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 Stags and Hens Chapter sixteen

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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Stags and Hens Chapter sixteen   Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:11 am

Stags and Hens



Amy smiled up at Miranda.  “Are you sure I’m not imposing?  It seems a lot to ask, to take on a cripple you hardly know.”

Twinkling blue eyes fastened on the woman in the wheelchair.  “But you didn’t ask.  I offered.”

“Yes, but...”

“But nothing,” Miranda spoke softly but firmly.  “I like to think we’ve become friends and you need some help to get back to normal.  Goodness, I could never live with myself if you went back home and fell over!  So, no more protests.  You can’t be alone and you have only one room.  I have two, so we need to be practical and keep you here.”

Amy shrugged.  “I know it’s practical and the Gibson’s needed their home back, but it’s been four weeks and I can move around much more easily, especially with the wheelchair.  I’m sure I could go home now.”

“It’s certainly given me a good opportunity to repay David and Tricia’s kindness.  They have done so much to help me settle in Brookswood, and I want to do the same for you.”  Miranda allowed a flicker of a frown to flutter over her smooth brow.  “Aren’t you happy staying with me?”

Amy was quick to reassure her hostess.  “Oh, I would never want you to think that.  You have been so kind and I love our chats, not to mention the company,” she stretched over the table and laid a hand on Miranda’s.  “I just don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

“Amy, it’s been six weeks since your accident and you’re mostly healed, but David is very concerned about your ankle.  He has said he considered amputation because it was so badly broken, so we really need to do everything we can to give you the best possible chance of a full recovery.  It makes no sense not to give it more time when there is so much at stake.  You can’t bear weight yet.  What if you fall over on your own and break something else?”
 
“If you’re sure,” Amy nodded.  “I thought I could manage at home with the wheelchair.  It’s only a little room, and I could wheel myself through to the kitchen.”

Miranda arched her brows.  “You’ll do no such thing!  You’ll stay where you have help.”  She paused.  “Is it because Hannibal comes here?”

“No, of course it’s not.  I like him – a lot, but, well,” Amy sat back in her chair.  “Relationships haven’t always brought me happiness; so now, when I get into areas which are uncomfortable I back off quickly – before I get in too deep.”

“Too deep?”  Miranda waited for Amy to respond, but she simply stared off into the corner of the room.  

“I’d only chatted to Hannibal a few times, I wasn’t committed.  I’d made a resolution that I’d never be in a relationship with anyone again if there was any risk of getting hurt.  I don’t mind seeing him; I just don’t want the attention he seems to bring with him.”

“If he brought this down on your head, and it’s by no means certain that he did, he’d be sick to his stomach, Amy.”

“I know,” a pair of serious blue eyes glistened at her hostess.  “and I don’t want to hurt him.  I do hope that he understands that this is about me and my history.  It’s about being selfish for the first time in my life and doing whatever I need to do to heal some very deep wounds.”

Miranda tapped the table top idly.  “You’re not talking about a broken heart, are you Amy?”

Amy sighed.   “Sometimes, it’s better to be alone.  I’ve learned to love my future more than my past.  It’s not a good place to stay.  When I see shadows of that I back off quickly.”

Miranda stood and placed a comforting hand on her new friend’s shoulder.  “Did he hit you, Amy?

“I loved him with all my heart, Randa, but I don’t miss him.”  Amy’s voice cracked with emotion.  “I grew not to like him.  Is that terrible?”

“No, it’s honest.”  Miranda walked over to the range and put the tea kettle on to boil.  “You feel how you feel.  You have a bouncy personality, and that retreats very quickly when you’re threatened, but it’s coming back.  You’re quite right to want life on your own terms.  I know very well that being single doesn’t always mean you’re available.”

“You’re waiting for the right one.  Not just anyone,” Amy whispered.  “You are quite right, you know.  You deserve a good man, Randa.”

“Thank you.  And you, Amy?  What do you want?”

The blonde woman shook her head.  “I’m looking for peace.  You had a happy marriage, so you are keen to have more of that and you also know what that looks like.  Me?”  Amy shrugged.  “My judgement was clearly off, and for all I know it always will be.”

Miranda poured the boiling water into the teapot.  “Give it time.  There are wonderful people out there, of both sexes.”

“I know, and I’ve been lucky enough to fall amongst them,” Amy sighed.  “But how can I repay all of this?”

“Repay?”  Miranda gave Amy a quizzical look.  “You step in and help neighbours and friends when they need it.  It’s how small towns work, but I guess coming from Chicago means this is all new to you?”

“Yes,” Amy smiled and set the cups on the saucers as Miranda brought the teapot over to the table.  “Friends?  Who’d have thought it?  Harold didn’t like me having friends, but look at me now!”

“I think Harold may have felt inadequate around you, Amy.  Rather than be proud of your fun, he tried to squash it because he couldn’t keep up.  Nobody’s doing that anymore,” Miranda held out a cup of tea.  “Now, drink your tea.  Maybe we can get you some things from the shop so you can start making some hats again?  You will need some stock when you have the grand re-opening.”

“I don’t know about that,” Amy murmured, doubtfully.

“We both know you have to stay in Brookswood because of the mortgage on the shop.  You’ve nobody to sell to, and the payments need to be made.  Mr. Calhoune at the bank is trying to be understanding, but we do need to think about getting the business up and running again.”

“I suppose...”

“And David wants you to start using those fingers again.  Surely you’d rather make hats than weave baskets and play with clay?”

Amy looked around the room.  “I’d mess up your kitchen.”

“So?  A used kitchen makes a house a home.”  Miranda smiled beguilingly.  ”Why don’t I get some of your things and you can make a start?”

Amy opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by a rap at the door.

“Who can that be?” Miranda rose to her feet.

“It’s Hannibal,” Amy replied, cautiously.  “I think I’m getting to know his knock.”  

      
 Amy sipped at her tea, listening to the hissed whispers in the hallway.  There was clearly some urgent exchange going on, but the doorknob eventually turned and Miranda led Heyes into the kitchen.

“You were right, Amy.”  Miranda’s smile was shared amongst her guests.  “It was Hannibal, and I managed to persuade him to enjoy some tea with us.”

“Amy?”  Heyes nodded in her direction.  “It’s good to see you looking so well again.”

“Thank you.  I’ll get a cup.”  Amy started to wheel herself across the room, but was cut off by Heyes who frowned in concern.

“No!  I’ll do it.”

Miranda laid a restraining hand on his arm.  “No,” she murmured firmly.  “She can do it herself, and you must let her.”

“She’s right, Hannibal.”  Amy stretched up at the dresser and clutched at a cup with straining fingers.  “I need to start bridging that world between invalid and independent woman, and Miranda has been a wonderful support.  She pushes me in all the right areas and also stops me running before I can walk.”  Amy’s smile twitched into her old, familiar cheeky grin.  “Quite literally, in fact.”

Heyes stepped back to avoid the turning wheelchair.  “Glad to hear it.”

Miranda placed the cup on the saucer and poured out the tea.  “I’m very strict,”

“She’s very kind,” Amy corrected.

“Hannibal came to ask you something.”  Miranda handed the cup over to Heyes and waved him to a seat.

“You did?”

Heyes paused, trying not to make it look like he was squirming at being put on the spot.  He’d actually come here to ask Miranda to pose the question on his behalf.  “Kinda...”

“Good!”  Miranda turned on her heel and headed for the hooks by the door.  “I have to fetch a few things I’ll see you two later.”

Heyes leaped to his feet.  “I’ll come with you.”

The bonnet was still dangling by the ribbons laced through her long fingers as she held up a hand to stop him.  “No.  You two need to talk, and Amy needs to explain something to you.”  She threw the shawl over her graceful shoulders.  “And I want you to have done with all this nonsense by the time I get back.”

“Randa, I...”

“Sit down, Hannibal, and talk to Amy.  Don’t make me tell you again.”

The door clattered shut behind her, leaving two sets of floundering eyes averting their gaze awkwardly from one another.  The air seemed thick with unspoken inhibitions as both of them lifted their cups simultaneously and stared into the tan-coloured contents as though they concealed all the secrets of the universe.  They listened to the sonorous ticking of the clock; resonant and profound, cutting through the silence, apparently marking time passing and standing still simultaneously.

“Oh this is stupid.”  Heyes put his cup down with a clatter.  “We used to be friends.  Amy, Beth and Belle wondered if their hats were wearable.  They thought you’d almost finished them before the accident and the wedding is coming up fast.  They’ll pay you for them.”

“Oh, yes, I’d forgotten all about the wedding!  How selfish of me,” Amy shook her blonde head ruefully.  “They’re all but finished.  I just have to add the bonnet strings.  I can do that if somebody brings me what I need.”

“Are you up for it?  I mean are you really well enough to finish them?”

Amy nodded.  “Certainly.  In fact, Randa was just nagging me to start working on my hats in her kitchen.  I thought it was time I went home.”

Heyes’ eyebrows rose, watching the woman in the wheelchair closely.  “Home?  On your own?  Are you mad?”

“It would appear so,” Amy smiled ruefully.  “I thought I could manage, but nobody else shares my opinion.”

“You’re in a wheelchair, Amy.  There are so many things you can’t do.”

“Maybe, but some people live their whole lives in wheelchairs.  They manage.”

Heyes put his cup on the table and leaned forward, fixing her with deep, dark eyes.  “Amy.  You nearly died.  We were all worried sick.  Trying to get back to normal is a wonderful thing, but you can’t rush it.  David will be overseeing your activities from a distance, and trust me, he won’t let you wallow.  He’ll make Randa push you, but he’ll tell you off good and proper if you do something stupid.”  He sat back with a knowing frown, “and I should know.  I’ve had the rough edge of his tongue often enough.”


Amy nodded before she paused.  “Hannibal, I think I hurt you and I’m sorry.  Really I am.”
Heyes sighed.  “It’s fine.”

“No it’s not.  When I sent you away it was about me, not about you.  I don’t know what caused this whole thing, but the least suggestion that somebody wanted to get to you through hurting me hit hard.”  She dropped her head.  “Physical pain has other connotations for me.  I’ve been hurt in a way which stripped away my personality bit by bit.  I re-built myself, but this was a setback in that recovery.  When I sent you away it was because of who I am, not who you are.”  Amy blinked back tears.  “Can you ever forgive me for allowing that to hurt you?”
   
Heyes strode over to her.  “Oh, Amy, I was so worried about you.  Of course I forgive you!  I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we’re friends again.”  He embraced her warmly.  “I hope to God that this was nothing to do with me.  I’d never hurt you.”

“If I tell you that I want to be your friend, but we should take things slowly; at a pace I can deal with, could you do that?”

“Of course I could.”

“Right now I just want to have women around me.  Can we take this slowly?”  She gave him a wry smile.  “It’ll give you more time with Randa in any case.”

Heyes dropped a kiss on the top of her head.  “Women?  Yeah, there are some real fine women in this town, that’s for sure.”

“Miranda, huh?” Amy sighed.  “She probably got sick of us avoiding one another when you came to see her and decided it was time to knock our heads together.”

“Yeah,” Heyes grinned.  “She’s real subtle.”  His eyes darkened.  “What did he do to you, Amy?  How could anyone who claims to love a woman hurt her like that?”

Amy pursed her lips, her blue eyes becoming withdrawn and distant.  “People seem to think love is a soft thing but it can be fierce and primitive.  Love can strip things away – possessing and consuming as it goes.  Why do we forget that everything bright also has a dark side?  Love shapes us all, but it’s not always a force for good.”

Heyes stared at her, considering her words and realising that she was right.  The dark side of love had certainly shaped his life; men worried about their family wealth had destroyed his folks, the deep love of a father had led to a vendetta against everyone close to him, and family loyalty had almost killed him in prison.

This simple hat maker had managed to encapsulate his life in a few words.  “I guess we just have to make the choice to turn away from that, huh?”

Amy nodded.  “Yes, and sometimes we need to have friends understand the work we have to do to get there.  That’s all I ask.”

They sat together in silence for the longest time, but this time is was a pensive hush.  Eventually Heyes stood.  “Amy, I knew there was more to you than the dizzy blonde, when I met you.  You can have all the time you need.  Now, I’m going to put that teakettle on.  Our tea has gone cold.” 
  
“It has.  Let’s have some more.”

Heyes filled the kettle and put it on the range.  “Amy, do you mind if I ask you something?  Is your husband really dead?

The slim eyebrows rose in surprise.  “I certainly hope so.  We buried him.”

The room filled with clumsy, emotional laughter.

“I’m sorry to ask.  I just wondered if he might still be out there somewhere?  If he could have been behind what happened to you?”
 
Amy shook her head firmly.  “He’s dead, a victim of a bout of influenza which swept through our neighbourhood in 1879.  I got it too, but he was always a martyr to his chest.  I recovered.”
 
Heyes leaned against the range and crossed his legs at the ankle.  “No, Amy, you started to recover.  I guess I can relate to that because I’ve just started down the same road.  Maybe we can agree to meet at the other end, huh?”        



“C'mon Kid! Let's go! They're waiting for us!”


“Yeah, I know—I'm comin'!”

But he wasn't coming too quickly, because right at that moment Jed had his arms full of his fiance and was giving her a number of kisses upon her face and neck. Beth was giggling and enjoying every moment of it and though she knew her man really did need to get going, she was finding it difficult to let go of him.


“Okay darlin', I best get going.”


“Yes, I know.”


Jed leaned over and kissed her again and she held onto him and gave no indication of pushing him towards the front door.


“KID!” Heyes' strident voice came through the open front door from the yard where he was impatiently sitting his horse. Even Karma was tossing her head in irritation at the delay. It was such a fine spring evening and everyone was ready to go—what was the delay? “C'mon! It'll be dark before we get to town at this rate!”


“Yeah, I'm coming!” Jed shouted back. “Just hold your horses will ya'?!”


“Well that's the problem! I am holding them and they want to get going too!!”


“Best get going Jed,” Jesse commented from behind his paperwork. “or Hannibal just might ride into town on his own and they'll have your stag without you.”


“Do you really think he might?” Jed asked with mock hopefulness.


Beth laughed and gave him a gentle pat on the chest. “Oh go on you!” she teased him. “You know you want to go and you know you'll have a good time....” She waved a cautionary finger at him. “...just don't have too good a time.”


“Yes, darlin'.” Jed smiled and leaned in for another kiss.


“Oh Thaddeus! Are you still here!?” Belle commented as she entered the living area with the tea pot and three cups. “Off you go or Joshua will head into town without you.”


“Yes, ma'am.” Jed agreed. “I'm off.”


“Good!” Jesse commented, slightly exasperated. “Go! We'll see you tomorrow.”


“Have fun.” Beth smiled at him as he gave her one more quick peck on the cheek.


“See you tomorrow.”


“It's about time!” Heyes groused as he tried to hold the two antsy horses in place. “Everyone will already be drunk before we get there at this rate.”


“Yeah, yeah Heyes. I'm coming.”


Kid reached up and took Gov's reins from Heyes' control and quickly mounted up. The two friends locked eyes and Heyes grinned.


“Well, partner,” he teased. “this is it—sure ya' don't wanna just keep on riding?”


“Yeah, I'm sure Heyes.” Kid touched his heels to Gov's side and the young horse eagerly stepped into a canter. “Let's go party!”


“Ha ha!” Heyes took off his hat and slapped it across Karma's rump. The mare gave a little buck and jumped into a gallop, catching up with Gov who then instantly joined up with her and both horses found their rhythm and headed towards town at a run.



Beth stood out on the front porch watching her betrothed gallop away with his friend. She cradled her tea cup as she leaned against the post, a wistful smile upon her face. Belle came out to join her, putting an arm around her waist and pulling her daughter into a hug.



“What are you thinking, sweetheart?” Belle asked her.



“Oh, just how much I love him,” she answered, her eyes sparkling. “And how much fun our wedding day is going to be. It's so close now. After waiting all this time, finally it's just around the corner.”



“Are you nervous?” the mother asked.



Beth thought about that for a moment. “No,” she finally answered. “Excited—but not nervous.”



“Good. It'll be a fine day.”



“Yes,” Beth agreed matter-of-factly. “It is a shame that Abi and Becky can't be here though—I had hoped....”



“Yes, I know.” Belle sighed, feeling some regret on that matter herself. “Sometimes things just don't always work out the way we think they should.”



“I almost feel guilty,” Beth admitted. “Here Jed and I are coming up to one of the happiest days of our lives and poor, dear Joshua must be heartbroken. It's really not fair.”



“No, it's not,” Belle agreed. “But at least it was the choice they both made. And it was the right choice—the responsible choice.” She smiled and hugged her daughter close again. “I think it says a lot for Joshua; it shows how much he has matured and that he is no longer just thinking about himself. That he loves another person so much that he is willing to lose her from his life in order to keep her safe. Sometimes that is what being a parent is all about.”



“Yes, I suppose,” Beth agreed with a heavy sigh. “But that's what makes it so sad. He and Abi love each other.”



“Yes,” Belle agreed. “But they both love their daughter more.” Then she smiled and gave Beth an affectionate rub. “And it won't be forever. Abi has promised to tell Becky about her father when she's older. Joshua may come to know her yet. In the mean time, young lady; we have some last minute things to prepare for your big day! Your sister and Clementine are already in the kitchen getting started, so come along!”

“Yes mama, I'm coming!”



“Mr. Calhoune?”  Miranda fixed the bank manager with questioning eyes.

“Mrs. Thornton.  Is Mrs. Oliphant at home for visitors?  I have been told she is staying with you.”

“She’s staying here while she recuperates.  Can I help you?”

Calhoune shook his grey head.  “No, I’m afraid this is a delicate matter.”

One dark eyebrow arched suspiciously.  “Delicate?  That usually means you want money, considering you are a bank manager.”

“I really cannot discuss this with a third party.”

Miranda stood her ground, folding her arms obstinately.  “Amy only had her accident six weeks ago, she couldn’t have missed more than one payment.”

“Two, actually.”

“I thought you said you couldn’t discuss it.”

The grey mutton chops positively bristled at the woman who had the impudence to defy a man as important as Gilbert Nickerson Calhoune.  Didn’t she know who he was?  “I can’t, I was merely clarifying.”

“Amy cannot be bothered with such matters at the moment.  She has been very badly injured.  I’m sure she will make payments as soon as she is able.”  Miranda made to close the door but found a shiny shoe in the way.

“I’d rather discuss that with her.”

“I’m sure you would, but she is somewhat indisposed on account of almost being crushed to death.  I'm sure you’ll be able to relate to that if you don’t move your foot very quickly.”

“The bank requires prompt payment.”

“And Mrs. Oliphant needs enough time to recover before she can start earning money in the shop.  If you put pressure on her it won’t help.  She almost died.  She doesn’t need to have any extra worry.”
 
“Mrs. Thornton, you don’t want her to lose her shop do you?  She lives at the back.  She would lose her home, everything she has.”

“Mr. Calhoune, we all know that she has a business which will bring customers flocking from far and wide.  Your bank will get payments very soon.  She just needs some time.”

“The next payment is due on the twentieth of the month, so she has a few weeks to catch up.  I do need to warn her that the bank will foreclose if she misses four installments.  It’s only fair to her to give her plenty of warning…”

Calhoune found himself the target of a particularly harsh stare.

  “I see.  I must inform you that it’s only fair to warn you that I am about to slam this door,” Miranda stared down at his foot, “and anythingin its path will be caught in a painful clinch.  Good afternoon, Mr. Calhoune!”

The heavy door was pulled back before being rapidly swung with both hands.  Miranda just had time to see the rotund bank manager dance back from the doorstep with a surprising daintiness before it slammed firmly shut.

“Who was that?” called a female voice from the kitchen.

Miranda popped her head around the door, looking at Amy sitting amongst a sea of ribbons, feathers and flowers.  “Nobody important.  I ordered a book, and they sent a boy to tell me it’s in.”

Amy held a hat out at arm’s length to judge the balance of the roses decorating the brim.  “Why didn’t they just send it with him?”

“That’s what I said.  I’m just going to collect it.  Will you be alright on your own for a while?”

Amy nodded.  “Of course.  What do you think I’m going to do?  Run with scissors?”

“I might pop in to see Tricia too.”

Amy waved Miranda off with her hand.  “I’ll be fine.  I’m keeping busy.  This was a really good suggestion.  I’m enjoying myself”

“Great,” Miranda smiled, warmly.  “I’ll see you in a bit.”

Miranda pulled on a shawl and grabbed her bag.  Surely as a respected professional David would know somebody who had influence in this matter?  The bank would get its money.  All Amy needed was a little time.


Heyes and the Kid rode into town all full of smiles and high spirits. They headed over to the livery first in order to put their horses up for the night, intending to sleep off the party at David's place rather than attempt to ride home in the dark. Both Karma and Gov thought this was rather odd, since a lope into town was hardly a taxing ride, but once they saw the nice rich hay that was being thrown out into the paddock for them, well this new arrangement suited them right down to their hooves. Neither one of them took note of their humans heading out the door and down the street.


The boys made a direct bee line over to the saloon, and pushing through the bat wing doors, Heyes approached the bar and waved Bill over.


“Everything in order?” Heyes asked him.


“Sure is,” Bill assured him. “Most of your friends are already there—what kept you?”


“Young love!” Heyes teased while Jed rolled his eyes. “Yessir, my old friend here just couldn't seem to tear himself away from his intended, even though he'll be seeing her again tomorrow and getting married to her the next day; he just couldn't leave her side!”


Bill snorted. “Just wait until you've been married a few years...” he commented, but with a laugh in his voice. “Bunch a' kids runnin' around screaming, the wife complaining that you haven't fixed the pump in the kitchen yet.....you'll be itching to get away and come down to the saloon for a drink or two! How do ya' think I stay in business?”


“Yeah, alright. You fellas go ahead and have your fun,” Jed joked back. “But I ain't gonna be one of those husbands who needs to be nagged at in order to get somethin' done. The pump in the kitchen will get fixed before it ever breaks down.”


Heyes and Bill exchanged smiles and Heyes gave his friend a slap on the back.


“That's right there, Thaddeus!” he teased. “You are going to be the perfect husband!”


“Yeah!” Jed agreed wholeheartedly as Heyes led him over towards their reserved back room. “She'll have no reason to complain!”


“You bet! Beth is real fortunate to have such a fine, considerate fella for a husband.”


“Yeah!”



The empty tray was deposited on the dining table with a clatter.  Gilbert Calhoune looked up at his wife in surprise.  The table was usually set by now – Eleanor took great pride on laying a lovely dinner table, replete with shimmering crystal glasses and white china plates, even since their son had gone East to university and there was just the two of them.  Appearances mattered to her. 

“Is dinner going to be late?”  He sniffed the air.  Where was Mabel?  The maid normally had the evening meal prepared by now, but all he could smell were the mothballs from Eleanor’s fur stole.  She was clearly going out.  Why?  It was dinner time.

Eleanor shrugged.  “Late?  That depends.  What time did you book at the restaurant?”

“Ellie?  What’s going on?”

His wife glowered at him, all lemon-lipped and jutting-chinned.  “I’m going to mother’s, and I’m taking Mabel with me.”


“So suddenly?  Is she ill?”

“No.”

“Ellie, why are you being so curt with me?”

“Mother and I need Mabel’s help.”  She sniffed.  “Besides, I can’t guarantee the quality of Mabel’s food if she cooks for you right now.  She’s pretty mad at you too.”

“Why?  What have I done?”

“Done!?  You go to that poor woman looking for money at a time like this, and you ask what you’ve done?”

Calhoune frowned, his great bushy eyebrows meeting like kissing caterpillars.  “What woman?”

“The one from the hat shop!  Honestly, the first time we ladies get some of the sophistication we’ve dreamed of and all you can think of is a few grubby dollars.  There wasn’t any of that when saloons or bawdy houses needed financing?  Was there?”  She flounced over to the door.  “Oh, no!  The owners of those could even get shot in a drunken brawl and miss payments for months – and did you go hunting them down in their sickbeds?  No!  You did not!”

“Ellie, what are you talking about?”

“You know what I’m talking about, Gilbert!  That poor Mrs. Oliphant has only just started to get around in a wheelchair.  You know that shop was a sensation amongst womenfolk throughout this whole county, but you haven’t given that poor, innocent woman half the consideration you gave that unctuous, one-eyed, back-stabbing, racoon dropping of a flesh-pedlar, Bubba Jaxson!”  Eleanor drew herself up to her full five feet and sniffed.  “This was your chance to show some gratitude for the support the women have given to their men folk by coming all the way out here, leaving behind all the little fripperies and sophistications our sisters in the cities take for granted – and what did you do?  You circled like a vulture.   I’m embarrassed, Gilbert!  Mortified.   How can I hold my head up in this town now everyone knows what you’ve done?”

“So I’m not getting any dinner?”

Eleanor leaned across the table, eyeing her husband meaningfully.  “You’re not getting ANYTHING, Gilbert.  Am I clear?”

“So you’re leaving me for that?”

“The whole town has been up in arms about what happened to that poor woman, and I happen to know that a local businessman has been very interested in that shop since he saw what a very promising proposition it was.”  Eleanor stabbed the tabletop with her forefinger.  “You’re helping him snatch it out from under her nose, aren’t you?”

“Nonsense.”

“No?  I hear things, Gilbert.  I heard you talking with Andy Brock in your study.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that I know nothing because I don’t open my mouth.  You plan to foreclose on that poor woman as quickly as you can so he can buy it out from under her - and when she’s ruined he’ll employ her to run her own shop!  Well, I am not standing for it.  Do you hear me?”

“So, you’re going home to mother?”

Eleanor gave her husband a knowing smile.  “Oh, no, Gilbert, you don't get off that lightly.  I’m staying with mother for a week,” she walked over to the door and turned to deliver her parting shot.  “Then she’s coming here to stay until you see sense, but you'll do your own cooking.  Mother will be paying Mabel's wages to keep us cared for.  I suggest you find a restaurant staffed by men for your dinner.  I wouldn’t rate your chances of escaping a few ‘marinades’ at the moment because your name is ‘Mudd’ in Brookswood right now.”
 
Gilbert blinked in confusion.  “But who told everyone?”

“Miranda Thornton, Tricia Gibson, Jessica Benson from the General store, and God only knows where it went after that.  You idiot!  How are we supposed to attract a better class of person to this town when you favour chisellers and deadbeats over hardworking, honest people.  Half the women in town were talking about this by the time Tricia Gibson got here.  Do you think I want to be seen siding with you?  I need to be able to hold my head up in this town.  Is it a crime to want to be able to do that and have it decked out in something lovely?”

Gilbert stared at the closed door, the sound of it slamming behind her still resonating in his ears.  Damn, he was hungry! 


Heyes and the Kid entered into the back room and a cheer went up that actually drowned out the tinny music coming from the piano situated in the middle of the saloon floor. A few of the patrons glanced up and looked towards the back room then smiled knowingly and went back to their own socializing.


Inside the back room, Jed suddenly found himself the center of attention as a couple of strong arms grabbed him and pulled him over to the table. He was handed a tall mug of frothy beer and everybody it seemed was slapping him on the back.

“Hey! Here he is!”


“Finally! The husband to be!”


“What took ya' so long? We were getting worried!”


“Yeah. Thought you might have had a change of heart and were making a break for Wyoming!”


Jed simply smiled and accepted the beer, along with the good natured teasing and cajoling.


“Hey Steven,” he greeted his soon to be brother-in-law. “I guess I'm not surprised you're here, since Bridget is out at the ranch.”


“I wouldn't miss this for the world,” Steven grinned. “The women are ganging up on us—it's time to even up the numbers!”


“Ah huh. Hey David!” Then another familiar face caught his attention and he grinned. “Lom! You made it!”


“Yeah, Kid, I did.” Lom came forward and shook the Kid's hand. “You came to my wedding so the least I could do was show up for yours. I'm real glad to be here too.”


“Aw, Lom that's great.” Jed was genuinely pleased. “It's good to see ya'. Is Martha here?”


“Oh yeah.” Lom nodded over a mouthful of beer. “She's over at the hotel getting acquainted with all the other ladies of the group. They're all gonna be best friends by the time this wedding is over with.”


“Oh?” Kid asked. “Who else has arrived already?” He scanned over the group and then his face lit up with pleasure again. “Kenny!” Another reach over to shake hands. “Your family here with you too?”


“Oh yes!” Kenny grinned and nodded. “The whole gang came along. Joe and Charlie will probably be joining us for a bit but they wanted to check out the town before it got dark. And Evelyn wasn't going to miss your wedding for the world!”


“Oh dear.” Jed looked a little worried. “She's not upset is she?”


“No no,” Kenny assured him. “She's determined to take the high road and accept defeat like a real lady.”


“Ho ho!” Jed laughed. “This ought to be interesting!”


“Hi Kenny.” Heyes squeezed his way over to shake the warden's hand. “Good to see you.”


“Heyes.” Kenny smiled at him. “Good to see you stayed outa trouble after the incident in Joplin.”


Heyes rolled his eyes. “Nothing like a close call to help one to appreciate the finer things.”


“Good to hear it!”


All heads turned as the door opened and one more guest put in an appearance.


“Hey Harry!” Jed greeted their friend. “Ya' made it!”


“Howdy boys! Of course I made it!” Harry blustered. “Didn't think I'd miss an auspicious occasion like this did ya'?”


“Course not Harry!” Heyes gave him a slap on the back. “Here, have a beer.”


“Don't mind if I do.”


The door opened again and Bill strategically made his way into the room carrying a large round tray laden with thick meat sandwiches. Everybody made room for him as he made his way over to the table and settled the large offering down for their enjoyment. Then three lovely saloon gals, each carrying a large pitcher of beer and a big smile apiece followed the bartender over to the table and began to fill the empty glasses.


“Howdy boys!” the brunette greeted the assembly “How ya' all doin' tonight?”


“Fine!”


“Hear there's a private party goin' on in here!” the red head announced. “Everybody ready for a good time?”


“You betcha!”


“This is getting better and better!”


“Oh, you fellas are going to get me into trouble!”


Then much to Kenny's dismay, two more young men showed up at the door with faces grinning and eyes bright with mischief as they took in the appearance of those three lovely ladies. Joe and Charlie had arrived.


“I thought you two fellas were going to take in the sights of the town,” Kenny reminded his offspring as they sidled up to the table to accept beers from a pair of dazzling blue eyes.


“I think we've seen all there is to see out there Pa,” Charlie informed the parental unit. “Besides, it is starting to get dark.”


“Yeah, and I kinda like the view in here better anyways,” Joe added on his two bits worth.


Kenny smiled and rolled his eyes. “Just try not to do something you'd be ashamed to tell your mother.”


“Oh no! Of course not!


“Wouldn't dream of it!”


“Give them a break Kenny,” Heyes gave a mumbled aside. “How often do they get invited to a stag party?”


Kenny raised a eyebrow. “At their age? Once is too often.” He sighed wistfully, knowing it was a loosing battle. “Sarah will never let me live this down if we have two boys with hangovers tomorrow morning.”


“Ah! Builds character.”


“Like running down a back alley, in the dead of winter, shooting your gun off at anything that moves?”


Heyes scowled as he caught Jed laughing at him with his eyes. “I'm never going to live that down am I?”


“Nope,” the warden informed him. Then he laughed and gave the ex-con a slap on the back. “C'mon Heyes, have another beer! Lighten up—it's a party!”


“Oh fine!” Heyes grumbled. “Now I'm the stick in the mud.”


The little redhead heard the snarking and was quick to intervene; she snuggled into the handsome man and presented him with another beer, just as Kenny had suggested.


“Hi there, Mr. Heyes,” she cooed at him. “My but you are a good looking man.”


Heyes grinned till his dimples took over his face. “Good evening to you Clara.”


Clara showed mock surprise. “My goodness! You actually know my name! Here I thought that you never took notice.”


“Hard not to notice a pretty little lady like you.”


“Well, now I hear that you're single again, handsome.” Clara beamed. “Maybe you and I can get together some time.”


Kenny snorted and quickly gathered up his two boys who were hang-dogging over this little snippet of foreplay and ushered them over to the other side of the room—just in time to be accosted by Matilda, the brunette.
Heyes grinned even deeper at the sight of Kenny trying to corral his sons and then turned his attention back to his feminine companion.

Jed in the meantime had his hands full of Susie and she was tossing her blond hair around and loving every minute of it.


“It's a real shame Jed, you gettin' hitched.” She sulked as she rubbed against his thigh. “I was kinda hoping that with the wedding gettin' put off like that maybe you was having second thoughts.”


“Nope,” Kid informed her, though he didn't push her away either. Feeling her ample form pressing against him was real pleasing. “So don't you go gettin' any ideas now—I'm gonna be a happily married man real soon.”


Susie wasn't about to give up yet. She prided herself on being able to get any man into bed, married or not. That was her job after all.


“Well, now most of the men I service are married,” she reminded the blond curls. “A little old wedding band don't mean nothin' to me. Besides; you ain't married yet.”


Then to press her point she moved in even closer and her right hand went south until Jed caught his breath and nearly dropped his beer. He showed real strength of character though and gently moved away from her.


“Oh now Susie, don't you be doing that,” he playfully chided her. “I intend to behave.”


“Aww” Susie pouted. “Just a kiss then.”


“Well, just a kiss....”


Heyes grinned as he watched his partner struggling with nature and then turned his attention back to the lovely Clara. Maybe he could just pretend that she was Abi....


The evening progressed along, the noise level getting higher as the beer pitchers got lower and more and more people from the town dropped by to join in on the fun. Sam came for a quick beer and a sandwich and then Joe the deputy also put in an unofficial visit to give his congratulations to the groom to be. Even Carl Jacobs dropped by and got into quite the conversation with Kenny and Lom concerning the affairs over in Cheyenne and how statehood was going to change the mode of law enforcement. Harry did his best to keep up with this topic but ended up putting his foot in his mouth so many times he decided to go put a sandwich in it instead.

More saloon gals showed up and before ya' know it, an impromptu song and dance got going, and the piano playing took on a whole new rhythm. The fine young ladies were hooting and hollerin', hoisting up their skirts and kicking up their legs and the party was in full swing. They even bent over and gave their backsides a brief glimpse of daylight, much to the excitement and pleasure of the younger men who were present! Everybody was having a good time and everybody—including Kenny—got at least a little bit drunk.


Late evening rolled around and the party was getting into high gear when two more quests arrived and Heyes and the Kid were quick to give boisterous greetings.


“Hey fellas!” Heyes greeted them, giving them both a slap on the back. “Ya' made it!”


“Yeah, a' course Heyes. We weren't goin' ta' miss this.”


Kid came staggering over, the half full beer glass spilling even more of its contents. “Ahh! Wheat! Kyle!” And he ended up giving Kyle a beer sodden hug. “Ya' came!”


“Yeah Kid,” Wheat repeated, thinking how relieved he was that Kyle was the recipient of the physical part of that greeting.

“Hey Kid!” Kyle smiled but pushed the larger man off of him. “Ya' havin' a good time?”


“Sure am!” Kid burped. “C'mon--'av a beer!”


“Don't mind if I do,” Wheat accepted the offer while Kyle simply smiled and nodded, keeping his eye on his ex-boss just in case another hug was forthcoming.


“Howdy there boys.” Lom had made his way over to the gathering, just to let his presence be known.


“Oh ah—howdy there Lom,” Wheat returned the greeting, albeit a little nervously. “Ahh, now we delivered them parcels like ya' asked us to so....it's alright us bein' here, ain't it?”


“I suppose,” Lom admitted. “Just keep in mind that the amnesty isn't common knowledge yet. Probably for the best that the local law has already left the party.”


“Hi'ya Lom,” Kyle grinned over at him. “How's yer wife doin''?”


“Good Kyle.” Lom nodded. “She told me to tell ya' to make sure ya' keep up with your practising.”


“Yeah, sure. I got my reader right out there in my saddle bags,” Kyle boasted. “Don't go nowhere's without it.”


“That's good Kyle.” Lom nodded. “I'll be sure to tell her. Stay outa trouble boys.”


Lom made his way back over to his previous conversation, snatching up another beer as he went. Heyes grinned and slapped Wheat on the shoulder again.


“Aw, c'mon! Don't pay him no mind,” Heyes suggested. “We had to put up with that for five years, remember?”


“Yeah, well I hope it ain't gonna be no five years for me,” Wheat grumbled. “I still say this ain't no kinda deal at all when we can't tell nobody. What good's that?”


“Naw, it'll be fine!” Heyes assured him. “If you're gonna come work for us you gotta pretend to still be an outlaw—how else are ya' gonna get into all those places the law can't go?”


“I still don't like it,” Wheat grumbled.


Then Wheat's expression turned to one of pleasure as two of the gals slid their way over to the newcomers, bringing beers and bouncing bodices with them.


“Howdy boys!” the first one greeted them. “You look like you could do with some entertainment!”


“Yes ma'am!” Wheat agreed as he accepted the beer. Kyle just giggled.


Soon most of the closer acquaintances of the groom-to-be were gathered around the table where the beer and sandwiches were easily accessible. The drinking had slowed down at least for the time being and more sandwiches were being consumed. Talk was taking over from partying and everyone had a chance to catch their breath. A number of the fellas had ladies on their laps, or seated on chairs next to them and everybody was enjoying cracking jokes and reminiscing.


“You fellas remember that job we pulled down there by Ansleyville?” Wheat asked the group in general. “Where we only rode away with $10.00 apiece?”

Heyes groaned. “Nobody's ever going to let me forget that one.”


“$10.00 apiece?” David questioned. “Sounds to me like you made more money gambling, Han.”


“Well now, the Ansleyville job wasn't typical, ya' understand...”

“I donno Heyes...” the Kid sounded sceptical. “that Handford job didn't net much more.”


“Aww c'mon!” Heyes complained. “Ya' keep bringing up the same two jobs! Two bad jobs outa, how many we pulled? That's not bad.”


Wheat snorted. “There was others!” he reminded his ex-boss. “You just like to forget about 'em.”


“That's the thanks I get,” Heyes mumbled. “I get no respect.”


“I respect ya' honey,” purred the dark-haired beauty as she cuddled in closer to the dimpled one.


Heyes grinned and nuzzled in for some kisses.


“What was an average take on a job?” Steven asked, trying to ignore the passionate play going on across the table from him. “I mean, just out of curiosity.”

Heyes came up for air and he and the Kid exchanged looks, neither of them knowing how to answer that one.


“Well...when we were with Jim, a good haul would usually bring in a few thousand dollars,” Wheat calculated. “After that, well....”


“Yeah!” Heyes interjected. “After I took over—you tell 'em, Wheat!”


“I suppose $10,000.00 was an average haul.”


A few whistles went around the table along with some incredulous laughing.


“Jeez Lom!” Steven asked him, teasingly. “What in the world made you quite that life? Surely a sheriff doesn't even come close to making that amount.”


Lom sent an accusatory glance over to Wheat, kinda wishing this line of conversation had never gotten started. “Well now, you fellas have to remember, that money was split a number of ways. Not to mention having to have enough to get the gang through the winter months. When all was said and done, it really didn't amount to much.”


“Better than a sheriff's pay though,” Wheat commented as he took a swig of beer.


“Ya' know that's not the only reason I quit!” Lom was feeling defensive. “That kinda life just ain't no good for ya'! You fellas figured that out too—just took ya' a little longer.”


“Yeah,” Kyle spoke up. “Look what happened to them other boys. You and me, Wheat—we's lucky we got through that.”


Wheat nodded. “Yeah, true enough.”


“I'd like to raise a toast!” Heyes announced, hoisting up his glass of beer. “To the boys of the Devil's Hole! Fine bunch 'a fellas!”


“Ya!”


“Here! Here!”


“To the Devil's Hole!”


Numerous glasses met above the middle of the table and the ex-outlaws all drank to the toast. David and Steven felt a little left out and Harry just scowled, hoping that nobody from the Bannerman agency was spying on the party!

“Now I wanna make a toast too,” Wheat announced and he raised his glass. “To Red Man! He weren't much of an outlaw, but he saved my life!”


This time all the glasses met in the center, even though the officials there didn't know who Red Man was.


“I haven't thought about Red Man for ages,” Lom admitted. “I can't even remember his real name now.”


“Redmond,” Heyes informed his friend. “Ah...Quincy?”


“Quentin,” Wheat corrected him.


“Yeah, that's right!” Heyes grinned. “Quint Redmond. One man entertainment center. Anyone know what he's up to these days?”


“Yeah, he settled down by the Colorado River,” Wheat informed them all. “Got a family now—every single one of them kids got red hair and freckles, just like their old man!”


Everybody groaned and more laughter made its way around the group.


“That kid was all thumbs, I swear,” Jed remembered. “How did he save your life Wheat?”


“Oh well, after that episode with Morrison he's the one who done pulled me outa the river,” Wheat told them. “Took me back to their home and patched me up real good.”


“Hmm.” Heyes nodded. “At least he found a way to do something right. All red headed, huh?”


“Yup.”


“What made him such a bad outlaw?” Steven enquired.


Again snorts and laughter went around the table.


“Aww, it wasn't his fault.” Heyes tried to be kind. “He was just all thumbs is all.”


Lom laughed. “Are you referring to the time he smashed his thumb with the hammer and then dropped the hammer on his foot?”


“Or the time we stopped that train and he got his thumb caught in the freight car door?” Wheat contributed.


“I seem to recall him tying his thumb up to the hitching rail along with his horse,” Kid remembered with a smile. “To this day, I don't know how he managed that.”


“I think the worst one was when he got it caught up in the trigger of his six shooter,” Heyes commented. “Damn near shot his own foot off.”


“Sounds like a real klutz,” Harry commented seriously.


Everyone looked over at him and tried not to laugh.


“Good one there, Harry,” Jed chided him.


Harry shrugged. “Just an observation, Kid.”


Then everybody did laugh.


“What happened to him?” Charlie asked, finally speaking up. “Sounds like he'd be more of a liability than an asset.”


“Oh, he finally figured that out for himself,” Heyes explained. “He quit the gang and went into farming.” Heyes frowned then, shaking his head. “I sure hope he learned how to keep his thumbs outa the way—farming can be a dangerous line of work!” He paled noticeably. “Can you imagine him with an axe?”


Everybody groaned then, shaking their heads. Even those at the table who hadn't known him, could see how that would have been disastrous.

“He appeared to be intact when I was with them,” Wheat assured everyone. “Had a pretty prosperous farm goin' too, from what I could tell.”


“That's good to hear,” Kid responded. “Cause he sure wasn't gonna make it outlawin'!”


“That's for sure!”


“You've said what your smaller hauls were like...” Joe ventured when the laughing had subsided. “What was the biggest haul you ever did?”


“Oh no!” Kenny rolled his eyes and gave his eldest a slightly reprimanding look. “Don't encourage him Heyes.”


Heyes grinned. “I don't think you have anything to worry about there Kenny.” He glanced over at the Kid as they both contemplated their answer. “What do ya' think? Would it still be that P & H '78 in Denver?”


Jed thought about it for a moment and then nodded. “Yeah. I figure.”


Both Joe and Charlie were leaning forward, excitement sparkling in their eyes.

“How much?” asked Charlie.


“That netted us, ohh, thirty thousand?” Kid asked his partner.


Heyes contemplated. “Yeah,” he finally agreed. “Considering some of the bonds, and the jewelry that was in there as well.”


“Oh, wow!” was Charlie's response while his older brother simply whistled.


“Well now that might be the biggest haul you two ever made,” Wheat puffed himself up. “but after you fellas run off to get your amnesty and I took over the gang, I believe we done ya' one better.”


“Yeah!” Kyle grinned.


“You had a haul more than that?” Heyes asked somewhat incredulously. “I never heard about it.”


“Sure ya' did!” Wheat needled him. “It's the one you and the Kid done walked away from.”


Heyes and the Kid exchanged glances. “Ya' mean Carbondale?” Heyes asked. “The safe that ended up in the lake?”


“Sure do,” Wheat was almost gloating.
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Stags and Hens   Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:20 am

Kyle was giggling the way he does when he's excited but then he looked to his partner to tell the story.

“We gave that area time to cool off,” Wheat explained. “Then about three weeks later we went back to that lake and this time we found that safe and done hauled it outa there.”


Heyes grinned. “Ya' did?”


“Sure did,” Wheat confirmed. “We was kinda worried that the water woulda gotten into the safe and ruined the money, but they really made that safe solid. Kyle here put his expertise to use and he blew it right then and there. You were right Heyes; fifty thousand dollars. We had a real easy winter that year.”


Kyle slapped the table in his glee and the two men tapped their own glasses in a toast to each other.


“Woo hoo!” Joe laughed excitedly. “Fifty thousand dollars!”


“I don't think we should be hearing this,” Kenny commented again.


“This definitely comes under client confidentiality,” Steven muttered into his beer.


“You fellas got that safe outa the lake and blew it?” Heyes asked, somewhat incredulously.


“Yup!” Kyle confirmed yet again.


Heyes smiled and raised his own glass in a toast to his two friends. “Well done! Serves us right for goin' straight, eh Kid?”


“Hmm hum,” was Kid's only comment.


“Why would you give up outlawin' when you can get hauls like that?” asked the youngest member of the group.

Kenny gave Heyes a look, like; you better make this good or there's a prison cell waiting for you back in Wyoming. Heyes gave an impish grin but then nodded subtly.


“You of all people, Charlie, should know that outlawin' ain't all the dime novels crack it up to be; considering who your pa is,” Heyes responded. “Those were the good hauls, but like Lom pointed out; that money had to be split up amongst all the members of the gang, plus go towards stores for the winter. Not to mention the occasional doctor's fees! Now fifty thousand dollars—that's a good haul...” Heyes eyes sparkled at the thought. “but hauls like that are few and far between.
“Then, if you're lucky enough to survive into your thirty's you start slowing down. Your reflexes aren't quite the same and you're more likely to get hurt.” He smiled over at Jed. “I recall a conversation you and I had concerning jumping onto a moving train. You made some real valid points there, Partner.”


Jed nodded, the memory of the incident that had caused his trepidations coming back to the forefront.


“What about it?” Joe asked, all curious and eager for outlaw tales.


“Ah, well there was a fella who ran with us for a while, name of Murdoch...”

“Oh damn Kid!” Wheat complained. “Did ya' havta bring him up? I thought this was suppose to be a fun party.”


“Yeah,” Kyle seconded, suddenly looking a little pale. “I'd done a real good job of forgettin' about that, now ya' gotta go bring it up again.”


This comment only succeeded in capturing everybody's attention.


“What happened?” David asked, trying to convince himself that it was for purely medical information that he was asking.


Heyes and Kid exchanged glances. Heyes gestured for Jed to take the floor.


“Okay.” Kid took a deep breath. “We were planning on stopping a train, same as usual. There really wasn't anything different about this job from any of the other numerous trains we'd stopped during our years at Devil's Hole, but it turned out to be a real bad day.
“Jumping onto a moving locomotive ain't exactly smart in the first place but as Heyes likes to point out 'that's where the money is kept.' so that's what we did. I guess we got too complacent about it and stopped bein' careful, cause Murdoch ended up losing his hold on the railing and fell down between the cars.”


Everybody cringed, those who witnessed the accident as well as those who were hearing about it for the first time.


“He got killed?” Charlie asked, with a catch in his voice.


Kid nodded. “Eventually. Took him about two days, I reckon.....”


Silence.

Finally Heyes broke it. “So you see, outlawin' isn't exactly what the dime novels crack it up to be,” he emphasized again. “It's dangerous on so many levels and if you live long enough to become too old to do it, you still wind up with nothing. Look at me; I'm forty years old and all I've got to show for my life is a prison record. I wasted my talents on selfish gains, I've lost more friends than I can count and now I've had to say 'goodbye' to the most precious thing a man can have; my family—my daughter.” He smiled and raised his glass to the sheriff. “You had the right of it Lom. You're the smartest man in this room.”


Lom looked a little embarrassed at having been singled out like that. “Oh well, it might have taken you boys a little longer to realize it, but you're on the right track now,” Lom assured him. “All four of you fellas now have the chance to start your lives over again and there ain't nothin' wrong with that—not at any age.”


“Besides Heyes,” Kenny put in. “you haven't lost your daughter. She'll be a part of your life again. All you have to do is make it a life she'll be proud of.”


Heyes grinned over at his friend. “Yeah!” He raised his glass again and gave his partner a slap on the shoulder. “What's all this doom and gloom about? We're here to celebrate. Here's to Kid! He actually beat me to the punch and is gettin' married first!”


“Yeah! Here's to Jed!”


“Congratulations Kid!”


“And here you were afraid of doin' hard time!” Wheat teased him. “Now you're gonna be in fer life!”


“Yeah! But she's real purdy,” Kyle pointed out. “Not too bad doin' life when yer cell mate looks like that!”


“Woo hoo!”


“Here's to ya' Jed!”


“All the best Jed. To you and Beth,” Steven raised his glass.


“Yeah,” Heyes seconded it. “All the best Jed. This is a good thing.”


Kid was grinning from ear to ear—if he had dimples they would be meeting in the middle.


“Thanks fellas,” he responded feeling a little embarrassed with the focus suddenly all on him. “Beth is a real fine lady. I'm just real pleased that she still wants me after all this.”


“More's the pity for us,” the blonde on Jed's lap complained. “You ain't been no fun no how since you got betrothed. Still,” she grinned wickedly. “the night is young!”


“Ho ho, darlin'--you are gonna get me into trouble for sure!”


“C'mon!” Heyes declared. “This is suppose to be a party—let's have some fun!”


Soon the beer was once again flowing like the Colorado River and everybody got to dancing and hollerin' and having a grand old time until the midnight hour came and went. By then, those that could still stand up were settled into sedate conversations and more story-telling. Those that couldn't stand were enjoying the attention of the ladies while seated around the table still laden with refreshment.


Wheat and Kyle got real well acquainted with their two young gals who seemed to think that they were kinda cute, and then surprisingly enough or maybe because of all the beer he'd had to drink, Kyle did finally remember his manners. He actually got around to introducing Wheat to Kenny though it seemed kind of awkward for the ex-con to be mingling with the warden on a level plain like this. Like bumping into your school teacher coming out of the privy.


Discussion on Harris came up between the men and neither Kyle nor Wheat seemed too concerned about the fate that man had met.


David, however was viewing it from the professional's point of view and not having actually met the man in question, felt some concern. “You mean he fell head first from three floors up to land on concrete?” the doctor asked, his scientific brain already making the calculations as to how much damage that would have caused.


“No, he didn't fall,” Kenny corrected him. “he was quite adamantly thrown off.”


“Eww.” David cringed. “The man had some enemies.”


“Harris was a mean son-of-a-bitch,” Wheat announced as he took a swig of beer. “Nobody deserved dyin' as much as he did.”


“Yeah!” Kyle agreed and he and his partner tapped glasses.


Kenny made no comment; it still rankled just a bit that an inmate under his jurisdiction had been singled out and murdered in such a cold and calculated fashion. Although when he thought of the crimes that man had committed, he had to admit to feeling no real sympathy for him. Then his attention was diverted when the sound of a chair leg scraping across the floor and then a loud thumping broke up the conversation.


Everyone looked over to see young Master Charlie sprawled out on the floor with his older brother leaning over him and looking down as though trying to figure out what happened. The lady whom Charlie had been keeping company with was slapping his face in the vain hope of trying to arouse him.


“Oh dear,” Kenny mumbled. “I'm never going to hear the end of this.” He sighed in resignation and put his almost empty glass of beer down on the table. “I suppose it's time I got my boys back to the hotel while I've still got one standing to help with the other.”


“Yeah,” Wheat commented reflectively as he sent a quick glance over towards Heyes and the Kid. “Any of you fellas hanging around much longer?”


“I'll be staying until the guest of honour decides to call it a night—or passes out, whichever comes first,” David announced. “They're spending the night at my place.”


“I'll probably be heading to the hotel pretty soon,” Steven said as he glanced over at a snoring Harry Briscoe sprawled out on a chair. “I suppose it's going to be up to me to get the detective back over to his room as well. Why do you ask?”


“Ah, well—ah....” Wheat snuggled the gal under his arm a little tighter. “Some other plans for this evening have kinda come up, but I wouldn't feel right leavin' Kid here all on his lonesome at his own stag party and all...”


“Oh. Yes.” Steven glanced at the two young ladies, each under an arm and didn't need much imagination to guess what their other plans were. He looked over Kyle's shoulder towards the guest of honour and smiled at the two partners trying to tap their glasses together in yet another toast, but kept on missing and only succeeded in spilling beer on each other. “I don't think you need to concern yourself with that, Mr. Carlson. The evening is probably winding itself down anyways.”


“Ah, yeah.” Wheat nudged his buddy. “C'mon Kyle. Lets say our farewells and get on with the real reason we come into town.”


Kyle's grin grew wider. “Yeah!”


The two men with their escorts approached their ex-bosses just as Heyes was attempting to wipe spilt beer off his cousin's shirt.


“Hey fellas...” Wheat got their attention.


“Haayyy!” Heyes greeted them, his voice a notch higher than usual as is it's want when he's had a few too many. “Ya' havin' a good time!?”


“Yeah, sure Heyes,” Wheat assured. “But, ah listen....me and Kyle, we've kinda had some things come up here, and ah....”


Heyes took one look at the ladies and grinned up at the older man. “Yeeahhh!” Wheat got yet another slap on the shoulder. “Good for you! Go get her! About time somebody was gettin' som'thin'!”


“We'll see ya' later Heyes,” Kyle put in. “You too Kid. It was a real nice party.”


“Aww, thank you Kyle.” Kid started to give him another hug, but Kyle ducked out from under and the Kid would have ended up face first on the floor if Heyes hadn't grabbed him. Unfortunately both men staggered over each other and ended up butt first on the floor instead.


They're friends made a hasty retreat while the getting was good.


“Aww, there they go,” Kid mumbled. “Maybe I should get m'self a gal t'night....there does seem ta' be plenty ta' go aroun'.....”


“Naw...easy there Par'ner...” Heyes tried to help him to his feet but just fell into him again. “You're gonna be beddin' yer own purdy wife here soon 'nough....”


“Yeah...'at's right.” Kid grinned. “She is purdy, ain't she Heyes?”


“Yup. Yu'r a 'ucky man.”


“Yeah, I am, ain't I?”


“Yup. Here I was thinkin' we mi' have a double wed'n,” Heyes reflected sadly. “Guess not tho...”


“Wha' 'bout M'anda?” Kid suggested. “Why don't cha' ask her, 'eyes.”


“Yeah, I could, couldn' I?”


“Yeah!”


“Yeah! We'll 'ave a double wed'n!” He looked up, trying to focus his eyes. “Ahh, 'enny! Ya' goin'?”


Kenny grinned down at the two ex-outlaws who seemed to be quite content to remain seated on the floor. “Yeah, Heyes. Time to call it a night while I can still get my boys back to the hotel in one piece.”


“O'k.”


“Glad you could come...” Kid managed to get out fairly coherently.


“We'll see you later Jed,” Kenny told him. “Have a good night fellas.”


“Ya'---good night.....”


The three Reece men made their exit with the two younger ones looking decidedly pale around the gills. They were still managing to stay on their feet however, as long as they had one another to lean on.



The next morning was a slow riser for the men in the Gibson household. David managed to drag himself out of bed by 9:00 a.m. But only because Tricia kept nagging at him. He had rounds to do after all and though it wasn't going to be too busy a day, time was wasting. Nathan thought it was great fun to help his Ma pester his Pa outa bed!


Heyes and Jed would have slept the day away if it wasn't for the galloping feet of the young master Nathan. If he was up then everybody should be up and every time he galloped past the guest room door he'd land a loud slap upon it with his fist and yell 'Time to get up!' If ever two ex-outlaws felt like committing murder, that morning would have been it.


They tried so hard to stay in bed. Bleary eyes staring across the room at one another and then pillows or blankets coming up over heads to drown out the youthful exuberance of the resident doctor in the making.

Finally Heyes gave up the effort with a groan. “Ohhh, when am I gonna learn not to do that to myself?” he complained to no one in particular. “I feel awful.”


“Stop yellin' Heyes,” Kid moaned. He emitted another loud groan as Nathan ran past the room again and landed another loud thump on the door. “Did I say I wanted to have children?” He covered his head with his pillow and mumbled something to the effect of; “Maybe Beth has a good idea about planning them....spaced out....in about a year or two....yeah....”


Heyes slowly sat up and swung his legs around so he was sitting on the edge of the cot. He just sat there for a few moments looking ragged. He rubbed his eyes and scrubbed his hair and then with a sniff, looked around for his clothes. Kid didn't move.


“C'mon Kid. I think I smell coffee.”


“Hmm.”


“Rise and shine,” Heyes continued, trying to sound enthusiastic. “It's your last day of freedom. Don't want to waste it do ya'?”


“Go away.”


Heyes smiled as he slowly got to his feet and made his way over to the pile of cloth on the floor that looked suspiciously like his clothes. He slowly bent over to pick up his pants and felt his head start to spin. He stopped in mid-bend till the swaying settled and then reached down and picked up his pants. He made his way slowly back to the cot, sat down and began to put one foot and then the other into the pant legs.


“C'mon Kid. May as well get up.”


“Yeah, I suppose.”


Heyes finished pulling on his pants then went back to his pile of clothing and grabbed his socks and his shirt. “I'll go make sure the coffee is on.”


“Huh hum.”


Heyes slowly entered the kitchen, pulling on his shirt as he came and was pleased to discover that the stove was lit and warming the room up nicely, along with keeping the pot of coffee simmering in anticipation. Trich was sitting at the table, apparently wrapping up a parcel but she heard the bedroom door open and smiled up at their guest.


“Good morning, Hannibal.” She greeted him. “Coffee?”


“Oh! Please,” Heyes accepted the offer.


“Where is our groom-to-be?”


“He's coming. I think he got more drunk than I did.”


“Really,” came the sceptical response. “Do you want some breakfast?”


“NO!” He rubbed his temples and smiled, softening his tone. “No, not yet. Thanks.”


Tricia smiled. “David didn't eat much either.”


“Where is David?”


“On his rounds,” Tricia informed him. “He doesn't have much to do today, but still....”


“Oh. Poor man.”


Tricia smiled as she poured him a cup of coffee and put it on the table opposite from where she had been sitting. “Come sit down, have your coffee. You might feel like eating something after you wake up.”


“Hmm.” Heyes nodded and did as instructed.


Then the sound of galloping feet came charging down the hallway and Nathan burst into the kitchen with his toy gun a-blazing! Heyes groaned and held his head.


Tricia took pity on him. “Nathaniel! You either be quiet or go play in your bedroom.”


“Awww!” came the loud complaint. “But Un'ca Han'bul's awake!”


“And he has a headache,” the mother explained patiently. “So if you want to stay and visit with Uncle Hannibal and Uncle Jed then you have to be quiet.”


A sudden light went on in the child's eyes and a wide grin took over his face. “Un'ca Jed!” And the boy turned on his heels and banged into the guest bedroom door. “Un'ca Jed—time to get up!”


Tricia groaned. “Oh dear.”


Heyes started to chuckle quietly to himself, but not too loudly as he tried to get his head to settle down.


Some muffled protesting came from inside the bedroom. “Yeah, yeah. I'm up,” was a barely audible grumbling.

“C'mon! Coffee!” Nathan was being persistent.


“Yeah, yeah,” Jed repeated. “Just—let me get dressed.”


“O'k!”


“Nathan!” Tricia called him as she stifled a laugh. “Come and sit at the table. And be quiet!” She smiled over at Heyes as she poured another cup. “I'm sure Jed is ready for some coffee as well.”


“Yup, probably.”


Nathan ran out of the bedroom and came over to the table. He smiled at his Un'ca Han and scraped a chair out for himself to climb onto. Heyes cringed.

Jed could be heard rummaging around in the other room, digging out his pants and shirt and trying to get dressed, then the man himself appeared in the doorway looking bleary and rumpled. He groaned quietly and carefully made his way over to the table.


Tricia smiled at him. “Here you are Jed. Cup of coffee.”


“Ohhh....thank you.”


“Hungry?”


“No!”


“Funny, that's exactly what David said.”


“Hmmm.”


“Oatmeal!” Nathan announced joyfully.


“What?” Jed asked him from under a hand supporting his forehead.


“We had oatmeal for breakfast!”


“Ohhh.” Jed looked over at Tricia. “Does he ever slow down?”


Tricia smiled and shook her head. “Not too often,” she admitted. “Being cooped up through the winter didn't help. I'm sure with the warmer weather here now he'll burn off a lot of that energy playing outside.”


“Hmm.” Jed nodded and he took a tentative sip of coffee. “What's it like out today?'


“It's nice out. I think you and Beth are going to have a lovely day for your wedding,” Tricia predicted. “June is still a bit risky for anything out in the open, but if you're lucky it can be a beautiful time of year for an outdoor celebration.”


Jed nodded. “I sure hope I feel better tomorrow than I do today.”


“You will,” Tricia assured him. “Why do you think the stag party was planned for last night instead of tonight? Can't have you suffering from a hang-over on your wedding day!”


“Is this for Beth?” Heyes asked, indicating the parcel that Tricia had been wrapping.


“Yes,” She conceded. “Miranda and I will be heading out to the Double J this afternoon for the bridal shower. I believe we'll be picking up a number of other ladies along the way. It should be quite the hen house out there today.”


“That's nice,” Heyes responded as he tried to cover up his reaction. The mere mention of Miranda's name had caused his already queasy stomach to do a flip flop. This was awful. He was still very much in mourning over the loss of his relationship with Abi and yet the very thought of seeing Miranda set his palms to sweating. Just what kind of a man was he?


Tricia smiled and placed a gentle hand of Heyes' arm. “Randa is coming over here in an hour or so—if you're interested.”


“Oh.” Obviously he hadn't covered up his feelings very well. “Ahh....” He glanced over at the Kid to see those bleary blue eyes staring at him. “An hour?”


“Yes. About that.”


“Oh.”


Tricia patted his arm and then headed over to the stove again. “I'll put some oatmeal on,” she announced. “You're going to need something to eat.”


Tricia had been right, of course. Once the two cousins had forced a couple of spoonfuls of oatmeal down their throats, their stomachs' decided that they were hungry after all and a heaping helping to each soon disappeared and everyone was in better spirits for it.


Tricia had put on a second pot of coffee and was pouring another round for everyone when a knock came to the front door and then a familiar voice was followed by a familiar face.


“Good morning, everyone!” Randa announced her arrival. “Did we all survive last night's festivities?”


The two men at the table groaned. Nathan jumped down from his chair and ran over to greet the new- comer.


“Aunt Randa! Aunt Randa! Coffee!”


“Yes. Come sit,” Tricia invited her. “I've just made a fresh pot.”


“Oh, yes. Thank you.” Miranda allowed Nathan to take her by the hand and lead her over to the table She glanced over at Heyes and a gentle smile played about her lips. “How is everyone feeling this morning?”


“Better now that we've had something to eat,” Jed informed her.


“Good.” She sat down at the end of the table and accepted the cup that Tricia offered to her. Then Tricia sat down at the head of the table with her own beverage and an awkward silence ensued. Heyes smiled over at Randa and despite having enjoyed numerous conversations with her he was now suddenly finding himself with nothing to say. He tried to ignore the lump in his throat and the tingling in his fingers; it was just the after-effect of too much alcohol, that's all.


Nathan stood beside his aunt looking around at everyone and then his little brow creased.


“Wat's madder?” he asked.


The simple, innocent question seemed to break the mood and everyone smiled and the tension was instantly broken.


“Nothing's the matter,” Tricia assured her son. “It's just a special day today.”


“Why?” came the honest enquiry.


“Your Uncle Jed is getting married tomorrow so there's a lot to be done to get prepared for it,” Tricia informed him.


“Why?”


“Because it's a special day.”


Nathan's little brow creased again. Even he knew that this conversation was going in a circle. Then he brightened up again. “Can I come?”


“Of course you can come,” Jed assured him. “All my friends will be there.”


Nathan smiled at that. “Yeah!” He grinned. “I get married too....!” And then off he went at a full gallop down the hallway and into his own room. What he was planning on doing in there was anyone's guess.


A sigh of relief made its way around the table.


“What a whirlwind,” Heyes mumbled. “No wonder David's so skinny if there's that much energy in his genetics.”


“Yes!” Tricia was emphatic. “He can be a handful alright. David and I have talked about having another one, but....” she shook her head with raised brows. “I don't know if I can handle two like him! Thank goodness my neighbour has agreed to take him this afternoon. Last thing I need at Beth's shower is a little monster running around!”


“Maybe your next one will be a girl,” Jed commented. “And she'll be sweet and gentle....”


“I donno about that,” Heyes mumbled into his coffee cup. “Anya's a girl and she's anything but....” he stopped in mid sentence and didn't carry on with that thought. He pursed his lips and took a drink from his cup to try and cover the lingering distress.


“Yeah, I suppose,” Jed quietly agreed, knowing how much Heyes was still missing his family. “Even girls can be rambunctious.”

“Yeah,” Heyes mumbled.


“So—Jed! What are your plans for today?” Tricia asked him. “David mentioned that you might be staying here again tonight.”


“Oh—yeah,” Jed responded. “If that's alright. Apparently I'm not suppose to see the bride before the wedding and all that....I thought it was just the dress, but.....”


“Of course not!” Randa agreed. “That's very bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony! You must stay here!”


Randa and Tricia exchanged smiles across the table as Heyes and Jed shared a look.


“That's fine,” Tricia assured him. “Is your suit here?”


“Oh no,” Jed admitted, suddenly looking concerned. He hadn't thought about that. “It's still out at the ranch.”


“Don't worry,” Tricia told him. “I'll bring it back with us after the bridal shower.”


“Oh, alright. Thank you.”


“Hannibal?” Tricia turned her attention over to him. “What are your plans for today?”


“Well, as best man; I thought I'd keep the bride-groom company,” Heyes announced with an air of self-importance. “I believe we have plans to meet up with whoever over at the saloon later this afternoon as well. And we have to pick up the rings. Can't forget those!”


“As Best Man, Heyes; that's up to you,” Curry reminded him.


Heyes smiled. “I won't forget.”


“Shall we bring your suit back with us as well?” Tricia smiled at him.


“Oh. If you wouldn't mind.”


“No bother.” She smiled and sent her cousin a knowing look. “Well, I guess I better get on with these dishes.” And she pushed herself away from the table with the intent of doing just that.


Jed glanced over at his cousin and the brown eyes were refusing to meet his. Jed sighed and also pushed himself away from the table.

“I think I'm gonna go lay down for awhile,” he announced. “I'm still feelin' kinda weary. Not as young as I used to be!”


Heyes followed him with his eyes as he stood up and made his way back to the bedroom. Then he bit his lower lip and took another sip of his now cold coffee.


“Well, I think I'll help Tricia with the dishes,” Randa announced and started to rise from the table.


Heyes' hand shot out and stopped her from getting too far. “Wait,” he said, quietly. “Can we talk?”


Randa settled back down in the chair. Tricia made sure she stayed busy with the dishes.


“If you like,” Randa agreed.


“Shall we walk?”


“Certainly,” she said and then smiled. “It is a lovely day today. And we do seem to have our best talks when we're walking—or riding!”


Heyes smiled and nodded. “Yeah.”


“Tricia. Hannibal and I are just going....”


“That's fine,” Tricia agreed. “Take your time, we still have a couple of hours before we need to head out to the ranch.”


Heyes smiled over at her as he offered his hand to Randa and then he remembered that he didn't have any boots on.


“Oh, just a moment,” he said, almost embarrassed. “Just let me get my boots.”


“Of course.”


Heyes quickly disappeared into the bedroom and Tricia and Miranda exchanged hopeful smiles.


“Everything alright Heyes?” Jed asked from his pron position on the bed.


“Yeah,” Heyes answered quietly. “Just going to take a walk with Randa.”


“Oh. Good.”


“Yeah.”


Heyes quickly grabbed his boots and pulled them on. He glanced over at his cousin again and found those blue eyes staring at him in earnest. Heyes smiled nervously. He had butterflies. Jed smiled back at him.


“Have a good walk, Heyes.”


“Yeah.”


Heyes carried on through the kitchen and joined up with Miranda at the front door. He took down his gunbelt and his coat but Miranda stopped him.


“You won't need your coat today,” she informed him with a hand on his arm. “It's quite pleasant outside.”


“Oh.” Heyes put the coat back, buckled on his belt and opened the door for them to step out onto the porch. He was pleasantly surprised. “You're right!” he agreed with a pleased smile as he felt the warmth of the late morning sun beat down on him. “It's a beautiful day.”


“Yes,” Miranda agreed pointedly. “It is.”


She smiled at him and took his arm and he felt that thrill of excitement go through him as he looked into those dark blue eyes. He tucked her arm into his and they held hands as they walked down the steps together and headed towards the main part of town.


Heyes was quiet for most of the walk; it was one of those rare occurrences in his life when he was at a loss for words. Although he had noticed that it happened more and more often when he was with Miranda. He had no idea how to begin, or even what he really wanted to say. Miranda strolled along beside him, glancing over at him occasionally and giving him time to get his thoughts in order. Finally he fell back and re-grouped on what was relatively an easy topic.


“How is Amy doing?” he asked.


“She's doing much better and is even getting around on her own more these days,” Randa assured him.


“Yes.” Heyes nodded. “I've seen the two of you in town on occasion. She is looking better. Do you think she'll change her mind and come to the wedding after all?”


“No, I don't think so,” Randa admitted. “She still says that she wouldn't be comfortable there, looking around at everyone and wondering if her assailant was amongst the guests. She really was un-nerved by that attack.”


Heyes frowned. “Hmm, that is a shame,” he conceded quietly. “She's surrounded by friends here if she would just take a moment and look around.”


“Yes she is,” Randa agreed and then she smiled slyly. “Like someone else I know and love who still seems to think that the world is against him.”


Heyes went quiet and Randa was afraid that once again she may have gone too far with her unbridled opinions.


“I'm sorry,” she backed off. “I probably shouldn't have said that.”


“No, no,” Heyes smiled at her and squeezed her hand. “You just—always catch me flat-footed and I find myself stuck between denying it or agreeing with you. Hence the silence.”


“Oh.” Randa smiled again. “So what have you decided on?”


Heyes sighed. “You're right,” he admitted. “I've been so pre-occupied licking my wounds that I haven't been paying attention to the people around me who really matter. Take you for instance.”


“Me?” Miranda teased. “You have honoured me with your attention on a number of occasions.”


“Yes,” Heyes agreed. “but not the way you want me to. Oh we're had some nice walks, some nice rides and some very interesting conversations and you've been very patient.”


“You asked me to be your friend Hannibal and I'm more than happy to be that,” Miranda reminded him and smiled. “I do enjoy your company.”


“Yes!” Heyes grinned. “We do have a good time, don't we!?”


“Yes we do,” Miranda agreed.


They approached one of the many park benches that were place strategically around the different grassy knolls that adorned the center of town. Heyes led her over to an unoccupied bench and they sat down. He sighed peacefully, feeling more content than he had in months. A gentle smile played about his lips as he looked around, taking in the easy sunny morning attitude of the town and it's citizens.


A number of the passers-by, especially the ladies smiled over at the couple and hoped that they saw promise there.


Miranda patted his hand. “So...what now?” she asked him.


Heyes' expression turned serious but he continued to gaze off into the middle distance. “I do love you, you know.”


Miranda smiled. “I have kind of had my doubts along those lines,” she admitted. “I feel that we did have something wonderful together but then Abi came back into your life and, well. I know she was important to you. I still get the feeling you're not over her yet—that you're still hopeful that perhaps something might change.”


Heyes laughed gently. He squeezed her hand and looked over into her dark blue eyes. “You really are way too perceptive for my own good!” he said teasingly. “But you're right; I have been holding onto a hope—but it's a fool's hope and Abi is no fool.”


“But what if things do change? What if your parole does get lifted say in, five years?” Miranda asked tentatively, afraid of the answer but needing to hear it anyways. “Would you feel trapped with me then, wishing that you were free to find her and try again?”


Heyes sat quietly for a moment, thinking about that possibility.


“No,” he finally said with a subtle shake of his head. “We agreed; one last try to see if it could work and if not, then that would be the end of it. Abi said it was too hard on her, repeatedly coming together and breaking apart. She couldn't spend her life doing that over and over. We needed to let it go and give ourselves the chance to still find happiness in another direction. It's done Miranda; we won't be getting back together again—no matter what.”


“Are you sure about that?” she pushed him.


Heyes laughed out loud. “No!” he admitted, but then he sobered and letting go of her hand he leaned away from her just enough so that he could wrap his arm around her shoulders and hug her to him. “But like I said; it's a fool's hope and given time I'm sure that it too will disappear.”


“Sounds to me like you're a risky proposition,” Randa commented. “Liable to go running off to parts unknown at the smallest provocation.”


Heyes squeezed her shoulders a little tighter. “No,” he assured her. “Once I make up my mind, that will be it.” He sighed deeply. “I suppose I'm just not quite there yet to be willing to accept the way things are. I still need to move slowly.”


“That's fine,” Miranda assured him. “You've never played games with me and I appreciate that. I'm a big girl Hannibal, as long as I know where I stand my own two feet will keep me planted firmly on the ground.”


“Yup!” he nodded with playful conviction. “I definitely do love you.”


“And I love you too,” she told him, laying a hand against his chest. “I'm glad we got that settled.”


“There's one other thing I need to discuss with you,” Heyes finally commented. “You need to know, before we go any further, and I need to know how you feel about this.”


Randa creased her brow. “Sounds serious. I can't imagine how you could possibly have any more secrets, Hannibal. Unless you're going to tell me that you're actually a woman and Jed is your husband and you're both just pretending to be in love with other women!”


Heyes snorted and actually chuckled over that. “No!” he denied adamantly. “Nothing quite so—theatrical!”


“Oh good! Because I really don't think I could live with that.”


“No, nothing like that.” Heyes smiled and kissed her forehead. “Actually you already know about most of it, so no shocks there. It's about Anya.”


“Oh. Yes?”
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Keays

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Posts : 1435
Join date : 2013-08-24
Age : 60
Location : Camano Island Washington

PostSubject: Stags and Hens   Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:22 am

“Abi has promised to tell her about me when she's old enough to understand,” Heyes explained. “Abi has also arranged through her lawyer that if anything were to happen to her, then full parental rights to Anya would automatically fall to me as her legitimate father.”


“Yes, that makes sense,” Randa concurred.


“Either way; for a visit or to come and live with us,” Heyes pointed out. “she would be my child from another woman coming into our home. I need you to not only accept her presence in our lives, but openly welcome her and embrace her as you would your own child. I want a relationship with Anya, sooner or later. It's important to me. Would you be able to do that, Randa?”


She smiled and looked up at him again, willing her sincerity to shine through. “Of course I would,” she assured him. “Indeed, I would wonder what kind of a man you were if you didn't want your daughter to be a part of our lives. And of course I would love her; how could I not when she is so much a part of you?”


Heyes grinned, his dimples putting in an appearance. Randa's heart skipped a beat.


“Now...” Heyes continued. “one more thing.”


“Oh dear. What now?”


“Well...it's Jed's wedding tomorrow.”


“Yes.”


“I realize that you have been invited and that you will be attending as a guest of the Gibson's.”


Randa creased her brow, wondering where this was going. “Yes,” she agreed tentatively.


“I would appreciate it if you didn't do that.”


Randa felt her throat constrict as hurt took hold. Had she misinterpreted the jist of their discussion?

“I would appreciate it if you would attend as my guest instead.”


Randa looked at him in shook for an instant, then she laughed and gave him a slap on the knee.


“You rat!” she accused him. “You did that on purpose!”



Early afternoon found most of the women folk making their way out to the Double J for Beth's long awaited bridal shower. Tricia and Miranda rented a large carriage with two horses in order to accommodate everyone who would be needing a ride there. First stop was to the hotel where Sarah and Evelyn Reece along with Clementine and Lom's wife Martha were getting acquainted in the hotel lobby while they awaited their ride.

“Mr. Reece!” Clem joyously greeted the warden. “How very nice to see you again. I hear you fellas had quite the night last night.”


At this comment Sarah sent her husband a slightly teasing, but still reprimanding look. “I'll say they did!” she answered for her husband. “I think my two boys are still up in their room sleeping it off.”


“It wasn't that bad,” Kenny spoke up in his own defence. “Maybe it'll teach them a lesson too.” Then he smiled at Clem. “Nice to see you again as well Miss Hale. May I introduce my wife, Sarah.”


“Hello!” Clementine greeted. “How very nice to finally meet you! The Kid has said nothing but good things about what a kind hostess you are.”


Sarah smiled as she returned the greeting. “Jed is always welcome in our home,” she said. “It'll be so nice to meet his intended. They've had to wait so long for this day.”


“I'll say!” Clem agreed. “They could have gotten married years ago, but that's Kid for you. Stubborn! He just had to insist that Heyes be apart of this. Still, it is kind of nice to have them both together, so...”


“Yes.”


“All of you are ahead of me,” Martha put in. “Though Jed and Beth and of course, you Clementine were at my wedding, I have yet to meet Mr. Heyes.” She sighed and shook her head. “I understand he has quite the presence.”


Kenny smiled. “He does that, ma'am,” he agreed. “For better or for worse, he's not someone you can easily ignore.”


Sarah laughed. “What a thing to say! Is that a compliment or an insult?”


“Right now I'm not too sure,” her husband admitted. “I need to have another talk with him at some point during this visit. I'm afraid he's doing to resent me afterwards, but it's something we need to clear up.”


“Well now why would Heyes be resentful of you?” Clem demanded. “You've done more for him than anybody.”


Kenny shrugged. “We'll see.”


Clem rolled her eyes. “Men! So secretive—all of you!”


“I'll leave you three ladies to continue getting acquainted,” Kenny cut in effectively ending that line of conversation. “I believe some of us 'fellas' are meeting over in the saloon to give Jed one more send off—if he's feeling up to it, that is.”


“Yes, alright dear,” Sarah smiled warmly at her husband and he leaned down and gave her a soft kiss on her cheek.


Then he smiled and gave his daughter a quick hug and kiss as well. “You behave yourself out there young lady,” he reminded her. “It was very nice of Miss Jordan to invite you, so remember you're a lady!”


“Yes, of course Papa!” little Eve rolled her eyes. “I'm not a little girl you know!”


“No, of course you're not,” Kenny teased her then he turned to the adults again. “Miss Hale, I'm sure I'll be seeing you tomorrow.”


“Oh yes! I'll be there.”


“Dear. Have a good afternoon,” he told his wife. “I'll see you later.”


“Yes,” she agreed. “Don't go drinking too much now!”


“Yes dear,” he agreed, lovingly and then made his way out the front door of the hotel.


He had to quickly step aside as Miranda hurried through those same doors but in the opposite direction.

“Oh! Excuse me!” Miranda said, a little bit flustered. “I'm sorry. I'm in a bit of a rush and wasn't watching! You'd think I was fifteen again; I'm in such a tither!”


Kenny smiled and tipped his hat. He had yet to meet Miranda officially but his eyes sparkled and he suppressed a chuckle at the young woman's high energy.


“No problem, ma'am,” he assured her. “Have a good day.”


But by that time, Miranda had already spied the ladies across the way and was heading towards them at a quick walk.


“Hello!” she greeted them with a big smile. “I assume you're heading out with us to the Jordan ranch?”


“Yes!” Clementine greeted her. “Nice to see you again! Heyes take you to any more dances?.”


“No, not yet,” Randa answered with a touch of regret. “Perhaps in time.” She turned to Lom's wife and offered her hand. “Hello! I'm Miranda Thornton. Tricia is outside with the carriage, we're all ready to go!”


“I'm Martha Trevors,” Lom's wife introduced herself. “It's so nice to finally meet you all. I feel like we're family already!”


“It is wonderful isn't it?” Kenny's wife agreed. “I'm Sarah and this is my daughter Evelyn.”


“Well hello miss!” Randa greeted the youngest member of the group. “Is this your first bridal shower?”


“Yes ma'am,” Eve admitted shyly, but determined to be a lady in any case. “I'm so looking forward to it.” She creased her brow then and became quite serious. “I really need to check out Jed's intended. I must make sure that she is good enough for him, you know.”


“Indeed!” Miranda laughed and exchanged humorous glances with the other ladies present. “You are close to Jed are you?”


“Oh yes,” Eve informed her. “We were very serious about one another once upon a time.” She gave an adult lady sigh. “But absence doesn't always make the heart grow fonder and I'm just glad for him that he could move on.”


“Yes, of course,” Randa agreed. “But I'm sure he will be very pleased to see you.”


Eve beamed a huge smile at that and all the ladies then made their way to the front doors and out to the awaiting carriage, bringing their gifts for the bride-to-be along with them.


“Climb aboard everyone!” Tricia instructed them. “We'll make introductions along the way!”


Everyone got settled and the giggling, high energy group headed out of town at a brisk trot. The two horses picked up on the infectious good spirits and began prancing and tossing their heads every step of the way.


The next stop was made at the small home just outside of town to pick up Maribelle, Carol and Sam's mother Merle. Fortunately everyone was ready for them when the carriage arrived so all it took was for the new parcels to be stored in the back and everyone making room for the new-comers to get settled in. Then off they went again at a brisk trot, all of them laughing and chatting and carrying on as if they'd been best friends all their lives.


In no time at all this boisterous group was trotting down the lane that led them to the yard of the Double J. The large pasture to the right of them was fully occupied with Daisy, Buck and two of the other brood mares with their new foals. They all looked up at the noisy arrivals but none of them were interested enough to leave off from their grazing for too long. Ears relaxed and heads went back down to the grass as the group made their way into the yard.


Ellie, Peanut and Pebbles all came bounding and barking off the front porch where they had been stretched out and enjoying the afternoon sun. Fortunately the harness horses didn't bother themselves too much about dogs and just kept right on going to the front porch.


Bridget was the first to come out and welcome the guests. She was all smiles and happy as she ran down the steps to assist with the gifts and the disembarking.


“Hello everyone!” she greeted them as Sam came over to tend to the horses. “C'mon inside! Momma's got lemonade and sandwiches on the go!”


“Wonderful!” Merle commented from the back seat. “I think we could all do with something cool to drink!”


Everyone disembarked and headed in to the coolness of the house while all three dogs decided to escort the team of horses over to the barn. With Sam's help of course.


“Hello! Welcome,” Belle greeted her guests. “How wonderful you could all make it out.”


“Hello Belle!”


Everyone there who were already acquainted with their hostess came forward to give her a hug and a kiss and then introductions followed for the one's who were new to this gathering.


Belle smiled even more graciously as she was introduced to Sarah Reece and the two women gave each other heart-felt hugs.


“The boys speak so highly of you—and of your husband,” Belle told her. “We owe Kenny so much for all the support he gave to Joshua while he was in prison. I am very much looking forward to meeting him so that I can thank him in person.”


“Thank you,” Sarah smiled with pride. “Kenny is looking forward to meeting you as well, Mrs. Jordan. You mean so much to both Jed and Hannibal.”


“And they mean a lot to us,” Belle agreed, then she smiled down at the little beauty standing beside her mother. “You must be Evelyn. Thaddeus as spoken fondly of you too.”


“Thank you ma'am,” Evelyn giggled and blushed and then tucked her face in behind her mother's skirts.


“No need to be shy,” Belle assured her. “Come, have some lemonade.”


“Oh yes! Thank you!”


“And please, call me Belle. All of you,” the hostess insisted. “I already feel as though we are all family here.”


The group came into the living room and everyone settled into appropriate chairs while Merle joined Belle and Bridget in the kitchen in order to bring out and offer up refreshments. Sandwiches and little desserts were already spread out enticingly upon the large dinning room table and soon all felt at home enough to help themselves.


Beth came downstairs to greet her guests and right behind her came J.J! Beth was actually looking a little put upon that her young brother was insisting on joining in on the party.


“I tried to explain to him that this was just for the ladies, but he refused to listen,” she told the group by way of explanation. “Whenever food is involved, he'll find a way.”


The ladies laughed.

“As long as you're here I may as well introduce you,” Beth told him.


“No!” Jay didn't seem too interested in meeting a bunch of ladies. “Sandwiches!”


“J.J., where are your manners?” Belle reminded him as she entered the room with a pitcher. “If you insist on being here then be polite to our guests.”


All eyes were turned towards the young man and suddenly J.J. was feeling quite shy and not so sure that sandwiches were worth all this feminine attention. He eyed the tasty offerings on the table, glanced at his mother and then looked over the group of females again. He considered his options. Suddenly the choice was made for him.


“Hi! I'm Evelyn,” Eve spoke up out of the blue.


J.J. grinned, noticing for the first time that there was someone here who, though older than him was at least not an adult. “Hi!” he greeted her quite enthusiastically. “I'm J.J. You want to play?”


Evelyn looked up at her mother for permission.


“Go ahead,” she nodded with a smile. “But please; try not to get too dirty!”


In an instant the two youngsters were gone and out the front door. No stuffy parties for them!


Most of the adults gave a sigh of relief. Evelyn will be forever honoured for getting J.J. out from under foot!


“Beth!” Sarah greeted the young woman. “What a pleasure to finally meet you. Jed speaks of you so highly.”


“Oh, yes ma'am,” Beth beamed. “Thank you.”


“Oh please! My name is Sarah,” the older woman insisted. “My husband has told me of all the things you accomplished. You really are a remarkable young woman. I'm so pleased that you and Jed are finally going to have your day.”


Both Beth and Belle smiled with pleasure with the compliment. “Thank you,” Beth said again, feeling a little embarrassed. “We have waited a long time for this. I can hardly believe that it is finally here.”


“Well it is certainly here, young lady,” Belle told her. “You've done very well to be so patient.”


Bridget and Clem exchanged looks and rolled their eyes. This was getting a little sickly sweet for them.


Soon sandwiches were being eaten and tea with dainty little pastries were passed around until everyone was stuffed and contented. Belle was finally beginning to feel like she could relax now that most of the preparations were done for the next day. Even the yard and the house had been decorated with ribbon and spring flowers and all that was left was to pray that it didn't rain over night!


Soon the gifts were being pulled out from various hiding places and everyone settled into the sitting room to sip tea and rejoice with the new bride in opening her presents. Beth was embarrassed at the riches and kept muttering that people really hadn't needed to do this. It was so kind of everyone. She was boo hoed and simply told to get on with it! Everyone wanted to see what she got.


So, without any further ado Bridget picked up one of the parcels and handed it into her sister's lap.


“C'mon, get started,” she pushed. “We don't have ALL afternoon, you know!”


Beth smiled self-consciously but did start to open the present. “Oh my!” she exclaimed along with the oo's and ahh's from the other ladies attending. “This is lovely,” she breathed as she lifted up a finely embroidered table cloth with matching napkins. “Oh Tricia! Thank you. Whenever did you find the time?”


“Nathan still goes to bed quite early,” Tricia assured her. “I started it as soon as you and Jed were betrothed and did a little every night. I'm going to be at a loss as to how to fill my evenings now!”


“I doubt you'll have too long to wait before you'll be embroidering baby bibs!” Merle commented. “I suggest you get started now!”


Everyone laughed and Beth smiled shyly. She lovingly caressed the linen, then folded it and returned it to its box. Before she had time to think another gift was handed to her. This one was from Sarah and Kenny and Beth was almost speechless with the generosity shown her from people she hardly knew. More complimentary noises made the rounds as she lifted up a pair of silver candle sticks, each with beautiful but subtle engravings decorating the sticks themselves and on each base, the memento; 'Jed and Beth on the occasion of their marriage; June 1891'.

Oh my!” Beth exclaimed as she gazed at them with misting eyes and then looked over to Sarah. “Thank you so much. They're beautiful!”


Sarah smiled with the pleasure of giving an appreciated gift. “You're very welcome my dear,” she said. “My husband was very impressed with your courage and your tenacity. You were a dear friend to two men who needed friends during a difficult time in their lives. Jed and Hannibal are very fortunate to have your love.”


Beth actually sniffed as she caressed the candlesticks. “Bridget and Clem helped too,” she pointed out in a small voice.


Well of course we did!” Clem piped up. “but neither of us went undercover into the prison itself!”


And this is your day,” Bridget reasoned as she stood up and gave her sister a hug.


They're so beautiful,” Carol commented, a little envious of her friend. “I hope I get something as nice as that when I get married.”


Don't you worry about that,” Maribelle chided her. “You have plenty of time! Right now it's an honour for you that Beth asked you to be her flower girl”


Carol smiled with true pleasure. “Yes I know! It'll be such fun! I've never done anything like that before. Just wait until I tell everyone at the orphanage about it!”


I'm pleased you accepted,” Beth told her friend. “It will be fun!”.


Here!” Carol picked up another present and handed it to the lady of honour. “Open ours next!”


Oh! Yes, alright.” Beth was still sniffing and wiping away a tear but she took the pro-offered gift and dutifully unwrapped it. Once again she was stopped in her tracks as she viewed a lovely set of china tea cups with matching saucers. Tucked into the side were four little silver tea spoons. “Oh my! What a lovely china set. Thank you so much. I can't believe how generous everyone is being!”


As it turned out, Merle's gift was the tea pot in the same rose pattern design as the cups and along with it came the matching set of a sugar bowl and small milk jug. Just the perfect gift for a young married lady to have for friends coming to visit.


Martha placed the gift from herself and Lom on the young lady's lap next and Beth smiled a thank you at her. She remembered this fine woman from when she and Jed had attended her and Lom's wedding of not too long ago and had instantly felt a liking for her. It made Lom a little easier for her to take after that since she had always felt a little intimidated by the ex-outlaw turned sheriff. But once Beth had met the lawman's wife then suddenly he didn't seem quite so threatening anymore.


I hope you like this,” Martha beseeched. “We haven't had the chance to get to know one another very well as of yet so sometimes it makes it difficult to chose a nice gift. And men are so hopeless at it!”


Everybody laughed and nodded agreement.


I'm sure I'll like it,” Beth responded and began the task of unwrapping the parcel. When she opened the box her eyes lit up with pleasure and the smile on her face became truly radiant. “It's beautiful!” She exclaimed with an intake of breath.


What?” asked Clem, straining over to look. “What is it?”


Beth held up a crystal platter that was covered with a frosted raised design of vines and fruit intricately engraved across it's surface. Everyone was impressed.


That is very nice.” Belle agreed. “You treasure that piece Beth. It'll serve you well.”


Oh I will,” Beth assured her mother and smiled over at Martha again. “Thank you very much. Everything is just so wonderful!”

Beth barely had time to thank her friends for these lovely gifts before Clementine pushed her parcel onto the reciprocating lap and sat back awaiting acknowledgement. Beth sent her a suspicious smile as she picked up the small box and opened it. She creased her brow in confusion as she gazed down at the rather large silver ring that sat nestled in some cotton inside the box. She traced her finger along the intricately engraved design that ran all the way around the ring and then shook her head.


But what is it?” she asked glancing up at her friend. “Is it a napkin holder?”


A napkin holder!?” Clem laughed. “I suppose that's one term for it!”


Belle leaned forward and took a look at the gift, then she sat back with a smile and sent Clementine a reprimanding, but teasing look.


What is it Momma?” Beth asked, quite confused now.


Well, it's for your wedding night,” Belle explained.


My wedding night?”


Yes,” Belle smiled even more. “Jed would put it on his.....” Then she leaned forward and whispered in Beth's ear the rest of what Jed would do.


Beth's eyes popped and her mouth gaped. She turned a bright red as her hand came up to cover her aghast laughter and everyone else broke up laughing as well!


Clementine!”


Well it can't ALL be about the man!” Clem insisted. “Us girls gotta have some fun!”


Oh my!” Merle exclaimed. “I wish I had one of those back in the day!”


What is it Grandma?” Carol asked quite innocently.


It's just a toy,” Grandma explained with a smile. “for married people.”


Oh. So I'll get one too, when I get married?”


If you're lucky,” Grandma commented dryly.


Mother!” Maribelle reprimanded her mother-in-law.


Merle shrugged innocently. “What?”


Miranda laughed along with all the others. “Clementine, if I ever get married again, you are already invited to the shower!” Then smiled broadly. “Even if I don't get married again—I do have a birthday coming up!”


All the ladies 'tut tutted' but laughed along with the rather risque comment and those who knew Miranda well, just rolled their eyes. These 'modern' ladies certainly did not hold back!

More chuckles made the rounds and Beth discreetly packed the toy away for future use. She sent a sneaky smile over to her unflappable friend.


Thank you Clementine.”


You're welcome sweetie. Let me know how it goes.”


Miranda was next though she felt a tad trepidatious about trying to follow the gift from Clementine. Her's was hardly going to have the same impact. Still, she smiled and presented it and Beth was pleased to accept.


Beth opened the box, almost afraid of what it might be but then smiled with pleasure when she was met with an elegant white porcelain vase with a relief pattern of a floral and leaf design wrapping its way around the bowl and stem.


Oh my,” Beth breathed in admiration. “That's so lovely. This will look beautiful on a mantel. Thank you so much. Everyone is being so generous.”


You only get married once in your life—or so they tell me!” Clem commented. “Appreciate it while you can!”


Here Beth, open mine next!” Bridget pushed a flat box onto her sister's lap. “I made it myself—well, with Momma's help!”


Really?” Beth queried. “Thank you!”


You haven't even opened it yet!”


Yes, but you made it yourself! I already know I'm going to like it.”


Bridget smiled and then motioned at her sister. “Well, go on! Open it!”


Beth opened the lid of the box and gasped in awe! She reached in and daintily held up a full-length silky and slinky neglige! She stood up to let the garment fall it's full length and everyone admired the craftsmanship and the suggestive sheerness of it. Beth smiled with true pleasure, taking note of the embroidery and lovely pearls sown into the low cut neck line and around the hem. She also noted that the sides of the garment were also open and embroidered from under the arm all the way to the floor, leaving nothing much to the imagination.


Beth was speechless. This enticing apparel must have taken her sister ages to create, especially when she had her own little one at home to tend to as well. It was beautiful and Beth knew that she would treasure it long past the wedding night. She was once again close to tears as she gave her sister a big hug and thanked her most sincerely.


The sleek gown made its way around the room with everyone admiring the workmanship and the love that had gone into its creation. Bridget beamed with pleasure that her risque gift was appreciated by everyone.


There was one more gift left to be opened. Belle picked it up off the table and handed it to her youngest daughter with pride in her eyes and a mother's love on her lips.


Beth accepted the small box as she met her mother's eyes and she knew what a lucky young lady she was. She was almost afraid to open this gift from her mother. She didn't really know why, but her hand was shaking just a little as she lifted the lid and gently pulled away the cotton covering. Then just as she had feared, her throat tightened up and she felt the tears coming again.


Oh Momma. This is grandma's brooch isn't it?”


Yes,” Belle conceded. “That brooch comes all the way from England. Your great-grandmother gave it to your grandmother just before she and her new husband sailed to the new world. Then your grandmother gave it to me upon the day of my marriage to your father and now I am giving it to you. Cherish it Beth. Hold it and wear it and keep it safe. It represents the maternal lineage of our family and has great value of both monetary and sentimental. Then, when you are fortunate enough to have your own daughters, or grand daughters you can pass it on to them and keep the line going.”


Oh Momma! Thank you!” And Beth turned and gave her mother a heartfelt hug and everyone in the room thought for sure they were going to cry. “I promise! I'll cherish it and keep it safe.”


Congratulations sweetheart. I am so proud of you.”


Then everyone started to laugh as the wrapping paper and ribbon that was laying about the floor suddenly bounced and jumped and was scattered to the far corners as Mouse decided it was time to liven up the party.


While the young cat entertained the guests, Belle made a discreet exit to the kitchen to make more tea and bring out more pastries. Soon, everyone, including Mouse had settled in to contented nibbling and relaxed chatting until it was going to be time to head for home.

“So Beth,” Miranda asked, after the gifts had all been admired and put aside. “did you have a dress made for your big day?”


“Oh, no,” Beth answered and then smiled at her mother. “I'm going to wear Momma's dress. Bridget wore it for her wedding and we all thought it would be nice to carry on the tradition.”


“Yes,” said Belle. “It's fortunate that both my girls fit into that dress and even nicer that they both wanted to wear it!”


“It's a lovely dress Momma!” Bridget assured her. “Why would we not want to!?”


“Well,” Belle smiled softly. “sometimes a young bride wants her own dress.”


“Oh no!” Beth piped in. “It's too nice a dress to just keep stored away and not wear it! I'm so looking forward to putting it on for real!”


“You have to do something different though!” Clementine insisted. “You can't have your wedding be exactly the same as your sisters!”


“No, it won't be!” Beth assured her. “Bridget had yellow flowers for her bouquet but I'm going to have a mixture of spring flowers—like the ones used to decorate the yard. And of course; Joshua is going to be here for my wedding.”


“Oh of course! Rub it in!” Bridget complained. “I was willing to wait for him as well, but he insisted that we not!” Then she smiled lovingly. “Now of course, I'm glad we didn't wait because if we had, little Rosie wouldn't be here and she is such a dear.”


“And that's all I would have needed!” Belle exclaimed with a heavy sigh. “Both of you getting married at the same time! You would have been fighting over the dress!”


“No we wouldn't have!” Bridget insisted. “As the oldest, I would have had first choice.”


“That's hardly fair!” Beth complained. “You always use that as as excuse! Being the oldest doesn't mean you can get everything!”


“So far is has.”


“Oh well I.....!”


“Girls! Girls!” Belle laughed. “you're fighting over a hypothesis! Fortunately the dress was available for both of you.”


The sisters both smiled and then giggled over the silliness of their argument.


“Where is your daughter?” Sarah asked. “I'd love to meet her.”


“She's napping right now,” Bridget told her. “But I'm sure she'll be up before you leave. And there's always tomorrow! I'm sure she won't be sleeping through all that excitement.”


“No, probably not,” Merle agreed. “It'll be quit a day!”


“And quite a night too, I'm sure,” Clementine commented with a wicked glint in her eye.


“Clementine—really!!” Trich reprimanded her but giggling all the same.


Everyone in the room laughed and Beth blushed but also smiled.


“Don't be afraid of your wedding night!” Randa advised the bride-to-be. “It can be very exciting.”


“Oh yes,” Merle nodded her sage head wisely. “The worse thing you can do is freeze up.” She smiled and gave Beth a reassuring pat on the knee. “But I'm sure your mother and sister have told you what to expect.”


“Yes...I....I think I do have some idea,” Beth commented quietly and sent a side-long glance over to her mother who of course was privy to her little secret. “I'm sure Jed will be very gentle. I'm not afraid.”


This was met by feminine corkles around the sitting room.


“Don't count on gentleness my dear!” Merle added her two bits worth again. “Not after he's had to wait this long! And didn't you say he promised not to go near the brothels?”


“Yes he did,” Beth assured her with pride and then looked around in some shock as the assembly broke out laughing and nodded knowingly at their companions. “What?”


“Oh don't let them chide you Beth,” Tricia comforted her. “I'm sure Jed waited. But then,” she and Miranda exchanged a laughing look. “all the more reason not to expect him to be gentle!”


“Why wouldn't he be gentle?” Beth was rather incensed. “He was the last.....I mean, he's always been very gentle with me.”


Fortunately for her, her little slip up slipped by un-noticed as the other ladies were having too much fun. Belle sat back quietly with a knowing smile on her face while watching her youngest daughter scrambling to defend her betrothed's honour—and her own.


“That's fine Beth,” Sarah smiled and took some tea. “When you truly love someone then there is no reason to be afraid.”


“Afraid of what?” Beth asked the group in general, then turned to her sister. “You tell them! You really enjoyed your wedding night—didn't you?”


“Yes of course!” Bridget assured her sister and she smiled with the heavenly remembrance of it. “I mean—of course it was a bit shocking,” a number of collaborating head nods. “but it was still...well. Really Momma! You didn't tell me everything!”


Belle raised her brows in mock self-defence. “I didn't want to ruin the adventure for you. The first time is always special and exciting when you're with the right man. And I have no doubt in my mind that both of my girls have chosen the right man.”


“Oh well said, Belle!” Merle congratulated her friend. “Nothing like a bit of mystery for the newlyweds!”


“Oh really now!” Beth argued. “How much mystery can there be? I mean...there's only so many things a man can.....” She shut her mouth and blushed again. “I mean really.”


All the ladies laughed. Carol looked confused.

“You'll see.” Bridget teased her sister. “There are so many different positions—some you wouldn't think possible....until you get into it that is.”


“Bridget!” Beth was incensed. “How can you talk that way!?”


“What?” Bridget shrugged. “It's common knowledge.” She smiled at her sister, snatching the opportunity to needle her. “Well, to most of us here!”


“Well, I've....” Then Beth shut down again, so tempted to give away her little secret but not wanting to at the same time. “Momma has told me what to expect.”


“Well, as I said; not everything,” Belle corrected her.

“And with a man like Mr. Curry,” Merle added her opinion. “Oh my! If I were thirty years younger you'd be having a run for your money my dear!”


“Merle, really!” Sarah chided her, but everyone laughed.


“I can certainly understand her sentiment,” Miranda supported the older lady. “Jed is a fine specimen of the male animal!”


“Exactly!” Merle defended herself. “You can bet he's been around the bed post a few times. He's going to introduce you to a whole new world my dear!”


“You have been suspiciously quiet through all of this Clem,” Bridget pointed out. “Do you know more about Jed than you're willing to let on?”


“What!?” Clementine was jolted out of her revelry. “Why whatever do you mean?”


All of a sudden all the ladies in the group were laughing and pointing fingers at Clem as she tried very hard to look innocent and insulted.


“They are just my friends! Nothing more!” she insisted. “How could you even think such a thing?”


“Oh, I don't know,” Tricia teased. “Wasn't it to your place Jed ran to when Jesse kicked him off the ranch?”


“Well yes,” Clem admitted self-righteously. “but that's because WE'RE FRIENDS! He had no where else to go!”


“Yes. He went running straight into your arms,” Tricia continued. “and perhaps—straight into your bed?”


“Well I never...!!” Clem blustered but she also started to blush guiltily.


Everyone had a good laugh then, even Beth until Clem finally accepted the inevitable and stopped trying to deny everything. She just shut her mouth and took on a haughty demeanour.


“That's just fine,” she eventually conceded. “You all think whatever you want—but a lady never tells!”

That sent the whole room into an uproar and everyone laughed until they hurt and even Clem started to chuckle a little bit too with the teasing. She reached over and gave Beth a touch on the knee.


“Don't you listen to a word they say,” she advised her young friend. “Jed loves you and that's all you need to worry about.”


“Yes, I know,” Beth agreed. “I'm also well aware that I'm hardly Jed's first romance—just so long as from now on, I'm his one and only!”


“I'm sure you are,” Merle smiled at the young woman. “You can always tell when a man's in love and I'd say that Jed cares about you very much Beth. That much is obvious.”


Beth beamed. “Thank you.”


“You're going to have a wonderful day tomorrow, sweetheart,” Belle promised her daughter. “And whatever I haven't told you about the wedding night, I have no doubt that Jed will have no qualms about filling in the blanks.”


“Oh Momma! Really!” Beth looked insulted, quite confident that her one romantic interlope with Jed was all the introduction she needed to know what went on between a man and a woman behind closed doors—or in wide open fields! Little did she know what other joyous pleasures Jed had up his sleeves, or down his pants for that matter. She was certain she knew it all.


Belle and Bridget exchanged smiles over the head of the soon to-be-bride while the other ladies in the group sipped their tea and raised their brows at one another.

“It's going to be an interesting day for Miranda too,” Tricia quietly commented with a sly smile over to her cousin.


Miranda's eyes popped wide as she returned the look. “Tricia!”


“What?” asked Clementine, relieved that the heat was being directed away from her. “What's going on?”


“Hannibal took her out for a walk this morning,” Tricia informed the interested group. “They both appeared quite pleased upon their return.”


“Oh Tricia, really!” Miranda complained, but still couldn't help a smile. “You're jumping the gun!”


“What?”


“What did he say?”


“What happened?”


“Nothing happened.” Randa smiled.


“Aww, c'mon!”


“Don't keep us in suspense!”


“What did he say?”


“I'll tell them if you don't,” Tricia threatened. “You know I will.”


Randa's smile deepened and her shoulders slumped in resignation, but her eyes sparkled with exited pleasure. “He asked me to be his guest tomorrow,” she said. “That we would come as a couple.”


A joyous cheer went up among the younger ladies in the group while the older ones smiled at the news.


“That's wonderful,” Belle was pleased. “I know he has been awfully down since.....well, he's been down and he deserves to have something good in his life again.”


“Well, it's nothing too serious,” Randa cautioned everyone. “He's still struggling, but I think he knows what he wants in life now and we just need to give him the time he needs to get through this last disappointment.”


Belle sighed. “Dear Joshua! He has had a rather hard time of it. Just when we all thought things were coming together for them...oh well.” She smiled. “And that little Becky! What a whirlwind!” She and Beth exchanged looks then and they both laughed. “So much her father's daughter! I hope you get the chance to meet her one day, Miranda. She really is a dear.”


“Yes,” Miranda nodded. “I hope I get the chance as well. Who knows.”


“Well!” Belle prepared to stand up. “Would everyone like some more tea?”


“Oh yes!”


“More tea would be lovely!”


“Let me come and help you,” Merle offered.


And so the gathering continued on until it was time to head back to town. Most of the ladies settled back into the carriage and with boisterous waves and farewell's and promises of returning the next day, the horses leaned into their harnesses and headed for home.


Bridget and Clementine stayed at the ranch for the night in order to help with the last minute preparations. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day for all and there was going to be much to do.



To Be Continued
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Stepha3nie

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PostSubject: Re: Stags and Hens Chapter sixteen   Sun Aug 03, 2014 1:11 am

Another lovely, very enjoyable chapter. Fun and lighthearted for the most part.
Jed's stag party: so many friends show up, including Kyle and Wheat. Loved the reminiscing about their outlaw days. I had the feeling there were not only references to some episodes of ASJ, but maybe also fanfic I have yet to read? And Wheat getting a bigger haul than Heyes? Come on - it had been Heyes' last heist and without him, Wheat would not have had a safe to open, so it is really Heyes' biggest haul...  And then of course there is the morning after. Loved the way you had Nathan torture the boys.
I never would have thought the bridal shower would get quite so naughty. Leave it to Clem. Yea, I think Beth will be in for some more surprises... It was really lovely to have so much good-natured teasing and happiness.
Not sure how I feel about Heyes and Amy becoming friends again. Some of the things she told him sounded like echoes of what Heyes had suffered, not physically, but mentally/emotionally. I can't help but feel that there is a purpose behind this.
In regards to her recovery - I was wondering when the injury to her ankle became so serious. In the beginning David was not even sure whether it even was a break and now Randa mentions that the break had been so bad that David had considered amputation? If you ever rewrite this, maybe have David mention it earlier?
We also get to see how powerful a banker really is. He may try to bully Amy, but can't get past Randa and is later deftly outmaneuvered by his wife. Don't underestimate the power of hat-obsessed women!
I feel happy that Heyes seems to be doing better, compared to last chapter. He feels confident enough to take the next step with Randa. I am still feeling a little torn about it - it seems so cruel to loose the love of his life not to death, but to a decision because of fear. To know she is there, still in love with him, but out of reach... But Kudos to you for following this difficult path. Not giving the reader what we might want or expect, but taking it somewhere else. And Miranda is someone I wish all the best for.
But there is a little devil in me who keeps niggling how Anya could ever become a part of Heyes life - after all, the split-up is for her safety. And unless the danger goes away (Abi mentioned that Joan would have to die for this to happen), she can't appear anywhere near Heyes...
And now I hope so much that everything goes smoothly at the wedding.

_________________
"I can resist everything - except temptation"  Oscar Wilde
For me temptation is Hannibal Heyes, especially in chaps!
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Stags and Hens Chapter sixteen
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