Author's Note: Some elements of the story are bordeline 'adult' but nothing too descriptive

Prologue

Running Buck stood in the small room facing the strangely dressed woman. She called herself Mother Agatha. "What is your name boy?" she asked for the third time.

"Running Buck." He answered once more.

"That's not a Christian name, what should we call you." Mother Agatha asked rephrasing her question so the young Indian could understand.

"Running Buck." The boy said once more. Mother Agatha blew out a breath of frustration.

"Mother Agatha?" A younger woman in a similar dress step forward.

"Yes Sister Mary?" Mother Agatha addressed the young woman.

"Why don't we just call him Buck?" Sister Mary suggested giving the young Kiowa a fond smile. Running Buck decided he liked her.

"What about a last name? We can't just call him Buck?" Mother Agatha asked thinking it over and eyeing the boy in front of her.

"Well he's obviously a half blood, so why not Cross. Since he's a cross between two worlds." Sister Mary suggested once more.

Mother Agatha pursed her lips in thought and then turned to the young boy, "Buck Cross does that suit you young man?"

"It will do." Buck responded with a tight lip smile.

He was not at all sure he liked this woman. Since he first stepped foot in the door she had made him change who he was. The first thing she had done was take his bow and arrows, knife, and earring. And then she had the nerve to cut his hair. Now he must also change his name. He was not at all sure he liked this but if he was to survive in the white world he must learn their ways.

"Very well, Sister Mary will get you settled in." Mother Agatha said with a wave to the younger woman to step forward.

Sister Mary approached Buck and offered her hand; he reluctantly took it as she led him from the room and showed him around his new home. After she showed him where he was to sleep she led him down to the dining hall and left him alone to get him some food. She returned a few minutes later with a plate.

After she handed him a plate full of food she pointed him to an empty table. Buck walked slowly over looking around at the other children. They all eyed him with contempt except for two. A young girl who appeared to be a couple years younger than him and a bald boy about his age, they offered shy smiles to him.

Buck reached the table and sat down. He looked at the strange food on his plate unsure as to what it was. He looked around and saw the other children using the strange tool the Sister had given him. Buck picked it up and stabbed a piece of food with it, bringing it up to his noise to sniff it first.

After he decided it didn't smell bad he took a tiny bite. Then he shoved the whole piece in his mouth deciding he liked it. He was about halfway through his meal when he heard a soft voice ask, "Do you mind if we join you?"

Buck looked up to see the two children he had noticed before sitting by themselves, the only ones who had smiled at him.

The young girl spoke again, "You do understand what I'm saying don't you?" she asked her forehead crinkling. He nodded and pointed towards the empty seats. The two friends smiled at each other and quickly sat down.

"I'm Louise McCloud and this is Ike McSwain." The girl introduced themselves. Buck decided she was a pretty little thing.

Buck smiled and said, "I'm Running Buck but the one called Mother Agatha changed it to Buck Cross." Buck said in near perfect English.

"Please to meet you Running Buck." Louise said holding out her hand to shake, Ike did the same. After Buck shook hands with the two Louise asked, "Where did you learn English?"

"My mother and brother insisted I learn the tongue of my father." Buck said in a tone that Louise knew meant he didn't want to talk about his past.

Louise smiled brightly, "You're Kiowa right?" Buck nodded surprised by this young girl. "Where is your earring? I thought all male Kiowa's wore one." She asked.

Buck glared up at the front of the room where Mother Agatha sat, "She took it, along with my knife, and bow and arrows. And she dared to cut my hair."

"I'm sorry, I'm sure she will give them back whenever you leave here." Louise said with a look of sympathy. "How old are you anyway?" She asked changing the subject.

"Twelve Summers." Buck replied with a grin, this girl sure liked to talk.

"Hmmm…guess that means you're around twelve then, Ike just turned twelve and I'm eleven." The girl said with a smile.

"They send the boys away once they reach fifteen but they keep us girls until we're seventeen. I hope that when Ike turns fifteen they let me go with him. He's my only friend. Well I take that back, you're our friend now too. That is if you want to be." Louise rambled on.

Buck had to laugh the girl talked so much the one called Ike couldn't get a word in. "I would like that Louise." Buck said with a smile at the girl.

He turned to look at the boy, "You don't talk much do you Ike?" Buck asked the boy, he looked panicked and looked towards Louise with a pleading expression.

Louise put her hand on Ike's arm in a comforting gesture and looked over at Buck. "He can't talk. He hears just fine but he can't talk. From what I understand he lost his hair to Scarlet Fever and then after he saw his parents and sister killed he hasn't been able to speak since."

Buck looked shocked by the story. "I'm sorry Ike; I …what's the word…I mean nothing by it." Buck said to the boy.

"Meant nothing." Louise corrected, Buck smiled a thank you to her. Ike just shrugged it off.

"If you want Ike I can teach you how to talk with Indian sign." Buck said to the young boy.

Two identical grins looked back at him. "You better teach me too so I know if he's talking about me behind my back." Louise said elbowing Ike in a teasing manner.

Buck started teaching them right away. It didn't take either of them long to learn the language. Buck also taught Louise Kiowa after she had begged him. She said that way they could talk about Ike behind his back. Ike just elbowed Louise good naturedly about it. He listened in on their lessons so he could at least understand the language if not speak it.

The three soon became inseparable. For three years they did everything together. Buck taught them both how to ride and shoot. He tried to teach them how to track but neither one were very good at it. Ike was a natural with horses, well with any animal really. And Louise could ride like the wind. Buck found out early on not to get on Louise's bad side. She had a temper like you wouldn't believe and could come up with the most outlandish acts of revenge. Buck and Ike secretly called her Eyes of Fire. As she grew older the more beautiful she became. Buck dreaded the day he turned fifteen because he knew it meant he would have to leave her behind.

But no matter how much he dreaded it he also longed for it. And now that day has arrived. Mother Agatha had indeed returned his belongings just like Louise said she would. Buck and Ike stood side by side as they waited for Louise to stop fighting with Mother Agatha.

"Please Mother, let me go with them. They are my only friends." Louise begged, tears streaming down her face.

"No Louise, it's not proper. I cannot in good conscious send a fourteen year old girl off alone with two fifteen year old boys. No ma'am its time you stopped acting like a boy and became the young lady I know is hiding in there. I am sorry Louise but I just cannot allow it. Now you need to say your goodbyes to your friends so they can be on their way. I'll just be inside the doors so don't even think about sneaking off Louise." Mother Agatha said eyeing her sternly.

"Yes Mother." Louise responded dejected.

After Mother Agatha left the three friends alone Louise threw herself into Ike's waiting arms crying hard. Ike had silent tears streaming down his face as well.

"Oh Ike I'm going to miss you so much. You are like the brother I never had." Louise cried against his chest.

"I'm going to miss you too Louise, I think of you as my sister as well." Ike signed after releasing her.

With one more hug to her brother she turned to Buck. Looking up at him with her big brown eyes full of tears, Buck felt his heart break at the sight. Louise stepped into his embrace holding him tightly.

"I'm going to miss you so much Buck, promise me you won't forget me." Louise said against his chest and then looked up to meet his eyes.

Buck captured her small chin between his thumb and forefinger tilting it up he bent his head and placed a gentle kiss against her lips.

"I'll never forget you Louise." Buck said softly in Kiowa. Ike pretended to be fascinated with something on the ground near his feet. Buck kissed Louise once more before he said, "don't forget me."

"Never" Louise responded tears falling silently down her cheeks.

Buck released her from his embrace and with Ike by his side he left the mission and Louise behind to face the white world and to find a place in it. Louise stood, watching her friends leave her behind until she could no longer see them. Then she tuned back to the mission to face the next three years alone.

Chapter 1

Louise McCloud was now seventeen years old. It has been three years since her friends had left her behind but she has never forgotten them. Ike would write whenever they stayed in one place for more than a few days but they would always move on before Louise could send a reply. Ike would tell her all about their lives and the jobs they were doing. He would tell her about the way they both were treated. It made Louise sick to think how hateful people were. Buck would never write a whole letter but would always add one or two lines to the bottom of Ike's and would put something in the envelope for her.

Louise hasn't received any word from her friends in a few months and now that it's time for her to leave the mission she doubts she will ever see or hear from them again. With her meager sack of belongings she heads off to face the world. Not a half mile from the mission she stops to change her appearance.

Louise is not stupid, she knows there isn't much work for a seventeen year old girl around and she says she be damned if she's going to make her living on the flat of her back. So taking out a set of boys clothing she swiped from the mission, she quickly ditches her dress and puts the boys clothes on. They are about one size too big but it works to cover her curves. Taking a pair of scissors from her bags she quickly shears her long hair off short. With the added touch of a large hat and a pair of glasses she doesn't need she passes for a young boy. Smiling to herself she picks up her bag and heads towards her new life.

As she makes her way into the city she sees a sign advertising for the Pony Express. They were looking for young boys who could ride, shoot, and were preferably orphans. Louise smiled as she entered the building to sign up.

"Excuse me sir, I saw the sign in the window." Louise said pitching her voice low.

The man behind the counter looked her over, "Got any family?" he asked.

"None living" Louise responded.

"Can you read?" the man asked.

"Yes sir," Louise answered.

"Good read that," he said handing her a piece of paper. Louise quickly read it.

"Sign here." The man said pointing to a line at the bottom of the page. Louise quickly signed.

The man pulled out a bible and some money. "A bible for your soul and money for your pocket, it's an advance on your pay. You will be stationed out of Sweetwater. You need to report to a Ms. Emma Shannon by the end of the week. Your station master will be a Teaspoon Hunter. Good luck and welcome to the Pony Express Mr. McCloud." The man said shaking Louise's hand. She nodded and left the building.

If she was going to make Sweetwater on time she was going to need a horse. She located the livery and found he had one horse for sale. A big black one, he was bigger than the horses she was used to riding but he was gentle. Louise quickly paid the man and after buying some supplies she set out for Sweetwater. The man that signed her up had given her just enough money to buy the horse, a gun, and some food for the journey. She would be broke until she got paid again, so she hoped that Ms. Shannon was the cook and would be a good one because she wouldn't be able to afford any food.

Louise arrived in Sweetwater a day early. She had no idea where Ms. Shannon's was at so she went to the marshal's office to see if he could point her in the right direction. She walked in to spot a man sitting in the only chair with his feet propped up on the desk, his back towards the door.

Louise cleared her throat, "Excuse me marshal?"

The man turned towards Louise, she was surprised by how good looking he was. "Marshal Sam Cain at your service." The Marshal said standing up and shaking Louise's hand.

"Lou McCloud." Louise introduced herself.

"Well now Mr. McCloud what can I do for you today?" Sam asked eyeing the boy in front of him, he couldn't put his finger on it but something just wasn't right.

"I was wondering if you could point me in the direction of Ms. Shannon's place." Lou asked not looking the marshal in the eye.

Sam looked Lou up and down, "Ain't you a might small to be a rider?"

Lou bristled, "Sign didn't say I had to be a certain size. The guy who signed me up didn't say anything."

"Guess it don't matter as long as you can do the job. Well come on then I was fixing to head out to see Emma anyway, might as well tag along." Sam said with a grin and led the way out of the office. Lou followed and quickly mounted Lightning. She followed Sam to Emma's.

When the homestead came into view she was surprised to see that it looked like an actual home and not just a building in the middle of nowhere. Emma was on the porch shelling peas whenever the two rode up.

"Hiya Sam, who ya got there?" Emma called out when she spotted the young woman. Emma knew right away that Lou was indeed a young woman.

"Emma this is Lou McCloud, he's one of the new riders." Sam said introducing the boy next to him.

Emma suppressed her laugh, "Is that a fact? Well Mr. McCloud you head on over to the bunkhouse and make yourself at home. Only a couple of the other boys have arrived. I'll have lunch ready in about an hour." Emma said looking the girl over.

"Thank you Ms. Shannon." Lou said dismounting.

"Just call me Emma and I'll call you Lou. You can put your horse in the barn. There's plenty of oats for him." Emma said pointing Lou in the right direction.

"Thank you ma'am." Lou said leading her mount towards the barn.

Sam and Emma talked a few minutes before Sam headed back into town. Lou had just finished brushing down and feeding her horse. She looked around and saw a painted mare and a palomino stallion. She wondered if they belonged to some of the riders. Bracing herself she grabbed her things and headed to the bunkhouse.

Lou opened the door to find three other riders already inside. They all looked up at her sizing her up. She looked them up and down as well. Nodding her head in greeting she found an empty bunk. The curly brown hair boy with blue eyes had the bunk below her. After she stashed her things he smiled and held out his hand. "Hi I'm Kid."

"Lou McCloud" she responded shaking his hand. "Is Kid your real name?" Lou asked.

"Don't bother asking he won't give you any other name." the blue eye blonde responded. "Name's Cody, William F. Cody at your service." Cody said shaking Lou's hand.

"Hickok. James Butler Hickok, most folks just call me Jimmy." The tough looking boy said from his place at the table. After the introductions were done Emma came in with lunch.

"Here you are boys. Eat up, after lunch I've got a few chores I need ya'll to do." Emma said placing the food on the table.

When the boys started complaining Emma piped in, "Now boys, I know you ain't supposed to start work until tomorrow but since you're here early it means more work for me. So if you want supper tonight you'll do the chores I need you to do." Emma said eyeing them.

"Yes ma'am" they all replied.

"How many others are we expecting Emma?" Lou asked while they were eating.

"I think two more riders and Mr. Spoon should be here by tomorrow, he's going to be in charge of you boys. I'll clean and cook for you. I just want you boys to know as long as I'm here you ain't orphans no more." Emma said with a sincerity that brought smiles to all the riders' faces.

After they finished eating they went out and did the chores Emma had asked for them to do. The boys went down to the swimming hole to clean up and Lou quickly cleaned up while they were gone. After supper the boys sat around playing poker but Lou sat on her bed reading her old letters. She missed her friends and wondered if she would ever see them again. She lifted an eagle feather out of one envelope. It was the last thing Buck had sent her.

"Hey what's that Lou?" Cody asked spotting the feather.

"It's an eagle feather." Lou responded looking over at Cody.

"Where did ya get it?" Kid asked joining the conversation.

"An old friend sent it to me a few months ago. It was the last thing I got from him." Lou said willing herself not to tear up at the memories.

"He dead?" Jimmy asked.

Lou let out a sigh, "I don't know. It's been awhile since I heard from him; even if he's alive he wouldn't have any idea how to reach me now."

"You two were close." Cody stated the obvious.

"The three of us were. We went to a mission school together. They left three years ago. I wanted to leave with them but I was too young." Lou said not stating the other reason why she couldn't leave with them.

"Sorry to hear that Lou, maybe you'll come across them while on one of your rides." Kid said trying to cheer the boy up.

"I hope so." Lou sighed before putting the feather back inside the envelope and putting her letters up. She stretched out and rolled onto her side facing the wall and went to sleep. Tomorrow was the start of her new life as a Pony Express rider.

Chapter 2

It had been three years since Buck Cross and Ike McSwain had left the mission school. Three long years since they had seen their friend Louise. There wasn't a day that went by when they wouldn't think about the pretty young girl they had left behind. Ike missed his sister and Buck missed the girl with the fiery temper that had stolen his young heart.

Whenever they stayed in one place for more than a few days Ike would send a letter to Louise. Buck would always write a few lines at the end of his letter and slip something in the envelope for her. They never got a reply back. They would always be moving on about the time the letter would reach her.

Life had been hard in the three years they have been out in the world. A bald mute and a half breed were looked upon with scorn. Everywhere they went people would treat them like trash, cursing them and even spitting on them. They had learned to just ignore it all, to work where they could find jobs. It was a miserable existence but at least they had each other. They hoped Louise had made new friends after they left, they hated to think of her sitting by herself in the dining hall for three years. They often wondered if they would even recognize her now.

Then finally the day of her seventeenth birthday came. They knew they probably would never see her again now. She would be turned out of the mission and they would have no way of knowing where she would go and she had no idea where they were at. They were both lost in their thoughts as they entered a new town.

"Hey look Buck." Ike signed and pointed to a poster in the window of a store.

"Wanted young men, expert riders and good with a gun, orphans preferred." Buck read. "What do you think Ike, should we see if they will take us?" Buck asked looking over at the young man who was like a brother to him.

"It's worth a try Buck, we need the money." Ike signed as they entered the store.

"Excuse me sir, we saw the sign." Buck said to the man behind the counter.

"You two got any family?" the man asked looking up at them.

"Just each other." Buck replied.

"Can you two read?" the man asked.

"Yes sir." Buck answered for them both.

"Here read this." The man said handing them each a piece of paper. They quickly read it.

"Sign here" the man said pointing to the lines at the bottom of the pages. They both quickly signed.

The man pulled out two bibles and money. "Bible for your souls and money for your pockets. It's an advance on your pay. You are to report to Ms. Shannon in Sweetwater by the end of the week. Your station master will be a Teaspoon Hunter. Good luck and welcome to the Pony Express Mr. Cross, Mr. McSwain." The little man said shaking both their hands.

They walked out grinning at each other. After buying a few supplies they mounted up on their horses and headed towards Sweetwater. A few days later they sat around their campfire eating the last of their supplies.

"I think it should only be a mile or two more to Ms. Shannon's. We probably could have made it there today but if we get sent away I'd rather have daylight to see where I'm going wouldn't you." Buck said looking over at Ike.

Ike just nodded. They hadn't spent much of the money they had been given just in case they were sent away and had to give it back. "I think our luck is looking up Buck. I've got a good feeling about this place." Ike signed smiling.

Buck just shook his head, "I hope so. We could use some good luck." Buck said before he stretched out on his bedroll. "Good night Ike." Buck said looking over at his brother.

"Night" Ike signed back stretching out on his bedroll.

Like most nights Buck drifted to sleep thinking of Louise. The next morning they broke camp and headed in the direction of the Pony Express station. When they entered the yard they spotted the strawberry blonde woman hanging sheets.

"Howdy boys, you must be the two we were missing. I'm Emma Shannon; you can just call me Emma." Emma said smiling at the two young men.

"Buck Cross ma'am" Buck said shaking her hand. "This is Ike McSwain" he told her putting his hand on Ike's shoulder.

"Nice to meet you Buck, Ike." Emma smiled at the two boys. Ike smiled back and looked to Buck.

"Ike don't talk ma'am but he hears just fine. I taught him Indian sign and he can write." Buck explained when Emma looked confused as to why Ike hadn't said anything.

"Well that's just fine Ike, I'm sure we will get along great." Emma said with a smile.

"You boys take your horses into the barn and put your things in the bunkhouse. Mr. Spoon will meet you and the others over by the corral in an hour." Emma said pointing the boys in the right direction.

"Yes ma'am." Buck replied as they led their horses into the barn. After taking care of them they went into the bunkhouse. There was a top bunk open and a single bunk off by itself.

"I'll take the top bunk." Ike signed moving to put his things up. Buck did the same and then they went to line up with the other boys.

The others briefly glanced up at them when they walked up, all except the small one. That one just kept his head down. They were all staring transfixed at the horse trough. Buck and Ike just shrugged and moved to stand along the fence with the others. Then they saw what had fascinated the others as an older man broke the surface of the water and used a horse tail to dry his face. He scooped something out of a tin and started spreading it under his arms.

"Bear grease boys it's the secret to good health." The strange man said Buck just shook his head in disgust.

After the man got out of the trough and pulled his pants on, he went on to tell them what to expect. Told them he was going to teach them tricks to keep them alive. He went on to tell them he had been married six times, twice to Indians. Buck smirked, knowing at least this man would be likely to accept him. Maybe Ike was right and their luck was about to change.

Chapter 3

Lou was vaguely aware of the two new riders joining the group by the corral. She didn't look up and none of the guys said anything to them. They were all transfixed by the sight of the station master bathing in the horse trough. Lou was looking down so no one would notice her blush. After Teaspoon had gotten out and said his spiel he walked up and down the line of young boys looking them over.

He stepped up to the first one, "Half breed?" He asked the boy on the end. The boy must have nodded because then Teaspoon asked, "Kiowa?"

"Kiowa" was the one word response.

Lou automatically thought about her long lost friend Buck but didn't bother to look up; he wasn't the only half Kiowa in the world after all. Teaspoon walked over to a fence post and grabbed a couple of arrows to show the boy.

"Which tribe?" he asked holding out one arrow.

"Comanche" the boy responded barely looking at the arrow.

"This one?" Teaspoon asked holding out another one.

"Lakota-Sioux" the boy responded quickly.

"And this?" Teaspoon asked holding out one last arrow.

The boy took it from his hand to look it over, his mouth twitching into a smirk, "this one you made." The boy said the laughter evident in his voice. Teaspoon chuckled and moved on to the next boy.

Teaspoon looked the kid up and down, "wearing that Colt might low ain't ya boy?"

"Seems right." The boy said looking down.

"Got a hair trigger?" Teaspoon asked.

"Yup." The boy responded with an air of arrogance.

Teaspoon got in his face, "I don't like having a hair trigger around me boy, keep that in mind. You got a name?"

"Hickok. James Butler Hickok." Jimmy said lazily.

"Just remember Hickok you're paid to ride not shoot." Teaspoon said before moving on to the next boy.

The boy didn't look up at him. "What's your story?" Teaspoon asked knocking the kids' hat off to reveal a bald head. The boy quickly pulled it back on.

"He can't talk, he can hear but he can't talk" the half breed said.

Lou's ears perked up at that, what would the odds be she wondered. "He got a name?" Teaspoon asked looking back at the Kiowa.

"Ike McSwain, he's real good with horses." The boy responded.

Lou's head shot up, it couldn't be! "Well Ike I reckon it don't matter if you can talk as long as you can ride." Teaspoon said Ike smiled in response.

Teaspoon looked over at the other boys, "You know boys Ike is lucky losing his hair to Scarlet Fever. Some of you might lose yours to a scalping, like you." Teaspoon said to the blonde next to Ike.

Lou just couldn't believe her ears; she wanted to get a look at the two but didn't want to draw attention to herself so she just hung her head with a smile on her lips.

Teaspoon moved on to the blonde. "You think you're hot stuff don't ya boy?" Teaspoon asked.

"Yup" was the arrogant reply.

"You any good with that Hawkin?" Teaspoon asked the boy. He showed Teaspoon just how good he was.

"What's your name?" Teaspoon asked, not wanting to admit he was impressed by the shot.

"Cody. William F. Cody." Teaspoon nodded and moved on down the line to the next rider which happened to be Lou.

Teaspoon looked the small boy up and down, "Ain't you a might puny for this work son? You sure you can handle it?"

Lou looked up and took off her glasses and handed them to Teaspoon. Then she went and mounted her horse and took him through a series of tricks that Buck had taught her years ago. Dismounting with a bounce she quickly moved back to her spot and put her glasses back on.

"Puny but spry." Teaspoon said with a grin and moved on to the last rider.

"You don't seem as thick as the rest of these boys." Teaspoon said eyeing the boy in front of him.

"I need the job." The boy replied.

"Got a name?" Teaspoon asked.

"Kid." Was the one word reply.

"Got a rifle Kid?" Teaspoon asked.

"Nope." Kid answered.

"Want me to issue you one?" Teaspoon asked.

"I'd just assume save the weight." The boy replied.

"There might be hope for you yet." Teaspoon said with a grin before he moved off and began training the boys.

Lou finally got a good look at the two boys, she knew for sure she had found her friends but she doubted they would recognize her the way she was dressed. And she couldn't exactly tell them who she was with the others around. Well actually she could if she could get their attention or get close enough. She could either sign it to them or she could tell Buck in Kiowa. Lou hid her grin just thinking about it.

Buck kept his eye on the small rider, there was something very familiar about him; Ike thought so too. Kid was standing next to Buck, "hey Kid what is that little one's name. I didn't catch it earlier?" Buck asked pointing to where Lou was standing.

"Oh that's Lou. Lou McCloud." Kid answered without looking at Buck.

Buck and Ike exchanged looks. "Do you think it's her?" Ike signed looking over at Lou.

"I don't know Ike, could be." Buck signed back. He looked back over at Lou to see him looking at them, before he ducked his head.

"Come on Ike lets go have a little talk with him." Buck said walking towards where Lou was standing.

Lou peered up at them from under the brim of her hat as they approached. "You know Lou, you remind me of someone we used to know." Buck said looking at her closely.

Lou's mouth started twitching, "And who might that be Running Buck?" Lou asked in Kiowa lifting her face to look at them both.

The grins on their faces matched her own. They all three hugged each other at the same time.

"God we've missed you. I never thought I would see you again." Buck exclaimed in Kiowa.

"I know, I thought the same way. Looks like the spirits had other plans for us." Lou responded in Kiowa laughter in her eyes.

"What are you doing here Lou?" Ike signed concerned for her safety but really glad to see her.

"Well there aren't exactly a whole lot of options for me Ike, and I'll be damned if I'm going to make my living on my back." Lou said in Kiowa.

Buck and Ike both shuddered to think of Lou having to earn her living doing that.

"You guys aren't going to tell on me right?" Lou asked looking at her two friends.

"Of course not!" they both exclaimed, one in sign the other in Kiowa.

By this time their little reunion had caught the others attention. "Hey Lou how come you know what those two are saying?" Cody asked coming to stand near them.

Lou smiled, "You remember me telling you guys about my friends from the mission school last night. Well these two are them."

"Small world." Teaspoon said as he came to see what was going on. "That's good then. Lou can help translate for Ike when Buck's not around until the rest of us learn sign." He continued looking around at the boys.

About that time Emma rang the dinner bell and they all headed for the bunkhouse. Emma noticed right away the looks the three old friends shared. So she wasn't surprised when she found out they knew each other from the mission school. Emma was glad that Lou had two allies in keeping her secret, plus they would protect her. And unless Emma missed her guess she figured Buck had feelings for the young girl. She wasn't sure about Lou yet, since she kept her eyes hidden much of the time. She did know she was close to those two boys.

After supper the three old friends sat around the table and conversed in sign and Kiowa, their topic of conversation didn't need to be heard by the others.

"You know that's really annoying talking where we can't understand you." Jimmy said from his bunk.

The three friends grinned. "Sorry Jimmy we have just been catching up on the last three years. Didn't figure anybody would be interested in that." Buck replied with a wink at Lou.

"Well are you done jabbering now? The rest of us would like to get some sleep." Cody said.

The three friends laughed and moved to their respective bunks. With goodnights said all around the riders drifted off to sleep. Lou, Ike, and Buck completely happy for the first time in three years fell asleep with smiles on their faces.

Chapter 4

The Express had been operational for a week and Lou, Ike, and Buck had picked their friendship right back up. It was like they had never been separated for three years at all. Lou and Ike still thought of each other as family and Buck, well Buck's heart still belonged to Lou. A fact that she was completely unaware of. Although she still clearly remembers the way his lips had felt against hers when he had kissed her goodbye three years ago. And if Lou admitted it, she still had feelings for the gentle Kiowa. Not that she could act on those feelings of course since she was supposed to be a boy.

It was great to be with her friends again but it also made it harder to hide her gender when they knew she was really Louise. Whenever Buck spoke to Lou he always did it in Kiowa just in case he accidentally said something that gave her secret away. This of course frustrated the other guys to no end. They all thought there was something odd about Lou and the relationship he had with Buck and Ike. They just couldn't figure out what it was. They would figure out sooner than anybody thought.

On Lou's very first ride she was shot by outlaws at the way station she was meant to switch horses at. They left her for dead thinking she was a young boy but they stole the horses and mail pouch. Kid came upon the scene sometime later. He found the wounded Lou, picking him up he tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of grain and carried the small boy inside the way station where he laid him down on the bed. Kid started to pull Lou's shirt up to see the wound but Lou struggled against him.

"Hold still Lou, I've got to see how bad you're hurt." Kid said pushing Lou's shirt up to stop short and gasp out "Lou?!"

"What's the matter Kid, ain't you ever seen a girl before?" Lou asked struggling to sit up.

Kid struggled to compose himself and quickly bandaged the wound. It really wasn't bad, just a graze really. Then Kid went out to light a fire to signal the other guys.

"The boys will see the smoke and be here soon." Kid said coming back in. Kid sat as far away from Lou as possible.

"I don't bite Kid." Lou teased.

"What are you doing here? Don't you know what could have happened to you if those outlaws had realized you're a girl?" Kid asked angrily.

Lou just looked at him like he had three heads before she said, "It ain't like I have many options Kid. The only job that pays as well as the Express is the whore house. And I'll be damned before I make my living like that."

"What's your name?" Kid asked a few minutes later.

"Louise McCloud." Lou replied with a smile.

"I take it Buck and Ike know the truth." Kid said looking over at the girl, thinking how could he have not seen it before.

Lou laughed, "Of course they do! Buck's the one that taught me how to ride and shoot. My being a girl is the real reason why we were separated three years ago. I'm a year younger than the boys and at the mission boys were turned out at fifteen and girls not until they are seventeen." Lou explained.

Kid looked out the window at the sound of approaching horses. "Boys are here." He stated moving towards the door.

"You're not going to say anything are you Kid?" Lou asked but Kid didn't answer he just left the building. Lou struggled to her feet and grabbed her gun belt.

Kid stepped outside to see Buck scouting the ground. "How many where there?" Jimmy asked Kid.

"Lou didn't see them all." Kid responded.

"About twelve and two wagons." Buck said standing up.

"I can't believe Lou lost the pouch, nobody's lost a pouch before." Cody said shaking his head.

"And I ain't going to be the first." Lou declared from the doorway where she was standing strapping her gun belt on.

"Lou go back inside your hurt." Kid demanded annoyed.

"No Kid. I'm going to get that pouch back. I ain't hurt that bad." Lou argued moving towards her horse which surprisingly wasn't taken.

"Well you can't go." Kid shouted at her grabbing her arm to take her back inside the station.

"Why not, if he feels up to it, why can't he come?" Jimmy asked.

"Because he ain't a he, Lou's a girl!" Kid yelled. Jimmy and Cody looked shocked. "And I'm going to tell Teaspoon." Kid continued ignoring the looks on the others faces.

He couldn't ignore the sound of two guns cocking. "I'd rethink that if I was you Kid." Buck seethed his gun pointed at Kid; Ike had his gun aimed at him too. Lou just stood there dumbfounded.

"Buck calm down, Kid ain't going to say anything because if he did he'd have to deal with me." Jimmy said looking at Kid.

"And me." Cody added. "Fact of the matter is Kid, Lou rides better and shots better than you, me, and Jimmy." Cody continued.

"Well rides better at least." Jimmy said with a grin.

"I don't like it." Kid said in defiance.

"You don't have too, but you ain't going to be the one that separates me, Ike, and Lou again." Buck stated still not lowering his gun.

"Fine, I won't say anything to Teaspoon." Kid declared with a huff. Buck and Ike put their guns away while the others came up with a plan to get the pouch and horses back.

In the end they sent Ike back to the station to get the new volley guns that just came in to even the odds a little. Ike arrived with them just in time to stop the outlaws from getting away. After rounding the bad guys up Lou and Buck took them into town to Sam. After they had dropped them off they headed home.

"Thanks for sticking up for me Buck." Lou said on the ride home.

Buck smiled over at her, "Anytime and you know that."

"Yeah but if Jimmy and Cody hadn't have gone along with you and Ike things could have been bad for you." Lou said looking at him from the corner of her eye.

"Don't matter; I'd do anything for you Louise. And I meant what I said, I wasn't about to let Kid separate us again. I've missed you too much and don't want to lose you again." Buck stated softly not looking at her.

"I feel the same way Buck." Lou said quietly before she leaned in and kissed his cheek. Buck's face flushed at the contact but he couldn't say anything because the station just came into view.

Emma spotted the wagon first and saw the looks on the two occupants' faces. Emma hid her smile knowing now that Lou returned Buck's feelings. Emma had also figured out when the others had come in that they knew Lou's secret by the strange looks on their faces and the smirk Ike was wearing. She didn't know how they had found out but she was surprised that it looked like they were going to keep it.

Buck and Lou pulled into the yard and Lou climbed out of the wagon. Buck took care of it and the horses, while Lou went into the bunkhouse with the other boys. Lou came in to find Ike moving Buck's things to the bunk under hers and Kid putting his on Buck's bunk.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"He doesn't want to sleep on the bunk under a girl." Ike signed rolling his eyes at Kid.

"Hell I wouldn't mind." Jimmy piped up. Lou silenced him with a glare. Kid just ignored them.

"Fine by me, Kid snores anyway. Maybe I'll be able to sleep now." Lou said taking her gun belt off and hanging it on the end of her bunk before she climbed up on it.

Buck walked in just in time to see Ike putting the last of his things on his new bunk. He looked around and caught Lou's eye. She pointed at Kid who was pouting on his new bunk. Buck just shook his head and rolled his eyes.

"You know Lou, I'm relieved to find out you're a girl." Cody stated with a thoughtful expression on his face.

"Why's that Cody?" Lou asked wondering about the look, Cody was very rarely thoughtful.

"Well to be honest, I thought that the three of you were a little weird, the way you acted around each other." Cody replied pointing to the three friends.

Buck, Ike, and Lou looked at each other and started laughing at him. "Yeah I guess we weren't doing a very good job of pretending Lou's a boy." Buck said with a grin.

"Well we have known her for years. It's kind of hard to forget that your 'brother' is really a 'sister'." Ike signed with a huge smile on his face.

"I don't think Buck has been looking at Lou like a sister." Jimmy teased from his bunk, causing both Buck and Lou to blush bright red.

"Well I don't think they've ever thought of each other as siblings." Ike signed with a teasing smile. "Especially considering the way Buck kissed Lou when we left the mission school." Ike signed his grin huge as the others laughed.

Lou turned even brighter red and threw her pillow at Ike. Buck just bowed his head trying to hide his flushed face.

"Well now that is interesting." Cody said teasing them.

But before they could say anymore Emma walked in to get supper on the table. She noticed the sudden silence and the blushes on Lou's and Buck's faces. Emma couldn't hide her smile.

"Lou honey will you help me carry the food over?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am." Lou said hopping down from her bunk and following Emma out of the bunkhouse.

She breathed a sigh of relief; she didn't know how much more of the teasing she could have taken.

Chapter 5

A few weeks after the riders had discovered Lou's secret, Ike McSwain witnessed a stage coach robbery. When he rode in to rescue the lone survivor, a woman who was probably going to be raped, he killed one of the robbers but the other wasn't armed. Ike could not in good conscious kill an unarmed man, so he just pulled the woman up on his horse behind him and rode away.

He had gotten maybe a hundred yards when a shot rang out and the woman fell from his horse dead. He turned back to kill the man but he was already riding away. Ike had let a murderer go because he hadn't been armed. Ike felt sick to his stomach as he returned to the station.

Everybody knew something was bothering him but he wouldn't talk about it, not even to Buck and Lou. The riders just let it go; they figured he would talk when he was ready. That night the quiet was broken by the sound of gunfire.

Buck bolted from his bunk, "it's coming from the garden." He cried grabbing his gun and running out the door.

Lou and the boys were right behind him. They ran to the garden to find Ike shooting the scarecrow.

"Damn it Ike you scared the Hell out of me!" Cody yelled throwing his hands up in disgust.

"I think ya got him Ike." Kid said with a laugh before turning back to the bunkhouse with Cody and Jimmy.

Buck and Lou stayed behind. Buck handed his gun over to Lou as he stepped closer to Ike and put his hand on his shoulder.

"What's wrong Ike?" Buck asked but Ike just shook his head. "Why won't you talk to me? I can't help if you don't tell me what's wrong."

Lou stepped forward when it was apparent that Ike wasn't going to talk, placing her hand on Ike's back she said, "We're here for ya Ike. Me and Buck and the boys, whatever happens you're not alone."

Ike turned to his sister and clung to her as he cried silent sobs. Lou's eyes frantically searched for Buck's, his filled with just as much confusion. Buck stepped forward and put his arms around them both. After Ike got control of his emotions he told his siblings what had happened.

"Do you know who the man was Ike?" Lou asked her hand on his arm in a comforting gesture. Ike just shook his head no.

"Would you recognize him?" Buck asked.

"I'll never forget what that man looks like." Ike signed the hatred evident in his eyes and jerky hand movements.

"We will go talk to Sam in the morning, give him a description." Lou said.

"Sam might have some wanted posters we can look at too." Buck suggested. Ike just nodded.

"Come on we better get back to bed." Lou said an arm around each of their waists as she led the way back to the bunkhouse.

The next morning the entire Express family went into town for supplies. Buck, Ike, and Lou were just about to go talk to Sam when he approached and started telling Teaspoon and Emma about the 'stage coach massacre'.

"Got any idea who done it?" Teaspoon asked.

"I know who done it, problem is I can't ever get anybody to testify against the man." Sam said in exasperation.

The three friends looked quickly at each other. Ike had gone pale as he watched the undertaker drive down the street with the caskets.

"Sam can we talk to you?" Buck asked quietly.

Sam looked up at the riders and noted their expressions. "Sure thing boys, come on over to my office." Sam said before tipping his hat to Emma and walking away.

Emma and Teaspoon eyed the three friends. "What's going on boys?" Teaspoon asked.

"We got to talk to Sam first Teaspoon." Lou said leading the way, her two companions falling into step behind her.

Sam looked up as they entered, "Alright boys what's on your mind?"

"Ike saw what happened to the stage coach." Buck stated a hand on Ike's shoulder offering support.

"Did you see who done it Ike?" Sam asked. Ike nodded. "Could you recognize the man again if you saw him?" Again Ike nodded. "Alright tell me everything." Sam said to the boy.

Ike quickly recapped the story with Buck and Lou to act as translators. "Alright come with me boys, I need Ike to make an identification. If it's who I think it is, he's in the saloon right now." Sam said grabbing his hat off the peg on the wall and walking out the door.

The three friends quickly followed after Sam as he marched down the street and into the saloon. Teaspoon saw them go past and quickly fell into step with them. Sam walked right up to a man sitting at the bar and grabbed his shoulder forcing him to turn. The snide comment the man was going to make died on his lips when he saw Ike.

"Is this the man you saw kill those people Ike?" Sam asked. Ike nodded his head furiously. Sam smiled, "Nickerson, you are under arrest." Sam dragged the man from the saloon and to the jail.

His shadows following, once Nickerson was locked up Sam turned to the boys and Teaspoon, "My thanks Ike; the judge will be in Blue Creek in two days. I'll come pick you up in the morning. With your testimony he'll pay for his crimes."

"I ain't ever going to hang marshal, it's a long way to Blue Creek and so many accidents can happen between now and then." Nickerson mocked.

"Shut it you!" Sam yelled to the prisoner before turning back to the boys. "Don't worry Ike. I'll get you there in one piece. Teaspoon I'm going to post two of my deputies out at Emma's just in case any of his gang try to get to Ike tonight."

Teaspoon nodded at the marshal, "Well boys we best be getting back to Emma and the others. They'll want to know the whole story." Teaspoon announced with an arching of his eyebrow indicating he wanted the whole story too.

That night the riders were prepared to defend Ike and their home with their lives. Even with the two deputies there they weren't going to let their guard down. Jimmy and Kid were hunkered down in the bunkhouse. Cody, Lou, and Ike were in the main house with Emma. The deputies were stationed outside her front door. Buck was in the barn in the hayloft on lookout duty. Teaspoon wandering between all his boys making sure they were doing alright.

Emma had just poked her head out the door to see if anybody wanted coffee when Buck's warning sounded. After three waves of attacks the station was a disaster zone. One of the deputies was dead and the other wounded. The boys, Teaspoon, and Emma all came out into the yard after it was over.

"Everybody alright?" Teaspoon asked looking around at his boys.

"Where's Ike?" Emma asked when she didn't see him.

As one the riders turned and headed to the barn where Ike was saddling his horse. The guys didn't try to stop him; they just started saddling their own mounts.

"This is my fight. You shouldn't come with me, it's too dangerous." Ike signed and Buck translated.

"Somebody shoots at me I take it personally." Jimmy declared.

"Ike you're family and family sticks together." Lou said with a smile.

Ike looked at Lou and the boys, "I don't want ya'll to get hurt because of me."

"And we don't want you to get hurt Ike. You stand a better chance of getting to Blue Creek if we're there to watch your back." Buck stated.

Ike nodded his head in resignation as they finished saddling their mounts and led them from the barn.

"Son don't you think that gun is going to slow ya down?" Teaspoon asked Jimmy when he saw the volley gun slung over his shoulder.

"You pick your travelling companions and I'll pick mine." Jimmy replied with a grin.

"You boys stay off the main paths, stick to the back trails." Teaspoon told the boys.

"Where were going there ain't no trails." Kid said with a cocky grin.

"Good" was all Teaspoon said.

Ike stopped in front of Emma unsure of how to tell Emma what he was feeling. Emma reached out and touched the side of his face. "I know Ike, I love you too." Emma said causing Ike to give her a bashful smile.

The boys all mounted up and rode hard for Blue Creek. Sam and the prisoner along with an armed guard pulled into the station yard some time later.

"Where's Ike? What happened?" Sam asked when he saw the state of the station. Teaspoon quickly filled him in.

"That boy ain't ever going to make it to Blue Creek. So many bad things can happen; it's a long way there." Nickerson taunted.

Teaspoon walked closer to the wagon and looked Nickerson in the eye. "I'll tell you this now. If anything happens to that boy or any of the others. I won't worry about a trial; I'll put a bullet between your eyes myself." Teaspoon threatened before Sam and his guard rode out.

The riders rode into a way station later on that day to exchange horses. When there was no response to their calls they spread out to look around. Lou found the man that ran the station bound and gagged hidden in a small wooded area. After making sure he was alright she sabotaged the horses she found tied nearby.

Meanwhile Kid was trying to get Ike inside just in case but Ike was brought up short as two gunmen came out. Jimmy went for his gun.

"Do that boy and your friend dies." Said the gunman who held a gun to Ike's head.

Jimmy moved his hand away from his gun. Buck caught sight of Lou as she quickly signed for them to not do anything, to let them go. Buck gave her a barely visible nod. The two men forced Ike up on his horse and mounted theirs. They didn't get ten feet before their cinches broke and they tumbled to the ground.

One struck his head on a rock and was rendered unconscious. The other was quickly overpowered by the boys and tied up. After untying the station master they quickly saddled fresh horses and were fixing to ride out when a posse of Nickerson's men was spotted headed their way. Cody, who was the best long distance shooter, told the others to go on ahead and he would try to pick some of them off. He told them he'd catch up with them later.

Cody managed to take out a few of them but not enough. The posse was still coming when Buck's horse lost its footing and rolled. Buck was uninjured but he doubted his horse would be able to keep going, so he made the quick decision to jump up on the back of Lou's mount and ride double with her.

Since Lou was the lightest her horse wouldn't be as slowed down by the extra weight as much as the others would have been. Plus he had the added benefit of being able to hold onto Lou. As they were fleeing the riders got turned around and managed to get themselves boxed in.

Quickly taking cover behind some rocks they fired at their pursuers. After a few minutes Kid took the volley gun from Jimmy and climbed the rock face to provide cover fire for the rest. After they remounted their horses, Buck with Lou again, Kid provided the distraction they needed to get away.

They made it to Blue Creek just after sunset. Sam locked Ike up in a cell. "I'm sorry Ike but it's the safest place for ya. I'll bring you back some chow ok?" Sam said to the silent rider. Ike nodded.

"Come on boys lets go eat, my treat." Sam said turning to the rest of the riders and moving towards the door.

Buck and Lou hung back for a minute. "You going to be ok Ike?" Buck asked.

"I'll be fine go get some food." Ike signed pointing at Sam who was waiting just outside the building.

"You sure?' Lou asked.

After Ike's nod the two left and quickly caught up with Jimmy and Sam. When Buck accidently bumped into a pretty lady causing her to drop her packages he promptly bent to pick them up for her.

"Oh thank you sir. Please will you assist me, I'm just going down the street." The lady said placing her hand on Buck's arm.

Buck shot a panicked look at Lou. But being the gentleman he is he couldn't be rude. He looked back over his shoulder at Lou as the woman started leading him away.

"We will understand if you don't come back right away." Jimmy called after him teasing as he moved to go inside the diner.

Lou's breath hitched and her eyes filled with tears at Jimmy's comment.

"You ok Lou?" Sam asked. He knew the boy was crying but couldn't figure out why. The boy was too old to be this emotional, something just didn't add up in Sam's mind.

"I'm fine marshal, just got some dust in my eye." Lou lied trying to sound gruff. But her heart was breaking over Jimmy's insinuation that Buck would … that he would … she couldn't even think it.

Sam, Jimmy, and Lou sat around the table eating. Well the men were eating, Lou was picking at her food. Buck had been gone almost an hour.

"Kid and Cody will be fine Lou." Sam said thinking the boy was worried about his friends.

About that time they walked in. "Of course we are." Cody said plopping down and taking Lou's plate.

When Lou didn't even glare at him Cody knew something was wrong. "Where's Ike and Buck?" he asked.

"Ike's in jail." Lou mumbled.

"What?" Kid asked in a shocked voice.

"Safest place for him." Sam replied.

"And Buck?" Cody asked looking at Lou's depressed face.

"He uh…was helping a lady with some parcels … an hour ago." Jimmy muttered uncomfortably.

Kid's head shot up and he looked at Lou for the first time. 'Is Buck an idiot, don't he know how lucky he is to have Lou. To have known her secret from the start.' He thought. You see Kid didn't really care that Lou was a girl, he was just mad that he hadn't seen it before and that Buck had a previous claim on her heart.

About that time the waitress handed Sam a piece of paper. "Need some help figuring out the bill Sam?" Cody asked amused by the expression on his face.

"It ain't the bill." Sam said looking up and making eye contact with each of the boys before he continued. "They've got Buck."

"What?" Lou asked her face going deathly pale.

Kid snatched the note from Sam and read it aloud, "The injun dies if your friend testifies."

"Oh God!" Lou cried standing so quickly her chair toppled over as she rushed from the diner and towards the jail.

Not even bothering to stop to speak to the lawman at the desk Lou rushed up to Ike. Ike could see the distress on her face. "What's wrong?" he signed concerned.

"They've got Buck. They're going to kill him if you testify." Lou cried before she broke down and sobbed. Ike put his arms through the bars and held her the best he could.

"What are we going to do Ike? Even if you don't testify there's no guarantee they'll let him go. We can't even be sure he's still alive." Lou said crying against his chest through the bars.

Ike couldn't say anything while he held her, so he just rubbed her back. "I can't lose him Ike." Lou whispered.

The two friends were unaware of the audience they had until Sam cleared his throat. "Don't worry; Nickerson ain't going to get away with this. We will find Buck." Sam said eyeing the two closely.

Sam knew the three were close but Lou's reaction and words were a little disturbing. And then finally it dawned on him what had been bothering him since the first time he had seen Lou. Lou was a girl! And unless he missed his guess, the girl was in love with Buck.

Sam walked over to the young woman and put his hands on her shoulders, "I promise Lou, I'll do everything I can to find Buck and bring him back to you." Lou looked up at Sam her eyes huge. Sam winked at her, "Secret is safe with me."

Lou gave a half laugh half sob as she turned to the boys and left the building to search the town for Buck. They searched all night and the next morning but without any luck. Lou went into the courthouse to give her support to Ike. Nickerson was going to pay for his crimes. He was going to pay for Buck.

When Ike took the stand and the lady had fainted Lou just knew she had to follow her. After fighting her way from the courthouse she made it outside just in time to see the signal. "Cody the water tower!" Lou yelled pointing to the man on top.

"Too bad your friend took the stand Injun." The man on the tower said as he put his gun to Buck's head.

Buck closed his eye's tight waiting for the end. When he heard the shot he was surprised he didn't feel pain. Opening his eyes he saw the guy was gone. Buck breathed a sigh of relief.

Lou ran full tilt to the water tower and quickly climbed to the top. Buck's belongings were laying there on the edge. Poking her head over the side she saw Buck hanging by his bound hands. Lou grabbed Buck's knife and cut the ropes holding him. Buck pulled the gag from his mouth and immediately climbed out of the tank.

"Get to the courthouse." Lou ordered grabbing Buck's things as he climbed down the ladder.

Lou was right behind him as he ran back to the courthouse. They burst through the door and pushed through the crowd. Ike's relief was visible for all to see when he saw Buck standing there. Buck gave him a nod as Ike stood up and pointed out the man he had seen.

Nickerson was convicted and hung the next day. Sam and the boys stayed to see it done. On the way home Buck pulled Lou aside after they had stopped to make camp for the night.

"Lou I'm so sorry." Buck said hanging his head.

"For what Buck?" Lou asked.

"For going with that woman. I didn't want to but I didn't want to be rude." Buck admitted sheepishly.

"It's alright Buck just do me a favor." Lou said with a slight grin.

"Anything." Buck replied.

"Don't be such a gentleman next time. I almost lost you." Lou said the last part coming out in a near whisper as tears filled her eyes.

Buck tucked a finger under her chin forcing her to look at him. "You know while they were holding me captive, the only thing that kept my hope up was picturing your face. And when I thought it was over, the last thought I had was how I had never told you how I feel about you."

"And how is that Buck?" Lou asked blushing slightly a smile playing at her lips.

Buck gave her a lopsided grin, "I love you Louise. I fell in love with you the first day we met. You offered me friendship and never judged me or treated me different because of my heritage. You were my light in the darkness. I've never stopped loving you, even after being separated for three years." Buck said softly.

Lou's eyes were filled with tears. "Buck you kept your promise, you never forgot me. I kept mine too, I never forgot you either. I've never stopped loving you too." Lou said looking up to meet his eyes.

In Buck's eyes she saw the love he held for her and she knew he could see the same in her eyes. Buck drew Lou into his arms and slowly lowered his head to meet her lips with his own. Lou put her arms around Buck's neck and drew him closer. Their lips met in the first real kiss they had shared with each other in three years.

Unlike the kisses Buck had given her three years ago, the kisses of a fifteen year old boy that were shy and timid. This kiss was that of a young man in love. While it was still gentle, there was nothing shy or timid about it. This kiss was filled with fire and passion. It was enough to make their hearts start pounding, their breaths to catch in their throats, and their blood start boiling.

They broke apart gasping for breath, just staring into each other's eyes. They let go of each other when they heard Sam calling, "Buck, Lou you two best get over here where I can chaperon you."

The guys started laughing. Buck looked at Lou arching an eyebrow in question. "He figured it out after my reaction to hearing that Nickerson's men had you. And he said my secret was safe with him." Lou giggled placing a quick kiss to his cheek.

Buck smiled as he put his arm around her waist and led her back to the fire and Sam's watchful eyes.

Chapter 6

A few weeks later there had been reports of attacks by Indians, Kiowa to be exact. So needless to say Buck was feeling very uneasy as he went into town with Lou, Jimmy, and Cody to get supplies for Emma.

Cody stopped to read the newspaper that was posted outside Tompkins' store. "Third attack in a week, do you think we'll get some time off while the company comes up with routes around them?" He asked with a hopeful expression.

"Around them? Hell they'll send us right through them." Lou responded with a look at Cody that clearly said he was an idiot if he thought different.

The guys agreed with her assessment as they made their way into the store just in time to hear Tompkins ranting and raving about how they should wipe them all out. "Take these Pony Express boys here, they done taught a half breed to hold down a job." He said pointing to Buck.

"In fact boy you just get on out of my store. I don't want your kind here." Tompkins said pointing to the door.

"Leave Buck alone, he ain't done nothing to you." Lou said in a low voice her eyes flashing.

"He ain't nothing but a dirty breed and I want him out." Tompkins shouted.

"Why you…" Lou started forward but Buck grabbed her shoulder stopping her.

"Leave it Lou he ain't worth it." Buck said just loud enough for her to hear.

"In fact why don't you all get out, I don't need some stinking Injun lovers in my store." Tompkins said to them all.

"Too bad because we ain't leaving." Jimmy said in a tone that meant trouble.

Buck knowing that Jimmy was fixing to start a fight slipped out the door wanting no part of it. Tompkins called in his goons and all Hell broke loose. Lou tried to stay out of it knowing she was no match for the much larger men but when Tompkins went to attack Jimmy from behind she grabbed a skillet and clocked him with it. He was out cold. Cody and Jimmy made short work of the other two and the store.

"Where's Buck?" Jimmy asked after the fight was over.

Lou pointed to the door. They walked out to see Buck getting his horse ready.

"Damn it Buck where did ya go, we could have used your help." Cody demanded.

"I didn't ask you to fight." Buck said keeping his back to them.

"Of course you didn't but we're your friends. He called you a half breed." Jimmy stated wiping the blood from his lip.

"You didn't fight because of what he called me. You fought because he called you an Indian lover." Buck stated facing Jimmy before he swung up on his horse and rode back to Emma's.

"Can you believe that?" Jimmy asked watching him leave.

"He's right you know. You didn't speak up until after Tompkins called us Indian lovers." Lou replied walking away to her horse and heading out after Buck.

She quickly caught up with him. He looked over at her and gave her a grin, "Well looks like you managed to stay out of it."

"Umm…sort of." Lou said with a smirk.

"What did you do Lou?" Buck asked looking over at her, he knew that look.

"Well I tried to stay out of it but when Tompkins was going to jump Jimmy from behind I clocked him with a skillet." Lou replied grinning.

Buck threw his head back and laughed. "Thanks for sticking up for me when Tompkins first started in." Buck said still chuckling.

"Always." Lou replied laughter still sparkling in her eyes.

The two friends were still chuckling when they rode into the yard. A short time later Kid and Ike rode in.

"Teaspoon you need to look at this." Kid said holding something out to him.

"Where did ya get this?" Teaspoon asked.

Kid explained that they had found it at one of the way stations hanging up next to the station master who had been tied to the fence. He was alive but had been beaten.

"We thought Buck might know what it means." Kid stated.

"Buck get out here!" Teaspoon yelled.

Buck and Lou came out of the bunkhouse. "Yeah Teaspoon?" Buck asked.

"What do you make of this?" Teaspoon asked tossing the message to Buck.

"Where did you get this?' Buck asked looking at the three men.

Kid explained quickly. "Is it some kind of warning?" he asked.

"Yeah it's a warning." Buck said not looking at them.

"It's Kiowa ain't it?" Teaspoon said more of a statement than a question.

"Like you?" Ike signed.

"Yeah like me." Buck replied before turning back to the bunkhouse.

Lou followed him. Buck put the message in his trunk carefully.

"It's not a warning is it Buck?" Lou asked in Kiowa in case one of the boys came in.

Buck looked over at her, "No it's from my brother Red Bear. He wants a meeting."

"When?" Lou asked trying to keep her fear out of her voice.

"Tonight." Buck said not looking at her.

"Are you going?" she asked quietly.

"Yes."

Lou hung her head for a moment willing the tears to stay away "are you coming back?"

"Yes." Buck said smiling over at her, Lou returned it.

Awhile later Lou, Jimmy, and Cody were sitting on the bunkhouse porch when Sam rode into the yard with Tompkins.

"Howdy Sam." Teaspoon called walking over to their horses.

"I want them boys arrested." Tompkins demanded pointing to the three on the porch.

"Seems there was a bit of a ruckus earlier." Sam said at Teaspoon's look of question.

"A Bit! Those boys trashed my store and that scrawny one hit me with a skillet." Tompkins yelled.

Teaspoon couldn't help the chuckle. "All because of that dirty breed." Tompkins continued ignoring Teaspoon.

"There ain't no cause to talk like that." Sam stated.

"I'll take care of the damages; take it out of their pay." Teaspoon said to Tompkins.

Tompkins glared at the boys before turning his horse to head back to town. Ike who had been carrying a load of firewood had heard what Tompkins had called Buck. When his horse passed Ike, Ike dropped the wood behind the horse spooking it. The horse took off with Tompkins hanging on for dear life trying to get it under control. The other boys laughed hysterically, including Buck who had come out of the barn just in time to see what Ike had done.

"So how bad was it?" Teaspoon asked walking away with Sam.

"They really did a number on it… I wish I could have seen it." Sam said laughing.

"Did Lou really hit him with a skillet?" Teaspoon asked with a grin.

"Sure did, knocked him out cold and broke his nose." Sam said looking over to where Lou was sitting with the boys with a mischievous smile on her face.

"Guess the boy is tougher than he looks." Teaspoon muttered.

"It's the wiry ones ya got to look out for." Sam said tipping his hat towards the boys before mounting his horse. "Teaspoon."

"Sam" Teaspoon said tipping his hat.

That night after everybody had gone to bed Buck snuck out to see his brother. When Buck refused to join him Red Bear cut him claiming he was dead to him. Buck clutched at the cut on his chest in pain but it was his heart that truly hurt. He returned to the station dejected.

The next day he got into a fight with Jimmy.

"Whose side are you on Buck?" Jimmy yelled.

"Jimmy leave him alone. Buck's caught in the middle of this mess." Lou shouted.

"Lou don't be stupid. There is no middle. He's either on our side or theirs." Jimmy said rounding on her.

"Jimmy I'm not against you but I'm not against my brother either." Buck said as calmly as he could.

"You sure about that Buck, because I want to know where you went last night." Jimmy said getting in his face.

"I went to speak with my brother." Buck answered not backing down.

"To plan against us?" Jimmy asked shoving Buck.

"You either trust me or you don't Jimmy." Buck said shoving back.

"Jimmy." Lou warned.

"I reckon I don't." Jimmy said before taking a swing at Buck. Buck fought back.

Ike and Cody pulled the two apart as Teaspoon rushed into the room. Buck grabbed his things and left. He didn't come back. That night Teaspoon explained the way Buck was feeling to the boys. And they asked Teaspoon to go talk to him and tell him they were sorry and wanted him to come home.

Teaspoon found where Buck was camping out at. "There's a warm bunk and food waiting for ya son."

"They don't trust me." Buck said hanging his head.

"They asked me to tell you they were sorry. They want you to come home." Teaspoon said putting his hand on the boy's shoulder.

"I can't Teaspoon. My being here is putting them at risk from the people in town and the Kiowa." Buck said looking over at him.

"What are you going to do?" Teaspoon asked.

"I don't know. Try to stay out of it." Buck replied with a shrug.

"You'll always have a place here if you change your mind." Teaspoon told him.

"Thanks Teaspoon. Could you do me a favor?" Buck asked.

"Sure son."

"Could you give this to Ike, he'll understand." Buck said taking a silver cuff from his arm and handing it to the old man.

Teaspoon nodded taking it from him. After squeezing Buck's shoulder he left him alone. The next morning Ike and Lou were sent on a run together, before they left Teaspoon gave the silver cuff to Ike. Ike took it and looked at Teaspoon.

"He said you would understand." Teaspoon explained. Ike just nodded sadly before he rode out with Lou.

A few miles out Lou pulled her horse to a stop. "Alright Ike what's wrong?"

Ike pulled out the cuff and tossed it to Lou. Lou caught it and looked down at it, her eyes filling with tears. "He's gone isn't he?"

Ike nodded, "He wanted you to have that."

"Did he tell you to give it to me?" Lou asked wondering why he didn't give it to her in person.

"No Teaspoon gave it to me. But Buck told me a long time ago to give that to you if something ever happened to him." Ike signed.

"He ain't coming back is he?" Lou asked looking at the cuff.

"I don't know." Ike signed sadly.

Lou hung her head for a minute before she started riding away. Ike was just about to go after her when he was surrounded by Indians. Lou heard the war cry and turned back to see Ike was in trouble. Ike saw Lou and waved her to get away. Lou rode hard back to the station. Buck was there getting his things.

"Buck!" she cried.

Buck muttered to himself. He had hoped he could leave without having to face her. He couldn't tell her goodbye again.

"Lou… I …" Buck started.

"Buck they've got Ike." Lou interrupted him.

"Who does?" Buck asked.

"Kiowa Indians, they surrounded him. I was able to get away." Lou explained in a rush.

"Did you kill any?" Buck asked hoping they hadn't because if they had Ike was already dead.

"No." Lou replied

"I'm going after him." Buck said mounting.

"I'm coming too." Lou said getting on her horse.

"No! They'll kill you or worse." Buck yelled at her.

"Ike is my brother. I'll stay outside the village but I'm going to be there when you get him out." Lou said determined.

Buck knew better than to argue with her when she was like this, "Come on then."

The two rode hard to the Kiowa village. A safe distance from the village Buck stopped and dismounted. After quickly stripping off his shirt and long john top he put his black vest back on.

"Stay here Lou. When Ike comes out you get him away from here." Buck told her. Lou just nodded as Buck mounted and rode into the village.

Lou climbed up onto an overhang so she could see what was going on. Buck rode into the village and sprang from his horses' back before it had completely stopped. He rushed to where Ike was tied at. Pulling his knife from his boot he went to cut his bonds but a strong hand on his arm stopped him.

"What are you doing Running Buck? He is the enemy." Red Bear said looking at his younger brother.

"No he just delivers the mail. He's not even a warrior." Buck responded. "But if you release him I will join you." Ike's eyes went huge and he started shaking his head no at Buck's words.

"You will ride in the war parties?" Red Bear asked narrowing his eyes.

"Not against my brothers in the Express but against the soldiers yes." Buck said meeting his eyes.

"Come you must be tested to see if you are worthy." Red Bear said and then ordered Ike released.

Ike collapsed into Buck's arms. Buck pushed him away his eyes pleading for him to understand and go. Ike was forced onto a horse and sent from the village. Lou saw him coming and went to meet him. Ike slid from the horse and collapsed into her arms.

"Are you ok Ike? Can you ride back to Emma's?" Lou asked holding him up.

"Yes." Ike signed weakly.

"Go back. I'm waiting for Buck." Lou said helping Ike to stand on his own.

"He's not coming." Ike signed.

"What?" Lou asked shocked.

"He told Red Bear he would join him if he released me." Ike signed to his sister.

Lou just shook her head and mouthed the word no. "I'm not leaving without him."

"Me neither." Ike signed with a smile.

The two friends moved back to the overhang to see what was going on. They watched Buck strip down and move into the sweat lodge. Then hours later he was carried out limp and tied to the same structure Ike had been tied to. They watched as hot coals were placed below his feet.

Buck's cries of pain filled the air. Lou pulled her knees up to her chest and put her hands over her ears as she started rocking, tears streaming down her cheeks.

"They're killing him Ike. Why must they torture him first?" she cried.

"They are testing him Lou. They aren't going to kill him." Ike signed and then put his arm around her shoulder.

"Testing him for what?" Lou asked.

"To see if he is worthy to be a warrior. To see if he is a true Kiowa. All boys must go through the trials. Buck left the Kiowa before he went through his." Ike explained.

"They do this to all the boys?" Lou asked horrified.

"I'm not sure if all the trials are like this or if this is just what Buck must go through." Ike signed and then shrugged.

The sudden silence sent Lou and Ike to look over the edge again. They watched Buck being cut down, his brother carrying him to a pitted area. They watched the other warriors beat Buck with reeds and then watched as the medicine man put a moccasin boot on one foot and a spur on the other ankle. Then they watched two braves pour bags of rattle snakes into the pit.

"He gets bit by one of those snakes he's done for." Lou whispered.

Lou raised her rifle and aimed at Buck. "What are you doing Lou?" Ike signed frantically.

"If he gets bit, I'm taking him out. I can't let him suffer like that." Lou said her voice cracking with emotion as the tears poured down her face.

The two watched in horror and fascination as Buck jumped to a rock in the middle of the pit and then to the rock wall. He pulled himself to the top and into his brother's arms. Lou felt her shoulders sag with relief that he had made it.

Buck was sitting as the medicine man tended his wounds. He had proven himself a true Kiowa. Something he had always wanted to do. He should be happy but his heart felt heavy. Buck looked up as Red Bear approached. The medicine man left and Buck scooted over to make room for his brother. Red Bear sat next to his brother and handed him a bowl to drink from.

"I am proud of you my brother. You have shown that your heart is Kiowa." Buck smiled but didn't say anything. "But you must leave."

"I promised you another warrior." Buck said looking at his brother confused.

"Even a warrior of your strength will make no difference. If I had a hundred like you maybe. The love you have in your heart for your white family is too strong. You do not belong here." Red Bear said to his young brother.

"Red Bear I…" Buck started but Red Bear cut him off.

"Go back to your woman." Red Bear said with a grin.

"How did you know?" Buck asked surprised.

"When you were being purified you called out for Eyes of Fire and Louise. I assume one is your woman." Red Bear explained.

"Eyes of Fire is Louise. I gave her that name years ago. She was the first friend I made after I left here." Buck said a smile on his face thinking of Lou, Red Bear did not miss it.

"Go to her Running Buck. Never look back." Red Bear said before getting to his feet and walking away.

Buck struggled to his feet and grabbed his vest. After he put it on he mounted his horse and rode from the village. Red Bear silently followed. He wanted to see the woman who had captured his brother's heart. He wanted to know if she returned his love.

Buck saw Ike and Lou waiting for him. He slipped from his horse and moved towards them. Louise ran to him and threw her arms around him.

Red Bear watched the small boy run to Buck, he was confused until the boy's hat fell off and he could see his face. This was no boy, it was a young maiden. He watched the maiden throw herself into his brother's arms.

"Running Buck I thought I was going to lose you." He heard the girl say in Kiowa.

Red Bear was surprised and pleased by this and by the fact she had called him his Indian name.

"I'm alright Louise, don't cry anymore." Buck replied in Kiowa wiping her tears away with his thumbs.

Red Bear watched as the girl looked up and met Running Buck's eyes. Buck pulled Lou closer and bent his head to claim her mouth. Lou put her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. Red Bear raised his eyebrows at the kiss the two shared, a sly grin spread on his face. 'I did not think my brother had it in him.' He thought before he slipped away.

Ike felt like he was intruding on a very private moment so he turned his back to them with a grin.

When Lou finally pulled away she pulled the silver cuff from her pocket. "This belongs to you."

"No it belongs to you the same as my heart." Buck replied.

"But you're coming back with us aren't you?" Lou asked worried.

"Yes, but I want you to keep it. It's my promise that I will always come back to you, that my heart will always belong to you." Buck said kissing her on the head.

"So it's sort of like an engagement ring." Lou teased.

"Kind of." Buck laughed, "It's a promise that one day I will marry you."

"Why did you tell Teaspoon to give it to Ike and not me?" Lou asked.

"Because I knew I couldn't ask him without giving away your secret. He would have seen my love for you." Buck said softly.

Lou smiled as she put the cuff on her wrist. It was too big. Buck reached down and slid it up her arm until it was snug. Lou flexed her arm to make sure it wouldn't hinder her. Then together with Ike they returned home.

Chapter 7

A few days later a terrible storm came up and frightened the horses causing them to bust out of the corral. The riders struggled to round up the wayward stock. After getting them back into the corral they led the horses into the barn only to discover that the new colt was missing. Just as they were going to go back out and search for it, a large black man came walking into the yard carrying the colt in his arms.

"Does this colt belong to you?" the man asked.

"Why yes it does." Emma said.

The man put the colt down and Buck and Teaspoon pushed it towards it mama. After the colt was reunited with its mother they all turned back to the man.

"I don't know where you came from on a night like this but thank you." Emma said.

"You got a name?" Teaspoon asked.

"Ulysses" The man said not looking them in the eye.

"What are you doing out here?" Teaspoon asked.

"Just passing through, I need a couple of days work." Ulysses said.

Teaspoon and Emma looked at each other. "Well we can't pay ya, but we can feed ya." Emma said.

"You can bunk down in the tack room with me." Teaspoon said.

"I'll take it." Ulysses said.

"Well now I think we done paid enough homage to this weather. What do ya say we go to bed?" Teaspoon said putting his arm around Ulysses shoulder and leading him to the tack room as Emma returned to the house.

The riders watched them go before Kid asked, "What's a colored man doing out here?"

"What do you mean?" Buck asked

"I just ain't used to seeing them out." Kid said.

"You mean out of their place?" Lou asked.

"Where I come from you just don't see them wandering around." Kid said.

"We're a long way from Virginia Kid." Lou replied.

"I don't care where he came from as long as he does my share of the work." Cody said with a grin.

"Hell Cody I'd take that any day." Jimmy said following Cody to the bunkhouse.

Buck, Ike, and Lou followed them leaving Kid standing in the yard still watching the direction Teaspoon and the black man had gone.

The next morning the riders woke to find him already up and almost finished fixing the corral.

"We should keep him around for a while." Cody said.

The others just rolled their eyes at Cody's constant attempts to get out of work and went back into the bunkhouse to finish getting dressed.

A little later that day Buck left out on his run. On his way back he came across the Missouri militia whipping a man for giving a runaway slave shelter for one night.

"What's going on here?" Buck asked.

"You from around these parts?" the major asked.

"Not exactly." Buck replied.

"Looks like he got a little color in him, some sass too." One of the Major's men said.

"Who are you boy?" the Major asked

"I'm a rider for the Express, I ride out of Sweetwater." Buck answered.

"Sweetwater, I'll be there soon enough." The Major said. "You see this man you let me know." He told Buck as he handed him a wanted poster with Ulysses' face on it.

Buck didn't say anything as he watched them mount and ride away. As soon as they were gone he took his hand out from under his mail pouch and uncocked his gun. He dismounted and helped the woman get her husband inside their house before he returned to Sweetwater.

Buck told the others what he had witnessed.

"I told you that man is someone's property." Kid said.

"Kid I know where you come from owning slaves is just a part of life but maybe you should stop and think about it for once. No man should own another human being." Teaspoon said looking at Kid.

The riders continued talking about Ulysses and the fact that he was being accused of murder. When Buck suddenly looked up and over towards the door.

"What is it?" Lou asked

Buck looked over at her, "nothing."

Outside the door Ulysses was standing listening to the conversation. He knew he needed to leave with the militia coming for him. He didn't want these people to suffer because of him. So that night he slipped into the main house to get the jacket that Emma had been fixing for him. When he went to grab it he woke Emma who pulled a gun on him.

"Don't move!" she yelled.

Buck immediately jumped from his bunk and grabbed his gun. "It's Emma come on!" he shouted to the other riders.

They were hot on his heels as they rushed to the main house.

"What are you doing?" Emma asked lowering her gun.

"I just came for this." Ulysses said holding up the coat.

Jimmy rushed in and put a gun to Ulysses head, "Sneaking out in the middle of the night?"

"Jimmy put that away." Emma chided.

"Trouble's coming." Ulysses said.

Once Teaspoon and the others were gathered around he told them his story.

"My people may not have scars on their backs but they know injustice, they don't run from it, they fight it." Buck told him after he had said he needed to leave before the militia got here.

"I can't ask ya'll to stand with me. You wouldn't stand a chance against them." He said.

"But what about the whole town of Sweetwater? There's a town meeting tomorrow, I want you to come with me and tell them your story." Emma said.

"Siding with me could make you some enemies."

Ike got Buck's attention and quickly signed something to him, Buck laughed. "Ike says we were never that popular to begin with."

Everybody else laughed and it was decided that Ulysses would go with Emma to the town meeting.

Lou left out on her run shortly before Emma left to go to the meeting. She ran into the militia and had to run for it back to Sweetwater. Buck spotted the rider coming.

"There's nobody on the schedule but someone's coming up fast." He called as he ran and hopped over the corral railing. "It's Lou!"

"Unless the devil's after ya, you're supposed to be in Low Creek in two minutes." Teaspoon said pulling out his watch when Lou stopped in front of him.

"I ran into a posse of the militia headed this way fast." Lou said breathing hard.

"Damn… saddle six fresh horses now." Teaspoon ordered the boys.

After they were done, Teaspoon sent them on into town while he stayed behind to slow the militia up. At the meeting people talked and debated and fought with each other over whether or not to get involved. When it became apparent that they weren't going to make a decision anytime soon Sam walked up to the boys.

"Alright looks like it's up to us boys. Jimmy you take Ike, Lou, and Billy and go get some rifles out of my office. Get up somewhere high. Buck I want you on lookout. Kid you and Emma are going to take Ulysses past the militia." Sam said.

"Take him where?" Kid asked

"Back to Emma's where they've already searched. I'll try to get them to go to the other end of the town." Sam said.

Walking over to Ulysses Sam said, "You going have to take your chances with us think you can do that?"

"Been taking chances all my life." He replied. "What about you Virginia boy, you willing to take your chances with me?"

"You know for a slave, you sure talk a lot." Kid replied.

Kid and Emma hid Ulysses in the back of the wagon under some hay. After Buck gave the signal they headed for Emma's only to be stopped by two of the militia men. When Ulysses realized they weren't going to get away he tried to make a run for it. After the militia dragged him back to the street, Buck, Lou, Ike, Cody, and Jimmy made their appearances with guns aimed at the troops.

The two closest to Kid and Emma pulled guns on them. Ulysses told the boys to put their guns down. They did but then the rest of the town appeared armed with rifles and shotguns and demanded that they let him go. The militia gave up and left and the riders returned to the station with Ulysses.

Ulysses decided to head to Canada and work with the Underground Railroad. The riders sent him away with a fresh horse, food, and clothes.

After he left Buck turned towards Kid, "Do you still think that people have the right to own other people?"

Kid looked at Buck and smirked, "Not really Buck. I never much thought about it before, we never had any. My family were dirt farmers. Now I see the injustice of it."

Buck smiled, "There is hope for you yet." He teased before walking off and leaving Kid watching the horizon in the direction Ulysses had ridden.

Chapter 8

A week later the young riders were in the saloon standing around watching Sam play poker. They of course couldn't help but give unwanted advice to the players.

"Now boys you stop that." Sam said after Lou talked one player out of taking Sam's bet.

"Hey Cody come over here." Jimmy called over to Cody who was reading a dime novel at another table.

"I'm busy, can't you see I'm reading." Cody said not looking up.

"Reading huh… you should come over here and learn something." Jimmy said

"Maybe you should give it a try you could learn something." Cody argued back.

"Like what?"

"Like how to be a real hero." Cody said

"Real heroes learn from doing not reading." Jimmy declared as he walked over to Cody and took the book from him.

"This trash is written by some citified dandy who wouldn't know a lasso from lace bloomers." Jimmy said as the tossed the book aside where it ended up in a bucket of water.

"Now look what you done!" Cody whined.

"Look I'm sorry but we're having fun and I want you to be a part of it." Jimmy said to Cody, when Cody didn't respond he added, "Look I'll buy ya another damn book if it will make you happy."

"Fine." Cody said getting up and going over to where the others were at.

A few minutes later a man came up behind him. "Excuse me I believe this belongs to you." He said holding the sopping book out to Cody.

"Thanks mister buts its worthless now." Cody said.

"Of course what was I thinking? How about this one?" The man said producing a brand new copy of the book Cody had been reading.

"What are you some kind of traveling Librarian?" Kid asked.

"Not exactly. Name is Marcus, J.D. Marcus." The man said tipping his hat.

"Marcus? Not the same Marcus that wrote this book?" Cody asked.

"The one and the same." Marcus said.

"Well I'll be it's a pleasure to meet ya. Do you think you could write something in this for me?" Cody asked holding out the book.

"Sure thing. And what was your name?" Marcus asked.

"Cody. William F. Cody." Cody said as Marcus scribbled in the book and then handed it back to Cody.

"To Bill Cody you are an ass … an ass…" Cody read

"Well he got that part right." Jimmy quip snickering.

Marcus then turned to Jimmy and started giving him a hard time. After Jimmy made him spill his whiskey on himself, Marcus went to hit Jimmy with his cane. Jimmy of course shot the cane and then his hat across the floor.

"Damn it Jimmy why do you always go to the gun." Sam said putting his hand on Jimmy's gun.

"He was going to hit me with that thing!" Jimmy yelled to Sam.

"Well next time hit him back." Sam said and then turned to the other riders, "Get him out of here."

Kid and Cody led Jimmy from the saloon with the others following.

"Just another day with Jimmy Hickok." Buck said on the way out laughing.

"Well at least he didn't shoot him." Lou stated not aware that J.D. Marcus was listening.

J.D. Marcus returned to St. Joseph and decided to get even with Jimmy by writing a dime novel about him. He called him the fastest gun in the west. When the others found out about the book they didn't understand why Marcus had made Jimmy out to be a hero. Teaspoon explained that people who wanted to make a name for themselves would be coming after Jimmy now. Marcus had set him up.

When Gabe Collider came to town to call Jimmy out because Marcus had claimed that Jimmy had killed him, Sam tried to keep Jimmy out of town. But when Jimmy found out he went in anyway.

It was a good thing he did because Sam was out numbered. Jimmy took care of two of the guys but one managed to wing Sam before Sam's deputy shot him. When Sam was on the ground Collider was going to shoot him until Jimmy called him out.

Instead of killing him Jimmy shot his shooting hand. When he went for his gun with the other hand, Jimmy shot that one as well, permanently ended his career as a gun fighter. The rest of the riders arrived just after that.

As they were standing around Jimmy, a young boy called out his name and pulled his guns on Jimmy. Jimmy fired without thinking and killed the boy. Jimmy slowly walked away with Emma following.

Cody spotted Marcus sitting at the window in his hotel room watching the scene. The boys decided it was time to take care of one J.D. Marcus. Buck was the first to go in.

"You won't be writing no more stories about Jimmy." Buck said stabbing his knife down into the paper that Marcus was writing on.

"Now you boys can't just come in here and tell me what I can and can't write." Marcus cried.

"Ah but we can and we will, you write any more stories about Jimmy and you'll deal with us." Cody said.

"Now hang on a minute boys. I've got an even better idea; see I got this story idea that I think you will like Mr. Marcus." Teaspoon said coming in the door.

"See ya got this Wild Bill character and he gets wounded in a gunfight. While he's recovering he has a change of heart and decides to hang up his guns. Then he makes it all the way to California and buys himself a beautiful farm. There he lives happily ever after." Teaspoon explained.

"I like it and I hope for your sake you do too." Cody said to Marcus.

"Because if you write anything different my boys and me will hunt you down like a dog no matter where you go or how long it takes, you will pay." Teaspoon declared.

Buck pulled his knife from the table and then with Teaspoon and the rest of the riders walked out the door. At the door Buck turned back.

"Just remember Mr. Marcus the pen may be mightier than the sword, but it won't stop my knife." Buck said with a devilish look on his face that had J.D. Marcus scared witless.

At his nod, Buck gave an evil little smirk and left. On the way out of the hotel Lou looked over at him and chuckled.

"I think he was about ready to piss his pants." Lou said.

Buck grinned, "I do believe you are right but I think I made my point."

Lou just shook her head and laughed as she and Buck joined the others and returned home.

But it didn't matter that J.D. Marcus wouldn't be writing anymore books about Jimmy the damage was already done. A legend had been born. And if Jimmy walked down the road that Marcus had started him on it would lead to an early grave. Because those who live by the gun often die by the gun.

Chapter 9

Buck, Jimmy, and Kid were in town helping Teaspoon pick up a special shipment he had ordered. After Kid and Buck each picked up an end of the long box they started carrying it to the waiting buckboard.

"What's in here Teaspoon?" Buck asked struggling with the cumbersome box.

"If I told ya, then it wouldn't be a surprise." Teaspoon answered.

"Is it for us?" Jimmy asked with an expression that a kid in a candy store would wear.

"It's for all you boys. Sort of a thank ya for all your hard work." Teaspoon replied with a grin.

"Well let's open it." Kid said getting excited.

"Now hang on boys it's for everybody." Teaspoon said trying to get them to settle down.

"It's only fair since we came in to help ya with it." Jimmy said arguing their case.

"Alright go ahead." Teaspoon said giving in.

The boys quickly sat the box in the buckboard and opened it to reveal a couple of small balls, two long wooden club looking things, and some strange looking hats. Jimmy picked up one of the hats and put in on Kid's head while Buck grabbed one of the balls.

"What do you hunt with this?" Jimmy asked holding up one of the clubs.

"Nothing, that there is a baseball bat. You use it to play baseball." Teaspoon explained.

"What's baseball?" Kid asked.

"It's a new game I read about, thought we could play it." Teaspoon said with a cheesy grin.

"How do ya do it?" Jimmy asked curious.

"Well you take that there bat and you hit that there ball." Teaspoon said.

"And then what?" Kid asked.

"You run around the bases." Teaspoon explained.

"Why?" Buck asked with an expression that clearly said it seemed like a waste of time.

"To score a point, every time you pass home base you get a point." Teaspoon said his voice losing some of its excitement.

"So you just swat a ball with a stick and run around in a circle?" Kid asked.

"Don't think I left anything out." Teaspoon said scratching his head.

"And people do this for fun?" Buck asked, his expression saying exactly what he thought of this hair brain idea.

"Well yeah…ya don't got to play if ya don't want." Teaspoon said the disappointment he felt clear in his voice. He had thought they would enjoy this.

The three riders looked at each other and shrugged. It might be more fun than it sounds they thought. They put the things back into the box. Teaspoon went back to the station while they stayed in town for a little while.

Kid decided to buy a new hat. Buck and Jimmy decided to play catch with Kid's new hat. After Jimmy tossed the hat into the dirt Kid kicked Buck playfully and Buck returned it. Kid picked up his hat and put it back on. When he did he spotted a very familiar looking soldier.

"Excuse me mister is your name Jed?" Kid called over to the soldier.

"Have we met?" the soldier asked moving closer to Kid.

"I reckon we might have." Kid replied.

The soldier looked Kid up and down, "Sorry don't recall."

"Do you recall cursing a plow mule by the name of Jeremiah who liked to wallow in the mud by the creek?" Kid asked a slight grin on his face.

"Kid?" the soldier asked. At Kid's nod the soldier pulled Kid into a hug. "Look at you; ya finally got some meat on your bones!" Jed exclaimed.

Jed turned back to his men, his arm slung around Kid's shoulder, "Boys I got someone I want ya'll to meet. This here is my little brother."

Buck and Jimmy looked at each other and smiled and then went forward to meet Kid's brother. Kid invited Jed back to the station to meet the rest of the boys, Teaspoon, and Emma. They all like Jed immediately, he was quite the charmer. Emma especially liked him. The next evening Jed took the boys to the saloon.

"Welcome to the Silver Spur boys. Home of the best whiskey, luckiest cards, and prettiest ladies." Jed said.

"I thought we were going to dinner." Lou said to Jed.

"Personally I like having my dessert first." Jed replied. "Have fun boys." He said before walking over to the bar.

Buck and Ike had to laugh at the look on Lou's face as the boys wandered off engrossed by the dancing girls. They of course stayed close to Lou. Two of the working girls came over to their little group.

"Your friend told us to show you boys a good time." One of the girls said draping herself around Ike's shoulders causing him to blush.

"Normally we're supposed to let the little one's go but I might make an exception for you sugar." The other said sashaying up to Lou. Lou's eyes got huge.

"You're wasting your time." Buck said to the woman a smirk forming on his face.

"Oh and why's that?" she asked.

Buck leaned in close and whispered something in her ear. She reared back and looked at Lou closely a smirk forming on her lips.

"So you fancy men do ya? Well I think me and my friend can change your mind." She said pulling Lou away while her friend followed with a curious expression.

"No really ma'am, I'd rather not." Lou said slightly panicked. She looked over her shoulder at Buck and mouthed 'Help'.

"What do we do Buck?" Ike signed to Buck watching Lou being led away by the girls.

"I don't know." Buck said as he watched in horror.

"Really sweetheart I'm sure we can offer you something that you might be interested in." the working girl said to Lou.

"No, no I'm fine really." Lou said trying to pull away.

"You sure about that honey? I mean if you rather not get a nice warm bath without those boys around, I can just send you back down there." The other one said.

"A bath? That's what you have to offer me?" Lou asked confused.

"You're cute sugar, but I fancy men too. Not girls dressed like men." The woman replied.

Lou looked back over to where Buck and Ike still stood looking worried and smiled at them. 'They know' she mouthed. Buck and Ike grinned and went about their business knowing Lou was fine.

Once the two ladies of the night had Lou in a room they started laughing.

"I'm Sandy and that's Molly. What's your name honey?" Sandy asked.

"Louise McCloud." Lou replied with a grin.

"Well now Louise why exactly are you pretending to be a boy?" Molly asked.

"Well…I …uh …it's …" Lou stammered, she didn't want to offend these girls.

"I see you didn't want to end up like us." Sandy said. Lou nodded.

"I don't blame ya hon. If I could have had the guts to do what you're doing I would have. This ain't no kind of life." Molly replied shaking her head.

"So how about that bath, bet you don't get much chance to get one." Sandy said changing the subject.

"A bath would be great. And no I don't get much chance to get one." Lou replied with a genuine smile.

"Well you're welcome to come here and get one whenever you like." Molly offered.

"Thank you." Lou said truly grateful to these two women.

"Did those two you were standing with know that you're a girl?" Sandy asked.

"Yes. All the boys I work with do. My boss doesn't though." Lou said with a smile on her face.

"You know Louise your friends were kind of cute. Would you mind if I go back down there and try to get one of them to take me up on my offer?" Molly asked eyeing Lou carefully to see if her suspicions were correct.

"Which one were you thinking about?" Lou asked eyeing her warily.

"The half breed." Molly said with a sly grin.

Lou just glared at the woman, "I much rather you try one of my other friends."

"Oh but he was so much better looking than the others." Molly said teasing the girl.

"You listen here. You stay away from Buck or I might just forget we're both ladies." Lou said as she started to lose her temper.

The two women started laughing.

"Yup I was right those two are together. I was just teasing you Louise." Molly said still giggling.

Lou blushed and muttered an apology. An hour later she went back downstairs feeling like a new woman. The bath had been heavenly. When she walked up and stood next to Buck he looked over at her and smiled before leaning in to whisper in her ear.

"You smell just like the wild roses that grow on the prairie, but you sure are a lot prettier." Buck said with a sly smile.

Lou blushed and shoved him away before the others noticed.

When the riders returned to the station the sun was just raising. Emma was furious because every single one of them was blind drunk.

That afternoon Teaspoon taught them to play baseball. Cody was pitching and Jimmy was at bat. After Jimmy managed to hit the ball he started running the wrong way around the bases. When he got going in the right direction Buck grabbed him as he passed the base he was guarding. After Teaspoon said Buck couldn't do that Jimmy continued running to be tripped by Cody. He staggered to his feet and kept running. Ike finally got the ball that Jimmy had hit and threw it to Cody who threw it at Jimmy hitting him in the leg.

"You're out!" Teaspoon yelled.

"He cheated." Jimmy yelled back pointing to Cody.

"Frogging the runner is legal." Teaspoon claimed.

"Show me the rules!" Jimmy yelled getting in his face.

"I made the rules." Teaspoon said back.

"Ah Jimmy don't be a sore loser." Cody said coming up at that moment.

Jimmy punched Cody and a fight began.

"This is supposed to be fun!" Buck yelled trying to break the fight up.

"Boys stop!" Emma hollered getting in the middle of the boys.

In the end all the riders including Emma ended up in a pile in the dirt. Teaspoon and Jed joined in as they all wrestled around.

The next day Jed joined the riders for lunch and Sam came out too. Something about Jed's story wasn't adding up in Sam's mind. After Jed refused to answer Sam's questions he left the bunkhouse for Kid to follow.

"You ain't got no cause to doubt my brother Sam. I think you might just be jealous because Emma seems to have taken a fancy to him." Kid said to Sam.

Sam shook his head, "Kid that ain't got nothing to do with this. It's my job to ask questions and I don't like it when people don't answer them."

"He can't if his orders say he can't talk about it." Kid argued.

"That may be Kid, but I for one want to know why his horse doesn't have an army brand on it." Sam said as he pointed to the mark on the horses' flank.

Sam rode away leaving Kid standing there. On his way back to town he came upon Teaspoon.

"Leaving already?" Teaspoon asked.

"I need a favor. Who's the fastest rider you can spare to take a message to Fort Laramie?" Sam asked Teaspoon.

"Kid." Teaspoon said.

"It can't be Kid." Sam replied.

"I'll look at the schedule." Teaspoon said.

"Thanks Teaspoon. Send him to see me as soon as possible." Sam said before riding back to Sweetwater.

Teaspoon returned to the station and found out Lou would be the best choice so he sent 'him' into town to see Sam.

"I sure hope you're wrong about this Sam." Lou said stuffing the letter Sam had handed her into her coat pocket.

"So do I Lou." Sam said as Lou mounted Lightning and rode towards Laramie.

When she returned a few days later she went directly to the marshal's office.

After drinking a dipper full of water and splashing water on her face and neck Sam asked, "Well?"

"You were right." Lou replied looking up at him.

"Damn." Sam muttered leaning back against his chair.

Together with Lou he rode out to talk to the other riders minus Kid who was out on a run. Once they were all gathered around on Emma's porch he told them the situation. There was two-hundred thousand dollars in gold in the bank in town. Jed and his men were after it.

"Fort Laramie is sending soldiers in to arrest Jed and his gang but they won't be here for at least another twenty-four hours. That leaves me to defend it. I need ya'll to help me." Sam said pacing in front of the boys.

"You're asking us to go against Kid's brother." Buck stated not liking this situation.

"If it comes to that yes. Can I count on you boys?" Sam said; he didn't like this situation either.

After a few minutes of silence Jimmy spoke up, "I guess you can."

At this point Kid rode in from his run, "I'll talk to him." Sam said.

"Let me Sam." Lou replied thinking he might take it better coming from a friend instead of Sam.

Lou got off the porch and went over to Kid. A few minutes later Kid rode off.

"If he warns Jed." Sam started.

"He won't." Jimmy said cutting him off as the riders walked past him and went to get their gear.

Jed and his gang rode in and found that they had been found out. During the ensuing gunfight most of his men were killed. Jed managed to slip into the livery to steal a horse. Kid showed up before he could get away.

"You ain't going anywhere Jed. You killed people out there." Kid yelled at his brother.

"Get out of the way Kid. I will kill you." Jed warned.

"No! You want to leave you'll have to go through me." Kid shouted back at him.

Jed shot Kid in the arm. "I'm warning ya Kid, the next one will kill you."

"Don't do it Jed." Jimmy called coming in the other door.

Jed whipped around to fire at Jimmy but Jimmy was quicker. Kid rushed over to where his brother laid bleeding to death.

"Hang on Jed. We'll get you some help." Kid said to his brother, his hand over the gunshot wound trying to stem the blood flow.

"I couldn't have killed ya Kid." Jed said just before he died.

"No!" Kid cried sobbing against Jed's chest.

"I'm sorry Kid." Jimmy said squatting down next to Kid as the other riders arrived at the scene.

Buck put his arm around Lou's shoulders when she gasped upon seeing Jed dead. Ike and Cody pulled Kid to his feet and led him from the barn leaving Buck, Lou and Jimmy with the body.

"He said he was going to kill Kid." Jimmy whispered.

Lou moved to his side and put her hand on his shoulder, "You did what you had to do."

"He would have killed you Hickok." Buck said from his other side.

"I know but I just killed my best friend's brother." Jimmy said staring at the body.

"Come on Jimmy lets go home. There's nothing we can do now." Lou said as she and Buck pulled Jimmy to his feet.

That night dinner was a very somber affair. Nobody knew what to say to either Kid or Jimmy. After everybody had finished eating Kid looked up at Jimmy.

"Jimmy. You did what you had to do. You thought he was going to kill me." Kid said to his friend.

"I'm sorry Kid. If I could go back I wouldn't have shot him." Jimmy said not looking at him.

"He would have killed you Jimmy." Kid stated.

"Better me than you." Jimmy replied.

"No Jimmy. Jed was my brother but he broke the law. He got what he deserved. Even if you hadn't been the one to do it, the army would have." Kid told Jimmy.

Jimmy just hung his head in shame. "It's alright Jimmy. I'm not mad at you. He was my brother and I will always love him and miss him but he was no longer the brother I knew." Kid said before getting up from the table and leaving the bunkhouse.

Jimmy still felt horrible for killing Jed but he was relieved that Kid didn't blame him. In time they both would be alright and their friendship would survive this, of that Jimmy was certain.

Chapter 10

"Teaspoon what are you doing?" Cody asked the man who was standing there with a 'Y' shaped stick.

"Quiet, you're disturbing the currents." Teaspoon said to the blonde rider.

"Currents? What are you talking about Teaspoon?" Jimmy asked.

"The water currents under the ground, my family been witching for three generations. Ain't dug a dry well yet." Teaspoon said.

"I think he's lost it." Ike signed to Lou.

"I think you're right Ike." Lou said under her breath as they followed Teaspoon who was moving the stick back and forth over the ground.

"There! There's water about twenty feet down." Teaspoon said as he jabbed the stick in the ground.

"You better be right Teaspoon, cause that's a whole lotta digging if you're wrong." Jimmy said.

"Just get busy." Teaspoon said as he moved to the shade to take a nap as his boys started digging the new well.

A few hours later found Ike, Lou, and Jimmy sitting around the edge of the hole while Cody took his turn.

"That's it Teaspoon, can't go no further, there ain't no water here." Cody said as he struck rock.

"Course there is Cody; ya got to get under the rock." Teaspoon said moving to the hole.

"Under it! This rock probably goes all the way to China!" Cody exclaimed.

Teaspoon hopped down into the hole to take over and Ike and Jimmy pulled Cody out.

"Nonsense. You boys just don't know the value of hard work. Ya got to get down here and really dig in." Teaspoon said as he started busting up the rock.

A few swings later he stuck water causing it to shoot up in the air like a geyser. Ike and Cody went to pull Teaspoon out of the hole but he pulled them in. Jimmy pushed Lou in and jumped in after her. After the hard work they had been doing the cold water felt great, fortunately for Lou though she was wearing a dark colored vest over her white shirt or Teaspoon might have come face to face with her secret.

Ike punched Jimmy on the arm for not thinking about that when he pushed Lou in. By the time they climbed out of the hole they were all completely soaked and caked in mud. When they returned to the station it was just in time to see a beautiful woman being dropped off in front of Emma's. Teaspoon walked over to the woman as the riders followed.

"Can I help you miss?" Teaspoon asked the young woman.

"Yes, I'm looking for a Teaspoon Hunter." The woman said looking them all over.

"Well now ya found him. I'm Teaspoon, we was out digging a well, and ya caught us." Teaspoon said in explanation for their appearances.

"I'm real glad to meet you Mr. Hunter; I've come a long way to find ya. My name is Elizabeth Kelly." The woman said with a smile.

"Yes." Teaspoon said he had no idea who this woman was and why she was looking for him.

"I believe you knew my mother, Beatrice." Elizabeth said in explanation.

"Beatrice? Yes I knew a Beatrice a long time ago. Why don't you go on up to the house while I go gets cleaned up and then we can talk?" Teaspoon said.

"I look forward to it." Elizabeth said as Teaspoon took her up to Emma's and then went to get cleaned up leaving the boys still standing there.

"Who do ya reckon that was?" Lou asked no one in particular.

"I don't know, but she's beautiful." Ike signed with a bashful smile.

"That she is Ike, that she is." Cody said with a wide grin as the riders turned towards the bunkhouse to go get cleaned up.

After Teaspoon and Elizabeth talked Teaspoon went off by himself to read a letter she had given him from her mother. Buck had returned from his run by this time so he was with Ike when Elizabeth came out of the house. As she was walking with them she said, "I've read so much about the Pony Express in the papers. They say you boys are heroes."

"We're not heroes, we just deliver the mail." Buck said with a slight grin.

"Oh but you are. What a cutie, what's its name?" She asked as she spotted the small donkey in the corral.

"Sampson." Buck answered leaning against the railing.

"Come here Sampson." Elizabeth called to the donkey.

Ike walked up and whistled and Sampson trotted right up to him. "He sure loves you." Elizabeth said.

"Ike says it's because he feeds him." Buck translated for Ike.

"Ike says there's a wild herd nearby; if you want he can take you to see them." Buck translated once again for Ike after she had seem to taken a liking to Sampson.

"Now Ike where's your manners. Miss Kelly just got here from a long trip, I'm sure she's tired." Cody said coming up at that moment.

"Well actually I would like to see some of the country side." Elizabeth said to Cody.

"And I know just the spot, nice little pond surrounded by willows." Cody said laying on the charm.

"Don't you boys have chores to do? Elizabeth would you like to accompany me?" Teaspoon asked as he appeared at the corral in his best suit.

"Church ain't till Sunday Teaspoon." Cody teased him.

"Don't sass me boy." Teaspoon said as he was walking away with Elizabeth.

After they left Ike signed something to Cody that Buck wouldn't translate and stormed off.

"What's with him?" Cody asked confused by Ike's behavior.

"He likes her. Go easy on him." Buck told him and then followed Ike into the bunkhouse.

Teaspoon led Elizabeth to Emma's porch. The letter she had given him told Teaspoon that he was a rich man. Beatrice had opened a bank account in his name; there was over ten-thousand dollars in it. Not only that but Elizabeth was his daughter. Not all the riders took this news well. They thought with Teaspoon coming into that kind of money it would mean he would leave them. Nobody wanted Teaspoon to leave.

Teaspoon hadn't decided what he was going to do yet but there was going to be a costume dance in town and Teaspoon planned on escorting Elizabeth.

"Boys I want ya'll to come and represent the station." Teaspoon said to his riders.

"Do we have to?" Buck asked he was never comfortable in social settings.

"Yes, you boys do." Teaspoon responded.

Lou groaned, she liked dances but she didn't want to go as a man. "Now this here dance is a costume dance, that means you boys need to think of what you want to go as." Teaspoon explained.

A slow smirk spread on Lou's face as she came up with a plan. The night of the dance Lou saddled up her horse early to go into town. Buck came out to see what she was doing.

"Lou where are you going? You know Teaspoon said we all had to go to the dance." Buck asked when he saw her.

"I know, don't worry I'll be there." Lou said with a smirk that Buck recognized.

"What are you planning Louise?" he asked with a grin.

"You'll see Buck." Lou said before kissing his cheek and mounting up. "Don't worry I'll be there."

With that she rode into town and towards the saloon. Dismounting she walked in the saloon and immediately found Molly who led her upstairs to the waiting bath. After the bath Molly helped her put her costume on. Once she was ready she looked just like a princess and with the half mask she was wearing Teaspoon and the towns people shouldn't be able to recognize her. Molly helped her down the back stairs so no one would see her and then Lou went to the dance.

The dance had just started when she walked in. She spotted Buck right away but before she could make her way over to him Cody stepped in front of her. "May I have this dance ma'am?"

"Of course Mr. Cody." Lou responded taking his hand as Cody led her out on the dance floor.

As they were dancing Cody kept trying to figure out who the masked beauty was but couldn't place her. After the dance ended Cody was going to go ask Elizabeth to dance but Ike was dancing with her. So he turned back to ask the masked beauty for another dance but she was gone.

Lou made her way through the crowd and was almost to Buck when Kid stopped her for a dance. She accepted. Kid also felt there was something familiar about this girl but couldn't place her either. After the dance ended Lou slipped off to get to Buck but Ike stopped her for a dance.

"Of course Ike." Lou said as Ike led her out on the dance floor.

Ike knew right away who Lou was so when the dance ended he made sure they had ended up right in front of Buck. "Thanks Ike." Lou said before kissing his cheek.

Lou then moved to Buck, "I told ya I'd be here" Lou said in Kiowa.

Buck looked up at her, his eyes going wide, a smile spreading on his face. "You look beautiful." He whispered.

"Thank you Buck. So are you going to ask me to dance?" Lou asked with a sly smile.

"My dear lady, may I have the honor of this dance?" Buck asked bowing to her.

Lou giggled as she said, "Yes you may Mr. Cross."

As they danced Teaspoon caught sight of them. He could see that Buck was quite taken with the young beauty. He had seen her dance with some of the other boys too, but not the way she danced with Buck. The way they moved with each other made it look like they were made for each other. They were in perfect sync.

Teaspoon wanted to find out who this girl was so when the dance ended Teaspoon stepped forward to claim the next one. "May I have this dance ma'am?"

"Oh… of course Mr. Hunter." Lou said nervously. She wasn't sure if her mask would hide her identity from Teaspoon but she didn't want to be rude.

As Teaspoon danced Lou around the floor Buck and Ike watched hoping and praying Teaspoon wouldn't recognize her. Just as the dance was ending Teaspoon caught sight of the silver cuff on Lou's arm. Teaspoon held Lou's arm up to look at it. "Where did ya get this?"

"I … uh… I …" Lou stammered out, why had she been so stupid!

"Who are you?" Teaspoon asked eyeing the girl.

Buck and Ike had noticed the problem and had moved to Lou's side. Buck put his arm around Lou's waist. "Teaspoon maybe we can step outside?" he asked indicating with a nod of his head that they were making a scene.

Teaspoon nodded and followed the three out of the building. "Alright now who are you?" Teaspoon asked as soon as they were away from the crowd.

"Teaspoon this is the woman I love and the woman who is just like a sister to Ike." Buck said still trying to keep Lou's identity secret.

"Buck I have never seen either of you two boys around any young woman more than once." Teaspoon stated eyeing the three in front of him.

"It's alright Buck." Lou whispered in Kiowa just before she reached up and pulled her mask off.

Teaspoon's eyes got huge, "Lou?"

"It's Louise actually." Lou said with a slight grin.

"You're a girl!" Teaspoon exclaimed.

"Well yeah." Lou said shrugging.

"What? When? How did this happen?" Teaspoon stammered out.

"I was born this way Teaspoon." Lou said snickering.

"That's not what I mean. How did I not notice before?" Teaspoon asked shaking his head in wonder.

"I don't know Teaspoon, maybe you chose not to because you'd have to fire me if you knew." Lou replied.

"Why would I do a fool thing like that?" Teaspoon asked.

"Because I'm a girl." Lou said perplexed.

"Yes you are, but your still one of the best damn riders I've ever seen. Sides you're family." Teaspoon said with a grin.

"So you're not going to fire me." Lou said smiling.

"Nope…have to say I'm rather relieved. The way you three acted had me worried." Teaspoon said causing the three friends to laugh. "Do the others know?"

"I think Emma is the only one that doesn't. Even Sam knows." Buck said.

"Well let's just keep quiet about me knowing for now. I wanna see how long it takes them to let something slip." Teaspoon said with a sly grin, the three riders snickered.

"Well I better go change back into Lou." Lou said before she left the men standing there.

Once everybody was back at the bunkhouse Jimmy said, "Where were you Lou? Teaspoon said we all had to be there."

"Oh I was there." Lou replied with a wink at Buck.

"Where I didn't see ya?" Cody asked.

"Really? Well I saw you and my toes definitely felt you." Lou snickered.

"Huh?" was all Cody could say.

"You danced with her Cody." Buck said laughing.

"I did?" Cody asked he couldn't believe he had danced with Lou and hadn't known it.

"Yup, so did Kid, Ike, Buck, and Teaspoon." Lou replied.

"You danced with Teaspoon!" Jimmy exclaimed and then added, "And not me?"

"You didn't ask." Lou pointed out.

"Hell I don't even know which one you were." Jimmy said.

"You were the one dressed like a princess, the one wearing the pink half mask." Kid said when it finally dawn on him why that girl had seem so familiar.

"Yup." Lou said with a smirk.

"Gees Buck you are one lucky man. She was the prettiest girl there." Cody said causing Lou to blush.

"Yes I am." Buck said looking over at Lou with a look in his eyes that made her blush even more.

Lou quickly told the guys goodnight and climbed into her bunk. A few days later Elizabeth's true identity came out. She was really Amanda O'Conner and was a scam artist. But she had a change of heart; she didn't want Teaspoon to get hurt so she told him the scam.

Teaspoon and the boys came up with a plan to capture her partner. After her partner was taken care of Amanda decided to go to St. Louis. Teaspoon told her to take the money, said he had everything he needed right here. He wanted Amanda to have a chance at a new life. Amanda agreed to take it on one condition. She wanted Teaspoon to be her partner. She wanted to open up a real classy saloon. It would be an even split. Teaspoon agreed.

Amanda said her goodbyes to her new family and told Ike to save her a dance before she kissed him on the cheek. After the stage coach left the Express family returned to the station. "I can't believe you gave up all that money." Cody said as they were sitting around the bunkhouse table.

"I didn't need it Cody. I've got a roof over my head. Emma puts good food on the table for all of us, and I have the one thing that matters most in the world." Teaspoon said looking around at his boys.

"What's that Teaspoon?" Kid asked.

"Family. You 'boys'" Teaspoon paused for a minute to wink at Lou, the others didn't notice, "are like 'sons' to me."

All the riders smiled at that, they had come to think of Teaspoon as their father. Lou was glad that Teaspoon knew her secret and that he was letting her stay because Teaspoon was right, everything she needed was right here around her.

Chapter 11

A couple of weeks later Lou went on a run to Blue Creek. After she passed on the pouch at the station, she was horrified by the conditions there. Two of the much older riders were sitting around in dirty long johns playing poker, a third was taking a bath, and the bunk she was supposed to use had two dogs sleeping on it.

Lou decided she would just get a room at the hotel in town. On the way through town Lou spotted a very pretty pink and white stripe dress in the window of a dress shop. It was trimmed with lace all the way from Paris France. Lou couldn't resist, she bought the lovely dress. The shopkeeper told her she was sure 'his' young woman would love it.

After checking into the hotel and soaking in a nice hot bath, Louise decided to wear her new dress around town to be 'Louise' for a change. As she walked through town it felt nice to have gentlemen tip their hats to her in passing, she even heard a few whistle at her. Lou blushed and then stopped to admire her reflection in the window of a store.

While she was adjusting her hat a man came up behind her. "It's very lovely, but I think it would look better like this." He said as he adjusted her hat for her.

"Yes it does, thank you." Lou said as she turned to the man, he was much older than her and wasn't that good looking but he had a certain appeal.

"I'm Tyler DeWitt."

"Louise McCloud." Lou said as Tyler bent over her hand and kissed it.

"I was wondering Miss McCloud if you would save me from social embarrassment and have dinner with me?"

"Well I guess that would be alright." Lou said very unsure.

During the course of the meal Mr. DeWitt talked constantly about his job as an insurance salesman. He told Louise that his company insured bank shipments, gun shipments, and even army payrolls. He had access to all the shipment information. Louise was getting bored out of her mind. It had been nice to be asked to dinner but she was really starting to regret accepting. She kept thinking about Buck.

When the meal finally ended, Mr. DeWitt escorted her down the street. "I would very much like to see you again Miss McCloud."

"I'm afraid that's not possible, I'm leaving for Sweetwater in the morning." Lou said as nicely as possible.

"I'm heading there next; perhaps I can look you up when I arrive?" DeWitt asked hopefully.

"I really rather you didn't." Lou said discouraging him.

"Why? There's not a jealous husband or fiancé waiting in the wings that I need to know about is there?" DeWitt joked.

"No, Not exactly." Lou said with a half laugh.

"What do you mean not exactly?" DeWitt asked confused.

"I'm not married and technically not engaged but I am with someone." Lou explained, hoping he would get the hint and leave her be.

"Well if you're not engaged then your fair game." He said just before kissing her.

Lou reared back and slapped him hard across the face, "Stay the hell away from me." She shouted before rushing away.

The next morning she left and returned to Sweetwater. After she entered the bunkhouse she unrolled her bedroll and took out her new dress. She was in the process of putting it under her mattress when Kid walked in.

"What ya got there Lou?" He asked spotting her stuffing the dress under her mattress.

"Nothing." Lou lied trying to hide it.

"Let me see it." Kid said trying to get around her.

"I said it's nothing." Lou said trying to keep him away.

"I just want to see it Lou, it looked pretty." Kid said stepping back.

"It's a dress." Lou explained as she pulled the dress out to show Kid.

"It's pretty. Why did ya get it?" Kid asked after looking at it.

"I just felt like it Kid. I'm a girl remember."

"I'm sure you look real pretty in it." Kid said with a smile.

"Thanks Kid."

That afternoon after lunch Teaspoon had Kid, Jimmy, Lou, and Buck accompany him into town to help with the supplies. While Teaspoon was dealing with Tompkins, Lou wandered over to look at the hats. While she was looking at them Tyler DeWitt came in the store. Afraid that he would recognize her she slipped out of the store. Buck however saw her reaction to the man and silently followed her.

Grabbing her elbow he guided her behind the stores where they could talk in private. "What's going on Lou?"

"What do you mean Buck?" Lou asked innocently.

"I mean the fact that you just about tripped over your own feet trying to get out of the store when that man came in. Why are you scared of him?" Buck asked wanting the truth.

"It's nothing Buck…" Lou started but changed her mind when she saw Buck's face, "well not nothing. When I went to Blue Creek I bought a dress and wore it in town. I ran into that man back there and he invited me to dinner. I didn't think there was any harm in it, so I went. After dinner was over he said he wanted to see me again, when I told him it wasn't possible he asked if I was married or engaged. I told him not exactly but I was with someone. Then he said if I wasn't engaged then I was free game and he kissed me. I slapped him and told him to stay away from me. Buck there is something about that man that doesn't feel right."

"It's alright Lou; as long as you stay away from him you should be fine. I won't let him hurt you." Buck said putting his arms around Lou.

"You're not mad at me for going to dinner with him?" Lou asked.

"No. I wish I could take you dinner, maybe the next time we go on an overnighter together I can." Buck said with a slight grin.

"I would like that Buck."

The next day while Ike and Lou were washing Lightning Emma called Lou into the house.

"Emma ya wanted to see me?" Lou called when she entered the house.

"Yes I did. I wanted to try something." Emma said as she reached up and took off Lou's glasses. "You have such pretty eyes." Then she took off her hat, "And your face is pretty too, you shouldn't hide them."

"Emma I think I had better go." Lou said getting uncomfortable.

"Nonsense, I'm just trying to tell you how pretty you are but I think you'd look much better in this, I'd love to see you in it and I'm sure the boys would too." Emma said holding up the dress Lou had bought. "I think I know one boy in particular who'd love to see you in this."

"How did ya know?" Lou asked amazed.

"It's obvious by the way he looks at you." Emma said.

"No, I mean that I'm a girl?" Lou clarified.

"Oh I've known that since I saw you ride up with Sam. So what do ya say should we introduce the boys to 'Louise'?" Emma asked with a grin. Lou just nodded smiling.

A little while later Emma had all the boys inside serving them tea.

"What's this about Emma?" Kid asked sipping his tea.

"Yeah is it someone's birthday?" Cody asked grabbing a cookie from the tray.

"No I'd like ya'll to meet someone. I would like to introduce Louise McCloud. Come on out Loulabelle and show them how pretty you are." Emma called up the stairs to Lou.

"First one to laugh gets a punch in the nose" Lou called down earning laughs from the boys.

"Now Loulabelle." Emma warned.

Lou slowly walked down the stairs to be greeted by complete silence as the riders took in her appearance. They were dumbstruck by her beauty. "Well now looks like we just got ourselves a pretty new bunkmate." Cody said the first to find his voice.

"I hope I didn't mess things up for you about that dress Lou." Kid said thinking he might have blown her secret.

"She knew all along." Lou assured him.

"You look beautiful Louise." Buck said; Ike nodded his head in agreement. Lou blushed at the look in his eyes.

"You'd better watch out Buck." Jimmy teased.

"Buck? Buck who?" Cody added.

"What about Teaspoon?" Kid asked.

"What about me?' Teaspoon asked coming in the door. Kid, Jimmy, and Cody all tried to scramble to hide Lou but Teaspoon pushed past them and took Lou's hand bending over it like a gentleman he kissed it. "You look as pretty as a flower Louise."

"You knew?" Cody asked incredulously.

"Course I did!" Teaspoon said standing up straight and hooking a finger under his suspenders.

"How did ya know?" Kid asked.

Lou lifted her sleeve to reveal the silver cuff, "He recognized this when he danced with me at the costume dance."

"That's pretty Lou, but how did Teaspoon recognize it if you wear it under your sleeve?" Kid asked confused, he had never seen it before.

"Because I gave it to Teaspoon to give to Ike back when I almost left." Buck explained.

"And Buck had told me that if anything ever happened to him to make sure I got that to Louise." Ike signed.

"But Buck came back, why didn't you give it back to him?" Jimmy asked.

"Because I wanted her to keep it. It's my promise to her, to always come back to her, to always love her, my promise that one day I'll marry her." Buck explained looking at no one but Lou.

"So you two are engaged?" Cody asked perplexed.

"Not exactly, just committed to each other." Lou said smiling at Buck.

"Why didn't you tell us you knew Teaspoon?" Jimmy asked changing the subject.

"Well I wanted to see how long you boys could keep your big mouths shut about Lou. Honestly I thought you would let something slip before now." Teaspoon said to everyone but he was looking at Cody.

"Well come on and join us for tea Mr. Spoon." Emma said as Buck escorted Lou over to the table.

The next day Sam rode out to talk to Teaspoon about a series of robberies going on. He needed the boys' help capturing the robbers. "I thought I could get that Mr. DeWitt to help me get the shipment schedule but he said he wasn't privy to that information." Sam said sounding like he didn't believe him.

"He said that?" Lou asked looking over at Sam.

"Yeah, something wrong Lou?" Sam asked looking over at the young woman.

"He's lying." She said simply.

"How do ya know that Lou?" Teaspoon asked.

"I met him in Blue Creek after I got that dress. I had dinner with him; all he did was talk about his job, even bragging about having access to the shipment schedule." Lou explained.

"Damn I knew he was lying but couldn't prove it. I need that schedule." Sam said kicking the fence post.

"I might be able to help get it Sam." Lou offered.

"It could be dangerous Lou." Sam warned.

"I'll leave him a message at the hotel to meet me away from town; while he's gone someone can slip into his hotel room and get the schedule." Lou explained her idea.

"I don't think you should go alone." Sam said eyeing the girl.

"I'll go with her. I know how to remain hidden." Buck said coming up behind Sam.

"You sure you want to do this?" Sam asked.

"Yes."

"Alright, I just got one question."

"What's that Sam?" Lou asked.

"When did Teaspoon find out you're a girl?" Sam asked laughing.

"At the dance." Teaspoon said.

"I thought that was Lou dancing with you just before you disappeared outside with Buck and Ike." Sam said looking over at Teaspoon.

After Sam left with the boys to wait for the schedule, Lou went into town and left the letter for DeWitt telling him to meet her on the bluff two miles from town at 2:00. He showed up right on time. "I knew you couldn't stay away. I could see it in your eyes."

"Actually, I want nothing to do with you. I asked you to meet me so I could tell you to quit asking around town for me. I don't want to see you ever again." Lou said calmly.

"That's too bad Louise because I don't take no for an answer." He said as he backslapped her. Lou stood her ground. "You're not afraid of me?" he asked when he saw her eyes held no fear.

"No but you should be afraid." Lou stated with a smirk just before DeWitt felt the cold blade of a very large knife pressed to his throat.

"Give me a reason." Buck hissed in his ear.

DeWitt let go of Lou's arms and she quickly took his gun from his holster. While Lou held him at gun point Buck tied his hands behind his back and then tied him to a tree. When Buck came back around the tree he squatted down in front of him. "You think you're a big man smacking around ladies, well you're not. And if you so much as touch another hair on Louise's head I'll kill you."

"What she to you injun, she's not even a real lady. A real lady would never have agreed to an unchaperoned dinner with a stranger." He said snidely.

Buck backhanded him, "She's a real enough lady to me and she's my lady."

DeWitt started laughing, "I should have known, she's a half breed's whore."

Buck growled low in his throat and pulled out his knife pressing it to the top of his head, "I should; I really should." He said in an even tone that had DeWitt scared stupid, but instead he knocked him in the head with the hilt of his knife knocking him out.

Meanwhile Kid got the schedule out of DeWitt's hotel room and got it to Sam. After Sam and the boys rounded up DeWitt's gang they met up with Buck and Lou who were guarding the prisoner.

"He's lucky he's still breathing." Buck said flatly in response to Sam's question as to how he got the lump on his head.

"What did he do Buck?" Sam asked knowing it had something to do with Lou.

"He hit Louise and then called her a 'half breed's whore.'" Buck said curling his lip in disgust looking at the man tied to the tree.

"And you didn't kill him for that?" Ike signed wearing a look of shock.

"I was very tempted to scalp him alive." Buck said with a wry grin.

"He's a lucky man indeed." Sam said chuckling.

After DeWitt was added to the garbage, Sam and the boys took them on into town to lock them up. Buck and Lou rode back to the station together. On the way there Buck said to Louise, "You know I think you're a real lady right?"

"I do Buck. I don't care if men like DeWitt think I'm not, because men like him aren't real men. A real man doesn't smack women around, nor do they force their attentions on them. You are ten times the man than DeWitt ever could be and as long as you think I'm a lady that's all that matters." Lou said smiling over at Buck.

"I'm glad to hear that, but I'm not the only one who thinks you're a real lady. The boys, Teaspoon, Sam, and Emma all think that too."

"And their opinions are the ones that matter." Lou said just as the station came into view.

After they both dismounted Buck pulled Lou into his arms and kissed her thoroughly. "Yes, a real lady." He whispered against her mouth.

"And a real man." Lou whispered back, just before Buck kissed her again.

Chapter 12

"What the Hell?" Buck said sitting up in his bunk a few days later.

"Go back to sleep Buck it's still early". Lou mumbled from her bunk above his.

"Shhhh…" Buck silenced her and listened for the noise that had woken him.

"Did you hear that?" He asked a few minutes later getting out of bed.

"Is that what I think it is?" Lou asked hopping down from her bunk and following Buck.

"Guys you will never believe what I just found outside." Kid said coming in at that moment with a basket in his arms.

Kid put the basket on the table and the guys gathered around to look, "Sweet Jesus it's a baby!" Lou exclaimed.

"What's it doing here?" Jimmy asked.

"I don't know, I went outside to go to the outhouse and I found it on the porch." Kid explained.

"Look there's a note." Lou said picking up the piece of paper tucked beside the infant and read it to the boys.

Please take care of my daughter Missy. She's a good baby and I love her so much but I can no longer take care of her. I'm so sorry.

Love, Missy's ma

"She's been abandoned." Kid said looking at the infant.

"How could a mother do that?" Buck asked.

"I don't know Buck, I couldn't but she obviously loved her baby she's been well cared for." Lou said picking the crying baby up and soothing her.

"Where do ya reckon she came from?" Ike signed.

"Don't know; I know her ma can't be any of the girls from the saloon or brothels, she's too old, they would have gotten rid of her right away. This baby looks to be around six months old at least." Lou said bouncing the girl up and down.

"What the devil is that?!" Teaspoon exclaimed walking in at that moment to see the baby in Lou's arms with Buck standing right next to her making silly faces to it.

"It's a baby Teaspoon." Kid said stating the obvious.

"I can see that, what's it doing here?"

"Her momma left her." Buck said sadly.

"Of all the days for Emma to be out of town at a wedding." Jimmy muttered.

"Oh please Jimmy, we can handle a little baby." Lou said laughing.

"I don't know about you Lou, but I don't know nothing about babies." Kid said shaking his head.

"Well I am a girl you know, and back at the mission me and Ike used to work in the nursery." Lou stated.

"You did?" Buck asked.

"It was a few years before you came; we were only about eight at the time." Ike signed to his friend.

Buck just nodded, there was a lot he didn't know about their lives before he came to the mission, just like there was still a lot they didn't know about his life with the Kiowa before he came to the mission.

"So you think we can handle it Ike?" Lou asked with a teasing grin. Ike nodded; he loved children.

At that moment the baby let out a blood curdling scream, "What's wrong with it?" Jimmy asked putting his hands over his ear.

"She's hungry. Somebody go get the milk from the ice house." Lou said hushing the baby.

Almost as one the men ran for the door. Lou laughed and shook her head, "What would the company say about their big bad pony express riders being afraid of a crying baby?"

"I'm not afraid." Buck whispered from behind her.

Lou turned her head and smiled at him, "I thought you went with the others."

"Nope, here let me take her so you can get dressed." Buck offered holding out his arms for the little girl. Lou carefully passed her over and went to her bunk to pull her clothes on.

Lou had just finished dressing when Ike came back in carrying the milk. He looked in the basket and found a bottle. Putting some of the milk in the bottle he warmed it in a pot of water on the stove. After testing the temperature of the milk on his wrist he handed the bottle to Buck.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Buck asked taking the bottle from Ike.

"Put it in her mouth." Ike signed laughing. Buck sat down on the bench his back towards the table and moved the bottle towards the baby's mouth. The little girl grabbed hold of the bottle and started drinking hungrily. She had finished it in a matter of minutes.

"You have to burp her now." Ike signed, at Buck's look of confusion he grabbed a dish towel and put it over Buck's shoulder and then helped Buck get the baby in the position. After showing him what to do he warned, "Make sure you keep her over that cloth or you might end up wearing some of that milk."

Buck gave him a look that said gross and continued patting the baby's back. A few minutes later she gave him a good loud burp. "Good job Buck, you're a natural." Lou said with a grin.

"Ah Lou I think she sprang a leak." Buck cried as he felt a warm wetness on his long john top.

Ike and Lou looked at each other and started cracking up. "Come on Ike; let's show him how to change her now." Ike grinned and nodded before getting a clean diaper out of the basket.

Lou took the baby from Buck and laid her down on the table on the towel that Ike had spread out. She pulled the little girl's gown up and unpinned the soiled diaper. After wiping her with a wet cloth she quickly put a fresh diaper on her and pinned it in place. "See Buck nothing to it."

Buck just looked doubtful, "sure whatever you say Lou."

"See if there is a clean gown in that basket." Lou told Buck. Buck did as he was told and found a fresh gown and handed it to Lou. After Lou had the baby changed she laid her back down in the basket. "You might want to change your shirt Buck." Lou reminded him pointing to the wet spot.

"Oh yeah that might be a good idea." Buck said laughing slightly as he pulled his shirt off and grabbed a fresh one from his trunk.

A few minutes later the guys came back into the bunkhouse to find the baby sleeping peacefully. Teaspoon watched the way Lou, Buck, and Ike were with the baby. They were like a ready-made family, Ike was the proud uncle and Lou and Buck the happy parents. It was obvious to Teaspoon that Buck was scared by the baby but he tried to not let it show. Buck did everything Lou told him or asked him to do. Teaspoon smiled thinking that Buck would make a good father one day.

The other guys eventually got their courage back, well as long as Lou didn't ask them to change a diaper. They were happy to hold her or play with her though. They started acting like uncles too. They teased Buck about Lou having him 'whipped'. Buck just accepted their teasing with a smirk and shake of the head. Truth be told he was enjoying having the baby there, it made him realize how much he wanted to have a family with Louise. He started thinking that maybe they could adopt Missy.

He was just about to bring up that idea to Lou as they stood on the porch when he saw a wagon heading toward the station. "I wonder who that is." He said with a nod of his head in the direction of the approaching wagon.

"Could be Emma." Lou suggested.

"Emma's not due back for a couple more days." Ike signed.

Buck moved to stand beside Lou in a protective manner, while Lou held the baby close. Ike moved down the steps to see who was in the wagon. The other guys came out of the bunkhouse when they heard the wagon approaching. They all watched as the young woman stopped right in front of them.

She looked up at the young men standing on the porch and saw the smallest one holding the baby, "Oh that's my baby, I was afraid she wouldn't still be here when I heard Emma was out of town."

"Who are you?" Lou asked holding the baby closer.

"I'm Missy's ma. Please can I have my baby back?" the woman asked getting out of the wagon.

"Why? You going to leave her somewhere else?" Lou asked trying to keep from crying, she didn't want to give the baby up.

"No. I didn't want to leave her to begin with but my husband died a couple of months ago and I didn't have any way to care for her. We didn't have any money and my parents hadn't approved of him. We ran off and eloped. I was going to try to find work at one of the saloons in town and I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep Missy with me. I knew Ms. Shannon would take good care of her. I was just about to sign a contract with the… with the brothel when in walked my momma, she had heard about my husband's death. She told me that she wanted me to come home and she wanted me to bring my baby with me." The young woman explained ashamed of herself.

"Lou…" Buck said softly holding his arms out for the little girl. Lou looked over at him tears in her eyes as she handed her over. Buck took the baby in his arms and walked over to her ma and handed her over.

Ike slipped inside the bunkhouse to get the baby's things so no one would see him cry. The other guys wandered off, tears in their own eyes.

"Oh Missy darling, momma missed you." She cried holding her daughter tightly. "Thank you for taking such good care of her. Was she good for you?" she asked looking up to see only Buck and Lou standing there. She had not noticed the others slipping away.

"She was a little princess." Lou whispered her voice breaking.

Ike came out of the bunkhouse at that moment with Missy's things. He placed them in the back of the wagon. He held his hands out for the baby so the woman could climb up into the seat. Ike kissed the baby's head and then handed her up to her ma. Her ma put her in the basket and drove the wagon away.

Buck put his arm around Lou's shoulders as they watched the wagon leave. Once it was out of sight, Lou turned into his embrace and cried against his chest. "Shhh… I know honey, I loved her too. I know." Buck soothed as he held her tightly. Ike wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and walked away to go do chores to get his mind off the little girl who had stolen all their hearts.

When Emma returned to the station two days later it was to find a bunch of melancholy men and a very depressed young woman. After they told her what had happened while she was gone she had understood. She did find it rather amusing though that a little girl could turn a bunch of grown men into mush. She told Lou if she wanted to talk about it, she knew where to come. Lou decided to take her up on her offer.

"Emma can I talk to ya for a minute?" Lou asked sticking her head in Emma's kitchen.

"Sure Loulabelle, pull up a seat. I just made some fresh lemonade." Emma said walking over with the pitcher in her hand.

After Emma had poured them both a glass she sat across from Lou, "Alright honey what's the matter?"

"I miss Missy. She was only here for a few days, but I loved that little girl like she was my own." Lou admitted as tears slipped from her eyes.

"I know; the boys told me about how you and Buck took to that little girl. They said it was like you two were her parents." Emma said with a sad smile.

"I guess that's how I thought about it. I think Buck felt the same way. Emma do you think I'm too young to be thinking about being a mother?" Lou asked looking up at the woman who had become a mother to her.

"How old are you Louise?" Emma asked patting Lou's hand.

"I just turned seventeen right before I came to work here." Lou said.

"And how old is Buck?"

"Best we could figure he is eighteen, but we're not sure exactly when he was born. The Kiowa don't keep records the same way we do." Lou said her forehead wrinkling in thought.

"And how long had it been since the two of you saw each other before you met up again here?" Emma asked with a small smile.

"Three years."

"You both are still young Louise, barely more than children yourselves. I think when you are ready that you both will make wonderful, loving parents. But don't rush things Loulabelle, enjoy being young while you can. Being a parent is a huge responsibility. Are you sure you're ready for it?" Emma asked smiling fondly at the young girl.

"Well… I guess not, I was getting kind of cranky from lack of sleep, since I had to get up and down all hours of the night with Missy. I know the boys were getting even less sleep than me, they were doing all my chores and runs so I could watch the baby. I reckon as long as I'm working for the express I don't need to be thinking about having any children." Lou replied with a laugh.

"See everything works out for a reason. I think that baby came here, so you would know that you aren't ready just yet to get too serious with Buck. If you know what I mean?" Emma said with a sly grin.

"I don't think you have to worry about that Emma, Buck doesn't take 'dancing' lightly. His Kiowa beliefs tell him that once a man and woman 'dance' together they are bound together. If we 'danced' it would make me his wife in his eyes. I know he's not ready for that, I'm not either." Lou explained blushing.

"That's good to hear Louise. I was concerned; I've seen the kisses you two have shared. I was afraid you might get carried away." Emma told the young girl.

"Buck is too controlled to lose control." Lou giggled.

Emma just smiled. After her talk with Emma, Lou felt much better and life around the station soon returned to normal.

Chapter 13

"Lou would you stop wiggling around up there, I'm trying to sleep." Buck whispered to the young woman on the bunk above him.

"Sorry Buck, I can't help it. I'm itching like crazy." Lou said in a loud whisper.

"Well don't scratch, it just makes it worse." Buck whispered back.

"Damn it to hell." Lou said loudly a few minutes later, waking the other guys.

"Lou what's wrong with you we're trying to sleep." Cody whined.

"Sorry guys… Buck can you scratch my back?" Lou asked in a whiny voice.

Buck sighed and got out of his bunk to scratch Lou's back. "Better?" he asked after a few seconds.

Lou wiggled around scratching different places. "No… I itch everywhere."

Buck went over to the table and lit the lantern so he could see Lou better. "Alright let me see."

Lou pulled up the sleeve of her long johns to show him her arms. Buck looked at her arms and started laughing. "Lou I thought I taught you well enough that you would know to stay away from poison ivy."

"Ah damn it." Lou muttered.

"Where all do you got it?" Buck asked.

"Everywhere," Lou mumbled embarrassed.

"How did you manage to get poison ivy everywhere?" Buck asked loud enough that the guys heard. They all started snickering.

Lou threw her pillow hitting Cody in the face. "Shut it… it's not funny."

"But it really is Lou." Jimmy teased chuckling.

"I went swimming earlier, I thought since all of you were busy it would be safe for me to swim in just my skin. But while I was there I heard horses approaching. I had just enough time to grab my clothes and duck into the bushes. I must have come into contact with the poison ivy then. After the men left I got dressed and came back here. But now I can't stop scratching." Lou explained as she started scratching her leg.

Buck was trying very hard not to laugh at the predicament she had gotten herself into. He grabbed both her hands to keep her from scratching. "Lou you're just making it worse. I know something that will help relive the itching but it will take me a few minutes to mix it up. Do you think you can stop scratching long enough for me to do that?"

Lou nodded her head and Buck let her hands go, but as soon as she was released she started scratching again. Buck grabbed her hands again and called over his shoulder to Ike, "Come over here and hold her hands so I can go mix up that salve."

Ike got out of his bunk, a huge grin on his face, and came over and held Lou's hands. Buck slipped out of the bunkhouse and searched for the ingredients he needed. A little while later he poked his head back into the bunkhouse. "Alright Lou come with me."

"Why?"

"Well you did say that you had it everywhere, I just assumed you would want to put the salve everywhere. If you don't mind the guys seeing you in the all together we can just do this in here." Buck said grinning devilishly.

"That's a good idea Lou, you just stay right in here and we'll help Buck." Cody added teasing her.

Lou quickly hopped off her bunk and left the bunkhouse. Buck took her into the barn and up into the hayloft where they would have some privacy just in case one of the boys tried to sneak a peek at her.

"Alright Lou, I'd get Emma to help you with this but since it's the middle of the night, I don't want to wake her. So you're going have to let me help." Buck said blushing slightly.

Lou just nodded her head and turned her back to Buck as she unbuttoned her long johns and let them drop to the ground. Buck had put a horse blanket on the hayloft floor for Lou to sit or lay on. Lou stretched out on her stomach so Buck could take care of her back first.

Buck swallowed hard and slowly moved closer to her. Kneeling down on the ground beside her Buck started spreading the salve over the rash. Lou could feel his hands trembling as they moved over her body, his touch feather light.

"Buck?" she whispered.

"Yeah Lou?" he asked back, his voice husky sounding.

"You're shaking, are you scared?"

"Terrified Lou, I've … I've only ever seen … my mother undressed before." Buck managed to choke out.

Lou giggled, "I promise I won't bite Buck."

"Lou, what if I'm like my father." Buck whispered in a strangled voice.

"What do you mean Buck?" Lou asked confused, Buck had never talked about his father.

"My father was a white man, he took my mother against her will, and I was the result. Do you think that the sins of my father will be passed on to me?" Buck asked ashamed.

"Buck, you are a good man. You're nothing like your father. You would never do that to a woman." Lou said in full confidence.

"Roll over your back is done." Buck said and Lou obeyed revealing her chest to him. Buck closed his eyes in an attempt to get ahold of himself.

"Buck I trust you. I know you won't hurt me." Lou said touching the side of his face. Buck leaned into her touch; he was shaking like a leaf.

Opening his eyes he focused on putting the salve first on her legs, then stomach, then arms, leaving her chest for last. Steeling himself he moved to treat her breast. Lou gasped when his fingers brushed over them. Buck pulled his hand back as if he had been shocked. "Lou I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't hurt me Buck. It … it felt good." Lou stammered out blushing hard.

Buck turned red and closed his eyes. If he didn't finish this soon, he was not going to be able to control himself. But when he touched her chest again, Lou shuddered under his touch, he couldn't help himself any longer. Buck moved his hand so he was completely covering one of her breast and then he leaned down and kissed her passionately. Lou was shocked at first, but quickly gave in to the passion of the kiss. Buck continued caressing Lou until she moaned, causing warning bells to go off in Buck's head. He quickly jumped back breathing hard.

"Maybe you should finish this by yourself Lou. I'm afraid of what I might do to you. I don't want to become my father." Buck said panting.

"Buck Cross you are not your father and you will never be. You wouldn't hurt me." Lou said sternly.

"Lou I want you. I want you like my father wanted my mother. How can you say I'm not like him?" Buck asked shaking his head.

"Because Buck, the difference is your mother didn't want him. I love you Buck, and I want you. I want to be with you and I know you love me too. That is what makes you different." Lou said looking Buck in the eyes.

"I do love you Louise." Buck whispered before he kissed her gently. "But I still think you should finish this up yourself. You know my beliefs. Are you really ready for that?"

Lou grinned and shook her head no. Buck handed her the salve and moved away so she could finish up. Once all her rash had been treated she pulled her long johns back on and moved to sit next to Buck. "Thank you Buck, I don't itch at all anymore."

"That's good, you'll probably need to put that on again in few hours but Emma will be up by then." Buck said with a slight grin.

Lou laughed, "Chicken."

"Maybe… or just a guy. I don't think I'd be able to stop myself a second time." Buck said giving her a lopsided grin, "You're very beautiful you know."

Lou blushed and gave him a playful shove. "Come on we might as well head back to bed." Lou said standing up and heading for the ladder.

They returned to the bunkhouse to find that all the guys were sound asleep. They quickly climbed into their bunks and were soon fast asleep. When morning rolled around Lou went up to the main house to get Emma to help her put more of the salve on. When Emma asked how she had managed during the night, Lou told her the whole story. Emma was surprised by the restraint Buck had shown. She knew had it been any of the other boys, they would have taken advantage of the situation. Her 'Loulabelle' had picked herself a good man.

Chapter 14

"Boy's there's going to be a Founder's Day picnic and race in town Saturday. I want all of you to enter, represent the company." Teaspoon announced as he walked into the bunkhouse.

"Is there going to be a prize?" Cody asked.

"Sure is, you going to get a trophy and the new owner of the bank is putting up a twenty dollar gold piece, that his daughter Kathleen will present the winner." Teaspoon explained.

"Wonder if she's pretty. Might be worth winning just to meet her if she is." Cody said much to the amusement of the other riders.

"Don't rightly know Cody, I haven't met her, just her pa Mr. Delvin. I will tell you this though, that man doesn't sit well with me." Teaspoon stated with an arching of his eyebrow.

"Why's that Teaspoon?" Lou asked.

"Don't know, just a feeling. Could be nothing."

"Fact he's a banker is enough reason for him to not be trusted." Jimmy stated in all seriousness earning smirks from the others.

Two days later the Express family rode into town for the Founder's Day celebration. Not only was there going to be a picnic and race, but there were also games. Like the kissing booth, that one was very popular among the single male riders. There was also a shooting competition, Cody won for the distance challenge, Jimmy won the fastest shot, and both got five dollars. Sam was set up in the dunk the marshal tank, of course the guys all tried to dunk him, they missed, but a little girl of about seven didn't. The look on Sam's face was priceless when his seat gave way and he fell into the tank.

But it was the race that all the riders were really looking forward too. That twenty dollar gold piece was a much wanted prize. That and Kathleen Delvin was a real beauty. Even Lou had to admit she was pretty. The guys, all except Buck, wanted to win just for the chance of meeting her.

At the sound of the gunshot the riders took off, they were easily the best riders and their horses the fastest. Jimmy was the first knocked out of the race when another rider cut him off causing his horse to run under the livery sign which Jimmy managed to grab onto instead of being knocked off by it. Cody was put out of the race when he jumped onto another rider after the rider had hit him with a riding crop. Kid and a few others got tangled up and were put out of the race. Ike was out of the race when a small boy wandered into the path of the oncoming horses; Ike scooped the boy up and saved him.

The only riders left representing the Express were Buck and Lou. It was down to the wire just between the two of them. But in the end Buck pulled ahead and won, but Lou had given him a run for the money. When Buck went up to claim his prize Kathleen Delvin kissed him on the cheek in congratulations. Buck took his prize and went back over to his family. They all congratulated him.

"Well Lou looks like the next time we go on an overnighter, I can treat you to a night on the town." Buck whispered to her. Lou gave him a bashful grin.

But before she could say anything Kathleen Delvin tapped Buck on the shoulder. "I just wanted to say how impressed I was with your riding Mr…"

"Cross. Buck Cross ma'am" Buck introduced himself.

"I was wondering Mr. Cross if you would be willing to teach me to ride." Kathleen said fluttering her eyelashes at him.

"I guess I can do that." Buck said slightly unsure.

"Wonderful, could you meet me tomorrow morning on the bluff outside of town?"

"Ummm…." Buck turned to Lou, "Lou is tomorrow morning a good time for me to teach Miss Delvin how to ride?" He asked basically getting her permission.

Lou hid her smirk, "Well you're not on the schedule for tomorrow, but ya still got chores. I reckon as long as it don't take too long it would ok."

"That will be fine Miss Delvin." Buck said turning back to Kathleen.

"Then I will see you tomorrow Mr. Cross." Kathleen purred.

After she walked away Lou said, "You know she doesn't really want you to teach her how to ride don't you?"

"What are you talking about Lou?" Buck asked confused.

"She was flirting with you Buck. My guess is she was just coming up with a reason to spend time with you." Lou said wearing a smirk.

"Oh… really? Maybe I should just go cancel." Buck stammered; he had completely missed Kathleen's attempts at flirting.

"You already told her you would go. Besides…"Lou said as she lifted her sleeve to reveal the silver cuff, "I've got your promise. I know you love me and won't break it." Lou said only loud enough for Buck to hear before she pushed her sleeve back down. Buck smiled and gave her a wink as they joined the rest of their family for the rest of the picnic.

As they were getting ready to leave a tall man approached Buck. "Excuse me Mr. Cross may I have a word with you?"

Buck approached the man, "Name's Rance, I work for Mr. Delvin and I was very impressed with your riding." He said loudly, and then he leaned in close to Buck and said in a harsh tone, "Stay away from Kathleen Delvin."

Buck just stood there in shook as Rance walked away. "What was that about?" Lou asked coming up beside him.

"I'm not really sure, but that man works for the Delvins. I think he must be in a relationship with Miss Delvin because he just warned me to stay away from her." Buck said before shaking his head and looking at Lou, "Do you think he would have believed me if I told him I didn't want her?"

Lou laughed, "Not likely. She's very beautiful; it would be hard for anybody to believe that most men wouldn't want her."

"She's not as beautiful as you." Buck declared just loud enough for her.

"That's not true, but I'm glad you think so." Lou said blushing.

"It is true Louise; don't let anybody tell you different." Buck said to her with a tender smile before they went to mount their horses and go home.

Buck met Kathleen the next morning to teach her how to ride. Lou had been right when she told him that Kathleen had just been looking for an excuse to meet him alone. Kathleen was an excellent rider.

"Why did you ask me to teach you how to ride when you already know?" Buck asked after he caught back up with her and had dismounted.

"I wanted to get to know you better Mr. Cross. You're rather 'exotic'. You're obliviously a half breed but not a savage, but you're not completely civilized either. I find that rather intriguing." Kathleen said moving closer to Buck.

Buck just shook his head in disgust at her but before he could say anything the sound of approaching horses caught his attention. He turned to see four Lakota braves heading their way.

"What should we do?" Kathleen asked with fear in her voice when she saw them.

"Stay behind me and be quiet." Buck ordered.

The lead brave got off his horse and approached the two. *I'm Running Buck of the Kiowa, what do you want Lakota* Buck signed.

*I'm Silver Fox, you are the brother to chief Red Bear* the brave signed to Buck.

*Yes. Why are you here Silver Fox?* Buck signed.

*I want the woman, I will give you two ponies for her.* Silver Fox signed and then pointed to Kathleen.

*You can have her for four.* Buck signed with a slight smirk.

Silver Fox looked her over, *Three no more, she is too small.*

*Four no less* Buck signed firmly.

Silver Fox shook his head and left. "What did he want?" Kathleen asked as soon as they rode away.

"You. He offered me two ponies for you." Buck answered.

"What? What did you say to him?" Kathleen asked as she looked over at Buck.

"I asked for four." Buck answered with a grin.

"Four? What if he had accepted?" Kathleen asked horrified.

"I would have been a rich man." Buck teased, "Relax his limit was three; he thought you were too skinny."

"I can't believe he tried to buy me for two horses. And you only wanted four."

"Two is average; the fact that he offered three means he thought you very beautiful." Buck explained.

"But you asked for four. Do you really think I'm worth four ponies?" Kathleen asked moving closer to Buck.

"I guess. I'm not in the business of trading woman." Buck answered with a shrug of his shoulders and took a small step back putting more space between them.

"Would you have given four ponies for me?" Kathleen asked closing the distance between them again.

"If I wasn't spoken for, I guess." Buck answered. Kathleen leaned in and kissed him on the mouth. Buck pushed her away. "Kathleen did you not just hear me say I'm spoken for?"

"You said you would give four ponies for me. You didn't say anything about being spoken for." Kathleen stated trying to kiss him again, but Buck held her back.

"No I said if I Wasn't spoken for, I guess I would. But I am spoken for." Buck said stepping back from her.

"You're engaged?" Kathleen asked.

"No but committed, we know we are going to get married when we're ready." Buck stated taking another step back. "I really should be going Miss Delvin." Buck said before he mounted his horse.

On the way back to the station Rance and two of his goons got the drop on Buck. They managed to lasso him and then dragged him through the mud and water of a small creek bed. After that they put paint on him, saying how could he be a good injun without war paint. And then to add insult to injury they poured a jar of molasses over his head and then a bag of chicken feathers. So he would have his war paint and feathers. They left him tied up sitting in the creek.

It didn't take Buck long to get himself loose but it would take a while to get the paint, feathers, and molasses off. Buck quickly rode for home and slipped silently into the barn to get cleaned up, he prayed to the spirits that no one would see him like this. His prayer wasn't answered.

Lou had been waiting for Buck to come home; she had thought she heard him ride up so she went to check the barn. When she slipped into the barn she stopped short at the sight Buck made. "Good lord Buck what happened?" Lou cried when she saw him.

"Lou please just go away, I don't want to talk about it." Buck said softly hanging his head and not facing her.

Lou didn't listen instead she pulled the barn door closed and latched it from the inside so no one could come in and walked over to Buck. "Buck who did this?" She asked picking up a wet cloth and started wiping the paint and feathers off his chest and shoulders.

"Delvin's men." Buck whispered.

"Because of her?"

Buck nodded, "You were right Lou. She didn't want me to teach her how to ride. I tried to tell her I was with someone but she kissed me Lou. I pushed her away and told her again that I was committed to someone and then I left. On the way home they got the drop on me." Buck explained as Lou continued cleaning him up.

"Oh Buck…What are you going to do?" She asked moving to clean his face.

"I'll deal with them." Buck stated with a slight smirk.

"You're not going to hurt them are you?" Lou asked as she started picking the feathers from his hair.

"Not physically … but their pride will suffer I assure you." Buck declared with an evil glint in his eyes.

"Good. Well I think that's as good as it's going to get without an actually shower. You should be able to go get one without the others knowing what happened." Lou stated a few minutes later as she pulled the last of the feathers out of his hair.

"Thank you Louise…I love you." Buck whispered before kissing her quickly.

"Oh and Buck just one more thing." Lou said with a lopsided grin.

"What's that Lou?" Buck asked.

"Remember what I told you about not being such a gentleman in the future after Nickerson's men got you. I think you should really take my advice."

Buck laughed and kissed her again. "I promise I won't be such a gentleman anymore, it keeps getting me into trouble." Buck said before turning and walking out of the barn.

Louise watched him go with an idea forming in her brain. Those men weren't the only ones who needed to pay for what happened to Buck. A mischievous smile spread on her face as she got a humdinger of an idea. She headed off to find Ike; she was going to need his help to pull this one off. But it was so going to be worth it. Kathleen Delvin had picked the wrong man to flirt with and hang in front of her suitor.

Chapter 15

"Miss Delvin." Lou said when Kathleen came to the door at her knock.

"What do you want?" Kathleen asked, the contempt she felt for the boy at her door clear.

"Miss Delvin I'm Lou McCloud I'm a" Lou started introducing herself.

"I know who you are. What are you doing here?" Kathleen asked interrupting Lou.

"Miss Delvin Buck asked me to come get you. He needs to speak with you in private; he said it's real important." Lou said in all seriousness.

"And why would I agree to meet with him?" Kathleen asked snidely.

"It's the least you can do considering what your father's men did to him." Lou said; she had to bit her tongue when she saw Kathleen's lip twitch into a ghost of a smile.

"They didn't hurt him." She pointed out.

"Not physically…" Lou stated letting the thought hang in the air.

"Fine. I guess it couldn't hurt." She said while thinking 'I might be able to get him to help me get rid of Rance after all.'

Lou saddled Kathleen's horse for her and then led her from town. About a mile from the swimming hole, Lou dismounted. Kathleen followed suit, "Well where is he?"

"He'll be here soon." Lou said looking around for the reason she had stopped here. Lou grinned when she spotted Ike. "Why don't you go wait under that shade tree over there?" Lou suggested pointing to the tree closest to where Ike was hiding.

Kathleen did as she was told. With her back turned towards Lou she didn't see the mischievous look on Lou's face. As soon as Kathleen was in position Lou gave the signal to Ike who was waiting in the bushes.

Ike released the bag he was holding and moved hastily but silently away. A few seconds later Kathleen let out a blood curdling scream as the skunk that had been in the bag made its appearance. Her scream of course startled the skunk causing it to spray her. This was working out so much better than Lou had thought it would. She had to struggle to control her laughter as she rushed to the 'rescue'.

"Sweet Lord Miss Devlin you smell to high heaven!" Lou exclaimed covering her nose.

"You've got to help me, I can't go home smelling like this!" Kathleen whined.

"Well there is a swimming hole just down the way, only us Express riders use it. With everybody else on runs or tied up with chores you should be able to get bathed off before Buck gets here." Lou said trying not to laugh.

"Oh and I should just trust you not to watch me." Kathleen said with her hands on her hips.

"I swear Miss Delvin you needn't worry about that. You ain't exactly my type." Lou said with a slight grin.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Kathleen demanded; she didn't like to think that she couldn't charm any man.

"Nothing ma'am I just don't fancy ladies." Lou admitted.

Kathleen's lip curled in disgust at the young 'boy'. "Fine lead the way."

Lou bit back her grin as she led Kathleen to the swimming hole. "You go ahead and strip down Miss Delvin. I'll make sure no one comes and bothers you."

As soon as Lou walked away Kathleen quickly shed her clothing and ran into the small pond in the all together. Lou quickly snuck forward and grabbed Kathleen's clothing. She hid them behind a tree a little ways from the pond before she shouted down to her, "Miss Delvin there's a rider coming. You better get dressed."

Kathleen quickly ran to the bank to discover her clothes weren't there. She heard the sound of a horse approaching and made the quick decision to hide in the bushes. She had just hidden herself when Ike and Lou rode into view. "Miss Delvin?" Lou called out.

"Yes Mr. McCloud." Kathleen yelled from her hiding place.

"I just wanted to let you know that the bush you are hiding in is covered in poison ivy." Lou said snickering. Ike was laughing silently.

"What!?" Kathleen exclaimed.

"Oh and your clothes are behind that tree up on the hill." Lou added laughing aloud.

"You did this!?" Kathleen yelled at the young man.

"Yes ma'am, you see nobody messes with Buck without having to deal with me and Ike." Lou declared her tone even.

"You disgust me!" Kathleen shouted at Lou.

"Feelings mutual ma'am and just so you know you ain't Buck's type either." Lou added insult to injury.

"Don't tell me the dirty breed fancies men too." Kathleen said in disgust.

"No ma'am Buck fancies a 'Real' lady." Lou said emphasizing the real part.

Laughing Lou and Ike rode away leaving Kathleen hiding. "How am I going to explain to daddy how I got poison ivy everywhere?" she said to herself.

As soon as she was sure Lou and Ike were gone she made a run for it to the tree that Lou had hid her clothes behind. After she quickly dressed she raced away on her horse completely unaware she had three witnesses to her mad dash.

Buck, Ike, and Lou dissolved into a series of hysterical giggles as Kathleen rode out of sight. "Louise that was the funniest thing I've ever seen." Buck said still chuckling.

"I think that was even better than the time you put itching powder in Mother Agatha's habit after she had made Buck get another haircut." Ike signed causing them all to start laughing again.

"Remind me never to get on you bad side Lou." Buck added wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes.

"No need, you should know by now the only people who get on my bad side are those that mess with my family." Lou responded grinning.

"That's true enough, but I think that people get on her bad side a whole lot quicker when they mess with you Buck." Ike signed causing Lou to blush.

"I know." Buck said with a loving smile at Lou.

Ike silently moved away as his 'siblings' stared at each other. Ike knew that when they looked at each other like that, they would often forget they sometimes weren't alone.

"You know Louise you remind me of something." Buck stated with a lopsided grin.

"Oh and what's that Buck, a mama bear?" she teased.

"No, A Kiowa brave protecting the woman he loves." Buck whispered before he kissed her.

Lou responded to the kiss, putting her arms around Buck's neck, her fingers tangling in his long hair. Buck rolled Lou so her back was pressed to the ground of the hill they had been lying on while they had watched Kathleen. They continued kissing as Buck's hand moved between them as he gently cupped one of Lou's breasts. Lou hitched a leg around him. Buck groaned as he forced himself to pull away from her.

"We need to stop Lou." He panted struggling to catch his breath.

Lou sat up and said, "I know Buck, but it's getting more and more difficult too."

"Believe me I know." Buck said with a lopsided grin as he stood up and offered his hand to Lou.

Lou took it and stood up but didn't let go. "Where did Ike sneak off too?"

Buck looked around them and spotted Ike in the swimming hole. "There." He pointed. "What do you say we join him Lou?"

"Sounds fun to me, just remember to stay out of the bushes." She added with a laugh that Buck joined in.

Hand in hand they made their way to the swimming hole and Ike. "Bout time you two joined me." Ike signed with a teasing smile.

The two blushed and quickly stripped down to their long johns before diving in to join Ike. A few hours later they returned to the bunkhouse where Lou told the boys and Emma what they had done to Kathleen.

The guys laughed hysterically at her colorful tale. "Now Loulabelle, that wasn't very nice" Emma admonished biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. "You're old enough to know better."

"Yes ma'am but it was pretty funny and I may be old enough to know better, but I'm still young enough to not care." Lou replied grinning, she had seen the laughter in Emma's eyes. Emma could not take it any longer and joined in the laughter.

It wasn't long after this incident that Mr. Delvin decided to packed up his things and take Kathleen away from there. He said to Mr. Tompkins, "This is no place to raise a lady. It has already have had a bad effect on Kathleen. Why just the other day she came home covered in poison ivy and smelling something awful."

Tompkins who had heard about the episode at the pond from Teaspoon bit his lip to keep from laughing. He may not like Buck but even he had to admit that Buck had never caused any problems in his store. And after what Delvin's men did because of that girl, Tompkins thought she got what she deserved. You see Teaspoon had found out about the 'feathering' and had confronted Delvin in front of the business leaders of Sweetwater. So Tompkins knew exactly what had happened.

After Delvin left, Lou walked in with Ike; both were smiling mischievously as they watched Devlin walk away. "So tell me Lou, how did you know about that poison ivy being in that bush." Tompkins asked laughing.

Ike started laughing silently as Lou flushed and muttered, "Personal experience." Tompkins' laugh followed her out the door as she made a hasty retreat.

Chapter 16

A few weeks after the Delvin's left Sweetwater Buck and Lou walked into the Marshal's office. "Emma sent you some cookies Sam." Lou said handing him the plate of still warm chocolate chip cookies.

Sam got a huge smile on his face as he uncovered the plate and picked up a cookie. "I'm glad you two are here, I need some advice." Sam mumbled around the cookie he had just taken a bite of.

Buck and Lou looked at each, faces slightly surprised, "You need advice from us?" Buck asked.

"Well from you Buck, I need Lou's opinion as a woman." Sam admitted a little sheepishly.

"What about Sam?" Lou asked taking one of the cookies.

"Well you see I'm getting a promotion. I'm going to be the new territorial marshal." Sam explained.

"That's great Sam!" Buck exclaimed.

"It is but it means I have to move to Fort Kearney." Sam stated a hand going to the back of his neck rubbing it.

"What about Emma?" Lou asked.

"That's what I wanted ya'll thoughts on. I love Emma and I want to marry her but it would mean her having to leave her home and 'family'. And my duties are going to keep me away most of the time. I don't know if I should ask her or not."

"Sam you love Emma right?" Buck asked, at Sam's nod he continued, "Ask her, tell her about the promotion and what it will mean. She will either say yes or she won't."

"What do you think Lou?" Sam asked turning to the young girl.

Lou gave him a sad smile, "Sam you know I love you and Emma, I don't want either one of you to leave, but I know Emma loves you, she'd follow you anywhere. Even if it means leaving us behind."

"So are you going to ask her?" Buck asked with a grin.

"Yup. But I'm going to need a ring. Think you two can help me pick out one that she will like?" Sam asked grinning like an idiot.

"We can try." Lou replied with a wink.

Sam grabbed his hat off the wall and headed for Tompkins' store with Buck and Lou trailing behind wearing cheeky smiles. "Afternoon Marshal what can I do for you today?" Tompkins asked when Sam entered the store.

"I need to see your rings Tompkins." Sam stated as he marched to the front counter.

"So ya finally going to ask Emma." Tompkins said with a teasing tone of voice.

"Just let me see the rings." Sam demanded.

Tompkins opened a case and pulled out a tray full of rings for Sam to look at. "Alright you two get over here and help me find the perfect ring for Emma." Sam called over his shoulder to the two riders.

Buck and Lou walked over and started looking at the rings. "Well I like that one but I don't think it would suit Emma." Lou said pointing to a silver ring with a turquoise stone. The band looked like it had been braided. Buck made a mental note of it for when he bought Lou a ring.

"You're right that wouldn't suit Emma but it is nice." Buck replied the last part a whisper in her ear.

"Hmmm… how about this one Sam?" Lou asked pointing to a gold band with a ruby in it.

"Maybe … what do you think Buck?"

"It's nice but I think Emma might like one of these two better." Buck said indicating a plain gold band and a gold ring with an opal stone.

Sam and Lou looked at the two rings. "That one." Lou said pointing to the one with the opal.

"I do believe you two are right. Tompkins let me see that one." Sam stated indicating the ring with the opal.

Tompkins lifted the ring out of the tray and handed it to Sam. Sam looked at it, turning it this way and that to let the light catch the opal setting the stone ablaze with color. "It's prefect. I'll take it Tompkins." Sam declared handing the ring back to Tompkins.

Tompkins put the ring in a small velvet bag and handed it back over to Sam who then paid him. "Good luck Sam… You're going to need it." Tompkins teased. Sam sent him a glare while Buck and Lou snickered.

After they left the store Sam turned to them, "Not a word of this to anyone"

"Not a word." Buck promised.

"Lou?" Sam asked eyeing her.

"I won't say anything Sam … but you better ask her soon cause I don't know how long I'll be able to hide my smile from Emma. She'll know something is up." Lou grinned at him.

Sam laughed, "Emma always was a little too observant. I'll be out there tonight, tell Emma I'll come out after supper."

"Why not just come to supper Sam, you know you always have a place at the table." Buck pointed out.

"I just might do that." Sam replied.

"See ya later Sam." Lou said before she and Buck went back inside Tompkins' store to get the supplies they had been sent to get.

That night at supper, Sam did decide to come; the three could hardly sit still. Sam was nervous about asking Emma. Lou was excited about the whole thing and her anstyness was making Buck antsy.

"Alright what's the matter with ya'll? You three act like ya got ants in your pants or something." Teaspoon muttered after Emma had cleared the supper plates away and was putting dessert on the table.

"Well I kinda need to talk with Emma alone." Sam stated nervously.

"Sam anything ya have to tell me can be said here, these boys are family." Emma declared; hands on her hips.

Sam fidgeted; Buck and Lou looked at each other and tried to hide their snickers. "Alright, well I'm getting a promotion. I'm going to be the new territorial marshal."

Sam had to wait for all the congratulations to die down before he could continue, "Thing is I'm not going to be station out of Sweetwater. I have to report to Fort Kearney by the end of the month."

Lou dropped her fork when Sam said that, he hadn't told them earlier that he would be leaving so soon. The entire room was deathly silent waiting for the outburst from Emma, "It's alright Sam I … I understand." Emma whispered tears filling her eyes. "You deserve the job; I've got my boys here to look after. I'll be fine."

"Now hang on just one minute Emma. I want you to come with me." Sam said standing up and moving to stand in front of her. He pulled the ring from his pocket. "I love ya Emma, I want you to be my wife."

"Sam Cain are you asking me to marry you?" Emma asked a grin twitching at the corner of her mouth.

"Yes I am … I know I'm asking a lot from you. I'm asking ya to leave your home and your family to move with me only for me to be gone much of the time. But I love ya Emma and I can't stand the thought of leaving you behind. Will you marry me?"

"Yes I will, I love you too Sam." Emma replied a huge smile lighting up her face.

Sam slipped the ring on Emma's finger and kissed her in front of everyone. They all started clapping and whistling. Sam and Emma broke apart blushing. "You two knew didn't ya?" Emma asked Buck and Lou.

They both nodded and grinned. "They helped me pick out the ring." Sam admitted, he didn't admit that he had gotten their advice about asking her in the first place, that would be their little secret.

"When's the wedding going to be Emma? I sure do like wedding cake." Cody said, causing the others to laugh at him.

"Well I guess since we have to be at Fort Kearney by the end of the month it will have to be in two weeks, if we went to go on a honeymoon that is." Emma replied thinking.

"But Emma two weeks ain't enough time to make ya a dress." Lou cried.

"Nonsense Loulabelle, I started making my wedding dress months ago! It's already done." Emma laughed.

"You did?" Sam asked looking at her in surprise.

"Well I knew you'd get around to asking me sooner or later Sam Cain." Emma teased, the boys laughed at the expression on Sam's face.

"I just wish you could stand with me Loulabelle." Emma said giving Lou a sad smile.

"And why can't she?" Sam asked.

"Because if others knew she's a girl she could lose her job." Emma pointed out.

"Well then let her stand up with you dressed as Lou. In fact I think all you boys should stand up with us. If we divide them up between the two of us nobody will think nothing of Lou standing with you." Sam suggested.

"Sam Cain that is the best idea you've ever had." Emma cried excited. "So how are we going to do this?"

"Well how about I have Cody, Jimmy, and Kid stand with me, is that alright boys?" Sam asked looking at the three. They all nodded.

"And I get to have Loulabelle, Buck, and Ike." Emma said with a smile.

The three friends grinned at each other. "Is that alright with you two boys?" Emma asked to two young men.

"As long as we don't got to wear dresses." Ike signed while Buck translated for Emma. The other boys cracked up at that mental image.

"And you Mr. Spoon can walk me down the aisle." Emma said smiling over at Teaspoon.

Teaspoon leaned back in his chair, hooking a finger under his suspenders and grinned, "Emma I'd be honored. You're going to make a beautiful bride."

Teaspoon got to his feet and moved to stand in front of Sam, "Sam just so you know if you ever hurt her, you'll have me and the boys to deal with."

Sam looked around the room at all the serious faces and knew Teaspoon was telling the absolute truth. He gave them all a lopsided grin, "if I ever hurt her I hope Cody gets me with his Hawkins first before he lets Buck get close enough to use that knife on me. I'd hate to think what he'd do with it."

Everybody laughed at that. "Trust me Sam ya don't want to find out." Buck added with an evil little smirk.

Sam swallowed hard at the look on Buck's face, he had no doubt Buck meant it. "I promise I won't ever hurt Emma, sides Emma would take care of me herself before any of ya'll had a chance." Sam said winking at Emma. The boys laughed.

"You know it." Emma replied picking up her cast iron skillet and giving it a practice swing. Lou giggled hysterically. She was remembering the time she had clocked Tompkins with one.

The others eventually figured out what was so funny and joined in the laughter. "That has to be a woman thing. I should have known then that Lou wasn't a boy when Tompkins said Lou had hit him with a skillet." Teaspoon added.

The rest of the night was spent celebrating Sam and Emma's upcoming wedding. Lou was very happy for them both but she knew she was going to miss Emma something fierce.

Chapter 17

The day of Emma's and Sam's wedding dawned bright and clear. It was going to be a beautiful day, the perfect day for a wedding. The express station was a flurry of activity as the riders all were preparing for the wedding.

The wedding was going to be held at the church in town but a reception was going to take place out at the station. The boys were busy with chores preparing for the reception. Lou had taken Emma into town early so she could get ready at the hotel and wouldn't have to worry about her dress getting dirty.

An hour before the wedding Buck and Ike arrived at the hotel; the other boys had gone over to the boarding house to see how Sam was doing.

"Emma ya look beautiful." Lou declared once Emma had placed her veil on. Buck and Ike both nodded their agreement.

"Thank you Loulabelle, boys." Emma said smiling over at them.

"Alright let's make sure you've got everything." Lou stated once the boys went out to see if Sam was at the church yet.

"Something old?" Lou asked

"My grandmother's veil." Emma said adjusting it.

"Something new?"

"My dress."

"Something borrowed?"

"Your silver cuff." Emma said pointing to the cuff on her arm, Lou smiled.

"Something blue?"

"Oh NO! I don't have anything blue." Emma cried.

Right at that moment Ike poked his head in the door; Lou hurried over and whispered something to him. Ike hurried away.

"What am I going to do Louise?" Emma asked on the verge of tears.

"Now don't you worry none Emma, I sent Ike to take care of it." Lou said trying to calm her down.

A few minutes later Ike came back in carrying a blue kerchief. He handed it over to Lou and told her Sam was at the church.

"Go on over Ike, we'll be right there." Lou said pushing Ike out the door.

"Loulabelle what am I supposed to do with that?" Emma asked pointing to the kerchief.

Lou grinned, "Hike up your skirt Emma; I'm going to tie it around your leg."

Emma laughed and lifted her skirt sticking her leg out. Lou quickly tied the kerchief around her left leg just above her knee. She helped Emma adjust her skirts and then escorted her to the church. Buck, Ike, and Teaspoon were all waiting on them.

"Emma you look as pretty as a blue bonnet." Teaspoon stated giving her a kiss on the cheek.

"Why thank you Mr. Spoon." Emma said blushing at the old man.

"Alright boys and girl, you best get on in there before Sam passes out." Teaspoon chuckled.

The boys laughed and then went into the building, making their way to the front to stand on Emma's side. Lou gave the signal to the piano player to start playing the wedding march. The backdoors opened and Emma walked in on Teaspoon's arm.

Sam had looked pretty nervous up to that point but the moment his eyes met Emma's a breathtaking smile stretched across his face. Once Teaspoon and Emma reached the front of the church he handed her over to Sam.

"Who gives this woman away?" The preacher asked.

"Her family does." Teaspoon said indicating all the boys in that. The preacher nodded and Teaspoon sat down on the front bench.

"Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to witness the joining of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. If there is anybody present that knows of a reason why these two should not be wed speak now or forever hold your peace."

The preacher waited a moment to see if anybody would object. The riders all eyed the people present just daring them to say something. Even if there was someone who had an objection, they weren't stupid enough to say anything in front of the riders.

"Samuel Cain do you take Emma Shannon to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward as long as you both shall live?" the preacher asked Sam.

"I do." Sam responded loud and clear.

"Do you Emma take Sam to be your lawfully wedded husband to love, honor, and obey as long as you both shall live?" the preacher asked.

Emma's mouth twitched at the obey part but she said, "I sure do." Her response brought chuckles from the riders and Teaspoon; they knew Emma wasn't about to 'Obey' Sam.

"Do you have the rings?" The preacher asked the couple, at their nods he continued, "Sam place the ring on Emma's hand and repeat after me, with this ring I thee wed."

Sam slipped the ring on Emma's ring finger on her left hand, "With this ring I thee wed."

Emma smiled at him and waited for her turn. "Emma place the ring on Sam's hand and repeat after me, with this ring I thee wed."

Emma slid the ring on Sam's hand, "With this ring I thee wed."

"By the power vested in me by God and in the presence of those gathered I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride Sam." The preacher announced.

Sam grinned as he drew Emma into his arms and gave her a loved filled kiss that lasted long enough to bring chuckles to some members gathered and for others to clear their throats. Sam and Emma turned to the crowd. "I am honored to present to you for the first time anywhere, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cain." The preacher stated.

Everyone clapped as the couple made their way down the aisle and out the church. The riders quickly followed after them. At the door the riders all took turns to congratulate the happy couple and then quickly left to go back to the station to set up for the reception.

It wasn't long after they had everything set up that the guests started arriving. Sam and Emma were the last to arrive. After the cake was cut the band started playing and the dancing began. Lou stood off to the side watching, Buck and Ike stood with her. They were watching the others dance.

Sam and Emma exited the floor and Emma beckoned Lou over to her. "I wanted to give this back to you before I forgot." Emma said slipping the silver cuff off and handing it to Lou.

Lou quickly took it and put it back on hiding it under her sleeve with a smile. "Sam's a good man Emma. I hope you two will be very happy together."

"Thank you Loulabelle. It took me a long time to find him, but I think the wait was worth it don't you." Emma said grinning over at Sam who was talking to Buck and Ike.

"I think so Emma." Lou replied grinning.

"You know Louise you're lucky. You met your perfect match when you were just a child. Buck's a good man and when you two are ready to marry I'll be here for you." Emma said smiling at Lou.

Lou hugged Emma tightly, "Thank you Emma and I know I'm a very lucky girl." Lou smiled over at Buck, who gave her a questioning look.

"Mind if I steal my bride Lou?" Sam asked coming up at that moment.

"She's all yours Sam." Lou replied with a smile and walked off. But she didn't head back over to Buck, she went into the bunkhouse.

A few minutes later Buck joined her, "Are you ok Lou?"

"Yeah I'm fine Buck. I just needed a few minutes alone." Lou replied sniffling.

Buck moved closer and saw that she was crying. Buck pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. His hand soothing her hair, "I'm going to miss her too Louise."

"You always know what I'm thinking dontcha Buck." Lou teased.

Buck laughed, "No not always. I have no idea what you were talking to Emma about for an example."

"Oh she was just giving be back my cuff. I let her wear it for her something borrowed. Then she was telling me how lucky I am because I met my perfect match as a child and she promised to be here for us whenever we do get married. I agree with her I'm a lucky girl." Lou said giving Buck a kiss on the cheek.

"I'm the lucky one Louise." Buck replied before kissing her softly with all the love he held for her.

The band outside started playing a slow waltz. Buck bowed and held out his hand, "May I have this dance my dear lady?"

Lou giggled and took his hand. Buck waltzed Lou slowly around the bunkhouse. The two never rejoined the reception. They spent the remainder of the party in the bunkhouse dancing with each other.

Two days later found Sam and Emma leaving for their honeymoon and their new life together. Emma was leaving pretty much everything behind. She was just taking a few family heirlooms, personal mementos, and some household items. All the furniture and most of the household items were staying behind.

"Emma I just don't know how I'm going to survive without you here to feed me." Cody teased.

Emma laughed, "Don't worry Billy, I wrote down my recipes for your favorite foods. I'm going to miss ya." Emma said before hugging and kissing Cody on the cheek.

"Take care Billy." Sam said shaking Cody's hand.

"You too Sam."

"I'll never forget you Emma." Jimmy said sadly.

"You'll always hold a special place in my heart Jimmy Hickok." Emma said hugging and kissing him on the cheek as well.

"Sam you take care of her." Jimmy stated with a deadly stare at Sam that spoke of what he would do if Sam didn't.

"Stay out of trouble Hickok." Sam laughed shaking Jimmy's hand.

"I'm going to miss you Emma, you're a real special lady."

"I'll miss you too Kid, take care of yourself." Emma stated hugging the boy and kissing his cheek.

"Kid." Sam stated shaking his hand.

"Sam." Kid replied as he shook Sam's hand.

"I love you Emma just like my own ma." Ike signed tears in his eyes.

"I know Ike, I love you too. Take care of yourself." Emma replied tears threatening to fall as she hugged the boy tightly and kissed his cheek.

"Ike don't talk so much." Sam teased. Ike snorted and shook Sam's hand, laughter in his eyes.

"I love you Emma. It's not going to be the same around here without ya." Lou cried hugging Emma.

"I love you too Loulabelle. You write as much as you can and remember what I said, I'll be here for you." Emma cried as she held the young girl to herself.

"Sam you take care of yourself and Emma." Lou said after she broke away from Emma.

"Louise try to keep these boys in line." Sam stated as he hugged the girl and kissed her cheek. Lou laughed.

"Thank you Emma for treating me the same as the others. I'm going to miss you." Buck said quietly.

Emma put her hand on Buck's cheek, "you are a good man Buck Cross, don't you ever forget that. Take care of Louise for me and I love you."

Emma hugged Buck tightly and he whispered, "I love you too."

After Emma stepped back Buck shook Sam's hand, "Take care Sam."

"You too Buck."

"Sam, Emma ride safe and write as soon as you get settled." Teaspoon said to the couple.

"Thank you Mr. Spoon and take care of my boys and girl." Emma stated.

"Like they was my very own." Teaspoon said with a wink, they both knew he already thought of them that way.

"Teaspoon, thanks for filling in as marshal. I'll try to get a permanent replacement here as soon as I can. And try to keep Barnett alive, I know he's a pain but he means well." Sam stated shaking Teaspoon's hand.

"I'll do my best Sam." Teaspoon laughed.

Sam helped Emma into the wagon. "I love ya'll and will write as soon as I can." Emma called to them.

"We love you too!" they all called together.

As Sam and Emma drove away the riders and Teaspoon watched. "Ride Safe." Lou mumbled under her breath. Buck put his arm around her shoulders as she started crying. She turned to him and clung to his shirt, Buck wrapped her into his embrace as she sobbed against his chest.

She wasn't the only one crying, none of them had dry eyes. Most of the boys would later claim that they had dust in their eyes or had allergies. Teaspoon would claim it was an onion that wasn't present. Only Ike wouldn't deny he was crying.

When they could no longer see the wagon they all returned to the bunkhouse dejectedly. Teaspoon went into town to put up an advertisement for a new housekeeper and to check in with Barnett. They all knew they would need a new housekeeper but they knew Emma could never be replaced in their hearts.

Emma was the mother that they all had needed. All of their own mothers had died way too young and most of them tragically. They knew they might find a replacement for a housekeeper but they never would replace the woman who had become their mother.

Chapter 18

It had been two weeks since Emma and Sam left Sweetwater, during that time the town had gone through two marshals, it looked like Teaspoon was going to be the permanent replacement. The riders were having even worse luck with housekeepers. So far the record stay was a grand total of three days. At the rate they were going they would go through every single woman in the territory in a couple of months. They just couldn't find a woman who could hold a candle to Emma.

One day while Teaspoon was attending his marshaling duties a young black man walked in, "Cuse me sir, but I noticed your help wanted sign."

Teaspoon looked up from the paperwork he was working on, "Well now I don't think you'd be interested in that son. The position's for a housekeeper at the Pony Express station."

The black man laughed, "No I reckon I wouldn't be. You wouldn't happen to know of anybody else hiring?"

Teaspoon scratched his chin, "What's your name son?"

"Noah Dixon." Noah said holding out his hand for Teaspoon to shake which he did.

"Can you ride Mr. Dixon?" Teaspoon asked eyeing the boy up and down.

"Yes sir I sure can. I can read and write too." Noah said.

Teaspoon chuckled, "that wouldn't make no never mind if you couldn't. I notice you're wearing a whip, do you not know how to shoot?"

"I know how to, I just prefer not to, less likely to end up on the wrong end of a rope that a way." Noah stated with a crooked grin.

Teaspoon smirked and nodded his head, "Well if you're going to be one of my riders you're going have to wear a gun."

"A rider sir?" Noah asked confused.

"Name's Teaspoon Hunter, I'm the acting marshal and the station master for the Pony Express here. I could us another rider, pays pretty decent; you get a warm bunk and food. Although right now food ain't the best. Our station mother recently married the town's old marshal, he got sent to Fort Kearny to be territorial marshal. We've been having trouble finding a replacement for her."

Noah smiled, "I'd like to give it a try Mr. Hunter."

"Just call me Teaspoon, that Mr. Hunter stuff makes me feel old." Teaspoon said with a wry grin.

"Excuse me gentlemen, but I was told I could find a Mr. Teaspoon Hunter here." A female voice said from the doorway.

The two men turned to look at the buxomy beauty standing there. Teaspoon tipped his hat to her. "You found him ma'am, I'm Teaspoon Hunter. What can I do you for?"

"The man at the general store told me to speak with you about a job as housekeeper at the express station." The woman said with a smile.

"What's your name ma'am?" Teaspoon asked.

"Oh I'm sorry, I'm Rachel Dunne." Rachel introduced herself.

"Ms. Dunne we are looking for a new housekeeper but the job is more than just cleaning. You'll be expected to cook, clean, care for, and try to keep in line myself, plus six riders, seven counting Noah here who just signed on. Think ya can handle em?" Teaspoon asked with a grin. He was curious to see if his riders could handle this beauty.

"I sure like to give it a try Mr. Hunter." Rachel replied grinning.

"Call me Teaspoon."

"Only if you call me Rachel."

"Deal. Well I was just fixing to take Noah out to the station, ya got a horse Rachel?" Teaspoon asked looking at her.

"Yes." Rachel replied.

"Good ya can come along now then; I'll send one of the boys back with the buckboard to pick up any belongings ya got." Teaspoon said leading the two outside to the waiting horses.

On the way out to the station Noah asked, "What can you tell me about the other riders Teaspoon?"

"Let's see there's Cody, William F. Cody. He's a little cocky and the joker of the group. You're going have a time keeping him feed Rachel, that boy could eat a whole cow at one sitting." Teaspoon said laughing.

The two laughed along with him, then Teaspoon continued, "Then there's Jimmy Hickok."

"Wild Bill Hickok?" Rachel asked.

"Yeah that's him but he ain't like what's in them books. That Marcus fellow made all that stuff up to get back at Jimmy for embarrassing him a while back. He's got a temper, ain't going to deny that and he's good with a gun but he's a good kid underneath. He comes from an abolitionist family." Teaspoon added the last part for Noah's benefit, who smiled knowing at least one of them wouldn't mind his color.

"Then there's Kid."

"Kid?" Noah asked.

"He won't tell us his real name, spect it must be embarrassing or something. Kid's from Virginia." Teaspoon explained.

"He going to have a problem with me?" Noah asked.

"Nah, he might of awhile back but he's had his eyes opened since then. Now the next three I'm going to tell you about are a special group. They all were in a mission school together as children. They got separated for three years but ended up here together." Teaspoon said with a chuckle.

"That's a lucky break for them." Rachel said.

"Well according to Buck luck had nothing to do with it." Teaspoon stated.

"Buck?" Noah asked.

"Buck Cross or Running Buck to be exact. Buck's half Kiowa, that going to be a problem for either of you?" Teaspoon asked.

"Nope, not for me. I'd say we have a common problem being accepted." Noah laughed.

"What about you Rachel?" Teaspoon asked looking over at the pretty woman.

"Never had any problems with Indians before, not going to start now." Rachel said.

"Buck's best friend is Ike McSwain. Ike had scarlet fever as a boy and lost his hair. Ike also can't talk; he can write and use Indian sign. Buck or Lou can teach you two to read it. The rest of us can translate until you learn." Teaspoon continued telling about the riders.

"Who's Lou?" Rachel asked.

"Lou is real special. And what I'm about to tell you goes no further than the riders at this Express station. If you can't promise that, you can turn back now." Teaspoon said eyeing them. At their nods he continued, "Lou is really Louise McCloud, she pretended to be a boy to get the job. She's like a sister to Ike, they were together at that mission school since they was around seven or eight. And she's Buck's sweetheart, they're sorta promised to each other."

"Sounds like a very strong woman." Noah stated impressed by the girl already.

"I'm sure we will get along fine Teaspoon." Rachel said thinking this girl must be pretty tough.

The station yard came into view. The riders appearing from various points as the call of 'rider coming' sounded. They were all waiting on the bunkhouse porch when the trio rode up. "Boys and girl this here is Ms. Rachel Dunne, she's going to be our new housekeeper. And this is Noah Dixon he's going to be a rider." Teaspoon introduced the two once they all dismounted.

The boys all tipped their hats to the new rider but they all just stared wide eyed at Rachel. Lou elbowed Buck in the ribs when his eyes shifted to her chest instead of her face. Noah chuckled at the little spit fire. Buck looked down ashamed of himself and mumbled an apology. Rachel grinned at the young girl liking her immediately.

"Rachel, Noah this here is Cody, Jimmy, Kid, Ike, Buck, and Lou." Teaspoon introduced the riders going down the line.

"It's nice to meet ya'll" Rachel said smiling.

"Kid, Teaspoon tells me you're from Virginia. If you'd rather I not be here I can just be on my way." Noah said standing in front of Kid.

Kid smiled, "I ain't got a problem with ya being here. This ain't Virginia as Lou once told me." The two shook hands.

Teaspoon sent Jimmy for Rachel's bags. That night around the supper table they all got to know each other better. "So what's your story Rachel?" Lou asked.

"Not much of one. I had a very misspent youth on river boats and in saloons. I could teach ya'll a thing or two about cards. I was married briefly but my husband was killed and I lost the baby I was carrying. I needed to move on to something else. I ended up here." Rachel told the group.

"Sorry for your loss." Several mumbled.

"What about you Noah?" Kid asked a few minutes later.

"I was born free same as my daddy. He would buy and free slaves. Made quite a few enemies doing it. I was about ten when some men in white hoods came to our house. They set it on fire and strung my daddy up from a tree outside. Sally our housekeeper escaped with me through a trapdoor in the floor, she raised me to be the man I am today." Noah told them.

There were several sad faces at his story but nobody said anything, they didn't know what to say. "What's your story Kid?" Noah asked.

"My family were dirt farmers. After my ma died I left to come out west to start over. My sweetheart Dorthia gave me the money to come out here. I'm supposed to send for her when I can." Kid said quietly.

"Hey how come ya never told us about her Kid?" Cody asked.

"You never asked." Kid pointed out, the others laughed at Cody's expression.

"What about you Teaspoon?" Rachel asked.

"Me? Well let's see, I've done a little bit of everything. Served in the army, paned for gold, did some cattle ranching in Texas, was a Texas Ranger for a time. Been married six times, twice to Indians." Teaspoon said.

"Six!" Rachel exclaimed shocked, the others snickered at her reaction.

"Yup…never did stick I reckon. Been widowed four times and divorced twice." Teaspoon stated.

"Ya know Teaspoon ya ain't got to marry 'em. You could always go to see the saloon girls." Jimmy pointed out.

Lou glared at him, "Jimmy that talk ain't appropriate in front of ladies."

Jimmy blushed, "sorry Lou, Ms. Rachel."

"No harm done Jimmy. What's your story?" Rachel asked.

"I'm sure you've read it." Jimmy stated in an annoyed tone.

"Yup but I don't believe everything I've read." Rachel replied with a grin.

"Good, that book ain't nothing but lies. My ma's dead. My father the man who was a hero to slaves was a monster to her. He beat her to death. I've got a couple of sisters; their husbands still work for the cause." Jimmy told the completely quiet room. That was the most he had ever told them about his family.

Noah shook his head and then turned to Cody to draw the attention away from Jimmy who seemed to be dealing with his demons, "What about you Cody?"

"Ain't nothing really to tell. Just wanted a new life." Cody said simply. The others thought it odd that the normally talkative rider wasn't telling them some wild story. It was unlike him.

"Now Ike I know you can't talk but I'd like to know more about you." Rachel said turning to the silent rider.

Ike smiled, "My parents and sister were killed when I was eight. I haven't been able to speak since. I was sent to the mission school where I met Louise. She was the only one who wasn't scared of me. The other kids thought if I touched them their hair and tongues would fall out. She was the only one who didn't think I was a dummy. She became my sister. When Buck came when I was twelve I got a brother and a new voice." Ike signed while Buck translated for Rachel and Noah.

"What about you Louise?" Noah asked.

"My ma died when I was seven. I never knew my father. I'd only been at the mission a few weeks when Ike came. I'd never had any siblings so it was nice to have a brother. Then when Buck came I got the best gift ever. My brother got a new voice and I met the man I'm going to marry." Lou said smiling over at Buck. "I'll tell ya when the mission turned them out when they were fifteen I thought I would die. Those were the longest three years of my life waiting to turn seventeen so I could leave. I never thought I would see them again. I knew I had to pretend to be a boy if I wanted to find work that didn't require me to be on my back. So imagine my surprise when I got hired on here and then those two showed up." Lou laughed.

Buck smiled over at her, "the spirits brought us back together." Buck looked at Rachel and Noah and told them his story. "I left the Kiowa when I was twelve summers. My village had been attacked by white trappers. Most of the women and children had been killed. My mother included. I had never really been accepted in the village because of the way I had been conceived. My mother was raped by a white man, so naturally the others wanted to blame the attack on me. My brother Red Bear sent me away to protect me. I've since proven myself a true Kiowa. Ike was captured awhile back and I rescued him. I had to go through my trials to prove myself worthy of being a warrior in the war parties. I did but my brother sent me away again because he knew it is a hopeless fight. He knew I had found a place to belong among people who saw my spirit not my skin color. He knew of my love for Louise."

"Are you two engaged?" Rachel asked the young couple.

"Not technically. We know we will marry when we're ready but it's nothing official so to speak." Lou explained.

After supper and the dishes were cleaned up Rachel pulled Louise aside, "Louise I know you were very close to Ms. Shannon and I don't want to replace her. But I would like to be your friend. If you ever need to talk girl to girl I'll be here."

Lou smiled, "I'd like that Rachel. Emma was like a mother to us, no one will take that place but I would like to have a big sister."

"Sister? I'd like that Louise." Rachel said hugging the young girl.

Rachel and Noah fit right in with the station life. Noah became a brother to the other riders and Rachel a big sister. And she was right she had a lot to teach them about cards. She was constantly taking their money. She'd give it back of course but she'd still win it every time. Lou wrote Emma and told her about Rachel, she made sure to tell Emma that she would always be their mother but Rachel had become a friend and sister. Emma was glad Louise had a female she could go to if she needed anything.

Chapter 19

On his way home from a run to Willow Creek a few weeks later, Kid was held up by a man named Dyson. He tried to take Katy; Kid managed to overpower the man and took him back to Willow Creek. On the way there he ran into the marshal and a posse looking for this man. The man was wanted for murder. Kid got a hundred dollar reward for his capture.

A couple of days later Kid was in Sweetwater with Lou, Noah, and Jimmy when the daughter of the man Kid had brought in walked up to him and slapped him. She accused Kid of helping Marshal Lambert murder her father.

Lou, Noah, and Jimmy went to talk to the girl to find out the whole story. She swore her father was innocent of the crime and that Lambert had murdered him because he was going to go to the governor to tell of Lambert's corruptness.

Kid decided to go back to Willow Creek to try and make things right. Teaspoon sent Buck to deliver a letter personally to the governor to tell him what was going on in Willow Creek. The next morning Jimmy, Kid, Noah, and Lou all rode for Willow Creek.

They split up outside town so no one would know they were together. Lou was one of the first to arrive. She saw a sign in the saloon window advertising for a new lady. Lou decided to try and get the job; she might be able to get information that way.

Noah came into the saloon shortly after Lou had started and took up a position at a poker table. When he saw Lou in the black saloon dress he grinned and waved her over to order a drink. "What can I get for ya cowboy?" Lou asked sashaying up to him.

"Whiskey." Noah ordered with a grin.

"Kid wants to meet at the livery tonight." He whispered when she sat his drink down in front of him.

Lou nodded and then stood up straight, "I just serve the drinks cowboy."

Noah laughed and shook his head as she walked away. He couldn't help but think how pretty Lou looked in that dress.

A little while later Jimmy walked in and moseyed over to the bar. Lou sashayed up to him, "Buy a lady a drink?"

"Sorry ma'am I… Lou!" Jimmy said as he turned and saw her.

"Louise actually, how do I look?" Lou replied with a grin, she could see she was making him uncomfortable.

"I think ya missed your calling." Jimmy said blushing.

Lou leaned in closer to Jimmy, "Meet us behind the livery tonight after dark."

"Hey sugar come fill a guy up." A cowboy in the back called to her.

"Be right there cowboy!" Lou called over her shoulder.

Lou walked off leaving Jimmy shaking his head; he couldn't help but think that Buck was one very lucky man.

That night Lou slipped out of the saloon and made her way to the livery to meet up with the boys. When Kid saw her his jaw just about dropped. "Lou what the hell are you wearing?" he demanded.

"A dress, the ladies wear them." Lou replied wrinkling her forehead.

"A 'lady' wouldn't be caught dead in a dress like that." Kid said emphasizing the word lady.

"Well I happen to like it. The others think I look nice." Lou declared holding her chin up high.

"You look like a whore Lou. It ain't right, you can't dress like that." Kid stated.

"Kid, Lou can dress how she wants, it's her body. Besides it ain't your place to tell her how she can and can't dress you ain't her man, Buck is. And Buck respects Lou enough that he trusts her judgment." Noah told Kid when he saw Lou's eyes start to tear up.

"Noah no man would want their woman to dress like that." Kid said waving his hand up and down to indicate Lou's dress.

"I think you might be wrong about that Kid." Jimmy stated with a grin at Lou, he wouldn't mind at all to have a woman dress like that for him.

"Lou it's too dangerous. You could get hurt." Kid turned to Lou trying a different tactic.

"Kid I can take care of myself. And I will dress how I want and do what I want. And you can't stop me." Lou declared and then walked away leaving the guys behind.

Lambert grabbed Lou on her way back to the saloon and tried to kiss her, "Well now aren't you sweet."

Lou kneed him in the groin and rushed away. "I'll be seeing you again!" He called after her.

The next day Lou met a man named Souder who had known Sarah the saloon girl that had been killed. She knew he knew something but he wouldn't talk. He was too scared. A short time later the saloon started getting busy. It was almost time for Lou's shift to end when Buck walked in having just arrived in town from delivering the letter to the governor.

Lou made her way through the crowd to reach Buck. He had his back to her when she reached his side and grabbed his arm. Buck spun to face her, "Lou?"

"Louise that's right, it's been awhile cowboy." Lou replied with a smirk.

Buck raked his eyes over her body, a lopsided grin spread over his face, "Can I buy you a drink?"

"Yes." Lou said as she pulled him over to the bar.

"Whatever the lady wants my treat." Buck told the barkeep.

"Whiskey." Lou requested. Buck arched an eyebrow at her.

The barkeep poured Lou's drink and Buck paid. "It's tea." Lou whispered after he walked off. Buck grinned.

A few minutes later Lou draped herself around Buck's shoulders and whispered in his ear, "The others plan to meet around sunset behind the livery."

Buck nodded, "When does your shift end?"

"Now." Lou replied.

Buck got a devilish grin, "think I could use your room to freshen up?"

"Oh I think that can be arranged." Lou replied and then turned to the barkeeper, "Harman I'm going up to my room now."

"Just remember Louise I need you back here by eight." He replied looking over at Buck.

"I'll be here Harman." Lou said before she headed upstairs pulling Buck along behind her.

As soon as the door to her room closed Buck had Lou in his arms, pressed against the door kissing her passionately. They broke apart gasping for breath, "You look beautiful Louise."

Lou blushed, "You really think so?"

"Of course I do. Why wouldn't I?" Buck asked looking at her like she was crazy to think otherwise.

"Kid said I looked like a whore and that no man would want their woman to dress like this." Lou said her hurt at Kid's words still evident in her voice.

"Kid called you a whore?" Buck asked looking at her.

"No he said I looked like one." Lou corrected.

Buck's lip curled in anger at Kid, "I'll deal with him later. You don't look like a whore Lou. I happen to like it; ya might have to keep that dress to wear for 'me' again." Buck said with a sly grin.

Lou blushed and looked down, "So you want that bath?"

"Not really… I want you." Buck replied kissing her neck.

"Well you know you have me Buck, but I think you could use a bath." Lou teased.

"Are you saying I stink?" Buck asked pulling back with a teasing grin.

"Well ya do smell like a horse and you're covered in dust." Lou pointed out.

Buck laughed, "Well I guess I'll take that bath then."

A few minutes later Buck was sitting in the metal bath tub washing the trail dust off. Lou had gone downstairs to get them some food to eat after he got done. He had his back to the door, so when Lou entered all she could see was his bare shoulders and the back of his head.

She closed the door and locked it after she put their food on the dresser. Buck turned his head to look over his shoulder at her. He gave her a devilish grin, 'You wouldn't want to scrub my back would ya?"

Lou smiled and moved closer. She got down on her knees, Buck leaned forward and handed her the rag to wash his back. Lou washed his back while she kept trying to peek at him but the way he was sitting wasn't allowing her to see anything.

"Alright back's done." Lou said as she handed the rag back to Buck.

"Ya mind turning around so I can get out, this water is getting cold." Buck said after she didn't move away.

"What's the matter Buck? After all you've seen me naked. Only fair I get to see you too." Lou teased as she got up and moved away her back to him.

Buck grinned as he got out of the tub. He wrapped a towel around his waist and walked softly up behind Lou. His arms snaked around her waist pulling her against his chest. He nibbled on her ear and started trailing kisses along her neck and shoulder. One of his hands moved up to her chest. Lou practically melted against him.

Buck suddenly spun her around and kissed her again. The passion and desire in that kiss was almost overwhelming. Buck's hands behind Lou's back found the fasteners to her dress. With a mind of their own, his hands undid them. He pushed the dress from her shoulders allowing it to drop to the ground.

Lou stood there in a corset and pantalets. Buck swallowed hard; he was fast losing control of this situation. Lou had been shocked at first when her dress fell to the floor. She could see the struggle Buck was having and decided to take things into her own hands.

Lou started kissing Buck again, slowly backing him up to the bed. When he fell atop of it she fell with him. Lou reached down and pulled the towel away leaving him bare before her. She raised herself up so she could look at him. He was stunning.

She straddled his waist, leaning down and kissing him, her tongue forcing its way into his mouth. She sat up and Buck's hands went to the clasps of the corset forcing them open. He tossed the corset aside leaving Lou in her camisole and pantalets. Lou started rubbing herself against Buck's arousal. She moaned at the sensation and Buck let out a growl.

He flipped her over onto her back and made quick work of removing the last of her garments. Once Lou was bare before him he took in her beauty. Buck trailed kisses down her body. Then he claimed her mouth once again, as he poised to enter her.

As the passion of the kiss took over Buck slowly entered Lou, she cried out in pain from knowing a man for the first time. Buck stilled waiting for her body to adjust to his invasion. It wasn't long before they began moving together. Their movements awkward at first quickly became matched and in sync. Neither one knew that sensations such as these were possible.

It wasn't long before Lou reached her climax; she clung to Buck crying out his name. A second later Buck's body stiffened as he spilled his seed deep within her. He rolled to lay on his back beside her breathing hard. Lou curled up against his side as she let out a contented sigh.

After Buck got his breathing under control he asked, "What have we done Lou?"

Lou smirked, "I would think that was obvious Buck."

Buck sat up his head in his hands, "Lou you know what I mean. I lost control, I made you my wife."

Lou looked up at him and could see he felt guilty. She sat up and put her arm around him, "We did nothing wrong Buck. We both love each other very much and we said we were going to get married when we were ready. I don't regret this. Do you?"

Buck looked over at her and gave her a soft smile, "No I don't regret it. But we can't let it happen again."

"What?" Lou asked confused.

"Not that I don't want too but until we can make our marriage legal in the white world we shouldn't be together like this again. I don't want people to look down on you if you became pregnant before that." Buck explained quickly.

Lou smiled at him and leaned in and kissed him. "I love you Buck Cross. And I'm glad I'm your wife now, even if it's not legal in the white world."

"I love you too Louise Cross." Buck replied with a breathtaking smile.

Lou returned the smile until she looked out the window and saw the sun was setting. "Oh No! We are supposed to meet the guys now!"

They quickly dressed and hurried to meet up with the boys. "What kept ya?" Noah asked when he spotted them.

Jimmy noticed the blush that stole across both their faces and started to laugh, "See I told ya Kid, Buck would like the way Lou looks in that dress."

Kid and Noah looked at their friends taking in their slightly rumbled appearances and the blushes. They both started snickering. "The governor is sending the army to investigate Lambert. They should be here by tomorrow." Buck said to distract them away from him and Lou.

"I know somebody who might know what really happened but he's scared." Lou added.

"Work on him Lou. See if you can get him to meet me tonight." Kid said. Lou nodded.

The guys all agreed to meet up in Lou's room after Kid's meeting with Lou's informant if she could get him to talk. Lou returned to her room and freshened up and made the bed. She took the two plates of food back downstairs, neither on had been touched.

"Did the food taste bad Louise?" Harman asked.

"No Harman we just uh ...never got around to eating." Lou admitted.

Harman laughed, "You know if you wanted I could use you as more than a barmaid."

"No thanks Harman, the man I was with is the only one that will be getting those services from me." Lou stated shaking her head.

"Suit yourself Louise." The old man laughed.

Lou spotted the man she had talked to earlier. She pulled him aside and convinced him to tell her what he saw. He had seen Lambert kill Sarah. Lou convinced him to meet with Kid.

Lambert had become suspicious of Kid and followed him to the meeting. He killed Souder and arrested Kid for it. Noah and Buck were already in Lou's room whenever Jimmy rushed in, "Lambert's arrested Kid."

"What for?" Noah asked.

"Says he murdered Souder." Jimmy stated.

"The army will be here tomorrow." Buck pointed out.

"Kid ain't got till tomorrow. Lambert will kill him tonight." Jimmy announced.

"Who's on guard tonight?" Noah asked.

"Lambert and one of his deputies." Jimmy said.

Lou grinned, "I've got an idea. Lambert likes me. I think I can get him to meet me here. Then you three can get Kid out and get out of town. After you're gone, I'll meet up with you outside of town."

"You sure you want to do that Lou, it could be dangerous." Buck asked concerned for her safety.

"I know Buck, but if we go in there guns blazing Kid could get hurt in the cross fire." Lou pointed out.

"Alright let's do it." Buck stated.

The others agreed and walked out to get into position. Buck bent down and untied his knife from his leg. He walked over to where Lou was standing. "Lift your skirt Lou."

Lou did as she was told, "what are you doing Buck?"

"If you're going to do this, I want you to wear this just in case." Buck said as he tied his knife around her thigh.

"I've got a gun Buck." Lou pointed out.

"I know but if for some reason he gets a drop on you, I want you to be able to defend yourself." Buck said placing a kiss to her thigh before standing up. He adjusted her skirt to cover the knife. You couldn't tell she had it on.

"I'll be careful Buck." Lou told him with a small smile.

"I know you can take care of yourself Lou. I love you." Buck said before he kissed her once more and left to join the others.

Lou went to distract Lambert. Things worked out according to the plan. Lou got Lambert alone in her room where she held him at gun point while the boys rescued Kid. Lou was looking out the window watching the guys ride away when Lambert took advantage of her momentary distraction.

He had her pinned beneath him hitting her across her face, "You're going to pay for that you little whore, but first I think I'll get what I came here for." Lambert said as he started ripping at Lou's clothes.

Lou reached down and pulled the hem of her skirt up to get at the knife. She pulled it from the sheath and quickly stabbed the knife into Lambert's side. His eyes widened in horror as he slowly loss conscious.

Lou pushed him off of her and then pulled the knife from his side. She wiped the blade on his shirt and put it back in its sheath. She knelt down to feel for a pulse in Lambert's neck, he didn't have one. After quickly changing clothes she rushed away, meeting up with the boys a few hours later.

Buck rushed to her side when he saw her coming. She vaulted off her horse and into his arms. Buck took in the bruise on her face, "What happened Lou?" he asked while she cried against his chest.

"He got the drop on me Buck. He tried to rape me … I … I killed him with your knife." Lou cried.

"He deserved it Lou." Buck stated as he looked over at the guys. They had heard everything she had said.

They decided to wait for the army so they could tell them what happened in Willow Creek. That way there would be no confusion to the events leading up to Lambert's death. That way Lou wouldn't have to keep a look over her shoulder waiting for someone to come after her for his murder. After their story was told the riders returned to Sweetwater.

Chapter 20

A few days later Lou couldn't quit thinking about what she had shared with Buck and how it had been tarnished by what Lambert had tried to do. If Buck hadn't given her that knife he would have raped her. Every time she thought about how close he came she would start crying.

Then she would never fail to think about Buck's words after they had 'danced'. He didn't regret it but he said they couldn't do it again until they married in the white world. He didn't want her to be shamed by carrying a baby out of wedlock in their eyes.

Lou understood his reasons, she really did but what if she was already pregnant? What if she had conceived the one time they were together? Lou had already talked to Rachel about what had happened in Willow Creek, she told her everything but Lou really needed a mother to talk to. She needed Emma.

Knowing what she had to do she went into Sweetwater to talk to Teaspoon. She found him napping at his desk. "Teaspoon!" she called out startling the old man.

"Lou ya trying to give a body a heart attack?" Teaspoon complained sitting up straight in his chair.

Lou laughed, "Well if you weren't sleeping on the job I wouldn't have startled you." Lou pointed out teasing.

"Point taken," Teaspoon grinned. "What can I do for ya sweetheart?"

"I was actually hoping I could have a few days off. I want to go visit Emma." Lou said looking at Teaspoon with a hopeful expression.

Teaspoon looked at the beautiful young girl in front of him. He knew something had happened in Willow Creek but none of the guys would talk about it. "This have anything to do with what happened in Willow Creek a few days ago?"

"Yes it does … I'd rather not go into it with you Teaspoon. I need Emma." Lou replied not meeting his eyes.

"Have ya talked to Rachel? She might be helpful." Teaspoon suggested.

"I have and she helped but I need Emma, I need my mother." Lou cried, tears filling her eyes.

Teaspoon did the only thing he could think of, he hugged her while she cried. "Ok Louise if that's what ya need, you take as much time off as ya need. The boys can handle it. Did ya want Buck to go with you?" Lou shook her head no. "Ike then?"

"No Teaspoon, I'd rather just go alone." Lou insisted.

"Well if you're sure. Ya can leave out at first light." Teaspoon stated.

"Thanks Teaspoon." Lou said walking out the door.

Back at the station Lou started packing her things for her trip. She asked Rachel to fix her some food for the road. She didn't know how long she be gone so she packed several change of clothes. Buck walked in just as she was closing her bags. He had just got back from a run and had the next two days off; he was looking forward to spending them with Lou.

Buck took in the sight of her packing for what appeared to be a long trip and his heart lodged in his throat. "Where are ya going Lou?"

Lou turned to look at him, a look of panic in her eyes, "I … I was … I'm going to see Emma."

"By yourself?" Buck asked. At her nod he asked, "How long are you going to be gone?"

"I don't know yet Buck." Lou stated not meeting his eyes.

Buck tilted her chin up so she had to look at him, "Louise if I did something wrong, you'd tell me right?" Buck asked in Kiowa since Kid just walked in.

"No you haven't done anything wrong Buck, it's just with what happened between us and then with what Lambert almost did, I just need to talk to my mother." Lou replied in Kiowa.

Kid looked over at them and realized he had walked in on a private conversation quickly apologized and walked out. Buck sat down on his bunk and pulled Lou down to sit next to him. "Lou we talked about that. What we shared was right; we just can't share it again until we marry in the white world. And what Lambert almost did wasn't your fault. You did what you had to do to protect yourself. And spirits forbid if he had succeeded it still wouldn't have been your fault. Nothing would ever change the way I feel about you."

Lou gave him a soft smile as her eyes filled with tears, "I know that Buck. But he tarnished my memory of 'our' time together. Even though I stopped him he still took away something special. And I understand your reasons for not wanting to be together again, I really do and I really appreciate it but Buck what if I'm already pregnant? What if I conceived that one time? What do we do then? By the time I know if I am or ain't everybody would know I had gotten pregnant before we married in their eyes."

"I don't know Lou. I'm sorry I didn't control myself better. I'll do whatever you want me to do. If you are carrying my child we'll deal with it together. Even if it means leaving Sweetwater to start over someplace where no one would know." Buck said softly holding her hands in his.

"No Buck. I don't want to leave my family. If I am pregnant, we will deal with it together with our family to support us." Lou stated.

Buck gave Lou a soft kiss before getting to his feet, "I better go get cleaned up. We'll talk more before you leave." Lou nodded.

The next morning just before sunrise Lou slipped out of her bunk. She dressed quickly. Once dressed she grabbed her bags and headed out to the barn. She was saddling Lightning when Buck came in.

"You weren't going to leave without saying goodbye were you?" he asked quietly.

Lou turned and smiled at him, "no. I just wanted to get my horse ready before I had breakfast that way I could leave out right after."

"Want some help?" Buck asked stepping closer to her.

"I'm just about through. Go on back inside and get dressed." Lou told him eyeing his long johns.

Buck smirked and went back into the bunkhouse. He got dressed and woke the others up so they could dress before Lou came back in. A few minutes later Lou walked in with Rachel right behind her. Rachel had breakfast on the table in just a few minutes.

After breakfast everybody lined up on the bunkhouse porch to say goodbye to Lou. They all had messages for Emma and Sam. Buck was the last to say goodbye, the others slipped away to give them some privacy. "Are you sure you don't want me or Ike to come with you?"

"No, not this time Buck." Lou stated. Buck looked down at his feet; Lou put her hand to his cheek forcing him to look at her. "I love you Buck Cross, nothing will ever change that. I'm going to miss you." Lou said as she hugged him tightly.

Buck pulled back and tilted her chin up with one finger. His lips claimed hers in a gentle kiss. "I love you too Louise. Don't stay away too long." He whispered after he broke the kiss.

"I won't." Lou promised and then kissed him again.

Lou mounted up and headed for Fort Kearney. When Lou arrived, she was utterly beat. She wasn't sure where Emma and Sam lived at so she went straight to the marshal's office. Lou had a strange sense of Déjà vu when she walked in to see the law man sitting in his chair with his back to the door, foot propped on the desk.

"Cuse me mister, I'm looking for Marshal Sam Cain." Lou said in her gruff boy voice.

Then man let his foot drop as he slowly got to his feet and turned to face her. "Marshal Sam Cain at your service but ya already know that Lou." Sam said with a grin.

Lou smiled as Sam crushed her in a big bear hug. "Emma is going to be so glad to see you Lou, but what are ya doing here?" Sam asked after he let her go.

"Just coming for a visit. I missed Emma." Lou stated not quite looking him in his eye.

"How long do ya have off?" Sam asked.

"Teaspoon said I could take as much time as I needed. Not sure yet how long I'm going to stay." Lou replied.

Sam held the girl at arm's length looking her over, "What happened Lou?"

"A lot … I'd rather not get into it right now Sam. I just want to see Emma." Lou said quietly.

"Alright let's go then." Sam grinned as he grabbed his hat off a peg on the wall.

Lou followed behind Sam. About ten minutes later they were riding up to a house that looked a lot like the home in Sweetwater. Lou's sense of déjà vu returned when she saw Emma on the porch shelling peas.

Emma looked up to see her husband arriving with a visitor. "Who ya got there … Loulabelle!" Emma cried when she realized who was with Sam.

Lou quickly dismounted and rushed to meet Emma. The two women met halfway between the horses and the porch embracing each other tightly. Lou broke down and cried against her mother's shoulder.

"Aw honey it's alright. I'm here. You just come inside and tell me what's wrong." Emma said to Lou, she looked over her shoulder at Sam asking him for answers. He had none to give.

Sam took Lightning into the barn and took care of him while Emma led Lou inside so she could talk to her. Emma sat Lou down at the kitchen table and poured her a glass of fresh lemonade. Emma poured herself a glass and sat across from her.

"Alright Loulabelle tell me what's wrong." Emma said taking Lou's hand in her own across the table.

"Are you and Sam familiar with marshal Lambert out of Willow Creek?" Lou asked.

"Yes word came he was killed a little over a week ago by a saloon girl. They said it was self-defense, he would have killed her. He was a corrupt lawman." Emma stated her forehead wrinkling trying to figure out why Lou was asking about him.

"That's right … I'm the one that killed him." Lou said.

"What? How's that possible?" Emma asked shocked.

"Kid took a guy in that had tried to steal Katy; the man was wanted for murder. Two days later his daughter showed up in Sweetwater and accused Kid of helping Lambert murder him. She told us that her father had been falsely accused and that Lambert had murdered him to keep him quiet. Kid felt awful so he went back to Willow Creek to try to set things right. Teaspoon sent Buck with a letter to the governor telling him about what was going on. Me, Jimmy, and Noah all went with Kid. I got a job at the saloon to try to find answers as to who really killed the saloon girl. I found a witness who had seen Lambert do it. I convinced him to talk to Kid but Lambert followed Kid and murdered my informant. He arrested Kid for it. I came up with the plan for me to distract Lambert while the boys busted Kid out. I had Lambert in my room at gunpoint but I was momentarily distracted watching to make sure the boys got away. He got the drop on me. He started beating me, ripping at my clothes. He was going to rape me Emma!" Lou cried while Emma listened quietly to the story.

"What happened Loulabelle?" Emma asked softly.

"Buck had given me his knife to wear. He had tied it on my thigh under my dress, I managed to get a hold of it and I stabbed him. I killed him Emma, I didn't mean to I was just trying to stop him." Lou pleaded with her for understanding.

"Ya did what ya had to Loulabelle. Nobody is blaming ya for that. It kept him from taking something precious from you." Emma said patting her hand in a comforting gesture.

"But he did Emma! He may not have succeeding in raping me but he tarnished the memory of something very special." Lou cried.

"What do you mean Louise?" Emma asked confused.

Lou blushed and looked down, "we lost control."

Emma didn't have to be told what Lou meant, she knew. "Oh Loulabelle, honey I'm so sorry. Buck didn't force you did he?"

"No! Of course not!" Lou declared forcibly then softened to continue, "What we shared was very special. I'm his wife now in his eyes but he says we can't be together again until we make it legal in the white world. He doesn't want people to look down on me even more than they are going to for marrying him."

"Why would they look down on you more?" Emma asked not catching her meaning.

"You know in case I got pregnant before we make the marriage legal." Lou blushed.

"Oh I see; Buck has a very good point. But you do know you could already be pregnant." Emma said softly.

"I know that's why I came to see you. I need my mother's advice. How long before I can know for sure?" Lou asked.

"A couple of months if you skip a monthly or it could just be a few weeks until your monthly comes." Emma said.

"What do I do if I am Emma?"

"Have you talked to Buck?" Emma asked.

"Yes, he says no matter what we are in this together. He even offered to move us to someplace we could start over where they wouldn't know we hadn't been married at the time. But I don't want to leave our family." Lou told her.

"Well then I guess you are just going have to wait and see. And if you are you and Buck will just have to deal with the consequences together. But you two won't be alone. I'll be there for ya and I know Mr. Spoon and the boys will support ya'll and from what ya told me of Rachel, she'll do everything she can for ya too." Emma stated with a smile.

"Thanks Emma." Lou said getting up from the table so she could hug her.

That night after Lou went to bed Emma filled Sam in on what happened. "Poor girl, that's a lot of stress to go through." Sam said shaking his head.

"She'll be fine, Loulabelle is a tough one. And Buck ain't going to let her go through this alone." Emma declared.

Lou had been with Emma and Sam for a week when she knew for sure she wasn't pregnant. Lou was extremely relieved but also strangely disappointed. She wanted a child with Buck and she knew that if she had been pregnant Buck would have married her right away. As it was now she didn't know when they would make it legal.

Lou stayed with Sam and Emma a few more days before returning to Sweetwater. Emma sent letters back for all the boys, Teaspoon, and even Rachel.

Buck was in the barn mucking out stalls when he heard Rachel call 'Rider Coming!' Buck knew there was no one on the schedule so he hoped it was Lou. He walked out of the barn just in time to see Lou ride in.

When Lou saw Buck by the barn she rode directly to him. She dismounted and quickly threw herself into his waiting arms. "Oh I've missed you so much Buck!"

"I've missed you more." Buck whispered in Kiowa. Buck captured Lou's mouth with his own and gave her a heart stopping kiss. They broke apart and Buck led her horse into the barn away from prying eyes. Lou sat on a bale of hay while Buck took care of Lightning.

"How was your visit with Emma?" Buck asked while he brushed down her horse.

"Good. It was just what I needed. She sent letters back for everyone." Lou replied with a smile.

"How are they doing?"

"Good. Emma misses us something terrible but she's very happy with Sam. She told me just before I left that she's expecting." Lou announced.

Buck turned to look at her and grinned, "Really? That's wonderful news!" Buck stated happily. "Speaking of news, do we have any?"

"I'm not pregnant. I got my monthly while I was at Emma's." Lou replied.

"Well that's good then I guess." Buck said relieved and slightly disappointed.

Lou smiled at him, "I was a little disappointed too."

Buck laughed, "You know me so well."

"As well as you know me. But at least we won't have to deal with the stigma of having a child out of wedlock." Lou replied.

"No just the usually stigma that will be associated with you marrying a breed." Buck said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

"Buck you know I don't like it when you talk about yourself like that." Lou reprimanded him.

"It's what I am Louise." Buck argued.

"You are not a breed. You are a Kiowa warrior who just happens to have some white blood." Lou stated with pride.

Buck smiled and sat next to her on the bale of hay. "I love you Eyes of Fire." Buck said in Kiowa, he had told Lou some months ago the name he had given her when they were younger.

"I love you Running Buck." Lou whispered back in Kiowa.

Buck kissed her softly and then stood up and offered her his hand. "Come on the guys are dying to welcome you home and I'm sure they will be glad to get the letters from Emma."

Hand in hand the young couple walked to their family. Lou was hugged by all the boys, Teaspoon, and Rachel. Lou passed out the letters after dinner. Jimmy who had finally learned to read was thrilled he didn't have to get anybody to read it to him.

Every letter Emma had written was meant just for that person. There was only one thing she had put in all the letters and that was her news about the baby. They were all thrilled for Emma and Sam. They were gaining a new brother or sister and couldn't wait for it to get here.

Chapter 21

A month later Kid surprised the rest of the riders when he sent back to Virginia for his childhood sweetheart Dorthia. When she arrived the riders were shocked by the sugary sweet piece of fluff that she was. She was the epitome of a southern belle. Though her accent did tend to grate on some of their nerves, they all liked her a lot. She was prefect for Kid, the kind of woman who needed a man to take care of her, just the kind of woman Kid needed.

The first night after she arrived she was eating dinner in the bunkhouse with the rest of the Pony Express family. She was telling all kinds of stories about poor Kid, embarrassing the daylights out of him, but he didn't mind too much until one of them had to ask his name.

"Dorthia maybe you can help us with something." Noah said.

"And what would that be Noah?" Dorthia asked with a slight curl of contempt on her lip, she didn't like eating dinner at the same table as a black man.

"Well we were just wondering Kid does have an actual name doesn't he?" Jimmy put in when he saw her look.

"Why of course he does… I'm surprised he hasn't told you." She replied sweetly to Jimmy, batting her eyelashes.

"Well what is it?" Cody piped in.

"Dorthia please don't tell them that." Kid begged.

She smiled sweetly at Kid, "but Kid it's such a nice name … for a girl."

"A girl!! Oh come on you have to tell us now!" Buck said excitedly.

Kid cringed knowing he was fixing to be teased mercilessly. "Well his daddy knew he wasn't going to be around to teach him, so he decided to give him a name that would force him to get tough or die. He told Kid's ma to name him …" Dorthia started looking over at them all, a mischievous smile on her face.

"Name him what?" Lou asked finally not able to stand the suspense any longer.

"Sue." Dorthia said simply. Kid blushed bright red.

"Sue!!!!" they all said laughing hysterically.

"I can't believe your ma actually agreed to that!" Jimmy cried holding his sides.

"Nice to meet ya Sue would ya like to borrow one of my dresses." Lou said giggling hysterically.

Buck and Ike doubled over laughing with that mental image in their heads.

"Ain't no wonder why ya go by Kid." Noah said trying really hard to suppress his laughter but failing miserably.

Cody wasn't even bothering to try, he had done fell out of his chair laughing; he was still rolling on the floor whenever Teaspoon and Rachel came back in the bunkhouse.

"What's going on in here?" Rachel asked.

"Kid's name is actually Sue!!" Cody shouted out laughing.

Teaspoon arched an eyebrow at Kid, "Really? Sue?"

Kid could only nod; his ears had turned a bright shade of red by this point. "Alright boys and girl, you've had your fun. Let up on the …girl." Teaspoon said with a chuckle that set the guys, Lou, and Rachel off again.

A good ten minutes later they had finally gotten their laughter under control. Well most of them had, every time Cody looked at Kid he would start chuckling again.

That night after Kid returned to the station from dropping Dorthia off at the hotel the guys all teased him a little more, but then swore to never mention his name again.

"So Kid how long is she staying for?" Lou asked after she had climbed into her bunk above Buck's.

"Permanently, we are going to get married and settle down around here. I was thinking about buying the old Mitchell place." Kid said as he stripped down to his long johns.

"When are you two getting married?" Buck asked looking over at Kid.

"In a couple of months, I've got to get my land and stuff first."

"You going to leave the Express?" Noah asked.

"By the time I get my land and get everything ready to marry Dorthia the Express will probably be over anyway, we all know the end is coming as fast as those telegraph wires are going up." Kid said solemnly.

The others all looked at each other knowing deep down that Kid was right but wishing he wasn't. They had found a family with each other, the only family they had. None of them were ready to give that up.

Cody the natural clown of the group couldn't take the solemn vibe in the room anymore so he decided to lighten the mood some.

"So tell me…Sue … What is your last name?" Cody asked grinning. His calling Kid Sue set off giggles around the room.

Kid glared at Cody, but the corner of his mouth starting twitching when he realized what Cody was doing, "My full name is Sue Louis Kidd."

"So your last name is actually Kid?" Buck asked.

"Yeah but spelled with two 'd's' instead of one." Kid said.

"Why didn't you go by Louis then?" Lou asked.

"Jed is the one who started calling me Kid, it just kinda stuck and I got used to it, sides it's better than Sue." Kid replied with a grin. The others laughingly agreed.

With goodnights said all around, the riders drifted to sleep, with only a few more chuckles over Kid's real name.

Chapter 22

Dorthia had been in Sweetwater for a month and was slowly adjusting to the way of life out west. She had even gotten over her initial dislike of Noah based solely on the color of his skin. She found out that Noah was intelligent, funny, and a very caring man. She had even gone so far as to apologize to him for her behavior.

After a few weeks she had dropped the sugary sweet southern belle accent and just spoke in a normal Virginian accent. There was more than one rider grateful for that. Kid had been successful in his bid on the old Mitchell farm. He had a lot of work to do to it before it would be ready to move in though.

One day Cody came running into the bunkhouse shouting with excitement, "You'll never believe what happened!"

"What?" Lou asked with a grin from her spot on Buck's lap.

"I'm getting published! I wrote a story all about my life with the Pony Express." Cody practically shouted with glee.

Buck arched an eyebrow at him, his hand rubbing Lou's back. "You wrote a whole book about yourself… and somebody is actually publishing it."

Cody smirked, "Well not a whole book, it's a magazine, True Tales of the West. And it's about all of us."

"Really? When's it getting published?" Kid asked surprised.

"Copies should be here in a couple of weeks!" Cody grinned at his fellow riders.

"You better not have written anything about me!" Jimmy said angrily, he didn't need any more stories about him.

"Relax Jimmy; I changed your name to protect the innocent … namely me." Cody replied. Jimmy just nodded his head as he walked out the door followed by Kid and Cody leaving the two love birds alone.

Buck and Lou looked at each other and snuggled closer. "I think we were making them uncomfortable." Buck whispered.

"They'll get over it." Lou replied as she leaned in and gave him a soft kiss. Ever since they had lost control that one time they had been very careful about keeping their kisses short.

They pulled apart and Lou slid off his lap. "Come on we might as well get to work on our chores." Lou said. Buck got up and followed her out the door.

Two weeks later Cody walked into Tompkins' store. "Are they here yet Tompkins?"

"Just came in on the stage. Have to say I'm right glad of it." Tompkins replied with a grin at Cody.

"You looking forward to reading what I wrote?" Cody asked smiling a big goofy grin.

'I'm looking forward to you not coming in here every day asking if they're here yet!" Tompkins laughed.

Cody smirked and shook his head, "Well where are they?"

"In that crate there, help me open it." Tompkins said pointing to a large crate.

Cody took the pry bar from Tompkins and pried the lid off the crate revealing his published story. "True Tales of the West: The Pony Express by William F. Cody. Ain't that something Tompkins?" Cody said holding up a copy.

"It's something alright. That's ten cents Cody." Tompkins said shaking his head.

"Here's a dollar I'll take ten of them so everybody can have their own copy." Cody stated as he handed over a dollar piece to Tompkins and gathered up ten copies and returned to the station to pass them out.

"Here ya are boys! Something good to read." Cody said coming in the door of the bunkhouse.

They each took their copy and put it away for later. "Ya ain't going to read it?" Cody asked his forehead wrinkling.

"I've got a run in ten minutes." Noah said as he put his copy in his saddle bags.

"We've got chores to do." Kid stated indicating him and Jimmy.

"What about you two?" Cody asked Buck and Ike.

"Rachel asked me to drive her into town." Ike signed.

"Lou's due back soon. I'll wait to read it after she gets home." Buck replied.

"Alright I better go give Rachel her copy before she leaves that way she won't buy one from Tompkins." Cody said before walking out the door.

A few minutes later Lou rode in and handed off the pouch to Noah. Ike took Rachel into town. After Lou dismounted Buck took Lightning into the barn to take care of him for her. Cody walked up to Lou and handed her a copy. "Here ya are Lou, your very own copy."

Lou took it with a grin, "Thanks Cody. I'll read it after I get cleaned up."

"Sure thing Lou. I've got to take Dorthia her copy, I forgot to give it to her while I was in town earlier." Cody said as he went for his horse to head into town to see Dorthia and then spend some time at the saloon.

Rachel walked into Tompkins' store to hear him chuckling while reading a magazine "Is that Cody's story?"

"Yes. Have you read this yet?" Tompkins asked as he shut the book.

"No, he gave me my copy just before I left. Is it good?" Rachel asked.

"Well, it's very interesting. You really haven't read it?" Tompkins asked trying to hide his smile.

"No why?" Rachel asked knowing something was up.

"Umm… maybe you should skip page fifteen." Tompkins said.

Rachel snatched the book out of Tompkins' hand, "Fifteen you say?" she flipped to the right page and started reading aloud. "Rachel Dunne came to replace Emma after Emma had married the local marshal and left Sweetwater. Now that is one woman who can really fill out a blouse." Rachel gasped but continued reading. "We didn't care if she could cook or not when she looked that good buttering a roll."

Tompkins started chuckling again. "I'm going to kill him." Rachel declared tossing the book back to Tompkins and storming outside to where Ike was sitting on the buckboard reading Cody's book, an angry expression on his face.

"What did he say about you?" Rachel asked.

Ike looked up to see Rachel's expression and knew Cody had said something rude about her. He handed her the book and pointed to the spot. "Ike McSwain now there was a strange fellow. Ike really stands out with his bald head, having lost his hair to Scarlett Fever. But to make matters worse he can't talk. His best friend a half breed taught him to use Indian signs to speak. And let me tell you sometimes I wished he hadn't. Because for a guy who can't talk he sure can talk the hind legs off a mule." Rachel read aloud.

Teaspoon came strutting up at that moment, gripping his copy tightly in his hands. "What did he say about you?" Ike signed.

Teaspoon opened up to the correct page, "Teaspoon Hunter is our station master. You've never met a stranger man. The first day we met him he was bathing in a horse trough. Teaspoon is his nick name but we know it has nothing to do with his eating habits. If that was the case shovel would be more appropriate since he shovels in his food faster than a speeding bullet."

Ike and Rachel had to hide their smirks at that. "Let's go back to the station to talk to the others." Teaspoon suggested.

Kid, Jimmy, Buck, and Lou were all sitting at the table when they walked in. They were all glaring at the books in front of them. "Who wants to go first?" Teaspoon asked as he sat down at his place at the table.

Kid cleared his throat and began reading, "Kid was as green as they came but he was a quick learner. His sweetheart Dorthia recently arrived out here so they can marry. Why she wants to marry him I don't know, he spends more time talking to his horse than he does to her. Not to mention the fact that his real name is Sue."

The guys started chuckling. "I can't believe he put that in there!" Lou exclaimed snickering.

Kid glared at her, "I'm going to kill him."

"Johnny is a hot headed boy. When he first started he could barely keep his seat in the saddle. He's finally learned to read, it only took him nineteen years." Jimmy read next.

"At least he didn't call you 'Wild Bill Hickok'." Lou pointed out before she started reading what he wrote about her. "Every group has a runt of the litter, Lou was ours. Even though he was barely strong enough to lift the mail bag we kept him on as sort of a mascot."

"At least he didn't call you a girl." Teaspoon pointed out laughing.

"He knows I would kill him if he did." Lou stated.

"Well what did he write about you Buck?" Rachel asked.

"Let me read what he wrote about Noah first. Noah Dixon is a free black man who has a habit of buying and freeing slaves. Instead of a gun he wears a silver handle whip at his side that he even sleeps with under his pillow at night." Buck read aloud.

"Well that's not too bad." Teaspoon stated.

"Running Buck Cross is a half breed. His mother was Kiowa and his father white. Buck is unlike anyone I've ever known. He's superstitious and jumpy over the littlest things; don't ever talk bad about his spirits though, they don't take kindly to that. Buck was once described as 'Exotic, not quite savage but not completely civilized either.' I think that is an appropriate description." Buck read.

"He's going to pay for this." Jimmy muttered.

"Now boys it's a free country, freedom of speech and all that. But I know something even better than freedom of speech… the sweet taste of revenge." Teaspoon said with a grin.

The riders and Rachel all grinned as Teaspoon laid out his plan. They would wait for Noah to get back before putting it into effect.

The following day Cody walked into the bunkhouse to find Lou napping. He pulled out his journal and wrote something in it as he moved to the table. He noticed several pieces of paper on it. He reached for one and started reading it aloud, "Cody has the biggest mouth this side of the Mississippi. When he's not stuffing it with food he's spewing out idiotic thoughts." Cody put it down and picked another one.

"If Cody eats anymore his poor horse is going to keel over from sheer exhaustion from carrying his wide girth." Cody let out a huff and picked up another one.

Lou had sat up in her bunk and was grinning as she watched Cody. "If Cody doesn't kill you with his long rifle don't let him get too close cause his breath surely will."

"That one is mine." Lou said from her bunk.

Cody whipped around to face her, "What? Is this how ya'll really feel?"

"No we were just embellishing the truth a little like you did. Figured we might try our hand out getting published. Kid was going to take them on his run to deliver them." Lou replied smirking evilly.

Cody shot out the door to try and catch Kid only to find all the riders standing there. "We're not writers like you Cody so I think you should be the one to write the stories." Noah said handing him some paper.

"The true story." Buck added as he produced an inkwell and quill from behind his back.

"Think you can handle that?" Kid asked.

"I was just trying to be funny." Cody said softly.

"By making fun of your friends and family?' Rachel asked.

"I'm sorry; I didn't mean anything by it." Cody replied sheepishly.

"Next time Cody think about how people will feel about what you write." Teaspoon said eyeing him.

"And before you send anything else off we're going to read it." Jimmy added.

"Deal." Cody replied grinning.

Chapter 23

A month after Cody's story was published Kid and Dorthia married. Much to Dorthia's dismay it was a relatively small ceremony. Emma and Sam were unable to attend because of Emma's pregnancy, the doctor didn't want her traveling that far in her condition, but she promised to come visit as soon as the baby was born.

Kid was at the bunkhouse gathering his things when Teaspoon and the boys walked in. "Are ya sure ya want to do this Kid?" Teaspoon asked.

"Yeah Teaspoon, Dorthia wants me to be close. She says she wouldn't feel safe if I was gone all the time on runs." Kid answered.

"You know we would look after her while you were gone dontcha?" Cody asked.

"I know, but I really don't like leaving her behind either. Besides I need to focus on getting my farm running." Kid said.

"Well we sure are going to miss ya around here." Lou said.

"I'm going to miss being with you guys all the time too." Kid replied.

"Just make sure you two don't be strangers. Christmas is coming up after all; we want you two to spend it with us." Rachel said.

"Will be here for that I guarantee you that." Kid laughed, "Besides until I can hire a cook, I'm sure we are going to be here to eat as much as we can, Dorthia never did learn how."

The boys snickered and Lou rolled her eyes. "Lou do you know how to cook?" Buck asked suddenly.

The boys all turned to her with mischievous grins, she glared at them. "Yes I do, after you and Ike left Mother Agatha assigned me to the kitchen, I was forced to learn."

Buck grinned, "Well at least I won't have to worry about going hungry after we get married."

Ike smacked Buck upside his head for teasing Lou because he knew Lou was too far away to do it. "Thanks Ike." Lou said with a grin. The guys started laughing.

Kid got the remainder of his things and tied them on the back of Katy. With a last goodbye to the people that had become his family, he rode out to join his wife at their new farm.

After he rode out Ike went back into the bunkhouse to get cleaned up. When Buck and Lou came back in to find him getting into his best clothes they shot quick looks at each other.

"Whatcha doing Ike?" Lou asked with a teasing grin.

Ike's face turned red and he looked down as he tied his string tie. "Ike I would swear you were getting ready to go courting." Buck said with a grin.

Ike blushed even harder. "You are!! What's her name?" Lou exclaimed putting her hand on Ike's shoulders.

Ike looked up at them and could tell they were really happy for him and were just teasing him because they loved him. "Do you remember Tompkins' daughter Jenny?"

"The one that spent the last ten years living with the Lakota until the army went in and rescued her and some other captives?" Lou asked.

"Yeah that's her. I'm taking her to dinner tonight; because of her time with the Lakota she can read my signs." Ike signed with a slight grin.

"That's great Ike! What does Tompkins think of you courting his daughter?" Buck asked.

"I think his exact words were that at least it wasn't Cody or Hickok calling on her." Ike signed with a grin.

"Surprised he didn't lump me in there." Buck muttered.

Ike grinned as he looked at his two friends that he thought of as siblings, "Probably cause he knew you were attached elsewhere."

"Wait why would Tompkins think Buck was attached elsewhere when he has never seen Buck with any girl in town?" Lou asked confused.

"Probably because Tompkins is smarter than we give him credit for… he knows you're a girl and that you two are together." Ike signed grinning like a fool.

"How the hell does he know that?!" Lou exclaimed.

"Don't know but he does. I think he might have figured it out after the prank we pulled on Kathleen Delvin. Remember he asked you how you knew about the poison ivy and you said personal experience. Now why would a guy feel the need to hide in the bushes when riders approach a pond that they are swimming in?" Ike signed.

Lou cringed when she realized she had given herself away. "At least he hasn't said anything." Buck said with a slight grin.

"Yeah. Well you better get going or Jenny might get mad at you for being late." Lou said shoving Ike towards the door.

The young couple watched their brother mount up on his horse and ride to town. Cody came to stand by them then, "Where's Ike going all dressed up?"

"Looks like he's going to go sparkin' some pretty little lady." Noah said coming up at that moment.

"Yeah who's he going to go see?" Jimmy asked from behind Noah.

"Jenny Tompkins." Buck answered shaking his head slightly.

"Really? She's mighty pretty." Noah stated.

"Sure is… how did Ike manage to get her to let him court her?" Cody asked.

"She understands Indian sign from her time with the Lakota." Lou stated.

"I'd forgotten about that… she'd be good for Ike." Jimmy spoke up then.

"I hope so, Ike's been hurt enough by girls." Buck said softly his arm around Lou's shoulders; Lou nodded her head in agreement.

"What are you two talking about; I ain't seen no girl hurt Ike?" Jimmy demanded turning to them.

"You didn't see the girls at the mission. He had a few that would toy with a his feelings, then in front of everyone they would call him a dummy and say things like he had no business even thinking they liked him." Lou stated the anger in her tone evident.

"It wasn't any better after we left either. At one of the ranches we worked, the rancher's daughter was very friendly towards Ike, but she was just using him. When her pa found out she was with child, she claimed Ike had raped her. He hadn't, he hadn't even been with her, but she didn't want her pa to know who she had really been with, so she blamed Ike. I just happened to hear her tell her pa that, we were able to slip away before they could punish Ike for something he didn't do." Buck added.

"Plus most girls just ignore Ike altogether because he can't talk. That in itself hurts." Lou pointed out.

"Guess I never really thought about that before." Cody said thoughtfully.

"I've got one question Lou." Jimmy spoke up with a grin.

"What's that Jimmy?"

"Well we know what you did to Kathleen because of what she allowed to happen to Buck, and we've heard of some of the pranks you pulled in the mission when people messed with him. What did you do to those girls at the mission that did those things to Ike?" Jimmy asked.

Lou smirked an evil gleam in her eye as Buck snorted trying to contain his laughter. "You really don't want to know Jimmy. But rest assure they got their comeuppances and more." Lou replied evenly.

The look in her eye had all the boys scared of the little spit fire. "Remind me never to get on your bad side Lou. For such a small thing you sure as hell scare the daylights outta of me with that look in your eye." Noah replied with a slight grin.

"Tell me about it Noah… if I ever faced a gunman with that look I'd be scared shitless." Jimmy added.

"Can't believe you two are afraid of a girl." Cody muttered then. The look Lou shot him changed his mind, "Never mind I think I agree with ya."

Buck laughed, "Cowards." When they looked at him like he was crazy he just grinned, "I learned long ago not to get on Lou's bad side, besides the only people who really get on her bad side are those that mess with her family. I think ya'll be safe, from her more elaborate acts of revenge. Now the occasional little prank, I wouldn't doubt."

That night after Ike got back from his date with Jenny Tompkins the others were waiting up to find out how it went. Ike walked in to find Noah and Cody playing checkers. Jimmy was reading a book. And Buck and Lou were cuddling together in a dark corner, their hands not quite behaving themselves. Ike grinned at them and shook his head. Noah spotted Ike first.

"So how did it go?" Noah asked looking up at the silent rider.

"Good, I'm taking her to the dance on Saturday." Ike signed in reply.

"There's a dance Saturday?" Lou asked from the corner; she hadn't heard of any upcoming dance.

"Yeah it's the harvest dance or something like that. You haven't seen the banners and posters for it?" Ike signed.

"Guess I haven't really been in town for a few weeks." Lou replied. "Don't matter, I can't exactly go unless it's a costume ball, it isn't is it?"

Ike shook his head sadly. Lou hung her head. "I'll stay home with you Lou; I don't want to go without ya." Buck whispered in her ear. Lou gave him a grateful smile.

"So did she let you kiss her goodnight Ike?" Cody asked suddenly.

Ike blushed and looked down, his expression giving him away. "Knew ya had it in ya buddy." Jimmy spoke up, causing the others to laugh.

Ike ignored them as he started getting ready for bed. But he had a huge smile on his face. He'd had a really good time with Jenny, and she had actually kissed him before he even tried to kiss her. He couldn't wait for the dance on Saturday.

Chapter 24

The day before the dance Teaspoon informed Lou that she had to attend, but she didn't have to attend as 'Lou', Teaspoon was going to introduce her as his daughter 'Louise'. Lou was thrilled that she got to go to the dance as Louise and that she could actually go with Buck.

The day of the dance the boys were in the bunkhouse fighting over the single mirror trying to get ready. Lou was in the house with Rachel getting ready. Ike and Buck were both anxious to look their best since they were the only two that had actual dates. Jimmy, Cody, and Noah would be trying to pick up girls at the dance. Not that Noah had many choices; there were only a couple of women he could ask that wouldn't cause a problem.

As soon as Ike was ready he left out to go pick up Jenny, the boys all wished him luck. Buck made his way over to the main house to see if Lou was ready yet. Teaspoon answered his knock.

"Come on in son, the girls are still getting ready." Teaspoon said as he ushered Buck into the sitting room.

Buck and Teaspoon sat down and waited. Neither one speaking, Buck couldn't help but notice that the old man seemed a bit nervous himself. Buck finally brought it up.

"Teaspoon are you ok, you seem a bit on edge?" Buck asked with a slight grin.

Teaspoon looked up at the boy that was like a son to him and grinned a rather mischievous smile, "Well you young pups ain't the only ones that like to escort pretty ladies to dances."

Buck started chuckling, "So you're taking Rachel then. I can see why you'd be nervous."

"Ain't nervous boy. Just don't like wearing fancy duds is all." Teaspoon muttered.

"Whatever you say Teaspoon." Buck said grinning.

At that moment the women made their appearances. Rachel was wearing an emerald green gown that accentuated her ample bosom and narrow waist. She was radiant in it. Both Buck and Teaspoon let out appreciative whistles over her.

Louise appeared directly behind Rachel in a gown that Buck had never seen her in. It was a dark blue with a little lower cut to the blouse than Louise wore normally; the sleeves were bell-shaped with white lace at the ends. On her left arm was the silver cuff plainly visible for once. She was absolutely beautiful.

Buck could not take his eyes off of her as he made his way to her. Stopping in front of her he bowed like a gentleman and kissed her hand. Lou giggled at him for his behavior.

"You look stunning Louise. I'll be the envy of all the guys at the dance." Buck said huskily.

Lou blushed, "Thank you Buck, you look rather handsome yourself. Course you always look rather handsome to me." Lou added the last part in a whisper just for him.

Buck and Teaspoon escorted their lady loves to the waiting buckboard and helped them up. Rachel would drive the buckboard while the men rode their horses. Jimmy, Cody, and Noah all whistled when they saw the women, causing both of them to blush and for Buck to eye the guys, which of course got a couple of chuckles.

Teaspoon and Buck rode on either side of the buckboard, next to their lady while Jimmy rode in front, and Cody and Noah followed behind. They all arrived at the dance at the same time as Kid and Dorthia. Ike and Jenny were already inside.

Buck led Louise out on the dance floor and danced the first dance with her. Teaspoon claimed the second one. While Teaspoon was dancing with Louise, Dorthia came over to Buck.

"Care to spin me around the dance floor Buck?" Dorthia asked sweetly.

"As long as your husband doesn't mind." Buck answered.

"Oh no he won't, he's dancing with a friend of mine from Virginia." Dorthia answered.

Buck led her out on the dance floor. "Did this friend come all this way just for a visit or does she live out here?" Buck asked politely not really caring.

"Well she's just out here for a visit right now, but I'm a hoping that she'll have a reason to stay." Dorthia said with her sugary accent.

Buck was started to get a little uncomfortable, Dorthia had dropped the sugary accent after a few weeks of living out here; she only used it now when she was up to something. "You trying to play matchmaker Dorthia?"

"Oh no, not really. My friend actually thinks she knows you Buck." Dorthia replied.

"I don't know anybody from Virginia besides you and Kid." Buck stated confused.

"Really… well Camille isn't originally from Virginia, no she lived out here for a time as a child, but something happened and she got sent back east to live with her remaining family." Dorthia said.

Buck had gone pale by this point, "Did you say Camille?"

"Yes I did… she read about you in that magazine of Cody's and just knew you had to be the boy she knew as a child." Dorthia said smiling innocently.

The song ended and Buck pulled away searching for Lou but Camille found him first. "Care to dance with me Mr. Cross." The dark haired beauty asked.

Buck turned to her and couldn't help but stare. The young girl he had known all those years ago, a girl that he had been promised to shortly before his village was attacked and the women and children killed, now stood before him as a beautiful young woman. He swallowed hard and nodded, not sure what he could say to her at the moment.

Louise saw Buck lead the beauty out on the floor; she had seen Kid dancing with her just moments before so she went to speak with him to find out who this girl was. Kid saw her coming and met her halfway.

"Louise you look beautiful tonight. May I have this dance?" Kid asked smiling.

Lou nodded and took his hand as he led her out on the floor, "Alright who is she?"

Kid didn't have to ask who she meant, "Her name is Camille; she's a friend of Dorthia's from Virginia. She also happens to know Buck from before he met you. She lived with the Kiowa as a child; she was taken after his village was attacked."

"Why is she here now?" Lou asked in a near whisper, her emotions on edge.

"She read Cody's magazine and just knew that Buck was the boy she had been promised to as a child, she had to come see him. I just want you to know, I was against her coming here." Kid said.

Lou had paled considerably, "I'm sorry did you say they were promised as children?"

Kid could only nod. "I think I need some air." Lou said pulling away from Kid and rushing outside.

Buck had been watching Lou the whole time he was dancing with Camille. He knew the minute Kid had told Lou that he had been promised to Camille as a child because she had gone deathly pale. He excused himself from Camille and went after Lou as she rushed outside.

Buck found Louise in the alleyway between the buildings. She had her arms wrapped around herself and was crying. Buck walked up to her and pulled her into his arms. "Baby don't cry, please, I can explain." Buck whispered into her hair.

"That woman in there is promised to you and you can explain?" Lou said clearly upset.

"No Louise, she is not promised to me. When we were children in the village we were told that when we were older that we would marry each other, because Camille was white and I might as well be white. I never wanted to marry her, I thought of her as a sister, nothing more. After our village was raided and my mother and almost all the other women and children were killed and Camille was taken, I left. I knew I needed to learn the white man's ways in order to survive in the white world that is why I came to the mission and that is when I met you. I fell in love with you the moment I heard your sweet voice. I've never wanted to marry anybody but you Louise and I never will want to marry anybody but you." Buck told her as he held her gently in his arms.

"Promise?" Lou asked in a whisper.

Buck tapped the silver cuff on her arm and arched an eyebrow, "I think you should know the answer to that Louise, but yes I promise. I love you and only you and I always will. Now dry your eyes and let's go back inside. I want to dance with the most beautiful woman in the world some more."

Lou smiled as she took the handkerchief that Buck was offering her and wiped her face off. She handed it back to Buck and then she took his arm as he escorted her back inside the dance hall. Camille watched Buck as he danced with the little woman, her eyes narrowing in anger. Buck was hers, he been hers since they were children and nobody was going to come between them. She just had to figure out a way to get Buck alone. If she could do that, she could claim he compromised her and then he would be forced to marry her. Little did Camille know that Buck and Lou were already married according to Kiowa tradition and that Buck had no intention of going anywhere near her without another person present.

Chapter 25

The following day Camille decided to pay a visit to Buck out at the Pony Express station. As she pulled her buckboard into the yard, Ike, Jimmy, and Noah all came out of the bunkhouse to greet her.

Rachel eyed her from the porch before she stepped down to greet her as well. Rachel could tell this girl was trouble with a capital T. "Can we help you miss?" Rachel asked.

"Yes ma'am, I'm looking for Buck. I thought he might would like to join me for dinner tonight to catch up." Camille replied looking at the group in front of her.

Noah and Ike automatically disliked her, they knew who she was and had a good idea what she was up too. Jimmy however thought she was beautiful and wanted to get to know her better, he thought he might just be able to get her mind off of Buck.

Rachel knew what the girl was up to too and decided that she was going to open this girl's eyes to who Buck loved. "Buck's in the barn miss you can go on in and talk to him if ya like."

"Thank you ma'am" Camille said as she stepped out of her buckboard with Jimmy's assistance and then headed in the direction of the barn leaving the guys with Rachel.

"Uh Rachel you know Buck and Lou are in the barn right?" Noah asked.

Rachel smiled, "Of course I do … what better way for the girl to see that Buck doesn't want her."

The guys all grinned knowing what Camille was bound to walk in on.

Buck and Lou had been in the barn mucking out stalls. They had just finished and were currently nestled together in one of the clean stalls in the back of the barn. Lou who was still concerned about Camille had decided that she needed to show Buck how much she loved him.

Lou had already managed to get Buck's vest, shirt, and long john top off. Buck knew things were getting out of control but being a guy he still could not stop himself as he unbuttoned Lou's shirt and pushed it off her shoulders. Lou's hands went to the ties of Buck's pants as his fingers started undoing the buttons on her long johns.

Buck freed Lou's arms from her long johns leaving her chest exposed to him. He drank in the sight before he brought his mouth down to her breast and started kissing and suckling on them. Lou moaned as she pushed her hands into Buck's hair and pulled his head closer. Buck's fingers were just going to the buttons on Lou's pants when they heard a startled gasp.

Buck automatically shielded Lou with his body as he turned his head to see who it was. He had expected Rachel since the gasp had definitely been a feminine sound, instead he saw Camille standing there, with her hand over her mouth, hurt in her eyes.

Lou managed to pull her shirt back on and was in the process of buttoning it up as Buck slowly stood up holding his pants up since Lou had undid the ties. "Camille what are you doing here?" Buck asked.

"I … I … I came to see you Buck." Camille stammered out flustered by what she had walked in on.

"Why?" Lou asked standing up.

"Because … Because … he's … he's supposed to be mine." Camille stuttered upset.

"Camille that was a long time ago, we were just children. A lot has happened since then, we don't know each other anymore. And to be honest, I didn't want to be promised to you, I thought of you as a sister." Buck said placing his arm around Lou's shoulders.

"But …But … we are still promised Buck." Camille said.

"No Camille we are not … Louise is my wife in the Kiowa world … we have already become one. I'm sorry if this hurts you but I never expected to see you again. After what happened to our village I left and went to a mission school, I met Louise there. I fell in love with her the minute I heard her voice. I'm sorry Camille, I never wanted to marry you; I've only ever wanted to marry Louise." Buck explained.

"You're lying … that can't be true." Camille stated.

Lou stepped forward and lifted her sleeve to reveal the silver cuff. "You know what this is right?" Lou asked, at Camille's nod she continued, "Then you know Buck is telling you the truth. We are married according to the Kiowa and this is Buck's promise that he will always love me and come back to me. It's his promise that we will marry in the white world too. It's time you moved on with your life Camille. And I just happened to know a couple of really nice guys who would like to get you know you better."

Camille smiled sadly at Lou and then looked at Buck. Buck looked back at her with a look of sympathy. "Alright you're right. I'm sorry about … well um … for … well you know." Camille stammered out embarrassed.

Lou laughed softly, "I'm just thankful it was you and not one of the boys that would have been really embarrassing."

Camille grinned slightly while Buck laughed out right. "Come on lets go introduce you properly to the others." Lou said putting her arm around Camille's shoulder.

Lou led Camille from the barn leaving Buck to fix his appearance. Course Lou could have used some adjustments herself. While she did have her shirt back on, it was hanging out of her pants and she had hay stuck all in her hair.

As soon as she appeared outside of the barn the guys all started laughing at her appearance. Lou silenced them with a single look. She walked Camille over to the guys and started the introductions.

"Camille this is Ike McSwain, Noah Dixon, Rachel Dunne, and Jimmy Hickok. Cody is out on a run right now and Teaspoon is back in town at the marshal's office. This is Camille; she's an old friend of Buck's and is a friend of Dorthia's." Lou said making the introductions.

Buck came up at that point and plucked some hay out of Lou's hair. He grinned mischievously as he held it out to her. "You don't look any better babe." Lou muttered.

The guys snickered as they looked Buck over. While his clothes were fixed he did have a couple of pieces of hay in his hair as well and it was slightly mused from where Lou's hands had been in it.

"Why don't we all go inside and eat. Lunch is ready, Camille you are more than welcome to join us." Rachel said trying to hide her smile but failing miserably.

Jimmy offered his arm to Camille which she took. Ike and Noah followed behind them as they made their way into the bunkhouse. Rachel hung back with Buck and Lou. "I hope she didn't walk in on anything too intimate."

"A few more minutes and she might have." Lou admitted blushing.

"Who sent her in there, the guys knew I was in there with Lou." Buck asked Rachel.

Rachel grinned, "I did; I knew that girl had her sights set on you. And Louise told me about you two being promised as children. I thought I would just open her eyes to the fact that you were already taken."

Buck and Lou both blushed and then started laughing with Rachel as they made their way into the bunkhouse.

Around the lunch table Camille and Buck caught up on their lives since she had been taken from the Kiowa. Now that she wasn't after Buck, Lou really did like her and was trying to decide who would be better suited for her Jimmy or Cody? After lunch Jimmy assisted Camille into her buckboard and solved Lou's dilemma for her.

"Miss Camille would you like to go on a picnic with me tomorrow?" Jimmy asked.

Camille smiled and caught Lou's eyes. Lou silently encouraged her to accept. "I believe I would like that a lot Mr. Hickok." Camille replied.

"It's Jimmy." Jimmy said.

"Then call me Camille."

"I'll pick you up at Kid's tomorrow for our picnic then Camille." Jimmy said with a small grin.

"I look forward to it Jimmy." Camille said blushing slightly.

As she drove away the guys started teasing Jimmy, but he didn't care. That woman was beautiful and he looked forward to getting to know her a whole lot better.

Chapter 26

The weeks went by slowly. Ike and Jenny became closer every day, so did Camille and Jimmy. Christmas was just a week away and the whole family was going to celebrate together. Kid and Dorthia were going to be there, Jenny and her dad were joining them as well, and Camille was coming. And the best news of all was that Sam and Emma would be there with their brand new baby girl Louise.

Buck was in Tompkins' store trying to find the perfect gift for Lou. He had been in there for over an hour already and just couldn't decide what he was going to get her. He wanted something really special but he just didn't know what.

"You need some help Buck?" Tompkins called over after he had finished helping his only other customer.

"I'm trying to decide what to get a special lady for Christmas." Buck answered.

Tompkins grinned, "That would be Lou right?"

Buck laughed, "Yeah it would be. I have a question Tompkins why have you never said anything about Lou really being Louise?"

"I like that girl, she's a real spit fire, reminds me of my Jenny. She has a right to make a living that doesn't require her to well you know." Tompkins said.

"Believe me; I'm very relieved she doesn't have to do that for a living. Now what should I get her?" Buck asked looking around.

Tompkins scratched his jaw for a minute, "Answer me this Buck, how long have you known Lou?"

"Since I was twelve, so over six years." Buck answered.

"And how long have you been in love with her?" Tompkins asked with a grin.

"Six years." Buck answered grinning.

"Well then don't you think a ring might be a good gift?" Tompkins asked.

Buck stared in shock at the old man for a minute before a slight grin appeared on his face, "You know Tompkins I think you're right. I think it's time I got the pretty lady a ring and I know just the one she wants."

Tompkins laughed as he pulled the tray of rings out and placed it on the counter. Buck walked over and immediately found the ring he was looking for. Tompkins put the ring in a small velvet bag and handed it over to Buck after he had paid for it.

"Thanks Tompkins for the advice." Buck said tipping his hat.

Buck was just about to the door when Tompkins called him, "Buck… I just want you to know you've proven me wrong. You're a good man and I'm proud to know you."

Buck grinned as he held out his hand for Tompkins to shake. "Don't say anything about the ring alright?"

"Not a word." Tompkins replied.

Three days before Christmas Sam and Emma and baby Louise arrived. Everybody was thrilled to see them. Louise fell head over heels for her namesake. Baby Louise was the prettiest little girl any of them had ever seen they all swore.

Rachel and Emma immediately took to each other and spent hours in the kitchen cooking treats for Christmas. Sam and the boys stayed busy doing chores around the house. Louise, Jenny, Camille, and Dorthia all watched the baby for Emma.

Christmas Eve was spent with just the pony express family; the others were going to join them for Christmas morning. Sitting around the main house Teaspoon told the Christmas story. No matter how many times any of them had heard it; it was still like the first time hearing it the way Teaspoon told the story. Even Buck had to admit it was a good story, even if he didn't believe it.

The riders had decided that they would wait to exchange presents for when the rest of their guest were there. They had all drawn names so they could get a nice present for whoever they had drawn instead of having to get a gift for everybody.

Buck however wanted to give the gift he had gotten just for Louise to her tonight. So before everybody headed back to the bunkhouse he pulled the small package out of his pocket and handed it to her in front of everybody.

"I know we drew names but I wanted to get you something special so I wanted to give this to you now." Buck said softly.

The boys, Teaspoon, Sam, and Emma all watched as Lou opened the small package and let out a gasp. Lou raised her eyes to meet Buck's as a silver ring with a turquoise stone and a band that looked like it had been braided landed in her palm. Buck picked it up and held it out to her.

"Louise McCloud will you marry me?" Buck asked.

Lou squealed as she threw her arms around Buck's neck and kissed him with every ounce of passion she felt for him.

"Guess that's a yes." Sam said causing the others to laugh.

"Of Course it's a Yes!" Lou exclaimed.

Buck grinned as he slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her again.

After they broke apart they were surrounded by their family to receive many hugs and back slaps of congratulations. Many of the guys told Buck it was about time he asked her, considering they were already married according to the Kiowa.

The next morning the group was joined by Kid, Dorthia, Camille, Jenny, and Tompkins. Once they all heard that Buck had proposed to Lou last night they also had to offer their congratulations. Kid also announced that he and Dorthia were expecting their first child. Needless to say there was a lot to celebrate this Christmas.

After the presents had been exchanged and dinner eaten, Ike pulled Jenny aside to give her, her present. Ike had Buck help him make a beautiful beaded necklace to honor her Lakota heart. Tompkins wasn't exactly thrilled with it, but he was learning to control his tongue and open his mind. Buck had taught him that not all things Indian were bad, that he was judging all of them based on one group that had attacked his wagon train when he had first moved out here.

Jimmy had gotten a special present for Camille as well. He had gotten her a pair of pearl earrings. Camille was hoping for a ring but she settled for the earrings, it was a piece of jewelry after all that had to mean that Jimmy was serious about her right?

Sam and Emma and baby Louise stayed until after the New Year before they finally had to return to Fort Kearney. They promised Buck and Louise that they would be back for their wedding, which had been set for some time in the Spring. They would settle on an exact date closer to time.

Chapter 27

Jimmy had been seeing Camille for roughly four months when it happened. Some random gunslinger wanting to make a name for himself called Jimmy out. Jimmy who was having dinner with Camille refused to be called out. The gunslinger wasn't going to stand for that. As Jimmy and Camille were leaving the restaurant the gunslinger opened fire and hit Camille. Jimmy drew and shot him before the guy had time to blink.

As the man dropped to the ground dead, Jimmy dropped to his knees beside Camille. She was bleeding badly but Jimmy wasn't sure where exactly she had been hit. "Somebody get the doctor!" Jimmy shouted to the crowd gathered round.

"Camille baby hang on, the doctor is coming." Jimmy pleaded with the woman in his arms as he soothed the hair back from her face.

"It hurts Jimmy, it hurts." Camille cried to Jimmy.

"I know baby. Just hang on, keep your eyes open love." Jimmy soothed.

Jimmy was silently cursing J.D. Marcus, this was all his doing. The woman he loved had been shot because of that stupid book that Marcus wrote. He couldn't lose her.

The doctor arrived then and pushed people aside, "Let me through!"

He knelt next to the woman on the ground and quickly checked her responses, she was losing a lot of blood and if he didn't get it stopped soon she wasn't going to make it. "Help me get her to my surgery." The doctor said to a couple of men standing around.

Jimmy along with two other men carried her over to the doctor's office. "Mr. Hickok I need you to wait outside." The doctor said once Camille had been laid on the table.

"Please I need to stay with her." Jimmy begged.

"Alright just stay out of my way. Can one of you men ride out to the Express station and tell them what happened?" The doctor asked addressing the men that had helped carry her in.

"I'll go." One of them said as he left out of the doctor's office. A short time later he was riding into the station yard.

Buck spotted him first, "Rider Coming!" he hollered out. The others appeared knowing that something must be wrong; it was too late in the evening for visitors.

"Marshal the doc sent me out to fetch ya'll, Mr. Hickok's lady friend was shot tonight. I think it would best if ya'll get into town just in case." The man said.

Lou gasped, "Oh god Camille!"

"Saddle up boys!" Teaspoon hollered as they all went into the barn to hitch up the buckboard for Rachel and to saddle horses.

About an hour after Camille had been shot they arrived. Noah had ridden for Kid and Dorthia before coming into town, so they arrived with them. Jimmy was sitting on the porch at the doc's when they pulled up.

"How is she son?" Teaspoon asked.

"I don't know the doc kicked me out after he got the bleeding to stop but he hasn't come out to say anything yet." Jimmy said raking his hand through his hair.

"What happened Jimmy?" Buck asked squatting in front of his friend.

"I got called out but refused it. When we were coming out of the restaurant the bastard shot Camille. I killed him before he could blink. God Buck what am I going to do if she doesn't make it. I love her! But she could die because of me!" Jimmy cried out standing abruptly.

Buck fell back because of Jimmy's sudden movement. Lou offered him a hand up. "Jimmy this wasn't you're fault. You can't blame yourself for this. If anybody is to blame its Marcus, he's the one that created Wild Bill. But as long as 'Wild Bill' exists the people you love will be in danger." Lou said.

"Don't you think I know that Lou? What the hell do you expect me to do, live my life alone?" Jimmy shouted at her.

"Not at all Jimmy. What I think is you need to get rid of 'Wild Bill'." Lou stated.

"How am I supposed to do that?" Jimmy asked softly.

"Well for starters, you can change your appearance. Grow a mustache or something. Change how you dress, and for god sakes get rid of them damn colts! Every gunfighter or would be gunfighter knows them. Stop going by Hickok; go by Butler or something else entirely. If you want a normal life you've got to stop living by the gun Jimmy." Lou declared.

Jimmy grinned slightly and shook his head, "You know Lou you may have a point. If Camille makes it and still wants to see me, I'll do everything you suggested."

"She'll make it Jimmy." Buck said suddenly.

"I hope you're right Buck." Jimmy replied sitting back down.

The family all found seats and waited for another half hour before the doctor finally came out. Buck was the first one off his feet. "How is she doc?" He asked.

The doctor looked around the porch at all the people gathered and smiled, "She's lost a lot of blood but she's awake and looking good. As long as the wound doesn't get infected I'd say she will be just fine."

"Can I see her?" Jimmy asked standing next to Buck.

"She's been asking for you Hickok. Go on in, but only for a few minutes." The doctor replied.

Jimmy left the porch and walked in the sick room, his hat in his hand. Camille was sitting propped up with pillows, a bed sheet pulled up to her shoulders. She was pale but looked alert as she turned her head in Jimmy's direction. Jimmy moved to sit in the chair by the bed, taking her hand in his he brought it to his mouth and kissed it softly.

"You scared the hell out of me Camille." Jimmy practically whispered.

"I was pretty scared myself." Camille replied.

"Baby I'm so sorry you got caught up in this. I could string J.D. Marcus up for ever writing about 'Wild Bill'." Jimmy stated.

"Jimmy this ain't your fault. You tried to ignore that man, he wouldn't let you." Camille declared squeezing his hand.

"Camille I thought I was going to lose you. I don't want to go through life, worried that the people I love are going to be gunned down because of me. Lou made some suggestions about how I can get rid of 'Wild Bill' and I'm going to do them; that is if you still want me around. I can understand if ya don't." Jimmy said, trying to not let her see how hurt he would be if she didn't want him around.

"Jimmy Hickok I love you and nothing is going to change that." Camille said passionately.

Jimmy smiled, "I love you too Camille, but if I'm going to get rid of 'Wild Bill' you best start calling me James Butler. We are probably going to have to leave Sweetwater too, at least for a little while so people can forget me."

"You want me to come with you?" Camille asked.

"Of course I do… I want to marry you Camille if you'll have me." Jimmy said.

"Are you asking me to marry you James?" Camille asked.

"Yes ma'am I am. Marry me Camille and as soon as you're healed up we can leave Sweetwater to bury 'Wild Bill', then hopefully we can come back here in a year or two and be with our family again." Jimmy stated.

"Alright James, I'll marry you as soon as I'm healed and then I'll follow you anywhere. I just hope that one day we can come home again." Camille stated.

"We will love, we will." Jimmy said before he kissed her softly.

A month later James Butler married Camille in a private ceremony held at the Express Station. The only ones in attendance were the Express riders, Kid, Dorthia, Jenny, and Tompkins. Sam and Emma could not come on such short notice but they would be seeing the young couple soon.

After the ceremony the happy couple rode out of Sweetwater amongst many well wishes from their family and headed in the direction of Fort Kearney. Sam was going to help 'James' make a new start. The others didn't know if they would ever see their friends again but prayed that 'Wild Bill' would stay buried. If he did, there was good chance that James and Camille would return to Sweetwater one day.

Chapter 28

The months went by and winter faded into spring, the time finally arrived for Buck and Lou's wedding. Sam, Emma, and baby Louise arrived a week before to spend time with everybody before the wedding.

Sam and Emma brought word from Jimmy and Camille; they were both fine and so far nobody recognized Jimmy as Wild Bill. They had wanted to come to the wedding but thought it might be too soon, somebody might recognize Jimmy.

The day of the wedding arrived. It was going to be a beautiful sunny day, which was good considering that Buck and Lou were going to be married on the prairie instead of in the church. Teaspoon would be performing the ceremony.

Buck was in the bunkhouse getting ready with the guys, he was wearing a combination of Kiowa wedding vestments and white man's. Ike was going to be his best man.

"Ya nervous Buck?" Cody asked.

"No … um … yeah." Buck admitted.

"Don't be Buck, you and Lou are already married; this is just to make it legal in the white world." Ike signed.

"I know you're right Ike … speaking of making things legal, when are you going to make things legal with Jenny?" Buck asked directing the attention away from him.

Ike blushed and looked down. "I asked her last night. We didn't want to say anything because this is your and Lou's day." Ike signed.

Buck, Noah, and Cody all congratulated Ike. "I'm so happy for you Ike." Buck said hugging his brother.

"Come on let's finish getting ready so you can marry my 'sister'" Ike signed.

Inside the house Emma, Rachel, and Jenny were helping Louise get ready. Jenny was going to act as Lou's maid of honor. Not that she was closer to Lou than Dorthia, or Rachel and Emma for that matter, it was just with Ike being best man, she thought it would be appropriate for his girl to be her maid of honor.

Emma had just placed Lou's veil on her head and stood back to admire how beautiful she looked. Lou's dress was very simple; it had no frills, lace or ruffles. It suited Lou.

"You look beautiful Loulabelle." Emma said with a smile.

"Thanks Emma." Lou replied looking at her reflection in the floor length mirror.

"Alright let's make sure you're ready." Jenny said.

"Something old?" Rachel asked.

"My silver cuff." Lou said holding up her arm to show it.

"Something new?" Jenny asked.

"My dress." Lou replied.

"Something borrowed?" Emma asked.

"Your grandmother's veil." Lou said smiling at Emma.

"Something blue?" Rachel asked.

"Umm… no I don't have anything blue." Lou replied her forehead wrinkling.

"Here wear this." Jenny said taking off a beaded necklace and putting it around Lou's neck. Most of the beads were blue.

"Thanks Jenny … its prefect." Lou said giving the girl a hug. As Lou pulled away she caught sight of the ring on Jenny's hand.

"Um Jenny what's this?" Lou asked holding up Jenny's hand for the others to see.

Jenny looked down and blushed. "It's a ring." She mumbled.

"Did Ike give you this ring?" Rachel asked with a teasing grin.

Jenny smiled, "He asked me last night, we were going to keep quiet about it. We didn't want to take away from Lou and Buck's day."

"Oh Jenny I'm so happy for you, I've always wanted a sister, now that you're marrying Ike, I'm finally going to get one!" Lou exclaimed.

Rachel and Emma both offered their congratulations. They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Emma opened it to reveal Sam standing there in his suit. "The boys are ready, is the bride?" Sam asked.

"Yes I am Sam." Lou replied stepping forward.

Sam looked Lou over and smiled, "You look absolutely beautiful. Buck is one lucky man."

Lou blushed, "Thank you Sam, but I'm the lucky one."

"Are you ready to go marry that boy then?" Sam asked holding out his arm for Lou to take; he was going to be giving her away.

"More than ready." Lou replied.

The women headed down the stairs and out of the house followed by Sam and Lou. Teaspoon and the boys were already waiting at the designated wedding site. There were a handful of people from town there as well, but not many considering that most had thought Lou was a boy and Buck wasn't exactly all that popular in town. Tompkins was there and so were Kid and Dorthia. Barnett was there as well along with a few other town folk.

Lou didn't care, all she could see was Buck standing before Teaspoon. She had never thought this day would come and now that it was here, she just couldn't believe it was actually happening. Sam handed Lou over to Buck and the ceremony began. Lou didn't hear anything of what Teaspoon was saying, her attention was riveted on Buck, but she must have said the right things at the right time because she did hear Teaspoon pronounce them man and wife and then told Buck to kiss her, which he did quite thoroughly.

After the ceremony there was a small reception with dancing. Louise danced with all of the guys, Teaspoon, and Sam several times; she even danced with Tompkins once. But most of the dances were for her husband. Emma and Sam surprised the happy couple with the deed to the Sweetwater station as a wedding present. To say they were shocked was an understatement.

Lou and Buck didn't go on a traditional honeymoon but did spend a couple of nights alone together on the open plains. It was the prefect trip in Lou's opinion. When they returned to the station it was to find that Teaspoon had hired a couple of replacement riders. With the station already being short Kid and Jimmy and now that Lou was Louise she could no longer ride, so he had no choice. The two weren't a bad sort and soon became good friends to the boys.

Chapter 29

After a month of marriage Lou and Buck decided to talk to the guys about their plans for when the Express ended. They knew it was coming, the telegraph was going up too fast, and they just couldn't ride as fast as a telegraph.

Ike and Jenny were getting married, Ike wanted to stay in Sweetwater near his family, and Jenny didn't want to leave her father either, but once the express ended there really wouldn't be much work for him in the area especially when he couldn't talk. Noah had the same problem because of his skin color. Cody was thinking about joining the army and the two new riders didn't have a clue what they were going to do.

"Well Louise and I have been talking. We want to turn the station into a horse ranch but we can't do it on our own. Would you guys be willing to be partners with us?" Buck said to the boys.

"And Ike if you want we can build you and Jenny a house near ours. We both want you close by." Lou added.

Ike grinned, "You know I'm in."

Noah scratched the side of his face, "I think that just might be the best idea I've heard. I'm in."

"What about you Cody?" Buck asked.

"Well hell, I was only thinking of joining the army so I'd have something to do, I'd much rather stay here with my family." Cody replied with a wide grin.

"Tommy, Jake the offer goes to you two as well." Buck added looking at the newest members of the family.

"Well Buck that's real nice but I can't accept being partners. It just don't feel right, you boys have been together lot longer. But if ya don't mind I would like to stay on as a hand once the express ends." Tommy replied.

"Same goes for me" Jake added.

"You two sure?" Lou asked.

"Yes ma'am Mrs. Cross." The two replied. The guys snickered at Lou being called Mrs. Cross it still felt funny to them.

"Now boys how many times have I told ya, it's either Lou or Louise." Lou chided them.

"What about Teaspoon and Rachel?" Ike signed.

"We already talked to them. Teaspoon says he's getting too old to be partners with us, but he'd be happy to give whatever help he can. He says he's going to stick to marshaling." Buck replied.

"And Rachel told me that she will continue to be the cook as long as we want her." Lou added.

"Reckon then she ain't a going anywhere then." Noah said with a slight chuckle looking at Cody.

"Hey I ain't the only one who likes to eat." Cody responded good naturedly.

So it was decided that they would all indeed stay together once the Express came to an end. They got to work right away on building Ike and Jenny's house so when the couple married they would have a place to live. Cody and Noah both knew that when they found themselves a wife, they had a spot to build a house too.

Buck and Lou asked Kid to join them too, but he declined saying he would just stick to farming. They were disappointed but at least he was still in Sweetwater. They all wished Jimmy could come home and join them too.

Two months after the decision had been made to start the ranch Ike and Jenny married and moved into their brand new house just behind the main house. Ike wanted to be close to his brother and sister.

The following month Teaspoon surprised all the riders by up and marrying Rachel. That made marriage number seven for Teaspoon. The boys built a small cabin for the couple on the edge of the station yard.

When the express ended a few months later the Express Family Ranch opened. Buck, Ike, Cody, and Noah all worked hard getting it started. Lou helped as much as she could but Buck wouldn't let her do much since she was pregnant with their first child.

Buck and Lou had been married about a year when a wagon was seen headed in the direction of the station. A very pregnant Louise was the first to spot it. "Rider coming!" she hollered out as she waddled down the steps.

Jenny and Rachel came out of the house behind her as the boys came from various places around the station. Buck moved to stand beside Louise putting his arm around her shoulder as Ike did the same to Jenny. They watched the wagon approach. They did not recognize the bearded man driving the wagon but the dark haired beauty sitting next to him they knew right away.

"Camille!" Lou hollered.

Camille looked up at her very pregnant friend and smiled. The wagon came to a stop and the man who they now knew was Jimmy hopped down and helped his wife, who was holding their infant in her arms down.

They were immediately surrounded by their family. "James it's so good to have you back." Rachel said hugging him.

"It's alright to call me Jimmy around here, just not in town." Jimmy said with a grin as he hugged her back.

Jimmy and Camille took turns hugging each family member. "Lou you look bout ready to pop." Jimmy teased her after he had given her a gentle hug.

"Yeah well looks like Camille already did." Lou replied looking at the baby in Camille's arms.

Jimmy grinned, "This is my son Hunter Samuel Butler."

"Teaspoon is going to be tickled pink when he finds out you named your boy after him." Noah said then.

"How long ya here for Jimmy?" Buck asked.

"Well that depends on whether or not I can find a job. I know the express ended, so I have to say I'm a little surprised by all the activity here. What did I miss?" Jimmy asked as they were led to the porch to sit in the shade.

"Well you know I married Lou and you can see she's due any day now. Ike and Jenny married a couple of months after we did and Jenny is due in about three months right Jenny?" Buck asked turning to the small blonde.

"Yes that's right Buck." Jenny replied from her spot on her husband's lap.

"Once the Express ended we opened the Express Family Ranch. We're all partners in the horse ranch. We asked Kid to join but he decided to stick to farming. The two riders that Teaspoon hired to take yours and Kid's places are hired hands for the ranch now." Buck continued.

"Looks like I missed out on a lot." Jimmy said.

"Oh that's not the only thing you missed Jimmy, ol' Teaspoon done married up with Rachel." Cody said just then.

Jimmy laughed out right and turned to Rachel, "Think you can get this one to stick for him Rachel?"

"I think I've got it covered Jimmy." Rachel replied with a grin.

"So you boys think ya need another hired hand?" Jimmy asked.

"Nope." Lou said then, when Jimmy and Camille both turned to her with shocked expressions she grinned, "Don't need just another hired hand; we could use another partner though. Right fellas?"

"Absolutely." Ike signed with a wide smile.

"I think you're right Lou" Noah said with a grin.

"Well … I reckon we could always use another partner." Cody replied with a cheeky smile.

"Wouldn't have it any other way my friend." Buck added holding his hand out to Jimmy to shake on it.

Jimmy took Buck's hand and gave it a firm shake, "Partners it is then."

"Well let's get ya'll settled in the house. You'll stay with us until we can get your house built." Louise said standing up with great difficulty.

She led the way into the house followed by the women folk as the guys took Jimmy to show him all the improvements that had been made.

That night at supper the entire Express family was back together again including Kid and Dorthia, and Noah's new sweetheart Cassie. It was a time of great joy as the family was reunited after a little over a year apart. The dinner however was cut short when Louise went into labor.

Buck carried Lou upstairs to their bedroom and left her in the capable hands of Rachel and Jenny to get her changed into a nightgown. Cody immediately went to get the doctor; by the time the doctor got there Buck was nervous wreck. Louise's screams could be heard a mile away.

Buck paced anxiously on his front porch, while the boys tried to get him to sit still. Teaspoon walked up to him with a cup of coffee, "Here son drink this it will calm your nerves."

Buck took a sip and made a strange face, "What did ya put in here Teaspoon?"

"Just a little nip of whiskey, trust me boy ya need it." Teaspoon replied with a grin.

Buck tip the cup back and down it in one big gulp, scalding his throat in the process. But Teaspoon was right it did do wonders to soothe his frayed nerves. That is until Louise let out a scream that made Buck lose all the color in his face. He swallowed hard thinking he might have just lost the one woman he had ever loved. And then when he thought he couldn't take the silence no more, the sound of a baby crying filled the air and since Camille was sitting on the porch holding her baby Buck knew it was his child that was crying. Buck grin slightly before he promptly passed out.

Rachel came downstairs to get Buck just in time to see Teaspoon and Ike helping him into a chair and Teaspoon handing him a flask of whiskey.

"What happened to him?" she asked.

"He passed out!" Cody replied laughing.

"Ah shut up Cody, until you have a kid yourself you wouldn't understand." Jimmy said smacking the back of Cody's head.

Noah turned to Jimmy with a grin, "Don't tell me that Jimmy Hickok passed out when his son was born."

"Jimmy Hickok didn't … but James Butler sure did." Camille replied laughing.

Everybody laughed even Buck, who didn't feel so bad knowing Jimmy had done the same thing.

"You doing alright now Buck?" Teaspoon asked.

"Yeah… how is she Rachel?" Buck asked turning to the woman standing at the bottom of the stairs.

"She's doing just fine Buck, you go on up and see that wife and baby of yours." Rachel replied.

Buck got to his unsteady feet and somehow managed to get up the stairs without assistance. He passed the doctor on the way to his room. The doctor stopped him and shook his hand to offer congratulations. Buck smiled and thanked him and continued on his way. Jenny was just exiting his and Louise's room with the soiled bedclothes when he arrived. She gave him a smile and moved out of the way.

Buck stopped in the doorway of his room and took in the sight before him. Louise was sweaty and exhausted looking but she was radiant. Buck thought she had never looked more beautiful as she did at that moment holding their child. Louise looked up and caught his eye. She gave him a brilliant smile.

"Come on in and meet your son Buck." Lou called to him.

Buck approached quietly and sat on the edge of the bed next to her and looked at the small bundle in her arms. "He's beautiful Louise." Buck said softly turning to her and kissing her cheek.

"He looks just like his daddy." Lou replied placing the baby in his arms.

Buck looked down at the child in his arms and had to agree, that is until the baby opened his eyes, "Well he may look like me but he sure has your eyes."

A knock on their bedroom door got their attention. They looked over to see their family gathered waiting. "Can we come in?" Ike signed.

"Come on in and meet your nephew and grandson." Buck said to the boys and Teaspoon and Rachel. His other set of grandparents would be there in a few weeks to see the baby.

Buck got up from the bed and passed his child to Ike first. Ike smiled, the proud uncle. Ike then passed him along to Jenny, who passed him on to Cody. Cody gave the baby over to Noah, who gave it to Camille. Camille gave the baby to Jimmy, who passed it to Dorthia. Dorthia passed it on to Kid. Kid gave the baby to Rachel, who then in turn placed it in Teaspoon's arms.

When at last the baby was placed back in Buck's arms he sat back down next to his wife. "What are you going to call him?" Teaspoon asked.

"Isaac Running Fire Cross." Buck responded.

Ike grinned, he was the only one who knew why Running Fire, and over the fact that they named the baby after him.

"Well I get the Isaac part but how did ya come up with Running Fire?" Kid asked.

"Well the Running part comes from my name and the Fire from Lou's" Buck replied.

"Lou's… huh?" Cody asked confused.

"Buck named Louise, Eyes of Fire back when we were in the mission together." Ike signed.

"Why Eyes of Fire?" Noah asked.

"Because of the way her eyes would flash when she was angry. It was like she had a fire in them. Course I've since learned that her eyes get that fire in them at other times too." Buck said grinning mischievously at Louise who started blushing.

The guys all laughed when they realized Buck's meaning. Rachel noticed Lou yawning and immediately ushered everybody out and left the young family alone. Buck placed baby Ike into the cradle next to the bed and helped Lou to get comfortable on the bed. Then he picked Ike up and placed him in her arms.

Lou was asleep in a matter of minutes. Buck pulled off his boots and undressed before joining his family on the bed. Tonight was the start of a brand new life. When twelve year old Running Buck had stumbled onto that mission he had never imagined his life would lead him here, but he sure was glad that it had. He had found good friends; one became a brother, the other the woman he was destined to marry. And then the old friends had found new friends that had become a family. Yes life had definitely turned out much better than Buck had ever dreamed it would.

The End.

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