Second Chances (by BettyHT)

Summary:  The story follows the Heat Wave story and includes a flashback segment as well as taking the story forward as Adam deals with regrets he has in his life.  He goes to meet a woman he had known about ten years earlier, and their first meeting is the subject of that flashback. (Nicknames BJ and Beej used with permission)

Rating = T  WC = 21,833

 

Brenda/Heat Wave Series:

Heat Wave
Second Chances
Everybody Makes Mistakes (by BettyHT)
The Lord Is My Judge (by BettyHT)

Second Chances

Chapter 1

Black shirt and black mood sometimes went together and that day was one of those days. As Adam walked up the stairs with the letter in his hand, Hoss watched him because he was worried about his older brother and that retreating back was as much a challenge as it was a signal. For some time, his brother had been unhappy and there had been too many unfortunate incidents that only made things worse. When Laura had gone behind his back with Will, something had changed in Adam. He had been different ever since that had happened, and although Hoss was still trying to find the words to describe that change, it was there. The long captivity with a band of renegades had done something to him that as yet couldn’t be adequately described because it only seemed to accentuate what had already been there but had made it sharper and more distinct perhaps. Prone to introspection anyway, somehow Adam was focusing more on regrets from the past than opportunities in the future. Hoss didn’t know how to help him shift that focus. He had gotten a letter in the mail that Hoss had brought from town. When he read it, he had another of those inscrutable expressions and had gone upstairs. Hoss decided there was only one way he knew to handle such a situation. He headed up the stairs too despite his father’s caution.

“Hoss, he went upstairs because he didn’t want to share what was in that letter.”

“Maybe, or maybe he didn’t want to share with all of us at once. Maybe, he would like to talk with me though.”

Ben had no counterargument for that because he knew that sometimes Hoss and Adam talked about things that neither talked about with anyone else. They had a bond that went back to the day that Hoss’ mother, Inger, had been killed and Adam had pledged to care for Hoss for her. He watched Hoss go up the stairs and hoped that he could get through those walls Adam had put up since his ordeal with the renegades. It has seemed that when he came home and recovered physically that all was well but soon there were signs that he had not recovered mentally and emotionally from being held captive for six months, abused, deprived, and constantly under duress. Consultation with Doctor Martin had confirmed their concern that Adam would struggle to come to terms with feelings of guilt and shame over what had happened.

“But, no one could have done any better. He was in an awful predicament.”

“Yes, Ben, I know that, but you know Adam as well as any. He sets very high standards for himself, and knowing that innocent people were killed while he was with those men and guiding them through the mountains has to be bothering him yet.”

“But they would have killed people regardless of whether Adam was with them or not. He did his best to limit how many they could kill and he did his best to let the Army know where they were so they could be apprehended.”

“Yes, that is all very logical and true, but that is in the mind. What Adam is suffering is in his heart and soul. He needs comfort and reassurance there and no logical argument is going to give him that.”

“So he’ll have to come to terms with it by himself?”

“No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that what he needs is emotional support not logical arguments that tell him he shouldn’t be feeling what he is feeling.”

What had happened was that as Adam began to do some light work on the ranch, he most often worked with Hoss and with Cody. Those two men seemed to be the ones with whom he was most comfortable. Cody, like Hoss, never said much, but when he did, it was meaningful He appreciated that Adam had been the one who saved his life, and Adam appreciated that Cody had been resourceful enough to get away and then brave enough to tell his family exactly what had happened as he had seen it. Not many men would have been brave enough to tell Ben Cartwright that they had ridden away to leave the oldest Cartwright son wounded and at the mercy of a band of renegades. Cody had done that and not spared a single detail of what occurred that night when Adam had been captured by the renegades who then held him and forced him to work for them until the Army surrounded all of them and took them into custody. The whole episode had forged a friendship between Cody and Adam. They were similar in some ways too not talking about it but silently accepting that the other had done the best they could do. Hoss liked that at least there was one other man on the ranch who seemed to understand his brother at least a little because Adam could be hard to understand.

As they worked, Hoss too said little, but that hand on the shoulder when it was time for a break, or sitting beside his brother offering silent support was important. Ben noticed all the small gestures of support that Hoss gave Adam and realized how natural a healer his middle son was. The arm around the shoulder as they walked to the house, the slap on the shoulder as he headed to bed and Adam sat in the chair reading, or even a push out the door when it was time to go to work gave Adam those contacts he needed. Overt gestures such as hugs would have been rejected because he didn’t accept things like that as easily as his younger brothers. Ben noticed too that sometimes at dinner Hoss dropped a little extra food on Adam’s plate when he didn’t think his older brother was eating enough. That usually led to some lighthearted banter, which was probably half of what Hoss was trying to do anyway. Then Adam would eat the extra food, which was the other half. So seeing Hoss follow Adam up the stairs was normal behavior for Hoss, and it was possible and perhaps even probable that Adam would talk with Hoss about what was in that letter.

At the door to Adam’s room though, Hoss hesitated because it was closed up tight. He had hoped it would be slightly ajar and give him a literal opening. Adam must have heard him approach though because he heard him.

“Well, don’t just stand outside my door; come on in.”

Stepping into the room and closing the door, Hoss was surprised because he had expected to see Adam looking worried or at least concerned. Instead he was laying on his bed with his arms behind his head looking very relaxed. “Well, you done surprised me again. Here I thought you might be a mite upset by that letter you was carrying, and instead, you look as happy as a stallion with a new herd of mares.”

“Oh, I’m not that happy.”

“Maybe happy as a honeybee in a brand new field of clover?”

“Nope, not that happy.”

“Happy as a hog in a pile of manure out behind the stable?” That got the laugh that Hoss wanted.

“All right, I’ll take that one before they get any worse.”

“So, what’s with the letter anyway?”

“You remember BJ or Beej?”

“Dang, how could I forget? That was one memory burned into my brain that day. I may never forget that.”

“But that wasn’t what it seemed.”

“I know, but at the time, it sure seemed like it was. I couldn’t hardly talk when Pa asked us what we saw.”

“That’s the only thing you remember?”

“Nope, I remember some other things, but that’s what I remember best. Why you bringing that up now?”

“Well, anyway, the letter says that her stepbrothers Gil and Jan have died. I guess it was mostly to let me know. We send letters now and then when big things happen or at least every year to update each other on our lives. I’ve been thinking though that I might like to head on over there to visit in person. It’s been nearly ten years, but it’s a tough thing to lose two brothers, even two like that, well, she doesn’t have anyone else. I know she was hoping one of them might produce an heir at least, but now that won’t happen. A visit from a friend, even one who hasn’t been there for nearly ten years, might be welcome.”

“Wow, that long. I guess it don’t seem that long ago. I remember plain as day when we hired Beej. You were not at all happy about us hiring such a young drover, but we told you we needed every one we could get who could rope and ride, and BJ could do that.”

“And Little Joe and BJ got along well too. If I recall, they worked the drag crew for most of the drive.”

“Yeah, that was your doing. You didn’t like Beej so that was the duty you assigned for almost every day. Little Joe was on his first drive as a regular hand so he got the usual for a new hand and got drag duty. A skilled hand doesn’t usually get that every day though. I think Little Joe felt sorry for Beej having to eat dust like a green drover. It was Joe who started us using Beej instead of BJ as the name too.”

“Beej was small for a drover though.”

“Don’t matter much when you’re on a horse and can rope and cut like Beej could. That isn’t what really stuck in your craw though, was it?”

Smiling, Adam nodded. That question brought back some painful memories though only Hoss knew about them. It had taken some time for Adam to even talk about that issue with Hoss because it had struck at the very core of his being. He thought back to that first meeting with Beej and how profoundly it had begun to affect him and was transported back to that day as was Hoss as the two of them relived that earlier time. It had started pretty much when Adam had stalked into the house for dinner after finding out whom his brother Hoss had hired for the drive that day. The meeting with that young drover had not gone well by Adam’s point of view. Later they had learned how their father had felt about everything that had happened as well but at that moment, none of them knew what the others had been thinking.

“Hoss, you have to fire that new drover named BJ.”

“Why?” Hoss had thought he had done a good job so he was surprised by Adam’s demand.

“He’s hardly older than Little Joe and not much bigger. We don’t need another drover who needs to be wet nursed for the whole drive.”

About to embark on his first drive as a regular drover, Little Joe was rightfully insulted by his older brother’s unkind remark. “Hey, that’s nasty. I can hold my own. I can ride, rope, and cut as well as you, and maybe better.”

That was more than enough for Ben who wanted to forestall a full-fledged argument between his oldest and youngest especially before the family embarked on three weeks on the trail. “Adam, Little Joe, what in tarnation is going on here? What has gotten into you, Adam? That is no way to arrive home and greet your family.”

“I’m ramrod, and I’m supposed to be in charge of the drovers. Who decided to hire drovers without consulting me?”

“I did. There were several young drovers who came out here looking for work, and I knew we needed a few more. With so many going to California trying to find their fortune, the pickings have been slim this year so I had Hoss put them through their paces. He told me that two of them could do the work so I told him to hire them. He did as I asked. Now, do you have any more objections?”

Properly chastised on that count, Adam didn’t say any more, but he was thinking quite a lot. Later in his room, he lay on his bed and thought even more about that young drover. It had shaken him to the core to be near the one called BJ. He knew that some men in the west took comfort with each other. He ignored that and preferred not to think about it. It didn’t affect his life, and he decided it was a personal choice that others made and they could make their peace with it or not. However, BJ made all of that seem very different to him because he had felt an immediate attraction to the young drover. He had looked at that soft skin of the young hand and the way BJ moved so fluidly and gracefully, and his body had reacted in ways that had only happened before when he had been in the presence of a woman who he found attractive or sometimes with any woman when he was feeling in need of some physical comfort. He had stumbled in his conversation because of it, and felt like a young man in his first romantic encounter. It made him angry because he didn’t know how else to react. He had been gruff and unfriendly to BJ, which now made him feel a bit guilty. It wasn’t the young drover’s fault that he now questioned his very core of being. He wondered if he knew himself at all or if he had been fooling himself all along.

Adam knew there were those who told stories about him in town about why he wasn’t married yet. He was the most eligible bachelor in the area and yet was still unmarried and in fact had no serious romantic entanglements to his credit. There were veiled comments about him that he had always ignored thinking that he was sure he knew better. Now he wasn’t so sure. He had to wonder if he had avoided marriage because he simply hadn’t found a woman who could capture his heart or if the reason was more deep seated than that. He found sleep very elusive that night as he wrestled with that question. It made him all the more surly the next day. A few snickers that greeted him when he neared the drovers let him know that his reaction to BJ had probably led to some speculation in the bunkhouse. He hoped that they had at least not included BJ in the discussion. It appeared they had not for when the young hand came out to join the group to ride to the roundup, there was no sign of embarrassment. For that at least, Adam could be grateful. However, when his father decided that the best way for Adam to get over his animosity to the young hand was to work with BJ for the day, things were only destined to get worse for Adam.

Chapter 2

From the moment that Adam walked toward BJ at the branding area that morning, the young drover must have known that it wasn’t going to be a pleasant day. With shoulders slumped, BJ asked what the assignment for the day was and knew it was going to be working with the dark haired Cartwright who had seemed to develop an instant animosity at their meeting the day before. The other hands had snickered about it the night before but BJ didn’t understand what they had meant when they said it was probably true then what all the people in town had been saying for years. Others in the bunkhouse had said to shut up about that because he might be that way but he was still damn ornery and dangerous too. That’s when BJ learned that he was considered to be one of the best with a pistol and probably the best with a rifle on the ranch. No one wanted get in a fight with him. That was very clear, but the snickers continued as well as the occasional raised eyebrow or quirked lip that seemed to get an answering response from like-minded men. It was clear too that Adam noticed and that it made him angry. Somehow BJ had the impression that the controversy had started with their meeting the day before but had no idea why that could be. There luckily was only one day of branding left so it was only one day of surly commands, occasional stabs of venomous conversation, and dirty looks interspersed with ominous silence that was actually a relief compared to the verbal jabs that any conversation seemed to be. The long day was blessedly over finally and the meal and the time to sleep a welcome escape from the presence of that man who was infuriatingly attractive. BJ couldn’t help those feelings either but resolved to fight them off. Nothing like that could be allowed to interfere in this drive because the money from these three or four weeks of work was absolutely essential to saving the family ranch. There was no alternative. There was some razzing in the bunkhouse but it was in a reasonably good-natured style.

“Hey, BJ, if you plan to work her longer, you better start being nicer to Adam. He’s the one in charge of most of the hiring and firing.”

“Course, he does seem to like you in some ways even with all them nasty things he says. Them looks he gives you says otherwise.”

“Yeah, maybe he’ll find a reason to keep you on after the drive.”

Gradually BJ was getting the idea that perhaps these men thought that Adam was finding some attraction between them but quickly squelched that idea. “I’ve no intention of staying on here. I need the money to pay taxes and expenses on my family ranch. I heard they were hiring here from some men passing through to the gold fields and headed here only for the work on the drive. I’ve no intention of staying after that.”

“Too bad. Could get interesting having you around a bit longer.”

Most comments like that tended to be accompanied by some snickers and some groans too at times so BJ was getting a stronger and stronger feeling that the subject matter was what most would never come right out and say in any more specific terms. There would be snickers, asides, and perhaps mean spirited commentary, but never anything overtly discussed. Men never seemed to talk about that topic even though it was fairly well known. The next day, the drive was due to get started. In the morning, all the hands who were going on the drive were expected to be up and ready to go by dawn so everyone turned in early. BJ found it difficult to fall asleep worried that this complication could mean the job that was so desperately needed could be prematurely ended and for no solid reason. Finally with no answers and only worries, sleep came from exhaustion and necessity, but it wasn’t enough with a wake up call that came much too soon.

On the drive itself, Adam and BJ seldom were in contact, but when they were, the same issues occurred for both. Adam found himself attracted to the young drover which caused him to be angry and surly whenever Beej was near him. Beej resented the way he acted and also the comments made by the other drovers some of which were always said loud enough to be overheard by one of them. Probably meant to be funny, neither took the comments that way, and Adam’s anger grew significantly until it came to a head two weeks into the drive when some fairly pointed remarks were made about what he might want to do with Beej if the two were ever alone together. He walked up to the drover who had said it and demanded that the man stand and fight.

“I don’t want to fight you. I was only having a little fun. C’mon now, we only was doing a little teasing. You shouldn’t oughta take it so hard.”

“You afraid?”

The gauntlet had been thrown and there was no way for the drover to back out of the fight then. He stood and soon the two were in a knockdown drag out fight that lasted until Hoss and Ben arrived to pull the two bloodied combatants apart.

“What in tarnation is going on here? Adam, I asked you a question.”

With his chest heaving and his dark hazel eyes blazing, Adam refused to answer. Instead, he bent down with some discomfort, picked up his hat, and then moved off into the darkness at the side of the camp pulling out his handkerchief to dab at the blood on his lip and knuckles. Ben turned to the other man and demanded an answer from him.

“We was only funning him a little, and he lost his temper. He said I was afraid to fight him over it so I had no choice. I’m sorry, Mister Cartwright, but he called me out.”

“I will not have fighting on my drive. This is your warning and the warning to everyone else. Anyone else fighting for any reason with anyone will be let go. Is that understood?” Silence greeted his pronouncement, but he knew he had been heard. After telling Hoss and Little Joe to get their dinner, Ben went in search of his eldest son. He found him leaning against a small tree by the remuda. “Do you want to explain to me what that was all about? My son, who is in charge of the men on the drive and responsible for keeping order and proper conduct is the one who instigates a brawl?”

Dropping his head, Adam knew he had let his temper get the best of him. “It won’t happen again.”

“It certainly won’t. I already warned the men, and I’m telling you right now. There will be no fighting. You will work out any problems in a reasonable fashion. Now what was that all about anyway?”

Not wanting to say, Adam remained silent. It wasn’t the type of thing he could ever discuss with his father. He could barely stand to think about it himself. At least in the darkness, he knew his father couldn’t read his expression so he wouldn’t see the look of shame he had at that moment because as soon as he had thought about Beej, the same reaction had occurred as any time he was near the young drover. It was driving him mad with worry. At least, there was only one more week of this intense torture, but afterwards, Adam wasn’t sure what he would do. He thought that perhaps he might have to leave because he couldn’t bear to be that much of a disappointment to his father. He couldn’t voice those worries to his father or even hint at them. Some of the reason for his anger had been the increasing comments by the men and that the comments had been getting louder. He had worried that his family especially his father would hear and begin to suspect what the hands suspected. When his silence persisted, his father shook his head and walked away because after years of experience with Adam and his moods, he knew better than to try to force him to talk when he didn’t want to say anything, When he heard footsteps again, he thought his father had returned.

“I still have nothing to say.”

“Well, may be you don’t, but I do.” It was the young drover shocking Adam. “I know you don’t like me at all, but for some reason the others think you do and make comments about it. I don’t know why you hate me so.”

“I don’t hate you, but there’s something off about you. I don’t trust you. There’s something wrong.”

“I know what you think is wrong, but I don’t want to talk about that. All I propose we do is spend the next week doing our best not to be anywhere near each other at all. If we can avoid each other for seven days, we can get through this without any more trouble.”

“Avoid each other? And yet here you are seeking me out in the moonlight. I bet that’s going to lead to some great comments.”

“I left the camp on the other side to take care of business. I’ve hunted enough to get myself through the trees without being seen. I’ll go back the way I came. I’m not stupid. Now, do we have a deal?”

Adam nodded embarrassed somewhat to have been bested in negotiations and compromise by one so young. Beej pulled off a glove and stuck out a hand to seal the deal. Adam did the same, but he found the touch electrifying. When Beej dropped his hand, he was disappointed and then disgusted with himself.

“”I’ll be going now. I’m sorry you hate me.”

As Beej turned to go, Adam softly spoke. “It’s not you I hate.”

Beej continued on around the camp and walked back by the same route used to leave earlier. Rolling out a bedroll, those last words of Adam dominated any thoughts until the whole thing coalesced into coherent theory. He was feeling an attraction and the comments the men made hit home. He felt guilty about all of it and it all made him feel angry. Beej felt bad about that, but it was Adam’s problem. Beej had enough problems without worrying about the problems of a man only recently met and soon to be only a memory. With that, Beej hoped that sleep would come quickly. It didn’t. Nor did it come easily that night for Adam who was hurting inside and out. In the camp, sleep wasn’t easy for Ben either who, despite the questions, had a fair idea of why his son was troubled and why he had instigated that fight. He was worried about his son. He had heard the talk in town for it seemed that some people took delight in finding ways to make the Cartwrights or any one of them seem to be seriously flawed in some way. To attack Adam though who valued his integrity and honesty so highly was needlessly cruel, but Ben could see no way to help his son out of this dilemma. Like Adam, he knew about such things and knew they simply weren’t discussed. Sometimes there were rumors like there were about Adam and then the man embarked on a romantic relationship and the rumors stopped. It was the way of things. All Ben could hope was that Adam would find a woman that he found to his liking and spent a lot of time with her. That would stop the stories.

For the rest of the drive though, things seemed to go better and slowly Ben relaxed about the situation and even allowed himself to think it wasn’t important. He began to think it was only the hands finding a way that they knew they could get to Adam and using it because there weren’t many ways to rile the man. There was something odd about Beej too but the young drover would be gone as soon as they got to Morgan Wells. They were due to sell a significant portion of the herd there and wouldn’t need half of the drovers they now had. The temporary drovers had all been told that they would have only these three weeks of work and would be paid in Morgan Wells. As soon as they concluded their contract with the Dodge brothers, they could pay off those men and then continue on to the next couple of ranches who had contracted to buy cattle from them. Hopefully they could sell the extra cattle to other ranchers in the area who had the same need. Ben was very much looking forward to concluding this drive and heading back home. When they arrived in Morgan Wells though, things did not go well. Gil and Jan Dodge decided to try to force the price down. With no other place to sell those cattle, Ben was about to concede the lower price when Adam stepped forward and took over.

“Then we’ll drive them on and see whatever price we can get. We’ll take any price including any price even lower than what you’re offering rather than give in to blackmail. You made a contract with us, and you’ll abide by it or we’re free to sell those cattle anywhere we want.”

“We’re not paying that price. We’re calling your bluff.”

Turning then, Adam called out to Hoss to get the drovers and tell them they were going to be working longer than three weeks. Then he turned back to the Dodge brothers. “You cancelled the contract with those words. We’re free to leave now. Good day to you, and good luck buying cattle from any other sellers. We’ll be sure to let everyone know that you don’t honor a contract.”

Suddenly not so sure of themselves, Gil and Jan looked at each other and nodded. Gil spoke first. “All right, we’ll pay the price in the contract.”

“We don’t have a contract. You’ll pay fifty cents higher than the price that was in the contract you nullified.”

“That’s not right. We had a deal.”

“We had a deal. That’s correct, but you broke the deal. You can pay one dollar higher than the price in the contract now.”

“Wait a minute. You said fifty cents a head more. Why is it a dollar more now?”

“Because you keep arguing with me, and I have the cattle. Now it’s two dollars more a head, and if you keep arguing the price will keep going up. Don’t worry too much. If you fatten them up, you’ll get that money back and a lot more selling that beef in the mining camps to all those men hungry for overpriced beef, but if you don’t take that offer now, the price will get higher and your profits will get lower. Deal?”

Once more looking at each other, the brothers nodded and then agreed to Adam’s offer. Their looks were furious though, and if they could have killed him there, it looked like they would have. Ben waited until the two brothers had gone to the bank to get the money.

“Son, that was a hell of a bluff to try to pull. I was ready to jump in there and make you stop until I saw them sweating. They needed those cattle as much as we needed to sell them. How did you know they would give in?”

“I didn’t. I wasn’t bluffing. I would have had us drive those cattle all the way home before I gave in to what they were demanding. Pa, if we let them do that, we would have to deal with that kind of thing potentially every time we made a deal to deliver cattle. I wasn’t going to let them set that kind of precedent.”

“Maybe I need to put you in charge of negotiating for the Ponderosa.” Ben was ready for Adam to say something like he wasn’t ready or that his father was much better at it or more experienced. He was surprised by the answer he got.

“I’d like that, Pa.”

Chapter 3

Once the Dodge brothers paid for the cattle, Adam and Hoss paid off the temporary drovers tossing in a bonus for each of them. The extra money they had gotten for the cattle they sold meant that they had some money they could use to reward those hands for a drive that had gone very well. Beej was last in line and asked to speak privately with Adam after being paid. Hoss rolled his eyes knowing that it was probably going to lead to some trouble for Adam later in the saloon, but Adam was too polite to dismiss the young drover.

“We can talk right here now that everyone has left.”

“You made two deadly enemies today. You need to watch your back until you’re a long way from Morgan Wells.”

“They don’t seem that dangerous.”

“Don’t let your damn confidence get in the way of some common sense. They’ll come at you when you don’t see them coming. Those two aren’t the kind to face you down. Neither one will call you out in the street. That’s why I said to watch your back.”

“You seem to know them very well.”

“I do. Now that’s all I had to say. I figured I owed you that much for all the trouble you had because of me. There is one more thing that possibly will add to the anger they have toward you. You paid me today and I paid the taxes on my family ranch. It’s a small ranch but they resent the fact that I have it. They’ve wanted it ever since I inherited it. If I couldn’t pay the taxes, they could have gotten it cheap. They may get it anyway next year, but at least for now, it’s mine. They won’t like that either, and although it was my doing, I worked for you.”

“Thank you for telling me all of that. I’ll keep it in mind. You are welcome to have a drink in the saloon with the other drovers who are done. My father and youngest brother are out with what’s left of the herd, but Hoss and I are buying drinks for the drovers who are done.”

“No thanks. I think I’ll head on home. Goodbye, Adam. I wish we could have been friends.”

Actually, Beej wished it could have been more, but wasn’t going to say that because it was clear that Adam was troubled enough already. Looking back, Beej saw Adam raise a hand to wave farewell and did the same. Some men at the saloon saw it too unfortunately. When Adam got to the saloon, he was greeted with some catcalls from men who had been drinking and didn’t know him well. His face got dark, and Hoss knew he had to get him out of there fast so he grabbed him, turned him, and pushed him out the door.

“Now, you get ahold of that temper of yours. I ain’t taking you back to the drive all stove up cause you got yourself into another dustup because of some stupid thing some no account drover said cause he already had something to drink and it loosened his tongue and put a damper on his common sense. You hear me?”

“I hear you, but if I go back in there, I’m liable to kill the bastard.”

“I know. How about if I stay here and buy one more round. You go get our horses fed and watered and ready to ride back to the herd? I can meet you in say an hour?”

“It takes an hour to buy one more round?”

“Well, no, but I was hoping to get a few more than that. It’s been three weeks since I had any beer. I can have three or so in an hour and still be fit to ride back with ya.”

“How many have you already had?”

“Oh, maybe two or so.”

Grinning and shaking his head at his younger brother’s appetite for beer, Adam nodded. “All right, an hour. I’ll meet you by the livery stable. I’ll treat the horses to some grain. They’ve worked hard too.”

“Good, I’ll see you in an hour.”

A little over an hour later, Hoss was at the livery stable and found his horse ready to go, but Adam and his horse were gone. Thinking that Adam was irritated because he was late and had left early, Hoss rode out to the herd alone. He put his horse in the remuda and as everyone except the nightherders seemed to be asleep, he rolled into his bedroll too. It was in the morning that he was awakened by his father shaking him and asking about his older brother who it seemed had never returned to the herd at all.

“His horse was gone. I figured he rode out here ahead of me. He wasn’t in the saloon, and that’s a small town. Wasn’t anything else open.”

“We’re going back there. Adam is missing and we’re going to find him.”

Many miles away, Adam was being roughly treated but not harmed. Gil and Jan Dodge had forced him to ride out into what amounted to desert south of town and in the opposite direction from the herd. After about six hours of travel through dry terrain, they had halted saying to each other that it was good enough especially because the wind was picking up making travel difficult blowing sand and dust about. They ordered Adam to dismount. He had little choice for they had disarmed him at gunpoint. It had been as Beej had warned. They had come up behind him with guns drawn, taken his pistol and rifle, and forced him to ride with them. If they had wanted to kill him outright, there had already been many chances so he was wondering what they were going to do.

“Take off your jacket and hat. Take off your boots.”

“What if I don’t want to do that?”

“We’ll make you do it. You’ll likely get hurt in the process reducing your chances of surviving this. You want to take that chance?”

“What is the ‘this’ that I’ll be taking a ‘chance’ on?”

“We’re going to see how tough you are. You acted so tough with all those men backing you up and with your father standing right beside you. Well, how tough are you when you’ve got nothing?”

That gave Adam a pretty fair idea of what they planned to do. He was out in barren land with no clear idea of which way to go to reach water or help. If he gave up his clothing and boots too, he was likely to last only a few days before the heat and sun killed him or predators got to him. It was only dawn and was already getting warm. He looked around and wondered how far he could run before they could catch him. There was nowhere to run. They had picked the spot well for their purposes. The two men laughed as they saw him evaluating his situation. He had no choice. He did as they told him to do and took off his coat and shirt. As he pulled off his boots, he slid his boot knife into the sand so it could not be seen. Then he tied his clothing to his saddle as they instructed as well. When he did so, he loosened the ties on his canteen hoping it would fall when they galloped away. He had to hope that perhaps they wouldn’t notice. When he stood in only his pants, the two men took the reins of his horse and led him away much as Adam had suspected they would at a gallop. He watched and the canteen did fall. When they were far enough away, he went to retrieve that. It and the knife were the only resources he had. He knew he needed to find shelter from the sun for the bulk of the day and he needed to find some protection for his feet. He found shelter about four hours later, but his feet were already blistered and cut by that time, and he had nothing to use to clean or bandage them. He needed the little water he had to survive. He fell asleep in the shade of some boulders with his knife in one hand and the canteen in the other. He must have slept very soundly because he never heard the rider approaching and was startled by the hand on his shoulder. Luckily the rider had put a boot across the knife before waking him.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to rescue your sorry behind. It seems you don’t take warnings well.”

“I did, but I guess I was careless. I never expected them to try something so out in the open.”

“They were waiting for you probably until the time was right.”

“How did you know where I was?”

“Gil and Jan stopped by my ranch to sell me a horse and saddle. Said they found this old nag wandering around out here apparently abandoned. Likely story. I knew what they did. I bought it. I don’t know what they did with your clothes. I backtracked them as well as I could and then looked around trying to guess which way you would have gone. This looked like the only likely place for shelter from the sun so I headed this way. Think you’re up to riding?”

“I can.”

“I wish I could do something for your feet but I’ve got nothing with me. I can wrap my handkerchief around one of them. That’s about all I’ve got.”

“Thank you, Beej. That would be appreciated.”

“Go ahead and drink the water in your canteen. I’ve got more with me. I’m surprised they left you with a canteen.”

So Adam explained how he still had the canteen and the knife. Beej was impressed with that, and that he had been smart enough to look for shelter first. Within a short time, they were headed back the way Beej had come. As they rode, Adam was thinking about things and had a question that gnawed at him until he had to ask.

“How do you know these two so well?”

Beej decided to tell the whole story. “I wish I didn’t. My father married their mother about ten years ago. I guess he was lonely and she seemed so nice. That is, she seemed real nice until they got married. Her true colors showed then, and her boys are worse. When my father got sick about six years ago, they circled like vultures waiting for him to die. Well the joke was on her. He had gotten her with child, and she died from a miscarriage before he died. She started bleeding and it never stopped. Now my father was able to make sure that his will gave me his original ranch even though I was the youngest and got the language written so that they couldn’t fight it. They inherited everything else of course being the legal oldest sons even if they were stepsons. Without their mother though, they aren’t nearly as dangerous as they would have been if she had lived. You bested them twice now so you can see that. The problem is they keep doing things to make it hard for me to make money on my ranch. Sooner or later, I’ll probably lose it to them anyway. My parents are buried on that ranch. I can’t bear the thought of it going to them.”

“What do you need to make a go of it?”

“I need a bigger herd and some cash coming in from cattle sales every year. Instead, I have to hire out every year just to pay the taxes and get enough money to buy my basic supplies. I can’t afford to hire regular hands. I only hire a few to send some cattle to market and I can ill afford to sell those.”

“Too bad you didn’t take your wages in cattle instead of cash at the end of this drive.”

“I would have really liked to do that, but I needed the cash more.”

There wasn’t much more to say, but Adam was swaying in the saddle from exhaustion. Beej told him it wasn’t much further and to concentrate on hanging on. He didn’t remember the last few miles very well as he did as instructed. He noticed though when the horses stopped moving. It was a relief. He slid from the saddle and Beej was there to offer a shoulder on which he could lean. Even exhausted as he was, he felt the same kind of feelings being so close but fought them down and followed instructions instead. Inside the small house, she guided him to a cot by the fireplace.

“There are two bedrooms but when it’s cold, I often sleep here. It will work well for you because I can heat the water to clean your feet, and it’s close to the kitchen too.”

“Thank you. It’s wonderful.”

After helping him get settled on the small cot and lean back into the two pillows at the end of it, Beej stood and stared at him. He looked up with a questioning gaze until Beej gave a deep sigh.

“There’s no way around this now. It’s a lot warmer here than in the Sierras and there’s no need to wear a coat and hat to protect myself against blowing sand or sunburn. I’m going to get comfortable, and you’re just going to have to get used to the idea.”

Beej began stripping off clothing and Adam wondered how far it was going to go after those comments. First the hat went sailing. Beej had long hair tied back but that wasn’t unusual among westerners. Then the coat and the sheepskin vest were discarded as well as the heavy chaps. When Beej stood there in a red plaid shirt and pants, there was one unmistakable fact that had Adam grinning in relief.

“Are you going to just lay there grinning like a silly fool?”

“Ah, yes, I think I might. There is one other thing though that I would like to do.” Adam put out his hand to her. She took it, and he pulled her down to sit on the bunk beside him. “Typically, I would like to thank a lady for everything she has done by doing this.” He reached up and cupped her cheek, pulled her close, and kissed her softly. “Thank you.”

Pulling back a little, Beej stared into those slightly hooded hazel eyes and knew she would be lost if she didn’t break this spell. She put her hand down to pull away and encountered his bare chest. She looked down at her hand that seemed to move of its own volition caressing that chest and the hair that was curly and surprisingly soft. She looked up and Adam said nothing. She leaned forward and kissed him, and that kiss was deeper and more passionate than the first. She knew she was lost but didn’t care. It was Adam who broke the spell for her.

“Perhaps we should stop now. We have only discovered some things about each other. Let’s not go too fast.”

Sitting back and a little embarrassed by her forwardness, Beej was going to stand and escape, but Adam pushed up on an elbow and wrapped an arm around her waist.

“I don’t mean to stop entirely. I only mean that we have plenty of time. Let’s get to know one another now that there are no more masks. What is your name for starters?”

“It is Beej. Well, my father called me that sometimes. It wasn’t as if Little Joe was the first to call me that. My name is Brenda J. Dodge. When I was little, Papa sometimes called me BJ. I think it was because he had no son. Then it was easier too to simply say Beej. So I’m all three.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you, and probably more pleased than you can know.”

“Oh, I think I suspected some of what bothered you, but I couldn’t tell you. You would have fired me.”

“Yes, I would have, but I would have missed you too. Now, how many times have you hired out as BJ?”

His response made Beej smile. “This was the fifth drive. I never hire out with the same group twice. It’s getting harder and harder to find new places for getting work. This was the first time I ever rode into Morgan Wells while acting as a man. I don’t think anyone here realized that was what I was doing though. I guess they thought that maybe you knew unless there was talk at the saloon.”

“There was.” Adam’s dark look let Beej know there had been more trouble for him because of it too.

“I’m sorry. In that case, Gil and Jan are going to know what I’ve been doing and how I’ve gotten money to hang onto the ranch.”

“We’ve got to find you a better plan. I’m good at planning, and I owe your stepbrothers now. I’m going to come up with a plan to help you and pay them back for what they did. First though, is there some way you can get word to my family about where I am? I’m afraid I can’t ride very well with the damage to my feet, and I don’t have any boots either.”

“Oh, my Lord, I forgot all about taking care of your feet. Yes, I’ll find a way to let your family know you’re here, but first I need to clean up those feet so you don’t get an infection.” With that Beej did get up and hurried to the kitchen to get the things she needed. Adam watched her and started formulating a plan.

Chapter 4

By the time Beej cleaned up Adam’s feet and bandaged them, it was already afternoon. “If you don’t mind me leaving you here alone, I ought to ride to town and see if your family is there looking for you. If not, I’ll ride out to the herd to tell them where you are. I’d rather not alert my stepbrothers that you’re alive and here though.”

“I would appreciate you doing that. They have to worried by now.”

“You can sleep while I’m gone. You must be tired. I’ll be back as soon as I can, but it might be late. There’s a shotgun over the fireplace there and a box of shells on the mantel. I’m sorry but that’s about all I can offer you in the way of self-defense. It should be enough though. No one knows you’re here.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine. Thank you for everything.”

Once more, Beej looked like a young cowhand with the hat, the vest and jacket, and the chaps. Adam was amazed at how the heavy clothing so effectively transformed her into looking like a male. She smiled at him.

“People see what they expect to see. If I dress like a man, they see a man even if a rather young looking boyish one. No one has ever said a thing to me indicating they had any suspicion that I was a woman. I think no man could even imagine a woman dressing like this and riding astride. It has worked to my advantage so far.”

As Beej left, Adam settled back into the pillows and relaxed. He felt better about so many things at that moment. Closing his eyes, he drifted off into the most untroubled sleep he had had in many weeks. He didn’t wake until hours later when he felt soft lips touching his and a cool gentle hand on his chest.

“You could have been killed if someone had snuck in here.”

“Like you said, no one knew I was here.”

“I found your family out searching for you.”

“How about another kiss before they get in here?” Adam slid an arm around her waist and pulled her down to kiss her quickly, but she pulled back as soon as he had kissed her. Gasps of surprise from the door were the reason why. She had heard the footsteps and knew that witnesses were there. Both Adam and Beej turned to see Hoss and Little Joe frozen in shock in the doorway. Then both turned in tandem and fled.

“Wait. It isn’t what it seems. Come back. Damn.” Adam was frustrated knowing what his brothers must be thinking. “Beej, please help me walk out there. I have to explain to them.” It took a few moments for Adam to stand on his feet, which were very painful, and to slowly make his way to the door and the small porch.

Before Adam could get outside, Hoss and Little Joe had gotten to their father and stood there not knowing what to say after what they had thought they had seen. Ben asked what was wrong, and Hoss could only shake his head. Little Joe was the one to speak and blurted it out.

“Pa, Adam kissed Beej. I mean, he really kissed him, right on the lips and everything.”

Shocked, Ben looked at Hoss. “You saw this too?”

Hoss could only nod. By then, Adam had reached the doorway and stepped onto the small porch. Clad only in his pants and with his arm around Beej’s shoulders, it looked bad and seemed to confirm the worst suspicions that anyone had. The hands, who had come along to help search, looked away, but Adam called out to everyone.

“It’s not what it seems. Pa, Hoss, Little Joe, come on inside, please. Everyone needs to just calm down and come on over here.”

With no idea what to expect but trusting his eldest son, Ben dismounted and walked to the house. Hoss and Little Joe didn’t want to come with him but did when he commanded them to do so. Inside, Beej had a smile and was already shedding the extra clothing. Adam slowly made his way to the cot and sat down heavily. Ben had a similar reaction to Adam’s when he saw Beej without all the heavy outer clothing. He turned to Adam with a shocked look.

“When did you know?”

“A few hours ago. Beej rescued me in the desert and brought me here. It seems that Gil and Jan Dodge were somewhat unhappy about the deal I gave them and decided that I deserved to die in the desert because of it. They stranded me out there like this. If Beej hadn’t found me, my odds of surviving wouldn’t have been very good. My feet are a mess and that was only after a few hours.”

Because his father and brothers had questions, Adam told the story then from the beginning and with all the details. Ben wanted them arrested immediately, but Adam calmly asked who he was going to get to do that.

“Pa, go ahead with the herd and deliver the cattle as they were promised and sell the rest. I have one request. I want my wages for the drive in cattle, please.”

“You want your wages in cattle?”

“Yes, and deliver them here. I want to give them to Beej for saving my life.”

It was Beej’s turn to be shocked. “Adam, you don’t need to do that.”

“I know, but I want to do that. It’s part of my revenge on your two stepbrothers. You will have a way to make money and keep this ranch. The other part is that Pa is going to send a marshal down here when he gets a chance.” Looking at his father with that silent question, Adam got a nod from his father. He continued then. “I’ll provide enough evidence that the two of them can be arrested. They may not get much time locked up because I wasn’t hurt, but at least they’ll get punished. They took my horse and out here, that should mean some time behind bars. Even if they get six months or a year, it will be enough time for the people around here to assert themselves and take away the power those two have gotten.”

A bit amused at how Adam was taking charge of the situation and his righteous indignation at what had happened, Ben asked if there was anything else.

“Yes, I feel a bit underdressed.” Hoss and Little Joe snickered at that especially because Adam was half dressed and there was a woman in the room. “I have extra clothing in the supply wagon, but I’ll need boots, a coat, and a gunbelt too. Can you take care of that for me?”

“I’ll send Hoss with those things tomorrow. It’s a little late to make the round trip today. Anything else?”

Suddenly remembering his manners, Adam turned to Beej. “I have been remiss. Is it all right if I stay here until I can ride again? I should have asked you first, and I apologize for not doing that.”

“Thank you for asking. Yes, you can stay. It will be nice having someone around for a few days.”

“Adam, I don’t feel comfortable leaving you here alone. I want one of the hands at least to stay with you. The two of you can ride back together when you feel up to it and this is all settled.”

“Thanks, Pa. Maybe you could go outside and explain things to the ones who rode here with you. I find walking a bit difficult right now.”

“Of course, I can do that. They must have overheard what Little Joe said so they’re going to need that explanation.”

“Mister Cartwright, it will probably go a lot faster if I go out there with you.”

Ben smiled at Beej. “Yes, it certainly will.”

After Ben and Beej had left, Hoss and Little Joe turned to stare at Adam. Hoss was the first to speak. “I don’t care what I know now. I don’t think I can ever forget what I thought I saw. That is forever gonna be stamped on my brain. How does a man ever get something like that outta his head?”

“You don’t have to. Beej is Brenda. That’s all you have to know. I was kissing a woman.”

“Yeah, I know, but, well, it still seems weird cause all that time, I thought he, well, that she wasn’t, so now to know that he, no, she isn’t a he, but she is a she, well it’s just dadblamed confusing is all.”

“No, before it was confusing. Now it is as clear as can be.” It would be a long time before Hoss understood what Adam meant by that too.

It took a few days before Adam was able to walk comfortably. Even then, his feet were sore if he spent too much time without resting them. He would take his boots off after a few hours of working, and Brenda would check the bandages to be sure that there was nothing going wrong. He and the hand who stayed behind to help worked with Brenda to repair the corrals and the stable as well as the small bunkhouse. When fifty head of prime Ponderosa cattle were delivered, Brenda almost cried. Ben had sent enough to pay Adam’s wages but sent more to show his gratitude to her for saving his son’s life. With the cattle she had, it would allow her to sell enough in the spring to pay expenses and her taxes. She could slowly begin to build up her herd too. Adam told her that he thought she could manage with one employee for the time being but should look at hiring one more the following year. After a week, a U.S. Marshal arrived and wanted to hear the whole story as well as whatever evidence they had. The horse with his saddle was a good bit of evidence as well as Adam’s statement. Adam described his gunbelt and pistol. He said the hand who was staying there thought that one of the Dodge brothers was wearing it because he had seen it when he had gone to town for supplies.

“My name is burned into the leather on the inside of the belt. If it’s mine, there will be no question, and if you have that, no jury will have any questions either.”

“How do you propose I get a look at that gunbelt if he’s wearing it.”

“You come to town with me tomorrow, and you’ll get to see it. I can pretty much guarantee that.”

Brenda was worried though. “Adam, what are you planning to do?”

“It will be better if it’s a surprise. Trust me.”

Neither she nor the marshal had much choice in the matter because Adam was done talking. The next day when they got to town, he told them to find the two men and engage them in conversation in the street but to back off once he got there.

“I’m going to come around from behind them so they get a big surprise. They don’t know I’m alive. When they hear my voice, that will be their first shock. I plan to give them another one.”

“Adam, what are you planning to do?”

“Your stepbrothers are cowards. I’m going to prove it in front of the whole town, and I’m going to get evidence to prove their guilt to a jury at the same time.”

They didn’t know yet what he planned but Brenda worried that he was going to be playing a dangerous game. He was, but he guessed that two men who couldn’t kill him outright but had to try to let the desert do it for them weren’t going to actually carry out any threats to have a fair fight with him in the street with so many watching. Once he saw Brenda and the marshal stop the two and talk with them, he walked up the street until he was about twenty feet behind them and gave them a huge shock.

“Gil and Jan Dodge, I’m calling you out here and now.” He saw the two men freeze. “You left me to die in the desert. I ought to shoot you down like mad dogs right now, but I’ll give you a chance. Heck, it’s even a fairly good chance. Two of you against me.”

Adam saw each man look back over a shoulder at him. Shocked to see him alive, they knew they didn’t stand a chance fighting him either. If they turned to fight, they were going to die. Both men unbuckled their gunbelts and let them drop. Jan spoke for the pair.

“We’re not armed, and there’s a U.S. Marshal right here. If you shoot us, you’ll hang.”

With a bit of a smile, Adam had a request. “Marshal, do you want to take charge of those gunbelts before I shoot these two in cold blood?”

With a flourish, the marshal picked up the gunbelts and looked at each one. He raised one in triumph. “It’s here. Your name is burned into the leather. I don’t think there’s a jury in the state that wouldn’t convict them now.” Turning to the two brothers, the marshal put them under arrest and handcuffed them. He led them away. A week later, they were headed to the state prison to serve one year.

Brenda had walked up to Adam that day though with a mixture of anger and pride. “I can’t believe you did that. You didn’t know they wouldn’t turn and fight you. You could have been killed.”

“I knew.”

With that, Brenda had turned away from him and hadn’t spoken to him until they had returned to the ranch. In the house, she had put supplies away and then had walked up to him, wrapped her arms around his neck, and pulled him to her in a passionate kiss. “I don’t want to think of a world that doesn’t have you in it.” She had taken his hand then and led him to her bedroom. For the first time in her life, Brenda Dodge had taken a lover. As bold as she was at first, Adam didn’t know that. Later, he was willing to stop, but she told him she wanted him. He couldn’t stop when she said that. He did say that he couldn’t make any promises to her.

“I didn’t ask you for any.”

They made love then, and again many times as they enjoyed the tenderness of young love. Brenda discovered that he had that soft curly hair in other places besides his chest. A week later, Adam prepared to leave. He and Brenda had talked. She was committed to saving her family ranch and making it prosper. Adam was committed to the Ponderosa and helping his father with his dream. The distance between them was too far to maintain a relationship. The only alternative was to say goodbye. Their last conversation left a bittersweet aftertaste. Adam kissed her gently and wrapped his arms around her as they stood looking out over her expanded herd. “Why do I get the feeling you’re about to tell me something that I don’t want to hear?”

“I think you know what it is and you would tell me the same. If I asked, would you go with me to the Ponderosa?”

“I can’t, Adam. This ranch is my father’s dream. He’s buried here and so is Mama. I can’t just leave them, especially now that I’m finally seeing that I might make the dream come true.”

“That’s what I thought. And I have to help my father build his dream. I’m committed to the Ponderosa. My brothers are still too young to take over the responsibilities of running the ranch with my father. I made a promise to Inger to watch over Hoss, and Little Joe still needs me too. I have to go home.”

“I’ll never forget you, Adam. You gave me back so much that I thought I had lost. You have given me hope too. If I write, will you write back?”

“Of course I will. We may live too far apart to do anything else, but we can maintain our friendship that way. I’ll not forget you either. You saved my life although you were rather mean to me.”

“No, my brothers were mean to you.”

“The torture you put me through on that cattle drive was worse than anything that they did trying to let the desert kill me. Of course, since then, you have been very nice.”

That did get her to grin and Adam did his full grin in response. The two of them found that they communicated so easily. Adam knew he was going to miss that. When Adam leaned down to kiss her again, she wrapped her arms around him kissing him more passionately than he had intended, and it was as if she wanted to imprint on her mind and body a memory to hold forever. When they broke apart for the last time, they promised to never forget. They left it at that saying nothing else about the future. Then a short time later, Adam and the Ponderosa hand mounted up and left for home.

There had been letters over the years as Brenda kept her promise as Adam kept his. The letters had dwindled to about one or two a year but never stopped. Now Adam had received one that seemed to be asking him to come see her if he was reading between the lines correctly. She mentioned more than once how alone she felt. He had felt that way in the renegade camp. He decided he would take a trip to see her. Hoss sat by his side and told him he was doing the right thing.

“It’s what a friend would do.”

Chapter 5

Despite Ben’s objections that he didn’t think it was such a good idea for Adam to go off on his own so soon, Adam went with Hoss’ endorsement thinking that his brother probably knew him better in some ways than his father did. Ben Cartwright was always going to be a father first to his sons. Hoss was a man too, and understood Adam as a man as well as a brother so he knew what it meant to have regrets and a need to go face some of them. Joe was still a bit young to understand that kind of thing so he mostly stayed out of the whole discussion and wished Adam well when he was getting ready to go. He told him to hurry back though.

“Adam, we’re going to do our best with Pa, but if you take too long in Morgan Wells, he’s probably going to go riding after you, and well, you know that could be embarrassing for you

especially at your advanced age.”

Taking a mock swing at his youngest brother for that crack, Adam agreed he wouldn’t take too long or he would send a telegram letting them know what he was doing. That piqued his father’s curiosity.

“What you are doing? Is there something else you might do besides come back here after seeing Brenda?”

“It’s possible, Pa. I don’t know, but as long as I’m already in California, I might go a bit further before I come back. Don’t worry so much. Remember, I promised you I would always come home.”

“We’re counting on your help with the fall drive. We didn’t do much of a drive this spring, and after the small one last fall, we need to do a big drive this fall.”

“Yes, Pa, I know. I promise to be back for the fall drive.”

On the ride to California, Adam stuck to the main roads and stayed in towns and way stations at night. He had to admit to himself that he was uneasy being out alone after what had happened, but he needed to do it or he would probably feel that way forever. The further he traveled without incident, the more he relaxed. When he got to Morgan Wells, he was surprised to see that the town had changed very little. It was somewhat larger, and there was a second saloon and a new restaurant which were nice additions, but overall, not much had changed. He took the road toward the Dodge Ranch. As he neared it, he noticed that a lot had changed. There were fences in good repair that hadn’t even been there earlier, cowhands working with herds of cattle, and hay barns in the distance. When he reached the crest of the hill that overlooked the ranch, he got an even bigger surprise. Modest by nature, Brenda had never mentioned that she had built herself a nice new home that was quite impressive. The old ranchhouse was still there and obviously in use by the evidence of smoke coming from the chimney, but the whole place was dominated by the fine house sitting slightly up the hill from the rest of the buildings. There was a fine new stable as well as numerous corrals. Men were moving about busy at work. Smiling, Adam rode down the hill in the direction of the house only to be stopped in the middle of the yard at rifle point by several men. He was ordered to dismount.

In the house, Brenda looked out to see what the commotion was for she had heard a few loud commands. When she did, her heart began to beat faster. He was dressed in all black and he was heavier, but that fluid dismount could be no one else. She stood so quickly that the room spun for a moment and she had to grab the side of the desk to steady herself. Then with heart racing, she did her best to walk calmly to the front door and outside. Once she was on the porch, her first look at him confirmed what she already knew. He had read her letter and come to see her. She called down to her foreman who had gone to check out the stranger who had arrived unannounced.

“Chambers, it’s all right. I know him. You can let him walk up here. Have someone take care of his horse for him, please.”

When Adam reached the porch and climbed the steps, Brenda put out her hand for Adam to take it. He did as he smiled. “We are being formal, aren’t we?”

“Let’s step inside, cowboy, and I’ll greet you less formally.” Brenda said it as if she was being the respectable owner of the ranch, but the wicked gleam in her eye said she only wanted the privacy of her home.

Adam nodded fully understanding the unspoken communication. He bowed slightly and inclined his head toward the door. “After you, Miss Dodge, for I do think some privacy would be nice.”

Once inside the door, Adam removed his hat and then stepped close to Brenda. He put a hand to her cheek. “I wasn’t sure how you would respond to me after nearly ten years. I know you wrote and that we would still be friends, but as for anything more, I didn’t know, but I did hope to see this smile I could remember so well.”

“I missed you.”

“I missed you too. I’ve never seen you in a dress before though. You look beautiful in a dress. It must make riding difficult for you though.”

Brenda’s whole demeanor changed then. “I can’t ride right now. A fever went through the town. I got sick, and ever since I got over it, I get these dizzy spells. I’m afraid to be on a horse. I never know when they’re going to hit. If I was riding when it happened, it would be bad.”

“Is it falling sickness?”

“I saw a doctor. He wasn’t sure. He thought maybe it was.”

“You should go see doctors in San Francisco to get a better answer than maybe.”

“What if the answer is yes.”

“Now the Brenda I know wouldn’t be afraid to find out.” Leaning down, Adam kissed her then brushing his lips softly across hers before slowly claiming her lips with his and then pressing his lips against hers until she yielded into a passionate kiss. His hands slid from her shoulders down her back and up again pressing her to him. The kiss and the caresses were probably the best things he could have done. For him to know what he knew and to find her still desirable did more for her than any doctor or months of recuperation could have done. A tear slid from one eye and down her cheek. Adam noticed and brushed it away with his thumb. “What’s that for? You do want me to kiss you, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do. You have no idea how much I want you to kiss me.”

There might have been quite a bit more kissing then except there was a knock on the door. Brenda answered it to find a hand had brought Adam’s saddlebags and rifle. She thanked him and then took a good look at Adam. “I suppose I should have offered you a chance to freshen up before throwing myself at you. I’ll do that now. Would you like a chance to clean up and perhaps change into some clean clothing? Then I can show you around the place and you can see all the things that are new since you were here last.”

After taking her up on that offer, Adam came down the stairs dressed in the clean clothes he had kept in his saddlebags. He had brushed his boots as well as he could, and he had also cleaned up with the pitchers of water she had her cook bring up to the guest room. He did feel much better and smiled when he saw her. She titled her head and smiled in acknowledgement before the two of them took a walking tour of the ranch ending up on the hill behind the new house by the tree where her parents were buried. There was a new grave there that Adam had not seen on his first visit. After seeing the dates and the name, he looked pointedly at her.

“He wasn’t yours even if I named him after you. I think I was trying to find a substitute for you when you left. I was even more lonely after you left, and I got involved with the man I hired to work here.”

“Why didn’t you tell me how you felt?”

“Would it have made a difference? Would you have stayed here with me and made a life with me building this ranch and making your own way separate from your father’s dream?”

Rubbing the back of his neck, Adam wasn’t sure so he told her that.

“I was fairly sure. I didn’t think it would have made a difference because everything you told me was logical and sensible, and you loved your family. I don’t think you would have traded them for what we had after only a couple of weeks. If I had told you I loved you, it might have made you feel more guilty about leaving though. You might have had more regret, and what would have been the point of that. There was nothing that was going to change anything. It wasn’t going to work out then and we both knew it.”

“I knew it then, I suppose, but maybe if you had told me it would have shaken some of that surety. Sometimes now I think something should have shaken that from me at some point and made me look more at what I was doing. But again, I’ve already said I have a lot of regrets. Now what happened with that man?”

“He left me after a few months when he found out I was with child. It shows what kind of man he was. I was happy though. I wanted a child, and by then, I knew I didn’t want him.”

“What happened? I mean, that he died so young.”

“My little Adam was born too soon. He never was able to breathe easy. He was making it though until he got sick. He couldn’t fight it. You know how hard it is to breathe when you get a bad cold. He was already like that and a bad cold made it impossible. He was a happy child for the short time he was here. He made me happy, but I knew it wouldn’t be for very long.”

“There was never anyone else?”

Brenda could only shake her head before looking at Adam. “And what about you? I thought you would find someone, but you never mentioned anyone either.”

“It almost happened for me a few times, but somehow fate always intervened to make it impossible. Just like with you all those years ago, it seemed there was always something that made it not work out.”

“You sound like a man with a lot of regrets. What brought this on?”

So Adam gave her a brief summary of what had happened to him beginning with his capture by the renegades and continuing with him being forced to guide them through the mountains and being held by them from the early fall until the spring of the following year when the Army finally apprehended the band. “You say I have a lot of regrets, and that’s true. I talked with Hoss before I left and that’s how we discussed it too. I’ve done things I wish I hadn’t. Most of those can’t be undone. Some I can revisit.”

“Am I one of those?”

“Yes, in a way, you are, but it wasn’t the main reason for coming here. You sounded lonely and alone. I’m your friend. I wanted to come here to help you if I could. I wanted to be more of a friend than I have been and help you.”

“You helped me by being here today. When I saw you getting off that horse, I felt better already than I had in a long time. To know that you cared enough to be here no matter what your reason was did me a lot of good. I had been looking forward to getting a letter from you. I needed something to lift my spirits and a letter from you always does that. Then I got you here in person instead which was so much better. Thank you.”

“I did enjoy the greeting I got. I think the pleasure was mine too.”

Shaking her head at the grin he had given her with that, Brenda had to smile in return. “You never do change. Now, let’s walk down to see if dinner is ready. I asked for it to be served on the back porch. It’s very nice there in the evening, and we can relax and talk more.”

Dinner was a time to catch up on all the things that they had never been able to discuss in letters. Brenda probed until Adam explained more about his failed romances explaining what went wrong with Regina, Ruth, Ann, and others and how Sue Ellen had been killed and he had ended up in jail charged with her murder.

“In jail? You? I can’t imagine anyone believing you could commit a crime.”

“Oh, it wasn’t the only time.” So Adam entertained her with a few more stories of how he ended up behind bars for a time but he kept the stories light-hearted and funny and not at all as serious as the situations had actually been. Brenda laughed or chuckled at his storytelling, and that only encouraged him more.

“This has been so much fun, Adam, but it is getting so late. I can barely keep my eyes open even though I am delighted to hear these stories. You are such a gifted storyteller. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun. I do hope you’ve saved a few stories for tomorrow. You are going to be staying tomorrow, aren’t you? Now that you’re here, I’d like you to stay a while if you would.”

“I can stay for a while. I have nothing pressing at home at the moment.”

They stood then and Adam moved close to Brenda but she cautioned him. “No, not here. We have men who patrol at night. I’ve had too many of my breeding bulls and my horses taken at night so I asked that the foreman set a night watch. We could be seen. Let’s go inside.”

Standing, Adam offered his hand to Brenda and when she took it, he guided her into the house as a gentleman would but with a grin and a gleam in his eye that no gentleman would have had, and his intentions were to do something less than gentlemanly as soon as he got her inside the door where it was private.

Chapter 6

Once inside, Brenda did kiss Adam, but it wasn’t with the passion she had shown earlier. Adam assumed she was tired. He was too. They locked the doors and headed to their bedrooms. Adam stripped off his clothing and had nothing else to wear so he slid under the covers au naturel. He was comfortable though and the sheets were nice and cool. As he thought back over the meeting with Brenda and how the rest of the day had gone, he couldn’t help smiling because it had gone as well as he could have hoped. Their friendship was intact and as strong as ever. He had not lost it due to inattention. It was one less regret he had to carry. He thought back over their conversations remembering all that she had said and knowing the burdens that she had carried and never mentioned to him. He wanted to be a better friend to her in the future so that she could confide in him more freely when there was something troubling her. He wondered then about her reaction when they had come into the house and if that had been a signal that something was troubling her. The more he thought about it, the more he thought perhaps it was. He got out of bed and pulled on his pants. He knew she might already be sleeping, but if she wasn’t, then he was probably correct in his assessment of the situation. He didn’t knock but stopped outside her door and said her name softly assuming correctly that if she was awake, she would hear him. A moment later, the door opened.

“Adam, is there something wrong? Do you need something?”

“No, but the more I thought about you, the more I wondered if you did. Are you all right, or do you need a friend about now?”

“It’s not exactly a friend I was looking for.”

Stepping into her bedroom, Adam wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. She rested her head against his chest so that he couldn’t kiss her.

“Do you want to tell me what’s wrong?”

Brenda paused, and Adam could feel her take a deep breath before continuing. “No, but I should. Before, when we were talking, I lied to you.”

With a caution to himself to keep control of his emotions, he asked a question he dreaded asking but had to ask. “About your baby?”

That question surprised Brenda and with the ensuing conversation actually helped her get her emotions a little better under control. “Oh, God, no, I would never lie about something like that. Geez, Adam, what kind of women have you known. That would be terrible. I told you I would have told you if I was carrying your child. Heck, I would have been thrilled if it was your child. I told you the truth when I said I named him for you because you were the most honorable man other than my father I had ever met.”

“You didn’t say though why you didn’t name him after your father. That would have seemed to be more logical.”

Feeling her chuckle as much as hearing it, Adam had to wonder what was so funny. “Adam, my father told me once that if I ever named a child after him, he’d bury his boot in my behind, and I do believe he meant it even if my mother nearly passed out hearing him say it. My father’s name was Zebulon. He never liked his name. He would have loved to have a name like yours. A good solid manly name.”

That made Adam feel rather good about things except he was still concerned about what she had lied about to him so he asked that once more. He waited patiently for her answer and knew she was struggling with telling him the truth because she didn’t want to look at him when she spoke. He said nothing allowing her to find the words to tell him what she had to tell him.

“When I said I wasn’t in love with you when you left, that was a lie. I wanted to go with you so much, but I couldn’t, and I wasn’t positive you wanted me to go with you anyway. I didn’t think you loved me the way I had fallen in love with you.”

There wasn’t much that Adam could say to that because she was correct in her assessment. He had to be honest though so he had to tell her what he could and try to do it without hurting her. “At that time, I wasn’t ready to fall in love with anyone. For a long time now, I don’t think I was ready to fall in love with anyone. I criticized my youngest brother for his frequent infatuations but now I think perhaps I was doing something much the same even if less often. When it got to the point of having to make that extra effort, of having to try that much harder, I didn’t do it. It was easier not to be married and be responsible for another person.”

“Is that different now?”

“Yes, it is. In those mountains, forced to lie for hours by myself, I had quite a lot of time to think every day for months, and I worked out a lot of issues that way, and this is one of them. I don’t want to be alone. I want to give my heart to another. I want to have someone to love. I’m ready now. I’m not in love with you, but if you’ll give me the chance, I would like to see what happens. That is, if you’re interested in taking a chance on me.”

“Oh, Adam, you told me about how every time you found a woman who loved you or whom you loved, fate stepped in and made it all wrong.”

“Yes, that happened, but what does that have to do with us and a possible future we could have?”

“I have falling sickness. Who knows what’s going to happen to me next. What would your family say if they found out that I had it, and what would people in Virginia City, your friends say if they found out that I had it.”

“You don’t know that’s what you have, and even if you do, many people live a long time with it. You would have to take precautions. You already have. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a nearly normal life. But first I think you need to get an answer as to what is causing these symptoms. Do you have time to take a trip?”

“A trip?”

“Yes, I wanted to go to San Francisco while I was in California, and going with you would be a lot more fun than going alone. While we’re there, we could have you see the best doctors in the west. If anyone could tell you what’s wrong, they could.”

“I don’t know if I want to do that.”

“Are you afraid of the answer?”

“No!” That got her to back away from him. She was upset but he liked to see the fire back in her. “It’s that then I don’t have the option to say maybe. Then it that will be that. My hopes of any kind of a normal life all shot to hell because I had a fever and it did something to me.”

“You don’t know that, and I didn’t know you were a quitter.”

“I’m not a quitter. I’m only being honest.”

“Do you trust me?”

Startled by the abrupt turn in the conversation, Brenda had no answer at first. She took a deep breath and answered honestly. “Yes, I trust you.”

“Then you know that what I tell you is the truth. Nothing like that would ever affect how I feel. That isn’t who you are. I came to see you to help you because you needed a friend, and because I regretted walking away from you all those years ago and never coming back. I’m back now. I want to see what’s going to happen between us. We’re older now. We’ve had a lot happen since we first met. I can’t make any predictions, but I can tell you this. Falling sickness or any other thing like it is of no importance to me. That isn’t part of your heart and soul and mind and that’s who you are. That’s the you I came to see.”

For a moment Brenda digested that information but then began to chuckle again and moved back closer to Adam. She ran her hands across his chest sending some definite signals to his body. “And here I thought by the way you greeted me today that there was another part of me you came to see.”

Grabbing her wrists before they roamed any further, Adam shook his head. She could see that even in the moonlight that lit the bedroom. “None of that until we make more of a commitment to each other. I’m afraid after all we’ve said here tonight that doing any more than kissing could only complicate things until then.”

Becoming serious once more, Brenda agreed. “Could we kiss at least?”

At the bottom of the stairs, Missus Saunders, the cook, had heard enough. She had been worried hearing what seemed to be an argument, but what she had heard had reassured her immensely. She had seen more spirit in Miss Brenda since this Adam Cartwright had arrived than she had seen in her in years. She had slowly been beaten down it seemed, but he had pulled her up quite a lot in a very short time. She heard them talking of perhaps falling in love. She thought them quite foolish. Form her perspective, they certainly seemed that they were already in love. She thought any darn fool ought to be able to tell. She had wondered over the past few years about the mysterious letters that arrived and made Brenda so happy for a time. She had always thought that somehow whoever sent those letters was in her employer’s heart. Now she knew he was. The two were so guarded with their hearts though, they didn’t even know what they felt. She knew she was going to sleep better however knowing that Miss Brenda finally had a gentleman who appreciated her and was going to take care of her and respect her too. She guessed that things were going to get very interesting around the Dodge ranch in the next week or so. If Brenda took that trip to San Francisco, then it could get very interesting. Before breakfast the next morning, Missus Saunders thought that she ought to have a quick conversation with the Chambers. Those two would help her push Brenda in the right direction.

Upstairs, Adam was regretting saying no to Brenda’s offer or at least what she had implied that she was offering. It had been a long time since he had been with a woman, and this was a woman he wanted to be with very much. As he became more amorous though pulling her to him and kissing her deeply, Brenda pulled back reminding him of the very argument he had made and how logical it was. He sighed and agreed even if his body was arguing against his decision.

“I should go back to my bedroom then before I do my best to change your mind and mine.”

Both Adam and Brenda were a bit disappointed when Adam retreated and closed that door, but there were no regrets for they had agreed to give each other time at least even if the trip to San Francisco wasn’t settled. The issue came up at breakfast and was quickly resolved though leaving Adam grinning. Chambers, the foreman, apparently had breakfast every morning with Brenda so they could talk over ranch business, work assignments, and plans for the ranch. Adam learned that he was married and was living in the old ranch house. It worked out very well for him and his wife. Their son worked on the ranch as well and lived with them. There were a dozen other men working on the ranch full time and living in the bunkhouse. Chambers got to eat a fine breakfast with Brenda each morning and then had a nice lunch and a dinner with his wife each day. Most days, Missus Saunders provided a hearty lunch and dinner for the men but they were on their own for breakfast so it was often beans and bacon with any bread left over from dinner the previous day. Chambers was smiling and enjoying his meal when Adam mentioned the trip to San Francisco. He perked up immediately.

“You planning to head on over that way?”

“I was.”

“I been telling Brenda she oughta go on over there and get to know some of the men in the stockyards and such to see if we could work out a better deal for our cattle. You know, hold them here until the market is right, and then bring ’em on in. If we knew when they really needed them and had a broker we could trust, we could all make a lot more money on ’em.”

“Hmm, Brenda never mentioned anything like that to me.”

Brenda had a sudden interest in biscuits and preserves instead of conversation.

“Nah, she probably wouldn’t. Can’t seem to pry her away from this ranch no how. Maybe you can do it.”

Looking over at Brenda who refused to meet his gaze and seemed to have an inordinate interest in her biscuit and preserves, Adam nodded. “Yes, perhaps I can convince her to take a little trip to San Francisco with me seeing as how she has such a good reason to go there.” He gave her a look then that let her know they would be talking about that later. Now that there was a cover story of going to San Francisco for business reasons, there was no excuse for her not to go and consult with the doctors there about her symptoms.

The rest of the conversation with Chambers was filled with mundane things until he took his leave to give the men their tasks for the day. When he left, Adam was quiet but looked pointedly at Brenda until she had to say something.

“To be fair, nothing like that ever came up in conversation.”

“Oh, a trip to San Francisco never came up in conversation?”

“Not in that context.”

“You need to go.”

“I know.”

“When can we leave?”

With a sigh, Brenda conceded because she knew she should and had no logical reason not to give in. “I’d like some time to work out a plan with Chambers for what will be done while I’m gone. I’ll have to give him some legal authority too so I’ll need to see my lawyer about that. Let’s say a week?”

“A week is good. We can spend some time together here getting to know one another better too before we travel together. I should probably get some more clothing sent ahead. I’ll wire home and have them send more of my things ahead for me, and I’ll make reservations for us. Is that all right? I’m not overstepping, am I?”

“No, that’s fine. You have more experience with that. I’ll pay for my rooms and travel expenses though.”

“Fair enough. Any special requests?”

“Yes, I hate stagecoaches. Can we avoid those?”

“We’ll have to take a carriage to the nearest railroad then.”

“I don’t mind. I have a nice carriage.

Adam rather looked forward to a carriage ride over a stagecoach ride. The time to be together would be nice. He agreed.

Chapter 7

In the kitchen, Missus Saunders listened and smiled. Brenda and her friend Adam sounded like a married couple already talking through things like that trip like they did. She listened in on more conversations during the week as she prepared meals and served them, and a few times as voices were raised as the two disagreed and didn’t seem at all inclined to hold back with each other. She had wondered if there was going to be more intimacy between them but by the way the floors creaked at night above her, each of them was in their separate bedrooms. She did wonder how long that would last once they were traveling together and spending so much time so close to one another every day. She would have been very surprised. There was quite a bit of teasing and it started almost immediately with their carriage ride to the next town, but both had said they would not become fully intimate until they could give the other a declaration of love. Brenda was ready to do that almost immediately but sensed that Adam needed to work through the whole thing in his mind first. She had decided years earlier that he was the one who had stolen her heart. She was lost that first time and knew it. Adam needed more time. That didn’t mean though that she didn’t try to hurry him along just a bit.

As Adam drove the carriage, Brenda rested a hand on his leg moving it ever so innocently or so she tried to maintain the illusion as they carried on a conversation. She felt him react to each movement and sometimes she felt his leg tremble with her touch. Saying nothing though, he continued their conversation as if there was no warm hand on his leg and that it never strayed near his privates when the carriage went over a bump in the road and Brenda rocked back in the seat. She always slid her hand forward again and made some comment about the rocky road even as he took deep breaths and seemed to be trying to manage his rate of breathing for some time after each of those incidents.

After two hours of travel, they stopped to water the horses and rest them, and then did so again two hours later for a longer rest as they spread out a picnic lunch and let the horses rest in the shade. Once they had eaten their lunch, Brenda lay back on the blanket and Adam stretched out beside her laying on his side. He reached an arm around her and began to kiss her which was what she wanted anyway. Then he began to touch her gently and caress her softly doing just about everything he could do short of undressing her and making love to her. She was getting close to asking him to do just that when he abruptly stood and announced it was time to go.

“What the heck do you mean by that? Were you teasing me with all of that attention?” All she got was a sardonic look, and then she knew. She glared at him. “If you didn’t like it, you could have told me.”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like it. Perhaps I merely thought that if you enjoyed that so much, I would offer you the same.”

“All right. Truce?”

Extending a hand, Adam pulled her up to him and into an embrace. They kissed and held each other until Adam leaned back a little. “Teasing should only be employed if you plan to finish what you started. It’s not the teasing that I minded. It was that it was only meant to make me frustrated. I didn’t like that.”

Very close to blurting out that she loved him, Brenda held back knowing that it was premature. It seemed that Adam sensed what was on her mind.

“Let’s see how the rest of the trip goes. We’re doing well together.” She didn’t know that he was very close too to wanting to tell her that he loved her, but he had declared his love too soon too in the past. He wanted to be sure this time. In his heart, he wondered if he knew when he decided to visit Brenda that he wanted to fall in love with her all over again but in a more mature way than he had the first time. It didn’t matter because he had. As soon as he was more sure of himself, he was going to tell her.

It took them about five days of leisurely travel to reach San Francisco. With boundaries set for their conduct with each other, they were able to enjoy the sights of each city along the way as well as the riverboat ride into the San Francisco harbor. In the city, Adam introduced Brenda to a number of his friends in the cattle business as well as some in the banking and investment businesses. Each man or couple who met her with Adam wondered afterwards when the two would be getting married, but Adam said nothing about that to anyone, and they kept separate suites in the hotel. After about a week of meeting businessmen and attending social gatherings as well as the theater with Adam, Brenda was more sure than ever that she wanted to tell Adam that she loved him until he reminded her of the problem that lurked in the shadows of her mind and made her hold back.

“When can we go see the doctors about your symptoms?”

“Adam, I’ve hardly had any problems at all since we left my ranch.”

“Yes, Brenda, I know that there have been only a few problems, but sweetheart, there have still been symptoms. Whatever it is, it’s not gone. You deserve an answer. You will fear it less if you know what it is. You must know by now that my feelings for now will not be affected by any diagnosis.”

“I know.” She said it, but she wasn’t as sure of the answer as she seemed. Adam sensed the indecision but chose to ignore it.

“Then can we go see a doctor tomorrow?”

The problem that Brenda had with Adam was that he expected logical and sensible reasons for answers to questions like that. She wanted to say no, but she had no good reason other than she didn’t want to end their wonderful time together. She was afraid that the atmosphere would be poisoned by bad news, and the fun they were having would end. She couldn’t say that of course so she had to agree to see the doctor. It changed her mood though. She sat down heavily on the settee in her suite. Adam sat beside her and pulled her into his arms saying nothing but understanding. She loved him even more for that.

The next morning, Adam took her to see a doctor that he knew, and she spent quite a bit of time talking with him about what she had experienced. Adam filled in with observations of the few incidents he had seen of dizzy spells she had when they were traveling and what kinds of things seemed to precipitate them. Then that afternoon, that doctor and several others examined Brenda and had her do a number of different tests. They said almost nothing while they were doing that making Brenda more and more worried. She saw their serious faces and their demeanor and was thoroughly frightened of what they were going to tell her. Unfortunately that was not going to happen until the following day. When she dressed, she found out that the doctors had decided that they needed to consult with another doctor, and she and Adam were told to return the next morning.

“Adam, I’m scared. You didn’t see the way they looked at me. I’m sure they think I have falling sickness. It must be very bad by the looks they gave me.”

Neither of them was in any mood for dinner or socializing that night. They sent regrets to the party they had been expecting to attend and ordered a meal up to Adam’s suite. The meal went mostly uneaten too. Mostly they sat silently as Adam held Brenda in his arms.

“Adam, I don’t want to be alone tonight. I know we aren’t supposed to be together until we can both say we love each other but can we stay together tonight? I mean, it doesn’t have to be anything more than this. I want you with me. I need you with me until I hear the verdict.”

“Verdict?”

“It’s what it seems like. I feel like I’m getting a sentence that I’ll serve for the rest of my life.”

“Sweetheart, you don’t know what they’ll say.”

“Adam, you didn’t see the looks they had.”

“No, I didn’t see the looks, but I’m sure they were simply being professional. It’s how they’re trained to be.”

“It was scary. They looked at my eyes and in my ears and listened to my heart. And every one of them had the same look like I was dying or something. They were so serious.”

“Could it be that you were so worried that you saw that in them?”

“You’re not taking me seriously. I saw what I saw.”

“All right.” And Adam knew that there was nothing he could say to counter the emotional reaction that Brenda had to that examination. All he could do was to be there to reassure her that no matter what the result, he would always be there for her, and in that moment he knew he had made a decision. It wasn’t a good time to tell her so he kept it to himself. He wasn’t sure how long he needed to stay with her until she answered that for him.

“Adam, I don’t want to be alone tonight. I know we agreed that there wouldn’t be any sleeping together until we were ready to make a commitment to each other, but I don’t want to be alone in this hotel in this city while I wait to hear what those strange doctors are going to say to me tomorrow.”

“I’ll stay with you. You won’t have to be alone.” Adam took off his boots and belt as well as his jacket as Brenda changed into a gown for sleeping. He told her to slip under the sheets and then he lay next to her and pulled the blanket over the top of them. She snuggled up against his side as he wrapped an arm around her. They fell asleep that way although it took some time for both of them to relax enough to sleep. There was no more talking though for there was nothing left to say.

The next morning, Adam went to his suite to freshen up, shave, and find clean clothing to wear. At eight, he and Brenda went down for breakfast which they hardly tasted, and by nine were on their way to the appointment they had at ten at the doctor’s office. When they walked in, the receptionist was bright and cheery offering to have them wait in the doctor’s office because he was late in arriving. Adam was perturbed at that, but Brenda was almost a bit relieved. It felt like a reprieve to her. Fifteen minutes later, the doctor arrived to find two very anxious people waiting.

“I won’t make you wait any longer. It is the considered opinion of my colleagues and myself that you do not have falling sickness.”

“What? But why do I have those symptoms?”

“Of that, we are not entirely sure, but there are reasons for our conclusion. We can find nothing to support the diagnosis. By your own reports to us, we were able to determine that the symptoms are getting less severe. Falling sickness brought on by a high fever such as you had would not cure itself. What is more likely, in our considered opinion, is that you had some vascular damage that is slowly healing. Whether all the symptoms will eventually resolve is a question that only time can answer, but the healing process seems to be well underway.”

“What should I do now?”

“The precautions you have taken seem wise and I would suggest that you continue them until you are sure that you have no more symptoms that could lead to a serious fall and possible head injury. The damage may not be completely reversed. Only time will tell. It is possible that riding horses may be something that you may not be able to do ever again.”

“How would I know if I could?”

“If you have no dizziness, blurred vision, or fainting for at least six months, then I would say that the condition is likely resolved. To be very safe, you might wait for a year unless riding a horse is somehow so important to you that you would be willing to risk your life to do it.”

“No, it’s not that important. I have found other ways to get around. Thank you. I was so scared yesterday after the way all of you looked at me.”

“I’m sorry if that bothered you. We are in the process here of studying falling sickness and other illnesses like it. All of the doctors wanted the chance to examine you and to compare findings. We are all hoping that in the next ten or twenty years, we may find some better ways of treating falling sickness and related problems of the vascular system and the brain. Anyone who comes to see us with such a complaint draws a lot of attention. I should have explained that to you.”

After thanking the doctor and paying the bill, Adam escorted Brenda out into the sunshine. It was a beautiful day, and they hadn’t even noticed it on their way to the doctor’s office. Adam suggested a picnic would be nice and hired a carriage to take them to the shore after they purchased food for lunch and a nice blanket. The carriage dropped them at a secluded and beautiful grassy area that sloped down to the water. The driver got a nice tip from Adam and promised to be back for them in six hours with the promise of an equally generous tip for the return trip. Brenda settled on the blanket and laid back to enjoy the view and the light puffy clouds in the sky. Adam opened the bottle of wine and poured a glass for each of them.

“Thank you so much for pushing me to see the doctor. I feel that a great weight has been lifted from me. Even if the symptoms don’t entirely go away, I know what they are and that they aren’t anything too frightening. I can live with a little dizziness or blurred vision now and then.”

“Does it happen often?”

“No, not often at all. It’s the unpredictability that is scary and why I have to be careful. It’s like this hill: I could start walking down toward that sandy beach and it could happen and I would tumble headfirst down the hill.”

“Well, then, we shouldn’t do that. We should stay right here and talk.”

“That sounds wonderful too. What are we going to talk about?”

“Last night, when you asked me to stay with you, I had a thought that was a revelation to me and let me know that I had reached a conclusion I hadn’t realized I had made.” Brenda tensed up a little knowing that Adam was going to make a commitment or say it wouldn’t work. She was hopeful that it was the commitment but fearful that it might not be based on what he had told her of his past romantic relationships. Adam put a hand to her cheek and lightly brushed a stray lock of hair back. He held her chin gently in his hand and leaned very close to her speaking to her in a warm whisper. She could feel his breath on her cheek. “Don’t look so worried. I realized that I would stay with you no matter what the doctors said, and that told me that I was already committed to you whether I had told you or not. Brenda, I love you. I want to marry you. I want you with me forever.”

“Oh, Adam, I love you too.” Brenda couldn’t kiss him passionately enough then. She had wanted so much the night before to have Adam make love with her, but she had not wanted to break the agreement they had made. Now she looked up the hill where the carriage had dropped them off. “Damn, where’s that carriage when you want it.”

Chuckling first at her profanity, Adam began unbuttoning the first button on her shirtwaist dress, kissed her neck, and spoke softly. “He’ll be back in four hours or so.” Adam unbuttoned another button. “Meanwhile, we have a secluded picnic spot and a very nice soft blanket and a warm sun.” He kissed the other side of her neck and unbuttoned a third button.

“Out here in the open?”

“Would you rather wait four hours for the carriage to return?”

Brenda began undoing the buttons on Adam’s shirt, first matching his grin and then his kisses. With clouds and sunshine as their only shelter, and birds and butterflies for witnesses, they sealed their commitment to each other.

Chapter 8

On the Ponderosa, Ben Cartwright was perturbed with his eldest son. First Adam had gone off on his own despite his father’s concerns about that. Then he had written that he was taking Brenda Dodge to San Francisco to introduce her to businessmen there and help her get her ranch better connected to the cattle industry in that city. Next, he wrote that the two of them were taking an extended vacation in the city before returning to her ranch. Ben had expected Adam to return home then, but instead, Adam had entered into some serious investments in railroad businesses in California and Nevada selling off all of his other investments and reinvesting in railroads both new and already established. Ben had no idea what to make of that. Adam had promised to be home for the fall drive, but it was a week away, and his eldest son had yet to return to the Ponderosa. Roundup had already begun, and predictably, Joe was already complaining that Adam wasn’t doing his part. That was all that Ben needed was to have his oldest and youngest at odds once more when Adam did decide to finally return. He poured himself a stiff brandy and hoped he would get a good night’s rest because the week was likely to be a difficult one. He had hardly settled into his chair when the sounds of a carriage arriving got his attention and that of Hoss and Joe who were immersed in a game of checkers. With a deep sigh, Ben stood. The very last thing he wanted to do was to entertain any kind of guest. Joe was the first outside and they heard his greeting and knew it was Adam. That at least cheered Ben somewhat, but he wondered why he was there in a carriage and why he had taken so many months to get himself home. He followed Hoss out the door.

“Joe, we weren’t sure when we would arrive. We’ve traveled by carriage from the Dodge ranch. We did want to surprise all of you too.” Turning to greet his father as he came outside, Adam was all smiles. “Pa, you remember Brenda, don’t you. She’s staying with us. I hope you don’t mind.”

Recovering quickly from his surprise, Ben was gracious. “No, of course not. Welcome, Brenda. I’m very pleased to see you again.” To Adam though, Ben was a bit less gracious. “You do remember that you were going to be back for the fall drive. It starts in about a week.”

“Good, I’m back just in time then.” Adam took several large valises and a trunk from the back of the carriage. “Joe and Hoss, could you help with the luggage and take it inside while I take care of the horses and the carriage.”

Hoss had greeted Brenda and turned to his older brother with a smile. “Nah, you go on in with the luggage and with Brenda. I’ll take care of the carriage and the horses for ya.” Hoss grinned even more broadly then and slapped Adam on the back. He whispered to his older brother. “You’re a sly one. I never really expected this, but I shoulda known.”

Smiling in return, Adam thanked Hoss and then helped Joe carry the luggage inside as Ben escorted Brenda. Ben had a lot of conflicting thoughts and emotions. He worried about the drive and how they would accommodate a guest with such an important activity coming up especially as they had an equally large and important roundup to conclude first. He wanted to know too about what Adam had been doing and why he had been making such significant changes in his investments. Of course he determined that none of that could be discussed with Brenda there so he kept all of that to himself and the conversation remained light. Hop Sing brought out some light snacks and dessert with coffee and tea as he was overjoyed to see Adam home and when he met Brenda and she greeted him so warmly, he had the same kind of smile that Hoss had. Watching Brenda sit beside Adam on the settee, Joe wondered at the smile that Hoss had and why he said almost nothing. Then when he saw Hop Sing give Adam a look of joy and smile at him as if he had done something very good, Joe had a mystery to solve. If nothing else, Joe enjoyed being a detective and this was a mystery to be solved. He checked out all the details and after a short time, he was smiling too. After a time, Brenda said she was tired though and would appreciate a chance to get some sleep in a soft bed.

“Oh, I’m sure Hop Sing can have one of the guest rooms ready for you in very short time.”

Adam stood and helped Brenda to stand beside him. He offered her his arm and they began to move to the stairs. “That’s all right, Pa. My room will be fine for both of us.”

Ben stuttered and stammered for a moment as Adam and Brenda seemed to be waiting for him to say something. They didn’t look at all worried though, and Ben noticed that both Hoss and Joe had broad grins as they waited too. Then he knew. He looked at Adam who had that self-satisfied smirk and at Brenda who looked so relaxed standing beside him, and he knew. “You’re married?”

“Yes, we got married in San Francisco. Then we had to get married again or at least have a ceremony again and a party at Brenda’s ranch so that all of her friends could celebrate with us. I told her we would have to do the same here.”

“Why didn’t you let us know?”

“It happened rather abruptly. I asked her one day when we were on a picnic, and then we got married the next morning.”

Noting how Brenda got a little bit of a blush at that, Ben could imagine the type of picnic his son had taken her on. But they were married now so it didn’t matter. “We should have a toast then. Congratulations, son. I want to say so much more, but it seems that I can’t find the words at the moment.”

With a tray of champagne and glasses, Hop Sing appeared at that moment. He had spotted the wedding ring when he had served them earlier and had waited until his employer had noticed.

Toasts were made, congratulations were given, and then plans were discussed for the following week. Brenda finally mentioned that she had not been kidding earlier when she said she was tired and wanted to get some sleep. Ben apologized for that as did Adam. Soon, Adam had her up in his bedroom. She looked around and smiled.

“It’s about what I pictured for your room. Now, I do want to sleep. If you have any other plans, you’ll have to wait until morning.” Brenda slipped out of her dress and into a gown not even bothering to take down her hair or unpack her bags. Adam slid into the bed beside her and wrapped his arms around her to spoon. She was drowsy but that long sexy body pressing against hers awakened some sensations that interfered with the desire to sleep. She found her desire for her husband almost impossible to resist when he was beside her like that. “All right, how about a quick one to help us sleep?” Always willing to accommodate such a request, Adam agreed.

The next morning at breakfast, Ben was ready with a lot more questions. Adam was ready with answers too. “Brenda is going to keep her ranch. We didn’t know any other way to work out that issue. We will hopefully have children who can inherit that ranch. Meanwhile, Pa, you’ve often said that it would be nice to have our own feedlot on the western side of the mountains so we could wait out the market and get a better price for our cattle.”

All of the investments in railroads coupled with the announcement that Brenda and Adam were going to keep operating the Dodge Ranch made a great deal more sense to Ben at that moment. “We can put stock on the Dodge Ranch and you can have them shipped to market quickly using the railroads.”

“Yes, and Brenda and I have worked out arrangements with several of the brokers in the stockyards who want to do business with us. They get to have a sure supply of beef when demand is high and the supplies are low, and we get a better price. We’ll have to work out some of the logistics of how we’re going to do this, but we can start with this fall drive. When we cross the mountains, we thought that perhaps we could split the herd taking some to the ranch to hold for the middle of winter and a better price while the rest are taken to market now.”

Hoss had a question then. “Why not hold them all at the ranch for a better price?”

But both Ben and Joe were beginning to understand the financial aspects of the situation. Joe answered first. “Because then we would have to hire more men to take care of them there and that would offset the additional profit too much especially as Adam plans to ship them by rail.” He got a thumbs up from Adam for that analysis.

“Yes, Brenda and I worked with her foreman Chambers to get a good idea of how many more cattle her ranch could handle without any additional expense. Part of what took me so long to get back here was that we did some irrigation work to make sure there was going to be enough water for a larger herd. Everything should be ready now.”

“So all we have to do is agree on a fee for this arrangement, and it’s all set.” Ben was a practical man, and he knew that was likely to be the trickiest part of the whole deal so he made an offer. “How about one dollar per head per month not to exceed three dollars per head?”

Adam looked to Brenda with a hopeful expression. She frowned a bit and said only a few words. “I was thinking something about like that. It’s a deal.” She got to keep the ranch that was precious to her and got to be married to Adam and be part of the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights too. Adam got to travel to California fairly often and expected to spend the winter there with the opportunity to spend time in San Francisco on a more regular basis. If would give him the opportunity to do some other things which he was already anticipating.

Because of the roundup, the family didn’t get another chance to talk until after a late dinner that night. Adam and Brenda told them then about why they had arrived in a carriage. “Brenda will ride in the chuck wagon for the drive.”

“Son, Brenda doesn’t have to come on the drive.”

“Yes, Mister Cartwright, I do. This is as important to me as anything can be. I have to be there for it. Then I’ll ride in the chuckwagon back here. Adam wants to stay here until Christmas.”

“Until Christmas? Then what?”

“Pa, I thought you understood that Brenda and I would spend the winter on her ranch. I’ll be in California every winter or at least that’s the plan now. We’ll be back here in the spring.”

“You plan to have two homes?”

“I like the idea, and Brenda likes it too. We’re going to have a winter home and a summer home. It’s the best of both worlds for us. We’ll spend most of the year here but the winter months will be in the warmer weather of Brenda’s ranch.”

“Hey, Pa, mebbe we all can go visit them then. Ya know, check on our investments and such. Dadburnit, I git tired of all this snow and cold up here too.”

“Maybe if you would get a wife like your older brother, you wouldn’t mind so much.” Then Ben realized that he had mixed company for an audience. “I’m sorry, Brenda. I’m so used to have an all male household. I shall have to learn to watch what I say now.”

“Not at all, Mister Cartwright. That made me feel like part of the family.”

“Then you have to call me something other than Mister Cartwright. It sounds too formal.”

“I can’t call you Pa or Papa because that’s what I called my father. How about if I call you Father?”

“That sounds quite formal. You could simply call me by my name.”

“I don’t know. That sounds rather familiar and not respectful enough.” Adam leaned over to whisper in her ear making her smile. “I could call you Papa Ben though if you didn’t mind?”

“I would like that very much. Now next, I would like to announce in church on Sunday that you have been married. We don’t have much time to arrange anything but we could have a picnic party at the church. Hop Sing said that he and his cousins could have enough food to put out there for a small celebration.”

Adam answered for both of them. “That would be nice, Pa. We would like that better than a big party anyway.”

“Oh, you’re not denying me the opportunity to give a big party but it will have to wait until after the drive. Then the Comstock will be talking about the party for months afterwards. My son is married and I’m going to give the biggest party I can give. Maybe it will give your younger brothers an incentive to try harder.”

“I don’t know, Pa. I think there are better incentives than that.” Brenda poked him in the side for that one so he said nothing more. He got a look from his father though that said he deserved that poke even as Hoss and Joe snickered. Then Hop Sing brought a pitcher of hot water and carried it upstairs for Adam complaining the whole way.

“Shave in morning. Shave at night. Why shave so much?”

That only brought more snickers and made Brenda blush a little. Adam shrugged sending Hoss and Joe into outright laughter. It was late enough though so Adam stood, offered his arm to Brenda, and the two proceeded up the stairs. At the top, Adam looked back at his brothers and smirked before he headed down the hall to the bedroom he now shared with his wife and no regrets.

 

Tags:  Adam Cartwright

 

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

12 thoughts on “Second Chances (by BettyHT)

  1. Yep, delivered again Betty. Enjoying catching up with these. Approve of Beej and Adam and loved the humour interjections too. The night scene when they’d arrived at the Ponderosa was funny, poor Ben! He really doesn’t stand a chance with these boys 😂 Now to next chapter 👏🏼❤️

  2. This was an enjoyable read and a refreshing break after the tension that Adam suffered in the first story. It gave him plenty of time to heal and to find the right path for his life. That twist with BJ was so fun to read. Poor Adam, he did suffer but he handled it extremely well considering the circumstances. I like the way he got back at the Dodge Brothers as well, pure Adam all the way. Ben has some adjusting to do to Adam’s new way of life but it’ll be good for the whole family in the long run.

    1. Thank you so much. It seemed like it was time to give Adam some good times even if he had to suffer a little to get there. It did allow him to show some other characteristics, and the twist was fun to incorporate in this one. Ben doesn’t adjust well but there are three more stories in the series for him to manage it.

  3. You really had suckered me into thinking I was watching a “Brokeback Mountain” scenario. Pa’s fire & brimstone Protestant faith would make that a nightmare. Thank you! Loved it.

    1. Thank you so much. LOL, yes, that was a fun twist. Made him squirm a little and perhaps some readers too for a bit.

  4. love the story I felt for Adam I could picture his face not knowing why he was attracted to another man. and then to have Joe and Hoss walk in on him kissing a man as they thought. I glad it all turned out well for BJ and Adam. At times I was tempted to go to the back to see how what happened glad I didn’t. This is one story I will definitely read again

    1. Thank you so much. I’m glad you found the twists and turns in this one entertaining as they were meant to be. The scene with Hoss and Little Joe was fun to write too.

  5. *blushes* She’s a better version of me! Thank you Betty, I’m honored that you asked to use my name. I love the original confusion about BJ. That must have been hard for Adam but he handled it in true Adam fashion. I like that they didn’t instantly fall in love and marry. They each lived a life before fate threw them together again. Good job, and a great sequel to Heat Wave. 🙂

    1. I’m very pleased that you liked your story. This idea came to me while I was writing Heat Wave and was actually a much easier story to write and went much faster. Some of those scenes played out so vividly in my imagination that I only had to write the rest of the story around them.

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