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The Lineage

By April Keays

Adventure / Action

The Lineage


 Birth of a Princess

Brookswood, Colorado

Early Spring - 1892

  “Wake up, Sleepy-head!”


  “Come on!  Daylight's wasting.  You have things to do.”

  “Mmm hmmm.”

  A gentle movement on the bed beside him was followed by a lovely feminine scent and long hair tickling him.  She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek and he smiled sleepily, relishing her warm, first thing in the morning essence.

  “Come on, get up,”  she persisted, giving him a gentle shake.  “I'll get the coffee on.”

  Heyes yawned and stretched, still not willing to open his eyes.  He snuggled back into the pillow and pulling the quilt up over his shoulders again he allowed himself to drift back into unconsciousness.

  Another gentle shaking and he was pulled away from the cozy warm dream that was instantly forgotten.  He smelled coffee.

  “Hannibal, come on,”  the persistent voice persisted.  “It's getting late.  You know you're meeting with Jesse this morning; time to get up.”

  Another big yawn followed by a heavy sigh.  He felt the mattress shift as a heavenly body sat down beside him and ran her fingers through his hair.  He opened his eyes to slits and smiled a sleepy smile.

  “You silly,” she accused him.  “You're not twenty years old anymore.   How can you expect to be playing poker until the wee hours and still get up for a 10:00 a.m. appointment?”

  “I know,”  he mumbled as he shifted onto his back and stretched again.  “It was just too good a game to walk away from.”

  “Of course it was,”  she teased.  “Coffee and oatmeal are ready, so no more excuses.  Time I got our daughter up for school.”

  Heyes nodded and smiled, his eyes closed again.  “Alright.  I'm up.”

  “Ah huh.  I'll believe that when I see it.”

  He felt her stand up and leave the room, and he was left in blessed quiet.  He started to drift off again, but a sudden weight on his chest woke him up, and the purring started.  He opened his bleary eyes to find himself staring into the large green orbs of the resident feline.  She smiled when she knew he was acknowledging her, and her purring intensified.

  “Don't you have a mouse to go catch?”  he asked her.

  “Ack!”  Purr, purr, purr.

 The needling started.  Heyes sighed.  “Why don't you go talk to Miranda about getting you some breakfast?”

  “She's already eaten,” came the distant voice from the kitchen.

  Heyes groaned.  So much for that idea.  Oh well.  With a stretch and another big, battle weary sigh he pulled himself out of the warm cozy cocoon and got out of bed.  Mouse jumped down and flicking her tail trotted out to the kitchen.  Heyes thought absently that she seemed to be gaining some weight.

  By the time Heyes had dressed and completed his morning toiletries his two favorite ladies were already sitting down to breakfast.

  “Good morning.”  he greeted them as he came into the kitchen.  He was feeling a little more awake now.

  “Good morning Papa!” his little angel returned the greeting and then giggled excitedly.

  Heyes grinned as he sat down. “You really like calling me that, don't you?”

  “Yes Papa!”  she laughed again, and pushing off her chair she ran around the table to her Pa and gave him a big hug.

  “Well, that's just fine.”  Heyes assured her, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.  “You just keep on calling me that.  I like the sound of it too.”

  “I love you, Papa.”

  Heyes' dimples danced and he gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek.  “I love you too, Sally.  Now off you go, back to your chair.  You don't want to be late for school.”

  Miranda smiled at the exchange between her husband and their new daughter.  Life had changed for her so quickly over this past year that she hardly had a chance to catch her breath.  It seemed as though she had waited a life-time for Hannibal to make up his mind about what direction he was going to take, but once that mind was made up, he hadn't wasted any time putting words into action.

  Miranda had to admit that the letter Hannibal had received from Abi had at first caused her concern.  The fact that Joan Baines had died and that Amy would most likely not be returning to the scene of the crime, Randa had feared that her fiancé would start to have regrets.  It was not to be, however, and Hannibal had been quick to put Randa's concerns to rest.  It was over between him and Abi and despite the new events, neither of them had any intentions of rekindling the romance.

  The Heyes/Thornton engagement had been short and joyous, their marriage ceremony small and intimate.  Christmas Eve would never be the same again and it was fortunate that the weather had co-operated for the gathering.  Only family and close friends had attended at the small church in town, and the reception had been a fine dinner and dancing over in the hotel's large dining room reserved for that special occasion.

  Kenny and his family had made the trip over to Brookswood again for the wedding, as had Lom and Martha.  Clementine of course was also in attendance, coming to town with the Grangers.  Wheat and Kyle had held off their annual trip to California in order to attend, and Harry Briscoe with his new fiancée, Isabelle also put in an appearance.  It seemed that everybody was getting married these days and the numerous guests should perhaps simply take up semi-permanent residences to avoid the repeated travelling back and forth.  Heyes had suffered some playful ribbing that he was so impatient to get married that he couldn't wait until the following summer and make things easier on everybody.  Jed had commented that this was typical Heyes; always had to do things the hard way. 

  The Gibson's were there, of course, since they were not only close friends with the groom, but also relatives of the bride.  Tricia actually stood up beside her cousin as the Matron of Honor.  Jed naturally held the equivalent position for his cousin, standing up as Best Man while a gradually recovering Beth glowed with pleasure at the coming together of these families.

  Carl Jacobs and Joe Morin were also in attendance.  Carl decided that the town could manage well enough without a law officer officially on duty at least for a couple of hours. Christmas Eve tended to be a quiet, family time at home anyways, New Year’s Eve being the trouble-maker. In any case, their whereabouts were well known if anything did come up and nobody was too terribly worried about it.

  Jesse and Belle were pleased to see their indomitable friend finally settling down and taking some positive steps towards a good life.  They were also privately relieved at not having to be too involved with the organizing of this wedding.  It was just so nice for a change to be able to sit back and enjoy the festive spirit without all the stresses of being the ones in charge! Of course, Belle and Tricia had done their share of decorating the church, getting out the invitations, and making sure that the reception dinner was being prepared properly; but that was a walk in the park compared to being in charge of the whole operation.

Nathan was given the honor of ring bearer and he handled the responsibility with flying colors.  Sally was pleased as punch for more than one reason on this particular day.  Sister Julia had again escorted her to not only attend the wedding, but to also stand in as Miranda's flower girl.  Then, when it came time to sign the marriage certificates, the newly married couple took great pleasure in signing the adoption forms as well.

  Sister Julia was pleased to return to Laramie without the child and the child, though she would certainly miss the Sisters and her friends at the orphanage, was ecstatic to be going to her new home to begin a new life with her new parents.  The honeymoon would be put on hold until the following summer!

  Yes, it had been a whirlwind, but it had been wonderful.  The joyous occasion had brought new life and gaiety into the town after the troubles of the previous summer and everyone was ready for the normality of family life once again.

  The previous summer had ended with Beth being as good as her word.  Before the chill of autumn had yet to take hold, the Jordan extended family had gathered together near the front of the rapidly developing Curry homestead and the couple had planted a peach tree.  It had been a somber occasion but it had also brought with it an up-lifting of spirit and a renewing of hope.  And though Beth had cried and Jed had held her close, both ended up smiling through their sadness and felt the weight of despair lift from their shoulders.

  Thanksgiving was a time of rejoicing.  Although Bridget and Steven had not made the trip up, intending to come at Christmas for the wedding instead, it was still a very homey and comforting day spent at the Double J.  Hannibal and Miranda were almost sickening in their flirtations and J.J. made a point of imitating stomach upset every time they got carried away.  Everyone else just laughed and teased them while the newly betrothed couple soaked it all in with good humor.

  Even without the wedding ceremony, Jesse would never forget that Christmas mainly because it differed so much from the one before.  He'd never forget those months of padding around inside that big ranch house with no one for company but the cat.  He smiled with fond remembrance at his eldest daughter's attempts to make that Christmas a joyous time despite the obvious absence of so many loved ones.

  Now, in this year, everyone was home!  The weather had been accommodating and the Granger's and the Curry's and the Heyes' had all been able to attend the large gathering out at the Double J.  Belle was saved the work of having to put on a large dinner as they had all the leftovers from the reception of the night before.  Indeed, it might as well have been a second wedding reception with pretty much the same people showing up for the holiday as showed up for the nuptials.  Carl Jacobs and Joe Morin had their own families to celebrate the day with and Harry and Isabelle also opted to spend the day with Isabelle's family.  Heaven only knows what her folks thought of Harry, but at least he was a man and he continued to be interested.  He was also employed and that didn't hurt.

  Only Heyes had a moment of sadness wash over him at a time when he thought no one else was looking.  For him, this Christmas would have to settle for being a close second.  Even though everything had been in such an upheaval, the previous Christmas spent in the presence of his daughter could never be surpassed.

  But he didn't allow the sadness to linger because he didn't want it to mar the joys that this Christmas was bringing him.  He smiled over at his wife, watching her while she knelt on the floor to help their new daughter open a particularly large gift from her grandma and grandpa.  No, he wouldn't let sad memories mar this day.  He would always hold Anya and Abi dear to his heart, but this was a new day and a new life and it was time to start making those 'better memories'.

  Heyes was standing quietly, leaning against the entrance way to the family room and watched the controlled craziness of the younger generation opening their gifts.  He glanced up and smiled as the Kid approached him, a grin on his own face and a laughing twinkle in his blue eyes.  Both men were sporting cups of spiced wine and were feeling rather warm and toasty inside.

  “Well Heyes....”


  “Sure would be nice to spend Christmas with a family again.”

  Heyes' dimples became crevices as his whole face exploded in a grin.  “Yeah Kid,”  he agreed as they tapped their cups together.  “Sure would.”

  Belle caught their eyes and smiled warmly over at them.  Everything was turning out just as it should.

  Most appropriately, Easter had brought with it new life and new hope.  Jed and Beth were ecstatic to announce that they were expecting once again.  That rejoicing was then doubled when Bridget and Steven also made an announcement of a similar state of affairs.  David and Tricia simply smiled at each other and decided to leave their news for another day.

  Meanwhile, Heyes and Jed had some professional success with their new business, and were often getting minor jobs of testing a new safe or checking out a new security system.  Heyes suspected that much of it was simply due to their reputations and they were being hired because people wanted the prestige of being able to say that 'Hannibal Heyes himself had tested this safe' or 'none other than Kid Curry went over the security plans.'  Jesse had chosen to look at it another way; Heyes and Curry had been the best at what they had done and it only made sense to hire the best in their new chosen line of work.

  Well, okay.  The boys were willing to go along with this more complimentary point of view.  But whatever the reasons, their small business was doing well and showed promise for the years to come.  Often it was Jed who would travel to various local towns to check things out, but if it was something that definitely required a self-proclaimed genius; Heyes would get permission from his various 'guardians' and get a chance to spread his own wings.

  The opportunity to play in some rather high-stakes poker games also presented themselves in the guise of an investigation if a saloon or gambling hall manger suspected games were being rigged.  It would also be safe to say that between working for Lom and working for Heyes, Wheat and Kyle were kept quite busy in their new professions as undercover outlaws.
  Yes, indeed, this past year had gone by in a whirlwind and Miranda poured a cup of coffee for her husband as she thought about how happy she was—happier than she'd been in a long, long time.  She handed him the coffee over the table and then spooned out a hefty serving of oatmeal into a bowl and took it around to place in front of him.  She turned to go back to her own chair when she felt Hannibal grab hold of her wrist and stop her.

  “Where do you think you're going?”  he demanded.  “I haven't had my morning sugar yet.”

  Randa smiled and turned back to him.  He pulled her down and they kissed lovingly on the mouth.  Sally giggled.

  “I love you, you know,”  Heyes told her.

  “I know.”  Miranda smiled down at him.  “I love you too.”

  “Love you three!”  Sally piped in.

  Both parents smiled over at her.  Then Miranda straightened up and took on a stern air.

  “Hurry up you,”  she insisted.  “Finish your breakfast, then it's off to school with you.”

  “Yes, Mama!”

  Fifteen minutes later a knock sounded on the front door and Sally was hustled off with her lunch bucket to walk the short distance to the school house accompanied by her new friends.

  Miranda returned to the kitchen and pouring herself a second cup of coffee sat down with a sigh.  “Oh, my!  Mornings are so crazy.”

  “You're doing fine,”  Heyes assured her.  “You're a wonderful mother, especially since it was on such short notice.”

  Miranda laughed.  “I have a feeling that being married to you means that a lot of things are going to be on short notice.”

  Heyes smiled and nodded as he finished up his oatmeal.  “I have a feeling you're probably right about that.”

  Miranda smiled lovingly at him as she sipped her coffee.  “Would you like me to make you anything more?”  she asked him.  “Some eggs, or....”

  “No, no,” Heyes assured her.  “This is fine.  I'm not that hungry.  I'll probably get something with Jesse anyways.  He's up a lot earlier than I am these days and will probably be ready for a snack.”

  “What does he want to talk to you about?”  Randa asked him.  “Did he say?”

  “No,” Heyes admitted.  “Just that he wanted to hire me in my capacity as a detective.”  He shrugged.  “I have no idea what he has in mind.”

  “Hmm, very mysterious.”


  “More coffee?”

  “No,” Heyes grinned like the devil himself.  “I want more sugar.”

  Heyes walked into the cafe with his thumbs nestled comfortably in his gun belt; he stopped and surveyed the interior of the establishment.  A number of the tables had patrons sitting down and enjoying a tasty brunch and Heyes smiled greetings to the numerous people whom he had come to know here.  Movement caught his eye over at a far table and he acknowledged his friend and headed over that way.

  “Hannibal, there you are,”  Jesse greeted him.  “Would you like some coffee?”

  “Sure,”  Heyes agreed as he pulled out a chair and sat down.  “How's everyone at home?”

  Jesse smiled as he caught the waitress's eye and she headed for the coffee pot.  “You have to stop referring to the Double J as your home,”  he reminded his younger friend.  “You live in town now.”

  “I know,”  Heyes admitted.  “I suppose the Double J is always going to feel like home.  Living in town just seems like...well, like I'm in a hotel.”

  “Morning,” the waitress greeted the new customer as she placed a coffee cup in front of him, “You want anything else besides coffee?”

  “No, that's fine.”  Heyes flashed his dimples.

  Claire sighed inwardly—what a shame he was married now.  Not that Hannibal had ever indicated anything more than friendly acknowledgment where she was concerned, but a girl can dream, can't she?

  “How about you, Mr. Jordan,” she pulled her eyes away from the dimpled one, “you like anything else?”

  “Yeah,” Jesse contemplated, “how about one of those apple danishes you make.  Those are good.”

  Claire smiled with the compliment.  “Sure.”

  “Oh.”  Heyes perked up.

  “You want one, Han?”  Jesse asked him.

  “Yeah,” Heyes admitted, “those are good.  Didn't you win for best pastries at the 4th of July celebrations?”

  “Yes I did.”  Claire puffed up with pride, but then deflated again.  “That was a fun day until everyone started throwing up.  My pastries kind of got forgotten about after that.”

  “Oh.”  Heyes tried to hide his smile as he and Jesse exchanged a look.  “Well, I'm sure everyone appreciates them now.”

  “I guess,”  she agreed as she headed back to the kitchen to procure their treats.  “They do seem to be selling out now.”

  Heyes sighed quietly once she was out of ear-shot.  “Seems that was a bad day for everyone.”

  “Yeah,” Jesse agreed.  “Thank goodness it's over and done with now though.  Beth is pretty happy these days and can't wait for the new arrival to put in an appearance.”

  “Oh I know!”  Heyes rolled his eyes.  “Kid's on cloud nine.  He's going to be insufferable once the little tyke actually gets here.”

  Claire showed up then with the two apple danishes and plucked them down on the table.  “There ya' go.  Enjoy.  More coffee?”


  “That'd be fine.”

  Claire poured more coffee and then discreetly disappeared. The two men tucked in to their danish.

  “All things considered I'm hesitant to give you this job right now.”  Jesse admitted over a mouthful.  “I don't think Jed wants to leave Beth's side after what happened last time.  But if we wait until after the child arrives, well he probably won't want to leave her side then either.  It's a bit of a dilemma.”

  Heyes shrugged.  “Why would he have to leave her side at all?”  he asked.  “Is it that risky a job?”  He was somewhat incredulous with this question, not imagining that Jesse would ever give him a job to do that was inherently dangerous.

  “Oh, no!”  Jesse quickly assured him.  “I can't see it being a problem that way.  It's just that the two of you work well together and this might take a bit of digging.”

  “Hmm,”  Heyes mumbled over his mouthful.  “Digging for what?”

  “Well, as you know, we'll be putting Ned out with his own band of mares next year,”  Jesse explained.  “I'm very optimistic of the quality of foals we'll be getting from him.”

  “Yeah,” Heyes nodded.  This was common knowledge so he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  “As you also know some of our neighbors will be turning their mares loose with him for the season in hopes of getting a quality foal by him before his stud fee goes up—if I decide to stand him at stud at all that is.”

  “Yeah,” Heyes nodded again.  He waited.

  “Well, I've been thinking...”  Heyes smiled quietly; here it comes.  “....we already know that Ned will put out some fine youngsters.  But we won't get anywhere near what they're worth if we can't show his lineage.”

  “Oh.”  Heyes creased his brow; he'd never thought of that.

  “We all know that Karma is a fine mare,”  Jesse continued.  “And the stud I used to breed her to is a papered thoroughbred so we know Ned has some fine blood running through him.”

  “Yeah,” Heyes sound dubious, “but no papers from Karma's side.”

  “That's right,”  Jesse agreed.  “Now she looks to me like a cross between a thoroughbred and a good solid western pony.  She gets her height and fire from the thoroughbred and her more solid build and intelligence from the western cow horse.  If we could just track down even half of her lineage it would help promote her off-spring and establish a solid line.  I wouldn't be surprised if she is papered herself, and they just got lost along the way. You picked her up by accident, as a trade-in, didn't you?”

  “Yeah.”  Heyes collaborated that.  “I was...well, on the run at the time.  The horse I was riding was about done in and I had to get a fresh one, quick.  She just happened to be what the livery man brought out to trade.”

  “Odd,”  Jesse commented.  “That a man in that business would be willing to let such a fine horse go in exchange for an average cow pony.”

  Heyes shrugged.  “Maybe he didn't know what he had.  Or maybe it depends on what he needed at the time.”  Heyes sighed and thought about it for a moment.  “Karma's not always easy to handle—too smart for her own good sometimes.  It may be she was giving the livery man trouble and no one wanted to rent her.  When you're in that kind of business you're not necessarily looking for quality, just something that's reliable.  He may have taken one look at my tired, but sound cow pony and saw something he could use.”

  “I suppose that makes sense.”  Jesse agreed.  “Do you remember where that was?”

  “The town; where I got her?”


  “Ohh....”  Heyes sounded dubious.  “Not off-hand.  Hmm....”  He sat back, nursing his coffee.  “...I'll need to talk to Kid about that.  We were meeting up in a small town in Montana I think.  We had split up to do two different jobs when I ran into a group of rather stupid but persistent bounty hunters.  Honestly Jesse, I can't remember the name of the place.  Kid might remember where we met up though, and we could back-track from there.”

  “It's a start,”  Jesse agreed.

  “Yeah, but for all we know that livery man isn't even there anymore.”  Heyes contemplated that and did a quick calculating in his head.  “It's been...nine...maybe ten years since I picked her up.  I donno Jesse, it's a real long shot.”

  “I know.”  Jesse conceded.  “Have you ever noticed a brand on her?  That could be a place to start.”

  “No,” Heyes admitted thoughtfully, “but then I've never really looked for one.  Sometimes they can be in the oddest of places.”

  “True enough,”  Jesse agreed.  “On a well bred horse often breeders don't want the brand to mar the appearance of the animal.  Take a look next time, it could be hidden or just look like an innocent scar, but if she's got one it might help.  And who better to track down those loose ends than you and Jed?”

  Heyes reflected on the matter.  “Normally I would start enquiries with telegrams, but since I can't remember the name of the town.....this could be a problem. ”  He smiled sardonically.  “I don't think my jailers will allow me to leave the territory.”

  Jesse sat back and sent Heyes an admonishing look.  “Really Hannibal, I doubt that it's as bad as all that.  'Jailers', indeed.”

  Heyes sighed and reconsidered.  “Yeah I suppose you're right,”  he admitted.  “I suppose it's just habit now to think of them that way.  I'm trying not to, but sometimes my natural sarcastic tendencies have a way of sneaking out.  You're right; it's time to change my attitude about that.”

  “How do you think you should be viewing them?”  Jesse asked him, reverting back to his school-teaching days.

  Heyes grinned, knowing that Jesse was putting him to the test.  “Babysitters?” he teased.  Jesse sent him a look and Heyes smiled for real, “Yeah, alright.”  He crossed his arms and sat back, thinking about it.  “I do know they all want what's best for me and are trying to support me in attaining my goals.  Lom has been a good friend for a lot of years so I have to give him credit for tenaciousness.  And Jacobs has certainly tried to treat me fairly—although I know I have pushed his patience on more than one occasion.”

  “Uh huh.”

  “Kenny?”  Heyes continued reflectively.  “Kenny can be pretty hard on me.  I still feel the 'guard/inmate' relationship lucking in the background.”

  “Do you resent that?”  Jesse asked him.  “Does it bother you that he doesn't see you as an equal?”

  Heyes shrugged.  “I donno.  Maybe he feels, like you say; that I haven't earned that right yet.”

  “Do you feel you have?”

  Heyes grinned again.  “No,”  he admitted honestly.  “I hope to one day.  He sets the bar pretty high though.”

  “I think Mr. Reece respects you a lot more than you know.”  Jesse informed him and smiled himself.  “I think he's hard on you for the same reasons that Abi was hard on you.  They both saw your potential and hated the fact that you had wasted it.  He wants you to be successful here and is simply not willing to put up with your excuses.”

  Heyes snorkeled.  “Yeah, like someone else I know!” he commented pointedly.

  Jesse nodded.  “Yeah, alright, I'll accept that.  I don't let you get away with it either.  You got too used to having your own way then you get into a situation where people are not susceptible to your charm or your reputation and you resent it.  All of a sudden, instead of respect just coming to you naturally you're put in a position where you're expected to earn it.  That's a difficult shift to make.  You are doing it.  You fight against it at times, but on the most part you're making headway.  We can all see it and we appreciate the effort it takes.'  Jesse paused and smiled.  “Why don't you talk to Carl and see how much leeway he's willing to give you?  He might surprise you.”

  “Yes, I will,”  Heyes agreed his eyes suddenly glinting with the thrill of a new challenge.  “This could turn out to be fun.”

  Heyes could tell he was getting older.  As much as he didn't like to admit it, those late night poker games were really starting to take their toll and  he just didn't recover from lack of sleep quite a easily as he once had.  After his late night and then early morning to meet Jesse, Heyes felt sluggish all day and settled in for an early night. A quick supper and a kiss goodnight to his two ladies and he was down for the count.

  Miranda and Sally had spent the rest of the evening in the family room working on a jigsaw puzzle together.  Sally was trying very hard not to laugh too loudly since she knew her Pa was trying to sleep, but, truth be known, an orphanage of giggling children wouldn't have awakened him so she need not have worried about it.

  Sally was seated on the carpeted floor with her elbows resting on the coffee table while she scrutinized the developing picture in front of her.  She was taking this endeavor very seriously and every time she found a piece that actually fit into its allotted spot she would laugh and clap her hands excitedly until she remembered yet again to be quiet.

  Miranda had pulled a sitting chair up to the low table and sat sipping her tea while she sorted through the pieces of cut up cardboard that were scattered across the table.  She was viewing the picture from upside down so she wasn't having much luck finding pieces that would fit but she didn't mind.  Sally was far too engrossed in the challenge to notice that she was doing most of the work.

  Randa smiled quietly as she sipped her tea.  Chamomile it was, and she was pleased to find that she was actually enjoying this time—finally!  For so long after the poisonings of the previous summer, she had found it impossible to even catch the aroma of brewing tea without feeling a knot in her stomach and a touch of fear seize her heart.

  David had encouraged her to push through it and enjoy her tea again but it had been difficult.  She wanted to though, because she remembered really enjoying a cup of tea in the evenings and she missed sharing a pot with her cousin when they visited.  One got tired of drinking coffee all the time.  So she persevered and with the support of Tricia and Belle she had gradually gotten over the phobia and was now pleased to find that she could sit down to a cup of tea without too much trepidation.

   Randa smiled over at her daughter and said the dreaded but inevitable words.  “Time to get ready for bed, sweetheart; it's getting late and you have school tomorrow.”

  “Aww, but I want to finish it.”

  Randa's smile grew.  “Finish it?”  she repeated.  “You're not even half way there yet.  Come along, it will still be here for you to work on tomorrow evening.”

  Sally slumped and pouted.  “What if Papa moves it?”

  “Papa won't move it,”  Miranda assured her.  “I'll be sure to let him know that it's sacred ground.”  She heard a very audible sigh from the child.  “Come along,” insisted the new mother as she got to her feet, bringing her tea cup with her.  “I'll walk you out to the privy; then you get a quick wash and off to bed.”

  “Yes Mama,” came the reluctant, but defeated, mumble.

  Fifteen minutes later Sally had finished her ritual sponge bath and Randa was quickly drying her off before helping her into her night dress.  There was no need any more to be putting a warming pan into the beds and the evening toiletries could be gotten though quickly in relative comfort now that the chill of winter nights had loosened its hold.  It was, however, still a good time for mother/daughter talks and Sally decided to breech a topic that had been on her mind of late.

  “Mama...”  she began tentatively as Randa rubbed down her back.  “....I think Papa is going to give you a baby soon.”

  Randa felt a slight tremble go through her; how was she to respond to that?  It wasn't even a question.  She busied herself getting the night dress over the child's head as she tried to think of an appropriate response.

  “Why would you think that?” was the most logical response she could come up with.

  Sally shrugged innocently.  “All the other mamas are talking about having new babies.  Aunt Tricia keeps throwing up and I heard you say that she did that when she was....expecting....Nathan. So it seems to me that Aunt Tricia knew that Nathan was coming.  And now Beth too is doing the same thing and everybody seems to be really happy about it.”  She crinkled up her little nose and looked perplexed.  “Why would anyone be happy about throwing up?”

  Randa chuckled and turned Sally around to face her.  “I know that throwing up isn't very pleasant...”


  “But that's what happens sometimes when a 'mama' expects a new baby.  It's nothing to be concerned about.”

  “Oh.”  Sally looked down at her hands and fidgeted with the ribbon on her night dress.  “So you'll be throwing up soon too?”

  “Well, I don't know,”  Randa admitted.  “I'm not really expecting any....”

  “You will be,”  Sally was quite confident.  “Papa's going to give you one soon.”

  Miranda still found herself at loose ends with some of the statements this child would innocently come out with but seeing no other way to respond, she decided to simply go along.

  “How would you feel about that?”  she asked her daughter.  “Would you like to have a baby brother or sister?”

  Sally shrugged.  “Would you still want me?”

  Miranda leaned in closer, not quite sure she had heard that right.  “What was that, Sweetheart?”

  Sally sighed deeply and went for broke.  “Would you and Papa still want me when he gives you a new baby?”

  Miranda felt her throat tighten.  It had never occurred to her what quiet insecurities a child in Sally's situation might be harboring.  To have lost her natural parents at so young an age and then be shipped off to an orphanage—no matter how loving the care—was bound to leave its scars.  She should have been aware of that simply from what Jed and Hannibal had told her.  But, because they also emphasized the difference between Valparaiso and Laramie, it had never crossed her mind; Sally had seemed so content and well adjusted.

  She smiled through her own prickly eyes and stroked her daughter's long auburn hair before pulling her into a hug and holding her tight.

  “No, no,”  she assured the child.  “Don't ever think that.  You're our daughter and nothing is ever going to change that.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Yes, of course,”  Randa insisted.  “Do you think that Aunt Tricia and Uncle David are going to give up Nathan just because they are expecting a new baby?”

  “No.  I guess not.”

  “And Aunt Bridget and Uncle Steven?  Are they going to send Rosie away?”

  “No.  But....”

  “But what?”

  “They had them right from babies,”  Sally pointed out.  “I'm already eight years old.  Maybe you'll decide to send me back now that you're going to have a new one.”

  “That doesn't matter,”  Randa continued to assure her.  “It doesn't matter how old you were when you came into our lives.  You're our daughter and we love you.  We will never send you away.”

  Sally pushed herself out of the hug and smiled a huge smile at her mother.  “Never?”

  “Never,” Randa insisted, knowing that she was simplifying life a little bit, but that answer was what was needed to reassure an insecure child.  “You feel better?”

  Sally nodded vigorously.  “Yes!”

  “Good!  Now, into bed with you; it's getting late.”

  Sally climbed into her bed and snuggled down into her pillow while her mother tucked the blankets in around her.

  “Goodnight, Mama.”

  “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”

  Miranda slid into bed beside her sleeping husband.  She cuddled up against his back, feeling the warmth radiating off his skin as she molded her body into his.  She smiled at the masculine feel of him against her and allowed the heat under the covers to soak into her until it would become too much and she'd have to pull away.

  She wrapped her arms around him and he shifted and moaned softly.

  “You awake?”  she whispered hopefully.


  “Your daughter says you'll be giving me a new baby soon.”

  “Hmmm.”.....was followed by a sigh and then gentle snoring.

  Miranda smiled sleepily and finding his body too warm for her now she moved away from him.  Her hand slipped along his back, feeling the numerous long welts there that were a constant reminder of his prison ordeal.  She caressed them gently, her thoughts going back to a pleasant day in early autumn.

  It was during that wonderful time after he had proposed and before they were married.  They had ridden out for another picnic, wanting to get at least one more in before the weather became too chilly to make it comfortable.  Hannibal had been in a good mood and they had laughed and joked throughout most of the afternoon.  But as is often the case, once the lunch itself had been disposed of, some very affectionate kissing had taken the place of eating.

  But on this particular day, Hannibal had suddenly pulled back from her embrace and the laughter had gone from his eyes.  Miranda had sat up, her brow creased at this sudden change of mood, and then she smiled teasingly when he began to unbutton his shirt.

  “Hannibal,”  she said reproachfully.  “I thought you said you wanted to wait.”

  “I did,”  Heyes agreed with her.  “And I still do.  If Kid can wait three years for Beth, I can wait a few months.  I want to do things in the right order this time.”

  “Well then, what are you doing?”  Miranda was confused.

  “I want you to know what you're getting before you say 'I do',”  Heyes told her as he pulled off his shirt.  “I want you to be sure.”

  “Hannibal.”  Miranda smiled sadly and shook her head.  “I know you have scars on your back, I feel them every time we hug....”

  “But you've never seen them,”  Heyes insisted.  “I know you've seen the ones on my wrists, but....”

  He stood up and taking her hands he assisted her to her feet.  She could feel him trembling through his fingers and she knew what a big step this was for him.  She knew then beyond a doubt how much he loved her and how much he trusted her to be willing to expose this most vulnerable area to her before they married.  Before she was locked in by her vows and still had the option of shrinking away in disgust and finding herself a whole man—an undamaged man.

  She met his eyes and a hint of a nervous smile flickered across his features.  He pulled his Henley over his head and tossed the shirt to the ground and then stood before her, naked from the waist up.  She shook her head quietly letting him know that he didn't need to do this, but he did need to and he released her hands and slowly turned around.

  Miranda did feel a shock go through her at the sight of those scars, but it wasn't one of fear or disgust; it was one of sympathy and compassion.  She hadn't realized how many there were; long narrow white lines criss-crossing the length and breath of his back, telling their own story of such a terrible injury and heart-breaking injustice.

  She stepped forward and gently caressed them, taking note of the old bullet wound that was also still visible just below his left shoulder blade.  She felt his back tense and almost draw away from her but he forced himself to relax and stand his ground.  She moved in closer and pressing her body against his, her arms went around his waist and she hugged him for all she was worth.  She felt his hands come up to cover hers and then he turned around in her arms and cupping her face, he gazed down into her beautiful dark eyes.

  Sadness crossed his features as a tear rolled down her face and he gently brushed it away with his thumb.  She smiled up at him and gently ran her finger along the deeper scar that slashed across his jawbone and followed it down to the now almost invisible white line that stretched across his throat.

  “I love you,”  she told him.  “I'm not afraid of your scars.  They're a part of you now, a part of us.  You're going to have to do a lot more than that if you want to scare me away.”

  He breathed a dimpled smile of relief and pulled her into a tight hug.  They stood there together in a silent embrace while the horses continued to graze and a gentle breeze came up and caressed them....

 Miranda smiled sleepily at the memory.  The darkness hid the scars from view now but she lovingly ran her hand over them as she sent a silent 'goodnight' to her husband.  She settled into her own pillow and soon drifted off to sleep.



Early Spring - 1880

  She was born in a barn.  She didn't know how unusual that was.  She didn't know how special that made her.  She didn't know that most foals were born out on the open range where their first smells were grass and clover and their roof was a canopy of stars. She didn't know about predators lurking in the shadows or rogue stallions who might take over the herd and kill her, given the chance.  She knew nothing of that.  She was special, she was privileged.

  Her first real sensation was of light and cold and the smell of blood and fluids and her mother.  And fresh straw.  She lay sprawled in the bedding, her eyes glazed in shock and her tiny body trembling.  What was this?  What had happened?  Was she even aware of that forceful passage through the birth canal, the transition between comforting warmth and isolated chill?

  She lay in the straw, her senses and nerves on high alert, but her brain still foggy. Her consciousness still wondering; what happened?  There was a rumbling that irritated her sensitive ears and they flicked back and forth, trying to make it out, trying to understand what it all meant.  She felt movement beside her; a large body heaving upwards.  Warmth.  Something touched her!  She flinched.  Sensation; new and confusing.  But it felt good.

  Warm and wet stroking her, caressing her, causing the blood in her veins to begin to flow.  She snorted a little baby snort.  There was that rumbling again only this time a high pitched sound joined in on it. She drew air into her lungs and nodded her head, trying to get some bearings on what was going on.  The warm, comforting stroking continued, caressing her face and her neck and then down across her whole body.

  It felt good but it caused her little muscles to bunch up and want to move, and she wanted to move but she didn't know how.  That large body was moving now and she could hear the loud rustling of the straw.  She snorted again, this time with a strange sense of anxiety.  She didn't want that large body to move away from her.  It smelled nice and it gave comfort.  She needed to move.

  Before she knew what she was doing, her long gangly legs unfolded in front of her and she tried to push herself up.  It didn't work and her knobby knees gave out and she ended up nose first back into the straw.  There was that irritating noise again; that high pitched tinkling and then more rumbling.  Her ears flicked back and forth trying to make sense of it.  Withher mother's breath against her face, and the warm tongue caressing her, she forgot about the irritating noise.

  She tried again to stand up.  The scent coming from her mother was so compelling, she had to get up, she knew she did.  Her long front legs came out once more and her hind feet pushed her but she ended up toppling over onto her side again.  Still, she was nothing if not determined.  It took her three more tries before she got up onto all four feet, only to have those give out on her as well.

  It wasn't so much that her muscles weren't strong enough but more that she had no sense of balance.  Getting up on these four spindly little spikes with soft little hooves on the end of them was no easy feat and trying to stay up on them was almost impossible!  But if she was to survive she must do the impossible!  She persevered and struggled and toppled back into the straw innumerable times but she did at last finally succeed.

  Her reward?  Warm, sweet mother's milk.  Oh it tasted so good!  It flowed through her body, giving warmth and strength to her muscles and causing her blood to flow in earnest, pumping oxygen and life giving nutrients to every cell that grew within her.  She suckled to her heart's content careful not to move her feet and lose her balance.

  Finally, she'd had enough and she found that her eyes just couldn't stay open any longer.  The strength left her body and her knees buckled.  Before she knew it, she was splattered all over the straw covered floor again.  She didn't even have time to give a sigh of contentment before her eyes closed and her body relaxed and she drifted off into oblivion.

  When she awoke her small world was beginning to make a little bit more sense.  Her vision was clearer and she could see her mother plain as day.  She was very pretty.  The sounds of contented munching filled the stall along with the occasional snort and stamp of a hoof.  The filly sat up, the aroma of fresh straw filling her senses and an odd feeling in her tummy catching her attention.

  She snorted and blinked as she looked around and took in her surroundings.  There wasn't much to take in; four walls, her mother, and a few other odd shapes that didn't mean anything to her.  What did mean something to her was that growing gnawing in her stomach.  Her little nostrils twitched and drew in the scent of her mother and she licked her lips in anticipation.

  She was quickly to her feet; no trouble this time, and over to snuggle up to the warmth of her mother's body.  Her little nose searched and found the tits and she began to suckle in earnest and though she was totally unaware of it, her little tail flapped and waved and wagged in pleasure as her tummy filled with the warm nourishment.

  Her first introduction to humans was strange indeed.  She hadn't even realized that anything existed other than herself and her mother.  She heard a loud rasping sound and she looked over to see the most amazing thing!  One of the walls of her world was opening up!  Her head came up and she was on her feet in an instant!  She crowded in on her mother and then watched with fascinated anxiety as the ugliest creature she could imagine came into her space.  It walked on two legs and didn't smell anything like her mother!

  She heard that rumbling noise again and one of the creature's strange appendages came out towards her.  She tensed up and tried to disappear into her mother's side.  But she had nowhere to go and the appendage came closer and closer.  Finally the digits at the end of it touched her and she flinched and jerked her head away.

  The creature made soft cooing noises and her ears flicked back and forth trying to make sense of it.  But it wasn't of any language she understood.  She blew anxiously and tried to get away from them but her mother was not helping.  The big mare just stood there like a stone in the earth and didn't seem to be too concerned about her daughter's distress.

  The creature continued to come closer until the appendages touched her again!  But this time it wasn't just a touch, it was a caress and then a scratching of her soft baby mane.  She didn't know what to do!  Should she jump forward or scramble back!?  She had nowhere to go and this thing was touching her all over her body now!  She was sure she was going to have a heart attack—what was this thing!?

  The creature made that rumbling noise and then that high pitched tinkly sound again, but it did at least back off.  She snorted with indignation and cuddled up into her mother's flank, hoping that this strange creature would just go away.

  She watched nervously as the creature moved around to her mother's head and slipped something onto it.  She couldn't believe her mother was permitting this but even more to her amazement, the creature began to leave the stall and the mare meekly followed along behind it!  The filly stood and watched helplessly as her mother was lead from the stall, leaving her behind to deal with life on her own.  She snorted!  What to do!?  She didn't want to leave the security of the stall, but her mother was walking away!  Her tail flapped up and down in agitation as she pondered the dilemma until quite unexpectedly, the question was answered for her.

  Another of those strange creatures came into the stall, this one bigger and even uglier than the first, and it maneuvered its way around her.  Before she knew what was happening, it was standing behind her and gave her a little slap on the rump.  She jumped with startled indignation, and deciding that the stall was no longer a place of safety, her little hooves scrambled on the floor boards as she hurried to catch up with her departing mother. 

  Our filly's first six months of life weren't all that much different from the life of any other pampered princess.  She was adored.  She was fussed over and patted and groomed to her hearts content.  She learned very quickly to enjoy the company of those strange, ugly creatures as they brought pleasure both to her senses and her tummy.  As far as she was concerned all this attention was hers by right since it had always been granted to her but what she didn't realize was that much of it was because of her parentage.

  Her mother was a much adored and valued mare on this ranch. And though this filly was her first foal it made the promise that her future foals, when broke out and sold, would likely bring top dollar.  If managed properly, along with the financial gain, the ranch would get a solid reputation of putting out fine riding and carriage horses.  On top of that, the filly's sire was one handsome son of a gun and he knew it too!  He had the proven lineage of a champion and the attitude to match.

  On those rare occasions when the filly actually caught sight of her father (fortunately from a safe distance) she would tremble and make a suckling motion with her mouth, hoping that he would accept her as just a baby and would not hurt her.  The mare did not count on hope for that.  She told her daughter to stay close whenever the stallion was in the vicinity and would lay her ears back and make it plain that he knew to stay away.

  But aside from those frightening encounters, the filly reveled in her royal status and saw no reason at all to believe that anything was ever going to change.  Her days were spent playing and sleeping in the large pasture set aside for the mares with their new foals.  She grew and blossomed and became more splendid with each passing day and she began to take for granted the admiring remarks and special attention her physical beauty brought to her.

  When she was two months old something very strange did happen in her life, but since it wasn't too terribly traumatic she decided to permit it to happen.  One of those creatures that she realized were called 'humans' approached her kind words and gentle hands; it was the male human who often cared for her.  He seemed kind and would often approach her murmuring reassurances.  She was used to him running his hands across her soft, curly baby fur and she enjoyed the sensation so she permitted his presence.  She would close her eyes with pleasure and press her head into his chest, inhaling his scent and committing it to memory.  To her surprise, this time he slipped a most unusual object onto her head.  It felt very strange and she blew and tossed her head about but the silly thing would not fall off.  She leaned up against her mother for moral support, but the mare did not seem too concerned about these procedures and the filly was somewhat insulted.  She felt her freedom being jeopardized and she decided that she didn't really like this thing on her.  She pulled back but something was preventing her from getting away.  She snorted and her eyes rolled white as she leaned back on her hind quarters and began to pull with all her might.

  Her head whipped back and forth and she pulled and reared and dug in her little hooves but that human just stood there and was almost laughing at her.  She reared back again, putting all her might into it and before she knew it, she was suffering the indignation of losing her balance and flipping herself over onto her back.

  Fear clutched her heart!  The most vulnerable position for a horse to be in is on her back with her four feet scrambling in the air!  She snorted again and was quickly on her feet and there she stood, legs splayed apart as she blew her indignation.  She felt the pressure behind her ears, encouraging her to move forward but she still resisted, she was still feeling insulted.  She pulled back again and the human made soft comforting sounds at her but she still wasn't sure.  She dug in her hooves and snorted and reared again.  But it was just a little rear, a final protest as she had no intentions of ending up on her back again.

  She reared up and then gave to the pressure behind her ears and jumped forward to land right in front of the human.  Again she heard soft words and a gentle hand came out to stroke her neck.  He patted her, and scratched her behind the ears and rubbed the crest of her neck.  This felt good.  She snorted again the nodded her head and stepped into the hand, encouraging it to carry on scratching her. 

  The human moved away again and she felt the pressure behind her ears encouraging her to step forward.  Oh, why not?  She stretched out her neck to give to the pressure and took a tentative step.  More soft words from the human and more scratching on her crest.  More pressure on her neck and she stepped forward without hesitation.  More scratching.  Well, this was alright.  Beside, her mother wore one of these things on her head and she didn't seem to mind.

  Her lessons with the halter carried on for some time because even though she had accepted the wearing apparel on the first day, there were other days when she wasn't quite so keen.  She didn't mind at all giving to the pressure and following the human's lead if it was in a direction she wanted to go in anyways.  But as soon as she was asked to leave her mother's side, or pass by an interesting leaf on the ground, she would dig in her tiny hooves and the battle would start all over again.

  It is to her credit and intelligence that she didn't flip herself onto her back again but she still showed a willful manner that would not do at all for the elegant mare she was destined to become.  So the more she showed an attitude, the more insistent and resourceful the human became.  Along with the halter on her head, a strong rope was also looped around her tiny bum so that when she pulled away from the halter that second rope would tighten her hind quarters and prevent her from getting in any kind of a pull!

  This just wasn't fair!  Any move she made was countered until she finally had to accept that the halter was her master and she must go where it lead or suffer the consequences.  This was her first real lesson on what it meant to be a horse in a human's world.  Her fine breeding didn't matter and, instead of exempting her from these indignities, her royal blood deemed it even more necessary that she come to understand and accept her place in the scheme of things.

  She would learn her lessons, but she would always be a little contemptuous of these strange two-legged creatures who seemed to rule the world.  Oh they were kind enough on the most part, but they weren't very strong, or bright, or fast and yet somehow or other they always seemed to win the day.  She would stand out in the pasture, dozing beside her grazing mother and contemplate the irony of this fact. No matter how hard she tried, she could not explain it and she would snort and flap her tail in frustration before galloping off to play with her peers.

  As the days went by her education continued and despite her attitude she did manage to learn quite a lot.  She learned how to move out on a long line and even began to pick up on certain sounds that the human would make; sounds that were actually unique and had meanings of their own: 'Walk, trot.  Get over!' and, apparently the most important one of all: 'Whoa!'.

  She also learned that it was not considered appropriate to run over a human even if it was standing in her line of flight.  It did not matter if one of the more dominant colts was making a run at her, she must not at any cost run over a human.  Humans were the ultimate dominant member of the herd, even if it was one of those pesky miniature humans, and she learned quickly to respect their space.  But it was not all bad, actually very little of it was bad, and she was never really hurt unless she did it to herself.

  Often the ladies on the ranch would come to her in the pasture and they would brush her and scratch her and feed her those tasty apples.  Her mother liked apples, too, and would help herself to the ones on the higher branches so the filly came to appreciate the ladies saving some of the nicer ones for her and not let the others steal them away.

  One particular lady seemed to have a special fondness for her mother.  She would come into the pasture and sit quietly under a shady tree watching the horses.  Her mother would slowly nibble her way closer and closer to the human until she could drop her head into the woman’s lap and nuzzle her softly.  The foal was still leery of humans and would keep her distance, playing with the other foals, but always with a concerned eye on her mother.  She could see, though, that her mother craved the contact and the mare would linger by the human for a long time before drifting back to the other mares and foals.

  In retrospect the young filly had to admit that life was not that bad.  There were some things that she had to acquiesce to that stuck in her craw, but on the most part she was praised and pampered and encouraged to go on believing that she was a princess.  When not 'in school' her days were spent playing or sleeping in the fragrant green grass and soaking up the warm sunshine, while her nights were spent cozy and warm, snuggled into the clean straw of her mother's stall.

  There was only one incident in her young foalhood that marred that tranquility of her privileged life. It put such a scare into her that she never forgot it and the lesson she learned from it would prove to serve her well in the years to come.

  The pasture where the brood mares and their foals spent the summer days was quite large and rolling.  There were many trees that had grown strong and tall that offered not only cool shade from the summer sun, but many of them also offered up those tasty apples that the young horses soon learned to appreciate.  The trees that had fallen during the previous winter also offered great hiding places and obstacles to run around or jump over as the foals played and frolicked and developed their skills.

  In the lower area of the pasture there was a thick grove of trees where all the foals particularly liked to play in.  It was always cool and the fallen logs and numerous branches strewn upon the ground offered up plenty of opportunity for fun and games.

  It was on one otherwise innocuous day that tragedy struck.  A number of the foals were playing as usual inside the grove, running and bucking and pawing at the ground when quite unexpectedly and for no fathomable reason, one of the branches that had been partially hidden under a fallen truck suddenly sprang to life!  It lashed out and attached itself to a fine young colt’s nose who then instantly applied the brakes and ran squealing and bucking back towards his mother.

  This got the whole herd into an uproar.  The mares were instantly on the alert calling out for their own offspring while at the same time all the foals ran like hell to find their respective mothers.  It didn't take long for the chaos to settle as the horses all paired up and the mares circled around the foals and stared out across the grasses, wild eyed and blowing.  They searched for the threatening predator but could not see or smell anything out of the ordinary and soon the group settled down again.

  All would have been well and forgotten except for the fact that the stricken colt did not leave his mother's side when the others went off to play again.  For the rest of the day, the listless colt stayed refused all overtures to play and his visibly swelling nose was frightening to the other foals.  When the gloaming began to settle in and the mares with their foals returned to the barn for the night, it was noticed that one pair was missing.  The young colt had died by his mother's side and the mare was refusing to leave him.

  One of the humans went out to catch her and return her to her stall, but she refused to eat and spent the night in sorrowful silence with her head hung low in the corner.  Mourning filled the barn and the next day when the small herd was put out in another pasture, the mares did not leave the heartbroken mother.  They stood by her in consolidation throughout that day and well into the next.  As time went on some gradually left her side to continue on with their own lives, but there were still two mares who considered her their special friend and did not leave her until she had passed through her sorrow and was able to carry on again as a horse.

  Our filly never forgot that day and the tree branch that had come alive.  She watched the humans go into that field and burn out the underbrush and the branches and clear away the fallen trucks before more harm could come from them.  A week later, another one of those moving branches was discovered by our filly's own mother and she skirted away from it and pressed the point home even further to her daughter that those kinds of branches were not to be toyed with.

  As time went on the sadness of the loss was forgotten, but not the lesson.  That remained ingrained.  The summer days began to shorten and the evenings were no longer warm as autumn began to make an appearance. This was all a puzzle to our filly who had assumed that summer was always going to be with her  But change was inevitable, not only one change, but many were awaiting the young horses and much to their dismay, most of these changes were not to their liking—not one little bit. 

  When she was six months of age, she was separated from her mother and if chance were ever to bring them back together again, memory would have long since isolated them.  This was the worst possible thing that could happen and she, along with the other weanlings, was in absolute, total misery for the longest time.  They cried and begged and pleaded with the humans to allow them all to reunite, but it was not to be.  And even the company and attention of the young ladies of the ranch did nothing to quell the equine tears that flowed.

  Then the most grievous of insults was bestowed upon her!  It didn't matter that the same fate came to all the weanlings, this princess took it upon herself to take it personally.  It began innocently enough with her and her friends being herded into one of the many corrals on the property.  This was not unusual since it was in these corrals that most of their early training had taken place and the young horses entered into it quite willingly and milled around quietly waiting for the dust to settle.

  There was a group of humans all standing around one of those hot, flickering, smoky things that was on the ground.  In itself, this was no cause for alarm but then part of the fence slid away to reveal a long narrow passage that went right passed that smoky thing.  This did catch the attention of the young horses but it was still not terribly worrisome.  It wasn't until two humans on horseback entered into the corral and began to push the young horses towards that narrow passage that the eyes rolled white and the nostrils began to flair.

  For the second time in her young life, the copper filly felt real fear.  She turned and tried to gallop away from the horse/humans but only found her way blocked by yet another rider with a rope.  The humans were yelling and waving those ropes and pushing the young horses into the chute whether or not they wanted to go.  The filly didn't know what do to and so instinctively followed the horse in front of her until she suddenly found herself inside that narrow passage way with a wooden plank slid across the way in front, preventing her from going any further.  She reared and tried to back up but found that another plank had slid across behind her and she was trapped.

  She reared again and tried to climb out of the passage way but the structure went up too high.  She screamed her indignation at this treatment and began to kick but all she did was hurt her own feet on the wood behind her.  She reared again and began to crash her body from side to side, trying desperately to break out but the planks and poles were too strong for her and finally she stopped.  She stood wild-eyed and blowing, her sweat soaked body trembling but her feet were planted firmly in the ground as she awaited whatever terrible fate was coming.

  She heard her friend up ahead of her suddenly scream out in pain and she felt the vibrations of his renewed fighting against the planks as the air filled with an arid smoke.  Her nostrils flared again as the scent of burnt hair and flesh attacked her senses and her heart beat so hard she was sure it would burst from her chest.

  She saw them coming towards her; those humans on two legs, walking towards her with a long iron stick that glowed red at one end.  She leaned back away from them, putting all her weight into the wooden structure that surrounded her but she could not get out of their reach.  The iron stick slid through the railings and again she smelled that stench of burning hair and flesh and wondered where it was coming from.

  She heard a squeal not realizing it was her own and then a deep-throated bellow came out of her throat as the pain suddenly reached her brain.  She reared again, trying desperately to escape, to get away from this torture but there was no place for her to go!  Then the plank in front of her was slid away and she found herself staring at the wide open passage way.  She stood gaping at it for a second before she realized that an escape route was being offered to her and once she got over the shock, she dug in her hind feet and exploded out of the passage at a full gallop. 

  She broke in amongst the herd of the other young horses who had gone on ahead of her, but she didn't stop running until she came up against the high-poled fence of the second corral.  She turned then to face her assailants and blowing her indignation she trotted around the enclosure just daring any of those humans to come and try that again!  But all she saw was her herd mates and all of them were on the move just as she was, trotting or galloping along the fence line, trying to get away from that searing burning on their haunches.

  Our filly was now considered to be an individual even though she was still quite young.  She had been weaned off her mother and would no longer be identified through her association with that mare.  To prove her lineage and her ownership she had been given her own brand, therefore it seems appropriate that she be given her own name.

  Even though the name of 'Karma-Lou' is not the name that was originally given to her, it is the sound that she would ultimately come to recognize as belonging to her.  So from now on, 'Karma' is how the dark liver filly will be referred to and, throughout the majority of her life, it is the name for which she will be known.

  From the moment that her soft hooves had touched straw, Karma knew she was a princess.  No matter what hardships might befall her during the years of her life she knew she was special and that she would always be a princess.

Brookswood, Colorado

Spring - 1892

  Heyes sat pensively in the sheriff's office, nervously fingering the brim of his hat as he glanced casually at the wanted posters pinned up on the bulletin board.  Even after all this time, he still expected to see his and his cousin's names blaring out at him, threatening their freedom for the sake of $20,000.  He scanned the posters that were there and noticed with a touch of professional pride that none of the bounties listed came anywhere near the price that had been on his head.

  He smiled through his anxiety until Sheriff Jacobs' incredulous tones brought him back to reality.

  “You want to do what!?”  Jacobs was demanding of him.

  Heyes jerked his attention back to the lawman.  “Oh well, I'm sure it won't be a problem Sheriff.”  Heyes placated one of his numerous guardians.  “Jesse has hired me to do this for him.  You know you can ask him yourself if you don't believe me.  It really is a legitimate job....”

  “It's not the legitimacy of the job I'm questioning Heyes!” Jacobs insisted.  “It's the location!”

  Heyes shifted a little in the chair.  “Well, we don't know the location yet.”  He smiled winningly.  “It could take me anywhere....”

  “EXACTLY!”  Jacobs practically exploded.  “You want permission to leave the State and then disappear....”

  “Well, no...”  Heyes insisted.  “I won't disappear.  I'll send telegrams.....”

  “And you want to go alone!?”

  “Well, no...not alone.”  Heyes was trying to be reasonable.  “Kid can come with me....”

  “So let me get this straight.”  Jacobs sat back in his chair and folded his arms, looking sceptical.  “You want permission to leave the State...WITH your partner in crime...and disappear into parts unknown.  Is that right?”

  Heyes squirmed.  “W..well...not disappear—totally...Hey!  What do you mean 'partner in crime'!?  We haven't done anything illegal in....”  He began counting on his fingers, “, ah....”

  Jacobs raised an eyebrow, trying to and succeeding in stifling a smile.  “What's the matter Heyes, forgotten how to count?  Or just can't keep track?”

  “NO!”  Heyes looked incensed, then sheepish.  “I just don't know what....”

  “What I might consider a crime?”  the sheriff asked him.

  Heyes didn't answer, but scowled defensively as he straightened himself in the chair.

  “If you want to go all the way back to your trial,”  Jacobs continued, “the con you and your partner pulled with the help of Miss Hale was about ten years ago.  If we want to include your dash through the snow after Mitchell...well, that's quite a bit sooner isn't it?”

  Heyes crossed his arms, his lips pressing together in a tight line of irritation.  He was in a snit now and more determined than ever not to answer.

  The two men sat in silence for a couple of minutes, the sheriff scrutinizing the ex-con and the ex-con squirming irritably under the scrutiny.

  “What about your friends?”  Jacobs asked him.  “The ones you 'hired' to do the jobs that you can't do.”

  Heyes still felt insulted and didn't want to answer.  Jacobs sighed and raised his eyebrows.  Heyes succumbed.

  “Wheat and Kyle are over in Wyoming doing a job for Lom,” the ex-con grumbled.  “Apparently some government official's nephew's cousin's wife helped her boyfriend to rob their local bank and then disappear with him into the hills.  They're trying to track her down.”

  “Oh.” Jacobs smirked a little.  “I see.”

  Again the two men sat in silence.

  “Tell you what,” Jacobs finally relented.  “you've been behaving yourself pretty well this past year.  Getting married and taking on a family certainly seems to have calmed you down to some degree.  You have roots in this town now and so does your partner.  Strong roots.  I know you won't leave the State and deliberately disappear.  You've had plenty of opportunity to do that if you were going to do it.”

  Heyes glared over at him.  “What's the problem then?”  he snarked.  “With everything just you and I have been through here, haven't I earned some level of trust?”

  “Yeah Heyes, ya' have.”  Jacobs softened his stance a bit.  “But everything you've done on your own to date has been within the State boundaries and the first time you ask permission to leave the State, you seem to think that doing that on your own is no big deal.”

  “But I told you....”

  “Yes, I know.  Curry would be with you.” Jacobs conceded, then shook his head.  “Not quite the same thing as having a law man along to keep an eye on things, is it?”

  Heyes just sighed, feeling like he had already lost the battle.  Jacobs took some pity on him, knowing that the man was trying.

  “Alright,” he said.  “Let me inform the others of what you would like to do and see what they say.  After all, it's not up to me alone.”

  Heyes looked up at him and nodded.  “Yeah,” he mumbled.  “Okay.”

Wyoming Territorial Prison, Laramie, Wyoming 

Spring - 1892

  Kenny made his usual rounds of the prison work floor with the intentions of keeping in touch with the moods and temperaments of the prison proper.  Having been a guard here for many years, he knew the importance of staying involved with the day to day functioning of the prison and the ongoing relationships between the guards and the inmates.  He was determined not to make the same mistakes that his predecessor had made by sequestering himself in his office and never stepping foot in the prison proper other than on special occasions.

  Mitchell had lost control of the prison by doing that.  Counting on his rather brutal and corrupt senior guard to keep him abreast of any issues and to handle discipline in any manner that he choose.  It hardly made for positive public relations and between trying to cover his own ass and ignoring the hostile atmosphere of the prison itself, the ex-warden had ultimately cut his own throat.  He was now serving time in Colorado for his various indiscretions, the Wyoming officials deeming it too dangerous for him to be incarcerated in the same prison that he had once ruled with an iron fist. 

  Kenny strolled around the work floor, watching the inmates keeping busy with their various assigned duties for the day.  None of them met his eye but none of them shrank away from him either.  None of the inmates wanted to be here, but most of them had enough sense to realize that they were treated fairly and, given the circumstances, with as much respect as possible.  Feelings of animosity rarely surfaced between guards and inmates.

  Kenny caught the eye of his senior guard and beckoned him over.  “Mr. Pearson.”  He extended the greeting.  “Any issues today?”

  “Yes sir, just one.”  Mr. Pearson informed him.  “Mr. Gibbons cut open the palm of his hand while making a broom.  He's over in the infirmary.”

  “Really?” Kenny commented dryly.  “Surprising how many inmates still manage to do that even with decent tools to work with.”

  Pearson smiled back at him.  “Yes, it is isn't it?”

  The two men locked eyes for an instant then Kenny smiled back and nodded.  “Carry on, Mr. Pearson.”


  The Warden made his way off the work floor, stooping suddenly to stroke the back of a small nondescript tabby cat who trotted past him on her way towards the kitchen.  Three kittens bounced and tumbled along in her wake.

Kenny took hold of one of the keys that was attached to his key ring and unlocked the security door that would let him out of the work area and into a hallway.  He continued on down the hallway until he unlocked a second door and gave himself access to the infirmary.  He scanned the large room until his eyes rested on the doctor over in the far corner tending to Mr. Gibbons' work related injury.

  “Morning Doc,” Kenny greeted the young man as he approached the pair.  “How does it look?”

  Dr. Dale Miller glanced up with a smile and a shrug.  “Not too bad,” he informed the Warden.  “Just needed a few stitches.  As long as he keeps it clean it'll heal up fine.”

  “Hm hmm,” Kenny nodded and looked to the patient.  “How did you injure yourself, son?”

  The eighteen year old looked up at the Warden with anxious eyes.  He paled noticeably.

  “ was just an accident sir,”  he stumbled.  “Knife slipped.”

  “Did it?”  Kenny queried.  “Mr. Gibbons, you're in here on forgery charges, are you not?”

  “Yessir.”  the young man admitted.  “But I didn't.....”

  “Forged copies of land deeds and then sold them to honest hard working folks, did you not?”

  The young man was all set to deny his guilt, but those steady gray eyes bore into him and he felt himself quiver and loose his resolve.  He hung his head.


  “From what I know of forgery, to be any good at it you need to have a good eye and a steady hand.”  Kenny commented.  “Would that not be the case Mr. Gibbons?”

  Gibbons looked confused, wondering where this was going.  Dr. Miller simply smiled.

  “Yessir,” the inmate agreed.

  “We have found in the past that many new inmates use a minor cut such as this to gain access to the infirmary or to avoid having to work.”  Kenny continued on.  “We generally allow one such injury to go by unquestioned since it can be difficult to get used to the equipment and to learn the various tasks involved.  Accidents do happen.”


  “But I would tend to be suspicious of someone of your obvious dexterity, cutting himself twice.”

  “Oh.”  The head hung again.  “Yessir.”

  “It would seem to me that someone of your obvious skills could be put to better use than to be making brooms.”  Kenny surmised.  “Let me think on it Mr. Gibbons.  Perhaps some time over in the woodworking barn; or writing letters for those inmates who are not capable.”

  Mr. Gibbons brightened up, surprise written all over his face.  “Oh!  Yessir!”

  Kenny smiled and gave the young man a pat on the shoulder.

  “Doc, let me know when he's healed up.”  Kenny said.  “Perhaps we can make a change in the work roster.”

  “Sure will Warden.”  Miller agreed.  “I'd give it a week before he can do any woodworking, but it's his left hand so he should be able to help out with the letter writing anytime.”

  “Good.”  Kenny nodded.  “I'll speak to Mr. Pearson about getting it organized.”

  The Warden turned and headed back out to the prison proper, smiling as he heard Dr. Miller chuckling at his patient's stunned reaction.

  Twenty minutes later Kenny approached the door to his office only to be stopped by his secretary stepping up to get his attention.

  “Yes Mr. Cobbs, what is it?”  Kenny asked him.

  “There's a letter on your desk sir.”  Mr. Cobbs informed him.  “It's from the sheriff in Brookswood.”

  Kenny knitted his brow.  “Thank you Mr. Cobbs.  Ahh, some coffee if you wouldn't mind.”

  “Oh.  Yessir.”

  Kenny sat down at his desk and couldn't help the slight fluttering of butterflies in his stomach.  Any correspondence from Brookswood that wasn't a wedding invitation always seemed to have this effect upon him.  So gathering up his courage and opening the envelope he quickly read over the short note and his brow knitted even more.  He read the note over a second time and sat back with a resigned sigh.

  “He wants to do WHAT?” he asked no one in particular.

Porterville, Wyoming.  Spring 1892

  Lom sat down to dinner with his wife and it didn't take her long to see that there was something on her husband's mind.  Lom was always quick to compliment Martha on her cooking and his sincerity was on the level.  Being a bachelor for so many years the way he had, having a woman's touch in the kitchen was far and above preferable over what he used to call supper.

But tonight he was half way through the pork chops and homemade apple sauce before he even thought to acknowledge his wife.  He glanced over at her and was instantly contrite when he saw that she was watching him with a gentle smile settled on her lips.  He sighed and sat back for a moment, taking a break from his tasty meal.

  “I'm sorry, Martha,” he told her.  “As usual the meal is excellent.  I've just got something on my mind.  I gotta learn to start leaving this stuff at the office.”

  “That's alright.”  Martha assured him as she took in a fork full of mashed potatoes.  “If it's something you want to talk about, what better time than over supper?”

  “Yes, I suppose.”

  When nothing for was forthcoming, Martha smiled again and took on a knowing expression.

  “It's about Hannibal again, isn't it?”

  Lom let out a bark of a laugh.  “What a surprise!  That reprobate is still managing to keep me awake at nights.”

  “What's he done now?” she asked with a resigned sigh.

  “Oh he hasn't done anything!”  Lom stated, throwing his napkin on the table in a show of frustration.  “It's what he wants to do.  I suppose I should be happy that he's going through the proper channels and asking permission before he takes off half-cocked, but I can't help but see Joplin happening all over again.”

  “Don't you think it's time you let that one go?”  Martha suggested reasonably.  “His situation is totally different now.  You even said yourself just last week that he has come a long way.”

  “Yes he has,” Lom admitted,  “but now he's asking permission to leave the state and go who knows where.  Apparently, Jesse has hired him to track down the lineage of that mare of his and that could lead him just about anywhere.  Even down south!  We have no idea where he could end up.”

  Martha shrugged; she couldn't see the problem.  “He would be sending telegrams back, wouldn't he?  And couldn't someone go with him?  What about Jed?”

  Lom rolled his eyes.  “That might be worse.”  He stated.  “Those two together can get up to no end of mischief.”

  “Well, obviously I don't know Hannibal very well.”  Martha admitted.  “But Jed seems to be taking his responsibilities very seriously.  I quite like him, and Beth.”  She smiled affectionately.  “I'm so glad to hear that they've moved on from the tragedy of last year.  I think they'll be wonderful parents.”

  “Hmm.”  Lom wasn't really listening as his mind was still on the problem in front of him.  “So you think Heyes is ready to be set loose?”

  “I don't really know dear,”  she admitted.  “As I said, you know him much better than I do.  He's always polite and friendly towards me, but he seems guarded as well.  It's as though he doesn't want me to get too close.”

  “Yes,”  Lom commented.  “I'd noticed that.”  He shrugged.  “Heyes can be like that, and he may feel intimidated by you.”

  Martha laughed.  “By me!?  What power could I possibly have over him?”

  “Me,”  Lom stated point blankly.  “Heyes and I have known each other a long time.  But it's a relationship that's always been in flux.  We started out friends; equal partners.  Then when I joined up with the Devil's Hole gang, well, he wasn't leader yet; but he was still senior to me.  In the line of command if I had anything to say to Jim, it had to go through Heyes first.

  “Then when I left that life and became a lawman, well that kinda put us on opposite sides of the fence.  I know he resented it, him and the Kid both; but mostly Heyes because we had ridden together before Devil's Hole and we were friends.  He was worried too.  He knew that I knew things about him that he didn't want the law to know.  It was only after a couple of years when he realized that I wasn't going to give him away that they relaxed and we settled on an unspoken truce.  'You leave us alone, we'll leave you alone.'

  “Things worked fine like that for quite a while.  Then they came to me that night, asking for amnesty and the dynamics changed again.  We weren't friends anymore; I was a lawman, they were outlaws.  Heyes was no longer above me in the line of command, nor were we back to equals.  I was above him and he had to accept that change if he wanted me to broker that deal for them.”

  “Yes, but he obviously did accept it.”  Martha pointed out.  “From what I could see, he has always treated you with respect, and so has Jed.  Why would there still be a problem?”

  “Well, partly because he still has to accept the submissive role with me.”  Lom explained.  “He still has to ask my permission, still has to let me know what he's doing.  Those were the conditions of his parole and you can bet it sticks in his craw.  A lot of his acting out is simple rebellion against those conditions.  Here he is in his forties and he still has a hard time with authority.  I suppose that may always be a part of his character.”

  “Yes, I can see that.”  Martha accepted.  “But what has that got to do with me?”

  “You're my wife.”  Lom stated the obvious.  “I know things about him from his early years that he would rather stayed dead and buried.  He doesn't know what I have or have not told you about my life and the things we did while he and I were riding together.  Heyes is a very private man.  It throws him off balance not knowing what you know about him.”

  “Oh.”  Martha smiled.  “And I suppose I do know a lot about him, don't I?”

  “Yes you do Martha.”  Lom agreed.  “Yes you do.”

  “Perhaps the next time I see him, we can have a little talk.”  Martha suggested.  “I can at least reassure him that I don't hold anything against him.  I actually quite admire him and Jed for the changes they have made in their lives.”

  “Well, that might help.”  Lom agreed.  “In the mean time I have to decide what to do about this request.”

  “Oh let him go!”  Martha dismissed the issue as being a problem.  “How are you going to know you can trust him if you never give him enough room to prove it?”

  “You certainly have a way of simplifying things Martha.”  He told her with a smile.  He picked up his napkin and returned his attention to the pork chops.  “I'll suggest that someone else, besides the Kid go along with him but you're right, it's time to give him a bit more room.”

Double J Ranch, Colorado.  Spring 1892

  “When do you think you and Beth will be moving into your own place?”  Heyes casually asked his partner.

  They were sitting out on the porch of the Double J, enjoying an after supper coffee while the women finished the cleaning up.  Sally and J.J. had enthusiastically offered to help Jesse get the stock in for the night and do the feeding, though just how much help they were being was anyone's guess.

  “Probably after the baby arrives.”  Jed answered him.  “There's a few final touches to make out there and I know Beth is more comfortable being here with her ma right now.  Truth be told, I'm more comfortable with it too.  Don't know that I would feel right, leaving her all alone out there in her condition.  It'd be different if we were in town, but...”

  “Hmm,”  Heyes nodded agreement.  “It's different, living in town like that.  Karma doesn't like it much—she misses her herd.  I know with starting up our business it makes sense for one of us at least to be close to amenities, but it's definitely taking some getting used to.”

  Jed grinned, not being able to resist the door that Heyes had left wide open.  “Being a 'kept man' not settin' well with you?”

  “Hey!”  Heyes took offence.  “I'm not a 'kept man'!” he insisted.  “I've got an income!”

  “What?  Gambling?”

  “It was good enough for you!”  Heyes snarked, “Besides, we've had some....legitimate work come in.”


  Heyes huffed and sulked. 

  Jed broke out laughing.  “Aw, c'mon Heyes!  I'm just needling ya'.  Don't fix it if it ain't broke.”

  Heyes continued to sulk.  Jed was still seeing the humor but he softened his amusement as his cousin's foul mood continued.

  “It really bothers you don't it?”  Jed asked him.  “The fact that Miranda's the one with....”

  “Yeah!”  Heyes blurted out and huffed again.  “Well, wouldn't it bother you?  I mean you were the one griping that you had nothing to offer Beth, but at least you built her a home and you're gettin some nice things to put in it....”

  “Most of it's used,”  Kid pointed out.  “or just hammered together.”

  “So what?”  Heyes asked.  “At least you're providing for your wife.  That's the way it's supposed to be; the man provides the home and the security and the wife provides the children and the comforts that a man....expects....”

  A grin was dangerously taking over the Kid's face again.  “Uh huh.  And since when have you or I ever done anything the way it's 'suppose' to be done?”

  Heyes sat quietly for a moment as his mood decided which way it was going to go.  Eventually the dimples insisted on taking over and before he could stop himself, he started to chuckle.

  “Ya' got a point there,” he finally admitted.

  “Yup,” Jed agreed.  “And our little business is not doing too badly, considering.”  He sat back and grinned again.  “It's kinda' nice, ain't it Heyes?  Actually earning our keep with our own business...I mean, one that's legal!”

  Heyes' brows went up emphatically.  “Yeah!  It is nice, isn't it.”


  “Speaking of which,”  Heyes began, looking serious,  “did Jesse mention this little job he wants me to take on?”

  “You mean tracking Karma's lineage?”


  “Yeah, he did.”

  “So...what do ya' think?”  Heyes asked him.  “I was kinda hopin' you'd come with me.”  He reached over and gave the Kid a playful punch on the arm.  “It'd be kinda like old times eh, Partner!”

  “Yeah...I donno Heyes.”

  Heyes felt his heart sink but he wasn't ready to give up.  “I know you're concerned about Beth and all, but she's not due until the fall, and she's doing fine....”

  “Yeah, I know.”

  “C'mon.”  Heyes continued to lay on the pressure.  “I could really use you on this.  That's if my nurse maids allow me to go at all!”  He was back to grumbling again.  “I know it does kind of exceed the limits of my parole, but do they really think that I'm going to leave my wife and daughter behind and just disappear?”

  A strained silence settled between them, both of them thinking the same thing.  Thinking about appearances and how the government official's sitting in their plush offices might view the situation

  The Kid knew all too well that Heyes would never abandon his new wife. When Heyes loved, he loved hard.  He'd only ever seen his cousin fall in love a few times and each time fate had seen fit to rob him of his chance at happiness until now.  Abi had been the love of his life before Miranda, but
there'd been one or two others that had broken Heyes' heart.  First time it was Sally, but they'd just been kids then, and there was Allie.  Heyes had fallen for her after things hadn't worked out with Abi the first time, when they were at each other's throats, and she had run him off threatening to turn him in if he tried to find her.

  Sadly enough, Heyes had hit the same brick wall with Allie as he had with Abi--he was an outlaw and therefore he would never be husband material. But, at least that time, Heyes had been the one to end things before they went too far.  He’d already fathered two children out of wedlock and he’d been bound and determined that there’d be no more.   That was a line he had refused to cross with Allie.  It'd taken him a long time to put her behind him, but he had.  He never spoke of her and the Kid knew that soon there would be no mention of Abi or little Anya.  His partner would think of them, but the pain of speaking of them would be too hard for him to bear.  They would be consigned to the same cramped corner of Heyes’ heart that was occupied by those he’d loved and lost.

  “That's different,”  Heyes stated, quietly responding to the unspoken thought.  “It was the very conditions of the parole that ended things with Abi.  I would never willingly abandon my family.”

  “I know Heyes,”  Jed assured him.  “Lom and Kenny know it too.  But I wouldn't put it past Barber and the parole board to deliberately see it differently, just to be difficult.”


  Jed brightened up in order to distract his cousin.  “Well, let's not yell 'till we're hit,”  he said with a grin.  “Where do ya' think we should start on this?”

  Heyes smiled, sitting up straighter in his chair, the thrill of a new challenge taking him over.  “I think we should start at the end.  Track down the man I got her from and work our way back.”

  “You realize you're talking nine or ten years ago?”

  “Yeah, yeah I know.”  Heyes nodded.  “But we gotta start somewhere.  What was the name of that town we met up in—do you remember?”

  Jed sat back with an emphatic nod. “Oh yeah!” he stated.  “Kinda hard for me to forget that.”

  Heyes sent him an impish grin.  “Your first meeting with Karma was that memorable?”

  Kid sent him 'the look'.  “Not hardly Heyes.  Nope.  It was in Fleetwood, Montana, that I first became aware of Mr. Mathew Jaxton.”  Heyes frowned in confusion.  “He first saw me in Matherville and I'm sure you remember what happened there.”

  “Oh,”  Heyes nodded, “Yeah.”

  “Yeah, well Mr. Jaxton remembered it too,”  Jed commented ironically.  “And as bad luck would have it, he was in Fleetwood when some yahoo tried to push me into a gunfight.  The only way I could avoid it was to suggest that I actually was Kid Curry and that he was taking his life in his hands just thinking about callin' me out.”

  “Oh yeah,” Heyes remembered.  “I damn near had a heart attack; the sheriff calling us Heyes and Curry and everybody thinking what a great joke it was.”

  “Yeah,” Kid grumbled.  “Some joke.  Young Mr. Jaxton was one of the most damning witnesses at my trial.  His testimony alone very nearly got me hanged.”  Heyes cringed.  “So, 'yeah'; it's kinda hard for me to forget the town of Fleetwood.”

  “Well, if it makes ya' feel any better, that might just give us our starting point,”  Heyes reasoned.  “If we can get to Fleetwood then maybe we can backtrack to the town where I got Karma.”

  “Do you remember the name of it?”

  “No,”  Heyes admitted quite bluntly.  “It was just a town like any other town.  And I kinda had other things on my mind at the time.  Still, I know what direction I was coming from so we should be able to narrow it down.”

  “Yeah,” Kid agreed.  “Like you say Heyes; it's a place to start.”

  “Yeah,” Heyes grinned as his attention got diverted towards the barns.  “Oh!  Here they come.”

  Both men smiled at the sight of Jesse being pulled towards the house.  Jay and Sally were laughing with delight while each of them had a hold of one of Jesse's hands and were trying with all their might to hurry him along.  Dessert was waiting for them and running seemed the most appropriate gait.  Jesse himself seemed quite content just to walk the distance between the barn and the house and two children swinging on his arms didn't do much to dissuade him from that.

  Heyes' smile dropped for an instant as he noticed Jesse suddenly looking like an old man and it took him by surprise.  Then the impression was gone and the grin returned as Jesse rolled his eyes while he was being pulled up the steps.

  “Come on Papa!”  Jay was insisting.  “Dessert's waiting for us.”

  “You two go on ahead,”  Jesse suggested as he wiggled his hands free.  “I'll be along in a minute.”

  “Yeah!” J.J. let out a yell and ran into the house, his boisterous entrance instantly earning him a reprimand by his mother to remember his manners!

  Jesse sighed and pulled up a chair to settle in to.  “Oh my goodness,” he complained.  “I'm getting too old for this.”

  Heyes felt a slight stab at this comment, considering his fleeting impression of a moment before but his attention was quickly distracted by his daughter stopping to give him a hug.

  “You want some dessert, Papa?”  Sally asked him politely.

  “No.  I'm fine,” he assured her with a smile.  “But you go on though, go get some pie.”

  Sally smiled and disappeared into the house.

  “So...”  Jesse looked from one man to the other.  “you two been discussing the job?”

  “Yeah,” Heyes told him.  “We've been discussing strategy.”

  “Hmm,” Jesse looked at Jed, “does that mean you're going to go along?”

  “I better discuss it with Beth first,”  Jed cautioned.  “But if she's okay with it, then yeah.  I think it'll be fun.”


  Later that night Jed and Beth were carrying on the family tradition of discussing important matters wrapped in each other's arms, in the quiet and solitude of their bedroom.  It was too dark for them to see one another but they each took comfort in the closeness and familiar warmth of the marital embrace.

  “So....what do ya' think?”  Jed asked quietly of his wife who was snuggled up under his right arm.  “Would it bother you?”

  “I'll certainly miss you.”  Beth admitted.  “But this is part of your business with Joshua, isn't it?”

  “Well yeah.”  Jed agreed.  “But I don't have to go. Heyes could handle this one on his own if you're not comfortable with it.”

  “No, I think you should go.”  Beth assured him.  “I don't ever want to get in the way of your business, and besides it's not like I'm out at our house, all alone.  I'll be fine.”

  “I know that,” her husband commented.  “But will you be alright?”

  Beth smiled into the darkness.  “Yes,” she stated as she patted his chest.  “I have a good feeling about it this time.  Nothing bad is going to happen.”  Her expression became stern and though Jed couldn't see it he heard the change in her tone.  “As long as you're back home in time for the birth.  I want you here for that!”

  Jed grinned, squeezing her tighter.  “Don't you worry about that darlin', I won't miss that for the world and I hardly think we'll be away that long.”

  “No, probably not,” Beth agreed,  “but you never know.  Sometimes these things take longer than expected.  But how exciting,” her tone becoming animated again,  “to track down Karma's heritage!  Maybe you'll even see her mother and her sire—wouldn't that be wonderful!?  Oh I wish I was going with you!”

  Jed chuckled.  “You can't do it all, Sweetheart.  If you want to be a mother, than you have to give up certain things.  Besides, I thought you said you'd had enough of undercover work.”

  “This isn't really undercover!”  Beth protested.  “It's more 'detection', and that can be fun. Perhaps I can help out at this end; start sending telegrams or something.  I'm good at that!”

  “Yes you are.”  Jed had to agree.  “We're going to need all the help we can get, trying to follow a scent that's this cold.  We'll be lucky to even find the person Heyes got the mare from in the first place!”

  It was Beth's turn to chuckle.  “If I know Hannibal, he's going to love every minute of this!  He needs something positive to occupy his mind now and this is a subject close to his heart.  You're both going to have a great time and I'm a little jealous of you, that's all.”

  “Jealous!?”  Jed teased her.  “Back to sleeping on the ground and eating Heyes' cooking?  Not exactly my idea of how I was going to be spending this summer!”

  “Oh come on!”  Beth wasn't buying it.  “You're looking forward to it just as much as he is.  And like I said; I'm jealous.  I wish I could come with you.”

  Jed knew when he was beat.  “Well, your job right now is to take care of yourself and that young'un of ours.  I'll write ya' whenever I can and keep you up to date on what we're doing.  Hows that?”

  “I suppose I'll have to settle for that.”  Beth sighed in mock frustration.  “Oh, the plight of the married woman...”

  “Ho ho!  Listen to this!”  Jed laughed.  “You're the one who insisted that you weren't too young to be gettin' married....!”

  “Getting married to you,” she corrected him.  “Do you think I would have given up my maidenly freedom for anyone less?”

  “Nope,” Jed had to concede.  “You made that point very clear.  And you know what?”


  “I'm glad ya' did, darlin'.  I'm glad ya' did.”  He rolled over to face her and they embraced and kissed for real. 

  Just by looking at her, Beth's trim little figure wasn't showing any changes yet, but pressing up against her body, Jed could tell.  Her tight belly had developed a soft roundness to it that Jed found surprisingly irresistible.  Knowing that she was pregnant and that he was the one who had impregnated her was too strong an aphrodisiac for him to resist.

  His kisses became harder and more passionate and she responded in kind; wanting him now more than ever.  She allowed him into her warmth and they made love as the rest of the household quietly slept.

  Three days later Heyes sat in the sheriff's office yet again, awaiting the verdict.  Jacobs was taking his sweet time about it, going to the stove and pouring them both a cup of coffee then coming to sit down at his desk, putting the cups down for them both to partake.

  Heyes clenched his jaw and sent Jacobs an irritated look.  He was doing it on purpose; Heyes was sure of it!  Lawmen are all alike—never missing an opportunity to remind him just how much power they still had over his life.

  Finally the budding detective had enough of this little game.  “Well?” he asked, with a slight edge to his voice.

  “Well....”  Jacobs repeated and sat back, drumming his fingers on the desktop while scrutinizing the ex-con.

  Heyes sighed, 'Why did they always have to do this!?  Just say it!  Yes or no!'

  “I've been left with a decision to make,”  Jacobs finally stated, not looking too pleased himself about the situation.

Heyes was in a snarky mood and though he kept his mouth shut he still retained his cynical mind set. 'I'm sure you can manage to make one decision a day Sheriff.  It's not that hard; just get the wheels in your brain turning, that's all.'  The fact that Heyes had actually come to like Carl Jacobs, his silent rudeness was a grand testament to the frustration he was feeling. 

  “I have received telegrams back from all of your benefactors....”  'Oh, is that what you chose to call them?'  “they all say much the same thing.”

  “What?”  Heyes grumbled.  “No?”

  “No, not...outright,” Jacobs softened it a bit.  “Actually Governor Barber washes his hands of the whole thing, stating that since he would never have paroled you in the first place he declines any and all responsibilities for your conduct while running around 'free as a bird'.”  Heyes snorted.  “As for Warden Reece and Sheriff Trevors, it seems that we have all come to a similar conclusion, but they are leaving the final decision up to me.”

  Again Heyes sighed, crossing his arms and his legs at the same time.  “And what decision is that?” he asked as politely as he could.

  Jacobs smiled at him, knowing he was pushing the younger man's patience and doing it quite deliberately.  In this way, Jacobs was giving Heyes the opportunity of making the decision for himself.  If the ex-con was able to control his irritation and keep his temper in check then Jacobs would feel a whole lot more comfortable about giving Heyes at least some of the leeway that he was asking for.  If, on the other hand, the ex-outlaw lost his temper and became abusive, well....

Heyes sighed again when an answer was not forthcoming.  He didn't realize he was being tested but he had learned enough lessons the hard way over the last few years to know that getting angry wasn't going to get him what he wanted.  He looked Jacobs straight in the eye and smiled.  Reaching forward he picked up the coffee cup and settled back in preparation of enjoying the now warmish beverage.
  Jacobs laughed.  “Alright,” he relented.  “Basically what we are all agreed upon is that you can go as long as you stay in touch, but you can't go alone.”

  “But I'm not going alone,”  Heyes pointed out reasonably.  “Jed is coming with me.”

  “Ah—yeah.”  Jacobs raised his brow.  “I'll tell ya' Heyes, when it first started becoming apparent that Kid Curry and then Hannibal Heyes were going to be permanent residents of my town I just about resigned my office.  But then Jed settled in.  It was a bit of a rough start but I could see that he was trying and that's all I ask of a man.  Now I see the same things happening with you; a bit rough at first, but you're trying.”  Heyes nodded, feeling a little unsure of his footing.  Where was the sheriff going with this?  Jacobs laughed.  “Thank goodness I didn't have to deal with the two of you together though!  By the time you came along, well, Jed was through the rough times and he was able to help you get settled and each of you on your own is turning into a fine citizen. 

  “But put you together and shake things up a little bit—damn! There's just no tellin' what you'll get up to.  The pair of you have been partners for too long.  You play off of each other without even thinking about it. You throw caution to the wind even at the best of times, but when you know you have Jed backing you up, it's like danger is just a game to you.  And Jed!  He's got a good head on his shoulders, but when he's with you he follows your lead without question.”

  “Oh, I wouldn't say....”

  “Well I would,” Jacobs cut him off,  “and I do.  Sending Jed off with you on something like this would be worse than sending you off alone,”  the sheriff almost shuddered.  “There's no tellin' what shenanigans the pair of you would get up to.”

  “Well what are you saying Sheriff?” Heyes demanded, feeling slightly irritated again,  “I can't go alone but I can't take my partner along with me either?”

  “No, I'm not saying that,”  Jacobs corrected him.  “You two play off of each other, like I said.  But the things you accomplish together kinda off set the pandemonium.  You've got the beginnings of a good business going and I want to see both of you succeed at it, ‘cause you're good.  But you're still taking baby steps when it comes to keeping yourself out of trouble.  I think it's a good thing that Jed is going along with you on this.  I hardly think it's going to be dangerous, but it's going to take a lot of head work and you two seem to be pretty good at that.”

  “So then you're giving me the go ahead with Jed coming as well even though you think we might lead each other astray.”  Heyes made this statement somewhat hesitantly, not sure if this was where the sheriff was going or not.

  “Yes,”  Jacobs agreed.

  Heyes smiled and nodded.  “Oh.  Good.”

  “But Joe is going along with you.”

  Heyes' smile dropped.  “Oh.  Ahh....I'm sure there's no need for that Sheriff.  I'll stay in touch with you and....”

  “Nope.”  Jacobs shook his head.  “I'm gonna need a little bit more security than that Heyes.  Joe goes with you or you don't go.”

  Heyes bit his lower lip but he knew by now that arguing the point with Jacobs wasn't going to change anything.  He was going to have to accept this decree and make the best of it and just hope that the deputy didn't get too much under foot.

  “Well, when you put it that way Sheriff.”  Heyes grudgingly accepted.

  “Good!”  Jacobs was pleased.  “I'll let Joe know.  When do ya' think you'll be leaving?”

  “You want me to do what!?”  Joe was incredulous.

  “Oh, now Joe, c'mon,” Jacobs reasoned with the young man.  “It's not like I'm expecting you to ride into a den of thieves.  You've come to know Heyes pretty well over this past year and you've known Curry for six.  You seem to get on with both of 'em alright.”

  “Yeah, here in town,” Joe pointed out, “and, one at a time. You know what those two can be like when they get together and they're hot on a scent.  You really think I'm going to have any control over them?”

  “You're really just going along as some added insurance.”  Jacobs explained.  “They both have families and a future here.  I can't see either one of them jeopardizing that.”

  “Then why do I need to go at all?”  Joe reasoned.  “If you're so sure they'll be back....”

  “Heyes is still on parole.”  Jacobs reminded his subordinate.  “Considering the fact that this particular job could take him anywhere in the country, I think it best that he have supervision.  Just having you along is going to make him think twice about doing anything stupid.”

  “Yeah, or dumping me the first chance they get.”

  “He does that and he'll be in real trouble, and he knows it,”  the sheriff pointed out.  “Think of it as a chance to spread your wings.  You've turned into a real fine law officer Joe and I couldn't ask for a better deputy.  But you've learned all you’re gonna learn hanging around this town all the time.  You need  to get out there and get some real experience under your belt.  And I can't think of two better teachers for a young deputy than Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry.  You'll learn more from just watching those two than you would spending years at one of those fancy colleges back east.  Just go along with them Joe.  Watch what they do—how they work together.  If you see Heyes starting to drift back to the wild side, give him a nudge.  He'll listen to ya'.”

  Joe snorted, “Yeah, right.”

  “No, he will.”  Jacobs insisted.  “You're not that same wide-eyed youngster who Morrison dumped an angry and injured outlaw on six and a half years ago.  Both of you have done a lot of growing up in those years.  You're not still intimidated by him are you?”

  “No,”  Joe emphasized.  “Actually, when I thought he had murdered my uncle I thought he was the lowest piece of scum in the gutters, and I was ready to kill him myself.  The only thing that stopped me from doing that was this badge.  Good thing too, considering how things worked out.”

  “Uh huh,” Jacobs nodded.  “Good lesson about taking the law into your own hands.  Sometimes obvious guilt isn't so obvious once all the facts are known.”

  “Yeah,” Joe agreed and then he shrugged.  “Naw, Heyes is alright.  Curry too.  I just feel like a third wheel on something like this and I doubt very much that either one of them wants me along.”

  “Doesn't matter what they want.”  Jacobs was adamant.  “Bottom line; Heyes is still on parole.  In order to keep his numerous benefactors happy he will accept you coming along.  End of discussion.” 

  Joe leaned up against the bar, nursing a beer and chewing a lip.  He had anticipated an enjoyable summer of courting a certain Miss Pansy MacAlistar.  Having to spend it nursemaiding a couple of ex-outlaws on some wild horse chase instead just didn't strike him as an agreeable alternative.  On the other hand, his boss had made a valid point; he couldn't help but learn a lot just watching those two working together.

  Joe enjoyed being a deputy and wanted to make a career of law enforcement.  His folks were finding the ranch too much for them now and were thinking about selling it and moving into town.  If they did that then Joe would be freed up to go back east to one of those 'fancy' colleges and study the law.  Maybe even get on at Bannerman's or Pinkerton's and become a real detective.

  Joe smiled to himself at that thought.  He remembered with some embarrassment being chided by Dr. Hester Bentham concerning his squeamishness at hearing about what he considered to be 'private feminine matters'.  He took a gulp of beer and chuckled.  The worse thing about that subtle reprimand is that the good doctor had been completely in the right.  If he wanted to carry on in law enforcement and maybe even become a detective then he would have to get over being so sensitive.

  Elise Daignault had taught him that lesson loud and clear.  Oh not intentionally, of course and if she hadn't been so dog-gone beautiful then the lesson would not have had anywhere near the impact that it did.  Just the fact that she had been a woman had distracted Joe off his game, add to the fact that she was indeed a beautiful woman had really caused Joe no end of distraction.  In hind-sight he realized how her gender had affected his ability to perform his duty as a law man and it brought home to him just how wet behind the ears he really was.

  Perhaps Sheriff Jacobs was right; Joe needed to break free from his complacency.  He was getting too comfortable with his job here in town.  It was easy; it was a known routine and Joe had let it become his world.  So much so that as soon as Jacobs had suggested he step out of that comfort zone, he had resented it and even fought against it.  What had happened to his sense of adventure?  His need for a challenge?  Good heavens!  He was just in his mid-twenties and he was already thinking like an old man.

  He quietly shook his head as these thoughts made their way through his mind.  This would not do.  It was time for him to break away, to move ahead.  And Jacobs had made another valid point; who would be more appropriate to teach him how to be a better law man than two ex-outlaws?  This could be fun.  This will be an adventure.  This will definitely be an education.

  He turned around and leaned his elbows against the bar.  He was feeling confident about events now and even a little impatient for them to be on their way—until he saw those two gentlemen in question  making a grand entrance into the saloon.  Suddenly all the confidence in him drizzled away as those dark brown eyes found his and the impish face lit up in a cheeky grin.

  “Hey there, Deputy!”  Heyes greeted him with an over-exuberance that Joe knew was more of a tease than a welcome.  “I hear you're gonna be joining us on our little adventure.”

  “Yeah, that's right Heyes.”  Joe confirmed.  “I got no more choice about it than you do, so....”

  “Naw, c'mon.  It'll be fun.”  Heyes told him.  “Sleepin' under the stars....”

  “Drinkin' Heyes' coffee...”  Jed put in.

  “Eatin' Kid's cooking....”

  “Listenin' to Heyes' theorizen'...”

  “Puttin' up with Jed's gripin'....”

  Bill put in an appearance and interrupted the appreciation society.  “You fella's gonna order anything or are ya' just gonna continue antagonizing the deputy?”

  “Oh.  No, I'll have a beer.” Heyes smiled at the bar keep.

  “Yeah, make that two,” Jed seconded.  “How about you Joe?  Another beer?”

  “No thanks,” Joe sighed.  “I’d best be gettin' home.  When are we leaving?”

  “Tomorrow morning.”  Heyes told him.  “Bright and early.  Pack light.”

  “Yup.”  Joe finished his beer and headed for the door.  “See ya' in the morning.”

  Heyes and the Kid leaned against the bar, watching the young man leaving the saloon.  The smile dropped from Heyes' face and he let loose a heavy sigh.

  “Yup.  This is gonna be fun,”  he commented dryly.

  Much to Jed's chagrin, common sense forced him to spend the night in town rather than stay home and ride in extra early the following morning.  It was going to be an early enough start and he didn't want to be the one holding things up.

 He went through a mixture of emotions while he was preparing his kit for living on the trail again.  In some ways he was looking forward to campfire dinners and sleeping under the stars.  Heyes wasn't the only one who suffered from itchy feet once in a while.  But he also remembered the realities of that life-style and cringed at the thought of sleeping on the hard ground and waking up in the wee hours, soaked to the skin because of an unexpected down pour. 

  He was also going to miss his wife and still felt a disquieting at leaving her while in her current condition.

  “Don't be silly.”  Beth admonished him as he got his gear together.  “We already discussed this.  And it's not as if I was going to be alone.”

  “I know.”  Jed agreed yet again.  “It just don't feel right.”

  Beth laughed.  “Yeah, until you get out there with Hannibal and fall back into your old routine!”  She teased him.  “Then it'll feel right enough.  Just don't fall back into the routine of robbing banks.”

  “Aww Darlin'...”  Jed looked at her in mock hurt.  “Would I do a thing like that?  Besides, that's why Joe's coming along; to make sure we stay legal.”

  “He's along to make sure Hannibal stays legal.”

  “Well that pretty much comes to the same thing.”  Jed commented.

  Beth suddenly turned serious.  “You don't really think Sheriff Jacobs expects Joshua to....”

  “No.”  Jed was quick to assure her and he smiled and took her into his arms.  “He's just trying to keep everybody happy.  Joe's a pretty good lawman but he's still young.  Jacobs knows that if me and Heyes decided to dump him we wouldn't have any trouble doing it.  I kinda suspect that Jacobs has set us up as teachers on this one; show Joe the ropes on what it's really like living out there on the trail..  We have Joe along for credibility and Jacobs gets himself a better deputy when everything is said and done.”

  Beth laughed.  “That's sneaky!”

  “Uh huh,” Jed agreed.  “Heyes is none too happy about it either, but he'll get over it.  You know Heyes; he just doesn't like being told what to do.”

  “Miranda has her hands full with him.”

  Jed grinned.  “I think Miranda has an advantage over the rest of us.”

  “Oh?”  Beth snuggled into his arms even more, grinning up at him.  “Are you saying that I have an advantage over others where you're concerned?”

  “You sure do, darlin'.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.”

  Beth smiled and they lingered over delicious kiss until they had to come up for air.  Jed grinned and gave her a little pat on the bum before returning to his packing.

  “Is that all you're taking with you?  Beth asked.

  “What?”  Jed asked her as he scrutinized his saddle bags.  “Heyes always packs the coffee pot with the bag of grounds stuffed inside it.  I pack the frying pan and the plates.  Extra socks in case it gets cold—cold feet when you're ridin' is pure misery—ah, bandages just in case.  Heyes has some of those too.  Ah, let's see...some salt and flour.  Hopefully Heyes remembers to pack some jerky, though, I should be able to shoot most of our meat;small bag of grain for Gov, for those nights when we can't get to a livery; a compass and a watch,”  he smiled as he held up a small bottle.  “and whiskey for those particularly cold nights; or for disinfecting a wound, whichever comes first.  I think that's everything.  Oh, and extra boxes of ammo for the revolver and the rifle.  Yup, that's everything.”

  “What do you mean 'that's everything?'”  Beth sounded incredulous.  “What about a change of clothing!?  What about writing paper?  What about an extra sweeter?”

  Jed laughed.  “Darlin' those are luxuries we don't have room for,” Jed told her.  “We're gonna be travelin' across country, sleepin' outdoors.  We can only take what we can fit in the saddle bags.  I just hope Joe knows how to pack light for travel.”

  “Well that just hardly seems like enough.”  Beth insisted.  “You hardly have any food.  What if you get caught out in the rain and your clothes get all wet....?”

  Jed smiled and took his wife into a hug again.  “Like I said; I can shoot fresh meat.  We often find mushrooms or corn and even apples while on the trail.  Wet clothes mean finding shelter, building a fire and letting things dry out.”

  “Oh, dear.”  Beth exclaimed.  “No wonder you wanted out of that life.  It's amazing that neither of you died from pneumonia.”

  “Believe me; we both had our bouts with it,” Jed admitted.  “but, even at that, the worse bout Heyes had was while he was in prison.  Doesn't say too much for prison life, does it?”

  Beth felt somber.  “No,” she stated bluntly.

  Jed tightened his hug.  “Now don't you start worryin' darlin',” he told her, “we're comin' into summer; everything is going to be fine.”

  “Well, I suppose so,” she relented.  “but, you keep in touch, you hear?  Don't you dare leave me in the dark.”

  Jed laughed.  “I promise, I will write every week.  Besides we might need you to send telegrams or do some research, who knows.  In any case, I'll be sure to stay in touch.”


  Miranda Thornton Heyes had a very special talent for being able to wake herself up at any given time in the morning.  She had set the newfangled alarm clock to sound off at 5:00 a.m. But she set her own inner clock to awaken at 4:50 so she could be up and getting the stove lit and coffee on before the rest of the household needed to stir.

 Awareness started to come to her at 4:35 and she fought against the inevitability of it.  It was still dark in the bedroom, with a chill in the morning air and the last thing she wanted to do was leave the warmth of her bed and of her husband's body, but she had set the alarm clock in her mind and it wasn't about to let her off the hook.  As much as she wanted to drift back into seductive sleep, her mind was waking up and sleep was being driven away.

  She stretched and moaned with her awakening breath and snuggled in up against her husband again.  She really didn't want to get out of bed.  Hannibal snored softly beside her and she smiled, her body still glowing from their late night love making. Even with Jed bedded down in the family room; Hannibal had seduced her, muffling her erotic moans with kisses and quiet laughter so as not to disturb the other members of the household.

  She smiled with the memory and then groaned with the acceptance of having to get up.  She finally rolled over and picking up the clock, she turned off the alarm at 4:50 a.m., precisely.  She forced herself out of bed and quickly pulled on her housecoat over top of her night dress, pulled on her socks and slippers and quietly made her way out of the bedroom and into the hallway.  She tiptoed past the living room where she could hear Jed softly snoring in his makeshift bed on the floor and she made her way down to the kitchen. 

  Dawn was still an hour or so away but she knew the innards of her house so well that she didn't need a light to find her way around her own kitchen.  Within moments she had the lamps lit and the stove going to bring heat into the room before slinking away to the water closet to attend to the most pressing of her morning toiletries.  Coffee was next on the agenda and once that was up and perking she braved  the chill of the larder and brought out the pre-cut bacon and pre-mixed flapjack batter.  She'd had the common sense to prepare these ingredients the evening before in order to make this particular morning go a little bit smoother.

  With the coffee well on it's way to perking she was just about to get out the large cast iron pan for the bacon when she felt arms circle her waist and the warm manly breath of her husband tickle the back of her neck.  She smiled and leaned back into him.

  “Good morning, Sleepy-head.”  she greeted him.  “I was beginning to think the whole morning was going to pass you by.”

  Heyes took a moment to glance out the kitchen window at the still enveloping darkness.  “It's not my fault you're up before the birds.  Why didn't you wake me?”

  “I was just about to,”  Miranda assured him.  “But I know how you are before you get your morning coffee.”

  Heyes was about to come back with some scathing retort, but a yawn stopped it before it had even fully formed in his mind.  Miranda chuckled.

  “The coffee's almost ready,”  she told him.  “Why don't you start your morning off right and go wake up Jed?”

  “Oh.”  Heyes grinned maliciously at the prospect.  “Yeah.  Haven't done that in a long time.”

  He gave his wife a gentle peck on the neck then made his way quietly towards the living room.  Miranda smiled as she set strips of bacon to sizzle enticingly in the warmed up pan and then turned her attention to the bowl of flapjack batter.  She couldn't help the chuckle that escaped her lips at the sounds of muffled cursing and then laughter coming from the living room.

  “I swear,” she commented to herself, “they're still a pair of little boys.  And I hope he never grows up.” 

  A few moments later and Jed made his way into the kitchen looking bleary eyed and disheveled.  He came up behind Miranda and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  She smiled as she turned the bacon.

  “Is my husband being a bully again?”  She asked him.

  “Ohhh,” Jed groaned.  “I think he enjoys it too much.”

  “Never mind,”  Randa consoled him,  “coffee's ready.”

  “You're an angel.”

  “You do realize that was my wife you were kissing?”, came the voice from the hallway.

  “I thought we were partners.”  Jed defended himself as he poured himself a cup.  “Coffee?”

  “Ohh, yeah,” Heyes grinned and came forward to accept the proffered cup.  “Mornings are still pretty cold.”

  “Well, sit yourselves down and have breakfast.”  Miranda told them as she placed a stacked plate of flapjacks in the middle of the table.  “There's bacon as well, and some honey.”

  The scraping of chairs took over the kitchen as the two men settled in and helped themselves.  Miranda poured herself a coffee and sat down to join them, helping herself to breakfast.  Everyone was vaguely aware of a cat weaving in and out amongst the chair legs.

  “Are you sure you have everything ready to go?”  Miranda asked as she broke off a piece of bacon and placed it on the floor.  “As you noted, dear it is still cold in the mornings.  Suppose you have to spend a night outdoors?  Perhaps you should take some extra blankets.”

  The partners smiled at each other over their mouthfuls.

  “What?” asked Miranda.

  “Don't you think Jed and I know how to rough it?”  Heyes asked his wife.  “We used to spend our whole lives out on the trail, sleeping in a bed was the rarity.  I think we're good.”

  “Well, you're a bit older than 'the last time'.”  Miranda felt obliged to point out.  “You might not find it quite so easy now.”

  “See Heyes,” Kid spoke up with a smile.  “Isn't it nice to have a pretty woman at home worryin' about ya'?  Beth was hovering around me too while I was gettin' packed up.  She just didn't seem to think that I knew what I was doin'.”

  Heyes smiled over his mouthful of flapjacks but a glance to his wife let him know that she wasn't finding any of this funny.  As much as she tried to hide it, worry was seeping into her dark eyes and pressing the line of her lips.

  “Oh now, we'll be alright.”  He consoled her.  “It's just another job, remember?  There's nothing dangerous about it.”  He smiled again.  “It'll be fun.”

  Then Jed, who was sitting across the table from Heyes and could see down the hallway, suddenly smiled himself and gestured  for the others to take a look.  Hannibal and Miranda glanced to the kitchen entrance and both smiled

 Sally was stumbling her way, bleary-eyed but determined into the kitchen so as not to miss out on saying 'goodbye' to her Pa.  Heyes chuckled when he saw her,  bundled up in her housecoat and barely awake but still making her way over to where he sat at the table.

  “Good morning Sweetheart.”  He greeted her.

  “'Mornin', Papa.”

  “C'mon.”  He said as he lifted her up onto his lap where she instantly snuggled in, tucking her feet into her housecoat to keep them warm.  “Come to see us off have you?”


  Jed and Miranda exchanged smiles.

  “She'll probably be asleep again before you're half way through your breakfast.”  Miranda predicted.

  “That's alright.”  Heyes grinned.  “She's putting in the effort.”

  “You want some flapjacks and bacon, sweetie?”  Miranda asked her daughter.

  “Hmm,” was the only response she got from Sally.

  “Oh well.”  Miranda smiled as she re-filled coffee cups.  “I'll make her something later.  Are you alright like that?” she asked, as she noticed her husband trying to eat one-handed while the other supported his daughter.

  “I'll manage.”  Heyes stated bravely. 

  Jed smiled.  “I'll cut your meat up for you if you want.”

  “Ha!  Right,” Heyes was not convinced.  “You're not getting anywhere near my breakfast.”

  “What?” asked Kid, innocently, “Just offerin' to help, Heyes.”

  “Uh, huh.”

  Showing impeccable timing, Sally started to squirm her way out of her father's lap just in time for breakfast to be done and over with.  She went over to stand sleepily by her mother, but was awake enough to help herself to a piece of bacon that Miranda had left on her plate, unguarded.

  Heyes took a last gulp of coffee and smiled over at his cousin.  “You ready?”

  Jed popped his last piece of bacon into his mouth, washed it down with coffee and slid his chair away from the table.

  “Yup,” he answered, while still chewing.  “You make a real fine breakfast, Randa.  Thanks for getting up early and preparing it for us.”

  “You're welcome.”  Randa smiled at him and then sent a slightly worried glance to her husband.

  Heyes was already on the move towards the front alcove where all their supplies were piled up and waiting for them.  Jed noticed his partner's inattention and with a smile towards Randa followed him over to their belongings.  The two ladies stood by and watched while the two men pulled on boots, strapped on holsters and checked their handguns.  Rifles were brought down from the high shelf and were also checked.  Next bandanas were tired around throats, warm coats and gloves against the morning chill were adorned, followed lastly by hats.

  Jed looked back over to Heyes' family noticing again that neither of them were looking too happy.  “Heyes...”

  “Yeah, I know.”  Heyes acknowledged quietly.  “Give me a minute.”


  Heyes set his gear back down on the floor and went over to say 'goodbye' to his girls.  Before either of the adults could begin, Sally stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her father's legs.  Heyes stroked her hair and squatted down to be on eye level with her.

  “What's this all about now?”  He asked her.  “I thought we already talked about this.”

  “I know.”  Sally pouted.  “I just don't want you to go.”

  “I've gone away before and you didn't get upset.”  Heyes reminded her.  “Why is this time any different?”

  “Those other times you were only gone a few days.”  Sally quietly pointed out.  “This time you could be gone for a long time.”

  “Oh now, it's not going to be that long.”  Heyes assured her.  “And you're going to be so busy with school and your friends and with helping your mother, the time will just fly by.”

  “I don't want you to go.”  Sally insisted.  “Why do you always have to go away?”

  “Now we've talked about this.”  Heyes reminded her, brushing a strand of hair from her face.  “This is my job.  This is what I do to contribute to our family.  I know it takes me away from you but don't I spend time with you when I'm home?”  A somber nod from the daughter.  “Yes.  And we have fun, don't we?”  Another somber nod.  Heyes hugged her and gave her a kiss on the forehead.  “So, you be good and mind your mother.  I'll be back, and I'll bring something nice for you when I come.  Okay?”

  Sally smiled and nodded.  “Okay Papa.  You be careful now, you hear me?”

  Heyes nearly broke up laughing and from the sound of a muffled snicker coming from behind him, he figured Jed was having the same problem.  The seriousness on the child's face gave him the strength to remain somber and nod acquiescence.

  “Yes, I'll be careful.”

  “You promise?”

  “Yes.  I promise.”


  Heyes gave her another kiss, “You look after Mouse for me alright?  But don't feed her too much, she's getting fat.”  He then stood up and took his wife into his arms.  They held each other tightly for a moment and then kissed rather passionately for a goodbye.

  “You be careful.”  Randa seconded her daughter.  “And keep in touch.”

  “I will.”

  “You, too, Jed.  Look after yourselves out there; stay out of trouble.”

  “Who?  Us?  Trouble?”  Jed was good at the innocence game but he smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  “I'll bring Heyes back to ya' safe and sound.  Don't worry.”

  “Geesh!  You'd think we were going to blow up the Denver Mint.”  Heyes complained.  “It’s just a little
information finding trip; nothing to get worked up about.”

  “Yes, dear,” Randa teased him.  “Just be careful anyways.”

  “I will.”  Heyes assured her.  “Goodbye.”  He ruffled his daughter's hair until she giggled.  “Goodbye sweetheart.”

  “Bye, Papa.”

  “Bye, darlin'.”

  “Bye, Uncle Jed.”

  The two men gathered up their gear along with the saddle bags and bed rolls and leaving the house, trotted down the front steps and headed towards the livery.  The sun was just coming up over the horizon and was promising another nice warm spring day.  In the meantime however, it was still chilly and both men tightened up the collars on their coats and could see their breath in the morning air.

  “It's kinda nice, ain't it Heyes?”

  “What's that?”

  “Havin' somebody to miss us while we're gone.”

  Heyes grinned and nodded.  “Yeah, it is.”

  “Ya' think Joe will be waiting for us at the livery?”

  “He better be.”  Heyes commented.  “Or he'll find himself left behind.”

  Jed snorted, knowing an empty threat when he heard one.  “Whatever you say, Heyes; whatever you say.”

  They approached the livery barn and noted that the light was on inside and were relieved to know that Eric was up and getting their horses fed and ready for the trail.  Eric was a pretty good fella when it came to looking after his boarded horses and their owners.  Goodness knows that David pushed him to the limit sometimes, banging on the door at all hours of the night, needing Rudy to be tacked up in a hurry.  Of course just because Eric would do that for the town doctor doesn't mean he'd be willing to do that for just anybody.  But he was still willing to get up extra early for his regulars on those occasions that it might be called for.

The two men entered the barn and were instantly greeted by a number of snorts and foot stamping though most were too busy munching breakfast hay to put a head over a stall door.  That would have been expecting too much.  But the two horses in question were already standing in the isle, all tacked up and waiting for the day to begin.  At the sound of people entering the barn, Eric stepped out from between the two animals and nodded a greeting.

  “Morning, fellas.”


  “Hey Eric,” Heyes responded.  “Thanks for getting them ready.”

  “No problem,” he assured them.  “They've had a good feeding so don't run 'em for a couple 'a hours.  Nice steady jog will do.”

  “Yessir,” Heyes grinned.

  “Wouldn't dream of it,” Jed seconded.

  “Don't give me that.”  Eric wagged a finger at them.  “I know what you young fellas are like.  Get on a horse first thing and run the bejesus outa 'em.  Than ya' blame me when they come up colicky.  When you get back here, I wanna see these horses in the same shape they're in now—you hear me?  I want 'em back sound, I want 'em back fat and I want 'em back with all their hides on 'em or there'll be hell to pay.”

  “Jeez Eric,”  Kid grumbled, “you do realize they're our horses...”

  “I don't care whose horses they be,”  Eric retorted.  “When they're in my barn, they're mine!  You just make sure you look after 'em!”

  Heyes grinned.  “Don't worry, we'll look after them.”

  “Yeah,” the Kid agreed, “like they was our very own.”

  “See that ya' do,”  Eric warned them.  “Now I got things ta' do here.  Don't have time to stand around jawin' with you fellas.....”  And Eric made his way back to the feed room to carry on with his chores.

  “No, don't worry!”  Jed called after him.  “We'll see ourselves out!”

  The partners exchanged looks and both chuckled as they each turned to their respective horses.

  “It's a good thing Eric is so good with horses,” Heyes commented, “because he sure ain't one for socializing.”

  “You can say that again.  Hey there, young man,” Jed patted his gelding on the neck and the dark muzzle came around to sniff at him.

  Gov was a little antsy, not really sure what was going on.  Something was in the air and he knew that much, but just what it was he could not fathom.  Karma, on the other hand had her ears pricked and was mouthing her bit in anticipation.  She knew from her human's attire and the various items of gear being tied to her saddle that they were off on another adventure.  She stamped a foot impatiently, wanting to be off.  She didn't like living in town and getting out into the wide open spaces again suited her right down to her hooves.

  Heyes laughed and gave her a pat on the neck.  “Patience, my girl,” he told her, “We'll be off just as soon as the wayward deputy gets here.”

  “Then I guess we're off, 'cause I'm here.” 

  All four of them turned to the sound of the voice to see Joe standing in the early dawn light.  His horse was standing right behind him, all geared up and ready for the trail.

  Heyes smiled.  “'Morning, Joe.”

  “Right on time,” Kid commented.

  The partners untied their horses and led them down the aisle and outside into the cool morning.  Everybody did a last minute check on their girths and mounted up.  They all just sat there, looking at each other, waiting for somebody to make a move.

  “Well, which way we goin'?” asked Joe.

  Heyes smiled and looked over to his cousin.  “Well Kid, first stop on our journey is your favorite town; which way?”

  Jed smiled back and then turned Gov's head towards Montana.  “Follow me boys.  We got a long ways to go before we even get started.”

To be Continued

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