Chapter One

Sally Hickok got out of the bed, leaving Jasper lying there. He was sleeping and for some reason, seeing her husband still asleep annoyed her to no end. She walked to the dresser and poured herself a glass of water. She stopped when she approached the full length mirror and began studying herself. She looked like a spider, with her arms and legs still as thin as they ever were, while her mid-section stuck straight out. She was huge. She wasn’t this big with her first pregnancy, a fact commented on practically everyone. But she couldn’t stop the smile from forming on her lips when she thought about little Jenny Hickok.

Jenny was two and a half years old now and doted upon by most everyone. In fact she had her two grandfathers wrapped around her pudgy little finger. Jenny was staying with the Hickoks while Jasper and Sally were in Kansas City for a newspaper convention. Jasper decided that they needed some time alone and arranged for his parents to watch the girl, while he and Sally escaped for the week.

Jasper was very concerned about Sally. Not as concerned as he was during her first pregnancy, but concerned nonetheless. For a while, Jasper had convinced himself that Sally would die during childbirth, just like her mother. So he had gone out of his way to ensure that all her whims and needs were taken care of. Unfortunately Jasper’s attentions had driven Sally crazy. But Jasper had calmed down considerably once he saw that Sally was healthy after giving birth to their daughter. But he still worried and when Jasper’s boss, Mr. Schultz, told him about the convention, Jasper had persuaded Sally to come along. He wanted her to have the chance to get away and relax and he didn’t want to be away from her, just in case something happened. But Jasper had found a new worry. He now worried about something happening here, when they were away from home. He did however do his level best to keep it to himself.

But relaxing was something that was very difficult for Sally to do, especially at night, with the baby inside her, kicking at her ribs. She placed her hand on what she hoped was the baby’s foot and pushed down, relieved to be able to take a breath. She was due in two months, but she was already bigger than what she was before she delivered Jenny. She crawled back into bed and tried to sleep, but she kept tossing and turning, her back beginning to ache. She pressed her bulging belly against Jasper’s spine, while a small smile flickered across her face as she felt the baby kick his father’s back. Good, Sally thought, now he can know what it feels like.

Jasper began to stir as he felt the small movements against him. His eyes opened and he found Sally smiling at him. “Can’t sleep?” he asked softly.

“No,” Sally said irritably. “Your son can’t stop moving.” Sally was convinced that this baby was a boy. Why else did it move around so much? “And my back hurts,” she added, unable to keep the whine from her voice.

“Turn over,” Jasper commanded. When Sally rolled onto her other side, he began kneading her tense muscles. He kept on massaging Sally until he saw her eyes begin to droop as she finally began to relax. Once he heard Sally start to breath regularly, he stopped rubbing her back and placed his hand on Sally’s belly. No wonder she couldn’t sleep, the movements inside her felt like a small herd of horses. But Jasper thoroughly enjoyed the sensation. He still had trouble believing that there was a little person just beneath his hand. He hoped that Sally was right, that they were going to have a boy. Even though he loved his daughter, more than he could have ever imagined, the thought of a son was something he often dreamed of.

“Night Noah,” he whispered. “You get to sleep now, you hear. You keep moving about and your Ma won’t get any rest, then I’ll be the one paying the price tomorrow. So do your Pa a favor and keep it down some.” He continued to speak softly, as he gently rubbed Sally’s belly. They had decided on the name Noah when they had recalled how close Jasper’s youngest sister, Bonnie, had been to being named Noah, in spite of the fact she was a girl.

Sally opened her eyes and smiled. Whatever Jasper was doing was working, the baby was quieting down. She wasn’t sure if it was his words or his gentle hand movements, but Sally didn’t care what it was, anything to get that baby settled so she could get some sleep.

“Jasper,” she said, turning over and running a hand through his hair.

“Hmm.”

“You sure about not moving here?” Sally asked. While at the convention, the owner of the Kansas City newspaper had offered Jasper a job. He had turned it down, but Sally still had doubts about this refusal, and there had been others as well. In fact, Jasper had turned down every offer that had come to him since graduating from the University of Nebraska. She understood why he was rejecting them and she felt so guilty about it.

“Positive,” Jasper replied, taking one of her hands and kissing it. He knew that Sally would die living in a big city and then so would he. Sally didn’t belong in the city, it was much too confining for her. The few years they spent in Lincoln had been difficult for her. Jasper also wanted his children to get the chance to grow up with their extended family around them and be able to see the world as he saw it when he was a child. Seemed like every place was getting civilized and he wanted his children to appreciate the west while it still existed. “Besides I got a better offer.”

“What’s that?”

“A publisher read some of the stories I wrote about Grandpa Spoon and he wants me to write a book about him.”

“Really?” Sally said excitedly. “Why didn’t you tell me ‘bout it earlier?”

“You were already in bed,” Jasper explained. Sally had been out to dinner with some of the other wives while their husbands had been exploring the Kansas City nightlife. When he returned he thought she was asleep. “Ain’t that better than living here?” he smiled.

“Yeah,” Sally replied, pulling Jasper as close as she could.

Chapter Two

Kitty McCloud wandered through the streets of downtown Omaha. She was here to pick up some things for her wedding, which was scheduled to occur in three months. She was engaged to Martin Miller, the owner of the Miller ranch, one the largest and fastest growing properties in Nebraska.

Kitty wished that Sally and her mother were here, but then again, maybe she was glad Sally wasn’t here. Sally was a very poor actress and she had been having a very difficult time mustering any enthusiasm for Kitty’s wedding. And when Kitty’s younger brother, Hunter, broke his arm, Lou too had been unable to come with Kitty. So here she was, shopping by herself. But she didn’t mind, she needed the time alone. Time she needed to reflect.

Kitty’s brother Nick had married almost two years ago, to a lovely girl named Martha. Both Nick and Martha were the owners of the general store. After Tompkins died, Buck had sold the store to Kid, who had passed it along to his son.

It irked Kitty to know that her brother was married and only after being engaged for six months, while she had been engaged for over a year and a half. Even Ellie Hickok was engaged now and Jasper had begun taking bets on whether or not his sister would marry before Kitty.

Kitty sighed softly as she stepped into a store, a hat catching her eye. As she stood in the store, trying on the hat, she glanced out the window. Kitty grimaced as she saw him, Lucas Henry. Lucas was one of her father’s ranch hands. She would recognize him anywhere, with his close cropped dark hair and deep-set brown eyes. She despised everything about him, in particular, the way his face appeared to be chiseled out of granite and the way his muscles stood out in taut cords whenever he was working. Take now for instance, Lucas was putting his shoulder into a wagon, helping some farmer remove his wheel. Kitty stood transfixed, watching as Lucas strained to lift the wagon. “Show off,” she muttered to herself.

Once the wheel was successfully removed, Kitty took a step backwards. She was hoping that Lucas didn’t see her, but he did and when he looked at her, Kitty involuntarily put a hand to her head. She was surprised to see that her hair was not on fire because the look that Lucas sent her burned right through her.

Lucas was the reason she wasn’t married and she hated him for that. No matter what she did, Kitty couldn’t seem to stay away from Lucas. Not that he ever tried to make it easy for her. He was always around, like now, here he was in Omaha. Kitty was sure that he was here only because she was.

“I’ll be right back,” she told the storekeeper, as she stepped outside. She marched to Lucas’ side and demanded, “Why are you here?”

“I volunteered to help you and your packages get home,” Lucas said easily. “Seems as if your Pa didn’t think you could manage on your own and he needed Riley back home.” Riley was the man who had originally escorted Kitty to Omaha.

“I can manage just fine without your help, thank you,” Kitty hissed, angry with Lucas for manipulating the situation to his advantage. Kitty knew good and well that her father could have sent any number of hands to see her home, but no, somehow it was Lucas who was here.

“You hungry?” Lucas asked, ignoring the irritation in Kitty’s voice.

“No.”

“Well I was just gonna get some lunch,” Lucas smiled. “Care to join me?”

“I have other plans,” Kitty said haughtily. But when Lucas walked towards a restaurant, she went with him. It was always like that. What on earth was wrong with her? She was an engaged woman and engaged to a handsome and wealthy man. But whenever she got within spitting distance of Lucas Henry, her common sense just up and vanished.

Kitty always thought of herself as practical, while most people thought of her as vain. She had the most striking blue eyes and curls that made most girls green with envy. Kitty was well aware of how men looked at her and she made the most of it. But she never considered herself vain. It was just her nature to acknowledge what she had been blessed with. But it did bother her, more that just a little, when people referred to her as spoiled and shallow. She might be a little spoiled as her father indulged her greatly, but she was never shallow. When she tried to engage people in what she considered meaningful conversations, especially men, they were usually too busy looking at her bosom to even listen to what she had to say. Women did the same thing, but for completely different reasons. Since no one ever paid any attention to what she said, she had no idea how they could consider her shallow. Kitty glanced sideways at the man beside her, except for Lucas. Oh he looked, boy did he look. But he also listened.

As Kitty and Lucas sat in the restaurant, she was struck by the differences in the two men she was involved with. Both men where tall, but that was about all they had in common. Martin was lanky, whereas Lucas was muscular. Martin’s hair and eyes were both light, Lucas’ were both dark. Martin was wealthy and well-educated, Lucas was dirt poor and had been mostly self-educated. Martin ordered both their meals, while Lucas asked her what she wanted. Martin bought her expensive presents which he thought she would enjoy, Lucas bought her books, which he could ill afford because he knew how much she loved them. Damn him, she thought angrily, damn Lucas for being what he was.

For a while when Kitty had put off setting a wedding date, everyone just said it was nerves and she had gone along with that, not knowing what else it could be. But three months ago, Lucas arrived and after the first time he kissed her, Kitty set a wedding date. Lucas’ kiss had terrified her. She had never felt like that in her life. Martin’s kisses were quite ardent, but sometimes, Kitty felt like she could pick up a book and read it while he kissed her. Lucas’ kisses, on the other hand, sent her reeling. Even after she had announced her wedding date, Lucas continued to kiss her and Kitty couldn’t stop him. She didn’t want to stop him. Lucas and Kitty finished their lunch and lingered in the restaurant until everyone else had left. “You ready to head out?” Lucas asked, glancing around at all the empty tables.

“Yeah,” Kitty replied.

As they were about to leave, the restaurant owner approached them. “Me and the missus used to be just like you two,” he beamed. “Sometimes you lose all track of time looking into your loved one’s eyes.”

Kitty turned beet red at those words, while Lucas smiled. “Happens to me all the time,” he replied softly.

Chapter Three

“Jenny,” Jimmy warned. “You better not go into the street.” He watched as the small, dark-haired girl moved closer to the road. He knew she had heard him. He saw as the little girl turned her head just one little inch and gave him the most devilish of smiles.

“You best mind me,” Jimmy told her, trying to sound stern.

Jenny then flashed him a radiant look as she lifted one foot from the step she stood on and mischievously put it on the road.

“Jennifer Hickok!” Jimmy scolded her loudly. “How many times have I told you not to go into the street?”

Jenny quickly withdrew her foot from the road and sat down on the steps in front the marshal’s office. She gave Jimmy a frown, signifying her utter disgust.

“Here,” Jimmy smiled indulgently. He handed the girl a licorice whip as he sat down beside her. “Ain’t this a whole lot better than going in the street?”

“Mmm,” Jenny replied, her mouth full of candy as she nodded her head vigorously.

“Well I guess it’s better than giving her spurs to play with,” Buck grinned as he came to join them on the steps. “Things sure have changed.”

“What?” Jimmy scoffed. “You don’t think that I learned a thing or two about youngsters over the years? Hell I raised four of ‘em.”

“You raised?” Buck snorted. “You just did whatever Hannah told you to do.”

Jimmy raised a brow at him. “Speaking of raising young ‘uns. How’s Al?” he asked, referring to Buck’s baby boy. His son was just a little over two. Both Buck and Helen had been flabbergasted to find themselves as parents, at their age. They had married about three years ago and were thoroughly enjoying the first and probably only child they would have together. Buck had named the boy Aloysius, after Teaspoon. Much to everyone’s sorrow, the old Marshal had died almost four years ago, just months after Jasper and Sally’s wedding. A few weeks later, William Tomkins had also died. Buck found it quite ironic that the two men had died almost one right after the other, as if they were a matched set, one balancing the other.

“He’s growing like a weed,” Buck said proudly.

Jenny stood up and put her sticky hands on Buck’s shoulders, giving him a resounding smack on the lips. She again muttered something unintelligible as her mouth was still full of candy. While Jimmy and Buck were talking, she had snagged herself another piece.

“And how’s my girl?” Buck asked Jenny fondly, uncaring that he was being covered with a sticky paste.

Jenny answered, to Buck’s ears it sounded like good but one never could be sure with her. He wished once again that Teaspoon was still around to see the girl, he would have loved her. Buck could almost hear his voice, ‘You’d better watch that one, she’s gonna be trouble.’ Buck watched as Jenny scrambled from his arms and leaned over Jimmy, trying to reach into the small bag beside him. She was searching for more licorice.

“I think you’ve had about enough,” Jimmy said. Jenny ignored her grandfather and continued trying to reach into the bag as Jimmy kept pushing it out of her reach.

“More,” Jenny wailed, her mouth finally empty. She stood upright and placed her hands on her hips as she glared at him.

“You spoiling my grandbaby?” Hannah said, coming to join them. She quickly scooped up the sticky little girl. “She’s a mess. What have you been doing with her?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” Buck and Jimmy chorused, sounding a little bit like chastised schoolchildren.

“More,” Jenny said plaintively to Hannah.

Hannah held out her hand expectantly as Jimmy gave her the bag. “She’s already had two pieces,” he told her.

“This is your last one,” Hannah said firmly as she gave Jenny one more piece of candy, while Buck and Jimmy exchanged looks. Hannah spoiled Jenny more than both of them put together. Hannah then adjusted the girl on her hip and turned to Jimmy. “I’ll take her home and get her cleaned up.” She bent down and kissed Jimmy’s cheek. “You’re about as sticky as she is,” Hannah whispered.

“You gonna clean me up too?” Jimmy whispered back, his eyes glinting wickedly as she straightened up.

“Maybe,” Hannah said, boldly running her eyes over her husband’s seated figure. She then smiled, as she began to leave, “I’ll see you fellas later.”

Buck shook his head, no wonder Jasper was the way he was. What else could he be with parents like that?

Jimmy casually stretched his arms upwards, “I think I’m gonna go home for lunch today. You mind telling my deputy?”

“Nah,” Buck replied. He watched as Jimmy quickly caught up to Hannah and took Jenny from her arms, tossing the little girl into the air. Buck stood up and went inside, informing the deputy that the Marshal would return after lunch. Then he made up his mind to go home and have lunch with his own wife. Al usually took a nice, long afternoon nap.

Chapter Four

When Kitty and Lucas left the restaurant, the two of them went shopping. But instead of buying things for her trousseau, Kitty bought Lucas a watch bob. He was forever pulling out an old timepiece from his pocket. Kitty thought that Lucas would look quite smart wearing his watch hanging from his vest.

“Thank you,” Lucas said with a quizzical look on his face.

“You’re welcome.”

Lucas took her arm, “Well let me treat you to dinner then. I saw a nice place just around the corner.”

“You don’t have to,” Kitty began.

Lucas tilted his head to one side, frowning slightly. “I know, two meals in one day. What would people say? But we both know it’s nothing, right?” he said, his voice challenging.

Kitty agreed reluctantly. It was nothing. Lucas was just a friend. What harm could come of spending time with a friend? Martin certainly never minded the time she spent with Lucas. In fact, Kitty was sure Martin hadn’t even noticed Lucas.

After dinner, Lucas escorted Kitty towards the hotel where she was staying. “You gonna be done shopping tomorrow?” he asked.

“Why?” Kitty said suspiciously.

“So I can take you home,” Lucas replied, in an amused tone. “You forget that’s why your Pa sent me here?”

Kitty didn’t reply, she just walked faster. She had enjoyed herself much too much today and wanted to get away from Lucas as quickly as possible. Kitty was walking so fast that she stumbled. Lucas caught her about the waist, holding her close as he steadied her. Lucas realized that he probably wouldn’t be able to touch her like this for much longer. Even he wouldn’t carry on an affair with a married woman. But being with her, right here, right now, filled him with such a sense of bittersweet longing, he wished it would never end. It was this longing which made him kiss her. Always.

Slowly he bent his head towards Kitty’s as if to kiss her, while Kitty moved backwards. But when Lucas moved even closer to her, Kitty put her hands on his chest, melting into him as she met his lips with her own.

Lucas felt Kitty’s body against his and wrapped his arms around her, burying his lips in hers. When he finally released her, Kitty smoothed back her hair, “What’s so funny?” she demanded, noticing Lucas’ broad smile.

But Lucas just kept grinning and that irritated Kitty to no end. “What?” she shouted, giving up all pretext of dignity.

“Sometimes I get the feeling that you might actually like me,” Lucas said, grinning at her.

“And what makes you think that?” Kitty snapped.

“You usually kiss men you hate like that?” Lucas asked with a lazy smile.

“I was just surprised,” Kitty said softly.

Lucas raised a brow at her, “Oh come on, you can do better than that.”

“It’s the truth,” Kitty retorted. “I can’t help it if your pride won’t accept that.”

“You mean if I kissed you again, when you were ready of course, nothing would happen?” Lucas asked, stepping closer to her.

“Yes,” Kitty said, inching away, until her back hit the wall of the building behind her. “Nothing would happen.”

“Care to prove it?”

“I’m ready anytime you are.”

Softly Lucas kissed her throat, while Kitty involuntarily tipped her head back, allowing him better access to sensitive skin beneath her ear. Then letting his mouth travel upwards Lucas kissed her chin and finally her lips, all the while Kitty held her breath. When Lucas finally reached her mouth, Kitty kissed him back, his touch released all emotions she always tried so carefully to keep in check. Kitty drew Lucas to her and returned his kisses, uncaring that she was proving his supposition correct. All she wanted to do was kiss him and she didn’t stop until she heard a loud crash from inside the building behind her. When she heard the noise, Kitty snapped out of the trance Lucas’ kisses wove and quickly pushed him away. “You forget yourself,” she said archly. “I am engaged to be married.”

“I never forget,” Lucas responded. He picked up her hand and kissed her diamond engagement ring. “But sometimes you do.”

“Go away,” Kitty half shouted. She left his side and hurried to the hotel, Lucas trailing behind her. Kitty turned around, once she reached the hotel. Feeling more secure that she wouldn’t make of a fool of herself again with the throng of people gathered by the hotel, she asked politely. “Where are you staying?”

“The livery,” Lucas said simply, while Kitty winced. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said before he left her.

Chapter Five

Lucas watched as Kitty gave him a dark look. They had returned from Omaha, a few days ago and he still didn’t think that she had forgiven him for even going to Omaha. But he didn’t care. Somehow he had to make her see that she would be miserable married to Martin Miller. He would rather see her married to almost anybody else. Lucas knew he wasn’t in her league and if he wasn’t the one to make her happy, he certainly hoped that she would find someone a whole lot better than Miller. Lucas didn’t think he had ever seen a more self-absorbed man. Not to mention the fact that it made him ill to see Martin put his hands on Kitty.

Kitty scowled when Lucas smiled at her. Once again he somehow finagled his way into being her escort. Kitty decided that her father must be blind not to see what Lucas had in mind. She tried half heartedly to convince herself once again that Lucas was only pursuing her to marry into the McCloud family. He just wanted a piece of her family’s ranch, which was becoming well known, as was her father. Some folks had taken to calling Kid a cattle baron.

As Kitty wandered about the general store, she called out to her brother, “You have done a fine job in here.”

“Thanks,” Nick replied, coming out of the storeroom. “Look what I found.” He held out a very old ten cent novel. “You think I should show this to Uncle Jimmy?” he said with a grin. Kitty took the worn book from her brother’s hand, “Wild Bill Hickok,” she read aloud. “I’d burn it if I were you.” She didn’t think her Uncle Jimmy wanted to be reminded of his past.

“Wild Bill?” Lucas asked softly.

Kitty stared at him. Lucas looked shaken to the core. “Long story,” she said, eager to change to subject. “I think I’m ready to go now.”

“Your father’s friend is Wild Bill Hickok?” Lucas asked, his voice rising with every word.

“No,” Nick lied and badly too. His face always gave him away.

“Hickok,” Lucas mused. He thought that Wild Bill, the one his mother had told him about was dead. “I figured the Marshal was just some relative of Wild Bill, not the genuine article.”

“He-” Kitty began, but Lucas ignored her and rapidly left the store, with Kitty close on his heels. “Where are you going?” she shouted. But Lucas continue to act like he didn’t even hear her.

As he approached the marshal’s office, Lucas watched as a red-haired woman gave a little girl to an Indian. The woman gave the child a kiss, before the Indian put her on his horse and rode away.

“Kitty,” Hannah said with a smile, as she saw the Kitty approach. “How was your trip to Omaha?”

“The Marshal inside?” Lucas asked abruptly.

Hannah looked at him warily. She didn’t recognize this angry young man. “Yeah.” When Lucas strode inside the office, Hannah took a step closer to the window so she could see inside.

“Aunty Hannah,” Kitty began.

“Go get Nick,” Hannah commanded. She didn’t like the idea of her husband being alone with that fella, he seemed more than just a little upset. When Hannah was sure that Kitty was on her way, she turned her attention back to the goings on inside. She wanted to run in immediately, but she knew better, Jimmy would never forgive her for interfering. It was one of the first promises she had made once they were married, that if anyone came looking for Jimmy, Hannah would stay out of the way. If Jimmy had his way, not interfering would be one of the wedding vows. But in spite of her promise, Hannah put her hand inside her reticule and wrapped her fingers around a small derringer inside, just in case.

“So Wild Bill lives,” Lucas said slowly as he caught sight of Jimmy.

Jimmy didn’t respond, he just stared coldly at the young man. He looked vaguely familiar and then Jimmy placed him, he was one of Kid’s newer hands. Wasn’t his name Lucas Henry? Suddenly a fist snaked out and caught Jimmy squarely on the jaw. As the two men fell to the ground exchanging blows, Lucas rasped in Jimmy’s ear, “You killed my Ma.”

Jimmy stopped returning punches at stared at Lucas. “Your Ma?” he repeated dumbfounded.

“She died because you sent her to prison,” Lucas shouted, delivering another blow, while Jimmy was too stunned by the words the young man said to react to the beating he was receiving.

“Who’s your Ma?” Jimmy yelped the last word, as a punch knocked the air from his lungs. He could almost swear that the last blow had cracked a rib.

“You forget her already?” Lucas yelled, hitting Jimmy again and again. “Her name was Sarah Downs.”

Just then Nick, Kitty and Hannah burst through the door. Nick dragged Lucas off of Jimmy and tossed him into a jail cell. He stared at Jimmy’s wounded face and said, “I’ll go get the deputy.”

Hannah helped her husband to her feet. “What is wrong with you?” she shouted at Lucas, as she lunged at him. But before she could reach him, Jimmy caught her and pulled her back, shutting the cell door. He figured that Lucas was safer in there than out here with his wife.

Hannah turned her attention to her husband, “You need to come home.” She began to lead Jimmy to the door.

But before they got very far, Lucas reached through the cell bars and put a restraining hand on Jimmy. “How’s it feel, knowing you have another son?” Lucas said, his voice filled with loathing for the man in front of him.

Chapter Six

“You need to come home,” Hannah repeated. She led her husband home, unable to utter a single word, while Jimmy appeared to be too dazed to notice.

Kitty stared at Lucas. She couldn’t believe what had just happened. She took a step closer to cell. Lucas only had a swollen eye, whereas her Uncle Jimmy whole face was damaged. “You really think that he’s your Pa?” she asked softly.

“I don’t know,” Lucas replied tonelessly.

Kitty rubbed her eyes. She really didn’t know much about her Uncle Jimmy’s past, except that he used to have quite a reputation, so she supposed that Lucas could be his son. She went to the desk and pulled out a key. After she unlocked the cell door, she sat on the cot beside Lucas. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, putting her arms around him.

“I don’t need your pity,” Lucas declared angrily.

“I ain’t offering you pity, just a shoulder to lean on,” Kitty said with a small smile.

Suddenly Lucas hugged her hard. He held her so tightly his arms began to shake. Kitty reached up and pulled Lucas to her, kissing him. Lucas kissed her back, almost desperately. He could scarcely believe that he had come face to face with that man, his father, the person who had ruined his life before he had even been born.

Kitty cradled Lucas in her arms, as though he were a small child. “So why do you think he’s your father? Ain’t your last name Henry?”

“My Ma was in prison when I was born, so the warden shipped me off to some orphanage,” Lucas explained. “He should have just let me stay with my mother, ‘cause the minute anyone heard that my mother was a jailbird, they withdrew their adoption papers,” Lucas’ lips twisted bitterly. “I guess they thought I’d grow up to be a jailbird too. As for the name, I just liked the sound of it and kept it as my own.”

“How did people find out about your mother?”

“Gossip. Orphanages are full of gossip.”

“So your Ma was involved with Uncle Jimmy?” Kitty asked hesitantly.

“That’s what she said. She sent me a letter, when I was around seven years old, along with my watch. She said to take good care of it, ‘cause it used to belong to my Pa,” Lucas said, his fingers automatically going to the timepiece that hung from the chain Kitty bought.

“It also said that she was sorry for all she had done and I should take pride in knowing that my father was a great man. When I was older, I left the orphanage. I wanted to go find my mother, but she was already dead. It was when I got to the prison that I found out that Wild Bill,” Lucas said contemptuously, “sent my Ma to jail.” He had been devastated to hear that his father could send his mother to jail.

Lucas sighed softly and continued. “I guess my Ma thought it would make me feel better to know my father was Wild Bill Hickok,” he said sadly. “I would have just preferred having a Pa who wanted me around.”

“I don’t think my uncle knew about you,” Kitty said thoughtfully. “He would have taken you in otherwise.”

“Sure,” Lucas scoffed. “You saw how his wife looked at me. There was no way he ever wanted anyone to ever find out about me.”

“They were just surprised,” Kitty responded.

“You’ll see. They ain’t never gonna come near me, ever again.”

“You don’t know them.”

“I don’t wanna know ‘em,” Lucas turned to Kitty. “I’m actually surprised you stuck around.”

“Why?” Kitty answered sharply.

“I guess the son of a criminal is good for something,” Lucas said, cupping Kitty’s face with his hand. “I know Miller don’t ever make you feel this way.” He pressed his lips against hers.

Kitty pushed him away. “Don’t,” she said softly. “Not like that.”

Lucas withdrew from her completely. “Go on home now. I’m sure your fiancee is waiting on you. He has probably got a whole new set of trinkets for you.”

“Shut up!”

“Why is it you are suddenly so concerned about my well-being?” Lucas asked angrily. “You usually can’t even be bothered to give me the time of day.”

“I - I,” Kitty stammered. She then flung herself at him, fastening her lips on his. Sometimes Lucas got so inside himself, this was the only way she could feel what he felt and what she felt now was confusion and pain.

“Mary Katherine McCloud!” Kid said loudly, just entering the jailhouse, Nick and the deputy right behind him. “Lucas Henry, you stay the hell away from my daughter.” Kid dragged Kitty out of the cell. “Stay away from all of us. You are fired. I’ll have someone bring down your wages and then I’d suggest that you leave town as soon as they let you out of jail.”

“Pa,” Kitty protested.

Kid tightened his grip on his daughter’s arm. “We are going home,” he announced and then he pulled Kitty out of the jail.

Chapter Seven

Hannah took Jimmy to their house and cleaned his wounds. They would definitely hurt, but she didn’t think he needed to see a doctor. Hannah then gave Jimmy some willow tea to help him with the pain. Once Jimmy finally fell asleep, she sat in a chair, watching him until it was suppertime. While Jimmy slept, Hannah fixed dinner for her daughters and set it on the table. She told her girls that their father wasn’t feeling well and not to disturb him, then she went back upstairs to sit with Jimmy.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Jimmy began to stir. He propped himself up and looked around, finding Hannah staring off into nothingness.

Hannah looked at him, “You need anything?” she asked, her voice devoid of any emotion.

“Hannah,” Jimmy began uncertainly. She was acting so strange. He wasn’t sure how much she had heard or what was going on in her head. Hannah was so much like Jasper, both of them jumping to conclusions without knowing the whole story. Jimmy didn’t even want to know what Hannah had going on in her mind.

“You have another son,” Hannah said. “You must be so proud. You always wanted another boy.”

Jimmy stared at her blankly.

“You gonna leave me for her?” Hannah asked, her voice catching in her throat. She was disgusted with herself for even asking. She should just throw him out.

“For who?”

“Your child’s mother,” Hannah said, finding a speck of dirt on the floor utterly fascinating.

Jimmy smiled at those words. Hannah was jealous, even after all these years, she was jealous and for some reason that pleased him to no end.

When Hannah looked up and saw Jimmy smile, all her hurt spilled over and she reacted instinctively, “How could you?” she shouted. How could he betray her like this?

Jimmy pushed himself into a sitting position, his face contorted with the pain from his ribs. But he forced himself to reach over to Hannah and then he pulled her into his arms, “I ain’t never gonna leave you. Who would want an old man like me?”

When Hannah tried to free herself she found herself held in an almost vice-like grip. “You think that’s funny?” she shouted.

As Jimmy leaned his head towards her, Hannah put her hand on his face, “You Hickok men seem to think that you can solve all your problems this way. But this is what got you in trouble in the first place. Now let go of me!”

“Not until you listen to what I have to say,” Jimmy murmured. “I love you.”

“I hate you,” Hannah cried, elbowing Jimmy in the ribs.

Jimmy winced in pain, releasing Hannah and clutching at his ribs. “I didn’t know about him,” he whispered. “I wouldn’t have kept something like that from you.” He couldn’t understand why she so upset about something that had occurred long before he ever met her.

“So how many more brats do you have running around?” Hannah asked, hating the way she sounded, like a shrew. But she couldn’t help it, she felt so hurt and angry right now. She sat very still on the edge of the bed, cross-legged. She studiously avoided looking at Jimmy as she wondered what the male counterpart for whore was.

“What?”

“You heard me,” Hannah retorted sharply. “I bet you never thought that your affair would lead to such a beating. You should know that it ain’t smart to bed another man’s wife.”

“You think I’ve been cheating on you with some woman who is married to Lucas Henry?” Jimmy asked, starting to smile again while Hannah finally looked at him and glared. “I ain’t never been with another woman since the day I met you.”

“Don’t lie,” Hannah told him wearily. “You gigolo.”

Gigolo, Jimmy thought. He quickly banished the smile that was forming on his lips and said, “Here’s the truth. Lucas was referring to himself. He thinks that he is my son. I don’t think I have any other brats, but I won’t guarantee it. The only thing I can promise you is that they’ll be older than Jasper,” Jimmy said, holding Hannah’s gaze with his own. “I swear it.”

Hannah threw herself against Jimmy, knocking him backwards as she buried her head in his chest, pondering his words for a long time. Jimmy held her close, despite the awful ache in his side.

“Hannah?” Jimmy said quietly.

“Lucas, not some baby?” she whispered finally, the relief she felt evident in her words. “So who’s his mother?”

“He says his mother is Sarah Downs.”

“Sarah Downs!” Hannah exclaimed. “You mean that woman who was gonna let you hang?”

“The one and only.”

Hannah raised her head. “You know that you might not be this boy’s father. Didn’t that woman warm the bed of many a man, besides you - Downs and what’s that other fella’s name?”

“Gentry.”

“Gentry,” Hannah repeated. And who knows who else, she thought. Lucas could be the son of some prison guard as easily as he could be Jimmy’s. Hannah put her arms around his neck, “You try explaining this to Lucas?”

“No,” Jimmy replied. “He wasn’t really in a listening mood.”

“Well I guess we know where Jasper got his big mouth from,” Hannah said as she stroked Jimmy’s battered face, “I’m sorry. I should have had more faith in you.”

“In us,” Jimmy said, kissing her hard.

Chapter Eight

The whole ride home, Kitty and Kid rode in silence, both of them so furious with the other. When they finally arrived home, Kid shouted at his daughter to get to her room and stay there until he was ready to talk to her.

“I ain’t a child,” Kitty shouted back. But she did as her father commanded and ran to her room, slamming the door behind her, like an angry eight year old.

“Well good evening to you too,” Lou said, coming out of the kitchen. “What has got you in such a state?” Kid and Kitty were often fighting, both of them could be so stubborn when they thought they were right.

“Your daughter.”

“Oh,” Lou smiled. “Today she is my daughter. So what did my daughter do to get you so angry?”

“She’s carrying on with Lucas Henry,” Kid stated flatly.

“I see.”

“Is that all you’re gonna say?”

“What would you like me to say?”

“Did you know about this?” Kid roared.

“No,” Lou said truthfully. But she really wasn’t shocked by the news. She just never realized that anything had come it. She had seen the looks that passed between Lucas and her daughter. She recalled the first time she suspected something between them. Lucas and Kitty were arguing about the Haymarket riot in Chicago and when Kitty realized that Lucas had been in Chicago at the time, she had been completely fascinated by every word that came out of his mouth. Kitty had peppered Lucas with questions and the two had a rip roaring discussion about the growing labor movement. Lou didn’t think she had ever seen Kitty and Martin even come close to having that kind of conversation. Kitty looked so animated that it made Lou sad. She had tried talking to her daughter about Lucas, but Kitty had just brushed off her mother’s concerns, telling her that it was nothing, they were just friends. But obviously that’s not all they were.

“Then why ain’t you more surprised?” Kid asked loudly.

“Think about it Kid,” Lou said with a heavy sigh. “How long has Kitty been engaged?”

“I don’t know.”

“Almost a year and a half,” Lou informed him. “And she’s known Martin for even longer.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Kid demanded.

“Nothing,” Lou said thoughtfully. “Except, would you have waited that long for me?”

Kid didn’t reply. He strode to the bar and poured himself a drink. After what happened today, he deserved it. “If she don’t love Martin then she should just call the wedding off.”

“And disappoint her Pa?” Lou said mockingly.

“You trying to tell me that the only reason Kitty is marrying Martin Miller is ‘cause of me?”

“It may not be the only reason,” Lou replied. “But it sure is a big part of it. Martin is your friend. He has nothing in common with Kitty. Sometimes I think Martin asked Kitty to marry him just so you and he could be related. He don’t love her and she don’t love him.”

“How do you know that?” Kid wanted to know.

“I have eyes,” Lou told him. “If you’d open yours you’d see it too. Kitty don’t even talk to him, unless he asks her a question and Martin only asks Kitty about ranch business.”

“So? Kitty has a good head for business.”

“Haven’t you noticed that’s all he ever talks to her about?”

“Is it okay for Kitty to be cheating, because Martin only talks to her about business?” Kid responded irritably.

“No, of course not.”

“Then why is she?”

“I don’t know. You’d have to ask her.”

Kid frowned, “Maybe you’re right about Martin.” He too had his doubts, Lou was right, Martin was his friend. He didn’t even see any hint of romance until Martin had asked for Kitty’s hand in marriage. Come to think of it, Martin had asked him first and then gone to Kitty.

Lou smiled, “I usually am.” She came to stand by her husband’s side and encircled his waist with her arms, hoping that Kid’s willingness to see her side meant that their argument was over. “But you ain’t heard the worst of it.”

“And what’s that?”

“Lucas Henry is Sarah Downs son,” Kid replied.

Lou’s mouth dropped open, while her hands fell to her sides. “Whose?”

“Nick told me, seems as if he overheard part of Lucas’ and Kitty’s conversation. Lucas said that Sarah Downs is his mother and he thinks that Jimmy is his father,” Kid explained. “He tried to take Jimmy’s head off.”

“Oh.”

“Is that all you’re gonna say?” Kid snapped.

“Is Jimmy alright?” Lou inquired, in a concerned tone.

“Yeah. Don’t you have anything else to add?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“That Lucas Henry, no matter who his father is, ain’t good enough for our daughter,” Kid said heatedly. What was wrong with his wife? She was just as protective of their children as he was. She should be furious about what their daughter was doing.

“I ain’t gonna say something as stupid as that,” Lou said, the beginnings of her own temper starting to rise.

“Stupid?”

“Yeah stupid,” Lou told him angrily. “You of all people should know better than to judge someone by the family they come from. I mean honestly Kid, look at us. Are we to be condemned because of who our fathers were?”

Kid didn’t reply, he just poured himself another drink and gulped it down.

“Kid!” Lou bellowed. “Did you hear me?”

“He ain’t good enough for our daughter,” Kid repeated stubbornly.

“So you ain’t gonna even give him a chance?”

“I fired him.”

“Well that’s just wonderful,” Lou said in her most scathing manner. “You sit here, by yourself and wallow in your pride, while I go talk to my daughter.”

“Lou-” Kid began.

“I think you’ve forgotten who you are and you need some time alone to try and remember,” Lou responded carefully. She gave her husband a hard look and left the room. All that cattle baron talk must have gone to his head, Lou decided.

Lou went directly to Kitty’s room and knocked at the door. “Kitty,” she called out softly.

When she got no response, she opened the bedroom door and went inside. She found her daughter lying on her bed, sobbing. Lou sat beside Kitty and began gently rubbing her back, “Mind if I sit with you for a spell?”

“No,” Kitty choked out the word.

“You ready to tell me about Lucas?” Lou asked softly.

“Oh Ma,” Kitty cried, sitting up. Lou put her arms around her and held her, while Kitty sobbed even harder then. “I think I love him.” Despite all her efforts, Kitty had finally fallen in love and it wasn’t with her fiancee, she loved Lucas. For some reason, seeing him in that jail cell, all alone, needing her so badly had made Kitty realize that. Damn him, she thought, damn Lucas.

Chapter Nine

Jasper settled Sally in at home and then immediately proceeded to his parents home. Buck had picked them up and filled them in on what had happened, leaving out some important details. Buck figured that it just wasn’t his place to tell Jasper that he might have a brother.

Jasper flung the front door open, surprised to see no one around. He called out for his parents, but heard only silence. A few minutes later Bonnie Hickok came through the door. “Jasper,” she cried, hugging her brother.

“Where is everyone?” he asked.

“Ma’s upstairs with Pa,” Bonnie whispered. “She’s been there all day. They are just sitting together, talking. And it scares me.”

“Scares you?” Jasper said furrowing his brow. “Why?”

“I don’t know. They’ve just been up there for so long.”

“So where’s everyone else?”

“Ellie took Jenny to the creek to play and Olivia is cleaning the barn.”

Jasper took his youngest sister’s hand, “Come on, let go find out what’s going on.” He then led her up the stairs. When he got to his parents room, he was shocked. His father looked terrible. Buck had told him that there had been in a fight, but Jasper never expected his father to be on the losing end. Jimmy’s right eye was blackened and left cheek was a mottled mess of yellow and a sickly shade of green. Jasper saw how his father winced as he shifted positions, his ribs paining him.

“Pa,” Jasper whispered, rushing to his father’s side. “Who did this to you?”

Jimmy tried to straighten up. He had been in bed since the fight, over a day and a half ago and his muscles had stiffened up considerably. Hannah noticed her husband’s struggle and helped him up, she then placed a pillow behind his back.

“Thanks,” Jimmy smiled at Hannah.

“Pa,” Jasper repeated.

“It ain’t nothing for you to fret about,” Hannah said, feigning casualness. But Jasper heard the underlying tension in her voice.

Jasper stared at both his parents, knowing that it must be bad for them to lie to him. “You get called out?”

“No, ain’t nothing like that,” Jimmy told his son.

“Then why did someone beat you like that?” Jasper demanded.

“It was that Lucas Henry,” Bonnie piped up from her perch in the corner, where she had been sitting unnoticed.

“Bonnie!” Hannah scolded her sharply. “Go finish your chores.” When Bonnie scowled at her, Hannah said. “Go on.” She watched as her youngest daughter stepped outside the bedroom door. But unbeknownst to her brother or parents, Bonnie stayed upstairs, just outside the bedroom. She was listening intently to every word being spoken inside.

“Lucas?” Jasper said, his tone puzzled. “Why would he do that?” Jasper knew the fella, but only in passing.

“Ain’t your concern,” Hannah began.

“Someone beats my father, it’s my concern,” Jasper said heatedly.

“Son, I’ll handle it,” Jimmy responded.

Jasper stood up. “Sure you will. You look like you are in great shape to handle it.” Jasper spun on his heel and left.

Hannah put her head in her hands, while Jimmy put an arm around her. “It will be okay,” he said, trying to reassure her.

“It will be just fine,” Hannah snapped. “One son killing another.” She knew her son well enough to know exactly where Jasper was heading.

“Jasper won’t kill Lucas.”

“Maybe Lucas will kill Jasper.”

Jimmy smiled sadly at Hannah as she crawled onto the bed. Hannah laid down and held her arms out to him.

“You know nothing like that is gonna happen,” Jimmy said, laying close to his wife. He knew what would occur and he wasn’t too worried. Jasper in a fistfight was nothing new and there were more than enough hands around the McCloud ranch to break it up. If Hannah truly believed the words she just said, she wouldn’t in the house. She would be out, trying to find Jasper.

“I reckon,” Hannah said with a sigh. She was just so tired, both from lack of sleep and trying to figure out the right thing to do. “We need to tell the children about Lucas.”

“I know. I just wanted to talk to Lucas first,” Jimmy said softly.

“Don’t look like Jasper is gonna give us the chance to talk to him first.”

Jimmy smiled at the word - us.

“I just hope your children have hearts as big as yours,” Hannah said, kissing Jimmy.

Bonnie sat quietly. She couldn’t hear the last part of her parents conversation, but she had heard enough. She ran downstairs and went straight to the barn. Bonnie was greatly relieved to see that Olivia was done cleaning the barn and was now gone. Olivia had been assigned as her caretaker and she was a strict one. Bonnie saddled a horse and rode away. She wasn’t about to let her brother get hurt. But she also knew how stubborn her brother could be. When he got like this, there was only one person he would listen to and Bonnie aimed to find her.

Chapter Ten

Lucas shoved the last of his belongs in his bag. He took one last look around the bunkhouse, which had been his home for the last three months. Although he wouldn’t miss the hard bunk, he would miss the men he who had befriended him. He wished more of them were around to say goodbye to, but Kid was in some kind of frenzy and had just about everyone out working.

Lucas knew he would also miss the kindness which the McCloud family had treated him with and most of all he would miss Kitty. He could almost swear that the girl had bewitched him with those soulful blue eyes. Every time she smiled at him, he felt like he could do just about anything. Even though she tried hard not to show it, Lucas knew what his touch did to her. He knew he wasn’t good enough for her, but he loved her all the same.

Lucas hadn’t even seen Kitty since he was released from the jail, with stern warning from the deputy. The deputy had informed him that Marshal Hickok wasn’t going to press any charges, but the deputy was of the same opinion as Kid, that he should collect his wages and get out of town and Lucas decided to do just that. There wasn’t anything left for him here. He just hoped that it worked out for Kitty, that she left Martin Miller for someone who loved her with all his heart.

As Lucas stepped outside and put his meager belongs on his horse, ready to leave Rock Creek, he heard someone call out his name. Slowly he turned in the direction of the voice.

“Lucas,” Jasper repeated coldly.

“What?”

“You attacked my father,” Jasper stated flatly.

Lucas simply shrugged. He had almost been expecting this. Wouldn’t he do the same, if their positions had been reversed? “You gonna call me out?”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Jasper snarled. Jasper skill with the gun rivaled his father’s. Not only had he inherited his father’s reflexes, but Jimmy had made sure his son could handle himself in any situation. “Well I ain’t gonna make it quick for you. I want you to suffer like my Pa is suffering.”

“Yeah? Well maybe he deserves it,” Lucas countered.

At those words, Jasper delivered a blow that staggered Lucas. While Lucas was still reeling, Jasper slammed his fist into his stomach. A few seconds later, Lucas returned the favor and the two men fell to the ground, fists flying.

Meanwhile, Sally rode as fast as she could to the McCloud home. She clutched her belly, trying to keep from jarring her unborn child. As she held her mid-section, she felt it again, she had felt it all day, twinges emanating from her abdomen. She had tried ignoring it, assuming that she was just tired from all the traveling, but it was getting worse now. She had just been laying down when Bonnie came to her in tears, raving about how Jasper was going to get killed. When Sally heard those words, she forced Bonnie to tell her where her husband was and then she began riding as fast as she could. As soon as she got to the McCloud place, she almost fell off her horse, the pain overwhelming her. But when she saw her husband, she straightened up and shouted with all her might, “Jasper!”

When he heard her voice, Jasper stopped his punishment of Lucas. Both men were tired and terribly battered. But Jasper would have continued on, had he not heard Sally. He was fighting for his father’s honor.

“Jasper,” Sally cried again, but this time her voice carried no strength. She clutched her belly, slumping to the ground. “Jasper,” she whimpered. It hurt so much.

Jasper released Lucas immediately and ran to Sally’s side. “Sally,” he rasped hoarsely. He gathered her in his arms and held her to him. “No, Sally. Don’t leave me.” It was as if all the fears he had, about Sally being pregnant were coming true. She was going to die, just like her mother and Jasper couldn’t bear the thought.

“Sally!” Jasper said again, this time loudly. He tried desperately to rouse his wife, as her eyes had closed. He felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Come on,” Lucas said, wiping the blood from his mouth as he crouched next to Sally. “Let’s get her to the McCloud’s house.”

“How?” Jasper whispered. He felt so useless, his wife was dying while he stood by and watched. Lucas straightened up and brought Jasper’s horse close to Sally’s side. In his estimation, the animal looked more than strong enough to carry two people, two and a half people, he thought, making note of Sally’s condition. “Get on,” he commanded.

“What?” Jasper couldn’t even think, every thought was jumbled by the fear that he might lose his wife.

“Get on,” Lucas repeated patiently. “You hold her, on the horse and I’ll lead both of you to the McCloud’s.”

Nodding, Jasper did what Lucas described. He sat on his horse, holding Sally’s limp body close to him, murmuring the whole time to Sally not to leave him.

Chapter Eleven

Once they got to the McCloud home, Lucas walked to the horse and lifted Sally off, holding her until Jasper hit the ground and took Sally back into his arms. Silently they made their way to the door, where Lucas stood hesitantly. He knew he wasn’t welcome there.

“Come on,” Jasper said, his voice tight with fear.

With that, Lucas opened the door and went inside, while Jasper began to shout for help. Quickly Kid, Lou and Kitty appeared. Lou immediately took in situation, Sally needed help. “Come upstairs,” she said.

Kid put a hand on Lucas’ chest, “Not you.”

“This ain’t the time,” Lou shouted at him. “Sally needs taking care of.”

“We don’t need him,” Kid said, his voice dangerously quiet.

Suddenly Jasper handed Sally’s limp body to Lucas and shoved Kid against a wall. “Did you hear your wife?” he yelled in Kid’s ear. “This ain’t the time.” Jasper took Sally back from Lucas’ arms, “My wife is dying,” his voice breaking as he said the words.

Kid stared hard at him, but he stepped out of the way and Jasper followed Lou up the stairs. She led them to Nick’s old room, where Jasper laid Sally on the bed and sat next to her, smoothing back her hair, unable to speak.

Lou stood on the landing, calling down to Lucas, “Go get the doctor,” she ordered him. As Lucas began to leave, she added, “And Hannah.”

“Hannah Hickok?” Lucas asked softly.

“Yes,” Lou said firmly, “and hurry.”

Nodding, Lucas left. When he got to town, he told the doctor what was happening. The doctor threw a bunch of things into his bag, got on his wagon and rode off at a rapid pace. Once Lucas saw that the doctor was on his way, he rode to the Hickok home. All during the ride, he thought about the man who he considered to be his father. What kind of man was he? Was he the kind of man would abandon a woman he had slept with? If he was, then how could he inspire so much loyalty in both his family and friends?

Once he arrived at the Marshal’s house, he again stood by the front door, unsure of the welcome he would receive here. But then he thought of Sally and rapped hard on the door. “Mrs. Hickok,” he called out loudly. “Mrs. Hickok.”

A few moments later, Olivia Hickok opened the door and eyed the man in front of her. She had an idea of who he was and she was not happy to see him on her doorstep. “What do you want?” she asked suspiciously.

“It’s an emergency,” Lucas began. He was shocked when Olivia pounced on him, raining blows that sent him falling backward. “What the hell are you doing?” he yelled.

“What did you do to him?” Olivia screamed. “What did you do to my brother?”

Ellie Hickok heard her sister’s shouts and hurried to the door. When she saw what was happening, she pulled Olivia off of Lucas. “That’s enough, Livvie,” she said firmly. Once Olivia was stilled, she turned her attention to Lucas. “And what do you want?” she said in the same suspicious tone as her sister.

“He said it’s an emergency,” Olivia interjected.

“It ain’t Jasper,” Lucas said quickly. “It’s Sally.”

“You hurt Sally!” Ellie exclaimed, her hands balled into fists, ready to strike Lucas.

Wearily Lucas shook his head. What was wrong with this family? He stared at the two girls in front of him. Both girls looked almost identical to one another with their strawberry blonde hair and angry blue eyes. “No, I think it’s the baby.”

“The baby?” Hannah cried, coming down the stairs upon hearing all the commotion. “Where is she?”

“The McClouds,” Lucas replied.

Hannah, like the doctor, gathered a few things, tossed them in a bag, ran upstairs to inform her husband of what was happening, then she quickly rode away, while Olivia, Ellie and Lucas stood quietly watching. Before she left, Hannah had turned back to Lucas. “Go upstairs,” she commanded him. “Jimmy wants to talk to you.”

“You had better not hurt him,” Olivia warned.

“Wouldn’t dare to,” Lucas said with the barest hint of a smile at Olivia’s fierce scowl. “Not with his girls around.”

Chapter Twelve

Lucas stepped into the bedroom where Jimmy lay. He saw that the older man was sitting up, brushing back a small child’s dark hair. The little girl was fast asleep. “This is Jasper and Sally’s daughter,” Jimmy said with a proud smile. “Jenny.”

Lucas nodded.

Jimmy waved his hand, motioning Lucas to a chair beside the bed.

“How are you feeling?” Lucas asked awkwardly, as he sat down. He put his hand in his pocket and took out his watch, rubbing his fingers alongside the smooth edges. It was a gesture that had long since become a habit with him. Whenever he touched it, he liked to believe he could draw strength from it and maybe be as strong as his father was.

“Alright, I guess. I’m kind of enjoying all the attention.” Jimmy said. “One of the advantages of living with so many women.” He then added, “You have a heck of a left hook.”

Lucas shrugged, “I’m sorry.”

“Can’t say that I blame you. I might have done the same thing, if I thought the way that you did.” Jimmy paused for moment, pulling the covers over Jenny as she began to stir. “You really believe that I sent your Ma to prison and never looked back?”

“I don’t know,” Lucas replied. “My mother really didn’t say what happened, except that she did some things that she was ashamed of and she deserved what she got.” Lucas swallowed hard then asked the question that had plagued him over the years. “Did you love her?”

“I thought I did.”

“So you didn’t?”

“It was a long time ago,” Jimmy said quietly.

Lucas tried a different tact, “Why did you send her to jail?”

“I didn’t,” Jimmy told him. Briefly he tried to explain what happened. How he met Sarah and how she and her husband made it look like he had killed the man she claimed to be married to. He tried to make Lucas see that what happened might not have been his mother’s fault. Jimmy had always suspected that Gentry forced her to do what she did. He never was sure that it was true, but he certainly like to believe it.

When he was done with his tale, he studied Lucas’ face, he looked so anguished.“I’m sorry,” Jimmy said.

“So you ain’t my father?”

“I don’t know for sure. But I could be.”

“My mother said you were,” Lucas said. “She said I had a Pa I could be proud of.” He opened his fist, showing Jimmy the watch he held and asked, “Is this yours?”

Jimmy shook his head and frowned, well at least that explained why Lucas thought he was his father. He glanced at the gold pocket watch in Lucas’ hand and said, “No.”

“Well I won’t trouble you no more,” Lucas said abruptly. He rose to his feet, dropping the timepiece to the ground. He didn’t want it anymore, it was nothing, just a lie, like everything else his mother had ever told anyone. “I’m leaving town.”

“Ain’t you gonna stick around and see how Sally is?” Jimmy asked, leaning over to pick up the watch. He held in between his fingers, studying it.

“What?!”

“You cared enough to get help for her, I figured you’d want to see how it all turned out.”

“Maybe,” Lucas replied.

“So what do you think about staying around even longer?” Jimmy asked.

“Longer?” Lucas said, the bewilderment he felt, etched across his face.

“Me and Hannah been talking. We’d like it if you came and lived with us,” Jimmy proposed.

“But I ain’t nothing to you,” Lucas said, dumbfounded.

“You could be.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Lucas shouted, unable to keep down the bitterness he always carried with him. He quickly lowered the volume of his voice when he saw Jenny begin to move about.

The little girl sat up and gave Lucas an assessing look before she turned back to her grandfather. She got up on her knees and held Jimmy’s face between her hands. She then kissed Jimmy’s black eye, “Better?” Jenny asked.

“Much,” Jimmy told her seriously.

Lucas continued to watch as Jenny nestled her body against Jimmy’s side. She looked at him with the same suspicious gaze as Jimmy’s daughters. Lucas was convinced that if he didn’t watch himself, he would soon be attacked by a two-year-old.

“I ain’t nothing but the son of a woman who caused misery to everyone who met her,” Lucas added, when Jimmy’s eyes settled on him once more.

“From what I’ve heard, you’re a whole lot more than that. Before Kid fired you, he said that you were one of the best hands he had hired in a long time and now here you are, helping the wife of a man who beat the living daylights out of you,” Jimmy said, taking stock of Lucas’ torn clothes and bloodied face. “Me and Hannah spent a lot of time talking about this and we both came to the same conclusion - that we’d ask you to stay with us,” Jimmy repeated. “And maybe, if you like what you see, you could take the name Hickok. I know it ain’t much, but I think it means something to you.”

“Why?” Lucas whispered, his heart in his throat. All his life he wished for a family and here this stranger was offering it to him and he didn’t understand it. A family and a name. Often when the other children in the orphanage would tease him about his mother, Lucas would shout back at them that his father was a great man and that someday, his father would come and get him and they could see for themselves what kind of man his father was. “Why would you do that? After what my mother did? After what I did?”

“Maybe because of a man named Teaspoon Hunter.”

Lucas stared blankly at Jimmy, who took a deep breath and continued. “You probably ain’t never heard of him. But he used to be marshal, before I was and he was one hell of a man. I first met him back when I was a rider for the Pony Express and he was my boss.”

When Lucas looked disbelieving at him, Jimmy said, “Not only did he give me a job, but he gave me a family and he made me realize how important family is. ‘Cause without family, we ain’t nothing. None of us is.” He handed Lucas’ watch back to him.

Lucas took the timepiece back and shoved deep inside his pocket. “But I probably ain’t family to you.”

“I wasn’t family to Teaspoon either, not in the beginning. I was just a hot-headed kid, looking for trouble. Even though he wasn’t blood kin, Teaspoon was more of a father to me than my own was. In fact, he was father to a whole bunch of us, who were all desperate for a father - me, Kid, his wife and Buck Cross.” And a couple of others who Lucas didn’t know.

“You know,” Jimmy added thoughtfully. “There was a time when I was a lot like you, all of us Express riders were, thinking we weren’t ever gonna be much or ever have anything of our own. But because of Teaspoon we learned different.”

“He taught us that blood ain’t as important as sweat and a family doesn’t have to have the same name, they just have to be important to one another,” Jimmy continued solemnly. “And you just might be my son. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, but mistreating my family ain’t one of them. How can I just let you walk away? You have a family here, if you want it. Don’t you want to try and get to know us? And give us the chance to get to know you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think about it,” Jimmy said with a grin. “You already act like everyone else around here, punching first and talking later.” Jimmy always liked to believe that his children inherited that trait from Hannah, but seeing Lucas do the exact same thing made him reconsider that position. “You’d fit in real nice.”

At those words, Lucas smiled, just a bit. That was exactly what the people at the orphanage always said about him. “I will.”

“Good,” Jimmy replied. “Now I got one more favor to ask of you. I know you ain’t in the best of shape, but I was wondering if you could ride to Buck Cross’ place and let him know what’s going on with his daughter. Then you and he could go to the McCloud’s and the doctor could tend to you too.”

“I don’t know if I’m wanted at the McCloud’s,” Lucas admitted. “But I’ll go fetch Mr. Cross.”

“Have someone come back here, when you get any word,” Jimmy called out as Lucas was leaving. “I wanna know what’s going on too.”

Chapter Thirteen

Lucas was relieved that his conversation at the Cross home was so short, as the days events had left him both emotionally and physically exhausted. When Lucas mentioned that Sally was at the McCloud’s with the doctor, Buck had taken off like a shot. But a few moments later, Buck returned, making sure that Lucas came with him. Both men rode rapidly to the McCloud’s home. As soon as Buck’s horse stopped, he ran into the house and up the stairs, while Lucas stood awkwardly in the entry way.

“Lucas,” Kitty said quietly upon spying him there. “You look terrible.”

Lucas smiled at her, “I’ve looked worse.”

“Come with me,” Kitty instructed him, ushering him into the kitchen, where she began to bathe his injuries. “Jasper did this?” she asked.

“Yeah. But I gave as good as I got,” Lucas replied. “So how’s Sally?”

“She awake now, but she is in a lot of pain,” Kitty told him.

When Buck entered Nick’s bedroom, he found the doctor mixing a concoction. Hannah was mopping Sally’s brow, while Jasper sat on the bed, squeezing his wife’s hand. Lou was helping the doctor, handing him bottles before he could even ask for them.

“Pa,” Sally said weakly, when she saw her father.

Buck made his way to her side and took her other hand. “You hold on now, the doctor will give you something that will fix you right up.”

Sally nodded.

“How’s he doing?” Buck asked Hannah, tilting his head in Jasper’s direction. He looked worse than Sally. He obviously looked like he had been in a fight, but someone, Buck noted, had patched him up. Buck assumed that it must have been Hannah. The doctor was too busy looking after Sally to tend to Jasper. Buck studied his son-in-law and was almost overwhelmed by Jasper’s pain. It was as though his pain was a palpable thing, threatening to reach out and strangle all of them.

Hannah just shook her head. Her son was terrified and she didn’t know how to help him.

“Here,” the doctor said, coming to the bed. He held up a vial of something. “Morphine and Gelsemium,” he explained. “This should help.

“So she won’t lose the baby?” Buck asked.

“If we can stop the labor, she won’t,” the doctor replied. “You folks mind stepping out for a minute. I just want to make sure her water hasn’t broken.”

Buck started for the door, while Hannah took Jasper’s arm and tried to pull him away from Sally. “I ain’t leaving,” Jasper said stubbornly.

“Jasper,” Hannah whispered. “Don’t make things more difficult right now.”

“What?” Jasper exclaimed. “The doctor ain’t gonna be looking at something I haven’t seen before.”

At those words, Buck grasped Jasper by the shirt and shoved him out the door, while Hannah followed them. Lou started to go with them, but the doctor called her back in. “Mrs. McCloud, do you mind staying? I could use your help.”

“I’m gonna step outside,” Buck said to Hannah, unwilling to spread his fear to Jasper and his mother. “Call me when we can go back in.” He couldn’t stay. He couldn’t do this again, not with his own daughter. That was the one sorrow that had not been inflicted upon him, losing a child. But now it seemed as if he wouldn’t even be spared that.

“I will,” Hannah said, taking a seat on the floor. When Buck left them, Jasper joined his mother on the floor, laying his head in her lap, as he had so often as a child. Hannah began to stroke his hair. “She’ll be fine.”

“Promise,” Jasper said.

Hannah just smiled.

“So you gonna tell me about Lucas Henry?” Jasper asked.

“Now?”

“It will give us something to worry about, besides Sally,” Jasper said with a small smile as he moved to a sitting position.

Hannah put an arm around him and began her tale. When she was done, Jasper shook his head and simply muttered, “Brother.” Hannah wasn’t too surprised by his reaction, not with what was going on. Jasper had one worry on his mind, Sally. Everything else was secondary.

A few moments later, Kitty and Lucas came up the stairs. Hannah noted that the worst of Lucas’ injuries had been bandaged and judging by the concerned look Kitty gave him, Hannah knew she must have fixed him up.

“Sit down,” Hannah said, waving Lucas beside her.

As Lucas sat down next to her, with Kitty right beside him, Hannah patted his arm. “You have been a big help in all this.” “It’s my fault,” Lucas said, his voice muted with worry.

“No it’s not,” Kitty said fiercely. “Is it, Aunty Hannah?”

“Of course not,” Hannah replied. “It ain’t nobody’s fault.”

“Not even mine?” Jasper asked, in a strangled whisper. “I mean Sally came riding so fast because of me.”

“Pregnant women ride all the time,” Hannah told all them. “And usually nothing happens to them.”

“So why is this happening to Sally?” Kitty asked.

“Don’t know,” Hannah said. “I don’t think we’ll ever know.” Hannah then looked directly at Lucas, “Jimmy tell you about our plan?”

“Yeah.”

“So what do you think?”

“I don’t know Mrs. Hickok-” Lucas began.

“Mrs. Hickok?” Hannah laughed at the formality in Lucas’ voice. “If you are gonna live with us you are gonna have to think of something better than that to call me.”

“How ‘bout nag?” Jasper suggested helpfully. “That’s what me and my sisters call her.”

Hannah swatted her son’s head. “Boy, don’t think you’re too big for me to turn you over my knee.” She then smiled at Lucas, “I think Aunty Hannah will do fine.”

Kitty gaped at Hannah and Jasper, her heart soaring. Lucas was going to stay? She didn’t even know what to do with this information.

“Mrs. Hickok,” Lucas began, he couldn’t even form the words, he felt so full of emotion right now.

“Aunty Hannah,” Hannah corrected him.

Lucas smiled at her, but he couldn’t continue, because right then the doctor came into the hallway.

“How is she?” Jasper asked, quickly scrambling to his feet.

“All we can do now is pray,” the doctor said.

“Can I go in?” Jasper asked.

“Go right ahead,” the doctor replied. “She’s sleeping now, so just let her rest.”

“I will,” Jasper said, as he ran into the room.

Once he was gone, Hannah turned to the doctor, her eyes questioning. “How is she, really?”

“If she keeps the baby through the night, it should be fine,” the doctor said. “I’m gonna go home for a while.” The doctor looked right at Hannah, “You know what to do,” he added, leaving his unspoken words hanging in the air, if the medicine didn’t work.

“I know,” was all Hannah managed to say.

Chapter Fourteen

When Jasper left, Lucas also rose to his feet, he felt as though his being here just made things more awkward and it would be easier on everyone if he just left. But before he even got the chance to take a step, Hannah tugged on his sleeve. “Would you mind sitting with me?” she asked.

Lucas took a seat beside Hannah on the floor, “You sure you want me here?”

“Yeah,” Hannah replied. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.” Hannah like Jasper, longed to be distracted from the subject of Sally.

Lucas hadn’t been speaking for more than a minute, when Lou came out from the bedroom. She eyed her daughter and then motioned to Kitty to follow her. Kitty had been staring at Lucas mesmerized by his words. She knew so little about his childhood and was overwhelmed by the urge to find out everything she could about him. She tried to ignore her mother, but Lou was insistent that her daughter come with her. Reluctantly Kitty followed her mother down the stairs to the kitchen. “You get any supper?” Lou asked.

“No,” Kitty replied, knowing that her mother did not drag her down here to ask her if she ate. But she wasn’t going to make it easy on her.

Lou took her daughter’s hand and glanced at the diamond ring she still wore. “You are gonna have to give this back.”

Kitty looked at her mother in shock. “What?”

“It ain’t right to accept another man’s ring when you are in love with another.”

“I know,” Kitty said, staring at the floor. “You ain’t gonna stop me from seeing Lucas, are you?”

“No.”

“You think Pa is?”

“I don’t know.”

“So what should I do?” Kitty asked softly.

“Go talk to him, he’s on the porch,” Lou instructed her. “And Kitty,” she called out, as her daughter began to leave the room. “Keep in mind how much your father loves you.”

Silently Kitty nodded. As she left her mother, she mentally ran through the argument her father would present to her while she rehearsed her own responses. She felt well prepared for a fight, until she saw her father, sitting on the porch swing looking so incredibly sad.

“Pa,” Kitty said softly.

“Kitty,” Kid replied with a smile. He patted the empty spot beside him. “Care to join me?”

Kitty sat on the swing, resting her head against her father’s shoulder.

“How’s Sally?” Kid asked.

“The doctor says we just have to wait till morning.”

“I hate waiting.”

“So do I,” Kitty replied. And for a while she was content just to sit on the swing, beside her father as they rocked back and forth. But she knew she had to speak to him, now. “Pa,” she began.

“Yeah,” Kid said, his voice tinged with sorrow. He knew what Kitty was going to say, he just wished he knew what answers to give her.

“Why don’t you like Lucas anymore? I mean he’s still the same man you hired and you liked him before you knew who his mother was. What’s changed?” Kitty asked, almost a pleading. She wanted desperately for her father to like Lucas, but she had steeled herself for the worst.

“What about Martin?”

“I’m gonna give his ring back, tomorrow,” Kitty declared firmly.

“I see. Are you gonna marry Lucas?” Kid asked.

Kitty let of a small peal of laughter, “Oh Pa,” she gasped. “We ain’t at that point. I mean Lucas hasn’t even asked to court me.” Not to mention the fact that she still wore Martin’s ring.

“I want you to think about this hard,” Kid told her. “Lucas ain’t got nothing to offer you. Martin has a ranch and he is going places.”

“That don’t matter.”

“You say that now, but you spend more money in a day than Lucas earns in a week,” Kid said, trying his best not to sound accusatory. But he knew he failed when he saw Kitty’s eyes blaze at him.

“What kind of person do you think I am?” Kitty cried, as the word shallow rose in her mind. Her own father too? “Do really think so little of me?”

“Kitty,” Kid began again. “You don’t know what it’s like, having nothing, clawing and scrambling for every little thing.” Didn’t she understand that everything he had done was for her, for his family.

Kitty looked at her father intently. When she was younger, Kitty often resented the ranch for stealing away so much of her father’s time and was only now beginning to understand her parents passion for work. “Things ain’t everything,” she said softly. “Would you have worked so hard if you were only working for yourself?”

“No,” Kid said with a chuckle.

“Don’t you want me to have what else you have?”

“What’s that?”

“Someone to love,” Kitty whispered. This was so hard to say. She and her father were never close, not like she and her mother were. Nick and Hunter always spent most of the free time with their father, but Kitty didn’t. She used to consider him as foreign to her as some people did people from other countries. But seeing him, sitting on the porch swing looking so forlorn made her realize that her father was a lot like her, full of pride and always trying to do the right thing, almost to the point of being stubborn about it. Why else would she have stayed engaged so long to a man she knew she didn’t love?

“You love Lucas?”

“I don’t know, but I think so,” Kitty admitted.

“Does he love you?”

At that question, Kitty smiled. “I don’t know, but I think so.”

“You think he’ll make you happy?” Kid asked, returning his daughter’s smile.

“Oh yes, Pa,” Kitty said, almost wistfully. Of that she was certain.

Kid hugged his daughter to him, “He had better,” he said, his words thick with emotion. For a while, Kid was content just to hold her. He knew he was going to lose his daughter and even though he had her with him longer than most, his heart still ached with the knowledge. He smoothed a stray curl back from Kitty’s eyes and said, “Why don’t you get some sleep? I don’t know what’s gonna happen tonight, but we just might need someone who has their wits tomorrow.”

Kitty kissed her father’s cheek, “I’ll try. ‘Night.”

When his daughter was gone, Kid continued to sit on the swing, mulling over his daughter’s words. He still wasn’t sure about Lucas, but he meant to do right and he knew that the right thing was to let her daughter make her own decisions. Hadn’t he learned the hard way what trying to force his will on the McCloud women led to?

A little while later, Lou came to sit beside him. “You done good.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” Kid responded quietly. “She just might get her heart broken.”

“If she does, then we’ll help her mend it,” Lou said as she kissed him.

Chapter Fifteen

Buck sat down next to Hannah. He had just come out of the bedroom. There was nothing he could do but wait and he didn’t want to wait with Sally and Jasper. If he was needed inside, he knew Jasper would get him. Buck found Hannah sitting just outside the bedroom with Lucas laying his head in Hannah’s lap, as Jasper had been doing a little while ago. He had just dozed off. Hannah was absently playing with his hair.

“You aren’t mad at him?” Buck asked softly, almost hesitantly. He knew he was treading into dangerous territory right now, Hannah was very protective of her family. Yet Buck couldn’t help but feel a kind of kinship with Lucas.

“No,” Hannah shook her head. “He’s suffered enough.” The way Lucas spoke about his childhood had broken Hannah’s heart. He tried so hard to make it sound like his youth was an adventure, but the more he spoke, the more obvious it was. Lucas’ life was anything but an adventure. “He didn’t ask for any of this.”

Buck put an arm around Hannah in attempt to offer comfort and soon found himself the only one awake and it remained that way for the whole night.

The next morning, Kid went up the stairs and found Hannah asleep, resting against Buck’s shoulder, while Lucas slept beside her, on the floor.

“Any news?” Kid asked Buck quietly, hoping not to disturb Hannah.

But Hannah heard a voice and opened her eyes. “Morning,” she said, as she stood up and went to the bedroom door. She opened it a bit and looked inside. She saw her son sleeping, holding Sally tightly in his arms. Sally was awake, gently stroking Jasper’s hair.

Quietly Hannah stepped inside. “How you doing?” she asked Sally.

“It don’t hurt anymore,” Sally said, her eyes shining.




The doctor sat on a chair beside the bed. Hannah and Buck were leaning against the wall, with Jasper close to his mother’s side. Nick had come by for a little while and had been quickly dispatched to inform Jimmy of Sally’s condition. Nick was also bringing Jenny back to the McCloud home when he returned. Her parents were desperate to see her.

The doctor looked sternly at Jasper and Sally. “I want you two to listen close. No more trips and no more wild rides,” he said and then he looked straight at Sally. “I want you to stay in bed, until you deliver this child. The only time I even want to hear that you’ve gotten out of bed, is because you need to visit the outhouse. Understand?”

“Yes sir,” Sally said, in a small voice. She knew how close she had come to losing her baby and she wasn’t about to do anything to risk her child’s life, ever again.

The doctor then turned his eyes upon Jasper, “And that means you can’t be bothering you wife till she delivers this child,” the doctor said, giving Jasper a significant look.

Jasper beamed at the doctor. “You best be telling Sally that. She’s the one who can’t keep her hands to herself.”

“Jasper!” Sally exclaimed.

But Hannah and Buck just laughed. They knew that the worst must be over if Jasper could start talking like that.

“So when can my wife go home?” Jasper asked.

“Tomorrow,” the doctor said, putting his things back in his bag. “I want Sally to stay here, one more day, just to make sure everything is alright. But remember, I want you to take it easy.”

“I will,” Sally said.

As soon as the doctor left, so did Hannah and Buck, both of them called downstairs by the delicious smells wafting up from the kitchen. “I’ll bring up a plate,” Hannah informed them, before she left.

“Did you hear what the doctor said,” Jasper whispered as he moved on to the bed. He cupped Sally’s face and held it, so she looked right at him, “Thinking that he has to tell me not to bother my wife. As if I couldn’t control myself around such a beautiful woman.”

“Quit that,” Sally said softly, slapping his hand away. She was still perturbed by his earlier comment. Jasper could be so foolish in front of other folks.

“But I reckon I can’t blame him,” Jasper continued, tucking a strand of Sally’s hair behind her ear. “He must think that I am completely helpless in the face of such an enchantress.” Jasper leaned close to her and kissed her neck. “I am you know, helpless around you.”

“Oh Jasper,” Sally said, but this time she sounded pleased.

Jasper sat upright, as Sally leaned against him. “Don’t you ever go and scare me like that again, you hear?” he said.

“I scared myself too,” Sally admitted hesitantly.

“I don’t know what I would ever do without you.”

“You ain’t never gonna find out,” Sally smiled. “I can’t leave you to your own devices.”

“You best stop saying things like that,” Jasper said teasingly. “You know that kind of talk drives me wild.”

“Will you stay with me?” Sally asked softly.

Jasper kissed her, “Always.” He laid an arm on her swollen belly, relieved to feel the movements under his hand. His son was as active as ever.

“Excuse me,” Lucas began. He had just stepped in the bedroom, carrying the plate Hannah fixed and immediately began backing out. He felt very uncomfortable when he saw Jasper lying in bed with Sally.

“Come on in,” Jasper called out cheerfully. “This is the only way you’re gonna see me and Sally for a while. My wife don’t want me to leave her bed. I can just imagine the look on my boss’ face when I tell him that.”

“Jasper!” Sally exclaimed. She pulled the blanket over her head, in embarrassment. “You are making an ass of yourself, again.”

Jasper let out a loud snort. “You hear that, my woman is sweet talking me.” He kissed the blanket, where Sally’s head lay underneath. “Ain’t it grand?”

Chapter Sixteen

Jasper laid Sally on the bed. They had just returned home and there was a houseful of people, waiting so see Sally.

“You remember what the doc said,” Jasper reminded her. “Take it easy.”

“I will,” Sally promised. And as soon as Jasper left the room, a swarm of people entered. Sally listened to all the words, but she kept her focus on what was going on out the window. She watched as her husband walked towards Lucas Henry. She smiled to herself at the sight. “I love you, Jasper,” she whispered.

“Lucas,” Jasper called out. “I just wanted to apologize for the other day.”

Lucas smiled. “You got a hell of a left hook.”

“Yeah, well I’ve been told you do too,” Jasper replied, faking a punch to Lucas mid-section.

“I’m sorry about your Pa.”

Jasper waved off his words. “Water under the bridge. You gotta make your own peace with him. I’m staying out of it,” Jasper paused, studying Lucas’ face and then he continued. “You gonna stick around?”

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“If you wanted to stay here, you are welcome to.”

“Here?” Lucas said in astonishment.

“Well, much as I’d like to stay home all the time and be with my wife, I can’t. I’d be beholden to you if you could help us out,” Jasper grinned. “I mean you ain’t got no job.”

Lucas shook his head. “I can’t do that.”

“My Ma and sisters are gonna help out,” Jasper explained. “So is Sally’s stepmother. But I’d feel a whole lot better knowing there was a man around too.”

“You’d better not let your womenfolk hear you,” Lucas smiled.

“I ain’t that crazy. Besides they just might end up being your womenfolk too,” Jasper laughed.

“But seriously, me and Sally want you to stay and we really do need the help.” Jasper hadn’t even spoken to Sally, but he didn’t need to. He knew what she would say. In fact, she’d probably kill him if he didn’t try to make amends.

“You sure?”

“Yeah I’m sure,” Jasper said in mock exasperation. “So you’ll stay?”

“I suppose,” Lucas replied. “For a while.”

“Good,” Jasper said, clapping him on the back. “You hungry? There’s a whole mess of food inside.” But then he caught sight of Kitty, lingering on the steps. “Maybe later,” he said, knowingly.

Jasper squeezed Kitty’s arm as he bounded inside. Kitty took a step towards Lucas. She had so much to say, she didn’t even know how to begin.

“You’re gonna stay here?” Kitty asked. She had been standing outside, waiting for her chance to talk to Lucas and had overheard Jasper’s invitation.

“So it seems,” Lucas replied dryly. Odd as it was, he felt most comfortable around Jasper. From all the talk he had heard, being entrusted with Sally’s care was the highest compliment Jasper could offer to anyone. How could he say no?

“I’m glad,” Kitty said, feeling suddenly shy.

“Maybe you’ll invite me to the wedding,” Lucas whispered. That was one event he would never go to.

Kitty held up her left hand and as Lucas looked it, he saw that the diamond engagement ring that had always adorned her finger was gone. He stared at her, slack-jawed. “Kitty?”

“Ain’t gonna be a wedding,” she said softly. At least not to Martin Miller, she thought.

Lucas took her hand, rubbing the empty spot on her finger with his thumb. “You told him it was off?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Like my Ma said, it ain’t right to accept a man’s ring, when you are in love with another,” Kitty said, staring directly at Lucas’ ear.

“You know what you’re doing?”

“Yeah,” Kitty replied. “Do you?”

Lucas smiled, “No.”

“So how long are you gonna stay?”

Lucas pulled her close, “Long as you want me to.”

“Excuse me,” Kid said, coming to stand beside Lucas and Kitty.

Lucas quickly released Kitty. “I’m sorry sir.”

“You can have your old job back,” Kid told him, as Kitty looked on, beaming. “If you want it.”

Lucas shook his head, “I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think so.”

“Well, it’s yours, if you change your mind,” Kid said. He stared at the young man in front of him and added, his voice somber, “You had better treat her right.”

“I will,” Lucas replied, his own voice equally serious.

Chapter Seventeen

“Faster,” Jenny shouted.

“Hang on,” Jasper shouted back. He adjusted his grip on his daughter, as she was sitting on his shoulders, while they ran from group to group, greeting people. As Jasper began to run, Jenny let out a loud squeal of delight.

Sally smiled watching her husband and daughter. A few minutes later, Hannah handed her a small, squirming bundle. It was Noah and he was very upset.

“I think he’s hungry,” Hannah said.

Sally sighed, “He’s always hungry.” Ever since Noah was born, two months ago, it seems like that’s all she did, feed that child. She rose to her feet and went inside. She went upstairs to a bedroom, grateful to see that it was unoccupied. It was Jenny’s third birthday and the house was already full and people were still coming. Jimmy and Hannah had gone all out for their granddaughter’s party. They knew that Sally and Jasper were too busy with Noah to have a real party, so they threw one in their stead. Sally was still trying to make up for all the work she had let slide while she was confined to bed.

Hannah smiled and joined her husband on the blanket where he was sitting with his friends, Buck and Kid. Lou was fussing over her daughter-in-law, who had announced a few weeks ago that she was expecting, while Helen, Buck’s wife, was sitting on the swing that hung from a tree limb with little Al in her arms. When Buck saw his wife, he made his way to the swing and began to push both of them.

Hannah glanced over to Lucas, who was also on the blanket. At least Kid was trying, she thought. He still didn’t fully accept Lucas, but he had given his permission to allow Lucas to court Kitty. Hannah personally thought it was because he didn’t want to face both Kitty and Lou when they were angry.

Jimmy draped an arm over his wife’s shoulders, as she came to sit beside him. For a few moments, the group chatted amiably. Then Kitty arrived. Jimmy saw how Lucas’ eyes lit up when he saw her. He quickly got up and began walking towards her.

“He loves her,” Jimmy said to Kid, who too had noted Lucas’ expression.

“I know,” Kid said with a heavy sigh. “But does she have to take up with a Hickok?” he added with a sly grin.

Lucas didn’t move in with Jimmy, he stayed with Jasper until the baby was born. But a few weeks ago he had taken the name Hickok. Jasper had persuaded him that it was better than some made up name. It hadn’t taken much persuading as he had always considered himself to be a Hickok. Lucas also didn’t go back to the McCloud’s ranch. Jimmy had hired Lucas on as a deputy, when his old one left. Lucas had then moved into a room, just above the marshal’s office.

“Seems like all our girls do,” Buck laughed, as his wife and son joined them.

“Well maybe I’ll return the favor,” Kid smiled, gesturing to his youngest son Hunter, who was now pushing Bonnie Hickok on the swing.

“Glad to see you could finally make it,” Lucas said, putting his hand on Kitty’s ankle and without changing his expression, he let his hand travel up Kitty’s leg.

Kitty quickly kicked her leg out, effectively knocking Lucas’ hand off her. “You know, you have been spending much too much time with Jasper.”

“I know,” he replied, grasping Kitty around the waist, to ostensibly help her down from her horse. As Kitty’s feet touched the ground, Lucas caught the look that Kid wore. He had a slight frown on his face.

“He’s coming around,” Kitty said quickly, her eyes following Lucas’.

“I know,” Lucas said, taking Kitty’s hand. He tilted his head towards Jenny, “Maybe he’ll like me more, when we have one of our own,” he continued, allowing a note of hope to creep into his voice.

One of their own, Kitty thought happily. “Probably.”

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