Saturday, April 21, 2012

Kid & Lou's Wedding Video

One of my favorite moments in the series, when Kid and Lou finally arrive where they're meant to be. Despite all their own problems and the problems of the world surrounding them they're ready to pledge their lives to each other, forever.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

For Better, For Worse

Author's Note:  This little snippet falls sometime in the scant weeks between the series finale, 'Til Death Do Us Part, and the end of the Express late in 1861.

*Not Enough, Lacuna Coil
*Once You've Learned To Be Lonely, Reba McEntire
*This is Love, This is Life, Bon Jovi

Lou looked around the table at the forced smiles of her friends, her family, as they gamely chewed the last few bites of the rubbery roast she’d served up for dinner that night.  Jimmy had surreptitiously tossed his biscuits under the table to one of the ubiquitous dogs at the station.  Kid was soaking his in a glass of milk before gnawing off small bites.  Teaspoon was uncharacteristically pushing his food around on his plate, a morose look on his face, without really eating anything.  Rachel had already politely excused herself, saying she had papers to grade and wasn’t really hungry anyway.  Lou was so sick to her stomach she couldn’t bring herself to even take a bite of the latest meal she’d ruined.  So, she just sat there watching everyone else pretend to enjoy the meal not even Cody would’ve willingly downed.

She could feel the frustration building and building in her head, until it felt like her eyes would burst out of their sockets if the pressure weren’t released soon.  Suddenly, it was more than she could take.  With a stifled sob, Lou jumped up from the table, knocking over the bench she and Kid were sharing in the process, tossed her napkin down on her plate and ran out of the bunkhouse.

Letting the door slam behind her, she raced out of the Express yard, out onto the wide open prairie.  She ran and ran, pumping her legs as hard as she could, propelling her body forward, trying to escape the pain that seemed to be squeezing her heart right out through her throat.  She ran until she couldn’t breathe anymore, her aching lungs begging her to slow down and let them fully inflate.

The entire time, tears coursed down her cheeks.  If it were only supper she’d ruined, she could handle that.  But she’d ruined her, and Kid’s in the process, life thinking she could be a ‘normal’ woman.  She didn’t know how to fix things now, not without hurting even more than she was.

Collapsing onto a fallen tree overlooking the creek, she finally let the sobs she’d been struggling to hold back take over.  Her entire body quaked as she cried out all her fears and disappointments to the great big, empty sky.

As she gasped for breath between rounds of body shaking wails, she damned herself.  She’d made the choices that had led her to this lonely spot in the middle of the prairie, all by herself.  She’d thought she’d earned a second chance.  But her second chance was proving to be a disaster!

The thought of what it would take to fix things, leaving Kid, going back to a lonely existence as just plain “Lou”, instead of Louise, brought on a fresh round of laments.  She cursed herself for being so dependent on him for her happiness.  She cursed him for not being there with her when she needed him the most.  She cursed herself for wanting him there to see her at her weakest.  She cursed the world for being so unfair.

Eventually, her energy flagging, the crying jag tapered off to occasional whimpers and quiet tears.  Leaning back on the fallen tree trunk, Lou looked up at the stars starting to appear in the sky above.

“You ready to talk about it?”

Lou jerked at the sound of her husband’s voice.  Sitting up, she quickly began wiping her eyes dry with the backs of her hands, trying to hide the evidence of her despair.

“Wha… what are you doin’ here?” she whispered.

“Well, see, this woman I love more than anythin’ else in the world was upset ‘bout somethin’,” Kid said softly, hunkering down on his knees in front of her, reaching out to still her motions with one hand and using his other to wipe her face dry with a handkerchief.  “I kinda figured it might be a good idea ta find out why.”

Lou looked deep into his comforting blue eyes and suddenly couldn’t keep her misery to herself anymore.

“I’m a faaaaailluuuuureee,” she wailed as a fresh wave of sobs shook her body.  “I’ll never make a decent woman, let alone a good wife or mother!”

Kid gently pulled her against his shoulder and just held her as she broke down again.  He nuzzled her neck, wrapped one arm around her, hugging her tight to his chest, and gently stroked her hair with his other hand.

“Shhhh,” he whispered in her ear.  “No matter how bad it is, there ain’t nothin’ we can’t handle together.”

Lou pulled back to look into his face, horrified. 

“But that’s just it!  We shouldn’t be together!  I ain’t cut out ta be no kinda proper wife to ya.  I ruined my chance at that when I first lopped off my hair and started dressin’ like a boy.  Maybe even before that… when I took that job at Wicks’ place!  Now, I cain’t do nothin’ a good wife should do.” 

Lou pulled away from Kid to stand up and begin pacing back and forth in front of him as she enumerated her deficiencies. 

“I cain’t cook.  I ain’t got the patience ta stay in the house cleanin’ all day. I’m so durned contrary I’m constantly arguin’ with ya, over ever’thin’.  And, Oh God!” she suddenly wailed as another thought hit her.  “What about babies?  I’m hopeless!  I can’t even pin on a diaper right!”

She collapsed back onto the log in defeat.  Kid smiled gently at her, even as he pulled her closer once again, tucking her head into the hollow of his shoulder.  Resting his chin on the top of her head, he looked out over the prairie, not really seeing anything in front of him, but rather Lou as he’d known her over the last couple of years.  Lou riding tall, tall as any man he’d ever known.  Lou fighting and arguing over every little thing right along with the rest of the boys.  Lou determined to do her job as well, if not better, than any of the rest of them.  Lou arguing against the least bit of what she termed coddling.  Lou pushing him when he needed to be pushed, comforting him when he needed comforting, loving him no matter what.  His Lou, so full of life and determination, independence and love.

“Lou, I had my chance at a ‘proper’ woman who’da made me a ‘proper’ wife.  I walked away from her, if you’ll remember.  I wouldn’t know what to do with a wife who never pushed me to be better than I am, who accepted every word that came out of my mouth as if it came from God.  A woman who needed me to constantly take care of her and protect her would be more than I could handle.  I love YOU, Lou,” he said vehemently, pulling back to tilt her chin up so he could look her in the face as he made his declaration.  “I love your temper and your stubbornness and your impatience.  I love everything about you.  And if that means our marriage ain’t exactly ‘normal’, well, so what?  There ain’t a one of us that’s lived in that bunkhouse I’d call normal ta begin with.”

Lou let out a watery chuckle even as she pressed herself closer to him, taking comfort from his tight hold and quiet words.

Unable to meet his eyes, she whispered, “But, what if I never learn how ta cook proper?”

“Well, then we’ll either havta get rich enough we can afford a cook or I’ll havta learn,” Kid laughed.  “And you can muck out the stalls everyday!”

“Promise?” she whispered, a ray of hope breaking through the dark morass of her own doubts and fears.

“I swear.  For better, for worse.  ‘Til death do us part.  Remember, Lou?  I meant what I said.  It took me long enough ta get ya to the altar, I ain’t goin’ ta let ya walk away now!  No matter how many biscuit bricks I gotta eat.”

The couple laughed together.  Lou took the handkerchief from Kid and carefully dried her face, then blew her nose.  Looking up at him, she added mischievously, “Maybe we should just let Jimmy use ‘em fer target practice.”


Teaspoon watched the young couple walking arm in arm back into the station’s yard.  He was glad to see Lou looking so much happier than she had at supper.  He knew she was having trouble adjusting to her new place, here at the station, in town and in Kid’s life.  The changes that came with marriage were hard on any newlywed, but much harder on a free spirit like his Louise.  She’d been so emotional lately, he was really hoping she hadn’t started breeding yet.

The grizzled Marshal sighed deeply, deciding to wait until tomorrow to share his bad news with the young couple.  Things were about to get a lot harder, for them and the rest of the remaining Express family.  Word had come that morning that Russell, Majors and Waddell were shutting down the Express in a couple of weeks.

Thanks to the ladies at the Writers Ranch for another great graphic!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Friends In Low Places

Author's Note:  This story was originally written for the Gapfiller Challenge over at the Writers Ranch.  As always, thanks for the wonderful graphic, ladies!

Summary: She saved his life in Regrets because he once helped save hers.  Yet, he doesn’t remember the night that changed her life forever.

Bad Company

Angel: (staring down at a drunk Jimmy lying on saloon floor) I know you from somewhere. Give me a minute, ‘cause I never forget a face. I know! You’re one of the Express riders out of Sweetwater. My name’s Angel. I worked at the Wild Horse Saloon last year. You don’t remember me, do ya? Come on, let’s get you upstairs. You can sleep it off, some.


Jimmy: Why’re you doin’ this fer me?
Angel: You really don’t remember me, do you? There was some trouble one night at the Wild Horse. Saddle tramp with a broken bottle (reaches up to run pinkie across scars along right cheekbone) … thought I was his missus. Guess he didn’t have much of a marriage. You and your friends, you saved my life.

Jimmy: *nods* *lies back and closes eyes in sleep*

Angel: Sleep tight.


He stood there, staring down at her. How could she have betrayed him like this? Tears coursed down his weathered cheeks, tracing white trails through the dust and grime ground into his skin. He’d loved her with every bone in his body. He’d been ready to give up the life of a wandering cowboy for her. Reaching out, he tenderly brushed the blonde curls off her pale forehead. Her still warm skin seemed to burn his hand and he brought it up to his lips, seeking those last traces of her presence.

His look hardened as the cowboy lying next to her teased at the edges of his vision. But she’d rejected him. Laughed in his face and walked off with this… this… two-bit Express rider. Straightening to his full six feet two of height, he kicked the body lying next to her disdainfully.

Well, he’d shown them both. No one got the better of ol’ Matt Trimble. Not even if she was the love of his life, the traitorous whore! And most certainly not if he was some jumped up cowboy with delusions of grandeur.

“Hmph!” he grunted, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the still face of the dead cowboy.
Turning, he walked out of the small, isolated cabin, never looking back.


“Rider comin’!”

Ike heard the call floating across the prairie moments before he rounded the last bend in the trail and sighted the windmill standing watch over Emma’s house and the home station. He could hear birds chirping as he pounded past them on his horse, startling them out of their secure hiding places. In the distance, one of the dogs at the station started barking excitedly. A few more minutes and this run would be over. He was home.

“Ride safe, Cody! Hey, Ike!” Lou called happily, waiting to grab his horse’s bridle as he came skidding to a halt by the corral after passing the mochila to the chipper blonde. “Did you have a good run?”

Ike shrugged noncommittally. It hadn’t been a good run, but it hadn’t been bad either, just your normal, average, everyday grueling 75 mile galloping race across the prairie. Lou laughed.

“Let me cool down your horse,” she smiled at him, “while you get cleaned up for supper. Emma’s got your favorite, Kid Pie!, in the oven!”

*Yum!* Ike signed, grinning broadly back at Lou. Then both burst into laughter at the joke.

Kid Pie was Ike’s favorite, one of the Kid’s too. Although the main ingredient was actually goat, not the Kid, that didn’t stop any of them from mercilessly teasing their fellow rider about being a cannibal every time he dug in.

*Is Kid home?*

Lou shook her head.

“Naw. He took off East this morning. Won’t be back for a couple days. Go on, get cleaned up. I’m hungry and Cody’s just left which means won’t none of us have to fight over seconds.”


“Pass the spuds, would ya, Buck?” Jimmy asked, even as he stuffed a forkful of Kid Pie into his gaping maw. Lou looked away, disgusted. Emma tut tutted at the sight.

“Chew with yer mouth closed, Jimmy,” Emma warned sternly. “Or you’ll be eatin’ in the barn with the cows!”

Jimmy’s mouth slammed shut and he swallowed the food in it in a single gulp. Looking up, he said, “Sorry, Emma. It’s just sooo good. Sure ya didn’t butcher the Kid this time round?”

“Oh, go on with ya!” Emma laughed, unable to stay mad at the beguiling young man for long. Taking her own seat at the foot of the table, she turned to Ike as she filled her plate. “Anything interesting happen on your run, Ike?”

Ike shoved another forkful of food into his mouth and then started signing rapidly while he chewed.

*Back at the Harper’s Ridge station, all the talk was about Boyd Creese.*

“What’s up with ol’ Boyd?” Buck asked curiously. “Did he finally ask his gal ta marry him? Every other word that came outta his mouth was ‘bout her the last time I was out that way.”

Ike shook his head sadly. *No. He up and disappeared. No one knows where. Left to see his gal after a run and never come back.*

“Maybe he decided to just stay with her,” Jimmy suggested, reaching for the last biscuit on the platter only to have Lou snatch it out from under his hand. “Seein’ as how he was already plannin’ on askin’ her ta marry him and all.”

Lou shook her head, but Buck beat her to the punch.

“Unh unh,” he grunted. “No way. He said he needed to work at least another six months ta be able ta get a big enough grub stake ta buy a place for them. Any other job he coulda gotten would’ve taken three times as long.”

“That’s for sure,” Lou said around crumbs from the last bite of biscuit she’d just consumed.

“Lulabelle,” Emma said, clearing her throat. “You have a napkin for a reason. Use it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Lou said, ducking her head to wipe her mouth.

*The sheriff said the same thing when they called him in,* Ike signed. *Guess we’ll have ta wait ‘til Kid gets back ta find out what happened.*

Jimmy swiped his spoon across the plate one last time, sweeping up the remnants of his Kid Pie and shoving them into his mouth. He washed it all down with a swish of coffee.

“In the meantime, I’m in the mood ta head inta town,” he said, leaning back from the table. “Anyone game ta come with?”

“Naw,” Buck said, smiling. “I’ve got the first run in the morning. Besides, I’m just not in the mood ta deal with the townsfolk tonight.

“What ‘bout you, Lou? Wanta ride along?”

“I don’t know,” she hedged. “I’m not sure I want ta risk my savin’s, ain’t interested in gettin’ drunk or in spendin’ time with any of the ‘ladies’ there.”

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” Jimmy pleaded. “You can try yer hand at some poker. Yer gettin’ pretty good. And the last time we were in there, the men playin’ didn’t look like they could beat a 5 year old. Heck, I’ll even spot ya $2 ta get ya started.”

“Oh, alright,” she reluctantly agreed. “I supposed. But I ain’t stayin’ out all night. I may not have a run in the mornin’, but there’ll still be chores ta do.”

“What about you, Ike?”

*Sure,* Ike shrugged. *It was an easy enough run today. I’m not too tired.*

Buck looked at Ike strangely. Every run left them ready for food and a bunk, not always in that order. But he didn’t say anything. If Ike wanted to go into town, that was his business.

Even as Jimmy, Ike and Lou began donning their hats and gunbelts, Emma moved to clear the table.

“You boys be careful now,” she warned sternly, clearly not at ease with their plans but unable to come up with a reason to keep them at the station. They were growing up on her so fast! “Don’t be getting into any trouble, you here? That goes for you, too, Lou.”

“Yes, ma’am,” they dutifully chorused as they trooped out the door.

Ike paused in the entryway to sign, *I won’t let them stay out too late.*

“You do that, Ike,” Emma smiled.


“Whiskey!” he demanded, pounding on the bar.

“Just hold yer horses,” the barkeeper barked back irritably. “I’ll get ta ya when it’s yer turn.”

Turning around to survey the saloon while waiting for his drink, Matt Trimble found his eyes once again drawn to the curvy blonde with the long ringlets moving around the room with effortless grace. He wondered how his Lucretia had ended up working here. She should be helping out down at the school.

He stiffened in anger as she slid into a cowboy’s lap, laughing as she wrapped her arms around the man’s neck.

“Whore.” The epithet slipped from his lips like a rumble of thunder presaging a storm.

“Did you say somethin’?” the barkeep asked, pushing Trimble’s ordered whiskey across the bar to him.

“No,” Trimble said, grabbing the shot glass and downing the burning liquid. Pushing a coin across the bar, he grabbed the bottle of whiskey from the barkeep’s hand. “Just give me the bottle.”


Tinkling piano music and raucous laughter could be heard tumbling down the main street of Sweetwater as the trio of Express riders cantered into town. Most of the small town’s businesses had closed hours ago, before the sun set. Now, the only places still lit up were the Hotel/Restaurant and the three saloons in town.

“Which one should we go to?” Jimmy asked, looking at his quieter companions.

Lou shrugged. “Don’t rightly care, long’s the barmaids leave me in peace.”

*Let’s go to the Wild Horse,* Ike signed.

Jimmy flashed Ike a baffled look, wondering why he wanted to go there again, then shrugged. “Sure. Why not.”

Soon, all three were dismounting and tying their horses to the hitching post outside the Wild Horse. The clatter of the bat wing doors being thrown open and the cussing of an old saddle tramp had them looking up.

“You don’t watch it, and I’ll cite ya fer public indecency,” Sam warned.

“Ah, Sam, why don’t ya just hire Emma on as a deputy,” Jimmy spoke up. “She’d start washin’ their mouths out with soap. Purty soon ya wouldn’t have ta worry ‘bout no public indecency.”

Sam looked up from where he’d wrangled the protesting saddle tramp into a choke hold.

“Hey, boys,” he greeted. “I’m surprised Emma let you three out on a night like tonight?”

“Just decided ta take a break from playin’ checkers and listening ta the musical stylin’s of Buck’s snorin’,” Lou said.

Sam let out a bark of laughter, before tightening his hold on his prisoner and beginning to march him down the boardwalk toward the jail.

“You three just be careful tonight,” he warned over his shoulder. “Emma’ll have my hide if I let you boys get in trouble and folks is actin’ plumb loco. This is the third drunk I’ve had ta corral in the last hour.” He glanced up at the full moon. “Must be the moon, or somethin’.”

“Don’t worry, Sam, we ain’t lookin’ fer no trouble, just a little fun,” Jimmy said, already heading through the doors and into the saloon.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” came drifting down the boardwalk from Sam’s retreating from.

*Don’t see how this is any different from normal,* Ike signed to Lou, following Jimmy through the doors. Lou just shrugged.

Inside, Ike quickly peeled off, heading toward the dart board at the back of the room. Lou and Jimmy watched him a moment, wondering what the attraction was. He’d spent most of the night there the last time they’d been here, when they’d all visited with Kid’s brother Jed. That had been after they’d left the Silver Dollar over the owner’s attitude about Buck.

Lou nudged Jimmy’s shoulder and pointed toward a table in the near corner with her chin. Four men were seated there with cards in their hands.

“Let’s go,” she said, heading toward one of the two empty seats at the table. Lowering her voice, she asked, “Got room fer two more?”

“Hep yerself,” the grizzled mountain man on her left said, never looking up from his cards. “Buy ye’ll havta wait ‘til the next hand ta be dealt in.”

“That’s fine with us,” Jimmy said, taking the other empty seat, directly across the table from Lou, his back safely snugged up against the saloon wall.

“Can I get you gents anythin’ ta drink while yer waitin’,” a blonde saloon girl asked.

“Two sarsaparillas,” Jimmy ordered, adjusting his Colt to a more comfortable position in the chair and placing a coin on the table. Lou pulled her hat further down over her forehead as she leaned back in the wooden chair and nodded her agreement.

“Comin’ right up,” the barmaid smiled, as she turned back toward the bar, pocketing the coin.


The whiskey burned a path down Trimble’s throat and into his belly as he took another deep swig directly from the bottle.

“Outta my way,” he growled, pushing past several tables filled with laughing, drinking men.

He could barely see the room around him through the red haze of anger growing inside him. How could she? How could she do this to him again?!? First that cowboy, now those two no ‘count kids, who else would she share her company with? All the while ignoring his presence.

She was his wife, dammit! As a husband he had certain rights, granted him by God and Man! It was about time he demanded she do her duty by him!


“Three Kings and two Aces,” Lou said proudly, laying down her cards. “A Full House. Read ‘em and weep.”

“Damnit, Lou!” Jimmy groaned, throwing down his own cards in a fit of pique, even as she stood to gather up her winnings. “I didn’t bring ya here ta clean me out! How’d you do it? Again?”

She grinned up at him insouciantly as she started to neatly stack her winnings in front of her. “Just luck, I guess.”

“Yeah, right,” a tall skinny saddle tramp next to Jimmy muttered, spitting tobacco juice at a can on the floor nearby, and missing. “Five hands since y’all joined the game and every one’s gone either to you or yer little friend over there.”

“Are you insinuatin’ somethin’?” Lou growled, reaching for the butt of her gun.

“I ain’t in-sin-you-ate-in’ nothin’,” the tramp growled, much louder this time. “I’m outright sayin’ it. You two’re cheatin’! I want my money back!”

“If you can’t afford ta lose, ya shouldn’t be playin’,” Jimmy said with a deceptive calm, reaching for the cards and beginning to shuffle them.

“Why you…” the man sputtered, jumping out of his seat and reaching for his gun, only to find himself already facing down an enfuriated Lou, her gun out and cocked.

At the same time, Jimmy’s foot came up under the rails of the man’s chair, tipping it backward, taking the saddle tramp to the floor with it.

Jimmy stood up and grabbed the man by the shoulders, pulling the gun out of his hands.

“You shouldn’t start things you can’t finish,” he growled

“I got ‘im,” Lou said, wrenching the man’s arm up between his shoulders as high as it would go with one hand while shoving the barrel of her pistol into the middle of his back. “Now walk! I’m sure Marshall Cain’ll have plenty of room left in the jail fer ya.”

“I…” Jimmy started to offer to help, but Lou waved him off.

“I got ‘im, Jimmy. Go back to the game.”

Jimmy watched as she marched the man through the swinging saloon doors and out into the night.

“Yer little friend’s quite the spunky one,” the grizzled mountain man spoke around a fat cigar clenched tightly between his teeth.

“Yep,” Jimmy nodded with a modicum of pride.

“Ya gonna keep playin’ or ya gonna go babysit?” one of the young Devlin ranch hands asked irritably.

“I’m playin’,” Jimmy sighed, pulling his chair out and sitting back down.


Ike smiled as he watched Lou march the troublemaker out the doors. Walking up to the dart board, he quickly collected the miniature arrows. He hadn’t found anyone to play with yet, but that wasn’t really why he was here, anyway. Unfortunately, his real reason for coming had yet to come round. Heaving a sigh, he turned and headed toward the bar. He needed a little something to wet his whistle.
Reaching the bar, he slapped his hand on it to get the barkeep’s attention.

“Be right with ya, Ike,” the man said with a smile, already knowing what his order was. Ike had become a near regular over the last few weeks, and the man liked him, even if he couldn’t talk.
“How’d ya do that,boy?”

Ike turned to the tall, scruffy cowboy next to him and shrugged, then looked back toward the busy bartender.

“Hey!” the cowboy exclaimed. “I’m talkin’ to you!”

Ike looked back at the man, confused.

“What’s the matter? Think yer too good ta speak with me?”

Ike shook his head and smiled at the man. Raising his hands to his throat, he shook his head.

Not understanding, the tramp reached out and grabbed Ike’s shoulder, pulling him around to meet his already flying fist.

Ike’s head snapped back as the cowboy’s fist impacted with his left eye.

“Hey!” the bartender protested uselessly. “Take the fight outside!”

The sound grabbed Jimmy’s attention. Looking up he saw the ongoing fistfight between Ike and the strange cowboy. Even as he watched, the pair stumbled over another man’s chair, spilling his beer in his lap.

The new man jumped up in anger. Picking up his chair, he brought it crashing down over the heads of the two oblivious combatants.

Jimmy sighed and put down his cards. Standing up he said, “Excuse me, gents. I’ll be right back.”

Wading into the growing battle, he grabbed Ike’s original assailant and smashed his head ruthlessly against the wall. Immediately Jimmy let go of him, not even pausing to watch as he slid bonelessly to the floor, out cold. Jimmy was already turning to grab the second man, only to chuckle as Ike wrestled him to the floor, pinning him in place.

Looking about, Jimmy could tell the fight had spread to several other tables by now and was well on its way to getting out of control. Stepping back, he pulled his gun and fired a shot into the air.

Everyone in the saloon instantly froze, then peered in his direction.

“I’d suggest y’all drop the theatrics ‘fore the Marshall gets back,” Jimmy said nonchalantly, holstering his Colt. “I ain’t sure how, but I am sure he’ll find room for all o’ y’all in his jail iffen he has ta.”

“If y’all just take a seat and go back ta enjoyin’ the evening,” the bartender added, “the next round’s on the house.”

A rousing round of cheers greeted this announcement, followed quickly by the scraping sound of tables being righted and chairs scooted back into place.


Trimble watched as the slender, muscular gunslinger hefted the unconscious cowboy over his shoulder and headed for the door. He nodded to his slight friend who was just returning as he pushed his way outside.

The laughter had returned to the room, with a renewed, almost forced intensity. Trimble’s eyes roved the room searching for a head of blonde curls, bobbing through the sea of men.

A hand reached out and pinched her behind, getting only a smile and a mild slap in response.
He could feel the anger boiling up and over in his stomach, almost making him vomit. But he kept a lid on it, knowing sooner or later she would come his direction. Then, he’d teach her to ignore her husband!


Ike sank into a chair near the rear of the room, pressing the heel of his hand against his throbbing eye. By morning he’d have a nice shiner. He could tell already. But there wasn’t anything he could do about it.

He looked around, ready to head home now, thinking the trip had been a waste of his time. She hadn’t wanted to talk to him again, after all. He was about to get up when he heard her.

“Howdy, Ike.”

He turned around and there she was. She was about one of the prettiest ladies he’d ever seen. She was his height, maybe a little taller, with piles of thick, curly blonde hair resting gently on top of her head. Her curves perfectly filled out the low-cut bodice of her outfit.

Suddenly shy, he nodded his head in greeting even as he began to inspect the toes of his boots. He should’ve waited and come tomorrow night, after he’d had time to clean up a bit more. His boots sure could use a good shining, he thought inanely.

The feel of her hand under his chin forced his head up. His eyes met hers.

“Oh, that’s turning in to a nasty shiner,” she murmured, concernedly echoing his sentiments of a moment before.

He shrugged self-deprecatingly. It wasn’t like there was anything he could do about it, after all.
She pushed him back into his chair and curled his fingers around a glass of sarsaparilla. He started to shake his head, ‘no’, but she stopped him.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it, Ike,” she smiled. “The sarsaparilla’s on the house. Thanks to you and your friends for helpin’ keep the peace tonight. Now, you just sit there while Angel goes and gets you somethin’ ta put on that eye.”

Her hand tenderly swept across his bald head as she turned hurriedly back toward the bar. Ike didn’t move, simply sitting there watching every move she made. Within minutes she was back with a raw steak.

She sat down on his lap and carefully placed the steak over his tender eye. He smiled happily up into her face.

“So,” she murmured, leaning forward to whisper in his ear. “I’ve missed you. You haven’t been around much lately.”

With one hand, Ike imitated a horse running, one of the simplest signs he’d learned and understood by almost everyone. She smiled teasingly.

“You’ve been too busy riding for the Express ta come see me?”

He nodded, matching his grin to hers.

She leaned forward and whispered into his ear, “You still got my little present?”

He blushed almost as red as the boa she’d given him even as he nodded a yes.

“So what do I have ta do ta get ya ta give it back?” she asked slyly.


Trimble sat there, fuming as she made up to that big dummy. He’d seen how the man, boy really, struggled to communicate with gestures, unable to use his own voice. What could she possibly see in that half-man?

He’d show her, he’d show them both, who was the better man!


Lou sighed. Ever since she’d come back from dropping off that drunk at the Marshal’s office she’d drawn nothing but crap hands.


She looked up into the blue eyes of the barmaid.

“The owner’s offering free sarsaparillas to you and yer friends, over there by Ike. His thanks fer your help tonight.”

Lou nodded. Turning back to the table she tossed down her cards. “Sounds good ta me. My luck here’s ‘bout played out anyway.”

Soon, she was sinking down into a chair next to Ike.

“Nice shiner,” she commented drily.

Ike shrugged, not really looking at Lou. His one free eye remained glued to the moving form of the saloon girl, the other hidden under a piece of raw steak. Lou laughed.

“What’s her name, Ike?”


“Traitorous whore.”

“What?” Lou asked, turning to the drunk sitting slumped at a nearby table. “Were you talkin’ ta us?”

“I see ya gotta game of dartsh goin’,” the man slurred, stumbling to his feet. “Think ya can beat me? Come on!”

Something about his challenge raised Lou’s brow, but Ike nodded genially and stood, pulling the darts out of his vest. Facing the dartboad, Ike took a steady stance and let fly with the first dart, hitting the bullseye with a satisfying , “thunk!”

Turning, Ike offered the next dart to his opponent with a smile. The man grabbed the dart out of Ike’s hand and, pulling back his arm, let it fly with full force. The dart clipped the edge of Ike’s hat, as it flew past him, pinning the brim to the board.

“Ike!” Angel exclaimed, walking up with Lou’s sarsaparilla.

The cowboy turned, and grabbing the bottle of whiskey he’d been nursing all night, he slammed it against the edge of the table, breaking it into two sharp-edged pieces. Continuing his turn, he wrapped an arm around Angel’s throat, pulling her tight in against his chest.

“I told you I wouldn’t never let ya step out on me again like this, Lucretia,” he hissed at her.

“What?!?!” Angel exclaimed.

“Yer my wife and ya oughter show a little wifely loyalty, woman!”

Angel screamed as he slashed the broken bottle down her cheek, opening a pair of deep, parallel, bleeding scratches along the cheekbone.

“There,” he muttered. “Now ya won’t never forget who ya belong ta. Yer Mrs. Trimble and ye’ll stay Mrs. Tri–”

He suddenly slumped forward, taking Angel to the floor with him, sarsaparilla dripping down into his eyes. Lou stood looking down at him, her mug held in the air ready for another swing, a spot of blood on the bottom of it from where she’d slammed it into the drunk’s head.

Ike rushed forward to pull a sobbing Angel out from under her groggy, semi-conscious captor. Feeling her slipping away from his grasp, Trimble scrambled for his gun. Pulling it, he pointed it at Ike and Angel and cocked the hammer back.

“You give her back, ya vermin, or I’ll do you like I did the last fella thought he could steal my wife!”

“I don’t think so,” Jimmy said matter of factly, bringing the butt of his Colt down with extreme force. “I think it’s time ta put ya out of our misery.”

“Thank you,” Angel sobbed. “Oh, thank you.”

“Ike, why don’t ya take her to the doc’s ta get them cuts seen to?” Lou suggested. Bending over she reached out to grab the drunk’s arms. Looking up at Jimmy, she prompted, “Well? I cain’t ‘xactly carry him by myself.”


Ike moved slowly down the boardwalk, half leading, half carrying the injured Angel.

“Oh, Ike, why?” she moaned. “Why?”

Ike shook his head, trying to indicate he didn’t know, but she wasn’t paying any attention. Keeping her hand pressed to her bleeding cheek, she kept muttering.

“I’ll lose my job. No one’s goin’ ta want a scarred up has been servin’ drinks.”

Ike pulled her in against his chest, hugging her tight.

Leaning back, she looked up at him and smiled wanly. “Here I am complainin’ when I should be celebratin’.”

Ike frowned his question at her.

“I could be dead right now. I would be, if it weren’t fer you and your friends. I don’t know how I’ll ever be able ta thank you.”

“Just pass it on,” Jimmy grunted, as he and Lou shouldered past the pair, lugging her unconscious attacker between them. “Someday, some time, somewhere, you’ll get the chance ta do somethin’ for someone else. Pass it on.”


“Barnett, you got that new shipment of wanted posters over there?” Marshall Sam Cain asked.

He’d had a long night. His jail cells were filled to overflowing with all the drunks and locos he, and those Express boys of Emma’s, had picked up. They sure had been a wonder, not to mention a lot more help than his paid deputy! Now, he wanted to check the names and faces in his cells against the latest wanted lists.

“Right here,” Barnett said, shuffling over with the stack of papers in his hand. “Just come in this mornin’.”

“Thanks,” Cain muttered, taking the posters. Looking up at the exhausted Barnett, his face softened. “Why don’t you head on home. Saloons are closed for the night. I think we’re done here.”

“If you’re sure,” Barnett asked, already backing toward the door.

“Wouldn’t have said it if I weren’t sure.”

Flipping through the pile of papers, Cain stopped at one from Harper’s Ridge and read through it twice. Holding it up, he walked over to the cell and matched the drawing with the face of the last man Jimmy and Lou had brought in.

“Well dang,” he muttered out loud to himself. “Look’s like I owe them two a steak dinner. And $100.”

The poster was for Matt Trimble, wanted dead or alive for the murders of Boyd Creese and his sweetheart Tabitha Beville.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Mercy and Paola for suggestions that made this story infinitely better, in my opinion.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sticking It Out

This story was originally written for the True Grit challenge at the Writers Ranch.  A big thanks to the ladies there for the graphic!

Author's Note:  This moment occurs at the beginning of the season 1 episode Hard Time.

Jimmy: “What happened ta you?”

Lou: “The wind was kickin’ up in the salt flats.”

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa pum!

The sound of her horse’s hooves flying across the salt flats rang in Lou’s ears. Each body-elongating stride stirred up more of the *gritty* grains. Not that it mattered much anymore. Her clothes were almost white they were so coated in the stuff.

About five minutes after she’d entered the flats the wind had started howling, pushing the *grit* ruthlessly into every orifice and crevice of her body and clothing, pasting it there until it felt more like a part of her than her own skin.

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa pum!

She squinted trying to keep her eyes as nearly closed as possible, letting her eyelashes filter the grey *grit* out. Unfortunately, it was too late for her mouth. She could feel the salty grains grinding between her teeth as she gasped for breath, almost as desperate for fresh air as her horse.

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa pum!

Her heartbeat kept rhythm with the horse’s galloping steps, each one taking her closer to the end of this torture. She *gritted* her teeth and hung on. Just a few more miles, she thought, and it would all be over. At least for today.

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa pum!

She found herself drifting off into a daydream of a hot, clean shower when she got back. The sound of the sprinkling drops of water replacing the pounding hooves. The sweet, fresh liquid soaking the salt and *grit* out of her skin, leaving it wrinkled and pink again.

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa p…. Thud!

A spray of the *grit* that inhabited her nightmares flew skyward as her body impacted with the hard, grayish white ground. Her hat fell off her head and dangled by its chin strap against her back. She looked down at her hands as she lifted them off the ground, inspecting the newest scrapes, already leaving reddened slashes through the white coating of salt.

Pa pum. Pa pum. Pa pum.

The sound of her horse slowly returning to find out why she’d dropped out of the race they were running brought her out of her reverie. With a determined grimace, she stood, vainly attempted to brush herself off, then flung herself back into the saddle, spurring the horse once again into motion.

She’d known it would take *grit* to stick it out on this job. She just hadn’t realized that would mean literal *GRIT.*

Pa pum! Pa pum! Pa pum!

Sweet Pea

 Author's note:  This story comes after Bittersweet in the Sweetwater Romance series.  It falls between the episodes Face of the Enemy and The Exchange in season 2.

This is Part 3 of the Sweetwater Romance series.

Lou stood on the bunkhouse porch, wearily watching the antics of her brothers as they tossed Teaspoon’s baseball around in a game of keepaway, trying to bring a bit of normalcy back to Buck's life after his recent brush with the Army.  But there was nothing 'normal' about Lou's life right now and even Cody’s normally amusing behavior was grating on her. 

She snuck one hand into the pocket of her jacket, fingering the letter she’d just finished writing.  She’d tried following the advice of those around her, but none of it had worked.  Jimmy, Teaspoon, Rachel, Buck, even Ike and Noah had all failed to help, some more spectacularly than others, Lou thought sourly.  Hopefully an answer would come soon.  All this worry and confusion was giving her a headache to go with what seemed like a never ending heartache.

“Rider comin’!”

The familiar call rang out across the yard in Rachel’s dulcet tones.  Lou grabbed her hat off the bench behind her and jammed it on her head, already racing toward her horse.  Rachel was already there, holding the horse’s bridle to keep it calm while Lou vaulted into the saddle.  Lou stiffened, not wanting to take her current mood out on her friend.  Rachel had only been trying to help. It wasn’t her fault Lou had messed things up.

As Lou leaned forward to grab the reins, Rachel whispered up to her, “Lou, I know you’ve been avoidin’ me.  Avoidin’ all of us.  Please, Sweet Pea, you gotta talk ta somebody.  If not one of us, then who?”

“I’m alright, Rachel,” Lou muttered, refusing to meet the older woman’s gaze.  “Stop worryin’.”
Pulling the reins to the side, Lou turned her horse and started him galloping across the yard to meet the incoming rider and accept the pouch.


“Emma!  Emma!”

“Quit yer caterwaulin’, Sam,” the slim redhead muttered stepping out of the kitchen onto the porch of the large house she shared with her still newly minted husband, Territorial Marshal Sam Cain.  Wiping her hands dry on her apron, she watched her tall, handsome man bound up the porch steps two at a time.  “Now, what’s so all fired important I could hear ya callin’ fer me half a town away?”
Sam leaned in to peck her on the cheek before pulling his hat off with one hand and holding out a sealed envelope in the other. 

“You’ve got mail,” he said, flashing her his expansive ‘I’ve just hung the moon for you’ smile.
Reaching out to take the missive, Emma asked, “Who’s it from?”

“Well, ain’t no name on it, but it’s got an Express mark,” he grinned down at his new wife, reaching up to brush a few flyaway curls back behind an ear, still slightly amazed she’d finally given him the right to do that in public.  “Figure it must be from one of the boys.”

A frown wrinkled Emma’s forehead as she contemplated the letter while turning back toward the kitchen and the dinner she’d left bubbling on the stove.  The note wasn’t from Jimmy, he didn’t write often but she’d recognize his handwriting in a split second.  Nor was it from Teaspoon.  It was too clean for that.  It wasn’t the fancy paper Cody favored, nor the drawing paper Ike generally used.  Buck never wrote.  That left just the Kid or Lulabelle.

Emma let out a deep, mournful sigh and grabbed a knife.  She quickly slit the envelope open.  Coming from one of those two it couldn’t be good news.  She’d heard enough from Teaspoon’s short notes to know that without reading a word of this letter.  Carefully pulling out the single sheet of ultra thin paper, Emma shook her head.  Lulabelle, she thought.  Only her Lulabelle would’ve been so careful about the weight, and thus the cost, of the letter.

“Well?” Sam asked, resting his hands on her shoulders and leaning in to press his cheek against hers as he peered at the letter.  “Who’s it from?”

“Lou,” Emma answered with a smile.

“So, what’s your girl rider got ta say?” Sam asked, still a bit miffed Emma’d had to tell him about Lou’s secret.

“Hmmm, lemme see here,” Emma murmured as she scanned the letter, her heart sinking with every word.  Slowly, she sat down at the table, letting the letter fall to its finely polished surface.

“Uh oh,” Sam said, watching as her face paled with every word.  “Doesn’t look good.”

“Why that….” Emma gasped, suddenly outraged at something she’d just read.  “How dare she!”

“Um, I think I need ta get back ta the office,” Sam said, holding both hands in the air and slowly backing away from his wife who’s temper was quickly reaching full boil.

“Ooooh!  I oughta…!” So incensed was she, Emma couldn’t even finish her thought.  She never noticed Sam’s cautious retreat.  She was too busy reading about Lou’s recent problems.

I thought we were ready to move on.  So did Rachel.  She even helped us find the time and place for a little privacy.  But, Emma, things didn’t work out so well and now I think I may have lost the Kid for good.

I thought he loved me for me.  But, after we got ******

Emma paused to wonder at the blotted out word before continuing to read.  She was pretty sure what her Sweet Pea was hinting at and it made her blood boil.  To know that the one adult female influence left on Lulabelle had actually encouraged such activity made her so angry she felt moved to violence.

…close, he started treating me different.  Constantly trying to protect me, change me it seemed.  I ain’t ready to be that woman yet, Emma.  I tried to tell him, but he thought I was rejecting him.  Now, it feels like I’ve lost the only man I’ll ever love.

Please, Emma!  I’m so scared.  I can’t imagine life without him.  What if he’s in love with this other woman?  This Samantha?  I know she’s left town, but…

I sent him away because I thought he deserved someone better than me.  I couldn’t stand for him to think me weak, but the truth is, I am.  I can’t go on without him, Emma.  What do I do?

Emma shook her head as she read through the short, tear stained letter a second time.  How had those two managed to mess things up so badly in the few short months since she and Sam had left town?  Taking a deep breath to rid herself of her anger at this Rachel who’d encouraged her Sweet Pea to make such disastrous decisions, Emma stood up to pull out paper and a pen.

Removing the pot from the stove so it wouldn’t burn, Emma turned to more urgent business, straightening out the mess her Lulabelle had gotten herself into.


“Where’s Louise?” Teaspoon huffed as he sorted through the mail marked to stop for distribution in Rock Creek.

*She’s out in the barn doin’ chores,* Ike signed, a questioning look on his face.  *Why?*

Teaspoon held out a letter to Ike.  “She’s got mail.  Care ta deliver it fer me?”

*Sure,* Ike shrugged as he stood up, setting aside the boot he’d been polishing to accept the letter.  Looking down at the address he recognized Emma’s swirling handwriting.

Moments later, Ike peered into the depths of the barn.  He knocked rapidly three times against the barn door, the alert signal he’d set up with the other riders for when he needed to get their attention.
Lou stepped out of Lightning’s stall, a curry comb held loosely in one hand.

“Yes, Ike?”

Ike held out the letter. 

*You’ve got mail,* he awkwardly signed with his one free hand.

Lou looked startled for a moment, then suddenly excited and scared simultaneously as she rushed over to grab the envelope from him, dropping the curry comb to the ground in her hurry.  With barely an acknowledging nod for his delivery, she turned her back on him and disappeared once again into Lightning’s stall.  The stall door closed firmly behind her, shutting Ike out and Lou in.

A bewildered Ike bent over to pick up the dropped curry comb and moved back to the tack room to carefully put it away.  Shaking his head, Ike contemplated Lou’s odd behavior, coming to the conclusion he’d never understand girls.

Inside the stall, Lou leaned against the wall, breathing deeply, trying to calm herself.  She was eager to know what Emma had to say, but scared to death at the same time.  What if Emma told her to give it up, that she’d ruined everything and should just move on, like some of the boys and Rachel seemed to think she ought to do?  Lou wasn’t sure if she could handle it.

Sliding down along the wooden panels of the stall door, Lou finally sat on the hay covered ground.  Lightning moved over to nudge her with his muzzle, tickling her with the whiskers sprouting from his satiny soft nose, silently asking her what she was doing all the way down there.

Tears in her eyes, she pulled his head close, hugging him for comfort.  After a moment though, the horse shifted his weight and pulled away, moving toward his feed trough.

Sniffling, Lou wiped her face dry with the cuff of her shirt, then carefully slipped one finger into the envelope, tearing it open.  Pulling out the paper, she smiled wistfully as the smell of Emma’s Lemon Verbena scented water wafted up from it.  She’d give just about anything to have Emma here by her side right now.  The only one she wanted sitting with her more at the moment was Kid.

Timidly unfolding the paper, Lou began to read.

My darling Lulabelle,

I can’t say as I approve of some of the decisions you’ve made, but they were yours to make, not mine.  Lord knows I’ve made my own share of mistakes.  But they don’t have to be the end of the world.  Unfortunately, whether they’re the end of your relationship with Kid doesn’t just rely on your feelings.  It takes two to make things work.

Lou felt herself stiffening in rejection of the words she was reading.  There had to be a way to get Kid back.  There just had to be.

But there is hope, my Sweet Pea.  I’ve been where you are.  There was a time I thought I’d completely ruined any chances at a relationship with Sam.  You know how that worked out.  What you don’t know is how much work it took for us to get to where we are today.

Relationships aren’t easy, my dear.  And they start with sharing everything about yourself with him.  I know you’ve got secrets.  All you ‘boys’ did.  And I know there’s something you’re still holding back from all of us.  It’s up to you when and with whom to share it.  But, honey, until you do, you won’t be able to move on.

Lou sighed.  She knew exactly what Emma was talking about.  She’d almost told Kid a dozen times about that night.  But then she’d look into his eyes and imagine the disgust that would replace the love in them once she revealed her deepest, darkest secret and she’d chicken out.

But first, you’ve got to tell him what you’re feeling right now.  You shouldn’t be running to me, Jimmy, Teaspoon or even this Rachel woman…

Lou smiled as she could feel venom dripping from Emma’s pen in the shaky lines that formed the letters of Rachel’s name.

…when things are getting tough or you have a problem with Kid.  You need to tell him.  Tell him what you’re feeling..  Tell him what you’re scared of.  Tell him your hopes and dreams.  The truth can only set you free, it can never make you weak, only stronger.  Doubts and fears shared are doubts and fears halved.  And if you want to have a lifelong relationship with Kid, you’ve got to start sharing them with him.

Lou sighed as she felt things slipping into place, her stomach muscles relaxing, her headache slowly disappearing from behind her eyes as she accepted the truth of Emma’s words.  Yes, she should talk to Kid.

Rapidly reading the last few words, Lou smiled as she jumped to her feet.  Moments later she came barrelling into the bunkhouse, calling out Teaspoon’s name.

“Teaspoon,” she gasped, out of breath from her sprint across the yard, “where’s the schedule?”

Teaspoon frowned at her in annoyance.  He hated being interrupted while doing paperwork.  With a jerk of his chin he pointed at the paper posted on the wall next to the stove. 

“Right over there, like always,” he grumped.

Hustling over, Lou ran her finger down the schedule, looking for Kid’s name and hers.  Dang!  It would be a couple weeks before they were back at the station together.  He was on a special run to Fort Laramie and wouldn’t be back until after she left on her next run.  Well, that would give her time to think, figure out what to say and gather her courage to approach him.

One way or another, she was determined to reach out and just prayed he accepted the love she had to offer.

Tell  Him, Celine Dion/Barbra Streisand

I'm scared
So afraid to show I care
Will he think me weak
If I tremble when I speak
Oooh - what if
There's another one he's thinking of
Maybe he's in love
I'd feel like a fool
Life can be so cruel
I don't know what to do

I've been there
With my heart out in my hand
But what you must understand
You can't let the chance
To love him pass you by

Tell him
Tell him that the sun and moon
Rise in his eyes
Reach out to him
And whisper
Tender words so soft and sweet

I'll hold him close to feel his heart beat
Love will be the gift you give yourself
Touch him (ooohh)
With the gentleness you feel inside(I feel it)
Your love can't be denied
The truth will set you free
You'll have what's meant to be
All in time you'll see

I love him(then show him)
Of that much I can be sure(hold him close to you)
I don't think I could endure
If I let him walk away
When I have so much to say

Love is light that surely glows
In the hearts of those who know
It's a steady flame that grows (oh ooh oh oh)
Feed the fire with all the passion you can show

Tonight love will assume its place
This memory time cannot erase

Your faith will lead love where it has to go

Tell him
Tell him that the sun and moon
Rise in his eyes
Reach out to him
And whisper
Whisper words so soft and sweet
Hold him close to feel his heart beat
Love will be the gift you give yourself

Sweet Tea (#4)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Bowl of Grits

Author's Note:  This story was written for the True Grit challenge at The Writers Ranch, word: Grit.  It falls in the middle of my book, Fighting For Love.

Virginia, 1864

“You’s lucky taday, Lieutentant,” Isaac, the older black slave who acted as the unit’s cook smiled at Lou and Kid as they shuffled through the chow line.  He proudly held up a dipperfull of their breakfast as his broad smile gleamed like a slash of white in the early morning dark.  "We’s got *grits* fer breakfast!”

With the excited pronouncement he slopped a heaping serving into Kid’s outthrust bowl, a slightly smaller one into Lou’s.

“There’s even butter ta go with ‘em!”

“Bully!” Kid exclaimed, already lifting the first spoonful to his mouth in almost worshipful adoration.  Lou trudged along after him, hardly daring to look down at the white goop that now inhabited her bowl.

Slumping down into her seat by the morning fire, she stared into her dish, unenthused by the meal of ground up corn, boiled with salt and butter.

Since following Kid to Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War, she’d eaten a lot of foods she’d rather not have, flavorless biscuits and gravy, greasy chitlins, slimy collard greens… but the worst of the lot was *grits*.

In her opinion the name said it all.  *Grits*.  The texture of the ground corn swirling around in her mouth was almost identical to the feel of all the trail dust she’d eaten during their Express years.  But at least then it hadn’t been voluntary and no one had even pretended she should enjoy the experience.

“Might as well call it dirt fer breakfast,” she muttered to herself as she tentatively dipped the tip of her spoon into the bowl, swirling it around in the grayish white mush.  She’d skip the meal completely, but it was better than boiled hardtack, which was what they’d had for breakfast yesterday.  And far and away better than nothing, which is what they’d have tomorrow unless the foragers got lucky again.

Finally, with an internal groan and a nearly visible shudder, she slowly… oh so slowly… lifted a spoonful of the porridge to her mouth… and poured it down her throat as quickly as she could, doing her best not to taste the cereal or even feel it.

“Ugh, *grits*,” she sighed.

“Yum!  *Grits*,” Kid enthused, standing up.  “I’m gonna go see if there’s enough fer seconds!”

Author's Note:  As always a big thanks to the ladies at The Writers Ranch for their wonderful graphic.  I could never have done it!  =)