Author's Note: This is a continuation of "The Lovely Lori Mae". It was written for the Seven Holy Virtues: Abstinence (constant mindfulness of others and one's surroundings, practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation.)


Chapter One

The day after the tea party Emma held to introduce Mary Louise Boggs, of Boston society, to Mrs. Tolliver, the mayor's wife, and her niece, Lori Mae, Ike found himself to be the center of attention from numerous young ladies in town. After a couple of hours, it became obvious to all of them that he was only interested in Lori Mae so they reluctantly left him alone once more.

*It's crazy,* Ike said to Buck, as they made their way back to the way station after the supply run into town. *I'm not any different, but...* he just dropped his hands in exasperation.

Buck nodded his understanding. "I know what you mean," he said. "The day before yesterday no one wanted to have anything to do with me, and today I've had at least three girls suggest that I should take them to the dance that's coming up." He sighed, "And I'm not even the one who's supposedly connected to money."

*So what did you tell them?* Ike asked, with a slight grin.

"I told them thank you, but I already had a date," said Buck.

Ike nodded. *Let's get these supplies back home and unloaded so we can go see if we can find out who,* he suggested.

They made their way back to the station where they unloaded the week's supplies, and then they headed back into town in hopes that Lori Mae could be found.

They had just about given up when they spied her coming out of the dressmaker's shop.

Lori Mae smiled when she saw them. "I was just getting ready to come see the two of you," she said. "I need to know what color suit you have so Consuela Marie and I can pick out material for our new dresses."

*Who?* asked Ike.

"Consuela Marie Martinez," replied Lori Mae. "She's the friend I've chosen to be Buck's date. She's very excited. Unfortunately, she's off getting supplies to make a special treat for our dinner that evening, or I'd introduce you to her."

Buck nodded. "My suit is dark gray," he said.

Lori Mae smiled. "Lovely," she said.

Ike signed, *Mine's brown.*

When Buck had translated, Lori Mae exclaimed, "Perfect!" She quickly composed herself when people passing by turned to stare. "Don't go anywhere; I'll be right back." She turned and went inside the dressmaker's shop.

In a matter of minutes, she was back. She smiled as she placed her arm through Ike's. "If you'll be so kind as to escort me over to Tompkins' store, I can introduce you to Consuela Marie."

Ike glanced at Buck who simply nodded.

The three of them made their way across town. Lori Mae walking arm in arm with Ike; Buck walking off to the side of her leading his and Ike's mounts.

As Buck tended the horses, Lori Mae and Ike went into the store in search of Miss Consuela Marie Martinez. They returned shortly. "It seems Aunt Claudia came and got her; something about this taking too long and her needing to get back to work," said Lori Mae, with an exasperated sigh. "I sometimes think that woman lives to make others miserable. There's nothing more for Consuela Marie to do; we completed all her chores before we came into town except to prepare dinner, and it's not time to start that yet." She paused in her outburst when she noticed the look that Buck and Ike exchanged.

Lori Mae took a deep breath before continuing, "I didn't choose Consuela Marie because she's my aunt's cook; I chose her because she's my best friend, and she has mentioned that she finds you attractive." She smiled at Buck. "None of the other girls in this town deserve you."

Buck blushed slightly at the compliment.

Lori Mae continued, "You could see me home and meet her."

*We need to get back to the station,* Ike replied. *Buck has a run tonight.*

"That's right," agreed Buck. "We've already taken longer than we should have. I'm afraid we don't have time to make the trip out to your uncle's ranch." He hesitated just slightly until Ike poked him. "I get back the day after tomorrow; perhaps we can come by then."

Lori Mae's smile returned. "Come around seven. Consuela Marie is usually finished cooking everything by then."

"We'll see you in a couple of days then," said Buck.

Lori Mae leaned over and kissed Ike's cheek. "You come too. I'll tell Aunt Claudia the two of you are coming so I can work on learning how to converse with you, Hopefully, I'll be able to convince Aunt Claudia that we need Consuela Marie and her sisters to chaperon." She then took her leave of them and headed back across town to her uncle's office.

Chapter Two

Two days later, Buck and Ike made their way to the mayor's ranch outside of town. Emma sent them with flowers for Mrs. Tolliver and some of her homemade preserves for Mr. Tolliver. "I want you both to be on your best behavior," she said. "We don't want to give them any excuse to change their minds."

Both boys nodded as they took their leave of her. As they rode, neither boy felt much like talking so they travelled the mile in the comfortable silence of good friends.

When they reached the gate that indicated the ranch was near, Buck spoke. "This sure is a fancy place."

Ike nodded. *No wonder they want to find someone with money for Lori Mae.*

Buck smiled weakly. "Nice to know she doesn't feel the same way."

They rode to the house in silence. They dismounted, secured their horses to the hitching post, and knocked on the big oak door.

They were greeted by Consuela Marie's oldest sister, Maria. She took their hats and coats. As she turned to accept the gifts they had brought, she happened to spy Buck's earring. "Pardon me," she said softly. "You wouldn't be Running Buck, half-brother to Red Bear, would you?"

Buck nodded. "Why?" he asked, as the young lady before him dropped the items she was holding causing the jar of preserves to shatter.

She grabbed his coat and hat and shoved them at him. "You need to leave," she said as she started to push him out the door.

Buck didn't move. "Why?" he asked once more, as he tried to figure out what it was about this young lady that caused him to find her familiar.

"Consuela Marie is making poppy seed sweet bread. It's..." she stopped speaking as Lori Mae pushed open the door from the kitchen coming to investigate the sound of breaking glass.

As the odor of the bread filled the room, Buck suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Maria grabbed Ike. "Get him out of the house and as far away as you can without leaving the property. I'll explain to Lori Mae and send her to you."

As Ike took hold of Buck's shoulders to maneuvre him out of the house, Buck felt his knees start to give way. He reached for something to keep his balance and caught hold of Maria's arm. Ike's pull and Buck's falling caused him to rip her dress. Just then, Mrs. Tolliver entered the hallway to see what all the commotion was about.

As she took in the scene before her, she started to scream. Maria once more urgently pleaded with Ike, "Get him out of here. I'll take care of her."

Ike pulled Buck out the door and onto the porch. As soon as they were outside, Ike threw Buck over his shoulder and carried him away from the house to the fence that surrounded the house.

When he lay Buck down, Ike noticed that the young Kiowa's breathing was beginning to return to normal. *What happened?* he asked.

Buck worked on breathing, and signed, *Remember , I told you before how I'm allergic to poppies. Just smelling them makes it so I can't breathe.*

Ike nodded as he recalled the time they had avoided a field filled with the small red flowers because Buck had told him how they made him ill. *How did Maria know that?* asked Ike. *How does she know about Red Bear?*

Buck shrugged. His breathing was almost back to normal, but his head was beginning to hurt. He wanted nothing more than to go back to the way station and get some rest.

Before he could make this request of Ike, Lori Mae and Maria joined them. "I'm sorry," said Lori Mae. "I'm so glad Maria was able to convince Aunt Claudia to let us come check on you. She was about ready to send the stable boy into town for the sheriff, but Maria showed her that the tear wasn't that bad, and explained that it was her fault for not getting out of your way. " She paused briefly for a second before adding, "We didn't know."

Buck nodded. "There's no reason you should have," he said. He then looked at Maria, "Do I know you from somewhere?"

Maria nodded. "I was called Storm Cloud, my sister was Night Sky, and we were taken in by a family with a little girl named Spotted Fawn. When the white men came to 'rescue' us, my younger sister, Ester, told them that Spotted Fawn was our baby sister, Consuela Marie." She paused and looked from Buck to the others. "If she hadn't, they would have killed Spotted Fawn just like they did the others in the village."

Buck nodded his agreement of her assessment of the situation. "So," he said softly, "Spotted Fawn is Consuela Marie?"

Maria nodded. "She did not realize that Pony Express Rider, Buck Cross, was really Running Buck. Mrs. Tolliver told us that you were raised by nuns because your 'sainted' mother was too kind-hearted to destroy you despite the way you came into existence."

Buck laughed softly. "Do you think I should tell her that my 'sainted' mother was the Kiowa wife of a Kiowa war chief?"

Maria shook her head. "Not unless you want to get her angry; she does not take correction well."

Lori Mae added, "She's already beginning to wonder if she made a mistake agreeing to our double date because of this." She shook her head. "Heaven forbid something like this happen at the dance with people around. What would everyone think about her letting me consort with people prone to fits?"

"Shall I go explain?" asked Buck.

"You can't," said Maria. "The house still reeks of freshly baked poppy seed sweet bread."

*I can explain,* said Ike. *I just need to borrow some paper; I always carry a pencil with me, but I'm currently out of paper.*

Maria nodded. "You won't need to use paper and pencil; I can translate. I can read sign. I'll tell her that I learned it while I was living with my captors."

"I'll stay with Buck," suggested Lori Mae.

It was Buck's turn to disagree. "You need to go back with them; if she thinks I'm prone to fits, it wouldn't be proper to leave you alone with me. She might change her mind about letting Ike see you if he's willing to leave you alone with me." He took a deep breath. "I'll be fine. I just need to get some rest now."

The three of them left and made their way back to the house. A few minutes later, Ike returned. *Everything's fine,* he said. *Maria did an excellent job explaining what happened without having to mention that she knew you from the Kiowa village.*

"I thought you were going to explain," said Buck, as he moved to stand.

Ike shrugged. *I just said you were violently allergic to poppies, so much so that just their fragrance made it difficult for you to breathe. She added that she'd seen something similar before and knew to get you away from the source.*

"Sorry if I messed things up for you," Buck said, as he moved to mount the horse Ike had walked down for him.

*You didn't mess anything up,* Ike said. *Lori Mae suggested that we try again in the morning.*

Chapter Three

The next morning, the two young men rose early and quickly finished their chores. Emma once more sent them bearing gifts. She told Buck, "I realize that none of this is your fault, but you should probably apologize to Mrs. Tolliver for any distress you caused her."

Buck nodded. "I will. I'm sorry to have..."

Emma cut him off, "You don't owe me an apology; you are one of the most respectful people I know. You would never do anything to intentionally embarrass me. Now go, enjoy getting reacquainted with your childhood friends."

This time, they were met by Ester. She took their coats and hats before she showed them into the sitting room where Mrs. Tolliver waited.

Buck apologized for any problems he may have caused the prior evening. "I hope that you weren't too upset by the disturbance."

"Everything is fine. I'm just glad you are going to be alright; I'd hate to have spent all that money on dresses only to have them go to waste," Mrs. Tolliver said, doing her best to convince Ike she really felt this to be true. "I'm sorry you can't visit in here where it's comfortable, but I have guests coming for brunch, and it wouldn't be proper for the help to be entertaining in here when they arrive." She smiled up at Ike. "I'm sure you understand, Mr. McSwain."

Both boys managed to hide their distaste at her remarks, and were soon allowed to go to the kitchen where Lori Mae and Consuela Marie were waiting.

Ike simply smiled and nodded. As they left to go to the kitchen, he continued smiling as he signed, *Can I just shoot her now?*

Buck stifled the laugh that threatened to escape. "I don't think so," he said.

*But it would make the world so much better,* Ike insisted.

Buck nodded. "Still," he said, "I'm not sure you can do that."

"Do what?" asked Lori Mae, as she met them at the kitchen door.

"Shoot your aunt," replied Buck.

Ike glared at him.

Lori Mae laughed and took Ike's arm and wrapped hers around it. "Too bad she doesn't like guns; if she did, we could make it look like an accident." She paused a few seconds before saying, "Maybe we could make her have a heart attack instead."

Ike relaxed as he realized that she wasn't mad at him for speaking unkindly about her guardian. *You really don't like her,* he commented.

"She acts like she's so much better than everyone simply because my uncle has money. She was working as a maid in a hotel when they met. Luckily for her, he wasn't as snooty as she is," explained Lori Mae.

She took a deep breath to compose herself. "I hate that everyone here thinks she comes from old money. She hasn't got any rich relatives; as far as I know, she hasn't got any living relatives."

*Just like me,* Ike said, with a grin.

Lori Mae laughed, "Except you don't put on airs and go around bad mouthing people behind their backs."

*True,* said Ike. "I seldom bad mouth anyone; I just bad hand them.*

Buck groaned as he translated.

Lori Mae laughed as she moved aside to let them into the kitchen. She indicated that they should take a seat at the table.

As they sat, Maria, Ester, and Consuela Marie entered the room from the stairs that lead to the servants' quarters on the second floor of the house. Buck wondered why he hadn't recognized them before.

Lori Mae spoke to answer his unasked question. "They are never all three allowed to go into town at the same time, and when they do go they must dress up like a 'proper young lady' despite the fact that they are simple house servants."

As Lori Mae talked, Maria took her long hair that was pulled back into a ponytail and wrapped it into a tight bun. She then picked up a bonnet from the rack by the door and put it on. Her looks changed from that of a friendly young lady to a harsh school marm.

Buck nodded his understanding. He knew why they hadn't recognized him. He had been a 12 year old boy the last time they'd seen him - a 12 year old Kiowa boy dressed in traditional Kiowa clothing.

Consuela Marie came and sat across from him as Lori Mae took a seat across the table from Ike. She quickly introduced Ike to Consuela Marie. After Buck and Consuela Marie had a chance to get reacquainted Lori Mae suggested, "Why don't we begin our lesson?"

Buck looked at her. "What do you want to know?" he asked.

"Everything," said Lori Mae.

*How about we start with questions?* suggested Ike. *Each one of us gets to ask one of anyone here.*

"That sounds like a lovely way to begin," said Maria. "Unfortunately, Ester and I must get to work. We need to be sure all the chores are done, and that everything is ready for the important guests. We don't want to..."

She stopped speaking when Mrs. Tolliver entered the room and started shouting at the Martinez girls for keeping her and her friends waiting for their refreshments. "It's bad enough I had to open the door myself," she said, "but to then have them kept waiting…"

Buck took a deep breath to keep himself from responding the way he felt like reacting. When Mrs. Tolliver stopped her tirade to take a breath, Buck spoke softly, "I'm sorry we have caused an interruption in your morning routine. If you will allow me to escort you back to the dining room, Maria will have your meal to you shortly." He stood and offered the woman his arm.

Taken aback by his manners, Mrs. Tolliver allowed herself to be walked back to the dining room. Once she was seated, Buck again apologized for disrupting the morning's activities.

"Nothing to apologize for," replied the mayor, as he prepared to leave for his office in town. "She's just out of sorts because I informed her that I won't be able to escort her to the dance this weekend. She's worried she'll miss all the good gossip."

Mrs. Tolliver looked at her husband in horror, and then at her friends sitting silently around the room. "I am not," she said. "I was looking forward to a fun evening spent with you and the young people. Now I get to sit home alone because you insisted on giving Maria and Ester the night off to watch over their sister."

Buck smiled at the woman sitting before him. "You could come along with us," he offered. "I'm sure the others won't mind."

Mrs. Tolliver glanced at her husband. He smiled and nodded his head. "You just made her day," he said.

Chapter Four

With Mrs. Tolliver appeased, Buck headed back to the kitchen. "You might want to shoot me when you find out what I just did," he said, as he explained to situation.

"I think it will be good for her," said Consuela. "She will see that we are people just like her."

Lori Mae sighed. "I hope so."

"I can always talk to your uncle about borrowing his buggy," said Buck. "That way I can escort Consuela and your aunt; you and Ike can be alone."

"I'm not sure Aunt Claudia would approve," said Lori Mae. "That puts me alone with my gentleman caller without supervision. We might give into temptation and do something horrid."

*We'll figure something out,* said Ike. *Let's forget about her and get back to our reason for being here. Buck and I need to get back to the station before lunch.*

The others agreed and soon the four of them were lost in conversation. Lori Mae was a quick study, and in no time, she was able to understand Ike without much assistance.

As the boys prepared to leave, Ike suggested, *Maybe Teaspoon would agree to escorting Mrs. Tolliver.*

Buck nodded. "He might at that. I know he mentioned not taking anyone special. She could ride in with all of the others who are just picking their dates up in town since the young ladies all lived close to the dance hall. It won't hurt to ask."

When they got home, they put the question to Teaspoon. He agreed to drive her to town, after Buck reassured him that Buck would be responsible for watching out for her during the evening. So the evening of the dance found the members of the Sweetwater Pony Express station all making their way to the Tolliver Ranch in order to pick up Lori Mae, Consuela Marie, and Mrs. Tolliver before heading into town.

Chapter Five

When the party arrived at the dance, Buck took it upon himself to get Mrs. Tolliver refreshments after Teaspoon got her settled in among her friends. Once Buck was satisfied that Mrs. Tolliver was comfortable, he asked Consuela Marie to dance. As he left, he heard Mrs. Tolliver explaining the situation to the ladies. He shook his head as she explained how he'd come to be her escort of sorts due to her husband's sudden and unexpected business trip. However, it was the comment about Buck being the only man in town willing to see a girl raised by savage heathens such as Consuela Marie had been that bothered him the most, but he decided to once more swallow his anger so as not to cause a scene and embarrass Consuela Marie or the other members of his party.

Throughout the evening, Buck would check in with Mrs. Tolliver and her friends. He would gather refreshments for them and be sure that none of them wanted to dance before making his way back to where Ike, Lori Mae, Consuela Marie, and the others waited.

"You don't have to be her servant," said Teaspoon. "You only offered to bring her to the dance, not wait on her hand and foot. She has two perfectly good legs. You need to spend time having fun with your young lady friend."

"I am having a good time," Buck replied. "I don't want Mrs. Tolliver to get angry and cause a scene because she feels neglected. I'm pretty sure she wouldn't turn that anger on me. Instead, she'll go after one of the girls, and I don't want to ruin their fun. They don't get to be out in public together too often."

Teaspoon sighed as he patted Buck's shoulder. "You're a better man than I am this evening. After the stuff she said on the ride in, I was ready to just leave her sitting in that buggy until we were ready to go home."

Buck blushed slightly at the compliment and smiled weakly. "At least you didn't want to shoot her like Ike." He then went to find Consuela and once more danced with her.

As they danced, they happened to pass by the table where Mrs. Tolliver sat. She was busy explaining how she'd been persuaded to allow Ike to escort Lori Mae. Even as she applauded him for coming from a family of means, she managed to slip in an unflattering comment about his inability to speak.

Buck quickly maneuvered away from the table as the conversation turned to the subject of his date and her sisters. Consuela Marie smiled up at him. "Thank you," she said.

"For what?" Buck asked.

"For getting me away from her and her erroneous stories. I wish I could tell her they aren't really my sisters; I'm one of the savage heathens that raised them. Maria insists it would do no good; Mrs. Tolliver will just think I'm confused because I was spoiled at such a young age."

"Spoiled?" asked Buck.

"Spoiled, ruined, damaged..." said Consuela Marie. "All three of us are damaged goods because of the horrors we must have experienced at the hands of our kidnappers and captors." She sighed deeply as she shook her head. "She does not even realize that the sisters were taken by the Pawnee, not the Kiowa."

"That wouldn't matter," said Buck. "All the different tribes are the same to people like her."

The music stopped. Buck walked Consuela Marie back to where his group of friends had congregated. He then excused himself to once more check on Mrs. Tolliver and her friends.

As he approached the table, Sam and Emma walked by on their way back to where the other members of the Pony Express family sat. As the couple passed by, Mrs. Tolliver leaned in and whispered, "You know she used to be a soiled dove, don't you?"

The other ladies shook their heads and glanced over at Emma. "Really?"

Lori Mae happened to glance up and see the look on Buck's face. She quickly made her way to her aunt's table. She arrived in time to hear the end of the conversation and figure out that Aunt Claudia was telling her friends about someone's exploits as a prostitute. She couldn't figure out who or why it would upset Buck so much until she stepped to his side and heard Mrs. Langston say, "Emma Shannon? Are you sure?"

Before Mrs. Tolliver could answer, Buck moved to her side. He knelt down beside her and spoke slowly and softly. "Please think carefully about how you answer that. You need to tell them you were wrong, and apologize for spreading unfounded stories, or I'll hurt you."

The ladies at the table were startled when Mrs. Tolliver slapped the young Kiowa and screamed, "How dare you talk to me like that!"

Chapter Six

Buck didn't flinch or move at all. He just calmly repeated his statement.

The commotion caused by Mrs. Tolliver caused Sam, Emma, Teaspoon, and everyone else at the dance to crowd around them.

"What seems to be the problem?" asked Sam.

"He..., he threatened me," said Mrs. Tolliver, still unable to believe that Buck would do such a thing after she'd allowed him into her home.

Sam looked at Buck, who was standing next to Mrs. Tolliver's chair staring at the ground in front of him. "Buck?" Sam asked.

Buck simply nodded as he worked on controlling his breathing and his mounting anger.

"You'd better lock him away before he does hurt someone," suggested Tompkins from the back of the crowd.

Lori Mae spoke up. "Ask him why?" she suggested.

Buck glanced at the girl, and then at Emma before once more dropping his gaze. He remained silent.

"You have a reason?" asked Teaspoon, as he moved to the young Kiowa's side.

Buck nodded, but did not speak.

"Care to share it?" inquired Sam when it became obvious that Buck wasn't getting ready to speak.

Buck shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he finally said, speaking softly. "I was wrong to do what I did." He turned to face Sam. "I'll go quietly."

Sam took a deep breath and moved to take Buck into custody. There where murmurs of agreement with this action as well as cries of descent. Lori Mae knelt down next to her aunt. "Tell them what he said," she insisted.

"He said he was going to hurt me," said Mrs. Tolliver.

Lori Mae shook her head. "Tell them the whole sentence starting with the 'Please'."

When Mrs. Tolliver didn't say anything, but simply turned away from Lori Mae in a huff, Lori Mae stood and spoke to Sam. "He very politely asked her to stop talking about..." Buck's slight head shake and evident agitation caused her to amend her statement, "about one of his friends. He also asked her to admit she was lying and apologize for doing so. He then said he'd hurt her if she didn't."

"That true?" asked Teaspoon.

Buck didn't move.

Mrs. Tolliver sat silently glaring at her niece.

Finally, Mrs. Langston, one of Mrs. Tolliver's companions, replied, "That's true. Claudia was telling us all about how Miss..."

Buck cut in, "It doesn't matter," he said sharply, allowing his anger and frustration to show in his voice. "I was wrong to threaten her." He looked at Sam, almost pleading with his eyes. "Can we just go?"

Emma moved to Buck's side. She gently touched him on the arm which caused him to look at her. "Did she say something about me?"

Buck didn't respond, but dropped his gaze back to the ground to avoid looking into Emma's eyes.

"About my unknown past?"

Buck finally nodded.

"About how I used to entertain gentlemen for money?"

Buck took a deep breath and nodded once more. Emma turned to face the ladies at the table. "Did she give you specifics and lots of details?"

The ladies all looked away from Emma, ashamed to be caught in the act of gossiping about the sheriff's lady friend.

Emma smiled. "Ever wonder how she knows so much?"

At that question, Mrs. Tolliver's gaze snapped from Lori Mae to Emma. "You wouldn't dare," she hissed.

"I don't see why I shouldn't, Claudia," said Emma. "You had no problem talking about me."

Chapter Seven

Mrs. Langston looked up at Emma, "You mean it's true?" she gasped.

"No," said Mrs. Tolliver. "I made it all up. Emma and I were both maids at a hotel in St. Louis. Neither of us were ever anything else other than that. There were women there who did that, but it wasn't any of the cleaning staff." She sighed. "I knew that people were wondering about her ever since that gunfighter, Longley, showed up in town. I just figured..." she stopped speaking when Lori Mae slapped her.

"Do you have any idea how much harm you could have caused?" she demanded.

The older woman just stared at her.

"It's bad enough that you go around spreading incorrect information because you're too proud to ask questions, but to intentionally make up stories that could ruin someone's life is unforgivable. Frankly, I'm surprised Buck managed to last this long with all the nasty comments you've made about people he cares for and all the misinformation you've shared about him."

Mrs. Tolliver looked from her niece to where Buck stood next to Sam still waiting to be taken to jail. "What misinformation?" she asked.

Buck glanced at her, the crowd, and then Sam. Sam released Buck's elbow. "I think everyone should get back to dancing," he said firmly. "This situation is under control and needs no help from anyone else." He glanced at Bill Tompkins just to make sure the man got the message to not stir up any trouble for Buck.

As people began to move away from the table, Buck pulled up a chair and sat next to Mrs. Tolliver.

Chapter Eight

He waited for most of the crowd to disperse. "My mother was Kiowa," he said. "The man who took her, beat her, left her for dead, was white. I was raised by the Kiowa until I was 12. The only reason I left the village was because it was attacked by a group of white men while most of the able-bodied men were on a hunting trip. These white men killed the few old men who were left behind because they were no longer able to hunt. They then turned their guns of the remaining people in the village killing most of the children who were there that were under the age of six, and the women - including my mother - who had stayed by to tend to the old men and the children. They took with them some members of the tribe that had come to be with us through trade or accident." He paused and took a breath as he realized that he was sharing a part of his past with this woman that he had not even shared with Ike.

"One of the people they took was a white girl my half-brother had found abandoned on the prairie. She'd been with us almost seven years, and the two of us were going to get married as soon as I proved I was man enough to provide for a family." He once more stopped speaking and glanced to where Consuela Marie and her sisters stood. When Maria nodded, he continued, "They also removed two sisters that had been kidnapped from a Mexican family by a band of Pawnee who then traded them to us for food. They were adopted into a family that had a daughter who was nearly 4 years old. Her mother was sickly having just given birth to a child that died shortly after entering the world. When the men came, they convinced them that this girl was also their sister. They insisted she'd been too young to remember being taken prisoner. They even had a name for her because there really had been a third sister. She had died shortly after they were taken from their family."

Mrs. Tolliver glanced at the three girls. "That's how you knew what to do the other day at the house," she said to Maria.

Maria nodded.

Mrs. Tolliver turned back to Buck. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

"You were talking about me," said Buck. "It's something I've learned to live with." He glanced at where Ike sat next to Lori Mae, holding her hand. "I didn't say anything when you talked about Ike because, while most of it was unkind, it wasn't untrue. He is bald, he is mute, he can be stubborn as the mule he's raising. I didn't see the point in upsetting you and making you stop Lori Mae from seeing him. He really seems to like her, and it appears she feels the same about him. I didn't want to mess that up."

Buck glanced over to where Sam and Emma sat talking. "I couldn't let you spread lies about Emma," he said. "She's been nothing but kind to me and all the people I've seen her interact with. She doesn't deserve to have people treating her poorly because they think she's something she's not."

He returned his gaze to Mrs. Tolliver. "I couldn't let that go. I should have done a better job of expressing my concerns, but I needed to get your attention quickly."

Lori Mae cut in, "Don't you dare apologize to her. If you'd been any nicer, she wouldn't have listened. I've tried to tell her, Uncle's tried to tell her, the girls have tried to correct her; she just gets angry and tells us it's none of our concern."

Buck glanced from the girl to her aunt. The older woman simply nodded. "Why?" Buck asked.

"I didn't want anyone to find out I wasn't from society so I acted the way the rich people at the hotel acted. After a while, it just sort of became expected for me to act that way. I never thought about it as hurting anyone." She dropped her gaze. "I'll try to do better from now on." She raised her eyes and looked at her friends, Lori Mae, and the girls who worked for her. "Will you all agree to help me?"

Everyone nodded.

The group of ladies conferred with each other and all agreed that they needed to stop gossiping. After Mrs. Tolliver and the others thanked them for helping them see the error of their ways, the young people took their leave of the ladies and headed onto the dance floor once more.

After one dance, Buck went back to be sure no one needed anything. He was pleased to find all the ladies were on the dance floor with their husbands, even Mrs. Tolliver, whose husband had slipped in unnoticed during the commotion.

As the couple danced past Buck, Mr. Tolliver gave the young Kiowa a nod and then smiled at his wife.

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