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.


Changing Hearts
(6th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Don't you feel a change a coming
from another side of time
breaking down the walls of silence
lifting shadows from your mind

("Changes IV" - Cat Stevens)

He rode into Curtis Wells looking different than the last time he was there. He sat taller in his saddle and wore a cleaner outfit. He led his horse to the front of the Ambrosia Club and smiled as he looked around at the town. He climbed off his horse with a wide grin and slowly walked up the steps of the saloon. He turned the knob and entered the smoke-filled building. He looked around at the crowded group of drinkers and gamblers then quietly made his way to the bar where Clay Mosby was wiping a glass with his head down.

"I'd like a beer," he said to Clay.

Clay mumbled something as he filled the clean mug with beer. "Five cents," he said as still hadn't looked at the man.

"Doesn't a smile come with that beer?" the man asked.

Clay looked up. His eyes widened. "Robert! Robert Shelby!"

"Hello, Clay," Robert quietly replied.

Clay stretched his arms across the counter grabbing Robert and pulling him toward him as Robert tried unsuccessfully not to spill the golden brew.

"What are you doing here, Robert?! How long has it been?!" Clay excitedly said as he hugged Robert as best he could. Clay leaned back and looked at Robert and suddenly his mouth opened wide. He reached out and took hold of Robert's shirt as he lifted it slightly. "Wha . . .? What is this? Are you a lawman, Robert?" Clay asked as he pointed to the tin star on Robert's shirt.

"I'm a deputy sheriff, Clay," Robert replied as he wiped the spilled beer off his vest. "East of here in the Dakota Territory. A little town called Prairie City. At the end of the Thunder Butte Creek. There's a land boom going on, Clay. Settlers are pouring in."

Clay shook his head. "I miss you, Robert. I think of you often. Always worrying that you've gotten your head either shot off or hung."

Robert laughed. "I got tired of running. I'm in my late thirties, Clay. I'm tired of sleeping on cold, hard ground. I want a warm place for the winter and honest wages."

"A lawman, though?" Clay said.

Robert looked down at his badge. "Took me a long while to get used to seeing this badge. One time I was drunk and saw myself in a mirror and drew on myself. I almost shot the mirror, Clay." Both men laughed as Clay came out from behind the bar and led Robert to his private table in the back.

"To what do I have the honor of this visit, Robert? Are you on the trail of a desperado?"

"Actually, Clay, I'm looking for a job. I quit my deputy job to come here. I just have to send this badge back to Prairie City."

"You plan on staying here, Robert? In Curtis Wells?"

"I should have listened to you, Clay. You always knew best. I think I just may be ready to settle down and find me a good woman."

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

After spending some time getting reacquainted, Clay decided on a bold move. "Robert, come with me to the hotel across the street."

Robert nodded and both men walked out of the saloon and crossed the street to the Dove. They entered and Amanda Carpenter immediately approached to meet Clay's handsome companion.

"Hello, Clay. Who's your friend?" she quickly asked.

"Amanda Carpenter, permit me to introduce you to your new boss, Robert Shelby." Clay smiled.

"What did you say?" Amanda replied.

"What?" Robert added.

In complete control and obviously enjoying Amanda at a disadvantage, Clay continued. "Mr. Shelby happens to be a very dear friend. He is looking for a business opportunity right here in Curtis Wells. I see no reason why you shouldn't run the hotel, Robert. After all, I do own it."

"Now, Clay, you can't do that," Amanda protested. "This used to be my hotel."

"Precisely, Amanda. Used to be. I trust you'll find this arrangement satisfactory, Robert?" Clay said as he looked at his old friend.

"Clay, you devil you. This is perfect," Robert said. He looked around at the inside.

"No, Clay! I won't do it!" Amanda argued.

"Fine," Clay said, "then you'll be leaving, I assume?"

Amanda glared angrily at Clay. "This isn't fair, Clay!" She turned and in a huff marched off.

"Come, Robert, shall we . . ."

Just then the three Brandt Sisters entered the Dove. Clay noticed them and smiled.

"Good morning, Mr. Mosby," Victoria said.

"Miz Brandt. Allow me to introduce you to my oldest and dearest friend, Mr. Robert Shelby. May I present Miz Victoria Brandt and her two charming sisters. Miss Gretchen Brandt and Miss Paige Brandt."

The three Brandt Sisters all curtseyed. Robert just stared at Victoria. After a long moment, he reached out and took her hand and bent down to lightly kiss her hand. "Miz Brandt, it is indeed an honor." He looked over at Gretchen and Paige. "Ladies," he said, then couldn't help gaze at Victoria again.

"Mr. Shelby has just returned to Curtis Wells. He will be taking over the operations of this hotel." Clay turned to Robert. "Miz Victoria and her sisters recently arrived from Missouri. They run the dry goods across the street. Perhaps the three of you would care to join Mr. Shelby and myself for supper tonight?"

"We could, Victoria," Paige said, as she turned toward Gretchen. "Of course, Gretchen has plans of her own. Don't you, Gretchen?" She giggled.

Gretchen just smiled at Paige and nodded.

"Well," Victoria said, "I suppose Paige and I could join you." She noticed Robert Shelby staring at her and warmly smiling.

"Excellent!" Clay remarked. "Shall we say 7 o'clock, sharp?"

"Until then," Victoria replied, as the sisters continued to their table.

Clay and a very happy Robert went outside.

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

Newt Call walked through the livery and stopped at the stall next to the Hellbitch's. He was checking Gretchen's horse, Sugar. Mattie had spotted him entering the livery and took the opportunity to finally speak to him alone.

"Hey, Call," she casually said as she walked up to him.

"Mattie," he replied as he glanced at her then back at Sugar.

"I guess you were lucky this time," Mattie began. "You could have been killed."

"That so?" he said a little irritated.

"Call, that girl is trouble. She's not good for you. She's going to cause something bad to happen to you," Mattie added.

"It ain't her fault some bastard stole her horse," he angrily shot back. "You just back off and leave her be. I ain't letting go of her."

A new voice rang out. "Howdy, Newt. Senorita," Mason Dobbs said as he walked down to Sugar's stall. "What are you two talking about?"

"I have a gunsmith shop to run," Mattie said as she walked away.

Mason watched her for a moment then turned to his nephew. "She still giving you grief about Gretchen Brandt?"

Call shrugged. "She can say what she wants." He was suddenly overcome with a spirit of melancholy as he found himself longing for Gretchen and feeling empty inside whenever they weren't together. Gretchen experienced the exact same feelings as she had told him how much she missed him every moment they were apart.

"How's your girlfriend's horse today?" Mason asked.

"He needs to heal. That sonofabitch who stole him rode him too hard. I figure a few more days rest and he'll be fine."

"Tomorrow's Sunday. I'll wager you and Gretchen ride double on the Hellbitch to go picnicking," Mason said as he winked at his nephew.

Call paused then laughed slightly. "Reckon you'd win that bet, Uncle Mason."

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

Paige Brandt walked softly with her sister, Gretchen, as both girls crossed the field and walked behind the church, to the small cemetery within the picket fence. They found the tombstone they were looking for and stopped.

"Hannah Peale Call," Paige quietly said. She looked at her sister. "Are you sure about this, Gretchen?"

"I'm sure, Paige. I want to do this," Gretchen Brandt softly replied.

Summer was ending and the cold wind blowing down from the north whipped at their colorful blue and green dresses in the early September afternoon. Fall would be here in another two weeks, possibly sooner by the feel of the air.

Gretchen took a deep breath and looked at the silent tombstone.

"Um . . . Hello, Hannah. I'm Gretchen Brandt." She closed her eyes and sighed.

"Go on, Gretchen," Paige urged, "you can do it."

Gretchen nodded. "Uh . . . I'm sorry about what happened to you. Really, I am. I love Call more than anything else in the whole world. He loves me too. He really does. And . . . and, I will never hurt him. I want you to know that I will take such good care of him. I've waited my whole life for that one perfect man and I know it's Call. I knew it the day I first saw him. Please don't be mad. I promise to love him faithfully forever and ever and ever. And when he's ready . . . I'll make him happy as his wife. I'll give him children. I'll always put him first and love him."

Gretchen reached out and lightly put her hand on the tombstone. "I promise you I will take good care of Call." She stepped back and grabbed Paige's hand. The wind momentarily blew and the clouded sky revealed a glimpse of sunlight which shone across the small cemetery and paused briefly on Hannah's stone before the clouds blocked the sun again.

Paige looked at Gretchen. "Did you see that, Gretchen? It was like she heard you and smiled." Gretchen nodded and held her sister by the arm as they walked away from the grave and headed back toward the dry goods store.

Unseen, standing to the side of the far corner of the church, Josiah had heard everything. He waited for the sisters to cross the field then slowly walked to his daughter's grave site and dropping to his knees he wept bitterly.

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

7 o'clock sharp. Victoria and Paige entered the Dove to the waiting and smiling Clay Mosby and Robert Shelby. The gentlemen pulled out two chairs for the sisters to sit down at. Clay had ordered a bottle of his finest champagne to be included with the meal and it didn't take long before the four of them were laughing and enjoying the company.

Both Clay and Robert spent hours reliving their adventures from when they were boys back in Virginia, before the War. Throughout the evening Clay noticed that Robert seemed smitten by Victoria Brandt as he spoke almost exclusively to her. Clay finally began addressing Paige so she wouldn't feel left out.

By the time the meal and champagne was finished, it was almost closing time at the Dove. Robert Shelby personally escorted Miss Victoria Brandt all the way back to her home behind the Montana Statesman, while Clay walked with Paige.

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

Next morning Gretchen Brandt ran into the livery with the picnic basket full of food. Call was saddling the Hellbitch as they decided to ride double on his horse. Before Gretchen reached Call she suddenly stopped and bent over, grasping at her stomach.

"Gretchen!" Call said as he moved quickly to her.

"I'm all right, Call. I just had cramps for a moment." She straightened up and smiled at him. "I'll be fine, Call. Really I will. I can't wait to be alone with you."

Call smiled and pulled her close. "Then let's ride." He mounted the Hellbitch and pulled Gretchen up behind him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist as he led the horse out of the livery. They rode out to the place where they had proclaimed their love for each other. Gretchen had cooked and baked the day before so nothing would be burnt or raw like the last time.

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

Back in Curtis Wells, Victoria Brandt had accepted a breakfast date with Robert Shelby. It appealed to her that he not only wore a deputy's badge but was going to run the Lonesome Dove Hotel, a more favorable position than Clay Mosby running a saloon. Robert had spent half the night talking to Clay to find out exactly what his intentions were regarding Miss Victoria Brandt. Clay admitted he was intrigued but wouldn't stand in the way if Robert truly was interested in her. Robert hugged Clay and early next morning he was at the doorway waiting for Victoria as she crossed the street to meet him.

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

"You look like you could use a friend, Mattie."

Mattie turned around from the counter of the No.10 Saloon. "Clay? What are you doing here? And, by the looks of it, you look like you could use a friend too."

Clay smiled half-heartedly as he drummed his fingers on the counter top. "Perhaps you're right." He signaled for a drink.

Mattie suddenly became very interested in Clay's problem. "Your friend, Robert Shelby is here. Something must be troub . . . oh my!" Mattie put her hand to her mouth. "Are you jealous of your friend's advances toward Victoria Brandt? I couldn't help but notice last night in the dining room while Dewey and I were eating."

Clay looked at Mattie. "And what if I am? Is it any different than you being jealous of Gretchen Brandt winning Call's favor?" Clay downed his shot of whiskey and sighed. "Perhaps you and I should . . ." he smiled at her.

Mattie's mouth opened as she smiled back. "Clay? Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"

"Why not, Mattie? We're both mature adults."

"What are you saying? We just go over to your saloon and climb the stairs and close the door? Just like that?" Mattie seemed interested in Clay's proposal.

"It's Sunday morning, Mattie. I haven't opened the doors for business yet." He looked at her. "We may not be perfectly matched but I have always considered you to be rather attractive."

Mattie laughed. "Well, I think you're very handsome, Clay, but it's daylight, for goodness sakes. Everyone will see us."

"Perhaps you're right, Mattie," Clay said.

"I can come over tonight," Mattie replied as she hungrily stared at Mosby.

"Fine. I'll close up early tonight." Clay said.

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

Gretchen stood behind Call with her arms around him giggling. He shook his head as he turned around. "I ain't ever gonna be done carving our initials in this tree if you keep doing that."

"I can't help it, Call. I'm so happy today. I really am. And I didn't ruin any of the lunch." She looked into his eyes. "Besides, you're almost finished."

"I still aim to carve the second half-circle in the B. You don't want it to look like a P, now do you?" He pulled her close to him, feeling her warm breath on his face.

She tugged playfully with his hair. "Oh, all right. Anything you say, Call. I'll just read to you while you finish. I told you I had something I wanted to read to you, remember?"

"I remember," Call said as Gretchen bent down to look through the picnic basket for the book. He finished carving the B.

"Here it is, Call," Gretchen said. She stood up smiling brightly at him. Call turned to her and smiled. "You're finished?! Let me see!"

"Don't I get a kiss first?" he teased.

Her eyes lit up. "You can have all the kisses you want, Newt Call. Because you're the only man who'll ever kiss me."

"I reckon that suits me just fine," he said as he put his mouth on hers. "Go on now. See if you find it to your liking."

Gretchen moved her head to the side while still hugging him. "Oh, Call. I love it! It's perfect. NC & GB. I think it's the finest looking tree in all of Montana. Let's sit down and I can read to you now."

A cold wind suddenly began blowing through the field as they sat down near the tree.

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

Robert Shelby leaned forward at the table and looked into Victoria Brandt's eyes. "Miz Brandt, if I may say so, I have thoroughly delighted in our time shared this morning."

Victoria lowered her head and blushed. "You are as charming as Mr. Mosby, I dare say."

Robert reached out to touch Victoria's hand. "Forgive me, Miz Brandt. It seems like ages since I have been in the presence of such a fine lady as yourself."

Victoria's heart raced as she allowed Robert to touch her hand. Then, feeling self- conscious, she allowed her hand to retreat slightly, as if playing a game of cat and mouse. "Why, Mr. Shelby, certainly a dignified gentleman such as yourself has been in the presence of many ladies. However, I am quite honored by your kind and thoughtful words."

The door to the Dove opened and Dr. Cleese stepped inside. A cold wind entered with him. He paused as he passed their table. "Good day, Miss Brandt. Mr. Shelby. It is quite windy outside."

Both Robert and Victoria returned greetings to the doctor before he excused himself to find a table.

"Tell me, Miz Brandt," Robert asked, "if I were to be bold and ask permission to see you again, would that cause a compromise with you and my dear friend, Clay?"

"Although I find it most enjoyable whenever Mr. Mosby is present, there has been no commitment from either side, as it is, Mr. Shelby."

"Wonderful!" Robert replied. "Since it is Sunday and your store is closed, perhaps we could walk around town together. I truly would like to hear all about you. Your journey west from Missouri. Your fond memories."

Victoria smiled. "I shall try not to bore you with the frivolous musings of a simple woman, Mr. Shelby."

"With all respect to you, Miz Brandt," Robert said, "I hardly think that is even possible."

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

Out in the field the wind grew more intense as its cold breath threatened to chase away anything that wasn't rooted to the solid earth. Gretchen huddled close to Call as he wrapped his arms around her to keep her warm.

"What's so special about this book?" Call asked as he nodded toward the book in Gretchen's hands. The cover was slightly tattered, as if it had been read many times.

"It's called Pride and Prejudice. By Jane Austen."

"I ain't never heard of her," he mumbled.

"Well of course you haven't, silly," Gretchen giggled as she elbowed him in the ribs. "Only girls read these type of books." She turned to look in his eyes. "It's about romance and love."

He nodded slightly bored.

"Back in St. Joseph," Gretchen said, "on Sundays I would meet with my girlfriends at one of their homes. Victoria always used our home to entertain her older friends with sewing circles. We used to pass around a copy of Jane Austen and each of us would read a chapter." Gretchen leaned her head on Call's shoulder and smiled. "I simply adored Elizabeth."

"Was she a friend of yours?" Call asked with a frown.

Gretchen began giggling. "No, Call. She was the heroine of the story. You're so innocent sometimes, Call. Just like a little boy."

He winced in pain wishing they could change the subject to something else. Suddenly, Gretchen moaned in pain as she dropped the book in the grass and clutched at her stomach.

"Gretchen!" Call said, "what's wrong?"

"Oohh! Call! I'm getting cramps." She began shivering slightly. "I'm so cold."

"We best get you back to town," he said as he jumped up and helped Gretchen to her feet. She held onto him with one hand while still holding her stomach. Call quickly threw her book into the picnic basket as the merciless wind pounded harder against them.

"Call, I don't feel well. Please, can we just find some shelter close by? Please, Call?"

He looked at her with concern. "Sure. I'll get you up on the Hellbitch."

She nodded as he gently guided her up into the saddle. With one hand holding the picnic basket and blanket, he mounted behind her as the wind blew even harder now. Gretchen softly groaned in pain as she leaned forward.

"You just hold on, hear?" Call said as he spurred his horse in the opposite direction of town. "There's a house about a mile from here. Likely we can get some shelter till this wind storm passes." Gretchen closed her eyes and nodded as Call rode up the winding path between scattered trees among the rolling hills.

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

Paige Brandt and Unbob Finch stepped into the sheriff's office. "It's very, very windy outside," Paige said. "Hello, Mason."

Mason Dobbs stood up and smiled. "Well howdy, Paige. Unbob. I'll wager you two could use a warmer location to sit out this angry wind."

"We sort of got a problem," Unbob said as he stood with his shoulders hunched under his gray jacket. "Dewey tied two of my roosters together."

Mason laughed. "Well now, I could throw that little varmint in jail for a spell."

"Mason!" Paige scolded. "Be serious. You have a way with Dewey. We just want you to speak to him."

Mason winked at Paige and Unbob. "All right then. I'll look him up and have a talk."

"Thank you, Mason," Paige said. "I haven't seen much of you lately. I was wondering if I did anything to upset you?"

"No, nothing like that. Maybe once this wind settles a mite we could sit outside and visit?"

Paige smiled. "I'll look forward to it." She opened the door to leave with Unbob. "Bye, Mason."

"Adios, senorita," he replied.

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

The wind had reached an intensity that Call had never before experienced since he arrived in the Territory of Montana. Even the Hellbitch labored as she carried both Call and Gretchen over the hill and across the shallow creek where the lone house and barn stood. Call dismounted and gently pulled Gretchen down with him as he held her close to him. He looped the rein around the wooden hitch post in front and walked Gretchen up the one stair to the door of the white painted house with yellow wood shutters. He knocked loud. No answer. He made a fist and pounded on the door. Still no answer.

"Call, I don't feel well," Gretchen quietly said as she leaned into him. He peered into a window and turned.

"C'mon, Gretchen. We best take cover in the barn. Least get you out of this wind."

"All right, Call," Gretchen replied as she held onto him while he grabbed the Hellbitch and led them both to the barn some fifteen or twenty yards from the house. He closed the large door shut as soon as they were inside. Call then grabbed a lantern that sat on a wood crate and lit it. He put his horse over where a pile of loose hay sat and led Gretchen to another large pile. He threw the blanket from the picnic on the hay and helped Gretchen to lay down. She continued to moan softly as she laid on her side and drew her knees up to curl into a ball so it would ease the pain in her stomach. "I'm sorry, Call," she whispered.

Call dropped to his knees and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Don't you be saying that. You hear? Ain't nothing for you to be feeling sorry for."

"I don't want to be a burden to you, Call," she said as she turned her head to look at him.

"You ain't ever gonna be a burden to me, Gretchen. I reckon I love you too much for that to happen."

She smiled at him. "I love you so much, Newt Call. Lay next to me. Please? Keep me warm."

Call went and got the blanket off his horse and put it over Gretchen's body. He then pulled off his jacket and placed that over the blanket.

"NO, Call. Not your jacket. You need to kee . . ."

"You just hush now. Let me tend to you," he said as he laid down behind her and pulled her close to him.

"Don't leave me, Call," Gretchen replied as she grasped her stomach.

"I ain't set on leaving you, Gretchen." He rubbed his hand up and down her arm and side to warm her. "What ails you?"

"I . . . I just have bad cramps . . . and I'm cold."

"Well, I reckon we'll be safe enough hereabouts tonight."

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

As night came on, there was no end to the severe wind that blew through Eastern Montana. To Clay Mosby's dismay, the cold had brought more customers inside his saloon than normal. He wasn't interested in making money as much as he was interested in the clandestine arrangement he and Mattie had agreed on earlier in the day. Now, as 10 o'clock approached, he wondered if Mattie would even show up.

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

Victoria Brandt was worried about her younger sister, Gretchen. She hadn't returned with Call from their picnic and even though Paige told her they would be fine, Victoria was still concerned. She walked inside the sheriff's office with a white shawl wrapped around her shoulders and expressed her fears to Sheriff Mason Dobbs. Mason explained that they had most likely taken shelter somewhere safe and that they'd ride back into town come morning. Victoria knew she was powerless to do anything now. Not only was it dark outside, there was also the biggest wind storm folks could ever remember in these parts. Mason assured Victoria he would set out to find his nephew and her sister as soon as morning came.

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

It was after midnight when Clay heard the knock on the back door. He opened the door to find a smiling Mattie Shaw standing slightly off balance. She had been at the No.10 putting away a few drinks to provide courage. Before Clay could say anything, Mattie threw herself into his arms and began kissing Clay. After a momentary shock, he returned her kisses as she asked him to take her upstairs. Clay locked the back door then led Mattie up to his room for what would be a most interesting night.

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

The Hellbitch grunted, causing Call to suddenly bolt up on the bed of hay. He drew his Colt and looked around the dim lit barn. Nothing. He holstered his pistol and laid back down. He put his arm around Gretchen and pulled her against his body. She opened her eyes a little and smiled. "Call," she whispered as she pulled closer to him. He kissed her nose and closed his eyes. It was somewhere in the middle of the night and the wind still sounded like a rushing river outside.

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

Mattie sighed as she lay unclothed on Clay's bed. "My goodness, Clay. I never knew you were such an animal. I feel like you split me open. You're like some stallion."

Clay breathed hard as he rubbed his neatly trimmed beard over her white belly and up her chest to her mouth. Mattie grabbed his face and kissed him hard as Clay mounted her and began devouring her passionately. It was almost as if both had been spurned and were now releasing all the anger and lust within their bodies.

"Clay!" Mattie exclaimed. "We've already done it twice! You still want more?!" She groaned as it felt like his Winchester was shoved inside her.

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

It was early next morning. Daylight had just stretched across the land. After spending most of the night in restless sleep, both Call and Gretchen were now sleeping soundly. The door to the barn opened slowly. In stepped someone with a rifle aimed at the sleeping couple. He waited until a second person entered the barn then cocked the rifle.

Call's eyes snapped open as he instinctively reached for his gun and lunged up.

"You hold it right there or I'll cut you in half!" a voice cried out.

Call aimed his gun at the man as Gretchen moaned and began shivering on the bed of hay.

"Abner! Wait!" the second voice said. A woman stepped out from behind the man. "They're just a young couple. Don't shoot him."

"Who are you?!" the man ordered. "What are you doing in my barn?"

Gretchen moaned. "Call?"

Call turned to Gretchen while still holding his gun. "It's all right, Gretchen. Just stay there."

"Abner! You put that rifle away! Can't you see she's sick." The woman took a step toward the bed of hay that Call and Gretchen were laying on. "Your wife's ailing. What's wrong with her?" she asked Call.

He looked at the woman then turned slightly to Gretchen. "Something wrong with her stomach."

Gretchen groaned as she wasn't fully awake yet.

"What's your name, boy?" the man asked.

"Call."

"Call what?"

"Newt Call."

"Never you mind their names, Abner," the woman said. "Son, can you pick up your woman and carry her into the house? I've tended to many a sick person in my day and I'd prefer to do it inside a cleaner house than a dirty, old barn."

Call nodded and holstered his gun. He lifted Gretchen into his arms and she clung to him tightly as he walked out of the barn into the morning light. He followed the older woman and her husband to the front where they opened the door and stepped inside.

"Put her in that rocker yonder by the fireplace," the woman told Call. He did as she ordered and with great care, gently sat Gretchen in the chair. "All right," the woman now replied, "both of you go outside. This is woman's work now."

The older man began to argue but she put it to rest. "Abner, you take Mr. Call outside while I tend to his wife. Go on."

Abner grumbled but obliged. He motioned for Call to follow him outside. Call hesitated as he looked at Gretchen in the rocker.

"Now don't fret, son," the woman said with a smile. "I'll take plenty good care of her."

Call stared at Gretchen for a long moment then stepped outside with the older man.

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

Mattie Shaw had gathered her clothes and quietly dressed as she looked at Clay's naked body sprawled across the bed. Three times! No wonder he was sleeping peacefully. She bent over and lightly kissed his cheek then quickly went downstairs and slipped out the back door. She had crossed the quiet street and climbed the stairs to the room above her gunsmith shop. Dewey was still sleeping in the bed.

Mattie sat in the chair she always slept in and just stared off at nothing. She thought about the other men she'd been with before but never experienced the lust she had with Clay Mosby. She laughed softly, almost in disbelief. Clay Mosby. Mattie knew she hadn't gotten over Call yet. But that was like riding into a boxed canyon. A dead end. All he cared about now was that little minx, Gretchen Brandt.

Then there was Mason Dobbs. Mattie realized he seemed to be interested in her. But after the night she had just spent with Mosby, could any man ever satisfy her again. Clay was like some beautiful stallion, in more ways than one. Mattie sighed.

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

Inside the older couple's house, the woman shook Gretchen slightly. "Come on now, it's time to wake up." Gretchen moaned as she began to come out of her sleep. "I need to find out what's ailing you, Mrs. Call," the woman said.

"What?" Gretchen softly groaned as she opened her green eyes and appeared confused. "Where . . . where am I? Call? Where's Call?"

The woman took hold of Gretchen's hand and smiled. "Your husband is outside, Mrs. Call. We found the two of you sleeping in our barn. Your husband carried you into the house so I could find out what's wrong with you."

Gretchen looked at the woman. "We're not married . . . not yet. We're courting. But it sounded so nice what you called me. I can't wait till he asks me."

The woman laughed and shook her head. "Well your man never corrected me when I called you his wife."

Gretchen sat up in the rocker. "You called me his wife and he didn't say anything?"

"Not a word," the woman replied. "And I said it twice. I guess that young man must love you very much."

Gretchen smiled at the thought of what happened. "Yes. Very much."

"Well now young lady, I . . ."

"Gretchen! My name is Gretchen."

"Well now, Gretchen," the woman said, "what ails you?"

"I started getting stomach cramps and then shivers," Gretchen replied.

"Does this happen often?"

"Every month."

The woman waved her hand at Gretchen. "Why, you have the woman thing."

Gretchen nodded.

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

Robert Shelby came bouncing down the stairs of the hotel whistling the tune of Dixie. Amanda Carpenter was in the dining room setting tables for breakfast. Ike was with her.

"Are we ready for our customers, Miss Carpenter?" Robert asked.

Amanda stood defiantly with her hands on her hips. "I've run this hotel just fine without any outside help, Mr. Shelby. I don't care if you're Clay Mosby's brother. I intend to buy this hotel back."

Robert headed for the doors and opened them. He turned to Amanda. "Well, until that day arrives, Miss Carpenter, let us work together as ladies and gentlemen." He stepped out into the street whistling as he noticed a small group engaged in conversation. He crossed the street to where Clay Mosby and Mason Dobbs were speaking with Victoria Brandt and her youngest sister, Paige.

"A good day to all of you," Robert said as he stared at Mason. Mason also stared strangely at Robert. "Do I know you, Sir?" Robert asked Mason.

"I was just thinking that I could eyeball a man a mile away and sure enough now you look real familiar to me. Mason Dobbs," he said as he extended his hand.

"Robert Shelby," came the reply with an equally extended hand.

"Please," Victoria interrupted, "this is most urgent. My sister never returned yesterday."

Robert inquired as to the situation and was brought up to date with Victoria's concern over Gretchen and Call not coming back. He immediately volunteered to ride out and search, since the intense winds had died down. Mason welcomed Robert's help and the two outlaws-turned-lawmen went to saddle their horses while Clay advised Victoria to open the dry goods and leave things to the two capable lawmen. Victoria complied and Clay returned to his saloon to dwell on events that had just occurred. It was as if the severe wind had done more than just blow through the territory. It had blown changes within some folks.

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

The door to the house swung open and seeing Call standing with the older man, Gretchen giggled as she ran into his arms. "Call! I missed you!"

Call squeezed her tight and lifted her off the ground. "You feeling better?"

"Not much," Gretchen replied as she smiled brightly at Call. "Mrs. Scully made me some hot tea. I still have cramps but I want to go home. Victoria will be beside herself with worry. You know her, Call."

He nodded.

"I wish we had our own home to go to, Call," Gretchen whispered in his ear before he put her down.

Call stared into Gretchen's eyes. "I reckon we will, Gretchen." She giggled and hugged him tight as the older man and woman stood by watching.

"We're obliged to you," Call said them.

"Go on now," the woman said, "you get that little woman back to Curtis Wells and you're both welcome out here any time."

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

Robert Shelby and Mason Dobbs cautiously traded information as they rode in the direction Call and Gretchen had gone yesterday. After a few minutes they seemed to come to a mutual admiration for the other as they saw through each other's badge to the real man.

Some nine or ten minutes later they met up with Call and Gretchen riding double on the Hellbitch. Gretchen still didn't feel well but her conversation with Mrs. Scully had perked her up. The four of them rode quietly back to town together.

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

Clay Mosby leaned out of the Ambrosia Club's back door, smoking. He thought of Mattie. The two of them were about the most unlikely couple yet he couldn't deny it. Something happened last night. He actually rather enjoyed it. He also let his thoughts drift to the possibility of both Robert and Mason working with him to bring about his vision for Montana. He knew Call would stand in the way but he was spending most of his time with Miss Gretchen Brandt and might never get in the way. Clay laughed out loud to the trees behind his saloon. His dearest friend, Robert Shelby, had returned and was wearing a lawman's badge. Putting him in charge of the Dove was an excellent strategical move. It seemed to Clay that this severe wind storm had brought about some strange changes. It was going to be quite interesting to see where things would now go.

Clay threw the dying remains of his cigar into the dirt and went back inside his saloon. Maybe he now had the men to build his empire. The woman, too.

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

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