Topic #72: Picture Prompt
Help Is On The Way by: Michelle R
Sleeping Arrangements by: Miss Raye
Welcome To The Hotel California by: Lori
Joe Wade by: Cindy
The Second Time Is Always Better by: Nikole
Be Our Guest by: Dede
The Inevitability of Destiny by: Dede
Taking Charge by: Debbie
Someone To Watch Over Me by: Lori
Help Is On The Way
by: Michelle R

You could hear a pin drop in the town of Willow Springs. There was a quiet breeze blowing through, rustling the trees along the edges of town, but otherwise the peace was bountiful. Little did the Sheriff know, that just on the outskirts of town, were some unsavory characters that were after something that the Pony Express were bringing special delivery to him.

The Sheriff stood against the post of the jail looking on, watching the empty streets with quiet revelry. It was still early morning, and the townsfolk were still in their homes, enjoying their moments before the daily hustle and bustle began in town. The riff-raff were either in jail from the night before or sleeping off the enjoyment they partook in at the local brothel.

These are the days that one would enjoy being the Sheriff. Every thing was right as rain...at least that’s what he thought.

The Sheriff looked down at his pocket watch, checking the time. He knew that the Express had riders that were due in at about eight o’clock that morning, and they were carrying documents that he needed to read that were sent from Marshall Hunter. He was to send them straight back with a reply, but that was all that he knew. If Teaspoon was sending two riders and asking for them to come straight back to Rock Creek, then he knew something was afoot. Maybe it wasn’t going to be such a peaceful day after all.

All he could do was wait and enjoy what peace he could get. He just hoped that Teaspoon hadn’t sent Hickok again. Last time he was there with that lady in blue, all hell had broken loose. He would just have to wait and see.

~*~*~*~

“Come on Jimmy. We’ve got to head out or we’re not gonna make it in time to meet with the Sheriff.” Louise looked down at Jimmy and just smiled. He really was quite handsome, especially when he was completely relaxed. All be it, he was rarely relaxed, and yet Louise still felt that he was one of the most handsome men she had ever met.

She leaned down again and prodded at him, stepping away quickly, just to make sure that she didn’t startle him. She really didn’t feel like scaring him. That’s like prodding a rattler with a stick on a bad day.

“Huh? Lou? What time is it?” He sat up quickly looking around.

“It’s about half past six,” looking down at the time piece she carried with her in her mochila.

He squinted, looking up at her. “We have time for breakfast or do you wanna just eat in town after we meet with the Sheriff?”

Remembering the last time they were in Willow Springs together, she smiled slightly. It wasn’t all wonderful memories, but there were certainly a few happy ones in there.

“Lou?” Jimmy looked at her a bit concerned, as she stared off into nothingness. He was just about to kick himself for asking, thinking along the lines of “Why did I do that? She was almost murdered here last time because of me. She probably wants to get the hell out of town so she won’t have to relive it again.”

Louise rescued him from his own torturous thoughts, “Sure. Breakfast sounds good in town. It’ll be better than what either of us can make up out here. I don’t think Teaspoon will mind if we stop and eat.”

Jimmy just stared at her in awe. She was quite the remarkable woman in his eyes. She had been strung up by an enemy of his, and she seems to have shrugged it off. He remembered when he found her, standing on that rock, precariously. The rope cinched around her neck. The fear that flowed through him was blinding. He had never realized that he never really knew fear until that day. The day that he saw the woman that he had fallen in love with, near death, and because of him. He shuddered at the memory. He really should’ve admitted his love to her then, but he couldn’t say it. Not yet anyways.

“Jimmy? You okay?” Louise sat down next to him.

He looked over at her, “Yeah. Fine. Just thinkin’ of our schedule we gotta keep.”

“You sure?” She prodded.

“I’m fine Lou. Let’s just get this done. The sooner we’re outta Willow Springs, the better in my book. It ain’t got the best memories, if mine serves me right.”

“Oh...alright.” Louise looked at him. Here she had been thinking of the pleasant memories of them. The dinner, the wine, the blue dress, the dancing in the street. Of course it all went to hell in a hand basket when they were at the street fair, but he couldn’t have know what was going to happen. Silently thinking to her self, “Maybe it was just my wishin’ or my imagination. I thought we were feelin’ somethin’ there.”

Silently they both got onto their mounts and rode towards Willow Springs. The silence was almost deafening.

“Jimmy?”

“Yeah Lou?”

“Did Teaspoon tell you what we were carryin’?”

“No. Why?”

“I was just wonderin’. I’ve just gotta weird feelin’, that’s all.”

Jimmy slowed up Sundance and road along next to Louise. Now was the time he needed to say something. “Listen Lou. I’m sorry ‘bout what happened in Willow Springs last time.”

Louise looked over at him in surprise. “Jimmy...what are you sorry for?”

“What am I sorry for? I shouldn’t have to tell ya Lou. You were there after all.” Jimmy was a little perturbed at the fact that Lou wasn’t understanding what he was apologizing for.

The frustration was mounting in her, “Are you sorry that we spent that time together? Cause I’m certainly not!”

Jimmy pulled up on Sundance’s reigns, listening intently at the sounds around them...”Shhhhh.”

Louise was just appalled. He was shushing her. She pulled up on Lightning’s reigns as well. “Jimmy! I will not be quiet. What the hell is goin’ on?”

“Lou. On the count of three, I want you to slide off Lightning and head towards those rocks over by that outcropping of trees.”

Louise looked around carefully, noting the change in Jimmy’s demeanor. Quietly she answered, “alright”.

If there was one thing she knew about Jimmy, it was that his instincts very rarely failed him, as hers rarely did either. If he was sensing something was going on around them, then by all that was good, they were going to help each other and get out of any trouble that may have been following them.

Jimmy quietly counted, “One...two...three.”

Louise slid slowly off of Lightning and hit the ground. That’s when all hell broke loose. Three shots rang out and near shot the hat off of her head.

Quickly skittering back and away from where the gunfire was coming from, Louise smacked Lightning on the rump to make sure she was able to get out of the line of fire. Luckily being on the small side, Louise was able to stay low in the tall grass and stay out of sight. Well...mostly out of sight. She looked back and saw that Jimmy was doing the same thing that she was doing. He, being much larger than her, was having a heck of a time staying low in the grass, but he was able to see where the shots were being fired from.

That’s when it hit her. Whispering frantically, “Jimmy!”

“Yeah Lou.”

“You grabbed those documents right? The ones Teaspoon said we needed to guard with our lives.”

“Yeah. I’ve got ‘em.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Louise looked ahead again. Only a few more feet to go, and they would be covered by those rocks and not so much out in the open from their attackers.

“Just who the hell are these fellas anyways?”

“I don’t know Lou, but I’m not likin’ this. Next time Teaspoon sends out a special dispatch, we ain’t ridin’ in blind again. Lord knows what we’ve got here.”

A few more shots rang out by them. Obviously they were having a hard time staying out of the open, but they were so close.

That’s when he heard the shot and then the hiss of pain that happened right in front of him.

“Lou!?”

“Yeah....I’m alright. It’s just a graze.” Louise looked down at her right shoulder, seeing the small pool of blood that was amassing on her shirt and jacket. Internally thinking, “Okay, so maybe it’s not just a scratch, I’m feelin’ a bit woozy. I’m not lettin’ Jimmy do this all by himself though.”

That’s what made him snap. “You low down dirty dogs!!” Jimmy and Louise were safe behind the outcropping of rocks, but they still couldn’t see who was shooting at them.

“Jimmy...no. I’ll be fine. Let’s just get this done and over with.”

Jimmy stared at Lou like she had lost her mind. “You’ve been shot, and you’re tellin’ me to calm down?! Lou, I ain’t gonna stand by and watch the person I love get shot.”

Not even realizing what he had just said or the quiet awe on Louise’s face, he started thinking of a plan to get them out of trouble.

“Lou...can you stand?”

Feeling a warmth spread through her and a bout of renewed energy, “Yeah, I’m fine Jimmy. Let’s just figure out what this is all about, get these fellas into custody and take them to the Sheriff in Willow Springs along with the documents.”

“Alright, we need to get these guys out into the open and then we’ll corner them. It’ll be a far cry better than us bein’ cornered like a possum.”

“How do you plan on doin’ that Jimmy? I’ll go along with whatever you want, but just remember what we went through just gettin’ over here.”

“No worries Lou. I’ll go ‘round the back of these rocks and cover the back of them from behind the trees. Just make a bit of a distraction, and we’ll go from there.”

“Fine. Just take care of yourself Jimmy.” She leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips. “And, by the way, I love you too.”

Jimmy just shook his head and smiled softly. “Women.” They sure surprised the tarnation out of him sometimes. What made her even think of saying that? That’s when it hit him. When he was worrying about her being shot, he said something about loving her. “Well, that certainly wasn’t the way I was planning on tellin’ her, but at least she know just in case somethin’ happens.”

Quietly, he crawled behind the rocks, hoping like hell that this plan was about to work. He had some stuff he needed to talk to Lou about, and he didn’t feel like wasting anymore time on it.

He saw that Louise was creating a perfect distraction by throwing stones with her other arm in the opposite direction of where he was going. “Good job sweetheart. Keep it goin’”. He truly did admire Louise’s spirit and quick thinking.

He looked a bit North, and that’s when he saw the group of two men standing in an outcropping of trees. He carefully snuck behind them, trying to hear what they were saying. At least he wanted to find out what the hell this was about.

“I told you we need to get those rider’s mochila. We need them papers in there if we want to find out when the gold shipment is gonna be scheduled.” The tall man in the long duster had been speaking to the other one as if they were supposed to be listening to him.

The short stout one spoke, “We know that Rett. I think I got that small one though.” He smiled thinking about his good aim. “One down, one to go. Then we’re all free and clear.”

“Rett...I think I recognized the other one though. That looked like Hickok.”

“Yeah, so. I bet it’s all hype about him anyways. There ain’t no way, that he’s that good.”

Jimmy in the mean time was slowly creeping up on them. For being so into what they were doing, they certainly weren’t the most observant men.

“I don’t know about that fellas. I heard I was that good.”

Turning around quickly, they were stunned to see that they were face to face with Hickok. “What the hell?!” Rett was furious that they were stumbled upon, but seeing that it was just Jimmy, standing there, they figured that two against one odds were looking in their favor.

“If I were you, I’d put down your guns now. You ain’t gettin’ the papers. They went off with the horses.” Jimmy was bluffin’ but they didn’t need to know that. He had left the papers back with Louise in the mochila.

“You’ve gotta be out of your mind to try and stop two of us by yourself!” Rett roared with laughter.

“He’s not by himself.” Louise stood behind them with her gun aimed at the back of them. She had been his help on the way the enter time.

Jimmy smiled proudly at her. She looked quite wan, but she was standing on her own two feet, and he felt he couldn’t have loved her anymore than he already did at that moment.

“I thought I nailed you boy!” George the short man of the two glowered at her.

“You did. But it was just a scratch. It takes a lot more to take out a Pony Express rider than a scratch by your bad aim.” She wasn’t about to let them know that it hurt like the dickens and the blood loss was a bit more than a scratch. She had to help Jimmy and then they could get to Willow Springs and turn them into the Sheriff.

“Alright fellas. You can do this quietly, or you can do it the hard way. Robbin’ the Express is a serious offence. I’m bettin’ time served ain’t gonna be pretty.”

“I ain’t goin’ to jail. No way, no how. Not again!” Rett quickly unholstered his revolver and pointed it at Jimmy. Jimmy being quicker on the draw, shot at Rett and disarmed him.

“I’m not jokin’. Put down your guns. We don’t want no more trouble.” Jimmy was gettin’ aggravated with the whole situation.

“Go to hell Hickok!” Rett quickly pulled George’s gun out of his holster and tried drawing on Jimmy. That’s when he heard the shot. Louise stood behind them with her revolver pointed at the gunman’s arm.

“You’re not gettin’ away with this.” George just stood there, his mouth agape at what just happened. That “boy” had just shot his partner in crime in the arm. There was absolutely no way that they were getting out of this one.

Jimmy quickly ran over to Louise and held her up. The color in her face had faded to a pale white, and he was getting worried. “Hold on Lou! We’ll get you to the doc in Willow Springs.”

“Alright. I’m fine.” She was the most stubborn woman he ever knew. He loved her for it all the more.

Quickly wrapping the arm of the vigilante that had been shot by Louise, they tied the two gunmen’s arms behind their backs and hustled them towards town. Luckily they were just on the outskirts of town, so they didn’t have too far to go.

They rode into town, heading towards the Sheriff’s office. Noticing him standing there, they quickly undid the ropes of the two men and went to explain about what happened.

As the Sheriff noticed what was happening, he pushed himself off of the post. He just knew that if Hickok came into town, that trouble was going to be following him.

“What in the blue blazes happened out there?!” The Sheriff noticed that Lou was holding “his” arm and trying to stay on his own two feet after sliding off of his mount.

“We were ambushed Sheriff.” Jimmy just wanted to get this over with and get Louise to the doc’s place.

“These two idiots were after the papers that Teaspoon sent us with to you.”

“They didn’t get them obviously.”

“No. They shot at us from just outside of town. They got my friend here, so if I can just get “him” back to the doc’s office, then we’ll explain everything else.” Jimmy really wanted to get Louise out of this. Willow Springs was like a bad luck charm for them.

“I see this one was shot.” The Sheriff noted that Rett was looking quite wan himself.

“I’ll get the doc over here so he can take a look see at both of them.”

“Sheriff?”

“Yeah Hickok?”

“Next time, and I’ll be talkin’ to Marshall Hunter about this as well. We need to know what’s bein’ carried by us. That way we’ll be ready for anything.”

“Fine by my son.”

The doc rushed into the Jail house, noting that two people were shot. The small one was lookin’ quite pale and needed to be tended to quickly. He had already helped with the prisoner, Rett out on the street.

“You okay son?”

“Fine. It’s just a scratch.”

“How ‘bout I’ll be the judge of that, huh?”

Louise hated being tended to by the doctor. There was always that remote chance that she would be discovered about her secret, and then everything would be a loss for her.

“Fine.”

Jimmy stood by her, watching the doc work. We’ll just need to take this shirt off.

“No you ain’t.” Jimmy hissed.

“How am I supposed to clean the wound if I can’t see it? Huh?” The doctor was growing quickly frustrated with the situation.

Louise looked up at Jimmy. She honestly looked petrified. If they were to find out that she was a girl and were to report it to the company, then she’d be in deep trouble and out of a job.

Jimmy saw the look of fear, and was resigned. He had to tell the doctor what the problem was, and pray that he wouldn’t say anything.

“Doc...can you come with me for a minute?”

The doctor was honestly surprised at the request, but quickly stood up and followed Jimmy outside.

“What is it son?”

“Listen, there’s a reason why Lou’s afraid of you taken her shirt.”

Jimmy silently prayed that the doctor caught on to his hint.

He must have, because he stood there with his mouth agape. Silently wondering how the hell this young woman had gotten herself into this mess, and to be a Pony Express rider.

“Are you tellin’ me that girl is a rider for the Pony Express?”

“Yeah, I am. And she’s one of the best damn riders we have in the company. She knew what she was gettin’ into when she joined up, and this is the best thing for her right now.”

The doctor just stood there, letting everything that was being said, sink in.

“Doc, you can’t tell no one. If she loses her job, then she ain’t gonna be able to get back her brother or sister, or be able to out on her own. I mean, she’ll have me and all, but that’s just part of her life.”

“Alright, I won’t say anything. But you gotta promise that you’ll make sure she takes care of herself out there. I’d feel guilty as sin, if I let her go back out there and somethin’ happened to her.”

“You ain’t the only one. Trust me.” Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief.

They both walked into the jail and saw Louise staring at the two of them.

Jimmy smiled at her softly. “No worries Lou. It’s all taken care of. He ain’t gonna say a thing.”

Louise smiled with shining eyes. “Thanks sir. I appreciate it.”

Quickly the doctor was able to clean and bandage Louise’s shoulder and ordered her to rest for the day. “The documents that Marshall Hunter wants aren’t goin’ anywhere, so you have to stay for the day. I insist.”

Jimmy and Louise looked at each other. Both remembering the last time they had an over night visit. This time, the bad memories didn’t shine through. The good ones of the dinner, the dance, the wine and the fun that they had together had come to the front of both their minds.

Louise smiled, “Fine by me. Jimmy?”

He smiled back at her and sat next to her on the bed, “It’s fine by me too.”

The doctor, noticing that the two of them obviously didn’t notice or need him any more, shuffled out the front doors and kept the Sheriff busy for a moment to leave Hickok and Louise alone.

“You okay Lou?”

“For the last time Jimmy. I’m fine.” She smiled warmly at him, “but thanks for askin’. And thanks for helpin’ me back there.”

“I should be the one to thank you. But you can always know that with me help is on the way. We ain’t doin’ this alone. We’re together in this right?”

“Me too Jimmy. Me too. We’re together alright.”

They leaned in closely, their lips barely touching, but it was enough to let each one of them know that they loved each other. It was a kiss for the past heartaches and tragedy, the present of new love blooming and the future of anything else that fate would bring them.”

THE END

Sleeping Arrangements
by: Miss Raye

Note: An Alternative Ending to Color Blind if they didn't go to the magic show.

“Evening, sir.” Jimmy tipped his hat at the clerk behind the hotel desk and pulled the smiling young woman behind him. “Good night, sir.”

The man returned the gesture. “Good night, son and… hey!” He turned around and called out to the two nearly halfway up the stairs, “Where are you goin’ with her?”

Jimmy looked down at the girl and smiled back at the man. “Up to my room.”

The two took off again and the man leaned hard on the counter to try to watch them flee as he called up the stairwell. “What’s your friend gonna say?”

The sound of footfalls stilled and a voice called down. “I think he’d be happy for me!”

Their laughter disappeared into the darkness and cut off with when the room door closed.

*** ***

Louise poked a finger in Jimmy’s chest. “Are you tryin’ to get us thrown out of here?”

“Thrown out?” Jimmy grabbed her finger in his hand and held tight even when she tried to free it. “Why would he… we paid for the room fair’n’square.”

She looked like she wanted to argue and then decided against it; lifting the cover she lit the lantern. “Fine… let’s get some sleep… we have an early start tomorrow and I don’t wanna be draggin’ in the saddle.”

Jimmy shrugged. “Fine by me… let’s get some sleep-” Jimmy turned and stopped short as he caught sight of the bed. Somehow in the light of day… the bed looked… ‘bigger’. “Look, I said you could take the bed and I meant it.”

He turned around to look at Lou, but she had disappeared from the spot by the door. “Lou?”

“Over here, silly.” He swung around and caught sight of her disappearing behind a dressing screen. The soft moonlit night outside the window gave enough glow to show her silhouette behind the screen as she removed the ribbon from her hair.

Silhouette. Jimmy jumped when she called out to him again. “Can you help me a little?”

“Help? With what?”

Lou gave him a measuring look when she stepped back out from the screen. “Hooks.” She crossed the room to him and gave him a pointed look. “I can’t undo them by myself.”

Jimmy looked down in the soft light of the room and wondered how his big fingers were going to do anything other than rip the dress. “I’m not exactly the best person to-”

Her exasperated sigh pulled the fabric from his grasp and he had to reach for her shoulders.

“If you want me to help… you gotta hold still.”

He felt the tremor of laughter and fire flow through her and he nearly laughed. “I aughta take you out for supper more often.”

She turned, his hands half-way down her back kept her from turning all the way around. “Yes… you should.” She shifted so he could finish up. “It was fun.”

The instant he got to her waist she pulled away and disappeared back behind the screen.

Suddenly it seemed so strange just to shuck off his boots and pants like he’d done a hundred times in the bunkhouse, Lou only a few feet away. But now, in this room, with Lou behind a screen, he found his fingers fumbling with his laces and his legs a little too weak to pull free of his pants leg, nearly ending him up on the floor.

Louise peered around the edge of the screen and giggled as Jimmy fell against the bed trying to get the second leg off. “I think I’m just gonna fall asleep in my shift if that fine with you… I don’t want to get back into those pants for a bit.”

Yanking it finally off of his foot, Jimmy struggled to right himself without sprawling on the tied rag rug beneath his feet. “Sure… sure… whatever works for you.” He pointed at the tiny loveseat against the wall. “I’ll be fine over there.”

She stepped out onto the floor and looked over the tiny chair with a quick sweep of her gaze. “There?” The laughter in her voice was genuine. “You’ll twist your neck.”

Jimmy took a second look and then shrugged. “It’s not that bad,” he reasoned, “I’ve been in smaller before.”

She raised a brow and gave him a smile. “Really? That’s a story I’d like to hear sometime, but really you should just share the bed with me.”

“Share?” Jimmy wondered if the distinct squeak he heard was actually coming from his own mouth. He knew exactly how small that bed was and exactly how much room he wasn’t going to have with trying to keep away from her. “Naw, maybe a pillow and a blanket on the floor.” He gave her a grin, “better than those chairs they had us tied to, huh?”

“Chairs? Oh!” Lou laughed and swatted his arm. “Your hands!”

He held them up and wiggled his fingers. “See? Better that we don’t chance things.”

Louise felt a warm heat prickle up the side of her neck. “Maybe…” She leaned to the side and eyed the bed again. “Maybe we could just half it.”

“Half?” Jimmy shook his head. “I’ve heard you rollin’ around on your bunk; you’d knock me out onto the floor.”

She gave a little shrug. “I guess.” She turned her head to the side… then the other. “How about we just cuddle up, I’ll curl up in front of you and-“

The thought of Lou, in her cotton shift with the lace edges curled up against his front… he looked at her in what must have been sheer panic and she changed her thoughts. “Fine… how about I get up against your back and-“

Jimmy’s concern was close to abject fear for some unspoken reason and he swallowed… hard.

“I think I’ll just take the ‘seat’.” Reaching out to the head of the bed, Jimmy swiped a pillow and grabbed his coat off the hook before setting up his ‘bed’ on the chair built for two.

Louise stood there, watching the seemingly ridiculous scene unfold before her, wiggling her stocking clad toes against the rag-rug while Jimmy bashed his pillow into a pancake to keep it from flopping to the floor.

She pulled back the blanket and was about to sit down when Jimmy put himself to bed curling up into a ball and nearly ‘falling’ into the chair.

A moment later, he was teetering on the edge, his arms wrapped around his chest to keep his coat on as a blanket, he had a few fingers available to grip the edge of the chair and push back.

He had. He tried.

He fell.

In a big pile of long johns, shirt and coat on top of the tied rug on the floor. The look he presented was hilarious.

The look he gave her promised death if she laughed.

So Lou did the only other thing she could.

She offered him her hand. “Need help?”

He struggled to untangle his limbs from the mess and managed to free a hand that reached far enough to take her hand.

Lou cocked her head as she felt his fingers slide into her grip. “I think you need to come and get on the bed with me.”

He looked up at her and it was a moment too late when she recognized the look in his eyes. “I think I just need company.” She yelped as he pulled her down to the floor with him.

“Jimmy!”

The lamp sputtered and the room fell into darkness.

Welcome To The Hotel California
by: Lori

More James and Emmaline...

“No.”

James took a deep breath and strove for calm. It was a losing battle. For the past twenty minutes he’d been arguing with Emmaline and the more he pressed, the more reticent she became.

“Emmaline.”

“Don’t you Emmaline me,” she huffed at him, crossing her arms over her chest. “I don’t see why we have to tell them anything.”

“Because they’re your parents.”

She pursed her lips and then said, “They gave up the right to know about my life the day they thought they could beat me into submission and scream at me until I capitulated.”

It was the one argument that could make his blood boil and nearly make him back down. He had no kind feelings towards Mr. and Mrs. Howard, despite seeing first hand how worried they’d been when Emmaline had left. The fact that she confirmed her father used to hit her when she got out of line and that her mother would yell at and harangue her until Emmaline often gave in just to stop the days on end verbal barrage did nothing to endear the older couple to him. He had no tolerance for parents like that.

But these weren’t just any parents. They were his wife’s parents and they lived in Rock Creek where friends of James and Emmaline lived and while these friends had slipped away from town to attend their wedding, one day the young honeymooning couple might just want to visit. At least James anticipated that event occurring. He couldn’t imagine staying away from Teaspoon forever.

“Sweetheart,” he said, his voice and his features softening as he sat down beside her. “They won’t hurt you. I promise you that. They won’t get near enough to lay a hand on you and if they start to say things we’ll leave. But you should tell them.”

“I’d really rather not,” she replied, wrinkling her nose. He tried not, but he laughed.

“Emmaline, you’re being a little ridiculous,” he said, knowing it would anger her. “You know you are. You’re acting like if you ignore it then it won’t be a problem.”

“There isn’t any problem,” his wife insisted. “We simply don’t have to say anything.”

“It’s not that I think they deserve to know,” he argued, trying a different tactic. “But it makes it easier on us. We don’t have to tell them where we’re livin’ and we don’t have to listen to anything they have to say; because this is our life. But if they know, then we can visit Teaspoon, or Mr. Lovelace some day instead of staying away because we’re afraid to see your parents.”

“That’s not fair,” she huffed, but this time it was less angry and she was definitely fighting a smile.

“Just remember this,” James told her, wrapping his arm around her. “They don’t have any power over you anymore. You’re my wife now. You’re old enough to choose, they couldn’t have stopped you-”

“And they certainly can’t try to have the marriage annulled,” she said, a teasing smile curving her lips as her fingertips danced up his chest.

He had to clear his throat before he was able to agree, “No, you…you’re right.”

“Then I suppose we can go to Rock Creek,” she conceded.

He was having a hard time concentrating when she slipped one of his buttons free and set to work on another little disc. “Good. Then…then we should go to the stage office tomorrow.”

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any reason to do that,” she shook her head.

“Why-why not?”

“Because this is our honeymoon, silly,” she laughed at him, liberating another button. “Why should we rush off to see my mother and father when we’re celebrating our wedding? You know they’re not going to celebrate with us, and do you really want to spend the rest of the time until your job starts in a town where they’re going to be fighting with us?”

Well, when she put it that way. “No, I…I s’pose not.”

“It’s much better to go when we’ll only have a day or two free before we have to leave so you can report for duty.” His shirt was open now and he knew what would happen next. Her lips were going to follow the same path her fingers had just traveled.

“I…I see your point.”

“Good,” the smile was evident in her voice. “Then there’s no need to leave and head to some silly stagecoach office, is there?”

He grabbed her by the shoulders and decided to take control of the situation. “Why are we talking about stages?”

Her smile was wide and triumphant as she said, “I have no idea, James. Simply no idea.”

Joe Wade
by: Cindy

“It’s Joe Wade!”

“Joe Wade’s over there!”

“That there’s Joe Wade!”

By whisper and gesture, the word spread through Sweetwater. The tall, lean man who had ridden into town that morning was none other than the famous gunfighter, Joe Wade. Several people knowingly identified him, having met him in person at one of any number of locations from coast to coast, and even into Canada and Mexico. A few claimed to have witnessed his prowess, regaling anyone who would listen with tales of his blazing speed with a gun.

He’d killed ten, thirteen, twenty, no thirty-two men!

At the moment, he was merely leaning against a pole, stationed outside the saloon, watching the street. He’d been in the same position for nearly two hours, ever since arriving that morning. All in all, he looked like anything but a dangerous gunfighter, but the townspeople still gave him wide berth, crossing the street or at least circling well into the thoroughfare to go by him.

Despite his quiet stance, the stranger was quite the center of attention and conversation.

“That’s Joe Wade, you know,” Tompkins said. The wagon from the Pony Express station had just pulled up in front of the store and several of the riders were disembarking or dismounting from their horses. He’d been one of the last to hear the news, having been busy in the store, so it was good to have some new people to share the news with. He puffed out his chest a little, an indicator of how important the news was.

“Yeah?” Jimmy’s interest was caught immediately and he turned that way, squinting against the sun.

Cody slapped a hand against his thigh. “Wish I had the book with me! The one about Joe Wade, I mean. Maybe he’d sign it.” He turned toward the shopkeeper, hope in his eyes. “Mr. Tompkins, you think you got…”

The shopkeeper shook his head. “I ain’t got the book. Wish I did. Had people in askin’ for the last couple o’ hours.”

Jimmy turned back to the others, grinning. “Joe Wade, here in town. Ain’t that somethin’!”

Buck’s response was merely a raised eyebrow, while Ike just shrugged.

Not the response he’d been looking for, so Jimmy just glared and looked back toward the solitary figure. “Whatta ya figure brings him here? Or who?”

Cody walked up behind Jimmy and nudged him with his elbow. “Maybe he’s come gunnin’ for the famous Wild Bill Hickok.”

Jimmy growled and took a weak swing at Cody, which the blond rider dodged easily. But when he turned back to study Wade, some of the wonder had disappeared from Jimmy’s face, replaced by concern.

“He hasn’t said anything about why he’s here?” Buck asked, stepping up next to Jimmy. Speculation that the gunfighter might be there after Hickok finally got him interested.

“He ain’t said a word to nobody,” Tompkins said. Normally he wouldn’t have answered the Indian’s question, but he figured it made him sound knowledgeable. And no one had actually mentioned hearing the man say anything.

They all stood there, just watching the gunman – who still just stood there, leaning against the post, fingers hooked in his belt, watching the street.

There was an air of expectation… but expectation of what?

BONG!

Everyone jumped as the town clock started to strike the noon hour.

Tompkins cleared his throat, loudly. “Well, I got better things to do!” he declared. He stomped into the store, stopping near the door.

“Wonder what Sam makes of it,” Cody said.

“He was headed out to the Peterson place after he stopped by for breakfast,” Buck reminded him. “He might not be back yet.”

“Oh, yeah.” Cody’s head nodded.

Ike’s hands flew, and Buck nodded. “Ike’s right. We should just get the supplies and get back.”

“But…” Cody started.

“Emma ain’t gonna be happy if she doesn’t get that fabric to start on Becky Morton’s dress,” Buck pointed out.

Ike nodded, and his hands flew again.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Cody said. “Teaspoon’s got chores for us.”

“And I’m not doing yours,” Buck said firmly. “Jimmy, come on.” When the other rider didn’t respond, Buck walked up next to him and tapped his arm. “Jimmy, come on. Emma gave you the list.”

There was a pause, and then Jimmy reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, holding it out. “I’m gonna go talk to him.”

The other riders looked at each other, each expression showing what they thought of that idea. “Jimmy, uh, that might not be such a good idea,” Cody said.

“Why not?” Jimmy countered, somewhat defensively.

“Jimmy, he’s just standing there alone,” Buck pointed out. “Doesn’t look like he really wants any company.”

“Yeah?” Jimmy challenged. “Maybe he’s just shy.”

Ike grabbed Jimmy’s arm, then started signing.

“The last time?” Jimmy looked puzzled for a moment, then shook his head. “This ain’t like Longley. I just wanna talk to him.” He started across the street.

The others looked around, each hoping that one of the others would have an idea of how to stop what they figured was a big mistake. Finally, the answer came riding into town.

“Hey, Sam!” Cody called, waving his arm frantically. The lawman headed their way, and when he got close, Cody pointed down the street. “Sam, it’s Joe…”

He didn’t get to finish as Sam’s eyes widened and he turned his horse, heading down the street as quickly as the wagon and pedestrian traffic would allow. If he even saw Jimmy making his own way in that direction, the lawman gave no sign.

Sam pulled his horse to a stop and hopped down, then straightened and turned to face the gunman. Up and down the street, people paused, waiting for what would happen. Was there a showdown in the works? Or…

They weren’t prepared at all for what did happen.

“Joe Wade!” Sam called, but not in anger or worry. Instead, a huge smile was on his face, and his right hand was extended – sans gun.

The stranger straightened up, a similar smile appearing on his face. “Well, if it ain’t Sam Cain,” he said, meeting the town lawman with his own hand extended.

The two men met, shook hands – and then, to the utter amazement of everyone watching, embraced like two old friends.

Jimmy looked back over his shoulder at the others, then headed toward where Sam was. Buck, Ike, and Cody hurried now to catch up.

“So today’s the day, huh?” Sam was saying as the others reached the area.

“It sure is,” Joe agreed, his grin now threatening to bust right off his face.

Sam had noticed the riders gathering around and he turned with a smile. “Boys, I want you to meet an old friend of mine. This here’s Joe Wade.” He pointed to each of the riders in turn. “Joe, this here’s Buck Cross, Ike McSwain, Billy Cody. And Jimmy Hickok.”

Wade’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Hickok, huh. I’ve heard the name.”

“Joe, you of all people should know better’n to believe everything you hear or read,” Sam said.

“Ain’t that the truth,” Joe agreed, his smile as large as ever. “If I’d done all that people say, figure I’d have to live at least two lives!”

“So, you, uh, here to find someone?” Jimmy asked.

Wade laughed. “Guess you could say that,” he said, shifting his shoulders. As he did, his jacket fell open, revealing a shiny new Sheriff’s badge on his vest.

“Joe here’s the new Sheriff over to White Pine,” Sam explained.

“Gotta thank you for puttin’ my name in, Sam,” Wade drawled.

“You were the first one I thought of when Ben said he was retiring,” Sam replied. “Gonna work out all right?”

Wade nodded. “Real pretty little town. Quiet, just the way I like it.”

“So Althea and the kids…”

“Due on the stage today, an’ this is the closest stop.”

“Still a couple hours ‘fore the stage is due,” Sam pointed out.

Wade dug into his pocket and pulled out a well-fingered tintype. “Been seven months since I seen my girls,” he said softly. “I ain’t takin’ no chances on missin’ them.”

Sam looked at the picture and nodded in understanding. “You figurin’ to head out yet tonight?”

“No, they’ll be tired from all the travellin’ so I figure we’ll stay the night.”

“Well, you come on out to the farm and meet Emma then,” Sam said. “She’ll be real happy to meet you. Right boys?”

Behind him, the riders just nodded, still a bit stunned by the turn of events.

Sam turned to look at the others. “So what are you boys doin’ in town?”

“Uh, nothin’,” Jimmy said.

“Gettin’ supplies,” Cody said at the same time.

“Uh huh. Well, when you get back out there, you tell Emma there’s five more for dinner, all right?”

“We’ll tell her, Sam,” Buck agreed. He started to back away, reaching to pull the others with him.

Sam turned back to Wade. “Joe, the saloon here’s got big windows. What say I buy you a beer while you wait?”

Wade grinned again. “Just one?”

Sam just laughed and clapped the other man on the shoulder, then guided him toward the batwing doors. In a moment, the two men disappeared inside.

“How about that,” Cody said, watching until the two men were out of sight. “Joe Wade, right here in Sweetwater.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed. “Hey, you think all them things they say…”

Buck raised an eyebrow and fixed the other rider with a disbelieving stare. “Hickok, after everything that’s been written about you, how can you ask?”

Jimmy gave a big sigh and nodded. “Yeah, I guess,” he admitted. “Still, Joe Wade…”

The Second Time Is Always Better
by: Nikole

“Come on Kid, Dry Creek ain't too far from here and Teaspoon said we were due a couple days off anyways.”

Lou mentioned taking some time off from the moment they left Rock Creek, but so far wasn't getting anywhere with him.

“I don't think we should, Lou,” Kid shook his head wearily. “You and I both know how the last time turned out.”

She smiled, remembering their trip to Davenport and how disastrously, but ultimately life changing it had been for the both of them. Still, she had her heart set on spending some time alone with him.

Since he wasn't likely to budge, Lou decided she would need to resort to more drastic measures. She would have to set him up, knowing him too well by now, having mastered the art of backing him into a corner where he would have one heck of a time to get out of – depending on her mood of course. Kid was a sucker for her; she knew it and she loved it.

“Are you sayin' you regret having gone to Davenport?”

“Well if you ask me, I'd be happy to forget we were ever there in the first place.” A reminiscent look appeared on his face as he rubbed his left arm.

Lou snorted exaggeratedly and raised her eyebrows at him. “Is that so?”

Kid quickly glanced sideways, guilt plastered all over his face and swallowed hard. “I, I didn't mean for it to sound... Lou, you know I didn't mean it like that.”

Lou shook her head and closed her eyes; it was all she could do not to burst out laughing. She gently kicked Lightning's flanks and rode out in front of him to make Kid suffer a bit more by making him believe she was truly offended.

“Lou!” she heard him call after her. “Lou, hold up! If goin' to Dry Creek means so much to you we'll go!”

Pulling back the reins, she eased her mount to a slow pace to allow Kid to catch up with her. “I just don't understand why you have to be so difficult about it.”

“I just want us to get back to Rock Creek in one piece, not go lookin' for any trouble. You and I been through enough to last us a life time.”

Lou frowned, genuinely confused now. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means I worry too much. If you really want to go, we'll go.”

“You mean that?”

He threw her a knowing look, reached for her hand and nodded. “Just answer me one question; why Dry Creek?”

Lou grinned. “No particular reason.”

*-*-*-*-*-*

As they rode into the small town, Kid took another glance at Lou, now almost certain she was up to something just like he was when he took her to Davenport. The thought was slightly unnerving to him for the simple fact he didn't like not being in control – he liked doing the surprising and was not a big fan of being surprised.

Not wanting to spoil Lou's joyful mood he decided it was probably wise not to mention this, he'd have to swallow his pride and man-up.

“We're here!” Lou pulled Lightning to a halt in front of a small hotel.

Kid frowned as he watched her jump down from her horse and started pulling down her stuff from behind her saddle. He dismounted as well, reached for his own gear and followed her into the building.

They walked up to the lobby counter, occupied by a stout looking gentleman; the lower part of his round face mostly covered in a lush beard and his bright red colored cheeks matching his sparkling eyes.

“We'd like a room'.” Lou glanced between the man and Kid.

“Sure,” the man nodded and smiled brightly. “Mr. And Mrs....?”

“Ehm, we're not married.” Kid answered, just like he had before when they were asked the same question back in Davenport.

“Oh,” the man's eyes twinkled even more brightly. “I'm afraid I'll have to give you separate rooms... on separate floors.”

Kid looked at Louise, whose grin matched that of the desk clerk.

“That'll be fine,” she nodded at the man and then turned to Kid, nudging his elbow.

He took the gesture as a sign to cough up the money, so he reached in his pocket and paid the fee for the two rooms. If Kid wouldn't have been so preoccupied comparing the striking similarities to their trip to Davenport, he would have sworn the man's cheeks flushed an even brighter shade of red and Lou beamed like he'd never seen her beam before.

“Dinner's at six, sharp,” the clerk announced with a wink.

Lou shook her head and linked her arm with Kid's. “No thanks, we've got plans.”

Pulling him by the arm towards the staircase, she placed herself in front of Kid. “I’d best get cleaned up and so should you. I'll meet you down here at six-thirty, alright?”

Kid couldn't remember the last time he was this confused. “Lou, I.... how did that man-?” he pointed at the desk clerk.

“Don't go askin' any more questions. I'll see you down here in a bit, alright?” she squeezed his arm gently.

Kid did as he was told and went up to his room to freshen up. Thankful for remembering to bring the clean shirt he had tucked away in his things, something he only did whenever he and Lou were on a ride together, he got dressed before all the while checking the clock making sure he wouldn't be late.

At six-thirty, on the dot, Kid descended the stairs and found Lou already waiting for him; dressed in a plain brown dress and wore her hair in a neat bun, just like she had back then in Davenport.

“Lou,” he breathed. “You look beautiful.”

She blushed and ran her hands across the fabric. “Surprise.”

Careful taking in the beauty that stood before him, Kid gulped, his mouth suddenly cotton dry. Lou walked up to him and a nervous giggle escaped her mouth. Kid found he could do nothing else but gape at her.

For the longest moment, both just stared at one another, not saying a single word until the hotel clerk brought them back to the here and now by clearing his throat.

“Miss McCloud, the buggy you ordered is waitin' right outside. The Marshal is still very much alive and other than a drunk, the jail house is quiet as can be.”

“No gangs ready to ride into town either?”

“No ma'am. None that I’m aware of.”

“Thank you, Mr. Colburn.” Lou smiled shyly at the clerk.

“I was a pleasure, Miss McCloud. I never done got me a request like yours before and I sure won't mind doin' it again. In fact, the local newspaper asked me if they could write about it. I told them I needed to ask you two first, seein' it wasn't my idea in the first place. ”

Lou shrugged. “As long as we don't have our names printed I can't see why they can't write about it.”

“The wife tells me it'll be good for business, and that if you're alright with it I should offer it as a service to boost the business,” Mr. Colburn drawled. “But I've already taken enough of your time as it is, everythin' is ready just like you asked for.”

Kid suddenly smiled, all the pieces falling into place. When he was about to ask what the good man was talking about, he was immediately shushed by Lou.

“Like I told you earlier, don't go askin' no questions. You'll just have to wait and see.”

She reached for his hand and took him outside, where the buggy stood waiting for the couple. Inside, Kid saw a basket and some blankets; all that was needed for a picnic.

“I can't believe you did this,” Kid barely managed to say the words.

Lou's face fell. “You don't like it.”

“No! No, I...I love it. It's just, I should be the one doin' this for you. Not the other way around.”

“Kid.” Lou rolled her eyes.

“What I meant was, I ain't the most romantic of men,” he shrugged uncomfortably and cast his eyes down. “I can't begin to tell you how much this means to me, but at the same time it makes me feel I'm sellin' you short.”

“You're doin' the best you can, considerin' I'm dressed up like a boy most of the time. I know it ain't been easy for you so they way I see it, we're even.”

Kid chuckled. “I'll have to work on that then. Won't be long before you won't have to dress like a man anymore and then the balance would be off.”

Lou averted his eyes and pressed her lips together. “I think we've done enough talkin' and not enough getting' in the buggy so we can eat. The food's getting' cold.”

Helping her board the buggy, Kid held on to her a little longer than was really necessary. Lou didn't seem to mind as she gave him a knowing look he was more than happy to receive.

“So, where are we headed?” Kid said, reaching for the rains.

“Mr. Colburn said it wasn't far. Less than half a mile out of town. If we follow the Creek he said he would mark the place for us.”

It took them no time at all to reach the place that was indeed marked as Lou was told. There was a beautiful canvas draped in between two trees that overlooked the creek, angled so that they had all the privacy in the world.

Kid helped Lou down, who went to grab the basket and the blankets while he then proceeded to tend to the animals. By the time he was done, Lou had laid out the blankets and was about to pour a second glass of wine.

“I still can't believe how you managed to get all this done.” Kid said as he sat down next to her.

“I did nothin', it was all Mr. Colburn's doin',” she handed him the glass. “I just happened to stumble upon Mr. Colburn when I was here a few weeks ago. Saw me sulkin' over breakfast and asked me what was wrong.”

“So what was wrong?”

Lou smiled and leaned up against his shoulder. “Was thinkin' how things might have turned out if it weren't for Adrian.”

“I guess we'll never know for sure.” Kid placed a kiss on the top of her head.

“Mr. Colburn was a good listener, let me tell him what happened without interruptions but by the time I was done he asked an important question; what if I could do it all over again? And that's when I thought of this.” She glanced up at Kid.

“Remind me to thank Mr. Colburn when we get back. I think he did a wonderful job organizin' all of this.”

“He sure did,” Lou sighed. “He's been wonderful, not to mention very discreet.”

“Well, seems to me he ain't the only one that needs to be thanked,” Kid placed his glass of wine out of the way and reached for the one Lou was holding.

She allowed him to take the glass from her, but eyed him with feigned suspicion. “And what exactly did you have in mind?”

Leaning forward, Kid gently brushed his lips against hers. “It ain't much, but it's all I got to offer right now.”

“Hmmm,” she licked her lips. “Let's do that thank you again. I ain't so sure that one quite fit the bill.”

Kid chuckled nervously. “The food's getting cold, wouldn't want it do go to waste now do you? ”

Lou pouted. “I guess not.”

As Lou placed the basket between them, Kid took a good hard look at the girl of his dreams and felt his hear swell with love for her. This was one of those times where he was positively sure he was dreaming, that he would wake up at some point and realize this, Lou, was nothing more than his mind playing games with him.

Holding back the urge to pinch himself, to ensure this was not just a dream, Kid sighed heavily.

“What's wrong?” Lou eyed him concernedly.

“Nothin'. For once, everythin's just the way I want them to be.”

Be Our Guest
by: Dede

Buck looked up at the nice hotel. The very nice hotel. The luxurious hotel. He held the package that he was supposed to deliver to the owner of this very nice, luxurious hotel. And not just the hotel owner, but the town’s founder. Why had Teaspoon picked the time when Buck would be in Darwell Falls to have the package delivered? Jimmy had been here last week and Lou had been here just days ago. In fact, the two riders seemed determined to take any ride that came through Darwell Falls. Teaspoon had been suspicious when Jimmy had tried to barter with Buck for this ride. It was odd because Jimmy was offering to do chores and take other rides if Buck would switch. Teaspoon had put his foot down and insisted it had to be Buck.

Why him?

Grumbling to himself, he climbed the steps. For a fleeting moment he had the feeling of walking up a gallows. He shook his head, trying to get the image out of his mind, and pushed opened one of the beautiful oak doors. He looked around the empty lobby in awe. The hardwood floor was buffed to a warm glow and covered by a rich burgundy entry rug. Buck would swear the rug was bigger than floors of the bunkhouse, barn and Emma’s house combined. The paneling was oak, the same as everything else. And it all just gleamed.

Buck was ashamed by his dusty appearance and figured he should go somewhere and clean up. As he reached for the brass doorknob, he was stopped in his tracks.

“What can I do for you?” a deep melodic voice called from behind him, more than likely at the desk.

Buck would swear there hadn’t been a soul in the place but the voice proved him wrong. Slowly Buck turned and saw a jovial looking man with a very white beard and a hat that matched. He couldn’t help but return the man’s grin. Buck assumed he was the owner, Mr. Darwell.

“Um, well,” Buck stammered. He walked forward, tentatively holding the package in front of him. “This is for you.” He placed it on the desk.

The man turned the package around so he could read the writing. “The man has never learned to write legibly.” He looked up at Buck. “He’s been doing this same chicken scratch as long as I’ve known him.” He laughed, heartily. “And that’s been a long time.”

The man eyed Buck, making Buck a bit uncomfortable but Buck refused to squirm. He wouldn’t give people the satisfaction of knowing he felt any discomfort. He stood his ground and met the man’s gaze.

“You must be one of the Express riders,” the hotel owner said.

“Yes, Mr. Darwell. I’m Buck Cross.”

Mr. Darwell walked from behind the counter and put his hand out for Buck to shake. Buck was taken aback but pleased and took the proffered hand. “I’m happy to meet you Buck, and call me Bart. I hate all that mister stuff.”

“Yes sir,” Buck said, as the man almost shook Buck’s hand off.

“And no sir stuff either,” Bart ordered, finally releasing Buck’s hand. “So, how is ol’ Aloysius anyway?”

Buck coughed to cover his laugh. “Well, he’s fine.”

“You mean he’s still every bit Aloysius, right?” Bart grinned, leaning against the desk.

Buck finally laughed. “We aren’t used to people calling him Aloysius so yes, I guess he is every bit Aloysius.”

“Never took to callin’ him Teaspoon. Course that could be because he needles me by callin’ me…well, my given name.” Bart wrinkled his nose. “I hate Bartholomew. I’m named after some old great, great of mine.”

Buck found it amusing how white people received their names sometimes by the whims of the parents but oft times by whatever an ancestor’s name was. Without thinking, he said, “My real name is Running Buck. The sisters at the…” He stopped suddenly, unsure of why he’d said that and if he should continue.

“You were at an orphanage?” Bart asked.

Buck heard no condemnation in the man’s voice or saw any judgment in the man’s eyes so he simply answered, “Yes, I was.”

“I’m guessin’ the sisters gave you your last name,” Bart said.

Buck just nodded his response. He really didn’t want to get into all that and couldn’t figure out why he’d broached the subject in the first place. Feeling the discomfort coming back, he said, “I should be going now.”

“You aren’t leavin’ are you?” Bart asked, incredulously. “I mean, you can’t be headin’ out this late in the day.”

“Um, actually,” Buck said quietly. “I’ll be camping outside of town before I start in the morning.”

“You’d rather sleep on the hard ground than in a soft featherbed?”

Confused by the direction of the conversation, Buck felt his face grow hot from shame. The best case scenario was Bart trying to get business, which Buck could understand even though the other guests wouldn’t like it. But the worst, and what made Buck fearful especially since he was beginning to like the man, was that Bart was having a laugh at Buck’s expense. Buck really didn’t want to get into his sleeping arrangements with all the explanations that went with them so he just shrugged it off. “I’ll be fine.”

“Why not stay here?” Bart offered. “I’ve got a few open rooms so I don’t see the problem.”

“Thank you but I normally don’t stay in hotels,” Buck said, hoping he sounded nonchalant. He cleared his throat; he really didn’t want to get into his real reasons. “You know, the cost –”

“Son,” Bart said, kindly, “you personally brought me this package when you could’a left it at the station. I want to repay that service. ‘Sides, I’m happy to have any rider of Aloysius’ stay here. In fact, the other two boys that ride through here all the time stay here.”

Buck gaped. Neither Jimmy nor Lou had said a word about staying at the Darwell Hotel. He looked around the hotel lobby again. ‘So this is why they always want this ride. And they probably didn’t want Teaspoon to know,’ he thought, amused by the whole situation. “So Jimmy and Lou stayed here?”

“Sure did,” Bart said, chuckling softly. He got a curious look on his face and pulled at his beard. “You know, I wondered about the small one though. He had a bath sent up and I began thinkin’ he was a fish, that bath stayed in his room for hours.”

Again, Buck stifled a laugh by coughing. Not knowing what to say to that, he answered Bart’s offer. “I appreciate the kindness but I don’t want to put you out.”

“Thank you but you won’t,” Bart assured him. “Now, why don’t we go into the dining room and have somethin’ to eat.” He slapped Buck on the back putting an end to the debate.

Buck’s stomach growled at the mention of food and Bart laughed another booming laugh, as Buck joined in.

“Papa, what are you laughing at?” A pretty auburn-haired young woman walked around the corner. “Oh, I’m sorry, you’re with a guest.” She smiled shyly at Buck.

Buck sobered quickly, nearly choking when he stopped laughing so suddenly. He guessed she was going to the dining room since she was carrying an armload of what looked like tablecloths. Without thinking, he hurried over and put his arms out to take the linens from her. She smiled but shook her head.

“You’re a guest,” she chastised him, “I wouldn’t dream of having you work.”

Buck looked from Bart to his daughter then back at Bart. “Bart, please tell her I’m not really a guest.”

“Well, you’re stayin’ here aren’t you,” Bart said, “I think that means you’re a guest.” The man smiled mischievously.

“I’m not paying,” Buck countered, not caring that it sounded like he was a bum, “so that means that I’m not really a guest.” Buck’s face set with determination, he nodded decisively and reached for the linens.

“Well, I suppose if you put it that way. Please, follow me.”

Amelia handed him the linens and guided him into the dining room, towards the back and the linen closet, with Bart following close behind. As she took the linens from Buck, their hands lightly touched and she blushed to her hairline. Buck removed his hands quickly, smiling shyly, and opened the closet door.

After putting the tablecloths away, she turned to her father. “Papa, I think you need to introduce me.” She glanced at Bart and looked back at Buck bestowing a huge smile on him. His stomach fluttered and he felt a bit lightheaded.

“Buck, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Amelia,” Bart said, standing beside the couple, “Amelia, this here’s Running Buck Cross, one of Uncle Aloysius’ Express riders.”

“Pleased to meet you Mr. Cross,” Amelia said, putting her hand out.

Buck looked at Bart when the man used his Kiowa name, again expecting the signs of ridicule, a smirk or scoff, but none were there. He relaxed and took Amelia’s hand. “Likewise Miss Darwell, but please,” he said, “call me Buck,” he glanced quickly at Bart before looking back at Amelia, “I’m not much on the mister stuff either.” He stared at her and held her hand for a moment longer before realizing he was still holding it and released it quickly. He blushed and looked down at the ground, hoping he hadn’t offended her.

“Well, Buck,” Amelia said, she too blushing from the contact, “please call me Amelia. And, it’s time for Papa’s midday tea; would you care to join him?”

“Actually, I’d just asked him to,” Bart said, his tone and face clearly showing his amusement over the actions of his daughter and Buck.

“Wonderful,” Amelia exclaimed, a bit more enthusiastically than was needed. Her eyes darted to her father and then around the room, looking everywhere but at Buck. “Um, yes, well, I’ll go tell Mrs. Yates that, um, that you are ready,” she looked at Buck, a small smile on her lips, “and that you have a guest for tea.” She whirled around, almost as if she were dancing, and, with one glance back at Buck, she disappeared into what Buck figured was the kitchen.

Buck stared at the door, wanting her to come back out. He already missed her. He heard a noise beside him and remembered that Bart was standing right there. Buck turned towards the hotel owner and smiled sheepishly. He hoped his actions hadn’t put Bart off.

“Well, I’m guessin’ that you’ll be fightin’ with those other two for the rides to Darwell Falls,” Bart drawled, as he walked over to a table and sat down. He indicated the chair across from him for Buck to sit in.

Buck sat down, staring at the kitchen door. He turned to Bart; a smile sat comfortably on his lips, and said, “Yes Bart, I believe I will.”

The Inevitability of Destiny
by: Dede

“At last,” Gideon muttered, quite pleased that what had started as an extremely bad day, had turned out so good. His search had paid off; the old man was here.

Aloysius “Teaspoon” Hunter.

Gideon didn’t like waiting but he knew he had to. It wasn’t time yet. So he propped himself against the post and watched his target. As he waited, he squirmed, shrugging his shoulders. The disguise he was in made him very uncomfortable, especially the metal that was pinned to his vest. It actually seemed to burn a little. He hadn’t been pleased about wearing it, though he did have to admit the use of the badge had gotten him this far much faster than without it. But he used it sparingly, primarily keeping his coat closed so as not to attract the local law in the towns he searched. But now, as his enemy stood but yards away, he could only wait and watch.

Waiting and watching. He pulled out a cigar and lit it.

Hunter helped a pretty redhead down from the wagon that was parked in front of the general store as he bantered with a group of boys. Gideon watched the boys curiously. He wondered what Hunter was doing with this pack. Figuring he needed as much information as possible, he looked around for someone to ask. A tall, lanky man was walking towards him.

“Excuse me,” Gideon said politely, only then seeing the badge pinned to the man’s chest. ‘Too late now,’ he thought irritably, as he twisted so his coat was completely closed, hiding the badge from the marshal’s watchful eyes.

“What can I do for you?” the man asked, putting his hand out. Gideon noticed the smile never quite made it to the man’s eyes. “Name’s Sam Cain. Marshal Sam Cain.”

Gideon didn’t miss the emphasis on the marshal’s title. ‘Cain,’ he thought. ‘What a fabulous name.’ Recovering, Gideon shook the marshal’s hand and said, “Good morning Marshal, name’s Luke Natas and I was wondering where there’s a good place to eat?”

Sam shook Gideon’s hand, though the marshal’s expression still seemed suspicious. “Well, we actually have a couple places. The hotel has a nice restaurant, though if yer stayin’ here then you probably know that,” he paused, smiling, “and there’s Mrs. Willow’s place just before the livery. Ain’t really got a name, just called Mrs. Willow’s.”

Gideon smiled and nodded. “Thank you Marshal, I’ll keep those places in mind.” He turned back to scanning the streets and puffing on his cigar, thus terminating anymore conversation. Though the marshal resumed his walk, Gideon knew the man was looking back at him. Gideon didn’t want to move too quickly, no sense in bringing attention to himself anymore than necessary. He was just a visitor to town, enjoying the sights. Surreptitiously, he glanced around the pole and saw Sam walk into the marshal’s office. Gideon wasn’t sure if that was good or bad but either way, he would wait a few more minutes before moving.

Hunter was leaning against the wagon, talking to a tall, dark-haired young man. Gideon watched the exchange. The boy seemed irritated by something Hunter was saying. Gideon could understand that, since everything Hunter ever did had irritated him; the man was so self-righteous. The boy threw his hands up, in what appeared to be exasperation, and turned away. Gideon stifled a laugh. Hunter grabbed the boy’s arm, making the young man face him.

“Always right,” Gideon mumbled.

“Pardon?”

Startled, and angry for it, Gideon turned to see the redhead standing right next to him. ‘Where the hell did she come from?’

“Oh, I was just watching the father and son over there,” Gideon said, smiling his sincerest smile. “It seems that boys think they are always right and never take their father’s advice until too late.”

“True,” the pretty woman agreed, returning the smile, though, again, as Gideon saw, it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

‘This is truly the most suspicious town I’ve been in.’ He was quite amused by that.

“However, they aren’t father and son,” she informed him. “The boy’s a Pony Express rider and Mr. Hunter’s the stationmaster.”

Gideon had heard of this new mail delivery service back in Missouri, as he was searching for Hunter. That’s where he’d finally found Hunter’s scent again, though he hadn’t heard about the man being affiliated with the operation. He made a mental note to talk to his contacts, this was information he could have used. He would have been here all the earlier if he’d known about Hunter’s work.

“That’s very interesting.” He turned to face her, offering his hand. “I’m Luke Natas, Miss…” He hoped the woman would offer her name.

“Shannon, Emma Shannon,” she replied, placing her hand in his, though removing it quickly. “Pleased to meet you Mr. Natas, but if you’ll excuse me, I need to be gettin’ to my shoppin’.” She nodded politely and went about her business.

Gideon watched her walk down the boardwalk a moment, before turning his attention back to Hunter and the unnamed Express employee. He saw the other boys come out of the store, this time carrying boxes and sacks, loading the wagon. His eyes widened slightly as he realized one of these boys was actually a girl in disguise. He chuckled.

“Ol’ Teacup will just love that.” Realizing he’d stayed too long in that one spot, Gideon removed his watch from his vest pocket. “I suppose I should try Mrs. Willow’s cuisine.” Replacing his watch, he abandoned his post and walked towards the livery and Mrs. Willow’s.

“This is going to be a very interesting situation.”

Taking Charge
by: Debbie

Author’s note: This story would be a scene from a story I hope to write one day. Certain things are unexplained and leave a mystery to the story but it was done intentionally.

Lou glanced around the rapidly filling room. Most of the people she knew from seeing them around town on a regular basis but this type of meeting was of the variety that brought the not-so-frequent visitors to Rock Creek to take the long ride in to town for the day. One day she would be like those folks; the type that worked their land, making a living and only coming into town once a month or when the need arose. That day would come as soon as Kid, the other boys and Teaspoon got back from chasing a piece of Teaspoon’s past that now threatened to destroy not only her future but that of everyone in this room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would all take a seat, we’ll get this meeting started.”

“Who does he think he is?” she mumbled as she glanced at the blonde seated next to her. Rachel shushed her with a stern look that was quickly followed by a sympathetic smile. Lou scowled as she slumped back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. “Fine, I’ll listen but it doesn’t mean I have to like what he says.”

Rachel was in the same situation she was in but somehow, it felt so much worse for Lou. The ex-rider knew she was being selfish in her judgment but she couldn’t help it. She’d just begun the next part of her life and this meeting was about the danger that threatened to take that all away from her. She wished Kid were there but he wasn’t so it was up to her to keep their small family safe; that included the woman sitting next to her as well as what was growing in the mound above her waistband that had seemed to have doubled in size in just one week.

“What gives you the right to lead this here meeting?”

She glanced behind her at where the deep voice had come from. Tompkins was being his usual old self in arguing with everyone he came across and for once, Lou was glad of it. Looking at the person the shop keeper was speaking to, Lou shook her head. So Mr. Marshall owned half the businesses in Rock Creek; did that give him the right to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do? He acted like he owned the hotel lobby they were now sitting in. Actually he did, but did he have to then act like he owned the occupants of the room as well?

Standing behind the desk she and Kid had gone up to to get the key to the room they honeymooned in just a few short months ago, was not the kind clerk who had wished them well with their lives together but his boss; a man who hadn’t even bothered to greet them as they’d walked past him. He’d taken their money with no problem but his way of handling people was its own problem. And he thought he was capable of telling a scared group of people what they should do to protect their lives?

Frederick Marshall leaned on the counter in front of him. He looked out over the lobby of his hotel and all he saw was bodies, sitting, standing, leaning against the walls or door; they were all looking expectantly at him. “Mr. Tompkins, we are faced with a delicate situation, one that requires patience and someone to lead the way to safety.”

“By taking the law into your own hands?” Tompkins asked. “That’s what Deputy Sanders is here for. That’s the reason I went to him when I heard about Jackson’s gang headin’ here. I can’t help I was bein’ too loud on account of the urgency of the situation and what I told him was overheard.” The shop keeper stepped into the middle of the aisle and turned around in a circle so he could look at everyone. “We got real trouble in front of us and our marshal and the boys that usually help him out are not here so we got to decide how we’re going to handle things in their absence.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do, Mr. Tompkins,” Marshall told him. He rapt his knuckles on the counter to get the attention of the now buzzing crowd. “It seems awfully convenient that Marshal Hunter would be out of town when this gang decides to come after him.”

“Teaspoon is off chasing after this gang!” Rachel seethed through clenched teeth in a voice that only Lou could hear. “He has no way of knowin’ that the trail he’s followin’ is the wrong one.”

“It’s like they’re all blamin’ Teaspoon for what ain’t even his fault,” Lou agreed. “What they’re forgettin’ is that the reasons don’t matter, what matters is gettin’ ourselves ready in case Teaspoon doesn’t get back here before those men show up.”

“You don’t listen very well, do you, Mr. Marshall?” Tompkins questioned with an annoyed look in the other man’s direction. “I think you oughta let those of us who know a thing or two about firin’ a gun take over this situation.”

“Now those men might not mean us any harm after all,” Marshall said as he now raised his hands in the air, trying to get everyone’s attention. “We’ll just have to be prepared in case they do try something. Women and children can take cover outside of town …”

“That’s the first place they’ll look!” Lou interjected angrily.

“Men can always carry around their weapons of choice as a safety measure …”

“He’s gonna get us all killed just by not doin’ anything!” Lou proclaimed.

“We can’t be goin’ around like there’s no danger in the air,” Tompkins declared, echoing Lou’s thoughts so much so that she was actually smiling at the man. “I have told you repeatedly what I overheard; those boys weren’t foolin’ around and we can’t be either if we want to be around to see mornin’.”

“Mr. Tompkins, Mr. Marshall is right in that we can’t just sit around and wait for them to come to us. We have lives to live …” Mr. Michael Lemmings, the town mayor, interjected as he went to stand behind the counter, next to Marshall.

“And we won’t be livin’ them if we’re dead!” Lou cried out as she jumped to her feet.

“Louise! What are you doin? Leave this to them,” Rachel told her.

“Why? Because they’re men? I have been around men for the last two years; I have been around Marshal Hunter that whole time. He’s taught me the most invaluable lessons a person could learn. It’s not how to cook or sew or even break a horse, it’s how to survive against formidable forces. You’re goin’ about this all wrong and I won’t sit here while you put me and my baby in danger.”

“Louise, will you calm down and think about your baby?” Rachel was getting worried and mad at Lou for letting herself get so worked up. Sure she agreed with all Lou was saying but she was more worried about the welfare of the infant than she was in the outcome of this meeting.

“I am thinking about my baby, Rachel, that’s why I can’t stay silent any longer.” Lou looked all around her before pointing to the tall, and until now, quiet deputy standing in the corner. “Deputy Sanders tried to tell you all what we need to do to get ready. Time is wasting. Mr. Tompkins warned the town I lived in one other time of danger comin’ our way; we believed him then and I believe him now. He knows what he’s talkin’ about … and so do I.”

“Now, Mrs. McCloud, we appreciate you voicing the concern of all the women present but in your condition, it’s not exactly appropriate for you to be trying to get involved here. It’s best to leave it to those who have the final say.”

“I thought this was a town, Mr. Lemmings, and not a prison where we have no control of the situation we’re thrust into.”

“Gentlemen, I have known this young lady for the last two years and I know what she’s capable of … first hand, I might add. Maybe I was a little too hasty in sayin’ I should be runnin’ things here. You won’t find a tougher, stronger woman than Lou McCloud. She’s been through things most of us have only read about in books. Lou knows what should or shouldn’t be done and she deserves to be heard.”

Lou blushed as she mouthed ‘thank you’ in the store owner’s direction. The ex-rider stood still as she listened as one by one other voices joined the shop keeper’s in stating their opinions on what was going on. She was pleased to hear that most opinions being spoken was favorable in letting her help them out.

Mr. Marshall glanced at Mr. Lemmings and after throwing his hands up in the air and shrugging his shoulders, he turned toward the dark haired young woman. He shook his head as he raised his hands once more in defeat. “I don’t agree with this at all but I am mature enough to allow Mrs. McCloud to have her say.” He stepped aside so the counter was clear, leaving room for Lou to join him up front.

Lou stood her ground. She didn’t need to stand behind a piece of furniture to get any type of respect from those around her; all she needed to do was speak about what she knew, what she’d been taught from the moment she met Teaspoon Hunter and the other boys she’d rode with.

“What do you need us to do, Lou?” Tompkins asked as he turned his attention her way. He felt guilty that he’d wasted so much time arguing with a man like Marshall, knowing the man wasn’t one to back down so easily, but he was pleased beyond belief that someone like feisty Lou McCloud had the capability to do it just by being herself.

Glancing around the room and finding the entire town of Rock Creek watching her every movement, Lou took a deep breath then began to address the problem that threatened her small family. “They’re comin’ and comin’ fast; the gang deliberately has Teaspoon goin’ on a wild goose chase. It’s because of him they’re comin’ here but because of them he ain’t here. They think that gives them the upper hand but I think we can show them a thing or two that’ll make them regret their decision. Now this is what we need to do …”

Someone To Watch Over Me
by: Lori

A continuation of Molly's story from my CD Challenge story 'Unknown'

Jimmy stood outside the marshal’s office and watched as Mr. Emerson tied his horse to the hitching post and then went inside the saloon. The man would be inside for hours, drinking and carrying on and the mere thought of it made Jimmy sick. While he had kept his word and hadn’t gone back to talk to Molly, he found himself unable to completely stay away. He’d watched the farm from a distance, never close enough to hear what was said, but close enough that he could imagine based on what he saw.

He’d seen the day that Mr. Emerson had stormed out of the house, enraged over something and shouted for his daughter. She came scurrying out of the barn, her body shrunk with fear but probably too fearful to ever contemplate not heeding his call. He shouted, she shook her head, and then he lashed out, hitting her with the back of his hand and then dragging her into the house. Then he saddled his horse and rode to town. Jimmy didn’t follow him, didn’t need to know where the older man was going. Jimmy stayed and watched the farm.

When it grew dark, no lights came on inside the house. Worried now, Jimmy edged his horse closer, and then traveled the rest of the way on foot. He looked in the windows, wanting to make sure Molly was alright, that her father hadn’t done more to her after dragging her inside. Finally he saw her, sitting in the dark kitchen, eating a pitiful looking crust of bread and drinking a little cup of water. No wonder she looked like skin and bones. Her father was off carousing with saloon girls, wasting his money on liquor and overpriced saloon food, and Molly was sneaking what little food she could.

He’d gone back to the station that night and raged to Teaspoon and Emma. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair and how could they sit back and let a man beat and nearly starve his child to death and not do something? Neither adult liked the situation any more than he did, but there was nothing they could do. The law didn’t allow Sam to arrest the man for neglect of his family and no judge in the territory would protect them if they tried to take Molly away. Even if they might secretly agree they were helping her.

“Jimmy?”

He didn’t turn his head, just continued to stare at the saloon where Mr. Emerson had disappeared inside. “Yeah, Teaspoon?”

“What’s caught your interest, son?”

With his chin, he indicated the Wild Horse. “Emmerson showed up tonight.”

“Ah, Jimmy,” the older man sighed. “I know it ain’t easy, son. Sam and I have been talking, but we can’t find any loophole in the law.”

His jaw ticked, the only outward sign he gave to show his anger over the fact that the law didn’t protect the weak when it should. He finally looked over when the marshal came out and then dropped his gaze to the faded wooden planks at his feet. “I appreciate it. I just…it still ain’t right.”

“No, it ain’t,” Sam agreed bluntly. “I’ll try to keep an eye on him. Emerson’s run into some trouble at the card tables the last few times he was here. I heard Marty over at the bank saying that Emerson’s behind on his payments. I think he’s gettin’ a little desperate.”

Desperate meant potential trouble for Molly, but Jimmy knew there was nothing he could do. She wanted him to stay away and he was trying to respect her decision. Only because he knew it upset her to see him there. He also couldn’t risk trying to surreptitiously watch the house, because he always ran the risk of being discovered and that would only cause more problems for her. Jimmy hated feeling helpless, even though he knew there was truly nothing he could do.

“Come on, son,” Teaspoon said softly, laying his hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. “Sam will keep an eye on Emerson; that’s really all we can do.”

“I know,” he agreed, turning to gather his horse’s reins. “It doesn’t mean I like it.”

~*~*~*~

The pounding on the door woke everyone up and in various states of alertness, five riders reached for their guns. Cody no doubt would have as well, had he not been on a run.

“What in the blazes?!”

Teaspoon’s angry and disoriented voice drifted inside to them followed moments later by the shocked, “Sam?”

“Sam?” Kid murmured, stumbling as he climbed off the bunk. “What is Sam doing here?”

Apparently Emma wondered the same thing because her voice drifted across the yard and into the bunkhouse as Buck opened the door. She was in her robe while the rest of them were trying to pull their pants up over their long johns. All of them curious as to the marshal’s sudden appearance.

“Emerson’s dead,” he stated bluntly. He looked weary, and anxious. “Got into a fight in the saloon. Someone claimed he was cheating. Nobody remembers who went for their gun first, but there’s no doubt about the outcome.”

The adults and riders all turned to look at Jimmy. It was because of his encounter with Molly Emerson that they ever paid any attention to the dirt farmer. Jimmy scrubbed his hand over his face and looked at Sam.

“You want me to come with you when you tell her, don’t you?” he asked.

Sam nodded. “I was hoping you would. You…you’re the only reason we know there’s someone out at his farm. She’s met you; hopefully she won’t get spooked too bad if you come along.”

“I’m going as well,” Emma declared, her tone leaving no room for argument. “She’s going to need a place to stay and someone to look after her and she’s going to come here. Like you said, she knows Jimmy. But she needs some looking after and I’m going to make sure this child is alright.”

“Alright,” the marshal agreed. “Jimmy and Emma, we’ll go out to Emerson’s place in the morning. No sense wakin’ the girl tonight.”

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