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.


Only Three in a Bed
(29th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

There are pleasanter ways of sleeping, to be sure,
but there are times when any way is a blessing.

(Virginia City Revisited - J. Ross Browne, 1865)

Mrs. Ashley Mosby was at the small, oak table penning letters to family in New Orleans and across the lake, nearby in Slidell, when her husband brought the news.

"I trust you will find this to your satisfaction, my dear Ashley," Clay Mosby remarked. He handed her a poster.

Ashley read it.

Engagement Limited To Six Nights And Two Matinees!
The Miles City Dance Hall Presents:
The Queen Of Variety: Miss Lotta Crabtree
Performing Ballads! Melodramatic Roles! Exotic Dances!
Also Appearing: M'lle. Josephine Morlacchi
Premiere Danseuse In Satin Slippers!

Ashley gazed at Clay. "Why, I simply must attend one performance, Clay, darling."

"Consider it my wedding present to you, my dear."

"This little ol' thing? I thought the mansion you intend to build was going to be my wedding present?" Ashley stood up. Her arm was in a sling. "And I suggest you find suitable servants for me, Clay. Someone has to do the menial chores." She looked around the small house Clay had relocated her to -- the house behind the Montana Statesman, where the Brandt Sisters had stayed upon their arrival in Curtis Wells. "I've only been in this . . . plain, little house for a few days. I'm bored, Clay. Neither of us will tolerate it here. It is befitting for us to live in the largest, most elegant home in the entire territory."

"I am in complete agreement with you, Ashley," Clay replied.

"I can understand those Missouri sisters living here. Commoners. I do hope the servants you hire are properly trained." Ashley took Clay's hand, pulling him into the small bedroom.

She put her hand on his thigh and slowly slid it up to his crotch, rubbing him. "Stay with me, Clay. I want you now." Ashley flashed him a seductive smile, licking her full lips.

Clay grinned and began to unbutton his white, ruffled shirt.

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

Mrs. Scully was delighted to hear Victoria and Gretchen were both pregnant. She had taken a liking to Gretchen, ever since she and Call spent the night sleeping in her barn, before her husband sold the house to the young couple.

"You both are glowing!" Mrs. Scully remarked. "There is something about carrying a baby that causes a woman to light up. You both have that look."

Victoria and Gretchen smiled contently.

"Whose child is that, Mrs. Scully?" Paige asked, pointing to the small boy clinging tightly to Mrs. Scully's hand.

"This is our grandson. His name is Petey and he's three and a half years old. Our son is visiting with our daughter-in-law."

Paige took a penny out of her pocket and put it in the cash register. She opened a glass jar of peppermint sticks, pulled one out, and getting on her knees, handed it to Petey. "He's adorable, Mrs. Scully. Our mother is going to have two grandchildren later this year. And I'm going to be an auntie."

Mrs. Scully walked up to Gretchen. "Is your husband ready to raise a child, Mrs. Call?"

"It will be new for both of us," Gretchen said.

"Newt is going to have difficulty when you have the baby, Gretchen," Victoria commented.

"Yes. I'm afraid he might," Gretchen replied. "He doesn't know the first thing about children. But I'm not concerned. I'm really not. I know he will love our first child."

"Even though the two of you love each other very much," Mrs. Scully said, "a baby will strain your marriage at times. Just be patient, Mrs. Call." Mrs. Scully turned to Victoria. "I would imagine that being slightly older, you and that handsome doctor you married will fare better than your younger sister."

"I'm sure we will have our moments," Victoria replied.

"Petey! No!" Paige cried, as the infant was painting his face with flour from a bag he had gotten into.

Mrs. Scully laughed and picked up the small child. "I better bring him home. He should have his nap now. Well, good day, ladies. Let's chat again."

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

Quick to determine a course of action, Newt Call decided to make the trip to Hat Creek alone. Gretchen had protested that it was still early in her pregnancy, it being five and a half months until the baby was due. Then, this business about Lotta Crabtree came up. Gretchen wouldn't say it, but Call knew she wanted to see her perform. Knowing how much it was going to cost them to travel by stage and train to Missouri in a few weeks, she wasn't about to put another hardship on her husband. It would have to satisfy hearing about Lotta Crabtree from her sisters.

He brought Gretchen into town, walking her into her sisters' dry goods store. He had little interest in sitting quietly in a theater, dressed like it was Sunday, watching folks playact and sing. It was his love for Gretchen that led to the decision that she would accompany her sisters and Ephraim to see Lotta Crabtree, while he settled matters with the Captain. It was a good plan. He would tell her tonight.

Call walked into the Ambrosia, finding a quiet spot at the end of the bar.

"What are you doing in here, Call?" Austin smirked. "Since you got hitched you hardly drink."

Call ignored Austin, staring at the mirror behind the bar. It was plain enough Austin already had a few drinks. Mosby folded his arms, watching.

Realizing he was being ignored angered Austin. "Hey, Mosby. Your wife sure is beautiful. Can't say the same about your wife, Call." Austin laughed.

"I don't see no woman at your side," Call said, staring at the mirror. "Must be a reason no one takes to you."

Austin's face reddened. "You son of a bitch," he muttered. "Three sisters. And you end up with the plain one. Hey, Call? When you poke her, do you put a blanket over her face?"

Call spun and threw his fist into Austin's jaw. "Bastard!" Call hit Austin in the face again before Austin threw his beer in Call's face, temporarily blinding him. Austin grabbed the shorter Call and drove his larger fist into his face three times.

Bam! "That is enough!" Mosby yelled, firing his pistol into the ceiling.

Call shook loose from Austin and grabbed his throat, trying to squeeze with his hands, as both men toppled to the floor. "You sonofabitch!" Call yelled. Austin's face was turning red.

"Get him out of here!" Mosby yelled, signaling two of his men. Zeke and Pratt pried the out-of-control Call off of the sheriff and dragged him kicking, out the doors and flung him off the steps, into the street.

Mrs. Scully had just left the dry goods and Gretchen and Paige were outside waving to little Petey when Call rolled into the street. "Call?!" Gretchen cried. They both gathered up their skirts and ran up the street. "Oh, Call!" Gretchen moaned, bending down, "not again?"

Call stood up, staring at the saloon. His eyes were blazing -- he was set on going back inside the saloon.

Zeke and Pratt aimed their guns at Call. "It's done! Just stay out, Call!"

"What was it about this time, Call?" Gretchen quietly asked.

He turned to her. In his eyes, she was the prettiest girl he ever saw. He shook his head. "Nothing, Gretchen. Just a difference of opinions, is all." He tried to calm down.

"Gretchen patches you up, then you go right back and cut your face," Paige replied. "We better not bring him in the store, Gretchen. You know how Victoria gets."

"I don't need no patching up," Call argued. He smiled at his wife. "Got something to tell you."

Gretchen smiled. "What is it, Call?"

Austin stepped out of the saloon with Mosby. Austin rubbed his mouth, his face slightly puffed. He glared at the three of them then headed for the sheriff's office. Mosby looked at Gretchen. "I suggest you put a muzzle on him, Mrs. Call, before letting him run wild next time."

Gretchen stared angrily at Mosby, then took Call's arm. "Come on, Call. Let's go where no one will pester us."

***

"Remember the first time you brought me up here, Call?" Gretchen asked. There was warmth and contentment in her green eyes.

Call nodded. "Yep." He looked out at the wooden dwellings strung in an odd shape below the hill.

Gretchen nuzzled close to her husband. "What did you want to tell me, Call?"

"Just that . . . I'm taking you with me to Miles City. I want you going with your sisters to see Lotta Crabtree while I ride out to see the Cap'n."

Gretchen's face lit up. "Really, Call?! But . . . the money?"

"I reckon we can afford this. Ain't as if you get to see her all regular like, now is it?"

"Thank you, Call," Gretchen whispered in his ear. "But what do you get?"

He looked at his wife, smiling. "I get you, Little Coyote. Don't hardly require nothing else."

Gretchen stood up from the log that was their secret place. She tugged at Call's arm, pulling him to his feet. "Come on, Call! Hurry! I can't wait to tell Victoria and Paige I'm going with them! Thank you, Sweetheart!" She twirled around once. "I'm going to see Lotta Crabtree!"

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

Later that afternoon, Dewey stomped up the steps and into the back of the gunsmith shop. "Mama! Mama! Look what I found!"

"Oh, for goodness sake, Dewey," Mattie groaned as she walked out from behind her gun counter. "What are you . . . ? Oh!"

"Howdy do, Miss Shaw."

"Hello, Mason," Mattie said, smiling.

Dewey laughed. "See, Mama? I found Mason." He looked up at the Texan. "What was I s'posed to say again?"

Mason bent down and whispered in Dewey's ear. Dewey shook his head, laughing. His face reddened. He reached behind Mason's back, taking the flower out of his hand. "Here, Mama. This is . . . um . . . this is . . . as pretty as you." He handed her the flower and still blushing, ran out the back door. "Bye, Mason!" he yelled.

"Adios, amigo," Mason replied.

Mattie looked at Mason. "That was nice of you. He seems to favor you more than anyone else in town. Even Unbob."

"Miss Shaw? I'll wager you and Dewey never heard about the time the Concho County boys cheated a half dozen Apaches in a race with an old plug of a pony and a lame burro?"

Mattie stared at Mason's smiling face, not sure if he was joshing her. She finally laughed. "No, Mr. Dobbs. We haven't heard that tale."

"Well then," Mason replied, "if you'll both take supper with me, I'd venture to say that I will entertain you with tales that may or may not be exaggerated." He winked at Mattie.

Mattie agreed. "That would be nice." It would help take her thoughts off of Clay Mosby's rejection of her.

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

Saturday, March 4,1882. Mammoth clouds ominously covered the great expanse above, waiting to spew its icy contents to the earth below. Though the parties bound for Miles City pulled out from two separate locations, the three wagons reached the Dance Hall where Miss Lotta Crabtree was performing, at almost the same moment. Clay Mosby, along with his wife, Ashley, and closest friend, Robert Shelby, shared one wagon. Dr. Ephraim Cleese and his wife, Victoria, shared one of the two wagons that rode out from the Call house. Call and his wife, Gretchen, as well as the youngest Brandt sister, Paige, shared the third wagon.

"I wish you were going inside with me, Call," Gretchen softly groaned. "I'll miss you so much. Tell the Captain I'm thinking of him."

Call held his wife close. "You best set your mind on this here show, Gretchen. It's fixing to snow. By the looks of them clouds, the sooner we head back home . . ."

Gretchen kissed her husband. "Be careful, Call. Come back to us."

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

The performers both received multiple standing ovations. M'lle Guiseppina Morlacchi had come from Milan, Italy, first performing at Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa in '56. She performed at Her Majesty's Theatre in England and the Royal Theatre in Barcelona, Spain. She came to America and married the famous Texas Jack Omohundro, a friend of William F. Cody, himself.

For this matinee, which delighted the Brandt Sisters, the Mosby's, and the entire audience, M'lle Morlacchi performed four exquisite dances, entitled Love's Battle or Fairy Transformations. She thrilled the audience with her Spanish Bolera and Polish Mazurka.

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

Call led the two-horse team out of Miles City, riding the trail for Hat Creek. It didn't bother him to give up bounty hunting. Gretchen was right. He had responsibilities now. She was carrying their first child and it was likely she would conceive and give birth a few more times before she would finish bearing children. A man had to think about the needs of his family. Call knew he was fortunate. Gretchen didn't require a whole closet full of dresses or more shoes than was practical. She wasn't concerned with wealth or impressing others with her standing in the community. She married Call because she loved him more than anything she had ever felt before. He married her for the same reason.

Hat Creek was busy with daily chores as Call steered the wagon underneath the wooden sign, onto the ranch. Some of the boys were breaking new mounts in the large corral -- others building a new barn a hundred yards down from the main house.

Augustina Vega was the first to notice Call. She turned aside from the vaqueros and rode to meet him. "Senor Newt! It is so good to see you once again."

Call nodded. "The Cap'n around?"

"Si. He is inside the cabin with Senor Isom and Senor Pea Eye. There are horse thieves in Montana. He plans to send a man west to Grassrange. A telegram came. Hat Creek horses were found. Come, I will go with you."

Call drew the buckboard to a halt in front of the main cabin and climbed down. He stepped inside the open door. "Cap'n. Howdy, Pea. Isom."

Captain Call stared at his son.

"Howdy, Newt," Pea Eye smiled.

Isom Pickett laughed, shook his head, sucked in deep as he lit his pipe, blew out a load of tobacco, then extended his hand to Newt. "Where's Mrs. Call?"

"Miles City. With her sisters," Newt replied.

"As I recall," Woodrow said, "last time we had occasion to speak I made you an offer."

"Yessir, Cap'n," Newt nodded. "I reckon that's why I'm here."

Woodrow Call looked at Newt -- gazing at the cut on his cheek. "You find misfortune or is it the other way around?"

"Other way around, Cap'n," Newt replied. "I didn't take kindly to something said about Gretchen."

Isom spit air as he broke up laughing. "Oh, you gonna have yourself a fine grandson, Cap'n. A fine one."

"Could be his wife has a girl," Pea Eye mentioned. "Then it wouldn't be a grandson."

Newt lifted his hand toward his head, as if remembering something. "Gretchen asked me to tell you she was thinking of you, Cap'n."

Isom Pickett nodded. "You got yourself a fine little daughter-in-law, Cap'n."

Woodrow Call ignored the comments about Gretchen. He looked Newt in the eye and said, "I expect you'll earn your wages. I won't allow for unfairness."

Newt stared his father in the eye. "I expect so, Cap'n. I reckon it'll be like it's always been."

"Come with me," Woodrow said, "got someone I want you to see." He walked out the door. Newt followed him.

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

Clay Mosby and his new bride, Ashley, sat reserved as they enjoyed the performances. Robert Shelby sat dignified as well. Across the theater, Ephraim and Victoria Cleese also sat with modest quiet as they watched with fondness. It was the younger Brandt Sisters, Gretchen and Paige who were more animated. Commenting about the white gloves worn by the ushers and the red velvet curtains behind the stage. They had to be scolded on more than one occasion by Victoria for whispering too loudly.

They settled down when Lotta Crabtree appeared on the stage. The thirty-four year old redhead wore the most beautiful, most expensive looking gown they had ever seen. Miss Crabtree began by acknowledging those who were instrumental in her success. Her mother, Mary Ann Livesey Crabtree, took a bow in her usual black dress. She thanked Miss Lola Montez, the Countess of Landsfeldt. Then, in tribute to Miss Montez, she smoked a small, thinly rolled, black cigar.

Mrs. Ashley Mosby, as well as the Brandt Sisters, were all captivated as Lotta Crabtree reprised melodramatic roles from Uncle Tom's Cabin, Jenny Leatherlungs, and Little Nell and the Marchioness, which was her greatest success. She gracefully accepted dozens of bouquets of flowers tossed onto the stage and stood patiently for each standing ovation given by the thrilled audience.

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

Woodrow Call and Newt walked to where the horses were being broken. Some of the Hat Creek boys -- Needle, Lippy, Jasper -- waved their hats and whooped at Newt. One man, facing the corral, turned to look.

"Dish?!" Newt said. "I swear!"

Dish Boggett stared at Newt. He squinted. "Newt?! Damn! It is you!"

Both men grabbed each other by the arms. Newt had always favored Dish back in Lonesome Dove, Texas, before the drive north. Dish, being the youngest of the Captain's men, was more like a brother to Newt.

"Hell, Cap'n!" Dish teased, "by the look of it, ol' Newt here must be as uncivilized as the Sioux. Where you been, Newt?"

Newt smiled. "It's good to see you, Dish."

"I'm sending Dish with you," Woodrow said. "We got word some of our stock ended up in Grassrange, not far off from you. He'll bring them back."

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

"She's the most talented person I ever saw," Paige whispered to Gretchen.

Lotta Crabtree played the piano. She played the violin. She paused during one song to playfully wriggle at the gentlemen seated in the left balcony. Robert Shelby whispered to Clay that he had read that no one could wriggle more suggestively than Lotta Crabtree and that she had mastered the suggestive double entendre. Ashley raised her eyebrows, somewhat shocked.

Miss Crabtree continued her outstanding performance by playing the banjo, singing Irish ballads, and dancing an Irish jig. She concluded her act with entertaining scenes from the play, Pet of the Petticoats.

As she took bow after bow, Paige excitedly said that Lotta Crabtree had made eye contact with her.

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

It had already begun to snow when Newt Call and Dish Boggett rode out from Hat Creek, on their way back to Miles City.

"I'm pleased to hear the Cap'n finally gave you your rightful name, Newt," Dish commented, riding alongside the wagon.

"You knew?" Call replied.

"Hell! We all knew. Ol' Gus used to tell us most every month." Dish took a long look at Newt. "You sure growed up, Newt. I almost didn't recognize you in that outfit. Pea said you got yourself a wife now."

Call nodded, smiling. "Her name's Gretchen. I reckon she's just about the finest woman ever made. Gonna have us a baby later this year, Dish."

Dish shook his head. "I swear! Little Newt. A wife and a baby. Damn! If that just don't beat all." Dish suddenly lowered his head. "I had hoped to marry Laurie. You remember her, Newt? Miss Wood."

Call nodded again. "Yep. As I recall, you took the starch out of Jasper over her."

"I truly loved her," Dish replied. "At least I thought I did. I followed her all the way into Utah. Last I saw of her was in Salt Lake. Laurie made it clear that she'd never confess to feelings about me like I had for her. She went on to San Francisco. I ended up back at Clara Allen's for a while. I never met anyone since Laurie that I had any feelings for."

"How long you been back with the Cap'n?"

"About a week now," Dish said. He looked up at the snow. It was beginning to fall harder. "Damn! This ain't the kind of weather for a woman carrying a baby to be exposed to."

"Not hardly," Call agreed. "She's got two sisters with her. One of them's carrying a baby. Won't hardly be fitting for them to travel soon."

Dish didn't say anything. There wasn't anything to say. He was riding with Newt to Curtis Wells then continuing west to Grassrange. "I sure do miss ol' Gus," he finally said.

Call nodded. "And, Deets. Jake, too."

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

Amanda Carpenter threw her arms in the air. She stepped into the street then turned once more, placing her hands on her hips.

"What's the matter, Amanda?" Austin Peale asked.

"I don't believe this!" she grumbled. "Why is the dry goods closed? It's Saturday."

Austin smirked. "Haven't you heard?"

"Heard what?"

"Those Missouri girls went to Miles City to see Lotta Crabtree."

"Oh, well that's just fine!" Amanda replied. "It's snowing and I need new blankets in the hotel and they close up like it was Sunday. How do they expect to run a business if they don't open?"

"You're going to need more than a few new blankets, by the look of things," Josiah added, joining the pair.

Austin turned. "What are you talking about?"

Josiah pointed upward. "Just look! Up there. There's a storm coming."

Austin sighed. "I better warn the folks in tent town." He looked at Amanda. "I suggest you just pay extra and get your blankets from Creel before he sells out."

Amanda tightened her shawl around her shoulders and headed up the street toward the general store, still grumbling.

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

By the time Call and Dish Boggett rode into Miles City, the crowd was exiting the dance hall where Lotta Crabtree had performed. Folks chatted with excitement as they retold each other the parts they most favored, while hastening to get out of the snow.

"There she is," Call said, pointing to the three Brandt Sisters as they pulled up.

"She's beautiful, Newt," Dish replied. "She even has blue eyes."

"They ain't blue, Dish," Call said. "Gretchen's eyes are green."

Confused, Dish frowned. "I ought to know blue when I see it. Are you telling me her hair's not yellow either, Newt?"

"That's Paige. Gretchen's younger sister." Call jumped to the cold ground as Gretchen ran to hug him, giggling happily.

Dish stared at Paige Brandt. Paige Brandt stared at Dish.

"Oh, Call! It was wonderful. We had such a good time," Gretchen said to her husband.

Call held his wife and turned. "This here's Dish Boggett. Me and him come up from Texas together on the drive. This here's my wife, Gretchen. Them are her sisters. Victoria and Paige. That's Ephraim.

Gretchen curtseyed. "Hello, Mr. Boggett. Call's spoken highly of you."

Victoria curtseyed and Ephraim smiled, saying, "actually, I'm a physician. Dr. Ephraim Cleese."

Paige stared at Dish, then curtseyed. "Mr. Boggett. I'm very pleased to meet a friend of Call's."

Dish attempted to acknowledge all of them. He made sure to remove his hat and shook hands with Gretchen. "Mrs. Call." He stared at Paige, forgetting everyone else, while the youngest Brandt sister stared just as much. "Uh . . . Miss Brandt," he finally stammered.

"We best leave now," Call urged. "Bound to be a sizable amount of snow." He helped Gretchen up into the wagon and Dish rushed to offer his assistance to a most willing Paige. Ephraim helped Victoria into their wagon and as Dish mounted his horse, Clay and Ashley Mosby came by.

"It's a shame that you can't afford to stay over in the hotel, Call," Clay mocked. "Perhaps if you and your wife were more ambitious, hmm?"

Call looked at Mosby. "Be best if you got out right now, Mosby."

"Oh, hardly, Mr. Call. Unlike you, I can afford to stay over in the warmth of a fine hotel. Do drive safe now."

Ashley Mosby smiled and nodded a greeting to all three of the Brandt Sisters.

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

Less than an hour after pulling out from Miles City, just beyond the bluffs, a frigid wind blew its chilly breath across the barren, white plains, causing the sisters to shudder from the icy cold.

"This ain't no fitting weather for these women, Newt!" Dish shouted. He had plodded alongside the wagon, staring at Paige every time he suspected she wasn't looking at him.

"Can't stop now," Call replied, squinting to see through the wind and sleet that was now blowing sideways. Gretchen huddled as close to Call as she could, tucking her face into his back.

Dish began pulling his coat off. Paige's face lit up as she coyly watched from the corner of her eye.

Call shook his head. "What're you doing, Dish? You set on freezing?"

"I thought Miss Brandt would stay warmer," Dish replied.

"I have a blanket around me, Mr. Boggett," Paige said, smiling at Dish.

"Just . . . put your jacket on, Dish. I got enough grief trying to get these two wagons through these drifts," Call groaned.

Paige continued to smile at Dish Boggett as they moved slowly through the snow and wind.

Ephraim was struggling to guide the horses, not being adept at this type of situation. Dish turned his mount and took hold of the horses, pulling. "I think I better take the reins. You two climb in back and stay close to each other. Dish tied his horse to the rear of the wagon and hurried to pull behind Call. "Just keep going, Newt!" Dish yelled, "I'll be right behind you." He looked behind him. Ephraim's hands were stinging from holding the reins -- even with gloves on his hands. Victoria placed her husbands hands between hers, trying to provide circulation.

"Call?" Gretchen quietly asked, "can we go any faster?"

"Not hardly," he replied. "One of these horses come up lame or we break an axle hitting a boulder . . ." he didn't have to finish saying it. Gretchen knew her husband was intent on moving forward as quickly as he safely could. There were two unborn babies he had to think of, besides his wife and her sisters.

"You can do it, Call," Gretchen said, pushing her chin into his back.

The air was thick with the whirling snow falling so rapidly that it gave a feeling of suffocation to the weary travelers.

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

As the faint light of day was quickly disappearing, the wagons reached the Call house. "Ephraim!" Call yelled out. "You best spend the night here. You ain't likely to get home in the dark. I'd be obliged if you'd go inside and start a fire while I get all these horses in the barn, out of this weather."

"Yes, of course, Call," Ephraim replied, helping Victoria off the wagon.

Dish jumped down. "I'll help you unhitch these horses, then I'm riding for Grassrange."

Paige tugged Call's sleeve. "Call, don't let him go." She stared at her brother-in-law with concern, as well as interest.

Call nodded, laughing once. "You ain't going nowhere in this storm, Dish. You best stay with us tonight."

"You're the best brother, Call," Paige whispered, giggling slightly.

"I'm obliged to you, Newt," Dish quietly said as Call joined him. "Tell you the truth, I was hoping you wouldn't let me ride out."

The sisters and Ephraim went inside the small house. Ephraim started the fire while Gretchen set about preparing a meal for their guests.

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

There weren't enough plates for six people. In her moments of anger, Gretchen had broken plates on more than one occasion. This was the first opportunity the Call's had to feed more than three. Bowls were brought out -- the few that hadn't been smashed to the floor.

"Thank you kindly, Mrs. Call," Dish said. "I believe this is some of the tastiest stew I ever ate."

"And I'm a better cook than Gretchen," Paige modestly replied, sitting next to Dish near the fireplace.

Gretchen nudged Call. "Paige is smitten by your friend, Call," she whispered.

Call nodded. "By the look of it, I'd say Dish got himself smitten, too."

Gretchen giggled, wiped her hands on her apron, then counted who was there. "I suppose we should figure out just who's sleeping where?" She looked around the room. "If we put Victoria and Ephraim in the other . . .? No. Hmm! One, two, three. One, two . . . we can put three in each bed."

Call frowned. "Well, just who you set on bedding down with us, Gretchen?"

Gretchen laughed. "Call, you're so silly. Three girls in one bed. Three men in the . . . !"

There was a sudden knocking on the door. Call walked the short distance, opening the door.

"Forgive me," Clay Mosby said, holding his wife, Ashley against him. "It would appear that I am entirely at your mercy." Ashley was coughing. Robert Shelby was with them.

"Mosby?" Call mumbled.

Gretchen hastened past her husband. "Come inside. All of you," she ordered. "There's plenty of room and warm food."

"Thank you, cough, Mrs. Call, cough, cough" Ashley said. Her face and hands were red from the cold.

"You are most kind, Mrs. Call," Clay Mosby replied as he helped his new bride inside the already-crowded house. "I regret the harsh words I spoke the other day."

"What's the matter, Mosby?" Call said. "That hotel in Miles City not up to your standards?"

Ashley paused from coughing, quietly whispering to her husband, "he certainly is unruly and quarrelsome even under desperate occasions."

"Yes. Quite," Clay softly replied. "His wife must be a saint since she seems to be the only person who's ever brought out his decent side." Clay turned to Call. "No, Mr. Call. I hadn't anticipated this severe snow storm would fill up the hotel before we attempted to secure a room."

Gretchen took Ashley by the arm. "Come with me, Mrs. Mosby. We should get you out of these wet clothes and wrap you in a blanket." Still coughing, Ashley graciously allowed Gretchen to lead her into the bedroom that would be the baby's room, eventually.

Call frowned at Mosby. "I'll see to your horses." He lowered his head and stepped out into the cold night.

"Thank you," Clay said.

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

An hour had gone by, Call didn't return. Gretchen organized where everyone would spend the night in the small house. Her two sisters, Victoria and Paige, and Ashley Mosby, would sleep together in Call and Gretchen's bed. Clay Mosby, Robert Shelby, and Ephraim, would bunk together in the extra room. Dish volunteered to sleep on the floor near the fire, saying it was like being at Hat Creek with the Captain.

"I simply cannot abide your generous decision, Mrs. Call," Clay Mosby insisted. "I am quite sure Mr. Shelby will support me if we refuse to accept your hospitality and you, Mrs. Call, are left to sleep either in a chair, or the cold floor."

Robert enthusiastically agreed. "We would never hear of that, Mrs. Call. As Southern gentlemen, we must insist you take a bed."

Gretchen looked quickly around the crowded room. "Well, I suppose I could sleep in one bed with both of my sisters. And, you, Mr. Mosby, can share the baby's room with Mrs. Mosby."

"I am quite used to sleeping in chairs, as sometimes happens, being a doctor," Ephraim said.

"Then, we are all in agreement," Clay replied. "However, I feel that Ashley and I would be willing to share our bed with Mr. Shelby. Correct, my dear?"

Ashley smiled, looking at Robert. "Yes, Clay. That would be fine."

"If you insist, Clay," Robert said, smiling at Ashley.

****

Gretchen had learned early on in her pursuit of winning Call's sincere and undying love that there were occasions when it was best to let him brood. Both Call and Gretchen had a sizable temper and a houseful of unexpected guests wasn't the proper time for arguing. Gretchen, of course, knew exactly why her husband hadn't returned. It was the amount of people in the house. He didn't favor crowds.

Gretchen quietly walked up to Call in the barn. "Well, if my husband won't come back in the house, I suppose I'll just have to come get him."

He spun around. "Gretchen!"

"Everyone is settled in bed, Call."

"You shouldn't be out here, Gretchen."

She looked at the pile of hay they had slept on during the wind storm before Call asked her to be his wife. "Remember the first time we slept in here, Call?"

Call nodded.

"You took such good care of me." She smiled and hugged him.

"I best bring you back inside the house. I reckon a woman carrying a baby belongs in there, not out here."

"Anything you say, Call."

Call stared at Gretchen's hypnotic green eyes and melted. He laughed, taking her hand and

leading her back into the house.

"I'll sleep in our bed with Paige and Victoria. Mr. Mosby and his wife are in the baby's room with Mr. Shelby," Gretchen told her husband.

"Shelby's in bed with both of them?" Call said. "Seems kind of strange, don't it?"

"I suppose it's their business whatever they do, Call," Gretchen replied.

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

It was impossible to rightly say what time it was. The only sounds shattering the silence of night were Ashley Mosby's coughing and restlessness. Paige decided to climb out of bed, and step outside. No one had been prepared for this unforeseen occurrence and she had to quietly pull all her clothes back on. It wasn't considered a hardship, since Ashley's coughing prevented Paige from obtaining any decent sleep, even though they were separated by a wall.

It was a simple task for the youngest Brandt sister to navigate the darkened house. She surmised it to be near dawn, by the nearly extinguished flames that labored to lick the air, inside the fireplace. Paige opened the door and stepped onto the porch. The silence was deafening. No birds chirping. No wind. Just an endless sea of white -- fresh snow covering ground, barren trees, and drifts on three sides of the small house. She shivered, grasping her arms across her chest. "It's so cold," she quietly mumbled.

Suddenly, she heard crunching sounds -- someone approaching in the snow. It frightened her. "Who . . . who's there?" she whispered in a loud, hoarse voice. An Indian had the ability to sneak up and without warning, she could be whisked away, possibly never to be found again. Paige back peddled, her hand reaching nervously for the doorknob, grasping only air. "Go away!" she weakly cried.

"Miss Brandt?! What are you doing out here?"

Paige put her shaking hand over her heart. It was pounding. Her breasts heaved. They were larger and fuller than Gretchen's, even with the baby inside her. "Dish! Uh . . . I . . . I mean, Mr. Boggett. You frightened me something awful just now." She laughed nervously, sighing deeply as she closed her eyes in relief, leaning against the closed door.

"Are you all right, Miss Brandt?" Dish asked, stepping onto the snow-covered porch. He had just come back from relieving himself around the side of the house. "You're shivering. Here, put this on." Dish quickly pulled his jacket off and offered it to Paige. She stared at him for a moment, smiled, then nodded as she stretched her arms, allowing Dish easier access in placing the garment on her. "You shouldn't be out here alone, Miss Brandt."

"But, you're with me, Mr. Boggett," she informed him. Her confidence quickly returning, she said, "isn't it lovely?"

Dish frowned. "I . . . guess so. Uh, what do you mean?"

Paige giggled softly. "It's so beautiful out here. It isn't at all like back home."

"Back home? Where's home?"

Paige looked at Dish. She liked his unusual mustache. "Oh! Missouri, Mr. Boggett. My sisters and I came out here last spring from St. Joseph. It used to be called St. Michael's Prairie. That was a long time ago. Did you know that?"

"I never knew that," Dish replied. He was enjoying himself with a girl for the first time since leaving Lorena Wood in Salt Lake.

"I'm afraid Call is going to be in for a most difficult experience when he and Gretchen travel back there in a few weeks," Paige remarked. "There aren't a lot of men that dress or look like him in St. Joseph. Mother and Father certainly are in for quite a surprise when Gretchen shows up with her husband." She laughed then quickly covered her mouth. "Oh, my! I hope I didn't waken anyone?"

Dish put his hands on his hips. "I got an idea, Miss Brandt."

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

Gretchen was already making coffee and biscuits when Victoria emerged from the bedroom.

"Good morning," Victoria smiled.

Gretchen giggled. "Good morning to you, valentine. Curl your locks as I do mine. Two before, and three behind."

Victoria shook her head. "She always liked saying that, Newt. Oh? Where's Paige?"

Call paused. "She ain't in bed still?"

Victoria grew concerned. "She's not in your bedroom, Gretchen. Newt? Would you please find her?"

"She's probably out in the barn with the horses," Gretchen replied. "I'll go with you, Call."

Call nodded and headed for the barn. They looked around, finding nothing, then came outside.

"Morning, Gretchen."

Call's wife turned, hearing Paige's voice. "Paige Brandt! Where have you been? Victoria's worried."

Paige came from behind the house with Dish. Her hair was slightly messy. Both their faces were red.

Gretchen stared at her younger sister for a moment. "You better fix your hair before Victoria sees you. You know how much trouble she gave me when I stayed in the livery with Call most of the night."

Paige nodded. "All we did was . . ."

"It's all right, Paige," Gretchen said. "Just straighten yourself. You know what a mother hen Victoria can be."

***

Clay and Robert had come out of the room they slept in. Both men's faces were drawn, as if worn out from a long night.

"I must admit, Mrs. Call," Clay Mosby said as Gretchen and the others entered the house, "your ability to relegate is quite commendable. Now, if my lovely wife will grace us with her appearance, we will make a hasty departure."

Victoria turned from the stove. "Oh! There you are, Paige. Where were you?"

Paige's face reddened. She bit her lower lip and glanced at Dish. "Um . . . I was just outside looking at the snow, Victoria. With Mr. Boggett."

"Excuse me, Doctor?" Clay Mosby said. "Would you be kind enough to have a look at my wife? She had a rather poor night of it. Coughing. Restlessness."

Dr. Cleese agreed. Taking his medical bag, he went alone into the room, closing the door.

"I shall hitch the team, Clay," Robert Shelby said. "Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Call. Mrs. Call."

"I best bring the horses out and hitch your wagon, Victoria," Call said. "Come on, Gretchen."

"I need to ride," Dish mentioned. "The Captain don't go in for sitting around."

"I'll walk outside with you, Mr. Boggett," Paige replied. "Will I see you again?" she quietly whispered.

"I'd like to pay a visit on my way back to Hat Creek. Ought to be simple enough to find that dry goods store of yours." He stared at her. "Miss Brandt."

***********

Dr. Cleese emerged from the small bedroom and looked at Clay Mosby.

"Well, Doctor?" Clay inquired.

"Keep her bundled and warm," Ephraim suggested. "It isn't snowing so I see no reason for alarm. She merely has a cough. Just observe her, Clay."

Clay Mosby thanked the Call's for their generosity, then bundled his wife and walked her out to where Robert sat waiting in the wagon. Clay gently assisted as Robert helped Ashley up onto the springy bench seat, where Clay joined them.

Dish rode west for Grassrange but his thoughts were only of returning and seeing Paige Brandt.

Ephraim waited in the wagon as Gretchen and her sisters hugged each other, before Victoria and Paige climbed up to return to their house. Paige was reliving her moments of embracing and kissing Dish behind the house.

Gretchen took Call's hand and led him into their house. "We're finally all alone, Call."

Call smiled. "Seems to me we should go climb into bed for a spell, Coyote Girl."

Gretchen giggled and pulled her husband into their small bedroom.

***

As Robert led the wagon over the first hill, Clay turned to Ashley. "That was quite ingenious of you my dear, Ashley. Coughing most of the night."

Ashley grinned. "Why, Clay, darling, how else could the three of us disguise our activities in such a small house, with all those people?" She laughed. "Between the two of you, I am quite worn out!"

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

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