Never Too Late To Say You’re Sorry (by BettyHT)

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Summary:  Adam has been gone from the Ponderosa for ten years. His family knows little of his life but then Ben decides it’s time for at least a visit. There’s a backstory to explain Adam leaving, and flashbacks to explain his personal life, and then the reunion and the results of that as old grievances are aired and new relationships are forged.

Rating = T    WC = 34,246

Virginia Series:

Never too Late to Say You’re Sorry
Like Father, Like Son

 

Never Too Late To Say You’re Sorry

Chapter 1

“It’s your fault he left. He tried to forgive you, but he just couldn’t do it. Now you stand there with nothing to say? It’s just like you. You’ll do what you’re going to do regardless of how it hurts other people.”

“Go to him. Get him to come home.”

“He won’t come home if you’re here. You know that.”

“By the time you get back, I’ll be gone. He’ll come home if he knows I’m not here.”

“Where you going?”

“Does it matter?”

“No, not really, but I guess I don’t want you to leave.”

“Why?”

“Pa’s gonna be upset.”

“That’s what I thought. Pa knows I’ve been thinking of traveling. He’ll understand, and you and Hoss will be a lot happier without me. Haven’t you told me that a number of times.”

In the house a short time later, Ben did his best to convince his eldest son not to leave. He had heard the last of the exchange between Adam and Little Joe, and he had been unable to convince Hoss not to leave. He was determined not to lose another son.

“Pa, he’ll come back if I’m gone. You know that as well as Little Joe does. I don’t belong here. Maybe I never did. Someone is angry with me so often. I don’t fit in. Sooner or later, there’s going to be an even bigger problem. You know I’ve wanted to see what else there is in the world. Maybe I can find a better place for me.”

“This is your home. We’re your family.”

“I’ll always love my family, but I can’t stay. I have to go. Please understand and let me go.”

“Then don’t go too far. We can set up another business for you to run. You’ve done so well here. Use those skills and talents you have, but don’t go so far away that we don’t see you.”

“San Francisco has always appealed to me. Maybe I’ll settle there after I travel a bit. It will be better for us if I go. You’ll see. Hoss and Little Joe will be able to handle everything. Maybe the kid will grow into a better man without me here. Pa, I will miss you.”

“Write and let us know where you are and what you’re doing.”

“I will, Pa, as often as I can. Farewell. I’m going to grab a few things that I want and then I’ll be gone. I won’t take Sport. I couldn’t bear to sell him somewhere along the way.”

“Take Jupiter. He won’t let anyone ride him except you anyway. You can set him free once he’s carried you as far as you want him to take you.”

“Thank you. You seem to know what I need most of the time.”

“Yes, and right now, I wish I didn’t.”

Hours later, Hoss and Little Joe tentatively entered Adam’s bedroom where their father still sat in the chair by his son’s desk looking over the drawings and notes he had made for changes in the Ponderosa, changes that he had never been able to convince the others were needed. It seemed eerie to think of him as gone with his belongings still filling the room.

“Dadburnit, he’s really gone then, Pa?”

“Yes, Hoss, he felt he had to leave. He wasn’t happy here. Too many things went against what he wanted. He’s got a desire to do so much more. Maybe if we had listened to his ideas, he might have stayed a bit longer, but eventually, he would have had to go. He needs more of a stage on which to use his talents than this ranch allowed him.”

“But he’ll come back, won’t he? I mean I said some things I wish I could take back now, but he knows I didn’t mean them, doesn’t he? I mean I wasn’t gonna be gone forever. I just needed some time to get my thinking straight again.”

“I feel the same way. I always say things I don’t mean when I’m mad. He knows that. He’ll come back, won’t he?”

“Time will tell. That’s all we have now. Time.”

Weeks, months, and years passed with only letters as Adam pursued his many dreams. He built buildings, won awards, taught classes, traveled to exotic locations, and wrote books. Cards and presents arrived, and letters were read, but it was always as if something was missing on the Ponderosa. The ranch grew bigger, new friends were made, and the family grew, but always there was that presence that was missed.

It had all started so innocently. Adam had a difficult year after Laura had gone behind his back and taken up with Will. Adam wasn’t so upset about that realizing that although he loved Laura, she didn’t love him. He didn’t believe that he had loved her enough to be married to her either. The betrayal hurt far more than the loss. They all knew that. But it seemed that Adam was snake-bit to use Hoss’ term. Women he met and to whom he was attracted were either engaged to another or in love with another. Men he thought could be friends turned out to be lacking in moral character. Then a new seamstress moved to town. Adam met her first when she was buying a book at the general store. They struck up a conversation about the book, and by the time the conversation was concluded, Adam had asked her to accompany him to the harvest dance. He whistled as he rode home that day, but wondered how things could go wrong because that’s exactly what he suspected would happen. It didn’t take long. Hoss met a lady riding out near the lake. She said that she had not realized she was on the Ponderosa and was in fact a bit lost. Hoss rode with her back into town and they chatted and got along very well. She told Hoss that she liked to go riding so Hoss asked if she would go riding with him on Sunday. He promised a picnic lunch. Then Hoss got up his courage and asked her to the harvest dance. She said she was sorry but she had promised another man that she would go with him. When he asked, she said it was Adam Cartwright whom she had met only that morning. When Hoss rode home, he wasn’t in nearly as good a mood as Adam because Hoss was feeling a bit snake-bit too. They met in the stable.

“Could you take my saddle too?”

“You always gotta let me do the hard work?”

“I only asked if you would carry my saddle with yours while a get buckets of water for the horses. Never mind if it’s too much bother.”

“Yeah, then you’ll be all acting superior cause you got the water, but I didn’t put your saddle away.”

“What’s the burr you got under your saddle?”

“Now you talking like I’m a horse. Well, I’m as good a man as you and don’t forget it.”

Putting his hands up in front of him in surrender, Adam grabbed the buckets and headed to the horse trough. He brought water for all the horses, and then he grabbed a scoop of grain for Sport and one for Chubb. Hoss put the saddles in the tack room and hung up the halters as well as hanging the blankets over the side of each stall. The brothers had worked together for so many years that simple chores required no conversation, but they usually talked about any number of things. Adam didn’t know what he had done to upset Hoss but decided to keep quiet and not make it worse. Ben came in the stable and almost immediately sensed the tension.

“Now what’s going on with you two? Why aren’t you talking to each other?”

“I was talking. He’s the one who stopped talking.” Hoss walked out of the stable then and headed to the house. His demeanor and his walk both indicated seething anger.

Ben turned to Adam. “What did you do?”

Without a word, Adam walked from the stable. Ben followed realizing that, because he was upset, he had been inconsiderate.

“Adam, I’m sorry. What I should have done is to ask you if you know why Hoss is upset?”

Adam was leaning on the top railing of the corral fence with his elbows resting there as he stared out over the pastures. “I don’t know why he’s upset. It seems to happen all too often.”

“Well, you know Hoss. He’ll tell us as soon as he calms down. Something got him upset and somehow it’s related to you. I know you don’t know what it is so can we just all stay calm and wait until Hoss is ready to talk?”

Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, and Adam nodded. The two walked to the house in companionable silence. Once inside, they sat quietly as Ben read the paper and Adam picked up a book he had started the day before. Hoss sat on the settee, and soon he couldn’t hold it in.

“I met a lady riding out near the lake today. She said she already met you and you’re taking her to the harvest dance.”

“Yes, I met a lady named Pamela Penn. She’s new in town, and we did find that we had a number of interests in common. She did agree to accompany me to the dance. Is that what got you so upset?”

“Yeah, she didn’t tell me until after I asked her to go riding with me on Sunday. She said she would go riding but then told me about you asking her to go to the dance. It just upset me to know you were already chasing after her cause I liked her and thought I had a chance with her.”

“Hoss, I was hardly chasing after her. If you wish, I’ll renege on my offer to her, and you can ask her again to go with you to the dance.” To Adam, his brother was far more important than any woman he barely knew at all.

“Nah, you asked her first, so you should go with her. But I am taking her riding on Sunday.”

Adam nodded for he didn’t know what to say. The whole situation made him uneasy. He was not much of a believer in coincidences and this lady meeting both of them in the same day and agreeing to see both was odd. Ben kept his head buried in the newspaper because he had no idea why Hoss was so upset over a very innocent situation. No one had done anything wrong, so Ben waited to find out what had upset Hoss so much. That conversation didn’t happen until the next day after Adam and Joe had left to attend the harvest dance. Hoss decided not to go.

“Pa, that gal I was seeing in Placerville, well, she up and told me she’s going to go stay with her aunt in Sacramento. She didn’t even invite me to come visit. I guess it’s all over between us. I really did like her, Pa. I guess I thought maybe this Pamela would be a good way to help me get over it, and I was feeling pretty down already so when she told me about Adam. I got a little crazy. I still want to see her though so I hope she don’t fall in love with Adam tonight.”

“Hoss, one can be infatuated in a night but hardly fall in love. Adam said he would take her to the dance and then that would be it. Adam is a man of his word.”

“I know he is, Pa. I’m sorry for how I acted. I guess I was taking all my bad feelings out on him. He didn’t deserve that. I’ll tell him I’m sorry as soon as I get a chance.”

At the dance, Adam found himself in a peculiar situation. He wanted a pleasant evening, but that wasn’t exactly what he got. He had been known to press the limits of propriety when dancing with a single woman who aroused his ardor. If he wanted more than a kiss in the moonlight, he was not averse to holding and caressing his partner while dancing and sometimes pressing himself up against her in a slow dance. However on this night, he planned only an enjoyable evening of dancing with a woman who shared similar interests. However she was far more interested in pursuing a physical relationship with Adam. By the end of the night when he was riding home with Joe, he got a little ribbing about the time he spent with Pamela.

“You couldn’t seem to keep your hands to yourself tonight, older brother. She is pretty, but not once did I see you take her for a stroll in the moonlight. Losing your touch or is the lady that difficult to charm?”

Adam scowled and said nothing for a time. “What you saw was me trying to fend off the most aggressive woman I have ever met who wasn’t getting paid to entertain men.”

“Really? Why would you try to stop her? I mean, she’s a very good looking woman. You could have had a really good night just by taking her for a stroll.”

“I didn’t want to have a good night with her that way. I only wanted to dance.”

“Adam, that doesn’t seem like you at all. Other than Abigail Jones, I’ve never known you to turn down a woman’s favors if she was willing to give them.”

“Oh, sometimes, especially when I thought she had been giving them away too freely. But Pamela seems to be one who may have done quite a bit of that. I don’t know much about her other than she likes to read and attend plays and musicals. I have to wonder now if that’s even true or if it was just a ploy to snag me.”

“If she wanted to snag you, then why did she go after Hoss too? He told me that she liked riding and being out in nature listening to the birds and watching the deer and antelope.”

“Joe, makes you wonder, doesn’t it. I’m beginning to wonder just what Miss Pamela is doing. She working on something. I wish I knew what it was.”

“Adam, you’re too suspicious. Maybe she just likes both of you. That’s not that hard to believe although I have to think she would prefer Hoss.”

“Well, at least nothing happened. I wouldn’t want Hoss to think I was forcing myself on her. He likes her, and I want him to have a nice time with her, but now I wonder if she’ll be that aggressive with him.”

The next day, Hoss returned home by dusk. One look at him, and Joe knew that what Adam had suspected would happen, did happen. Hoss couldn’t hide that satisfied look, but when he walked to the house and saw Adam sitting on the porch where it had gotten too dark to read any more, he decided he would make something very clear.

“Miss Pamela told me about what you were like last night. Now, I’m giving you notice. She’s gonna be my gal now, and you need to stay away from her. Ifn you go to bothering her any more, well now that she’s my gal, I’d have to teach you some manners, I suppose.”

“Hoss, I did not ‘bother’ her last night at the dance. If anything, she ‘bothered’ me. If you intend to see her, you need to find out more about her.”

“She told me you would try to blame her. Well, I ain’t hearing none of it. You don’t talk about her and you stay away from her. That’s all I got to say on it.”

There were so many things that Adam wanted to say at that point, but he didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to have a fight with Hoss especially over a woman like Miss Pamela Penn who was certainly doing her best to create a problem in the family. He decided right at that moment to investigate her and find out whom she knew and why she was in Virginia City. He suspected that whatever she was planning, the results were going to be bad for the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa.

It all went downhill from there though. It took over three weeks for Adam to find out that Miss Pamela Penn was the daughter of a man who had lost his ranch because he tried to expand too rapidly so that he could compete with the Ponderosa. He had tried to sue Ben Cartwright and the Ponderosa claiming all sorts of ludicrous things, but when the suits were dismissed as baseless, he swore that he would get even with the Cartwrights and get part of the Ponderosa one way or another. Apparently getting his daughter to cause division in the family and perhaps get herself married to a Cartwright was the modus operandi they were employing. Hoss didn’t want to believe that she could be doing anything like that so Adam hired men to watch her and follow her. It didn’t take long to find out that she was entertaining other men in her hotel room on days she didn’t see Hoss. Adam brought those reports to his father first, but Hoss knew the source as soon as he started to read the contents. He swore he didn’t believe it, but when she asked him if he would get his share of the Ponderosa when they got married, he knew. He asked her about the things Adam had found out. That’s when she claimed to be carrying Hoss’ child.

“Can’t be. What you done with me don’t make no baby. Now I know that what they said was true. I’m real sorry. I love you, but I can’t see you no more. Goodbye, Pamela. I wish you well, but I can’t marry you.”

The gossip mill had a great time with the story especially when Pamela sued Hoss for breach of promise. That also was dismissed as baseless when the reports of her activities were introduced in court. Hoss rode home that day with the family but said nothing. He walked in the house, packed up some of his things, and headed to the stable to leave. Ben did his best to convince him not to go.

“I gotta go, Pa, at least for a while. It mighta worked, you know. We mighta been married and gotten our part of the Ponderosa and been happy, but not after Adam spread his poison. I never could forget what was in them reports. I gotta go and think on it some. I don’t want to be around Adam right now, and not really around anybody. I’ll let you know where I am, and I’ll come back if and when I’m ready.”

In a surprising turn of events, Adam decided to leave and got Joe to get Hoss to come home to work out his feelings with his father and youngest brother helping him. That was ten years earlier and none of them had seen Adam or really knew about his life except for his reports of what he was doing and where he was. He sent gifts. He sent letters that were as impersonal as if a friend were writing to the family. His thoughts, his feelings, and his personal life were never mentioned.

Chapter 2

“Last night, I had a dream. I’ve been having versions of this dream for over ten years. In the dream, it’s twenty-five years from now, and an imposing bearded man stood in the yard of this home that he had left so many years earlier, the home he had helped to build. A young man was by his side. He talked to his son who stood there next to him. ‘Son, I wish you could have known them. But it’s our home now, and they’ll be here for us if only as our guardian angels.’ That was just a dream, but it could be reality some day. We’ve never really said we were sorry. We never asked Adam to come home. I’ve asked if he was thinking about doing that, but I never asked him to do it, for me, for him, for all of us. That changes today. I’m sending a long telegram, and I don’t care how much it costs. I’m going to follow it up with a long letter. It’s time for Adam to come home. He can say no, but I hope he will at least come for a visit.”

Two weeks later in Boston, Adam was having a discussion about that letter from his father and what he should do.

“Will you go? Your father sounds so sincere and hopeful.”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to do that.”

“Of course, you do. You love them and miss them.”

“Yes, but with you I have love and trust too. I couldn’t leave you here.”

“Then take me with you.”

“That would be very difficult for you. You have only ever lived in Boston. Nevada is wilderness compared to Boston.”

“No, staying here without you would be difficult. Staying here with you as you miss your father and brothers even more would be difficult. Traveling with you and resting beside you every night. That would be wonderful no matter what.”

“Garrett does deserve to know his grandfather and uncles.”

“Good, then we’re going.”

“Maybe. Will you marry me? I would like to introduce you as my wife.”

“Why now? We’ve been together for over nine years without being married.”

“Because it was the only way you would have me, and I had to have you. But I knew I was wrong to do it, and I would feel ashamed to tell my father that I have been living with a woman who is not my wife.”
“But I was married when we first got together. I needed him to file those papers, and he took the longest time doing it. For a while, I thought he would demand payment from you, a bride price, so to speak.” She saw his face then, and she knew. “Why?”

“I loved you. He didn’t. He hurt you. I wouldn’t. You were carrying my child but still married to him. Legally he could have asserted that he was the father, and I would have lost my son. There seemed to be no other good way out of it. I paid him because money was nothing, and you and Garrett were everything.”

“But you never told me.”

“What would you have done if I had told you then?”

After a moment of reflection, she knew. “I would have never stayed with you. I would have thought that you thought you could buy me.”

“Do you believe me now when I say I love you, and I would do anything I could to be with you?”

Smiling then, Virginia looked at Adam and nodded. “Yes, I’ll marry you. It seems silly not to do it now, but won’t your father be just as offended when he finds we married just before we traveled to see him?”

“We tell him the month and the day. He can assume the year.”

“He may ask.”

“Then I will tell him. I don’t know why he would ask, but, yes, he could. He may have lots of questions. I never said anything about you or Garrett in my letters. They were always strictly about my career and my travels.”

“I know that. You showed me some of the letters, and I often wondered why you never included anything about your personal life. At first I thought it was because I was a divorced woman, and that despite what you said, you were ashamed of me. But when I was with child, you were so genuinely happy that I knew you couldn’t be acting. You loved me, and then I knew you loved Garrett from the moment you first held him.”

“Before. I loved him before that. I loved him the moment I knew that you had a life growing inside of you. I felt him grow, and as you grew bigger, he kicked. I didn’t think I could be happier than that, but I’ve grown happier every year we are a family.”

“Yes, you were so on edge when we first met. I liked the thrill of it at first. There was no way to know when you would explode. People were very careful around you. I haven’t seen much of that lately.”

“I’ve tamped it down rather well. I’m sure that things could still happen that could make me explode, but not now and not here.”

“You’re worried about going home, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I don’t want things to be the way they were, but I’m afraid that’s what it would be. We can commit to a visit. Then if things don’t work out, we can leave. We have enough money now that we could live anywhere we wished. My commissions have become so large that I hardly need do more than one project every year or two for us to live in luxury if that was what you wanted. I can do that nearly anywhere there are large buildings to be built.”

“You knew this day would come, didn’t you? It’s why you taught me to ride, and now you’re teaching Garrett. You practice with that pistol of yours whenever you get a chance. You want to be ready to go home and be able to do what you did when you left.”

“Yes, it’s a different world out there, and if I go back, I want to fit in there as well as I fit in here.”

“You didn’t fit in here when you first arrived.”

“No, I was an angry man with something to prove.”

“You had something to prove, but I think you were a hurt and vulnerable man who pushed others away so you wouldn’t be hurt any more.”

“I never pushed you away. I chased after you as soon as I realized I could.”

Both of them thought back to the days when they had first met and then got to know one another. Adam had taken a job as an architect’s assistant in a Boston firm. He knew he had to prove himself after so many years without a building plan to his credit. He was determined to work hard until he was designing buildings and had architects working as his assistants. The first day in the office, he was told he probably needed a clerk to handle paperwork and organize supplies as well as take messages and write correspondence for him. He never had hired anyone for that type of job so he was sent an experienced clerk. When Virginia walked into his office, he had been surprised because he had been expecting a man. He wasn’t aware that any women worked for the firm and said that to her.

“Generally, respectable women in Boston do not work, but I worked here a number of years ago until I married my boss.”

“So why are you working here again? Shouldn’t you be home taking care of the home and the children?”

“If you must know, my husband left me and left this firm. We had no children, and if I don’t work, I have no home either because I should have said he tossed me out of our home. Is that enough information for you?”

“I am sorry. I should never have been so rude. Perhaps we could start over. Good morning, my name is Adam Cartwright, and I could very much use your help as I have been told you have a lot of experience in this business.”

“So good to meet you, Mr. Cartwright. My name is Virginia Callender. Yes, I do have experience in this business. I can help you get and organize your supplies. I know most of the men who work here so I can bring your messages to them should you need to do so. I will get you coffee when you request it. I have some experience in drawing copies of blueprints. I will do whatever you need done in the office.”

“Thank you. Could I put in a standing order for coffee every morning?”

“Yes, sir, I can do that. Is there anything else you need now?”

For the next several weeks, Adam and Virginia forged an amicable working relationship as Adam was inundated with work. A twelve hour day seemed like a break as he routinely found that he needed thirteen or fourteen hours to finish what he was asked to do each day. He slept in the office several times a week because he saved an hour each day that way. Virginia would bring him breakfast with his coffee in the morning, and she would go out to get dinner for him before she left in the evenings. Her job required her to be in the office from eight until six. It was a long day but she saw how Adam was being pushed to his limits by the demands made on him. Her respect for him grew as she saw the quality of the work he produced even when he was exhausted by sleep deprivation and overwork.

“Some of the associates are trying to make you quit. The men who own this firm have no idea that you are being treated this way. You could say something and get this to stop.”

Adam looked up at Virginia for a moment and shook his head before going back to the plans that needed to be redrawn because of numerous design weaknesses he had discovered. One of the junior partners was taking full advantage of Adam’s talents without giving him any credit when the work was submitted for approval upstairs.

“You won’t though, will you? You’ll take everything that’s thrown at you and show then that you can do it.” Virginia nodded and went back to work finishing off the duplicates of the plans Adam had already drawn out. She made sure the lines were dark enough and removed any stray smudges. Once the plans were completed, she would be responsible to deliver them to the associate who had assigned this job to Adam. She knew that what was happening wasn’t fair, but there was nothing she could do about it. She started coming in by seven and staying until seven each evening. At first, she knew that Adam didn’t realize that. He was always working when she got there and still working when she left. Once he noticed, he ordered her to stop doing that.

“Why?”

“Because it’s me they’re trying to oust. I can take anything they can throw at me.”

“I know you can. I thought that we were becoming friends though, and friends help friends. Besides, if you get forced out, what do you think happens to me?”

Adam stopped working then and stared at her. “Your job depends on me surviving this hazing?”

“Yes. No one else here would give me a chance. You were new and needed an assistant. One of the bosses decided that if you would tolerate it, I could work for you.”

“You never told me that.”

“I was afraid to tell you. Now I know I could have told you, and you would have accepted me anyway, but I didn’t know it then.”

“You’re very perceptive as well as intelligent and capable. I couldn’t have a better assistant. No matter how grumpy I get, you don’t seem to let it bother you. If I am ever rude or unreasonable, I hope you would tell me. I don’t mean to be, but I do get so involved in my work, that my common sense and good graces sometimes desert me.”

“You have been just fine. I don’t mind the barking of orders. It rather keeps me on my toes so to speak.” Virginia smiled as she said that taking the sting out of the words. “I do enjoy working with you.”

They were once again hard at work when there was a knock on the door. The head of the company, Adolphus Bradford, was there. Adam wondered what he could want, but Virginia was scared that one or both of them were being let go.

“I had no opportunity to get to know you, Mr. Cartwright. But there has been some amazing work being done in this department recently. Now it appears that a miracle may have occurred turning our rather ordinary Mr. Kent into a brilliant architect. Because I do not believe in miracles, I had to look to see what else had changed down here. There has been only one change as far as I or anyone else could determine: you, Mr. Cartwright. You are the only change. Now have you been fixing our Mr. Kent’s mistakes? There’s no need to obfuscate as I am well aware that Mr. Kent works here only because his father is one of the partners and a damn good architect too. So, what is your answer?”

“I have been. I thought it was part of my job.”

“Normally, it would not be. Normally, your job would have been to add in all the details to the plans and produce blueprints as well as duplicates of blueprints. But I must say that with what I have seen coming out of this department, I would like to offer you another position. I want you to review all of the plans of the associates looking for any design errors or even where there could be an improvement in the design.”

“Could Miss Callender continue to be my assistant?”

“Well, if you think she’s good enough, then I guess I would have to accept your judgment on the matter. You will be working regular hours and your salary will increase by half. If it works out, your salary will double. You can continue to use this office, but we’ll get you a better and larger table.”

“Could I have two tables, sir? It would help if I could spread the plans out more and see all of the floors of a building at once in the plans.”

“That is not a problem. Finish the projects you have now, and take Saturday off. You’ll start with the new work on Monday. By then, we’ll have time to explain to everyone how it will work. You will make the corrections without informing us of what those corrections are. You will consult with the associate or associates who drew the plans and make sure that they accept what you have done. Once that is complete, the plans will be duplicated in another office and sent up to the partners for review. Our wish is that we will not have to send any plans back downstairs for revision.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll do a good job.”

“I expect great things from you, Mr. Cartwright, great things.”

With that, Mr. Bradford was gone, and Virginia sat heavily on the stool by the desk where she worked. Adam looked over at her wondering why she seemed so relieved.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? I thought we might be fired. Didn’t that thought occur to you?”

“It did, but I would get another job or start my own business.”

“I probably couldn’t do either of those. I was scared.”

“Virginia, don’t let that frighten you. If we get fired, you can work for me wherever I go. We work very well together. I don’t actually need this job. I have money. I work here because I have something to prove.”

“To your family?”

“To myself. I have to prove that I can do it all on my own. I have to show that the education I got was enough to see me through life quite well. I have to know that the ideas I have are not some idle daydreams but are the stuff of progress. I want to make something that lasts, something that can be my dream fulfilled.”

“And you want me to help you?”

“Yes, we make a good team. Let’s show them what we can do.”

“I would like that. It would be a relief not to have to worry about keeping a job. Most places where they hire women let them go as soon as a suitable man shows up who can do the same work. I was worried you would do that.”

“No, I wouldn’t do that. You’ve proved you can do the job, and I know you need the income. We’ll help each other.”

Adam offered his hand to Virginia. “Partners?”

She nodded and shook his hand hoping that perhaps there could be one good man in the world other than her father.

“You looked a little sad there. Is there something wrong with what I said?”

“No, you just reminded me of my father there for a moment. He was an honest man. It got him killed.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“He worked as an architect in this firm. Some men wanted him to design a new courthouse for the city. He was to charge twice as much as it cost and give them three-fourths of the overage. He was to keep the other one-fourth. He wouldn’t do it. He was run down by an out-of-control wagon one day.”

“But that could have been an accident.”

“It could have been, except he had bruises all over his body, broken ribs, and part of his skull was caved in. He had been killed and then placed in the street so the wagon could run him over making it look like an accident. Well, the police said it was an accident and refused to investigate. My mother sat in our house for weeks and weeks not eating and not sleeping. I couldn’t help her. I woke one morning to find her sitting still and cold at the table in her kitchen. She had slipped away during the night.”

“I’m so sorry for your losses. I had no idea that things like that happened here in Boston.”

“Yes, and this firm now pays the kickbacks. You don’t have to worry. You won’t be part of it, but the men who run this company got the message. Work with the men who run this city or your life may be forfeit.”

As Virginia watched Adam, she could see how he processed that information. He didn’t like it, but it had not affected him directly so he would take no action. She could tell that when he took a deep breath and said they should get back to work.

Chapter 3

“Hoss, do you think Adam found any women to be with out in Boston?”

“Course he did, Joe. Adam always had women around him.”

“Then why didn’t he ever get married?”

“You should remember that as well as I do. He never found the right one, and ifn he did, something always went wrong. He found a few of the wrong ones too. He’s snakebit, he is.”

“It’s going to be strange having him back here. He’s a lot older now, and probably a lot bossier, but he hasn’t been around so he won’t be in charge of anything here. Hoss, you think Adam is ready to be told what to do by either of us?”

“Now, Joe, don’t you go thinking that way already. He only said he would come to visit for now. He ain’t said one way or another that he would stay. He said he had a few surprises for us. I’m real curious about what they could be.”

“Oh, he probably wrote another book, designed another building and got an award for it, and took another trip to Europe or South America or wherever.”

“Maybe. We got a few surprises too. He knows about you getting married and having a baby. He knows I got a son. He knows but he’s never said much about Jamie. Fact is, he never said much of anything at all. I wonder what he’s gonna think when he gets here and meets his new brother and the rest of the family.”

Neither of them suspected that surprises could work both ways. In Boston, Adam and Virginia were formally married with Garrett standing with them. They went to dinner, and their son had some questions. He wondered why they hadn’t married before he was born like other parents did. He wondered how they met and got together. Both Adam and Virginia smiled at that and told some of their history to their son, but only what an intelligent eight-year-old boy could understand and assimilate. Both of them were lost in thoughts about that later in their home as they held books but weren’t actually reading.

Smiling gently, Adam recalled how he began seeing Virginia as more than his assistant. He remembered looking across the room one day as the sunlight entered the window behind her making her hair shine and putting almost an aura around her as she worked. That had made him stop to appreciate her physical attributes which he found very pleasing. She was delightful to watch but she was so much more than that. He got along better with her than he had with any person in his life except for his father and Hoss. They occasionally argued, and even though the voices got loud and tempers threatened to explode, they showed respect for one another and eventually found a way to settle their disagreements. He had been thinking about her when he wasn’t at work. He had time then to consider whether he thought they could ever be a couple. Virginia talked disparagingly about marriage whenever that topic came up in conversation. Her husband, although he had told nearly everyone it seemed, had still not filed the papers for their divorce. It was his legal responsibility to do so, but for some reason, he was delaying doing that. She wasn’t free to see anyone and yet she had no one in her life. Adam began to hope that somehow she might consider him as someone who could be important to her even if marriage was not part of the equation.

As Adam watched Virginia, she was well aware of his attention. She had very mixed feelings about that. She enjoyed Adam’s company at work. He listened to her thoughts and opinions, and although he might argue with her about them, he never demeaned her position or criticized her as a person for disagreeing with him. He actually seemed to enjoy the spirited discussions they sometimes had. But her husband had been charming and debonair too until they married. She found an entirely different man on her wedding night. She hid the bruises well and never told anyone about his demands of her. She took it for three years until she finally had enough and realized her mind and her soul were both in danger if she continued to submit to him. She had started resisting and once he realized that beating her would not change her mind, he threatened her with the shame of divorce and the uncertainty of living on her own at age twenty-four. She accepted the divorce despite all the hardships. Now he held her in limbo by not filing the papers for the divorce. She remembered too that first day that she realized Adam was interested in her for more than her work as his assistant. It was late on another long day at work.

“A penny for your thoughts.”

“Huh? What?”

“You were staring at me but not actually seeing me. I wondered what you were thinking.”

Rapidly, Virginia had to come up with a plausible story. She could never tell him that she had been wondering what he would look like with his clothes off. She had seen the hair peeking out from his chest when it was hot in the office and he removed his jacket and loosened his collar. She couldn’t tell him that of course. “Oh, nothing too much. I was thinking of what I would have for dinner tonight. It’s almost time to go home, and I’m hungry.” She had no idea that her slight blush had given her away.

“Perhaps you would be willing to accompany me to dinner. It does get lonely eating alone nearly every evening.”

“Surely there must be any number of people willing to dine with you.”

“Not so many. I haven’t made many friends here because I spend nearly all of my time working. My old friends have wives and children and numerous social commitments. I get invited to dinner and to parties when they think they have found a suitable match for me. It is tiresome. I will find someone of my own choosing someday or I won’t. I’m no longer concerned about which way that will go.”

“Well, if you think that dining with a woman scorned will not harm your reputation too seriously, then I accept.”

Adam offered Virginia his arm as he finished for the day and prepared to go to dinner. She almost changed her mind, but something in his hopeful look and that gentle smile made her go. She was delighted to have someone with whom to share her dinner as well. They talked and laughed and soon it was time to go home. Adam walked her to her boardinghouse. They stopped at the gate and Adam took her hand in his.

“Thank you. If you would have me, I would like to escort you to dinner any evening when you do not have plans.”

“Adam, you don’t have to do that. I can eat here.”

“But you get back so late that you dine alone, and as I am also dining alone, it would be better for both of us to dine together.”

“You do have a knack for saying just the right thing. So cool and rational, how could a lady ever resist.” And Virginia saw a look pass across Adam’s features then that told her he had a sad tale to tell as well. She smiled and thanked him for dinner before walking up the walk and into the boardinghouse. She turned as she closed the door and saw him still standing at the end of the walk and looking toward her. She smiled and waved. He did the same before turning to walk to his apartment. She knew then that he was as lonely as she was, but she wasn’t quite ready to be his companion.

For a month, they had most of their dinners together. Adam wanted more, but he knew instinctively that he should not push her. The few things she said about her husband and marriage led him to believe she had been abused. He let her recover from that without any pressure from him. He offered his elbow or held her hand as they walked, but he did not push her toward a more physical relationship. That all changed when he twisted his ankle rather severely as he surveyed a job site. He needed crutches to walk at all, and even then it was painful. He was told to take a couple of days off. Virginia heard about it when she arrived at work the next morning and knew that the bosses would look with disdain on anyone who actually did take time off for an ankle injury no matter how painful. She gathered up the most current project and put the papers in tubes. With those under one arm, she grabbed Adam’s case of drafting tools and headed to his apartment as soon as she could. She was only a block away when the rain that had been threatening was unleashed in a torrent. The papers were safe and dry in their tubes and the tools and supplies were protected in the thick leather case. She however was soaked to the skin and shivering by the time she knocked on his door. She heard the clumping sounds as he worked his way to the door.

“My, God, what happened to you? Come in, come in. Let me get some towels for you.”

Virginia peeled off her soaked thin cloth coat, but her dress and undergarments were soaked and clinging to her torso. She realized how she must look when Adam turned to give her two towels and couldn’t help staring if only for a moment. He turned away to give her privacy, but the image was burned into his mind.

“I don’t want to sound offensive in any way, but you really do need to take off that dress and let it dry. I’ll get my robe. You can wear that while your clothing dries.”

Virginia’s agreement to do that was barely audible. Her bravery and boldness in bringing the work to a man’s apartment had disappeared. All that was left was fear. As promised, Adam brought his robe, and after handing it to her, he turned his back and stared out the window at the downpour outside and tried to think of anything but the curve of her hips and the fullness of her figure. In his mind, it was just right in all the right places.

“I fixed some coffee, but I have to drink it standing at the stove because I can’t carry it anywhere without spilling it. Perhaps you would like to bring it to the couch. We can sit there and enjoy some hot coffee. I’m sure that you could use something to warm you.” As he said it, he began to think of other things that would warm her, but then forcibly thought about cold rain and windy raw days until he could get some control of his physical reaction to her presence. He heard her softly agree to the coffee so he moved to the sofa and sank down on it gratefully. When he looked, he saw Virginia in his small kitchen laying her garments on chairs to dry. Then she asked where the cups were. He told her and soon she walked out of the kitchen with two steaming cups of coffee. He was surprised to realize that she had removed all of her clothing and wore only his robe. It covered everything except her legs from midcalf down. That was enticing enough but his thoughts strayed to the body that was under that robe, and once more he looked out the window at the rain and imagined how cold and miserable it must be.

“Am I so awful to look at?”

“What? No. I have to look away because all I want to do is stare at you, and that would be impolite.”

“Do I make you that uncomfortable?”

“No, I make myself uncomfortable thinking of kissing you and knowing you probably don’t want me to do that.”

Virginia twitched a little at his comment, and Adam could have kicked himself if it didn’t hurt so much to do that. He didn’t want to frighten her or do anything to make her pull away from him.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Why? Was it a lie?”

“No, it was the truth, but I sense that anything like that makes you uncomfortable, and you should know that I don’t want to do anything that makes you uneasy.”

Doing her best to calm her nerves, Virginia sighed and then told the truth from her perspective. Her voice was soft and there was a hint of a tremble in it but it was firm enough. “I wouldn’t mind a kiss.”

Leaning toward her, Adam kissed her gently and then more insistently as she responded. They kissed and hugged for several minutes making Virginia relax in his arms. She had never been kissed this way. He was so gentle yet passionate and reacted to her kisses as much as she reacted to his. Then Adam’s hand slipped inside the robe and touched her bare skin. She flinched ever so slightly, but he felt it and stopped the movement of his hand. He kissed her very softly.

“I will never hurt you. Do you want me to stop?”

“Yes.” But when he began to slide his hand out, she changed her mind. “No. Keep touching me.” That he would listen to her made her believe that he might be telling the truth at least for this one day. Soon her passion was being aroused by his kisses and his loving touches and caresses.

“Do you want to make love with me?”

A bit unsure but willing to take that chance, Virginia nodded. Adam stood on his good leg and reached for her hands pulling her up beside him. The robe was open allowing Adam to wrap his arms around her and pull her close. He kissed her with passion and then apologized that he would have to release her so that he could use his crutches to get to the bedroom. He could see the worry she had, but he was sure he could change her mind about lovemaking by showing her that there was no need for pain and that exquisite pleasure could be derived from two people who lovingly touched and kissed each other and then joined together. Once he reached the bed, he began to unbutton his shirt. Virginia turned and ran her fingers across his chest. It was as she had imagined. Then he unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his pants letting them fall to the floor. He had not expected company and was wearing nothing else. He reached up and slid the robe from her shoulders letting it fall to the floor. He pulled her to him and kissed her again.

“It’s not to late to say no. We can stop now if you’re too worried to continue.”

Again, it was reassuring for her to hear that it was her choice. She smiled and sat on the bed letting Adam sit beside her. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her to him as he fell back on the bed. He made sure that he gave her pleasure and told her to tell him if anything made her feel uncomfortable. When he moved to join with her, she welcomed it because she was ready for him. When they lay together later, she rested her head on his chest and listened as his heart rate gradually slowed. He felt her tears then.

“I didn’t do anything to hurt you, did I? I’m so sorry if I did. I don’t want you to cry.”

That made her cry even more, and Adam held her as she told him the things her husband had made her do and what he had done to her over and over again. There had been no pleasure for her and lots of pain. The stories poured out of her as anger toward her husband grew in Adam’s heart. He knew he needed to control it, but all he wanted to do at that moment was beat the man down into the dirt and then rub his face in it. Instead of dwelling on that though, he comforted her and held her until emotionally exhausted, she fell asleep in his arms. When she awakened, Adam was still holding her. He felt her tense up in his arms. He did nothing, and slowly he felt her relax.

“I’m sorry I told you all of those shameful things. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Yes, you should have. You needed to get it out. Now we can move forward.”

“But I’m ashamed and now you must think I’m terrible.”

“No, oh, God, no. I think you were very brave. It’s very difficult for a woman to stand up to her husband as you did. He could have beaten you terribly for that. I’m so thankful that all he did was to divorce you.”

“But, Adam, he didn’t. He still hasn’t filed those papers. Until he does, I’m still married to him. He could have me charged with adultery. I could go to prison.”

“He won’t. When I’m able to get around better, I’ll have a talk with him. I’m sure he doesn’t want a scandal. We’ll work it out and get those papers filed. Meanwhile, I have something to tell you. I’ve wanted to tell you for a very long time, but I was afraid to scare you off. Now, after this, I think I can tell you. Virginia, I love you. I want to be with you.”

Adam saw her eyes fill with tears again and was worried that he had said it too soon.

“I can’t commit to being with you. I just can’t. Not yet, but I won’t run away either. We’ll just have to see how things go now.”

“I should probably see about getting some work done now. You stay here if you want and stay warm. I’ll check to see if your clothing is dry.” Adam leaned down and kissed her gently before he moved to slide out of the bed. He pulled on his pants before standing and then pulled on his shirt before grabbing his crutches and moving off to the kitchen. He was back in the bedroom door a few minutes later.

“Your clothes should be dry in about an hour more. I’ll bring them to you then. Maybe you would even let me help you get dressed.” He had a cheeky grin that made Virginia smile. She began to wonder if men were always sweet and wonderful before marriage and then marriage changed them. She didn’t have to worry about Adam though. She couldn’t marry him. She was still married, so he couldn’t change, and she definitely loved him the way he was. That thought caught her by surprise. She wondered if she did love him. He had told her that he loved her. She wondered if she could declare the same to him but decided it would be best to wait until she was sure.

Chapter 4

Every morning for three more days, Virginia picked up work at the office to bring to Adam and by five, she brought the finished work back. As far as she could tell, no one suspected anything was happening, but they did notice that Virginia did seem to be in a wonderful mood for those three days. Adam noticed that too and asked her why she was so cheerful beyond the obvious that they were now lovers. Kisses and hugs were a big part of the day and the evening.

“It’s nice being here with only you. There are no crude remarks or whistles as I walk around, and there are no men staring at me and almost daring me to complain about it.”

Shocked, Adam had only one question. “How often do you have to put up with that?”

“Adam, that’s just the way things are. Women who work learn very quickly that it’s part of the price they pay for not being married to a man who can support them so they can stay home and care for the children.”

“Who?” Adam’s voice had a scary tone to it even though he talked low and softly. She shrank away a little from him. “I’m not angry with you, but that behavior will stop. It is not what a gentleman is taught to be around a lady.”

“Adam, that’s just it. They don’t consider me a lady because I work.”

“You are a lady, and you will be treated as one. I will see to it. It would be simpler if you gave me the names. Is Kent one of them?”

Virginia wanted to say no because she was afraid of what Adam would do, but her very reticence to say anything was answer enough.

“I’ll talk to him. Word should get around then, and no one will be bothering you once that happens.” Adam’s jaw was set, and she worried very much what he would do. She need not have worried because he had a couple of days to plan what he was going to say and to do. They arrived at work on the next Monday. Adam was using a cane, but otherwise showed no ill effects of his fall. He made a point of stopping by Kent’s desk when there were several other men nearby. He talked in that low, quiet voice that could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention.

“There are stories about how you have looked at Miss Callender less than respectfully. There are stories about some of the things you have said to her that are not gentlemanly. In the west, when there’s a bull that is uncooperative, unruly, and doesn’t like to be part of the herd, we have a solution. He’s lassoed and dropped on his side with his legs tied together in the back and in the front. A very sharp knife is used, and with one quick slash, he’s not a bull anymore. As a steer, he’s a lot less trouble, and missing those important parts, he doesn’t get to pass on those unfortunate traits to any offspring. It’s a quick and efficient method of controlling those who cannot control themselves. I’m just a simple cowboy from the west. I like my solutions neat and tidy like that, and I don’t like to waste time waiting for someone to come around to my way of thinking. Do you know what I mean?”

Kent had turned a bit pale as Adam talked, and the whole room had become quiet as a church during a funeral. Kent nodded.

“Good, then I guess Miss Callender won’t be feeling so uncomfortable around here. I don’t want my valuable assistant to have to put up with anything like that at all. Good day to you.”

Adam had walked out then, but about two hours later, he was visited by Mr. Bradford.

“Did you threaten to castrate Mr. Kent this morning?”

“No, I did not. I merely told him how we deal with uncooperative and unruly bulls in the west. If he chose to believe that he deserved that kind of treatment, then that is in his mind. It was not in the words I said to him.”

“You are clever. His father is upset, but I can take care of that. Confidentially, it would do that family line a lot of good if you would castrate the little weasel. Should anything more happen between the two of you, make sure it happens outside of this office. I’ve heard some talk that Kent wants to challenge you to a boxing match at the gym. How do you think you would fare in such a match? Kent works out at the gym frequently and brags about his prowess in boxing.”

“Standard rules to apply?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’ll win.”

Intrigued, Mr. Bradford had to ask. “And without the rules?”

“He would be lucky to walk out of there alive.”

There was no bravado in the statement. Adam said it simply as if it were fact. Mr. Bradford shook his head. “I have no doubt of that, and I can see why he thought you said you were going to castrate him. You have a way of saying the simplest things and making them sound like a threat. Perhaps you could accompany me to negotiations with clients.”

“I would like that.”

“Very well. We’ll give that a try soon. Now, the ankle giving you any trouble?”

“Not much. I can work.”

“Yes, I know you completed a commendable amount of work while you were home recuperating. Miss Callender was a great help to you, I assume.” Adam nodded. “Tell her to be more discreet about what she wears to work after she spends the night with you. I noticed, but I doubt anyone else did, but if it happens too often, even men like Kent will notice.” Bradford had succeeded in surprising Adam. He was proud of himself for that one. He doubted that anyone managed that very often. He smiled a little as he left Adam’s office and headed back upstairs to his office being very careful to be quite polite to Virginia as he passed her desk. He knew he never wanted Adam Cartwright angry with him.

Apparently Kent decided that he would surprise Adam on the way home from work instead of challenging him in a gym. By doing it that way, Kent could have help against a man who scared him so much, he couldn’t face him alone. A few days after returning to work, Adam walked home alone as Virginia had left earlier to get a bag of her things to bring to Adam’s apartment. She was going to give living with him a try. Adam felt a shove from one side and suddenly found himself in an alley facing Kent who had another man at his side. The man who had shoved Adam into the alley stood behind him. Kent wasted no time and moved in to box with Adam who dropped his valise of papers and took a defensive stance. It surprised him that the other two didn’t do anything, but he worried about them if they did. With a flurry of blows that did some damage despite Adam’s defense, Kent moved to make Adam turn on his bad ankle. Realizing what he was doing, Adam exaggerated the discomfort that caused until he seemed to falter on a weak ankle. Kent moved in to finish Adam off and was caught completely by surprise by a left hook that nearly lifted him off his feet. He staggered backwards and fell into the brick wall of the building there. He laid motionless on the ground as Adam stood heaving from the exertion of a short but vicious attack launched by Kent. The other two men immediately launched themselves at Adam in an inefficient assault. He threw fists at them as fast as he could and rammed one of them into a wall as the other hammered him on the back. He turned then, and the man backed up toward the entrance of the alley. He looked at Kent who was working at sitting up against the wall of the building and at his other companion who wasn’t moving.

“You killed him. I’m getting the constables.”

Kent’s weak call of no was unheard by the young man who rushed off to find the constables. It took nearly fifteen minutes for the constables to get there. Adam was sitting on a wooden crate. Kent was leaning up against the building, and his ally was still unconscious. The constables looked around and checked the condition of the prone man.

“He’ll live, but he’s going to have one terrible headache.” Turning his attention to Adam, he asked the only thing he knew to ask. “You did this to the three of them as this one claims?”

“Yes. Kent and his friends attacked me, and I defended myself as well as I could.”

“How do you know them?”

“We work at the same business. They insult my assistant, and I told them a few days ago to act like gentlemen around her. Apparently they took offense at that.”

Looking at Kent, the constable asserted that he doubted that he would be preferring charges of any kind. “You do that, and everyone will know that you couldn’t win a fight even with two men helping you.” Turning his attention back to Adam, he had a few questions. He asked Adam’s name and if he would be preferring charges.

“No, his father works for the same firm as one of my bosses. I doubt he would look on that favorably. No, to me, it’s settled now.”

The constable nodded and smiled a bit before giving his attention to Kent again. “Now you can tell any story you wish, but I’m writing up a report on this incident where you and two others attacked one man and were defeated by him. If you try anything else against this man, be certain that I will make sure the proper authorities are given that report. Now is that clear enough or do I have to go talk to your daddy?” His voice dripped with the disdain he felt for Kent.

That settled that issue because anyone who didn’t like it was afraid of Adam. For the next year, not much changed except that Adam moved up the ladder rapidly at his firm. His negotiating skills helped them win some bigger and more lucrative contracts. His review of plans that made sure there were no design flaws built the firm’s reputation as well until Mr. Bradford made Adam an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“I would like you to take on the city library project. However we still need you to review the plans submitted by our architects. What it means will be long hours for you and not nearly as much freedom to come and go as you please. Your work has been exemplary so do not take that as a criticism. If this works out, I would think that we would offer you a partnership in the firm. So what do you say to my offer?”

“I’ll do the project, but I have one request. I want two men to train to do what I’ve been doing. It’s not that complicated. It’s a matter of following priorities and not getting caught up in esthetics alone.”

“Why two?”

“Because I don’t trust one to do it correctly every time.”

“Understood. Yes, we’ll be hiring soon so you can have one of the experienced associates and one of the new hires. I’ll let you choose.”

“And what about the partnership?”

“I will continue to work here as long as you’ll have me, but I prefer to work for commissions. I would decline a partnership.”

“Why?”

“What you do that crosses the line is your business, but if I was a partner, then I would be a party to it. I won’t do it, although I understand why you do it. I would prefer to work on projects that do not involve kickbacks.” Adam was well aware of the political machine’s power in Boston. It wouldn’t do any good for him to move to another firm or another city though. All the major cities were under the control of political machines, and all the major businesses cooperated with them or risked ruin.

“Yes, well then, I think we can work something out that will be agreeable to all of us. If you do well on this project, we have private customers as well as customers in other countries who would be pleased to have you working on their projects.”

Adam smiled and offered his hand.

Bradford accepted. “I wish I had the luxury of being able to say no to them, but I have a wife and family to protect as well as the employees here.”

“I do understand, but because I can avoid breaking the law, I will.”

It worked out very well for Adam as the firm’s success and his success went hand-in-hand. Within two years, the firm had expanded into several states and by the following year, they were doing work in other countries requiring Adam to take long trips. Virginia and their son accompanied him on those trips. Yes, that was the other change in Adam’s life. The day he had been offered a promotion to a project architect, he arrived home to find that Virginia had set the table with fine linen and candles. She had left work early that day, and he appreciated the effort she had made to prepare them an elegant dinner in the apartment they now shared full-time.

“How did you know I was getting a promotion when I got called upstairs?”

“A promotion? What will you be doing now?”

Adam explained as he realized that the dinner was to celebrate something else. “Has your husband finally filed those papers?” Virginia’s downcast look let him know that wasn’t the case. He stepped to her and wrapped her in an embrace. “What is it? Tell me.”

“We’re going to have a baby.”

Pausing before saying anything, Adam thought about the ramifications of what she had just told him, but his lack of response made Virginia’s heart sink. She had worried that he would be very upset by this, but his mind was working on it from the angle that they now had a much bigger problem than they had before when it was only the disapproval of polite society that he was living with a woman whose divorce was not yet legal. He grimaced as he thought about the worst possible scenario and looked down at Virginia to tell her what he had been thinking. He found tears streaming down her face.

“What’s wrong? You’re happy about this, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but you’re upset that I’m going to have a baby.”

Adam pulled her into an embrace and held her as tightly as he could without hurting her. “I’m very happy that we are going to have a baby, our baby, but sweetheart, there’s a big problem with that. You’re still legally married. He could claim the child as his own, and the law would stand with him. He has to file those papers.”

“He wouldn’t do that. He told me that he hated the thought of having children. If I had ever been with child, he said he knew someone who would take care of it.”

“But in this situation, he might find some perverse glee in tormenting you and possibly me. You have told me over and over not to go see him to get him to file those papers, and I said I wouldn’t. This changes everything. I have to go see him.”

“But not tonight.” Wiping the tears from her eyes, Virginia reached up a hand to touch his cheek. “Please, if you’re happy with this news, let’s celebrate it. Tomorrow, we can worry, but tonight, let’s just be happy.”

“Even if I’m worrying, I can be happy. The two are not mutually exclusive. I got a promotion today too. I think we ought to find ourselves a nicer place with an extra bedroom at least so I have somewhere to set up a nursery.” He grinned then and Virginia relaxed and smiled. He was as happy about the news as she had thought he would be, but there had been that fear tucked away that possibly he would not like the idea at all. She was relieved that her positive thought had been the correct one.

On Monday, Adam would begin his new job which would be time consuming and take all of his energy for the next several months. He decided that he needed to meet with Virginia’s husband before then. On Saturday, he told her where he was going knowing that she would likely guess anyway.

“I won’t fight with him. I promise you that. Of course, if he was to attack me, I would defend myself.”

“He won’t. He is always exceedingly polite in public. It is only in the privacy of his own home behind closed doors that he lets that evil part of him emerge.”

“I’ll keep that in mind and be sure that we talk in public then somehow.” Adam was going to the man’s house, the one where he had humiliated and debased his wife. Adam did his best to keep his temper under control and hailed a hackney to take him to meet Virginia’s husband for the first time. The house was modest and in good taste. Adam walked up to the front door and dropped the knocker several times. He waited expecting a servant to open the door, but her husband did instead.

“Ah, I wondered when I might get to meet you. I have seen you at various events, and my friends pointed you out. Good morning, and what could be the purpose of your visit here today? I have not insulted your wife or done anything else that you would need to threaten me. Yes, I heard about young Kent. He never was particularly smart about anything which I am sure you already know. So do you want to come in or is it something simple that we can conclude here on my porch?”

“We might be able to do it here. You threw Virginia out of your house and your life well over a year ago. You have refused to file the divorce papers even though you tell everyone you have divorced her. What will it take to get you to file the papers?”

“Well, I must say I did enjoy holding that over her head, but the pleasure of it has long since faded. I would be inclined to do it for a reasonable payment for my time and effort.”

“For very little time and very little effort, but I will offer you a thousand dollars to do it.”

“Ten thousand and you have yourself a deal.”

“Ten thousand, and you file the papers on Monday. You also will say nothing more about her to your friends, you will never mention this transaction to anyone, and you will see that we are invited to the parties and events which we should attend.”

“I had heard that you were a masterful negotiator as well as a dangerous man. I suspect that if I do not hold to the terms of the agreement, that I could expect to meet some grisly end or at least something as humiliating and disgusting as young Kent found out?” Adam stared at him with that intensity that some swore could melt steel. “Yes, we have a deal.”

From his jacket pocket, Adam pulled an envelope with five thousand dollars in it. “You’ll get the rest when the papers are filed.” Without another word, Adam turned and walked back to the hackney and climbed back inside. He never looked back, but Virginia’s husband was sure he saw a pistol tucked into the man’s belt. He had found a man far more dangerous than he was. He decided he had made a very good deal indeed. Ten thousand dollars would buy him quite a few women far more willing to do the things he wanted without complaint as long as they were paid well.

When Adam got home, he told the news to Virginia who had been frightened the entire time he was gone. She hugged him and felt the cold steel of his pistol. Looking up at him, she wondered what he had planned to do.

“I wasn’t planning to shoot him, but I wanted to be prepared for anything he might do. As it was, he was reasonable and admitted he had enjoyed making you suffer, but said that wasn’t giving him pleasure any more. It’s over. Now we can be married if you will accept my proposal.”

And again, Virginia said she couldn’t as she did shortly before Garrett was born and then again after he was born. Eventually Adam stopped asking. She used his last name and that was the name on Garrett’s birth record. People assumed they were married even though she wore no ring except a beautiful ring he got for her to celebrate Garrett’s birth. They moved to a nicer apartment and eventually bought a nice home. Their life was very comfortable, and Adam’s success at the firm got them trips to a number of other countries where he completed design projects. Adam wrote books about his work as well as his travels, and taught a few classes to aspiring architects and engineers. He was happy in his life but did miss his family in Nevada.

Chapter 5

“You never did explain why you never told your family about me and about Garrett.”

“Virginia, I thought I did. We weren’t married. When you were carrying Garrett, you were still married to another man. I didn’t want to tell my father that I was living with a woman who was married to another man, and that I had fathered a child with her. Then when you could marry me, you wouldn’t so the issue was similar. After a time, it was habit to ignore my personal life when writing to my father in order to avoid questions I didn’t want to answer.”

“And now?”

“Writing to him about all those years now when we’re going to see him soon didn’t seem to be worth the effort.”

“That’s not the reason.”

“Oh, and I suppose you know what’s in my mind?”

“After almost ten years, sometimes I think I do.”

Adam leaned back against the side of the railroad car in their private berth. “You’re probably right too. Let’s not talk about it. I want to enjoy the trip at least.”

“How long before we get to the next stop?”

“Within the hour. Then we have to switch trains once more. Once we get to St. Louis, we’ll ride the same train the rest of the way to Reno where we can take a spur line to Virginia City or ride on a stagecoach if you want to experience more of the country.”

“I think I would like the stagecoach.”

“It’s dusty, and bounces you all around. Are you sure you want to do that?”

“It may be the only chance I get so yes. I want to experience all I can on this visit. I don’t know that we’ll ever be back.”

Adam shook his head as she grinned. She was teasing him and he knew it, but there wasn’t much he could do to retaliate. He moved to her side and pulled her to him and kissed her as passionately as he could for a full minute.
“Wow, what was that for?”

“I have found that you lose your train of thought when I do that. It worked again.”

“It did not, I was going to, ah, wanted to, oh, what were we talking about?”

“We’ll be at the first station soon. I’ll go get Garrett while you wait for our luggage to be unloaded. Then I’ll get a carriage to take us to the other station. We’ll have to do that once more in Chicago, and then in St. Louis. After that, we’ll stay on the train until Reno. I’m hoping that Garrett will want to play chess for that last part of the trip.”

“You better make sure you have some paper and pencils. After riding with the engineer, he’s going to want you to explain how a train works. I know I wonder how those smooth wheels turn on those smooth rails instead and just slipping.”

“I’ll explain it to both of you then. It will give us something to do until the next stop.”

“We will get a chance to sleep, won’t we? It’s already nearly dusk.”

“Yes, we’ll get some sleep on the way to Chicago, and we’ll take a room in Chicago to rest a bit before continuing.”

Garrett could hardly stop talking about what he had learned riding with the engineer. It was against railroad policy, but Adam found that railroad policy could be changed for the right fee. His highly intelligent son needed something like that to occupy his mind as they traveled. It kept him from being sad about leaving his friends, his school, and his home. He had lived in England, France, Brazil, and Cuba when Adam had taken on projects in those countries, but each of those times it was only for a few months, and he knew he was coming home at the end of that time. This time, Adam had been honest with him and told him he wasn’t sure if they were ever coming back to live in Boston, but that they might live in Nevada or California instead. Adam had told Garrett many stories about the Ponderosa and about his family over the years. Garrett remembered all of them. He was very excited about all of the new experiences he would have and talked animatedly about them, but Adam knew that was likely to change when he was around strangers even if many of them were family. He didn’t know them, and Garrett didn’t like to talk with people he didn’t know. Garrett was intrigued with the family as described by Adam but wondered if they would like him.

“You said Joshua is two years older than me, but you said when you left the Ponderosa, Uncle Hoss wasn’t married. How did he get a son then?”

“He was seeing a woman on the California side of the Sierras. She never told Hoss that she was with child and moved in with her aunt in Sacramento instead. The aunt contacted Hoss a few years later when the woman died. Joshua has been with Hoss ever since according to the letters I’ve received.”

“What’s it like to grow up without a mother?”

Garrett knew Adam’s life story as much as Adam could tell an eight-year-old even if he was smarter than any other boy his age. Once more though, Adam talked about how he was lonely and felt as if he had to take care of things himself because there was no one else there to do it, how he loved Inger and had felt happy when she was in his life, his devastation when she was killed, and then his troubles accepting Marie. Garrett wasn’t spoiled because Adam could never have tolerated a spoiled child as his son, but he had been sheltered and protected so that he could enjoy a normal childhood. Virginia loved how Adam’s playful side and sense of humor would emerge even more when he was with his son. The only difficulty in Garrett’s life had been that being the smartest boy not only in your class but in the whole school tended to bring out the bully in some of the other students. Adam had taught Garrett to defend himself but made it clear that fighting was to be avoided unless there was no other choice. As an example, he had told Garrett of the fight he had in the alley with Kent and two of his friends.

“You fought three of them? How did you win?”

“By being smart. It’s the only way sometimes to get out of a bad situation. I used the skills I had, but that wouldn’t have been enough.” Adam explained what he had done and why. Virginia watched as her son absorbed the story and the lesson, but she had no idea what else was going through that young mind.

Garrett had managed to avoid fighting most of the time, but he had a wicked sense of humor much like his father’s and sometimes antagonized others enough that he couldn’t prevent a fight. He usually was disciplined by his father when that happened, and his mother would have tears in her eyes, but he also noted that it seemed his father was proud of him too for not backing down. It was a mixed message, but he was very smart. He learned. He wanted his father to be as proud of him as he was of his father. Living in other countries, Garrett had learned a lot about people as well as picking up quite a bit of Spanish and French. He rarely forgot anything so when his father told him to forget about using the slang and curses he learned in those languages, he didn’t use them but never forgot them either. It would turn out to be a big advantage eventually as he dealt with people who had no idea he had this knowledge.

The rocking of the train made Garrett tired. He leaned against his father who wrapped an arm around his shoulder. Adam already had an arm around Virginia who sat on the other side of him. He smiled as his son and his wife closed their eyes and fell asleep trusting in him to keep them safe. Both relaxed as slumber took them, but Adam could not relax. He felt the tension growing in him in every mile they traveled closer to the Ponderosa. He knew that by the time they reached Virginia City, he would be very tense. He planned to do his best not to let it show and worry his wife and son, but other than that, he had no idea how to deal with the stress of facing his family after so many years and explaining why he had a wife and son but had never told them. There were other things he had never told them, and he wondered if he could manage to keep all of those secrets. His father had a way of knowing when he was holding back and probably hadn’t lost that talent. Adam began to run through various scenarios in his mind and tried to think of how he would handle each one. Soon they were in the next stop and made their switch to the next train. It was more of the same until they finally got on the train in St. Louis. From there, much of their time was occupied by questions that Virginia and Garrett had about the terrain through which they traveled, but always in the back of his mind even when they were having fun talking about what they saw, he worried about his reunion with his father and brothers.

Once Adam and his family reached Reno, they took a room because the next stage to Virginia City was the following day. Virginia could feel the tension in Adam by that time. As Garrett buried himself in a book about the Gold Rush, Virginia suggested to Adam that they take a walk. He was going to say they ought to rest, but he could see that she thought it was important so he agreed. As they walked along the main street of Reno, the smell of fresh sawdust was in the air. The town was growing rapidly. It was a cleaner and fresher town than many in the west because of that.

“It reminds me a bit of Denver but on a much smaller scale. It’s much drier too.”

“Denver can be dry too. We happened to be there just after some thunderstorms moved through. It is a vibrant city though. It’s a lot like San Francisco in that regard although I enjoy the city by the sea much more.”

“You like the sea very much, don’t you? Whenever we have had picnics and excursions, it has often been to the seashore. It’s amazing to me that a man raised in the dry west here would have such an affinity for the sea.”

“Perhaps that’s why. It is what I never had that makes me want it so much now.”

“What else is it that you want so much now?”

Adam knew what she meant. He knew better than to expect that she wouldn’t have noticed how worried he had become as they neared the Ponderosa. “I guess even at my age, I want my father’s approval and my brothers’ acceptance of my choices.” Pausing to collect his thoughts, Adam declared more. “I’m going to tell them the truth, the truth about everything. They can think about it and come to terms with it then.”

“And that’s what has you so worried. What if they don’t come to terms with it and are upset with you.”

Nodding in full agreement, Adam paused to ask Virginia to walk with him away from all the hustle and bustle of the main street. As they walked down a quieter avenue, he pulled her into an embrace. “Thank you.”

“Adam, know that you always have my love no matter what happens. Garrett and I will be by your side no matter what.”

By the time they returned to the hotel, Garrett had finished the book and wanted to take a walk to look over the city too. Adam and Virginia turned around and headed out for another walk although this one was very lighthearted especially as they were bombarded with questions constantly by their ever inquisitive son.

The next day they endured the stagecoach ride toward Virginia City and that night, Virginia and Garrett discovered that the ride was reasonably pleasant compared to eating a meal and spending the night in a way station. By the next morning, both of them said they hoped never to have to ride a stagecoach again. Adam smirked for he had tried to tell them. Later that day, they arrived in Virginia City.

Dressed in the clothing they had brought from Boston, Adam and his wife and son looked like any other well-to-do city folk who frequently traveled through Virginia City. As they walked toward the livery stable to rent a carriage because no one was there from the Ponderosa to meet them, two toughs blocked Virginia’s path. She put her arm around Garrett’s shoulders and politely asked them to step aside. Adam was carrying two of their bags and dropped them when one of the men reached for Virginia.

“Give me a little kiss, little lady, and you can pass. You see there’s a toll on this here sidewalk, and no pretty lady goes by without paying.”

Adam stepped up to them and took the man’s wrist in a vise like grip. “Release her now!” He said it in that low menacing voice that exceedingly dangerous men had when they were ready to do violence. Most people in responding to a threat talk in a higher pitch. Dangerous men were the opposite. The ruffian didn’t seem to recognize his danger, but his friend did. He grabbed the man by the shoulder.

“Lay off, Rafe. She’s married. It ain’t right that you should want a kiss from her.”

“Oh, Jubal, ain’t no city slicker like him gonna make me stop. I could put a bullet in him if he tries anything.” Rafe moved to draw but before he pulled his pistol from his holster, there was a Colt pointed between his eyes.

“I said to let her go. Back away slowly and drop that pistol.”

“Adam, Adam Cartwright, I knew it was you. Now what’s the trouble here, boys?” Roy had seen what happened from across the street. He had gotten there as fast as he could. If it was Adam as he knew it had to be, he knew he wouldn’t be distracted by his name being called.

“This ruffian decided to accost my wife. Then he moved to draw on me. I told him to drop his pistol, but he seems reluctant to do that.”

“Now, Rafe, the best thing all around is for you to drop that pistol.”

“Sheriff, we was only funning until he made it all get so serious.”

“Rafe, you did start to draw on him, didn’t ya?”

“Well, he grabbed me.”

“Rafe, now you know as well as I do that as long as you keep your hand on the butt of your pistol, he’s got a right to shoot ya. Now I could charge him with disturbing the peace ifn he did, but that’s about it. You oughta drop that pistol, don’t ya think?”

Jubal reached around Rafe and slid the pistol from his holster and handed it to Roy. “Sheriff, he wasn’t drawing on him exactly. Rafe was only gonna try to scare him a bit. He’s real sorry about that, ain’t ya, Rafe?”

“All right then, you two, get along. Rafe, you can pick up your pistol in my office later today. Now you cool down and stop troubling folks who’s just walking peaceable like down the street especially the ladies. Now, you understand what I’m saying?”

Rafe shrugged and walked off toward the saloon with Jubal. He had been thinking they needed a way to make some money, and an idea had occurred to him. If that was one of those Cartwrights, then he had a lot of money and his papa had a lot of money too. That scrawny kid might just be their grubstake. He decided to have a few beers and think about it before talking with Jubal about the idea.

Roy talked with Adam for a time explaining why his family wasn’t there to greet them. “They was all here this morning at the train station. When you didn’t arrive, they figured you must a been delayed. They said they’d be back tomorrow morning.”

Adam could see how curious Roy was about his traveling companions. “Roy, this is my wife Virginia and my son Garrett. Virginia, Garrett, this is Sheriff Roy Coffee, an old and dear friend of mine and of my family.”

Roy managed not to act too surprised. “Well, now, I’m guessing Ben is gonna be right pleased to have another daughter-in-law and another grandson. He’s the spitting image of you when you was a boy, Adam. He’s gonna be a right handsome man when he grows up, course he would cause he’s got a right pretty mother too. Well, I got to take this pistol to the office and see to making my rounds. I’m real pleased to have met you, ma’am, and you too, boy. You ever need help, you come to me anytime.”

“Pleased to meet you as well, Sheriff Coffee. I hope we’ll have a chance to visit more in the future.”

“I’d be plum happy to do that, ma’am. You take care now.”

In the saloon, Rafe got a beer and stood at the door watching the Cartwrights head to the livery stable after bidding a farewell to the sheriff. Then they headed toward where he was standing which would take them out of town toward the Ponderosa. He stepped from the saloon and raised his beer in salute as Adam neared him.

“Only one kid, old man. You need to plow deeper or has your plow rusted out. Maybe you oughta let a younger man like me do your plowing for you.” Rafe laughed as he saw how upset that got Adam and his wife. Rafe stepped back into the saloon and watched the carriage head out of town. Jubal walked up to him then.

“Why’d you have to go and do that? You heard what the sheriff said. Ifn he wanted to shoot you, you don’t even have your gun now.”

“Jubal, I got me a plan. Let’s have another beer and then we can go somewhere quiet and talk about it.”

In the carriage, Garrett was sitting between his parents and could tell that Rafe’s comments had upset them. His father looked as angry as he could, and his mother was embarrassed by what had been said. Garrett had been confused when Rafe had talked about plowing with his father. But he suspected it might have something to do with sex. He noticed that was a topic that made adults act very emotionally, and his mother didn’t embarrass easily but comments about sex seemed to do it every time. His father got a bit embarrassed too. Garrett remembered two years earlier when he had first asked his father about babies. A friend of his from school had said that his mother had two babies inside of her. Garrett had told his father that and then asked the next logical question that occurred to him.

“Father, how do babies get inside a mother?” That was the first time he had seen his father look embarrassed.

“Well, a mother and a father who love each other and are nice to each other, plant the seed for a baby if God is willing to let them. Then the baby grows inside the mother until it’s ready to come out.”

“That’s how people feel, but I mean how does the baby get in there in the first place to grow? I saw some dogs together, and my friends said they were making puppies. I’ve seen other dogs doing that same thing sometimes. Is that how mothers and fathers make babies?”

“No, I mean, yes, but a mother and a father are much more loving than that. They hold each other and kiss each other.”

“But then they get together just like the dogs? I didn’t know that it could do both, and don’t mothers have those things too? How do they go if they don’t have one?”

“Ah, well ladies have a different setup. They have an opening that’s larger and allows them to go and to let the baby come out.”

“Is that the same opening where a man puts his thing?”

Adam had dropped his head as he pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut. Then he looked up at his son who stood by his side and decided the only solution was to tell him everything and use all of the correct terminology. When he finished, he told his son too that this was something very private between a man and a woman and not the stuff of conversation. “If you have questions, you need to ask me. Do you understand?”

Garrett had understood, and now he had a question but wasn’t sure if he should ask it. He took some time carefully wording his question before he asked. “Father, you told me that what happens between a man and a woman is private and shouldn’t be talked about in conversation. Was that man breaking that rule?”

With his lips pressed into a thin line, Adam answered. “Yes, he was.”

Garrett sat for a bit longer before he commented. “Then I think you should have shot him when you had the chance.”

There was silence for a moment until Virginia looked over Garrett’s head at Adam. “He certainly is his father’s son.”

Adam looked at Virginia and saw the little curl to the corners of her lips. She was ready to laugh. He knew she wouldn’t unless she knew he had calmed down. He smiled at her and that was all it took. She began laughing as did Adam. Garrett smiled. He knew how to make his father relax sometimes and certainly did enjoy the sound of his laughter.

Chapter 6

As Adam drove the carriage to the Ponderosa, the steep roads and the mountains were fascinating to Virginia and Garrett. Adam would have liked to take a more scenic route to the ranch house, but it was already late afternoon, and they already had a long ride ahead of them after being on the stage for most of the day. Adam had thought briefly about taking a room in town, but he didn’t think any of them would sleep well with so much anticipation of what was going to happen next. He knew excitement and curiosity were driving his wife and son, but his apprehension was growing with each mile.

“It’s going to be all right. Your family loves you and you love them. Anything else can be worked out. Now relax a little and tell us about what we’re seeing. I know Garrett is dying to ask questions.”

For the next hour, Adam told Garrett the names of trees including the Ponderosa Pine for which his family’s ranch was named. He gave him the names of mountains they could see and told him of the various places they could go exploring on the ranch over the next few weeks. The talking about those things helped keep his mind off the reunion which was exactly what Virginia had hoped would happen. As they pulled into the yard of the Ponderosa, they could smell dinner. A lanky man in a red shirt and black vest greeted them and asked what business they had on the ranch.

Inside, Hop Sing announced dinner was ready to be served. “Dinner ready. You eat now. Make big dinner for all family here now.” The house was full of people because Joe and his wife and daughter had accompanied the rest of the family to town to welcome Adam home. When he didn’t arrive, Joe decided there was no need to go home when Hop Sing already had prepared a banquet fit for a king.

Hoss talked as if he wasn’t too disappointed either but mostly that was to help his father who had been a bit sad when they found Adam had not arrived as scheduled. “Well, I reckon it wasn’t so bad having Adam be delayed a day. More for us today, and Hop Sing is likely gonna make a big meal again tomorrow if he gets here by then. I wonder why he didn’t let us know he was gonna be late.”

“I checked with the telegraph office and they said the line was down somewhere between here and Reno. A crew was out looking for the break in the line. If Adam tried to send a wire, it couldn’t get here, but he might not have had any way of knowing that.”

Just as the family was beginning their dinner, there was the sound of a carriage in the yard. It was warm enough to have the windows open so the sound carried quite well. They could hear Candy’s voice, and then Ben froze as did Hoss and Joe. There was no mistaking the voice that answered Candy. Almost in synchronized motion, the three men stood and headed to the front door. Joe looked back at the table and Hop Sing who wondered why they were leaving.

“That’s Adam’s voice. He’s back!” Alice and the baby followed the men outside as did Josh and Hop Sing.

As Ben exited the house, he saw a young boy standing by the carriage. The boy turned toward the house with the sounds of the family coming outside, and Ben halted nearly causing Hoss to knock him down. For a moment he was disconcerted and almost felt as if he had been transported into the past. The boy looked like Adam except he was dressed in fine clothing and didn’t smile in recognition of Ben. Then Ben saw his son come around the carriage with a beautiful young woman on his arm. Adam smiled that crooked little smile that Ben knew so well.

“I’m sorry to surprise you so much, but there really wasn’t a good way to do this after keeping secrets for nearly ten years. Pa, this is my wife, Virginia, and my son, Garrett. Virginia, Garrett, this is my father, Ben Cartwright.”

For a moment, nothing happened. Ben was a bit in shock but still overjoyed. He didn’t know how to react though especially not knowing about any of Adam’s life apparently for ten years. Virginia broke the ice. She moved forward and hugged her father-in-law and whispered in his ear.

“Hug him. He needs it, and from the looks of you, you need it too.”

Virginia released Ben and smiled at him before moving forward to hug Hoss, Joe, Alice, and Josh in order. Ben stepped toward Adam who stepped tentatively toward him, and then Ben moved to pull his oldest son into a hug. He held on for at least a minute savoring the first contact with him in ten years. When he stepped away, it was only by about a foot, and he put a hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“It looks like we have a lot to talk about.”

“We’ll talk, Pa. I’ll tell you everything. Now I think I need to rescue Garrett.”

Never comfortable with strangers, Garrett was hugged first by Hoss and then Joe. Alice was wise enough to see how uncomfortable the boy was, and Josh was looking him over wondering what he was like. Adam moved to Garrett’s side and put a hand on his shoulder. Garrett leaned into his father relieved to have that comforting presence there for support. Hop Sing moved forward then. Adam smiled and introduced him to his wife and son. Hop Sing bowed and Garrett bowed in return making the cook smile.

“Dinner ready. Plenty to eat. I get more plates.” Nodding and smiling, Hop Sing returned to the kitchen to get more place settings and more food. He thought that both Adam and his son looked like they needed more good food. But he couldn’t stop smiling while he worked. All was right again in his universe. Everyone in the family was together once more. He would do his best to help them stay that way.

Dinner was lively with Adam describing the trip west, and then Virginia talking about how much she wanted to experience a stagecoach ride and how naive that was especially the night at the way station and then having to board the stage for another full day of being bounced around on hard seats.

“Well that does explain why you weren’t at the train station. When Adam wired the day of the arrival, I assumed you would be coming by train instead of roughing it with the stagecoach line.”

“I had no idea how uncomfortable riding in a stagecoach could be. I thought it would be like a carriage only bigger. And those seats are so uncomfortable. I was going to ask for a pillow to sit on while we ate dinner, but these chairs are quite comfortable.”

Joe rushed off to the settee and grabbed a pillow returning to the table with it and offering it to his sister-in-law.

“No, Joe, that’s not necessary.”

But everyone laughed when she took it anyway and put it on the seat of the chair.

“That is a lot better. Thank you.”

After dinner, bags were taken to bedrooms, and Adam asked about Jamie. Ben explained that he was thinking of attending school and was in San Francisco looking at a couple of schools and taking the entrance exam. “He wanted to be here to meet you, but there were deadlines he could not ignore if he wants to enter in the fall term. It works out all right though because Garrett can stay in his room for now. Is the guest bedroom down here all right with you for now? Jamie has your old room, and I thought Garrett would be better off with some people around him rather than alone down here.”

“We’ll be fine. Pa, I need to have a talk with Garrett if you don’t mind. I want him to feel comfortable here. We can talk later.”

Ben nodded and watched as Adam moved toward his son who was standing stiff and silent and watching the rest of the family. Adam asked if Garrett wanted to see the horses in the stable. Ben wasn’t so sure that Garrett cared at all about the horses but he grabbed on to that offer as if it were a lifeline. Adam and his son went out the front door and Ben moved to look out the window by his desk. He couldn’t get enough of seeing his son. It was almost unreal to have him back home.

“I’m glad Adam’s homecoming was pleasant. He was worried about how all of you but especially his father would react.” Virginia stood by his desk and waited for whatever Ben had to say. It didn’t take long.

“I’m sure Adam had his reasons for not telling us about you and about Garrett. I look forward to him telling me the rest of the story. Now, Garrett is very quiet. Is it because he didn’t want to come here?” Virginia could sense an undertone of concern, but so far, no disapproval. She hoped that would be all there was.

“No, not at all. Garrett isn’t comfortable with strangers, and you may all be family, but you are also still strangers. When he gets to know you, you’ll have a difficult time getting him to stop talking especially to get him to stop asking questions.”

Smiling a little, Ben had a comment for that. “He is his father’s son, then, isn’t he? Adam was like that as a child. He wanted to know why the sky was blue and where clouds went when they weren’t in the sky. As he got older, the questions got even harder. Then he wanted to know how clouds made rain.”

“Garrett wanted to know how trains work as we traveled here. Adam had to explain all of that to him. Then he got a book on the Gold Rush and wanted to know how sluice boxes work, and what honeycomb shoring is and why not everyone uses it.”

“Those are amazing questions for an eight-year-old.”

“Adam says Garrett is smarter than the two of us combined. Garrett told Adam that he wants to be an engineer and an architect and be a doctor for a hobby because it’s interesting. He said the human body is just a different kind of engineering and architecture.”

“Are you sure he’s only eight?” Hearing laughter, Ben looked out the window. Virginia recognized the laughter. Ben looked back at her. “Garrett is laughing and talking with Adam and Candy. They must have met him out in the stable.”

“Yes, I could see where meeting just one person would help Garrett relax more quickly.”

“So perhaps if each of us took a little time with him instead of overwhelming him with all of us at once, he would be more comfortable?” Virginia smiled and nodded in response and then Ben added more as he reminisced. “Yes, Adam was a bit like that too when he was young. It took a while for him to trust someone and open up to them. I’ll let the others know.” Virginia smiled because Ben understood before she went to sit with Joe and Alice who were playing with their little girl as Hoss sat in the red leather chair and watched.

“Where did Josh go?”

“Oh, my boy likes animals better than people sometimes. He’s probably outside with some of his critters.”

“Critters?”

“Well, ifn we let him, he’d have raccoons, bear cubs, and maybe a wolf cub too, but Pa won’t allow it just like he didn’t let me do it. I can see why now, but Josh still can’t. But Pa did give in a little, and Josh has a pet bunny, a dog, and cats all over the place. Pa wasn’t too happy about the cats until he realized all the little varmints are gone now. I wish we could have the dog in the house, but Pa won’t hear of it.”

“What’s the dog’s name?”

“Buck. Josh started out calling it Buckaroo, but that’s too long a handle so we all finally settled in just calling him Buck.”

“Handle?”

“Oh, the name someone or something has. Like my handle is Hoss. My real name is Eric but nobody ever calls me that.”

“All three of us go by the names we were given. I can’t imagine calling Adam or Garrett anything else. And I suppose Joe doesn’t want to be Little Joe ever again either.” Virginia yawned then and asked if they would excuse her. She was very tired and moved into the guest bedroom and lay on the bed to take what she thought was going to be a short nap. She woke hours later as Adam slid into the bed and wrapped an arm around her.

“I’m sorry, Adam, but I was so tired. I had to take a nap. Wait, what happened to my dress? and everything else?”

“You were sleeping so soundly, you didn’t even notice when I slipped off your shoes and then your dress so I kept going. I’ve had years of practice undressing you, and I like sleeping with you like this.”

“Yes, well we seldom just sleep when I’m like this and you’re like that. It has been quite a while with the train trip and the stagecoach and that ghastly waystation.”

“Hmm, too much talking and not enough doing.” Adam began kissing his way across her face and neck. She loved that and relaxed and let him kiss anywhere he wanted but soon that was not relaxing but stimulating which was of course what he had intended all along. After making love, they rested and held each other.

“Did you get a chance to talk with your father?”

“A little. I told him about how I worked with you first and then it developed from there. His eyes got very big when I said you were married, but I did explain that your husband refused to file the papers even though he told anyone who would listen that you were divorced by him.”

“Was he upset that I am a divorced woman?”

“No, because you aren’t. You are a married woman, and that’s what matters now. Pa was a bit upset that we did not marry before Garrett was born, and then probably shocked is the way to describe his reaction when I told him we only got married shortly before taking this trip. I could guess what he was thinking, but he wisely held off on saying anything. It’s all in the past anyway. We can’t change what we did.”

“So he understands why you never told him you were living with me and that we had a son.”

“I don’t know that understands is the correct word. At this point, I think he is willing to accept only that I thought I had valid reasons for what I did, but not that he thinks the reasons were particularly good. I know I kept the secret because I was afraid he would be upset with me or ashamed of me, and now he may be, but it’s well in the past. He already had to deal with Hoss having a son with a woman when he wasn’t married to her. It seems to have made him more forgiving of choices we have made. He wants us to think about staying here. We can talk about it.”

“You don’t want to stay?”

“It’s not that so much that as the way things were before made me very unhappy, and if I stay and it’s the same thing, I’ll be unhappy again. So it might be best if we can think of some alternatives that keep us close to the Ponderosa if not actively a part of it.”

“Maybe this time your father would listen to your ideas. Maybe you could use what you know to make the Ponderosa a better place.”

“Maybe, but I’m done being someone’s employee. I was ready to leave Bradford’s firm in Boston, and I don’t want to be under anyone’s thumb again.”

“Was your father such a hard taskmaster?”

“Yes, and no. He expected a lot of work but he was fair about it. That wasn’t the issue. He treated me as an employee which was his right, but I didn’t like it. I wanted to be a partner, and when I was younger, sometimes I felt that was going to happen. But as my brothers got older and took on more responsibility, my father began to treat all three of us as his to order about. You already know I don’t like people telling me what to do. I want to go my own way.”

“But we do get to stay for a few weeks and get to know everyone?”

“Yes, we’ll stay for at least a few weeks, and then we’ll see what we want to do.”

Snuggling in then, the two of them slept well. Early the next morning, they heard Hop Sing begin preparations for breakfast. As they rose and dressed, Virginia suddenly realized something. “If we can hear him so well, that means anyone there could hear us.”

“Yes, we have had the luxury of our own place for so long, we’ve forgotten what it means to have neighbors. Garrett’s bedroom was separated from ours by my office so we never worried that anyone would hear us. That won’t be the case here although I didn’t mind at all getting this bedroom downstairs. I can see why Joe and Alice wanted their own place.”

“I like Alice, but I’m not sure she likes me.”

“I think it’s a touch of jealousy. You’re a beautiful woman, and about the same age. Joe was looking, and Alice may be a bit upset with that. I saw how she looked when Joe ran to get that pillow for you last night at dinner.”

“But I didn’t do anything.”

“No, you didn’t except to be a beautiful woman, and Joe likes to look but perhaps does it a bit too obviously. I’ll mention something to him if I get the chance. Pa wants to go riding with me this morning. Hoss said that he would take the boys and wondered if you wanted to go with them.”

“I would love to go riding. Your father wants to talk with you again?”

“That would be my guess. He’s had some time to think over the things I told him. We’ll see what else he has on his mind.”

As Virginia dressed in what Adam called her cowgirl skirt because it was split for riding, she was confused about the day. “We? I thought I was going to be going with Hoss?”

“You are, but you know I’ll tell you anything that is discussed by Pa and me. Now, let’s go out and see who else is up.”

Sitting at the table with a cup of hot coffee that Hop Sing had just delivered, Ben was surprised to see that Adam and Virginia had the appropriate clothing for a ride. Adam explained that they had some clothing for riding as they had been doing it during their leisure time in Boston.

“I would like to get some proper boots though. These are too flimsy for doing much riding out here. I guess a shopping trip to town is in our future. There were two men who gave us a bit of trouble in town yesterday. Do you know a Rafe and a Jubal?”

“Yes, Rafe is the youngest of three brothers. Their mother was Mexican and their father was half-Apache and half something else. No one seems to know. Rafe is Rafael but he’s worked on ranches since he was very young and learned to speak like most cowboys. He has two brothers who work on and off around here, Miguel and Jose who prefers to be called Joe. Roy suspects that some of the theft around here is being done by them but hasn’t caught them doing anything illegal. Mostly they only take a little so no one puts up too much of a fuss. What kind of trouble did you have with them?”

After Adam explained, Ben was a bit worried. “That Rafe is very proud. What you did is probably making him think about how he can get even. You need to watch yourself if you go to town. Make sure to take Hoss or Joe with you. Hoss especially has some experience with Rafe and might be able to talk him down if he decides to confront you.”

When Hoss got to the table, Ben and Adam had to repeat most of what had been said. Hoss agreed he would be the best one to go with Adam. “Joe, our Joe, has a temper too, and that Rafe likes to try to get at people and make em mad. He don’t try that with me usually. I’ll help ya with him. I wouldn’t mind a trip to town either. Like old times. We could grab a beer and you could say howdy to your old friends.”

After breakfast, Adam volunteered to help Hoss saddle up the horses they would need. There was a big chestnut stallion in the stable that caught Adam’s attention immediately. Hoss had to grin as Adam approached the horse and stroked his cheek.

“Figured you’d like that one.”

“You guessed right. Thank you. He reminds me a lot of Sport.”

“I’m sorry, Adam.”

“No, it’s all right. I knew Sport wouldn’t likely still be here. He was getting older by the time I left.”

“No, I mean I’m sorry for making you go all those years ago. Sometimes, I got plumb foolish about a gal, and too often I blamed you when things went wrong. I told Joe that you was snakebit, but I was the snakebit one. I just didn’t see it then.”

“Hoss, you didn’t make me go. I was ready to go because I had become so frustrated here. I have to say I’m sorry for not handling things better with Pam or with Regan or Helen for that matter. All I ever wanted to do was protect you, and I was rather bad at it. In trying to help, I hurt you, and I’m very sorry for that.”

“You know, Pa told me that, but I couldn’t believe it, I guess. He said you needed a bigger stage to be what you wanted to be. I never did understand that cause I thought the Ponderosa was plenty big. I get it now when I see what you done. You and Pa have a big talk last night?”

Adam’s nod was all that Hoss needed. “I suspect he wants to talk more today to get things right between us.”

“You tell him why you kept Virginia and Garrett a big secret all these years?”

“Yes, and Hoss, it was never because I wasn’t happy with my choices. It was because I was worried about how Pa would take the news that I got involved with a woman who was still married even when she was carrying my child.” That got Hoss’ attention as Adam expected. He explained the whole situation including the story about castrating bulls and the fight with Kent. The parts with Kent he had not told his father thinking that he had enough to mull the night before and had not told him of the political corruption that he had mostly managed to avoid. Hoss listened carefully not saying anything until Adam was done with the story.

“Can’t say as how I would have done things any different. I’m glad you’re married now, and you got one smart boy in that Garrett.”

“Josh seems very smart too. I hope the boys can be friends.”

“It’s one of the reasons I wanted to take them riding today. Garrett said he knew how because you taught him. Ifn Josh sees that Garrett can handle himself out here, he’ll be more likely to warm up to him. Hey you are going to get him some more ordinary clothes, ain’t ya? Wearing that riding get-up he has is gonna get him teased when school starts.”

“I’ll get him some ordinary clothing when we go to town. It wasn’t the kind of thing they sell in the stores in Boston. But I don’t know about school. We may not be here that long.”

“Well, I’m hoping you are. It hasn’t seemed right around here since you left no matter how many people we brought into the family or hired on here. I missed you, older brother, and I don’t want to have to do that again.”

“Hoss, I missed you a lot. I depended on you for so long that it felt like a hole in my life without you there.”

“Well, let’s do what we gotta do to make sure we don’t have to suffer through that again. Now, let’s finish up with these horses. I wouldn’t want Pa to forget what he’s gonna say to you.” Hoss chuckled as Adam shook his head. It didn’t take long for everyone to come out to greet their horses. Ben had noted Garrett taking three apples before he left.

“Garrett, didn’t you have enough for breakfast?”

“Father says when you meet a new horse, you should give it an apple or a carrot, and rub its cheek, and talk gentle to it.”

“But you took three apples.”

“One for Josh and one for me later.”

“What about Hoss and your mother?”

Garrett had gone back to the bowl for two more apples but had no more pockets in which to put them. Ben opened the credenza and removed Adam’s old saddlebags giving them to Garrett to use. “These were your father’s. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind you having them.”

“Thank you so much, Grandfather. I’ll tell father that you gave them to me.”

Then Garrett gave Ben a hug that brought a tear to his eye when he realized that the formality was something that Garrett had been taught and wasn’t him being standoffish. Virginia had watched the whole scene and smiled as she saw the hug and Ben’s reaction. When Garrett ran outside with his treasures, she moved to Ben’s side.

“He does much better one-on-one with people. He’s relaxing very well here.”

“Good. Anything that helps Adam to stay and keep all of you here is very welcome.”

Once they got outside, the males were getting ready to mount up. Josh was first and watched intently as Garrett stood by his horse. When Garrett mounted up smoothly, Josh was surprised and then happy. He wasn’t so sure about his city-slicker cousin, but if he could ride well, that would be a good start for them to do things together. Buck was waiting patiently for the group to get started, and as soon as they started moving, he raced out of the yard but in the wrong direction. Realizing his error, Buck turned and raced ahead of the group. Every time they changed directions that day, he would do the same. Garrett began laughing and saying he never knew a dog could be so much fun. That got him a few more good marks in Josh’s estimation. When they took a break near a small stream and Garrett had apples for all of them, Josh decided that he did indeed like his cousin. The two boys and Buck headed off to explore on foot as Hoss and Virginia relaxed in the shade as the horses grazed after being watered.

Chapter 7

Miles away, Ben and Adam had ridden through the southeast pasture. Adam noted how the grass seemed lush for the middle of summer, and Ben explained that they had over-seeded with drought resistant grasses which had improved several of their pastures. In the southwest pasture, Adam noted that the cattle looked unusual.

“Yes, Hoss has been experimenting with crossbreeding. These are Texas longhorns crossed with Randall cattle. He has some Hereford and Angus crossbreeds too but they are closer to home and only a small number so far. They do well in winter as long as they have enough feed. We’re not sure how many to breed, but we have sold some to small ranches here and in California.”

A short time later, Ben led Adam to an overlook of Lake Tahoe. A paddlewheeler was making its way across the lake to the California side. Adam was surprised. He had suggested years earlier that they could do something like that to reduce transportation costs for themselves and make money as well. He had a good idea why his father had shown him all of those things that morning.

“I guess I wasn’t the only one keeping secrets.”

“I sat in your room the day you left. I looked over the plans and ideas you had described and sketched out there, and I could not come up with a valid reason not to try some of them. It was then I realized it had been pure stubbornness that had made me deny you the chance to try those things. I wanted to be the one in charge, and that cost me my son for ten years. I told the boys you needed a bigger stage to use your talents, but I knew part of the reason was that I didn’t let you use the Ponderosa as a place to try out your ideas.”

“Pa, I had to leave. It wasn’t any one thing that made me go.”

“Yes, but if I had encouraged you to use your talents much sooner, you could have set up your own business here. I realized too late that you had to go east because you needed to establish yourself and have people know what you could do.”

“You wouldn’t mind then if I started up a business of my own that had nothing to do with the Ponderosa?”

“No, I rather expected that you would want to start up a business that had nothing to do with the Ponderosa because I know that’s what you probably need to do. I only hope that we can call on you to help us out if we need you.”

“Of course, I would help if you needed me.”

“Good, if you would help if we needed you, that means you won’t be too far away.”

Adam looked over at his father who was staring out at the lake but could hardly contain the smile that threatened to break out. “You are still a crafty old pirate.”

“Don’t call me old, boy.”

“Don’t call me boy, you crafty pirate.”

“It’s a deal, son.”

Ben and Adam enjoyed a laugh as well as a sense that their relationship was healing. Adam started telling his father then about how things worked in cities in the east because of the political machines and how he had avoided being ensnared in their illegal activities.

“I wondered why you seemed to be working outside of the country so much especially as I thought you would be proud to work on some of those big public buildings. Now I can see why you did what you did.”

“I made a lot of friends in the process and got to travel extensively. Most of the time, Virginia and Garrett traveled with me so it seemed I had nearly everything I wanted.”

“But you missed the Ponderosa and your family out here.”

“Virginia traveled with you, maintained a home for you and Garrett, used your name, and went to functions with you. I don’t understand why she wouldn’t accept marrying you until a short time ago.”

Adam had hoped to avoid this conversation but knew he had to tell it all even if he was telling Virginia’s story without asking her first. He had already told Hoss so he told his father too.

“But surely she knew you were not that type of man. You have always treated women with the utmost respect. Well except for Margarita but that woman would have tried anyone’s patience and did.”

“I regret spanking Margarita. It was far more effective to irritate her until she couldn’t take it any more and changed her behavior. But more seriously, Virginia’s husband wasn’t cruel to her that way until their wedding night. He had always treated her well during his courtship of her. She carried a fear that a man changed once he had a legal right to his wife. And to be honest, after a time, I stopped asking because it upset her. We were happy in our life, and it didn’t seem that important any more. We were living as a common law husband and wife. In many states, we would have been legally married after that many years had passed.”

“So why did you marry before coming back to the Ponderosa?” Adam said nothing, but Ben knew that Adam had been concerned about his father’s reaction. “It will be difficult at times for me not to say anything, but I will not stand in judgment of decisions you make. Sometimes they may not be the way I would decide to do things, but I know that you are an ethical and moral man and that you will do what you think is right no matter what. I trust you, and I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear last night and especially before you left here ten years ago. You don’t have to keep secrets.”

“But why didn’t you tell me about the changes you were making here?”

“I didn’t tell you about the changes I was making here because I was embarrassed to admit what a fool I had been. In a letter, it was too hard to do. I needed to talk to you man-to-man, and I kept thinking that at some point you would come home so I could do that. Eventually I thought perhaps you would never come home.”

“I came back to the Ponderosa, but Pa, I have to tell you that my home is wherever Virginia and Garrett are. I have to think of what is best for them and for me. I haven’t made any decisions yet on our future. I can’t tell you that I’ll be staying.”

“I know, son, and I understand that, but I’m hoping that if you leave, you won’t go so far away. I missed you terribly, and even found that hard to talk about these last few years because it made me so sad. I would see your name on some document or your initials carved in a tree, and I would see Jamie reading your books, and I wished you were here.” After a minute of uncomfortable silence, Ben suggested they should ride for home. “We’ll probably be back before Hoss and the others. We can have some coffee and relax.”

When Ben and Adam rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, Joe was there with Alice and the baby. Joe offered to take care of their father’s horse so that Ben could take his granddaughter in his arms as he wanted to do every time he saw her. Hop Sing brought out coffee. Ben told Adam and Joe to join them on the porch when they finished with the horses. Joe wanted to talk with Adam and Adam wanted to talk with Joe, but the topics were quite different.

“Joe, it’s very good to see you and how happy you are with a wife and baby.”

“Yeah, well you have a wife and son, so we’re about even on that score.”

“It’s not a competition, Joe. But I got the feeling last night that Alice wasn’t too pleased with Virginia.”

“Why wouldn’t she like Virginia?”

“Maybe it’s because you stared at her a little too obviously. I can tell that Alice still hasn’t lost that baby weight, and she’s probably feeling a bit insecure about now.”

“So now you’re going to tell me how to be with my wife. You know, you don’t get to just come back here and start bossing me around. I worked the Ponderosa the last ten years while you were out having fun. You don’t have the right to boss me around.”

Doing his best to keep his temper tamped down, Adam said nothing for a few minutes. “Joe, I wasn’t bossing you around and I have no intention of doing that. And I wasn’t out having fun. For the past ten years, I was living my life and doing what I thought was important for me to do. I don’t plan to boss anyone around on the Ponderosa. I doubt I will even stay here more than a few weeks.”

“What? You’d do that to Pa again?”

“Pa and I have talked. He understands.”

“No, he just doesn’t want to do anything to upset you and make you run off again.”

“I didn’t run off before, and I won’t be running off this time either. I thought you had become a man who would understand what I did and why. I guess I was wrong. I won’t say anything more about it. Let’s just try not to get Pa upset, please, and I’m sorry if what I said upset you. I was only trying to help. I won’t do that again either.”

The two brothers worked in silence for a while then until Joe had to apologize. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For the way I talk to you. I’m doing that now just like I did ten years ago. I say things that pop into my head without thinking about them. I want to take those words back later, but of course, it’s too late.”

“I know. I never let it bother me too much.” There was that familiar Adam smirk then. “Well, after I get over being mad about it, then I don’t let it bother me much.”

“I’m sorry now too.”

“For what?”

“For automatically assuming you were criticizing me. I fell back into that old habit like ten years hadn’t gone by. I guess I’ve been worried that you would come back and take over your old spot, and I didn’t like it. So in my mind, I was already mad at you for what I assumed you were going to do. I overreacted to what you said earlier. I am sorry.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t more diplomatic.”

“I guess it was a little over the top to run and get that pillow for Virginia.”

Adam grinned. “Yes, but better you running for it than me. These old bones don’t run so well.”

“You’re not so old.”

“I’m twelve years older than you.”

“Hey, can I ask how old Virginia is?”

“I think you just did. She’s your age. She’s thirty-four.” Then Adam told Joe what he had told his father and Hoss about how he met Virginia and why they did not marry for so long.

“Wow, Adam, I bet you have a lot of stories to tell. I’d like to hear more when you have a chance, and I promise to act more like the man you think I am.”

“Thank you, Joe. Now we better get out to the porch before Pa comes looking for us.”

“He won’t. I think he knew we needed to clear the air between us. He knows me even better than you do. He knows I needed to apologize for then and for how I was thinking now.”

“It’s probably because you’re a lot like your mother. She was high-spirited and had a love of life too, but it also meant that she could be emotional and impulsive. She seemed to have to apologize a bit too. Don’t worry about it. You have a joy for life no matter what happens. It’s you, and I don’t expect you to change. We’ll probably rub up against each other more than once again, but remember this: I love you just as I love all my family, and I would never do anything to hurt anyone in my family if I could help it.”

“Maybe we could work on that part where we have to have an argument or a fight before we talk. I know that means I have to stay cool, but it would help if you knew that I was going to be upset and didn’t say anything to make it worse.”

“I can do that. Now let’s go sit down. I’m not used to riding that much in one day.”

As Joe and Adam walked across the yard, Buck raced in and ran around them waiting for some petting. He got it and then raced back out of the yard. Adam watched him go.

“Wasn’t he with Hoss, Virginia, and the boys?”

“Yes, he’s the warning that they’re getting close to home. That dog has endless energy, it seems. It was lucky there were two of you there. He’s been known to knock Joe down when he runs in like that. He scares the baby too. Hoss wishes I would let him in the house, but he would be too much trouble in the house.”

Adam was still looking in the direction that Buck had run. “I think I might like to get a dog. I never got to have one, and it seems that a dog would be a good thing to have around when I wasn’t at home.”

“Are you thinking of a home here on the Ponderosa then?”

“It’s a possibility. I have to talk with Virginia and see what she wants, and then I have to see if I can get some work out here. Mr. Bradford gave me the names of some people to contact. If it works out, then I could set up my own business and do a one or two projects a year.”

“You could work on the Ponderosa all the rest of the time then?”

Adam smiled a bit at Joe’s question. “Joe, when I take on a big project, the usual time is at least six months. Smaller projects are in the range of about three to four months. If I do one or two projects per year, that would be about all I would be working on most of the time. Usually it involves some travel too as I need a site map and I need to have conversations with the client to see what they envision.”

“How much do they pay you for that?”

“Most of the time they were paying the firm directly. I got a salary and then a commission on each completed project. My last project was for fifty thousand dollars, but I had to supervise some of the construction as well as draw up the plans and get them approved. It took me about a year and a half to do it. The firm did ask if they could send me some design work if any of my former clients requested me. I said I would. As long as I have a site map, I can work almost anywhere.”

“What do you charge for a house plan?”

“The last house I did was at Newport, Rhode Island. It was three stories and had a ballroom on the third floor, and a fountain in the vestibule. That was about a ten thousand dollar project and we got a bonus of several thousand because the client liked the design so much. He’s a railroad and shipping tycoon, and he only uses the house in the summer. I haven’t designed any ordinary homes since I worked on this one.”

Joe looked a bit disappointed, and Alice encouraged him. “It can’t hurt to ask, Joe.”

“What is it? Do you want a house plan?”

“No, it’s just that I built our house with trees on three sides. I thought it would keep the bedrooms cooler. I also put the bedroom windows up high for privacy and safety.”

“That sounds like a good plan.”

“Adam, Joe isn’t explaining the problem. Our bedrooms are as dark as caves. You can’t see anything without lighting a lamp. How can we get more light in there, and well, more ventilation too? They can get a bit stuffy.”

“Oh, so you need a design fix. Yes, that can happen. At the firm we often built models of buildings before we built the buildings because even with an experienced designer, sometimes it’s impossible to foresee everything.” That made Joe feel a bit better much as Adam intended. “I think there’s a simple fix though. You could put in a clerestory or some dormers. That would bring in more light but maintain the privacy and security you wanted. You could open them in warm weather for more ventilation too.”

“What’s a clerestory?” Joe liked the idea that it was a simple fix according to his brother, the architect.

“Let’s go inside. I’ll get some paper and sketch it out for you. They can be designed in a number of ways to fit your house.”

Ben smiled as Adam and Joe headed into the house talking. The two of them were always at their best together when they were working on a project together. Hoss and Virginia rode in with the boys then causing a flurry of activity getting the boys to help with the horses when they were so anxious to tell what they had done. Buck didn’t help running back and forth from the stable to the porch. Adam and Joe heard the commotion and came outside again. Once the horses were in their stalls, groomed, and fed, the two boys ran out to tell Ben, Joe, and Adam what they had been doing.

“Father, we found a stream and saw fish swimming in it. Uncle Hoss said he would take us fishing some time. Could we go tomorrow?”

“Well, your Uncle Hoss and I are going to town tomorrow. I’m going to be getting some clothes and boots for us. Would you like to come with us?”

Ben could see how disappointed Garrett was with that answer. “Perhaps I could take the boys fishing? I wouldn’t mind spending some time with them. Virginia, you would be welcome to come along with us if you wished.”

“No, I was hoping to do some sewing. I think I can alter another skirt for riding so I don’t always have to wear this one.” Alice offered to help so the two ladies had their day planned as did Hoss and Adam.

“Pa, I’d be happy to go with you. I haven’t been fishing in a long time. Maybe we could even cook some of those juicy fish over a campfire for lunch.” Joe was looking forward to the outing almost as much as Garrett and Josh who waited quietly hoping the adults would work this out as well as it was sounding like they might. When Ben smiled and nodded, the two boys cheered, and that got Buck jumping and barking. Ben shook his head. He reminded himself he wanted this but hoped it would be more peaceful when they went fishing.

Up on a hill overlooking the Ponderosa, two men waited in the trees to escape detection.

“¿Eso es el elegido? La pequeña?”

“Si, the little one is the one we want. We will come back tomorrow and wait for our chance. They do not know there is a threat so they will be relaxed. We will have him soon, and then we will get lots of gold, mucho oro, for him. We will buy our own rancho and build ourselves a casa grande, a house even bigger than the Cartwrights have.”

Chapter 8

For the second evening in a row, Hop Sing had prepared a banquet. Joe and his family stayed for dinner, and Joe mentioned that he could get used to that. Hoss of course heaped a plate full of the delicious food, and remarked that Virginia had quite an appetite but that Garrett should eat more to fill out.

“You’re too skinny, nephew. You need some good food to build up your muscles.”

As Hoss teased Garrett, Adam did note that Virginia had a lot of food on her plate and that it was more than usual. Then he remembered she had eaten well the night before as well as at breakfast. He looked at her and she looked up at him and smiled. His eyes got big, and she smiled more. Now he knew there was a lot for them to talk about later. Ben noted the exchange of looks the two had and smiled as well. He had wondered if that rosy glow in Virginia’s cheeks was her usual look or only when she was with child. He had missed that characteristic with Elizabeth not knowing for what to look. but with Inger and Marie, he had guessed. Adam apparently had not, but of course it had been well over eight years for him. Ben had a difficult time not smiling for the rest of the meal, but no one guessed what he was thinking because everyone assumed it was because he had his whole family at his table again.

After dinner, Adam was distracted and found following conversation to be difficult. Ben filled his pipe and invited his sons to go out on the porch with him. Hoss and Joe each got a cup of coffee and followed their father out the door. Adam was sitting with Virginia. He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close so he could whisper in her ear.

“I want to talk with you soon. Let’s go to bed early.”

Virginia smiled and whispered back that she would do that quite happily. Adam stood then and followed the other three men outside. Alice looked up at the couple as they parted. As soon as Adam closed the front door, Alice had to say something.

“I hope it’s a girl. There are far too many men around here, and I’d like Sarah Ann to have another little girl to play with.”

“It may be a bit early to be that hopeful, but I am praying that this one makes it.” Alice frowned at that response. “Adam and I have lost three babies over the years since Garrett was born. The doctors have no good answer, and one even suggested that I was very lucky to be able to carry Garrett to term. I saw a doctor in Boston before we left. He said that everything seemed quite normal this time. He wasn’t so sure that I should travel but thought that if I could make it through the trip all right, then we should be able to have this one. I pray every day that this one will be a healthy baby. The stagecoach ride was a big mistake, but once we were on it, there was no turning back, but here I am and nothing is wrong.”

“How far along are you?”

“Probably three months. I lost the others before the three months so I am very hopeful. Now you can’t say anything to anyone. I need to talk with Adam about this tonight. He didn’t know until dinner.”

On the porch, Adam was very quiet as the others talked. Hoss didn’t know why he was quiet but knew he needed to get him to open up a bit. “Hey, Adam you got to tell Pa and Joe how you handled that Kent feller. Well, the part about you telling him what we do with bulls that are too wild to handle.”

Joe enjoyed the story as did Hoss hearing it a second time. Ben smiled but he was always a bit concerned when any of his sons was so intimidating to others, and Adam was the best one of them at that. Ben knew well that quiet voice Adam got when he was furious and truly could do harm to someone. It wasn’t the higher pitched voice he had when he and Joe had those fights or when Adam argued with him. No, it was that voice that should warn anyone who had crossed him that he was in a deadly mode. Ben feared that was how Adam had confronted Rafe but doubted that Rafe had understood how close he had come to facing terrible violence. That was why Ben was relieved that Hoss was accompanying Adam to town. Not only was he likely to be able to talk Rafe down in a confrontation, but he was the best at talking Adam down too. Virginia did rather well talking with Adam too, and she had the same concern Ben had about Adam going to town.

“I know you said that you’ve been able to tamp down your temper, but what I saw in town the day we arrived showed me more than your words. You were ready to shoot that man.”

“He was going to draw on me. He had his hand on his pistol.”

“Yes, but only because you grabbed him. Adam, you could have talked our way out of that. Why didn’t you?”

“I’m not sure. It happened rather fast.”

“What would you have done in Boston because you wouldn’t have had a pistol strapped to your side there?”

“You’re right. I overreacted. But sweetheart, there is something else important for us to discuss. How far along are you?”

“About three months.” Even in the dark, Virginia knew that Adam probably wasn’t pleased with that answer. “Adam, by the time I knew, you had received that letter from your father. Then you were busy wrapping up things with the firm and closing up our house as well as handling all of our legal and financial matters. I was afraid you wouldn’t let me travel if you knew.”

“Of course I wouldn’t. Did you see a doctor?”

“Yes, and Doctor Matthews said he thought everything looked normal.”

“And what did he say about you traveling across the country?”

“He wasn’t fond of the idea, but he didn’t say I couldn’t. Adam, thousands of women carrying babies travel all the time.”

“Yes, but most of them have not lost three babies. The stagecoach ride could have meant we lost four babies.”

“I know. That was a huge mistake, but once we were on that stage, I couldn’t see that there was any alternative, and it was only two days.”

“It was almost seventeen hours of bouncing around in that coach. If anything had happened, we wouldn’t have had any help. Now we probably need to stay here a lot longer too. I don’t want you traveling in your condition.”

“That’s all right. I like it here. It’s nice having family around, and not having so much hustle and bustle. The air is so much cleaner, and the smells are so refreshing. Garrett is fitting in so well too.”

“When I go to town with Hoss tomorrow, I’ll ask around to see if there are any suitable homes for rent.”

“Can’t we stay here?”

“I don’t think that is a good long term solution. Let me find out what our alternatives are first and then we can talk about that.”
“I will take it easy too. I realized today that riding wasn’t probably a very good idea, but as soon as I mentioned to Hoss that I was tired, he stopped at this little stream, and we spent most of the time resting in the shade as the boys played and explored. I think if I hadn’t been there, they would have gone swimming like you and Garrett liked to do when we stayed by the shore in Cape Cod.”

“I liked to do that by the lake here too. We should have a picnic at the lake. It’s so beautiful there. And we can take the carriage there so you won’t have to ride. Now when I’m in town tomorrow, what do you want me to get for you?”

“Pick out some cloth for some wrap dresses. I don’t have the ones I wore with Garrett, and ask them to include the matching thread and buttons that I might need. Later, I can sew up things for a baby room again. Oh, Adam, this one has to make it. I couldn’t bear losing another one.”

Adam pulled her close and held her until she fell asleep. He didn’t fall asleep for what seemed like hours as he thought about the baby, where they would live, and what he would do about his architectural and engineering work. He knew he would have to travel, and now he worried even more about Virginia and Garrett because they would not be able to travel with him as they had in the past. Virginia shouldn’t be traveling at all, and he needed her with him if he brought Garrett along. It made his decisions that much more difficult to make.

The next morning as Adam and Hoss rode to town, Adam was so quiet that Hoss knew something was bothering him. “Now I ain’t gonna start guessing what’s got you worrying so. You should just tell me, and then we can talk about it, or you can tell me you got to think on it some more. Either way is gonna be fine with me, and you know it.”

Silence followed that request as Adam thought more about what to say and how to say it. Hoss waited. The only time Adam ever talked fast was when he was angry. That was when, sometimes at least, words poured out of him like a flash flood. That he was thinking so long to formulate what he wanted to say let Hoss know that it was very important to him but was troubling him greatly too. Those times when he was most worried were the times that every word from him seemed like a raindrop falling on parched land. You waited hoping to get the next one but not at all sure it was going to be enough.

“Virginia is going to have a baby.”

“Now, you looking all scowly and such makes me think there’s a lot more to that story or you’d be whistling and proud as can be.”

“Three times we lost them before even three months had passed. Each tiny life snuffed out like it had never been.”

“I’m real sorry you had to go through that. But Virginia seems real healthy.”

“She is, but she was healthy the other times too. Then afterwards she was so depressed.”

“Well, she had good reason to be a bit down.”

“Hoss, I, well, I’m scared. I could lose her too. I don’t know how much more of this she can take either. It had been more than three years since the last one so I thought perhaps we would never have to face that again.”

“Well, she traveled out here and nothing happened, so maybe this time, it will be all right.” Seeing Adam’s dark look, Hoss knew more. “She didn’t tell ya ’til ya got here, did she? I’m guessing she didn’t want you to worry. She got tired right quick yesterday, but I stopped and let her rest as soon as she said something. I guess she shouldn’t a been riding then either.”

“No, and she didn’t think about that because she was so excited about getting to see more of the Ponderosa.”

“Aw, she was just so excited to see the ranch. I mean, you musta talked about it some, and it is right pretty. It’d be a shame for her to have to sit around and not see everything. She hasn’t even been down to the lake yet.”

“I’ll take her out for a picnic by the lake, but from now on, she only travels in a carriage. I’m going to get a new one too with the best springs and the best padded seats I can find.”

“At Jones’ livery, they got a coach for sale. Maybe you ought to look at that. It looks like a real nice one. While we’re in town, we could go take a look. You got enough money for one?”

“Yes, I have plenty of money to get what we need. I feel a little better talking about it, and having someone else know.”

“You gonna stay here longer now?”

Nodding, Adam smiled at his brother’s perception. Hoss knew that Adam wouldn’t do anything to endanger Virginia’s life or the life she was carrying in her womb. It was the way Adam had always been. Family came first before he did things for himself.

“You gonna be all right with that?”

“Yes, I told Virginia that I would see if there were any suitable properties for rent.”

“You know we bought up Laura’s ranch as well as the Edwards ranch and a few others. Maybe you could live in one of those houses.”

“I won’t live in Laura’s house, but I could take a look at the others. Which one is closest to town?”

“There are a couple about the same distance away, and the Edwards place is about the same distance from Carson City as Virginia City so that ain’t a bad location either. Let’s take a ride to look em over on the way back home.”

In town, any concern over Rafe and his brothers and friend diminished significantly when they talked to Roy who mentioned that not one of the four had been seen in town for two days. “They mighta lit on outta here thinking we was getting close to pinning some a these thefts on them. It’s a good riddance too. They was bothering the ladies at times. Nothing so bad that I could put in jail for a bit, but mostly irritating the good citizens. Didn’t see as much of Miguel and Joe, but that Rafe liked to be in town. He hardly worked so we had a pretty good idea where he was getting his money. Never could prove it though. He’s like a fox sneaking in and stealing just a bit each time.”

A bit relieved not to have to deal with either of the ruffians, Adam made some purchases and ordered some other things. With a lot of the shopping out of the way, Adam and Hoss rode to see several properties. One Adam liked a lot hadn’t been there ten years earlier. Hoss explained that a man struck it rich in the gold fields and then set up a horse ranch. However he knew nothing about horses except to buy one and ride it, and his ranch had failed soon after he finished building it. He sold it to the Ponderosa and headed east with the rest of his money. Adam liked the brick and stone construction of the house as well as the large stable with a room for a groom or stablehand. There was a large kitchen in the house as well as a sitting room, library, office, and dining room on the first floor with four bedrooms on the second floor. Three large chimneys serviced the fireplaces that were found in every room. Inside, there was some furniture covered in muslin sheets and everything was dust-covered otherwise, but the home was in good repair. Adam looked at Hoss and nodded. Hoss smiled. He remembered two years earlier when his father had bought the place and said that if Adam ever came home, it was likely to be the type of house he would like. Hoss didn’t say anything about that preferring that Adam tell his wife and their Pa that he liked the house. By the time they headed for home, Hoss could tell that Adam had come to a decision on some things. He sat up higher in the saddle and looked around enjoying the view. Hoss was feeling rather good too. He knew that he was the one who had the best chance of helping Adam reach the decision to stay and find a way to work without moving away. Showing him that house was the first step. Next they had to find a way for Adam to see that his wife and son were better off with family around. When they arrived at the ranch though, all of that was in jeopardy. They saw their father first.

“The boys are missing. We sent a hand to town to tell you.”

Virginia was distraught and Adam dismounted to go to her first. As he comforted her, he turned to his father as Hoss asked the most important thing.

“We came by the Pollard place first. Pa, what happened?”

“We were out fishing. Joe and I had lines ready for each boy, and we helped them. We caught some fish, and like Joe said, we decided to cook them up for lunch. Garrett had to take care of business so we asked Josh to get some firewood while we got a fire ring made and took out the pan and utensils we would need. It seemed the boys were taking a long time so Joe went to look for them. He found some firewood dropped on the ground and Garrett’s hat not too far away. That’s all we could find. They were gone.”

“They were kidnapped then?” Adam drew the only conclusion he could at that point, and he felt pain in his heart for what his son and Josh must be suffering at this point in time. He had been held hostage as an adult. The most frightening time had been when the Paiute had held him to try to force a settlement in the Paiute War. He had feared he would die that time. He could not imagine what it would have been like to face that same fear as a boy.

“We haven’t gotten a note or anything, but it certainly seems that way. Joe and Candy are out searching, and there are horses saddled for the two of you. I assume your horses are tired now so take the fresh ones. Hoss, it’s the same place you had them resting yesterday morning.”

After reassuring Virginia as well as he could, Adam followed Hoss who was already riding fast away from the ranch. By the time Hoss and Adam got to that spot where the boys were taken, Joe was there waiting for them. “I figured you would be here soon. We only have a few more hours of daylight, and this was well planned. There are false trails and back-trails everywhere we look. We found trails going up dry washes, across shale and talus slopes, and through pastures. Every one we followed brought us back in this direction eventually.”

With Hoss and Adam following trails, the searchers hoped to make some progress but hours later with the sun settling down near the horizon, they had made no progress in finding the boys. They rode home because they had no alternative. Two men stayed to camp where the boys had been lost in the very slim hope that if they got themselves free somehow and weren’t too far away, they would see the campfire. When they arrived home, Ben had some somber news.

“Someone was here. He must have ridden in like it was any ordinary occasion. He left me these notes written by the boys to say that they’re all right. The kidnappers’ note said that they ‘found’ the boys, and for a ‘finder’s fee’ of five thousand dollars each, they’ll bring them back”

“I’ll kill those bastards.”

“Adam, you need to get hold of your temper. We need to think calmly here about what we’re going to do. First of all, Hoss, look at this note. Is it authentic? Adam, Virginia already verified that the other one was written by Garrett.”

Hoss read quickly and nodded. Adam read but didn’t say anything as he stared at the note.

“Dear Papa

I’m fine. We r ote ant occount bekaus done sayso.

Luv

Garrett”

“All right, we hav S. Now what could that stand for?”

“Whaddya mean, Adam?”

“Hoss, Garrett could write better than that when he was five. He never calls me papa because in Boston all the boys used father so he did as well. Starting the note like that was to let me know something was wrong. Now the We is spelled correctly so that must be the first word: We. The R is separate in the second word. So that could be are. We are. Now what is th S?”

“Adam, son, aren’t you making a leap of faith that you’re reading the message the way he meant it?”

Virginia stepped forward then. “No. He and Garrett play these games where they leave each other coded messages and each of them has to figure out the code used when they get one. Garrett didn’t have much time so he would have reverted to a simple system he used years ago of using the first letter of the word but in a completely different sentence.”

All of them then watched Adam study the note. “That’s it. a and t from anoccount make at. We are at. Now the res S.”

“Adam, could S mean shack? Maybe they’re at a line shack.”

“Yes, Hoss, yes, shack, but if it was a line shack it would have an L in front of it not O B D.” It took him only another minute to get the rest. “Old broken down shack. We are at old broken down shack. Where is there an old broken down shack?”

“Adam, there must be a bunch of those around here.”

Hoss was more excited though. “But, Pa, it narrows the search. We aren’t looking on the Ponderosa then. Any trails that go to Ponderosa land are false. Tomorrow we go out there and only follow tracks heading off the Ponderosa. Adam, lets get out a map. If they took the boys and got back here this afternoon, they only had about two hours to get there and then here.”

Within an hour, Adam and Hoss had a map that covered the area where the boys could be. Then Ben, Hoss, and Joe did their best to remember any broken down shacks in that area. It was still a large area, but a lot smaller than what they had thought they faced. Candy and a few of the hands were consulted, and by dark, they had the location of about ten places that could be considered a broken down shack. Shortly after they thought they had done all they could, Candy was back with one of the hands whom he said had more information.

“I was talking with the men in the bunkhouse, and Davis here thinks he may have some idea about just where that broken down cabin is.”

“Davis, what do you know?”

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, when I was prospecting and doing some trapping and hunting, there was this old cabin I found that was perfect for me. One side of it was caved in but it came down and kinda made a wall so the other half was all right. The good side was the side with the fireplace. Behind the cabin is a gully with a small spring. It was all I needed. I kept my horse in the gully in a lean-to I built there. Lots of trees around so there’s plenty of firewood. There used to be a root cellar underneath that shack, but one side of it slid down the hill so it’s wide open. But the trapdoor into it was still there. I used to use it when it was raining to, you know, do my business without getting rained on and such.”

“Davis, where is this shack?”

“Well, on your map there, it’s about here.”

Davis pointed to a spot just on the edge of the area they planned to search. It fit the parameters of what they had thought. There was nothing they could do now that it was dark, but when Ben rendezvoused the next morning as promised with Roy and the posse, they knew where they were going. The note said that Ben needed to leave the money in the bridge over the stream on the road that led to Virginia City. Ben planned to head to town in the morning to get the money and deliver it as instructed. Roy would be watching. They would either take the man who came for the money into custody or follow him if it looked like he was going somewhere other than where they expected. The other plan was for some men led by Adam and Hoss to approach that broken down shack identified by Davis and try to get as close as possible, stay hidden, and then wait for the posse.

“We should all try to get some sleep so we can head out at first light whether the posse is here or not. We need to find those boys and soon.” Ben’s family agreed and all did their best to get some rest but sleep was elusive.

Chapter 9

In the old broken down shack that afternoon, there had been a heated argument. Much of it was conducted in Spanish. After the four men walked outside leaving Garrett and Josh tied up inside, Garrett told Josh what the men had said.

“The one named Rafael is upset that you got brought here too. He said it was only supposed to be me. The one named Miguel said they had to take you after you came on them wrapping me up in the blanket with the gag in my mouth. The one named Jose said they could ask for more money because they had two for ransom instead of just one. Then the one named Rafael said they ought to just kill us when they get the money. He said they could have a big head start toward Mexico while our family waits for them to return us. Miguel said they could leave us here to die and ambush whichever one in our family goes to town to get the money.”

“How do you know that’s what they said?”

“I speak Spanish too. I speak some French and a little Portuguese, but my Spanish is better because we made more than one trip to Cuba and the maid we had while we were there taught me.”

“All right, then, Garrett. We gotta come up with a plan to get out of here. I think that they want to kill us so there aren’t any witnesses to say who did it. I saw that you held your hands the way I did when they tied you up so you should be able to turn your wrists together and have some slack in the rope. Don’t do it yet. We want them to think we’re still safely tied up.”

“It looks like a trapdoor in the floor.”

“It does, but we don’t know where it goes.”

“Josh, we can watch and see if one of them will open it. If it still works, then when they’re sleeping or busy, we can slip out that way.”

“But what if it’s just a root cellar or something like that?”

“I don’t think so. It looks like you can see light through the cracks between the boards in the floor. It has to be a way out. Josh, I’m scared. These men look at us like we’re nothing.”

“Yeah, I’m scared too, but Pa says being scared is God’s way of reminding us to use our heads and not do something stupid.”

“Yes, Uncle Hoss is a very smart man.”

Josh nodded. Not everyone recognized that in his father. He appreciated that his younger cousin did. There was no food or water for the boys who lay back against the wall and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders while the four kidnappers drank the bottle of whisky they had brought along to celebrate.

On the Ponderosa, Adam couldn’t sleep. He held Virginia, rubbing her back gently, until she fell asleep just after midnight. Fear and worry as well as physical exhaustion had weakened her resolve to stay awake until Garrett and Josh were rescued. The tea that Adam asked Hop Sing to make for her helped as well. About three in the morning, Adam heard sounds outside the guest bedroom. He slipped from the bed and after pulling on his pants went to investigate. It was Hoss and Ben drinking coffee that Hop Sing had freshly brewed.

“Adam, are you sure that you read Garrett’s note correctly?”

“Yes, Pa. He’s very smart but he is only eight years old. He still uses patterns in what he does. The only word that made me wonder was broken. He uses O for only a few words as well as D. Now if there had be an A, C, M, or T, I would have been a lot more unsure of it. The S almost threw me but when Hoss said shack that made sense. Luckily we’ve played this game very often especially when we’re traveling so I’m used to some of the patterns he likes to use.”

“Good. Then, Hoss and I have been talking.”

“Pa and I been thinking that a couple of us ought to head out that way and try to sneak in real close before it gets too light and they’re up and about. If it’s set up like Davis said, then we might even get right close by the time the other men and later the posse gets there.”

“I’ll go.”

“Now, Adam we was thinking that me and Joe would do it.”

“He’s my son, Hoss.”

“Yes, but son, you’ve been gone for ten years, and, well, you might not be quite ready to do this like Hoss and Joe.”

“I’m as fit as I need to be. Just because I haven’t been riding for hours every day doesn’t mean I can’t do this. Now Joe can lead the other men there as planned.”

Knowing they could never talk Adam out of the plan, Ben and Hoss agreed. As soon as Adam and Hoss grabbed a light breakfast and headed out to saddle up the horses, Ben was preparing to go to town. Candy walked into the stable and was briefed by the brothers on the slight change in plans. Being less cautious than they should in the dim light of predawn, Hoss and Adam headed to the cabin where they thought their sons were being kept. After about an hour and a half of riding, the sun was peaking over the mountains, and they were near the cabin. They tied their horses in the trees and began to work their way around to the back of the cabin hoping to get very close before anyone was up in the cabin. The footing was loose though and Hoss worried that they would be heard.

“Take off your boots and carry them.”

“What?”

“We’ll make a lot less noise without our boots. We can get closer to the cabin that way. We know they’re there.”

“How do we know that?”

“Can’t you smell the horses? There are horses tied off in the brushy area behind the cabin, and there’s wood smoke too. Not much but they must have had a campfire last night or had a fire in the fireplace.” It was taking a very long time to sneak up on the cabin unnoticed. It was nearly eight before they got to the side of the cabin. Hoss and Adam noticed that the trap door was open. They sat and waited for the others to arrive, but were relieved to know they had an option if there was a confrontation.

Inside the cabin, the four men slept very late because they had gone to sleep drunk, but the boys had awakened. They were scared, hungry, and thirsty as well as desperate to escape the kidnappers. The men had opened the trap door during the night on more than one occasion to do their business. Garrett and Josh knew that it would be disgusting to drop into their waste, but it was necessary. The small fire in the fireplace was mostly red coals but occasionally something would flare up for a moment lighting the space inside very well. Josh and Garrett carefully slipped off the ropes binding their wrists and then untied the ropes around their ankles. Moving very slowly and cautiously, they crawled to the trapdoor a few inches at a time and kept a careful watch on the four men hoping that the small noises they were making would not awaken them. Whenever one of the men moved in his sleep, the two boys froze and waited for the snoring to return to normal. Once they got to the trap door, Josh motioned for Garrett to go first. He slowly dropped over the side and hung by his hands before dropping to the ground below where he was grabbed and a hand was placed over his mouth. In a panic, he looked up to see his father’s face. Adam gestured for Garrett to go toward Hoss who waited a few yards away. Josh looked down to see if Garrett was all right and was surprised to see Adam’s face looking up at him. Adam raised his arms and Josh gratefully lowered himself into his uncle’s grasp. Just as Josh was lowering himself, Jubal awakened and sounded the alarm. Adam quickly pulled Josh to safety and then pushed him to run following Hoss and Garrett who looked back to be sure that Adam and Josh were following. Gunshots rang out and Adam pushed Josh ahead of him up the slope. The sounds of pursuit made them run faster. Hoss pointed ahead.

“You two boys keep on running. Our horses are tied up that way. Find em and stay there. Josh, you can get my rifle out and ready.”

As the boys ran, Adam and Hoss took positions behind trees and fired back at their pursuers. Jubal was first in line and dropped to the ground wounded in the thigh. He couldn’t run any more, but the other three fanned out and moved through the brush to attack. Adam and Hoss pulled back in opposite directions hoping to get the three men between them. It worked. Adam was able to get behind two of them and get the drop on them ordering them to drop their weapons. Hoss grabbed Miguel’s arm as he was passing the tree where Hoss had hidden. Hoss twisted his arm up behind him so severely he had no choice but to loosen his grip on the pistol which fell harmlessly to the ground. Hoss picked it up and pushed Miguel ahead of him toward where Adam had the other two standing with their hands in the air and their backs to him. Once Hoss arrived, Adam moved forward and picked up the men’s pistols. He brought them to where Hoss stood and handed them to his brother before turning and unbuckling his gunbelt. He dropped it to the ground and approached Rafe and Jose.

“You cowards. You took two boys. How about one man? Can you fight one man?”

About that time Joe arrived with Candy and some other men. Josh and Garrett walked up with them. “What’s going on?”

“Adam needs to get some of his mad out.”

“Oh, this should be good.” Joe sat down on a log then and had the two boys sit with him. As Adam threw a punch that knocked Jose to the ground, Joe looked over to Hoss. “Looks like our older brother has been taking more boxing lessons.”

Garrett commented with pride. “Father and I go to the gym several days a week. We run a few miles there, then we practice our boxing, and then we run home. It was good exercise. The boys at school didn’t pick on me after Father started teaching me about boxing.”

At that point, Adam slammed a knee into Rafe’s privates. He did it again and then again before letting Rafe fall to the ground groaning in agony.

“Well, folks, he didn’t learn that one in any gym. That was pure saloon brawling.” Hoss would have said more but realized that Garrett was taking all of that in, and he didn’t want to give him any more of that kind of information. He figured Adam was going to have to do some explaining as it was.

Adam was punching Jose then with a series of punches that made the larger man stagger backwards. Miguel was swearing in Spanish because of what Adam had done to his brothers. Hoss grinned and pushed Miguel forward. Miguel looked back wondering what Hoss wanted.

“You want to help your brothers? Go! Go get him.”

About that time, Ben and Roy arrived with the posse. “What’s going on here?”

Joe’s voice was high-pitched because of the excitement. “Pa, you remember that time Adam fought to be bull of the woods? Hoss is letting him do it again. Nobody is going to want to fight him after today.”

As Miguel bull rushed Adam, Adam sidestepped and used the man’s momentum to slam him headfirst into a tree. He didn’t get up. Adam stood heaving in the middle of the three downed men and looked to Hoss.

“You could have helped.”

“Nah, you needed to do this yourself. I did enjoy watching it though. Roy, these three men resisted arrest, and Adam had to take them on to teach them to obey their elders. Is that about the way you see it?”

“Yes, indeed. It is good to have law-abiding citizens helping to enforce respect for the law. We’ll take these three on in to jail. Doc can see to them there.”

“Roy, there’s another one down the hill a ways. He’s got a bullet in his leg. I’m hoping it hurts a lot.”

“We’ll take him in, Hoss. You just worry about your boy there. You two got two brave sons, all right. Real brave boys.”

Hoss had his arms around Josh then as the ten-year-old began to cry in relief that it was all over. Garrett walked up to Adam who was cradling his left hand.

“Father, our boxing instructor said we should try to hit softer areas of our opponent to do the most damage and not injure our hand. Did you forget?”

Adam shook his head, grinned, and pulled his son into a hug. “Yes, Garrett, I must have forgotten.” Garrett smiled and hugged his father not wanting to let go.

“Father, they said they were going to kill us once they got the money. I was very afraid. Are you ashamed of me for being scared? Josh said that Uncle Hoss said that being afraid is God’s way of reminding us to be smart and not do something that is stupid.”

“Your Uncle Hoss is very wise. I was afraid too. I know your mother was terribly afraid. We need to get home now so we can let her see that you’re all right.”

Hoss had a question for his father. “I thought you were supposed to wait for the man to collect the money and then follow him or arrest him?”

“No one showed up and Roy thought it best if we ride here so we did. I guess you two didn’t really need us.”

“Only because these two boys got themselves free first. We probably got in the way more than helped them.” Adam was very proud of his son and of Josh. He pulled a clean handkerchief to wrap around his knuckles, and Ben handed him one for his other hand.

“I suppose you thought you needed to do that.”

“Yes, I did.”

Ben said nothing more. He had every intention of letting his sons make their own choices and deal with the consequences. He had been worried seeing Adam fighting three men, but there was a tinge of pride too in that his son had defeated the three without help. Ben had another comment as he passed Hoss who was walking with Josh.

“You had to push the third one at him?”

“Yup. Adam needed to do that. I wanted to hit him too, but as long as Adam was taking care of it, I was willing to watch. I woulda helped him, Pa, ifn he needed it. He didn’t need my help though.”

Ben could only shake his head. Candy, Joe, and the other men all congratulated Adam on the fight and both Hoss and Adam for apprehending the kidnappers. There were pats on the back for the two boys escaping the kidnappers too. Once they got back to the horses, Garrett rode with Adam and Josh with Hoss. They rode home slowly as a result so Joe took off on Cochise to go let Virginia and Alice know that the two boys were safe, no one was hurt except the kidnappers, and that they would be home in about two hours.

Adam knew how worried Virginia would be and hurried as much as he dared. Once they arrived at the ranch house, Virginia ran toward them. Adam quickly let Garrett down so he could rush to his mother. Virginia held her son tightly as she cried. Adam came up to them just as Virginia staggered and would have fallen without Garrett’s shoulder. Adam quickly picked her up in his arms and carried her into the house and into the guest bedroom where he gently set her on the bed. Garrett had followed them inside and waited with a frightened look.

“Father, is mother going to be all right?”

“Yes, I think so. Can you put some wood in the fireplace and get it going. There’s a slight chill in here.”

Pulling the covers back, Adam insisted that Virginia slide beneath them. Soon Garrett had a small fire going. Adam was going to go ask Hop Sing for some tea when the man showed up at the door with a tray.

“Missy not eat breakfast. She say too worried to eat. I worry about her. Now you make her eat and drink tea. She be better.”

“Thank you, Hop Sing. I don’t know how we ever survived without you.” Adam sat by the bed then and looked at his wife rather sternly. “You know you need to eat at least three meals a day now. You know how you are when you’re this way and skip a meal. And don’t make any excuses. You know the doctor would agree with me.”

Adam had seen that look and knew why she hadn’t eaten, but it simply wasn’t acceptable to him. Garrett had watched and listened and was very worried that his mother was with child. He remembered three years earlier when his mother had been in bed for what seemed like months, and his father had only said that they had lost a baby. Garrett didn’t quite know then what that meant. Now he did and was even more apprehensive.

“Father, are you and Mother going to have a baby? Is Mother going to be sick a lot again?”

Adam motioned for Garrett to come sit on the side of the bed. “No, she should be much better this time as long as she eats regularly and enough. She was so scared for you that she forgot her common sense for a bit. That isn’t going to happen again.” Adam had that stern parent look, and at first, Virginia was upset with him, but then she couldn’t be. Garrett was home, Adam was safe too, and they had a baby on the way. She nodded and smiled in response to what her husband had said.

“When will the baby be big enough to get here?”

“In about six months, Garrett. And we need to make sure that your mother follows all of our good advice until then.”

“Will we stay here until the baby arrives?”

“Not in this house, but I did find a nice one we could use if your mother agrees. We can go take a look at it tomorrow. If all goes well, we could be living there in a few weeks.”

“Adam, is it the brick and stone one? Alice was telling me about houses that we could use. I think she was trying to keep my mind off the kidnapping and the rescue. It sounded just perfect by her description. We would have our privacy, be closer to town, and yet close enough to feel like we’re still here with the whole family.”

“It sounds like you want to live there without even seeing the place first.”

“I trust your judgment. If you like it, I’ll like it. How many bedrooms does it have?”

“Four but all of them are upstairs. There’s a sitting room, an office, kitchen, dining room, and library on the first floor. There’s a fireplace in each room, and a very big covered porch across the entire front of the house. There are no water closets but I could add one or two in because there is a slope behind the house that will make it relatively easy to do. There’s a stable as well as several corrals and fenced pastures.”

“Father, could we have our own horses?”

“Well, Garrett, out here, we would need our own horses so the answer is yes.”

Having finished the tea and the cookies that Hop Sing had put on the tray with the tea, Virginia was feeling much better. As she shifted to sit more upright, Adam looked at her and she reached for his hand. “Have you decided that we’re staying then?”

“Yes, for now, we’re staying, and if all goes well, we will make our home here if you wish. Doesn’t what happened make you at all worried about living here?”

“No, if anything, I’m more confident than ever that this is the right move. Adam, you’re a wealthy man. There was always the risk that someone would kidnap our son as a way to get some of that money. In Boston, they would have hid him away in some hovel, and we never would have found him. Here, everyone pulled together, and people like Davis, who hardly know us, did their best to help. All those hands here who rode with Joe, and all the townspeople who rode with Sheriff Coffee were insurance that we would get our son and Josh back safely. This is the kind of community where we should make our home. It’s another reason for me to love it here.”

“Well, I’ll go tell everyone that you’re feeling better and that we’re going to be staying on. Garrett, please stay with your mother. You can explain to her everything that happened.” Looking at his wife, Adam smiled. “He had about two hours to tell me everything as we rode home.”

As soon as Garrett started talking, Adam left to tell his father and the rest of the family that she was all right. His father still looked worried though so Adam asked what was wrong.

“I wanted things to go well, and with this, I’m afraid that you and Virginia are going to think you should live someplace else.”

Adam smiled gently at his father whose emotions were so clearly shown in his expression at that moment. “No, Pa, we’ve decided to stay at least until the baby is born, and then probably make this our home as long as things go well. Virginia was impressed at how the community pulled together for us, and all the people who stepped up to help without getting anything for it. We’re staying. We’d like to use the brick and stone house that Hoss showed me yesterday. How much will you charge for rent or should I buy it from you?”

“There is no charge just like Joe paid nothing for his. I’ll deed the property to you whenever you decide you want to keep it as your home.”

Joe nodded. It was the same thing his father had done for him and Alice with all the costs of their home absorbed by the Ponderosa, and the land deeded to him when his house was finished. “If all goes well, Pa will be deeding some land for Hoss too.”

Adam looked over at Hoss who turned a bit red at Joe’s revelation.

“Adam, didn’t he tell you? Hoss has been sparking the school teacher. She has one year left on her contract. One more year of teaching, and then she’s free to marry up with Hoss if he hurries up and asks her.”

“Well, Joe, I did ask her and she said she’d say yes as soon as she’s free of that contract. She can’t even get engaged or be seen with me without a chaperone until that darn contract is finished. She did ask the school board to try to find a teacher for this school year, but no luck yet.” At that point, Hoss realized how many secrets he had just revealed. Adam and Ben were grinning though, and even Josh was smiling. He liked the schoolteacher, and thought that having a mother would be a very nice way to add to the family. Suddenly he had a thought though.

“Papa, if you get married, are you going to have another baby like Uncle Adam is and Uncle Joe did already?”

“Well, yes, Josh, that could happen of course, and I’d be real happy ifn it did. But you’ll always be the oldest, and I’ll always love you.”

Josh looked rather serious for a moment making Hoss a little nervous about his son’s reaction. “Women in the family sure make things complicated.”

Ben smiled as his three sons nodded in agreement. “Yes, but they make the family better, just like having Adam move back here helped make the family complete.” No one could argue with that.

Epilogue (one year later)

“C’mon, help me get this gosh darned tie tied so I kin head on downstairs. I hear the music already.”

“Hoss, relax, I’ll get it tied. The musicians were supposed to play some pre-service music for your guests. Pa, Jamie, and Joe are making sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be. Josh is waiting at the top of the stairs to walk down with you.”

“Aw, Adam, do you think it was all right to ask Josh to stand with me? He only just turned eleven.”

“He’ll be fine. I’ll stay close in case he needs any coaching, but I doubt that he will. Joe’s daughter is the one to watch. She’s not quite two and as flower girl, I’m not sure she knows yet what to do but Alice will be there to coach her too. Now, stand still so I can finish this.” As soon as Adam finished, he walked with Hoss to the top of the stairs and proceeded down the stairs to greet his family. Virginia was holding their daughter, Rose, and beside her Garrett stood smiling up at his cousin who was waiting at the top of the stairs and was almost as nervous as his father. Ben signaled Hoss to come down the stairs and take his place next to the minister. Once he and Josh were in place, the musicians began the music that signaled Jessamine that it was time to come out of the guest bedroom. Proceeded by Sarah Ann carrying a basket of flowers and coached by Alice to walk slowly and carefully, Jessamine walked to Hoss with a big smile. She had waited a long time to be free of that teaching contract, and now that she was, she was happily entering into another contract. This one was marriage to Hoss and had no time limit.

By the end of that day, Ben was sitting in his red leather chair smoking his pipe as Jamie finished helping in the kitchen and came in to sit with his adoptive father. “It seems too quiet here now.”

“It won’t be for long. Hoss has decided to stay living in this house. We have plenty of room. Are you sure that you want to make Sacramento your home?”

“Yes, Pa. I can go to school and I have an internship there with a doctor. He’ll teach me what I need to know on the practical side while I learn more in my classes. I like it there, and it’s not like you need a full time doctor here on the Ponderosa. I like Sacramento, and I want to make it my home.”

“There have been times I thought a full time doctor on the Ponderosa would have been a good idea. Now, things seem to be calmer. Now, Adam travels through Sacramento rather often. If you need anything, he can take care of it. Hoss, Joe, or I will make a trip through there several times a year as we go back and forth to San Francisco on business, so we can help out too if you need us.”

“I know. It was another one of the reasons I liked that location. I could get to see my family quite a lot.”

“Yes, and the way this family is growing, there could be a lot more family in the future. Joe and Alice want more children, and Hoss and Jessamine want children too. I’m as happy as I can be. Everything has worked out so well.”

“What about Adam?”

“With the troubles they’ve had, I think he is happy to have two. He doesn’t want to risk Virginia again with the troubles she’s had. Losing three babies is a very difficult thing to accept.”

Jamie understood that. Losing any member of your family was difficult. He knew that. “I’ll have to leave on Monday. The fall term is starting soon, and I need to get my books and get ready for classes.”

“Yes, Josh and Garrett will be starting the fall term soon too. They had such a good year attending school together last year. Jessamine loves those boys already. Josh is lucky to get a new mother who loves him.”

“Just like I was lucky to get a new father who loves me. I appreciate everything you gave me so much, but I appreciate your love more than anything. I’ll always try to make you proud that you made me a Cartwright.”

“I know you will. Everyone will be back here for dinner tomorrow evening. Then Joe leaves on the cattle drive with Candy on Monday. Adam will be helping out on the ranch until Hoss gets back with Jessamine. They’re going to spend a week up at the line cabin in the northwest part of the ranch. It’s quiet and peaceful up there especially at this time of year. It seems like everything is as it should be.”

Next in the Virginia Series:

Like Father, Like Son

Other Stories by this Author

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. Only within the last several years did I discover Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing storiesin 2012 for fun. If I am ever unavailable and someone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on another site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

11 thoughts on “Never Too Late To Say You’re Sorry (by BettyHT)

    1. Thank you, and I appreciate so much that you are working your way through the stories I have in the Library here.

    1. Thank you so much for reading. I’m very happy that you enjoyed the story and the OCs. It means so much coming from such a talented writer.

  1. Very good story– I especially liked how you explained how some of the behaviors of Adam, Hoss and Joe were rooted in their childhood. And, it was good to hear at least twice that Hoss is considered a smart man as well as a good man.

    I would read the next chapter(s) in their lives.

    1. Thank you so very much. Hoss is a wise man but too many don’t see that. I’m very pleased that you agree and like to see Hoss portrayed as a more complex man.

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