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.


Hair of The Bear
(47th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Working outside the home also showed them
that they were neither weak nor helpless.
These discoveries gave women confidence.

(19th Century Girls and Women - Bobbie Kalman)

Amanda Carpenter had plotted too long -- scraped and saved every dollar -- some honestly, some not so honestly -- to fret over Austin Peale's angry ranting. Clay Mosby would soon enough realize she had deceived him, then she'd have troubles aplenty. As far as she could determine, this was no different than the course of action used by Clay to gain ownership of the hotel from Cooper.

"You were supposed to have him sign Twyla's over to me," Austin pressed. He had lofty expectations about taking over the sporting club and indulging his fantasies among the handful of prostitutes that would be forced to obey him.

"I couldn't chance it, Austin," Amanda said.

"You managed for yourself, Amanda -- didn't you?" His disappointment was obvious.

"Look, Austin," she replied, "you said you already had what you wanted. You wanted your badge -- you got it. I wanted my hotel -- I got it."

"When you need me -- against Mosby -- I may not be there," Austin remarked.

Amanda laughed. "I never counted on you, Austin. Why should I start now?"

His anger mounted -- his face flushed. It was best to retreat to the No.10. There, he could drink and reflect on what had occurred -- decide what he intended to do. Maybe there was a means he could use -- information he could provide Mosby -- in order to better his cause.

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

Never known as a slacker, Boone Mackinaw had spent the past few days laboring from first light until dusk building the new house for his soon-to-be bride, Paige Brandt. Mason Dobbs had volunteered the use of his own strong back as a mule, accelerating the construction of a home larger than the Call's, though somewhat smaller than the Cleese's. With winter approaching -- two months away -- Unbob Finch and Josiah Peale offered their services to Boone and Paige. Unbob had always shown himself to be a man of integrity where work was concerned. It was his conscientious work principles that made it possible for Ashley Mosby's timely funeral -- having built an extra coffin for emergencies.

Young Boone had revealed a sizable amount of cash to Paige Brandt. Never one to trust or rely on banks, Boone had his own version of banking -- folding quarter-inch stacks of paper money in his socks. The money fit comfortably under the arch of his foot -- the only hazard being the distinct and unappealing odor produced when the sweaty money was in hand.

"Oh, Boone!" Paige groaned. "Put it away -- it stinks!"

Boone laughed. "I suspect this is fairly mild, if you consider, Miss Eyes of Summer Sky."

"Consider what, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives?" Since the night Boone first ran into the thick of Red Crow's village to warn them about the ambush, both he and Paige had delighted in referring to each other by their Lakota names.

"Well," Boone replied, "there's been occasions when I sat around campfires with other like-minded boys -- mountain men -- whose buckskins were so rank you would most definitely believe my money to smell more like perfume."

Paige stared at Boone. "That bad?" She smiled.

He nodded, flashing a huge grin. "I expect it'll require me getting reacquainted to civilized life again. It's a whole lot simpler up in the mountains." He cast a look of content off toward the distant mountains.

"I'll be patient with you, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives," Paige said, taking his hand. "I'll be as patient as you need me to be."

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

Two days had passed since Mosby and Call returned from the sweat lodge at Red Crow's encampment. Clay entered his saloon, retreating to the seclusion and familiarity of his upstairs room -- now home, once again. Robert Shelby hadn't appeared -- allowing Clay much needed time to take in the events of the past week, and into the future.

The enchanting and seductive Prairie City Canary, Miss Abigail Farrington, had failed to thoroughly allure Robert as she had hoped. Her amorous concentrations were met by Robert's drifting in and out of lustful bliss -- concern over Clay Mosby's condition his foremost thoughts.

"I find it to be quite upsetting, Robert. My dear Richard paces the floor pouting in the next room, and you have made me feel most inadequate as a woman. What am I to do?"

"Your forgiveness, Abby," Robert implored. "I should see to Clay -- he may need me."

"Your friend is a grown man, Robert," she curtly replied, abruptly rising from the unmade bed, gathering her garments -- pressing the pile of clothing against her naked chest. "Is he a small child who cannot care for himself?"

Robert frowned.

"If he has need of you he can find you." The conversation -- short as it was -- ended. Robert quickly dressed, leaving to check on Clay's welfare.

***

"Mr. Shelby?"

Robert turned. "What is it, Miss Carpenter?"

She held the suspicious paper Clay had signed in front of Robert's face. "I'll expect you either to vacate your room or pay in advance for each night."

Robert squinted, staring at the signature. "What the hell happened? What did you do to Clay?"

Amanda laughed. It was a confident laugh. "Clay signed it willingly." She walked away toward the kitchen.

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

It was only a small knife -- the blade dull -- no more than three inches long. Yet, Dewey had managed to put a sharp edge on it -- repeatedly stroking it every day on the whetstone Mason Dobbs had given him. Of course, Mason had also given him the small, folding knife.

Dewey had managed to slice open a small piece of canvas behind the No.10 Saloon. It was near the far corner, on the bottom, close to the floor. He popped his scruffy face through the tear and waited patiently until the right moment, then slithered inside the tent saloon and grabbed a half-empty shot glass. He quickly disappeared through the tear and stared admiringly at the stolen treasure. He cautiously sniffed the cheap whiskey, wincing from the eye-opening stench. He closed his eyes, tilted his head back, and poured the foul liquid down his throat. Immediately, Dewey dropped the empty glass, coughing and grasping his belly. He couldn't hold his stomach down, vomiting the brown liquid behind the No.10. He groaned like a dying beast and staggered away to hide from the world, retching and gagging.

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

Frustration and difficulty had consumed the past two night's attempts at sleep for Call and Gretchen. Becky, their seven week old daughter just wouldn't cooperate -- she didn't want to sleep. Call had risen early, tending to the needs of the horses. He even managed to doze off for an hour on a soft pile of hay.

When Call quietly stepped back inside their modest house he heard Gretchen's voice in the next room.

"You were a bad girl, Becky," she playfully said. "You kept your papa and me awake most of the night."

Call stood in the doorway, smiling at his wife and infant daughter. Gretchen, her eyes at half-mast, gazed at her husband. "Becky Bug wouldn't sleep after I fed her, Call. She kept making gurgling sounds and laughing. I'm so tired right now."

Call shrugged. "I reckon we could grab us some shut-eye for a spell."

"No," Gretchen replied, "it's time to do chores. I'll be fine, Call." She smiled at him. "Are you still going to bring me into town to help at the store?"

"Yep." Call's face suddenly soured.

Gretchen laughed. "Go on, you big sissy. I'll change Becky while you run and hide."

Call laughed -- he was already out the door, on the porch with Runt.

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

There were times when Clay Mosby contemplated the benefits of not being a man of leadership. Here was Unbob Finch, a man of simple means -- no one looked to him in times of distress. He did his job. Little was expected of him.

Then, there was Clay Mosby. Almost the entire town looked to him to guide them. If there was a problem, Josiah Peale always managed to present it to Clay for approval. Now, there was a new crisis -- Amanda somehow had reclaimed ownership of the Lonesome Dove Hotel. Clay finally succumbed to Robert Shelby's incessant complaints regarding the hotel. Rising from the solitude of his upstairs room, Clay trekked across the street to deal with the annoying Miss Carpenter.

"I've been wondering when you were going to get around to coming over here, Clay."

"I must inform you, Amanda," Clay quietly began, "this is hardly a social call. Robert, here, tells me you have my signature on a piece of paper."

"That's right," Amanda boasted.

"I'd like to see it," Clay replied, holding his clean hand out.

"I'm sure you would," Amanda laughed. "Before I let you see it, I want you to meet my new partner." She turned toward the kitchen. "You can come out now."

Clay and Robert glanced at each other, then gazed toward the kitchen.

Ike stepped out of the kitchen, scratching his chin. "Did you call me, Miss Amanda?"

Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby began to laugh.

Amanda's smug expression turned to anger. "Go back to work, Ike.

"Uh huh," Clay mocked. "So, that's your new partner?"

"I'm her new partner," a new voice replied.

Clay and Robert stared as Mason Dobbs stepped out of the kitchen, his fingers lightly brushing both gun handles. "Howdy, amigos."

Clay suddenly angered. "What is the meaning of this, Amanda?"

Amanda waited for Mason Dobbs to stroll to her side then pulled out the paper Mosby had unwittingly signed. Clay snatched it from her hands, reading it quickly. "This is absurd!" Clay protested.

"You signed it, Clay," Amanda replied, grabbing the paper from Clay. "I have the five thousand dollars to pay for it -- I'll expect you to hand over the deed if you want your money."

"Clay?! You aren't going to let her get away with this, are you?" Robert asked. "She threw me out."

Clay looked at Robert. "You'll stay at the Ambrosia, Robert. At least until I sort this out." He turned to Mason. "Perhaps it would be best for you were you not to interfere, Mason."

"Sorry, amigo," Mason said with a grin. "This offer was too good to turn down. Circumstances have changed for me." The recent news that his hoped-for amnesty was no longer available in New Mexico had led Mason to a willingness to use his gun.

"Looks like you lose, Clay," Amanda bragged. She cast a glance at Robert. "Oh, your Miss Farrington is packing to leave, Mr. Shelby."

"Abby?! If you threw her out . . ."

"Simmer down there, amigo," Mason ordered. "She's leaving willingly -- her choice."

"This matter is far from over, Amanda," Clay said, turning to leave.

"It's over -- just as soon as you give me my deed. I want my deed, Clay," Amanda said.

***

"Abby?! Why are you leaving?" Robert asked, entering her room. Richard Watt, her manager and sometimes lover was sitting quietly on the edge of the bed.

Abigail Farrington, the Prairie City Canary, looked up at Robert. Her cheeks were still shiny from the recent tears she had shed. She had returned to Curtis Wells to put a bullet in Robert -- having failed to kill him the last time she shot him. The days spent with him in her bedroom had stirred up fond memories of their times in the Dakota Territory. Abby found herself falling in love with Robert, something she had not expected. It confused her. Along with Richard Watt's constant complaints to leave town, she finally decided it best to pack her belongings and separate herself from Robert.

"I shall wait for you outside near the stagecoach, my pet," Richard said, standing up and grabbing his bags.

Abby waved him off. "I will join you momentarily, Richard."

"Don't go, Abby!" Robert pleaded.

"Oh, do stop whining, Robert. It makes you sound pathetic. I will come back again."

"Why do you torture me so, Abby?"

"Perhaps because I can, Robert." She smiled confidently. "Perhaps I am falling in love with you, once again, and do not know how to handle it." She put her gloved hand on his cheek, rubbed it slightly, then left.

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

"You are going to give me gray hair, do you know that?" Victoria Cleese groaned. "If it all doesn't fall out, first."

Paige Brandt blew air. "You're so dramatic, Victoria."

"If it isn't Gretchen, it's you," Victoria insisted. "Poor Mother. Could you imagine what she would say to your idea?"

"Yes," Paige replied, "Mother would say to do it if I wanted to."

"Do what?" Gretchen Call inquired, stepping inside the sisters' dry goods store with her baby, Rebecca Maggie. She smiled cheerfully at her sisters.

"You look terrible, Gretchen," Victoria mentioned. "Is Becky keeping you up?"

Gretchen nodded, "uh huh," as she placed her tiny daughter in the basket next to Daniel Cleese. She picked up her nephew -- now nearing three months -- and hugged him.

"Paige wants to marry Boone at the Lakota village," Victoria said to Gretchen, hoping for an ally.

Gretchen cradled Daniel in her arms and turned. "I think that's a wonderful idea, Paige. You both have Lakota names and Red Crow and Singing Bird would be glad to have you there."

"See?!" Paige said. "Even Gretchen agrees. You're out voted, Victoria." Paige suddenly noticed someone missing. "Gretchen? Where's Call?"

"My husband insisted on bringing me here then riding out to help Boone build your new home, even though he's half asleep."

Paige smiled. She looked at Victoria. "Please, Victoria? I'm of age to do as I choose, but it would mean so much if you approved."

"I think it would be fun," Gretchen said, laying Daniel back in his basket, behind the counter.

"What's Ephraim going to say?" Victoria quietly groaned. "He isn't comfortable around those Indians the way Newt and Boone are." She sighed. "Very well, Paige."

"Thank you, big sister," Paige replied, planting a kiss on her sister's cheek.

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

Call rode out to where Boone Mackinaw was building the new house he and Paige Brandt would live in once they married. He paused, tilting his head slightly. Boone showed a wide grin. "Your eyes ain't playing tricks on you, Call," Boone said, "Paige is a hard woman to say no to."

Call nodded, smiling. He noticed Boone's beard was smaller.

"I only let her trim a little of my beard," Boone replied, rubbing his calloused hand over his whiskers. "Winter's setting in soon enough."

"Where's Mason?" Call asked, looking around. "I thought he was lending a hand?"

"He was . . . until Miss Carpenter offered him some kind of partnership in the hotel."

"Amanda?" Call replied. "I didn't know that." He shrugged. "Guess I'll find out soon enough."

Boone handed Call a hammer and a can of nails. "I hope you can drive a nail straighter than ol' Concho? He must of lost nigh unto thirty nails, bending them."

Call didn't answer. He was wondering why Amanda Carpenter would want Mason partnering up with her.

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

Throughout the recent ordeal of his wife, Ashley's murder, and the trip with Call to the sweat lodge of the Lakota, Clay Mosby had completely forgotten Mrs. Suzanne Van Atta was carrying his illegitimate child. Suzanne had patiently waited for Clay, knowing it would better her cause if she didn't press matters.

As she stood in front of the general store with her sister, Elizabeth Dewberry, and Dr. Ephraim Cleese, it appeared as if she was about to be rewarded. Clay Mosby had stepped out of his saloon -- Robert Shelby inside quickly draining a bottle of whiskey -- and gazed in her direction as the stage drew to a halt near the banking house. October 1882 was turning into a month he would have preferred to disregard in its entirety.

Suzanne Van Atta's momentary joy quickly soured as she heard a woman's voice call to Clay from near the stagecoach.

"Mr. Mosby!"

Clay turned to the woman. "Mrs. Custer?!" He was surprised to see not only Mrs. Libbie Custer standing in the street, but also Brother Sebastian Lowdermilk, the Jesuit priest. Forgetting Suzanne Van Atta, Clay immediately went over to greet the unlikely couple.

Elizabeth Custer extended her petite hand. "We are so very, very sorry for your tragic lost, Mr. Mosby."

Clay accepted her hand as he had learned to do back in the 50's as a boy before the war's dark days.

"Yes, indeed -- quite sorry," Brother Sebastian added. As soon as Ephraim Cleese realized the man in the black robe was his friend, he hastened to greet him -- having enjoyed several informative and like-minded conversations with the intelligent Jesuit.

"Sebastian! What a pleasant surprise!" Ephraim exclaimed.

Brother Sebastian, equally happy, embraced the doctor. "I've missed you -- missed our talks, Ephraim."

Clay Mosby took the occasion to assist Libbie Custer across the street to the hotel. Even though Amanda Carpenter seemed to own the hotel at present, Clay was still a gentleman and intended to make Mrs. Custer's stay as comfortable as possible. Suzanne Van Atta's chin lowered and she retreated inside the general store, disappointed.

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

"I'll be there in a moment," Gretchen Call said when she heard the door open and someone step inside the dry goods. Victoria and Paige were across the street in the hotel's dining room. She gently placed her tiny daughter back into the soft-bedded basket next to little Daniel Cleese then turned to the door. "Oh! Sheriff Peale. Can I help you?"

Austin Peale loomed in the doorway, smirking at Gretchen. "I don't see Call around to protect you now." He had never accepted or gotten past Newt Call marrying Gretchen. He didn't care spit about her -- he hated Call.

"Well, my husband may not be here right now, Mr. Peale, but he hasn't left us defenseless or helpless." Gretchen reached under the counter, pulling out the loaded shotgun Call had insisted the sisters keep in the store for protection.

Austin's expression changed immediately. "You're not going to use that."

"I don't want to -- I really don't. But I will if any man tries to harm any of us."

Austin hesitated -- he hadn't expected Call's wife to stand up to him. "I despise you and your sisters. You never should have come to Curtis Wells. You don't belong here."

Gretchen stood her ground -- not retreating. "You hate me because of your sister. You're a lonely, miserable man. Call told me what happened -- you weren't here so you blame him instead of yourself. Your father was supposed to watch her and he . . ."

"You shut your filthy mouth!" Austin hollered, taking an intimidating step toward Gretchen. Daniel Cleese woke and started crying, as he was prone to do. "I ought to take that shotgun out of your hand and slap your no good face."

Gretchen raised the shotgun, shaking nervously as she cast a quick glance at her frightened nephew. "Will you please just leave, Mr. Peale?"

Austin had heard the account of Gretchen shooting the Cheyenne warrior in the caves some months back. "Go back where you came from -- you're nothing but a little tramp."

"Excuse me?! What did you just call my sister?" Victoria demanded as she stepped inside the store with Paige.

Austin turned. He had considered yanking the weapon from Gretchen's hand and fondling her just so he could kill Call. It was his anger fantasizing for only the briefest of moments then he stormed out, nearly bumping Victoria and Paige.

"What was that all about?" Paige asked. Victoria had already picked up her crying son and was comforting him.

Gretchen let out a big sigh as she carefully placed the shotgun back underneath the counter. "The same as always, Paige. He just hates us -- especially me."

"Are you going to tell Newt?" Victoria asked her younger sister while bouncing her son gently. "You know how he reacts where you're concerned, Gretchen."

Gretchen nodded.

"He's already beaten a man to death for comments he made about you," Paige reminded them. "Although, that man deserved to be beaten."

"I have to tell him," Gretchen admitted. "He's my husband -- I won't keep anything from him. I'll just make him promise not to kill Sheriff Peale."

Victoria and Paige gazed at each other. It would be almost impossible to keep Call from going after Austin once Gretchen informed him of the incident.

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

"Do you want to take her for your wife, Senor Dish? It is a big responsibility."

Augustina Vega's words seemed to echo continuously in Dish Boggett's head as he rode toward Curtis Wells. It had been a most unexpected surprise when the Captain told Dish he could spend a couple of days away from Hat Creek. Of course, it was the quick and efficient job Dish and Augustina had performed by riding to Clara Allen's in Ogallala, Nebraska, then trailing the purchased horses back to Hat Creek, which allowed the unexpected favor.

Dish Boggett had slowed to barely a trot as he let Augustina Vega's words take root. He seemed to fall in love fairly easily but had never really allowed for envisioning the future once married. He knew if he were to marry Paige Brandt she would most likely insist on living close to her sisters -- a matter that would not sit well with Captain Call. He began thinking about the natural order of things -- there would be children to raise and support. Dish slowed to a walk -- as if the realization of taking a wife and children then following was setting in for the first time.

"Well, I guess if Newt can do it, so can I," he said out loud to the vast prairie. He frowned. Being hitched meant companionship. It meant there was a woman who he could love and be loved. But, the sweet taste of freedom which would most certainly vanish, was turning bitter inside his belly. Not because he didn't want a family -- he just wasn't sure he wanted it now. Dish groaned loud, then clapped heels to his mount and continued for Curtis Wells.

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

When she saw the three men dismount in front of the store, Gretchen Call began to shake slightly. She didn't want her husband going berserk and possibly killing Austin Peale. Not over a comment, regardless of what it was. Yet, she knew that from the time she had her mind set on making Call her man, Austin had continuously been a thorn in their side. As Call, Boone, and Mason stepped inside the dry goods, Gretchen decided to try and reason with Call.

Call's smile immediately tensed -- his eyes like iron -- when Gretchen told him Austin had been bothering her. She grabbed his hand, squeezing tight. "Call? Please listen. Please? I don't want you to kill him. Think about our daughter -- think about me. Please, Call?"

"What did he do?" Call demanded.

"He didn't do anything -- he just said things."

"What kind of things, Gretchen?"

Gretchen sighed. She had always managed to control him -- keep him from beating or killing someone. She knew he was tired from lack of sleep and his normal short fuse was even shorter right now. "He . . . called me a little tramp. Call, please don't . . .?!"

"He ain't getting away with that, Gretchen," Call stated, moving quick to the door.

It all seemed to happen in a blur after that. The three sisters -- two holding their babies -- along with Mason and Boone, poured out into the street just as Austin Peale was nearing the Dove with Mattie Shaw. Clay Mosby, Josiah Peale, and Dr. Cleese were stepping out of the hotel with Mrs. Libbie Custer and Brother Sebastian.

Austin Peale suddenly tensed, seeing Call marching angrily toward him. He cupped his hand, reaching for his pistol.

"Draw that gun and I'll kill you, Austin!" Call loudly promised. Austin pulled his hand away then when Call was within reach of his much longer arms, Austin swung wildly at Call.

Call easily ducked then hurled his fist so hard at Austin he lifted his boots off the ground, the blow catching Austin on the chin, sending him toppling backward -- Call's momentum carrying him on top of the sheriff.

"You sonofabitch!" Call yelled, his fist repeatedly pummeling Austin's face.

"Call! Stop it!" Mosby ordered -- his voice drowned out by Call's yelling. Two of Mosby's men came running with their guns drawn. Mason Dobbs and Boone Mackinaw drew their guns. Gretchen, holding their infant daughter, was pulled back toward the dry goods by Paige as Victoria stepped back with Daniel in her arms.

Libbie Custer and Brother Sebastian stared in shock. By now, Amanda, Ike, Unbob, Dewey, Twyla's girls, and the Dewberry sisters were all outside watching the brutal display.

Austin began fighting back, suddenly hammering his fists into Call. The much larger Austin managed to roll Call onto his back and connect with punches to Call's mouth and cheek but Call's eyes never flinched, causing Austin to momentarily loosen his grip. Call grabbed Austin's hair and tried to rip his hair out of his scalp while Austin screamed.

"You bastard!" Call yelled. On each side there was a standoff -- Mosby's men holding their guns -- Mason and Boone holding theirs.

Josiah finally ran into the street. "Newt! Austin! Stop! Stop! You'll kill each other!"

Call kneed Austin in the side of his head, stunning him. He began slamming Austin's head into the hard ground until Austin went limp, lying in a puddle of his own blood, breathing hard.

Ephraim had run to his wife and small son. "What provoked this disgusting act by Call?"

"Austin called Gretchen a tramp, Ephraim," Victoria replied. "I heard him say it."

With Austin soundly beaten, Call stood up, looking as beat up, himself. "He ever calls my wife a tramp, I'll cut his tongue out, next time!" He stared at Josiah and Mosby, then turned and staggered toward his wife.

"My God," Clay Mosby breathed. Even though Newt Call had changed some, where his wife, Gretchen was concerned, if anyone bothered her he was still an uncontrollable, vicious animal. Josiah and Zeke went to help Austin.

"Call, you're bleeding," Paige said to her brother-in-law.

He swallowed hard, looking at Gretchen. She didn't say anything -- they all knew his ways were extreme and violent. "Let's just go home, Call," Gretchen said. She didn't enjoy this but knew Austin Peale had brought it on himself.

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

While a visibly upset Mrs. Libbie Custer was consoled by Clay Mosby at their dinner table, Mattie, Amanda, and Brother Sebastian Lowdermilk sat at a table discussing the brutal beating Call had inflicted upon Austin Peale.

"I don't miss him sleeping here in the hotel," Amanda remarked. "That poor Missouri girl has got herself a handful to deal with each morning waking up next to Call."

"I never seen nothing like it before," Mattie shared. "He's so different when he's with his wife. She probably shouldn't have told him what Austin said to her. She knows how violent and crazy he gets."

"Peale's been picking on her ever since Newt started showing a liking for Coyote Girl," Mason Dobbs said, joining the group. "Peale's hardheaded and tends to be a slow learner."

"I do hope my dear friend, Dr. Cleese, sees to the poor, battered sheriff's condition," Brother Sebastian replied.

"He better get it done, amigo," Mason said. "Come morning, we're heading out to Red Crow's village for the wedding."

"Wedding? What wedding?" Mattie asked.

"Paige Brandt and Boone Mackinaw -- they're getting hitched out at the Lakota encampment," Mason informed them.

"I could marry them," Brother Sebastian said, suddenly perking up. "Ephraim will be there, will he not?"

"I'll wager he will, amigo. All three of the sisters will be there. Same as me." He winked at the Black Robe.

"Then, it's settled," Brother Sebastian replied. "They simply cannot have a binding marriage if performed by the Lakota. And, Ephraim is the only person in Curtis Wells as intelligent as I am."

Amanda stood up. "I'll get some coffee." As she passed the table where Clay Mosby sat with Elizabeth Custer, Clay shot her an angry glare. Amanda laughed.

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

Bloodied towels and bowls filled with red water had long since become commonplace at the Call home. During the short period of their marriage -- which now was eleven months -- Call had adjusted to the requests of his wife, allowing her to clean and bandage his wounds when necessary. It didn't make sense to him, but it pleased Gretchen, and that was good enough.

Gretchen paused from wiping the dried blood off her husband's face. "Thank you, Call," she quietly said. "I hate violence and it never pleases me to see someone beaten up like Sheriff Peale was today, but I'm so thankful you love me and want to protect me." She leaned down to kiss him.

"My guess is he don't learn," Call replied, just as quietly. "Like as not, it's bound to happen again." He paused, looking at their daughter laughing in the nearby chair.

Gretchen smiled, then sighed. "We might not sleep again tonight, Call. Becky seems determined to stay awake." She laid the blood-stained towel over the back of Call's chair and lifted the tiny infant into a sitting position. "Isn't our Becky beautiful, Sweetheart?"

Call nodded, hypnotized by his infant daughter. He stared at the seven week old baby, marveling at what had been created out of his and Gretchen's love for each other.

"Maybe our little Becky will have a brother or another sister this time next year," Gretchen wishfully mentioned.

Call stood up. "We best try to get some shut-eye, Coyote Girl. We got us a long day come first light."

Gretchen picked up Becky. "Tonight she can sleep in her own room."

Call spun around. "No!"

Gretchen's eyes widened. "No?!"

"She's too little -- something could happen," Call anxiously replied.

It pleased Gretchen that her husband was so concerned about their baby. "She's seven weeks old, Call. She'll just be on the other side of the wall -- in her room. Mr. Scully built a door between the rooms. I can get to her quick enough if she wakes."

Call hesitated, not convinced that placing the tiny, helpless child in a room alone was best.

"Trust me, Call. It's time," Gretchen whispered, standing close to him.

"Just one more night," Call replied. He just couldn't bring himself to let their infant daughter sleep in her own room -- not yet, anyway.

Gretchen shook her head, smiling. "All right, Call. Anything you say."

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

In the morning, when the group at the Cleese house prepared to ride to Call and Gretchen's home, Dish Boggett came riding up. Seeing Paige close to a young looking mountain man, he immediately ignored everyone else and walked over to the couple.

"Dish? What are you doing here?" Paige uncomfortably asked.

"Well, I guess I came to see you, Paige," he replied. "Who's this?" He pointed to Boone.

"Boone Mackinaw," the young bearded man said, extending his hand -- flashing a wide smile.

Dish reluctantly accepted the man's hand.

"We're getting married today, Dish," Paige said.

"Married?" Dish frowned. Part of him was relieved -- part of him was angry.

"I'm sorry, Dish," Paige said, hugging him. "Don't be angry with me."

"Well, I ain't mad . . . much," he grumbled. He nodded to them and went to his horse, mounted and rode off, leaving Paige feeling slightly confused.

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

With Mason Dobbs out of town for the wedding at Red Crow's village, Amanda Carpenter knew she would need strength and courage to deal with Clay Mosby. She was waiting for him when he entered to take breakfast with Mrs. Libbie Custer.

"Where's my deed, Clay?" Amanda pressed, blocking his path. "I want my deed."

"Amanda," Clay calmly replied, "we both know you took advantage of me at a most inopportune moment. I hardly have need of your five thousand dollars and if I were to relinquish my holding of this hotel, I would sell it for a substantially more profitable price."

"If I have to," she boldly stated, "I'll wire a Territorial Marshal or Judge to come here."

Clay glanced at her, smirked, then went and sat with Mrs. Custer.

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

The wedding party arrived at the Lakota village by mid morning. Singing Bird, the bride of Red Crow, hastened to hold Gretchen's baby. "Tokala Cikala" ("Little Fox") she said, smiling at Becky. "Wiya ecel cistila" ("She is so tiny") Singing Bird said to her husband.

Red Crow smiled at Gretchen. "Singing Bird says your daughter, Little Fox, is very small."

Gretchen nodded. "I think our Becky won't be very tall, Red Crow." Singing Bird handed the tiny infant back to her mother. It was time to begin the wedding between Boone and Paige.

The Lakota of Red Crow's village had come -- for the most part -- to accept Call and the Brandt sisters. Boone Mackinaw had won their approval the night he charged into their camp warning them of an ambush that took the lives of Red Crow's cousin and the young Cheyenne wife of Etienne Meloche, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring.

Both Ephraim and Victoria remained somewhat ill-at-ease whenever they were among these Indians. Brother Sebastian delighted in his opportunity for real adventure and Mason Dobbs wondered if being intimate with a Lakota squaw was similar to the hot-blooded, passionate senoritas he had known in New Mexico or across the border in Ciudad Juarez.

Brother Sebastian stood ready to perform the wedding ceremony. Paige had insisted he not only refer to them by their Christian given names, but also by their Lakota names. While the Black Robe was speaking, Victoria began to reflect on the sisters' eventful year and a half since arriving in Montana. How Gretchen had never once given an inch while pursuing Newt Call, until she not only won his heart, but his hand in marriage. Victoria smiled as she gazed at the young couple, so in love and with a precious baby.

As the oldest sister, Victoria had taken the time to write an extended letter and mail it back to St. Joseph, Missouri, informing the sisters' parents of Paige's marriage to the young mountain man. It had happened so quickly they hadn't received a letter from home yet.

Victoria barely heard Brother Sebastian as he referred to Rabbit Two Knives and his bride-to-be, Eyes of Summer Sky. She contemplated her good fortune, now the wife of the respected town doctor, with a baby boy. She was thrust from her reflective state as Boone wrapped his arms around Paige, kissing her -- eagerly awaiting night to consummate their marriage in private.

Brother Sebastian raised his hands. "Mr. and Mrs. Boone Mackinaw -- wed on Sunday, October 22, the year of our Lord 1882."

Nearly a full year had passed since Gretchen and Victoria married. Paige hugged her new husband. "I can't wait until we have our first child, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives." Boone's face reddened as he grinned at the thought of making babies with the prettiest Brandt girl.

"Can Wape <Ka 'Sna Wi -- the Moon of Falling Leaves," Red Crow nodded. "You each have one of the four gifts from the Lakota Wheel," Red Crow informed the newlyweds. "Masti Ska Mila Nu<Pa ("Rabbit Two Knives) has courage -- he is brave. "I Sta<Mahpiya Bloketu ("Eyes of Summer Sky), yours is fortitude -- you are strong. Wasake."

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

The unexpected kindness of a Yankee widow continued to amaze Clay Mosby. Somehow, Libbie Custer had managed to do what Robert Shelby couldn't do -- help him with his grieving over the murder of his wife, Ashley. Libbie's heartfelt concern, sharing her own pain and loneliness over losing her husband six years earlier had reached Clay's innermost being. He felt new life surging through his muscles as he devised a new plan for attempting to take back his hotel.

"Are you proposing a partnership, Clay?" Amanda asked. She had to admit, climbing back into bed with Clay Mosby might be worth the risk.

"It would be far more profitable for each of us, Amanda," he said, then let his eyes openly undress her, to her pleasant surprise.

"I told you before I can be quite . . . sophisticated," Amanda breathed in a sultry voice.

For the past week, Clay's desire for lust had been non-existent. He now felt a twinge in his lower belly -- a stirring that meant only one thing. Amanda couldn't help but notice the sudden change and smiled. "Well, I will most definitely consider it, Clay. I can't say I haven't thought about what you have to offer." Her eyes were now locked on his crotch, causing the blood to flow even quicker inside his body.

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

"She's been married only an hour and she's already causing you to get upset," Gretchen said, laughing.

Victoria ignored the remark, staring at Paige. "Why would you even consider such . . ." she didn't finish -- instead, turning to Boone. "What's the matter with you, Boone Mackinaw?"

"I want to do it," Paige Mackinaw replied. "I'm a married woman now, Victoria. It's already been decided. Boone and I are spending our first few nights of marriage out on the plains."

"But, it's cold at night and in the morning," Victoria argued. "It will be November in another week and a half -- winter is coming."

"Well," Paige pressed, "my husband will keep me warm, won't you Mr. Rabbit Two Knives?"

Boone's face turned a few shades red as he sheepishly avoided Victoria's stern eyes.

"I have slept on the prairies during the autumn months," Brother Sebastian offered, causing Victoria to glare angrily at the Jesuit.

While the sisters were arguing about where Paige should spend her first night as a married woman, three men on horseback rode into the village. There was already a shortage of Lakota warriors -- most of the young braves had gone hunting for game.

"Those are some fine looking white girls," one of the men said, pointing to the three Brandt sisters. "They'll fetch a large sum if we take them down to Mexico. An Alcalde -- maybe some fat, aristocrat Hidalgo. Are you selling?"

Call, Mason, and Boone had all been nearby, talking to Red Crow. Call spun around, drawing his Colt. Mason crossed his hands in front of his waist, drawing both pistols.

"I'll wager we sell you your life, amigo," Mason said, cocking both hammers.

"No need to get unfriendly, neighbor," one of the others replied. "We're slavers -- we can all make a handsome profit." The three slavers all grabbed for their guns.

Boone Mackinaw snatched the spear from Red Crow's hands and ran to the nearest slaver, driving the lance through the man's stomach, knocking him off his horse.

Mason fired both pistols, hitting one of the slavers and knocking him to the ground. The third slaver, seeing how quick his partners had died, turned to ride away but Red Crow shot an arrow which impaled his throat, ripping through the other side. The third slaver fell dead.

It had happened so fast -- Call moving quickly to shield his wife and baby as he sought to protect all three of the sisters.

"Nice work, amigo," Mason said to Boone.

"That was fine shooting, Concho," Boone replied.

Brother Sebastian and Dr. Cleese had been inside one of the Lakota lodges and were shocked as they emerged, seeing the three dead bodies.

"They wanted to make us slaves?" Paige said to her new husband.

Boone hugged his bride. "They won't be making slaves out of any girl ever again."

Red Crow approached Gretchen and Victoria, who both cradled their babies close to their chests. They stood close to Call, shaking.

"I am sorry, my friends," Red Crow said. "I have never seen those men before today. It is good they died -- they were bad. Now, come. We must eat before you leave."

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

"I'm going to help Victoria in the store for a week so Paige can have some time to enjoy married life with her husband," Gretchen said, as she washed the dishes. "Do you mind, Call? Becky can stay in the store."

Call nodded. "Right now, I'd settle for a decent night's sleep. You figure the Little Coyote will sleep tonight, Gretchen?"

Gretchen turned, gazing at their infant daughter. She rolled her eyes. "I hope so, Call. When are you going back to Hat Creek? I want to go with you. Now that the Captain built us our own cabin, it's so much nicer."

Call stood up from the table. "I reckon soon as I help finish building your sister's house with Mason -- least until Boone comes back."

"Call, would you bring Becky into our bedroom and lay her on the bed so I can put her in the little nightgown I just finished sewing?"

Becky's tiny arms reached for her papa as Call lifted her, smiling and kissing her cheek. He went into the bedroom while Gretchen continued to talk.

"That was much too frightening today, Call. That must be horrible to be stolen and taken to Mexico and sold as a slave. I think Paige has a good husband. He'll protect her -- like you protect me. Do you think Paige will like spending her first night as a wife somewhere out on the prairie, Call?" Gretchen paused. "Call? Did you hear me? Do you think Paige will like sleeping outside tonight?"

When Call didn't answer her, Gretchen put her hands on her hips. "What's he doing?" She stepped over to the doorway of their bedroom and smiled warmly. Call was asleep on the bed -- Becky asleep in his arm. Gretchen kissed them both lightly and climbed onto the bed, snuggling close to her husband and daughter. It had been the most wonderful year of her life -- marrying Newt Call, the only man she ever loved -- and giving birth to their precious little Becky.

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

Boone had taken his bride south of the Lakota encampment, to a secluded spot about sixty or seventy yards from the Flat Willow Creek. He pitched a tent -- big enough for the two newlyweds, then made a small fire. When a pair of grouse appeared nearby -- both reddish- brown in color -- Paige Mackinaw asked her husband if she could shoot one. Happy that his wife had an interest in learning the ways of the mountain man, Boone quietly handed Paige his Winchester.

Bam! "I got it! Boone! I hit it!" Paige excitedly exclaimed, too excited to realize the other bird was flying away as feathers exploded into the air, falling like snow.

Boone was proud of Paige. He quickly retrieved the fat bird but Paige took it from his hand.

"Let me clean and cook it, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives." Paige leaned up and kissed her husband. "I want this to be a special night for us."

Boone flashed his wide grin. "You've got the hair of a bear, Mrs. Paige Mackinaw."

Paige put her lower lip out as if she were pouting. "Boone Mackinaw! Did you just insult me?"

Boone laughed, pulling Paige close to him. "I just gave you a high compliment, Miss Eyes of Summer Sky."

"You did?" she replied.

"I sure did. That's a mountain man expression -- means bulldog courage."

Paige smiled.

Boone took the grouse from her hand and dropped it on the ground then picked his wife up. "It's time we consummate our marriage. Are you ready?"

Paige's eyes lit up. She nodded shyly. "I don't think you can carry me into our tent this way, Boone."

Boone twisted and bent, opening the flat and sliding both of them inside the tent. They were passionate -- devouring each other. A little while later, Paige lay close to Boone, their naked bodies content. She hoped she had conceived but looked forward to trying over and over again during the night.

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

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