Topic #10: Use 4 out of 5 words:
vulture, pot-bellied stove, bat-wing doors, impossible and impeccable
|Take Your Hat Off, Boy
||Anything's Possible in Impossible
|Impossible Vultures and Pot-bellied
||Where There's a Will, There's a Way
|A Watchful Eye
Take Your Hat Off, Boy
**Gotta thank Belly’s “Feed the Tree” for the ‘take your hat off’ line!**
Lou contemplated the *pot-bellied stove* radiating heat into the room. It seemed, she mused, a largely hopeless endeavor. The cold was proving to be a daunting adversary. Whatever warmth the poor little thing managed to produce was quickly and summarily sucked away by the sneaky streams of chill that crept around the room.
“Lou! What are you doing moping around in here?” Rachel asked from the doorway as she entered the room. “All the boys are in town, why aren’t you out having fun with them? You never know, at least it might be warm in town,” she muttered, casting an irritated glance at the valiant stove.
“Rachel,” Lou answered with a small grin, “the boys and I, while good friends, often have different ideas of what is fun.” She flounced suddenly off the bed and threw herself dramatically into a chair at the table. “I am so eternally tired of this room, and this station, and,” she finished wearily, “these clothes.”
Rachel turned to look at the exasperated girl, considering. Slowly, she started to talk. “You know, Lou, I don’t know if you’d be interested, but it might be kind of fun for you . . . anyways, it can’t hurt to suggest it. There’s a dance in Hartford this Friday. There’s a run scheduled there the same day. I could make sure you get it, and aren’t expected back until late Saturday.” She looked at the younger woman, gauging her reaction.
Lou sat quietly, contemplating the plan. It wasn’t something she would normally do. It wasn’t something she would normally feel the need to do. But for some reason she had felt so cooped up lately, like she wasn’t allowed to have any fun at all. She really appreciated this job, but dressing like a boy meant she couldn’t have fun like a girl, so she pretty much had to entertain herself. ‘It has been,’ she sighed to herself, ‘an extremely long winter.’ Spring kept teasing, but for now, winter was in charge.
Just then, the boys came trampling back in, the chill gusting in around them.
‘Why is it,’ Lou thought, hurrying to close the neglected door behind them, ‘that men don’t ever seem to get cold?’
They were wild with talk about their adventures in town, cheeks red with excitement and the kiss of frosty air.
“I’ll do it, Rachel,” Lou said suddenly, looking her in the eye amid all the commotion. “I’m gonna go do it.”
‘Oh this was a wonderful idea,’ Lou thought, charmed by the decorations, the beautiful lights floating in the darkness, the wonderful dress she was wearing (courtesy of Rachel), and the handsome young man with *impeccable* manners who was dancing with her. Well, except for the fact that he hadn’t take his hat off to dance with her. He’d removed it when a blonde woman walked passed and smiled, but then placed it squarely back down on his head. Lou wasn’t positive, but she was pretty sure men were supposed to take their hats off when talking to, or dancing with, women.
But it had really been a lovely night, and everything had gone just perfectly.
“Come to dinner with me tomorrow night,” the man whispered in her ear.
“I’m sorry, but that’s *impossible,*” she answered, smiling at the idea anyway. He seemed so nice. “What’s your name again?” she asked, a little woozy from the wine and the night.
He smiled, “I’m Tom McKendry.”
After a moment he said, “If you won’t come to dinner tomorrow, how about having a drink with me tonight.”
Trusting him, trusting the magic of this evening, she lifted her head from his shoulder and looked him straight in his beautiful blue eyes. “I’d love to.”
He took her hand and guided her away from the dance.
She hesitated momentarily when it became clear that he intended to take her into the saloon instead of the restaurant, but he had been so faultless (except for the hat business which Lou figured she must be wrong about anyways), up until then that she decided to follow him. He was treating her like a real lady, taking her arm, and calling her miss, and everything else that she had only watched, never experienced.
But once inside she’d been even more put off by the atmosphere. There were women with too much make-up dressed in gaudy outfits all over. ‘If this was where I wanted to spend my time,’ she thought, ‘I coulda done it with any one of the boys.’
Suddenly irritated that this harsh reality should destroy the perfection of her evening she turned to Tom. “Perhaps we could go somewhere else?” she asked with her eyebrows raised and a small smile in place.
“Oh I believe there is somewhere we might be more . . . comfortable.” He got up and went to speak to the man behind the bar. Lou, confused, waited for his return.
He walked back to the table, dangling a key in his hand.
Still not understanding, Lou looked at him quizzically.
“Our key,” he smirked, “to a more comfortable . . . bedroom . . . upstairs.”
Lou stood from the table abruptly, sending her chair scraping across the rough wooden floor of the saloon he had brought her too.
“You *vulture!*” she hissed, not caring that her sudden motion had attracted the attention of every low-life, half-drunk creature in the place.
‘Impeccable manners my arse’ she thought vehemently, bitterly.
She looked at him hard, eyes narrowed.
“I’ll be leaving now,” she said between clenched teeth, “and you’ll not be following me.”
She turned and began to stalk away, but then paused for a moment, looking back at him. “And take your hat off, boy, when you’re talking to me.”
“Scuse me?” he asked, confused at the abrupt topic change as well as slightly mortified by the scene.
Lou reached over and snatched the hat off the startled man’s head, dropping it to the floor.
“A gentleman removes his hat,” she said, smooshing the aforementioned item into the ground with a delicate little twist of her ankle, “when speaking to a lady. And a lady expects a hat to be removed before her, gentleman or not.”
“Listen lady . . .” he began angrily.
“Actually, I think I’ve listened quite long enough, thank you.”
That said, she turned and swept out of the near-silent bar, sending the *bat-wing doors* swinging behind her. They squeaked loudly in the hush, as if voicing her outrage.
There was stunned quiet for a moment, than an old man stepped up and put his hand on the shoulder of the young man.
“That, my boy, is one lady you probably shouldn’ta messed with.”
------------------------------Back on her horse, heading back to Sweetwater, Lou took a moment to appreciate her life. Yeah, it was cold and the icy wind was chapping her cheeks. Yeah, she was disguised as a boy, so she didn’t get to look pretty. But it would, eventually, warm up, and she had a wonderful family who, despite her appearance, treated her like a lady.
He slowly became aware of several things. First, he was lying on the hard ground, not in a bed as he’d been dreaming. Second, his face wasn’t pressed into a freshly scented pillow. Instead, his face was pressed into the dirt, a few wildflowers tickling his nose.
And third, that was definitely not a beautiful woman reaching for his hand. It was, in fact, a *vulture* pecking at him!
“Hey!” he yelled, pulling his hand quickly away. “I ain’t dead.” He tried to push himself up, then groaned as his head seemed to explode in pain and everything swam before his eyes. He groaned and lay back down. “Yet.”
He lay still for a few moments, then tried again, going slower this time. Finally he was sitting up - staring at the vulture that had stopped a few feet away and was staring back. “You just go on now,” he muttered, tossing a few pebbles in the bird’s direction. “You ain’t gettin’ a meal here.”
He remembered now, the ambush that had come just as he had entered this pass. He’d tried to fight, but with numbers and surprise on their side, the bandits had pretty much all of the advantages. He reached down to his side, finding the blood where the bullet had entered just under his ribs. “Oh, this ain’t good,” he muttered.
With great effort he finally managed to get to his feet. Looking around, it was clear his horse was nowhere in the area. But the bandits had abandoned the mochila, and a sense of duty led him to pick it up, swinging the bag with some difficulty over his shoulder.
He stumbled toward a nearby pond, using the water to wash away some of the blood, and to refresh himself. When he stood up again and the ripples died away, he studied his reflection for a moment, shaking his head. His long blond hair was matted against his head, and his normally *impeccable* buckskins were tattered and bloody. All in all, he presented quite a sight.
But he was alive, and he aimed to stay that way. He looked around again, trying to get his bearings. If he was right, there should be a small town not too far around that next hill. He’d never stopped there, but it was his best hope for help now. He started forward, walking - stumbling - slowly. William F. Cody was not one to give up easily.
The town was where he’d thought it would be - though the walk had seemed far longer. There was no one on the street when he got there, but the sun was settling lower into the western sky, so he guessed everyone was home, or perhaps pursuing other interests. Down the street he could see a sign proclaiming “Sheriff,” but even closer was a saloon. Light and music emanated from that building, and he headed that way.
Navigating the small step up off the street took almost all of his remaining strength, but then he was there, leaning against the *bat-wing doors* at the entry. He pushed them open and stumbled into the room. He looked around, noting the bartender behind the long wooden counter, a few patrons sitting nearby on stools. Off to one side a musician pounded the keys of an old piano, and near the back corner a group of men sat near a *pot bellied stove* enjoying a card game.
Cody took a tentative step into the room, fighting against the blurred vision spreading across his eyes. He tried to get to the bar, but the room started to spin. “Help,” he said weakly, then he slumped to the floor.
The first thing he was aware of was the light. It was pressing against his eyelids, an almost physical presence. He tried to make it go away, wanting to stay in the secure dark place he’d been in, but the light was persistent. Finally, grudgingly, he opened his eyes.
That’s when he saw her. Golden hair topped a face more beautiful than any he could remember. Crystal blue eyes looked right back at him, and her perfect lips seemed to be moving, but he couldn’t hear any words. The sunlight streaming in the open window behind her made her almost seem to glow.
“Are you an angel?” Cody whispered. How else could he explain what he was seeing?
The angel laughed. “Oh, hardly!” She pressed a damp cloth to the injured man’s forehead. “My name is Prudence Foster. And you are?”
He had to think for a moment, but then his mind cleared. “Cody. William F. Cody, ma’am.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Cody. Do you remember what happened to you?”
He closed his eyes for a moment, then nodded. “I’m a rider for the Pony Express. I was on a run, and some men jumped me . . .” He stopped, looking around. “I had the mail mochila with me - is it here?”
“Right over there on the chair,” Prudence assured him.
“Good, wouldn’t want to be the first to lose one,” Cody said. “Where, exactly, am I? I mean, I remember seeing this town before, but I don’t know it.”
“You’re in Impossible,” she answered, smiling at the puzzled look on his face. “All of us who settled here were told our dreams were impossible. We wouldn’t survive the trip, it was too late in the year to head west, we couldn’t survive on our own. But we came anyway, following our dreams. We settled the town, and it’s grown and thrived. We’ve proved that anything is possible in Impossible, if you want it enough and are willing to work for it.”
“Amen to that,” Cody agreed.
The two men paused at the entry, each leaning against one of the bat-wing doors. They stared inside the saloon in disbelief at what they saw. Cody sat near the pot bellied stove, regaling a large group of listeners with a grand tale about how he had, almost single-handedly, with only minimal assistance, stopped the eighty five riders bent on breaking a new Pony Express trail through sacred Sioux ground.
“I don’t believe it,” Hickok muttered.
“Only Cody,” Buck agreed.
Together they pushed the doors open and walked into the room. The movement caused a momentary interruption in the story as Cody paused to look up. “Jimmy! Buck! Am I glad to see you!”
“About as happy as you were for our little bit of help against all them riders?” Jimmy asked.
“Not like Teaspoon was worried or anything when we got word you hadn’t finished the run,” Buck added.
Cody ignored the comments and pulled his shirt up, revealing the bandage around his abdomen. “I barely survived!” he said. “There I was, just going about my run, when I was jumped by fourteen - fifteen bandits!”
Buck and Jimmy just exchanged a glance. They’d found where the skirmish had taken place - and Buck had confidently placed the number of extra riders at five. Still, they’d gladly take the exaggeration over the alternative of finding him dead. “Whatever, Cody,” Jimmy said, not wanting to hear any more of the tale just then.
“What about the mochila, Cody?” Buck asked.
Cody grinned proudly. “Now, see, I saved the mail!” he answered. He went over to a table and lifted his now-repaired buckskin jacket, revealing the mochila underneath.
A plan of action sprang to Jimmy’s mind. He reached for the bag. “Well, I’ll just finish the run,” he said, slinging the mochila over his shoulder. “Buck, you can see Cody home.”
Buck reached out, grabbing Jimmy’s elbow. “Wait, why do you get to finish the run?”
Jimmy just grinned. “’Cuz I got to the mochila first.”
The farewells were long and drawn out, especially when Cody was saying goodbye to Prudence, the angel he credited with saving his life. Finally though, with Cody on a borrowed horse he promised to bring back soon, they started back for Sweetwater.
“Did I tell you what the motto of the town is?” Cody asked.
“Several times,” Buck answered, certain he was about to hear it again.
“Anything’s possible in Impossible,” Cody said, unknowingly fulfilling Buck’s prediction. “Ain’t that a grand way to look at things? You just gotta believe, and work hard.”
“It’s great,” Buck agreed. He slowed his horse just a bit until he was riding just behind Cody.
“I gotta remember that saying,” Cody continued, barely missing a beat. “Them’s words to live by. Why, when those twenty men jumped me on the way . . .”
Buck dropped back a little further, letting Cody ramble on. With any luck, they’d be well on the way home before Cody realized his audience was out of earshot.
Lou pulled a pillow over her head as Cody and Buck started at each other again.
“Dang it Buck, I’m telling you it was a *vulture*!” Cody was saying for what seemed like the hundredth time. “And I swear to you, it was as big as . . . as this here *pot-bellied stove*!”
“Cody,” Buck sighed. “That’s *impossible* and you know it. Vultures don’t grow that big.”
“Besides,” Hickok added. “Why would a vulture be following you? You ain’t dead yet.”
The way he rides, he might as well be, Ike offered, then ducked as a pillow flew in his direction.
“Will you guys just stop it!” Lou yelled. “I got a ride tomorrow and I need some to get some sleep!”
The boys looked at her apologetically. Sharing the bunkhouse was never easy, especially with the unusual schedules they kept as riders for the Pony Express. If one of them wasn’t going out on a regular mail run, another was coming in or Teaspoon was sending a couple out on one of his never-ending “special” runs. They tired to be considerate, but sometimes it just wasn’t possible-especially when Cody started with his tall tales.
“When’s Kid due back?” Hickok asked. He was cleaning his pistols again-he was always cleaning the pistols, even when they hadn’t been used. Keeping them *impeccable*, he told the others, using his latest “word of the day” that Emma was giving him to help with his reading, was the only way to be absolutely sure they would be ready when he needed them.
“Who knows,” Buck replied. “He drew the short straw for Teaspoon’s run to Ft. Laramie.”
“Maybe he ran into the vulture!” Cody suggested.
“Cody! There aren’t any vultures around here!” Buck stated and the battle started all over again.
“I GIVE UP!” Lou roared after another hour of listening to Cody and Buck argue. They were trying to be quiet but, of course, the harder they tried, the louder they got.
The female rider got to her feet, pulled her blanket and pillow off the bed and stomped to the door of the bunkhouse. “If anyone needs me, I’ll be in the barn!” she stated. “And you all better hope you aren’t the ones who need me!”
“Now see what you done?” Cody accused. “If you’d just accept the fact that I saw a vulture, we wouldn’t’ve been arguing and Lou could have got some sleep.”
“And if you would just admit that what you saw was probably an eagle or even a big hawk, we’d’ve been done with this a long time ago,” Buck countered.
If BOTH of you weren’t so danged stubborn, Ike signed, we would ALL be asleep by now!
“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. “Maybe we should’ve sent you two out to the barn instead of Lou!”
Lou’s anger hadn’t died much when she got to the barn. Hearing the full-fledged battle starting up in the bunkhouse wasn’t helping any. She almost considered going back and giving them a piece of her mind, but decided they probably wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.
Slamming the door behind her, she made her way to the stall where Kid normally kept Katy. At least she knew the hay was fresh-she had mucked out the stall herself earlier in the day.
Pushing the hay into a comfortable mound, she spread the blanket out, then lay down and pulled the edges of the blanket over her. Within seconds she was asleep.
Her dreams were filled with huge round birds sitting in the rafters waiting patiently for the men to stop arguing.
“What the . . .” Kid exclaimed.
He’d been lucky enough to have a full moon to ride by so, rather than spend the night on the trail, he’d ridden straight through to Sweetwater. Lou’s scream as he led Katy into her usual stall had scared the devil out of him.
“Lou?” he said anxiously. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s a long story, Kid,” Lou explained groggily. “It has to do with impossible vultures and impeccable pot-bellied stoves.”
Buck dropped effortlessly from the wagon before hastening to the other side to hold out his hand to Elizabeth, slightly gratified to feel that his wife's palm was as clammy as his own. Only when he was assured that Elizabeth was safely ensconced on the boardwalk and away from the bustling traffic of Sweetwater's main street did he turn back, unloading the covered basket from the wagon bed and setting it at their feet.
"How do I look?"
Buck grinned, watching as Elizabeth nervously pushed an errant strand of blonde hair behind her ear before tugging at her waistband. She bent to smooth away an unnoticeable wrinkle in her skirt, using the movement to surreptitiously swipe away the tell-tale moisture on her hand. Yup, Buck mused, she was as nervous as he was.
"You look beautiful," Buck reassured her when she again stood facing him.
"You'd say that if I was wearing a potato sack and covered in ashes," she scolded.
"Of course I would," Buck intoned solemnly. "Because it would be true."
Ignoring the eye-roll his statement earned him, Buck leaned in to press a kiss against her cheek. He also tried to ignore the uneasy flip-flop his stomach was doing, but that feat was much easier to contemplate than to actually accomplish. The one thought that eased his mind was that Elizabeth had no idea how troubled he still felt about their financial predicament, plans to rectify the situation notwithstanding. And she would never know, if he had anything to say about it. To that end, Buck braced himself internally before facing his wife with a self-assured smile that bordered on cocky.
"It shouldn't take me more than a couple of hours," he reminded her as he retook his place in the wagon. "I'll meet you outside the auxiliary."
He started the team as she waved a good-bye. When he turned the wagon toward the outskirts of town, she was still standing at the edge of the road, watching him.
* * * * *
It was only when the wagon faded into the distance that Elizabeth roused herself and bent to gather the basket into her arms. She took a deep breath, determined to banish all thoughts of self-doubt. If Buck had complete confidence in their plan, why shouldn't she? Without a backward glance, Elizabeth squared her shoulders and stepped through the
* batwing doors * into the hotel.
The first word that came to mind whenever Elizabeth had occasion to visit the revamped, revitalized Sweetwater Hotel was "ostentatious". Perhaps because she had been raised in what most people would consider luxury, her sensibilities always felt slightly affronted when faced with the gilt edged counters, the gaudy red and yellow window dressings, and the overabundance of tassels, bows, gold trimmings and cherubic statuary that graced the front lobby. The new owners of the Sweetwater Hotel apparently didn't know the meaning of the word "overkill".
Most of their patrons didn't, either. The lobby and adjoining dining room was bustling with women appointed in the latest Parisian fashions, holding court while their husbands and sons brokered deals in the upstairs rooms. Elizabeth shook her head as she made her way to the front desk, again astounded by the changes wrought in the settlement since she'd married Buck and joined the Sweetwater community. The little backwater town had grown up.
"My I help you, madam?"
Elizabeth started at the voice, slightly embarrassed to be caught gawking around the lobby instead of paying attention. She lifted her head to see a haughty older gentleman studying her in much the same fashion as a * vulture * would assess its prey. Grey eyes swept over her outfit, several seasons out of date, with barely disguised disdain.
Ignoring the disapproval evident in the man's look, Elizabeth plastered a smile on her face. "You most certainly can. I'm here to see Madame DuBois."
The gentleman's harsh expression didn't waver. "I see. And do you have an appointment?"
"Simply tell Madame that Mrs. Cross is here to discuss an important matter."
"I'm sorry, madam, but that will be * impossible *. Madame DuBois is unavailable without an appointment." With another scornful glance, the man returned to his ledger.
Elizabeth frowned. "Excuse me."
The clerk looked back up, a long-suffering expression on his face. "Madam?"
"Perhaps you could tell Madame DuBois that this is a pressing matter."
The clerk sighed. "As I've explained, Madame Dubois sees no-one without an appointment."
He had again turned his attention to his volume when Elizabeth leaned forward. "Very well. When is she next available?"
Consulting the ledger as though the very act caused him physical pain, the clerk made a point of labouring over the text before raising cool eyes to hers. "A week Thursday. Shall I pencil you in?"
"A week!" Elizabeth huffed impatiently, mentally reminding herself that slapping the self-important little fool would accomplish nothing. A tongue lashing... that was more tempting, but would also ultimately not aid their plan. Taking a deep breath, she smiled grimly at the clerk. "Thank you, but no." Tucking her basket more firmly under her arm, Elizabeth swept from the hotel with as much dignity as she could muster.
* * * * *
"So you see, Mr. O'Connell, I could really use the extra work."
Buck forced himself not to shuffle his feet in the dirt as the eyes of the older man grazed him appraisingly. His hands, clenching his hat so tightly that his knuckles had turned white, were the only indication of his anxiety.
"I be understandin' ye just right, boy," O'Connell finally spoke. "And by all accounts, ye be a fine lad, hard-workin' and reliable as sunrise and sunset."
Buck arched a brow, amused despite himself. By all accounts? Obviously Liam O'Connell had never talked to William Tompkins.
"And ye have * impeccable * timin', lad. 'Tis harvestin' next week, and the crops will be needin' to come in fast. Therein lies my concern, ye see. There'll be no time for lollygatherin' and no time for distractions."
"I know how to apply myself, Mr. O'Connell."
"Aye," the older man nodded, "but ye also have your own ranch to be takin' care of. I can't have ye runnin' off to deal with CrossRoads and leavin' me in the lurch."
Buck drew himself up straight. "I understand your concern. All I can do is promise you that I take my commitments seriously. I'm not going to lie to you, Mr. O'Connell. I need the extra income right now, and I'm willing to put in the time and effort here to earn it. CrossRoads is my concern, and it will never become yours."
Sharp green eyes evaluated him again. Then the older man's hand thrust forward. "Ye can start on Monday."
A relieved smile lighting his features, Buck eagerly shook on it.
* * * * *
Elizabeth closed her eyes and mentally sent forth a prayer before swinging back her arm.
"One..." she breathed softly. "Two... THREE!"
With a mighty heave, she sent her basket soaring purposefully toward the upper balcony, almost not daring to follow its path with her eyes. To her immense relief, the basket cleared the railing and landed safely, tipping only once before resettling on its bottom. If only, she mused, she could sail through the air as easily. Casting a furtive glance around her, Elizabeth ensured that the back alley was clear of prying eyes before hoisting her skirts and embarking on the climb that would reunite her with her basket.
Ten minutes later, she fumbled her way over the railing, breathing heavily and cursing voluminous skirts, petticoats, sunshine, perspiration and, perhaps most vigorously of all, pompous desk clerks with delusions of grandeur.
Pressing her back against the wall, she hastily adjusted her clothing before striding toward the double-doors leading from the long balcony into a second floor suite, a triumphant smile aglow on her lips. Can't see Madame DuBois without an appointment? Well, she smirked, we'll just see about that.
* * * * *
Buck had barely jumped down from the wagon before Elizabeth was in his embrace, her arms wrapped tightly around his middle and her face upturned for a kiss. He happily obliged, capturing her lips in a lingering kiss that was sure to have the ladies watching from inside the auxiliary tittering for days.
He finally drew back to regard her with twinkling eyes. "I take it everything went well for you?"
"Wellllllll, after my initial setback."
Buck arched a brow, and Elizabeth laughed joyfully. "You really don't want to know."
"Suffice to say, I will now be providing the culinary delights on the dessert table at the Sweetwater Hotel." She pressed her lips to his again quickly before pulling back to look into his eyes. "And how about you?"
"You're looking at the newest hand at the O'Connell farm."
"Oh, Buck, that's wonderful." She allowed him to hand her into the wagon, settling in the seat and watching him as he retook his own place. "We're going to do it, Buck. We have an entire month. We're going to raise the money and save the ranch."
Buck returned her smile with a confidence he didn't feel as he lifted the reins, setting the wagon in motion. The ranch was more than his livelihood; it had been his dream. A dream he had never dared to share with anyone, not even Ike. Property to call his own, a roof above his head, and a woman to share it with. That was all he had ever wanted.
He couldn't help but feel that he was being punished.
That... perhaps... Teaspoon had been right all those years ago, when he warned that killing Neville would set him on a path to ruination.
That... perhaps... the spirits were angry that he had turned away from the traditions of his people in order to join the white world.
That... perhaps... he had taken too much pride in his accomplishments, and was now paying the price.
Buck shook his head, turning to look into the concerned eyes of his wife. He clasped the hand that had reached out for his, lifting it to his lips. Elizabeth had faith. Faith in him. Faith in them.
He would have faith, too.
Kid was grateful the *bat-wing doors* of the Willow Creek saloon were as tall as they were. They afforded him the opportunity to keep a watchful eye on Lou without her being aware.
"Louise McCloud, you are *impossible*," Kid whispered to himself as he watched her serving drinks in the saloon. He couldn't believe her sometimes. When they'd come to Willow Creek to check on any wrong-doings Marshal Cole Lambert might be involved in, he and the others had just decided to go around and try to get information by asking questions. But would Lou do something that simple? Nooo!! She had to get herself a job as a waitress in the local saloon and dress in the type of clothes they wore.
Even though he didn't approve of that type of attire, she did look *impeccable*, Kid admitted as he leaned more heavily on the doors to get a better look at her. Legs showing a little, hair curled and piled atop her head, and a dress that was low cut in front and hugged every curve that was present. Curves that he wouldn't mind getting a better look at himself and ... stop it , Kid, he chided himself. He shook his head to clear the images that were playing around in his mind. You're getting as bad as the riff-raff that frequented places like this, he told himself.
Just then his jaw tightened as he saw the type of person he was referring to set his sights on Lou. "*Vulture*," Kid hissed as he watched this creature swoop in and grab Lou from behind, pulling her into his grimy clutches. Ready to defend his lady, Kid started pushing the doors open but stopped as he felt a restraining hand on his arm.
"Don't do it, Kid," Noah warned. "If anyone can defend herself in a situation like that, it's Lou. Besides, one of Lambert's deputies is in there and you don't want him to think you and Lou know each other. It could cause her a lot of trouble."
Kid looked at him and sighed. "You're right, I know," he reluctantly agreed. He stepped back out of sight again but still kept his eye on her. Suddenly, he got a lopsided grin on his face as he overheard Lou tell that varmint exactly where he could put those grubby claws of his.
Kid would be the first to admit he wasn't too crazy about how bold and forward Lou was but tonight he couldn't be prouder of her. With a silly grin on his face, he looked at Noah and said, "Yep, that's my Lou." And knowing he had nothing else to worry about, walked away, whistling happily, leaving a confused Noah staring after him.
A/N: Fourth in the Buck/Justine series
Justine stepped through the door of the hotel, the *pot-bellied stove* in the corner radiating warmth and cheer, inviting her to set a spell, relax and enjoy her stay. If only her heart wasn't numb to the outward trappings of life, she might have enjoyed it. She might have inwardly compared the interior of the Rock Creek Hotel to The Silver Wind. She might have found a similarity in the home-like atmosphere and liked what she saw.
Instead she found no cheer, no emotional warmth from the storm that raged inside her. The late spring storm outside was nothing in regards to the turmoil she had been racked with since the day Buck had walked out of her hotel. Maybe she should have told him she loved him, maybe she should have told him she was almost certain she was pregnant with his child, but she wanted him to stay for her. To love her enough to want to be with her, to believe her when she said she didn't care what the world thought of them. And it broke her heart to realize that he didn't.
Now, though, she was determined to find him. Because she was pregnant. And it gave her added determination to be with him, to share his life with him. She would find him, or she would spend the rest of her life trying.
"May I help you, miss?" the clerk asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.
"Yes, please. I'd like a room."
"Certainly, miss. Just sign in. You'll be in room 7, on your left."
Justine smiled as she took the key and headed up to her room. She unpacked her belongings, changing from her wrinkled traveling dress, and washing her face to revive herself. Buck had told her about Rock Creek and the people he'd left behind after the Express ended. Marshal Hunter, Rachel, Lou and Kid were all here. Buck didn't feel like he belonged anywhere and had struck out to find his place in the world, but she hoped he still felt enough of a connection that he wrote to his friends. In the month before she left Hamm's Bluff he hadn't written to her, but maybe he had to the others.
The only way she was going to find out was to swallow her pride, tell them about her relationship with Buck and hope someone took pity on her. She wasn't leaving until she got a lead, or until someone realized her condition and went searching for Buck on their own.
A few minutes later she was back outside and headed across the street for the marshal's office. She paused outside to smooth her skirt, calm her nerves and then opened the door. A young man with dark brown hair looked up from the gun he was polishing and regarded her with cautious eyes.
"Something I can help you with, Ma'am?"
"I was looking for Marshal Hunter," she replied, meeting his unwavering gaze.
"He's over at Polly's Place," he said, gesturing out the window. "He's sweet on the bar owner and stops in after his afternoon rounds through town."
"Thank you," she said, turning for the door.
She was nearly out when his voice called her back. "Everything alright, Ma'am?"
"I hope so," she murmured more to herself, and then stepped through the door out onto the boardwalk. She set off down the street and stopped in front of the *bat-wing doors* that led to the person she hoped would be able to help her. If Marshal Hunter was half the man Buck made him out to be; he just might be her salvation.
With a muffled curse of frustration, Buck stood and walked towards the filth-covered window and peered outside. He was near Rock Creek, and yet he was hiding. For a year and a half he had considered the other Express riders and Teaspoon his family. But with the end of the job, he felt lost and adrift. His time with Justine in Hamm's Bluff had been the closest he'd come to a sense of belonging in a long time. In the end though, he'd walked away.
He told himself it was the right thing to do. Being falsely accused of murder, in addition to the daily disdain he felt from the town convinced him that they would never accept him. And they certainly wouldn't accept his relationship with Justine. He only hoped that with time the town would not completely ostracize her.
When he left, he wasn't sure where he was going to go, and it wasn't until he passed the abandoned farmhouse a few miles out of town that he realized he'd been heading home. It didn't feel like home anymore. No place did. It seemed to be an *impossible* dream for him. Acceptance, belonging, love. Love. When he thought of love he thought of Justine. She accepted him, she welcomed him into her home, her life. It wasn't the physical acceptance she gave him in her bed that made him feel welcome, it was the way he felt he had come back to an old friend, someone who understood him, would never judge him.
Why had he walked away? She begged him not to leave. He was tempted to stay. He wanted to stay. Nearly every day he nearly turned his horse around and headed back to Hamm's Bluff. But he didn't. He wasn't sure what made him stop, except the thought that she deserved someone better than him. That she deserved someone who could give her a life full of joy, and she may claim he could, but in the end he knew it would be only misery and heartache that he delivered.
So, here he hid like a coward. Isolating himself from people, those he knew would accept him and never judge him, because he knew that being around friends would only make his longing to be with Justine even worse.
His eye was drawn to the lone creature circling in the sky. A *vulture* searching for a meal, leftovers from the work others had done. His life felt like that. An afterthought to another's plans. Hanging on, trying to make something work when it never would. If he went back to Rock Creek, would he truly be able to find a life of his own, or would it just be the charity of his friends that allowed him to live? Much like the bird in the sky who never killed for his own meal, but fed on the leftover remains rejected by others.
Did he want a life full of rejects, or did he want to make his own way? And where exactly was he supposed to do that? With one last fleeting look, he turned from the window and headed towards his bedroll on the floor. So what if it was only noon? He had nothing else to do but sleep, and no one was going to chide him for being lazy and unproductive. He would find food when he was hungry.
He knew enough not to foolishly wish for a respite from his thoughts of Justine while he slept. She tormented his waking and sleeping thoughts. But he could not have her, and the sooner he made his mind realize that, the sooner he could get back to the numb and fleeting existence he had survived in before Justine became his salvation.
A/N: This may just be the end of the Jimmy/Brandy series. I kinda like where this ends...but who knows if I'll be struck with inspiration next week.Jimmy stepped through the *bat-wing doors*, his dark gaze glowering over the occupants of the street. Another day, another bar fight he and Teaspoon had been called to break up. There were times in his life he could not imagine himself as a lawman. Too wild, too set on doing things his own way, he liked living life on the move, going where he wanted, doing his own thing. It was one of the reasons he joined the Express. Riding through dangerous situations, getting paid a generous wage, seemed like just the thing for his grand plans in life. He wasn't exactly sure what those plans were at the time, all he knew was they included power, prestige and money. After scraping by as a child, he wasn't going to be no dirt-poor sap.
And now, here he was. A lawman. Sure, that gave him power and a measure of prestige, but it wasn't the fear-inspiring kind he'd dreamt of. He wasn't going anywhere, had no grand plans for spending his non-existent riches, and he wasn't bothered by it a bit. In fact, he was downright giddy about his life. All because of Brandy. Amazing what a wife, a home and good friends could mean to him now. He was sticking around, because he had found a place to belong.
Now, all he wanted to do was get home to his wife. He'd spent too nights staying on duty long past the time he was supposed to be off. Too many nights eating a cold supper, alone while Brandy had fallen asleep on the sofa trying to wait up for him. He hated spending barely any time with her, because it certainly wasn't how he imagined married life would be.
Everyone wanted something from him. A piece of his time, a favor, a request; help with a corral fence, assistance loading supplies into a wagon, just watch the office while his boss ran over and spent time with his lady friend. Teaspoon was turning into the biggest *vulture* of all. Always taking, never giving any regard for a life Jimmy might want to carve for himself. It seemed so different from their days in the Express when Teaspoon was more like a father, than the demanding taskmaster he'd become.
Tonight as they dealt with yet another breach of the peace, Jimmy had told Teaspoon in no uncertain terms that he was leaving on time. He was going to have dinner with Brandy. He certainly wasn't going to voice it out loud but the implication was there, he was going to spend a little husbandly time with his wife. If Teaspoon didn't like it, then he could fire him. Because he'd said vows to Brandy, not Teaspoon, and it was time he showed everyone that he meant them and that she was his first priority.
Swinging up on his horse, Jimmy turned her towards the setting sun and head for home. And for the first time in months, a genuine smile spread over his lips.
Brandy Hickok was a woman on a mission. She was going to spend some time, some quality time, with her husband tonight, and nothing was going to stand in her way. To that end, she'd even taken a nap after lunch so that she wouldn't fall asleep before Jimmy got home. She wanted to see him for more than a few fleeting moments in the morning when they woke up and had breakfast before he headed out for the day. Plus, she had a little surprise for him.
The house was cleaned and polished, a succulent dinner was warming on the stove, and she was dressed for her ultimate plan. She was going to seduce her husband.
Her head shot up with surprise when she heard his horse approach the house and disappear into the barn. The Fates had smiled on her small family tonight. Jimmy was home on time for once. They could eat dinner together, talk, connect and if they felt up for it, maybe a little moonlight skinny-dip down at the pond. Ever since Jimmy told her how hard it was to walk away from her the night he had come upon her in the water, especially after seeing her clothes on the bank, she had wanted to go down there with him. It hadn't happened yet, and maybe it wouldn't tonight, but it was still a worthy goal.
In the meantime, she smoothed her hands over her outfit and went to greet her husband. She made it to the front room just as she heard his boots echo on the porch as he approached the door. She stood by his chair, ready to greet him when the door swung open and Jimmy walked in. She could tell by the way his head and shoulders were stooped, and his footsteps were measured and slow, that the day had worn him down.
"Brandy?" he called out, not even looking up.
"Yes, Jimmy," she said, a welcoming smile evident in her voice.
His head slowly rose and she saw his eyes widen, and a new look replace the tired one he'd worn just moments before. Quickly he shut the door behind him and then stopped, frozen in the middle of the room.
"Welcome home," she grinned, her voice filling the room like warm honey.
"You look.what.wow," he finally managed to stammer out, and she triumphed inside. He certainly wasn't thinking of town and the problems there, anymore. And, given the way he stared hungrily at her as she stood before him in the silk nightgown he had surprised her with on their wedding trip, dinner was just going to have to wait.
The tensions of the day had bled away, replaced with warmth, love and happiness. Brandy moved closer to him, and he felt her leg brush his, a delicious friction of skin soothed by water. He was skinny-dipping with his wife. Just his luck someone would spot them, but he didn't care. Not after the way she welcomed him home, had dinner in bed, and then dessert . No, the mayor himself could find them in a clench and he didn't think he'd care at all.
"I can't believe you talked me into this," he chuckled good-naturedly, his arm reaching out and snagging her around the waist.
"Like I really had to twist your arm, Mr. Hickok."
He merely shrugged, then captured her lips in a slow, languid kiss conveying all the love between them. "Thank you."
"For that kiss?" she giggled like a schoolgirl. "I was going to thank you."
"No," he shook his head. "For loving me. For not being mad that I've been working so late these past two months. I know I haven't been home much."
She brought her hand up to cup his cheek and peered deeply at him with her gold-brown eyes. "You thought I'd be mad at you? Jimmy, it's your job and I may have been a little frustrated that I didn't see you very much, but I think it's practically *impossible* for me to be mad at you for very long."
He arched one brow at her. "That's not what I remember just a few months ago."
"Shhhh, all in the past," she said with a kiss. "Besides, I was more mad at myself for still loving you when I thought you didn't want to be with me. You have my heart, Jimmy, and I could never be mad at or leave my heart behind."
Then she skirted away from him and grinned up at him with a saucy and secretive smile. His body immediately responded and he reached out for her, only to have her push his hands away. "And as if having my heart wasn't enough, there's something else."
"Oh?" he grinned, his hand darting out and meeting with rebuff once more.
"Yes. You, Mr. Hickok, have *impeccable* timing.or skill depending on your viewpoint."
He closed his eyes and mentally counted to ten. He had no idea what she was talking about, and he was going to need a little patience to get through these next few minutes. No matter how much he reached for her, she wouldn't come to him until she'd played her game and getting frustrated with her certainly wouldn't help his cause. "How's that?" he finally managed.
"Because seven months from now, everyone in this town is going to see exactly what we were up to on our honeymoon."
He was glad they were near the shore and his feet could touch bottom, because he was certain he would have sunk like a stone. What on earth was she talking about? He knew what they'd done in the hotel of Randall's Bluff, and if she thought they were giving a public showing.
"Think carefully," she chuckled, as she advanced towards him, and suddenly he felt like a rabbit being stalked by a wolf. She knew exactly what she was doing and he was merely trying to catch up. "We've been married two months, and in seven months.two plus seven is nine."
"I know," he snapped lightly. He may not read as well as she did, but he could certainly add. And then it hit him. His feet sunk into the mud on the bottom of the pond and he couldn't have moved even if he wanted to. Brandy kept advancing and stopped when her body was flush with his.
"Figure it out?"
"Yeah," he grinned, his smile nearly as bright as a child on Christmas. "Are you sure?"
"Doc confirmed it today. We're having a baby. But if it's a boy, we are not naming him Randall."
He shook his head, unable to speak as her lips pressed against his. And then all thought was lost as they celebrated under the stars.
Emma bent down and pulled the pie from a very hot *pot-bellied stove*, depositing the dish carefully on the counter. She wiped her brow and sighed softly. It was simply becoming too much. Sam Cain, he was everywhere, making small talk, helping her carry her packages, holding her horse while she climbed aboard her wagon. It was *impossible*. He wanted something from her that she just couldn’t give.
Sam stepped into the kitchen. Yep, there she was slaving behind the scenes as usual. She was *impeccably* dressed, as always. Her cream-colored blouse buttoned to her throat in spite of the awful heat; her blue skirt hung down, creaseless. No one would ever guess that Emma had been the one responsible for making all the pies for the social. In fact, Emma had been running behind schedule and had to finish the last pie here, in the restaurant.
Emma raised her eyes from the pie and saw Sam there, lounging against the wall, and her cheeks flushed. She prayed that he thought it was simply the heat.
“You’re like a *vulture*,” she quipped. “Couldn’t you wait until I got these pies to the table?”
Sam chuckled. “I missed you,” he said, his voice like Emma’s was full of amusement.
“Um hmm,” Emma said skeptically. She thrust a pie into his hands. “Here, make yourself useful.”
Sam accepted the pie in one hand and with the other, he lifted Emma’s chin and gave her a kiss. He had meant it as just a quick peck, but it soon turned into something else. He wrapped one arm around Emma’s waist and pulled her close. She was intoxicating. He found himself completely fascinated by her, from her prim and proper appearance to her fiery red hair. It was the hair which gave it away. No matter what she did, Emma could not keep her curls down. It was her hair which made Sam realize what Emma was. No one could hide that kind of passion, not completely.
Suddenly Emma pushed Sam away from her. Automatically she put a hand to her hair and smoothed in down, to no avail of course. She snatched the pie from his hand and began to walk away.
“Emma,” Sam began slowly. Had he been too forward? He didn’t understand this reaction. He and Emma had been flirting with each other for weeks. She knew he was attracted to her and had been certain that the feeling was mutual.
“I need to be getting this pie out there,” Emma snapped.
“And that’s all?”
“What else could it be?”
Sam grimaced at the challenge in Emma’s voice. “Nothing,” he half-growled. “Nothing at all.” He quickly stepped through the doorway and made his way out of the restaurant. He had just been dismissed. If Emma Shannon wanted to pretend there was nothing between them, Sam was angry enough to let her.
Emma quickly placed the pie on the counter, her hand shaking. She knew what he thought - that she was just leading him on. But she couldn’t tell him the truth. The truth would be far worse.
A/N: A quick thank you to Magnificent 7 for idea spark!
“Hickok! I’ve been lookin’ all over for ya’!” Cody said, sounding more than a little annoyed, as he barreled through the *bat-wing doors* of the saloon.
Jimmy, seated at a table facing the entrance, looked up from his cheese sandwich into the eyes of his sometimes-pain-in-the-neck, but always-good friend.
“Ah Cody, as usual, you’re timin’s *impeccable*.”
Ignoring Jimmy’s sarcasm, Cody snapped, “Hurry up! Teaspoon’s askin’ for ya’!”
“I ain’t hurryin’ up,” Jimmy calmly stated. “I’m gonna’ sit here, eat my cheese sandwich, drink my sarsaparilla, and enjoy MY-DAY-OFF.” He emphasized the last three words tapping his finger on the table. All he’d wanted was a nice peaceful lunch. Then maybe ride over to the creek, do some fishing, and give his relaxin’ bone a stretch. Why IS it that I can never relax? He shook his head, looking at the current cause of his irritation.
“Hickok, Teaspoon needs us at the jail. Somethin’s come up.” Cody began tapping his foot. Jimmy hated when he did that.
“Well, don’t he have the rest of you? Why’s he need me?” He could feel his relaxin’ bone ready to snap.
“How should I know? If I was him, I certainly wouldn’t want ya’. But he asked for everyone.” Cody just stared at him as if that was enough.
“Fine. Let me finish and I’ll be right over.” I can never have a full day off!
In an instant, Cody’s mood changed. Grinning, he plopped down in the chair next to his friend, stretched out his long legs, put his hands behind his neck and waited. Jimmy just looked at him. He never has problems relaxin’. With a sigh, he continued eating his cheese sandwich.
"He'll be here, Daughter, or by god-"
"Sit down, Father, you're giving me a splitting headache."
Mr. McKay continued to pace before the door. "No daughter of mine will be left at the altar!"
Lorilei sighed and wrapped the ribbon of her bouquet around her finger. "That's comforting, Father, considering I'm your ONLY daughter."
The exasperated man swiveled around to level an accusatory look at the others gathered in the room. "Well? What do you all have to say for your 'friend'?"
"He'll be here."
Smiling at Buck, Lorilei gave him a little half smile.
Teaspoon shifted from one foot to another. "I'll second that."
"It's just the sudden storm," Noah started, "no one expected a blizzard in October."
Mr. McKay hissed out a breath. "I'd say it's a sign."
Looking up from her place beside the pot-bellied stove, Emma gave the older man a pointed look. "I don't appreciate your tone, Mr. McKay. Jimmy wouldn't leave her standing here, he's not that kind of man." She watched him open his mouth and cut him off before he could say another word. "And I won't hear you say another word against him."
Standing up from her chair, Lorilei drew the eyes of everyone in the room. She paced to the side window of the church and pressed her hands against the glass. The snow had a rosy tint to it, but the cheery color of the glass did nothing to lighten her mood. She had no doubts of Jimmy's love or his intent to marry her. He'd done enough to convince her over the last few months.. but her worries stemmed from the neat foot of snow that lay on the ground. Depending on where he had been with the storm hit, it may be impossible for him to get home... ever.
The thought sent a shiver up her spine. Where was he? "Please, God, let him be alright. Let him be anywhere indoors...anywhere but out in the snow."
Ike walked up beside her and peered out the window, his shoulder barely brushing hers. She was extremely relieved to see it was him. Lorilei wasn't sure she could stand to reassure another one of Jimmy's friends that she was alright.
Sure, this wasn't the wedding of her dreams, but there were other things to worry about. Gone were the dreams of flower petals and Jimmy in a suit impeccably tailored to his broad shouldered form. All she wanted was him, standing right here. He could be rumpled like a pile of sheets or covered in mud.. it didn't matter.
None of it did. Not the roomful of friends or the dress sent in from New York City. Not the McKay family bible pressed tightly in Teaspoon's hand or the bouquet of roses gathered into her bouquet that had managed to survive the frost... it was all worthless without him.
Beside her, Ike leaned closer to the glass and wiped at the frost on the window. He gave a start and nudged her to gain her attention.
**There** his finger jabbed at the pane as he looked at her with expectant eyes. **There**
Lorilei pressed forward and watched the bent form of an older man struggling out into the snow. Just a few feet behind him, the bat-wing doors of his office swung in and out in wide arcs.
"It's old Mr. Barber," Cody announced from his vantage point at the door. "He's comin' this way."
Lorilei felt a moment of panic seize her heart. Mr. Barber was the new telegraph operator in town. Surely... surely.. . he was bringing news. Taking Ike's reassuring hand she moved toward the door to join the gathering crowd.
The aging telegraph man struggled against the winds and the snow drifts. Accepting the strong guiding hand that Buck offered he mounted the steps with dogged determination. "I've got a telegraph here for Lorilei McKay."
Lorilei took the offered paper under the watchful eyes of Jimmy's friend and somehow managed to open the envelope without a single cut to her shivering fingers.
It took no more than a minute to read the contents, but it was her reaction that had Jimmy's gathered family worried beyond reason. She hit the floor in a dead faint.