Five days before the wedding...

Chapter One

Jasper Hickok hurried out of his house. He had volunteered to make his father’s rounds for him this evening. He would volunteer every evening from now until the wedding, as long as it kept him out of his house. He shook his head, seemed like everyone he knew had gone stark raving mad.

Emma Cain and her husband, Sam, along with their sons, Jack and Edward had arrived last week. So did Rachel and her husband Roger. Rachel had married a few years ago and made her home in New Orleans. She had been busy, trying to help Daisy out with her own daughter, who if possible caused even more havoc than her mother ever did. But the instant Rachel heard about the wedding, she had come running, as did Emma. Both women were holed up in the Cross home with Sally, Jasper thought with a grimace. He thought Buck had become overly protective of Sally. Buck wasn’t anything compared to Emma.

In spite of the fact, Rachel and Emma weren’t in Rock Creek anymore, they both continued to play the role of grandmother, even though they were far too young for the job. Both women considered themselves especially close to the Cross children, as their mother had died ten years ago. Emma had spent almost a year in Rock Creek, tending to Sally, Ike and Lilly’s emotional health after Jennifer had died. And when Emma left, Rachel took up the job.

The Codys were still in town, staying with the Hickoks. William Cody had just returned from his show. He thought the wedding would be over and done with by now. But instead of the one month he had expected to plan the wedding, it had taken over three months and Cody had to return to his show. He couldn’t just leave in some lackey’s hands. But now that the wedding was close at hand, he had returned. Louisa and the girls had stayed in Rock Creek while Cody was gone, as Cody had wanted his children to get to know their Pony Express family.

Ike, Sally’s younger brother and Jasper’s youngest sister, Bonnie were staying at the McCloud home, along with Emma’s sons. Even Buck had taken to spending all his days there, going home only to eat and sleep. Poor Nick, Jasper frowned, all the younger children were driving him to distraction.

Jasper knew in a few days, Kitty McCloud and his sister, Ellie, would move to the Cross home as well, to help Sally get ready for the wedding. He couldn’t for the life of him understand why these women needed so many days to get Sally ready. For all he cared, they could send Sally nude down the aisle. He smiled to himself at the thought. That was the worst part of it, Jasper hadn’t seen Sally in days and he couldn’t take it. Actually that was the second worst thing. The worst thing was how much he missed Sally. He missed talking to her, listening to her, just being with her. She was his touchstone, nothing made sense unless Sally was there. Just a few more days, he thought and it would all be over.

Jasper continued walking down the street, while a million thoughts ran through his head. He had just passed the livery when he heard something inside. He knew that no one should be in there that time of night. Slowly Jasper made his way to the stable and swung the door open. As he peered inside, someone leapt at him. He pulled out his gun as he went tumbling to the ground. When he pinned his assailant, Jasper was completely taken aback, it was no assailant, it was Sally.

Sally put her arms around him, “I couldn’t take it anymore,” she said breathlessly. She pulled his head down, pressing her lips against his.

Jasper kissed her, realizing then why he was putting up with all of this wedding nonsense. He loved Sally and he wanted her to have the wedding she deserved. Initially, he had tried to persuade her to run off with him, but then again he knew he didn’t want that. He wanted a grand wedding with all the trimmings, something Sally would always remember. He just wished it was all over with.

As he collapsed on her, Jasper grinned into Sally’s face, “You are gonna be the death of me.”

Sally pushed him off her and began to straighten her clothes. “Death of you,” she mocked. “Oh Sally,” she said, pitching her voice upward. “I can’t take not being with you. Sally, I’m going crazy without you.”

Jasper grabbed her and pinned her down again, “Admit it, you are a wanton woman,” he smiled, rubbing his stubbly chin against her soft cheek.

“Ouch,” Sally said, swatting him playfully. “I just missed you.”

Jasper rolled over, pulling Sally on top of him, as desire flooded him once again. “I know the feeling,” he whispered as Sally lowered her mouth to his.

Four days before the wedding...

Chapter Two

Buck glanced in the direction of the schoolhouse. He pictured the new teacher Helen Donnelly sitting at her desk, scribbling in her journal, as she always did once the children left for the day. He recalled the first time he had met her. Helen had summoned him to come see her about his youngest daughter, Lilly.

Buck couldn’t believe what Miss Donnelly had written about Lilly, the apple of his eye. Of all his children, Lilly most resembled Jennifer. Lilly’s skin, hair and eyes were all a shade lighter than his other children. She also had Jennifer’s smile. Whenever Lilly smiled, it was like Jennifer was still with him.

The note Miss Donnelly had written asked him to come to the schoolhouse, so they could discuss Lilly’s behavior. Apparently, she was one of the most disruptive students in the classroom. From what the teacher had written, Lilly was giving Jasper a run for the most incorrigible student to ever set foot in the Rock Creek schoolhouse.

When Buck had met Helen Donnelly, the two of them exchanged heated words and their meeting had ended badly when Buck stormed out of the schoolhouse. He had shouted at the teacher, telling her that she thought Lilly was a bad seed, while Helen looked at him with an amused smile.

It was that smile which had compelled Buck to come back the next day, with a bunch of fresh wild flowers. A peace offering, he had said, after he apologized profusely for his behavior of the previous day. Helen, being the kind of woman that she was, accepted both the flowers and the apology. It was then that she and Buck had sat down and seriously discussed Lilly’s behavior.

After sitting down for almost two hours, Buck and Helen came to the conclusion that Lilly must be feeling quite left out about the wedding. Ever since he had announced that Sally and Jasper were getting married, Buck’s life seemed to revolve around that particular event. Helen had advised him to make sure that Lilly was an active participant in the wedding and not just treated as a nuisance.

Buck had gratefully accepted her advice and then, much to the teacher’s astonishment, he asked her out to dinner. Helen had been too flabbergasted to refuse. So that night, almost a month and a half ago, their relationship began. Buck had asked Helen to keep their budding romance quiet until after the wedding. There was just so much chaos, he didn’t want the first time his children met her, as a potential stepmother, to fall by the wayside and Helen had agreed. She was more than a little apprehensive about the day when the Cross children found out about her. She knew she had some big shoes to fill.

“Afternoon,” Buck sang out, enjoying the look of pleasure that filled Helen’s face when she looked up. As he looked at Helen’s lovely face, he was struck again by how attractive she was. She was not someone he would ever call beautiful, arresting was probably the best word to describe her. Helen had light brown hair, streaked with threads of yellow and the most unusual golden brown eyes. Buck often found himself drifting off whenever he gazed into those eyes. In some ways, Helen was the exact opposite of his first wife. On the outside, Jennifer was a strong and fiercely proud woman, whereas Helen appeared to be quite shy and often unsure of herself. But as he got to know her, Buck realized that Helen had a will of iron, masked by a layer of reserve that made her appear shy. But once someone pierced her protective layer, they were rewarded by both her strength and her humor.

“Afternoon,” Helen replied. “Are you here about the note I sent?”

“Note?” Buck asked, wincing at the word. “Lilly been acting up again?”

“Yes,” Helen said sadly. She tried to explain how unruly Lilly had become. She had even taken to inciting the other students into misbehaving.

“I have an idea,” Buck told her. “Maybe it would help if Lilly could see you as just an ordinary person, not only as her teacher.”

“I don’t know,” Helen replied thoughtfully. “I thought you were gonna wait to tell the children about us, till the wedding was over.”

Buck took a step closer to the desk and took one of Helen’s hands into his own. “Not that,” he said with a teasing smile. “That will be a special dinner, in honor of you. I would just like Lilly to get to know you, outside the classroom.” Buck didn’t think Lilly or any of his children were ready to meet Helen, as a woman who was involved with their father. He had it all planned out, how after the wedding he would gradually start putting the idea in their head.

“Alright, if you think it will help,” Helen smiled. At this point in time, she was ready to try anything. “This dinner also might let Lilly know that we are on the same side, when it comes to her behavior.”

“Good,” Buck said. “We’ll see you at six. I’ll have Jasper and Sally bring you by.” Buck wanted Jasper there, that boy could more than adequately fill any awkward pauses that might arise. He also hoped that if Lilly saw other members of her family treating Helen with kindness, she might be inspired to do the same. All he had to do now, was ask Emma and Rachel, as well as their husbands to eat dinner elsewhere tonight.

Helen nodded. “I’ll see you tonight. Thank you.”

Chapter Three

Helen smiled as she passed the potatoes to Lilly, who refused to acknowledge her presence. Both Buck and Jasper tried their best to persuade the girl into reciprocating the teacher’s kind words to her, but Lilly stubbornly refused to even look at Helen.

Jasper glanced at Sally. She seemed to be lost in her own world. He reached under the table and squeezed her knee. He was rewarded by a scowl. Jasper smiled at her, if there was anything he had learned about Sally, it was to ignore her when she got like this, but he just couldn’t do it. Sally was one of the sweetest people on the planet. But if she was in a bad mood, most folks knew well enough to leave her be. Not him though, it was just in his nature to stir the pot.

Thus the dinner went, with Lilly ignoring Helen, Sally sitting quietly, Buck trying to involve both his daughters in some kind of conversation, any kind of conversation and Jasper rambling aimlessly, until mercifully it was over.

Helen smiled at Buck, “Thank you so much for such a lovely meal.” She pushed her chair back and attempted to rise. But much to her dismay, she was stuck to the chair. She reached down and tried to pull her skirt free, to no avail. She looked around the table, Buck and Sally had already started clearing the dishes, while Jasper still sat, waiting for her to stand. Helen glanced at Lilly, who couldn’t keep the smile from her lips.

Good Lord, Helen thought. Hadn’t she been a teacher long enough without learning about the pranks children could pull? She gave her skirt one final tug, before she gave up. “Excuse me,” she called out. “I seem to be stuck.”

“Stuck?” Jasper said. He quickly got up and took Helen’s hand, trying in vain to pull her to her feet. “I think you really are stuck,” he grinned.

When Buck entered the room, Jasper filled him in on what was happening. Then Jasper held the chair, while Buck took Helen’s hands and the two men pulled in opposite directions, stopping only when they heard the fabric of Helen’s skirt start to tear.

“We are gonna have to cut you out,” Buck said, casting an angry eye at his youngest child. “Lilly run up and get a skirt.”

“Oh my,” Helen gasped. She looked at Sally’s slim figure. “I can’t wear Sally’s clothing.” Sally, who was slender to begin with, had the figure of a young woman, something she no longer was. Helen sat, stuck to that chair, her cheeks burning with mortification. “You could get something from my home,” she offered.

“Go and get one of your Ma’s skirts,” Buck commanded Lilly.

“Ma’s?” Lilly and Sally exclaimed in unison.

“Go,” Buck said sternly. He reached down and pulled the knife from his boot, handing it to Sally. “You cut Miss Donnelly loose.” Buck and Jasper then made a discreet exit.

A few moments later, Helen was freed and stood wearing Jennifer’s skirt. “Thank you,” she said gratefully to Sally. “I’ll return this as soon as I wash it.”

Sally frowned. How could she explain to this stranger that she didn’t want her to wash her mother’s skirt? When Sally was younger and she got to missing her mother, she would creep into her father’s room and open the trunk, where he kept Jennifer’s things. Her clothes still held Jennifer’s scent, something that often gave Sally comfort.

A few moments later, Buck and Jasper returned. “I can take you home, if you are ready,” Jasper told Helen.

“Thank you,” Helen said. She then turned and thanked the Cross family for the wonderful meal and soon left.

Jasper stood by the door and gave Sally a longing look, which she ignored. Sally stood silently until he made his exit and then she turned to her father. “How could you?”

“What?” Buck exclaimed. He knew that his daughters would be upset about the skirt, but what did they expect from him? “Would you like Miss Donnelly to go home half dressed?”

“You gave her Ma’s skirt,” Lilly declared angrily.

“I didn’t give it to her,” Buck responded. “And none of this would have occurred if you hadn’t of put paste on her chair.”

Lilly gave her father a hard look and flounced out of the room.

“And what’s wrong with you?” Buck demanded of Sally. “You were almost rude to that poor woman.”

“Poor woman?!” Sally shrieked. “Is that why you couldn’t stop looking at her?” She too stormed out of the room, running upstairs.

Buck threw his hands up. He hoped that once the wedding was over, his daughters would regain their senses. He had been nothing but polite to Helen, burying the urge to tell his family about her, along with the overwhelming temptation to pull her into a dark corner and kiss her. He decided that Sally was just being overwrought because of the wedding. Helen was a lovely person, he was sure that his children would care for her once they got to know her, as he did.

Chapter Four

Jasper settled into his spot in the barn. He had been sent there, as there was not enough room in his house. Hannah had offered the master bedroom to Cody and Louisa. Ellie and Olivia, along with Cody’s daughters were squeezed into the girls’ bedroom, while his parents had taken over his room.

Jasper pulled the blanket over him. He didn’t mind being out here, not with the weather as mild as it had been. But May was often an unpredictable month. Jasper could scarcely believe that he was getting married next month, next month was less than a week away. But truth be told, he couldn’t wait to start his life with Sally. He closed his eyes and slowly drifted off the sleep, imaging their life together.

Meanwhile at the Cross home, Sally waited until everyone was asleep and then she crept out. She rode as fast as she could to the Hickok place. Once she got there, she threw pebbles at the window of Jasper’s room. She needed to talk to him. But she wanted the earth to open up and swallow her when she saw Jimmy open the window and grin down at her.

“I’m sorry,” Sally whispered. What must he think of her?

“He’s in the barn,” Jimmy said, continuing to grin as he leaned out the window.

Sally nodded, unable to meet Jimmy’s eyes. She quickly scrambled away and ran to the barn. She found Jasper asleep in the loft. She shook him gently. “Jasper,” she hissed.

Jasper opened his eyes and pulled Sally into his arms. He had just been dreaming of her. “Didn’t I wear you out last night?” he said with a lazy grin.

Sally punched him lightly. “Not now.” She stood up and crossed her arms in front of her.

Jasper also stood up, watching Sally as she began to pace back and forth. She stopped by a bale of hay, staring at the ground.

“What’s wrong?” Jasper asked, coming to stand next to her. He took a step closer to her, as she edged backwards, her spine resting against the barn wall. Jasper leaned his head to hers, capturing her mouth with his.

Sally pushed him away. “I said not now.”

“What?” Jasper said irritably.

“Can’t you just listen to what I have to say without pawing me?” she asked angrily.

Jasper folded his hands together, almost primly. “Good enough for you?”

“Be serious, for once,” Sally shot back.

“Sally, I don’t know what you want from me?” Jasper said, also becoming angry.

“Just listen, alright?”

“I am,” Jasper said wearily. “It’s just you ain’t saying anything.”

“Maybe I would, if you would stop grabbing me,” Sally snapped.

“I ain’t touching you.”

Sally sighed, she didn’t come here to fight. “Did you see the way my Pa was looking at her?”

“Who?” Jasper asked, genuinely confused.

“Her, that Miss Donnelly.”

“I didn’t see nothing.”

“Are you blind?” Sally said shrilly. “He... he... he...”

“He what?” Jasper asked loudly. “He’s interested? What’s wrong with that? She seemed right nice.”

“You must be crazy,” Sally exclaimed. “How could he do that? Don’t he have any respect for my Ma’s memory?”

“And what would you have me to do?” Jasper laughed. “Tar and feather that Miss Donnelly?”

As Sally glowered at him, Jasper continued to chuckle. “I got it, we’ll just drive that woman right out of town,” he said gleefully. “We can start by giving Lilly a whole list of new pranks to pull.”

“Don’t you laugh at me,” Sally retorted sharply. “This is all a big joke to you, isn’t it?” She stared hard at Jasper. “What would you do if something happened to me? Just go on, forget about me, give my clothes away?”


“Maybe you really don’t love me,” Sally cried, getting more hysterical by the moment. “Maybe you wouldn’t even care if we didn’t get married. We should probably do ourselves a favor and call the whole thing off right now.”

“Now hold up,” Jasper said. How did this conversation suddenly degenerate into calling off the wedding?

“After all you didn’t waste much time a few months ago. You just jumped right into Betsy O’Connor’s waiting arms,” Sally yelled.

Not this, Jasper thought. He had spent weeks apologizing to Betsy and Hawk. The strange thing about that incident was how easily Hawk accepted his apology. He had even interceded between him and Betsy. Jasper was sure that Betsy had only forgiven him because Hawk had asked her to. Betsy and Hawk were now courting. As for Sally, Jasper apologized that night at the pond and just assumed that all was forgiven, but apparently not.

Jasper grasped Sally’s forearms, “I love you,” he said, his jaw clenched. He sought her lips hungrily. He would show her exactly how much he loved her.

Sally pushed him away again. “That’s your answer to everything,” she said coldly. She turned on her heel and marched out of the barn.

Jasper shook his head. Maybe he should just do what everyone else did and let Sally stew. She always snapped out of her bad moods the next day. Once she wasn’t feeling so irritable, they could discuss this rationally.

Three days before the wedding...

Chapter Five

“The wedding is off,” Sally announced to the women sitting at the breakfast table. Emma and Rachel thought they were going to enjoy a nice breakfast and then start working on Sally’s dress. But Sally’s words had stunned both of them.

“It’s what?” Emma exclaimed, shaking her head.

“You heard me,” Sally said softly. She put her head in her hands. “It’s off.”

“Why?” Rachel asked, taking one of Sally’s hands. “Did you and Jasper have a fight?”

“It’s probably just nerves,” Emma decided.

“It’s not,” Sally declared.

“Then what is it?” Rachel said.

“He don’t-” Sally tried to say the words, but she couldn’t. She blinked her eyes furiously. She would not cry.

“He don’t what?” Rachel asked. “Jasper don’t love you?” She smiled sadly at Sally. “He loves you more than anything. You are that boy’s whole world.”

“No, I’m not,” Sally cried, as leapt to her feet and ran from the room. Didn’t they understand? She was obviously just a habit with Jasper. He would forget all about her in no time, just like he did before. Just like everyone forgot about her mother.

Emma frowned at Sally’s receding figure. “I’ll ride out to Jimmy’s place, see what I can find out there.”

Rachel nodded. “I’ll try talking to Sally again.”

Emma hitched up the buckboard and rode to the Hickok home. She greeted Jimmy who was off to work and then went looking for Hannah.

“Emma,” Hannah smiled, when she saw her. “Sit down, let me get you some coffee.”

Emma took a seat. “Did you hear anything about a fight between Jasper and Sally?”

“No,” Hannah said, handing Emma a cup.

“Sally says the wedding is off.”

“What?” Jasper shouted, entering the room.

Emma studied the young man. He appeared to be truly shaken by the words he just heard. “She is mighty upset about something.”

Jasper cursed under his breath. “Excuse me,” he said, hurrying from the room. He got on his horse and rode the Cross place. When he ran up the stairs, he found Rachel outside Sally’s bedroom door.

“She won’t let me in,” Rachel said softly. She could hear Sally inside sobbing and it broke her heart to hear the girl so sad.

Jasper pounded on the door. “Let me in!” he roared. But all he got in response was silence. Jasper pictured Sally burying her head under a pillow, so her sobs would be muffled. She was always trying to hide her feelings when she was hurt and for the most part she hid her pain successfully, but not from those who loved her.

“Is she serious ‘bout calling the wedding off?” Jasper asked quietly.

“I think so,” Rachel responded. “What happened last night?”

Quickly Jasper filled her in. It still didn’t make any sense to him. Sally should be happy that her father might actually find happiness again. But instead she took it as a betrayal and somehow he was the one being punished for it.

“I don’t know what to do,” Jasper said brokenly. He leaned his back against the wall and slid down.

Rachel patted his arm, “Give her some time, this might just blow over as quickly as it came on.”

But it didn’t blow over. Sally wouldn’t speak to anyone. She locked herself in her room, refusing to come out. Eventually when Rachel wouldn’t let him shoot the lock off the door, Jasper left, his voice hoarse with the effort of trying to talk through the thick bedroom door. Sally wouldn’t even open it when Rachel fixed her a tray and brought it up to her. When Buck heard what was going on, he too tried shouting through the door, but his patience was already stretched quite thin and he gave up quickly.

Late that afternoon, Rachel took a deep breath and knocked on Sally’s door once again. “He’s gone,” she said. When she got no response, she continued. “Can you please let me in, just for a minute?”

Sally opened the door a crack and quickly scanned the hallway. As Rachel said, Jasper was gone. She didn’t know if she should be happy or sad about that fact. She opened the door wider, allowing Rachel to step into her bedroom.

“Are you alright?” Rachel asked gently.

Sally shook her head. She flopped down on her bed, burying her head in a blanket. She wished she could just disappear.

Rachel sat down gingerly on the bed, next to Sally. “Did I ever tell you that I was married before?”

Sally rolled over and looked at Rachel, “I heard about it.”

“To a wonderful man by the name of Henry Dunne,” Rachel said softly, her face clouding over as she thought of her husband’s death. “It took me a long time to get over him. Just when I thought I never would, I did. It was Roger who first got my blood going again. And when he came back for me the third time, to prove that he had finally grown up, I realized I couldn’t let him go.”

“You were tired of being alone?” Sally asked, speaking in the same hushed tone as Rachel.

“Not so much tired of being alone as tired of hiding from life,” Rachel answered thoughtfully. “You know that Emma was married once before.”

“Evan Crandall,” Sally spat out the name, doing a wonderful imitation of Jimmy Hickok. “He was a snake.”

“Yeah, I heard that too,” Rachel replied. “But Emma loved him. Eventually she got over him and married Sam. He was married before too. And you know about your Grandpa Teaspoon,” Rachel said brightly, trying to elicit a smile from Sally. But Sally didn’t respond as she hoped. She just sat up in her bed, hugging her knees to her chest.

“You think all of us are fickle?” Rachel asked.

“No,” Sally said slowly.

“So just your Pa is?”

“I don’t know,” Sally whispered, unable to hide the betrayal from her voice. “I just don’t understand how he could do this.”

Rachel smoothed a stray lock of Sally’s hair back. “Maybe it would be easier if he fell for someone after you were married?”

“It ain’t that,” Sally said. “I ain’t jealous of her.”

“You think your Pa is gonna love Miss Donnelly more than your Ma?”

Sally nodded miserably, that was part of it.

“Love ain’t like that, sweetie,” Rachel said, giving Sally a quick hug. “Your Pa has lots of room in his heart. You don’t think your Pa loves you any less just because he has got two other children, do you?”

“No,” Sally replied. “I guess not.”

“If your Pa cares for this woman, he should have been straight with you, right from the start,” Rachel declared firmly. “But he had his own reasons for keeping quiet and you have to respect ‘em.”

“Now you have some choices to make,” Rachel continued. “You can punish the two men who love you most or you can let us keep planning this wedding. So what’s it gonna be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well you think on it and let us know quick,” Rachel said with a twinkle in her eye. “But I for one am gonna bet that you are gonna come to your senses and I am gonna keep on planning this wedding.”

Chapter Six

That afternoon, after Jasper left the Cross home, he went straight to the McCloud place, where he schemed and plotted with Nick. The two of them worked on a plan and by nightfall they were ready to put it into play.

The two young men pulled a wagon alongside the wall and then Jasper climbed up the trellis outside of Sally’s bedroom window. He pushed the window open and lowered himself inside. He was relieved to see Sally’s sleeping figure on the bed, instead of Emma’s. He didn’t know how Mrs. Cain would react to his scheme and he certainly didn’t want to find out.

He clapped his hand over Sally’s mouth and quickly bound it with a gag. Sally raised her hand to strike him. But Jasper grasped both her wrists in one hand and tied them together. He then rapidly tied her ankles together. This was no easy task as Sally was squirming furiously now, trying desperately to inflict some damage.

“You leave me be,” he heard her muffled voice say.

Jasper ignored her and slung her over his shoulder, as though she was a sack of flour. Sally struggled harder when she saw what Jasper was doing, until Jasper almost lost in balance as he climbed out the window. She certainly didn’t want to be dropped from such a height, so Sally held herself still. A few feet from the ground, she renewed her struggle and Jasper unceremoniously dropped her to the ground. She felt someone else grab her and throw her into a wagon. She stared angrily at Nick’s brown eyes. How dare he look at her like that? Like this was the most amusing thing he had seen in a long time. Nick climbed into the wagon and pulled out a pair of shackles. He snapped one of the cuffs onto her wrist and the other to the wagon seat.

Sally glared balefully at Nick, who carelessly stood in front of her. She pulled her legs against her body and then pushed them with all her might against Nick’s thighs. Sally was heartened to see Nick go tumbling from the wagon.

Nick quickly stood up and brushed the dirt from his pants. Why Jasper was so gone on Sally, he had no idea. She could be such a hellcat when she was angry. But Jasper was his friend and he hated to seen him so hurt, that’s why he agreed to go along with this crazy scheme. At least his part of this plan was now over. Nick tipped his hat to Jasper and got on his horse, quietly riding away.

Jasper climbed onto the wagon seat. He threw a blanket on Sally, then softly urged the team of horses to move.

Sam Cain hurried to Sally’s room, where he found Buck already there, staring outside the window. Sam lowered his gun. “Something wrong?” He then glanced at the empty bed, “Where’s Sally?”

Buck shook his head. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “Sally’s with Jasper.” He knew that sometimes no one could get through to his daughter, except Jasper. Buck had heard about Rachel’s conversation with her and he knew that he was due to talk to Sally as well. He just hoped everything worked out.

Sally and Jasper rode to the Reverend Markham home. Sally watched as Jasper climbed into the back of the wagon and unlocked the shackles. When he tried to pull Sally from the wagon, she kicked at him. Sighing, Jasper reached for her waist, ready to hoist her over his shoulder again.

But as he bent over, Sally stretched her hands towards Jasper’s gun and then she pulled it from its holster. “You let me go,” she mumbled, trying to make herself heard through the gag.

Jasper sat on his haunches and pulled the gag from her mouth. “Better?” he asked, completely nonplussed by the fact Sally was aiming a gun at him.

“Why are we here?” Sally demanded, running her tongue over her dry lips.

“We are getting married, one way or the other,” Jasper said, his face set in a grim mask.

“The Reverend won’t marry us. Look at me, I’m tied up for pity’s sake,” she exclaimed.

“The Reverend thinks we are great sinners,” Jasper announced solemnly. “He will be more than happy to marry us, especially when he sees you here, wearing less than what a saloon girl would have on.”

Sally scowled when she realized what she was wearing. Jasper had stolen her from a sound sleep, all she had on was her shift. She shivered suddenly, realizing how cold it was. She had been so angry before, she hadn’t even felt the chill.

“Get off this wagon,” Sally commanded, aiming the gun at Jasper’s chest. She was going to ride away and leave this fool standing here. He could find his own way home.

“You gonna shoot me?” Jasper asked softly. He took the muzzle of the gun in his hand at placed it directly on his chest. “Go ahead. ‘Cause without you, I’d rather be dead.”

Slowly Sally lowered the gun, her eyes filling with tears.

Jasper gathered Sally in his arms, “You tell me that you don’t love me, to my face and I’ll take you straight home.”

Sally knew she couldn’t say that, she was sure that the lie would burn right through her tongue. Sometimes she didn’t know what was wrong with her. Rachel was right, all she was doing was punishing the two men she loved most. Sally lifted her bound wrists and placed them over Jasper’s head, so that her arms encircled his neck. Jasper hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry about Betsy. I knew back then how stupid it was and I went ahead and asked her to the dance anyway. And I’m even more sorry that I laughed at you the other day. I never meant to hurt your feelings. I should have just sat myself down and listened to what you had to say.” Sally had never mocked his fears, no matter how ridiculous they were. Jasper was ashamed of himself for laughing at hers.

Sally choked back a sob. “Don’t apologize, I’m the one who was wrong. I’m so sorry for how I’ve been acting,” She pulled on Jasper’s neck, so his head was brought down and kissed him. Slowly Jasper pulled away, studying her.

“What?” she asked quietly.

“I love you,” Jasper said. “You know that, right?” When Sally nodded, Jasper untied her and then picked her up, putting her in the seat of the wagon. Jasper climbed up next to her, slapping the reins against the horses backs, putting the wagon in motion. “If you want me to hate Miss Donnelly, I will.”

Sally couldn’t respond. She didn’t want Jasper to hate Miss Donnelly, did she?

“I’ll do whatever you want about her. But I have to say this,” Jasper continued.

“What?” Sally said, unable to meet his eyes

“Your Ma has been gone for almost ten years, don’t you think that your Pa deserves another chance at happiness?” Jasper asked.

“Yeah,” Sally replied miserably.

“So why you being so hard headed about Miss Donnelly? You don’t even know her.”

“I don’t know.”

Jasper placed the reins in one hand and lifted Sally’s head up with the other. “Your Pa ain’t never gonna forget your Ma. But I am pretty sure she would want him to be happy. I know if something ever happened to me, I wouldn’t want you to be alone for the rest of your life.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Sally didn’t want to even imagine a life without Jasper.

“Why not?”

“I can’t stand the thought of being without you.”

Jasper grinned broadly. That is exactly what he wanted to hear. “So you still gonna marry me on Wednesday?” Jasper teased.

“Yeah,” Sally answered softly. “But I don’t know why you would want to. I have been such an idiot.”

Jasper kissed her firmly on the mouth, “In the words of the woman I love - You might be an idiot, but you are my idiot.”

Sally scooted herself closer to Jasper’s body.

“I know you are upset about Miss Donnelly, but this can’t all be about her, can it?” Jasper asked.

“No,” Sally whispered. She shivered violently.

Jasper stripped off his coat and placed it over Sally’s shoulders.

“Where we going?” Sally asked, leaning against Jasper, finally noticing that the wagon was in motion. Right now she didn’t care where they went as long as they were together. Once her anger had left her, she couldn’t feel anything, her insides felt like a block of ice. All she knew now is that she didn’t want to leave Jasper’s side. “I don’t wanna go home.”

“The pond?” Jasper asked mischievously. He was rewarded by a small smile from Sally. He put his arm around her and squeezed her shoulders. “The barn,” he said. “I think we have a lot to talk about.”

Two days before the wedding...

Chapter Seven

Ellie Hickok stared at her mother crossly.

“Go on now,” Hannah told her.

“Fine,” Ellie grumbled as she left her home, making her way to the barn. Just because Jasper was depressed about not getting married was no reason for him to be shirking his duties. He wasn’t even going to work. His boss, Mr. Schultz, had told him to stay home, until his mind was on his job. Ellie was certain that her brother was never going to work again.

She flung the barn door open, leaving it ajar. She hoped that all the sunlight streaming in would rouse her brother from a sound sleep. But she closed it quickly when she saw what was going on. There was Sally laying in Jasper’s arms. If it wasn’t for the differences in their skin tones, Ellie wouldn’t even be able to make out where Sally began and Jasper ended, their limbs were so entwined.

Well I guess the wedding is back on, she thought to herself, as she stood there gaping.

Jasper raised his head. He quickly glanced at his sister and then looked back down at Sally’s sleeping form, suddenly gratefully for her insistence that they not sleep unclothed. Jasper had only his pants on, while Sally was still wearing her shift. He quickly leapt to his feet and hurried to his sister’s side. Jasper took Ellie by the arm and dragged her outside the barn, pushing the door closed behind him.

“Well?” Ellie asked expectantly.

“We made up,” Jasper said with a sheepish grin.

“Yeah, I figured,” Ellie smiled broadly at her brother. She flung her arms around him, hitting his bare back with the milk bucket she held in her hands.

“You gotta cover for Sally,” Jasper told her sister.

“Don’t I always?” Ellie retorted. She quickly began formulating a story in her mind. She handed her brother the bucket. “Go milk and then put the horses out to graze. I’ll tell Ma I saw Sally heading to the pond and have her send Olivia to the Cross place to let them know what’s going on.”

“That will work,” Jasper replied. “Ma will figure I’m heading there too.”

Jasper hurried back inside the barn and milked the angry cow, as it was well past her milking time. He then let the horses out and carried the milk to his house. Jasper quietly set the pail down, just outside his front door, unmindful of the fact his mother was hiding in the curtains, spying on her son.

“What are you doing?” Jimmy asked, grinning at his wife when he saw what she was doing. He went to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Shh,” Hannah hissed. She waited until Jasper ran back to the barn then she turned to her husband. “It’s back on.”

“What is? The wedding?” Jimmy said happily. He hated all this wedding nonsense with a passion, but when he heard the wedding was called off, he wished with all his might that the nonsense was still going on.

Hannah nodded. “Ellie said that Jasper saw Sally going to the pond. She wants us to think that Jasper is gonna go there and try to talk to her.”

“But didn’t Jasper just go in the barn?”

Hannah laughed, “Your children think that they are the only ones who have ever snuck around.”

Jimmy set his cup down and encircled his wife’s waist with his arms, pulling her into a ribbing crushing embrace.

“We were like that once, remember?” Hannah said softly.

“Yeah,” Jimmy replied. “But I think I like things like this a whole lot more.”

“So will Jasper and Sally.”

Jasper shut the barn door quietly. He made his way to Sally’s side. She was awake now, pulling bits of straw from her hair. Jasper handed her his shirt, briefly wondering how he was going to get her home without any clothes. But he figured Ellie already had that covered. She was well used to being his co-conspirator in all sorts of things.

Sally slipped Jasper’s too large shirt on her and fumbled with the buttons. Jasper reached over and buttoned the shirt for her.

“You okay?” he asked. It didn’t think he had ever seen Sally so upset until last night. She seemed so fragile still and Jasper was overwhelmed by the urge to keep her safe.

Mutely Sally nodded. She wished with all her heart that she could just stay here, with Jasper. She also wished they had gotten married last night, that way she wouldn’t have to leave his side. She didn’t know how she was going to face anyone else. She had acted liked such a selfish brat.

Jasper pulled Sally close to him, “You remember when your Ma made that cake for your parents’ anniversary? What were you, three?”

“Four,” Sally corrected him. When they had gotten to the barn last night, Jasper apologized over and over again for Betsy and for laughing at her, until Sally had kissed him into silence.

Sally had then lain in Jasper’s arms, while he had talked about her mother till it was almost dawn. Somehow, he understood. When he wasn’t making jokes, he always understood, that’s one of the reasons she loved him so much. She never had to explain things to him, he knew her better than she knew herself. Sally was angry at herself, even more than she was with her father.

How could she just go and forget her mother? For so long, that’s all she thought about. But as time went by, she thought about Jennifer less and less. And with all the wedding plans being made, Sally rarely had a moment to think about her mother. Except to be angry at her for not being there with her, on the most special day of her life. But somehow Jasper had made it seem like it was natural to think like that and also that her mother would understand her feelings.

Jasper pressed his cheek into her hair, “What was it your Pa said when he ate of a piece of that cake?”

Sally smiled, “Eagle Feather, don’t you know the difference between salt and sugar?”

One day before the wedding...

Chapter Eight

Jasper raised his head and glanced in the direction of where his father should be lying. His mother had informed his father that he would be sleeping in the barn. Once Hannah realized that the wedding was back on, she announced that she had a lot of lost time to make up for. So she and her friends were in a cooking frenzy, trying to make a supper for the reception that would put the Queen of England to shame

And hence, Jimmy had been sent to the barn, too many women in the house, all cooking and fussing about. Hannah’s friends were planning on coming early in the morning and staying late into the night, driving Jimmy insane. He couldn’t sleep, eat or think with all the clatter in the kitchen. Hannah would have sent Cody there as well, but Cody could sleep through anything and nothing ever diminished his appetite.

But Jasper noted that his father wasn’t there now. He wondered where he could have gone to. Jimmy wasn’t going to work today, he left his deputy in charge for the next couple of days and his deputy was glad of it. Jimmy had been in a foul mood, ever since he had found out what his wife’s plans for him were. Hannah thought he would sleep better without all that racket, but he slept worse. Jimmy couldn’t sleep without Hannah beside him.

Personally Jasper thought his father would be grateful to be away from his mother, as she had lost her mind. Hannah no longer made requests, she had taken to issuing orders to anyone and everyone who came within shouting distance. She kept making lists as well, running Jasper back and forth from town, picking up all sorts of things, from food to tools. Jasper had no idea what his mother was planning with the wide assortment of goods she had sent for. Jimmy was also given lists of things to do, Hannah had said that since he was staying home, he should make himself useful. There seemed to be no end to these lists.

As Jasper’s stomach growled, he got up and made his way to his home. He opened the door and looked inside, noting that it was quiet for once. He wondered where all the cackling hens had gone to. But he closed his eyes when he saw what was going on. His father had his mother against the wall, kissing her for all he was worth.

“Jimmy,” Hannah murmured. “Margaret and Lou will be here any minute. And Louisa is on her way downstairs.”

“I don’t give a damn,” Jimmy muttered. “I need some time with my wife.” Not the crazed drill sergeant she had become.

Jasper ran from his house when he heard his mother giggle.

“So now it’s back on?” Sam asked, with a befuddled look on his face. He used to think that all the former Express Riders were a few cards short of a full deck, but their children made them look like completely rational human beings. He couldn’t believe it when he heard that the wedding was off and now, suddenly, it was back on again. And he didn’t even want to think about Jasper kidnaping Sally.

Emma smiled at him. “I need to get started working on Sally’s dress. Why don’t you go to Jimmy’s place today? He is staying home from now until the wedding.” Emma couldn’t wait to see Sally in her dress. She had been so flattered when the girl had accepted her offer to wear her gown. Emma even had special surprise she was going to add to the dress. But she needed to make some adjustments first.

“Might as well,” Sam said, rising to his feet. He called out for Roger and the two men soon rode away.

“Sally,” Emma called out when she saw her come downstairs. “You ready to try on that dress?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Sally said formally. She still felt very awkward about her behavior of the past few days.

Emma took her by the arm and escorted her upstairs. As Sally slipped the dress over her head, she lightly ran her hand over the white satin fabric. “It’s so beautiful,” she said wistfully.

Emma studied the girl and the dress appraisingly. “You’re about as thin as your Pa used to be.” She pulled at the fabric. She had her work cut out for her, with less than twenty four hours left until the wedding. “Now hold still,” Emma mumbled from between the pins she held between her teeth.

Carefully she pinned the fabric together. Once she was done, she took a step back and admired her handiwork. “Alright, now slip that dress off.” She watched as Sally struggled to pull the dress off, hastening to her side, when Sally’s movements threatened to pull out all the pins she had just painstakingly put in.

“Kitty and Ellie should be here any minute,” Emma offered as she saw Sally move to the window and stare forlornly out it.

“Yeah,” Sally replied. She took a deep breath, “I’m sorry for how I acted, before.”

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” Emma said, almost cheerfully. It was

good to see that Sally had regained her senses. “I already apologized to Jasper,” Sally whispered

“How ‘bout your Pa?”

“I don’t know what to say,” Sally said quietly. She had been avoiding talking to her father, hoping for some time to gather her thoughts. She looked up suddenly. “I gotta go out for a bit.” When Emma gave her a knowing smile, she added. “Thank you.”

Chapter Nine

Sally stood by the schoolhouse door, pulling on the edges of her coat. The weather had changed today, it was almost cold. Sally smiled to herself, she knew how changeable the weather was and she was sure that her wedding day would be just beautiful.

When the children were let out for recess, Sally took a step in and looked at the figure sitting behind the desk. “Miss Donnelly,” she called out.

“Sally,” Helen said with a smile. “How nice to see you again.”

“Um,” Sally began awkwardly. “I was wondering if you might like to come to the wedding, tomorrow?”

“Why thank you,” Helen replied. “But you don’t-”

“No,” Sally interrupted. “I want you to come, really. I know it’s kinda short notice, but I’m pretty sure that my Pa would want you to be there. And so would I.”

Helen stood up and approached the standing girl, “I know how hard this must be for you.”

Sally simply shrugged.

“You are a much bigger person than I was.”

Sally looked at the teacher questioningly.

“My Ma died when I was a girl too,” Helen explained. “And for a long time it was just me and my Pa. Till he met a lady, when I was a little bit younger than Lilly is now. I can’t even recall her name right now. But my Pa liked her an awful lot.”

“So what happened?” Sally asked, getting caught in the spell Helen’s words were weaving.

“I acted like a spoiled brat,” Helen said bluntly. “And my Pa didn’t pursue anything with that lady. For the rest of his days, it was just me and him. You know I never got married because of that.”

“Why not?”

“My Pa took sick and I had to tend to him,” Helen responded. “I was too busy taking care of him and teaching to do much else. The few men that I did meet didn’t have any interest in taking up with a woman who came with a sick father.”

“So you ended up alone,” Sally concluded for her.

Helen smiled sadly.

“Till now,” Sally added with a smile of her own.

“Maybe,” Helen said shyly.

“He likes you,” Sally told her.

“I like him too.”

Sally took the teacher’s hand in hers, “So you’ll come to the wedding?”

“I’d love too,” Helen replied. “Thank you.”

Sally hurried back to her home. Her friends should be there by now. Abruptly she turned her horse around. She had another stop to make first. She rode to the graveyard. She lovingly touched the first two markers she came to, Ike McSwain and Noah Dixon’s. She then passed by two more small gravestones, to remember the children who died, the Hickoks youngest child, Cecilia, who was born too soon and the McClouds third child, Joseph, who died of scarlet fever.

Gingerly Sally approached her mother’s grave and knelt beside it, not feeling the cold, blustery wind. She whispered her apologies, hoping that Jasper was right, that her mother understood her misplaced anger. As she ran her hand over the rocks that covered her mother’s grave, she wished that she had a lily to put on it. Lilies were her mother’s favorite flower. She picked up one stone, noticing something lying underneath. It was a small crumpled piece of paper, worn thin by the weather. When Sally smoothed the scrap out, she drew her breath sharply once she realized what that paper was. It was one of her wedding invitations.

“Now who could have put that there?” she wondered aloud.

“Your Grandpa Tompkins did,” Buck said, coming to crouch beside his daughter. “He thought she might like it.” Buck took his daughter’s hand, sandwiching it between his own two. “I found him here one afternoon. He was telling your Ma all about your wedding.”

Sally looked up at her father, who lifted one hand to wipe a tear away from her eye.

“He doesn’t understand that she not there. She’s here,” Buck told her, making a fist and placing it against his chest. “Always.”

“Always,” Sally whispered. “But sometimes I still miss her.”

“So do I honey,” Buck said. The two of them sat quietly for a long time. Eventually Buck pulled Sally to her feet, feeling how chilled the hand he still held was. “So you ready to head home?”

“Yeah,” Sally answered. As the two of them moved toward their horses, Sally turned to her father. “Pa,” Sally began, anxious to get the words out while she still had the courage. “I’m so sorry for how I treated Miss Donnelly. I didn’t have any cause act like that.”

“I know you were just upset about your Ma,” Buck replied. He hoped that their talk had helped Sally to see that there simply wasn’t any way he would ever be able to let go of Jennifer. He just hoped that his heart was big enough to love two women, the way both of them should be loved.

“I invited Miss Donnelly to the wedding.”

Buck hugged his daughter, not saying a single word. He knew how much Sally’s invitation cost her.

“Pa?” Sally said questioningly. She hoped he wasn’t angry that she did that without his permission. As Rachel said, he had his reasons for keeping quiet. “Is that alright?”

“It’s more than alright,” Buck smiled. “Thank you.”

The wedding day...

Chapter Ten

“Damn Jimmy,” Cody muttered. “Can’t your boy do anything simple?” He didn’t think he had ever heard of anything as peculiar as kidnaping your own fiancee. But the look on Jasper’s face when he realized that everyone knew what had happened was priceless.

“It ain’t all my doing,” Jasper grinned at Cody, as he pulled his jacket on.

Cody rubbed his head. The men had all gone out to the saloon the night before and all of them were paying the price for it the next morning. Cody’s head still ached. He looked over at Jimmy who was trying to help Jasper get ready by adjusting his tie. Cody sighed imperceptibly to himself. Ever since his own son had died, he had become especially fond of Jasper and he was grateful to the two Hickok men for allowing him to be there with them, at this moment.

“Would you hold still,” Jimmy growled. That boy couldn’t stop squirming. He could swear that someone had lined Jasper’s suit with itching powder, the way his son was moving about.

“I am,” Jasper complained, fiddling with his suit coat.

Jimmy finished tying his son’s necktie and then stepped back, appraising his son’s appearance. He grasped the lapels of the suit Jasper wore and straightened his coat.

“You got the ring?” Jimmy asked.

“Nick has it.”

“So you ‘bout ready to go?”

“I reckon,” Jasper said, taking a final look around his room. After the wedding, he and Sally would be moving into their new home. “You got any words of advice?”

“Nah,” Jimmy said with a shake of his head. “You know what to do and if you don’t by now then nothing I say is gonna be of any use.”

“I’m gonna miss you,” Jasper said, almost whispering.

Jimmy clapped his hand firmly on his son’s back. “You ain’t leaving Rock Creek.”

“I know. It just won’t be the same.”

“It will be better,” Jimmy replied. “Trust me.”

“Emma you have done a fine job,” Rachel said, admiring the dress. Emma had brought her wedding dress from Sweetwater. Emma knew now that she was never going to have a daughter and wanted Sally to have her dress. Lou had one for her daughter and Hannah was more than capable of sewing three dresses for her girls. Besides, it struck Emma as odd to try and play mother to the Hickok girls or Kitty being that they had mothers of their own. Maybe that’s why she felt so close to Buck’s children. Emma decided that she would worry about Lilly when her time came.

“Lilly can wear mine,” Rachel said, reading Emma’s expression. She picked up the white dress gingerly. Emma had taken the beaded belt from Jennifer’s traditional Indian costume and sewn it to the waistband of Sally’s dress. “I can’t wait to see Sally in this.”

“Well let’s get to it,” Emma smiled. “She should be cleaned up by now.”

Both women went to the bedroom, where Kitty and Ellie were dressing Sally in a new shift and corset.

Sally stood silently admiring the dress Emma handed to her. Emma had refused to let her see it earlier and she knew why now. Tears began to fill her eyes.

“Now stop that,” Emma chided her gently. “Jasper would have our heads if he thought that we made you cry.”

At Jasper name, Sally began to cry harder.

Rachel sighed and gathered Sally in her arms, waiting until the sobs subsided. She knew how emotional Sally got, especially when it came to the subjects of her mother or Jasper.

When Sally wiped the last of her tears away, Emma led her to a chair and slipped the dress over her head, fastening the many hooks in the back. “You look like an angel,” she told her wistfully.

Sally glanced at herself in the mirror. For once she had to agree, she looked beautiful.

“Now sit down,” Kitty said firmly. “Let me fix your hair.”

Ellie waited until her future sister-in-law was dressed and then handed her a box. “From us Hickoks,” she said. “It’s something new.”

Sally opened the box and gasped when she saw what was inside, it was a string of pearls. “I can’t,” she protested.

“You can and you will,” Ellie countered. She took the necklace from the box and placed it around Sally’s neck. Leaning close, Ellie whispered, “You have to wear something, you gave your necklace to Jasper.”

Sally smiled, remembering her own necklace. Jasper never took it off. Sally’s fingers went to the pearls. “Thank you.”

“Here,” Kitty said, handing Sally a small bag. She grinned broadly as she saw Sally pull out a blue garter. “Something blue,” she announced.

Sally smiled again as she slipped the belt over her leg and under her dress.

“Well it looks like you are set,” Emma declared. “Something old, from me and your Ma; something new from your future family and something blue from the McClouds.”

“Just one more thing,” Rachel added. She scurried to the room she had been staying in and pulled a lace veil from her bag and hurried back. She placed the veil over Sally’s head. “Something borrowed.” She had brought her dress, just in case. But she had kept it hidden once she saw Emma offer her dress to Sally.

Emma grinned at Rachel. “Sam made of mess of mine on our wedding night.” She patted Sally’s shoulder, “See that Jasper don’t.” Oh no, not again, she thought, as Sally’s eyes began to fill up.

Chapter Eleven

Jasper waited anxiously as he heard the music start. He could scarcely believe that it was finally happening. He was getting married. Jasper looked at the people in the crowd and then he made note of bridge of flowers he stood underneath. He finally understood what his mother had been up too. She had, with a lot of help from Jimmy, Roger and Sam, made a canopy of flowers for Jasper and Sally to stand underneath as they exchanged their wedding vows.

Jasper then glanced at the sky, as Sally expected, the weather was beautiful and as planned the wedding and reception would be outdoors. Jasper half suspected that Sally’s mother had arranged for the weather. It was her gift to her daughter.

He watched as his sister, Ellie came down the aisle, followed by Kitty. A few minutes later the music changed and Buck, wearing a dark suit and tie, came down the aisle, holding his daughter’s arm.

Jasper’s chin almost hit his chest when he saw Sally. He didn’t think he had ever seen her look that. She looked gorgeous. It was better than having Sally come down the aisle nude, well almost better.

When Buck handed Sally to him, his hands were shaking, until Sally fastened her gaze upon him. Then, as always, her presence steadied him. He held her hand tightly as he tried to listen to the words being spoken by Buck.

Buck was telling the people gathered before them that the first ceremony that they would witness was a Kiowa ceremony. Jasper recalled the many letters Buck had been writing and he realized why now, he was arranging for a tribal elder to come to Rock Creek and perform the ceremony.

The elder first started by taking Sally and Jasper’s hands, performing a ceremonial washing, a ritual that was supposed to cleanse the couple. While the elder spoke in a tongue that was foreign to Jasper and most of the other people, Buck rose to his feet.

“While the elder is performing the traditional Kiowa ceremony, I would like to share with you a wedding blessing,” Buck said with a small smile. “It’s actually an Apache prayer, but I have always appreciated the sentiment behind it.” Slowly Buck pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read the words on it.

Now you will feel no rain,
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now you will feel no cold,For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no more loneliness,
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two bodies,
But there is only one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place
To enter into the days of your togetherness
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.(1)

When Buck finished speaking, he quietly took his seat and Helen gently squeezed his hand. Jasper then heard audible gasp from Sally when she saw their Grandpa Spoon rise unsteadily to his feet.

Teaspoon made his way to the podium and said, “We are gathered here today to witness and celebrate the joining of two lives in marriage, Jasper Hickok and Sally Cross, both my grandchildren,” he said, the pride shining in his eyes and his voice.

“Jasper and Sally have come together in the hope that the love which brought them to this union may go out beyond itself into the lives of others. Yet, they know it is not easy to build a deep, personal relationship, even in marriage. Thus we ask that the promise and hopes of this union be realized. Grant these two the patience to listen, the capacity to understand, the compassion to give comfort, and the joy to laugh and to be. Let their marriage make a home where neither person is a stranger. Let it offer illumination and growth. Let it bask in the joy of giving and the excitement of shared discoveries. Let it be large enough to endure the darkness of things. May silence and despair never separate them; may they always return to each other,” (2) Teaspoon concluded. He began to return to his seat, stumbling slightly.

When Jimmy saw his mentor misstep, he hurried to Teaspoon’s side and led him back to his seat. Then the Reverend Markham stood up and said a few more words. But Jasper didn’t hear any of them until he felt Nick nudge him in the ribs, “The ring,” he whispered.

Silently Jasper took the ring, Nick held out to him and placed it on Sally’s finger and when she did the same, he felt her hands tremble. Jasper looked in her eyes, filling with tears and he longed to kiss her, then and there. But he restrained himself from making a spectacle, for once, and waited until the Reverend said, “You may now kiss the bride.” And then he did, only releasing her when he heard the crowd begin to hoop and holler.

After the wedding...

Chapter Twelve

Jasper held Sally in his arms. The reception was winding down and not a minute too soon. Kid and Lou were still dancing, as were Buck and his youngest daughter Lilly. Hannah was sitting in Jimmy’s lap, talking to Louisa, while Cody and Jimmy exchanged harmless insults.

“You ready?” Jasper asked.

Sally nodded. She hooked her arm through one of Jasper’s and listened as her father made the announcement that the bride and groom were leaving.

“Don’t forget the bouquet,” Kitty called out.

“And the garter,” Nick laughed.

Jasper grinned fiendishly. He raised the hem of Sally’s dress, dropping it only when she bonked him on the head, as the dress approached her knee level. Sally reached under her dress and discreetly removed the garter. She handed the blue band to Jasper, who shot it directly at his father-in-law. Buck clutched the garter in his hand, his eyes fixed upon Helen.

Sally smiled at all the people gathered around her. Her eyes began to well up as she looked at those who were closest to her, the McClouds, the Hickoks and of course her own family. She looked beyond them to where her two grandfathers sat, gratefully that they were both still with her. Sally then looked at the people she loved who no longer lived nearby, Emma and her family, Rachel and her husband and the Codys. She then turned her smile to Helen and as she did, she felt a small glow inside her. Knowing that her mother was close and that she approved, she flung the bouquet squarely at Helen. When the teacher caught it, she blushed furiously.

Sally lifted her palms upward when she saw Kitty’s perturbed face. “Sorry,” Sally mouthed the word, but Kitty quickly put two and two together and grinned knowingly at her.

As they walked to the door, Buck gave Jasper a fond smile and hugged his daughter hard. Jasper glanced at his parents, his mother was sobbing, burying her head against her husband’s chest, while Jimmy stood stoically. Jimmy suddenly reached out with one arm still holding his wife and with the other, he embraced his son and daughter-in-law.

“We ain’t leaving Rock Creek,” Jasper said with a grin.

“I know,” Jimmy whispered. How could he explain it? Knowing he couldn’t, he just tried to smile. Sally and Jasper would understand when their time came. Sally and Jasper ran from the hall, shouting their thanks to the many well wishers who had come outside to join them. The crowd watched as Nick came riding up in a carriage.

“What’s this?” Sally asked, turning to her husband. Her husband, she thought proudly.

“That’s from me,” Cody told them, grinning.

“Thank you,” Sally said. Jasper whispered something in Cody’s ear that had the older man laughing.

Jasper then turned his smile to his wife. He took Sally’s hand and helped her on the carriage.

“Are you ready?” Nick asked, as he turned back around. He had been pleased to be part of this surprise.

“Yes, my good man,” Jasper said, with an imperious wave of his hand.

They rode to the outskirts of town, where the carriage pulled up to a small house.

“Ours?” Sally cried, excitedly.

“Ours,” Jasper said, getting down from the carriage. He lifted Sally out and carried her over the threshold. He carried her into the bedroom and laid her on the bed. As he lay beside her, gently stroking her arm, he asked, “So tell me how our life is gonna be.” For the many weeks before their wedding, Sally had been the one telling stories, about their life together.

“We are gonna live a long and happy life,” Sally began. “With twelve children.”

“Twelve! Last month it was ten.”

“Twelve,” Sally said with a smile, as she continued.

End Notes

(1) Apache Prayer -

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