modesty. People were throwing things at him, mostly rotten eggs and vegetables, but there was the occasional rock. He looked up as much as his swollen eyes would allow and could see a throng of people, men, women and children. All calling for his blood to be spilled, he needed a miracle to save him now. He knew they wouldn’t let him die quickly but he refused to show fear. He would die with honor.

Someone noticed that he was awake and a man in a suit climbed the stairs to stand beside him. The man had a Bible in his hands. “Do you know what this is, Boy?” Buck nodded. “Good” The man went on to read several passages to Buck and the crowd, all seemingly justifying what they were doing to him. Buck only heard bits and pieces until the man shook him “Did you hear me, Boy? If you confess your sins your soul will be saved by the Good Lord! Just like the sinners on the cross with Jesus.”

Buck stared at the man. His mind struggled to remember the lessons the nuns at the mission had taught him. He started to speak and realized the gag had been removed. “I’m a rider for the Pony Express out of Rock Creek. I am innocent of the crimes you have charged me with; I have not raped or murdered anyone. That Book tells you to ‘Do to others only as you would have done to you’ (Luke 6:31) I live by that Golden Rule” Buck figured it was worth a shot: he was fighting for his life. An audible gasp came from the crowd followed by cries to burn him alive, to beat him some more, to hang him.

“How dare you mock the Good Book, you savage heathen.” It was then the first bite of the whip found his back. Each lash inflected with more hate than the last, people were taking turns beating and whipping him. Where was that woman, Mrs. Reilly? She could stand up for him…..

The next time Buck became conscious the sun was out. He’d been hung like this over night. His body was on fire from the heat of the sun and the scouring from the whip. His lips were cracked and dry, it hurt to breathe. He desperately needed water. There was a commotion at the bottom of the stairs someone was trying to climb up to him but others were holding the person back. “That’s not him. That’s not the man that raped me. Ruth, Ellie, Victoria, you all know that’s not him why are you letting this happen. Look at him and tell me you’ll sleep without dreaming of his suffering at our hands? If he dies will you be able to live with that? Please let me speak to him?” She turned to the man holding her back “Please…”

The next touch Buck felt was gentle, soft, almost loving. She had a wet cloth and let him suck the water from it before she used it to wipe his face. “I’m so sorry, my God, what have they done to you?” She turned to the men beside her “how can you do this? You wouldn’t treat a dog like this and you call him a savage?” Buck’s eyes were almost swollen shut but he could see golden red hair. Then one of the men escorted Mrs. Reilly off the scaffold and led her away. She didn’t go quietly but Buck couldn’t hear her words.

“Confess your sins half breed” the man beside Buck yelled again and again, the whip bit into his flesh. How long could they keep him alive, Buck wondered. It was his last conscious thought.

Chapter Four

Rock Creek

“Here’s the latest wanted posters, Teaspoon” Jimmy said tossing them on the desk and waking Teaspoon from his nap.

“I’d say it nice to have you back but I don’t appreciate that rude awakening. How was the family? I trust your trip was uneventful?”

Jimmy smiled; it was nice to feel wanted. He hated to admit it but the Pony Express family felt more like a real family to him than his own. “Just fine Teaspoon, thanks! Hey where is everyone?” Jimmy checked the coffee pot, “want a cup Teaspoon?” Seeing a nod he poured two cups.

“Well, Kid’s around here somewhere, Lou’s trying to learn to cook from Rachel. Kid thinks she’s trying to poison him with some of the stuff she’s tried cooking; even the stray dogs won’t touch it!! Rachel figures that she’ll teach Lou and Theresa at the same time maybe between them they won’t burn the house down and Jeremiah and Kid won’t starve. I have to admit it; you’re a better cook than Lou”. They both laughed each knowing full well that if Lou heard them, there would be a hefty price to pay!!

Kid opened the office door a few moments later and greeted his friends. “I thought I recognized a certain palomino, how was the trip, Jimmy? Hey what’s so funny?” He poured a cup of coffee for himself.

“Sorry Kid, we was just discussing Lou’s attempts at cooking and Teaspoon thinks I’m a better cook!”

Kid groaned. “Don’t let Lou hear you say that…..she’ll invite you over for dinner!” They all laughed. “She still makes better coffee than Barnett! She can at least boil water without burning the pot! The lessons from Rachel are helping, the dinners are still a little, ahhh, hmmm, well they still need some work but they are getting better. Breakfast is the best. Lou has finally learned to cook bacon and eggs, even toast!!! Rachel says they’ll try pancakes next week! Has Buck come back yet? I’m starting to get a little worried about him”

“Me too. He should have been back before both of you. Maybe he stopped off to visit his brother but he knew I was shorthanded and needed him here. It’s just not like Buck to take off like that. That ride should have been no more than a week at most. He’s been gone almost three.”

“Did he eat any of Lou’s cooking?” Jimmy asked jokingly, earning him a crooked smirk from Kid. “Where did he go?”

“We got an urgent dispatch for the army; he had to meet some officer at a camp in Kansas. He really didn’t want to go, said it felt wrong. We all know how he feels about this war.” Teaspoon said shaking his head.

“Where in Kansas, Teaspoon? There were some nasty storms that caused all sorts of damage from flooding and wind. Maybe he had to go around the flooding. We heard about them just before I left to come home.”

Teaspoon started looking through the wanted posters. “Well, he’s a big boy and if that’s the case he’ll be home when he gets here. He can take care of himself better than most under the worst conditions.”

A few minutes passed while they all enjoyed the coffee and the company when Teaspoon almost choked. “Lordy, Lordy, boys, we may have a bit of a problem. Kid, hand me that map. Jimmy, show me where the floods were.”

They all studied the map and the possible routes Buck might have had to take to avoid the worst of the weather and flooding. Jimmy and Kid were still wondering why the sudden interest in the weather in Kansas when Teaspoon said, “I think Buck may be in a whole heap of trouble, boys. This here wanted poster is for a half breed wanted for raping and murdering white women in northern Kansas. Buck would have had to ride through that area from what you’re saying.”

“Teaspoon this man doesn’t look like Buck and he’s older than Buck….” Kid stated hopefully.

“People are gonna shoot first and ask questions later where there’s an Indian involved in a crime.” Jimmy grabbed his coat and started heading for the door.

“Hold your horses there, Jimmy. We don’t know that Buck is in trouble, course we also don’t know that he’s not. You’ve been in that saddle for a few days, I want you to get a good meal and a nights rest, in the morning, you and Kid, can head on out to look for Buck.”

Chapter Five

Rock Den Township, Kansas

The women, Ruth, Catherine, Ellie, and Victoria, had tearfully admitted that they really were not sure if that was the same man that attacked them. Their husbands had dismissed them and accused them of listening to that crazy Reilly woman. Ever since her husband had been killed in a fall a year and a half ago she’d been a little strange. She was too independent for most of the men to really trust her; the women enjoyed her services as a midwife when the doctor was away at the other towns he also had patients in.

The mob in front of the scaffold was growing again tonight the Indian would finally be killed. He’d been there for two and a half days. He was seldom awake and mostly just groaned when he was. It was more interesting when he was awake.

The sheriff stood beside the limp, unconscious Buck. The Reilly woman was at the bottom of the stairs pleading with him not to kill the breed. Hank really wanted the breed to wake up and know he was about to die so he called to one of the men to get a bucket of water. Before the man could return with the bucket a commotion started at the far end of the crowd. A wagon was coming down the main street, people ran to get out of the way. The driver was waving a wanted poster and shouting something.

“I killed him! I caught him red handed and I shot him. My wife needs the Doc. The half breed roughed her up before I killed him!” The crowd had gone silent. The words echoed off the buildings and were then repeated over and over by the assembled throng. All eyes turned to the young man they had tied to the scaffold. Hank swallowed hard.

“Zach, what are you talking about? We got the breed here, we was about to get him to confess.” Hank looked hopefully at the farmer. The man lived well out of town and only came in once a month or so for supplies or to sell his crop.

“How long you had him?” Zach pointed to Buck. “The Sullivan place got broken into day before yesterday and he hit my place this morning. This here poster says there’s a reward, Dead or Alive, That’s his face, look at it!” this time he pointed to the poster he was holding beside the dead man’s face. “I sure could use that money. Oh and he had this bag of jewelry and stuff with him.” Zach tossed the bag to the Hank who by now was on the stairs.

The doc had made his way over to the wagon and was checking on Zach’s wife, Lee. Hank opened the bag and removed a few items. Victoria gasped, “that’s my necklace, Oh my God, what have we done?” She looked up at Buck her features a mixture of fear and horror. Her husband caught her as she collapsed to the ground in a dead faint. Hank was roughly pushed aside by someone hurrying up the steps of the scaffold. He heard the words “stupid bloody fools” mumbled as the person pushed past him. He turned to see the Reilly woman checking the half breed.

“He’s dead are you happy? You murdered an innocent man.” She screamed at the already thinning crowd.

The doctor joined her after sending Lee and Zach to his office and the corpse over to the undertaker. He began checking Buck and looked at her and said very softly, “Mrs. Reilly I think he may still be alive…..”

“I know, but it’s better for him if everyone believes he’s dead. Even when there was doubt about his guilt people still wanted him killed, just because…..” then loud enough for Hank and his deputies to hear, “Help me cut him down I’ll give him a decent burial. My wagon is over at the livery could someone bring it here for me?”

Buck was loaded into the wagon and covered up. Mrs. Reilly turned the wagon toward home and prayed for a miracle. Once they were away from the prying eyes of the town folk, Rebecca stopped and uncovered Buck’s face, he was still breathing. The doc had promised to ride out as soon as possible and help her settle him in. She hoped Buck made it that long.

Chapter Six

It had been three very long days and nights for Rebecca and the doctor. Buck had a fever and the wounds were infected. He was sun burnt on almost all of his body. His face was still distorted and dark purple from the bruises. He had several broken ribs and both shoulders had been popped out of place. Rebecca was glad he was unconscious when she and the doctor popped the shoulders back into place, even unconscious, he still moaned in pain. “I’m sorry, Baby I know this hurts but you’ll feel better soon, I promise” She found herself repeating the words over and over to him. It seemed to calm him and he needed all the rest he could get so his body could heal.

Rebecca was changing the salve and bandages on his back when he spoke. “Rachel” It was barely audible, not more than a whisper. She brushed the hair from his face; his eyes were still swollen shut.

“Hello? Honey, it’s Rebecca, Rachel’s not here right now.” He moaned again and Rebecca gently kissed his forehead. He didn’t wake up.

~*~*~*~

He was dreaming, Ike was with him again. The last few dreams Ike had told him he needed to make a choice, to be strong, to fight. Ike had encouraged him to fight through the pain, to heal. He had told Buck that there was someone who needed him to live. Buck had wanted to stay with Ike. It was very comfortable there, he wasn’t hungry or thirsty, his body was whole, and the pain was gone. Ike insisted it wasn’t his time yet, feel, he said, allow yourself to feel what is happening to you. So Buck had felt pain, too much pain, but beyond the pain, was something else. Someone Buck couldn’t see spoke to him. He couldn’t always hear the words but he knew it was a woman’s voice. He’d called to Rachel but the voice told him she wasn’t there. He’d called to Lou but no one answered. The voice soothed him; gentle hands touched him, even when the hands brought pain the voice calmed him. He was kissed. He was held. He was loved. Buck struggled to see who it was that made him feel these things but all he saw was a sunset.

~*~*~*~

That night his fever broke and he slept peacefully. Rebecca only had the one bed and had been sleeping on the floor beside him but tonight she laid down beside him on the bed, he always seemed to quiet down when she touched him and a good night’s sleep would do them both good. She awoke to a beautifully sunny morning and a hand holding hers. She had rolled over and placed an arm around his waist during the night; one of his hands now covered hers.

The next week Buck continued to improve but still had not fully woken up. He’d drifted between sleep and a sort of waking dream state. He called names, Noah, Jimmy, Kid, but mostly Ike, Rachel and Lou. The only really odd request was he kept asking for a teaspoon. Rebecca couldn’t figure out what he would want with that.

His body, other than being brutalized, was amazing. He was rock solid, all muscle, lean and trim. His skin was a beautiful bronze color that reminded her of beach sand at sunset. The swelling in his face had gone down and she could finally see Buck’s features. His face was handsome, and she couldn’t wait to see his eyes open. The lashes were long, the lips, now soft and smooth, from the balm she had applied, looked delicious. She lay in bed slowly waking up and just gently caressed his cheeks, neck and chest. Morning was her favorite time of day. She always bathed him right after breakfast. Yes, his body was amazing, all of it. He was easier to care for naked and a lot more fun to look at. She wanted to touch and kiss him all over but she had to keep reminding herself that there was a ‘Rachel’ waiting for him somewhere. Stolen kisses and innocent caresses would have to do for now…. She had missed her husband and the physical presence of another beside her. She was starting to have feelings for this man and she didn’t even know his name. For all Rebecca knew he was married with children waiting for him at home.

Later that night Rebecca woke to “Hello? Where am I?” The words were barely a whisper. His beautiful long fingers were clutching hers. His other hand reached for his forehead.

“Close your eyes let me light the lamp. I’m so glad to have you awake at last” Rebecca reached over and lit the lamp beside the bed. She trimmed the wick so the light was soft and low. He’d need time to adjust to the light. Rebecca rolled back over to face Buck and without thinking reached over and brushed a stray strand of hair from his face. “How are you feeling? You had me so worried. I don’t even know your name; I’ve just sort of been calling you Honey and Baby. I’m Rebecca Reilly.”

“I’m Buck, Buck Cross, I’m a rider, or at least I was, a rider for the Pony Express.” He replied weakly. “Please may I have some water?” He tried to sit up as Rebecca brought him some water. His movements proved painful; he groaned. “I’m really alive, I can feel pain.” A single tear escaped and rolled down his cheek into the pillow. Her hand reached for his face and gently brushed the tear from his cheek. “I’m sorry; I’m just kinda surprised to be alive. I really thought I was going to die. Where am I?” His face suddenly became warm under her fingers. “Why am I naked?” He tried to move again and the pain from his ribs stopped him. He lay back and turned his face away from her and sighed deeply. The memories suddenly all came flooding back along with the pain. The golden red sunset, her face was ringed with golden red curls that cascaded down over her shoulders. The lamp light softened the glow but he knew it was her. “No, oh please no, you’re the one who said I was innocent, please you’ve got to believe me.”

An arm worked its way under his head and around his shoulders while a hand gently turned his face toward her’s, “sssshhhhh, I believe you. It’s ok, you’re safe, and no one will hurt you here.” She tenderly kissed his forehead and held him while all the emotions of the nightmare overwhelmed him. Buck did something he’d never done in his life with anyone but his mother, he cried himself to sleep in someone’s arms.

Chapter Seven

Morning found him still cradled in her arms, his head resting on her shoulder. Something about this felt so right, he smiled. He reached out for her and touched her hand. He was about to draw the hand to his mouth for a kiss when he remembered the sheriff had called her MRS. Reilly. He jumped slightly when she spoke to him. “Hey, you’re awake! Feeling any better?” Her fingers intertwined with his for a second then she withdrew her hand, Rachel. He had someone to go home to.

“Er, Yeah, thanks.” He gingerly moved back onto the pillow. He missed her warmth; the pillow just wasn’t the same. He craved the contact. His fingers tingled where hers had touched him.

His retreat was not unnoticed. Darn, his wife is one lucky lady but that felt good while it lasted. “Do you want to try some solid food? I know it’s been awhile, you’ve got to be hungry.”

“Just how long have I been here? You must have a very understanding husband to let you take care of me like this.” Might as well face the truth sooner than later, he thought, he really envied her husband, that hair, those eyes….

Rebecca smiled a sad smile “He probably would not have let you get tortured so badly, people listened to him. I sort of doubt I’d be sleeping in the same bed as you though.” She chuckled, attempting to lighten her suddenly sad mood. Buck looked confused. “He’s been gone almost a year and a half. He was killed in an accident in the barn; he fell from the hay loft…we didn’t have any children”

“I’m sorry….” Buck didn’t know what else to say. In a way he was glad there was no Mr. Reilly, but he couldn’t understand why he felt that way. He had no right to feel that way. It was her touch and voice and…..

“In answer to your other question you’ve been here in this bed for eleven days. You were hung on that scaffold for two and a half and I know you were in jail at least a day and a half. Rachel must be sick with worry by now. You called out for her, Lou and Ike in your sleep. Are they your wife and children? We really should get word to them that you’re here and going to be OK.” She had blurted the last part out quickly not really wanting the answer but needing to ask the question.

Buck smiled. She was testing his status too he realized. “Slow down, you’re making my head spin. I did what?”

“You called out to your wife and kids. You kept saying….” She looked a tad upset and Buck heard the dejected tone in her voice.

“Hold it, one thing at a time. Rachel is the housekeeper for the express station, she’s sort of like a mother to me but she’s not old enough to really be my mother. Does that make any sense? We are most definitely not married. Lou is short for Louise, she was a rider for the Pony Express too, long story. I’ll tell you more later; anyway, she’s married to one of my best friends. Ike was my brother, sort of, he died a couple of years ago, because of a girl; I’ll tell you about all that later too. I’ve been here HOW LONG????” He looked and sounded rather distressed himself.

“OK, so are you hungry?” The smile just would not stop growing wider so she turned her head and got out of bed. “Well? Do you want to try an egg? I don’t think you should eat too much solid food too soon you’ve been on broth for awhile.” Rebecca turned to look at Buck and saw he was smiling too.

“I must have hurt my eyes too because I’ll swear your eyes just got greener…. That was strange. If you are making eggs for yourself I’ll try a bite or two but I’m not really hungry. I really could use a drink of water, please?”

Rebecca busied herself getting the eggs cooked along with some toast while Buck slowly drank the most delicious glass of water he’d ever tasted. He looked sleepy when she brought the food over to the bed. He ate two forkfuls but was exhausted by the effort. Rebecca insisted he try some more water or tea. “I usually bathe you after I finish the breakfast dishes since you’re awake do you want to do it yourself or would you like me to help you?” She giggled as Buck turned a lovely shade of crimson. “I’ve been caring for your EVERY need for the last two weeks; the time for you to be shy is long gone! I know EVERY inch of your body well!” She laughed out loud when he turned an even deeper shade of red!

“I, I, I, er, ahh, Yeah I guess…. It’s just that I’m awake and well…..”

“Well what?” She was enjoying this a little too much. He didn’t answer; he did, however, pull the covers tighter around him. “We’re both adults Buck; I’m no stranger to the male anatomy. I was married remember? And you can’t tell me you’ve never been naked around a woman” The look on his face spoke volumes; that was a situation he was seldom in, obviously. “I’ll be gentle, I know you’re still too weak to put up much of a fight and I won’t do anything you don’t feel comfortable with….OK?”

“I guess…. I’m a little old fashioned but you’re right. Can I just sleep a while first? I’m worn out.”

Rebecca sat down on the bed, brushed the hair back from his handsome face and tenderly leaned over to kiss his forehead. He surprised her by reaching up and pulling her lips to his for a quick, but tender kiss. “Thank-you, for everything” He then closed his eyes and slept most of the day.

Chapter Eight

Buck slowly became aware of sounds; someone was moving around him, objects were hitting other objects, someone was humming. He could smell food cooking, perhaps a stew. He’d dreamed of Ike again but this time was different. Ike had told him he would not be seeing him for a long time. He didn’t want Ike to leave him but Ike said he had to go. “You’ll be fine Buck, you’ll see me again someday but that someday is a long way off. Good bye for now, my friend, and remember ‘Me Too, Buddy’!” Buck suddenly realized the dream Ike was speaking. The realization jolted him awake.

“IKE!!!”

A dish fell to the floor and broke. A curse followed, then “Oh, Buck, you scared me, I’m sorry.” Rebecca was at his side in an instant, her hand reached for his. “Are you in pain? I can make some willow bark tea, it will help.” Buck nodded. She smiled down at him, her green eyes dark in the shadows, but her hair was glowing from the last rays of the sunset shining in the window behind her. “You called out for Ike again, did you dream about him?”

“Yes, it seemed so real, like I could touch him. He even teased me about the day he died. He said good bye for now, but the really weird thing was he could speak.” The look on her face said she thought he’d lost it but she remained silent. “The tea sounds good, why don’t you make some for me and I’ll tell you all about Ike. Please?”

Rebecca set about making the tea while Buck watched her from the bed. The house was small, all one big room really. He was on the bed over in the far corner, a dresser stood near the window and he could look out if he sat up just a bit. There was a large fire place with a rocking chair in front of it. A table and a couple of chairs sat near the cook stove, a sink was beside that. The cupboards and a side board took up the wall opposite the fire place. The door was between the fireplace and the stove. She approached the bed and noticed him looking about. “It’s not much but its home. Here’s the tea, once you drink some of that I’d like to you eat something for me. I made a little thicker broth for you to try. You don’t look like the type of man who’ll lay in bed sick for too long.”

“Thanks, you’re right, I can think of lots of things I’d rather do than lay around in bed all day. Will you sit beside me? I’ll tell you all about Ike.” Buck patted the bed and moved closer to her when she sat down. She put an arm around him, her other hand helping him with the teacup. He looked up at her and smiled, this felt so good and so right. He settled in and told her all about Ike. “….he was laying there, the doctor had done all he could and they let me come in first to see him. Ike knew he was dying, I didn’t want to believe it but in my heart I knew too. One of the last things he said to me was ‘I love you’ and all I could say was ‘Me too, buddy.’ I’ve never forgiven myself for not telling him what he meant to me. I’ve never really been able to say those words, not to anyone.” He looked sadly at the tea cup in his hands then turned to Rebecca and forced a small smile to his lips. She gave him a gentle squeeze.

Buck yawned, the broth had tasted wonderful and he’d told her as much but his body was crying for sleep. The tea had eased the pain and the company was doing wonders for him too. Rebecca eased him back onto the pillow and tucked the covers around him. “Sleep will help you heal too so don’t fight it. Good night” She got up off the bed and started to walk away when Buck’s voice stopped her.

“Where are you going? Isn’t this your bed?” He looked slightly panicked.

“I thought you were shy, Buck. If you want me to, I’ll sleep beside you.” Buck nodded, Rebecca smiled. “I need to do a few chores then I’ll come to bed. OK?” Buck smiled and nodded, his eyes already closing. Hours later she lay beside him, her nightgown the only thing between them. He had reached for her, even in his sleep, when she first lay down and he still held her. I could get used to this, it’s been too long.

Buck slept most of the time those first few days but he was finding it easier to move about. He was sitting up for a couple of hours at a time. The ribs still bothered him but Rebecca wrapped them tightly and that helped. He soon learned she had an excellent knowledge of plants and herbs and their healing powers. His back healed quickly and the aloe balm kept the scaring from being too bad. She had found some of her husband’s old clothes and with a bit of adjustment they fit Buck. Somehow she never managed to find any night clothes for him and he never asked for any. He’d gotten over being shy but he was still too much of a gentleman to try anything improper. Sometimes during the night he’d move too fast or the wrong way and those ribs let him know they were still in charge. He needed to heal more.

Chapter Nine

Rock Creek

“It’s like trying to find a needle in a hay stack, Teaspoon. He’s got to be out there somewhere, I know, but where?” Kid grumbled. “Jimmy and I searched a few of the different routes back from the Army camp Buck might have taken but no one’s seen him.” Teaspoon and Lou sat at Rachel’s kitchen table while Rachel poured coffee for them all.

“Are you giving up? It’s really not like Buck to just take off, I know he’s gone away for awhile before but he’s always left a note or something.”

“No. Rachel we’re not giving up he’s got to be somewhere or someone has to know what happened to him. Jimmy’s picking up the latest wanted posters to see if that one for the Indian rapist is still there or has been updated. To tell you the truth, I’m very scared for the boy. I sent out a few wires to other marshal’s in Kansas hoping someone might have heard something.” Teaspoon tried to sound more hopeful than he felt. Buck had been gone for over a month, almost two, seven weeks and four days near as he could figure, but who’s counting.

“Rider coming” Lou noted as she looked out the window. She wanted to tell everyone her good news but with Buck’s fate still in the wind it just didn’t seem like the right time. “It’s Jimmy! Maybe he’s got news”

They all filed out onto the front piazza and waited for Jimmy to dismount. He didn’t look happy. “Well? Were you able to find out anything?” Kid asked as he grabbed the reigns.

“Let’s go inside first, I could really use a cup of coffee, Rachel?” Jimmy asked hopefully. He tried to smile but his eyes didn’t reflect that feeling. Kid took the horse into the barn and quickly cooled her down, watered and fed her.

They were all seated once again in Rachel’s kitchen. Jimmy finally looked up at them all and said “I don’t know for sure, Kid and I should ride down and check it out but…..the news isn’t good.”

“Do you think you could be a little more forth-coming? Please?” Teaspoon’s voice broke the silence that had fallen. Lou looked like she was going to cry. Rachel had gone pale.

“One of the wires you sent out got a reply from Twin Oaks, Kansas. A Marshall Pete Forend, he said that the Indian had been caught and executed in a town called Rock Den Township. Its just south of the border, about two days ride from here. The wanted poster says ‘DEAD’ over the picture nothing more. I looked at the map, Teaspoon; Buck may have gone that way to get around the flooding it’s a long shot but….. It’s one of the routes Kid and I were going to check out next week.”

Kid stood up; “if it’s alright with you…” he looked at everyone in turn then spoke to Jimmy, “I’d like to leave at first light.” Jimmy hung his head and nodded. Lou burst into tears and ran from the room, Rachel followed her. “Let’s get our gear ready, we could even leave tonight if we hurry”

“Kid, what about Lou? I think she needs you right now. She took that news awful hard. I’ll get us set up, you see to her, she’s your wife, remember?” Jimmy earned himself scathing looks from Kid and Teaspoon for the comment but Kid agreed and went to find Lou.

She was on the back porch crying in Rachel’s arms. Rachel looked up as Kid approached, then gently handed Lou over to Kid. “What’s with you lately? The littlest thing sets you crying. We don’t know for sure what’s happened to Buck. Honey, I promise, Jimmy and I will do everything we can to find him.”

Lou looked up at Kid “I’m sorry, it’s just that this is supposed to be a really happy time for us and I feel like all I’m doing is replacing someone.”

Kid had no idea how to respond to that one. “How are you replacing Buck?”

“I’m Pregnant!” Lou sobbed into Kid’s chest. Those two words explained a lot. Kid hugged her tightly and kissed the top of her head.

“Do you want me to go with Jimmy or stay with you? Lou, I love you, I always will. This is the best news, I’m so happy.” His voice cracked and tears formed in his eyes. He tilted her face to his and looked deep into her eyes then kissed her deeply. That was how Jimmy found them.

“ahh, hello, ’scuse me? We’re all set to travel if you want to leave now…..”

“Go, Kid, find Buck. Bring him back, please? Even if it’s just his body, he needs his family.” Lou hugged Kid and kissed him again. She hugged Jimmy and kissed him on the cheek. “Please?” Jimmy stepped back into the house and Lou turned to kid. “Only Rachel knows besides you, actually she guessed, it’s a woman thing….. I want to wait until Buck is home to tell everyone.” They went back into the house.

Rachel had quickly put together some food for the trip. They filled their saddle bags said their good-byes and went in search of Buck.

Chapter Ten

Rock Den Township

Buck awoke to find himself wrapped around the woman he was rapidly falling in love with. Rebecca was a mystery to him. She was a couple of years older than Buck, maybe as many as five years. She wasn’t tiny like he’d always pictured his wife to be. She wasn’t fat but no one would call her thin. She was only an inch or two shorter than him. Her eyes fascinated him; they changed color with her moods. They were a bluish, greenish, brown most times; blue when she was in a good mood or happy and varying shades of green and brown at others. It was the green that he learned to watch for. Her strongest emotions made her eyes green, very green meant watch out, she was either angry or amorous. The latter made him smile at the thought.

It had all started innocently enough, just sleeping in the same bed together and holding each other. A few light kisses good morning or good night had eventually lead to more.

One morning Buck woke up to find his hand had strayed down to the ample swell of her chest; he’d moved it back up to her shoulder and kissed her head. He thought she was asleep until her hand found his and drew it back down to her waist. At first they’d just looked at each other; neither moving their hands. He could swear her eyes were becoming even greener as he looked into them. They were intoxicating. He’d drawn her even closer and their lips met, gentle at first as if asking permission, then the hunger took over and the passion deepened. Their tongues danced a sensual dance between their mouths and their hands began to explore. His mouth left hers and their lips began exploring each other’s neck, ears, throat and shoulders. She’d found a little spot right behind his ear that drove him crazy while he found the spot where her neck met her shoulder that did the same for her. They continued kissing and touching for what seemed like hours. His ribs were finally the reason they had to stop but not before Rebecca had taken care of him. He was breathing too hard to talk, all his English words left him, and his cries of passion were in Kiowa. No translation was needed. Finally when he regained his senses he pleaded “Stop, Please, I need to rest.” They’d curled up and slept the rest of the morning.

That afternoon brought questions. Buck’s head was still spinning from the workout she’d given him but his body was ready for more. Rebecca had awoken before Buck and slipped out of bed to begin her daily chores; he was slightly disappointed to find the bed empty.

“Good afternoon sleepyhead” she called out as she came in from hanging out the wash. “How are you feeling, want some lunch?”

“Hmmm, a little sore but happy, yeah, food sounds like a good idea.” Buck replied as he propped himself up on his elbow. “I’m a little confused about a few things; will you be mad if I ask why?”

Rebecca tilted her head a little sideways, knitted her brows together, and queried “Why what? I won’t be mad. I’m not sure what you’re confused about and if you have to ask if I’ll be mad I’m probably not going to like the question. Hurt maybe, but not mad….”

“I don’t want to hurt you… I guess that’s part of what I’m confused about.” Buck shrugged. “Come here, please.” She sat on the bed beside him as he struggled to sit up, those ribs were still tender and the activity of the morning hadn’t helped. “I thoroughly enjoyed this morning but I don’t know why you’d want to be with another half breed after what that monster did to you. How did you know I wouldn’t hurt you; that I wouldn’t try to rape you too? I….”

He didn’t get any further; her fingers silenced his lips. “Buck, this is going to sound strange so just bear with me. First, I know you are not the man who raped me. Second, you are one of the most gentle, kind men I’ve ever met. Third, I need to feel loved, I need to heal too. My scars don’t show like yours. You seemed to be sensitive about what happened to me and the other women; I could see it in your face. I don’t think you could ever force yourself on someone. When you moved your hand this morning you stirred something in me I haven’t felt in a long time. You acted like you cared about me. You thought I was asleep and could have continued touching but you didn’t, why?” Buck shrugged again. “I think it was because you didn’t want to hurt me or use me for your own pleasure. It’s not in you.” And I love you, Rebecca added to herself.

Buck reached out and took her hands in his, his face a mask of pain. “I’m so sorry this happened to you. You’re right, I could never commit rape. I’m a lot of things, not all of them good but rape isn’t in me. Maybe I am more sensitive than some men about rape because it’s touched my life too. My father raped my mother and I’m the product of that rape. He took her, beat her and left her to die; she survived but I sometimes I think she wished she didn’t. I’ve always been afraid I’d end up like my father. A friend of mine was raped too. She was luckier than my mother; she didn’t end up with a child she didn’t want. My mother never abandoned me but I know her life would have been easier if I didn’t exist.” Buck’s voice sounded so dejected; his eyes downcast.

“Buck your mother loved you, and she made you the man you are today, kind, gentle and caring. She must have taught you the ways of your people and respect for others.” Buck looked at her in stunned silence. “You have a strong sense of what is right and wrong. You are a strong man, Buck. Only a mother can instill those qualities in her child, only a mother who loves her child.” Rebecca looked into Buck’s deep chocolate eyes and saw unshed tears but something else too.

“Thank-you” he whispered. “How did you know my mother was Kiowa? Most people assume my mother was white and was attacked by an Indian.”

“This morning while we were in bed you spoke in a different language so I figured that was your native language.” Rebecca smiled when Buck cupped her face in his hand and their lips met.

Buck’s stomach growled and the kiss ended with both of them giggling. He looked into her eyes and spoke “You’re the first person, outside of my family, who’s figured that out. Thank-you…” He kissed her again and his stomach protested again. Another round of giggles followed.

“Now how about some lunch? We can have dessert afterward. You’re hungry and a little frisky, I’d say those are good signs that you’re getting better! ” Rebecca laughed as she playfully pulled the bed covers off Buck. “Get dressed it’s a beautiful day lets sit on the porch and have something to eat. You’ll need all your strength for later!” Rebecca winked, Buck blushed!

Chapter Eleven

The afternoon had passed quickly into evening. They’d talked all day about everything and nothing. Buck told Rebecca a little about his life with the Kiowa, his decision to leave and his life in the white world. He told her how he and Ike had met and then ended up joining the Pony Express and his family there. Rebecca had laughed until she cried over some of Cody’s antics and obsession with his stomach and keeping it well fed. She was touched by the depth of Buck’s feelings toward his makeshift family and the obvious love they all shared.

“I can’t wait to meet them; I hope I get the chance someday. I’ll be sure to keep out of Cody’s way if there’s a meal involved….. I really like all my fingers attached to my hands.” Her green eyes sparkled in the afternoon light, her hair seemed to glow. He couldn’t resist running his fingers through her hair, the curls wrapping around his fingers.

Buck loved the sound of her laughter, her voice. “I’d love to have you meet everyone, they’ll love you!” just like I do he thought. “Ok, your turn. Tell me about you, and why did you help me? You didn’t have to; you didn’t even know my name. You know about herbs and healing teas and balms, most white people don’t, how did you learn about them? Your eyes are so…..unique.”

“Hmmm, Unique huh? Is that good or bad?” She winked at him and he raised an eyebrow, a move she loved. “Well, you already know my name and where I live so…..” Buck groaned she was in a playful mood. Rebecca told him about her life with her husband and then how everything seemed to go wrong at once. “After Bill died I was lost. I had to sell off most of the land but I managed to keep the house. Well, so far anyway. I learned about herbs and things from my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. She was a full blooded Penobscot Indian. My mother and grandmother passed their knowledge on to me too.”

Buck looked at her long and hard, the high cheek bones, the shape of the eyes, the color of her skin, how had he missed it? “I’ve never heard of them. Where are they from?”

“Very northern most New England, Maine actually. She married a man from Scotland, as did her daughter, and my mother.” That explained the hair and eyes!! “I broke the chain. I married an Irishman! I guess I sort of knew we would not have long together. The women in my family have always had a sort of sixth sense. We just know some things. I felt drawn to you before I even saw you. I had to help you. Then I had to leave you for a day or so because one of the local ladies needed me to help her through childbirth. My father was a doctor and I learned a lot from him. I act as a midwife sometimes. By the time I got back to you it was almost too late. I feel very guilty about that, I’m so sorry Buck,” Rebecca touched Buck’s cheek ever so gently; it sent a tingle right up his spine. He leaned into her hand and kissed it.

“I claimed your body and said I was going to give you a proper burial, the only one beside me that knows you aren’t dead is the doc. It’s safer for both of us that way.” Buck looked at her, a question on his lips, safer for both of them? “They would have left you to rot on that scaffold, once you actually died that is……” Buck shuddered at the thought. He knew he’d been close to death but he hadn’t realized just how close.

“Is my being here endangering you? I don’t want to cause you anymore trouble than I already have. I’m grateful to you for saving my life; I don’t know how I can ever repay you. My people feel that if you save someone’s life that person that was saved sort of belongs to the person who saved them.” Buck drew her close and hugged her tightly to him. His hand caressed her cheek and guided their lips together. The kiss, tender and gentle, at first became deeper until the passions they’d denied until now could no longer be suppressed.

Rebecca broke away first. “Well, if I own you, I’m claiming your body again.” She took Buck by the hand, and led him into the house. He didn’t resist.

Chapter Twelve

Rebecca and Buck shed their clothing on the way to the bed, leaving a trail behind them. Buck’s desire overwhelmed him. He’d never felt this way before. He needed to please Rebecca. He loved her, he knew she felt the same way about him but neither had said the words. The bed became their playground. Their lips sought out the other, their tongues danced together before parting to explore each other’s bodies

“Buck, Oh my God, Buck. Let me breathe, stop a second.” Rebecca breathlessly pleaded. Buck smiled impishly and climbed up her body trailing kisses the whole way. Her eyes were glowing a deep emerald green. He was in trouble!

While they snuggled and Rebecca caught her breath she thought about Buck’s body. He was beautiful. Bill had been good in bed but never truly great. Bill was probably average and the man that had raped her was small compared to Bill. She knew if the other women had seen all of Buck they would NEVER have identified him as the rapist. They might forget the face but not the body! This man was built! His muscles were tight and well defined. He could have posed for some of those Roman statues she’s seen in a museum in Boston once, his body was that amazing.

Rebecca moved to nibble on his ears and sucked on his ear lobe while her hands massaged his chest and shoulders. Her tongue found that spot behind his ear and he shivered with pleasure. His arms encircled her, holding her tightly to his body to stop her movements, his body too sensitive to be touched.

Rebecca looked up at his face still in the throes of ecstasy and smiled. She moved to lay beside him. His arms found her and cradled her gently. His lips brushed her forehead and tenderly kissed her. “Thank-you” he whispered. Gradually they both fell into a contented sleep.

Chapter Thirteen

The next few days and weeks their love making calmed a bit. Buck had been exhausted and sore the next morning after their first efforts so they took things a bit easier for awhile. Rebecca had wanted him to fully make her his but he always found ways to avoid that final step. Finally she couldn’t take the rejection any longer; she confronted him as they lay together. “Buck, why don’t you want me? What’s so wrong with me that you keep avoiding fully making love to me? Am I doing something wrong? I want you….” She was almost in tears.

Buck swallowed hard and took a deep breath, he’d been dreading this. “It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve never….. Well, Jimmy calls it dancing and I’ve never finished a dance. I can count the number of women I’ve been with on one hand and for the most part there was never very much pleasure involved.”

“Buck, I…” he silenced her with a kiss.

“Please let me tell you this in my own way than we’ll see where we go from there.” He told her about Kathleen Devlin and how she had always taken him just so far but always left him wanting. She’d taught him how to give her the pleasure she craved but never returned the favors. Next came Jennifer Thompkins, they never progressed beyond a few hugs and one kiss. Camille, his promised one, had been too young while they were both still with the Kiowa and promised to another when they met as adults. “Even the whores don’t want me, I’m too red to be with a white woman and too white to be with a red woman. At town dances very few women will dance with me and many times it’s only on a dare from their friends. I’m just a dirty good for nothing Indian to most people.” The last few words were spoken softly but with a hard edge.

“I’m almost totally healed I should have headed home a week ago.” Buck moved to put a little distance between them. “It’s ironic I was accused of rape and I’ve never been with anyone that way.” He turned his face away from hers as the tears, born of years of frustration, finally spilled over.

Rebecca, her own tears falling freely, gently turned his face to hers. “Don’t shut me out Buck, please, I love you.” Rebecca had never hated anyone as much as she hated a certain banker’s daughter right at that moment. If she ever met her, Kathleen would pay dearly for the torment Buck had to live with because of her callousness. Of course that was right after she thanked her for teaching him a few choice moves.

Buck looked deep into those blue green eyes and saw her sincerity, her love for him. Had he heard her right? He’d never thought he’d see anyone look at him in that manner. Lou and Kid looked at each other the same way. Could it be true, did someone really love HIM? “I need to go home to Rock Creek. They have no idea where I am. I’m sure they’ve looked for me but I was miles off the normal road home.” He saw the hurt he was causing in her eyes. She was still in his arms; her arms around him too. “Would you want to go to Rock Creek with me?” His words surprised both of them but he found himself wanting her to say yes; needing her to say yes. Before she could answer he did the one thing he REALLY thought he’d never do. He looked into her eyes and with his voice little more then a whisper “I love you, too.”

Rebecca pulled his face to her’s and kissed him deeply. “I’ll go where ever you want me to go with you but I want you to make love to me first. I’ll be gentle and I definitely won’t leave you before you finish the dance. I love you Buck” She found that little spot behind his ear and all thoughts of resistance vanished from his mind. She was ready for him and he knew it. Buck’s problem was, was he ready for this? He’d tried to convince himself for so long that he didn’t need or want to make love to anyone; he’d never even dared to dream that any woman would actually love and want him. “Close your eyes. Let me take you someplace you’ve never been. Trust me, Buck, I love you.” He’d trusted her with his life, now he was giving her his heart.

Their cries of passion and love dissolved into moans of pleasure. Buck had never felt this before and he finally realized what he’d denied himself all these years as he let out a howl of pure animalistic pleasure. They collapsed in each others arms and slept.

Chapter Fourteen

“This is Rock Den Township??? What a hole” Jimmy declared as they rode into town. “Let’s see if they have a sheriff or something here.”

“I think it’s over there.” Kid pointed to a building at the end of the block.

They entered the office and both noticed at once the trophies hanging on the wall. Buck’s medicine pouch, knife and sheath were in plain sight. Jimmy decided to play it close to the vest at first. “Excuse me, I heard this was the town that was able to capture and execute the half breed that was raping all those women” He looked the Sheriff and his deputy over as they answered.

“Why yes that’s us. What can we do for you Mr.….Deputy…..?” Both Kid and Jimmy wore their badges.

“Those belong to him?” Kid queried, pointing to the items on the wall. Kid noticed the deputy’s boots; they looked a lot like Buck’s. The left boot was worn slightly were the knife had rubbed against it when Buck walked.

“Yup! Caught him red handed, so to speak!” the deputy answered proudly.

“We’re here investigating the disappearance of a man by the name of Buck Cross. He’s also a deputy with us and a rider for the Pony Express. We heard he rode through here a few weeks back. He’s Kiowa.” Jimmy let the words hang in the air. The sheriff visibly paled while the deputy looked sick.

“We ain’t seen anyone like that round these parts, least I haven’t… how about you, Thad? Sorry Mister, I’m sorry I didn’t get your name?”

“I think you have seen him and I want the truth now!” Jimmy bellowed. Pointing to the things on the wall, “Those items there are his personal property; we’ll be taking them with us. Where are his horse, gun and saddle? Don’t get any funny ideas, the Territorial Marshal is waiting for our report and right now you’re not looking too good. I don’t remember you telling me your name either”

The deputy moved his hand near his gun. Jimmy cleared leather before the man got any further. “I’m James Butler Hickok, you probably know me better as ‘Wild Bill’ and I’d really think twice before you move, friend.” The tone of his voice dripped with the unspoken threat.

“We made a horrible mistake, Mr. Hickok and your friend got killed. I’m Hank Miller, please let me explain.” Hank related the events that lead up to Buck’s demise albeit with a heavy coating of sugar. He made it seem like Buck had confessed after the women identified him. Neither Jimmy nor Kid believed a word.

“We’ll need to talk to some of the town folk for our report. Where is Buck’s body?” Kid asked as he removed Buck’s things from the wall.

“The doc and Mrs. Reilly, she’s a local do gooder type, you know always sticking her nose where it don’t belong, they took the body away. I’ll give you directions to her house. Mr. Cross’s horse was supposed to be sold to pay for its keep along with his saddle I don’t know if that’s happened yet. Leroy Kelley runs the livery he’d be able to help you with that. His gun is right here.” Hank pulled open a draw and handed Kid Buck’s gun and holster. Jimmy holstered his own gun and thanked the two poor excuses for law men for the information. He slammed the door on his way out.

Their first stop was the livery where they retrieved Buck’s horse and saddle. When Leroy found out who they were he tried to let them just take the animal and leave but they insisted on paying for keeping the horse all these weeks. The animal was in good shape, he’d been well cared for, much better than Buck by the sounds of it. Leroy also gave them a very different account of the few days Buck spent in the town. Leroy had felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as he told them about Buck’s last days. “Your friend was so brave, I ain’t seen many men can take what he did and not scream for their mothers. He never cried out at all and they whipped the skin right off his body. He was polite right up to the end.” A tear threatened to escape but Leroy managed to hold it back. He gave them better directions to the Reilly place and wished them God speed.

Jimmy and Kid left the town and headed for the home of Mrs. Reilly, Both had been physically ill after they left the town thinking of what Buck had endured at the hands of these monsters. Jimmy was angry beyond words and Kid shed a few silent tears. Buck was their brother in every way but blood. This cut deep into their souls. His death would not go unavenged.

Chapter Fifteen

The homestead came into view after they passed over a small rise, both men dreading the next few moments when their worst fears would be confirmed.

Rebecca was taking in the wash when she saw the men approaching. She fled into the house to alert Buck. He took one look out the window and recognized his two friends. “Becca, that’s Kid and Jimmy! I don’t know how they found me but they did!” He picked her up and swung her around, putting her back down with a kiss. “Let’s go meet them” Rebecca looked at him like he’d lost his mind but she loved seeing him this happy. He took her hand and they walked out to an unexpected and joyous reunion. “Kid, Jimmy” Buck called and waved. Both spurred their horses and practically flew to Buck. They were off their mounts and hugging Buck in an instant. Tears of joy flowed freely.

“We thought you were dead, everyone in town seems to think so…..” Jimmy and Kid both spoke at once.

“I thought I was too but an angle rescued me.” Buck reached back and pulled Rebecca to him. She’d wisely gotten out of the way of the reunion. “This is Rebecca Reilly, my angel. We’ve been getting ready to head to Rock Creek. I’ve only been well enough to travel for a short time. I can’t wait to get home. Rebecca will be coming with us, I’ve found my soul mate and I’m not letting her go.” Rebecca blushed the same color as her hair. They all laughed.

“You widowed or somethin’?” Jimmy asked. He was confused he thought they said in town it was MRS. Reilly. He didn’t want any surprises to ruin the day.

Buck laughed and Rebecca looked slightly shocked at Jimmy’s forwardness. “We’ll explain it all later, is that my horse? How’d you manage that?” Buck asked shaking his head.

Kid walked over to his saddle bags and retrieved Buck’s other things. “Jimmy can be rather persuasive” Buck put his medicine pouch back where it belonged, around his neck. They all laughed again and headed for the house.

Once inside the truth of Buck’s statement was born out. The household was packed up ready to be loaded onto a wagon for the move to Rock Creek. “We were planning on leaving at first light. How far away is that from here, I still don’t really know where here is…..” While the men caught up on what had happened in Rock Creek in Buck’s absence Rebecca started to build up a fire in the cook stove for some coffee and a hot meal. She hadn’t planned on company but she’d make do, this felt like family and that felt good. Buck said he’d rather wait until they got home to tell them the whole story. He wasn’t sure he could relive it once let alone twice.

Dinner was a happy affair Buck had done some trapping and Rebecca was a genius in the kitchen. Jimmy and Kid told her as much while Buck thought ‘that’s not the only place!” Buck smiled proudly. After dinner and some more conversation the men loaded the wagon for the trip the next day. Jimmy and Kid both noticed that Buck was having trouble lifting some of the boxes and didn’t move as easily as before, both wondered just what had been done to their friend. Buck hadn’t been looking forward to loading the wagon and was grateful for the help. His whole body ached just from the small amount of lifting he’d done and he could barely keep his eyes open. Jimmy noticed and suggested they all turn in and get a good night’s sleep before the start of their journey. Kid had suggested he and Jimmy bed down in the barn to give the couple some privacy but they wouldn’t hear of it. They all camped out on the floor of the nearly empty house. Buck and Rebecca firmly ensconced in each others arms.

The journey home took longer then two days because of the wagon and Buck. He tired easily and needed to stop long before the others were ready. A week later Rock Creek came into view and Buck had never felt happier to see the town as he did at that moment. He was home. He was beside the woman he loved and his family was waiting for him. Kid rode ahead to tell Teaspoon, Lou and Rachel the good news. He wanted to see Lou for other reasons too, she was going to be the mother of his child and he missed her.

Chapter Sixteen

The wagon pulled into view of the house; Teaspoon, Lou, Kid and Rachel were waiting on the porch. Before the wagon had even stopped they were beside it reaching for Buck. The trip had been harder then he’d expected and he needed help down from the seat. Lou threw herself in his arms and hugged him for all she was worth. “Oh, Buck, I thought you were dead, I’m so glad you’re home.” Her tears of joy were contagious and soon even Teaspoon was wiping away a stray drop or two.

“Everyone I’d like you to meet Rebecca Reilly, she saved my life, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.” He motioned for Rebecca to join him and pulled her to his side. Rachel and Lou hugged the woman in welcome while Teaspoon kissed her hand. “This is where you belong, here with me and my family; please say you’ll stay with me, forever?” A horse nickered but it was the only sound. Rebecca looked into Buck’s eyes and was speechless and slightly embarrassed. She’d just met these people; they obviously loved Buck just as much as she did. What was he thinking? Was he asking her to be his wife? The silence was deafening. Buck pulled her against him and kissed her deeply, as he ended the kiss he said “I love you, Becca” There were tears in his eyes. Both Rachel and Lou gasped; their eyes moist with unshed tears of joy.

Rebecca, more than slightly confused, looked around her, everyone was smiling. She looked back at Buck and said “this feels so right, this is where I belong” They kissed again and everyone clapped. She still didn’t know if Buck had asked her to marry him or not but whatever he had asked she’d said yes to it!

Rachel started herding them all into the house. “Lets get you two settled in before Buck falls over” He looked that exhausted. “You two can have the guest room, Lou’s been sleeping there while Kid was away but the way those two have been looking at each other the past hour I think they are going to want their own bed.” Rachel winked at the young couple who blushed matching shades of red! Buck had been thinking he was going to be in his own bed in the bunkhouse and smiled at this latest development. Rachel turned to Rebecca and asked “Is that Ok with you? I don’t want to assume anything that I shouldn’t”

Rebecca smiled at the older woman and replied “It’s VERY OK with me.” This time it was Buck who blushed as Rebecca winked at him. Both women laughed!

Buck had fallen asleep almost as soon as he lay down, not even bothering to undress. Rebecca removed his boots and tossed a blanket over him. Rachel watched the loving way she cared for him and smiled to herself. “Come on downstairs, I’m looking forward to getting to know you.” The women closed the door behind them leaving the man they both loved sleeping peacefully.

Kid and Lou had left Jeremiah and Theresa with Rachel while they headed back to their own house for a little welcome home of their own. Jimmy was in the barn taking care of the animals along with Teaspoon. “What the hell happened out there, son? He’s still in rough shape. It looks like he’s lucky to be alive and for once, he knows it.” Teaspoon asked as they moved the things from Rebecca’s home to a corner of the barn.

Jimmy looked at Teaspoon. “He ain’t told us yet but from what Rebecca has told us he almost didn’t make it. She wasn’t sure he was going to live for almost a week. He’s still so weak, you saw for yourself how tired he was just from riding in a wagon. He tried the saddle a little bit every day but he’s still too sore and it slowed us down. You know how proud he is usually, never lets anything show, well that’s not the same man we just rode home with. Those bastards need to be punished for what they did to him. They were proud of “killing the half-breed” they even smiled and that idiot sheriff, joked about it.” Jimmy’s voice had a hard edge to it and his eyes were smoldering.

Teaspoon shared Jimmy’s anger but felt that things needed to cool down a bit. “Jimmy, I’ll wire Sam and see what he can do, I’m sure he and Emma will want to know Buck’s home, alive. They were pretty upset when they heard the news and what might have happened. Cody is going to be here next week too. He was going to take time off and help in the search as soon as he could.” They stacked the last box and each picked up one handle of the steamer trunk and headed for the house.

They were greeted by the most wonderful smells of a home cooked meal being prepared. Teaspoon made his way to the kitchen with Jimmy close on his heels. “Hmmmm, something smells like heaven” He reached for a cookie from a batch that Rachel had just set out to cool.

“Teaspoon….. don’t you dare ruin you appetite, those are for Buck.” Rachel had to laugh at the pout his face adopted. Jimmy had an ‘I haven’t eaten in years’ look on his face, too. “Well, not all of them but yes, you may each have two.” Rebecca and Rachel both giggled as four cookies disappeared and two big grins appeared. The women looked at each other and said at the same time “do they ever grow up?”

Teaspoon and Jimmy beat a hasty retreat into the front parlor, each stealing another cookie.

Chapter Seventeen

Later that afternoon, just before dinner, Kid and Lou returned. They were all smiles and Lou looked like she was positively glowing. She was at that stage of her pregnancy that all she could think about was Kid and the pleasure of his body and hers together; Kid was more than willing to help with that. They’d been unable to make it all the way home before they gave into the desires that were raging between them and a peaceful meadow became their bed. Their cries of ecstasy disturbed a flock of birds; who took wing as one. Once home, their love making was more reserved, less urgent. Satiated they slept, smiling, in each others arms; waking in time to make it for dinner.

All was right with the world once again. This dinner was going to be special. Rachel and Lou took Rebecca aside and told her how wonderful it was to have another woman around. Lou, normally very protective of Buck as far as women were concerned, had seen the honesty of Rebecca’s feelings for Buck and she knew that look. Those two loved each other. Lou took Rebecca’s hand and said “I don’t know if you have any idea how hard it was for Buck to say ‘I love you’? He’s spent his whole life on the outside looking in. The only time he gave his heart the little snobby bit…” A look from Rachel stopped the word on her lips. “Er… witch tore it out of him and stomped on it.”

“Kathleen?” Rebecca asked a little surprised at Lou’s choice of words. Rachel had looked a little surprised too.

“That would be the one. The first time I’ve ever heard those words out of his mouth was today. Did he tell you about Ike?” Rebecca nodded. “He loved Ike like a brother and he couldn’t even tell him he loved him. I thought that little b… witch had killed something in him until today. He’s happier than I’ve ever seen him. Thank-you.” Lou was crying as she finished the sentence. All three women hugged, Rachel echoing Lou’s sentiments toward Buck.

“He’s so lucky to have you all. He called out for you both in his fever. I know he loves you too, very much. I guess he’s never said it but he does. Rachel, I thought you were his wife and Lou, I’m sorry I thought you were a boy, I thought you were his son.” They all laughed.

“I was” laughed Lou, “a boy that is!!”

“Hey, what’s a guy got to do to get some supper around here?” Buck called into the kitchen. All the men were standing in the doorway with strange looks on their faces. Then the women all started laughing again.

“Boys, I do believe at least one of us is in trouble. It’s my experience that when women get together like that there is a man about to pay dearly for something he may not even know he done!!!” Teaspoon groaned. The others laughed nervously.

“Supper will be ready in ten minutes or so. Have you all washed up? Jimmy use soap, I’m tired of scrubbing the towels you’ve used to scrape dirt off with!!” Rachel joked kindly. Jimmy put on his best ‘Oh Rachel’ look and headed for the wash basin. They all laughed.

Supper was wonderful. Rebecca and Rachel had cooked up a feast, they found they worked well together in the kitchen and Lou was very much improved. Theresa had even done the mashed potatoes all by herself. They were a creamy delight that everyone enjoyed.

After dinner Lou and Kid told everyone they had an announcement. They stood up in the middle of the parlor with all eyes on them. “You’re all gonna uncles, aunts, and grandparents, in about six or seven months or so. I guess that would make you an aunt, Rebecca!” Everyone was on their feet hugging them in an instant. Lou hadn’t wanted to hold off on the announcement any longer because she was starting to show! Buck took her in his arms and kissed her forehead.

“This is the best homecoming a man could ask for. Thanks for including Rebecca too.” Buck hugged her again and then sought out Rebecca. He found her standing slightly over to the side of the couch and went to her. “This is my family, well most of them anyway, what do you think? Can I make you part of it too?” He spoke softly so only she could hear. She answered him with a kiss. Later that evening they said their good nights and Buck and Rebecca headed up stairs. They disrobed and climbed into bed. “This feels weird, like I’m doing something I shouldn’t in my parents’ house.” Buck said as he drew her in close to him. It didn’t stop them from making gentle love to each other, quietly.

Over the next week Buck really began to regain his strength but he still hadn’t spoken about what had happened to him. Rebecca told them some of what had happened but only what had gone on at her house. They rest was his to tell or not and they all knew that Buck would tell them when he was ready. The scars on his body bore silent witness to the horror he’d lived through. Rachel and Teaspoon began to fear that the scars they couldn’t see might be the worst of all. Would they ever heal?

Sam and Emma arrived with their children on the following Tuesday. Cody somehow managed to arrive the same day and another wondrous feast materialized for supper that night. Each woman made her ‘special’ desert while Lou and Theresa showed off their new found skills in the kitchen. A totally satisfying time was had by all. Buck had his own surprise planned, with a little help from Jimmy.

After supper everyone sat out on the piazza drinking coffee and watching the children play. Buck stood and grasped Rebecca’s hand. Everyone sensed there was something important about to happen and quieted down waiting for him to speak. He got down on one knee.

“Rebecca, I’ve asked you this before but never really directly…. I want you to be an official part of this family. I love you. Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?” He took a small velvet pouch out of his vest pocket and dropped a ring with a purple stone into his hand.

Rebecca was stunned. Tears formed in her eyes and for a moment she couldn’t speak. She knelt beside him and flung herself into his arms. “Yes, Oh Buck, I love you so much! I’ll be honored to be your wife!”

Buck slipped the ring onto her finger and stood, drawing her up with him. She looked beautiful and so in love.

They kissed long and hard until Theresa started to giggle and one of Emma’s children said “Oh, Yuck” Everyone laughed.

Chapter Eighteen

Buck felt he had two goals to accomplish while everyone was still gathered at the station. First he told Rebecca to plan the wedding for that Saturday if she wanted to get married while the whole clan was still there. Buck knew it was a little sudden but he really needed to have everyone there. Life had taken on a whole new meaning for him and he didn’t want to waste time. Plans were soon in place, too soon. He wondered if somehow Rachel hadn’t found out about his little secret and started the planning before he asked the question! Second he needed to tell the adults what had happened to him in Rock Den Township especially Sam, Teaspoon, Kid and Jimmy.

One night after all the children were in bed they all gathered around Rachel’s kitchen table and Buck began to speak, “I was trying to avoid the flooding….” He asked that no one interrupt him. This was hard, he had to relive the nightmare and at times he turned to Rebecca for strength. There were several times he couldn’t hold back the tears of pain. He told them about waking up in Rebecca’s arms and the dreams of Ike. He greatly edited their bedroom play for which Rebecca was immensely relieved; he figured he’d have survived the ordeal only to be killed by her if he said too much. If she chose to tell the women that was her prerogative. He’d tell Jimmy and Kid himself later. He had no intention of saying anything to Cody, unless he wanted the entire territory knowing his business. He figured he wasn’t putting anything over on Teaspoon, not with the wry looks he’d been getting lately.

“I can have them charged with kidnapping, Buck but you’ll have to testify, as will you Rebecca. They should have released you after the identifications were called into question. There also should have been a trial. I’ll see about having them charged with attempted murder too. I’ll have to speak to a judge first to draw up the warrants.” Sam said once Buck had finished speaking. “I’m very glad that you are here to tell us this Buck, I’m a lot happier coming here to enjoy your wedding rather than your funeral!!! You well enough to enjoy your wedding night yet? OUCH!” Emma kicked him. “What did you do that for? I’m just watching out for my friend!” Sam cried in mock distress. Everyone burst out laughing as Buck and Rebecca blushed.

The friendly banter continued until people started to yawn too frequently. Rebecca rose and pulled Buck up with her. “Well, It been a long evening and I’m ready to turn in. I think I’ll take Buck upstairs and find out just how much I can expect on my wedding night!” Buck turned crimson, but couldn’t hide the smile that threatened to split his face in two. Everyone laughed.

Cody with all his usual diplomacy said “can I watch?” He ducked, dodged and made a hasty retreat as anything handy got thrown at him.

Saturday was a beautiful day and they gathered in Ike’s meadow for the wedding. The bride was radiant in a light blue dress with flowers woven in her hair. Buck chose the traditional Kiowa garments for himself. Teaspoon performed the ceremony, bursting with pride that he was able to marry another one of his “children”. Buck had found, or rather Lou did, a beautiful Celtic love knot ring made with three types of gold woven together to form the knot. It wasn’t until just before the wedding Lou told him it was the ring Ike had bought for Annie, and then given to Lou to use in her own wedding. Lou had kept it hoping for the chance to give it to Buck. He was touched at her thoughtfulness. He could almost see Ike standing with him as he said his vows in both English and Kiowa. Rebecca had surprised him by doing the same.

“It is my GREAT pleasure and honor, ladies and gentlemen, Friends and Family, to introduce for the first time anywhere, Mr. and Mrs. Buck Cross” Teaspoon beamed. Rebecca turned to Buck, they kissed their first kiss as husband and wife, turned to their family and amid all the applause, began their lives together.

The End

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