Disclaimer: The Young Riders are the copyright of Ogiens/Kane Productions. I have borrowed the characters for fanfic enjoyment only. No infringement was intended.

Authors note: A special thanks to several people. First, to Starbright for encouraging me to even attempt writing a fanfic and for being a great beta-reader. Second, to Aimee for posting my story at "Kidnation" also. Finally, to Vicki for constantly bugging me to write more. Thanks for your support, ideas, and suggestions (she's not even a Kid fan, that's what I call support (g)).


Chapter 1

A very pregnant Lou waddled into her bedroom. Only a few weeks till delivery and her next child would enter into the world. It had been eight years since she and the Kid were blessed with Hunter James. Hunter's birth was a little strenuous on Lou's body and it had taken her that long to conceive again. Sure she would have loved to have more children, but was thankful to God for the little one on the way. She and Kid had prayed fervently to have another child. Chuckling to herself she realized how religious she and Kid had become since their wedding. Lou and Kid never were church going people, but when Hunter was born, there was something that sparked a desire to reach out to the divine. Yes, they both believed in God. But both felt that by putting their faith in God, they would be able to become better parents. They were right.

Lou hoped deep down that this baby would be a girl, but did not voice her opinion. She knew that if she was blessed with another little boy that he'd be wrapped around her finger just as Hunter was.

Teresa took a hiatus from nursing school to help Lou prepare, to help with delivery, and to help maintain the household once the bundle of joy was born. Tessa and Lou worked diligently to prepare the nursery again. They white washed the walls. They placed the elegant wood crib in the corner. The baseboard was hand carved with horses. Kid had painstakingly manufactured a matching rocking chair that he gave Lou on their wedding anniversary in preparation for the blessed occasion. Smiling, Lou remembered the sheepish grin Kid gave her when she discovered it by mistake out in the barn. Kid was proud of his handiwork, but didn't want Lou to know how hard it really was for the horseman to create it. In the other corner was a small chest of drawers that Rachel had given them as a hand me down after their wedding.

At that moment, Lou's mind was on the chest of drawers. As she waddled across her bedroom, she stopped at the pine chest with the initials K&L carved on top, located at the foot of her bed. Shecarefully lifted up the latch and opened the lid. The aroma of pine filled her senses. The smell reminded her of Christmas. Her heart felt like a giddy child. She thought it ironic that her anxiety for her new child to be born was the same anxious feeling a child gets on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa Claus.

Pausing, she thought about how she was going to rummage through the chest. Finally, she gingerly plopped down on her knees. She moved the wedding quilt which she and Kid only used during the winter. The treasure she was looking for was beneath the quilt – baby clothes. These were the last items Lou was to place in the nursery, in the chest of drawers. Gathering all of Hunter's old baby clothes, she carefully examined each piece of clothing. Each one reminded her of a special memory. Placing the beloved clothing under her nose, Lou professed she could still smell Hunter's baby aroma even after eight years of isolation.

Lou guarded her swelling stomach as she stood up with the clothes. As soon as she was full stature at last, a small piece of paper fell onto the floor.

"Oh, great," cursed Lou. "How am I supposed to pick that up in my condition." Lou yelled, "Tessa? Tessa?"

No one answered, so Lou decided to finish her task at hand and slipped into the nursery to place the precious articles away. Returning to her room, she immediately recognized what had fallen to the floor:

I love you Mama!!

It was a little note that Hunter had written for her the previous Valentine's day. The note brought a few tears of happiness to Lou's eyes.

"Darn pregnancy always makes me more emotional than normal," Lou stated out loud with no one around but the unborn baby to hear.

Although, she knew that the note would have made her cry even without the pregnancy. Lou fondly remembered how shy Hunter acted as he gave her the note with the chocolates. Earning money from helping Buck with the cattle, Hunter had saved it to buy the delicious gift. Lou knew the sacrifice Hunter had made for her Valentine's gift. Hunter much preferred to work with the horses, just like his father. She also thanked Buck for allowing him to earn the money.

After a moment of nostalgia, Lou snapped back to reality and wondered why that note had been misplaced in the chest. Lou had the habit of putting all of her special letters together and she knew that this note in particular should have been with them. Knowing the value of the note, she bent down as strategically as possible in order to pick it up. Returning to the pine chest, she probed around in order to find the rest of her special letters.

After moving her collection of Charles Dickens to the side, she found her letters tied up with a blue ribbon securing them.

Chapter 2

Lou tenderly picked up the pile of letters as if they were priceless glass. Without thinking she shut the pine chest and walked into the nursery. Lou comfortably sat down in the rocking chair that Kid had created for her. She pulled meticulously at the blue ribbon that bound all of the letters together. She opened the letter at the bottom of cherished pile. It read:

Dear Kid,

I don't ever think I will actually have the nerve to give you this letter. But I just wanted to thank you for making me feel special last night. When I saw all those ladies in their dresses and the young men doting over them, I couldn't help but feel sorry for myself. I have never regretted joining the Pony Express and dressing like a boy. I love my life and my new family, it's just I wanted to be doted on too. I wanted to feel special. When you came over to me and told me to get some fresh air, I just thought you wanted just that. But you saw past that. You saw my inner feelings and asked me to dance. You made me feel special. Then the unimaginable happened, you kissed me. I can still feel your gentle lips against mine and your strong arms around me. I thought I was floating on air. I never expected a night that I believed would be one of the worst in my life, turn out to be the best memory I have so far. Thank you kind sir, for making me feel wanted and special.

Louise

Lou never did give that letter to Kid while they still rode for the express. Smiling slightly, she reminisced how special she felt that night. Even though she wasn't dressed like a lady that night, she felt like one. Lou recalled pulling away the first time Kid had kissed her. The experience was so new, that she wasn't sure how to react. The only thing logically she could think of was to push him away. Kid hadn't made too many moves to show Lou he was indeed interested in her, so in her mind that first kiss of the night shocked her. She was slightly embarrassed thinking the whole world would know that Kid kissed her. She was also afraid someone would actually walk out on them and her disguise would be blown. When Kid went in for the second kiss, she threw all caution to the wind and let her desire take over. She had only kissed Kid once before when he promised to keep her secret. It felt good to be in the arms of someone who cared.

Lou recalled how new Kid's touch and kiss was back then. How her heart started beating faster and butterflies somehow took control in her stomach. Even though his touch and kiss were no longer new, but secure and familiar, Lou's heart still beat faster. Butterflies still seemed to make an appearance every once and a while. Especially when Kid looked at her longingly.

Lou was hesitant to even show Kid the letter even after they were married. She thought Kid would think it was stupid that she'd write a letter and not give it to him. To poke fun at Lou, Kid acted hurt at first, but when he read the letter, he blushed. Lou remembered laughing at his humility. Admitting that he enjoyed dancing and kissing her that night, Kid also made a confession to her after reading the letter. It was that night when he realized how much he wanted Lou to be a part of his life and future. He was almost ashamed that it had taken him so long to figure it out.

Chapter 3

Carefully refolding her letter to the Kid, Lou pulled out the next one. She beamed as she remembered who it was from. Not long after Rachel had arrived at the station, Lou wrote to Emma. She explained how Rachel came into the rider's lives and how straight forward Rachel had been with her at the beginning. Lou also mentioned that things between her and the Kid were progressing. This precious message was Emma's reply:

My dear Lulabell,

My how time does fly. I hope everything is working out with Rachel. It sounds like she has got a good head on her shoulders and is taken care of the boys. I am also grateful that she is your friend. My only regret in leaving Sweetwater was leaving you and the boys, but mostly you. I can't wait till you tell me all of the goin ons between you and the Kid. But never forget Louise to be honest with the Kid. And make sure he treats you like a lady.

Sam and I have some wonderful news and I wanted you to be the first to know. We are going to have a baby. You may tell the others if you like. But woman to woman I wanted to tell you first. Sam is prouder than a huntin dog with its first kill. He dotes over me like I can't do anything or "I'll hurt the baby." I know he's just concerned, but I tell ya, he's driving me nuts. I tell him all the time that I'm just pregnant, not an invalid. I'll let you know when the baby arrives. I'll tell Teaspoon to let you have some time off so you can come and help me out. Lulabell, even though this baby is my flesh and blood, I consider you to be my daughter in every sense of the word. I love and respect you. Just make sure that you respect yourself too.

All my love,
Emma

Pondering on those few paragraphs that Emma had written, Lou realized that Emma must have figured out that she had ghosts haunting her past. Emma advised her to be honest with the Kid. She wondered if things would have been different between them if she would have told Kid sooner about Wicks instead of waiting until after Charolette's appearance. She questioned if they would have broken up in the first place. No, there were more elements to their break up than not revealing her past.

Again, the haunting words of "be honest with the Kid" consumed Lou. Questioning herself, Lou speculated if she and Kid should have talked more about their feelings. In the old days they ended up giving into their desire, instead of communicating. Would added honest and open conversation have prevented their break up? Lou knew that on more than one occasion she skirted around the issues instead of facing it full force. For example, the "haste makes waste" remark that she pulled on the Kid after he proposed the first time. Kid wasn't any better, always telling the other riders what he was feeling instead of going to her first.

Finally, Lou shook her head. There was no use speculating "what if." The past was the past. Besides, looking back, the time apart gave each them a chance to grow up and mature a little. Kid and Lou both talked on occasion how they each developed a greater appreciation for the other when they were separated.

Lou chuckled as her eye caught the phrase "I'll hurt the baby." It must be a father thing with men she thought. Sam worried over Emma, and Kid did the same. Both with Hunter and with the one growing inside. Lou and Emma were both used to hard work. To say slow down was like telling gravity not to let the apple fall from the tree. Lou did slow down the closer Hunter was to be delivered. Recently, she resorted to light house work and brushing down the horses. Even then her back would ache some times so she would have to rest.

Lou searched through the pile and found another letter:

Teaspoon, Louise, and boys,

It's a girl! She came a month early, and is small but doing well. Emma is fine, and I am a proud Papa! We named her Emma Louise Cain, but we call her Emmy Lou. Emma sends her love.

Sam

Sighing, Lou remembered the disappointment she felt in missing the opportunity to help Emma out for the delivery. Along with the baby coming early, Emma delivered not too long after the company transferred the family to Rock Creek. It was too long of a journey and it killed Teaspoon not to let Lou go. Lou was flattered that Sam and Emma would name their daughter after her. Shaking her head in amusement, Lou remembered Cody's reaction to the baby's name. He couldn't believe Sam and Emma wouldn't name their daughter after her superb uncle Cody. He belly ached all day--until Rachel fed him lunch.

Chapter 4

When Lou finished reminiscing about Emma, her heart ached. Lou really missed her. As Lou grabbed the next letter, her heartache increased as she immediately recognized which letter it was. It brought memories that she thought were long gone. However, she still read the letter. It gave her some sort of absolution. It always did.

Dear Lou,

Words cannot describe the utter sorrow that I have caused you. After we broke things off, it was all I could do from thinking about you. By denying what we shared with the boys, was allowing me to fuel my denial that you mattered nothin to me. That, however was all it was–denial. I hurt so much. By saying you meant nothin to me actually took some of my hurt away. That was until I saw the hurt in your eyes knowing you overheard my conversation. I never meant for you to hear, but that does not excuse the fact that I said it. I am so sorry for causing you more pain. If I could, I would reverse time and erase what I said. Heck, if I could I would erase some of my past mistakes and maybe we'd still be together.

Truth is, what we shared meant everything to me, it still does. I realize that if you were all ready seeing someone else, I would be enraged. I don't blame you if you hate me. I must confess, being with Samantha allowed me not to think of you. Deep down I know that I used Samantha so I did not have to dwell on you. I had a gut feeling that Samantha also was using me at the time. Now I know that she used me to run from her past, just as I used her to run from mine. I know that I cannot ask for your forgiveness, but understand that I am truly sorry.

Know that I still care for you. Like Teaspoon says, we are a family and family sticks together.

Kid

Louise dwelled on the letter she just read. Pictures danced through her mind each taking only a fraction of a second as each one passed. She saw Kid being overprotective. Kid proposing at the pond. Herself scolding Kid for involving the other riders in on their relationship. Their breakup in the barn when Kid did not return her hug as they parted. Then the last picture reeled in slow motion as she over heard Kid tell the others that "Lou's sweet...that it never could have worked with the way we work together..." Lou's pain had diminished greatly over the years about that situation. However, it still tugged at her heart. She knew Kid never really meant it. Heck, it was even written in the letter. She thought how untrue the child's saying "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" was. She wished Kid would have just punched her in the stomach for the breakup instead of hearing those words. Knowing Kid would never physically hurt a woman, she laughed at herself for that thought. But at least the physical pain would have healed.

Lou remembered finding the letter hidden under her pillow when she returned from Willow Springs with Jimmy. Jimmy had been a wonderful friend. Just what she needed at the right time. Louise reflected on the time spent with Jimmy in Willow Springs. The dinner and dancing boosted her spirit. She felt feminine again. She felt desired. Even though her life was put in danger by a crazy man who wanted revenge with Jimmy, the trip boosted her confidence and self-esteem.




Upon returning from Willow Springs, Cody had narrated what happened between Kid, Samantha, and Robert. Lou was grateful that she did not have to witness first hand how Kid made an idiot of himself over Samantha -– at least that's how Cody described his behavior. Her gratitude was based solely on the fact that she did not have to watch him act like a love sick puppy towards someone else besides her. She was even more grateful to find out that Samantha had moved away from Sweetwater. Even though she came back more confident, she knew that seeing Kid with Samantha everyday would hurt more than Kid making light of the relationship that they shared. Even though they had broken up, Lou still loved Kid.

Upon her return, Kid never looked or spoke to Lou. He avoided her as much as possible. He averted direct eye contact at supper. Thinking back on it Louise realized that it was probably out of his own guilt. However, at the time, she thought he was totally disgusted with her. Pain tugged at her heart.

It wasn't until that night when she found the letter. She climbed up on her bunk, laid down on her stomach and grabbed her pillow from underneath. Feeling paper crumple together in her hands, she heard a soft crunch. She was curious at what the paper contained. However, she did not want anyone to hear her. Waiting until she was certain that everyone was asleep, she gingerly got out of bed, grabbed a lantern, and headed out to the barn.

Unbeknownst to her, Kid couldn't sleep. He fretted that Lou would never find the note. He dare not move in his bed for fear that Lou would know he was still awake. When he heard the soft crunch he was semi-relieved. Listening to every sound that came from the top bunk, he heard no letter being opened. He questioned to himself, "Why isn't she reading the letter?" Terrible thoughts entered his mind. Maybe she knew it was from him. Maybe she had such hatred for him that she would tear the letter up. Then why couldn't he hear the tearing of paper? Maybe she would never read the letter, and never know how sorry he truly was. When Kid heard Lou climb down, he feigned sleep. He dare opened one eye and saw the letter in one hand and a lantern in the other. Finally, peace came to him. She was going to read the letter.

In the barn Lou read the letter and tears streamed down her face. At first she was angry. "Why couldn't he tell me personally?" Then thinking about it, she realized that she probably would not have allowed Kid to talk to her. It wasn't just Kid who was avoiding her, but she was also avoiding him. She understood that Kid had just poured out his soul to her. As she read the letter for what seemed the hundredth time, her attention was focused on two sentences. The first, "Truth is, what we shared meant everything to me, it still does." The second, "Like Teaspoon says, we are a family and family sticks together." Kid still cared.

Kid was right, Lou could not forgive him at first, but the letter was an absolution. During the following weeks, they were able to become friends again, to really "go back to the way things were." In time, Lou began to trust again. Kid even confided in Lou that he feigned sleep the night she returned and was scared she'd never find the letter.

Chapter 5

Walking into the nursery in pursuit of his wife, Kid was amazed at the site before him. Sitting in the rocker he made, Lou was fast asleep with her head tilted to the side. Looking beautiful and sleeping peacefully, Lou appeared to be a little uncomfortable. He wasn't sure whether to wake her or let her sleep. Deciding to pick her up and carry Lou into the bedroom, he approached her. Seeing an old letter clutched in her hand, Kid grimaced. It was his apology letter. Even though Lou had forgiven him, he still felt awful for ever saying those terrible words. Hanging his head in shame, he knelt down beside the rocker.

With the sense that someone was watching her, Louise awoke. She drifted off, dreaming of her memories about the break up and Kid's forgiveness letter. When she glanced up and saw Kid's head bowed, she was afraid something terrible had happened. Quickly she reached for his arm.

"What is it? What's wrong? Is it Hunter? Has something happened to Hunter?" Lou questioned frantically.

Kid looked up into the panic struck face of his wife. "No, No, nothin's wrong. I just saw the letter you were holding, that's all."

Immediately perceiving that Kid was blaming himself again Lou said, "Kid, you know I have long forgotten Samantha. I have forgiven you. You need to forgive yourself."

"Then why are you reading it again?"

"Stop being such a worry wort. I found all of my letters. I've just been recollecting. You just happened in on the wrong letter. Besides Kid, everything that we went through has made us strong. Our love still prevailed."

Kid smiled his bashful smile. Still kneeling beside Lou, he asked, "Can I take a look at some of those letters?"

Pulling out the next letter, she and Kid read it together:

Dear Louise,

Jeremiah is really sick. The sisters say he's got small pox. What is small pox? I am scared. He has these red marks all over him. He is always hot, but complains he's cold. He gets nawshus, like he is going to throw up. They won't let me see him much because they say I will catch it too. When I do see him I can't go near him and they make me wear an itchy mask over my mouth and nose. I miss you Louise and even though Miah thinks you don't care for us, I know he misses you too. Please come to us. I love you.

Teresa

At first Kid and Lou chuckled at Tessa's child like spelling of nauseous -- "nawshus." Suddenly Lou got quiet.

"Did you know that it was during this time when Teresa decided she wanted to be a nurse when she got older?" Lou asked the Kid.

"I didn't know that."

"Yea, she told me that she felt so helpless. She didn't know how to help Miah, so she decided right then and there that she was going to do everything she could to help sick people become well."

Kid smiled encouragingly, "I can tell she'll make a wonderful nurse. She's already been a great help to you."

Looking at his wife, Kid noticed that her face had grown serious. He could tell that her thoughts were back on the letter. Placing his arm around Lou, they remembered together the horror that engulfed Lou when she received her little sister's letter.




Lou was beside herself. She kept saying over and over, "There is no cure! There is no cure! Miah is gonna die and I can't do a darn thing about it!"

Kid wanted to console her. It had only been about six weeks since the breakup. They were becoming friends again, but he was afraid to do anything that would ruin their rebuilt relationship. Finally, as she was about to lose all control, Kid grabbed her and held her in a tight hug. Lou didn't even flinch, reached around his waist, and buried her head into his chest.

Buck had run into town to tell Teaspoon what had happened. After what seemed an eternity Teaspoon opened the bunkhouse door and saw Kid and Lou embracing. The moment Lou's eyes saw Teaspoon, she pulled away from Kid and immediately clung onto him. She was too emotional to say anything. Teaspoon spoke loving and consoling words to Lou. Eventually Lou's body stopped quaking. Sitting her down, Teaspoon discussed her leave of absence from the Express in order to be with her brother and sister in their time of need.

Lou left that next morning with Ike. The company had a special run to St. Joe so Teaspoon sent Ike on the actual run, with Lou as the "extra gun." Lou questioned whether or not there was a special run, but in reality she did not care. Grateful that someone was with her, she was glad it was Ike. Out of the bunch, Ike was the most compassionate one. He just listened as she berated herself for being such an awful sister. He just listened as she talked about the good memories she had with her brother and sister. He just listened. That's exactly what Lou needed.

When Lou arrived at the orphanage, Ike was right next to her. The sisters informed Louise that Jeremiah was showing no improvement and that they believed he had contracted the deadly disease from a street pedaler. Feeling responsible, Lou's heart sank. If only she had the money earlier, or hadn't left them. Not only did she leave them once, but left again a second time after Boggs was killed. Sensing her frustration, Ike told her that it wasn't her fault and engulfed his arms around her.

Teresa was so excited to see Louise. Running up to her, Teresa gave her a big hug. For the first time the little girl had hope that Jeremiah would live, trusting that her big sister could fix anything. Lou cringed inside knowing that she was useless in helping Miah become better. She hated the fact that her presence gave Teresa a false sense of hope.

Finally, she saw Jeremiah. Just as Teresa explained, Louise tied on a mask and was told only to stand by the door. She was forbidden to go a step closer to him. As she stood there, she spoke loving words to him. Louise apologized for not being there when he needed her the most. Standing next to the cold hard door, she recounted some of the memories that she not so long ago shared with Ike. Deep down, Lou hoped Jeremiah would gain strength from her words.

When she came out of the quarantined room, Ike was still there. He didn't want to leave until she told him to. "Thanks Ike. You can go home now." Nodding his head, Ike approached, gave her a quick hug, a brotherly kiss on the cheek, and left.

The doctor came the next day. He had informed Lou that Jeremiah seemed to improve just a little. Hope filled her soul. However, the doctor advised her not to get her hopes up too soon. Majority of the people who contracted small pox died. The medical field did not know why some people survived and others didn't. The doctor prepared Lou that if Jeremiah was to survive, he would have permanent scars from the small pox lesions. Informing her also that there was a slight possibility that he could go blind. Lou did not care about the scars or blindness. Jeremiah alive was enough for her to rejoice.




A tear trickled down Lou's face as she relived that part of her life.

"That was a long time ago sweety. Jeremiah is strong as a horse now and about to raise his own family." Kid responded as he wiped the tear onto his own finger.

"I know, it's just that the thought of almost losing him still scares me to this day," came Lou's heartfelt response. "I was so afraid I'd never make up leaving him."

Jeremiah had survived the small pox episode. The doctor was right. It left him with many scars over his body. Everyone was grateful that blindness never set in. Jeremiah told Lou several years later that it was her presence and words of love that gave him the strength to fight. He even told her that he probably would have died without her. Laying on his bed, body covered with red marks, Jeremiah finally realized that Louise loved and cared for him. Otherwise she would not have come. That's when he started to fight. After his recovery, Miah was still a little bitter towards Louise leaving them in the past. However, the road to forgiveness had begun.

As Jeremiah got older he was worried about his scars, thinking no one would ever consider marrying him. How wrong he was. Having a knack for money, Jeremiah managed all the finances at Kid, Lou, and Buck's ranch. Lou knew that Miah would never leave unless she kicked him out. As hard as it was, Lou encouraged him to get a higher education. With much convincing, Jeremiah went to college in Denver and was now a successful banker. During his apprenticeship at a local bank, he fell in love with the banker's daughter. Lorine was attractive, and selfless. She hated the suitors that called on her. They wanted her as a decal to display on their arms, not to mention the money that tagged along with her. Jeremiah was the only one who saw her as a real person. He loved Lorine for her selfless beauty and intelligence. Lorine was just as good with money as Jeremiah, but because she lived in a man's world, could not pursue a career. When Jeremiah opened his own bank he asked her to work for him. She accepted and she soon fell in love with him. After three months, they were married. Lorine never once noticed Miah's scars. All she saw was a loving man who accepted who she was. Lorine was expecting their first child in five months.

"Lou, you have made it up to him," Kid soothingly said.

"You think so?" Came Lou's quiet question.

"I know so. And Miah would tell you the same thing if he were here."

Chapter 6

Kid heard his stomach grumble while he was hugging Lou. Lou heard it too and giggled, "You better go and feed yourself. You have been working hard."

"I'll go and make us both a sandwich. You have to keep up your strength too you know," came Kid's response.

"While you're at it, make two for me, and please don't starve our son. He needs to eat too."

Kid stood up realizing his legs were a little stiff from kneeling and squatting next to Lou. As he wobbled toward's the door, Lou remarked with a mischievous grin, "Hey, you're not pregnant, what's with YOUR walk?" The only reply Kid gave was his "I'll get you back for that comment later" smile. Lou's heart melted as she saw his blue pools sparkle with his grin. Butterflies turned in her stomach as she anticipated how Kid would get her back. She liked to poke fun at Kid, just so she could receive one of his "paybacks." It was their way of constant courtship throughout their marriage. "Paybacks" added spice to their lives, and Lou would not trade their little tradition for anything.

Lou put away the letter from Teresa concerning Jeremiah's illness and pulled out the next one:

Dear Lou,

I just wanted to write and tell you that we hope all is well with Jeremiah. The place seems empty without you here. Kid is worked up with worry about you and your brother. Don't get mad at him, he hasn't expressed it in words to any of us. I can just see it on his face. I guess some things don't change. Cody still is Cody--trying to get out of work and eating your share of the food. Buck is asking the Spirits to protect you and heal the boy. Jimmy and Noah miss you too. They don't show it, but they just keep busy. They're trying to break a new horse–unsuccessfully I might add. I guess I should go out there and show them how it's done.

Rachel saw me writing and says hello, hopes that you are well, and that you'll return soon. I just think she's tired of all us boys and wants female company again. Teaspoon also says hello. He wanted me to give you some of his advise, but I lost him after "I remember when I..." I just want you to know that we all miss you. No matter what happens we are your family. You can always count on us being there for you.

Love,
Ike

Soft droplets trickled down Lou's face. Lou's mind raced with so many memories of Ike. Ike always showed compassion. Dwelling on the letter, she remembered the day she received it. It was on the day that Jeremiah's fever broke, but the doctor again told her not to get her hopes up yet.




Lou stood there, hopes crushed. How could a doctor squander my hopes like that, Lou judged. A doctor should be the bearer of good news and hope, not reality. Reality was not what Lou wanted to face at the moment. She had been away from Sweetwater for two weeks now and terribly missed her makeshift family. Although she had Teresa with her, Lou was lonely. That's when the letter came. Immediately her hope soared.

She shook her head as she read that Kid was worried. "That boy will never learn," she whispered to herself. Although secretly she was glad he still was concerned. She chuckled imagining Cody staking out her share of the food–with Rachel chastising him the entire time. Lou could practically see and hear the wooden spoon slapping down onto Cody's hand. Faith burned in her bosom knowing Buck was praying for her and Jeremiah. "If anyone can help heal someone, he can," Lou told the letter. She envisioned Jimmy and Noah flying through the air trying to break in the new horse and could not stop herself from smiling. She visualized herself and Teaspoon in the sweat lodge giving her advise on how to help the boy. Finally, she pictured Ike sitting on the steps of the bunkhouse writing the letter to her.

Ike was the one who knew how someone's heart was feeling. He wrote the letter discerning that Lou would need a pick me up. After reading the letter, Lou's loneliness subsided. She realized that if Jeremiah was to die, that she would pull through because of her family. They would help her keep going. She also knew that she would not give up hope until Jeremiah's body was in a grave. This new found hope, faith, and love all because of one man's caring nature. This message was Lou's savior while visiting the orphanage.




Looking up from the letter, Lou softly uttered, "Thanks Ike. Thanks for always being there." The tears came freely now as Lou fathomed how much she missed Ike. He was always the silent peacemaker among the riders. Somehow, even years after Ike's death, she felt like Ike was still watching out for all of them.

Chapter 7

"Mama, are you alright?"

Lou did not even hear her son's footsteps, she wiped her eyes and replied, "I'm fine son. I was just thinking about Uncle Ike, that's all." Staring at her son, Hunter was tall and thin, but signs of a hard worker highlighted his young muscles. He looked much like she pictured Kid at his age. Receiving Kid's curly locks, with her dark auburn hair color, Lou was grateful for one feature in particular that Hunter inherited. That feature was Kid's signature–his blue eyes. Hunter's pale blue orbs were just a shade lighter than Kid's, making his eyes twinkle brighter than the stars on a moonless night–especially when he smiled. Hunter also inherited Kid's sense of right and wrong along with Lou's stubbornness and determination. Even at the age of eight, those qualities sometimes conflicted with each other. Lou was proud of how her son used his own common sense to work outdifficult situations.

"Pa is coming up with the drinks. I brought the sandwiches."

"Coming up?"

"Yeah, Pa wanted us to eat together up here. I think he wants to have a picnic in the nursery. I think you should talk to him about reality Mama." Lou chuckled at Hunter's common sense.

As if on cue, Kid walked in, "What are ya laughing at?"

"YOU," both Lou and Hunter chimed in together. Letting the comment roll off his back, Kid just shrugged his shoulders. It wasn't the first time his family laughed at him, and he knew it would not be the last.

"So, a picnic in the nursery Kid?" Lou quizzically asked while Kid placed the blanket on the floor.

"Yep, I thought it would be good to have our lunch in a change of scenery." Kid placed the lemonade on the floor and then sat down crossed legged. Hunter immediately followed the example of his father.

"Well come a few weeks and this room will no longer be a change of scenery, but a permanent fixture in our lives," retorted Lou.

Lou didn't like sitting above her men in the rocker, so she stood up, and gingerly placed herself on the blanket also. Leaning against the wall, it gave her more support. "Much better. Now I can see your faces instead of the tops of your heads." The family sat quietly and ate the roast beef sandwiches Kid had made.

"Tell me an Express story," Hunter piped in breaking the comfortable silence.

"Which one Hunter? You've heard all of them," Kid stated matter-of-factly.

"I don't care. I just want to remember them so I can be the one who tells them to the baby."

"I can do better than just tell you a story Hunter. I can read to you one of the letters your father wrote to me while we were still riding for the Express." Kid's face paled. He wasn't sure which letter Lou was talking about. He sure hoped to high Heaven that it wasn't his apology letter. How was he going to explain to an eight year old the complications of a relationship. Hunter knew that his parents had broken up during their time riding for the Pony Express, but Lou and Kid never told him why. Hunter never asked why either. Kid wasn't sure if he was ready to deal with that issue just yet.

Hunter's face on the other hand lit up like a flame atop a candle wick with the letter suggestion.

"You wrote to each other? Were they LOOOOOVE letters?"

"Some of ‘em," Lou stated as she smiled at her son saying "LOOOOOVE." "Do you remember the story about the Pike brothers?"

"Do I? That's when Frank Pike kidnaped Aunt Amanda, and Grandpa Teaspoon came charging in with the calvary–okay so it was just you guys, and Uncle Cody was standing in the bell tower and shot the man who was gonna kill you, and Pa hit Uncle Jimmy for letting you follow them, and Pa shot Frank Pike because he hurt you Mama, and Kangaroo Kid was trying to get his town's money back, and......"

"I think he remembers Lou," Kid said wickedly over the fast-paced rambling of their son. "Okay, okay, Hunter so you remember. I don't think you will have a hard time remembering the stories when you tell them to the baby."

Hunter stopped mid-sentence of his retelling. "....So what's a love letter got to do with the Pike brothers?"

"Well, when Amanda was first kidnaped, Uncle Ike and I were out on runs..."

"Right–I know, I know, Pa and the others had to leave without you. Pa left you a note telling.... you.... what.... happened." Hunter's high speed retelling slowed down tremendously as he finally caught the clue that the note Kid had written for Lou was a love letter–at least a partial love letter.

"Do you want me to read it to you?" Lou asked her son.

"No," came the quick and short reply. Lou's face emitted confusion. "If Pa wrote it, I want Pa to read it." Lou smirked as she saw Kid blush and wriggle uncomfortably. Letting Lou or Hunter read it was one thing, but to read his own heartfelt words aloud–that altogether was down right embarrassing. Kid began anyway:

Lou,

Amanda has been kidnaped by Frank Pike. He, his brother, and gang are wanted for robbery and murder. Jimmy, Noah, and Buck are taking Emory Pike to Laramie for hanging. Cody, Teaspoon, and me are tracking down Amanda. We are hoping to rescue her before Frank's brother hangs or she'll die. We could not wait for you and Ike to return from your runs. Besides we need you two to help run the station. Replacement riders never know how to run things right. Please stay in Sweetwater, take care of the waystation, Rachel, and yourself.

In all honesty I am glad you're not with us. These are dangerous men Lou. I don't want you hurt. It would kill me inside if something were to happen to you. I know that we have had our differences, but that does not stop the fact that I still care for you. Knowing that you're safe will ease my fear, and help me to stay strong through this. I want to return home to your smiling face. I wish circumstances could be different, but know that I never stopped loving you. Ride safe.

Love,
Kid

There was a long pause after Kid finished reading the letter. Kid and Lou exchanged glances unsure what Hunter was thinking.

"You actually wrote, ‘I want to return home to your smiling face?' Pa, even if Mama would have stayed behind, she would not have been smiling at you when you got home. She would have been madder than a bunch of angry bees for leaving her. Smiling would have been the last thing she did when she saw you. She probably would have had a shot gun ready."

Both Lou and Kid burst into laughing fits. Kid had just taken a sip of lemonade and put his napkin up to his mouth just before it spewed onto the blanket. How true their son's words were. How well their son knew the both of them.

"I don't know about you two," continued Hunter shaking his head, "I don't get how that's a love letter. May I be excused? I'd like to take my horse out for an afternoon ride." Together, Kid and Lou nodded for Hunter to be excused. They couldn't speak due to the fact that they were still laughing uncontrollably.

All of the sudden the baby kicked, and Lou was thrown back into reality. "Oh my, I don't think our baby likes a good laugh."

"What's wrong? Are you in pain?" Kid's laughter stopped when concern for Lou entered the picture.

"No, no, the baby just kicked me really hard that's all. I don't think she liked being jostled around from my laughing convulsions. Will help me into the rocker?"

With that Kid was standing up, one arm around Lou's expanded waist, and the other under her arm. As Lou sat down, she grabbed Kid's face in between her hands. She looked at him directly in the eyes. Then she kissed him. When she pulled back she asked, "You never stopped loving me, huh?"

"Nope, tried to, but it didn't work. I really didn't want you to follow us. I know that you could take care of yourself, but I also didn't want you to risk your life either. I was being selfish. I wanted you to be safe so I could have you to myself."

"We weren't even together then."

"I know. But that didn't stop the fact that I still loved you."

"I never stopped loving you either. Kid, your letter meant a lot to me back then. Even though I was still a little skeptical about getting back together, your letter assured me that we eventually would. That knowledge was enough to satisfy me at the time." Lou's mood shifted a bit. "That trip wasn't easy on me either, you know. I was still dealing with the issue that YOU didn't think I could take care of myself, and then there I was tied up to a cross. I was so ashamed. I COULDN'T take care of myself."

"I was ashamed too. I couldn't help you. I felt like I failed you. It took all my will power not to shoot Frank Pike right then and there. I wanted to race up there and take you into my arms, but for your safety Pike reminded me I couldn't. I don't think I ever felt so helpless in my life," Kid melancholy stated.

"Kid, you weren't helpless. You went and got the help. If seeing me tied up was hard for you, you now know how I felt when I saw that you had been shot. When I saw you on the ground bleeding, I felt my world was crumbling down. A thousand thoughts ran through my head on how I was going to survive without you. I thanked God right then and there that you weren't hurt bad."

Kid conferred, "I guess we both needed that experience. We needed to learn that it's all right to depend on each other."

"AND, to depend on family," Lou added.

Chapter 8

Lou and Kid were still in an eye to eye lock. "Well, as much as I hate to end our picnic, we have potential horse buyers coming," Kid whispered.

Lou quickly gave Kid a quick kiss. "You want me to come and help? You know how persuasive I can be," Lou said almost seductively.

Kid smirked, "T'is true, you are a better bargainer than I am. However, I think you should stay in here and relax. Read more of your letters."

"You're just being nice because buyers don't take a pregnant woman seriously. Don't they understand that a pregnant woman is ALWAYS serious -– it might be about something absurd, but it is always serious," Lou retorted.

Kid answered empathetically, "Honey, buyers rarely take ANY woman seriously when it comes to business. We've just been blest with some kind of gift that you possess. You know that if you weren't pregnant you'd be able to persuade the buyers to pay what the horses are really worth, plus some. It's because of your barter techniques that people believe our horse stock is the best around."

"Is it not the best around?"

"Of course it's the best. Unfortunately, buyers take one look at you pregnant and they question why you aren't in confinement like most women in the last stages of pregnancy."

Lou rolled her eyes, "I know, I know, it's bad for business. It was the same way eight years ago when I was pregnant with Hunter. I love this baby, but I miss bargaining. According to our records, so does the ranch."

Kid smiled apologetically, "Sorry I don't possess the same calabur of negotiating skills that you do. Just think, in about a month you will be out there with me haggling customers and acquiring our wealth back up to where it belongs."

Lou searched Kid's eyes. They exhibited his understanding of Lou's desire to help with the ranch. He knew that she was strong willed and independent. She was the best business man/woman around. Although Kid liked the idea of confinement, it just didn't suit Lou. He couldn't even imagine her in confinement. Lou saw love, concern, and understanding radiating from Kid's eyes. "Thank you Kid," came a quiet response. Kid gave a reassuring smile knowing what Lou had really meant by those words.

After a brief moment, Lou maliciously roused Kid's hair. "Well you better not go out looking like a hairy monster."

Kid stood up, held out two fingers and said, "That's two I owe you. You better watch your back."

Lou snickered as Kid walked out of the room with the picnic supplies in tow. What "payback" was Kid planning? She knew it had to be good, since she had gotten him twice in one day.

As Kid walked down to the kitchen to put the picnic supplies away, he too was speculating what kind of "payback" he would through Lou's way. It was hard to come up with a dirty deed when Lou was so far along in her pregnancy. It was during one of his "paybacks" when Lou announced her pregnancy. Kid smiled like a schoolboy as his mind played back the entire scene.




It had been an unending day for Lou. She was looking forward to a nice, long, hot bath. She could rest her weary bones, soak her tired muscles, and wash a weeks worth of dirt and grime out of her hair. She dipped her toe in first just to make sure the water wasn't too hot. Lou then warily stepped into the tub. It was a little fiery, just the way Lou fancied it. Finally, when her skin acclimatized to the toasty water, Lou sat back and her entire body slackened. Resting her head against a folded towel, she shut her eyes. Dreamily thinking about the change that was going to enter her family's lives, Lou sighed in satisfaction.

Lou was totally unaware that a set of blue spheres were spying on her the entire time. "This is my chance," thought Kid. "Her eyes are shut, and ifI go in real quiet like, she won't even know what hit her." Kid quietly opened the door, thankful he'd oiled it the day before so it didn't squeak Tiptoeing, he made his silent approach towards the tub. She looked so peaceful that Kid hesitated performing the cruel deed. That thought soon left so he lifted the small pail containing ice cold water over Lou's head and...

"AAAGGGGGGGG!!!!" Sitting straight up with wide eyes and cold water dripping from off her hair, Lou beheld a hysterical Kid roaring with laughter.

"It's payback time baby,....... that's for telling the telegraph worker I couldn't even spell my own name,.......you should have seen the look on your face," Kid managed to say in-between his laughter while imitating his wife's shocked look.

Knowing that "paybacks" were all fun and games, Lou carried on the game. Kid had gotten her good this time, but that wasn't going to stop her from having her own fun. She crossed her arms, squinted her eyes, furrowed her brow and responded, "Why you low down, good for nothin, two bit..........Man!! Look at me! Here I was enjoying a HOT bath and now I am freezing cold and in my condition too." In all reality, the cold water wasn't enough to drown out the hot water. Lou was just trying to get what she wanted. It worked.

"Fine, fine, I'll get in with you and help warm you up. You whiney woman," Kid stated in mock irritation."

Kid disposed of his own clothing and got into the tub. Lou scooted up so he could sit down. Once he was comfortable she scooted and leaned back onto his chest. Her head rested on his left shoulder. Kid wrapped his arms around her. For several moments they sat in silence enjoying the warm water and the presence of each other. Finally, like a lighting strike, Kid remembered what Lou said earlier.

"What did you mean when you said ‘and in my condition'?"

"I was wondering how long it was going to take you to ask me that," Lou said with a sly smile. Turning her head, she looked at him. "Kid, we've tried, waited, and prayed. Tried, waited, and prayed. Well, today the doctor confirmed my suspicions and we're going to have another child. I'm pregnant."

At first Kid wasn't sure whether or not to believe her. After all, they were in the middle of a "payback." Was Lou just egging him on? He shook his head as if clearing it. No, they decided long ago that joking about having children was too emotional for both of them. She was serious.

It was Kid's turn to have a shocked look on his face. This time imitating Kid's face, Lou giggled. When the shock wore off he kissed her softly and started to cry. So many emotions were spilling forth into his tears. "I can't believe it's finally happening. We HAVE waited a long time. I love you Lou."

"I love you too," Lou whispered as her own tears joined with the Kid's. Happiness, gratitude, relief, and love streamed down their faces as they rejoiced together the life already growing inside her.




"Kid?..... Kid?..... KID?!!"

Immediately Kid was jolted out of memory lane by the sound of Buck's voice.

"Do you realize we have customers coming in 15 minutes?" Buck asked.

"Huh? Oh, sorry."

"You were thinking about Lou and the baby again," Buck stated.

"How'd you know?"

Buck chuckled, "You always wear that silly grin when you think about Lou or the baby."

Kid sheepishly smiled. Buck had caught him again.

"Oh by the way, you may just want to comb your hair before you go out. You do want to make a good impression," Buck added.

Kid was so wrapped up with his thoughts that he completely forgot Lou had tousled his hair, and he still hadn't a clue about what his new "payback" should be.

Buck continued, "Faith went into town today. Lou got a letter from Rachel. Shall I take it to her?"

"Please do. She's in the nursery. I'll go comb my hair."

Staring out the window, Lou thought about the potential buyers and the sales pitch she would eloquently deliver to them...that is if she could. Buck could tell she was deep in thought. Not wanting to walk in on something private, he knocked instead of just walking in.

"Come on in Buck."

"You're wishing you could be out there too." Buck stated as a fact more than a question.

Lou gave him a weak smile, "Yeah, I just wish I could live in a time where men respect women as equals -– pregnant or not."

"I understand what you mean Lou. Hopefully one day mankind will see and treat all people for what they are: people. I have to believe that the human race can one day look past race, religion, and sex. I know it won't be while I am alive, but I still hope."

"You're a good man Buck Cross."

"Well my wife seems to think so too," Buck said with imitated arrogance. Lou just smiled at her friend.

"Here's something to cheer you up." Buck handed her the letter and while walking out the door conveyed, "It's from Rachel."

"Thanks," Lou yelled.

Lou immediately tore open the precious envelope that kept her from the words of her best friend. It read:

Dear Louise,

Time has moved by quickly since I first received word of your pregnancy. I am writing to tell you I have good news. I know that your sister has come to help out. However, I am in a position to leave the Rock Creek School for a while and I can come as well. I was going to telegraph you the information, but our lines have been knocked down due to a terrible storm. I probably will be a few days behind this letter. If my showing up causes any problems, I will return to Rock Creek on the next stage.

I hope this letter finds you well and happy. I can't wait to see you.

Love,
Rachel

Not trusting her own eyes, Lou read the letter again. She originally asked Rachel for help so Teresa didn't have to leave nursing school. At the time Rachel couldn't possibly get the time off. Well it didn't matter how she got the time off now, Rachel was coming. The very thought sent Louise in search of her husband.

Combing his hair in preparation to meet the potential buyers, Kid heard his wife bounding down the stairs. Walking into the room, Lou opened her mouth to speak. "Let me guess, Rachel's decided to come," Kid interrupted instead.

"How'd you know?" Lou breathlessly questioned.

"Louise, I never told you that I'm omniscient. I figured it would only scare you away if you knew," Kid pronounced. Cocking her head and raising her eyebrows in disbelief, Lou was found dumbstruck. "Why, I do believe my wife is actually speechless!" Kid said haughtily. "I should report this to the newspaper. I can see the article now: ‘Yesterday, Louise, wife of the Kid, mother of Hunter and baby unborn, was found speechless. The marshal and town doctor were both brought in. After undergoing a thorough investigation, authorities are still baffled at the rare occurrence. Army officials may be called in. The Kid and Hunter are very concerned. They would like to have the woman they know and love return to her normal self.' Yes, that sounds good. When I am finished with our customers I'll go into town and talk to the newspaper editor."

Trying to be mad, Lou started giggling and swatted Kid's arm. "You got me, that's one down. I was caught off guard by the mere fact that you knew Rachel was coming. Then you pull, ‘I'm omniscient' on me without missing a beat."

Kid was actually surprised at his own response. Making a quick comeback did not come naturally. Priding himself on a rather fast "payback" he simply smiled and said, "Thank you."

"Omniscience aside, how did you know?"

"Logic. Buck told me you received a letter from Rachel. It was the only explanation for the way you were cantering down those stairs. How did she get the time off?"

"She didn't say and I don't care. I feel more relaxed knowing she's coming."

"In all honesty, so do I."

Chapter 9

"Who's coming?" asked a feminine voice. Both Lou and Kid turned together and saw Teresa walk in.

Realizing that she hadn't seen Teresa all day, Lou started a motherly inquisition. "Where have you been?"

Immediately perceiving Lou's sudden tension, Kid wanted to get out as soon as he could. The horse buyers would arrive at any second and he didn't want to get caught in the middle of what appeared to be a bomb. Quickly he finished combing his hair, then gave Lou a quick kiss on the cheek as he passed her. "There's a left over roast beef sandwich for you on the kitchen table," he told Teresa as he hurried out. Even though Lou was upset, he was grateful for Teresa's perfect timing. He knew the bomb was about to explode, but at least it would take Lou's mind off the horse trading.

Sensing Louise's chagrin, Teresa tried a different approach. In an effort to lighten Lou's mood Teresa comically said, "Didn't anyone ever tell you not to answer a question with a question?"

It didn't work. Louise's eyes narrowed. With Rachel's letter still in one hand, she crossed her arms instinctively, and said tersely, "Where have you been?" Her voice was straight and she pronounced each word with clarity and distinction.

Teresa thought, "Fine, if Louise is going to act like a mother hen, then I'll just act as the rebellious little chick." Sounding annoyed Teresa replied, "Louise, stop treating me like I'm 14 years old. I'm on my own now. I no longer live here. If you remember correctly I am your guest. I came here to help you and your family."

"Well missy, if you remember correctly, you still call this place home, you are part of MY family, and don't forget who is supporting you at school," came Louise's harsh reply.

"Is this what this is all about? Are you tired of supporting me? If I remember correctly, your exact words to me as I left for nursing school were, ‘Don't think about the money. This money is yours. You've worked hard and you've earned it.' Are you going back on that word?"

Louise stood there shocked. The words rang true. She couldn't go back on her word. Teresa did her share around the ranch growing up, plus some. Lou couldn't figure out why she had even mentioned supporting her.

Teresa, now grown up, was not like the timid child Louise knew when she first came to live with them. She was still angrier than a hot pistol and took advantage of Louise's dumbfounded motions. She snatched the letter out of Louise's hand and quickly read it before Louise jarred herself out of guilt.

"Rachel's coming. So I guess you won't be needing me after all. Don't bother, I'll make the arrangements necessary to return to school. Don't worry about supporting me neither. I'm sure Jeremiah can lend me the money until I finish. I'll be out of you hair as soon as possible." With that Teresa turned on one heel and headed towards her room. Before stamping three paces, Teresa spun and bellowed, "Just so YOU know, I was HERE the entire time. I was brushing down the horses in order for them to look presentable at the trading. I was out in the barn doing YOUR chores." Teresa managed to stay strong in front of Louise, but as soon as she was out of eyesight, tears streamed down her face in disappointment.

"Tessa..."came Louise's weak reply. How did her concern turn into an all out war? Lou shook her head, and sighed. She questioned her own behavior. "Why did I attack Tessa?" she pondered. Lou fought back the tears that were welling up inside her. "These tears! I never cry as much as I do when I'm pregnant." But Lou knew she couldn't blame her outburst on her pregnancy, it was more than that. She didn't want to lose Teresa. Lately, Teresa was her backbone support.

Feeling defeated, Lou returned upstairs. Walking towards her room she glanced inside the nursery. Teresa worked side by side with her making it perfect. As they worked, they remembered the fun times they had together. Letting each other feel the sorrow of hard times. Feeling the sense of strength as those hard times were weathered together. The nursery was Lou and Teresa's project. Again Lou stifled back the tears.

She saw the letters sitting on her rocker. As she walked towards the rocker, she glanced out the window. She could tell the buyers were talking to Kid and Buck about pricing. She noticed the horses. They never looked better. Teresa had polished them up real good in order for this deal to be successful. From the look of the proceedings, her polishing was paying off. That was it! Louise wanted to attend the horse sale. She was angry at Kid, at herself, and at the world because she couldn't bargain. Unfortunately, she took her anger out on the wrong person. Teresa walked into the house and received the brunt of her anger. "How could I imply to Teresa that didn't need her?" Lou thought.

Realizing her mistake, Louise again felt conquered. She sat in her rocker and tried to refocus her thoughts by reading another letter. It was a letter that Buck had given to her on his wedding day.




"My, you're a handsome fellow. It's a good thing I'm already happily married, or you'd be in danger of me objecting to the union when the time came," Lou said jokingly.

"Ha, ha," came the half-breed's response.

"Faith's ready. Are you?" asked Lou.

"More than ever. Louise, before we go, I want you to know how much I love you, Kid, Jimmy, Cody, Rachel, and Teaspoon."

"We already know that silly. You shouldn't be thinking of us. It's YOUR wedding day."

"Lou, please. You don't understand what I'm trying to say. It's because of all of you that I was able to love Faith. Heck, Faith was the one who started me on my road to healing. But you were the ones who kept my heart open towards love."

"Buck, what are you gittin' at?"

"Louise, I want you to have something of mine that I have held near and dear to my heart." At that Buck pulled out a letter from his pocket and handed it to Lou. It read:

Dear Family,

My heart is aching with the news of Ike's death. I loved Ike as did you all. I know words cannot describe the pain and loss that each of you are feeling, for I feel the same. I wish I could be there with you all in our time of sorrow. Although, I don't know much good my presence can bring. Know that my thoughts and heart are with you always.

Buck, I know that Ike's death has probably been the hardest on you. I never had a real family until I met Teaspoon, Lou, and the boys. Ike was the first one to welcome me with open arms no questions asked. Learn from his example. Please don't shut out the ones who love you. Let them help you heal. Open your heart to love always, and know that Ike's death was not in vain. He died for love. He would have given his life for anyone he loved, especially you. Don't ever betray that love.

Love,
Amanda

A tear dropped from Lou's eye remembering the loss of Ike. Shaking her head and handing the letter back she emotionally said, "Buck, I can't take this. Teaspoon gave it to you after reading it to us. This is yours."

"No Lou, I have healed. As I mentioned before, all of you helped me keep my heart open to love. I no longer need this to remind me of Ike and the rest of our makeshift family. It is already ingrained into my heart. Lou, I have not betrayed Ike's love, nor will I ever. If circumstances ever came, I would lay down my life for Faith, just as Ike did for Emily."

"I know you would," Lou solemnly whispered. "Does Faith realize how lucky she is to have you?"

"No Lou, I'm the lucky one. Besides, I really don't believe it's luck. It's fate."

"But why give the letter to me?"

"Because, you are my sister."

"That's the only explanation I'm going to get?"

"And because I love you."

Realizing that she was not going to get a better answer, Lou hugged Buck and muttered into his ear, "I will safeguard it always." There was a slight pause as they continued to embrace. Finally Lou remarked, "You know, I think Ike's going to be there today."

"He'll be standing right next to me Lou. I have already felt him. Now quit talking to me. Let's get to my wedding."




Lou's heart was in a turmoil of emotions. Her heart raced with happiness for Buck and Faith. Her heart saddened at Ike's death. And her own guilt consumed her for the fight she had with Teresa. She read the letter again. Two sentences jumped out in front of her like a rattlesnake striking it's victim: "Ike was the first one to welcome me with open arms no questions asked" and "He would have given his life for anyone he loved, especially you".

Lou was wrong in being angry with Teresa's whereabouts. Teresa left school and came back to the ranch "with open arms." She came to help Lou during her pregnancy "no questions asked." Teresa had sacrificed a lot coming back to the ranch to help out. She was missing one full term of nursing school. Even though Teresa did not physically lay down and die for Louise, she had "given her life" for the one she loved -- her sister.

Lou muttered to the letter, "The Spirits must have told Buck that I needed this." Louise needed Teresa's support through the birth. Even though Rachel was coming, Teresa knew what it was that could soothe Lou through the birthing process. In order for Ike's death not to be in vain, nothing would stop her from apologizing and convincing Teresa to stay.

However, Lou learned one thing over the years raising Teresa. When Teresa was upset, no one could convince her otherwise. It was a characteristic that both sisters shared. She would have to wait until Teresa was calm enough to approach her again.

Once again, Lou looked up towards heaven, "Thanks Ike, for everything."

Chapter 10

Rocking back and forth, Lou rehearsed in her mind the apology speech she would deliver Teresa. "CREEAAK," spoke the wooden floor in the hallway. Broken from her concentration, Lou looked up. Standing apprehensive at the door was Teresa. With a puppy dog look on her face, Teresa reminded Lou of when she was younger just about to explain her misdeed. Time slowed as the two sisters stared at each other. Lou's mind went blank. "So much for my rehearsed speech," she thought.

"I'm sorry," both sisters chimed together. Eyes got big on both companies and faces cracked into smiles.

"Why are you sorry Tessa? You have done nothing but help me. I'm the one who made a snap judgement."

"Well, I realized that I left for the barn this morning without telling you. I didn't even ask you if you needed my help in the house today. For that, I'm sorry. I may not agree with you attacking me, but I do understand why you wanted to know where I was."

Feeling regret, Louise humbly stated, "I was wrong to ask you using the tone of voice I did." Directing her outstretched thumb and fisted hand towards the window, Lou continued, "Not being out there put me in a foul mood. I took it out on you. Will you forgive me?"

"Always. But I'm staying until this baby is born. I'm not leaving until I know if I have another nephew or a brand new niece."

Feeling relief flood every ounce of her body at that news, Lou softly commanded, "Go get a chair and come talk with me for a bit." Teresa quickly left and retrieved a chair, which she tucked under one arm. She grabbed a package in her other hand. On returning, she set the chair in front of the rocker and the package onto Louise's lap.

"What's this?"

"A present."

"For me?"

"Actually it's for the baby. I was going to wait to see if it was a boy or a girl, but I couldn't wait any longer."

Lou opened the gift. Inside was a beautiful rag doll made out of old scrap material from years past. Softly turning the doll over, Lou inspected it delicately. The booties were made from the brown shirt she'd given Kid way back when they still rode for the Express. The panty looms were from an old lace tablecloth that saw its last day when Hunter accidently spilled grape juice on it. The doll's dress was the blue calico print that Lou wore so long ago to see Teresa and Jeremiah for the first time in five years. The apron was a patchwork of Jeremiah and Hunter's old pants. The hair was a mixture of knots containing Teresa's old dresses. The button eyes were taken from one of Louise's old riding skirts. The nose and mouth were carefully stitched with love. "Ohhh, Tessa......" uttered a touched Lou.

"Now you know why I was going to wait to see if it was a boy or girl. I originally thought about giving back Miss Annabelle Mumblepuss, but she's so ragged after all these years. Your new daughter deserves a new doll." Teresa then said sarcastically, "And if you have a boy, then your new son will have a new baby doll."

"I love it," Lou earnestly said as she struggled to get up to hug Teresa. Teresa caught the clue and before Lou could stand up, she jumped up and gave Louise a hug in the rocker. As they were clinging to each other a soft "thank you" was transferred.

"When did you make it?" Lou asked as they broke away from the hug.

"At school. I've been keeping pieces from the scrap pile for a couple of years now. Even if you didn't have any more children, I wanted to it for you."

"When did you have the time at school?"

"I found time. Besides, I'm glad I had a project to work on. You can go crazy if you don't take a break from things every once and a while. You know, I secretly wish your baby is a girl though. I'd hate to see a perfectly good doll wasted on a boy."

Louise chuckled.

"You can't hide it from me Louise. I know you want this baby to be a girl too. I see it in your eyes anytime someone mentions it. Your secret is out!"

"You know me too well Tessa. But I'll be grateful for what the Lord gives me. My biggest wish is that the baby is healthy."

"You're supposed to say that because you're the mama. Come on Louise give me a secret that no else knows about."

"Oh, we haven't had a good secret session in a long time." Lou sat there thinking while Tessa was getting impatient. "Okay, I have a secret for you."

Louise immediately pulled out a letter and handed it to Teresa to read. As she unfolded the note, a card fell to the floor. Picking it up, Teresa read out loud:

Roses are red,
Sometimes they're hid.
I like you a lot.
These ain't from the Kid.**

A shocked Teresa appealed, "Another man gave you flowers? You were sneakin' out on the Kid? Louise, why didn't you tell me?"

Remaining stoic, Lou said, "Oh there's more. Wait till you read the letter."

At that Teresa devoured the letter that was in her possession:

My Darlin,

Many are the hours I spend dwelling on your beauty. Many are the sleepless nights I've laid awake in bed, haunted by the golden music of your voice and longed for the silky touch of your fingers wrapped in mine.

Seeing his destiny before him, the mighty stag gently approaches the graceful doe, watching, waiting, to see if she shares the passion burning in his heart.**

Teresa stood up from her chair and paced around the room. "Louise, I can't believe this!! Were you with Kid at the time?"

"Yep."

Teresa was partly ranting by this time. "I can't believe you turned your back on the Kid. I don't even know if I want to know this secret!" But like the cat, curiosity got the better of her and she quickly took her seat in front of Louise. "Okay missy," throwing Lou's words back into her face, "who was it? Jimmy? Cody? It certainly doesn't sound like Buck."

"Who do you think it sounds like?" Louise challenged her sister.

Sitting there, Teresa reread the letter once more. It hit her like a ton of bricks. Her face turned green, "Teaspoon," came the mumbled, galling response. "Teaspoon? Teaspoon? Eww! Eww! Eww! He's like your father Louise. What were you thinking?"

Louise couldn't hide it any longer and she broke into side-splitting laughter.

"You're laughing at ME when YOU'RE the one who had an affair with a man whom you claim as your father, while you were courting Kid," chastised Teresa. "I'm assuming that Kid has no idea of this."

"..........nope........," Lou managed to barely squeak out through her laughter.

"STOP LOUISE! Tell me the whole truth!"

Taking a few deep breaths, Lou managed to control her hysterics.

As serious as she could, but still stifling a few giggles, Lou explained, "Ummm, Jesse gave me the flowers and the note. Actually it was in reverse order. He gave me the note first then the flowers."

More confused than before, Teresa questioned, "So you had an affair with Jesse, not Teaspoon? I don't know which is worse."

Giggling again, Lou said, "I didn't have an affair with anyone. Let me explain."

Relief washed over Teresa. She let out a breath that she didn't even realize she was holding. She sat down and listened with intent.

Lou fondly recalled the crush that Jesse had on her so many years ago. She had to chuckle at his naivety. "Jesse had a crush on me. Infatuated enough, he asked Teaspoon to write a love letter for him. I just gotten off of a ride when I found the letter. Kid and I were barely back together, but it didn't sound like Kid, so I went to a higher authority – Rachel.

"Rachel was the one who opened my eyes in revealing that it was one of Teaspoon's masterpieces. It was obvious that Teaspoon had written the letter for Kid. As we were talking, Kid rode up. Rachel encouraged me not to just sit there, but go and do something about it. I ran towards the barn to surprise Kid. Jesse saw me and said hello. I returned his hello without even stopping, ran into the barn, grabbed Kid by surprise, and kissed him. Jesse witnessed the entire exchange."

"Poor Jesse. No wonder he sent you that silly poem. His first attempt didn't work. He tried to win you over by giving you flowers, " Teresa said as the truth started sinking in. "Were you mad?"

"I was upset at first, especially with Teaspoon. But Teaspoon didn't know he was writing a love letter for me. But it's like I told Jesse, the letter and the flowers made me feel good. There was no harm done. As a matter of fact Jesse asked me if Kid knew. He was afraid he might have to fight the Kid or somethin'."

Teresa chuckled, "Did you ever tell Kid?"

"I thought this was sharing secrets time."

"Why haven't you ever told him?"

"Well, at first I wanted to save face for Jesse. I didn't want all the boys harassin' him. And after Jesse left, Kid was somewhat bitter towards him. I did not want to fuel his bitterness by telling him. I knew that a calm Kid would have just laughed it off. However, with the war, Noah's death, and Rosemary's betrayal, Kid would have flown off the handle. He was too stressed and distraught. Over time Kid's wounds healed, and the crush was forgotten. It's only now that I realize I haven't told Kid."

"Are you ever going to tell him."

Lou pondered and thought about Teresa's question. "No, I think that I'll keep that one just between you, me, and Jesse."

"Are you wondering if Jesse's safe now?"

The thought of Jesse brought sadness to Lou's face. She and Kid knew that he was leading a life of crime. He hadn't been in the papers recently, but they knew that didn't mean anything. The law was always out for him. Lou and Kid had on occasion discussed the possibility of Jesse turning out different if his brother Frank had left him alone. They both came to the conclusion that Jesse always found trouble, even without Frank. However, both felt that if Jesse would have stayed, Teaspoon and Rachel's influence would have kept him on the right side of the tracks. Knowing Jesse's current situation did not stop Lou and Kid from praying for his safety. They prayed that Jesse would have a change of heart, and return to the values that Teaspoon and Rachel laid the foundation for.

"Yes," was Lou's simple answer.

Coming out of her reverie, Lou continued, "I'm glad you decided to stay Teresa. Yes, I'm glad that Rachel's coming, but I need you here with me too."

"Thanks Louise. I thought that maybe you wouldn't need me if Rachel came."

"You're my sister. I'll always need my sister."

**Author's note: The letter and poem in this chapter are copyrighted by Ogiens/Kane Productions. They are not my own material. They are taken from the episode, "A Tiger's Tale."

To Be Continued...

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