Angela and Adam stories (by BettyHT)

Summary:  There are four stories.  Angela’s Story — Acting in a wholly uncharacteristic way, Adam meets a saloon girl on a trip and begins to fall in love, but will the Cartwright Curse strike again?  Who Are You? — What would happen if you lost some of your short term memory and it never came back? Adam has to deal with it in this story, and Angela suffers too even as the family tries to help both of them.  Travels and Travails — Adam and Angela travel to Arizona to see her family and must face problems that emerge because of her past as well as new problems.  Helen and Hoss  –A Hoss story although all the other family members are included. Helen Layton returns. That Hoss will be hurt again is what his family fears, but then they have a series of problems to face seeking a happy ending.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  T
Word Count:  71,159


Angela’s Story

Chapter 1

Catching the signal from one of her friends, Angela brushed her skirt, took a deep breath and walked towards where the man in black was sitting wondering what he was doing. He had bought her a drink and had been very nice to her. She had sat on his lap and kissed him when she delivered his drink. She had slid herself over his lap and wrapped an arm around his shoulder. He seemed to enjoy the attention. He didn’t do anything overtly there where everyone could see, but that velvet voice of his had made her tingle with longing. He kissed her cheek and then her neck and she felt her excitement rise. He slid his hand down her back caressing her as he kissed her and she felt like he was making love to her even though they were both fully dressed.

Then when Angela had offered her observation of the poker game, the man in black had abruptly excused himself as he set her on her feet and walked over asking to sit in. She walked behind him wondering what he was doing and looked over his shoulder and saw that he was drawing to an inside straight. Her father had taught her enough about poker to know that wasn’t a smart move, and this seemed to be a very smart man so she assumed he had to be bluffing. Keeping her poker face, she moved around the table and saw each hand. There were two of a kind and three of a kind and one drawing to complete a flush and another with only an ace. Nothing too strong showed though so unless they drew well, he might have a good chance of bluffing them. The betting was modest and he raised twice. After the second raise, there was only one left in the game to contest him. She walked around to stand behind the man in black, but he had the cards together in his hand and she couldn’t see what he had. She assumed he had not gotten the card he wanted, but from his face, no one could tell. The man with the three of a kind called and laid down his cards. The man in black laid his cards down too and had his small straight.

Three of a kind said that’s not possible, and the man in black said how could you know that unless you were dealing crooked. The man in the green jacket sitting next to him said of course you were, now you can leave easy or hard, it’s up to you. Facing both men, the card shark dealer stood and thought about drawing hoping to surprise the two, but the look from the man in black and the eagerness in the man in the green jacket led him to believe he ought to just cut his losses and exit while he was still without holes in him. These weren’t ordinary cowboys. The man in the green jacket asked the man in black how he knew the dealer was cheating. The man in black picked up a ten dollar gold piece and flipped it to Angela. Thanking her, he started to walk out saying he would see the man in the green jacket back at the hotel soon he hoped. A big man in a ten gallon hat who had been leaning against the bar observing the whole scene slapped the man in black on the shoulder and walked out with him.

Angela wondered how he had gotten the card he wanted, and when she mused aloud, the man in the green jacket laughed and said he gave it to his brother under the table. He said he wasn’t ever worried when he was in a game in a strange town because his brothers always watched out for him. She said they cheated, and he said they evened the odds. The game broke up then and the man in the green jacket tipped his hat to her before walking out undoubtedly to join his brothers.

Angela sighed. It had been a profitable night but she wished it could have been so much more. She was resigning herself to a night alone when the door was pushed halfway open, and the man in black was there. He nodded at her with a look that was inviting. She shook her head yes and he grinned. Telling the bartender that she was done for the night, she picked up her wrap and went to the door. He took her arm and as soon as they were out of sight of the doors, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a passionate kiss. Then he invited her to his room for the night. She didn’t even tell him he had to pay as she agreed to do as he asked. He put his arm around her and pulled her in for another kiss. She reached around him and grabbed his butt making him laugh softly. She was impressed. He was muscular and trim. Angela just knew this was going to be a wonderful night.

“The name is Adam, ma’am.”

“I’m Angela. And that’s really my name. Some gals make up names when they work in saloons, but that’s really my name.”

“Had no reason to doubt it, Angela.”

“Adam, it was very hot today, and the saloon was very smoky. Perhaps you could excuse me to clean up a little first?”

Looking down at her, the man in black smiled. “I’ll take care of that. Could be fun.” As they reached the hotel, he walked with her to the desk and asked to have a room.

“Isn’t the room you have adequate, Mr. Cartwright?”

“It’s fine. I would just like another please.” After accepting the key, he made a few requests. “Please send up two pitchers of water and some scented soap. Please have a tray of desserts sent up and a bottle of wine, chilled, with two glasses.”

Taking the key in one hand and her arm in the other, he walked with her up the stairs to the room he had just rented. Angela was in shock. She was with a Cartwright! And he picked her over all the women he could have in his room tonight! Even in a little town like Beatty, they had heard of the Cartwrights. She had heard the youngest often took a woman with him to his room when he was traveling. He must have been the one in the green jacket. The large one was also known to find a gal when he traveled far from home like this. Little had ever been said about the oldest one, and that must be the one she was with now. She worried a little at the stories she had heard of how dangerous he was, but he seemed so nice to her. She thought about it and realized he had shown her every consideration so far, and had moved immediately to help his brother. She had no doubt he would have shot the card shark if the man had pulled his weapon. Perhaps he was only dangerous to people who deserved that.

“Lost in thought?”

They had reached his room and she realized she was just standing there. “No, ah, yes, ah, well you make me a little nervous, Mr. Cartwright.”

Smiling he wrapped his arms around her waist. “Now, I would never want you to be nervous. If you don’t want to do this, just say so.”

“No, I want to, it’s just that, well, it’s that, oh you know.”

“You’ve heard stories.” He took a deep breath and released it. “Have you ever heard a story that I hurt a woman, or anyone else who didn’t deserve it?”

She shook her head. Then she smiled at him. His gentle response to her questions said more than anything that she had nothing to worry about here. She stood on her tiptoes to reach his lips and kissed him that made him grin again. Gosh she was really loving that grin and hoped she could do things to make him grin that way at her even more. By the time they had finished talking, there were two men there. One carried a tray of desserts and the other had two pitchers of water. They set down their deliveries, including a bar of scented soap one man pulled from his pocket, and Adam handed each a coin. Then he excused himself, crossed the hall, and opened the door. He returned quickly with his saddlebags, closed the room door behind him, and locked it.

“Now let’s see about freshening you up a bit. That was your request if I remember correctly.”

He stepped to her and began unbuttoning her dress as he kissed her. Once the dress fell to the floor, he slid his hands under her chemise and pulled it up and off. Stepping away from her and pouring water into a large ceramic bowl, he soaped his hands thoroughly and then began to slide them over her shoulders and down her arms before sliding them up her arms and under. From there he slowly made circles with his soapy hands until he had soaped all of her front. Soaping his hands again, he moved behind her then starting again at her shoulders and made circles down her back and back up before sliding his hands around to her front to soap her there again.

“We need to make sure not to miss a spot.”

Then he moved to the basin and rinsed his hands before wetting a towel. He returned and with the wet towel, traced the path he had followed on her right side and then on her left side before going around and doing the same to her back. He dropped that towel on the dresser and picked up a white fluffy dry towel and followed the same pattern spending a long time wiping and wiping until she thought she would scream out her desire for him. He grinned as she reached out her arms to him and he pressed them back to her sides.

“There’s the best yet to come. Be patient.”

He slid her petticoats off then, and then slid his hands inside her pantaloons, one on each side, and pressed slowly down until they dropped to the floor. Then he carefully slid one stocking down her leg, and then the other. He unhooked her shoes and slid them off and pulled each stocking away. He returned to the basin and soaped his hands again. He walked behind her and soaped her in long sensuous strokes from her ankles to her waist and back down again. He returned to the bowl and rinsed his hands and wet another towel which he used to remove the soap from the back of her legs in the same slow method he had used above her waist. Then he used the soft fluffy towel and dried her. She didn’t have to see it. She knew he had to be grinning again.

“Now to the part we’ll both like best I think.”

He soaped his hands again and slid them down the front of her legs and back up. She wanted him to hurry but he wouldn’t. He was enjoying this too much. He must have been getting a little impatient too for he grabbed the wet towel he had already used and cleaned her legs. He held her to him as he slid his tongue along her lips and then into her mouth where she softly touched his tongue with hers. They kissed and their tongues began to dance back and forth from one mouth to the other. She heard him groan. She helped him undress. There was a knock on the door and someone tried to open the door but found it locked.

“Hey, older brother, Joe and me each got an itch that needs to be scratched. Gonna go out to see if there’s a coupla gals might want to help us with that. You want to come along?”

That comment elicited some giggles so Adam knew Joe had to be there and probably well on his way to being drunk. However at the moment, Adam found it difficult to speak. Hoarsely he answered simply.

“No thanks.”

“Hey, older brother, you sure about that?”

That brought about more giggles and then Hoss was laughing too. Irritated at the interruption, Angela answered next.

“We’ll see you at breakfast. Have a good time.”

That brought only dead silence at the door, and Angela returned to what she had been doing as Adam pulled her to the bed. He held her close and didn’t say anything for quite a while even as his hands caressed her sliding up and down her back. Angela relaxed into his embrace as he told her how wonderful she was. How she wished Adam would think she was wonderful for something other than making love, but it was so satisfying to be with him. She couldn’t remember ever feeling this good. After they made love in the bed, Adam released her and she wondered what he would do next. She hoped so much that her comment about breakfast would be true, but expected that now he would send her on her way. Instead she was so relieved and happy when he walked to the table and pulled the bottle of wine from its ice water bath to open it. He poured two glasses of wine then and turned to hand one to her before he picked up the dessert tray and nodded toward the bed.

“I think we’ll be more comfortable there.” He grabbed the wine bottle and set it on the bedside table. Setting his wine glass on the table too, Adam pulled the covers back on the bed before sliding in and setting the tray of desserts on top of the covers.

“Could I interest you in a sweet, Angel?”

Angela nodded and he picked a small slice of chocolate cake. After taking a bite from it, he motioned for her to open up and placed the remaining morsel in her mouth.

“Good?”

Angela nodded and he looked over the tray to make his next selection. There was some type of cookie. He broke it in half, ate one part, and fed her the other. Smiling he grabbed his wine glass and drained the rest of his wine.

“One more?”

Adam selected a small piece of an apple dessert, took a bite, and fed the rest to her. She couldn’t take it all in one bite, so he waited and then fed her the rest bit by bit. She took his fingers then and sucked them into her mouth licking and sucking the tangy sweet sauce from his fingers. As Angela sucked on Adam’s fingers, he stretched his other arm behind him to set his wine glass on the table next to the bed and then reached up with that hand and reached around her to pull her to him. As Adam continued his gentle loving touching, Angela reached for his chest and twirled her fingers in his chest hair. Again they were making love. Angela was worried but so enjoyed being with this man. After his breathing and heart rate began to return to normal, he opened his eyes to see tears on Angela’s cheeks though her eyes were tightly squeezed closed. Rolling to her side immediately, he cradled her in his arms.

“Please tell me I didn’t hurt you. I’m so sorry if I did. Please forgive me. I never ever want to see a woman cry. Please, Angela, tell me what’s wrong.”

Angela buried her head against his chest and let him hold her tightly. He caressed her back and firmly held her to him. Gradually the tears subsided, and she knew she needed to explain but was afraid of what his reaction might be. She had hoped she would never have to tell him, but her tears had betrayed her to this wonderful loving man. Slowly she choked out her story.

“One year ago, Apaches raided our farm. My husband grabbed a rifle and told me to hide. They found me. I spent fifteen days with the Apache before they traded me to some Mexicans who turned me over to the Army in exchange for one of their people. That’s when I found out my husband was dead, our home was burned, and our stock was gone. I had nothing. My father told me it would have been better if they had killed me. He told me to find my own way.”

“You were raped.” Adam said it sorrowfully. This young woman must have endured so much. He pulled her close to him again to try to soothe some of her anguish.

Closing her eyes tightly as she told her story, Angela wanted to avoid seeing the revulsion she was sure she would see in Adam’s eyes at her revelation. Instead he had pulled her into a tight, warm embrace. She couldn’t see his face but that gesture said more than anything that he was not disgusted by her. She opened her eyes to look at him and found his sympathetic glance almost more than she could take after the rejection by her own family.

“Yes, they traded me around that camp. The most anyone gave for me was a horse, but then he wanted me all the time and shared me with his friends too. I wanted to die. When I was released, I was covered with sores and insect bites, bruises, scrapes, and a few burns. Apparently some men like my father didn’t see that as enough evidence that I resisted as much as I could. I guess they thought I needed to be dead to show how hard I fought them.”

“I’m so sorry if I made things even worse for you. I never meant to take advantage of your vulnerability. I thought you wanted to be with me.”

“Oh, I did want to be with you. You’re kind and generous. You cared how I felt and did your best to make it wonderful for me too. You’re not at all like the other men here who want what I can do for them, but then call me names and push me away when they’ve satisfied themselves. You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a year.”

“Angel, then why were you crying?”

Dropping her head, Angela mumbled into his chest. Adam couldn’t understand what she said and asked her to say it again, please.

“I was afraid you’d make me with child.”

“How would that be different than other men? I’m sorry, but I assumed you’d been with other men.”

“I have. I had to just to survive. But I only do things that won’t make me with child. Men are happy with that, and I don’t have to worry about having one of their babies. I just couldn’t have a baby and not know who the father was.”

“What if you are now?”

“I don’t know. It scares me a little, but it was only this time.”

Holding her tightly against him, Adam rested his chin on the top of her head and thought. Many ideas and memories flashed through his mind.

“If you’re pregnant, I’ll marry you.”

“What! You can’t just marry someone like me just like that.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, I don’t know. How would your family react to you marrying a saloon girl?” Angela was getting a little upset thinking that he might toying with her or teasing her about something so serious.

“Oh, I imagine my pa getting upset. He roars like a lion and bellows like a bull when he’s upset. You’d have to get used to that.”

“Oh, be serious. You’d never marry the likes of me. You must have lots of women after you.”

“Hmm, that may be true, but love affairs haven’t gone so well for me. Perhaps marrying for a child with someone you like would be better. Falling in love and having your heart broken is not any fun at all.” Suddenly with a saloon girl in his arms, Adam’s defenses were coming down, and he was talking more openly than he did with almost anyone else except Hoss.

“So you would really marry me if I was having your baby?”

“Yes, I would.” Kissing her softly, Adam pulled her to his shoulder. “Perhaps now we could get some sleep, though. I believe you made a breakfast date for us.”

Glancing up to see him smiling again, Angela snuggled down. “Aren’t you going to turn the lamps down?”

“I wanted to be sure you were comfortable first.” At her nod, Adam slipped out from under the covers and turned down the lamps. Then he slipped back in next to Angela and pulled her into a spoon position with her back to his front, and his arm wrapped around her. Relaxing into that, Angela heard his breathing slowly settle into a soft pattern, and she knew he was sleeping. She closed her eyes then, and for the first time in over a year, she felt safe.

*****

Chapter 2

Early the next morning as the sun began to climb over the mountains and a gentle breeze blew in through the hotel room window, Angela stretched out her arms and realized that she was alone. She looked over the room to see Adam standing at the dresser shaving. The muscles in his back and arms moved as he shaved.

“Like the pre-breakfast entertainment?”

Startled, Angela looked up to see that Adam could see her in the mirror. She wondered how much of that muscle flexing had been necessary to the task of shaving and how much was just for her. It didn’t matter for she enjoyed it either way. Her hair had come undone with the lovemaking and sleep so she removed the rest of the pins and let the hair fall down on her shoulders. Adam walked to the bed and she reached out her hand for him.

“Are you sure?”

Tugging him down into the bed was all the answer Adam needed. He ran his fingers through her hair, and began kissing her first on each cheek, then her lips before trailing kisses down her neck and lower. Their lovemaking was slow and sensuous as each caressed the other until they were locked in a lovers’ embrace. They kissed passionately with their tongues slipping in and out of each other’s mouths.

“Adam, I want you so much.”

They made love as gently as anyone could. When they were lying in each other’s embrace later, Adam smiled at Angela.

“I’m not sure I can ride today.”

“Cowboy, you’re doing real well in the saddle, I think.”

As Angela saw his grin grow, she had to giggle in response. It was so pleasurable being with him that she couldn’t imagine how any woman had ever walked away from him. She wanted to ask him to tell those stories but knew they didn’t have time. Instead she excused herself to get dressed so she could go to her room to change for breakfast.

“Are you still so worried about being pregnant?”

“No, not at all. I started feeling some cramping this morning, and I’m sure now that I’m not pregnant. I do need to go to my room to change and take care of things though. It’s right across the alley. I live in the room above the store. I’ll be back soon.”

“Leave your hair down, please. I like it like that very much.”

Smiling at him as she unlocked the door, Angela closed the door softly behind her and was still smiling as she stepped from the hotel porch down to the alley to walk to her room.

“Where you been? I was looking for you last night, and you weren’t in the saloon.”

A rough looking cowboy in a dirty plaid shirt and dusty trousers accosted her almost at once. She knew he knew exactly where she had been. He was her most disagreeable customer and she avoided him as much as she could. Now more than ever she wanted to be away from him, but he was moving toward her with a leer that made her afraid.

“I’m not working now. I’m going home to change. I have plans. I’m sorry.”

Angela tried to work her way around the man, but he moved quickly and pinned her arms at her side as he pushed her up against the wall of the store.

“You’re gonna do whatever I want, you white squaw. I know you done everything with them Injuns, so you can do something for me right here.”

Roughly, he held her to the wall with one hand and a knee as he used his other hand to fumble with the buttons on his fly. Before he had a chance to do anything more, he was violently thrown away from her. He landed on his back and jumped up swearing to find he was facing an enraged Adam Cartwright. Adam had rushed out so fast, he didn’t have his gunbelt on. As the cowboy saw that, he grinned and pulled his coat back to free his pistol. There were suddenly two men behind Adam with their guns drawn. The cowboy didn’t like those odds, turned, and almost ran down the alley.

“Brother, you do know you need to bring your pistol to a gunfight, now dontcha?” Hoss’ words were in jest but his expression was serious.

“I’m sorry, Hoss. I heard what he said and rushed out here.”

“Yeah, Hoss and I were just getting a table at the restaurant when we saw you run by. Had to find out what made you run in the morning. Have to say we didn’t expect this. Thought you were running away from this gal not to her.” Joe’s words were jesting too, but like Hoss, his demeanor was quite serious.

Walking to Angela, Adam pulled the sobbing woman into his arms.

“Is your room up these stairs?”

At her nod, he began to walk her up to her room. Looking back over his shoulder, he addressed his brothers.

“We’ll be at breakfast soon. Then we’re going to buy a horse and saddle. She’s coming with us.”

Waiting until Adam and Angela entered the room at the top of the stairs, Hoss turned to Joe.

“Well, this is gonna be a big surprise to Pa. If anyone was ever gonna bring a saloon gal home, we all would have bet on you, Joe. Adam! Well don’t that beat all.”

Hoss put his arm around Joe’s shoulders as they turned to walk back to the restaurant.

Within a half hour, Adam and Angela joined Hoss and Joe at the restaurant. After introductions were made, Angela talked with Adam’s brothers.

“You can tell him he doesn’t have to do this. I’ve made my way through a lot worse than that dirty cowboy.”

“Ma’am, our older brother here thinks things through pretty well usually. Ifn he thinks you need our help, well, then that’s what you’re gonna get. Don’t make no nevermind to us. Joe and I would be pleased to travel with ya to Virginia City.”

“Do you and Adam have any plans other than leaving here?” Joe was curious as to what Adam intended. He already liked this Angela and found her quite attractive. If she worked in one of the saloons at home, he might find time to be with her.

“We’ll get her to Virginia City, find a place for her to stay, and see about getting a proper job for her. No more saloons.”

Hoss was surprised by all of that. It sounded like Adam was setting her up to be his mistress. Hoss knew how their Pa would explode if that was true. On the other hand, Adam didn’t always share all the important details. Hoss wished he knew what questions to ask so he could fully understand this situation, but it was all so unusual, he couldn’t.

After the four of them finished their breakfast, they headed to the stable to see about buying a horse and saddle. Angela turned out to be an excellent judge of horses and picked two that she thought would be good. Joe liked her choices so much he asked how much it would cost for both of them. The liveryman was happy to sell two and a saddle, so he gave them a good price.

“Joe, are you sure about this? Pa didn’t send us out to buy horses.”

“No, Adam, he didn’t. But he didn’t send us out to buy a saddle or bring a saloon gal home with us either. These are two fine horses, and we can use them on the ranch. They’re both young and tall so they will be good brood mares. They won’t be cutting horses by the looks of them, but they’ll make good horses for riding fence lines and such. They look very durable too.”

“All right, all right. I didn’t mean to offend. I just wanted to be sure this was a business decision.”

Once all four horses were saddled, they decided to put Angela’s valises, and their camping gear on the fifth horse. Hoss was pleased.

“Well, boy howdy, this is working out real well. Our horses don’t have to carry as much this way, and we’ll make better time getting back. Probably only one night camping and then we’ll be able to make it back the next day. Could be late the next day, but it won’t matter ifn we get to eat Hop Sing’s cooking and sleep in our own beds.”

Joe snickered at Hoss’ desire to get home to Hop Sing’s cooking. On the other hand, he wouldn’t mind having a tasty meal or two himself. That night, Angela volunteered to cook dinner. Rummaging through the sack of food they had, she pulled out a number of things. In just a short time, there were aromas coming from the covered skillet that they were not used to smelling while on the trail. Angela opened the skillet and put all the concoction onto one plate before returning to the fire where she threw bacon in the bottom of the pan and as it was sizzling, added the beans she had been soaking in the coffee pot. She rinsed the pot and made coffee. In just a few minutes, the beans were hot and the coffee was ready. She called them to eat. She had cooked the potatoes with onions and some of their beef jerky. The beans and bacon were tastier together and they all enjoyed their meal.

“What else did you put in these beans? I have never tasted beans this good.” Hoss had eaten beans so often on the trail, he wanted to know how to make them taste this good.

“There was a little brown sugar there so I added that. The bacon added enough salt, and the two flavors of salty and sweet work well together.”

“That they do, Angela, that they do!”

After they ate, Joe cleaned the dishes in a small stream and packed them away. Breakfast would be biscuits and jerky. Adam had walked away and was standing on a ridge watching the last of the sunset.

“Hoss, Adam is very quiet. He hardly talked today.”

“Angela, he’s like that a lot when he thinking on something. He’s trying to get everything straight in his head. He’ll talk when he’s ready.”

“Do you think it would be all right if I went to talk with him?”

At Hoss’ nod, Angela walked to join Adam. He heard her coming.

“I’m sorry I didn’t talk with you much today. I was thinking about a lot of things.”

“What kind of things?”

“I don’t know if I can ever look at a saloon girl or a working girl the same way again. I always thought it was their choice to make a living that way. It never occurred to me that it might be the only choice they had. Just like you, what does a woman do if her family and friends turn their backs on them? I feel badly about what happened. I feel like I used you for my own benefit.”

“No, it was my choice. I didn’t have to go with you. I already had ten dollars from you, and I could have gone to my room if I wanted. I wanted to be with you. You were the nicest thing to happen to me in so long. I wanted someone who wanted me like that. And then you were so gentle and loving. You cared that I enjoyed our time together too. Now you got me out of a bad situation and you’re my friend. Your brothers are my friends now too. So, I’m going to live in a new town where no one knows my background, you’re going to help me find a place to live and a proper job, and I have friends. Yesterday morning, none of that seemed possible, and now it’s coming true. It’s a dream and you made it happen.”

“You made me feel a whole lot better about all of this. I still feel a bit guilty but not as much as before. Angela, how old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, Adam looked at her. “I’m eleven years older than you. You’re only a year older than Joe.”

“He’s cute. Not like you, but in a boyish kind of way.”

Getting some insight into her with those comments, Adam had a few more questions. “How old was your husband when he was killed?”

“Same age I was at the time: twenty-two.”

“And the men who came to you in Beatty were all much older, weren’t they?”

“Yes, usually. Some were older than my father.”

“No more. You can start to forget about that part of your life and start looking forward now.” Adam smiled at her and put his arm around her shoulders to walk her back to camp. Joe saw them come back and felt a twinge of jealousy.

*****

Chapter 3

“What do you mean, you ‘brought a saloon girl here to keep her safe’? What will people think if they hear about this?”

“Pa, Angela needs a place to stay. There’s no room at the boarding houses in town right now, and putting her in a hotel makes it look like I’m setting her up like a mistress. It will only be for a few days until I can work something else out. Our friends will know we are doing nothing wrong and are helping a friend. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not a friend.”

“Very easy for you to say. You seldom seem concerned about what others think. But, what of this girl? What will people be thinking about her? Doesn’t her reputation mean anything to her? If you want to help her, don’t you think you ought to care about that?”

“Well, how about if I can get Shaughnessy or another woman to stay here too? Would that make it all right with you?”

“Well, yes, I suppose that would be acceptable. Maybe not even necessary. But, Adam, it has to be for only a few days. This cannot go on indefinitely.”

“Of course not, Pa, of course not.” Adam turned to go outside to get Angela and her valises. He couldn’t help grinning as he exited. Hoss and Joe had been standing by the corral fence with her admiring horses and discussing their characteristics. They had been able to hear their father’s bellows but not his words. “Angela, it’s fine with Pa. We can take your things in now and get you settled in one of the guest rooms.”

“Fine? All the way out here, I could hear you and your father arguing. I guessed then why you had Hoss and Joe keep me this far away from the house.”

“Guys, can I speak to Angela privately, please?” Hoss and Joe grabbed their gear and Angela’s bags and headed into the house. Adam turned to Angela and spoke softly.

“I suspect my father has surmised that you and I had more than a casual meeting. He’s worried about anything happening here under his roof. Now, nothing will happen here. I’m a man of my word. I will find you a decent place to live and a proper job as I said I would, but I want you to be safe, and this is the safest place for you today. Tomorrow, we’ll see what we can find.”

“Nothing’s going to happen? Nothing at all? What happened? I thought you liked me. You even said you did, and you said you’d marry me if I was pregnant with your child. And now it’s nothing!”

“Angela, we can talk about this more later. Now we should introduce you to my father and get you settled in a room.”

“No, I would like to talk about it now. What happened? Change your mind about liking a saloon girl?”

“No, not at all. Angela, I’m too old for you. You should find someone younger. Someone closer to your own age.”

“Well maybe you can just pass me on to your little brother. I’ve seen how he looks at me. You can just pass me on. You’re no different than those Apache who saw me as a thing that they could use for their pleasure. I thought you were different, but I guess I was wrong. Yes, let’s go get me ‘settled’ and tomorrow you can find someplace to put me so you will have done your duty and cleaned up your conscience.”

Angela stalked to the house, and Adam had no idea what to say to her. He was trying to do what was right for her, and all he had done was make her angry. He walked behind and with his long strides, caught up to her before she entered the house. He took her arm, and she looked back at him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll behave myself and make a good impression on your father. Wouldn’t want him to think you slept with just any saloon girl.”

With that, Angela shook her arm free from his grasp and entered the house, and although her words had upset him greatly, Adam set his face in a mask and followed her in.

Ben’s concern that Adam might do something with Angela while the two were in the house was alleviated by the coolness exhibited by the two. Hoss and Joe were surprised because although Adam had done nothing with Angela while they were on the trail, they thought there was a mutual attraction between the two. Joe thought Angela was beautiful and sexy and wished he had a chance with her but had seen how she looked at Adam and assumed he had no chance with her. Now though he was re-evaluating because something had distinctly cooled the relationship between them. Neither Adam nor Angela was the type to share their feelings so the two brothers remained in the dark as to what their older brother had done.

Of course Adam was feeling miserable. The woman he liked very much and thought he could love was, in his mind, much too young for him. He thought she would be much better off with someone closer to her own age. So he had done what he thought best for her and backed off hoping that she would look elsewhere for a romantic interest. Instead it seemed he had hurt her which had been the very thing he was trying to avoid. As he sat in the chair by the fireplace and listened to Angela chat with his family after their late dinner, all he could do was wonder why a man as intelligent as he was could do so poorly in his dealings with women. He guessed it was because logical analysis, reasoning, and planning were insufficient to maintaining emotional relationships. It did little to assuage his guilty conscience, and when Angela coolly bid him good night, he knew he wouldn’t sleep well.

Later as Adam lay in bed, his thoughts never strayed from Angela. He remembered her slim body with its soft curves, and the cascading hair. He remembered how she had tried to please him as he had done his best to make her enjoy their night together. He remembered her smiles as she looked at him. He wished he could have one of those smiles now but feared he had ruined his chances with her even as he logically assured himself it was the best thing for her. Then he thought he heard a light tread in the hallway and assumed that Angela was up for some reason. He grabbed his robe to cover himself, and then as a precaution, pulled on drawers too. Prepared as well as he could, he left his room to see where Angela had gone.

Downstairs Angela settled herself on the settee in front of the fire and heard footsteps on the stairs. She knew it had to be one of the Cartwrights and hoped it would be Adam. Although she didn’t want to see him again after he had hurt her, she also did want to see him and be next to him. She couldn’t understand how he didn’t see that she was falling in love with him. How could he be so blind was her only thought. Not having much experience in love and courting, she thought it would be as simple as it was with her and her husband who seemed to know from their first meeting that they would marry and be together.

As Adam descended the stairs, he was again taken by the vision of loveliness that Angela was as she sat so forlornly on the settee with her feet drawn up beside her. He walked near her and asked if he could sit with her. Angela sat up and indicated the spot right beside her, but then the tears started to fall. It was all just too much for her. Adam sat immediately and wrapped his arms around her.

“I am so sorry. I know I caused those tears, but I was just trying to do the right thing. I never want to hurt you. I want you to be happy.”

“You are what makes me happy and you want to take that away from me. Love isn’t always so logical, you know. You were the one I noticed that first night you and your brothers walked in the saloon in Beatty. It was you I paid attention to. It was your lap I wanted to sit on. I started to fall in love with you before I even knew your name. I thought it would go nowhere and you would be gone the next day, but I thought I would have one night to love you.”

“There has to be more to a relationship than being in bed together.”

“Don’t we already have more. I like you. You like me and don’t even try to deny that.”

“Yes, I do like you. And I like being with you.”

“I want you to look at me just like you are now with that kindness and gentleness you have. I want you to hold me like you’re doing right now pulling me to you and wrapping your arms around me keeping me safe. I only feel safe when you’re with me.”

Awakened by the sounds of people walking down the hall and then the hum of conversation, Ben had walked to the top of the stairs to see Adam with his arms around Angela as they sat on the settee. He was about to return to his bed when he saw how closely they were holding each other which only confirmed his suspicion that his oldest son had known this woman much more than just casually. He didn’t want any more to happen at this point so he stepped back a few steps, coughed, and then walked to the top of the stairs to descend.

“Oh, I’m sorry to disturb you. I just have this irritating cough and was hoping that a cup of tea would help.” Ben reached the bottom of the stairs and saw that now there was space between Adam and Angela.

“Would either or both of you like a cup? If you’re having trouble sleeping, some of that tea that Hop Sing has might do a world of good for you.”

“No, Pa, I think we’re good now. We’re going to bed. It’s been a difficult couple of days and we’re both very tired now.”

Walking into the kitchen, Ben was struck by how Adam had phrased that. He hoped his son wasn’t planning to sleep with her but couldn’t be sure. As he walked upstairs several minutes later with a cup of tea, Ben saw that both of their bedroom doors were closed. He was tempted to open Adam’s to bid him good night and check things out at the same time but decided that it would be only too obvious what he was doing and would cause probably another argument with his son. He didn’t want that so he swallowed his suspicions and went to his bedroom.

In Adam’s room, Angela realized she had been holding her breath as they heard Ben stop outside the room before moving on. Adam was standing with her and holding her in a gentle embrace.

“Now, I told my father nothing would happen here in the house.”

“Nothing? You are going to sleep with me, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sleep with you and hold you, but nothing more. Are we clear on that?”

Angela nodded, happy that he was no longer cold and distant. She could accept this situation quite easily but also couldn’t resist teasing him a little.

“How about tomorrow, outside the house?”

Adam almost hissed at her. This was extremely frustrating for him to have her so close but hold himself back from what he very much wanted to do.

“Angela, you have to stop that.”

As Adam groaned in frustration against her shoulder, Angela relented.

“I’m sorry. I’ll behave myself.”

The covers were already turned down from when Adam had arisen earlier so he signaled her to slide into that spot and he pulled the covers over her. Then he crossed to the other side of the bed and climbed in next to her but on top of the covers. He pulled a blanket from the foot of the bed and threw it over himself as he laid down next to her. Angela smiled with the knowledge that he didn’t trust himself with her. He was keeping as much between them as he could and still be with her. She laid on her right side as he lay on his left, and she slipped her hand inside his. With just the moonlight lighting the room, she could see little but still thought that he was grinning at her as she closed her eyes to sleep peacefully.

*****

Chapter 4

As dawn broke, Adam awoke and looked into Angela’s eyes.

“How long have you been awake?”

“Not long. But we went to bed a lot earlier than I’m used to, so I woke early. Good morning to you.”

Angela leaned in to Adam and they kissed softly.

“Now, you need to go to your room and dress for the day before anyone else wakes. Pa will be up soon, and I don’t want him finding you in my room dressed in your gown and robe.”

A little later, as Ben walked past Adam’s room, he heard talking. He knocked ready to raise the roof but entered and found Adam leaning against the wall by the window fully dressed, and Angela sitting on his bed dressed as well.

“Good morning. I see you two are up early. Perhaps it would be best if you kept the door open.”

“Pa, the only ones who would know are you and my brothers. Now we were having a private conversation, and I would like to keep it that way if you don’t mind. I kept my word to you, and I will continue to do so, but I want to speak with Angela privately.”

Not willing to argue as it appeared Adam had kept his word, Ben left and pulled the door nearly closed behind him. As he reached the top of the stairs, he heard the door click closed. He sighed deeply and continued down the stairs. No one would get Adam to do something he didn’t want to do.

“So, we’re agreed then?”

“Yes, if you insist. We’ll take it slowly and see how we feel about each other as time passes.”

“Angela, I think it’s wise. What if all you’re feeling for me is gratitude? I don’t want to be in a relationship without love. I want you to be sure. It’s only been three days since we met. There’s no rush. I’ll see if Pa will let you stay here a bit longer. I’ll explain why, and I hope he understands.”

“Can I sleep with you at night? I mean, like we did last night where it was just sleep?”

“No, I don’t think I can do that. But, I’ll be here if you need me. We can talk whenever you feel afraid.”

“Thank you. What if it’s your father who scares me?” Angela had a little grin then and Adam began laughing.

“I have to go do some chores now. You can visit downstairs until I get back inside. By then breakfast will be on the table.”

When Adam returned to have breakfast, he found Angela deep in conversation with Joe about horses. He was glad his brothers were her friends too. It would make things a lot simpler down the road if his relationship with her developed as they apparently both wanted. Joe saw Adam come in and misinterpreted his serious thoughtful look as one of jealousy. He enjoyed the moment thinking that he was winning Angela away from Adam. Now Joe thought to himself that if he could do that, it would be one monumental achievement.

Breakfast was convivial as stories were shared about growing up on a ranch in the west although Arizona ranch life and Nevada ranch life were very different. They talked of collecting mustangs to supplement the horses they could get by breeding. By the end of breakfast, Ben was as charmed by Angela as were his sons. But Ben was developing another concern about Angela staying with them for he saw how Joe looked at her and it wasn’t as a potential sister-in-law. Joe was clearly smitten with the young woman. By then Ben was sorry he was sending Adam to the timber camp and Hoss to Carson City to pick up a bull. Those were their areas of expertise but it meant that Joe took over the job of escorting Angela for the day. At least Adam didn’t look worried, but Ben wondered what the end of the day would bring. Adam had said he wanted to speak with him about Angela that evening, and he would wonder all day what the gist of that conversation would be.

Both Hoss and Joe noticed that the interaction between Adam and Angela had warmed, but not to the level they had witnessed in Beatty so Joe still thought he had a chance. When Adam rode out without kissing Angela goodbye, Joe was even more hopeful as to what the day might bring for him. Joe asked Angela if she preferred riding horses or in the carriage. She picked the carriage because of all the riding they had done the previous two days. Joe was elated. He would be sitting by her touching her all day. He assumed his charms would work on her under those circumstances.

Angela had no idea what Joe was planning, but shortly after their tour began, she noticed how he was crowding her on the seat. She tried moving away from him on the seat, but he slid closer so that their two legs were in contact at all times. At that point, Angela realized how serious Joe was and that he intended to seduce her. She was in a quandary for how could she rebuff him in such a way so as not to cause a rift in the family for she knew that if Adam had to choose family or her, at this point, she would lose.

Once they reached the lake, Joe climbed down and rushed to the other side to help Angela to the ground. He put his arm around her waist to guide her down the path, but she insisted it would be easier to walk single file along the narrow trail. He reluctantly agreed so she had won round one without a battle. As they reached the lake and she saw its beauty, Angela bent to pick some flowers and then walked to the water’s edge.

“We lived near a lake in Arizona, but it dried up frequently in summer. It was so beautiful when it had water in it though but nothing like this. This is heavenly.”

When Joe tried to move closer, Angela moved away to pick up some stones to try skipping. She had not done that for quite a while, and when she did, she had little success at first. Joe wanted to take her arm and help her but she declined as graciously as she could.

“No, please, I like to learn how to do things myself. I could do this once, so I just need some practice.”

The rest of the day proceeded much like the stop at the lake. Joe rested his hand on her leg as he drove the wagon, but Angela managed to make sure his arm never got around her waist or her shoulders. Joe thought she was playing hard-to-get and that only fired his competitive urges even more. As they drove the carriage back to the Ponderosa, the sun was beginning to set so it was dusk as they reached the stable. Both Sport and Chubb were in their stalls so Joe knew his brothers were home. He decided to try one last time for a kiss.

As Angela helped Joe unhitch the horses and lead them to the stable, he wrapped an arm around her waist. In the stable he dropped the leads on the horses and tried to pull Angela to him for a kiss. She pushed away though and turned toward him visibly upset which he could see even in the dim light.

“Joe, please. I’m sorry, but I only feel that way about Adam. He’s the only one I want to kiss.”

“Angela, he ignored you most of yesterday, and again this morning. I want you and I’ll do my best to make you happy.”

“Joe, we slept together last night.”

“No! Pa will kill him if he finds that out. Adam said he wouldn’t, so he lied to Pa.”

“No, Joe, we just slept. I was anxious, and Adam was there to soothe me. All we did was sleep. Joe, I want more from him, but I have to give him time. He thinks he’s too old for me.”

“Angela, he is. You’re my age. He IS too old for you.”

“Joe, love doesn’t look at age. I love him. I’ll wait for him to know that he loves me too. I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in anyone else. You’re very cute and sweet, but for me, it’s Adam. It’s only Adam.”

“If he, oh, damn.”

“Joe, please would you bring the picnic basket in to Hop Sing and give me a few moments to collect myself. I’ll be in soon.”

Nodding, Joe walked away from the stable, grabbed the picnic basket and blanket from the back of the carriage, and stalked to the house. In the darkness next to the stable, Hoss was holding Adam.

“Now, older brother, I couldn’t let you do anything stupid. She done took care of Joe all by herself. You heard what she said as well as I did. Now get your temper back under control and go to her. Don’t you mess this up. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

As Adam’s breathing returned to something closer to normal and his shoulders relaxed, Hoss released him but was ready to grab him again if he headed toward the house and Joe instead of the stable and Angela. Adam raised a hand and slapped Hoss on the shoulder.

“Thank you.” Then he walked toward the stable.

*****

Chapter 5

“It’s not your fault.”

Whirling at the sound of the baritone voice Angela loved, she looked at Adam and wondered how much he knew. She had been breathing deeply to calm herself and wondering how things had gotten so complicated.

“How much did you hear?”

“All of it, I think. Hoss was coming out to help with the horses and I was going to escort you to the house. When I heard that Joe tried to kiss you, I wanted to clobber him so Hoss grabbed me before I did something stupid. It took a bit for me to calm down, and we heard your conversation.”

“I meant everything I said.”

“I don’t doubt that in the least. And I meant it when I said it wasn’t your fault. If I had made my intentions more clear, Joe wouldn’t have thought to try anything. You’re a beautiful and intriguing woman. It’s not surprising that he’s attracted to you.”

Reaching her side, Adam wrapped his arms around Angela and pulled her against him. She sank with relief into his embrace. Everything always seemed so much better when her head rested on his chest and she could hear his heart beating.

“This whole thing seems more like something Joe would do than me. I usually like to think things through and come to a logical, reasoned conclusion, but with you, all logic fails me. None of this makes much sense to me, and yet when I hold you, it all feels so right.”

“I will never leave you. You can send me away if you don’t want me, but I won’t leave unless you tell me to go.”

“I want you to stay. I had a lot of hours in the saddle today with nothing to do but think, and all I could think about was you. I want you. I want to be with you. I want to hold you, kiss you, and wake up in the morning knowing that you’re here.”

Looking up at Adam to see his expression, Angela was perfectly positioned for a kiss. Adam leaned down and brushed his lips softly across her lips before he kissed her. Angela opened her mouth to him and touched his tongue as it slid into her mouth. As Adam trailed kisses down her cheek and then her neck, she had to ask him something.

“Is this what you meant by taking it slowly?”

“No, and I don’t think I can take it slowly with you. When I’m near you, I’m only able to think of one thing.”

“Well, you’re going to have to wait.”

“But last night you tried to get me to …”

“I was teasing you. I knew you wouldn’t.”

“You little minx! That was a little mean. It was painful to say no to you.”

“I just had to see how committed you were to what you promised your father. You do take your promises very seriously. That’s another thing I love about you.”

“Woman, you are a handful. How am I ever going to be able to handle you?”

“Oh, don’t you think you’re doing that already?”

Dropping his hands to his sides, Adam released her and took a deep breath.

“We need to go in to dinner. We can stop at the washroom to freshen up.”

As Adam and Angela walked out of the stable, Hoss got up from the porch to see to the carriage horses that were still standing placidly waiting for feed and water. Adam let Angela freshen up first, and didn’t do anything until she finished and walked into the house. When Hoss got to the washroom and saw the bucket of cold well water, and Adam splashing cold water on his face, he started laughing.

“Ya got it real bad, older brother, real bad.”

There was some tension at the dinner table. Ben had agreed to Adam’s request to have Angela stay for a few more days. He wasn’t certain that Angela was the right woman for his son, but Adam had suffered so many failed relationships that his father wasn’t even going to think of denying him this chance. He might not be in love, but he certainly liked the young woman. Angela was charming, beautiful, and intelligent. She was also such a wonderful woman that Joe was also attracted to her. Apparently things had not gone so well for Joseph this day as he sat morosely at the table as the others talked. Angela described each of the places that Joe had shown her, and with each one, it seemed his head hung lower until he excused himself saying he wasn’t hungry and retreated upstairs to his room. That made Ben wonder if he had done the right thing in allowing Angela to stay. Perhaps it would lead to a wider rift between Adam and Joe than already existed. Things certainly had gotten complicated since Angela had arrived only one day earlier.

To Ben, Angela certainly was pretty. She was so young but when she walked across the room as he sat at his desk, he had wished she was fifteen or twenty years older. He could understand how Adam could not resist her, but was there enough there to sustain a relationship? Adam had asked for a few days to try to find that out for himself. He planned to use most of Saturday and Sunday to be with Angela. Ben hoped that one way or another it was resolved over the weekend.

Angela played a game of checkers with Hoss after dinner, and then Adam and Angela went outside. Considering what he had seen the night before, Ben was concerned with what would happen but as he sat at his desk, he could hear the murmur of their voices and realized they must just be on the porch. That eased his mind a bit.

“We have to speak softly. Pa’s desk is right below that window so he can hear quite a lot out here.”

“Do we have to whisper?”

“No, but speak softly. Now, tomorrow, I would like to take you for a ride around the Ponderosa to see a few of the things Joe didn’t show you. We can ride and talk.”

“That sounds wonderful. Horse or carriage?”

“Which would you prefer?”

“I like the carriage. It’s easier to talk in the carriage and I can enjoy the view more.”

“Carriage it is then. You will behave yourself, please?”

“I suppose I could try.”

Sitting next to Adam on the bench was difficult enough. Having his leg along her leg made Angela want to do more. She realized that she had not felt this way with anyone since her husband, but with Adam it was even more. She thought about all the things she wanted to ask him the next day.

“Can we ask questions tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“Do we have to answer every question?”

“If it doesn’t make you too uncomfortable, yes. If it’s too much, then just say that.”

“All right, then the same applies to you?”

Adam knew he was boxed into a corner on that one and nodded. The next two days could be fun but also promised to be difficult. He had never found it easy to share his innermost thoughts and feelings, but this relationship could only grow if he did so he resolved to do it. Angela saw the look on his face and smiled. They had already made a commitment to each other with that pledge. Things could only get better now.

The next day, once Adam finished his chores and had breakfast with his family and Angela, he hitched up the carriage for a ride. Hop Sing packed another picnic lunch and included wine at Adam’s request. As they rode that morning, Angela filled in a lot about her marriage and the plans she and her husband had made. Then she talked about her time with the Apache and what happened to her as well as her fear that she was going to die and then the fear that she was pregnant. Neither had happened, but her family and friends rejected her, and she had done what she needed to do to survive. By the time she finished her narratives, it was lunchtime. They stopped in a meadow and spread a blanket under a tree and had their lunch and wine.

“What do we do if someone recognizes me? Beatty isn’t that far away. There could be a miner or cowhand that will know who I am and what I did.”

“I think we try to ignore them. We don’t have to acknowledge anything anyone says. Let them say what they will. Without our reaction, what good will it do?”

“Your brothers know about me. Does your father?”

“Yes, I told him. He deserved to know. I didn’t tell him anything about us, but I’m sure he’s guessed quite a lot by now.”

Angela knew it probably wouldn’t be as simple as Adam described, but the way he talked about her past let her know that it didn’t bother him. He wasn’t thinking less of her, and that made her feel better. It also let her know that she probably wasn’t the first saloon girl he’d been with. That caused a twinge of jealousy even as it relieved her fear that he wouldn’t want her if she had told him too much. He had said that what mattered is what she did now and not anything that had happened before he knew her. She was believing that he meant that.

As they finished lunch, Adam knew it was time for him to start talking. He described how he and his father had arrived in Nevada including the death of Inger. He talked of building the Ponderosa, of Marie, and of going to college. Then he got closer to the touchy subjects and wondered how much Angela would ask.

“The first night we were together, you said you had loved and been hurt. Who did that to you?”

So the afternoon was spent explaining about Ruth, Sue Ellen, Rebecca, and finally Laura. Then Adam explained about Regan to fill out the narrative. He talked of Joe and Amy, of Hoss and Margie, and his father and Lady Chadwick. He told her that some called it the Cartwright Curse and she laughed.

“Well, then we should get married right away so that I don’t die or leave. Oh, I’m sorry, that was presumptuous of me.”

And Adam had laughed, but she noticed he didn’t answer that one way or the other. She wondered what he was thinking but decided to wait. They kissed often and held hands, and nothing more although both wanted more. They needed this day to talk and learn about each other. It was dusk by the time they returned. Joe was in the stable and offered to take care of the horses for them. It was his way of saying he was sorry, and they both thanked him. Things were back to normal for the brothers.

On Sunday, Adam asked Angela to attend church with him. It would be a big step and a difficult one. Ben wasn’t even sure it was a good idea to do it so soon, but was impressed that Angela was willing to face the stares and the whispers. Of course, that was exactly what happened. Their good friends came up to be introduced and were very nice, but many others openly stared at this stranger and wondered at her background. After about an hour of socializing after church, Adam thought he had subjected Angela to enough scrutiny and asked if she would like to ride to the lake with him.

“Oh, yes, thank you. That would be wonderful.”

As Adam drove the carriage to the lake, he talked about some of the people Angela had met. By the time they reached their destination, she felt like she knew Roy, Paul, and a few others for a long time. Adam had a way of describing people that made it seem as if you knew them. At the lake, Adam took a carriage blanket over his arm and offered his other arm to Angela. As they walked down the hill, Angela realized how different this was than two days earlier with Joe. Now instead of wondering how to avoid his advances, she was hoping Adam would make a few. She smiled in anticipation.

“What’s the smile for?”

“Oh, nothing, I’m just happy.” Angela thought about her own statement for a few moments. “Yes, I am. I’m happy, and it’s because of you. Thank you.” And she leaned into Adam more and rested her head against his shoulder as they walked.

Looking down at her, Adam thought again about the decision he had reached the night before as he lay looking at the indistinct shadows the moonlight made in his room. Once he had made his decision, he had closed his eyes and slept until morning. Now he wondered how to bring it up with Angela, and finally decided on the direct approach. He put the blanket beneath a tree and sat leaning up against the trunk. Angela sat beside him and rested her head on his chest after he wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“Remember that proposal you made to me yesterday. Well, I’ve been thinking and I would like to agree to it. I want to be married to you.”

Angela’s heart had started beating rapidly as soon as those first words were out of his mouth. As he finished, she had to look up to see his expression. He was looking at her very seriously.

“You mean that, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then, yes, I think so too.”

There was no reason to be reticent any longer. Adam pulled her to him for a kiss. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her with everything he had and knew how to do, and Angela responded in kind. Out of breath after a few minutes of that, he pulled away just a little.

“Well, I guess you’re happy about that too.”

“We can, you know. It’s over for another three weeks or so.”

Almost unable to finish her sentence with Adam’s reaction to that, Angela laid back on the blanket as he moved over her touching, caressing, and kissing her.

“When you promised your father nothing would happen, that only meant in the house, didn’t it?”

Adam answered by caressing her more as he leaned down to kiss her again. They made love again but now as a betrothed couple. No longer worried about a pregnancy, both were able to fully relax and enjoy all the sensations.

As they dressed and then drove back to the Ponderosa later, they made plans for the future. Adam said they would tell his family at dinner. He had told Hop Sing to make a special dinner for Angela and had hoped it would be to celebrate his engagement. Adam apologized for not having a ring, but promised he would have one by the end of the week. By the time they walked into church in a week, everyone would know he was engaged and would be married.

*****

Chapter 6

On Monday, Adam had to go to the timber camps again for two days at least. He told Angela that on Wednesday or Thursday, he would go to town with her to pick out a ring or have one made. They would also meet with the minister then and set a date. She looked forward very much to doing these things with Adam. After he left that morning, she stood at the kitchen door and asked Hop Sing if she could please help him somehow so that she could keep busy. He grumbled at first, but when Angela said she could gather eggs, milk a cow, or work in the garden, his eyes lit up for he had found someone truly interested in helping him. He asked her to please collect the eggs and handed her a basket. Then he set about making bread and thinking of other ways she could help. Once she returned to the kitchen, she said she had never mastered the art of making bread. So Hop Sing went through the entire process explaining each step as he did it. He told her the bread he was making would be enough for two to three days, and then he would have to make more.

“Missy help make bread next time. Now maybe get vegetables from garden for dinner?”

“Which ones?”

“No tomatoes. Only Mister Adam like tomatoes. Beans and peas ready, I think, get those.” Hop Sing handed her another basket, and she smiled. She was starting to feel like one of the family already. That afternoon as she worked beside Hop Sing, she asked him to teach her some Chinese words. Hop Sing was happy to be a teacher with an eager student, and they chatted away the rest of the day as they worked together.

When Ben returned from doing business in town, he was surprised to hear Angela’s voice in the kitchen and then Hop Sing’s. Hop Sing was not complaining but sounded like he was talking very calmly and peacefully. Ben shook his head. He had no idea how she had charmed their cook and friend so quickly but was glad of it. When Hoss and Joe returned from branding, they asked where Angela was and were shocked too to find that she was in the kitchen. When she came out carrying a plate of doughnuts and cups of coffee on a tray, they had to ask.

“Angela, how did you get Hop Sing to let you in the kitchen? Every time I go in there, he chases me off with a wooden spoon, and that’s only half of what he does when Hoss goes in there.”

“Yeah, just like Joe said, a few days ago he let loose a lingo at me that I could still hear as I was getting to the stable. How’d you tame him so fast?”

“I didn’t ‘tame’ him. I just asked how I could help and tried to be friendly. I also didn’t try to steal any food if that’s a better clue. Now, these are for you and there are no more until dinner, or we go back to China.” And Angela laughed as she walked back to the kitchen.

Looking at his father, Hoss had to say something. “Ya think Adam knows how hard it’s going to be to tame that one?”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to tame her, Hoss. Look at Sport. He seems to like that cantankerous animal. I don’t think he likes em tame.” Joe was staring at the door to the kitchen as he said it.

Ben had to laugh at his sons’ comments for they were vocalizing some of the same thoughts he had about Angela. She was spirited and strong and beautiful. And although he would never compare her to a horse, some of what Joe had said made perfect sense.

Late Wednesday morning, Adam arrived home. He was dirty and unshaven, but anxious to see Angela. After unsaddling Sport, brushing him down, and giving him food and water, he headed to the house. He walked in and didn’t see anyone but heard voices from the kitchen. When he got to the door, he was as surprised as his family had been on Monday. There was Angela working side-by-side with Hop Sing. She had flour in her hair and on her cheeks. He was going to have to remind her not to touch her hair or face while baking. Feeling a presence before she saw anything, Angela turned to see Adam standing in the doorway smiling. He was dirty, needed a shave, and had a large bruise on the side of his face, and yet he was the most beautiful sight she could imagine.

“Welcome home. We’re making bread.”

“Sweetheart, I can see that. I suppose we both ought to clean up a bit.”

“Well I need to wipe the flour off my hands, but you look like you need a bath and a shave. What happened to your face?”

“We needed to repair the flume, and I misjudged how weak one of the supports was and it gave way and slammed me in the face broadside. It looks worse than it is.”

“How did you get so dirty?”

“Did I mention the flume was leaking and underneath it was all mud. When it smacked me, I fell face first in the mud.”

“If you can wait just a little, I’ll have some hot water for you.”

“I need to get some clean clothes anyway. I’ll shave first too. That ought to give you enough time to heat some water.”

Adam shaved and then returned to find that there were kettles of water heated for him. He carried in two and dumped them in the tub in the washroom. When he returned for the third one, he gave Angela a small kiss on the cheek and told her not to come into the washroom. He had seen that gleam in her eye and worried what she would do. That she looked so disappointed with his order only confirmed that she had intended to do something. Once he was clean and dressed in clean clothing, he returned to the kitchen.

“Would you like to ride to town with me? We can still pick out a ring, have dinner, and be back before dark.”

“I would love to, but I need to change.”

“I’ll hitch the carriage.” He kissed her lightly on the lips before turning to go outside. She hurried to go change, and Hop Sing smiled. He liked seeing the eldest son happy. He had his heart broken too many times. This spirited one was good for him. He returned to baking bread with a light heart and a smile.

As Adam and Angela rode to town, she told him all the things she had been doing and how much Hop Sing had already taught her. Then she asked about the timber camp and Adam described the last two days.

“I’d like to see the timber camp sometime. Will you take me with you?”

“Angel, the timber camp is pretty rough. The only women who ever go up there are, ah, damn.”

“I know what you mean. It doesn’t bother me, but I know why you don’t want me to go there. That’s all right. There are lots of places we can go.”

And she smiled to let him know it was truly all right, and slid her arm through his elbow, and asked where they would have dinner. She had ridden through Virginia City when they had returned and stopped at a boarding house, but had not actually been in the city. So they finished the rest of the ride chatting about Adam’s town that was now hers too. In town, the first stop was at the jewelry shop Adam liked. He pulled out a number of rings from the display, and asked what she thought of them. She was in shock for they were all worth more than the farm she and her husband had owned. She had a difficult time saying anything. Finally Adam made a choice and slipped it on her finger.

“Is this all right with you, or would you like another?”

She nodded and then realized he had asked for a choice. “This one is beautiful.”

After asking for the ring to be sized smaller for her by Friday which the jeweler said could be done, he took her arm and walked outside. He pointed across the street at the International House and started to lead her there when she froze. Adam looked down at her wondering what was wrong and realized she was suddenly very pale and starting to shake.

“What’s wrong? Angel, what’s wrong?”

A man approached them then from the other side of the street and Angela just stared in horror.

“What’s the matter, sweetie, surprised to see me?”

Adam was thinking it was another situation like what she had faced in Beatty and moved to shield her.

“Get out of the way, Cartwright. I heard what ya done. You can’t take her away and marry her. She’s already married.”

Angela cried out the next words shocking Adam into silence.

“Matt, you’re dead.”

“Not hardly. Just took me a while to decide to come take back my white squaw. Yeah I know that’s what they call you now. But you’re mine and I’m taking you back.”

*****

Chapter 7

“Paul, keep her here. Don’t let anyone take her away. Do whatever you have to, please. She isn’t safe if her husband takes her.”

“Adam, I’ll do what I can. Right now I can swear she is in no condition to leave. I can’t promise how long I can honestly say that. You have at least until late tomorrow though. After a head injury like that, I would keep any patient under observation for at least twenty-four hours.”

Angela had fainted from the shock of seeing the husband she thought dead appear before her and then say such hateful things. When she fell, Adam tried to catch her but her head hit a hitching post rail before he could stop her fall. Unconscious, she had been brought to Doctor Martin who had diagnosed a serious concussion. Adam planned to send a messenger to the Ponderosa, meet with the family lawyer even if he had to get him out of bed, and talk to Sheriff Roy Coffee as well. Angela had been alert enough after a few hours to say she didn’t want her husband to be with her. As upset as she was, Paul had agreed that her husband couldn’t see her until she was feeling better.

As Adam left Doctor Martin’s office, Roy intercepted him.

“That husband of hers is over to the Bucket of Blood telling all sorts of stories about her. He said she was used by them Apache braves and then sold herself to cowboys and miners to support herself when she got freed.”

“Roy, it’s true, but none of that was her choice. She did what she had to do to survive. How is it he’s alive anyway? Angela said they found his body in the burned out barn on their property.”

“Well, I’m a gonna check on that. If it was a burned body, they might of just guessed it was him. Hard to tell when a body’s all burned up. If it’s about the right size, and under the circumstances, now they probably just assumed it was him. I want to check on this jasper too. Seems mighty odd that nobody knew he was alive all this time.”

“Thanks, Roy. And I don’t have to tell you, we don’t have much time. Any expenses you can’t cover, I’ll cover.”

“You just do what you can, and I’ll do whatever I can within the law. You know that, dontcha? I already sent a deputy to the ranch to let yer family know what’s happening.”

Nodding, and thanking Roy, Adam headed to the lawyer’s home. He hoped there was a legal avenue he could pursue, but honestly doubted there would be one. He would do anything to protect Angela at this point though so he began thinking of what he could do outside the law too. Hiram was still awake when Adam reached his home. He could not give Adam any good news but assured him he would be at his office as early as possible the next day to research the issue and see what could be done. Adam returned to Doc Martin’s office then to find that Hoss was there.

“Brought some clothes for the two of ya. Doc already took the valise for Angela. The one for you is on my saddle. You staying in town tonight?”

At Adam’s nod, Hoss shook his head and walked out to get the valise for his brother. When he got back inside, Adam was sitting with his head in his hands. Hoss sat next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.

“You know you can count on me to back your play what ever it is, dontcha?”

“Thank you. I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is a nightmare and it was a dream come true earlier today.”

“How is she?”

“She’s got a concussion. Paul thinks she may be in shock too. He’s sitting with her now monitoring her. I’ll sit with her later if he thinks she’s well enough for him to get some sleep.”

“You need some sleep too if you’re gonna be any help to her. Now I’ll go get a room at the hotel, and be back here later to spell ya and to sit with Angela while you get some sleep. Pa and Joe will be in town tomorrow morning to see if there’s any help they can be.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.”

“Didja talk to Hiram?” At Adam’s nod, Hoss continued. “Then you got me, Paul, Roy, and Hiram already helping ya. Tomorrow, Pa and Joe too. Now there ain’t no way that scoundrel husband of hers is gonna be able to stand up to all of us, is there?”

Nodding in agreement that he didn’t feel, Adam felt tears welling up in his eyes. Hoss noticed and just patted his shoulder before leaving. Adam was emotionally exhausted and despite his desire to remain awake, he closed his eyes for just a few minutes he thought but fell asleep in the chair. Paul came out a few hours later to find him there and woke him.

“She’s doing better and asking for you.”

Rushing in to see her, Adam was appalled at how pale she looked, and also was shocked at the bruising to the side of her face from the fall.

Speaking very softly, Angela showed she still had some spirit. “Now I look like you. We have matching bruises.”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t catch you before you fell.”

“Not your fault either. If I had known I was going to fall, I would have grabbed you. It all happened so fast. It was real then, wasn’t it? He’s really alive?”

“Yes. But you won’t be going with him. Somehow, some way, I’ll stop him from dragging you off to who knows what.”

“I don’t want to think about that now. I just want to sleep.” As Adam grasped her hand, Angela closed her eyes and was soon asleep.

“Now I was going to tell you to try not to upset her. Try not to talk about anything important if she wakes again. Just soothe her, and let her rest. Call me if anything changes or if you have any concerns about her. I think she’ll be fine but she needs someone with her for the next day.”

Paul left to get some sleep, and Adam pulled a stool next to the bed. He sat there holding her hand until well after midnight when Hoss walked in quietly and told him it was time for him to get some sleep. Adam didn’t think he could sleep but when his head hit the pillow, he collapsed into a deep sleep due to exhaustion. He woke at his usual time the next morning just as the sun crept over the mountain. He shaved, ordered a pot of coffee and some breakfast to be delivered to Doc Martin’s, and then headed there full of apprehension but at least relieved that Hoss had not had to get him. He walked into the office to find Hoss grabbing his hat and getting ready to leave.

“The Doc is with her again. I’m going to grab some breakfast and a couple of hours sleep and then I’ll be back. I can see you must have gotten some sleep. Didja get any breakfast?”

“I ordered some. They’ll deliver it here when it’s ready.”

Hoss left and Adam sat in a chair waiting for Paul to tell him he could come into the room where Angela was. He waited long enough for his breakfast to arrive and finished it before Paul called him in. Angela was asleep again, but Paul was smiling.

“She’s doing much better. All of her vital signs have improved, and her memory and movement all seem normal. I want her here the rest of the day, but at this point, I see no reason that she won’t make a complete recovery.”

Relieved that she was all right, Adam was very worried that meant her husband could take custody of her by the end of the day. He just couldn’t let that happen. He was still seated there when his father entered the room two hours later.

“She’s still sleeping. Paul will be in soon to check on her. I’ll come out then to talk.”

“Hiram is here. He has some ideas. We’ll need Roy too so I’ll send Joe to let him know.”

When Adam got out to the waiting room, his family was there with Roy and Hiram. They were talking in hushed voices. When Adam came in, there was silence for a moment until his father spoke.

“With Hiram’s help, we think we have a plan. Hiram, would you explain it please.”

“Her husband has been gone for a year without making provision for support for Angela. That is grounds for a possible divorce. It would be up to the judge whether to accept that or not. However, if we can show adultery or that he committed a felony, then the judge would have no choice but to grant her a divorce. We could petition the court that he have no contact with her until the divorce hearing is held.”

“But we have less than a day. How could we get evidence like that in a day?”

“Well, there is an awful and silly law that got passed. It’s never been used here in any western state or territory as far as I can determine but it has been used in the east so there is precedent. It is the Contagious Diseases Prevention Act. If the sheriff determines through an examination that a woman is potentially carrying a disease that might infect any of the good citizens of this country, then she can be confined to a hospital for up to two months or until the doctor can convince the sheriff that she is no longer a threat. During that time, she can only be seen by medical personnel or officers of the law. Her husband would not be able to have any contact with her.”

“Roy would examine her? And what disease could she be carrying?”

“Adam, I’m sure Roy would be as discreet as possible. And with her previous profession, you know what diseases she might be suspected of carrying.”

“No, that’s disgusting. She would be humiliated.”

“Only the people in this room need to know the details. To anyone else, we just say that she is under a doctor’s care. Roy has already said that based on what you have told him about her, he would stipulate that she should be confined. The law makes no mention of the specifics of the examination.”

“But she wouldn’t be able to see me or anyone else except Roy or Paul?”

“Now, Adam, you done took that oath a number of times as have your Pa and brothers. Alls the four of you would have to do is pin on these here badges, and you could come in here any time you want. It would give us time to check into this Matt and see what he’s been up to. I can almost guarantee we’re gonna get those other charges against him if we have the time. I don’t think it’s gonna take two months either.”

“It has to be Angela’s choice though to do this.”

“Well, son, we were all hoping you would talk her into it. She would do anything for you, and this is the most important thing she can do for herself and for you right now.”

*****

Chapter 8

“Cartwright, wait up there, wait up. I got something to say to you.” Matt Reed almost ran to catch up to Adam as he walked to the hotel. Adam suspected what he was going to hear but that still didn’t stop his temper from rising as the man talked.

“Now, I know you got your lawyer working on this. But a judge ain’t likely to let her divorce me over this and you know it. So I was thinking we could make this a business deal.”

“What kind of business deal?”

“Well you pay me, say, five thousand dollars, and I let her divorce me, or heck, I’ll even divorce her. Then you could have her free and clear to do all those things I heard she can do.”

Luckily for Matt, Hoss had come out of the hotel to greet Adam and grabbed him before he could do what he wanted.

“Now, Adam, ain’t gonna do Angela any good if you’re sitting in the jail cause you beat on this sorry excuse for a man. Ya gotta cool your temper and use your head.”

Hoss was glad he had been the one to intercept Adam because his arms were straining trying to hold his brother back. All the worry, anger, and frustration had made Adam explosive and Matt had lit the fuse. If Hoss had not been there, he was fairly certain Adam might have beaten the fool to death. Adam didn’t relax but Matt was smart enough to move on but not before saying one more thing that caused Hoss to wish he was even stronger. He almost lost control of Adam at that point.

“Just remember, five thousand dollars and you can own your own private whore.”

Matt walked out of sight and yet Hoss did not release Adam.

“Let me go!”

“Ya gonna settle down?”

Reluctantly Adam nodded and Hoss released him. Adam stood there fuming, and breathing hard. Hoss steered him toward the hotel.

“Let’s get some coffee and talk.”

Inside, the two brothers headed to the restaurant and got a table near the back. Hoss did his best to calm his brother but knew all these events had him on edge and unlikely to remain calm. He decided that he needed to be with Adam wherever he went until this was over and told him so.

“I don’t need a nursemaid.”

“No but you do need someone watching your back and backing your play. You know I’m the man for that job, now dontcha? Now let’s head back to Doc’s and see if Angela is awake so you can talk her into our plan.”

Ben and Joe had headed back to the ranch to do all the work that needed to be done so that Hoss could help Adam who was helping Angela. Roy was sending telegrams to many lawmen throughout the west that he knew to be reliable, and Hiram had a significant amount of correspondence going out as well. If Adam could get Angela to agree to their plan, they were sure that within a week or two they might have enough to approach a judge with at least a request to keep Matt away from Angela. That would free her from the doctor’s office and she could safely be moved to the Ponderosa. First though she had to be convinced, and she was still suffering the effects of the concussion so the discussion took quite a bit of time as Adam had to repeat almost every point at least several times so she could understand and remember.

“So essentially then, officially, Roy has me classified as a whore? Based on that, they can keep me here away from Matt?”

“Angel, he hasn’t classified you as anything other than a saloon girl. Based on assumptions he’s made, yes, he can keep you here and that keeps you safe. I know it’s a rotten deal, but it’s all we have within the law to protect you right now.”

Lying back in the bed, Angela closed her eyes and nodded. “I trust you. If you think it’s what I have to do, then it’s all right. Can you hold me?”

Wrapping a blanket around Angela, Adam picked her up and carried her to a rocking chair where sat with her on his lap. He began to sing a lullaby very softly as she rested her head on his chest where she could hear his heart and feel the vibrations from his singing. Within a minute, she had succumbed to his care, calmed, and fell asleep. Hoss came to the door to see how they were doing, and Adam nodded that all was good. Hoss pulled the door closed and returned to the waiting room to basically sit as a guard to make sure no one could threaten Angela’s safety.

Within a week, Adam had enough evidence in hand to approach the judge with Hiram on Angela’s behalf. They had wanted posters for Matt Reed from Texas and Arkansas that Roy had procured. Matt had not been convicted of a crime, but was wanted on charges of armed robbery in both of those states. Based on that and the desertion, the judge agreed to a temporary restraining order which Roy delivered to Matt Reed. Then Adam got the carriage ready, paid the bill at the livery stable, and took Angela to the Ponderosa. This time Mrs. Shaughnessy came along to help with Angela’s care and to quiet some of the rumors in town.

Two weeks after the ordeal had begun, Paul arrived at the ranch house to examine Angela. Other than fatigue and sleeping more than normal, Paul pronounced her in good health. The bruise had faded to a light yellowing on the side of her face, and with Hop Sing’s excellent meals, she was looking and feeling very healthy. Paul also brought a message that Roy had asked him to deliver. It was a written offer from Matt in which he said he would accept a divorce from Angela for two thousand dollars. Apparently he was anxious to get some money so he could leave. Adam was not willing to pay however for he assumed they would soon have enough evidence not only so Angela could secure a divorce, but possibly enough to see that Matt Reed went to prison.

Over the same two weeks, Roy had turned up a lot of evidence that indicated Matt Reed had a lot of crimes in his past. Roy shared that information with Hiram and with Adam who was paying for the costs of the investigation. Roy had information from government officials in Arizona who wondered how a young drifter had purchased a farm for cash, married, and then bought prime stock. Arizona officials were checking his description against reports of armed robberies and other illegal activity in that state. Matt was wanted in two states already, and there was some evidence in California that he had aided his cousin James Reed and James’ wife Belle in armed robberies in that state. Investigators from California were on their way to Virginia City with a warrant and a desire to question Matt Reed.

Based on what Roy had learned, he worried about what Matt might be planning, so he had his deputies keep an eye on Matt in town. Several times Roy stopped Matt to question him about his future plans in Virginia City. Roy tried to make the meetings seem casual and the questions seem innocuous, but Matt had a long history of trouble with lawmen. He was suspicious of them by nature and Roy’s questions made him nervous. Several times Matt thought he was being followed in town and on one night took a circuitous route from the saloon to his hotel room. He thought that if anyone followed him through the twists and turns he made, that there was only one conclusion to draw. The man did follow him and only broke off when Matt walked to the hotel. The next day, Matt spent some time sitting on a bench outside a store near the sheriff’s office. He saw that same man enter the office in the late afternoon. Matt began to suspect there were going to be serious problems for him, and the desperate man blamed two people for that.

*****

Chapter 9

As Adam walked in the garden with Angela that evening, he held her left hand in his and fingered the ring on her ring finger. He had brought the ring to her as soon as it was sized for her but found that finger bare the next morning at Doctor Martin’s. He had asked her what had happened.

“Did you change your mind about being with me?”

“No, but how can I wear your ring when I’m legally married to another?” Tears had threatened to spill then, and he had asked her where the ring was. Pulling the drawer on the bedside table open, he had removed the ring and placed it on her finger.

“We are pledged to each other, and nothing will stand between us. We will find a way. Please trust me.”

Angela had worn that ring ever since that morning. She didn’t take it off to bathe or to sleep. Each time she thought about doing that, she remembered the hurt look on Adam’s face when he saw she wasn’t wearing his ring. She never wanted to see that look again and know that it was her fault. So she wore it and found it made her more sure that things would work out. So far, that had been the case.

Each day it seemed, they received more damning information on her husband who had been presumed dead. Soon they hoped, someone would arrive with a warrant to arrest him, and then the judge would likely grant her the divorce she wanted. In fact, Hiram was researching the possibility of an annulment. There were no children as the result of the marriage so he felt reasonably confident he could persuade the judge to grant an annulment instead of a divorce. Barring that, they would get the divorce in Nevada and then pursue an annulment in Arizona where the original marriage had taken place. Angela knew this legal battle must be costing a small fortune, but each time she mentioned that, Adam told her not to worry for he had taken care of that.

Because of her injury and the danger of her husband, Angela had been confined at Doctor Martin’s and then confined indoors at the Ponderosa. She and Adam had been able to do nothing more than an occasional kiss and hugging. At first in the evenings, Adam had read to her because her vision was blurred making reading difficult if not impossible. Then as she felt better, they had sat on the settee with the book between them and read silently together.

Now though as it appeared they were winning the case against Matt Reed and he would soon be gone, they were relaxing more. Adam pulled her into his embrace when they were near the grove of trees behind the house and kissed her more passionately than he had since before her injury. She responded in kind and pressed her face into his chest to inhale his scent. Things progressed until they made love again. More and more each day they loved each other.

“Thank you. That was so wonderful, I can’t imagine how we could ever improve on that.”

“Oh my, you don’t have to think about improving on that. Just promise me we can do that more. I think I could give up almost everything I have just to have that happen again and again.”

Then he pulled her into a gentle hug and kiss.

While Adam and Angela had been making love, Hoss had been watching out for them. He averted his eyes from the intimate acts but stayed close enough to watch for any danger. At one point, he had almost been sure that he had seen movement in the grove of trees near the amorous couple, but without invading their privacy, he couldn’t watch closely enough to be sure. When they walked arm-in-arm back to the house, he kept silent and still. He continued to watch the grove and was sure then that someone was there. He drew his pistol and moved quietly toward the spot where he was sure someone had been watching.

As Adam and Angela returned to the house, Adam noted that Hoss was not there. Shaughnessy was reading as were Ben and Joe.

“Did Hoss go to bed this early?”

“No, son, he left the house shortly after you and Angela went for a walk.”

“There’s no light in the stable, and he’s not on the porch.” Suddenly, Adam had an idea of what had happened. He released Angela and said he was going outside to find Hoss. He was worried but also a little angry at that point. He wondered where Hoss was but also wondered just how much he had seen. He called out his name several times and got no answer. By then, he was just worried. He returned to the house to get his pistol and a lantern. His concern was communicated to Ben and Joe who grabbed their pistols and followed him out.

The three men called Hoss’ name over and over but got no response. Adam headed to the grove in back. Ben guessed correctly that this is where Adam and Angela had walked and that Hoss must have followed them to protect them from danger. Joe was wondering why his father and brother were going in this direction for he expected them to search the stable first. As they neared the grove, Adam halted them with a hand and stood absolutely still. Then they all heard it. Someone was moaning softly in the dark grove. Lifting the lantern high, Adam moved forward cautiously until he saw Hoss laying on the ground with what appeared to be a head injury. He dropped to his brother’s side and called his name.

“Please don’t yell. It hurts enough without any yelling.”

Relieved that Hoss appeared not to be too seriously injured, Adam and Joe pulled him to his feet as Ben held the lantern. With an arm around each brother’s shoulder, Hoss walked unsteadily to the house. Inside, Angela and Mrs. Shaughnessy waited anxiously with rifles in their hands. They did not want to be taken by surprise. It was Adam and Joe who were surprised to enter the house to see the ladies brandishing firearms that they quickly put aside when they realized Hoss was hurt.

Unwilling to try to get Hoss up the stairs for fear he might fall and injure himself more severely, Adam and Joe helped him into the downstairs bedroom. Soon, Hop Sing was there and with the ladies’ help, they cleaned Hoss up and bandaged his head. The wound was shallow but painful, and it was clear he had sustained at least a mild concussion as well. Once Hoss leaned back into the pillows, Adam asked what had happened.

“Thought I saw someone in that grove of trees. I think they was watching you and Angela. As soon as I knew you were safely back in the house with her, I thought I’d sneak up on whoever it was and catch him at it. Unfortunately I don’t sneak as well as you, and he musta heard me coming.”

“Did you see who it was?” Ben was hoping that Hoss would know so that they could have him arrested.

“Nope, hit me, and then I heard him run off. That’s about all I know until you came for me.”

“Pa, we can try tracking him tomorrow, but I can assure you that those tracks are going to head straight back to Virginia City.”

“You think it was Matt Reed, don’t you.”

Ben nodded too. He had drawn the same conclusion as Adam. If Hoss had not been there, who knows what the man might have done.

“Adam, I think you need to make sure Angela stays in the house. She held that rifle like she knew what she was doing. Can she shoot?”

“Ahh, I don’t know. I’ll find out.”

As it turned out, both Angela and Mrs. Shaughnessy knew how to handle a rifle. Both could also shoot a shotgun, and Adam suggested that inside the house, that weapon might be more useful to them. He showed them where the shells were and how to release the guns from the cabinet quickly if they needed them. Then he grabbed some shells and one of the shotguns before heading upstairs. At Ben’s question, he responded that he was putting it in the hall closet in case one of the ladies needed it at short notice. That was a good precaution and Ben agreed it was a good idea. The two ladies liked the idea too. Ben reminded Hop Sing to have his shotgun at the ready too, and he nodded before returning to his kitchen.

Joe went to the bunkhouse to alert the men to watch for an intruder who had already injured Hoss. Candy suggested that putting someone in the stable loft might be a good precaution. They had done that before, and whoever did it got extra pay so there were several volunteers for the duty. Joe thanked Candy and the men before returning to the house to let everyone know what had been arranged.

Once the door was bolted and shutters pulled tight across the downstairs windows, they all retired for the night. Out a short distance from the house, Matt Reed watched and wondered what he could do. He had ridden to the road, and then circled back by another route. He would wait for an opportunity.

*****

Chapter 10

Matt Reed was angry. It had been a perfect opportunity to take revenge on his wife and that Cartwright but the big man had been watching. If he had tried anything, he knew he would not have escaped. However he watched and waited from his new vantage point a bit further from the house. He saw one of the hands go in the stable and later open the door up above so he knew they had taken precautions. He would have to be very careful. He waited and slept under the cover of the tree watching in the morning as Adam and the smallest brother headed to the grove and apparently were tracking him. Well he knew that would do no good, but perhaps they would go to Virginia City to find him. If they did, that meant only one healthy man in the house. Maybe if he left, he could sneak around the back and get in. He was thinking of the look of horror on Angela’s face if she saw him in that house. Just that thought made him decide that was what he would do.

When Matt saw the older man go out to the stable and saddle up, he circled back around so he could approach the house from the back. The man in the loft would never see him that way. He walked quietly to the house and found a window that appeared not to be latched. He pushed the lower window up slowly and silently, and then climbed in. He heard voices and realized they were only female. He smiled in anticipation. Then he heard the older woman’s voice fading and he assumed she had gone upstairs. That’s when he made his appearance, and Angela screamed. He rushed to her and hit her to make her be quiet. She slumped to the floor, and he was disappointed. He had wanted to see her face as he slipped the knife in. He holstered the pistol he had taken out when entering, and pulled the knife from its sheath. He grabbed her hair and pulled her head back placing the knife against her throat. Her eyes opened then which he found strangely exciting but very gratifying.

“Those damn Apache were supposed to kill you. I guess they were having too much fun though and forgot about our deal.” At Angela’s horrified expression, he smiled and continued. “Oh yeah, it was my plan. They dragged a dead body to the barn so people would think I was dead. In return, they got you for fun and games, but then they were supposed to kill you. Damn heathens. Can’t trust them to do the job. Well I’m going to take care of that failure right now.”

“Oh no, you’re not!” Shaughnessy stood on the stairs with a shotgun.

“Old woman, you don’t know what you’re doing with that thing. You better put it down before you hurt someone.”

“If she miss, I not miss.” From the kitchen, Hop Sing had emerged with a shotgun as well. “I shoot bad animals steal chickens all time. I shoot you. No hurt Missy.”

“Now both of you drop those scatterguns or I’ll open her throat right now. Drop em, I said.”

“Oh, I don’t think I want them to do that.” From the front door, there was the loud authoritative voice of the oldest Cartwright. “You hurt her, and there might not be much left of you. Now if you drop the knife, all you’re facing is prison time for robberies. You kill her, and you die probably rather slowly and painfully from buckshot. Now let her go.”

“Damn!” Anyone could see that Matt was giving up. Unfortunately at that moment, Hoss staggered from the guest room. He had heard the threats and meant to help. However as all eyes turned to him, Matt dropped Angela and fled for the open window. Two shotguns fired at him, but he was running low and fast and wasn’t hit directly. There were a few blood drops on the windowsill as they checked, but not enough to show that he was seriously wounded. Ben had Hop Sing and Mrs. Shaughnessy shutter all the windows again, and reload. He helped Hoss back to his bed, and then went to Angela who was sobbing on the floor to help her to a chair.

Candy and several hands burst in the front door at that point with guns drawn. They had heard the shotgun blasts from where they were working and had ridden to the house as fast as they could. The man who had been in the loft had taken off after Matt Reed as they rode in. They heard more shots in the distance and went in that direction after Ben told them Matt had fled the house.

Next through the front door, were a worried Adam and Joe. They had been riding back to the house talking about what Matt Reed might do next when they heard muffled blasts and then gunfire. Riding into the yard, they had seen Candy leading a group of men toward the south. As Adam saw his father sitting next to Angela, he rushed to her side. As soon as she saw him, she began sobbing again. Ben stood as Adam sat and pulled her into his arms soothing her. He tipped her head up to ask if she was all right, and then he saw the blood on her throat.

“What happened? Let me see that.”

Using his clean handkerchief, Adam dabbed at the blood and found the cut was superficial. No one had even realized she was hurt at all. Hop Sing went to the kitchen to get supplies to take care of the wound.

“He held a knife to my throat. He was going to kill me. Oh, Adam, he said some awful things, but I know they must be true. He traded me to the Apache. They were supposed to kill me. He wanted to disappear. Oh, Adam, he must have done some terrible things if he would do that. How could I have been married to such a monster and not know it?”

“Many criminals are charmers like that. They use people. I’m so sorry that this has happened to you. I wanted to keep you safe, and I failed.”

“Adam, you did keep me safe. If I was still in Beatty, he could have killed me, and no one would even have cared. I’m alive because of you.”

“I don’t think he’ll come back here. One way or another, he’ll be stopped. Now let me take care of that cut.”

Hop Sing had provided water, soap, bandages, and salve. Adam cleaned the wound making Angela wince, but then soothed the burn with salve, and lightly bandaged her neck. He sat on the settee then and pulled her back into his arms. She rested her head against his chest and relaxed. Adam looked over her head and thanked everyone in the room for what they had done.

“Pa, I had planned to build us a house, but under the circumstances, maybe it would be best if we lived here when we’re married. At least until we know she’s safe.”

“And when would the wedding be?”

“Soon.” Adam looked down at Angela who was looking up at him with a grin. “Very soon.”

Within an hour, Candy and the men returned to say they had lost Matt Reed. He had ridden in among the pines and rocks, and without Hoss or Adam to track him, they didn’t know where he had gone. He was wounded but apparently not seriously. Adam asked if Candy would send someone for the sheriff. He would take statements and there would be more charges against Matt Reed. The only good part of this was with this new evidence, and with his actions, Matt had guaranteed that the marriage would be ended. Considering that he had traded his wife to the Apache and then had attempted to kill her, there was a very good chance now that Angela could get an annulment. That would make things so much easier for her.

After a few hours, Roy arrived as expected. He took statements from everyone who had seen any of what had happened. That Mrs. Shaughnessy was a witness would make even the most cynical person believe the story. Once Roy had written all of the statements down, he had the witnesses sign.

“I’ll show the judge, and I’m sure he will have his clerk make copies. The next time any of ya are in town, stop by my office so you can sign the duplicates. That’s all there is to do. I’ll see the judge and get the charges filed against him. The we’ll get one more wanted poster out on him.”

At this point, it was the best they could do. Everyone in the room hoped it would be enough.

*****

Chapter 11

Within a week, there was a celebration on the Ponderosa. The judge had needed little convincing to annul Angela’s marriage to Matthew Reed who apparently had lied about his age as well as other things. He was thirty years old when he married Angela and not twenty-two. His youthful appearance had helped him with that as well as charming anyone he wanted to charm. There were now federal charges of gun-running and whisky sales to the Apache as well as to the Comancheros. He was wanted on federal warrants as well as warrants from five states including Arizona, California, and Nevada. Investigators believed he had gone to Mexico. He would have allies there, and little to fear from bounty hunters or the authorities. It was unlikely that he would return, but Adam knew that they needed to be vigilant. Someone without morals and as vindictive as Matt Reed might still be a threat to them someday. However, for the time being, they could relax and enjoy their time together.

The wedding planning was going forward as fast as possible. Adam had written to close friends to let them know. Most pleasing to him was that Annie and Swede would be attending. He liked them so much they felt like family. Angela’s family was notified of the upcoming nuptials, but they had received no response from anyone in her family. There was a hint of sadness in Angela and Adam suspected he knew the reason she could feel that way even as she was so overjoyed that they would marry.

“Once we’re married, and everything settles down, do you want to take a trip to Arizona to see your family?”

“Oh, Adam, I don’t know. I miss them, but I’m still so very upset with them for how they treated me. They abandoned me when I needed them most, but it’s still my mother, my father, my sister, my brother. They are the only blood relation I have. For all I know, my sister and my brother could be married by now. I could have nieces and nephews I don’t even know.”

“That’s why I think we should go. To settle it one way or the other. You can reconcile with them and forgive them, or if they still feel the same, you can walk away and not look back. Either way will be hard to do though so it has to be your decision. I’ll back whatever decision you make.”

“If we went, when would we go?”

“Well, once the wedding and honeymoon are over, I still have to help with the fall roundup and cattle drive. I haven’t been doing my share lately, and I need to make up for that.”

“Oh, I am so sorry. I know you’ve been spending so much time with me.”

“My family understands so don’t worry. But there is a limit to their patience, and I need to start carrying my share. I also need to go to the timber camps and lumber mills to see that everything is secured for the winter. There will be about a month in between those two. We could easily fit in a trip to Arizona at that time.”

“So, October, if we do it?”

Angela leaned in to Adam and let him hold her. He supported her, protected her, and made her feel loved all the time. She wondered out loud what she did to deserve all that he did for her.

“Angel, you make me feel whole. We talk, we share, and we even like the same books.” She had to smile at that. She had no idea what wonderful stories there were in some of the books that were being published. She had been familiar with Shakespeare, and the early American writers because her father was an educated man and kept those books in their home. But these new writers like Verne and others absolutely fascinated her. Adam had been delighted to find how much she liked the modern authors that he liked. He had promised her that one day he would introduce her to Sam Clemens and she looked forward to that too. She looked forward to the theatre too to see some of those works of Shakespeare come alive.

Angela loved music too, and Adam was teaching her how to play the guitar, which her fingertips reminded her every time she did laundry or washed dishes. Somehow, they had found each other, and both were amazed yet at the serendipity of that meeting in the saloon in Beatty. The brothers had thought about pushing on and getting to the next town, but Adam had told them he wanted to stay in Beatty. That was the evening they met. Now they were making plans for a future together.

Ben had been charmed by Angela as well. He saw how his son had relaxed since her arrival despite all the worries and danger she had been in. She made Adam feel he had more of a purpose, and it helped so much that she supported him and helped him talk. Not that he talked with his family, but it was clear he was talking with her. He had finally allowed someone inside his defenses. For too long, Adam had worried about being hurt and held people away from his innermost feelings and thoughts. Hoss had usually been the one who saw more of him than anyone. Now he had Angela too. Like Hoss, she teased him and helped bring out the playful side. Ben looked forward to seeing his son as a father, and if that wedding didn’t happen soon, he was afraid there might be a child on the way before the vows were said. He had tried to discuss that issue with Adam.

“Adam, don’t you think you ought to be a bit more discreet with Angela. You take her out for a walk or a ride in the carriage and when you come back an hour or more later, it’s clear that you two have been, shall we say, very close. It would be more proper for you to wait for marriage before behaving like that with a woman.”

“I think I have been discreet. You make assumptions based on how long we’ve been gone. I promised nothing would happen in this house and nothing has. I don’t think it is anyone’s business what happens when we are together and no one else is there.”

“Adam, I just wanted to discuss…”

“No, Pa, we will not discuss this any more. I’m old enough to conduct myself by my own standards, and I will.”

And Ben knew and accepted that was true. He had made his opinion known and now had to drop the subject unless he wanted to risk creating a rift in the relationship he had with his son. He also wanted him to live in the house and knew Adam wouldn’t if he felt his father tried to tell him how to conduct his personal life. There were going to have to be some adjustments in the family once Adam was married. Ben began to consider that adding a wing to the house might be a good idea. So he tried a different tact.

“Which room are you planning to use once you’re married?”

Caught off guard by the question, Adam was quiet and thought about what his father was trying to say.

“I had thought to use my room. Is there something wrong with that idea?”

“No, not at all. But a married couple might want more privacy than sharing a room next to Joe and Hoss. One solution would be to use the guest room in the back or you could use the one down here. The other possibility would be to add a room to the house that was designed for you and by you.”

Adam had not thought about those issues at all. He did now and considered that there was merit in what his father had said. He told his father that and agreed to discuss it with Angela and let him know. By the time the wedding day arrived, all the issues had been settled or soon would be. Adam and Angela were using the small bedroom in the back and using Adam’s room like a combination study and office. Adam also was designing a home closer to the lake for the two of them. He planned on starting the build in spring. There was still no word from Angela’s family so Roy Coffee agreed to escort Angela down the aisle.

The wedding ceremony was simple and short. The kiss when the minister pronounced them husband and wife was longer than the time it took to say their vows. The kiss was passionate and well outside the bounds of propriety for the time, but most of the women in the audience were going to be talking among themselves about that kiss for a long time. Hop Sing had outdone himself with the menu for the first Cartwright wedding and that also would be the talk of the town for some time. When the guests were all gone, and the honeymoon could begin, Adam picked Angela up and carried her up the stairs. His family stood and watched from the great room a little envious of what the immediate future held for the oldest son.

*****

Who Are You?

Chapter 1

A beautiful woman entered his room. He was sure she had been here a number of times. She held his hand, quietly talked to him, and kissed him softly on the cheek each time before she left. She gave him sips of water and small servings of soft foods. He wondered about her. As his confusion lifted and he was able to keep his eyes open without causing the room to spin and his stomach to threaten to embarrass him, he watched her. She always acted with a calm assurance around him, and his father and brothers were always very polite and nice to her. It was a mystery but until he could find his voice, among other things, he couldn’t ask the questions he so very much wanted to ask. She was there for just a short time this time as he heard the doctor’s voice call out for her. He called her Angela and Adam could not remember ever meeting an Angela. She certainly didn’t look familiar.

Another question was why he was in this room and not his room. He could see some of his things in here, but there were other items he didn’t recognize as well. He wondered if whatever had caused his injury had something to do with his room and that was why they had moved him into this guest bedroom. But then he remembered that couldn’t be it. He remembered leaving with his brothers on a trip to Arizona. His next memory was waking in this bed and hearing his father’s voice in what had to have been a prayer. When he had opened his eyes, his father had been overjoyed and gone to the door to call out that Adam was awake. His brothers and that woman had come in with smiles and tears to look at him. They wanted to hear him speak but he couldn’t make a sound which clearly disappointed them.

All day, every day, someone was in this room with him. They took care of feeding him, bathing him, and keeping him in clean bedding. Every night if he awakened, there was someone sitting with him. He couldn’t speak until the swelling in his throat subsided more so he couldn’t ask any questions. He could feel that his head was swathed in bandages and his neck had a bandage too. His left arm was strapped to him although he didn’t know if the arm, shoulder, or ribs were the reason for that. He couldn’t move his legs but could move his toes so he knew his legs had to be splinted.

The most difficult thing for him to tolerate was that he couldn’t get up to take care of his needs. A brass urinal sat on a table near him reminding him of how humiliated he was every time it was needed. It was the most embarrassing when the woman placed it. It wasn’t as bad when his father, brothers, or the doctor did it. They usually would ask him and he would blink to let them know, but sometimes she or one of the others would just place it saying it was time. He couldn’t say no.

The doctor had just been in with him and asked him a lot of questions as he had checked his bandages. Now he could hear the murmur of the doctor’s voice and occasionally one of the other voices. He wished he knew what was being said. There was a lot he wanted to know and they had the answers. Down the hall, the doctor was giving a few answers to Adam’s family and it was difficult for them to have to listen to his conclusions.

“I think that Adam has a short term memory loss.” The doctor was interrupted by both Ben and Hoss.

“He has amnesia?” Ben was very worried.

“You mean he’s forgotten us. He looks like he knows us. This can’t be what I had.” Hoss thought that Adam had suffered the same kind of memory loss that he had when he had forgotten everything about his past. “He’ll remember everything when he gets better, though, won’t he just like I did?”

“Ben, Hoss, what I wanted to say is I think he has lost his recent memory. I mentioned that you and Joe were starting the fall roundup and would be leaving on the trail drive in a week, and he looked confused. He frowned. So I told him it was the same as every year because it was the first week of September, and that really made him frown. He looked at me like I had to be lying. I asked what month he thought it was by giving him choices, and he blinked for July.”

“But he’ll remember when he gets better, right?”

“Joe, there’s no way of knowing. He took a blow to the head, he had other serious injuries, and he was without food and water for days. All of those things can interfere with recent memory and it may not come back. There’s no way of knowing at this point. It could come back slowly or suddenly, partially or completely, or not at all.”

The doctor glanced at Angela and could see that she was slowly beginning to perceive the most serious consequence of that. Adam might not remember her. Ben looked at her as it dawned on him, and then they all realized it.

“So Adam may not remember me, and he certainly does not remember that I’m his wife.”

Tears were glistening in Angela’s eyes. There had been so many shocks in the last week and now this. She began to worry that he might never remember her. Would he still want to be married to her if she was a stranger. That thought scared her. Just a week ago they were enjoying their first night as a married couple and now it could all be over. She grew pale with that thought, and Hoss took her arm and guided her to a chair.

“Don’t you worry, little sis. Adam has beaten the odds every time he needed to. He’ll be just fine. He loves you.”

“Yes, he loved me but now I’m a stranger. Now I know why he doesn’t smile for me and frowns so often when I’m in there. He doesn’t know who I am.”

“Hoss is right. He knows what he’s talking about. Our older brother never actually broke down and walked down the aisle before. You were that special to him. He’ll remember you.”

Ben knew what his sons were trying to do but looking at Doctor Martin’s expression and he knew they were probably wrong.

“Paul, how likely do you think it is that Adam will remember this last month?”

“Ben, I would hate to bet against your son. He’s proven me wrong a number of times, but there are some things that determination and hard work can’t fix and brain damage is one of them. He may never remember this last month and everything that happened in it.” Paul hated to be the one who had to deliver news like this. To Ben, Hoss, and Joe, such a small memory loss would be slightly inconvenient for a short time and then inconsequential. But for Angela this news was devastating. She had suffered so many losses and now she had to face the fact that her husband might have no memory of her.

“There is good news. He has feeling and movement in both feet. His feet are warm indicating that the blood flow is normal. The swelling in his neck has diminished significantly. He seems to be seeing better because he isn’t squinting as much and doesn’t grimace if I bring a light close to his eyes. You’ve told that me he has been eating and drinking more. All of those things show that he is improving rapidly. In a day or two, I’ll take the splints off his legs. The cuts should be healed sufficiently by then that he won’t tear any stitches by moving about. There’s no sign of serious infection any longer in any of the cuts he had.”

“Paul, if my son doesn’t remember Angela, how do we tell him? I remember with Hoss you said not to push him, but Adam has only forgotten a short time, so could we tell him and try to get him to remember?”

“My suggestion would be first to give him the chance to remember. Is there a scent that he would associate with the past month? Angela could use the same scented soap or scented water she has used since she has known Adam. Perhaps she could wear clothing that she wore a lot recently. Ask Hop Sing to prepare some of the same meals and more than once. Try to repeat as much of this last month as you can. Doing those things may trigger a memory or two for him. He’s getting rest, good food, and drink, and lots of care now, and if he is going to remember, some things should start coming back to him soon. But remember it is a brain injury that is the most serious, and you need to give him a lot of time for that to heal. Don’t try to rush him too much.”

“So I can’t tell him I love him? I can’t tell him I’m his wife?”

Ben was happy to note the order in which Angela asked those questions. But he saw her anguish too. Any doubts he may still have harbored over whether Adam had made the best choice in a wife vanished. This woman loved his son without reservation. He knew that now. He wondered how they would deal with this situation though. What if Adam never remembered her?

Paul was having a hard time trying to remain positive and yet be realistic. He knew how hard this had to be. Ben stepped in with an idea.

“Perhaps once Adam can speak again and ask questions, we could tell him about Angela. We wouldn’t have to tell him everything but perhaps enough to stimulate his thinking and maybe help him remember?”

“That’s a reasonable approach as long as you accept that it may not work.”

Ben formulated the plan then. “Angela needs to be the one to tell him about being kidnapped. She was the only one of us here for that part. Then Hoss and I can tell him about going after those men, and how we finally were able to locate him. Joe can tell him about the rescue because he was the first one there. Then we can all tell him about getting him home.”

Everyone nodded including Doctor Martin who advised them not to do too much too rapidly. “Give him time to assimilate each piece. Let him ask questions. And please, do not start this until he can speak. He needs to be able to ask questions to clarify this. Tell it in order as it happened even if you have to write it down first. This may have happened to him but he doesn’t know any of it.”

Looking at Angela who was distraught and at the hangdog expressions of the others, Paul had one more instruction.

“Try to be positive and relaxed when you go see him. He is going to be facing a huge obstacle added to all the physical ailments and the enforced inactivity he already knows about. He may become very depressed which could make remembering much more difficult. You need to do things to keep his mood positive and keep his spirits up.”

Hoss looked at everyone, and decided it was his turn. He forced a smile and announced he would be the one to sit with Adam. “When anyone else feels they’re ready, then come and relieve me. Until then, I’m gonna be in there telling him about all the things that been happening while he was in that bed. Doc, is it all right if I tell him about the earthquake and stuff that happened around here because of it?”

“Yes, but keep it positive. Make sure he knows that no one was killed and that the damage was minor.”

Nodding Hoss turned and walked down the hall steeling himself to ignore the bad news, and try to help his brother. That was all that mattered to him at that moment, and it was the same feeling for all of them as they stood together quietly preparing themselves to do as Doctor Martin had instructed.

*****

Chapter 2

For the next few days, nothing much changed in the care for Adam. The doctor removed the splints and then the stitches in the wounds in his legs. He removed the bandage from his neck which had held him from moving his neck and perhaps aggravating the damage from the crushing blow he had received there. The bandages from his head were reduced to just a small bandage to cover the cut so that it would not get infected. His left arm was in a sling to give his shoulder more time to heal.

If someone walked in his room without having all of the information, Adam would have looked fairly normal. He was dressed each day now. He stood with help to take care of all of his needs. He fed himself but was still limited to soft foods only and he ate small amounts frequently rather than the usual three meals per day. He was still confined to his room because he couldn’t maneuver the stairs although he could walk with help. But he couldn’t speak yet, tired easily, and had no memory of the month before he was injured.

Doctor Martin would ask him questions about the time since he had awakened after his injuries, and everyone was relieved that he seemed to have memories of any events that had occurred recently. Therefore it was only that one month that was missing, and his memory worked just fine in everything else. The doctor told them that such a memory loss was not unusual but that was not reassuring especially to Angela.

“How can I tell him about the kidnapping without explaining why I was here and what he said to make them take him instead of me?”

No one had a good answer to that. Doctor Martin finally told them his opinion.

“Tell the story then with everything. Have someone else there if he gets too upset or to verify what you’re saying. He has no reason to trust you so if you tell him something like that, he may be upset with you and think you’re lying. It’s essential to have someone else there whom he trusts. They can reassure him that you are telling him exactly what happened.”

“Isn’t he going to want to know how we got together and got married?”

“Yes, I would imagine he would be anxious to hear that, but tell him that you and the others are going to explain first how he got hurt and ended up in that bed.”

So Angela was the first to tell part of the story. Adam’s voice was hoarse and he still struggled with each word, but he could be understood and it was a relief to him to finally be able to communicate. Angela knocked and entered the bedroom. Adam had dressed, had breakfast, and was now lounging back on the bed. He still tired very easily.

“It’s time to start telling you what happened in that month you don’t remember. We’re going to tell you the story that ended with you in this bed. Maybe it will trigger some memories for you. You can ask questions but this is the order in which Doctor Martin told us to tell you. If you have questions about other things, we’ll get to them eventually.”

Hoss came in then. He was going to be there to verify for Adam that everything Angela told him was the truth. For the rest of the morning, Angela told Adam about how he was kidnapped. By the end of the day, he knew the full story of the kidnapping, and was already frustrated at those things that were not explained that he wanted to know. But from the morning of the kidnapping to ending up in the cave, everything was clear although it had taken a lot of time and turmoil to get that whole story told.

“Your father and brothers left that morning to give us time to be alone because we were newly wed.”

Shocked, Adam interrupted by raising his hand to stop her from saying any more. He paused and thought. Word by word he slowly got his question out. “So I knew you for less than a month and I married you? You’re lying!”

“No, I’m not, but that’s not part of this story. We’ll get to that story eventually.”

Hoss nodded in agreement with Angela and Adam was shocked to see that his brother had verified that unsettling bit of information. That it just couldn’t be was his first thought, but then it did make sense somewhat and that scared him. They could tell him anything and without a memory to contest their version, he would have to accept it. This was more upsetting though than almost anything he thought they could tell him. It made him angry too.

“Now!”

“No. We’re going to tell this story the way Doctor Martin told us to tell it.” It was clear by the frown that Adam was not happy with her answer, but she continued without acknowledging that he didn’t like it. “We were talking, practicing on the guitar, and reading among other things. There was a knock on the door and you went to answer. Because it was the middle of the day on a busy ranch, you answered the door without taking your pistol. That was a mistake. There were two men there with guns and you backed into the room with your arms raised as they ordered you. They were going to tie you up and take me to hold for ransom, but you argued with them. You said we had only been married a couple of days, and you would pay anything to get me back, but that your father wouldn’t yet. You told them to take you because your father would definitely pay to get you back.”

Holding his hand up once again, Adam made a request in his increasingly hoarse voice. “Over, please.”

Angela repeated that part of the story more slowly. She would make a statement and look to Adam to see how he was reacting. At his nod, she would tell more. She knew now that was how all of the story would have to be told. Each statement was followed by a pause to let Adam assimilate the story as much as he could. Every now and then he would circle with his finger for her to repeat a statement.

“Now the men agreed with you apparently. They tied me to a chair and tied Hop Sing to a chair in the kitchen. They told you that they would come back and kill me if you tried anything, and you said you would not. You left with them then after you saddled up Sport. I could hear you talk when you left because they left the front door open. I heard you tell them to slap Sport on the rump and he would run home so they wouldn’t have to worry about him.”

Hoss interjected. “When she told us that, we knew if we waited, there would be a trail to wherever they was keeping ya. We had to wait though because they left on the road with ya so there wasn’t no tracks to follow.”

With his right hand, Adam halted them again. His voice was weaker now too than when he had asked his first question but he managed to get it said. “What if they were just going to kill me, and then send the ransom note?”

“We worried about that, but when Sport came running in the yard later, we knew you were alive, and we thought they meant to keep ya that way. When we found ya, there was a canteen there and an empty bucket. They never meant to kill ya. There was a ransom note on your saddle. They wanted fifteen thousand dollars delivered to the stream below the Honey Bee mines. There’s a cottonwood there that was struck by lightning. It’s looks like a skeleton. They said to leave the money there, and they would set you free to walk home. So we figured you couldn’t be too far away from there.”

Once more, Adam stopped the narrative. They could barely hear his question though as he strained his damaged vocal chords. “Did you find me then?”

“No, it was too late, getting dark, and we had to get the money together just in case. The next morning, Pa was gonna bring the money to that spot, but Joe and me was gonna follow Sport’s tracks to find out where you were. We brought a couple of the men with us. It didn’t do no good though.”

One last time, Adam had a question. He could barely say a few words. “Why? good plan.”

“Cause that’s when the earthquake happened. We couldn’t do much of anything then.”

“Adam, we need to stop now. Doctor Martin said we could only tell part of the story each day. He wants you to be able to ask questions, and your voice is too weak now to continue. Hoss can go get some food for you now.”

Shaking his head for no, Adam pointed at Angela and then at the door. Crestfallen, Angela got up to leave. Hoss was getting a bit angry, but tried to understand how his brother was feeling. He waited until Angela had left.

“You don’t need to be mean to her. She loves you even if you don’t remember her. You oughta be able to tell by how she acts that she loves you.”

First rubbing his forehead with one hand, Adam looked up at Hoss. His anguish was apparent. He had lost part of his life, and was dependent on others to tell him what had happened. He was married and didn’t even know his wife. For a man who liked to be in control of his life and to have a plan, this was extremely frustrating. In addition, he was weak, and still in pain. With his voice failing him, he would have to wait to hear more of his life. He was angry, frustrated, and hurting. Hoss tried to remember what the doctor had said about this. He smiled at his brother.

“You’re gonna be all right. Everything is healing. You’re married to a beautiful woman who adores you. You’re smart and handsome. You got a great brother sitting right here now.” Even that didn’t even get the hint of a smile from Adam. “You’re a lucky man. Now don’t just think about the couple of problems ya got. Think about all the wonderful stuff ya still have. I know this has been real hard on ya, and that temper of yours just takes the energy right oughta ya. Ya look real tired. Why don’t ya lay back and close your eyes for a bit?”

Even in his combative mood, that was one thing Adam did listen to and take to heart. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. He laid back and closed his eyes. By the time Angela returned to the room, he was asleep. Hoss walked to the top of the stairs and asked Joe to come sit with Adam, and then Hoss led Angela from the room. Hoss knew she needed some positive thoughts even more than Adam at this point. If Adam didn’t remember, then Angela stood to lose a lot if Adam did not want her in his life any more. But if that happened, Adam would lose too and lose something that was more precious to him than he knew. Hoss was determined that was not going to happen to either of them.

*****

Chapter 3

Walking down the stairs with Angela, Hoss could feel how she was shaking. It had been an ordeal for her to have to tell that story and have Adam react so badly. They had known that he would likely act that way, but it was so different to know what was going to happen and then have to actually endure the experience. He made her sit on a chair by the fireplace and then went to the kitchen to see if Hop Sing could help. When he returned, Angela had her eyes closed but her cheeks glistening with tears made Hoss’ heart ache for her. He tried to be upbeat.

“Maybe now that we told him some stuff, he might remember something.”

Looking up at Hoss with eyes bright with tears, Angela knew how much he cared for both of them and suffered as they suffered. She felt she needed to give Hoss a little reassurance too. “I hope so, Hoss. I love him very much. At least now he knows who I am.”

“When he’s stronger again and gets his voice back, we can tell him about how we found him and got him out of there.”

Angela nodded, and the two of them sat there in companionable silence until Hop Sing brought out some sandwiches and coffee. Ben arrived back soon after that and asked for an update. It was disheartening to know that what they had expected to happen did occur. Angela avoided seeing Adam the rest of the day. She knew she would start crying if he gave her a look like he had that morning.

In their room, Adam was looking around. He had awakened and told Joe that he wanted to be alone. He could barely whisper the words but Joe understood and left. As Adam looked at the things in his room he did not recognize, he thought he could see that there was a feminine touch to the decorating. Having a sudden idea, he struggled to get out of the bed and get to the dresser. He used the bed for support until he was near the dresser and then took a few quick steps and grabbed onto the edge of the dresser. He pulled open the first drawer and stood silently. There were a woman’s underthings. He pushed the drawer closed slowly, and with trepidation opened the second drawer to find some of his clothing. It had to be true then. Hoss had told him and he didn’t ever lie.

Adam wanted to get back to the bed but didn’t think he could make the return trip alone. He sank down onto the chair next to the dresser and leaned back. That’s where Hoss found him a couple of hours later when he came to check on him. Hoss noted the open drawer and quickly surmised what Adam had been doing.

“Now you know you ain’t supposed to try to walk by yourself yet. Let me help you back to the bed.”

Once Hoss had Adam back in the bed, he helped him sit with a bunch of pillows behind him. Then he asked him about his detective work.

“I’m guessing you found Angela’s things and your things in that dresser. Have you accepted that she’s your wife now?”

Trying to answer, Adam found he still had no voice for he had strained it too much that morning, so he nodded in response. Angela was his wife and he had no idea what to think about that. She was pretty and seemed nice enough, but he couldn’t fathom how he had fallen in love with her when he didn’t know her a little over a month earlier and had married her already.

“Ifn you’re wondering how you got yourself hitched so fast, I have to tell ya, we was as shocked as you are now. Pa had some doubts as to whether the two of you loved each other but after everything ya went through together, we all knew you two was meant for each other even if it was kinda unexpected.” Seeing Adam’s look which showed all the conflicting emotions and thoughts he was having, Hoss had to add more. “It does seem more like something our little brother woulda done, but you did it, and I’m glad you did. She’s the best thing that ever happened to you. I wish you could remember it all.”

Adam dropped his head and massaged his forehead. Hoss moved over and sat next to him putting an arm around his shoulder. They sat that way for quite a while until the smells of dinner made it to the room.

“I’m gonna go get us some dinner. Do you think you could swallow something more than those soft foods ifn we cut it up real small?”

Adam nodded and Hoss smiled as he left the room. One small bit of good news would help. He brought the dinner plates up to the room. His was mounded with lots of fried chicken and biscuits. Adam had some pieces of chicken cut about as small as Hop Sing could do it. There was also a biscuit spread with preserves as well as the usual bowl of applesauce and some mashed potatoes with gravy. Hoss noted how mechanically Adam ate. It was if he was one of those machines they were developing out east as he stared ahead and took one bite of food after another seemingly unaware he was eating. He looked as shell shocked as when they had found him. Hoss remembered that day. It had been a joyous moment and one filled with torment as they were so happy to have found Adam alive and distressed at his condition. As they were finishing their food, Ben came in the room.

“Hoss, Hop Sing is serving apple pie and he wanted to know if you wanted some, and I assured him you would be there to praise his baking by eating at least two pieces.”

“Pa, I will rightly do that.”

After Hoss left, Ben sat by his son’s side.

“I know you had a rough day today. That was a lot to learn so fast. I’m sorry that you can’t remember. Doctor Martin said if we told you these things, you might remember on your own. He hoped that something would trigger you memories of what happened. Tomorrow Hoss will tell you about the earthquake and why we thought we had lost you then.”

Shaking his head slightly, Adam closed his eyes at the resulting throbbing. He had a niggling memory that seemed to be trying to make it to the surface but it wasn’t there yet. Each time he concentrated on trying to remember, it slipped away. Certain words seemed to trigger that sense that there was a memory right there. Words like earthquake and cave seemed to have the most impact.

As his father touched his shoulder, Adam looked at him. Ben’s heart was wrenched at the sight of his son’s tortured look. “I’ll be here tomorrow too. Is there anyone else you want here then?” Ben had a hope for that answer to be Angela but remembered that Adam’s voice was gone again. “Angela?”

Nodding yes, Adam almost wanted to change it to no, but he couldn’t. For some reason, he wanted her there too. He wasn’t sure why, but he wasn’t too sure of anything at that moment. Maybe he just wanted to do something nice for her. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Ben noticed and asked if he wanted to sleep. Adam nodded without opening his eyes. Ben started to help him undress but Adam pushed his hand away slowly swinging his long legs off the side of the bed. He unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. Then he reached for his father’s hand to help him stand. He unbuttoned his pants and dropped them before sitting and pulling his feet free. He leaned back into the pillows and pulled his legs up, and Ben pulled the covers up to his chest. Adam nodded and Ben turned down the lamp and left.

That night, Angela was awakened by funny sounds. At first in her sleepy state, she had no idea what they were. Suddenly she realized the sounds were coming from Adam’s room and she rushed there. On opening the door, she saw Adam grimacing and flailing his arms. His mouth was open as if to scream but there were only hoarse guttural moans coming from him. Joe came up behind her and saw what she did. He yelled for his father and Hoss as he moved in to try to get Adam to calm down. He had little success until Hoss and their father were there to hold Adam tightly. Angela was there too standing by the bed feeling helpless. Adam’s eyes opened wide and seeing their faces seemed to calm him. As his breathing slowed and his body lost its rigidity, his family relaxed their hold on him. He looked so forlorn and he couldn’t tell them what had happened. Angela took a pad of paper from his table and handed that to him with a pencil.

“I know your eyesight is still a bit blurry, but you could write a few large words to let us know what you were dreaming.”

Taking the pad from her, Adam wrote ‘cave’ and ‘dark’ before handing the pad back to her. Angela read and realized quickly what the dream must have been. It was his nightmare in the cave before his rescue.

“You were in the cave in the dark in your dream. Do you remember what happened now or do you remember your dream?” Realizing she had given him a choice instead of a yes or no question, Angela quickly rephrased. “Do you remember being in the cave in the dark?”

As Adam nodded yes, his family was again in that quandary wondering if they should be happy he remembered something or feel bad that he had to remember that. Adam closed his eyes and the whole memory was there for him. The first memory was awakening in complete darkness and in excruciating pain. When he had tried to move his legs, the pain got so bad he cried out in agony so he didn’t try moving his legs again. He had been able to reach down and feel wood and assumed the beam had cracked and splintered and that some of those splinters were in his legs. He tried to rise a little and his left shoulder told him not to do that. Blood ran in his face if he lifted is head so he knew the headache was from a head injury too. His throat felt tight and when he put his hand there he could feel a large swelling on one side. He couldn’t remember how or why he had ended up chained in this cave and who had left him there, and had no idea why the cave had collapsed because that much was clear. He didn’t know which cave it was and why his brothers were not there. He felt a canteen at his side and pulled it to him.

The one consolation Adam had was that he had water, but he remembered too that he knew that could mean he would simply have more time to die. Most of the time he spent there in the cave, he wasn’t conscious, but when he was, it was a terror. To be alone in the dark and to have no hope was awful, and what had been most difficult was knowing he would die alone unable to bid his father and brothers goodbye and have a few last words with them. He had relived each of those terror filled moments in his dream and now was reliving it in his memory. He was remembering what had happened after his injury but still had no memories of the month that had preceded waking up in that cave.

Adam’s dream had triggered memories for his father and brothers too. Ben had been at the drop off location when the earthquake struck. His brothers had been following Sport’s trail and were near the Honey Bunch mine shaft when the earthquake had caused the whole side of the hill to slide down. Ben had escaped serious injury, but they had found two dead horses in the debris of trees, rocks, and dirt at the base of the hill. In the saddlebags of one horse, they had found the note that explained where Adam was. It was the note the kidnappers were apparently were going to leave when they picked up the ransom. They read the note that said Honey Bunch mine and had looked up the slope to see there was no longer an entrance to that tunnel for it was buried under tons and tons of debris.

*****

Chapter 4

Ben had dropped to his knees when he had learned Adam was in the Honey Bunch cave and then saw that it was buried after the earthquake. He had risen slowly and walked toward the tons of debris and tried to pull rocks away by hand. Joe and then Hoss had come up to stop him but for a short time he pushed them away. Slowly he realized the futility of what he was doing. He looked at his younger sons and asked the only question he had.

“What can we do?”

There was no answer for a time.

“Pa, one of us ought to go back to the ranch and see if everything is all right. We need to send men out to check the fencing and the herd. And someone has to tell Angela.”

“Pa, I’ll go. I’ll do all those things Joe said. I’ll stay with Angela until we figure out what we’re gonna do.”

Nodding, Ben stood silently with Joe at his side and watched Hoss mount up and ride home. Joe had one idea but didn’t know if it made any sense or not. It seemed like the only chance they had of finding Adam.

“Pa, let’s ride over to the Honey Bee office for the new mine on the other side of this hill and see if there’s any other way to get into this old mine tunnel.”

Muted with grief, Ben nodded. He wasn’t actually aware of what they were doing. He was just going through the motions. He mounted up when Joe did and followed him as he led them to the Honey Bee office on the other side of the hill. It didn’t take long to explain at the Honey Bee what had happened.

“Aww, I’m right sorry that happened to Adam. He’s the one who advised us years ago to switch from that other side of the hill to this side. He told us that side was unstable and we’d have better luck getting to the veins of silver and gold from this side. Not too surprising to find that hillside gave way. We never have tunneled into that old shaft but a few of our tunnels run real close, maybe even a few feet away. Come inside and we’ll take a gander at the maps with our engineer.”

After pouring over maps for hours and watching as the engineer made measurements, they had a plan. “Now Mr. Cartwright, we got two spots where we can break through to that old tunnel today, but it has old shoring that might have given way. We could break through and find the tunnel filled with rocks.”

“Are you telling us not to try? Because we’re going to try!”

“No, sir, not at all. I just wanted you to know what we might find. I’ll get some men and get em started right away at those two spots.”

“Do you have someone you could spare to ride to the Ponderosa and let them know what’s going on?” Ben saw their looks and correctly guessed what the issue was. “I have fifteen thousand dollars in these saddlebags. It’s all yours if you do that and what you said you’d do in the tunnels.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. We won’t be needing it all, and we’ll do everything you asked, but we are responsible to our shareholders so if you would pay the expenses of what you have asked, that would help us out a great deal.”

“Consider it done. I’ll leave the money here as a sign of good faith. Now, can we get to those tunnels?”

At the Ponderosa, Angela had nearly collapsed at Hoss’ news. He held her in his arms as she cried. This was her worst nightmare seeming to be coming true. She could hardly breathe much less think at this point. Hoss reassured her that Adam had to be alive.

“Little sis, I know he’s alive. I’d know ifn he wasn’t. Last night I dreamed that he was hot and uncomfortable. Now those mines over there got steam vents and I bet they was making him over warm. Adam likes to sleep with a cool breeze as I’m sure you know so he didn’t like that heat.”

“Hoss, what are you feeling now?”

Hoss had not anticipated that question but he should have. “Right now, it feels like he might be sleeping.”

“And when he isn’t?”

“I’m sorry. I think he’s hurt.”

“Hoss, I want to go to the mine. I want to be there.”

“Pa and Joe should be back soon. Then we’ll know what we’re gonna do next.”

Hearing a rider, they thought it was Ben and Joe but it was a boy from the mine who told them they were going to try to dig through to the old mine from the newer one. They got their horses and headed to the mine. At the mine, they were making rapid progress on one of the breakthrough spots. Within an hour of Hoss and Angela arriving, word came that they were about to break through. The family rushed inside only to be devastated again when the opening revealed that the tunnel on the other side had collapsed.

“Now that’s the newest part of that tunnel. We only had some basic shoring in there. Closer to the entrance, we had started to install square sets when we decided to abandon that tunnel and start excavating over here. We have a lot more rock to go through but there’s a better chance that the tunnel there is still open. I can’t make no promises though.”

“Please, just work as fast as you can.”

At the end of the day, the miners broke through at the other spot. There was an opening into the other tunnel but it was narrow. It would likely also be dangerous to crawl through that opening and into the old tunnel. The miners stepped back and waited to see who would volunteer and risk his life. Angela was the first to say she would go.

“No, Angela you can’t. Whoever goes through has to be small but also very strong. There are rocks to be moved and probably crawling up and around a lot more rocks.”

Hoss was being realistic. He couldn’t go either unless the tunnel was made bigger. Joe stepped forward and stripped off his gun belt. No words had to be spoken. He asked for a small shovel and a lantern, and then he crawled through the opening. They waited and waited and no one made a sound. They wanted to hear if Joe yelled anything. When they did hear his voice, most of them jumped. He was right at the opening.

“I found him. The tunnel is partially collapsed. I’m going to need two more men to help me move some debris, and if Doc Martin is still there, we need him too. Each man bring another lantern. We’re going to need the light. There’s no more room for anyone else. Have someone bring something to break a chain too. Try to open this hole up more though because we’re going to need a stretcher to get through here.”

“Joseph, how is he?”

“He’s hurt, Pa, but his heart is beating and he’s breathing good. It’s real hot in here so I can’t tell if he’s got a fever. I’m going back to him now. Tell the others to go to the light and stay to the side of the tunnel.”

Dragging a blanket stretcher and carrying his bag, Doctor Martin reached the spot where Adam was and was dismayed to see his injuries especially the bleeding from the cut on his head and the swelling in his neck. Then Joe told him worse news.

“Some wood splinters are in his leg. When we lift this timber off of him, they’re likely to come out with it. It doesn’t look like he bled much from his legs but that could change fast. We’ve got the lanterns set up to give you as much light as we can. Better get ready and tell us when to lift.”

Positioning himself where he could reach those wounds on Adam’s legs, Paul told them to lift. Adam went rigid when they lifted and then collapsed apparently unconscious again. Paul quickly applied pressure to both wounds, and then told Joe to keep pressure on one as he did the other. Tourniquets had to be applied, and then Adam was slid onto a blanket stretcher. As quickly as they could they moved him back to the opening and slid him in headfirst so men on the other side could pick up the stretcher and move Adam out of the cave quickly.

Once Adam was outside, they set him down and soon the doctor was out to begin work on him. Angela was pale and shaking as she stood and watched. Ben wanted to take her away, but instead she volunteered to help the doctor. She knelt with Hoss on one side of Adam and did whatever Paul instructed them to do. Later Adam was moved to the Ponderosa and Doctor Martin stayed the night tending him with Angela’s assistance. As dawn brought light to the room, Paul sat back and looked at Angela.

“He’s going to make it, I think. We’ve stopped all the bleeding, there are no internal injuries that I can detect, and his breathing is normal and his color is good considering what he has been through. Now we’ll let someone else sit here with him, and you and I need to get some sleep.”

The first to sit with him that morning were Ben and Hoss. They were the ones to see Adam open his eyes for the first time. He looked at them but didn’t seem to really see them. He grimaced and closed his eyes, opened them again, and repeated that sequence several times before closing his eyes and not opening again. Ben had tried to talk with him but he had not responded. He was alive though, and Paul said he would recover. It looked like it might be a long and painful recovery.

Later that morning after Hoss had gone downstairs for breakfast, Ben sat by Adam’s side quietly saying a prayer for his son’s recovery and Adam opened his eyes again. Ben was holding his hand and looked at him and Adam looked back. He was squinting and obviously in pain but was as alert as anyone could hope. Ben went to the door and called for everyone. They crowded into the room and everyone greeted Adam and told him how happy they were. Angela kissed him on the cheek and got a frown for her effort. Adam couldn’t speak so that was when they instructed him to communicate with blinking: one for yes and two for no. That and head nods or shakes were most of his communication for the first week until his voice recovered more. He made great progress in the first week recovering some of his strength and abilities, but then the rest had to be slowly regained over the next few weeks.

*****

Chapter 5

Because Joe was instrumental in Adam’s rescue, he was the one to tell him that part of the story. He didn’t spare any detail, and Adam had to ask him to repeat parts several times because Joe was so anxious to get to the rescue in the tunnel that he was rushing through the first part of the story. Hoss and Angela advised him several times that if he slowed down, he wouldn’t have to repeat himself so much. This was a complex story they were telling Adam and he needed time to assimilate each new bit of information and plug it into the puzzle of his missing month. Finally, Joe finished his narrative. Adam looked pensive and then he looked at Angela.

“Tomorrow, your story? Please?”

Angela smiled. Adam had been making an effort to be nice to her. She understood how difficult it must be for him and appreciated that he was trying.

“Yes, and that may be a bit difficult for me. I would like to tell you with just the two of us here. It will be so hard for me to tell you all of those things if there’s someone else here.”

Adam closed his eyes and leaned back. When he opened his eyes, he said only one word. “Hoss.” Angela knew what he meant and nodded yes. If there was going to be someone else there, Hoss was the best choice. He would help both of them.

As Angela went to get some lunch for Adam, Hoss spoke to him.

“I’m glad to see ya being nice to that gal. Adam, she volunteered to be the one to go through that hole to find ya that day. I told her no, but she was right there when they brung ya out. She helped Doc Martin take care of ya until the next morning until you was out of the woods. She’s been here every step of the way no matter how hard it’s been for her. Ya gotta give her a chance. Don’t mess this up. I’m telling ya again, she’s the best thing that ever happened to you.”

Sitting by Adam’s side, Joe agreed.

“You know, I’d like to tell you that if you don’t get back with her, that there would be a thousand men she could be with. But I can’t tell you that because she only has eyes for you. It would hurt her so bad if you don’t give the two of you a chance.”

The two brothers couldn’t say more because Angela returned. She could tell that something serious had been discussed in her absence because of the downcast look on Adam’s face. Adam wanted so much to remember, but he was beginning to think he never would get that month back and that left him in a quandary. He was married but didn’t know his wife. He would not end his marriage, but how could he move forward with no memory of his wife or anything that they had done.

“Tomorrow you tell your story, but today could you tell me what we did together?” At Angela’s blush, he realized he needed to clarify that statement. “Hoss mentioned we read together and played guitar.”

“Yes, we were reading that latest Jules Verne book. You had read it already but I hadn’t. We were reading together. Would you like me to read to you?”

Smiling, Adam nodded. It was a small step but progress nevertheless. Angela almost cried but kept her composure. She handed him his lunch and sat at the table next to his bed and ate hers. Adam set his plate on the table, swung his legs down from the bed, and sat at the table to eat. Angela wanted so much to hold his hand or give him a kiss at that point but held back for she knew she shouldn’t try to rush this. She remembered everything and he remembered nothing. They needed to start over. It was quite a different start than their original meeting, but it was very sweet too.

When their lunch was finished, Angela took the dishes downstairs and picked up a book from besides the blue chair and checked to see that the bookmark was still in it. Ben watched her and it seemed she was feeling a little better. She smiled at him before climbing the stairs. Once she was in their room, she put the book down opening it to the bookmarked page.

“Should I start here or at the beginning?”

“I do remember most of the story so at the bookmark is fine so you can keep going with the story.”

Reading as she sat by the table, Angela was all too aware of how close Adam was to her as he tried to follow along in the book. After about fifteen minutes, he gave up on that as the words seemed to swim around the page occasionally. He leaned back on the pillows and swung his legs up on the bed listening to Angela read. His eyelids began to droop and she kept reading until his regular breathing let her know he was asleep. She stopped and he didn’t move. Angela moved to the rocking chair that had arrived the day before their wedding. Adam had told her she could rock their baby there when they had one. She liked the chair and rocked until she succumbed to sleep as well.

Hours later, Hoss came in to tell them that dinner was ready and smiled to see Angela sleeping in the rocking chair. He looked over and Adam smiled at him. He had apparently been awake and just observing. Softly, Hoss said her name until Angela awakened.

“Pa said to tell ya that dinner is ready. Adam, he was wondering if ya wanted to try coming downstairs and having dinner with us.”

Nodding affirmatively, Adam was looking forward to getting out of this room for at least a little while. Angela went to freshen up in the bedroom where she was staying at night. Adam sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Hoss handed Adam a pair of slippers, and when he had them on, Hoss helped him stand and walk down the hall to the stairs. At the top of the stairs, they halted to give Adam time to steady himself and prepare for the descent. Hoss stepped down one step.

“Put your hand on my shoulder and your other hand on the rail. Ifn ya get too tired, let me know, and you can sit down for a bit. All right?”

Slowly then Adam walked down the stairs. They paused on the landing as they had at the top until he felt strong enough to finish. At the bottom of the stairs, he started feeling lightheaded and Hoss saw him go very pale.

“Sit down. Sit. There. Now you just rest easy there, and then well get you to the table.”

From the dining room, Ben called out another choice. “Or we could eat at the table by the stairs there. Five of us can sit there comfortably. We just need to bring a few chairs over.”

Grateful that he didn’t have to walk any further, Adam nodded. Joe and Ben picked up the tableware and brought it to the round table by the stairs. Hop Sing came out and saw what they were doing. One look at Adam and he knew why. He went back in the kitchen to bring out trays of food that he could set on the game table near where they were. So Adam got to sit for a meal and have a normal conversation although he couldn’t speak much yet.

By the end of the meal, Adam was tired. Hoss and Joe said they would help him back up to his bed, but he said he didn’t need that much help.

“Older brother, you can let the two of us help ya, or I’ll just pick ya up and carry ya up those stairs. Now you’re plumb tuckered out and I ain’t gonna watch you exhaust yourself and lose any ground to what ya already got. So what’s it gonna be?”

Pushing himself up from the table, Adam stood with his arms out like a man crucified but he was smiling. Joe stepped under one arm and Hoss under the other and they walked him up the stairs. Each day after that would be much the same except he got stronger each day and needed less help.

The next morning, Adam came down for breakfast and then per his request, Hoss helped him out to the porch after he helped him put on his jacket and hat. Angela put a blanket in a chair for him and then wrapped another one around him once he sat.

“I feel like I’ve been shrouded.”

“Oh no, not for a very long time. You’re going to live a long, long time.”

Hoss sat, and Angela pulled a chair next to Adam’s. Then she told their story from the saloon, to the hotel, the trip home, and then all the problems caused by Matt Reed including his attack here at the house. By the time she finished her story hours later, Adam had only one question left.

“You said I was concerned about your age. How much younger are you than I am?”

“I’m a year older than Joe.”

Adam was evidently very surprised. This was another thing that had shocked him. Not only had he fallen in love and married in less than a month, but he had married a woman eleven years younger.

“Now you have the basic story of everything that happened in the month before you were hurt. We can tell more stories of little things to fill in the rest of the story. Does any of what we’ve told you seem familiar at all?”

“I’m sorry, but no, none of it seems familiar at all. It seems like you’re telling me someone else’s life.”

For the next several weeks, life for Adam was much the same. He grew stronger day by day, he heard stories about events, conversations, and activities from the lost month, but he did not regain memories of anything. He was getting snappish with the constant reminders that he had forgotten so much. He began to accept that he would never remember, but his well-meaning family kept trying to help him remember.

Adam thought the best part of each day was reading with Angela and as his eyesight improved, they would take turns reading aloud to the other. The two of them began working on her guitar lessons again. Finally there were some normal activities. Even though the weather was getting cooler, Adam wanted to be outside for at least part of every day. He walked around the yard with Angela, and they talked about their interests.

Not able to do any of the regular ranch business, Ben’s oldest son was drafted to do the paperwork while Joe and Hoss were gone on the cattle drive and Ben took over their duties. It was a short drive and within weeks, the two men were back home. They continued to try to get Adam to remember. They were driven by their desire to see him back with Angela. Doctor Martin told all of them that it was probably futile to think that Adam would ever remember the month he had lost, but they continued because he had not said it was impossible.

*****

Chapter 6

One evening when Adam was especially tired of everyone telling him things he couldn’t remember, he asked Angela to walk in the garden with him after dinner. He had avoided initiating physical contact with her until this night as he took her hand to walk. He had guessed a number of times in the past several weeks that she had wanted to hold him or be held by him. He had guessed rightly that she wanted to be kissed by him as well, but he just couldn’t be that close with a stranger especially one who had such high expectations. However as they had chances to talk and be together, he felt more and more comfortable with her. They seemed to have a number of interests in common, and he enjoyed the guitar lessons which had led to a lot of laughter. He wanted to be brutally honest with her to see how she would react.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t remember you from before. I have tried and nothing has come back to me. I know my father and brothers have tried to explain it all, but none of it has triggered anything for me.”

Angela had turned away from him. She couldn’t bear to hear this, and to look at him while he said those things was excruciating.

“Please don’t be angry. I do like you and I like being with you. I can’t help it if I don’t remember being in love and being married.”

When Angela said nothing, Adam took her elbow to turn her toward him. He expected an angry outburst for touching her without permission as he would expect a woman he didn’t know to act. But instead he was shocked to see the tears falling. He softly touched her cheek to wipe away some of the tears. As he did so, he felt an urge to hold her. He reached out an arm and wrapped it around her shoulders. She leaned into him out of exhaustion as much as anything else. Adam wrapped his other arm around her then and held her close. He could remember nothing of their previous relationship, but somehow this seemed so natural to do. He didn’t want to let her move away, and she didn’t want to move away. As her crying subsided, Adam put a finger under her chin and lifted her face. Softly and gently he kissed her. Then with his face only inches from hers, he admitted the rest of what he had been thinking and feeling.

“I don’t understand how I ended up so besotted with you so fast. The story I have heard seems more like something Joe would have done. And yet, I did it. I know that because my father and brothers would not lie to me. If I loved you that much once, then can we give it some time and let me fall in love with you all over again?”

Angela looked into his eyes. She saw the sincerity there. He meant what he had said.

“Now they have been a little sketchy on that first night I met you. You were working in the saloon and you helped me save Joe from a card shark. Now what happened that night that led me to take you with me the next day?”

“Ah, perhaps we better go sit on the bench there, and I’ll tell you what happened. It’s not a simple story, and although some parts of it are very basic stuff, there’s a lot that isn’t.”

Once they were on the bench, Angela started to fill in the story.

“You came back to the saloon and invited me to come with you. You got another room because your brothers were in the other one. I had the feeling that night that it wasn’t the first time you had done that kind of thing.”

Adam had the good grace to actually blush a little at that. It was true. If a woman caught his fancy in a town, he would see if he could bed her. Sometimes he could and sometimes not.

“I started to get a little worried when I found out who you were.”

Looking a little surprised at that at first, but understanding quickly, Adam actually continued the story.

“You must have heard stories about me. But I probably told you I would never hurt a woman because I always show respect to a woman.”

“Yes, and you said you were only dangerous to people who had done something wrong.”

Adam nodded for that did sound like something he would say. Then Angela told him how he had bathed her before making love to her. She said she had cried and told him of her background of being captured by the Apache and shunned by her family after her rescue, and she explained how sympathetic he had been. She said they had shared wine and dessert after and then had made love again before they slept together until the next morning when she had awakened to find him shaving. After more loving, she told him that she had gone to change for their breakfast with his brothers but was accosted in the alley, and he had come to her rescue but forgot to bring his pistol. She told him how Hoss and Joe had come and Hoss had told him to remember to bring his pistol to a gunfight. Adam had to laugh at that.

“Then you escorted me up to my room and helped me pack. You said I was going with you to Virginia City. Once we got there, the boardinghouses had no rooms available so you took me to the Ponderosa to stay.”

“I think I know the rest of that story. I’ve heard a lot about that first month you were here. I’m sorry, because there is still nothing coming back to me. But I married you for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. I don’t which one of those applies here, but I want to you to stay with me. I do like you very much. I’m beginning to realize why I must have fallen in love with you. I think we can have a good marriage even if I don’t remember the wedding.”

Angela shivered a little. They had been talking a long time and the sun had gone down. It had been a warm October day but the nights were getting cold. This conversation had made her very much on edge emotionally too. Adam noticed Angela was cold, opened his coat, and pulled her into him wrapping the coat around her.

“My God, woman, you are cold. We need to buy you a warmer jacket than that one.”

They sat that way for a time, until Adam leaned back and suggested they would be warmer in the house. As he took Angela’s hand, he realized she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.

“Will you wear a wedding ring now?”

“I can’t. Those men who came to the house took it.”

“Well, we’ll have to get you another one. What did it look like?”

“It doesn’t matter. Any ring you give me will be the ring I want.”

“Perhaps we can make a trip to town, get you a ring, and have dinner together?”

“Adam, what if you don’t ever love me again?”

“Let’s not worry about that right now.” With a grin, he looked at her and she knew there was more coming. “May I kiss you?”

“You already did.”

“No, I mean really kiss you. Like this.” Adam pulled Angela in close and teased her lips with his tongue. As she opened her lips, he kissed her deeply and passionately. Both of them enjoyed kissing that way and kissed for quite a while. It made Adam more certain that he knew what he should do next. Adam kissed her neck and she sighed with pleasure to have him being so romantic with her again. He murmured into her ear as he nuzzled into her hair.

“Maybe if we try to recreate that first night together, I would fall in love all over again. It certainly sounds like something I would enjoy.”

Angela had to smile at him. The playfulness was suddenly back. Maybe he could love her again.

“If it doesn’t work, maybe we’ll have to keep doing it until it works.”

“Lady, I do like the way your mind works.” Adam wrapped his arms tightly around Angela as she put her arms around his waist. As he held her, he had a sudden insight. He was relaxed and comfortable because she made him feel that way. Perhaps he was falling in love with her already. It made him smile more.

“I don’t want to define our relationship by what I don’t remember. What I do know is that you are more loyal than anyone could imagine, you love to smile, you’re smart, and you like a lot of the things I like. We talk, we laugh, we read, and we make music together. That’s a very good start to a relationship don’t you think?”

“Yes, it is. It’s already so much more than we had when we started.”

“Do you think we could be together tonight?”

As Angela looked at Adam she knew he meant a lot more than just being in the same room. “Yes, I would love to be with you tonight, and every night you want me.”

With a grin that made Angela’s heart swell with emotion, Adam leaned down to kiss her again first softly and tenderly and then with more and more passion. Any thought of going indoors was temporarily forgotten as they continued kissing until the cold intruded enough and convinced them to continue indoors. They walked back with their arms around each other and into the house. As they hung up their jackets, they noticed that all three men were sitting there trying to appear busy but then each looked up at them with hopeful expressions. As Adam walked with Angela toward the stairs, he explained briefly.

“Nope. Sorry. I still don’t remember a thing, but it’s late and we’re going to bed, in our room.”

He emphasized the ‘our’ to be sure they understood that his relationship with Angela had changed. Adam wrapped his arm around Angela’s shoulders and walked up the stairs with her. It would be their first night together again. Adam whispered in her ear.

“It feels like I’m sneaking a woman up to my room. I never did do that.”

“That should make it all the more exciting.”

As the three men watched the couple whisper to each other and then turn the corner at the top of the stairs, Hoss had one question.

“When do you think she’ll tell him?”

Joe was intrigued. “Tell him what?”

Ben smiled and decided he could tell Joe now. “He’s a husband again, and in about seven months, he’s going to be a father too.”

*****

Epilogue

The next morning, Adam’s grin as he came down the stairs was all that his father and brothers needed to know that Angela had told him the good news. There were congratulations all around, and then Adam made a request.

“I’d like to take Angela to town today and pick out a ring for her. Then we’re going to see the minister about getting married.”

That brought looks of consternation to his family.

“I know we’re married. I would just like to have a wedding that I remember.” Adam grinned then and they knew how happy he was.

On the next Sunday after the regular service was over, there was a renewing of wedding vows by Adam and Angela. There were tears in the crowd as most of the women found the scene very emotional especially the kiss Adam gave his bride when the minister pronounced them husband and wife, and told Adam he could kiss the bride, again. Some of the tears were crocodile tears for some women had hoped that his memory loss especially his loss of any memory of Angela would have doomed their marriage and given one of the town ladies a chance. Other tears were tears of joy at the romance of it all.

On the Ponderosa, Hop Sing had a buffet lunch all set up when they returned. Roy and Paul were there too. There was another wedding cake, a smaller copy of the original one. Adam and Angela never left each other’s side that day.

The couple had been discussing some of the same issues that had come up in that first month they had been together. The most significant one was whether Angela and Adam would go visit her family. She had to tell Adam that her letter to her family had not brought a response. It was the only sad note on their special day. However Roy did brighten the mood a bit.

“Now I did overhear ya talking about Angela’s family and that you hadn’t heard from them. I did. They sent me a letter asking about you two. I told them the two of ya was married and living on the Ponderosa. I told them that Adam was an upstanding man of the community and well regarded. They seemed to be concerned that the story that Angela told them wasn’t the whole story. Now I hope I done the right thing by reassuring them that it was and that all was well.”

Adam and Angela reassured Roy that they appreciated what he had done. Later when they talked though, they weren’t sure if that letter meant that her family was ready to accept her, or if they were working through some other idea. They decided they would wait to hear from them if they wanted the couple to visit that had been the intent of Angela’s letter. By late October they had their answer. Angela’s parents had invited them to visit. They planned to leave within a week. Ben wasn’t so sure they ought to go with Angela in her condition, but Doctor Martin assured him that travel so early in her term was all right. So travel plans were finalized.

*****

Travels and Travails

Chapter 1

Horses would have been preferable to a stagecoach for travel from the Ponderosa to Seligman, Arizona, to visit Angela’s family, but with Angela pregnant, Adam refused to allow her to ride a horse for any reason. Even though she insisted that lots of women in her condition had done that many times, Adam said his wife would not. It was one point on which he wouldn’t budge so she had to acquiesce especially when his father and brothers were all being just as overprotective as he was.

“Listen, I wasn’t the one who was almost killed. I have survived all sorts of difficulties with no ill effects. None of you have to treat me like a fragile bird.” Angela was getting a little snappish with the attention she was getting from the Cartwright men. She knew Adam would be that way and was willing to tolerate it from him, but when his father and brothers tried to help her with every little thing, it got irritating.

“Now, little Sis, Adam would never forgive himself if anything happened to you or that baby, and he would never forgive us if we let anything happen to either of you, so you just sit there, and Joe and me will get your luggage all taken care of.”

So as Adam paid for the tickets in the stage depot, Angela sat in the carriage and waited, fuming, for Adam to return. He saw the look on her face when he got outside and immediately went to her and whispered.

“They’re only trying to help. They love you like a sister already. Now in just an hour, it will just be me fussing over you, so could you be gracious until then?”

Looking into those hazel eyes and listening to that rich baritone voice, Angela melted like she always did. She nodded, smiled, and kissed Adam lightly on the lips. “I’ll be nice.” She got his smile in gratitude and that made her smile more.

Hoss stood to the side wishing he could find a gal like that who would look at him like that and kiss him like that. Once he had the luggage tossed up to the top of the stage, he slapped Adam on the back and wished him a safe journey. Giving Angela a quick hug, he said he and Joe ought to get back home.

“We gotta do all your chores and your work again. First you get hurt and then you take a vacation. We’ll be sure to save up some hard work for when you get back so you don’t get all fat and weak from lack of exercise.”

Joe laughed as Adam shook his head. Wishing his brother well, Joe gave Angela a quick kiss on the cheek before he mounted up and rode toward home with Hoss in the carriage following behind.

Adam told Angela they should stay seated outside the stage depot as long as possible because they would be in that coach for most of the next three days. Although it would have been preferable to spend some nights in hotels along the way, Adam was worried that someone who recognized Angela might accost her so they were going to stick with the stage schedule and travel as rapidly as they could. Then Adam groaned when three people walked into the stage depot. The stage would be full now with no room to stretch out his legs. Once those three had their luggage on board, the stage pulled out even though it wasn’t scheduled to leave for another half hour. There were six passengers so there was no more room for anyone or any packages that weren’t already stashed aboard.

As the stagecoach left town, the passengers introduced themselves. There was an itinerant minister and his wife, a traveling salesman, and a rancher returning home from a trip to Reno. At least everyone had bathed recently so there wasn’t the rank odor that sometimes assaulted one’s nostrils in this type of situation. Nevertheless, it was warm enough and after a few days, Adam knew it would be unpleasant if all the passengers continued on. The minister’s wife was happy to have another female traveling and just had to ask questions.

“Well, how long have you two been married?”

“Two weeks.”

“Almost two months.”

All of the passengers were surprised by the answers supplied by Adam and Angela.

“We were married almost two months ago but he had an accident in the mines because of the earthquake and doesn’t remember. So we renewed our wedding vows two weeks ago. That’s the wedding he remembers.”

Uncomfortable with Angela sharing so much with strangers, Adam’s hand on her arm had not been enough to stop her. Now Adam waited for the inevitable follow-up questions. And they came quickly. Before Angela could respond, he answered.

“I was in a mine and the shoring collapsed on me. I was injured including a head injury that affected my memory. I remember everything except the month before the injury. Now I think that’s enough about me.”

Adam’s tone of voice and clipped delivery ended the inquisition quickly. It was clear he didn’t want to be the topic of conversation. The salesman jumped right in then with tales of his travels and promotions of the items he was trying to sell to mercantile stores. Angela became interested when he started talking about bib pins, and asked him what they were. He pulled one from his pocked that was secured through small scraps of wool and cotton cloth.

“This is an invention that is near and dear to the hearts of mothers and infants everywhere. It is a pin to hold diapers and other clothing pieces on a child without the danger of straight pins or the discomfort of tying items to the child.”

Handling the pin almost with reverence, Angela looked at Adam. “Adam, we should get some of these.” As soon as she said it, Adam knew what the next topic of conversation would be, and he was not disappointed.

“Oh, my, the two of you are having a baby already?” Many of those in polite circles thought it was immodest or even downright decadent for a woman to be with child so soon after a marriage especially as it hinted at the possibility that there had been intimacies even before the marriage ceremony. At the woman’s tone, Angela was embarrassed and could only nod yes.

“It’s going to be a long ride, Angela, so perhaps you should close your eyes and try to get a little rest.” Adam pulled her hand through his arm tugging her to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes grateful that he had extricated her from the conversation. Then Adam tipped his hat down over his eyes and acted like he wanted to sleep as well. They stayed that way for almost four hours until they reached the first way station.

The road through this section was mostly level or downhill, so the horses didn’t need to be replaced so quickly. There would be two stops in the afternoon for new teams. The last push would take them until darkness fell. The next morning, that team would be rested and take them on the next leg of the journey. As they reached the last station for the day, Angela asked where the necessary was. The station manager pointed back behind the station, and she began to walk that way. Adam carried their bags inside as did the other passengers, but he noticed the rancher wasn’t in the station with them. He had a sudden fear for he had seen how the man had looked at Angela when he thought no one was watching.

Behind the station, the rancher had Angela pressed up against the wall of the building with his hand over her mouth and his body pressing into hers.

“I remember you. You were real talented. Now you’re gonna do a little something for me and I won’t describe to your husband what you did with me.”

The rancher didn’t get to go any further with his comments or his groping because he was suddenly and violently jerked away from Angela. Adam hit him in the face and then in the abdomen doubling him over before Adam hit him again which knocked him to the ground.

“If you ever touch my wife again, I’ll kill you!”

Adam was going to kick the man when the minister and the driver restrained him.

“That’s enough. We heard enough to know he had it coming, but you can’t kill him. Now take your wife and go inside. We’ll take care of this.” The station manager stood between Adam and the rancher still on the ground.

Breathing hard, Adam stalked to Angela. “Are you all right? Did he hurt you?”

“No.” At Adam’s look, Angela had to admit, he did hurt her a little. “Please just take me away from him. Let’s go inside.

A short time later, the other men came inside. “He’s locked up in the tack room in the stable. We’ll bring him some grub and a blanket. He can stay there until your stage leaves in the morning. He’ll be here then until another stage comes through.”

“When will that be?” Adam was concerned at the possibility of the man following them to exact revenge.

“The next regularly scheduled stage is Wednesday. He’ll be two days behind you. You can take your wife in that first bedroom there. I’ll bring ya plates of grub in just a few minutes.”

Saying very little to each other, Adam and Angela ate their meal and Adam returned the plates to the manager. He sat on the bed then leaning back against the headboard. Angela looked at him and worried because he hadn’t touched her since he had taken her arm to lead her back inside.

“You’re thinking that this is how it’s going to be. Men will recognize me and expect favors and you’ll have to fight them or even kill someone.”

There was no answer Adam could give to that because that was exactly one of the things he was thinking. He also worried about his wife’s safety and the safety of their baby. The coach ride was difficult enough, but if she was accosted that way by a man again, there could be more serious consequences than bruised lips. He didn’t know what to say so he said nothing, and that was absolutely the worst thing he could probably have done. He was afraid that a hug could cause her pain for he knew she must have bruises. He shut her out because he didn’t want to hurt her and by doing so, he hurt her immensely.

“I’m tired. I think I’ll try to sleep now.” Angela lay down on her side with her back to Adam. She hoped he would lay beside her and wrap his arms around her so they could spoon as he liked to do. She was so disappointed when he turned down the lamp and lay beside her without touching her. He didn’t want to hurt her by grabbing her and putting pressure on her bruises, but she was emotionally wounded by his lack of physical contact.

In the morning, Adam and Angela cleaned up, had breakfast, and walked to the stage saying only what needed to be said to accomplish their tasks. It was a quiet ride. As they neared Beatty, Angela pulled a wide bonnet from her purse and tied it on covering her face enough that no one would recognize her. It would be the only night they would spend in a hotel as they traveled. Adam ordered a bath for their room.

“You go first. You must be exhausted after these last few days.”

Just nodding, Angela began to undress. It was the first time she could get out of these dusty clothes since they had left Virginia City. Adam sat on the bed wearing just his trousers and his shirt unbuttoned and pulled from his pants and watched as Angela slipped off her petticoats, chemise, and pantaloons. His heart was pained as he saw all the bruises she had. It was much worse than he had surmised. That rancher must have thrown her up against that building with a lot of force. Angela slipped into the water, and then Adam saw her shoulders shaking. Quickly, he slipped off the bed and was on his knees next to the tub.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? Oh please, what can I do?”

Feeling only slightly better to have Adam finally touching her and talking to her, Angela looked up into his face with tears streaming down. What shocked her was that she saw the same from her husband and reached out a hand to touch his cheek.

“Please, kiss me.”

Leaning over the tub and ignoring that he was getting wet, Adam pulled her gently into a kiss. She wrapped a hand around his neck and pulled him to her for a more intense kiss. He returned her passion with his own.

“I thought you didn’t want to love me any more.”

“No, sweetheart, I just didn’t want to hurt you. I didn’t know what to do.”

“You wouldn’t talk to me.”

“I didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t upset you.”

“Never, ever, do that again. Please? You think too much. Just hold me and talk to me no matter what. I can handle any thing if I know you will be there to love me and hold me.”

“All right. Now would you like me to bathe you?” Adam had just the hint of a smile, and Angela had to smile at him and nod. Adam stripped off his shirt and pants, took her hands and pulled her to her feet in the tub, and stepped in with her. He soaped himself from thighs to neck and then wrapped his arms around his wife and spread all those soap bubbles on her using his soapy body. He stepped back, soaped up again before turning her around and doing the same to her back. Then using his soapy hands, he made sure no spot was left unwashed before he moved to wash her hair. Once that was done, he reached for the pitcher of water next to the tub. “Close your eyes.” He poured the water over her rinsing the soap away before taking her hand to help her from the tub. Angela told him to turn around and she soaped his back down to his thighs. He immersed himself to rinse the soap away and stepped out next to her before picking up one of the large towels and drying her off before he dried himself.

Once Adam was sure they were both as dry as the towel would get them, he pulled Angela into a hug. “Clean, cooled off, and ready for bed?” Angela nodded and he backed her up to the bed, pulled the covers down, and fell with her onto the sheets. They made love slowly and gently reaffirming their strong love for each other and fell asleep nestled like two spoons.

*****

Chapter 2

In the morning, Angela awoke to find Adam leaning on his elbow with his hand under his chin looking down at her. He leaned down to kiss her as soon as she opened her eyes, and he slid his fingers into her hair to hold her close. His other hand caressed her as he kissed her and nuzzled her neck murmuring his love softly into her ear.

“We should get dressed. The stage leaves at eight.”

“We’re going to be traveling another day and a half. There’s one more thing we need to do.”

As a result, they barely had time for breakfast and had to hurry to board the stage. The driver grumbled a little but smiled when they weren’t looking. It was clear to him that Adam and Angela were back on good terms with each other. Once in the stage, the frosty atmosphere of the day before had disappeared, and they chatted companionably with the other three passengers. Angela removed her large bonnet once they were well clear of Beatty. There had been some talk of Apache raids while they were in Beatty, and the other passengers were nervous.

“Unless they are looking to revenge deaths of their own people, Apache raids are usually to take stock, children, and women. There is little of interest to them on a stagecoach. It wouldn’t be worth the effort to them.”

The minister’s wife was very curious. “How is it you know so much about Apache raids?”

“My family lives in Arizona. My mother and father have a small ranch there. People who live here learn how to be ready. The towns are almost always safe. Very few Apache bands have enough warriors to attack even a small town. They prefer attacking small ranches.”

“Was your family’s ranch ever attacked, my dear?”

Adam felt Angela flinch with that question which she should have anticipated, but she held her composure and answered. “My parent’s ranch was never attacked.”

“My, my, one can only imagine the horrors of those poor women and children who were captured. They must have died almost immediately with the awful things that were done to them by those savages.” The minister’s wife was pale just thinking about it.

“Not at all. Most children are raised to be Apache warriors or the wives of warriors. Women are often taken as wives if they will tolerate it. If not, they are killed or traded most often. Sometimes they’re rescued.”

“I don’t suppose a husband would want a wife back after she submitted to those savages. Oh my, we shouldn’t even be talking about this kind of thing. It is so immoral.”

The salesman who did not have a wife had to chime in then. “I know I could never be with a woman who had been with one of those savages. It just wouldn’t be right.”

“But what if she was forced? What if she had no choice in the matter?” Angela was upset by their statements.

“If she really fought back, she’d be dead so it wouldn’t even be an issue.”

Adam was getting angry then. “So she is supposed to be dead or otherwise she is a harlot. I don’t think you are looking at the gravity of the situation. Men are generally bigger and stronger and could do what they wish with a woman no matter how much she fights back. It is moronic to blame the victim for the crime.” Adam’s tone and the deadly undertones in his speech brought a sudden quiet to the coach.

There was no more talk until after the next station stop, and then it was only about light and trivial subjects like the pretty horizon and the weather. The last way station of the day was without any beds, and they had to lie down on bedrolls.

Adam pulled his bedroll very close to Angela’s so that he could hold her if she got cold. He would also know if she was restless and needed to go to the necessary or just walk a bit. He was not letting her go anywhere by herself until they were home again. He was well aware of how nervous she was getting as they neared her parents’ home and that she might not sleep well under the circumstances. In the morning, they were both tired. Angela had been up several times, and Adam was with her each time. He hoped that the stagecoach ride might rock her to sleep on his shoulder. By the time they reached their final destination about noon, Angela was a bit more rested but more nervous than Adam had ever seen her.

As the stage pulled into town, Angela saw her parents waiting at the stage depot. Adam told her to breathe slowly so she wouldn’t faint. He had never seen her like this, but then of course, they had not been together that long, and he didn’t remember almost half of that time.

“Adam, you don’t know the names my father called me the last time I saw him. And my mother was so ashamed of me that she couldn’t look at me.”

Wrapping his arm around Angela, Adam tried to reassure her, but now they were getting looks from the other passengers who wondered again at the background of this woman with whom they had been traveling. They would get their answers quickly as everyone in town seemed to know her story of captivity and what had happened after until her father had told her to make her own way in the world. Once Adam stepped from the stage, he turned to help Angela down, and they faced her parents. Angela’s mother had a hint of a smile, but her father looked as stern and unforgiving as she could remember. Later she and Adam would discuss the fact that her return had probably started up all the old stories again. For the time being however, Adam and Angela just tried to make the best of it.

Angela was very formal in addressing her parents and introducing her husband. It was as much for them as for all those who stood and gawked trying to get more grist for the rumor mill. “Father, this is my husband, Adam Cartwright. Mother, my husband, Adam Cartwright.” Each in turn shook his hand formally.

“Good to meet you, Mr. Cartwright. Now if you would, we have a wagon here to take you to our ranch.”

Getting a premonition that the stay would be anything but pleasant, Adam retrieved their bags from the coach and Angela carried her purse and put on her bonnet. Adam helped her up into the second seat in the wagon, and her parents climbed in. There was some talk of changes that had taken place since Angela had been gone. Neither of her siblings had married, and the undertone seemed to indicate that they blamed Angela for that. The she was shocked by her father’s next statement.

“We’re thinking of pulling up stakes and heading to California.”

“Father, why would you do that?”

“Well, let’s just say we think we may need to make a fresh start where people don’t know us or anything about our lives here. We’re planning to sell the ranch. You wouldn’t be interested in it, would you Mr. Cartwright?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but my family and I don’t make investments this far south of our ranch.”

“Oh, mother, she got herself a high and mighty one, didn’t she. ‘Investments’ he says. Pfui.”

“Now, father, you should just be relieved our daughter has found herself a husband, and be happy for her. There’s no need to insult the man.”

“Just can’t abide what kind of man would be so desperate as to marry that trollop.”

Adam stood and grabbed the shoulder of Angela’s father demanding he stop the wagon. Adam stepped from the wagon then and pulled her father from his seat throwing him up against the wagon and held his shirt bunched in his hands.

“If you ever insult my wife like that again, I will beat you into the dirt. Now you will turn this wagon around and take us back to town, or I will leave you here and take the wagon myself.”

It was the second time in two days that Angela had seen Adam’s face transformed by fury, and both times it had been because of her. She knew now that this trip had been a mistake. Adam released her father who climbed back on the wagon clearly incensed but unwilling to challenge Adam. He had seen the look in the man’s eyes and it scared him. Angela reached to hold Adam’s hand when he sat beside her again, and she could feel the tension in his body just from that light contact. There was silence for the short trip back. Adam stepped down and helped Angela from the wagon. He retrieved their bags and waited to see if Angela wanted to say anything. She didn’t but her father did.

“You don’t know her as well as you think you do, I bet. Did she tell you she had a perfectly respectable job after she got rescued, but she give it up to take that saloon job? Did she tell you that? Did she tell you what she did at that saloon? You have a lot to learn about your wife, and good luck to you and good riddance of the both of you.” He snapped the reins then and turned the wagon to head for his home again.

Adam and Angela walked to the hotel and got a room and Adam carried their bags up to the room. Adam was still angry. Angela could see the tension in his every move.

“This trip was a mistake. I should have known my father would never forgive me for bringing shame on his family. It just hurts so much.” Angela sat forlornly on a chair next to the bed.

Wanting so much to know what her father had meant by his last statement but unwilling to ask and upset his wife further, Adam found it hard to let go of his anger and relax. Angela watched him and knew something was still bothering him and was afraid she knew what it was. She had told Adam so much of her past but some things were just so painful and degrading, she had not spelled those out for him. Now she knew she might have to.

“Do you want me to explain what my father meant by that last set of accusations?”

Not wanting to make her uncomfortable and yet needing to know, Adam nodded. He walked to Angela then and sat on the bed beside her and held her hand.

“No secrets between us. That’s the deal, right?”

“Yes, but some things are so painful to talk about. I didn’t want to get into those details of what happened to me. I will tell you about the shopkeeper though. I never mentioned him before so I can imagine what you’re thinking, but it isn’t at all like my father told it. He doesn’t know what happened either. I did have a job in the mercantile shop right across the street here. He acted all saintly and generous, but when he got me in the storeroom or late when the customers were all gone, he tried to force me to do what he said I had done with the Apache. I got so tired of fighting him off and then I heard about the stories he was telling. He told men that I was giving him sexual favors to keep my job. So I didn’t do anything and people thought I did. My father was almost insane with anger when he told me what he had heard. So I quit that job and headed north hoping that the news wouldn’t have gotten there ahead of me but I was wrong. I couldn’t get any kind of decent job and I was out of money. I took the saloon job to live. I think you know the rest.”

“I’m so sorry you had to live through those things. I’m sorry too that I wanted to know, but it will be better now. I’m sorry for treating your father like that but I could not accept him talking to you and about you that way.”

“Well, if it’s any consolation to you, my mother is probably giving him quite a talking to right about now. She never says much to him in front of others but I’ve heard her telling him off when it was just family around.”

“She’s very spirited then. You must take after your mother.” Adam smiled and tugged on Angela’s hand so she would come to him. He pulled her on his lap, and began kissing her to let her know that all was well between them. She had told him the day before that as long as he held her and loved her, she could handle anything so he was putting it to the test. Things might have progressed further but there was a knock on the door.

“That’s probably the lunch I asked the clerk to send up. Just a moment.” Adam opened the door expecting a tray with dinner but instead found it was Angela’s mother.

“I know that you may not be very happy with me, Mr. Cartwright, but could I please come in?”

Adam opened the door so that Angela could see her mother. Both were a bit nervous about this meeting. “Your father was so far out of line and I told him that.” Behind her back, Adam grinned a little at that and Angela noticed. “I made him bring me back here. I will not sit at our ranch when I have a chance to visit with my daughter and her new husband.”

“Mother, I’m so glad you came back.”

“What’s with this ‘mother’ nonsense. You always called me Mama before.”

“Mama, this is Adam. He’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

“Hello, Adam, and I am very pleased to meet you.”

There was another knock on the door, and this time it was their lunch. Adam asked the man to please send up another serving set and more food. “Will you join us for lunch, please?”

“Well, this is rather extravagant, isn’t it? Having the food delivered to your room.”

“My wife has been through enough today. We planned to spend the rest of the day quietly and see about leaving tomorrow.”

“Adam, what does your family do on your ranch. I mean do you raise cattle or horses?”

Smiling, Angela looked to Adam to see how he would answer. Apparently her parents didn’t know about the Ponderosa, and she wondered just how much Adam would tell her.

“We raise both on the Ponderosa. In fact, after we leave here, we’re going to Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Mexicali to finalize some contracts. My brothers and I will be bringing cattle here this spring as well as some horses if the contracts are accepted.”

With that, Angela’s mother began to suspect that there might be a lot of ranch to support that much selling. Their letter from the Virginia City sheriff had mentioned that Angela was with Adam on the Ponderosa ranch. Now she wondered if that should have meant something to her so she asked. “Just how big is your Ponderosa?”

“It’s about a thousand square miles on the shores of Lake Tahoe. We raise cattle and horses. We also have an extensive timber and lumber operation as well as investments in some gold and silver mines.”

Only silence greeted his statement. Angela was eating a sandwich and smiling at her mother’s shocked face. Suddenly Angela’s mother understood how they could order food to their room, travel such a distance by stage, and in general be so well dressed while doing it.

“And you married my daughter!”

“Yes, ma’am, I did. I love her very much, and I will love our child with all of my heart.”

“You’re going to have a baby too?”

“Yes, Mama, we wanted to tell you but things got pretty heated on the drive.”

“Oh my, when you and Matt, God rest his soul, didn’t have any children, I thought perhaps you couldn’t. Now you are blessed not only with another husband but a baby too. Darling, I am so happy for you.”

“Mama, there are a few other things to tell you. Matt isn’t dead. I had my marriage to him annulled. Mama, he lied about everything. He’s a wanted man.” Her mother was so shocked by those statements that Angela and Adam filled in the rest of the story of how Matt had arranged for the Apache to take Angela and make it appear that he had died. The Apache had agreed to kill Angela, but they did not, and she was rescued ruining part of Matt’s plan. He followed her to Virginia City to try to extort money from her, but had been sent fleeing with the Cartwrights and their resources lined up against him.

“Your father needs to know all of this. He’s sitting outside on that wagon if he knows what’s good for him. I’m going out there right now to tell him everything you have told me. If he doesn’t come in here to beg your forgiveness, he may find he’s going to be a very unhappy man.”

Leaving the room, Angela’s mother walked downstairs and outside. Adam stood at the window and watched as she climbed up on the wagon seat and started talking. Angela’s father seemed to grow shorter by the minute. Adam was smirking when he turned around. “You definitely took after your mother. Now don’t eat all the dessert. There’s supposed to be enough there for three.”

*****

Chapter 3

After more than an hour, there was a knock on the door of the room where Adam and Angela were staying. When Adam answered, a very red-faced Mr. Davis stood there in the hallway with a very smug Mrs. Davis. Adam left the door open but stood blocking the man’s entry. Whether he was allowed in their room or not depended on his next words.

“First of all, I have to beg you and your wife to forgive me. This last week all I been hearing from folks around here are snide comments about my daughter’s past. I am a proud man, too proud it seems. I let all the talk get to me, and that made me say mean and hurtful things like a schoolboy trying to take revenge on his schoolmates. I should never have blamed my daughter for what happened to her. I should blame myself for everything I did because it was all wrong. I wish my wife had set me straight a long time ago, but I’m grateful to her that she finally did it.”

Looking back over his shoulder, Adam saw Angela nod. She would give him another chance. Adam wasn’t altogether sure that his apology was entirely sincere as he wondered how much the Cartwright wealth had made an impact on Angela’s father’s thinking. He would wait, observe, and evaluate. He stepped aside so that Angela’s parents could enter.

“Angela, I am so sorry for all of the things I said. Your husband is right. I should never have blamed you. I’ve been letting guilt and anger eat at me for a long time. Now I feel even worse knowing that Matt set you up for those horrible things that happened. I should never have kicked you out, but I was, oh, um, …”

“It’s all right, Papa, Adam knows about Bork. He knows what he tried to do with me too, and why I quit.”

“Angela, you never would have left and gone to Beatty if it wasn’t for me. What you had to do was because I didn’t do what I should have as a father. I can never make it up to you, but I can only hope that you can find it in your heart someday to forgive this old fool. I hope you know your mother had nothing to do with me sending you away. She was furious when she found out, and by the time we knew what you were doing, I refused to go get you and bring you home. That was another failure as a father. And you know with her hands she could never do it on her own.”

For the first time, Adam noticed Mrs. Davis’ hands which she had used to hold her shawl from the moment they had met. Now he could see that the knuckles were grossly swollen and the fingers were twisted at odd angles. He wondered if it was disease or injury.

“Disease, Adam. It’s been getting a lot worse in the last couple of years. Recently it has begun affecting my back. Soon, I’m afraid, I won’t be able to travel at all. If we are to leave this place and find another, it has to be soon.”

“Where are you looking to go?”

“Clare wants California, but I think it will be just as hot as here. I would like to go further north.”

“Claire?”

“My mother named me while my father was gone to war. She wanted a girl I think, so I’m Clare, without the i.”

Adam looked at Angela. She had never mentioned her parents by name. Now this was something that Joe would enjoy hearing and would have gotten a great laugh from it. He wondered why she had never mentioned it. “Would you like to tell me your mother’s name then?”

Angela was fighting a smile and he knew it. “Mavis.”

Doing his best stoic act, Adam greeted her parents then. Clare, Mavis, it’s very good to meet you. Perhaps we could try starting over with getting to know one another. You know our story now, so we can talk about the future. Perhaps we could have dinner together?”

At their acceptance, Adam asked about Angela’s brother and sister. “I’m sure Gabe and Ruth would be happy to join us. We’ll go home and dress, and be back in time for dinner.”

After wishing Angela’s parents godspeed, Adam turned to Angela and smiled. “You never mentioned Clare was your father’s name and that your mother, bless her heart, is Mavis Davis. How did you ever hold that back? Joe is going to love it. I can imagine those cackles already.”

“Oh, Adam, I knew he would laugh, and what if he meets my parents and does that. I would be so humiliated for them.”

“Sweetheart, better that he knows in advance and gets those giggles out of his system. I would assume that at some point they might visit us and meet Joe. Would you like that to be the time he finds out?”

“Honestly, I was thinking they might not meet and then he would have laughed at my expense for no reason.”

Looking at Angela with that look he had, Adam made her frown at him. She knew her argument didn’t make sense because it was just how she felt. She had not thought it through. She had just reacted. He watched her as the thoughts churned through her head waiting to see what she would say. Finally, she shrugged and asked him if he thought he could go make a reservation for dinner. Laughing softly, he picked up his hat and left.

Later, both Adam and Angela knew there might be some commentary when they walked to dinner. However Adam’s demeanor intimidated those who saw them and any would be persecutors kept their thoughts to themselves. Adam and Angela were seated at the table before the Davis family joined them. Adam met Angela’s brother and sister then and found to their surprise that there were weddings in the planning stages.

“Will this make the relocation harder or easier for you, Mavis?”

Wondering at this family dynamic, Adam was subtly trying to get more information. It worked.

“Well it will be easier knowing that the last two will be getting married and having their own homes. I won’t have to worry so much any more.”

Smiling, Angela turned to her siblings to offer congratulations to both.

“We were going to tell you but Mama let it slip out of the bag already. Gabe’s getting married next summer and wants to take over the ranch so Mama and Papa have a built in buyer if he can find a way to borrow enough money to buy the place. I’m marrying a man from California, and that’s why they plan to move there although it is as hot as here, we’re not going to be far from the ocean so there’s relief there.”

“How did you meet?”

“He came through here on a horse buying trip, and that’s how we met. He came back a number of times and brought his father once. It was on that trip that he asked me to marry him. The wedding will be in California in a month. Is there a chance you could be there?”

Looking at Adam who looked lost in thought, Angela waited. After a minute, he looked up at her and smiled. “We could stay long enough. I still have to meet with our buyers in Phoenix and then in Mexicali. Each trip and stay for us could be a week. Then we would travel to California for the wedding. I’ve never spent much time in the southern part of that state but I’m sure we would find enough to do. If we do that though, we should head home by ship to San Francisco, and then go over the mountains to home. It would be faster and safer. Where in southern California will the wedding be?”

“His ranch is just outside Los Angeles. He supplies a lot of food for the small cities near there. His rancho has beef and extensive gardens and orchards, but he says they would make more money except for droughts and flooding rains. Still it is much safer than here.”

All had to agree to that. The periodic raids on ranches by the Apache tribes was a fact of life in Arizona. It was a cost of doing business on land that the Apache considered theirs. Most knew it would be a very long time before peace reigned in all of Arizona.

Curious as to why Gabe wasn’t going to move to California as well, Angela had a question. “Why do you want to ranch here rather than in California with the Papa and Ruth?”

“Marisol’s family is here. She’s part Chiracahua Apache and part Mexican. I don’t think the people of California would be at all welcoming to her. Here she faces enough. Angela, you know how nasty people here can be. I wish I had been older when you were rescued. I would have set some of those people straight.”

Watching Angela’s family, Adam saw some powerful emotions play across the faces of her parents. Clare showed what could only be shame that he had not done what his teenage son at the time would have done. Mavis seemed proud that her son was so strong in character. Adam began to believe that all three children had learned far more from their mother than from their father. He wondered briefly how he would have been different if his mother had lived or if Ma had lived to help raise him.

Then Ruth and Gabe wanted to know all about the Ponderosa. Living so far from towns and cities of any size, the Davis family seemed to have somehow missed the development of one of the largest ranches in the country. They found it hard to believe that one family had built such an empire in only twenty-five years. Adam invited them all to visit if they ever had a chance. They made plans for Adam and Angela to visit her parents’ ranch the next day. Adam politely declined their offer to stay on the ranch. Angela understood that he did not yet completely trust them and wanted above all to protect her. She did like this hotel so that wasn’t really a problem anyway. They bid Angela’s family good night, and they returned to their room. There was a lot to discuss.

“I didn’t realize how long we would be in Phoenix and Mexicali!”

“Well it wouldn’t have to be a week in each place. I was thinking of travel time too, but these are friends of my father’s, and he would want us to spend some time with them. Is that a problem?”

“No, but I guess now I understand why Hoss was thinking he was going to be doing a lot of work while you were away. We’ll be gone nearly two months by the time this trip is done.”

“There’s not that much to do now, and I wouldn’t have been in shape to go on the fall drive anyway.”

“Are you still having those headaches? You didn’t tell me.”

“They’re much less but at the end of a long day, I still have them, especially today. Riding and herding for twelve or fourteen hours a day would have been brutal, but I never would have heard the end of the teasing if I had begged off. Pa even said as much when he told me that this trip was a good idea for me even if he was worried more about you.”

“Why is he so worried? Is it because your mother died in childbirth? I mean he had two other children and the mothers did just fine birthing them. You told me your mother was a small woman with a weak constitution. I’m as healthy as they come.”

Smiling, Adam pulled Angela into his arms. “Pa thinks you do resemble my mother a bit. You’re beautiful, dark haired, and petite. I don’t see the resemblance, but then I never saw anything except that portrait of my mother. By the way, I like your mother very much. I can see some of her in all of her children.”

“And my father?”

This might be one of those no-win situations and Adam knew it. “Ahh, your father is very different than your mother.”

“Coward! Why don’t you come right out and say what you think?” The harsh words were belayed by the mischievous grin on Angela’s face.

“Well, if you already know what I think, why should I say it?”

“If we aren’t going to be talking, what else is there to do?”

“I’m sure we can find a way to fill the time before we’re ready to sleep.”

Gathering Angela closer in his embrace, Adam leaned down to kiss her. He trailed kisses down her neck and began unbuttoning her dress so he could kiss her shoulders. By the time they were done keeping busy with each other, it was time to sleep so both closed their eyes and listened to the other breathe until drifting away into a restful slumber.

In the morning, Angela awoke to Adam lightly running his hand over her lower abdomen.

“I can feel the baby growing now. You told me there was a bump there before, but I couldn’t tell. Now I can tell. It’s beautiful.”

“Well I hope you still think it’s beautiful when it’s ten times bigger and I can only waddle as I walk.”

Smiling broadly, Adam leaned down and kissed the baby bump. “When we’re in San Francisco, I want to buy you some dresses that will fit you right through your term. You should get some capes and cloaks too because your coat won’t fit you by midwinter.”

“Adam, you don’t always have to buy stuff for me.”

“It’s what you need, and I would buy the world for you if I could.” Leaning down, Adam kissed his wife to let her know how much he loved her, but had to pull away before they ended up staying in bed too long and missing breakfast. “Time to get up if you want breakfast before we go see your parents.” Adam threw back the covers and got out of bed before Angela could change his mind.

At breakfast, Angela was amazed when a number of people came up to congratulate her on being married. She introduced them to Adam and smiled at everyone. When they had a quiet moment, she expressed her relief.

“Apparently being married to a handsome man was all it took to get people to let me put my past in the past where it belongs.”

“Anything to be of service to my lady.”

“Perhaps now my father can relax and forget it too.”

Seeing a dark cloud pass over Adam’s countenance, Angela knew he had not quite forgiven her father for his outburst and insults the previous day. Mr. Davis had apologized sincerely, but to Adam, his behavior was not acceptable for a father.

“You can’t expect my father to be perfect. I would guess you father made a few mistakes along the way as well. I love my father and I forgave him. Can you please let it go too?”

“Anything for you, sweetheart.” But Adam knew it would be difficult for him to forget it.

After breakfast, Adam rented a carriage after arranging to leave by stage the next day. With Angela’s directions, he drove the team to the ranch. At the Davis ranch, a holiday had been declared. They had six hands, and with the family, and Marisol too, there were plenty of people to keep the festivities from getting boring.

After lunch, there was a lot of shooting from behind the stable. When Adam asked, he was told that the men and Gabe liked to bet on their shooting prowess. Angela encouraged Adam to go watch with her and soon everyone was there. The men were setting cans on a fence and then quick drawing to see who could shoot the most off the fence. Bets were taken on each shooter, and money was being exchanged back and forth. Adam and Angela watched for a time and made a few small wagers on her brother winning each time. Finally Gabe wanted Adam to join in.

“Well, men, we’ve got a wealthy rancher from up Nevada way. He makes contracts and oversees operations. Maybe he can shoot that thing he’s got hanging low on his hip there. C’mon, Adam, let’s see how you do.” Gabe was thinking the low hanging rig was just an affectation. In his mind, Adam was soft and not ready to fight like the men who worked out here.

Wishing to decline, Adam couldn’t with the whole family pushing to have him participate. Reluctantly he walked to the spot where all the shooters had stood and waited for the wagers to be made.

“Papa, bet on Adam!”

Clare looked at his daughter and wondered at her enthusiasm. He decided he better do that to help mend his relationship with his daughter. He was thinking that losing a few dollars would be preferable to seeing another sad look on his daughter’s face.

“I’ll take the bets on Adam to hit them all.” Several men rushed over to bet against Adam because Mr. Davis was betting for him. The bets were larger than usual because of their belief that he couldn’t do that well. After all, Gabe was the best shot there and he had hit only five each time he shot. Gabe covered any other bets in support of his sister. Adam waited until it quieted down and then adjusted his stance. When he thought he was ready, he drew and fired six shots rapidly. All six cans flew into the air. The feat was met with silence at first for he had been faster and more accurate than anyone these men had ever seen. Then Angela and Gabe cheered, and the other men added their congratulations on some fine shooting.

“Daughter, you didn’t tell me it was sure thing. That man can really handle that pistol. I’ve never seen anyone like it. Are you sure you haven’t married yourself a gunfighter?” Clare laughed then and Angela smiled at him.

“There isn’t much that Adam can’t do very well.”

“You can back my play any day, Adam. That was impressive. I hand over my crown as the best shooter in this family.” Gabe was very gracious.

As they walked back to the house, Mavis was sorry to see the day end with dinner. She wished her family could be like this forever, but realistically, it might be the last time they were all together.

“It’s too bad we don’t have a photographer hereabouts. A family portrait would be so nice to have.”

“Mama, do you have some paper and pencils?” Adam grimaced for he knew what she had in mind. He wasn’t so sure the men in the family would appreciate that he could be an artist too. At least after the shooting demonstration, they wouldn’t likely say too much. Once Angela had the paper and pencils, she turned to Adam and smiled as she tipped her head and said please. Adam took them from her and began sketching the different members of the family. One by one he placed them in a family portrait, and with Mavis’ encouragement, he added himself. He filled in the features and clothing, and then as the last step, sketched in the background. It took him well over an hour to complete, and he had an audience the entire time as family members kept looking over his shoulder as he drew. Occasionally he would ask one of them to stand in front of him so he could get a more accurate rendering until he was finished. Mavis had avoided looking on as he drew as she waited for the final product. When Adam handed it to her, tears rolled down her face.

“Oh, thank you so much. I will treasure this forever. Could you paint one too?”

“I’ve never worked with oils. I learned my drawing for architecture and engineering sketches. If you notice, it is all lines and shading, but if you could find an artist, possibly he or she could paint a portrait using that sketch.”

Over and over as the rest of the visit continued, Mavis would walk to the sketch that she laid on the table in her parlor and smiled. Ruth would live near them so she would see her often, but she had a memento now that would help her on days when she missed her son or daughter who lived far away.

After dinner as dusk descended, Adam and Angela had to leave to reach town before it was completely dark. The Davis family promised to be in town the next day to see them off. Angela slipped her arm through Adam’s as he drove the team. She was happier than she had been in years, and Adam smiled as he looked at her. Now he was glad that they had made this trip.

*****

Chapter 4

The wind was strong but the rain was warm. Adam wrapped his arms around his wife and pulled her closer for a kiss. It was their last night camping on the beach, and a little squall had blown in. Later, they would strip off their wet clothing and sleep in their dry cozy tent for one last night. For now, they just enjoyed the comfort of the ocean waves pounding into the beach and the light rain falling. He thought back over the last month and the journey that had gotten them here. He remembered how they had left Seligman.

That last morning in Seligman, as Adam and Angela were eating breakfast, her family walked into the restaurant. Adam invited them to have coffee. Then Angela’s mother handed him a large package and told him it contained family items and some items for the baby that was on the way. Some people in the restaurant overhead that comment and soon there were more congratulations. As they saw the stage arrive across the street, they all left the restaurant and headed there. After asking the driver to secure the package for them and receiving hugs, Adam and Angela boarded the coach. Running late, the driver wanted to head out as soon as all passengers were on board. There was only one other passenger, and it was the traveling salesman they had met on the way down. Angela leaned out of the window as long as she could see any of her family and waved goodbye. Then she turned to Adam with a tear in her eye, and he pulled her into his embrace and let her cry a little.

In Phoenix, Adam and Angela had lots of time to enjoy the amenities of the city as the negotiations for the horse contract took less than a day. After enjoying the restaurants and theatre performance that was available, they had traveled to Mexicali where the negotiations took most of the week but were conducted in a friendly repartee with numerous rides with their generous hosts.

Ever since Adam had brought Angela to the ranch well west of Mexicali, she had been nervous. She had told Adam over and over again that she felt someone was watching them. He had replied that it was her beauty and all the men were jealous of him. She tried to laugh with him but her apprehension grew the longer they stayed. As they rode out of Mexicali heading to land their host owned on the ocean, Angela had relaxed. She had been very worried, but nothing had happened. Their host had provided a tent, sleeping mats, and other basic necessities for camping.

Relaxed and wanting to make this an even more memorable trip, Adam took Angela to the ocean that she had never seen. They camped near the shore, found crabs and other seafood to eat, and slept under the stars that first night after making love with only the night insect sounds around them. There was a small stream flowing to the ocean with fresh water for them to drink and to wash the salt water from their bodies which was necessary after the morning swim the second day. After convincing Angela to swim in the ocean with him, Adam had stripped and had helped his wife do the same. They splashed in the ocean until the sun rose higher and Adam told her they needed to get some protection from the sun before they got sunburned. So they waded into the small stream and bathed. As they emerged, Adam took Angela in his arms and kissed her. They were making love in the shade of the tree where they had slept when a familiar voice shattered their idyllic time.

“Well, well, well, now ain’t that a sight to see. My white squaw sweating with her hairy man.”

Whirling at the voice, Adam pulled a sheet over Angela. He had grown complacent on this journey as everything had gone so well. He was berating himself at that moment for not taking Angela’s premonitions more seriously. Matt Reed stood there with two others. All three had guns trained on the couple.

“Tie him up and don’t be gentle about it. I wanted so badly to pay you back for all that you did, but Nevada was just too big a risk. But now you’re on my turf. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw you get off that stage in Mexicali. We’ve been following you since then waiting for an opportunity. This is perfect.”

Matt’s two men moved toward Adam, but he knew what would likely happen next if he allowed himself to be restrained. As the men neared him, he struck out at one and then engaged the other. Both men were smaller than Adam which helped him. He pulled one man’s pistol after knocking him nearly senseless, turned, and fired at Matt. Hearing a yelp of pain, Adam was momentarily distracted until the second man jumped him from behind propelling them to the ground with Adam taking the weight of the man when they landed. Adam was dazed and unable to resist. He felt his arms pulled behind his back and tied tightly. Then he groaned in pain when a boot connected with his ribs in a vicious kick.

“You damn cowboy! You shot me. You’re gonna pay for that, you really are going to pay for that.” Looking at Angela, Matt ordered her to help him with the wound Adam had inflicted. Angela carefully pulled her dress to her under the sheet and started to dress.

“Get over here now! You don’t need that damned dress on. I’ve seen you naked before.”

“I’m not your wife and never really was. I’ll wear this dress. What are you going to do anyway, shoot me?”

After pulling the dress over her head, Angela walked to Adam to see that he was breathing all right but had a dazed look. She knew then that their survival depended on her next actions. She took the sheet and began tearing some strips from it. She asked the other man to get some water from the stream. Then she pulled Matt’s shirt open and looked at the wound in his right shoulder. Angela wadded up a long piece of torn sheet and told Matt to hold it on the entrance wound. She moved to his back then and ripped the shirt to expose the exit wound.

As the second man walked back into camp with a coffee pot filled with water, Angela drew Matt’s pistol from its holster and pointed it at him. He dropped the water and drew. Angela fired but Matt shoved her back with his body, and her shot went wide. Matt grabbed for the pistol, and they wrestled for control of it. Much smaller than Matt, Angela lost the struggle. Matt stood then and held the pistol in his left hand.

“I would’ve taken you with me. You were good for a roll now and then, and I could have sold you for a good price. Now, I think you’re just not worth the trouble. I’ll shoot you right between the eyes, and when your white knight wakes up here, he’ll see your body and know it was his fault. He’ll die here slowly watching you rot away in the sun right before his eyes.”

Matt raised his pistol to fire, and Angela looked directly at him unwilling to show any fear to this monster who had once claimed to love her. He never fired though. A hole appeared in his forehead just a moment before the sound of a rifle reached them. The other man turned to look and a red blossom appeared on his chest before he tumbled backwards.

Frozen in place for just a moment, Angela stood and gazed at the scene before her. Events had been happening in such rapid succession, her mind was having trouble processing everything. Collecting her wits, she rushed to Adam’s side and untied his hands as four horsemen galloped up to their camp. Looking up at the older gentleman in the group, Angela expressed her thanks.

“Senor Mateo, thank you, thank you. You are an angel sent from God. How did you know we needed your help so desperately?”

“I have had a man watching you.” At Angela’s look, he had to explain more. “From a distance and only to see that my guests did not need anything. When he saw three men ride this way this morning, he signaled for help. It was he with the rifle who did the shooting. He waited up on that ridge to see what these men would do and did his best to make sure you stayed alive until we could get here to help you.”

The men with Senor Mateo had dismounted and were dragging the two bodies away. The third man was tied and walked away. Angela stayed by Adam’s side until he was able to sit up. She handed him his shirt and pants so he could dress. There were nasty bruises already developing on his torso and face, but there were no serious injuries although she thought his ribs might be cracked or at least severely bruised on one side. Once Adam stood with one hand holding those sore ribs, he thanked Senor Mateo as well.

“Senor Cartwright, who were these men?”

So again, Adam and Angela had to tell her story of Matt Reed and his duplicity, her capture by the Apache, her rescue and subsequent abuse for having been taken, her move to Beatty and meeting Adam, her marriage to Adam once her marriage to Matt was annulled, and her reconciliation with her family leaving out some of the nastier parts of the story of course.

“You have lived many lifetimes worth of grief already. You are welcome to stay in my home again until you are ready to travel or you may continue your stay here on the ocean knowing that my men will watch over you.”

Looking at Angela, Adam asked if she wanted to stay. At her nod, he answered their host. “This is a small piece of paradise. Now that the invading devil has been vanquished, we would like to stay here for a few more days, if you please. We will return to your home in three days to bring back your belongings you have so kindly loaned us except for one sheet that appears to have been destroyed.”

Smiling, Senor Mateo saluted them and wheeled his horse to leave. Adam and Angela smiled and thanked the men with him who then followed him out of the camp. Adam picked up the bloody bandages and tossed them in the fire. Then he gathered Angela in his arms and she wept. It was a cleansing cry and made her feel better. By now, Adam knew her well enough to know when the tears were from sadness or were from a need to release tension or fear. This was one of those releases.

“I’m so sorry. I should have listened to your when you were sure something was wrong. I let my guard down and this happened.”

“Don’t you dare blame yourself for this. Matt was an evil man. I can’t shed a single tear for him. He did this and it is all on his head. Now he’s meeting his Maker and getting his just reward, may he burn for all eternity for the things he has done.”

“I don’t know about you, but I could use a rest.” Angela agreed and they pulled the bedroll deeply into the shade of the tree and laid down. Angela stayed on the side opposite Adam’s damaged ribs and snuggled into him. He stroked her hair and looked up into the leaves of the tree. Almost an hour later, Angela spoke up.

“I can’t sleep either, but this is very nice. I am more relaxed than I have been in over a week.”

“No premonitions, then?”

“None, other than what I think you’ll want to do when your ribs feel better.”

“Oh perhaps even before that. There are ways, sweetheart, there are ways.”

After a few more days enjoying the beach, Adam and Angela returned to the hacienda. That light rain on their last night had made everything smell fresh and sweet. Senor Mateo had other guests, Mr. and Mrs. Newhall, who were returning to Los Angeles. They offered to take Adam and Angela with them in their carriage. For the next few days, Adam and Angela traveled in comfort and style making new friends who showed them some of the prettier vistas along the way. They stayed with friends of the Newhalls on the way and made more friends. By the time they reached the ranch of Ruth’s fiancée, they were in a great mood and ready to celebrate a wedding.

Waiting for them on the ranch were Angela’s parents and her brother. Marisol had not made the trip. There were rooms for each of them, and the wedding preparations were being made. Adam and Angela had to explain how Adam came to be injured but were reassured that they no longer had anything to fear from Matt Reed. Adam and Angela were thoroughly engaged in the family celebration of the wedding. Angela had stood with her sister, and Adam had been requested to sing for the couple.

Mavis had another long talk with Angela. She apologized for not attending her wedding to Adam. She thought at the time that Adam might be a man who was taking advantage of her and had not wanted to see that happen. Clare would never have traveled to Nevada then anyway with the way he was feeling at the time.

“I wish there was something we could do to make up for missing one of the most important days of your life.”

“Mama, could you come visit after the baby is born. That will be the most blessed thing you could do.”

“We will do that! I will talk to your father and let him know that as soon as the weather cooperates in spring, we will travel to your Ponderosa and see that new baby.”

Angela kissed her mother’s cheek and the two hugged. Adam was pleased that the reconciliation had proceeded so well. He and Angela headed to San Francisco by ship once the wedding celebration was complete.

*****

Chapter 5

After a week of shopping, restaurants, and theatres in San Francisco, Adam and Angela were relaxed and recovered from all the festivities and travel. Adam had introduced Angela to his friends in the city, and they were enchanted with her. There were dinners with friends, and several trips to a chocolate shop once Angela had tasted those sweet treats for the first time. Next, they had taken the steamer upriver to Sacramento. From there, they had climbed aboard a stage heading for home. Angela was getting anxious to be home. She was getting more and more uncomfortable with travel and looked forward to being at home for the winter with time to relax and prepare for the birth of their child. Adam had even optimistically telegraphed his family that they would be home in less than a week.

Now Adam looked around at their predicament. They were reduced to living in a shelter that was essentially now a snow cave, had very little food supplies, and not much ammunition. He had no clear idea if there was little likelihood of anyone finding them here. It had all been such a tremendous surprise. The day had been sunny and reasonably warm for the season as they had started out that morning. Clouds built up as they neared the highest point of their trip. They thought they would be on the downslope soon and headed to a way station for the night. Instead, a deer had bounded into the path of the stage chased by a cougar. The horses had shied, the coach had slid, and soon they were all lying on their sides tangled together in the coach that was being dragged by the team of horses until the horses broke free of their harness and thundered away. Adam checked first to be sure Angela was not seriously injured. It appeared none of them was hurt other than bumps and bruises. In that they were lucky, but when Adam climbed from the coach and helped everyone else to climb out, they had found that the driver was dead of a broken neck, the horses were gone, and a storm seemed to be approaching rapidly. The other passengers had decided to walk despite Adam’s efforts to get them to stay together.

“There’s a storm blowing in. We should do what we can to construct a shelter until it passes.” Adam tried to convince the passengers that this was the way to survive.

“We have almost no food. How could we survive up here. We can’t build a shelter that could withstand any kind of storm.” The loud mouthed banker had then led his wife and the other two passengers as they trekked down the road to the way station that was at least thirty miles away.

Once it was clear that none of the other passengers would change their minds, Adam had begun dismantling the coach to use some of it to build a shelter. He pulled the canvas from the back and the doors off the stage. Then using pine branches and small saplings he could cut with the hatchet he found in the boot of the stage, he constructed a small shelter.

“Adam, what can I do to help?”

“Find as much firewood as you can and stack it here. We’re going to need a fire. That storm looks like an early snowstorm. The snow will likely be heavy and wet. That’s why I have to build the shelter away from these trees a bit or the snow may fall from the trees and bury us. We may find ourselves in five or six feet of snow as it is. If we hadn’t been waylaid, we would have been on the downslope before the storm hit. Now we’re near the top.”

“It’s going to be bad, isn’t it?”

Unable to look in his wife’s eyes with the answer, Adam could only nod. He pulled all the luggage that was left on the stage and laid a bunch of clothing in the bottom of their shelter as well as two bedrolls he found with the luggage. Within two hours of the accident, the storm hit. The small shelter creaked and swayed a bit but held. Snow began to pile up outside of it and Adam knew that the cold would seep in but that the wind would be held out. He pulled a cloak they had purchased in San Francisco from one of their bags and wrapped that around Angela covering the cloak she was already wearing. He pulled out the new gloves they had purchased as well as the ermine muff he had gotten that he had intended to give his wife as a Christmas gift. Luckily he had also found the shotgun from the driver’s seat and a few shells. In addition, he had his pistol and gunbelt. When the storm passed, he would be able to try hunting as well as signal if he thought anyone would hear.

“Do you think the other passengers made it?”

“They had thirty miles to walk. If they walked rapidly, they only would have walked about twelve miles or so by the time the storm hit here. Unless they stopped when they saw the storm getting closer, I don’t think they stood a chance.”

Lying on one bedroll, Adam pulled Angela close to him as he arranged the second bedroll to cover them. Angela in her cloaks, muff, gloves, and hood, and Adam in his coat and gloves would be able to stay warm for a while. He had a small amount of firewood ready to go when they needed it. For now, they lay in their cocoon of a shelter and talked quietly.

“One of us has to be awake at all times. Otherwise, we could succumb to the cold in our sleep. You’re the one who needs sleep more, so you should try to sleep now. I’ll stay awake.”

“Why do I need to sleep more than you?” Even as she asked the question, Angela knew the answer. She was almost five months pregnant and tired easily. She nodded, closed her eyes, and snuggled as close to Adam as she could get.

Although Angela had begun to tire easily, she had also become ravenous which was the reason they had food. Adam carried a satchel with bread, cheese, some ham, and apples because she had often wanted something to eat between way stations. That food might mean their best chance at survival now.

On the Ponderosa, Ben was worried. Hoss had returned from herding some cattle from a high pasture down to the lower pastures and said a big storm was brewing over the mountains. If Adam’s telegram was correct, they were probably up there in that storm unless they had seen it coming and stayed in Placerville. At best, they might be stranded at a way station. Ben didn’t like to think about what else might have happened. He asked Hoss if he would go into town to see if he could get any information and to stay and wait for a reply if he was able to send a telegram.

“Pa, that could be late. I may have to stay in town tonight.”

“Do that if you have to. I just want to know where Adam is.”

Ben’s unease transferred to Hoss who rode as fast to Virginia City as he could. The telegraph lines through to Placerville along the stage route were down but Hoss was able to send a telegram through Reno to Placerville. It was more expensive, but they needed to know. The fact that the lines were down was a bad sign of how serious the storm was. The message Hoss received the next morning was worse. The stage line had sent out a rescue party when they received word that the stage had not reached Virginia City. They had found four passengers frozen to death and no sign of the stage, the driver, or the other two passengers. Hoss waited anxiously for the identification of the dead passengers before riding home. Ben was sick with worry by the time Hoss got home to tell him something terrible had happened, but that Adam and Angela were not listed among the dead. They were however missing after a terrible storm.

Walking down the stairs after sleeping in, Joe listened as Hoss was telling their father the news. Both brothers wanted to set out immediately to search for their oldest brother and his wife.

“If the snow is that bad, how could we get through?”

Both Joe and Hoss were silenced by that until Joe had a thought.

“Pa, Mr. Dresang has those Morgans for sale. You said we didn’t need any pretty draft horses like those, but he’s been saying for years that they’re better in the snow than any other horses he has. We could buy them and use the sleigh to head up there.”

Thinking for just a moment, Ben smiled at Joe and agreed. Hoss went outside to saddle a couple of horses, Ben went to tell Hop Sing to pack up food and anything else they might need in a rescue attempt, and Joe went upstairs to pack clothing and blankets for them. Once Joe and Hoss returned with the Morgans, they loaded the sleigh on a wagon and headed toward the road. It took only a few more hours before they reached the snow line. They lifted the sleigh from the wagon and hitched the Morgans to it. Then after packing all the supplies in the back, the three men climbed aboard for the journey uphill through the snow. They reached the way station by dusk.

“The team came thundering in here near two days ago. They still had their harness and I could see the breaks in the traces. We tried to get a sleigh up the road to see about a rescue but the snow was more’n our horses could handle and it was blowing right hard too.”

“So you never saw the stage or any of the people?”

“No sir, nary a sign afore we had to head back here. Your horses are taller and stronger than any I got though, and the snow was already melting down some today. Happens a lot with these early storms. You’re welcome to rest and feed your horses here, and bed down with us tonight. Tomorrow, conditions should be even better.”

The next morning, Adam looked out of the hole at the top of their shelter. The sun was shining and the snow was melting and settling but it still looked to be several feet deep. That was too much for them to try to get through. They would have to wait another day before venturing out. He sat back down and fed a small amount of wood to their small fire, and the smoke rose out of the hole. Angela was still sleeping. Adam had melted some snow and drank it, and now had a cup of melted snow warming by the small fire. He dug in his valise and brought out the last of their food. It was supposed to be a gift for Hoss but now it would be their food for the day. He wished then that he had purchased a larger box.

Still sleeping, Angela lay at Adam’s side. He added a little more tinder to the fire, pulled his thick gloves off, and reached down to see if her feet were warm. She had gotten a bit of frostbite they thought and he had found pairs of his socks from his valise and pulled them on her feet after removing her shoes. She didn’t complain but he knew her toes probably hurt and that she was frightened of what would happen next. He kept his hands wrapped around her feet warming them for the next hour or so until she awakened. She sat up cross-legged then and pulled the blanket tightly around her. Adam handed her the cup of warm water and she drank it down. He opened the last box of food they had, and they shared the tasty but meager contents. They sat quietly for a time until Adam lay down to sleep. They had taken turns sleeping, and although Angela slept more, Adam got enough rest.

Out on the road, the sleigh was making slow but steady progress moving up the grade. Joe stood occasionally in the back seat to see if he could see anything ahead. Finally he saw a pile in the road ahead and thought he could see a wheel protruding. He yelled and pointed but neither Hoss nor Ben could see the wheel. They did find their hearts pumping a little harder as they closed on that mound until all three could see the wheel and its markings. They had found the stage, but what else would they find. Hoss was the first to be able to get to the stage. Ben and Joe followed in the path he plowed through the snow. With Hoss’ help, Joe climbed up on the side of the overturned coach. He looked back and shook his head.

“Nobody inside. In fact there’s nothing inside, and the door is missing too.”

From the back of the stage, Hoss yelled out. Someone ripped the canvas off here and any packages or tools are missing.”

Ben had a surge of hope. “Adam! Adam would know to use these things, but where could he be?”

“Pa, you smell that?”

“What smell?”

Hoss was walking further up the road toward a clearing. “I smell smoke.” And then suddenly Hoss was running and jumping through the snow. “Adam, Adam, is that you?”

Inside the shelter, Angela heard Hoss and nearly screamed in relief. “Adam, Adam, wake up. Your family is here.” Unable to stand on her painful feet, Angela waited for Adam to wake, smile, douse the fire, and stand pushing the top of the shelter open.

“Well, big brother, it’s about time you got here.”

“Older brother, you jest never do anything the easy way, now do ya?”

Seeing his father and youngest brother coming up behind Hoss, Adam could only grin and greet them. But then he got more serious. “Angela may have frostbite on her feet. Could you carry her out of here?”

“You jest hand her over, older brother, and I’ll take good care of her.”

Adam knelt down and struggled to lift his wife. Not only was she heavier than she had ever been, but he was weak with hunger, and she was wrapped in many pounds of garments to stay warm. He finally stood with her in his arms and Hoss moved forward to reach for her. Angela wrapped her arms around Hoss’ neck and that made it a bit easier. As he walked to the sleigh with Angela in his arms, his superior sense of smell kicked in.

“Little Sis, you smell like chocolate.”

“I’m sorry, Hoss. Adam bought them for you, but we were so hungry this morning, we ate them. I’m afraid I ate most of them. I couldn’t stop myself.”

Frowning in mock disapproval, Hoss got the hoped for grin from his sister-in-law. Once he got her to the sleigh, he put her in the back seat, tucked another thick blanket around her, and pulled a buffalo robe up over that.

“Now you just sit right there and we’ll get Adam and everything so we can head back to the way station. Don’t fret none. Everything will be fine now that we found you two.”

Adam collected all of their personal belongings and packed them back into their valises. After handing those to his father and Joe, he pushed out of their shelter and started to walk to the sleigh but stumbled and nearly fell. Hoss’ strong arms caught him before he tumbled into the snow.

“No sense being a hero now, Adam. Let me help.”

With his arm around Hoss’ shoulders, Adam allowed himself be helped to the sleigh and settled in beside his wife. With a small grin, he acknowledged his family’s timely rescue and then promptly fell into a deep sleep finally being able to relax and let someone else assume responsibility.

*****

Chapter 6

At the way station, once Adam and Angela were warmed up and fed, Hoss wanted to see their feet to evaluate for frostbite. Even though Adam had not complained, Hoss had seen how gingerly he walked into the way station. Once Adam’s boots were removed and Angela’s layers of socks were pulled off, Hoss checked both feet. They had frostbite but the skin was pink, the blisters were clear looking, and their toes were only mildly swollen.

“Well, neither of ya ought to be walking on these for a bit. Angela has a touch more of them blisters, but not too much. Both of you better be ready cause they’re gonna itch like crazy, and probably hurt some too, but it don’t look too bad.”

“So I won’t lose any toes?” Angela had been very worried because of the pain she had been feeling.

“Nah, little Sis, they’re nice and pink. They’re hurting but they’ll be fine eventually. You just gotta be careful. No shoes for a long time. You and Adam are going to be wearing slippers and staying inside for at least a few weeks.”

“I’m not wearing slippers!”

“Older brother, you ain’t gonna be able to fit those boots of yours on your feet for quite a while. Your toes are already swelling up, and it’s gonna be some time before they’re back to normal.”

“You mean we gotta keep doing his chores. Adam, you’re really gonna owe us for this.” All Joe got was a scowl for his comment.

The station manager had a different question. “What about Wally? He’s been driving for nigh onto ten years, and I count him as a friend.”

Grimacing because of having to deliver such bad news, Adam spoke up. “I’m sorry. He didn’t make it. He was killed in the accident. It was quick though. His neck was broken when he was thrown. We couldn’t do anything about the body except wrap a tarp around him. I’m sorry we couldn’t do more.”

Nodding sadly, the station manager moved back to the stove where he was preparing some stew for everyone. One freak encounter with a deer and a cougar had led to a lot of tragedy and suffering. Angela was very quiet for a while.

“You can’t be ready for everything it seems. We thought that we could prepare for events on this trip, and over and over again, we had to adjust to circumstances we couldn’t control. I’m looking forward to being home for the winter. Hopefully all will be calm for a while.”

But Adam immediately thought about the next months as they awaited the birth of their child. He knew he would worry, and being confined to the Ponderosa most of that time would likely increase his anxiety. Ben watched the transformation of Adam as he went from relief that Angela’s frostbite was fairly minor to worry, and Ben thought he knew exactly what that worry frown was about. He did think that Angela resembled Elizabeth quite a bit but knew that his comments about that probably reminded Adam even more of what had happened to her. He resolved to spend more time talking about how children like Hoss and Joe had been born with no complications.

Arriving where the wagon had been left, the Morgans were hitched to the wagon, and Adam and Angela transferred to the wagon. The sleigh had to be left behind and would need to be retrieved later.

“Pa, where did you get these beautiful draft horses? I don’t think I’ve ever seen any as impressive as these.” Adam was smiling as he said it.

“Adam, you know very well where I got them. Originally it was your idea to buy them, and I said they weren’t sturdy enough for the timber operations. Joe however suggested they would be perfect for rescuing my oldest son and his wife.”

A little chagrined that so much money had to be spent, Adam nodded. “Thank you, Joe. That was a great idea. I don’t think we could have made it without them.”

Pleased with the praise from Adam, Joe sat up taller in the seat and snapped the reins on the matched pair. “Pa, I think we ought to make sure they’re in the July fourth celebrations next year. These horses are over fifteen hands tall and could pull a carriage in the parade. If I bred them with some of our other draft horses and riding horses, then by next fall I could have some foals. You know how Morgans keep their characteristics no matter what they’re bred with. I’m sure there’s a way to make some money with them, and I’ve got months to come up with a plan.”

Joe’s evident excitement at the acquisition of the two fine animals made Hoss groan and Ben frown, and that caused some laughter from all of them. It was much warmer once they had gotten down the eastern slope. Adam and Angela rode comfortably on piles of blankets in the back of the wagon. Once they were in the yard of the Ponderosa, Hoss carried Angela into the house and set her on the settee. Adam walked in his stocking feet which Hop Sing was going to complain about until he saw how gingerly Adam was walking.

“What you do to feet? Hop Sing help.”

“Angela’s are worse than mine. Look her over first.” Knowing there was no way to stop Hop Sing when he knew his healing talents were needed, Adam sat next to Angela on the settee and waited for his turn. Hop Sing removed their layers of socks and tut tutted over their toes especially. Then he went into the kitchen to get items he needed. Once he had cleaned the blistered areas and applied salve, both Angela and Adam felt some relief from the pain and itching.

“Thank you, Hop Sing. You are a treasure indeed.”

Adam added his thanks, and both got a smile from Hop Sing who headed to the kitchen then to brew up some tea and make dinner for them all. Adam and Angela sat with their feet propped up on the table in front of the fireplace.

“Pa, aren’t you going to tell them to get their feet off the table?” Joe had an affronted look that everyone knew was an act.

“Joseph, I have learned not to get in Hop Sing’s way when there is healing and cooking to be done.” Laughing softly, Ben sat in the red chair and relaxed. “Now, the two of you can start telling us the stories that you hinted at in your letters. Who would like to begin?”

There were stories to tell and as expected Joe got a good laugh when he heard what Angela’s parents’ names were. All were glad Matt Reed was gone, but were dismayed to know how close he had come to succeeding in his revenge.

“Joseph, when you get some offspring from those Morgans, I want to gift two of them to Senor Mateo. He has been a good friend for many years, and we will send him a proper gift for all that he did for Adam and Angela.” Ben knew that a thank you accompanied by a promise of those two foals would make Senor Mateo very happy.

As the weeks passed, Christmas preparations were made. Adam asked Candy to send a few letters for him as he hoped to replace some gifts. As Christmas approached, and the weather turned bad, Adam was afraid that he would not get them in time but two days before Christmas, Candy brought him some packages with a big grin. He had been in town almost every day picking up items for the annual celebration on the Ponderosa and knew how happy Adam would be to get these items.

On Christmas morning, Adam was able to present Hoss with a intricately carved wooden box filled with fine chocolates from San Francisco. Hoss liked the box, but loved the treats. There were a lot of the usual gifts as well as a model ship that was presented to Ben by his sons. Adam had gotten it in San Francisco assuming his brothers would like the idea and they had. He had had it shipped so it was not one of the items they had lost in the stagecoach accident.

Finally, Adam presented a long narrow box to Angela. She opened it wondering what it could be and was speechless. It was a gold necklace with a pendant of an emerald surrounded by diamonds. Adam had asked her to wear her green velvet dress with the low neck, and now she knew why.

“Adam, it’s too much. When could I even wear this?”

“Today, when our guests are here. For any formal dance or ball we attend. When we go to the theatre. Here, let me help you put it on.”

“Well I suppose it will distract people from how fat I’m getting.”

“No, you’re more beautiful every day.” Ben and Adam’s brothers agreed with his statement. Angela did look pretty with her red cheeks and that dark hair. The new dresses that Adam had her buy in San Francisco allowed her to look elegant even as her tummy grew. Adam had been sketching pictures of her, and she chided him that he made her look like a model for classical painters, and he said she was.

Once the Christmas season was over, Angela knew that Adam would start to worry more about her. He was already hovering about whenever she wanted to do something. She knew she would get upset with him if it continued so she came up with a plan.

“Adam, when are you going to design our house?”

“Are you anxious to leave here?”

“Not at all. I didn’t think we would be moving that far away anyway. No, but when the baby is here, it’s going to be getting a bit crowded don’t you think. I’m not sure that the other men in this house are going to like being awakened at night with a crying baby. I was older when my brother and then my sister were born. I remember a lot of crying at night.”

So Adam began working on house plans. No matter what he drew however, Angela found something that she would like improved. Although her ideas were sound, Adam began to suspect her ulterior motive.

“I know what you’re doing.” Adam had drawn another set of plans for the kitchen, and again Angela had some ideas of how to make it better.

“That I want to have a wonderful house to make a home?”

“No, that you’ve been keeping me as busy as you can drawing plan after plan so that I don’t worry about you.”

“No, that’s not exactly it.”

“Well, then, what ‘exactly’ is it?”

“You hover. You protect. It’s wonderful that you love me so much, but it is suffocating too. You know how you are when you’re sick or recuperating and can’t do what you want to do?”

Adam nodded and now had a very good idea of where this was going.

“Well I feel that way too, and I was afraid that I would have months of going crazy until the baby was born. This way, you stayed busy. I stayed busy. No one went crazy.”

“There’re are weeks left yet.”

“Um, I don’t think so. Neither does Hop Sing or Doctor Martin. That baby may be coming fairly soon.”

“Already?”

“When Doctor Martin was here today and examined me, he said it’s probably just a week or two away. He said there shouldn’t be a problem with a baby who arrives only one or two weeks early. He said the baby might be a bit smaller, and we’ll have to be very careful keeping the baby warm, and I will have to feed the baby more often at first, but otherwise he said there should be no problems.”

“You are nervous about it, though, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and if you want to hover and be overprotective, now would be the time. I could use some support right about now.”

“Do you think it would be a good idea for Mrs. Shaughnessy to move in here? With the weather the way it is, there’s a risk that we wouldn’t be able to get the doctor here or anyone else when it’s your time.”

“If you think she would, that would be wonderful. It would be good to have a woman to talk to now too.”

The next morning, Adam went to visit with Mrs. Shaughnessy to ask her if she would move into the guest bedroom on the Ponderosa. Her children were grown and gone, and her husband had died many years earlier. She thought only briefly before agreeing. It would seem like a vacation, and she would have someone to talk with, and she wouldn’t have to do any cooking because Hop Sing would never allow her in the kitchen. Then she would be there for the birth and not have to rush there the night the baby decided to arrive because for some reason, most babies seemed to choose nighttime to change their parents’ world.

For two weeks, the ladies sewed clothing and small blankets as well as bibs. Angela showed off her safety pins and Mrs. Shaughnessy was amazed for she had no idea such a thing had even been invented. They made sure the receiving blankets, and the cradle Adam had made were ready. They talked about delivery and what to expect. Angela started to relax a bit just as Adam was getting hyper tense. He had trouble falling asleep each night wondering if that would be the night. So when the night finally arrived, he was sound asleep when Angela called his name. She had to call several times before he awoke and then he was still groggy.

“Adam, it’s time.”

“No, sweetheart, we can sleep a bit more. At this time of year, we don’t have to get up until the sun is up.”

“No, Adam, it’s time. I’m feeling the baby contractions that Mrs. Shaughnessy told me about and my water broke.”

It still took a bit, and then suddenly Adam jumped from the bed and was going to rush into the hall to get Mrs. Shaughnessy and tell everyone the baby was on its way.

“Adam, stop. Put on some pants before you scare Mrs. Shaughnessy half to death running in to her room naked. You have time to put on a shirt too.”

Stopping at the door, Adam turned around sheepishly and grabbed his clothing. Then he asked if Angela needed anything right away. Once she said no, he went to get Mrs. Shaughnessy. They helped Angela from the bed, changed the bedding, and helped her into a clean gown before helping her back to bed. Shaughnessy pointed to the side of the bed and told Adam to sit there and comfort his wife so she could go to get the other items they would need and to wake Hop Sing.

About the time the sun did rise, Angela’s screams awakened the rest of the Cartwright clan who rushed into the hallway to see what was the matter. Listening to what was coming from the expectant couple’s bedroom, Ben assured Hoss and Joe that the baby was on its way. They dressed and went downstairs to find Hop Sing had breakfast ready to serve. He told them that he had been up for a couple of hours already. Hop Sing made another trip upstairs to see if he was needed. When he didn’t come back, the three men wondered if anything was wrong until they heard a baby’s wail. Soon after, Hop Sing came down with bedding for the laundry. It was one time he would not complain about all the laundry he had to do in the winter cold.

“Baby fine. Number one son bring you to see baby soon.”

After about fifteen minutes, Adam appeared at the top of the stairs, and the three men started moving his way before he could say anything. He just smiled and returned to the bedroom. When Ben and Adam’s brothers entered the room, Adam was sitting beside Angela who was holding their baby swaddled in warm soft cotton blankets.

“Pa, meet your granddaughter, Rachel Lea Cartwright.”

*****

Helen and Hoss

Chapter 1

“Damn it, Hoss, what have you gotten us into?”

Adam lay on his back on the slope of the ravine where he had dug his heels in to stop from falling further. The jolt to his wounded leg had made him cry out, but he didn’t think the men up above were going to feel at all sorry for him. After all, one man had shot him, and both had watched as he tumbled over the side with the impact. He had felt the impact and the searing pain that shot up his leg, but hardly had time to process that before he was trying to stop his headlong fall down the ravine and almost certain death if he tumbled into the frigid stream at the bottom. He was in enough trouble as it was. No hat, no jacket, no gun, and wounded, he would somehow have to find a way to survive until he could be rescued. He knew that Helen had to be the root cause of this, but his mind was unable to clearly reason. For the time being, he decided the best thing to do was stay here on this slope until he had enough energy to do something about his wound and getting up or down from his current position. As he lay there, he remembered how Helen had come back into their lives.

“Hey, Hoss, you got another one of them scented letters! Who is it? You got two of these letters now, so tell us.”

“Joe, it ain’t none of your business or anybody elses. These letters are for me alone.” With that, Hoss had gone to his room ostensibly to read his latest letter. He came down for dinner and ate slowly which caused all of them to be concerned. It was clear that something was deeply affecting Hoss. He didn’t want to talk about it, but the next morning as the four of them sat down to breakfast, Ben tried again.

“Son, what is it? Is it some news you got in that letter?”

“Pa, yes it is, but I don’t hardly want to bring it up here cause I know what you’re all gonna say.”

“Hoss, we’re your family. If you can’t get help from us, who can help you?”

“Pa, it’s just that I think that at least two people here ain’t gonna want to help me with this one.” Deciding that the only thing to do was to come right out with it, Hoss continued. “It’s Helen Layton.” Joe and Adam each felt a chill with that name. “She says she’s changed and would like to see me. She says she won’t do no gambling at all and wants to know if I’ll see her. Pa, I loved her and I think I still do. I want to see her, but I don’t want anyone in this family to interfere.” Hoss looked pointedly at Adam daring him to say anything before he turned and briefly regarded Joe.

“Pa, she’s gonna be in town today. I would like to invite her to be our guest here if you think everyone can act decent toward her?”

“Hoss, you know my feelings on this, I’m sure. But if you want her as your guest, we will treat her as well as any guest who has ever been here.” With that, Ben looked directly at his other two sons almost willing them to agree. They had little choice but to be gracious despite their churning insides. Both nodded in agreement with their father, and held their tongues not wanting in any way to upset Hoss.

Later in the stable before they headed out to work, Joe had some concerns he could only express to Adam.

“She’s just going to hurt Hoss again. You know it. I know it, and Pa has to know it too. How could he agree to have her here?”

“Joe, Hoss knows everything there is to know about Helen. He still wants to see her. I don’t think there’s anything we can or should do at this point except get ready to pick up the pieces after she shatters his heart one more time.”

“But I don’t want Hoss to get hurt like that again!”

“Joe, he’s walking into this with his eyes wide open. I don’t know what she said to him in those letters, but obviously she has managed to appeal to Hoss’ good nature. You saw the looks we got. He isn’t interested in our opinions on this.”

Knowing what his brothers were probably thinking, Hoss waited for them to leave before he went out to hitch up the carriage. He had already told Hop Sing about their guest arriving and heard all sorts of imprecations in Chinese. He was glad he didn’t understand any of it because it was probably the exact things his brothers wanted to say to him, but in his heart and mind, everyone deserved another chance. He had done that with everyone he had ever known, and sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. He knew that Helen might not have changed, but he was willing to find out. As Hoss drove to town, he thought through again what he wanted to say. He knew it would be difficult to express exactly how he felt but knew he had to try. Then he would wait to see what she thought.

Dear Eric, I know what heartache I must have brought you. But I know now that I was sick. Gambling was my disease. I have healed, but that demon still has one terrible hold on me. I have debts that I cannot pay. I wish to visit with you on the Ponderosa to escape my tormentors. I will not gamble. I have given up that vice and found myself again. There is no way to make up for the wrongs I did to you and others except to live a better life from now on. You are the rock that could help to anchor me and set me on that right living path. Please, if you loved me once, could you be my friend and help me? Love, with all my heart, Helen

That letter had touched Hoss’ heart. He could read the pain in those admissions and felt that Helen had truly reformed. What he didn’t know was if his love for her was strong enough to deal with all her troubles, and he did know that her troubles were terrible. However, he had never been able to turn away from anyone or anything that was hurting, and he had to help. He wished he could call on his family for aid, but he knew that if there was one mention of the debt, they would refuse to step in. He knew he would have to do this alone.

Well Adam’s new house was almost ready, and when Adam, Angela, and Rachel moved there soon, there would be at least one less face to show pity on him for the folly they perceived him to be following. Angela didn’t know Helen so he hoped she would give her a chance as a friend but thought that Adam would probably eliminate that possibility. As he neared Virginia City, Hoss sat taller in the seat and resolved to do the right thing. At the stage depot, he waited patiently and when the stage arrived, he even smiled a bit. Helen was the last passenger to get off the stage, and Hoss could see by her movement and look how unsure she was about what she was doing. Hoss knew she had hurt herself as much as anyone. As she walked toward him, he opened his arms and she rushed into them.

“Hoss, oh how I wished to have those powerful arms around me so many times. How I missed you. I am so sorry for being the awful person that I was. Please, please, can you forgive me, at least a little?”

“Helen, I forgave you a long time ago. Don’t help a body none to carry around hurts and regrets.”

Noting the hint of a smile on Helen, Hoss relaxed. She was still resilient and strong. He hoped what she had said was true, but he knew enough about compulsive behavior to know she might just be trying to scam him. He had seen many friends do the same with their drinking and other vices. He would be careful, but also as supportive as he could be until he found out her true feelings. For now, they would be friends so he refrained from kissing her although in his heart, that is what he very much wanted to do.

Taking the scenic route back to the Ponderosa, Hoss gave Helen lots of time to talk. The longer they were together, the more relaxed she became until they actually neared the ranch house.

“Your brothers and your father must hate me.”

“They don’t hate you. They are concerned, and rightly so, don’t ya think? They’ll be fine, and when they see how you’ve really changed, then it will all be good. Did you know that Adam was married now? He’s even got a little one. Prettiest little gal you ever did see.”

“The baby or the wife?”

Hoss paused. “Well, doggone it, now that you mention it that way, both of em, I guess. Adam’s building that house there. You can see the rooftop from here. It’s closer to the lake but not too far from the main house. He’s got all sorts of new fangled things going in there. He ordered some of em all the way from France. Those things ain’t here yet.”

“So, Adam will still be at the house?”

“Don’t you mind too much though. It’s his turn to ride up and stock the line cabins in the upper pastures. He’ll be gone at least a week probably. He’s leaving tomorrow or the next day.”

Relieved to hear that, Helen relaxed a bit. If this was going to work, it helped to have that suspicious Adam out of the picture. She could play it careful until Adam left. It would help relieve the lingering doubts and suspicions that the others had and then she would have a week to work her plan. It had to work. Her life hung in the balance.

*****

Chapter 2

At the Ponderosa, Ben heard the carriage arrive, and he put on his best welcoming visage and headed out to greet their guest. As he saw Hoss helping Helen from the carriage, Ben couldn’t help but flashback to their previous encounters with the lady. He could only hope that Hoss was not setting himself up for a terrible heartbreak but had to trust his son to know what he was doing.

“Welcome, Helen. Hoss has told us your wonderful news.”

Momentarily at a loss, Helen then realized Ben must have been referring to her claim to have reformed. “Yes, yes, and Ben, I am so sorry for all the problems I caused you and your family especially Hoss. I know I can never make it up to any of you, but I want you to know I have changed, and I have asked Hoss to forgive me as well. You have raised an extraordinary son, Ben.”

“I have three extraordinary sons, Helen, but you’re definitely on the mark with Hoss.”

“Of course, Ben, of course. I only meant that Hoss is so special, so forgiving.”

A little embarrassed by the unaccustomed praise, Hoss grabbed Helen’s bags from the carriage as Ben offered his arm to escort Helen into the house before going back outside to give Helen some time to get settled in. Helen would stay in the downstairs guest room because the upstairs bedrooms were all occupied by family members and would be until Adam moved to his new house. After Helen freshened up a bit, she walked out to the great room to see Angela descending the stairs with Rachel in her arms.

“Oh, you must be Angela and that must be your darling daughter. Oh, she is adorable. How old is she now?”

“She’s just two months old. And you must be Helen. Ben told me you were coming.”

“Oh, Adam didn’t mention me?”

“I had very little sleep last night because Rachel was feeling a little rambunctious. She doesn’t always seem to know when it’s night, so Adam let me sleep in this morning. He was gone before I came down to have some breakfast. We already had lunch, but I’m sure Hop Sing saved some for you and Hoss. He was grumbling the whole time we ate because the two of you were late for lunch.”

“Oh, I must apologize to him. Hoss wanted to be able to talk with me so he took the long way home. We did get near where your new house is. That looks to be a beautiful location.”

“Yes, I had hoped to be in there by now, but we had some things that happened last fall that delayed Adam working on the plans. He started the build as soon as the snow melted though. We both feel badly when Rachel cries so much at night. The men need their sleep.”

Coming into the house at that point, Hoss was happy to see Helen engaged in conversation with Angela. He hoped Adam would not say too much to Angela and ruin that chance for the two ladies to talk together during the day when he and his brothers were off working.

“Well, you two seem to have hit it off. Isn’t that the prettiest little baby you ever done seen?”

“Hoss, she certainly is. That dark hair looks like it’s going to be curly when it gets longer. She certainly seems to have Angela’s coloring but she has those pouty lips of Adam’s.”

“She really does. When she’s not happy, she looks just like older brother when he’s mad.”

“Well, I certainly hope I don’t see that look of his again.”

“Enough about Adam, let’s get some lunch. Hop Sing, Hop Sing, you got some lunch left for us?” Hoss headed to the kitchen and both ladies could hear the complaints he had to endure.

Sensing some undercurrent between Hoss and Helen that made little sense to her, Angela resolved to find out the whole story from Adam that evening. Ben had told her only that Hoss and Helen had been engaged to marry once, but that Helen had acted badly and ruined their relationship. Angela perceived already that there was a lot more to that story than a lovers’ quarrel.

“Well, I need to walk outside with Rachel to try to keep her awake a bit longer or she won’t sleep tonight. She gets wide-eyed every time we’re outside. That big blue sky just mesmerizes her.”

“Yes, I’m sure the men would appreciate her sleeping tonight. I’ll just go see what I can do to placate Hop Sing so that Hoss can have his lunch.”

Thoughtful, Angela walked outside to enjoy the warm spring day with her daughter. Ben was sitting on the porch. Angela walked just to the edge of the porch and smiled as her daughter looked at the sky with those wide dark eyes of hers.

“There seems to be more going on here than I know. Care to fill me in more than what you told me this morning?”

“I’m sure Adam will have plenty to tell you later. Helen was a compulsive gambler and we all thought she was interested in Hoss as just another man to pay her debts. Now she’s here and says she is no longer gambling.”

“But you’re not so sure?”

Nodding, Ben sighed deeply. “Hoss was hurt so badly by her duplicity last time. I just hope he has his eyes wide open this time. He says he does, but …”

“He has such a big heart, and you’re afraid he’ll want to help her so much, he’ll lose sight of reality?”

Ben sighed again. He always wanted to protect his sons, but sometimes he just didn’t know what to do. He had been concerned when Adam fell in love with Angela, but that had worked out very well for his oldest son. Now Helen was back in the picture for Hoss, and he just didn’t know what to think. He decided to change the subject.

“Would you like to take a ride over to your new house to see how far the workers have gotten? I haven’t been there in a week, and I would guess that it’s looking much more like a home by now. I should have thought of it before Hoss unhitched the carriage, but it won’t take long to get it ready again.”

“That sounds like fun. Just let me get a few things packed for the baby, and then I’ll be right out.”

Once lunch was finished, Hoss and Helen had the house to themselves. Hoss had to ask the question that was foremost in his mind.

“Helen, why contact me after all this time? Why now, and how much are those debts you mentioned in your letter?”

Taking a deep breath, and thinking of sad things, Helen managed to get herself a bit teary eyed. “Hoss, I owe so much, but the man I owe debts to said he would be satisfied with one lump sum payment.”

“Helen, how much?”

Casting her eyes down as if in shame, Helen answered very softly. “Fifty thousand dollars.”

“And, Helen, how much money do you have?”

“Hoss, I spent my last dollar getting here. I have nothing.” And then the tears did flow. It was so embarrassing to have to admit to being penniless. It was humiliating.

Moving to Helen’s side and wrapping an arm around her, Hoss tried to soothe the apparently distraught woman. “Helen, I’ll find a way to help you. If you really have changed, I want to help you.”

“If, if? You don’t believe me, do you? Oh, Hoss, you were my last hope.” Helen began to sob then in real fear. The man to whom she owed the money had been rather graphic when describing what would happen to her and how slowly if she failed to make this scheme work.

Reacting as Helen hoped he would, Hoss became even more sympathetic but had to tell her the hard reality of it all.

“I don’t have that kind of money. Now the Ponderosa does but my father and brother would have to agree before I could pay that debt. I’m not sure when we could do it either. We haven’t had the spring drive to sell cattle yet, and we’re usually short of ready cash on hand at this time of the year. We haven’t had any money coming in since the lumber, fall drive, and horse sales, but we still had expenses over the winter. How long will the man wait?”

“Hoss, he wants the money right away. That’s why I thought I could hide here for a time. I just hope he hasn’t followed me here. You just don’t know what that man is capable of doing.”

“Well, ya got plenty of help right here. We’ll figure out something. Now don’t you even think of going to town on your own. You stay here where you’re safe.”

By the time Ben and Angela returned, Joe was also home so Hoss did not want to bring up the subject of Helen’s debt. Hoss wanted to talk with his father without either of his brothers there. He hoped to enlist his father’s support and then the two of them could talk with his brothers. He knew it wouldn’t be easy.

After dinner, Hoss asked to speak with his father privately. The two of them grabbed their coats and headed outside. Joe tried to listen, but suspecting that would happen, Hoss had walked all the way to the corral before explaining the situation to his father.

“Hoss, are you sure you can trust her? She’s played games with us before.”

“Pa, she was really scared. This man has threatened her and she’s afraid for her life.”

“Perhaps we should let Roy know then. This is more than a debt I’m afraid. It seems she has gotten involved with some unsavory characters. If we pay this money, they may think that they can come back for more and who knows what they would do. We not only have to think about Helen, but also about others here who need our protection.”

Knowing his father meant Rachel and his granddaughter, Hoss knew too that his father was probably correct. They should let Roy know to see what he could do to help them. Nodding, Hoss looked to his father. “What do you think we can do then?”

“I’ll head into town tomorrow and let Roy know. He can make some enquiries and see what he can find out. Adam is leaving tomorrow morning, so I want you to stick close to the house. Joe will be at the breaking corrals so he and the men down there can be at the house quickly if you need help. Does that sound like something that would work?”

“Ya, Pa, except Joe’s gonna want to know why I might need help.”

“We’ll tell him in the morning after Adam leaves. We need to let Angela know too as well as Hop Sing so everyone can take precautions as needed.”

“You think Adam is going to be really angry when he hears about this?”

“Yes, but he’ll be gone a week. Hopefully we can have this resolved before he returns.”

*****

Chapter 3

As expected, Adam left the next morning to stock the line shacks. He was clearly not at all happy that Helen was staying on the Ponderosa. As Adam rode away leading a packhorse laden with supplies, he worried about his younger brother and what might happen while he was gone. At least his father was there if Hoss needed help.

At breakfast, Helen felt that Angela was a bit cool to her and correctly surmised that Adam had told Angela the whole story from his point of view. Helen decided she needed to try to talk with Angela and tell her the story from her point of view, at least the one she had adopted for her letters to Hoss.

At the breaking corrals, Joe was not at all pleased either once his father and Hoss had explained the situation to him.

“Well I can see why you waited for Adam to be gone before talking about this. So she’s doing it again. She’s using Hoss to get money!”

“Now, Joe, don’t you go jumping to conclusions like that. She’s been honest about needing that money. She just up and told me the whole story. No tricks, so don’t get like Adam and all huffy about it. Just listen to what Pa wants to do.”

Joe was agreeable to their plans but finished with an objection that they should have told Adam before he left.

“You know how he is. He would have been thinking about this the whole time he was gone. He might have thought of something we didn’t. And if we do have to pay out the money, Adam has to be in agreement. That’s a lot of money. I won’t vote to do it unless he agrees to it.”

“If it comes to that, son, we will have to discuss what we will do. Adam won’t be back for a week, so he may not get to have a say in what we do.”

“Pa, that’s just wrong and you know it. Waiting for Adam to leave so you can do what you want is going to hurt him when he finds out. If I could catch him and tell him what’s going on, I would.” Joe was getting angrier the more they talked about this.

“Joe, I don’t need no more advice on this. Pa and I got a plan, and all we need is for you to help protect Helen if need be as well as Angela and the baby.”

At that, Joe lost his temper nearly completely. “You’ve put Adam’s wife and child at risk, and he doesn’t even know it. I bet he’s not going to forgive you for that, and I wouldn’t blame him at all. This is just ridiculous. Look at what that woman has done already, and she’s only been here one day!”

“Watch your tone with me, young man. I’m still your father, and I will not be yelled at by you.”

“Well you better get used to it. I’m not backing down on this one, and when Adam gets back, you’re going to hear plenty of yelling.”

Hurt by Joe’s lack of confidence but not willing to have such an argument especially where the hands could overhear it, Hoss tried to turn his father and get him to leave. “Pa, just leave it alone. We got things to do and so does Joe. Now, lets just cool off, and we can all talk later.”

All three men left feeling angry and frustrated. Once Hoss returned to the house, Helen could see that he was upset. “Hoss, do you want to talk?”

“Yes, but not here. Let’s go to the garden. We can sit there and talk.”

Getting Helen’s coat for her, Hoss held the door open as she put it on. The two of them left then, and Angela went into the kitchen to talk with Hop Sing.

“Hop Sing, I get the feeling that even though Adam told me everything he knew about Helen that there’s some things he doesn’t know. When Papa Ben and Hoss went out to talk with Joe, it seemed they had been waiting for Adam to leave.”

“Missy, I no want to be stick in family business.”

“Hop Sing, you know you’re as much a part of this family as I am. Now tell me what’s going on.”

“Missy, no tell Mister Ben and Mister Hoss what I say. Missy Helen bad woman. She trick Mister Hoss again and Mister Ben not see it. They afraid Mister Adam blow top if he knew so they wait him leave. All bad business. They tell Hop Sing be careful watch for strangers. I hear them tell same you. Only reason strangers be here Missy Helen. All bad times. Hop Sing worry.”

Getting as angry as Joe already was, Angela realized that she and her baby had been put in danger without being told. That Adam had not been told rankled even more. She intended to talk with Ben when he returned. She didn’t think family acting this way was acceptable. Then she had one more frightening thought: Adam might be in danger and had no idea that he could be facing a threat other than the usual. She would talk with Joe and see if there was a way to warn him.

In the garden, Hoss and Helen were sitting on the bench. Helen was very agitated but remained calm in appearance. She was churning inside though. She had thought that the money wouldn’t be that hard to get. The Cartwrights were so wealthy she had not thought of the fact that their wealth was in land, cattle, horses, and investments. No matter what, they would take some time getting the money especially as she could not explain how dire the circumstances were without letting them know how deeply involved she was in the plot to get that money. When Hoss said it was time to head back inside, she asked for a little time to collect herself.

“I’ll be right in, Hoss. I just want a few calming moments out here where it’s so beautiful.”

Hoss nodded and walked back inside after admonishing her not to take more than a couple of minutes or he would be back out there to get her. A voice from the grove of trees startled Helen and made her heart race.

“Looks like your plan isn’t working. They mean to set the law on us. We can’t sit around here for a week waiting for them to come up with the money. It’s time for my plan.”

“But you can’t kidnap Hoss. There are too many people here. Besides, I need him to get the others to agree to pay the money. No one else in this family trusts me or even likes me.”

“Yeah, and we can’t take the young one either cause he’s working with a bunch of men too. The old man has to be left alone cause we need him to get the money. That dark one rode off this morning though. We’ll take him to encourage them to pay up.”

At her look of surprise, the man laughed. “We been watching you ever since you left Sacramento. We had one of our men on the stage with you. Now where did the dark one go?”

“I’m not sure. He’s going to supply the line shacks but I don’t know where they are nor how many there are. They did say he wouldn’t be back for a week.”

“This is a big place. We need to know exactly where he is. I’ll send somebody in to find out. Now go back to the house and don’t say nothing.”

Once in the house, Helen tried to act normally but the stress showed. Hoss offered to get her some tea, and she expressed her gratitude that he would do that. Angela didn’t want to speak with her under the circumstances so she took her daughter upstairs. To Angela, Helen had already caused more than enough trouble, but she feared it was only the beginning. As Helen drank her tea, there was the sound of a rider in the yard. It was too early for Ben to be back so Hoss walked to the door. It was a young man with a message that he said was urgent for Adam Cartwright.

“I don’t recognize you, boy.”

“I just got to town a few weeks ago. This is my job now. I’m helping deliver messages for Western Union. They told me to make sure to hand this directly to Adam Cartwright. They gave me directions on how to get here, but I musta made a few wrong turns. I’m here now. Is there an Adam Cartwright here?”

“He’s out working and won’t be back for a week.”

“Oh, I hope I don’t lose my job for this. Is there any way I could still get this to him?”

“Well I could give ya directions to the general area he’ll be in. You’d have to look for a cabin with smoke coming from it.”

“Oh, Mister, I would be most obliged if you could do that for me, I really would.”

Recognizing the voice, Helen had come to the door. She saw the young man who had been on the stagecoach with her.

“Afternoon, Ma’am.”

Nodding in acknowledgement, Helen walked back into the house. She was glad that no one was there for she was sure she was probably pale as a ghost. She decided the best thing to do was to go into the guest room and freshen up. By the time she came back out feeling a bit better after she calmed down, Hoss was sitting by the fireplace.

“Darling, is everything all right?”

“I hope so. I’m just wondering what that urgent telegram was for Adam. I hope it wasn’t nothing too serious. We got enough to handle as it is.”

“I’m sure everything will be fine. Adam can take care of himself.”

Wondering at her strange choice of phrases, Hoss leaned back into the chair and asked if there was anything else she had not told them.

“No, darling, I’ve told you everything. Now I think I’ll lie down for a bit. I’m feeling tired. I didn’t sleep very well last night, and I’m still tired from traveling.”

“All right then. I’ll wake you for lunch if you aren’t up by then.”

When Joe came in for lunch, Hoss could tell he was still upset as was Angela. After lunch, Angela asked Joe if she could speak to him privately.

“Can you send someone to tell Adam that there could be a risk? He doesn’t know what’s been going on.”

“Pa would be angry if I told anyone else about all of this.” At Angela’s look of disappointment and worry, he amended his statement. “I’ll go. I’ll talk to Adam and stay overnight. I’ll be back early enough tomorrow to get my work done. Pa will still be mad, but he already knows how I feel about them not telling Adam.”

“Thank you, Joe.”

“Hoss is blinded by Helen’s problems. He’s not seeing all the other issues, so don’t be too upset with him.”

“I’m not so upset with him as I am with your father.”

Calling Pa ‘your father’ instead of Papa Ben was a good indication that Angela was very angry. Joe hoped that Adam’s house would be ready very soon because he expected some very frosty conditions in the family.”

“Take care, yourself, now. Stay with that baby. Do you still have that pocket pistol Adam gave you?” At her nod, Joe responded. “Good. Make sure to have it loaded at all times. Remember that Adam has a shotgun in the upstairs closet.”

“Do you think it could come to that?”

“Fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. Yes, some men would do just about anything to get a hold of that much money. Pa and Hoss aren’t thinking as much about the danger of that as they ought to be.”

“You’re a lot like Adam in how you think. He likes to plan ahead for the worst possibilities too.”

Realizing that was high praise coming from Angela, Joe smiled. “Yeah, I know. He always says it doesn’t matter if nothing bad happens, but he would feel awful if something bad happened because he wasn’t ready. I’ll go warn him so he can be ready.”

Feeling that they were doing all they could, both Joe and Angela got back to the tasks for the day. Hop Sing kept a close watch on everything from the kitchen. Hoss had Helen sit with him and talk while he worked at the forge.

When Ben came home, Joe told him his plans, and despite his father’s advice that it wasn’t necessary, Joe left to tell Adam what was going on. Angela had stood behind Joe as he spoke to his Pa, and Ben could tell she was very angry. She didn’t have to say why because he already knew. He began to wonder if he and Hoss were doing the right thing. Perhaps they were placing the family in too much danger. They were so committed to this plan of action, though, and it would be difficult to change things.

*****

Chapter 4

When Joe got to the line shack he expected Adam to be using, he wasn’t there. A little peeved, he started to make the ride to the next line shack but instead found Sport wandering in the pasture. His reins were down like he had been ground tied but with the reins knotted together not the way Adam would have done it. The horse was confused and didn’t know whether to stay in one place or head home. There was no blood on the saddle, but there was no sign of Adam either. Joe drew his pistol and fired three times. There was no answer. Leading Sport, he continued on to the next line shack, firing his pistol three times in several locations and never receiving a reply. By the time he reached the next line shack, there was still no sign of Adam and dusk had descended. Joe had no choice but to put the horses in the small corral. He got water and grass for them before going inside very worried then about what had happened to Adam.

Out on the slope of the ravine, Adam had slid slowly to the bottom. He used his shirt to bind his wound which although extremely painful was not serious. He did his best to find firewood, but without his jacket, he realized too late that he did not have matches nor did he have a pocket knife because that was in his jacket pocket as well. His hat was lost somewhere up the slope, and his pistol had been taken by the kidnappers. He was lucky to be alive but wondered how he would ever make it under these circumstances. No one would miss him for a week when he didn’t return on time. They would have no idea where to look either. Meanwhile he was cold and hungry. The scent of blood could draw predators as well. He looked around for a tree he would be able to climb. It took a while but he spotted one that looked promising with several limbs close to the ground. He laboriously climbed as high as he could go until he found a nice vee between the tree and a branch where he could sit for the night. He pulled off his belt and used it to secure his arm to the next branch. Then he succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep not hearing three pistol shots up on the ridge.

On the Ponderosa, Hoss and Helen had talked a lot. He was feeling very good about what they were doing except for not telling Adam. Sitting on the porch, the two were holding hands and Hoss expressed his feelings.

“We shoulda told Adam. I’m glad that Joe went to tell him. I don’t think we should let anything split our family. No matter what happens, we need to work together.”

“Oh, Hoss, do you think Adam will support you? I just hope he doesn’t lose his temper with me.”

“Helen, Adam isn’t like that. He’ll think it through and he won’t like it, but with the four of us working together, we’ll get you through this. Trust me. I will help you. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yes, darling, I do. I really do.”

“Helen, you keep calling me darling. Do you mean it, or is that just your way of talking with a man?”

“Hoss, I never stopped loving you. I hurt you, and I deceived you. That will always be a sad thing to remember, but you should know that I really did love you. I left because if I stayed, I would only have hurt you more. I couldn’t do that.”

“You know, that’s always what I hoped was true. I did love you, Helen, and I never stopped loving you. I know ya got some problems, but I want you to know, I’ll always be there for you. Always!”

Leaning toward Helen, Hoss waited to see if she would pull away. She didn’t and actually leaned toward him a little. He took that as a good sign and kissed her gently. Helen reached up and caressed his cheek.

“I never thought I could be blessed enough to have one of your kisses again. You are the most wonderful man in the world. Could I trouble you for another kiss, please?”

Wrapping his arms around Helen, Hoss kissed her with passion. He caressed her back and as he did so, she ran her hand over his chest. It had been a long time since a woman had reacted to him that way, and Hoss felt his emotions unleashed.

“Helen, I love you. I want to be with you like this always. When all this mess is straightened out, will you stay here with me?”

“Yes, darling, yes, I will.”

Speaking hoarsely, Hoss asked her an important question. “Will you take a walk to the garden where we can have more privacy.”

Walking arm in arm with Helen, Hoss couldn’t help smiling. Once they reached the garden bench, he sat and pulled Helen onto his lap. “Now where were we?”

“Oh, I think your arms were right about here.” Helen took his arms and pulled them around her. “And I think my hands were right about here.” She placed her hands on his chest and unbuttoned two of the buttons on his shirt. “And I think my lips were right about here.” Leaning forward, Helen kissed Hoss and teased his lips open with her tongue. He met her advances with his own and soon was lost in the bliss of passion. Their idyll was interrupted by Ben calling for Hoss. Standing quickly and buttoning up his shirt, Hoss took Helen by the arm and guided her to the front of the house where he met his father who was distraught.

“What’s wrong, Pa?”

“Read this.”

It was a note from kidnappers demanding fifty thousand dollars in two days or Adam would be killed. Ben looked at Helen before Hoss did. Helen did her best impersonation of innocence.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

Ben answered as Hoss looked thoughtful. “According to this note, Adam has been kidnapped. They are demanding fifty thousand dollars. I find it highly suspicious that they want the same amount of money that you claim to need to repay your debt.”

Turning to Helen, Hoss had one question. “Is there anything you need to explain about this? Our future depends on your answer. I need you to be completely honest with me if you expect me to be here for you.”

Momentarily, Helen’s resolve faltered. She thought briefly, and then in a life filled with mistakes, she made the biggest and most fateful one she could make. “No, darling, I’ve told you everything I know. These men are evil. They want their money, and they must have assumed I had asked you for it and been denied. Now they will take it any way they can get it.”

Wrapping his arm around Helen, Hoss steered her into the house. “We need to tell Angela. This isn’t going to be easy. Then we need to come up with a plan.”

As they all expected, Angela was distraught. There was nothing they could do that night. All they could hope was that Joe had reached Adam and helped him, and at the same time, they hoped that Joe was all right. Once Helen went to bed, and Angela took Rachel upstairs, Ben called Hoss to his desk.

“Hoss, are you sure we can trust her?”

Thinking for quite a while, Hoss had a tear in his eye when he answered. “Pa, I want to believe her so bad. I do love her, Pa. I really do. But there’s just something that won’t let me trust her. Why is that, Pa? Why can’t I trust her?”

“Hoss, when Laura betrayed Adam by going behind his back to see Will, Adam still said he loved her. But it’s a different kind of love. I’m not sure Laura understood what he meant when he said it. He would never love her like he had. Son, love is based on respect, shared experiences, compromise, and trust. If you take away the trust, you can still love someone but not enough to be with them. That’s how it is with Adam and Laura. He still cares for her but he doesn’t trust her. Once trust is lost, it is nearly impossible to regain it. You’re telling me you don’t trust Helen. To me, that says you don’t love her enough to commit to her. You care for her and want to help her. It’s not the same as loving someone and wanting to wake up every morning with that woman lying beside you. I don’t know if I explained that very well.”

“You explained it just fine, Pa. Thank you. I got a lot of thinking to do. We’re heading out at first light tomorrow so you better get some sleep ifn you can.”

“I think I’ll sleep about as much as you do tonight or Angela. I feel so awful now about what I did. I hope she and Adam can forgive me.”

“I hope they can forgive both of us. I’m hoping to find a hopping mad Adam tomorrow, and I’ll let him say anything he wants. He can even take a poke at me ifn he wants to. I just hope it works out that way.”

“Well, we let Roy know so I hope he’s got a posse out there to help us tomorrow.”

“Pa, what about paying the money?”

“Hoss, with that kind of money, we can’t trust them at all. I’ll pay the money, but our best bet is to find Adam ourselves. The note said they would send instructions in a day and a half. If we don’t find Adam, we’ll have the money together by then no matter what I have to do.”

After bidding his father good night, Hoss went to his room. He pulled off his boots and lay on the bed staring at the ceiling. He watched the shadows made by the moonlight streaming in his window. He worried about the danger his brothers might be in. He knew then that if anything happened to one or both of his brothers, he would never forgive Helen whether she played a part in this or not for she had brought her problems to their doorstep and now his family might pay the price for her vice. He didn’t trust her, and now he wondered more and more about whether she trusted him. He suspected she did not. After what his father had said, he berated himself for letting his heart overrule his mind. He finally fell asleep in the early morning hours, and then he heard his father’s knock and knew it was time to go.

*****

Chapter 5

Up at first light too was Joe. He ate some beans that he hurriedly cooked and then headed back home to get more help. Joe had only been riding for about an hour when he saw a large group of men heading upslope apparently toward the first line shack he had visited the day before. He fired three shots and tried to get their attention. With all the trees, he couldn’t tell if they had turned toward him or not but he headed in the general direction of where he thought he could intercept them. Joe heard the group of riders before he could see them. He fired three more shots and soon saw Hoss and his Pa riding toward him.

Explaining what he had done the day before, Joe could see how upset that made everyone but especially his father and brother.

“What happened that you’re not telling me?”

“Son, we got a note from kidnappers. They say they have Adam. With what you’ve told us, that now appears to be true.”

“What do they want?”

“Fifty thousand dollars by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Fifty thousand! That’s the same amount Helen said she needed.”

Ben cut him off before he could finish. “Yes, and we’ve already discussed that. She says she has nothing to do with this, but we’re finding that hard to believe.”

“You give me a few minutes with her, and she’ll be telling us what she knows.”

“Joseph, we will let Roy handle that. He should be sending a posse out here to help us, and I would assume he’ll be investigating. We left the note with Angela, and she will give it to him.”

“I left a description of the boy who said he had an urgent message for Adam. I figure now that’s how they found out where he was. Darn kid looked so innocent too. No wonder they sent him. Just another mistake I made.”

“Hoss, how did they know Adam was gone?”

That question silenced both Hoss and Ben.

“Someone must have been watching the house or they had someone who could tell them what they needed to know.”

Knowing where Joe was heading with that line of thought, Hoss responded. “But she didn’t know where the line shacks were so she couldn’t tell them exactly where he would be.”

Joe continued. “Exactly. That’s why they had to send somebody in to get better directions.”

“And I’m the fool who told them where Adam was.”

Ben couldn’t let Hoss shoulder that responsibility. “Hoss, don’t blame yourself. We had no reason to worry at that point. Any one of us would have done the same thing.”

“Well, now what’s important is finding Adam. Let’s set up a pattern and work together. Hoss take some men and head to that line shack we thought Adam would stay at first. Search between there and here. Joe, take some men and search from here along the ridge to the next line shack. Anyone finds anything, fire three shots. We need to know where they have him. Any trail or any clue will do.”

“Pa, what are you going to do while Joe and me are leading the search groups?”

“I’m taking one man and we’re going to try to follow Sport’s tracks from that pasture.”

“Pa, I oughta be the one to do that. Why don’t you take the search group to the line shack.”

Quickly understanding why Hoss made the suggestion, Ben agreed. Hoss could track better than anyone in the group. They sent one man back to contact the posse when they arrived to let them know what was already being done. After about two hours, there were three shots from up on the ridge. Everyone headed that way. Hoss had lost Sport’s trail in the shale he had been led through anyway. At the top of the ridge, Joe stood at the edge holding Adam’s hat. The men with him were tying ropes together.

Reluctant to be too negative, Joe held up Adam’s hat. “Pa, we found it about ten feet down this slope. Pa, there’s blood here. Not a lot, but there’s more drops as you look down the slope. We’re getting some rope tied together, and I’m going down.”

Hoss looked around and came to join them. “Looks like three horses were up here. Looks like one wasn’t carrying nobody when they left.”

By that point, everyone was at the edge trying to see down below, but there was nothing to see through all the brush. Once the rope was secured to Chubb, Hoss started playing out line letting Joe descend slowly so he could examine the slope as he went. About halfway down, Joe called for Hoss to hold up. He had found the larger bloodstain where Adam had laid until he was able to get himself down the rest of the way.

“He fell this far and then it looks like he got his heels dug in and stopped his fall. There’s a big bloodstain here but not too bad. I’m going lower now.”

When Joe got to the bottom, he found tracks and followed them to a tree where he found more small bloodstains and marks showing that someone had climbed the tree. He climbed up and found where Adam had spent the night. There were some fragments of cloth caught in the rough bark. Joe pulled them loose and put them in his pocket. By the time he returned to the stream bank, Ben had descended as well. Joe pulled out the tiny pieces of black cloth.

“He was here. It looks like he slept in that tree. I found the cloth stuck in the bark of the branch where he sat. I’m guessing that he has a leg wound, and that he used his shirt to bind it up.”

“He’s alive then. But where is he?”

“Pa, we can’t get any horses down that slope. I’ll take a few men and head to the trails that Adam showed me years ago that the Paiute used to hunt in this area. It’ll take us at least half a day to get there and back here. But then we can track him and find him. You and Hoss can head back to the house to see what you can find out.”

“You think Helen knows more than she’s saying?”

“Definitely. She’s involved in this somehow, and you and Hoss are the ones who can get it out of her.”

Ben nodded. He was beginning to think Joe was on the right track with all of this. They climbed the slope with the aid of the rope, and Joe picked a few men to ride with him. They took supplies for a couple of days knowing it would be late before they even got to start searching for Adam. They took Sport with them hoping he would have a rider again soon. Ben, Hoss, and the others headed for the ranch house. When they got there, they found Angela holding Rachel and arguing with Roy. Both were standing outside and were obviously very frustrated.

“She won’t tell the truth. She’s put my husband at risk but keeps claiming that she knows nothing about this. After what Roy found out, we know she’s lying. I want to slap that smug look off her face, but Roy won’t let me touch her.”

Ben had to know. “Roy, what did you find out?”

“Well, now, she’s here and seeming to be after Hoss according to what Angela has been telling me, but she can’t hardly be really doing that.”

That got Hoss’ attention. “Why not, Roy?”

“I hate to be the one to tell ya this, Hoss, but from what I learned, she’s already married. Seems she married a man up in Reno just a short time ago.”

Shock was replaced by a determined and angry look on Hoss at that point. He swung down off his horse and started walk toward the house until Roy grabbed his arm.

“Now you can’t go in there and do anything to her. We got no evidence that she done anything illegal.”

“Roy, I’m going in there, and nobody is going to stop me. She’s gonna tell me what she knows.” Hoss shook Roy’s hand off his arm and walked to the house.

“I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything to get himself arrested.” Ben followed Hoss inside.

“Darling, were you able to find Adam?”

“Well, I think you would be able to tell us that yourself, now, wouldn’t you?”

“What do you mean? I have no way of knowing where Adam is!”

“Maybe your husband could tell you!”

Helen’s whole demeanor changed at that point as she seemed to collapse into herself. “How did you find out?”

“Roy found out. He just told us. So everything you told me were lies? You just told me all of that to get my help to get the money. It’s always been about the money, hasn’t it?”

“My husband, if you want to call him that, forced me into marriage to pay part of my debt. He uses me for whatever he wishes and orders me to do terrible and humiliating things. He told me what he would do to me if I didn’t help him with this scheme of his. I’m afraid of him. I’ll do anything so he won’t hurt me.”

“You really are something, aren’t you? You got yourself into a terrible fix, and you decided to use me and my family to get you out of it. You lied and misled us, and now you got my brother in terrible trouble. He’s hurt and we couldn’t find him. He could be dead and it’s all your fault. If he’s dead, you better confess and get yourself into a jail cell because ifn you don’t, I might choke the life out of you with my bare hands.”

“I know you must hate me now. But I’ll help if I can. What do you want me to do?”

Roy and Angela walked in at that point. “We need to arrest these men and question them as soon as possible. Who are they, and where are they?”

Defeated, Helen explained everything and identified the four men they sought. But she couldn’t tell them where they were.

“My husband, Richard Chesk, is very careful. He doesn’t trust me at all.” Seeing the looks she got for that statement, Helen at least had the good grace to accept that no one had any reason to trust her. “He or one of his men is watching this house. He talked to me the other day after Hoss and I visited in the garden.”

With that bit of information, a plan was improvised. The horses were unsaddled and put in the stable, and Roy rode off. Then when a short time had elapsed, Hoss and Helen walked arm in arm to the garden to play their parts. They talked about how the kidnappers had likely killed Adam and how awful that would be for the family especially Angela and their daughter. Hoss said however that his father had asked Roy to finalize the arrangements for the money just in case they could get Adam back alive. He said they were awaiting instructions as to where to take the money. Finally he said he needed to go inside to see how his father and Angela were holding up. He walked away leaving Helen on the bench. As soon as Hoss was out of sight, Helen’s husband spoke up.

“Well, that was a touching little scene. Sounds like the money will be delivered. Now you need to act all calm and natural tomorrow. Find a reason to go to town the day after, and I’ll find you. I have plans for the two of us, and I’m anxious to enjoy some time with you again.”

Talking to Helen, Richard had not heard the men coming up behind him. Suddenly he heard the click of several firearms being cocked. He looked back first and then at Helen again. “You bitch, I never should have trusted you.”

Richard was disarmed as had been the three men who had been waiting further back with the horses. All four were brought to the porch of the ranch house. Roy told them they were under arrest for kidnapping and murder. Richard had an answer for that.

“I didn’t murder anyone.” He pointed at two of his men. “They killed him. I wasn’t even there.”

Roy looked at the two men. “Either of you got an answer for that?”

Richard was shocked by their answer. “We didn’t kill him either. Richard told us to shoot him. I know he meant for us to kill him, but that guy asked us if we wanted to hang. He said his family wouldn’t stop until they hunted us down and saw us swing. So I shot him in the leg. We figured he wouldn’t be going anywhere, and Richard would hear the shot. We could honestly tell him we shot him.”

Hoss was incensed though. “Why’d you throw him down the ridge then? He’s out there wounded and we can’t find him.”

“Mister, we didn’t throw him. When I shot him, I thought he would just fall down, but he fell backwards down that slope. He was gone down quite a ways before we even got to the edge, but we could see him down there, and he was still moving so we knew he was alive.”

“Roy, do you have enough?”

“Ben, I got plenty. None of these boys is gonna see the outside of a prison for a very long time.”

“What about her?”

“Hoss, could you have one of your hands drive her into town. She’s part of this too. I hafta lock her up same as any other criminal.”

With his head down, Hoss had one request. “Could you put her on a stage for someplace like Denver at my expense?”

Roy nodded but had to ask. “I could if that’s what you want me to do.”

Nodding in response, Hoss looked at Helen and pointed at the house.

“Hoss, what could I do in Denver? I have no money. I have nothing.”

“Do what ordinary honest people do. Get a job.” Hoss turned his back on her then, and she knew that there was nothing more she could expect.

It was going to be dark before anyone could return from town so they told the hand to take a room for the night and return in the morning. Ben asked him to pick up the mail and supplies they had ordered. Everyone else returned inside. At first light, they would head out to look for Adam hoping that Joe had already found him.

*****

Chapter 6

The next morning, Ben and Hoss led several men out to help Joe search. They had ridden halfway to the place where they planned to start their search and met Joe and his group heading back. At first, they didn’t see Adam with the group, but when they got close enough, Adam could be seen riding Sport but bent low over the horse’s neck.

“Joe, how is Adam?”

“He’s hurt but not too bad. He had some infection in his wound, and he retched some, but mostly he’s just exhausted. We wanted to stay and let him rest for a bit, but he wanted to get home. I guess he thinks there’s someone there who really wants to see him.”

Adam picked his head up a little. “Hey, Pa, it’s good to see you.”

“Where were you?” But Adam had dropped his head again obviously exhausted by his ordeal, so Joe answered. “We found him with a Paiute hunting party. We told them to take ten head of cattle back to their people. They seemed happy with the trade. They said they found him yesterday. He was very cold and a little out of his head apparently. They were going to bring him to us when he felt better, but we found them first.”

“Yeah, Mr. Cartwright, we wanted to tie him to his horse, but he wouldn’t let us. We’re still afraid he might fall off.”

“I do not fall off a horse.”

“No, of course you don’t older brother, but how about if I ride to one side of ya and Joe to the other to keep you company. We’ll get you home to that pretty little wife of yours and that cute little baby ya got.”

So the whole group proceeded back to the ranch house arriving by mid-morning. Hoss helped Adam dismount and walk toward the house as Joe ran inside to tell Angela. She handed Rachel to Joe as Hoss helped Adam through the front door. Adam and Angela wrapped their arms around each other. Joe stood to one side until Hoss took him by the elbow and walked him outside pulling the door closed behind him. Ben smiled at Hoss and at Joe who looked a bit affronted.

“Your brother needs some privacy to say hello to his wife?”

Hoss nodded and thought about Helen. What he had just seen confirmed what he had been thinking. His Pa had been right. He saw how Adam and Angela looked at each other when they were reunited. The raw emotion there was so clear and strong. Hoss had never felt that way looking at Helen. Again he wondered if he would ever get to feel that way about a woman. For now, all he could do was wait. After about five minutes, he cracked the door and looked in. The great room was empty. He walked in and sat in the blue chair. Joe sat on the settee with Rachel, and Ben sat in the red leather chair. Hop Sing brought out coffee and cookies, a rare treat to have in the morning.

After about an hour, Rachel started to fuss. Joe handed her off to Hoss, but he couldn’t soothe her either. Ben said she was probably hungry and there wasn’t anything the three of them could do about that. Hoss walked her up the stairs and knocked softly on the closed bedroom door where he assumed Adam and Angela were. Angela answered the door and took Rachel from him.

“Is he sleeping?”

“Like a baby. He’s exhausted, but he’s going to be all right. Thank you so much, and thank Joe and the others for me too, will you?”

Hoss nodded and walked with a smile downstairs to tell everyone what Angela had said. When lunch was served, Angela joined them telling them that father and daughter were sound asleep upstairs. She went back up after lunch to get Rachel before she woke and her wailing woke Adam. He was downstairs for dinner. By then he had shaved and cleaned up. Dressed in clean clothing, only his limp gave away the ordeal he had endured. No one thought that this was the right day to tell him about everything that had happened. As it turned out, it would be only be several hours before he found out everything. However there were other startling developments first. The hand who had delivered Helen to town returned with the mail at dinner time. There were two letters for Angela and both contained bad news.

“Mama is very sick. Papa says not to come because it will be over before I can get there.” With that, Angela broke down and handed the letter to Adam. He wrapped an arm around her to pull her close as he read the rest of the letter.

“Clare says that Mavis had a stroke when she heard the news from Ruth. She has been unconscious and unable to eat or drink since then, and the doctor says there is no hope. I don’t know what the news from Ruth was. It must be in the other letter.” Adam opened the second letter and read it silently. Looking at Angela, he whispered to her. “Are you ready to know the rest.” Angela nodded and Adam explained. “Ruth’s husband’s family’s land claim was challenged by some white landowners. The family produced the documents that showed ownership, but they were in Spanish and the court would not accept them. Ruth’s husband and his family hired some lawyers to fight it by going to a higher court. He was shot in the back as he returned to their home that evening. He may be paralyzed. He still can’t move his legs. The family has lost the ranch, and is going to head to Mexico to be with family there. There’s a servant girl that does not wish to live in Mexico. Ruth wants to come and bring her to stay with us. She will be here soon, perhaps very soon because this letter is dated from almost two weeks ago.”

Adam walked upstairs with Angela. The rest of the family decided that her sister and the other woman would have to stay in the downstairs guest room until Adam’s house was finished. Ben told Hop Sing that they would be having another guest, Angela’s sister and another woman. He did his usual complaints about more work, but he couldn’t really put his heart into angry retorts when number one son was home safe and number two son had gotten rid of that disagreeable woman. Overall the family was content again. Then Hoss asked that difficult question.

“When should we tell Adam everything?”

Ben and Joe were as thoughtful as they were worried. Ben answered. “We’ll let Angela make that call. She can tell him when she thinks it’s time. We’ll all just have to be ready to take our lumps.”

“Hey, this time, I’m not due any. I was on Angela’s side on this one.”

“Angela’s side on what?” Adam was walking down the stairs. He had left Angela to feed the baby, and came back down to get some things. “What have I missed?”

Hoss rubbed his forehead. Joe sat back with a smug look. Ben pinched the bridge of his nose. That they were all doing an imitation of Adam seemed lost on them, but Adam recognized the signs. Hoss was embarrassed about something he had done, his Pa had regrets, and Joe had obviously told them they were wrong. Proven correct, Joe was waiting to see his father and brother eat crow.

“Well, Angela said we had to talk, but she needs to feed the baby and get her to bed first. From the looks of this, we need to talk as well, and I would surmise it is about the same subject.”

Walking purposefully to the table, Adam forgot his sore leg until it reminded him rather forcefully. He grabbed the table by the settee until the pain passed and then limped to the dining table. “All right, out with it. Short and concise would be preferable.”

“Adam, Helen needed help. She was in debt she said, and needed fifty thousand dollars to pay it off.” Adam rolled his eyes at that point. He still found it hard to believe that his brother had been taken in by Helen again, but then he knew how kind-hearted Hoss was so it did make sense at least emotionally. “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew what you’d say. That was wrong. I shoulda just told you and waited to see where the chips would fall.”

That was one confession out of the way. Adam looked pointedly at his father noticing that both Hoss and Joe looked at him too waiting to see what he would say. “Adam, the whole thing turned out to be far more dangerous than getting money to pay off a gambling debt. I should have seen that coming. I should have realized for that amount of money that we could all be in grave danger. By not telling you the truth before you left, we put you and others in danger without you knowing.”

Al three waited as Adam processed the information. It didn’t take long. “You put my wife and baby in jeopardy to help that lying cheating harridan and you didn’t think to tell me? If I can’t trust you with the safety of your only grandchild and my wife, how can I trust you with anything!”

Looking at Joe, Adam wondered if he had anything to say, and he did. “Adam, once I found out what was going on, I talked with Angela and then when I could, I went to find you and tell you. That’s when I found Sport and knew you were missing. The next morning I met up with Pa and Hoss who were riding up with some of the men. They already had the note from the kidnappers, and I think you know the rest of the story after that.”

Standing then, Adam put a hand on Joe’s shoulder before turning and walking away. His stiff legged gait let them know of the seething turmoil inside of him. Ben and Hoss realized the gravity of their error and both knew it would take some time for Adam to trust them again. He had cause now to question their love for him and that hurt them almost as much as it hurt him. Joe didn’t feel so well any more either. Although he had not hurt his brother, the rift in the family hurt him as well.

“Pa, Joe, I think we need to send some more men over to work on Adam’s house. He needs the space, and it’ll give him some time to think this through. We owe him that and a whole lot more.”

Standing then, Ben only nodded and headed to the bunkhouse to let the foreman know. It would leave them shorthanded with the spring roundup unless they could hire some more men, but it needed to be done. Hoss looked over at Joe.

“I should apologize to you too. I was afraid of what you and Adam would say so I told Pa and not you or Adam. That was stupid. Ifn I knew what you would say, I shoulda thought more about what I was doing. Instead all I could think about was helping Helen.”

“Hoss, I forgive you. I’ve been blinded by love a few times myself. I hope you are as understanding as you’ve always been when I do something impulsively or emotionally. I do know what it means to act with your heart instead of your head, but Adam doesn’t act that way, and I don’t think he finds it as easy to understand as I do.”

“Do you think he’ll forgive me?” Hoss was hurting now more than before. Helen’s second betrayal had hurt, but he couldn’t bear the thought of losing his brother’s love. “Joe, I’d do anything I could to take back the stupid mistakes I made these last few days. I’m a lot smarter than that, but no one could tell right now.”

“Hoss, Adam will forgive you. He always does. It may take a bit longer this time though. He’s real hurt, and he’s got his own family to worry about now. I think he and Pa are gonna have a harder time working this out between them.”

Thinking about that only briefly, Hoss had to agree. Their Pa had been seeking to avoid a family argument, but in so doing had ignored the fact that his actions would have a more profound impact on the family than any argument would have had.

*****

Chapter 7

The weather was warming up in the Sierra, but the atmosphere was frosty on the Ponderosa. Adam found it difficult to talk about anything with his father. Every time he saw him, his anger rose again. The only solution to avoiding an all out row was to talk only when necessary about things that had to be done. Almost every day, Adam went to his home site and skipped breakfast. Angela encouraged Adam to forgive his father. He said he thought he could do that with some time, but what he was finding impossible was to forget what was done.

“I don’t understand how you can be so forgiving. You forgave your father for turning his back on you. Now you’re willing to forgive my father for putting our lives at risk without our knowledge.” Even with that kind of statement, it was clear that Adam was angry yet.

“Perhaps it’s because when I needed forgiveness and it was so freely given. I don’t know what I would have done if you had not forgiven me for my past decisions.” Angela was nursing their daughter. She knew that two years before she could not have even imagined she would be in such a situation. She had felt hopelessly trapped in a lifestyle she considered immoral in many ways. Adam had forgiven her for her past, and given her his love. She knew he was a better person for having done that. She wanted him to do the same with his father but knew how difficult he was finding that to be.

“Do you think Ruth might be here today?”

“Yes, I think so. The last message we received was from Sacramento. If the stages stayed on schedule, they should be here today. I’ll hitch up the carriage, and we can stop at our new home before we go into town. I think we could possibly be moving within the week. I’m taking some of our things there on each trip I make.”

Wrapping up Rachel and making sure they had enough with them to care for her, Adam and Angela headed to town. As usual the stage was late, but that meant there were even more opportunities for people to come up and congratulate the parents and take a peek at their daughter. Roy waited with them and held the baby cooing to her and acting a lot like a grandfather. Angela noted how relaxed Adam was away from the Ponderosa, and knew then that their move to the new house would be the best thing just as Hoss had mentioned to her. Adam needed that separation from his father at this point. She reminded him that they had a list of supplies that he was supposed to drop off at the mercantile. As he walked back, the stage arrived.

Alighting first was Angela’s sister Ruth who rushed into her sister’s embrace. Retrieving Rachel from Roy, Angela had to show off her daughter. Then Ruth turned around and introduced them to the quiet blond woman who had come with her.

“This is Helen Davis. She’s had some unhappy experiences with the Mexicans and has no wish to live there. I’m hoping that you and Adam can help her here because she has been a wonderful help to me. I wish we could stay together, but we can’t.”

After introductions were made, Helen asked to hold the baby. She smiled then and whispered to the baby who cooed back at her.

“She just started doing that. Usually she does it to Adam as he sings or talks with her. I think she likes you, Helen.” Both Adam and Angela had the same thought at that point. It would be lonely at their new house especially for Angela during the day. Having Helen there to help would be a blessing in many ways. They hoped that as they got to know her better that they would like her as much as first impressions indicated they might.

Adam got their bags from the stage then and packed them into the back of the carriage. He helped the ladies into the carriage. Ruth and Angela sat in the back talking. Helen asked if she could hold Rachel as she sat on the front seat with Adam. Adam took them by the new house before taking them to the Ponderosa ranch house. When they were at the new house, Helen asked how far it was to the Ponderosa.

“We’ve been on the Ponderosa for about a half hour already. From here, it’s pretty much as far as you can see in all directions.”

“It’s so beautiful and so big. You are so lucky to live in such a wonderful place.”

A short time later, they arrived in the yard of the main house. Ben, Joe, and Hoss came outside to greet them. Joe and Hoss were mesmerized by Helen with her blond hair and blue eyes. Both were going to rush to help her with her bag, but Ben snagged Joe’s arm allowing Hoss to do the honors. Joe looked at his father wondering what was going on, but Ben just shook his head slightly. After everyone had gone in the house, Ben helped Joe with the carriage.

“Pa, what was that about? You don’t usually interfere like that.”

“I’m sorry, but I just thought your brother needed something like that to take his mind off recent events.”

Joe gave him one of those pout looks he had, but also nodded. “You’re probably right. I’ll let him have the first chance. But Pa, she’s beautiful.”

“That she is, but all the more reason to let Hoss spend some time with her. He’ll … I just realized they have the same name. I wonder how that will affect things.”

“Pa, with those blue eyes looking into his, he won’t have any problem forgetting the other one even if they do have the same first name.”

Dinner was more pleasant than it had been. With Ruth telling stories, and Hoss doing his best to tell stories to impress Helen, there wasn’t a dull moment. The two ladies were tired after all the traveling though and retired early. Adam and Angela did as well. Adam put a hand on Hoss’ shoulder as he passed Hoss who sat on a chair near the fireplace. Hoss looked up and Adam grinned at him. Hoss felt better than he had in days too for he knew then that his brother had forgiven him and wished him well.

Ben was at his desk and got a good night but not with the warmth that the others received. He sighed as he knew it would still take some time for Adam to forgive him. He wished that Adam had yelled at him and gotten some of that anger out. It would have been easier to take than this slow simmer.

The next morning, Hoss volunteered to take Helen to see some new kittens in the stable. Joe looked at his father who smiled. Nodding, Joe headed out to get the day’s work started. The spring roundup was almost completed, and they were starting to separate out the cows that they would drive to market. There were a lot of places that were hungry for beef after the long winter, and the prices would be very good. Adam said he was going to be moving a number of their things over to the new house.

“You’re moving in then?” Ben had wondered how soon he would move.

“In a few days. I still have some finishing to do, but I can do that when we’re living there. The kitchen and three of the bedrooms are finished so there’s enough done for us to live there. The men are caulking windows today, and finishing up the sanding of the floors. Later today, there will be deliveries from town of our furniture and supplies.”

“Are you planning to skip the spring drive this year?”

Adam looked at his father with that look that challenged him to say anything negative. “I don’t want to leave my family alone at this time.”

Ben offered the olive branch. “That’s what we thought. Joe and Hoss said they could handle it if you weren’t going. You need to get your family settled in.”

Adam agreed and then went out to hitch up the buckboard. Hoss and Helen were still in the stable when he got there to get the harness. Hoss volunteered to help once he knew what Adam was planning to do.

“Don’t you have to help Joe?”

“Adam, how many times has that little brother of ours gotten us to do his work for him? This one time, it should be all right with him if I take some time to help you and let him shoulder the workload alone. It’ll be a good lesson for him.”

Having to agree with Hoss’ statement, Adam smiled. He asked Helen if she would like to come with them and she readily agreed. As she went in the house to pack a lunch for them and see if Angela and Ruth were coming along, Hoss smiled at Adam.

“Thanks, older brother. This is turning out to be a wonderful day.”

“Just try not to fall too hard too fast. We don’t know that much about Helen yet.”

“I’ll take my time. Do you think tomorrow is too soon to ask her to marry me?”

Whirling around, Adam saw that Hoss was kidding him. “Gotcha!” The two brothers laughed and hitched up the team. Ruth and Angela stayed at the main house. Adam and Hoss with Helen headed to the new house. Adam was glad of the help when the deliveries arrived and there was a lot of lifting and carrying to be done. The men who had been working on the house finished their last tasks, and Adam paid the crew and handed a bonus to each of them and to the Ponderosa hands who had been helping out. Two of the men in the work crew, a father and son, told Adam they wouldn’t mind working on any projects he had and would he keep them in mind. Adam had been hoping to hire one or two men to help around the place and for at least one to be there at all times as protection. He asked the man if he and his son would be willing to do that, and he agreed.

“You two were the best workers in this crew. But I only have the tack room as a place for men to stay right now. If you would be willing to bunk in there for the summer and help me build on a room or two to the stable, I can hire you right now.”

“Mr. Cartwright, you won’t regret this at all. We surely do know how to work and we’ll do anything that needs to be done. We’ll be back tomorrow with our stuff. Is that all right?”

“That would be fine. I still have some finishing work to do here, and you two can help me with that. Then there’s going to be a list of things including a couple of corrals and a storage building that I need to build.”

By the end of the day, Adam was feeling good about the house being ready to move in. All they needed to move now were their personal possessions and that wouldn’t take long. He needed to find out when Ruth was leaving, and then see if Angela wanted to hire Helen to work for them as well.

“Older brother, you sure do get things done in a hurry. Last week, I thought it would be two weeks before you would be able to move in here. Now you can do it tomorrow if you like, and you already hired some men. Are you going to hire Helen?”

Not missing the hopeful expression Hoss had, Adam had to tell him that would be Angela’s decision. Later that evening, Hoss was happy to find that is exactly what Angela wanted to do. She had heard Helen’s story that day from Ruth and empathized with her predicament. In addition, Helen was good with Rachel, and Adam had seen what a hard worker she was.

Ben heard of Adam’s plans and made an offer. “Those two men you hired can be on the Ponderosa payroll.”

“No, I’ll pay them and their loyalty will be to me.”

And Ben knew that Adam wouldn’t forget what had happened. He was making provisions to protect his family his way. He had stepped away from his father’s protection and would handle more on his own. All Ben could do at this point was agree with him, so he did.

By the time Hoss and Joe left on the cattle drive a few days later, Ruth was headed back to care for her husband, Adam had moved his family into his new home, and Helen was the new helper for Angela. Hoss thought it was the longest cattle drive he had ever been on, but it was only four weeks, and they were back home.

*****

Chapter 8

“When do you think they’ll be back from the cattle drive?”

“Probably any day now. You missing anyone in particular?”

Blushing, Helen could only keep working. She and Angela had picked some beans for dinner and were sitting in the kitchen, chatting and working. Helen had found Adam, with his dark hair and dark complexion, intimidating at first. He reminded her too much of her previous life. However he always treated her with respect, and had done nothing to worry her. Each day Helen was feeling a bit more comfortable around him. She and Angela however had found they had a lot in common. As soon as everyone was back from the drive, Angela promised that they would get a horse for her to ride. They didn’t know what was available until then because Joe was in charge of the horses and had contracted to sell some.

Adam was painting the study that day. When he finished, the house would be complete except for some curtains and other decorations. Adam would have been done sooner, but with his brothers gone, he had more responsibilities on the ranch. It was Saturday though so he had more time to work on his house. The two men he had hired were building a second corral, and would soon finish the storage building as well. The small setting was looking close to finished, and Adam was already making plans for some additions. He wanted to add a bedroom off the kitchen but Angela had told him to hold off on that. He thought he knew why though. As attractive as Helen was, it wasn’t likely she would be working for them long although they both suspected she might be close by.

About dinnertime, there was a knock on the door. Expecting that it might be his father, Adam swung the door open to find Hoss there instead. He was clean-shaven and in his best pants and shirt.

“Let me guess. You smelled the pork roast and biscuits, and you just had to head over here for another dinner. Or would it be the blond filly staying with us?” Adam said it with the biggest grin he could muster because Hoss looked like a schoolboy caught committing some act of disobedience.

“Now, Adam, I just come to visit my older brother and see his beautiful wife and baby. I done missed you all a lot while I was gone for what seemed like a year.”

“Big brother, you got it bad. Come on in. I’ll see if the ladies will set another plate for you.”

“You do have a lot of females around here!”

“After living for so long with four men, it has been a mind boggling experience to be in a household with only females. I’m not complaining; I’m just describing. There was apparently so much I never knew about women and girls.”

Helen handed Rachel to Hoss as she went to the kitchen to get another plate and flatware. Hoss was enchanted as Rachel cooed to him. He grinned and cooed back at her. She grabbed his finger when he tried to tickle her chin and tried to put it in her mouth.

“Everything goes in her mouth lately. Seems to me that it’s kind of early but it seems she’s teething. The only way to keep her from fussing is to hold her so we pass her around the table at mealtimes. Everyone gets a turn.”

Coming out from the kitchen, Helen thought that Hoss looked so sweet when he was holding the baby. She noticed that Adam too seemed so gentle when he held the baby. She thought that must be what it took to see the gentlest side of these hard-working men. She set a plate before Hoss and Adam piled some food on it. Helen thought it looked like too much for one man to eat, but as soon as Adam took Rachel, Hoss began eating and soon his plate was empty. Hoss looked up when he finished to find all three adults staring.

“I hate to say it, and nobody tell Hop Sing, but somebody here cooks just as good as him and I didn’t think that was possible.”

“I made the biscuits, Helen prepared the roast, and we worked together on the beans. So what did you like the most?”

“Little Sis, it was all delicious. I’m guessin then that both of you cook as good as Hop Sing. We sure are lucky here on the Ponderosa to have all three of you.”

Angela handed Rachel to Adam as she and Helen began clearing the table. Hoss volunteered to help but was told just to relax and visit with his brother until they brought out dessert. So Hoss filled Adam in on the results of the cattle drive, and Adam updated Hoss on everything happening on the ranch. By the time the dessert was served, Rachel was fussing so much Angela took her to go nurse. The other three ate their dessert, and then Adam excused himself to get some work done in his study leaving Hoss and Helen at the table.

“Hoss, I really ought to clean up and wash the dishes. I’m sorry I can’t sit here and visit with you.”

“Well, Helen, I ain’t much good in the kitchen but I can follow orders. Ifn you was to tell me what to do, I could help you.”

Soon Helen and Hoss had the table cleared except for a dessert plate for Angela, and they were talking and joking in the kitchen. When Angela came downstairs she could hear them. She retrieved her dessert and went into the study with Adam.

“Sounds like they’re getting along pretty well in there. It was nice of you to let the two of them alone. They’re both very nice. They could really be good for each other.”

“Yes, I would tell Hoss to not rush into things, but it worked out so well for me, I can’t tell him that. I hope she feels the way he does because I think he’s falling in love with her.”

“Oh, it’s too late for that for both of them. She’s been asking when the drive would be done. I think they both feel about the same. I hope Hoss will be as understanding with her as you were with me. Does he know?”

“Not unless she told him. I haven’t said a word. That’s the kind of thing a woman should tell a man herself. I think if she does, Hoss will be all right with it. He’s got a big heart. He’ll understand.”

Standing next to Adam, Angela offered him some of her dessert.

“That’s not the dessert I want.” He pulled his wife into his embrace and kissed her so passionately, she forgot all about her dessert.

“We have a guest. We can’t just go upstairs to bed now.”

The sun was still shining over the tops of the trees. Adam walked to the kitchen and no one was there. He walked outside and found Hoss and Helen gushing over two kittens.

“They’re old enough to be weaned now, Adam, and seeing as how you got a stable and feed here now, you’ll be needing some cats to keep the mice and such away.”

Picking up one of the kittens, Adam felt the little one purr. Angela walked outside to see what they were doing and fell in love with the kittens too.

“Oh, we should name them. Helen, what should we call them?”

Adam looked over the ladies’ heads at Hoss. “See, what I mean when you get the females together?”

Angela did a mock frown. “Shush, we have important decisions to make here. Hoss, are they male or female?”

“The mostly black one is a male, and the black and white one is a female.”

“How about Mavis and Davis?”

Startled for just a moment, Angela smiled. “Yes, I would like that. I would like that very much. Your name is Mavis.” Pointing at the one Adam held, “And you are Davis.”

“Angela, could I get something for them to eat?”

“Yes, that would be wonderful. And then if you and Hoss could find a nice place in the stable for them to sleep? It’s been a long day and I’m tired. We’re going to bed. Please lock up after Hoss leaves. Good night Hoss.”

Angela headed back inside and Adam followed after turning and giving a big grin at the front door before closing it.

“Do you suppose that grin was because he’s heading to bed with his wife or is he smiling because he’s happy for us to have some time to spend together?” Hoss looked over at Helen and she seemed a bit embarrassed by his question. “I’m sorry. That didn’t offend you, did it?”

“No, I was just a little surprised by it. I didn’t know it was so obvious how I felt about you.”

“And how do you feel about me?”

“Hoss, I like you very much.”
“Helen, I like you a lot too.”

“But, Hoss, you don’t know anything about me. I have to tell you some things and then see how you feel about me.”

“You don’t have to tell me nothing. I can tell what kind of person you are. Besides, even if I wasn’t sure, I know you couldn’t fool Adam and Angela. They would never have hired you and let you take care of their baby lessen you was a wonderful person.”

“Hoss, I’m very glad you feel that way, but I still need to tell you about my past for me even if you don’t think you need to know. I want to be completely honest with you. Has your brother or Angela said anything about why I didn’t want to go to Mexico?”

“Only from Ruth’s letter. She wrote to them that you had some bad dealings with some Mexicans and didn’t want to live there because of it.”

“Hoss, it was awful. When my parents died of the pox, I was left alone. To survive, I took the only job available which was as a house servant for a rancho. Hoss, besides working from dawn to dusk, the head of the family thought I was there do be at his beck and call for anything, and I mean anything. I refused him and got hit for it. That happened several times, and he had me taken to another rancho where I was forced to work again. Only at the second rancho, I wasn’t just hit for refusing, I was forced to do things that good girls don’t do. From there, I was taken to another rancho until I finally ended up on Ruth’s husband’s rancho. He was an honorable man as were the other members of his family. But Hoss, I’ve been ruined. No man wants a woman who is used, and I most certainly was. Now if you still want to be my friend, I would like that, but I know you don’t want me in any other way, no good man would.”

“Do Adam and Angela know your story?” Helen nodded, and Hoss continued. “None of that is your fault. You were treated dishonorably but that don’t mean you lost your honor only that some men don’t have any. Now I do want to be your friend, but I also would like to be more ifn you’ll have me. You’re the purtiest gal I ever did see, and we like a lot of the same things. I could see how much you love animals just by the way you held them kittens the first time I ever was with you. I know you love the beauty of this land as much as I do. I know I’m big and not good looking like my brothers, but I’ll work hard all my life and treat you like a lady no matter what.”

“Hoss, I think you are handsome. You’re the most impressive man I’ve ever seen. You also have the most beautiful blue eyes anyone could have. I do like you very much, and thank you for treating me so well.”

“May I kiss you?”

“I would like that very much.”

Tentatively, not wanting to scare Helen by expecting too much, Hoss brushed his lips across hers before kissing her gently.

“Now, I think we gotta get these kittens settled in for the night. You get something for them to eat, and I’ll get a nice place for them to sleep in the stable.’

After feeding the kittens and settling them in a straw nest together, Hoss locked up the stable and walked Helen to the house. He kissed her good night and waited for her to lock the front door. Then he mounted up and rode home whistling. From inside, a smiling Helen watched him ride away. Hoss had told her he would be there the next morning with a carriage to escort her to church services. She would have trouble sleeping thinking about all that had happened.

*****

Chapter 9

Except for Rachel, everyone in Adam’s house looked happy at breakfast. Helen told them that Hoss was picking her up for church services. Adam was relieved because he knew he might have to take his family home early if Rachel got too fussy in church. Hoss looked even more dressed up than he had the night before.

“Buy yourself a new shirt since yesterday?”

“Aw, Adam, you know this is the shirt you and Angela gave me for my birthday. It’s not too colorful, is it?”

“Oh, Hoss, ignore your brother. You look wonderful and that blue shirt brings out the blue in your eyes even more. Helen will love it.” Angela’s voice wafted out from inside the house.

Smiling broadly if a bit embarrassed by the praise, Hoss stepped inside the house and waited for Helen. When she got to the top of the stairs, Hoss was looking up in wonder. She had on a beautiful green gingham dress. With her blonde hair, she looked gorgeous. Hoss wondered how anyone in church would be able to concentrate with someone so beautiful sitting among them. Adam leaned over to whisper in Angela’s ear.

“I hope I didn’t look like that when you appeared as a gorgeous vision.”

Angela whispered back. “Oh, no. You were much worse.”

Acting as if affronted, Adam picked up Rachel and headed outside. After a few steps, he turned back to take Angela by the elbow. “Time to go. Let’s give them a little privacy.” By the time they arrived at church, Adam still had a little teasing to do. “You’re such a romantic. You’re still smiling an hour later.”

“Oh, Adam, admit it. You’re happy for him too.”

“Yes, I am. And even if it doesn’t work out for them, I know she won’t break his heart nor will he break hers.”

“Why wouldn’t it work out?”

“I’m not saying it won’t, just that the two of them are such wonderful people, they’ll treat each other with respect. Hoss deserves that. I still do find it a bit humorous that the last two share a name and in every other way, are opposites. This Helen is so sweet and vulnerable while at the same time capable and resilient. Reminds me of someone else I know.”

Smiling, Angela handed Rachel to him and climbed from the carriage and the family walked to the church where Ben and Joe were standing chatting with other members of the community. As they reached them, Hoss drove in with Helen. There were some surprised looks from many people there and of course the catty gossip started almost immediately about how she was using her looks to snag one of the wealthy Cartwrights. Joe looked on a little enviously. Helen was so obviously smitten with Hoss, and Adam and Angela were standing right beside him happy as could be. He wondered when he would find someone to love like that.

The service was conducted as usual, and as expected Adam had to leave with Angela because Rachel started crying so much and could not be soothed. After services, Ben invited Helen to have dinner with them. She looked shyly at Hoss who accepted for them. Then he told her he was ready to give her a little tour of the Ponderosa if she was ready, and then they could go to the main house to see the horse Joe had picked out for her. It was looking as if the day couldn’t be better until Bessie Sue walked up to them.

“Hoss Cartwright, I thought we had an understanding, and I hear you been with two other women in the last couple of months!”

“Bessie Sue, we did not have no understanding. It was always you saying we did but that don’t make it true. Now dancing with ya and such is not the same thing. This here gal is the one I’m courting and not you. Ifn you wouldn’t mind, we got plans.” Hoss took Helen by the arm and walked to the carriage. Helen had many thoughts racing through her mind such as Hoss better explain who this woman was who said he was hers and Hoss said he was courting her. She couldn’t think of a thing to say so she remained quiet.

Standing near the couple when Bessie Sue approached, Ben and Joe heard everything that was said. Joe was grinning as much as he could. Ben was shocked and resolved to talk to his middle son as soon as he could. Hoss was courting Helen and this was the first they had heard that. Joe turned to his father to see how happy he was and was dismayed to see that look on his father’s face. He resolved to talk to his father as soon as he could for he didn’t want him to interfere. Joe did think it was funny that his father had thrown the two together and now was surprised at how it was developing. He would be sure to tell him that too.

At the lake, Hoss stopped the carriage near the top of the incline, and helped Helen down. They walked down the gravelly slope hand in hand. At the bottom, the waves were gently lapping at the shore. Hoss pointed to a high stack of boulders and told her how he and Adam used to dive off those into the lake.

“Oh, you have swimsuits?”

“Ah, no, out here, men, ah, well men and boys really, well we swim, ahh, …”

“I understand. Can we walk in the water?”

Nodding yes, Hoss watched as Helen sat and removed her shoes. Then holding her skirts and petticoats up high, she waded into the water. Hoss just stared at her bare feet and lower legs.

Helen smiled to see him like that. He was such an innocent in some ways. He wasn’t at all like the jaded men who had abused her so. “C’mon in. The water is actually very warm right here.”

Sitting quickly, Hoss pulled off his boots, stripped off his socks, rolled up his pant legs, and walked to join Helen. The water did feel good, and standing here in the lake with her made him feel young again. “I feel like a schoolboy with my first girl. I love you, Helen. You don’t have to say nuthin, but I just wanted you to know how I feel.”

“Oh, Hoss, it has happened so fast. But I have to tell you, I think I love you too.”

“It is fast, but when I’m not with you, I feel like I’m not whole. I feel like a part of me is missing. Then when I see you, my heart feels so good, and all I see is you. I want to feel like this all the time. I kidded Adam a few times for looking like he was moonstruck when he looked at his wife, but now I know exactly how he feels. Just looking at ya makes me happy.”

Helen pulled him down for a kiss. “Then how does that make you feel?”

“I don’t think I can tell ya till we’re married.”

“What?”

“Well, I know it’s sudden, but when should I ask you? You must know I will ask you.”

“I’m not ready yet.”

“When will you be ready?”

“When you feel you’re ready to ask me, then I’ll be ready to answer.”

Hoss smiled and took Helen’s hand to lead her from the water. They put on their footwear, and Hoss walked her up the slope. “There’re a few more spots I’d like to show ya. There’s a meadow on my part of the Ponderosa. I want to build a house there someday. There are deer in that meadow every spring with little ones. It would be a great place to have a dog and watch him run and play.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Hoss showed Helen around the Ponderosa. They had lunch at the meadow, and saw a number of wonderful vistas. Then they went to the main house. When Joe heard them come into the yard, he headed outside. He had picked out a beautiful but gentle horse he thought would be perfect for Helen to use. The horse was an offspring of Buck but had a dark mane to go with the palomino color of her coat. It was a striking combination.

“Oh, she’s beautiful. And I get to ride her?”

“As long as you’re on the Ponderosa, this will be your horse to use.”

“Can I name her?”

Joe smiled and nodded which got a big grin from Helen. I want to name her Troy.”

“You sure, darlin? That sounds more like the name for a stallion than a mare.”

“I read a story once about Helen of Troy. Now I have my Troy.”

“Now you need to spend a little time with her. She can be a little skittish around strangers so I don’t want you to try riding her today. I’ll put a saddle in the carriage and Hoss can put that in Adam’s stable for you. But for now, walk her around with a lead. Feed her an apple now and then. Let her smell you. After a few days, you can ask Adam if it’s all right to ride her. He’ll know if she’s ready for you to do that.”

“Thank you so much, Joe, for picking out such a beautiful horse for me.” Helen kissed Joe on the cheek and then took the lead rope to walk Troy around the corral. She was still walking her when Hop Sing announced it was time for dinner. After dinner, Helen walked Troy to the carriage and tied the lead rope to the back. After patting Troy on the neck, Helen climbed into the carriage with Hoss’ help smiling all the way. She had felt like a princess all day.

When Hoss got Helen to Adam’s house, they heard all sorts of laughing and squealing coming from the house. Quickly, Helen led Troy to the stable as Hoss carried in the saddle and laid it on a bale of hay. Until Adam’s hired men finished building a room onto the stable, they were using the tack room. Then closing up the stable, Hoss took Helen’s hand and they walked to the house. Inside in the washroom, they could hear laughter and giggles from Rachel. Helen told Hoss he had to see this. When they walked through the kitchen to the washroom, they found Adam with his shirt off holding Rachel in the tub that only had a few inches of soapy water in it. Rachel was kicking her legs and flailing her arms splashing water all over the place and in hysterical giggles because she could do it. Angela sat on the bench next to the tub laughing as she watched. When Hoss and Helen came in, Angela explained to Hoss.

“Rachel hates being bathed. But if Adam holds her in soapy water, she splashes and has great fun and gets clean too without any tears. Baby bath time is very entertaining around here.”

“This is fun, but I need to head home I think. We saw some lightning on the way here, and I would like to try to get home before the storm hits too hard.”

“Hoss, it’s already too late to head home with a storm approaching. Put the horse in the stable and stay here with us. You can go home in the morning.”

The rain hit heavy and hard within minutes. Hoss was glad Adam had told him to stay, and he got to spend more time with Helen too. The next morning, it was still raining. Both Adam and Hoss got concerned about the bridge on the road to town. They had trouble saving that bridge a number of times. As soon as the rain let up, Hoss and Adam rode there and found the bridge was in no immediate jeopardy because all of the flood waters were still below the bridge although the clearance was minimal and water was flooding over the banks on both sides.

The brothers rode upstream just a bit to see how bad it looked and saw a calf caught in the rising floodwaters. It brought back a memory for Adam of falling in a rain-swollen river trying to save a calf and being rescued himself by a stranger who turned out to be a lot of trouble. So when Hoss wanted to wade in and save the calf, Adam said they could rope it and pull it out. Adam settled a rope around its neck in just a short time, but the calf was mired in mud too and he couldn’t pull it free. Hoss dismounted to go help the calf, and Adam groaned and followed him tying the rope off securely to the saddle horn. Adam untied the rope from the calf’s neck and wrapped one arm around him so he wouldn’t be strangled when Sport pulled. Hoss got behind the calf and with Adam at the head, they began to work it loose. The roar of the floodwaters and the yelling they were doing back and forth disguised the sound of a tree crashing downstream with the water. The top branch of the tree snagged Hoss’ leg and toppled him backward into the brackish water. Adam lunged for Hoss and snagged a hold on his jacket collar even as he held onto the rope tied to his saddle. The jolt was too much for Sport who sidestepped a little letting both Adam and Hoss fall into deeper water.

Hanging onto his brother and holding the rope with his other hand, Adam felt like he was being crucified except he couldn’t let go of either because Hoss’ life depended on him hanging on. Gradually Hoss managed to turn himself in the water and get his feet down. He grabbed Adam’s arm with one hand and then the other. Hoss saw Adam grimacing in pain so he yelled to Sport to go. Then he did his best imitation of an Adam whistle and Sport pulled. When he did that, Adam’s head was pulled under water. Hoss knew he had to get hold of the rope of they both might be lost. He grabbed for Adam’s jacket lapel and pulled himself closer and then grabbed the rope.

Hoss heard Adam groan when he let go of his left arm that then dangled uselessly. Hand over hand Hoss pulled himself into shallower water and when Sport pulled Adam in closer, Hoss took the rope from his hand and helped him stumble to safe soil. Adam was coughing, his right hand was bleeding, and his left arm hung at his side. His head hung down as he coughed.

“Thank you, Adam. You saved my life. Now we gotta get you home. You need some tender loving care, and I know two ladies who can give it to ya.”

Carefully, Hoss wrapped his bandana around Adam’s right palm and then helped Adam stand and get on Sport. When Adam had control of Sport, Hoss mounted up on his horse, and the two of them rode slowly to Adam’s house. Once they got there, Hoss helped Adam dismount and walk to the house. Angela met them at the door with Rachel in her arms. She was shocked when she saw her husband.

“What happened?”

“I fell in the river and Adam saved me.”

“If he saved you, why is he the one in such bad shape?”

“Angela, just be happy we’re both alive, please. It doesn’t matter if I got hurt. Hoss is still here, and that’s all that matters. Now, I think I could use a long hot bath if you don’t mind getting one ready.”

Hoss helped Adam to the washroom as Angela and Helen got busy heating water. After the dirty clothes were stripped from Adam, Hoss helped him into the tub. Soon Angela and Helen were there with pails of warm water that Hoss poured over him. Once they had enough water in the tub, Hoss left to take care of the horses. When he returned to the house, Helen told him to strip off his dirty clothing so she could wash them out. Hoss looked embarrassed, but she said he could do it right there in the kitchen. She already had a blanket ready for him to wrap in. She left briefly, and Hoss did as she asked. Within an hour, both men were sitting before the fireplace. Each was wrapped in a blanket and had a cup of coffee to drink. Adam found it awkward though because Angela had bandaged the rope burns on his right hand and put his left arm in a sling. He had a sprained shoulder and would need to rest it for a time.

*****

Chapter 10

“Hey, Adam, did you ever see what happened to that calf?”

“When you hollered and then I hollered, we scared it so bad it jumped a couple of times and saved itself.”

“Well, don’t that beat all.”

Once Hoss’ clothing was dry, Helen folded them and put them in the washroom before informing Hoss that he could get dressed. Once Hoss was dressed, he asked Helen to walk with him to the stable as he hitched up the carriage for the ride home.

Adam said he wanted to get dressed too, and Angela said she wasn’t putting any clothing where he could get to it. She wanted him to rest for the remainder of the day, and in his condition, there was nothing he could do about it. What bothered him most was not being able to pick up his daughter. After nursing Rachel and making sure she was clean and dry, Angela settled her into Adam’s right arm so he could hold her for a bit. He sang to her and made smiley faces and soon had her cooing and smiling at him which made him feel much better.

In the stable, Hoss was talking with Helen. He knew it was probably too soon, but he just had to say it.

“Helen, when I was in that water, the one thing I thought about was you. I was sorry I hadn’t already asked you to marry me. I thought we had already lost time together. I don’t want to lose any more. So I’m ready to ask, and I’ll wait as long as I need to for your answer. Will you marry me?”

“Yes, Hoss, yes I will. When you got back, and I heard what happened, I felt the same way that you did. Life is so unpredictable, we have to grab happiness when it drops into our lap. I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

The wedding was two weeks later. Angela stood with Helen, and Adam and Joe stood with Hoss. Ben couldn’t have been prouder to be the father of the groom and got to walk the bride down the aisle too. Two weddings in two years was so gratifying because he had just about given up hope that his two older bachelor sons would ever marry, and the suddenness of their romances and subsequent marriages had certainly taken him by surprise.

After the guests left and Hoss and Helen were standing on the porch after waving goodbye to the last ones to leave, Ben came up behind them with the rest of the family.

“I know Adam spent his wedding night here, but we all wanted to do something special for you and Helen. Joe and I cleaned up his cottage and aired it out. Angela did some decorating, and Hop Sing has it all stocked with food for the next few days. The corral has feed for the horses, and your carriage is hitched up and ready for you. Helen already has her valise here, so Hoss if you’ll pack up a valise, the two of you can head out for your honeymoon.”

After quickly packing some clothing, Hoss was back. “Thank you, Pa, and thank you to the rest of you too. This is the best day of my life, and it ain’t over yet.” Helen smiled shyly at that but everyone else laughed. Hoss wrapped his arm around Helen and both were teary eyed. Hoss shook his father’s hand and then Joe’s. He kissed Angela on the cheek, and placed his hand gently on Adam’s injured shoulder before walking with Helen to the carriage. Climbing up, Hoss smiled, waved once, and turned to snap the reins and head out with his bride.

Standing proudly, Ben watched until he could no longer see them. Then he bid goodbye to Adam and Angela as they climbed into their carriage. Joe handed a peacefully sleeping Rachel to Angela, and they headed home. Ben stood then with his arm around Joe’s shoulders.

“Joseph, you do know what I’m expecting from you by next summer?”

Joe laughed and the two walked into the house.

In the carriage, Helen waited until Hoss was about a mile from the house before asking Hoss to stop. He was a little worried until she took his face between her soft palms and kissed him more passionately than she ever had.

“I’ve been waiting all day to do that. There always seemed to be people around, and I couldn’t.”

“Darlin, you can always do that. I don’t care who’s around. We’re married now.”

***The End***

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