This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


Repercussions
(14th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Once upon a time,
A little minx from Missouri met a wild dog from Texas.
They fell in love and married.
Their simple, little wedding caused a reaction from folks.
Some good. Some . . . not so good.

(Mason Dobbs - Philosopher & Gentleman)

Call carried Gretchen into their new home and turned in the doorway. He slid one boot across the floor, then kicked the door shut. Then he leaned close and drew the lock across the door to guarantee their privacy. He looked into Gretchen's anxious green eyes as their hearts raced with nervous anticipation. Gretchen smiled excitedly as she stared into his eyes. Call stepped through the larger main room holding Gretchen close to him and carried her into their bedroom. He stood at their bed and lowered his bride onto the multi-patterned quilt. Squares of reds, blues, greens, and different colored plaids.

As Call gently removed his arms from Gretchen, she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him to her in one swift motion. Call's mouth met Gretchen's mouth as their lips passionately locked. They both groaned softly as their breathing increased. Their warm breath on each other's face was arousing and intimately enticing. Gretchen refused to let go of her husband as she kissed him again and again.

"Call," she whispered. "Oh, Call. I love you so much. I'll love you forever, my Call."

Call moaned as he opened his eyes and stared into Gretchen's hypnotic green eyes. "Gretchen, I love you so much. I'll love you forever and only you and no one else but you, Gretchen." He sat on the bed next to her.

"Say my name, Call," she whispered.

He smiled and nodded. "Gretchen Call. Mrs. Call." He looked into her eyes once again. "Mrs. Newt Call." He laughed. "Coyote Girl Call."

She giggled. "I love hearing my new names, Call. All of them."

Call put his hand behind Gretchen's head and pulled the pin out. Her hair tumbled down over her shoulders. Gretchen shook her head and ran her fingers through her hair to loosen it and allow all of it to fall into her face and on her shoulders. He leaned in to inhale the sweet smell of his wife's soft hair.

"I remember the first time you watched me do this, Call. It was inside the tepee Red Crow gave you and I and Paige to sleep in. Remember, Sweetheart?"

Call frowned. "It ain't real clear. I . . . have . . . images of you taking your hair down. But, I don't hardly recall anything that night."

Gretchen giggled as she nuzzled against him. "You smoked that Indian pipe, Call. The way you danced." She paused and giggled some more. "I was laying close to Paige and just staring at you for the longest time. You rolled over and your buffalo robe fell off you. You had only that ripped and tattered shirt and you were shivering. I crawled over and snuggled close to you. You didn't know it but you held me close and whispered my name."

"You never told me," Call said as he tilted his head in surprise. He smiled at this revealed secret.

"I suppose it really wouldn't have been proper for me to tell you that, Call. It really wouldn't have been." Gretchen stared into his blue eyes. "Call? Tell me this is real? Please, Sweetheart? I'm so afraid that I'm dreaming and that I'm going to awaken and you won't be here with me. Please, Call?"

Call took his hand and cupped Gretchen's chin. He leaned close and gently kissed her nose then kissed her lips. "Ain't no dream, Coyote Girl. We really are hitched. You're my wife now, Gretchen. I reckon I fell in love with you like nothing I ever felt before."

"Oh, Call," she happily groaned as she embraced him tightly.

Call bent over and removed Gretchen's shoes from her feet. Then he slid his hands under her wedding dress and moved them slowly up to her knee, where her white cotton stockings ended. Gretchen bit her lip as she stared intently at her husband. Call slid the stocking down her smooth leg. He pulled it off then did the same with the other leg. His heart was pounding so loud it sounded like forty-pounders were exploding nearby.

Gretchen swallowed hard as her heart raced in her chest. "Call, I want us to make love," she said.

Call nodded as he pushed her dress and petticoat up to her knees, revealing her bare legs. Gretchen held her breath as she watched Call gaze at her scarred left leg. Her eyes lit up when he bent over and kissed her scar then began gently rubbing that leg.

"Oh, Call. I was so frightened that you would find my scar repulsive."

He snapped his head to look at her. "Gretchen! No! I love you, Gretchen. I reckon I love everything there is about you. Even your scar."

Gretchen giggled as she slid off the bed into his arms, causing them both to tumble to the floor where they both laughed.

"Is our very first time going to be right here on the floor, Call?" Gretchen managed to say through the laughter.

"Just might be," he replied as he rolled Gretchen on top of him and stretched his hands to try and find the little buttons to undo her dress from behind.

"Here, Call. Let me do that for you." Gretchen sat up with her legs straddling his waist. She reached behind her and winced slightly as she undid the lower buttons she could reach. She turned and looked at Call. "You'll have to undo the top ones, Sweetheart."

Call immediately reached out and undid the last three buttons. They both stood up as Call quickly removed his shirt, careful not to tear it since it belonged to his Uncle Mason. Gretchen shivered in anticipation. No man had ever touched her.

"Don't be scared, Gretchen," Call gently said as he took her hand.

"I'm not scared . . . much, Call." She bit her lip. "I trust you."

Call pulled Gretchen onto the bed with him and laid on his side. Gretchen nuzzled as close to him as she could. "Now, Call," she whispered in his ear. "I'm ready, my Call."

The remainder of their clothing was tossed recklessly around the small bedroom within moments.

*****************************************

The rooster had crowed hours ago. Gretchen opened her eyes and brushed the hair away so she could see. She gazed at Call and groaned softly as she smiled warmly. She lightly kissed him on the cheek, causing him to stir. He opened his eyes and smiled contently at Gretchen. She moved slightly so she could lay on top of him. Call pulled her to him and kissed her long and passionately.

"I'm glad you didn't have a mind to up and leave before the sun came up," he said.

Gretchen giggled. "We're married now, Call. We're husband and wife. I don't have to hurry back to Victoria and Paige." Gretchen lifted her left arm and stared at her left hand. She turned her hand so she could look at the interlocking hearts on the wedding ring Call had placed on her finger. "Oh, Call. I adore my wedding ring. I love it. It's the most beautiful ring ever made. I will never, ever take it off. Not ever, Sweetheart."

Call nodded and smiled. "I reckon that suits me just fine." He ran his hands down her back, feeling the smoothness of her body. Their naked bodies pressed together felt perfect to each of them.

"Are you hungry, Call? I could get us something to eat. There's a lot of food from yesterday."

"I got me an appetite," he said as he smiled at his bride.

Gretchen moved to roll over and get out of bed but Call grabbed her and pulled her back to him. She giggled. "Call."

"I just wanna hold you close some more," he said.

Gretchen laid against Call and contently closed her eyes.

************************************************

Dr. Ephraim Cleese couldn't stop smiling. Yesterday's wedding between Call and Gretchen would have an effect on some folks. For him, the effect would be positive. His time spent with Gretchen's older sister, Victoria, at the wedding, had been extremely unique. Besides being attractive and strong willed, Miss Victoria Brandt was educated. Ephraim had delighted in her company and had been busy this morning preparing to have lunch with the oldest Brandt sister.

Ephraim found himself humming a tune the vaqueros had played on their guitars yesterday. He combed his hair and brushed any loose threads off his black suit as he anticipated his meal with Miss Victoria.

************************************

"I'm gonna go play with my pig, Mama," Dewey said as Mattie hugged the young orphan boy.

"Stay out of trouble," she replied as he dashed out the back door of the gunsmith shop. Mattie thought about Call. She still had feelings for him.

"I wish you could of been there, Mattie," Unbob suddenly said.

Mattie looked at him. "What?"

"Well, Call's wedding. Him and Paige's sister got hitched yesterday."

"I know, Unbob. If you don't mind, I'd rather not talk about it." Mattie walked over to the open back door and let the toe of her boot rub along a splintered floorboard.

Unbob watched her for a moment then shrugged and went back to filing the side of a new coffin. "Well, it was real nice."

"I said I don't want to talk about it, Unbob," Mattie barked. "Oh, Unbob! I'm sorry. Forgive me?"

Unbob looked at her. "Is something bothering you, Mattie? You mad at me?"

"No, Unbob," she replied. "I just don't feel like talking about weddings today."

*****************************

Robert Shelby opened the door to the Ambrosia and stepped inside the still dark saloon. Clay Mosby sat alone at a table. Robert walked across the room.

"It's Monday morning, Clay. Your doors should be open. What kind of businessman are you?" Robert laughed as he pulled out a chair and sat next to Clay.

"I suppose I just haven't felt like opening the doors, Robert," Clay replied.

Robert's eyes suddenly took on a look of seriousness. "Clay! Now you're scaring me. That's the same look I saw after we returned home from the War. What's wrong with you, Clay?"

Mosby lifted his shot glass and emptied it. He had already drank half a bottle and it wasn't even noon yet.

"Clay! I asked you a question," Robert said more forcefully. "Is it the gambler we buried yesterday morning?"

Clay turned to meet Robert's eyes. He laughed a hollow laugh. "It isn't right, Robert. I deserve a chance at happiness far more than that damn Call. And, look at him. A girl arrives in town from Missouri who would never even look at me. Not that I care about her. I don't. She had her mind set on him from the moment she stepped off the stage. I was out there and saw it."

Robert was silent for a moment. "You're not making any sense, Clay. Who cares about him? What's gotten into you?"

"Perhaps you could explain how a no account, uneducated, uncivilized, dirty-looking man like Newt Call is enjoying one of life's greatest pleasures while a man such as myself has no woman."

"Clay, you speak like a fool," Robert said. "You could have any woman you desire. You've never let go of Mary. Now, stand up, Clay. It's time to open for business."

"Not just yet, Robert," Clay answered. "Sit here with me, won't you?"

*************************

Unable to contain himself any longer, Dr. Cleese walked briskly across the street and entered the dry goods store. He smiled at both Victoria and Paige.

"I must apologize to you, Miss Brandt," he said to Victoria. "Good day to you, Miss Brandt," he motioned toward Paige. She curtseyed.

"Why on earth must you apologize, Dr. Cleese?" Victoria asked as she approached him.

His fingers fumbled with his vest buttons. "Well, to be . . . that is . . . it is not quite noon yet."

Victoria giggled as she placed three thin fingers over her mouth. "Dr. Cleese, are you flirting with me?"

Ephraim's face reddened. "Why no!" he quickly replied. "I . . . I was hoping we could perhaps . . ." he paused and sighed from deep within his breast.

Victoria smiled. " . . . spend a little more time at lunch?"

"Yes," Dr. Cleese replied sheepishly. "Yes." He looked at Victoria and waited anxiously for her answer.

"Hmm?" Victoria quietly thought as she tapped her foot on the wooden floorboards. She turned to Paige. "Will you be all right alone here, Paige?"

Paige nodded. "Of course I will, Victoria." She held up the white kitten Unbob had given her. "I have Pearl, here, to keep me company. Run along and do have a wonderful time, Victoria, dearest."

Victoria grabbed her white shawl and walked out as Dr. Cleese held the door open for her.

***************************

Gretchen had finished putting on the blue and white gingham dress Call had bought for her then she stood near the bed with her hands on her hips. "Call? Have you seen my shoes?"

Call laughed slightly as he pulled his boots on. He sat on the bed. "I reckon they're hereabouts somewhere. Tell you what, Gretchen. I'll let on where they're at for a kiss."

Gretchen giggled and stepping over to him, pushed him back onto the bed then fell on top of him. Call wrapped his arms around her as they began to passionately kiss once more.

"I need my shoes if we're going into town, Call," Gretchen softly said as she continued kissing him. She stopped and smiled as she stared into his eyes.

He nodded. "They're under the bed."

"I should make you get them and put them on my feet for hiding them on me," she said.

"I didn't hide them. They must of ended up there last night when we threw our clothes all over the room."

Gretchen buried her face in Call's chest and giggled. She stood up and bent down to look under their bed. She reached under and pulled out her black high buttoned shoes then paused. "What's that . . .? Call? There's . . . some kind of package under the bed." She tilted her head to look up at him.

He shrugged and smiled. "Guess you ought to see what it is."

Gretchen studied her husband's face for a moment. "Call? You know about this, don't you?"

"Maybe," he said, still smiling at his bride.

Gretchen reached excitedly under the bed and pulled out the package. She stood up and looked at it. It was a square box wrapped in brown paper. "What is it, Call?"

"Why don't you open it, Gretchen," he suggested.

She bit her lip and smiled at him. "Did you buy me a present, Call?"

"Maybe."

Gretchen began tearing the brown wrap, then threw the paper on the floor. "Oh, Call!" she whispered. "It's beautiful. I love it."

Call nodded and smiled as his wife held a hand crafted oak music box with a cherry veneer finish and an inlaid marquetry top . "Go on. Lift the top. It plays music."

Gretchen slowly opened the top of the music box. As the metal teeth were plucked by the protruding pins at intervals in the revolving, spring-motivated barrel, sounds were produced. Gretchen held the wedding present as she intently listened to the tune. Her eyes lit up and she smiled brightly as she began quietly saying the words to the melody.

"O joy that seekest me thro' pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow thro' the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morning shall tearless be."

Call smiled as he watched his wife's face light up with the joy of a child.

"Oh, Call! I Love it! It's the hymn, O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go. Dearest Sweetheart! That's us! Our love will never let go. It will grow deeper and stronger every day, won't it, Call?"

"Yep," Call nodded. "I reckon it's gonna be about the best love anyone ever had."

"How did you know I loved this song? Call?"

"Your sister helped me."

"Victoria?"

"No. It was Paige," Call replied.

"Paige knows me better than Victoria does."

Gretchen carefully placed the music box on their bed and threw herself into her husband's arms. "Call! I love you so very much. Thank you for my wedding present. I'll treasure it as long as I live. Now, I have a little surprise for you. I really do," she giggled.

Call watched as Gretchen turned and stepped out of their small bedroom into the larger room. He leaned against the wall near the door frame as Gretchen bent down by the stove and reached behind the box of wood Call had chopped.

"Here it is," Gretchen said with a bright smile. "I've waited ever so long to finally be able to give you this, Call."

Call's eyes lit up as he stared at the present. It was definitely not made by white men. It was Lakota. He reached out and took hold of the trinket. "Gretchen?! Where did you get this?"

Gretchen giggled happliy. "Are you surprised, Call? Are you really surprised?"

"Yep. Really surprised."

"Red Crow gave it to me the night you and I and Paige stayed in his village earlier in the summer."

Call immediately placed it over his head and neck. It was beads and strings with seven eagle claws. The bottom was a piece of metal shaped like a buffalo head. It was a one-of-a-kind item.

"He told me that he knew that you and I would become one and that it would be strong medicine for our love." Gretchen smiled proudly.

Call stared at his wife with admiration. "Red Crow said that?"

"Uh huh, Call. He really did."

"You little coyote," Call laughed as he pulled her close. "All this time you kept it hid."

"I had to, Sweetheart. I knew there was nothing I could buy you for a wedding present if we really did get married. Victoria and Paige finally gave up suggesting things for you. You are not easy to buy for, Newt Call."

"I reckon not," he agreed. He looked down at his Lakota necklace. "I like it, Gretchen."

Careful not to press herself against the sharp eagle claws, Gretchen held Call close and kissed him.

***********************************

Robert Shelby was losing his patience. He had no desire to plough through another extended stretch of time while Clay sunk into depression. He gritted his teeth as he watched Clay empty the bottle of whiskey down his throat.

"Damn it, Clay!" Robert suddenly exclaimed. "What is the matter with you?"

Clay laughed as he drew his Remington and waved it recklessly in front of his face.

Mattie Shaw opened the door to the Ambrosia and stepped inside. She paused as she watched a drunk Clay Mosby. "Clay?"

Robert turned abruptly. "Miss Shaw!" He stood up.

Mattie walked straight over to the table.

"Hello, Mattie," Clay blurted.

Mattie took note that Mosby's eyes were half closed and his breath smelled heavy with liquor. "What happened to him?"

"Perhaps I should marry you, Mattie," Clay said through slurred words. "You would give me a son, wouldn't . . .!"

BAM!

"Aaarrgghhhh!" Mattie screamed as she doubled over and slumped to the floor. Blood was dripping onto the stained floorboards.

"Damn it, Clay!" Robert yelled. "You shot her!" Robert angrily snatched the gun out of Clay's hand as Clay mumbled and squinted to understand what had just happened. Robert dropped to the floor to look at Mattie. "She's bleeding like a stuck pig!"

Mattie was slumped over on her knees with one hand on the floor to keep her balance.

"I'll get Dr. Cleese," Robert quickly replied as he shot a disgusted look at Clay. "Help her, Clay!"

Clay heard someone's boots fade away and the door slam. He looked down at Mattie and the puddle of blood that was expanding. He breathed hard and tried to concentrate. "Wha . . .? What have . . . I done . . .?"

**************************************

"I had no idea we were going to have a picnic lunch, Dr. Cleese," Victoria Brandt said as she looked upon the quite meadow Ephraim had brought them to in the wagon.

Ephraim Cleese turned to Victoria. "I sincerely hope my actions will not be regarded in poor taste, Miss Brandt."

"No," Victoria replied. "I think it is quite enchanting to picnic out here."

Dr. Cleese smiled proudly. He climbed down from the springy bench seat then held out his arms to offer his assistance to Victoria. He was careful not to openly stare at her lower legs as the bottom of her dress hiked up slightly.

"This isn't where Gretchen and Newt picnic," Victoria quietly said. She turned to watch the kind doctor stretch out a blue blanket on the cold ground. He then grabbed the basket of food he had purchased for their meal. Turning, he held out his hand. Victoria allowed the doctor to take her hand as they sat down together.

****************************

Robert Shelby burst through the doors of Mosby's saloon. Alongside him were Josiah Peale and Amanda Carpenter.

"Dr. Cleese isn't anywhere to be found," Robert yelled, angry at Clay.

"Dear God," Josiah said as he rushed to where Mattie lay on the floor. The puddle of blood had expanded.

Robert shoved Clay out of the way, knocking him to the floor in a drunken stupor. "Help me, Mr. Peale. At least we can carry Miss Shaw up to the doctor's office."

"Yes, yes, of course," Josiah nervously replied as both men lifted a now cold Mattie Shaw.

"Aaarrggghhhhhh!" Mattie screamed in severe pain as her body lurched. "My insides are on fire! Like knives are stabbing me! Aaaaarrrgghhh!" She blacked out from the pain then.

Amanda stared at Clay as he moved with a lethargic motion. She shook her head and turned to follow the others.

****************************************************************

An hour had passed. Victoria Brandt had thoroughly enjoyed her time with Dr. Cleese. She was aware that he seemed nervous as he breathed deep time and again.

"Are you all right, Dr. Cleese?" she finally asked.

"Yes . . . no! I . . . I . . . Miss Brandt? May I speak frankly with you?"

Victoria looked at him. "Why, yes, Dr. Cleese."

Dr. Cleese stood up and straightened his coat. He adjusted his specs. "Miss Brandt, I am not a man of violence. I have no desire to carry a firearm on my possession. I have feelings. Deep feelings. However, it is not a simple matter for me to expose my feelings in public, such as your sister and Call have freely done."

"My sister is very much in love with Newt. And he is very much in love with Gretchen. She is more carefree than I could ever be," Victoria replied. "I am more comfortable reserving my feelings in public and saving them for more private environments."

Dr. Cleese smiled. "Miss Brandt! I am so relieved to hear you say that." He dropped to his knee. "We have much in common, Miss Brandt. Would you consider marrying me?"

Victoria raised both hands to cover her mouth. She was completely surprised.

"Victoria," he boldly said, "neither of us are as young as your sister or Call. We are both still young, though."

"But," Victoria began, "Ephraim. What about Paige. She would be all alone."

"Come with me, Victoria," Dr. Cleese suggested as he held his hand out to help her up. "I wish to show you something less than one mile from here. We are still quite close to town."

Victoria agreed and rode alongside Dr. Cleese in the wagon until they came to a two-level house with a small barn. Victoria stared at the house as Dr. Cleese reached out and took her hands into his.

"There are three bedrooms in this house. Your sister, Paige, would move in with us and be welcomed to stay as long as she desires."

Victoria's eyes lit up. "Is this the truth, Ephraim? Do you truly desire to marry me?"

"Yes, Victoria," Dr. Cleese replied. "I have thought often of you since your arrival in Curtis Wells. I find you to be a most suitable partner for marriage. And I have already made provisions to purchase this house if you were to accept my proposal of matrimony."

"I, too, have thought how pleasant it would be to know you on . . . a more lasting relationship," Victoria said. "But, aren't you Jewish? You do understand that my sisters and I are not of the same faith as you?"

Ephraim smiled. "That hardly matters. I haven't practiced my faith since coming out west years ago. I seek an enduring relationship and believe you and I are extremely compatible."

Victoria stared into Ephraim's eyes. "It would mean the world to me if Paige could live with us. I wouldn't feel at all right if she were either alone or living with Gretchen."

"Then, it is settled," Dr. Cleese said. "Let us wed this very week and Paige will come live with us."

Victoria and Ephraim embraced cautiously and allowed a small kiss on the lips.

"I had better return you to the store," Ephraim said, unaware of the situation back in town regarding Mattie Shaw.

********************************

In Curtis Wells, Unbob sat at the bottom stair leading up to Dr. Cleese's office. His eyes were red from crying. His mind flashed over and over again with the appalling sight of Robert Shelby and Josiah Peale carrying a dead-looking Mattie Shaw up the stairs into the doctor's office. Droplets of blood, the size of half-dollar coins, left an unsightly trail from the Ambrosia Club, across the main street and behind the mining supplies building. Unbob used the heel of his boot to try and rub away the red stains on the worn stairs.

"Out of the way, Unbob," Sheriff Austin Peale ordered as he roughly brushed past the saddened older man. Austin rushed inside the office to see Robert Shelby and his father bandaging Mattie.

"Where's Dr. Cleese?" Amanda asked Austin.

"How the hell do I know!" Austin shot back.

"What about Mosby?" Amanda added.

"I locked him up," Austin replied as he stared at the pale features of Mattie's silent face.

"You what?!" Robert loudly said as he paused. "It was an accident. I was there."

"Accident or not," Austin said, "if Mattie dies it will be murder."

Amanda shook her head. "Clay would never willingly allow himself to be locked up in jail."

Austin allowed a wicked smile. "He didn't. I had to hit him over the head."

Robert gritted his teeth. "If you hurt him, I will . . ."

"I'm the sheriff here, Shelby," Austin said. "I'll try to find Cleese."

**************************

Outside on the street, Dr. Cleese and Victoria Brandt were entering from the west, as they passed the bath house and pulled to a halt in front of the dry goods store. Riding into town from the east, were Call and Gretchen sitting close together in the buckboard they had purchased. They passed the livery and rode straight for Cleese and Victoria.

"Hello, Gretchen! Hello, Newt!" Victoria waved as they stopped and climbed down. Victoria and Gretchen hugged each other. "I have the most wonderful news," Victoria said as Paige opened the door and stepped outside.

"Dr. Cleese!" Paige cried out. "Mattie Shaw was shot. She's up in your office. Please hurry!"

"What?!" Dr. Cleese replied. "I'm sorry, Victoria. I must go!"

"Yes, Ephraim. I'll be here if I can help."

Dr. Cleese ran across the street, passing the Dove as he ran in between his building and Mattie's gunsmith shop. Unbob jumped up but the doctor ignored him as he rushed up the stairs, only to run into Sheriff Peale exiting the office.

"What happened, Paige?" Call asked as the three Brandt Sisters gathered together.

"The way I heard it," Paige began, "Mr. Mosby shot her unintentionally. He was drunk, they say."

Thoughts of any joyous news were quickly extinguished as Victoria knew that Ephraim Cleese's life would always be this way. She understood perfectly that a doctor was on call day or night. Especially when there was only one doctor in town.

"I've been on my knees praying for Miss Shaw," Paige said.

"Perhaps we should all go inside and pray," Victoria suggested.She looked at Call. "Newt?"

Call shook his head. "I ain't much for that sort of thing. I'll go see how Mattie's getting on."

Gretchen held her husband tight for a moment then kissed him. "I'll be inside with Victoria and Paige, Sweetheart."

Call smiled at his wife then turned to go check on Mattie.

*****************************************

As Austin reached the bottom of the stairs and brushed by Unbob, he noticed Mason Dobbs carrying Dewey on his shoulders, approaching from northeast, where the church stood. He also noticed Call walk around behind the mining supplies building setting up a meeting of the three.

"You might want to wait before bringing him up there," Austin told Mason, in regards to Dewey.

"What's the situation?" Mason asked.

Austin looked at Call then he turned back to Mason. "Not good. I can't say for certain. I'm not the doctor." Austin looked at Call. "Stick around, Call. You just might get a front row seat at Mosby's hanging."

Call didn't say anything. He glanced at his uncle then abruptly turned and climbed the stairs to check on Mattie's condition.

"If I were you, Dobbs," Austin said, "I would get the boy far away from here." Austin walked off toward the jail.

****************************

Inside the Dove, Luther Root sat drinking coffee. Miss Laurie Ann Mecurdy sat at the table with him.

"You really planning on heading back home, Laurie?" Luther asked as he wiped his mouth with the back of a bear-sized paw.

"Yes, Mr. Root. After watching the joy Gretchen and Call had yesterday at their wedding, I feel it is time I return to my family in North Carolina. If I am fortunate, I will find a young man such as Mr. Mosby. I adore his Southern charm. Unfortunately, our age difference must obviously prevent him from looking at me as a woman qualified to meet his requirements."

Luther laughed slightly. "You mean that you would like to get hitched with Mosby?"

"I don't think that's funny," Laurie replied. Many older men wed younger girls." Laurie Ann was quiet for a moment. "Why aren't you up in Dr. Cleese's office? Aren't you a friend of Miss Shaw's?"

"Sure, I am," Luther proclaimed. "But . . . already too many up there now. If she dies . . . Mosby's in a fix."

********************************

"She was quite fortunate," Dr. Cleese said as he surmised the situation quickly. "The bullet seems to have hit a rib and was projected out the side of her body. It is quite understandable how much she bled," Cleese continued, "seeing as how there are two punctures from which she is bleeding, rather than one."

Call quietly entered the office.

"Will she live, Ephraim?" Josiah cautiously asked. He stared at her pale and unmoving face. "She's so . . . so . . . dead like."

"Miss Shaw has passed out from lost of blood as well as from the shock of being shot," Dr. Cleese replied as he worked feverishly to stitch up the two small holes the bullet had produced. "Barring any unforeseen infection, she should heal. How did this happen?"

Robert Shelby let out a sigh of frustration. "It was an accident. Clay's pistol went off by mistake."

"Shooting a woman near her belly don't seem like no mistake to me," Call said as he stared at Robert.

Robert stared back. "I said . . . it was a mistake!"

"I heard what you said," Call replied.

"Please, gentlemen. If you must insist on arguing then remove yourselves from my office," Dr. Cleese ordered.

With both men staring pistols into each other's eyes, Call turned and walked out. Robert grumbled and hurried to follow Call. Call descended the stairs with Robert three steps behind him.

"Damn it, Call! It was an accident. I was there," Robert shouted.

"Ain't me you gotta convince," Call said. "Austin has a look in his eye."

"Accompany me then, please?" Robert urged as he made tracks for the sheriff's office. Call nodded and tucked his thumbs inside his holster belt and joined him.

*********************************

"How's it feel, Mosby?!" Austin shouted. "You locked me up and were going to hang me, you son of a bitch!"

Clay sat on the stained and dirty cot with his head slumped over. "I didn't mean to shoot her. Tell me, how is she faring? She will live, won't she?"

"For your sake, Mosby, you better hope so."

"You let me out of here right now, Austin, or . . ."

"Or, what?!" Austin smirked. "You can't pay your way out of this, Mosby. You'll hang for cold-blooded mur . . ."

"Shut your mouth, Peale!" Robert Shelby ordered.

Austin spun around. "Shelby! Call! I'm the law now."

"Are you all right, Clay?" Robert asked as he stepped to the cell which held Mosby.

Clay Mosby nodded. He looked at Call. "Come to gloat, have we, Call?"

Call shook his head. "That's the whiskey talking, Mosby."

"Robert! Unlock this door," Clay demanded.

"I'm the sheriff!" Austin loudly replied. "I say he stays put."

Walking up to within four inches of Austin's face, Robert calmly said, "you really don't want to be doing this to Clay Mosby, Sheriff Peale. I'll see to it that your moment of power turns into a nightmare."

Austin's eyes flinched. He turned to Call but there was no sign of support.

"Open the damn door!" Mosby said as he shook the cell door.

Austin's voice lowered. "She better not die, or . . ."

"Austin! Shut up!" Robert said as he snatched the jail keys from the sheriff and released Mosby from confinement. Robert left the keys swinging in the lock as he assisted the still-drunk Clay toward the door.

*******************************************

Unbob Finch had unwittingly erred by telling Dewey that Mattie might die. Poor Dewey began crying as he ran up the flight of stairs and burst into Dr. Cleese's office. Mason followed him, knowing he really couldn't blame Unbob for his actions.

"Mama! Mama! Don't die, Mama!" Dewey cried as he rushed to where Mattie laid unmoving. "Is . . . is she . . .?"

Dr. Cleese reached out to take hold of Dewey's muddy hand. "No, Dewey. Mattie will be fine."

"Why ain't she moving her eyes?" he nervously asked. His lower lip quivered.

"She's been hurt and needs a great deal of rest," the doctor replied. "I want you to remain here tonight with her, Dewey. Can you do that?"

Dewey nodded his head as he sniffled with his nose and making fists, he roughly wiped his tears.

Dr. Cleese turned to Josiah. "Josiah? Will you remain here until I come back? Mattie is out of danger. Her wounds have been sewed. I have a matter of great prominence to attend to."

"Uh, yes, Ephraim. By all means," Josiah replied as he sat down in a nearby chair.

Dr. Cleese quickly washed his hands clean of the blood and hastened out the door. As he reached the ground, Unbob approached.

Dr. Cleese paused to take hold of Unbob's arm. "It's all right, Unbob. Mattie is going to be fine."

"She is?"

"Yes, Unbob. She will require a great deal of rest in order to heal properly."

"Thanks, Dr. Cleese," Unbob said with a smile.

"Excuse me now, Unbob," the doctor said, "I must go."

************************************

"Robert! I must insist you unhand me," Clay complained. "I can walk without your help."

"Since I walked into your saloon hours ago, you have been behaving like a jackass, Clay. Now you hush and let on like everything is fine. We will be inside the Ambrosia in moments."

Clay twisted his head as he noticed Call walking not too far behind them on the afternoon, muddy street. He paused, pulling away from Robert's grasp. "You really don't deserve a decent woman like Miss Gretchen Brandt, Call."

Call ignored him and kept walking.

Mosby laughed. He started to open his mouth and say more but Robert grabbed him and yanked him up the steps in front of the Ambrosia Club.

******

Since falling in love with Gretchen, Call was finding himself less hair-trigger and angry. He didn't pay heed to Mosby's drunken comment as he noticed Dr. Cleese hurrying to go inside the dry goods store. Call was heading there himself and entered the Brandt Sisters store within seconds after the doctor.

Dr. Cleese turned. "Oh, Call." He turned back to the waiting Brandt Sisters. "Mattie Shaw will be fine."

There was a release of anxiety by all three sisters.

"She was quite fortunate," Dr. Cleese said, "considering that she was shot by a large caliber bullet at close range." He straightened his coat and held his chest slightly out. He looked at Victoria and smiled. "Have you said anything?"

Victoria smiled and shook her head.

"What?" Paige replied. "Said something about what?"

Gretchen went to Call and held him close. She turned her head. "Victoria?"

Ephraim looked at Call. "It would appear most fortuitous that you are also here, Call."

Victoria giggled. "Ephraim has asked me for my hand in marriage."

Both Gretchen and Paige screamed and ran to her. The three sisters began hugging and crying together.

Call frowned and shook his head. "Women," he muttered and stepped over to offer a congratulatory handshake to Dr. Cleese. "Kind of sudden-like, ain't it?"

Ephraim smiled proudly and nodded. "Well, I must admit that I have contemplated the prospect of holy matrimony with Miss Victoria ever since the Brandt Sisters arrived from Missouri. It was solely out of respect . . . and, perhaps apprehension, for Mr. Mosby and Mr. Shelby, that I did not disclose my sentiments." He smiled even more. "In conclusion, watching both Call and Gretchen wed yesterday and seeing how much in love and happy they truly were, I felt inspired to make my intentions known."

Gretchen and Paige both giggled. "Dr. Cleese," Gretchen said, "you are going to have to learn to speak simple English for Paige and I."

"Girls," Victoria scolded playfully. "Ephraim is going to be your brother-in-law. And, Paige. Don't fret. Ephraim has already shown me the house. It has three bedrooms. Paige, you're going to live with us."

Paige looked at Dr. Cleese. "Are you certain of this?"

"Of course I am," Ephraim replied. "You can hardly be expected to live alone. I prepared in advance for such an occasion."

Victoria giggled. "I think it is the perfect solution."

Paige curtseyed before Dr. Cleese. "Thank you, Ephraim. Thank you, Victoria."

The sisters set about that moment plans for a wedding to take place within the week.

*****************************

"Will she be all right, Robert?" Clay asked as he drank his third cup of coffee.

"You were lucky, Clay. The doctor said the bullet hit her rib and went out the side. She bled a lot." Robert paused as he placed the coffee pot back on the bar. He looked around the darkened saloon. "It's still afternoon and you haven't opened yet, Clay. How could you allow yourself to become so upset over that young Texan's wedding?"

Clay breathed out a sigh of frustration. "I truly don't know, Robert." He turned to look at his closest friend and smiled. "It would appear that I'm still not ready to let go of Mary. I miss her so, Robert. Those days . . . before the War . . ."

"Times change, Clay. Those times are gone. They are gone forever. Those damn Yankees destroyed our lives. I thought you and I could build something together up here. I came back to Curtis Wells to be with you, Clay." Robert laughed suddenly. "I propose we flip a coin, Clay. Whoever wins . . . has the right to Miz Victoria Brandt. Game?"

Clay laughed slightly. "Just like that, Robert. One of us goes and tells her she's been chosen to spend the rest of her life with whomever is fortunate?"

Robert groaned. "Clay! Look, I don't care what we do. I do not want you dwelling in the past. I can't go through it again, Clay. I can't and I won't!"

Clay didn't say anything immediately. There was silence inside the Ambrosia Club for a few minutes. "Perhaps I had better see how Mattie is doing."

"She's going to be needing her rest, Clay. I suggest you wait until tomorrow."

Clay nodded. "Of course, Robert. What would I do without you?"

****************************

Later that night Rosa turned from looking out at the cold darkness to watch Austin down another shot of cheap whiskey. "You should slow down, Sheriff. You won't be much use tomorrow morning when your head is pounding."

Austin glared at her. "Shut the hell up, Rosa. If it wasn't for that sonofabitch, Call, marrying that damn little bitch from Missouri, I wouldn't be this way."

Rosa shrugged. "You paid for all night. If you want to drink it away that's your choice."

"Shut up, I said!" Austin yelled as he backhanded Rosa across the mouth. Rosa hit the floor hard. There was a thin line of blood sliding down her chin. He grabbed her and threw her roughly on the bed then dropped his full weight of over two hundred pounds on top of her. Rosa struggled to breathe as Austin ripped at her clothes and violently forced himself inside her.

**********************************

It was somewhere around three in the morning when the silence was broken by the painful howling of a solitary coyote. Call woke with a start as his ears strained to hear any unusual sounds outside the Call home. The coyote could be heard for almost fifteen minutes crying for its mate. It was mating season.

Call finally relaxed. His bare chest was pressed closely against Gretchen's bare back. His arm around her. In her sleep she had reached out to take hold of his hand and squeeze it into her smaller hand. Her peaceful, rhythmic breathing was like a tonic for Call. It soothed his mind. He bent his head to lightly kiss Gretchen's neck and shoulder. She moaned softly and pulled his arm tighter against her stomach. The stomach that would soon carry their first child.

+++++++++++++++++++++ The End +++++++++++++++++++

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