Monday, January 27, 2014

Love's Last Gift ~ Chapter 12

Family is not an important thing. It's everything.
Michael J. Fox 

Love’s Last Gift
Chapter 12

The trip down the mountain was both terrifying and amazing at the same time.  Evie was fine as long as she kept her eyes on the expanse of countryside she could see from their lofty position on the side of the mountain.  But if she looked down, she couldn't help but almost panic.  The ledge they traveled on was so narrow that one wrong step would send horse and rider tumbling over the edge.  She rode bareback on the mare with Heyes riding Odin in the lead and Kid was astride Rusty at the rear.  They had all worried that she might refuse to walk the narrow rocky pathway, but it was becoming quickly apparent that Delilah, as Evie now called her, would follow Odin anywhere he wanted to lead her.   Evie could not help but think how like herself Delilah was.  For she too would follow the man riding the magnificent beast in front of her anywhere he wanted to take her.  Just like Heyes and the Kid had always been, she and Hannibal were a package deal. 

“You alright back there, Evie?”  Heyes said in a steady calm voice without turning to look.  There could be no sudden moves or loud noises that might cause the horses the make a misstep.  He had instructed Evie to remain silent, except to answer his periodic questions, and then she should answer in a level tone of voice.

“Good so far,” she replied in almost whisper, not wanting to risk anything louder.

“How about you, Kid?”  When there was no reply he asked again, slightly louder, “Kid?”

Kid had heard his partner’s voice but it had not really penetrated the troubled thoughts in his head so that his brain could tell him to answer.  When Heyes had said his name the second time, it took a moment but his brain finally acknowledged that he was being spoken to and that he should answer. “Sorry.  What did you say?”

“Are you alright back there?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”  But he wasn’t fine.  He was feeling things he rarely, if ever, felt.  They were feelings he wasn’t sure how to deal with because he had never had to deal with them before.  And the biggest and strongest was fear.  The only thing he had ever really feared since he was eighteen years old was losing his best friend and partner.  The fear he felt now had nothing to do with the treacherous walk down this narrow passage – he had done this many times before.  It had nothing to do with the risky trip they were making over the next few days it would take to get to Riverton.  He wasn’t really afraid of being captured and going to prison or even of being hanged.  His biggest fear was never being able to see his daughter or her mother again.
He missed Livvy and their baby so much it made his insides ache.  How Heyes had endured being separated from Evie while they were in prison he did not know.  He had thought of Livvy everyday while he was in prison himself, but he had not thought he was in love with her.  He hadn’t really known what real love was he supposed.  But the first time he watched Livvy with his child at her breast, he knew that he had never known real love until that moment.  He knew that he would take a bullet for either of them.  He knew that he would risk any danger to protect them.  And being apart from them and not knowing what was happening to them made him feel frightened, angry and helpless.   He couldn't sleep at night.  He never thought he'd see the day when he would lose sleep over anything, especially a woman.  His whole life had changed the day he found out that he and Livvy had created a child together.  And it was a change he had been looking forward to getting used to.  Now it seemed like his whole world was falling apart right in front of his face and there was nothing he could do about it.

Most of his life, Kid Curry had been in control of every situation.  The day he and Hannibal had decided to leave the orphanage when he was not quite fifteen years old, was the day he had also decided that he would not let anyone or anything else be in control of what mattered most to him.  He had become the best he could be with his gun.  If everyone else was afraid of him then he had nothing to be afraid of.  If he had his partner and his gun beside him then there was nothing he couldn't handle.  Even with both of those things right here with him, he still felt helpless, like he had no control over his own life.  And he didn't like that feeling.  And he knew it wouldn't go away until he found Livvy and Gabbie.  And he couldn't find them until they took care of Clayton Ramsey once and for all.  And doing that meant making this trip to Riverton.

They rounded a bend and they were on the south facing side of the mountain and they could see the flat land that stretched out for miles at the foot.  Once at the bottom they would travel west to the edge of the mountains and then head northeast toward Riverton.  All three riders could tell the horses were as relieved as they were when they finally set foot on grassy land. 

"Thank goodness.  I don't see how in the world you made it up this ledge with me unconscious."

"It wasn't easy.  But luckily, Odin here is no stranger to terrain like this.  And I'm pretty handy when it comes to handling a horse.  Even with an unconscious woman in my lap.  How's Delilah doing?"

"As long as Odin's in front of her, I think she'd walk into a volcano.  I’m not sure she was even aware that she was only inches away from sending us both over the edge to die a brutal, painful death."   Evie shuddered at the picture her own dramatic words had painted in her head.  "As beautiful as the scenery up there was, I’m glad to be at the bottom.”

The three riders stood abreast looking toward the west.  It was going to be a long, hard ride to Riverton.  Three days with only brief resting stops.  But they were each ready and anxious to get there, each for different reasons. Evie was anxious to try and help Megan and in turn help the two most important men in her life. 
Heyes was just anxious to get the whole thing over with so he and Evie could either start their new life together or continue with living on the lamb, depending on the outcome. And Kid...he just wanted to get the proof needed to put an end to Clayton Ramsey so he could find his woman and his baby.

“Well, let’s not just stand here.  We need to get moving.  Time’s a wasting,” Kid said as he nudged Rusty forward with a tap of his boot heels.

Heyes turned and looked at the woman beside him.  He was leaving behind the safety and sanctuary of Cave of the Crying Wind.  He didn’t like the feeling of dread he felt swirling inside his chest.   But when she smiled at him and extended her hand toward him, he masked his uneasy feeling with a smile of his own and grasped her hand. 

“Everything’s going to work out fine.  I’m sure of it,” she said, sensing his unease.

He didn’t reply.  He merely nodded, squeezed her hand and continued to smile as she urged Delilah forward.  His smile faded and he watched her ride ahead and Kid became smaller in the distance.  He had to force himself to snap the reins and set his horse in motion.  An image popped into his head, one of a beautiful butterfly flying free and unfettered, floating softly on a breeze…straight toward a spider’s web.


“Did you find them?” Governor Ramsey whispered to his trusted right hand man who had just returned from a three day hunt for the outlaws and his daughter-in-law. His reply was a slow, steady negative shake of the dark head. “Damn.  What about my son?  Any word from my son?”

Another negative response followed.

“Just as well.  It’s too bad really that he didn’t parish in the fire.  That would have really drummed up the sympathy and gotten the public behind me.  Strange how these people will rally behind an underdog or someone who has suffered a tragedy.”

“Clayton, are you coming?”  Lieutenant governor Fritz Guthrie asked impatiently.

“Yes, Fritz, I’m coming,” Clayton sniped back angrily.  He didn’t like being treated in such a scolding manner, as if he were a child.  He could hardly wait to become president and hand over this bothersome business of governing a territory full of remote wilderness to Fritz. 

But first he must drum up a few tears and continue to win over the clueless peons who waited below his hotel room balcony.  He really must thank the outlaw and his untrustworthy daughter-in-law.  He couldn’t have planned a better scenario than the one that had occurred almost a week ago.  It was amazing what a fire and a kidnapping could accomplish.  The presidency was as good as his.  The only loose end to tie up was the girl.  With his son missing,  Clayton was suspicious that Clay had been divulging information to his bride and was now in hiding, fearing his father’s wrath.  Just how much he had divulged is what he wanted to find out, so that he could get Bartholomew busy with damage control. 

What a waste it would be if the girl knew too much and had to be eliminated.  He still desperately wanted to create an heir with her.  Not such much for the heir as for the creating part.  She was like an aggravating itch that he could not reach and therefore could not get rid of.  And he would not be satisfied until that itch was scratched.  The more he thought about it the more lecherous his thoughts became.  He turned again to his silent minion and whispered, “Go and prepare for the hunt once again.  As soon as I am finished here I will meet you and we will head out.  I have a feeling I know where to find my son.  And, Bartholomew, should we happen across the outlaws and Evangeline along the way, remember, kill the outlaws but make sure the girl stays alive.  I have unfinished business with her.  And make sure that Mrs. Vanderbilt’s whereabouts are still being sought.”

With a curt nod, Bartholomew exited the room.  Clayton Ramsey stood for a moment with his eyes closed and like a magician pulling a rabbit from a top hat, he produced pools of moisture in the bottom of his eyes.  He stepped through the drapes adorning the balcony doors and out into the sunlight to share the sad and distressing news with the waiting crowd that there was still no word of his beloved son and his missing bride. 


“Heyes, do you really expect that to work?”

“You got a better idea?”

“Yeah, I do.  I’ll shoot my way into that house and just tell whoever is there that I’m taking that girl with me whether they like it or not.  How’s that for a plan?”

Heyes and Evie exchanged frowns.  Evie just shrugged, letting Heyes know he was the one who was going to have to deal with the grumpy Kid Curry.  She walked away leading Delilah from the stream and back to the small secluded campsite they had just set up as the sun got low in the west.  She left the two partners to talk and joined the other two horses who were enjoying a rest at their camp. 

“We can’t do that, Kid and you know it.  We’ll be in even hotter water than we already are.  It’s gonna take a little more finesse than that.”

“I’m fresh out of finesse, Heyes.  I just want to get that girl and get out of there so I can get on with finding Livvy.”

“I know.  Just trust me, alright?  My track record has been pretty good for the past sixteen years so I don’t know why you’re so doubtful about me now.”

Kid breathed a heavy sigh and hung his head for a moment.  “I’m sorry, Heyes.  I guess I just ain’t as good as you are at masking my hurt and my anger.  When I’m mad I let it show and I can’t help it.”

“Yeah, I know.  You’ve always worn your heart on your sleeve.  And I understand how you feel, wanting to get to Livvy as quick as possible.  Have you forgotten that I’ve been in your shoes on more than one occasion?  And belief me, going in there and shooting up the place is not gonna make you any less anxious or desperate to find her.  We have to do this right, Kid if we hope to ever get back what we’ve worked so hard to have.  Otherwise, finding her is sort of a moot point.”

“That’s easy for you to say, Heyes.  You’ve got Evie here with you.  You can take off to parts unknown at any time.  If I don’t catch up to Livvy, I may never see her or my daughter again.  If she’s scared she will run with that baby.  I just know it.”

Heyes placed an understanding hand on his partners shoulder and looked him in his piercing blue eyes.  “Kid, you have my word that I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that we find the proof we need to put the governor away and clear our names.  And after we do that, if Livvy has disappeared Evie and I will help you in any way we can to find her.  I promise.  Just stick with me and trust me, alright? We can’t do this without you.”

“Alright, Heyes I trust you, you know that.  I’m just nervous about the whole thing and being nervous is not something I like feeling.  And this plan of yours is not making me feel any better.”

“Kid I’m beginning to think you’re losing confidence in me again.”

“Heyes, I’m beginning to think you’re on to something there.”

Heyes shot his partner a scathing look but before he could retort with an equally scathing remark, Evie’s scream split the air.  Heyes ran, his partner’s attitude temporarily forgotten.  His only thought was getting to the woman he loved, who was in obvious distress.  He rounded the edge of the tree thicket they had taken refuge behind expecting to find her being mauled by a wild animal or being manhandled by one of the governor’s henchmen.  He stopped short when he saw what was causing her screams.  Kid, gun in hand, nearly ran into the back of him when he stopped so abruptly.

“What the hell…” was all he could think to say.

“Don’t just stand there gawking!  Get over here and help me before they kill each other!”

The two former outlaws quickly moved to help her separate the two feuding stallions that were on the verge of all-out war.    Heyes wrangled Odin while Kid managed to reel in the fiery Rusty. 

“What happened?  What did you do to them?”  Heyes asked rubbing the quivering withers of the black.

Evie’s mouth hung open in disbelief.  “What did I…I didn’t do anything.  They were perfectly fine when I came back from the stream with Delilah.  Then all of a sudden they were both raring back and snorting and screaming at each other and I tried to get in between them but the knocked me down so I thought I should yell for help.”

Heyes came to her; sorry he had accused her and took her in his arms.  “I’m sorry. Are you alright?  You’re not hurt are you?  It’s just that these two have been together for months and they’ve gotten along just fine.  I don’t understand why all of a sudden…”

“Aw, no,” Kid groaned in dismay, “she’s in heat.”

“Oooh,” Heyes groaned with equal dismay.

“What is it?  What’s so bad about her being in heat?   Horses do that all the time don’t they?” Evie asked.

“Yeah, but you don’t ever want two studs together in close quarters around a mare in heat.  It’s asking for disaster,” Heyes explained.

“Oh.  I guess neither one is willing to share, huh?”

“That’s an understatement.  What you just saw them doing to each other was just the beginning.  If we hadn’t separated them they might have killed each other for real,” Kid added.

“And it won’t get any better for the next few days.  That’s going to make traveling the rest of the way to Riverton fun.  We still have a day and a half ride before we get there,” Heyes complained.

“I’m no horse expert, so how long does this last?”  Evie asked.

“I’ve seen it last for three days and then I’ve seen it last for ten.  
Most times it lasts about five days to a week.”

“Poor thing.  Here she is, burned out of her home, stuck carting me around, which she isn’t used to, and now she’s the prize for two feuding males who are determined to kill each other to proof themselves worthy of her attention.  She must feel dreadful.”  Evie approached the mare with the intent of consoling her with what she assumed was some much needed affection.  She was greeted with a squeal and a nip of the teeth.

“Ouch!  She bit me!”

“Oh, yeah, did we mention that a mare in heat can sometimes be mean and grouchy? You might want to rethink that feeling sorry thing,” Heyes said on a chuckle.

“What are we going to do about Rusty and Odin?  Shouldn’t they be kept as far apart as possible?  I don’t want them to hurt each other.”

Heyes looked at his partner who silently nodded in understanding.  But when he attempted to take the mare out of the campsite so the two stallions would not fight,  she protested violently.  It was apparent that she was not going to be separated from Odin.  And so Kid decided that he and Rusty, both being odd men out would sleep down by the stream and away from the other two couples.  After a hasty meal of fresh caught fish,  Kid said goodnight to Heyes and Evie.

“I feel bad.  I hate for Kid to sleep by himself.  And poor Rusty must be heartbroken,” Evie mused as she lay on her back beside her beloved and looked up at the stars.

“Sweetheart, horses don’t get heartbroken.  It’s Kid who’s heartbroken.  I wish I could do something or say something to ease his mind, but he thinks Livvy is going to run away with the baby.  And I gotta say, I’m not so sure his fears are unfounded.”

“Livvy loves Jed.  I know she does.  When Gabbie was born she was so desperate, just like I was to get you two out of prison.  She was afraid of telling him about the baby, but I think it was fear of rejection.  But that didn’t happen, just like I told her it wouldn’t.  So I don’t know what she’s afraid of now.  But if she does take off with that baby, I will find her.  And then I will throttle her behind 
for it.  I don’t know what that woman is thinking?”

“She’s probably thinking that she can’t live a life with a man she’s not sure is going to live long enough to see their daughter grow up.  And that’s the way you should be thinking too.”   He rolled to his side and looked down into her beautiful moon washed face.  “I still have trouble believing that a woman like you could ever love a troublesome, old outlaw like me.”

She touched his face and stared deeply into his soulful brown eyes.  “You’re a part of me, Hannibal Heyes.  It doesn’t matter where I go or who I’m with,  a part of you will always be inside of me.   You’ve been there from the moment you first kissed me in that cave with the lightning flashing all around.  I swear I thought I had been struck by lightning after that kiss.”

“Yeah, I remember it that way too.  I think I’ve loved you since that moment or maybe from the moment I first laid eyes on you.  You know I had so many dreams about the life we were going to have together.  I pictured us living on a little ranch with some cattle, a few horses and chickens.   We’d have a garden out back of our cozy little house where you could grow vegetables and flowers.  And we would have two kids…one boy and one girl.”

She turned to lay face to face with him and smiled gently as he revealed his dreams to her. “Who do they look like? You or me?”

“The little girl will look like you of course and the boy like me.”  His eyes took on a faraway look as he stared into the night beyond her shoulder.  “It was a nice dream.  I wish it could have come true.”

“Who says it still can’t?”

“With a murder charge on my head?  I gotta tell you, sweetheart, this whole plan to get the governor’s daughter out of the house where she’s basically a prison and get her sobered to the point that she can recall an event that happened years ago so that she can clear us….well, it’s a long shot.  I don’t like to bet on long shots.  I’m afraid my dream is going to remain just that…a dream.”

“We are going to see those dreams come true.  They are not just your dreams but mine as well.  We are going to have the life we’ve dreamed of even if we have to take on new identities and move to Europe.  We can go to Spain or France.  Oh, or Italy!  We can raise goats and have a vineyard and make our own wine.  And still have all the little Hannibal’s and Evie’s we want.  And I want at least five, remember.”

“That’s what I love about you.  You’re eternally optimistic.  Your faith never waivers, does it?”

“I don’t want you to lose your faith either, after I worked so hard to help you find it again.  I love you.  And with God as my witness we will never be parted again.”

“You amaze me, you know that?”

“You’re pretty amazing yourself, Mr. Heyes.  And I think you should show me just how amazing you are right now.”
He didn’t mistake the seductive gleam in her eyes.  His lips sought hers and found them.  She returned his deep kiss with the passion that only a woman in complete and total love could have.   The sound of nearby grunts and squeals had both their heads rising to find their equine friends engaging in some romantic moments of their own.

“Oh, my goodness!  Love is definitely in the air tonight isn’t it?”
Heyes chuckled deeply in his throat.  “Yeah, for everybody except two lonely guys down by the creek.”

“Oh, yes, poor Kid and Rusty.  I feel so bad for them both.  You should go talk to him and make sure he’s alright.”

“I have a better idea.  Why don’t you go talk to him?  I think I need to get those two separated over there or we’ll have a baby Odin on the way.”

“Would that be so bad?”  Evie rose and started to leave the secluded little campsite in search of her adopted big brother.  

“Ouch!”  she yelled out in pain as her bare foot connected with a sharp stone hidden in the grass.  She dropped to the ground and cradled her throbbing foot.

Heyes was at her side immediately taking her wounded foot in his hand, rubbing the hurt away.  “I’m sorry we couldn’t get you a pair of shoes or a change of clothes, sweetheart.  When we saw that newspaper with our names and descriptions plastered all over them in that first town we came to I decided it just wasn’t worth the risk.”

“That’s alright.  Sore and dirty feet are a small price to pay if we can pull this whole deal off.  It would be considerably easier to pull off if my feet weren’t covered with stone bruises and honey bee stings and I had a proper dress and shoes, but we’ll just have to improvise.”

He planted a kiss solidly on the bottom of her injured foot, not caring that it was dirty.  “The offer still stands for you to wear my boots.”

“No thank you.  I tried that remember.  I tripped and almost broke my neck because they were too big.  I’ll take my chances with the rocks and the honey bees.  Are you sure you don’t want me to help you with the horses?  Or maybe you want me to send Jed back….”
His upheld palm quickly silenced her, then he stuck his thumb into his chest as he said smugly, “Horse whisperer, remember?”

Evie raised her eyebrows and tried to suppress a grin as she spun on her bare feet and headed around the tree thicket in search of Kid Curry.  She found him sitting by a meager fire staring into the small flames.  She was beginning to think she was going to be able to sneak up on him undetected.  She was almost upon him and he hadn’t even acknowledged her presence.   She was either extremely stealthy in her bare feet or he was extremely preoccupied.  Evie figured it was a combination of both.  She was just about to accomplish the unbelievable and take Kid Curry completely by surprise when all of a sudden…”Ouch!”

Kid was on his feet, gun in hand in less than a second.  He rolled his eyes and slid his gun back in its holster.  “Another honey bee?”

“No, I hung my toe in a darned root.”

Kid helped her hobble over to the small fire he had made beneath the big tree he had been leaning against.  “What are you doing walking around out here in the dark?  I thought you and Heyes would be cozied up under a blanket by now, seeing as how this is the only night we’re going to be stopping for a decent sleep.”

“We’re worried about you.  If I hadn’t stumped my toe on that root you never would have known I was there.  That’s not like you.  And you barely touched your supper.  That’s really not like you.  And I bet you won’t sleep two winks tonight either.  Even though we haven’t seen a human being since we left that town where we were going to buy me some shoes.  We’re not likely to meet anybody until we reach Riverton and it would probably be perfectly safe for you to catch a few hours of sleep.  I’m sure you’ll feel more yourself if you do.”

“I’m not likely to be myself for a while, Evie.  Not until I find Liv and the baby.”

“Jed, Livvy is in love with you. I don’t think she would just up and disappear on you.  She might lay low while all of this is going on but once the dust settles, she won’t be able to stay away from you.  She was just as anxious as I was to get you out of prison and the only reason she waited so long to tell you about Gabbie  was her own stupid, unfounded fears.”

“You weren’t there, Evie.  You didn’t see her face or hear her voice when she told me she couldn’t marry me.  I think she’s still afraid.  You see what she did when she was afraid before…she kept my daughter from me for the first seven months of her life.  Who knows what she’ll do this time.”

“Listen to me, we are family.  You, me, Hannibal and Livvy are all family.  And I know Livvy better than just about anybody and family is the most important thing in this world to her.  She went without any family except Libby for so long that I know she would endure whatever hardships came her way to keep this family together.  And if she wants me in her family she has to take you.  You’re part of the package deal and she knows that.  But you’re right, she is afraid of something.  But once this is all over and the governor is exposed and you two are cleared,  she’ll come around,  I just know it.”

“What if we don’t expose the governor and the charges against me and Heyes stick?  Then what?”

“Don’t even think like that.  I think the whole reason that you two went to prison in the first place is so that I would meet Clayton Ramsey and set everything in motion for us to bring him down.  The man is evil,  evil.  And with God as my witness, we’re going to save his daughter and expose him for the lying, murdering good for nothing he is.  Then we can all get on with the lives we were meant to have – happy lives.”

“I sure hope you’re right.”

“I know I am.  Everything happens for a reason.  I truly believe that.  And on the other side of this trial is the reward we all want and deserve.  Don’t give up hope, Jed.  And you know what Hannibal always says;” Don’t go borrowing trouble.”  You don’t even know that Livvy isn’t waiting for you in Porterville.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.  It’s just that I have this nagging feeling that she’s already lit out to someplace where I can’t find her.  I just wish I’d had time to talk to her and convince her that her she didn’t have to be afraid of me putting her or Gabbie in harm’s way or that our age difference would change how I feel.”

“That’s not what she’s really afraid of.”

“What do you think she’s afraid of then?”

“What anyone who invests their heart into a relationship is afraid of.  When you put your heart in someone else’s hands you risk losing it to them and getting it broken.    I think Livvy’s has been broken so many times she’s afraid to give you her heart completely and so she guards it.”

“But how do I convince her that you have to take that chance if you want to experience the good part of being in love with someone.”

“You just show her that’s all.  Show her every day with everything you do and say that she is worth all the risk that you’re taking with your heart, and then she will give you hers completely.”

The corners of Jed’s mouth lifted slightly in a tiny smile.  “You know my pa told me sort of the same thing when I was just a boy.  Thanks for reminding me.  I love you, Evangeline Webb,”  he said as he stretched out one arm to invite her into a warm embrace.

She moved into his arms and hugged him tightly; cherishing the protective love of the man she had come to love as a brother.    “I love you too, Jed Curry.  No more fretting about Livvy.  That’s going to be kid stuff, no pun intended, compared to what we’re going to have to do tomorrow when we reach Riverton.”

“Has Heyes got all the details of that plan worked out yet?”

“I’m not sure.  I left the self-proclaimed horse whisperer to defuse the sticky situation with the….”


The very distinct voice of Hannibal Heyes, yelping in pain carried through the trees and down to the creek side where they sat.  

“Well, well.  Do my ears deceive me or has the horse whisperer been bitten?”  Evie asked with an amused gleam in her eye.

“I do believe the mighty have fallen.  You’d best get on over there and check on him,”  Kid said around a huge grin.

“Are you sure you’re going to be alright out here by yourself?’

“I’m sure.  I really need some time alone anyway, to get my head…and my heart straight.  Thanks for what you said, Evie.  It helps.  Really it does.”

“That’s what family does, Jed.  They take care of each other.”   She leaned over and placed an affectionate kiss to his whisker roughened jaw before she got to her feet.  “Get used to it.”

He watched her disappear around the bend of trees.    He settled down on his bed roll, his head pillowed against his saddle and thought about what she had said.  She was right.  Maybe Livvy was waiting in Porterville.  And if she wasn’t, he would find her.  Nothing would keep him from finding the woman he loved and their daughter.  After all just as Evie had said…that’s what family did.   His eyes were growing heavy.  He pulled his hat down over his eyes and for the first night since he had left Cheyenne, he slept a peaceful sleep.

Evie peered cautiously around the edge of the trees and into the clearing where Hannibal was.  She laughed silently to herself as she watched him talking to Delilah.   “Now I understand that a girl’s got urges just like a man, and when it gets real bad you gotta do something about it.  And who could blame you for wanting a fine stud like Odin?  But when you go to biting me that’s where I draw the line, you understand?  I won’t be having any of that.  Now I need you to just calm down and start acting like a decent young lady.  There’ll be time for romance when we get you two to a nice, clean stall somewhere.   And one more thing…don’t go telling anybody that I let you get the better of me a minute ago.  I have a reputation to uphold after all.”

“Do my ears deceive me or has the mighty horse whisperer just admitted defeat?  Oh,dear how the mighty have fallen indeed.”

Heyes turned slowly around, a wary smile on his face.  “Ahem.  Uh, you heard that did you?”

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t tell the Kid.”

“Too late.  We heard you yelp in pain when she bit you.”

He looked at the ground with a look of disgust on his face.  “Great.  Now I’ll have to hear it from him all day tomorrow.”

“I hope you do.  That way I’ll know he’s in a better mood and not fretting so over Livvy.  And besides, it might be good for you to be reminded every once in a while that you’re not perfect at everything.”

“There is one thing I’m perfect at,”  he said in his deep, silky voice.  He strolled towards her with deliberately slow steps and bent close to her ear and whispered the most illicit things that Evie had ever heard.  Her mouth was agape and her cheeks were flushed when he looked at her.  For a moment he thought perhaps he had gone too far and he had offended her.  But her embarrassment quickly turned into a bewitching come-hither look that had Heyes once again amazed.  She took his hand and led him to their fireside bedroll.

“Perfection can’t just be declared, Mr. Heyes.  It has to be proven.”
She sank to the ground and pulled him down with her, where he proceeded to provide her with all the proof she needed.


The trio rode silently along a dirt road on the outskirts of the town of Riverton.  This road would lead them to the childhood home of Clayton Ramsey, and to his daughter, whom they believed would be their salvation.  Thick, dense shrubs and saplings grew among the many trees that grew to the west of the roadside.  To the east there were fields and ponds and the occasional farmhouse.  But there had not been any sign of a human being since they had left the mountains.  For that they were grateful.  Kid and Heyes knew better than to tempt fate by saying anything about their good fortune.  But Evie, not being seasoned yet in the lifestyle of a fugitive broke the silence that they had been riding in for the past three hours. 

“You know we haven’t seen a soul since we left that mountain.  Don’t you find that kind of strange that we would make it almost the whole way and not see any body.  What luck, huh?”

“Aw, no,” Kid groaned.  “Why’d she have to go and say that?”

The words had barely left his mouth when the sound of voices came rising up the hill they had just ascended and were now on the other side of.  The three quickly dismounted and scurried into the thick brush along the roadside.   In their haste to hide they forgot about the feuding horses and Rusty began to snort loudly.   Kid led the fiery stud several yards away and tethered him to a tree then rejoined his companions.

The stood silently and waited.  The voices became louder.  And they were not the voices that they had expected to hear.  There were only two and one was distinctly female.  All three poked their head up timidly over the top of the thick bush in front of them to get a peek at the source of the voices.  It was a young couple strolling leisurely along, cuddled close together.  They stopped just in front of the hiding trio.

“Oh, Albert, I love you so.  How I wish Papa would stop being so stubborn and give us his blessing so that we could be married.”

“And I love you, my darling, Sylvia.  But what can we do except try harder to  gain his approval?”  the young man said as he stroked the flaming red hair of the young woman.

“I don’t care about approval anymore.  I just want to be with you always.  Sometimes I’m tempted to tell Papa that you’ve already soiled me.  That way he would have to let us marry.”

“No, Syliva, I won’t let you jeopardize your reputation and destroy your father’s already meager opinion of me.  We will simply have to leave it up to fate.”

“Oh, very well,”  Sylvia pouted.  “But don’t expect me to like it, having to sneak around just to see you.”
Heyes rolled his eyes and Kid stifled a groan as the couple spent the next five minutes locked in a passionate embrace, their lips never parting. 

“There’s a swimming hole not far from here.  It’s on my papa’s land.  Are you in the mood for some skinny dipping?”  Sylvia said playfully.
“You are truly incorrigible, Sylvia, which is one of the many things I love about you.  Lead the way, my love.”
Heyes peeked up and over the bush then stood upright and announced, “They’re gone.”
“Whew, that was a close one.  I thought we were caught for sure.  But it was only two young lovers going for a skinny dip,”  Evie said.
“Yeah, I thought we….wait a minute,”   Heyes said as a huge grin split his handsome face.  “I’ve got an idea.                     Evie, stay here with the horses. Kid, follow me.”
The boys were gone for what seemed like an hour when in fact it was only fifteen minutes.  She was standing in the middle of the dirt road with her hand shielding her eyes from the afternoon sun looking for any sign of them, when they appeared over the hill running like two kids who had just been caught stealing a pie from the window sill, or should she say like two ex-thieves who had just stolen a young couples clothes.  They breezed past her and headed for the trees where the horses were hidden.  “Come on, Evie, hurry up!”  Heyes yelled over his shoulder.  She trotted off after them as fast as she could in her bare feet.
“What did you do, steal their clothes?”
“Yep,” Heyes replied with a huge grin and raised eyebrows as he stuffed the articles of clothes into his saddlebags.   “Here,” he said as she tossed her a pair of black satin oxfords with a two inch heel.   She rolled her eyes thinking how silly she was going to look with a pair of dainty black heels on while wearing grimy men’s trousers and shirt.  But beggars certainly couldn’t be choosers so she slipped them on and found that they fit her perfectly.  She pulled herself atop Delilah’s back and sped off behind the two thieves.  They raced away from the scene of the crime until Heyes felt they had traveled far enough away to be safe. 
“I can’t believe you did that?” Evie admonished as she slid from Delilah’s back. “You left those two poor people without any clothes.  Now what are they going to do?  You heard her say how her father disapproved of him.  Now they will have some heavy explaining to do won’t they?”
“Aw relax, I did them a favor.  They were leaving it up to fate and fate just stepped in.  When she comes home with no clothes on and explains that her clothes got stolen while she was skinny dipping I guess her pa will have to let them get married won’t he.”
Evie stood there thinking about it for a moment.  Then she looked down at her feet in snuggly encased in black leather and satin.  They were really nice shoes and they were quite  comfy.  Evie shrugged.  “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  Good luck, Sylvia and Albert,”  she shouted in the direction from which they had just come. 
“I knew you would appreciate my efforts eventually.  And you’re going to be even more pleased with this.”   He pulled a gorgeous white silk gown embellished with a purple floral print from is saddle bag.  Evie’s breath caught in her throat.  She had not gotten a good look at what the girl had been wearing from their hiding spot.  It was one of the most stunning gowns she had ever seen.  She took the gown and held it to her breast, gauging the size and length. 
“I think it’s going to fit.  When can I try it on?”
“The sooner the better.”   Heyes took a deep breath and pointed towards the northwest.  There on a distant hill, with the orange glow of the afternoon sun emblazoned upon its faded whitewashed walls, stood the home of Clayton Ramsey. 
“That dress is going to make all the difference in our plan.  And there’s one more thing that I think you’re going to need,”  Heyes said sheepishly as he slowly withdrew and held aloft the contraption of agony that Evie despised so much. 
“Oh, no.  Do I have to?”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but every woman, especially the woman you’re going to be pretending to be, doesn’t get dressed without a corset.”  
Her face dropped and her shoulders drooped.  “Very well.  Give me the blasted thing.  But I’ll need help with the laces.”  She snatched it angrily from his grip and marched off behind some bushes to change. 
“What about you and me?” Kid asked as he watched Heyes pull the clean and proper men’s suit from the saddlebag.  “Which one of us gets to be the fancy gentleman and which one gets to be the man servant?”
Heyes dug deep in his pants pocket and pulled out a coin.  “Call it.”
Amelia Dunlop scurried towards the front door of the house she had been governess to for the past fifteen years.  Who in the world could be knocking on this door at this hour of the day?  The sun was sinking and supper was just about to be put on the table.  Not that supper amounted to much, these days with only herself, Robert and Megan here to be feed.  But the cook always made enough food to feed a small army. She supposed the cook, like herself, tried to keep things as proper as if Master Ramsey and Dr. Graves were home.  She prided herself in making sure that she followed through with all of the instructions left to her by the good doctor and the man who paid her salary, Governor Ramsey.  And one of those instructions was to maintain the status quo and not to vary the routine from which she was accustomed to following  when Dr. Graves was here. 

She wondered who could be on the other side of the door.  She knew it wasn’t Dr. Graves or the master.   Dr. Graves had told her he would be gone for at least three weeks, perhaps more, depending on how serious the illness he had been called to Cheyenne to treat turned out to be.  And visitors did not come here…had not come here since Clayton had moved his insane daughter here.  Amelia turned and looked up the staircase towards the second floor where Megan was kept.  She smoothed the crisp white apron over her grey skirt and patted the sides and top of her head to assure that the tightly coiled braid was still securely wound on the top of her corn silk colored head.  Satisfied that she looked the part of the professional keeper of the house,  she opened the front door, not knowing what or whom to expect.  Her curiosity was piqued when the door swung open to reveal three strangers standing on the front veranda. ..three beautiful strangers. 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Hello, friends.  Long time no see.  Not seeing is a reality for me right now.  I'm having major eyesight problems right now which are preventing me from doing extended amounts of time typing on the computer.  I do apologize for taking so long to get the next chapter of Love's Last Gift done.  But don't worry.  I haven't stopped and I do plan to finish it.  I've had so much going on in my life lately that has prevented me from concentrating on writing, so I hope you understand.  Until I can get chapter 13 finished here is a video that I and some of my fellow Peter enthusiasts (the Pete Posse we call ourselves) came up with.  Enjoy.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

Feels Like Home

Yes I'm still alive.  Life is really hectic right now and it's hard to find time to do everything I want to do, like write.  I did find a little while late last night to throw this video together.  I made it just for Mr. Deuel. Sort of a "thinking of you" card.  Hope y'all enjoy it.

Thank you, Petey.  Love you always.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Love's Last Gift Chapter 11

"When two soul mates are apart, they don't feel quite right;  it's as if something is missing.  When they are together, they feel at peace."  ~Shelly Wu

"Did you find her at the hotel?"

"No, Governor.  There was no Mrs.Vanderbilt at the hotel.  The desk clerk said she checked out yesterday morning."

"Did he know where she was heading?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Well, did you ask him?

"No, sir."

Clayton Ramsey turned slowly to glare at the young man who worked for him.  "Then go and ask him now, you idiot!"

The young man ran to the door and down the stairs.   "Why must everyone around me be such a disappointment and an obstacle to my goals.  All I've ever asked is that everyone around me simply be as diligent and as focused on what I want as I am."  He pinched the bridge of his nose in dismay.  "Is that asking too much, Milton?"

"Certainly not, Clayton,"

"You would think all these ruffians who work for me would be more grateful.  After all if it weren't for me granting them all amnesty and then giving them jobs they would all be in jail or living in squalor."

Dr. Graves handed the governor a glass of brandy.  "Here drink this and then I will give you some of my special tonic to sooth your nerves."

"Thank you, Milton.  You're the only one who understands me.  You and Bartholomew."  He turned the snifter of brandy up and drained half of its contents in one long swallow, then winced at the burning sensation in his throat.   Dr. Graves gave him a small shot glass with a clear liquid inside.   He swallowed it then chased it with the rest of the brandy.  "Why can't people just do as I ask them to do?  When they don't cooperate then they force me to do things that I don't want to do.  I'm not a bad person, Milton, really I'm not."

"Of course not, Clayton,"   the doctor said as he led the man he had known for twenty years to the bed in the apartment over his office.  "Now lie down and get some rest.  Things will look better in the morning."

"All I wanted was to create an heir.  Is that so wrong?  Obviously my son wasn't going to get the job done.  If she had only cooperated, then she would have been the mother of the heir of the president of the United States and she would never have wanted for anything.  Now she is forcing me to once again do something that I do not want to do.  When her outlaw lover ends up dead she will only have herself to blame, not me."

"Yes, Clayton.  You are right as always."

"Has anyone heard from my son?"

"The servants said he was not home when the fire started.  But no one knows where he is."

"Pity really.  If he had been lost in the fire it might have worked to my advantage.  I could have had those two on murder charges instead of attempted murder and I definitely would have gained many sympathy votes from the public."   His eye lids were growing heavy.   "Then his existence wouldn't have been a total waste.  Milton, I still want to go ahead with my plans to create that heir.  So don't leave town until I have Evangeline back."

"I won't Clayton.  I'll be here to look after things."

"But what about my daughter?"

"Megan is being taken care of properly.  And Bartholomew is on the trail of your daughter-in-law.  Don't worry about a thing."   Dr. Graves took the empty glass from his sleeping benefactor's slack hand.   "There, there, Clayton.  All your secrets are safe with me.  Of course it will continue to cost you to keep them that way."  He poured himself a glass of the expensive brandy and lit one of Clayton's choice cigars.   He settled onto the velvet covered sofa and propped his feet upon the arm.  A broad smile covered his face.  "And after learning that your beautiful young conquest is heiress to a fortune herself,  I think my price just went up."


The tantalizing smell of roasting meat penetrated the fog of her sleep dulled senses.  Her eyes slowly opened to behold for the second time in as many days the most beautiful sight she could have hoped to see.  Hannibal Heyes sat next to the fire at the mouth of the cave, his perfect profile illuminated by the orange glow of the flames.  Beyond  his profile of perfection outside the cave was the pink and yellow painted canvas of daybreak peeking over the mountain top in the eastern sky.  She raised herself up on her elbows and simply enjoyed the view for a moment.  Her love for this man was overwhelming.  He overwhelmed her emotions, her senses, her mind and her body.  There was nothing she wouldn't do for him and she knew there was nothing he wouldn't do for her.  Not only was there complete and total love between them, there was complete and total trust.  That trust had been tested over the past few months, but they had made it through that test to become closer and more deeply in love and more secure in their relationship than they had ever been.

They had stayed awake late into the night, sharing their hopes and fears for the future, and one thing that they were both adamant about - their days of being apart were over.  He had promised her that no matter what happened,  no matter what trials may come in the future, they would ride the storm out together.  And she had assured him that no matter where the future led them, whether riding hard to make it to Mexico, or hiding in the mountains until they could take a ship to Europe, she was strong enough to endure.  She would always be strong as long as he was with her.  He was her strength, and she was his.  This must be what people meant when they said soul mate.  The person you find in your life whose soul grows into the perfect fit for your soul.  Like liquid forms to the shape of a glass, he had poured his soul into hers, filling the empty spaces, fitting perfectly.

But there had been a slight change in him since last night after she had remembered what Clayton had been trying to do to her when the fire had started.  There was a brooding darkness that seemed to be looming behind his eyes.  He was trying hard to mask it but she could see it.  She knew he was holding in the anger he felt.

"Whatcha cookin'?"  she asked in a low voice, raspy with sleep.

"Rabbit,"  he said around a smile as he turned to look at the woman he loved with everything he had.  One week ago he was in the darkest place he had ever been in his life,  all because he thought he would live the rest of his life without her in it.  Now here he sat, looking into her sleepy eyed, beautiful face while he cooked a rabbit for their breakfast.   The sun was rising outside and his spirits were rising with every hour that he spent with her.  Last night they had spent hours just talking and growing closer than he had ever dreamed possible.  They had made a pact of sorts last night as they lay in the fire light side by side facing each other.   Neither of them really came right out and said the words but it was understood between them as they talked about worst case scenarios in the days to come.  He would not go back to prison.  He would die first.   And he would not die dangling at the end of a rope.  If he went out, it would be in a blaze of glory, riding hard with the wind on his face and the promise of freedom before him.  Even if that promise was never to be fulfilled.   She had understood what he meant and he knew that should that happen she would do whatever she had to to make sure that she wasn't far behind him.  He didn't bother telling her to go on with her life and live and be happy, because he knew that like him,  she would never be happy without him.  A vital part of his being would be missing should anything happen to her.   A part so vital that he would not want to trudge through life merely existing without her.  And he knew that she felt the same way.

He had not slept very well last night.  Although she was full of faith that everything was going to work out for the best he just couldn't shake this nagging feeling that the end of this was not going to be pretty.   That feeling came mostly from the darkness inside of him.  It had awakened last night when he'd found out that Clayton Ramsey had tried to rape Evie.  Thoughts he didn't even want to speak had come into his head after that.  Visions of doing harm to another human that he had never entertained before would not leave his brain. He had thought about telling her just how dark and angry his heart had become since he had been released from prison.  They had promised each other last night that there would never be any secrets between them.  But he didn't want to ruin their time her together in this peaceful paradise with any morbid or angry thoughts.  And so he kept it to himself.

"It smells heavenly.  I don't think I've smelled anything that good since I was snuggled up to you at that barn dance back in Red Rock."

"If my memory serves me correctly, and I have no doubt that it does,  you were the one who smelled heavenly that night.  How do you feel?  Any more memories?"

"Nope.  No more memories.  Sometimes I think I'm going to have one and then it goes away.  Poof, like a dream that you are just about to remember but then it goes away.  I feel normal.  I think all the traces of that drug are gone.  Of course I've had the best nurse in the world taking care of me so I was bound to get better.  The only thing wrong with me is that I'm hungry and my feet are cold."

He looked thoughtfully down at her bare feet and made his way toward her.  "Yeah.  We'll have to take care of that as soon as we can."   He sat next to her feet and took one of them in his warm hands and gently massaged the warmth back into them.  "When Kid gets here we'll have to come up with a plan to go into town and get you a pair of shoes."

"I know you don't want to entertain this thought but....what if he doesn't come?"

He smirked a little and shook his head.  "No, I don't think you have to worry about that.  He'll be here."

She loved his unwavering faith in his best friend.  It was part of what made him who he was and only a small part of what made her love him so much.  And she knew he was right.  Kid would be here.  "My feet are starting to warm up, but my stomach is still very empty.  How long before the rabbit is done?"

"Not long.  Another fifteen minutes and you'll be tasting it instead of smelling it."

"Can I smell you in the meantime?"   She reached for him and he came willingly into her waiting arms.   He rested his head on her breast as she caressed his hair and his shoulders.   She put her nose to the top of his head and inhaled his scent, finding comfort in its pleasant familiarity.  "Do you really remember how I smelled at that barn dance?"  she asked.

"Um hmm.  Remembering things like how you smelled, what your skin felt like,  the sound of your voice, the color of your eyes,  the way your hair felt when it ran through my fingers...all those things were what kept me from going insane when I was in prison.  Living to experience all of those sensations again are what kept me going."

"You look so much better now than when I saw you that day in that place,  I wept like a baby when I got into the coach.  Not just because I thought I might never see you again, but because my heart was bruised from seeing you so thin and scared and all of your pretty golden brown hair was gone."

"Being shaved clean every week and having to work hard out in the fields was bad, but I could have lived with that.  It was the God awful silence that I couldn't stand.  It was like hell on earth.  And that's why I mean it when I say that I won't go back there.  I'd rather be dead."

"I'm glad I haven't forgotten all of those things like I have the last night I spent in that mansion,

A tremendous guilt washed over her.   She had all but squashed that dream for him when she had married another man and didn't explain to him why.  She lifted his head from her breast to look deeply into his brown eyes.  "I'm so sorry.  I can't even imagine what you must have felt when you found out I had married Clay.  I know you've forgiven me, but I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive myself."

"It's over now and I don't want to talk about it anymore.  Not about prison, or your fake marriage.  I only want to talk about what we're going to do once we get out of this latest mess.  I only want to talk about happy things.  If we talk about bad things I'm afraid a side of me that you wouldn't like might make itself known."

"What are you talking about?   Do you think I can't handle you when you're angry.  I've seen you angry and at your worst.  I'm not afraid."

"That night on your balcony when I was cruel and hateful to you,  the one person I love most of all in this world, well, that was just a small bit of what I've felt raging inside of me.   I've considered outright murder in the past month.  You know that's not like me.  When I thought that another man had touched you, something...I don't know how to describe it...came alive inside of me.  And last night when you told me what Clayton had tried....It's like a dark side of myself that I never let out before,  took over.  A side of me that could be very hurtful and cruel and dangerous.  You are the only thing that keeps that side of me from taking over.  And being here where I know we're both safe helps too.  If anything ever happened to you,  I don't think I could stop it from consuming me."

She hugged him tighter to her breast.  She didn't like what he was telling her.  It scared her a little.  "That's why you're going to make sure that nothing happens to me.  And when Kid gets here he will make sure nothing happens to any of us."

He held on to her as if his very life depended on it...and perhaps it did.   He reluctantly removed himself from her embrace and stood.  "The rabbit should be ready soon.  You want to go wash up while I take it off the spit?"

The faint sound of a horse's hooves on rock echoed in from outside.  "Some one's coming up the pass. I bet that's him.  But just in case,  get as far back into the dark end of this crevice.  Don't come out until I tell you it's clear."  He picked up the hunting knife he had used to skin the rabbit and handed it to her.  "Use it if you have to." She shook her head and disappeared into the dark recesses of the mountainside.

Once she was out of sight,  he slid the Smith and Wesson revolver from his holster and cocked it.  He could hear the horse getting closer, its hooves now plodding on the grassy earth.  He waited until he knew the rider had stopped before he stepped out into the light of day and aimed his gun.  He quickly uncocked it when he saw the familiar and welcome face of Kid Curry.

"I figured you would get here this morning.  I guess Martha got my message to you."

"Yeah,  she got me the message."  Kid dismounted.

"Evie, you can come out now,"  Heyes called out, but felt stupid when he turned to find her already standing  there.   "Didn't I tell you to stay put until I said it was all clear?"

"Haven't we had this conversation before?"  she asked sweetly as she emerged completely from the dim cavern.  Her face lit up with excitement when she saw Kid standing near Rusty.   "I knew it was Jed.  I'm so happy to see you!"  she squealed as she ran.

A warm smile crossed Kid's face as he held out his arms waiting to embrace the young woman he thought of as his little sister. His smile faded as she flew past him and threw her arms around the neck of the chestnut stallion behind him.  He looked to his partner who could only shrug and raise his eyebrows.

"Oh, Rusty, I've missed you so!   It killed me to send you away."   She kissed the powerful furry jaw of the massive beast she loves so dearly.  "But I wasn't worried about you.  I knew I was putting you in good hands."   She turned her attention to the sullen Kid Curry behind her.  "Don't think I've forgotten about you,"   she said as she leaped towards him and he caught her up in a big bear hug.   "I'm happy to see you too,  Jed."

He exhaled a long sigh.  "And I'm glad to see the both of you in one piece.   I didn't know quite what to expect.  Martha didn't really know what was going on.  She just said that she saw you ride off with Evie while the governor's goons were shooting at you."

"Yeah, they shot at us but they were too busy trying to put out that fire to give chase.  You didn't have any trouble finding my trail I see."

"No, you left me good enough signs, but not so good that the untrained eye would see them.   I covered our tracks the best I could and I left some false trails.  I hope that throws them off our scent long enough for us to come up with a plan."

"We can't come up with a plan until I know exactly what we're facing.  Do you have any idea what's going on in Cheyenne?   Am I a wanted man once again?"

Kid looked soberly at his partner.  "We both are."  He went to his saddlebag and withdrew the folded paper. He handed it to his partner who only had to read a few sentences to know they were in deep trouble.  He was wanted for arson, kidnapping and attempting to murder the governor.  Hanging offences. And Kid was wanted as an accomplice to all three crimes.   As they had always done, the boys held a mute conversation with their eyes, both conveying to the other that they each understood the gravity of the situation.

"What'll we do, Heyes?"   Kid asked in a low voice as they walked casually, putting some distance between themselves and Evie. She was content at the moment to fawn over the horse she loved.  Heyes would let her have a few moments of happiness before he had to give her more bad news about the trouble they were in.

Heyes didn't answer.  Because he didn't really have an answer.  He looked past his partner's shoulder at his sweet Evie.   Why did they have to do anything?   Now that Kid was here he had everything he wanted and needed right here on this mountain.  He saw no reason to leave it.  He turned away from Kid and walked slowly eastward to stand and look out over the sea of green formed by the forest below. This place was surreal.  As his eyes swept over the purple hued slopes of Eagle's Peak in the distance and white cottony clouds that swam in an endless blue sky he could almost hear the strains of Evie's favorite Beethoven songs wafting on the breeze.   He felt a peace here that he never felt anywhere else and now that Evie and Kid were both here with him,  he felt like he had come to the end of a long and tiring journey and he was ready to rest.  And the dark thing inside of him, though still alive seemed to have gone to sleep for now.  He was afraid if he left this mountain, the first thing it would do was come fully awake and head out to find Clayton Ramsey.  If that happened the word "attempted" would be removed from the word murder.  

"I think I'd like to just stay put a while, Kid, if you don't mind,"  Heyes said without taking his eyes of the beauty of the surrounding countryside.

"What do you consider 'a while,' Heyes?   A few days?   A couple of weeks?"

Heyes drew a deep breath.  He knew Kid wasn't going to like his answer.   "I was thinking more like a few months.  Six or seven maybe."

"Six or seven months?   Heyes, have you lost your mind?"   Kid came to stand closer to his partner, not wanting to raise his voice too loudly for Evie to hear.  "You know good and well that we can't stay up here that long."

"Why not?  We got everything we need.  There's plenty of fresh, clean water,  plenty of wood for fires, sturdy shelter, lots of game for hunting and fish in the lake. I don't see the problem."

"Heyes, we're in the mountains, remember.  You know what the winters in the mountains are like.  Three feet of snow will be on the ground by the end of September.   That's three months away.  We can't survive in an  open cleft in the mountainside a whole winter and you know it.   We'd have to have tons of supplies and a permanent shelter.  And carrying all those supplies up that narrow ledge is near impossible.  You should know because we've tried it before and it didn't work.  That's why we only came here to stay for a day or two before we headed back to the hole."

"We've got a couple of months to make trips into town and get a little at a time.  And I don't see why we couldn't build something to cover that opening and seal ourselves inside.  We could make a door to get in and out.  It will be better than a house.  I got everything I want and need right here and I just don't see the sense in leaving.  If we stay up here for the winter everybody will think we've gone to Mexico or that we're dead.  They'll stop looking for us and we can go wherever we want."

"If we start making trips into town and buying up household goods, people are gonna start asking questions.  Then people will get suspicious and that could be the end for us.  We can't take that kind of risk and you know it.  And you may have everything you want and need up here but I don't.  We've got to come up with a plan to get out of here and get to Porterville."

"Porterville?   Why Porterville?   You think Lom can help us now?"

"It's worth a try ain't it?    I sent Livvy there to tell him what's going on.  Maybe he can help us."   Kid's face went from angry to sorrowful in a split second.

Heyes looked at his partner's crestfallen face and he felt like the biggest fool this side of the Mississippi.  "Hey, Kid, I'm sorry.  I wasn't thinking about Livvy and the baby.  I don't guess you would want to stay up here for very long would you?"

Kid dropped to the grassy earth beneath him and rested his forearms on his raised knees.  His head hung low and he stared at the ground as he spoke, "No, Heyes, I can't stay here."

"Something else is bothering you.  What is it?"   Heyes asked as he sat down beside his partner.

"She said she couldn't marry me."    His voice was almost inaudible but Heyes heard what his friend had said.

"When did she say that?"

"Yesterday morning before Martha came in and told us what was happening.   She said it was because of the gun fight but I don't believe her."

"What gunfight?"

Both men's heads turned around to find a barefoot Evie standing directly behind them.

"What gunfight?"  she asked again.

"Some stupid kid challenged me to a gunfight in the middle of Cheyenne yesterday morning and Livvy saw the whole thing from her hotel window.  When I came into her room afterwards she said she couldn't marry me because she didn't want Gabby to grow up with all that violence around. I don't know why, but I don't believe her.  I think it's something else."

"What has gotten into that ninny headed aunt of mine?   I know for a fact that she's loopy headed in love with you.  Are you sure you understood her correctly?"

"She asked me to lay my gun down.  I don't think I misunderstood."

"She asked you to what?  You just wait 'til I get a hold of her.  Why, I've never heard such nonsense in my life.   She knows that you can't live without your gun.  She was bluffing.  I hope you called her on it."

"Well, actually,  I gave up my gun."

Heyes and Evie looked at each other in disbelief, their mouths slightly agape.

"Oh, she gave it back to me when I had to leave.  But...."

There was a long pause before Heyes finally asked, "But what?"

"I'm afraid she really meant it.  I don't think she intends to marry me at all."

A look of sympathy and understanding passed between Evie and Heyes.  Evie jerked her head in the direction of the cave indicating she wanted to talk to Jed alone.  "Uh, oh, uh I guess I best be checking on that rabbit.  You two just wait here and we'll have breakfast shortly."

Evie plopped down on the grass beside Jed.  "You realize I know exactly how you feel.  It wasn't that long ago that a certain outlaw that we both know and love left me alone and heartbroken."

He gave her an affectionate smile that was trimmed with sadness.  "Yeah, I remember."

"And you know it didn't take him very long before he realized that we were meant to be together and that leaving me was the stupidest decision he had ever made. And I have no doubt that Livvy will soon come to here senses about you and her as well."

"One big difference though.  Heyes had somebody telling him what a fool he was being."  He jabbed his thumb into his own chest.  "Me to be exact.  Who knows how long it will be before you or I ever see here again."

"It shouldn't be that long.   A few more days and we'll be leaving I'm sure."

"You sure about that?  Heyes told me he plans to stay up here on the mountain for the winter."

"The whole winter?"

"He didn't let you in on that part of his plan I gather."

"No, he did not.  Oh, well, no matter.  I'll just have to change his mind."

She started to rise when Jed placed a gentle hand on her arm.  "Evie, I'm scared.  I'm afraid she's going to take Gabbie and disappear and I'll never see either of them again."

Evie reached for him and pulled him into her arms.  Her heart was breaking for this man she loved like a brother.  And she was furious with Livvy for putting him through this.  She knew that Livvy loved Jed.  They had a child together.  What was she thinking?  Evie had to talk to her and make things right.  "Don't worry about a thing.  She's the one who's scared I believe.  And all it will take is me and Martha to make her see what a fool she's being.  And the sooner I get to have that talk with her the better."   Evie didn't want to admit it but she too was now afraid that Livvy night disappear with Gabbie.  They had to find her aunt as soon as possible.

Evie left Jed and joined Heyes who was squatting next to the fire, sliding the steaming hot meat from the spit and onto a plate.  "This should cheer Kid up.  He never met a meal he didn't love,"   Heyes said with a smile on his face.  His smile slowly faded as his gaze  traveled up the length of Evie's body and he saw the tapping bare foot, the fisted hands set firmly on curvaceous hips and the stern set of her full lips.  "The whole winter? When were you going to ask my opinion on the subject?  I thought we were in this together?"

"Now don't get testy.  I'm just being practical."   He stood and carried the plate, mounded with steaming meat to the blanket that was spread on the mossy ground inside the cave.

"Practical.  Practical?   How practical is freezing our behinds off in snow up to our eyeballs?"  she asked as she followed him.

"I don't know?  How dangerous is it to leave this mountain right now?"   He handed her the newspaper.

She didn't have to read far to understand.  "Oh my God.  Is he serious? Is he seriously telling everyone that you kidnapped me and that you set fire to that house?"

"Yep, that's what he's saying alright.  And who do you think is going to believe me and Kid over him.  I'll tell you who...nobody.  It's bad enough that we're former train and bank robbers.  Add kidnappers, arsonists and attempted murderers to the list and there won't be a man out there who won't shoot us down or string us up if we're spotted.  This is the only place we've got left that nobody knows about where we can disappear and feel safe.   The only thing waiting for me if I leave this mountain is that hell hole of a prison or a noose.  So you'll have to forgive me if Kid and Livvy's love life isn't high on my list of priorities right now."

"Then I guess it's time we talked about something that we've haven't talked about in a long time.  Maybe it's time we go our separate ways, Heyes."

Evie spun around to find Kid standing just outside the entrance.  Evie watched in stunned silence as the two men she loved most in the world, who she knew loved each other, silently stared at each other for what seemed like forever.  Hannibal Heyes had the uncanny ability to communicate with his eyes.  And he did it best with his lifelong friend and partner.  And she could see a wealth of words coming from the expressions on both men's faces.

Heyes finally broke the silent exchange.  "I'm sorry, Kid, but you know if we leave this mountain right now it wold be the most foolish mistake we could make.  We are in deep trouble and it's too risky."

"If Evie were still out there would you be on this mountain right now?"

Heyes looked away from his partner for a moment.  He was being selfish and he knew it.  But he couldn't help himself.  At the same time, he knew that if the situation were reversed, KId would not only expect Heyes to leave and find Evie,  he would go with him to help and watch his back.  "No.  No I wouldn't."

"Then how can you expect me to stay here when not only Livvy but my daughter are out there alone.  We don't have any idea what Ramsey is capable of.  He could use them as bait to draw us out or anything.  I need to get to them, Heyes.  I need to find Livvy so we can all disappear until things calm down.  And I need to find her before she disappears with my baby to some place where I can't find her at all."

Heyes turned his eyes to his sweet Evie.  She had to be his priority now.  She was what mattered most. They had endured so much to be together.  He was not going to risk it now because of Kids fears that Livvy might run from him.  He and Kid had discussed splitting up briefly when they had first went straight in hopes of getting an amnesty.  Kid was afraid his reputation with a gun would hinder Heyes in getting it.  But Heyes had shot the idea down quickly.   At the time they were all each other had.  There was no question they would stick together no matter what.  But now...

"Kid I don't expect you to stay.  But you can't expect me leave either.  I know there was a time when we would have had each others backs no matter what.  But if Livvy and Gabbie were here and safe and Evie was the one still out there,  I wouldn't expect you to leave them and risk your own safety to go with me either.    If you decide to leave Kid,"   Heyes paused and looked deeply into his partner's eyes, "I'm sorry but I can't go with you."

Evie could see the momentary hurt in Kid's face and then the resignation.  He simply nodded his head in understanding.  "I guess I'll head out in the morning then.   The longer I stay here the greater my chances of losing Livvy and Gabbie.

Evangeline couldn't believe this was happening.  The two people she thought of as a pair of gloves, two things that simply did not work without the two of them being together,  were going to go their separate ways.  She could not let it happen.

"Now wait a minute.  Nobody's going anywhere until I have a say.  You two just do not work without each other.  And are you forgetting the fact that we are family.  And family just doesn't leave family."

"I cannot stay here, Evie.  You heard Heyes.  If you were out there he'd be gone already.  And I don't blame him for not coming with me.  It puts you and him in danger.  To be honest I'll probably have a better chance of not being recognized if I'm alone."

"Are you crazy?  The two of you have been the most celebrated citizens of Cheyenne for weeks now.  Everybody know what you look like.  Do you really think that Clayton has not offered a reward for the two of you?  Every man in the territory will be after you."

"Maybe so.  But that's a risk I've got to take."

"You're not much good to either Livvy or Gabbie if you're dead, Kid.  I think you should stay here at least a couple of weeks.  Let things settle down a little before you head out,"  Heyes reasoned.

Kid looked at the ground a moment, contemplating his choices.   "No.  You know you'd already be gone Heyes if the situation was reversed."

Heyes couldn't really say anything because he knew Kid was right.  Evie however had plenty to say.
"This makes me so angry!  The two of you have done absolutely nothing wrong.  You haven't committed any crimes and here we are on the run once again, hiding in caves not knowing what the future is going to hold.  And now the two of you are considering splitting up!  Well,  one things for sure.  When Clayton Ramsey, Jr. says he'll do something he certainly does it.  He said he'd make sure you were blamed for crimes you didn't even commit.   And now here you stand, accused of something as bad as attempted murder, when he's the one who's a......"

The boys looked at her in confusion, waiting for her to finish her rant.  But she stood there silently with her brows drawn together in concentration.  Her sudden, sharp intake of breath told them she had found what she was searching for in her brain.  She looked at the two men in front of her with her mouth agape.

"What is it?  What's the matter?"  Heyes asked.

"I remember.   I remember everything."

Heyes came to her and grasped her shoulders.  "What do you remember?  Tell me everything."

"The night before the fire,  Clayton was gone so I went downstairs to the kitchen thinking that everyone was gone.  But Clay was there.  He was sitting in the dark all alone.  He was as sober as a judge too when he told me everything."

"What did he tell you?"

"He's a murderer."

"Clay is a murderer?"  Heyes asked skeptically.

"No, his father is.  He murdered Clay's friend Nicholas and he murdered Clay's mother.  And his sister Megan was witness to it."

"Is that why she went mad?"

"She isn't mad.  She's kept sedated with some sort of drug so that she appears to be mad.  Clayton pays the doctor that I met to keep her in a perpetual state of delirium."

"Dr. Milton Graves?"

"That's him."

"I'm sure that whatever you ingested is the same thing he uses to keep Ramsey's daughter from
spilling the beans.  This changes everything."

"What's our next move, Heyes,"  Kid asked.

"Did I hear you say 'our' move?"   Heyes asked his partner.

"Yeah.  If that girl's a witness to her father murdering her mother, then it seems to me all we need to do is get her away from that doctor and let her tell the truth.  This might be our only chance to clear our names and put Ramsey where he belongs...in jail.   I figure that's more important than following after Livvy right now."

"Where does he keep his daughter?"

"She's in Riverton at Clayton's estate."

"I guess that answers your question, Kid.  Our next move is to go to Riverton and do some real kidnapping.  We have to get that girl away from that doctor and get her sobered up so she can tell what she saw."

"We can head to Porterville after we have her and she can tell Lom.  And I can find Livvy while we're there."

"Sounds like a perfect plan, gentleman.  So I guess our next stop is Riverton?"

"No, our first stop will be to find you some shoes,"  Heyes said. "Then we head to Riverton."