Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Name's Louise!

Author's Note: This story was originally posted at the Writers Ranch as part of their "I'm a Girl" Challenge.  The idea was, what if Lou's gender weren't revealed in the premier episode, The Kid.  How and why would it have been revealed?  This was one answer I came up with. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“Harley?” Lou called in the gruff ‘boy’s’ voice she’d been practicing.  She wondered where the waystation’s master was.  Teaspoon would’ve been out waiting for the incoming rider for an hour or more by now.  She called again, louder this time, thinking maybe he’d had to run to the necessary for a moment.  “Harley, you got my horse?”

Starting to seriously worry, she quickly scanned the yard.  That’s when she heard the groan. 

Turning in the direction of the pained sound, she saw a pair of legs sticking out from behind the wood pile.  She jumped off her mount and ran to help.

“Kid!” she gasped, as she neared the body and recognized the buckskin trousers and moccasinned feet.  Skidding to a halt next to the larger rider, she reached out to roll him over.  He groaned again as she tugged and jerked at him.  Then she saw the bloodstain along his ribs.  Acting quickly, she grabbed his arms and laboriously pulled him over her shoulder.  Barely managing to stumble to her feet, she half carried, half dragged him toward Harley’s cabin, his arms and legs dangling like a ragdoll’s.  The movement began to bring him around and he pushed against her in an unconscious effort to sit up.  Patting his back like a baby to calm him, she muttered half-desperately, “Hang on, Kid!”

After what felt like forever, Lou finally managed to lower him to the lone bunk in the cabin’s corner.  Alright, so it was more like she dropped him.  And, he bounced a bit.  But, the bunk had to be more comfortable than lying out in the spring chill had been.  For a scant moment she stared down at him gasping for breath, unsure what to do.  Then, leaning forward, she grabbed the bottom of his tunic and pulled it up to get a better look at his wound.


Kid jolted back to consciousness when all the breath left his body from being dropped onto the hard bunk.  He started to open his eyes, but quickly squeezed them shut again as the light through the window made his already throbbing head worse.  He could hear Lou’s voice muttering at him as he felt the younger boy checking his wounds.

He was glad it was Lou who’d found him.  He was kinder, gentler then the rest of the boys.  There was something about him that drew Kid in.  He just worried Lou’s smaller size and tender years might be a problem on the job.

Kid felt a draft of cool air as Lou pushed his tunic up and out of the way, preparing to clean the wound.  He braced himself for the pain of having his wound cleaned.  But pain wasn’t what he felt at Lou’s gentle touch.  The tendrils of pleasure washing through his system unnerved Kid in a way his injury never could have.

Discomfited, Kid began trying to escape the hands causing the unwanted feelings.  Reaching up, he started to push Lou away. 

“No.  Don’t,” he groaned.


Seeing the bullet had only creased his ribs, leaving a bloody trail and not much else, she breathed a sigh of relief.  Quickly, she rummaged through the cabin until she found some clean rags and a bowl which she filled with water that Harley had apparently been warming on a tripod over the fire.  Kneeling next to the bed, she muttered, “Better hold still, Kid.  This might hurt a bit, but we’ve got ta get ya cleaned up.”

As she started to clean away the blood, she couldn’t help but notice how hard his stomach was or how it felt under her fingers.  Kid groaned and began to squirm, pushing ineffectually at her hand, startling her out of her inappropriate reverie.

“No, don’t,” he grunted.

Lou shrugged, unseen, and kept dabbing at the wound.  “Got to, Kid.  Or ya might get an infection and get real sick.  Ya got lucky this time ‘round.  Maybe a couple broken ribs and a little blood.  Coulda been a lot worse.”

Looking up, her brown eyes met his blue ones.  She smiled at his pained grimace.  “Now, let me get ya cleaned up.  By then the rest of the boys should’ve seen the smoke and come ridin’ ta the rescue.  If yer all bandaged by then, maybe we’ll let ya ride out with us after the men what done this to ya.”


Kid grunted.  He knew Lou was right.  If he wasn’t ready to ride when the others got here they’d most likely leave him behind.  Letting his head fall back, he steeled himself not to feel anything as Lou returned to his ministrations.

But, no matter what he thought about, mucking out stables, fighting Indians, Buck’s snoring, it couldn’t completely distract him from the feel of the other boy’s soft touch.  He’d have to learn to hide this reaction to Lou.  He didn’t dare let him know what he was thinking or feeling.  Not if he wanted to keep his job with the Express!


Kid hmphed and let his head fall back down on the pillow, no longer arguing as she returned to her work.  Lou was thankful.  It gave her a chance to hide her reactions to him.  She didn’t dare let him know what she was thinking and feeling right now, how she still felt like she couldn’t quite fill her lungs.  Not if she wanted to keep up her disguise and her job with the Express!

Chapter 2

Lou sighed as they all huddled behind a log for shelter from the bullets flying fast and furious across the ravine.  All this just to get Ike to Blue Creek so he could testify.  It sounded simple.  But life was rarely simple.

“Send out the boy,” one of the bandits yelled across to them.  “He’s the only one we want.  The rest of ya can go.”

The riders looked at each other.  Jimmy laughed.  “Whatta ya say, guys?”

For a pregnant moment, they continued to stare at each other before turning simultaneously and firing wildly back at their pursuers.

Even as she fired, Lou was keeping a corner of her eye on Kid.  Ever since she’d found him wounded on that first run, she’d felt a special connection to him.  Surprisingly, they were all becoming friends, and maybe something more, not exactly what she’d expected to happen with any of the boys in the bunkhouse.  But with Kid, there was something else.  It was almost as if they were two halves of a whole.  She always seemed to know what he was thinking, how he would react in a certain situation, even where he was at any specific time.  Right now, she could tell he was mulling over how to get them out of their current dilemma.


Kid watched Lou out of the corner of one eye, even as he continued to aim and shoot at the bandits trying to take Ike.  As protective as he was of Ike and the others it was nothing compared to what he felt about Lou.

After his reactions to Lou’s touch when he’d been shot, Kid had tried to keep his distance.  But there was just something about the boy that drew Kid in.  Soon, they were spending most of their free time together, fishing, racing Katy and Lightning across the prairie or just talking about their dreams for the future.  He felt he could tell Lou things he wouldn’t dream of telling the other boys, even if they had begun to feel like brothers.  Maybe especially <i>because</i> they had begun to feel like brothers.

Thinking of which, he forced his mind back to the problem at hand, how to get Ike safely to Blue Creek.  Scanning the area, his eyes focused on the rock face towering over the other side of the ravine, casting a shadow on the men currently trying to shoot them.

They had brought rope, hadn’t they? A quick glance back at the horses, and he saw the coiled rope tied to the back of a saddle.  Yep, they sure had.

“I’ve got an idea,” he suddenly said.  “I think one of us should stay behind to cover the others while they retreat.”


Certain she knew what he was going to suggest, Lou jumped in first.  “I’m small enough, I could climb those rocks over there.  Between my gun up there, and yours on this side, we’ll keep ‘em pinned down nice and tight.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jimmy said, before Kid could even open his mouth to disagree.  Lou just smiled slightly, even as she grabbed the rope and headed down the ravine to the rock face.  As their connection had grown, so too had Kid’s natural protective instincts around her.  He treated her like the little brother he’d never had.  And just like that little brother, she chafed at the restrictions he tried to impose on her, for her own safety, of course.

“Never mind I’m the one always seems ta be doin’ the rescuin’ so far,” she muttered to herself as she began to inch her way up the rock pile, one finger hold at a time. 


Frustrated, Kid watched as Lou inched her way up the rocks.  That was supposed to have been his job.  Lou was always so reckless!  Instead of taking his smaller size and lesser strength into consideration, it was almost as if he felt he had to prove he could do everything, and sometimes more than, the others could.  He took so many stupid, unnecessary risks.  And the others seemed to delight in encouraging him.  Kid tried to protect the boy, keep him safe, but it was hard when Lou kept pushing the limits.

Even as he watched Lou’s ascent, Kid was using the ravine to sneak into the brush on the other side of the gang.  He kept one eye on their foe the entire time.  So he was watching when one of the men noticed what Lou was up to.  Even as the man stood to get a better shot at the boy, Kid was already firing his weapon.  Bullseye!  Right in the heart.

No one, but no one, would hurt Lou while Kid was on watch!


Finally reaching the top, Lou sighed in relief before grabbing her gun.  A whistle to the boys and she started taking aim at the line of outlaws huddled below her.

“They got one up on the rocks!” one of the bandits shouted.

This was Kid’s signal to start shooting from his new hiding place behind the gang.

“And there’s another back in the bushes!”

As she finished emptying her revolver, Lou could hear the pounding hooves of the others’ horses, taking off for Blue Creek.

“Ride safe, boys,” she muttered as she paused to switch out the emptied drum of her revolver for a fully-loaded one.  Stretching back out atop the rocks, she took aim at one of the bandits trying to sneak into the bushes after Kid.  A soft squeeze of the trigger and he fell to the ground with a bullet in his chest.  She smiled grimly.  “That was for Cody!”

“And this one’ll be for you if ya don’t drop yer gun, boy,” a man’s voice drawled from behind her.

“Aw, man,” she groaned, dropping her forehead to the ground in defeat even as she let her pistol fall from her hand.  Rolling over, she looked up at the grizzled mountain man holding his rifle on her.  He grinned slowly, showing the blackened gaps between what few teeth remained in his mouth.

“Kick it over the edge,” he said.

Slowly getting to her feet, Lou nudged her revolver over the edge of the rock face with one foot.  Watching her every move, the bandit motioned back the way he’d come with his rifle.  “This way, boy.  And don’t try no funny stuff!”

She moved as slowly as she could, holding her hands in the air, the entire way down the back slope of the rock pile.  She stumbled slightly as they circled back around to where the rest of the gang was holed up, still shooting wildly in every direction.


Kid cursed as the sound of gunshots from atop the rocks suddenly stopped.  Lou wasn’t out of ammo yet, so either he’d been caught or his gun had jammed.  In either case, not good.

He was so worried about Lou he almost stood up for a better view.  But then he saw Lou’s form, silhouetted against the prairie sky, as he rose to his feet.  He had his hands in the air and a moment later was kicking his gun off the edge of the rock face.

“Damn it!” Kid cursed again.  There was nothing he could do from this distance.  He quickly crept out of the brush he was hiding in and began to sneak around the base of the rock pile, looking for the alternate route up someone else had obviously used to sneak up behind Lou.  Kid was so busy looking up, he almost tripped over the gang’s horses.

The momentary distraction of the surprise had him pausing next to a tree just as Lou rounded the base of the rocks, followed by a man with a rifle pointed at the boy’s head.  The tree kept Kid hidden from their sight.

Kid watched as the raggedly dressed mountain man harried Lou toward the rest of the gang. 

Reassured Lou was alright, for the moment, Kid turned back to the horses, a new plan forming in his head.


“It was just a kid,” the rifle man behind Lou shouted to his compatriots.  “A kid with a six gun.  You can stop shootin’ now.”

“Lookee that,” a lanky man with long, stringy blonde hair muttered, spitting a stream of tobacco juice at her feet.  “What’re we gonna do wit’ ‘im?”

“I say we shoot him,” growled a squat, barrel of a man who’d followed the skinny one out of hiding.  Lou tensed at that suggestion.

“Why waste good lead on ‘im,” asked the skinny one.  “I got a length of nice, strong rope in my saddlebag.  Let’s jus’ string ‘im up.”

As the suggestions worsened, Lou got ready to run for her life if it looked like the men were going to follow up on their deadly thoughts.

“Where’s the money in that?” the rifleman behind her discouraged the others.  “We only get paid fer the bald one.  Let’s jes’ knock him out and get outta here.”


Shoot Lou?  Hang him?  Like hell!  Kid thought as he caught bits and pieces of the gang’s conversation while slipping back into his hiding place.  Pausing to make sure his gun was fully loaded and that he had a fully loaded spare barrel, Kid once again took aim.


A sudden sharp retort of a pistol being fired had all of them turning to look in the direction of the bushes Kid was hiding in.  The mountain man holding a rifle on Lou grabbed for his hat, sent flying by Kid’s first bullet.

At the same time, Lou hit the ground, rolling toward the base of a nearby tree.  She kept right on rolling to her feet and ran in a crouch as fast as she could toward the stand of brush and trees, even as Kid laid down a covering fire.

Pushing her way into the thick brambles, she nearly stumbled over Kid’s legs, instinctively falling forward into another roll.  Coming to a rest on his other side, she muttered, “What took ya so long?”


Kid had never felt so exultant to be tripped over in his life.  Lou was alright.  They were going to make it out of here.

“Sorry,” he whispered, handing Lou the emptied drum of his pistol to re-load.  “Decided ta slash all their cinches while they was distracted.”

Working quickly, Lou was soon returning the reloaded drum.  He laughed at Kid’s comments, the sound sending unwanted tingles down Kid’s spine. 

“I take it our horses are nearby and ready ta go?” Lou asked

Kid nodded, snapping off two more shots over the heads of the now fleeing gang of outlaws.  Starting to crawl backward, he muttered, “Let’s go, before they discover what I did.”


“Hahahahahaha!” Lou laughed so hard tears came to her eyes, as she remembered the last view she and Kid had had of Nickerson’s men, all scrambling to catch up to their fleeing mounts after falling out of their saddles when the cinches broke, dumping them onto the cold, hard ground.

“They did look kinda funny, didn’t they?” Kid smiled at her, his teeth flashing white in the gathering dusk.

“Do you think the others made it alright?” she asked, suddenly quiet, as if afraid to hear the answer.

“Sure they did,” Kid reassured her.  “They’re probably sitting down to a nice steak dinner right about now, without a thought for us poor folk still pounding the trails.”

Lou laughed again, her good spirits restored.


Listening to the silvery sound of Lou’s laugh, Kid wondered yet again what it was about Lou that unsettled him so.  It wasn’t just that he was smaller, younger than the rest.  The more time he spent around Lou the more…. feminine… the boy seemed.

Maybe it was time he sought out female company, Kid thought, stopped spending all his time at the station with the boys.  If he was around real ladies more maybe he’d stop thinking of Lou this way.  That was it, as soon as this was over, he’d start looking for a gal he could really court back in Sweetwater.

Chapter 3

Kid sighed as he contemplated all the local girls clustered here and there around the room.  The idea of talking to yet another one right now was more than he could stomach, let alone dancing with one.  They bored him beyond belief.  He’d escorted more than half of them to some function or another over the last few months, but none had distracted him from Lou for more than a few moments.  Even now he was aware of the other boy, leaning up against the wall.  If only Lou were a girl!

Lou was always there when he needed someone to talk to.  He was a very good listener.  When he did speak, which wasn’t often, it was always interesting.  And he could always make Kid laugh.  It was almost like Kid was another person when he was around Lou, a happier, more relaxed, fun-loving person.  And that disturbed Kid almost more than any of the rest.  Because it meant he wasn’t willing to give the other boy’s friendship up, for anything.

Just then, Lou lifted his head to glance around the room, a longing look on his young face.  The absolute misery and jealousy was more than Kid could stand. 

“Kid,” a soft, sultry voice with a distinct southern accent called.  “Kid, I believe ya signed mah dance card fer this next set.”

But Kid never responded.  He just pushed past her and her two companions, headed toward his friend.


Lou stood, huddled in the corner, watching as all the other boys, even Buck and Ike, found young ladies to escort out onto the dance floor.  She hated these dances.  Teaspoon made anyone at the station attend whenever there was a town social, said it made the Company look good to the townfolk.  But Lou always seemed to spend the entire night holding up a wall.

She sighed again in discontent. She’d argued she should be excused tonight, seeing as how she had a run first thing in the morning.  Teaspoon had refused to listen.

“Ya know, if yer so bored, why don’t ya ask Betty Lou ta dance?  I’m sure she’d say, ‘Yes.’”

Lou looked up startled at the sound of Kid’s voice.  Slowly, what he’d said seeped into her brain.  She shook her head. 

“No way,” she muttered.  “That girl wouldn’t know how ta shut up if there were a whole tribe of Paiute on her trail.”

“Don’t mean ya gotta listen.  Or, ya could always ask Mary Ann.  She’s quiet.”

“She’s also so stuck up she’d look at me as if I weren’t fit ta clean the mud offen the bottom of her fancy little boots.”

“Askin’ the girls ta dance don’t mean yer gonna spend the rest of yer life with ‘em,” Kid said, exasperated.

Lou just shrugged, wishing he would drop it.  There was no way she was going to escort any of the local girls, any girl period, out onto that dance floor.  The only one she wanted ta dance with was Kid, and that wasn’t going to happen as long as he thought she was a boy.

She found herself sighing.


Along with trying to find a gal to court, Kid had decided to help Lou become a little more outgoing with the ladies, too.  Maybe, if he could find a gal of his own, Lou might lose some of his more girlish attitudes toward things.  Except Lou wasn’t cooperating with that plan.

Kid started to get angry at that thought.

“Well, you may be content holdin’ up the wall here all by yer lonesome, but I ain’t,” he said shortly, brushing a hand fastidiously down his shirtfront and heading toward a bevy of the local beauties.
He’d already danced with most of them at least once.  And every single one had bored him to tears.  All they chattered about was who was wearing what or who was stepping out with whom.  He could have cared less.  But he wasn’t willing to give up on his search for the woman who could make him forget his reactions to Lou.  Soon he was leading a pretty little blonde out into the crowd of dancing couples.


Lou watched, wishing it were her his arms were encircling.  She could almost feel the skirts swirling around her ankles as he twirled her in and out amongst the other dancers, practically lifting her off the ground with his strong embrace.  She could feel tears of longing prickling at the corners of her eyes.
She’d had enough.  Half-angrily she stomped toward the door.  Teaspoon or no, she was headed back to the station.  She had a run in the morning and she didn’t need to sit through the torture of watching Kid making up to all the pretty girls.


Kid rolled over, waking to the sound of Lou dropping out of his bunk overhead.  Slitting his eyes open, Kid saw the first slivers of dawn peaking through the curtains on the bunkhouse windows.  Lou was already headed out the door to get ready for his ride that morning.

Kid closed his eyes, determined to get more sleep.  He hadn’t crawled into his bunk until well after midnight.  He’d stayed until the very last dance, spending most of the time out on the dance floor.  He was exhausted.  Who’d have ever thought dancing could be so much work?

After several more rolls, and a couple of sighs, a pillow suddenly hit the side of his bunk.  Kid lifted his head to peer out at his attacker.

“I don’t care what ya do, Kid,”: Jimmy growled, “but do it quietly.  The rest of us need our beauty sleep.”

Kid snorted at that comment, but gave up trying to get anymore shuteye and was soon headed out to the barn to spend some time with Katy.

“Kid!” Teaspoon called, bringing the young man to a halt.


“Here,” Teaspoon said, handing a bridle to Kid.  “Since yer up anyway, take this on in ta Lou.  It was gettin’ a bit worn out, so I mended it fer him.”

“Sure thing,” Kid said, turning back toward the barn with more purpose.


“Where is that danged thing?” Lou cursed softly as she frantically searched the tack room for Lightning’s bridle.  “I know I hung it right on its hook, where it belongs!”

“Lookin’ fer this?”

The sound of Kid’s voice sent a shiver down her back, even as she straightened from where she’d been bent over a trunk, rifling through its contents.  Moving slowly so as to get her senses under control, she turned to face him.  The sight of Lightning’s bridle dangling from his fingers arrested her, by now, normal reaction to the sight of him.

“Give me that!” she demanded in exasperation.  “I’ve been searchin’ fer that thing for the last quarter hour and I’ve got a run comin’ any minute now!”

“Don’t blame me,” Kid smiled, easily keeping the bridle out of her reach.  “Teaspoon took it.  He said it needed some repairs.”

Jumping to try to grab the bridle from Kid’s upraised hand, Lou nearly growled, “Well right now it needs ta be on Lightning!”


Kid laughed in unholy delight at Lou’s increasingly frustrated efforts to retrieve the bridle dangling just out of reach.  Finally he relented and, though still keeping possession of the tack, turned toward the stall where Lightning placidly munched on some hay.

“Come on,” he said, laughter still evident in his voice.  “Let’s get ya saddled up and ready ta go.”
Even as Kid walked away, he could hear the angry smoke curling up out of Lou’s ears.


“I can saddle my own horse!” Lou called after Kid in righteous indignation.

“I know ya can,” Kid said, looking down into her eyes as he finished slipping the bridle up over the horses silky ears.  “But ya don’t always have ta.  That’s what friends are for.”

“Hmph!” Lou responded, non-committally, already swinging up into the saddle.  Kid grabbed the reins at the base of the bridle under Lightning’s chin and led the horse out of the barn.


Standing there next to Lou, Kid felt so at peace, with himself and the world.  He didn’t want to break that peace for anything.  He decided to try once again to get Lou to let him help find the boy a sweetheart.

“Listen, Lou,” he began, not sure how to go about this.  “When you get back, what ask a couple of the gals from the church to Sunday dinner here?”


“No, thanks,” Lou muttered, feeling her entire body tense up at Kid’s suggestion.  Hadn’t he gotten the hint last night?  Why couldn’t he just leave well enough alone?

“Lou, ya need ta get out more if ya ever wanna have more than this outta life,” Kid continued, turning to look up at her.  “Folks are startin’ ta whisper.”

“So what?” she asked.  “What they got ta say ain’t gonna change who I am.”

“And just who are you, Lou?”

“What I am is not interested in courtin’ any of the gals ‘round here.  Not now, not ever,” Lou responded emphatically. 

The sound of approaching hooves pounding into the hard prairie earth interrupted their discussion.


Kid watched disconsolately as Lou rode off into the golden purple sunrise.  He sighed as he mulled over what Lou had said.

“Well,” he finally muttered to himself, “you might be content with the way things are, but I ain’t.”

Turning back toward the bunkhouse, he began to make plans to ask the pretty little daughter of the new blacksmith, Gunther Mueller, for a buggy drive after church this Sunday.  He deliberately didn’t think about how what really attracted him to her were all the ways she looked and sounded like Lou.

Chapter 4

“So, what do you want for Christmas?” Lou asked Kid as they turned their horses back toward the station.  They’d just completed a long special run to Fort Laramie for the Army and were finally heading home.  “A new hat?  New saddle for Katy?  New boots?”

Kid got that face-eating grin she adored and tipped his hat down to hide the blush creeping up his face.  “Naw.”

“Then what?”

Kid just shrugged before turning the question around on her.  “What do you want?”

“I’d love time off ta go visit my brother and sister,” Lou ruminated.  “But that ain’t too likely.  Not the way Teaspoon’s been runnin’ us ragged.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Kid laughed wryly.

“Ain’t nothin’ I really need.  But, a new bridle for Lightning might be nice.”

They rode on in silence for awhile, each thinking their own thoughts about the upcoming holiday.  As they topped the next rise, Lou asked, “Do you think we’ll make it back before the town Christmas Party?”


“I hope so!” Kid breathed fervently, earning a startled look from Lou.

“Why?” he asked, confused.

Kid was already regretting his honest response.  He could never dare tell the boy he wanted to go to the party with Clara Mueller because she reminded him of Lou.

“I asked Clara Mueller to step out with me,” he smiled shyly, twisting reality enough to make it palatable.  “And I’m hopin’ she won’t mind if I steal a kiss or two.  I already marked out all the places where they’re hanging the mistletoe.”

There, that sounded reasonable.  Clara was the first of the many town girls Kid had spent time with over the last several months who could keep his interest for more than a few minutes.  And that was only because she reminded him of Lou, the way the other boy moved and spoke, even had his light brown hair and big, dark brown eyes.  Kid sighed again.  This growing obsession of his just wasn’t right and he was starting to get desperate to break it.


Now it was Lou’s turn to grunt in irritation.  That was not what she’d been hoping to hear.  Kid was popular with the young ladies in town, too popular, and it hurt to watch him with his latest lady love.  But, Clara Mueller seemed to be more serious than most. 

Usually, Kid’s attention wandered as soon as he’d spent more than a few minutes with his latest ‘love’.  Not so with Clara.  This would be the third formal event he’d escorted her to.  And she seemed to enjoy his company as much as he enjoyed hers. 

Lou rode on, silently fuming.  At one point, she reached down and patted the butt of her pistol in possessive contemplation.  She’d come to think of Kid as hers.  And she was learning she really didn’t like to share.  She just didn’t know what to do about it.


“Well, I think it’s just so sweet what you all are doing for the Jorgenson’s,” Clara Mueller trilled as she hung on Kid’s arm. 

He beamed down at her, a basket of baked goods she’d brought along for the Jorgenson’s hanging on his other arm.  He was glad she’d decided to join in the riders’ Christmas plans so readily.  It showed what a generous spirit she had. 

No matter how he felt, she would make a good choice for him.  She liked horses, she enjoyed spending time out in the country and she was charitably inclined.  Maybe it was time to take the next step.  Surely if he were happily married to such a fine woman, he would stop feeling these… urges…. toward Lou.


Lou made a face as she turned to walk backward, not able to stomach any more of the intruder’s mooning over Kid.  That was the only way Lou could think of Clara, as an intruder.  She wasn’t, and never would be, a member of their close knit Express family.

“It’s just so sweet,” Lou trilled in a deliberately exaggerated falsetto, grabbing onto Buck’s arm and hanging on it so hard, she almost pulled the taller rider off his feet.  “Soooooo sweeeeeeet.”
Cody and Buck laughed at Lou’s antics.

“Aw, leave him alone, Lou,” Noah intruded.

*He’s in love,* Ike signed.

“I don’t know, Ike,” Cody muttered.  “He’s in somethin’ all right.  I just ain’t so sure it’s love.”

“Stop yer gossipin’, ladies,” Teaspoon interrupted, walking up to the wagon.  “Grab somethin’ and help carry it in!”

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” they all chorused moments later as they filed through the Jorgenson’s front door, one by one.  All except Kid and Clara who tried to push through side by side, tittering as they were forced to squeeze their bodies close into each other to get inside.


Kid deliberately tried to brush up against his partner as much as possible.  She certainly seemed amenable to the plan, holding his arm tightly to her and refusing to let go when they walked through the door.

But, all the physical contact seemed to just leave him cold.  He felt none of the nervous sparking and tingling a simple touch of Lou’s hand started.  Well, it had to be simply because he respected Clara.  That was it.  When he kissed her, things would start heating up, he reassured himself.


Lou firmly surpressed a desire to stick her tongue out at the couple.  Then decided it wasn’t worth the effort and let fly, only to stumble as Jimmy pushed her forward.

“Stop yer lollygaggin’, Lou,” he muttered.  “I want ta get in outta the cold.”

Lou picked up her pace, even as she glanced down at the basket of Christmas oranges she was carrying.  She reached down to run a finger across the dimpled skin of one as she fondly imagined throwing it at Clara’s head just as hard as she could, like Teaspoon’d been teaching them to do in baseball.  She could just imagine the satisfying splat the juicy orange would make when it collided with the other girls fancy hairdo and slid down onto the lacy collar of her fine, silk dress.

Inside, Lou leaned back against the wall, next to the Kid as usual, enjoying the singing and Teaspoon’s story telling.  Unfortunately, just as Teaspoon was getting to the good part of the story, a sudden flurry of whispers and giggles distracted her.

She glanced over to see Clara whispering something into Kid’s ear, something that made red crawl rapidly up the back of his neck.  Lou sighed in irritation.  The simpering flirt was even managing to ruin Christmas for her.


While Clara’s insistent flirting was actually starting to annoy Kid, what annoyed him even more was the brightly burning heat spreading up and down his side, the side Lou was consistently brushing against as he leaned against the wall.

Looking up from whatever comment Clara was making in his ear, Kid’s eyes landed on the mistletoe hanging over the entryway.  That was it!  He’d take Clara over there, kiss her long and hard and wipe away all these damned feelings Lou was causing.

Not paying any attention to what was going on, Kid suddenly jumped to his feet and began dragging Clara over to the door.  It was time to move on with his life!


The children jumped up to start tearing into the presents the riders and townsfolk had brought.  But Lou’s eyes were elsewhere, watching in disbelief as Kid stood and grabbed Clara’s hand, leading her back toward the front door and the mistletoe hanging from the lintel.

“Why that little….”  She left the thought hanging in the air.  Her outraged tone caught Cody’s attention.

“I’d’a figgered Kid would know better than that,” he muttered.

“What’re ya talkin’ ‘bout, Cody?”

“Just that if he goes kissin’ her there, in front of all them townsfolk, he’ll be expected ta marry her.”

“And?  Maybe that’s what he wants,” Lou defended, suddenly despondent.

“Well, let’s just say, he’ll be in for a mighty big surprise in ‘bout 6 months or so, if he does,” Cody sniggered.  “I found out today Miss Clara’s been playin’ it fast and loose on him while he’s out on runs and she done got caught.”

“No!” Lou gasped.  Cody just nodded in confirmation.  “What’re ya gonna do ‘bout it?”

“I was gonna tell him when we got home, but it don’t look like he’s willin’ ta wait that long,” Cody said, suddenly defensive.  “It ain’t like he don’t want ta spend time with her and I’m not the sort ta air others’ dirty laundry in public.  What am I s’posed ta do?”

“But, we’ve got ta stop him before he makes a big mistake,” Lou hissed.

Angry now, Lou looked frantically around the large single room of the Jorgenson’s cabin, hoping for inspiration.  But nothing came to her.  Turning back, she saw Kid and Clara giggling together under the mistletoe, Clara rising up on her toes as Kid slowly leaned down toward her.


Kid closed his eyes as he leaned in toward Clara, looking forward to the feel of her lips under his.  This was it!  This would be the moment that changed his life forever.  That made it better.


That was it!  Lou stomped forward, pushing past the similarly gaping faces of the rest of her brothers.  She reached the couple in the doorway and shoved Clara out of the room just as Kid’s lips landed where Clara’s had been, and Lou’s now were.


Her lips were just as soft and supple as he’d imagined.  And he’d been right.  All the sparks and tingles were right there, jumping from her lips to his.

Kid sighed in contentment as he felt her melt into his chest, her hands gliding up and over his shoulders, fingers tangling in his hair.  He was almost overwhelmed with the sensations he was feeling and had totally tuned out the rest of the world.

Reaching out, he began to wrap his own arms around her, sliding them down and around her waist, only to come into contact with something that shouldn’t have been there.  A gunbelt?  Clara never wore a gunbelt!

Opening his eyes, Kid pulled back and looked down in confusion at the woman, boy!, in his arms.


Lou inhaled sharply at the feel of the lips she’d spent so many hours dreaming about over the last several months.  She melted into his chest, her hands snaking their way around his neck.  As his hands slowly circled her waist they came in contact with her gunbelt, something Clara most definitely hadn’t been wearing.  He stiffened and pulled back from the increasingly torrid embrace.

Looking down at the similarly poleaxed Lou in his arms, his face lost all its color.  White as a sheet, he squeeked in astonishment, “Lou?!?”

Pulling out of his embrace, Lou smiled up at him.  Oblivious to their avidly curious audience, she reached up to touch her fingers to his firm lips.  She couldn’t wait to kiss him again.  But first, she had an announcement to make.

Stepping back, she straightened her gunbelt, pulled off her hat and looked Kid straight in his wide, panicked, beautiful blue eyes. 

“The name’s Louise, ya big galoot!”

**A big thanks to the ladies at the Writers Ranch who designed the bookcover graphic!

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