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.


You Made Your Bed
(44th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

You know it works, Jake.
You ride with an outlaw,
you die with an outlaw.

(Gus McCrae -- Lonesome Dove)

Suzanne Van Atta stared at Dr. Cleese. "There must be some mistake, Doctor. Surely, you have erred?"

Ephraim shook his head. "I'm quite positive, Mrs. Van Atta. There is no mistake. You are indeed pregnant. You are already two months along."

"Well," Elizabeth Dewberry, Suzanne's younger sister, said, "that explains why you've been feeling ill in the mornings as of late. Imagine that? Once poor Theodore is dead, you conceive a child."

"Oh, stop your babbling, Beth. Do you find this amusing?" Suzanne replied.

"Perhaps the father should be notified?" Dr. Cleese suggested, observing the quarreling sisters.

"The father?" Suzanne mocked. She laughed, shaking her head. "No, Dr. Cleese. I think it is best if my sister and I quietly gather our things and leave Curtis Wells as soon as possible."

"I wish you would reconsider, Mrs. Van Atta," Ephraim protested. "This is a rather small town. There is not much that occurs in which folks are not aware of."

Elizabeth reached out to comfort her sister, stroking her somewhat lank hair. "He is correct, Suzanne. Everyone knows you have been carrying on with Mr. Mosby. I believe him to be a man of honor. He'll want to know so he can provide for you and the child."

With that astute remark, Suzanne reconsidered. "Yes, you're right, Beth. He's as much to blame for what happened."

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

When Captain Woodrow Call led the small rescue party to the slow-moving, wandering wagon, Gretchen Call found solace in the fact that her body, which was nearing complete exhaustion -- she very likely couldn't have gone much further -- would find needed rest in the safe surrounding at Hat Creek. As long as Pea Eye drove the wagon, until they reached the ranch, she refused to nod off to the sleep she desperately craved. She laid next to her injured husband and held their tiny daughter.

"Praise the Lord," Sarah Pickett whispered as they rode under the Hat Creek sign onto the vast ranch. She hastened to learn the condition of the young couple and their baby that she had unofficially adopted in a motherly fashion. "Isom! Where are they?" she asked.

"Don't fret, woman," Isom told his wife. "Newt and Gretchen and the baby are all gonna be fine. Newt's hurt. Captain Call sent Needle to Miles City to bring back the doctor."

"The doctor?!" Sarah replied. "Lord! What happened?"

"The horses kicked him in the head and ran over him with the wagon."

The Captain pulled up in front of the one-room log cabin that had recently been built for the young Call's -- mainly to provide a dwelling place for mother and child while Newt worked for the Captain. A four foot bench -- made from a log sliced down the middle -- sat on the porch with a strong overhang above. A stone fireplace highlighted the side and a single window -- covered with burlap from within -- had been constructed near the wooden door.

It had been just after the little cabin had been completed when Sarah Pickett approached Captain Call concerning the inside. "A woman expects certain comforts, Cap'n. Lord knows, you and Newt won't ever think of them. And since Gretchen will be spending time alone with your granddaughter while Newt's away, I'd be thankful if you let me replace that ugly burlap curtain with something more appealing to Mrs. Call." Woodrow had nodded his approval -- he just didn't want to be involved in such foolishness, which in his eyes, it was. Sarah hung yellow and white gingham curtains over the single window and placed a mason jar with fresh wild flowers on the wood table for Gretchen -- a woman knew what another women preferred.

"Pea! You and Dish get yourself over here. Carry Newt inside," the Captain ordered. He gazed at Gretchen as she labored to stand and hold her infant child. She leaned against the wagon's backside, her legs shaky, watching with concern as Pea Eye and Dish slid Newt -- who had blacked out, again -- out of the wagon. Dish wanted to ask why Paige hadn't journeyed with them but the grave look in Gretchen's eyes allowed for him to wait for a more opportune moment before inquiring about her younger sister.

Gretchen laid Becky -- still in her cradle board -- on the wagon bed -- feeling herself grow faint from exhaustion. If she were to collapse now, at least Becky would be safe from falling. Gretchen had neglected her own needs in order to tend and care for her husband and baby. Now that they were all within the friendly confines of Hat Creek, she was suddenly overcome with fatigue and weariness, causing her to momentarily feel as if she would lose consciousness. Sarah Pickett moved to help her but paused when Woodrow lifted his hand.

Gretchen's legs buckled but she didn't faint or hit the ground.

"Help her, Captain!" Sarah cried.

The Captain, watching Gretchen closely, shook his head. He waited as Gretchen pulled herself up and grabbed her baby, raising the cradle board to her chest. She turned and carried her child, with determination, up the step, onto the porch, and into the one-room cabin which boasted a small bed large enough for Newt and Gretchen, a small table -- which consisted of a flat piece of wood laid on top of an empty barrel -- with two chairs, and a fireplace. Sarah suggested she watch tiny Rebecca Maggie while Gretchen laid next to her husband and slept -- a bodily function she desperately needed.

"As soon as Call is looked at and I know he's all right, I'll nurse Becky. A few hours of rest would be wonderful, Mrs. Pickett," Gretchen replied.

Gretchen sat in one of the chairs while the Captain and Isom pulled Newt's shirt off. He groaned loud when they touched his ribs, causing his body to spasm violently.

"He's lucky to be alive," Isom quietly remarked, shaking his head.

"He had no business letting this happen," Woodrow snapped.

Two days earlier, the morning had begun so promising. Their first lovemaking in a month and a half had been like the first time. They were so happy together with each other. Gretchen looked at Captain Call. Part of her wanted to yell at him -- grab him by the shirt and shake him violently. "There was a snake near the horses, Captain. He didn't know."

Woodrow listened but didn't respond. Needle had just returned with the doctor and stood by the partially open door as the doctor was ushered into the small cabin.

"He's been kicked in the head twice. He's likely got a cracked rib, maybe two," the doctor finally said, after a hasty examination of the injured areas. "He may suffer dizzy spells -- he will definitely labor with energetic breathing. I can wrap the ribs tight. It can provide a small amount of relief. Try to keep him off his feet."

"He's supposed to ride to Ogallala -- he's picking up horses at Clara Allen's with Dish," the Captain snapped.

"This boy is not to be moved," the doctor argued. "I suggest he not ride anywhere for a week. You damn cowboys are always breaking something and expecting miracles from me."

"It isn't his fault!" Gretchen suddenly exploded. Her eyes were green fire. "My husband was caught when the horses ran off." She glared at the doctor.

Woodrow looked at Gretchen. "Get yourself some rest." Captain Call then walked out with the doctor. Sarah shooed Isom out, allowing Gretchen her privacy to feed Becky.

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

Returning home earlier than expected, Clay Mosby was somewhat surprised to see Robert Shelby -- his arm in a sling -- mount his horse to leave. "Robert? It's much too soon. You shouldn't go back to town until that wound has had proper time to heal."

"It's better this way, Clay. I'll be fine. I have my room at the hotel."

"What happened, Robert?" Clay inquired. "Why are you leaving?"

"Goodbye, Clay," Robert replied. "I'll see you in town."

Clay sat atop his mount, watching Robert ride away. It was obvious Robert wasn't telling him something. No doubt it had to do with Ashley. Clay dismounted and walked around toward the stables. As he entered he heard the passionate groans of a woman. He recognized his wife, Ashley's voice. He saw Lorenzo, the young Spaniard, trousers down at his knees, fornicating with his wife. Neither had heard him enter -- both caught up in their lustful moment. Clay quietly grabbed the handle of the whip that hung near the doors. He let the lash drop to the ground then snapped it.

Lorenzo screamed as the lash struck the side of his head, severing the top half of his ear off completely, ripping open the flesh across his forehead. Before the startled servant could turn, Clay snapped again, slicing open the fatty portion of his naked buttocks. The youth screamed hysterically, turning to face his master. Clay snapped the whip a third time, partially cutting off the tip of Lorenzo's blood-engorged manhood, causing blood to explode onto the dirt-covered floor. He collapsed on the ground, writhing in horrible agony, screaming horribly.

Ashley, caught with her pants down -- her eyes wide with shock and fear -- crawled back on the bales of hay, until she hit the wall and had no where to hide. Shaking with a frightening fear of being whipped the same as her young lover, she couldn't budge to cover her naked loins. "Don't you dare touch me, Clay! I'll scream rape!"

Clay strode up to her and dropped the whip. He unbuttoned his pants, pulled her to him and drove himself inside her as hard and as far as he could. Ashley's wild attempts to claw his face were extinguished with little effort -- her screams of sexual assault muffled by Clay's hand clamped over her mouth. When he concluded, he grabbed her by the throat and said, "I shall not hesitate to kill you if you ever do this again! Are we understood, my dear?" He grinned at her.

Ashley merely nodded, unable to speak. The warm seed bringing about mixed emotions inside her -- stimulating her desire for more -- flaring her resentment and bitterness at his unexpected interruption.

"Good," Clay said. "When he comes to," he pointed to Lorenzo, "inform him that he shall be given the customary forty lashes minus one. Perhaps he might survive." Clay turned and walked out of the stable. It was now his intention that once Ashley bore his child, he would divorce her, send her away, preferably back to New Orleans, and keep his child.

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

Victoria Cleese and Paige Brandt couldn't concentrate. Their sister, Gretchen, her husband, Call, and their infant daughter, Becky, had left two days ago for Hat Creek. They should have been there two days ago.

"Boone and Mason will track them, Victoria," Paige said, trying to think of something to say to break the uncomfortable silence. It was fortunate that business had been slow this morning and little Daniel well behaved in his basket on the floor.

Ephraim hurried into the dry goods store. "There are no telegrams, as of now, I'm quite disappointed to say." He walked over to the basket where his two and a half month old son slept.

"Boone and Mason said they would wire us as soon as they found out anything," Paige replied. "I'm worried, Victoria."

"So am I, Boo. Why don't we pray."

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

The ruts left by the wheels were a simple matter for Boone Mackinaw to follow -- once they tracked the trail of grass bent by the weight of Call's body. Both men had determined that Call had been injured some way and that Gretchen had incredibly pulled him and managed to carry her baby a fair distance. They were surprised to come upon the fly-infested remains of a black wolf -- its flesh mostly picked apart by vultures.

Once they found where Gretchen's shoe prints were dug into the ground, from the struggle of trying to lift Call's body into the wagon bed, they rode hard and fast, following the wheel ruts straight into Hat Creek, where Sarah Pickett was just coming out of the small one-room cabin that was to be the occasional home of Call and Gretchen and their daughter, Becky.

"There's Newt and Coyote's baby!" Mason pointed to Sarah, who embraced the infant child as she headed the short distance to her cabin.

Before they could ride to the baby, Mason saw the Captain. "Uh oh," he mumbled. "Captain Call." They loped over to the Captain. "Morning, Captain Call," Mason smiled. "This here is Boone Mackinaw. We been tracking Newt and his wife. They show up all right?"

"I reckon not," Woodrow replied, looking over the longhaired mountain man. "Newt's been hurt. His wife dragged him a ways. They're both resting over there." He pointed toward the cabin.

"I'll wager we best ride for Miles City," Mason determined. "Gretchen's sisters are frantic. You mind if we come back, Cap'n?"

"Suit yourself," he said, then walked away.

Mason and Boone rode off to send a telegram to Victoria and Paige.

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

Gretchen Call heard the noise outside but ignored it. She knew Sarah Pickett would care for her baby -- she had spent a few days at their house when Gretchen was too weak to get out of bed after she had given birth. She stared at her husband -- tears welled up in her eyes. They had been smiling at each other -- so content in their love -- just before disaster struck. Gretchen lightly rubbed his face, kissing him. She laid next to Call and went off to much needed sleep.

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

They would most likely both be dead -- Ashley Mosby and Lorenzo, the servant -- if Clay had remained at the mansion. He mounted and rode into town -- it had been days since he had been in Curtis Wells -- to retreat to the comfortable surroundings of the Ambrosia Club.

Suzanne Van Atta -- pregnant with Clay's child -- caught a glimpse as he hurried up the steps into his saloon, across the street from the general merchant. She cast a glance over at Unbob Finch, who stared at a new wash board -- having need for a new one to wash his clothes. "Mr. Finch?"

Unbob looked up at Suzanne.

"Go across the street and inform Mr. Mosby that I must speak with him. Tell him it is rather urgent." Suzanne Van Atta never asked someone to do something -- she ordered them.

Unbob nodded, placed the wash board on the cluttered table and hobbled out the door.

"What do you intend to tell him, Suzanne?" Elizabeth inquired of her sister, in her usual blunt tone. "He already has a wife."

"We Dewberry's are quite adept at accomplishing our desires," Suzanne replied with confidence. "Of course, Beth, you seem to have lost your charming abilities where Mr. Newt Call is concerned. Perhaps you should watch me."

Unbob opened the door, poking his thin head inside. "Mr. Mosby said he has something important to do then he'll come over."

Suzanne huffed. She turned and walked into the back room.

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

It was as unexpected as if a whole tribe of Lakota had just rode into town wearing three-piece, white man suits of clothing and wanting to establish and run civilized businesses. Josiah Peale, Sheriff Austin Peale, Amanda Carpenter, Mattie Shaw, and Dr. Ephraim Cleese all stared at each other, unable to find a reply -- any reply.

Undaunted by their lack of combined utterance, Clay Mosby persisted. "I suggest this for the very survival of our town. Each of you has lived here long enough to know if we are to succeed, it must come from within."

Josiah nodded in agreement. "Clay is right."

Ephraim wasn't quite sold on the proposal Clay had presented to the group. "I, for one, find it somewhat vexing that you, Mr. Mosby, should solicit us for this tenuous endeavor?"

Clay Mosby patiently sighed. It was to be expected that those less visionary in their outlook and purpose would be hesitant to follow. Men needed a leader. Someone strong that could guide them through not only feast, but famine, as well. Clay considered himself the prime candidate -- having served in the capacity of Colonel during the war between the Federals and the Confederacy. That, in itself, was worthy of leadership, in his eyes.

"It is because he is a considerate man," a new voice echoed.

"Are you part of this future, Mr. Shelby?" Amanda Carpenter asked.

Robert nodded. He pulled a chair over to join the group with his one good hand. "It sounds like the only hope this town has."

Ephraim wasn't quite ready to agree. "You have no need of us, Mr. Mosby. What purpose would we serve?"

"It would assist in organizing us with a single, attainable goal," Clay replied. "Of course, Dr. Cleese, you are correct in assuming I could proceed without any of you. However, I find it to our advantage that if we were to combine our resources -- work together -- rather than every man . . . and, woman, for themselves -- we can forge this town into something financially rewarding for each of us."

"What about the railroad?" Mattie interjected.

"I fear that is no longer an option," Clay remarked. "Governor Potts is quite adamant that he will not exert himself in the least to bring progress our way. I met with Mr. Granville Stuart, concerning our becoming a cattle town."

"I've heard of him," Austin said. "He's quite powerful."

"And how do you propose to commence with this lofty idea?" Dr. Cleese wasn't easily sold.

"We have more than adequate grazing lands," Clay began. "I proper we aggregate our funds -- combine our resources of cash. I will contribute fifty per cent, minimum. You just contribute what you can. Each person shall have whatever percentage cut they put into the company."

"Company?" Austin replied.

"Yes," Clay nodded. "I believe the Mosby Cattle Company to be a logical title for our venture." He grinned.

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

Sarah Pickett entered the small cabin without making any noise, yet when the hungry infant whimpered softly, Gretchen Call, who had been in a deep sleep, suddenly woke -- her maternal instincts on an ever-sharp alert. She had been sleeping with her husband -- her arm around him as they slept close together.

"She's hungry," Sarah whispered, handing the tiny child to her mother.

"I'll keep her with me now, Mrs. Pickett," Gretchen replied. "Thank you."

"Captain Call is outside," Sarah informed Gretchen. "You can let him in once you nurse your daughter."

Gretchen nodded. Once Sarah closed the door she exposed her breast, allowing the baby her milk. It felt good to hold Becky close to her. The infant attacked the breast greedily. Gretchen cast glances of concern at her sleeping husband. She had been prepared to live here in the one-room cabin with Becky while Call journeyed to Nebraska. She had no idea what Captain Call -- a man not particularly partial to sympathy -- would expect from her injured husband -- regardless that it happened to be his very own son. She didn't want to stay at Hat Creek for an extended time. There were chores aplenty back at their own modest home. And, Runt was staying with Victoria and Ephraim.

Finally , Becky had her fill of milk. She opened her little mouth and yawned, stretching her tiny hand out. Gretchen took her daughter's hand, kissing her fingers tenderly. Becky had gone to sleep with her face on her mother's breast. Gretchen wiped the drops of milk that lingered and covered her naked chest. She quietly stepped outside, holding Becky close to her. She saw her father-in-law, Captain Call, pacing nervously, slapping his leather gloves across his palm.

"Did you wish to speak with me, Captain?" Gretchen respectfully inquired.

Woodrow stopped pacing and looked at Gretchen. He turned his head, just enough so his eyes weren't set on her. "I reckon you done good, Gretchen." He seemed uncomfortable.

Gretchen's eyes widened. She smiled hearing him say her name. "Thank you, Captain."

"Ain't a lot men could of done as good," he added. "I suspect the boy might be a lot worse off if you hadn't been so determined to save him."

Gretchen swelled up inside -- a warmth from a rare compliment from Woodrow Call.

He looked at her momentarily then turned his head again. "Don't want to lose you." He shot a quick glance at Gretchen then his eyes looked elsewhere.

"Thank you so much, Captain Call," Gretchen softly replied. She stepped near him and lifted her face to lightly kiss his cheek. "It would please me if you were to hold your granddaughter, Captain -- even for a moment." She offered a warm smile.

Woodrow shyly gazed at the infant. One of the bravest men ever to live was quite frightened by a tiny baby. He grudgingly opened his hands to accept the six week old infant.

"Her name is Rebecca Maggie Call, Captain. We call her Becky. She's kin to you."

Woodrow awkwardly held Becky -- his hands and arms tense -- slowly bringing her close to his chest. Becky suddenly woke and cried, causing Woodrow to grunt, "aw, hell! Here! Take her."

Gretchen, subduing a laugh, reached out to reclaim her child. She cradled the baby, whispering little words of motherly love and comfort. Becky soon quieted and fell asleep.

"Now how'd you do that?" Woodrow asked.

"I believe it's just a natural instinct for a mother to act a certain way with her baby. The Good Lord doesn't give that instinct to men."

"No," the Captain agreed. He had spent enough time being sentimental. Too much was likely to irritate him and Woodrow Call had no desire to be more irritable than he already was. He nodded to Gretchen and hastened away. Gretchen smiled and returned inside the small cabin to climb back in bed with Call.

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

It was read with exceeding relief -- provoking tears of thanks to the Almighty, Himself -- as the words on the telegram were acknowledged by Victoria and Paige. The sisters hugged each other and wept, so happy were they that Newt, Gretchen, and Becky were all alive. They immediately voiced their concern and worry for Newt. Mason had declined to reveal too much of what happened -- merely stating he had injuries from an accident.

As Victoria removed herself to the store's back room -- seeking privacy to nurse her hungry son, Daniel -- Paige followed to continue their conversation.

"I find it to be a story that will probably grow into a family legend over time," Paige said, offering her opinion on the information gleaned from the sparse words of the telegram. "I can't wait for Boone to return. Victoria? Do you think he misses me?"

Victoria smiled. "Are you losing your confidence so quickly, Boo? You were quite certain that Mr. Boone Mackinaw was going to miss you very much yesterday morning, before he and Mason rode off to track Gretchen and Newt."

Paige frowned. "Yes. I was confident yesterday, Victoria."

"It's quite natural that you should experience these insecurities at the beginning of a budding romance," Victoria replied. "Your young man seemed to be in awe of you while here. That isn't something a man soon forgets."

"I'm ready for marriage, Victoria," Paige said. "Twenty-one is a fine age to bear children. But, I don't know who to chose -- Boone or Dish? I'm really quite confused."

Victoria buttoned her blouse. "That is why I suggested you not rush into this, Paige. You only get one chance."

"I shouldn't even speak about myself," Paige chided. "Much too selfish! I should be thinking of Gretchen and poor Call."

Victoria hugged her sister. "That is exactly why you are speaking of Boone and Dish. To keep from becoming too discouraged about what happened out on the prairie."

"Why have so many unfortunate things happened out here, Victoria?"

The oldest Brandt sister thought about it. "These things could very well happen in Missouri."

"Not the attack on the Lakota village," Paige replied. "I suppose it's just life. And we really are blessed, aren't we?"

Victoria tended to agree. "Yes. So far, Paige . . ."

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

"Five minutes! I'll wager it doesn't even take that long," Mason argued. "I've developed a powerful thirst, amigo. Captain Call don't exactly take to drinking. A man is likely to dry up before finding whiskey at Hat Creek."

"Well, I don't hold with drinking much, neither," Boone Mackinaw said. "If I'd a been drunk out there by the Sioux encampment, I never would have had the legs to carry me into that crowded village before them murderers attacked."

Mason continued walking -- leaving the telegraph office and slowly meandering in a casual motion toward the nearest saloon. "Hey, amigo! I was pondering why those boys out at Red Crow's camp gave you an Indian name? I never got one." Mason's reasoning was to occupy Boone's mind -- keeping the longhaired mountain man talking as they reached the door to a small, musty saloon -- smelling damp and dirty.

Boone flashed a wide grin across his bearded face. "Aw, Concho! You're trying to shuck my whereabouts. If you wanted your whiskey that bad, you could of just told me."

Mason wrinkled his face. "Well . . . ? I'll wager I did tell you."

Boone backhanded him playfully on his belly. "I was just funning you, Concho. Have yourself a drink and then let's ride."

Mason went up to the bar, calling for a shot of whiskey. The saloon was fairly quiet, except for two men sitting in a dark corner. He nodded friendly like to the pair then turned to Boone. "You were going to tell me how the Lakota named you."

Boone shrugged. "I can outrun all five of my brothers. I've rundown a few animals out there on the plains. I guess Red Crow -- he's the one named me -- figured I ran fast. He must have seen I wear two knives. Simple enough -- Rabbit Two Knives. Miss Brandt sure fancies it."

Mason's tongue licked his lips, hoarding every precious drop of whiskey. "Paige? She's the prettiest of the three sisters. No doubt about that."

"Well, I say Miss Brandt is the prettiest girl in all the west -- maybe all the world," Boone commented. "She's so pretty I wonder why Newt Call took her sister for his wife?"

Mason gazed at Boone. "You don't much about women, do you, amigo?"

The man the Lakota named Rabbit Two Knives reddened. "I suspect I don't."

Mason laughed. "Red Crow named Gretchen Brandt the Coyote for her devious ways. Harmless, but she did whatever she could to win Newt's heart. Took her a fair amount of time. My nephew was a wild Texan. Drinking and fighting. She set out not to tame the boy, but to become part of his nature. I'd venture to say Coyote Girl did a fine job, wouldn't you?"

Boone scratched his head, nodding. " I guess if Paige Brandt were like her sister, she'd have me eating out of hand mighty quick. What about the other one? She's real pretty, too."

"That's Victoria," Mason informed him. "She the smart one. Almost as pretty as Paige. Got hitched to the town doctor. A fine young woman."

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

Clay Mosby walked across the street toward the general merchant store having accomplished his purpose. The small group of potential investors had all agreed to forming what would be known as the Mosby Cattle Company.

As he was prone to do, Austin Peale grumbled about the use of Clay's name -- arguing that all names should be included. Clay merely produced paper and pencil and wrote out the suggested title: Mosby, Peale, Carpener, Cleese & Shaw Cattle Company. Once Austin saw the elongated title he rescinded.

The emotion of power -- the thought of wealth -- lightened Clay's footsteps as he entered the general store. "Good afternoon, ladies," he beamed, as one who had just claimed a great victory.

Elizabeth Dewberry smiled. She desired to be present when her sister informed Clay Mosby of her surprising news, but that wasn't to be.

"Mr. Mosby," Suzanne Van Atta nodded. "Will you come with me into the back room? We have matters that need addressing immediately."

Clay agreed, assuming Mrs. Van Atta had alluded to the fulfillment of her lustful desires. He followed her into the back, relieved that the store was empty of customers. He began to unbutton his trousers when Suzanne bid him to halt.

"No, Mr. Mosby. I am afraid that is exactly what has brought about this awkward predicament we happen to be in."

Clay studied her face as he buttoned his trousers. "I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Mrs. Van Atta."

"No, Mr. Mosby," she replied, folding her arms, "I believe it is you who have me at a disadvantage."

Clay laughed, uncomfortably. "Do go on."

"To put it bluntly, Mr. Mosby," Suzanne remarked, "I am pregnant with your child."

"What?"

"Are you that surprised? Did you assume we could do as we please without the possibility that something like this might happen?" Suzanne Van Atta gazed at Clay.

Clay Mosby was silent momentarily. "You've no doubt been examined by Dr. Cleese?"

"I have."

"How far along would you be, Mrs. Van Atta?"

"Two months, Mr. Mosby. According to Dr. Cleese."

Clay placed one hand on his chin and stroked his beard, nervously.

"You have a wife, Mr. Mosby," Suzanne commented. "She happens to be carrying your child. I am not in a very envious position, am I? A single woman raising an illegitimate child has little chance at a prosperous life. Almost none at all. Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Mosby?" Suzanne found herself losing the battle with her controlled emotions. She burst into tears, laying her head on Clay's shoulder. "Forgive my weakness, Mr. Mosby. I so wanted to be strong."

Clay offered his arms to embrace her. The situation now seemed quite perplexing.

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

When it happened, Gretchen Call was ready. Call's body thrashed in the small bed -- the affects of the laudanum having worn off. Gretchen had placed their tiny daughter, Becky, in an old basket Sarah Pickett had provided. The basket was layered with soft blankets and sat on the side of the bed, where Gretchen hung her arm down -- her hand lovingly stroking the infant who wore a yellow flannel nightgown -- evoking small gurgling sounds of comfort from the tiny infant. Sarah had noted that Becky was the tiniest child she had ever seen.

Call groaned, struggling to waken. Gretchen turned so as to keep Call's arms from lashing out and possibly striking her without intent. He was violent in his movements -- thrashing and bouncing hard -- not only now, but at home as well. His eyes suddenly opened. Squinting from obvious pain, he glanced around the room, attempting to determine his location.

"Call?" Gretchen softly said, prodding him gently, lest he strike out, unaware that his wife was at his side. When he didn't act, she took his hands into hers.

"Gretchen," he moaned. "This Hat Creek?"

"Uh huh," she nodded. "This is our cabin, Call. The Captain had it built for us."

"Where's . . . Becky?" he asked, his breathing labored.

"Right beside me, Call." Gretchen rubbed her fingers through his hair in a soothing manner. "A doctor from Miles City examined you. You're hurt bad."

Call frowned. Then he winced from the pain. He grit his teeth. "You did . . . real good, Gretchen. I'm proud of you." His smile vanishing as he winced.

"Call?" Gretchen hesitated. "The doctor said you have to stay put for a few days -- in bed -- or you might get dizzy. I want you to heal as soon as you can -- for Becky and me. We need you, Call." She squeezed his hand.

Call tugged gently. Gretchen lowered herself onto his body moderately, careful not to stir a more intense pain than what her husband already felt . She brought her mouth to his and left it there, lightly kissing him. Her warm breath causing him to groan, wanting her.

"Call?" she whispered, surprised. "How can you think of that at a time like this?" She lifted her head, staring at him -- her eyes wide.

Call, breathing hard and in short gasps from the pain, let out a short single laugh. "Can't help it, I reckon."

"Well, we are not going to make love now, Newt Call," Gretchen whispered in his ear. "Just heal a little first. All right, Sweetheart?"

Call nodded.

Gretchen laid close to Call. "Maybe if I stay real close to you, Call, you'll be good and stay in bed where you belong?"

"I reckon that's likely the best way," he replied.

As Gretchen allowed her eyes to close, Becky made small squeaking sounds. Gretchen's eyes sprung open immediately. She kissed Call then leaned over, lifting the tiny baby into her arms. "Are you hungry, Becky Bug? I think you are. Yes, you are. Mama will feed you."

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

The proposed alliance offered by Clay Mosby -- the Mosby Cattle Company -- was the major topic of conversation in Curtis Wells. Visions of grandeur and riches drifted in the minds of those invited to participate. Amanda Carpenter had already allowed her thoughts to materialize into the fulfillment of once more being the sole proprietor of the Lonesome Dove Hotel -- a potential goldmine once the pens to house the cattle were full and dozens of cowboys, just begging to throw away their hard-earned savings were in town.

"You did the right thing, Mattie," Amanda said. The pair of unmarried women sat alone in the Dove's dining room sharing coffee and their thoughts.

Mattie nodded. "I suppose." She looked around the quiet room. "Do you really think Clay will sell you back your hotel, Amanda?"

Amanda laughed slightly. "Well, I sure hope so, honey. He can own every other building in town, just as long as I get my hotel back."

"I wonder if being rich really makes folks happy?"

Amanda gazed at Mattie. "It sure would do wonders for me. I'd like to own half the town. Never depend on any man for anything."

"I'm just not sure getting in bed with Clay Mosby is a smart move," Mattie replied.

Amanda snickered. "I think it's a little late for that, honey, considering that both of us have already been in bed with Clay."

"That's what I mean," Mattie replied. "Only Clay benefited from that."

"I think we both enjoyed it, if you'll be honest with yourself." Amanda stood up -- there were always chores required in the hotel. "If any of us stand a chance at getting rich, Clay Mosby is the horse I would back."

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

"Clay Mosby's going to save us," Josiah Peale proclaimed. "You'll see, Austin. He knows what he's doing."

"Well, one thing's for certain," Austin replied, "Curtis Wells is never going to be as it was before he came here."

Josiah glanced at his son. He knew what he was referring to. Their lives had been simpler a few years earlier -- before Hannah died. Austin had remained bitter -- his anger growing hotter -- hatred for Newt Call had become an obsession with him. Josiah knew that the fault alone fell on his own thin shoulders. Hadn't he failed to protect Hannah when Newt had asked him to? Somehow, it was just easier to enter the fringe of madness than to accept due blame. "I think it's time you find a wife and settle down, Austin," Josiah suggested.

Austin didn't answer his father. He had something to prove -- an atonement for not being there when Hannah died. Austin had never accepted responsibility for his actions. It was more convenient to shift the blame on others -- accuse them for his shortcomings. He cast a formidable shadow on the ground when he walked, yet it was with steps of inferiority and inadequacy that he tread the streets. If he could just accept who he was -- not try to be superior to others -- he could find a measure of satisfaction in life.

"Maybe once we all become rich," Josiah finally said, "you and I can return Curtis Wells to something your sister would have wanted?"

Austin laid his hand on his father's shoulder, patting it twice. Curtis Wells would never be the way it once had been.

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

"Here, Victoria," Ephraim said, "I think perhaps you should hold Daniel."

Victoria accepted her two and a half month old son. "That's a good boy! Yes! Come to Mama." She swayed her arms sideways, rocking the child.

"Well, Victoria? What is your opinion regarding my decision? I would hope we both are of the same mind."

Victoria looked at her husband and smiled. "If you feel Mr. Mosby's plan to turn Curtis Wells into a cattle empire is where our future lies, then I would have to agree with you, Ephraim. We must think of Daniel's future. He'll be eighteen years old at the turn of the century. Whatever we can do to provide our son the best possible life should be considered."

Ephraim nodded, relieved that his wife supported his decision to contribute and become a minor partner in the proposed cattle venture. "Perhaps we should suggest this opportunity to your sister and Newt."

Victoria laughed. "Newt and Gretchen?! Neither of them has the least interest in wealth, Ephraim. I truly believe them to be the most ideal pair I have ever known. They will both provide for Rebecca but they are quite content to live 'hand to mouth.' I sometimes envy their simple outlook on life."

"Well," Ephraim replied, "I did wish to offer them the opportunity. However, I seem to agree with your words, Victoria. Newt Call would never work for Clay Mosby."

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

When Unbob Finch began to sneeze in the middle of the street, young Dewey saw his opportunity. He snatched the bag of candy sitting on the ground and ran off, laughing. To Paige Brandt, who watched from the front of the hotel, the laughter of a child was the ultimate joy a woman could experience. She smiled as Unbob -- realizing the young orphan had taken the treasure -- hobbled quickly after the boy, as if pursuing stolen gold.

"That ain't fair! That ain't fair! I sneezed," Unbob protested.

Dewey stood a safe distance away -- between the freight and transfer office and the opera house -- wiggling his hips and sticking his thumbs in his ears while waving his hands. He stuck his tongue out and turning to run, slammed into the massive and soft body of Twyla, knocking the roguish boy onto his back. Momentarily stunned, Dewey could only watch helplessly as Unbob scooped the valuable jawbreakers into his bony hand and dashed off toward the open field.

Dewey gazed up at the towering mass above him.

"Watch where you're going!" Twyla barked.

Paige Brandt took a step toward helping Dewey but the boy bounced to his feet and scampered off to retrieve the precious contents within the paper bag.

Paige turned and walked slowly toward the dry goods. Her one desire was to marry and start a family -- the desire of most women. In her mind, nothing was sadder than a barren woman. Early in her life, as a young girl growing up in Missouri with two older sisters, she dreamed of giving birth to more children than Victoria or Gretchen. Her mother had read her the accounts of the Bible -- women who bore children scorning and despising those the Lord made barren. Hagar despised Abraham's wife, Sarah -- Peninnah ridiculed Elkanah's wife, Hannah.

Paige was torn -- expressing feelings for both Dish Boggett and Boone Mackinaw. She knew Dish better than Boone but something excited her about the young bearded mountain man. When she reached the steps to the dry goods she chose instead to walk behind the building, sitting alone on the bench out back. "Who would make a better father?" she said out loud. It was something she must consider. She allowed her mind to drift like the afternoon clouds, daydreaming about which man would make a better husband and father.

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

"Mr. Mosby, I do apologize for my lack of control," Suzanne Van Atta said, wiping her tears. "I find it rather distasteful to show my emotions with such weakness."

"On the contrary, my dear Mrs. Van Atta," Clay replied. "Or, perhaps, considering our intimate situation, I should call you Suzanne."

Mrs. Van Atta smiled. "Whatever you wish, Mr. Mosby. I would imagine regardless of how you address me, the result will be the same, will it not? I shall quietly leave Curtis Wells -- my sister, Elizabeth, with me. No one outside of Dr. Cleese ever have need to know I carry your child."

Clay admired her courage, even if he suspected she was hoping he would not send her away. It was critical Clay Mosby maintain his level of aloofness and superiority. "Let's not be rash now, shall we, my dear Suzanne? I seem to be faced with more than one dilemma." Both of which have descended upon me today, he thought. "I believe this matter will require somber examination from within. I must confess," he grinned, "I find it rather deplorable and cowardly to simply allow you to face this occasion alone. I will not hear of it. I shall indeed, arrive at a suitable outcome regarding . . . our child."

Suzanne stared at Clay. Was it actually possible that he would insist she remain in Curtis Wells? If so, he would find her a most accommodating woman.

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

Call had slipped into a restless sleep -- tossing about and thrashing -- causing Gretchen to rise, cradling their infant daughter and stepping out of the cabin for a few minutes. She was determined to remain near the cabin, desiring to stay close to her husband.

As soon as Gretchen Call emerged from the cabin with her baby, Dish Boggett and Augustina Vega approached. "I am most happy for you, Mrs. Call," Augustina said. "Can I have a look at your child?"

Gretchen lowered the blanket and adjusted Becky. She smiled with the joy and excitement that succeeds giving birth, especially for the first time. "Her name is Rebecca Maggie Call. We're fond of calling her Becky, Call and I."

"She is beautiful," Augustina remarked. "I think she has her mother's eyes and will have her father's hair. Do you not agree, Dish?"

Dish Boggett frowned, then shrugged. "Well, I guess so," he mumbled. It was plain to Gretchen that Dish knew as much about babies as Call did -- which was nothing at all. It occurred to her that probably every man at Hat Creek -- except Isom Pickett and Carlos Herrera -- had no knowledge whatsoever where babies were concerned. Gretchen couldn't resist a small giggle.

"Mrs. Call?" Dish said, shuffling his feet on the ground. "How is Miss Paige?"

Gretchen sighed. "Paige wasn't feeling her best, Dish. She wanted to see you but didn't feel up to traveling."

"Well, she ain't sick, is she?" Dish asked, his eyes widening with concern.

"I suppose she could be a little sick," Gretchen replied, wondering if lovesick counted?

"Cap'n Call is plenty mad cause Newt got himself all busted up," Dish offered. "Me and him were supposed to ride to Ogallala. Trail some horses back up from Clara Allen's."

"Is Captain Call that uncaring as a father that he's more concerned about horses instead of his own son?" It hurt Gretchen deeply to think that Call had grown up without the love of a caring father. She knew his mother, Maggie, had died when he was only four. She was certain Newt Call would never be as uncaring with her or their daughter. He looked at Gretchen in a way no other man had ever done before. It was as if she was the most beautiful woman in the world to him -- which in truth -- in his eyes -- she was. Gretchen saw Call gaze at Becky with that same look, which pleased her exceedingly.

"The Captain's a hard man, Mrs. Call," Isom Pickett said, joining them. "Don't you be worrying about them horses. Or, the Captain. Things is gonna work out just fine. Just fine."

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

"Come on, amigo," Mason Dobbs said, "I'm set on riding back to Hat Creek to see how Newt and Coyote Girl are faring."

Boone had been ready from the moment they walked inside the dingy saloon. The pair headed outside and mounted their horses, riding off to the north. Neither paid much attention when the two men that had been sitting in the corner of the saloon walked out earlier. As Mason and Boone crossed the first hill into the open plains, the two men rode up behind them, firing warning shots into the air -- causing Mason and Boone to pull up.

"Don't go for your guns and no one dies," one of the men growled.

"If you boys are aiming to rob us, you're a week late," Mason casually replied.

"Shut up, Dobbs!" the second man barked.

Mason's smile immediately disappeared. "You got the wrong pig by the ear, amigo."

The first man shook his head. "I don't think we do, Dobbs. You don't know us but we're bounty hunters. There's a decent price on your head. All we gotta do is haul you back to New Mexico."

"That's a long way to go, boys," Mason said. "Besides, I'm a free man. Governor Lew Wallace of Nuevo Mexico and Governor Oran Roberts of Texas have promised me amnesty. Sorry, boys."

The second man took his rifle and slammed the butt into Mason's cheek, knocking him out of the saddle, onto the ground. Boone Mackinaw went for his rifle.

"Hold it right there, boy! I'll cut you in two," the first man ordered Boone. "You're riding with this lowlife outlaw, you must be one of them Concho County men we're after."

"Lew Wallace ain't Governor of New Mexico any more, Dobbs," the second said. "The new Governor's name is Lionel Sheldon. He don't see fit to grant amnesty. Looks like you're coming with us, boy."

Mason, his cheek burning from the blow, pointed to Boone. "This fella ain't from Texas. We met up about a week ago."

"That's the gospel truth," Boone said.

The bounty hunters stared at Boone Mackinaw. "Throw your rifle on the ground and ride."

Boone looked down at Mason. "I'll stay, Concho."

"Go on, amigo," Mason replied. "I was ready to head back that way. I've been meaning to look up a little senorita." He winked at Boone.

"All you'll be looking at is the inside of a jail cell, Dobbs."

Boone threw his rifle down then was struck from behind, falling out of his saddle, unconscious in the tall grass while one of the men tied Mason's hands behind his back.

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

Early next morning, Clay Mosby was roused from a sound sleep, having spent the night inside the Ambrosia -- choosing not to return home -- deciding to separate himself from Ashley and to dwell on the situation with Suzanne Van Atta -- pregnant with his child.

"Wake up, Clay," Robert Shelby urged, noticing the empty whiskey bottle cast on the floor. "There are two cattlemen downstairs. They heard about your meeting with Granville Stuart. They're here to offer a deal."

Clay frowned, rising from bed -- his clothes still on. He pulled his boots on and stood up. His suspenders hung at his sides -- his white, ruffled silk shirt wrinkled. Clay yawned, stretching his arms high. "I slept quite well, considering . . ."

Clay followed Robert Shelby -- one arm in a sling -- down to the saloon.

"Well . . . hello, Clay."

Mosby suddenly stopped at the bottom step. "Willis Logan?!"

"Howdy, Mosby," came the other voice.

Clay's eyes widened. "Samuel Peters?!"

++++++++++ Continued in the Next Installment ++++++++++

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