Disclaimer: The Young Riders belong to MGM/SONY and was created by Ed Speilman. I only own the story and the original character mentioned.
A/N: It’s the sequel to At a Loss. Not how I had envisioned it because it’s more rushed, but between college and work, it’s all I have time for. I hope you still enjoy, though. Warning: A darker, not so nice Buck.
She looked up; searching for the person who had called her name, quickly locating the pretty blonde haired, green-eyed young woman she fondly referred to as her cousin, Grace Marie Stafford-Fulton. Relief washed through her, and, as quickly as she could, she forced her way through the crowded street to reach her cousin, the only person she knew. What? Did every person in the U.S. decide to visit Sweetwater today or something, what with how crowded the street was, and the commotion and clamor sounding as people greeted their loved ones getting off the train. Knowing her luck they probably had. The fates always were doing something against her, and knowing she absolutely detested large crowds- Wynn shuddered as a big, smelly, burly man with a stained undershirt and beer belly barreled into her, nearly knocking her off her feet, as he went to greet a plump, voluptuous woman-Mary or something she had said her name was or the train, quite a chatterbox she had been, Wynn remembered.
Wynn grunted, sending a sharp little glare at the man, certain he didn't catch her. She didn't want to start any trouble, yet. She had just stepped foot in Sweetwater; she would have had to have to return home to her Uncle, and be given the "I told you so" lecture and disappointed look. Never mind she would never be allowed out of Boston or her Uncle's sight again, and worst yet, he'd never take her writing serious. Besides, with how big the man was, he could pummel her with just one fist. She shuddered, and settled for a quiet, "Brute," in her mind. And then she was swept up by her cousin, the taller girl grabbing her by her arms and pulling her into a tight, enthusiastic hug, startling Wynn. Awkwardly, Wynn returned it, her hands full with luggage, before stiffly pulling away, not used to being touched and a little uncomfortable with it.
Grace beamed at her, and Wynn readjusted the small wire-framed glassed perched on her nose. "Oh, it's so good to see you again, Wynn! How long as it been? Four of five years?"
"Five and a half, actually. Nearly six," Wynn clarified quietly.
Grace brushed it off, all but ignoring Wynn's statement. "Far too long, in any case."
And then she was ushering Wynn through the crowd by her elbow, chattering all the way about how her and Greg-that was Grace's husband, the cowboy she had left Boston with to marry and start a family, Mr. Fulton, as Wynn always referred to him as; a tragic day for Wynn's Uncle, who hadn't spoke to his daughter much since then-were so happy, and how they were working on getting their own home soon and start their own ranch, and then, hopefully, start a family…and so forth and so forth… Wynn barely followed, trying to take in everything at once. True, there wasn't much to take in, Sweetwater being an incredibly teeny place, especially compared to Boston, but it was new-it was different-and she found it much more interesting than whatever it was Grace was prattling on about.
All the little stores, all constructed of wood, all the horses, the dirty streets filled with mud from the last rain, and loud boorish laughter from the saloon-which Wynn blushed, never having been allowed around a saloon, and seeing how the women were dressed. She cleared her throat, looking away. It was almost scandalous. What would her uncle think?
Oh, stop it, Wynn! Your uncle isn't here, and you're here for a reason. Stop being a whimpering prude, and get on with it. You're here to make your Uncle realize you aren't a child anymore. Stop acting like one!
She stiffened, squaring her shoulders. Exactly right. She was here for a reason, she had a purpose here. She wasn't here just to look at the sights. She wasn't a tourist or a visitor. She was a journalist, here to get her story and prove she had as much a right to write as the men that worked for her uncle did. That was the whole point of coming out here. In Boston, there seemed to be a huge fad about the Wild Wild West, ranches, and the sort, and Wynn was here to get a story that would astound everyone, and she'd be damned if she left without one.
"So, tell me about Mr. Cross. What's he like?" she abruptly asked, interrupting Grace and whatever she was sprouting on about, bringing up the one subject she had been wondering about non-stop since Grace had invited her out.
Grace blinked, looking at the shorter, smaller woman as if she didn't know what she was talking about before gathering herself. "Oh, Buck, well… he's a bit of a quiet one."
Wynn's brow furrowed, and she looked at Grace with an expression that read "that's it?" "A bit of a quiet one?"
Grace nodded, and the two of them continued to walk down the street toward the direction of the wagon, she had thought Grace had said at some point. "Well, yes. He keeps to himself most of the time, and he's not all too fond of strangers and nosey-bodies." And at Wynn's worried expression, Grace hurried to assure her cousin with, "But don't worry! He's already said you could come! He's fine with it. Don't worry, Wynn. He's not going to bite your head off, I promise. He's a good man. You'll like him." And Grace smiled, leaving Wynn feeling, not for the first time a little unsure, something in her not really believing Grace.
For some reason, why did she believe that she was about to get mixed up in something she had never wanted to in the first place? Wynn took in a deep breath and sighed. Oh, well. Too late now, she supposed. She was here, and she'd get her story if it killed her…she just hoped it didn't come down to that. Being the Wild West and all, though, she supposed anything was possible, and climbing into the wagon's seat with the help of Grace who followed after and took the reins, she only hoped everything turned out alright…because it was too late to turn back now.
One thought flittered around in her mind, "Don't throw up." Her nerves were shot, and she stomach was twisted tightly, waves of nausea crashing through her, drowning the mass of huge dragonflies fighting to be let out. She wasn't sure if it was just her nerves getting the best of her, or Grace's awful steering. Either way, she was sure she was green in the face by now and looked dreadful.
Perfect way to make a great first impression, Wynn.
"I've already gotten your room all set up, too! You should see it. Oh, I'm so excited that you're here, Wynney. I've missed you a lot. Sure, there's the town's ladies, but they're a little on the snooty side. Something about me being from the city, I think. The town's people don't really open up easy, you know…" Grace explained, and she could tell that Grace had been a little lonely the past couple years.
She almost felt guilty for not visiting earlier, felt almost guilty that the only reason she had come out here was for her story. She would never tell Grace that, of course, but it was true, and Wynn felt a little ashamed of herself, but then that nasty little voice was back, hissing, it's her own fault she's lonely. She's the one that left, remember. But then she shut it up, not thinking back on all the past resentment she had felt toward Grace for abandoning her like she had, to go and follow her cowboy lover back to the west, leaving her alone in Boston to face a society that never fully got her. She always felt so odd back on Boston, like a social reject-a social leper. The woman talked about her, and the men laughed at her, amused at her attempt to make a place for herself among them. Safe to say it was rather on the lonely side, not that she was complaining. She'd rather have real people around her than people that only cared about looks-which she really didn't have going for her-and money-which her Uncle had plenty of… If only she wasn't such an embarrassment to him, trying to fit in with a world that didn't want to let her…
Back to her point, though, Grace had been her sole companion and best friend, and then she had been gone, just like that… Call it a human flaw, but it had left a bitter, hollow place in Wynn she wasn't ready to explore yet.
Especially not when she felt like she was about to hurl a lunch that had never even existed… Ugh… She felt, it was safe to say, horrible, and if something didn't change soon…it wasn't going to be pretty.
Change of thought!
"I'm glad to see you, too, Grace. It's been rather… well, rather stiff and boring in Boston without you," Wynn told her.
Grace snorted. "Oh, I can only imagine. Tell me, is Father still babbling on about how I've disgraced his name and all that other ludicrous whatnot?" Grace shook her head. "Of course he is… And I can only imagine its gotten worse, what with you coming out here now and all."
Wynn glanced sidelong at her, raising an eyebrow. "You have no idea. Whatever hope he had was dashed when I told him I was going out here to see you and get my story. Of course, he thinks I'll fail, which is the only reason he let me come, but he's probably wondering how he was fortunate enough to get both a daughter and a niece that were such disappointments."
And while it didn't bother her to admit she was a disappointment to her uncle because she was used to being one, she could see it did Grace. Her pretty face was turned in a sad, wistful expression, and Wynn felt a twinge of regret that she hadn't thought before she spoke, a bad characteristic of hers she had yet to tame and probably never would. Wynn sighed, and placed a hand on Grace's shoulder.
"He'll come around. He does still love you."
Grace took a deep breath, and Wynn removed her hand. The sentiments were over it seemed, because within the next moment Grace smiled warmly, happy, and announce merrily, "We're here."
Wynn looked ahead of her, looking at the place she would call home for however long she had to. It wasn't much from what she could see, but then again she lived in a nice manor in Boston's high society. There was a two story house, clean and painted white with a white-washed fence around it. A little way away, there was another building, smaller than the first. It was one-story and made of wood with a covered porch and three steps. There was also a large barn, and several corrals, and, in the very distance, she could make at two figures, one taller than the other, the shorter making its way toward them, while the other walked the other direction.
Was one of these figures Mr. Cross, the focus of her story?
If she hadn't have felt so sick, still, she would have felt a thrill of excitement. As it was, that excitement just turned to sick nerves, and she was sure she really was going to lose her breakfast at any moment. She swallowed hard, not good.
In front of the smaller building-a small house, it appeared-Grace pulled the wagon to a jerky stop, almost making Wynn groan as her stomach lurched as well. Grace didn't notice her discomfort, however, smiling widely-bigger than she had when Grace had seen her -as Mr. Fulton walked up to them, catching Grace as she jumped down.
"Hey, there, little lady," he said in a drawled voice, hat pulled low; "you're looking mighty pretty, today."
Grace snorted, swatting her husband, and kissed him swiftly on the cheek. Wynn watched fixated at their exchange, never having seen such obvious affection before. And when Grace turned toward to her, drawing Mr. Fulton's attention to her, she felt embarrassed to be caught watching.
"Gregory, this is my cousin, Wynn. You remember her, don't you?"
She sure remembered him; he hadn't changed in the least. He was still tall, still lean, still had shaggy brown hair and warm brown eyes, and a nice warm smile. He was a nice guy, but Wynn being Wynn wasn't fully ready to accept him as her cousin's husband. Call it that old bitterness, if one would. All the same, when Mr. Fulton tipped his hat toward her, giving her a friendly smile, she smiled back tensely, trying to be as friendly as possible for Grace's sake. No need to be rude, it's not like he had meant to do anything to her. And as much as she tried to not begrudge him for falling in love with her cousin and vice versa, she just couldn't. Therefore, she pushed the thoughts out of her head.
"Hello, Mr. Fulton, it's good to see you again."
He nodded. "Likewise, Ms. Wynn," he greeted. "Gracey here always talks about you. It's nice to finally see you out here." And Wynn blushed a little harder, cheeks turning a dark pink. Wasn't he just polite? "Let me help you down and get your bags."
And before she could protest and say she was fine and could do it herself, Mr. Fulton was by her side of the wagon, grabbing her around the waist and helping her down. Quickly, she detached herself from him, straightening her skirts, mumbling out a quick, curt thank you before going around to the back of the wagon to get out her two travel bags filled with only necessary items-a few dresses, brush, some hair pins, paper, pencils and pens, and books-of course books.
"It's okay, Ms. Wynn, I'll get those and take them up to your room while Grace gets you acquainted with the ranch, and you rest. No doubt you're awfully tired from all the travellin'."
And while Wynn wanted to protest, Mr. Fulton had already gotten her bags out, and she forced her mouth to stay closed. No need to be difficult, and make them wish she wasn't there, yet. She was sure there would come a point where they wished she wasn't there, having a tendency to only get in the way, so she'd been told several times, but she was trying to make a good impression, and she really didn't want to be rude. So she let Grace's cowboy take her bags and carry them up to the two-story house, disappearing inside.
"So, you all live together, I assume?" She asked, not all that comfortable with the thought of being, sleeping, and living around so many unfamiliar men-never mind it was only two. She fidgeted, her face showing her discomfort at the thought.
Grace chuckled, and started to lead her around. "No, only Greg and I live in the house. Buck stays in the old bunk house, that building right there." The smaller house.
Her face contorted in confusion. "But, I thought this was his ranch?"
"It is. As I've told you before, Buck's a decent man. He let us live in the house, giving us the room and privacy a married couple needs, and he took the bunk house."
Wynn made a silent "oh," and managed to follow Grace as she kept pointing everything out to her, explaining life on the ranch. It must not have been just Grace's hectic driving, because her stomach was no better, and she still felt like she was going to upchuck her breakfast at any moment. She felt hot and uncomfortable, and tugged at the high neckline of her blue dress, stepping into the barn and wishing Grace hadn't taken her in there.
While it was clean, it still smelled like barn animals lived in there, and with the mid-summer heat outside, it was stifling in the barn, utterly suffocating. She felt dizzy, and touched a clammy hand to her head, hoping it'd pass. Grace still had yet to notice her disposition, pointing out and telling her the names of the few horses still left in the large barn.
"This is Dapper," Grace said, pointing to a grey and white spotted mare that was in the very back of a stall, dark eyes watching her and Grace cautiously. "She's real shy and skittish. Buck doesn't think she'll be good for breeding because of how sick she was when he found her one night roaming around. He didn't have the heart to kill her, though, so he just nursed her back to health, and has a hope that maybe one day she will be. He's the only one she'll let near her, not that I'm surprised, though. He does have a way with animals…"
Grace moved on, though, and Wynn followed, struggling to breath, blinking hard, little dots starting to swim in her eyes. Not good, not good, not good. "Grace…"
"And this is Oliver," Grace said, reaching out to pet a plain brown steed. "He's mine. Greg gave him to me as a present when I first moved out here, and taught me how to ride. You should learn. Maybe Greg could teach you, too. He's an excellent teacher, he really is."
And if there was something Wynn absolutely hated about her cousin, it was she couldn't stop talking when she started and when she did start everything else kind of became oblivious to her, like for instance, the fact that she was about to vomit her guts up or pass out one. That breakfast definitely must not have agreed with her, Wynn thought, thinking not so pleasant thoughts as Grace pointed out a third horse, a gorgeous palomino with warm eyes, which neighed softly when they approached.
"She was Catalina's," Grace told her, voice hushed, saddened, confusing her.
She looked back at the horse. Catalina? Who was Catalina? "Catalina?" The horse snorted, and Wynn reached out, going to pet her as she waited for Grace to explain, and-
A loud thump followed by a strong hand descending on hers in an almost most painful, vice-like grip, had Wynn gasping in fright and shock, wrenching out of the grip and swiveling dizzyingly around to look at who had grabbed her, the abrupt spinning doing nothing for her stomach or head, which was pounding now in tune with her erratic heart. And as she looked up at the tall, dark, angry looking man with hard, dark, molasses-colored eyes, and broad shoulders, her breath caught, and she heard Grace say, "Oh, Buck, this is my cousin…" but then her stomach lurched, her vision faded, everything spinning as all the oxygen in her being seemed to deplete, and her world went black, only vaguely aware of strong arms catching her as she fell.
"How is she?" Greg asked as Grace joined him and Buck out by the barn.
Buck didn't look at Grace as she replied, her voice conveying the concern she felt for the girl who had collapsed in his arms; "Resting, finally. She has a slight fever. The doctor said she would be fine, though, and just to let her rest for a week or two and to make sure she eats and keep her hydrated. He said it was probably just from traveling so far and not eating properly. Wynn's not really accustomed to being out of Boston, so…" And she trailed off.
And why he ever let her come to his ranch to write a stupid story was beyond Buck as well, because he was sorely beginning to regret it. He didn't have time to take care of a sick girl. He didn't have time to worry about some pampered city child nosing around his business, his personal life, didn't have time to answer some nosy journalist's questions about his life and success as a horse rancher and breeder. He didn't have time for it, he didn't want to have time for it, and he sure as hell didn't want her here. And damn Grace for talking him into it. Damn it all to hell. He didn't want her here, and he was dead set against it-dead set against her.
His jaw hardened as he thought about the barn incident. He had been up in the loft, just sitting and thinking when Grace and the girl she called Wynn came in. Grace, of course, had been talking animatedly, never noticing that her cousin looked like she was about to pass out. Not even really being able to see the girl's face, it had been obvious that something had been wrong with her. Grace, of course, didn't notice. While he was fond of the woman, she was a bit absentminded at times… not that Buck cared about a simpering journalist, a simpering city girl. He didn't. It was only when Grace had taken her to see Starlight and he had heard her name being mentioned that he made his presence known, an anger growing in him, an anger that some little girl would dare speak her name, would dare try and touch something she had loved so much. Anger that Grace was going to let her, that apparently she had forgotten all about Catalina. Anger… anger… he felt it rage through him even now, and maybe if it wasn't so strong, maybe if he was always consumed by it, and maybe if he didn't hate the girl so much, then maybe, maybe, he would have felt a little sorry for scaring her like he did, for hurting her hand because he knew he had. Because, though he hadn't meant to grab her to hard, he had, and he knew the strength he had, and she was so small, so delicate.
His lips tightened, thinking of the small woman-smaller than Lou even, with mousy brown hair and a pert little nose and a rosebud of a mouth, thin glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, hiding big green eyes-the only thing that even linked Grace and her as family. Because where Grace was tall with blonde hair, a pretty face, and lovely curves, Wynn was the exact opposite, sporting pasty pale skin, freckles, and a thin body-not much too look at all, most would think. She was the exact opposite of Grace, indeed; the exact opposite of her… and he hated her and her mousy, delicate features and he wanted her gone…gone before she tainted anything else.
He was being unreasonable, and he was being cruel. He knew it, but he didn't care. He had stopped caring about a lot of things years ago because they just didn't matter. He lived and he would die. It was a simple thought process, and the longing he felt for the latter kept growing more and more as the days passed.
"Maybe once she feels better, you'll talk to her, Buck?" Grace asked, pulling him from his dark thoughts. He glanced at Grace, taking a minute to grasp what she was asking him. Talk to her… talk to the mousy girl called Wynn, her cousin-her cousin that was plain and boring and that he didn't want to talk to at all. "It means a lot to her, to me, that you let her come. We really appreciate it."
And he hated her even more for making Grace guilt him in to talking to her, letting her stay instead of telling her to take the next stage coach or train out of Sweetwater, away from him. He didn't want to talk to her. He didn't want to have anything to do with her. He wanted to be alone. He didn't want her here.
"Once she feels better," he replied instead, voice quiet and hard, and turned to leave Grace and Greg alone.
Why do this to yourself? Just send her home. Don't put yourself through this again.
Buck growled low in his throat, controlling his emotions until he was safely away from Grace and Greg's prying eyes and shut away in the bunk house. Then he unleashed them, unleashed them like he did every so often now and again when he couldn't stand the anger and hate coursing through him, poisoning him, any longer. Fist drew back in a tightly, he let it collide with the closest wooden wall, thankful for the dark solitude he relished in. He fought back the growl, the scream, the curses building up, and let his hands, his fists do the talking, let them show the world the violence within him. And only when his knuckles were cracked and bleeding did he stop, standing there in the darkened room breathing hard, dark-dark eyes burning brightly with cold, unreleased anger. It would never be enough. Nothing would ever be enough, not even after five years.
And then his shoulders slumped… five years… had it really only been five years? It felt like an eternity that she had been gone, and yet it still only felt like yesterday that he had returned home to find his life destroyed. He let a shaky breath out, feeling defeated all over again… feeling numb and dead… it never stopped, it never would stop, and he wasn't sure if he wanted it to. This was his punishment for what he was, for the pain and destruction he brought to his loved ones… this anger and this hate and this dead feeling that wrapped its cold, icy, unforgiving fingers around his being, around his soul, killing him slowly…slowly…not nearly fast enough. And then his knees buckled, and he didn't stop himself as he thudded to the ground, pain thumping in his knee caps. It didn't register to him, though, and he ignored it, just sitting there in the dark house, feeling helpless and utterly alone and defeated… and he couldn't help but miss her… But then a mousy-haired and featured woman appeared in his mind suddenly, erasing her from his thoughts and his eyes and his heart hardened even more, determined, and he growled.
If nothing else was certain to him, this was: he didn't want her there…for more than one reason.
She groaned, brow furrowing as she came to, the light pervading the room hurting her head. She forced her eyes opened, squinting, and found herself in a small, but cozy room. A chair sat in one corner, the semi-soft bed she laid on was in another and a dresser and mirror against the opposite wall, a single window beside of it, a stand with a basin pitcher of water beside of it as well. She was covered in a soft blue and white quilt, and she saw her bags sitting next to the door. She frowned, pushing herself up. What had happene-
And then she groaned a second time, feeling embarrassed as the memory of what happened came back to her. Grace had been showing her around, she had felt sick, they were in the barn, and then Mr. Cross had appeared, and then she had passed out… and, she was assuming because she didn't feel sore or like she had crashed painfully against dirty barn flooring, that he had caught her, and from the memory of strong, strong arms catching her… she didn't figure it was far from the truth. And she groaned a third time. What an absolutely delightful way to make a great first impression: faint in their arms, ill and disgusting.
A sound of irritation passed her lips, and she threw the quilt off her, touching her bare feet on the floor. Good thing it was the middle of summer, else she'd probably freeze with the thin night gown she was wearing. She stood up, and walked over to the mirror. Her skin felt sticky, so no doubt she had been sweating, and she still felt a bit sluggish, but she felt fine otherwise. Her stomach was holding well, and she didn't feel the urge to faint or vomit, which was good. Looking in the mirror, though, she made a face. Used to never been pretty, now she looked right down awful. Her brown hair was a mess, and her pale skin was even paler now. She had small bags under her eyes, and she sighed, looking away…
Wynn grabbed one of the wash clothes on the table with the water pitcher and wetted it, using it to rub her face and throat. It refreshed her, and she set off to get dressed and make herself as presentable as could…as well as save whatever was left of her dignity and respect with Mr. Cross. She took out a simple, dark green dress with a full skirt and slipped into it. She did up the little bronze buttons, and set to work on her hair, brushing the pin straight, thin locks until all the tangles were out. She put it back in a tight bun on the back on her head, a few pieces hanging around her thin, narrow face, and sighed-it was as good as it would get… and then she slipped into her black boots before exiting the guest room, looking for her cousin.
It wasn't hard to locate her. In fact, she was pretty certain that it was Grace that found her instead of the other way. As she was exiting the house, Grace was walking out of the bunk house, and once she saw her, her brows flew up and she exclaimed, "Wynn! What are you doing out of bed? You should be resting."
Wynn brushed it aside. She had a story to get, and she was anything if not determined. "I'm fine, really. There's no need to fuss over me. I'm a big girl, remember?"
"Of course, of course," Grace said, brushing aside what Wynn had just said. Being the eldest of the two girls, Grace had always seemed to have a certain protectiveness over Wynn. Perhaps it was because Wynn had always been the shy one, the timid one unless she was especially angry, or maybe it was because she was all Wynn had in the world besides her Uncle after her parents died. Whatever the reason, Wynn knew Grace would never change. Grace was a mother hen, and as she ushered her into the bunk house, as if afraid she'd catch a cold from the humid heat outside, Wynn let her, only mildly annoyed because it seemed no one believed she could take care of herself.
And of course, inside there just happened to be Mr. Fulton and Mr. Cross sitting at the table, chatting and eating what looked like breakfast-or maybe lunch? Wynn felt her cheeks grow hot as they looked up at her, and Mr. Cross's dark, heavy gaze settled on her, weighing her down. She could feel him burning holes in her, and she only averted her eyes to the floor, fingers playing with the skirt of her dress.
"Well, good afternoon, Ms. Wynn," she heard Mr. Fulton greet her warmly. "You look better. Have a seat and join us. We were just about to have lunch."
And with a sharp nudge from Grace, Wynn sat down, feeling uncomfortable under Mr. Cross' gaze… she could feel him watching her every move, and when she risked a quick glance up, she was right. He was watching her, expression hard and dark and utterly unreadable, face outlined with his too-dark, long, silken hair. He's an Indian! It surprised her, Grace having never mentioned that when she invited her, and whether her surprise showed in her green eyes or not, his eyes hardened even more, jaw clenching tightly. Her cheeks grew hotter, utterly embarrassed now, and she quickly looked away, staring hard into her lap, trying not to hyperventilate.
Way to go, Winifred, pass out in his arms and then insult him! You're on a roll, really. And she inwardly groaned, not hearing Grace and Mr. Fulton's conversation whirl around her. Apparently, neither of them noticed the tense awkwardness between her and Mr. Cross. How, she didn't know. His anger and dislike of her could be cut with a knife, as well as the tenseness radiating off them.
"Here you go. Eat up. The doctor says to keep you properly nourished and hydrated," Grace stated, placing large sandwich and glass of water down in front of her. "If I'd known you were up, I'd fixed you something different."
He still continued to glower at her darkly, and she just managed out a, "Um, no, really it looks delicious." And whether it really did or not, she didn't know. It wasn't the sandwich she was boring holes into.
"Em," Grace said. "Well, come dinner, I'll make sure you eat properly. Do you feel at all better?"
Wynn looked up then, refusing to look at Mr. Cross at all costs, and reassured Grace with: "Oh, yes, much better. I don't feel sick at all. It was probably just travel sickness. You know how I get…" and she trailed off, glancing at Mr. Cross despite herself. He wasn't eating, just staring-glowering-at her, and she glanced away from his eyes, landing on his hands, quickly looking away, letting her gaze fall her own hand. She remembered his brief grip on her, powerful and more painful than gentle…and that was just a brief moment. She didn't want to know what he could do to her for real… and to think Grace had said he was nice?! So, far, in her brief time being here and being away from home, all she felt was unwelcomed. Then again… she had accidently insulted him… She'd just have to apologize in private some time later, and hopefully remedy the problem.
Grace sat beside of her, taking a bite of her own sandwich, and suggested, "Buck has promised to talk to you later today. Maybe, if he doesn't object that is, you could accompany him around the ranch for your article."
She looked at her, and then at Mr. Cross; he had looked away from her and toward Grace at her suggestion, and feeling Wynn's gaze, glanced back at her with slightly narrowed eyes. "I'm sure she don't want to just walk around, watchin' me work," Mr. Cross said, obviously not okay with her tagging along. "Probably better if she stays here and rests anyway."
Wynn frowned, brow furrowed. Just because he didn't like her, didn't mean she wasn't going to do what she came here to do. And who was he to tell her what she wanted. He just didn't want her around, but she was here to get her article, and she would… besides, this would be a good time to try to apologize to him… "Actually, I feel perfectly fine, and I'm sure, granted you don't have any problems with it, watching what you do would give me a better insight into life in the West."
And if only glares could kill… she swallowed, shrinking away as much as she could without letting anyone notice. "I think it's a good idea, Buck. I mean, girl says she's fine and if she looks fine, I say let her follow you 'round," Mr. Fulton chimed in, mouth full. "You may even could show her a thing or two."
And she knew she had won. There was no way he could object and not be considered rude, and she almost felt a little guilty for trapping him in taking her with him, especially when he growled out, "Fine, I'm going to the barn. Be out there soon," and left without touching his sandwich without so much as a bite. Her shoulders slumped, and she looked down. This wasn't how she had wanted things to go; she had wanted him to like her, and that fact that he didn't… well, she didn't know. It didn't set well with her for whatever reason, and her stomach churned, but thankfully not in nausea.
"Don't worry about him, Wynn," Grace told her, smiling.
"Yeah, he's just having a bad day," Mr. Fulton agreed. "But I'm sure with a pretty lady like you helping him today, he'll be singin' by the time he returns."
And she smiled tightly at the man across from her, knowing he was being polite. "Thank you, Mr. Fulton-"
She nodded. "Thank you, Greg." But for some reason, she was thinking Mr. Cross didn't share those same sentiments. She sighed, and forced herself to eat. Oh, well…
He was furious.
Beyond furious, actually. All he was trying to do was stay away from her, and doing well, until, suddenly, in she waltzes with Grace behind her, looking all shy and wide-eyed and-and-and… he growled, kicking at a one of the stalls. And then, after looking at him… He could see it in her eyes… everything she thought. She hadn't realized he was part Indian until that moment, and it had shown in her eyes, the shock and surprise and… while there had been no disgust, it angered him regardless, and he loathed her presence just a little more. Catalina had never once been surprised or put off by him being part Kiowa…But now he had been cornered in taking her out for the day, and she-she-she-the little…
"Urgh," he muttered, and walked over to Spirit, Warrior's offspring, and began to suit him up. If she was going to come along, then he wasn't going to make it easy. Maybe it would make her go home. She didn't look like a very tough person, and he was sure if he could scare her enough…if he was mean enough… she'd be gone by tomorrow.
And just as he was finishing saddling up Spirit, he felt her enter; not even having to look up to know it was truth and not just his imagination. He felt her hesitatingly make her way over to him, obviously not sure about this. He knew she knew that he didn't want her to come. It had been obvious to him back at the bunk house, and why no one else could see the obvious tension between them, he didn't know-because it was there, and it was very much obvious. However, despite the fact that she knew, she had persisted to come, working up some kind of nerve… probably just to get at you. It's what she's trying to do…
And despite the fact that it sounded totally ludicrous and screamed paranoia, he wasn't brandishing the thought aside. By now the thought that the world was out to get him was too much embedded into his mind, and she was a part of the world-a part of white man's world, the one that wanted to destroy him… just like his Indian side did, too…
"M-Mr. Cross?" he heard her ask, unsure. He ignored her, doing anything he could to avoid looking at or speaking to her. "Excuse me for intruding, but, um, I think we maybe have gotten off on the wrong foot. I'm Wynn Stafford-"
Buck interrupted her, not facing her as he said coolly, "I know who you are, Ms. Stafford."
He didn't comment, just ordered, "If you're going, you'd better get a horse and saddle up quick. I don't want to be slowed down."
And glancing briefly over at Wynn, he saw the confusion twisted on her face as she looked at the saddle and reigns and then to the horses, wondering which to saddle and how to go about doing that. Figures. He sighed in aggravation, and brushed past her rudely, grabbing a saddle and walking over to a sweet-tempered mare that didn't scare easy. He may not have liked her, but he didn't want her to break her neck trying to ride a wild horse while trying to keep up with him. She wouldn't have to do much leading with Holly, just riding because he had an inkle that she didn't do leadership well…just call it a hunch…
He saddled the mare, and then turned to her, giving her an unfriendly, dirty look before going over to Spirit and swinging up into the saddle gracefully. Wynn looked from him, to the horse, and he saw her gulp, apprehension growing on her face and in those pretty, too-big green eyes. And he thought… was she intimidated by horses? Could she even ride? Perhaps she'd change her mind then and not follow him. Besides, it wasn't like he actually had to go anywhere; he was just hoping to deter her from coming with him.
"Changed your mind?" he drawled none too nicely.
She glanced up at him, frowned, and he saw that same determination shine brightly in her bright eyes, the only thing interesting about her. They were bright vivid green, easily seen now that she wasn't wearing her glasses, though even wearing them it was hard to notice her eyes, like wide saucers-soft with something naive and innocent still lingering in them... Glasses definitely didn't suit her, though he supposed she didn't need them all the time, not that he was really complaining… because he didn't care. At all. All he wanted was for her to leave him alone and be gone. As it was, though, she only straightened and clumsily attempted to climb onto the horse.
And he nearly found the scene amusing-nearly. He raised an eyebrow, watching her struggle to climb atop the mare, her skirts only hindering her further. Wynn wasn't a big person by a long shot, so he had given her the littlest horse around, but it still seemed like she had trouble. He sighed, exasperated, and climbed off Spirit, walking over to her, and before she could ask him what he was doing, he had grabbed her teeny waist, lifted her up easily, and sat her atop the saddle, her skirts riding her legs to expose smooth, pale flesh. He diverted his gaze, glaring at her, watching as crimson stained her cheeks yet again, embarrassed that he had helped her… or was it because he was an Indian, and he felt his gaze hardened, and she visibly shied away.
Good. At least now she didn't think he actually liked her or anything, because he didn't. At all.
Then he was back on top of his horse. "Keep up or fall behind." And of course he wouldn't actually let anything happen to her. Grace would never forgive him, but it was a nice threat that would hopefully do something to make her want to go home after this. So far, none of his attempts had worked, only seemed to spur her on, odd because she seemed like such a timid person, easy to intimidate, and it seemed like that was the case whenever he physically tried to impose upon her. However, one mention of being left behind and she was annoyingly determined to tag along, to see the "Great West" and get her damned story. Maybe that was all she cared about, her story. Maybe that was what spurred her on. She didn't seem to be passionate about anything else, but then again, he couldn't really fairly judge, now could he? No, he couldn't. But what was fair in the world? What was great about the West?
Not a damned thing.
And Ms. Wynn Stafford would shortly find that out. He had no doubt about it.
She was lagging behind. Every time he turned to check on her, he saw her struggling to stay atop the gently trotting mare. He shook his head, pulling Spirit to a halt. They'd been riding for a little over an hour, no destination in mind, only the thought of seeing how long she would last before she requested to go back home. No doubt she was sore and needed a break. He could see it on her face, though she seemed to refuse to say it, and he sighed. Damn…
Once Wynn was beside of him, he reached out, catching the reigns and her hands and helped pull the horse to a stop. It wasn't hard, but seeing how much difficulty she was having just trying to ride it… Just as quickly as he had laid his hands atop hers, though, he jerked them away, not like the burning sensation scorching his palms. He glowered, looking at her from beneath his black hat. She looked tired and extremely uncomfortable, and he wondered how she breathed with high how the collar of her dress was. Perspiration beaded her forehead, and wisps of wild hair had escaped her tight bun. She was quite a sight, and if it'd been any other time at any other place-
"We'll take a short break. There's a spring over there. Freshen up; do whatever it is you need to do. I'll tend the horses."
Buck dismounted, taking both Spirit's and Holly's reigns, and watched as Wynn slid off the horse, tripping over her long skirts, and bumping into him. He grunted, and she blushed, muttering a hasty sorry. He didn't say anything, only turned and walked to a nice little shaded clearing beside the spring he had been talking about. Wynn followed him; he could feel her at his back, looking at him uncertainly; finally, she walked a little ways away from him down the spring to where she was hidden-or thought she was hidden. Buck could still see her as he tended Holly and Spirit, cooling down himself and enjoying the gentle and peaceful silence around them. Just the birds and the light breeze and nature… and, of course, Wynn, who was glancing furtively around, making sure no one was present, before undoing her shoes and taking off her socks, pulling her skirts up way high, and wading in the water to cool down.
He snorted, looked away, before looking back, watching her thoroughly enjoy herself in the water, a smile on her face while a sparkle shined in her eyes, her nose crinkling in innocent satisfaction as she enjoyed the cool water and flowers near the bank. She was an odd one. That was sure, and he didn't understand her at all… and he didn't want to. Resolve set, he looked away, tying the horses up, and walking the opposite direction of Wynn for some much needed personal time.
Coming upon a favorite thinking spot, he sat down beside a large, gnarled tree in a groove, protected by its thick, upraised roots. He leaned his head back, looking at the wide, softly running water, and closed his eyes… he still remembered the day he had met Catalina… It was a place similar to this one, a quiet, peaceful little brook… He had been wondering around, trying to find his place in the world, and needed time to stop when he happened upon it… and a young woman in nothing more than a bodice and under garments. She had not been embarrassed, only confidant, boorish, a little cocky, but cautious, and then when he had followed her out of curiosity down in Texas, a little place that reminded of the time him and Jimmy had followed Teaspoon down to Texas, she had attacked him, demanding why he was following her…and he had been captivated by her… She was unlike anything he had ever been around, and…
He opened his eyes, feeling hollow, and he growled. Off in the distance, he heard Wynn shriek, splashing around, and his mood only darkened. He had almost stopped hating her along the ride, accepting her as just another nuisance that he wanted gone, but now the loathing was back… and, in all fairness, he couldn't really say why…
But can't you?
He growled again, and violently tossed a nearby rock into the creek, watching detachedly as it splashed. No. He wasn't going on that path. He hated her because she was here to intrude on his life, to invade what was and destroy it. It may not have made much sense to anyone else, but he knew. She was there to unsettle everything. From the moment his sweet Catalina's name had passed her lips, he had hated her. She didn't have the right to talk about her. Didn't have the right to touch her things… didn't have the right to be here. She wasn't anything like Catalina, the completely opposite, and she shouldn't be here to ruin and disturb Catalina's memory… But she was, and he wanted her gone… because it was for the best, and he knew it.
He took a deep breath, getting himself together. He would just have to make sure she realized that he didn't want her there anymore. This wasn't what he had agreed to, and she had to leave. He wasn't interested in helping her story along, or helping her get her fame. He wanted to be left alone again, and-
He jerked up, alert, as Wynn's frightened shout split the air.
And she sounded frightened, and, when he heard sinister and masculine laughter, his blood froze and coldness spread through him. Oh, no.
To be continued...