Topic #49: Word List: Use three of the following: Spitton, Crazy, Slingshot, Torch and Coach Gun
Boredom Strikes Again by: Jo
You'd Have to Be Crazy by: Miss Raye
Putting Out the Torch by: Karen
Rescue on the Road by: Cindy
The Favor by: Dede
Boredom Strikes Again
by: Jo

Thump, thump, thump…Buck heard Ike’s signal to look at him and looked up from the book he was reading.

*That must be some good reading….I got an assignment from Sister Agnes I was hoping you could help me with.* Ike looked at Buck and smiled disarmingly while he rubbed sore knuckles.

“What did you do this time?” Buck asked as he reluctantly put down his borrowed copy of Moby Dick. “Did she hit you again with the cane?”

Ike nodded *I kinda dipped Suzy Merchants pigtail in my ink well during catechism class. It wasn’t my fault she flipped it on my desk. I have to read about David and Goliath and do a report about how a *slingshot* could bring down a giant. What’s your book about? Is it for school?* Ike was flipping through the pages of the Bible trying to find the story he had to read.

“Nah, I just like reading. It’s pretty good and kinda like your story, this fisherman goes after this giant fish called a whale and he only uses a spear like thing they call a harpoon. I think the author is out of his head though, the fish is the size of a house!” Buck marked his place in the book and put it aside to help Ike with his assignment.

*I don’t understand how you can hunt without a gun, arrows or whatever that spear thing is, how can you kill something with a rock?* Ike pointed to the passages and Buck read them quickly.

“Do you know what a *slingshot* is? I was taught to use one when I was really little to hunt rabbits and stuff.” Buck smiled at the puzzled look on Ike’s face. “Come on I’ll show you.” The two boys took off into the dormitory to put their books away and find a suitable piece of cloth for the weapon.

Buck found an odd stocking and decided that would do for the *slingshot.* He led Ike outside to find a few rocks and once their pockets were full of the right size rocks they headed down to the pasture behind the barn to find a target. Buck decided the old oak tree would do and he began to teach Ike how a *slingshot* worked.

“See Ike you make a sling for the rock to lie in and then you swing it until it’s going really fast and then you snap the sling in the direction you want the rock to go and it hopefully hits what you want. It takes a little practice but it’s a good weapon.” Buck demonstrated his prowess with the ancient weapon as the rock hit the tree trunk with a resounding thunk.

Ike tried and tried and finally, as darkness fell, figured out how to hit what he was aiming for and proudly demonstrated his new skill for Buck. It was about that time both boys realized they’d been gone much too long and had wandered a good way from the mission school. The night was pitch black with no moon, Buck looked around for something to use as a *torch* when he found a branch covered on one end with pitch and pine needles. Ike took his flint out of his pocket and soon they were able to see well enough to find their way home. They were able to sneak back inside without being caught and were able to feign sleep when Sister Margaret did the bed check.

Ike and Buck were allowed to go into town the next day with their class and while the other children perused the shops they hung back near the livery stable to watch the horses. The day was hot and the boys grew bored, Ike and Buck decided to have a shooting contest; each choosing targets for the other. They used pebbles at first and usually hit what they were aiming for. They were walking behind the buildings shooting at barn doors, various items tossed out as trash and took great pleasure in aiming at an old *spittoon* they found in back of the livery stable.

Ike was just about to shoot a larger rock at their preferred target when Sister Agnes grabbed his arm and twisted it bringing Ike to his knees. The rock sailed past Buck’s head and into the street where it hit the Wells Fargo wagon on the side near the driver. He grabbed his *Coach Gun* and aimed in the direction the shot had come from; he quickly dropped his weapon when he saw a nun holding a stocking and a handful of small rocks; Buck and Ike cowered against the side of the building.

“Are you *crazy* Sister? I could have killed you! Now put that *slingshot* away before you hurt someone.” The driver shook his head and placed the gun back in his carrier muttering something about *crazy* church ladies.

Sister Agnes turned on Buck and Ike who were trying to become invisible without much success. “Just what do you think you were doing with this?” She slapped both boys in the face with the stocking. “I’ll deal with you two later back at school. Get in the wagon and wait for the rest of us.” She spun around in a cloud of dust stirred up by her long habit and went in search of the other children.

Buck and Ike climbed into the school’s wagon and waited not so patiently for the others. *She took our *slingshot* I was just getting good with it! I hate it when she hits me, one of these days…..* Ike signed angrily.

“Yah, me too. We can make another one, don’t worry, we can use your bandana, she can’t take that away. I think we need to figure out how to get out of being punished, I have and idea…..”Buck motioned for Ike to come closer and he whispered his plan to Ike. By the time they were back at the school and on their way to the Reverend Mother’s office they both had smiles on their faces.

“Sister Agnes tells me you two were using this to destroy someone’s property, what do you have to say for yourselves?” The Reverend Mother began as she held up the well used stocking. She noticed the red marks on both boy’s faces and looked hard at a smug looking Sister Agnes; the nun stopped smiling and looked at the floor. The Reverend Mother did not believe in hitting the children.

Ike nodded to Buck and he began speaking. “I’m very sorry Reverend Mother but we were only doing what Ike had been told to do.” Buck paused expecting to be questioned but the nuns only nodded so he continued. “Sister Agnes told Ike to read about David and Goliath and write a report about how a boy could use a *slingshot* and kill a giant. Ike didn’t know what that was so he asked me. I showed him and in order for him to write the report he needed to see how a slingshot worked so we were just aiming at old junk people didn’t want no more, we didn’t aim at people or windows or nothin’. It was Sister Agnes that hit the Wells Fargo wagon!”

“I see, Sister Agnes, did you give the boy that assignment?”

“I did Reverend Mother but I didn’t assign to go out destroying property.” Sister Agnes looked down at the floor at the battered, rusted old *spittoon* she’d brought from town.

The Reverend Mother bent down and picked up the dented metal container, stifled a laugh, and brought it up toward her face. When she turned to the boys she was looking through the hole where the bottom should have been. “I think Mother Nature took care of destroying this long before you two took aim.” She handed the *spittoon* back to Sister Agnes. “I trust you have done enough research to write your paper, Isaac?” Ike nodded. “Please refrain from using your new found skills around the school. Am I clear?”

Buck said yes while Ike nodded. To the boy’s surprise the stocking was returned as they were dismissed. They left and closing the door behind them but hung back in time to hear Sister Agnes getting spoken to…. “You hit the Wells Fargo wagon? What were you thinking? Did you have permission to take this? I didn’t think so, good example you’re setting for two impressionable young boys…..”

Buck and Ike didn’t stick around to hear the rest; Buck found a quiet spot under a tree to continue the adventures of Captain Ahab and Moby Dick while Ike sat beside him and wrote about a boy defeating a tyrant.

You'd Have to Be Crazy
by: Miss Raye

Tommy Fortune crept up closer to the slat fence and motioned for his posse to close on his position. In the late afternoon sun, there was only silence surrounding him.

He turned to glare at his men. “Git over here!” His whisper was more like a hiss.

Little Bobby Brant shook his head and swiped at his nose with the back of his hand. “Uh uh.. .that ol’ codger is plum **crazy**, I ain’t goin’ no where’s near his place.”

“You’re jus’ yella, Bobby,” he spoke over Bobby’s outraged denial. “Flynn? You gonna sit there with your hind end takin’ root in the grass or are you gonna get some courage?”

Flynn looked back and forth between Tommy and Bobby, then hazarded a glance at the gaping opening of the cabin where the door used to be. “Tommy, you know I got sand… I faced Bob O’Connell with you when we had bad odds, but the old man is probably a killer, you heard them stories!”

“They’s jus’ stories, Flynn… there ain’t no more truth to them than that story you told your old man when.. “

“Who’s out there?”

They all froze in their place and listened for all they were worth.

“I said… who’s out there?”

THUD, THUD… two heavy footfalls pounded the aging wood of the porch and Tommy watched in horror as Bobby and Fynn took off toward town like frightened rabbits.

Tommy’s mind couldn’t seem to hold onto a single thought as his fears rushed through like a swollen river after a monsoon. He couldn’t seem to make his feet or any other part of his body move, even when he felt a hand grab him by the shirt collar.

“What’s this? Did I go and catch me a rabbit for my dinner?”

Tommy had never felt more like crying in his nine years on the earth. “No.. no… no, sir.”

“Oh? No, sir, is it?” To Tommy’s frightened ears, the man’s laughter seemed near demonic. “Then let’s see what manner of varmint I caught.”

Another hand lifted up the back of Tommy’s jacket and removed the weapon from his waistband. “A **slingshot**, eh? Then I take it yer not tryin’ to ambush old ‘Al’?”

Tommy shook his head vehemently, “No, sir.”

Hauled up to his feet by an insistent tug on his shirt collar, Tommy hazarded a quick look up at his captor. A wizened old eye peered back at him. “Then what are you doin’ here, boy?”

“I was just… just…” he couldn’t seem to make any decent excuse fall from his lips, so he finally told the truth, “It was a dare. My friends told me I didn’t have the sand to sneak up here and… and do it.”

“Do what?”

Tommy found himself walking up the steps to the porch, a hand still knotted in his collar. He looked down into the dark recesses of an aged bronze bowl that had seen better days. Swallowing hard past the lump in his throat he nodded, “Take that. I was supposed to take that and bring it back to show them I weren’t no ‘fraidy cat.”

He heard the chuckle before he saw it on the old man’s lips. “You were gonna take my **spittoon** and show it to your friends?”

“MmmHmm.” Tommy nodded again and felt his stomach twist into a knot.

All at once his collar was free as the old man sank into a chair beside the door. “If that’s all you want, you can have it, boy!”

A wrinkled hand pounded on his bent knee. “I was gonna git me a new one in town next week, anyways…”

Tommy nearly fell backwards as the older man stuck out a hand in what appeared to be a greeting. Tentatively, he put his own hand out and his teeth clamped together as the man shook it with a bone jarring pump. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, son. It’s been awhile since I had the pleasure of meeting someone crazy enough to try to pull off a stunt like that. You remind me of someone.”

“I… I do?” Tommy asked, still deciding if he should make a run for town.

“Yep. He was a skinny fella like you… same hang dog expression when he was in trouble, too.”

He let loose with a dark ribbon of chew that flew unerringly into the spittoon. “Tell me, son, you ever hear of a man named Bill Cody?”

“Buffalo Bill?”

The old man seemed to soften when faced with the admiration in the boy’s face. “The very same.”

“You knew him?”

“Knew him?” He leaned back against the wall and smiled, “Still do… my name’s Teaspoon Hunter, boy… and I’ve got a few stories about Billy… that is, if you’ve a mind to listen to an old crazy man.”

Putting Out The Torch
by: Karen

“You’re *crazy,* Hicock,” said Cody. “There’s no way you can win that bet.”

“Sure I can,” replied Jimmy. “I just need to go practice a bit until Saturday. That’s a whole two days away.”

“But you agreed to no six shooters, and you aren’t that great with a rifle,” said Cody. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into putting my money on you.”

Jimmy just grinned. “I never said I was gonna use a rifle. I just be him that I could knock the flame off the *torch* in the same or less number of tries than he did.”

Cody looked at his friend in confusion. “Huh?” he asked.

Jimmy shook his head and went to his trunk. “You’ll understand in a bit,” he said, as he started digging. After a few minutes he stood up holding a strange looking contraption. “There you are?” he said.

“What’s that?” asked Kid, coming over to join Cody at Jimmy’s side.

“My *slingshot,*” Jimmy said. “I used to be a pretty good rock slinger.” He grinned as he headed out to the back of the shed where he usually practiced shooting tin cans.

Rescue on the Road
by: Cindy

“I can’t believe you’re going to work for Tompkins.” Buck pulled his collar up closer around his neck against the brisk November wind as they walked the short distance from the old Pony Express station to Rock Creek’s main street.

“Buck, it ain’t like we’re gonna be best friends,” Lou countered, hurrying to keep up with her longer-legged companion. She too hugged her jacket tighter against the chill wind. “But he needs someone to watch the store for a couple of weeks while he goes to get them new supplies. And Kid an’ me need the money for that farm we want to buy.”

Buck paused, feigning surprise. “Tompkins is actually going to pay you?”

Lou grinned, swatting at his arm. “Yes, he’s paying us,” she replied. “Not much, that’s sure. But we need every dollar.”

“Lou, I’ve told you, I’ve got some money put away,” Buck said, serious now. “I’ll help you get that farm.”

“Oh, Buck, I know! And we appreciate it, really. But it ain’t gonna be cheap, buying the farm, fixin’ it up, and making it through the winter to next year when we can get a crop in.”

Buck nodded, then he smiled. “Well, maybe at least I can come and shop for a couple of weeks and not get thrown out.”

“Sure you can,” Lou agreed. Then she grinned and added, “Of course, you can’t spend too much money. Else who’d Kid an’ me borrow from?” Laughing, she headed toward the store.

Buck laughed in response, and then hurried to catch up. They hit the boardwalk together and stepped up onto the planks.

As they reached the store, Lou stopped suddenly and stepped back away from the windows. “Maybe I’ll stay out here for now,” she whispered.

Buck peeked around her shoulder. Inside, he could see Tompkins waving a long list under Kid’s nose. “Good idea,” he agreed.

Buck turned his attention to the street, where the east-bound stage was sitting just across from the general store. He and Lou had just changed the horse team, part of their new duties for the stage line now that the Express had shut down. The coach was loading up some cargo and waiting for any passengers heading in the direction of St. Joseph.

A banging door drew their attention across to the hotel, and as they watched a woman stepped out, struggling to get the door latched. The wind caught it a couple of times, slamming it viciously against the frame, until she finally managed to catch it and push it firmly shut. Then, carpet bag in hand, she began to make her way toward the stage.

She hadn’t taken more than a few steps before the wind caught her auburn hair, making a shambles of the bun that had held her locks back. And she had no more than turned before it was obvious to both Buck and Lou that she was not only pregnant, but very pregnant. Her thin coat was stretched across her extended belly, not even close to being able to be buttoned.

“Must be new in town,” Lou remarked. “Don’t remember seeing her before.”

Buck shook his head. “Me either,” he agreed, starting forward. With the bag in hand he could guess she was heading for the stage, so he could at least offer to help her board.

The woman reached the boardwalk just as Buck was getting close. And then a few things happened very fast. There was a loud CLANG! as something hit the *spittoon* Tompkins kept outside his store for customers to use before going inside. The vessel rocked precariously on the edge of the walk.

Just then the woman stepped onto the boardwalk. With her wind-blown hair in her eyes, and her attention focused on the stage, she didn’t see the spittoon spinning into her path and her foot grazed it, sending her off-balance toward the edge of the boardwalk.

Buck sprang forward, managing to catch her arm just as she was about to slip off the walk onto the street. With his foot he pushed the spittoon out of the way as he pulled her safely back onto the planks.

“Oh, thank you,” the woman said, pushing her hair back. She looked down at the street, a drop of nearly a foot from where she stood.

Buck started to reply, but before any words came out they were interrupted by another voice.

“Rodney Fisher, you give me that *slingshot* right now!”

Peeking around the stage, Buck watched as Rachel grabbed the arm of a tow-headed boy he guessed to be about eight or nine years old. She took the offending weapon from the boy’s hand and marched him firmly toward the store.

“Rodney, someone could have been hurt,” Rachel lectured.

“But Mrs. Dunne, I didn’t mean to hurt no one,” the boy protested. “Joey Betts an’ me was just playin’ around.”

“What’s goin’ on out here?” Tompkins demanded, storming out of the store. When he saw Buck’s hand on the woman’s arm, his face turned a deeper shade of angry red. “Ma’am, is this Indian botherin’ you?”

“Oh, quite the contrary,” the woman replied, giving Buck a small smile. “He saved me from quite a tumble. Which, given my condition, could have been quite dangerous.” She rubbed her hand over her swollen belly in emphasis.

Tompkins looked ready to argue, but Rachel spoke up. “Rodney here was shooting his slingshot,” she explained, waving the weapon in evidence. “He almost knocked the spittoon over – and he did knock it into this lady’s path. Miss . . .”

“Mrs.” the woman corrected quickly. “Monroe. Judith Monroe.”

The look on Tompkins’ face showed that he still figured the incident was Buck’s fault somehow, but he decided not to press the matter. “You fixin’ on taking the stage?”

Judith nodded. “To St. Joseph. I have family there.”

Tompkins nodded as well. “Me too. Takin’ the stage to St. Joe, I mean. Ain’t got no family there.”

“Speakin’ of the stage, folks, it’s about time to board up.”

Everyone turned toward the new speaker, a grizzled man with long gray hair, a scruffy beard, and a pistol slung low on his right hip. They watched as he took a bag from a man standing next to the coach, then opened the coach door even as he started to climb up onto the driver’s seat.

Tompkins turned back to the store. “You sure you understand everything?”

Kid nodded, holding up the list. “I’ve got all your instructions right here, Mr. Tompkins.”

Tompkins stood rooted for a moment, almost as though he was considering arguing. But a reminder from the driver that the coach was about to pull out finally got him moving. He went into the store to get his bag and coat.

Rachel took that opportunity to make her exit. “Rodney, you get over to the school now,” she ordered. “We’re gonna talk about this some more.” As the boy ran off, Rachel followed closely.

Buck reached over and took the carpet bag from Judith’s hand. “I’ll put this up for you,” he offered. Then, more hesitantly, he asked, “May I help you into the coach?”

Judith smiled at the offer of help. “That would be most kind,” she replied. “And I do thank you for your earlier rescue. Mr. . . .”

“Cross, ma’am. Buck Cross.” He handed the bag up to the driver and stepped back to help the woman into the coach. “I’m glad I could help.” Glad that she actually did seem happy for the help, and not repulsed by his touch as Tompkins would have it.

“Well, I’m most grateful,” Judith assured him, accepting the help into the coach. She sank down onto the seat with a relieved sigh.

Buck took a step back, looking up toward the driver. His eye caught the *coach gun* sheathed on the side of the coach, just below the driver’s seat. “No shot gun rider, Ben? I thought that was standard now, what with all the border raiders coming over from Missouri.” He kept his voice low, not wanting his concern to carry to the passengers inside.

Ben shook his head. “Supposed to be one,” he said. “But the company’s findin’ it hard to get enough men. Said I’d be able to pick someone up in Hollenberg, maybe Marysville though, ‘fore the final run into St. Joe.”

“Well, guess that’s the most dangerous part,” Buck said softly, thinking of all the terrain to be covered between Rock Creek and St. Joe.

“Made the trip a bunch o’ times no problem,” Ben assured him. He reached down and patted the stock of the gun. “I can reach this if need be.”

Buck just nodded – but all he could think was that it wouldn’t be an easy task to be trying to drive a team of horses and fend off raiders at the same time.

“Stage is leaving,” Ben called out.

Tompkins came hurrying out of the store. He tossed his bag up to Ben and then turned back. “Now I know what the inventory is,” he warned, shaking his finger at Kid and Lou. “And I’ll be auditing those books when I get back.”

“We ain’t gonna steal from you,” Lou shot back, fire in her eyes.

Kid reached for his wife’s arm, pulling her back. “Everything here will be just fine, Mr. Tompkins,” he said, his own anger barely suppressed.

Tompkins just grumbled a reply and climbed into the coach. Buck pushed the door shut and stepped back, waving his hand up at Ben to indicate everything was ready. He tipped his hat to Judith Monroe, and then the stage pulled away, heading eastbound out of Rock Creek.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“Buck!”

Looking up from the harness he was cleaning, Buck got to his feet as Teaspoon came into the barn. “What is it, Teaspoon?”

“Word just come in that a bunch o’ them southern raiders’ve been seen over to Plum Creek. The Sheriff sent word they was headin’ east last time they was seen – prob’ly back to Missouri. But the posse lost the trail, so he ain’t sure.”

Buck tossed the harness and rag aside. “You want me to go and try tracking them?”

Teaspoon shook his head. “No, wind the way it is, and that rain last night, ain’t gonna be no tracks to find. But I want to send word ahead, on down the stage line. So you get some food in you an’ then get saddled up. I’m gonna get the notices ready for you to drop at the stations along the way. Not all o’ them have telegraphs yet.” He started to leave and then turned back. “An’ if’n you catch up with that stage before Ben gets a shotgun rider, might be you should ride along.”

Buck just nodded as he grabbed his jacket and headed toward the house. He’d already been thinking about catching up with that stage and making sure the passengers were all right.

Well, one particular passenger anyway . . .

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The wind was whipping, and the air felt heavy with the coming of rain – or snow. That served to muffle the sound, and at first he wasn’t sure what he had heard. But then the sound came again, and again, and he knew.

Gunfire.

Urging his horse into a run, Buck started forward. He hadn’t caught up with the stage yet, though signs of its recent passage were evident. And the trail led directly toward where the sounds of gunfire had come from.

Distance on the prairie could be deceiving, and it seemed to take forever to close any ground.

He topped a hill and slowed as the road curved toward the river and a stand of trees. He moved forward cautiously, his senses alert for any trouble. But all he could hear was the sound of the wind whistling through the trees.

The road ran alongside the trees – but the tracks from a wagon wove deeper inside the stand. And there were a lot of hoof prints surrounding the wagon tracks.

He got closer, entering the trees, and then he saw a flash of red in the distance. At almost the same time he heard the panicked neighing of a horse, and, finally, sobbing.

Fighting the urge to rush in, Buck dismounted and walked forward, leading his horse. He tried to stay to the cover of the trees, but they were nearly leafless now in the November winds, so it didn’t offer much protection.

As he approached, the flash of red definitely became the stagecoach. The afternoon light was fading as dusk approached, but he couldn’t see anyone moving around the stage . . .

No one was moving.

He looped the horse’s reins over a branch and drew his gun, moving forward as quickly and silently as he could. He skirted the edge of the clearing where the stage had stopped, but he still saw no danger.

When he got even with where the stage sat, Buck finally stepped out into the clearing. By then it was obvious that the stage was tilted way to one side, and now he could see the snapped axle, the wheel broken off where the coach had run across a log.

He saw the first body then, nearly hidden by some brush. It only took a moment to recognize Ben – and to realize that there was no hope that a man with such a huge hole blown in his chest could still be alive.

Buck looked up, running his eyes over the coach itself. The coach gun caught his eye, still sitting ready in the sheath.

All he could do was shake his head sadly.

Just then a moan sent him spinning as he dropped to the ground and slid under the stage. He crawled to the other side of the coach and looked out. And there, not five feet away, Tompkins lay on the ground, blood pooling beneath him from a wound in his side. But the shopkeeper was definitely the one moaning, so he was still alive.

The sound of footsteps reached his ear and he slid quickly to the back end of the coach. But then he also heard the swish of a skirt as someone moved, and his hopes suddenly had new life. He climbed out from under the stage and got to his feet. “Mrs. Monroe?”

“Oh!” She gasped, hand clasped to her chest. Then she recognized the speaker and sobbed. “Oh, Mr. Cross!”

He covered the distance between them quickly and took her arm when she looked about ready to fall over. “Are you all right?” he asked, brushing worriedly at a smudge of blood on her hand.

“Yes, I think so.” She brushed nervously at the blood herself before continuing. “That’s not my blood. It belongs to Mr. Perkins – but I’m afraid I wasn’t able to help him.” She pointed off to one side.

Buck followed the line of her finger, and saw the body of the other man who had boarded the stage in Rock Creek. “Dead?” he asked – and then wondered why he had. The answer was evident on Judith Monroe’s face.

She nodded. “I couldn’t stop the bleeding,” she whispered sadly. “I haven’t had a chance to check Mr. Tompkins yet.”

“I’ll do that,” Buck offered. “Here, why don’t you sit down.” He led her to one side and helped her take a seat on one of the bags that had been tossed off of the stage. Then he removed his jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders before moving over to where Tompkins lay.

At first glance, there was a lot of blood under the shopkeeper’s body. But as Buck checked further, things didn’t look quite so bad. The bullet had gone right through, leaving a hole in the older man’s side. But the bleeding had all but stopped, and the blood was red, not the almost blackish color Buck had seen a few times in fatal wounds.

He climbed up onto the driver’s platform, quickly locating the water skin he’d filled for Ben just that morning. Then he picked up a shirt that had been tossed onto the ground. Part of it was muddy, but he tore off the cleanest part and knelt down next to Tompkins, wetting the rag as he did. “This doesn’t look too bad,” Buck said, as he started to clean the wound. “Can you tell me what happened?”

Judith sighed and looked off into the distance for a long moment before answering. “Some riders just came from nowhere,” she said softly, he voice shaking. “I suppose they were hiding here in the trees – I just know that all of a sudden they had surrounded the stage.”

“How many men?” Buck asked. He had a guess from the tracks he’d seen, but it would be good to know.

“I saw five,” Judith replied. “There might have been another – I just can’t be sure. Things happened so fast!”

“That’s all right,” Buck assured her. “I suppose they wanted money?”

“Gold!” Judith shook her head slowly. “They demanded gold. Said they knew we were carrying gold.”

“And was there gold on the stage?” He finished cleaning Tompkins’ wound and started looking for the cleanest piece of clothing he could find to use as a bandage.

“No. Well, I know I wasn’t carrying any gold,” Judith replied. “And as you can see, those men tore everything apart. They found some jewelry, and took everyone’s cash, but they didn’t find gold.”

Buck just nodded, not surprised by that at all. “Who started the shooting?” he asked.

“Mr. Perkins had a derringer in his vest pocket. He tried to shoot one of the robbers, but the gun misfired. Then Mr. Perkins was shot instead. And then, I don’t know – the driver was trying to draw his gun, and Mr. Tompkins was trying to wrestle a gun away from one of the robbers.” Judith paused, wiping tears from her eyes as she remembered. “I got pushed to the ground, and I slid down the embankment toward the river just on the other side of those trees. By the time I managed to get to my feet, and get back up that bank, it was all over.”

“I guess you were pretty lucky,” Buck said softly.

“I know,” Judith agreed in a whisper. She found herself shaking just thinking about that luck – and how easily the results could have been otherwise. “The driver was dead. I tried to tend to Mr. Perkins, but he died just before you came.” She paused, looking over at Buck. “Were you looking for us?”

Buck finished tying the bandage around Tompkins’ wound and then he looked over at Judith. “Teaspoon – Marshal Hunter – got word a while after the stage left about a group of raiders in the area. Word was they were heading back east. He sent me out to deliver warnings to the stations along the way – and to watch out for the stage.” He looked around at the carnage and shook his head. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here quicker.”

Judith struggled to her feet and went over to where Buck still knelt. “They might have killed you too,” she pointed out. “And at least you’re here now.” She looked around and shivered. “I don’t know what I’d do out here all alone.”

Buck looked off to the west, where the smallest sliver of light still shone over the horizon. But he could also see dark clouds moving in – the rain or snow he had felt in the air earlier. He got to his feet and went to where he had left his horse, leading the animal into the clearing. He took the canteen from the saddle and handed it to the woman. “You should drink, Mrs. Monroe,” he said. “I’m going to find some wood so we can have a fire.”

“I suppose we really can’t leave here tonight,” Judith sad, gazing sadly at the broken wheel.

“Not in the stage,” Buck agreed. “I can’t fix that axle out here. I could build something to carry Mr. Tompkins, but trying to move him now, and traveling in the dark, I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

“No, I’m sure it wouldn’t be,” she agreed. “But tomorrow . . .”

“When the stage doesn’t show up, the company will send people out looking,” Buck said.

“Of course.”

Buck gave her what he hoped was an encouraging smile. “I’ll get a fire going, and see what I can do about shelter. We’ve got water, and I have some food. We’ll be fine tonight, and the stage folks’ll find us in the morning. You’ll see.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The conditions did seem much improved with the warmth and light of the fire, Judith decided. In addition, Buck had used a tarp he’d found among the items from the stage to create a refuge, stringing it among the trees to provide shelter overhead and from the north, where the wind was coming from. The threatened rain had started, but under the covering they stayed mostly dry. His bedroll provided little by way of cushioning on the ground, but at least it was a dry place to sit. And Buck had managed to snare a couple of rabbits, which she was roasting now. The smell of the meat was making her realize how hungry she was.

Buck brought another armful of wood to the little camp and piled it carefully to one side. He’d wanted as much as possible in reserve before the rain came any harder and dry wood became more difficult to come by.

He checked on Tompkins, who was still unconscious but seemed to be resting more comfortably. Then he went to the other side of the fire and sat down next to Judith Monroe. “Smells good,” he said, leaning closer to the fire.

“It does,” she agreed, turning the spit again. Just then a spasm hit her, seeming to roll across her body. She shivered, stifling a moan. No, not now . . .

He caught the shiver and looked at her in concern. “Are you all right?”

She nodded. “I’m fine. I just need a little longer by the fire to get warmed up.”

He hoped she was right about that; not that there was much he could do out here if there was something else wrong. He reached over to take the stick holding the rabbits. “I think this is done,” he said, using his knife to partition the meat. He put some onto the plate he carried in his kit and handed it to Judith. Then he pulled some meat off for himself, holding it gingerly as the heat burned his fingers.

For a few minutes there was silence as they ate. Judith finished what was on her plate and licked her fingers. “That was good,” she said, fighting not to gasp out loud as another spasm wracked her body. This one seemed stronger than the last one.

Buck missed the shiver that time as he reached across to put the empty plate by the fire. He grabbed the canteen and offered it to Judith. “Is your husband meeting you in St. Joseph?” he asked. It was probably none of his business, but he decided he needed to know anyway. It just seemed strange that a woman who seemed to be so close to delivering a baby would be traveling alone. But she had said she had family in St. Joe.

Judith shook her head, fighting a sudden tremble in her hands. “My husband is dead,” she said softly.

Buck looked down at the ground and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he said. There was no way he could have known that, but he still felt bad for having asked.

“It was a mining accident, almost six months ago now” she replied. “But it left me all alone out near Denver. I tried to stay on, and keep the claim up. But as it got nearer the time for the baby, it got harder. I suppose it sounds *crazy* but I really felt I needed to be around family. And I have a sister in St. Joseph.”

“That’s not crazy at all,” Buck replied. “It’s good to be with family.” He couldn’t help but think how a ragtag bunch of Pony Express riders had become family to him.

“What about you?” Judith asked. “Have you been in Rock Creek long?”

Buck shook his head. “Only a few months,” he answered. Of course, with everything that had happened in that time – losing Ike and Noah, seeing Cody and Jimmy go off to war – it seemed like much longer. “I was a rider for the Pony Express, first out of the Sweetwater station farther west, and then we got moved here. Now I do some work for the stage company, and help Marshal Hunter part-time.”

“I remember being near Julesburg one time when the Pony Express rider came through,” Judith said. “I’d never seen anyone ride so fast.”

“The Express didn’t last long, but we carried a lot of mail,” Buck said.

“Mail was always so welcome out in the mining camps. A letter was the best, of course, but even a month old newspaper was a pleasure to receive.”

“You’ll get the news a lot faster in St. Joseph,” Buck pointed out.

“That is true,” Judith agreed. Then she looked over at the two shrouded bodies off to one side. “I hope I’m not getting too close to news like that.”

“Not right in St. Joe,” Buck replied, hoping that was true. But he tried to keep up with the newspapers himself, and danger didn’t seem too prevalent in the city itself. He’d even heard from Camille a couple of times and she hadn’t mentioned any trouble.

“It’ll be good to get there,” Judith said, trying to get comfortable. Another spasm rolled over her and she looked quickly away, hoping the darkness had hidden her reaction. She really didn’t want to be more of a burden.

“I’m sure you’ll be there soon, probably late tomorrow,” Buck said. You’ll get to your sister’s, and have the baby . . .”

This time she couldn’t control her reaction as another spasm hit her. She moaned and grabbed at her abdomen.

He was at her side right away. “Mrs. Monroe?”

She moaned again, looking up into his worried eyes. “I don’t think this baby plans to wait for St. Joe,” she whispered.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He soaked the rag in the grease from the rabbit meat, wrapped it around the head of a sturdy branch, and stuck the other end of the branch firmly into the ground. When the rag was lit with a brand from the fire, it made a serviceable *torch* near the pallet. He had the cleanest clothing piled nearby to use as cleaning cloths and a baby blanket. He had water heating over the fire . . .

Buck rubbed his sweaty palms against his pants and just shook his head. He’d never figured on having to deliver even one baby, much less two within just a couple of months. Of course, having had the experience of delivering Thomas Ike Grainger made him less nervous now – well, a little less nervous.

Come to think of it, not much less nervous at all.

He took a rag soaked in cool water and replaced the old one that was on Judith Monroe’s forehead. She moaned in pain, wrapping both of her hands tightly around one of his. He winced at the pressure she brought to bear, but he didn’t try to pull away. It was obvious she was in much more pain.

He risked a peek under her skirt, breathing out a sigh of relief when he saw the baby’s head appear. “Not much longer now, Mrs. Monroe,” he said softly, squeezing her hand as another contraction hit. Then he gently eased his fingers free so he’d have both hands ready. “Push!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He heard the horses well before he could see them.

Buck got to his feet slowly, gently moving Judith Monroe, who had been using his leg as a pillow. In his right arm he cradled Sarah Elizabeth Monroe, who’d come into the world kicking and crying just a few hours earlier. Now she was sleeping peacefully against his chest, and he hoped he could keep things that way.

Tompkins was still out, but he was moving a bit now and muttering in his sleep, so Buck took those to be good signs. After all, he wasn’t sure that Tompkins’ long list of instructions to Kid and Lou covered what to do if the shopkeeper didn’t come back.

He turned his attention fully to the riders, who were on the road on the other side of the trees. Even as he watched, a couple of them dismounted, studied something on the ground, and then pointed to the trees.

His fingers brushed the handle of his pistol as he watched them come closer. If this wasn’t a group sent out by the stage company to search for the missing coach, he knew he was in big trouble. With an infant, a new mother, and an unconscious injured man to watch over, the odds weren’t good at all. But something about this group gave him reason to think they were searchers, not robbers.

Still, he needed to know for sure.

He went over to the woman and gently touched her arm. “Judith?” Somewhere during the night she’d pointed out that if they could share the experience of birth, they could probably use first names.

Her eyes popped open and for a moment she was disoriented, but then she saw the baby in his arms. “Buck? What is it? Is Sarah all right?”

“She’s fine,” he answered, helping her to sit up. Then he passed the baby into Judith’s hands. “There are some riders coming.”

She gasped. “More robbers?”

“I’m not sure yet, but I don’t think so.” He pulled the blanket up around her shoulders and then took her hand for a moment. “You stay here with the baby, and I’ll find out.”

“Oh, Buck, be careful!”

He smiled and nodded. “Always.”

He walked away, toward the road, gun drawn. Staying to the shadows of the trees he made his way closer to where he could hear horses and voices. And then . . .

He knew that voice!

“Mike!”

One of the men turned at the sound of his name, smiling as he recognized the speaker. “Buck? What are you doing here?”

Buck shook hands with Mike, more relieved to see the Marysville rider than he could even put into words. “Teaspoon sent me out with warnings about some raiders in the area. But I was a little too late catching up to the stage.”

“Damn!” Mike kicked at the ground and looked back at the other riders with him. “We got a wire at the station about some gang causing trouble. Then when the stage didn’t show . . . well, didn’t figure it was good.” He sighed. “How bad?”

“Ben’s dead, and one of the passengers,” Buck responded. “One other passenger was shot, but I think he’ll be all right. And another passenger wasn’t hurt in the attack – but she had a baby last night.”

“A baby?” That came from several of the men.

Mike just grinned. “Guess you’ve had a busy night.”

Buck could only nod in agreement. “We could sure use the help getting out of here.”

“That’s what we’re here for,” Mike said. Let’s go.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

With the extra hands to help, the work went quickly. They split into two groups, each tasked with building a travois. And then they hitched the carriers to two of the draft animals from the stage. The sturdy beasts were used to pulling much more, and they’d had a night to rest and forage in the sweet grass by the river, so they were ready to go.

Tompkins finally woke up as the men were lifting him onto the travois. “Huh? What? Where am I?” he stammered, struggling to focus.

“The stage was attacked, and you were shot,” Mike explained, tucking a blanket around the injured man.

“Buck saved your life,” Judith added from where she sat nearby.

“Huh?” Tompkins looked around. “Cross? What . . .”

“We’ll tell you about it later,” Buck said, cutting the shopkeeper off. He wasn’t in the mood for any of Tompkins’ rants – and he was even too tired right now to enjoy holding it over the man that his life had been saved by an Indian. Instead he went over to Judith and carefully took the baby from her, and then helped her to her feet. Supporting her with one arm and holding the baby with the other, he led her to the second travois.

“I might be able to ride,” she protested – weakly.

“No need for that,” Buck said, helping her down. He knew how long the labor had been, and he could only guess at how much it had tired her. “You just lay back and rest. We’ll have you and Sarah in Marysville in no time.”

“Do they have a telegraph there?” Judith asked.

“We sure do,” Mike answered.

“You can send word to your sister,” Buck added.

“That will be good,” Judith said with a sigh. She took the baby from Buck and let him tuck the blankets around her. Then she held his hand for a moment longer after he had finished, smiling as she looked into his eyes.

Those eyes had held such comfort as she had struggled through Sarah’s birth.

“Will you see me through to St. Joseph, Buck?”

“I’d be happy to,” he answered. “As soon as the doctor in Marysville says it’s all right.” On impulse he leaned over and brushed his lips against her forehead. “You rest now,” he whispered.

Judith watched as the men mounted their horses, and as Buck rode back to hold the reins of the horse pulling her travois. And then they were moving.

It took a few minutes to get used to the rocking and bumping, but then the horse seemed to fall into a steady gait on the road, and the motion became relaxing. Judith took one more look at the baby, sleeping peacefully beside her, and then she closed her eyes.

Her sister, Clara, would be glad to see her. But Clara and her husband had a small house, and five children of their own, so it would be crowded. She probably wouldn’t be comfortable staying for very long.

The motion was making her sleepy, and Judith decided that Buck was right, she needed to rest. Thinking about him, she moved her hand to her forehead, imagining that she could still feel the warmth of his lips there.

The kiss had surprised her – but pleasantly so.

Her thoughts were growing muddled as sleep tried to take over, but she struggled against it just a bit longer. The gold claim out in Colorado hadn’t exactly been a bonanza – but it hadn’t been a total bust either. She had money in a bank in Denver, enough to settle somewhere, build a house.

Rock Creek had certain possibilities . . .

The Favor
by: Dede

"Buck, ya' gotta' stop carryin' a *torch* for that she-devil, she ain't worth it."

Buck heard Jimmy's voice echoing through his head. Of course, he knew it was easy for Jimmy to tell him to forget the she-devil in question, especially since she was in love with Jimmy.

"Well, hello Buck," a voice called out.

Sighing, Buck maneuvered his horse towards the jail. He was supposed to be picking up a package from the sheriff for Teaspoon; what it was, Teaspoon hadn't said. And, honestly, Buck didn't want to know. During his time with the Express, Buck had learned to be uneasy concerning most of Teaspoon's packages. And, considering that the one thing Teaspoon had done was deputize Buck because the marshal hadn't wanted anything to interfere with getting this package, that made it all the more frightening. Glancing at the buildings he passed, he was vaguely aware that something wasn't quite right.

"Oh Buuuuck," the voice said in a singsong tone.

Finally hearing his name, Buck dismounted in front of the jail and looked around, apprehensively, for the owner of the voice. This was Point Springs and the fact that he didn't really know anyone was fine since there wasn't anyone that would want to know him. As he continued looking around, he realized the streets were rather empty, which struck him as odd since it was the middle of the day. But this thought was gone, once he quickly spotted Mr. Thomas Blaine, the tailor and a well-respected businessman from Rock Creek, coming towards him. Buck also noticed that the man was laughing.

"So, what's her name?" Blaine asked, as he walked up to Buck.

"Um, whose name?" Buck squirmed a little, not sure how Blaine could know what, let alone whom, he was thinking about. Buck wasn't worried that Blaine was making fun of him and laughing at him. He liked the man; mainly because Blaine treated Buck as a person, with respect and kindness.

"Son," Blaine replied, putting his arm around Buck's shoulder, "when you get to be my age, you know the signs that a man is thinking of a woman."

Not able to stop his reaction, Buck blushed and squirmed some more. As Blaine chuckled and slapped him on the back, Buck couldn't help but grin. "Well, I was thinking of a woman but probably not in the way you think." His grin faded and he looked down at the ground.

"Then she's not worth fretting over, is she?" Blaine stated authoritatively, crossing his arms over his chest. Completely dismissing the subject of the woman, he continued, "Now, what are you doing here?"

"Oh, I've come to get something for Teaspoon," Buck answered, with a small shrug.

For some reason, Buck felt better. Blaine had told him the same thing the other riders, Rachel and Teaspoon had, but coming from a man like Blaine, it made a difference to Buck. Maybe it was because he knew Blaine didn't feel an obligation to try and make him feel better.

"Hmm, well that's rather cryptic, isn't it?" Blaine chuckled again.

"Yes sir," Buck answered, absentmindedly. He glanced at the sheriff's office and then up and down the street. He really wanted to just get the package and go. This town wasn't very receptive to Indians.

Blaine sensed Buck's anxiety, so he said, "You go check in at the sheriff's and, if you would, join me for a drink. I've got a favor to ask of you." Blaine smiled at Buck. "It's rather fortuitous that I've run into you here."

Buck looked quizzically at Blaine. 'A favor? From me?' "Um, sure," he answered. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

"Well, I have to check on some bolts of fabric I ordered so if I'm not there, don't worry, I will be." Blaine patted Buck on the shoulder before turning for the freight office.

Buck watched Blaine walk away. Knowing he couldn't postpone this any longer and not really wanting to anyway, Buck stepped up on the boardwalk and walked to the office door. Standing in front of it, he prepared himself for the problems. The sheriff here always liked to question Buck as to who he was and why he was there, even if he'd seen Buck before. Teaspoon knew about it but that didn't keep the marshal from sending him. Teaspoon felt that the sheriff, a burly man named, appropriately enough, Biggs, needed to get used to the fact that Buck was deputized regularly on temporary bases and would possibly be a permanent deputy. That is, if Buck accepted the position. Right now, Buck just wasn't sure. Once the Express ended, there really wasn't anything keeping him tied to the area.

Shaking his head, he gripped the doorknob and entered. Looking around, he didn't see a soul in the office. "Great," he grumbled. Walking further into the room, he saw papers scattered across the floor and a man, facedown, behind the desk. Kneeling down, Buck turned him over and saw it was the deputy, and that the unconscious man had a gash on his forehead. But, seeing that the man was breathing steadily, Buck decided to checkout the rest of the room before going for the doctor. Drawing his gun, he stood cautiously.

Searching through the jail, he saw that nobody else was there, conscious or not. Holstering his gun and contemplating what to do next, he heard shots coming from across the street, in the general direction of the saloon.

"Wonderful," he muttered. Since the deputy wasn't going to be any help and he didn't know where the sheriff was, Buck quickly drew his gun again and headed toward the shooting.

As he ran across the street, the few townsfolk around that were frantically getting inside just stared at him, as if he were *crazy* to be running towards the gunshots. Smiling, he flashed his badge and mumbled, "I'm helping your sorry hides and you don't give me the time of day. How's this for ironic?"

Stopping just outside and to the left of the batwing doors, he peered over the edge. He saw most people standing with their hands up but some were still sitting with their hands on the table. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite see the mysterious gunman, though he could hear him and the vulgar obscenities he was yelling. Drawing back, he leaned against the wall and contemplated his situation. Deciding to play it ignorant, he holstered his weapon once more and, pushing the swinging doors open, he walked into the room.

All eyes were on him at once. All eyes and one gun.

"Um, why's it so quiet in here?" he asked as innocently as he could.

"Hey stupid," a gruff voice slurred, "didn't ya' hear the shots?" Bart added the visual of waving his gun at Buck.

Buck looked over and saw the mystery man. A fat, drunk, dirty slob, though not an unknown. Buck remembered seeing his poster in Teaspoon's office, but wasn't sure of the man's name. 'Bart...something,'he mused, but that didn't really matter. Though Bart wasn't a bigtime outlaw, he was a horse thief, and that was definitely enough to be worth some money.

As Buck's mind raced with how to handle the scene, the barkeep, Jacob, decided for him. Grabbing the *coach gun* he kept under the bar, Jacob would have had the upper hand, unfortunately, the tip of the barrel caught on the edge of the bar and Bart got the better of Jacob by putting a bullet in the barkeep's shoulder. Watching closely, it looked to Buck as if Bart was trying to aim more towards Jacob's chest. Proving Buck's theory, Bart swayed slightly and turned the gun back on Buck.

'Hmm, he's drunk enough so his aim's not straight. I think I can use that.' Buck pondered. Gathering his nerves, he said, "You're under arrest."

The room was quiet. That was, until Bart burst out laughing. "I'm what?" the outlaw spat between guffaws.

"You are under arrest," Buck stated very slowly.

"By you?" Bart snarled, his laughter dying instantly. "Yer jus' a good fer," Bart belched, "fer nothin' savage." He grinned, showing his few remaining yellow-tinted teeth as brownish spittle dripped from the corner of his mouth. "Why, you ain't worth the spit in that there *spittoon*." He slapped his knee, quite pleased with himself for thinking of that.

Buck remained expressionless, his eyes taking in everything around him. Just as he was ready to act, movement came from behind him.

"Sorry Buck, the order wasn't..."

Having no time to think, Buck jumped to the side, moving as fast as a rock from a *slingshot*, pushing Blaine out of the way. As Buck had hoped, Bart's aim wasn't straight, however the addition of Blaine caused Buck to be in a more awkward position and the bullet grazed his arm. Ignoring the pain and still lying over Blaine, Buck pulled his gun and fired. His bullet, unlike the outlaw's, found its mark between Bart's eyes.

Buck sat up, looking over to where Bart lay prone. Once he verified everything was okay, Buck stood up, helping Blaine to his feet. Everyone else remained motionless, afraid to move.

"Are you alright?" Buck asked the tailor. He could see that Blaine was unsettled; the man's face was pale and his hands shaking.

"Uh, oh, I think so," Blaine stammered, staring over at the body across the room.

The rest of the patrons were finally relaxing, a few of the men even going to check on the outlaw as others made sure Jacob was okay.

"Excuse me," Buck said to Blaine and walked over to where Bart lay dead. Looking around at the men standing near the body, he asked, "Does anyone know where the sheriff is?"

Buck watched as every man looked from Bart's body to Buck, not saying a word. He was about to lose his temper, thinking they weren't speaking because of his skin color, when an older man finally spoke.

"Sheriff Biggs took off," the older man answered. He paused as he looked at Buck's arm. "And I do believe you need the doc. Sit on over here."

"Took off?" Buck asked, stunned by the news. "Wait. What happened over at the jail? The deputy's out cold." Buck shook his head as he remembered the deputy. "Someone needs to get the doctor over to the jail for him."

"Sure thing, deputy, I'll go," a tall, lanky man answered and hurried off.

Buck stared, nonplussed, as the man ran out the swinging doors. "He's actually doing what I said," he mumbled to himself, completely shocked by the turn of events. Before Buck could ponder the situation any further, the older man interrupted his musings.

"Well, 's far as I know," the grizzled man said, scratching his chin, "we've been in here for goin' on three hours. That there sack a sh...uh, sorry...anyway, has been drinkin' and yellin' all this time. Ev'ry so often he shoots off that gun a' his. B'fore he came in here, he somehow got the jump on the deputy and then started a' shootin' in the street and once he did that, well that yella' bellied sheriff a' ours lit out fast." The man looked directly into Buck's eyes and added, "Nothin' like the brav'ry I seen here by you."

Buck suddenly felt uncomfortable, as all eyes came back to him. "It's my job," he mumbled, though it sounded lame to his ears.

"Well, job or not, what you did was truly heroic," a familiar voice came from behind him. Turning Buck saw Blaine.

"Oh sir," Buck said, apologetically, "I'm so sorry..."

"Why are you apologiz..."

"Father!"

The sound of a sweet female voice came from the front of the saloon and Buck looked up to see what Cody would have called a "vision of heaven." To Buck she was just the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen and she came running straight to Blaine. Wracking his brain, Buck could not remember that Blaine had a daughter, especially one that looked like this young lady. He was definitely sure he would've remembered that.

"Good heavens!" she cried. "What in the world? I heard shots and people were running all over and I couldn't find you and then I remembered you said you had to meet someone in here, of all places, and I wasn't sure if..." Rebecca's eyes traveled over Blaine, making sure he wasn't harmed.

"Now, now, Rebecca," Blaine said, putting both hands up to hush the young woman. "Everything is alright. I'm fine. However," he paused, looking back over at Buck and the blood that had seeped through the Kiowa's sleeve. "I believe you really should see the doctor."

"That's jus' what I tol' him," the older man, who was still standing by Buck, responded.

Rebecca followed her father's line of sight and saw Buck for the first time. She'd been so caught up in finding her father that she hadn't noticed the dark, handsome stranger beside him. Then, noticing his arm, she gasped, "Oh, my you're injured."

"Um, right, I should," Buck mumbled, acknowledging the suggestion of a doctor and trying very hard not to stare at Miss Blaine. He couldn't move though, his body didn't listen. It was quite happy to just stand there, in front of the beautiful young woman. If anyone had asked Buck the name of the she-devil at that moment, his mind would have drawn a blank, even at gunpoint.

"My dear," Blaine said, "I'd like you to meet Mr. Buck Cross," he paused waiting for her attention, and then added, "he saved my life."

Buck watched as Rebecca's bright blue eyes grew wide and a huge smile appeared, showing a perfect set of white teeth. Buck was mesmerized. Everything and everyone around them had ceased to exist. He was hard pressed to remember where he was at that moment.

"Why don't we escort Mr. Cross to the doctor's?" Blaine suggested.

"Oh yes," Rebecca said, taking Buck's uninjured arm and guiding him to the door. "Mr. Cross, I owe you a great debt of gratitude for what you did for my father...and for me."

"Um, well, that's, um, really not, well, um, not necessary," Buck stammered, feeling like he'd lost the use of his tongue and the knowledge of language, any language. He did have the sense to hold the door opened for her as they walked through.

"Oh but it is," Rebecca insisted. "Isn't it father?"

"Yes, Rebecca it is," Blaine said, grinning a sly grin as he walked on the other side of Buck. "Oh and Buck, the favor I mentioned?"

Glancing over at Blaine and seeing the grin on the man's face, Buck's expression turned wary. "Yes?"

Blaine smiled and nodded towards his daughter. "You've already started."

Buck looked from Blaine to Rebecca, who was happily leading Buck over to the doctor's office, and back to Blaine. "I am?"

"Yes you are," Blaine said, laughing at the grin that appeared on Buck's face.

As they arrived at the doctor's, Rebecca entered first, leaving Buck and Blaine out on the porch.

"What exactly am I doing?" Buck asked, staring at the opening Rebecca had just walked through.

"Well, we have a large wagon of supplies, not to mention all of her possessions. I need an escort back to Rock Creek and protection for my daughter," Blaine explained. His expression became serious and, as he looked Buck in the eye, he added, "Someone that I trust."

At the mention of his having Blaine's trust, Buck felt a lump in his throat. There weren't many people that would tell him that.

"You have my word," Buck vowed.

"Thank you," Blaine responded, the smile returning to his face. "Now, get in there and get that arm fixed."

"Yes sir," Buck said, smiling as he and Blaine walked through the door.

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