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.


Mosby's Dilemma
(5th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

The myth of Mosby, like the myth of Jesse James,
is for some the legend of Robin Hood . . .

(David B. Sachsman on The Mosby Myth)

Clay Mosby finished pulling his boots on and paused as he reflected on the past night. Victoria Brandt had appealed to him for help in a situation he had no reason to be involved in. He wondered why she seemed to be so set against Call showing an interest in one of her younger sisters. Clay knew there was something she wasn't telling him. Something she refused to reveal that was causing her decision.

He stood up and buttoned his white shirt as he thought about how angry Austin Peale was when he decided to speak once more with Victoria before choosing how he would deal with Call. Austin had marched away babbling about doing it himself.

Clay looked at himself in the mirror then opened his door to go downstairs and begin another day far from his home in Virginia.

He barely stepped onto the wooden floor when the front doors began rattling. He heard a voice. "Clay! Open up! Clay!" Mosby felt the side of his head. A pain was settling above his temple and it was a cup of coffee he wanted to start the morning with, not a cup of complaining from outside.

"Clay! Open up! Clay!"

He trudged to the door. "What is it, Josiah? Can't it wait five minutes?"

"No! Clay! Open up! Please?"

Clay unlocked the door and Josiah barged in. "Austin's gone! I looked everywhere. He was angry last night. Clay. What happened? Where is he?"

"Josiah, Austin is a grown man. I can hardly be expected to keep track of everywhere he goes, now can I? Hmm?"

"But, Clay," Josiah pleaded, "I have a bad feeling about this. Like something horrible is going to happen."

"Yes, well," Clay said, "last week you were predicting the end of the world."

"It's not funny, Clay. He was talking crazy last night. About killing Newt."

Clay shook his head. He had warned Austin last night not to do anything. "All right, Josiah. Just settle down. Did he say anything about where he was going?"

"I don't know," Josiah groaned. "He said he was going to show everyone."

Clay put his hand on Josiah's back and aimed him toward the doors. "Go home, Josiah. Go across the street and have breakfast. Austin will be back soon."

Josiah nodded and walked out. Clay closed the doors and walked over to the bar. He hadn't expected Austin to take the situation into his own hands.

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

Austin Peale rode out of town before first light and headed west until he reached the crossing where the Flat Willow Creek ran into the Box Elder Creek. He continued past it another three or four miles then cut north to follow the road to a small, rundown ranch.

The deputy's badge shined from the morning sun's reflection as Austin strode confidently up to the cabin and pounded his fist against the solid wood door. The door opened only two or three inches as Austin spoke to an unseen dweller behind the door, then went inside.

"How did you find me? What do you want, Sheriff Pe . . .? Deputy Peale! Well, look at that!"

I'm here on business, McSween," Austin said as he stared at Bill McSween. "How would you like to pay back the man who killed your brother?"

Bill McSween studied Austin carefully. He shook his head. "I had time to hear the stories. I heard Call killed my brother, Bob, and Prentiss. I also heard he brought them to your town to save you from hanging. You want me to shoot him down? What kind of backstabbing bastard are you, Peale?"

"I have my reasons," Austin calmly replied. "Besides, you don't have to kill him. I just want you to fill both his legs with so much lead he never walks again. I want him crippled."

Bill McSween laughed. "How much you paying me?"

"No money," Austin said. "Crippling the man who killed your brother ought to be worth it."

"What do I do?" McSween asked, "just ride into town and bang!" he said as he pretended to fire a bullet from his finger.

"He'll come to you," Austin said. "Do you have any men working with you?"

McSween carefully eyeballed Austin. "A couple."

Austin opened the door and stepped outside. "Good. Here's my plan . . ."

Austin told McSween exactly what to do. Then he mounted his horse.

"You still haven't told me how you found me, Peale?" McSween asked.

Austin turned to look at him. "You mentioned this place the time you were in Curtis Wells. Before you rode Mosby around like a pig." Then he rode off.

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

Behind the Montana Statesman in the two-room dwelling Clay Mosby had provided for the Brandt Sisters, Gretchen sat with her eyelids at half mast. She had spent most of the night out with Call and after two hours of sleep had been woken up to go to the store.

"What must I do, Gretchen?" Victoria asked while dressing for work. "Must I sell the store and make arrangements for the three of us to return to Missouri?"

"I won't go," Gretchen replied as she struggled to open her eyes. "And if you insist on it you know I will run away with Call. Is that what you want, Victoria? To separate the three of us?"

Paige brought Gretchen a steaming cup of coffee to help wake her up. Victoria looked at both of her younger sisters.

Gretchen took a sip and furiously waved her hand near her mouth. "Ooohhh! That's so hot!" She opened her eyes and stood up as she walked to Victoria and hugged her. "Why are you against Call and I being together? I . . . I don't understand?"

Victoria opened her mouth then paused as she put her arms around Gretchen. "Just trust me, Gretchen."

Paige stepped close to her sisters. "Call saved us from Dorian Mowery. He protected us from the madman on the road. He watched over us at the Indian village. He protected us in Sand Springs from two men. And he's protected Gretchen from that filthy Antonio."

"We have a dry goods store to open," Victoria replied as she pulled away to finish buttoning her dress.

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

Breakfast in the Lonesome Dove Hotel was always busy. Especially since it was the only restaurant in town. The clatter of plates and the chatter of voices complimented the smell of hot eggs and crisp bacon. Amanda paused momentarily as she looked at one table.

"Well, I hope the food isn't as bad as that look on your face, Mattie?"

Mattie looked up at Amanda and smiled. "Oh, the food's fine. I'm just not much in the mood to eat today." She looked over at young Dewey. His feet were swinging under the table as he broke two pieces of bacon and made a circle with the food. He wiped the grease on his overalls and began eating his masterpiece.

Amanda pulled out a chair and sat down. "That was unexpected what Gretchen Brandt said last night about her and Call. I never thought any girl would affect Call that much. If I were you, Mattie, I'd forget about him and take a good look at his uncle." Amanda raised her eyebrows and nodded.

Mattie laughed. "His uncle? You mean Mason Dobbs?"

"He's a whole lot more predictable and dependable than Call is." Amanda stood back up. "I can't talk now but we'll continue this conversation later."

Mattie nodded slightly as Amanda scooted away.

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

Call stood in front of the Curtis Wells Livery Stable sign with his hands wrapped around his holster belt and his head down as he impatiently shuffled his boots in the dirt. Sleeping only an hour or two didn't usually affect him.

"Excuse me, Sir."

He turned around to the familiar voice. Gretchen stood there flashing a huge smile and giggling. She twisted a lock of her hair with her fingers. Call smiled back at her. She was wearing the white blouse and brown skirt he had first seen her in. They both took a step toward each other and passionately embraced.

"It feels like forever since you held me, Call," Gretchen whispered.

"Only been a few hours," he mumbled.

"I know, but it feels like so long. Does it for you, Call?"

"Feels the same for me too, Gretchen," he replied.

"Call? What would you do if Victoria sold the store and we went back to Missouri?" Gretchen bit her lip and looked intently at him.

"I'd ride straight to Missouri and find you."

"Would you, Call? You really would?"

"Yep. Be far less troublesome just to keep you here and not let her take you."

"Walk me to the store, Call," Gretchen said as she hooked her arms around his arm and leaned against him. They headed down the street toward the dry goods and clothing store.

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

Clay Mosby stepped inside the dry goods store and paused as if to await the regal horns announcing his arrival. It was early in the afternoon and the store was empty except for the two women examining rolls of dress material.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Mosby," Paige said as she stood nearby assisting the women. "Victoria is in the back if you'd like to see her."

Clay removed his hat as he strode down the aisle. "Thank you, Miss Brandt." He noticed Gretchen at the counter scribbling on a piece of paper. She was either lost in her own world or had chosen to ignore him.

"Oh, Clay! Mr. Mosby. I didn't know you were here," Victoria said as she walked out of the back room.

Clay walked up to her. "A word, Miss Brandt. In private."

"Oh . . . yes, of course," she replied. "We could talk out back," she suggested.

"Fine," Clay answered as he followed her out behind the store. "Shall we walk some, Victoria?" he said as he extended his hand. Victoria nodded and the two of them slowly headed toward the bath house then up the hill to the cemetery. Victoria followed Clay's lead and stopped when he did.

"I'm afraid you have not been entirely honest with me, my dear," Clay began.

"Clay? What are you saying? Honest about what?" Victoria nervously replied.

"About your sister and her new beau. You've held back something." Clay looked her in the eye. "I will admit that initially I truly believed Mr. Call was pursuing your sister for the sole purpose of annoying me. However, a man such as Newt Call would not have allowed last night's little show unless he was serious. It was obvious that they are both quite fond of each other. Now, my dear Victoria. either you fess up and tell me exactly why you're so against them or I will consider this matter over."

Victoria began to tremble and turned away as tears welled up in her eyes. "Very well, Clay. My own sisters don't even know what I'm about to tell you."

"That's better," Clay replied.

"Years ago . . . when I was seventeen, I . . . I met a young man. He was a buffalo hunter. I fell in love with him. He said all the sweet things a young girl dreams of hearing." She paused as she folded her arms and walked slowly past the wooden crosses leaning crooked out of the ground. "Gretchen was only thirteen and Paige eleven. They had no idea about Samuel. I even managed to keep it from my mother and father. He was going to build a cabin for us. Then one day he was standing outside when a man robbed the Adams Express Office. Samuel shot the man. There was a bounty on him and he collected $25. My whole life changed that day, Clay."

"Do go on," Clay urged as he produced a clean linen handkerchief for Victoria's tears.

"The enticement of fast money appealed to him and he took up as a bounty hunter. He said he would come back for me but he didn't. Six months later our folks took me up to Union Star to spend the winter tending to a sick cousin. I would see Samuel in town and he walked by me as if I weren't even there. He had taken up with another girl." Victoria looked at Clay now. She had grown strong over the years and wouldn't collapse into his arms, no matter how much she wanted to.

There was a heavy silence for a minute, then Clay said, "you can hardly attribute the behavior of one man to every other man that takes up bounty hunting."

"I just want to protect my sisters . . . protect them."

"Victoria, the more you try to separate them the more your sister will fight you. Trust me, family is something to be treasured every moment. It would be to your benefit if you were to no longer resist it. Now, I am not a supporter of Newt Call but even you had to see the joy in their eyes last night."

Victoria stared at the cold, silent ground. "You make it sound so simple, Clay."

"It is, my dear. Come, let me walk you back to the store," Clay said as he gently put his hand on Victoria's arm.

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

Austin Peale rode back into town without any fanfare. He stabled his horse then walked over to the Ambrosia for a drink. Hardly anyone took notice of the man who rode in a few minutes after him. Inside the saloon Austin leaned over the bar and downed his whiskey. He had a second shot then hurried outside.

"Austin!"

He saw his father walking toward him.

"Where were you?" Josiah asked as he met him on the street.

"Not now, father. I'm busy," Austin replied as he walked toward the Dove.

"Austin! Stop acting this way! What's bothering you?"

Austin paused as he turned to his father. "Where's Mosby?"

"I don't know. He was . . ."

Austin continued toward the Dove. Josiah stood in the street watching.

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

Call walked between the Ambrosia Club and the telegraph office on his way up the hill to sit on the log that had become his and Gretchen's spot. He pulled his hat off and lowered his head to look at the ground. How did it happen? When did his feelings change from liking Gretchen to feeling love? He thought about the night she stayed with him up in the livery. They both knew it then. He didn't get the chance to reflect any longer as Gretchen came running up the hill to join him. He met her and swept her into his arms as she giggled happily.

*****

"You never talk about your folks, Call," Gretchen said after they had been sitting together for a while.

"My mama died when I was little. Bunch of Texas Rangers took me in. Was down in San Antonio. Never knew who my pa was till I was all growed up."

Gretchen tightened her arms around his. " That must have been exciting to grow up with Texas Rangers. You must have so many stories you can tell me." She paused as she sighed. "I'm sorry you lost your mother. Did your pa pass on too?"

"Nope. He's up near Miles City."

"Will he ever come visit us?" Gretchen asked as she closed her eyes and smiled at thoughts of a hopeful future.

"The Cap'n?" Call shook his head. "Ain't likely."

"Well then, Newt Call, you'll just have to take me out there one day to meet him proper like."

Call stared at Gretchen. He could see by her eyes that she was serious. He laughed a little. "Maybe I will."

Gretchen laughed and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper from her pocket. "Look what I did today, Call." He watched with interest as she unfolded the paper to reveal a half dozen fancy hearts in pencil. Within each heart were the initials NC & GB. "Do you like them, Call?"

He nodded and smiled. "I like them just fine."

"I want you to carve our initials in the tree where we had our picnic yesterday. Will you do it for me, Call? Please?"

The soft, warm smile and the sparkling green eyes were melting him again. "I reckon we could do that. Suppose I could carve coyote," he said as he laughed.

"Anything you say, Call," she replied as she gazed into his eyes and smiled.

"What about you, Gretchen?" Call said as he pulled her closer to him. "I don't hardly know much about what you were like."

"Well," she began as she nuzzled into his chest, "I love the stories about the Pony Express riders. I have an old copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette from April 3rd. Back in '60. My father saved it for me. That was the day the Pony Express began riding." She paused for a moment as she thought. "I suppose I don't favor styles or fashion as much as Victoria and Paige. I've never shot a gun. I like to read books. Do you like to read, Call?"

He shook his head. "I ain't much for reading."

"I want to read you something I think you'll like. I'm going to bring it on our next picnic."

Call stood up and pulled Gretchen with him. "C'mon, Coyote. I best get you down to the Dove. Gonna take good care of you."

Gretchen smiled and hugged him tight. "And I'll take such good care of you, my champion."

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

Clay Mosby walked past some of his drinking customers. He stepped out of the saloon and looked around. He hoped his talk with Victoria Brandt would be effective and she would put her energy to other uses instead of trying to separate Call from her sister. He saw Austin turn the corner near Twyla's and go inside the sporting club. As long as Austin was visiting one of Twyla's girls he couldn't cause any trouble. Clay could talk to him tomorrow.

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

"Don't you two have something else to do?" Mattie said to Luther and Mason. "I would like to close and eat something."

"Then I'll take supper with you, Mattie," Mason said as he quickly moved to the door. Luther followed behind as he looked down at Dewey.

"I ain't hungry much. I got a powerful thirst, though," Luther said. "I'll be at the No.10 Mason. First one's on me."

"I'll join you later then, amigo," Mason replied as he smiled at Mattie.

"Are you sure you want to have supper with me, Mason?" Mattie asked.

"Wouldn't say it if I wasn't," he replied. "How about it, Dewey? You hungry?"

Dewey nodded and walked toward the door.

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

Among the drunks and dwellers of tent town no one bothered to notice Austin's late night meeting with a stranger. Austin spoke briefly to the man then departed as he climbed the back stairs of Twyla's and disappeared inside the whorehouse.

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

Next morning Austin stepped outside of Twyla's and stood on the porch observing the town. Sunday morning. Stores were closed and only the saloons and hotel were open for business. Soon his plan would unfold and the trap would be sprung. There were some folks that were just too predictable and Austin felt he had not only addressed the situation but had covered any chance of a mistake. All he had to do was sit and wait.

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

As they had done for the past few Sunday's, Call and Gretchen were going riding. They walked out of the Dove together after taking a meal and were about to head down the street to the livery when something unusual occurred.

A man on horseback came charging out of the livery as he rode out like the devil was on his tail.

"My horse!" Gretchen yelled. "Call! He's stealing Sugar!"

"Sonofabitch!" Call yelled as he let go of Gretchen and ran down the street. He pulled his Colt and fired once and missed then cocked the hammer and squinted for a second and fired a second shot. The bullet tore into the thief's shoulder as he continued to distance himself from the town.

Gretchen caught up to Call and looked at him. He could see the panic in her eyes. Call shoved his gun back into his holster and ran into the livery to saddle the Hellbitch. Gretchen was right there at his side.

"I'll get that bastard. I'll get your horse back too, Gretchen," Call said as he turned to her before mounting to leave.

Gretchen hugged him and held him tight. "You just come back to me. You hear me, Newt Call? Just come back safe to me. That's all I care about. I love you, Call."

Call held her close and kissed her. "I'll come back." He looked at her. "I love you, Gretchen."

"Call," she whispered as he let go of her and mounted his horse. He nodded to her and rode out of the livery and out of town. Gretchen ran out to the street and closed her eyes and silently prayed.

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

Austin Peale watched Call ride away then strolled across the street to the Ambrosia. He made his way to the end of the bar where Mosby stood.

"You can relax now, Mosby," Austin said, "I took care of everything."

Clay looked at Austin for a moment. "I've already spoken to Miz Victoria concerning her sister and Call. I will not allow myself to be pulled into this."

"It's too late for that," Austin replied.

"Too late? What are you saying, Austin? What have you done?"

Austin teetered back slightly at the authoritative words. "Three men are waiting to gun down Call two hours ride west of here."

"WHAT?!" Mosby yelled. He grabbed Austin by the shirt and pulled him close. "Are you mad?! If anything happens I swear I will hang you, Austin!"

Austin shoved Clay away from him. "Am I mad? Are you mad? You wanted this just as much as I do. Besides, it's too late now."

"I do not want him gunned down over something such as this. Now, you tell me exactly what you did," Clay ordered.

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

Word spread quickly about the stolen horse. Victoria Brandt didn't voice her fears but she had a bad feeling that this was not just a coincidence. Paige offered any support she could to Gretchen as she reminded her of the recent occasions when Call had helped them.

The sisters searched for Mason Dobbs to enlist his help in riding with Call but he had taken Mattie and Dewey out for a ride in the wagon since it was Sunday. They found Deputy Peale but he claimed to be sick and needed to lay in bed.

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

The thief rode nonstop over the plains as he crossed the two creeks and returned to the rundown ranch where Bill McSween was waiting.

Call tracked Gretchen's horse easily as he followed no more than a few minutes behind. He pulled up to check his weapons knowing this wasn't going to be settled without a fight. He continued riding and grew wary as soon as he saw the tracks veer north and up a hill. Call drew his gun and peering carefully around the tree-covered terrain he urged the Hellbitch to proceed slowly.

Just as he emerged into a clearing and saw Gretchen's horse a shot was fired from his right side. Call felt the lead slug whiz past his head. He threw himself off his horse and bounded up off the ground to run for the nearest cover as another shot was fired. He slid into the hard dirt behind a gray boulder. There were many of these boulders scattered over the hill. The Hellbitch ran off but not too far. Call cursed as he hadn't taken the time to grab his rifle and was now pinned down as gunfire came from the cabin where Sugar was tied.

Call was trapped behind the boulder. Shots were being fired from his right and up ahead. He couldn't pull back to his left because there was no place to hide. After keeping his face in the dirt for almost twenty minutes he heard the faint sound of another horse approaching. Call's eyes widened. It was Mosby. Sonofabitch, Call thought. He lost sight of Mosby. After a long minute a shot was fired to his right and he heard a voice groan.

Suddenly, Clay Mosby came running across the road toward Call. He wore his white ruffled shirt and his brown duster. Call wasn't sure if Mosby had come to try and kill him or to help. Mosby dodged bullets as he reached the boulder where Call was holding up.

"What the hell are you doing here, Mosby?" Call demanded.

"Let's just say I'm quite fond of young love, shall we?" Clay replied as he smiled at Call.

"This ain't your fight. I don't need your help," Call angrily answered.

"Isn't that just like you, Call," Clay calmly said. "Three against one and you would rather fight alone."

"I didn't ask for your help."

Bullets were ricocheting close by as Clay moved closer to Call. "It would appear you now have my help, whether you want it or not. Well, at least there should only be two of them up there."

Call hesitated as he looked at Mosby. "You kill that one over there?"

"Shot him right through the head," Mosby replied.

"Give up, Call!" a voice yelled from the cabin.

"How the hell do they know me?" Call mumbled.

"It's Bill McSween. It was a trap, Call," Clay said.

"McSween?"

"Yes. You killed his brother. Remember?" Mosby said.

"I know you're out there too, Mosby!" McSween yelled. "This is my lucky day. I can kill you both."

Clay took a moment to look around him. "They have the advantage as long as we remain here. I propose we wait until nightfall then make our move."

Call didn't reply.

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

The Brandt Sisters sat at a table in the hotel dining room as Victoria tried to figure things out. After her confession to Clay she hardly expected him to be behind this act.

"Drink some tea, Gretchen," Paige suggested. "Call's the best. He'll get Sugar back for you."

"I'm not worried about Sugar," Gretchen quietly replied. "I want my horse that Call gave me . . . but I need Call to come back to me. I couldn't bear it if something happened to him."

Dr. Cleese and Unbob sat with them and Josiah soon joined the group.

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

"You know, Call," Clay began, "when you rode out here it caused quite a dilemma for me. I wasn't sure you were worth the risk."

"Remind me not to chase a stolen horse next time," Call sharply replied.

"You'll chase the horse again, Call. Especially if it belongs to the woman you happen to now be in love with."

"Shut the hell up, Mosby. What goes on between Gretchen Brandt and me ain't none of your damn business."

"Unfortunately, Miss Gretchen Brandt has a very overbearing older sister that is under the assumption that you will one day walk away from her," Clay said.

"I ain't ever gonna lea . . . what the hell am I telling you for?" Call angrily said.

"Am I to believe that a wedding is going to take place in the not too distant future?" Clay asked as he continued to tease Call.

"I'm warning you, Mosby! Shut your mouth or we can have us a go at it right here and now," Call said as he moved to stand up.

Gunshots were fired causing Mosby to pull Call down before one went through his head. "I do wish you would take better care of yourself, Call. I would hate to bring a corpse back for Miss Gretchen Brandt to cry over."

Call fumed but heeded Mosby's words.

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

Mason Dobbs and Mattie Shaw went straight to the Dove as soon as they got back and heard what happened. Mattie noticed the fear in Gretchen's eyes as she sat alone at a nearby table. Amanda sat down with Mattie.

"So how was it being out with Mason Dobbs?" Amanda asked.

"Oh, he's charming. And, funny. Dewey takes to him so natural like. I like him."

Amanda noticed that Mattie kept looking at Gretchen. "It must be terrible to be in love with someone and worry about them," Amanda said.

"I suppose so," Mattie replied.

Mason finished questioning the sisters then headed out to find his deputy.

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

"I say we move now," Call impatiently said as he looked above him. "It'll be dark soon enough."

"Very well," Clay sighed. "McSween is mine though."

"Guess we'll see who gets him first," Call said and stood up with his gun in his hand.

Clay joined him. "One of them is in the cabin. The other is in the shed off to the side."

Both men stepped out from the boulder and moved to the right. "McSween! They're moving," a voice yelled as Clay led the way across the road to where the first assassin had been hiding. Shots were fired into the quickly approaching night as both Mosby and Call made it around the side. They snuck up hill as they moved in between trees and rocks until they were behind the shed and the cabin. Neither McSween nor his accomplice was aware of their presence.

Mosby and Call moved against the shed. Call raised his foot and kicked his boot into the back door. The wooden door splintered as the man inside turned. Both Call and Mosby emptied their guns into the man's body. He moaned and fell dead. Call and Mosby emptied the used shells and reloaded their guns.

They quietly approached the back of the rundown cabin. "McSween!" Mosby yelled. "You're the only one left. You can throw down your gun and surrender or die." There was cursing and a knocking over of things inside the cabin.

"Don't shoot! I give up. You hear me, Mosby?" McSween yelled. "Give me your word as an officer!"

Clay looked at Call. "I am tired of waiting, McSween. We have enough artillery to level this cabin. Come out now!" Mosby ordered.

"Damn you, Mosby," McSween yelled as the door opened and a rifle and a gun were thrown out near Gretchen's horse. Both Mosby and Call circled the front from opposite sides. Call went straight up to McSween.

"Why'd you steal the horse?" Call ordered as he shoved his Peacemaker into McSween's face. "Answer me!"

McSween looked at Mosby. "All right. I'll tell you . . ."

Bam! Bam! McSween clutched his gut and moaned loud as he sunk to his knees. Call spun around to look at Mosby.

"He was gonna talk! What the hell did you do that for, Mosby?!" Call angrily yelled.

"He's a Yankee liar and wasn't going to tell us anything but more lies," Clay said as he holstered his Remington.

"Damn it, Mosby! I wasn't finished with him." Call went up and shoved Clay.

Mosby reacted by instinct and threw a punch into Call's face, knocking him to the ground as he tumbled over. "I've had enough of you, Call!"

Call bounded to his feet with a wild eyed look. His hat on the ground, Call charged Mosby. Clay easily sidestepped the hotheaded Call just like a bullfighter would do and threw another solid punch to the back of Call's head. Call went face-first into the ground.

"Stay down, Call. I didn't come up here to fight you," Clay urged even though he knew Call would never stay down.

Call rolled over and got to his feet. "Ain't no one here to stop us now, Mosby." Call moved toward Mosby and landed a punch on Mosby's cheek. Clay put together three quick blows to the stomach, face, and stomach again. Call was swinging wildly now and his punches were missing. With the strength of his own pent up rage, Clay landed a powerful blow that drove Call back against the wall of the cabin. His legs buckled and his eyes rolled as he slumped to the ground. Clay looked at him then went and got his horse as well as the Hellbitch and brought them up to the cabin where Gretchen's horse was tied.

Call suddenly shook his head as he opened his eyes and jumped up. He looked around quickly, his hair snapping across his neck. "Was I out?"

Mosby nodded. "For at least a minute."

Call lowered his eyes to the ground. He brushed his hand over his head to clear the hair away and rubbed his jaw, resigned to the fact that Mosby had soundly beaten him. "Shouldn't of killed him."

"What does it matter, Call?" Clay said. "A man like McSween never speaks the truth. He was out for revenge."

Call frowned. "Then how the hell did he know about Gretchen's horse?"

"It hardly matters now," Clay replied, "he's dead. He won't bother either one of us again. Now let's mount up and ride back."

Call picked up his hat and walked over to the horses. Clay mounted his horse and waited. Call untied Sugar and mounted the Hellbitch. They rode quietly down the road as they headed back toward Curtis Wells.

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

Curtis Wells usually was quiet on a Sunday night. Gretchen and Paige sat on the bench outside the general merchant in hopes that Call would appear out of the darkness.

"The very first time I saw Call he was sitting here," Gretchen said.

"I remember," Paige replied. "The day three sisters from Missouri arrived in Montana."

"I've waited my whole life for him, Paige. I can't lose him. He's the one."

Paige hugged Gretchen. "I know he is. And you're the one for him, too. That's pretty obvious every time he looks at you."

Victoria stood across the street near their house watching her two sisters. Clay Mosby's talk with her had affected her. But she was still confused.

"He's back!" Gretchen screamed. "He's back! Call! Call!" She jumped up and hiking her skirt a few inches off the ground, ran happily toward the approaching Call and Mosby. Paige ran behind Gretchen as Victoria quietly stood in the darkness observing the joy and happiness in her sister.

"Call! Call! Ooh, Call! You're safe! And you found Sugar!" Gretchen was so excited and relieved that he was back. Call smiled for the first time since riding out earlier, then dismounted. "Oh, Call. I missed you so much!" Gretchen whispered as she ran into his arms.

"I missed you something fierce," Call said in Gretchen's ear as he held her tight and lifted her off the ground so that her black high button shoes were dangling in the air. She giggled happily and locked her mouth onto his mouth as they kissed passionately in the night.

"Good evening, Mr. Mosby," Paige said as she smiled happily for her sister.

"Miss Brandt," Clay replied. Clay dismounted and walked his horse into the livery.

Outside the Dove Austin Peale stood like a liberty pole. He didn't move. He just stared nervously at the sight down the street as he wondered what happened and just exactly what McSween might have said.

"Call? Your face," Gretchen suddenly said as she noticed the cuts and bruises he had received in his fight with Mosby. Paige reached out to pat Call on the back. He smiled at Paige. "Thank you, Call. For returning Sugar and coming back to me," Gretchen said.

Call turned to walk the two horses into the livery just as Clay walked out. They both paused. "It's an awfully nice evening for a young couple to enjoy, don't you agree, Miss Brandt?" Clay said to Gretchen.

"It's a perfect night, Mr. Mosby," Gretchen replied as she smiled brightly at Call. Her eyes sparkled like two green stars that had just fallen out of the summer sky.

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

"Austin, if you ever interfere in any way again, I will not protect you. Do you understand?"

Austin looked at Clay. "Does Call know?"

"No. I shot McSween before he could connect you."

Austin smiled. "Then nothing's wrong."

"I killed a man, Austin. Just to protect you from Call. Don't ever provoke me again," Clay said.

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

It was somewhere past midnight. Clay Mosby stood out on the balcony enjoying a last cigar. He heard the happy laughter and giggling of a young couple in love down near the livery. He knew it was Call and Gretchen. Clay sighed. He was lonely for a good woman. Maybe instead of waiting for that perfect southern belle from Virginia to appear in Curtis Wells as if by magic, he should take stock of his own surroundings? After all, he had changed from living as a gentleman on a mansion. Perhaps he should lower his standards and pick an able and qualified mate right here?

The choices weren't exactly plentiful. There was Miz Victoria Brandt. There was even Mattie Shaw. Hardly his type . . . but, Mattie? Hmm? Perhaps Miz Brandt was more suitable. He walked back inside and closed the door. Tomorrow would be another day for the Colonel.

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

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