Topic #59: Pursuit
|Pursuit of a Dream by: Miss
||Looking For Something Different by: Raye
|Leaving For The World by: Raye
||The Pursuit of Happiness by: Lori
|The Trouble With Women by: Lori
||In My Dreams by: Raye
Joy of Pursuit by: LMS
Purr Suit by: LMS
Eggs and Stir by: Jo
& Go Seek by: Raye
|Running by: Cindy
||Molly's Second by: Nikole
|The Chase Is On by: Cathy
Wants Something With A Ring To It by: Lori
|Up In Lights by: Lori
||The Wascally Wabbit by: Lori
|The Trail by: Miakoda
||Who's Chasing Who Now? by: Debbie
Spat by: Wendy
||Cover of Night
|In the Dark
Lou shot up out of her sleep, it was the same dream she had been having every night, ‘this is getting old. Am I going insane?’ she got up out of bed paced alongside the empty bed. She thought it was because she still felt guilty about the way things went with the Kid, but then again how on earth would a man getting shot in a saloon have to do with the Kid? Who was the unknown man that she witnessed being murdered in cold blood? The questions swirled around her, this had never happened to her, sure she’d relived bad spots in her life, but to dream about someone that she never saw or met that was just insane.
He took out the picture he had kept long after he had left his family behind, he thought about them time and time again, but he’d lost his way a long time ago and wasn’t sure if he could ever look any of them in the eyes again. He’d spent most of his time since the end of the Express gambling, womanizing and gun fighting, he was ashamed of that and couldn’t bring himself to show his family what he had become.
“Joe, I’ll take a bottle,” he sat down on the stool; the barkeeper just shook his head.
“Why do you punish yourself? What did you do that was so bad that you have to drink yourself to death?”
He laughed, “maybe it’s what I wan,” he gave the barkeeper a nasty look; the barkeeper shrugged and went on about his business.
“You gonna play?” the voice behind him asked.
He took the bottle and looked at Bradly, “Let’s go,” he patted man on the back. “I’ll sit here,” he took the chair by the wall.
“Superstitious? Bradly asked raising his eyebrow.
“No just cautious,” he spat.
He never put his back to the entrance of any saloon; his reputation had made him wary of those around him.
“Lou you alright?” Buck asked her?
“Just tired,” Lou shrugged.
“Anything you want to talk about?” he came up to her, concern in his eyes, softness filled his face.
“Na, I’ll be fine, thanks,” Lou grabbed a bucket and went out to feed the horses over in corral three.
Buck watched her; something was eating at her, but what? He wasn’t going to push. With Lou that wouldn’t work, if she didn’t want to talk about it that was it.
Lou kept busy all day, yawning and drinking coffee, she sat on the porch watching the sun set, she sighed was she going to have the same dream. What was she going to do? Nothing gave her any indication of who this person was or where he was, of course even if this dream was any indication of anything.
“I’m turning in, I got the back field planted, tomorrow I’ll go into town and buy a couple of pigs for the winter,” he had to wonder if she heard anything he just said. “Lou?” he called, cutting through her thoughts.
“I’m sorry Buck I just got a lot of things on my mind,” she rubbed her temple trying to settle her thoughts.
“Lou you know if you need to talk I’m a good listener,” he told her as he walked off the porch.
“Buck,” she called, he turned around, “thanks,” she smiled over at him.
Lou looked at the bed, “this is crazy,” she threw her hands up in the air, she was afraid to go to sleep, she was afraid of her own dreams. She pulled the cover down and slid under them. She closed her eyes.
The saloon was foggy; she could hear the laughter of men as they drank. “I’ll see your two dollars and raise you two more,” the gruff man that had his back to her said. She listened intensely trying to figure out if she knew the voice connected to the unidentified man, “You cheated,” the man across the table yelled pushing is chair back. “McCall sit down,” he ordered, “go to hell, you cheated,” he pulled his gun. But the other man had beat him to it, “I don’t cheat, gambling is a game of luck, now either sit down and continue playing or get the hell out of saloon,” the other man ordered as he pulled the hammer back on his gun. That gun! Lou knew that gun…
Lou bolted awake, she knew who the unknown man is, and she threw the covers off of her, lit the lamps in her bedroom and opened the trunk at the end of the bed. Pulling out her old riding clothes, and her gun, she had to find him, her dream could mean something or it could mean nothing, one way or the other she was going to find out. She packed some supplies, the ride ahead wasn’t a long one, and she’d be there by mid day.
“Peppermint,” she patted the horse on the neck, saddled up and rode out. She’d left Buck a note explaining where she was and who she was going to visit.
“That son of a bitch,” he muttered as he took a drink out of the whiskey bottle, he paced angrily; he cheated that’s the only way I could have lost. He threw the now empty whiskey bottle against the wall, he pulled the box out from under the bed, and he’d bought it years ago, but never used it.
‘I’ll show him’ he gripped the handle of the gun.
Lou made it to the mining town earlier than she thought; first thing she had to do was get a hotel room, she wasn’t sure how he was going to react when he saw her. It had been years, she had tried to stay in touch but all her letters had come back unopened. He had cut her deep especially with Kid being killed during the War. He hadn’t even come to his funeral.
“I’d like a hotel room,” she stated, as she pulled the money out to pay for the room.
“Here you go,” he handed Lou the key.
Lou nodded and headed to her room. She looked out the window, a direct view at the saloon; she decided taking a nap wouldn’t be wise. She settled in, and decided to grab a bite to eat before going to the saloon. Once she got in there all hell was going to break loose.
The dinner was awful, the meat was stringy, the vegetables where overcooked. Defiantly not Emma or Rachel cooking. But then again this town wasn’t known for their cooking. She paid for the meal and headed for the saloon.
She spotted him immediately he was sitting with his back against the crowd, and against the entrance. Lou found a spot where she could see the entrance and most importantly see him.
Lou yawned, maybe she was wrong? Maybe the dream didn’t mean anything; it could be that she just wanted to feel needed. She was thinking that she was going crazy. She ordered a shot of whiskey which went down smooth, thanked the bartender and went to leave, and as she was leaving she noticed the man entering the saloon. Her eyes widened, that was the man from her dream.
She pushed her way through the crowd and watched as the man pull the hammer back on his gun, Lou didn’t hesitate pulling her gun, pulled the hammer, and the only thing that was heard in the saloon was a single gunshot.
The man fell to the floor, the crowd in the saloon began to come out from under tables and put their guns away. She pushed her way through the crowd found him putting his holstering his gun.
“You’ve got one hell of a lucky streak,” Bradly patted his friend on the back.
“Did you see who saved my life?” He looked around and that’s when he saw her, he smiled over at her. What was she doing here? How did she know? He made his way to her, “how did you know?” he asked her.
“Would you believe me if I told you I dreamt it?” she smiled warmly up at him. “It’s good to see you,” she wanted to hug him, but she wasn’t exactly dressed like a woman, so Lou settled for a hand shake.
“You’re right I’m not sure,” he said teasingly.
“This wasn’t in vein?” she looked up at him, worry in her eyes.
“I need to get back to the game,” he turned, Lou grabbed his arm.
“Damn it Hickock, will you look at yourself, you nearly got yourself killed, shot in the back,” she was pleading with him.
He looked down at her, he never could take those dark brown eyes, “it’s been to long, and the things I’ve done,” a lump got caught in his throat.
“It’s never too late,” her eyes pleaded with him. “I’ll be in town until tomorrow, please Jimmy, come back home with me,” she squeezed his hand lovingly.
Lou woke up bright and early, the first time in a week since she slept like this. She smiled; she knew deep down that Jimmy would come with her. She packed up what she had and headed to get her horse.
She waited for as long as she could and mounted. “I guess we’re going back alone,” she sighed.
“I wouldn’t say that,” the voice said from behind her.
Lou turned around, “You’re coming,” she smiled as he rode up beside her.
“Well let’s go,” he replied with a wink.
The two rode off side by side and a future still to be written.
“I want your opinion on something.”
Louise stopped stirring the chili and set the spoon on the table beside her. She wiped her hands on her apron and walked over to the door. “Sure, but what about after supper? I’ve got bread in the oven, chili’s nearly done and…”
Noah grabbed her hand and pulled her outside into the late afternoon sun. “Rachel’s on her way over, she’s bringing the girls with her. We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Lou looked around the room and mentally made note of everything. Everything was in its place. Still she had a moment of indecision.
She turned to look at him, returning his easy smile.
“Then,” he started toward the east end of town, “come with me?”
Two minutes later they stopped out in front of the livery. “Noah?”
He gave her another smile and led her into the office where Mr. Collins greeted them with a smile and a wave before he tried to lift himself up from his chair.
Noah lifted a hand to stay him in his seat. “Sorry I’m late.”
“No problem, son… It’s good that you came. Both of you.”
Louise took a seat on the opposite side of the desk and folded her hands in her lap. While Mr. Collins exchanged pleasantries with Noah she looked at the papers on his desk. “Deed of Sale.”
Noah heard her soft spoken words and reached over to take hold of her hands.
Mr. Collins outlined the business. What it took to run the livery. How much he charged for services and finally the asking price and all it entailed.
Seeing her confusion and indecision, Mr. Collins excused himself for a moment while he checked on the horses in the stable.
“It’s a surprise, I know, but when I spoke to Mr. Collins this morning I knew it was perfect timing.”
“You did say you wanted something…of your own.”
“So did you.”
Lou nodded. He was only repeating what they’d discussed the night before. “It would be ours.”
He nodded. “We work for ourselves.”
“And all the strain and pressure that goes with it.” She swallowed a nervous gulp of air. “And still, I’m looking forward to it.”
“A joint venture.”
Lou nodded and stood up to greet Mr. Collins when he returned to the room. He gave her a smile and she held out her hand. “Mr. Collins, we’d be happy to buy the livery from you.”
No. I am not going to cry. I am not. No tears. I will not… *sniff* *snort* cry.
“Your trunks left yesterday on a wagon bound for St. Joseph.”
She nodded at her father’s words, but she doubted that she’d remember any of it later. Removing her straw hat from her head she wound the ribbons around her fingers until she was convinced they’d be knotted beyond all salvation.
“So,” Louis stepped up on the walk and gave her a smile, “are you really serious about this whole…seeing the world thing?”
Nodding mutely she could only stare back at her brother as he took her into his arms for a hug. She wanted to swat at him with her purse, or her hat if she could extract it from her fingers… wanting to rage at him for managing to squeeze a tear from her welling eyes. “I’ll be fine.”
Sure, fine… that’s why her throat was rough with unshed tears.
“You know that you can send us a telegram at any time and we’ll send you a ticket back home.” Teaspoon rounded out the group with Polly at his side, his now silvered hair caped around his shoulders. “You’ve always been a little girl with big dreams. So, I know there’s not a single one of us that would ever tell you not to go… or tell you that we don’t want you to leave.”
“Your Uncle Cody has sworn on a stack of bibles that he’d put himself between you and a shoofly… or anything worse… if it came down to anything like that… he’s family and he’ll be there for you, because we can’t.” That was it for her mother, dissolving into tears and clutching Dara into her arms, nearly crushing her into powder.
The stage driver cleared his throat and gentled the reins to calm the horses. They were desperate to get into motion. They were ready to forge off into the unknown… okay, so it was trail they traveled every week, but who was counting.
The group parted and James Hickok stepped up to his daughter, his eyes shadowed by the wide brim of his hat. “You have that money we gave you?”
“I’m sure your Grandpa Spoon slipped you some money as well.”
She smiled as Teaspoon gave a little shrug.
“You’re going to be fine… you hear?”
He pushed his hat back on his head and stared down at his daughter. “I keep hoping I’ll look at you and see pigtails and freckles staring back.” He wrapped her up in his embrace and sighed into her ear. “Why did you have to break my heart and grown up on me?”
“I love you.”
“And I love you right back, sweetheart. Come home soon.”
She stepped back, resolve taking hold of her as her father took her hand and helped her into the stage interior. “I’ll be home in eight months, when the show goes on a break. You’ll hardly even know I’m gone.”
Dara settled into her seat next to the widow Taylor who was heading east to visit her sister and swiped at the tears slipping out of the corners of her eyes.
“Ha!” The stage driver cracked the reins and the horses pawed into the ground, pulling the heavy stage a half a stride before anyone even realized what was happening.
Dara raised her arm to wave good-bye, but suddenly it wasn’t enough. She fell to her knees on the padded seat in the middle of the stage and pushed her head and one arm out of the center window, stretching her arm in wide arcs to signal to her family on the platform.
She saw her mother lean into her husband’s embrace. Grandpa Spoon mirroring the action with Polly and there, running down the dirt street, stirring up his own cloud of dust… her brother, Louis. She blew him a kiss.
Music from an out of tune piano and drunken, raucous laughter drifted up through the floor into Jimmy’s room. It seeped into every corner, chasing away the sleep he so desperately craved. The sheets looked like war had been declared on them, and with a disgruntled sigh, Jimmy once again untangled himself from them and attempted to find a comfortable position.
Rest was an elusive quantity, along with peace. Demons chased after him and plagued him, rode his heels like the very hounds of Hell until he could feel their breath on his back. He knew if he turned around he’d see their ember eyes locked onto him, so he ran, in the hope of remaining ahead of them and finally finding rest for a ragged and weary soul.
But there was no rest for a vagabond. No home for the homeless. He had chosen this life years ago, brash and sure of himself, certain there was no other way but to embrace the life he was convinced had become his destiny the moment J.D. Marcus put pen to paper and created ‘Wild Bill’. A gambler, a gunslinger, a man to be reckoned with, that was the life he led. Women and fame came his way, and he enjoyed them both.
But it was a hollow life, and eventually, Jimmy was forced to acknowledge that. While those around him enjoyed their lives, Jimmy realized he merely existed in his. Occasionally the odd piece of news would reach him regarding his former colleagues and friends, and he’d hear about their wives, their children, their successes and their joys. Jimmy had none of those; all he had were notches on his belt and badges on his body. For every foe that he sent to meet his maker, another young pup stepped in to take his place.
There was no break in the cycle, there was no change in the course, and most of all, there was no rest. His life didn’t change, it went forward relentlessly and he no longer felt like a man in control of fate, he was a puppet dancing to an unseen master. Sometimes he was up, and sometimes he was down, and more often than not, he was lost.
‘Wild Bill’ didn’t command the same fear as before, newer, faster, younger men challenged and competed for fame, glory and women, and Jimmy no longer had the comforts that had appeased him before. He could no longer pretend he was content when the best hotels were unaffordable and he was reduced to hovels like this. The finest whiskeys were out of reach, and instead he was served rotgut. Women no longer begged to be his companions for the night; he had to pay for their time.
Tired, frustrated and disgusted, Jimmy swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up, running a weary and aged hand through hair now peppered with gray. He rose to his feet and crossed the room, leaning down to look into the tarnished mirror above the dresser. Lines filled with living and death reflected back at him and he sighed as he realized that he was no longer the man he used to be, or thought he was in his mind. Running a hand over his face to apprise his whiskers, he contemplated shaving, but disregarded it. Perhaps he’d grow a beard in an attempt to gain some distinction. So there was no time to start on it like the present.
Throwing off his weary bedclothes, he dressed in his finest attire. Sleep was elusive tonight and there was no point sitting in the dark, musing on regrets and vain wishes. This was his life and there was no use pretending otherwise. He’d chosen it, and it was too late to regret it, so he might as well once again embrace it. There was a drink downstairs calling his name, and he was sure he could find a card game somewhere. He’d show those who doubted him and were ready to dismiss him that Wild Bill Hickok was still a force to be reckoned with.
He should have known better. Any time a beautiful woman batted her dark lashes and asked for help, he should have learned by now to run in the opposite direction. But nope, he was a sucker for a damsel in distress. And now, Jimmy was paying for it.
He thought a few days in close proximity, alone, no harm there. However, things never went the way he imagined they would. Instead of tantalizingly fun moments between just the two of them, maybe even a little harmless flirtations…maybe even a little more, he got this.
More trouble than he could have imagined.
He’d been shot at. He’d been hit. He’d had the bullet dug out by a backwater horse doctor, stitched up and sent on his merry way. Only to be forced to flee in the middle of the night with only the clothes on his back; running from hired guns in his long johns, boots and guns was not an experience he wished to repeat again any time soon. He’d turned into a thief by stealing another person’s clothes right off their line, and he did it because soulful brown eyes in a heart-shaped face pleaded with him for his continued assistance.
If he was still back in the Express he knew that Teaspoon would have all kinds of pearls of wisdom to impart to him. Problem was, his friend wasn’t anywhere around, and Jimmy was having to make it all up as he went along. He probably could have done it, if only the woman would just stop flapping her gums and dancing on his last nerve. It’s like she spoke just to hear herself talk, and Jimmy had long since ceased thinking her voice sounded like a choir of angels. Sounded more like a Devil’s Bow to him.
“Enough!” he barked out.
Miss Eugenia Smythe blessedly shut her mouth and stared at him in shocked disbelief. When she opened her mouth, took in a lungful of air in what Jimmy knew was a prelude to her once again talking, he held up a stern finger of warning and silenced her with a withering look. Standing, he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, pinched opposite corners and gave it a few twirls. Then he put it in her mouth and tied it behind her head. He knew she could easily reach up and untie it, but he’d apparently shocked her into forgetting that fact and the gag remained in place when he returned to his seat and sat down.
“Don’t you ever stop talkin’?” he growled at her. “A body can’t think with all the noise you’re makin’.”
A series of indignant mumbles issued forth and Jimmy thought they sounded like ‘How dare you?!’ but he couldn’t entirely be sure.
“I gotta say,” he continued on. “You’re turning out to be more trouble than you’re worth, Miss Smythe. No amount of money could possibly make up for everything I’ve been through. And how exactly am I supposed to get my payment if you don’t trust a bank to make a draft?”
She stared at him blankly and he shook his head with a grumbled snort of discontent. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
He stood and walked across the rocky floor of the cave they were in since they didn’t have enough money for a hotel and stared out. “Miss Smythe, I am very tempted to cut my losses right now. I doubt I’ll get my money, and I can’t take another day of hiding out for something I didn’t do.”
“Mister Hickok.” She’s apparently realized that she could untie her gag. “I swear to you that you’ll get your money.”
He huffed, “The last time a woman swore to me, I nearly ended up with a hemp necktie. Pardon me if I don’t exactly trust anything that comes out of your mouth anymore.”
“I just need a little more time.”
Arching a brow at her, he shook his head. “That’s what I’m afraid of. Next thing I know, two years will have passed and I’ll keep hearing you just need a little more time. Next town we arrive at, I’m leaving you at the stage depot and you can make your own way.”
“You can’t do that,” she protested. “A woman traveling alone…what will I do?”
“Somehow I have you doubts you’ll do just fine. If anyone captures you, all you need to do is talk. You’ll put ‘em to sleep and then you can escape. Or, you’ll talk ‘em to death, or maybe they’ll shoot you just to shut you up. Either way, I won’t be around to see it.”
“You’d leave without getting your money?”
Apparently she thought she could appeal to him that way. “Miss Smythe…no amount of money is worth this. I may not be a particularly bright man, but I’m no fool. I know when to cut my losses, and I’m done. So, come tomorrow morning, we’re finding the nearest town and I’m heading anywhere you ain’t.”
Decision made, equilibrium finally beginning to flow back into his fractured world, Jimmy headed over to the side of the cave and sat down. Pulling his hat low over his eyes, he settled in for the evening. In the morning he’d be free of the plague of his life, and then maybe Jimmy would head back to Rock Creek. After all of this, he could do with the serenity of Teaspoon’s office. And maybe, he’d cause a ruckus just to get his old boss to throw him in a cell for a few days. That way he’d be guaranteed a couple of good nights’ sleep.
The dream rolled over him, crushing out his breath like a boulder plowing under the tender blades of grass in its path. Still, it wasn’t the pain that ripped him from his tenuous hold on sleep… it was their voices cold and scared… alone and begging for help.
Jimmy lurched to his feet, leaving his blankets behind in a tangled mess of moth eaten plaid. He felt through his pockets, finally dragging out a worn handkerchief that he used to dash water over his tired eyes, wringing out the aches and fears that had paralyzed Deadwood for the last day and a half.
Stumbling through the line at the chuck wagon, he accepted the cup of lukewarm coffee with a mumble of thanks and looked for a place to sit.
Robert Barron, the blacksmith, nodded at him and Jimmy moved toward the empty spot beside the old man, but a movement in the trees caught his eye.
A flash of white shrouded in black flirted with his vision and he dropped the cup at his feet, urgency in every inch of his body.
He barely heard Robert calling to him. He heard the warning in the old man’s tone, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded from his course. She saw him coming, her eyes gone round with surprise. There was no mistaking the fear written plainly over her features.
Following her light tracks in the moonlight was easy. The edges of her feet made sharp ridges in the fresh snow and Jimmy could see the shadows filling in the void that her movements had left behind.
Stop. He couldn’t seem to utter a sound but the words screamed through his mind as she dashed between the elms glowing white in the silvery light.
She darted back and forth like a rabbit on the run, but he was faster, determined not to let her disappear into the recesses of his thoughts. He reached out an arm, closing his fingers around her arm.
Her frightened cry filled the air and birds, stirred from their sleep, launched themselves into the air and the ruckus startled them both. They waited, breaths visible in the black of night, spiraling into the treetops like smoke signals from long forgotten fires.
She found her voice first. “It’s you.”
He released her with a near Herculean effort, willing his fingers to stretch apart and drop to his side.
Her hand reached up and splayed over the hollow in his chest where his heart had once been and she looked up into his face with stark relief. “It is you.”
“Who the hell are you? Skulking around in the woods at a time like this doesn’t look good. Folks’ll wonder what has you running about in your under things.”
“I came looking for you. I came to help you.”
“Help? A good night’s sleep would do me good. The chance to enjoy a woman’s company for a few hours wouldn’t hurt much either. Dare I hope you’re here to answer either one?”
“You know where the boys are… don’t you?”
He was ready to push her away, back hand her into the snow for suggesting he had something to do with the boys going missing, but the honesty in her eyes took away his ire and left confusion. “I don’t know a damn thing, Miss.”
“You see them,” she touched his forehead with her other hand, her fingers warm and alive against the chill of his skin, “in your dreams.”
“How…how do you know that?” He was afraid of the answer, but he had to ask… had to know. “Why would you say that?”
“Because,” she took in a breath of air and met his eyes, “I see you in mine.”
Kid looked up as Lou strode into the barn, her saddle in hand.
"Lou?" He asked in surprise as he stood to greet her. "You got a run?"
Lou looked at him and sighed. "Contrary to what you might believe, there is more to life than running relay."
"You're just going for a ride?"
"Mhmm," she said as she began saddling Lightning. "You might try it some time," she added as she tightened the cinch strap.
"How about now, you mind some company?"
"Why kid, whatever do you mean?"
"Just… wasn't sure if you'd want me along…"
Lou gave him a throaty laugh as she mounted, then leaned down so her face was closer to his. "Try an' keep up."
Kid smiled, and was surprised when she dug her heels into Lighting's flank and horse and rider bolted from the barn.
It took him less than a second to make up his mind as he quickly pulled himself up onto Katy's bare back and urged the mare to follow them.
To his surprise Lou urged Lightning on rather than letting him catch up. Soon they were riding along the dry river bed at full speed, neither horse losing or gaining ground. After a half a mile, Kid urged Katy up the embankment and forward to bypass several cutbacks in the river bed.
He could feel his pulse rate increase as he saw Lou coming closer. It was a race to the final switch back and Kid had to rein Katy in to keep from running into Lou. As he did, Lou slowed and laughed, finally passing him. A few yards up the bed, she slowed and turned Lightning back to face them.
She stroked her horse's mane as she studied Kid, then she urged Lightning forward until they were side by side with Kid and Katy. She leaned over and kissed him.
He gave her a surprised look, knowing he would never understand the woman he loved. "What was that about?"
She laughed. "Kid, sometimes the fun of pursuit, is what you find in the end."
Cody pushed his hair out of his face as he finished rinsing his hair in the shower. After a long ride it felt good to wash the dust off, but he was in a hurry. His leg of the westbound relay had gotten a late start and that meant he was late getting back to the station.
'Tonight of all times,' he grumbled to himself.
Tonight was the town dance, and he had been looking forward to getting to dance with all the eligible young ladies of Rock Creek.
The others were already dressed and were heading towards the barn as he entered the bunkhouse. He quickly combed out his hair and set his rifle on his bed as he looked for his suit.
He opened his trunk and began rummaging around, but he found no sign of it. As he put his novels back he saw it laying in the corner where he'd thrown it after the last dance when Jimmy had cut in on him and he’d lost the girl’s attention.
He sighed and reached for his suit. Maybe tonight would be better.
He let out a startled yelp as the suit started moving. He backed away, only to trip over the corner of his bunk. As he landed he reached for his rifle. He was about to shoot when he heard a faint meow coming from the pile of clothes.
He paused, and watched the suit for a minute before standing and picking it up. As he unfolded it, he found a small calico kitten curled up within.
"It's a good thing Bart ain't here, he'd have you for lunch," he told her with a nervous laugh.
He set the kitten down on his bed and smiled as she curled up under his blanket. He quickly dressed before picking up the kitten and placing her under the covers on Jimmy's bed.
As she started purring he smiled. Everything was right with the world.
A loud crash from the kitchen woke Buck from his nap. He looked toward the kitchen and then looked at the stairs that led to the bedrooms his two sons and nephew were supposed to be in. The next sounds he heard sent a shiver up his spine; ‘Uh oh’ a little voice said and another child giggled.
Buck leapt to his feet and ran into the kitchen; too late, he realized that the floor was wet. Crash! Buck found himself sitting on the floor in a puddle of broken egg goo. The rest of the room was covered in white powder; there was flour on the chairs, the table, the hutch, all the dishes, and the three small children who stood there looking at him in shock.
Five year old Ike recovered first. “Run for it! We woke up Daddy!” he exclaimed and grabbed both his brother and his cousin’s hands and ran out of the back door. Buck heard Ike tell someone, “You go that way” as the door closed behind them.
Buck scrambled to his feet but slipped twice more in the slippery mess on the floor. By the time he made it out the back door in pursuit of the children they were no where in sight. “Ike, Mathew, Noah you come back here this instant!” The only answer he got was from the softly clucking chicken and one of the horses snorted. “Unless you’re going to tell me where they went, be quiet!” Buck growled in frustration at the horse. Buck glanced up at the sun and realized, to his horror, that Lou and Jane would be back from their shopping trip to town within the hour. If he didn’t catch the children and have them cleaned up and, more importantly, the house cleaned up, he’d be in the barn tonight.
Jane had warned him. “Are you sure that you want to take care of all three boys? Two is a handful but three, especially those three, are trouble.”
He’d assured her it would be fine. “What’s one more? Besides it will be good practice for me for when our next one is born.” Buck had patted Jane’s slightly rounded tummy where their third child now grew. Kid was home taking care of his three month old son Nathan while Lou was out with Jane. He’d offered to watch Mathew but NOOOO Buck had insisted that he could do it all by himself.
“Two three year olds led by a five year old mischief-maker are a little different dear….don’t turn your back and whatever you do DON’T take a nap when they do….” Jane had been adamant about that last point and made him promise not to go for an afternoon snooze.
So much for that promise….he thought as he followed the white footprints of one of the small culprits. Jane is going to kill me! “Ike where are you? Noah, come back to me NOW! Mathew, your mother is going to be very angry.” And she’ll REALLY kill me, Buck added to himself.
The first set of footprints led to a giggling Noah hiding behind the woodpile. “Come on out here you little imp!” Buck said reaching for his son. The little boy extended his arms upward and Buck picked him up not realizing he was now adding flour to the egg all over his clothing.
Using his finely honed tracking skills he followed the two other sets of footprints into the barn. He found Mathew hiding in a stall covered in the hay and the other wonderful additions to the hay that the horse had made. “Wonderful…..Mathew I can see you so come over here.” Buck set Noah down on a hay bale and told Matty to sit beside him. “Do not move, I’m mad enough at you now don’t make it any worse, do you understand?” Both boys nodded.
The ladder to the loft had flour smudged all over it and Buck climbed it quickly. “IKE CROSS you get over here NOW!” Buck said as soon as his head cleared the loft floor. He glanced down quickly and noticed that Mathew and Noah were still on the hay where he had left them but now they were holding hands. Ike came across the loft toward his father and then followed him down the ladder.
They had just reached the barn floor when Ike cocked his head to one side and said. “I think Momma’s home!” Buck groaned and he too could hear the unmistakable sounds of a wagon coming to a stop outside of the house and two women’s voices.
All three boys started running for the barn door, they were through it almost before Buck could react. “Don’t! No! Get back here!” Buck yelled to the empty door. He ran after them and almost passed out when he saw the back door of the house closing behind them. “This is not good…..I’m a dead man….” Buck grumbled to himself as he sped after the children.
Buck entered the kitchen in time to hear his wife exclaim. “Oh My God! What have you gotten into?”
He heard Lou say. “What have you been doing?”
He forgot about the slippery floor. Just as Jane appeared in his sight and she got her first look at the disaster that used to be her spotless kitchen, Buck slid on the floor again, arms and legs flying in four directions. This time he managed to catch the table cloth and pulled it, and everything on it, onto the floor with him.
Both women we saying something but all he could hear his wife saying “BUCK CROSS….I’M….I’M….OH! MY KITCHEN….”
Ike piped up and said in a voice that chilled Buck to the bone, “Daddy took a nap and we were hungry….”
Buck decided right then and there that he was dead so he rolled up in the now ruined table cloth and prayed it would be his shroud.
“I knew we should have found an adult to watch the kids, all four of them…..” Lou said as she turned Jane away from the kitchen.
Buck spent the rest of the night cleaning.
“Yes, well, Mrs. Hickok, while I’m certain that your son is a darling angel at home, in school it is quite another matter.”
Michael ran between them and dove under the empty chair on the edge of the rug.
Lorilei gently cleared her throat and pointed her gaze at her son, hoping that his father would get her meaning. Jimmy was lost in earnest conversation with their infant daughter. Michael giggled as he ran in the opposite direction, sliding across the floor on stocking feet only to scamper up the stairs to the second floor.
A quick glance at her husband proved her fears to be true. He hadn’t seen anything of Michael’s strange behavior.
“Really, Miss Finch, this is the first I’ve heard of such… behavior problems with Michael.”
“You mean to tell me,” she huffed out a breath, “that you don’t believe me?”
Lorilei was quick to smooth over the teacher’s frazzled protests. “I’m sure you are telling me the truth, Miss Finch… I’m just trying to understand. Michael has always been a spirited boy, at times a bit difficult to handle,” she caught the teacher’s pointed look and hurried on with her explanation, “but he is a good boy.”
When Jimmy didn’t immediately back her up she put her hand on his leg and let her fingernails push in just slightly.
“What?” Jimmy hissed, shocked at her painful touch.
“I was just telling Miss Finch that Michael is a good boy.”
“Oh, sure,” Jimmy lifted his daughter up in his hands and placed a loud kiss on her cheek and in return she giggled with wild abandon, “he’s a firecracker.”
“Just about as destructive, if you ask me.” Miss Finch was determined to get her point across.
At the very moment and Lorilei was about to open her mouth to refute the claims, Michael shuffled out from the hallway and ducked behind the settee that Miss Finch was parked on. She just couldn’t say anything at that point. All she could do was pray that they’d make it through the visit and then move out of town. Lorilei was mortified.
“I can assure you, Miss Finch that James and I will have a serious talk with Michael and make sure that he behaves more in class.” Lorilei stood to make it gently clear that the conversation was over.
Miss Finch seemed to pause as though she was considering saying something else, but instead she put her hands on the arms of the chair and prepared to lift herself from the seat.
“Oh, hello, Missus Fin.” Michael’s head popped out from beneath the sofa bottom. “Wanna see my pet?”
Lorilei wanted to scream out, ‘say no!’ She couldn’t do it, not right at that moment when her heart was in her throat.
Miss Finch was going to make an effort. “Sure, Michael. Where is he?”
Lifting up a hand from its hiding place, Michael held up his new prized pet, a garden snake the length of his arm. “Oh, he likes you!” The snake proved the little boy’s words when it’s slender forked tongue darted out to touch her nose.
It was the blood-curdling screech that finally got Jimmy’s attention. He stared, dumfounded, as his son’s schoolteacher ran from the room.
He stared after the woman, who hiked her skirt up around her ankles as she ran through Lorilei’s flowerbed in the yard. He turned his curious gaze on his wife. “So what did she say?”
“Oh!” Lorilei threw her hands up in the air and stormed from the room. “You’re impossible!”
“Lori?” Jimmy craned his neck to see where she went watching her stomp up the stairs. “Well, what do you think little lady?” He looked down at his daughter, who was busy stuffing the hem of her dress in her mouth. “What did I miss?”
December 1871 – Topeka, Kansas
It was the creaking stair that woke her.
Lou sat bolt upright in bed, listening for a moment. And then she heard it again.
Mrs. Magill had warned her about the loose step, third from the bottom, when she’d taken the room in the boarding house. Truth was, the place had a lot of things loose and in need of repair. But the step had been pointed out special, because Mrs. Magill didn’t like to be awakened.
Of course, it could be just one of the other boarders – coming in late, or perhaps sneaking down to the kitchen in search of something to eat. Or someone who waited until Mrs. Magill retired for the night before slipping out to the saloon.
A few months ago she would have believed either option.
Experience had taught her to sleep fully dressed – when she could sleep at all. Now she rolled to one side, scooped up a boot, and pulled it on. The other boot quickly followed, and she was on her feet before it was fully settled.
Her jacket and pack were on the chair, ready for easy access. She pulled her jacket on and grabbed the pack, slipping silently toward the window. Even in the cold of December she’d left it open a crack – just to make sure it would open in a hurry if she needed it.
The window opened out onto a sloped roof over the kitchen at the rear of the house. It was steep, but not impassably so. She’d tested that her first night in town.
Lou had just closed the window behind her and slipped out of sight when she heard the door crash open in the room behind her.
There were voices then – angry, confused. And a light now glowed in the room she knew to belong to Mrs. Magill.
It was a good thing she had paid in advance for a week, even though she’d only been able to stay three nights. The extra money would help soothe the landlady’s ire over the broken door.
At the edge of the roof, Lou dropped the pack to the ground and then sat down, rolling over and lowering herself until she felt her feet touch the frame of the door below. From there she maneuvered onto the railing framing the steps.
There was more shouting, and heavy footsteps on the stairs inside, as she hit the ground. She grabbed the pack again and raced through the shadows, sticking to the darker alleys as she headed for the livery.
How had they found her again? She’d been so careful – or at least thought she had. She’d tried to remember everything Buck had ever said about following a trail, and not make those mistakes herself. She’d backtracked and circled countless miles, never heading straight for her destination. And yet, somehow, her pursuers had found her again.
And for that matter, why?
As much as she wanted an answer to that question, she didn’t really relish the idea of sticking around to try and get one. Not after being chased and shot at for months.
She reached the livery, glad that she had chosen the smaller business on the far edge of town. Hopefully, if anyone was looking for her horse, they’d be at the larger stable on the main street.
She’d paid ahead here too – just in case. So there would be no trouble from the owner if he found the horse gone in the morning. She wouldn’t run out on a debt, and thus wind up with the law after her as well.
The small side door opened quietly and she slipped inside. The hatch door in the loft was open, and the moonlight provided enough illumination to find her way to the correct stall.
The bay mare inside nickered quietly as she approached, which gave Lou some confidence. No one was likely hiding in the dark corners of the stall if the horse was so quiet. She set the pack down and reached for the saddle.
Just then the horse nickered again, louder, and backed up a step. Lou started to turn, reaching for her gun, but an arm seemed to come from nowhere, wrapping tightly around her waist.
The man stank of sweat and tobacco and whiskey, and Lou felt her stomach lurch at the combination. But none of those things would kill her, so she turned her thoughts to escape.
“Where is it?”
“Where’s what?” Lou cried. “What do you want?” Even as she asked, her gaze fell on the pitchfork leaning just on the other side of the stall.
“You know what we want!” her attacker yelled in response. Then his voice softened as he ran a finger along her cheek. “Give it to me, then we’ll have us some fun.”
Lou really wished she did know what the men wanted – but she didn’t want to stick around for the ‘fun’ to find out. She let her body go limp against his arm and sobbed. “I don’t know what you want! I’d give it to you if I did.” She sobbed again and sagged as though she was fainting.
The feint worked. Lou felt the man’s arm shift, loosening his hold just a little – and it was enough. She lunged for the pitchfork, breaking free. Before he could react, she swung the handle, connecting squarely with his temple.
Lou watched in grim satisfaction as the man slumped to the ground. There was definitely an advantage to having people underestimate her strength and determination because of her small stature and gender.
Unfortunately, her attacker was out cold, so there was no way to press him for an answer as to what the hell they wanted from her.
And not knowing how many more were in town looking for her, she couldn’t wait around for him to wake up.
Her practiced hands made quick work of saddling the mare, and then she led the skittish horse over the body in front of the stall. Lou was more than half hoping the mare would step on her attacker, but the horse carefully lifted her feet to avoid that.
At the back of the barn Lou drew her gun and slowly opened the door. Scanning the landscape, she studied the shadows. That was another thing Buck had taught her. Watch the shadows, look for anything out of place, where a shadow shouldn’t be. Look for shadows moving in a way that seemed too regular to be natural.
But nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
She led the mare out and mounted. Then, pistol still in hand, she turned the horse toward the main street. When they reached the byway, she dug her heels into the mare’s flanks and the horse took off, racing eastward.
This was the riskiest part of her plan, she knew. If her pursuers were too close, or hiding in her path, she might be stopped – or shot. But if it worked, she wanted them to know she was leaving town, and heading east.
Behind her, she heard raised voices, but she didn’t slow or look back.
They cleared the edge of town and kept going, heading east until they reached a small stream. Slowing now, Lou guided the horse into the water, and they waded against the flow for what she guessed to be about a quarter of a mile. And then, climbing the bank, she urged speed from the horse again, and they resumed the race . . .
But now heading west.
Using the trees lining the stream’s bank as cover, Lou circled well north of Topeka. At one point she thought she heard horses running toward the stream, and maybe a raised voice. But the sounds disappeared to her rear, and she didn’t slow.
Finally, on the western edge of the town she had just left, she turned back a bit to the south. Back on track for her true destination.
Traveling at night posed more risk of the horse stumbling over an obstacle or into a hole, but it was a risk she’d have to take. She needed the darkness to cover her way for as long as possible.
Behind her, Topeka disappeared into the dark of the night. Ahead, the road to Abilene beckoned.
Her hopes were pinned on reaching that town. Her plan to rest up first in Topeka had been interrupted, but her goal was almost within reach now.
She’d made the decision to go to Abilene nearly three months ago now. All the backtracking and circling had made the journey a long one. But help – and hope – was nearly in sight.
She’d seen the newspaper articles, and they had put that spark of hope into her heart. ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok was the law in Abilene, and few dared cross him.
Lou pulled back on the reins, slowing the mare to a safer pace. And then she looked ahead, almost as though she could see Abilene already.
No matter what the papers called him, Jimmy was there. And he would help her.
If she could just reach Abilene, she could stop running.
It didn’t take long for Kid to find Molly. In fact, it was she that more or less found him. As Kid walked up to the jailhouse to get some more information about where he could find the woman that had Jimmy running for cover, she was literally pulled right into his arms. By Kid himself to be exact.
Two horses broke loose and rampaged through the small town, dragging a part broken off of a large wagon behind them that dangerously battered anything that crossed its path. A young woman, dressed in a blue and white dress stood directly in the path of the approaching horses. A nearby woman screamed of the top of her lungs, a few men close by shouted out to her and waved their hands but the lady didn’t move an inch.
Kid didn’t hesitate for one second as he ran up to her, grabbed her by the arms and pulled her close. As he fell to the ground clutching the young woman to his chest, Kid could see the broken off piece of wood swing by exactly where she had been standing mere seconds ago. As the horses continued their race through the main street a crowd started forming around the two and Kid could hear someone yell out to get the doctor. He looked down at the young woman hoping she wasn’t hurt, that he had been fast enough to get to her.
“Miss?” He panted. “Are you alright, Miss?”
The young woman lifted her head so she could face him and nodded shakily. A by-stander helped her get to her feet and Kid did the same, dusting himself off while to took a moment to get himself together. A few men clapped him on the shoulder, proclaiming him a hero while a woman and what seemed to be her husband fussed over the young girl. She however, wanted nothing to do with the couple and pushed herself away from them.
“You’re a true hero!” she exclaimed as she held the couple at bay.
Kid blushed and smiled sheepishly. “I’m sure anyone else would have done the same.”
The young woman took in a dramatically deep sigh and clapped her hands together before she flung her arms around Kid’s neck. “I knew I’d find you! Jimmy told me I’d find my true hero someday and now at long last I’ve finally found you!”
“Excuse me?” Kid staggered backwards, placing his hands on her waist pushing her away from him.
Releasing him from her tight grip around his neck she placed her hands on his cheeks and stared him deep in the eyes. “Never you mind All that matters now is that we’re finally together. Just like it is meant to be.”
Kid was at a complete loss for words. Whatever questions he had on his reeling mind he was unable to voice them. He just stared back at her wondering if she hit her head when they hit the ground and was in need for a doctor after all. The people that gathered around them one by one went about their own way, though each of them left with a frown on their face, clearly equally confused about the woman’s earlier statement.
“Why don’t you wait out here while I go get my things,” the girl instructed while straightening his shirt. “I have a lot to tell you and I sure want to know everything there is to know about you. I’ve been waiting for so long I don’t want to waste another minute without you!”
“You’ve been…waited for… I’m sorry, what?” Kid took off his hat and rubbed his head that now started to ache.
“Oh! You’re so adorable!” She giggled and kissed him with such force it made his lips hurt. “Now don’t go anywhere, my sweet little cuddle bunny. I’ll be right back.”
Watching the young woman prance off Kid silently hoped he was dreaming and he would soon wake up. He ran the back of his hand across his lips to wipe off the wet, forceful kiss she just planted there and looked around to see if anyone he knew had seen what just happened. Sure enough, Sam came walking up to him.
“I see you’ve met our little trouble maker.” Sam placed a hand on Kid’s shoulder and threw him a sympathetic smile. “You did good, son. She could have gotten hurt real bad if it weren’t for you.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Kid grimaced. “Ehm, Sam? What did you mean by little troublemaker?”
“She caused a fuss earlier with Celia, the dentist’s daughter. Apparently they were fightin’ over Jimmy,” Sam snickered.
“You mean, that was Molly?!”
Sam placed his hands on his hips. “Why yes, Jimmy tell you about her? She’s been going on and on about how much in love they are and how they’re gonna get married. I thought she had a few screws loose, but now that you mentioned Jimmy knows her.” His voice trailed off.
“I think she might have a change of heart,” Kid gulped as he scratched the back of his neck.
“How’d you figure that, Kid?”
“Well, she… she kissed me,” Kid whispered as leaned in closer to Sam. “And she’s being going on about ‘finally findin’ her true hero she’s been waitin’ on for so long’.”
Sam’s shoulders started shaking and it didn’t take long before the street was filled with his familiar laughter.
“This ain’t funny, Sam! What if L…someone finds out?! She wants to talk, ‘know everything there is to know and not waste another minute’ she said. I don’t even know the woman and frankly, I’d like to keep it that way! “
“I never thought I’d have so much fun bein’ right.” Sam chuckled.
“What do you mean?”
“She does have a few screws loose!” Sam slapped Kid on the back and walked away, shaking his head with laughter.
When Molly finished gathering her things she went out to find the young man that saved her life. She was so excited that she finally found the man that would make her happy for the rest of her life she forgot to even ask him his name.
“Doesn’t matter anyway,” She muttered to herself. “A name is just a formality. He’s the one for me just like Jimmy told me.
Once outside on the boardwalk she straightened out her dress and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She happily skipped over to him, looped her arm around his and planted a kiss on his cheek.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long? I’m Molly Peabody by the way.” She smiled from ear to ear.
“Molly, I’m Kid and I think you need to come with me to see the doctor.”
“The doctor? Why?” She pulled her arm back. “Oh my! You got hurt trying to save me from a certain death and I made you wait! You poor thing.”
Kid ran a hand through his hair. “No, no I’m not hurt. I’m fine. It’s, ehm…it’s you I’m worried about. You see, when people just meet they don’t go kissin’ each other. I think you’ve been through a lot and I want to make sure you’re alright.”
Molly frowned. “I’m fine. I don’t need to see a doctor. Now that I finally found you nothing could be better. I’ve waited so long to be with you, nothing will stand in my way to our happiness. Jimmy said I would meet my true love and hero some day soon. ”
“You mean Jimmy Hickok?”
“Who else would I be talking about?” Molly snorted. “I thought he was my one true love but he always said I was meant to be with someone else. That he didn’t deserve me. He lives a very dangerous life you know. People are out to kill him!”
Kid sighed. “Yeah, Jimmy sure is somethin’.”
“You know Jimmy?” Molly grabbed the sleeve of his shirt.
“He and I work together.”
Molly clapped her hands together and started jumping up and down. “Oh, then it truly is meant to be! Fate has brought me to you through Jimmy!”
Kid’s face showed a brief flash of panic but then peered over her shoulder to the far end of the street. Molly turned around, wondering who caught her newfound love’s attention but she couldn’t see anyone there.
“LOU?!” Kid bellowed. “OK I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!!!”
Molly glanced from Kid to the place he was shouting at and wondered who or what he was talking to.
“I gotta go, Molly,” Kid apologized. “They need me back at the station, must be somethin’ real urgent.”
“But there’s nobody there and I didn’t hear anyone calling your name.” She waved a hand at the corner he was looking at.
“He, ehm… left before you could see him and he whistled. Yeah, a whistle, our unique call. I gotta go.” Kid dashed off.
Molly crossed her hands over her chest. “You can run, but you can’t hide. Let the pursuit begin”
The end…. NOT!!!
William F. Cody suppressed a chuckle as he spied the signs that his quarry was ahead of him on the path. He’d spent a lot of time tracking his prey and was gaining on them with every step he took. The best part of all? None of the others even knew he was there.
Silently Cody moved forward, careful to stay in the shadows while avoiding the twigs and leaves that would have given his presence away. He knew he’d have to be really close before he made his move. There were too many of them for him to get all of them at once but he figured if he timed things just right, he’d at least get his intended target.
But the timing had to be almost perfect. His victim had proven himself to be faster than Cody so if he was even a little bit slow on the draw he’d lose his victim and any of the others with him as well.
He could have chosen one of the others, he considered. But there was so much more satisfaction in taking the one he’d chosen. It would be the first time this one had been caught – and William F. Cody wanted to be the one doing the catching.
The group of them was being pretty stupid in Cody’s opinion. They were staying together, leaving tracks even a blind man could have followed.
The others made no effort to stay quiet – not like Cody. They were talking to each other so he could hear them long before he saw them. He bit back a laugh as he heard his victim asking if anyone had seen Cody recently.
Oh, they knew he was after them. There was no doubt about that but the one he had targeted didn’t have a clue that in a very short time he would be meeting Cody face to face.
There! Just a few feet separated him from the others. Unlike Cody, the others were not dressed to be hiding in the woods. He reckoned they all figured they could outrun him and it didn’t matter that they stood out corn stalks in a wheat field. His target was wearing a bright red shirt – he couldn’t have been more obvious if he tried.
Keeping low to the ground but not so low that he wouldn’t be able to rush forward, Cody crept towards the others. Then, like a fox in a chicken yard, he gathered himself together and rushed forward.
The others scattered just as he had predicted they would. Rather than try for all of them, he concentrated on the one he had chosen from the first. Stretching out his full length, he grabbed the other boy by the arm shouting “TAG, YOU’RE IT!”
A/N: Thank you to Raye for the idea, and for throwing down the gauntlet.
He felt like a child sneaking out of the house. Except this time he wasn’t sneaking out, he was sneaking in. So he was more like a thief in the night sneaking in. But he wasn’t there to take anything; he was there to visit the woman he loved.
The woman who had apparently moved a chair in front of the window which caused him to stumble and fall to the floor. Rather hard. Rather loud.
He sighed as he looked up at Polly who lit a lamp and looked at him in concern. Walking over to him, she knelt down beside him and asked, “Are you alright?”
“No,” he shook his head. “What in tarnation is that chair doing there?!”
“I moved it there,” she stated simply.
“Were you tryin’ to kill me, Polly?”
“No,” she answered with a shake of her head, “I was tryin’ to make a point.”
“A point?” A silvered brow crept towards his receding hairline. “And what point is that?”
She helped him to sit up so he wasn’t continuing to lie on the floor. “That sneaking around is ridiculous and you don’t need to keep doing it.”
Teaspoon sighed and rolled onto his knees in order to stand easier. “Polly, darlin’ you know I love you, but I disrespect you.”
She looked at him, and then, a giggle bubbled up from her throat. Pretty soon it turned into an all out laugh, and she shook her head and wiped her eyes. “Oh, Sugarlips.”
Sitting down on the sofa and patting the space beside her in invitation she said, “I run a saloon, Teaspoon. The town doesn’t really respect me as it is. After all, what kind of decent woman runs a bar?”
“That’s why I don’t intend to make it any worse.”
Now her brow arched pointedly at him. “You really don’t think that the town doesn’t know you come over here every night?”
They probably did, and that’s what was motivating this as well. She shouldn’t have to be subjected to anything they said about her. “No,” he sighed, “they probably know. And that’s why I’ve been thinkin’.”
Her look told him she didn’t trust his thinkin’, but she remained silent. “I want to marry you, Polly.”
“I want to marry you, darlin’.”
“Just so that the people will stop talkin’?”
“That’s part of it,” he admitted. He knew enough about Polly to be honest, but he was enough of a silver fox to be a charmer as well. “But it’s also ‘cause I love you. We were married once before.”
“And we know how that turned out.” She shook her head and stood, walking into the kitchen in agitation.
“We were younger then, and I was too much of a fool to know what a good thing I had,” he pleaded his case. “I know now, Polly, just how much I love you and I want us to get married.”
Now it was his turn to ask, “What?”
“I said, no, Teaspoon. I won’t marry you.”
“Why ever not?” he asked as he flung his arms out to the side.
“Because I know how you are. You’ve been married, and divorced, six times. None of them lasted. Marriage is the death knell of any relationship for you and I want this to last.”
“We can make a marriage work,” Teaspoon insisted. “The past is the past. We learn from it so we don’t repeat our mistakes.”
Turning and leaning her hip against the sideboard, she asked, “And what did you learn from your marriages, Teaspoon?”
“Don’t marry a woman who isn’t you,” he ticked off a finger. “And when I am married to you, don’t take off on a manhunt and never come back.”
Her beautiful smile illuminated her face and she walked towards him, shaking her head like she was scolding a puppy. When she reached him, she looped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Oh, Sugarlips, I do love you. And I find it very sweet that you want to marry me just to protect me from the town. But it’s not necessary. I’m happy with the way things are.”
“Sneakin’ around?” he asked dubiously.
“I told you, there’s no need to sneak.”
“Why are you being so stubborn?”
She sighed and laid her head against his shoulder. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“So your answer really is no?”
“You know I’m not gonna to give up, don’t you?” he voiced, just so she knew.
“Oh, you wouldn’t be the man I love if you accepted defeat this easily.”
“I’m gonna to keep asking,” he warned her. “And I’m going to show you that this time will be different.”
Her fingertip began to make lazy circles on his neck underneath his hair and he wanted to swat her hand away because she knew how he got when she did that. “Oh, I have no doubt that you’ll try. But I warn you, I don’t intend to change my mind.”
“Well, then, Polly,” he said as he inched closer to her lips. “I believe you’ve thrown down the gauntlet. And I am definitely up to the challenge.
Every time he went to a city with a theatre, he made sure he attended at least once. While other soldiers spent their money on women or liquor, Cody spent his on tickets. He would attend a performance so often he had the lines memorized and knew when an actor missed his cue. He’d done it back when he was in the Express, but this obsession had reached a whole new level.
Being a soldier wasn’t what he wanted to be. He’d signed up for the Army because Noah was his friend and he felt that scouting for the people who were trying to fight against slavery was the right thing to do. After Noah died, he had been even more resolved to fight. But his heart wasn’t in it.
He longed for the stage. To be out in front of people, to entertain them, to make them laugh, to make them cry, to dazzle them. That’s what he wanted to do. One day he wanted to see his name on a playbill, to have people come ask for his autograph. So he went to the theatre when he could, he watched the actors, studying their craft as much as he studied the sets.
When he didn’t have leave, or they weren’t near a city and he could set aside the war for a little while and attend a performance, he read. He read novels, he read plays, and he always thought about how he would say the lines if he were the main character.
But tonight it was too dark to read, and they couldn’t afford to light a lamp due to their location and the possible proximity of the enemy. It was too wet to hold a book anyways. So he sat in the darkness on sentry duty and tried to ignore the rain dripping down his back. At least he had first watch. He could put in his two hours, then head to his tent where hopefully his bedroll would be dry, and he could sleep until morning when he’d have to wake up and start the whole day over again.
“So where are you from?”
His sentry partner was a wide-eyed boy, fresh from his daddy’s house in upstate New York. Cody didn’t know if he was talking because he was tired or nervous, but he shifted his position slightly and looked over at the greenhorn.
“I was in Missouri when I joined the Army.”
“Oh? What’d you do there?”
“I was a rider for the Pony Express.”
The young man was silent, and then a whisper of awe floated up into the night. “The Pony Express? I heard about that. Did you see any Indians?”
“Yes,” Cody answered tersely. He didn’t want to hear the next question that always seemed to follow that answer ‘Is it true they’re wild and savage?’ so he said, “One of my best friends at the station was half Kiowa and I met his brother the chief once.”
Thankfully the young whelp caught the tone of his voice and didn’t say anything disparaging, or ask any other questions. At least about the Indians.
“What kind of animals did you see? Did you see any buffalo?”
“I did,” Cody nodded, even though the boy probably couldn’t see him. “I saw wolves, coyotes, buffalo, even had a bear hug me once.”
“A bear?” The boy, having grown up in a city his entire life was a bit skeptical, but still intrigued.
“Bart,” he smiled. “He was friends with a mountain man; I helped them both out of a jam. Scared me half to death, I’ll tell you, but in the end, turned out to be nice.”
“Wow,” the boy breathed. “That would have been amazing to see. What’s it like out west?”
“Beautiful,” Cody answered. “Wild, untamed, open and free.”
“I would love to see it one day. But when the war’s over, I have to go back and help my folks with the store.”
“Maybe one day you’ll get out West,” he tried to convince him. “We once had a group of city folk who came out on a tour, saw the sights, learned how to shoot a pistol, ride a horse; they’d never had such fun in their lives.”
“They paid money for a tour?”
“Yep.” Cody narrowed his eyes and tilted his head to the side. It sounded like leaves rustling, but it was hard to tell what was an animal making tracks and what was a person sneaking up.
“Maybe some day companies will have more of these tours,” the boy said hopefully.
“Maybe,” he replied and then shushed the boy. More sounds were coming and there was no way it was an animal, not unless a herd of elephants was suddenly coming upon them.
The alarm was raised, a skirmish broke out, and in the frenzy of the moment, he forgot about the idea that had formed in his brain. Instead of taking the people to see the west, why not take the west to see the people? He’d thought about it when those men had visited the Express station, but others had scoffed at it.
Years later, though, when his Wild West Show had traveled the world and people had the chance to see things they never would have been able to before, he remembered that night on sentry duty. He remembered how he’d wanted to see his name on a program and sign autographs. People knew his name, they knew his face, and he finally got to see his name up in lights.
A/N: Thanks go to Raye for bringing this ‘bunny’ to life. And to Dee for her fabulous beta.
Buck resisted the impulse to roll his eyes at his best friend. Of course he wasn’t going to move. They were hunting, sudden movements would scare the animal away, he grew up with the Kiowa and had endured taunts and beatings from the other boys when he came back empty handed from his first hunts. He knew what to do now; he didn’t need Ike telling him what to do like he was some child.
When Ike began to move towards him, Buck was a little confused, and a tad annoyed. Here his friend was telling him not to move, and then doing the exact opposite.
*Stop.* he signed towards Ike.
But Ike disregarded the instruction and Buck watched in dismay as the two rabbits hopped away, alerted, and scared, by the motion.
“What are you doing?” he asked as he turned his head towards Ike instead of regarding him out of the corner of his eye.
His motion caused Ike’s hand to connect more forcefully with Buck’s hat and the covering went tumbling off and as he brought his hands up to defend himself against the sudden attack from the man he considered his friend and brother, he hit himself in the mouth. “Ouch!”
That was more than just a sting from skin on skin, that was…
*A wasp.* Ike informed him. *It was on your hat, I tried to get it.*
Now Buck felt foolish. He’d been so intent on having fresh rabbit that he disregarded what he knew in his heart; trust Ike. His friend wouldn’t have told him not to move unless there had been something else going on.
*Now hold still,* Ike said told him. This time Buck listened.
Ike pulled the stinger out of Buck’s skin and asked if he wanted a poultice made to help ease the discomfort. Buck nearly agreed, but then his stomach rumbled and he shook his head. He wanted to catch lunch first, then, while it was cooking, they could tend to him.
“Buck, Ike, you’re back,” Lou called out to them as they rode into the station. She stepped off the bunkhouse porch and headed towards the barn to meet them. “How was your time off? We thought you’d be gone longer.”
Buck knew the moment she’d seen his injury because her eyes went wide with shock. “Buck, what happened to your face?”
“That’s what I asked,” she frowned at him. “What happened?”
“Was…” He hesitated for a moment and then brought his lips painfully together. “P.”
“A wasp?” she gasped.
He nodded and climbed off his horse. Unfortunately, the other riders were drawn by the sound of the animals and Lou’s voice and ambled over to join them. One by one they all saw Buck’s swollen mouth and they paused, their eyes full of questions.
“What happened?” Kid asked.
Thankfully, Lou jumped in to explain. “He got stung by a wasp.”
“Oww,” Cody winced. “I’ve never seen someone swell up like that.”
“Me neither,” Jimmy shook his head. “How’d it happen?”
Ike tried to explain, but halfway through, Buck knew they didn’t understand and everyone looked to him for interpretation.
“We were hun’ing wa-its.”
“What-its?” Cody laughed.
“Wa-its,” Buck emphasized.
Ike put two fingers above his head like ears and hopped.
“Rabbits?” Lou asked.
“I thought you said a wasp got you,” Jimmy looked puzzled.
“It did,” he said painfully. His mouth hurt, his words were mumbled and all he wanted to do was sleep.
“Then how do the rabbits figure in?” Cody asked.
“We were hun’ing when it stung.”
“Ah,” everyone nodded.
“You should have someone look at that,” Lou said with a wince.
“Maybe Teaspoon has something that might help.”
Buck shook his head. He didn’t want Teaspoon getting anywhere near him right now. “Wachel.”
“I’ll go get her,” Lou volunteered.
“I’ll take care of your horse,” Kid offered. “Why don’t you go lay down?”
“Than oo,” he sighed, grateful for their help.
Cody watched them go and then snickered, his voice carrying to Buck who was approaching the warehouse. “Buck sounds like a little kid.”
There was a thwack and then Cody yelped, “Ow, Hickok! Why’d you do that?”
“Take care of Ike’s horse for him or I’ll hit you again and maybe I’ll give you a fat lip and see how you like it.”
“Alright,” Cody grumbled. “Geez.”
Buck stopped at the doorway and turned to look over at the dark-haired rider. Jimmy gave a nod of welcome in reply to Buck’s look of thanks and then turned to head off and find something to do. When he felt better he’d thank his friend properly, but right now all he wanted to do was go to bed and try to rest. And forget about ever hunting rabbits again.
Jimmy, Cody and Buck had been on the trail with Sam and five of his deputies for three days. They were chasing a group of bandit’s, the Forbes gang to be exact. Three days ago they came into town tried to rob the bank. Sam just happened to be in the bank talking to the manager when they decided to show up. Which of course ended their plan’s and the gang ran. Sam ran to the jail told his deputies to get ready, then they all went out to the pony express station t get some help from the riders. The only riders Teaspoon could spar where Jimmy, Buck and Cody.
Now here they were chasing this gang, the gang wasn’t particularly dangerous but they weren’t nice either. Buck hadn’t lost the trail, but the posse hadn’t caught up with the gang either. The Forbes gang had stayed one step ahead of them this whole time, now it seemed they were just getting further ahead.
“Sam, I think they are traveling at night,” said Buck.
“Why don’t you ride ahead see if you can see anything, we’ll keep on this way,” suggested Sam.
“Alright Sam I’ll be back when I find something,” said Buck.
Sam nodded then Buck rode off, Jimmy walked over to where Sam stood.
“Where’s Buck off to?” asked Jimmy.
“He’s scouting ahead to see if he can find anything out,” said Sam.
“Do you think he’ll find anything?” asked Jimmy.
“I’m hoping he will find out just how far ahead the gang really is,” answered Sam.
“Does he have any idea how far?” asked Jimmy.
“He’s not exactly sure, but he thinks they are traveling at night,” answered Sam.
“Maybe we should do some night traveling to, catch up with them quicker,” suggested Jimmy.
“I’ve been thinking about that, thought maybe I’d see what Buck had to report when he gets back,” said Sam.
“So we’re just gonna ride along till Buck gets back?” said Jimmy.
“Jimmy I know you’re a take action kinda guy, but believe me its better this way. Buck can track faster without having to worry about us muddying the track and we can travel faster without having to worry about being in Buck’s way,” said Sam.
Jimmy nodded his agreement then headed back to camp. Jimmy knew Sam was right, but he still wanted some action.
Buck had been following the track by himself for two hours. He had counted six riders, they were traveling fast in a southern direction. So far the track had kept a straight line, So Buck decided to keep going thru the night. If the moon shone bright enough he’d still be able to see the track.
Sam decided they would stay put for the night, he’d let the men get as much rest as possible tonight. Tomorrow the would all be riding hard, letting Buck go ahead was a good thing to do. Now they could travel faster maybe close the gap.
The morning found Sam and his posse already on the trail at a full gallop. They had already traveled a lot of ground. Buck having traveled thru the nigh was starting to tire. He knew he was still on the trail and he thought he was getting closer to the gang. The tracks told him the horses where starting to wear out. The pace the gang was traveling had slowed. They would have to stop and rest themselves and the horses. Buck decided to head back and find Sam and the posse. When Buck found Sam he was only about and hour from where he had decided to turn back.
“They aren’t far and they are gonna have to stop,” said Buck.
“Well then lets go,” said Sam.
The posse took off at a full gallop, they caught up with the Forbes gang three hours later with minimal shooting every member was caught. It would take a few days getting back but at least they had caught the gang and no one was hurt.
Lou finally got the chance to stand before the small mirror on the wall of the bunkhouse. It really didn’t matter if she looked in it or not since she wasn’t going to be doing the preening the boys had done over and over again. Placing her fingertips in the basin of water on the nearby dresser, she ran her dripping fingers through her hair once more then plopped her hat on top of her slicked back chestnut colored hair. Putting her glasses on to complete her look, Lou turned around to find herself in an empty bunkhouse.
She frowned as she thought on the reason why the boys were biting at the bit, anxious to get into town for the spring dance. It wasn’t because this was the first one of the season; in fact this was the fourth! The reason was because the elders of the town had decided it would be fun to give a little twist to this dance. So the festivities that were to be held tonight were listed as being ‘ladies choice’; that meant it was up to the girls to do the asking. As soon as Teaspoon had come back from town with that bit of news, the breakfast table had quickly emptied of it’s occupants as there was a mad rush by six riders to saddle their horses and head into town.
Lou had glanced at Teaspoon and Rachel and, curious as to how the boys were going to embarrass themselves this time, as well as wanting to keep her eye on a certain Virginian, she had saddled Lightning. But they were already out of sight by the time she’d exited the barn and even riding hard didn’t help her as she only managed to eat their dust. The female in disguise had spent the rest of that morning watching as her bunkmates walked through the store, checking out the shoppers of the day, then paraded down the streets of Sweetwater, flashing their guns, their teeth, their muscles, and anything else they had to flash to all the eligible maidens in town. Well not all of them as Jimmy mentioned looking for a certain color of hair and Cody hinted that he was only concerned about those girls who filled out their blouses just far enough for him to take notice. She had frowned again as even Buck, Ike and Noah, usually the quiet ones when in town, had joined in the march through their fair streets.
But it was the look she got from the blue eyed sandy haired man that kept looking down at her expectantly that was finally the last straw. Lou recalled turning to him and saying, “If we’re going to keep up appearances and make everyone think we’re not involved or that I’m not a boy, you had better go join the others. But I swear, I won’t sleep with you, much less kiss you ever again, Kid, if you even hint at wanting to walk a girl home after the dance!” The last part had been a firm warning hissed in his ear as she’d grabbed his shirt collar and brought him as close to her as was possible. And when he’d eagerly nodded at her, without meeting her eyes, and assured her he was only doing it to keep an eye on the others as she was the only one for him, Lou had released her grip on him and set him loose. She knew he had never chased any girls since they had joined the express but she also knew the attraction he got from the girls, even if he was oblivious to it so that made her watch him all the more carefully.
So this bit of activity had gone on all week. Whenever any of the boys had a spare moment, they would hop on their horses and head for town. And she would follow when she could. Lou was amazed at how the young ladies ate up all the cockiness the boys displayed in front of them. They acted like these birds she had read about called peacocks; the birds would display their goods to try to attract a mate and that was what the boys were doing as they stuck out their chests and anything else ‘good’ about their bodies and made chase on all the girls they came across. One by one they would go after a girl until she noticed them then they would hang around the lady long enough to get her interested then high tail it out of town, leaving the young woman wondering and wanting to see them again.
Lou spent each day shaking her head at how amazed she was to see the girls fall for such a stunt. The boys were picking out their dates for the dance and the girls didn’t even know it! So it was no wonder they were pacing impatiently as they waited for her to come out of the bunkhouse so they could all ride into town together. Lou found Kid holding Lightning for her so she went and took the reins out of his hand but she looked up, surprised, when Kid’s fingers came to wrap around her small hand.
“Now, Lou, you sure you’re fine with me dancing with a lady or two tonight?” he asked as he looked closely at her. “I won’t if you don’t want me to, you know.”
In that instant, she felt like the luckiest lady in the world to have such a thoughtful boyfriend but that instant faded away much too quickly as she recalled how she was dressed and that once they got to town, everyone was supposed to not know she was a lady. It was hard enough for her to come up with excuses to not dance with any one but for someone that was as handsome as Kid, someone she knew would especially be asked many times tonight for a spin out on the dance floor, to just stand around and not accept any offers, would certainly raise more than a few eyebrows as to what was wrong with him. She could handle people thinking she was just shy or immature but Kid certainly didn’t present himself that way.
“No, it’s fine,” she grumbled. “I told you it was alright and I meant it. Just ‘cause I can’t have a good time at the dance doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. So if a nice lady comes up to you, it wouldn’t be right to upset her by saying ‘no’ so go join the others and wait for the ladies to make their choice.” She gave him a reassuring smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes as a way to convince herself it didn’t bother her that this was the one dance she really didn’t want to go to.
“I know how hard it is to want to dance with someone and not be able to,” she uttered after he gave her a grin and climbed aboard Katy. She kept her eyes trained on him as he called out to Jimmy and Cody then went closer to them and the three of them leaned together in a huddle and began to whisper to one another. It didn’t even cross her mind to wonder why they were whispering as she just assumed it was over the excitement they were all feeling for how their nights were going to turn out.
“You say something, Lou?”
The small rider glanced over her shoulder at the Kiowa and instead of responding gave him something akin to a growl as she brushed past him to get to the side of Lightning to mount her. Buck raised his eyebrows at her but before he could ask anything further, she turned her horse and began to head out of the yard. “Well are we goin’ to a dance or not?” she called as she rode off ahead of them.
Jimmy and Cody took off after her but before any of the others could, Kid rode up to them and began to whisper to first Buck then Ike and finally Noah before spurring Katy to catch up to the woman he loved, having a feeling they would be eating her dust this time as she had been with them for the past week.
The petite rider beat all the boys to town and arrived just as the dancing had begun. And now, standing off to the side at the dance, Lou was still shaking her head. The boys had all walked in to the dance hall like the party could now begin since they were there and had strutted past the girls that were gathered around, showing off their fine suits and freshly washed hair. Then, instead of going to stand and wait for the girls to make their move, they walked about the room, mingling with other men, making it a game of chase as the ladies had to make their way through all the other folk to ask if they wanted to dance.
After watching each rider get more than their fair share of spins around the dance floor, and seeing Kid dance with four different girls for two dances each, she finally decided she’d had enough of girls making fools of themselves by chasing after boys and with one last look at her bunkmates with their arms full of curves, she turned and headed out the door.
She paused and glanced around after hearing her name called. Lou was surprised to see Kid come out the door and run up to her. “Weren’t you just…?” she began as she pointed to the dance floor.
“I know you’ve had a hard time of it tonight and if you’re planning on leaving early, I thought the least I could do is accompany you home. I just need to take care of something first so you wait right here, alright?” Kid took hold of her arms until she nodded her head then ran back inside and within a minute had come back out to join her. He began to walk off the boardwalk and in the direction of the livery where their horses were tied up but after they’d only taken about ten steps, he’d turned to her. “Uh, Lou, I forgot something back at the dance. Could you come with me to get it?”
She glanced around them as she was surprised they’d been able to leave without Teaspoon or Rachel trying to stop them but didn’t think they’d be able to get away with it a second time. But seeing the pleading look Kid was directing her way, she gave a small sigh and gave in to him. “I don’t know why you need me to go with you but since you were willing to leave all the fun you were having to ride home with me, going back with you is the least I can do.” She returned the smile Kid gave her then followed him back into the room.
Kid stopped just inside the doorway so suddenly Lou wound up bumping into his back. As she moved around him to give him a questioning look as to why he’d stopped, it was her turn to stand still as she stared open mouthed at the dance floor. Lou had to quickly cover up her mouth with her hands as very girly giggles began to escape. “What in the world?” she asked as she watched the only couples out on the dance floor – Jimmy was dancing with Cody; Buck was waltzing Ike around the floor; and Teaspoon was spinning Noah around.
“The boys decided the ladies hadn’t made some very good choices tonight so they took it upon themselves to change the rules a little – it’s now a ‘anyone’s choice’ dance. So they thought they’d try something different. Now if only there was someone to ask me to dance. I just haven’t had the right person take me onto the floor all evening. Maybe I’ll have to do the asking.” Kid placed his hand on his chin as he took on a deep in thought look and began to glance around the room. “Maybe I’ll go see if Barnett’s available for a spin.”
And before Lou could say anything, Kid was gone in the crowds of townsfolk who were staring in shock at the newly formed couples. As soon as she had seen the boys all dancing with each other, she’d known that Kid had arranged for it to happen. And once more she felt like the luckiest lady in the world. But he was also about to make her feel like all the other girls in town that have been so easily swayed by a pretty face.
With a roll of her eyes and a big sigh, Lou began to chase after Kid, pushing her way through the people. He was moving fast so she had to follow after him as he turned directions several times, which wasn’t easy since the building wasn’t that big. “Kid!” she cried out as she found him in a back corner, making his way to where Barnett stood with a plate full of cake in his hand. She reached out and took hold of the southerner’s arm. “Kid,” she said as she turned him toward her.
She suddenly found herself blushing as it felt like they were the only two people in the room. Louise McCloud had only been asked to dance one time and it was by the Kid but she had never asked anyone to dance before so she was now feeling as nervous as Kid must have felt that time he’d taken her outside to ask for the chance to take her in his arms.
“Would you do me the honor of this dance?”
“I thought you would never ask.” Kid gave her a big smile as he took hold of the hand she held out to him and let her lead him out onto the dance floor. He grinned at the other riders as he clearly saw one of them leading over the other so Kid stood facing Lou and as they stared into each other’s eyes, Lou felt like she was wearing the prettiest dress in the whole town. Kid held his arms out and she stepped into his hold, assuming the ladies position with pleasure.
As they began to spin around the floor, Kid placed his head next to her and said, “It’s a good thing you were able to catch me because I was just about to ask Barnett for this dance and I think he would have been glad to dance with anyone and would have accepted.”
Lou moved her head so she could look up at him. Normally she would have wanted nothing more than to place a kiss on his mouth but being in his arms in public was the best feeling in the world at the moment; the kiss could wait until later and she would definitely have more than one to give him as thanks for right now.
Giving him a smile, she blinked her long lashes at him and answered, “Barnett can chase after his own man; this one has been caught!”
Louise McCloud stormed out of the bunkhouse and headed for the barn. Hot, salty tears streamed down her face and she angrily swept them away with the back of one hand. She couldn’t believe Kid and his male notions that he had a right to tell her what to do or how to think now that they were a couple. Since when had she become his possession and not his equal? She was all too familiar with the way some men treated their possessions and she had sworn that she would never happen to her. She would rather be alone for the rest of her life or die first before she would willingly become another person’s property.
“Lou, wait!” Kid called out as he came out of the bunkhouse after her.
She ignored the Southerner’s plea with her to wait, and continued on to the barn. Once there she swung open the barn door and slipped inside and headed down the aisle of stalls to Lightning’s. The black gelding let out a neigh to welcome her as she reached his stall, slipped the bolt free that held the door closed and stepped inside. She stroked his muzzle affectionately for a moment or two, before she took hold of his bridle and led him out of the barn. It took her only a couple of minutes to saddle the gelding, mount up, and kick Lightning into motion.
Kid was blocked from pursuing her by an angry James Butler Hickok. The dark-haired rider had a steely glint to his eye that unnerved most that crossed him, but Kid was immune to it. Seldom did a day go by anymore that the two of them didn’t engage in some sort of heated altercation with one another. Although they did disagree on other things from time to time, the majority of their arguments were usually over Lou.
“Get out of my way Jimmy.” Kid said through clenched teeth.
“No.” Jimmy told him. “You’ve hurt Lou enough today, why don’t you leave her alone.”
“What happens between me and Lou isn’t any of your damn business Jimmy, so stay out of it.” Kid told him, shoving past the other rider just in time to see Lou streak out of the waystation yard on Lightning’s back.
The chestnut-haired rider ran to the barn and saddled his own mare, Katie, in record time and raced after the female rider. Kid wasn’t the tracker that his Kiowa friend, Buck Cross was, but he had picked up enough to know that Lou was heading for the swimming hole. The quiet tranquility of the place made it an ideal thinking spot, as well as a place to cool off, and was used frequently by all of the riders.
Lou was sitting on the bank of the swimming hole; her knees drawn up to her chest, and chin resting upon them. She didn’t turn at the sound of a horse’s hooves drawing near, because she knew who the rider was. It was the Kid. He didn’t like to let things sit between them when they had an argument, despite the fact that she often needed time to think things through before they talked again. The character trait was one of many that she loved and hated about the Kid. Kid approached her slowly, trying to work out the right words to say in his head. He settled onto the grassy bank beside her and gazed out over the serene landscape before him.
“I’m sorry, Lou. I love you just the way you are.”
She turned her head to face him and Kid’s heart constricted to see the tears on her beautiful face and the pain that their argument had caused in her soft doe eyes.
Lou saw the sincerity of his words in the depths of his blue eyes and felt the tightness in her chest loosen. She hated fighting with him, but there were just some things that a woman had to make a stand about, and today had been one of those times.
“I love you too, Kid.”
Kid reached out for her then, and Lou let him draw her into his arms. They talked long into the night, each one sharing their fears about the new change in their relationship and the future they wanted together.
“I’m powerful sorry, I am.”
“Hush,” his voice cracked under the strain of his fear.
Everything inside was dark… most especially his thoughts. He could hear the way she breathed behind him and wanted to tell her to ‘quiet’ but feared breaking his word for this father even more than he had.
A drop of perspiration slid down his nose and dropped to down to teeter on his lip, but Jimmy worried that the sound his tongue would make swiping it away would be their undoing. He refused himself the boon of any kind of relief, for in his head the instant his hand left its vigil on the rifle would mean the death for everyone in the house.
“There’s no one here ‘cept my family. My son’s inside with my wife and the girls, every one of them in bed.” Jimmy could hear his father’s voice slip in through the cracks along the door.
“Then what’s he doin’ up, Tom?” The man’s breathless voice rose in the air like a flustered bird ruffling its feathers. “Maybe he was waitin’ for us… we should search the house.”
“Maybe we should...”
Jimmy hand flexed on the wooden butt of the gun, his other hovering like a fly over a busy plate, waiting for its chance to join the repast.
“If you’ll just let me know what it is you want with us-”
Polly Hickok hugged her youngest to her chest and her tear-filled eyes weighed heavily on Jimmy’s shoulders. He set his resolve and pursed his lips together as he turned to look at the woman cowering behind him. She skillfully avoided his eyes and looked down into her lap. He saw the silver cross hanging from her neck, its simple lines catching the willful light of the torches through the window.
“We’re lookin’ for a runaway. A negress by the name of Hannah.”
“Waste of a good Christian name if you ask me, Horace.”
“Hush up, Oscar, I didn’t ask you.”
William Hickok’s voice rang through the air like the bell outside the schoolhouse. “You men are the only ones through here in over a week, since that peddler man. Sorry we can’t be of help.”
“But the footprints,” another man’s voice reached them inside the house, “they’s small enough to be a woman.”
“Mighty sorry we couldn’t help you.”
Inside, Jimmy repeated his father’s instructions over and over. Watch the door. If someone else comes in first, aim breathe squeeze. The first time his daddy had explained it, he’d puffed up with pride; happy to be enough to defend the family. Now… fear was what he felt filling up the hole inside of him. They could die tonight. Helping a runaway slave was enough cause for death in these parts. Didn’t matter that a judge might say different, folks didn’t usually wait on a judge… they drew up the party plans themselves.
He knew helping her was the right thing to do… knew it even before his father had declared it to the family, but now, looking at the worry on his mother’s face… the silent fear that Lydia communicated through her drying tears… Jimmy couldn’t help the resentment boiling in his veins.
He wanted her gone.
And Hannah knew it.
Something was wrong. Horribly wrong.
Jimmy awoke in the dead of night with his skin covered in little bumps, his limbs shaking and teeth chattering. Rolling onto his left side he knew instantly what was wrong. “Honey?”
Lorilei Hickok was sound asleep, her body cocooned in their heavy quilt.
“Honey, wake up.”
“Mmmm…” his wife mumbled something under her breath and returned to her dreams fueled by the warmth surrounding her body.
Wiggling his toes around, Jimmy tried to will warmth back into his extremities. It wasn’t working.
“Sweetheart, I’d like some of the blanket.” He reached into the cocoon and gave a little tug. Nothing. “Please?” He tried again and ended up with an elbow in his side. “Oof.”
“It’s fine.” He spoke the words into the dark silence of the room and took a moment to gather his thoughts. “We’ve got more blankets.” He sat up in bed and hung his head. Their bedroom was a maze of trunks and boxes.
His hand waved helplessly at the towers of packing boxes… it was futile, the idea to search through the boxes to find the blankets. If they had labeled the boxes with their contents, then it would have been simple. Light a lamp and start searching. Then again, he’d left the packing up to Lorilei and she’d done an amazing job, in memorization.
He loved her, but it was going to kill him.
“Gah!” Flopping back onto the bed, he clipped the back of his head on the carved wooden headboard that had been their wedding gift from one of her legions of relatives. Jimmy looked over at his adoring wife and groaned at the peaceful expression on her face. All that pain and nothing to show for it.
Jimmy reached out a hand and gently shook her arm. “Honey, come on… I need you to get up.”
Her eyes opened, brown and dreamy with sleep. “Sweetie.”
The sigh of relief from his lips echoed in the darkness. “Thank you.”
She smiled and slipped her hand around his neck bringing him down for a kiss. “Night.”
“Night,” he replied with a smile which quickly turned to a loud groan as she turned on her side and went right back to sleep. “NO.”
Lorilei’s hands slipped under her pillow and she wiggled against the thick mattress, trying her best to make a little nest on her side of the bed.
“No.” He wanted sleep. He wanted to sleep just like his beautiful, intelligent, sweet… snoozing… frustrating… wife.
It was going to take more than simply waking his wife. She wasn’t going to be roused for a simple desperate request. No, that wasn’t going to work at all. So? What did he need to do? Well, desperate men take desperate measures and what was it that Teaspoon said about love and wheels?
He kissed her. He wound his arms around his sleeping wife and the bundle of their quilt and kissed her. She was slow to respond and that was just fine with him. He was enjoying his new battle plan. Each kiss made another inch of movement, slowly making his way over on the mattress.
Lorilei awoke to the most pleasant of surprises. Her darling husband was kissing her and kissing her and it suddenly didn’t matter how late... or early it was. She was totally wrapped up in the sensations of the moment; his warm lips… warm hands… her warm blanket.
Then, she was falling, or rather rolling. Rolling off to one side as Jimmy let her go from his embrace.
“What?” Lorilei sat bolt upright in bed and stared down at her husband. The other half of the quilt that was now tangled around her body was draped over his relaxed form. His sleep relaxed smile was nearly contagious.
Huffing out a sigh, Lorilei pounded on her husbands pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
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