Word Count: 25,300
“How long have you been seeing this…this woman?” yelled Ben Cartwright, giving his oldest son a hostile glare across the dining table. His three sons could see he was furious; eyes blazing, voice raised.
Adam, the object of the anger, gave his father a faint smile. With a slow, deliberate movement he leant back in his chair and crossed his arms defiantly; a glimmer of anger just starting in his eyes. “I’m sure you know, Pa, as if Hoss and Joe haven’t told you,” he said sarcastically, giving his two brothers a glare of contempt. How had his father found out about him and Michelle? He thought he’d been discrete in his liaisons with her, as he was with any of the women he’d seen in the past. Judging by his father’s reaction, obviously not discrete enough. Sighing quietly to himself as he realized his father’s inevitable tirade was about to commence.
Ben turned onto his other sons, who were still seated at the dining table. Infuriated that he was the last to find out and that they’d kept something of this embarrassing nature a secret from him. Not that his family’s standing in the town was of paramount importance to him but nevertheless there were some actions by his sons he would not tolerate. This was certainly going to be one of them. “Why didn’t you tell me about this… affair?” He was at a loss as to why Adam would contemplate such an action. Adam, of all of his sons, should know better. Surely there were enough eligible women in town to go out with. Why if he thought hard enough, there were quite a number of very attractive and acceptable ladies in Virginia City suitable for Adam.
Hoss swallowed; he disliked seeing his father in this frame of mind, even if it wasn’t directed entirely at him. He gave Adam a sympathetic look before he answered his father. Adam returned the look with a shrug of his shoulders and little tilt of his head. There was nothing Hoss could do but answer and he didn’t want Hoss getting into trouble with their father in an angry state.
“Well, Pa, it’s Adam’s choice as to who he sees. I didn’t see no harm in it. I didn’t tell you ‘cause… ummm, I thought Adam would when he wanted to.” Hoss dropped his eyes back to the table and his plate of food. He knew his father was disappointed with him but Adam was old enough to make his own decisions.
“Joseph, what about you? Were you aware of what was going on between this woman and your brother?”
Joe didn’t like to be caught in the middle of a family fight, nor in his father’s anger, anymore than his brothers but he knew that his eldest brother was happy with Michelle. Surely their father had noticed the change in Adam because it was obvious to everyone on the ranch that he was in love. Even he and Adam had stopped their petty bickering as Joe no longer felt Adam was peering over his shoulder all the time while working. Smiling to himself, Joe thought it was actually the opposite. With Adam’s mind elsewhere, Joe could do the chores the way he wanted, without incurring Adam’s unwelcome directions. “I didn’t tell you because I’ve seen how happy he is with Michelle.”
Dissatisfied with his sons’ replies, Ben swung back around to face Adam, the source of his anger. “You haven’t answered me, Adam, how long? Or do I have to ask questions twice in this household before I receive an answer?”
Irritated by the line of questioning and his father’s tone of voice, Adam suddenly stood up from the table. With the backs of his legs, he sent his chair crashing to the floor. Hoss and Joe winced at the sound while Hop Sing came running from the kitchen to see what caused the noise. Ben held his glare on Adam, not fazed by the dramatic action with the chair.
Enough was enough. Normally Adam would keep his anger under control and remain civil with his father but today was very different. He was annoyed that his father would treat him like a schoolboy in front of his brothers and besides he felt he could see whomever he chose.
Throwing his napkin onto his plate of half-finished food, Adam disrespectfully turned away from his father and started towards the stairs. Ignoring his father’s question as he strode across the room, his shoulders were stiff with barely restrained anger. This was all wrong. Everyone should be happy about finding out about Michelle and his love for her, not angry.
“I’m going upstairs to pack my bag because I’ll be staying in town from now on.” Adam could feel three pairs of eyes on his back as he walked up the stairs, clumping his feet angrily. He knew he was acting like a spoilt child but if he was going to be treated like one he may as well be one.
Ben Cartwright sat stunned and open-mouthed at the table. He was shocked that Adam was leaving home. Furthermore he was shocked by the way in which Adam had spoken to him. Was his life at the ranch so difficult he felt it necessary to leave?
Certainly Adam had never been one to share his feelings, he’d always kept them locked up inside him, but this was different. Was it because of his relationship with this woman? Shaking his head he looked at Hoss in puzzlement. “Hoss, what’s going on? What happened?”
Reaching for his father’s clenched fist on the table, Hoss covered it, trying to calm him. “Just wait, Pa; I’ll tell ya everything I know when Adam’s gone.”
“Gone. I don’t want him gone,” Ben cried. “His place is here, not with this woman. I won’t allow it.”
“Calm down, Pa or he’ll hear you. Besides you don’t even know her. How can you make a judgment already about her? And I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop him now.” said Joe, trying to calm his father.
“I want him to hear me. I’m going upstairs to talk this out with him.”
Hoss jumped to his feet, knocking his chair over with a crash and making the table shake as his thighs hit the table on the way up. At the sound of the second chair falling on the floor, Hop Sing came running back from the kitchen, his hands covered with flour.
“No, leave him be. He has to do this himself. I’m sorry, but it’s right for him. Maybe not to leave, but to see Michelle and be with her. You just don’t understand.” Hoss shook his head at his father, while he still held his father’s hand, preventing him from leaving the table and going after his eldest son. Hoss couldn’t meet his father’s eyes, sickened by his own disrespect to his father but knowing the reasons behind Adam’s need to leave.
Distress showed openly on Ben’s face. Hoss was forcibly holding him down. Never in their lives had any of his sons acted this way toward him, as they were today. Certainly in his younger days as a growing boy Adam had been rebellious, but what boy wasn’t.
“Please do as Hoss says. We’ll explain it all soon.” Joe glanced up the staircase, then back at his father. Adam should nearly be finished packing and heading back down the stairs. He gave Hoss a sideways glance, knowing how much holding their father to the table was hurting all of them.
Adam heard most of the conversation in his room, at least his father’s raised, angry voice. What right has he to be angry thought Adam? I’m the one being accused of something terrible. All I’m doing is seeing a wonderful woman he thought, smiling as he recalled her. Packing the last of his clothes, he took one final look around the room. Leaning up against the wall, under the open window, was his guitar.
Adam picked it up, running his hand along the shiny smooth wood. Deciding to leave it behind, he carefully set it on his bed. As he did, his fingers lightly played across the strings; the sound softly filling the room. He didn’t feel like playing music and couldn’t see himself wanting to for quite a while. Taking one last glance around his room, he picked up the bag and strode across his floor, pulling the door shut behind him.
At the sound of his footsteps coming down the stairs, the three seated men watched Adam in silence. Each one was wanting to say something to prevent him from leaving but refrained from doing so. Two knew nothing was going to stop him from leaving today, the other still surprised and unable to speak.
Adam didn’t bother to look in their direction but headed straight for the door. Dropping the bag beside him, he reached out, grabbed his gunbelt and hastily buckled it on, still waiting for someone to say something. With hat and coat in one hand, he tucked the bag under one arm and reached for the door handle.
“Goodbye, son,” said Ben, finally finding his voice.
Adam opened the door and stepped outside, not acknowledging the farewell. With a loud click the door closed behind him.
Ben rounded on Hoss, his voice deep with barely controlled anger. “You can let go now, Hoss. He’s gone; are you satisfied? Now are you going to tell me everything or will I have to drag it out of you piece by piece?”
Hoss let go of his father’s arm; ashamed he had forcibly restrained his father. He didn’t know where to begin. Raising his eyes to meet his father’s, he started. “It started a couple of months ago, just after the last yearling sale.”
“Two months ago. This has been going on for two months and you didn’t have the courtesy to tell me? I had to find out by overhearing the gossips in town.” Ben left the table and began pacing in front of the fireplace. His mind milling over the length of Adam’s affair, conducted under his nose.
Hoss continued. “Adam met her in the International Restaurant when he was dining alone, ‘cause we’d all gone home. He was late finishing the paperwork for the sales that day and decided to eat at the restaurant. Anyways, they got to talking and he’s been seeing her ever since then.”
“What about her husband?”
Joe stepped in and answered his father. “Adam said he was missing, presumed dead in a railroad accident. The carriages had fallen into a river, when a bridge gave way. It appears the searches never found his body.”
“When and where did all this happen?”
“I think outside San Francisco… about 8 months ago,” replied Hoss.
Ben stopped pacing, taking in all that had been said. He was very upset that Adam hadn’t told him but the new information was calming him down. Could his eldest son no longer speak to him? Were they so distant that they couldn’t discuss what he was doing, whom he was seeing? “Why didn’t he tell me?” Ben asked, despair now replacing the anger in his voice.
“Well Pa, ya did too good a job of raisin’ him. He knew you wouldn’t approve of him seeing a married woman, even if her husband were said to be dead. Because the law ain’t stated that he’s dead, Adam decided to keep it a secret. He only told me and Joe because we’d seen him out buggy ridin’ one day. He didn’t intend to deceive you Pa, honest. He was just waitin for the right time and he sure didn’t mean to hurt you just now. It’s ’cause he was hurtin’ that he lashed out at you. I know he didn’t mean it Pa and maybe he was feelin’ a might guilty about how you found out an all.”
Joe jumped into the conversation again, to help explain Adam’s actions. “He’s been so happy with her, Pa. Adam said she makes him feel alive, in a way he’s never felt before. Haven’t you noticed the difference in him? How me and him haven’t even been fighting lately?”
Ben began to recall the past two months. They’d all been so busy with the round up and breaking in the yearlings that he realized he hadn’t noticed the change in Adam. If that hadn’t been enough, there had been the details of the lumber contract to be sorted out. Ben was tormented by the fact he’d been too busy for his eldest son to talk to him. He’d prided himself on the fact that he had a good, open relationship with his sons. That they could come to him with any problems they had or discuss anything they wanted; at least he thought they could. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he questioned his two remaining sons. “Have either of you two met her?”
Hoss and Joe both shook their heads. “Nah, the day we saw them in the buggy, Adam was so embarrassed at being seen that he didn’t introduce us. He told us later that day after they’d finished their ride,” said Joe. “He was waiting outside of town to talk to us on the ride home. He asked us not to say anything to you, because he knew you’d be angry with him. He wanted to tell you himself, at the right time. I guess the right time never came up.”
“Well I’m going to have to meet this woman whom Adam just left home for.”
Michelle….Adam was sure she was going to be surprised at his decision to stay in town. From the very beginning their relationship had been difficult to keep from his father. Discretion was one thing but Adam couldn’t help feeling he was being dishonest by not telling his father. He knew all along that when his father found out the truth, he’d be disappointed it had been kept from him.
Michelle wanted to start their relationship slowly and they discussed in detail her husband’s disappearance because, legally, she was still married. Adam had told her that as far as he was concerned, because Stewart had been missing nearly six months, it was time for her to get on with her life. She was too young a woman to pine her life away for a man who for all appearances was dead.
For the first time in his life, he’d let a woman into his heart and he was savoring every moment he spent with her. Michelle was everything he’d ever wanted — attractive, with long dark brown hair and soft pale skin. Educated with honors in the East, she matched him with intellectual conversation and although she’d never ventured West until recently with her husband, she loved the open spaces and beautiful countryside.
She and her husband had only been married three months when the accident occurred. After paying for extra searchers to look for her husband, she’d finally realized the hopelessness and decided to return to the East. Her finances were running low and to continue with the unsuccessful searches would have drained what little remained. When she met Adam, she’d been staying overnight in Virginia City at the International Hotel, waiting to catch the morning stage east.
Adam grinned as he remembered their first meeting in the restaurant. He’d had papers spread all over the dining table when she’d asked to sit with him. He’d look up at the soft voice, into the face of a woman he instantly thought was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. In his haste to clear the table, he’d clumsily knocked most of the papers onto the floor. They both laughed and when each had bent down to gather the scattered papers, their hands accidentally touched. Adam felt shivers run up his arm at the touch before she’s hastily pulled her hand back, breaking the contact. Pink with embarrassment, Michelle stood up quickly and sat at the table while Adam finished collecting the documents and stuffed them into his portfolio. After their meal and while sipping on their coffee, Michelle quietly, with barely controlled tears, told him her story.
Adam knew instantly how she felt at the loss of her husband of three months. He’d lost three mothers; two he remembered clearly. The first — Elizabeth his birth mother — he didn’t remember because he’d been an infant when she’d died. But Inger, Hoss’s mother; he’d known and loved with all the loving possible of a boy.
His relationship with Marie, Joe’s mother, had been fierce and strained until he’d finally let her into his heart. He’d been afraid to love her because all the women he’d loved so far had been torn from him. To have lost one mother had scarred deeply into his heart; he’d adored Inger but when Marie had died he’d been devastated. He’d had no chance to grieve because his father had ceased to live at that point or to care about his three sons. Adam had been forced, by being the oldest son, to assume the family and ranch responsibilities until a near accident with Joe had brought his father back to reality.
From the date of Marie’s death, Adam had shielded his feelings, vowing never to be hurt again by love. Even his father and brothers were unable to penetrate the tight impenetrable defenses Adam had built around himself, unless he let them. To Adam to show his true love for his family and brothers would have been the same he’d shown Inger and Marie. If distancing himself from his feelings meant being cold, aloof and withdrawn he would do it, if only for self-preservation. Adam knew he’d never survive the loss of someone close to his heart again, so he avoided getting into that situation all together. He didn’t want to think about what would happen if he ever lost Michelle; no, they would never be apart.
The long ride into town helped ease his mind of the argument with his father. Adam had hoped his father would understand why he’d gone behind his back but if he didn’t or wouldn’t, then they’d both have to live with his decision. Michelle had become more important to him than his life at the Ponderosa, not that he wanted to leave. He was prepared to sacrifice everything for her; even his family. Her company was enchanting, exhilarating and he was enjoying every minute spent with her.
The sun was setting as Adam reined his horse outside the livery stable and Buck Kelly the owner, met him at the door.
“You staying in town tonight, Adam?” queried Buck, noticing the bag slung over Adam’s saddle.
“Yeah, Buck. Put Sport away for me, will you? I’m in town for a while.” Adam untied the bag and slung it over his left shoulder as he strode towards the International Hotel, smiling to himself in the evening light. After saying a quick hello to the night clerk and a request for an early breakfast to be delivered to his room, he collected his key and ran up the stairs two at a time. Still hurrying at the top landing, he rounded the corner and collided with another guest coming in the opposite direction.
“Sorry,” Adam said. “My fault. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
The guest nodded his head and continued down the stairs. In the dim hallway lighting, Adam couldn’t see the man’s face because his hat was pulled right down, nearly to his eyes. Shrugging his shoulders, Adam smiled to himself and knocked on the door to Room 6.
“Yes? Who is it?” came a sweet woman’s voice from behind the closed door. The door opened slightly and Adam grinned at the face of a young dark-haired woman. ‘My God, you are beautiful woman.’ he thought. “Hello, pleased to see me?”
Michelle opened the door wider and glanced up the hallway before grabbing Adam’s arm and pulling him into the room.
Adam was amused to see an anxious expression upon her face. It was as if she expected the town gossips to see him entering her room at this hour. “What are you doing here? I thought we weren’t seeing each other tonight,” she said, concern coloring her voice.
Barely inside the room, Adam threw the bag on the floor. He was delighted to see her and wrapped his arms around her in a swift, impulsive movement. “Is that anyway to greet your love?” he said, kissing her lips passionately. His left hand moving from her waist to caress her face.
Michelle reached between their bodies and placed her hands on his chest, pushing him back slightly so she could look at his face, all the while still enwrapped in his embrace. She gazed into his eyes, a bemused expression now on her face. “I’m just surprised to see you, Adam, that’s all. Why are you in town tonight?”
“Pa found out about us and he wasn’t at all happy with the news. I wasn’t prepared to sit through a lecture, so I left and came here to be with you.”
“Oh, Adam, you know I didn’t want you to have a disagreement with your father over me. Will he understand why you left and how you feel about me?” Michelle was deeply distressed by Adam’s news and she felt tears forming quickly in her eyes.
She knew from the way Adam talked about his father and family how much he loved them, even if he didn’t say it outright. The argument must have been horrible enough for him to want to leave the house at this time of evening.
“Yeah, Pa’ll come around. He’ll have to.” Placing his hand under her chin, he lifted her head so she looked directly into his eyes. “Because I want you to marry me.”
“Adam, what a wonderful surprise! I wasn’t expecting you to ask me so soon.”
“Well?” asked Adam, his eyes bright with happiness. All he needed now was for her to say yes.
With only a slight hesitation, which Adam thought was sweet, Michelle gave him her answer. “Oh Yes, Adam, I will. Yes, Yes, Yes.”
Laughing, Adam kissed her again, then picking her up in his arms, waltzed her around the room. Michelle giggled in his arms, cuddling into him closely, her arms wrapped around his neck.
“Mrs. Michelle Cartwright. It has a good sound to it. I like it,” Adam said as he set her down on her feet beside the bed. He felt into his coat pocket and bought out the key to his room.
Michelle reached out with her index finger and gently rattled the key and tag as she looked into his face. “I don’t think you’ll be needing that tonight,” she said huskily. “In fact, I don’t want you to leave this room until morning.”
“Darling, I’d love to stay but um…I don’t think it’s appropriate under the circumstances. I should leave now before…” Adam’s face and eyes betrayed his thoughts to her.
“Stay with me, Adam; I want you to make love to me. Forget what’s happened between you and your father and just hold me. I need you.” Michelle could see she’d convinced him to stay as, after a long moment of thought, his expression changed from one of indecision to desire.
His longing for her outweighed his conscience and sense of propriety. With a deft flick of his wrist, from years of practice throwing horseshoes with his brothers, he threw the key on the dresser table.
Michelle held out her arms to him and as he entered her embrace he groaned, the depth of passion he felt for his future wife overcame him.
Supper at the Cartwright dining table was subdued for the remainder of the night. Ben stared at the chair opposite him. His eldest son’s chair was empty and the half-eaten plate left by him remained on the table. He knew that one day the chairs for all his sons would be empty but the circumstances surrounding Adam’s announcement left a bitter taste in his mouth. He’d expected the time to be happy and enjoyable, not angry because of an argument.
He agonized over why he hadn’t seen the change in Adam. Yes, he had been coming home late in the evenings from town, but Ben had put that down to the business dealings, which he entrusted to Adam.
He trusted Adam with his Power Of Attorney to arrange whatever business arrangements necessary and see them through, so he’d had no reason to suspect anything else. When Adam arrived home late the last few months, he’d discuss the days business with his father then headed off to bed. Besides tending to his chores around the ranch, Adam had enjoyed the challenge of conducting the ranch deals with his father’s full approval. Ben had thought about reducing some of Adam’s ranch chores but somehow the perfect time to discuss the subject with all his sons had never come up.
Looking back, Ben thought of the last time Adam had come home from town and sat drinking coffee with his family while they finished eating. He said he’d already eaten in town because he knew he’d be late for dinner. All the signs were there but he hadn’t seen them for what they were; his son was seeing a woman. Ben put his knife and fork down on his plate, his appetite gone. He pushed the plate away and reached into his pocket for his pipe and tobacco. While he filled the pipe, he mulled over what he wanted to say to his two remaining sons. “How serious is the relationship Adam has with her? Either one of you can answer me and I don’t care who, just as long as I get a straight answer,” he asked in a voice thick with more emotion than he intended.
Hoss quickly finished off his mouthful of food before he answered his father. He knew his father disliked anyone talking with their mouth full. “I know he’s really stuck on her, Pa. He was seein’ her in church on Sundays and then afterwards too.”
“She was in church? Near us?” Ben was surprised, very surprised Adam had been with her in church. He couldn’t recall any woman in Adam’s company. No Hoss must have been mistaken. He shook his head and took a deep suck on his pipe for comfort, the smoke wafting slowly into the air.
“Yes, Pa. She was the beautiful brunette sitting beside Adam in our pew.” Joe replied giving his father his usual cheeky grin. Ben glared at his youngest son, who quickly dropped his grin and his eyes back to his plate.
“Sneaky huh, Pa.” Hoss laughed. “I told you he was stuck on her. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was courtin’ her.”
Ben looked at Hoss incredulously. “But he can’t.”
A confused look passed between Hoss and Joe before both turned to look at their father, curious as to his reasons. “Why not? Why can’t he be courting Michelle?”
“Haven’t I taught you boys anything or haven’t any of you been bothered to listen? Adam is seeing a married woman and I did not raise my sons to be adulterers.”
“But Pa, Michelle’s husband is dead and besides Adam likes her,” said Joe. He couldn’t understand why his father was upset about Adam being happy. Would the same thing happen to him if he fell in love with a woman who Pa didn’t approve of?
“Joseph, in the eyes of the law, she is still a married woman. He shouldn’t be courting her let alone possibly wanting to marry her. I won’t let him.”
Hoss looked at his father, his eyes and face betrayed his sadness. “Even though Adam is the happiest he’s ever been, you’ll stand in his way just because she might still be married under the law. Don’t you think you’re being a might unreasonable?”
Ben was surprised by Hoss’ outburst. Hoss was slow to anger and yet very aware of his father and brother’s opposing feelings about this woman, Michelle. Surely he’d been a blind fool about Adam’s feelings for her and he was still being a blind fool about her relationship with Adam. How could he possibly form an opinion on someone he’d never met? Besides a discussion with their lawyer could clear the matter up of whether she was still married or not.
Smiling at Hoss, Ben reached over to him and gave him a slap on the shoulder. “Yes, Hoss, you’re right. I am being unreasonable. I think I’ll go into town in the morning and invite them to dinner. That way I can get to know her, Michelle, and see for myself what Adam feels about her. Then I’ll decide whether to stop him or not.”
Hoss and Joe grinned at their father. Both happy that for now they were getting somewhere with their father on Adam and Michelle’s behalf.
“Have you forgotten that you’re tree-marking tomorrow morning with Adam?”
After a brief moment of thought, Ben replied. “Yes, I had forgotten. Joseph, go into town early in the morning and invite your brother and Michelle to dinner for tomorrow night. Make dinner around 7.30.”
“Pa, that means I’ll have to be out of bed real early. Do I have to? Why can’t you ask Adam when you see him?”
“Joseph, don’t argue with me. It’s quite possible Adam won’t want to see me tomorrow, let alone spend the day with me in the pines. Do as I say, please, without the discussion.”
Joe replied with a big sigh and roll of his eyes. “Yes, Pa.” Both Ben and Hoss laughed at Joe, before he joined in after finishing his mouthful of food. At least the three of them could still laugh together and hopefully it wouldn’t be too long before Adam could join in.
“Joseph, how many times have I told you not to talk with food in your mouth?”
“Yes?” Ben gave Joe a look out of the corner of his eye. The tone of voice Joe used usually meant trouble.
“Best of luck stopping him.” Laughing, Joe continued, “You know how stubborn Adam is when his mind is made up about something. Sort of reminds you of someone else, doesn’t it Pa?”
“We’ll see, Joe; we’ll see.”
Later that evening, after Hoss and Little Joe had gone to bed, Ben opened the door and walked into Adam’s empty room. There was just enough moonlight coming through the window for him to see the now abandoned room. Even without Adam physically in the room, Ben could feel him. He made his way over to the dresser and picked up the portrait of Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. With his large fingers he gently reached out and touched her face, the glass cold on his fingertips. She would have known what to do and how to handle their distraught son — most likely a lot better than he just had.
Still holding her picture tightly in his hand, he ran his other along the neatly stacked books on the shelf. Below the shelf, on the desktop, was a book, the open pages lying face down. Mindful of not loosing the place in the book, Ben lifted it up, closer to his face and read the title in the moonlight drifting into the room. Milton’s Paradise Lost. Ben smiled to himself. So he still reads it after all this time.
Adam Milton Cartwright. Elizabeth had named their son Adam, after the character in her favorite book, their favorite book. Unrestrained tears welled in Ben’s eyes as he remembered that wonderful day when Adam was born. Within the week she was gone; gone and left him alone with their newborn baby son. Ben wiped the tears away with his shirt cuff as he returned the book to its place on the desktop and turned for the door.
Lying on top of the bed, nestled softly into the bedcovers, was Adam’s guitar. Ben was surprised he’d left his beloved guitar behind and not in its regular place of leaning against the wall below the window. Usually when Ben saw Adam strumming the guitar in his room, he’d be reclining back in the chair with the two front chair legs off the floor, his feet popped up on the windowsill as he gazed out the window. Ben smiled at the memory, of Adam happily playing the guitar that Marie had given him.
His son had left two very important possessions behind, so maybe there was hope yet, to solve their differences. Or maybe he didn’t want reminders of the sometimes emotionally painful past. Whatever the reason, Ben knew he had to talk, alone, with his son.
Ben placed the picture back on the dresser, facing the bed. Having one last look around the room, he left, leaving the door open. The door would always remain open for his first born.
Tomorrow he was meeting Adam to tree-mark the western section for the railway contract Adam had secured. He and Adam would have plenty of time to talk.
Yawning, Adam rolled over and snuggled closer to Michelle’s warm, supple body. He wrapped his arm around her waist, feeling her warm, soft skin with the palm of his hand.
“Mmmm, that’s nice. Keep that up Adam Cartwright and you won’t get out of this bed, let alone the room today.”
“Would that be so bad?” mumbled Adam into her soft hair, his eyes still shut, wanting to forget he was to meet his father today. He wriggled his body closer to hers, their curves matching each other like spoons.
Michelle gave a soft, throaty laugh. “Yes, you have to go to work and I have to start planning a wedding. Or had you forgotten that?”
“I’d rather stay here, where it’s nice and warm instead of confronting my father. I have a feeling that meeting is going to be very cold.”
“Chicken.” Michelle started to giggle as he lightly played his fingers against her waist. Mischievously, Adam tickled her harder and they burst into laughter, enjoying each other’s happiness.
“You deserved that, woman,” he said, finally stopping his tickling but keeping his hands where they were on her body. With mock anger, he continued. “Imagine calling your future husband a chicken. I’m outraged.”
“What happened to the man who wanted to leave last night, but didn’t?”
Adam gave Michelle an embarrassed laugh. “Well he’s still here, just in hiding for a while longer, that’s all.”
Turning her gently to face him, he smiled into her eyes, amazed at how complete he felt with her. If he was given a choice, he’d stay with her all day but knew his father would be marking trees this morning and he’d promised him he’d assist. He’d spent too much time on the contract to waste the effort on an argument with his father. Even though they’d had the argument about Michelle, Adam would still carry out his ranch chores. He could never abandon his responsibilities to his father and brothers.
The Ponderosa was their life but Adam wanted a life aside from the ranch too. But convincing his father that he could have both was going to be difficult.
“Is it daylight yet, Darling?” murmured Michelle into Adam’s chest. She was wrapped closely into his body by his strong arms and she could feel his heart beating; his chest rising and falling with each breath.
Reluctantly opening one eye, Adam and squinted at the window over the top of her hair, the curtains were half drawn. Sighing he finally said, “Yes it is; looks like I’d better get moving or I’ll be late.”
Adam raised an arm and lifted her chin with his fingers, which brought her lips to his. He kissed her passionately. Both still felt the warm effects of their lovemaking during the night before. The memory brought an instant response from his body and snuggled so closely together, Michelle could not help but notice the effect on him.
He studied her face in the early morning light, content with the notion of waking up beside her every morning for the rest of his life. Both were startled out of their reverie when they heard a loud knock at their door.
“Were you expecting anyone at this hour? Did you order breakfast by any chance?” asked Adam, as his stomach gave a rumble at being empty. He recalled he hadn’t finished his dinner last night, so no wonder he was hungry.
Blinking vigorously to clear her eyes and head, Michelle smiled. “No I didn’t. I’ve been having my breakfast in the restaurant.”
“I’ll go see who it is,” Adam said, throwing off the covers and padding on bare feet towards the door.
“Adam,” began Michelle, as she broke into giggles of laughter. “Don’t you think you’d better put some clothes on, or at least some pants? You’re a very handsome man to look at when you’re unclothed, and I have noticed, but is it possible the person waiting outside might not think so?” She then covered her mouth with her hand to smother the sound of the giggles.
Embarrassed by what he’d nearly done, Adam reached out for a towel, which was resting beside the hand basin. He wrapped it around his waist, tightly tucking the corner into the top as he walked to the door.
“You’d better pull those covers over yourself, woman.” Adam grinned at her over his shoulder, not wanting to allow her naked body to be seen by anyone but himself.
He opened the door, ajar enough to see who was waiting in the hallway. Outside was his youngest brother, Little Joe, grinning like a kitten with a bowl of milk, a breakfast tray balanced in his hands.
Just moments before, Joe had entered the foyer of the hotel as the desk clerk was preparing to deliver the tray to Adam’s room. “Morning, Harold. Can you tell me which room Adam is in? He hasn’t left yet, has he? Because I need to talk to him urgently.”
“No he’s here,” said Harold after he’d glanced at the key hooks to confirm the key hadn’t been returned. “As a matter of fact I was about to take this breakfast tray up to his room, number 5.”
“I’ll take it up for you seeing as how I’m going to see him. By the way, which room is Miss Michelle Sinclair in?”
“Mmmm, she’s room 6. The next door to Adam’s.”
“How convenient. I wonder….” muttered Joe to himself as he picked up the tray and smiled at Harold.
“Oh nothing. Just thinking out loud.”
“Hello, big brother, nice to see you’re at least awake early on this fine morning. Mustn’t keep Pa waiting, you know.” With having said his greeting, Joe tried to peer around the door and Adam as he attempted to step into the room.
Amused by Joe’s actions but not wanting to let him see anymore than he could, Adam closed the door a fraction further. “Joe, do you mind? I do.”
Knowing he wasn’t going to see any further into the room, Joe made a show of closely scrutinizing the door number. With a puzzled expression on his face, he looked at his older brother out of the corner of his eye. “Now that’s funny, I’m sure the desk clerk said you were supposed to be in room 5 not 6? I knocked on 5 but there was no answer, but here you are in 6. I wonder why that is?” Joe finished off his sentence with a cheeky smile only he could give, barely holding back his laugh. He was enjoying embarrassing his brother. It wasn’t often Adam presented him with an opportunity like he had right now. Joe couldn’t resist.
With another cheeky grin, which reminded Adam of Joe as a child, Joe continued. “I can’t hold this heavy tray all day you know; do you mind if I came in….” as he stepped towards the door, with a half-hearted attempt to move Adam aside.
“Stay right where you are, little brother, and just hand me the tray, if you don’t mind,” said Adam sternly as he smiled at Joe, letting him have his fun at his expense. He knew Joe was going to play this out for all it’s worth and knew, given the same opportunity, he’d do the same. No doubt when Joe told Hoss, he’d have more teasing waiting for him, but then that was typical of his brothers. “What are you doing here this early anyway, Joe? You’re usually in bed yourself at this hour, and after a ride from the ranch too, I might add.”
Joe’s grin faded from his face as he recalled the reason for the early visit.
“Pa wants to invite you and Michelle to dinner tonight. I had to give you the message before you left for the ranch. Will you both come, please? Pa, Hoss and me’d love to meet Michelle; really, Adam. He’s sorry he yelled at you last night, you know. He was just surprised and disappointed that you didn’t let him know sooner, that’s all. About Michelle, I mean.” As an after thought he added. ”I also came into town to see Anne at the saloon, for a few minutes.”
Adam gave him a questioning look as he hastily grabbed the tray from Joe, turned and placed it on the nearby chair. “Stay where you are, Joe,” replied Adam as he walked closer to the bed.
He raised his eyebrows at Michelle as he looked down at her. She’d drawn the covers up under her chin so that only her face was left. “Well, what do you think, Michelle? Do you want to go? We won’t if you don’t want to. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.”
Michelle slid her hand out from under the covers and placed it gently on his arm, softly squeezing it reassuringly. “I think we should have dinner with your family Adam. I don’t want you to argue with your father over me; they’re your family. Besides, I’d like to get to know your brothers as well as your father, as I’m sure they’d like to have the opportunity to know me.”
Adam gave her one of his rare smiles that she had come to love as he walked back to the door and his patiently waiting little brother. He was grateful she’d agreed to have dinner with his father and brothers because he needed to talk with his father. “Tell Pa that we’ll have dinner but here, downstairs in the restaurant, not at home. I’ll make the reservation for tonight….make it around 7 o’clock.”
With that said and a farewell grin, Adam shut the door firmly in Joe’s face, not waiting for his reply. Adam wanted to meet his father, but on his terms, not his father’s. In the restaurant, neither would be able to argue the point without creating a scene, which he knew his father would go to great lengths to avoid.
Michelle would feel more comfortable, as he knew how imposing his father and the ranch were to unsuspecting visitors.
He’d shown her the ranch house three weeks ago when his father and brothers had been away for two days, checking on the lower section fence-line. While passing Hop Sing on the road that morning, they’d waved to him as he headed the buckboard into town for their supplies. A chore usually attended to by either Hoss, Joe or himself, but with everyone gone from the ranch, Hop Sing had to do it himself.
For once, the Cartwright house had been peaceful and quiet. With no one around to interrupt them, they’d taken the opportunity to make love in the intimate privacy of his room. Although hesitant at first, he’d agreed to Michelle’s insistence of making love in his bed. Something he’d never wanted to or been able to do before, without the fear of someone walking in on him. Little Joe had a habit, from his early childhood days, of entering his room without knocking first, even when the door was shut.
He continued to smile as he remembered Michelle, wandering around in his room while he sat on the edge of the bed. After admiring the lower rooms of the house, Michelle had wanted to see the room where he spent his spare time and slept. She’d run her fingers gently over the book spines and read the titles he kept on the shelf above his writing desk. Then they’d spent some time discussing the works of the respective authors.
Picking up his guitar, Michelle awkwardly played a few notes and, with a touch of regret in her voice, admitted she’d never had lessons or bothered to learn. Her parents had taught her to read music and play the piano, and even though learning was difficult at first, she missed not playing. How she enjoyed the feeling of losing herself in the music. He’d told her he was sorry that they didn’t have a piano because he’d loved to have heard her play. Now, he thought, he could buy her one when they were married, as a wedding gift, and she could play whenever she wanted. He felt his love for her grow as he realized they shared many of the same loves for music and literature.
With a playful laugh, she’d pushed him back on the bed, his feet still on the floor, her hands resting against his chest. Her body began to move against his, igniting a longing he had to fight hard to control. Michelle noticed his reaction and her desire for him had swept aside all his thoughts of honorable intentions. Adam wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer and rolling her under him. Their kisses and closeness had ignited a passion that neither was prepared to ignore.
Under her eyelashes, and with a soft smile, Michelle closely watched Adam dress. She enjoyed seeing his smooth muscles ripple across his back and arms as he pulled first his jeans and then his boots on.
Smiling wickedly to herself, she observed him as he buttoned up his fly. Out of the corner of his eye, Adam caught her looking at him and noticed the direction of her gaze. He laughed as she self-consciously blushed, having been caught so brazenly watching him. Once he finished the last of his buttons and buckled the belt, Adam crossed the floor to her grabbing her tightly in his arms, crushing her to his body. “I love you, you shameless woman. So much that it hurts to think what would happen if I ever lost you.”
“Adam, you’ll never lose me because we’ve only just found each other,” whispered Michelle into Adam’s ear as her breath tickled his ear, sending shivers down his spine.
Grudgingly pushing his desire aside, Adam released her. Then he threw on his shirt and buckled up the gun belt. Shining a glossy black in the morning light, the holster was slung low on his right thigh, blending into one form, just the way she liked, thought Michelle. In one smooth motion, he drew the gun and spun the cylinder as he made sure each chamber was loaded. Just as swiftly he holstered the gun and began rolling up the long sleeves of his shirt. “You eat the breakfast I ordered, sweetheart; I’ll have something downstairs in the restaurant, on my way out.”
“Mmmm, thanks,” murmured Michelle, as she snuggled back into the cozy bed. ”I’ll stay here for a little while longer.”
Adam collected his hat from the back of the chair, bent over and gave her one last, long kiss. It was going to be a long, difficult day without her to keep him company and the afternoon was aways off. Shaking his head decisively, he brushed aside the strong longing to stay with her and avoid meeting his father.
Quietly closing the door behind him, Adam strode down the hallway, the black hat now firmly placed on his head and both thumbs tucked into his gun belt. His deep thoughts now firmly onto the coming meeting with his father. He wasn’t looking forward to facing his father, not after his rude behavior and walking out on him at the dinner table last night.
As he collected his horse from the livery, mounted and headed towards the ranch, he wondered how much his father had warmed towards his relationship with Michelle. Time will tell, he thought, time will tell.
When he’d finished breakfast and headed out the front door to the barn, Ben wasn’t surprised to see Adam waiting outside the house. What he was surprised about was that Adam hadn’t come inside to say greet his brothers; after all, it was still his home. Or did Adam no longer call the Ponderosa his home?
Having arrived earlier than planned, Adam realized his father wasn’t ready to leave. He quietly dismounted and entered the familiar barn, the hay on the floor rustling under the soles of his boots as he walked to the stall. Giving his father’s horse a soft rub down the nose, he grabbed Buck’s saddle blanket, saddle and bridle then began to prepare him for his father. By the time Ben had finished eating and collected his gun and hat, Adam was back on his horse, holding Buck’s reins, waiting for him.
“Hello, Adam,” said Ben pleasantly, as Adam handed him the reins.
“Morning, Pa.” Adam matched his father’s tone. ‘So far, so good,’ he thought.
“Why didn’t you come inside, son?” Ben said, asking the obvious question of his son and curious to know what his answer would be.
Adam gave his father a half smile before he answered, his dark eyes remained on his father – ready to see what reaction his comment would bring. “Wasn’t sure I was welcome anymore.”
Ben’s anger flared in him as he glared at his son across the saddle on his horse. He delayed his reply while he grabbed a hold of the saddle horn and mounted, fighting to control his emotions and well aware that Adam was studying him. Ben could see Adam had deliberately provoked a response from him. Anger wasn’t the best emotion right now, he thought, sadness would be better. Sadness for a father and son who couldn’t see eye to eye on an issue so very important to the son. They were so much alike; determination tempered by stubbornness with neither willing to back down from their choice. Would this matter with Michelle tear them apart forever? If Adam felt he was no longer welcome in his own home already, what more would happen before the situation was settled?
Would he feel the same with every woman his sons decided they wanted for a wife? Would his existence in their life feel threatened by a woman who wanted to be part of his son’s life? Is this what Adam would been feeling when he’d brought Marie to live with them as his wife? Jealousy? Surely it was much more than that. “How could you possibly think such a thing? You and your brothers will always be welcome in my house,” he said, keeping the tone of his voice as neutral as possible.
“That’s right, Pa; your house, not mine, not Hoss’, not Little Joe’s, yours. It’s not as though I’m asking you for the world where Michelle is concerned is it? What is it that’s got you all so fired up? Is it the fact that you found out about us from those gossiping women in town and not from me? Or is it Michelle because you think I’m having an affair with a married woman, even though her husband’s dead? Would you have preferred she’d been a whore from the Silver Dollar? Now I could understand you getting annoyed if that was the case but it isn’t. You’ve made it very plain, so far, that she’s not welcome in your house. I guess that means I’ll have to get my own house,” Adam snapped back. “Damn it, Pa. I didn’t want to start the day out with a continuation of our argument, but here we are at it again. Let’s just get the chore over and done with and I’ll be out of your way.”
“You can stay right where you are, Adam, because I don’t want you with me in the mood you’re in.”
“The mood I’m in? Hah! Anyway I promised I’d help you and I won’t go back on my word. Besides I’ve invested too much time and effort into that railway tie contract to let it go by.” With that he nudged his horse and left Ben in the yard, alone.
Taking a sorrowful view around the yard and towards the house, Ben saw Hoss and Little Joe standing on the porch, their unhappy faces indicating they’d heard the heated exchange between father and eldest son. With a dejected shrug of his shoulders, Ben kicked his horse into action and followed Adam out of the yard.
Theirs was a miserable day spent tree marking. Whenever Ben spoke to Adam, all he received in reply were curt answers of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ with a ‘Maybe’ thrown in. Adam, in turn asked no questions, completing each task exactly as his father instructed. It was late afternoon before they wearily rode back into the yard, the strained silence continuing.
Reining up in front of the barn, Adam kicked his right boot free from the stirrup and sat cross legged on his horse, his fingers playing gently with Sport’s mane. With a cool gaze of his own, Adam met his father’s eyes as Ben loosened the cinch on his horse. “You coming to dinner tonight?” Adam asked carefully of his father.
Holding in a tight grip the saddle he’d just removed from Buck’s back, Ben replied, with a light touch of sarcasm, unable to completely restrain his irritation with his son, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Instantly regretting the tone as he saw Adam flinch.
“I’ll bet,” came Adam’s cutting reply.
Ben shook his head, surprised by his own remark. Intent on making amends, Ben dropped the saddle and rested his hand on Adam’s crossed leg. “The sarcasm wasn’t necessary, I know, and I’m sorry. It’s been a hard day. I’d like to meet this Michelle of yours,” Ben said sincerely, trying to be civil.
The hurt he was feeling towards his father was reflected in Adam’s antagonistic voice. “This ‘Michelle of mine’ as you put it, is looking forward to meeting you and my brothers. So be nice, for her sake, not mine. Nothing you say now, or later will make me change my mind about her Pa; just remember that.”
‘Why did he have to be so blunt and stubbornly unforgiving where it concerns Michelle,’ thought Adam as he waited for his father’s reply.
“7 pm sharp, at the International’s restaurant isn’t it?” Ben asked, trying to shift away from any further confrontation. At the moment, they were both tired and arguing further would only drive the wedge deeper between them, if that was possible after today’s fiasco.
“Yeah, that’s right.”
The strained silence between them continued for a further few minutes, until Ben removed his hand from Adam’s leg and bent over to pick up the saddle from where he’d dropped it. Taking this action by his father to mean the conversation was over, Adam gave Sport a swift nudge. The horse bolted forward, giving Ben no time to yell his Goodbye before they were around the corner of the barn and out of sight. Deep in reflective thought, he continued to stare after them, long after the sound of hoof-beats had faded in the evening air.
Sighing to himself, Ben carried the saddle into the barn and threw it on the rack. Leaning against the saddle, his elbows resting on the seat, Ben dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his tired eyes. How could he and Adam get so far down this path without hurting their relationship more before it was over? Could they recover what they had in the past or was it already too late?
Using the cuff of his shirtsleeve, Ben wiped the corner of his eyes. He wished, with all his heart, that Adam would ride back in and all would be back to normal, but sadly aware it wouldn’t happen. His sad, lonely child had grown up and found happiness away from home. Did he, as his father, have the right to stand in his son’s way to reach the happiness he earned so gruelingly over the past years? Did he have the right to hold him to the ranch, to him? He pushed himself away, turned and picked up Buck’s brush. As he did, he caught a movement in the corner of his eye. “Adam….,” he said spinning around to face the form in the barn doorway.
“No… just me and Little Joe,” replied Hoss dejectedly as they stepped out of the shadows and into the light of the lantern.
“Oh. I thought it might have been your brother.” Disappointed, Ben swung back to Buck and started to vigorously rub him down.
“How’d the day go, Pa? Get anything settled between you and him?” Joe asked quietly. He already knew the answer, having heard the exchange between his father and brother from the bunkhouse.
“Only what we set out to do and that was mark the trees,” Ben replied, not facing his sons. “As for he and Michelle, nothing. Dinner is still planned for tonight, so we’d better get moving, otherwise we’ll be late.”
“You look all tuckered out Pa; want me to finish Buck for you?”
“Thanks, Hoss; I’d appreciate it. It was a difficult day with your stubborn brother, to say the least.”
“We guessed it might’ve been somethin’ like that.”
Dressed in their Sunday best, Ben, Hoss and Joe were waiting in the foyer of the International Hotel, when Adam, with Michelle holding firmly onto his arm, walked down the stairs towards them.
Hoss broke into a huge grin. “Look at you two. You look like you’re going to a weddin’ instead of dinner.”
An instantaneous smile passed between Adam and Michelle, which didn’t go unnoticed by Ben.
“Why you just have to be, Hoss,” said Michelle smiling, as she looked up into Hoss’ beaming face. “Adam has spoken so much of you.”
Stepping in front of Hoss and deftly taking her hand before kissing it lightly, Joe smugly interrupted Hoss. “Hello, Michelle, it’s nice to finally put a face to the voice.”
“Why, Little Joe, how gallant of you. I wonder who taught you that?” she replied with a dazzling smile at Adam, then Joe. ‘Two easily conquered, the hardest one to go,’ she thought.
With her hand remaining firmly gripped on his arm, his other hand covering hers, Adam guided Michelle over to his father who had waited aside, while Hoss and Joe said their greetings.
“Michelle Sinclair, I’d like to introduce you to my father, Benjamin Cartwright. Benjamin Cartwright, Michelle Sinclair…. soon to be Mrs. Adam Cartwright.”
On the ride to town from the Ponderosa that same afternoon, Adam had decided to make the announcement as soon as possible. That way his father and brothers knew exactly how he felt about Michelle and what she meant to him.
Stunned by the sudden announcement, Ben politely gave a small bow to Michelle, with his head. “Mrs. Sinclair, a pleasure to meet you,” he said, emphasizing the Mrs. If his son was going to play chess with him, then he would too. The first opening moves were to Adam’s favor – dinner here instead of at the Ponderosa and now the marriage announcement. Adam had never been one for small talk, always saying directly what his intentions were.
Adam stiffened at his father’s use of the married title. Michelle squeezed his arm, confident of meeting Ben Cartwright’s approval. “Hello Mr. Cartwright. It’s Miss Sinclair; my married name is Barnes.”
“My mistake, Miss Sinclair. Allow me, Adam,” said Ben, taking Michelle’s arm to escort her to their table. When playing chess with Adam, Ben needed all the advantage he could gather. Realizing early the opening ploy of dinner in a neutral surrounding, upon their arrival, he’d asked the maitre d’hotel which table they would be seated at for their dinner.
With his eyes held to Michelle and his father’s departing backs, Adam was knocked off-balance by a heavy slap on his back.
“Congratulations, Adam,” chuckled Hoss. “That’s one fine lookin filly, you’re gonna marry.”
“Adam, you son of a gun, if I’da seen her first, there’s no way she would have gone for you, not with me around. My charm would have won her over instantly.”
Laughing at Joe’s comment, Adam draped his arm around Joe’s shoulders.
“Just remember, little brother, I did see her first and that means hands off. That goes for you too, Hoss.”
Hoss turned pink with embarrassment, as if he’d even think of stealing his brother’s intended.
“Aww, Adam you know I’d never….” He didn’t finish the sentence because his two brothers were doubled over with laughter. Bursting out into a loud laugh, Hoss joined in, realizing he’d just been the butt of another of his brothers’ jokes.
Michelle and Ben, who had just seated themselves, heard the laughter and smiled as the three brothers started to head towards the table. “It’s wonderful to see Adam enjoying himself, Mr. Cartwright. He’s been very quiet and upset since he had the argument wit you….over me. I wasn’t expecting him to announce our intention of marriage tonight.” Michelle gracefully pivoted her head until her eyes met his.
Ben, enjoying the laughter of his three sons himself, turned back to Michelle, only to find her hazel eyes locked onto his own dark eyes. Michelle noticed where Adam’s dark eyes were inherited from, only these eyes she couldn’t read. “I hope, by the end of tonight, you’ll approve of me, Mr. Cartwright, for Adam’s sake, not mine.”
“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it, Mrs. Barnes.”
Michelle chose not to reply immediately to the slight, because Adam, Hoss and Joe had reached the table and were attempting to sit down without knocking the small table with their long legs. Instead she changed her intended reply. “Please call me Michelle, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Very well, if you insist, Michelle it is,” was Ben’s cool reply.
The evening flowed uneventfully. Ben and Adam polite with each other, while Hoss and Joe entertained Michelle with various tales from Adam’s past.
“You’ve carved yourself quite a ranch out here in the wilderness, Mr. Cartwright. I’ve heard talk around town that you are very wealthy and own the largest ranch in Nevada?” asked Michelle, when the conversation slowed because their meal had arrived.
Ben wondered quickly at the nature of question before replying. “I don’t like to discuss the financial matters of the ranch, but I am rich in the sons who helped make the ranch the success it is today. A large credit must be given to Adam, who was with me when I first started with only a small piece of land, a few head of cattle and two young sons. Today he controls most of the financial matters for me. Without my son’s help, I would not have been able to make what we have today. “
“Adam darling, you didn’t say any of this to me before; why not?”
Adam carefully ran his eyes over the people seated at the table, before he answered. “I wanted you to love me for who I am, not for what my name is.” He reached over and took Michelle’s left hand in his and continued. “As I said earlier, I’ve asked Michelle to be my wife. We’ve set the date…May 18 and I’d like you all to be at the wedding.”
“Hot diggity, Adam!”
“You’ll make a pretty sister, Michelle. Won’t she Hoss?”
“That’s only three weeks away, Adam. Why all the rush?” asked Ben.
Adam grinned as he caught Michelle’s smile out of the corner of his eye. He’d warned her that his brothers would welcome her into the family with open arms and they hadn’t let him down. “Why not, Pa? I love her and she loves me, what else is there?”
Ben looked imploringly at his eldest son. He wanted time to find out more about the woman that Adam wanted to marry. “What do you know about her?” he asked of Adam, as though Michelle wasn’t seated at the table.
Before Adam could answer, Michelle replied, “I have told Adam every single thing there is to know about me. I have no secrets, not from him nor you Mr. Cartwright; none what so ever,” meeting Ben’s hard, uncompromising stare.
Joe and Hoss watched the struggle over Adam between their father and Michelle. In their heart, both brothers knew that their father would have to loose. As much as Adam loved his father and his life at the Ponderosa, Michelle’s love was more fulfilling; it’s what he needed to make himself complete. They could see how Michelle’s love had changed their brother for the better; why couldn’t their father?
Adam’s head was held high, but his eyes were dropped onto Michelle’s soft hand held in his. He didn’t want to force his father into accepting her, but accept her he was going to.
Ben knew he was loosing the fight too. He should be looking at the marriage as gaining a daughter, not loosing a son. But there was something holding him back from joining his family’s happiness and yet he couldn’t describe it, even to himself. When he’d seen Elizabeth, Inger and Marie in love with him, they gave everything to him, nothing was held back. With Michelle, there seemed to be a hesitancy, a mystery as though not all had been revealed to Adam. He couldn’t see her being happy at the Ponderosa. Although he was reluctant to give his approval, Ben knew he had to; otherwise, Adam would be lost to him forever. “Adam, son, your happiness means everything to me. I won’t stand in your way. You have my blessing, both of you.”
“Thanks, Pa. Umm, there is one more thing….” With a shy smile, which Ben hadn’t seen on Adam’s face since a young child, Adam coughed anxiously while he waited for his father’s reply.
“Would you give Michelle away at the wedding? With her father being dead and all, she’d love for you to walk her down the aisle to me.”
With only a slight hesitation and a forced smile on his lips Ben agreed. “Michelle, I’d be honored to take your arm in the church.”
Adam slowly let out his breath; he hadn’t realized he’d been holding it. So had Hoss and Little Joe. All four men laughed together, enjoying their old comfortable camaraderie again. Michelle laughed lightly as she gazed over Adam’s shoulder and met the eyes of the man two tables away. He returned the smile.
The next morning Hoss, who had stayed in town that night instead of returning home with Ben and Joe, went in search of his older brother. Adam had asked him to ride back to the Ponderosa with him in the morning.
After knocking on the door to both Adam and Michelle’s rooms and not receiving an answer, he returned to his room and locked the door. Pocketing the key, he headed down the hallway to the staircase. Clomping down the hotel stairs, Hoss could see the desk clerk reading a paper at his counter. “Howdy, George, do you know where my brother Adam is? He wasn’t in his room and I don’t think I saw him in the restaurant for breakfast neither.”
“Adam had breakfast delivered to his room this morning, Hoss. On his way out this morning he said he was going to the livery to check on his horse. Said something about one of its legs wasn’t too good yesterday afternoon when he rode in.”
“Thanks, be seein ya.”
“I almost forgot this,” said Hoss as he fished his room key from the pocket and placed it on top of the newspaper George had been reading.
“Thanks, so had I. Just been reading about a murder over in Sacramento, which made the front page. Pretty gruesome details.”
“Don’t interest me none, not one bit.” replied Hoss as he pushed open the hotel doors and stepped out onto the porch.
As he strolled across the main street, Hoss saw Adam’s Sport saddled and tied to the hitching rail outside the livery. Stopping beside the horse, he gave him an affectionate pat. As he did a gentle run down its legs with his hands, he heard voices, a male and female in the livery. He decided not to enter and interrupt them, thinking Adam and Michelle wanted a private moment. Standing as close as he was to the doorway, he couldn’t help overhearing their conversation. “Oh, Darling, it’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you terribly.”
“Yeah, so you should,” replied the man as he laughed. “How are the plans going with Cartwright?”
Hoss didn’t recognize the man’s voice; it wasn’t Adam’s but the woman’s was certainly Michelle’s.
“Couldn’t be better. The wedding date is set for May 18 and everything is going to plan; he doesn’t suspect a thing. We’ll still go ahead and do what we planned before the wedding.”
“What about his family? Any trouble likely from them?”
“His father may suspect something — I’m not sure — but I think I finally won him over, at least for the time being. I’ll have to be very careful around him.”
“And the brothers?”
It was Michelle’s turn to laugh. “I have them eating out of the palm of my hand like two little birds, Stewart Darling.”
‘Stewart?’ Hoss thought. ‘That’s her husband’s name.’
“Hello, Hoss, you looking for me?”
Startled, Hoss heard Adam’s voice close behind him. He hadn’t heard his footsteps because he was so engrossed in the conversation between Michelle and her supposedly dead husband. Hoss spun around, guilty at being caught eavesdropping.
Just as he started to think of something to say to Adam, Michelle came rushing out of the livery.
“Adam Darling, there you are. Why hello, Hoss, I didn’t know you were waiting outside for Adam.” Michelle slid her arm through the crook of Adam’s arm. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you, even in the livery. Where were you?”
Adam leant over Michelle and kissed her forehead, smiling as he thought how sweet it was that Michelle wanted to see him; he’d only been gone a few minutes.
“I stopped by the mercantile to order…er, something. Bert saddled Sport for me while I was there I see,” Adam said, quickly changing the subject of what he was ordering at the mercantile. Mr. Hanson was going to receive delivery of the piano in time for the wedding. He’d be able to give it to Michelle as the wedding gift he planned. “Looks as though his leg is fine to me. What do you think Hoss? By the way, what did you want me for?”
“Nothin’ that can’t wait, Adam.” Hoss gave Michelle a quick glance as he walked past her and into the livery. He couldn’t see anyone inside, but then he hadn’t expected to. Whoever had been in there talking to Michelle would be long gone by now.
Leaning against his horse for comfort, Hoss couldn’t believe what he’d overheard. Michelle’s husband was alive and in Virginia City. They were planning to do something to Adam, but what? ‘Better get on home to Pa and talk it over with him as to what we do,’ thought Hoss as he threw the tack on the horse and led him outside.
Adam and Michelle were still outside, arm in arm and talking softly.
“You ready to go back home now?”
“Yeah.” Hoss glanced at Michelle to see her reaction.
“I’ll ride with you. Like I said last night, I’ve got something to discuss with you.”
Emotions flickered across Michelle’s face as she listened to the conversation between the two brothers.
“Okay, I’ve got no objections,” replied Hoss as they both mounted their horse.
Leaning down from the saddle, Adam motioned for Michelle to come closer. When she did, he leant down further and kissed her again on the forehead, not being able to reach her lips, even though she was standing on her tiptoes. “Bye, Michelle; I’ll be back this evening. Dinner in the restaurant suit you?”
“Yes, Darling, that’ll be fine. I’ll be waiting,” she said as she waved him off.
“Michelle,” Hoss said coldly as he tipped his hat to her.
She waited until they were out of hearing before she swore to herself under her breath. “Damn. He knows; he overhead us.” Fear overcame Michelle and she hugged her arms to her body. “What if he tells Adam?” She took deep breaths to calm herself as the two men turned the corner, ready to disappear out of sight.
A voice called out to her from within the livery. “Pssst, Michelle, get in here if they’ve gone.”
As Michelle walked back into the livery, Hoss threw a glance over his shoulder and saw where she was going. He shot Adam a look out of the corner of his eye as he turned back towards the direction they were headed but Adam was looking forward and hadn’t seen her.
“Stewart, where are you? Hoss, Adam’s brother overhead us, I’m sure,” she snarled into the shadows, her eyes not accustomed to the darkness.
“Well we can’t have him interfering with our plan, can we? I’ll just have to do something about it won’t I,” said Barnes, as he stepped out from his hiding place inside the tack room. He’d only just managed to close the door before Hoss had walked into the livery, very intent on finding whomever Michelle had been speaking to. The one advantage he’d had was the time it took for Hoss’ eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. He had hidden in the last movement of the door.
With a cold voice, Michelle replied to her husband, “Kill him. He’ll spoil everything we’ve planned. Make it look like an accident if you can but kill him.”
As Hoss and Adam rode in silence, Hoss’ thoughts were of how he could tell Adam what he’d heard. Adam jolted him out of his thoughts. “Hoss, are you there? Hey Hoss?”
“Huh? What… Oh Yeah?”
“I said, will you be my best man? At the wedding, I mean?”
“Um, I’d like some time to think about it,” Hoss said, avoiding Adam’s eyes, which he knew, would be trained on him, waiting for his answer.
Adam was hurt and surprised by Hoss’ answer. He had been expecting him to immediately say yes. “What do you mean you’d like to think about it? What is there to think about? I’d have thought you’d jump at the chance to see your brother off. A simple Yes or No would have been easy.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to Adam, it’s just that I….”
With a hurt and angry tone to his voice, Adam cut him off, mid sentence. “First Pa and now you. I don’t believe it. Never mind, I’ll ask Little Joe.”
“Adam….” started Hoss.
Clearly upset, Adam kicked his horse into a gallop, leaving a distraught Hoss behind. He was feeling just as hurt as Adam; he wanted to say Yes but couldn’t bring himself to say what he’d overheard. Tears welled in his eyes as his feelings overtook him while watching Adam gallop into the distance. Hoss adored his older brother and would willingly do anything for him and save him from anything. He knew Adam would do the same for him, but after today Hoss wasn’t so sure. He had to make Adam listen, understand that Michelle didn’t love him; that it was all part of some plan which involved him.
By the time Hoss arrived at the house, Adam had already dismounted and tied his hard-ridden horse to the hitching rail. He could see the horse’s sides heaving from the effort of the gallop. It was unlike Adam to treat his horse the way he had. He’d never known him to gallop his horse, then leave it standing without cooling him down gently first.
Hoss picked up the reins and walked both horses around the yard while they cooled down. Once he was satisfied they were cooled, he led them to the water trough for a well-earned drink.
Ben was sitting in his favorite chair reading the newspaper when he heard the horse galloping into the yard. Expecting to lecture Little Joe on his riding behavior, he was surprised when Adam stormed into the house, the expression on his face indicating he was seething with anger. For a man who should have been happy, Adam certainly wasn’t. “What is it, Adam? What’s wrong?” he asked, nevertheless pleased to see his eldest son home, even in a bad mood.
“Ask Hoss,” growled Adam to his father between clenched teeth as he headed up the stairs to his room, slamming the door after he entered.
Not one to wait, Ben folded his paper and threw it on the seat after him. As he prepared to head up the stairs to Adam’s room, he heard the sound of another horse, this one slower, and instead headed for the door. Outside, he saw Hoss reach for Sport’s reins and begin to lead him around the yard.
“I need to talk to you real urgent, Pa. Just give me a few moments to finish with the horses.”
“I gather what you want to discuss has something to do with Adam and the way he just rode in here?”
“Yep,” was all Hoss said.
Ben kept his silence while Hoss tended the horses then led them towards the hitching rail. He knew Hoss would tell him soon enough as to what happened, unlike his older brother. Hoss gave the horses a pat as he tied them back to the hitching rail. They’d drunk enough water to satisfy their thirst, any more and they’d be bloated.
Ben threw his arm over Hoss’ big broad shoulders. “Now that you’ve taken care of the horses, let’s go inside and have this talk, son.”
Pulling up short beside his father, Hoss threw a guilty glance at the house. “No, Pa; Adam’s inside isn’t he?”
Ben nodded his reply and thought he was right about who had upset Adam this time. For a man about to get married and be happy, Adam wasn’t – if the last few days were any indication. All the more reason he had to get to the bottom of the matter.
“How about over by the barn, where we won’t be heard by him.”
“Wherever you want.”
Ben waited patiently while Hoss paced in front of the barn. With a sorrowful expression on his face, Hoss stopped and lent against the top railing of the corral, resting his head on his folded arms. Ben reached over and began to gently rub his son’s strong tense shoulders. “Tell me what’s troubling you and Adam.” He could see the difficulty Hoss was having. It was as though there was an intense struggle going on inside, tearing into him.
“It’s Michelle. It’s about her.”
“What about her?” asked Ben, astounded by his comment. He had been expecting to hear Adam’s name, not Michelle’s.
“She’s still married, Pa,” came Hoss’ voice, cracking with emotion.
“I thought that had been explained last night and that we weren’t going to let that stop Adam marrying her.”
“No!” snapped Hoss back. “No, I mean I overheard her talking to some fella in the livery this morning and she called him Stewart.”
Ben staggered and leant back against the corral for support. “What … what did you say?”
“I said she called him Stewart. She said she’d missed him and called him Darling. And she weren’t talkin’ to Adam at the time neither.” Hoss stopped, biting hard on his bottom lip as he watched his father taking in what he’d just been told.
Ben rubbed his jaw with his hand, dismay clearly expressed on his face. This was becoming worse than he originally thought but looking at Hoss he knew there was more to the story to be told. In a disciplined voice and nod of his head, Ben replied, “Go on…”
“They was sayin’ something else about, about the wedding and how everything was goin’ to plan and that Adam didn’t suspect a thing.”
Ben could see Hoss was holding back with something else, not everything had yet been said. “Tell me Hoss, everything.”
“Michelle said that they were going to do it before the wedding.”
“I don’t know Pa. I didn’t hear anymore because Adam called out to me and they stopped talkin’ when they heard him.”
“Did you see the man talking to Michelle? What he looked like?”
“No and I don’t think Adam did neither. I know he didn’t hear them talkin because on the ride home, he came right out and asked me to be his best man for the weddin’.” Tearfully, Hoss looked at his father. “I turned him down; I said I’d have to think about it. I hurt him real bad Pa and I swear I didn’t mean to.”
“So that’s why he’s upset and angry with you,” mused Ben, as he hugged Hoss close to him. “That’s the least of our problems Hoss. We’ve got to find out what they meant and intend doing and we’ve got less than three weeks to work with.”
“We’d better tell Little Joe…”
“No Hoss, it’s better Joseph doesn’t know; he can’t keep a secret from Adam, even if he tried real hard.”
Over the next few weeks, Ben sent wires to friends in San Francisco, in the hope that they could find something about Stewart and Michelle Barnes. Then he decided to wire other acquaintances in Boston and Salt Lake City as well, thinking it wouldn’t hurt their chances of locating the missing information. He also had Sheriff Coffee send similar wires to the respective Sheriffs and wherever else he saw fit, to see if they were wanted.
Meanwhile Hoss was having no luck finding about the man he’d heard in Virginia City. Because he hadn’t seen his face, this made the search all the more difficult.
Stewart Barnes, on the other hand, had no trouble keeping watch on Hoss. He and Michelle had decided on a plan to shoot Hoss on the way home to the Ponderosa. They would also rob him, tricking the Sheriff and his family into believing it was a robbery gone horribly wrong.
While working out at the ranch, Adam avoided Hoss, as much as possible. Whenever he could, Ben had Adam work with Little Joe, thereby avoiding any further confrontation between the older sons. Little Joe had jumped at the chance to be his best man, as Adam thought he would. Although Joe had wondered why it wasn’t Hoss, seeing as how they were closer then he and Adam. He noticed the coldness between Hoss and Adam, and as no one would tell him why, he could only assume it was wedding nerves on Adam’s part.
That evening after supper, Hoss and Ben sat talking in front of the fire, the dry wood burning cleanly in the fireplace. It was late; Little Joe had gone to bed and Adam remained in town, with Michelle. He hadn’t slept at home since the argument with his father, two and a half weeks ago. He rarely stepped into the house and only for lunch, which was usually eaten quickly in strained silence.
“Pa, I’m gonna have ta tell Adam. You haven’t got any replies to your wires and the wedding is this Saturday. We can’t let him marry her.”
Ben thought intensely before answering. “Yes, I tend to agree. We’ve got to stop him, before they do whatever it is they intend to do. It’s been hard keeping a close watch on him without either of them getting suspicious.”
“I’ll go into town tomorrow and tell him, Pa.”
“Do you want me to come with you, son? I have some business to attend to in the Bank anyway.”
“No, but thanks Pa. I have to do this myself. I’ll speak to him alone, if you don’t mind. But we can ride in together.”
Ben stood up from his seat on the table and stretched, turning towards the grandfather clock beside the front door as he did. Realizing the lateness of the hour, he decided to retire for the night. “I didn’t notice how late it was. I’m going to bed. You coming, Hoss?”
“No, I think I’ll stay here a might longer. ‘Night Pa.”
Hoss sat thinking of how to tell Adam what he’d overheard. He couldn’t see any way out of hurting him. For Adam’s sake, he had to try though, for all he knew they might be planning to kill him. Banking the fire, he blew out the lamps in the great room, slowly climbed the stairs and headed towards his room. Sleep came reluctantly to him that night.
The next morning, Little Joe wanted to join them in the ride to town, but Ben insisted Joe complete the chores for Hoss and his absent brother. Much to Joe’s annoyance, this morning also included the stables, from top to bottom. “But Pa, I haven’t been into town for a week. Can’t I do the chores when I come home? I won’t be long, honest,” protested Joe, in the way only he could. He wanted to see Anne at the saloon. Although she was older than the girls he usually wanted to see and closer to Adam’s age, he thought she was different and intriguing.
Already under stress with Adam, and now Hoss, Ben was visibly angry with his youngest son. With a raised voice and in no uncertain terms. Ben sternly replied to his youngest son’s protest. “That’s enough Joseph. I’ve had enough of the disobedience and grumbles from my sons. You have plenty of chores to complete today. When and only when they are finished can you ride into town. I’ll be back as soon as I’ve been to the Bank. If you’re not here when I arrive home, there will be hell to pay. Do you understand me, Joseph?”
Meekly Joe replied, “Sure Pa. I’ll be here and the chores will be done.”
Hoss gave his little brother a faint smile before he and Ben rode off towards Virginia City.
Every morning, since the conversation in the livery, Stewart Barnes had been waiting, in hiding, for Hoss to ride into town alone. He and Michelle were getting desperate, because they knew, sooner or later, Hoss would tell Adam everything he’d heard. The one thing they had in their favor was that Hoss hadn’t seen Barnes’ face.
Once again that morning Barnes cursed as he saw Hoss and his father riding together. This time he took the chance and decided to follow them, at a discrete distance into town. With the wedding due on Saturday, it had left them two days in which to kill Adam’s brother.
Neither Ben nor Hoss noticed the presence of the rider at their back for they were both engrossed in their own thoughts regarding the person known to them as Adam Cartwright.
Dismounting and hitching their horses together in front of the Bank, both men stood shoulder to shoulder, watching the passing people on the street.
“I’ll go see Adam,” Hoss said, as he stared at the hotel entrance. “He should be at the hotel. After I’ve spoken to him, I’ll head back home to help Little Joe with the chores. It ain’t fair that he should be doin’ them all alone. We’ve been splittin’ Adam’s between us, most days.”
Ben reached over and patted Hoss on the back. Hoss had been quiet and off his food for days, while he thought of how to tell Adam the news. Even Joe and Hop Sing had noticed the change in him, especially at the dining table. In the past, Hoss would attack the plates as soon as Hop Sing had placed them on the table. Lately he would sit back and look at the food on his plate, barely eating a few mouthfuls.
Every time they sat down to eat, the empty chair opposite Ben, reminded them of the missing brother and son.
“Thanks, son, and good luck.”
“Yeah, I think I may need all the luck I have when I meet him, Pa.”
Giving Chubb a parting pat on the neck, Hoss crossed the busy street and climbed the few steps into the hotel. On the landing, he stopped, took a few deep breaths to calm his nerves and pushed the door open. He instantly saw his brother in the foyer, dressed in his good clothes.
Adam’s cream shirt, ribbon tie, gray coat and pants complimented his polished to perfection, black boots. Hoss felt a pang of jealousy at how handsome his brother looked. Somehow Hoss felt he’d been behind the door when they were giving out the looks to the Cartwright boys, not that it bothered none.
Adam was sitting in the room, one leg resting on the thigh of the other, reading a newspaper and didn’t notice Hoss walk up to him until he heard the voice.
“Hi Adam, watcha doin’?” started Hoss pleasantly; besides it was only his news that was causing him to be unhappy, not Adam.
Adam looked up at Hoss, folded the paper on its creases before standing up to greet him. “What are you doing here?”
“I’d like to talk to you Adam. Will you let me?”
“Okay.” shrugged Adam. It was too late for Hoss to be his best man.
“Umm, in private please.”
“Hoss, I’m waiting for Michelle, can’t it wait?” he said, glancing towards the staircase. As usual, Michelle was taking longer to prepare than she said it would. But then he knew she was worth the extra wait.
“No.’ insisted Hoss. “It’s important and needs to be discussed in private.”
“All right, Hoss, we’ll go to my room. That’s if it’s alright with you.” he added with an edge of sarcasm.
“Your room is fine with me,” agreed Hoss, as he followed Adam up the stairs.
Barnes, who had followed Hoss into the hotel, heard the short conversation and watched them climb the stairs. “Damn. I’m too late. He’s going to tell Adam.”
“Did you say something, Sir?” asked the desk clerk as he picked up the newspaper off the chair, straightening the cushions as he did.
While Barnes was staring up the staircase, Michelle walked down; somehow she’d just missed Adam and Hoss in the hallway. She looked around carefully, before speaking to him in a low whisper. “What are you doing here? I’m expecting Adam any minute now. Why aren’t you waiting to get Hoss?”
Barnes glared at his wife, before answering, irritated at her insinuation of stupidity. “Hoss and Adam just went upstairs to his room and I’m sure he’s going to tell him now. Didn’t you hear them in the hallway?”
“Let him.” Michelle said lightly as she smiled knowingly at her husband.
“What?” Barnes looked at his wife dubiously.
“I said let him. I have Adam under my control. He’s so much in love with me, he won’t believe Hoss, not one bit.”
“I hope you’re right Michelle.”
“Make sure you kill Hoss today and go ahead with the robbery. We’ve come this far and I’m not wasting all my plans because of one interfering brother.”
“What, even after they talk? Besides he came into town with his father.”
“Never mind Ben Cartwright; kill them both, if you have to.” Michelle gave her husband a chilling smile. “One or two deaths, it won’t make any difference to Adam, because he won’t have time to grieve for them, now will he? You’d better go now. I’ll wait here for my dear, future husband. I know he won’t be long talking to Hoss.”
Barnes shook his head at her and left to wait on the trail for Hoss, as Michelle instructed. Her plans had all worked in the past; he didn’t doubt for one moment that this one wouldn’t succeed either.
Once in Adam’s room and the door closed, Hoss put his hands on Adam’s shoulders. He felt them stiffen as he shrugged them off. “You’re still angry – annoyed with me aren’t you?” said Hoss softly, as Adam turned away from him.
“That’s an understatement. Well, what’s so important that it couldn’t wait? No, let me guess, it’s something to do with Michelle isn’t it? Did Pa send you?”
“Hang on a danged minute, Adam; just let me explain.”
Crossing his arms in front of him, Adam shrugged his shoulders in agreement. As Hoss spoke, Adam felt his blood begin to boil, hotter and hotter as he continued.
“Alright, that’s enough!” shouted Adam. “I don’t want to hear anymore. I don’t believe you.”
Desperately Hoss said, “Look Adam, just put the wedding back a few months…six at the least. Just to see what happens; what Michelle does.”
“No, I won’t. I love her and I’m gonna marry her this weekend, no matter what you or Pa says. Now get out,” he shouted.
“Adam…” Hoss didn’t finish as Adam’s fist connected with his jaw, knocking him backward against the wall.
“Listen, Adam…” Hoss was determined to continue as he rubbed his jaw.
“No, you listen…get out now….before I really get angry and do something we’ll both regret.” Adam grabbed the doorknob and yanked the door open. “Leave… Now…and don’t come on Saturday. I don’t want to see your face anywhere near the church. You hear me? Nowhere.” And he slammed the door after Hoss.
Hoss’ heart was tearing apart for his brother, as he leant back against the hallway wall. “I tried. Pa; God I tried,” he said to himself as he felt a tear form in his eyes.
He wasn’t sure whom he was crying for…himself because he failed to convince Adam or for Adam because of what lay ahead for him.
The only thing Hoss was sure about was that the woman Adam intended to marry in three days didn’t love him the way his brother loved her.
Hoss walked down the hallway and stairs, unaware of anyone near him or watching him; the tears still in his eyes, blurring his vision.
Smiling to herself, Michelle watched him go outside. Now all she needed was for
Stewart to finish Hoss off and they’d be right. She knew Adam wouldn’t believe Hoss, because the fool was hopelessly in love with her; she’d seen to that.
Upstairs in his room, Adam kicked the chair over, sending it crashing against the closed door. How could Hoss, of all people, say those disgusting things about Michelle? He loved her and she loved him; it was that simple. Their wedding was in two days and once they were married his family would all have to change and accept her or he would leave. He would do anything she asked to keep her happy, because when she was happy, so was he. Adam threw himself on the bed, tucked his hands behind his head and stared at the ceiling in frustration.
Michelle opened the door quietly and walked into the room, closing the door behind her. Acting as though she was unaware of what had transpired, she put on a gay voice. “Adam, did I just see Hoss in the hotel? Was he looking for you?”
“Yeah,” said Adam, reluctant to say anything else, until he was in control of his emotions.
“What did he want, Darling?”
“Oh nothing important. Don’t worry about it.” He smiled at her. “Come over here.”
“Adam, it’s early and we have plenty of things to do,” she said playfully running her hands through his dark hair as she recognized the desire in his eyes that she knew she’d caused.
“I don’t care, that can wait. I want you…now.”
Michelle smiled, but in triumph, for there was only one outstanding problem and that was going to be taken care of in the next half-hour by her husband. This latest plan of hers was going to succeed, as had all the previous. All the meticulous planning had succeeded, especially now that Adam wouldn’t believe any words said against her.
Hoss was deep in miserable thought as he rode back to the ranch. Adam was going to marry a woman who didn’t love him. Hoss saw how much Adam adored her and he was going to be terribly hurt when the truth finally came out. But what was it that they intended inflicting on him? He wanted to know desperately, so he could stop it.
Hoss felt the bullet before he heard the shot as it knocked him out of the saddle and onto the dry dusty ground. He lay face down on the road, pain lancing across from his shoulder and into his head. Through the fuzziness he could hear a horse riding up close and a man’s voice calling it to halt.
Pretending to be unconscious, which for the moment wasn’t nearly that hard to do, Hoss waited to see what would happen next. The rider stepped down from the horse and up to him; the sound of the gun uncocking and sliding back into the holster carried to him. Strong hands grabbed him by the shirt; rolled him over onto his back and started to feel through his pockets.
Thankful that he’d been shot in the left shoulder, Hoss drew his gun and opened his eyes in one uncomfortable motion, aiming the gun at an unknown, but vaguely familiar face. Instant recognition hit him, as he knew he’d seen the face around town and in the hotel even.
“I shot you good; you should be dead!” cried a shocked Stewart Barnes as he shook his head at Hoss. “It’s not possible.”
The voice. It was the voice from the livery, the one that had been talking to Michelle.
“Barnes,” snarled Hoss, hatred in his voice. Struggling to his feet, while keeping the gun trained on Barnes, Hoss stood up swaying, a little unsteady. “I want some questions answered right now from you.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Barnes said feigning innocence.
“Yes you do. What have you got planned for my brother is one of them.”
“So you did hear, but obviously not everything,” smirked Barnes.
“Dadburnit, tell me.” Hoss’ rarely seen temper was getting the better of him as he shoved the gun hard into Barnes’ nose.
Barnes looked at Hoss smugly over the gun barrel and shrugged his shoulders, refusing to answer.
“I’m gonna take you back to town; maybe Sheriff Coffee can get you to talk. He might even turn a blind eye and let me ask you the questions.”
“Suit yourself, but it won’t make any difference. I’m not sayin’ a word.” Although Hoss’ last comment had shaken him up.
Hoss awkwardly mounted his horse, all the while keeping his gun on Barnes, the shoulder hurting like hell itself. They had only ridden for five minutes before Hoss recognized his father coming towards him. Ben immediately took in the situation and Hoss’ wound. “You shot bad son?”
“No but thanks; I’ll live Pa. This here is Stewart Barnes and he’s the one who shot me. He was tryin to rob me as well, until I got the drop on him. I’m gonna see whether Sheriff Coffee can make him talk, because he ain’t said nothin to me.”
“I’m coming with you. Let’s get this matter settled once and for all. Hoss, put something on that wound; you’re still bleeding.” Ben drew his gun and moved Buck closer to Barnes, the deadly gun trained on his stomach.
As all three rode in silence to the jail, Hoss holstered his gun, feeling grateful he’d met his father. Ben concentrated partly on Barnes, should he make a desperate move to escape, partly on Hoss, in case he fell out of the saddle unconscious before they arrived back in town and the remainder on Adam. Was it possible with Barnes now their prisoner, he would come to his senses and believe Hoss’ story?
Barnes was worried about the Sheriff and Hoss’ intentions of getting him to talk, with the Sheriff’s permission. He had no doubt what Hoss meant and wasn’t looking forward to those large hands anywhere near him, even if he did have a bullet in his shoulder.
Hoss was fighting to stay conscious in the saddle. The pace he’d set was enough for each jolt of his horse’s hoofs to jar his shoulder, but he knew the sooner they arrived at the jail, the sooner the pain would ease. The bleeding had stopped once he’d shoved his bandanna under the shirt, against the wound. Now that they had Barnes as prisoner, he hoped Adam would listen to him.
Even if Barnes only told Adam who he was, it should be enough to stop him from going ahead with the marriage.
Sheriff Coffee was just coming out the front door of the jail, hat in his hand, when the three men rode up. “What’s all this, Ben? I was just fixin’ to come out and see you.”
“Hoss just got ambushed by this man, Stewart Barnes, then he tried to rob him while he was lying on the ground shot.”
“Stewart Barnes, you don’t say,” said Roy, staring intently at Barnes, who fidgeted in the saddle under the stare.
“Yes, he’s the husband of Michelle Sinclair or should I say Barnes. The woman Adam is due to marry on Saturday.”
“Well, well. I’ve got some news about these two Barnes, Ben. I got some wires back just now and I was about to go fetch you. Looks like you saved me a ride to the Ponderosa.”
Excited Ben said. “You have? What do they say?”
Roy turned his eyes from Ben back to Barnes, to watch the reaction on Barnes’ face. If the information in the wires were true, he’d have his answer by what Barnes did. “They concern this jasper and his wife, of course.”
Barnes jerked upright in the saddle, a frightened look passing on his face until he could recover enough to put the blank look back, but not fast enough for Roy to see the effect.
“Let’s get him locked up and we’ll talk inside.”
As they dismounted Ben turned to Hoss. “Go get that shoulder tended to, son, while I talk to Roy.”
“No, can’t do that Pa. I want to hear what Roy has to say about them wires.”
Ben studied Hoss’ stubborn face and he knew what knowing the answer meant to Hoss. He’d ignore his own wound to help his older brother in his time of need. “All right, son, come on in with me, while I talk to Roy. We can see Doc Martin later.”
While Roy locked Barnes away in the cell, Ben checked Hoss’ wound. “Sit down Hoss, please. I can’t see what’s going on with the bleeding if you keep on pacing like you are.”
Hoss looked at his father’s concerned face and gratefully sat down in the nearest chair. “I’ll be alright, Pa. It’s Adam we should be more worried about, not me.”
“All in good time son. I’ll just put some more bandages on this.”
Ben reached around to the table, where Roy had conveniently laid out some clean cloth. He grabbed a handful and bunched them up. The bleeding had slowed, but Ben could see Hoss was needing a Doctor very soon. Before he’d sat down, Ben could see Hoss’ legs beginning to shake with fatigue and loss of blood.
Roy threw the keys into the opened drawer of his desk and slammed it shut.
“You’re not gonna like this wire, Ben. It’s not good news for Adam.”
“Just read it, will you, Roy,” said Ben as he continued to tend to Hoss’ shoulder.
Roy fished the wire out of his pants pocket then his glasses out of his shirt pocket. “This wire comes from San Francisco, it reads:
REPLY STEWART BARNES AND MICHELLE BARNES ALSO KNOWN AS SINCLAIR STOP SUSPECTED OF EXTORTION/MURDER STOP WOMAN MARRIES WEALTHY VICTIM STOP EXTORT MONEY FROM HIS FAMILY WHEN BARNES ARRIVES CLAIMING TO BE HUSBAND STOP IF VICTIM REFUSES HE IS MURDERED STOP SHE CLAIMS ESTATE STOP ALSO KNOWN TO KIDNAP MICHELLE BARNES AND HOLD FOR RANSOM STOP WHEN MONIES PAID WOMANS BODY NEVER RECOVERED STOP THEY ABSCOND WITH MONEY STOP UNABLE TO PROSECUTE IN EITHER CIRCUMSTANCE DUE TO LACK OF EVIDENCE STOP BOTH CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS STOP WOMAN CONSIDERED MASTERMIND STOP
“This is the woman Adam was going to marry this Saturday isn’t it Ben?”
Ben nodded. “Do they give a description of either?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact it did.”
“Let me see it Roy,” said Ben stiffly holding out his hand for the wire. He read the wire again, including the description before he crumpled the paper in his fist.
“Is it them Pa?
“Yes Hoss, I’m afraid so,” Ben said sadly, as he watched the paper ball fall onto the wooden floor and bounce away from him.
“Adam…we’ve got to tell him. He’ll understand now; he’s got to,” cried Hoss for his brother. They had the truth and proof, in writing, to convince him about Michelle.
With an unsteady hand, Ben reached down and picked the paper off the floor, uncrumpling it in his hands. “I’ll do it this time Hoss. You go to Doc Martin’s and tend to that shoulder. I know you want to be with me Hoss, but do as I say. It’s going to be difficult for Adam finding out about Michelle, let alone know you were shot by them as well.”
Hoss nodded in agreement to Ben as he fought his sorrow for his brother. Picking himself slowly off the chair he turned and left the office.
Ben watched Hoss slowly walk up the street to the Doctors. Hoss’ head hung low as he shuffled his way along the boardwalk. Inside the jailhouse, Roy Coffee sat behind his desk, his chin resting on his steepled fingers, patiently waiting while his friend came to an understanding with the news which would devastate his eldest son’s plans for the future. No father would want to overwhelm his son two days before his wedding day with the news that his intended was a ruthless murderess and extortionist.
“Roy, will you come with me? You can arrest her after I’ve spoken to Adam. You can back up my story, if he doesn’t believe me and show him the wire as confirmation.”
With a sad smile to his friend, Roy nodded. He could see Ben was not enjoying knowing the truth about the woman his son loved and wanted to marry. Neither man deserved what was going to happen to them in the next few minutes.
He’ d known Adam from a small boy, when Ben, Hoss and he’d arrived in the area. Adam, the oldest boy, was quiet and intense for a young child. The dark brown eyes held an intelligence and sadness for such a young age that Roy had taken an instant liking to him. With his father busy building his ranch and Adam helping in whatever way he could, Roy gave him the chance to be a child, whenever Adam came into town. Roy would conduct his rounds of the town during the day, with Adam matching his stride beside him. His quick little mind forming questions Roy would expect of a child much older. Roy knew Adam had been hurt emotionally by the death of Hoss’ mother right before his eyes. Then the death of Marie, when Adam was in his teens, had only deepened the young man’s outlook on life. Roy understood what effect Ben’s news was going to have on Adam, who was reluctant at the best of times, to show his feelings. His news was going to tear at the very being of Adam Cartwright once again. He hoped his friend would have the strength to be able to gather up the pieces of his shattered son, before they were scattered to the wind and lost forever.
Roy watched Ben’s face as he put his worry for Hoss aside and replaced it with a fierce determination to do what was best for Adam. With a wry grin, Ben nodded to Roy who picked up his hat and followed him out the door.
Closing the jailhouse door behind him, Roy stepped across the street beside his solemn friend, as they made their way to the hotel. Inside Ben and Roy stopped at the desk. “Is my son Adam in his room?” he asked of the clerk, whose name escaped him for the moment.
“Yes Sir, Mr. Cartwright. He and Miss Sinclair are still upstairs in room 6,” replied the clerk quickly to Ben.
Roy and Ben gave each other a pensive glance.
“This is going to be difficult Roy. It’s got to be one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do for a long time.”
“Yes Ben, but it has to be done and there’s no gettin around it. He’ll understand, maybe not right away, but he will. He knows you always have what’s best for him in mind. “
“I hope so, but I have my doubts at the moment.”
The men turned away from the desk, their resolve standing strong as they neared the room and Ben knocked on the door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me Adam. I’d like to come in please.”
“What do you want now? Haven’t you done enough, by turning Hoss against me as well?” Adam replied in anger, through the closed door.
“I need to talk to you Adam, it’s about Hoss.” Ben looked at Roy and at least it
wasn’t a lie, but not the main reason he wanted to see Adam.
“Just a minute,” agreed Adam, although very reluctantly.
There were sounds of movement inside the room until Adam opened the door, wearing only his jeans, hair messed and a sheepish look on his face. Ben didn’t need to ask what he’d been doing.
“Yeah Pa. Oh, hello Roy, what are you doing here?” asked Adam as he saw Roy standing beside Ben.
“May we come in? I’d rather talk inside, instead of out here in the hallway, son.”
Adam threw a quick look over his shoulder at Michelle and the bed. She’d managed to put on her robe, while Adam had answered the door, but the bed was still unmade. He held the door open for the two men, while they walked in.
“Hello Michelle,” said Ben curtly – his contempt for her no longer concealed on his face.
“Michelle, let me introduce you to Sheriff Coffee,” said Adam, his eyes still on his father.
Michelle’s face turned white as she gasped at the name.
Ben smiled to himself at her reaction, allowing himself a small sense of satisfaction.
“You know why he’s here don’t you?” said Ben as he continued to watch her face.
Adam stood puzzled in the doorway, hand still clutching the doorknob, not understanding the short conversation as he looked from his father to Michelle and across to Roy. “What’s going on? What’s Roy want with Michelle?” He moved himself until he was between the older men and Michelle, shielding her with his body; protecting her.
Ben stepped closer and held out his hand, the crumpled paper white against his hand. “I’d like you to read this Adam.”
“Why? What is it? Some new thing you’ve planned between Roy and yourself to come between Michelle and me?”
Roy answered for Ben. “It’s a wire from the Sheriff in San Francisco concerning Michelle and her very much alive husband, Stewart Barnes.”
Reaching for the wire, Adam quickly read it, puzzlement showing on his face as the details sank in. He spun around to face Michelle. “Michelle…is this true? You extort and murder with your husband who’s not dead?”
Michelle smirked at Adam. “Yes it’s all true. I admit it but you have no evidence.”
“Oh but that’s where you’re wrong, Miss,” remarked Roy. “You see your husband just tried to kill and rob Hoss Cartwright but he didn’t succeed. He’s now in my jail, waiting for you to join him. What with attempted murder and robbery charges against him, he’s been very talkative. He doesn’t want to stand for these charges alone, especially considering as how you planned the whole schemes.”
Adam couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. No it couldn’t be true. He grabbed Michelle tightly by the shoulders and lifted her to face him, her toes barely touching the ground. “Why did you do this to me? You’ve lied and deceived me. Didn’t you love me?” Ben and Roy winced at the anguish in Adam’s voice.
Michelle laughed in his face. The poor fools never understood it was all a game and she was always the winner, even as she held the gun to their head and pulled the trigger. “You stupid fool, I never loved you. I slept with you only to make sure you were committed to me and would let nothing stand in your way to marry me. You were just a pawn in my game. I planned everything for Stewart and the money. “
“I love him, Adam, not you,” Michelle continued. “You’ve enough money in your family not to miss some. If you or your family weren’t going to pay the ransom, well, I’d just go ahead and kill you. You see I never leave witnesses and dead men don’t talk,” she said, laughing cruelly in his face.
With tears threatening and disgust for her sour in his mouth, Adam threw Michelle forcibly away from him and onto the bed. She flung out her hands to prevent herself from falling to the floor, but her contemptuous smile for Adam never left her face.
“Get out…all of you. Just get the hell out.”
“Adam…” began Ben.
“No Pa, don’t say another word…. just leave me alone.”
Sheriff Coffee took Michelle’s arm as he helped her off the bed and towards the door. I’ll see you back at the jail Ben?”
Absently Ben replied, “Yeah….right.” His attention firmly on his overwrought son.
“Adam…” Ben tried again to reach him as Roy led Michelle out the door and shut it behind him. There was no need for anyone else to hear their conversation.
Adam slowly turned around to face his father. His hands quickly brushed across his face to remove the tears before his father saw them; he wasn’t fast enough.
“I suppose you’re happy about this? You should be.”
Ben flinched at the anger in his son as he shook his head. “No Adam, I’m not. I never wanted this to happen, not like this.”
“Sure Pa, you never wanted us to marry; for me to be happy.”
Adam’s despair tore into Ben. “Adam, you couldn’t be further from the truth and you know it.” His son was hurting; striking out at the only person in the room. Ben wanted to go up to him and hold him, but he stayed where he was. Adam wasn’t ready for his touch – not yet anyway.
“All you want is the ranch, the mighty Ponderosa, as long as we’re all there to help you, you’re happy. Well I’m not. I need a life of my own. Everything is turning out wrong…everything,” Adam yelled as he punched the wall with his fist. Crying in pain, he clutched the hand to his chest, tears in his eyes. Glaring at his father he yelled, “Get out….get out now.”
Ben could see he wasn’t going to get through to him, not while he was out of control of his emotions. He turned from his son, opened the door to leave then stopped. With his eyes kept forward towards the hallway, Ben spoke loudly enough for Adam to hear him. “When you’re ready, we’ll talk, son. I’m sorry.” Then he shut the door quietly behind him.
When Joe arrived in town the following week, he found Anne sitting on Adam’s lap, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. At 8 o’clock in the evening, the Silver Dollar was full of patrons and he had to squeeze himself through groups of miners intent on drowning their sorrows in alcohol before he could locate Anne. His father had sent him to town to check on Adam but he had all the intentions of seeing Anne tonight. When his eyes located her, cuddled into Adam’s lap, Joe flew into a rage, his green eyes flashing in anger at his brother.
Seeing her with his older brother, instead of him sent an instant rage flooding to his head. With his green eyes flashing dangerously, Joe barged through the remainder of the crowd to Adam’s table. Adam had his head in the hair behind Anne’s ear and didn’t see him arrive at the table and stand in the exact same manner as their father in front of him, clenched hands resting on his hips.
On the table were one empty whisky bottle; another half full and two glasses. Joe reached over and holding onto both her arms, dragged Anne from Adam. “What are you doing with him Anne? You should be waiting for me, not entertaining him.”
Anne knew Joe was coming into town to see her tonight, as he had every Friday night since she’d arrive in Virginia City. Tonight she was going to have to tell him about Adam. She couldn’t continue seeing both Cartwright men; it wasn’t fair to any of them, including her. She’d hoped Adam was gone before Joe was due to arrive, but he’d refused to go to his room and instead held her tightly on his lap while he continued to drink.
Unsteadily Adam began to push himself from the chair, using the arms to help him stand. Judging quickly how angry Joe was and how drunk Adam was, Anne pushed Adam back into the chair; it didn’t take much effort on her part. Then she quickly spun around to face Joe. “I’m sorry Joe, I didn’t mean for this to happen; it just did. I know you wanted to see me tonight, but I can’t leave him like this, not now.”
“How long have you been seeing him Anne? How long?” Joe shouted at her, oblivious, to the fact that most of the crowd was watching the scene with amusement. It wasn’t often the Cartwright brothers had words in public; they would usually leave before anything took place.
Anne was reluctant to answer him. His anger shook her, and she knew her reply would infuriate him more, if that was possible. “Does it matter Joe? Just that I have?”
“No, tell me here and right now.”
“Joe,” slurred Adam, “Leave her alone; she’s with me.”
“Stay out of this Adam. I don’t want to hear you again. I’m talking to Anne, not you.”
“NO,” Adam replied, throwing himself out of the chair and to his feet, swaying unsteadily. “I don’t want to.”
As he overbalanced and staggered forward, Adam made a half-hearted attempt to swing his fist around Anne and at Joe. Joe sidestepped with ease, and landed a fist on Adam’s jaw, connecting cleanly on his chin. Adam fell backwards over his chair with a loud crash as table, chair and glass scattered. The remainder of the saloon fell silent, intently watching the scene between the two Cartwright brothers played out in front of them.
“Oh Joe, you didn’t have to hit him,” cried Anne as she pushed the chair off Adam and knelt beside his unconscious body. She grabbed hold of his arm and rolled him over before feeling his chest to make sure he was still breathing.
“He deserved that.”
“Maybe Joe, but not from his brother. Help me get him off the wet floor and up to my room.”
“Your room?” shouted Joe. “He’s been staying with you in your room? What the hell for? He’s got his own across the street.”
Anne stood up, and at her full height, her eyes were level with Joe’s, her green eyes matching the color and anger in Joe’s green eyes. “Yes, I said my room. That’s where he’s been sleeping the whisky off all week, when he sleeps that is.” She added with a sad laugh. “He’s been so angry and drunk that he hasn’t slept more than a few hours each day since he found out about…her.”
“Why you? Why your room?”
“I care about him, Joe, not the same way I care about you. I’ve cared about him for longer than I realized. I even thought I was over him; had been able to forget him, but riding in the stagecoach from Placerville, it bought back all the memories. Besides someone had to see he was safe when he was so drunk he couldn’t get his head out of his vomit. When he’s drunk, I don’t think he knows who I am or where he is, but I still care Joe. He reminds me of someone I used to know, a long, long time ago and in another place.”
“Come on Joe,” she smiled shyly at Joe. “Please help me; he’s too heavy for me to lift alone. Usually he’ll walk up the stairs for me, if he’s not too drunk, but you’ve knocked him out cold.”
Knowing he couldn’t resist her request, Joe shrugged, grabbed both of Adam’s arms and swung him up and over his shoulder. After only a week, Joe could tell Adam had lost weight and was no doubt drinking more than he was eating. With Anne leading the way, he carried Adam over his shoulder like a sack of corn, up the stairs and into her room. Once inside Joe shrugged Adam off his shoulder, onto the unmade bed and turned towards her. Still unconscious, Adam’s arms fell outwards across the bed, legs hanging over the side.
“You didn’t answer me Anne, how long?”
Looking gently into Adam’s face, she turned back to Joe. “All week.”
“Every day since….since…?”
“Yes, Saturday, when he came into the saloon. He was drunk that night and I took him up to my room to sleep it off.” Anne stood over Adam; reached out and smoothed the hair back off his pale, haggard face. “He didn’t sleep much that night, nor any day or night since. He’d just wake up, go back downstairs and start all over again into the whisky, not even bothering to eat.” Her hand stayed on his cheek, feeling the warmth through her palm and the roughness of his stubble.
“Has he been with you, Anne? I know I don’t have the right to ask you, but I want to know.”
Anne dropped her hand and turned her head around to face Joe. She knew Joe cared deeply for her but she didn’t know whether the truth would harm or heal his feelings towards his brother. “I haven’t asked for a dollar from him and he hasn’t offered me a dollar. You can decide for yourself what I mean. Adam is the only man I’ve ever taken to my room.”
She couldn’t bring herself to tell him that for the last three mornings Adam had woken her up and taken her roughly and angrily. She neither complained nor cried out when he was too rough and hurt her. When he’d finished, he’d rolled off her, avoided her eyes, dressed and gone back to the whisky bottle in the saloon. The guilt of how he’d treated her showed clearly on his face as he left the room and gone downstairs to drink more hurtful memories away.
This morning, once Adam had closed the door behind himself, Anne hugged the pillow he’d slept on closely to her body and sobbed into it. He’d avoided looking at her again this morning, but not before she’d seen the haunting desolation in his eyes. She wasn’t sure who was feeling ashamed the most; her for taking him to her bed in the first place, for being what she was or him for relieving his basic needs in her without asking her first. She knew from past experience before Michelle, that he wasn’t like some of the others and forced his unwanted attentions on her. He had always been a considerate lover, the few times he called to see her in the months before he fell in love with Michelle.
Now, every evening or whenever Adam was too drunk to go to his hotel room, she took him upstairs to her room, knowing only that she had to be there, close for comfort for him, whichever way he chose.
She understood his inconsolable desolation, for that was how she’d felt when he’d left Placerville after helping her find what had happened to Tom. She could still remember his parting words ‘Someday you’ll find another man to believe in.’ He’d ridden off, never realizing that she’d already found that man.
Although he’d shown her no respect the past mornings, while he used her body, she still believed in him; knew he was still the same man she’d fallen in love with 3 years ago back in Placerville. Somehow she’d reach out to that man, find him and bring him back home to his family and herself for only someone who had been through such an experience could help him.
“I think you should go now. I’m sorry for you, for us, but it can’t be. I don’t love you the way I love Adam.”
“Anne, I love you. Adam doesn’t love you, he’s just using you,” cried Joe and he grabbed her in his strong arms and kissed her with all his passion. Joe let her go as quickly as he had grabbed her and with one final look at her, then Adam, slammed the door behind him.
“What …what happened?” slurred Adam from the bed as he strained to push himself off the bed. He collapsed back, drunk and feeling the effects of Joe’s punch to his jaw.
“It’s alright, Adam; I’m here.”
Anne cringed. How many times had he said her name when he was drunk? Never hers, only Michelle’s. Anne wondered if Michelle was aware of how completely and savagely she’d destroyed Adam’s being. Deep within her heart, Anne hoped Michelle would never find out, for that knowledge would give a woman like her immense satisfaction to know she’d brought a proud and honorable man such as Adam Cartwright to his knees. Reduced him to something he’d always loathed in those men not strong enough to resist the urge to consider a woman as only an object for their sexual pleasure and to be treated as such.
“No Adam, it’s Anne. Let me help you out of those wet clothes before you catch a cold and make all the bedding wet too.”
Adam lay back on the bed watching Anne unbuckle his pants belt; too drunk to lift a finger to help himself. She wondered if Joe noticed that Adam wasn’t wearing his gun in the saloon. He was the only one unarmed, aside from a few miners; not that it would have made any difference considering how drunk he was every day.
She could feel his eyes on her, watching her every movement as she unbuttoned his pants and then the black shirt. Pulling him up by his arms into a sitting position, she removed his shirt and threw it onto the pile of washing she had in the far corner of her room.
Letting him fall back onto the bed, she tugged his boots off by straddling his leg with hers and pulling. The jeans followed the shirt into the corner, and she stood back admiring the man lying on her bed, as she’d done every time she’d undressed him in her room.
Glassy dark eyes watched her, watching him. She shook her head at him and smiled as she rolled him to one side of the bed and pushed the covers down. With very little help from him, she rolled him back between the sheets, covered him up, gave him a soft kiss on the forehead and left him alone in the room.
Adam sat alone in the saloon as self-loathing and disgust consumed him. He’d used her again that morning and now, as he sat drinking the whisky, his numb brain couldn’t even remember her name. Once again the golden liquid beckoned and swirled in the glass in his hand and in the bottle on the table. Why should he be treating her… Anne he remembered, with the same disregard as Michelle had done him? She’d done nothing to hurt him; in fact she’d saved his life – it was Michelle he despised not Anne. Now he despised himself even more than he could Michelle.
He threw the glass back in a quick swallow, no longer feeling the fire in his throat from the alcohol. Maybe the whisky, if he drank enough, would drown these new memories too, of how he was mistreating a woman.
She was a saloon girl, he admitted to himself and they’d known each other a few years, but that didn’t give him the right to ignore her feelings when it came to what she did for a living. Never before in his life, had he slept with a woman without first asking for her consent.
Even with his liaisons with other saloon girls in the past, he’d always kept to his morals and cared about their feelings as well as his own. What had Michelle done to him? What had he allowed her to do to him? Had she stripped him of every moral he ever held close to? Or was he just being a bastard towards women in general?
Feelings, always feelings, who cared about his feelings when it came down to it?
Michelle hadn’t cared, just used him for money and he’d fallen for her. He’d given his heart and soul to a woman who didn’t return his love; never loved him.
A movement of gold and black material at the bottom of the stairs caught his eye and he became aware of Anne watching him. Shamed by his actions, Adam dropped his head as he poured himself a full glass of whisky. He couldn’t face her sober, not after what he’d done. Raising the glass to his lips, Adam downed the drink in one swallow.
Anne swerved between the tables and sat beside Adam at his table. She placed her hand around the neck of the bottle and dragged it towards her.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough?”
“No,” Adam said as he unwrapped her hand, dragged the bottle back across the table with one hand and raised the glass to his lips with the other.
“You don’t have to do this; drown your problems with whisky. There are people who want to help you, Adam.”
“You? I think you’ve helped me enough already. Or have I helped myself instead?” he said bitterly. The bottle tipped over, filling the glass to the brim. The whisky bottle was now down to halfway and the glass empty again before Anne had a chance to reply.
“Why don’t you talk to me about what’s happened to you? I know I can help you.”
“Just like Tom Burns huh? He relied on you to help him too didn’t he?”
“Not like I’ve done for you Adam.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better? If anything, it’s made me feel worse.”
Adam flicked his eyes towards Anne’s face but back down to the glass in his hand before she could hold the look. He couldn’t face her, knowing what he’d done to her….again.
“I don’t want you to apologize to me. I know what I was doing.”
“Leave me alone Anne. I don’t need your kind of help.”
“If that’s the way you want it Adam, I’ll leave you alone…for now. I never thought I’d live to see the day when Adam Cartwright wallowed in self-pity. I guess that day has arrived. I’ll be back later to take you upstairs, when you can’t crawl up them by yourself.”
With another glass raised and downed by Adam, Anne pushed herself away from the table, leaving him alone as he’d asked.
Hoss burst in the large front door of the Ponderosa ranch house, his arm no longer in a sling. He’d just ridden back from Virginia City after staying overnight to keep a close watch on Adam. Anne had sent him a message, while he was at the Hotel, suggesting it was time for his father to see Adam. “Pa?” he yelled, his hat and gun belt thrown at the sideboard.
“Yes Hoss?” replied Ben as he hurried down the stairs, still buttoning up his shirt, the vest slung over his right arm.
“Adam’s still in the Silver Dollar. He’s been goin’ everyday now, so Sam says.”
“This has gone on long enough, two weeks too long. Hoss, saddle my horse, I’m going into town.”
“I’ll come with you.”
“Me too,” said Little Joe, as he came out of the kitchen, drinking a cup of steaming coffee. He hadn’t spoken to Anne ever since he’d helped Adam up to her room. He’d come home in a foul mood, clashed with Ben and Hoss then fled to his room, without dinner.
“No boys, this is between me and Adam.”
“Adam’s been sittin at one particular table, so’s he can see the whole saloon. It’s as if he’s waitin for something to happen.”
“Oh? Which chair?”
“The corner table, over near the piano.”
Ben was thinking about how to talk to Adam, while he buckled on his gun belt. This talk was going to be difficult, more so then when, as a little boy, he’d told him where Elizabeth, his mother was. How he wished Elizabeth was beside him, to guide him. He paused at the door. Hoss and Joe were watching him intently. “I’ll bring him home, boys.”
As he pushed open the saloon doors, Ben found his son exactly where Hoss had said he’d be. Adam sat at the corner table, chair tipped back against the wall, shot glass grasped in both hands. He watched his father enter and stop at the bar.
“How long has he been here this morning, Sam?” Ben asked of the bartender as he leant against the bar, his back towards Adam.
“That’s his first bottle for today, Mr. Cartwright.”
Ben glanced over his shoulder; the bottle was down a half already. “Thanks Sam, I appreciate you’ve been keeping an eye on him for me.”
“No trouble, Mr. Cartwright. I haven’t been the only one though,” Sam said, pointing in the direction of a saloon girl wearing a gold and black dress. Ben saw her glance over at Adam from the table she was seated at, then back to the man buying her a drink. She smiled at Ben as he caught her eye, nodding to him.
Walking across the floor to Adam’s table, Ben could see he was a mess. His tired eyes were bloodshot, black hair untidy and a couple of day’s growth on his thinner, drawn face. He looked like he’d slept in his clothes, which hung loosely on his body.
Ever since his days at college in Boston, Adam would make sure he had clean clothes on whenever he could. Hoss enjoyed teasing his brother about how often he bathed and changed clothes. Hop Sing grumbled about the extra shirts and jeans he cleaned for Adam, which were twice as many for his brothers. Adam always laughed with Hop Sing, when he said that, because it was an ongoing joke between them.
“Wondered when you were gonna find me,” said Adam in a husky voice, before he coughed, his body shaking with the effort.
“Did you want me to find you Adam?”
Adam dropped his eyes to his glass, took a drink and reached for the bottle.
“I don’t know Pa, maybe, maybe not.”
“Are you sober enough to talk to me?
Adam sniggered. “Probably about as sober as you’re likely to get.”
Ben glanced around the saloon, already there were a few customers sitting at the tables, their eyes glancing back and forth to their table.
Once Joe had calmed down last week, he’d informed his father of the scene he’d created in the Silver Dollar with Adam and Anne, the saloon girl. Even mentioning how he’d punched his brother who was drunk at the time and couldn’t defend himself. Ben didn’t want a repeat of that, not today. “This isn’t the place to talk,” said Ben.
“No, it isn’t, is it?” Adam drank the last of the whisky in his glass then stood up. Reaching into his pants pocket, he drew out a few coins, threw them on the table, picked up the bottle and walked straight past his father.
Ben remained seated in the chair and let his head fall into his hands. The light smell of perfume told him she was standing near him, waiting for him to acknowledge her. He looked up to see the woman wearing the black and gold dress he’d seen earlier. She looked to be in her early thirties, long blonde hair and intelligent, piercing green eyes.
“He’s slowly killing himself. Go to him Mr. Cartwright, please. He doesn’t think he needs you or anyone else, but he does. I know I can help him, if he’ll let me, but he needs you first. Let him know how much you care and that no matter what he’s done, that you love him.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Anne.” and with that she turned and left him staring after her.
Slowly Ben stood up and followed his son outside. Sam caught his eye, shook his head but said nothing. What was there to say to a man whose son was drowning himself in a bottle of whisky? By the time Ben unhitched his horse and readied himself to mount up, Adam was already gone. Dust in the air showed the direction he’d gone. He checked the cinch on the saddle, took a hold of the saddle horn and dragged himself into the saddle.
“I see Adam’s finally left the saloon, Ben.”
Recognizing the voice, Ben answered without taking his eyes off the road. “Yes, Roy.”
“Do you know where he’s goin’?”
“I hope so. The way he’s feeling, he’s liable to do something stupid which we’ll all regret.”
“You don’t think he’d kill himself, do you Ben?” said Roy horrified as the thought crossed his mind. The level of despair he’d seen Adam sink to would be more than enough for a lot of other less stronger townsmen he knew.
“No, I didn’t mean that Roy, sorry. He seems to be doing a pretty good job of that with the whisky. No, I meant leaving the Ponderosa… us for good. At least I don’t think he’d kill himself but I don’t know my eldest son very well these days. I’d better go after him; we’ve got a lot to talk about and I’d rather he was as sober as I can get him. Bye, Roy, and thanks for looking out for him.”
“I wish you luck.”
“Thanks, I think I’m going to need it.”
Ben found Adam by the lake at Sandy Cove. He thought that this was where Adam would go. When Adam was distressed and gone off riding, Ben’d always been able to find him watching the water lap the sandy shore, for it had been the last place he’d been truly happy with Joe as a baby and Marie alive.
Adam sat on the sand, back against a large rock and the whisky bottle in his hand. He watched as his father tied his horse up next to his, then walked over to him. “Pull up a chair Pa,” he said sarcastically before taking another long pull of the bottle. Ben eased himself down and sat with his back against the same rock as Adam, but to the side.
Deciding it was better for them both if Adam started talking first, Ben waited, watching the ripples on the water. He didn’t have to wait long before Adam began. Usually he would have had to cajole his son into talking about his problems but after seeing him in the saloon and his comments there, Ben knew the wait wasn’t going to be long.
“You knew all along, didn’t you?” asked Adam, his eyes focused on the three-quarters empty bottle in his hands.
“No Adam, I just wasn’t comfortable about her. She seemed to be holding something back from you.”
“Now that’s funny. I thought the opposite,” he snorted and took another drink.
“Love is blind son.”
“Don’t give me quotes, Pa,” snapped Adam, the anger flashed in his dark eyes before fading back to a dull brown. “What’s gonna happen to them; Michelle, I mean?” Adam asked softly, after a further silence.
“Stewart Barnes confessed to everything, saying Michelle arranged every plan, including yours.”
“Yes, they’d made a good living out of extortion and murder. Their original plan was to kidnap Michelle and hold her for ransom before the wedding. The only thing that stopped them was the fact that Hoss overheard them talking in the livery. They then changed the plan and you were next. They were going to resort to kidnapping you once you and Michelle were married. She considered you a good mark for more money. Once the ransom was paid, they were going to kill you anyway, because with you dead, there would be no witnesses.”
Adam dropped the bottle and raised his hands to his face. The words his father spoke sank in and he realized how close he’d come to being murdered. “Just for the money, huh, nothing else.”
“I’m sorry to say it was just for the money. Some witnesses have been found in San Francisco, which implicate Michelle in one of the extortions. They will be charged for attempting to murder Hoss and attempted robbery. Did you know Hoss was shot?”
Adam’s head sprung up. “Hoss shot? How? When?”
“After he tried to tell you about Michelle and you’d punched him, he was shot by Barnes on the way back home. Luckily it was minor wound and Doc Martin had him taken care of in no time, although he did loose a bit of blood.”
“Hoss shot.” Adam shook his head and laughed at the irony. “She was making love to me that day, while her husband was out trying to kill Hoss.” The amount of deceit Michelle was capable of devastated him. “How’s Hoss? Is he alright?” Adam asked in a quiet voice, filled with regret of not knowing and caring about his younger brother’s injury.
“He’s fine; it’s been two weeks, you know.”
“That long? I’d kinda lost track of time.”
Adam stood up slowly and walked to the water’s edge, scuffing his boots in the soft sand. “Remember when Hoss and I were little, you used to bring us here and I’d teach Hoss how to skim stones across the water?” With his face still turned towards the water he continued. “Everything was so simple then, not like now.”
“I think it’s time you came home, son. Being with your brothers and myself will help.” Please come home son, Ben added to himself.
“I don’t think I can, not yet.” After a slight pause Adam continued, “How is it that every time I let someone into my life, they hurt me?”
Ben felt the desolation in his son flow through his words. He could understand the despair emanating from his son for he’d felt the same way, three times before. Each loss becoming harder to deal with than the first.
“That’s what love and being loved is all about son. To be loved, you must love too. If love is only on one side, the love will soon wilt and die.”
“Is that why Mother, Inger and Marie died, because I didn’t love them enough?”
“No Adam, you couldn’t have loved them anymore than you loved Michelle, just in the different way a child loves. There was nothing we could do. It was their turn to leave us. If we went through life without ever loosing someone we loved, how would we learn to appreciate the love we have now? We need love to make us who we are, to hold us together, for without love we’re empty. Michelle loved her husband and she was willing to murder for him and him for her. Because they loved each other, doesn’t make them bad, it’s just what they did in the name of love that was bad. They never realized the men they killed may have been loved by their family and that by killing him, they died too, in some way. Stewart and Michelle Barnes may have killed for love but they’d forgotten how to love others, aside from themselves.”
“Do you still love me Pa, even though I said some things in anger I regret saying and doing some things I’m not proud of?” asked Adam, as he turned in the soft sand and walked back to the rock his father was sitting against and dropped down beside him.
“Adam, I’ll always love you, as I’ll always love your brothers and your mothers. Just because someone isn’t always with you, doesn’t mean you stop loving them.”
“I’ve never felt like this before…so out of control. I can’t think straight… can’t eat… can’t sleep without help…that kind,” he said looking down at the bottle near his feet. “I can’t get through this Pa, not this time. I feel like I’m drowning. When we lost Marie, I had Hoss and Little Joe needing me. This time it’s different. I can’t fight anymore, Pa; it hurts too much.” He started to cry; tears of bitterness and regret for a past he couldn’t change; for the love he needed taken from him so many times.
“You just need time, son. Time to be at peace with yourself. It’s not going to be easy to put behind you what’s happened but if I’m any judge, you will get through this, just like I’ve had to.”
Ben reached out and hugged his eldest son close to him. He couldn’t remember the last time they’d held each other. He could feel Adam’s body heaving as he sobbed, letting all the sorrow and pain for lost love pour out onto the sand.
Michelle Barnes had managed to tear away the protective wall Adam had used to shield himself and in return nearly destroyed him. Never one to openly display his feelings Adam had given his total love and commitment to her, only to have it thrown back at him. It was going to take plenty of love and understanding from his family to help him recover.
Eventually the crying subsided and as Ben held him closer, he relished the physical contact with his son, but not the reason.
“I think I’m alright, Pa; you can let go now.”
Reluctantly Ben let go of Adam as asked. To lose the touch brought a tear to his own eyes. Ben left his hands resting on Adam’s shoulders, forcing him to meet his father’s gaze. As their eyes met for an all too brief moment, Ben could see Adam had closed himself to his feelings, the walls firmly back in place, higher than ever before. It was going to take a woman of strong determination to break the solid walls down again. Would Adam ever be able to find such a woman here or would he decide to leave? Ben turned aside his thoughts, for he hoped all his sons would remain close to the Ponderosa, if not on it, when they started their family.
“We’d better get on back to the house, Pa. I’ve got some apologizing to do,” Adam said softly as he gave his father a wry smile and moved towards the horses.
“Hoss understood Adam, we all did.”
“Not just Hoss, Pa,” said Adam, thinking of Anne in the Silver Dollar saloon and Joe. A quick look of puzzlement crossed Ben’s face, but he made no comment.
“Let’s go home, son. It’s time you came back and we’ve all missed you. Hop Sing’s been complaining every day about too much food being left over from the meals. No one’s had much of an appetite lately; even Hoss has been off his food.”
“I’m coming…but not staying,” Adam said, giving a small smile to his father.
Alarmed, Ben reached out quickly and put his hand on Adam’s arm. Was he still going to loose him?
“What…. not staying? Why not?”
“No, Pa. I’m moving into the old house for a while. I need some privacy and time to think, sort of lick my wounds. I know you’d prefer me to stay at the home but I can’t. I’ll come home for dinner once a week or so but other than that I’ll stay away. I’ll take a list of chores with me to do while up there…enough to keep me busy for a few months anyway. “
“Okay, Adam, whatever you think is best for yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself, son, because I’ve never known you to do anything by halves. For you it’s either all or nothing and I guess you could say that’s also true when it comes to whom you give your love to.”
Ben smiled to himself as he watched Adam pick up the whisky bottle and pour the remaining contents on the sand, pleased that for the moment, Adam was no longer looking for comfort in a bottle. His eldest son was coming home, maybe not the ranch house, but still the Ponderosa.
“Don’t put your heart on hold, son. Love has a strange way of finding you, when you least expect it. Always remember that.”
“You and your quotes, Pa.”
Author’s Note: A special thanks goes to the following people who have helped me with this story. Without their efforts this story would still be a piece of paper scribbled with a few ideas and stuffed in a file in a desk: Pernell Roberts, the man who made Adam Cartwright come alive in Bonanza for all of us to enjoy. Margie Johnson, Michelle Kille, Shan Fleming, and Carol Convine, who know of my love for the man. My husband Jeff and son Mark for putting up with the woman who seemed to be forever attached to the computer keyboard.