Michelle or Rayne? (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Adam has a romantic encounter with a classy working girl in Reno, but that affects his relationship with the woman at home that he has been seeing.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  6407


Chapter 1

Joe proposed a wager to his two brothers as they stopped at the livery stable in the town they had entered.

“Loser buys a steak dinner with all the extras for the other two.”

“Leave me out of this. I just want to get a room, a bath, dinner, and a good night’s sleep.” Adam wanted no part of whatever shenanigans Hoss and Joe were up to.

“We were just gonna bet if that saloon girl with the one eye was still working at Harry’s. Don’t know why he’s kept her there for so long.”

“Joe, that gal is something else. Ain’t no gal like her anywhere out here. Heck half the men who go there go just to get a chance to take a walk in the alley with her and kiss and such. They say she can make you forgit she’s only got that one eye once you’re in the dark and kissing and hugging up with her.”

“You two are disgusting.”

“Hoss, I think older brother here is getting too old. He has completely forgotten how to have a good time.”

Adam just put his fingers to the bridge of his nose and sighed. The less time the two of them spent with women, the more they seemed to talk about it. The three of them were returning from a fruitless trip to Laramie where some highly praised horses they thought they might buy ended up being quite ordinary. Instead of the hunting they expected to do on the way back, they were riding to get home and away from the unrelenting heat, dust, and wind of the last two weeks. For entertainment, Hoss and Joe seemed to be trying to outdo each other with ribald stories and highly exaggerated claims of their exploits with women. It was one of those times Adam would not have minded his father along to make them all more restrained in their comments.

By the end of the day, they hoped to be in Reno with its dance halls, saloons, hotels, and restaurants. When they got to the hotel they usually stayed at, they found that there were only two rooms available: one with one bed and one with two beds. Adam opted for the single and grabbed that key. He would be on the first floor directly across from the bath.

“Hey, how come you get the single? Shouldn’t we flip for it or something?”

“Joe, you two are going to go out carousing until the saloons lock their doors. Then you’re going to come back in loud, drunk, and smelling like some saloon girls. You’ll crash into bed without undressing and fart and snore like freight trains until morning.”

Joe started giggling. “So, what’s your point?”

Adam just walked off to his room after ordering two baths, dinner, and breakfast in the morning. He had a book in his saddlebags and he planned to bathe once to remove the grime, and then sink into the warm water of the second bath and try to ease the soreness in his back muscles. For the rest of the evening, he planned to read and then slide between clean sheets for a long restful night.

Hoss and Joe headed to their rooms to freshen up a bit before heading to the saloon. Hoss won the bet for first use of the bath, and Joe had to buy him a big steak dinner on top of it. Later Joe didn’t feel too bad about that because one-eyed Sal decided he was cute and invited him for a walk in the alley. All the men in the bar gave him a nasty look as he left grinning with Sal on his arm. She only took one or two walks a night, and with rain threatening, this might be it. Joe made it back into the saloon with Sal just before a lightning jolt and thunder announced that the rain had arrived. Almost every man in that saloon groaned and Hoss may have groaned the loudest. It was likely that there would be no more one-eyed Sal tonight.

“Hey, Joe, how was it?”

“Hoss, you were right. She ain’t much to look in the light, but she is enthusiastic when it comes to kissing and such. I imagined it was that new gal working at the bank back home, and just closed my eyes and went to heaven. I didn’t think I was gonna be able to walk by the time we got done with a bit of romancing.”

“Damn, I gotta go. I’ll be back in an hour or so. Keep the bottle right where it is. I’ll be thirsty when I get back.”

“Where are you going?” Hoss gave him that look that said he ought to know. “Oh, right, well I’ll be right here when you get back.”

At the hotel, Adam had settled into the second tub of clean warm water and the attendant had come in the washroom to empty the first tub and wipe it down. Adam laid back and tried to relax his sore muscles. In addition to the fruitless trip to Laramie, he was depressed about his relationship with a woman at home. He had tried in as many ways as he knew how to break through her reserve and she continually rejected his advances keeping their relationship cool. They spent a lot of time together but there was no intimacy even after many months. Still, he was attracted to her and thought if only she would give him a chance, she might decide that she liked him enough to give in to some of his desires and would find she had desires too. He heard the door open and thought it was the attendant with a lamp because the lamp in the room had burned low and the light was dim.

“Oh, my, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize the room was occupied.”

Whirling around in the tub at the honeyed voice he had just heard, Adam saw a woman had hung her robe on the screen and was standing there dressed only in a sheer gown. There wasn’t much left to the imagination with the lamp she had set on the table behind her.

“Ma’am, if you would turn around, I’ll get out of here and you can have the washroom.”

“Now, I’m not sure I ought to turn around. You’ve gotten a pretty good view of me. Shouldn’t I get the same? And why are you sitting in here in the dark anyway waiting to surprise any woman who comes in expecting to bathe after a long day of work or travel?”

“Well, if it is any concern of yours, I paid for two baths because I was quite dusty from days of hard travel and was using this one to relax my very sore and stiff back if it’s any concern of yours. And if you want a view, you’ll have to come over here.”

Adam settled back into the tub wondering what she would do. The next thing that happened wasn’t even in the list of things he thought might happen. She told him to lean forward and she started to massage his back. It felt quite good except he was tense with a woman he didn’t know rubbing his back as he sat naked in a bath tub.

“I really can’t do a good job of this with you sitting like this. You need to be laying down.”

“My room is across the hall.”

“All right.”

With no look of embarrassment, she watched as Adam stood and handed him a towel as he stepped out of the tub. Watching as he dried himself, a little smile played around her lips. As he grabbed the robe the hotel had provided and slipped it on, she took her robe and slipped into it. Adam offered her his arm, opened the door and checked the hallway, and then escorted her across the hall to his room.

“What now?”

“Take off the robe and lay flat on the bed.”

Shrugging, he dropped his robe and lay on the bed. She proceeded to begin massaging his arms and his upper back working her way to his lower back and skipping down to his thighs and calves. Getting quite warm and somewhat uncomfortable with her hands on him, Adam didn’t want her to stop but thought he should say something.

“Thank you. My back feels better than it has since the accident.”

“What happened?”

“I fell off a house I was building.”

“You were building a house?”

Amazingly, for the first time, Adam told someone that whole story. Moving up his body, she continued to massage his back gently as he talked. When he finished, she told him to roll over.

“I don’t think I should. Your massage relaxed my back wonderfully, but not all of me is relaxed by what you did.”

“Good, I was rather hoping you found me desirable and didn’t see me as only the source of a free massage and someone to whom you could confide. Now, roll over.”

With that invitation, Adam did roll over and watched as she slipped out of her robe and gown to join him on the bed. He kissed her neck and then her lips before he rolled her on her side and pulled her up onto his chest. He grinned at her and she felt that her heart seemed to flutter. She leaned down to kiss him, and they spent a long time kissing before proceeding into a passionate bout of lovemaking. When they finished, they lay in each other’s arms.

“I’m embarrassed to ask this, but what is your name?”

She didn’t usually tell men her real name, but with this one, she wanted him to know. “Michelle. And your name?”

“Adam, Adam Cartwright. Hungry? I ordered dinner at eight so it should be here soon.”

He was correct. In just a short time, there was a knock at the door announcing that he was accurate. He slipped on his robe and answered the door taking a tray and handing a tip through the half open door. He brought the tray to the bed, dropped his robe, and sat down beside her. He fed her bites of food alternating with bites for himself. When they finished, she offered another massage and he rolled over on his stomach to let her. After their second bout of lovemaking, she fell asleep in his arms. That was also something she rarely did. Often men were unwilling to pay the extra just to have her stay until morning. But this one wasn’t paying anything. This was her time off between high paying clients, and she decided that this was only for fun, and so far it certainly had been.

The next morning, Michelle awoke to find the aroma of breakfast wafting across the bed. He slipped off his robe again, and they ate breakfast as they had eaten dinner. She could see that he had shaved again. She hoped that was for her. He was going to leave today but told her the room was paid for and she could stay as long as she wanted that day. She asked if he had time for one more, and he knew exactly what she meant. Just then there was a knock on his door and Hoss hollered and asked if he was ready to go. He yelled back that he would be in an hour. Then he smiled and slid into the bed again. An hour later he dressed, gave her one last kiss, and picked up his saddlebags. He thanked her for the night and asked if he could see her again.

“Sweetie, you must know that I’m no ordinary woman traveling the west. You don’t want to see me again and have everyone know what kind of woman I am. The gossip would destroy you.”

Nodding, he had a sad smile. He knew how gossip could steal your reputation, your credibility, and your honor. She was being very considerate of him. He kissed her and left closing the door softly behind him. When he got outside, he found his brothers waiting.

“Hey, older brother, you really missed a good time last night. Joe here got punched in the saloon cause of the rain.”

“Why would someone punch him because of the rain?” It made no sense at all to Adam.

“Cause he went out in the alley with Sal, but then the rain came and no one else could. So everybody was waiting for a reason to punch him. It didn’t take much. He got punched.”

Joe was sitting on his horse holding a wet cloth to his eye. He looked very sad until he grinned. “It was worth it. I had a great time except I got punched. How about you, older brother? You feel all better now that you got to sleep in like an old man?”

Hoss snorted, and Joe started laughing. Adam mounted up having secured his saddlebags, rifle, and bedroll. Just then the hotel doors opened and Michelle walked out dressed in slippers and the heavy cotton robe Adam had used.

“Adam, honey, you forgot this.”

Adam dismounted and walked up to her to retrieve his shaving kit. He bent down and kissed her. She smiled and walked back inside. Adam put his shaving kit in his saddlebags, and then mounted up again. His brothers were staring at him openmouthed.

“What?” Then Adam laughed, wheeled Sport around, and headed out of town. The rain had ended the dust and the heat. There was just a gentle breeze and Adam felt great.

“Hey, Adam, who was that? Hey, Hoss, do you know who that was? Hey, Adam, wait up, I got a couple of questions for you. Hey, Adam.”

*****

Chapter 2

Pestering Adam many times on the way home, Joe was destined to be disappointed. Hoss kept telling him Adam would tell him only what he wanted to tell and that wasn’t much. Asking over and over would just serve to make him angry instead of loquacious. That got a smile from Adam who could never picture himself as loquacious. He did wonder where Hoss learned that word and planned to ask him sometime.

By the time they returned to the Ponderosa, Joe was frustrated. He had gotten no more information from Adam except for that crooked self-satisfied smile he had every time Joe wanted to know who the lady was and how Adam knew her. Hoss thought he ought to know the answers to his questions just by Adam’s refusal to answer. He didn’t say anything about them talking together, or having dinner together or breakfast even, so Hoss assumed they had been doing the type of things Adam would never discuss with Joe, or their Pa for that matter.

Hoss smiled a little himself for he knew that at some point when he and Adam were working together, he would find out at least a little about the lady. Adam talked to him sometimes about things like that because Hoss always respected his privacy and never said anything disrespectful about the women Adam saw no matter what their chosen profession was or their marital status. Adam showed the same consideration for Hoss’ revelations about his behavior too. Hoss did wonder a bit about the widow Adam was seeing. He liked Rayne Matthews too, but she only had eyes for Adam it seemed although Adam seemed less than enthusiastic about her. He would ask him first chance he got. The chance came quicker than he expected.

On Sunday, Adam escorted Rayne to church. It was the first time he had done that, and it got tongues wagging. Adam was endlessly amused and often perturbed for it seemed that the women of Virginia City were so very concerned about his marital status and which woman he escorted anywhere. He took Rayne on a picnic after church. The heat had finally dissipated a bit and the day was warm but not beastly hot. With a nice breeze off the lake, sitting under the trees was pleasant. As they finished their lunch and packed items back into the basket, Adam touched Rayne under the chin and lifted her face as he leaned in to kiss her. She turned away before he could.

“Rayne, what’s wrong?”

“Adam, it’s just that you keep pressuring me to do things that women should only do when they are married.”

“I was just going to kiss you. You’ve never let me kiss you other than a kiss to the back of your hand.”

“It’s because I don’t think you’d stop with just a simple kiss. I’ve been married, and I think I know what you would really like to do.”

Sighing, Adam thought that was probably true, but he would only do what a woman permitted him to do. He would never do anything that made a woman uncomfortable. He would obey all the rules of propriety that a woman expected him to obey. He had told Rayne that more than once in the past, but she seemed to have trouble accepting him at his word.

“Is there some reason you don’t trust me? Have you heard stories about me forcing myself on a woman?”

“No, of course not.”

As Rayne answered, Adam had the impression that she had answered honestly but had left something very important out of the conversation. As he thought, he wondered how many stories there were about him and women circulating in town at any one time. He knew a lot of the stories were fantasies by some women and others were highly exaggerated accounts of his exploits. But how do you bring that up in conversation with a woman you would like to kiss? So Adam talked with Rayne about inconsequential things and drove her home kissing the back of her hand as he bid her good evening.

At night, Adam’s dreams were a mixture of things he had done with other women and things he would like to do with Rayne. In his dreams, Rayne was an amorous and loving woman so unlike the one he saw once or twice a week but who was so exceedingly reserved in his company. Sometimes in his dreams, Rayne had Michelle’s face or Michelle was there beside him, and Adam would feel guilty when he had those dreams. He had awakened a number of times after dreaming of the passionate Michelle. After each of those dreams he had trouble sleeping again as he thought about his one night with Michelle. He had been with Michelle only a short time and had a fairly good idea of how she supported herself, but he couldn’t help that he had developed strong feelings for her anyway. He tried to forget about her telling himself that he would never see her again, but in his dreams, her face was there all too often. His nights were filled with women even as his days were spent only with men.

So on that Monday morning when Adam was to go to town with Hoss to pick up fencing and building supplies, he was less talkative than usual because he was very tired. Hoss was determined to find out a few things though as they drove to town.

“So, that gal in Reno. Did you like her a lot?”

“Hoss, you know I liked her. I wouldn’t have spent the night with her otherwise.”

“Well, I mean did you like her enough to see her again cause I know you got a gal here already?”

“I don’t expect to see Michelle again, ever.”

“Ifn you did, would you want to be with her again?”

“Hoss, we had a very good time. It’s over. Now can we drop it?”

“Well, what about Rayne? You serious about her?”

“Listen, I know you like her. I’ve seen how you look at her. I don’t know where that’s going. I seem to expect too much of her or at least that’s what she says.”

“Ya ain’t, ya know, ya haven’t?”

“Hoss, I have been a perfect gentleman with her. I think she’s heard a lot of gossip.”

“Well, you and Joe do get the center role of a pretty fair share of the stories floating around town.”

“And you know that most of that about me is pure fantasy or exaggerated. I keep my life as private as I can, so they make up stories instead.”

By then they had arrived at the mercantile, and both got out. Adam stopped suddenly though as he saw Michelle step from the stage. She looked his way and gave him a full smile upon recognizing him. Adam walked to her, and she grabbed him in a big hug and gave him a full kiss. Adam gently disentangled himself.

“Michelle, what are you doing here?”

“I haven’t been with a man since I was with you. I came here to see how you felt. I never thought there would be just one man for me, but I’ve changed my mind. You could be that man.”

Adam was reacting physically to her presence as well as her words. He kept his hat in front of him as Hoss leaned against their wagon and snickered.

“I have work I need to do now, but could I meet you for dinner tonight?”

“My room or the restaurant?”

Michelle’s meaning could not have been clearer, but Adam had a lot to consider at this point. “The restaurant. I’ll carry your bags to the hotel for you, and I’ll make a reservation for dinner.” Michelle smiled and Adam carried her bags as she walked beside him admiring the handsome man with whom she had fallen in love. He had to wear his hat to free his hands and that let her know she had made quite an impression on him already. She smiled a little at that thought.

Adam was quiet as he rode home with Hoss. He was thinking about how different Michelle was from Rayne. Michelle would give herself to him if he asked. Michelle had followed him here and by that alone had declared how much she cared for him after just one night together although it had been quite a night. Without knowing anything about him, she had judged him by his actions and found him to be desirable. He had been seeing Rayne for months, and she trusted him only enough to kiss her hand. Adam voiced those ideas to Hoss who supported his conclusions. Seeing the look on Hoss’ face though made Adam remember that Hoss liked Rayne too so if his relationship with her soured, Hoss might just get lucky. He would have to spend some time thinking about this. He was already dreaming about Michelle and her charms. Now he would be thinking about what Rayne had to offer too even if all he had for that was imagination.

*****

Chapter 3

At dinner, there were a lot of stares as Adam sat and talked with Michelle. He was very honest with her and could see she was somewhat disappointed in what he had to say. Adam was honest that he was seeing a woman in town, but that the relationship so far was just friendship although she had agreed to let him court her.

“Do you want it to lead to marriage?”

“I thought I did. Now, I’m not as sure as I was. If I wanted that relationship to be more, I guess I should not have invited you to have dinner with me.”

“Will we be spending some time together? Exploring and seeing some of the sights?” Michelle’s smile belied the seeming innocence of that question. Adam wanted to reach across the table and pull her to him. Just sitting in her presence made him ache with longing for her. He made a snap decision so unlike him. He put money on the table to pay the bill and then offered her his arm.

Michelle smiled wondering what decision he had made, because although it was clear that something had changed, she wasn’t sure which way he had gone. She didn’t have to wait long though for he walked to the lobby and asked on which floor her room was. She indicated the first floor, and he walked her to her door. There, Adam pulled Michelle into an embrace and kissed her so passionately she had to push away from him eventually just to catch her breath. She had never been so excited just from kissing a man. Those lips and that tongue of his were electrifying. Being with Adam was like trying to control lightning and thunder for his passion was so great.

“Let me get my key, and we can continue this inside.”

Adam’s ‘No’ was disappointing, and he saw that in her expression. “I have to go put my horse in the stable if I’m staying in town tonight. I’ll be back if you want me?”

Michelle put her hand on the back of Adam’s neck and pulled him into a kiss with her. She kissed him as passionately as he had kissed her before she pulled back. “I want you. Don’t take too long.”

When Adam returned and knocked lightly on Michelle’s door, it was opened immediately. It was clear she had been waiting anxiously for him. She had dressed in a sheer gown with a diaphanous robe over it that made everything tantalizingly evident but hidden as well. Adam looked forward to opening the gift that had been presented. He pulled Michelle into his arms and kissed her with the desire that had built since he had last seen her. Michelle began by helping him slip out of his jacket and then unbuttoning his shirt. She pulled his shirttails from his pants and ran her hands over his broad chest twining her fingers in the dark hair there. Adam was trailing kisses down Michelle’s neck and across to her shoulders as he slipped her robe from her. As he backed her slowly to the bed, he pulled the gown up and over her head temporarily stopping her caresses but not for long. Then Michelle moved to unbuckle his belt and unbutton his trousers dropping them to the floor. The two tumbled into the bed wrapped together and breathing heavily already. Adam was ready for the occasion but thoughts of Rayne slipped unbidden into his mind. Her loyalty to him even when he was gone on a cattle drive or on that trip to Reno was evident as she was entertaining no other men in his absence. She was always there when he asked to see her. She always said yes when he asked to take her for a ride in the carriage or to have dinner on the Ponderosa. It hit him like a landslide. He had spent hours enjoying being with her and had yet to even kiss her. He had been so focused on what he was missing, that he missed seeing what he had. She had given herself to only one man in her life. When she gave herself to him, it would be forever. Could he expect that Michelle would be like that, and he thought he knew the answer even as he thought of the question and contemplated her answer.

“What just happened? You were ready to go and intent on ravishing me, and now you’re someplace else.”

“I’m so sorry, Michelle. I can’t do this. I do like you, and you are wonderful. But when I think of you, I only think of what we can do in bed. There has to be so much more than that.”

“That was good enough for you before. Think about it. This is what will be yours any day, any time, any time of the day or night that you want. Can you really say no?”

“I’m sorry, I just can’t do this.”

“So you really do love her. It is more than you said it was.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right about that, but I didn’t know it until I thought about betraying her here where everyone will know by tomorrow if they don’t already. I care for you and I think I love you, but I owe her something first. I owe her honesty.”

“Then you may have lost her already.”

As Adam was dressing, he had to nod his head at that. He may have lost her, but he would do his best to see if he could salvage his relationship with her. She had to know by now how damaged he was by past relationships so perhaps she could find it in her heart to forgive this transgression. He could only hope at this point. Once he was dressed, he looked at Michelle in the bed. She had pulled the blankets up to cover herself, but her beauty was still almost overwhelming. He had a moment’s hesitation but realized it was the physical attraction. He needed more and wasn’t sure she could give it to him.

“Michelle, I’m sorry. This has to be goodbye.”

“You’ll be back. You won’t be able to stay away with this in your thoughts.” Michelle threw the covers back exposing her full charms. Adam shook his head and opened the door to leave. “If you walk away from me now, don’t ever think you can come back. Stay now, or leave forever!” Adam pulled the door closed softly. He went to the desk and got a room for the night. He didn’t sleep much. He expected that the busybodies in town already had stories circulating.

In the morning, Adam got Sport from the stable and rode to Rayne’s modest home. She heard him ride up and stood on the porch as he dismounted and tied Sport to the hitching post. By her look, he had to assume she had already heard, and her biting words confirmed that.

“Have you come to add me to your list of conquests and discards. Rebecca, Regina, Ruth, Regan; do you have a thing for R names? Oh wait, there was Sue Ellen, and how many others, married or not?”

Holding his temper in check, Adam walked until he stood at the bottom step. He looked up at Rayne and tired and angry as she was, she was also beautiful in his eyes.

“Nothing happened last night. I had dinner with Michelle. I was in her room but nothing happened. I took a room for the night, and now I’m here to ask for your forgiveness.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“I’ve never lied to you.”

Rayne stood and thought. “Did you ever do anything with her before? There had to be a reason she came here looking for you.”

Adam had to nod his head.

“When? When were you with her?”

There was no way around that one. “In Reno. On the way back from Laramie.”

Rayne looked at him and saw that it was the truth. She looked at him with a face devoid of any expression, and in a voice free of any emotional overtones, she pronounced their relationship was irretrievably broken. “It’s over between us.” Still with no tears and no discernible emotion of any kind, she turned her back on him and walked into her home shutting the door firmly behind her.

*****

Chapter 4

Adam bowed his head and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand before turning and mounting up to ride home, alone again. About a mile out of town, he pulled Sport to a halt. He sat and thought for several minutes before turning his horse back to town. He didn’t need to be alone. Rayne had been cold to him and turned him away for doing what many men in the west did. Surely she knew that. He had to wonder what would have happened if they had married. He never would have forced himself on her. Perhaps she would have remained as cool to him in marriage as she was in courtship. She must know that many courting couples practiced for the wedding night, and the arrival of babies in seven or eight months after the wedding ceremony was hardly unusual. Now Rayne might not want him as he was, but there was a woman there who would accept him as he was with all his faults and not expect him to be a paragon of virtue. If there was enough there on which to build a future, it would only be determined by time. He had to ask if she wanted to find out.

When Adam arrived at the hotel, he found Michelle in the lobby with her luggage. She was checking out. When he said her name, she turned briefly to him but turned away just as quickly. He could see that her eyes were puffy and red and knew that he had been the cause of that. She was going to walk past him and out the door with her bags, but he caught her elbow.

“We need to talk.”

“I think you said everything that needed to be said. I told you if you left that would be it.”

“I know you said that, but did you mean it? I’ll go now and never bother you again if you say you meant it. It would only be fitting for you to break my heart after I was so selfish and insensitive.”

That Michelle stood silently with her eyes downcast was something that actually gave Adam hope. She wasn’t dismissing him outright. She was thinking about what he had said. This was already one step better than what had happened with Rayne.

“What happened?”

“I don’t want to say it here. The whole story would be all over town in minutes. Most of it probably will be anyway, but I would like to preserve a little bit of privacy. Will you walk with me to a place where I know we can talk privately and no one will assume anything or if they do, it will be so far from the truth as to be ludicrous.”

Michelle nodded so Adam picked up her bags and carried them with him out the door, which he held for her. A short time later, he entered Doctor Paul Martin’s office. Paul wanted to know how he could help him and Adam said only that he needed a private place to talk with Michelle. Paul was understanding and told them to go upstairs to the apartment he shared with his wife. She was out at a quilting bee and wouldn’t be back for hours. Once up there, Adam wasted no time in explaining.

“I admitted what I had done, and she turned away and closed the door to her home. She wasn’t even angry enough to call me names or tell me to go away. She was cold. Now I wonder if she loved me or loved the idea of being married to me. The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference. You’re mad at me, and I can tell too that I made you cry. It was cruel of me to treat you like I did, but I can tell you care. You had real feelings for me. I hope I haven’t destroyed them by my callous behavior. I felt guilty and took it out on you. I was wrong, and I beg your forgiveness.”

Again, Michelle was silent as she thought about what he said. “How do you feel about me?”

“I love you. I didn’t know how much until I was riding home and realized that I didn’t feel that badly about Rayne turning her back on me, but I was worried about you and wondered how you were doing after I left you without telling you how I felt or why I thought I had to do what I did.”

“You said enough.”

“Perhaps, but I left out some important things. I always keep my promises. I promised to court Rayne so I felt bound to do so. Being with you was betraying that promise.”

“And now?”

“She freed me from my promise. She’s done with me. Now, if you can ever forgive me, I would like to see if we have enough between us to sustain us as a couple.”

“How do we do that?”

“Would you consent to staying on the Ponderosa as my guest?”

“I do recall something about begging being mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”

“You are a wicked woman to remember that foremost of all the things I said to you, but that is nothing less than I deserve so you shall have it.” Adam got down on one knee and took Michelle’s hand in his. “Michelle, please accept my invitation to be my guest on the Ponderosa.”

“Would we be sharing a room?”

“No, I’m sorry, but we can’t. My father would never accept that. However there are carriage rides, picnics at the lake, and walks in the moonlight.”

“That sounds lovely, but Adam, I have a serious question for you. Would you ever marry a woman like me? You see, I don’t want to be a kept woman. I never wanted any man to have any power over me, but I fell in love with you, and that’s a kind of power too. Oh, I guess, I’m not saying this well, but I’ve opened myself up to be hurt by you, and it’s all a bit frightening.”

“I’ve opened myself up to you as well. I’ve already been more honest with you than I probably ever was with another woman. We’re in this together.”

“Yes, and you did mention a carriage ride out to the Ponderosa. I would think that carriage rides with you can be very interesting.”

Adam wrapped his arms around Michelle and pulled her close. “Let’s get your bags, say goodbye to Paul and thank him, and then we need to rent a carriage. Let’s go.” After a moment, he had another thought. “And I have to warn my brother Hoss.”

“About what?”

“I’ll explain as we ride home.”

***The End***

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