A Pair of Gold Earrings (by Tessa)

Summary:  A tale of a woman scorned.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  13,400


 

 

IT ALL BEGAN IN CEDAR CREEK

‘How dare he?’ Emily Hampton thought. She needed to just let it go. But it was hard for her not to think about that day. It was more than just the hurt. It was the humiliation she felt every time someone in town looked at her. Like they knew all of the dirty details in her life and blamed her for every one. Many ignored her, acted as if they wondered what kind of a woman she was that caused a successful, handsome man to turn to another woman.

She lived in Cedar Creek all her life. She had lived in a good family of honest people who went to church and gave a hand to someone who needed it. That’s what she thought she saw in Phillip Johnson. A man who wanted to help someone who could use his help or his advice. Her logic tried to tell her that he wasn’t right for her, but her emotional side didn’t want to listen. As time and incidents went by, she could see his greed and selfishness. He was an expert in manipulation.

Phillip had wealth and popularity, and drew people to him easily. When he announced his engagement to her, people raised their eyebrows in surprise. They always thought Phillip would choose someone in his social class. Even a town like Cedar Creek had choices for Phillip if he wanted a woman known to have an upper class upbringing. Instead, he chose Emily. Her demeanor was always lady-like and she conducted herself with a measure of refinement. But by no means was she considered upper class. She thought her dreams of a socially active life would be realized in a marriage to Phillip.

Emily’s normal posture was straight, but since that fateful day, her shoulders often drooped and she lowered her head when she walked through town. She made a promise to herself to be extra careful in the future. She would thoroughly examine men and their true intentions before she would give her heart again.

The world of Cedar Creek bustled around her as she sat and waited for the stage. Several times she looked up at the clock wondering why the stage was so late. It was ironic that the stage was late at a time when she wanted to get away and never return. It was as if something invisible was trying to keep her there.

She thought about that pair of golden earrings. A simple pair of earrings brought joy to one woman and destroyed the world of another. It hurt her when she thought about it. It would have been better if he had just taken a knife and slashed her. The pain was the same.

“THE STAGE TO VIRGINIA CITY WILL ARRIVE SOON. ALL PASSENGERS PLEASE BE READY,” shouted the station agent to the waiting passengers.

She could still see the images of that day in her tortured mind. As she shopped in town that day, she saw Phillip as he looked in the window of a store across the street from her. Her excitement grew because she knew the store carried nice jewelry. He didn’t seem to notice her watching him. Whatever he considered to buy, she just knew it would be something for her.

Phillip walked into the store. She saw the storekeeper pick up a small item that had been displayed in the store window. She leaned a little forward to see what it was, but she was too far away. She could see that the chosen item was made of metal because it sparkled in the light. Moments later, her beloved came out of the store and continued down the street. Her heart fluttered with excitement. Phillip had a very rough side to him. But he could be sweet and kind when he wanted.

She thought she might catch up with him and surprise him. But then she hesitated and took a deep breath. She didn’t want to spoil his surprise. Phillip liked it when he gave a gift to someone and it surprised him or her. She patted the sides of her brown hair before she began to follow him. She felt a little nervous and her heart beat faster.

Phillip eventually came to the Ace of Spades Saloon. He walked in with hesitation. She was puzzled, but convinced herself that his business partner was there to meet him. She covered her mouth to quiet an excited chuckle. She would wait outside the saloon for him and pretend she just passed by.

She elevated herself a little by standing on her toes. Her brown eyes peeked over the corner of the swinging doors. He didn’t meet any business partner at all. Instead, he approached a beautiful blond woman dressed in a low-cut dress. The dress had frills all over it and the woman’s shoulders were bare. Emily pushed down the fear that was rising inside her.

Phillip and the woman exchanged some brief conversation. Phillip kissed one of her naked shoulders. The pit of Emily’s stomach churned as she watched. His lips made their way up to this woman’s mouth where he kissed her passionately. Emily drew in a breath of surprise. She watched as he pulled out the small package. To her horror, he gave the shiny, metal gift to the strange woman. When she held the gift up, Emily saw that they were a simple pair of golden earrings that sparkled when the dangling metal caught the light.

Warm tears welled in Emily’s eyes and then made their way down her cheeks. She tried to cry quietly and turned her face away from the other passengers. She didn’t want to stay in Cedar Creek anymore. There was nothing there for her now. She felt it would be a good decision to go to Virginia City and live with her aunt.

She dabbed a handkerchief at her eyes until she stopped crying. Emily was very focused on herself and her unhappiness. But she suddenly felt the warmth of a body sit next to her. She stopped crying and heard the baritone voice of a man.

“Excuse me, Miss. My name is Adam Cartwright. Is there some way I can help?”

His voice was kind and soft, so comforting that her defenses dropped momentarily. She turned towards him and smiled. “No, I’m fine,” was all she said and moved her position to sit up straight.

“Sometimes things aren’t what they seem,” he commented. He hoped to make her feel better as she looked as gentle as rain. It was hard for him not to be drawn to a pretty, young woman. And one that seemed to need some comfort.

“What?” Emily asked, a little startled. She heard his voice, but not actually what he said to her. She turned towards him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. But it’s hard to see a lady in obvious distress and not want to help.” Adam smiled at her again. His eyes glistened with happiness.

“Oh, thank you,” she said. “Your words and concern are gracious. But I’m looking forward to leaving here. I’m going to start a new life,” she said with some conviction.

“A new life?” Adam quizzed.

“Yes, a new life. I was born here and grew up in this town. But now, it’s time to say good-bye. I’m going to live with my aunt.”

“Where does your aunt live?” He couldn’t help but be curious.

“In Virginia City. She’s written me letters to get me to come live with her. So, I am.” She glanced at him. Her logic began to talk to her: ‘Emily, be careful. You promised yourself to be careful.’

“That’s where I am heading,” he offered.

Emily stayed silent, but smiled at him. She was a little suspicious of the coincidence of where both of them were heading.

“May I ask your aunt’s name? I might know her,” he asked.

“Esther Mills. She has a small sewing shop on the main street,” she replied. She kept her answers as short as she could. Her heart tried to tell her this was a man she could trust. But her logic kept needling her to be careful. ‘Looks can be deceiving,’ she thought. After all, Phillip was sweet when she first met him.

Adam looked a little surprised. “I know of her and her dressmaking shop, but I’ve never actually met her.”

Emily had to admit to herself that this kind stranger was making her feel better. Thoughts of Phillip didn’t penetrate her mind as much as it did before he came along. She tried to be a little friendly. “I’m sorry, but I missed your name.”

“Adam Cartwright,” he said. He understood why she might not have heard him the first time.

“I’m Emily Hampton,” she volunteered. “Tell me, Mr. Cartwright, where are you heading?”

Adam couldn’t help but smile at her question. He answered her as if he didn’t mention this before now. “I am also going to Virginia City. I live on a ranch outside of town with my family.”

“Oh! You have family? How many children do you have?” she asked. “I adore children.”

“I’m not married. I live there with my father and two brothers.”

She didn’t answer.

“ALL ABOARD FOR THE STAGE TO VIRGINIA CITY,” the station agent called out.

Emily was relieved at this announcement. She was finally getting out of town and on her way to what she knew would be a better life living with her aunt.

Adam stood up and put his hand gently on her left arm to help her stand up. When she bent down to pick up her bag, Adam leaned down and across in front of her to pick it up. He followed her to the stage carrying his and her bags. Once he gave them to the driver, he helped her inside the stage and then climbed in and sat next to her.

“I appreciate your help, Mr. Cartwright, but please don’t bother yourself,” she said, as she began to build her wall of protection. She thought he might be getting too friendly.

“Call me Adam, please. If it wouldn’t offend you, there’s no reason for us not to be traveling companions since we are heading in the same direction,” he offered.

Adam watched as a big man at the stage depot glanced at Emily from time to time and Adam felt she could be a little intimidated.

Emily saw Adam look at the man. “Yes, I saw him,” she said. She knew Adam was referring to this man. “That would be fine with me.”

Emily gave Adam a warm smile and spoke a little more curious of him. “You had business in Cedar Creek, Adam?”

“Yes,” he finally looked at her, “My father and I wanted to hire about six new hands as our lumber season starts soon. We heard that the lumber mill in Cedar Creek wasn’t going to open this year and we wanted to hire some of the men.”

“I had heard the mill had closed last month. I agree. Experienced men are always best to hire,” she said. “We’ve lost a few businesses lately.” She shifted away from Adam a little to make sure no part of her touched him.

Both of their attention went to the door of the stage as the stage tipped slightly to one side when the big man climbed in. His weight caused him to plop down onto the seat, ungracefully, across from Adam and Emily. The entire coach jarred.

The stage moved forward to begin the journey. It bounced in the ruts of the roads where regular stage traffic dug down into the dirt of the mountains. Some of the loose dust on the ground flew up to the sides of the stage from the hooves of the horses. When the stage turned a sharp corner, Emily grabbed onto Adam’s arm for balance as she felt she might slide right into his hip.

That was a horrifying thought. The last thing she needed were bruises caused by sliding from one side of the coach to the other. She placed her hand firmly onto the seat next to her to brace herself.

Adam usually rode very well inside a stage. But this one was moving a little too fast and even he was sliding a little on the slick seat.

The weight of the big man sitting across from them seemed to anchor him to the bottom of the coach as he barely moved around. He fell into a sleep and began to quietly snore. His head gently bobbed a little with the movement of the stage.

Emily spoke out, but kept her voice low in order not to wake the big man. “You have some rough roads in this part of the territory.”

Adam picked up on her comment. “It’s not bad when the stage doesn’t travel quite as fast as it’s going. I think I’ll climb up to the driver and tell him to slow down.”

Emily reached out to Adam and instinctively grabbed onto his forearm. “No, Adam, please. I’d be afraid you would be hurt, or worse, if you fell. Don’t do it for me, please.”

Adam looked down at her hand on his arm. She withdrew it back to her lap. He assured her, “All right. We’re coming to a rest stop in about ten minutes or so and I’ll talk to the driver.”

“Thank you. That’s something I could appreciate,” she said and smiled at him with an expression full of gratitude.

It wasn’t long before the driver called a loud, “Whoa” and the stage came to a, hard but welcomed stop. Emily was quite grateful to have a break. She hoped to find a cool drink of water inside the small cabin.

Adam looked at the quiet, big man and urged him to get out first. The sudden stop had awakened him up abruptly. “Please go before us. We’re not quite ready.”

Just like when he got into the stage, it creaked and severely leaned to one side as his large foot was firmly placed onto the step. The coach bounced back into position as soon as his weight was on the ground.

Adam volunteered, “I thought you’d feel more comfortable for him to get off first than for you to have to pass so close to him.”

“Oh, you are a very thoughtful man, indeed. I have no problem with that. His size is rather intimidating,” she said. “I don’t mean to be rude. It’s just that he scares me a little.”

“I can see that. But I wouldn’t worry. This is only a short stop,” Adam said. He found her honesty rather attractive, although it was a little bold.

Adam climbed out of the stage and then helped Emily. After he escorted her inside the cabin that acted as a way station, he went to find the driver and talk to him about slowing down.

Emily was left alone in the cabin with the big, ugly man who stood and stared out the window. She thought this might be a good time to try and be friendly to the man since they still had a little way to go until they got to Virginia City.

Emily spoke out. “Hello, do you and your family live in Virginia City?” She stopped to give her traveling companion time to respond. But silence prevailed between them. “Well, I guess you’ll be glad to get home,” she added in an uncomfortable voice.

The big man gave her a very small smile, but said nothing to her. He stared back out the window.

She said nothing more and walked over to a chair where she waited for Adam. She signed with relief when Adam opened the door and stepped inside. He noticed her appreciative smile.

“Your majesty, your carriage awaits,” Adam said as he swooped a slight bow and tipped his hat. He felt she could use a little humor.

“I’m honored, kind sir,” she said. It made her giggle. When the stage started up, she noticed the pace was slower.

Adam attempted to ask the big man a question that might engage him in a friendly conversation. “Where are you heading?”

The big man frowned at Adam and simply replied, “Mind your own business.” Adam did just that.

It was a ride filled with periods of quiet. Adam occasionally napped. He awakened when one of the wheels would hit a rock or make a rough slide back into a rut in the road. The big man just kept to himself. He stared straight ahead with his hands resting on his knees. Emily stared out the window and noticed how beautiful the scenery became the closer they got to Virginia City. She perked up when she barely heard the driver announce their arrival.

Adam again allowed the big man to get out first. In a moment, Adam helped Emily out and she found herself standing in front of the International Hotel. She glanced around in amazement at the many buildings of different heights and varied architecture. She knew Virginia City wasn’t that old, but it had a modern look for a town that relies heavily on the mining industry.

Adam looked around and then turned to her. “Do you see your aunt?”

“Yes, she’s right there,” Emily said and pointed to a woman coming their way. She waved. The short, thick-waist lady waved back. Round lens glasses framed her blue-gray eyes. The two women hugged and for a moment. Emily kept her arms wrapped around her aunt’s shoulders while she turned to see if Adam followed her.

He tipped his hat to the aunt. “Mrs. Mills, you’re niece has been safely delivered.”

His comment brought a broad smile to her face. “Thank you. My niece and people in town like to call me Aunt Es.”

“Aunt Es, this is Adam Cartwright,” Emily offered.

“Cartwright? Oh yes, I met your father when he was chair for our fall church fundraiser. He’s a delightful man.”

“Miss Hampton, I hope I see you again,” Adam commented. He noticed she seemed more relaxed and not as distressed as she had when he first met her.

“Thank you, Adam. Please call me, Emily,” she offered in a sweet voice.

Adam then left the two women and headed back to the hotel door where he was to meet Hoss.

“Hey, Adam!” Hoss called out as Adam approached him. “Sure glad you’re home, big brother.”

“Oh! Joe sticking you with all the chores?” Adam teased.

Hoss laughed. “Naw, I can handle him. Who’s the pretty lady?”

“I met her on the stage. She got on at Cedar Creek,” Adam explained as he put his bag into the back of the buggy. He looked up again to watch the women walk further away from him.

Hoss smiled, “She sure is pretty. What’s her name?” He had no doubt that his brother found out a few things about the pretty women.

Adam climbed up into the buggy. “You’re full of questions, aren’t you?” Then he gave in. “All right, her name is Emily Hampton and she is going to stay with her aunt, who owns the sewing shop down the street. Anything else you want to know? Like when we’re going to get married and how many children we’re going to have?”

Hoss laughed at Adam. “Nope. I knew it wouldn’t take you long to learn about her.” Hoss climbed in next to Adam and took the reins. “Come on, let’s get home. Pa’s waiting for us and got a ton of questions for you about the men you hired in Cedar Creek.

*****

A FEW DAYS LATER, VIRGINIA CITY

Emily felt that she was finally settled into her aunt’s home. She found Virginia City to be a match for her. The town’s people were friendly and they seemed to easily accept her. She kept herself busy as she helped her aunt make dresses for the many ladies that will attend the Mayor’s ball.

Aunt Es was an openly talkative person and seemed to know all of the town news. Some people would call it town gossip. But the talk allowed Emily to get to know people better than just speaking with them when she shopped or delivered some of her aunt’s sewing that was done.

Aunt Es didn’t say too much about the Cartwrights, unless Emily asked. She was interested in the whole family, but Aunt Es picked up on the fact that it was Adam she wanted to hear about most.

Adam’s physique and hair color was similar to Phillip’s. She couldn’t help but wonder if that was why she was becoming interested in Adam. She tried to fight the urge to be interested. She tried to convince herself that it was Adam’s courtesy towards her that she liked, especially after the way Phillip treated her. Getting to know Adam and have him, as a friend seemed harmless enough. She could only get hurt if she gave her heart. She’d roll in the mud with a pig before that would happen.

One morning, Emily walked down the street towards the general store to market for her aunt. She picked up her step when she saw Adam and another man placing supplies into the back of a wagon.

The other man was the first to see her and tipped his hat to greet her. He recognized her to be the woman Adam met on the stage. “Ma’am.”

She returned his greeting, but looked at Adam. “How are you, Adam?”

Adam smiled and greeted her. “This is one of my brothers, Hoss. Hoss, this is Emily Hampton.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Hoss. Please call me, Emily,” she said and gave a slight curtsey. Her stare went right back to Adam. “I’m really enjoying Virginia City, Adam. I’m glad I came to live here.”

“When you get settled, I’ll show you around,” he offered.

Hoss spoke right up. “You have to come out to the Ponderosa for supper.”

Emily was surprised, but pleasantly pleased at the offer. “Thank you, Hoss. I would enjoy that every much.”

“You get settled first and then that would be a good idea,” Adam commented.

Hoss wasted no time to take over the conversation again. “How about this Sunday?”

Adam gave Hoss a disapproving glare. “Hoss, let Emily get settled before you obligate her.”

Hoss didn’t let Adam bother him. “Ain’t no reason why Sunday wouldn’t be a good day for new friends to come out to the ranch for supper.”

Adam responded, “That is if you are ready so soon. Your aunt is also welcomed.”

Emily was a little hesitant and faintly blushed at the boys’ different approaches. “Well, I need to check with my aunt first. I’ll let you know soon, Adam, if it’s all right with you.”

“It’s okay with him. If he can’t fetch you, I will,” Hoss offered.

Adam smiled at Emily. “You might as well give in. My brother can be relentless.”

“I’ll make sure you know very soon. I really need to check with my aunt.” Emily slightly curtseyed again and then went into the store. She began to pull items from the shelves as she heard the sound of boots come into the store behind her. When she turned around, she saw Adam and Hoss back in the store.

Harry Hensen, the storeowner, came out from back of the store looking at the list he carried. He drew a line through an item and then commented to the boys. “Yep, I got two more bags of the grain you want in the back.”

“I’ll get those bags, Harry,” Hoss offered. “Adam, maybe you can help Emily with her purchases.” He lightly shoved Adam in Emily’s directions with his shoulder as he began to follow Harry to the back.

Emily noticed. She smiled to herself with a little blush in her cheeks.

Adam walked the rest of the way. “I think you’ve noticed I have a very helpful brother.”

Emily couldn’t hold it back anymore. She laughed as she looked at Adam, who couldn’t help but laugh with her. “I think he’s charming and looking out for his big brother.”

Adam nodded. “I’m happy you like it here. My offer stands to show you around sometime.”

Emily removed a small bag of beans from the shelf. Adam immediately took it into his hands and put it on the counter for her. He retrieved a basket and carried it around for her while she put small items into it.

It only took Emily five minutes to gather the items she wanted to buy. It was at the same time Hoss came back into the store after having put the last of the bags of grain into the wagon.

“Adam, you ready to head for home?” Hoss said as he headed out the door.

Adam answered Hoss. Then he smiled at Emily. “Take the time you need, Emily. But if you can come Sunday, it would be very nice.”

“Thank you. I will let you know before then.”

Emily watched the brothers and noticed how close they were. Hoss gave Adam a pat on his back when Adam began to climb onto the seat. She noticed a pleasant exchange between the two men before they drove away. She had an older brother once. But he drowned when she was five years old. It hurt her family so much that everyone in the family was forbidden to talk about it. She thought how nice it would be to have such a close bond with a sister or brother. She longed for that closeness and hoped that someday it would be her reality with another person.

She reached the house and heard the faint sound of her aunt’s voice singing. She entered the parlor and saw her aunt busy sewing a fancy looking red dress with black trim.

Emily looked curiously at her aunt. “You sound happy,” she commented and sat in a chair nearby. “I ran into Adam and Hoss Cartwright.”

“Oh, how lovely. They are very nice men,” Aunt Es said. “It’s sad that no woman has been able to catch one of them.” She glanced at Emily to see if there was a reaction from her.

“Yes, they are nice and it is a curiosity. I would imagine it would be nice to be a part of that family,” Emily replied thinking of the relationship between Adam and Hoss. “You have a talent for making the hint of it being sad because they don’t have a woman in their lives sound like it was just a comment. You’re not that innocent, Aunt Es.” She looked at the garment her aunt was sewing, but didn’t mention it. “We’ve both been invited to their ranch for supper this Sunday. I told them…”

“Yes, we can go,” interrupted Aunt Es.

Emily chuckled, “Well, aren’t you the anxious one. Have you ever been to their ranch?”

“Once. And it’s massive, with miles of trees and that wonderful smell of pine as you ride along the trail. And the house is beautiful and big. Ben has wonderful taste in the things he chooses. I know. I’ve been inside the house, too.”

“Oh, so you’re more knowledgeable of this family that you let on. I thought you said you were so busy with your business that you barely had time to get out this house?” Emily inquired, suspicious of her aunt’s motives.

“I’ve been there, but not to socialize. It was church business only. Harriet Finch, John Gamble, and I were on the church committee for a bazaar. Ben Cartwright volunteered to chair the committee. We went to the ranch to finalize the details.” Aunt Es was looking at Emily over the top rim of her glasses. “But there have been times when I’ve had to take some finished mending to him.”

“On our stage trip, Adam, told me about his ranch. It sounded beautiful and you seem to confirm that. Yes, I would like to go to see it.”

Aunt Es stopped her sewing for a moment and looked at Emily. “You’re not interested in the ranch. It’s Adam, isn’t it?”

“Aunt Es, don’t try to be a matchmaker. I barely know Adam. And I have heard so much about the Ponderosa that I’m very curious about it.”

“Well, knowing any of Ben Cartwright’s boys is much better than ever knowing Phillip,” Aunt Es commented. She shuddered at the thought of some details that Emily confided in her about Phillip and his treatment of her. “I’ll make sure a message gets to the Ponderosa tomorrow about our acceptance. I can take this dress to Joe when we go.”

Emily looked at her aunt, “Joe? Oh, that’s Adam’s younger brother. Why would he be interested in a dress like that?”

Aunt Es answered, “Joe’s a good boy and takes care of some of the girls in the saloon when they need it. This is Jesse West’s dress. She’s a saloon girl and needed her dress mended. So he was thoughtful enough to bring it here.”

Emily looked surprised at the answer. “Thoughtful enough? Saloon girl? Men! What’s wrong with them?” Her voice rose with a little anger in it. The softness of her skin disappeared when frown lines formed on her forehead and lines surrounded her mouth when it tightened with some tension. Her mind reeled back to the image of Phillip kissing the saloon girl in Cedar Creek and the pain it caused her.

“Now, Emily. There are always a few bad apples in any barrel. But many of these girls just need the money to make a living and can’t do anything else. So they turn to saloon girl work to eat and keep a roof over their heads. One of them is trying to raise a child all by herself.”

“I see. So the Cartwright men try to be surrogate husbands?” Emily rolled her eyes upward. “No wonder they don’t have wives. They must be too busy with the saloon girls and their needs.”

Aunt Es shook her head. “Not everyone is Phillip, Emily.”

“I’m sure Adam is different. He doesn’t seem to be the type that would give a saloon girl any attention. He has too much culture. He told me about his love for music and poetry while we traveled,” Emily said, trying to reassure herself.

“There have been times when the whole family has been known to help the saloon girls. In fact, Adam isn’t different than the other Cartwrights. He was known to court one a few years ago.”

Emily looked shocked. “What? That’s ridiculous!”

“She was a very sweet girl,” Aunt Es stated. “I remember her around town.”

“Adam does not sound like a man that would court saloon trash. Phillip, yes, I know he would prefer it. But Adam would not.”

Aunt Es let out a big cackled laugh at this. “Emily, I can’t believe you. Oh honey, once you get to know this family, you’ll understand that they help a lot of folks. You need to learn for yourself if you’re going to live here.”

Emily didn’t answer. Her expression made her look like she wasn’t all that sure. She even began to wonder about Adam’s true motives. Maybe she only sees what she wants. Even Adam said on their way to Virginia City that sometimes things aren’t what they seem to be. Remembering that, disappointment began to set in.

*****

THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY, PONDEROSA

“Get out! Get hand off roast,” Hop-Sing scolded Hoss and tried to slap his hand with the ladle he was using.

“I’m just checking it. You know I love your pork roast,” Hoss said in defense. “Anyway, we got special guests coming and I just want to make sure it doesn’t dry up.”

“Not dry up! Go! Go talk to Mr. Cartwright and Little Joe,” Hop-Sing lightly shoved Hoss out of the kitchen. Hoss went into the great room.

Joe belly-laughed from the commotion he heard in the kitchen. “You causing trouble with Hop-Sing again?”

“Naw, I know how perfect Adam would want things, so I was just checking the roast.” Hoss sat down on the settee and leaned back.

Joe still laughed; his chest bounced up and down. “You go in there again, I think you’ll wind up as the roast.”

“When you and Pa see this sweet, beautiful little lady, you’re gonna see why everything has to be perfect.”

Ben didn’t look up from the book he was reading but commented, “Pretty or not, I’d say if Adam is bringing her home for supper, then she’s special.”

Hoss frowned a little. “Older brother was a little shy in the store the other day. I don’t know why. He’s not normally like that around a gal he likes. In fact, I was the one who invited her and her aunt.”

Now Ben looked up. He was surprised to hear that his oldest son was quiet around a woman. Adam was known to be poised and confident. Ben directed his question to Hoss. “Isn’t her aunt Mrs. Mills, the dressmaker, in town?”

“That’s right, Pa. And Emily’s her niece and gonna live with her.”

Joe chuckled again, “Sounds like you’re the one who likes her. You can’t stop talking about her. You sure you’re not trying to step in on Adam?”

Hoss frowned at Joe, “Of course not. Adam’s just always got his nose in a book. That boy needs a little shove now and then.”

Joe looked at Hoss surprised. “Boy, she must be something.”

“Yeah, Joe. She is.”

Then the two boys got up from where they were sitting. Ben put his book down and walked to the front door. The sound of a buggy and Adam’s voice stopping the horse was a sure sign that they had arrived. Ben walked out first, followed by Joe and Hoss.

Adam hopped out of the buggy, then turned to help Emily out. She gave one hand to Adam and held the dress her aunt mended in the other.

Hoss noticed the absence of Aunt Es. “Miss Emily, where’s your aunt?”

Adam answered for her. “She felt a little under the weather and asked to be forgiven. I told her she would be welcomed in the future.”

Ben put his hand out to greet Emily. “I’m sorry about your aunt. But she is, indeed, welcome anytime.”

Emily curtseyed to Ben and placed her hand in his where he kissed the top. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. My aunt will be fine. She says that this time of year brings out the sagebrush and it ails her some. She just wanted to get plenty of rest.”

Joe stepped around his pa to stand in front of Emily. “I’m very pleased to meet you,” he said using all his charms.

Before Joe could continue, Adam introduced Joe. “This is my youngest brother, Joe. We call him Little Joe. And this is my father, Ben, and you met Hoss.”

Joe corrected his brother, “It’s Joe, ma’am. Just Joe.”

Emily curtseyed to Joe and smiled.

Joe put Emily’s hand through the crook of his arm and led her inside the house. He commented about how he would be willing to take her around the Ponderosa sometime so she could see it.

Adam stared at Joe and Emily as they walked into the house.

Ben chuckled, patted Adam on the back of his shoulder, and led him in with Hoss right behind.

“It smells wonderful in here,” she commented as she breathed in the aroma of the roast. Emily stopped and turned to Joe. “Oh, I don’t want to forget. My aunt mended this dress and asked me to give it to you.”

Joe took the neatly folded dress and set it on the table behind the settee.

Adam made his way to Emily’s side, elbowing Joe out of the way. “Come over here, Emily. You’ll be most comfortable on the settee.”

The men sat down after Emily was seated. Emily spoke, “I am very flattered to be the only woman in the presence of four fine gentlemen.”

Her compliment brought smiles to all of them and “thank yous.” A little blush came to Hoss’ cheeks.

Suddenly, everyone’s attention was drawn to the top of the stairs. A blond woman descended. The way she walked down did not indicate any time spent on learning lady-like refinement. Her dress was as elegant as Emily’s, her hair up in perfect curls. But her step on the stairs was more of a clump like a boot would make and not a quiet, delicate step that a woman would make.

The men stood up with Emily rising slightly afterwards. Emily stared at the mysterious guest. She was under the impression that she would be dining alone with the four Cartwrights.

Ben extended his hand to the blond woman. “Jessie, please meet Emily.”

“Oh hi! You must be Adam’s girl?” the uncouth woman replied. She was about the cheeriest woman Emily had ever run into.

Adam corrected Jessie, “Uh, this is Emily Hampton. She’s a friend and we were passengers together on the stage from Cedar Creek. And, Emily, this is Jessie West, a friend, also.”

Emily tried to smile. But if her memory served her correctly, Jessie was the name of the saloon girl who owned the dress her aunt mended. But Emily stayed lady-like and pushed down any shock that might try to pop up onto her face. “I’m please to meet you,” she forced herself to say.

“Your aunt fixed Jessie’s dress for me,” Joe offered.

“Yes, the dress is beautiful,” Emily lied politely.

“Ain’t these guys wonderful? They’re like family ta me. They get my dress mended, they give me this dress ta wear tonight, and give me a place to stay. How can a girl get so lucky?” Jessie beamed.

Emily wasn’t disappointed that the Cartwright family would help a saloon girl out. But she was a little disappointed in how Jessie presented herself in front of the Cartwrights. She was sure that they must feel a little embarrassed by the language Jessie used. Emily thought this would be an evening filled with more cultured or adult-like conversation. She was a little surprised that they weren’t discussing who sold the best whiskey in town. She wanted to know more about how they built their wealth, their livestock, investments, and things that a family of this statute would discuss.

Ben provided Jessie a fatherly smile as he explained to Emily. “You see Jessie is staying with us for a short time until she can be fit to work again.”

“Oh, so Jessie can’t work at the moment,” Emily repeated Ben. She didn’t know what else to say.

Ben continued, “Jessie has had a little bad luck and we’re trying to help her out a little.”

Jessie offered, “Yeah bad luck. A stranger in town decided to punch me around a little. Sometimes, I still get a little dizzy.”

Emily looked closer at Jessie’s face and noticed what appeared to be some bruising on one cheek. There had been an obvious attempt to hide the bruise. Emily began to soften and feel a little sorry for Jessie. If someone tried to hurt her, Emily knew how it felt and the embarrassment from an injury that showed in public. Emily began to realize that she had more in common with Jessie than she thought.

Jessie walked over to her dress that was folded on the table. She picked it up and admired the mending. “Boy, your aunt is so sweet to do this for me. And she does a grand job of sewing.”

“Thank you. I’ll see that she gets your compliment.” Emily replied.

“Well, shall we go to the table and have supper?” Ben asked.

Ben and Adam sat at the ends of the table. Emily sat on Adam’s left. Jessie was seated across from Emily, to Adam’s right. Joe sat next to Jessie and Hoss next to Emily.

Hop Sing shuffled in and out of the kitchen carrying plates and bowls of food. Everyone enjoyed the meal.

“Jessie, are you from Virginia City?” Emily inquired. She was more interested in Jessie as a person than a saloon girl.

“No, I come all the way from Ohio. A town called, Worthington,” Jessie replied proudly.

“Her grandparents were heading west, but found Worthington to meet their needs. I like to tease her and say she’s not worthy of Ohio,” Joe said.

Jessie giggled, partially stood up, and pointed a finger at Joe. “Now, Joe I’m gonna hog-tie you and…”

Ben chuckled, but stopped the comment. “Have a seat, Jessie. I think Emily would prefer a quieter supper.”

“Oh, don’t bother. I enjoy a sense of humor,” Emily commented. She noticed Adam seemed to enjoy Jessie. She wasn’t quite sure what she thought about that.

Jessie continued, “Well, Ohio was good enough for me. But I thought I was in love and chased after a man for two states when I finally realized he was in love with every woman he met. So I kept traveling with people that would have me. I was going to go all the way to California. But I ran out of money when I got here to Virginia City. Got a job as a saloon girl in the Silver Dollar. Been here ever since.”

“Are you happy here?” Emily asked. Then she realized that she was asking a lot of questions. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.”

“You ain’t rude. I don’t mind answering. I like it here. There’s lots going on and I got some really good friends.” Jessie took a sip of wine and giggled again. She looked at Joe. “Good friends and good wine.” She took two long sips.

Joe smiled and winked at Jessie.

Emily didn’t bother looking at Adam. It was obvious that the entire family liked her and liked being around her.

“I’m glad that I moved here, too,” Emily stated.

After dinner, Emily was delighted to hear Adam offer to take her for a walk. Her emotions were so mixed up over Adam, though. She wanted to be so careful and take her time getting to know him more. But what if she did come to find out that Adam wasn’t much different than Phillip. She knew Adam wasn’t an abusive man. But she felt that she could have read him wrong — that he’s only being nice to her and not interested in her. She wasn’t sure if he was a man who would use a woman for what he needed and nothing else. Different emotions swirled inside her making her feel uncomfortable. Her logical side fought with her emotional side.

This wasn’t the time to worry about possibilities. She gave a compliment to Adam. “Adam, I think it’s very nice for you and your family to give Jessie the help she obviously needs.”

Adam responded while he walked along side Emily with his right hand on the small of her back as he led her down a tree-lined path. “Jessie’s a nice girl, but doesn’t use her head when it comes to picking men.” He chuckled a little at his comment. “She manages to be attracted to men who have very sorry tales and likes to get drunk to solve their problems.”

“But, isn’t that what saloon girls do? Talk to men with troubles, get them to buy drinks, and give them the company they need?”

“Yes, that sounds about right. But with Jessie, she’s very vulnerable and always wants to help someone. That makes her a target for men who want to take advantage of her.”

“Do you think a man can fall in love with a saloon girl,” Emily carefully inquired. She remembered what her aunt said about Adam and a saloon girl. She had hoped Adam might say something to shed some light on the matter.

“Yes, and many have. That’s how some girls are able to leave the profession. But a man has to look and see the women, who she is and not what she does or what she can offer him in entertainment.”

Emily noticed how soft Adam’s voice was as he talked about saloon girls. “That’s very insightful. May I ask you, out of curiosity, if you think saloon girls make more interesting women to court than someone like…uh…”

Adam smiled. “You mean, someone like you?”

Emily froze for a moment. Was her conversation revealing too much of her private thoughts?

Adam continued, “Emily, it’s not what the woman does for a living. It’s the woman. What her profession offers is only temporary satisfaction. It’s who she is and what she values that makes the relationship more permanent.”

“Oh, I’ve never looked at it that way,” Emily said. She felt a little better about Adam. He seemed to think about things before making a decision. The woman he saw must have been very special to him.

Adam stepped in front of her. He caught her off guard and all she could do was stare at him. “And what kind of a woman are you, Emily?” His voice was very sweet. He leaned towards her to give her a kiss.

Emily drew in a breath, as her heart beat faster. This was a total surprise, but something she knew she wanted. She welcomed it.

His senses were filled with her scent as the kiss continued. It was longer than she thought it would be. He briefly pulled away. He said nothing, but stared. Then he pulled her closer to him and kissed her again.

Emily didn’t want the kiss to stop, but inside she was beginning to feel a need she thought had died a long time ago. Her passion became so intense inside her that it begged to be satisfied. She pulled away from him.

“Adam, you are, in deed, a very passionate man. I don’t know what to say.” She felt a little surprised. She didn’t realize how much she really wanted this to happen or how glad she was that it did.

“I hope you’re not offended. It’s just something I wanted to do all evening.” He played with her hair. Then let his thumb rub lightly across her cheek.

“No, no, Adam, I’m not the least offended. I guess I just didn’t realize how romantic you are.”

Adam smiled and his cheeks slightly puffed. “Your kiss says a lot about you. But, I’d like to get to know you better.”

Emily blushed a little, wondering what her kiss told him. She kept her composure. “I’d like to get to know you more, too, Adam.”

“It’s getting late. I should take you home and we should check on your aunt.” He took her hand and escorted her back into the house.

*****

A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER, VIRGINIA CITY

Aunt Es was feeling like herself and sitting in her chair mending like she had never been sick.

“Aunt Es, you should drink some of your tea. It’s good for you,” Emily begged her aunt.

“I’m sure it is, Emily. But I’m almost finished with this coat. It belongs to the mayor and he needs it by tomorrow.”

“Well, just make sure you don’t make yourself sick by working too hard too soon.”

The women smiled at each other. A loud shot was heard out in front of the house. Both women froze for a moment, but then Emily got up and headed to the front door.

“Emily, you be careful. You don’t know what’s going on out there. You could get hurt,” Aunt Es begged.

“I’ll be careful, Aunt Es. But I can hear a crowd of men. I want to see.”

Emily peeked out and saw a group of men gathered around someone on the ground. She rushed out the door to help, not thinking about her safety. Not thinking of her own safety, Aunt Es made it to the front porch.

Emily was horrified when she got through the crowd of men and discovered it was Joe Cartwright lying on the ground. He wasn’t conscious. Emily ordered the men to pick him up and carry him into the house. When they did, she noticed a book in the dirt of the street. She picked it up and went into the house.

Joe was put into a small, spare room near the kitchen. Aunt Es immediately got some water and cloths for Joe’s wound.

“He’s been shot,” Emily said. She turned to the men who carried Joe in. “Did you see who did this to him?”

“Naw, Miss Emily. Just heard a loud shot and then saw Joe on the ground,” offered one of the men.

“Walt, please see that Doc Martin comes and hurries. Joe’s bleeding so much and we don’t want him to lose anymore blood than he has all ready,” Emily asked, as she pushed him his back as if she was trying to make him go faster, “John, can you find Sheriff Coffee?

As John raced from the room, he gave Emily and Aunt Es a request. “You ladies lock all your doors and windows. No telling if the gunman will try to come in.”

Joe lay on the bed moaning. Emily carefully opened his shirt to see the wound. The blood pouring out of the wound made it hard for her to see it clearly. She began to dab at the blood with a wet cloth.

“Aunt Es, Mr. Cartwright needs to know. We need to send someone to get him.” Emily said. She no more looked up at her aunt when Sheriff Coffee came running into the house.

Emily spoke first, “Sheriff!!! The doctor should be on his way. I have no idea what happened. We need to send for Ben.” Emotion began to build up in her voice and it quivered.

“Settle down, Emily. It will be okay,” Aunt Es reassured her.

Roy looked at the wound at the front of Joe’s shoulder. Then he began to turn Joe onto his side to look at the back of his shoulder.

“Sheriff, what are you doing?” Emily asked.

“I got a witness who said Joe was shot from behind.” Roy slowly turned Joe onto his side. Joe cried out in pain. Roy looked at the back of Joe’s shoulder. “Yeah, bullet went all the way through; I saw the blood on his front. At least the doc doesn’t have to dig any lead out.”

“Someone needs to go for Mr. Cartwright,” Emily cried out, again. Emotion still in her voice as she remembered how close this family was. “He’s Joe’s father.”

Roy answered, “It’s being taken care of, Emily. One of the Cartwright hands was in town. He’s all ready riding out to the ranch.” Roy stepped away from Joe and turned to Emily and Aunt Es. “I need to go and do an investigation. Doc Martin should be here soon.” He immediately left.

Joe cried out in pain. “Pa! Help me, Pa.”

“Go heat some more water, Emily. I can take care of this until Doc Martin comes. Go. You need to settle down,” Aunt Es encouraged.

Emily put on a large pot of hot water when a knock was heard on the front door. Before she could get to it, Doc Martin had come in.

“I’m so glad you are here. He’s in there,” Emily said and pointed to the door that led into the room where Joe was laying.

She sat down in a chair next to the table. She looked at the book with dust on it from being on the ground. She took it in her hand and opened it. It was a book of poems. Emily unfolded a note that was tucked in between the hard cover and the first page. She read the note, ‘Emily, I enjoyed your company so much the other night, I wanted to share this book with you. You’ll find the corner of one page folded. Read the poem on that page. I think you’ll like it. Adam.” Joe must have been bringing it to her for Adam. She brought the book up to her face and began to cry.

Aunt Es came out of the room and saw her crying. “Now Emily, we must be strong for the Cartwrights. Not that they aren’t strong men. But this is a son and brother. They will need us.”

Her aunt’s words helped her stop crying. “I know, Aunt Es. And I will be strong for them. But I’m just so shocked. Who would shoot, Joe? And apparently in the back.”

Aunt Es could see that Emily was shaken. “It’s going to be a long day and night. I’m going to get some food ready. We will all need to keep our strength up.”

“Yes, Aunt Es, you are right. I want to see if the doctor needs a nurse to help him.” Emily went into the room and found the doctor was pleased that she offered.

Soon, Adam arrived and was directed into Joe’s room. When he walked in, he saw Emily making the bed more comfortable for Joe. He could tell how distraught she was.

“Are you all right?” Adam asked Emily. He walked to her and put his hands on her upper arms. He kissed her on her forehead. “I met Doc Martin outside and he told me Joe would make it, but he would need being taken care of for awhile.”

Emily gave Adam a weary smile and acknowledged what he had just said.

“We can’t move him, Adam. He needs to stay here until he’s well.” She looked around Adam. “Where’s your father?”

“He and Hoss won’t be back until tomorrow morning. I’ll go get a room at the hotel so I can be close to Joe.”

“You can come and go anytime you need to, Adam,” Emily said.

“All right,” Adam agreed.

Emily looked down at Joe. She smiled to see him so peaceful. “Come on, Adam. He finally fell asleep. We’ll leave the door open a little so Aunt Es can tell us if Joe wakes up.”

They went into the parlor and sat down when a knock was heard on the door. Emily went to it and found the Sheriff was back.

“Emily, I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to talk to you.”

She escorted Sheriff Coffee into the parlor.

“Emily, I’ve been doing a lot of talking trying to get some facts from anyone that saw anything.” Roy sat down. “No one actually saw the shooter, but two men, who were sitting outside the barber shop said they saw Joe walk up to the front of your house. Just as he was going to open the gate, they heard a gunshot and Joe went down.”

“Seems like the shots would come from across the street, in the alley near the barber shop.” Adam stated.

“As a matter of fact, Adam, you’re right on that one. That’s just what both of them said. They didn’t see anyone, though. Just heard the shot and saw Joe go down. Shot him right in the back.”

Emily gave Adam a look of distress. “Who would want to shoot Joe? Especially, shooting him in the back like that?”

Adam shrugged. “Roy, maybe I should help you out?”

“No, Adam. You can help me out by staying right here in this house. Then I’ll know where you and Joe are. Maybe he was gunning for Joe, maybe he wasn’t,” Roy said mysteriously.

“What do you mean? Was it an accident?” Emily couldn’t understand what the sheriff was implying

Roy looked at Emily. “In my asking around, I learned that a man has been in town for a couple of days. He’s been asking about you.”

Emily looked very curious and surprised. “Me? Who would be looking for me?”

‘I was hoping you could tell me. I need to know anything and everything you might know.”

“You mean someone is looking for me, but shot Joe?”

Adam noticed shock on Emily’s face. He reached for her hand.

“Besides asking where this man might find you, seems like he knew you was seeing someone. I was told that some people told him you was staying with your aunt and that you was seeing one of the Cartwright boys. He apparently thought Joe was who you were seeing.”

Emily threw her hands up over her mouth. She cried out an, “Oh! It can’t be.”

“Who, Emily?” Adam questioned.

Emily dropped her hands. “The only person I can think of would be a man named, Phillip Johnson.”

“Who is he?” Roy questioned.

Emily gathered her strength and answered. She knew she had to tell them about Phillip. “He was my fiancé in Cedar Creek.” She looked at Adam. “You’re right, Adam. Things aren’t always what they seem to be. I looked at Phillip for what he did and what I thought he would bring in my life. I didn’t look at who he really was. I never suspected this.”

“I need to get going. I’ve got more people to talk to,” Roy said. He walked himself to the door. Before he got out the door, he turned to Adam, “Will you stay here, Adam? Emily and Joe will need the protection. Knowing you’re here will allow me to concentrate on finding this guy.”

“Yes, I can stay up with Joe and catch sleep in the chair.”

Roy left. Emily came up to Adam and he put his arm around her shoulders. The two said nothing, but just hugged.

Aunt Es entered the parlor. “I hope the Sheriff has some information on who shot Joe,” she commented.

“Yes, Aunt Es. Phillip might have come to town,” Emily answered. She glanced up at Adam when she made the next comment. “Phillip may have thought that Joe was Adam.”

Adam felt her shiver in his arms. He pulled her closer to him.

Aunt Es was horrified. “I knew you said that Phillip could be mean-tempered, but I never thought he would come to this.”

“We don’t know for sure. It’s just suspicion, right now,” Adam offered.

“Adam’s going to stay at the house, Aunt Es. He can sit with Joe, but I’ll trade with him so he can get some rest.” She looked up at Adam. “I hope Roy can find Phillip, whether he’s guilty of this or not. And I will want to talk to you about Phillip. Right now, Adam, Joe’s recovery is what’s important. I will relieve you so you can get some rest, too.”

Adam smiled at her and saw a warmth and compassion for others that he didn’t pay any attention to before now. Aunt Es had gone back into the kitchen. He gave her a short, but tender kiss.

“I wish I met you a long time ago,” Emily whispered to him.

The two went into the kitchen together and the three ate and made casual conversation trying to focus on better things to come.

Later that evening, Emily volunteered to sit with Joe while Adam got some rest. He would later relieve her.

Adam was in the parlor alone when he heard a faint knock at the door. He opened the door and found a sullen Jessie. When she walked into the room, Adam put his hands on Jessie’s forearm and looked into her eyes.

“You don’t look good. Are you all right?” he asked.

Jessie began to whimper, “I just got news that Joe was here and he was shot. I’d just hate it if something happens to him.”

Adam calmed her, “Jessie, he’s going to be okay. But he lost a lot of blood and he is going to stay here while he heals.”

Jessie perked up a little. “You sure, Adam?”

“I wouldn’t lie to you, especially about something like this.” His smiled comforted her.

“You think I could see him?”

He pointed to Joe’s room. “Emily’s in there sitting with him. Why don’t you go inside and help?”

“No one ever made me feel like they could count on me,” Jessie said.

“Well, I do. And so does Joe. Now, go on.”

Jessie went to the door, knocked lightly, and went in before Emily could answer.

In the parlor, Adam walked around looking at the décor that gave him information about Aunt Es and Emily. There were lots of family photos, two bibles, a faded hand-written poem on an old piece of paper that had some tears on its edges, and a handmade, small pouch that smelled like lavender. A heart was embroidered on the top.

He pulled the curtains closed that covered the large front window. The silky dark green colors in the pattern gave them dimension where plain curtains would make them appear ordinary. He spotted a book setting on the table next to a cushioned chair. It piqued his curiosity and he picked it up. He noticed it was some kind of romance adventure story. He knew it had to belong to Emily. He rubbed his hand over the cover. It was slightly worn from being pulled from the shelf and then later replaced. The unfolded corners of a couple of pages that were once dog-eared showed where she left off. Or it might have been a page that met something to her and she wanted to return to it and be reminded of something that had meaning for her. It brought a smile to him knowing she loved to read as much as he did. Adam could always see himself sitting in a parlor with the woman he loved. Both of them would be silently reading their own books. No words would be necessary. Just that loving feeling of being with someone you wanted to be with.

“Adam, I’m going to go to bed now,” Aunt Es whispered so her voice wouldn’t be heard in the other room and bother Joe.

He said “good night” and sat down in the chair to read some of the book. A half hour later, he fell asleep.

Inside Joe’s room, Emily and Jesse sat close to each other so each could hear the other as they whispered. Joe’s breathing was a little labored, but he didn’t moan. He just slept.

“You have no idea what this family means to me, Emily,” Jessie said sweetly.

Emily smiled in return. “When we had dinner, I could tell that the Cartwrights liked you very much. I don’t think they would, Jessie, if they didn’t think you were worth it.”

Jessie was smiling now. All evidence of crying was gone. “I’m the closest to Joe. We’re almost the same age, you know. Sometimes he’d come into the saloon alone and sometimes with his brothers. Joe was always a gentleman. If anyone tried to give me a hard time, he’d make sure they left me alone.”

“I’m not surprised, Jessie. You’re a very sweet girl. I can definitely see why Joe, and the others, like you.” Emily said. She began to understand what Aunt Es was trying to tell her about some saloon girls.

It was the first time Emily has seen Jessie blush. It made her prettier.

“Listen, Emily, I gotta tell ya something. Something real important.”

“Sure, Jessie. You can confide in me anytime you want.”

“I don’t know for sure, but I think the man that shot Joe might be the one who beat me up. Remember when you came to supper at the Cartwrights?”

“Yes,” Emily said a little stunned.

“See, I hear around town that there’s this man who’s was from Cedar Creek. Well, I was working one night at the Silver Dollar and he came in. I thought he was the most charming, most handsome man I ever saw.” She hesitated. “Well, besides Joe, that is. He and I had some drinks and talked. I thought he was real nice until he drank a little too much. Then he got rough. Real rough.”

“I remember at the Cartwrights you looked as if you had a bruise on your face,” Emily said.

“Yeah, Joe came into town and thought I should stay at his house for awhile because he was afraid the guy might come back to hurt me more.”

“It sounds like Phillip,” Emily offered.

“Yeah, yeah! That’s the name he gave me. He’s mean.”

“Yes, Jessie, he is. Did he ask you any questions? Like where he might find me or anything like that?”

“Nope! He just wanted to have a good time. But I didn’t want to have the good time he wanted. So he got rough.”

“Jessie, why do you think he may have shot Joe?” Emily said and leaned closer to Jessie.

“Well, I don’t know for sure. But men would come into the saloon and talk about this man that was asking questions about the Cartwrights.”

“Why didn’t you come and tell them or the Sheriff?”

“I guess I just didn’t think it was serious. I didn’t think anymore about it. Until I heard that Joe got shot, that is.”

Emily patted Jessie’s hand. “It’s okay, Jessie. I know if you had any suspicions that you would have told Joe or Sheriff Coffee. I sure misjudged you.”

“You did? I know men do sometimes, but I never thought no lady would. I’m glad we’re friends, Emily.”

“So am I, Jessie.”

Jessie looked over at Joe. “He’s kind a pretty laying there all needy and everything.”

Emily chuckled at Jessie saying Joe was pretty. “Yes, Jessie. But when he wakes up, I know he’ll appreciate you nursing him back to health.”

Jessie blushed. “I hope so.”

“It will be a good way for you to give back, too,” Emily offered wanting Jessie to feel good about herself and what she could offer Joe.

Late That Night, Virginia City

The house was dimly lit and quiet. Phillip figured this was a good time to break into the house as it looked like all inside were asleep. He tried to open a couple of windows. He quietly grunted, thinking the frames were just stuck. The he let out a quiet sigh of frustration realizing that they were actually locked. In weather like this, people usually leave windows unlocked so they can easily open and close them.

He had wished he hadn’t shot that Cartwright when he did. There were too many people around and getting into the house was difficult. He should have waited until they were out on the open road, where the Cartwright could have bled to death or he could have finished him off. But that wasn’t important now. It was too late for that. Emily humiliated him by leaving Cedar Creek the way she did. He needed to teach her a lesson and take her back where she belonged.

Phillip tried the rear door, although he was about ready to change his plans and wait for a better opportunity. To his amazement, it easily opened. He walked quietly in. He wasn’t sure how many people were in the house.

When he got to the doorway of the parlor, he saw a man to his left, sound asleep in a chair. He hesitated for a moment, thinking about how he wanted to incapacitate him so he wouldn’t be a problem. Phillip knew he couldn’t shoot him, because it would bring everyone in the house to the room. Then he picked up a small, hard object and threw it at the bookcase near Adam. It was loud enough to wake Adam. In a sleepy daze, Adam jumped up onto his feet with his hand on his gun. He pointed it towards the noise. Phillip crept quietly behind Adam and hit him on the head with the butt of his gun. Adam immediately slumped to the floor unconscious.

The noise from the parlor startled Emily and Jessie. The women stood up in the room and said nothing, but just looked at each other.

“I’m going to go see what that was and see if Adam needs anything. You stay here, Jessie,” Emily said as she tried not to sound suspicious. She was a little concerned as the noise didn’t sound normal, but she didn’t want to alarm Jessie. “You look after, Joe.”

Emily stepped into the parlor and immediately saw Adam on the floor.

Phillip looked up at Emily. “Why, I thought I’d drop by to see you. How are you doing, my dear?” His tone was sarcastic.

“Adam!” Emily gasped. She rushed over to Adam to see how bad he was hurt. Before she could reach him, Phillip grabbed her arm and threw her onto the settee.

“Phillip, please leave,” Emily begged in desperation. She feared more for Adam and Joe than herself. “Leave Virginia City without causing anyone any harm and I won’t say a word to anyone.”

Inside Joe’s room, Jessie leaned against the door to listen to what was going on in the parlor. She knew something was wrong, but didn’t want to rush out without knowing what was happening. She was afraid for Joe. What if it was the man who knew Emily and beat her up?

Back in the parlor, Phillip laughed, “A word? About what, Emily?”

Emily rubbed her arm where Phillip had grabbed her when he threw her onto the settee. “You shot, Joe, didn’t you? I won’t say a word. Just leave.”

“Oh Emily, do you think I am dumb?” Phillip had a snide, mean look on his face. “Looks like I may have shot the wrong Cartwright. I saw how upset you were when you saw this one on the floor.”

Tears began to form in Emily’s eyes. Her insides began to churn. Phillip looked more evil that he ever has and the thought of what he might do began to make her sick.

“Phillip, what do you want? Please tell me. Whatever it is, I will try to make it happen. Just don’t hurt anyone in this house.”

Phillip laughed out. “You’re going back to Cedar Creek with me and become my wife. And I’m going to make sure there’s no Cartwright around to stop me.”

Aunt Es entered the parlor. She looked at Emily. “What’s going on in here?”

“Ah! The wonderful Aunt Es.” Phillip chimed. “Come join the party, auntie. Emily’s having a hard time trying to decide who should be her husband, so I’m helping her make up her mind.”

Aunt Es looked at Adam lying on the floor. He began to come to and moan a painful moan. He tried to roll over on his back, but he was still woozy from being knocked out.

Aunt Es went and sat on the settee with Emily. Emily was now crying and begging Phillip to just leave with her and not harm anyone.

Adam finally rolled over onto his back. His attention was drawn to Emily’s crying.

Emily tried to get up and go to him again, but Phillip pushed her back down.

“It’s okay, darling. I’m going to put the poor boy out of his misery. Just for you,” Phillip raged with anger in his voice.

“Please, please, Phillip! I’ll go with you. I’ll marry you. I’ll do whatever I have to if you’ll just leave with me and do nothing else. Please!” Emily begged.

Adam watched Emily beg and cry. He knew she was trying to make a big sacrifice for everyone. He knew she would even marry this man just to keep him alive. Adam tried to sit up, but Phillip stepped on his upper arm to keep him down.

“Stay down, my lad. It will keep you alive a little longer. I’m rather enjoying this burst of emotion from Emily.”

Aunt Es showed her anger. “Phillip, you are a vile man. You better kill me. You take my Emily and I’ll get a gun and hunt you down and shoot you dead.”

“Oh! I love a woman who speaks her mind. And what makes you think that you’ll be alive to come after me?” Phillip shouted at her boldness. He grabbed Emily by the arm again and pulled her off the settee. When she resisted, he threw her back down.

“Drop the gun!” came a soft voice that had an obvious quiver in it. Jesse aimed directly at Phillip.

He recognized the woman he had met in the saloon his first day in town.

“Look who’s here? I forgot your name, but I will never forget that face.” He laughed, “Although I like it better with that bruise on your cheek.”

Jessie’s hand shook as she held the gun. She had fought belligerent, drunk men in the saloon. But she never had to pick up a gun and shoot someone.

Phillip noticed her hand shake and laughed again. His laughter sounded wicked and uncaring for anyone. He turned and pointed the gun at Adam’s head while he still lay on the floor.

“Put the gun down, my dear. This little mess is between me and him. He took my Em….”

Before he could finish his sentence, a shot was heard. Phillip fell to the floor.

Emily screamed. She and Aunt Es buried their heads into each other.

“Emily,” Adam called out in a weak voice.

She ran over to Adam, hugged him tight, and cried on his shoulder.

Jessie dropped the gun. She was still shaking. She bit her lip in an attempt not to cry. She turned and slowly walked back into the bedroom to sit on the side of the bed. She just stared at Joe, who was still sleeping.

Phillip lay dead at Adam’s feet. The bullet hit him square in the area of his heart.

Emily cried, “Oh Adam, I’m so, so sorry. You and Joe had to suffer because of Phillip. He was my problem, not yours, not Joe’s.”

Adam hugged her close to him. “Help me up. And don’t blame yourself for someone like him. Nothing’s your fault.”

When Adam was on his feet, he asked Emily to go get Sheriff Coffee. She left and Adam went into Joe’s room to see if he was okay.

“Thanks Jessie,” Adam said. He rubbed his head and then turned to Aunt Es. “Are you okay?”

She gave Adam a weak grin and then addressed Jessie. “Young lady, I don’t know who you are, but I thank you for what you did.”

“I never shot anyone. I…is he dead? I was so frightened and knew he’d kill us all. I wish it didn’t have to happen.”

Aunt Es answered, “I’m afraid it did have to happen. He certainly wasn’t going to reason with anyone. From all that Emily told me about him, I think he was probably a little sick in the head.”

Adam looked over at Joe and then went to sit with Phillip’s body and waited for Sheriff Coffee to arrive.

*****

THREE WEEKS LATER, VIRGINIA CITY

Emily walked down the street feeling good about life. The nightmares she experienced over the incident finally stopped. Adam’s demeanor seemed sweeter and kinder to her. She was sorry that Phillip caused a situation that got him killed. She would have preferred he stayed in Cedar Creek and lived his miserable life without hurting anyone. But worse would have been if Adam or the others were killed. She couldn’t help but be grateful that this was behind her.

The Cartwrights made sure that Phillip’s body was returned to Cedar Creek to be buried with his family. Sheriff Coffee wrote a letter to the Sheriff in Cedar Creek to give him the circumstances of Phillip’s death. Phillip had friends and family there, and they would want to know what happened.

She looked just down the street and saw a familiar figure. It was the big man who frightened her when she and Adam traveled on the stage. He was with a young boy. She didn’t feel afraid anymore and decided to approach him.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said putting her hand out to touch his arm, but then immediately withdrew it to her side. She wasn’t sure what kind of a reaction she would get. He turned and looked at her. His normal expression was still intimidating to her.

“I’m Emily Hampton and I just wanted to say, hello. I see you have been staying in Virginia City?” she asked.

She jumped a little when the big man grinned. His smile was almost as big as he was. Instead of hearing a gruff voice and rude response, she was greeted pleasantly.

“Hello, I’m John Grimes. I’m sorry I wasn’t very pleasant to you when you spoke to me that time. Please forgive me.”

Emily let out a quiet breath of relief. It was apparent that he was much friendlier than he looked. “It’s quite all right. I wasn’t very talkative back then, either.”

He continued, “I was on my way here to get my son. My wife and I sent him to California to visit an aunt, but there was some kind of accident and he became lost.”

“I’m so sorry. It must have frightened you and your wife very much,” Emily emphasized.

“Yes, it did. We heard a boy had been found in the area of the accident and claimed to be Jacob Grimes. I came to see if he was our son.”

Emily noticed a softness in him that wasn’t there when she first met him. “I’m so sorry for your troubles. But it looks like things worked out well for all of you.” Emily smiled at the boy.

“Thank you for that,” John Grimes said and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “You are a very kind lady. Thank you.”

“Good luck to you and Jacob.” She curtseyed and left. She couldn’t help but remember what Adam had told her on the trip. ‘That things, even people, aren’t what we see on the surface.’ That little comment he made to her has suck in her mind a long time.

A few moments later, she was walking down the walkway, once again. Then she stopped as she heard Adam call out to her.

“Adam, how nice to see you,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to come out to the ranch, but the dressmaking has kept us very busy lately.”

“You wouldn’t have found me home. I was out at our lumber mill for a week. I’ve been thinking about you a lot.”

“Oh,” she said, delighted to hear this. “And how is Joe?”

“He’s fine. He’s just driving us all crazy with his requests. May I walk with you?”

“Yes, please do,” she responded. She laughed at the thought of Joe making demands on his family and could just see them trying to accommodate him.

Adam put her hand through the crook of his arm as they walked. “I’ve been very worried about you, Emily.”

She offered, “There’s no need. I’m feeling good about being here, Adam. It’s wonderful to live where people are kind. I didn’t realize then what a trusted friend I was going to gain in you.”

“Friend?” he asked, not liking that label.

“Everyone needs a friend,” she answered. She looked directly into his eyes. “I think that’s where I went wrong, Adam. Instead finding out if Phillip could be a true friend and then let the relationship grow, I just jumped into a relationship with him and convinced myself I was in love.”

“All right. I’ll be your friend. For now, that is,” he said with a little tease in his voice. “You have the time you need.”

“Of course, Mr. Cartwright, you will court me properly. It’s something I would expect as a lady.”

“Absolutely.”

***The End***

Author’s Notes:  The idea for this story came from a topic chosen for one of Bonanza1’s FanFic exercises by one of their excellent writers. I loved the idea so much that I turned it into a story.

Many thanks to Ginny for her wonderful feedback. A special thanks to Robin who provided great feedback and editing. Robin’s simple suggestions exploded into many ideas that really changed this story and became something I’m happy to post.

I created all the characters, except the Cartwrights, Doc Martin, and Sheriff Coffee. They are the creation of David Dortort.

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