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Calico Mary

Dreams of the Golden Aspen Ranch

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Danny seemed an alright sort, I was sure that Laura and Sally would notice him for sure. Which worried me a bit, the young bucks were bad enough to fight over them and as young and inexperienced as they were in fighting no one had gotten hurt so far. This Danny? If they were to get into it with him I could see someone getting hurt real bad. I was going to have to have a talk with him, in nothing else, just to give him the "lay of the land" here on the ranch. I think I was doing it for myself as well as the boys, well young men, I had grown very protective over them and if they got hurt I knew that it would hit home much to hard. I was afraid that I had grown a tad to callous when it came to killing a man and wasn't so sure if someone hurt them that I wouldn't return the favor in spades.

 

The next morning I woke up pretty sore, well, real sore truth be told. I wasn't none to happy with Doc either, we had behaved the night before and I was still hurting. What good was that? I thought to myself. Stands Alone was on the back porch as we came down for breakfast and Hop Sing told me that Stands Alone wanted to talk with me alone. Calico insisted on going out with me and we joined him on the porch. He looked a tad perplexed as Calico followed me out, that caught me a bit off guard. "You must watch your nest" was all Stands Alone said before he turned and left.

 

"Watch my nest? What in God's green earth did he mean by that?" I asked Calico. She had a strange look on her face and for once she didn't have an answer. She just shook her head side to side like she was trying to think of something to say. I could see I wasn't going to get any help from her in figuring out the sage's advice and took her hand as we went in for breakfast. "Watch your nest". what in the world was he trying to tell me. I always had my eye on everything here on the ranch, I knew that this was going to bother me until I could figure out what in the world he was trying to tell me.

 

After breakfast I excused myself and went into the den to talk with Karl about the ranch. We'd been in there for a couple hours or so when there was a knock at the door. It was Little Flower and Eddie, Ike had ridden out and had told them about the horse thieves and the gun battle that had ensued after they were discovered and that I had been shot, again. As Little Flower entered the room I noticed that Laura, Sally, and most of the other women of the ranch were behind her. My first thought was, What have I done now? I looked around searching for a door that I knew didn't exist in case I needed a quick exit.

 

"Daddy, you've got to be more careful" Little Flower blurted out as she neared me. Then as she gently hugged me, "We've all decided that you need to take care of yourself better, we don't know what we'd do without you!" she exclaimed. Then every single one of the girls and women on the ranch came and gave me a hug and kiss on my cheek, all except one! Well maybe Calico figured she had already told and shown me that, but.

 

Sally had notice the perplexed look on my face as I looked around the room looking for Calico. For the short time that Sally had been with us she knew something wasn't right and asked me what was wrong. I told her that I was wondering where Calico was. Skipper and School marm chirped in at the same time, "She's out at the corral, watching Danny work the mustangs." I didn't think much about it and went on socializing with the ladies. By and by they all needed to get back to their chores and before long it was just me and Karl again sitting there alone in the den. We finished what we needed to talk about and Karl headed out to check on the men.

 

I took a deep breath, not a good idea, as my ribs reminded me of the injury to them and my shoulder complained as well. I slowly eased back into the chair and closed my eyes. "Watch your nest", what in the world? I just couldn't get that out of my head. Finally I began thinking about the mustangs and The Golden Aspen. Something just had me unsettled, but WHAT?

 

I was relieved when Lu Sing finally came in and told me that lunch was ready and that Calico was on her way in as well. A smile crossed my mouth as I thought of her walking towards the house. As she entered the door I asked her how the training for the mustangs was coming. She got real red in the face suddenly and she seemed real interested in my feet for some reason, staring at them. She tried to say something as I reached out and took her hand pulling her to me and kissing her. We went into the dining room and as we sat I told her about the Little Flower, Sally, Laura, and the rest of the ladies stopping in to see me and telling me to take better care of myself. Then I asked her again, "how are the mustangs doing?"

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The next morning as soon as breakfast was over I got ready to go out to the barns. For some reason what Stands Alone had told Cheyenne kind of bothered me, I had a funny feeling it had something to do with me, but I couldn't make any sense out of it. As I was leaving, Cheyenne asked where I was going, and I explained, “Doc gave me some salve for my pony, that nick in her rump isn't too bad, but he said to put this on a few more times to help the wound heal. I gotta make sure she's ok...” He nodded, then disappeared into the den with Karl.

As I was walking out to the barns, I noticed the new man, Danny, in one of the corrals with Lone Wolf. They had separated out one of the mares, and were having her trot in a circle around the corral. Trying to tire her out a little before attempting to saddle her I guessed, not a bad idea. After tending to my pony and giving her a little attention to make her feel better, I went out to watch them. Danny saw me coming and tipped his hat, “Morning, Mrs. Culpepper. Is there something I can do for you?”


“Good morning, Mr. Mason...Lone Wolf....I just thought I'd come over and see how things were going. Did you get settled in the bunkhouse all right?” I asked him, trying to remind myself not to stare too much.

“Danny please, Mrs. Culpepper. Got settled in just fine ma'am, slept like a baby all night. I sure am grateful for the hospitality. Mr. MacKane takes real good care of us, but I can already tell this place will be just as fine a place ta work for the winter.”

I laughed a little, and Danny looked confused. “My name is Calico, Mrs. Culpepper was my late mother-in-law. And ma'am makes me feel so old....besides, I hope you slept better than a baby last night, mine are always waking each other up all night long...”

Danny shook his head, “No ma'am, you're the boss's wife, can't be disrespectful my first day here. In fact, I better get back to work, that mare looks like she's getting a little tired.” I told him to go ahead, but I wanted to watch for a while, although my horse breaking days were over I still was interested in the process. Danny went back in the corral, and between him and Lone Wolf managed to get a saddle on the mare. Then Danny swung himself up in the saddle, and tired or not the mare did a pretty good job of throwing him off before too long. As soon as Danny hit the ground, Lone Wolf was ready and waiting to take his place in the saddle, and between the two they managed to keep the saddle occupied for all but a few seconds until the mare finally realized she wasn't going to win this fight. Then they continued to take turns working on getting her to respond to their commands, and before long Danny let Lone Wolf stay on her, telling him to take the mare over to a railing, tie her there, and give her some hay and water while he went to lasso another one. The two men repeated the process with another mare, and the next thing I knew Hop Sing was calling me in for lunch. Danny and Lone Wolf went to eat with the other men, but before they left Danny told me they would take the mares riding again in the afternoon, and continue their lessons until he was sure they would keep behaving. Only then would he move on to another pair of mustangs, they had the whole winter to train the herd.

When I got in the house, Cheyenne kept asking me about the mustangs, but for some reason I was having trouble answering him. I couldn't very well tell him I'd spent more time watching Danny than the horses. Then he told me all the women on the ranch had come to check up on him, and for a second I felt a twinge of jealousy. Before I could react, he went right back to asking about the mustangs, and I finally managed to give him a review of what had happened in the corral. I was glad to see Little Flower and Eddie though, and managed to steer the direction of the conversation towards them. They hadn't wanted to come back this early, but were concerned about Cheyenne. I told them that as soon as they were assured that he was healing, we would understand if they wanted to go back to the cabin, but they just said they'd think about it for a while.

After lunch I was trying to get Sarah out of her highchair when she reached her arms up to me and said “Mama....mama...” as I picked her up. That was the first time I'd heard that sound out of either of the twins, and it brought tears to my eyes. That was a wonderful experience, and after I picked her up I didn't want to put her down. Eventually she'd have to have a nap, but I played with her for quite a while, and Mathew too, until they got so sleepy they couldn't keep their eyes open. After I laid them down to sleep, I wasn't too sure what I wanted to do with the rest of the afternoon. Danny and Lone Wolf were off on the range with the mares, so I couldn't go back out and stare at him. But after having done that all morning, I wasn't sure I wanted to be around Cheyenne either. All I didn't need was him figuring out what I had really been doing at the corral and getting mad. He needed to remain calm for that shoulder to heal....



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After lunch I couldn't bring myself to stay indoors any longer, no matter what Doc had said. I did put plenty of my mother's salve on my shoulder, and then I headed outside. I knew I couldn't ride, I couldn't shoot, I couldn't even put my gunbelt on by myself. I walked to the corral with the mustangs to see how that was coming along, I sure hadn't been able to get much out of Calico so I figured I'd find out myself.

 

Danny and Lone Wolf were all to eager to talk with me about their morning, I was impressed. Two broken in one morning, that was impressive. They were chomping at the bit to take the two out for a ride so I moved on. I continued on to the barn where the gunfight had been days before. We had ventilated it pretty well. I surveyed the damage around the outside and then stepped inside to continue assaying the damage.

 

There was damage there as well but nothing that needed immediate attention, no holes in roof either, a very good thing. I was in the back corner when I heard a whimper. I stopped, and just stood there, was it the wind or had I heard something. Then there it was again, louder this time. I stepped around a few bales of hay to see someone huddled up in the corner. Had we missed one of the thieves, if so why was he still hiding here in the barn.

 

"I'm unarmed, come on out, I'll do you no harm" I spoke up. The figure slowly stood, and said, "I'm not armed either, I was just riding with my husband, I had no idea what they were planning, really!" It was a woman, and as she stepped towards me and into more light I could see that she was a remarkable one at that. "Your wounded?" she asked almost apologetically. "Was your man among the wounded or dead?" I inquired of her. "He was one of the ones that tried to ride out, he was leaving me behind. I was glad he was killed!"

 

"You've been holed up in here the whole time?" I continued. "What have you done for food or water?" "During the night I would sneak out and drink from the water trough, but I haven't eaten for days." she almost whimpered. I held out my hand to her and told her I would see to it that she would be fed, but I wasn't sure just what was going to happen after that. As we got near the doors the light began to reveal her beauty the closer we got to the sunlight.

 

We stopped just before we left the cover of the barn, "Welcome to the Culpepper Ranch, I'm Cheyenne Culpepper and this is my ranch. Let's get you fed," Then I saw Calico walking from the house to the barn that housed the Clydesdales. "That's my wife there, her name's Calico" I told her then I hollered for Calico as we left the barn and headed over to meet Calico, who for some reason was just standing there with her hands on her hips, again. I thought to myself, "just what have I done wrong now?" There was no turning back now, and the closer the two of us got to Calico, the sterner her face appeared.

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Hot spit! Maybe Calico will fix this new gal up with ol' Grizz!

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I decided to go check up on my four-legged babies, I was going to go by the Clydesdales' barn first then stop in to put more salve on my pony before dinner. As I headed that way, I saw Cheyenne come out of the main barn with a woman I'd never seen before. Who was this woman and what was she doing in our barn? She looked a little worse for wear, but was obviously very good looking. She had auburn hair almost to her waist, emerald green eyes, and big....well, assets. My hand immediately went to my growing stomach, it wasn't long ago that it had been as skinny as this woman's waist, but I doubted I would ever be able to lace a corset tightly enough for that again. The outfit she was wearing looked very similar to what Sally had been wearing when we first met her, and I couldn't figure out what this woman was doing on our property, much less dressed like that. It didn't help that Cheyenne was practically slobbering all over himself.


When they got close enough, Cheyenne started to explain who the woman was and what she was doing there. “You got a name?” I asked her, not real pleased about the whole mess. “I'm Abigail Smith, or Abby if you'd like, Calico,” was her response, and she held out her hand. I ignored that, telling her, “You can call me Mrs. Culpepper, at least while you're here Mrs. Smith. Cheyenne honey, should I send one of the men to fetch the sheriff?”

Cheyenne didn't seem to like that idea any, and insisted that we shouldn't do anything like that just yet, that first we should arrange for a good meal for her. While I understood that she was hungry, as far as I was concerned if she had been part of the group of outlaws who had attacked us we didn't need her hanging around any longer than necessary. Just because she claimed to have no part in it didn't mean that she was innocent. She could be lying to avoid any consequences, and I felt that would be up to the sheriff and a judge to determine, not us.

While we had been standing there talking, Danny and Lone Wolf had ridden up on the mares they had been working with. Both horses seemed to be responding well to their commands, but one of them was still really frisky, it was a good start but the training was far from over. Still, I had been impressed so far with Danny's progress with these two, I could see why Buick had sent this particular hand up here to handle the mustangs. Abigail Smith noticed Danny as well, and immediately started trying to flirt with him, though I wasn't too happy to see that Cheyenne had started frowning when he saw that. Danny, on the other hand, was polite but still managed to make it clear that he was not the least bit interested, as did Lone Wolf.

At about the same time some of the other hands started riding in, their day's work finished, and several of them were giving Abigail plenty of attention, a fact that she was quick to notice. A big smile crossed her face when she saw all the men looking at her, and I knew I had to get this woman off of our ranch as soon as possible, regardless of what Cheyenne thought. Cheyenne wanted to take Abigail to the kitchen right away to see what Hop Sing had available for her to eat, but I wasn't about to let him do that without me. Danny agreed to tend to both mares, so I gave the salve to Lone Wolf and asked if he would apply some more to the wound on my pony, which he was more than willing to do. As I was explaining to him what to do, Cheyenne took Abigail's hand to start leading her to the house, and I almost had to run to catch up to them.

We went around to the back of the house, and I saw that Padre and Stands Alone were sitting on the back porch. They had been talking until they saw us approaching, and both men quickly let their conversation drop. Cheyenne politely introduced Abigail to the men, then opened the door and let her proceed him into the kitchen. He immediately followed behind her, not bothering to hold the door for me, that was the first time that had ever happened. I was furious, but before I could follow, Padre reached over and grabbed my arm. “That one's gonna be trouble....watch her closely!” he said, then he got up and opened the door again and held it for me.

“At least someone around here still has some manners,” I thought as I went into the kitchen, after thanking Padre for his courtesy. I didn't need his warning about Abigail, I had already come to the same conclusion, but now how to convince Cheyenne of that?

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Something wasn't quite right with this whole situation with Abigail. She knew way to much about me and the ranch. I had to catch myself from falling for her charms, which she was obviously using. I needed to get as much information from her as possible before sending for Tom again so I figured if I paid full attention to her it would be easier to get her to talk. I knew though that I was going to have a lot of explaining to do because I could feel Calico's eyes burning holes straight through me.

 

I had her sit at the table as Lu Sing gathered something for her to eat and then I quietly told Karl to have the men go over the barn from top to bottom and to look for anything that shouldn't be there, and to check the horses for any unaccounted horses among ours. I wanted to try to speak with Calico too, but she had taken a seat across from Abigail and wouldn't take her eyes off of Abigail for even a second.

 

Lu Sing set a plate of food in front of Abigail, with a look of distain, and right away I knew that the woman hadn't lied about not eating for a couple days. She inhaled what Lu Sing had given her, but that was all that she wanted, even though she had been offered more. "My husband and his friends talked often about the Culpepper Ranch, and even some of the exploits of the owner's son, but they had no idea of it's real grandeur. My, but this place is even bigger than I could have imagined. You must have at least thirty men or more working here, and I bet your wife is the prettiest in the whole region as well" Abigail stated without hardly stopping to take a breath. Then she turned towards me, "I had heard that the Culpeppers were a handsome lot, but my they really didn't do you justice by just using the word handsome."

 

Oh, this woman is good I thought, but I could tell that Calico was getting hotter by the minute, and not a good kind of hot either. She was squirming in her seat, one hand on her thigh and the other hand resting on her chest with her index finger tapping her derringer that I knew was hidden in her undergarment.

 

I was trying to think of a good question for Abigail when Calico blurted out, So your husband and his men knew so much about the Culpepper Ranch, but still decided to ride into here and try to steal a whole herd of mustangs? And you were just along for the ride?"

 

I knew in a instant that if Calico hadn't been with child that she would have dragged Abigail out of the house my the hair and then put a good thrashing on her, but with Doc having been all over her to behave for the baby's sake, I knew she was trying hard to control herself.

 

Oh boy, I thought, any pretense of trying to gain this woman's confidence was now gone with the wind. I could she her tense up as Calico's voice took a hard and direct turn. "I think what my wife was trying to ask is, how could you not have known what was happening as you husband an his friends rode into the ranch, especially after trailing the herd all the way from the Golden Aspen. Didn't you have even the slightest clue as to what they were up too.?" I felt Calico's stare as I had tried to ease the situation a little, hopefully I wouldn't pay for that later.

 

Abigail took one of the napkins from the table and as she used it to wipe her brow answered me, "Why, I had not even a clue as to what the men were up too," and continued with the same small voice, "they told me we were going after mustands, but I thought that meant that we were going to go after wild mustangs that didn't belong to anyone."

 

Karl had entered just before Abigail had started talking and without giving me any information of what I had sent him out to find out, he just took a seat and stared at Abigail intently. Abigail had finished her spiel just as Sarah and Mathew came crawling into the room. "Why these must be your two children, they take after their mother, don't they." But then she caught on to the stare from Karl and her attention turned to him immediately. "You must be one of the Culpeppers too, someone so handsome surely must be."

 

I knew that I had lost all control of the situation as Karl got up and set down beside Abigail and took her hand as he told her how pleased he was that she hadn't been hurt because he was just so sure that she had been innocent in the whole matter. Well, the woman sure wasn't about to pass this opportunity up and she started telling Karl about how mean her husband had been to her, but she had no idea how to escape from him. Now I was even getting confused, either this woman was an innocent victim, or she was one heck of a liar. Her beauty made me want to believe she was innocent, however I just couldn't discern if she was telling the truth or not, but how could a woman so beautiful be such a black hearted liar?

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She just needs a real man to take a coal shovel to her!

 

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We'd been sitting there a while, Karl was getting goofier and Calico was getting madder by the minute. Why did I have to find this woman anyway? I thought as I hung my head down. If I couldn't change Calico's mood we'd both be taking Doc's advice, whether I wanted to or not.

 

Biblepuncher and Cora stepped into the room, suddenly Abigail and Cora were noticeably quiet, but it was obvious something was wrong. Suddenly Cora blurted out, "Just what are you doing here? I thought you were never coming back!" "Why Sis, aren't you glad to see your long lost sister? I see you finally found your way to the Culpepper Ranch too, how did YOU manage it?" replied Abigail.

 

You could have heard a pin drop as the two sisters stared at each other. Karl had even started to scoot his chair back out of the way. Calico looked like a calf looking at a new gate, she didn't know which woman to look at and poor old Biblepuncher was at a total loss for words.

 

I knew a hornets nest had been opened, I had always managed to keep Cora and my secret just that, a secret. But now I was beginning to think that may have been a mistake.

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I couldn't believe what I was seeing, how could Cheyenne and Karl not see through this slick talking she-devil? She was even trying to sweet talk me, telling me that the twins both took after me. True, Mathew did have my blond hair and blue eyes, but only a fool couldn't see that Sarah was the spitting image of her daddy. No way was I gonna fall for anything this woman said, I may have been crazy but I wasn't stupid!


I was getting more and more furious with every passing minute, it really bothered me to see my husband and our most trusted employee making fools of themselves over her. What was it about red-headed women that caused men to lose all control of their brains? Cheyenne was in for one heck of a talking to as soon as I could get him alone, but it didn't seem like he had any intention of letting me get him away from Abigail any time soon.


Just as I was about to totally lose my temper, Biblepuncher and Cora came in the room. Abigail and Cora stared at each other for a few seconds, then Abigail blurted out something about being sisters, and asked how had Cora managed to end up at our ranch. Cora turned pale as a ghost, and Biblepuncher looked as confused as I felt. Cheyenne turned even redder than usual, so I had a feeling there was a whole lot more to this story then I had ever dreamed of. I demanded that Cheyenne and Cora go with me to the den, I wanted the truth and I wasn't going to leave either of them be until I got it!

After asking Padre to come in and keep an eye on Abigail, as I didn't exactly trust Karl's judgment in this instance, we headed for the den. Biblepuncher insisted on coming with us, and I agreed as he had as much right to hear whatever Cora's explanation was as much as I did. Cheyenne looked like a lost puppy, he was starting to squirm and that worried me, just how bad was this going to be? Maybe I didn't really want the truth....oh yes I did!

Cora sat on the edge of her seat, looking at the floor and barely spoke about a whisper. “When Abigail and I were growing up, we heard plenty about the Culpepper Ranch and Cheyenne Culpepper from our uncle Jim. Both of us made a pact, one of us was going to figure out a way to end up being the next Mrs. Culpepper, and whichever one got that lucky would then insist on letting the other live there too. We both had our own ideas of how to achieve that, but before either of us could put our plans in motion, we heard that Cheyenne had disappeared on some sort of 'quest'. It wasn't long after that when Abigail ran off with some loser, and every once in a while she'd dump the guy and come back, but never for long before she'd find another one to take off with. I still had hopes of getting Cheyenne to court me if he ever came back, I was positive I could get my aunt and uncle to properly introduce us.”

“While I was waiting, I took a job in the dress shop in Denver, and it was while I was working there that I heard Cheyenne had returned, but with a woman he intended to marry. I pretty much gave up on the idea at that point, until I heard he was coming to Denver, and alone. I figured it was worth a shot to see if I could get him to leave this new wife for me, so I could finally have what I'd wanted for so long. Calico, it kills me now to admit this, but I threw myself at him more than once in Denver as soon as I tracked him down. Please, please believe me when I tell you it didn't work, he turned me down flat ever time I tried, making it crystal clear that I had no chance. I don't know why I decided to go with my aunt and uncle when they accompanied him back here, maybe I just couldn't stand the thought of giving up so easily. But once I got to know you, and I saw how much the two of you love each other, I knew in my heart that I just couldn't ever stand to live with myself if I did anything to come between the two of you. So I kept my mouth shut, and prayed every night that Cheyenne would keep my actions secret, so as not to hurt you. You've become my dearest friend, and I never wanted to hurt you.”

Then she turned to Biblepuncher, and with tears streaming down her face, told him “I love you with all my heart and soul now, you have to believe that. I want nothing more than to be your wife, and I will never let you regret it if you can just find it in your heart to forgive me.” Biblepuncher didn't say a word, just wrapped her in his arms then wiped away her tears and kissed her on the forehead. Then he looked at me, waiting for me to say something. Cheyenne was also keeping his mouth shut, which was probably the smartest thing he'd done since coming out of the barn with Abigail.

I knew right away that at least this sister was most likely telling the truth. As much as she had tried to flirt with Cheyenne when she first got here, that had stopped almost immediately upon Frank's death, and she had done absolutely nothing since then to make me not trust her. She had become a dear friend, and the last thing I wanted was to do or say anything that might mess up the relationship she had been building with our preacher. I had been thrilled when he had proposed to her, and was looking forward to having her here permanently as a valued member of the extended ranch family. I just couldn't object to her presence her, but her sister? That was another story entirely.

I asked Cora if she had any idea what Abigail was up to, and reminded her I needed the truth. Cora just shook her head, “I haven't seen my sister in almost three years, I have no idea what's going on with her. To be honest, I'm not exactly thrilled to see her. It took a while but with Biblepuncher's help I've finally got my life straightened out, but I doubt seriously that she ever did. She's always been attracted to men that were nothing but trouble, and I don't think that's changed any, or she wouldn't be here. But as to her exact plans, I don't have the slightest clue and I for one would prefer not to know. In fact, I would prefer to have nothing more to do with her at all!”

Well, I'd heard enough, but the final decision on what to do with the woman was up to Cheyenne. If he was smart though, I wouldn't have to put up with her in my house for much longer. But before I could ask him what he thought, we all heard a shout from out front, “Hello, the house! I gots a present for them younguns of yers...”

We all went to the window and looked out, there was Ole Grizz standing there with a big box in his hands. When he saw us looking at him, he put the box down and then lifted something out of it. “Any of them kids of yers want a puppy? I got a whole bunch here, enough for em all ta have one...” he called out. Of course Tommy and Rose heard him and within seconds both were running out the front door straight for Grizz, followed just a little more slowly by Laura and Sally. Oh great....puppies....like I didn't have enough problems right now?

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Puppies? Ol Grizz? I followed the kids out onto the porch, those puppies were adorable. "Grizz," I hollered, "I've got a present for you too." I called for Abigail to come out onto the porch, she was already onto what I was going to do, "I'm not going anywhere with HIM!" she quietly told me. "Him or the sheriff" was all I had to say and she was down the stairs and playing up to Grizz in such a way that he was nothing but smiles. He whispered something in her ear, and then, "Well folks got to go, thanks for the present!" and he and Abigail disappeared off into the evening sun.

 

Whew, I dodged a bullet on that one, to bad I hadn't done that during the gunfight!

 

As I turned around to Cali I winched extra loud in pain as I reached for my wounded shoulder with the other hand, "I could use a got shot and a warm bath" I almost asked Calico. She reared back and acted like she was going to give me a good one, which the thought of that did cause a great deal of pain to course through my shoulder. Then she smiled a bit and asked me, "How can you step in manure and still come out smelling like a rose?" "Because of you" I told her as I moved ever so slowly past her on my way in to the den to try to get rid of some of the pain running through my shoulder. I looked back over my shoulder to see my lovely wife rubbing her belly and thought, "ahh yes, Life is good."

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Abigail played up to Grizz all the way back to his cabin, asking him all sorts of questions about what he did, and how much money he had. He knew what she was up to alright, but might as well play a long and have a little fun. He spun stories about how he'd struck it rich in his mine just the week before. It wasn't a total lie, he'd found a decent vein, but it wasn't hear as good as he told her. He even let slip where he'd hidden the ore. Now that was a lie, but a carefully laid trap to see what she was up to.

 

Back at the cabin she set out and cooked him a good meal and then took him off to bed. After she was done with him, ol' Grizz comenced to snoring and she got up and tip toed to the kitchen and got a knife. Standing over him ready to plunge the knife in his chest, she muttered under her breath 'I sure hope it was worth laying with you for what gold you got.'

 

Grizz never missed a snore until his 44 roared from under the blanket. He quickly rolled onto the floor before the woman, and her knife fell on the bed.

 

Well damn he said to no one in particular, as no one was there 'I ain't never gonna get a woman this way.'

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Grizz had one puppy each for Laura, Sally, Tommy, and Rose, then another one for Little Flower and Eddie, and one more he said was for the twins. Great...six puppies to take care of, in addition to all the kids...was that man insane? And from the looks of the pups, they would all grow pretty big, though I couldn't tell exactly what breed they were, probably some sort of mixed breed. I could see one for all the kids to share, but six? Oh brother...

At least he solved one problem in exchange for bring us another, he took Abigail with him when he left. Karl looked rather disappointed, but I was happy that Cheyenne had come to his senses and gotten rid of the wench. Then he went off to the den looking for some whiskey to get with the pain in his shoulder, leaving me to deal with six puppies running wild all over the house. My cat Midnight was most definitely not happy with this new development, and it didn't take long before she was taking refuge on top of one of the bookcases in the library. I had the feeling my poor kitty was not going to be in a real good mood for a while, but at least I was, having gotten Abigail out of my house without having to threaten to move to a guest room to do it!

I tried to convince the kids that maybe we should be making a fenced yard with some kind of a shelter in it for the puppies outside, but after having been faced with tears and sad looks I had to give in. The kids could keep the pups inside, but they had to be responsible for helping take care of them, including the one meant for the twins, as they were too young to do it. I quickly had all sorts of promises that they would, but I wondered just how long that was going to last. Oh well, Cheyenne seemed happy about Grizz's present, I just wished Cheyenne got along with Midnight that well.

The next day Grizz returned to tell us that Abigail hadn't lasted the night, but didn't go into any details. He didn't really need to, it wasn't hard to figure out what he was getting at, and good riddance! He also admitted that maybe six pups were a little too much to stick us with all at once, but when he offered to find another home for a few of him, he was all of a sudden face to face with four extremely angry kids. Grizz then changed his mind again, deciding that maybe he'd better leave the pups here before the kids all threw him off the ranch themselves.


While he was there, he wanted to check out the progress Danny was making with the two mustangs he and Lone Wolf had been working with. He ended up as impressed with Danny's skills as the rest of us had been, and even suggested to Cheyenne that he ought to consider hiring Danny to stay here even after the horses were returned to Buick. Cheyenne's eyes sure lit up hearing that, he was polite enough to Grizz about it but I knew from that look on his face that there was no way he was going to do any such thing. I had a feeling Cheyenne was starting to notice the attention Danny was getting, not only from me but from a bunch of the other ladies as well. To Danny's credit, he wasn't doing anything to purposely attract the attention, in fact it seemed to make him very uncomfortable, and he remained extremely polite and formal with all the women.

At least Cheyenne's shoulder was slowly starting to feel a little better. I had to admit, I was looking forward to when it would be healed enough for us to make another visit to the indoor water hole...

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Before Grizz rode off, he called the kids and the puppies together and had a chat out in the yard, Calico looked on wondering what he was up to. Grizz told the kids they needed to care for the pups and how to train them a bit, and then he told them something he said was a secret between just him and them. That puppies would enjoy the indoor water hole, but the kids had to make sure not to let them in there alone, as they wouldn't be able to get out.

 

Grizz smiled and waved at Calico as he rode off, and the kids and puppies ran back up to the house.

 

What was that ol' fool telling you out there? Calico asked.

 

Oh, just how to train the pups one said.

 

'and stuff' another one chimed in.

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The next few weeks were relatively calm, but very busy. The men needed to get some of the cattle taken to town for sale, and get the rest of the ranch ready for winter, including repairing all the damage to the main barn. Cheyenne's shoulder was not healing as fast as he wanted, which made him more and more frustrated every day, as he hated not being able to help. Being forced to do not much more than supervise just didn't sit well with him, and the pain in his shoulder and rib wasn't helping matters much. Add to that the fact that I insisted he follow Doc's orders to rest and he just wasn't in a real good mood much of the time.

My mood wasn't much better. The twins had started crawling, and trying to keep a constant eye on them was getting exhausting. I had made them little buckskin outfits with extra padding on the knees, it helped protect their little legs but left them able to start getting into more areas where they needed to be watched every second. Little Flower and Eddie had returned to the cabin for a while, Laura had school, and the experience with Little Bear had shaken Sally's faith in her babysitting skills to the point she was just not comfortable watching more than one child at a time. Someone had to keep Rose occupied, so I had taken to letting Sally take care of her, which left me with the twins. Most days I wished I at least had Cora's help, but ever since her sister had shown up and forced Cora to admit why she'd wanted to move here, she had taken to avoiding me. That kind of hurt, as I held no ill will towards her, but I wasn't sure about how to approach the subject with her.

Cheyenne was still a little upset as well over having given Blackie away, making a gift of the pony to Black Horse was a nice gesture but it put him without a favored mount. He sent a letter to Buick asking if he would be willing to sell at least part if not all of the herd. While he was waiting for a reply, Cheyenne had several talks with Danny about which of the stallions showed the most promise. I tried to be present for these talks, so I could have a legitimate reason for being around Danny, but it didn't take long to figure out that having me around during these conversations made both men uncomfortable. I knew Cheyenne's reaction was jealousy, but I couldn't figure out what was upsetting Danny so much.

I also wasn't feeling well, between all the stress, the exhaustion, and the fact my back problems seemed to be returning as my belly grew most of the time I was pretty cranky myself. All the kids quickly noticed that things weren't exactly great with either me or Cheyenne, so at least they did keep their promises to take good care of their new puppies. I think the main reason for that is it gave them a reason to keep out of mine and Cheyenne's ways, since neither of us was really pleasant to be around. Once the skin over his wound had healed enough, Cheyenne took to spending a lot of time soaking in hot water out in the building out back, and once Tommy and Rose thought it would be funny to send their puppies in there with him. Cheyenne didn't see the humor in it, (wet dog didn't smell real good), and both kids spent one evening in their rooms without their dinner. For some reason that particular little trick was not tried again, much to Cheyenne's relief.

He kept wanting me to join him, but I kept coming up with reasons not to. Either I was tired, or I couldn't get anyone to watch the twins, or my back hurt too much for me to get in and out of the tub. I wasn't even sure why I was turning him down, and it sure wasn't helping his frustration at all. Even alone in our room at night we had started keeping on our own sides of the bed. I knew there was something wrong here, but I wasn't sure what, and I hesitated to try and talk to him about it. After Cora's revelation I was so afraid of what he might say...

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After we had sent Abigail off with Grizz things just couldn't seem to go back to normal. My wound hampered me more than any wound I had had before and each time pain would shoot through me it reminded me of the gunfight with the horse thieves who were there to rustle the mustangs. Calico seemed to be taken with Danny, who was there because of the mustangs. This was the second time Calico had been with child and each time she seemed to have eyes for someone else, the last time it was Buick, who had sent the mustangs. The horse thieves were there because of the mustangs, and that was why I was in pain, not only from my wound but my heart ache over Calico.

 

We were drawing further apart almost every day, she had lost that glimmer in her eye for me and that caused me in all the more pain. One thing I took some solace in, Danny unlike Buick was showing no interest in Calico, nor any other woman for that matter. There was pain in his eyes as well, but he kept to himself when he wasn't working the mustangs. Though I missed Blackie I wasn't regretting haven given him to Black Horse, but I needed a horse that was mine, and only mine. I had asked Danny about the mustangs, but I knew in my heart I wouldn't be happy with any of them, even though they were all extremely conditioned animals.

 

I found myself staring towards the mountains thinking about mustangs and the canyons that I knew held them. I was at grips with what I knew I needed to do, but I wasn't sure who I wanted to go with me. I wanted to take Ike, but I feared for his safety as he lacked experience with wild mustangs. Eddie had his mind on other things and I remembered back just after Calico and I had first married that I wasn't much good for anything. There were so many things that needed to be done on the ranch to prepare for winter that I couldn't bring myself to take any of the men away from their duties on the ranch. The only person that I could think of was Danny. The two of us were both in pain, I didn't know what is was but maybe the two of us could some how help the other.

 

One afternoon I was glazing off towards the mountains when Danny asked me, "What are you thinking about, hunting or the wild mustangs?" It took me a little by surprise that he knew I may even be contemplating the wild mustangs that ran the canyons and foothills of the mountains. "I know that none of these interest you, you need your own, when are you going to go after your own?" he flatly asked me. I looked at him, then told him, "As soon as you make up your mind to go with me!" "How does tomorrow sound?" he replied. Lone Wolf, who wasn't about to be denied almost shouted, "I want to go too, I've been working with the mustangs too."

 

Danny looked at Lone Wolf and softly told him, you need to stay here to keep working with them so that they don't forget what we've taught them." I thought for a second or two, "Eddie can take his place for a few days, besides you've got the rest of the winter to finish training them." Lone Wolf was just about jumping out of his skin after he heard me give approval for him to accompany Danny and I.

 

Calico had ventured out from the house and was making her way towards us when Lone Wolf spotted her and ran over to her telling her of our plans. She gave me a half smile and told me to take the Autumn Pony, she wasn't able to ride now and the Autumn Pony needed the work. "Danny's going with you" she asked disappointedly. I was glad to hear Danny answer her, "Yes ma'am Mrs. Culpepper the three of us are going together." Calico let go with a sigh and turned to head back to the house. Lord, how I wished I knew where her mind was.

 

The next morning couldn't have come soon enough, I had awakened several timesduring the night, each time disappointed that the sun wasn't peeking through the darkness yet. A couple times I tried to snuggle against Calico but each time all I got was a grunt. That pain was proving more hurtful than the pain of my wound and I had no idea how to fix it or to even deal with it.

 

Hop Sing had breakfast ready for us just as the sun was sneaking over the horizon, the three of us leaving that morning talked almost constantly about our trip while Calico seemed to be lost in thought somewhere else. We finished our breakfast as Karl and Praire Dawg brought our mounts and supplies to the house for us. I bent down to kiss Calico, as I did she lowered head offering me only her forehead to kiss. I almost pulled away, but I gave her a soft kiss, said my good bye and headed for the door.

 

"You take care of my pony, Danny and Lone Wolf." was all she had to say as I walked out the door. I felt like an eagle with a broken wing as the three of us mounted and started for the mountains. It wasn't until the sunlight was lighting up the mountains that I even felt like breathing again.

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When Cheyenne told me he was heading to the mountains to look for a new horse, I knew I should be disappointed but I wasn't. Something was wrong between us, but I just couldn't put my finger on what. I knew part of it was that I was more than a little jealous about the way he'd stared at Abigail, even if he did finally see her for what she was. It also had shaken me pretty bad to hear Cora admit that she'd wanted to take him away from me, and I couldn't help but wonder how many more women there might be out there with the same idea. He had been quite a catch...rugged, strong, brave, and incredibly handsome, not to mention rich. Why he had decided he wanted to spend his life with me still didn't make much sense, I had come from such poor beginnings, he could have done much better. And although he kept telling me I was beautiful, well, that growing belly sure didn't make me feel that way. How could I be sure that he wasn't going to come to his senses at some point and change his mind about the whole thing?

I think that was one of the reasons I spent so much time watching Danny, I knew he wasn't interested but at least it got my mind off of worrying about whether Cheyenne was getting any better offers elsewhere. I wasn't happy when I found out Danny was going to the mountains with Cheyenne, along with Lone Wolf. Why couldn't he have taken some of the other men, or even Running Bear? I knew I was in for a few lonely, boring days and that certainly didn't cheer me up any. Before they left, I debated whether or not to tell Cheyenne just how badly I'd been feeling physically lately, but I knew his only response would be to throw me over his good shoulder and haul me over to Doc's. Last thing I felt like dealing with was another lecture, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. Hopefully by the time they returned I'd be feeling better.

When Cheyenne had written to Buick, I'd included a letter to Morning Star, and later the day that the men left, I got an envelope in the mail from both of them. I put Buick's letter to Cheyenne away for him to read on his return, then I took Morning Star's letter out to the porch to read. The twins were down for their nap, but I wasn't sure for how long so I had to read fast. I had asked her to tell us more about Danny and his background, as we were really impressed with his skills. Morning Star wrote that she didn't know a whole lot about him, but she had managed to find out bits and pieces about his life. He had been raised on a thoroughbred ranch in Kentucky, and had grown up helping to train race horses. After their farm had been destroyed in the war, his family had moved to New Mexico, where he had taken a job on a ranch there. It was during that time he had developed his skills with training wild horses. He had married the daughter of the ranch's foreman, and was pretty much guaranteed the chance to take over for his father-in-law at some point. Not long after his wife Emily had given birth to their first son, a smallpox epidemic had swept through their area, killing both Emily and their child.

Heartbroken, he'd headed north to escape the memories, and ended up at the Golden Aspen. Buick had hired him right away, and didn't regret it for a second. The man kept to himself for the most part, but was a lot less trouble than several of their other hands. In fact, although the Golden Aspen had no designated foreman up to that point, Buick was considering offering Danny the promotion as soon as he returned in the spring. They missed him, but he had been the best choice of hands for Buick to send up here, and she hoped he was getting along all right. The rest of her letter talked about how she was doing, how she was positive that she was carrying a boy this time, and a few stories about Libby, which put a smile on my face. I couldn't wait to see them all again, we just had to go for a visit soon.

After I finished reading, I folder her letter back up and decided maybe I better go check on the twins. If they were still asleep maybe I could lay down and rest for a few minutes. As I glanced up, I noticed I was no longer alone on the porch, at some point Padre and Stands Alone had joined me. Those two were good, I never heard them coming much less sitting down! After greeting them, I asked Stands Alone “I thought you were training Runs with the Wind, is he not with you?”

“I sent him over ta fetch Doc fer ya,” Padre replied, as Stands Alone nodded. “Bout time ya tell that sawbones what's wrong, don' ya think?” he asked, but I replied I didn't know what he was talking about. “Oh yeah, like ain't nobody noticed that yer face is all swollen, and yer tired all tha time, an' ya been sneezin' every time ya turn around? Ya need ta be admittin' to him that yer allergic ta all them pups, and see ifn' he kin do somethin' bout it, while yer old man is still talkin' ta ya...the whole ranch kin see sumthin's wrong betwix the two of ya, it's makin' ya way too grouchy!” Padre growled, clearly he was not going to tolerate any argument out of me about seeing Doc.


Allergic to the pups? Oh, wonderful.....



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The three of us rode slowly towards the mountains, I was feeling like a brave or trooper who had barely survived a battle and was trying to make his way home. I noticed the shadow of a bird that followed along beside me and looked up expecting to see an eagle, but it wasn't an eagle, it was a buzzard. I shook my head from side to side as I said out loud, "Oh great, I'm not even dead and I've got a buzzard following me, what kind of omen is that?"

 

Lone Wolf finally spoke, "You haven't spoken with the Great Spirit have you? You are trying to carry your pain on your shoulders and you know the Great Spirit calls for you to share your pain with Him." I knew that he was right, and had been fighting within myself to do just that, but I guess I felt so badly that I thought I deserved the pain."

 

Danny was next to try to lift my spirits, "I now the pain you're going through, mine is different; but, I can't do anything to change mine, but you can." After pausing for a minute or so he continued, "I lost my wife and child to small pox, I can't bring them back, but you still have Calico and your family. I'm not sure what you need to do, but I do know that you need to do something."

 

I knew that both of them were right, I reached and patted the Autumn Pony on it's neck and then reached down and gave it a kiss on its' head. Every time I saw the pony I thought of Calico, I knew that I could share my burden with the Great Spirit, but what about Calico. Just what was she going through that had made her so quiet and distant?"

 

We stopped at my grandfather's cabin, where Eddie and Little Flower and just gotten married, and watered our horses at the water hole behind it, the same one that Calico and I would cool down in when we would escape there. As Lone Wolf and Danny looked over the horses I found a stump to sit on and laid out my heart to the Great Spirit. I wasn't really sure how long I had been sitting there when another shadow caught my eye. "Oh great," I thought, "That stinking buzzard just won't give up!" But, as I looked up the buzzard wasn't there, but an eagle was and he was circling over me. I knew what I had to do!

 

"Sorry boys, but we're going back to the ranch, we can do this another time, but I can't live without Calico." Danny and Lone Wolf both were wearing huge smiles and in unison said, "It's about time you figured out what was important." I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and this time after I had sprung up on the Autumn Pony I felt as if I was the victor of a great battle that was headed home.

 

We made the trip back to the ranch in less than half the time that it had taken to reach the cabin. The last mile or so to the ranch I gave the Autumn Pony free reign as I urged her into a gallop, as she felt me lower down on her neck she responded with an all out gait. It reminded me of the time that Apache Hawk and I had had to stop the stampede while we were on the trail. It felt good to have the wind blowing through my hair as we made a beeline for the ranch house. I looked back at Danny and Lone Wolf who had followed my lead and were hunched down on their horses that were in full gait. Through the dust I could see the smiles on their faces.

 

As we got close to the house we had been spotted and there was furious activity about the grounds. The men were all arming their selves' as we reached the house. "What's wrong boss, who's chasing you?" hollered Karl as the three of us came to sliding stops. The three of us almost broke out laughing at the same time, we hadn't thought that we might alarm the ranch riding in that way, we were enjoying letting the horses run too much.

 

As Danny explained to Karl I ran up the steps hollering for Calico, little Tommy came running and grabbed me, and with tears running down his red cheeks said, "Padre and Stands Alone took her to Doc's, I think she real sick!" Visions of Calico after she had been thumped by the renegade braves near Chief Hosa's village leapt into my mind. "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" I yelled as I leapt of the porch and ran for Doc's. I didn't want to be in the same pain that wouldn't go away that Danny had and as I ran I pleaded with the Great Spirit to take Calico's illness away.

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Padre has to be wrong, I thought as he insisted I start heading for Doc's place rather than make him come all the way over here to get me. Padre and Stands Alone went with me, I guess to make sure I wouldn't try and get out of it, and Doc met us right outside his office. Doc told me to get my rear inside and wait for him there, after speaking to Padre for a few minutes the doctor followed me inside. “Have you ever had this kind of reaction to being around dogs before? Padre thinks you're allergic,” Doc asked, looking me over and frowning. “No, but I've never really gotten that close to any dogs before until Grizz showed up with those puppies. Oh, I've petted Buford a few times, and when I used to visit Arapaho villages with my pa there were always dogs around, but never in our tipi or anything like that, I never had much to do with them. Are you sure it's not just a cold?” I asked him.

Before Doc got the chance to say anything else we heard Cheyenne screaming my name. Doc looked out the window just as Cheyenne took the porch steps in one giant leap and grabbed for the door. He burst into the room with a look of sheer panic on his face. “What's wrong? Cali, talk to me, what's wrong with you? Doc, is she gonna be ok?” he practically yelled at us. Doc started laughing, as I tried to explain, “I'm all right, calm...aaaah CHOO ...down...don't tell me you found a new horse already?”


Cheyenne looked really confused at first, until Doc was finally was able to stop laughing long enough to tell him I was just having a reaction to all the dogs being in the house. “But...the kids all love those pups, I'm gonna hate telling them we'll have to find a new home for them....” Cheyenne started to say, but I put a stop to that immediately. “Oh no you won't, we'll have to figure out something else, I'm not going to break their hearts over a few sneezes! It's nothing serious...”

“She's right, Cheyenne, a little allergic reaction is no big deal. I'm going to suggest a few changes that might help matters, but you don't need to do anything so drastic. It will help if you can get the kids to not let the pups in the rooms where Calico spends most of her time, like the dining room, parlor, library, and her sewing room. Also, make sure the pups aren't allowed in your room or the nursery. Then have all those rooms cleaned really well, and as long as Calico doesn't play with or pet the dogs she should be able to deal with it.”

“I'm going to suggest one more thing that might help her feel better though,” Doc Eells continued. “I've noticed, well, everyone has, that Miss Cora hasn't been spending much time at the main house recently. Considering Calico's condition, she really could use some help with those twins. My professional advice is to either work out whatever the problem is with Cora, or consider hiring a nanny. One or the other will be almost a necessity when the new baby arrives anyway.” With that Doc went into one of the back rooms to give Cheyenne and I a little privacy.

Cheyenne sat down next to me and reached for my hand. “Cora hasn't been coming around because she is afraid that you're still mad at her for admitting what happened in Denver,” he told me. “I think she'll be willing to come help out again if you'll let her know that you forgive her.” I closed my eyes for a minute, trying to gather my thoughts, then I told him, “I'm not mad at her, not really. I would have been if I had found out about it at the time, but after all, she did save my life on that train. She wouldn't have done that if she was still trying to break us up. I hold no hard feelings towards her, it just makes me wonder if someone else is going to come along, maybe someone prettier and without this big belly, and steal you away from me....”

Cheyenne reached over and lifted my chin so I had no choice but to look him straight in the eye. “No one could possibly be more beautiful in my eyes than you, and as for your belly, well, that's my child in there causing that, and it only makes me love you that much more. In fact, right now I want nothing more than to get Cora to watch the babies, and then me and you can go to the cabin and be alone for a few days. That will give the Sings time to get the house cleaned up for you, and I'll talk to the kids about what they need to do so the puppies won't keep making you sneeze. While you're packing a few days worth of clothes I'll talk to Eddie, he and Little Flower can take their pup and the one meant for the twins to their new house, that should help too. How's that sound to you?”

I didn't even answer him, just hopped up and headed for the door, saying, “How fast do you think Karl can have that buggy hitched up?”

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I stood there for a bit, I was so dumbfounded that I could hardly move. We had both been in pain for weeks and it was gone lickety split? I wish I had known that sooner. I hollered for Karl to hitch the buggy and headed to the house to quickly prepare for our trip to and stay at the cabin. We didn't need much so it didn't take long, which was good because light was burning and even though it was a full moon I really didn't want to finish the trip in the dark.

 

Calico was already waiting for me in the buggy and she had that glimmer in her eyes that I hadn't seen for weeks. What a difference from this morning, then I didn't feel like breathing and now I could hardly catch my breath. I stepped from the porch right into the buggy and after I had told Calico to hold on we were headed for the cabin. Calico pulled out one of the several bottles of wine that she had packed, opened it and took a big swig right out of the bottle. She wiped her mouth with her sleeve and handed me the bottle and I matched her swig and then some. It didn't take long for us to finish that bottle and I thought Calico was reaching for another bottle, but she surprised me and then she latched onto my lips with her's and I just gave the horse the reigns. The thought went through my mind, "Why on earth did we go without this for nearly three weeks". I wasn't even aware that we were even close to the cabin when the buggy stopped in front of the cabin. It was to cool to visit the water hole, but we made do in the cabin.

 

As the sun started to peek over the horizon we went out onto the porch and watched the glory of the sunrise. I took Calico's hand, looked into her eyes and told her, "When I made my pledge to always protect you, I had no idea that I was going to fall this much in love with you!" She took my hand and placed it on her belly, "Well, you're going to have more to love soon," and then she winked at me. "You know it's a lot warmer today" she said as she led me through the cabin and out back to the water hole. I looked up into the pines and there in the tops of them were two eagles that were building a new nest. Ah, yes, life was good.

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That night and the next day were wonderful. All I wanted was to know Cheyenne was gonna stick by me, and well, that first day at the cabin I couldn't have pried him off with a crowbar. It was so nice just to be able to relax in his arms, and it didn't take long before I had stopped sneezing. Getting my energy back was a different story, but this time I didn't mind being so tired, it was worth it. We even got to spend some time in the water hole out back, it was more than a little chilly but we managed to warm back up in no time back in the cabin.

The next morning, Danny and Lone Wolf showed up bright and early. “Mr. Culpepper, sir, we were wondering if you were ready to go find yourself a horse yet. If not, we'll head back to the ranch and try again another time,” Danny told him. Cheyenne put his arms around me and asked if I was ok with him going with the other two to look for wild mustangs, and I told him to go ahead. Winter was fast approaching and if he was going to find one before bad weather hit it had to be soon. He smiled and promised me he wouldn't be gone any longer than necessary, then told Danny, “Enough with the Mr. Culpepper sir stuff, my friends call me Cheyenne.” That had to be the closest I'd seen Danny come to smiling, and now I could understand just how lonely and hurt the man was. I decided right then that I needed to start behaving a little better, yeah the man was good looking but I knew I'd been making him uncomfortable and Cheyenne miserable, and neither of them deserved that.

It didn't take Cheyenne long to get saddled up, and the three of them headed west into the foothills on their search. Little Flower had done a good job of keeping the cabin clean, so there wasn't much for me to do. I decided I'd take a baby quilt I was making out to the porch to work on it. As I worked on it I came to the conclusion that I had to make things right between me and Cora. I thought of her as family, and I didn't want us upset at each other. And it wasn't just because she was willing to help with the babies, as I did think it would be a good idea to consider hiring a nanny. I needed Cora to be my friend, that was the important thing.

Gathering the quilt and my sewing basket up had taken both my hands, so I didn't think to grab a gun to take out with me when I went out. I knew better, but my mind was on the previous day's activities and I wasn't thinking straight. It was no big deal...well, at least not until the three strange men came riding around the side of the cabin. I had been concentrating on my sewing, and hadn't heard them approaching until they were in front of the cabin, by then it was too late to jump up and go inside for a firearm.

Strangers didn't necessarily mean trouble, but these three sure looked like they were no good. Filthy, unshaven, and heavily armed, they didn't look very friendly, and as soon as I saw them and remembered that I was unarmed I got a real uneasy feeling. Still, I was going to be polite but firm in letting them know that they were trespassing on private property, but before I got the chance to say anything one of them spoke up. “Hey Cole, is this her, the one you was talkin' about?” “Yep, this is the woman I saw in Denver hangin' around that half-breed that fancies hisself a rich rancher,” another one of the men said, and before I could even move all three had drawn their pistols and had them pointed straight at me. “You, lady, get up slowly and carefully and don't try nothing stupid. You is coming with us, now where's yer horse, in the barn?” the one called Cole asked. I shook my head, and told him I didn't have a riding horse with me, the only ones in the barn were for pulling the buggy and didn't have saddles. “Well, then, yer gonna hafta ride double with Slim there, and hurry it up. We gotta git outta here before that husband of yers and his friends come back!”

The last thing I wanted to do was go anywhere with these snakes, but not only was I outnumbered but outgunned as well. There wasn't much I could do besides climb up behind Slim on his horse, and start praying that Cheyenne, Danny, and Lone Wolf would come back soon....

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When Danny and Lone Wolf showed up I was a bit disappointed, we hadn't made up for lost time completely yet. But I had been having dreams about a white stallion and it had been on my mind a lot too. They brought the Autumn Pony for me and it didn't take long before we were headed into the foothills. The second canyon we headed into gave promise as there were many tracks leading into but not out of it. One thing we had going for us this time, the Autumn Pony was in heat and I knew that this could be a big help in bring back a choice stallion if we were lucky enough to locate one.

 

The three of us rode several yards apart heading up into the canyon and it wasn't long before we caught sight of a herd of mustangs. My eyes nearly popped out of my head as I saw the stallion that I had seen in my dreams. He was every bit as beautiful as Blackie save for the fact that he was white. The Autumn Pony had gotten a whiff of the herd too and I noticed a change in her gait as we got closer to the herd. Suddenly I had a grand idea, no not like before when I was actually able to talk Blackie in, I knew I was lucky to come out of that alive, though it sounded life a great idea at the time. With the Autumn Pony in heat and I had the feeling that she was feeling agreeable I came up with the idea to unsaddle her and then get as close as I could to the stallion and then dismount and hold her reigns with my rope from as far away from her as possible. Hopefully the white stallion would get a sniff of her and decide to mate her. I have to admit that as I was coming up with that idea I was getting awfully randy myself. Anyway, as the two were hopefully mating Lone Wolf and Danny would sneak in and rope the stallion. If it worked we would not only come away with the stallion, but maybe even the Autumn Pony would produce his offspring as well.

 

I told the other two of my plan, they both thought I was nuts, but I was the boss. I unsaddled Calico's pony and tied my rope to her reins and then the three of us rode on into the canyon after the herd. As we got near I could see the males in the herd picking up the scent of the pony. We got as close as we could and then I slid off and found some place to hide behind a tree. Danny and Lone Wolf went off to the right behind some brush and then we waited. It was a sight to behold, there were five males that had gotten the scent and were biting and kicking at the others. The while stallion would not be denied and finally chased the other four off and then pranced over to the pony. The Autumn Pony was indeed receptive, reminded me of someone I knew, and as the two mated Danny and Lone Wolf quietly came up from behind them and lassoed the stallion just as he was coming down off of the pony.

 

The stallion showed he had plenty of fight left in him and it took several minutes before I could rope him from the ground. With the third rope on him we were finally able to get some kind of control over him. I knew too that I wasn't going to be able to sweet talk this stallion. I whistled for Cali's pony and we headed out of the canyon with me in the lead, and the other two off to the sides and slightly behind the stallion. Once outside the canyon and in a clearing we managed to hobble the stallions front legs, and I took some apples from my saddlebags and cut one in half and threw it to the stallion. Nope, that didn't help one little bit. I was going to have to come up beside him on the pony and then try to slide over onto the stallion. It took me three tries before I was able to actually mount the stallion if only for a few seconds. When I hit the ground I was reminded of my ribs and my shoulder. I managed two more short rides before my pain took over my pride and I let Lone Wolf and Danny had a crack at the white stallion.

 

I watched as the two took their turns on the stallion, I knew who was getting the worst of it, we were. After the two were pretty thoroughly thrashed by the stallion I took a turn again. I had been watching the stallion intently as the other two took their turns. This time I was ready for him, it took a while and my ribs and shoulder reminded me off them each time the stallion turned or bucked. Finally the stallion settled down enough for his legs to be un-hobbled. He tried to throw me a few more times before he finally settled down. After a while we brought the pony back to him, we wanted to make sure it would take this time, and besides I figured that if we rewarded him he might be thankful. He took the opportunity but I don't know how thankful he was.

 

We headed back to the cabin with me riding the stallion, he only manage to throw me three more times, so I don't know if he was unthankful, or he was and that was why he only threw my three times.

 

We were in a great mood as we arrived back at the cabin. I hollered for Cali to come out to see the stallion, and then I hollered again three more times. Each time with more urgency to my voice. Lone Wolf had already dismounted and was circling around with his face towards the ground. "Three horses, all shod, one set of boot tracks going to cabin, then those tracks and smaller tracks going back to the horses, They went that direction" Lone Wolf said as he pointed southeast.

 

My heart nearly fell out of my chest, who would do this. I sent Danny back to the ranch for help as Lone Wolf and I got ready to track. I told Danny to bring anyone not needed to keep the ranch running and to bring Running Bear with him as well. I told Danny to tell Karl we were headed towards Grizz's place to give them direction to head.

 

I threw my saddle on the while stallion along with my rifle scabbard and saddlebags. I could taste blood as we headed out on the trail of the tracks. I didn't know who had taken Cali, but I was going to kill them, slowly!

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The three men struck out towards the southeast, and it wasn't long before we'd left Culpepper lands. I almost wished some of our men had seen these strangers taking me away, but no such luck. I'd have to remember to tell Cheyenne to have someone fix the fence these three had destroyed, if and when I ever saw him again. We rode for several hours, til we finally come to a run down shack with a corral and a barn that looked like it would blow over in a hard wind.

Cole helped me down off of Slim's horse, then forced me into the shack. “You ain't said a word, ain't you curious bout where we're takin' ya?” Slim asked me as he followed us inside. “Shut up, she don't need ta know nothing until we get there,” Cole told him, then grabbed a water pail and went back outside. The third man came inside as well, I'd heard the other two call him Tex but he hadn't said anything the whole time either. It wasn't long before Cole came back with some water, I was hoping the three of them would use some of it to clean up with, but no such luck.


“Hey lady, we ain't moving out again til morning, and we're all hungry, how bout you cook us some dinner?” Cole asked me, while taping the pistol in his belt with one finger to remind me he was armed and I wasn't. Me...cook? This cretin had to be out of his mind...but I wasn't about to tell him that. I went over to where the stove was, and took a look around. I saw a few things that looked familiar, having seen them in our kitchen, maybe I could pull this off after all. Cole pointed out that there was salt pork, beans, and flour, then told me to have dinner ready in half an hour. He and the other two went outside again, but I could see they were keeping an eye on the one and only door, no way was I going to be able to sneak away.

I knew that all I had to do was heat up the beans and pork, but the flour confused me. I knew it was used to make biscuits, and I'd seen Lu Sing put something else in her biscuits as well, something else white. I looked around some more, and found a canister with some other white stuff in it, hopefully it was the right stuff. I poured some of that and some flour and water into a bowl, and then put lumps of the stuff on a pan and put it in the oven. I had no idea how long they were supposed to bake, but when I started smelling something burning I figured they were done.

While the stuff was cooking, I'd quietly made my way over to the doorway to see if I could here what the men were saying. I couldn't hear it all, but I made out enough to figure out what they were up to. Somehow they knew that most of the Culpepper money was in the First National Bank down in Denver. Cheyenne kept some in the bank in Fort Collins, but the majority was in Denver. The men were planning on taking me to Denver and trying to force me to withdraw all the money from the bank, then they would take me out in the middle of nowhere and dump me. What they obviously didn't know was that I had no access to the funds in the First National Bank, I was on the small account at the local bank but not on the one in Denver. I wasn't sure what was going to happen when they found that out, but I had no intention of telling them, as I didn't know what they'd do to me then. When the biscuits were done, I called out to them to come and get it.

The three of them came inside, and starting dishing up the food I'd prepared. Cole told me I could go ahead and eat too, but I wasn't the least bit hungry. That was probably a good thing, as it only took a couple of bites before all three men were furious, I guessed it didn't taste real good. I tried to explain that I didn't know how to cook, that we had someone else to do it at the ranch, but Slim still wanted to slap me around for it. Tex didn't say a word, just grabbed Slim's arm and refused to let go until the other man calmed down enough to stop threatening me.

Later though, Slim started threatening me again, but this time he wasn't planning on hitting me. Tex again stopped him, and for the first time I heard him speak, “Leave her be. Can't you see she's expecting? That just ain't right....” Cole also backed up what Tex had said, insisting that Slim back off and leave me alone. For that I was thankful, but I still wasn't about to trust any of them. Not when they had kidnapped me in an attempt to rob us....


Later on they told me to get some sleep, and let me have the only cot in the shack for the night. All three curled up in blankets on the floor, between me and the door so I would have a hard time getting by. I wasn't going to try it, preferring to wait for Cheyenne to come rescue me. But it was probably a good thing that they were all closer to the door, as it wasn't long before they were all taking turns running for the outhouse out back. Their retching sounds kept me awake half the night, I guess something they ate wasn't agreeing with them.....



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Lone Wolf and I started tracking as Danny headed for the ranch and re-enforcements. In years past I wouldn't have sent Danny to the ranch, instead I would have relied on just the three of us to rescue Calico. But, after having had the dis-pleasure of being shot several times I knew better than to push my luck. I had Danny take the white stallion, a long hard ride at the hand of an experience rider would be good training for it.

 

The trail was easy to follow; however, I didn't want to make the mistake of surprising them and me by running up on them too soon. It was nearing dusk when Lone Wolf abruptly stopped his pony and spun around looking off behind us. "They come," was all he said. Soon we could see the cloud of dust nearing us. Danny returned with the men from the ranch along with Running Bear and Black Horse. I didn't really need to but I checked to make sure that all were well armed. While I did I noticed Cora and Biblepuncher were among the men. Cora must have read my face as she blurted out, "I know Calico is mad at me, but I couldn't live with myself if I didn't help and something happened to her!" I smiled and nodded to her and continued checking the men.

 

I explained what had happened, even though I was sure that Danny already had, and told them we would push through the night. Danny and I exchanged horses, he felt that the white stallion would do better if he didn't get used to Danny, seeing how it was my horse.

 

Running Bear, Black Horse and Lone Wolf rode on ahead, sending back Lone Wolf every so often to bring us up. Those three would be able to do the best job of not running up on the kidnappers, something I surely didn't want to do. I wanted them taken by surprise on my terms. I had my Sharps, as did Eddie and Ike. I knew that Grizz had to be with us soon, no one could enter what he considered his domain without him knowing it.

 

The moon had passed it's zenith when Black Horse came back to us along with Running Bear and Lone Wolf. He explained that he knew of a run down cabin not far ahead. I knew the place, my father had bought the small ranch years ago from a widow whose husband had been killed by a bear. But where were they headed for? The mountains were to the west, and it wouldn't be long before snow would set in at the higher elevations and then work it's way down. There wasn't anything to the south for days and days, but to the east was Denver. Why would they risk taking her to Denver though? She was known in Denver, I nor anyone else had a clue as to where the group would be heading in the morning.

 

We pushed on by the light of the moon, and soon we could see the outline of the cabin. We bedded down several hundred yards away but Black Horse, Running Bear and Lone Wolf went on ahead. Each would take a spot to the west, south and east in case the group moved out without us knowing it. Most of the men settled down and tried to catch a few winks, but I walked off a bit and Biblepuncher and Cora joined me as I did. We sat on the ground in a circle and began taking turns praying. Soon we began to hear other voices praying with us.

 

The sun was just about to crest the horizon when Lone Wolf re-joined us. "They are still at the cabin, there are three men, and they seem to be sick. If they do try to leave they will be easy prey for us." he told us with a wily smile. We decide to surround the cabin, but from afar. By doing so, if all three men appeared outside at one time without Calico in the way we would take shots at the same time. If not, then if the men were still sick Running Bear, Black Horse, and Karl would take them individually with knives. Lone Wolf wasn't to happy about being left out of that part. But after I asked him if he had ever had to kill a man before, he realized that with Calico's life at stake we couldn't take the chance.

 

As we thought through our plans I remembered Calico's derringer that she always carried in her bosom. I hoped that she had it, but I knew I couldn't count on her having it. I know when I was around her I couldn't keep my hands off of the... I mean her. I was hoping that whoever had taken her hadn't found it that way.

 

As the sun rose it became apparent that the men wouldn't be leaving any time soon. A couple times the men all appeared outside at the same time, but with Calico being held by one of them. More often one or two would come out, either puke in the bushes or run for the outhouse. I signaled for the three to make their moves to take the men individually.

 

Karl was the first to slit one of the men's neck, we could see the blood spray from as far as we were away. I watched through the glass on my rifle as Karl did it, I had never seen that expression on his face, not did I ever after either, as he slid his knife across the mans neck. It looked as if he was trying to behead him. I wanted to ask him about it later, but I didn't want him to have to go there again. He sheathed his knife quickly and pulled the man further out into the bushes.

 

Minutes later one of the of the other men came out, he apparently thought the other man was in the outhouse and went out behind it and dropped his drawers and squatted. An arrow appeared in the man's back, and he dropped into his own excrement like a rock.

 

We left him there behind the outhouse and out of sight from the cabin.

 

Soon we heard shouting coming from the cabin and the door would crack open ever so little. I really wanted to call out and tell the man to surrender, but he didn't know what was happening just yet. We would wait, maybe whatever had made him sick would kill him.

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At first I thought it was kind of funny that they'd all gotten sick, until it finally occurred to Slim that it must have been what they'd eaten that was causing it. I felt ok but then again I hadn't eaten any dinner. “Just what the heck did you do to that food, tryin' ta poison us or something?” he shouted at me after one of many trips outside. He was standing over me, getting ready to hit me, and this time I didn't think Cole was going to object. I was starting to get scared, when we heard the sound of a gun being cocked. Slim looked over his shoulder, and Tex was standing there with his pistol aimed straight for Slim's head.


“Leave her alone, I ain't gonna tell you again! Whatever was wrong with the food ain't her fault, Cole shouldn't have made her cook fer us in the first place. You ain't hurtin' the lady and that's final!” Tex told him, and it didn't take Slim long to back off. I had no idea why this man Tex was trying to protect me from his partners, I doubted that he really gave a hoot about me personally. He probably figured that any visible signs of abuse might ruin their chances of getting the bank to give me the money they were after. Still, I had to be grateful for what he had done, as I really didn't enjoy the thought of getting beat up.

When daylight came, they were all still feeling poorly, and a few times they all needed to go outside at the same time. I got dragged along, as they didn't want to leave me unattended, but at least Cole and Slim seemed to have excepted the idea that Tex wasn't going to tolerate them abusing me. I needed to use the outhouse at one point myself anyway, thought I had to hold my breath the entire time. Their original plan had been to hit the road for Denver as soon as it was light, but with the way they were feeling we weren't going anywhere for a while. A little while later Slim made another trip outside, followed a few minutes later by Cole. Tex stayed to keep an eye on me, but by then I think he was starting to feel a little better. He didn't say anything to me at first, but I took the opportunity to thank him for stopping Slim. “Didn't do it fer yer sake, lady, but I guess yer welcome,” was his only response. I had already figured that part out, but I also figured that if he knew I appreciated the gesture he might be more likely to continue sticking up for me.

We waited for a while for the other two to come back inside, but they never appeared. Finally Tex started getting a little concerned about it, and tried yelling for the other two. When there was no response he looked at me and asked, “Ok, sumthin's definitely not right here, those two should have heard me just fine. Ain't no reason for them not ta answer, unless you did something else to em'? Just what are you up to?” I shook my head and told him I hadn't done anything, and I didn't know what had happened to the other two. I certainly wasn't going to tell him that I was positive that by now Cheyenne and who knows who else from the ranch had managed to follow us, and that I had the feeling those other two were never coming back. We hadn't heard any shots, so my rescuers had to have dealt with Cole and Slim some other way.

Finally Tex had had enough, and decided that we were going to go looking for his partners. I had no choice in the matter, but since I knew the place had to be surrounded I wasn't that upset with the idea of going outside. The men couldn't do much to Tex as long as he and I stayed in the shack, thought I had to admit to myself that I really didn't want Tex to be killed, I hoped that maybe Cheyenne would give him a chance to surrender and see if he'd be willing to take it. After all, this whole ordeal would have been much worse if Tex hadn't protected me from Slim, I owed the man at least a little consideration. Then again, Cheyenne and the others would have no way of knowing that, and I knew their only concern would be to rescue me at all costs, including Tex's life if necessary.

We stepped out of the shack and started heading around to the back, but before we had gotten very far I noticed someone step out from the trees a little ways from the buildings, leading a horse. Tex noticed this person to and made me stop, waiting for the person to get closer. As they did, to my surprise I realized it was Cora, what was she doing here? And what was she doing? It didn't take long before it occurred to me that she was acting as some sort of diversion, to get Tex's attention long enough for the men to do something, but what? I sure hoped that whatever it was, neither me or Cora would get hurt, she was taking a big risk for my sake. As she got closer she called out, “Hey, can you help me? I think I must be lost....” I knew then that I probably only had seconds to prepare myself to get the heck outta the way of whatever was coming next....

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It didn't take long for the door of the cabin to open, Calico was the first one out and then what I hoped was the last man. He called again for his two accomplices but of course he didn't get a reply from the two dead men. I had him all lined up and was about to squeeze the trigger when I heard Cora's voice. I pulled my finger out of the trigger guard and looked to see Cora walking towards Calico and the man. "What in the world is she doing?" I asked aloud.

 

I quickly turned my attention back to the man and was lining him up again, I could see him looking all around him, he had to know that he had no where to go! As Cora got closer to him I saw a smile come across his face and his hand that had been holding his pistol at the hip lowered straight down. "Well, hell, if I got to surrender I'd rather surrender to a beautiful woman instead of a bunch of ugly cow hands" he said as he let the pistol fall to the ground.

 

I almost took a shot at the pistol to destroy it and take away any chance of him going for it, but I knew if I shot everyone else may open up and who knows who would have been hit then.

 

Calico was standing behind the man by then with her shirt nearly wide open and holding her derringer pointed at the man, "Don't kill him Cheyenne, he wouldn't let them harm me." As we all stepped from our positions the man fell to his knees and threw his hands high into the air as Cora kicked the pistol out of the man's reach. "You're awfully close to me, aren't you afraid I'd grab you?" the man asked Cora. She looked back towards us and told him with a smile, "There's at least three men here that could have taken that wart of your nose had you even flinched."

 

Cora continued on past the man towards Calico, by the time she reached her I don't know which of them was blubbering the loudest. Biblepuncher and I looked at each other, shook our heads and in unison sighed a big sigh of relief.

 

Karl was the first to the man, his yellow shirt splattered with the blood of the man whose throat he had cut wide open, and with almost the same look in his eyes that he had when he killed the other man, grunted to him, "You're lucky you didn't hurt her or I would have cut your innards out one by one while you were still alive." The man lost any color in his face that he may have had and started whimpering about how he had protected Calico.

 

The man puked one more time as Black Horse and Running Bear walked up to the man holding the hearts of the two other men in their hands. Karl looked down at the man and snarled again, they were lucky that we were sure that Calico was still alive, they were already dead when they cut their hearts out.

 

I had to wait for Cora and Calico to stop hugging each other before I got a chance to hold my wife again. "What are you going to do with him?" she asked as I held her.

 

"I would have gut shot him and left him for the buzzards had you been hurt, but what do you care?" I asked her.

 

The men were about to tied the man up as Calico was asking that, but I told them not to bother, if he did try to escape then he would be target practice, which brought some laughs from the men.

 

Calico pulled me around and asked me again, looking me straight in the eyes, "What are you going to do with Tex?" "Tex?" I replied, "I know I may regret this; but, what do you think we ought to do with him.?"

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When Cheyenne asked me what I wanted him to do with Tex, I didn't hesitate long. “As long as he goes peacefully, I don't want him hurt. We can take him to the Marshall's office in Denver, and let him handle it. I can explain later, but this whole mess would have been a lot worse for me if it hadn't been for him.” I could tell that Cheyenne was a little confused by that, but he agreed to go along with my idea, though he did try to convince me to return to the ranch with him and half the men, he would send Karl to Denver with the other men to turn Tex over to the law there. I tried to protest, thinking that I would need to be there to tell the Marshall what had happened, when Black Horse came over to us.


“It is getting colder, there is a storm on the way. The women should go home,” he told us, and as far as Cheyenne was concerned that settled it. I spent a few minutes filling in Karl on the story, and told him to let the Marshall know that as soon as possible I would go see Sheriff Tom in Fort Collins to have him help put my testimony on paper, to be sent on to the Marshall's office in Denver. Cheyenne listened as well, and when I told about how Tex had stopped Slim from mistreating me several times, he went over to talk to the man. “I have no sympathy for you ending up in jail, you deserve it for kidnapping my wife and thinking you were going to steal my money. But I would be wrong if I didn't say thank you for making sure the ordeal wasn't any worse for her or our child,” and then stuck out his hand. Tex looked at him for a few seconds, then returned the gesture, the other men looking on in disbelief as the two men shook hands.

 

I thanked him again as well, and Tex told me, “I just wanted the money, I never thought it was worth hurting you over, ma'am,” then Karl told him to mount up, they needed to get going before the storm hit. As the men who were going to Denver with Karl prepared to leave, the rest of us got ready to head back to the ranch as well. I didn't have my pony, but Cheyenne had already decided to take both Slim and Cole's horses with us, no reason to leave them there to starve, and gave me my choice of which one I wanted to ride. As we got going, Cora moved her horse up next to mine to talk to me.

“I know I probably don't deserve it, but can you please find it in your heart to forgive me?” she asked. I just shook my head and said, “No,” and for a second I thought she was going to start crying again. Biblepuncher didn't look real happy about my answer either, and I knew I had to talk fast before he had the chance to say anything. “Ain't nothing to forgive, you told me yourself that Cheyenne turned you down, and nothing happened between you two. Attempting to get him to cheat on me wasn't a nice thing to do, but everything you've done for us, and especially me, ever since then more than makes up for it. So, no, I don't forgive you, there's just no reason for me to need to. Now can we go back to being friends? I sure could use yer help until we can hire a dependable nanny.”


With tears in her eyes, Cora quickly agreed, but Biblepuncher still wasn't totally satisfied. He asked me, “Well, if you don't hold any hard feelings towards Cora, why are you thinking about hiring a nanny? Hasn't she done a good enough job helping take care of the twins? I see no reason for you to be looking for a replacement.”

I just smiled at him, and tried to explain, “She's always done an excellent job, not only with the twins but with Tommy and Rose as well. But we still haven't been able to fulfill our promise to the nuns to let some of the orphans come stay at the ranch, and I was hoping Cora would still be willing to help me get that going. We'll be hiring someone to help with that as well, but not just yet. We need to make sure this will work out first. But eventually I want Cora to not have to worry about any of that, in fact I'm hoping that she'll be too busy taking care of her own offspring at some point...” Biblepuncher got a bit of a laugh out of that, Cora just blushed bright red, but at least she had a smile on her face.

As we rode on towards home the temperature kept dropping, and we could all see clouds moving in from the northwest. The horses didn't need too much encouragement, they all seemed even more anxious to get home than their riders, they sensed the changing weather as well. Cheyenne didn't want to push too fast, as he was concerned about me having to ride so far, until I pointed out that none of us was properly dressed for being out in a snowstorm. I was in more danger from the cold, in fact all of us were, we needed to get back to the ranch and under cover before the storm hit. He finally agreed to let the horses move a bit faster, but as we started to hurry a little I sent up a silent prayer that Karl and the others would be able to make it to Denver before the storm caught up with them as well...

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We hadn't ridden far when Calico finally noticed the white stallion. I told her the whole story about using the Autumn Pony as "bait". She listened to the whole story without interrupting me once but once I finished she only had one question, "Where is my pony, now? "

 

Needless to say, I made a quick decision that Calico and I would head for the cabin, besides we had unfinished business there. We could wait out the storm there as it had food and everything we would need. You would have thought that I had left the Autumn Pony there on purpose, it was a good thought, but truth be told when Calico went missing I hadn't given her pony a second thought.

 

She was excited about the chance of the pony possibly carrying again, it had been a while since the last one, and only colt that she had given us. It would be spring for the delivery, if it had taken.

 

We split off from the rest of the group and at a quick trot made our way to the cabin, with warm thoughts all the way there.

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We got back to the cabin without any more trouble, and Cheyenne quickly got a fire going. I was going to make something for us to eat, but he objected, saying he'd do it. “Hey, it's not like I made those fellas sick on purpose,” I told him, a little hurt that he didn't trust me. He just laughed, and told me that had nothing to do with it, he just wanted me to rest. At some point before he, Danny, and Lone Wolf had left the cabin, one of them had brought my sewing back in, so I sat and worked on that while Cheyenne made us some nice stew. It started snowing after dinner, but by then the horses were taken care of and we were able to spend the evening sitting cuddled up before the fire, then spent quite a while in each other's arms under the quilts I'd made for the bed.

By morning it had only snowed a couple of inches, but aside from caring for the horses we spent most of the day inside, but we weren't the least bit bored. It was nice to have some time alone, but that evening I pointed out that we should probably head for home the next day. Cheyenne wasn't too thrilled, but I was missing my babies, and besides, he and Danny needed to do a lot of work with that stallion if he was going to be Cheyenne's primary ride. The horse showed a lot of promise, and he was a beauty, but Cheyenne would need him fully trained before trusting him to behave. Besides, having had time to talk through what had been bothering me had given us the chance to resolve the issue. I had to admit, this kissing and making up thing wasn't so bad...

So the next morning we packed everything up and headed home. Cheyenne hitched up the buggy, and tied my pony and the new stallion to the back. Most of the snow had already melted, so it took some time to get back to the ranch, as the trail was a little muddy. As we approached the house, we noticed a covered wagon was parked off to the side of one of the barns, with the back end propped up on blocks. It was a mystery at first what a wagon like that was doing here, it certainly wasn't ours. Cheyenne pulled the buggy up in front of the house, and within seconds Tommy and Rose were running out the door and down the steps to see us, followed by their puppies. Cheyenne frowned a little at that part, but I just shook my head, I was feeling better and as long as I didn't pet or hold the dogs, I was willing to put up with an occasional sneeze if it made the kids happy. Both Tommy and Rose insisted that they had been working at getting all the pups to stay out of the parts of the house where they were no longer allowed, and I had to smile at how concerned they were about making sure I didn't get sick again.

After getting hugs from them as well as Laura and Sally, who had also come out to greet us, we headed inside looking for the twins. Instead we found Cora just coming down the stairs after having put the two of them down for a nap. She assured me that they weren't asleep yet, so we headed up to see them. As soon as we walked in the room, Sarah lifted her arms towards me and said, “Mama...”, how could I not pick her up and cuddle her after that? Cheyenne made sure to give Mathew plenty of attention, and we held them until they finally did drift off to sleep. There was still the matter of the wagon sitting outside, Cora hadn't said anything, so we went looking for Biblepuncher. With Karl and Bob both being among the men taking Tex to Denver and Cheyenne gone, Eddie was technically in charge though even he admitted that in reality he wasn't ready for that responsibility, so Biblepuncher was acting as his advisor.

We found him outside, making sure that Lone Wolf took the stallion and my pony to be cared for, while having Ike take care of the buggy. We asked him about the wagon, and he smiled and shook his head a little. “Why don't we go inside to the den, and I can explain,” he told us, so we followed his advice, and he waited until we were settled, me with a cup of tea and he and Cheyenne with glasses of whiskey, before he filled us in on what was going on.

“When the rest of us came back the other day, we came across the wagon just outside the front gate. It was full of women, they're all mail-order brides that came west as a group looking for men that supposedly had been writing to them in regards to arranging marriages. When the ladies arrived in Wyoming, they found out that it had all been a joke, some jerk had written all the letters, and had no intention of marrying any of them. He thought if he could get all these ladies to move all the way out here, he could convince them to work as soiled doves in a bordello he wanted to open, but they all refused. So they had decided to head for Denver and see if they could find honest work, if not they'd head back east to where they'd come from.”

He continued on, “They had been looking for a place to water the team, but they didn't want to go too far off the road, as the rear axle had been giving them problems. So I didn't think you'd mind if I let them come water the horses here, then I was going to have someone check out the axle before I let them continue on to Fort Collins for the night. But as we were pulling up to the ranch house, the axle let go completely, it's broken and we don't think it can be fixed. The men managed to get it over by the barn, I figured it would be safer there if the storm turned out bad, and put the women up in the new house for the night. Yesterday me and Prairie Dawg took the axle to town to see if the blacksmith could fix it, but he said even if he tried, it probably wouldn't hold together long enough for the women to make it to Denver. He's trying to arrange to get a new one for them, but in the meantime they had to stay somewhere, I hope you don't object...”

Well, we really couldn't object, as he was right, the ladies had to stay somewhere. It sounded like they'd already been through enough without having to worry about what to do until the wagon could be fixed. All the same, I was kind of relived that at least half the men weren't here, and the ones that had returned were mostly the married ones. I could see where a half dozen single women wandering around could be an issue once the unmarried hands returned home....



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I had learned my lesson, I wasn't going anywhere near any of the ladies that had come in the wagon unless Calico was with me. That way hopefully I could avoid going without for weeks. Plus I wouldn't have to deal with the temptation that way, it sure is easier to be good if you don't even have to say no. We were going to need someone to help with the orphans when they started visiting the ranch. Who knew, maybe one of them would answer that call.

 

I spent quite a bit of time with Danny and Lone Wolf at the corral working with the white stallion. I still hadn't come up with a name for it, but he was coming along real well. Danny and Lone Wolf were making progress with the mustangs and a few of them were proving to be exceptional animals. I knew that Buick would be selling them come spring and I was committed to making sure that some of them would be staying on the ranch. Shoot, if I didn't know how much Danny meant to the Golden Aspen Ranch I would have hired him and kept him on the ranch as well. Heck, maybe his pain would ease a little if he could take a little interest in one of the wagon ladies.

 

Karl and the rest of the men had finally returned from Denver and brought a new axle for the wagon. You would have thought we had opened a candy store when the men saw the ladies from the wagon. Karl was having a ball hugging each one of them and a couple of them were duly disappointed that he was married. They did latch onto Grumpy Old Man though and I hadn't seen him smile that big since Buford was born.

 

Calico and Cora had met with the ladies and laid out some pretty strict guidelines because the ladies wouldn't be leaving any time soon because of winter setting in. Besides Thanksgiving was just a week away, and how could we send them away when we had been blessed with so much. The fact that they could all cook made the decision to let them stay didn't hurt either. Though I made sure that I never commented on their cooking, Calico was unsure of herself in that area enough without someone else that could cook better than her. Besides the less time she spent in the kitchen was more time with me.

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Faster horse, younger women, older whiskey, and more money is all I want.

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I had been noticing that one of the ladies, Miss Lizzy had been spending a lot of time playing with Buford, Grumpy Ole Man's dog. You could tell that Grump wasn't about to miss an opportunity like that and was non too bashful about talking with Miss Lizzy. Grumpy sought me out and asked for a raise, and seeing how I did pay married men more than I did the single men I happily agreed, once they were married. Grumpy frowned a bit but then looked over at the much younger and very pretty Miss Lizzy and told me he'd work on it.

 

Well that took care of one of the six ladies that had come in on the wagon, there was only one I was sure that no one would want a part of, a sassy and bossy one that would speak her mind freely even if she had no part of the matter. It would be a cold winter for her.

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Boy, those women sure did get a lot of attention when the unmarried hands came back. As long as everyone behaved themselves, I had no objection to the women getting to know the men...who knows, maybe they'd find the partners they'd been looking for. I knew that some of the men here did get awfully lonely sometimes, and if love blossomed, so be it. I was kind of surprised though, when the first pair to hit if off was Grumpy Old Man and Miss Lizzy. She and two of the other women were a little older than the other three, but all the same I would have thought she'd be looking for a slightly younger man. I think it was Buford that did it, the furry little rascal made a good cupid.

 

I took some time trying to get to know the other women, in the hopes that maybe I'd be able to help them out. One of the other older ladies, Clara, was a widow, having married young during the War Between the States to a fella that hadn't come home. She had made a living for herself as a ladies' dress maker back east, and she told me that if she didn't find a man that she felt worth her time and trouble she was thinking of opening her own dress shop. I had been hearing rumors around town that Mr. and Mrs. Dixon were thinking of leaving for the east, so I told Clara about Mrs. Dixon's dress shop and let her know that if Mrs. Dixon did end up selling it, it might be a good chance for her to take it over. In the meantime, Clara graciously volunteered to make me a few new things. I'd returned most of the maternity clothes I'd worn last time to their rightful owners, and although I knew I could borrow them again if necessary I did want a few new ones of my own.

 

The other one of the older women, well, it didn't take long to figure out that she wasn't worth my time or trouble. She went around criticizing everyone and everything about the ranch, none of it was good enough for her. She drop Hop and Lu Sing crazy, complaining about the way they went about their chores. She didn't like the food, or the guest house, and she wanted nothing to do with any of the kids or the dogs and Midnight, and even raised a stink (pardon the pun) about the houses being too close to the barns. Hello, it was a ranch fer cryin' out loud....! And as for the men, well, they weren't good enough for her either, she made it clear she had no intention of "settling" for a ranch hand, which was probably a good thing because none of our men were that desperate anyway.

 

The three younger ones were another story though. Pretty, friendly, but willing to work, they all made it clear that the right man would have no trouble convincing any of them to stay put here. Jenny had been a school teacher for a while, and was sweet enough to volunteer to tutor Sally for a while. She also spent some time talking with Schoolmarm, finding out which of the youngsters could use a little additional help. Jenny spent a few hours every afternoon with them, giving them some extra attention that Schoolmarm simply didn't have time for in class. Kathleen, or Kate as she preferred to be called, had come from a large, religious family, and as the eldest girl she had spent a lot of time helping care for her younger siblings. She and Cora became fast friends, and it wasn't long before Kate was helping take care of the twins. In fact, she made it clear she thought they were both so adorable that she couldn't resist them. That was find with me, as the babies seemed to like her as well, and it gave both me and Cora a bit of a break.

 

Last but certainly not least was Ella Rose. Barely twenty years old, she was a bit more shy than the others, but with a smile that more than made up for it. All of the single men, and even a few of the married ones, would do just about anything to see that smile. It was still a bit of a shock though when she turned out to be the first female on the ranch that actually got Danny's attention. Oh, he was still all polite and formal, like he was with all the ladies, but every time he got to talk to her you could see his eyes light up. Ella tried really hard not to play any favorites, and to give all the men a chance to spend time with her, but it quickly became apparent to the rest of us that her smile was just a tiny bit bigger for Danny than anyone else. Whether or not anything would come of it remained to be seen, after all the women had just arrived. No sense anyone rushing into anything...the ladies, or at least most of them, were welcome to stay as long as they needed to.

 

Thanksgiving was fast approaching, and I was thankful we would have the extra help around when it came to cooking Thanksgiving dinner. It had been made clear to me by just about everyone but Cheyenne that I was not to tire myself out helping in the kitchen that day, like I couldn't see through that excuse. Oh well, I'd just spend that time with my kids and let the other women handle things in the kitchen. At least I wouldn't have to spend the whole evening listening to anyone complain about my cooking!

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What, cha got a whole boat load of wimmins and didn't invite me? That last one ya fixed me up with didn't last long.

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hold chur horses, Ize got one all picked out for you!!!

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That's what I'm afraid of.

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