Topic #57: Word List - Use three of the five: Storm, double-cross, cinnamon, smoke and hat
The Magic of a Purr by: Jo
Just Add Water by: Lori
Pins and Needles by: Cindy
Kitchen Disaster by: Paola
It's A Start by: Debbie

The Magic of a Purr
by: Jo

This is part of the Buck and Jane series and takes place during their second year of marriage.

“WHAAAA” a loud and lusty cry woke Jane.

“Not again.” She said out loud as she started to get up, the soft snore of the man beside her changed her mind. “Buck, Buck, come on how can you sleep through that noise your son is making? BUCK!” Jane shook Buck. She was pretty sure that he really wasn’t asleep he just didn’t want to get up and get the infant. “It’s your turn. Get Up!” This was the fifteenth night in a row their son Noah had not slept through the night.

Buck grunted something she couldn’t quite hear but threw the covers off of his body and sat up. “Was Little Ike this bad? I mean did he cry every night?” Buck was still living in the bunkhouse when Little Ike was an infant.

“At first he was, go get him before he wakes up his brother.” Jane shooed Buck out of their bedroom as the low rumble of thunder from a *storm* off in the distance reached her ears. She lay on the bed knowing that was his “I’m hungry” cry and Buck would soon be bringing the baby to her for a feeding. She savored the few minutes of peace just laying there and smelling the faint scent of wood *smoke* drifting lightly on the night air.

Minutes later Buck returned with his four month old son cradled in his arms. The infant was fussing. “I changed him but I think he’s hungry, I, um, can’t help there…” Buck grinned as he placed the little boy in his wife’s arms. He kissed them both and turned to leave the room.

“Hold it Daddy, where are you going?” Jane was afraid he was going to go sleep on the sofa.

“Ike’s awake and he wants a story. Maybe Lou is right I think we moved Noah out of our room too soon. He’s woken up every night since we did. Ike says he only likes Noah during the day.” Buck shrugged and left the room.

Jane turned her attention to the hungry baby in her arms. “You’ve got to get your days and nights straight little man.” She cooed as she began nursing him.

Buck went to Ike’s room and tucked the little boy in bed. Ike looked up fighting to keep his eyes open “’Tory Dada, ‘tory” Ike looked so small in his big boy bed.

Buck sat down beside his two year old adopted son and began “Once upon a time there were two little kitties named Buster and Sam….” He looked up at Ike and saw the child was asleep. Buck kissed him again and smiled as he left the room He returned moments later with a sleeping, well fed, Noah and kissed him too as he placed him in his cradle.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do if I ever have to really make up a story about the cats; I’ve never gotten past them living in the barn. He just goes right to sleep.” Buck said as he crawled back into bed beside his wife.

“Hmm, does that tell you something?” Jane joked as she curled into her husband’s arms. They slept peacefully the rest of the night.

The next day Buck was doing some work in the barn while Ike played with some wooden blocks in an empty stall. Buck watched the child and marveled at how much the child looked like his father. Big Ike would have been proud of his and Emily’s son. Buck’s attention was drawn away for a moment when one of the horses nickered loudly. When he looked at Little Ike next the child was playing with two kittens. “Where’d you get those?” Buck asked looking for the mother cat. Ike pointed to a pile of empty grain sacks and sure enough there was the mother cat with two more kittens, all purring.

“Dada, Bufta n’ Fam! My kitties!” Ike cuddled the two fur balls in his lap. Buck was reminded of big Ike as the little boy played with the kittens. He already knew the kittens would be living in the house, if Jane wanted to argue, that was a battle she’d have to fight with her son. When they were ready to leave the barn Ike picked up Buck’s *hat* and carefully placed the kittens inside and carried it to the house.

“Honey, I think we may have two more for dinner….” Buck began. Jane looked up from the stove where she had just taken a tray of biscuits out of the oven. “It, um, seems that Buster and Sam have come home.” Buck pointed down at the hat Ike was carrying.

Jane looked inside the hat and saw two little fluffy faces looking up at her, one almost all black except for a little white around the eyes and the other was a striped *cinnamon* color; their eyes were barely open. “Hmm. I think they may still be a bit young to be away from their momma, Sweetie. I don’t know if we should keep them here….”

“NO!” Ike cried. “My kitties” He looked up at Jane with those big blue eyes, now brimming with tears. “Me want…Love you Mama.” Ike played his usual trump card; it melted Jane’s heart every time. Jane and Buck exchanged glances; he shrugged and smiled that lopsided grin. She knew she’d been beat. The kittens purred loudly and blinked. There was something soothing listening to the kittens purr. Noah, who had been fussing, settled down quickly.

“Ok, they can stay in the mud room for now but the momma kitty has to be with them. They’re still too little to be on they’re own.” Jane sighed. “Which one is Buster?”

Ike pointed to the black one. “Bufter!” then he pointed to the cinnamon one, “Fam!”

“I’ll go get the mother and the other kittens, thanks Hon.” Buck left and returned moments later with the cats and the grain sacks. He and Jane placed the feline family in a warm corner and soon they were all settled in having their supper; humans and cats alike.

That night as Buck and Jane tucked their children into their beds Buck heard the distinct sound of a purring cat. There in Ike’s toy chest was the momma cat and her kittens. Buck smiled and shook his head. As usual Ike asked for a story. “Once upon a time there were two little kittens named Buster and Sam. They were born in a barn but a little boy found them and brought them home…..” Ike and Noah slept through the night.

Just Add Water
by: Lori

The first thing Polly noticed when she opened the door was the*smoke*.

Her enjoyable thoughts of fixing supper for her and Teaspoon and spending a quiet evening together as they each talked about their day evaporated and slipped out of her fingers like a dream upon waking. Happiness was quickly replaced with concerned terror. The house was on fire!

“Teaspoon!” she yelled, bringing one arm in front of her face to ward away the sooty vapor hanging in the air. He was already gone when she passed by the marshal’s office on her way home from the saloon; she was afraid the smoke might have already overtaken him. “Teaspoon!”


The sound came from the kitchen, and she quickly turned, hoping that her husband wasn’t hurt. She didn’t relish trying to drag him outside to the fresh air. The air grew thicker as she approached the room, and when she breached the doorway, she coughed into the crook of her arm.

“What in tarnation?!”

Her arm fell to her side; terror now swept away by anger. Like a *storm* rolling across the prairie, her ire boiled and grew until it reached flashpoint and she erupted in a torrent of fury.

“What did you do?!”

“Now, Sweetheart,” Teaspoon tried to placate as he furiously fanned the gray air above the stove with his tattered *hat*. “It’s not as bad as it seems.”

One eyebrow rose dangerously close to her hairline. “Not as bad as it seems? It seems like you nearly burned down my kitchen.”

She stalked over to him and ripped his ridiculous hat out of his hand, “And would you stop that? You’re feeding the fire with the air and just making it worse.”

Grabbing a heavy lid with a thick towel, she put it on top of the belching pot and then opened the oven door, pulled out the charred pan and moved towards the kitchen door. With a quick flick of her wrist, she opened it and deposited the smoldering disaster onto the back porch. An added bonus of the open door was the smoke raced outside, seeking others to irritate and plague. Once back inside, she quickly opened the windows and was relieved to see the air already beginning to clear. That accomplished, she turned back to her sheepish looking husband and crossed her arms in exasperation over her chest.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Welcome home, Darlin’,” he smiled weakly.

“Sugar Lips,” she sighed as she walked towards him, her anger blowing out as quickly as it came. She never could stay angry with him for very long - much to her chagrin at times. “I love you dearly, but you cannot cook to save your life.”

“I don’t quite know what went wrong,” he lamented as he took her into his arms. He smelt faintly of *cinnamon* and she wondered what he had attempted to make; she loved cinnamon. “I just wanted to surprise you with dinner.”

With a chuckle she shook her head ruefully. “The next time you want to surprise me with dinner, take me to the restaurant. I’ll enjoy that a whole lot more than having to clean up my kitchen.”

“Don’t worry,” Teaspoon quickly tried to assure her. “I’ll clean it up.”

“Oh, no,” she said seriously before claiming his lips in a quick kiss. “You’ve done quite enough.”

She stepped back and turned for the door, “Now that you’ve whetted my appetite, let’s change out of these smoky clothes and then you can treat me to dinner.”

“Yes, Polly.”

“And, Teaspoon,” she said as she paused and turned back to him, “what have you learned from this?”

He winced slightly as he said, “Stay out of the kitchen.”

She patted his cheek as he reached her. “Yes. I just hope this time you mean it; because I can’t keep doing this every week, Sugar Lips.”

Pins and Needles
by: Cindy

*Cinnamon . . .*

The aroma reached his nose, registering in his mind a moment later.

Jimmy breathed in deeply, his eyes still closed. All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to be awakened; he’d certainly suffered far worse.

Of course, the fact that he could smell the cinnamon meant that Buck was already up, which probably meant that he should get up too. Slowly he opened his eyes and stretched.

The eastern horizon was barely showing the first signs of light, which seemed an awfully poor time to face the day. “Kinda early, ain’t it, Buck?”

Buck looked over his shoulder at Jimmy, then nodded his head back toward the west. “Way those clouds look, there’s a big *storm* heading this way. If we don’t get on Teaspoon’s trail before it hits, the track might get rained out.”

Jimmy slowly sat up, eying the clouds. He had to admit, they did look ominous. But the storm wasn’t on them yet. “Lucky we came across that town yesterday, huh?” he asked, breathing in another lungful of the tantalizing aroma. Of course, ‘town’ might be an exaggeration – it was more a collection of a few adobe huts in the middle of nowhere. But in the cantina the sarsaparilla was wet – and the owner’s wife had just made a batch of cinnamon rolls that came close to rivaling Emma’s.

Fortunately, she was willing to sell some extra rolls to a couple of hungry travelers.

“Definitely better than beans,” Buck agreed. He deftly tipped the heated rolls from the pan onto a tin plate, then set them aside, away from the *smoke.*

Jimmy yawned and stretched, working out a knot that seemed to have settled right in the middle of his back. He couldn’t help but wonder how Teaspoon and Erastus were managing – the two men were much older, and this sleeping on the hard ground wasn’t an easy life. But thinking of the other two men also brought a smile to his face and a chuckle to his throat.

Buck looked up from where he was pouring a cup of coffee. “What’s funny?”

“I was just thinkin’ about them fellas yesterday,” Jimmy answered. “Teaspoon and Erastus sure pulled a good *double-cross* on them guys.”

Buck grinned and nodded. “Yeah, they did. Would have been fun to see how they did it.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. “You don’t think we should have untied them guys, do you?”

Buck shook his head emphatically. “Nope. They got themselves into the mess, they can get themselves out of it.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” The cinnamon and coffee aromas were too much to bear now – it was definitely time to get up. He threw his blanket back and pushed himself to his feet. “You figure we made up any time yesterday?”

“Hard to say,” Buck replied. “But I bet Teaspoon and Erastus have seen that storm coming in and they’re moving now.”

Jimmy caught the emphasis on the word “now” – and he got the message. “All right, I’m up.” He considered getting dressed first, but then decided to pack up first. He reached down to roll up his bedroll . . .

That’s when the bedroll moved.

Just as he lifted the corner, there was a writhing motion down near where his feet had been moments before. Startled, he took a quick step back. But without looking where he was going, his foot landed on his *hat,* which threw him off balance and he stumbled backward, falling . . .

The cactus broke his fall.



Buck pinched the cactus needle firmly between his thumb and forefinger and gave it a quick yank. The sharp spike came out, accompanied by another moan from Jimmy.

Buck managed to stifle another outright laugh – but he allowed his grin to widen; laid out flat on his stomach, Jimmy couldn’t see that anyway. Besides, he’d had a good enough laugh when he’d first heard Jimmy howl and realized what had happened.

The laughter hadn’t gone over well with Jimmy – but there wasn’t really much he could do since Buck was his only option for help to get the needles pulled out of his behind.

Buck found he was enjoying that bit of power.

“How many more?” Jimmy asked plaintively.

“I think that’s almost it,” Buck answered, managing to say the words without laughing. Of course, he did know what Jimmy was going through, having fallen onto a prickly pear once himself. It was painful and humiliating – and he wasn’t about to share the story with Jimmy.

His grin changed to a grimace as he contemplated his next action. He couldn’t see any more needles, but . . .

Buck took a deep breath and reached out, running his fingers over the prickled skin of Jimmy’s bare behind.


“I got the big needles out,” Buck explained patiently. “But those cactus sometimes have really small needles too, almost invisible.”

“I feel like Emma’s pin cushion,” Jimmy grumbled.

Somehow, Buck managed to not say that that’s about what Jimmy’s behind looked like. It was good to have some power over Jimmy now – but it wouldn’t last forever. No sense pushing things too far.

“Well, I think that’s it,” Buck said, getting to his feet. “When we find some chickweed, we can make some salve for it.”

Jimmy got to his feet very slowly, gritting his teeth against the discomfort. He reached behind him, fastening the flap of his longjohns. “You think we’ll find some soon?” he asked hopefully.

Buck started to say he wasn’t sure, but then he took pity on his obviously hurting friend. “I saw a bunch of it yesterday,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll find something soon.”

Jimmy just nodded, bending stiffly to pull on his pants.

Buck studied him closely. “You sure you’re going to be able to ride?”

“I’ll ride,” Jimmy replied through clenched teeth.

Buck left Jimmy to finish getting dressed while he took care of packing things up. He’d already taken the baby rattlesnake that had crawled under Jimmy’s bedroll out into the desert, away from the camp. Then he saddled the horses as Jimmy was trying to figure out how to get his boots on without sitting down or leaning against anything. Finally, he took a blanket and folded it into a cushion, fastening it with some rope to Jimmy’s saddle.

After what seemed like a very long time, Jimmy finally approached his horse. He studied the folded blanket for a moment, frowning, but then he made an attempt to mount.

His first attempt ended in a gasp of pain and a near fall onto his injured behind.

With a supreme effort, his second attempt found him mounted on his horse – though not sitting quite all the way back.

Buck studied his traveling partner with concern. “Jimmy . . .”

“I’ll ride,” Jimmy growled, starting forward.

Buck just shook his head and mounted his own horse. He hadn’t tried to ride for a week after falling into the cactus as a boy. But Jimmy could certainly be stubborn.

“Not a word of this to anyone, Buck!” Jimmy’s voice came carrying clearly back to where Buck was.

Buck just grinned and urged his horse forward. Not replying, he figured he’d keep his options open. He didn’t really plan to tell anyone about this little misadventure . . .

But it was sure good to have the story in reserve, just in case.

Kitchen Disaster
by: DD

The newly wed Mrs Louise McCloud was bored. She stared at the drops of rain falling against the window and puffed. Rachel was at school, Teaspoon at his office, Buck had just returned from his ride and now was resting in the bunkhouse, Jimmy…well Jimmy was at Rosemary’ since the evening before. Lou shook her head, there’s something she didn’t like in that woman, but as long as she saw him happy she had no right to pry in his business.

She raised form the settee and stretched herself. She had nothing to do. She couldn’t go out for a ride, she couldn’t go to the new house she and Kid had bought, she couldn’t even take a walk due to the down pour. All she could do was to worry about her husband out in the trail, all-alone in that awfully storm*.

She had tidy up the kitchen, the bedrooms and the parlour, she had swept the floor, she had tried to read, but nothing worked. She had to find something to do; otherwise she would have go crazy.

Suddenly she remembered something she could help her to ease her mind. Rachel had prepared a chicken the evening before, she had plucked and drawn it, and it needed only to be seasoned and put in the oven. Lou never cooked a chicken alone, but she had seen Rachel do it a lot of times, so she decided she could have a try. It couldn’t be so difficult, could it?

She entered in the kitchen whistling, she felt better now that she had find something to occupy her time. She put the chicken out the icebox and then she took the box where Rachel kept the spices. Rosemary, a bit of thyme, a juniper’s berry and…what was the other one…? Marjoram! She break the dry spices in small bits, she mixed them with the salt and then strewed the chicken with the mixture. Done! Now Lou had only to cook it and for lunch they would have a roast chicken made by her, and her alone. She grinned, proud of herself, she couldn’t wait to see Rachel’s face!

The girl started the fire and put her creation in the oven and then she began to put away what she had used. Among the small bottles she noticed one: Cinnamon* was written on it with an elegant handwriting. Louise smiled and opened the bottle, which smell made her remember one of the best memories she had of the orphanage. A memory of an old nun with twinkling blue eyes and a sweet smile, a nun with wrinkled but rosy cheeks and a terrible German accent that had scared her a and her little brother at the beginning. But Sister Ulrike had soon won their trust with her gentleness and the strangest apple pie the McCloud's had ever seen. It wasn’t round and plump as the other pies they had eaten until that moment, it had a strange long form, it was made of a thin layer of pastry that contained a soft stuffing of warm apples and cinnamon.

Sister Ulla had offered to her and Jeremiah (Teresa was still too young) a slice of her Strudel as welcoming gift and the little scared Louise couldn’t help to feel herself a little better after having eat it. When she became old enough Lou had wanted to learn how to bake that pie and Sister Ulla had been happy to teach her. It had been long since the last time the big Louise had a chance to make it, but in that moment she felt pretty sure of her cooking skills. If she had prepared a roast-chicken a simple pie didn’t scared her.

She cleaned the table from the remaining of the chicken and put on it the ingredients for the new recipe: flour, sugar, eggs, butter and then apples, currant, almonds, breadcrumbs…and cinnamon obviously. Lou remembered all by the heart, she couldn’t do it wrong. She had just begun to knead the paste when Buck called her.


“In the kitchen!” She called her friend.

“Lou it’s stopped raining, do y-?” the Kiowa stopped in his tracks when he saw her. “Lou, what are you doing?”

She turned to look at him and saw his expression.

“I’m cookin’ Buck, what do it seems to you?” she responded to him crossly.

“Ah…hm...Rachel knows it?” he ventured.

“No, Rachel doesn’t know. It’s a surprise for her. Don’t look at me in that way Buck Cross. I know what I’m doing.”

“Ok…” All of them had learned to not argue with Lou McCloud when she put in mind something. “…What are you cooking, by the way?”

“Roast-chicken and strudel.”


“Yes, it’s a pie I learned to make when I was at the orphanage.”

“And do you know that it’s almost noon?” Buck raised an eyebrow and pointed at the mess that still was on the table. Lou could even know how to cook that pie, but surely she still hadn’t learnt to do it without turning the kitchen in a battlefield.

“Sure I know what time…almost noon you say?!”

Lou began to panic. She had lost the track of time! Frantically she rolled out the paste, but it was still sticky so she had to add more flour and start again to knead with more force.

“Lou, I give you a hand, if you want.”

“No! I mean…yes. Please can you cut in slices those apples?” the girl looked at him with pleading eyes and Buck couldn’t help to smile. Lou was literally panicking before his eyes.

“No problem.” He winked. “This strufel won’t beat us!”

“Strudel, Buck.” She huffed while she was pushing the rolling pin with all of her force to make that a-bit-too-firm paste as thin as she could.

“Lou? What’s this cup of water?”

“What?” a sweating Lou lifted her head to see the cup Buck was holding. “Oh no!” she groaned. She had to soak the currant in the water half an hour ago! She slumped on the nearest chair, defeated.

“I will never able to finish the strudel in time!” she threw her hands up in air. “This kitchen hates me, I know!”

Buck looked at the desperate woman in front of him and decided he had to help her.

“Lou, this kitchen doesn’t hate you. Don’t panic. I’m sure you can finish the pie.” Buck tried to calm her. “Listen to me. Now I go to the bunkhouse and fix the table there, so you can make your strudel and don’t worry about the lunch, ok?”

Lou looked gratefully at him. “Ok. Thank you Buck, you are an angel.”

The Kiowa smirked. “Yeah, an Indian angel, you can imagine it…?”

“You silly,” Lou smiled good naturedly “Now go, I have a pie to finish!”

The “Indian angel” Buck Cross exited and shook his head. If Lou’s attitude toward cooking wouldn’t change, Kid would starve. He chuckled dryly, his blue-eyed friend sure seemed to not notice the poor skills of his wife, since he eat everything Lou served to him. That man was really a lost cause…

“What’s so funny?”

Buck raised his head to find Jimmy before him.

“Oh nothing, Lou is making a pie.”


“This time she seemed to know what she was doing, well…more or less, so I don’t think we need to worry.”

But Buck had just finished to pronounce those words when a look of pure terror appeared on Jimmy’s face. He swirled to see what his friend was looking at and saw a big column of black smoke* coming out the Rachel’s kitchen.


They spurred in action immediately. Jimmy ran to the water trough to take a bucket of water and Buck put his bandanna on his nose and mouth and went to rescue Lou. The kitchen was full of smoke and he couldn’t see anything, the Kiowa found her curled in a corner with her apron on her face to not breath the smoke. Buck took her in his arms to carry her out and in the same time Jimmy entered and threw the water on the fire, the man made sure that it had went out and then he followed his friends.

Outside the three of them found a little crowd of people and two very worried Rachel and Teaspoon. The woman ran to them as soon as she saw them.

“Oh God! Are you okay?!”

The ex-station mistress observed them thoroughly but, apart the faces covered by soot and some choughs from Lou, they seemed to be okay. Rachel put a hand on her heart then, and took a deep sigh of relief.

“You scared me to death!”

The woman’s legs threatened to give away but Teaspoon was ready to support her.

“Okay, what happened?” the old man asked. He too was a bit shaky.

“I forgot the chicken.”

Jimmy, Teaspoon and Rachel looked at her with questioning expression, but Buck beat his forehead.

“The chicken!” he exclaimed.

“Yeah, the chicken. Look Rachel, I want to make a surprise to you and cook that chicken you had prepared yesterday. I also tried to make a pie. But then…well …I forgot the chicken in the oven and it burned. I’m sorry.”

Rachel should have been angry with Lou. She had told the girl a thousand of times to not do more than one thing at the same time if she wasn’t sure she was able to, to control always the oven once in a while when she was cooking something and to wait for her if she wanted to try something new. Rachel understood Louise’s eagerness to learn and to become independent but this time she could have really hurt herself.

“Louise.” She began to say sternly but, seeing Lou like that, dirty of soot and flour, with the eyes red for the smoke and a mortified expression on her face, Rachel hadn’t the heart to scold her. The woman shook her head resigned.

“The important thing is that you all are fine.” She said. “But please. Don’t try to make a surprise to me anymore, ok?”

The other laughed hard, while Lou wished the hearth swallowed her instantly.


Later Buck and Jimmy were in the doctor’s waiting room, Doc Barney was examining Lou and then it would be their turn. They had protested there wasn’t any need to do it, but Rachel had been adamant: they had breath smoke therefore the doctor had to examine their lungs.

“You know Buck...”


“Kid was always worried when Lou was on a ride. Instead he should be worry to leave her alone in a kitchen!”

Buck burst in laughter and his friend soon followed him.

“You are right, Jimmy, you are right!”

It's A Start
by: Debbie

Teaspoon pulled up on the reins to bring the buckboard to a stop. He waited for the riders on horseback to gather around him and Rachel before addressing them. “Boys, with how fast this *storm* seems to be approachin’, I think one of you oughta decide amongst yourselves who should skip the dance tonight. I’m fearin’ that thunder we’ve been hearin’ in the distance will get closer and I don’t want those horses gettin’ spooked and bustin’ out the corral again, especially with us not there to run them down.” He looked into the faces of each young man and the young woman disguised as a man as they glanced around at each other.

“But Teaspoon, they’ll be fine, I saw K…” Cody stopped talking and glared at the hand holding the *hat* that had just hit him in the stomach.

“Clues that say they’ll be fine once someone heads back,” Jimmy finished as he looked at Cody then motioned with his eyes toward the girl staring out at the darkened sky. He too had seen the southerner arrive at the station just as they were rounding the bend in the road, obviously putting his presence out of sight from the others since no one had said anything about it. Now it might work to their advantage. “Personally I think the one best suited for the job is Lou.”

“What?!” Lou’s head whipped up as she glared in his direction.

“Yeah, Jimmy’s right, Lou,” Cody told her. “Face it; you’re the one who complains the most about going ‘cause you can’t be there dressed like a girl. And it ain’t like you’re gonna be askin’ any of the other young ladies there to dance like the rest of us are so why don’t you just let us have a go at the beauties that will be waiting for us to arrive and you can have the love of … lovely job of keeping us employed by making sure our means of traveling don’t run off on us.” He sighed as he couldn’t believe he’d almost given things away by saying what she won’t admit about a certain someone.

“What Cody is trying to really tell you is that you would have the whole bunkhouse to yourself. If you wanted to put on your party dress and dance around with K … the kitty we found the other day, no one would ever find out about it.” Jimmy glared at the blonde rider, hoping Lou would fall for the bait.

“Is that how you all feel?” Lou looked from face to face but all she got was each of them averting her eyes. “Fine; you all go and have a grand time. I was gonna volunteer anyway. Come to think of it, a night alone with no men around does sound kind of inviting … and so does the idea of an empty bunkhouse, though I will NOT be dancing around with anyone.” She wagged her finger toward Cody and Jimmy then turned Lightning around and nudged her into an easy trot, heading back in the direction they had just come from.

Cody and Jimmy looked at each other and both simultaneously let out a huge sigh of relief. “The only problem is if she does end up dancing, we won’t have any proof of it since no one will be there to witness it,” Cody realized.

“I’d say in this case, it’s safer we aren’t there to catch ‘em dancin’, no matter which way they do it,” Jimmy commented, knowing the temper of the small rider. “All I know is I’d like a good night’s sleep that’s not interrupted by constant tossing and turning from two certain riders and that ain’t gonna happen unless we get them together.”

Rachel glanced at Teaspoon then turned to the two boys and gave them a shake of her head. “When she finds out the set up you’ve got planned for her, don’t you come running to my house for protection tonight when she comes to murder you in your sleep! Let’s head out.” She settled back in the seat once more as Teaspoon flicked the reins. She put her hand near her mouth to stifle the laugh that was threatening to explode past her lips. If she had seen Kid come home, she would have come up with something along the same lines of what Jimmy and Cody had. While they were tired of the tossing and turning, she was tired of the endless conversations about the man that led nowhere except in a circle and only, without saying it directly, revealed the same thing – that she was hurt and angry and still very much in love with him.

* * * * * * * * *

Lou rode around the bend in the road that would lead her into the way station yard, feeling both annoyed and relieved. Cody was right – she had spent the whole week complaining about not wanting to go to the dance because she had to dress in her boy togs. But the worst reason of all, which she would never admit to anyone, was that she would be spending the evening enviously watching all the pretty girls out on the dance floor while she kept wishing it was her being whisked around the floor by a blue eyed man … by a handsome man ... by any man! So she couldn’t complain that she managed to get out of it by agreeing to watch the horses; it was the way she was ‘volunteered’ that annoyed her to no end. They had treated her like a girl and she hated when they did that to her.

As she rounded the bend and came past Emma’s house, Lou instantly pulled Lightning to a stop as she noticed *smoke* rising from the chimney of the bunkhouse. She knew there hadn’t been a fire lit all day so it wasn’t accidentally left going as they had hurried to get ready and leave. There was only one explanation as to why a fire would be going now on this cool, misty evening.

“And they knew about it!” The female rider slowly turned in her saddle to look behind her in the direction of the group she had been a part of minutes ago. Her eyes became slits as her knuckles turned white from all the pressure she was putting on the reins in her attempt to ‘strangle’ something. “If they think they can *double-cross* me and get away with it, they have another thing coming. I wouldn’t go to bed tonight if I were them,” she muttered.

‘Well there’s no point in avoiding the inevitable,’ she told herself, knowing she couldn’t exactly keep an eye on the horses from this distance and besides, the rain had picked now to slowly begin to fall and she didn’t feel like getting soaked to the skin being a fool and sitting out in the open on her horse. She urged Lightning to slowly walk across the yard. As she got closer to the bunkhouse, she couldn’t help by notice that the person she had been trying to avoid was sitting on a bench, staring at her. Lou stopped the horse just shy of the porch, directly in front of him, and looked down at him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

“Yeah, I seem to recall you lying under me.”

Kid raised his eyebrows as he tilted his head and looked at her.

“I mean, you sleeping in the bunk under mine,” Lou corrected as she glanced away, thankful it was almost dark out so he wouldn’t see the flush that had come over her cheeks.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought you meant.”

She looked at him smugly. She heard the disappointment in his voice as he turned his eyes toward the boards under his feet. Lou also was quick to note the way his shoulders slumped as he rested his head back against the wall of the building. Hurt goes both ways – he had hurt her by saying they weren’t meant to be together since they lived and worked too closely and now it was her turn to give him a taste of his own medicine. The only problem was she didn’t get as much satisfaction out of it as she thought she would.

So that realization got her mad all over again. “So what are you doing here? You weren’t due in until tomorrow morning sometime.”

Kid looked up at her, trying to decide what she thought of him by the look in her eyes but it was too dark to tell from the stance she had over him. There didn’t seem to be any sort of challenge to her words so he figured it safe to answer her. “When I realized a storm was coming, I decided I would rather spend the night in my dry bunk than out on the wet plains so I rode straight through, as hard as I could, until I made it home. I saw all of you riding out of here as I came around the bunkhouse but I guess no one noticed me.”

“Well if one … or two … of them had seen you, no one mentioned it, that I can tell you as truth,” she told him as she glanced back down the road again. “So what are you doing sitting out here?” Lou silently cursed herself that when it came to Kid, her curiosity always got the better of her and she found herself always needing to know what he was up to and why.

“The storm is making the horses act up so I thought I’d sit out here and keep an eye on them. Why aren’t you headed into town for the dance?” he asked hesitantly, never sure of her reaction to what he said to her these days.

“I volunteered to skip the dance, figuring it would be boring anyway, and came back to watch the horses. Well I have to agree with you about not wanting to sleep out in the rain. And since it’s starting to rain now, I’m going to go unsaddle Lightning.” She turned the horse in the direction of the barn.

“You want me to give you a hand?”

Lou whipped her head around to look at the sandy haired rider. She sat up straighter in the saddle as she glared at him. “I am perfectly capable of unsaddling and caring for my own horse. And I can keep an eye on a corral full of nervous horses by myself too!” With a sharp turn of her head in disgust, she urged Lightning around the bunkhouse porch and out of his view.

By the time she had finished unsaddling the horse, had brushed him down and given him some oats, it was pouring out. Lou ran across the yard, jumping over the puddles that had already formed, and climbed up the steps to the dryness of the bunkhouse porch. She stopped with her one foot still on the top step and stared at what awaited her. Lying on the bench was a blanket and a steaming hot cup of what she smelled to be coffee.

The bunkhouse door opened and Kid stepped out but didn’t close it behind him. “I figured you would get soaked coming from the barn to here so you can dry off while you watch the horses.” He nodded his head in the direction of the blanket he’d placed on the bench. “And just because you’re going to be sitting out in the cool weather doesn’t mean you have to feel cold so I left you a cup of coffee.” He turned to head back inside.

“Did you want to keep me company for a while?”

Lou looked at him surprised that the voice speaking was her own. She quickly tried to cover it up when he turned around by walking to the bench, picking up the blanket and cup, and sitting down in such a manner that there was just enough space left for him to sit next to her.

Kid had turned around quickly at her question and stared at her, wondering if there was some motivation behind her words. But all he found was her picking up what he’d left for her as she deliberately avoided meeting his eyes. She was talking to him, actually talking to him, not yelling or arguing with him. He gave a small smile in her direction. “I’d be happy to keep you company; thanks for asking.” Kid closed the door then sat down in the spot she’d left for him.

Lou looked up at him and returned his smile with a small one of her own. It felt good to not be mad at him, even if it was just temporary … or was it more than that? She took a sip of the cup still in her hand as she thought on that. Lou pulled the cup away from her mouth and looked at the liquid inside then at Kid curiously. “It tastes different … I like it. You made this?”

The southerner grinned at her surprised look. “It’s *cinnamon*. My ma used to put it in my drink when I was younger and needed something special after a bad experience. I thought you could use something special yourself since you were missing out on the dance.” He shrugged his shoulders to make her think it was no big deal he was thinking of her feelings so much.

Lou bit her lip to hide the pleased smile that threatened to cross them. “So what happened when you were younger that your ma wanted to make you feel better by giving you a special drink of your own?” She held up the cup as she took a long sip of the hot liquid. Lou quickly looked at him, ashamed of her question, as she recalled the long conversations they’d had regarding Kid’s father’s treatment of him and his mother. “I’m sorry; I can just assume what would make her want to take care of you like that.”

Kid furrowed his brow for a moment as she apologized to him then began to chuckle as he realized what she was talking about. “No, for what we went through with him, there wouldn’t have been enough cinnamon in all the world to make up for that,” he admitted. “She only used the spice for life’s little problems that seemed like the biggest crises in the world to a young boy.”

They were having an actual conversation and it was nice. She’d missed talking to him so much. Lou twisted her body sideways on the bench so she was facing him. “And what was one of the problems a young Kid went through back in Virginia?” she asked anxiously as she smiled at him.

Noticing the movement out of the corner of his eye, Kid shifted so he was facing her as well. She seemed to really want to know and that thought warmed him inside … and he hadn’t even had some of his special coffee! He decided to go out on a limb and answer her question. But the thought of what he was about to admit to her caused his cheeks to feel heated so he glanced away from her inquiring eyes. “Well, one time was when I was about eight and I had … well, I, um … I kissed a girl!” He said the last part quickly just to get it out in the open then breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t hear laughter from the body next to him. “It was after school one day ….”

Lou sat back and looked at him. His words were like music to her ears - not because of what he was saying but because he was saying it to her. It was just a simple story being told, nothing complex that really mattered but what did matter was that they were talking. And it was mutual that they both wanted to talk to the other finally. ‘It’s a start,’ she told herself happily. ‘It’s a start.’

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