Jenny and David Series #3 – Bleeding Love (by Cinderella)

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SummaryDavid has come home and everything seems to be going well…that is, until Jenny is kidnapped! Can the Cartwrights find her before something horrible happens? Part 3 in the ‘Jenny & David’.  

Rated: K+ (8,320 words)

Jenny and David Series:

Love is Blind
Love Me Tender
Bleeding Love

 

                                                                                              Bleeding Love

Jenny was darning a pair of Joe’s socks in front of the fireplace. Ben sat in his red leather chair puffing his pipe and reading the newspaper. Adam and Hoss were engrossed in a game of checkers, Joe mending his saddlebag that had ripped from use. A knock interrupted the pleasant silence. “I’ll get it,” Jenny set aside the socks and answered the door. “Why, Paul Martin! Won’t you come in?” she ushered him to the settee and offered him some coffee. “Thank you. I brought you a special delivery, care of the Whittaker Academy for the Blind,” he handed the parcel to Jenny, watching her eyes light up as she opened the letter.”Dearest Jenny,I hope you and your family are in good health. I have wonderful news: I’m coming home at the end of July! I wish you could be here for my graduation. I would be proud to have you cheering me on as I walk up to the platform and receive my diploma. I’ve learned so much these past years at the Academy, one of them being…”Jenny stopped reading, her face flushing. “Well, what did he learn?” Joe prompted. “Uh…” she shot a ‘please save me!’ look to her father. “Joseph, I’m sure some things in that letter are meant for Jenny only,” he eyed his youngest son. “Oh, sorry, Jen…” he smiled sheepishly at his sister.”… One of my teachers, Mr. Radcliff, has decided to accompany me back home. I can’t wait for you to meet him! He sends his gratitude to you for teaching me Braille. Some of the kids that come here couldn’t even write their own names when they could see, let alone read. I had the pleasure of teaching some of the younger children their letters and numbers. It was so rewarding; I wish you could see them. I can’t wait until…”She stopped again and cleared her throat, then continued, skipping a few sentences.”… I’m sorry this letter is so short, but I have a VERY important lesson tomorrow and I want to be rested. Give my regards to your family. I…”

“He just sends his regards…” she finished quickly. Ben and the doctor exchanged knowing glances. She folded the letter and placed it in her knitting basket. “Well it’s good that he’s finally coming back. Isn’t it Jen?” Joe said with a twinkle in his eye. “What? Oh, yeah, it is great!” Jenny had missed David every day of those 4 years. And like she promised she had never removed the necklace that be had given her. Her brothers had given her the hardest time about not taking that necklace off. But a promise was a promise. She went to bed that night with sweet dreams in her head.

Hoss volunteered to check on her. He tried to quietly open the door and poked his head through. Jenny was curled up in a ball, snuggled under her quilt. She was smiling in her sleep, even if she was snoring a little. Hoss chuckled softly and returned downstairs. “Sleeping like a baby,” he sat on the settee ready to resume his game of checkers with Adam. “Hey Pa,” Joe set down his book,” What did David learn?” Ben looked over at his son. He knew the answer but for the privacy of Jen he just simply said, “We’ll let your sister tell us when she is ready.” “But Pa…”Joe started. “Joseph. She’ll tell us when she is ready.” He sighed, “Yes, Pa.” Hoss grinned. “She’s sure has grown a lot in these past 4 years, ain’t she Pa?” Ben puffed his pipe. “Yes, yes she has.” Adam stood and yawned. “Sorry, Hoss, but we’ll have to finish this tomorrow,” he went upstairs to bed.

*****

“Are you ready yet, Kitten?” Ben tapped his foot impatiently. Jenny appeared at the top of the stairs, taking his breath away. She wore a pale yellow dress with a pink silk rosette at the sloping neckline. A golden ribbon crisscrossed the bodice in an ‘x’ pattern, tying in a bow at the skirt. Two vines dotted with rosebuds waved down the middle of the skirt beside two gold ribbons trimmed in scalloped lace. Her pink slippers also had silken rosettes, as well as her stiff, pale yellow straw bonnet. She tied the light pink ribbon under her chin and grabbed her Bible, gloves, and purse setting on the low table behind the settee. “Yes, I’m ready,” Jenny walked out the door on the arm of her father.

They got to the church well before the service. Bobby Miller puffed out his chest and strutted to the rig. He tipped his hat to Jenny and helped her out of the buggy. “Bob, I’ve told you. I’m not your girl and I don’t like being escorted by you. David is coming home in a month so you had better stop this,” she eyed him darkly. “That blind boy you was playin’ nursemaid to? He ain’t worth nothin’. You need yourself a real man, not half a one.” he laughed as he grabbed her arm. “And I intend to have all of you. I’m gonna bed ya and wed ya, and you’ll be mine-and only mine.” he whispered menacingly. Jenny pulled away from him, eager to stand with her Pa and brothers. Joe, Adam and Pa were nowhere to be found, so she crowded against Hoss who put a reassuring arm around her shoulders. Bob didn’t come near her again, but looked at her all through the sermon. Jenny couldn’t wait to hop in the buggy and drive away from that vulgar man. “Kitten, do you feel all right? You don’t look well,” Adam put a hand to her forehead. It was true. She was pale and shivering. “I’m fine,” she closed her eyes and went even paler. “No you’re not. Now, what’s wrong?” Hoss grasped her hand-it was cold and clammy. Bob shot her a hungry look. Jenny had never been scared of anyone, but she felt more frightened right now than she had in her whole life. “After church,” she muttered so only her family could hear.

Once she and Ben were in the buggy and the boys were on their horses well on their way home, she let out a long sigh as if she had been holding her breath. She started. “It’s that Bobby Miller…he-he said that he would ‘bed me and wed’ me,” she hung her head. “When I get that boy, I’ll–I’m gonna kill him with my bare hands!” Ben shouted. Adam’s jaw was clenched; a vein in his neck pulsed rapidly. Hoss’ face was growing redder and redder. Joe’s green eyes flashed as he grabbed his six-shooter. “You will never ride alone, you hear me? And no long walks by yourself; you are not to go into town alone. If he touches you I swear…” Ben was so flustered he couldn’t speak anymore. Jenny was glad that she had her Pa and brothers there so that nothing would happen. The buggy pulled into the front yard and Jenny ran inside, ready to get out of her church clothes. Jenny changed and came back downstairs. “Hey, Joe?” Jenny sipped her tea, “Can we go for a ride later? Seeing’s how I’m no longer allowed to go out by myself.” He looked at his father. “Well Jenny,” she knew that he was about to say no so she mustered up the best puppy dogs eye she could put on; that did it. “All right- but only to the lake and back!” he called to her after she had bounded up the stairs to put on her riding skirt.

*****

“…And if you EVER go near my sister again, so help me heaven I’ll kill you!” a tall, dark figure kicked the whimpering man lying on the floor again before leaving. He mounted his chestnut stallion and rode off at a gallop. His knuckles were badly bruised, but he didn’t care. That boy wouldn’t bother Jenny anymore- not after what he had done to him. His sister made them promise not to kill Bobby, and he hadn’t. He had just beaten him up. Sure, the kid had bruises and gashes on his body, but he was still alive, wasn’t he? Adam debated with himself on the way home.

He jumped off his horse before he reached the yard and walked into the barn. He lit a lamp, only to be scared half to death by his father standing before him. “Why did you do it?” Ben’s voice sounded hurt. “Pa, I didn’t kill him.” The older man thanked the Lord for that. “I just roughed him up a bit.” He bedded down Sport and went back into the house. Jenny had seen him ride in and go into the barn. Oh, God…no, not Adam! He wouldn’t… She ran down the stairs hurriedly without even putting on her robe. Adam tossed his hat on the table beside the door. “You went to see Bobby Miller, didn’t you? Didn’t you?” she yelled, waking the whole house. “Jenny, calm down! I didn’t kill him,” he put his hands on her shoulders. “Was goin’ on?” Joe yawned from the settee. “I realize you didn’t kill him Adam. But you didn’t have to beat the man!” Hoss stretched and said, “What did Adam do this time?” She put her hands on her hips. “He just decided to teach Bob Miller a lesson!” Jenny said sarcastically. “Oh did he now,” Joe arched his eyebrows. “So that would account for you’re knuckles, I presume?” Jenny hadn’t noticed his knuckles. She took Adam’s hand to get a closer look. “Good Lord, Adam! How bad did you beat him up?” He grinned. “Let’s just say that he won’t be running, or for that matter, walking for a while…” She shook her head. “I’m ashamed of you! Going around and beating up young boys!” Adam’s hazel eyes hardened. “If he’s old enough to harass you, he’s old enough to get a beating from me!” She was suddenly furious. “Adam he’s just a boy, he didn’t deserve a beating from you…the only person who should give him a beating is his pa.” Jenny said half-heartedly. “But all of you Cartwright men are so thick headed that you wouldn’t understand!” Jenny ran out the front door and to the barn. Jenny saddled up Isis and was about to leave when Ben came outside. “Jennifer Grace Cartwright you put that horse back in the barn this instant!” “No Pa. Let me go. I need to get away from you men.” “Jennifer…” “I’m not a little kid anymore Pa. I can take care of myself.” With that she kicked Isis’s sides and rode off into the darkness.

She rode on and on, not knowing where she was going until Isis slowed at a familiar spot. She heard the soft rumbling of the falls, the quiet gurgle of the water when it hit the rocks. She dismounted and made her way to the shore. This was her favorite place on the entire Ponderosa- the place where she and David had taken their first ride, the place where she had saved him from the rushing water’s wrath, the place where she had taught him to read…all these memories flooded her mind as she slowly walked into the cool water. She went in until it reached her torso, letting the water seep through her nightgown. She stopped near the rocks where the cool mist from the falls lightly sprayed her. Walking near the waterfall, a small opening caught her eye. She found a little cave behind the falls. “I didn’t know this was back here,” Jenny thought. “I can bring David into this little cave when he comes back.” She left the cave and went back out towards Isis. Suddenly Jenny heard something. Sport sifted his way through the thick stand of pines. Adam took his time reaching her. She sloshed through the water and onto the shore. He tried not to look at her fully; her wet nightgown was clinging to her curves and he could see very plainly in the bright moonlight. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…” he stuttered, then sighed. She wrapped her bedroll around her shoulders, noticing his discomfort. “Adam…I’m not mad at you anymore,” she smiled. “Why did you come all this way alone? It took a while to pick up your trail,” he pulled on his earlobe. “Adam, I told Pa this when I left, I’m not a little kid anymore. I can take care of myself.” He wasn’t so sure about that. She saw the uncertainty in his eyes. “Come on, we had better get you home before Pa has a fit,” he helped her into the saddle and led the way home. “What is this place? I don’t think I’ve ever been here,” he looked around, letting his eyes rest on the small waterfall. “It’s my favorite place. David and I used to come here years ago…” he could tell she was reminiscing.

Adam and Jenny pulled into the front yard of the Ponderosa. Ben, Joe, and Hoss all came running outside. She had fallen asleep in her saddle. Joe and Hoss went over to her horse and got her down. They didn’t wake her; Jenny was more of a heavy sleeper than Hoss was. “Why is she all wet?” Ben whispered menacingly. “She went down by the lake and took a swim to cool off,” Adam followed the family into the house. “She needs to be out of them wet clothes,” Hoss took her from Joe and carried her upstairs. “Well I’m not doin’ it! Let Adam do it…” Joe’s face turned bright red. “Uh-uh, not me. I’ve caused enough trouble tonight. Hoss, you do it,” he held up his hands. “No way am I doin’ that!” Hoss called from her room. Ben sighed in irritation. “I’ll do it…I’m her father anyway…” he blushed profusely. “Hey Pa, you could always get Hop Sing to do it. He’s done it at least a dozen times before,” Joe said jokingly. “You know, that might not be that bad of an idea. Hoss, go get Hop Sing for me please.” Hoss was gone for no more than a minute before Hop Sing came plodding up the stairs. “Why you wake Hop Sing? Hop Sing having velly nice dream!” He set the candle he was carrying down on the nightstand. Hoss grinned apologetically. “Hop Sing undless Missy. Mista Hoss, Hop Sing fix cookies when done here,” the Chinaman shooed them out of the girl’s bedroom. He finished rather quickly and hustled into the kitchen to make the cookies he promised.

Adam lay on his bed thinking. “How could I have done that? Jenny’s got a right to be ashamed of me. I hope the boy’s all right, after what I did to him…” His thoughts were interrupted by a soft knock at his door. Ben walked in quietly. “I brought you some coffee.” “Thanks, Pa,” Adam took it eagerly. It might help to clear his aching head.

*****

Jenny woke not long after Hop Sing left. She sat up on her elbows. Adam brought me home…Now she remembered everything. Someone had undressed her-Hop Sing. And he had left a cup of hot tea on the nightstand. She opened her window, grabbed her heart warmer, the tea, a tablet, pen, and the most recent of David’s letters and sat on the roof. This was her favorite thinking spot. She tied the heart warmer at her waist and set the tea, tablet, pen, and letter on the windowsill. It was a cool night for June, and she was glad for it. A hot night would make her even more irritable than she felt now. “I can’t believe I ran away like some young girl. I’m a woman; I’m going to start teaching school in September. Maybe Pa’s right-maybe I am a little kid…” She opened the letter, inhaling the aroma of the cologne he scented his letters with.

Dearest Jenny,

I hope you and your family are in good health. I have wonderful news: I’m coming home at the end of July! I wish you could be here for my graduation. I would be proud to have you cheering me on as I walk up to the platform and receive my diploma. I’ve learned so much these past years at the Academy, one of them being how much I love you. For the first few months, I couldn’t believe I had left you. But all that is in the past now, and I am coming home to you, my darling. What is it that Shakespeare said?

‘Since I left you, mine eye is in my mind;
And that which governs me to go about
Doth part his function, and is partly blind,
Seems seeing, but effectually is out;
For it no form delivers to the heart
Of bird, of flower, or shape, which it doth latch;
Of his quick objects hath the mind no part,
Nor his own vision holds what it doth catch;
For if it see the rud’st or gentlest sight,
The most sweet favour, or deformed’st creature,
The mountain or the sea, the day or night,
The crow, or dove, it shapes them to you feature.
Incapable of more, replete with you,
My most true mind thus maketh mine untrue.’

My professor, Mr. Radcliff, has decided to accompany me back home. I can’t wait for you to meet him! He sends his gratitude to you for teaching me Braille. Some of the kids that come here couldn’t even write their own names when they could see, let alone read. I had the pleasure of teaching some of the younger children their letters and numbers. It was so rewarding; I wish you could see them. I can’t wait until we have children of our own to teach. They will have your looks and my brains and charm. I know, you’re laughing you’re head off right now, aren’t you?

I’m sorry this letter is so short, but I have a VERY important lesson tomorrow and I want to be rested. Give my regards to your family. I want you to know that I want us to be married soon after I return. And I want you to know that I love you with all my heart and miss you terribly.

All My Love,

David.

She clasped the letter to her breast, knowing that he would be home in a month’s time. The moon smiled at her with his crooked and distorted grin. She took a sip of the warm tea and nearly dropped it when Adam came and sat on his side of the roof. “Adam, wha-” she stuttered. He looked equally surprised. “You too?” he smiled. She nodded and put the paper back on the sill. “Yea, I like to come out here at night to think,” he pulled his knees up to his chest, his body wrapped in a quilt. They sat in silence. “Adam, I’m sorry about yelling at you. You did what any man would do in that situation,” she practically whispered. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have gone off half-cocked and beaten the guy up. I was just so angry that any man would think, let alone say, anything like that to you. I guess…I guess I was scared,” managed to choke out. “Scared?” He sighed and edged closer to her. “I was scared that you would be hurt and wouldn’t trust any men, including us,” he put his arm around her shoulders. She threw her arms around his neck. “Forgive me?” his eyes misted. She squeezed him tighter. “Of course I do.” Unbeknownst to them, Joe, Hoss, and Ben stood in her doorway watching them. They grinned at each other before returning to their rooms. “We had better get to bed,” she slid through the window and called softly, “I love you, Adam.” He dimpled. “I love you too, Jenny.” They each slept better than they ever had that night.

*****

A month went by slowly, and finally, it was July 27. Jenny had taken extra care in dressing today. Even though David couldn’t see, she wanted to look nice for his professor. She laid a purple dress on her bed before fastening her corset. The gown had a square neck, ruffled with lavender waves, and a wide lavender sash. She stepped into the dress, noting the softness of the fabric against her skin. Jenny fixed the puffed short sleeves and sat at her bureau to brush her hair. The night before she had washed her hair with rosewater, making it smooth as silk. She braided it down her back and coiled it into a bun, poking pins in along the edges. Opening the jewelry box on the bureau, she pulled out a simple pearl drop necklace and pearl drop earrings. She slid the wooden ring onto her finger. After putting on her stockings and shoes, she made her way to her father’s room. He was trying to get his tie just right. She giggled a little as he struggled with the tie. “Ah! Would you help me with this…this torture device?” he sighed, exasperated. “At least you don’t have to wear a corset,” she walked up to him and fastened it. “I must agree with that,” he smiled. “You look lovely.” She blushed pleasantly. “Ready?” he hugged her. “I hope so,” she straightened and went back to her room. It was unseasonably cool for July, even if it was morning. She grabbed her good shawl, the hand-crotched one. She wrapped it around her shoulders before going downstairs on wobbly knees. Hoss was sitting on the settee, his head resting in his palms. He started a little when she put a hand on his shoulder, but grinned at her. “Hey Jenny. My, don’t we look nice today?” She blushed again, but then scowled when she saw the tears in his eyes. “What’s wrong?” she sat beside him. “Nothing, I guess. Just stupid me,” he gazed into the ashes of last night’s blazing fire. “What is it? You can tell me,” she rubbed his back in small circles. “It’s just that…David’s comin’ home and ya’ll are gonna get hitched and we’ll never see you again!” he whimpered. Jenny’s eyes widened. Hoss had never told her his secret fear. “Oh, Hoss…we won’t leave right away! We’re gonna build a house so that you can visit us anytime. And while we’re building the house, we’re gonna stay here,” she took out her lace edged hankie and dabbed his eyes. He chuckled a little. The picture was funny-a petite, beautiful blonde woman drying the tears of a big galloot like him. They stood and hugged, Hoss lifting her off the floor and swinging her back and forth. She laughed gaily as he put her down.

*****

Jenny’s heart was doing flips in her chest. She could see the stage coming around the corner. Ben tightened his grip on her arm. The driver reined the horses and an attendant opened the door. A tall, very handsome man stepped out with the help of an elderly gentleman. “David?” she said tentatively. “Jenny?” he called. She flew into his arms and hugged him like there was no tomorrow. They kissed, long and passionately. “I’ve missed you!” tears of joy began to stream down her face. The gentleman cleared his throat, slightly miffed by getting no attention. “Oh, Jenny, this is my teacher, Mr. Gerald Radcliff; Mr. Radcliff, this is Jennifer Cartwright.” Dave grinned. Gerald took her hand and shook it vigorously. “So you’re Jenny. I can tell you that David spoke of nothing else for the first few weeks,” he smiled at the young girl. “Mr. Radcliff, this is my father, Ben Cartwright, and my brothers Adam, Hoss, and Joe,” Ben grasped the other man’s hand warmly. Meanwhile, Jenny had been in David’s arms hugging him tightly. “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting…” he placed a finger over her rosy lips. “You talk too much,” he kissed her again like he had in the barn the day he proposed. She barely heard anything anyone was saying to her. “Jenny?” Ben said gently. “Hmm? I mean…Yes, Pa?” she broke away from David. “I said why don’t we show our guests to the buggy and make our way home?” he laughed. She took David’s hand and led him to the rig. They sat in the back, while Ben and Gerald sat in the front. For the rest of the day they were practically inseparable.

That night they went outside for a walk. They didn’t speak; there would be time for that later. Now they simply enjoyed each other’s company. “I’ve brought you something,” he dug into his coat pocket and pulled out a small box. He opened it ceremoniously, revealing a golden band and a tiny diamond. “Oh, David…but why? I have the ring you made for me,” she admired the jewel. “You’re going to be my wife, and you deserve a proper engagement ring,” he slid it on her left third finger, taking the wooden one off and placing it in his pants pocket. “I love you,” he enveloped her in a tender embrace. Jenny led David back to the house. When they got into the house, she ran over to Ben and said, “Pa! Guess what!” “What Jenny? What is it?” “David and I…well we’re gonna get married!” Jenny said with a giant grin on her face. “That’s great Jenny, but I must say this comes as no surprise.” Ben looked over at David, “And son, welcome to the family” David shook his hand warmly. “Thank you, sir,” he smiled. “Boys, come and say hello,” she admonished and each shook hands. “You had better take care of her or I’ll…” Adam patted him on the back. “You’ll come to our house and beat his brains out, right?” Jenny’s blue eyes were shining. The family laughed. Joe nudged Hoss, who in turn nudged Adam. They started humming ‘Here Comes the Bride’ teasingly. She hit Joe-he was the closest. “Ow! What was that for?” he asked. Jenny smiled. “Oh…I don’t know…embarrassing me in front of my fiancée, his teacher, and my father!” Ben started to laugh. “At least you didn’t throw your boot at him…and miss, smash a vase, then never put it back together!” She turned red. “Was I supposed to fix that? I must have forgot…” she giggled. “Oh, and I brought you something else,” David pulled out a box. She ripped through the paper. She gasped as she pulled back the tissue. “What is it?” she gazed at the pink material. “It’s a riding habit. One of my friend’s mothers was a dressmaker from New Orleans and I had her make them for you. I hope it fits…” he trailed off as she hurried up the stairs to try it on. The pink riding jacket fit perfectly. She noticed a soft cloth had been taken to the gold buttons to make them shine. A creamy underskirt fell to the floor in great folds. Petal-like sides of the pink overdress framed it in beauty. In the bottom of the box was a pair of kidskin gloves and a creamy hat with a large plume. And nestled in an extra crinkly set of tissue paper was a brand new riding crop. She had never used one before, but this one looked so sharp with the habit, she wanted to learn. Gliding downstairs with the air of a great lady, she did a small pirouette on the landing. “Well, how do I look?” she grinned. The men stood speechless. “I’ll take that as a ‘Wow, Jenny, you look great’!” she added gleefully. “Wait. I just remembered these,” David brought out four more boxes. “Darling, you’ll spoil me rotten!” she took them. Hoss laughed. “I think we’ve already done that.” She carried them upstairs and put them on. The first was a light green summer frock. It had short, puffy sleeves and a white mock petticoat. Lime green ribbons tumbled down the back and tied in a bow at the waist while a white satin covered hat tied under her chin with a pink ribbon. Joe liked that one best, but Ben thought it was scandalous. Showing her petticoats, indeed! he simmered. And the last dress was a lovely ball gown. Dark blue silk flowed about her while white lace accented the scooped neck and quarter-length sleeves. White roses had been carefully and meticulously embroidered on the fabric. She tucked her golden hair in the fashionable blue snood. In the final box was a plum velveteen cloak. It looked so sweet with the gown. “Oh, Jenny, you look like a queen,” Adam sighed. “I feel like a queen,” she smiled.

*****

“Pa, may David and I go riding?” Jenny wiped her mouth with her napkin. Mr. Radcliff had gone back to Maine and she hadn’t been on a horse in ages. Ben sighed. “All right-but could you go into town for me? I’m expecting a letter,” he smiled. “It’ll only take a minute for me to change,” she ran up the stairs. She thought about wearing her new habit, but she knew she would just get it dirty. Maybe she could wear it when they had company and went riding. Her favorite black riding skirt was lying on the bed. She picked out a red checked blouse. She tightly French braided her hair. Her old black hat sat on the bureau. She gently smoothed the brim, running her hands over the soft material. She remembered the Christmas she got it, her first Christmas on the Ponderosa. It had been much too big for her little head, but she loved wearing it around the ranch. She chuckled quietly. She looked at herself in the mirror, and, satisfied, went downstairs. David and Joe moseyed back in the house. “Pick out your horse?” Hoss shoveled a forkful of eggs into his mouth. “Yea, I chose the palomino stallion,” David felt his way to the blue velvet chair. “Oh, that’s Shiloh. I gentled him myself,” Jenny stood behind the chair. He chortled. “I’m trying to imagine you on a bucking horse.” She smiled at the sound of his laughter. “I said I gentled him-I did it the Indian way. I took him into a shallow stream…mm, the water was up to his chest, and I hopped up on him. He couldn’t buck or run wild in the water. He was the sweetest horse you could ever ride from then on,” her eyes twinkled as she remembered that hot summer day. “The sweetest?? That horse bucked me off the moment I was in the saddle!” Joe rubbed his behind. “Well, he didn’t like other people riding him…he got used to you! It’s not like he tried to bite your head off…” she muttered. “We had better be going. Is my horse saddled?” Jenny cocked an eyebrow at Joe. He bowed with a sweep of his arm, “Of course, your majesty.” She playfully punched his ribs as he giggled.

“I want to show you something,” she mounted Isis. “What is it?” David tied the rope to his saddle horn. “A surprise,” she nudged the horse into a trot. They rode on, laughing and talking until they reached the waterfall. “Come with me,” she helped him off the blood bay and took his hand. “Do you mind getting a little wet?” he looked perplexed. “I guess not…why?” She led him through the water and under the falls. “I went on a late-night ride one day and found this cave. It’s really big and has some tunnels-come on, let’s climb in,” Jenny jumped onto the wide ledge and pulled David up. “At least it’s sort of dry,” he tried to ring out his soaked shirt. “Follow me,” they linked arms and walked slowly forward. “You hear that?” she whispered. He nodded mutely. Vague voices were echoing in the cave. A shaft of light permeated through the still darkness. She drew her gun, her finger on the hammer. “Stay here David,” Jenny whispered. Jenny walked forward to the light. She looked around the corner and didn’t even hear the steps behind her. Large, calloused hands covered her mouth to muffle her scream. The gun dropped from her hand, making a metal clink on the stone floor. “Jenny?” David called. She tried to answer, but the hands tightened over her mouth. She felt a gun handle hit her neck, then fell into darkness. “Jenny!” David groped for her. A fist collided with his cheek, sending him flailing across the cave.

He came to a little while later. He could hear the waterfall and feel the setting sun on his face. The sand was rough and grainy under his hands and cheeks. He sat up dazed and tried to think of what had happened. Suddenly he remembered. “Jenny!” He yelled but there was no answer. David knew that whoever it was must have taken her. He had to ride back to the ranch and tell Ben and the boys; but he didn’t know how to get there. He whistled to the horses and found that both were still there. He tied Shiloh to Isis’ saddle horn and mounted her. The mare snorted at this unusual amount of weight, but she went willingly when he kicked her. David trusted her to get them home, but it took them a while to get out there and it would take a while to get back to the house. His heart raced as he tried to think of who would do this. Isis finally rode into the front yard of the Ponderosa. “Mr. Cartwright, come quick!” David yelled hoping that someone would be home and hear him. He heard the front door open “Pa, David’s back,” Joe called. “Jenny. Someone’s kidnapped her!” “Pa!” Joe screeched as David dismounted. Ben and Adam ran out to him. “Where’s Jenny?” Ben was getting frantic. “We went to the lake. There-there was a cave behind the waterfall. We explored it until somebody hit her over the head and punched me. I woke up and she wasn’t there,” he panted. “Joseph, saddle the horses and find Hoss. Come on inside and rest, son,” he put an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Cartwright, I’d like to ride along with you,” a defiant look came over his face. Ben was thinking that having David along would just slow them down. But he knew that if his fiancée was out there that he would want to be out looking for her. “Okay David, you can come.” Ben sighed. “Tie your reigns to Joe’s pommel.” He smiled a little. “Pa! Joe just told me what happened,” Hoss ran out of the barn. Chubbie was in tow and so were Cochise, Sport, and Buck. David hopped back on Isis and nodded for Joe to lead the way.

Jenny shook her head slightly, only to reveal that she was bound and gagged. She opened her eyes and found that she was blindfolded, too. Suddenly her thoughts went to David. Was he all right? Did he get hurt? Did he find his way out of the cave? Jenny started to cry softly not knowing if her David was even alive.

Thunder rolled as if a thousand drums were playing in the sky. Fierce black clouds loomed on the horizon, then inched forward in the blustery wind. Large raindrops hit the ground like bullets. Today, of all days… Joe thought bitterly. He pulled his jacket closer around him and lowered the brim on his hat. He couldn’t see a thing in the pouring rain. He turned, making sure David was still with him. Through slanted eyes, he could see the hunched over form of his soon to be brother in law. Joe reached out a gloved hand and rubbed his horses’ neck.Just a little farther, Cooch…I hope…

David felt the raindrops. No, not now…why couldn’t the rain have waited? He thought. He could hear the thunder. “Hey Joe? Maybe we should stop. The horses might spook with the thunder and lightning,” he was surprised Joe heard him over a blast of thunder. “Are you sure you want to, David?” Joe could see the hesitant look on his face. “Yea Joe. No use in us getting hurt.” He pulled the horses to a stop and eased off. The path was now a slick muddy hollow. Joe quickly walked over to David. A little too quickly…he slipped and fell into the mud with a loud splash. David couldn’t help but laugh out loud. This was a beacon of happiness in the midst of a bad dream. Joe giggled and stood a little more slowly. “You okay?” David’s voice was still shaking from the laughter. “Yea. Just a little muddy,” Joe wiped his mud splattered face on his mud splattered sleeve. “Here, let me help you down.” He took David’s wrist. They realized that the mud was already ankle deep. The rain started to get harder and they realized it wasn’t rain at all. It was sleet. “Come on, let’s go!” Joe grabbed his hand and the two ran for the cover of a large oak tree. “I packed some jerky and biscuits in my saddle bag,” David said, hunger gnawing at his stomach. “Great supper, huh?” the older boy got the saddlebags and their bedrolls. “Yep.” They ate like madmen when each got his portion. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna bed down for tonight,” Joe yawned. “Okay, Joe. I think I’ll stay up for a while. Maybe keep wat…Well, I’ll listen to see if anybody’s coming.” David said. “Whatever you say. But you don’t really need to keep watch.” Joe yawned again. “Maybe I want to. And you sound bone tired so get to sleep,” David knew he couldn’t sleep peacefully not knowing what had happened to Jenny. Or if she was even alive. Joe huddled down in his blanket and rested his aching head on his saddle. He curled up his nose-it smelled like horses, sweat, rain, and mud. He sighed quietly. David wrapped himself in his blanket and stood with the butt of a rifle resting in his hand. He leaned against the rough bark of the oak.

Jenny awoke to people speaking. She tried to make out the voices but was having no luck. She longed to talk but knew that that wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do. Suddenly she felt a boot in her ribs. “Wake up, Cartwright,” he kicked her again. She moved a little to show that she was awake-and to show that she didn’t want any cracked ribs. Strong hands untied her until she was free. Her mouth dropped open. Bobby Miller stood before her, hands on hips and grinning maliciously. “What do you want with me?” her voice squeaked. “I telled ya I would get ya,” he moved towards her. “D-don’t you touch me!” she shrieked. He pulled her into his arms, kissing her violently. Her fingernails found his cheek and she dug in. He yelled and pushed her down onto the floor. He pulled his neckerchief off and blotted the scratches. “Maybe not now, but I’ll get ya. Don’t you worry ‘bout that!” walked outside with his men.

“Joe.” David nudged his friend’s sleeping form. “Joe, hey Joe wake up, I think heard something.” He now realized what Hoss meant when he said that trying to wake Joe was like trying to wake a grizzly bear in the wintertime. “Joe, come on.” David said getting agitated. Finally, he delivered a swift kick to Joe’s back. “Hey! Wake up!” he whispered as loudly as he could. “Hmm? Was a matter?” Joe rubbed his eyes. “I thought I heard something,” he straightened. A rustle of leaves announced the intruder’s presence. Joe bolted awake, his hand on grasping his gun. A glint from the bushes…a shot as loud as thunder…unbearable pain…in a few seconds, David passed into blessed unconsciousness. “David!” Joe gasped looking down at him. He knew that he was in a mess of trouble now. “Who’s out there!” he yelled. He didn’t get a reply so he fired off the three shot signal that the Cartwrights had established in hopes that one of the others would hear it. It wasn’t a bad wound, thank God. But it was still in the gut. Joe tore a piece from his shirt and patched David up as best he could. It seemed like years until Adam and Hoss rode up. “What happened?” Adam bent over the boy. “He thought he heard something and before we could do anything, he got shot. It’s not too bad, but he’ll need a doctor.” The boys made a makeshift travois out of branches and rawhide. They gingerly laid David on it and slowly pulled him along. The way was long and rocky, but they could make it. They had to make it.

Jenny thought that she heard a shot but thought that it must be her mind. Suddenly she heard three shots. Jenny knew all to well what they meant. She had used that shot too many times in her family. They were out looking for me and someone got hurt, she thought. But who? One of Bobby’s top men, Darrel Winthrop strutted through the door. “Well Bobby, I did what you couldn’t,” he smiled. “Oh, and what would that be?” Bobby asked. “I got rid of your competition.” Jenny was listening in on the conversation intently. Competition? What competition? she mused. “Yea I got rid of the boy for you. Oh what was his name? D…David, yep, David,” Darrel said with a snicker. Jenny had to hold back a cry. The gunshot, the Cartwright 3 shot signal. It all made sense now. “No,” Jenny said under her breath, “No, this isn’t happening.” Bobby grabbed the man by the collar. “You what? Idiot! I wanted that blind trash alive!” Darrel giggled. “I don’t think he’ll be alive for long…” Bob punched the man’s face. He flew across the tiny shack, blood oozing from his nose. The fight ensued, until Bobby had had enough, drew his gun, and shot Darrel. The boy drew, but he was too slow. His finger pulled the trigger, winging Jenny in the shoulder. She sat dazed for a few seconds. Her shoulder was on fire. She felt around the wound very gently; her fingers found two holes. That’s good, she thought. Her brothers had told her about gunshot wounds. It was better if they were in one way and out the other.

“Did you hear that?” Adam asked. “Mm-hmm…from the south.” Hoss turned towards the sound. “You want to go check it out with me Joe?” the eldest brother gathered the reins. “Sure. You be all right with Dave?” Hoss nodded as the boys urged the horses into a gallop.

Jenny ripped her soaked shirtsleeve and made a sling for her arm. It wasn’t fancy, but it worked, and her arm had stopped hurting so much. “That boy always got on my nerves anyhow,” Bobby put his gun back in the holster. She slowly stood up, wobbling a little. The sound of horses turned her attention to the only window in the shack. Two, she counted the hoofbeats. Wait…She knew those hooves. Each of the Cartwright mounts had their own gait. She recognized Sport and Cochise, both riding hard. Jenny knew that she had to distract Bobby so that he wouldn’t hear the racket. She started walking towards him but fell. Well, it made a nice thud, she smiled a little. Bobby looked down at her. He noticed the blood on her sleeve and suddenly realized that she must have been hit. She started picking herself up. He was enjoying watching her try to get up. “Come on, little rich girl. Can’t you get up?” he mocked her mercilessly. She got up very slowly, trying to buy the boys some time. But Bobby did that for her. As soon as she was standing, he pushed her down again, laughing. Jenny was starting to get up again. Come on you two… she prayed. The thought had just left her mind when the door flew open. “Jenny!” Joe yelled. Bobby turned around with his gun drawn. Joe was a fast gun, though, and had Bobby Miller down before he knew what happened. She ran to her brother, hugging him tightly. Adam came in after he heard the last shot. They enveloped her in a close hug, their salty tears of fear and joy mixing with one another’s. “Where’s David? Is he all right? Did you find him?” her questions were frantic. Adam put an arm around her shoulder. She cried out; now it really did hurt. It hurt something fierce. “What happened to your shoulder?” Joe examined the wound. “It was an accident. I know David’s been shot-one of Bobby’s men did it,” she added quickly. Her brothers looked at each other. “He’s-he’s not doing well…Hoss says he might not make it.” Those simple words cut her like a knife. “Oh no…” she gasped. “I need to see him…let’s go home,” she sniffed. Joe lifted her onto his horse and climbed up behind her. Adam had already gone to find Pa and the sheriff. They rode in silence, her heart breaking inside her. She had waited all this time for David, and for what? He might die…She closed her eyes to stifle the tears that threatened to overflow.

They pulled into the front yard of the Ponderosa. Jenny jumped down from Cooch and ran inside. She took the stairs two at a time to the guest bedroom. “David…” she gasped when she saw him. He was so pale. She grasped his limp hand, gently pressing it to her cheek. “I am so sorry.” He opened his eyes. “Jenny…” he sounded weak. “Darling, I’m so sorry. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. This was all my fault. If I hadn’t…” David put his hand up to her lips and whispered, “You haven’t changed a bit, have you? You still talk too much.” She leaned down and kissed him lightly as he slipped into a deep sleep. The doctor rushed in after her. “Let me take a look at that arm!” he laid his bag on the bed and gently lifted her arm out of the makeshift sling. He cleaned the wound thoroughly, wrapped it up and set it in the notorious black ‘Cartwright sling’. “Can I go back and see David now, Doc?” Jenny asked with her best puppy dog eyes. “I really think that you should rest, dear. And I’m sure your father and brothers would agree with me,” he crossed his arms firmly. “Pretty, pretty please?” she pleaded. He chuckled. She sounded just like she used to. “Fine, but you have to promise me that you’ll rest afterwards.” “Promise!” she hurried back to the room. She pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed like her father had so many times. After a while, she began to nod off. She didn’t want to leave David, so she curled up beside him on the bed, her hand resting on his broad chest. She drifted off to sleep, not knowing what the morning would bring. Hoss edged in a few moments later. He smiled warmly at his sister. “Hey Pa, c’mere,” he called softly. Ben stood beside him and looked through the door. “Would you look at that?” Ben grinned. Joe and Adam came up to look too. “Move your head Hoss, I can’t see,” Joe said trying to see around him. He moved out of the way. “Pa, if he doesn’t make it, that will just destroy Jenny,” Adam sighed. “I know. Believe me, I know,” he rubbed his unshaven jaw.

Sunlight hit her face. She blinked and squinted, trying to remember where she was. David groaned loudly, bringing her back. She was in the guest bedroom at home. Home. She would cherish that word forever. Pain searing through her arm, she lay back down beside him and closed her eyes. Ben quietly opened the door. “Jenny? You awake?” he called softly. “Yea, Pa,” she said through clenched teeth. He lifted her from the bed. “How is he doing?” Ben asked. “I honestly don’t know Pa….But he made it through the night. So he’s doing better than the doctor said he would,” Jenny said cheerfully. “Let’s go get some breakfast,” he wrapped her robe around her. David groaned again, but he was slowly waking up. His eyelids fluttered open. “Jenny?” his voice was barley audible. “David, oh David!” she whispered into his chest. He gently stroked her hair. “I’ll be all right. Just a nick. A nick can’t keep me down.” She laughed a little. Ben silently exited the room. They needed to be alone. “I thought I had lost you forever,” she sniffed. He chuckled. “I told you, just a nick.” She kissed him tenderly, then laid her head on his chest. He buried his face in her silky soft golden curls.

The next morning Ben walked into the room and knew that David was going to be all right. He looked from him to Jenny sleeping beside each other in the bed and knew that they were a match made in heaven. Ben lifted his eyes. Thanks, Lord, for giving my daughter the love she deserves.

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