#59 Daisy's Promise

Daisy’s Promise


Patty Wilkinson

(Some violence, strong language and adult themes)

NB: This story was written before Jess’s romance with Millie.


Daisy Cooper arranged the little bouquet of flowers on the dining table and stood back to admire them just as Jess Harper entered the ranch house. He watched their elderly housekeeper for a moment before coming over and saying quietly… “Those are real purty Daisy.”

She glanced up and gave him a warm smile. “From my kitchen garden; I always leave just a little space for flowers…”

He nodded and then sighed deeply, “So did you take some up the hill too?” He asked, referring to the little burial plot above the ranch where his partner, Slim Sherman’s parents had been laid to rest.

Daisy nodded, “Yes….. I did.”

She suddenly looked so sad and vulnerable that Jess took her in his arms giving her a hug before pulling back and looking deeply into her eyes.

“Are you OK Daisy?” He asked.

She nodded, “I am now, yes thank you dear. You remembered then Jess…that it was the anniversary?”

“Sure,” he said softly, “I’ll never forget it Daisy…never….”

And he remembered back to that time, when Daisy and he had set off on an adventure. One which was to have far reaching consequences

Chapter 1

It had been a long hard winter at the Sherman Ranch and Relay station and everyone who lived there had suffered to some extent in one way or another.

Slim Sherman and Jess Harper, partners in the business had been hard pressed to keep everything going throughout all the snow and storms and were now beginning to feel pretty near exhausted.

Mike Williams, the ranchers young ward had his own difficulties throughout the bad weather, being confined to the ranch house and sorely missing the company of his young school friends.

But it was probably Mrs Daisy Cooper their housekeeper and stand-in Ma to all, who had had the worst deal.

Trying to keep her, ‘boys’ happy when they were all stir crazy, unable to pursue their usual lifestyle of riding and working outside, due to the inclement weather. Also meeting their needs of clean, dry clothes on a far too regular basis was time consuming. Not to mention cooking up meals from next to nothing, with supplies running low….all had taken its toll on her and she was exhausted as well.
That was why she lost her temper with Jess, the young cowboy she probably loved the most out of her ‘family’, although she would never admit to having favorites.

One afternoon he came stomping in, trailing mud behind him calling out to her, “Daisy is my best shirt clean? Seein’ as how all the snow’s finally melted I thought I might ride into town come Saturday; see iffen anyone remembers who I am,” he said with a broad grin.

“Jess Harper,” she exploded, “do you think I’ve got nothing better to do than wash your best shirt?”
He stopped in his tracks, mouth open in shock at this unprovoked attack and after a minute he recovered sufficiently to reply, “Gee I’m sorry Ma’am I didn’t mean ta upset you.”

She looked across at him for a few moments, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, “No….. I’m sorry Jess, I had no call to speak to you like that, of course I’ll find your shirt. It is clean, just needs ironing. I’ll do it later dear.”

Jess shook his head, “No,” he said firmly, “I’ll do it myself. I figure we’ve come to rely on you way too much, you spoil us all Daisy and it has to stop.”

She stood there just staring at him.

Then more gently he said, “Come here,” and taking her hand he led her to his rocker in front of the fire and lowered her into it, “now you just sit there and I’ll make you a nice cup of coffee.”

“I have to start supper,” she said starting to rise again, but Jess gently pushed her back down.

“Stay,” he said firmly, like he was talking to Mike’s dog Buttons and she gave a little giggle at the thought.

“That’s better,” he said and marched off to the kitchen to make their drinks.
When he got back he handed the strong brew to Daisy before taking a sip of his own and just then the door flew open and Slim strode in.

Jess immediately leapt up from his seat.

“Aw Slim, look at all that mud you’ve just trailed in! How many times has Miss Daisy told you to wipe yer feet?”

Slim stopped and looked at his partner in amazement.


“Go wipe your feet Slim, that yard’s like a mud bath right now.”

Slim just shook his head and turning round went back outside and wiped his feet vigorously on the mat before re-entering.

“Happy?” he asked sarcastically, but his buddy just nodded, before returning to his drink.

“Fresh pot in the kitchen,” he said to Slim jerking his head in that direction.

Suddenly the front door burst open and Mike ran in.

“Feet! Wipe ‘em,” yelled Slim and Jess in unison and the child backtracked at double speed, before returning a few minutes later and coming into the room he went straight to Daisy’s chair. Leaning on the arm he said, “when’s supper ready Aunt Daisy, I’m starving.”

“Slim and me is cookin’ tonight,” said Jess quickly.

Slim’s head shot up and he stared at his partner in disbelief, “We are?”

“We are!”

“Oh Jess dear, there is no need for that. I’m fine now I’ve had a little rest,” said Daisy quickly.

“No,” said Jess firmly, “you’re not the only one that can do a bit of spoilin’ around here. Now you just relax and we’ll get to it. Mike set the table will you?”

“Sure,” said the youngster with a grin.

Jess reached over and ruffled the boy’s shaggy blond hair, before going off to the kitchen, with Slim, to start rustling up the meal.

“What’s all this about?” asked Slim in a whisper once they had started peeling some potatoes.

“Guess Daisy is real tired,” said Jess quietly, “she yelled at me just now and then she looked like she was gonna cry. Well that ain’t like her. I figure she needs a bit of time off, a rest from us all.”

“Hell, you’re right pard; she’s not had a break …since well I don’t know when. She can’t have been off the ranch for three, maybe four months.”

“Yeah, that’s right, I mean she usually visits her friends once a week at least and does the marketing in town, but with all this bad weather, she just couldn’t use the buggy. No wonder she’s on a short fuse with just us three for company,” he whispered wryly.

“I know how she feels,” said Slim, giving his partner a cheeky grin and receiving a clip around the head for his trouble.

The two cowboys produced a passable meal and afterwards they sat around the fire enjoying a final coffee before turning in. After a while they returned to the delicate subject of getting Daisy to take a break.

Both men knew how stubborn she could be, so they were pleased when she seemed quite receptive to their ideas.

Slim had opened up the subject by saying how tired she must be with their company.

She smiled across at them both, “I love your company, you know that. But yes I have missed the womanly chatter with my friends I must admit…But we’ve all been confined to barracks,” she said with a smile, “because of this awful long winter, not just me.”

“Well then. How about us all going to town on Saturday?” suggested Slim, “and we can have lunch out at Miss Molly’s café after the marketing.”

Her old face lit up, “Oh that would be a treat,” she said smiling.

“What else would you like ta do?” asked Jess smiling indulgently at her.

“Well….she said, “I do believe it is young Ginny Moore’s quilting party coming up next month, I really would love to attend that.”

“Little Ginny havin’ a quiltin’,” said Jess in surprise, “thought she was just a kid”.

“Well, she’s turned 16 and her Mother thought it was time…In my day you didn’t have a quilting party until you were 21 at least.”

Slim had been listening to this conversation with interest, “So what’s the quilting party all about?” he asked.

“Well, I suppose it’s a bit like a coming out party back East,” she said.


“A quilting party is held when a young lady is thought to be ready for marriage,” Daisy explained. “All the women in the town meet at her house and help sew a quilt for her bottom drawer. Word gets out of the quilting party and that’s when all the young men start calling and courting the girl. Then, hopefully, she gets married and ….well uses the quilt,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

“Sounds like a good idea,” said Slim laughing, “maybe we should have one for Jess. Find him a girl and get him married off at last.”

“I don’t have a problem with finding a girl,” said Jess gruffly.

“Yeah, that may be so buddy, but, well how can I say this……. you don’t exactly choose the marrying kind do you Jess?”

Jess knew he was referring to a former romance, with a married woman that had ended disastrously. When her allegedly estranged husband had suddenly turned up and taken a pretty dim view of Jess’s involvement with his wife. Even though Jess had really believed the marriage had ended and the husband had re married.

“Aw Slim, are ya never gonna let me forget that. It was a mistake …and I paid for it right?” he said remembering the fight that had ended with Jess being out of action for several weeks as he nursed broken ribs and multiple cuts and bruises.

“Now, now boys,” said Daisy aiming to restore calm, “I guess I’ll have to throw a quilting party for you both, left to your own devices the Lord alone knows when you’ll both find decent women.”

At the words ’decent woman’, Jess turned pale and said he was heading for bed and left Slim and Daisy by the fire hiding their laughter until the bedroom door had closed behind him.

Chapter 2

The following morning Slim awoke and shivered. Jeez it’s cold in here he thought and looking over at his buddy in the other bed said, “Is it me or is it darn well freezing in here?”

Jess opened an eye and thought about the question for some minutes then said, “Yeah, its freezin’,” before turning over and going back to sleep.

Slim got up and stretching went over and pulled the drapes back and was surprised to see the sun was up and he’d overslept.

He went over to Jess’s bed and unceremoniously dragged the covers off, “Get up buddy, suns up and we’ve chores to do.”

“Aw Slim,” muttered Jess, “can’t be mornin’ yet ain’t no coffee or bacon on the go.”

Slim sniffed the air, he was right, there was no smell of breakfast cooking and quickly pulling on his pants he went to investigate.

The drapes were still closed in the big main room. The fire, which was banked up at night and then poked into life in the morning by Daisy, had gone out and on further inspection the kitchen was cold and deserted.

Slim shook his head in disbelief and returning to the bedroom, tore into his partner, “Jess will you get your ornery hide out of bed and come and help me. The fire’s out and so is the cook stove, figure Miss Daisy has slept in, give us a hand sorting Mike out for school will you?”

“OK, OK, quit yer fussin’,” came from the depths of his bed where Jess had retrieved his blanket and was now burrowed down under it again.

“I mean it!” yelled Slim, losing his temper now.

Jess opened one eye and then the other and very slowly sat up, scratching his head and looking around him like he had never seen the room before.

After a few minutes he lurched up and began dressing slowly. Seeing his friend was finally on the move Slim left the room and went and started making up the fire.

The ranchers decided to leave Daisy to rest. They made breakfast and got Mike off on the early morning Stage for school before relaxing back at the breakfast table with a final coffee.

After a while Jess looked over at his buddy, “Do you think she’s OK Slim, think we should check on her?”

“Well it’s not like her to sleep in, that’s for sure. But I feel kind of funny going into her room, it’s her own private space, and you know we never go in there.”

“Yeah, I know that, but what if she’s sick?”

“You think she might be?”

“Dunno, she sure wasn’t herself yesterday.”

“You’re right,” said Slim and getting up he strode over to Daisy’s door and after listening for a moment tapped on it and waited for an answer. When there was none he gestured for Jess to join him and the two cowboys quietly entered the room.

It was in total darkness and as Jess drew the drapes back they looked over to the bed and were shocked to see Daisy’s pale face. Dark shadows under her eyes, her breathing labored.

They walked over and Jess knelt down and gently took her hand, “Daisy,” he whispered, “are you OK?”

After a moment her eyes flew open and she took in the two worried faces and made to sit up, “Why I’ve overslept,” she started and then fell back a look of pain on her face and a hand shot up to her aching head.

“What is it Daisy?” asked Slim a look of concern on his handsome face.

“I’m sorry, I don’t feel too well,” the elderly woman admitted, “must have caught a chill.”

Jess took in her pale face, with perspiration shining on her forehead and the dull look in her eyes and he stood up quickly.

“I’m riding for Doc Sam,” he said, referring to Doctor Sam Baker, their physician and good family friend.

“There’s no call to bother Sam,” said Daisy, but before she could continue she started coughing and it was some minutes before she could stop and get her breath back.

“I think there is,” said Jess once she was resting comfortably back on her pillows and turning to Slim said, “won’t be long,” and marched quickly out of the bedroom.

True to his word he was back in record time with Doc Sam. The doctor lost no time in checking on his patient. Feeling troubled as he was really fond of Miss Daisy.

Slim and Jess waited anxiously in the big room and both looked at him expectantly when he joined them a little later.

He shook his head, “It doesn’t look too good,” he said softly, “she’s got a nasty dose of this pesky flu that’s doing the rounds again. There was a Stage passenger had it just last week, he must have passed it on when Daisy served him coffee. It sure is a nasty old bug.”

“You mean that thing me and Slim had last year when Daisy and Mike were paying a visit to her niece back east?” asked Jess looking concerned.

“That’s right and she was lucky to miss it that time. Had she been home she would have insisted in nursing you both and probably succumbed to it then.”

Slim shook his head, “Jeez, that’s horrible, can’t remember feeling so ill in a long time, if ever.”

Sam nodded, “Yes it is a very nasty illness and well….. I won’t beat about the bush…. it can be fatal to youngsters and older people.”

Jess’s head shot up and he looked horror stricken, “Fatal…ya mean Miss Daisy could die?” he gasped.

Sam just nodded, “It’s a possibility. I’ll do all I can though. She’s strong and almost as stubborn as you Jess, so she’s got a good chance,” he said with a warm smile.

Then he continued, “You two will be immune now, but Mike? Well I think he should stay with friends, just until she’s better.”

“Sure,” said Slim, he can stay at the Patterson’s ranch, “they’ve got so many young ‘uns I guess they won’t notice another,” he said with the ghost of a smile.

Meanwhile Jess had wandered over to the window and stood looking moodily out, his hands thrust deep in his pockets.

Slim and Sam exchanged a look. They knew how devoted Jess was to Daisy and Slim could see how upset his buddy was. Heck he felt the same. But unlike Jess he was better able to cope with his emotions. He tended to keep things locked inside and try and think them through, whereas Jess often became unmanageable and out of control if he was deeply troubled, wanting to lash out at everyone or anyone to help dissipate the pain.

He watched him carefully now waiting to see what his buddy would do and then after a moment went over and put a gentle hand on Jess’s shoulder, “You OK?” he asked softly.

Jess looked down and swallowed hard and when he turned to look at him, Slim was shocked to see tears in his eyes.

He just nodded and then turning to Sam, said, “What can we do to help Sam?”

Sam gave a small sigh of relief; it looked like Jess wasn’t gonna go off on one….

“Well, I guess I’ll send Carrie over to nurse her,” he said, referring to his young daughter and nurse.

“She’ll need personal care, stuff you and Slim couldn’t do for her. But that said, you can make her plenty of hot drinks and see she takes them. She shouldn’t be left alone for any length of time, so maybe you can work with Carrie and do the odd night shift and just talk to her, keep her interested. Problem with this flu is its mighty depressing and well…some folks just lose the will to live. You’ve got to make her feel needed and well…loved I guess.”

“She is Sam,” said Jess softly before making for the door and the sanctuary of the barn where he could try and come to terms with the bad news in his own way.

Later after Sam had left and Daisy was sleeping peacefully Slim went out to the barn to check on Jess and as he entered he saw his buddy stripped down to his shirt sleeves, sweat staining the back of his blue shirt and the barn sparkling like a new pin.

Jess swung round as his friend approached, “How is she?”

“She’s sleeping, don’t worry.”

Then looking around he said, “Gee, you’ve been busy Jess, you mucked out all the stalls?”

Jess just nodded, “Need ta keep busy.“

Slim looked over, “Yeah. I know buddy,” he said softly.

“Guess I’ll ride over to the Patterson’s place check out if they can have Mike,” and with that he saddled up Alamo, his mount, and rode out.

Carrie arrived on the afternoon Stage with the news that Mike had alighted at the Paterson ranch and had passed on strict instructions for Jess to feed Buttons and Bandit his Racoon. Also to give Daisy a big hug and to say he hoped she would be well real soon.

Jess smiled across at Carrie, “It sure is good to see you sweetheart, Slim and me are real worried about Miss Daisy.”

Carrie smiled at the young cowboy, “I’ll go and check on her right away,” she said kindly, “try not to fret Jess,” and with that she disappeared in the direction of Daisy’s room.

Carrie was a good friend of the two ranchers. In fact time was when she had been more than little bit in love with Jess, when she was a youngster. Had nearly driven him crazy mooning over him, and hatching up plans to try and win his heart. See #3 The Doctor’s Daughter

But that had all been way back and now she was all grown up and she had trained as a nurse back East and was a great asset to her father’s Practice. She still had a soft spot for Jess though and they were very close and she hated to see him so upset.

As she entered the sickroom the older woman raised her head from her pillows and said, “Why Carrie, whatever are you doing here dear?”

“Come to keep an eye on you, if that’s OK Miss Daisy?”

“Well, of course it is dear, but I really don’t want to be any trouble,” she said, and then started coughing and wheezing.

Carrie supported her and then offered some cool water before resting her back on the pillows.

“It’s no trouble,” she said gently, “I think you need a bit of special care and besides those cowboys of yours are worrying themselves silly over you. I guess we’ve got to get you fit and healthy again just to stop them fretting,” she finished with a warm smile.

The older woman just nodded and rested back on the pillows. She was a retired nurse herself and knew the dangers involved with the killer flu virus and was glad of the girl’s professional support. The fact that it would relieve the pressure of caring for her from her two ‘boys’ as well being a relief as she didn’t want to be a burden on them.

However she hadn’t taken into account their caring natures and one or other of them sat with her every evening and popped in and out during the day too, just to try and cheer her up.

On the third day, however, she took a sudden turn for the worse.

Jess was in the kitchen making dinner for them all when Carrie burst in, “Jess I think you need to ride for Pa, it’s Daisy, she’s worse, I’m kind of worried,” she admitted honestly.

He stared at her for a moment before dashing from the room and a few minutes later she heard him galloping out of the yard hell bent for leather

Sam came out of the sickroom and turned to face Slim and Jess, who had leapt out of their chairs as he entered.

He shook his head gravely, “Its not good news,” he said, “she has developed lung fever. She’ll need round the clock nursing…but even then …well I think you both have to prepare yourselves for the worst…I’m sorry.”

Slim looked down, devastated.

Jess stood stock still his eyes open wide in shock and then went over to Sam and yelled angrily, “So you’re just givin’ up on her are you Sam? Simple as that she’s gonna die!”

Sam put a gentle hand on Jess’s shoulder, “No I’m not giving up Jess,” he said quietly, “I’m just trying to prepare you for, well………. just in case, that’s all.”

Jess shook his hand off and turned away, “She ain’t gonna die,” he said menacingly, “I ain’t gonna let her,” and with that he walked to her door and after tapping gently on it disappeared inside.

From that moment on it was Jess who stayed with their ailing housekeeper day and night. Slim and Carrie did their fair share, but also took some rest, where as Jess insisted on staying beside Daisy, just briefly napping on a cot in the corner of the room when he was too exhausted to go on.

She had been tossing and turning with fever and her carers had to constantly wipe her face and arms with cool water to try and bring her temperature down. Then cover her with extra blankets when she started shivering and the task seemed endless as she showed no sign of improvement.

It was in the small hours of the morning on the fourth day when the fever finally broke.

Jess had been tending to her and Carrie and Slim were napping in the main room, when her eyes opened and she stared right into Jess’s deep blue, concerned, ones.

She peered at him and then looked around the room, before looking back and whispering, “What time is it Jess?”

“Late, little after two, I think,” he said smiling at her.

“Why Jess Harper what ever are you doing sitting here at two in the morning,” she said fiercely, “you’ll never get up for work tomorrow.”

Jess just grinned at her, “I guess you’re feelin’ better, huh?”

She smiled back, “Yes I believe I am, in fact, do you think I could have a nice cup of tea dear?”

Jess looked back at her, tears welling up in his eyes.

“Why, Jess whatever is the matter dear?” she asked anxiously.

“Have you any idea how sick you’ve been Daisy?” he asked.

She just shook her head.

“And have you any idea how much you mean to us?” he whispered.

She looked deeply into his eyes, “I’m beginning to,” she said.

He just nodded, “I’ll get your tea.”

Later after she had drunk her tea, she relaxed back on the pillows and looking over at Jess said, “You look absolutely done in, how long have you been sitting up with me Jess?”

“Four days…on and off.”

“Four days, well no wonder you look so terrible.”

“Gee thanks,” he said with a lopsided grin.

“Oh I don’t mean it like that,” she said returning the smile, “just sort of wild and rugged.”

Jess ran a hand over the four days growth of beard, “Guess I could use a shave at that,” he said.

“I’m just teasing you,” she said with a girlish giggle, and then sobering, “I can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me.”

He just reached over and took her hand and said nothing, but she felt so safe and calm and knew in that moment that everything would be alright as she closed her eyes and fell into a deep restorative sleep.

After a few minutes Jess relaxed back in his chair and followed suit and that was how Slim found them a few hours later when he came to take over from him.

His buddy was fast asleep in his chair and Daisy sleeping peacefully, the colour in her cheeks restored and her hand still clasping Jess’s as if holding onto a lifeline.

And as Slim looked down at his friend he reckoned that that was exactly what he had been to Daisy and he remembered his angry words to Sam, “She ain’t gonna die, I won’t let her.”

He shook his head and wondered, not for the first time; about the formidable stubbornness possessed by his friend and for once thanked God for it.

Daisy started to recover from then on and everyone in the Sherman household rejoiced.

Once Jess knew she was on the mend he resumed his duties about the ranch, feeling guilty that Slim had taken the brunt of the work over the last week or two and so he tried to redress the balance and gradually things started to get back to normal as Daisy continued to regain her strength and Mike was allowed home.

The day she got up for the first time everyone breathed a sigh of relief and finally things seemed to get back to how they were, but what the family didn’t realize then was that there was a long way to go before that was really true.

Chapter 3

Daisy was fit and healthy again within a couple of weeks but both Slim and Jess were aware that something was not right and one evening after supper, Slim decided to broach the problem.

They were all sitting around the fire at the end of the day when Slim glanced at his buddy and on receiving a slight nod, he said, “Daisy, Jess and I are kind of worried about you.”

“Well there is no need dear,” she said opening wide innocent eyes, “I’m absolutely fine now.”

Jess gave her a penetrating look, “Don’t try and kid a kidder Daisy,” he said softly, “there is something wrong and Slim and I know it…so why don’t ya just tell us?”

She looked down for a long time before meeting Jess’s intense blue eyes, “I guess you are right boys.” she said, glancing from Jess to Slim and back.

“It’s something I have tried to forget, but I just can’t.”

“Go on,” said Slim, giving her an encouraging look.

“Well I suppose I should start from the beginning,” she said quietly and the two men settled back to listen as they sipped their coffee.

“When I was little there were four of us,” she started, “my older sister, the one in Cheyenne, Violet-Ann that I visit quite often, Lily in Philadelphia, who you have met and my big brother Matt.”

“I never knew you had a brother,” said Slim in surprise.

“Well he left home when we were all quite young. He was four years older than me and he fell in love with a beautiful girl, when he was only 21. Well Pa hated the girl’s father and didn’t approve of the marriage. Matt was heartbroken, but he finally decided to elope with Jennie, even though Pa said he would disinherit him.”

Jess shook his head, “I guess your Pa must have really hated Jennie’s old man?”

Daisy nodded in agreement, “Oh yes, Pa had very radical views and if folk didn’t agree with him …well that was it. Anyway, the day before they were to elope…. Jennie was killed in a riding accident. Matt was devastated and blamed Pa, said if he’d agreed to the marriage, they’d be wed by then and it would never have happened.”

“He couldn’t know that” broke in Slim, “if her time had come……then…..”

“Yes I agree with you Slim, but Matt wouldn’t see it and he left home and we never heard from him again for many years….. And then……”

“And then?” asked Jess, looking fascinated.

“And then he got in touch a few years ago, just before my dear husband died. We had a wire from Rawlins, saying he was sorry that he had left us all and hoping we were well. That was one of the reasons we decided to buy the store in ‘Sherman Wyoming’” she said with a small smile. Referring to the time that she and her late husband had been swindled out of their life savings by a con man who had sold them a none existent store in a none existent town.

“That was why I landed at the Sherman ranch and relay station.”

“Well I’m sure glad you did,” said Slim sincerely, “or we’d never have met you.”

She gave him a grateful smile and then continued her tale.

“Well the next thing I knew, there was no store and I landed here, with you dear boys. Then later I heard from my sister in Philadelphia that my brother had been seen back there. However he never made contact with her, or me and I believed he wasn’t here so I never sought him out….and then …”

“And then?” said Jess again.

“And then just this Christmas, when Mose visited he was telling us all about that hermit that lived in the hills just beyond Rawlins. How the only time he ever went into the town was on Christmas Eve and Matt loved Christmas so. He never missed Church and I got to wondering…well if that could be Matt.”

“That’s a bit of a long shot isn’t it?” asked Slim, turning to her with a sad smile.

“Yes I know,” she replied, “but, well when I was so sick…he kept coming to me in a dream and saying, Daisy girl, I have to see you one last time.”

Then she turned to Jess, “I fibbed to you that night,” she said.

Jess knew exactly the night she meant.


“Yes, when you said, have you any idea how sick you have been……Well yes, I know I nearly died,” she took a deep breath, “and I know its thanks to you both that I didn’t,” she said quietly.

Both men looked down and said nothing.

She smiled at them then, “Anyway, it made me realise it may be the last chance I have to see my brother again. I have to try and see him, I have to go to Rawlins and look for him, I just have to,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I know it sounds silly, but I made him a promise you see.”

Slim immediately got up and went and put an arm round her, “Don’t take on so Daisy, we’ll sort something out, won’t we pard,” he said turning to Jess for support.

“Sure,” he said smiling at the elderly woman, “I guess we’ll find him…iffen he’s there that is. But as Slim says it’s kinda a long shot you know Daisy.”

Then he thought about it a while longer and said, “The territory around there is mighty rough. I know you want to go yourself, but well…..you might be better letting me or Slim ride out and see if we can find him? The only way up that ol’ mountain range is on horseback Daisy and well, I think it would be kinda difficult for you,” he said diplomatically.

“Oh you are right there,” she said sadly, “I have to agree, my riding days are over, but I could get as far as Rawlins in the buckboard possibly?”

“It’s a good way. I reckon it would take two maybe three days and then you could put up at the hotel while I went up in the hills to try and find him,” said Jess thoughtfully.

“Seems like you’re talking yourself into a trip buddy,” said Slim grinning across at his friend.

“Well, guess I know the countryside around there better than you do…..”

“Looks like you’ve got yourself a guide Daisy,” said Slim smiling at her.

She looked over at Jess, tears threatening again, “Thank you so much,” she whispered, “you have no idea what this means to me Jess. You see, like I said…. I made a promise, a promise to dear Matt, I said, ‘if I survive this dreadful illness then I will come and find you and try and make amends for the past before it’s too late’.”

“Don’t talk that way Daisy;” said Jess softly, “you’ve got a lot of livin’ to do yet.”

“I don’t doubt it dear…but has he?” She said with a sad smile, then brightening, “So when can we go?”

“Well we ain’t headin’ off anywhere until Sam checks you over and says you’re in tip top condition. That’s a long hard ol’ journey Daisy. I want to be sure you’re OK before we set off. It’s still goin’ to be pretty cold at night for another week or two, so I figure end of the month…deal?”

“Deal,” she said grinning back at him and looking her old self for the first time since the illness struck her.


Slim and Jess had managed to borrow an old covered wagon belonging to Bert Hayes a friend and neighbour. Jess has been talking about the proposed journey in the Saloon and Bert at once offered the wagon for their use.

“She’s been a sittin’ in the corner of the yard neigh on ten years. It’s been there since the wife and I were on the wagon train. Well as soon as we hit Laramie we decided we didn’t want ta go any further West. We figured around here would do us just fine,” he said, turning to Jess with a big grin.

“Yeah, sure is as good a ranchin’ land as you’ll find anywhere,” agreed Jess enthusiastically.

“That it is boy, so anyways, you can borrow the old wagon for as long as ya need it. It’s got a cot in there with a feather mattress and some buffalo skins to go over, guess your Miss Daisy will be as snug as a bug in a rug,” he said throwing his head back and laughing long and hard.

“Well I know she’ll really appreciate that Bert,” said Jess sincerely, “I guess the more comfortable I can make the trip for her the better, she’s no Spring chicken, though she’d box my ears for saying it,” he said with a big grin.

“That she would boy,” Bert agreed and they had another beer to seal the deal.

All that had been a couple of weeks ago and Bert had delivered the old wagon as promised.
Daisy was enchanted with it .As well as the comfortable bed inside there was also plenty of storage space for pots and pans and supplies and two large water barrels strapped to the outside.

Finally they were all ready to go and they set off one Saturday in early summer on a bright sunny morning. Slim and Mike were there to see them off. Once Daisy was helped up onto the wagon seat Jess tied Traveller on behind the wagon, before jumping up beside her and taking the reins in his hands.

“You all ready Daisy?” he asked.

“I think so,” she said looking down to Slim, an arm slung around Mike’s shoulders.

“You boys will be alright won’t you?” She asked for the hundredth time.

“Sure!” they said, in unison.

“You just go off and have an adventure,” said Slim grinning up at her.

“Oh, I aim to. I feel just like a pioneer heading out West,” she said with a gleam in her eye.

“Whoa there,” said Jess, “we’re only goin’ as far as Rawlins ya know, no further,” rolling his eyes at Slim.
Slim gave him a wink, which Daisy intercepted and laughing she said, “You never know, I just might get the call of the wild like Jess here and go on the drift!”

Jess shook his head in disbelief and looking down at his friend said, “See ya buddy,” and then, “take care Tiger,” to Mike and with that he slapped the reins and they drove out of the yard, up the rise and onto the Laramie road and headed West for Rawlins.

They made good time and after only pausing briefly for a quick cold lunch they finally made camp at sunset, just off the road in a pleasant wooded valley with a bubbling stream running through it.

Jess laid a camp fire, ready for Daisy to prepare supper before he went and tended to the team and Traveller. On his return he was greeted by the wonderful smell of rabbit stew and fresh coffee brewing.

He threw his bedroll down by the fire before turning to Daisy with a grin and saying, “That sure smells better than the trail grub Slim usually dishes up when we are out in the big open.”

She returned his smile and said, “You see us ‘less than Spring chickens’ still have our uses.”

Jess had the grace to blush…. “Who said I’d said that?” he blustered.

She chuckled at his discomfiture, “Nobody, I just guessed it would have come up in conversation at some stage,” she said, enjoying Jess’s squirming.

Then suddenly feeling sorry for him, she let him off the hook, “I’m just teasing you dear and I wouldn’t blame you at all if you had some reservations about me travelling so far. But I’m tougher than I look and you have no cause to worry.”

“Aw, Daisy,” said Jess with a rueful grin, “I didn’t mean anything, ya know that.”

“Of course I do and I meant what I said. It’s all such a change for me and a real adventure, just what I needed after that dreadfully long winter and awful flu.”

He helped them both to coffee and raising his cup said gently, “Here’s to our adventure then Daisy and a successful outcome.”

Later after supper they settled down by the fire for a last cup of coffee before turning in.

They sat in companionable silence and then after a while Daisy turned to look at Jess and said, “Didn’t you used to get awfully lonely when you were on the drift? All by yourself out in the big open?”

He gave her his shy smile, “Nah, not really Daisy. When I first struck out on my own, well I was still a kid really, after the fire.”

Daisy knew he was referring to a disastrous fire down in Texas, where he had been born and brought up the son of a poor share farmer.

The fire had been set deliberately by the Banister gang and his home had burnt to the ground killing his parents and two of his four siblings, leaving the 15 year old Jess full of pain and anger.

“Well after that, I figure I felt kinda safer outdoors, couldn’t bear to be confined to a house for a long time afterwards, had nightmares thinking it was on fire …still do,” he said quietly, looking into the distance.

Then he pulled himself together again and said, “Moon and the stars, were my friends, the night time sounds like a lullaby. And I guess it does a man good to be alone with just his soul for company sometimes. Kinda makes him stronger…..you know Daisy?”

She looked over deeply moved and amazed at how poetic the young cowboy could be without realizing it.

“When did you get to be so wise?” she asked softly.

He turned to look at her and then gave a slow smile, “I guess I’ve just packed a lot of livin’ into a short time,” he said, with a little shrug.

Shortly afterwards Daisy made her way off to bed down in the covered wagon and Jess stretched out on his bed roll by the fire, his saddle for a pillow, and both fell asleep almost at once after the long day.


The light of a full moon cast a glow around the camp almost like day light, illuminating Jess lying on his back, one arm thrown across his closed eyes, stretched out by the embers of the fire.

It must have been in the early hours of the morning when Jess was awoken from a deep sleep by the sound of Daisy’s frantic screams emanating from the wagon.

He was notorious for being able to sleep through a hurricane when back at the ranch. However when sleeping in the big open he was instantly awake at the sound of even a twig snapping, in fact he joked with Slim that he always slept with one eye open.

So it was that he was kneeling up, his gun in his hand, in one fluid movement, within a second of Daisy’s first ear splitting yell.

He tore towards the wagon and leapt up over the tail gate and stopped in amazement at the sight before his eyes.

Daisy was standing in the furthest corner, her hands clamped over her mouth trembling in terror, her eyes rooted to a spot on the cot, where the bedding had tumbled to the floor.

As soon as she saw Jess she just pointed to where she was staring. Then moments later a shaft of moonlight shone into the wagon illuminating a very large yellow and brown snake, coiled, its tongue flicking in and out, its tail lashing.

Jess holstered his gun and studied the animal for a good few moments before suddenly shooting a hand out, and grabbing the creature firmly around the neck. Then he turned and jumped out of the wagon pulling the massive snake behind him.

She heard him disappear off into the night and waited for the shot as he killed it…… but none came.

By now she was shaking from head to toe, from shock and cold. However she bravely tied her dressing gown over her long night dress and climbed down from the wagon, looking frantically around for Jess. What if the creature had bitten him and he was already lying dying out there somewhere in the dense woodland surrounding the camp.

She called out desperately, “Jess, oh dear God Jess! Where are you?”

After a second she heard someone moving around in the dense foliage behind her. Then moments later Jess dashed over. Taking her in his arms he held her close as she shook, all the time trying to gain control of her ragged emotions.

After a few minutes he led her over to the fire and lowered her gently down onto his own bedroll, before stooping to throw a couple more logs on the embers of the fire.

Once he had a good blaze going he collapsed down next to her and throwing a comforting arm around her shoulders, his blue eyes full of concern, said softly, “Are you OK Daisy?”

“Well I am now, but Jess you were so brave. That Rattler might have killed you. Why on earth didn’t you shoot it outright?” she asked looking puzzled.

He gave her arm a little squeeze and grinning at her said kindly, “It weren’t a Rattler Daisy, that big old fellah was a Bull Snake.”

“A Bull snake, you say? Well it certainly looked like a Rattler,” she said, “and it nearly scared me into next week!”

He grinned at her relieved that she could at least make a joke of things.

“Nah, Bull snakes are way bigger and hold ‘em selves different, tails don’t rattle proper either. They’re pretty harmless, well to you and me that is. They eat rats, mice, rabbits, even the odd Rattler so some say. So thought I’d just let the old boy go free, he won’t do you no harm Daisy I promise that….Apart from scarin’ you half ta death that is,” he said with his gentle smile.

“Well, you’ve got that right dear,” she said, “and I imagine you’d be a bit shocked too, at suddenly finding that you’re sharing your bed with a snake.”

Jess chuckled, “I guess he got in with you ta keep warm,” he said.

Then seeing that the elderly woman was still very shocked he got up and went to his saddle bag and returned with a small bottle. Then on pulling the cork, poured a few inches into one of the tin coffee cups and offered it to her.

She wrinkled her nose at the strong smell of hill whiskey.

“Go on,” he said encouragingly, “for medicinal purposes only.”

She gave a girlish giggle, but sipped gratefully at the strong brew before passing the cup back.

“Thank you dear, you finish it off. I imagine you had almost as big a shock as me,” she said with a rueful smile.

After a while Jess looked up at the sky, “I guess it will be dawn soon. You want ta stay out here with me for the rest of the night?”

“You know I think I will Jess, just for tonight. I don’t think I want to be alone in that wagon again at the moment.”

He just grinned at her and went and fetched her bedding and made her comfortable by the fire before turning in himself.

They were just dozing off when Jess turned to her and said, “Well I guess you wanted an adventure Daisy…..”

She gave a little chuckle, “Yes I suppose I did,” and with that they finally fell into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter 4
The rest of the trip went off without further incident and the travellers arrived safely in Rawlins in the late afternoon of the second day.

Jess pulled the wagon up outside the Hotel and jumped lightly down and then helped Daisy alight before turning to look up at the façade of the building.

“Ain’t much Daisy, but guess it’s the best they’ve got to offer in Rawlins,” he said with an uncertain grin.

“Oh, I’m sure it will be fine dear and anyway it won’t be for too long”.

“I sure hope not Daisy. But don’t forget we’re still not sure if this hermit is actually your brother, much less where he lives. Look I’ll get you settled into the hotel and see to the team. Then I’ll look up the Sheriff and have a word, meet ya back here for supper in an hour or so, OK?”

“Sounds wonderful dear, I just hope there is a hot tub,” she said walking hopefully towards the entrance, followed by Jess bearing her luggage.

Sometime later he entered Sheriff Red Smith’s office and was pleased to see the law officer sitting at his desk sipping a coffee.

As he looked up and recognised Jess his face broke into a broad grin.

“Why Jess Harper it sure is good to see you again buddy! So what brings you to these parts? Here take a pew and have a coffee,“ he said gesturing to a chair and the pot on the stove.

Jess grinned back at his friend helped himself to a coffee and sat down opposite with thanks.

Jess had first met Smitty some years ago when Mike had been abducted by a couple who lived up in the nearby mountains and the Sheriff had been instrumental in his safe return. Since then they had met several times when Jess had helped him out as deputy and they had ridden a couple of posses together which had sealed the friendship. See The Laramie Chronicles #8 The Runaway

Jess lost no time in explaining the situation to his friend.

“Sounds like you’re talking about old Matty,” he said, “he comes into town every Christmas Eve, collects any supplies he needs and heads for the Church Service. Then we hardly see him at all rest of the year.”

“Matty, he’s called Matty?” asked Jess excitedly.

“That’s right.”

“Well Daisy’s brother is called Matt Dyson.”

“Don’t know his second name; they just call him old Matty in the Saloon. In his mid 60’s, keeps himself to himself, that’s all I know really. Figure my Ma knows more maybe,” he said thoughtfully. “He lives up on the mountain with his daughter that I do know.”

“His daughter?” echoed Jess looking astonished.

“Yeah, a real little fire cracker she is….Dangerous Jess purely dangerous. Went back east, but she’s home again living up there with him, for good so I believe.”

“Do you know where he lives,” asked Jess urgently, “I really need to find him and as soon as I can.”

“Well, I know the area yes. I’ve never been up there as far as his cabin, but guess I can give you a rough map to send you in the right direction. So what’s your hurry Jess?”

“I’ve brought Miss Daisy with me and I really don’t want to leave her in town on her own for too long. It’s not…well not really a quiet place is it Smitty?”

The Sheriff chuckled, “It sure ain’t on a Saturday night,” he agreed, “and guess we’ve got more than our fair share of trouble makers, but I keep a lid on it most times.”

“Sure you do Smitty. I know that, its just Miss Daisy bein’ on her own and all well….”

The Sheriff suddenly beamed at Jess.

“I know,” he said, “she must go and stay with my old Ma. She lives right here in town, got a spare room now I’m married and she sure would enjoy the company.”

And so it was that Daisy moved in with Maud Smith the following morning and from their first meeting both women knew they would become firm friends.


“I have met your brother several times at the Christmas Service my dear. Such a charming man, very gentlemanly,” she said as the two women sat over coffee.

Daisy’s eyes sparkled and she clasped her hands together in excitement, “Oh do tell me about him,” she pleaded, “it’s so long since I saw him.”

So Maud described a tall, rugged, grey haired man, looking less than his 64 years, who was quiet and respectful.

“I always feel there is an air of sadness about him,” she continued, “since the loss of his dear wife.”

“Wife,” said Daisy her head shooting up, “I didn’t even know he was married.”

“Oh yes, a lovely woman, but she died in a tragic accident when the little girl was…let me see… Uh, about five I think and since then, well he just stays up on the mountain and never wants to see anyone.”

“Little girl,” said Daisy looking even more amazed, “I had no idea.”

Jess had not repeated the news about the ‘little firecracker’ just in case he was unable to find Matt. He knew Daisy would be heart broken, but even more so if she missed meeting her niece too.

Now Daisy was fascinated and settled down with her new friend to hear all the news of her lost relatives.

After a while they lapsed into silence as Daisy came to terms with all the latest information of her kin. Whilst Maud replenished their cups, then she turned to Daisy and said, “Isn’t Jess a lovely boy, a real credit to you, so polite and kind.”

Daisy was heart warmed.

“Yes he is,” she said softly and then turning to her new friend, “but he is not my son Maud. I am the housekeeper at the ranch and look after all three of ‘my boys’, as I call them. And yes, I must admit I think of them all as sons, but they are not blood kin.”

“Well I guess that doesn’t matter,” said Maud thoughtfully, “the way that boy looks out for you, and all the trouble he’s taken bringing you here and taking off to find your Matt, well he sure acts like kin.”

She smiled fondly then, “Yes, he does, doesn’t he, I’m very lucky,” and the two women exchanged a warm smile.


Meanwhile Jess was heading up the mountain on Traveller, following the map and instructions given him by his friend the Sheriff. He was soon on a steep trail passing amongst huge ancient pine trees, the area teeming with wildlife and he wished he had time to stop for some sport.

After an hour or so he felt he was getting pretty near his destination and as the going was steep and rough he dismounted and led Traveller up to the top of a rocky ridge. From here he was able to see a narrow pass leading off the main trail just below him and figured this was the turn off to Matt Dyson’s cabin.

He was just about to move on when a shot rang out missing his left shoulder by a whisker and he instinctively threw himself to the ground rolling and returning fire in the general direction of the rocks where the shots had come from, several yards away to his right.

He lay in the dust for a second before running for cover behind a large boulder, glancing behind him to check Traveller had moved away beyond the line of fire.

Everything had gone quiet from the other marksman and then he saw a movement and was just about to shoot again when a figure walked out from behind their cover. Carrying a rifle they yelled out, “Throw your gun out and come over here, where I can see you.”

The diminutive figure was dressed from top to toe in buckskin, the tight fitting trousers, revealing a slender figure, and ending in polished brown boots. A brown Stetson sat jauntily on the head. Then as Jess came out from his cover, still holding his colt .45, he was shocked to see that his assailant was a woman.

He walked forwards angrily and yelled, “So are you crazy or what! You nearly got yourself killed back there, what the Hell do you think you’re playin’ at?”

The girl walked towards him, a stony expression on her face, “I said throw your gun out Mister.”

Jess looked across at her and raised his chin stubbornly, “And I’m sayin’ no! So do you wanna do somethin’ about that?”

She looked somewhat abashed that things were not going her way. But after a moment she lowered the rifle and Jess holstered his .45, then walked towards her and with a tentative smile said, “Right shall we start over?”

“What’s your business here Mister?” She asked angrily, “This is private property and we don’t take kindly to strangers.”

“Yeah, I kinda guessed that,” said Jess quietly.

She just glared at him… “Well?”

“I’m here ta see Matt Dyson, you know him?”

“Should do, he’s my Pa.”

“So you are…?”

She sighed, “Tally, Tally Dyson.”

“Tally,” Jess exploded, “what kinda name is that for a girl?”

“It’s actually short for Tallulah”, she said, “and do you wanna do something about that?”

He just shrugged.

“It’s Irish,” she continued, “means Lady or Princess.”

Jess guffawed, “Well your folks sure got that one wrong.”

She was incandescent with rage, “Why you,” she spat, “how dare you come trespassing up on our mountain and then stand there making fun of me, I’ll… I’ll….”

“What,” asked Jess helpfully, “shoot me?”

She tore off her hat and ran her hand through her long auburn curls, struggling to control her temper, her green eyes flashing and dominating the heart shaped pretty face.

She’s one hell of a fire cracker thought Jess to himself, but a darn beautiful one, that’s for sure.

After a few minutes she seemed to calm down, “Ok, it doesn’t look like you’re going to go away, so I’ll take you to Pa…what’s your name?”

“Harper Ma’am, Jess Harper,” he said touching his hat and giving her his most charming smile.

She scowled back, “Come on then Jess Harper,” and with that she turned in the direction of the pass and Jess collected Traveller and followed cautiously behind.

After they had been walking for a few minutes she stooped down and picked up a brace of rabbits she had left in a cool spot under a tree and slung them across her shoulder.

“So you’re a good shot with that rifle then?” said Jess conversationally.

“As good as you I reckon…… Mister,” was her waspish reply.

“Jess,” said Jess quietly.

She just shrugged and turned away and continued walking down the narrow pass.

Within minutes they rounded a bend and came to a clearing with a large log cabin and lean to barn. To the front was a corral with a few horses and beyond a small vegetable plot. The whole area was surrounded by dense wood land the pines offering some protection from the prevailing winds.

“Home Sweet home,” she said sarcastically turning to Jess and gesturing that he should tie his horse up by the corral and follow her into the house.

She banged the front door open and shouted, “Pa…Pa! There’s a visitor for you.”

Jess followed her in. removing his hat and looking around the large pleasant room. There was a vast stone fireplace with a couple of easy chairs and an old leather couch set in front of it and a dining table and chairs were set against the far wall. The room was light and airy with colourful patchwork drapes and a wolf skin lay on the stone floor in front of the fire, making the simple room look almost opulent.

After a few minutes a tall gaunt man with a thatch of grey hair and an angry expression entered the room, holding a rifle and looking from Tally to Jess and back said, “What ya brought him here for girl?”

She just shrugged, “I found him in the woods Pa, he asked for you by name.”

The older man turned wary eyes on the newcomer, “Strangers aren’t welcome here Mister.”

“Yeah, I kinda figured that,” said Jess.

“Well, who are you and what do you want?”

“My name’s Harper, Mr Dyson, Jess Harper and I’m here on behalf of your sister Mrs Daisy Cooper.”

At that the man lowered the rifle and took a step forwards, “Little Daisy, is she OK?” he asked anxiously.

“Sure, she’s fine,” said Jess quickly, “she’s staying in town with the Sheriff’s Ma. We’ve come over from Laramie, especially to see you.”

“Harper you say, that the same Harper that killed a mountain man, over other side of the forest last year?”

Jess just nodded.

Tally stepped forwards and said, “I knew you were no good the moment I clapped eyes on you……you murdering no good gunslinger. I knew what you were the moment I saw that low slung gun,” she finished throwing him a filthy look.

Jess had just about had enough. He was tired, hungry and thirsty from the long journey. He’d been shot at, and insulted and now even Daisy’s long lost brother seemed less than pleased to see him.

He turned on her and let lose the full force of the Harper temper.

“Well, I’ll tell you how it was Ma’am”…he said sarcastically. “That Mountain Man was wanted for murder in three States. I was working as Deputy for Sheriff Red Smith and that low life bushwhacked me and shot me in the leg at almost point blank range with a hunting rifle. Sure I killed him and I’d do it again tomorrow! So will ya stop accusing folk of things when you don’t know what yer talkin’ about?” he finished giving her a hard look, his blue eyes flashing almost black with anger.

Matt Dyson chuckled, “It looks like you’ve met your match here Tally, both in temper and shootin’ ability. I guess this young man has the edge on you in both departments,” he said shaking his head and smiling.

His daughter turned on her heel and fled the room, disappearing into her bedroom and slamming the door behind her.

Jess breathed a sigh of relief and looking over at Matt said, “I’m sorry about that sir, but I guess your daughter is a little outspoken.”

The older man chuckled again and then started coughing and wheezing, gasping for breath and his face turned deathly pale.

After a moment Jess became alarmed, “Can I get you something?”

He gestured to a jug of fruit juice and a tumbler on the table and Jess filled it up and took it over to the old man who was now turning a nasty shade of puce and helped him drink some.

After a few minutes he recovered and went and sat down heavily on one of the fire side chairs and gestured for Jess to join him.

Once both men were settled he looked over and said, “So little Daisy wants to see me at long last does she?”

Jess looked puzzled, “She’s wanted to see you since you left home,” he said sincerely, “she just didn’t know where you were that’s all.”

Matt turned angry eyes on Jess, “Sure she knew where I was. A few years back I went home to Philadelphia, saw our Lily and asked that she get word to Daisy for me. She said she wasn’t sure where she was, but she would let me know as soon as she heard. Said she’d tell Daisy where I was too. Well that was nigh on 7…no 8 years ago and no word from either of them since, so I figured Daisy didn’t want to know me.”

“Well you’re wrong,” said Jess. “She had heard tell from a friend that you had been seen in Philly but when she asked Lily, she denied ever having seen or heard from you.”

“Why would she do that,” asked Matt looking surprised, “she knew I loved Daisy; wanted to see her something fierce.”

“Who knows why Lily does anything,” said Jess darkly.

“So you’ve met then?”

“Oh yes we’ve met alright.”

Matt chuckled again, “Sounds like she got the sharp edge of your tongue too?”

“She darned well deserved it,” said Jess his anger rising again at the way the woman had treated her daughter, not to mention her long suffering husband.* #12 See Baby, Baby! The Laramie Chronicles

He shook his head to clear it, “Well I guess that’s all done with,” he said, “but let’s just say I wouldn’t put much store by anything your youngest sister has to say.”

“Could be you’re right boy,” he said thoughtfully, “she always was kind of jealous of the closeness between me and Daisy. Thinking about it I wouldn’t put it past her to lie out of spite.”

“So when are you coming to town ta meet up with Daisy?” asked Jess, getting to the point at last.

The old man sat back in his chair and studied Jess for a full minute before saying, “I’m not.”

Jess stared back before leaping out of his chair and shouting, “What!”

“You heard. I’m not coming to town to see her and that’s the end of it.”

Jess was furious, “Sure you are,” he said, “she’s come all this way, she needs to see you.”

“What do you mean needs…why now all of a sudden?”

Jess collapsed back onto his chair, feeling exhausted.

“She’s been sick, real sick and we thought……well we thought she wouldn’t make it at one stage.”

The older man sat up and peered across at the young cowboy, seeing his obvious distress.

Jess gathered himself and after swallowing continued.

“She kept getting this dream. In it she saw you saying you wanted to see her, while you still could. How it might be your last chance. Anyhow, after she was well this dream kept haunting’ her. Then she remembered that a friend had told us about this old hermit living this way. How he only came to town for the Christmas Service and Daisy just put two and two together and thought it could be you.”

“And so you brought her all this way just on a long shot like that?”

Jess just nodded.

“Daisy must mean a hell of a lot to you boy, for you to do that for her.”

“Yes she does sir,” he said quietly.

The older man looked at him long and hard, “Call me Matt young fellah. Look Jess, it’s late and I’ve got a lot to think about. You’re welcome to bunk down in the barn and we’ll talk again tomorrow, OK?”

Jess figured that was all he could hope for today and after agreeing took his leave, on the understanding that they would talk again in the morning.

He entered the barn and went straight to Traveller and after scratching him behind the ears offered him a sugar lump and received a gentle whinny in return. “So at least she thought to bring you in and feed you old fellah,” he said softly.

After a while he stowed his saddle and bedroll in the stall next door and than went back into Traveller’ s stall and started grooming him.

He had just resigned himself to jerky and water for his supper when the barn door flew open.

At the sound he swung round his gun in his hand in a split second, but relaxed when he saw it was just Tally, bearing a covered tray.

She stopped in her tracks when he levelled the gun at her, but he quickly holstered it and apologized.

“Oh just shoot me, why don’t you,” she said bitterly as she came forwards and placed the tray on a straw bale. She had changed from the buckskin outfit and was now dressed in a very low cut, tight fitting dress that showed off her hour glass figure to perfection. With her rampant burnished hair framing her beautiful, expressive face she looked breath taking.

“Supper,” she said succinctly, “and Pa said be sure and keep the door closed there is a renegade wolf about, could be rabid,” and she turned to go.

Jess apologized again for turning his gun on her and then looking into the hostile green eyes said, “Why do you hate me so much Tally?”

“You’re a man aren’t you?”

He gave her the ghost of a smile, “Last time I looked, but guess I can’t change that.”

“You can get out though, stop hounding my Pa. You can see he’s a sick man, why don’t you just ride out and not come back?”

“Sorry, I can’t do that Ma’am.”

“Will you stop being so darned rational and polite,” she yelled, losing her temper again.

Then she pulled herself up to her full 5 feet and looking him in the eyes spat, “All men are pigs and you are no exception Jess Harper,” her eyes flashing with anger.

He just stared at her his eyes flicking down to her delectable cleavage and then back into her angry eyes before resting his gaze on her full red lips. Then he advanced on her and before he knew what he was doing she was in his arms and he was kissing her passionately.

After a second she responded and they kissed long and deep, all Jess’s senses aroused as she melted in his arms, returning his kisses ardently.

Then suddenly she pulled away and slapped him hard on the cheek.

Jess reeled back in shock; his eyes open wide in disbelief.

After a moment he found his voice and said angrily, “What did ya do that for?”

“For molesting me,” she yelled back.

He looked even more amazed, “I was just kissin’ ya,” he said.

“Well, I didn’t ask you to… I didn’t want you to….”

Jess gave her a hard look and said, “Well it sure as Hell took you a long time to decide you didn’t like it.”

With that Tally blushed to the roots of her hair and turning ran from the barn crashing the door shut behind her.

Jess stood there watching her go, before shaking his head and turning to Traveller, said with feeling, “Women!”

Chapter 5

He sat down on the bale of straw and hungrily ate the rich very spicy stew she had provided and shortly afterwards bedded down in the stall next to Traveller.

It was the early hours of the morning when he awoke with the worst belly ache he had ever experienced and feeling sick to his stomach, he dashed for the outhouse. Only just making it in time he spent most of the rest of the night in there being violently ill.

He struggled back to his bedroll at dawn and lay there pale and shaking, before falling into a restless sleep.

When he awoke the sun was shining in through the skylight and it was obviously long after his usual rising time of 6am.

He wandered out into the yard and after dousing his head in the horse trough to help clear his addled mind he approached the cabin.

He knocked on the door and Matt shouted for him to come in. He entered and saw Tally and Matt sitting at the table, finishing their breakfast.

Tally rose at once and giving him a sweet smile said, “Breakfast Jess?”

“What the hell was in that food you gave me last night?” he spat angrily, ignoring her pleasantry.

“Why I don’t know what you mean, Pa and I are fine, did you have a little indigestion,” she asked sympathetically, “I guess Mexican cooking can be a tad difficult to digest if you’re not used to it.”

“Oh I’m used to it alright,” he said, “I was born and brought up in Texas. I’ve have had Mexican food all my life, but it never made me sick all night before.”

“Well,” she said just shrugging, “as I say Pa and I are fine.”

Matt spoke for the first time an apologetic look on his face, “I’m sorry you’ve been sick Jess, come, sit a spell and have some coffee.”

He looked suspiciously at the pot, “You had some?” he asked.

Matt nodded, “Sure.”

Jess sat and accepted the coffee and settled down to talk to the older man as Tally disappeared into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

After she’d gone Matt started to talk quietly, “I’m sorry about that Jess, its not you it’s…..well its all men she hates right now.”

“Been crossed in love eh?” he said with a tired smile.

“You could say that, yes. She went back east to school when she was about 10 years old. Stayed with a cousin of mine, turns out she wasn’t too good a choice of guardian, let the girl run wild. By the time she was sixteen or so…well she was no better than she should be. Seeing all these young men, drinking…all sorts I found out later. Then she seemed to settle down with this nice steady boy, ran off and married when she was 21, same age as I would have been,” he said reflectively, “if life had gone as I wanted it to.”

He sighed deeply and looked back at Jess, “Anyway, she eloped, married this man and within six months he’d up and left her, got a Saloon girl pregnant and went off with her….and well Tally came home and hasn’t been the same since.”

“I see,” said Jess quietly.

“Guess it was all my fault,” Matt continued reflectively, “but with her dear Ma dying so dang young, well it’s hard for a man to bring up a daughter. That’s why I sent her back east…thought I was doing the right thing at the time.”

“Guess that’s all we can ever do,” said Jess gently.

The old man nodded, “Thanks for that son. And it ain’t like me to unburden myself to a stranger,” he said suddenly looking embarrassed. “It’s just, well…. I guess you’re real fond of my Daisy …makes me feel like I kinda know you…..crazy notion,” he muttered almost to himself.

“That’s OK,” said Jess, “I guess it helps to talk things through sometimes.”

“Anyways you want an answer as to my seeing Daisy and I guess you’re right I should see her. But there is something I have to tell you first Jess.”

Jess looked over, “Oh?”

“I’m dying boy. I’m a dying man and don’t have long to go. That’s why I didn’t want to see her, be too upsetting all around. But then I got to thinking that was kinda selfish of me and I will go boy, but not today. I’m feelin’ too darn sick.” Then he shrugged, “I guess that’s the real reason I opened up to you too Jess. When you ain’t got long the usual conventions of life don’t seem to apply anymore. I’ll rest all today and head out first thing tomorrow OK.”

“Sure,” said Jess softly, “and I’m sorry Matt, real sorry.”

The older man rose, “I’m going back to bed, may be you could go out later, get something for the pot, woods are full of game, it’s good hunting around here.”

“Sure,” said Jess and with that the elderly man slowly shuffled from the room.

After he had gone Jess got up and took his empty cup back to the kitchen. He stood for a moment leaning on the door frame looking into the room where Tally had her back to him working at the sink. After a moment she must have felt his eyes on her and turned to look at him.

He stared at her for a full minute before saying quietly, “What did ya put in it Tally?”

She opened her mouth to lie and then seeing the look in his eyes, closed it again and swallowed, before looking him full in the eyes and saying, “Syrup of figs and rat poison.”

“Rat poison!” he yelled.

“I just put in a bit, not enough to kill you.”

“Oh well that’s alright then,” said Jess sarcastically, before turning on his heel and leaving the room.

He marched over to the barn muttering to himself and a few minutes later emerged riding Traveller, kicking him into a fast trot as he left the yard, without a backward glance.

Tally who was standing at the window looked after him, thinking he had probably left for good and wondered why a little part of her felt sad.

He was probably one of the most annoying, exasperating and darn well ornery men she had ever met. Also the very best kisser she thought bitterly, as she turned away from the window and set about the day’s chores.

Meanwhile Jess decided to make himself scarce for the day and rode over to the other side of the mountain where he knew the fishing was good in a pool where someone had damned the stream. He spent most of the day there fishing rod in hand idling in the warm sunlight. He still felt nauseous after the poisoned supper and his stomach ached and heaved at even the thought of food. However he had promised something for the pot and so as the sun started to sink in the west, he slowly made his way back towards the cabin.

He had noted an area of dense woodland just to the south of it, where he had seen rabbits and wild turkey on his way out that morning and decided to stop and try his luck.

As he neared the spot he slid down from Traveller, pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and went on foot, walking stealthily through the undergrowth where he had seen the wild turkeys. After a little while he heard a gobbling sound and peering forwards saw his quarry several yards away.

He inched forwards and then as he took one more step there was suddenly a loud snapping noise and he felt an excruciating pain in his right leg and fell to the ground in agony. After a few minutes he was able to gingerly sit up and looking down he saw his leg caught in a huge rusty steel wolf trap. The sharp edges of the trap were cutting into his leg and as he watched a bright red blood stain started to seep through his denims.

He fell back again and after a moment pulled himself up and reaching down his leg tried to force the springs of the trap open. He hated the devises and they never used them on the Sherman ranch, but he knew full well that many of the traps had springs of up to 100 lbs force. He also knew that from the angle he was at he would be unable to put enough leverage on the spring to release it.

Once again he fell back before rallying and sitting forwards tried to get a grip on the spring and open it up once more. But all he managed to do was to pull it back a few inches and then it sprang back again causing him to yell out in pain and finally pass out.

When he came around a while later he had the feeling he was being watched and sitting up again he looked around him and called out.

“Tally, Tally that you?” but there was no reply.

Then he suddenly saw something move over in the bushes just to the right of him and he reached for his rifle, “Might as well bag yer Mr Turkey seein’ as how I’m sittin’ here,” he whispered.

He peered at the bush where he had seen the movement and after a few minutes he saw a grey and white wolf emerge. The animal stared steadily at him and then moved slowly closer, his tongue lolling out of his mouth making him look like he was grinning in welcome.

Jess suddenly remembered Tally’s warning about the renegade, possibly rabid, wolf.
He raised the rifle and got the animal in his sights his finger ready to squeeze the trigger…

But something didn’t feel right. He lowered the gun again and watched the wolf, which was now sitting down, regarding him with large intelligent brown eyes.

His head was small for a wolf and the pricked ears were longer than the usual triangle shaped ears of a wolf. Then the animal stood and advanced slowly dropping down onto its belly and crawling forwards in a position of submission, its tail beating on the floor.

Then the last rays of sunlight reflected on something near the animal’s neck, something silver and shiny, a medallion. The animal was wearing a collar!

“Well I’ll be…” said Jess excitedly, “you’re nothing more than a lost puppy dog! Here boy come on” he called.

The dog’s tail thumped on the ground and then he ran forwards jumping and gambling around Jess barking joyously. After a few minutes he came right up to Jess and sank down beside him panting, his tongue lolling out.
Jess reached out a hand and tentatively stroked the dog’s head and his gentle caress was rewarded by a lick. Then he pulled himself up and peered at the disc attached to the worn collar the dog was wearing and just visible scratched on the disc were the letters, B L U E.

“Blue,” said Jess delightedly, “you’re called Blue.”

At his name the dog jumped up and capered about barking and rolling over and over.

Jess sank back, “To think I nearly shot you, sorry Blue. Guess you’re Ma was a dog and your Pa a wolf,” he said softly, “but you’re sure more dog than wolf and I figure someone has had you from a puppy, wonder where they are now boy, you look like you could use a square meal that’s for sure.”

As the sun went down it became colder and Jess started to shiver, the pain he was experiencing from the trap wound making him feel drained and sick.

The dog seemed to sense the cowboy’s ill ease and came and lay down beside him, his head and one paw lying across Jess’s chest.

“Hope yer thinkin’ of stayin’ around boy,” he whispered, “‘cos I figure you’re the only thing standing between me stayin’ alive or freezing to death tonight.”

It was still early summer and the nights up on the mountain often dropped to below freezing and Jess knew, unable to move, what a vulnerable position he was in.

He figured Matt wasn’t well enough to come looking for him and Tally…well she probably didn’t care if he lived or died. On that thought he finally slipped into an uneasy sleep, Blue lying unmoving beside his new master.

Meanwhile back at the cabin suppertime came and went and Matt was surprised when Jess didn’t return with the promised game for the pot.

“Looks to me like he’s taken off back down the mountain,” he said thoughtfully to Tally. “After all he’s got my word I’ll go to town tomorrow, so he’d no need stay I guess…….but, well I kind of hoped he would.”

Tally just sniffed, “Typical no hoper. He makes a promise of bringing supper home and then just takes off.”

Matt looked over at his daughter, “Well what’s the boy ever done to you, no call to get so mad with him. So out of interest, just what did you put in his supper last night?”

When she eventually told him he was furious and ended up having another coughing fit.

Tally leapt up and went to help him, “I’m sorry Pa, don’t take on so,” and she helped him over to the fire.

Once he got his breath back he looked sternly at her, “Jess Harper is a good man. He sure cares about my Daisy and you have treated him abominably, I’m ashamed of you girl.”

She apologized profusely, hanging her head in shame.

“It’s not me you should be apologizing to it is Jess,” he said.

“Well, maybe he’ll be in town tomorrow,” she said, “I can say sorry then.”

“No…. I’m going alone. I need to have some time with Daisy we’ve got a lot to catch up on and besides the stock needs tending here.”


And so it was decided and Matt Dyson headed off down the mountain at first light the following morning.

At about the same time Jess was just waking up and feeling sore and ill. But reasonably warm as Blue had spent the whole night cuddled up to him, his body heat keeping the cowboy alive.

He chatted away to the dog and was also pleased to see Traveller grazing just a few feet away and he came over and nuzzled Jess’s hair, treating Blue just the same as he would Mike’s dog Buttons. Giving the animal a cursory sniff and then ignored him.

“Guess you’ve never been anywhere near any real wolves,” he said softly, “because ol’ Trav there would have smelt it on you and run a mile by now.”

He finally managed to sit up and was shocked at how light headed and nauseous he felt. Then on looking down at his imprisoned leg was disturbed to see his denims now soaked in blood.

“Gotta get out of here,” he said to himself and then remembered the guns. Of course, fire some shots and may be, just maybe, Tally would come to investigate.

He fired off three shots in succession every half hour or so, for the next three hours and finally he was rewarded by the sound of someone calling his name.

He recognised Tally’s voice and after a minute she came into view and he called out weakly, “Over here.”

She jumped from her mount and ran to him, stopping dead in her tracks as she saw Blue standing guard over his master and she instinctively turned to her horse for her rifle.

“No, stop!” shouted Jess urgently, “He ain’t a wolf, Tally don’t shoot him for God’s sake.”
She turned around slowly, “Sure he’s a wolf,” she said, “that rabid one that’s doing the rounds I should think too.”

“Tally will ya listen to me for once in your Goddamn life!” He exploded furiously, “He’s a wolf cross and he’s domesticated, so will yer put that gun away and come and help me.”

She slowly returned her rifle to the scabbard and turning back to him, muttered, “That’s more than you are.”


“The dog……..domesticated, that’s more than you are,” she said.

“Yeah, well do you mind if we argue that point some other time? ‘Cos it looks like I’m fixing to bleed to death here sometime soon, iffen you don’t help get this trap off of me.”

She looked down and saw the trap for the first time and sucked in a shocked breath,

“Oh Jess. I’d no idea, you poor thing.”

“What did you think I was doin’ down here, takin’ a nap?” he asked angrily.

For once she ignored his put down and just said, “What can I do.”

“Got a drink I’m real dry?”

She went and fetched her canteen and lifting his head helped him to drink some water and then took it from his lips, “steady,” she said, “don’t gulp it or you’ll be sick.”

He gave her a stony look, “Yeah well I figure you’re pretty much an expert at makin’ me sick,” he replied.

“Oh Jess I’m really sorry about that,” she said quickly.

He shook his head, “Just help me get out of here will you,” he said gesturing to the trap.

Eventually with the use of a heavy branch, that Tally found she managed to open the jaws of the trap sufficiently to push the branch in and use it as a lever. Once the trap was open Jess pulled his injured leg out and rolled over away from the vicious jaws as they sprang closed again.

He lay there sweating and cussing, under his breath, for several minutes until he managed to gain control again and rolling onto his back, looked up into Tally’s fearful eyes.

“Jess are you OK?” she whispered.

He sighed deeply, “No I ain’t OK, can yer help me up please?”

After much pushing and shoving and not a little swearing from Jess she finally got him mounted on Traveller. Then they headed back towards the cabin, Blue leading the way, his tail wagging happily.

On arrival she helped him down from his mount. As she did so she felt a frisson of pleasure as he leaned against her for a moment, closing his eyes against the rising nausea.

‘Stop it,’ she said angrily to herself, ‘this man means nothing to you! He’s a no good wastrel who’d walk out in the blink of an eye, don’t you dare fall for him.’

Jess just stood there swaying, then, “Tally, I feel kinda sick, think I could go in a lay down a while.”

“Oh Jess, I’m sorry of course you can,” and she helped him in and made him comfortable on the couch.

“I’ll go and get some bandages and stuff,” she said vaguely and left him.

When she returned he was lying in the same position his eyes closed and his face looking pale and drawn and Blue was lying on the floor next to the couch, his head on his paws.

“Oh no,” she shouted as she came back, “I’m not having that smelly mutt in here.”


“That dog, he’ll have to sleep in the barn.”

“Oh no he ain’t, this dog saved my life last night. If he ain’t welcome here, then I’ll stay in the barn too,” he said, pulling himself up to a sitting position.

She looked down at his ashen face and then his denims soaking in blood and said, “Oh it’s alright don’t go getting yourself mad again, the darn dog can stay.”

He lay back down, “Thanks,” he said softly, his eyes closing.

Then a minute later they shot open again.

“What the hell are you doin’ now?” he exploded.

“Just taking your pants off she said lightly, I’ve got to dress that wound remember.”

“Well I don’t want you takin’ my pants,” said Jess decisively.

“For goodness sake Jess, I’ve been married you know, I am used to the male form.”

“Well that’s as may be. But you ain’t used to my ‘male form’ and I’ll thank you to keep your hands off me. Can’t you get a knife or scissors and just cut the material.”

She shook her head and sighed deeply, but did as she was bid.

Once the wound was exposed she sat back in shock, “God Jess this looks awful. I’m surprised that rusty old trap still worked.”

“Oh it worked just fine,” he said with feeling.

Then turning on her, “How in hell can you justify using those things? No animal deserves ta die in that kinda pain,” he said quietly.

For once she seemed really moved by his words and he saw tears welling up in her eyes, “I agree,” she said sadly, “they are awful.”

“Well, why set them then?” he said with another burst of anger.


“Why set the goddamn things if you think they’re cruel too.”

“I… I didn’t,” she stammered, “that was an old trap Jess probably been there twenty, thirty years, from when this mountain was full of fur traders. Only way I kill an animal is with a good clean shot.”

He looked deeply into her troubled green eyes and believed her, “Sorry,” he muttered, “guess I’ve been a bit hard on you…all round.”

He thought about her deceitful husband and the broken marriage and then her father’s terminal illness and felt a sudden rush of pity and affection for her.

“Just hold on,” she said, “this is going to hurt Jess,” and she began to clean the wound with spirit, before binding it carefully.

He closed his eyes tightly and the only sign of the agony he was suffering was the way he held his mouth in a tight line, as if trying to hold in the cries of pain.

After a few minutes the worst was over and he visibly relaxed.

“The bleeding has stopped, just keep off it for a couple of days and you should be OK.”

“Thanks…..so where’s your Pa?”

“He’s gone to town to see Aunt Daisy, like he said he would. He should be gone a few days” she replied, blushing slightly.

“So we’re all alone,” he said with a cheeky grin.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Don’t worry; I won’t be trying anything ……not after last time.” Putting a hand to his cheek said, “It’s still stinging, you pack quite a slap there for a little ‘un.”

She had been sitting on the edge of the couch and suddenly he was aware of the warmth of her body next to him.

Their eyes locked and then after what seemed like a lifetime to Jess she leaned down and kissed him very gently on the lips before pulling away and standing up.

“Try and get some rest, I’ll go and tend to Traveller,” and with that she left the room quickly as he stared after her, an unfathomable expression in his eyes.

When she came back a while later, he was fast asleep and she perched on one of the fireside chairs looking across at him.

His dark tousled hair and two days stubble made his slender face look even paler and she worried for a moment about the heavy blood loss.

She studied his face in detail, the quirky black eyebrows that were so expressive when raised in question. The amazingly deep blue eyes closed now and fringed with the almost feminine black sweep of lashes and the firm determined chin. He was very handsome even in repose and with stubble and trail dirt on his face. And she knew he was even more attractive when those deep blue eyes were twinkling mischievously. Even when they were almost navy blue and flashing with anger they excited her and now she longed for him to wake up and look at her.

At that very second he moved slightly and then his eyes shot open and he was staring right at her, almost as though he could see into her very soul.

“Guess you’ll know me next time,” he said lazily with a stretch.

She blushed slightly, “I just wondered what you’d like for supper,” she said lightly, “it’s almost that time.”

“Well that depends whether or not it comes with a side serving of rat poison,” he said sarcastically.

She looked wounded, “I’ve apologized for that more than once,” she said.

“That you have.”

“How would you like some bacon and beans? I guess that couldn’t do you any harm and some good strong coffee to wash it down?”

He just nodded thanks.

After supper they took their coffee back to the fire and Jess threw another log on before relaxing back on the couch, with his leg up.

She kneeled down on the rug by the fire looking deeply into the flames.
“I wonder how the reunion’s going?” he said lightly.

She turned to look at him a shadow crossing her face, “He shouldn’t have ridden all that way. He’s not too well at present.”

“Not too well?” echoed Jess.

“Sure, he’s just got a bad chest right now, plenty of rest and he’ll be fine come the fall.”

Jess just shook his head and said nothing.

She glanced over, “What?”

“Nothing,” he said, wondering if maybe Matt hadn’t told his daughter he was dying.

“I suppose he’s told you that silliness the quack told him about him only having months to live?”

Jess nodded, “He told me he was dying and I believed him.”

She suddenly jumped up and went and stood over Jess, “That’s not true!” she yelled.

“Oh come on,” he said, “You only have to look at him Tally. I’m sorry, real sorry. But you have to face up to it sooner or later.”

She suddenly went crazy pounding her fists on his chest, “It’s not so, it’s not so!” she screamed.

He staggered up and tried to restrain her but she kept raining blows on his chest and then she started crying hysterically.

”It’s not fair!” she yelled. “First of all that no good husband left me, now Pa,” her eyes flashing in pain and anger as she made to lash out at him again.

“Will you stop it?” He shouted. “You can’t keep takin’ it out on me for everything that’s happened to you. None of this is my fault you know.”

“You just don’t understand,” she said.

“Sure I understand,” he replied, “you’re upset and angry and you just want to lash out at the nearest person, and that just happens to be me right now.”

She turned surprised eyes on him and said thoughtfully, “Yes, I guess you’re right.”

“Do you think you’re the only person that’s ever felt that way?” he asked.

“What do you know about love?” she replied, suddenly scornful, “Oh you’re experienced alright, I can tell that. But do you really love any of your conquests Jess? Or do you just love them and leave them like all the rest of the men I’ve met…huh? Have you ever had your heart broken?” she cried looking up at him.

He looked down into her green cat eyes, “Oh yes,” he said softly, “I have.”

“You been married?” she asked.


“And she walked out on you,” she said with a malicious look.

He looked down swallowing deeply before returning her gaze, “No, she went and died on me….. Now can we leave it?” he asked turning and flopping back down on the couch.

She blushed deeply and came and knelt down beside the couch and taking his hand said, “I’m so sorry.”

He refused to meet her eye.

“Just leave it OK,” he said gruffly.

She nodded and leaning forwards from her position kneeling beside the couch laid her head on his knee.

Very slowly he reached out and gently stroked her hair.

After a while she got up and left the room, returning with a bottle of Red Eye and a couple of glasses. She held the bottle up, “I thought we might have a night cap.”

He gave the bottle a wary look.

“What’s up, don’t you like whiskey?”

“Oh yes he said, I like it alright, it’s just that it ain’t too fond of me.”

She giggled, “I’m talking one glass Jess, not the whole bottle.”

He grinned back, “Well that should be OK,” he agreed and moved across to the couch so that she could sit beside him.

She poured the drinks and passed him a generous measure.

“What shall we drink to?” she asked giving him a playful look.

“How about friends and lovers,” he said with his cheeky grin.

She gave him an appraising look, “So which are we?” she asked.

He said nothing for a long while, looking down into his glass, before he turned and gazing deeply into her eyes, said softly, “Well I guess that’s down to you.”

They sipped their drinks looking into the embers of the fire and then she leaned forwards and put her empty glass on a little table beside her.

She looked across at Jess and seeing his glass was empty, she took it from his hand and did the same with his.

All the while he had been watching her closely, the tension in the air almost palpable as she finally turned and looked him in the eye.

He returned her gaze and then she slowly moved towards him and caressed the cheek she had slapped so hard previously.

“I think it’s time I apologized for that too,” she said softly, running a finger down his cheek and stopping at the corner of his mouth.

Then she took his face between her hands and leaning in, kissed him passionately.


Jess was breathing hard and his heart pounding. He held her close, one hand in her hair and the other running down her back, pulling her in even closer. Then suddenly she pulled away and looked into those wonderful blue eyes, now misty with passion…..and made up her mind.

“In answer to your question…..lovers,” she whispered and standing up, pulled him up from the couch and holding his hand led him towards her room.

Outside he stopped….and looked deeply into her eyes, “Are you sure about this Tally…..I mean we don’t know each other any too well….is this the drink making you feel this way…. huh?”

She just laughed, “Heck no…. Look Jess I’ve been around. I see a man I like well….then why not? Life’s too short….You like me dontcha….huh?” she asked in a teasing voice.

“Sure I like ya,” he confirmed, “but I don’t know you Tally….and you don’t know me.”

“So what is there to know…you said you weren’t married…..or engaged…so like I say what’s there to know…huh?”

“Well that I’m not the settling down kind. I ain’t about to propose come morning for starters.”

“And do I look like I want you to huh? Hell Jess I’m right off all that kind of thing… I sure ain’t looking for another man in my life….so do you want some fun or what?”

Jess was sorely tempted…hell she was so dang beautiful….so passionate, but there was something else…

“Well?” she asked when he still hesitated.

“Sure, sure I do its just…well Daisy…. With her being your aunt and all, I feel maybe I should be kinda respectful…I guess she wouldn’t approve seein’ as we’re not real well acquainted an’ all.”

She just shook her head in amazement, “Heck is that all…well I’ve never even met dear Aunt Daisy and as far as respect is concerned well I think you’re real respectful. Gosh Jess most men would jump at the chance…..unless…”

“Unless what?” he asked looking wary.

“Well unless maybe you don’t find me attractive?” And she gave a little pout, making her look irresistible to him.

“Oh I think your attractive right enough,” he said smiling into her eyes and reaching in for a gentle kiss.

“Just as long as you know…this is just some fun for tonight and you’re OK with that?”

“More than OK…now will you come on, ” and she turned into her room.

At the door Jess was suddenly aware that Blue had stood up and padded along behind them.

He stopped and patted the dog’s head, before telling him to stay and the animal lay down by the door obediently.

Jess grinned down at him, “This is one thing I don’t need any help with boy,” he said softly, before entering the room and closing the door quietly behind him.

Chapter 6

The following morning they were roused by someone pounding on the door.

Jess woke up immediately, “What the Hell? “He gasped.

Tally turned to look at him, “Better answer it, could be news of Pa,” she said anxiously.

He scrabbled down the bed and finally found his white, cut off long johns and pulling them on made for the door where the knocking was getting louder.

“OK, I’m a comin’“ he yelled as he finally wretched the door open, to see Sheriff Red Smith standing on the doorstep grinning at him.

“Jess,” he beamed and then taking in his attire, or rather lack of it, “I haven’t caught ya at an inconvenient moment have I?”

Jess blushed to the roots of his hair, “Come in Smitty,” he said and closing the door behind him headed for the kitchen, “Coffee?” he called over his shoulder.

“That would be swell,” said Red following him in and leaning on the door frame, appraised his friend.

Then he noticed the bandaging on his leg.

“Had an accident?” he asked.

Jess looked down at the damaged leg, “Yeah, had an argument with a wolf trap,” he said giving his friend a rueful look.

Red whistled, “Jeez bet that smarted some.”

Jess smiled at the understatement, “Some,” he agreed.

He poured out the coffee and brought it over to the kitchen table and gestured for his friend to sit. As he passed over the coffee his hand was shaking slightly and he spilt some on the table, “Sorry,” he said as he pushed the cup over to Smitty.

He grinned back, “That’s OK, guess ya didn’t get much sleep last night.”

Jess just threw him a hard look, before saying, “So what brings you out here then Smitty?”

“Well, Miss Daisy was frettin’ some,” he said. “When ol’ Matty said you’d gone out hunting and not come back, well, she knew that wasn’t like you. The old man just assumed you’d had enough of Miss Tally’s shenanigans and decided to come back to town,” he finished.

“Thought of it,” said Jess honestly, “but I’d promised Matt I’d bring supper back and I had intended to, until that trap had a say in the matter.”

“Umm, Miss Daisy figured something like that might have happened, anyways she wanted to give you a message…Tally too.”

Just then there was a movement by the door and Tally walked in, wearing nothing but a peacock blue silk robe, wrapped tightly around her. With her burnished auburn hair falling loosely around her shoulders she looked sensational.

The Sheriff’s jaw dropped open and he just stared for a moment, before saying, “Morning Miss Dyson”.

“Sheriff,” she nodded, “did you say you had a message?”

After a moment the Sheriff finally got his mind back on the business in hand.

“Yes, your Pa has decided to return to Laramie with his sister and he wants you to close up the cabin and accompany him,” he said.

“What about the horses, how long will we be away?” she asked looking anxious.

Red paused, his eyes flicking from Tally to Jess and back, before he said quietly, “I guess you won’t be coming back honey. Your Pa is fixing to stay with Daisy to…well to the end. Then he figures you’ll wanna go back ta Philly where you’ve got kin, so I guess he’ll put this place on the market. He asked me ta take the horses back to town with me to sell,” he finished casting Tally an anxious look.

She glared at the Sheriff.

“What!” she yelled. “He can’t do that…can he Jess? He can’t just up and leave like that,” and on casting him an agonized look fled from the room crying.

A moment later they heard the bedroom door slam behind her.

Jess looked across at his friend, “Sorry,” he said quietly, “she’s taking all this stuff with her Pa real hard.”

Red pushed his hat back and nodded, “Yeah” he said.

Then giving his friend a speculative look he said, “I guess it’s none of my business, but how deep in are you with her Jess……’cos like I said she’s dangerous.”

Jess felt a surge of anger and was about to tell his friend yes, it was none of his goddamn business, when something stopped him.

He took a deep breath to calm himself and then meeting his buddy’s concerned eyes, said, “In what way?”

Red looked down into his empty cup and then back at his friend.

“Not here,” he said softly, “walk me out to my horse.”

The two men left the cabin and strolled over to the corral and leaned on the fence where Red had tethered his big Buckskin.

Jess patted the horse on the neck and then turned to his friend, “Well?”

“I’ve got a buddy out east,” Red said looking serious, “it turns out he was a real good friend of her former husband. And……” he stopped, “this is kinda hard for me Jess. I can see there is something real strong between you two…..…and you won’t like this.”

“Go on will you,” said Jess urgently.

Red sighed, “OK…. well apparently Cal, her husband, was already going steady with the Saloon girl before he even clapped eyes on Tally. She saw him one night decided she wanted him and went for it.”

“Well, these things happen, all’s fair in love an’ war and all that,” said Jess.

“Yeah, but then she got insanely jealous of him. He couldn’t call his life his own and on talkin’ to some of her ex’s, well they said exactly the same. She’d start drinking and get into these terrible rages. Anyway, Cal was completely smitten, figured he’d tame her…..”

“And, so did he?”

Smitty shook his head, “One night he just said a friendly howdy to an old school friend, of the female variety, at the local dance. Tally saw it all….them laughing together, way old friends do….. and well…..that night she shot him.”


“She shot him Jess. Luckily she ran off and help came. He made it to the doc’s in time, but it was touch and go and after that he left town…. Never wanted ta see her again, like I said, she’s purely dangerous boy.”

“After that he met up with his first love, the Saloon girl. Found out she was carrying his child and got divorced and remarried, livin’ happily ever after, far as I know.”

Jess gave a low whistle, “I guess I don’t really know her at all. That sure ain’t the way she tells it.”

Red looked across at his friend, “And if you’ve got any sense you’ll keep it that way, but I figure maybe you’re in too deep already,” he said shaking his head.

Jess just looked down but said nothing. After a while he helped the Sheriff, string the four ranch horses together and he left, saying he’d see Jess and Tally in town, just as soon as Jess could persuade her to go.

Jess returned to the cabin and realizing he was still in his shorts went and dressed, then looked for Tally. There had been no sign of her in the bedroom, or the rest of the cabin and finally he found her sitting on a bench overlooking the vegetable plot, out the back.

He sank down beside her, “Are you OK?”

“What do you think?” she spat.

“Tally, take it easy will you. I know this is hard for you, but well, if it’s what your Pa wants.”

“What he wants…… what about what I want?” she screamed.

“Well, he is the one that’s dying,” he said quietly.

“Will you quit saying that,” she said angrily, “he ain’t that sick.”

“Tally, we’ve been through all this. You know he is; now you just have to be brave and face up to it and I’m here with you … OK?”

She looked over at him, an inscrutable look on her face, “Yes…but for how long?”

He remembered back to their conversation of the night before…how she’d declared she didn’t want a man in her life, how it was all just a bit of fun….so where had this come from? Wisely he decided not to challenge her and just ignored the remark.

He finally persuaded her to go and pack, while he saddled the horses and secured the barn.

After a while he went in to see how she was doing and was annoyed to find her still sitting on the bed, piles of clothes surrounding her, but nothing packed.

“I’m not going,” she said flatly, then turning pleading eyes up to him,

“We could stay here. Get married, work the land ……we’re good together Jess, you know we are,” she said grabbing his hand.

He backed off, shaking his hand free, “Whoa there, I never said anything about marrying you. Garldarn it Tally…we discussed all this last night….you know we did. I told you I weren’t for settling down……just some fun you said.”

“But…..last night, I thought…. I didn’t think you really meant that. Anyway I thought you’d feel differently in the morning.”

“Last night you invited me into your bed, that’s all….Maybe…. I do feel kinda different about things today. Could be we do have some sort of future together. I don’t know. But Hell Tally, it’s way too soon to tell and certainly way too soon to think of getting hitched.”

Then looking down he swallowed and looking back at her, “It’s like I said last night…. I don’t know you at all….or you me.”

“I do,” she shouted, “I know all I need to.”

“If you really knew me than you’d know I wouldn’t let a friend down. I brought Daisy here to find her brother and I promised to take her back and I ain’t letting her down.”

He gave her a hard look, “I’ll be riding out within the hour, with you or without you,” and with that he turned on his heel and left the room.

About twenty minutes later she joined him in the yard carrying bursting saddlebags and a small valise; she passed him the case and then threw the saddlebags up on her mount.

He attached the valise to his saddle horn before going round and helping to strap on the saddlebags. All the time she had remained silent and refused to look in his direction but as he finished attending to the saddle bag she suddenly turned on him.

“Why are you being this way Jess, don’t you care about me at all?” she cried.

“Don’t you care about your Pa?” he shouted back.

She just pouted at him, hoping that would make him relent and recall the passion of the previous night…but no.

Jess merely whistled up Blue. He was running around the yard but came at once and jumped up at Jess who fondled his ears lovingly.

Tally gave the dog a sour look, “Don’t tell me you’re taking that mutt with you?”

“Sure I am,” he said quietly, his full attention on the dog.

She wore a low cut tight green blouse that matched the colour of her eyes exactly, with a black riding skirt, her beautiful auburn hair once more loose around her shoulders and she knew she was looking good, but he refused to look at her, still talking quietly to the dog.

Now she stood by her mount, desperate to get his attention, and said angrily, “Help me up will you?”

He left the dog and moved to her side and helped her to mount, their gaze locking for a moment as she settled in the saddle. Then he tore his eyes away and turning hopped up on Traveller and without a second glance, spurred him out of the yard and down the mountain at a fast trot.

They arrived in Rawlins in the late afternoon and Jess reined in outside Ma Smith’s house on the edge of town. The whole trip had taken place in silence. Now he dismounted, hitched Traveller to the rail, told Blue to sit and stay, then went and helped Tally down before knocking on the door.

Ma Smith opened it almost at once and gave Jess a huge smile.

“Come in dear,” she said, “Daisy will be that glad to see you, she’s been fretting. But don’t tell her I said so,” she finished with a wink.

Jess turned and introduced Tally.

“Pleased to meet you my dear, your Pa is resting just now but he’ll be down for supper,” and she ushered the pair in.

Daisy leapt up from her fireside chair as Jess entered and held her arms open.

“Jess dear are you alright?” she said as he went over and kissed her warmly on the cheek, holding her for a moment.

As he pulled back she gave him a worried look, “You are awfully pale dear. Are you alright, Red told us what happened.”

“I’m fine Daisy,” he said with a smile, as she knew he would.

Then he turned to where Tally was still standing by the door looking mutinous

“This is Tally, Matt’s daughter and your niece he said,” with a grin.

The girl stepped forwards and gave Daisy a weak smile, “Aunt, pleased to meet you,” she said primly.

However Daisy was having none of that and coming forwards she clasped the girl in a warm embrace, “I am so very happy to see you at last,” she said.

Then more quietly, “I just wish it was under happier circumstances.”

“I don’t know what you mean Aunt,” said Tally backing off and looking uncomfortable.

“Why, your dear Pa of course,” she said looking puzzled and glancing at Jess for reassurance.

He just shook his head very slightly, but she understood at once.

Turning back to the girl she said, “I expect you would like to wash up after your long journey, I’ll show you the way,” and led the girl from the room.

When they came back in, sleeping arrangement were discussed and it was decided that Tally could use the small spare room.

“Oh,” she said, “I thought maybe Jess and I would get a room…. ….er I mean rooms at the hotel for tonight, we don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

Daisy glanced at Jess and again he gave an imperceptible shake of the head and she said, “Oh no dear it is no trouble at all, and knowing Jess he probably has something already planned for tonight, don’t you dear?” she said turning to him in wide eyed innocence.

Jess hid a smile, and breathed a sigh of relief; he’d had quite enough of Tally’s games for one day and longed for a break.

“Well actually I’m seeing Red,” he improvised. “There’s stuff we need to discuss. I’ll probably stay the night with him and be ready to roll out after breakfast if that is OK with you all?” he asked politely.

Tally looked furious, but knew she could say nothing; and shortly after he left.

When he got outside he saw Blue still sitting by Traveller and calling him over he headed for the Sheriff’s office and on entering was pleased to see Red sitting behind his desk.

When he saw Jess he got up and shook his hand, “Hey buddy good to see you, so did you manage to persuade Madam to accompany you then?”

“Just about, she ain’t speakin’ to me right now but at least she’s here.”

Red grinned and then his attention was taken by the dog.

It was the first time he’d seen the big dog with Jess as the critter had been in the back pasture rabbiting when the Sheriff called earlier.

“Hey Blue, what are you doing here boy?”

Jess pushed his hat back, “You know this big fellah?” he asked.

“Sure, old Jed Brown’s dog.”

Jess’s heart sank,” I guess he’ll be wantin’ him back then,” he said sadly.

Red patted the dog, whose tail was wagging, and he looked up at Jess, ”I shouldn’t think so, he’s been dead nigh on two months.”

Jess tried to rearrange his face into a suitably sad expression, but it only lasted for a moment, “So I can have him?” he asked eagerly.

“Don’t see why not, the dog needs a home, I’d have him myself if you weren’t interested.”

“You know his history then?”

“Sure, old Jed’s sheepdog got out one night and went off romancing with a wolf, came back in the family way.”

“I figured it was something like that.”

“Well, when it came to the whelping, the poor bitch didn’t stand a chance, the pups were just too darned big. She died giving birth and Jed bottle fed the pups himself. She had a bitch and a dog. The bitch went over to a rancher other side of the mountain and Jed kept ol’ Blue here. He’s a mighty fine dog Jess. He can herd cattle, horses, you name it and faithful too,” he said smiling down at the animal.

“When ol’ Jed’s neighbour found him stretched out in the yard dead from a heart attack, this fellah wouldn’t leave him. It took a bullet across his bows before he’d move and that was the last anyone saw of him, guess he’s been on the drift ever since.”

Jess leaned down and patted the dog, “It looks like we’ve got a lot in common then,” he said with a laugh.

“So, you wanna come out for a beer tonight Sheriff?”

“Can do you better than that.” Said Red cheerfully, “How about a few beers and then supper at my place, play your cards right and the Mrs will let you sleep on the couch too.”

Jess grinned across at his friend, “That sure sounds good to me,” he said and the couple left for the Saloon in good spirits.

They enjoyed a pleasant evening. Then Jenny, Red’s wife, fed the men some of her finest stew. She also made a big fuss of Blue ensuring he had a helping too, much to Jess’s delight.

“Figure ol’ Red here sure fell on his feet when he upped and married you,” Jess said when the meal was over, “That was the finest meal I’ve had in a long while, thank you Jenny.”

“Well, it’s nice to be appreciated,” she said with a warm smile, “I like cooking for a good appetite.”

“Not that you’re sayin’ I’m greedy or anythin’,” he said with a laugh.

She grinned back, “Now just because you had three helpings of my apple pie……”

After a little more banter Jenny retired to bed leaving the men sitting by the fire over a last glass of whisky apiece.

“Well, I sure hope you have a good journey tomorrow,” said Red looking over at his friend, “I guess it won’t be easy poor ol’ Matty bein’ so sick and all.”

Jess nodded, “It beats me why he wants to come all the way to Laramie. I figure if my days were numbered I’d just wanna die in my own bed.”

“Yeah, I wondered about that too. When I called round the other night to see Ma, we got to chatting me and Matt, after the ladies had retired. He said he was making the journey for Tally.”

“Making it for Tally, how so?”

“He figured that if he died up on the mountain, she’d be all alone. He reckons it would be too distressing for her, so he asked Daisy if she’d do him one last favour. Nurse him through his last days. Then see Tally is OK afterwards and she said she would. She’d wired Slim that day and he said any kin of Daisy’s was welcome and so that’s what she promised to do.”

Jess shook his head, “The way he is, he might not even make the journey,” he said sadly.

Chapter 7

The following morning he had the covered wagon, with Traveller and Tally’s pony hitched behind, ready early in the morning. So they were on their way as soon as breakfast was over with Ma Smith and Red waving them off and wishing them all a safe journey.

When Jess collected them he was shocked to see how much Matt had gone down hill in just a few days. His breathing was laboured and he looked skeletally thin, his eyes having a world weary look about them.

The old man opted to stretch out on the cot inside the wagon and Jess made him as comfortable as possible. As he tended him, out of earshot of the women, he looked compassionately down at him and said, “You really sure you wanna make this journey Matt?”

He took a deep breath and gave Jess a brave smile, “I figure I have to son, I didn’t want Tally to be stuck up the mountain with me when I went. Anyways now I’ve finally found little Daisy again I figure I want to spend what time I have left with her.”

Jess just nodded, “Sure I can understand that. I’ll take it real slow and you just holler if you want anything,” he said.

He helped Daisy up onto the front seat and jumping up beside her, clicked the team on, out of town, turning for Laramie and home, Blue trotting along beside.

Tally had opted to ride her pony and she trailed behind them, looking for all the world like a lost soul.

“I’m worried about that girl,” said Daisy quietly to Jess after they had been on the trail for a while.

Jess just nodded; “I figure she’s takin’ it kinda hard,” he agreed.

“It’s more than that,” she said, looking across at the young cowboy, “she seems so angry….So volatile, she was really quite annoyed that you had gone out last night, didn’t seem to think you should have left her.”

“That don’t surprise me none,” said Jess sardonically.

“She seems very possessive of you?” she said tentatively.

Jess said nothing, just gave a small nod.

“The way she was talking last night…Well she was hinting at marriage…. Jess dear, you have only known her a short time…it’s none of my business, but……”

Jess gave a deep sigh and looking over at his dear friend knew he had to be completely honest with her.

He told her about their explosive relationship, how she was so angry with him one minute and then…well, all over him the next.

“Guess all her anger at her past relationships sorta built up and she hates all men. ‘All men are pigs and you are no exception Jess Harper,’ that’s what she said, and then I reckon I lost my temper with her a couple of times too,” he said honestly.

“It seems like a love hate relationship,” she said with a little smile, “so has she been badly hurt in the past?”
Then he told her everything that Red had told him, including the shooting.

“And after all that you want a relationship with her Jess?”

“I don’t know Daisy, I’m attracted to her, and well, I kinda understand her….. In some ways…….but I just don’t know. Heck it’s early days, I sure never made her any promises, about marriage or anything else.”

“She seems to expect some sort of commitment from you?” Daisy said looking concerned.

“Yeah, well we have got……… kinda close… Err…I mean…….,” he blushed furiously and suddenly seemed to be extremely interested in the view ahead.

Daisy was well aware of the young cowboy’s escapades, had heard him discussing the events of a Saturday night spent with saloon girls with Slim. Knew neither of her ‘boys’ were angels. Now she took pity on him being in this difficult position…not to mention his obvious embarrassment about the situation.

“Its alright dear, you don’t have to explain yourself to me. I’m just concerned about the girl’s mental state. I should take things very carefully with her. If she really shot that other young man well who knows what she is capable off? Just be careful of her my dear.”

“Sure Daisy and I’m sorry…….well burdening you with all this stuff. I guess you’ve got enough on your mind what with Matt and everything.”

She suddenly looked terribly sad.

“I’m so worried about him having to make this long journey, but he insisted that he wanted to be with me. I even offered to stay in Rawlins and nurse him, but he said no he wanted to get Tally away from the mountain and maybe he’s right.”

Jess just shrugged, “Maybe.”

They pulled over at noon for a break and Jess was surprised to see that Matt was looking much better.

“I figure being out in the big open has cheered me no end,” he told Jess as they all sat round the camp fire enjoying their meal.

When they resumed their journey Daisy opted to ride in the wagon with her brother, both sitting up and enjoying the view from the rear of the vehicle and Tally agreed to ride up with Jess.

“You can have a go at driving the team if you like,” he said with a friendly grin and she agreed after a moment’s hesitation.

He showed her how to hold the reins and she was surprised at the strength she needed to control the two horses, but persevered for an hour or so before passing the reins back to him.

They had been driving along in silence for a while and then he turned to her and with his deep blue eyes sparkling said, “You still mad at me then?”

She looked down and blushed, “I guess not.”

“I’m real sorry if I’ve been kinda hard on ya, it’s just well…… you had to face up to stuff, your old man bein’ so sick an’ all. I know its not easy Tally, really I do, but you have to do what he wants right now.”

“Yes, I know that.”

They continued in silence for a while and then he turned to her again and said softly, “Wanna talk about it?”


“Whatever it is that’s making you so darn angry all the time.”

“I don’t know what you mean; I’m worried about Pa…..”

“No, it’s more than that isn’t it Tally?”

She gave a deep sigh and then said, “I guess I’m just frustrated with the way my life’s going.”

Then turning on him she said angrily, “I’m twenty six years old Jess and I’ve no man, no proper home of my own and no children and I’m just so unhappy.”

He gave her a surprised look, “So there has been nobody else since your husband then?”

“Oh yes,” she said bitterly, “scores of them, but none of them wanted to commit to marriage, to settle down with me, they all end up running scared.”

Jess remembered that it was only a short while ago that she was saying how she didn’t want a man in her life…how she just wanted a fun time with him….and now all this…Darn it, this was some devious…well certainly troubled, young woman he thought sadly.

Giving her a thoughtful look, “Maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.”


“Well, taking a man to your bed. Telling him you don’t want a man in your life…just a bit of fun, nuthin’ serious. Then expecting him to propose the next morning,” he said being brutally honest.

She turned angry eyes on him, “Well why not, I’ve committed to them, why can’t they?”

“Men don’t think that way, just ‘cos a beautiful woman offers to share her bed, well it doesn’t mean he naturally thinks to marry her. And you sure knew that was the case when we slept together,” he said raising a dark eyebrow. “And men generally don’t make that kinda commitment so early in a relationship anyway.”

“Why not,” she asked looking perplexed.

He pondered that for a few minutes before replying, “Well I guess men and women think differently….about that sort of thing anyway.”

“And do you think differently…..what did you think the other night?”

“I was surprised,” he replied honestly.

“You were laying into me, hell even tried to poison me, one minute and then wantin’ to make love the next….Well that’s kinda confusing for a man, you know?”

“But you still accepted my offer.”

“Sure I did….and we had that conversation didn’t we? You were real happy to go along with it on my terms iffen I remember rightly….And sure what man wouldn’t, want you,” he said, looking her in the eye, “you’re a beautiful, passionate woman.”

“And that’s all it was about?” she asked.

“Right then, it was yes. Like I said, we really don’t know each other.”

“So that’s why men run scared, just because I want marriage?”

“Because you want it, expect it, too soon, before you have a proper relationship going….yes. And maybe because you lie about it too Tally, like you did to me. One minute you’re just fine with a quick fling…next day you want me to settle down on the ranch with you…get hitched and play happy families…I guess you need to think your life through, decide what you really want,” he said quietly.

At that notion she went very quiet, just looking out to the horizon, obviously mulling over his words.

After a while she seemed to dismiss their previous conversation, like it had never been and said cheerfully, “I guess you’re looking forward to getting home then?”

He turned and grinned at her.

“I sure am…..ol’ Slim there, well he’ll be moaning about all the extra work he’s had to do. Then as to how it’s been real peaceful without me around causin’ trouble. But I know he’ll be pleased to have me back really,” he said with a smile. “And then little Mike, he’ll be real glad to see me I guess.”

“So who is little Mike?” she asked indulgently. She had become aware of how devoted Jess was to Traveller and now the dog, Blue, and she guessed Mike was another of his pets.

He turned and beamed at her, “Mike’s my boy,” he said proudly, “Slim and me adopted him a few years back, he’s a great kid and you’ll love him.”

She turned a shocked face towards him, “You have a child?” she asked.

“Sure…you got a problem with that?” he asked giving her a questioning look.

“N… no of course not.”

She was silent for a long while and then said, “So if you have joint guardianship of this boy…”


“Yes, Mike. So what would happen if one of you married and wanted to move away, who would have custody?”

Jess was silent for a while and then said, “That wouldn’t happen neither of us would want to move anywhere. When I was engaged, well, we were fixing to build a property on the ranch land,” he said, a shadow crossing his handsome face at the memory of his lost love.

“But why not move on, have a fresh start?” she asked.

He looked back at her an intense look in his eyes, “You just don’t get it do you?” He said, “The Sherman Ranch is my home, my friends, hell no …my family are there, my work is there. I’m a partner in the business and I love it there; why would I ever want to leave?”

“You’re a partner?” she said faintly, “I’d no idea.”

He gave her another intense look, “Like I said, there is a lot you don’t know about me.”

They lapsed into silence and after a while Jess cast an eye up to the sky.

“It’ll be dark pretty soon. I guess we’d better find a place to camp,” he said and a little while later he pulled the wagon off the road and under a grove of Cottonwoods. There was a small stream following the path of the road and the area was sheltered and would make an ideal camp site.

He drew the team to a halt and jumping down stretched up to help Tally alight.

As she jumped down she leaned against him for a moment and he felt a frisson of excitement as she drew closer her eyes locking with his before moving in for a passionate kiss.

All his senses were aroused as the kissing became hotter, and he held her tightly, his arms drawing her soft body even closer to the muscular firmness of his own.

She finally pulled away and he made an effort to control himself, although his pulses were racing and his whole body was crying out for her.

“Can you fetch some fire wood while I see to the horses?” he asked huskily.

“Sure,” she grinned and as she turned away he failed to see the triumphant look in her eyes, ‘So you think you’ll never leave the ranch and that kid’, she said to herself, ‘well I’ve got other plans for you my love…. I figure given time, what I have to offer will mean a hell of a lot more to you than anything else’. And with that determined thought she went off happily in search of kindling.

They sat around the camp fire after supper and Jess was delighted to see how much better Matt appeared to be. He ate a good supper and even accepted a drop of Red Eye in his coffee, which Daisy turned a blind eye to.

They discussed the future and life at the Sherman Ranch and Relay station, Daisy and Jess obviously really looking forward to their return.

“I figure we could make the old bunk house real cosy for Matt,” said Jess excitedly, there is a good stove in there. We can fix up a new bed and some drapes and stuff and make it real nice.”

Daisy beamed across at the young cowboy appreciative of his support.

“And you must bunk in with me, my dear ,” she said turning to Tally, “I have a large room and it will be lovely to have the chance to get to know you better.”

The girl just smiled and said nothing.

Finally Matt said he was ready to turn in and asked if Jess would give him a hand. It had been agreed that Daisy would sleep on the other cot in the wagon, in case he required nursing during the night. She smiled as the two men went off and promised she would be along shortly.

Jess helped Matt into the wagon and got him ready for bed and soon the older man was relaxing on the cot, looking exhausted and ready for sleep. However as Jess turned to go he called him back.

“Can we have a quick word in private?” he asked.

“Sure,” said Jess smiling at the older man and sinking down onto the other cot, opposite him.

He took his time to collect his thoughts and then said, “You know I haven’t got long don’t you son?”

Jess started to protest, “You’re looking a whole lot better Matt and once you’re settled at the ranch well…”

Matt put his hand up to silence the young cowboy, “Hear me out boy. There’s stuff I need to say before Daisy gets here.”

Jess sat obediently waiting.

“Guess I don’t have to ask you the first thing, I’ve seen how you are round Daisy….but when the time comes….. You will look out for her won’t you boy, help her with the arrangements and everything?”

“Yeah sure,” he said softly, “you don’t have to ask.”

“Yes, I knew that really boy.”

He paused for breath, then seeming to rally said, “There’s something else. I need to be…well I need to be completely honest with you Jess.”

“Go on.”

“It wasn’t all the whole truth what I’ve been saying about this journey. Sure I wanted to be with Daisy and I didn’t want to die up the mountain all alone with young Tally either. But the truth of it boy…… is that I wanted to make this journey especially with you. Because I want you to be there for Tally too, to comfort her when she needs it you know?”

Jess leaned over and patted the older man gently on the shoulder, “Sure I can do that.”

“There is more Jess……I…..I don’t know quite how to say this….”

There was a long pause while Jess waited patiently.

“See it’s like this son, I’d really like you to take Tally on…to wed her……but I ain’t asking you. Don’t you think this is a death bed request, because it ain’t. But well I guess I’d rest easier iffen at least I knew you’d consider it.”

Jess was silent for a long while, looking down, his expression unreadable, and then he took a deep breath, looked Matt in the eyes and said softly, “I guess I can do that.”

The old man took his hand and shook it warmly, “Thank you son, that’s all I’m asking, just think it over yes?”

Jess nodded.

He closed his eyes and then looked back up, “Can you send her in Jess I’d like to say…good night.”

“Yes, sure,” and Jess jumped down from the wagon and joined the others by the fire.

A little later Daisy retired to the wagon for the night and Jess threw some more logs on the fire. Then he fetched bedrolls for himself and Tally and threw them down near the fire, before wandering off to check on the horses.

When he returned to the fire side she was standing waiting for him and as he drew close she put a hand on his arm and pulled him closer. Her eyes were shining brightly with desire as she moved in to kiss him again.

He returned the kiss, gently, and then pulled back and stepped away.

“What’s the matter?”

He gave her a penetrating look, and shook his head sadly, “I don’t wanna start something we can’t finish,” he said quietly.

“Why can’t we…..”

“Because it ain’t right,” he said firmly, “not with Daisy and your Pa in the wagon.”

“I guess you’re right,” she said, “I wasn’t thinking straight.”

He just nodded and threw himself down on his bedroll by the fire and after a moment she put hers down near to him and sank down on it covering herself with a blanket.

They lay there in silence listening to the fire crackling for a while and then she stretched out a tentative hand to him and after a minute he took it and clasped it gently and turned to look over at her.

“Night sweetheart,” he said softly, and after a little while he fell asleep, still holding her hand. But Tally was wide awake staring up into the starry sky, making her plans.

It was just before dawn when they were awoken by the unearthly howling of a wolf.

Jess was instantly awake and kneeling up, his gun in his hand peering around the camp, his eyes straining in the dim predawn light.

Then he saw where the eerie noise was coming from. Blue was sitting a few feet from the wagon, his head thrown back, howling mournfully.

Jess quickly holstered his gun and looked over to where Tally was now fully awake and staring at the dog, “What’s wrong with that stupid mutt now?” she asked angrily.

Jess ignored her outburst and ran over to the dog, putting a hand on his neck, “Hey fellah, what’s the matter?” he said gently.

The dog turned and licked Jess’s hand, before running under the wagon, where he crouched down, peering back at Jess, whimpering and the whites of his eyes showing.

Tally walked over to him and said more calmly, “What’s the matter with him Jess is he sick?”

He turned a worried gaze on her, “Dunno,” he said.

Just then Daisy emerged from the wagon, her robe tied tightly around her, her face pale and anguished in the dim moonlight. Looking over at Tally she said quietly, “Tally………. it’s your Pa… I’m so sorry….he’s gone.”

“No,” she screamed hysterically, “he can’t be,” and then pushing Daisy roughly aside, shouted, “This is all your fault Aunt, he would never have made this journey if it wasn’t for you!” Turning she dashed past her and up into the wagon. A few minutes later they heard her heartbreaking sobs.

Jess went to follow her, but Daisy put a restraining hand on his sleeve, “Leave her a moment dear; she needs to get it out of her system.”

He put an arm round the older woman’s shoulders and gently led her to the fire and sat her down on a fallen log, before squatting down beside her.

“Gee, I’m so sorry Daisy,” he said softly, taking her hand and looking into her eyes with loving concern.

“Thank you Jess,” she whispered, “I know he didn’t have long to go….but I really didn’t expect it so soon.”

Just then Blue padded over and put his head on Daisy’s lap and she fondled his head absently.

“Guess this fellah sensed it.”

“Yes, animals are sensitive like that, sort of sixth sense,” she agreed.

“She didn’t mean it you know,” he said looking up into her sad face, “she’s just upset.”

“Oh I think she did dear. But no matter, we did what Matt wanted at the end, that’s all that counts.”

He just nodded, but she knew he wouldn’t let the matter lie.

“It’s alright really dear, just leave it, as you say she’s upset……and I think maybe you should go and see her now.”

“Will you be OK?”

She nodded bravely, “Yes I’m alright, he is at peace now, it is just the ones who are left that suffer.”

Jess nodded and leaving Blue sitting with his dear friend he walked slowly away.

When he entered, the wagon was dimly illuminated by a lamp and he could see Tally lying across her father’s body, still sobbing bitterly.

He got hold of her by her shoulders and gently pulled her away and she turned and clung to Jess, her sobs increasing her whole body shuddering.

He patted her gently on the back and stroked her hair talking to her soothingly and after a while she calmed down. Pulling back from him said spitefully, “This is all your Daisy’s fault, he wasn’t well enough to travel.”

“Do ya think she didn’t know that,” he replied crisply, “she’s a trained nurse for God’s sake, sure she knew the risks, but he insisted.”

“What…….he did, I don’t understand?”

“He was concerned that he’d die up on the mountain and you would have to deal with it all alone. This way he knew you would have Daisy and me to help you through it all…that’s why,” he finished.

She looked back at her Pa and then at Jess and very slowly got up and left the wagon.

She ran over to where Daisy was still sitting by the camp fire. However she got to her feet as the girl came over and opened her arms to her. Tally ran into them, holding her aunt tightly and sobbing, “I’m so sorry Aunt Daisy….so sorry.”

“It’s alright child,” she whispered and looking up at Jess over the girl’s head gave him a small smile and mouthed, ‘thank you’.

After some time Jess suggested Tally try and get a little more sleep and she lay down by the fire obediently. He covered her over with a blanket and kneeling down at her side kissed her very gently on her forehead and she closed her eyes. He sat by her for a little while, holding her hand and soon her breathing was rhythmic and even.

“She’s sleeping,” he said to Daisy, standing up and walking over to where the elderly lady was still sitting on the log beside the fire.

“She’s exhausted poor child, all that crying has drained her.”

“So are you,” said Jess softly, “here have my bed roll and I’ll go and …see to Matt.”

Daisy knew he meant lay him out and she appreciated the offer, knew Jess would know what to do. But she stood up and shook her head.

“No dear, it’s alright I will attend to him.”

“But Daisy, he’s your brother, that’s awful hard on you.”

She shook her old head, “No, it is the last thing I can do for him and I must do it. You wait here dear and maybe put the coffee on, I’ll be glad of a cup later,” and with that she walked off to the wagon as Jess watched her, sadness reflected on his slender, handsome face. He shook his head slowly in admiration of her strength of spirit.

The following morning it was a very sad party that moved off towards Laramie.

They made good time and arrived in Town shortly before noon, where they visited old Charlie Fairfax the undertaker. He was deeply saddened to hear of Daisy’s loss as he was very fond of the elderly lady.
He helped Jess carry Matt to the chapel of rest. Then promised to be of any help he could to the family once the women were feeling a little stronger and able to make the arrangements.

With a heavy heart Jess eventually drove the women back to the ranch.

Chapter 8

When they arrived at the ranch Slim came running out of the barn as soon as he heard the wagon roll in and beamed up at his friends.

“Welcome home, sure is good to see you,” he called out as Jess reined the team in.

Before he could say more Jess quickly jumped down and said something quietly to the tall blond rancher, whose head shot up in shock at what his partner had just said. He shook his head in disbelief, before casting his gaze back up to Daisy and Tally still seated on the wagon seat.

He quickly came forwards to help them down.

“Daisy, I am so very sorry,” he said, taking her in his arms and holding her close for a few moments.

When he released her she turned to Tally, who Jess had just helped down, and said, “Slim, this is Tally my niece.”

Slim’s jaw all but dropped as he looked into the eyes of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. From her deep green eyes to her burnished copper hair and sensational figure she was absolute perfection in his eyes.

After a moment he recovered himself and taking her hand gently and said, “I’m real sorry for your loss Tally.”

She managed a smile and a brief ‘thank you,’ before moving back to Jess. Then taking his arm possessively looked deeply up into his eyes and said, “Can you bring in my case darling? I’d really like to lie down for a little while, I feel worn out.”

Daisy and Slim exchanged bemused looks at the endearment and intimate behaviour. Jess looking a little embarrassed did as he was asked and showed Tally into Daisy’s room where there was a spare cot.

He dropped the case down and turned to go. But Tally, who had followed him in, closed the door behind her before putting out a hand to his arm to stop him.

“Don’t go,” she said seductively, moving her hand to his chest and licking her lips.

He stopped in his tracks and looked deeply into her green cat eyes.

“Tally, I don’t know what you have in mind. But I guess it ain’t really appropriate….not here and not now,” he said firmly. “And anyways, I’ve got work ta do. I’ve been away a while leaving it all to Slim and that ain’t fair.”

She looked chastened by his attitude; “I just want to be alone with you for a while, is that so bad?” She asked pouting prettily at him.

He looked down at her shaking his head, “I just can’t figure you.” He said quietly, “Your Pa has just died and all you can think of is flirting with me.”

She turned angrily away, “Oh go and do your work then if you don’t want to be with me. I’m sure there are others that will,” and with that she turned away from him.

He looked down and said kindly, “I figure you’re tired; you’ve been through a lot. Have a rest and Daisy will call you when supper’s ready,” and with that he turned and left.

He heard Daisy banging about in the kitchen and knew she was best left to her own devises when she was preparing a meal, so he let himself out of the front door and into the yard where Slim was making a fuss of Blue.

Turning to his partner he grinned and said, “I see you’ve got yer self a new friend.”

Jess returned the grin and fondled the dog’s ears as he bounded up and put his huge paws up on his shoulders, “Hey down boy, show some respect,” he said laughing.

Then turning to Slim, said, “Yeah, ain’t he great! He’s a sheep dog/wolf cross.”

“He’s OK, safe I mean?” asked Slim, with a worried look, “he looks pretty much 100% wolf to me.”

“No, he’s sound don’t worry. He was hand reared and never even clapped eyes on another wolf, Traveller would have picked up the scent if he had….”

Just then Mike’s dog Buttons ran out of the barn and stopped in his tracks staring at the newcomer. After a moment Blue dashed over and the two dogs sniffed at each other before starting a game of chase around the yard, tails wagging and barking in excitement.

Slim laughed at their antics, “It looks like you’re right partner, your new friend is gonna fit in just fine.”

Then turning a quizzical gaze on his buddy, “So are you going to tell me all about your other new friend then Jess?” he asked smirking a little.

Jess’s head shot up and he threw Slim an embarrassed look, “It’s kinda a long story,” he said.

“That’s OK pard, I’ve got all afternoon,” replied Slim with a wink and throwing an arm round his friend’s shoulders walked him over to the barn.

“I figure we’ll have a crafty shot of Red Eye away from the women folk and you can tell me all about it,” he said grinning across at his buddy.

Jess slumped down on a straw bale and Slim went and found the bottle and a couple of tin cups. Kept in the back of the barn for the rare occasion when the men needed a little pick me up.

He poured a generous measure into a cup and passed it to his buddy and giving him a speculative look said, “So are you going to tell me all about Miss Tally?”

Jess explained about their first meeting, the ‘love /hate’ relationship that had developed between them and also about what Red had told him about her past.

Slim gave a low whistle, “Jeez he wasn’t kidding when he said she was dangerous was he?”

Jess just looked grim, “Then her Pa practically asked me to wed her….asked me just before he died, made me promise I’d think about it.”

“And are you……thinking about it that is?”

Jess just shook his head and looked down, “Dunno,” he mumbled.

“Sure looks like she’s keen on the idea, so have you….err …you know?”

Jess just nodded again, refusing to meet Slim’s eye.

“Well then……”

Jess sprang up from where he was seated.

“I never made her any promises,” he growled, “Hell Slim, she did all the chasing, she was the one that invited me into her bed….what’s a man to do?” he asked turning to his friend for support.

Slim just shook his head, “She sure is cute,” he said with a deep sigh.

“You ain’t seen her mad yet,” said Jess darkly.

Just then they heard the afternoon Stage rumbling into the yard and both men knocked back their whiskey before heading out to change the team.

As the Stage drew to a halt Mike jumped down and ran at full speed to Jess who caught him up in his arms and swung him around before landing him back on the ground and tousling his hair.

“Hi Tiger, how you bin?” he asked grinning down at the boy.

“OK, but gee it’s good to have you back and Aunt Daisy too! I guess we’ve had enough of your cooking ain’t we Slim?” he said turning to the blond rancher with a cheeky grin.

“Haven’t we had enough,” replied Slim automatically correcting the child’s grammar.

“Oh so you’ve had enough of it too, have you Slim?” piped up Jess with a playful wink at Mike.

Slim aimed a cuff at Jess’s head which he neatly ducked and the two of them went to see to the horses and chat to old Mose the driver.

Mose got stiffly down from the Stage and on seeing Jess brightened visibly, “Hey Jess Miss Daisy back?” he asked hopefully.
It was a well know fact at the Sherman ranch that Mose was more than a little sweet on Mrs Daisy Cooper, not to mention her apple pie, and the two ranchers constantly teased him about it.

“Well, howdy Mose,” said Jess coming over, his arms akimbo, “and its good to see you too.”

“Aw sorry Jess, yeah, its good ta see you of course, but I’ll be a whole lot better for seeing Miss Daisy,” he said with a wink as he started towards the ranch.

Slim walked over and caught his arm, “Not right now Mose, she’s had a nasty shock. I figure she won’t feel up to light talk at the moment.”

“Oh, well I’m sorry to hear that,” said Mose looking concerned.

Jess came over, “Her brother died on the journey, early hours of this morning,” he said quietly.

Mike was standing next to him, “Matt is dead?” he said in a shocked voice.

Jess rested a hand on his shoulder, “‘Fraid so Mike, and then squatting down beside the boy said softly, “He was real sick Mike, he’s at rest in Heaven now and I reckon he’d be kinda glad of that, he was feelin’ real poorly.”

The boy nodded with understanding. Then looking towards the house said softly, “Poor Aunt Daisy, figure I’ll go and help with supper,” and ran inside.

Mose shook his head looking after the youngster, “He’s got a real kind heart that boy,” he said turning to the two ranchers.

Jess nodded, “I reckon he’s seen more than enough of death and dying in his short life. I figure he’s got an understanding beyond his years,” he said quietly before going about the business of changing the team.

When he got back with the fresh horses Mose was chatting to Slim and looked up and said, “I guess you won’t have heard the news Jess?”

“Oh, and what’s that?” the younger man said with an interested smile.

“Pete Thomas got broke out of the Cheyenne jail, they killed the deputy and he got clean away.”

Jess gave a low whistle, “No kidding.”

“What’s more, the word on the street was that he was heading for Laramie and goin’ to settle up with everyone on the posse that killed his kid brother and cousin.”

Jess turned to Slim, “I guess that’s you me, Mort and Lon,” he said, referring to their friend Mort Cory and his deputy.

“So when did he break out then Mose?”

“Couple of days ago, a posse went after them and lost them near the river. It looked like they were heading for the border though, not Laramie and if they’ve got any common sense they’ll keep on riding.”

The two ranchers nodded in agreement and shortly afterwards Mose climbed back up on the Stage and rattled out of the yard.

Supper was a quiet meal with Tally studiously avoided Jess’s eye while making conversation exclusively with Slim. Hanging on his every word and laughing at anything remotely funny he came up with.

Jess hid a smile at her obvious tactics and once the meal was over he opted to stay at the table and help Mike with his homework. Rather than chat with the other adults who sat around the fireside enjoying their coffee.

Once his work was done to Jess’s satisfaction, Mike went and sat on the floor by the fire an arm round each of the ranch dogs and turning sparkling eyes to Jess said, “I think Blue is the very best pet we’ve ever had….after Buttons that is of course,” he said patting his own dog.

“Well he ain’t just a pet you know Mike. Red reckons he can herd just about anything that moves,” he said proudly.

“Except cats,” said Mike with a giggle. This was a private joke they shared about the ornery Tom cat, Jasper that lived at the ranch. Slim and Daisy looked on indulgently at the special relationship that existed between Jess and Mike.

“Yeah, except cats,” Jess agreed.

Jess had opted to go and sit on the old leather couch next to Tally. Then as Slim looked over he saw a shadow cross Tally’s pretty face and he thought, good grief she’s jealous of Jess’s love for the boy.

A little while later Daisy professed it to be Mike’s bed time and as he was on his best behaviour, for Tally’s sake, he got up at once without argument. He did the usual round of goodnights and when he came to Tally he looked her in the eye and said,

“I’m real sorry about your Pa Tally, if there is anything I can do …..”

She cut in quickly, “Like what dear?” in a patronizing voice.

The boy looked puzzled at her attitude, but rallied quickly, “I dunno, just talk about things, or maybe I can help you…. run messages maybe,” he finished beaming at her. Then sincerely, “I know how you feel.”

Tally lost her temper at this and said, “How could you possibly, it’s not like the pet cat dying you know dear.”

Mike was shocked and turned anxious eyes to Jess for reassurance.

He turned on Tally and said sharply, “The boys only trying to help you.”

“I know, sorry Mike,” she said, without much conviction.

The boy muttered, “OK” and turned for his room.

Jess watched the little figure walk away with his head bowed and his heart bled for him.

“I’ll be in to tuck you up in a minute Tiger,” he called and was rewarded by a grateful smile from the small boy before he disappeared into his room.

Jess turned angry eyes on Tally, “I know you’re hurtin’,” he said quietly, “but that’s no excuse to treat the boy that way.”

She gave a deep sigh and turning to Jess looked completely unrepentant, “Well, he doesn’t understand…he’s just a kid.”

Jess really lost his temper at this.

“He may be just a kid,” he spat, “but he’s seen more death in his short life than you or I ever will. That boy hid and watched as Indians killed and scalped everyone on the Wagon Train he was travelling with….Including his Ma and Pa, so don’t you ever say he doesn’t understand.”

And with that he stood up and left her gaping after him as he strode off to Mike’s room.

Jess had retired to bed shortly after Mike, saying he was tired after the long journey and he brushed aside Tally’s proffered apologies with a curt nod.

“Guess it ain’t me you should be apologizing to,” he said gruffly before disappearing into his room.

Daisy was also worn out and said she was off to bed, “Are you coming dear?” she said kindly to Tally.

“Yes, in a moment Aunt,” she replied and busied herself with tidying away a book she had been glancing at.

Slim excused himself to let the dogs out for a last run before settling them down in the kitchen. As he returned to the main room he was surprised to see Tally hovering near the door of the room he shared with Jess.

“Everything alright,” he asked politely, “if you wanted Jess I guess he’ll be spark out by now he looked pretty whacked.”

“No,” she said moving closer to the tall rancher, “it was you I wanted Slim,” and putting a hand on his shoulder she reached up on tip toe and gave him a lingering kiss on the lips.

Slim responded for a minute before coming to his senses and stepping back.

He shook his head and said, “What was that for?”

“Just to say thank you for having me…..to stay that is….I really appreciate all your kindness Slim,” and with that she entered the room she was sharing with Daisy, and turning gave him a bold look before closing the door behind her.

Slim entered the bedroom quietly and was glad to see Jess had left a lamp burning low. He undressed quickly and was about to get into bed when he saw a movement and realized his friend was still awake.

He sat down on his bed and looking over said, “What’s up Jess couldn’t you sleep?”

Jess glanced over at his friend.

“Nah, I figure Tally got me so mad I couldn’t settle. Then I got to thinking about Pete Thomas and the gang. You know I don’t buy that about them heading for the border Slim. That would be the smart thing to do and when were they ever accused of being that?” he said, giving Slim a small smile.

After getting no response from his partner he said, “So what do you think; figure they’ll come looking?”

Slim still said nothing and then he suddenly blurted out, “She just kissed me Jess.”


“She kissed me, Tally just kissed me.”


“So aren’t you mad at me?”

He thought about it for a minute before turning to his friend with a smile.

“Well you said she kissed you, not the other way round…and anyway, no I guess I ain’t mad at you.”

“What is it with you two?” asked Slim looking intensely at his partner. “Do you love her or what? You seem to fight like cat and dog and yet…well you’re real close, the way she is with you, hell Jess she sure wants more than friendship.”

When Jess said nothing Slim continued, “So have you thought anymore about what her Pa wanted, about making an honest woman of her?”

Jess finally looked over at his friend, “Yeah and I figure I don’t love her Slim…not enough anyway. She drives me crazy and yeah we do fight all the time but…..”

“But what Jess?”

“But, I want her something fierce, it’s almost like an addiction. She is incredible….in some ways…..you know? But my feelings well, I guess if I’m honest, its down to old fashioned lust…and I ain’t proud of that Slim.”

“You’re gonna have ta tell her pard, try and let her down lightly. ‘Cos I guess all that fooling around over supper and kissing me before, its just to make you jealous.”

“Yeah, I figured that, she’s a great one for her games is Tally,” said Jess wryly.

“Umm,” said Slim thoughtfully, “but I guess you’re playing with fire. The sooner you spell it out for her and she moves on the better.”

“What about Daisy though,” said Jess suddenly, “we can’t kick out her long lost niece…Hell we ain’t even had the funeral yet.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t mean tomorrow, but she can’t stay here forever and Daisy knows that too.”

Jess yawned, “I’ll have a word with her once we’ve buried her Pa,” he said sadly. “Jeez he sure was a nice man Slim, you’d have liked him,” and with that he was suddenly fast asleep.

Slim glanced over at his friend shaking his head, he was always amazed at the speed he could fall asleep and with a smile he turned in too and was soon snoring gently.

What neither man was aware of was that Slim had failed to latch the door properly and Tally on her way back from the outhouse had stopped and blatantly listened in to their conversation.

‘So you’re not going to marry me then Jess Harper,’ she said to herself…’well, we’ll see about that’, and she marched back to bed with a determined look in her eye.

The funeral took place three days later and Matt was interred in the Sherman family plot on the hill above the ranch.

Daisy had been overwhelmed when Slim had suggested it, but he simply said, “Any kin of yours is family Daisy and its right he should be placed up there.”

Tally too was extremely grateful that her father would be laid to rest where he could be visited by his beloved sister and also thanked Slim warmly.

On the run up to the funeral she had been unwell and took to her bed on several occasions, prompting Jess to be his usual caring self. The two seemed to be getting along well for once with no outbursts of temper from either party, Daisy noted.

In truth he was feeling sorry for her and also felt he wanted to make amends for his previous behaviour. Maybe he could have been a bit more understanding and thoughtful he mused. Also maybe he should have been a bit more circumspect, and not made love to her after such a brief acquaintance, but it was done and couldn’t be changed now. Hell he thought, it ain’t like they hadn’t talked it all through either. He’d put his cards on the table and she had assured him she just wanted some no strings fun….and now this…Her obviously wanting more…and her Pa too wanting him to ‘consider taking her on.’

He knew he had to do as he had promised Slim though, he couldn’t live a lie…He had to let her down lightly, but he was loathed to have that conversation while she was sick.

The day after the funeral she appeared at the breakfast table looking pale and shaky.

Daisy immediately went into her nurse routine and suggested the girl go back to bed, but she refused, saying she was fine.

Jess cast her an anxious glance but said nothing. But he looked even more concerned when the girl dashed from the table and out of the kitchen door, obviously heading for the outhouse where she lost her breakfast.

She came back full of apologies and said it was probably just reaction to the previous days unhappy events.

Jess took her hand, “Why dontcha go back to bed and take it easy,” he said softly. But she insisted she was fine and as the day progressed she did indeed seem her old self again.

When the same thing happened the following morning at breakfast and then the day after Jess began to feel way beyond worried.

After breakfast on the third day he had excused himself and had walked over to the barn. He was grooming Traveller when Slim marched in and leaned on the stall watching his partner for a while before saying casually,

“Tally still isn’t too well, Daisy is driving over to town this morning…taking her to see Doc Sam.”

At this news Jess’s head shot up, and he looked even more concerned than he had done at the breakfast table.

“Got anything you wanna tell me pard?” he said giving Jess an intense look.

Jess looked down and shook his head, before looking up again and cussing loudly, “Damn it Slim, she can’t be pregnant, I was careful. Jeez, I’ve been going with girls since I was sixteen and I ain’t ever got one in trouble.”

“As far as you know,” said Slim with a wry smile.

“Yeah, as far as I know, but like I said I’m always real careful, she just can’t be Slim.”

Then he suddenly thought of something, “Hell, what is Daisy thinkin’?” he asked, looking pale.

“Well, I guess she’s thinking the same as the rest of us,” he replied.

“I should speak to Tally,” Jess said quietly and left the stall, giving Traveller a gentle pat as he passed.

When he entered the ranch Tally was alone in the main room, sitting on the couch, wearing her coat and bonnet.

Jess sat down beside her, “Going out?” he asked softly.

She nodded, “Daisy is taking me to the doctors.”

Jess hung his head before looking her in the eyes, “I guess we need to talk.”

She said nothing, but looked away refusing to meet his eye.

“Would you like me to drive you?” he asked after a while.

“I think you’ve done quite enough already,” she said tartly before getting up and marching out onto the porch.

Just then Daisy came out of her room dressed to go out.

“Daisy… I…”

“Later dear,” she said, patting his arm gently, “lets be sure before we discuss it,” and with that she went and joined Tally. A few minutes later Jess heard them driving out of the yard.

Jess was like a cat on hot bricks all morning and he vented his feelings on the woodpile cutting enough logs to last several months before Slim went over and stopped him.

“Jess that will do now, will you stop it before you do yourself some damage. The way you’re wielding that axe you’ll chop your foot off.”

Jess slammed the axe into the block and pushing his hands deeply into the pockets of his denims. He walked over to the corral fence and stood there looking moodily out to the horizon.

After a little while Slim joined him and scrutinizing his friend finally said, “So what are you going to do if she is………”

Jess turned and looked at Slim like he had never seen him before and then he collected his thoughts and said quietly, “I guess you’re gonna be my Best Man pard.”

“Jess, you can’t be serious, you don’t love her…”

“I have to Slim; if this is my doing then I have to face up to it, for Tally’s sake. For Daisy too, I can’t let them down can I.”

Slim just shook his head sadly and turned away to get on with his chores.

As soon as Jess saw Daisy’s face as she drove the buggy into the yard he knew his worst suspicions were true.

He came forwards and helped the older woman down and reached up and helped Tally down too.

Then he saw something in her eyes akin to triumph and he had the first inkling that all was not as it seemed.

Tally quickly looked down. But when she looked at him again she looked just plain tired and lost, “It’s true.” She whispered, “You’re going to be a father Jess.”

He reached out a hand and rested it on her arm…. “I’m sorry… I don’t know what to say,” he continued, looking from Tally to Daisy and back again.

Daisy gave him a concerned look, “I don’t think either of you should say anything until you have had a chance to come to terms with all this,” she said softly.

Jess turned anguished eyes on Daisy, “I’m…. I…”and he looked down too upset to go on.

She patted his arm gently and then gathering Tally to her said, “Come along dear I think you should rest,”

As Jess watched the girl, in an unguarded moment, again he saw a look of something like complacency on her beautiful face.

Once she had retired to bed Jess sat at the kitchen table with Daisy an untouched coffee in front of him.

“So what did Sam say, did he know how far along she is?” he asked eventually.

“Well I didn’t actually go in with her. She said she would prefer to go alone. But I think it must be very early days,” she said giving him a sad look, “after all you haven’t known each other long. She assures me there has been nobody else in her life since she split up with her dreadful husband….so….”

“What!” Jess barked giving her a disbelieving look.

“That is what she said dear and she has no reason to lie to me.”

Jess cast his mind back to what she had said about there having been ‘scores’ of men since Cal and he too had no reason not to believe her either, but he thought better not to mention this to Daisy, just yet anyway.

Then he remembered the expressions on her face as she returned from the doctors and finally he said to himself, ‘I was damn careful, I just don’t believe this.’

He leapt up from his chair and put on his gun belt and hat, but just as he was about to leave Slim came in. He had seen the way things were going and had not wanted to add to Jess’s embarrassment by hanging around, but now he cast his buddy a surprised look.

“Where in hell are you off to in such a hurry?” he asked, casting a questioning look in Daisy’s direction.

“To town to see Sam and sort this out for good and all,” replied Jess angrily and with that he stormed out of the house and they heard Traveller going hell for leather out of the yard a few minutes later.

When he arrived in town he went straight to Sam’s office and was greeted by a welcome from Carrie.

“Hi Jess, you OK?” she said grinning at her friend.

He shook his head and said quietly, “No I ain’t Carrie, your Pa in?”

She gave him a concerned look, “Sure,” and took him through to the back office.

Sam got up from his desk and came over to Jess beaming, his hand outstretched. He took Jess’s hand and said, “Congratulations, I’m so pleased for you both.”

“Huh?” Jess said playing for time, his heart sinking.

“Congratulations on the engagement, Tally told me all about it…she sure is a looker Jess! But I never thought I’d see the girl that could tie you down.”

“Engagement?” said Jess weakly, trying to make sense as to what was happening.

“Sure, that’s why she came to see me, a pre wedding check up she said and you’ll be pleased to hear she’s in A1 condition…so when’s the happy day?”

Jess just stared open mouthed at his friend, “So she’s not pregnant then?” he said softly.

“Pregnant, hey that’s jumping the gun a bit, even for you Jess, no of course she isn’t.”

“Are ya sure?”

“What is this, sure I’m 100% sure. I did a thorough examination Jess and I’m sorry if you’re disappointed, but no way is she pregnant.”

Jess gave a huge sigh of relief and thanking Sam ran out of the office and stopping only to give Carrie a big kiss, was on his way back to the ranch in moments.

“What was all that about?” asked Sam as he joined Carrie in the outer office.

“Search me,” she said, “but I’d forgotten Jess was such a good kisser, shame he’s taken,” she said sadly, looking over at her Pa.

When Jess arrived back at the ranch it was early afternoon and he rode in hard, jumping off Traveller and hardly bothering to tether him to the rail before barging into the ranch.

Slim and Daisy were at the table just finishing their after dinner coffee, but there was no sign of Tally.

Jess looked around before marching into Tally’s room without knocking. A moment later he emerged with her, a hand firmly on her elbow as he pulled her into the room before pushing her none too gently on to the couch where he eyed her angrily.

“Would ya care to tell your Aunt why you went to the doctors?” he said, giving her a hard look.

“Jess…” started Slim seeing the girl’s terrified look.

“It’s OK Slim,” said Jess his gaze never leaving Tally’s face…


“I went for a pre wedding check,” she whispered.

“And are you pregnant?”

“No,” she whispered even more quietly.

“Tally!” shouted Daisy standing up and running to the girl, “How could you do that to Jess.”

The girl just looked down and refused to speak.

Then Daisy looked perplexed, “But you were really sick I saw you. Jess did too he looked after you as you threw up all those times… I don’t understand.”

“Salt and water,” the girl spat, suddenly looking furious.

“I just drank a glass of salt and water and it looked like I was suffering morning sickness, Ha! I even fooled the famous nurse Daisy,” she yelled before getting up from the couch where Jess had sat her down.

Jess turned away in disgust, “Just go back to your room,” he said quietly, and with that she stomped off, slamming the door behind her.

“Jess I’m sorry I doubted you,” said Daisy softly.

“No… I’m sorry Daisy. She shouldn’t have lied that way, sure. But I guess I’m not without blame either, I figure the best thing is to just try and forget about it all and move on.”

“She can’t stay,” said Daisy firmly, “not after this. She lied to us all, and she has been unkind to Mike. I really think I must make arrangements for her to return back east as soon as I can find the fare.”

“Don’t concern yourself with that Daisy,” said Slim kindly, “Jess and I can pay that out of the ranch income…But it won’t be until the end of next month I’m afraid. Every last dollar has gone on those new cattle we just bought. But I figure we can all settle down together for another few weeks,” he said giving her his warm smile.

“Sure we can,” said Jess softly, but only Slim heard him…..and the note of irony in his gruff voice.

Daisy was too busy thanking them and bustling about fetching Jess a late meal, to hear it.

And so it was that they all tried to shake down together and live in harmony. Slim especially was amazed at how well Jess had taken everything and thought that maybe …just maybe the Harper temper was beginning to mellow some.

From Jess’s point of view he felt extremely humbled and darn it, relieved too. Although he knew that Tally wasn’t the right person for him to settle down with and start a family, he suddenly realized that one day that would happen and he embraced the idea. He also knew that if indeed she had been pregnant he would have welcomed the child and made life as good as he could for them all. But he knew that the relationship would never have been one of love, because how could it be if there was no trust?

Chapter 9

Jess assumed that once the latest drama had played out that would be the end of his romantic relationship with Tally. They would merely settle down and hopefully manage to achieve something akin to an easy friendship at best…Or at least polite tolerance, for her last few weeks at the ranch.

However he hadn’t taken into account her tenacious nature, or the fact that she was, in her own way, deeply in love with him.

After that first night when she had admitted that she wasn’t pregnant he had given her space. He’d even gone off for a few days to visit friends. Then when he got back was pleased to see she greeted him as a casual friend rather than a lover.

It was Slim who noticed the occasional lovelorn look cast in Jess’s direction and the special way she dressed and acted when he was around. However Jess seemed completely oblivious to it.

One evening as the men were sitting on the porch at the end of a hard day, sipping a last coffee and chatting, Slim said quietly, “You know Tally’s still got a thing for you.”

Jess looked over, eyes suddenly wide and mouth agape, before recovering quickly.

“No she ain’t,” he said, “that’s all long done with, you’re imagining it pard.”

Slim shook his head, “I’m not, Daisy’s noticed it too.”

Jess just laughed “Nah,” he said, “she’s forgotten all about that, we’re just buddies now.”

But he was to remember this conversation later and wished he had heeded Slim’s words.

As it was, everything happened so quickly that he couldn’t have said exactly what it was that caused Tally to act the way she did.

It was a couple of days after Slim and Jess’s conversation. Slim had taken Daisy over to the Patterson place to stay for a few days and act as midwife, yet again, and Mike was playing with a friend at a neighbouring ranch.

The afternoon Stage had come and gone and Jess was busy grooming the relay team in the barn when Tally walked in.

Jess thought she was kinda dressed up for a Saturday afternoon around the ranch, wearing the tightly fitting green shirt and a smart skirt, but said nothing and carried on with his work.

Suddenly he was aware that she was standing right behind him, the smell of her perfume overpowering and he turned and was shocked to see the light of desire in her eyes.

“What’s up Tally?” He asked warily.

She gave a little sigh, her eyes open wide, their expression one of intimacy, “Can’t you just stop pretending you don’t care about me… I’m so darn lonely, please …Jess.”

He was shocked and just stared at her for a moment before collecting his wits, “That’s all over and done with Tally,” he said softly, “you know that.”

She stepped forwards and reaching up put her hands on his shoulders and kissed him passionately.

The same old feelings came flooding back and he was totally lost for a few minutes as he returned the kisses, his arms entwining her, pulling her close, and then he finally came to his senses.

“No!” he said more loudly than he meant to. Then more softly “We’re no dang good together Tally you know that, it just wouldn’t work.”

He pushed her gently away and stood back, looking down at her all the time an internal struggle going on. His body crying out for her, he longed to hold her, throw her down in the straw, here and now…but he knew it was wrong, for them both and that he had to be strong for them both too.

“You want me,” she shouted angrily, “I know you do, Jess…please we were good together, please give me another chance.”

He closed his eyes and swallowed, “Tally don’t do this to yourself……don’t do it to me…… please just go back to the house.”

She turned furious humiliated eyes on him and lunging forwards slapped him hard across the cheek, cutting him with her ring before shouting, “I hate you Jess Harper, rot in Hell,” before turning on her heel and dashing back to the ranch house.

Jess sank down on a straw bale and put his head in his hands, physically shaking. After a while he went over to the outdoor pump and washed the blood from his cheek, before carrying on with his work.

When Slim returned, having picked up Mike on his way back from the Patterson’s place, he was shocked to see the state of his buddy.

He slid from his mount as Jess walked over. Then on seeing the bruise and nasty gash to his cheek said, “Hey pard whatever happened to you.”

Jess looked up with a face like thunder, “Tally, that’s what!” he growled.

Just then Mike ran over, “Are you OK Jess?” he asked, casting a worried look at his friend’s battered face.

“Yeah, he just had a fall,” Slim improvised quickly.

“Yeah that’s it,” Jess agreed, “I fell over that darned cat again,” and throwing an arm round the youngsters shoulders said, “How’s about beans and bacon for supper and apple pie, for dessert,” and the boy forgot about his friend’s accident as he went off to help make a start on the meal.

As Jess had predicted, Tally didn’t join them for supper and they saw nothing of her all evening.

Once Mike was safely tucked up and the men were enjoying a night cap, in front of the fire Slim said, “So what really happened Jess?”

“She jumped me in the barn, started kissing me and when I stopped her she got kinda mad,” he said ruefully.
“Thing is Slim I didn’t really want her to stop, I still have some feelings for her…But Hell after that last stunt she pulled, well I guess I just can’t trust her.”

Slim shook his head sadly, “There isn’t any good in a relationship if you haven’t got trust.”

Jess nodded, “Yeah, you’re dang right there partner.”

The following day was Sunday, but when Slim was out the previous day he had noticed one of the fences was down so the men had to make it a priority.

When Tally still hadn’t surfaced for breakfast Slim knocked on her door.

“Tally, Jess and I have to ride fence today. Can you keep an eye on Mike for us please?”

A sleepy, “Yes”, came from within the room and with a promise that they would be back by late afternoon they rode out.

As Jess mounted Traveller, he leaned down and ruffled the youngster’s hair, “Be good for Tally,” he said softly, “and we’ll see ya later.”


They returned to the ranch tired and hungry, having had to round up several strays as well as mend the fence. Both men were sweating from the hard ride. Jess walked over to the wash pump near the kitchen door and doused his head in an attempt to cool off and turning to his partner said, “It’s mighty quiet round here Slim, where’s Mike?”

Then casting an eye up to the roof continued, “No smoke out of the cook stove chimney either buddy, looks like there ain’t any supper on the go.”

Both men entered the ranch to investigate and were surprised to see no sign of either Tally or Mike.

“Maybe Tally’s taken Mike off for a ride somewhere,” said Slim looking a tad worried.

“She’d no right to do that,” broke in Jess looking angry, “not with that no good hoodlum Pete Thomas on the run. We told her not to go off the ranch just last week, she can’t have forgotten.”

The men had been talking, standing in the main room and suddenly they were surprised to see Mike’s bedroom door open a few inches and a small voice call out, “Slim…… Jess that you?”

Jess made the door in two paces and on opening it saw Mike standing there shaking in fear, tear tracks on his face.

He leaned forwards and scooping the boy up carried him into the main room and collapsed down into his favourite rocker holding the child, who had started crying.

After a while he recovered himself sufficiently to be able to speak, and rubbing his eyes with a fist said, “Gee I was so frightened, I sure am glad you’re home.”

Slim had squatted down beside the boy and looking into his frightened eyes said, “Tell us exactly what happened Mike and where is Tally for goodness sake, she’s supposed to be minding you?”

Mike swallowed hard and whispered, “She’s gone to town.”

“Town,” exploded Jess, “what da ya mean gone ta town…was it an emergency of some sort, was she sick?”

“I guess not. She woke up in a real bad mood. Then she said she was bored of just doin’ housework and minding……brats like me. She said she was off to town to find her a real man.”

Jess looked shocked and angry and cussed quietly under his breath, but a stern look from Slim quietened him.

“I don’t understand,” said the child, looking at Slim, “you and Jess are real men…….I guess you could have helped her out with what ever she wanted when you got back,” he said sadly.

Jess and Slim exchanged a bemused look but said nothing.

“Anyways she said I was to stay in my room until you came home and I did…Well most of the time, but I remembered I hadn’t collected the eggs and I thought you’d be mad at me. So I went out and …that’s when it happened……” he said looking like he might well cry again.

“What happened?” asked Slim softly.

“The bad men came.”

“The bad men came?”

“Yes, the ones on the poster on the barn.”

“You mean Pete Thomas and his gang,” gasped Jess, “they were here?”

The boy just nodded.

Jess grabbed hold of his shoulders and looking deep into his eyes, “Did they hurt you boy?”

“No, no Jess they didn’t see me. I hid in the hen house and peeped out. They had their guns out and they looked everywhere. Then the big man, Mr Thomas, he said as how they’d go back to their hide out and try their luck after the next raid.”

“When was that to be?” asked Slim urgently.

“Dunno, but he said, ‘We’ve got plenty of supplies to wait it out’, so I guess not for a while.”

At this point Jess gave Mike a final cuddle,” Sure you’re OK Tiger?” he asked again.

The boy nodded his head vigorously, “I’m fine now you’re both home,” he said with a big smile.

Jess got up and placed the boy on the rocker he had just vacated and made for the door.

“Now just where are you heading to?” asked Slim in exasperation.

“To find Tally and tan her backside,” spat Jess furiously.

“And anyways she’s in danger if Thomas is still out there somewhere. Even if he ain’t, I guess she’s still in danger.”

“How so?” asked Slim.

“Well if she’s looking for a ‘real man’ I guess her first port of call will be the Laramie Saloon. Red said she used to go into all the bars in Philly and tie one on…But I guess they’re a bit more civilized than old Tom’s place. Hell Slim, they’ll eat her alive in there, a woman on her own…and probably decked out like a tart…”

Slim looked across, casting his buddy a worried look, “Yes, I guess you’re right. Do you want me to go though Jess?”

“No…thanks…. It was me that brought her here in the first place so I guess it’s up to me to deal with it.”

“OK …but Jess, watch your back yeah…. that Pete Thomas means business.”

He nodded and ruffling Mike’s hair said, “You look after old Hard Rock huh Tiger?”

Then to Slim, “Expect me when you see me, might have ta stay in town the night,” and with that he rode out, the rancher and boy waving him off from the porch, both looking concerned.


By the time he reached town it was early evening and he quickly spotted the ranch buggy and Tally’s pony tethered outside the Saloon and hitching Traveller beside it, pulled his hat down hard and entered the saloon.

First thing he saw was Tom, the barkeep and owner, looking nervously towards a table at the back of the room. Following his gaze Jess saw Tally sitting drinking with some ranch hands and recognizing them as rough and ready trouble makers from the Flying B, swore quietly under his breath.

Walking over to the bar he ordered a beer from his old friend Tom and took a long pull before looking back at the table.

“Gee I’m glad you’ve arrived,” said Tom with a look of relief, “I guess your lady friend is way out of her depth with those hoodlums.”

“How much has she had?” asked Jess quietly, giving his friend a resigned look.

“Way too much I’d say. She’s been matching them drink for drink and they’re on the hard stuff Jess. You could strip the paint off of a barn door with it,” he said honestly.

“Beats me why you sell that stuff,” said Jess angrily.

“Well, punters seem to like it Jess,” he replied apologetically.

As Jess watched there was an explosion of drunken laughter from the table and then he saw one of the men try to pull Tally onto his knee. She pulled back shouting, “Get off me you lout your hurting me.”

With that Jess stepped over and in a low growl said, “You heard her Wes, let the lady go.”

Wes looked up at Jess trying to focus and then turning to his friends said, “Why, if it ain’t the high and mighty Mr Harper from the Sherman spread.”

Then turning back to him said, “Come on simmer down Jess boy. We all know you like the ladies same as the rest of us and we’re willing ta share aren’t we boys,” he said turning back to his friends again with a bawdy laugh.

“Wes, I’ll not be tellin’ ya again, let the lady alone!”

“Come on Jess boy, we’re just goin’ upstairs with this little lady.”

Then turning to Tally said, “And she’s a real fine little pedigree too…… ain’t ya honey,” and started trying to kiss her.

With one hand Jess pulled Tally out of the way and she ran over to Tom at the bar. Then with the other he landed a fist so hard on Wes’ s jaw that he flew several feet before landing with a resounding crash on the floor.

Jess waded over and pulling him up by his shirt front landed another punch before Wes’s companions leapt on his back pinning his arms to his sides and landing several punches to his face and chest.

Jess shook his head and after a moment wrenched free by bringing his elbows hard into his assailants chests. Then spinning around lashed out at each in turn, sending one crashing over a table and the other into the wall where he slumped to the ground, out cold.

The other men lay where they had fallen and Jess growled, “Are ya done or do ya want some more?”

The men merely shook their heads. So after throwing them another dirty look Jess bent down, picked up his hat and after dusting it off replaced it pulling it down hard. Then he marched over to the bar, where he gave Tally a furious glare.

“Sorry Tom,” he said nodding to the barkeep and throwing some coins on the bar to pay for the damages, he grabbed Tally firmly by the elbow and escorted her from the saloon.

It soon became obvious to the cowboy that she could barely stand. Then once she was outside and the fresh air hit her she bent forwards and was violently ill, chucking onto the sidewalk.

Jess cast his eyes to heaven, “Oh boy, this is all I need,” he said quietly to himself and then, he went and looked after her. Holding her hair and supporting her.

After a few minutes she recovered, and apologized profusely, “Jess I am so sorry, really I am.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure you are, just save it for later will you?” he said crossly, surveying the pale tear stained face, the streaks of makeup running down and her generally messy appearance.

“I can’t take you back to the ranch in this state, that’s for sure,” he said quietly. “Guess we’ll have to get a room at the hotel.” Then standing back and looking her up and down, “Well that’s iffen they’ll let you in,” he finished with a grim chuckle, before helping her across the street.

Before Jess entered the hotel he said, “Pull yourself together Tally and let me do the talking,” and she allowed herself to be led meekly inside.

He gave a sigh of relief when he saw it was a friend, Fred the night porter, on the desk and not the over fussy manager.

Giving him a charming smile he said, “Have you got a room Fred, my friend here ain’t feelin’ too well.”

Fred cast an experienced eye over Tally and said, “Yes she sure looks sick Jess, about half a bottle sick to me. Sorry can’t do it pal, yer know what the boss is like.”

Jess gave him a pleading look, “Please Fred, it’s this or the livery and you wouldn’t see a lady bed down with the horses would you?”

“So where is this lady then?” said Fred, looking around him and laughing at his own joke.

Jess just stared at him looking hopeful.

The elderly man shook his head, “Well I guess I owe you for all the beers you’ve bought me in the past,” and looking under the desk found a large key and slid it across to Jess.

“Number 4 ground floor rear; don’t reckon the little lady will make the stairs.”

“Thanks, I owe you,” said Jess beaming at his buddy.

“And Jess, stay with her I don’t wanna have to clean up the room in the morning…… and leave before the boss arrives, back entrance.”

Jess nodded his thanks and throwing some coins on the desk to cover the room he frog marched Tally, who was now almost completely comatose, along to the room.

He leaned her against the corridor wall while he unlocked the door and then guided her in.

The lamp was on low and he turned it up and helped her sit down on the edge of the bed and proceeded to remove her shoes. He then unbuttoned her dress and pulled it off leaving her still wearing her petticoat. Then lay her gently back on the bed, covering her with the blanket.

She appeared to be out cold and he figured he’d nip out and attend to the horses before returning to look after her. He laid her on her side and placed the wash bowl strategically beside her and with one final look left the room quietly.

He booked the horses in at the livery and when he returned half an hour later she hadn’t moved.

He removed his gun belt and boots and then lay down on top of the covers next to her and after casting another concerned glance in her direction, closed his eyes and fell into a troubled sleep.

He was woken a couple of hours later with her being violently ill again and he looked after her, holding her hair back and talking gently to her until she finally lay back against the pillows exhausted.

“Guess, you won’t be touchin’ any more of Tom’s gut rot moonshine in a while,” he said conversationally.

She turned her head on the pillow to look at him, “It wasn’t that, I didn’t have that much, honestly Jess…. I didn’t.”

He looked up to the ceiling, “Sure ya didn’t,” he said sarcastically, “don’t tell me, you’re pregnant again and this is very early in the morning… morning sickness.”

She sat up and glared at him and then fell back on the pillows the effort obviously too much for her, “I guess I deserved that,” she said ruefully.

“You just can’t tell me the truth about anything can you?” he said quietly.

She said nothing, but he heard her stifle a sob.

After a moment he leaned up on one elbow and looked down at her, “That’s why we don’t stand a chance in Hell of making it together Tally. Iffen a man and a woman haven’t got trust between ‘em……..then I guess they don’t have anything.”

“But……..but we are good together Jess,” she said, openly sobbing now, “you want me…….you want me now and you can’t deny it.”

He threw himself back on his pillow looking up at the ceiling again and after a while he said very softly, “Sure I do……..but relationships are about more than just that Tally. You have to learn that, or you’re never gonna find what you’re lookin’ for.”

She finally fell asleep and at sun up Jess roused her and helped her dress and they crept out of the back entrance of the hotel so that Fred would not be in trouble.

She looked deathly pale and was shaking but she managed to keep up with Jess as he made his way down to the livery. She sat on a straw bale as he hitched up the buggy with her pony and after tying Traveller on behind, he helped her aboard and they drove out of town at a fast lick.

It was a Monday morning and by the time they arrived at the ranch Mike had left for school on the early morning Stage. Daisy was still awaiting the arrival of the very late, latest addition to the Patterson family and so Slim was the only one at home.

Jess drove the buggy into the yard, helped Tally down and watched as she made her way slowly to her bedroom, where she disappeared for the rest of the day.

As her door closed behind her Slim came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a towel, “everything alright pard?” he asked cheerfully.

“Oh sure,” said Jess collapsing on a chair by the table, “just swell…any coffee?”

Slim disappeared and returned a moment; later with a cup and the coffee pot.

“You look kinda beat partner,” he said with a grin, “so how did it go last night?”

“Don’t ask,” said Jess taking the drink gratefully, “just don’t ask.”

Chapter 10

The next week passed peacefully enough, Daisy had finally delivered the latest Patterson offspring, but it was a weak sickly baby and Mrs Patterson needed Daisy’s help and support for another week or so at least.

Surprisingly Tally made herself useful about the place and seemed very quiet and withdrawn after the latest episode.

Once her health was back to normal Jess had entered her room one evening and had a heart to heart with her. Where she was left in no doubt as to what would happen to her if she ever neglected her duties as far as Mike was concerned again.

Even from behind closed doors Slim could hear the full strength of the Harper temper and took back any idea that his partner might be mellowing with age.

Apart from that, all seemed relatively peaceful between Jess and Tally and the men were able to concentrate on work around the ranch, leaving the domestic chores to the young woman who was subdued but helpful.

By the end of the week both men were looking forward to a night out on the town. As Mike was staying with a school friend at a neighbouring ranch for the week-end, they figured there was nothing to stop them.

They were preparing for bed on the Friday evening when Slim had an awful thought, “So what if Tally wants to tag along too?”

“Well she ain’t,” said Jess at once, “and anyways I reckon she wouldn’t be too welcome at the saloon after her last visit there…me neither,” he said ruefully.

“But I did pay Tom for the damage, so figure he should be OK,” he finished.

“Damage?” asked Slim giving him an enquiring look.

Jess looked down, “Yeah….well there was a little bit of a ruckus with Wes and a couple of others from the Flying B…. They were messin’ with Tally and I asked them to stop…...real polite like,” he said giving Slim his cheeky grin.

“And they wouldn’t?”

“They wouldn’t, so I had to teach them some manners. I kinda rearranged some of Tom’s furniture in the process though Slim.”

Slim just shook his head in mock despair.

Jess threw him a defensive look, “Well I paid for it didn’t I….and the hotel room, in fact if that girl don’t leave soon she’ll have me penniless,” he finished sighing deeply.

Slim grinned across at his friend, “Only another couple of weeks and I figure we can afford the fare to get her back to her Aunt in Philly.”

“Can’t come soon enough,” said Jess climbing into bed and stretching out.

“Daisy’s told her she’s going hasn’t she?” he said, suddenly sitting up and giving Slim a worried look.

“Yeah and told her sister, Tally’s Aunt Lily, to expect her soon. She said Tally seemed OK about it, so nothing to worry about.”

Jess sank back on his pillow, “Yeah well I’ll quit worrying when we’re wavin’ her off,” he said sleepily, before turning over and falling asleep almost instantly.

The following morning at breakfast Slim broached the subject of him and Jess going to town.

“You’ll be OK here won’t you Tally?” he said giving her a wining smile.

She looked a little lost, “Yes…. I guess so.”

“We’ll be drinking and gambling some,” said Jess, “not your sort of thing Tally.”

She gave him a tight smile, “That’s OK,” she said lightly, “I didn’t want to come too. In fact it will be nice to have the place to myself. Maybe you boys could fill up the bath tub before you go and I can have a nice girl’s night in. A good soak, wash my hair, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Jess quickly, “sure we’ll set that up before we go out. Slim and me can use the old outdoor shower, so all the hot water’s yours, “he said sounding relieved that they had got off so lightly.

That evening after work the men took showers before changing into their Sunday best for a night on the town. Tally couldn’t help but stare when they emerged from their room. Both were attired in dark frock coats, dark trousers, highly polished boots, gleaming white shirts with black string ties and smart black and silver brocade vests, all topped off with their Sunday best Stetsons.

“My,” she said with a little laugh, “you two sure scrub up well.”

“Why thank you Ma’am,” said Slim grinning across at her. But Jess just busied himself bringing in the bath tub for her and heating the water. Once the chore was done the men made to leave and said their goodbyes. A few minutes later she heard them galloping out of the yard with a cheery “Yahoo!” as they went, obviously ready for a good time.

“Well you aren’t the only ones who are going to have a good night on the town,” she said to herself as she prepared to take her bath and then put her plan into action.

She had spent the day preparing her prettiest ball gown, shoes and jewellery. Now as she soaked in the tub she whispered, “I’ll show you country bumpkins how a real lady from back east dresses.”

When she had been in town the previous week she had heard some women in the store gossiping about the coming dance and Tally reckoned that was exactly where the men would be heading after a few drinks and the odd round of poker. She figured that once Jess compared her with the other girls he would see what a catch she really was, this was her chance to shine and to finally win his lasting admiration.

She spent a while getting ready and when she admired herself in Daisy’s looking glass some time later she had to admit she had never looked better. The low cut jade green dress matched her eyes exactly and complimented her burnished copper tresses. She had piled her hair up, making her look the picture of sophistication and then she was ready for off.

A little while later, she hurried to the stable and quickly harnessed her pony to the small buggy and slapping the reins hard left the ranch at a fast trot.

By the time she reached Laramie the dance was in full swing and she guessed that the men would already be there. She could hear music from the lively band as she drove down Main Street. Then after a while she saw a well lit stage where the dance was being held on some land just off the street. The area was surrounded by tall pine trees and folk had parked their buggies or tethered horses under them. Tally drove the little buggy in unnoticed and reined the pony to a halt, hidden under the dark cover of the foliage. It was an ideal spot in which to spy on the dancers, as it was relatively near the stage and yet hidden by the dark shadows below the trees.

It was a very mild evening and she sat up in the buggy, her golden shawl around her shoulders waiting for the right moment to make her dramatic entrance. She just knew Jess would not be able to resist her once he saw her in her finery. She must be the most beautiful, well turned out, woman there she thought as she surveyed the homemade dresses most of the young women were wearing.

After a while she picked out Slim and Jess. Slim was leaning on the bar talking to a pretty young blond girl and Jess was dancing with the doctor’s daughter Carrie. He looked even more handsome than she remembered; the smart clothes making him look as sophisticated and presentable as any Philadelphian man. She felt a twist of jealousy as she saw him laughing with Carrie and remembered how Daisy had said they were very good friends. She continued to watch them and was amazed and excited to see what a wonderful dancer he was. They would really make everyone stop and watch as he whirled her around the dance floor she thought.

Then the music stopped and taking Carrie’s elbow he walked her back to the bar where Slim was still in conversation with the pretty blond girl. They all had a drink together and seemed to be laughing and enjoying each other’s company very much she thought.

Then the music struck up again and Slim offered his hand to Carrie and Jess looked round for somewhere to sit. Then taking the blond girl’s hand led her to a seat and sat down next to her. Something in the way she took his hand so easily and how they looked at each other, suddenly sent a cold shudder of fear down Tally’s spine.

Jess smiled into Suzy Morgan’s eyes and said, “So how have you been sweetheart, its ages since I saw you.”

She gave him a little frown, “Far too long Jess Harper. I should be mad at you…But, well I guess I can never stay cross with you for long.”

Jess and Suzy had been going out, on and off, for several months. However she tended to be fickle and play games with the young cowboy, trying to make him jealous by occasionally seeing other men. But Jess refused to play her games and just left her to her own devices when that happened.

“Well I thought you were sweet on Bobby Jones,” he said now, casting her an innocent look.

“Oh you,” she said with a little giggle, “he was just a mild diversion when you were off on that trip buying cattle.”

“Oh really,” he said, leaning forwards and looking deeply into her eyes. “So if I asked you to come for a little walk…… I guess you’d be willing?”

“Maybe,” she said, looking up at him from under her lashes and pouting a little.

Jess reached out and caressed her cheek gently, “I sure have missed you,” he said softly and with that took her hand and led her across the dance floor and in the direction of the secluded shadows beneath the trees.

At their approach Tally’s heart started beating madly; she felt sick and dizzy and was filled with a rush of insane jealousy, as she sat staring at the couple. Dreading what she would see, but unable to tear her eyes away.

Jess stopped a few yards away and putting his arms around Suzy pulled her close before leaning down and kissing her passionately. Suzy responded and the two stood there for sometime, kissing and talking in intense whispers, until they finally returned to the dance floor holding hands. Completely oblivious to the fact that they were being spied upon.

After a while they got up again and danced to a slow number together, Jess holding her close, her head resting on his shoulder, as he absently kissed her hair, a hand caressing her back.

Tally suddenly realized that the evening was practically over and the mood had changed as the band started to play slow romantic tunes. She still sat in the buggy transfixed as she watched Jess holding the blond girl so possessively in his arms. Then she could bear it no longer and she quietly turned her pony and headed back onto the Main Street and home.

She was so angry and filled with such a jealous rage that she could barely breathe. Once she was on the Laramie road she whipped the poor pony to a wild gallop, tears of frustration pouring down her cheeks, “You’ll pay for this,” she swore as she drove on at breakneck speed through the dark night, “I swear you’ll pay for this.”

Slim and Jess landed home a little after midnight and Tally awoke from a troubled sleep as soon as they entered the ranch house.

She heard them banging about, obviously slightly the worse for drink after a few too many beers. The noise made worse by the constant, shushing and saying, “Quiet you’ll wake Tally,” followed by stifled laughter.

Both men had slumped down in front of the fire with a nightcap of hill whisky, completely unaware that Tally’s door was slightly open and she was listening to their every word.

“So are you back with Suzy or what?” asked Slim, slurring slightly.

“I guess so,” said Jess sounding happy, “she sure was friendly tonight anyway, what’s that about absence and the heart and all that.”

Slim chuckled, “Yeah, the way you two were going at it I felt sure you’d be booking a room at the hotel.”

“Me too,” said Jess softly, “until her Pa showed up.”

“He sure is protective of her isn’t he?” laughed Slim.

“Yeah, well she’s kinda special ain’t she,” Jess replied dreamily.

“Oh here we go again,” said Slim chuckling, “loves young dream. Until she decides to two time you again.”

Jess laughed and said something Tally couldn’t hear. Then the men finally retired to bed, seeming to fall over half the furniture in the room on their way. They were banging about in the bedroom, laughing and chatting for some time, until finally peace was resumed once more and all that could be heard were gentle snores.

Tally got out of bed and let her self out of the room and made her way to the small kitchen at the back of the ranch, by the light of a candle. She moved softly and very quietly opened the draw where all the cutlery was kept….After a moment she selected a small extremely sharp carving knife and hiding it in the folds of her night dress she made her silent way back.

When she arrived in the sanctuary of her room she looked down at the lethal knife in her hand, and gave a grim smile. She was perspiring profusely and shaking with emotion, the tears suddenly coursing down her pretty cheeks again.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “so sorry, but if I can’t have you, then nobody will and certainly not that jumped up little blond piece,” she finished bitterly. With that she sat down on her bed and pulling her shawl around her, settled down to await her chance.

The following morning both men slept in and didn’t wake until well after dawn. It was Slim who finally roused himself and sitting up swung his legs out of bed, but sat there for a moment holding his head and swearing gently under his breath.

After a minute he leaned across and shook Jess, “Wake up pard we’ve overslept, chores to do….”

Jess just groaned and turned onto his stomach, “I’m asleep,” he grunted.

Slim looked across and grinned, “Sure you are,” he said aiming his pillow at Jess’s head. “Come on Romeo, get yourself up, thought you were seeing Suzy this afternoon.”

Jess just groaned again. Then chucking the pillow on the floor turned on his back and threw an arm across his eyes to deflect the morning light flooding through the ill fitting curtains, “I’m dyin’ here Slim,” he whispered. “Whose idea was it to start on the Red Eye last night?”

“Yours,” said Slim succinctly.

Jess just groaned again, “Make some coffee will ya Slim an’ then I’ll get up, promise.”

Slim grinned down at his friend, shaking his head in mock despair, “State of you,” he said with a chuckle, “it’s a good job Miss Suzy can’t see you that’s for sure,” and with that headed off for the kitchen.

Tally had been sitting with her door ajar since dawn and she heard all of their conversation. Mention of Suzy again, twisted like a knife in her guts, the jealousy sending her into a passionate rage. Without further thought she jumped up and left her room just as Slim entered the kitchen his back turned to her.

She tip toed into the bedroom Jess and Slim shared, the knife clutched in her hand, and saw Jess lying on the far bed. He lay on his back, one arm thrown across his eyes and the other spread out at his side. The covers were partly pulled back and he was naked save for his cut off under shorts.

She stood staring at his tanned, muscular body, and remembered the amorous night they had spent together and the look of passion in his deep blue eyes, burning with desire. How, later, she had lain in the dim predawn light studying his sleeping form, had traced a loving finger across his chest……

Then she remembered how he had held the blond girl, the look in his eyes as he embraced her on the dance floor, gently kissing her hair, caressing her back, the picture telling of a shared intimacy……..

That thought finally spurred her into action. She suddenly had a vision of them lying together and Slim’s words of the night before came back to haunt her, “Way you two were going at it, I felt sure you’d be booking a hotel room” and Jess‘s softly spoken reply, “Me too…until her Pa showed up.”

‘No’ screamed an inner voice, ‘no, no, no’…..and the vision of him lying in the other girls arms was suddenly so real, she could almost see her beside him in the bed….. Walking to his side she stood for another moment, tears now streaming down her face, before lifting the knife high and then bringing it down with force…. thrusting it deep into his chest.

A split second before the knife penetrated Jess awoke and seeing it above him instinctively tried to roll out of the way and so instead of plunging into his heart it actually pierced his chest just to the right of it.

Suddenly all hell was let loose, as Slim and Blue entered the room simultaneously….. Slim saw Tally standing over Jess, the knife embedded in his chest, his partner crying out in pain and shock.

But before Slim could do anything Blue leapt into action. Bounding across the room he jumped up at Tally knocking her back, so she fell to the floor where he stood over her growling viciously.

Slim ran to Jess staring down in horror at the knife still embedded in his chest, the blood oozing out around it. He immediately grabbed hold of the handle and pulled the blade out before pushing his hand over the wound to try and staunch the sudden spurt of blood.

He heard Blue’s increased snarls and growls and turning to look at the animal, called him off. After a moment the dog gave one more threatening growl at Tally before he left her and jumped up on the bed beside Jess. Licking his face and whimpering.

Slim stared at Tally a look of fury on his face, “Get out he spat, just get the Hell out,” and with that she scrabbled to her feet and fled from the room.

He turned back to his partner and saw his face was deathly white, beads of sweat standing out on his forehead and his eyes squeezed tightly shut in pain.

Slim pulled his hand away from the wound and running to the washstand grabbed a towel and ran back with it packing it into the now gaping wound.

“Goddamn it,” he muttered under his breath as the blood started soaking through the towel.

“Jess, I’m gonna have to ride for Sam,” he said eventually, “this wound needs stitching and soon pard, you’re losing way too much blood.”

Jess nodded weakly, “He’ll be round at the Patterson place. Daisy told me yesterday, when I called to check on her, he said he’d be by to see us Sunday, take in some fishin.’”

Just then Tally returned looking terrified at the sight of all the blood, “Slim, let me go and fetch him please, you stay and look after Jess.”

Slim was so angry he could barely look at her, “So how do I know you’ll go,” he replied after a minute… “you want him dead don’t you?”

She sucked in a deep breath and her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes huge as she shook her head, “I didn’t mean it, I didn’t know what I was doing…please Slim let me help.”

Slim looked down at Jess, “Let her go,” he said weakly, “don’t leave me alone with her Slim.”

Slim nodded, “OK, but hurry up will you, tell Sam it’s an emergency!” With that she fled from the room and shortly afterwards they heard her pony being ridden out of the yard at full gallop.

Slim sat down beside his buddy, keeping even pressure on the wound. But it was soon obvious Jess was in a bad way. He was finding it hard to breathe and then he started coughing violently and as Slim helped him to sit him up, he suddenly started coughing up blood.

Slim was shocked to see a bright red stain on the sheet as he coughed up more and more frothing blood. Slim cussed under his breath, “Where the hell is Sam?”

Then more gently, “Take it easy Jess,” and offered him a drink to try and settle the coughing.

After a few minutes he relaxed back onto the pillow, exhausted, his lips beginning to turn blue and his breathing harsh and laboured.

“Take it real slow,” said Slim, turning him on his side to help aid his breathing and rubbing his back, looking down at his friend, fear in his eyes.

With a gasp of relief Slim heard the ranch house door open and Sam calling out. Then the Doctor and Daisy were in the room with him. Sam gently pushed Slim aside as he sat down on the bed by Jess. Then putting his stethoscope to his chest he cast his patient a warm look and words of comfort.

“It’s OK Jess, I know you’re finding it kind of difficult to breath right now, but you’ll be fine real soon,” and with that he ushered Slim out of the room and he and Daisy started their work.

Slim walked out in a daze and threw himself down on Jess’s rocker by the fire his head sinking into his hands. After a little while he felt a hand on his shoulder and looking up he found himself staring into Tally’s green eyes.

She gave him a beseeching look, “I am so, so sorry.”

Slim looked at her coldly “Why….why did you do it?”

“Because…… I love him.”

“What!” he exploded.

Then more quietly, “You really are crazy aren’t you?” shaking his head in despair.

“Don’t you see,” she cried grasping his arm, “I came to the dance last night and I saw them together …Him and that blond girl….. I couldn’t let it go on Slim; you must see that, he’s mine…not hers.”

He pulled his arm angrily from her grasp.

“That’s Suzy, they’ve been going together on and off for months……what are you talking about? Anyways Jess doesn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. Just because he spent one night with you it doesn’t mean you own him. He was always completely honest with you about that Tally. He made you no promises of marriage, or anything else and you know it!” he finished angrily.

“I’ll make it up to him, nurse him, make him love me,” she said almost hysterically.

“Oh no…no you won’t you aren’t going to be anywhere near him! You’re going to town young lady to the Sheriff’s office. You may have got away with trying to murder your husband, but not Jess.”

“Murder, I don’t understand… I was just upset; I never meant to hurt him.”

“You never meant to hurt him! Hell Tally you stabbed him in the chest, he’s hurt real bad.”

Slim’s voice broke with emotion, “Sam is fighting for Jess’s life in there right now and if he doesn’t make it, you could well hang for murder.”

She went white as a sheet, “I never meant…….”

“Save it for the law,” he said, suddenly furious, “now just leave me alone will you!”

She stared at him like she had been hit and then backed away a hand to her mouth and ran from the room, out into the yard.

It was over an hour later when an exhausted looking Sam, followed by Daisy entered the room and Slim leapt up from his chair, studying their faces.


“I think he’ll make it,” said Sam, sitting down. “It was touch and go for a while there, but as long as he takes it real easy for a while he should be fine.”

Slim ran a hand across his face, “Thank God” he said sinking back down on the rocker.

Daisy came and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder, “So what happened,” she said looking mystified, “we couldn’t get any sense out of Tally, she just said we were to come at once.”

Slim looked down for a long time gathering his thoughts and then taking Daisy’s hand he said softly, “I guess there is no easy way to tell you this Daisy…but Tally did it.”

The elderly housekeeper’s eyes opened wide, a hand flying up to her mouth to stifle a gasp of horror.

“I knew she was a little unbalanced after everything Jess told me about her and her husband. Dear Matt was concerned about her too I do know. Then that dreadful lie she told about being pregnant, but I thought she was over all that now.”

Then looking appalled, “How could she do that? I thought she was so fond of Jess.”

“Guess she is,” said Slim softly, “but maybe way too fond. It was pure old fashioned jealousy Daisy. She followed us to the dance, must have been spying on us. She saw Jess with Suzy together and just got herself into a blind jealous rage. That was exactly the same way as she did with her husband and looks like all the other men she’s had a relationship with, too from what I’ve heard.”

Sam looked very concerned, “This is more than just jealousy Slim. To do this she is sick…real sick, mentally that is.”

Then turning to Daisy, “I’m really sorry Daisy, but I think she’s verging on a complete mental breakdown.”

“I agree,” she said sadly, “and I should have noticed. Oh poor Jess,” she said casting a look at the bedroom where he was now sleeping.

“No, none of this is your fault Daisy,” said Slim quickly, taking her hand and giving her a concerned look.

“I should have realized though,” she said and turned to Sam.

”Her mother died when she was just five you know Sam and then she went to a very strict grandmother, before being sent away back east to a guardian who didn’t care about her. The child had no love in her life at all. Then when she was a young woman she went completely out of control seeking affection from various unsuitable sexual liaisons, always seeking love and never finding it. Until finally she met her husband, who she invested all her emotions in……until she thought he had cheated on her.”

“Then when it appeared she had been betrayed she couldn’t bear it and became violent?” suggested Sam.

“That’s right, she shot him… and the terrible thing is that her husband was entirely innocent…She just had no self belief….thought nobody could love her and he was bound to betray her….”

Sam nodded and she continued.

“Then when she met Jess she tried to get close to him in the same way. He refused to be ‘bought’ that way, by her favors. But even so he still showed her kindness and understanding. That’s when she really fell for him. But he was very honest and had made her no promises of a future together.”

“I can believe that, I was astonished when she told me they were to be married…..it just didn’t ring true…I know Jess and he wouldn’t rush into something like that,” Sam agreed.

That’s right so then she pulled that dreadful trick about pretending to be pregnant, to force his arm…and that’s when the relationship ended. But she still felt betrayed when she saw him with another girl….. I think that has pushed her over into insanity,” she finished, tears welling in her kind old eyes. “Almost like she’d been betrayed all over again…..although it was all in her mind..Oh Sam it’s all so clear now….in hindsight.”

Slim put his head in his hands and groaned, “Oh no.”

“What ever is it dear?” Daisy asked turning teary eyes to him..

“I’ve been real hard on her,” he replied, “I threatened her with Mort…even suggested she could hang if…well if Jess didn’t make it. I’m so sorry….. I just didn’t realize she was sick.”

“None of us did dear,” said Daisy quickly, “and I am finding it very hard to forgive her after seeing what she did to Jess. And I certainly wouldn’t blame you, if you felt the same.”

She paused for a while, “She can’t stay here that is for sure, not with Jess so sick and her the way she is.”

Sam looked concerned, “I’ll take her on Daisy, for the short term anyway. As you know I’m a keen student of mental disease and will be happy to keep her at my office and try and help her until she goes back east.”

“Oh Sam, thank you, I do so appreciate it,” said Daisy gratefully.

Then turning to Slim, asked, “Where is she dear?”

Slim jerked a thumb towards the yard, “She ran off after our….conversation,” he said, looking embarrassed.

Then, “I really can’t see her right now Sam; OK if I sit with Jess for a while?”

“Sure he’s resting, but I guess he’d be glad of the company…just keep him quiet though Slim. He’s still really sick, if he moves and the bleeding starts again…well. ….”

“I understand Sam,” and with that he entered the bedroom.

Jess was lying on his back, his eyes closed, his chest swathed in bandages and he looked pale and fragile. Although how much of that was due to the stabbing and how much to his hang over Slim wasn’t sure and he hid a small smile as he sat down on the edge of the bed.

“How are you doing pard?” he asked softly

Jess’s eyes sprang open and he turned to look at his friend and gave him a weak smile, “Bin better”.

Then anxiously, “where is she?”

“Its OK, Sam is taking her back to town. He and Daisy reckon she’s mentally ill. He’s going to confine her to his office until she can go back east.”

Then a thought struck him, “That is unless you want to press charges, guess she could still be tried for attempted murder.”

Jess thought about it for a while and then said, quietly, “I guess if Sam thinks she’s sick…… But why Slim, why did she do this to me?”

Slim explained about how she’d followed them to town, “She must have been hiding in the trees, where everyone parks up,” he said thoughtfully.

Jess turned even paler, “Me and Suzy…went, err… a walk there,” he said softly, “she must have seen us.”

“Yeah, I figure that’s what made her go off half cocked, she was sure mad at you,” Slim mused.

“If it hadn’t been for you and ol’ Blue charging in I reckon she’d have had another go too. So why did you come back? You’d gone to make coffee hadn’t you?” he asked looking puzzled.

“It was Blue. He was asleep by the fire. I had just brought the coffee pot in and I saw his ears flick and he got up, growled and charged into the bedroom. To be honest, seeing as how you’d got a monumental hang over I figured you were maybe chucking. So I ran in to help you and then I saw her…..the knife…” he shook his head, shuddering at the memory. “Then ol’ Blue charged and that was it.”

Jess gave the ghost of a smile, “He sure is a good dog, ain’t he…..and I guess you did well too, thanks pard…I owe you,” he said sleepily.

Slim patted his shoulder, “Try and sleep now. Daisy says the Pattersons can mange without her so she’ll be around to nurse you, so just take it easy OK?”

But Jess was already asleep and Slim gently pulled the covers up a little and quietly left the room.

Later Daisy told Slim how Sam had found Tally sobbing in the barn and he’d needed to sedate her before she would agree to accompany him to town, insisting she wanted to stay and nurse Jess.

Doc Sam had told Daisy how if this had happened back east she would doubtless have been sectioned and admitted to a secure mental hospital.

“An asylum,” asked Slim in shock, “she’s that bad?”

“Well, Sam seems to think she would be confined for her own safety as well as others. In her present state of mind she is completely irrational and totally obsessed with Jess,” she finished sadly.

“You mean she might try to kill him again?”

“Yes, or even herself, suicide is common in the mentally disturbed.”

“Well I sure hope Sam is intending to keep an eye on her,” said Slim looking worried. “Maybe she would be better locked up in Mort’s jail after all?”

“Oh he assures me she will be on a low rate of sedation to keep her calm and confined to her room. He and Carrie will watch her, and when they are out on calls the housekeeper will be there, she will be quite secure, you mustn’t worry about that.”

When Slim recounted this conversation to Jess later he looked very upset, “You mean all this is my fault, and I’ve sent her crazy?” he asked looking aghast.

“No pard, it might have been the relationship with you that was the last straw. But the doc figures she was more than half way crazy before she even met you.”

Jess just shook his head and looked off into space, and then turning to Slim said, “I should never have done it. I should never have slept with her that night. But we’d had a drink, ya know and she seemed like she knew her way around. Been married, had scores of men she said, it wasn’t like she was some young innocent girl with no experience. And I really did make sure she knew the score…She said she was fine with that..Just a night of fun….she agreed.”

Slim gave him an understanding look, “I guess I’d have done the same in your place Jess.”

Jess threw him a disbelieving look, but Slim continued “She’s a beautiful woman, and you weren’t to know she was unstable.”

Jess shook his head and said grimly, “‘Unstable’…...sounds like you’ve been talkin’ to Sam. She’s just plain crazy as far as I’m concerned…and I feel real sorry for her sure…. But Jeez, I’ll be dang glad when she ships off to Philly,” he said firmly.

Chapter 11

Jess did as he was told for the first couple of days, staying in bed and resting and even consuming the rich broth and milk Daisy insisted on producing at meal times with only a quiet, “Aw Daisy a man could starve clean away on these rations.”

By the third day he’d, had enough and was in no mood to be bullied when Daisy entered his room just before supper.

She surveyed the scene before her for a moment. Mike and Buttons were cuddled up at the end of the bed, with Blue stretched out next to Jess, his head lying protectively across his master’s chest. On the blanket between Mike and Jess was a pile of playing cards and to Daisy’s eyes they were obviously in the middle of a game of poker.

She stood for minute, arms akimbo before letting rip, “This room looks like a zoo. Mike get those animals out of here.”

Then turning to the sick cowboy, “And what do you think you’re doing teaching the child to gamble!”

He was about to retaliate in kind, but something in her eyes made him hold back.

Jess was taken by surprise and softly told Mike to do as he was told and collecting the cards up gave Daisy a wary look, “We was just playin’ snap,” he said quietly.

She immediately sank down on the edge of the bed, tears welling in her eyes.

Jess leaned across and taking her hand gave her a concerned look, “You sick again Daisy?”

She looked deeply into his eyes and gave a weak smile, “No, just sick at heart; Jess I am so sorry. If I hadn’t asked you to take me to find Matt then none of this would have happened to you. Seeing you lying there, well I suddenly felt so guilty and it came out as anger, I didn’t mean it really.”

“Hey, it’s OK,” he said softly, “and it was worth it for you to spend time with your brother before he died wasn’t it?”

“Oh yes, I will never forget those wonderful few days we had together, just talking and talking, it was so special and I will always treasure that time.”

“Well then, I’ll be fine in a few days. I just wish Tally was gonna heal as quickly. How is she Daisy, have you heard?”

“Not too well. I popped into town yesterday and went to Sam’s office. He was out on a visit; bur Carrie let me see her for a few minutes and ….”


“Well, it was so sad Jess. She is a shadow of her former self. She won’t eat, hardly speaks and all she would say to me was, tell him I’m sorry….time after time, that’s all she would say.”

He looked deeply concerned; “Do ya think it would help if I visited?”

“No,” she said firmly and then more gently, “it’s a kind thought Jess and more than she deserves after what she has done. But when Sam took her away he was adamant that you shouldn’t see her, said it would probably make her worse.”

He just nodded sadly, “OK… but can you tell her it’s alright, about everything. I ….well I forgive her, can yer tell her Daisy, when you see her next time?”

She reached out and brushed his unruly hair back from his forehead and gave him her sweet smile, “Thank you dear I will do that and it’s really incredibly generous of you.”

“How would you like steak and potatoes for supper tonight? Daisy suggested, I think you need building up and when Sam visits tomorrow maybe he’ll let you get up for a little while.”

Jess grinned back at her, “Now yer talkin’ Ma’am,” he said happily.

As predicted Sam was content for Jess to get up, as long as he took it easy for a week or two.

“So you mean I can go down to the lake fishin’ but I’m not well enough to do any work,” he said with a grin, casting a glance over to his partner.

“Well that’s about the size of it,” replied Sam, returning the cheeky grin and then casting Slim an apologetic look.

Slim played along for a few days and then he suggested Jess might feel up to doing a tad of work around the place. Seeing as how he seemed to have the energy to pull in a 40lb Lake Trout and sadly Jess had to agree.

So it was that the two cowboys were sitting on the corral fence one afternoon waiting for the Stage to roll in. Jess ready to pull his weight and help change the team. After a few minutes they saw a plume of dust up on the rise and heard Mose driving then team in hard.

“Hell he’s got some speed on,” said Jess admiringly, “must be a female on board he’s tryin’ to impress.”

Slim looked across at his buddy and grinned, “Either that or he’s being chased by a Sioux raiding party.”

As Mose pulled the team to a sweating, head nodding halt he looked down, giving the men a worried look.

“Is Miss Daisy about?”

“Indoors why?” replied Jess.

“Because she won’t wanna hear what I’m gonna tell yer. Just been stopped on the trail by Pete Thomas and his gang, five of ‘em altogether and as nasty a bunch of hoodlums as I’ve seen in a long while,” he mused.

“So what did they want?” asked Slim urgently.

“That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell yer,” continued Mose. “They said they’re ridin’ to town later, to even up the score with Mort and Lon and then they’ll be round to pay their respects to you two.”

“I thought it was too good to be true to think they were headin’ for the border,” said Jess quietly.

Slim threw Mose a worried look, “Don’t say anything to Daisy. The less she knows about this the better,” and the two men went about changing the team. Shortly afterwards Mose took off at speed, on a mission to warn Mort.

As soon as he’d left the yard Jess turned and headed quickly for the barn. Slim caught up and grabbed hold of his arm pulling him back, “Just where do you think you’re going in such an all fired hurry?”

“I’m headin’ to town of course, where do you think?”

“Oh no you don’t you’re just up out of your sickbed Jess. You’ll have difficulty riding all that way, never mind facing a shoot out at the end of it.”

“Well what do you propose we do?” Jess asked angrily. “Sit around here and wait for them to turn up and maybe shoot Daisy or Mike into the bargain?”

“No, I’ll go to town, sort it out, you stay here.”

“Sorry can’t do that pard,” said Jess once more turning on his heel and entering the barn.

As Slim caught up with him he was already saddling Traveller,” Jess… I mean it!”

“So do I,” came the angry reply. “What are you gonna do, knock me out? ’Cos that’s the only way you’re gonna stop me Slim.”

The blond rancher shook his head, “God sure gave you more than a fair share of stubborn when he was handing it out,” he said with the ghost of a smile and went off to saddle up Alamo.

Before they rode out Slim put his head around the kitchen door,” Jess and me are just going to town, got some business,” he said, studiously avoiding the elderly woman’s eyes.

“Slim… what are you two up to…it’s that man Pete Thomas and his gang isn’t it?”

Slim’s head shot up, “Not much gets past you does it Daisy?” he said with an apologetic look.

She just shook her head and frowning said softly, “Take care Slim and look after Jess, he really isn’t up to this you know.”

“I know. I tried telling him…but well you know Jess,” and with that he gave her a warm smile, “try not to worry,” and was gone.


As they rode down Main Street some time later they were not surprised to see the town completely deserted, “I guess word has got around,” said Jess with a grim smile.

They reined in at Mort’s office and after hitching their mounts, walked inside.

Meanwhile on the other side of the street, Tally was standing at her bedroom window looking out. When she saw Jess and Slim ride in her pulses started racing and she knew what she had to do. She simply had to escape and go and find Jess, convince him of her love for him. Explain about the stabbing, how she really hadn’t meant it, he’d understand…of course he would.

Bur first she had to escape. She knew Sam had been keeping her sedated and locked in her room, for her own good he had said.

He had spent long hours talking patiently to her, explaining her ‘condition’, as he called it. He obviously thought she was crazy, she knew that. But he was wrong oh so wrong. All she was crazy about was Jess and once they could be together, then everything would be alright again. She had to get him away from that blond girl of course and all his friends at the ranch too. But as soon as she could talk to him, well he would understand and they could go back to the cabin up the mountain. They would be happy there she just knew it.

However her immediate problem was how to escape and go and find Jess who was obviously visiting his friend, the Sheriff.

Just then there was a tap on the door and Tally heard it being unlocked and then the Doctor’s elderly housekeeper stood before her.

“Good afternoon Miss, the Doc and Carrie are out on a call, so he has asked me to give you your medicine…”

Just then there was a violent knocking at the front door.

“Oh lord… hang on Miss,” then thrusting the glass with the sedative towards Tally, said, “Here take this dear, while I see who is at the door. I’ll be back to fetch the glass in a moment,” and with that she withdrew, locking the door behind her.

Tally quickly poured the draft into her wash jug and then set about putting her bolster down the bed, pulling the covers up so that it looked like there was someone asleep in there. Then she hid behind the door.

A few moments later she heard the door being unlocked and the housekeeper entered. Looking over at the apparently recumbent figure of Tally in the bed, she left the door open behind her and walked over to collect the glass from the night stand.

“Well, that certainly worked fast,” she said to herself and was just bending to tuck the girl in when she heard the door slam behind her as Tally made her escape, locking the door behind her.

Across the street in the Sheriff’s office Slim and Jess were being filled in on the latest developments by Mort and his deputy Lon.

“Looks like they’ll strike anytime now,” said Mort casting an anxious glance towards the door, “word has got round so at least there will be no members of the public at risk. So I guess it’s up to us to deal with the situation the best we can,” he concluded.

“There are five of them and only four of us,” said Lon, “so I figure we’d better make every shot count. When we go out we’ll fan out and just take it as it comes huh?” He finished lamely.

“Yeah, well thanks for that,” said Mort dryly, “guess we hadn’t figured that.”

Lon looked down and blushed, “Sorry boss, I’m a bit nervous.”

Jess slapped him on the shoulder, “I guess we all are Lon, iffen we’re honest, but I reckon…..”

But the others were never to hear the end of the sentence as suddenly a volley of shots rang out and they heard Pete Thomas’s raspy voice shouting, “Git your ornery hide out here Sheriff, we’ve got some business to settle.”

The men left the shelter of the Sheriff’s office as one. Then fanned out across the street as Lon had suggested and were not surprised to see Pete and his gang had done like wise.

“So you’ve brought Harper and Sherman in to keep you company,” he spat. “Well I guess that’ll save us a journey. Just kill you all here in town, nice and tidy that way…less work for old Charlie the undertaker.”

“Quit your jawing and git on with it,” yelled Jess.

“So you want it first do ya Harper,” he replied and flexing his hand, just above his gun, “willing to oblige.”

Everything happened at once. Pete drew on Jess, but Jess’s draw was like greased lightening and he had shot his adversary through the heart before his gun was even levelled at Jess. Then all hell broke loose as the men exchanged fire.

Suddenly a figure tore across the street towards Jess and was immediately struck down by the cross fire from both parties. She was hit in the side and the chest, before she fell to the ground a few feet in front of Jess.

“Tally!” he screamed as he dashed towards her and threw himself across her prone body. Covering her and protecting her from further harm as he continued to return the fire.

It was all over in a matter of minutes and three outlaws lay dead the other two badly wounded.

Jess turned Tally over gently and her eyes flickered open.

He scooped her into his arms and held her close as she looked up into his anguished blue eyes for the last time, “Forgive me?” she whispered.

He closed his eyes and swallowed hard before looking back into the green cat eyes, the sparkle gone as her life force started to drain away.

“Sure I forgive ya.”

“Kiss me Jess.”

He leaned down and kissed her very tenderly on the lips, one hand caressing her back. Then as her head rolled forwards onto his shoulder he gently kissed her hair and her last conscious thought was,’ at last…he’s holding me just the way he held her at the dance. I got him in the end,’ and then she took her last breath.

“Oh God no,” whispered Jess, his eyes closing tightly against the threatening tears.

Then Slim was bedside him, a gentle arm slung around his shoulders, after a few moments he said “Come on pard, I guess we can’t do anything more for her now.”

Jess stood up and they surveyed the broken body in utter silence, before Charlie Fairfax walked down the street and ignoring the dead littering his way came directly towards Slim and Jess.

He gave them a sympathetic look, ”I figure I’ll take care of this little lady first,” he said softly.

Jess just patted him on the arm too upset to speak.

“Thanks, Charlie,” said Slim and both men turned for the Sheriff’s office.

Jess slumped down in a chair, “What in Hell was she thinkin’ running out in to the shootin’ that way?” He asked furiously.

“Beats me,” said Mort, “looked like she wanted to die from where I was standing.”

Jess turned anguished eyes on Slim, “Do you think that Slim? Do you think I pushed her so far that she wanted to kill herself?”

Slim just shook his head sadly, “You know what Sam said, she was unstable. None of this was your fault pard.”

Jess just looked down and said nothing.

“I don’t understand,” said Mort addressing Slim, “why would he think a darned fool thing like that?”

“Because she was in love with him,” Slim said quietly. “Totally crazy about him; and I mean crazy Mort, messed up the girl’s head, Sam was treating her for a mental breakdown.”

Mort just nodded sagely and then slapped Jess gently on the arm, “Not your fault then son,” he said quietly.

Jess just continued to look at the floor and said very softly, “Sure feels like it is.”

Shortly afterwards they made their way home and had the sorry task of breaking the dreadful news to Daisy. And although she was understandably very upset, she attached blame to nobody and seemed almost philosophical about the whole business once she was over the initial shock.

“Poor girl,” she mused, “I doubt if she would ever have been totally healed you know Jess. Maybe in some ways it is for the best and at least she is now reunited with her dear Pa.”

But Slim suspected that she was trying to put a brave face on things….particularly for Jess’s benefit, knowing how badly he’d taken it.

And he would have been right, as it wasn’t until she was alone in her room that she wept for her poor dear niece….The pain even more substantial coming so soon after the loss of her brother.

But Jess could not be comforted. He was completely devastated and once he thought Daisy was alright he had retired to his room, refusing supper and just lay there on his bed, staring at the ceiling.

When Slim retired for the night much later he was surprised to see his buddy still in the same position that he had left him several hours before. Lying on top of his bed, hands laced behind his neck. His deep blue eyes fixed on some point way beyond the ceiling, where they were still gazing with a look of profound sadness in their soulful blue depths.

Slim sank down onto his own bed and looked across at his friend, “Come on Jess, you’ve got to let it go. It wasn’t your fault pard.”

Jess merely turned his back to Slim and faced the wall and after several more abortive attempts to cheer his friend Slim finally gave up and hoped that he’d be feeling better in the morning.

However the next day Jess had disappeared by the time Slim was up. He’d left a note in the kitchen saying he would be spending the day checking fences out in the north pasture.

Just then Daisy entered the room, and saw him with the note, “Is Jess alright dear?”

“Guess not, he’s riding the fences, his most hated job, figure he just wants to be alone Daisy.”

She shook her head and looked worried; “He’s taken all this very hard hasn’t he?”

“I guess he can’t help feeling responsible and I know he feels terrible about her being your kin too,” he finished sadly.

“Oh the poor boy,” she said, “I haven’t made him feel that way have I? I’m sure, it was just one of those things, nobody was to blame….almost like it was just meant to happen,” she finished sadly. “Poor dear Tally was badly damaged in the mind….and yes I am devastated….but I’m also so worried about Jess too,” she confided.

“Don’t worry, he’ll come round, once the funeral is over, then I guess we can try and get back to normal,” said Slim slipping a comforting arm around her shoulders.

Jess was out all day and rode in late, after supper was finished. When he still hadn’t come into the house half an hour later Slim went out to the barn to see what he was doing.

As he entered Jess spun round, his gun in his hand and then, holstered it immediately he saw it was Slim.

“Sorry Slim,” he said giving him an apologetic look.

He had been grooming Traveller and now turned away from his friend and returned to his task.

After a few minutes Slim said, “You haven’t done that for a long time, drawn like that; I figure you’re feeling kinda jumpy huh?”

Then when he got no response he continued, “You’ve been out here a while…… you coming in now?”

Jess just shook his head.

“Why not, Daisy’s kept your supper hot.”

“Mike’s long abed…he missed you…..So, you coming in for something to eat then?”

Jess leaned his head on Traveller’ s neck and closed his eyes one hand on the horses back the other entangled in his mane, “I’m not hungry,” he whispered.

Slim suddenly lost his temper, “Will you stop acting like a spoilt kid Jess. Don’t you think Daisy is hurting? Mike was in tears again tonight….Hell, all of us are suffering. It’s not just exclusive to you, you know. Just like none of it is your fault! Now will you quit feeling sorry for yourself and come and help me look after Daisy?”

Jess’s head shot up and he turned and stared at Slim and for a split second the tall rancher thought his friend would take a swing at him. Then he seemed to visibly relax and turning he cast his eyes down and said very softly, “Sorry partner, sure I will.”

Things were somewhat easier after that and on the day of the funeral although everyone was sad and reflective, at least the tensions of the previous few days didn’t manifest themselves again. Jess was especially kind and thoughtful where Daisy was concerned, making time for her and being around when he was needed. Even fussing and making sure she sat quietly with a cup of coffee while he fixed supper with Slim and Mike.

Tally was finally laid to rest beside her Pa in the Sherman family grave yard on the hill above the ranch. The service was attended by just the immediate members of the Sherman household, along with Mort, Sam and Carrie. The Minister did the girl justice and after talking to both Daisy and Sam was able to give a heartfelt and honest eulogy.

After that things settled down to their usual pace at the ranch as everyone tried to put the sad days of the recent past behind them. But it was obvious to Slim that Jess was struggling to do so. He had been profoundly affected by the proceedings of the last few weeks and still seemed to be having problems forgiving himself for what had happened.

He came upon him standing by the corral fence early one morning staring out to the horizon a look of deep sadness in his eyes.

“You Ok pard?” he asked, casting him a worried look.

Jess just looked down and muttered, “Just thinking.’”


“About the way she died,” he said softly, “why do ya think she did that Slim? Ran out into the line of fire, do ya think she really wanted ta kill herself?”

“I guess we’ll never know Jess and it isn’t doing you any good thinking on it all the while. You have to let it go.”

Jess merely cast his friend a sad look, “I can’t do that,” he muttered and walked off to the barn to start his chores.

He spent the rest of the week dealing with the hurt the only way he knew how, working himself into the ground. He pushed himself from dawn to dusk and fell into bed exhausted every night. But Slim was still woken up frequently by his buddy thrashing around in his bed as terrible nightmares bedeviled his sleeping hours.

He would wake sweating and terrified, his heart pounding. The vision of Tally’s green cat eyes looking pleadingly into his as she whispered, “Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me,” over and over again.

After it happened for the third night in a row, Slim, who had been rudely awakened yet again, swung his legs out of bed and sitting on the edge looked over at his buddy.

Jess was awake and sitting up. Sweat pouring down his face and naked chest and he was visibly shaking, his eyes open wide looking fearfully around him. After a moment his eyes settled on Slim and he said, “Sorry did I wake ya again?”

Slim just nodded,” Want a drink?”

“Yeah,” he whispered.

Slim left the room and returned a moment later with a tumbler full of icy water which Jess took gratefully and drank down.

He put the empty vessel down on the nightstand, “Thanks, Slim.”

“Do you want to tell me about it? “

At first Jess just shook his head, but then he turned and looked at his friend and when he saw the deep concern in his eyes he relented.

“It was Tally again,” he said softly, “she was pleading with me to go away with her back to the cabin in the mountains. She said how everything would be OK if I would just stay with her. Then she just kept sayin’ I’m waitin’ for you Jess, come to me, come to me, like she wanted me to die too an join her in … I don’t know, Heaven…Hell wherever she is right now.”

Then very quietly he said, “Slim she’s hauntin’ me, she wants me to die too…..”

Slim shook his head, “It’s just your mind playing tricks on you, that’s all. Jess you need to try and forget all this, get back to normal.”

After a pause he gave his friend a long, hard look and then made a decision.

“There is a dance in town on Saturday and we’re going.”

Jess merely shook his head, “Don’t wanna Slim.”

“Sure you do and anyway you’re gonna,” he said with a grin, “I guess I can be as stubborn as you when it comes to it pard.”

Chapter 12

So it was that the two friends found themselves propping up the bar at the summer dance stand once again, with the local girls swirling past in their brightly colored dresses to the loud cheerful music.

“Suzy is over there you know,” Slim said tipping his head towards where the diminutive, pretty blond was dancing with a rugged looking red haired boy.

Jess glanced across, “Yeah and she’s with Bobby Jones again.”

“Well you can hardly blame her Jess you did stand her up a few weeks ago.”

Jess turned and gave his friend an angry look, “Hell Slim I’d just been stabbed, was bleedin’ like a stuck pig, ridin’ over to the Morgan spread was the last thing on my mind.”

“Yeah, I know that Jess, sure I do. But maybe Suzy doesn’t and anyways, you’ve had plenty of time to go courting since.”

“I guess, but I figure my heart just ain’t in it right now though” he said turning to the bar, his back to the dance floor.

Just then the music changed to a ladies excuse me and Suzy left her date and made a bee line for Jess and tapping him lightly on the shoulder, said, “Dance with me cowboy? “

Jess spun round and grinned at her, “Are you sure your date can spare you?”

She gave him a little pout; “Now don’t be like that Jess. It was you that stood me up remember….even if you did have a good reason. So are we dancing or what?”

“Sure,” and clasping her hand they walked to the dance floor where he took her in his arms, holding her closer than was strictly necessary, before whirling her expertly around the floor.

“So you heard about the stabbing then?” he asked conversationally.

“Yes,” she said looking uncomfortable, “and the reason for it…….Jess I just couldn’t believe it when I was told. Still don’t I guess, that’s why I’m giving you a chance to explain?”

“Explain what?” he asked looking puzzled.

“Well, why you refused to marry the poor girl when you’d got her in the family way of course,” she said.

“Hey now wait a minute, who said I’d got her pregnant?” He replied hotly, stopping dancing and stepping away.

Now it was Suzy’s turn to look surprised.

“Well everybody. She was expecting and you said you didn’t want to know. That’s why she stabbed you. Then the whole business drove her crazy and she killed herself by running out into that shoot out,” she ended succinctly.

Jess just stared at her, his eyes open wide in shocked disbelief.

After a moment he recovered sufficiently to gasp, “Well ya can tell ‘everybody’…whoever they are, that they’ve got it all wrong,” and then proceeded to explain exactly what had really transpired.

When he was honest and said yes he had spent just the one night with Tally and how she expected a marriage proposal the following morning Suzy gave him the ghost of a smile, “She obviously didn’t know you too well then Jess. There isn’t a girl in Laramie that has managed to tie you down yet…including me,” she finished ruefully.

When the full story came out she had tears in her eyes, “I’m so sorry I misjudged you. I should never have listened to those awful rumours,” she whispered.

Once they had started talking in earnest they had left the dance floor and taken a seat together. Their heads close as they continued to discuss the dreadful rumours. Her date looked over a couple of times and seeing them in deep conversation had gone to the bar for some Dutch courage.

Bobby knew of the history between Suzy and Jess. Also that he was probably just a dalliance on her behalf to make Jess jealous. However he’d fallen for Suzy and was willing to do just about anything to keep her. Even if it meant taking on the fast shooting, hard fighting Jess Harper.

After a few minutes Suzy said, “Let’s go for a little walk.”

Jess looked surprised, “What about Bobby?”

“He’ll keep and it’s really not serious between us and he knows that Jess. I reckon he’s not that bothered,” she said, “anyway it looks like he’d rather drink the bar dry.”

They exchanged an intimate smile and he took her hand and they drifted off, away from the bright bustle of the dance floor, into the quiet, dark peace amongst the nearby trees. Here the music was muffled and the air sharp and fresh with the smell of pine.

Once they were away from prying eyes he took her in his arms and held her close, his firm muscular body molding itself to her slight, softer one. She had rested her head on his chest, then after a moment he put a finger under her chin and tipping it up leaned down and kissed her deeply.

She returned his kisses equally passionately and he felt all his senses awaken as he ran a hand down her back, pulling her even closer, the other gently caressing her smooth cheek.

He was in the throws of passion, kissing the base of her throat urgently and groaning, when he suddenly sensed it……. the unmistakable feeling that eyes were boring into his back.

He froze.

Then he pulled away from Suzy and turned only to see nothing…… But he felt Tally’s presence as though she was right there next to him. He could smell her heady perfume. So strong was the feeling that he just knew that if he reached out a hand he would touch her, although he couldn’t see her.

He started shaking uncontrollably.

“What is it?” whispered Suzy.

He shook his head, as if to clear it of some terrifying image.

Then looking bleakly into her shocked eyes, muttered, “I’m sorry sweetheart, I just can’t do this,” and with that strode off into the night without a backward glance leaving Suzy devastated and confused.

He walked quickly down Main Street, needing a drink to calm his shattered nerves. He stopped outside the saloon where he knew his friend the barkeep Tom would be polishing glasses, looking for someone to chat to during the quiet evening while everyone was at the dance.

He paused and moved on unable to stand the thought of idle chatter. He wanted to be alone…he wanted to be drunk, to blot out that persistent feeling that Tally was just a breath away from him, calling him , wanting him…..

He entered another saloon at the edge of town. It was a miserable place with a bad reputation, but Jess didn’t care, he figured it had all he needed, strong liquor and plenty of it.

He walked up to the bar and scowling at the lugubrious looking bar keep growled “Whiskey,” and when it arrived, “leave the bottle.”

The barkeep gave Jess a wary look. He knew of the cowboy’s reputation and that he had a fiery temper. Tonight he looked in no mood to be crossed so he left him alone with the bottle and retreated to the far end of the bar to polish glasses.

Jess was well into his third glass of Red Eye when the tarty saloon girl sidled up to him and linking his arm, propped herself on the bar stool next to him. Then she leaned in seductively and said, “Looking for some company cowboy?”

He glanced over at her. She had brassy blond hair, her makeup caked on, with rouge making her look like a clown. She was dressed in a very low cut, tight violet dress set off with a pink feather boa. The whole ensemble making Jess feel slightly sick and he turned away again and muttered, “No I ain’t.”

The woman didn’t often get to see the likes of Jess in the bar and she weighed up his moody good looks, the black hair, startlingly blue eyes and lithe muscular body and felt a surge of excitement.

“Aw don’t be like that honey. Why don’t you and me take this little ol’ bottle up ta my room. I’ll show ya a good time huh?” she asked, taking a firmer grip on his arm and leaning over to kiss his cheek. Her overpowering perfume almost making him gag.

Jess angrily shrugged her off, “Which bit of no don’t ya understand?” he said glaring at her.

Feeling the embarrassment of rejection she let fly with a mouthful of expletives. Then she removed herself to the far end of the bar, where she complained bitterly to her friend the barkeep.

He wandered over to Jess and spurred on by the irate saloon girl, said, “No call to be uncivil Mister.”

Jess just peered at him, “Do I look the kinda man that needs to use hookers?” he said angrily.

“You look like the kinda man who’s had too much to drink,” replied the barkeep honestly, before retiring back to the safety of the far end of the bar again.

It was a good hour later when Slim wandered in. Seeing Jess swaying at the bar, an almost empty bottle of whiskey in front of him, he sighed deeply and came and stood at his partner’s elbow.

Jess turned and looked at him. The effort making the room spin, so he lurched forwards and held onto the bar top tightly.

“Shhlim, how ya doin’ buddy, have a drink,” he slurred gesturing to the bottle.

“No,” said Slim firmly, “and you’ve had enough too, come on. Let’s get you bedded down pard.”

Jess looked across at his friend and considered arguing, but then it suddenly became too much trouble and he allowed himself to be led quietly from the bar.

Once they were outside and the cool air hit him he staggered and would have fallen if Slim hadn’t grabbed him. Then supporting his weight they wandered down the street to the Hotel and entered.

Their friend the night porter was on duty and quickly took in the situation.

“Have to be number four, ground floor back,” he said grinning across at Slim. “I figure ol’ Jess there won’t make the stairs to one of our better rooms. He’s sure tied one on tonight ain’t he?” He finished with a chuckle.

Slim just nodded his thanks and took the offered key.

“Bucket by the door iffen ya need it,” he called after them as Slim supported a now almost unconscious Jess down the corridor.

Once inside the room he laid Jess on the bed and removed his boots and gun belt, before placing the bucket strategically on the floor beside him.

He stood there looking down at his friend who was now snoring quietly and shook his head, “Darn fool,” he whispered, before turning and stretching out on the other side of the big bed.

After an hour or so Jess awoke and spent most of the night alternately cussing and chucking up the whiskey.

Slim looked after him, offering water and wiping down his sweating pale face with a cool cloth until he ultimately fell into a troubled sleep just before dawn.

When he finally awoke, much later and opened his eyes he could just make out Slim, standing looking pensively out of the window.

Feeling Jess’s eyes on him he turned to look at him and was shocked by the deathly white face with deep shadows under the blood shot eyes.

“Jeez, you’re a mess pard,” he said and then more softly, “So what was all that about then?”

Jess looked around the room and suddenly realized where he was, the room he had spent the night when Tally had been the worse for drink and the irony of the situation was not lost on him and he groaned and closed his eyes again.

Slim walked over and sat down gently on the edge of the bed, “We have to talk buddy. Suzy was real upset last night.”

“Well that makes two of us,” said Jess harshly opening his eyes again and looking blearily at his friend.

“Just tell me will you Jess?” he said patiently.

Jess took a deep breath and then very quietly started to relay what had happened.

“We talked it all through me and Suzy and she understood everything… then we went into the trees to be alone some…ya know?”

Slim just nodded. “Go on.”

“We started kissing and then, well we were getting close, I mean real close Slim……..That’s when it happened. I had this feeling….someone was watchin’ us. I thought it might be Billy come to find her. So I pulled away from Suzy, turned around and she was there Slim……..”

“Who was there?”

“Tally of course!”

Slim said nothing for a full minute trying to make sense of it all.

“Jess, she’s dead, you know that, we laid her to rest at the ranch.”

“She was there I tell ya Slim! Oh I didn’t see her…. But every other way she was there, I could smell her perfume…. I could feel her presence Slim. She was just as much there as you are now,” he finished, closing his eyes tightly, whether from pain or emotion, Slim couldn’t tell, possibly both.

“Jess this is all in your head. I keep telling you…..You have to move on pard, forgive yourself and she’ll go.”

“Oh, so you admit she is hauntin’ me then?”

He paused, “I don’t know Jess, maybe it is possible… I just don’t know anymore. But I do know this is killing you, we have to sort it some way.”

Shortly afterwards they paid for the room and crossed the street to Miss Molly’s café where Slim ordered a full breakfast.

Molly turned to Jess, “Same for you hon?” she asked kindly.

Jess’s stomach lurched and he thought he would chuck again. He swallowed deeply and then gave her a weak smile, “Just coffee please Moll.”

She gave him a knowing smile, but said nothing and hastened off to fetch Slim’s breakfast and the coffee pot.

A little while later they heard the door opening and Sam strolled over.

“Morning Slim,” he said with a smile, then turning to Jess gasped “Morning Jess……Jeez, what happened to you buddy you look really rough. So have you been….err looking for the answers at the bottom of a whiskey glass?” he asked with great perception.

“How’d ya know that?” asked Jess weakly.

Sam exchanged a knowing look with Slim, and drawing up a chair said “Just an educated guess, so all this business with Tally is still getting to you?”

Jess just nodded looking bleak.

Sam looked very thoughtful for a moment and then seemed to come to a decision, “I guess you’re not alone in that then Jess so is Mrs Braddock.”

“What your housekeeper, why?” asked Jess looking puzzled.

“Well it was her that let the girl escape. It wasn’t really her fault. She assumed Tally was in bed, it was a mistake anyone could have made.”

Then looking distracted, “If anyone is to blame it is me for leaving my elderly housekeeper in charge of…well what was really a very difficult and very sick patient…But well she won’t have it, worrying herself to death she is.”

Jess looked concerned. “I’m sorry to hear that Sam. I’ve got a lot of respect for your Mrs Braddock She was real kind to me when I had appendicitis that time, nursed me real good and fed me up after,” he finished, with a faint smile at the memory.

Sam looked over at his friend a speculative look in his eyes…. “I don’t suppose you’d go and have a word with her would you Jess, try and make her see sense?”

“Aw Sam… I dunno, I wouldn’t know what ta say….Anyway, guess I’m not thinkin’ too straight right now.”

Sam looked sad, “Oh well, if you can’t……”

Jess sighed deeply, “OK, OK you win,” and with that he got up and threw a coin on the table for his coffee.

“See you in the Livery later,” he said to Slim and tipping his hat to Sam, left the café and marched across the road to the Doctor’s Office.

After he had left, Slim turned to Sam and gave him an inquisitive look, “What are you playing at? Mrs Braddock is way too sensible to let this get her down.”

Sam smiled, “Yeah, but Jess doesn’t know that and I figured maybe a little heart to heart with Mrs Braddock might be just what our boy needs.”

Slim grinned across at his friend, “You sly old fox,” he chuckled.

Meanwhile Jess was knocking on the Doctor’s door.

Mrs Braddock could well have been on the stage such was her acting ability.

“Why hello Jess dear, I’m afraid the Doc and Carrie are out at present,” she said as she answered his knock.

Jess took off his hat and looked embarrassed, “Well, its’ you I wanted to talk to Ma’am,” he said politely.

“Oh well, you had best come through,” she said with a friendly smile, showing him to her snug parlour at the back of the house.

Once he was settled in a chair she looked down at him smiling, “Now, can I get you something to eat dear?”

Jess felt his stomach tighten, “No,” he said quickly, “I mean no thanks Mrs Braddock; I just wanted to talk to you about…..well, about Tally.”

Mrs Braddock’s countenance assumed a sad look, “Oh yes, the poor wee lamb and all my fault she escaped you know Jess.”

“No,” he said, “no it wasn’t really. You shouldn’t feel that way Mrs Braddock. If she was that desperate to escape, well I guess she’d have achieved it sooner or later, no matter what.”

She stared at him in surprise, “You really think that dear?” she said thoughtfully.

“Oh yeah, sure of it, none of this is your fault. I guess she would never have been so sick that she wanted to kill herself if it hadn’t been for me anyway,” he finished, casting her an anguished glance.

“Kill herself dear? Why whatever makes you think that?” she asked throwing him a stunned look.

“Well she ran into the middle of a shoot out,” he said patiently, “I reckon she’d have been expecting to get shot.”

“Oh no dear, you have it all wrong,” she said immediately, “dying was the very last thing on Tally’s mind.”

Jess felt frustrated, his head was aching something fierce. Now this sweet old lady was talkin’ nonsense. He just longed to be at home and preferably in bed asleep, where he could have some much needed respite from all his problems, but he persevered.

“How can ya think that Ma’am?” he asked kindly.

“Oh I don’t think so, I know so for a fact,” she said firmly. “You see I read her diary Jess, the entry she wrote just before she escaped. It was very definite, she said that she was determined to see you again and convince you to marry her. She definitely very much wanted to live and most importantly she wanted your forgiveness for all she had done to you.”

“Then why run into the cross fire?” he asked mystified.

“I doubt she was even aware of it Jess. Such was her state of mind that she would have been completely focused on you and you alone. She saw you and just ran towards you, very much like a child seeing a parent on the opposite side of the street will just run straight to them not heeding any traffic in the way.”

Jess remembered seeing a little girl nearly mown down by a wagon, in just such circumstances once.

He became silent, thinking hard and then he finally looked up at Mrs Braddock his deep blue eyes suddenly glowing with hope, “You really think so?” he asked quietly, “she didn’t mean ta kill her self?”

“I really think so.”

He jumped up and took the elderly woman in his arms and held her close before pulling back and looking deep into her eyes, “Thank you so much,” he whispered.

Then he remembered why Sam had asked him to call in the first place and still holding her he said, “She wanted to be forgiven so darn much. I reckon she would want to forgive us too for whatever we did…or thought we did. So I guess maybe we should honour her memory, by forgiving ourselves too….what do ya think Mrs Braddock?”

She was quiet for a while and then smiling up into his eyes said, “I think you are a very insightful young man.”


“I mean, I guess you’re pretty good at understanding stuff Jess. The way folk feel, what they need, you are very good at…well, just being there for folk…and I thank you for that.”

“And I thank you too Ma’am,” he said with a big grin, and shortly after he left and went off to meet Slim at the Livery.

“Well you’re looking happier,” Slim said, grinning across at his partner.

“Yeah, had a good talk with Ma Braddock, and guess we’re both feelin’ a mite easier.”

When they got back to the ranch Jess jumped down from Traveller and knelt down to hug Blue as the big dog came running out of the barn. Barking and wagging his tail in excitement as he greeted his master, like he had been gone for years rather than just over night.

“Hush boy,” he said laughing, “Your master’s got one Hell of a sore head.”

Slim grinned across at him; “I guess you won’t be tipping the jug again anytime soon.”

Jess gave him a rueful look, “I reckon not….and thanks for lookin’ after me last night Slim.”

“That’s OK.”

Then smiling across at his partner, “Would ya mind putting Trav up for me? I’ve got somethin’ I have to do.”

“Sure,” said Slim and taking the bay’s reins from him walked off to the barn to attend to both mounts.

When he came back out a little while later Daisy was just coming out of the ranch house to meet him.

“Where’s Jess?” she asked anxiously.

“He said he had something to do,” Slim replied. Then glancing across to the Sherman Family plot up on the hillside he saw a movement.

Jess was kneeling down by Tally’s grave his head bowed, Blue lying quietly beside him.

Slim tipped his head towards his friend, “I guess he had some unfinished business with Tally,” he said quietly.

Daisy reached out and put a hand on the tall rancher’s arm, “Oh Slim is he alright, he’s been so troubled by all this business.”

Slim smiled down at the elderly housekeeper, “Yes Daisy, I think he’s going to be just fine,” and taking her arm he led her back into the house.

“Lets get the coffee on, he’ll be back down in a few minutes and I figure we could all use one.”

She returned his smile, a look of relief on her kind old face, “Coming right up dear,” she said as she went off happily to brew up for her two favourite men.

The End
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