Finding Peace (by Starling)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  21,000


“Now gentleman, everyone just quiet down now. Listen to what I have to say.” Roy Coffee was sitting on the edge of his desk in the Virginia City Sheriff’s office. He was speaking to a small group of men from the city that had come together to discuss the rumor that had taken over the city about the Massey boys coming to town.

“Roy, how can we quiet down? You heard and saw firsthand what those Massey boys did in Carson City, much less the rumors of what happened in other places.”

“Yeah, Roy, we don’t need the Massey here in Virginia City.” Voices erupted from the small crowd.

“Now fellas, I understand your concern, but we have little say so with the local Marshall bringing Todd Massey’s trial to our area. The Judge feels that Virginia City is far enough away from Carson City to give the boy a fair trial, and that’s what I mean to see happens.”

“Now, Roy.” Ben Cartwright had spoken up from the crowd as he stood aside his three sons. “I understand you mean to provide this man a fair trial and all, but you have to understand the concern the town has about how you and Ted are going keep the town safe with all the men that are sure to ride in with the Massey’s for this trail.”

“Ben, I understand your concern as well as how the rest of all you men feel. That is one reason that I have called you all here to discuss just such matters. I am asking for five or six of you men to step up and be deputized during all these preceding.”

One of the locals sounded off. “That’s kinda like putting a target on each man who puts that badge on, don’t you think, Roy.”

“Now, I am not forcing any of you men; I am just asking…”

Before Roy could get his next sentence out, the gentlemen dressed all in black standing behind Ben stepped forward. “Roy, you know we got your back on this one. I would be glad to help out.”

Ben turned and grabbed his son by his sleeve. “Adam, I think we need to all sleep on this before making a decision.”

His son turned and put his hand atop his Pa’s. “Pa, what is there to think about? Roy has asked for help and I am stepping forward.”

Ben’s other two sons, Joseph and Hoss, looked at each other and said, “Count us all in, Roy.”

Ben’s face scowled as he felt boiling mad at his sons for being so stubborn and yet equally as proud for them having the courage to step in and help Roy when asked.

A few other men also slowly stepped forward to help the Sheriff who had been there so many times for all of them.

“Well, Roy,” Ben said, removing his hat from atop his silver hair and crossing his arms. “Looks like you better shine up some badges. And make sure you save one for me too.”

The Sheriff stood up and walked around, shaking the hands of the men who had stepped forward. “I am sure everything will be fine. I just feel we need that extra presence to keep everyone in line.”

*****

The trial for Todd Massey was to be help in Virginia City in two days. and Roy was expecting a Nevada Marshall to deliver Massey to his jail sometime this very day. Several other Marshalls would be arriving with the judge in a few more days. But until then, Roy would need help watching out for any trouble that would surely follow the Masseys. Roy had taken the time overnight to set up a schedule and perimeter for each volunteer deputy. Some would help on the trial days and others would be needed to basically be available all the time, walking the streets and guarding the prisoner Massey.

Roy knew the Cartwrights very well, and since they had often stepped in and rode on posses and other ways, he felt more comfortable having them with him walking the streets and helping guard the prisoner.

Ben and Adam had stepped forward for the first shift and found themselves sitting in Roy’s office early on the morning that Todd Massey would be brought in. Adam had made himself right at home in Roy’s office and felt perfectly comfortable with his black boots on the desk top and his chair tilted back against the wall. “So Roy, now that is just my Pa and me, why don’t you tell us what you think we are in for exactly?”

Leave it to Adam to always cut to the chase and say exactly what was on his mind. He knew good and well that for Roy to gather the men together like he had last night that he surely expected some type of trouble. The Cartwrights were no stranger to the Massey name and were perfectly aware of the legacy of murder and robbery that went along with them. Ben had asked his sons to be absolutely sure about their decision as they had ridden home the night before, but all three Cartwright sons had decided to stand next to Roy, no matter what.

“Yes, Roy, I saw the concern in your eyes last night,” Ben stated while looking out the window at the hustle and bustle of the city passing by.

“Ben I just don’t know about this trial. Todd Massey is accused of robbing a bank and killing two tellers who were unarmed. The sickening, brazen young Massey did this act not in another town but in his own city. He just walked right in and demanded money, and then killed the two men in cold blood. Heck, Ben, one of them had a new wife and a baby on the way. Todd had to have known this since it is such a small city. You know his father carries a lot of weight in Carson City, and the judge couldn’t find anyone to sit on the jury without fearing for their life. So the Marshall contacted me and told me that they would have a trial here. Ben…I am afraid that a lot of the Massey clan will follow and try and stir up trouble or break Todd out.”

“What kind of trouble would you expect, Roy?” Adam had lifted up the brim of his hat to showing the concern in his hazel eyes. “You don’t think Bill Massey would be crazy enough to come in with guns a blazing do you?”

“I tell you what I do expect, Adam, is that Bill Massey is not planning on letting his son hang. And I feel like he will do whatever is necessary to see that it doesn’t happen.”

“The leaf didn’t fall far from the tree then, did it, Roy?” Ben seemed transfixed on the streets of Virginias City as he waited for the Marshall to bring in the prisoner. “You know Bill Massey has been accused of crimes worse than this, but it seems like seems like neither he nor his sons have ever been found guilty before. “

“Ben, I know that and I also know that we are gonna have this trial one way or the other. Bill Massey or another man is not gonna change that.”

The thundering sound of hooves pounding on clay could be heard coming up the streets as a cloud of dust preceded the appearance of the Marshalls delivery.

“We have visitors.” Ben breathed out as he backed away from the window and proceeded towards the door.

Opening the door, Roy, Adam and Ben stepped forward to see the small group of men proceeding on horseback towards the jail. The dust that stirred up under the hooves the horses seemed to create a ghostly image as the riders came to a sudden halt in front of the jail. Adam counted ten riders carrying rifles by their sides while one man sat upon a brown mare with his hands tied to the horn of the saddle. His legs where shackled to the stirrups and a neckerchief was bound around his mouth.

Wasting no time, a large man covered in dust slide off his horse and walked towards Roy. “Roy, old friend,” said the man, reaching out to grab Roy’s hand.

“James,” Roy said back, giving a firm shake to the man’s hand.

Adam could see that the man must have been the marshal, even though his badge was mostly hidden underneath trail dust. He surveyed the group of men as they sat each facing a different direction as if waiting for someone else to arrive.

“Let’s skip the formalities and get him inside,” the Marshall said as he motioned for one of the riders to get Massey down and bring him into the jail.

‘Right this way.” Adam motioned to the man with the grip around Massey’s arm. Adam backed up to the jail’s entrance, and without turning around, swung open the door. The grip on his sidearm tightened.

*****

The thud of the jail cell door resounded throughout the entire building. Roy had turned the key, double-checking that the cell was good and locked. The man behind the doors of the cell stood in the middle of the cell and laughed as he rubbed his wrist, trying to restore some circulation from being bound so long., “Whew wee,” he cracked. “You men must have some kinda death wish. My daddy’s coming for me and I might ask him to go lightly on your when he kills you and make it a quick death. That is if you let me go now.”

“Looks like you’re the one who ought to be fearing a death sentence,” Roy snapped back as he turned from the cell.

“You had your chance, lawman, and all your little friends too. You all gonna die.”

Handing Roy the neckerchief used to gag the prisoner on the ride in, the Marshall said. “If you ever want to get any peace, you are probably gonna need this again.”

Bringing the door to the cell room closed, Roy reclined to his chair. ‘What’s next, James?”

“Well, me and the fellas are gonna head on back to Carson City today. I’ll return with the judge the day after tomorrow. Until then, I suggest you just keep an eye out for the rest of his crew and family.”

Roy escorted his old pal back outside to the rest of his awaiting entourage.

“Roy, I did have one more thing to talk to you about.” The marshal glanced up at Adam and Ben, and then looked back at Roy. “Roy, you remember Sheriff Roberts and what happened a couple years back don’t you?”

“James, well, sure I do. How could anyone forget what happened to Dan and his family.”

“Well…Roy, I think you and your boys had best be aware. Someone using Dan’s name has suddenly surfaced. We found the name Dan Roberts registered in a couple boarding houses and liveries in the last month.”

Roy motioned for Adam and Ben to come on over where they could hear the rest of the conversation. “Who do you think it is, James?”

“I really don’t know. But Roy it gets even stranger…this person is not only using Dan’s name, but from my understanding, is also riding a horse that matches the one Dan rode.”

“The big Appaloosa?” Roy remembered exactly.

“That’s the one, Roy. “

Adam chimed in. “Ought to be pretty easy to spot then. Not too many apps pass through here. Is that the only description that you have?”

“Afraid so.” James had already mounted his horse and began to rein him around to leave. Tilting his hat towards Roy, Adam and Ben, he said “Roy, you guys be careful and I will see you in another day or two.”

The three men watched as the entourage disappeared down the street. “Roy.” Ben had turned towards the sheriff. “Is he talking about the Sheriff that got murdered a couple years ago in the territory north of Carson City?”

“Ben, he sure it. Why don’t you and Adam come back inside with me and I will fill you in on what happened.”

*****

Sitting down behind his desk, Roy began to tell Ben and Adam all he knew of what happened with Sheriff Roberts from a couple years back. “Ben…Adam… It’s a hard story for me to tell because I knew Dan. He was a young sheriff who was looking to start a good life with his young wife and new son. I meet him and his family when they first got to the territory. I went up and helped them get settled as much as I could. Dan was a proud man and wanted to prove himself for his own sense of pride. He was strict and basically had that territory all quieted down within a year.”

“You know, Roy, I remember meeting him too.” Adam began to recall the time he and Joe had taken a herd through that area and Dan had let his drovers shake off a little dust at the local saloon. “Not many Sheriffs welcome a group of cattle herders in their town. But he did and he kept a tight rein on them so that they could blow off steam but not get out of hand. Real nice man.”

“Well, Adam, not only did he clean up the territory, but unfortunately, he also made a few enemies.” Roy pointed his hand over his shoulder motioning towards the cell wall behind him “The Masseys. Dan was having nothing to do with Bill Massey or his sons and their wild side. He quickly put an end to them coming into the town and shooting it up and having their way. Bill Massey quickly became tired all this, and rumor has it, one night he sent his boys and some more men out to Dan’s place to let him know who was boss. Well, when they got there, Dan wasn’t home yet, only his wife Emma and their three-year-old son. Emma was a strong woman, but by the time Dan got home his wife had been beaten and raped so that he could barely recognize her. He didn’t even have a chance; they strung him up and hung him in front of his Emma.”

Ben and Adam sat in horror as they watched Roy try to get himself together and continue the story from that night. “It wasn’t until the next day when Dan didn’t show up at the jail that his deputy went out looking. When he came upon the house, all that was left were smoking embers. Emma was barely alive, laying underneath the feet of her husband who was still hanging. The boy….”

Adam rose up and walked towards Roy. “What, Roy? What happened to their son?”

Roy had to turn away as he began to finish the story. “Well, that’s not the worst part of the story. The boy was never seen again. Rumor has it that Emma tried to hide him under the cabinets when Massey and his entourage arrived. The deputy and the towns’ folk searched through the embers of the house but nothing was ever found:”

“And his wife….” Adam lowered his head and asked, “Did she survive?” He suddenly felt sick and was trying to keep from vomiting right there in Roy’s office.

“If that’s what you call it, Adam. She didn’t waken from the ordeal for over a month. One day, when one of the nurses came in to check on her, she was gone. Just disappeared. A trial had been help for Massey while Emma had been unconscious, but since there were no witnesses he was let go.”

Adam stood up and slowly walked across the jail office. “Roy, Pa, I think I need some air.” Putting his hand on the door and slowly opening it, he took in a deep breath and sighed. “Please excuse me for a bit.”

“Adam…son, are you okay?” Ben started to approach his son. He knew that the last few months had been hard on Adam, losing Beth the way he had. Ben knew that Adam blamed himself for her being struck down from a bullet from a drunken cowhand that had been meant for him. Adam kept re-living how he had not wanted Beth to go along with him that day. And the guilt he carried with him weighted upon his heart and thoughts. Ben knew that it would take time for Adam to heal. He had thought occupying Adam’s time with helping Roy for the Massey trial might be a good idea, but now with the added weight of what Roy had just told them both, Ben wondered if he had done the right thing.

Adam turned as he left the jail and looked up to Ben. “Pa….I’ll be fine.”

*****

The cool air of early evening felt good in Adams lungs as he took a deep breath and breathed in its coolness. As he walked the streets looking for signs of trouble, he felt himself almost eagerly awaiting for the Massey’s to arrive and begin to stir up trouble. He would welcome the opportunity to have a reason to pull a trigger on the men who had done so much violence to someone who had been so kind to him at one time.

“Hey, brother,” Joseph said, running up behind Adam and pointing towards the saloon entrance. “Looks like our company has arrived. It’s the rest of the Massey family and their crew.”

“I’ll make my way over, Joe, to stand with Hoss. You go get Pa and Roy.”

As Adam got ready to enter the saloon, Hoss greeted him at the door. “Nice to see you, brother. Looks like old man Massey’s not wasting any time stirring up trouble.” Straightening his hat and putting a hand on Adam’s shoulder, Hoss led his big brother into the saloon. “He’s already set up with Sam the barkeep that drinks are on his tonight.”

Adam let out a foreboding sign and said, “Let’s go in, Hoss, and see if we can keep this in check til Roy gets here.”

Bill Massey seemed to almost sense the deputy badges enter the saloon. “Welcome, gentleman,” he said as he approached Adam and Hoss. “Want to join us for a beer.”

Not backing down from Massey’s brash presence, Adam quickly lifted the brim of his hat while resting his hand on his revolver. “Why buy the beers, Massey? Usually someone only does that when they are celebrating. And being that your son is locked up and probably gonna hang, I really don’t know what you are celebrating.”

“Well now…your name is…”

“Cartwright, Adam Cartwright.”

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, are you the judge or just a deputy? Seems like that badge says a deputy, so why don’t you just leave all that figuring to the judge and join us for a beer?”

Hoss put his arm on Adam’s shoulder. “Now, Adam, you know Roy told us to wait for him.”

“You heard your smart counterpart there, Cartwright.” Massey had sat down at the closest table facing Adam and patted the chair next to him. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

Adam felt his heart begin to race and a sudden wave of anger building up in him. He moved his hand to release the strap from his revolver.

“Now boys, everyone calm down,” Roy said as he entered the saloon.

The sound of Roy’s voice quickly brought Adam back down and he stepped ever so slightly to the side as Roy approached Massey.

“Goanna keep this short, Massey.” Roy sternly directed his voice towards the large cocky man sitting in the chair. “We aren’t gonna have any problems before, during, or after this trial. I mean to see to it that your son goes in front of a judge by day’s end two days from now, at all cost.”

Massey sat smoking his cigar, looking at Roy with a smile on his face. “Sure, Sheriff. I am here for the same reason… to see that my son gets a fair trial also. Of course your vision of the outcome is not the same as mine.”

“Well, until this trial is over, you keep your boys here quiet, you understand! “

“Certainly, Sheriff. You’ll have no problems from my boys, I can assure you. You might want to keep an eye on your little apprentices, though.” Laughing through his cigar smoke, he motioned towards Adam. “That one seems to be a bit of a maverick.”

Adam started towards Massey and Roy pulled him back. “I’ll keep my deputies within the law. You do the same with your boys.”

With that, Roy motioned for Adam and Hoss to follow him out of the saloon. “Now boys, I don’t need you going around half-cocked. You know Massey is gonna test you. You have to be in control and not lose your tempers. Do you understand?”

“I know, Roy.” Adam said running his fingers through his hair. “I know better than to let his get to me like that. I am better now. Sorry.”

“Yep, Roy, I think Adam just needs a little rest. He has been going since yesterday morning.” Hoss was pushing his brother towards the hotel. “I’ll see to it that he gets a little rest eye.”

“You‘ve got a smart brother there.” Roy waved as he started back towards the jail. “You listen to him, Adam.”

Adam waved back to Roy without turning around. “Message received, Roy. Thanks.”

“You gonna be alright, big brother? Are sure you need to be involved in all this right now?”

“I got it, Hoss. I am going to head over to the hotel in a moment. I just thought I would take a little stroll down to see Sport real quick before I turn in.”

“Sure, brother. I’ll see you in the morning.” Hoss turned and quietly watched his brother walking away. “Get some rest…big brother.”

Adam had already turned and started for the livery.

*****

Adam had left Sport at the livery almost two days ago and didn’t usually go that long without visiting his pal. Sport had a tranquil effect on Adam and he knew a visit right now might just be the thing to help him level out a little. “All quite tonight?” Adam called out the livery attendant as he entered the corral.

“Pretty much, Adam.” Billy had already extended his arm as he walked over to shake Adams hand. “How about for you guys?”

Adam just smirked and replied, “Yeah, sure, nice and quiet. Hey, mind if I let myself in and check on Sport.”

“Sure, Adam, go ahead. Stable is unlocked. I just stabled my last horse about a minute ago. Hey, Adam, you might want to take a look at him. He’s a real beauty.”

“Is that so,” Adam replied. Adam always liked to talk horses and he definitely never wanted to miss out on an opportunity to admire a beauty.

“Yep. A real rare fine in this area. It’s an appaloosa.”

Adam stopped dead in his tracks. “What did you say?”

“An app, Adam. And boy, is he a beauty. Hold on and I’ll go with you.”

Adam already had the stable doors pulled back and was scanning each and every stall as he walked through.

“There he is, Adam, in the back. Still wet from riding in.”

As Adam approached the huge Appaloosa, he couldn’t help but to remember everything that Roy had told him. He stroked the horse’s neck and wondered what horrors this fine animal had seen. “What can you tell me about the man who rode in on him?”

“Man? Billy laughed. “Adam, you aren’t gonna believe me when I tell you this.”

Adam snapped his head back to focus on what Billy thought was so funny about his question.

“It wasn’t a man, Adam. It was a woman, and boy oh boy, is she a fiery little thing.”

“A woman?” Adam replied. “Quick, tell me about her. What did she look like, have on, name, anything.”

“Well, Adam, she didn’t talk much. She signed in under the name Dan Roberts. She looks to be about 5’2, maybe 110, hair blonde. But Adam, she was dressed in boots and jeans with a long grey riding coat. Wore her hair tied back under a hat. You could tell by just lookin’ at her that she was a real beauty. But the way she dressed… Adam, she looked like a regular gunslinger. Left here about 10 minutes before you got here.”

“Thanks,” Adam said and turned with a start. He had to get to Roy’s right away.

“Oh Adam, one more thing.”

Adam stopped and turned.

“She was carrying a rifle with a gold barrel and a golden revolver, as well one strapped to her leg. Whatever you do, Adam, you might want to leave this little filly alone. Seems like she already has date with someone else.”

*****

Roy and Ben stood looking dumbfounded.

“I tell you, Roy, this has got to be Emma, Dan’s wife,” declared Adam.

Roy grabbed his rifle and turned towards Ben. “Ben, you stay here. I’ll get Joe to come and join you, so you both guard Todd. Adam, you come with me.”

“Roy, do you really think…” Ben replied.

“I haven’t seen Emma since the day we brought her into the Carson City doc’s office. But Ben, I’ve known that woman for several years before. That description is definitely hers. The horse, rifle and revolvers…Dan’s.

“Only open this door for Joe, Ben. Adam and I are gonna go find Emma.”

Hoss was feeling his two days without rest catching up with him too. So much that he didn’t notice the small framed stranger pass him and enter the saloon.

*****

As Emma entered the saloon, she pulled the brim of her hat down a little further and tucked the rife under her coat. Her eyes scanned the Bucket of Blood as she quickly looked to her target Bill Massey.

She could feel her pulse begin to quicken and beads of sweat began to form on her brow as she suddenly began to recognize faces and voices from the night so long ago. The voices and faces were only feet away from her as she stood there, and she could feel their breath and hands on her in her mind. “Stopped it!” she screamed in her head. “Focus, Emma, focus”

“Another round, bartender,” Massey called out as he rose from his chair with a glass in hand. “Another round for all my friends.”

Emma steadied herself and walked over to the bar top. She tossed a dollar on the bar top and asked out loud, “I’ll buy my own beer, bartender”

By this time, Adam and Roy had passed Hoss at the entrance and grabbed him by the shoulder as they entered the saloon.

“Too good for a free beer, friend?” Massey suddenly stood and quieted the entire saloon.

“Don’t look like our friend is even old enough to be in a bar.” Massey’s middle son Hank spoke out as he made his way slowly towards the stranger at the bar.

“Not too good for a free beer,” Emma said. Then turning slowly and raising the brim of her hat, she continued, “Just too good to take it from a murderer.”

“Well, Mrs. Roberts.” Massey was choking back a small smile as he gazed hauntingly at Emma. He had never forgotten the sheriff’s wife and was quick to remember her as soon as he heard her voice.

“Looks like out little lady friend came back for a little more, Pa.” Massey’s son had made his way across the saloon and was now in front of Emma, eyeing her from head to toe. Hank could not help but notice Emma’s masculine style of dress. “Seem to be a little confused on how to dress like a lady, though,” he said as he reached forward and brushed his finger across her face. Emma stood fast and never blinked as Hank began fumbling with her coat and hat.

“That enough, Hank,” Roy snapped as he and Adam burst into the saloon with their hands atop their revolvers. “Back away from her, Hank.”

Hank never looked up he continued leaning into Emma with his hands now propped against the bar on each side of her, surrounding her to the bar top. Emma stared directly into his eyes, never breaking her stare or speaking. She could feel his breath on her neck and the smell of several days on the trail.

“Just trying to make a friend here, Sheriff, with this little lady. No harm being done. Ain’t that right, little lady?”

Emma slowly moved her hand behind her and began to grasp the knife that she had strapped to her thigh. She could feel the coldness of the blade as she let her fingertips drape across its edge, holding it ever so tightly.

“I believe the Sheriff told you to back away from the lady.” Adam echoed Roy’s words once more, stepping forward towards Hank and Emma.

“I hear you, Cartwright. I am just wondering why you seem to care so much. Can’t imagine what concern she is of yours. My actions don’t seem to be bothering you any, are they now, little miss? Maybe what she needs is a real man that can persuade her to come out of these cowpoke clothes and dress like a woman.” Hank leaned forward one last time and wrapped his fingers in a lock of her hair and brought it to his nose. “Umm…you sure smell like a real lady.”

Adam loosened his revolver from its sheath and called to Hank once more. “Being a deputy makes it my concern, Hank. Back away now, Hank, for the last time.”

“Mind your business, Cartwright. Roy, you let all your apprentices do your work for you, old man? Besides, Cartwright already let one lady take a bullet for him. You gonna let another one die for you, Cartwright?” Hank continued stepping into Emma as he called out to Roy.

Roy put his hand on Adams arm. “Adam, don’t you know what he’s trying to do. Just stop and think, boy.”

“He’s right, sheriff…” Emma broke in so low that Roy and Adam could barely hear her but enough to turn everyone’s attention back to the small framed gunslinger standing before them. “This is my business.” Looking up at Hank, she smiled, and with one quick but powerful move, she brought the knife from behind her back with such a force that it stuck Hanks hand to the bar. Hank yelled out in agony and dropped to his knees as the shock and pain from his hand being impaled and now attached to the bar top. Before anyone else in the saloon could react, Adam and Roy had already positioned their revolvers to take any action that would be needed.

“Alright, everyone calm down.” Roy was now right in front of Emma and Hank. “I need everyone to quiet down”. The saloon had sprung to life and every gun and its owner seemed to be on the edge. “Hoss, go get the doc and bring him here. Emma…” Roy just stood and looked at her. “Emma…I need you to lower your gun and come with me. Emma…do you hear what I am saying to you?”

With his gun at the ready, Roy motioned for Adam to position himself between Emma, Hank and the rest of the Massey crew. As Adam moved closer towards Emma and her victim, he couldn’t help but to notice how her big blue eyes tried to hide behind the perfect tilt of a hat. Her small frame was all but swallowed under her weathered trench coat. Adam noticed the slight shake in her delicate hand as she tightened her grip, trying to steady her gun. Then, lifting her eyes from the face of the Hank, she shot her cold empty stare across the room to Bill Massey. “I hear you …” She was looking directly into the eyes of the man that had taken her family from her. And now the blood that covered her hands were from one of his sons. Emma felt numb. Nausea began to swell up in her.

Still almost in a trance, Emma barely notice Adam slowly stepping towards her til he placed his hand on top of her gun hand and began to push the revolver to a lowered position. Snapping to all of a sudden, Emma gasped and looked down at the large masculine hand now covering hers. She released her fingers from the gun and allowed Adam to remove the gun from her hands. For that brief moment, Emma felt as if she wasn’t even in her body. She couldn’t hear anything, and everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. She raised her eyes up to Adams and for a brief minute she felt calm. The sound of Hank moaning in agony finally brought Emma back to reality.

“You bitch!” Hank screamed at her twisting in pain from the throbbing sensation that traveled up his arm. ““I am gonna kill you, you hear me.”

“You already have,” Emma whispered into his ear. The room began to twirl and Emma felt herself beginning to be pulled down in some kind of dizzying spiral. “No,” she thought to herself as she tried to fight off the blackness that seemed to be approaching her. She lowered her head and shook her head back and forth. “Keep it together, Emma.” she whispered to herself. She felt Adam’s hand grasp the side of her arm, steadying her from the spinning of the room. Then she suddenly remembered why she was here. Quickly regaining her surrounding, Emma jerked her arm from Adam and began to back away, pining herself to the rail of the bar top.

“Whoa, there….” Adam put his hand up in a non-threatening manner to Emma. “I am just here to help. Roy thinks you might need to come with us.”

Emma found herself face to face suddenly with a stranger whose mere presence seemed to command her attention “Roy….Roy thinks I need help. Well you are wrong, Sheriff.” Turning to stare Adam directly in the face, Emma’s voice seemed to almost crumble. “I don’t need anyone’s help.” Emma’s voice was heightened now. From somewhere, she had found the sudden strength to challenge not only Massey but to break free of the grip that Adam had placed around her arm.

Adam turned and gave Emma a little distance. “Now is not the moment to try and prove anything to anyone. I believe the Sheriff has clearly stated that you are to come with us. And I mean to see that is the case. Now I know you feel like you have a score to settle, but today and here are not the time and place.” Adam looked at Emma, who had moved her grip to her rifle since losing her revolver. She was still staring at Bill Massey across the saloon.

Without breaking her glare, Emma replied back to Adam. “You are right. Not today and not here.” Now dropping her gaze to the floor from Massey, she lifted her eyes to that of Adams and said, “So are you arresting me?”

Adam stuck out his hand for her to give him her rifle. “No….not here and not today.”

“I’ll wait here for the doc to take a look at Massey. Adam, go ahead and take Emma over to my office.” Roy’s attempt to place a comforting hand on Emma’s shoulder as Adam lead her away was met with a ridged look and a quick step back as she passed. “Emma!” Roy called out to her. Adam stopped as the young woman turned her gaze back towards Roy. “Emma. I am glad to see you.”

Raising her hand to tilt her hat down further to cover her pain filled eyes, Emma replied, “Are you really?”

*****

Every step of the way of the walk to the jail, Adam could fill the hurt pouring through the veins of this young woman as he gripped her arm and held tightly while he lead her quietly through the streets. The night had begun to surround the city and Adam breathed in deeply, trying to deal with the flash backs of hurt he couldn’t wipe from his memories of Beth. He felt his own pain rising to meet Emma’s and he wondered if she felt his pain through the grip he had on her as well.

The two exchanged no words as they approached the Virginia City Jail. Adam stepped forward and knocked on the door. “Pa, Joe, lets us in.” Emma was no longer struggling with Adams grip as she stepped through the jail doors. Neither Ben nor Joe could muster any words as Adam guided the almost ghostly figure across the floor, coming to a stop at a small wooden bench along the back wall.

When he motioned to the bench, Emma reluctantly took a seat. Adam dusted his hat off and knelt down to look Emma in the face. “Can I get you some water or anything?”

Emma met his question by lowering her head and turning away from Adam. She felt a sudden well of emotion rising to the surface and she suddenly began trembling. Tears started to fall from her eyes. But Emma did nothing to erase them or stop them. She just sat silently.

Ben took off his jacket and handed it to Adam. “Here put this on her, son, while I grab some water. Joe, keep a look out for Roy.” Joe pulled the hammer back on his pistol and stood next to the window looking down the street for Roy.

Adam took the jacket from Ben and began to reach around Emma. She jerked around with a start, like she had forgotten where she was and what had just happened. “Emma. I’ve got you. It’s just a jacket to warm you up. You are shaking.” He then reached for the cup of water that Ben had brought over to him. “Here, sip on this. Okay!”

Emma reached up trying to steady her hands. Adam placed his over hers and Emma stopped and looked directly into Adams eyes. “Emma….it’s okay.”

She quiet shook her head and took the cup from Adams hands.

Ben watched his son comforting the young woman and wondered if Adam was dealing with his own pain by trying to lessen Emma’s. His son’s toughness and self-isolation was the way most people saw Adam. Ben saw the kindness of Elizabeth, Adam’s mother, when his son had moments like this. It touched Ben’s heart and he knew that Adam would be okay.

“Pa, Adam, I see Roy.” Joe quickly swung open the door and Roy walked through dusting his hat off as he came to a rest at the corner of his desk.

“Everything quiet here?” Roy asked as he pointed to the closed doors dividing the cells from the office. Roy had wondered if all the stirring about would have awaken Massey and had him ranting and stomping about in his cell again.

“Yes,” Ben replied. “Quiet as one could hope for.”

“Good” Roy breathed out and walked over towards Adam and Emma. “How are we doing over here?” Even though Roy asked as a question, he was more contemplating the young woman who now sat in his office. “Emma, what are we gonna do with you.”

Without hesitation, Emma raised her watered eyes to Roy and stated with a new found sense of strength. “Let me go now Roy. I was only defending myself.”

“Now, now, Emma, nobody is doubting that; it’s just… Emma, there are so many questions. Where have you been? Everyone thought you were dead. And now all of a sudden you reappear like…like some type of bounty hunter or gunslinger. Emma, you have to talk to us.” Roy straightened his hat once more.

Emma stood up from the bench. “No questions. Either arrest me or let me go, Roy.”

“Emma, calm down. I can’t have you go around here half-cocked.” His voice was stern yet caring as he directed more questions at Emma. “Why are you here, Emma?”

The young widow had now backed herself up against the cold wall of the jail, distancing herself from the reach of Adam and the questioning of Roy. To everyone that saw her, she seemed to transform into a cold harden statue. The blue eyes no longer were filled with tears but streaks of hate and pain. “Roy, I will cause you or your town no trouble. I am only here to see justice done.” Resting her back again the wall, Emma turned her head upward towards the ceiling and said, “Please, Roy, either arrest me or let me go. The memories of an office like this are killing me all over again.”

Roy jumped up and put his hand out to touch Emma’s shoulder but she recoiled even further against the wall. “Oh Emma, I am so sorry…I didn’t even think.”

Adam watched the torment steak across Emma’s face as she seemed to be almost pressing her body into the very depth of the jail walls. “Roy, I got her.” Adam walked over and took her by the hand and starting leading her towards the door.

“I can’t breathe …” Emma exhaled as she let Adam pull her from the wall out of the jail.

“I’ll keep an eye on her, Roy. Just let me get her some fresh air.”

Catching Adam at the door, Joe reached for his brother “Adam, you be careful. You know what Massey is capable of.”

“I know, brother. Thanks” And with that, Adam lead Emma out of the jail toward the livery. He thought that she needed to get out of town as soon as possible.

*****

Adam was still tightening the cinch on Sport when Emma approached him and said, “Look, Mr. Cartwright.” Emma was now sitting tall upon her appaloosa, Spirit “I am sorry I had to inconvenience you this evening. But this is as far as we go together. Thank you for your time and kindness but I am not here for either.”

Adam turned with a start and grabbed onto Spirit’s bridle. “Riding out of here tonight alone is not going help you solve anything, Emma.” He felt a sudden closeness to this woman that was before him that he could not explain. “Let someone help you through this. Don’t you see how you are letting this pain eat away at you?” For a minute, Adam didn’t know if he was talking to Emma or himself.

“Mr. Cartwright…”

“Adam!” he snapped.

Emma looked down at him. and for the first time. she saw his eyes too filled with pain. “I can’t…I can’t do this now.” And with a swift yet gentle kick to the side of Spirit. she disappeared into the night. tearing Adams grip from her bridle.

“Emma…..” Adam called out to her as he watched her ride out alone. He turned back to Sport and quickly finished tightening the cinch. Throwing his leg across the saddle in one fluid motion Adam and Sport tore out of the livery. Adam doubted he could catch Emma now but he could follow closely to see that no one harmed her. He felt a slight stinging in his right hand and he looked down to see a small stream of blood trailing down his hand from Spirit’s bridle being torn from his grasp. Gripping his hand tighter, memories of his blood-covered hands holding Beth flashed into his thoughts. Trying to clear the pictures from his mind, he raced Sport even faster into the night.

*****

Riding back into Virginia City the next morning, Adam couldn’t help but to feel an eerie quietness covering the city streets. He spurred Sport towards the jail, dreading the conversation with Roy that he had lost Emma last night. Lowering himself out of the saddle, Adam flinched as he mistakenly gripped the saddle horn with his cut hand. Ben was already out the door to greet his son before he made it through the door. Roy was propped up behind the desk, sipping a cup of hot coffee and Ben lead his son through the door.

“Adam. son, where have you been all night?” Ben’s arm was draped around his son’s shoulders as he began questioning him.

“Emma… Adam, where did you leave Emma?” Roy didn’t wait for Ben to finish before he chimed in with questions as well.

Adam took his black Stetson off and ran his fingers through his hair and backed up against the wall. Both Roy and Ben noticed the blood covered bandage wrapped across his hand and suddenly realized how their line of questioning being fired at Adam was attacking him.

“Son, are you okay?” Ben grabbed Adam’s hand and gently began to unroll the bandage he had draped across his wound.

“I am fine, Pa. Roy… I am so sorry. I tried to keep her here last night but she tore out of the livery before I hand finished saddling Sport.” Adam’s face showed his own disappointment in himself for not being able to do as he had promised Roy. “I followed her tracks as long as I could.”

“Adam, her horse was back in the livery this morning. But no sign of her.” Ben rewrapped Adams hand with clean bandages. “We thought she was with you til you just came in.”

Adam looked up glancing back and forth between his Pa and Roy. “Do you think she is back after Massey? Have you seen anything of him or his boys, Roy?”

“The Massey’s have been pretty quiet all night, Adam.” Roy reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out his revolver. Turning the chamber to be sure it was loaded, he motioned to Ben and Adam both. “But I am sure it won’t be that way for long.”

Ben and Adam both jumped up to follow Roy. “Now I don’t know where both you think you are going, but Adam, you haven’t had rest in two days. I need you to stay put and watch out for young Massey behind those bars.”

“Roy, I am not staying here when no telling what kind of trouble Emma has herself lined up for.” Adam had already put his hat back on and stood checking his revolver as well.

“Adam, I don’t know if you know exactly what kind of situation you are dealing with, son.” Roy now elevated his voice towards Adam’s direction. “So I don’t know if you ought to be involved in all this right now, with Beth and all. Those types of wounds don’t heal overnight, Adam.”

“Listen to Roy, Adam. You aren’t thinking straight right now and you are beyond exhausted. Let Roy and I go out and see what we can find out.”

“Pa, you don’t understand.”

“Yes, I do.” Ben took a demanding stance towards his son. “Adam…taking on Emma’s pain will not take away the pain you feel from losing Beth. Emma cannot balance out your pain. And it’s not fair to put that on her.” Ben put his hand on top of Adam’s hand that now lay on top of his pistol strapped to his side. “Killing someone is not going bring Emma’s family back, and son…it won’t bring Beth back either.”

Adam stepped back, feeling like his Pa had just knocked the breath from his lungs. “Pa….I … I know that.”

“Adam, do you really?”

Just then Joe burst in through the jail doors. “Roy! There’s a gunfight getting ready to take place outside the boarding house.”

“A fight…is it Massey, Joe?”

“Roy, it’s one of Massey’s boys. But Roy, it’s not that end of the barrel I am worried about.”

Roy stepped towards Joe “Who’s on the other end, Joe?”

Joe glanced towards Adam. “It’s…Emma.”

“Adam!” Ben yelled out as his son tore out the door.

*****

“This is not how it’s supposed to go down, Massey.” Emma stood on the east side of the street with her trench coat pulled back, revealing a gold handled pistol strapped to her side. “It’s not your boys, I want. It’s you, Massey.”

“You aren’t worth my Pa’s time, little lady. You are just an inconvenient little distraction I am gonna put an end to.” Todd Massey stood on the west chewing on the end of an unlighted cigar.

“Massey, don’t make me do this….”

Adam and Joe run came to a dead stop as they approached the large crowd of passersby who were now at a standstill, watching the sadistic gun fight getting ready to take place.

Adam pushed the crowd to the side as he and Joe made their way through to the front of the gathering. Adam glanced in horror as he saw Emma with hand at the ready, being covered in darkness by the shadow of a man twice her size. Emma no longer looked like a small, defenseless person anymore. Adam felt the presence of a self-made killer that this young woman’s pain had transformed her into. And now she stood in front of one of the men that had taken her life and very soul from her.

“Don’t make me take your son from you.”

“Why don’t you put that gun down, little girl, before you get yourself hurt again.”

“Massey!” Emma continued to holler out. She felt herself beginning to tense up and took a few steps back to steady herself.

“Look, little girl, I am becoming a little tired of you. I got everything off of you I ever wanted a couple years ago.” Todd laughed and removed the leather strap from atop his revolver. “Draw, little girlie. I want to see you twitch like your husband did.”

And with that, Emma screamed “Massey!!!!” and fired. She took two small steps back as she felt the power from the gun release and the breath from her body leave.

Then…Todd dropped!

Adam caught his breath and began walking slowly towards Emma. “No!” she hollered and turned the gun to face Adam. “Stop there, Adam. Leave me alone…just leave me alone.” In her head, she felt herself suddenly spiraling out of control. “What are you doing, Emma?” she mumbled to herself as she looked down the barrel of her gun into the deep hazel eyes staring back at her. Then suddenly she found herself back at the feet of her dying husband. Helpless. “No, never again!” she shouted. “Never again, Massey. Do you hear me?” Emma kept her gun raised and began to back away from the crowd. “There, Massey, is that what you wanted? You did this to your son, not me; you put this bullet in him…” And then Emma turned and ran with a start.

“Stand back, everyone.” Adam had stepped forward and fired off a couple shots in the air to help disperse the crowd. “Someone get the doc and find Roy.”

“Adam, come here quickly.” Joe was standing in the exact spot that Emma had fired from. As Adam approached, Joe knelt to the ground and scooped up a handful of dirt. “Adam, I thought I saw Emma take a couple of rough steps back after Todd fired and well…” Joe opened his hand up and showed Adam the blood soaked dirt he had in his grip. “Adam, she is hit.” Joe looked at his brother and noticed a sudden paleness take over his face. “Adam, you go after her. I will clean up here. You go get her before Massey finds her.”

“Thanks, brother,” Adam said and tore off after Emma with a start.

*****

Trying to catch her breath, Emma leaned against the side of the old general store facing the livery. She knew that she was going to have to put herself out in the open to cross the street to get to the livery. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the long trench coat together and lowered the brim of her hat. Walking calmly across the street, she made every attempt not to look up at anyone. Reaching the doors of the livery, Emma breathed a sigh of relief and quickly disappeared behind the doors. “Spirit, old boy. What a beautiful sight you are.”

As she stepped forward towards Spirit, she felt a sudden wave dizziness beginning to surround her. She put an arm out to grasp onto the side of the closest stall, trying to steady herself for one moment. Pulling her entire body to the stall’s side, she tried to clear her mind and get control of what was happening to her. As she rested up against the frame, she felt a wave of nausea suddenly over take her. As she felt her spasm from the sickness hit, she suddenly doubled over as an intense pain jolted through her entire right side. Dropping to her knees, Emma suddenly saw the red stain that was staining her side. “No…” Emma gasped. “Not now and not this way.”

Somehow Emma reached down inside and managed to find the strength to get back to her feet. She had to get to Spirit and get out of here before Massey or anyone else found her like this. Thank goodness she had left her mount saddled. Now she only had to find the strength to get herself up. As she reached up to grab the saddle and place her foot into the stirrups, the pain that radiated through her quickly dropped her back to the ground. “Come on, Emma girl, you can do this … you’ve got to do this.” Panic and desperation had begun to set in now and Emma did not hear the sound of the livery doors creak open behind her.

Adam stood there for a moment as he watched Emma almost holding on to the side of Spirit trying to hold herself up.

“Emma” was all Adam could get out before the young widow turned with a start and placed her hand over her pistol.

Adam slowly raised his hands to show her that he meant her no harm. “Emma…I am not here to hurt you. You’ve been shot; let me help you.”

Emma slowly turned to face Adam, using the side of Spirit to keep her standing. Adam winced as he was the red that covered her hands and side. Her hand still rested upon her pistol but Adam could see it was all Emma could do to keep on her feet.

Adam slowly approached her with his hands still out stretched. “Emma, let me get you out of here. You need a doctor.”

Her hand trembled on her pistol as she began to slide down against the side of Spirit once again. Looking up to Adam with tears now in her eyes, Emma spoke to Adam in a low, almost broken tone, “Adam, don’t take me like this through the town. “ Her voice was now trembling with heartbreak. “I can’t let them see what they have done to me. Please…” Her stare never broke from Adams gaze as she continued, “Help me…please help me ride out.”

Adam stepped forward and quickly knelt beside Emma. “I’ll get you out of here, Emma. But you are gonna have to trust me.”

Emma looked up at Adam and placed her hand in his.

“Now let’s get this bleeding stopped so we can get you out of here.”

*****

As Adam turned to see his companion astride Spirit, he knew that he had only a small window of time before Emma would loss total consciousness. He had bandaged the wound as much as he could and now had Emma placed on Spirit. He had to get her out of town as quickly as possible before the Masseys came looking. Emma didn’t look well and Adam found himself battling memories of Beth and her laying in his arms, looking up at him for help. Shaking the memories out of his head, he committed his thoughts and actions to saving Emma right now. “Emma.” Adam was tilting Emma’s face up to look at him directly in the eyes. “Emma, I need you to focus for a few moments more, okay.” Emma dozily shook her head. “I need you to ride out of here on your own, sitting up straight a strong. You cannot let anyone know you have been hurt. The Massey’s will come after you. Do you understand me, Emma?” Adam was speaking softly but in a stern matter. “You ride west and don’t slow or look back, just hold on tight. I will catch up with you out of town and we will get you a doc.” Emma’s head begin to drop. “Emma, do you understand!”

Suddenly Emma somehow found the energy and strength to position herself upright straight in the saddle. Reaching up to tilt her hat, covering the hurt and pain once more in her glazed over eyes, Emma looked over at Adam and whispered, “I understand.”

Sitting astride Sport, Adam lead Spirit with Emma holding on tightly to the doors of the livery. Emma brought Spirit up alongside Sport and looked over at Adam. Adam stared back briefly at this young woman beside him and wondered how she found the strength to keep going on as she did. Suddenly, Emma let out a deep breath and with a swift gentle lift to the stirrups she and Spirit tore off down the streets with Emma sitting straight and powerful.

As Adam watched her disappear down the empty morning streets, he only hopped that someone would give the message to Massey that Emma had ridden out under her own strength. Turning Sport to exit the city the opposite direction so as not to cause attention, Adam was met by Joe and Hoss riding up quickly to his side.

“Adam, did you find Emma?” Joe had the words out of his mouth before he had even noticed the spot of blood trailing up his brother’s arms. “Adam, is she okay?”

“Adam, everyone is looking for her. Massey is gathering his men right now to go after Emma.” Hoss leaned closer to Adam. “You got her somewhere safe, don’t you, brother?”

“Look, Hoss and Joe…Emma is hurt bad.” Adam brought his brothers up to date with plan for getting Emma out of town. “Now I need one of you boys to go get Dr. Martin and get him out of town without causing any suspicion. I am going catch up with Emma and take her to our house. Joe, Hoss, hurry, please. I…” Adam couldn’t get any other words out; he just turned and tore out on Sport with a vengeance to find Emma and get her help.

*****

Feeling a safe distance out of the town, Adam gave a firm pull to turn Sport into the direction that Emma and Spirit had taken. “Come on, boy,” Adam called out to his friend as he released Sport to a dead run and held on. “Let’s find her.” The sounds of Sports hooves hitting the sand with such speed and power seemed to match the emotion that was now pouring through Adams mind. He knew he had to find her and fast. Hopefully, she had held on long enough to bring Spirit to a stop where she was safe. What if she had fallen? What if Spirit had been spooked by his rider’s state and threw her? He had to clear his mind and ride and ride fast. Breathing in, he let the wind from the ride fill his lungs and cool the burn that enveloped his heart. His pulse quickened. “Emma…Emma where are you?” His eye fought to scan the land that lay in front of him. Where was she then…?

Adam didn’t wait for Sport to come to a complete stop when his boots hit the ground. Almost stumbling to the ground, he braced himself again the ground with his outstretched arm as he raced to the small bundle that lay at the foot of the appaloosa. Spirit was nuzzling his rider as she lay motionless at his feet. Adam dropped to his knees and pulled Emma up on his lap, feeling for a pulse as he couldn’t help but take in the cool paleness of her skin. “Oh Ma, please help me. I can’t go through this again. Help me find a way to help her, please Ma…..please…” Adam dropped his head, once again feeling the loss of someone he cared for in his arms. Then…there it was — the sign of life that he had waited for. Lifting her body up, with a bound Adam turned and headed to Sport. He gently lifted Emma into the saddle, and in one swing, he threw his own body into the saddle, bracing Emma back against his chest. Leaning forward, he whispered into her ear, “Hold tight, Emma, I’ve got you now. Home, Sport, Home.”

Sport’s gait was stretched fully out as the magnificent horse put his entire heart in every stride he made. Adam held tightly to Emma’s slumping body as Sport took every curve and dip with ease and steadiness in his stride. Tightening his grip around Emma’s waist, Adam intertwined the reins around his hands, securing his cargo securely in his grips.

There were moments when Emma would awaken and Adam could feel her body almost trying to fight his grasp he had around her. “Emma. Emma…” Adam would repeat in her ear as she fought against the weakness to pull herself forward out of his secure firm grip. “Don’t fight me, Emma, stay with me…you hear” Tightening his grasp even more, Adam would bring Emma’s small frame back against his chest. He knew that she was fighting against the blackness that was trying to force her to close her eyes. Emma’s eyes shot up once more to Adam and she felt her breath leave her body in a gasp as she realized for the first time the pain that he held behind his hazel eyes. Now she was feeling not only her own hurt but she could feel the pain that Adam carried with him as well. She shakily raised her hand and slid it over Adam’s hand as he continued to hold her against him. The gesture spoke more to Adam than anything he had heard or seen in such a very long time. Emotion surged through his body and he yelled to Sport, “Run, boy, Run.”

*****

Hop Sing was unloading the supplies from the buckboard as he saw Sport thundering into the Ponderosa yard and coming to an abrupt stop. Adam quickly jumped to the ground and reached up to pull Emma down into his arms.

“Mr. Adam, what has happened?” Hop Sing could already see the motionless being that Adam help in his arms. “Upstairs…upstairs. I bring water and towels. You hurry, Mr. Adam.”

Hop Sing had always been there for his family, the Cartwrights, and little had to be said as Adam kicked open the door and tore up the stairs, carrying this stranger into their home. Hop Sing immediately gathered his supplies and followed right behind Adam.

Placing her onto his bed, Emma moved very little as Adam quickly turned to take a cup of cold water from Hop Sing’s hands. He raised her head a tiny bit and put a small amount of water across her lips until she unconsciously opened her mouth and allowed the cool water to run down her throat. Hope Sing had already soaked some cloths in cool water and handed them to Adam as he laid them across her forehead. “Hop Sing, bring me some more clean bandages I have to try and stop the bleeding before she loses any more blood.” Adam slowly began to peel back the bandages he had placed around Emma at the livery. “Hop Sing, hurry.” Adam belted down to his friend as he heard Hop Sing returning back up the stairs.

“Mr. Adam. Hop Sing bring this powder to put on wound. It helps kill infection and slow bleeding. Please use now.”

Adam could not remember all the mixtures and concoctions that Hop Sing had used on him and his family over the years that resulted in saving their lives and curing their ills. He trusted his longtime friend enough to help Emma now in any way that he could. Hop Sing gently wiped the oozing blood from around the wound then began to sprinkle the powdery substance. Adam saw Emma move slightly as the burning sting from the powder cleansed the wound. He gently placed his hand on her forehead. “Emma, doc is on the way. You are going be just fine.”

“Adam! Hop Sing!” Hoss yelled as he burst through the door with Ben and Doc Martin right on his heels. “Where are you at, Adam?” The trio had seen poor Sport cooling himself at the trough covered in foamy sweat when they arrived.

“Mr. Hoss, Mr. Ben.” Hop Sing appeared at the top of the stairs. “This way.”

Walking into the room, Doc Martin quickly excused himself and moved Adam to the side. “Adam, help me roll her to the side. I need to know if the bullet went straight through or is still inside of her. Adam, do you hear me?”

Adam had momentarily found himself standing there feeling like he was looking down from another world. He felt himself start to sway, and suddenly Ben stepped forward and caught him. “Adam, son, are you alright?”

“Yeah, Pa, just tired. Let me help Paul.”

Hoss put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Adam, you go down stairs with Pa. I’ve got this right now. I can help Paul.”

“No, Hoss, I can’t leave her like this.”

Paul turned around and snapped at Adam. “You haven’t slept in three days, Adam. You are no help to this young lady or yourself right now. Now go with Ben and let Hoss, Hop Sing and myself do what needs to be done.

“But Paul…” Adam stepped forward slightly.

“Adam, you heard Paul. You have already stretched yourself to your limits. Emma will need you later. But now she needs a steady hand and clear mind.” Ben motioned towards the door to Adam.

“Paul….” Adam stopped at the door and looked back at his friend.

Paul could see the pain in Adams face and how memories, exhaustion and concern for the life of Emma had begun to take its toll on this seemingly unstoppable man. “Adam. I won’t let anything happen to her. But I need you to go with Ben. “

Adam turned and followed his Pa down the stairs. Collapsing into his blue chair, Adam felt the weight of the last few days come bearing down on him with a vengeance.

Ben couldn’t help but to see how the last several days had taken their toll upon his eldest. Adam was sunken back in his chair with his eyes closed tightly and head tilted up. The twitching in the foot of his crossed legs let Ben know that, even though his son sat in the chair, that there was still no rest in Adams mind. “Here, Adam.” Ben handed Adam a glass of whiskey. “Drink this…Doc’s orders.

As Adam reluctantly slide forward in the chair, he could only hope that his Pa didn’t notice the shaking in his hand as he took the glass of whiskey from his hand. Swirling the bronze liquor around in the glass, Adam hesitated before he turned the glass up completely and let the sting of the alcohol travel down through his throat. “Pa…” Adam said as he turned briefly to look up at the stairs wondering if he had truly done all he could have done to help Emma.

“What is it, son?’” Ben walked towards his son once more, placing his hand upon his back.

“Did she kill the Massey boy?”

“Roy said that Hank was probably dead before he hit the ground.”

Adam slumped back in his chair once more and pulled his black hat down over his eyes. “Then I am sure that they are going come after Emma.”

“Probably, son. I am pretty sure that they are already out looking for her.”

“Well…I guess someone better notify the morgue that the rest of the Massey family will be going there soon.” And with that Adam let out a deep breath and yawned. Adam could not fight the need for rest any longer as both the whiskey and exhaustion finally over took their victim.

*****

Doc Martin walked down the stairs quietly, trying his best to not wake Adam from his rest.

Ben stood immediately and motioned for Pau to join him in the kitchen. “Here, Paul, have some coffee.”

“Thanks, Ben.” Paul took the warm steaming cup and turned his head towards Adam’s sleeping figure in the chair. “Ben… your son’s intense need for self-denial is gonna kill him one day. A man just can’t go on like he has been and not physically and mentally hurt himself.”

“I know, Paul; Adam has always been one to keep himself emotionally distant at times. He can just be so hard to reason with at times.” Ben took a sip from the hot coffee and leaned back against the kitchen wall. “And now, less than a year after the loss of Beth, he puts himself square in the middle again of a very painful and dangerous conflict with another young lady.”

“Adam is a fine strong young man, Ben. He just needs a little time to find a little peace after all that he has been dealing with.”

“Paul.” Ben suddenly raised his head “How’s Emma? I was worrying so about getting Adam to calm down for a moment that I haven’t asked you about how she is doing.”

“Ben she should be just fine. We got the bullet out and the bleeding is stopped. Her biggest challenge is much like your eldest in there Ben. Emma has been through hell and what she needs is time. Time, Ben, to heal not only physically but mentally. When I look at this young, scarred body and remember the stories that Roy told me….” Paul stood up for a moment and ran his fingers through his hair as he let out an exhausted sigh. Ben, her scars run deeper than any doctor can fix. She is a young lady that needs time and healing for her soul.”

“Paul, what can we do for her right now?”

“Ben, just let her rest. Let the bullet wound heal and then she has to want to heal the other scars. Ben, I know it sounds farfetched, but maybe Emma and Adam are exactly who each other needs right now.”

Ben looked over at Paul, understanding exactly what he meant. He wondered if Adam found any peace in sleep or if his mind constantly replayed all the loss and hurt that he had experienced in his young life. “Maybe, Paul…maybe they are.”

*****

Sometime in the early morning hours Adam had awoken and returned to Emma’s side. Adam had spent the early morning hours pacing the room and waiting for Emma to wake up. He knew that Paul had given her lots of pain medicine when he removed the bullet, and the sleep that came along with it would be long and restful, hopefully. As the morning light peered through the window, Adam couldn’t help but to step back and take note of the small frame that outlined the sheets of the bed. He wondered what she had been through over the last few years. He wondered what those deep blue eyes had seen and winced when he tried to imagine. Somehow focusing on Emma allowed him to deal with the pain he felt from losing Beth.

He was so deep in thought of this young woman before him that he didn’t notice the slight squeak of the door as Ben pushed it open and slowly entered. “Get any rest, son?”

Adam broke from his thoughts with a jerk. “Yes Pa, I think I did.” He sighed and ran his hand down across his face, breathing out his worried thoughts.

Approaching Emma, Ben rinsed out a damp cloth and wiped her slightly warm forehead. “And how’s our patient?”

“Pa I think she is doing fine. Just sleeping. Paul told me before he left this morning that the wound was clean, and aside from a slight fever, she should be mending quickly.”

“Remarkable woman, isn’t she, Pa.” Adam looked down at Emma’s sleeping form and smiled.

“Adam, she sure is. Driven as well.” Ben looked over at Adam, catching Adam’s glance back. “Let’s hope that one does not let such a driven desire to be their undoing, though, Adam.”

Adam smirked at his Pa. “Understood.”

“Adam, Hoss and I are going back into town. We don’t want to give the Masseys any reason to be suspicious that we are not in town when Emma disappeared. Roy is afraid that they might put two and two together if we all are suddenly gone. You stay here with Emma and we will keep an eye out in town.”

“Pa, are you sure you Joe and Hoss will be okay? I know Massey has to be maddening now with the loss of one son and the other approaching a hanging.”

“Adam, if we hear of anything happening, we will let you know. The most important thing is to get Emma healed right now. Injured like this right now makes her a sitting target for Massey and his clan. You two don’t leave the ranch, no matter what. I will have a few of the hands manning watch and Hop Sing can run any errands in town you might need. Understood?’

Adam had already lost himself in thought again. “Umm, sure, Pa. I understand.”

*****

Standing at the window from his room upstairs, Adam watched his Pa and Hoss disappear down the road on their way back to Virginia City. He knew the next few days it would just be him and Emma here at the Ponderosa. He turned at looked at her sleeping figure, seemingly resting so peacefully. Adam approached her beside at sat down along the side he moved his hand gently across her forehead, swiping the few misplaced strands of golden hair to the side. He wondered what thoughts ran through her mind as she slept. Was she dreaming of her past life with her husband and son? Days spent together sharing each other’s dreams and hopes. He wondered to himself which was worse — to have the love and family like Emma had had once and then to have it horribly and suddenly destroyed in front of your eyes? Or to watch the person you hoped to share those hopes and dreams with die in your arms before knowing any such life. Was he the right person to be sitting next to this young woman right now? How could he help heal her both physically and mentally heal when he still needed to heal himself?

Adam began to feel a wave of exhaustion hit him and he softly laid down next to Emma and placed an arm tenderly across her waist. Emotion began to fill Adams eyes and he remembered embracing Beth as she lay dying in the streets of Virginia City. His body shivered as he felt the pain and heartbreak finally began to let go of his soul. “Oh Beth,” Adam wept. “I am so sorry I couldn’t save you.”

Adam suddenly felt a soft warm touch across his arm that surrounded Emma’s waist. His eyes opened to find the deep blue eyes of Emma looking right back at his. He saw the tears beginning to form in hers as well. “Maybe they are all together in heaven,” Emma whispered.

Adam looked into her face; it was the first soft words he had heard Emma speak since they had met.

“Maybe they don’t want us to hurt anymore,” Emma’s wavering voice whispered. Emma closed her eyes and pulled her body in closer to Adams. For the first time in a year, Adam felt the weight off his heart begin to lift. Then they both slept.

*****

The next few days began to bring healing in so many different ways to both Adam and Emma. As Adam cared for Emma over the next few days, he sensed a change stirring in her. There were mornings that they would sit and talk, and he felt her beginning to search for some peace to her past. There were moments where he would bring out a slight smile from her and even a light laugh as he talked to her about what it was like growing up with two brothers and all their adventures. Other times, he felt that she was finally on the edge of completely breaking down and letting out all the painful reminders that she had stored so far back in her memory.

One particularly beautiful morning, Adam peeked in to Emma’s room and found her standing quietly by the window, watching the sun rise above the majestic Ponderosa pines. As he stood for a moment at the entrance way, he couldn’t help but to notice how the sun shown golden through her long hair. The early morning light seemed to almost embrace her small figure as it silhouetted her against the slightly darkened room. Emma stood there with her eyes closed, letting the warmth of the day touch her skin. She took a slow deep breath and let the cool air feel her lungs.

“Morning,” Adam said quietly, trying not to startle her.

Lowering her head slightly and turning to acknowledge her companion, Emma replied “Good morning….Adam.” Turning back to face the morning light, she felt Adams presence step closer. He stepped behind her and raised his arm so that it was slightly above her head and rested it against the window seal. She knew Adam was looking for the same beauty in the morning light that she had found. They both found themselves standing in sheer silence as they looked out into the day.

“Wait here,” Adam said as he suddenly turned and bounded out of the room. Emma heard his boots hitting the stairs as he was taking the stairs two by two. As she turned back to the window, she leaned forward and noticed Adam disappear into the barn. She smiled to herself. It did Emma’s heart good to see Adam move with such life and zest. As the minutes passed, she suddenly saw the barn door swing open and out came Adam leading a horse-drawn buggy. He stopped and looked up at Emma, and with a somewhat almost playful tone, he shouted up to the open window “Beautiful day for a ride, Emma….don’t you think?”

Emma backed away from the window suddenly. She turned her back to the wall and found herself looking directly at her reflection in the mirror. She gasped at the person that stared back at her. The pale thin figure looked strange to her as she stepped closer and traced the outline of her sunken cheek bones and darkened eyes. Tears began to flow as Emma felt a strong emotion began to flood her entire body. When Adam reached her room again, he found Emma with one hand pressed again the mirror and the other pressed against her cheek. Her face was streaked with tears as she turned and looked directly into Adam’s eyes. Adam walked slowly over to Emma and gently pulled her shivering body into his warm embrace. As he held her for a minute, he realized that this was the first time Emma had probably looked into her own eyes since the loss of her family. She surely did not look like the woman that her husband had embraced that last morning as he kissed her goodbye the last time. Or even the gently loving mother who had rocked her small boy to sleep the night before.

“Oh Adam….” Emma tightened her grip around him as she fought against accepting the figure that she had become.

Adam calmly pushed Emma back and wiped the tears from her face. “Wait here.” Adam disappeared for a moment out the door once more. Emma stood with her head down still shaking.

Adam went down the hallway and opened a small closet. He reached up to the top shelf and brought down a small trunk. As Adam sat the trunk down on the floor, he slowly brushed the dust away. Taking a deep breath, he opened the trunk and looked down as the riding clothes that he had bought to surprise Beth one day when he would surprise her for a ride to overlook where their house would be one day. He softly placed his hand upon the soft linen and looked up towards the ceiling. “Beth…please, tell me that you would approve.” Adam breathed in, and with a slight smile brought to his face from somewhere inside, he turned and walked back to Emma’s room.

Emma was still standing directly where Adam had left her. He approached Emma and turned her to stare directly into his gaze. “It’s a beautiful day for a ride, Emma.” He placed the clothes down on the bed in front of her and turned back towards the door. Reaching the threshold, Adam stopped and turned back to face Emma once again. “I will be waiting for you at the stairwell.”

Adam waited patiently at the stairwell just as he had said. He wondered if Emma was ready to go out for a ride or if she was even able to dress herself with her side wound. Maybe he shouldn’t have pushed her. Maybe…then the door opened and Emma stood before him.

Her face was still stained from the tears but the slight smile that was shining through seemed to help erase their path across her face. Adam looked upon Emma as she stood in front of him with her hair pulled back and over to one side. Her figure looked small but much more like that of a woman than Adam had seen her before dressed like some type of bounty hunter before.

Emma slowly approached Adam, and slowly bringing her hands from behind her back, she placed the riding boots on the floor. “It hurts to bend over to pull my boots up.” Emma breathed in and looked up at Adam. “Can you help me…please?” Adam reached over, and with a gently smile, he knelt down and carefully placed each boot onto her feet. He realized that Emma’s ask for help was for much more than the boots. She had finally begun to trust him and he was not going let this moment ever slip away. “Here,” he said, taking her around the waist and helping her to the steps. “Let me help you. Just lean into me.”

*****

Riding through some of the most beautiful parts of the Ponderosa on a day like today was exactly what Adam thought Emma needed. She needed to feel the sun on her face and the breeze in her hair. Adam needed this too, he thought to himself. He had locked himself away after the loss of Beth and being here and now with Emma was allowing him to feel again. He watched Emma as she slowly began to take in the beauty of this land. There was one certain place that Adam wanted to share with her. It was a place that he often went to reflect and dream. It was a place he always felt safe and at peace. “Emma.” Adam lowered the reigns and turned towards the young woman by his side. “I know you are getting tired but there is one more place I would like to show you today…if you feel up to it.”

The trip out was beginning to wear a little on Emma but she wasn’t ready to return back to the ranch just yet. She was relishing this time out. This time when she wasn’t looking over her shoulder or tracking down someone. “Please, Adam, I feel fine. Let’s go”

Adam smiled, and with a click of his tongue, he lifted the reins and turned the buggy towards the lake. Bringing the buggy to a halt, Adam turned to Emma and said, “Okay, Emma, I am going need you to trust me. Okay?”

Emma smiled and nodded her head.

“Okay then…” Adam had hopped down from the buggy’s side and walked over to where Emma still sat. “Close your eyes and give me your hand.”

Emma took one look at Adams outstretched hand and gentlemanly stature, and for a moment, she felt embarrassment in recognizing the handsomeness of this man who stood before her. Quickly she closed her eyes and reached out her hand. Adam gently reached up to the buggy and lifted her ever so lightly so as not to hurt her side. Emma couldn’t wait for her feet to touch the ground. Soon enough she felt dizzy to his touch or was it just the day wearing on her?

“This way.” Adam led her ever so gingerly across the land, guiding her with his voice and touch over rocks, limbs, and slightly uneven ground. Then he stopped her and said, “Okay Emma, I want you to open your eyes.”

Emma slowly opened her eyes and stood in awe. There before her was a beautiful mirrored lake. She gazed onto the lake, noticing the reflection of the snow-covered mountains reflecting back on to it. The lush green grasses seemed to blanket each side of the water. There was a big tree that had sprouted from the edge that brought some shade and a place to lay back and relax under. “Want to sit for a moment before heading back?” Adam had already begun directing Emma towards the shade of the tree as he asked.

Emma followed him, not saying a word, just looking and trying to take in what was before her. “Here,” Adam said as motioned for Emma to sit upon a small boulder that was within the shade of the tree.

“No, Adam, it’s okay. I think I would rather stand and take this all in.” Emma’s eye stared into the reflection of the lake and she was amazed at the sound of the wind gently whipping through the pines as it made its way into the valley.

Adam looked at Emma and saw the lake’s reflection seemingly dancing in her eyes. He smiled and pulled up next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist. Emma felt herself suddenly lighten and almost collapse against Adams touch.

 “No,” she shouted and pushed away from Adam with all her might. Adam quickly reached forward to catch Emma as she stumbled and fell to the ground. “No, Adam, get away from me,” she cried. “I am so tired of this hurting and guilt. It all hurts so much. I can’t make it stop, Adam, do you hear me? I can’t make it stop.” Emma pushed back with her boots across the ground, backing away from Adam as he suddenly stopped his approach. “Don’t’ you see, Adam, all that I have done… the blood on my hands? I can’t clean it off.” She cried, rubbing her hands across her pant legs. “And oh the visions I see before me — my husband hanging before me and I couldn’t reach him. Adam… I tried but I couldn’t reach him…and my son… Don’t you see I died that day? Look at me, Adam; I am a ghost. A ghost of what I use to be. I am so…tired. Why can’t I rest…why am I here?”

Adam dropped to his knees and grabbed onto Emma, trying to help her regain control. “Emma, I am so sorry that you hurt…but you have to let it go, do you hear me? You are here because it was not your time. You are here because you are strong.” Emma shook her head and tried to break away from Adam’s arms as they held her tight. “Your husband would not want you to live like this, punishing yourself every day, every moment of your life. That is not the kind of man he was and not the kind of woman he would want you to be. Emma, look at me.” Adam grabbed Emma’s face tightly with one hand and turned her broken blue eyes to look directly into his. “You listen to me. You are here because it was not your time. You did nothing wrong. Nothing wrong at all. All you did was survive.”

Emma eyes suddenly pooled with tears and she collapsed into herself, shivering and holding herself tightly. Adam let go of her chin and moved quietly to her side. He wrapped his arm once more around her; with the other arm he tilted her head onto his shoulder. “I’ve got you,” he said. “We’ve got each other.”

As they started their way back to the ranch, Adam let Emma fall across his lap and sleep. It was a little bit of a ride home but the night was beautiful. It was the first night in a long time Adam had noticed the stars.

*****

“Roy I can’t tell you how nervous all this quietness is making me one day before the Massy boy is sentenced to hang.” Ben was pacing in Roy’s office as he once again brought up how the town was a lot quieter than anyone thought it would have been.

“Well, Ben Massey knows that he has already lost one son and is about to lose another. I am sure he doesn’t want anything to cause him to loss his three youngest.”

“Three more?” Joe stepped forward towards Roy and said “I thought he just had three boys.”

“Well, Joe he actually has a fourth. A much younger one. Suppose he came upon him after some brief encounter with a saloon girl or some other unknowing girl.”

“What makes you say that?” Ben straightened his hat and reclined his chair against the wall.

“Well, nobody has ever seen the boy’s mother. The littlest Massey has been traveling with the Massey patriarch for the last couple of years. It’s a shame; he will probably end up like the rest of them.”

“Well, all I know is two more nights of this and I can sleep in my own bed and enjoy some of Hop Sings good home cooking.” Joseph grinned, picturing making it through the next two days.

“But tonight you have the first watch, so go relieve your brother Hoss and let him get some rest.” Ben was quick to put an end to his youngest daydreaming.

“Right, Pa. See you in the morning. Night, Roy.”

“Night, Joe,” Roy said as Joseph closed the door behind him and Ben secured it. “You really are lucky, Ben. You have some really good sons to call your own.”

“Truly I am, Roy.” Ben reflected briefly thinking of Adam and how he was fairing with Emma at the ranch. “Truly.”

*****

“Are you sure, Sam?”

“Sure as I have ever been about anything, Mr. Massey.” The Massey henchman had dismounted his horse in record time and was now telling him everything he had witnessed. “They are both out on the ranch right now. Just got a couple hands helping guard the place and they usually ride out first thing in the morning to tend to the stock.”

“On the Ponderosa, huh!” Massey rubbed his chin and lowered his hand to his gun belt. “Well, this ought to be fun. Mount up, boys; we are gonna make a little late night visit to the Ponderosa tonight.

*****

“Sure she not need anything to eat, Mr. Adam?” Hop Sing had already brought fresh linens for Emma and some warm water to rinse the day away from her.

“Sure, Hop Sing. She is just exhausted and needed her rest.” Adam pulled up the sheets to tuck Emma tightly into bed. She had barely moved on the way home. Adam had let her sleep all the way back, driving the buggy as carefully and as steady as possible as not to disturb her. The emotion that had flowed from her today and drained every bit of strength that she had had in her, but Adam knew that she would awaken tomorrow with much less weight bearing down on her heart. She had said things today that she had carried inside her for two years. Never having the chance to let out the pain and guilt she felt even if she knew that she had done all she could.

“Mr. Adam, you bleeding.” Hop Sing pointed at the red stain across the front of Adams shirt.

“No, Hop Sing, I am fine but I think out patient may have busted a few stitches today. Let’s have a look.” Adam carefully pulled the sheets back and pulled Emma’s shirt to the side ever so slightly to expose a bandage with a small amount of blood soaking through.

“I will get new bandages,” Hop Sing said as he disappeared down the stairs.

Emma stirred as Adam carefully peeled back the old bandages and washed the area that had been so close to being closed up completely before today. Emma looked up at Adam as she saw the redden bandages in his hand. “Not to worry, Emma.” Adam grinned at her and brushed his hand across her cheek. “Only busted a couple stitches. They’ll be fine with a rewrap and a little rest.”

After Adam and Hop Sing finished rewrapping the wound, Emma tried to fight the sleep that she so badly needed. “Emma.” Adam handed her a small bit of whiskey that he just so happened to keep at his bedside for long sleepless nights as well.

Emma downed the glass of whiskey in a way that made Adam think he was back at the Bucket of Blood having drinks with his brothers. Adam tucked Emma in once more and sat with her for a while in silence, reflecting on the day that had now passed them. As Adam saw Emma’s eyes finally close for the night, he leaned forward and gently kissed her forehead. “It was a beautiful day for a ride, wasn’t it, Emma.”

Then he walked to the door, and turning one final time more, he looked at her sleeping peaceful and breathed out.

As Adam slowly made his way down the stairs, he called out to Hop Sing. “Want to join me for dinner, old friend?”

“I would love to,” said Massey reclining back behind Ben’s desk with his feet propped up. “I would just love to.”

Before Adam had time to react, he felt a powerful blow to the back of his head and everything went black.

*****

The voices seemed to be distant at first as Adam began to try and focus his eyes through the dizzying figures that were now in front of him. “About time you wake up, pretty boy.” Sam, one of Massey’s henchmen, was standing in front of Adam with an evil grin painted across his face. Adam suddenly tried to lurch forward at the obnoxious man but was snapped back down with a painful pull to his shoulders. He quickly glanced around and realized that his hands had been tied about his head to the stair rail. They had tied him up high enough so that there was a constant pull on his arms from the weight of his body. The outstretched manner left Adam feeling the painful pull on his shoulders and the burn of the rope as it tugged on the flesh on his wrist. He felt a trickle of blood as it oozed from the gash above his ear that had surely been brought about by the blow to his head.

“Emma!” he suddenly whispered between his parted lips. His eyes tried to scan the room, hoping that she had found time to hide herself or for some reason that had not found her yet.

“What’s that, Mr. Cartwright?” Massey had made his way across the living room now and stood in front of Adam. “Who are you calling for? Surely it couldn’t be Emma…for surely as a lawman, you would have never hidden a person that had shot down another in cold blood, would you?” Massey was so close to Adams face that he could feel the warmth of his breath and the tiny beads of spit as they flew from his enraged mouth. “Would you Cartwright?” Massey screamed as he grabbed Adam chin with such strength in his hand that Adam felt his feet begin to rise off the ground.

“Stop it!” Emma’s voice screamed as she slowly lowered herself down each step of the stairs. She had a rifle pointing right at Massey as he dropped his grip from Adam.

Turning to her, Massey grinned with a wickedness that brought Emma back to the day that he had taken her husband’s life. He slowly began walking towards Emma. The sound of his boots hitting the floor resounded as they did that day he had walked across the floor of her home. She could feel the cold floor against her face as the vibration from each step had made its way to where she had laid beaten and exhausted. Snapping back into the present, she struggled to keep the rifle steady as Massey finally stopped within arm’s length of the barrel.

“Now Emma, put that rifle down before you once again force to take the life of someone you care about right in front of our eyes. Your little hero over here has three more barrels pointing at him right now. And I would hate for you to have to help his poor Pa clean up what’s left of his eldest.”

“Don’t!” Adam hollered, “Don’t listen to him, Emma. Emma, pull the trigger and end it all right now”

Before Adam could let out one word, Sam was already on top of him with a powerful swipe to his side with the stock of his gun. As Adam’s knees gave out on him, he dropped, stretching his arms to their limits as Sam continued with several more blows.

Emma threw down the rifle and sunk to her knees covering her ears. “Please stop this!” she screamed to Massey. “Please do whatever you need to do to me but please….please, stop him.”

Massey raised his hand to Sam calling him off his attack on Adam. Adam let out a heavy sigh and threw his head back to rest against the steps as he fought to regain his footing against the floor once more. The pain from his side and head was making Adam lose consciousness, and as he looked over at Emma, he tried to fight to stay here with her. But the blackness won.

Massey traveled up the stairs and sat down next to Emma. He positioned himself next to her like she was an old friend. Emma froze as the man who had taken so much from her and was now sitting aside her threatening to take even more. She took a deep breath, and somewhere inside she found the strength to turn to him and look into the face of this monster and say, “Tell me what you want. Tell me now and leave him alone.”

“Oh my dearest Emma, that is exactly what I intend to do. You see, if you want to save his life, you are gonna ride into Virginia City tonight and break my boy out of jail. Bring him back to me before daybreak and I will release your hero over there.” Massey pointed at Adam suspended with his weight against the stair banisters. “Do you care for this Cartwright, Emma? Have you already forgotten your dead loving husband?”

Emma broke her look from Massey as she saw Adam hanging there. She pulled herself up to stand beside Massey and slowly she placed her hand on his outside thigh and traced it down to his boot top. Massey stared down at Emma as she had put herself in such a vulnerable position to him right now. She reached to the side of his boot and slowly wrapped her fingers around the cold steel handle of his knife. Emma never broke her stare off of Massey as she rose up once more now holding a blade only inches from the body of Massey. He stood not flinching at all as Emma stepped around him and began to walk towards Adam never turning her back to him as slowly made her way down the steps. With the knife in hand, she turned when she reached Adam and quickly reached above him cutting the ropes from his hands, resting his body on hers as she gently lowered him to the ground. He stirred slightly as she shifted his body to once again, resting along the base of the steps. Opening his eyes, he was met with Emma’s looking back into his. She tore a small piece of her shirt off and dabbed the blood that was running down Adams head. “It’s okay, Adam…I’ve got you.” And with that she turned and walked back to Massey and placed the knife in his hand. “Is my horse already saddled?”

Massey smiled and motioned Emma towards the door. As she approached the door, it suddenly swung open and a small boy rushed by her directly into the arms of Massey. Emma fell herself step back and fall against the wall. Her knees buckled and she felt her breath rush from her body. Adam looked in sheer awe as he saw Emma’s lips mouth “Will?”

“Oh my God,” thought Adam her sons alive.

Emma leaned back against the wall looking at the little boy as Massey held him and smiled at her. “One more reason for you to ride faster, huh, Emma.”

“Ride, Emma. Your time is running out.”

*****

Emma felt ever emotion rushing through her as she rode Spirit Virginia City. She kept seeing Will standing there in front of her…alive. Her son was alive. And then there were flashes of Adam beaten and lying on the floor. This was her one chance to save them both. She spurred Spirit on faster. She could not fail. She closed her eyes and felt Spirit pushing them both to their limits.

Night had already blanketed the city as Emma reined Spirit to a stop behind the stage coach office. Surly no one would notice an extra horse tied up among the coach horses. She quietly lowered herself off of Spirit and ducked in behind the office. She knew the jail was only two buildings down from her. She just had to come in on the side so as no one would see her approaching. Emma knew that Roy and at least one of the Cartwright’s would be guarding Massey’s son. How would she get Todd out without having to draw on Roy or even Adam’s Pa? These were the people that had helped her and been there for her. But now, in order to save her son and Adam, she would have to be willing to hurt them if needed. Taking in a deep breath, Emma tightened her grip on her rifle. “Please, Dan.” Emma looked up into the night skies. “Please help me end this all tonight.”

“Who’s that at the door, Joe?” Roy had lowered his feet from the desk, sensing something not right about visitors this time of night.

“Looks like Emma, Roy.” Joe turned to face his Pa. “Hope everything is alright at the ranch.”

“Open the door, Joe; let her in” Ben said as he approached the door.

Joe swung the door open and Emma walked in with her head down.

“Emma, are you okay?” Ben was reaching for her arm as he noticed the rifle she held tightly in her grasp.

“Emma what is this? The gun ….you’re bleeding again. Emma.” Joe stepped forward to see if he could help.

“Back away, Joe,” Emma said as she raised the rifle for everyone to see.

“Emma…what is this?” Roy had his hand ready on his pistol, not knowing what to expect.

‘Put your guns down and back away everybody.” Shifting the rifle from Joe to Roy, she said, “Please just do as I ask, Roy. Open the cell and give me Todd.”

“Now Emma, you know we can’t do that.” Ben began to try and reason with Emma as he could see the blood seeping through her shirt. “Emma, you are not well and not thinking straight. Put the gun down and let us help you.”

“The only way you can help me is by giving me Todd.”

“Emma, you know that can’t happen. We can’t let you take him.” Roy cautiously began to approach her.

Emma felt herself beginning to sway and put a hand behind her against a chair to steady herself. “Don’t!” she yelled at Joe and turned her rifle to face him. “Don’t. Roy, open the cell for me know or I will have to put a bullet through one of you.” Tears were streaking down her face now.

“Sorry, Emma…” Roy started

“Don’t you see…?” Emma tried to hide the emotion she was feeling. “They have my son Roy. Will is alive.”

Ben and Roy both fell silent and stared at Emma.

“They have Adam too. He’s hurt, Mr. Cartwright. I am so sorry. And if I don’t bring them Todd…they… they are gonna…This all ends tonight.” She suddenly wiped the tears away and fired a round up into the air. “Give me the keys now, Roy.”

Emma motioned the rifle towards Joe and walked him over towards Roy with Joe feeling the pressure of the rifle barrel in his ribs the whole time. “Keys……”

Roy reached down into his desk and pulled out the keys. “Emma, let us help you. You can’t do this alone.”

“Just open the doors now and hand me Todd.”

“Then what?” Ben was now standing beside Roy, trying to calm Emma fearing what could happen if the rifle she was pressing into Joe was to go off. “Do you think you are just gonna ride back in and hand Massey his son and then he will simply let everyone go and ride out? Emma…you aren’t thinking straight. You have to listen to us.” Ben reached forward “Put the rifle down…hurting Joe is not what you are here for. Emma! Let us help you. Let us help Will. Let me help my son… Adam.”

“Ben, I will see that no harm comes to my Will ever again. And I will see to it that your son comes back to you as well. But I have to finish what Massey started years ago when he tore apart my family. Now I ask you one final time give me the key.”

*****

“What the …Emma!” Hoss could barely believe his eyes as he watched the two horses thundering down the street in front of him. Stepping off the porch in front of the livery, Hoss quickly also recognized the tall figure setting atop the second horse — Todd Massey. “Pa, Roy ….” Hoss tore off down the street to the jail.

Hoss threw open the door to the Virginia City jail with his revolver drawn. “Roy, Pa, Joe….”

From behind the double doors separating the cells from Roy’s office, he heard his Pa’s voice call out to him. “Hoss, we are in here…hurry.”

Ben swung open the doors and saw all three men standing behind the barred doors in the one cell that use to hold Massey stood empty.

“Extra set of keys in the top drawer of my desk, Hoss,” Roy shouted out to Hoss.

Hoss raced to the desk, fumbling through the drawer. “Pa, what happened? I just saw what appeared to be Emma racing out of town with Todd Massey seemingly tied to the horse behind her.” He had found the keys and turned to free the trio from their cell.

“I will explain on our way, son. You and Joe go get the horses. Roy and I will grab some rifles and other supplies and meet you in front of the livery in 10 minutes.”

Roy had already begun unlocking the rifles he had secured on the rack behind his desk. “Boys, hurry. They already have a five minute head start on us.”

Joe and Hoss were already out the door. Roy was looking down at the spinning chambers of his revolver as he quietly spoke. “Ben, if we want these kids to come out of this alive, we are gonna have to come up with a plan…and quick.”

Ben stood tightening the last notch is his belt. “Already got one Roy. Ready?”

*****

Rounding the barn, Emma brought Spirit and Todd’s mount to a rumbling stop. Spirit pranced side from side as Emma scanned her surrounding looking, waiting for Massey or one of his henchmen to step forward. Sensing the feel of cold steel aiming at her from several angles, Emma reined Spirit behind Todd and tightened the grip on her rifle.

“I’ve delivered on my part, Massey,” she called out as she slowly slid down the side of Spirits saddle. Reaching up to the saddle horn on which she had tied Todd’s hand, she unsecured the bindings with one quick motion and pulled him down from the saddle, with Todd landing on his knees. No sounds came from the house yet. Emma stood quietly behind Todd and suddenly found herself almost falling to the side. Reaching up quickly, she grasped onto the stirrup of Todd’s horse, hoping to steady her for a moment. The ground seemed to swirl beneath her and quickly fought to regain her senses. She heard Todd snickering behind the kerchief that she had placed around his mouth so she did not have to listen to his rambling on the ride. “Oh no,” she thought to herself, resting one hand on the ground trying to find the strength to overcome the pain and fever she could feel over taking her once more. Looking down on her side, she realized that she had done more than simply tear a few stitches out. Her whole side was crimson once again. She gripped the dirt underneath her hand. “Dan…please help me… it’s our boy…please give me the strength.” Shaking her head from side to side, Emma breathed out hard and somehow found the strength to raise herself up and steady her feet under her once more.

From behind the barn, Roy, Ben and his two youngest watched and waited for Massey to give them the one opportunity that they needed. That one moment that he would let his guard down and the small quartet would make themselves known. But for now, they stood in silence, watching Emma battling with not only Massey but the demons that she had carried within herself for years. Seeing her grasping at the stirrup as she slowly dropped to the ground, Joe thought he couldn’t wait any longer. He grabbed his revolver and started towards Emma. Ben reached forward and grabbed Joe pulling him back with a jerk.

 “But Pa…I can’t…”

“Not now, Joe. We have to wait. Massey is smart. He is not just going to walk out and offer himself up. He is waiting…so we will also.”

Inside the ranch house, Massey stood looking cautiously through the window. With a smile appearing on his face, he turned to look back at Adam still propped up against the banister. Walking smugly over towards his trophy, he knelt down in front of Adam and said, “Sure hate that you’re missing all this. Looks like your little girlfriend has done me two favors today.” He picked Adam up by the shirt collar, watching him struggle to find his footing under his damaged ribs and throbbing head. Half leading half dragging Adam towards the window, he pointed towards Emma as she stood leaning against Spirit. “She brought me back my son…and saved me a bullet. Get the door for me, Sam. Come on, Cartwright, let’s go for a walk,” he bellowed, grabbing his revolver. “Oh yeah, Sam, bring me Will also.”

Adam turned his head as he saw the small boy sheepishly withdraw from Sam’s touch. Reaching out his hand towards Sam and his young victim, Adam asked, “Let him come with me, Massey.” Massey stopped and looked amused as Adam tried to give him a choice. “You have everything you asked for, Massey.” Adam was biting back the pain that each breath brought him from his ribs. “You have your son right outside the doors, you have your henchmen with guns in hand, you have me, and you even have Emma — all is before you, Massey. Just let the boy go. He means nothing to you. Let me put him up on a horse and let him ride out of here.”

Massey laughed out loud as he looked at Adam and then towards Will. “Come here, boy,” he called out to the young boy, motioning him to step forward. Stepping up to Massey, the young boy raised his head and looked directly into the eyes of the man that had taken his mother and father away from him. Adam stood in amazement as he wished Emma could see the strength in her young boy at this moment. Massey squatted down and smiled right in the boys face. “You have served your purpose, little man.” Turning to Adam, he said, “Put him on a horse if you have the strength and let him ride out. But if you try and run, I will shoot you both down. Do you understand me, Cartwright?” He once again pulled Adam up closely and suddenly Adam felt a cold blade slip into his side. Adam gasped and felt his legs start to go limp. “Steady yourself, Cartwright. If you don’t make it to the horse with the boy…” Massey pulled Adam’s ear towards his mouth. “Well, that will be two people who died because of you, huh?”

Adam suddenly saw Beth dying in his arms once more and backed up against the wall, breaking Massey’s grip from his collar. Massey walked over towards the door and slowly opened it, watching Adams black shirt start to dampen from the blood oozing from his shoulder. “Don’t let Emma touch him, Adam…just get him on the horse and get him out of here. Anything different and it’s on your hands.”

Everything seemed to come to a standstill for Emma as she saw the door to the ranch house opening. She fumbled at the ropes around Todd’s hands, ready to deliver him just as promised, replacing the restraints with the barrel of her rifle in his back. Todd quickly removed the gag from his mouth and rubbed his jaw. “You’re gonna die today, Emma.” Laughingly, he turned to Emma. “You do know that, don’t you?” Emma said nothing; she just kept the barrel in position and watched and waited as the door suddenly came to a stop and out stepped a pair of black boots followed by a pair of much smaller ones. “Will….Adam!” Emma gasped.

“Ben, look.” Roy tapped Ben in the shoulder as they saw Adam and Will slowly emerge from the house.

“Pa,” Hoss stammered. “Adam…he don’t look good.”

“I know.” Ben felt his eyes watering up as he saw the shape Adam was in as he walked through the doorway. “Roy, is that… Is that Emma’s son?”

Joe had already positioned himself in the barn loft window and lay outstretched, to none of Massey’s men’s knowing. He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw his brother walk out upright but was taken back as he saw the damage Massey had done as he looked through the scope on his rifle. He would be ready just as his Pa had told him to. Joe breathed in. “Pa, don’t wait too long for the signal.”

Adam stooped down to eye level with Will and out stretched his arm towards the young boy. Will didn’t say anything; he just walked towards Adam, coming to a stop as soon as his small hand fit into Adams. Adam smiled at the boy, closing his hand firmly as he lowered his head and took a deep breath before rising to his feet once again. “Will, I need you to come with me, okay?” Will nodded and turning back one last time to look at Massey as he felt Adam give him a tug. “Okay, son, let’s go.”

Emma could hardly believe it when she saw Adam appear at the door with Will’s hand in his. She wanted to drop the rifle she held against Todd’s back and run to her son. She took a few steps towards Adam and Will as they came further out on the porch and stood at the first step. “Adam… you have my …you have Will.” Emma’s voice was so full of emotion that was all she could get out as she felt the tears in her eyes began to flow. Her son was alive and he was beautiful. She wanted to throw down the gun and run to them both, but she could tell by the look in Adam’s face that wasn’t to be.

“Emma, stop,” Adam called out to her. “Your Will is fine. Massey is going let me put him on a horse and send him out of here.” Stepping off the porch, Adam felt Will tighten his grip on his hand. Adam responded back with a reassuring smile and once again lowered himself to look into the boys eyes. “Will, you and I are going walk over there to that horse tied to that rail. When we get there, I am going put lift you up, and. Will, this is what I am going to need you to do. I am going to need you to ride fast and hard and not look back. Do you hear me?” Will looked at Adam and nodded his head. As they started their short walk to Spirit, Will began to stare at the horse and then to the woman that stood next to Todd holding a rifle against him.

“Adam?” Will asked as they approached the horse. “This was my dad’s horse, wasn’t it?”

Adam looked down at the young boy with amazement. “Yes, Will, it is.” This five-year-old boy remembered his father’s horse from two years ago. Adam looked over at Emma and saw a smile start to slip across her face as she saw her son looking upon Spirit and remembering his father. “Come on, Will, I have got to get you out of here, okay.” Adam flinched as he lifted the boy up onto the saddle. Will had still not let go of Adam’s hand as he sat in the saddle.

“And that’s my…Mom.” Will was looking over at Emma. “Mr. Massey told me that she was dead. Is she an angel?”

Adam put his other hand atop of Will’s that was already holding tightly to his. “Will, I believe that she is both your Mom and an angel. She loves you very much and has been searching for you.”

“You will see to it that I get back to her, right, Adam?” Will asked.

“Will, I need you to ride fast and hang on. I will see to it, son, that you and your Mom will never be separated again.” And with that, Adam gave Spirit a firm swat on the hindquarters and Will disappeared into the evening.

Emma dropped to her knees as she listened to the sound of Spirits hooves carrying Will off into the night. She was suddenly snapped back to reality as she saw Adam snapback against the railing of the fence and lay motionless. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. “Adam!” she screamed as she felt herself grab Todd by the collar and shove the barrel even further into his ribs. “Massey …this ends tonight. Do you hear me

Tonight.”

*****

The sound of the rifle echo sliced through the night air as Emma felt Todd’s body snap from her hand and fall to the ground motionless. Stepping back, Emma looked in horror as the young Massey laid on the ground, gulping in his last gasps of air, wondering why his father had pulled the trigger on him. Massey approached his son, haughtily looking down into the dying eyes of his last son. “You were weak, son. Too weak to see you hang.” Kneeling down to his boy, Massey watched him take his last breath and then raked his hand across his face to shut Todd’s eyes forever.

Emma backed up towards Adam as Massey now rose and started to walk towards them. Each step she took back to Adam brought dizzying pain but Emma never removed her hand from the revolver strapped onto her thigh.

“My youngest do that to your side?” Massey said, pointing his rifle at the crimson stain across her shirt.

Emma looked down at the stain and looked back at Massey with those cold blue eyes.

“You know it wasn’t me that shot your Cartwright. It was old Sam. You’ll find him dead in the backroom.” Massey leaned over, attempting to bypass the protective stance of Emma over Adam. “He’ll be fine as long as that bleeding gets stopped soon. And you, Emma, don’t have long either. I can see the fever in your eyes now.

Emma looked at Massey with a doubting nod. “What…Massey? Do you think I believe that you intend to give either Adam or myself a chance to …?”

“Live,” Massey said “I know what my boys and I became, Emma. I know I lost my soul a long time ago and I took theirs with me. Someone like myself took my wife from me a long time ago, and I became what you see before you today. Something clicked with me when I saw that son of yours look into your eyes this afternoon. I choose my path and my sons. I won’t do that to you.”

Emma watched Massey slowly back away from her and Adam. “It ends today.” And with that Massey raised his rifle with a snap, and then Emma saw him jerk backwards. He was dead before he hit the ground. Looking up Emma saw Joe standing in the loft window with his rifle lowered.

Pa had given the signal.

Suddenly, all the world around her felt as if she was in a dream. She could see Ben and Hoss rushing towards Adam. She stood there watching Ben hug his son as Adam sat up slowly, smiling back at his father. Joe stood in front of Emma. “Emma, its over…it’s over,” Joe said, reaching towards her hand to remove her grip from the pistol. Emma stepped back her head still spinning.

“Emma.” Adam stepped forward with a steadying hand from Ben. “My love…it’s over.” “Emma, it’s all over now.”

Emma looked over at Adam and smiled. Then blackness came.

*****

“What do you think?” Adam rode Sport out in front of Emma and Will as they both sat atop Spirit.

“I don’t know. Will, what do you think?” Emma asked her son as she circled Spirit around to the side, looking for a reason to not think that this little ranch house wasn’t perfect for her and her son.

Adam leaned forward in his saddle, pulling his hat down a little lower so that only Emma could see the playful demeanor in his hazel eyes. “Even got your own room, Will.”

“Really?” Will questioned Adam with the wide eyes of a five year old.

“Yep!” Adam replied. “I even think the last owner’s left a little something behind in the barn.”

Will looked at his Mom and Emma smiled. “Oh, go ahead and look.”

Will slide down from Spirit with a start and tore off to the barn. “Adam…” Emma looked towards Adam who by now sat upon Sport with a grin from ear to ear. “Adam, you better not have…”

“A pony, Mom, look a pony.” Will came out of the barn leading a smart brown pony with a shiny new black saddle.

“Adam!” Emma shook her head.

“Mom, can I take him for a ride?”

“Sure, Will just be careful.”

Emma slide down from Spirit and ran her fingers through her long blonde hair as she closed her eyes and let the sun beam down on her face.

Adam walked over to her. “Emma, I just wanted to thank you!”

“Adam… you thank me? You are the one who saved Will and myself.”

“But you saved me as well, Emma. You let me see that were one part of our life ends another starts. I will never forget Beth or that day, but I am stronger for having her in my life, and in some strange way, she led me to you and Will. This place is yours and Will’s as long as you want it. It is a home for you and him to feel safe in and heal.”

Adam saw Emma’s beautiful blue eyes begin to feel with tears once more. “Dan would have really liked you, Adam. You know you didn’t have to help me that day in Virginia City…but you did.” Emma turned to Adam and lifted up his black hat to look into his hazel eyes. She smiled and turned back to watch Will racing around the hill side on his new best friend. “Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I accept your offer.”

***The End***

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