Sacrifice (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Adam thinks he will have to make a sacrifice to improve his relationship with his younger brother, but it is Joe who ends up doing that and for all the right reasons.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  15,020


Chapter 1

“She’s too young. She’s Joe’s age and he’s interested in her.”

“You sound more like a man who’s trying to convince himself he shouldn’t be interested in the young woman than a man who isn’t interested in a woman who is clearly interested in him.”

Walking away then as if to end the conversation with distance if he couldn’t do it with words, Adam Cartwright was as frustrated with himself as he was with the conversation. His father was correct. No matter how much he tried to tell himself to step away and ignore her, she drew him to her like a moth to a flame. It wasn’t one-sided either. When he looked, he often found her looking back rather boldly challenging him to do something or say something. He didn’t. He had too often made his brothers think that he was stepping in to try to wrest a potential love interest away from them. He never had, but the pain for both of them for having them think that wasn’t worth any woman for the bonds that tied him to his brothers were too precious. He may have had a strong attraction to this young woman, but he had been attracted to other women in the past and he knew he could fight it if he had a strong enough motivation. In this case, he did.

“Pa, I think I’ll take a tour of the line cabins this week. I’ll head out in the morning and be gone until next Monday at least.”

“If that’s the way you want to handle it. The line cabins were restocked recently enough that the trip isn’t necessary yet, but it’s always good to be prepared. Be sure to let Hop Sing know that you’ll be raiding the storage room so that he can add enough to the supply list for the week.”

Ben Cartwright watched his eldest son walk to the stable then knowing he would spend most of the afternoon checking over the wagon, the harness, and anything else he needed for his trip to be sure it was in good condition. However the real reason was to keep him out of the house and away from their visitor. A business associate had been traveling through and Ben had invited him to stay at the Ponderosa with his wife and daughter. The daughter had been so delighted with the Ponderosa that she had stayed there while her parents continued the trip to Denver and would rejoin them on the return journey to San Francisco. She was about a year older than Joe who was doing his best to monopolize her time and convince her that he was the man of her dreams. She was not reciprocating his attentions, but that seemed only to inspire Joe to greater efforts. Ben heard the heavy step of his middle son and Hoss spoke as Adam swung the door of the stable closed.

“What’s he up to?”

“He’s planning to make a tour of the line cabins to restock them.”

“Kinda soon to do that, ain’t it? Seems to me he’s jest trying to avoid what he thinks is gonna be a bad situation here.”

“Thinks?”

“Joe’s gonna figure it out soon enough. She ain’t never gonna take that walk in the moonlight with ‘im. He keeps tryin’ and she’s keeps on being as polite as ever, but anybody watching sees where her eyes are lookin’ so he’s got to know too or he’s gonna know soon enough. That old green eyed monster gonna come round then though, I reckon.”

“Adam hasn’t done anything to encourage her.”

“Nah, he don’t hafta. Heck, when we’re at dinner and talkin’, they know all about the same kinds of things. She’s been to school too and travelled some. They know about music and they sing. She can play piana too I guess. They like books and not those kind of books Joe reads but them big thick books Adam likes. Oh, and that you read too, Pa.”

“Yes, she seems older than she is in many ways.”

“Maybe cause she spent her whole life with older folks. She ain’t never spent much time with kids.”

“Yes, Marcus made his money in timber and mining, and she worked with him when she was hardly old enough to sit at a desk. She lived away from towns until they moved to San Francisco when she was sixteen. She went to school then for the first time.”

“That must have been quite a shock for her.”

“Not for her education because Gwen is very well read and she taught her at home until then. But yes, being with all those girls her age must have been quite a shock, but from what I’ve seen of her, she may have given those proper young ladies a shock or two as well.”

“She sure has got some spunk. She speaks her mind, but she’s respectful. I mean, she don’t put nobody down or nothing by the way she talks. She jest lets you know what she’s a thinking real direct like. I was thinkin’ Adam was likin’ her.”

“Perhaps he doesn’t want to like her.”

“Well why wouldn’t he want to like her. She’s pretty darn likeable.” Then Hoss paused because another Cartwright found her that way too. “Oh, I get it. Dang, we’re back to that. Why do things always got to be so darned complicated round here anyhow.”

“After what happened with Melinda, even though nothing happened with Melinda, Joe still isn’t sure about that and trusting Adam. You know how emotional he gets.”

“Even after Melinda told him what happened and that backed up what Adam said, he still has doubts?”

“He’s a young man still not sure of himself. What happened with Melinda shook him up, and he looked for a reason that it all went so badly. The one that made sense to him was the one that everyone said wasn’t true. He’s having a hard time accepting that.”

“Adam don’t lie. He holds things back and tries not to answer questions with the direct truth sometimes, but what he says is what happened. Joe ought to know that by now.”

“He does, but that means that Melinda lied to him and he didn’t know it. She professed her love, said she would marry him, and made him feel that he was the most important man to her when in fact she was more interested in Adam. It’s hard to accept being taken for a fool. It’s happened to all of us, Adam included, but Joe hasn’t had that experience.”

“And he don’t want to think a woman could do that to ‘im. Guess he don’t know a woman can do it to a man a lot better than any man can do it to ya. Sierra though, she’s straight forward as can be. She ain’t trying to make a fool of nobody. It’s clear as can be who she wants.”

“Yes, Marcus said before he left that he thought she and Adam might make a nice couple. My guess is that he was doing a bit of matchmaking when he brought her here. He’s met Adam on a few occasions and probably thought the two of them would hit it off. He never probably imagined that Joe would be a factor.”

“You know, I didn’t think Joe would be either. She ain’t the type he usually chases after. I mean, she is pretty and all so that would be a reason, but she ain’t interested in the things he’s interested in, and she asks him about the things she’s interested in, and he don’t know about those things. Why do you suppose he keeps trying so hard?” Ben said nothing and Hoss thought for a bit. “He’s trying to prove something and ole Adam is caught smack dab in the middle of it all again. Dadburnit.”

“In a couple of weeks, Sierra will go back to San Francisco with her parents, and this will all be over.”

“Well, it ain’t gonna be much fun around here until then.”

*****

As often was the case, Hoss’ predictions were correct. Even that night, when Adam came inside for dinner, Joe made sure that he monopolized Sierra’s time so that she wouldn’t be able to strike up a conversation with Adam. Ben looked over at Hoss who rolled his eyes. Maybe it would be a good thing for Adam to be gone because there certainly would be less tension in the house, but Sierra might not enjoy her stay nearly as much. At dinner, Ben asked Adam if he had everything ready for his trip which got the attention of both Joe and Sierra. Almost in a chorus, both asked him about his trip.

“I’m going to restock and check on the line cabins. I’ll be gone about a week.”

Joe couldn’t have looked more triumphantly pleased while Sierra looked sad at the prospect. She expressed her regret.

“I had hoped we could spend some time singing in the evenings and talking more about some of the books we’ve read.”

“Perhaps when I get back if you’re still here.”

“I’ll be here. Papa and Mama won’t be back for about two weeks.”

What Sierra wanted to ask was if she could go with him on the trip because it sounded like a great adventure. She longed to be up in the mountains and outdoors more, but hesitated to ask Joe to take her riding or to do anything else worried that he would see such a request as an invitation to more. Encouraging his interest in her was the last thing she wanted to do so she spent her days in the house or near it and her evenings the same way. It was far from the ideal vacation she had dreamed of having. Without being cruel to Joe, she didn’t know how to improve the situation. She had tried every way she knew to discourage him, but he was far more persistent than any man she had ever met. There was one time though that she knew she could be free of him and that was the early morning when Adam was likely to be up but Joe would still be in bed. She guessed correctly and heard Adam heading down the hall shortly after dawn. She dressed quickly and followed him meeting him at the dining table as he came from the kitchen with a cup of coffee and a plate of food. He was surprised but recovered quickly.

“You’re up very early. I have a good reason. Why would you want to get out of a warm bed on a cool morning?”

“To see you before you left.”

“Well, you are direct. If you have something to say, you perhaps might want to say it quickly because my father is likely going to be coming down those stairs within a few minutes.”

“I wish we could spend more time together. I would like to go on this trip with you but I know it wouldn’t be proper not that being proper is something I’m particularly good at.” Adam had to grin at her audacity and her honesty. “You have a wonderful smile. I wish I would see it more.”

“It’s not going to work. I’m going on the trip, and Joe will continue to dog your every move. It’s the way of things, and I’m not going to do a thing to change it.”

“But why not? Why does your younger brother get some kind of proprietary rights over me? Because he was first or because he’s the most persistent or stubborn?”

“It doesn’t matter. I won’t get into a contest with my brother here on the Ponderosa.”

Her temper riled up at that point, Sierra silently fumed before heading to the kitchen but muttered under her breath loud enough for Adam to hear. “It wouldn’t be a contest.”

Ben was coming down the stairs then and saw her leave. He could tell she was upset and still somewhat that way when she came out with her breakfast and ate it exchanging banal pleasantries with him before heading back up to her room.

“Did you two have an argument of some kind?”

“I guess you could call it that. Well, I have to go now. I’ll see you in a week or so.”

Adam left then without any more explanation. However Sierra did confide in Ben later asking him for advice, but he had nothing to offer when she asked how to let Joe down easy because he couldn’t think of a way to do that. Joe continued his pursuit of Sierra as she daydreamed about what Adam was doing and pictured him riding through the upper meadows and valleys of the Ponderosa. She had a vivid imagination but wished still that she was actually there with him. She didn’t see him again for nine days until he rode in, greeted his brother Hoss, and told him he’d be in as soon as he took care of the team and the wagon. She waited a decent interval of time and then headed out to talk with him again. Soon after she left the house, Joe followed wondering why she needed to speak with Adam.

*****

Chapter 2

“Are you afraid of me?”

Startled, Adam nearly dropped the harness he was cleaning but recovered enough to make it appear, he hoped, that he had meant to set it on the bench and reach for a clean cloth to wipe it down. He didn’t turn to her but addressed her gruffly. “I have no idea why you would ask me that.”

“Of course you do. Joe even said that the trip you took was a surprise because it wasn’t scheduled to be done for another month. He was pleased you did go because he said it cleared the way for him. It didn’t.”

Perversely pleased to hear that, Adam blurted out a response before he thought too much about it. “And why was that?”

“Because I was never interested in Joe that way though he seems to be the only one who isn’t getting that message. I’ve never even kissed him nor allowed him that privilege though I must admit he is persistent and far more diligent in his pursuit than I thought any man could be after so many attempts were rebuffed.” Again Adam felt that slight pleasure on hearing that news but held his tongue knowing he had said far too much already. “You can continue to ignore me or you could show some interest. I would welcome the interest, but either way, I am not going to succumb to your younger brother’s charms, considerable though they may be.”

“If he’s so charming, why not?” Adam wanted to kick himself for he knew he shouldn’t be saying anything and the conversation would likely die. If it continued, he might be weak enough to let some of his feelings show and didn’t want to do that.

“It is fun to be with Joe, but we have nothing in common. What would we talk about the rest of the time?”

That struck a chord for Adam recalled saying something very similar but a quite a bit more earthy to his father once. He had ended a relationship with a very attractive woman, and his father had wanted to know why. He had told him that they would have nothing to talk about when they weren’t in bed. The answer had angered his father at that time, but he had come to understand it when he got the chance to think it through. Now Adam heard that same type of argument coming from Sierra about his younger brother but didn’t want to hear it. He did think that perhaps an explanation might help.

“Listen, this may all be very interesting to you, but there was a problem between me and Joe not that long ago. A young woman named Melinda Banning set her sights on marrying Joe but made advances to me when he wasn’t around. I did my best to let her know I wasn’t interested but that mattered not at all to her apparently. She kissed me and Joe walked into that scene or right after it. I was pushing her away but to him, it probably didn’t look that way.”

“And after what she had done with him, he wasn’t inclined to believe you.”

“No, not even after she told him the truth. I think he believes she was trying to help me. I can’t let anything like that happen again. My family is too important to me.”

“Oh, well, it was worth a try. My parents will be back in a week or so. Can we at least be civil to one another until then? I won’t try anything nor will I encourage Joe in his romantic overtures. I will try to be a friend to you both and I won’t do anything to try to create friction between the two of you. Is that fair enough?”

“If you can accept that I will be cool to you. Anything more on my part is likely to be misinterpreted by my younger brother.”

“I am sorry about that. I had not seen that much jealousy in him although I did know that it was there. Well then I suppose I should get back to the house before he thinks something is going on out here.”

“Probably so.”

Turning back to his task, Adam was somewhat relieved that part of what had worried him had been resolved or he hoped it had been resolved. He didn’t know Sierra that well but she had sounded quite sincere. He finished with the harness never hearing his youngest brother emerge from the shadows of the empty stall in the stable where he had heard the conversation between Adam and Sierra.

Joe’s emotions were in turmoil. He was irritated that Adam had pegged him so accurately about his thoughts regarding Adam and Melinda. He was irritated too that Sierra wasn’t playing hard to get but was in fact not interested in him at all but was interested in Adam instead. But most of all he was angry that Sierra thought he was only fun and had no qualities that matched up to Adam to make him an interesting beau. Joe was angry at Sierra, but he was feeling some sympathy for Adam caught in another difficult situation with no good way out. He knew he could tell Adam to go ahead and go after Sierra and step out of the way, but he was too angry at Sierra at that moment to want her to be happy. Instead, confused and upset, he stalked quietly from the stable meeting his father near the house.

“Joe, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.” Joe went into the house then and up to his room surprising both Hoss and Sierra.

Outside, Ben went to the stable wondering why it was taking Adam so long to come to the house and now why Joe was so upset. When he found Adam finishing up in the stable, he had one question. “Did you and Joe have an argument?”

“No, I haven’t even seen Joe. The only person I saw was Sierra.” Pausing for a moment, Adam figured it out quickly. “But if he’s jealous and followed her, he may have heard what we said and that would have made him upset. We were honest.”

“Are you and Sierra going to be seeing each other then?”

“No, that was part of the honesty. I told her why I couldn’t. She said why she wouldn’t.”

“Are you sure that’s the right decision for you. She’s a very nice girl.”

“It’s not that much of a sacrifice if it keeps peace in the family. I don’t have a relationship with her so I’m not giving up anything that I have only something that might have been or might not.”

There wasn’t anything left to say about that. Ben sighed and asked Adam about his trip to the line cabins and why he had been two days late getting back.

“Everything went well. All the cabins are stocked and in good condition. On my second day out, I did meet a small hunting party of Paiute. They hadn’t found much. I gave them a couple of cows and taking time to do that took me off my schedule some, and I had a few minor repairs to do on the far northwest cabin too and that took another day. Those Paiute had come across an abandoned wagon and took the blankets and things that were there, but there was no food. Their camp is low on food because with all the trees being cut by the miners, the game is retreating.”

“That’s good that you gave them a couple of cows, but they’re going to have to find a way to get food. We won’t be able to feed all of them.”

“Yes, that band is growing and the food supply is shrinking. The young men told me that a dozen babies were born this year. The number of children over the last few years has been quite remarkable. It’s made them have to increase their range for hunting and put them in conflict with other bands who are having the same trouble finding enough when they go out hunting. It’s a bad situation all around.”

“Not unlike the situation here.”

“Pa, I’m doing the best I can.”

“I know you are, son. I only wish that Joe would have seen that Sierra isn’t the right kind of woman for him. She’s set her sights on a different kind of man.”

“The talks we’ve had about me going to San Francisco may be a better way to handle things than what’s been happening lately. I don’t like being at odds with Joe so much. He seems to find me standing in his way too often.”

“Adam, I don’t want you to leave because you feel you’re being pushed out. If you do go to San Francisco, I want it to be because of those reasons you laid out for me when we first talked. I think I always knew you would leave. I only hope that if you do, it will to find something you dream of doing and that you’ll always think of the Ponderosa as home and come back when you’re ready.”

With a nod, Adam agreed satisfying his father. They walked to the house in companionable silence. Inside, Sierra and Hoss had been discussing Joe and wondering at his change in mood. Sierra had confided in Hoss about what she had said to Adam but had not revealed what Adam had said to her. That garnered quite a bit of respect from Hoss. However based only on what Sierra had said and on Joe’s mood on entering the house, Hoss surmised that Joe had eavesdropped on their conversation.

“After you had been gone only a few minutes, he went out after you. He musta heard what you said or most of it. Little brother has had that bad habit ever since he was a little whippersnapper. Ain’t never been able to break him of it.”

“Then he knows how I feel. Oh, Hoss, I never meant to hurt him. I tried my best to make him understand that I wasn’t interested in him the way he wanted me to be, but he simply didn’t want to hear that message.”

“I know. Little brother can be darn right stubborn ’bout things like that. He’ll come around. It’ll take a day or two, but his temper flares real hot and then burns itself out real fast too.”

*****

By breakfast the next morning, it was clear that Joe’s temper had cooled but his confusion had not and he was clearly mulling something over quite a bit. He wasn’t his usual self nor did he pester Sierra in the ways he had previously. She was relieved about that but sad that it had happened in a way that hurt Joe though she could hardly apologize for it because he had been the one eavesdropping on a private conversation. He couldn’t openly discuss what he had heard either because he wasn’t supposed to have heard it making it doubly difficult for him. He was going to have to approach the topic in a roundabout way and try to get Hoss or his father to offer advice without divulging what he knew that he shouldn’t know. Of course Hoss already knew some of it, but he wasn’t going to break Sierra’s confidence either so the pressure was going to remain centered on Joe. That’s where it belonged of course because he was the one who had created the situation that now so much bothered him.

*****

Chapter 3

That day, Hoss and Little Joe were working together not far from the house. With no introduction, Little Joe launched a discussion of Adam and women surprising Hoss with the topic. “What do you suppose Adam first finds attractive in a woman? Do you thinks it’s like me and it’s that she’s pretty?”

It took only a moment for Hoss to answer in that he thought the response to that was obvious. “I’m guessin’ he’s the same as all of us. We all look at a pretty gal right off. With our older brother though, it’s got to be a whole lot more to keep him lookin’ like she’s got to have some smarts and such or he loses interest real fast. A pretty gal with nothing but air up in her head is about as interesting to our older brother as a field of flowers. They’re real pretty to look at but then you move on.”

“But you don’t feel that way?”

“Well, I look for other things too like is she nice and does she want to have a family and live out here in God’s country and such. I ain’t the smartest one either, but I’d want her to be smart enough to, you know, do things like regular folks do.”

“Sierra is really smart.” Hoss said nothing making Joe wonder what he was thinking. “She’s not interested in me, is she? She never was.” Hoss shrugged. “You all knew that all along, didn’t you?”

“Joe, what you want me to say?”

“Nothing.”

The two worked in uncomfortable silence for about an hour until Joe opened up again on the subject that had been gnawing at him the whole time as it had since the night before when he had heard Sierra and Adam talking. “I should probably tell Adam that he should feel free to go after her because I’m giving up. I know she doesn’t want me.”

Frustrated, Hoss stopped working. “You don’t get it at all, do you? Adam ain’t gonna go after her at all. He’s keeping his distance cause he cares about you and don’t want to hurt you. No matter what you say, it would bother you to see the two of them together, and he knows it. Ever since that trouble with that Banning gal, you ain’t trusted him like you did, and that hurts him. He wants to make things right between you two, and he sure as heck don’t want to do nothing to make things any worse.”

“I know. I thought maybe that I could make things better by telling him the way was clear for him to see Sierra.”

“You don’t understand it at all. He ain’t gonna do nothing like that cause he knows deep down inside that would bother you and he won’t do nothing of the kind.”

“But what if she’s the one, you know, who could make him happy?”

“I guess we ain’t never gonna know that now, are we.” Hoss went back to working then as unhappy with the conversation as Joe had been before it started. However Hoss was uneasy for another reason. He had the feeling all day that he was being watched. He didn’t know why he felt that way because he never saw or heard anything out of the ordinary, but he had a feeling there was someone out there watching them. As they packed up their tools at the end of the day, he decided to ask Joe if he had the same feeling.

“No, I haven’t seen or heard anyone other than people who work here riding by.”

“Maybe I’m jest on edge then cause I had the feeling for most of the day that there were eyes on us and they weren’t friendly ones neither. Well, let’s get on home. The feeling will go away once I get me some of Hop Sing’s vittles.”

*****

Except the feeling didn’t go away and was there the next morning as well. As he worked beside Joe, he became more and more uneasy. “Joe, I’m feeling as jittery as I did last night with you and Adam and Sierra all trying to be all polite and all and nobody saying nothing about what was really bothering any of ya. Now I got that same feeling like I’m walking around all them fancy things in a fancy store and ifn I make one small bad move, things are gonna break loose all around me. I don’t know why I got this feeling but I do.”

“Maybe I caught it from you, but this morning, I’ve got the same feeling. I noticed that we haven’t been hearing any birds singing like we should either on such a nice day. Remember this morning at the house, Sierra mentioned how she heard birds singing outside her window. Now there aren’t any birds singing.”

“I’m thinking I’m gonna tighten the cinch on Chubb and get my rifle and keep it close too. Something ain’t right here. I don’t know what it is, but you move easy too. Try to make it look like we’re taking a usual break and having some water from our canteens. We’ll move the horses closer to us too.”

“Pa wanted Adam to go to town and Sierra asked to ride along. I hope that he’s paying attention to what’s around him and not only to her. I don’t like the feel of this. Something’s brewing that isn’t good.”

On the road at that moment in the carriage, Adam had the same feeling. Sierra attributed his mood to the difficult situation in which they found themselves but was surprised by Adam’s first question to her and in fact his first effort to speak to her in a mile.

“Do you get the feeling we’re being watched?”

“You don’t think Joe would follow us, do you?”

“No, he wouldn’t. I think that’s settled as far as it’s going to be settled. No, I thought I saw movement several times off to the side but when I look, I don’t see anything.”

Slowing the carriage then because the road narrowed up ahead with a high rocky bluff on one side and a thick grove of trees on the other, Adam looked for any sign of a pending ambush. Sierra leaned toward him to whisper a question.

“You’re serious, aren’t you, and worried?” She only waited a moment longer to make a suggestion. “Maybe we ought to turn around and head back. That may be the smartest move under the circumstances.”

Pulling the team to a halt then, Adam was torn. He didn’t want to make a decision like that without any concrete evidence, but the unease he felt was strong. Then the decision was made for him as five young Paiute broke from the trees riding hard toward them. The way they were riding, hollering, and gesturing, it was clear that their intent was hostile. As fast as he could, Adam turned the team and snapped the reins to get them headed back toward the ranchhouse. Just as assuredly, he knew they would never make it.

“Get down. If you can, reach around and get my pistol. Fire three shots. Help will come.”

With her knees on the carriage floor and leaning on the seat, Sierra wrapped an arm around Adam’s waist and reached for his pistol. It was difficult with him driving the team as hard as he could. He grunted hard at one point and she was pushed sideways and had to make another move for the pistol but finally got it. As long as she was going to fire three shots as he told her, she decided to fire back at their pursuers. She did by leaning out the side of the carriage, but that slowed them only slightly.

With gritted teeth, Adam hoarsely ordered her not to fire any more. “Keep the last two. You’re going to need them.”

“Do you have any more shells?”

“In my coat pocket.”

“Which one?”

“Left.”

That was helpful at least because it was easier for her to reach. She managed to get the extra shells from his jacket pocket and put four in the pistol and put two back in his coat pocket before firing three more times at the men pursuing them. She was shocked at how close they were but it meant that she was able to hit one of them too and made the others on that side veer off. However they realized there were no shots being fired from Adam’s side so they simply all rode to that side.

“I got one but there’s still four of them and they’re real close.”

Sierra wasn’t able to say any more because Adam was hit by an arrow in his thigh causing him to lose control of the team and the carriage overturned. The riders went well past them because of their momentum. Sierra rolled and lost the pistol. Adam was lying still beside the carriage when she stopped rolling and looked up, and she could do nothing to help him. The four Paiute rode back. One was about to fire an arrow into Adam when rifle shots felled him, and Hoss, Joe, and other Ponderosa riders began converging on the scene. Hoss and Joe dismounted at the scene even as they directed the men to pursue the three fleeing Paiute. Sierra limped over to where Adam lay. As Hoss began checking Adam, Joe asked Sierra if she was all right.

“I am, but Adam took an arrow in the leg just before we crashed.”

Hoss was checking Adam for injuries. “He took more than that. He’s got a bullet wound in his back. It’s bleeding something fierce. We gotta get that stopped as fast as we can. Joe, get the cloth that Hop Sing wrapped our lunches in. We kin use that.”

Immediately, Sierra raised her skirt and pulled at her petticoat until she had a large swatch that she folded. “It was freshly laundered yesterday. It should be very clean. Put that directly over the wound and use the other cloth to hold that down. I’ll tear off another piece for his leg. ”

Soon, Sierra was holding the thick bandage to Adam’s back as Hoss was breaking off the protruding section of the arrow in his thigh. “Doc’s gonna have to cut out the rest of it. It’s buried awful deep in there. At least it ain’t bleeding bad. It’s gonna hurt him real bad though.”

By then, other hands had arrived to help, and Joe had sent two to get a wagon and two to town to get the doctor. He sent two on each task because he didn’t know if there were more Paiute out there looking for trouble. He told the men to stick together no matter what they were doing and sent a couple back to the house to let their father know what was happening, get things ready for their return, and keep watch for any more trouble. Adam regained consciousness quickly and that was unfortunate because the pain was severe especially when he had to be lifted into the wagon and had to endure the ride back to the Ponderosa and then had to be carried into the house and up to his bed. There, his clothing was removed and he was wrapped in warm blankets to wait for the doctor. Sierra volunteered to help, but knowing Adam’s concern for privacy, Ben said that he, Hop Sing, and Hoss could handle things. He suggested she might want to clean up and check out her own bumps and bruises because of all that had happened. When she got to her room and disrobed, she did find that she had some large bruises and abrasions, but she couldn’t rest wondering how Adam was doing. In all that had happened, she was amazed that all she had heard from him were grunts, groans, and occasional whimpers from the pain. She was sure she would have been screaming bloody murder in a similar situation.

*****

Chapter 4

When Doctor Martin arrived, Sierra waited downstairs with the family as Hop Sing stayed upstairs to help the doctor in his work. It was then that they did hear Adam cry out in pain and wondered what the doctor had done to elicit that. It was later when Paul was explaining the procedure under pressure from Ben that they all cringed with the knowledge of what Adam had faced.

“I had to cut the arrowhead out of his thigh. It was in very deep. Then I was able to withdraw the rest of the arrow. However the wound tunnel was full of debris so I had to irrigate it with a solution of carbolic acid to prevent an infection. That’s when you heard him cry out. There was no way to protect him from the pain of inflicting that solution on so much raw tissue at one time. I stitched everything up then. The wound in his back is nasty but shallow. My guess is that the bullet came through the back of the carriage and was flattened somewhat when it hit him so it didn’t penetrate too deeply but it did lacerate the tissue quite widely. I also irrigated that, but was unable to close it entirely. It will likely keep draining for a few days at least. I have a large bandage on it for pressure to keep it from opening up too much. That however will make it very painful. He’s got some cracked or bruised ribs from the fall from the carriage too. I’ve bound them. Nothing he has is life threatening unless he should develop an infection so those wounds need to be tended carefully. The worst of it for him will be the pain. He will feel it with every breath, and sleep will come from exhaustion.”

As Paul had been explaining what he had done for Adam’s care, Joe had come back into the house after talking to the men who had gone after the Paiute. When Paul stopped talking, Joe started. “Our men caught up with the three. They killed one. They have the other two and they got the one that Sierra wounded too. They said that Adam made their people sick by giving them bad cows so they came here to kill him for that.”

“Adam told me he gave them cows because they were hungry. The cows wouldn’t have made them ill. I can’t believe Winnemucca would believe Adam would do such a thing.”

“Pa, apparently these are the young men that Adam gave the cows to. They felt responsible because they brought the cows to the camp after they got them from Adam. When the people started getting sick and blaming it on the beef, they decided to get revenge on Adam. They did it on their own.”

Doctor Martin was interested then. “What kind of symptoms did they say the people had?”

“They said that people had pain in their heads, fevers, retching, and some were developing red spots. It sounds like measles or something, doesn’t it, Doc?”

Paul looked far more worried than that though. “It could be, but measles though deadly for many Indians, doesn’t usually involve retching. I would suspect smallpox with that as an early symptom. It’s why I asked. I thought that might be the case. There recently were some people who passed through Reno who were infected. There have been some small outbreaks in some of the mining camps too.”

“But how would the Paiute have gotten it?” Joe asked the key question.

Then Ben remembered something else that Adam had told him. “Adam said that the young men had found an abandoned wagon and had taken blankets and clothing from it to bring back to their camp. If the wagon had belonged to people who were infected, that might be how it was brought to their camp.” Looking at Hoss and Joe, Ben had a request. “Go talk to those young men. Find out if there was any kind of grave near that wagon that they found. It could be that those travelers were infected and the survivors took the horses and food knowing the rest was infected because of those who had been sick.”

Paul had another suggestion. “You might want to alert the people at the mission. Some of them have worked with smallpox outbreaks before and have been inoculated. They might be willing to go to the camp and help. You probably want to get those young men back to their camp too before they cause an epidemic here.”

As Joe and Hoss went to take care of those things, Ben headed up the stairs to sit with his son. Sierra stood to follow and nearly collapsed. Paul moved to her side.

“I think that perhaps I should help you to your room and take a good look at you too. From what I hear, you took a tumble from that carriage and have been limping since.”

“Only bumps and bruises. I got a little stiff sitting here for so long but there’s nothing wrong with me.”

“I should be the judge of that.” Paul left no room for argument, and Sierra was grateful for his assistance up the stairs. She had gotten stiff and was in more pain than she had been earlier. Paul found nothing more than strained muscles and severe bruising. His prescription was bed rest and then taking it easy until she healed. Hop Sing brought her dinner to her room, and despite her best intentions of staying awake and checking on Adam, she fell asleep soon after she finished her dinner.

In the night, Sierra awoke chilled for she had not gotten under the covers. She pulled on her robe and went out into the hall and down to Adam’s room where she found Joe taking a turn sitting with his brother who was awake but had his eyes closed as he struggled with every breath as Doctor Martin had predicted.

“How long have you been sitting with him?”

“Only for about two hours. Pa sat with him until midnight. It took a lot to convince him to go get some sleep. Hoss will be here in an hour or two to take over.”

“I can sit with him until then. I fell asleep right after dinner so I’ve had quite a bit of sleep already.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I want to.”

Wanting to be sure she understood what was needed if she chose to do this, Joe explained what was needed and how little anyone could actually do to help his brother. “There’s not much you can do for him. Every now and then, ask if he wants a drink. He’ll open his lips if he does and you give him a spoonful of water to wet his mouth. That’s about all he wants. If he wants a second one, he’ll let you know the same way. It’s too hard for him to talk right now.”

“I understand.”

Pausing only briefly as he heard the certainty in her voice, Joe stood and gestured for Sierra to sit. As Joe left the room, he paused watching Sierra in the seat he had recently vacated. She held Adam’s left hand in hers and caressed his left cheek with her other hand. Joe watched as Adam leaned into that caress getting some small comfort at least. His eyes were still closed but it did seem that his face had relaxed at least a little from the grimace that he seemed to have permanently since he had been wounded. Joe smiled a bit ruefully as he realized there were some things a woman could do that they couldn’t. As Sierra sat with Adam, she found that he seemed to be calmed somewhat by some old lullabies and hymns that she knew so she sang those very softly to him. At about three in the morning, she felt a hand on her shoulder and expected Hoss but found Ben standing there.

“How long have you been with him?”

“Only an hour. I told Joe that I fell asleep right after my dinner so I got a lot of rest. He said Hoss would be here next.”

“I found it difficult to sleep, and then I could swear I heard someone singing lullabies. I had to come find out. He does seem to be resting a bit easier now.” Adam opened his eyes then briefly before settling his head against Sierra’s hand once more. “I won’t disturb you any more. I’ll sit here in the rocking chair though if you don’t mind. I don’t think I can sleep anyway.”

*****

When Hoss came in an hour later, he found both his father and Adam were sleeping. Sierra smiled and whispered that she was going back to bed but she would be available again in a few hours if needed. Hoss settled in the chair glancing back and forth from his father to Adam at first and then simply waited for dawn.

The routine didn’t vary much for the next two days as Adam suffered quite a lot until his wounds began to heal and the bruises to his ribs began to diminish. As that happened, he slept a lot and didn’t need anyone sitting with him as much. He also began eating small light meals. As he did that, his began to regain some strength and started to talk a little. When Sierra was with him, he thanked her for saving his life.

“If you hadn’t fired those shots, they would have killed me.”

“Well, I thought they were trying to kill me too. I was trying to save both of us and so were you.”

“You’re a very brave woman.”

“Thank you. I saw a lot of courage in you with what you’ve had to face.”

Abruptly switching topics because he was uncomfortable with how the conversation had turned, Adam asked about the Paiute camp.

“We haven’t heard anything yet. That’s not surprising. The people probably only got there yesterday and must have found quite a mess. Your father said he is hoping we hear some news by late today or tomorrow. The hands who escorted the young men there should be back here by then.”

“Yes, I should have known. It seemed to me like more time had passed than that.”

“Considering how you spent the last few days, I could see how they might seem like they were much longer.”

“Thank you for all you did for me. It helped. It helped a lot.”

Because Adam clearly didn’t want to express any more than that, Sierra didn’t press him. She wanted to say more too, but she had agreed that she wouldn’t try to be more than a friend to him because of how Joe felt about the situation. Of course, Joe’s attitude had changed dramatically because of events. He wanted Sierra now to stay and for her and Adam to be together. However he had soured things so much that he didn’t know how to improve things so he finally sought his father’s counsel. He found him at work at his desk and asked if he could interrupt him with something of a personal nature while Sierra was upstairs with Adam.

“You know I thought I was interested in Sierra.”

Ben got a small smile with that. “You thought you were interested in Sierra?”

“Yeah, but the two of us don’t have anything in common.”

“Oh, so now you’ve noticed the two of you don’t have anything in common. Where is this conversation going, Joe?”

“It would be going a lot faster if you could let me say it all in one piece, Pa. You seem to be enjoying this, and I’m having a hard time here saying what I need to say.”

“I’m sorry. I should be listening and not talking. Go on.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot. I see the way Sierra is with Adam, and how the two of them are so comfortable with each other. She was never comfortable with me. I guess I wasn’t comfortable with her either. I was always trying to impress her. Mostly I was trying to be the man that she would find interesting, but now I see that the man she found interesting was already here. Pa, I messed things up. Adam and Sierra ought to have a chance. Now he’s hurt and she’s going to be leaving, she says. How can I make things right?”

“Joe, first of all, you can’t.” Joe looked crestfallen at that. “Only Adam and Sierra can make any kind of decision on their future or if there is any kind of future for them. You can tell Adam what you told me. I think Sierra already knows because of how you have been acting differently. The rest will be up to them. There’s nothing that you can do.”

“But I want to help.”

“This is one of those things that no one can help. Adam and Sierra are adults and will make their own decisions as they have already done. You can’t make their decisions for them.”

“I’m going to carry a lot of guilt for this for a long time if they don’t get together especially if Adam doesn’t find someone else then.”

“You shouldn’t feel guilty. You can’t be responsible for choices that others make. Adam knew what he was doing and made the choice willingly.”

“Yeah, Hoss spelled that all out for me. I didn’t want to accept that either, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I wish I could learn to control this temper of mine. It sure gets me into some bad decisions and ways of thinking sometimes.”

“You come by it honestly. You’re my son, and I’ve had a few of those experiences myself. All we can ever do is try to do our best, and then wait to see what happens. Adam and Sierra are two very fine people. If there’s a way for them to be together, I trust they will find it. I do know that Adam is very resourceful. Given enough time, he may figure out a way to make things work.”

Smiling slightly, Joe had to be satisfied with that small comfort.

*****

Chapter 5

On the same day that news arrived from the Paiute camp, Marcus and Gwen arrived back on the Ponderosa to collect their daughter for the trip back to San Francisco. The Paiute were devastated by the smallpox outbreak and the loss of possessions that resulted. All of the blankets used by those who were ill as well as their clothing was burned. Although there were some donations of wool blankets by the missionaries, the furs and leathers would take a long time to replace. What was far more costly and emotionally devastating was that many of the children died. Most expected the loss of the elderly but to have so many children die was nearly overwhelming. It affected their present and their future. Winnemucca did send word that he was sorry that his young men had wrongfully blamed Adam and tried to kill him and hoped that the Cartwrights could forgive them under the circumstances. Ben sent more beef to help the band knowing how much they would need a good diet as they recovered.

The whole story had to be told to Marcus and Gwen. He was shocked to find that his daughter had been nearly killed and that was only the beginning of his regrets for having left her on the Ponderosa. When he had a chance to speak with Ben, he was further dismayed to learn that Joe had monopolized Sierra’s time on the ranch and that Adam and Sierra had spent very little time together.

“But why would Joe want to spend time with Sierra? Certainly he must have known that they have very little in common. She and Adam are much more alike in their interests. I would have thought that Adam and Sierra had more of a natural inclination to be together.”

“That’s all true, my friend, but things seldom go as planned when we try to make them.”

A little abashed at being so easily found out in his attempt at matchmaking, Marcus also wasn’t going to apologize for it. “Ben, she’s of an age where she’s looking for a suitable husband now, and most men are put off a bit by her independence and by her intelligence which, unlike some, she is not wont to hide.”

Ben had to smile at that. “I have noticed that, but she is always respectful and polite, never overbearing. I would think there are men who wouldn’t mind a stronger woman by their side.”

“One would think so. I have never regretted marrying Gwen who is smart and strong too but not as open about it as our daughter. I’m sorry if I was too obvious about trying to see if something might happen between Adam and Sierra but I only meant well.”

“Oh, I know you only meant well, and if not for other issues and Joe, I’m sure that the two of them might have found quite a lot to like in each other. As it is, Adam is confined to bed while Sierra is about to return to San Francisco with you. I’m afraid that there is likely not going to be the romance you had hoped would develop.”

“Well, it’s a shame really, but hopefully there will be a man who will knock on our door one day and ask to court her. I do look forward to that question and being able to wish the young man luck in that endeavor.”

“I wish that one of my three young men at least would do such a thing. I’m looking forward to grandchildren and not one of them seems inclined to be in any hurry to do anything about that either.”

The two men smiled in rueful mirror images and walked back into the house. Upstairs, Joe had gone to talk with Adam while Gwen was with Sierra helping her pack for their departure very early the next morning. Both bedroom doors were closed because both conversations were meant to be completely private.

“Adam, there’s something I have to say to you, and I should have said it a long time ago. When I accused you of doing something with Melinda, that was wrong and I apologize. I was fooled by her and didn’t want to admit how much I felt like a fool when I found out. I blamed you when I should have blamed her for her treachery and myself for not seeing it.” Adam was going to try to say something, but Joe halted him with upraised hands. “Let me finish. I’ve been practicing this and want to get it all out like I practiced. When Sierra got here, I knew she was more interested in you than me, but I didn’t care what she wanted. I wanted to prove something, and I wanted to win her like it was a contest with you. That was all wrong and hurt her and hurt you. I don’t think saying that I’m sorry is enough, but it’s all I’ve got. Now, you still have a short time to tell her to stay, and that would give the two of you some time to see if there was something more that could happen for you. There, that’s all of it. So, what do you say?”

“I thank you for the apologies. That really does clear the air between us, and I’m glad about that. I hated the way things were going. I never wanted there to be such a distance between us. As far as Sierra and me, we’re friends. With me laid up in bed for a while yet, there wouldn’t be much point in asking her to stay. What would I say? Asking her to be my nurse for another week hardly seems the way to go.”

Not having considered that, Joe had to agree but reluctantly. “So it’s over and it’s all my fault.”

“Not your fault. I made my decisions. They’re my responsibility. Any choices I make in the future will be mine as well. You’re not responsible for what happens to me because of decisions I make. I could have made other decisions. I didn’t.” There was nothing more for them to say.

*****

With packing to do, Sierra was busy with her parents and didn’t have time to be with Adam. Marcus had made arrangements to travel the next day. In the guest bedroom, Sierra had expressed her frustrations to her mother who was appalled at the bruises that her daughter had. “Mama, I’ve had worse from taking a spill while riding.”

“Yes, perhaps, but not all over at once. You could have been killed.”

“I wasn’t, and the whole thing made me feel alive like I haven’t ever felt before. I felt important, like I made a difference. I only wish I could stay here longer, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. I’m going to miss being here even with all the difficulties. I’m going to miss Adam even though all we have is friendship. I think it could have become so much more, but things got so complicated.”

“They often do, dear.”

Glad that her mother didn’t offer any platitudes such as her meeting another man like Adam, Sierra finished packing her things in preparation for an early morning departure. She wanted to talk with Adam before she left, but each time she had approached his bedroom, it seemed there was someone else there. Once her mother left to go to her room, she tried again but found his door closed. She could hear voices though and knew someone was there with him. She didn’t get a chance to see him that evening at all, and the next morning, she saw his door still closed. Ben came down the hall as she paused by Adam’s door.

“Go on in. He’ll want to say goodbye.”

“He may be sleeping.”

“I doubt that he is, but even if he is, he’ll want to see you before you go. Here, I’ll go in to make sure he’s decent and ready for a visitor.” A moment later, Ben stepped out and gestured for her to go in.

“Good morning. I’m glad you came in before you left.”

“I wanted to see you last night, but your door was closed when I came to see you and I heard voices so I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“I hope you have a pleasant trip back to San Francisco. I do want to thank you again for all you’ve done for me. Perhaps when I’m in San Francisco sometime, I could repay the favor and offer you dinner?”

“That would be nice. I would like to see you again if only for dinner. I do need to go now. Papa wants to get going so we don’t miss our ride. He booked us on the early train and there won’t be another passenger car until late tomorrow. Apparently they’re hauling quite a lot of ore right now.”

Wanting very much to kiss Adam goodbye, Sierra settled for taking his hand and touching his cheek as she had so many times when she had sat by his side. She smiled then and turned away quickly so he wouldn’t see the tears that were going to be glistening in her eyes very soon. He wondered at her sudden departure without another word guessing perhaps that she might have some of the same unexpressed feelings that he did. He had a lot to think about before he ended up in San Francisco in a couple of months. He was determined to go on the cattle drive to Sacramento and then take time to go to San Francisco as he had discussed with his father to spend the winter months exploring some options for his future before making any kind of decision. It meant he was going to have to push himself very hard to be ready or his father wasn’t likely to want him on that drive. It also meant that he might have to lean on his brothers a bit for help in that regard because he wasn’t at all sure that physically he was going to be able to hold up in the short time he had to get ready. His leg still wasn’t ready to hold his weight and even with the crutches Doctor Martin planned to bring on his next visit, it was going to be difficult to rehabilitate enough in that short time to get back to doing his normal work. Riding might be a major challenge.

*****

As it turned out, all of those predictions Adam had made to himself were correct. Even with the crutches, his leg wasn’t able to bear much weight without giving way. He had to work very hard to strengthen that muscle that had been so severely damaged by the arrow and the subsequent surgery. When it came to the first day that he tried riding, it didn’t seem too bad until he tried to dismount, and his right leg nearly refused to move. He leaned forward over Sport’s neck and used his body weight to force his leg up and over, but when it hit the ground, it nearly collapsed under him.

“Ya darn fool. Why’d you keep riding ifn your leg was bothering you so much?”

“It wasn’t bothering me that much until I tried to move it and then stand on it.”

“Well, why don’t you go off to the house and rest up, and I’ll take care of your horse.”

“No, I think I’d rather walk into the stable with Sport than sprawl on my face in the dirt trying to walk without anything to hang onto.”

Seeing the wisdom of that, Hoss snorted a bit though and led Chubb into the stable keeping a watchful eye on his older brother as he led his horse in or perhaps it was the other way around. After finishing with Chubb, Hoss helped Adam finish grooming Sport and carried a bucket of water in for him too. Then he walked with Adam to the house keeping pace with him even as Adam walked very slowly.

“It would be helpful if you would do what you can to keep Pa distracted a bit so he doesn’t notice that I’m walking like I’m about eighty years old.”

“He don’t miss much.” Adam only shrugged. “I’ll do what I can. If we’re lucky, he’s already at the dining table and he’ll be so busy telling us that we’re late and Hop Sing is upset that he won’t pay as much attention to you hobbling around.”

They thought it worked out well, but before Adam headed up to bed later, his father had a question for him. “First day in the saddle a lot harder than you thought it would be?”

With a quick look at Hoss who smirked at him, Adam nodded. “It was more stiff than anything. It will get better.”

“Tomorrow, perhaps a half day would be in order.”

“Maybe. I’ll see how it goes.”

Nothing more was said, but Adam did back off a little from doing a full load for about a week until he tried again with more success. He still found his leg stiffened up easily, and he needed to massage that muscle quite often to keep it from getting too painful, but overall, he could do the job so he was going on the drive. He told his father and brothers his plans for after the drive too. Ben was ready for that news and it didn’t surprise Hoss either who had been expecting something like it because of things Adam had said and conversations they had had. Joe wasn’t ready for it though despite similar conversations and reacted as emotionally as they had all anticipated. Adam waited a short time and then followed his youngest brother who had stormed out of the house. He found him leaning against the corral fence.

“I did it again, didn’t I?”

“It’s your nature. I expected it. I gave you some time to cool down. I knew you would.”

“Is it true? You really haven’t made a decision about what you want to do? You might not leave us?”

“I haven’t made a decision. I’m restless and don’t know what I want. I need to explore some possibilities and think about what I want to do.”

“Why can’t you do it here?” Even as he asked, Joe knew the answer. “You need a taste of what’s out there to compare to what’s here. I don’t know how you can turn away from all that we have here.”

“Joe, I haven’t always lived here like this. I spent a long time traveling with Pa. I spent over four years away at school. I’ve been to Mexico and many other places. Travel holds an allure for me that I know it doesn’t for you and for Hoss. The other thing that I want to do is build things, things that will last. I can’t do that here either. Frankly I’ve come to find most of the work here boring. It makes me frustrated and that makes me angry. You know how hard I can be to live with when I’m like that. I need challenges that ranch work doesn’t give me. I would like to find a way to have both, but I don’t know how to do that. I want to explore my options. I’ll never leave you. You’re my family. This is my home no matter where I go.”

“So you’ll come back.”

“I promised Pa that I would.”

“And like Hoss said, you never lie. If you say it, it’s the truth.”

“It’s the truth.”

Joe slapped Adam on the shoulder then sealing their agreement. The two walked back into the house with that much settled. Joe still didn’t fully understand Adam’s desire to leave, but he did understand Adam believed he needed to do it. They talked more about it on the cattle drive. Hoss and Joe both had to help out more than usual because Adam still had some difficulty with riding as long as he needed to do his duties as trail boss, but when they got to Sacramento, both were glad he was trail boss. He negotiated a great price for the cattle, and then let them be the ones to bring the good news home to their father as he packed up his belongings and took a steamer downriver to San Francisco after asking them to get the chuckwagon and equipment home safely.

“You jest take care of yourself, older brother, and make sure you write cause Pa is gonna be worrying something fierce ifn you don’t.”

“Yeah, and if you find a pretty gal to marry, you know Pa wants the wedding on the Ponderosa no matter where you two plan to live afterwards.”

Hoss was gonna to tell Joe that he shouldn’t have said anything like that until he saw the strange look Adam had. It appeared that perhaps he had something in mind because he didn’t look at all upset at Joe’s statement, and in fact, he nodded as if he agreed to the request.

“Well, don’t that beat all.”

“What?”

“Oh, nothing, just thinking to myself is all. Just thinking to myself.”

*****

Chapter 6

In San Francisco, Adam spent a few days getting settled. He rented a small apartment, went to a tailor to order some clothing, made the round of shops to buy some items he thought he would need, and in general took care of anything he thought necessary. He sent notes to friends letting them know he was in town for an extended visit and soon had several invitations for lunches and dinners as well as a few parties. He made an appointment to speak to a friend at one of the most respected construction firms in town. Then he thought he was ready for one visit he had been thinking about for several months. He stopped by the offices of the Greater California Timber and Mining Corporation to talk to the president of the company who was very pleased to see him. With his endorsement, he was ready to make that next call. When he arrived, he found that he was nervous and that surprised him for he had made all sorts of calls in the previous days without feeling the least bit nervous for any of them even knowing he might find rejection. He knew there would be other options if his first choices said no. However his one was going to hurt if he got a rejection so it mattered more than all the others. He stood at the door and when a servant answered, he gave him one of the cards he had received from the printer the day before. He stepped into the vestibule and waited for the response. He heard it before he saw her.

“Mama, Adam’s here!” Then she was flying down the stairs with a big grin for him stopping to stand rather awkwardly not knowing exactly how she ought to greet him. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“I had rather guessed that. I’m glad to be here. I promised you dinner the last time that I saw you. If it is not too presumptuous, would it be acceptable to offer to take you to dinner this evening. I know it is short notice, but there is still a few hours before dinner.”

“Yes, I would love to go to dinner. It won’t take me long to get ready. You can stay and we can talk, and then when I need to change, you can visit with Mama if that is all right with you.”

“That sounds perfect. I would enjoy that. It’s been a hectic few days getting settled in here.”

“You’ve been here a few days already?”

“Yes. Why don’t we talk somewhere, and I’ll explain.”

Sierra led him to the parlor, and they sat there for over an hour as Adam explained his plans and discussed them with her. Sierra was surprised not knowing any of the frustrations that Adam had felt working on the Ponderosa. They had never had a chance to talk so openly when she was visiting on the ranch.

“So you might stay here in the city?”

“It’s a possibility. I don’t know. I want to explore options and see what kind of things I could do. What I do know is that I don’t want to spend my life herding cattle and fixing fences. I’m done with that. I can’t go back to that life. Oh, I could help out on occasion, but not to do that as my life’s work. It would be too difficult.”

“You’re not going back to the Ponderosa?”

“I’ll go back. It’s my home, but for how long, when, and in what capacity remains to be determined. I haven’t decided. I promised my father I would be back, and I mean to keep that promise.”

“It’s a beautiful place. I wish I could have seen more of it.”

“Maybe you can visit again and get that chance.”

“After what happened the last time, Papa said he doesn’t think it’s safe for me to be there.”

“Dangerous things can happen anywhere.”

“He knows that, but it did happen there. I hope he doesn’t mind that I’m going to dinner with you. I won’t be able to ask him. He usually arrives home a few minutes before dinner is served here.”

“I stopped at his office and I asked him. I wanted to make sure I started things off on the right foot with him. I like to have a plan.”

“Oh? And what’s your plan for this evening?”

“Dinner and conversation. We didn’t get a chance to do that when you visited on the Ponderosa. I thought perhaps if it goes well, we might do it again if you didn’t mind too much.”

*****

For the next week, except for Sunday when Adam was invited to dine with her family, he took Sierra to dinner. They talked about almost everything that she could imagine talking about, but at the end of that week, they were still only friends. He was polite to her, and as considerate as any gentleman could be, but he had not made even a small attempt to kiss her or show any interest in her romantically. She complained to her mother about that.

“My dear, he is getting to know you. He has spent more time with you than any man has ever spent with you. And if I recall correctly, you have complained in the past that men have shown no interest in your views or your thoughts and much too soon tried to kiss you or take privileges you were not interested in letting them have. It seems to me that Adam is behaving as you would want yet you complain about it.” At Sierra’s frown, Gwen smiled. She remembered what it was like to meet the man you wished would try to kiss you and perhaps take a few privileges you would be more than willing to grant. She was pleased to know that Adam was a gentleman who was not taking advantage of the situation but guessed it wouldn’t be long before he would make his intentions known to her daughter. She wasn’t going to make any predictions though. It was best that Sierra find that out for herself. It was likely not going to be much longer. Adam was a sophisticated man by Gwen’s estimation and probably knew very well the impact of his behavior on Sierra. Again she smiled inwardly. This was going to be a very interesting pairing.

On Saturday, Adam asked Sierra to be ready by early afternoon as he said they would be taking a ride before dinner. He asked her to be sure to dress warmly as they would be near the coast the wind might be cool. She decided however that she was more interested in enticing him than in following his instructions. She wore a low cut dress that showed off her figure very well but did little to keep her warm. When Adam saw her, she knew he appreciated it very much just by how his eyes quickly roamed up and down and his breath seemed to quicken too. What he said though was deflating.

“Does that dress have a jacket that goes with it? You may be chilled otherwise. I hired an open carriage so we could enjoy the view and there’s only so much that a lap blanket can do to keep you warm.”

Quietly, her mother came up behind her with a fur wrap and slipped it over her shoulders. “Here, my dear, you forgot this when you came down to greet Adam. Hello, Adam. So good to see you again. Will you be able to join us for Sunday dinner once more? I had a delightful time with you here last Sunday.” Gwen gave Sierra some time to adjust by engaging Adam in conversation. She knew her daughter was disappointed in both of them, but she would get over it.

“Thank you so much. Yes, I would be happy to join you if Sierra would like me here.”

With a bit of a petulant response, Sierra agreed that would probably be a good idea. She walked out ahead of Adam who looked back at Gwen and grinned. He mouthed his thanks and then followed Sierra to the waiting open carriage. They drove for a couple of hours outside the city and up to the top of a hill where a magnificent house stood nearly finished. Adam had the driver pull into the courtyard of that site. Sierra had gotten over her pout and they had been talking for the journey, but she was flabbergasted that he would pull into what appeared to be a private estate.

“Don’t worry. I’ve been hired to finish the place. The last architect quit, and they’ve got some things they want done. I’ll do the drawings and supervise the construction over the next few months. I plan to live on site during the week while I do so. I already moved my things here with their approval. This is where we’re going to have dinner. The view is spectacular, and I wanted to show you what I’m going to be doing and see what you think of my ideas.”

With that, Adam helped Sierra from the carriage and escorted her into the main part of the house which was mostly done. He took her to the front where a fire was burning in the fireplace and the room was warm. There was a table set for dinner and aromas of food filled the air. A man stepped from the kitchen to tell him that the meal was prepared as he had requested.

“Thank you. We can serve ourselves.” Adam handed over an envelope with payment for the man’s services and the food. He nodded in response and was gone. Turning back to Sierra, Adam smiled. We have the place all to ourselves. Well, except for the driver. He’ll be sitting in the vestibule to keep warm until we’re ready to go. I’ll bring a plate to him when we’re ready to eat.”

“I’m ready now. That food smells wonderful.”

So Adam filled a plate for the driver and then came back to serve himself. He went to the table with Sierra, and the two of them had their dinner with wine and looked out over the bay in the distance as the sun set.

“This is beautiful, Adam.”

“Yes, beautiful.” When Sierra turned back, she realized Adam was looking at her and not the view. “Would you like to take a tour of the house now when you can still see the view from the windows. They have a lot of windows in most of the rooms on this side.”

Pointing the way to the arboretum, Adam followed Sierra as she made her way into the room that had three nearly all glass walls and glass in the ceiling as well. She gasped with the beauty of it and turned back to Adam as he came up behind her. Their faces were only inches apart as a result. She paused wondering then if he would kiss her even as he wrapped on arm around her waist to hold her there but didn’t kiss her yet. He took one finger and traced her lips tantalizingly slowly making her lips tingle with his feathery touch. She felt her heart begin to race as her breathing increased. She thought he would kiss her when he leaned down but instead he softly kissed her cheek by her eye and then trailed kisses ever so gently down her cheek brushing his lips so softly over her skin and letting his warm breath cause her to almost shiver. Her lips parted as she breathed deeply until his lips reached hers even as his fingers continued their gentle caresses down her other cheek and across her neck and lower. His kiss coaxed her to be more responsive with gentle pressure increased gradually as did the intensity and passion of the kiss until she wrapped the fingers of one hand in the curly hair at the back of his neck to hold him to her even as he pressed her body to his. After several minutes of their passionate kissing, he broke away and held his cheek against hers as he hoarsely whispered in her ear.

“You’re supposed to tell me no about now.”

“I don’t want to say no. I want you to kiss me more.”

“Sierra, I can’t kiss you more and stop.”

“Then don’t stop.”

“I have to stop. This is too much too fast. Trust me. We have all the time in the world.”

“We do?”

“We do if you say yes.”

“Yes?”

“Yes when I say will you marry me?”

“Are you asking me or telling me that you will?”

“I’m asking you, but it isn’t coming out the way I planned. Something about holding you in my arms and kissing you seems to have affected my thinking.”

“Yes, I will marry you.”

That led to more kissing no matter Adam’s resolve to try to keep things from getting out of hand. They nearly did anyway but he stopped himself before he carried her off to the bedroom although it took a great deal of effort to deny himself that.

“We should head back now. It’s going to be very late as it is.”

“Yes, but I don’t mind.”

“Your parents might mind.”

“Not if I’m with you.” Pausing then for a moment, Sierra looked very serious. “Shouldn’t you have asked Papa first before you asked me?”

“I asked him over a week ago when I stopped in his office to see if I could call on you and take you to dinner.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“I wanted to give you a proper courtship and romance even if it was short. Frankly I don’t think I could have waited much longer. It was killing me not to kiss you.”

“But I wanted you to kiss me.”

“I know. But this first kiss will be a memory for both of us that we will never forget. Now, let’s get going.”

“Are you coming back here tonight?”

“No, I still have the apartment in the city. I’ll be staying here during the week though so I won’t be seeing you as much. I have to do some work. Friday night through Sunday night, I plan to be in the city.”

“Can I come out here to visit you during the week?”

“That’s not a good idea. I’ll be working during the day and doing the drawings at night. I’m sorry but it would be best if we stuck to the weekends for now. This job will take about six weeks to complete. Can you have a wedding planned by then?”

“I thought you would want to get married on the Ponderosa.”

“Your father said he wanted a wedding here so we can have a wedding here, and then if you don’t mind, we’ll travel to the Ponderosa for a big wedding celebration. We can say our vows again for good measure there.”

With another kiss, Sierra made sure to let Adam know that she approved of his planning. They gathered up her wrap and his coat then and went to find the driver for the ride back to the city. Bundled in the back of the carriage, they talked, kissed, and made plans. Most of all, Sierra was excited to tell her parents. She wondered if they would still be awake when they returned. There was no surprise as the house was lit from one end to the other.

“Do you suppose your father guessed that tonight was the night I would ask you?”

Of course Marcus had, and the happy couple was able to share their news and plans with her parents. They approved and had hoped as soon as they knew Adam was in town that he would want to court their daughter. Marcus had confided in Gwen of course that Adam had come to him asking for permission, but she had not spoken a word of it to her daughter wanting to let Adam take the lead but couldn’t have been more pleased at seeing how happy Sierra was.

*****

As soon as he could on Monday morning, Adam was at the telegraph office and Ben got the telegram he was hoping to receive and made plans to travel to the city for the wedding because he wasn’t going to miss it. For the next six weeks, Adam was busy with work and Sierra with wedding plans. Their time together became more and more intimate and passionate and that made Adam grateful for the respite of work for five days a week. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to withstand the temptation if not for that because he knew Sierra was ready to give herself to him whenever he would ask. He wanted it to be their wedding night so he had to be strong but found that more difficult than he had imagined. Meanwhile, Marcus sat down with Adam and Sierra and made them a business proposition. By the time Ben arrived, Adam and Sierra were ready to talk it over with him. It wasn’t something he was ready to accept outright, but he did say he would talk it over with Hoss and Joe on his return to the Ponderosa. Sierra was disappointed, but Adam told her that with his father, that was the most positive result they could have expected.

“Pa doesn’t adjust to change very easily and this shakes up a lot of what he was used to doing. It’s a good plan though so he may come around. I think Hoss and Joe will like it too so that may help.”

“It does bring you home for much of the time even though you won’t be working on the ranch itself.”

“Yes, there is that double benefit.”

*****

What Marcus had proposed was that because Sierra was his only heir, he would give her half of his company as her wedding present. She and Adam would then own half of his timber and mining company, which had actually divested itself of most of its mining interests in favor of railroads and shipping. He proposed that the company then merge with the Ponderosa timber and lumber operations to form a new company in which he would be a one fourth owner, Adam and Sierra would be one fourth owners, and the Ponderosa would own half. Eventually, Adam and Sierra would inherit the other one fourth and the whole could become a Ponderosa operation entirely if they so chose to make it one. Adam and Sierra would take over the on site operations and Marcus would continue to run the transportation operations from San Francisco. His company did some construction projects for the railroads and other businesses so Adam would be in charge of those. It seemed to satisfy all the parties if they could get Ben to agree.

When it was explained to Joe and to Hoss, they were enthusiastic for it meant no more long trips up to the camps and extra work when they had plenty to do with the cattle and horse operations of the ranch. It also meant that Adam would be back in the area instead of living hundreds if not thousands of miles away. To them, there were no drawbacks. By the time of the wedding, they had convinced their father to agree to the deal at least on a trial basis. They knew Adam would make it work.

The wedding in San Francisco was lavish, but Adam hardly noticed. He spent his time looking at Sierra and thinking about their first night together. He was as nervous as any bridegroom might be who wanted the night to be special. When they were finally alone, he was as gentle as he had been with the first kiss, taking his time and making Sierra respond in much the same way. By being patient, she was as enthusiastic as he was and their time together was as memorable as the first kiss. They only had a day together though before they had dinner with Sierra’s parents and then the next day traveled back to the Ponderosa with Ben. At the celebration at the Ponderosa, Hoss stood with his father near the end of the party and watched as Adam and Sierra danced.

“I think ya got all that ya wanted, Pa.”

“All that I wanted?”

“Adam ain’t leaving. He got married, and by the looks of him and Sierra together, there could be grandchildren fairly soon. He’ll be an even happier man with the new business to run, and he won’t be so restless like he was cause he’s gonna have plenty of challenges to keep him on his toes as if his wife weren’t enough to do that anyhow. Joe’s got a new gal already and he’s talking ’bout how to make the horse end of things an even bigger operation. Now that he’s got more responsibility, he’s acting more responsible too. Ain’t it what you wanted?”

“Yes, yes, most of what I wanted.”

“What else is there?”

“Only two more weddings to go. Only two more.” Ben laughed and walked off as Hoss sighed deeply wondering if his father would ever stop talking about that.

***The End***

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